Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

Void Stalker: Prologue

As requested by a bunch of people (when I offered on Wednesday), here’s the prologue to Void Stalker.

As you may have guessed from Soul Hunter and Blood Reaver, things aren’t going First Claw’s way. Behold, the beginning of the inevitable conclusion, and please remember that this is a first draft – essentially unchecked – and it may never appear in the final novel in this form.

It probably will, though. I’ll just catch any typos and sentences I’m not keen on before then.

PROLOGUE

– RAIN –

THE PROPHET AND THE murderess stood on the battlements of the dead citadel, weapons in their hands. Rain slashed in a miserable flood, thick enough to obscure vision, hissing against the stone even as it ran from the mouths of leering gargoyles to drain down the castle’s sides. Above the rain, the only audible sounds came from the two figures: one human, standing in broken armour that thrummed with static crackles; the other, an alien maiden in ancient and contoured war plate, weathered by an eternity of scarring.

‘This is where your Legion died, isn’t it?’ Her voice was modulated by the helm she wore, emerging from the death-mask’s open mouth with a curious sibilance that almost melted into the rain. ‘We call this world Shithr Vejruhk. What is it in your serpent’s tongue? Tsagualsa, yes? Answer me this, prophet. Why would you come back here?’

The prophet didn’t answer. He spat acidic blood onto the dark stone floor, and drew in another ragged breath. The sword in his hands was a cleaved ruin, its shattered blade severed halfway along its length. He didn’t know where his bolter was, and a smile crept across his split lips as he felt an instinctive tug of guilt. It was surely a sin to lose such a Legion relic.

‘Talos,’ the maiden smiled as she spoke, he could hear it in her voice. Her amusement was remarkable if only for the absence of mockery and malice. ‘Do not be ashamed, human. Everyone dies.’

The prophet sank to one knee, blood leaking from the cracks in his armour. His attempt at speech left his lips as a grunt of pain. The only thing he could smell was the chemical reek of his own injuries.

The maiden came closer, even daring to rest the scythe-bladed tip of her spear on the wounded warrior’s shoulder guard.

‘I speak only the truth, prophet. There’s no shame in this moment. You have done well to even make it this far.’

Talos spat blood again, and hissed two words.

‘Valas Morovai.’

The murderess tilted her head as she looked down at him. Her helm’s crest of black and red hair was dreadlocked by the rain, plastered to her death mask. She looked like a woman sinking into water, shrieking silently as she drowned.

‘Many of your bitter whisperings remain occluded to me,’ she said. ‘You speak… “First Claw”, yes?Her unnatural accent struggled with the words. ‘They were your brothers? You call out to the dead, in the hopes they will yet save you. How strange.’

The blade fell from his grip, too heavy to hold any longer. He stared at it lying on the black stone, bathed in the downpour, shining silver and gold as clean as the day he’d stolen it.

Slowly, he lifted his head, facing his executioner. Rain showered the blood from his face, salty on his lips, stinging his eyes. He wondered if she was still smiling behind the mask.

He was going to die here. Here, of all places. On his knees, atop the battlements of his Legion’s deserted fortress, the Night Lord started laughing.

Neither his laughter nor the storm above were loud enough to swallow the throaty sound of burning thrusters. A gunship – blue-hulled and blackly sinister – bellowed its way into view. As it rose above the battlements, rain sluiced from its avian hull in silver streams. Heavy bolter turrets aligned in a chorus of mechanical grinding, the sweetest music ever to grace the prophet’s ears. Talos was still laughing as the Thunderhawk hovered in place, riding its own heat haze, with the dim lighting of the cockpit revealing two figures within.

The alien maiden was already moving. She became a black blur, dancing through the rain in a velvet sprint. Detonations clawed at her heels as the gunship opened fire, shredding the stone at her feet in a hurricane of explosive rounds.

One moment she fled across the parapets, the next she simply ceased to exist, vanishing into shadow.

Talos didn’t rise to his feet, uncertain he’d manage it if he tried. He closed the only eye he had left. The other was a blind and bleeding orb of irritating pain, sending dull throbs back into his skull each time his two hearts beat. His bionic hand, shivering with joint glitches and flawed neural input damage, reached to activate the vox at his collar.

‘I will listen to you, next time.’

Above the overbearing whine of downward thrusters, a voice buzzed over the gunship’s external vox speakers. Distortion stole all trace of tone and inflection.

‘I felt like I owed you.’

‘I told you to leave. I ordered it.’

‘Master,’ the external vox speakers crackled back. ‘I…’

‘Go, damn you.’ When he next glanced at the gunship, he could see the two figures more clearly. They sat side by side, in the pilots’ thrones. ‘You are formally discharged from my service,’ he slurred the words as he voxed them, and started laughing again.

The gunship stayed aloft, engines giving out their horrendous whine, blasting hot air across the battlements. The rain steamed on the prophet’s armour as it evaporated.

The voice rasping over the vox was female this time. ‘Talos.’

‘Run. Run far from here, and all the death this world offers. Flee to the last city, and catch the next vessel off-world. The Imperium is coming. They will be your salvation. But remember what I said. If Variel escapes alive, he will come for the child one night, no matter where you run.’

