Duty’s Burden

4.75/5 (3)

++ Do not look to us for kindness. Do not look to us for hope. We are not the kind children of this new age. We are the rocks of its foundation. ++

Rogal Dorn, Primarch of the VII

A flash of light burned in the black of space. 

Is this it? thought Cassian Torr, Captain of the 117th Company, VII Legion. Has Horus come? 

His twin hearts beat faster at the thought, even as the more logical parts of his mind ran through a thousand other possibilities. Yet ultimately he knew what he had seen: a ship. A ship tearing its way into real space. Into the Sol System. Into the heart of the Imperium.

He scanned the endless void, eyes scouring the debris and detritus that littered the outer regions of Terra’s system. Searching for more flashes. For more ships. For any sign that this was the first pebble in an avalanche of violence that would crash against the walls of Sol.

Yet none came. 

‘Speak to me, Captain Narsus,’ he said, turning to look back at the Oath of Unity’s mortal commander. His golden-yellow armour purred with even that slight movement, the sound lost in the cacophony that was the bridge. Astartes, mortal crew, Tech Priests and servitors bustled in constant motion, the ordered and smooth running of the Gladius Frigate hidden amongst the apparent anarchy. ‘What is it we face today?’

‘A single ship, my lord,’ replied Narsus, voice heavy with exhaustion. ‘Not military class. A merchant trader; its code identifies it as the Destiny’s Daughter. I am picking up no shields or weapons signals. Their engines are practically dead. They’re simply drifting.’

Torr knew the long hours and endless days being demanded of the man were unfair, that no unaugmented human could hope to keep up such work for long. Yet it was what Dorn and the Sigillite deemed necessary. It was what victory in the name of Unity and the Imperial Truth deemed necessary.

And Torr would not have the Oath of Unity found wanting. When this madness was over, when Horus was defeated, the Imperium would be rebuilt as it should have been. As the Emperor willed it. As a bastion of truth, science, reason and hope.

What has Horus sent against us? Torr asked himself as he looked back into space. Is this some new trickery? Some new lie?

He had patrolled the edges of the Sol System for years. Ever since the Eisenstein had brought the impossible news of Horus’s betrayal to Dorn and the Imperial Fists. In the intervening years, the entirety of the system had been transformed into a fortress – patrols like his, its first and furthest line of defence.

But it was a line yet to be tested. 

Nothing had reached the Sol System. Not since the Eisenstein. It was as if silence had engulfed the galaxy. Yet Torr knew this could not be true. All eighteen Legions – loyal and treacherous – could not have just gone silent. Something out there, beyond the cold of the void, had changed.

He saw this also in the Oath of Unity’s Astropath. In her whispered mutterings. In her nervous glances towards the open void. 

Summons had been sent to those Legions, Expeditionary Forces and Forge Worlds known to be loyal, a tsunami of astropathic messages to sweep through the galaxy. Yet nothing came back. No ships reached them. No messages. Are we alone? Have all our brother Legions turned their backs on the dream of the Imperium? On their oaths and vows? On Terra?

Something unfamiliar wormed its way through him at the thought. Is this fear? That emotion was all but unknown, ever since he had been plucked from the ice hives of Inwit and raised to the ranks of the Legiones Astartes. And yet, he pondered, perhaps its echo still exists somewhere within

‘Are we receiving any communication from them?’ he asked, his voice flat and hard, masking his thoughts and fears. ‘Does anything live aboard?’

‘No communications, my lord,’ answered Narsus. ‘But we are picking up life signs. Not many, but undeniably human.’

Torr nodded. ‘Very good, Captain. Make full speed to intercept. Have weapons ready to fire, but hold until commanded.’

‘Your will, my lord,’ said Narsus. He paused for a heartbeat. ‘Should I alert Lord Falkar? The Sigillite’s orders may pertain to this.’ 

Torr rubbed his armoured gauntlet across his closely shaven scalp, feeling the iron of his centenary mark of service riven into his thick, transhuman brow. The mark of over a century of service to the ideals of Truth and Unity. It reminded him of the campaigns he had fought. Of the brothers he had lost. Of the horrors he had seen. He shook his head. ‘No. Lord Falkar’s involvement is to be a last resort.’ 

