The warband didn’t have a name. They couldn’t conceive of the concept of names. They were World Eaters. Servants of Khorne. They were Khorne’s madness taken to its perfect distilled end point. The Nameless are feral brutes. Deemed too far gone, even by the standards of the most vicious of their World Eater contemporaries.
He had no use for names, but the people of the city gave him many. Death-in-Red. The Beast-of-the-Hills. The Monster-in-the-Dark. None knew his true name, not even himself. He was the fallen Astartes, who was once called Asher Kor.
A rumble of engines drew his attention to the sky. A trio of Thunderhawks burst through the cloud cover, they drag wisps of smoke behind them. Their cargo holds struggled to open, fighting back the rust, and the decades. He watched as a bevvy of stunted and deformed figures dropped through the air at terminal velocities. Little red dots of murder, speeding rapidly towards the ground. Their birth was violent. Shoved from their transports at immense altitudes without the slightest decrease in speed.
Asher would welcome those who survived the fall, and those who endured the pack’s blood baptism. This was his duty as pack leader of the Nameless. For this was his place, the cruel, bloodstained hills that surround the vile city. Where warbands drop their uncontrollables. Those World Eaters who’ve received the full blessings of Khorne. Whose towering rage drove them to no longer take orders. They became the most inhuman of creatures, who now eternally torment the sorcerers’ stronghold. A simple unending war that serves Khorne’s battle lust well.
Asher didn’t have time for them today, because today Asher was counting skulls. Tossing them from one pile to another. The act troubled him. Not because the count felt low, though that worried him. He always wanted more skulls. More skulls to please the blood god. More skulls to keep his favour. No, Asher was worried because he was counting at all. To count required thought. Thought required a mind free of the purity of Khorne’s bloodlust.
WAR! BLOOD! DEATH! VIOLENCE! NEED WAR! His mind roared. Perhaps battle and blood could wash away his mind.
Asher threw back his head and let out a deafening howl. His mouth opened impossibly wide, exposing rows of sharp teeth and multiple tongues. Arachnoid eyes haphazardly dotted around his head sensed his pack. His Nameless. Animals, monsters, creatures with warped and mutilated bodies. Asher moved at a gallop. His front arms had long ago melded with his chainswords. His legs had twisted and fused, his knees inverted, giving him the quadruped speed of a canid.
Through swirling clouds of dust, he felt his warband surround him. The pounding of hooves and claws, the berzerker screams. Yes! Yes, brothers! This feels right, this… feels? There was no escaping the slow, steady organisation of his mind. He screamed, partially in anger, and partially in terror. The others joined in his call, though they didn’t know why.
Cresting the hill, they caught sight of the sorcerous city of Tzennd. In its centre stood a grand twisting tower, set within a circle of massive pyramidal structures, each the size of a hive. Surrounding this are smaller, simpler buildings in concentric rings, diminishing until eventually petering out into miles of closely compacted tents and hovels. Tzennd was, for all its size, a fortress built of simplicity, the centre being protected by the mass of sacrificial humanity living on its periphery.
And sacrifice they did. Asher and the Nameless indulged in crimson tinted slaughter. The people of the hovel districts served as a buffer. The Nameless raged. They murdered. They butchered for days on end. Yet there were always more ready to die. The people were pitiful in their resistance, limitless in their suffering, and endless in their deaths. No matter how far they pushed and how deeply they raged, they seemed to step no closer to Tzennd than these outer reaches.
That shouldn’t have bothered Asher. Blood is blood, skulls are skulls, he thought, as he stripped the flesh from an old woman’s head with his teeth. What if the skulls were better farther in? What if the blood was sweeter? He pulled his victim from his jaws, grasping the skull with his hand. He stopped– A hand? It wasn’t quite a hand as one might expect. Gone was his chainblade, it lay neatly in the dirt. Instead he saw a collection of fused digits, sheathed in raw pink skin, spattered with gelatinous globs, producing wafts of steam into the night air.
Asher crawled to a nearby pit of blood. His back stiff, and legs slow to respond. He hesitated before he looked down. His abhorrent fear was justified. The reflection he saw wasn’t what he desired. His multitude of eyes dripped pus as they receded into his skull. No longer a beautiful scaled red, his skin was now soft, pink… human. His mouth seemed to be an almost proper proportion. Reaching to his teeth, he found them dull, blunt, rounded. He saw an image that disgusted him. A man, an Astartes, returned.
