The Hound Slumbers

Adeptus Ministorum

The first witness described the threat as a monstrous hound wreathed in flame.

A hopelessly simplistic identification, though not without its uses. My duty is to hunt the shadows of shadows, the phantoms haunting the murk of Imperial society. So often I am forced to begin with merely the vaguest outline of the truth. At the outset of an investigation, even the most fanciful observations must be taken at face value. For in a universe that has lost all semblance of reason, I ignore nonsense and mystification at my own peril.

The first witness’s name is Elmon Sloan. He serves as an indentured labourer amongst the scum-clogged docklands of the River Bospharall, which spews out in wide tracts along the perimeter of the vast hive-complex known as City 11-17. It is one of many such arcologies here upon Ezriek Secondus. Used in this context, ‘river’ is a generous term, in spite of the cruel reality it refers to. It is the same as ‘hound’. The word serves a purpose; it permits us to set a scene, to establish shared parameters of meaning. 

Even if it is a lie.

The Bospharall is not a river. It is a wretched highway of ever-shifting mud and pollution, a rolling tide of filth discharged in the direction of the planet’s necrotic oceans. It reeks of industrial waste, for that is what it consists of, and can be scented upon the wind for hundreds of kilometres. It is clad in a pallid skin of white froth and pockmarked with bubbling pits of unrestrained chemical reactions. In some areas, the layer of corrosion is so potent that it can eat through the hulls of vessels in minutes, and the bones of men in a fraction of that time. It spans for leagues, eroding away the land amongst a churning, inflammatory stink.

Elmon and his companion were out from the industrious dockside upon a reinforced freight trawler, night fishing. Here the term is a shorthand for drinking. There are, of course, no fish, nor life of any kind within the Bospharall. It is common, I am led to understand, for workers such as Elmon to requisition disused craft for jaunts upon the poisoned estuary to escape the surveillance of their overseers during the slim nocturnal hours between shifts. When Elmon told me this through trembling lips, he begged for forgiveness. As if an agent of the Emperor’s Inquisition had come all this way to punish a puerile breach of contract. Life upon Ezriek Secondus struck me as punishment enough, but I did not say as much. Better that his terror at my presence wrung every last detail from his testimony.

The mist was a heavy curtain upon the world. A paradox of stillness surrounded the craft as the men sipped caustic liquor. Whilst scrap-tankers and rusted barges crawled through the fog and skeletal cranes animated the haze, their own sector of the river maintained an illusion of privacy. They had installed modifications upon their rebreathers, allowing them to drink without inhaling lethal quantities of the smog that rose from the toxic river waters. Nonetheless, they hacked and spluttered as their throats burned and seized. 

The anomaly first emerged as an expanding whirlpool amongst the bleached grey riptide. Elmon noticed the disturbance and stood to inspect, whilst his friend and colleague languished in a stupor upon the unwashed deck. Ship captains often had to avoid fresh reactions igniting within the grime. So, Elmon warily adjusted course. 

The whirlpool moved towards him as it grew, a sucking nexus of acid-rimmed trash and congealing pollutants. Smoke rose from the liquid pit, the first troubling signs of a flash fire. It is not rare for entire stretches of river to ignite and burn for days or weeks at a time. Such terrible danger for a few hours of indulgence, I thought as Elmon recounted his story. But I try not to judge the eccentricities of loyal men. 

Elmon’s physical role in the guidance of his vessel was minimal. Automated systems detected the worsening disturbance and were already pulling the metal hulk away. But the water frothed and spat like the gullet of an enraged beast, tugging at the craft. For a moment, he was faced with the horrifying prospect of being drowned and roasted alive at the same time. 

Suddenly, the gluttonous swirl raced towards the shoreline, dragging Elmon’s trawler in its wake. The craft was dragged across choppy sludge, sizzling droplets and fluttering embers raining down upon steel plating. More of the river’s surface ignited with a brilliant flash. Elmon howled, hanging on for dear life as the torpid slurry crashed over him. The docks roared out of the mists ahead, the grand edifices of warehouses a fast-approaching wall of solid sheet metal.

Two events occurred in quick succession. Firstly, the whirlpool expelled a vast form of solid night, ensconced in roaring flame and trailing embers that danced like a cloud of fireflies. The entity threw its weighty bulk onto the bank with a boom of crashing metal, scrabbling for purchase upon four limbs like a beast of burden mired in the mud. Tongues of flame ignited piles of discarded lumber and material as it shook itself free of filth. 

Elmon had the impression of a jagged mouth opening, revealing a portal of furnace light between black dagger-like teeth. The creature, this ‘hound’ that could be no such thing, howled. 

Secondly, Elmon’s companion, stirred by the commotion, jerked from his prone position and fired his laspistol. 

