Much of Segmentum Pacificus was lost to insurrection during the Night of a Thousand Rebellions. The slow-moving cogs that drove the Adeptus Administratum had not been quick enough to allocate forces to the area before it went completely silent. Such a monumental loss of territory in such a short time could have only resulted from years of planning and coordination. Somewhere in that vast region of space, with its swathes of impenetrable darkness, was a power able to enact a conspiracy so elaborate it tore the Segmentum apart. One day, there would be a reckoning.
During the Ultima Founding, the Black Fangs were unleashed.
Drums. Pounding and relentless. From everywhere and nowhere at once. Kwaku could not hear through the deafening rhythmic beating that existed only in his mind. He could not see anything save for the tattered dregs of humanity before him. A frown creased Kwaku’s transhuman brow as he struggled to recall his purpose. It mattered not. All that mattered were drums and death.
Every swing of his bone sword brought a heretic’s end, and every bolt from his pistol was an execution. His dance of death left corpses strewn on the jungle floor like so many pieces of detritus deposited by a tornado. All the while, the beating noise pushed him further from the safety of the jungle, moving ever closer to the last cultists of this pitiful camp. Unaware of the activation stud in the trembling hand of the cultist at the head of the group. Unaware of the mines planted beneath the soft soil of the clearing he had just crossed, Kwaku still pressed forward. He should have noticed sooner. Should have seen the freshly replaced dirt for the trap it was. Kwaku only had time to turn and see the rest of his squad following in his footsteps as they always did.
And then there was silence.
Kwaku knew silence: the tense quiet in a squad taking their first steps on a new planet, the eerie stillness that falls upon the jungle at night, the pregnant pause before the first and only shot after hours of anticipation. But this was none of those, unlike anything Kwaku had ever experienced. A silence that smothered all the sound in the universe.
Kwaku forced his eyes open with effort akin to lifting adamant curtains. His blurred vision reduced the constellations to unrecognisable white smudges on a black canvas. He took a deep breath, pulling air into his massive lungs, smelling burned flesh and the chemical tinge of detonated explosives. Then he began to rise, slowly pushing himself to his feet and surveyed his surroundings with a still-clouded mind. He could not hear any sounds of battle. Instead, there was a faint chittering of nocturnal animals as they scurried away from the site of what must have been a tremendous explosion. Kwaku was surprised that he could hear anything at all. His mind was finally free of the din that suffocated his senses during the engagement.
He shook his head, clearing the remaining fog from his brain and assessed his situation. Looking around, he noticed he was at least a dozen metres away from what he assumed was his previous location, what was now a scar of scorched earth. Beyond it, he saw levelled foliage that created a large ring which elongated the tree line. His eyes fell upon a blackened pit, and he knew instantly.
The centre of the blast crater was the last place he saw his squad.
He had been too focused to warn them. Where were they now? He felt his bones begin to mend and audibly crack back into place as he trudged past the blast site toward the most likely location for his brothers to have landed. He would need to assist the injured.
Kwaku’s photo lenses switched from low light to infrared, lighting up his vision with a false colour image dominated by cool blues. He swivelled his head from left to right, scanning the jungle until his eyes fell upon an orange silhouette of cooling ceramite. He walked toward it, pushing vegetation out of his path until he reached the remains of his fallen brother. The space marine was nothing but a torso now; his arms ended in stumps at the elbow, and the tattered remains of his stomach painted the grass a luminous red as it cooled. Scattered nearby, Kwaku found the rest of his squad similarly ravaged. There were no survivors.
He carried what was left of their corpses into the now empty camp, the final defenders’ bodies reduced to ash in the explosion. Standing over his fallen brothers, he realised he was the sole architect of their fate. None of his brothers was whole, arms and legs wholly disintegrated as if they had never existed. Despite all this damage, he recognised every one of them. Each set of power armour was as unique as its owner, decorated with traditional marks of their homeworld. He ran his finger across the black armour of Imamu, feeling the surface scarred with mountains and valleys of green ceramite, forming distinct patterns in the rare spots where it was not damaged by the explosion. He served with these warriors for a decade and knew every inch of their power armour. He did not need a transhuman mind to remember the battles they fought together that earned them each mark. His armour was similarly adorned, with its own patterns and honour marks indicating his rank as the squad’s leader, marks that he no longer believed he deserved. Kwaku could not help but imagine himself as one of the fallen Astartes before him.