‘What… madness?’ His voice croaked, speaking real human words, actual language, for the first time in millennia. ‘Have I offended you, my god?’
A fellow Nameless, barely recognisable as a man, turned upon hearing his voice. It cocked its head and sniffed the air to determine if he was prey. Asher growled low, baring his teeth, and reved his remaining chainblade. The Nameless stutter stepped backwards. It still recognised him as its leader. It quickly lost interest as nearby screams dragged the beast away. Their pain unknowingly calling the mutated behemoth to consume them.
Asher straightened his back. Bones snapped and twisted into their original long forgotten shape. His thoughts were clear, organised, and disturbingly complex. A sharp pain sliced through his body as his remaining chainblade slid from his arm. Putrid secretions and thin lines of organic sludge followed with it. The change came quickly now. A realisation bubbled up through his clarified mind.
He was no longer of the Nameless.
He was Asher Kor. The World Eater, and he had to move on.
Deeper into the city, he went past the hovels where innocents ran from his presence and into the winding streets filled with stone structures. He kept his eye on the centre of the city, a towering obelisk far beyond. His destination. His salvation. The hope of better skulls to present as tribute and regain whatever favour he had lost. The centre of the city pulled him ever closer.
So transfixed was Asher that he did not hear the approaching steps behind him.
WHUNK! The sound of metal hitting ceramite reverberated through the streets. Pain rippled through him as he took the hammer of a lone Rubric Marine directly to the spine. He felt ribs twist and shatter, but also felt them rapidly knit back together. Most of all, he noticed a familiar pang run through his mind. Butcher’s Nails. Whirling, twisting, and burrowing deep into his brain. It had been lifetimes since he had to rely on them to fuel his rage.
Asher’s instinct kicked in. His senses pushed into overdrive. He rolled to avoid the next strike. The hammer slammed directly into the pathway, shattering the intricate stonework. Asher had no weapons, no helm, his power armour broken and missing many pieces. He no longer felt the voice of Khorne empowering him. Yet he had the Butcher’s Nails and he had fury. That would have to be enough. The Rubricae moved predictably dull and methodical. They were such opposites. Why would anyone fight with such dispassion? How could his opponent stand it?
Asher forced his feet into the ground, rushing at the Rubricae with blinding speed. He slammed into the thing, sending them both splintering through a stone wall and crashing into an impossible library that stretched endlessly upward. Scrolls and books of arcane provenance scattered down around them as Asher screamed in the face of his vacant enemy. The cables flowing from his skull trembled and shook with anticipation. The Butcher’s Nails bellowed in his mind. Rage. Hate. Violence. Those were its only vocabulary, and they became his entire language. His fingers dug deep into the eye slits breaking the crystalline glass. Jagged remnants split his skin and sinew all the way to the bone. The effort spritzed his blood down onto the armour. It spread out across the gold inlay of the intricate design work of the Rubricae’s helm. Crimson copper stench wafted into his nostrils. He salivated at the smell.
Blood! Blood! Asher screamed in his own mind. Khorne may abandon me, but I am a World Eater! I am the Death-in-Red, and rage without end!
The World Eater pulled and ripped at his enemy. Every ounce of his great, yet diminished strength rippled across his back and arms until the Rubricae’s helmet gave way. The Rubricae’s only response was a hiss of sealed air and a puff of desiccated corpse dust. Asher screamed into the void where a face should be. No blood! No skull! No means to serve his absent god. This only inflamed his rage, fuel for an ever-growing pyre. Asher gripped tighter on the helm, his hatred finding any outlet in reach. He bashed it into the stone flooring until both were broken and bent.
A whirr and click of servos jerked Asher’s attention upwards. Sickly, rotted, servitor scribes in tattered clothes watched him from behind their ancient bookshelves. The nails bit hard in his brain. Long overshadowed by Khorne’s gifts, they craved the chance to run free.