He opened his Legion vox link. ‘ Sergeant Haster, prepare a boarding party.’

+++

Shadows and silence filled the Destiny’s Daughter. Torr and Breacher Squad Haster moved through her corridors in purposeful unity, methodical and thorough. Their shields overlapped to create an impenetrable wall of ceramite and iron. The golden yellow of their thick MKIII armour was bathed crimson as emergency lumens flashed endlessly throughout the seemingly deserted ship. 

Torr heard a click in his helm, followed instantly by another, as he had every five minutes since the boarding operation had begun nearly an hour ago. The signals told him that Breacher Squads Solon and Carr were moving through the ship on schedule, having met no resistance or signs of life. He suspected he’d receive the same ‘all clears’ again in five minutes.

He clicked back in reply, then let out a growl of frustration. His trigger finger itched, aching to feel the kick of his bolter, to hear its roar. 

He took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm, and silently chided himself for the moment of laxity. He remembered the words of his father and Primarch, Lord Dorn: Discipline. Duty. Unyielding Will. These are the measures by which every warrior is judged.

 Am I bored? he asked himself. If he was being honest, he’d half hoped to find an ambush aboard the Destiny’s Daughter. To see his traitorous brothers advancing towards him, bolters roaring their madness. The colours of those Legions he had once fought beside – the regal purple of the Emperor’s Children, the sea-green of the Sons of Horus, the blood-splattered white and blue of the World Eaters – flashed through his mind and he ground his teeth. He wanted to kill.

Astartes, he reflected, were not built for such lengthy periods of inactivity. For long years of patrol and garrison. For what was now demanded of him and his brothers. 

‘Is all well, Captain?’ asked Haster, the Veteran Sergeant’s gravel voice filling his helm’s private comm-link. 

‘All is well, Brother-Sergeant,’ Torr replied. ‘I was distracted. Thank you for drawing my attention back to the duty at hand.’

He heard Haster’s grunt of laughter in his vox-link. ‘Some things never change, it seems. I’ve been watching your back since we were Initiates. What would you do without me?’ 

Torr felt the corners of his mouth tug into the beginnings of a smile as he checked their position against the ship’s schematics on his retinal display. They were not far from the centre of the ship and the cargo hold. Where, according to Captain Narsus, the only signs of life could be detected. ‘Not long now,’ he whispered to himself as the rhythmic clang of their armoured boots echoed throughout the labyrinthine corridors.

+++

Explosions ripped open the cargo hold’s blast doors, filling the hallways with smoke and fire and a storm of metal shards. Even through his helm’s environmental dampeners, Torr felt his ears ring.

Then the screams started.

‘Only fire on my command,’ he ordered as he raised his breacher shield and began to advance alongside Squad Haster. Smoke enveloped them for the briefest second, before they emerged into the cargo hold of the Destiny’s Daughter

Torr finally saw something from beyond the Sol System, from the chaos that had engulfed the galaxy.

Ragged humanity filled the cargo hold, stretching out into the dark corners of the vast room. Men, women and children huddled together, their clothes hanging loosely from bone-thin limbs as wide, terror-stricken eyes stared back at him from faces too thin with hunger. Pleas for mercy, prayers for help, and screams of panic filled the air. Most shied away from the approaching astartes, hunching over in small groups, as if they could disappear into the gloom.

One man, braver or stupider than the rest, stepped out from the crowd. He clutched an autogun in his shaking hands, the weapon rusted almost beyond repair. 

Do it.

The words rushed unbidden into Torr’s mind as he felt the increasingly familiar itch in his trigger finger. Adrenaline coursed through his veins as his eyes settled on the barrel of the gun.

Do it

‘Begone, foul daemons!’ screamed the man, his voice breaking into a high-pitched squeak. ‘The Emperor protects!’

His final words were taken up by others amongst the crowd. It rallied them, as it echoed in the open cavern of the hold. Torr grimaced. At what those words implied. At a belief in the divine, so at odds with the enlightened ideals of the Imperium. Yet also of loyalty.