It was a rudimentary thing, scratch-built like so much of the technology of Ezriek Secondus. Three shots struck home, minute bursts of crimson in the dark. An impressive achievement considering the state of the man pulling the trigger. Whatever triumph came from hitting the creature was short lived. A trio of burning orbs, embedded into the thing’s inhuman skull, swivelled to face the craft. Whilst the main bulk of the entity was concealed by the dark and the smoke, layers of exoskeleton shimmered amongst the firelight. It was alien. It was accursed. And it was staring straight at him.

Elmon told me something curious then. He said the hound reeked of hate. A hate as tangible and scalding as steam. A hate that had now found a specific target.

Elmon’s world vanished as a lance beam crossed the distance and struck his companion. His friend was launched high into the air, his clothes, flesh and bones disintegrating into black slurry. 

Elmon screamed.

He dared look back at the hound. It was watching him from the shoreline. He could see no weapon manifolds, no sign of where the beam had originated. He was a slave to fear, unable to move or react.

Imagine Elmon’s relief when the beast chose not to render his body to its base components, but instead turned to flee towards the shadowed complex of the Bospharall dockyards. 

Before it departed, the hound had one last surprise for Elmon Sloan. It screamed into the night with a sound all-too recognisable for anybody condemned to live within a hive city, where untold millions of humans co-exist shoulder to shoulder at all stages of their brief lives. 

The hound’s screams sounded to Elmon like the lamenting cries of children. Twisted into a chorus of pain.

And then, it was gone, vanishing into the labyrinthine passageways of the hive. 

Thus my hunt began.




Think not of Ezriek Secondus as a world. 

Think of it as an engine, its every facet powered by titanic industry. Each gear and lever of the planet’s workings moves due to a colossal undertaking of human effort, grinding forward day after day at a vast expanse of toil and lives. Like any centre of mass engineering in humanity’s domain, its operations have consumed the planet upon which it sits, the unplanned and miraculous giving away to crude purpose and necessity.

The world’s primary function is to recycle void-scrap into new craft and material. Ancient and battered fleets arrive monthly from the warp to be scuttled upon the world’s moons, only for the individual vessels to be stripped, deconstructed and reborn through the techno-artistry of the planet’s manufactorums. Lone craft that have seen better days, freight landers stuffed to the brim with scavenged metals, derelicts dragged through the stars by rogue traders—all manner of craft come to die and be processed in the shipyards straddling the world’s ash-choked stratosphere.

Its output of might and machines, second-hand it may be, is essential for the defence of this corner of the Segmentum Solar. All manner of factions utilise the planet’s cheaply-wrought void-craft to supplement their own efforts of industry, commerce and war. Though sickly, the planet’s heart beats in tune with the needs of the Imperium Sanctus at a time when every last resource is desperately required to hold back the darkness.

A threat to such a vital organ cannot be tolerated, even a nascent one. And so I came, one of the God-Emperor’s Inquisitors, before the hound’s rampage spread any further.

Mother and Father exited the lander ahead of me, he a totem of thick body armour and muscle, she a lithe figure trailing curious mechadentrites that seemed to sniff the air like a gorgon’s serpents. We had touched down on a pad high upon the central spire of City 11-17. The air was no less foul for the great height. Beyond the clustered towers and refinery chimneys, great plains of dead earth spread to every horizon. And, of course, the sluggish Bospharall continued to flow inexorably far, far below. 

‘He seems happy,’ said Father, referring to the dour figure striding towards us across the rockcrete. He wore a long trench coat and was accompanied by a retinue of PDF, pale-skinned troopers with weary affectations, each clutching lasrifles and sweltering in the dense heat.

‘No one wishes to appear too pleased to see us,’ said Mother. ‘There is little pleasure in having to call for aid. Requests for support are often interpreted as a sign of incompetence within the ranks of the Administratum. Such actions may invite unwelcome consequences.’

‘Who is the real fool?’ asked Father, his voice modulated through his helm. ‘The individual who calls for a doctor when sick or the one who allows their  wounds to fester out of pride?’

‘It depends on the nature of the medicine on offer,’ Mother replied. They kept their eyes on the approaching party. I said nothing, merely waited behind them, my robes fluttering under the lander’s humid backwash.

‘Inquisitor Duhana,’ said the man in the lead, approaching Mother. He was balding and in his late fifties, or at least his appearance had been chronologically suspended there by expensive juvenat procedures. His expression bore no ill will that I could detect, but instead displayed a deep-rooted exhaustion that came from a lifetime of gruelling responsibility. 

‘My name is Marrazaro Ghest, overseer of City 11-17. I welcome you to Ezriek Secondus. I apologise that you are not arriving under more congenial circumstances.’

‘We go where we are needed,’ I said. 

Ghest’s eyes swivelled to the gap between Mother and Father and found me. He stared. People usually do. I accepted his scrutiny. My appearance was a hard fact to take in. Oftentimes, those I met whilst on business had to take a moment to decide whether I was part of a grand joke being played on them. But to Ghest’s credit, he responded neither with belligerence or outrage. He simply nodded, as if accepting that there were many things in the Emperor’s Imperium he did not understand.

