Castellus’ knees shuddered as he lumbered through the battlefield, the ceramite peppered with holes.
He could feel the fingers on his sword arm flexing, twitching for the familiar hilt of the power sword he’d driven through hundreds of cultists, mutants, and other aberrations. He could feel each knuckle flexing despite the arm lying somewhere on the battlefield, far behind him.
He glanced down at the stump through the cracked lenses of his helmet. There was a prickling there, in the flesh. The combat stims doing their work, he supposed, keeping the bulk of the pain at bay.
The battlefield had once been the ranging green plain of some feudal world, covered in lush crops that few citizens of the Imperium of Man could even dream of. Now everything was the grey of rockcrete, all the colour ground out of it by the threads of a thousand tanks and the blasts of Imperial artillery.
Where were his battle brothers now? He stared at the night sky overhead, coloured by the warm hues of detonated starship cores and pale streaks of plasma-charged particles.
Slugs flattened against his armour. Castellus scanned the battlefield, his eyes running over the ridges of trenches and the twisted metal of barbed wire.
Lasgun beams streaked mere inches from his helmet, revealing the cultists’ position.
Castellus willed his legs to move. A bolt pistol, still chained to his remaining hand, kicked as it belched at the cultist trench. The rounds detonated just over their heads, spewing shrapnel below. Castellus could hear them scream. He would not delight in the sound. That would not have made the God-Emperor proud.
Rockcrete crumbled under him as he leaped into the trench. A cultist screamed as his skull squelched under Castellus’s boot.
There were ten of them, pointing slugthrowers and lasguns at him. He saw the boils on their flesh, the infected wounds, the stumps of foul tentacles and other mutations wriggling on their skin.
Castellus swung the empty bolt pistol like a club, a cultist’s head shattering as the metal cleaved through him, scattering bone like shrapnel.
He swung again and again, the cultists crumbling under his onslaught.
Some weapon impacted against the back of his armour, sending a shiver through his spine.
Castellus turned, his legs nearly buckling under him. The cultist held the shattered remains of some brutal club, half its spikes scattered around him, the metal shaft bent and twisted. Three eyes blinked one at a time.
“Foul mutant,” Castellus’ voice bellowed, altered by the glitches in his broken helm. He kicked the abomination, feeling ribs splinter under his foot as the thing flew away from him.
It squirmed in the mud, trying to rise, but limbs and twisted flesh wriggled uselessly.
With a glance about the trench, Castellus confirmed that it was the last of the cultists, the rest lying in a pile around him. Strange how quick it had been.
He stomped towards the last cultist, who snickered and giggled in its own viscera.
“Be still, mutant,” Castellus said, feeling a rumbling in his chest as he breathed.
The thing only laughed.
Castellus reached out with his arm, the one that was missing, without thinking. Only it was there now.
Different, but there.
There were no fingers. Hardly an elbow. It writhed and coiled like a neurowhip as it pierced the cultist in the chest. The thing’s eyes fell on the limb, bulbous and pink, and it broke into uproarious laughter.
When the cultist went limp, the appendage slithered out of a caved-in chest, hanging in front of Castellus’s face. The space marine did not hesitate. He struck the thing with the empty bolt pistol until something in it broke.
He would have one of his brothers burn it off when he found them again. It couldn’t be much further to the Imperial forward base now.
The air was filled with the smell of swinging censers, though the trench-priest had passed hours ago. It seemed the only scent that could pierce through the mud, blood, and filth.
Guardsman Pert checked his lasgun for the fifth time; there wasn’t much else to do in the trenches.
He heard the stomping. Not the plopping of numerous feet in the mud. Something large.
His mind conjured horrors from the blackest reaches of space. Checking his lasgun for the final time, Pert stood, glancing over the edge of his barricade.
The armour was black as night, and the tattered tabard marked its wearer as one of the Black Templars. The angels they had been promised weeks ago.
And yet, before he could call for his sergeant, Pert knew something was wrong.
The Emperor’s angels were titans, as columns of granite moving through the battlefield.
But this one. He stumbled. At first, Pert thought he might have only been injured, but then it was clear that something was very wrong.
The space marine didn’t walk so much as he slithered forward. There were places where the legs had been pierced by what must have been a meltagun, and strips of flesh oozed out of the holes, squirming along the ground and carrying the marine forward. An arm ended in a long, lashing tentacle, broken at an angle, its twitching tip drenched in blood.
All around the space marine’s helmet were blinking eyes, red and full of hate.
The guardsman screamed. He’d meant to scream for his squad mates, to warn them of what was coming, but there were no words. Just a guttural scream, borne of the most animal part of him. The part that knew deeply that something was very wrong.
He never brought his lasgun up to bear. The space marine screamed, too, though it sounded like there were three of him screaming at the same time. Then he was over the outer trench, striking out at him, and Pert went silent.
The marine continued his long journey, desperate to find his brothers. Hoping that they would finally become one again.
About the Author
Nicholas writes out of the dystopian sprawl around Toronto. He runs a content marketing business by day and writes fiction by earlier day. He’s done a bit of everything, from an unrelated Bachelor’s degree to a short stint as a professional wrestler and unsuccessfully auditioning for commercials. Nicholas does his best writing on a powder-blue typewriter, which he snagged for $25. The unopened box of plague marines in his closet is his biggest shame.