His hand shot out, too fast for a mortal’s eye to follow, and snatched the gun from the refugee’s hands with a savage twist. He felt the man resist for the briefest moment, before giving way with a pained cry. 

Torr looked down at the man – on his knees, a grimace across his face, cradling one shoulder. He felt a moment’s satisfaction at the release of violence, before he crushed it with a force of will. These are citizens of the Imperium. They deserve our protection.

He dropped the gun. It clattered to the ground, the metallic ring echoing from the walls. Almost deafening in the silence of the hold. 

Something behind the man flinched at the sound. A muffled cry reached Torr’s ears. 

A girl, he thought as his eyes settled on the crouched figure. Perhaps four or five years old, Terran Standard. Though, he had to admit to finding estimates of age hard with such young mortals. Her hair had been crudely shorn to the scalp, but small tufts stuck out from amid the stubble. She clung tightly to the man’s back, keeping herself in his shadow, even as she stared up at him. Her eyes, wide and dark, met Torr’s. Yet she didn’t look away. 

Brave, Torr thought, for a mortal. For one so young

‘Stand down, civilians,’ he said, voice amplified by the vox in his armour. ‘You are safe now. You are in the custody of the Seventh.’

He noticed the girl wince at the sound of his voice, pressing her hands to her ears and looking down at the floor. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he dimly remembered the first time he had seen an astartes. The sheer size. The aura of violence. It had been overwhelming.

Torr dropped to one knee, bringing himself as close to the girl’s level as possible. He removed his helm, remembering a treatise written by Guilliman on first interactions between astartes and mortals. Such simple measures, the lord of the Thirteenth argued, lessened the shock when interacting with members of the Legions. It humanised them in the eyes of the unaugmented. 

Torr almost laughed at the idea. As if I have not given up my humanity to become what they need me to be. To become a shield for their kind. To become a weapon against the horrors of this universe.

He reached forward slowly, resting his gauntleted hand on the girl’s shoulder. ‘What is your name, child?’ he asked, doing his best to keep his voice light and the hint of a smile on his lips. He knew such verbal and physical cues were important to the unenhanced. 

‘Patti,’ whispered the girl, bringing her gaze up to meet his once more. ‘Is… Is Mama here? Papa said she would be, even though she couldn’t get the same ship as us.’ Sobs began to wrack the little girl’s body and she hurled herself back against her father’s body, burying her face in his thin shirt.

Torr felt the temperature drop, permafrost creeping across the floor. Radiating out from the girl. Crawling up his arm. Psyker. He pulled back and turned to meet the father’s eyes.

‘We’re from the Lastrati System,’ said the man, his voice edged with hope, yet tinged with fear. ‘When the traitors came… There was such chaos. We got separated.’

Torr shook his head. 

‘Yohanna,’ continued the man, his words tumbling out too quickly. ‘Yohanna Taraf. That’s her name. I am Emil. Her husband. There must be news.’ 

 ‘No,’ said Torr, his voice now stone and brooking no argument. ‘Yours is the first ship to have reached Sol in nearly two years.’ 

Emil fell silent, his jaw working wordlessly. The buzz of chatter filled the air, spreading like wildfire throughout the refugees as Torr’s words reached the ears of others. 

‘The first?’ Emil asked eventually as he clasped his daughter’s hands. ‘But there were so many.’

Torr stared back for a moment, seeing the tears begin to trickle from Emil’s eyes. ‘I am sorry.’

He stood and turned his back on the man, looking over the silent wall of ceramite that Breacher Squad Haster had formed behind him. His eyes met Haster’s, seeing his old friend had also removed his helmet. ‘These people are not to leave this hall.’ He paused. ‘But do not harm them. They are loyal citizens of the Imperium.’

He turned his focus back to Emil and Patti once more. They were on their knees, arms wrapped tight around each other. The halo of frost around them crept ever further across the floor with each second. Their bodies rose and fell with choked sobs, tears streaming down their faces. Torr’s transhuman senses heard Emil whisper reassurances to his daughter as he stroked her hair. He told her that her mother would be okay. That she would find a way. That the Emperor was watching them. To have faith. 