‘You are the Inquisitor?’ he asked with a minimal amount of contrition.

‘I am,’ I said, stepping forward. ‘You may call me Inquisitor Duhana or just Eloise, as you prefer. I find that my office speaks for itself. There is no need to stand on ceremony.’ I permitted myself  a smile. We were all friends here. There was no cause for anybody to feel alarmed. Not yet.

Next to Ghest was a lieutenant of the local PDF, a tall woman in her late forties who somehow managed to look even less happy than the others in her group. Her straw-like hair hung limply over stern features withered by a lifetime of polluted air. Her gaze was steely, her pupils stark grey.

‘This…creature made short work of my entire command,’ she muttered to the overseer. ‘And we’re to entrust its eradication to a child?’

Ah. There it was. 

Ghest didn’t miss a beat. He addressed the lieutenant with a hard stare. ‘Lieutenant Hellex, you will apologise to the Lord Inquisitor and report for penal duty as soon as we are done here.’

The woman bristled, anger burrowing into her expression. I noticed the bruised look around her eyes and wondered when she had last slept.

‘Please, Overseer Ghest, no such actions are necessary,’ I said, my tone careful to convey a practiced neutrality. ‘ I encounter such remarks often and I accept your trooper’s discourtesy as a sign of the stress heaped upon us all.’ I caught Hellex’s eye and we took a moment to size each other up, in her case literally.

Though I wore a folded robe sporting the emblazoned sigil of the Ordo Hereticus and a modified inferno pistol holstered at my belt, one could be forgiven for looking at me and seeing nothing more than a girl in her middle adolescence. I had long ago accepted that I would be underestimated by my peers and enemies alike. Either I allowed myself to dwell on the insult or I could use the prejudices of others to my advantage.

‘Lieutenant Hellex is one of two surviving witnesses to have seen the entity in action,’ said Ghest. ‘I have brought her here today so that you can hear her testimony in person.’

‘Good,’ I said. ‘Mother, please allow Overseer Ghest to guide you to his control hub. Although you have insisted that there is no further evidence of the creature’s whereabouts, Overseer, I would appreciate it if my companion could be granted full access to the local noosphere and principal data streams.’

The flash of hesitation in the man’s body was quickly dispelled, though not before I took note of it. 

‘Of course, Inquisitor,’ he said. ‘Anything you need, we will provide.’

We would see.




Father and I listened to the second witness’s account in concerted silence. We had located a cell within the spire where privacy could be guaranteed. Lieutenant Hellex appeared to have shaken herself from her earlier doubts and began to describe the scene thusly.

According to the reports I had read in transit, her career in the Planetary Defence Forcewas as dutiful as it was unremarkable. Though the Ezriek system was no stranger to conflict, having fought off a tendril of Hive Fleet Kraken in previous decades and endured numerous raids by marauding Drukhari since then, the core world of Secondus had been relatively quiet throughout her lifetime. Hers was a duty consisting of solid boredom, guarding key nodes in the planet’s industrial pipeline. An exciting night for Hellex involved breaking up a street fight or two, or unearthing contraband beneath a trooper’s bunk.

Then the hound had come to remind her of the eternal need for the Emperor’s vigilance.


Hellex had been upon the wall surrounding Depot B-BH-33, a logistical installation no different to a dozen others in the city. Her muscles were complaining due to inertia and she drew at length on an iho-stick, her breath mingling with the curdling fog. Visibility was low, as it often was, obscuring the ends of the avenues bisecting the main gateway on either side. The air stank of fuel and fire. 

‘A boon for an ailing man,’ said a hoarse voice behind her. ‘A boon, please miss.’

She turned, already proffering a smoke. Trooper Jann’s slim frame hobbled into view atop the parapet. A lifer like her, Jann was a rarity for still being on active duty in his sixties. Reaching such an advanced age on a polluted world like theirs was an achievement in itself. 

Hellex punctuated her story with a bitter laugh. ‘We all thought he was going to live forever,’ she said.

Jann took her offering with a throaty chuckle. ‘Such a kind young lady,’ he said, ‘helping a poor old gent in his time of need.’

‘Shut up and smoke,’ said Hellex. She returned to her watch, the familiar exchange now complete.

It wasn’t long before a boom sounded in the near-toxic haze. Loud and sudden noises were hardly a rare occurrence. Machines laboured all night. Transports alighted to and from the local starports. Ground traffic rumbled and growled, and even the discharge of far-off weapons fire presented little cause for alarm.

But the boom came again. And again. Gaining momentum like titanic footfalls.

Hellex straightened, catching Jann’s eye. On instinct they checked the charge packs of their lasrifles. A noise like a bass drum sounded through the mists and Hellex went for her vox.