Blood burst from a servitor’s head as he drove the Rubricae’s hammer into it! Another he grasped by the throat and turned until it spurted black oil and dark rotted gore into his fists! He pinned a third to the ground with his foot, dived his fingers into its back and ripped its spine free! He hacked at the pitiful things for hours. Blood seeped into the pages of impossibly complex philosophies and precious secrets. Absorbing into the vellum and dissolving the ink containing the deep knowledge of centuries past.
Fire danced across his mind and magma flowed in his veins. He was a being of rage balanced by the perfection of Imperial gene-smithing, and he was unstoppable! When his fury subsided, a full eighty-seven of the mechanical beings lay dead. Asher steadied himself, centred his mind. His chest rose and fell in long booming breaths, as blood, sacred black oils and rotted gore dripped from him.
The Nails gave way, and his Astartes mind broke through the haze. It reminded him never to waste a resource. Asher quickly appropriated fragments of armour from his Rubricae kill. A broken pauldron, greaves to replace the ones lost to his cloven feet, and gauntlets where his hands had reformed. Asher even coaxed a jolt of power out of the Rubricae systems, returning his own armour to life. He felt something like pride donning a fully functional suit of power armour. He was home again.
But was an Astartes even something he wanted to be? One memory, among the ocean of his returning past, kept bobbing to the surface. They deployed his legion, subjugating a small but strategically important planet for the Imperium. They slated the entire populace for eradication. ‘It’s the planet, not the people.’ Leadership repeated the mantra in their coms. He could hear his fellow World Eaters whisper it at night. A prayer meant to free them from their sins. But not Asher, never Asher. He needed no prayer, no convincing. Asher radiated devotion to his brothers, his Imperium and his father. He’d just finished executing an enclave of survivors hiding in a makeshift bunker, when his vox crackled with new orders. They were to finish their duty with utmost speed and return for the implantation.
The orders came down from the only one who could truly give them. Their genesire’s strength would become their own. The Nails. They would all take the Butcher’s Nails. Many of his kin were uneasy, if such a thing were possible for an Astartes. Asher was not. When the Apothecary held him down as they drilled his skull open, he remembered the feeling of hope that came over him. With each hammer’s blow, a nail was driven deeper into his skull, and that feeling of hope mutated into beaming pride. Pride that the sacrifice he was making would finally make him whole in the eyes of Angron. Finally, make him enough.
Asher Kor forced himself to stop thinking, an effort that took more and more strain. He missed his true rage; the Nails were a poor substitute. More than that, he lamented the loss of his god, and paradoxically he mourned the transformation of his primarch, from father figure to an absent creature of the warp. His thoughts were a maze of hate and fear. A maze he never wanted to navigate again. He shouldn’t have to feel these things. Shouldn’t have to remember life before the change. He felt torn in two directions. Desperate to be a beast once more and oddly excited to regain his mind. Whatever was happening to him, his answers lay within the city core. The centre, the tower, the city’s place of power. That was his focus, and nothing else mattered.
Asher didn’t make it far. Something was wrong inside him. Ants squirmed beneath his scalp. The feeling of skittering creatures running all about, biting, ripping, eating at his mind. His face felt wet. Was he crying? He couldn’t tell, but when he pulled back his hand, it was blood, not tears, dripping from the ceramite. The cables on his head burned and twisted. The Nails were moving, but not as they had before. They no longer dug deep into his grey matter, instead, they slid backwards out of his skull. The nail’s microfilaments shot outward through his mind. They protested in vain, reaching, grabbing, wrapping around anything that could stop their eviction. The cables shivered and let out dreadful screams across the electronic spectrum, all the while radiating blinding torment. Immense, impossible agony filled his every joint, muscle and bone. The torture eclipsed even the anguish of their hammering.
His legs gave way, knees slamming down on rockrete. Gripping the cables, he took a breath in to prepare himself. Then, with all his transhuman strength, he ripped and tore them free! Gore showered in a beautiful arc around his skull, spattering the path behind him.
The cables dropped onto the ground, twitching and turning. Like fish ripped from the water, the Nails gasped desperately for life, bits of flesh clung to their edges. Asher had just enough time to realise he was looking at parts of his own brain. Then the world around him dimmed, his eyes rolled backwards, and he fell into unconsciousness. He collapsed beside the Butcher’s Nails that defined his love for his primarch, Angron.
