Stray

4.75/5 (2)

‘So, Alai Therin Fallstar, ai’elethra of the Eshairr, what say you?’

He looked up at the sightless face, the sockets where its eyes should have been puckered, bloody holes. Behind it, the entire wall was filled with jar after jar of staring eyes, the majority inert, but some animate, tracking the movements of his host, himself. A number appeared obsessed with the twitching of his fingers, a spasm he couldn’t quite dampen since the last bout of flensing. He had hoped to die in the Gladiatorial arena. Almost welcomed that possibility when the Wyches thrust him out onto the sands following his capture. But it seemed that had been a prelude, a way of weeding out the weakling kin. Now this. Dragged from the bloodied dirt for further tortures of a more intimate nature. The Haemonculus seeking to shatter his spirit as the Cult had broken his body.

He refused to respond, mind clinging to his calling, though that once bright beacon guttered fitfully amidst the surrounding darkness.

The lipless mouth smiled at him before turning away, his host pirouetting sinuously on the tentacles it favoured over the perfectly serviceable – at least, as far as he could tell – legs it also possessed.

‘A demonstration perhaps. A little kilithikadya of the possibilities, if only you would allow yourself to step off the beaten track…’ His host glanced back at him coyly, brows raised. ‘Karitha,’ one of its more normal hands raised towards the hulking gimp on the far side of the chamber, ‘to the distillery. I feel the Pathfinder may benefit from a front-row seat at the floor show.’

The wrack turned, exposed spine glistening in the fetid light of the testicular globes that hung turgid overhead. It crossed to a bank of levers that looked suspiciously like whittled bone, pulling one and ratcheting another before reaching for something sinuous and phallic, lifting it from its cradle to plug it into the waiting port in the side of its head. 

Beneath them, the floor shuddered, the entire room lurching. The laboratory separated itself wholesale from the surrounding structure, walls pulling back complete with jar-lined shelves, leaving a loose cage of rib-like spars around them. The doorway through which he’d been dragged, sphinctered shut as the lab itself began to move, multi-jointed legs scissoring about them as it set off across the side of some vast fissure in the firmament. The space was easily as big as the stone vaults of Alaitoc, but clothed in a nightmare made literal flesh. Arms and hands reached out to offer the laboratory aid as it switched tacks, picking its way down a shallow ravine whose incline was so vertiginous the floor of the lab was canted almost vertically. His host and their vassal appeared completely unfazed, the former’s tentacular limbs taking a firm grip on spars extending from the floor that had previously made little sense, the wrack’s arms flexing corded muscles as it tightened its grip on the controls before it. Therin’s bonds constricted sinuously, holding him more snugly against the cradle, which was the only thing arresting his plunge into the abyssal darkness below. They traced half the length of the ravine before mounting its side once more, the lab pirouetting neatly to alight on a ledge. From here, it proceeded down a throat-like tunnel towards the portal at its end, the sphincter there dilating wetly to allow them egress. 

Beyond, a vast amphitheatre spread out before them, its stepped sides host to rooms similar to the one he occupied, many – though not all – containing other poor souls bound in place. Cloying red light throbbed from the theatre’s walls, pulsing rhythmically, as if to the beat of a vast heart. Something about the illumination was disturbingly arousing, though its effects were harshly countered by the spectacle at the room’s centre. 

Bodies. Many hundreds of them, hanging suspended from hooks, chains and grasping limbs. Each one bore the badges of previous tortures; each one wore an expression that, in its people’s language, spoke of pain. 

As his eyes tracked about, they found the gallery overhead, its rail filled with faces caught in a very different rictus. Eyes eager. Lips parted in a predatory anticipation that crossed any racial barrier with ease. 

‘You see…?’ His host was suddenly at his side again. 

Therin’s eyeballs attempted to find his host’s face, but the restraints would not allow his gaze to quit the scene before him. So he was forced to watch, as teams of wracks began to ascend into the waiting forest of bodies, the unmistakable trappings of torture hanging from their wasp-waists or strapped to their backs.

The dull pounding of that vast heart grew, swelling in excitement. Overhead, the first of the baying cries erupted as the gimps began their work. He felt a skeletal hand clasp the back of his helpless skull almost sensuously, something delicate walking across his face to restrain the lids of his eyes. 

What did the mon-keigh say? The eyes are the doorway to the soul…?

They showed him how blind he had been. Blind to the possibilities of inflicting pain. It came off the forest of bodies in luminous waves, flowing into the eager crowd at the gallery above, into the monster at his back. He forced his gaze to the side briefly, saw the wrack still plugged into the lab’s control mechanism, its limbs ridged with spastic pleasure. 

As he looked on, he felt the first flickers of that traitorous light cross his own threshold. Felt it take his hand, offering a new way, safe from the whispers of the thirsting darkness. 

Murmured of the guide such cruelties might become. 

Of his own ability, nay desire to take part in them. 

His host drifted into view, that sightless regard pregnant with lascivious intent. ‘Now, at last, you see.’

With shuddering acquiescence, he extinguished the beacon, turning from his former Path. Screamed in exquisite release as he took his first, straying steps down a new.

About the Author

Paul Smith found Warhammer after being kissed by a genestealer in 1992. He lost touch with the hobby for a few decades, but was reintroduced by a friend who pointed him towards the Inq28 movement. He now commands legions from the crypts of Shysh, the Tombworld of Nunquam and the forests of Aelindrach. He writes profusely (some might say obsessively), self-publishing his original fiction. Paul also enjoys the challenge of producing fan fiction and journal articles, one of which has been published in 28-mag. He currently lives in the rainy north of England with his husband and two rescue cats.

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