‘Are we expecting a large hauler of any description?’ she asked the night shift, fearing she already knew the answer.

‘A hauler?’ came the scratched reply in her ear. ‘No, Lieutenant. Not until dawn. Another quiet night, I’m afraid.’

The next boom was so loud that it made her jerk in fright. Both troopers aimed their weapons into the dark. The noise grew, coming closer. A low mechanised growl reached their position. 


‘I thought I heard laughter, then,’ said Hellex. ‘A pure sound, like children at play. Is that strange, for a daemon to sound like us?’

‘Watch your tongue,’ said Father. His expression was concealed behind his visor, but his tone was severe. ‘Do not say such things, you have no idea what your presumptions might invoke.’

‘You did not see what I saw,’ she snapped.

‘What did you see?’ I asked, my arms folded.


Nothing at first. Hellex and Jann may as well have been statues, guns aimed in preparation for the charge of an unknown enemy. But the booms had subsided. The night had fallen still. Even the orchestral grind of the hive-city’s industry seemed anaemic and distant.

Jann lowered his rifle a fraction and took another pull at his stick. ‘Nervous as hive rats, we are,’ he laughed.

Hellex did not see the hound leap upon Jann’s section of wall, only felt the sudden explosion of force as it landed. The older guardsman vanished under a vast mass of metallic darkness. The great weight crushed the rockcrete wall along with the frail body that had, only seconds before, been standing in its defence. The lieutenant was thrown off balance, almost tumbling off the parapet to be dashed against the ground below. Pain exploded in Hellex’s skull.

 All went dark.

She awoke to las-bursts striating the night. Hellex realised that she had struck her head when she fell. Groggily, she attempted to climb to her feet. She saw the remains of the wall only meters away, reduced to a mound of fresh rubble. Her mind screamed at her to return to the moment, to focus. Something large had broken into her site, killing Jann in the process. They were all in serious danger.

She heard the snap of gunfire, an inhuman bark, the searing burst of plasma discharge and a child’s insidious giggle all at once.

Descending into the loading yard, Hellex struck a lumbering path through the fog. The clamour of nearby battle came ever closer, loose shots spearing past. ‘What’s happening?’ she yelled into the vox, but the device appeared to have been damaged in the fall. 

Once she breached the mists closer to the main complex, she saw her troopers were engaged against an engine that defied understanding. It reminded her of a contraband file cluster that had been passed around in her early days amongst the ranks. It had contained a gallery of pict-images detailing an artist’s rendition of mythical Terran beasts. The Merican Bear had stuck out in her mind for its apparent savagery; a twelve-foot, muscled alpha predator with claws as long as a man and a mouth that could swallow ground cars with ease.

What she saw now was that image’s equal in size and brutality, yet where the original had been clad in wiry, violet fur, this thing was built of dark metal and a bone-like exoskeleton. It stood on its hind legs, rearing up to attack the troopers pouring fire onto it from the complex’s roof and interior walls. She watched in horror as Trooper Mervin was caught in its obsidian grip. The beast raised the screaming man to its three burning eyes and then squeezed in disinterest. Mervin’s lower half blew out in a slurry of blood and meat, a final howl rattling in his throat.

Hellex charged, stopping only to aim and fire. Her shots punched into the hound’s hide, leaving sparking wounds that failed to slow it. She searched the beast for a weakness, finding only shimmering armour. So she followed the lead of her men and unleashed her outrage in a blistering storm of las fire.

Despite the concerted fire, the hound appeared distracted. It inspected the troopers blasting up at it from the depot roof, one after the other. The three spotlights upon its blank face considered each man in turn. Then a great metal paw lashed out. It struck them in a fatal side-sweep. Hellex cried out as her troopers were pulverised in an instant, the roof collapsing under the immensity of the blow, debris and shattered bodies flung into the air.

The hound raged. It thrashed as though in a tantrum, banging its immense paws upon the depot walls, kicking to obliterate a loading servitor idling near its feet. It roared, emitting a beam of searing light from its cavernous maw, burning flesh, tarmac, and brickwork in a wide arc. 

Hellex’s world became a flash of white as the beam passed closed by. Over-pressurised air blew out her eardrums. She cried out, expecting death, and, for a moment that lasted an eternity, it felt as if her lungs were filled with roaring hellfire.  

For the second time in as many minutes, her body and mind spent, Hellex collapsed. 

When she awoke amongst the ruins of the depot, morning had arrived. Smoke marred the landscape, concealing the spires of the city. What sky she could see was the dirty yellow of an old bruise. She had survived. 

Wandering mutely through the aftermath, eyes streaming from the smoke and the toll of failure, she began to find the remnants of her command littered amongst the carnage. An arm in the ash. A torso burnt to a crisp. Two men sealed in a blackened embrace as they were flash-roasted. Pulverised meat. The shapes of bodies stamped into the dirt. Men she knew. Men she had been charged to lead and protect.