A day and a night passed as Asher lay unconscious. Waking, he was instantly aware of a grouping of robed figures, who eyed him with confusion. Threat calculation, battle plans, enemy counts, distances, directives, resource counts. His mind was full and working at furious speeds. The most perfect military training mankind had ever devised bounced across his consciousness. This was Asher Kor, the War Hound. The Emperor’s Adeptus Astartes.
A slight grin crept over his lips. The hate of the nails was gone, and Khorne’s blessing a distant memory. The thought that he preferred himself this way bothered Asher deeply. A shameful voice reverberated crept through his mind. Could it be that his life was better as an Astartes?
‘What are you looking at!?’ He said, his voice forming a deep growl.
One figure stepped forth. He bent down to Asher’s level. ‘We’ve been monitoring your transfiguration since you laid here, taking notes, jotting down the process. You’re quite fascinating… Do you have a name?’
Esoteric tribal tattoos covered the figure. Even his eyes bore black ink. Asher could smell the stink of corruption on them. Cultists. His fingers gripped his appropriated hammer. They did not seem to be threats, but nothing was to be taken at face value here. Not even one’s own identity.
‘Second Lieutenant, Asher Kor, Twelfth Legion War Hounds.’ He couldn’t say the words fast enough. It felt strangely important to Asher that he recommit his personality and history to that of a War Hound.
‘Hmm, yes, well… Asher Kor, come with me. Back! Back! All of you. Give him space.’ The robed man spat at the others, making them disperse. ‘You’re an interesting specimen, Asher Kor. Save for the occasional silent Rubricae, we’ve never seen an Astartes this deep into the city. That is what you are, correct? An Astartes?’
Asher’s joints and bones popped and cracked as he stood. ‘I am.’
‘By your pauldron I’d say early Crusades? Or even… Did you take part in the great revolution?’ He was giddy with excitement, but aware of the look of annoyance on Asher’s face. ‘If my questions bother you, I apologise. I am a historitor for our ring of the city. New people, and new information, is such a delight.’
‘The tower. I need to reach that tower.’ He ran a free hand across the crown of his head and felt nerves react as he pushed on freshly grown hair protruding from his new scalp.
‘Yes, yes, of course. Anyone passing through does… Did you know your body was steaming? I assume that is part of the change you’ve been going through. Some sort of transformational off-put… You must be quite thirsty. Please, my home is near here.’ The figure moved quickly. Paused. Turned back. ‘I am Ebrahim Echezonanna Gadhi. It is a genuine pleasure to meet you.’
Asher followed the man, as he was heading in the direction of the city centre. He noticed many more cultists wandering throughout the streets. Keeping a distance, eyeing him with curiosity. The nature of the city had changed as well. This far in the walls were clean and smooth. Polished stone and intricate marble columns. This was a place of knowledge and design. It was far from his wild hills, the mud huts of the outer ring, and the castle-like architecture where he battled the Rubricae.
Unseen mechanisms silently slid open the smooth marble door to Ebrahim’s home as he approached. The entrance was short, and Asher had to duck to enter.
‘Do you know what is in the tower?’ He asked the cultist.
‘The tower? Oh yes, of course I do. The tower is in the centre, and all power flows from there. But you, my Astartes friend, you do not want to go there… Please drink. It is safe. I bid you no ill will, Astartes.’ Ebrahim placed a large stone goblet filled with water before Asher.
He scrutinised it and sniffed at the contents before drinking it down in a full, long gulp. His eyes closed. Asher enjoyed the first moment of true rest in ten millennia. Gratefulness washed over him. The man is a corrupted cultist scum and a creature of Tzeentch, but for that moment, he also was an ally. This thought lasted right until Ebrahim spoke again.
‘Now, now, now, please tell me about life as a Legionary? I’ve many questions. Many questions. Would you believe that we’ve spent so many generations studying the Many-folded-path of the immaterium that we’ve frankly forgotten the worlds that came before? No one thought to write it down! Hah!’ Ebrahim said, ‘All knowledge is precious and can lead to many new discoveries, so I’d like to start with your induction, how did you become a–’
Asher cut him off with a growl.