Superstition. Torr looked away in anger. Primitive. Illogical. He felt sick at the irony of it. That the Legions had spent two centuries crusading across the stars, destroying such beliefs and bringing the Truth to the galaxy. But, here it was. At the very heart of the Imperium itself. 

Yet it is these people that stand loyal. Unlike my brother Legions. Unlike those I fought with. Unlike those I shed blood with. The thought soured in Torr’s mind, his mask of stone slipping to anger.

He saw the faces of those he had once fought beside from the Traitor Legions in his mind. The faces of those he had called once Brothers. Sar Krael of the Sons of Horus, his olive skin in stark contrast to the once brilliant white of their old Legion. Varon of the Emperor’s Children, his porcelain features marred by the occasional faint duelling scar. Kargur of the World Eaters, his brutish features only accentuated by a myriad of criss-crossing scars and his permanently broken nose.

Torr clicked his vox-link open, drawing himself back to the present. ‘Captain Narsus, do you hear me?’

‘Yes, my lord,’ came the reply, static scratching in Torr’s ears.

‘Inform Lord Dorn and First Captain Sigismund that we have made contact with refugees from the war.’ He paused. ‘Then prepare several parties of your mortal crew to board the Destiny’s Daughter. They are to bring food and water. Medicine too.’

‘Your will, my lord,’ replied Narsus. ‘I will see to it at once.’

Torr watched Patti and Emil for a second more. Their cries were hushed and lost in the vastness of the hold, their prayers faint, yet distinct. Other refugees shuffled away from them. Away from the creeping frost and the aura of cold. Away from the girl. From the psyker.

His stomach churned at what he had to do next. 

‘Captain Narsus,’ he said once more. ‘Inform the Lord Falkar and the Sigillite’s agents too.’

+++

Torr watched black figures move through the crowd. Each bore the stylised I of Malcador, the Sigillite and the Emperor’s right hand, upon their chests. A symbol that conferred upon them nigh-on unlimited power.

He watched them methodically approach each group, dataslates in hand, recording each story – and he saw the fear and confusion in each refugee’s eyes. These men were something new, something unknown. And despite being just ordinary men and women – no, Torr corrected himself, Malcador’s people would never be ordinary – they seemingly commanded greater fear than the astartes of the VII Legion. 

Disquiet filled Torr at their presence. At the nature of their work. 

He glanced behind to Squad Haster. Each stood immobile, a fortress of ceramite and gene-enhanced flesh in their own right. Each proudly bore the black fist of the Seventh, declaring their allegiance for all to see. The Sigillite’s people could not be more different than the Sons of Dorn. What do they portend for the Imperium?

Sensing movement in the periphery of his vision, Torr looked towards the cargo hold’s doors. His eyes settled on a lone figure in burnished gold armour, a great blade at her waist, a crimson top knot tumbling down her back. 

A member of the Silent Sisterhood.

Revulsion flooded through him at the sight. His twin hearts beat faster. Adrenaline began to pump through his gene-enhanced body. His hands clenched into tight fists.

He closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe deeply. To calm himself.

Opening his eyes, he found his gaze drawn to a group of the Sigillite’s agents. They were dragging a pair of refugees towards the Sister. Emil and Patti. Torr felt anger rise hot inside his chest at the realisation. 

Tears stained the father’s cheeks, a look of weary defeat written across Emil’s face. The face of a broken man. Patti screamed. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped her father’s hands, his shirt, his arms. Her legs kicked wildly, her movements more frantic as she grew closer to the Witchseeker. 

Torr’s eyes met hers. They were bloodshot and puffy, a river of tears flooding from them. Help me! Please! Help me! The words – Patti’s words – screamed in his mind. He shuddered. A ripple of terror ran through him, her own fear and anguish shared for just an instant.

His eidetic memory ran through her story. He remembered the way her father had described the terror and confusion as drop pods had rained from the sky above Lastrani. He could almost picture the mad scramble amid the ruins and smoke of the space port. The feel of fingers slipping apart as Patti’s mother was dragged away by the current of the crowd. He could almost smell the stench of sweat and piss as they had huddled in the dark of the Destiny’s Daughter, as it shuddered beneath the onslaught of cannon fire. 