A captain of the relief team found her beside Jann’s crushed body hours later, rocking back and forth with an unlit iho-stick in her mouth. Her mind refused to add even one more flame to that roiling, death-streaked horizon.

Once again, the hound had vanished. And Ezriek Secondus called for aid.




Mother is a scrupulous creature. An analyst of great skill, she absorbs data like an ocean absorbs rivers. A child of forge worlds and the tech-priests of Mars, she cleaves through information with precision and efficiency. She is a being who delights in pursuing the vital needle hidden amongst a digital landscape of haystacks. 

She does not let me down.

Mother finds the report buried in the encrypted logs of the planet’s Adeptus Arbites. She flows through their systems, buoyed by her immense talent and my total authority. Case files are uploaded into her neuro-cogitators and processed in their tens of thousands. Sublimating the distress of an entire world into her mind, she finds me what I need. The third witness.

Her story is a simple one. But in simplicity we find clarity.


Luprita Consalas lived alone in a hab-unit no larger than the cockpit of my lander. A line cook who kept to herself, her file was one of thousands buried in the storage stacks, forever to be ignored due to their negative-priority classification. 

She awoke one night to a red glow seeping in through her room’s smeared window port. Acidic rain tapped a beat upon the pane. Luprita sat up in her cot. Her sore eyes struggled to make out the details of her cramped dwellings. A rumble of thunder shook the corrugated walls.

Was it thunder? She had rarely heard such a thing. 

Luprita searched the darkness. The emptiness. The meagre signifiers of a quiet life approaching quiet expiration. There had been children here, once. Family. Friends. Taken away to war. To industry. To service. Allocated to destinies by cold algorithm. Not that Luprita knew that. She knew so little of those who had left or the manner in which their fates had been decided. Luprita had long ago left her desire for knowledge in the dust. 

She stood to look through the window. The thunder seemed to ripple. Morphing into a growl. 

Luprita squinted.

Saw the red orbs observing her through the rain. Saw them focus on her.

Luprita screamed.


‘There is more,’ said Mother. ‘I have plumbed the depths of the system’s noospherics and found anomalies. Data improperly categorised. Half-complete records. Evidence of bribery. It is subtle but not hidden.’

‘Sabotage?’ I asked.

‘Not necessarily. The patterns are different in each instance. This is not the work of a concerted player, but accumulative error. It is a disparity between system-wide input and output that, whilst small in each case, equates to a noticeable whole.’

‘And what does it tell us?’

‘It tells us that Ezriek Secondus produces more material than the data suggests possible. It also suggests we are due a trip to the moon.’




If Ezriek Secondus is the forge of new fleets, its moon, Secondus Alpha, is the graveyard of old ones. The satellite is vast, a perfect sister to the planet it orbits. It is a wasteland of dirty plains, riddled with the cracked bones of starships. The calcified ribs of battle cruisers jut into a sky thick with dust, the edifices of lesser craft swarming about them in iron death.

I had sent Father into the warrens of the City 11-17 to hunt in my stead. He had the skills and the self-sufficiency to do what was necessary. I was beginning to form a profile of the hound in my mind, yet I still had no clue as to what it was. Not exactly. But I had suspicions. Luprita’s buried report had been the key to the connection between its emergence at the dock and the slaughter at the depot.

Secondus Alpha would give me answers. 

Mother and I knew only vaguely where to look. The effort took several weeks. During that time, Father reported another attack. Another depot razed. No survivors. The incident had taken place on the other side of 11-17’s circumference. It bore all the hallmarks of the hound’s weaponry. I tasked him to investigate the site and to send me a list of the dead while me and Mother continued our work on the moon

The population of Secondus Alpha is nomadic. It moves with the tide of industry, arriving en masse around the warp-scarred corpses of fleets. Cities spring up overnight. Churches and habs are hastily constructed, clinging to rusting precipices. The scale of the work involved in stripping the great ships and preparing their innards for transportation would boggle lesser minds. We discover that few of those performing the work understand the grand scheme of their efforts. All they know is that the Emperor watches over them, and that as long as He does, their lives possess meaning. There is pride here, ugly and stalwart like pride always is.

It is not a sentiment shared by the children.

They work in packs, delving into the superstructures through vents and engineering channels too small for the adults. The children act as scouts, mapping the interiors for the deconstruction teams. Small feet walk halls of dull steel, reedy lamplights revealing the way onwards. Like me, they walk into the darkness not by choice. But because it is their allotted purpose. It is all they have.

‘Missing children?’ a tech-labourer parrots back to me with a laugh. ‘These ships are labyrinths, young miss. An’ all good labyrinths are guarded. Defensive systems, battle servitors, dormant purge-routines. Not to mention the constant danger of structural collapse, plasma surges, electrical fires or just bloody tripping over yourself in the damned dark.’ He shakes his head with sad amusement. ‘Do children ever go missing? Emperor, it’s hard to hold onto the little bastards.’