The man’s words rattled Asher’s mind. Too much, too fast, too painful. His psyche was still raw, abandoning the World Eater personality and reforming the War Hound.
‘ENOUGH!’ Asher bellowed. Ebrahim’s bones shook. ‘I take your water and your hospitality with grace, but I am no book to be examined.’
The cultist removed his hood. He was both ancient and youthful all at once. A child stretched tall, covered in wrinkles and pockmarks. As Asher realised, everything in this damned city was a contradiction. Even himself.
‘I must caution you from going any further. Do not approach the tower. None who do ever return.’ Ebrahim explained.
‘I can feel it pull at my mind. Something in that tower toys with me. I will not allow it!’ His voice calmed, and he knew suddenly that this was the first civilised conversation he’d had in many lifetimes. ‘I will condemn it to a painful death. I will crush it utterly and completely.’
‘Yes. You are an angry one.’ Ebrahim produced the Butcher’s Nails and placed them near the water. They were still damp with gore. ‘These are psychoactive rage enhancements. They look to be crude Cruciamen cybernetics. It’s my understanding, these devices only cultivate a rage that already exists within a subject. Is that a prerequisite of becoming an Astartes, or is it specific to your Legion?’
Asher held the nails by their cabling. Their bloody edges glinted in the flickering firelight of a nearby candle. He’d often wondered the same thing, why were he and his brothers of such a specific temperament? During his years with the legion, he’d met many others. Luna Wolves, Iron Warriors, Imperial Fists, Ultramarines–- Only the Blood Angels ever seemed to approach the smouldering hatred which defined his War Hound brethren.
With the benefit of ten thousand years, Asher could almost believe the Emperor cultivated, even created, his legion to serve Khorne. If such a thing was true, what did that say about the Emperor that he’d willingly damn so many to this hell?
‘You’re of no further use.’ He rose to his feet, dropping the nails like discarded trash.
‘You can take some time, consider your options. Is what you are now so terrible a burden that you need to return to whatever sort of creature you were before?’ The cultist reached for his wrist, hopeful to stop the marine.
‘I am what I have always been. Nothing can change that.’
The cultists thinned out as he moved inward. The streets became a pure obsidian, and the designs of the buildings which had once been identifiable as doors, windows, columns, and roofs, became flat and uninterrupted slabs. Try as he might, Asher couldn’t discern the purpose of buildings with no entrance or streets with no people. His goal seemed closer, so he pushed onward.
Hours passed, something about the structure of the buildings muffled sound. Silence filled his world as he passed deeper. The thump of his boots against the ground made nothing but a dull, hollow noise. The silence grew heavier and powerful as he moved. Silence that shrieked like starving hatchlings, begging to be fed. The only sustenance Asher could provide was memories. The memory he chose was clear and crystalline in structure. Preserved perfectly.
He was young, thirteen by the counting of Terra’s orbit. Not even one-year-old by the counting of his new life as an Astartes. They’d all been called to muster. There were eighty-one, a low yield of recruits for this batch, the majority having died during maturation. His new organs itched as they settled in, and the black carapace burned like a poison that seeped deep into his muscles.
A pain that suddenly fell away when He arrived.
Golden armour. Massive towering frame. Light poured from his skin, for he was the sun and all others were simply in his orbit. The Master of Mankind. The Emperor. Asher felt fear. Fear that He would see the flaws beneath the Astartes flesh. Fear that no matter how he tried, Asher would never be good enough. How could anyone, let alone a child like himself, measure up to this perfection? The Emperor walked down the row, examining his new soldiers. Heat poured from His being. The blaze grew as He came closer and closer down the line. The Emperor paused as He stood before Asher, producing a blinding radiance. It took all Asher’s strength and discipline not to fall to his knees before Him.
‘YOU WILL ACCOMPLISH GREAT FEATS IN SERVICE TO MY NAME.’ The words flowed through Asher’s mind, just as loud and clear today as they were when first spoken. With that, the sun moved on, taking His warmth with Him.
Asher treasured the memory, even more so now that he had found himself returned from his long self-imposed exile as the Beast-In-The-Hills. The Emperor had raised him up from nothing, gave him a purpose, and provided him with his brothers. Try as he might, Asher could not recall why he ever wanted to leave His grace.