More superstitious minds might call it a miracle, he thought, pondering the immensity of the refugee’s luck. And this is the greeting they find from the Imperium? From those supposed to protect them? To be torn from each other’s arms after all they have suffered?

Something inside Torr snapped. His fingers curled involuntarily around the grip of his sword and he felt the blade slide just a fraction from its sheath as he strode towards the diorama of misery. Refugees stumbled from his path as the heavy tread of Squad Haster following echoed in his ears. As he had known they would, even without orders. They were his Brothers.

Is this the Imperium we fight for? Is this the future of humanity? The future my brothers died for? One of secrets and shadows? One where innocent people disappear in the night? 

‘What is the meaning of this?’ Torr thundered as he neared the agents.

The closest flinched before turning to face him, his eyes wide as he took an involuntary step back. Torr heard the man swear under his breath as the chemical smell of fear filled his gene-enhanced nostrils.

‘Lord captain,’ the man started, ‘my orders are-’

‘I did not ask for your orders, Chosen of Malcador,’ growled Torr. ‘They are plainly clear. I asked for your reasons.’

The click of light footsteps sounded nearby. He glanced towards the sound, seeing the Sister had turned towards them, her face a passionless mask. He felt cold, an unnatural sense of dread filling him, as her eyes settled on him. He looked away quickly, returning to the mortal before him.

‘These people,’ began the agent again, straightening his back and meeting Torr’s gaze. ‘These people are to be transferred to-’

‘Silence,’ snarled Torr. He punched a finger in the direction of Patti and Emil. ‘Their only crime is fleeing the atrocities of the Traitor Legions. This girl could be trained. Her talents could benefit the Imperium. Instead, you drag her away into the shadows. Does your master fear little girls so much?’

The agent’s eyes flared angrily for a second, before flickering to the space behind Torr. The corners of his mouth tugged into a smile. 

‘Is our presence so distasteful to you, Captain Torr?’

Torr remained silent as he turned to face this new speaker. Ice-blue eyes stared back at him from a hawkish face of ghostly skin. Silence settled between the two, stretching out for long, pregnant seconds. 

‘I am always astounded by your kind’s aptitude for petty behaviour, Captain,’ continued the man, turning his own gaze upon the sight of Patti’s father. ‘It could be argued that such pettiness is the cause of all this madness.’

‘Indeed, Chosen Falkar,’ replied Torr after a moment. 

He studied the Sigillite’s man. Falkar was painfully thin, with the typically near-emaciated and elongated form of those born and raised in the low gravity of space. Yet, despite the sheer difference in size and bulk that the astartes carried, the man weathered Torr’s gaze as if made of stone.

An impressive feat of mental strength, conceded Torr as he repressed the now familiar itch to draw his weapon. At the mortal’s display of defiance. 

Torr ground his teeth as Patti’s pleas for help, her prayers to the Emperor, moved further away. He heard the scuff of her feet dragged across the floor. He heard a body slump to the floor, Emil’s sobs joining his daughter’s cacophony. The desire to draw his sword, to hear the bark of his bolter, swelled inside, near overwhelming.

You have failed them.

‘You speak of pettiness,’ snarled Torr, ‘yet you are not the one who has fought across the length and breadth of the galaxy. You are not the one who has seen his Brothers die. You are not the one who has sacrificed their very humanity. All this, I have done with the ideals of Unity and Truth in my hearts.’

Torr gestured across the hall, pointing at each of the Sigillite’s agents with a sharp jab of a finger. 

‘You and your kind threaten those ideals. You sink this war into shadows and secrets. You are a poison that stains the Imperium.’ Torr spat. ‘What was the purpose of those sacrifices – my brothers’ sacrifices – if we throw our ideals away? We must hold ourselves to a higher standard.’

Falkar met the astartes’ tirade with a surprising calmness, his ice-blue eyes almost blazing in the gloom of the ship’s hold as they met Torr’s stare. ‘And what, lord captain,’ he replied, ‘would be the purpose of those sacrifices should we lose this war?’ Falkar let the question sit for a second. ‘We are a new weapon, Captain – or a new poison, as you say – because this is a new war.’ 

