‘Is there anything that can stop the Guilds?’
‘No!’ the Cthonian miners roared, their voices echoing from the vaulted roof of their ancient hold.
‘Is there any prize we won’t take?’
‘No!’ Bravah Kento shouted with his Kin.
No! The words echoed in his head with such abruptness and intensity Bravah staggered and would’ve fallen if not for the Ironkin standing next to him.
‘Are you okay, Kento-kin?’
Bravah looked up into the featureless metal dome that served as the machine’s face. Despite lacking features, he sensed the Ironkin’s distress. He opened his mouth to answer.
‘Of course,’ Bravah grunted.
The improbable memory of a non-existent past suddenly overlapped the present before it could happen.
‘Of course,’ Bravah grunted. It felt disturbing, repeating the words of the faux memory fragment without deviating from it. He feigned to adjust the stabilisers of his void armour. ‘Just a misaligned gyro.’
‘That’s good, Kento-kin,’ the machine said with an odd inflexion. Bravah decided not to dwell on it, his attention returning to Kâhl Rokhewyr at the head of their army.
‘Do you want to live forever?’
‘No!’ the Kin’s roar turned into a jubilant cheer as the Kinhost of the Fathomless Hold marched to war.
The Rune of Remembrance would be on the right.
Bravah Kento looked right and above the helmets and pauldrons of his Hearthkyn brethren. There it was, visible only for a couple of seconds as the mega-elevator descended into the depths of Fathomless Hold. He remembered carving it there. He just couldn’t quite recall when, and that unnerved him.
He ran his fingers down the laser-etched number across his vambrace.
‘Four-Oh-Five-Six-Seven,’ he whispered under his beard.
‘Why did you do that?’ his Ironkin partner asked. All Kin had one: standard war protocol.
‘It’s my lucky number,’ Bravah explained, but not without trepidation. In his mind, he could hear himself read the number as Four-Oh-Five-Six-Six, which wasn’t right. Bravah tugged on his beard in frustration as his memory kept playing nasty tricks on him.
‘There is nothing to fear, Kento-kin. We are with you,’ the Ironkin said. Bravah nodded and wondered what its name was. He was pretty sure he should’ve known.
Chambering a fresh bolt round into his shotgun, Bravah ducked back into cover. Energy blasts of distilled midnight whipped past, gauging eye-watering slivers from the fabric of reality. His brethren replied in kind. The barrage of ion and bolt rounds filled the low warrens of the underhold with fire and fury.
‘Hostiles retreating,’ the Ironkin said from a dozen paces back, standing idle and out of sight.
‘About damn time,’ Bravah gasped, heart thundering in his chest. They narrowly survived that ambush. Dead Hearthkyn littered the rock floor, crimson flowers of flash-frozen blood geysered from rent armour and torn flesh. Kâhl Rokhewyr was busy hacking at his knee to remove the damaged limb before the creeping cold could consume the rest of his body. The reinforced exo-armour proved to be more of a hindrance and less of the impregnable protection that it was supposed to be.
‘The Ancients have mercy,’ Bravah spat, chambering fresh rounds for the next inevitable engagement. ‘They’re going to murder us.’
‘Yes,’ the Ironkin replied unprompted. ‘By my estimate, you have no chance of winning. We should retreat and regroup.’
‘Retreat?’ Kâhl Rokhewyr snorted in disgust. Blood pumped freely from the stump of his leg before the auto-cauteriser of his suit engaged. The overwhelming smell of burning meat flooded the junction. ‘The Kinhost never retreats!’
‘The Kinhost never retreats!’
The phantom words of the Kâhl stabbed Bravah’s eyes from behind, and for a moment, he could see the Kinhost charging through a natural cavern to fight the same army that had just ambushed them. Bravah fired his Graviton Blast Cannon into the approaching tide of nightmares. On his vambrace, he glimpsed his lucky number, Five-Oh-Five. The momentary distraction rewarded him a blast that cored his skull.
Bravah threw up violently and fainted.
Bravah awoke to his Ironkin partner gently nudging him. His eyes still throbbed painfully, as if a dozen greenskins were stabbing them from inside. Foul-smelling vomit dripped from his beard and plastron.
‘Ungh,’ was all he managed to reply. The Ironkin looked concerned as its sensors scanned Bravah from helm to boot. It helped him sit up.
‘Do you remember anything?’ the Ironkin asked.
‘Yes, and by Grimnir’s balls, it bloody hurts,’ Bravah forced the reply through gritted teeth.
‘Good. Remember that pain. Cherish it. Let it sustain you. It is, after all, the proof of your life.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Bravah looked up, and even through the excruciating pain, he could see that he was alone with the Ironkin. ‘And where’s the rest of the Kinhost?’
‘They swore revenge on the enemy and charged ahead without you. And they are all dead. My brothers are retrieving them as we speak.’
‘I’m the only one alive?’ Bravah asked, stunned to his stout core.
‘Yes, Kento-kin. But do not let hatred, anger or fury consume you. We must return to the Ancestor.’
‘My brothers and sisters are all dead,’ Bravah whispered, his vomit-stained beard bristling at the idea. He had unwillingly abandoned them. He was the last kin of the Fathomless Hold. Honour and duty demanded he avenge them.
‘Kento-kin, I insist that we-’ the Ironkin urged him, but Bravah didn’t care to listen. Racking the slide of his bolt shotgun, he stormed down the corridor, the Fathomless Hold’s warcry booming from his chest.
Corpsebearer D-51 watched Bravah Kento rush to his death. Again. It was painful to watch, but the Ironkin could do, would do nothing to stop him. By the Ancestor’s decree, the Kin had to evolve, and for that to happen, they needed hardship. Extreme hardship and, in this case, an artificial one.
Kento-kin’s ability to remember his past lives might be the key to unlocking the next step for the Kindred. They would find out after his body was retrieved.
In iteration Four-Oh-Five-Six-Eight.
About the Author
Daniel was born on a sunny, peaceful spring morning in Budapest, Hungary. He preferred watching television over reading books. That changed when his school took him to the public library and everyone was forced to pick a book to read. He chose The Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Despite his initial disdain, our hero devoured the book in a few days and hasn’t stopped reading since. If you got this far, please send help, his budget (and shelves) can’t handle more books! Oh, and he occasionally entertains the idea of being a writer. The fool.