A fresh pain drew him back from his memory. Muscles ached, and his pace slowed to nearly a crawl. The hammer he carried dragged behind him, casting off sparks and leaving deep gashes in the perfect stone. His skin became a pale, clammy white. He dripped sweat that pooled in his armour. Ceramite clicked against ceramite as his hands shook. He dropped to one knee, then to the other. His lungs seized, his entire nervous system shook.
A froth of blood welled up from inside him, filling his mouth with the taste of bile and sickness. He spat it onto the ground, but more came. His vision blurred as he vomited great globs of flesh that splattered onto the stone. Soon it was more than just blood, entire organs ejected themselves from his body. His bones broke themselves, snapped, shattered and reformed. Black ooze sludged its way out of the gaps in his power armour and slid onto the ground. Asher pleaded with his own mind to allow him to collapse into unconsciousness. It refused and forced him to endure every blindingly painful moment.
His black carapace melted off his body, pulling layers of skin and muscle tissue with it. The armour fell from him as it slid from its sockets. His body continued to expunge the augmentations and added organs of an Astartes. For six hours, his body tore itself to shreds, only to reform and repeat the process, again and again. He dug his fingers into his chest, ripping the remaining skin away in great sheets. He screamed until his throat bled raw. The process ground slowly to a halt, leaving Asher Kor a shivering mass, encased in a gelatinous sheath, crawling from his own armour and gasping, desperate for air. What pulled itself free was no longer a War Hound, no longer an Astartes of any kind.
He was ten years old at most. Malnourished and rail thin.
Asher Kor became diminished, both in mind and body. Filled with fear, unable to assess his situation coherently. He propped himself against a wall, his knees knocking together like those of a newborn fawn. Forcing himself to move forward, he stumbled on through the streets, utterly alone. The icy wind sliced at his bare skin. Naked, isolated, fearful.
Rain forced itself from the sky, accompanied by blinding bolts of lightning and bone shaking thunder. Buildings once clearly defined were now mere suggestions. Everything flowed together, a maze pointing ever inward. Water pooled and flowed unnaturally, rushing to the inevitable, unalterable trajectory of the tower.
The voice spoke low, carried by the torrents. He wasn’t even sure he heard it. Then it came again, unmistakable. A familiar tone and tenor filled him with dread. The more he ignored it, the louder it grew until a deafening roar tore at his eardrums.
‘Boooooyyyyyy!’ A voice came from his forgotten past bellowed through the passages.
The single syllable is drawn out, long, raspy, and deep. A frightening impossible sound. He whipped his head nervously about. He can’t be here, he can’t still be alive! Asher’s thoughts screamed. Heart pounding, fingers twitching, amygdala in overdrive, he ran. Feet pounded against onyx as he passed through twists and turns, fleeing from an enemy he could only vaguely grasp.
Adrenaline coursed through Asher and kept him going. His feet barely kept him stable on the wet stone. He tripped, slid across the stone, friction ripping thin flesh from bone. It didn’t matter, none of it mattered. Not pain. Not hunger. Not fear. Just the one overriding imperative, the one need. Escape.
‘Boy, you don’t hide from me! Come on out now! Take yer fucking medicine!’ The voice bounced off the walls. He was close. He’d be here soon.
Ferocious rainfall pounded down. Water rushed past Asher, pushing on his weak legs, making every step a struggle. But he couldn’t slow, not even for a step. Asher could see him, just on the edge of his vision, hiding in the corner of his eye. A shadow, shaped like a man, with a soul just as dark. Asher’s legs struggled to slosh through the rushing river around him.
‘Boooooooyyyyy!’ the figure howled.
Tears streamed down Asher’s face. Memories of the man’s smell, his broken dry hands touching Asher’s shoulder. Never again. NEVER AGAIN! Asher panicked. His footing gave way, and he fell hard into the water. The river carried him away, leaving his pursuer far behind, but dragging him deep beneath the torrents. He gasped and choked on thick gulps of water. His lungs burned, his vision was nothing but random blurry snapshots as the current forcefully spun and jostled him about.
