‘He’s slipping… we’re losing him.’
The voice is distant, part of an abstract memory, dust-covered and forgotten until now.
His consciousness rises with the beginnings of remembrance, swimming up from the depths. Images flash staccato before him. Half-seen things rear up against a backdrop of burning Palace spires: claws and teeth and barbed blades. A crimson sky churns above a vast battlefield. The horde is without end, no matter how many he strikes down. Mounds of dead things surround him, gilded with golden corpses. A shrieking aberration with no eyes and a mass of tentacles for a head thrusts an impossibly long talon through a gap between cuisse and poleyn. Ghost pain fills his mind. That alone brings context to the ascending memories, telling him something of how badly he is hurt. Was hurt.
His memory was perfect once, his physical form unmatched, and yet both have failed him. Acknowledgement triggers the beginning of understanding.
Another voice comes, distinct from the first, yet closer. A voice from now.
+++ Negative. Time constraints are sub-optimal. +++
He knows now what memory will come next. It has been this way before, in ages past, an inevitable part of the process.
Desperation wells within. Unbidden, it subsumes all of him, drowning all thought with its sudden ferocity. It is an old feeling made fresh with each awakening. If he had a mouth to speak with, he would cry out against the overwhelming sense of loss and wail at the shame that absence fills him with. He tries to move, to raise a hand, an arm, and yet his body will not respond. The memory of noise carries across his senses in hitched bursts, and he can smell the reek of battlefield surgery; the copper tang of blood; the stench of digestive fluids exposed, and somewhere close, the burning stink of cauterised flesh.
He has no sight. He does not want to see, for he fears seeing nothing but the deficiency of light, extinguished when He fell. That thought alone, the unconscious acknowledgement of it, is enough to send his body into spasm, then and now. That first remote voice comes again, urgent.
‘Hold him still, for Throne’s sake!’
They failed. In the end, their duty had been beyond them, their sacred mission a failure. The Archenemy had come to the Throneworld with a host of traitors amidst blazing fury, and He had fallen. Even after all this time, the thought scorches his mind, burning star bright.
He pushes the memory away, willing it to fall into darkness. His consciousness seeks to grasp at something, anything else, but once raised, the truth will not let go. They failed, and so this became his fate, an eternal watch stretching away to an uncertain conclusion. An endless vigil without chance of absolution. Yet it is an obligation willingly discharged, a penitence gladly accepted.
The second voice speaks, clipped and metallic.
+++ Be swift. The Light has gone out. Apply the final rituals. +++
The darkness greys, and the ravenous, wicked things fade with it. Except that somehow, something of them remains. It does not feel like memory, or even the residue of something departing, but an unfathomable awareness that the leering creatures which ended him have somehow returned. Were they somewhere close? Was such a thing possible?
He hears chanting, voices scratching at the edge of his senses. His cognisance continues to grow, and the volume of noise around him increases. He knows now what he is, and where he rests. Sensoria register the sounds and process the air around him, feeding it onward. Somewhere close, machinery clanks and grinds. Chains rattle, and oil particles in the air register as a faint but unmistakable smell. Benedictions sound, in Gothic and binaric cant. The chemical stench of promethium beneath fragrant incense. His memory makes the association without thinking.
+++ No time remains. The Blood God’s cohorts return to Terra. +++
The world as he knows it grows still.
If daemons were present on Terra, however such an impossibility had come to pass, then it was also true that they would have but one purpose: to make an attempt on the Emperor’s life.
The rituals finish. Power courses through his form. Electricity fizzes and crackles as cables disengage. Sensoria flicker one last time, then steady. Barrels cycle on the autocannon affixed to one arm. Metal clangs on metal as the power claw on the other arm flexes. All systems function as they should, a testament to the ancient technology and craft of the machine. Below his vantage point, the red-robed priests of Mars stand back, waiting for him to walk.
+++ Venerable Ampedocles. +++
He ignores the tech-priest.
The past and present intermingle; experiences lived are laid over the steps he now takes. What was once true is again real. His leg moves; pistons and dampers engage, bringing a heavy foot down on a reinforced metal pad. Chains rattle as his dreadnought body shifts, thought feeding commands to limbs powered by reactor and motor.
+++ Urgency, venerable one. They are at the Lions Gate. +++
His balance readjusts, and his other leg moves. The second step is easier than the first, the third almost unconscious. A thought starts the loading sequence of the autocannon.
Somewhere close, the horde of a past aeon has returned. Remembered images swarm across his mind; nightmare things made material, bloodletters and berserkers in brass and dark armour screaming mindless rage at the skies above.
His voice, crackling through the vox-emitter in his chest, booms across the cavernous hall. He does not breathe, nor see, nor hear. But he knows Chaos has come to Terra once more, and an unfulfilled duty beckons. This is his purpose, now as it has always been, as it always will be, until death. His voice comes once more.
‘By His will, I shall not fail again. Where is the enemy?’
About the Author
Darren Davies is a professional engineer living in Ireland with his family, and far too many animals. A long-time admirer of all things science fiction, he fills his spare time by looking for a quiet place to write about the strange things that come into his head.