Saturday, December 20, 2014

Orksvent Day 20 - Zogwort's Choice

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For Orksvent Day 20, I wrote a short story about how Ghazghkull convinced Zogwort to join his WAAGH!  I hope you enjoy it.  I had a million other things I should have done instead, but I was feeling very selfish today and I've had this idea knocking around for a while.  Thanks to Snorre and Jason for proof-reading and suggestions.


Zogwort’s Choice
A short story by Adam Fasoldt


Sister Superior Jamie Herzog wore an expressionless mask before the oversized, glowering Space Marine in the bridge’s pict screen.  She was alive, but she still bore painful bruises and, she was certain, at least one cracked rib.  The pain was good, though, and the chair she occupied beside the command throne was blissfully uncomfortable.


The command throne was far too big for its occupant.  Inquisitor Bovar bore no injury, though his artificer armour’s cloth tabard had more holes in it now than it had before their operation began.  “Captain Artemis,” he began.  Jamie braced herself for the pleasantries she’d become accustomed to from the man.  “What are your orders?”


Jamie’s countenance broke slightly and she shot him a look.  Well done, she thought.  If only she could learn to control her own idiosyncrasies so well.


The Astartes also wasted no time, “I’m ordering you and the Emperor’s Lance to come about and intercept an incoming Xenos vessel. It is a single, small Ork vessel with a complement of four thousand.  You must destroy it as quickly as possible at all costs.”  


The Captain was succinct and the Inquisitor should have simply accepted the orders and carried them out, but one trait which was impossible for Inquisitor Bovar to squash, it seemed, was curiosity. As he replied, Jamie’s expression hardened.  “Curiosity is the most dangerous of all emotions,” she mumbled.  He either didn’t hear it or didn’t care.


“What threat can one Ork vessel be to the might of the Imperial Navy at Terra?  This last mission has left my men exhausted and our resources depleted.  I have three Astartes, one Battle Sister, and a handful of Acolytes remaining.  How can we stop this vessel?”


“Every moment you spend mewling,” the Space Marine Captain replied, “brings that vessel closer to Holy Terra.  Obey. Succeed.”  The pict-feed went dark, replaced by the distant sun in a field of stars and Neptune growing bigger as they cruised past it.


The three Deathwatch Astartes leaning on the port side of the bridge shifted.  They watched the Inquisitor intently as if they had already grown impatient of the seconds he’d taken to come to a decision.  Jamie was surprised; these three had shown great, calculating restraint in the operation this morning.  The Ultramarine, Cyrus, was cool under pressure. The Storm Warden, Tomys, and the Hawk Lord, Petyr,  seemed quite at home in the bowels of that ancient, Ork-infested base, darting from corridor to corridor and taking out key threats with precision.  


It was the two dead Astartes who had shown true bravery, who had shown the enemy the Emperor’s wrath incarnate.  She’d almost been afraid to watch them at work.  She felt like a child watching a caged beast violently dispatching its prey.  The Blood Angel Assault Marine, Galvus, had carved into the enemy with his whirring Chainsword with glorious ease while their commander, the Crimson Fist named Corovado had dared fate with a pair of white-hot Plasma Pistols before engaging the Orks with bone-crunching kicks and elbows.  The Ultramarine had taken charge after the Seargent’s death and he was well-suited for such a command, but lacked Corovado’s daring.


“Very well,” the Inquisitor growled, then bellowed, “Tap into Deathwatch data feed. Plot a course to that Ork vessel.  Full burn.”


The Emperor’s Lance was no ponderous barge or galley.  It was an Interceptor.  Fully three quarters of the ship was devoted to propulsion.  The stars blurred as the ship came about. Bronze bells rang throughout the bridge to warn of their impending acceleration.  The deck shuddered and the sound of roaring plasma drives filled the room regardless of the hundred meters of sound-dampening material between them and the engine room.  Jamie surmised most of the 500 or so crew of the Emperor’s Lance were likely all deaf.  The acceleration crushed her against the chair.  One Gravity. Two Gravities.  Three Gravities.  Four Gravities.  The ship’s life support network tried to compensate for it, but the ship was no pleasure liner.  It’s entire purpose was speed, not comfort.


The Astartes simply continued to lean against the bulkhead, arms crossed.  She scowled again.  Or had she never stopped scowling?


“So,” she said with some difficulty, “Another suicide mission?”


The Inquisitor was pressed firmly against the back of the command throne.  He looked almost comical in the giant chair designed for an Astartes, “So it seems,” he grunted, “Are you afraid?”


“My Hate will protect me.  It always has.”


“Don’t let it blind you as it did Gallus and Corovado.  The mission must…”  he struggled for a breath, “...come before vengeance.”


