by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
It's all so clear now. I know what I have to do. The pieces are almost in place and I know. I know.
All around us the barriers strained against the servants of She Who Thirsts, the ancient walls ringing in my mind as Her servants strained against them. She wanted to know, and that was the one thing that I could not let Her do. From secret cavities I pulled out gems from before the Fall and with a touch of fingers, and a pressure of mind, they began to glow, rising from my hand one by one to orbit around the two of us, dimming the rest of the Sercam Belach, shielding our minds and thoughts and actions from those who served Her.
"Seer, why have you asked me here?"
I looked over at the young one standing in front of me, his holofield surrounding him in a dim silver glow and his eyes watching me from behind his mask. "Today we go to aid the Mon Keigh."
He turned away and looked at the silver sphere that now surrounded us, lit only by the sparks of the ancient tools that kept prying eyes and minds from our presence.
"That is what I told the rest of the troupe, but there is more."
"They don't deserve our aid!"
As swift as water down a falls, as smooth as the motion of wind across a slope of snow, I was beside him and turning his head to face me. "That is not why we go!"
"Then tell me why, oh seer. Why must I aid them!"
"You must not tell a soul, not your troupe, not even Cergorach himself should He ask for He knows, just as I know, and soon you will know. We go not to aid them, but to aid ourselves. The one the Mon Keigh call Abadon is fighting them now, driving them back, and ultimately his actions will allow Her to take Ulthwe from us."
"Should we not be there then?"
I let go and turned away. "You are young, you have hope, dreams. I can no longer remember those days."
"Seer, if there is no hope, then why do we fight?"
"Kilanas, we fight because there is hope, distant, secret, and with a cost. Today that hope will cost me my life, and cost you yours. But it must be done."
"In the rubble of a Mon Keigh structure, there is a lost tool from before the Fall, a tool that She feels, but a tool that She must not have, must never have. Not even we can control that tool, but we can make sure that it is never used."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"Amongst the forces of Quas who flee the Mon Keigh are servants sent by She Who Thirsts. One among them is fated. She knows this, but She doesn't know that we know and She must not know that we know. It's up to us to kill that individual, though the cost will be high. The troupe will aid the Mon Keigh, will fight for the Mon Keigh, will even die for the Mon Keigh, but all is a cloak for our quest to kill this individual. If he dies now, then he will not be alive to reunite the tool, and in a thousand years the Corma Shiastra will remain sacrosanct."
"There must be other ways we can do this without aiding the Mon Keigh!"
"Kilanas, remember the teachings of Cergorach. A single action can affect thousands or millions, a single thought of joy can bring smiles to an infinite number of children. But, before the laugh gathers strength, it can be stopped if it is recognized. And that is what we must prevent. It is my fate to lead, to die in the leading, and it is your fate to bring him down, and make sure he stays dead!"
Like ghosts, like clouds of fireflies, we crept through the ruins of the Mon Keigh hive, hiding crystals as we passed. In ages past this had been one of countless Maiden Worlds, and I could see a shadow of the beauty it had once held before the Mon Keigh had befouled it, like they befouled all that they touched. Above the sky was dark, choked with clouds of black smoke, choked with the scent of Mon Keigh death that was so thick it curled its way through my mask. A motion of my hand and the troupe vanished into shadow, their fields dimming to gray on gray to match the ruins around them. I left my bike and walked out alone, for if we were to achieve our mission, both our missions, the Mon Keigh would have to be informed. With the ease of long practice I slipped from shadow to shadow, a cloud of gray. Sentries smoked and joked and I slipped by them like the wind. They were afraid, afraid of death, afraid of war, but they still had a core of courage that I could almost admire, were they not Mon Keigh, tools. Sentries grew thicker, and I hid as one of their aspects, huge, monstrous, dressed in blood red walked away and off into the distance. Too easily, I made my way to their colonel as he stood in conference.
"Human!" the language burned my tongue as I spit out the guttural syllables. This colonel spun around, his guards spun around, and a hundred Mon Keigh weapons were pointed at me. I would not die here, now. Cergorach had spoken to me of this day, I had seen this day, and I knew that I would die later. Ignoring the others, I paced in front of this commander that I would have to pretend to fight beside. "If you shoot me, then you will die, your soldiers will die, and the Enemy will escape this day."
"Who are you?"
"I am one of those that you know as Harlequin, and I come to aid you."
He relaxed, and with his relaxation, tension fell from the air, though the muzzles of the Mon Keigh weapons did not waver. Though doomed, the Mon Keigh fought with some hint of skill, a hint that would be admirable except for the race that bore it. "I do not need your aid."
"Mon Keigh, you need our aid more than you can ever know."
"We do not need your help!"
Like a breeze I was in front of him, my hand around his neck holding him up as boots thudded on the stone rubble around us and voices called out in panic and fear, and maybe a bit of loyalty. "If you shoot, you will kill him!"
"Let the Eldar scum speak.