I was lucky to be so far from the detonation; otherwise, I would have met the same fate as you, brothers. Maybe that would have been a blessing from the God-Emperor, Kwaku thought.
In this moment of introspection, he finally remembered something. They were on Synrock, a backwater jungle world with a population of less than a single hive spire. There were thousands of emergency signals in the newly created darkness of Segmentum Pacificus, and the Black Fangs were spread thin, liberating system after system from whatever dark forces had coordinated the rebellion of such a large area. He and his squad were the only ones deployed to quell this insurrection, for that is how his Chapter fought. There was usually little need to send more than that to purge the pathetic wretches the Chapter encountered, and the rebels on Synrock were no different. Or they should not have been.
This planet was not worth their deaths. As Chapter Master, Kwaku could have sent any other squad to cleanse this world, but he had not. His Venomblade Guard came to protect him from harm because that was their duty, but Kwaku’s actions made it so they would never again return from the planet’s surface.
Why had he come personally? Kwaku struggled yet again to remember. The loss of his usually perfect transhuman memory felt like he was robbed of one of his senses. It was a feeling of vulnerability he desperately wanted to be rid of. He pulled his mind from thought, focusing on the present. There was no time for such ideas, no time for doubt. Kwaku salvaged whatever ammunition and weapons he could and began his journey to the next outpost.
The drums returned as he ran, more violent than ever, pounding as fast as his twin hearts. Every human in the outpost was dead or gone, his Venom Blade brothers died seeing that objective through, but there was more to do. Two other facilities stained the planet’s surface, and Kwaku would erase them both. No reinforcements came, for he did not call them. He would not allow any more of his Chapter to die because of his failure. So he ran, making his way to the next location, a bolter taken from a fallen brother clenched in his hands. His squad had rarely left his side, and even when they had, they were always close enough to reach him within seconds. For the first time in a decade, he felt alone. His only companions now were the drums.
Kwaku was lost again. Lost in the drums that filled his head, lost in the death that littered the new outpost he found himself in. The sun was high in the sky, and all notions of stealth were forgotten. He fought with the desire to create more carnage, to feel more of what he only just realised he was feeling: pleasure. Every limb severed before a kill filled him with a fleeting bliss that could only be renewed with another amputation. In this way, he killed them all. All except for one.
Kwaku tore through the fabric, creating a hole to enter the tent containing the camp’s last man. He must have seen a figure flee here but had no recollection. He felt like a passenger in his own body, only able to spectate while his body moved without his consent. Despite having no control over his movements, he knew what must happen next. He was in front of the man now, staring down at the feeble laspistol he knew was incapable of killing him. An arm fell. His arm fell, and in its hand was a forward-curved sword. A sickle that shimmered with actinic energy as he watched it descend toward the man’s head. Before the power sword’s disruptor field could reach the traitor’s battered helmet, a flash of memory returned Kwaku to his senses.
I was arrogant, he thought. That is why I came. I received reports of anomalous behaviour within my Chapter, but I thought this mission would be short enough to complete before I returned to conduct an investigation. It never occurred to me that it could happen to anyone in my squad. How foolish. If I knew the cost, I would have left the world to handle its own liberation. I must-
Kwaku was pulled from his thoughts by the sound of a hushed voice. He turned to see the coward quivering in the far corner of the tent, mumbling prayers to the God-Emperor. Kwaku almost gasped in surprise, the audacity of the traitor appalling yet fascinating. The traitor dared evoke divine protection, even though he was surely damned already. The man was dressed in an Imperial uniform with a scratched-out Aquila, surrounded by other defaced iconography in a camp dedicated to the worship of the archenemy. Yet, he was attempting to seek salvation in the one true God. Kwaku thought for a moment longer before deciding. He would give this wretch a chance at redemption.
With substantial effort, he allowed the man to flee toward the final outpost, his lumen creating flickering shadows as he ran. It was dark once again, but the traitor was trained on a jungle planet, this planet. He would know the paths to take, the plants to avoid, and the animals to eat. Kwaku’s mouth curled in a flickering smile as he watched the cultist flee.
Kwaku directed his vision toward the sky, observing the vast map of stars in the clear, moonless night. It was beautiful. He observed every constellation, marvelling at how each shone in the void. It will all be the God-Emperor’s domain one day. He began the chase, turning to follow the unnatural light descending into the jungle.
Kwaku tailed the cultist for two days, following from a distance, ducking into cover whenever his prey turned his lumen back towards him. As he hunted, he heard the drums pound inexhaustibly in wordless encouragement. A phenomenon he now called the Thrum. With the waxing and waning of the Thrum came the rise and fall of his bloodlust.