“Nineteen Sisters I lost on that Space Hulk, Inquisitor.  Cut down by Greenskin filth.  Three thousand I lost on Gondwana III.  Three thousand Sisters.  One thousand children who would be Sisters one day.”  She sucked in a breath and swallowed hard.   She would not give him the satisfaction of seeing her lose her composure.  “I will have my revenge and we will win the day.  I will have no other result this day.”


She heard the Ultramarine snort.


“Something amuses you, Ultramarine,” she grunted.


He spoke with ease, as if there were no imaginary bricks pressing against him, “No, I am just impressed at your pontificating, little Sororitas.  You sound like a proper Ultramarine.”


The other two Astartes laughed.  The Hawk Lord said, “No, Brother Cyrus. Your declarations before battle are far less melodramatic.”


“Thank you, Tomys.  I would hate for my declarations of delivering the Emperor’s righteous justice through my Terra-forged Gladius to fall on deaf ears.”


The Astartes laughed again, booming even in the din of the accelerating starship.


She didn’t understand their humor.  In honesty, she didn’t understand humor very much in general.  It seemed like a waste of breath.  Not for the first time, she felt the Heresy of jealousy towards the Space Marines.  She hated that they squandered their highly-ordered minds on such trifles as humor.  If she’d somehow been given that gift, she would spend all of her empty hours deep in thought on how to face the Imperium’s foes in battle rather than doting about on pointless tasks she was forced to endure as a Human, such as sleeping and bathing.


A fat, bright dot began to emerge on the pict screen.  A golden reticle appeared around it with High Gothic text spelling out the sensor data.  Ork vessel.  Likely a former Sword class escort.  Accelerating towards Terra as fast as the Emperor’s Lance was accelerating towards it.  


“Come about,” the Inquisitor ordered.  “Shields full aft.  Full deceleration.  The ship wheeled itself around again and began decelerating towards the enemy.


~ * ~


Ghazghkull’s fleet hung over the Galactic plane and was bathed in its ancient light.  The vista which spread out before them was lost on his companions, he knew.  They just saw stars.  The Galaxy looked so small from up here.  Here, the Galaxy seemed small and conquest felt attainable.  He didn’t need the Grots painting on the viewport to see the lines of battle marching towards his goals.  In his mind’s eye, he felt their dominion growing day by day.  In his mind, star after star below them turned green.  


The Grots, all slaved together with bionik implants and connected by wires to the Weirdboy chorus deep within the ship, corrected the lines of conquest, but with a significant delay to his own perception.


There were many doors to conquest.  Doors which, he knew, were locked.  He needed key codes for these doors.  He thought about saying so, but he figured the analogy… or any analogy, really, would fall on deaf ears.


“So, Zogwort.  Are you impressed?”


The Ork Freebooter grunted.  “Marks on windows.  Don’t show me much.”


“But you can feel it.  You can feel it as well as I do.”


The Weirdboy pulsed with the power of the WAAGH! even at rest.  Ghazghkull knew this creature beside him could probably destroy his Space Hulk with a thought, given the right circumstances.  He knew he ought to tread carefully, but he must maintain his position of dominance.  Ghazghkull was enormous and he used that to his advantage.


Balancing fear and respect in his allies was a constant struggle.  Granted, it was a struggle he was very, very good at.  Just the same, Zogwort was an unsettling creature.  His ragged clothes sometimes moved and bulged, likely due to the serpents Zogwort was reputed to keep on his person at all times.  Or was he so suffused with the power of the WAAGH! that it was constantly mutating him?


Ghazghkull also knew that the Weirdboy trusted him about as much as he trusted Zogwort.  He knew that he talked strangely compared to other Orks, and had strange mannerisms thanks to the bionik implants in his head.  He understood many things that other Orks did not and that made him a successful Warlord.  None could dispute his successes.  This, coupled with his massive size and convincing demeanor, meant he commanded respect. And besides, what successful, long-lived Ork didn’t have a few odd behaviors? All that mattered was that, under Ghazghkull, Orks fought and they won.


“Yar. I feel it, Ghazghkull.  Dese Boyz are many. So many.  Da power would be great,” he croaked.  


“Too much?”


The Weirdboy growled, “No. Not too much. Dere is no too much.  I meant to burn out my eyes dat one time.  I see better now.  I see better wivout my eyes, Ghazghkull.”


“What do you see now?”


The Weirdboy frowned, “One ship.  You send a little ship to the bright light down there.”  He pointed down at the fat bulge of the outer spiral arm, just in view at the bottom of the big window.  Many of the arrows the Grots had drawn pointed in that direction, but there were very few marks showing actual forces in that region.  One single arrow with a dot at the end of it had been painted there in red.  A Grot was in the process of correcting its position with a wet towel and fresh paint. That region of space was no more bright than any other, however.  Indeed, it was quite dark compared to the brilliant Galactic center.


“That bright light. Do you feel it?”


