Splintered

4.42/5 (3)

As I wake, I find myself embraced by darkness. Where before there was a void, now I am. A consciousness born out of oblivion. I don’t have a name, a past. And yet I am. I am. The thought fills me with strength. With me, a new destiny is born. Fate is ripped from the ether and bound into a vessel. I understand what I am, even before I utter my first word. I am of the Ynneas Eladrith. A vat-born. Halfbreed. Fresh meat for the ever-hungry Dark City. Yet I feel the same hunger within me. Desire. A burning hole in my chest. A spark, deep inside my soul. A nameless longing, tearing at me. It fills me with emotions I can not yet grasp or name. The Dark City sings to me as I slumber in this tomb. It sings to me of death, of pain, of dark desires. It nurtures me. My dark mother’s lullaby.

As I gain an understanding of my senses, I wait. I cannot move. Cannot speak. My world is darkness. I cannot grasp the meaning of time. Each moment feels infinite. Infinity passes in a heartbeat. But I can listen. And in this realm of oblivion, I hear the sweet whisper in my soul grow louder. My birthing song. Mother Commorragh is calling me forth, anxious to devour me.

There are other sounds around me, but I am only dimly aware of them. I register them without grasping their source, their meaning. I cannot see, but I sense that there is movement outside my tomb. Something is… hissing; air is venting. It prickles my skin. A small sun is rising in my world of darkness. I realise now that I am engulfed in fluids. As my tomb opens, they flow out. Cold air replaces the warmth of my womb. I am freezing. Cables are yanked out of my flesh. Pain. I have dreamed of it as an unborn. I understand the idea of pain. The purpose. The concept. But the sensation is new. The taste is exhilarating. No dream could rival the elation. My soul soars. I feel excitement run through me. A ghost crawling down my spine. I am broken free of this strange cocoon. My transformation is complete.

Hands reach for me. I am torn from my shell, cast into the twilight of some cavern. I rise, stumble forward, fall again. My senses assault me. I hear for the first time, breathe for the first time. Feel for the first time. Think for the first time. Truly, consciously. I am made. I am born. The realisation gives me strength. My will unfolds, forcing my senses to obey it. The beating of my heart slows at my command. My laboured breathing grows steadier. I rise. The intelligible cacophony of sound becomes bearable. I can make out voices. Grasp the sounds as speech. Rip the meaning from them.

I open my eyes. It is strange. I have never seen a thing, anything, and yet, when my still burning eyes see it, they recognise it. The madness. The power. A single word whispered through eternity in hushed voices that drives fear into the heart of every being who can make sense of it.

Haemonculus.

I kneel. It is an instinct—an unspoken command. I see, and my soul obeys. The thing pulls me in. In this moment, I crave nothing more than its approval. I would happily renounce this newfound life and embrace eternal damnation if it meant the tiniest show of affection, of recognition. One does not need to fully comprehend power to recognise it. To crave it. Perhaps this is the moment I am truly born. I feel a dark truth unravel in front of me. I want it. Power. The lifeblood of our kin.

My eyes adjust. There are more beings in this room. Some of them newborns like myself. Other, cruder creatures. Servants. Lesser beings. The sensations wash over me, but I have mastered them. The sharp bite in my nose. The icy air on my skin. The agonised wails. Pain. I taste its aroma. My first meal is made of suffering. My creator has laid a banquet out for me. And I devour every morsel. I bask in it. Radiant, my soul cries out for violence. 

Arms grab me. They lift me up. Carry me. Throw me. These moments shall be my childhood. In these few heartbeats, I am taught all that I need to know in this strange realm. I am nothing. Yet. I am without power. Without purpose. I am meat, carved by a master, recycled from other meat that came before and was judged unworthy by our dark mother. I was made by his will, and by his will am I unmade. If it pleases him. He is master, I am slave. Our culture, our history, it is made up of a million intricacies. But they all rest on the simplest truth. The strong take, eat, thrive. The weak serve, starve, die. And I feel weak. I am weak. Helpless. Hopeless. My elation is replaced with the black tar of desperation. Never again, I vow. Never again. I will be strong, suffer no weakness. I vow it to myself. I feel the spark again, the whisper caressing me as an unborn. Is it Commorragh, truly, that is singing to me? I feel recognition from the deepest pits of my soul—a strange sensation. I am not alone. I feel something thrown over my head. Darkness. A stinging in my arm. Oblivion takes me.