Silence hung for an eternity between the two of them. Eventually the mortal turned to look across the mass of humanity that filled the room. He took a deep breath and clasped his hands behind his back.

‘Our enemy is insidious, Lord Captain. They will not just come for us with bolter and chainsword. They will not just come to tear down our walls. They will come to tear down our very purpose. They will come to destroy everything we believe in. They will come from the shadows and dark. We are the shield against these threats. That is why the Sigillite created our order.’ 

‘Then you have already failed,’ Torr said after a moment. ‘You cannot defend the ideals of Truth and Unity with lies and deceit.’

Falkar shook his head and pulled out a dataslate, fingers flicking through its contents. When he’d finished, he looked up and met Torr’s eyes once more.

There is something different in him now, noticed the astartes. The hard edge is gone. There is sadness there. An exhaustion of the soul. 

‘Then I am sorry, Lord Torr,’ started Falkar. ‘For what I must ask of you now.’

He held out the dataslate. Runes of the highest authority flashed across its surface. Torr read the orders, even as his stomach tightened. As his trigger finger itched once more. As the desire to rip his sword free filled him.  

‘No.’ He growled the word through clenched teeth.

‘No?’

Falkar’s eyes momentarily flashed in surprise. Just for an instant, but Torr saw it. He did not expect resistance, he realised. Not from a Son of the Seventh. They think us cold. Made of stone. They do not understand the fire that burns within. The drive. The Purpose. The ideals. 

‘No,’ Torr growled once more.

‘There is no refusal here, Captain Torr,’ replied Falkar, his voice now clipped with an icy steel. ‘These orders come from the Sigillite himself. And co-signed by your father. Would you deny Lord Dorn’s command?’ 

Torr froze. Co-signed by your father. The words haunted him. To see Lord Dorn and the Seventh dragged down into the mire of shadows. That was what they meant. 

Would you deny Lord Dorn’s command? The words flittered through his head as he thought of what was being asked of him. Of how they had treated those fleeing for safety. 

What kind of monsters have we become? he asked himself.

He thought of Patti and her father’s story. He thought of all he had heard from the refugees. He ran through every detail. He knew, as sure as if he was there himself, what happened in the Lastrati System. He knew what happened when the Sixteenth had come.

Anger swelled inside by what his erstwhile cousins had done. By what the once proud scions of Horus had become. Disgust filled him at the thought of those warriors he was once proud to have served alongside. By how far they had fallen.

What kind of monsters have they become?

He looked down at the dataslate again. He read the words again.

 

+  Immediate transfer of all non-psykers to the internment prisons of Titan for processing and interrogation. +

 

‘Why?’

Falkar breathed deeply and nodded, a look of relief washing across his face. ‘Because of what they have seen. Because of what they know. Because their tales of daemons and gods and monsters cannot be allowed to spread throughout Terra’s defenders. Because these stories, and those that would spread them, are a weapon for our enemy. As sure as any bolter.’

Falkar fell silent and looked back across the refugees. Torr turned with him a second later.

Is this the future you fought for? The question whispered in the back of Torr’s mind. Is this the Imperium you would be a part of? But what is the alternative?

He thought of the defenders of Terra. Of the fear he has seen in their eyes already. He thought of what he had heard today, of the tales of gods and daemons, and what it would do to their fear. He knew Falkar’s words to be true.

Images of Terra burning filled his mind. Of its walls cast down. Of his brothers broken. Of its citizens slaughtered. Of its ideals ground into dust.

Will you do what is necessary to prevent that future? 

With that question echoing through his thoughts, Torr clicked open his Legion-coded vox channels.

‘Squad Haster, make ready.’

He heard the thud of ceramite boots on the floor as they moved to attention beside him. He heard the click of boltguns loading. He smelled the tang of fear in the air.

He glanced sideways towards Haster. His old friend’s face was a grim mask, unreadable save a fury blazing in his eyes. A fury at me? pondered Torr. Or at what we must do? What have we become? 

But Torr knew such anger was irrelevant. He knew what must be done. What duty demanded. He looked back across the refugees arrayed before him.

‘Citizens of the Imperium,’ he said, his gene-enhanced voice carrying easily throughout the hanger. ‘You will accompany us back to the Oath of Unity. There you will be processed and sent for internment on Titan. These are the orders of Lord Dorn and Malcador the Sigillite. Do not resist.’

