Coins & Blood

3/5 (1)
Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

Silver-paved queues, divided across three ornate wooden stands by Nightweave silk, covered the hall and filtered us all through. I was stuck in the line behind two ork weirdboyz… or maybe mekboyz? Always hard to tell with orks unless they are shouting it at the top of their lungs. They yammered on in their native tongue for a while whilst wielding a multifaceted contraption with numerous drills, needles, and a large metal blade. They shambled with the flow of the crowd, barely able to manage holding onto the… contraption. Behind me there were a few foot-tall hooded figures, carrying strange, ancient-looking energy coils and some blunt metal boxes.

My invention would put them all to shame.  Small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, it is both a deadly weapon and a useful everyday tool, sure to impress anyone who beheld it. The other applicants… they had nothing compared to me. 

I could barely contain my excitement, and with each step forward in line a bead of sweat dripped down my brow. My skin warmed in the incandescent ambient lighting as it flashed subliminal messages across the hall.

 

The lines drudged forward, the rain-tapping rhythm of our boots on the well-polished tile a momentary cacophony as we marched – our very own march towards the future. 

The Thexian overseer by the submissions alcove was shaped much like a humanoid, and was partially covered inscaled skin. Her organs had been left open on display however, pulsating and oozing as she waved the petitioners towards the rejection booths. She was captivating, with bristly hair coming down about her cartilaginous shoulder segments, perfectly framing her asymmetric cardiac rhythms. Four distinct arms operated a host of monitors and desks, three of her beautiful brown eyes looking straight at the orks in front of me as I went over the pitch in my mind. My fingers tapped on my bag’s lock.

‘Wez got da shiniest gubbin fer yew lot t’day, the ork began in their most noble accent. It was… disturbing to say the least, but no matter. The Ghuffyn device was neatly tucked away in the man-leather pockets of my bag, but I had to be wary – anyone would want it if they knew what it was capable of. The orks were inspected and sent onto the next stage, through the ivory doors. 

My turn.

Bones aching from creeping anxiety, I stepped forwards. The intoxicating scent of her perfume danced upon the air.

‘Greetings and welcome. Present your invention.’ Her voice was wrapped in haunting tones, piquing and fading through the hollow flute-like passageways in her teeth. I whipped out the Ghuffyn and presented it to her, before bearing witness to her most lovely open-jawed smile. She pressed a brass lever on the side of her booth, opening the doors for me.

I gratefully stepped through. It was a relief my pitch went to waste, actions speak louder than words and my words tend to be pretty loud, convincing and clear.

 

I was met with the Long Passage. Between the submissions hall and the audit chambers lay the Long Passage, as well as the Demonstration Dungeons, both insurmountably fearful trials for those less prepared than I. 

I looked at the path ahead of me: ichor-bleached walls and pieces of sinew hanging off monofilament razor-wire traps. I slowly stepped forward, my belly pressed gently to the ground. 

The paying audience was cheering and booing, watching me and others make our way through the Passage, stuffing their faces with Tavba flakes doused in Desa rum – disgusting pleasure food sold cheaply to the masses. They watched the other petitioners struggle and get torn limb from limb on the near-invisible wires, lit only by the strobe of adverts plastered on the walls. 

Unfortunately for them – rather fortunately for me – it was quite easy for me to traverse the Long Passage. Most of the petitioners were bipedal, and so  their height made them easy prey for the razor-wire. But not me – I weaselled past the first obstacle, the floor slowly growing hotter as I inched forward. It wasn’t long before I had to stop as my skin mucus began to sizzle on the metal plating, and burns started to creep up my flesh.

Looking around, I saw a viewing window nearby, and darted towards it, taking a short leap to reach it. Hanging there I quickly switched the Ghuffyn to setting four, cooling myself. The pain of my burns was soothed before I continued, clinging to the window’s surface, prodding the air to check for any further traps.