Kwaku wanted to rip the cultist limb from limb, wanted to feel the pleasure he had grown accustomed to in the days since the destruction of the first outpost. Over the short duration of the pursuit, he could have killed the traitor in countless ways.
It was night again, and after fumbling with the undergrowth attempting to make a bed, the human had fallen asleep. Kwaku’s hand absentmindedly drifted towards the vials attached to his belt as he stood silently over the traitor lying on the jungle floor. He contemplated unleashing his arsenal of venoms on the rotten soul. One drop of the green liquid would necrotise his flesh, melting him until all that held together the bone was spindly muscle fibres. The fragile human would sadly bleed to death long before he reached that state. He moved his ceramite-clad fingers to the next bottle, filled with a viscous yellow substance. If he snuck this one into his canteen, it would paralyse him, quickly working its way through his system until he could no longer move, suffocating him in a body that slowly became his prison. That would be too quick, he thought.
He had two non-fatal i̗nsíkri in his possession that would either reduce the heretic to a raving madman or send him into bouts of agonising seizures. Maybe I’ll use both of these; that would certainly kill him… in a few hours. A smile spread across his lips at that thought.
He caught himself in that moment, enjoying this thought experiment. He felt a pang of guilt. His pleasure was a slap in the face of those who had just died because of him. He needed to refocus.
Kwaku sealed that train of thought with a grimace and returned his attention to the sensation at the forefront of his mind. Not for personal gratification this time but for investigation. He allowed his mind to wander for hours, imagining hundreds of scenarios of varying brutality, methodically noting how the Thrum responded to every new image. The drums in his head became blaring and painful whenever he thought of any plan that did not end with the dreg’s death. When his mind roamed towards ideas of stalking the man through the jungle, harassing him with amplified shouts from his vox grill, he felt waves of pleasure flow through his body.
Interesting, he thought as he stepped backwards, melding into the shadows once more.
Kwaku edged back toward where the man had slept, dodging the light that penetrated the canopy in narrow beams and silently crouched behind a tree broader than he was tall. He could not see the traitor, but the reverse was also true. He did not need to see the human to know where he was. Mere moments passed before Kwaku heard the crack of a fallen branch, the clumsy first step of a soldier used to trekking in single file lines through the bush. He would never have survived back home on Yemaya.
Kwaku rounded the tree cautiously and lifted his modified bolter, aiming it in the man’s direction as he walked away. This weapon had belonged to Abidemi, the leader of his Venomblade. He was a scout, as vigilant as any other marine under his command. That’s why Kwaku chose him. All that potential. Wasted. In the 10 Terran years since the Chapter’s founding, Abidemi had engraved every part with intricate golden patterns. Covering its whole body was a rope net from which hung numerous trinkets, trophies taken from animals of the planets they liberated. Abidemi did like his trinkets. The memory stung, and a frown crept across Kwaku’s face.
He squeezed the trigger. The bolter whispered, letting out a barely audible cough that sent a projectile of hardened mercury speeding through the air. Unlike standard bolter ammunition, this bolt had no propellant, nor did it have a mass-reactive core. This made the shot remarkably quiet, even to Kwaku himself.
The bolt hit the tree just in front of the heretic with a resounding thunk. The man stopped for a moment and then turned to run. Kwaku motionlessly watched him run directly toward where he crouched. He lowered his aim and fired again. This time, the bolt kicked up a shower of dirt on impact, sending it flying at the oncoming man, who fell back, his face contorted in a look of utter surprise.
Kwaku exited his hiding place, materialising from the tree’s shadow, and walked towards his fallen prey. The drums beat furiously now. Louder than they had ever been during his time spectating from afar. Before he revealed himself, the Thrum was a steady annoyance, but now it was a pleasant hum amplified by every step. He looked down at the heretic’s dirty face, lines of sweat creating streaks through the black filth covering him. Under the grime was a look of complete terror. The horrified man finally understood that the black and green angel that let him live was not gone. The whelp began to pray again, using his exact words from their first encounter, speaking with haste, as if he could repeat the same ritual and gain protection a second time.
Kwaku grinned. He almost laughed; his smile was so wide it would have shown the man his teeth if not for the helmet. It felt good, tormenting this cultist. Kwaku still did not understand why these feelings existed, but every observation pushed him that much closer to knowing what triggered the Thrum and how to use it.