This was his end. Ten thousand years behind him, the deaths of countless hundreds of thousands weighing on his soul, and he’d die, drowning, in water. The minor parts of him that could remember his time as an Astartes, as a World Eater, as a creature of Khorne… they laughed at the mewling child’s pain and ineptitude. Asher Kor was about to die the most pathetic death imaginable. His body crashed against a wall and bashed into the ground. He was broken, beaten, drowning.
Asher closed his eyes.
Time to let go. He thought. Time to rest.
His world dipped into darkness. An eternity passed in a moment. It was comfortable, cool, and relaxing. Made all the worse when a hand broke through the water and ripped him back to life. Asher found himself on his side, on a dry stone floor, vomiting water. Coughing, hacking, sucking in air. Fire in his bones and joints. His saviour covered him in a rough hewn cloth. Everything became doubled. He couldn’t focus his vision on just who was helping him or where he’d ended up.
‘Breathe, you’ll be fine.’ A familiar voice said.
Asher brought himself to his knees. His eyes focused on the smiling face of Ebrahim.
‘Welcome back little World Eater.’ His grin grew wide and toothy.
‘Where…’ Asher struggled to his feet.
‘You’re here, you’ve made it, you’re in the tower! Congratulations!” Ebrahim clapped for him, slowly and droll. “You’ll have many questions I know, but you’ll need to answer mine first. I suspect this version of you is much more open to dialogue than the brute I spoke with before.’
‘I don’t understand… Did you… Did you do this to me?’ Asher looked around, taking in the circular room he’d found himself in. Carved out of dark stone, covered in etched runes and designs, all too complex for his childlike mind. Ebrahim signalled for Asher to follow up a single spiral staircase leading upward to the light.
‘Tell me about the man, the one who chased you.’ Ebrahim climbed the stairs slowly. Asher noticed the cultist’s hands, the tips ever so slightly bending into the vaguest resemblance of a bird’s talon.
‘He–He died, back on Old Terra. He collected orphans, and he–he–he put us to work. Scavenging mostly, but also… other work.’ Asher’s voice cracked. Weakness, fear, emotions he’d purged welling back like the tide. ‘How is he here?!’
‘All things enter the warp when they die, plucking him out only took a little work. The old man interests me. He is your earliest influence, your raison d’être.’
‘I don’t know what that means. I just– Please I just want to go home.’
Ebrahim’s teeth clicked. He shuddered in excitement. He couldn’t help but explain himself to the young one.
‘You never had a home. That’s the point I’m trying to make. Back on Terra, in your earliest days. This figure, this old man, dominated you. He beat and violated you. He raised you on a diet of violence and fear, then sold you to the nascent Imperium as a child soldier. Do you remember how it felt, to be reborn so strong, to be remade into a demigod?’
Asher had to focus. The memories were all still there, but didn’t feel right. They didn’t belong to him any more. ‘I do… I had brothers, a purpose, pride and–’
Ebrahim’s grin was that of a starving man who’d discovered an unprotected feast. He raised a finger into the air like a professor, ranting about obscure topics only he truly cared about.
‘More than that! You had Him, you had the Emperor, and after him came Angron, and then Khorne. Do you see what I’m getting at? I know your legion isn’t the sharpest, but you have to have some self-awareness. Asher, you’ve been jumping from uncaring father to uncaring father for thousands of years, each one replacing love with violence until you were nothing but a monster in a cave piling up skulls… All because one old pervert forced his stench on your soul.’ Ebrahim came to a stop at a heavy wood and iron door.
‘Why are you doing this to me?’ Asher pleaded, his voice little more than a pathetic squeak.
‘I want to know if you’re capable of change.’ Ebrahim produced a small curved blade from his robe. Asher felt his body tense. When Ebrahim flipped it around and offered him the hilt, it amazed him to find himself fearful to even touch it. Having spent years as a living weapon, he was hesitant to return.
Ebrahim sighed. ‘Take the blade and I’ll explain everything.’
Asher did as instructed.
‘Thank you.’ He laid a hand upon the boy’s head and tousled his hair. ‘Come with me.’
