Their lips form murmured chants praising Him, the God Emperor of Mankind. The hymn they sing is unforgettable, the first thing they were ever taught, the basis of their being. Rare for their breed to hold such piousness but when reasonable men forfeit memory for the power of innocence, they must have faith in the righteousness of their actions. So, they point themselves forevermore towards the Light of the Emperor, to ensure they remain tools of His divine will.
All you do,
You do for Him.
All we do,
We do for You.
The five warriors rise, still cowled, their bare feet against bared stone, grounded in purpose. If it is their first time or their last, they all feel the same. They are equal in their understanding. They will die for the Emperor, die fighting for Mankind. They ask nothing in return. They will refuse glory, praise, and reward. Truly selfless, they will not even honour each other’s sacrifice in memory, though each has a name.
‘Sang Won Ho.’
He pulls back his cowl to reveal a square jaw with sharp, high cheeks protecting dark, inset eyes where, below his dominant one, a strange brand is burned. Other than this simple gesture, he remains stoic, his head bowed respectfully to the elders on the dais.
This is the Remembering.
A Recalling to the Chapter,
A Rearming of the Mind.
‘Member Sang Won, what do you remember?’
‘I remember my Oath and my Calling.’
‘And what do you know?’
‘That this is all I need.’
Upon the dais is a mortal man, bald and aged, blanketed under a spilling of black and red robes, hued blue by the light of the psyker’s staff on which he leans. His head seems a burden for him, but despite the myriad of tubes, wires, and hoses splitting from his skull, the Mark of the Inquisition still dominates his brow. Beside him, radiant, the Chapter Master himself stands, offering a weathered and battle worn boltgun. Both wear sad, expectant smiles.
‘Step forward and receive your rearming.’
Sang Won approaches, kneels somberly, and raises his powerful arms in thanks. With a jingle of its skull-studded sling, the holy weapon changes hands, and a familiar weight is returned to him. The bolter is an ancient model, drum fed, and placed beneath the rear sight is the weapon’s name in raised lettering, Rhadamanthine, his Chosen Name. Touching the brand on his cheek, Sang Won is blessed to know one thing more, his Red Hunt has already begun.
This is the Reciting.
Mark the path,
Lost selves’ woes.
Clear the path,
Leave no trace.
‘Rise, Member Sang Won. Your responsibilities are reclaimed.’
‘You are Reborn to the Red Hunt.’
Standing at attention, Sang Won rifle-salutes his superiors, the slap of his unarmoured hand off the relic weapon reverberating sharply within the great chamber.
‘I give my mind to the Inquisition to guide; my life for Mankind to survive; and my soul to the Emperor, for it has always belonged to him.’ There is no doubt to the truth of it.
‘And Member Sang Won, what have you learned?’
‘I know this weapon only by instinct, but understand it is – and was – mine.’ Sang says this solemnly for it is no easy thing to accept. He arrived at the temple with his brothers believing he was a Newborn to the Chapter, like them. Each Newborn is prepared for the Red Path, to be reborn in service to the Chapter and their Emperor, but Sang is still surprised to learn the truth of it. He wonders how many selves he has already lived and if he has been this shocked to learn the truth every time. He hopes so.
The elderly inquisitor nods approvingly. ‘Mnemonic Purgation has reached an appropriate depth.’ He looks down upon Sang with an angelic sadness.
‘Your responsibilities are reclaimed. You must be reawakened to the burdens you have earned.’ The Chapter Master’s voice is rich and welcoming, confident and uncompromising. Sang Won will follow him anywhere.
‘Your weapon is consecrated. You have been honoured with a Seal of Purity.’ The inquisitor points a knotted finger at Sang Won’s bolter. Sure enough, with the Seal of the Inquisition holding it in place – its authenticity unquestionable – is a strip of parchment with a simple note, written by a past self, holding an honoured place on the weapon’s casing.
These bolts shall sing,
The Unsung Song.
Blessed are you,
Know one thing more,
Your prey’s true name:
The name, thankfully, means nothing to Sang Won. Though he has been trained to never pronounce a daemon’s name in his mind, he knows it will be a powerful tool against this newly re-known enemy, infusing every bolt of his rifle with the absolute truth of real space – mortality – and enabling his humble weapon to deal death to a godchild of Chaos. Such knowledge is carefully protected by the Enemy and would have been costly to obtain. He is grateful to have no recollection of how it was done.
