She ran, there was nothing else she could do. She was no mighty Sororitas, no fiery confessor, not even a strong enforcer of the Frater Militia. She was but a humble functionary, one more faceless bean-counter for the counting of holy tithes on the Cardinal world of Sacellum. Her life had been dull and that was how she liked it, only herself and her daughter, eking out their days in dreary toil. She had no desire for excitement or strife, but it had found her anyway. So Arleia ran.
The stones of the Cathedral shook underfoot, dancing in a manner no building ever should. Stained glassic windows came and went, lit from behind by ethereal flashes emanating from pitch black clouds. Something was wrong with that light, twisting the holy imagery. With each booming flash the saints rendered in glassic became cruel and mocking, the light somehow making their piety hollow and transforming virtue into vice.
Arleia kept her head down as she ran along soaring passages, brown robes tangling her sandaled feet and the rosary chain hanging from her belt clapping with every step. She had left her offices, a sin on any other day, but all thoughts of duty were driven from her mind. The warp-storm had come from nowhere, wrapping Sacellum in a tornado of infernal hate. Arleia had only one thought in her head, to reach her daughter. Trikse was so young, she had to make sure her daughter was safe. Trikse was all she had, ever since her rat-bastard husband had run off.
She ducked into the corridor, only to run straight into someone. A doughty older woman, heavy in girth and with arms made thick with muscle from dragging wet laundry up and down hundreds of stairs every day. Arleia screamed, she thought a monster had found her, but swiftly realised it was a friend.
“Shawee?!” Arleia gasped.
Shawee barked, “What’s going on out there?!”
“I don’t know, I have to reach Trikse!” she yelped.
“She’s in your quarters?” Shawee asked.
“Doing her prayers, like a good girl.”
Shawee nodded desperately, “Down in the undercroft, down is good.”
The pair took off, racing along the passage. Arleia had walked this route every day since she was a novitiate, but never had it seemed so long. By the time they were halfway breath was gasping in her lungs and her heart was trying to burst through ribs. Pain spiked her shins with every step and her feet were numb, but she pressed on, thinking only of Trikse, her little girl was all alone in their quarters, she must be so scared.
Shawee ran faster. Arleia was a step behind, praying for all she was worth that they went unnoticed. Yet the God-Emperor had never favoured her, and it turned out He did not favour her today either. As they neared the stairs something came for them. Arleia looked directly at it and beheld a face with a hundred eyes, surrounding a hooked beak and a crest of pink feathers. Rags of uniform still clung to it, the man it had taken as a host reduced to wisps of cloth. The lower half was constantly changing, an ever swirling torrent of flames and flesh, shifting from moment to moment, never fixed, never true.
“Daemon!” Arleia screamed in horror.
“Throne, throne, throne, throne, throne!” Shawee howled over and over as she collapsed, clawing at her own face as her sanity shattered.
The Daemon pounced upon the howling woman as its beak flashed. Arleia didn’t stay to watch her friend die, she dove through a door and pounded down the winding stair. Her mind teetered on the brink of insanity, the sheer unearthly horror threatening to plunge her into a sea of madness. Trikse, she had to reach her daughter, she couldn’t let the Daemon have her.
With every step Arleia heard a wet slathering noise. The Daemon was following, it had her scent and wanted to eat her soul. Terror lent Arleia speed and she dashed down the winding stair, growing dizzy as the turns kept coming. Fifty levels down she ducked through a narrow door and ran down a stone passage. Still heard the slathering noise, the Daemon was on her tail.
Arleia reached her quarters and threw the door open. A modest room, with cupboards and two heating coils. Trikse had the sleeping room to herself, Arleia slept on a mat. A shrine to the God-Emperor took up the rest and before it a young girl knelt. Blonde hair made of curls, a face so innocent and so filled with fear.
“Mama!” Trikse called with a child’s delight, “I was praying as you told me.”
Arleia gasped, “Come here!”
“Are we going on a journey?”
“Don’t ask questions, just come here,” Arleia implored.
Trikse came over as Arleia moved to the cupboards and took something out. Then she sat on the sleeping mat and waved her daughter over. The child climbed into her mother’s lap, curious and without fear. Arleia’s mind was brewing with terror, she could hear the Daemon outside the door, it was coming for them, coming to eat their souls. All Arleia could do was keep the fear off her face and take her daughter in a tight embrace, holding her close as she squeezed hard, “The God-Emperor loves you.”
“Mama, you’re hurting me,” Trikse gasped.
“Hush child, He loves us all,” Arleia breathed as tears formed.
“I won’t let it eat your soul,” Arleia wept.
Trikse went limp and when Arleia drew back the knife she held was wet with blood. She closed her eyes and pressed her face into blonde curls. She heard the door cracking as the Daemon tore it apart effortlessly. Arleia’s terror was all-encompassing, but she kept her eyes closed as it entered. She held her daughter tight, refusing to look and when she felt the heat of its breath she reached up and with one smooth motion slit her own throat.
About the Author
Matthew is an aspiring author living and working in Oxford. When not writing, his hobbies include reading everything within reach, cycling, shovelling enough food to feed a platoon into his three kids, fielding questions as to what his third favourite dinosaur is and wondering why adults never discuss their favourite dinosaurs.