When I force my eyes open again, I do so in a new realm. I do so as a king, a god, in a nation of one. I have left the hole that birthed me. I find myself lying on some floor, in some alley. Whatever captors took me have left me here. My aching body lies sprawled on ancient black stone. I know that this is Commorragh. My blood knows it, my bones know it, my soul knows it. Some things I were taught in my slumber. My gestation. Other things I just recognise and understand. Universal truths, etched into my genetic code. The gift of my creator. And I will always recognise my mother, so eager to devour me.

The other newborns are with me. One of them is weeping. It is just sitting there, swaying back and forth, its head buried under its arms. We are children. Cold, naked, screaming and alone. The weeping disgusts me. It is weakness made manifest. Weakness. Another concept I am bred to recognise. To despise. I have made my vow. My soul rages against this affront to our nature. Our truth. I can see it, hear it. Smell it. And I am thankful. There is purpose now. I am, and I know. For the first time in my short life, I know what I must do. No, what I want to do. Desire to do. It is my decision. My will. And I will manifest it as I see fit. I shall take reality and mould it into my design.

As I rise, I grab a discarded piece of metal. A broken pipe, perhaps. It is an adequate brush for my first painting. Artistry takes practice, and practice I shall. Newfound purpose steadies my shaking hands. I take a step forward, grabbing the mewling thing by its long hair. I throw it backwards. The weeping turns into a shrill shriek of alarm as its head slams into the ground. I bring down my weapon. My instrument. It is an extension of my will. In these moments of holy violence, my soul rests in this rusting slab of metal. Again. Once. Twice. More, always more. Violence. I crave it. It is my air, my water, my meat and my wine. Screams turn into groans. Groans turn into silence. The canvas is complete.

The weakness is gone. I have purged it from this strange realm. Pride fills me. I have made my mark, forced my will upon reality. I have taken a thing and removed it. Excitement runs through my body. It is as if each muscle in my body is growing wings. I am soaring. I find myself whistling some song I could not name. Now, I am truly of the Ynneas Eladrith. I have forced my will upon reality, and it shall never be the same. Mother smiles upon me as I consume one of its children. I feel her satisfied gaze upon me as I bask in my achievement.

Blood is slowly rippling from the ruined mess of a skull, forming a small pool in the crooked stone. It is warm to the touch. My reward. I taste it, cautiously at first. Then, more greedily. I cup my hands to catch the rich liquid. I claim it as my prize. I am ecstatic. Every taste, every sound, every thought is novel to me. I force myself to embrace these sensations consciously. The stale air I am breathing, I am celebrating its aroma. And I am thankful now, in this moment, that I am of the vat-born. Proud. I have a fully formed mind from the beginning, capable of a true understanding of every moment in my life. No years wasted as a mewling infant. I will remember it all. Every moment. Cherish them all until the end of time.

I ignore the others—my siblings. The spark within me is all the company I crave. They are fleeing, running from my banquet. I let them escape. They are meaningless. Prey in a realm of predators, timber in a world of fire. They are not worthy of my attention. My will. My hands dig deep into the ruined flesh in front of me. I tear chunks of still-warm meat from what was once a neck. Thick droplets of crimson run down my throat, dripping on my naked body. It warms me. My great prize.

Bright lights fix me as I indulge in my meal. A strange sound is growing louder. Getting closer. Laughter. I am chosen. I am condemned. 

+++

I am herded into some kind of vehicle. It is covered in strange runes I do not recognise. Grey corpses dangle from its sides. Death and rot lie in the air. It is intoxicating.