Duty makes us all cruel.

Such a task, to find a single instance of despair in a sea of tragedy, is difficult. But Mother has her skill with information and I my psyker touch. These are the beacons that guide us. It is a long process. The uncovering of truth often is. But rumour and legend draw us in, until we find the true first witnesses of the entity we know as the hound.

‘Anda was eaten by a monster,’ the girl named Frieyek tells us. ‘Swallowed him whole. It got Delvi and Burr too. Tav saw the whole thing.’

‘No, I didn’t,’ said Tav, scowling. Like the girl, Tav’s hair is shorn to the scalp. His skin and nails are blackened with dirt. His look of indignation is feral. ‘I only saw what happened to Burr. The others had already been got by the time I arrived.’

The children are framed against a harsh noon sky. The flaming comets of starships descend through the atmosphere, trailing sickly fumes as their fuel reserves empty. Peaks of scrap metal and battered components frame our gathering. Some of the children are playing with Mother’s mechadentrites. They coil around them, then chase them away like territorial serpents. Mother attempts not to smile.

I sit upon a cracked rebar, paying the children a level of attention they are not used to. It makes them wary. Who was this strange adolescent with the gun, their faces say. But our gifts of fresh food and water soften the scrutiny of suspicion. I give them time, until they are used to my presence, before pushing forward with my inquiries.

‘Tell me about the monster,’ I asked.

‘Why? Do you collect monsters?’ asked Tav. ‘Do you try and find the best monsters and keep them for yourself? That’s what I would do.’

‘No. I stop them.’

Tav grinned broadly. ‘I don’t think you’d stop this one.’

I gave him a half-shrug. ‘I haven’t succeeded yet. That’s why I need to hear your story.’

‘Ain’t much to tell,’ he said, and I realised that in this group Tav is the leader, the one who cannot be seen to crack. He wears his reputation like the wind-cloak he sorely needs. ‘We were scouting a frigate. Anda was in the lead. He took Delvi and Burr with him down a side passage and it weren’t long before their taps stopped.’

‘Taps?’ asked Mother.

Tav rapped his knuckles against a sheet of armour plating. ‘Taps. Lets the others know you’re still there. We’re tapping all the time in the ships. Just to stay together. And the taps stopped, which means either something bad’s happened or someone’s being an arse. So I go to look, yeah. And I see this big chamber—these places are full of big chambers—and in the corner was this huge black shape and it had Burr’s legs sticking outta its mouth!’

‘Oh dear,’ I say. My mind’s eye was circling his, searching for mistruths, finding none. Only the sincerity of a child. ‘What did you do then?’

Tav’s chest swelled with pride. ‘I went an’ kicked the thing, obviously. But honestly, it just really hurt my toes.’

‘He broke one,’ said Frieyek idly. ‘The big one.’

‘Pretty sure I broke one. Anyway, that’s when the shape grew eyes. Huge red ones! And it didn’t even see me, it just ran away, smashing things to pieces as it went.’ Tav sniffed. ‘Never saw them kids again. But I suppose that’s just what happens if you let yourself get eaten by a monster.’




‘They’re children,’ I insisted. ‘Children who have been absorbed into a machine of unknown origin.’

Overseer Ghest gave me a skeptical stare. ‘That is an interesting conclusion, my Lord. It isn’t often that dozens of my troopers are murdered by children.’

‘Absurd,’ said Hellex, who I had invited to the meeting out of respect for her ordeal. ‘Surely this is just bias at work. You are a child yourself, and cannot help but see children as the root cause of everything.’

I turned my adolescent face to the lieutenant. I did not smile. Hellex may be a traumatised woman, but I had excused her insubordination once and I would not do so again.

‘When I sealed the warp-rift at Axellion IV, closing the gate upon a horde of plague entities and their sorcerous allies, I did not think of youth. When I hunted Garmonial Velmiere, arch-traitor of his Navigator House, to the fringes of the galaxy and razed his lair of corruption and all within, children did not cross my mind. When I purged the Mechtrich Cluster of Xenos agents and exiled the ruling classes for their heresy, I cared not a whit for the lives of their sons and daughters. That is because it was not my concern.’

Hellex blanched. ‘I did not mean—

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You did. You are trained to stand on a wall and fire your gun. I am trained to look past the obvious and find the holes in the Imperium’s ever-fraying security net. Accuse me again of laxity in that duty and suffer the consequences.’ 

Ghest leaned back in his chair, not looking at either of us. Hellex, at least, had the decency to look contrite.

‘The moon of Secondus Alpha absorbs a sizeable portion of the Segmentum Solar’s void waste,’ I continued tersely. ‘We know, Ghest, that your records detailing the nature of these craft are woefully incomplete. It is not only Imperial ships fuelling your refineries, is it?’

