I look up at storm-wracked skies, but only because I no longer have a neck to turn my head away. Hot winds parch me, but when the blood rain falls from the roiling crimson skies, it brings no relief. The boiling liquid fills my slack-jawed mouth until all I can taste is hot iron. I do not know where I am, other than that I am drowning in an ocean of bone. There is a single lifeline for me to cling to, the name that echoes over and over in my skull.
Inquisitor Corvin Fane.
I lay staring up into the churning madness of the sky for an unknown age. The roar of battles come and go, sweeping past me. The earth shakes, weapons clash like thunder, and I pray that the brass hoof of a combatant will find my temple and grind me to dust, ending my suffering. But there is no mercy in this strange realm, and the final blow never comes.
‘Inquisitor Corvin Fane!’
I am momentarily confused. The name was not in my head. Someone had spoken it aloud. The din of battle has briefly subsided, and I strain to hear the name again. A stranger is suddenly above me, his aura of cool calm entirely at odds with the boiling rage of this place. His face beneath his hood looks gaunt, but his eyes are full of learning and constantly scanning, searching for something. The name Inquisitor Corvin Fane echoes around my head. The stranger’s eyes fix on my empty sockets, and he smiles.
He plucks me from the ground, and for the first time I can see billions of others like me stretching out across an infinite plain of skulls. On the horizon, great black fortress walls loom like the ultimate threat. Somewhere incredibly distant, a brass horn sounds.
‘It’s time to go,’ said my saviour, attaching me to his belt so I hang at his waist. He turns and strides onward, staff in hand. As he turns, just for a moment, I think I see the gates of the distant fortress begin to slowly swing open.
Our journey is long and hard. We head for the ring of furious volcanoes that mark the edge of this realm. Unnaturally massive, their gargantuan size makes them seem closer than they truly are. My saviour is tested every step of the way. Fleeing across the endless plains, he drinks burning blood from the rivers of gore until he foams at the mouth, all to mask his psychic spore from the red huntsmen and their hounds. In the splintered foothills of bone, he engages in doggerel duels with hooded warrior-poets, their bestial muzzles slavering, words cutting back and forth as surely as flint knives. Ever upwards towards a pass between the volcanoes, he wearily carries me up the vast Osseous Stair, each step robbing a sweet memory of forgiveness.
At last, we came within sight of our goal, high between the titanic volcanoes. Molten brass rains down around us, and my saviour struggles against burning winds to reach the black iron gates that loom ahead. Whip-wielding metal gargoyles sneer at our approach, weeping blood. Beyond the gates, darkness, calm and still.
Just when I dare to hope that we might escape, this realm has one last cruelty to unleash. The pack of savage hounds are finally upon us, snapping and biting, sinewy crimson huntsmen cracking whips and cackling at their heels. My saviour tries to fend them off with his staff, but there are too many. He stumbles. I know we are not going to make it.
As the slavering hounds close in, my saviour takes me in his hand and casts me towards the cruel iron gates. It is a symbolic gesture of defiance, nothing more. But then, in this realm, symbolism is everything.
I bounce once – spinning wildly on the hard rock – twice – the hounds howl in rage – and then my third bounce carries me between the iron bars and into the darkness.
‘Inquisitor Corvin Fane!’
Someone is speaking the name again. I cautiously open my eyes, confused at first by sensations that are something other than burning agony. I sit up and look about, gingerly touching the suture marks around my neck. I am clad in my robes of office, weapons at my hip, Inquisitorial rosette pinned to my chest.
Faces swim into focus. I don’t recognise them yet, but the mixture of concern and relief in their expressions tells me everything. I am in some kind of medicae facility. The people around me appear to be veteran warriors, sages and acolytes, all asking frantic questions over each other. Only one remains silent and still, a lifeless husk on the floor clad in the robes of a psyker, shattered staff still gripped in his boney hands, canine bite marks evident on his skin.
A woman in the robes of the Imperial priesthood shouts the others into silence.
‘Inquisitor Fane, you live again, Emperor-be-praised!’ says the priestess, clasping my hands. ‘We did all we could to preserve your body after the Archenemy struck you down, and Silas gave his life to come and find your soul in the Empyrean. He told us he could hear you speaking your name far away. We could not let you die, not the great Inquisitor Corvin Fane! Not when you still have so much good work to do in the Emperor’s name!’
Yes…yes, it’s all coming back now. I was dead; that much is true. But I am certainly not Inquisitor Corvin Fane. I am Sekthoth Bloodfeaster, mortal servant of the Dark Gods. Corvin Fane himself vanquished me in single combat many years ago. I died cursing the Inquisitor, his name on my lips, the words echoing around my head as I slipped into eternity.
‘Yes…there is much work to do,’ I agree, resting my hand on the hilt of my sword, ‘but first, your faith must be rewarded…’
About the Author
Chris Buxey is a writer, laser safety officer and occasional Tony Stark impersonator. He lives in southern England with his wife and two children. Chris has been travelling the Warhammer 40K universe for thirty years and has so far managed to keep his heresies hidden from the Inquisition.