We take off. Slowly, we are drifting above the city of my dreams. We lazily rise. The spiked towers of obsidian grow smaller and smaller. I feel the warmth of the Illmaea on my prickled skin. Only now, I recognise how cold I am. Freezing. The blood that kept me warm has dried up. I look around me, craving another kill. Craving the thrill, the warm blood dripping from my hands.

There are more like me here. Chosen. Cattle. They sit there, their arms locked above their heads. Some of them are naked, like me. Others are dressed in rags. They are pathetic. Our captors patrol along the skiff—half a dozen, in addition to the pilot. I fantasise about pushing them off the rails. But they are armed, armoured. Vicious mauls, covered in blades. Whips. Pistols. Slaves, they call us. Arrogance dripping with every word. Venom. One of them looks at me. Calls me a slave. Me. Me! I will myself to remember the face. Slave

That word again. It is repulsive. A thunderstorm rolls over my soul as I hear it. The spark within me seems to glow with white-hot fury as it comprehends the meaning. The insult. The agony. I need a name; I realise this now. A slave has no name and needs no name. That will not do. I will name myself. Baptise myself. It is only right. The rotting flesh and dried-out bones that decorate this vessel will bear my witness. I will my mind, my soul, to name itself. Suddenly, I hear myself whisper—‘Thynaq.’ 

‘Thynaq,’ I answer to myself. 

A spark. A name. It is good enough. It is a name. My name. The only name that matters now. While I crouch in a dark corner of this flying nightmare, I pray for myself, to myself. I have a name. A god needs a name. Tears of joy roll over my blood-flecked face. I want to cry out, scream, sing, dance and slaughter. I am not alone anymore.

One of my captors is addressing us now. We are hers, she proclaims. Slaves. Slave, slave, slave. The word again. I feel a hatred I cannot describe. We are her slaves, she exclaims. Bought with souls and meat and plunder. Soldiers for their great Kabal. She drones on how we will toil and sweat and bleed and die for her mistress. I can barely comprehend it. Slave, slave, slave, I whisper. It is all I hear. All I can bear. She waves around a whip, and I imagine myself grabbing it, flaying the skin off her bones with it. Grabbing her. My hands around her throat. Making her mine. My slave. That word again. A furnace in my soul is lit. I want to take her. Taste her blood. A red mist descends on me. I see myself ripping the flesh off her skeleton. I want to own her. Take her. Consume her, body and soul. I see myself savaging her. Make trophies of her skin. Animalistic urges fill me. I indulge in the desire to mate with her. Kill her. Crimson daydreams fill my mind as our journey continues high above the dark city. Slave, slave, slave. I will never forget. 

Hours pass in the murky twilight of the Dark City as we crawl towards my new home. ‘Thynaq,’ I whisper. It feels good to say it. 

‘I am no slave. I am Thynaq,’ I repeat. ‘Thynaq… Thynaq!’ I will be my own salvation. I will be my vengeance. I feel my spark embrace me. My dark twin. It soothes me. Tempers me. Sets me straight, keeps me on my path. Thynaq. It is all I need to hear. I have a name. A god needs a name.

+++

We pass a gate. I have no memories of it, and yet I recognise it—a Webway portal. As we pass through it, I can feel reality change. The air—dry and cold just a heartbeat ago, is icy tongue caressing my blood-slick body—suddenly replaced by humid warmth. The sweet smells of blood and rot made way for a suffocating, burning fume that made me gag. We have left Commorragh itself and entered one of its endless satellite realms. A fever dream of unrestrained industry. Home, for now.

We reach some kind of factory, stretching across the horizon, giving birth to titanic clouds of exhaust fumes. A chemical sting bites the back of my throat. There are more like me here, standing in endless lines. No. Not like me. From above, they seem like insects. Vat-born nobodies. Walking meat. I will conquer them. I will rule them. Consume them. Step over their ruined corpses and feast upon their souls. Violence. I am violence. I grit my teeth, every muscle in my body tensed. I want to kill them all: my captors, the cattle on this skiff, the insects below me. Thynaq, I hear a whisper in my soul, and it calms me. It soothes me. It counsels restraint where all I can see is carnage. My path would be short. But that would not do for Thynaq.