Ghest thrummed his fingers against his desk. He had known this was coming. Seen its inevitability, but not possessed the courage to tell us. 

‘Our quotas have become untenable,’ he said eventually. ‘The Indomitus Crusade forces us to achieve the impossible each and every day. We no longer have the luxury of waiting for the full clearance and inspection of the scrap vessels we acquire. We need everything the galaxy gives us or our efforts will falter.’

‘Xenos ships,’ said Mother. ‘Vessels compromised by the heretic powers.’

‘No,’ snapped Ghest. ‘Never that. Such things are burned to dust in the void the moment they are detected. However, I will admit, we are no longer… careful about whose scrap we take. We simply do not have the time. Higher directives from Terra force our hand. If you wish to lay blame at our feet, then first consider who puts us in such desperate haste. The mathematics of progress must be satisfied. The fires of the future must be fuelled by the relics of the past.’

‘Relics that are now loose on the streets of your city,’ I said softly. ‘These children were split from their families and sent away to work upon the moon. Now, they seek their fathers and mothers, cousins and siblings, using the last tatters of their memories. At the docks. At the depots. And they rage inside that infernal machine because they cannot find them. Their loved ones have been consumed by the hive, and so their hunt continues.’

Ghest sat placidly, but met my eye. ‘I do as I am commanded,’ he said. ‘And I am told to do so at any cost. This is the price paid for peak productivity. I am more than willing to pay it. This is my duty and I will not shirk it.’

We sat in uncomfortable silence for a time whilst I considered my options.

‘Ezriek Secondus will need to change its methods, and it must do so immediately. Otherwise, this incident will merely be the first of many. I have seen entire worlds fall for less.’ I looked at them both. ‘That is now part of your duty, and I will hear no argument otherwise. Am I clear?’

Ghest looked as if he wanted to lash out, to attack me for the impossibility of my request. But it was not a request and he was an intelligent enough man to know as much. So, he simply seethed.

The vox chimed in my ear. It was Father. His stake-out had been successful. We were going into the bowels of City 11-17.

‘You must excuse me,’ I said, standing and smoothing down my robe. ‘I have a hound to bring to heel.’




Father had ordered the Arbites to clear the area, and though it had taken them far too long to recognise his clearance as an agent of the Inquisition, they had eventually acquiesced. Father can be most creative with his expletives if the occasion calls for it.

The street was wide enough to admit ground traffic, but only just. It barely contained the hound. The great machine bulged against the rockcrete on either side, pressing its mighty strength outwards until the buildings began to shake. It produced a plaintive whine. One of its eyes flickered, black fluid running from the release ducts. The remaining two orbs burned hot and bright, but moved erratically, a clear sign of distress.

Father had his powerful long-range rifle aimed at the groaning monstrosity, though neither side seemed interested in making a move. A trembling man, surprisingly overweight for a citizen of 11-17, lay behind an overturned freight hauler. He looked up at Mother and I as we approached, his features pale.

‘Who are you?’ he croaked. ‘Why am I here? That man dragged me from my hab! And what in the hell is that?’

‘Be quiet,’ I said softly, looming over him. ‘You are Domniq Consalas?


I crouched down and took his hand. ‘Domniq, I am Eloise. I am an agent of the Emperor’s Inquisition. I need your help.’

‘W-what? What could you possibly want from me? I’m nobody! Nothing!’

‘Everyone is somebody,’ I said calmly. ‘Somebody who matters. I had my companion keep watch on you and several others. You are the brother of Luprita?’

‘I… Yes.’

‘And your brother is Sashi?’

‘That’s right.’

I nodded. ‘The creature at the end of this street contains Anda, Sashi’s son, as well as two other children. I believe they have been looking for you. Looking for their families.’

‘Anda? I’ve barely met the lad. I’ve met him twice at most, when he was a babe!’

I smiled. ‘He seems to remember you. I think he wants to go home, but home doesn’t exist anymore. I believe his mind is merging with those of the other children, and it is too much for them. They are trapped within that machine. At its mercy.’

Domniq took a heavy breath. ‘I don’t think I understand,’ he whimpered. ‘What is that thing?’

I stared down the street at the hound. ‘I do not know,’ I admitted. ‘I do not think I ever will. Now, follow me.’

I took the unresisting man by his sweaty hand and took him out onto the street. We walked towards the hound, in full sight of its weapon systems. Two scrambling orbs locked on Dominiq. We stopped beside Father.

‘I hit it with a modified electromagnetic round,’ he said. ‘The hound has come to a stop, but it still lives. Please, be careful, Eloise.’

‘No need to be overbearing,’ I told him. ‘This is merely a conversation with frightened children.’

We approached further. I had to apply a subtle push to Dominiq’s mind to keep him walking. The man was close to soiling himself. The black beast let out a soft croon.