The room was wide and open on all sides. The city swirled out around it for miles. Asher could see that the storm still raged, but the clouds were far below them, and only extended around the tower for a few miles. This was an impossible place, impossibly high and impossibly large. Dead centre of the room was a chair. In that chair, chained by the ankles and wrists, was Asher’s fear. The old man. He was rail-thin. Pathetic. In tattered clothes. Wispy grey patches of a beard, his hair falling out in chunks because of years of radiation exposure. Teeth missing. One eye was a yellow mess of mashed jelly. His skin barely clung to him.
‘You…’ Asher spoke at a fearful whisper.
On instinct Asher took a step back behind Ebrahim. He was now little more than a child looking for any protection he could find.
The man tried to speak, his words muffled by a metal bit shoved into the corners of his mouth. Asher was suddenly aware of the blade in his hand. It became heavy, so he tightened his grip.
‘I grew up in this city, Asher. This is my place. The creatures in the hills always plagued us. We’d heard many stories about what types of beings you used to be. Brave and noble warriors degenerated to nasty mindless containers for Khorne’s rage. One day I asked myself, why?’
‘Why what?’ Asher couldn’t look away from the old man.
‘Why would you ever, ever agree to become that?’
‘It was never a conscious choice.’
‘I don’t accept that. Don’t delude yourself. You made a choice, you ran. You ran from him.’ Ebrahim levelled his finger at the old man. ‘You ran from him and you didn’t care where you ended up. That’s a choice.’
‘He’s a monster,’ Asher hissed through his teeth as he gripped the blade, trying to remember any of his old training.
‘And so are you. You had swords for arms and ate helpless villagers in blood-fuelled fits of rage. It was easier to become a mindless killing machine than admit to yourself that someone hurt you, that something could hurt you again.’ Ebrahim moved behind the old man, placing his hands on either shoulder.
‘What do you want me to do?’ Asher squeaked.
‘I already told you. I need to see if you can change.’
Asher looked at the man, and then at the blade weighing in his hands. He could still hear the old man’s voice echoing through him. Ebrahim was right. Everything in Asher’s life stemmed from this scavenger, this old decrepit mistake of a man. Asher’s mind raced, his teeth clenched, his rage swelled. Pure rage, not empowered by arcane magic or driven by the dark technology of the nails, but true rage from within.
His kill, his moment. He’d drive the blade in, rip the flesh from this man with his own teeth, strip the skull from the body and present it to his God! This was time, this was one death in all his eras of murder that mattered. This is the–
‘No.’ Asher said. Surprising himself. His hand went loose, and the blade slipped from his fingers and clattered on the floor. ‘No, I won’t.’
‘Why won’t you?’ Ebrahim spoke softly, and smiled as he ushered Asher on to self-realisation.
‘I was driven to the atrocities I committed because of what he did to me. How can I know that he, too, wasn’t driven by others who traumatised him?’ Asher spoke with growing understanding, a clarity he’d never truly known in life. ‘He won’t define me. I want to be new, I want to be different, something my own… I want to change.’
‘Such a wonderful thought to hear.’ Ebrahim reached down, collected the blade. ‘Change is what my master loves most.’
‘Can you tell me about him? Is he a better god than Khorne?’ Hope underpinned Asher’s words.
‘Much, much better. You’ll meet him soon yourself.’
Ebrahim slipped an arm around Asher, holding him tight, and drove the blade into his belly. Asher gasped as Ebrahim twisted and pulled up. His innards spilt to the floor, steaming with heat.
‘To you, my lord of change, I give a redeemed World Eater, a devotee of Khorne, a being of unmitigated fury who found rare and precious compassion in his cold putrid soul. I baptised him in sacred oils and fed him the tears of our adversaries. I cautioned him of his fate and yet still he came of his own free will. I washed away his old life and birthed him anew. For you, my lord. Please take my sacrifice, for you.’
In his last moments Asher watched with slipping comprehension, as Ebrahim dropped to his knees and arranged the guts and gore of Asher Kor into the bizarre and esoteric symbology of Tzeentchian worship. The world faded and turned black. Great claws gripped the fabric of his soul and he was dragged away to meet his new god.
Thus completed the severance of Asher Kor.
About the Author
Noah Miller is a writer/director/animator from Los Angeles, CA. You can see more of their work at www.theopposition.party, including the short film Alien: Alone from the 40th Anniversary Alien Celebration.