The forthcoming Sabbat Worlds Anthology is kind of a big deal for me.
Dan squirms with embarrassment every time I go on about it, so I’ll cut it short here. Really though, you should’ve seen his face when I brought it up at dinner once. I thought he was going to sprout a neck-frill and spit blinding goo into my eyes like a Kentish Dilophosaurus.
In short, it’s exactly what it says on the tin: several other writers (of which I’m lucky enough to be one) are getting to do short stories set in the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. My story is called ‘Regicide’, and it’s set on Balhaut, the day after Warmaster Slaydo and Archon Nadzybar duel to the death. Macaroth has just ascended to the office of Warmaster. Yesterday, Gaunt and the Hyrkans brought down the Oligarchy Gate, and in the ruins of Balopolis…
SHE SPOKE THE words with a knife in her hand and a lie on her lips.
‘Tell me what happened, and I’ll let you live.’
Even if he had nothing else left, he still had his voice. She hadn’t taken his tongue.
‘You know what happened,’ he said.
In the knife’s reflection, he caught a glimpse of what was left of his face. The smile he couldn’t seem to shake was a mess of split lips and bloody gums.
Her face was covered by a carnival mask. Only her eyes showed through, and they didn’t look human.
She said ‘Do not struggle,’ as if she expected him to actually obey.
Do not struggle. Now there was an amusing idea.
His shins and wrists were leashed together by pulley ropes. It looked like they came from an Imperial Guard tank. Probably his tank, he realised. Either way, there’d be no breaking free in a hurry. Even with her knife in his hands, it would take an age to saw through these ropes.
His head sagged back into the mud and the dust. While his eyes ached too much to see clearly, the sky met his sore gaze with bruises of its own. Choked and grey – heaven promised a storm – but the moon yet showed through cracks in the caul of clouds.
He lay in the rubble, knowing that before this place was a ruin, it was a battlefield, and before it was a battlefield, it was a public marketplace. Apparently something of a pilgrim trap, where relics and icons of dubious validity found their way from sweating hands into bandaged ones; a desperate industry based around hope, fueled by deceit and copper coins.
He blinked sweat from his aching eyes and wondered where his weapons were.
‘Tell me,’ she came even closer, and the knife turned in the moonlight, ‘what happened on the eighteenth hour of the tenth day.’
Already the words felt like a legend. The eighteenth hour of the tenth day. She whispered it like some sacred date from antiquity, when it was only yesterday.
‘You know what happened,’ he said again.
‘Tell me,’ she repeated, feverish in her curiosity, betraying her need.
His smile cracked into something more, promoting itself to a laugh – a laugh that felt good even though it hurt like hell. The sound was made by a punctured lung, flawed by cracked ribs, and left his body through bleeding lips. But it was still a laugh.
She used her knife as she’d been using it for over an hour now: to scrawl letters of pain across his bare chest. ‘Tell me,’ she whispered, ‘what happened.’
He could smell his own blood, rich over the scent of scorched stone. He could see it, trickling falls of red painting his torso below the jagged cuts.
‘You know what happened, witch. You lost the war.’