Your time here is finished.
She doesn’t respond. Her breath was ragged, still, shaky exhalations echoing in the darkness. There was a faint odour as she breathed out, lingering for a moment or two before the helmet’s filters scrubbed the air clean; the residue of bile and rage perhaps, still within her, seeking a way out. She kept her eyes squeezed shut as the dark was the only safe place she knew of at that moment, a link between what is, what was, and what might come.
I cannot go.
The words weren’t spoken aloud, but they didn’t need to be. The other would understand, for she and it were one.
If you remain here, you will be lost.
What did she care for that now? The past was a desert of regrets, the future a yawning chasm with no visible end. It would be better to remain, to become a ghost haunting the depths, than to embrace the pain that awaited. What sort of creature would willingly go forward, knowing the dull, nagging agony that lay ahead?
Her hands were wrapped around the hilt of a blade powered down and tip to stone, the armoured fingers as tight as death on the bindings. She opened her eyes and gazed out through the blood wash of the helmet lenses. Before planetfall, such a sight was a precursor to fury, an incitement to rage, but now it is a grubby reminder of impending remorse. She removed a hand from the hilt and reached up and under the auburn mane of the war mask, her fingers probing for the seals. At the last, she faltered, and her hand dropped.
You know what you must do, Kiniteer. You and I were never a good match.
Who spoke then – was it the echo of her sublimation beneath the war mask or the restless ancestor spirits within its bloody matrix? It could not be him; he was dead and gone. Her already broken heart would shatter into fragments if she ever thought it was him speaking discontent at their life together.
Old Crone, goddess of fate and soul, grant me the wisdom of your divine blood.
The prayer would fall on deaf ears, for the Crone was dead too, and the armour cared only about revenge and rage and dark emotion amplified into destruction. Yet now, containing herself within the armour was all she felt was holding her together.
Do you wish to lose yourself?
The memories came unbidden, the nature of safety and siren within the mark forever entwined.
Another planet, another war. Thousands of aeldari gathered beneath rippling banners. Her shrine launching swift and deadly into the foe, the sound of their attack singular at first, a high-pitched screech that both demanded attention and warned away from it. More then, joining and rising as she sprinted through the long savannah grass, the dying rays of the planet’s star bathing everything in golden light and deepening shadows. The shout became a nerve-shredding howl that didn’t stop, bursting eardrums and knifing its way under the skin, shaking some of the mon’keigh so badly that they dropped to the earth and covered their ears against the keening that vibrated the very flesh they were made of. In their agony, they were heedless, overwhelmed, and unable to respond to the charging aeldari.
Some of them simply stood still, blood trailing from under their helmets in tiny streams, their senses overloaded. Others dropped weapons from nerveless fingers and tried to run, their movements jerky and uncoordinated.
Shuriken whisper snicked from pistols, dropping dozens where they stood like marionettes with their strings cut. Disorientated mon’keigh began to turn, but it was far too late, and the aeldari were in amongst them, pale wraithbone and blazing power swords dancing, pirouetting, slicing, gutting with whirlwind abandon. Fire singing in her veins, pulsing savagery released. The aeldari slaughtered all they could find, withdrawing only when the primitives were dead or gone beyond their reach.
Too easy, daughter of Khaine. Too easy to lose yourself on this Path.
A simple thing, to fall into the comfort of virtuous anger, to make an eternal protest at his death. He should not have been there, his footsteps upon the Path of the Warrior long smoothed over by time, but the Guardians had been summoned, and so both professional and citizen has gone to war together.
I cannot face them. I cannot tell them he is gone.
The mask was silent. Blood lust sated, its hold over her psyche was loosening, though it still prevented her from rethreading her emotions into normality by the singular nature of what it was. It dulled the ache, allowed her to remain numb. Yet, even so, there were still stabs of pain, the uncomprehending becoming a reluctant, weeping acknowledgement that had yet to spill out fully. She had known the moment he fell, despite the raging battle and the banshee scream of the mask and her augmented fury, his sudden absence had reached her, even as she killed.
To stay was to become a further casualty, another loss.
The power sword stood for a second as she removed her hand, then fell, slowly descending to clang without grace against the stone floor of the shrine. She reached behind her head with her still armoured fingers, pushing against the hidden clasps of the helmet. For a moment, the mask resisted, giving her a final chance to insist upon or recant her decision.
The crimson wash across her sight lessened as she removed the war mask and looked down to where the hilt of the dropped blade lay lifeless against the polished stone. Beside it, glowing blue, a single spirit stone rested.
As the mask fell to the floor alongside them, Kiniteer drew breath and began to scream.
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.