Reaching down, he picked the human up by his arm with surprising care before setting him down on his feet. Kwaku uttered one word in a whisper, which was a baritone growl through his vox grill.
The man began to run again, with Kwaku following behind. For four days they travelled, with Kwaku appearing and disappearing from sight, indulging in the pleasures of the hunt. Not once did he lose himself. The drums persisted, but he did not listen. He was the master of his body once more, and he would not let his command of it slip again. On the fifth day, a clearing became visible. Kwaku removed his helmet, mag-locked it to his side, and sprinted at full speed to catch the fleeing heretic.
Kwaku could hear the apostate’s laboured breath. The journey had ravaged the human’s unmodified body. Branches tore his clothes, and his unprotected skin was deathly pale where it was not red with his own blood. It would have been easy to mistake him for a walking corpse from afar, yet he persevered through his agony. The man was seconds from salvation now.
Kwaku grabbed him by his neck, hoisting him into the air. He went limp as if doing so would prompt a swift release. The coward had no strength left to fight, even if he had dared to do so. Kwaku opened his mouth, revealing jet-black teeth punctuated by four razor-sharp fangs. He brought the man closer and bit down on his left shoulder, puncturing pale skin and muscle. Kwaku’s Betcher’s Gland was a storage receptacle for hazardous materials he ingested. Kwaku remembered what he drank before coming to this Emperor-forgotten world. It was green.
The effect was instant. The man began to scream in pain, flailing his arms and legs with restored vigour, clawing at the gauntlet that held him in aloft. Kwaku could not even feel his weak attempt through his armour as he lowered the man to the floor. Before releasing him, he tore the rest of the man’s journey-tattered shirt from his body, exposing his weathered skin. Barely a scar on him, with his only injuries sustained recently. Such rabble had never seen combat before. How could they have? They were so far from any active conflict and in such a remote area that it would have been rare even to see a wandering Ork ship.
This man would die here without ever firing a single shot at an enemy of the Imperium. Disgraceful.
Kwaku watched the turncoat hobble away, yelling for help and nearly falling over with every step. The red puncture holes on the man’s back turned from crimson to the colour of the night sky as the infection spread.
After what must have felt like miles to the heretic but was, in reality, only a few metres, he tripped into the field. With great difficulty, he picked himself up and limped towards the standing guards.
He was in the clearing now, waving with his right hand frantically, attempting to get the attention of the guards who were already looking directly at him. They were incompetent, most likely, but not blind. They saw how his body was rapidly dissolving; tainted black blood was pouring out of the puncture wounds in his shoulder, trailing down his body, blending with the spreading disease. Surprised and disgusted, the guards covered their mouths at the sight of Kwaku’s prey, who staggered directly at them with his left arm limp. With a weak hand, he feebly pointed in the direction from which he had just come.
The traitor was attempting to describe the events he witnessed, barely able to speak at all through his tattered vocal cords, now open to the air. They aimed their lasguns at the ghoul, whose body was becoming a black mess of necrotising flesh. The site of infection was a dripping mass of exposed black muscle covering his entire torso, which now barely held up his arm. Eventually, that too would dissolve.
They fired, lasguns flashing to life, striking the dying man down in a storm of red light. They did not stop firing even when the man was lying still on the ground. Bolts of light pummelled the corpse, burning the black flesh and sending putrid splashes of liquified matter cascading onto the green grass. Wherever the droplets landed, verdant grass turned to stygian rot. Finally, their barrage ended, their charge packs clicking empty.
Kwaku stepped out of the vegetation from which he was observing, catching the eye of the panicked guards. He could see the shock that passed through them as if it were a physical blow that sent a wave through their bodies. One pulled a pair of magnoculars up to their face, pointing at the trees and shouting to the other, describing what he saw. With a smooth movement, Kwaku pulled his sword up to his mouth and activated his Betcher’s Gland. Slowly, he ran his tongue across the edge of his bone-white blade, leaving a green layer of venom on its surface. He lowered his blade and smiled, baring his black teeth. The drums rejoiced, celebrating the act, rewarding Kwaku with a burst of pleasure greater than any he could recall.
The guards scrambled, trying to retrieve their reserve charge packs to replace the ones that ran dry in the extermination of their former ally. Before they could finish, Kwaku returned to the jungle.
Pre-mission reports estimated the number of soldiers posted at this base to be roughly five thousand. Kwaku expected to find more than what the reports included. He did not know the name of this place, for it was so recently established that it did not have one. That did not matter. To him, it was to be a proving ground—a place where he could test his understanding of his affliction. He set about doing just that.