Sang glances up to catch his superiors scrutinizing him closely, looking for any failing in his Purgation, but also for any sign of the man they knew.
Inspired to reassure them but not knowing how, he simply offers himself. ‘I, Sang Won Ho, Member of the Red Hunters, remake my vow of vengeance, to sing the Unsung Song for Brother’s forgotten, sacrifices unknown and unfathomable.’ He makes a mark of protection and takes a breath. Then the words begin to flow out of him, bubbling-up from the programmed purpose of his subconscious, ‘I sing a ballad of revenge. I take the oath saga: that across an ocean of lives, the only memory to which I will cling is this name of true evil, till vengeance claimed releases me and sinks this dark remembering into the forgotten, my duty done.’
His superiors nod in unison. ‘These Newborns’ bolter fire will sing your chorus, Sergeant Ho.’
Accepting the rank and responsibility earned in a life he could not remember, Sang Won puts absolute trust in his Masters’ decision, if not in his own abilities. ‘And you will be the conductor of this Hunt.’
They had been ambushed. Warping in from every direction, in perfect coordination, each of his squadmates had been instantly mauled by their own personal pack of hell-born.
‘They tried for our helmets first,’ remarked the team’s tech specialist, Member Tu, whilst securing his own.
Skinless, horrid contortions of exposed raw muscle, with wicked and wild growths serving as horn, tooth, and claw, the bloodletters had concentrated on their power armor, trying to remove any piece of it, before tearing and raking at the flesh beneath. If, however, the daemon pack successfully removed a helmet, with sheer weight of numbers, they were able to leverage a battle brother’s skull against his own armor and tear it off. The tactic had proven effective and the retreating daemons had taken Brother Pho and Trey’s heads with them, back into the Warp, as unholy trophies for their master.
‘They’ve fought astartes before.’ The Newborn, Fyfer, is full of pride. After losing his helmet in the melee, the combat induced heat of his boltgun has burnt his Chosen Name, Katharizo, in reverse on his right cheek. His Red Hunt has begun in earnest.
‘They’ve fought me before,’ says Sergeant Ho, finally removing a piece of gore knotted in his powerfist, it slopping to the ground. ‘They’ve clearly learned from the experience.’
The three remaining Red Hunter space marines silently wished they had the benefit of experience too. After separating their dead from the piles of broken daemons, Ho had ordered Fyfer and Tu to hide their fallen Brothers’ corpses down a minor fissure, for later retrieval. There, they had found three other unsung Red Hunters, in the same state, all having had their heads wrenched off, all waiting for retrieval. Despite their sergeant having breached these caverns before, Mnemonic Purgation had made it possible for any tunnel or turn to be a fresh kill zone or a forgotten grave.
Sergeant Ho looked down on the husks of men he could only assume he had once known and had hidden here, then at the newly added remains of Pho and Trey. The Chapter Master had told him he had failed before – but had failed to tell him how many times. ‘I am my own worst enemy.’
‘We must assume the Enemy knows me; knows the choices I will make before I do. Fyfer, take command.’
‘Lead us to this devil prince, Member Fyfer. Then I’ll do the talking.’ The sergeant managed a grim grin. His subordinates, having witnessed their sergeant accurately firing his relic bolter one-handed, while catching and crushing daemons with his powerfist, now knew the rumour to be true: Sergeant Ho was the most efficient killer in the Chapter. He alone had forced the ambushing bloodletters into retreat. Purgation may cleanse the mind, but the body never forgets.
His deadly performance made Fyfer’s first order an easy one: ‘Ho, take point.’
