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.
– 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.
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.’