The fort was larger than any other military encampment on the backwater jungle planet. Kwaku effortlessly located holes in its defences. Not every entrance was guarded equally; the traitor’s attention focused on what they expected to be a full frontal assault. Many other chapters of the God-Emperor’s angels would have attacked directly, but Kwaku was different. He knew how to hide his massive transhuman body in the shadows of the jungle’s trees. He would exploit the misconceptions bred by millennia of rumour and fantasy.
Prior to landing, Kwaku had ordered his Overlord gunship to take images of the fort from orbit. He and his squad then discussed the purpose of each of the buildings within. He remembered exactly where the most likely locations were for the base’s food storage, water purification and command centre. These locations were his highest priority.
Kwaku spent two days in the jungle watching the patrol patterns, noting when the shifts changed and where resistance would be the weakest. He made his move when he was confident about his plan of attack.
Aided by his power armour’s silent servo motors, he smoothly reached the clearing in the middle of the night. Even to his gene-enhanced hearing, the only noise audible was the slight depression of grass underfoot. He scanned the clearing, looking for guards before his gaze fell on the bunker opposite the main fort’s front entrance. His eyes drifted to where the guards had executed his pet traitor days before, his comrades unable or unwilling to clean the blackening stain seared into the ground, marking a patch in front of the lookout bunker. While not lightly guarded, it was the location with the least heavy weapons. He spied only one las-cannon mounted atop the bunker, sweeping back and forth along the treeline.
Kwaku could have disabled the weapon with a single shot, for the guard controlling the cannon was exposed through the narrow horizontal slit the size of the man’s visor, but with such limited ammunition, Kwaku deemed it a waste of good bolt rounds. Instead, he unsheathed his combat knife, a blade that would have been a longsword in an unmodified human hand. Kwaku carefully drew his arm back, the knife’s handle held loosely in his palm. He yelled a curse in the language of his homeworld, amplified by his armour’s vox grill; it disturbed the peace of the night, echoing off the fortress’s walls.
The shout triggered something. The Thrum burst into an intense rhythm, anticipating the slaughter to come. In the back of Kwaku’s mind, the drums were permanent, but now they jumped to the fore. With a practised motion, he uncoiled his arm, rotating it in a sideways arc before letting the knife fly. The las-cannon panned toward him with surprising speed, alerted by his amplified scream. The weapon’s operator was met with the knife Kwaku had thrown a moment before. Its monomolecular blade scythed through the night air before hitting its unsuspecting target in the visor, bisecting the man’s head. The drums intensified at the sight.
With preternatural speed, he sprinted through the field. His bolter whispered twice, obliterating the heads of two guards peering out from a trench in front of the now-disabled turret. A few more strides, and he was at the bunker kicking in the door. Was I always that fast? There was no time to dwell on the thought. As the door buckled and broke inwards, a hail of lasbolts poured through the opening, flying past where he had just been. He moved to the side, dodging all but one shot that hit him in the pauldron, scorching the ceramite. Kwaku placed his brother’s bolter on the ground. It was of no use now. The few bolt shells stored within had been expended, and the mechanism to eject the magazine was too damaged to function. The weapon served its purpose well.
Kwaku unclipped a grey metal canister from his belt, pulled the pin and threw it into the bunker door past the torrent of red death. With a burst, smoke filled the bunker, some of the white gas flowing out of the broken door. But it was not smoke. It was a spore grenade.
The spores of Yemayan mushrooms were poisonous, like most things on the oceanic death world. The Black Fangs used this specific type as a means of concealment and a weapon that would attack the minds of anyone without a respirator.
Kwaku walked through the spores unchallenged. Every cultist in the room was clawing at their faces and arms or fighting daemons that were not there. Kwaku knew how potent these grenades were. After all, he was the one who first tested them on a captured traitor. After exposure to the gas, the test subject explained his symptoms to his captors. It was no testimony from a sane man. What he experienced was blurted from his mouth in a ceaseless torrent of words as he clawed his own eyes from their sockets with hooked fingers.
Before Kwaku, now was a similar sight.
What they smelled, saw and heard must have been horrifying, for their attention was centred completely on Kwaku as he strolled through the carnage. The Thrum pounded powerfully as he walked, basking in the repulsion in the eyes of the cultists. The ones that were too busy digging rents in their arms and legs with bloodied fingertips could not avert their eyes. They must see me as a neverborn of midnight skin, Kwaku thought as he unsheathed his bone sword, its surface engraved in ornate patterns, its keen edge glinting a sickly green in the bunker’s harsh lights which began to punch through the settling spore cloud.