They had been trekking deeper and deeper into Mountain H11-78, first following the laser-cut mine shafts of Tolekko’s Mining Consortium, before continuing through the accidentally uncovered, spoon-carved tunnels of the Cult of Quiet. Mountain H11-78 had been formed millennia ago, when volcanic eruptions blanketed Tolekko’s smallest island continent in ash. Later, wind and rain would form it into a mountain range of rock formations soft enough to carve with the simplest tools. Over time, the Cult of Quiet had carefully chiseled an unholy city into the bowels of H11-78, away from Tolekko’s industrialized north. It was not until the need to extract resources from the most remote reaches of the planet arose, that the cult was discovered and reported to the Inquisition. A cleansing bombardment ensued, conducted by the Red Hunters’ battleship Zoeken, leaving the underground city an empty stone sculpture, all life evaporated in flame. Once housing thousands, the lone squad of marines were dwarfed by the size and scope of the barren spaces they discovered and crossed through.
Planetary intelligence reports on the Cult of Quiet were almost completely conjectured, the dark society living up to its name. And though the Red Hunters had made previous sorties into the catacombs, many led by Sergeant Ho himself, the resulting reports had been sanctioned Signati Insanis by the Inquisition and sealed for Infinitum. Thus, the squad of marines were limited to their own instruments and the scans provided by their company’s battleship to navigate the catacombs. The scans were by no means complete; the city burrowed deeper into the planet’s crust than the ship’s sensors could reach.
The outer parts of the city’s cave network were its newest and obviously cut when the cult’s resources were more generous, especially when compared to, what Tu dubbed, The Original City. Here the tunnels were not squared, level or consistent in any way, often leading to dead-ends or back upon themselves. The Original City illustrated poor planning, a lack of purpose, and even madness. Thankfully, with the orbital scans and Tu’s auspex, the three astartes continued to work their way deeper into the city’s depths, pushing their frustration and hate of the chaotic tunnel system aside.
When they had ventured to the edge of what their intelligence reports provided, Fyfer ordered the squad to hunker down, while he took stock of the situation ahead. Member Tu took the break to take a soil sample – the walls were visibly different at this depth – to better tune his auspex and maximize its range. After a short while, Sergeant Ho, wanting to know Fyfer’s plan, joined him at the juncture where the deputized leader knelt.
From cover, Fyfer was targeting the carved entryway of a narrow staircase that wove down into the depths of the mountain. Sensing his intensity, Sang Won moved to cover Fyfer’s six and, now back-to-back, whispered, ‘Status?’
In reply, Fyfer powered-on the underslung spotlight of his boltgun. With its beam, he highlighted sprays and splashes of blood, as well as bolterfire pitting, twisting down alongside the staircase before turning beyond the reach of his light.
Fyfer lifted his cheek from the emboss of his Chosen Name, ‘It’s a trap.’
Sergeant Ho scoffed and stood without fear. ‘Mark the path, Newborn. Red leads to the Enemy. The trail is just ahead.’
‘It’s an obvious trap, Sergeant. It’s too convenient.’
‘So be it. Let the one who set the snare come collect his catch.’ Sang Won chambered a round in his bolter to punctuate his point.
‘Chaos always proves itself convenient,’ Fyfer warned. He had a knack for quoting the Lectitio Divinitatus. ‘We’ll find an alternative route.’
‘We must locate the Enemy,’ Sang Won insisted as he began to advance.
‘Without question, Sergeant,’ Fyfer replied while stepping to keep Ho from descending the stairs. ‘But every expedition has reached this point and gone forward blind. The Enemy knows this. Another ambush is ahead.’
‘So is our quarry. Nothing stops our Hunt.’
‘With respect, Sergeant,’Fyfer said,
‘You’ve given me command to track the Enemy as I see fit.’ Sang Won could not deny it. ‘So, we will not descend here but stalk our prey from a different direction. One from which they are not expecting us.’
The Astartes stood eye-to-eye, both knowing full well who was in charge, but Sergeant Ho finally relented to his subordinate, giving Member Fyfer a curt, deferential nod before adding, ‘Find the Enemy, Fyfer.’
The two Hunters returned to find Tu with his helmet off, trying once again to repair its comm unit. His was the only one retained after the bloodletters’ attack but the daemons had damaged it purposely and effectively.
‘Death trap ahead. We need an alternative route down,’ ordered Fyfer as he approached, growing comfortable with his command.