‘He might never find us.’

Talos’s laughter finally faded, though he kept the smile. ‘Pray that he doesn’t.’

He drew in a knifing breath as he slumped with his back to the battlements, grunting at the stabs from his ruined lungs and shattered ribs. Grey drifted in from the edge of his vision, and he could no longer feel his fingers. One hand rested on his cracked breastplate, upon the ritually-broken Aquila, polished by the rain. The other rested on his fallen bolter, Malcharion’s weapon, on its side from where he’d dropped it in the earlier battle. With numb hands, the prophet reloaded the double-barrelled bolter, and took another slow pull of cold air into lungs that no longer wanted to breathe. His bleeding gums turned his teeth pink.

‘I’m going after her.’

‘Don’t be a fool.’

Talos let the rain drench his upturned face, no longer gracing the gunship with even a shred of attention. Strange, how a moment’s mercy let them believe they could talk to him like that. He hauled himself to his feet and started walking across the black stone battlements. In one hand he held a broken blade; in the other, an ancient bolter.

‘She killed my brothers,’ he said. ‘I’m going after her.’

November 11, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

42 Comments »

  1. ADB, you magnificent bastard; I have to own this book.🙂

    Comment by Sam White | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  2. Oh jesus…wtf has variel done? What ahs happened? Waaaaah!!!!!

    Comment by S.A. Grisom | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  3. wow. simply….wow

    Comment by Fuctifeyeno27 | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  4. Shit just got real, son!

    By the way, Aaron. Shouldn’t it be “Void Stalker” and not “Void Staker”?😛

    Comment by AJ | November 11, 2011 | Reply

    • It would be even better if it was Void Skater.

      Comment by aarondembskibowden | November 11, 2011 | Reply

      • Now I’m reminded of Silver Surfer🙂

        Comment by AJ | November 11, 2011

      • Void Skater??? That would be cool but now I am having visions of Talos in a half pipe on Tony Hawk Pro Skater…..

        Comment by Jay Whitbread (@Jay_SV_bass) | December 8, 2011

  5. good stuff…out of interest how long did it take you to pull that from your head? Its excellent quality and along way from what im producing … so im just hopeing your going to say it took you years….😉

    good work, want to read the rest now!!!!

    Comment by cris | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  6. That makes me afraid…

    If you are going to kill Talos, I’ll be very cross. I’ll also cry. ;( And I get enough of that reading Horus Heresy, so please don’t make me sad while reading 40K, too? Yes? Thanks.😉

    Comment by Liliedhe | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  7. I wish we could clone you and have you write about all the legions😉

    It’s really good. Your First Heretic and Helsreach novels aren’t bad, but I think you do your best work when the premise of the novel hasn’t already been nailed down, and you have full control over the plot and own all of the characters. I am of course talking about your Night Lords series, and also short stories like One Hate.

    I’m sure you or your editors would eventually catch this, but

    “shining silver and gold as clean as they day he’d stolen it” should be “… the day he’d stolen it”

    Comment by Chinh | November 11, 2011 | Reply

    • Ooh, ta for that typo-spot. Admittedly, that’s one of the ones I’d probably have caught if I’d looked at this page more than once in the last 6 months.

      Comment by aarondembskibowden | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  8. A better prologue than I could even have imagined. Superlative stuff as usuak.

    Comment by Greg | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  9. I’m going to have to steal your own words to express how much I enjoyed this. The writing is so atmospheric. I loved it.
    It was objectively killer.
    It was ball-achingly rad.
    It was drenched in toxic badassery.
    I can’t remember anymore of your strangely beautiful descriptions…
    Anticipation is officially beyond fever pitch. Good work.

    Comment by DrumD | November 11, 2011 | Reply

    • That’s quite literally the best written impression anyone’s ever done of me. I actually laughed just now when I read it. I never really notice how I actually speak.

      Katie does a great spoken one. “Aw, the guild’s well rubbish.”

      Comment by aarondembskibowden | November 11, 2011 | Reply

      • Thanks dude.
        While I’ve, sort of, got your attention, I need to ask for your permission on something. Jeez that sentence has a hideous amount of commas.
        Your Aphotican Oath champion Rakesh killed a Night Lord called Krukesh the Pale. That name is all sorts of awesome. Is there any chance that Krukesh survived to be interred in a Contemptor pattern for my warband?

        Comment by DrumD | November 11, 2011

  10. Damn you weren’t lying about it all going to hell. I love it. Thanks for sharing this.

    Yogi

    Comment by yogi | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  11. Oh shite is my one short reply. Dammit. I was hoping for the better turn out here.😦 No happy ending then.

    Comment by Forkmaster | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  12. Dang. Daaaaaaaaaaaang. DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANG.

    I think you all understand what I mean.

    Comment by Graeme | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  13. Do like. Do like so very much

    Comment by z113 | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  14. Sorta gutted the prologue wasn’t the ‘orgasm in the warp’ you discussed on Facebook.

    But that’s besides the point, awesome work mate. Can’t wait for the finished product.

