Jaryon lay sweating, his fitful mind questing for the calm of the craftworld. He felt himself a discordant note without its song, an aberration marring some foreign melody. The world around him was stifling, choking him with an intangible absence of spirit.
A ‘Maiden World’, the Farseer had declared it, where Asuryani might settle and know true peace where the sacred work was done. Absent eyes had allowed vermin to slip the net. The mon-keigh had settled one of their innumerable outposts, and wasted no time in laying claim.
Jaryon was young by Aeldari standards, never having known the height of his race’s power. He would never see the shining towers of Arach-Cyn, nor walk the Gardens of the Goddess. He felt adrift, the bastard child of a dead legacy, owing altogether too much of himself to fanciful recollections.
Gazing upon the moon he had felt no small trepidation. Here was the ancient will manifest, painstaking effort aeons in the making. Could he feel it, he had wondered, that missing connection, that spark of belonging? Millennia of sacrosanct consecration lay wasted. The craftworld’s rhythm beat to drums of war, crying out for reckoning. The Aeldari had marched. Jaryon let himself be carried back to that day, submerging once more into the icy waters of bitter memory.
The ozone song of grav engines had filled his senses as he hunched over the controls of the Vyper’s turret. They followed the force from the rear guard, supporting the jetbikes in their outer cordon until the all clear. This world was beguiling, verdant pastures giving way to indomitable mountain ranges. A spiritual kinship had claimed him, the pride the others had spoken of.
Not so the remains of the settlement. The stench of burning pollutants violated even his helmet’s filters, forcing him to gag as they passed the outermost picket. This was a stain on the wonder he had felt, well did he understand the others’ fury now. Jaryon had been eager for his first sight of the mon-keigh, but it was the Farseer who greeted their arrival. Her wizened hand raised to stay their advance, she bade them halt and dismount.
‘My children,’ her voice sang out, ‘you join us in our moment of triumph. Steel your hearts for the cleansing work and accompany me into their warren.’
Wordlessly they obeyed, entering the largest structure at her side. Shattered walls and breached doors had led into cramped metal passages echoing with splinter fire. The charnel stench within was as nothing he had ever experienced, and he had recoiled in disgust. In that split moment of distraction a shape burst from a darkened door, barrelling past them deeper into the compound.
‘After it!’ The Farseer cried out, rising to her feet.
Jaryon had sprinted after the fleeing thing as it crashed through the primitive structure. He passed other Aeldari, their cries of alarm and encouragement echoing around him. The escaping creature turned a corner and stopped, stricken, a chance he couldn’t forsake. He dove for it, bringing it down wailing on the floor of this open space. Jaryon knelt over the mewling mon-keigh and took his first glimpse of the adversary.
No. No, this was a child, a pitiful infant thing, its face streaked with tears. He searched that face, desperately, for some sign of malice. It wasn’t there. A primitive, rounded reflection of his younger self wept back at him. He looked around and saw the others at their grisly work, knives carving through unarmed innocence. ‘Beware the Drukhari,’ he recalled, ‘whose pride spurred them to unimaginable cruelty.’
‘You have done well,’ the Farseer snapped him from paralysis. ‘Finish the work and we will return.’
‘Farseer,’ Jaryon paused, measuring his words carefully, ‘this one is surely innocent? It’s only a cub; it couldn’t have known its sin?’
‘And you would leave it to defile our world?’ The Farseer rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘They are pestilence; we cut off the limb that the body might heal.’
Jaryon never broke the gaze of the pitiful thing, seeing the divine work now truly for the first time.
‘Guardian,’ a warning entered the Farseer’s voice, ‘draw your sidearm.’
On instinct, he obeyed the order, heart hammering in his chest as his hand gripped the pistol from his belt. He stood and took a step back.
‘Take aim and fire on my mark,’ she spoke coolly, ‘show me you understand.’
He turned, the Farseer’s face flashed with something he couldn’t place then became a mask of disdain. Psychic force buffeted his body, twisting him in its grasp towards the mon-keigh wretch. Against his own volition his pistol rose in his hand and shook, centre mass of the creature. He cried out in pain, pleading with the Farseer to no avail. He felt his finger closing on the trigger, and he fought it. One final scream rent the air to the sound of the weapon’s retort.
A splinter round embedded itself in metal flooring, inches from the child’s head. Jaryon collapsed to the ground.
‘Weakness.’ The Farseer turned from him. ‘That you would feel so much for these despoilers. So be it. You will remain here with your new pet, in exile, and work to cleanse this place of their filth for our return. Do you think it will thank you, I wonder?’ He felt the sneer in her voice. ‘You will watch it wither, and die, and reflect on a suitable penance.’
Dark eyes stared back at him from the corner of the room. Were he to finally find rest, would it kill him in his sleep? His mind flashed back to the Farseer’s face as he faltered. He swore now, in that moment her eyes had pleaded with him, begging him to validate her own shattered morality. Had she once been like him? Had she taken the shot?
Jaryon’s eyes refocused on the feral youth, and he offered a lonely prayer to Isha above. Please, let this lowly thing have been worth it.
About the Author
Hailing form southern England, Dominic enjoys playing TTRPGs with his friends and coming up with lore for his Warhammer armies. He’s a longtime fan of the 40k and and has recently begun writing some fiction of his own.