Tu snapped to action, seemingly glad to change tasks. ‘We’ll find a new route here, in the scans,’ he said confidently. Tu had been recruited from the same gene pool as Sang Won and shared many similar traits. As a specialist however, he had been schooled to prefer to shoot left, in order to make room for the additional optics of his helmet. As such, Tu’s Chosen Name, Cacador, was mirrored there, under his left eye. He placed his Hunter’s helm on a convenient rock and pulled up the topographical holo projection of Mountain H11-78. His Battle Brothers gathered round the three-dimensional image that its spec-optics cast in the dark.
‘I can overlay the Zoeken’s scans with the more detailed findings captured during our foot patrol.’ Meshed with Tu’s auspex data, many of the initial, garbled sections of the map took shape. ‘We entered here, at the Consortium’s Mining Operations Base. And this is our current location.’ They had travelled from the summit of H11-78 and were now hundreds of metres below the planet’s crust.
‘And now that I’ve micro-tuned the auspex,’ Tu continued, making a final adjustment to the hand-held scanner, ‘I can ping some distance below us.’ The auspex struck a single, high-pitched tone that echoed in every direction. Coincidingly, the holomap projection swam outwards from their location, revealing a new network of tunnels below them.
‘This stairwell appears to be just one of many hundreds,’ Fyfer remarked.
‘And they all lead to the same thing.’ Sergeant Ho pointed a powerfisted finger to an enormous central shaft that went deeper than even the auspex’s attuned ping could reach. ‘I want a route there,’ he said tersely. Sang Won had retaken command.
Tu focused the holo-image on the shaft, spiraling around it for a full view. ‘Each staircase breaks into the shaft, from all around, three-hundred and sixty degrees. The staircases each lead to a small balcony. These balconies pepper the inner diameter of the shaft at different heights.’
‘Chaos churns in a Well of Souls, deep with ready sacrifice,’ began Fyfer, once again quoting the Lectitio Divinitatus.
‘Ready to quench the thirst of their Prince,’ Tu finished, surprised by the relevance.
Sang Won was not interested in hymns. ‘Where does the pit break the surface? I want to fight from level ground, not one of these sacrificial ledges. The quickest route, Tu. Now.’
‘Sir, the bulk of the stairwells and the shaft itself are all housed in a single chamber. The fastest route, frankly, is through there.’ Tu pointed to the natural cavern wall ahead. ‘It’s only eight meters to the other side.’
Without another word Sang Won stepped-up and lazily punched his powerfist into the soft volcanic rock, easily burying his arm. With a grunt he wrenched a boulder-sized piece of rubble across the room, ashen dust and debris erupting and quickly settling across the three Astartes’ crimson armor. Sang spat, ‘Let’s get to work.’
While Sergeant Ho set to making a Hunter-sized holed with his powerfist, the other two marines cleared the debris from his excavation. In a matter of minutes, the squad stepped through to the other side.
Zoeken’s cleansing fire bombs had not reached here and the Cult of Quiet’s generators were still producing power. The cathedral’s awfulness was fully lit.
It was an awe-inspiring expanse of vaulted ceilings supported by row upon row of strange columns that sliced the space into a giant grid. Centred within each ‘hex’ of columns was a stairwell carved into the floor, inevitably leading to the great pit at the cathedral’s centre. A golden rise rimmed the pit’s lip, marking the Well of Souls as the undeniable apex of the space.
‘Move!’ The three Red Hunters advanced towards the Well, moving from pillar to pillar, doing their utmost to provide all-round coverage for their diminished squad.
The columns themselves were carved stories of disgust and madness, meant to draw the eye upwards in their telling. Some pillars were pink-skinned and blessed with baby-toothed mouths mumbling the Astartes’ names. Others bore carved images of tortured beauty and thankful pain intertwined so dementedly that they demanded one to stare in sinful wonder. Member Tu took cover behind a support composed entirely of stacked skulls, their eyes still lolling in place as every pair followed him with anticipated doom. No column appeared the same twice and would drive you mad if you blinked too many times while staring. High above, the supported ceilings plumed to puckered orifices that released a gangrenous haze along the cathedral’s ceiling that thankfully obscured the daemon-delightful fresco painted there. The gas tinted the functioning cathedral lights green, bathing everything in the same sickly shade.
‘Take comfort brothers. The burden of this memory will be purged and forgotten,’ Sergeant Ho assured his men, each fighting the decency of their souls’ need to cry. ‘Let us end this, once and for all.’
