From the flames, a single ship darts out into the void. A single golden shard lost to the darkness, as the last Craftworld falls.
Alone at the helm, Arhanas fights back the tears. The pain is overwhelming, tearing at his mind and body, fraying him at the edges. He runs, leaving parts of himself behind, like a thread, unravelling behind him as he flies. He dares not stop though. Not only because of those who hunt him, but because of what awaits if he closes his eyes. The torn ragged faces of his friends. The blasted body of lovers present and past. The shattered reality of a faded dream.
Yet even in the darkness, there may be hope.
“Apprentice?” she whispers, just a pale flicker in the wraithbone circuits of the ship
“…Master?” His heart in his mouth. Did it work?
“I am…still here.”
“Yes! Yes!” The relief floods his veins, seductive but dangerous. “I carried your soulstone to the ship, just as you foresaw. We escaped.”
“Then there is still hope.”
This time, Arhanas does not try to hold back his tears.
“There is a Craftworld. Hidden, beyond the edges of the galaxy.” His master’s voice tells him. “I will guide you. This secret is held only by a handful of us. It is a refuge beyond refuges.”
“We can leave this galaxy. We can rebuild.” Arhanas murmurs to the still air of the ship.
“Fly, Apprentice. Fly faster than you’ve ever flown.”
The last Aeldari ship twists and turns through the spreading storm as the galaxy tears itself apart at the seams. Reality strains and breaks into vast purple bruises that stain the void, as the golden speck races past.
Arhanas can feel the demons watching. All of them, but especially Her. He can feel Her reaching for him always, a vast clawed hand through the void. He throws the darting ship between her fingers with every inch of skill he has, every ounce of energy he has.
Around him, they are all dying. The Aeldari were just the first. He sees planets turned inside out, squashed like flesh, stretched, and moulded into horrific shapes that leer at him as they pass. Entire systems reduced to luminescent dust clouds that whisper to him of lost loves and dreams.
“Faster, apprentice.” She whispers.
System after system. Star after Star. Through the wreckage of a thousand civilisations and settlements.
He is tired. So very tired, and there is still no light to welcome him home from the darkness. The ship is slowing, tiring with him, but he drives it onwards, towards the nebula she indicates, using the last of their momentum to pierce the veil.
Exhausted, he slumps at the controls, as they float in the cloud.
“Is it here Master?”
She is silent. For the first time she is silent, and he feels a cold chill in his chest. Outside the nebula swirls, the clouds paint pictures and shapes that vanish as fast as they appear, yet there is something wrong about it. Something strange. Carefully, tentatively, Arhanas reaches out with his mind.
The echo of a trillion screaming souls assaults his senses. Blood and claw, talon, and acid. Roaring in pain, nose bleeding, he falls to the floor.
“…Dead.” He gasps.
“Arhanas.” She sounds unsure. “You must not lose hope. So long as we survive there is…”
“THERE IS NO HOPE!”
The echoes of his scream seem to hang in the sterile air around him. As if what remains of the galaxy cannot quite believe what he has said. Before he can stop it, it unfolds like a flood. He doesn’t even know what he’s saying, he has no control, yet he knows he can hold it back no more.
“There is no one left! We can search every corner, every crevice, but they are gone. Every failsafe, every refuge. Every trick we have. We have lost. We’ve always been losing. We may have slowed it down, we held it back as best we could, but it is over. There is nothing left.”
“You are dead, Mistress.”
There, he said it. It slips out of him in a whisper, his breath failing him.
“You died at the gates of Arnath Tiril. You are just a ghost in the circuit, and I am not you. I do not have your strength and even you couldn’t hold them back.”
His breath comes ragged and painful now.
“There is nothing left.”
Silence falls in the empty ship. Arhanas stands alone in the soft glow of the consoles, amidst the pulsing of the infinity circuit woven through the wraithbone arches. Silver and delicate, and utterly silent.
The galaxy seems quieter now. All around, the indulgences of the warp are slowing, fading from that initial hedonistic burst of consumption. Without life to sustain it, the warp itself is growing tired and listless. Demons curl, fat and sated watching the ship from the stars, but they no longer give chase. Arhanas lets the ship find its own way, flickering through the night.
He finds himself watching the galaxy. Watching the loose trails of cosmic materials unwinding themselves, stars exploding into supernovas, moons smashing apart planets, and sending ejecta flaring off into the dark. It is, he thinks, quite beautiful.
He sees no one else. No ships, no stations, no craftworlds or bioships. No souls to see what he sees. No one to share what he feels.
There is no answer. Had there ever been? Had he only imagined her?
He finds the ship drifting beside one of the last stars, exhausted and dying. Why is he still here? Why does he persist? It is over. There is nothing left to watch.
The ship drifts, dark, and alone in the void.
Only the faintest glimmer comes from the wraithbone circuits. A single soul that struggles to raise itself from slumber, to reach out into the cold for its last hope.
There is only silence.
About the Author
Benjamin Joseph is a 40k fan, and writer, based in Dubai and trying to find the Grimdark in eternal sunshine.