‘Loxa’tanasve!’ one of the audience members yelled, pointing at me as I crawled past, and scores of them started laughing. Those words echoed in my mind. A slave name, used by the Rak’gol for me and my kin. Even still, my eyes scanned about the audience, grease dripping onto their silks, dried rum smeared across their precious metals. I growled, and their laughs died away. Then a sudden projection of flame flashed to life, making me scuttle away onto the ceiling. The audience resumed their jeers and laughter. 

They began to jeer and chant as I clambered onto the ceiling to avoid sudden flame projections from the wall, but I pressed on. I was not here to make friends or swear vendetta to strangers. Only the Ghuffyn mattered. It took every nuance of balance and flexibility I could muster to weave past the crystalline shots and chemical mortars which littered the next portion of the Passage. A quick spritz of Ghuffyn setting thirty-three put a layer of fast-dissolving stimulant over my skin, keeping my muscles going and my mind sharp as I continued to evade it all. I dashed up the Passage, neatly minding my own way past the traps and obstacles until I caught up with the orks who had entered before me.

There was only one left now, dripping black ooze from a patchwork of scrapes and cuts. The only thing stopping him from reaching the dungeons was a battery of saws and curtains of electrified chains. He appeared to be gathering his courage with grunts and roars,  and psyching himself up with a ditty of waaaghs and ‘ere-we-goes

A perfect opportunity for me. 

As he barged into the chains and saws, I sped through the gap in the resulting tempest of bone and ichor, vaulting over him just as the last blade came around, landing in the remains of his sternum. Bone splintered beneath me  as I safely dropped to the floor just by the Passage’s exit, much to the crowd’s dismay. But as the dungeon spun on its central axel and the next challenge clicked into place they all went silent, watching whatever was on the other side of the door with heinous grins.

The groan of metal echoed throughout the chamber as the door began to open. I trod confidently forward, with the Ghuffyn’s high-quality cable handle slung across my shoulders, into the next room. Only the framework and internal struts of the room remained on first inspection, but there was a foul, mind-numbing stench. Meaty and rancid, giving off odours I could barely stand at first – yet there was no foe to be seen. I took my chance to scamper across the tactile flooring towards the door on the other side of the chamber. The chambré threat was washed away by the very real clamour of flesh and bone striking metal, as a hulking mound of bipedal pallid flesh threw itself from the rafters, skidding down the curved walls and landing with a thud to block my escape. 

With long, sword-like teeth and a bristly red mane around its face, it clambered towards me with a hungry look in its eyes. Perfect, yet another opportunity to show off the Ghuffyn and one of it’s other seventy settings. I shifted the Ghuffyn across my underbelly and into my firing hand, steady and ready. With a flick of pressure across the trigger, green light began to emanate as the kill setting came online. Crosshairs trained on the creature’s brow as it haphazardly stumbled to death’s door, my aim was true. 

But like a cracking whip, the beast’s tail coiled and struck the most affordable device from my hand. Its barbs dug into and tore off one of my digits and wretched ooze and oil from my skin. I took the chance I was provided and leapt across the floor to try and grab my weapon. The beast sped up in pursuit. I swept the weapon up and twisted the dial onto a more potent setting as I prepared to finish it this time. I bounded off of the soles of my feet towards the side of the chamber, starting to push up the incline of the rounded walls towards the window of cheering, unsuspecting, crowds. With each step, the beast’s superior size and momentum closed the gap between us, claws catching at the steely surface behind.

I skimmed just below the central pane of the window and reversed, friction tearing at my toes. The beast had no such luck, its skull crashing through the window and the glass shards digging into its neck. As yellowy-green liquids spurt out across the shocked and alarmed masses, I trained the Ghuffyn onto its back and fired. The body turned to blue ash and crumbled to the floor, into the stands. 

The next room was mine to visit: the audit chamber. I quickly prepared myself, using setting twenty-four to repair my jacket and bag, setting sixty-four to heal my burns and cuts and setting sixty-five to restitch my lost fingers. Surely now none sane could deny that the Ghuffyn truly was a perfect invention.