I am pushed out of the vehicle and commanded to join with a group of naked meat. Their heads bowed, they are already broken. I want to spit at them. Weak-willed. Thin-blooded. I rage at the idea of being considered their equals. We are marched into some kind of hall by armed guards. Their armour is littered with trophies and trinkets. Shrunken heads, shattered skulls, flayed skin. I declare them unworthy. They stand there lazily. It would be so easy to kill one of them. Grab their gun and rip it from its holster. I smile as I slowly walk forward, dreaming a red dream.

We enter the great hall of some rotten factory. Endless lines of walking meat shuffle forward. Weeping, shaking. A creature whose origin I do not recognise hands me some cloth. Dirty rags, the smell of piss and fear and death still upon them. I can sense that this thing is weak and frightened. It has the rough shape of a Drukhari, but it is lesser. Its movements are slow and unfocused. Sluggish and bumbling. Wrong. Unworthy. Mother will make a feast of its soul. I shall make this thing her gift

I ram my fist into its throat. Falling backwards, the thing collapses on the floor, an expression of terrorised incomprehension on its face. I hammer my fist into its face. Slave. Slave. Slave. I scream the word into its face. I hear something crack. Again, again, again. It yelps, the back of its head crashing hard into the floor. There is laughter. I peel the robes of that thing as it convulses on the floor. I spit on it as it finally dies. I will not have a lowly creature like this gift me. I am Thynaq, and I take what I desire, and I will pay for it in crimson coin.

+++

I am brought into a hall. Armed guards, clad in armour, escort me. Kin. Residents of this strange realm. Trained killers, murderers, who have survived this nightmare realm for decades. Siblings. They mean nothing to me. More corpses to step upon. More fuel for apotheosis.

I see her almost instantly as I enter the room. She is not wearing finery, nor is she clad in armour. No guards surround her. She has no insignia of power displayed. And yet, the recognition is instant.

Archon.

Power.

Desire.

I wonder, in this moment, if this is the natural order. Instinct. If our race is simply attuned to recognise those who have power, are power. And those who do not, are not. Or if, perhaps, this is some genetic quirk, coded into my flesh by the monstrosity that birthed me, made me. If they wrote some assurance of loyalty into the code, that is my soul when they made me. Anger rises in me. I will have to unmake myself before I can ascend. I will have no one else lay claim to the glories I will win. ‘Thynaq,’ I pray silently. ‘Remake me in your image.’

‘You owe me a slave,’ my master says. There is laughter in the room, but I do not let that blind me. I am dancing on a knife’s edge. My path could end here, easily. ‘Thynaq,’ I pray. ‘Deliver me.’

‘I do, oh my Archon,’ I reply. ‘Its weakness appalled me, and so I removed it from your realm, so it might not infect it.’

I try to read her expression, but I do not comprehend the subtleties yet. But I am still alive, a message I can understand. I will learn. With each word, each expression, I crawl towards true understanding.

‘You owe me a slave, slave,’ she repeats. Every syllable is made of venom. Slave, slave, slave. My curse. It infuriates me, but I repress it. This is not the time for me. I must retreat. ‘Thynaq’, I pray. ‘Thynaq, our shepherd. Save us!’ I crawl into the pitch-black oblivion that is my soul, and I do so willingly. I am made of violence, but Thynaq is what I need. Thynaq, the Whisperer. Thynaq, the Soother. Thynaq, the God.

Thynaq bows. ‘Give me the opportunity, oh Archon, in your boundless greatness, and I will repay my debt tenfold, praise be to you!’

Thynaq’s words are as sweet as honey. They drip from the roguish smile that plays over his lips. He points at the guards that escorted him, the smile vanishing in playful exaggeration.