Through the terrified screams, Kwaku recognised a handful of traitors attempting to ask for the God-Emperor’s forgiveness. He set about rewarding them all in the only way he knew how: slashing them once on the chest or back with his envenomed blade, sentencing them to the same fate as Kwaku’s pet. There was no saving them, even if help came before they died. The bleeding and rotting would never stop. They would die painful deaths, never achieving the forgiveness many of them sought. Kwaku walked towards a door leading into the camp slowly opened it, its slight creaking punctuated by the sounds of the dying cultists, which echoed quietly through the bunker. To his surprise, he heard nothing on the other side. The response time of the other guards was pathetically slow.
Amateurs, Kwaku thought.
The bunker’s light silhouetted Kwaku’s immense form as he stooped through the door, releasing the latch binding his bolt pistol with a flick and dissolving into the shadows.
The drums exploded in response.
His Chapter waged war with fear and subterfuge, and Kwaku was the best of the Black Fangs at terrorising his enemy. He knew when to appear and when to disappear to have the greatest impact on a foe’s morale. He snuck through the darkness of the base, passing guards who were finally responding to his shout. They ran toward the bunker he left behind. They would not find him there. Precious minutes had passed since Kwaku’s infiltration. Time he used to navigate his way through the fort, ducking through unlit alleys, avoiding all contact with the bustling humans looking for an enemy they never wished to find. Any soldier who knew of the gruesome scene Kwaku left in the bunker would be praying to the God-Emperor, or the false gods, for such a foe to be found by anyone but themselves. As word spread, so would their terror grow and the Thrum build.
Kwaku knew how to manipulate human desires, and the hearts of heretics were the easiest to sway. A thick layer of dread bolstered Kwaku’s already uncanny ability to hide. The few guards who were keen enough to spot movement in the shadows were unable to bring themselves to look any deeper. A simple flick of a lumen would have exposed his presence on many occasions, but it would also have brought death to whoever found him.
Exploiting this apprehension, Kwaku quickly reached the building that served as the rebels’ canteen and, more importantly, the storage centre for their food and water.
The poorly trained and untested planetary defence force allowed their assumptions of the God Emperor’s angels to once again lead them astray. No space marine would tamper with the enemy’s resources in such a way. Or so they thought. With this belief, the traitors left the building unguarded – or worse, the guards stationed there abandoned their post. No matter the reason, Kwaku took full advantage of the opening, slinking into the unprotected building. With i̗nsíkri he had taken from his now-deceased Alchemist, he poisoned the food and water contained within before setting off in the direction of his final target.
The command building was like most buildings in the camp. It was a squat, broad, one-story rockcrete construction with no windows and a single door. It was nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding structures, save for one feature. Standing before the entrance were two guards armed with lasguns. This was the only building in the entire complex that seemed to warrant its own guard detail. The reason for such measures was clear when a towering being in red and silver power armour exited the command building. It was massive, empowered by the dark gods it worshipped.
A traitor space marine of the Word Bearer legion – no more than a vile, inhuman abomination. Corrupted by the dark gods, it had forfeited all the honour and respect that came with the title of Astartes. Its armour was more ostentatious than any of the Black Fangs, its entirety covered in script of an indecipherable language. The giant dwarfed the unmodified humans it walked past, horns protruding from its helmet, further augmenting its already imposing form. The giant signalled his underlings to follow, turning away from where Kwaku hid, bolter held at the ready.
Kwaku checked his bolt pistol’s reserve ammunition, but he knew the answer already. Nearly empty. He exhausted most of his ammunition while he was clearing the previous outpost. This fact did not change what had to be done next.
He unsheathed both of his swords this time. His bone sword, held in his right hand, was completely red with the blood of the humans he had slaughtered, its splendour covered in viscera. The other was a wickedly curved power sickle, its metallic surface relatively clean as it had not seen much use during the campaign. It would now. With a smile, he placed the flat of his bone sword on his right shoulder.
They were close. Only 20 metres apart, the distance relayed directly to Kwaku’s display. It should take little more than a second. He rounded the wall, the drums pushing him forward at speeds exceeding his expectations.