    Comment by noodlerocker | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  15. Tsagualsa. What drew them there? A looted and ruined husk with surely nothing to offer but bitter memories?
    And that one haughty Eldar decapping whole First Claw, single-handedly it seems? Cool.

    Can’t wait for this.

    Comment by Drayhen | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  16. Very sweet prologue, hate to spoil the praise with another typo spot: He hauled himself to his feet and started walking across the “back” stone battlements…. back = black?

    And just wondering if any more night lord vehicles will be named…like harvester of sorrow, dyers eve etc?

    Comment by Michael | November 11, 2011 | Reply

    • Oooh, Dyer’s Eve. Nice one.

      Don’t sweat about the typo-spotting, it’s all good. Funnily enough, they were all in the last-second edits I did before posting it. I also sent an email to one of my editors with a typo every other sentence. I don’t tend to sleep much in deadline month. It shows, yo.

      Comment by aarondembskibowden | November 12, 2011 | Reply

  17. I can see that First Claw has gotten themselves into a hot mess. That totally gave me an intarwebzgasm. Thanks ADB!

    Comment by Lord Tharand | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  18. ARGH! Variel! What have you done?! First Claw will never die!

    The Void Stalker seems pleasant, well pleasant enough for an Eldar death maiden. Cannot wait for more ADB, this is the best short i’ve read in ages.

    LotN

    Comment by Lord of the Night | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  19. Oh….I like….Thank you Mr D-B, thank you very much.

    Comment by trouble626 | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  20. Argh!
    I need to read the rest of the book, now!

    Comment by Andreas Christensen | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  21. I’ll be honest, man – and feel free to call me names for what I’m going to say…after all those posts about your marriage and your daughter birth I was wondering if you could again write something as wonderfully twisted and dark as what you wrote in Soul Hunter and Blood Reaver – but you made it and exceeded yourself with this prologue…it’s just great!

    Respect, Erminio

    Comment by Erminio | November 11, 2011 | Reply

  22. Wow… I knew it would come but I’m still trying not to cry over the fact that Cyrion is dead.

    Comment by Lachlan Scott | November 12, 2011 | Reply

  23. Alright! Great start to the end of the trilogy🙂 Can’t wait until it’s finished and I can read all of it.

    Comment by Christopher Meyer | November 12, 2011 | Reply

  24. I really really really really hope this will be out next may in time for my birthday. thats what Black Library has listed.

    Comment by Scott Shoot Shoot Wright | November 12, 2011 | Reply

  25. I can see why Variel would want to find the child. If you’ve read Blood Reaver you’ll understand the reason behind what Talos is saying.

    Comment by Viljoen | November 13, 2011 | Reply

    • What evidence in particualr would support that Variel has something against the child of Septimus and Octavia?🙂 Just out of curiosity.

      Comment by Forkmaster | November 13, 2011 | Reply

      • No evidence to support that Variel would have anything against the child. But he likes to play around with things. And the child of a human and navigator would be something of interest. Especially, when you consider that Septimus is supposed to be sterile.

        Comment by Jonathon | November 29, 2011

  26. very nice dear sir, very nice. To all other commenters: what we see here is just a part of the story (not final as the Author himself states) – the other members of the First Claw might only be believed to be dead. That would be a nice twist🙂

    Comment by piotrgawinskipeter | November 13, 2011 | Reply

  27. Great little preview. I hope we finally get to see Xarl being the bad ass that was hinted in Void Stalker.

    Comment by NikT208 | November 14, 2011 | Reply

  28. That was… wow. Great writing, and May 2012 can’t come soon enough!

    Comment by Midgard | November 14, 2011 | Reply

  29. Just to say you made a slight slip up, in that he says he doesn’t know where his Bolter is at the start of the extract, only to pick it up at the end. Probably worth editing that for continuity..

    Otherwise fantastic, can’t wait.

    Comment by Tom | November 17, 2011 | Reply

    • Not so! He says he doesn’t know where it is at the start, but when he goes over to the wall and sits down, he finds it there.

      Comment by aarondembskibowden | November 22, 2011 | Reply

  30. The cold heavyrain will always be awesome,and when you put psycho murderous Night Lords in it,not to mention he actually looks like a merciful lord and a loyal comrade.You know,in a FPS video game style,Talos will say sth like”Yo,bitch there ant no way you could just killed my bro and walked it out like this,I am gonna kill you,I am gonna kill you whole goddamned family!”

    Serisouly,I just cant love more about this short story,I will lose sleep tonight..and maybe I should buy Skyrim too…just to make time much shorter

    Comment by avemaleficum | November 19, 2011 | Reply

  31. Unholy Throne of the False Emperor!!! Damn dude…that is awesome. I cannot get enough of First Claw. I’m planning out an entire army based upon your writing. However, I can only say this….

    DON’T KILL OFF TALOS!!! He is too frickin’ cool.

    Comment by Jay Whitbread (@Jay_SV_bass) | December 8, 2011 | Reply

  32. Vey fine read – it starts up the appetite to read the book – hope it will be released soon🙂

    Comment by Archon | December 15, 2011 | Reply


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