‘Anda,’ I said, ‘I brought your uncle, Dominiq. He is here to take you home. Delvi, Burr—I think you can hear me, too. You have done so very well to get back here, but it is over now. You are losing yourselves within that machine, and I need you to remember who you are.’

The hound growled deep. That massive furnace of its maw opened, revealing the lance weapon embedded in its burning throat. I pushed the full force of my mental will into Dominiq and he came forward, hands out.

‘Anda,’ he said. ‘It’s me, Uncle Dom. I hope you remember me. I hope you remember Sashi, too.. He worked at the docks for many years, until the Bospharall took him. I am sorry, Anda. He is with the Emperor now. But if you want, you can be…’

He paused, as if questioning where his newfound eloquence and courage came from. Then he rallied.

‘You can be with me, if you would like. If you would like to come home, you can come home. And damn anyone who tries to separate our family again, eh?’

Silence settled across the street. Father raised his rifle a fraction, sighting down into the hound’s gullet. The hound did not stir.

Then a hiss of steam. The face plating began to shift. The visor lowered with a hydraulic clang and  I saw the true face of the hound, and my heart began to ache.

Three children. Meshed together in a tangle of wire and biological feedback clamps. It looked like no engine I knew. An anomaly that had ended up here where the most vulnerable could find it. I could see immediately that the young boy known as Burr was dead. The machine had begun to reject him, and he dangled limp and sad within the mechanics, coated in dripping black fluids.

But Anda and Delvi still lived.

I took the final steps towards the hound. A quivering funnel within the chassis followed me as I approached. The origin of the deadly lance beam. I did not stop until I stood directly before it, like its impatient master. I raised my hand. Then slowly let it fall.

‘Drop them,’ I commanded, and did so with the pulsing might of a psyker. With the indomitable will of one who would not be denied.

The hound obeyed.




The hound slumbers.

Of course, I could not reunite Anda with his family, nor Delvi. They had been absorbed into a murderous techno-intelligence of unknown origin for months. My duty would not allow it. I needed to learn more of this beast and its origins, for the chassis had not been of Imperial or Mechanicus design.

Knowledge is a burden, yes. But I carry it so that others do not.

There is also the matter of the children themselves. I do not know when they will wake, or who they will be if they do. Perhaps they will be too damaged by their ordeal to function. Perhaps they will wake with inhuman desires for violence pulsing through their brains. I considered them too much of a risk. I would take them with me.

‘There is one more reason I intend to take them,’ I said to Hellex via vox. ‘A reason I admit to you and you alone.’

‘What is that, Inquisitor?’

‘Ezriek Secondus is no place for children,’ I said. ‘So little of the galaxy is. If they wake, and they are well, perhaps I can find them a better life than this.’

‘Not with their families?’

I hesitated. ‘Anda’s uncle is not, in fact, a good candidate for the role of guardian. I read as much in his psyche. And Delphi’s siblings have long since joined the Astra Millitarum and been shipped to who knows where. I think the last she remembers of them is seeing them off at the depot.’

‘Oh. I see.’


‘Why tell me this, Inquisitor?’

‘Because I wish to make you the same offer,’ I said. ‘I have a role for you. Of Sister. It is an open position in my entourage. The primary purpose of which, at least for now, would be to watch over these children for any sign of anomaly.’

Hellex did not speak for a while. ‘You think I should be a surrogate mother to the freaks who killed my men?’ she asked, temper rising in her voice

‘No, Lieutenant,’ I said. ‘I think this incident has taken too much from you, and left you with nothing but scars. I am offering fresh pastures and an opportunity to heal. A chance to see the hound as what it was all along; lost children crying out to a world that would not love them. And if the situation worsens, if the murderous intelligence persists in these frail bodies, you may deliver them the Emperor’s justice and achieve peace.’

‘And will you tell me about yourself, Inquisitor? Will you tell me why a girl of your age wields such frightening and absolute authority?’

I smiled to myself. ‘Hellex, I am eighty-six years old. And perhaps I will tell you my story, sometime. If you wish to leave a life that no longer serves you, my lander will be on station until nightfall. May the Emperor Guide you.’

I clicked off the vox and nestled back into my chair. I looked around at the two small figures lost in an unnatural sleep on their cots. A boy and a girl in rags, skeletal framed and glistening with cold sweat. I do not know if these children are a threat to anyone. I do not know if I will need to order them expunged in the future. But whilst there is hope that they can be spared, my weapon will remain holstered and my mind will remain watchful.

I gently held the Inquisitorial medallion within my pocket and I thought of lost children. And then, with difficulty, I thought of home.

About the Author

Sam Kearns writes from a maisonette in Oxford alongside his talking cat. He dreams of writing for the Black Library, as all good servants of the Emperor do. His sci-fi novel, The Darkness under the Rainbow, exists.