In under a second, he was on them. The Word Bearer, having heard his approach despite how quiet it was, was turning, prompting his human companions to do the same. They were arranged in a staggered triangle, with the traitor Astartes the furthest away and his two lackeys forming a line in front of him. The closest human was dead before she could face him. Kwaku swung his curved blade, left to right, at the turning woman’s neck, removing her head with a burst of energy.
The second was faster than the first, but still was unable to bring his weapon to bear before Kwaku drove his foot into the man’s chest, sending him careening into the nearby wall. The Word Bearer was on him by then, swinging its mace down in a furious strike. Kwaku stepped in closer with his left foot, crouching and allowing the blow to land on the sword resting on his shoulder. The sheer strength behind the attack forced the blade downwards towards his back, impacting the ceramite with a crack of force. Pain flared through his body, and the drums thundered. The weapon and its foul energy cracked his blade, a spiderweb of fractures appearing on its hardened surface but sliding off harmlessly down its length. With the deflection successful, he swung his sickle sword toward the monster’s leg, attempting to hook the blade’s curve behind its knee joint.
The Word Bearer moved effortlessly away from the attack, stepping forward and using the momentum of his deflected swing to gain enough distance to recover his balance.
This thing was fast, and skilled. It outclassed the last hundred men Kwaku butchered combined.
Finally, An opponent worth fighting.
Kwaku could sense the taint of chaos on his opponent, even through his armour. With a roar, the Word Bearer charged forward, his accursed crozius swinging in a deadly arc, wreathed in a sickly green aura that spoke of the foul powers of the warp. Kwaku met the blow with his bone sword, deftly parrying the weapon to the side. He countered with a strike of his own, but the Word Bearer’s massive size did not hamper its speed. It dodged to the side, only receiving a glancing blow that nicked its red ceramic chest plate, erasing a word from its surface.
The warriors circled each other, weapons clashing in the white light cast by the camp’s lumens. In the distance, Kwaku could hear shouting voices closing in. The fort’s occupants were growing nearer by the second, alerted to the battle by the ring of metal and crack of power-wreathed weapons.
Kwaku was faster, spurred on by the frantic drumbeat in his head, but the Word Bearer was stronger and centuries more experienced. The monster pressed forward, his crozius painting a glowing upward arc toward Kwaku’s chin. The Thrum urged him to backstep, but Kwaku ignored it, dodging to the side. The cursed weapon’s path followed his movements and caught him in his left shoulder, knocking him upwards and sending him sprawling to the ground. He rolled to his feet, just in time to parry another blow with his bone sword. The swipe would have bashed him directly in the side of the head, ending the fight then and there. Instead, it was directed upward, away from its intended target.
The Thrum waned, apprehensive of the apparent opening in the Word Bearer’s posture. Once again, Kwaku ignored it. Taking advantage of the creature’s unbalanced stance, he lashed out with his sickle sword, slashing at the Word Bearer’s wrist. His blade connected with a screech of ceramite, but the attack was too shallow to loosen its grip on the weapon. The crozius swung back towards Kwaku, who tried to parry. The blow was too strong, knocking the bone sword from his hand and sending it careening into a nearby wall before it clattered to the ground. The drums were now a funeral march, conveying a sense of disapproval of Kwaku’s actions.
Another attack came, quicker now. Kwaku swung his free arm up, unbalanced, blocking the hit and hearing his bones break as a reward. A searing pain temporarily overpowered the Thrum. He clenched his teeth as he was once again knocked off his feet.
On the rare occasions when Kwaku had sustained injuries of similar severity, he felt the pain immediately. This time, it was as if the pain felt. Good? The drums erupted, drowning the pain he expected, replacing it with a state of euphoria. He felt his body grow in strength as it began the process of mending his bones. Even with the wound healing, the feeling of bliss remained.
The Word Bearer looked at Kwaku’s now limp arm and laughed, a disgusting gurgle of bile. Kwaku pushed himself to his feet as the beast lifted its crozius above its head. He saw both of its hands tense on the hilt, readying for the finishing blow.
Time froze briefly, but the Thrum persisted, pleading for attention as if it was speaking a language only he could understand. At any other time, Kwaku would have believed he was going mad. He would have thought that some warp daemon was tempting him in his final moments. But after days of study, he knew the Thrum was correct. This time, it would not be ignored.
The maul fell.