"Human, I am not here to help you. I am not here to serve under you. Today our goals correspond and we will fight alongside you."
"You're here to fight for me?"
"We do not fight 'for you'. We fight for ourselves. Working with you now makes our task easier, but you and your kind are inconsequential to our goals. Today it is useful for us to fight alongside you, but it will not last." I lowered him to the ground, wishing I'd have time to wash afterward. "You can either let us alone to help you, or we will kill you first."
"You haven't the power!"
"How did I get here? Did your guards stop me? If I wanted you dead, you'd be dead, torn into fragments at my wish. Today I need you alive. Leave us alone, and be victorious, or die, and lie nameless in defeat."
I watched him consider, and finally come to a decision. I knew he'd come to the right one, I'd already seen him come to the right one. "Treat these 'Harlequins' as allies. If anybody shoots them without my express order, I'll shoot them myself. But if I give the order, shoot to kill."
"Your men will not need to shoot us." I lowered my voice so that only he could hear. "Today you will die, your soldiers will die, but your Imperium will hold. Attack me, attack my men, and you will still die, your soldiers will still die, and what you call chaos will escape."
"Remember, the first one who attacks them without my express order I'll kill myself! Treat them as non-hostile. For now."
My soul bled into my suit and the holofield arose and I vanished in a cloud of coloured light. They were children, stone, a broken image of a fraction of our lost glory, and when we returned they might make acceptable servants. Returning unseen through their lines was trivial, every guard was where I knew they would be, every look peered where I knew it would peer. My fate was sealed, and all was in place.
I stopped, ornate pistol in my hand, a portion of my soul massaging the crystal. Right in front of me was a guard. I could shoot, it would be so easy to shoot. One action would change the future from my vision, explode it in a cascade of possibilities.
Instead I sheathed the pistol and slipped by. I would die today, in all possibilities I would die. It was only a question of whether I would do what Cergorach required, or betray His designs.
My loyalty was safe.
Then I was back with the rest of the troupe giving orders, the musical tones of the Lam Eldannar quenching the burning left by the Mon Keigh words. I knew who would die, who would live, and I knew where they would have to be, even if those places would result in their death. The Enemy must not suspect. Following my signal the Death Jesters moved off to their positions with two troupes, the third troupe and the jetbikes followed me as I mounted my silvered steed. Everything was in place, clear as an empty Carrecenad. Except the Arebennian.
He was here, part of me knew that he would be. And yet, he was not in my vision. He was faded, material, not spirit. A part of the landscape that happened to move. He would die today, his mind lost, his soulless abomination destroyed. But he was needed, he was instrumental to the required course of the future, and he too served Cergorach in his way.
As, ultimately, did we all.
It was quiet, the Mon Keigh had polluted this world so that no life existed other than their own. What had once been a world of beauty was cold, hard, hateful, a wasteland of ash and death and stone. I was silent, as was the troupe. I didn't know what they were thinking, but all I could see was visions of what this world had once been, and what it could be again. But the stakes were high, so very very high, and so would be the price. I knew what would happen this day, but not the ultimate outcome. I could only hope, do what needed to be done.
"Seer, movement, 25 radus, 1750 centons."
A mental command changed my sensorium input to the mental feed from the nearest crystal to the point of the movement. It was cold, a chill more of the soul than of the body, and still. Dust appeared, the sound of faint chanting, a stench of corruption and death. Then they entered the sensory range of the crystal and I saw their spirits, dim and wavering, all under the hand of She Who Thirsts even though they knew it not. First hordes of what had once been Mon Keigh, now infested with the essence of the Enemy, shambling, crawling, running, dragging themselves on limbs fused with weapons. Behind them Mon Keigh aspects that had fallen, but not the ones we were seeking. And behind them, in vehicles that gleamed with arrogance, with a colour that seared the eye and a malevolence that burned the soul, were those I sought. A single walking tomb of hatred and love, leading a group of three primitive vehicles that crushed skulls and bones beneath their treads. Then my sensorium went dark, the crystal destroyed.
I made my voice heard by the entire troupe. "Hide and wait, they are coming. Remember your instructions." I felt their acknowledgement.
It was dim beneath the bridge, and I remained seated on my bike above the slime and sobbing water and waited. Others crouched nearby, the liquid gurgling past them. The Magorach began to fire, as did the humans, but the strength of She Who Thirsts protected her agent and that agent, the walking tomb, burst amongst the humans, slaughtering them as they fired and fired. One troupe was destroyed almost as an afterthought as they tried to take cover in the ruins, their gracefulness dragged down to a plodding creep by the expanding mental pressure of She Who Thirsts. Another troupe fell back to the landing pad along with the Arebennian as other fallen Mon Keigh appeared through their primitive teleporters and opened fire. Tan Uom Crisis Suits fell from the sky and fired as the Arebennian slaughtered and slaughtered. Fallen Mon Keigh advanced away from my position and I watched through gem after gem as each was consumed and destroyed. Finally the last units moved past and it was time to move out.
