Kill, the darkness told him. Less a thought or an impulse than a driving animus. It had framed the purpose before as purge or purify, but these were distortions, heat-haze of the fire that fuelled Azak.
Fuelled him to rise through unfamiliar pain. When had he last felt pain? Felt anything but kill? His adolescence, perhaps. An upbringing amongst the Clades could only be filled with pain. It was strange his legs hurt so, from five feet away.
The deck shook, or he did, or both as the ship bucked its terminal descent while his body and last traces of combat stims burned through one another. He must have lain here for hours, awoken by his withdrawals and the incessant banging against the bridge door.
Kill, the dark directed. It was a poor guide to the world in which he had awoken. Gothic architecture, splashed with blood and defaced where religious and authorial symbols once hung. Dim lighting, stale air, and the persistent, electric shriek of dissatisfied machine spirits. Broken eagles, broken angels. Even rising to the stars, mankind could not help but dredge up the climate of the underhives – save for the viewport, where distant suns were slowly swallowed by the green orb Azak careened towards.
He could not remember viridescence. His world wore the colours of industry and death, and he had thought little more was left to the galaxy. His hands had certainly played their part.
He looked to their remains. One was little more than a claw, a thumb and two bladed forefingers that shook to the turbulent beating of his heart. A blackened stump ended the opposite wrist. His bodysuit above it had burned or torn away, revealing skin crisscrossed in old scars, and an ugly gap framing the indent of human teeth.
Axien. A world turned from the Emperor’s Light, torn apart by degeneracy and sedition. A dark feast, halls packed with the meat of human flesh and suffering, of cannibal glut and animalistic copulation. Arms lead-heavy, heads piled high; a success measured in the bone-blunt of his cutting edges and the quieting even of kill.
He should not remember such things. They should not be there to remember, especially when so little else of him remained. He couldn’t remember his own face. Azak abandoned the mosaic of his arm to the mess of his torso, where a network of wounds told him that whatever the Clade had replaced his organs with were perforated beyond repair. A falling claw clinked plasglass – the fate of viewscreens and his auto-injectors, shattered in the fighting. He fumbled around for his naked injection ports, spilling combat stims and catalyst like his wounds leaked blood. Damage to his failsafe explained why he’d not detonated and taken out the whole bridge. His fingers settled upon a blade hilt.
The Astartes. The traitor. Kill. It watched Azak still with blood-red eyes, but whatever sanity had remained was dissolved in the agony of enough nerve toxin to solvate an ogryn. Muscular convulsions had pulled it apart from the inside, and only its armour held its form together as anything recognizable as once having been human.
It was not his first. There was no satisfaction in the memory.
Iriliz. Fruit blossoming beneath a white moon, blood amongst the orchard boughs. The Marine should not have been there, unarmed and unarmoured, should not have believed there was such a thing as innocent blood… or perhaps… perhaps he had been exactly the target. It was not above the Inquisition to bare blades against a loyal chapter.
How could it be, when they fought hell in the very pit?
Sarnival. Skinned men hosting colonies of red-black beetles, seeking the still-living. Not-wolves made from wire-bound flesh and warpfire. Hell. Screaming and screaming and screaming. They should have burned him to ashes after that. They should have fired him into a sun.
He had had another name then. When had he lost it?
Were these flashes the total of his life, now the sum of his death? A reaper blind to the darkness that drove his actions. A talon of the aquila, ignorant to the shape of the beast it pierced, to where the blood of the kill dripped. What else would he see, to look fully upon himself?
Someone coughed. Kill. Someone that should not be breathing. For all this lucidity, Azak was halfway to her through the blood and shattered glass before he realised; poised beside her, stump raised, before he gave it a second thought. He almost laughed.
She mirrored him, in ways. Pierced and broken, dying, sightless eyes searching the darkness for something to salve the pain he instead embraced, or explain the why of it. He wondered what she would see if she could look upon him, what she could tell him before ragged breaths ceased. He removed his mask.
“What year is it?”
She started at the sound. “Who-”
“Death. What year?”
“It is… 996.” So long had passed. Did any remember his name, his face?
“Gods, the pain… I am dying.”
“Yes. What do you see?”
“I see… nothing.”
Nothing. His blades slid beneath her chin and up through the base of her skull. Alarms blared above, ignored. She reflected him more now than ever, more than gaunt, ragged visage he caught reflected in glassy shards. The tired mannish facsimile, the self-pitying, senile ghost. This was not him.
The contorted forms surrounding him – shorn and butchered, rictus masks of pain and terror, souls sent to warpish hells – this was him. This funerary art, this ship a mausoleum, that would shatter and burn in the crash, scarring a green world black. This was Azak.
He lifted his mask, held with his stump while claws fumbled to reattach it. This was his face.
The viewport lit up with the fires of re-entry. He shook as the ship shook, as moments later a whole world would shake. This would be the sum of his death. This was his epilogue.
About the Author
UK-based L. James Elliott is a longtime Warhammer 40k fan, general fantasy/sci-fi nerd, and occasional writer. When not struggling to write a bio, he aims to bring a fresh voice and new directions to the grim darkness of the far-future.