‘Let me replace one of these oafs,’ he says. ‘Your greatness is apparent, yet these traitors never even gave me your name. I only wish to venerate your glory. I only wish to give praise to your name. You are power, and power always has a name.’

The gambit works. With the Archon’s wrath now focused on her guards, Thynaq has won. There is no doubt in him that she sees through this, but a slight like this demands action. Anger descends upon her face like an avalanche. As it must. The laws of this lawless realm demand it. Even she must dance to the tune of Commorragh. Even power. The pleas and the protests of her servants are cut off with a single movement of her head. A single gesture. As she nods towards Thynaq, he explodes into action. He grabs the knife of one escort and sinks it into its throat. Shaken with terror, he is too slow to react. Thynaq licks the blood off the blade. He smiles. And so does she, the Archon. We will get her, too. Thynaq, the Murderer. Thynaq, the Victor.

‘Szhylendra,’ the other one is quick to say. ‘You are in the presence of Szhylendra, Archon, grand mistress of the Midnight Blade Kabal, honoured be her name.’

Thynaq bows dutifully and thanks the man. Then he unleashes me upon him.

+++

We are Dracon now. A hundred blades under our command. We are useful. Successful. A rare breed. A silver-tongued devil, a demon with a blade. I am dormant now, most of the time. It is Thynaq who leads the dance of intrigue and betrayal, Of politics and diplomacy. It is me who bathes in crimson. Our Archon, Szhylendra, has cast her favours upon us. Already the bitch fears us.

But we want more. Slave, slave, slave. The curse is in our soul. Never forgotten. Never. The exhilaration of our first murder, the first pronouncement of our will, has not left us. It lingers like a half-remembered taste on the tip of the tongue. We crave it. Crave it all. The surge of power that only victory can bring. As we ascend the bloody steps of Commorragh, we crave the same as all who matter: More.

We raid the slave races, as is our solemn right. We crush their cities, their worlds under our heels, kill their warriors in the fields and take their mates and offspring as slaves. We plunder their meagre holds of everything of value. It is in these moments where it is I who ascends. Where Thynaq prays for me. To rise, to deliver him of his enemies. It is my strength—our fury. I am an artist, blade in hand. The worlds of the Great Wheel are my canvas, and my colour of choice is red.

As we enforce our will on another unremarkable Mon-keigh world, one of their warriors engages Thynaq. It is some kind of warlord, a thing made in some laboratory. We have faced these ones before. Capable, but so few in number. Tall and big, bellowing their war cries. And always so sure of themselves, always seeking some laughable notion of honour in single combat. It raises some kind of blade, some kind of energy weapon in challenge. We have our Incubi dispatch of it.

But more are coming, always more. As Thynaq draws our blade, I push out from oblivion. I feel Thynaq hold back. For the first time, he tried to drown me. My brother. My dark kin. Thynaq, the Betrayer. I seethe. I rage. As I watch him stumble through the crimson dance, I feel him falter. Doubt. A poison in the soul. He is fighting two battles. And he is losing. One of their warrior elite manages to slip past the Incubi. A tall monstrosity, clad in great armour, wielding a chained blade the size of an Ur-Ghul. Thynaq spins and wheels, dodging and blocking. It is pathetic. I sense his weakness. It repulses me. I push forward, upwards, into the light of consciousness. I am stronger. I push him to the side.

Thynaq’s regal composure turns into an animal hunch. This is who I am. What I am. And I will revel in it. No veneer of regality for me. I am violence unleashed. The betrayer shall look upon me as I am.

I pounce on the warrior in front of me. I can sense its confusion. Where there was doubt, I am purpose. Where there was weakness, I am strength. It bellows some meaningless war cry towards me. No more dodging. I pounce forward, too fast for the brute to react. I bury my blade in its thigh and watch it collapse to its knees. I allow myself to savour the sweetest moment of all. The spark of recognition. I can see it, even through its helmet, that it is beaten. It has found its master. It has found its end, and it knows it. I plunge my blade into its throat.