As one we left the shelter and advanced towards the rearmost guard, a shambling mass of Mon Keigh dressed in tatters of what had once been uniforms, their bodies tortured and twisted with the 'gifts' of Quass. Screaming and chanting for their masters, we stopped at the distance I knew we would and reality rippled as shambling servants of Disease shifted into reality. As I had known, their grasp in real space was weak as She Who Thirsts concentrated on the doomed Mon Keigh defenders. It was easy to slip past the faint will of their master and into their minds and twist what they perceived so that they just stood there, gibbering, helpless, as we fell upon them with the swiftness only the Rillietann possessed. When I was young I would have leapt and danced with the troupe, but now I fired my pistol, focusing my soul through its alien crystal and destroying the minds of everything the pulsing waves of twisting mentality touched. Others followed me as we moved in amongst the enemy and they died one by one, to sword, to pistol, the last one fading as my pistol destroyed what passed for its soul. The first stage was done.
In the distance was the booming of Mon Keigh weaponry, crude devices that flung primitive explosives to almost where they were needed. They were careful, trying to do the right thing, but there were layers and layers in the conflict and I knew that She Who Thirsts had a tendril of power into the soul of a single Mon Keigh, ensuring that he would do what was necessary. He was the one who would kill me.
I could still stop it, and with that thought my image of the future shattered into a thousand dark possibilities, horrors piled on horrors, and I knew that I had to meet my death if there was to be a single hope of light. It had happened, it was going to happen, and with that thought my knowledge cleared, and everything remained on the correct path.
More crystals failed, their tiny spirits laughing at their release as Cergorach took their tiny souls back into Himself, and I watched images of the battle as the Mon Keigh aspects blasted and killed and held. They were almost admirable, even though they were ultimately doomed, but for now they had their uses. One could almost admire them, almost, as they were little better than animals.
More fallen Mon Keigh tried to flee away from us into the ruins they had caused and we followed and took them down quickly and gracefully. "Wait." The bikes and troupe around me stopped, moving into better cover, and waited. Beyond the building was a cluster of fallen Mon Keigh aspects, but they had to be left alone. Everything was silent, waiting. "They will send others back. Be ready."
Their souls were ready. Cergorach held me, held them, and we waited.
Then the decision was made, the decision I knew would be made because it had been made. Two of the tracked pink monstrosities turned away from the landing pad, pulling back to attempt to deal with us. I could still tell my forces to fall back, I could still change the future, but the price was too high.
Instead I waited, the bikes waited, and the troupe with us waited. With a melodious tone of gears and haunting music they stopped, the doors sang open, and they came out. Followers of Her, fallen Mon Keigh aspects, and amongst them the one that had to die. The hand of She Who Thirsts was upon them, but lightly, She didn't know that we knew, and that was the way it had to be.
"Take them out."
As one we moved towards them. Fire from beyond the building struck two of the troupers down, but we advanced. Her servants were clustered, tight, perfect, and with the grace of centuries of practice we fired. Two fell to plasma, including the Target, but the hand of She Who Thirsts was upon them and though my psychic energies coiled and grew through the crystal, they had no affect. None. And the target was alive. Not dead, only wounded. Kilanas knew what to do.
And then I was alone, Cergorach gone from my mind. She would know if He was with me now, and I smiled at the trust He placed in me.
I could still run, but if I ran than She would know. She couldn't know.
She couldn't know that I felt Her hand on the Mon Keigh that guided their artillery.
She couldn't know that I knew that the shell was fired, supposedly aimed against Her servants, but off just enough that, as though by chance, it was aimed at me.
I could run but She would know, and all would pay the price.
Instead I waved those around me to attack, knowing the shell was falling. Knowing it would hit and kill me.
In front of me the shell hit the canopy of my bike and exploded, and that was when I learned a horrible truth of foresight. One can see, but one cannot feel.
The explosion shattered my bike, threw me to the ground, cracked the mask that had hidden me from the world since the Fall. It slammed me to the ground, shattering bone, destroying limbs, ripping pieces from me.
And, as though foreordained, which it was, I landed like a broken doll facing the cluster of Her servants who watched and smiled in their dark souls which glimmered a sorrowful pink in my sight.
But the Pain. A Pain more horrendous than anything I had ever felt, than anything I had ever conceived of. I refused to make a sound. For the first time I forced my hand to pull off my head, to pull off my mask. For the first time since the Fall I felt the patter of dust and debris on my face. For the first time my eyes saw, and I smiled. I laughed.
Not because I could, but because I wanted to. A laugh not of pain or evil or hatred, but a laugh of life.
I laughed as Kilanus swept into the packed mass of fallen aspect warriors and fell beneath their weapons, but not before he severed the head of the Target from its shoulders.
Cergorach was with me, holding my soul that had been bound to Him so long ago. He held me as my mortal form died and pulled me unto him as She raged. As She realized that Her tool had been destroyed.
Laughing, I faded from reality.
Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard. Please send any comments or questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org