4.75/5 (3)

Warden Deborah watched the runic wards along the door begin to fade. The old portal of dark basalt began to slide slowly, noiselessly aside. The stark lights of the ancient airlock reflected off Deborah’s black armour and gave the blade of the guardian spear she clutched in her hands a gloaming sheen. The gold filigree imprinted along the weapon’s case and barrel glistened with a gilded record of Deborah’s many hard-won names.

The door slid open. Deborah stepped onto a beach of black sand that crunched beneath her boots. The last ocean on Terra, stagnating deep underground. Beyond the circle of illumination cast by the airlock lights, all was shrouded in a darkness so complete that neither Deborah’s gene-wrought eyes, nor her helmet’s scanners could penetrate it. She saw in the sand a discarded suit of black armour, disgracefully worn and pitted. Behind her, the runic wards reignited and the door slid shut. The circle of pale light became a wedge, then a crescent. Then nothing.

There was the sound of water lapping against a far shore. Deborah’s eyes could not adjust to the deep pall. She stepped forward, her weapon held in front of her. Even her hands were obscured by the dark. As she trod across the black beach she called out, her helm amplifying her voice so that it became a gruesome echo.

‘Warden Enoch. Your vigil is over. I have come to relive you,’ she called again into the dark, but all that replied was the splash of her boot in water. Her enhanced senses could practically feel the ripples wavering out into the nothingness. She waited. Her gilded hair stood on end, preparing for a sudden onrush of violence. 

‘Hail, Warden,’ said a voice from down the shore. There was the sound of something lumbering through the surf. Deborah heard the stretching of gene-wrought muscles as it slowly drew nearer. Deborah turned, her spear held towards the voice. Her finger brushed the weapon’s trigger.

‘Warden Enoch?’ She recognised the heartbeat of a Shadowkeeper, but all senses save for sight screamed of danger.

‘He is speaking. Is Arrian still Lockwarden of the Dark Cells?’ Enoch asked, stretching each syllable.

‘No. The title is now Borsa Thursk’s.’ Deborah’s taut muscles did not ease.

‘Did this Borsa tell you of your duty here?’ asked the voice in the dark. Deborah spoke clearly to the void.

‘It forthwith my duty to stand vigil over the Leviathan,’ she recited.

‘Sit then,’ Enoch commanded, and Deborah heard him settle himself in the shallows. ‘I will tell you of your charge.’ He waited for Deborah to move. She did not join him. A deep, rattling sigh came from the dark.

‘Do you remember the wars of Terran unification? I suppose not. Will you not sit?’ he asked again to no avail. ‘It was in that war, when Terra was a wasteland of bone and rust, that the man who would become the Emperor came upon a great beast that had fed and grown fat upon the sump-waste. It was so large, so glutted that no weapon could harm it, no shell could pierce its hide. The Emperor cut its head from its body in a single stroke. With his gaze, he boiled the filth from the meat and presented it as a feast for his warriors. He led us all in a long-forgotten chant of purity., Then Enoch spoke the words that had damned many before him. ‘The Emperor erred.’ A blade cut into Enoch’s neck. A boot fell upon his chest.

‘You dare?” Deborah hissed from atop him. 

‘When I ate of the beast, I became it.’ Enoch gurgled blood. ‘I saw through its dead eyes, and it looked through my living ones. Its bones glowed with a golden light all through the night, for He had partaken of it too!’ Enoch ranted, not fighting against the blade at his neck.

‘Now you slander Him!’ Deborah stomped down, cracking ribs which could withstand gunfire and lasbolts. The crunch of splintering bone and the scent of old blood filled Deborah’s helm. 

‘You are too young!’ Enoch raved, wrestling for the spear in the dark. Deborah held it firm. ‘You know only the Emperor upon the golden throne. I knew the man. I saw his hubris, his humanity. I yet see his weakness, his…’ Deborah’s guardian spear fired with a harsh crack.

In the light, she saw Enoch. Deborah had witnessed the servants of the ruinous powers twisted into pulpy amalgamations of eyes and teeth. Enoch was not like this. His perfectly-engineered eyes were blighted with cataracts. The flesh of his face was pale, cadaverous. Then it was gone, his head blown to chunks of meat as the bolt round detonated in his skull. His brains spattered over Deborah’s black plate. She reeled, not from Enoch’s corrupted body, but from the other form the muzzle flash had revealed. 

The Emperor had decreed that his companions could feel no fear. This too was a lie. Deborah felt her throat clench and bile rise in her throat, as Enoch must have before her. It rose from the sea, pallid and twisted. Countless forms writhed over its flesh, their faded, unseeing eyes staring at Deborah. Inlaid upon the great stomach that lapped at the water line was one huge, screaming face. It was a face Deborah had seen many times, staring stoically from the tapestries and reliefs that adorned every inch of the Imperial Palace. It was the face of the skeletal thing that reclined miles above on the Golden Throne, but enfleshed and bloated. Its eyes leaked streams of murk. 

Then all was dark again. Deborah felt something brush her leg as Enoch’s corpse slithered like a seaworm out into the black waves. Her guardian spear tumbled from her hands as the face of the Emperor upon the Leviathan’s corpse spoke in His voice.

‘Sit, my child. Thine eyes shalt grow accustomed to the dark, then thou shalt grow hungry.’

About the Author
Christopher DeRosa is an adjunct professor, a scholar of weird fiction and an aspiring fiction writer. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in literature with a concentration in creative writing from Ramapo College Of New Jersey, and later received a master’s degree in teaching from Saint Thomas Aquinas College. He has been fascinated with science-fiction and the Warhammer 40,000 universe since high school. He can usually be found hunched over a desk, painting miniatures, or getting lost in the woods while daydreaming a new story.