Kwaku’s arm leapt up, his blade catching the bludgeon on its inside curve, and pushed it slightly off-centre to the right. The Thrum wailed. He twisted his torso sideways and cranked his arm downwards, pushing the crozius towards the ground. The maul hit the floor, and an echoing clash emanated from the impact, setting Kwaku’s drums into a fury. With a turn of the wrist, he unbound his sword from the crozius, which was now embedded in the soft ground. The blade flew through the air, its power field crackling. With his weapon stuck fast, the Word Bearer lifted a hand in a defiant attempt to block. This time, Kwaku’s strike severed the appendage and kept going upwards. Even then, the monster was attempting to retreat. With the full extension of his arm, Kwaku axed the sword’s tip through the vox grill of the traitor Astartes. The power field pushed apart ceramite and bone, ripping straight through the warrior’s face as the blade travelled upwards, splitting the Word Bearer’s skull in two. Its corpse fell limp to the ground, landing in a heap, its helmet divided by a savage rent. Kwaku stooped over the body and removed its head with one final swing of his sword. It was not unknown for the most damned of the archenemy to survive such injuries, and Kwaku was taking no chances.
There was no time to relax, even after his victory. The drums should have been deafening, their intensity increasing even after the battle’s end, but somehow Kwaku could still hear shouts. He could count the individual voices and estimate their distances. The cultists must have grouped up in their approach. This time, their response time was commendable. If nothing else, the voice of their leader brought them to the battleground at speeds Kwaku thought them incapable of.
With his job done, Kwaku attached his sword to his belt and picked up his fallen sword, gripping it in his uninjured hand. In his weakened state, fighting would be challenging, but he was ready anyway. He knew how he wanted the traitors to remember this night.
What he once thought was a curse sharpened his resolve. The Thrum drove him to mutilate in evermore terrifying ways. From the darkness he struck, leaving broken, poisoned bodies, dead and alive, wherever he went. Vectors of infection that would contaminate the area as they decayed.
He wanted his enemy to understand the fury their actions had brought upon them. The rage only intensified by the ambush of his squad. This time, he had control of his body; he knew what he was there to do. He crippled major sections of the complex, robbing the traitors of electricity and communication. Whenever it was possible, Kwaku used the remainder of his bolt pistol’s ammunition to execute leadership from range, not wanting to directly engage in his injured state. He expertly navigated the course back to the bunker he had come through, exiting the fort and melding again into the jungle’s shadows.
The i̗nsíkri Kwaku used to poison the encampment was astonishingly potent; the following week, it infected thousands of cultists when given their water rations. Those infected became catatonic within hours and died within days. Kwaku had ensured not to poison all their water, only enough to make the traitors suffer. When the safe water supply finally ran dry, armed parties of cultists were sent into the jungle to gather more. No party that left the fortress’s walls ever returned. With no clean water, it was only a matter of time.
Within a month of Kwaku’s initial assault, the leaderless rebels’ will was crushed. Sick and starving with less than a fifth of their original number, they surrendered. Unarmed, they marched out of the front gate in a crowd, dishevelled and gaunt. Many needed to be carried out, missing limbs with no hope of acquiring even simple augmetics. He heard the traitors beg for mercy, denouncing the foul gods, which had led them astray.
Kwaku walked into the rabble, which parted slightly, allowing him to wade slowly into the crowd. From the sea of filth came outstretched hands, the closest humans reaching out and touching Kwaku’s power armour with clammy hands. He came to a stop, and the area around him filled with bodies as the cultists pressed themselves against him from all sides, begging for forgiveness. The Thrum called out for their annihilation, but Kwaku would not allow his curse to rob him of his autonomy again.
He raised his gauntleted hands, forming the sign of the Aquila over his scarred chest plate. Kwaku looked around, seeing every cultist, including those who lacked the strength or limbs to do so, attempt to replicate the motion. Under his helmet, Kwaku smiled. He dropped his hands down to his sides, listening to the Thrum in his head urging him to speak.
‘Remain still and accept the judgement of the God-Emperor,’ he bellowed, his voice amplified to deafening levels by his vox grill.
He balled his fists and fell upon the nearest cultists in an instant. With every crushing strike of his ceramite-clad fists came a reverberating base note, sending pleasure coursing through his body. Kwaku was one with the Thrum now, allowing its rhythms to influence his movements as he administered the only punishment worthy of traitors. The heretics’ pleas echoed through the drum beat pounding in his mind. He slaughtered those who accepted their punishment and hunted the few who ran, adding their screams to his dirge of drums.
About the Author
K.A. Nancy is an aspiring aerospace engineer who picked up writing to create content for his Warhammer 40,000 homebrew. Writing for his homebrew chapter of Space Marines has become a hobby he uses to procrastinate when he should be doing other work.