‘Enter. We are not patient.’ A voice echoed out from the candlelit chamber at the end. I paced towards the opal pavilion, wreathed in nightweave silk and lush foreign vines, intoxicating anther perfumes dousing its surroundings. Technicolour crystalline threads were woven into a hammock across the central pillars up upon the dias in which the Thexian Tradelord residing would look down from. Even in the dullness of candlelight the room was bright. Light reflected off of the treasures and coins, shining out from the pit which lined the room, and a small river of molten gold shone past as it flowed.

I seized the opportunity, presenting the Ghuffyn at the foot of the altar. Freezing chills came up through my muscles as I saw its coiled body dance around the decorative fabrics. Scaled in gold and silver plates which encased twisting bushels of chitin-wrapped legs and nerves, the Tradelord’s bodies intertwined into a long and snaking form. Between the fibres of its being were dozens of triads of eyes, each a different hue as the chorus of minds and voices began to discuss. 

The clasping and grinding of unseen lips and teeth filled the air and laid bare the soul. Eight or nine claw-ended feelers emerged from the cracks in its garments and caressed the dials and buttons of the Ghuffyn. They let off soft vibrations accompanied by a rattling screech, before they all went quiet.

‘This. This is what I want,’ a voice said to me.

‘No. This is what we want,’ others spoke.

‘Unwise. This is not marketable,’ a third cut in.

‘Well made. It will do well,’ the voices only began to argue and debate again.

‘Useful. Many will pay.’ 

‘Exuberant. Industrious is more profitable.’

‘Medical. It will have high demand.’

‘Cheap. Easily dismissable.’

‘Proven. It will sell itself.’

The voices continued again, overlapping and carrying out multiple conversations and debates at once, unbothered by my confusion or my lack of involvement. This lasted for a few more minutes before the conversation lulled again. 

‘Congratulations. We have decided to make the purchase.’ Thin, spindly limbs wrapped themselves across chests and crates of gold and platinum from the horde. They kept dumping the lot into a pile between us. They then produced a grey metal contraption and a parchment on which the sale of my most brilliant invention was inscribed. For only the price of my prototype and all of my schematics, I would receive the bounty of a hundred worlds in coins. My hearts leapt for joy as the needle took my blood and signed the page, keeping a sample for later verification. My eyes opened wide at the riches that were mine, and at the prospect that my invention would change the way the universe was. My name, immortalised.

But then it happened. My hearts sank just as fast as they rose, as I watched the Ghuffyn get ensnared by the tendrils and dropped into the molten metal stream. Now out of sight and earshot of the audience I lifted my head and let out a squeal. 

‘Why? Why did you do that? It was my most perfect invention. It was useful for anything, affordable and reliable too! There was no need to destroy it!’

‘Yes. It was perfect,’ one voice replied calmly.

‘Unprofitable. Long term profits would have suffered.’

‘Useless. It would have killed other product markets.’

‘Paid. You received yours.’

‘Business. Keep to yourself.’

It flicked a switch and the dias rose, leaving me to bathe in the glassy glow of dreamstone and marble. There was something almost calming about it, slowly pulsating its infectious rhythm. I tried to argue, but I couldn’t. Every fibre of my being was against it, but without my will my mind was obedient. Complacent. It was like a voice in my mind telling me ‘They are right. Always right.’ It felt so familiar but I was sure I’d never heard it. I could feel fate’s cold dead hands around my throat. My dreams died for my wealth. The lights flickered. I was happy. I am happy. Empty.

About the Author

Chris is a long-time fan of Warhammer 40,000 and an aspiring science fiction author. He grew up in a mixed household in England and has been interested in different cultures, beliefs and writings for my whole life because of it, which has thoroughly influenced his work. He found the hobby in 2016 at school and has since then made myself a self-proclaimed aficionado of the setting’s lore.