Anger filled the air almost immediately after his pronouncement. Questions and shouts spread like wildfire through the crowd as something snapped in their collective minds. The sight of the astartes warriors before them, once a promise of salvation and deliverance, now the face of repression and danger. 

One woman stepped out from the crowd. Her face, painfully thin from malnutrition, was a contorted mask of rage. She held a broken piece of piping tight in two hands.

‘Why are you doing this?’ she screamed. ‘What crime have we committed? You should be protecting us! Helping us!’

‘Stand down, citizen,’ commanded Torr. The fury in the woman’s voice was a spark to his own base instincts. He fought to keep his voice calm. He fought to stop his hands from reaching for the bolt pistol at his belt. 

‘You are monsters!’ screamed the woman. ‘You oppress us! For what crime? Have we not suffered enough?’

‘Stand down,’ said Torr once more. A warm heat began to spread through his muscles as they loosened. He felt his hearts thump faster. His trigger finger itched once more. He found he had drawn his bolt pistol. 

Her cry was taken up by the rest of the crowd. They pressed forward, towards Torr and the other Imperial Fists. Torr made to step in front of Falkar, but noticed the Sigillite’s agent had disappeared.

A howl of pain split the air. One of the black armoured figures tumbled from the horde of refugees, kicked to the ground. Their throat had been slit. Their face was a mass of bruising radiating out from caved-in eye sockets. Blood wept from stab wounds across their body. Torr’s eyes settled on their empty holster.

A gunshot rang out. Torr felt its force against his pauldron. Heard it ricochet against the dull steel of the cargo hold’s roof. 

He raised his pistol. Squad Haster appeared in his periphery, shields locked together, bolters ready. There was no need to open the vox channel this time. Not with his brothers so close.

‘Fire.’

 

+++

Dead bodies littered the cargo hold. It was an abattoir. Blood coated the floor and splattered the walls. Bodies – of men, women and children – lay at unnatural angles, their limbs torn like petals from a flower by the explosive power of bolt rounds. The stench of shit and piss and gunsmoke filled his nostrils. 

Accusing eyes stared back at him. Over six hundred dead. He had made the count himself. His eyes met the dead gaze of Patti’s father. 

Why? they asked. In Torr’s own voice. It is the question he asked Falkar. Now it is the question he asks himself. 

Torr opened his eyes, bringing his mind back from the slaughter in the cargo hold of the Destiny’s Daughter. Agony shot through his arm. He bit down, grinding his teeth and tasting the iron tang of his own blood as he shut out the effects of the Pain Glove. 

Discipline and unyielding will, he reminded himself, but the question remained. It echoed through his mind.

Why?

But Torr knew the answer.

Because you are a weapon. A monster. 

Because it is what you need to be. Because it is your purpose to be the rock upon which the Imperium can be built. To find victory, so that those that come after you can build a better world.

Torr knew this in his hearts. He had heard his father speak on it. He remembered giving his oath aboard the Phalanx. He remembered kneeling before his Lord Dorn, hand thrust into a brazier of fire, and swearing to be the weapon that the Imperium needed. To never give in. To find victory. No matter the cost.

No matter the cost.

He thought once more of the refugees. He thought of Patti and her father, Emil. Of what they suffered at the hands of his treacherous cousins. Of the danger they posed to the Imperium’s victory. Of what they had suffered at the hands of the Imperium.

He thought of Falkar’s words. ‘And what, lord captain, would be the purpose of your sacrifices should we lose this war?’

And he vowed anew that he would not lose. That he would find victory. He vowed to do whatever was necessary. He vowed to be that monster now, so that the Imperium and its dream could live on.

For that was his duty. And duty is all. 

About the Author

 J.S. Savage is a teacher in the UK and has been an avid of all things 40k and Warhammer Fantasy since he accidently found his way into a Games Workshop store as a young boy. When he was younger, he was a keen writer but has only just started up again recently. Between work and being a parent, he doesn’t get nearly enough time to paint, read and write as much as he would like – or as much sleep as he needs!

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