The squad broke from the last line of hellish columns, sprinting up the gold-plated rise to the top of the Well of Souls. ‘Tu, I want another ping, max range. Fyfer, arm the demo charge. Let’s wake-up whatever is down there.’
The team separated around the pit’s diameter and the distinctive tone of Tu’s auspex chimed. ‘The Well is,’ Tu shrugged, ‘bottomless, Sergeant.’
‘Bottomless?’ Sang asked doubtfully.
‘Beyond the range of my sensors, anyway,’ replied Tu as he peered over the hole’s edge. ‘Auspex’s got nothing. Ten klicks deep, minimum. We definitely aren’t jumping down.’
Tu suddenly fell limply into the hole’s depths, the marine obviously dead. His head and helm, trailed by his spine, had been plucked out and hung pierced between the razor-sharp claws of Hushushescher, the manifestation of unimagined nightmares. The daemon prince had swept up from the depths in complete silence, swift as breath, to hold court once more.
Fyfer did not hesitate and altered the timer on the explosive charge. With it armed, he marked the daemon lord’s head but paused when he looked into its eyes. He saw himself reflected there, living a thousand lives, a mosaic of his every possible self, swirling in a kaleidoscope of lost chances. The Chaos Prince’s hypnotic gaze became Fyfer’s whole-world, filling him with such painful joy that his face contorted into a smile so fierce it tore the edges of his mouth apart and flipped his lips inside out. The relentless facial cramp pulled his jaw against his skull, pressing Fyfer’s teeth into their sockets till they splintered and cracked. He was held frozen in this sickly expression of delight, echoing clamped screams of agony, before the demo charge finally went off and ended his blissful torment, raining bloody chunks on the last Red Hunter.
‘You’ve brought me more souls, Sang Won Ho.’
The voice made Sang’s ears bleed and every syllable pounded a migraine rhythm in his skull, driving him to his knees. Unthreatened, the devil-bat casually lifted Tu’s head to its barbed under-maw and rolled out a prehensile tongue between oversized teeth. The snaking muscle slithered into and scooped out Tu’s skull from its shell before letting the Red Hunter’s helmet drop into the abyss below.
There was a pause as it swallowed. The only other sound, the beat of the hell thing’s wings. In that moment, plans were formed and decisions made. Sang Won chanced a single, subtle action.
‘You kneel before me because you have no choice!’ Its voice paralyzed Sang Won once more. ‘You are on unhallowed ground, so praise me. Worship me. Honour me with your undying allegiance. Become my true champion of Chaos, Warlord Ho.’ The Prince’s tongue snapped the air like a whip, master to slave. ‘Now! Give your soul unto me, once more…’
Though he dared not open his eyes to sight the creature, Sang Won lifted his blessed bolter towards the Prince of Chaos.
Its laughter had no joy, possessing an absence of heat, it made the heart cold.
‘What? Will you shoot me again with your holy bolts? Your rifle is not enough. It has never. Been. Enough.’
Sang Won’s powerfist clenched as he strained against the buffeting voice, the veins popping on his corded neck. Defiant, Sergeant Ho bellowed the names of his fallen brothers, taking strength in remembrance.
‘Fyfer! Tu! Pho and Trey!’
‘They mean nothing. You will forget them. You always do.’
‘For the Unsung!’ His powerfist raised high above his bloodied ears, Sang Won pounded it down onto the teleport homer he had secretly placed on the ground.
Lightning arced and static clung. Sang’s hair stood on end and the beast’s laughter stopped.
One-hundred terminators, crimson red, joined the hunt. The personal guard of the Chapter’s Master and he, resplendent, leading them. Each and every storm bolter and assault cannon with a purity seal sharing the same reprobate name, Hushushescher.
This is the Remembering.
A Recalling to the Chapter,
A Rearming of the Mind.
‘Member Sang Won, what do you remember?’
‘I remember my Oath and my Calling.’
‘And what do you know?’
‘That this is all I need.’
About the Author
Josh is an accomplished but unsuccessful Canadian writer, actor, and visual artist. He’s been selling-off 40k armies to buy girlfriends’ birthday gifts for decades. Now single, he’s finally painting his forever army.