Now that I am in charge, I command my Incubi. Change of plans, I say. No prisoners.

They chuckle in recognition. They know who’s in control.

+++

Thynaq, the Betrayer. A sly smile is painted across his face as he steps over the twitching corpse of Szhylendra, Archon no more. Thynaq, the Victor. Thynaq, the Archon. The slaves are kneeling. Those who still can. The rest are broken, dead or dying. They do not matter. I am the Master. Finally. A slave no more, but master. We are the Master.

No,’ Thynaq says. ‘I am the master! Thynaq is the master. You are nothing. A tool. A beast to be unleashed at my will.

I tear at him. Rage against the walls in which he has imprisoned me. Thynaq the Charmer, the Silver Tongue. Thynaq the Liar. Here, in the caverns of our soul, I plot my betrayal. My vengeance. Yet he is always there. Listening. Laughing. I am not the blade unseen. I am a hammer, and the galaxy is my nail.

Triumph after triumph. Thynaq, the Warlord. No longer sullying his blade. There is no need for me, no place. Legions walk at his command. Each campaign, another masterstroke. The Kabal is growing, rising, and Archon Thynaq is a name to be feared. And I am but a threat, hurled towards any would-be usurper.

I am lurking, waiting. A predator, forever in ambush. A threat will come. Must come. Sooner or later, Thynaq will have use of me. And once I’m in control, I shall never cease it. This I swear, vow, scream into the darkness of my own soul.

There will be a war in Commorragh. I have spoken about the universal truths edged into my soul, my genetic code. This is one of them. I pray to our dark mother. I make promises. I give up myself entirely if only Commorragh would gift me what I crave the most. Power, no matter the price.

+++

It was a crude attack, all things considered. Thynaq had expected it to come. What he had not expected, however, was the involvement of the Mandrakes. They had appeared within his throne room, massacred his guards and came for him. He had spent the last of his Incubi to secure his flight. His skiff had barely made it out; most of its crew had been burned by the ethereal fire of the Shadowfolk. 

He would rebuild, of course. Thynaq admitted that the strike at his heart had been unanticipated. But the rest of the attack would falter. The Kabal of the Harbinger’s Kiss simply didn’t have the numbers. He had planned his defence well. Layers within layers, plans within plans.

Now, it is I who is whispering. Mocking. ‘You need me,’ I whisper. ‘Unleash me. Unshackle me.’ 

He refuses at first. But more enemies are coming. They have spotted him. A trio of Venoms, rapidly getting closer. Up here, in the skies of Commorragh, he is easy prey. His Kabal is fighting thousands of feet below him. He is alone. Vulnerable.

Thynaq,’ I whisper, ever so sweetly. ‘They are coming for you. And so am I.

I push, and I push, and I push. Harder than I ever pushed before. I spent myself to break free of this prison. We are being boarded. Splinterfire hammers into our armour. 

And there it is! Fear. Doubt. He falters for a heartbeat, and it is all that I need.

I explode. I paint my masterwork. I carve it out of the flesh and bone and blood of my enemies. They come at me with all they have, but it is not enough. When it is over, dozens are dead, their remains scattered across our barge. My barge. 

I am Master

Promises have been made. Vows. A pact forged in the darkness of my soul.

Sooner or later, Thynaq would be back. Thynaq would win. He always does.

I make my vow.

Power, above all.

Power, until the end.

Power, no matter the price.

As I throw us from the deck of the barge, I hear him screaming in my soul. Begging, pleading.

I am Master. I am Archon. This is my will. I enforce it upon reality. I enforce it upon Thynaq.

I face oblivion with a smile.

About the Author

Drawn to the grimdarkness of the 41st Millenium since I was a teenager, I have been following Warhammer for the better part of two decades now, with varying levels of interest. Dissatisfied with the official lore for my beloved Aeldari, I decided to pick up the pen myself.