“I always feels it.”


“Can you… make out its intent?”


“It wants ter kills us.  It looks fer me sometimes.  Itz too far fer me to really feel what it finks.  It hunts me, tho.  It haunts me.  It can’t finds me.  I’m too trig fer it.”


Somehow, Ghazghkull highly doubted that last arrogant statement was true.  Something else protected the Weirdboy from the deadly bright light which he and Ghazghkull could sense emanating from that region of space. It didn’t matter what that was, though.  That was peripheral to the task at hand.  “Lots of Umies there, Zogwort. Perhaps it is they you sense.”


“Lotsa Umies everywhere. Never dull, that.  No. It ain’t ‘umies. It’s somfink else.  Somefink strong.”


Ghazghkull picked up one of the many devices which littered the bridge.  It was much like those installed in the Gretchin working with the window.  “Reach out, Zogwort.  Reach out to them and see.”


The Weirdboy accepted the device and placed it on his head.  Cables snaked from it and ran down through a hole in the deck.  Zogwort’s gaze did stray there for a moment.  He knew the cables led deep down through the command tower and into the bowels of the ship where a coterie of Weirdboyz were slaved together by thought and deed. “Reach out to Da Umies?”


“No, the Boyz on the ship I sent. See through them. See the light for what it is.”


“Dey got da power of da WAAGH! in em?”


“Oh yes. Every one of them.”


~ * ~


Slaughter was the Sister’s name today and she still lived.  The Acolytes died first, of course.  Then the Inquisitor.  All who remained were the Astartes and Jamie herself.  Every group of filthy, stinking Greenskins they’d faced in their boarding action had been a chorus of psykers the likes of which she’d never experienced.  Ribbons of green energy had whipped out at the men and women of Bovar’s Inquisitorial retinue, cutting and slicing.  Screams of pain and terror filled the sodden, rusted corridors as they trudged towards their goal: the engine room.


Now, she was their bulwark.  To their credit, the Space Marines knew this.  Of course, she was a tool to them and they a tool of her own.  And they were all instruments of the Emperor’s justice.  Her hate was a shield against the weird energies which tried, in vain to assail her.  This, unfortunately, hadn’t been enough to save Bovar.  


They had been pushing back a throng of these monsters when Bovar fell.  He was slicing swathes of Orks with his blade, cutting with unimaginable ease and snuffing out their lives with the power of the Emperor even with the slightest nick of the blade.  That push had been a blind rage for Sister Jamie.  Her power sword hummed with satisfaction at each decapitation, stab to the heart, or dismemberment and she screamed the names of her fallen Sisters with each blow.  They had tried to assail her with the power of the Warp, but it simply could not touch her.  Her Hatred was a bulwark.


But Bovar was gone when she’d cut down the penultimate Ork and the Space Marines had gunned down the last of them.  A single, small, red creature with rows of teeth and two black, beady eyes had wriggled out of the Inquisitor’s armour.  It was barely able to growl the word “No!” before she’d put a bolt round into its face.  The creature that had been Ordo Xenos Inquisitor Bovar had exploded with a satisfying, meaty sound.


Now, she stood as the group’s vanguard.  Corridor after corridor they marched through.  The Storm Warden kept a close eye on his Auspex while the Ultramarine kept them apprised of their position.  They worked with a laudable efficiency.  Jamie felt like one of them in the bowels of that ship.  She felt the sense of duty and brotherhood even if they would laugh at her for saying so.  She didn’t say so, though.  She simply focused her mind on this, her last mission.  Her final sacrifice for the Imperium.  


She prayed that her sacrifice was not in vain; not some regional governor of Neptune’s idea of a worthy sacrifice to avoid a ship full of Orks passing within spitting distance of his world.  Captain Artemis wouldn’t allow that, would he?  He wouldn’t sacrifice the lives of Astartes on some administrator’s whim, would he?  Jamie decided, after nearly an hour of fighting alongside these three Astartes that Artemis would do no such thing.  This was a solace.  She wasn’t sure why their deaths were necessary when an entire flotilla of warships protected Terra proper and could gun down this little ship in seconds.  She trusted the Emperor and, by extension, the Deathwatch Captain who had given them their orders.  Even if this was a delusion, her years in the Adepta Sororitas had honed her mind to acceptance of such delusions.  To do otherwise was to invite madness and doubt.  And doubt was almost as dangerous as curiosity.


They paused at an intersection.  


“One more corridor, Sister.”


“Thank you, Cyrus.  It has been an honour to fight with you.”


His response came after a pause, “It will be an honour to die with you today, Jamie.”  There was a twinge of doubt in his voice.


“This mission is critical.  We don’t know what this ship’s intentions are, but it is no random assault by some splinter faction of Greenskins.  This ship has a purpose.”


The Storm Warden sounded almost amused, “To ascribe such tactics to Orks is borderline Heresy, Sister Jamie.”


“No, Tomys, it is actual Heresy.  But in my final hour, I will risk a little Heresy. My only regret is that we cannot communicate any of this to the Imperium.”


Indeed, after the Emperor’s Lance’s melta cannon had burned a hole in the hull of the Ork vessel and the task force had disembarked into the it, their ship had been ripped to pieces by unseen forces.  There was no communications link to the Deathwatch, nor anyone else for that matter.


“Then, Jamie,” said the Ultramarine, “It will be for us to make certain the work is done.  Talk wastes time. Let’s finish this.”


“Agreed. I’ll take point.  Is your Terra-forged Gladius prepared to deliver the Emperor’s righteous justice?”


The tinny sound of three Astartes laughing through their helmets rang in the hallway.  “Very well, Jamie. Take the lead,” Cyrus relented, “Die well, Sister.”


“Die well, Ultramarine.”


Jamie took a long breath.  She allowed herself one more moment to bring to the front of her mind an image of the sweetest and angriest girl she’d ever met.  She’d sworn Anna would be a Canoness one day.  Instead, her head had been crushed before Jamie’s very eyes that cold day on Gondwana III, those bright brains still hanging from the Ork’s barbed weapon in chunks when it had raised up to take a swing at Jamie.  She’d killed that Ork. She’d killed it too late, but she had killed it and it had felt good and she hadn’t stopped killing them since that day.


She would not be late this time.  She filled herself with rage and her Hate and she roared.  


The small Kill team ran down the dark corridor.  Sparks flared and lamps flickered.  The enemy choked the end of the hall, and lashed out with the power of the warp.  Each lance, ribbon, and wave of power fizzled when it hit her impenetrable field of Hatred.  Staccatto retorts of bolter shells reverberated in the closeness of the corridor.  It was the sound of victory.


~ * ~


One of the Grots waddled over to the red mark in the region that was bright but not bright and erased it with his damp cloth.


“Did you see, Zogwort?”


Zogwort lifted the finkin kap off his head.  “I saw. I dunno… wot was…?”


“Did you feel the light?”


“It waz strong dere.  But still hard to see.  So bright.”


Ghazghkull was a bit crestfallen.  He needed this Ork.  He needed him and his Boyz… the thousands upon thousands of followers with unshakable loyalty so rare in Ork society.  “But you saw…”


“Yar.  It was hard to see da light.  I felt somefin, tho.  I saw it and felt it.  It warz strange.  So many Orks wiv da power dere… dey could feel it too when dey were fightin.  More dan if it waz just me fightin if you ken wot I’z sayin. They felt dis power.”


“Go on.”


“An it warz in ‘em all.  All of em.  An I did feel it in da light.  A little. Wot I could see wivout burnin meself up.”


He checked his normally booming voice.  He whispered to the Weirdboy, allowing him his own thoughts.  “What was it, Zogwort. What power did you feel?”


“Dis ting wot’s from Umies.  Iz like… anger.  An fear. But somefink else.”


Good. Very good.


“That, Zogwort, is Hate.”


“Ate?”


“Hate.  Hatred.”


“I don’t unnerstand.”


“I didn’t either, at first. It is not something a proper Ork should understand. Umies don’t fight for glory.  They don’t fight for conquest.  They don’t fight for domination.  They fight us because they Hate us.”


“Umies… dey’z weak…. but this Hate, it makes ‘em strong. Stronger dan us sometimes.  Just a few Umies krumped a ship full of Weirdboyz.”


“That’s right. Just a few Umies.  Imagine armies of them. Legions marching across the stars.  One thought is on their minds… kill the Orks.  Kill all of them.  Wipe them out.  And us… you and me fighting each other when they come and weak because of it.”


He paused to add gravitas to his next statement, the one he hoped would seal this pact for good.


“They don’t care about fighting us, Zogwort.  All they care about is destroying us.  All of us.”


Zogwort didn’t reply and Ghazghkull stood back and let the Ork stare out into the vista before him.  Let him ponder the vastness of the Umie threat.  Let him, on his own, come to the same conclusion Ghazghkull had.  Conquest of the Umies was a given; something that came naturally to an Ork warlord.  But, it wasn’t Conquest alone that was in their interest in their fight against the Umies.


“My Boyz will join yourz.  We fight wiv you. Join your WAAGH! Until da Umies are done. Dey will fight to fight an’ win. Fight to die and da zoggin great feelin of da battles.  I will fight too.  I wish it waz fer da same reasons, tho.  I wish you didn’t show me dis, Ghazzy.  You’s…. invadin me brain wiv yer own thinkin.  Yer weird, high-thinkin dat ovver Orks talk about.  It ain’t right.”


“All that matters is that you fight with me.”


“Yar, I fight wiv you. Till da end.”



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