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Beyond The Black: The Emperor's Hand

A Gav and Bob Story

By Neal LitherlandPublished 2 years ago Updated about a year ago 34 min read

This is an extended tale of the adventures of ogryn Gav Smythe once he joins the Inquisition in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium. The original tales may be found here!

Gav was sitting on a big tree stump, peeling a potato with his knife. It was hard, sometimes, to peel a potato when they were so small. It had been extra hard to do it when he’d first gotten his new arm. Gav was an old hand, though, and he skinned that spud without so much as nicking his fingers. He was holding up the skin, admiring the little ribbon, when something splintered through trees and hit the ground hard enough he could feel it in his feet. Gav turned his head, frowning as he watched birds fly away.

“What was that?” Gav asked, the naked potato still balanced on his knee.

“Beats the hell out of me,” Trobb said. The ratling had been sitting on a couch in the drop ship. Gav dind’t much care for the ship. It was too small for him, but he supposed that because Trobb was so small it felt extra big to him. Trobb picked up his rifle as he stood, chambering a round. Gav always thought it sounded like Trobb’s gun was clearing its throat when it made that sound. “All right big guy, let’s go see what’s what.”

Gav’s frown deepened. He liked Trobb, but Trobb liked trouble. Gav turned and looked at Grint. Grint was small, but taller than Trobb, wrapped up in his robes and leaning on a stick. He had a blindfold on, but even though his eyes were all white, Gav knew that he could still see with his mind. Grint told Gav the Emperor had taught him how to do that. It had been a kind of trade. Gav was impressed by that. That was why whenever Traela wasn’t around he always looked to Grint to tell him what to do.

“Go see what that was, Gav,” Grint said, standing. “Make sure you have your microbead in, and tell me what’s happening. With all that’s going on, I want to conserve my strength in case it’s needed.”

“To help the Templars?” Trobb asked, giving Grint one of his mean smiles. “Or to make sure they don’t put you on a stake?”

“You wouldn’t let them,” Grint said.

“Course not,” Trobb said. “But there’s a mess of the bastards around here, and Spindra’s only got so many rounds in her.”

Gav put the potato in his mouth, and chewed. He frowned, sticking his hand into his pockets as he tried to find the black, metal bead Traela had given him. He didn’t like it much, and it made his head hurt when he left it in too long, but he didn’t want to lose it.

“Your left chest pocket, Gav,” Grint said. He wasn’t mad, but Gav could tell he was using his serious voice now. Gav plucked out the bead, and screwed it into his ear. He pushed down on it until it made the beeping sound.

“Can you hear me?” Gav asked.

“Course I can, you’re right there,” Trobb said. His smile wasn’t quite so mean this time, and he slapped Gav on the leg just above the knee. It was as high as he could reach without jumping. “Come on, now, double time it, heavy!”

Gav ignored Trobb’s demands, and picked up his own gun. It was big and heavy, but he could use it with just his new arm if he had to. It wasn’t like his old las cannon. It was a ripper gun, and Gav always liked to fire it. He had to remind himself that there were only so many shots, though, and that once he was out he’d have to walk back to get more. Trobb had showed him how to take it apart, how to clean it, and how to make sure it was happy. He’d said Gav should name it, because guns liked having names. And since Gav never wanted to forget it, and the gun was always going to be by his side, he’d known just what to call it.

“Come on, Bob,” Gav said, slipping the sling over his shoulder and hefting the weapon in his metal hand. “Let’s go see what that was.”

Gav walked into the trees with Trobb at his side, but after maybe a dozen steps the ratling just disappeared. Gav didn’t look for him. It was another one of Trobb’s games, and he knew the little man wouldn’t be seen if he didn’t want to be. It was why Gav had the bead; that way Trobb could still talk to him, and tell him what to look for. He had good eyes, and he always saw things before Gav did. Which was good for Gav, but bad for whatever things Trobb saw. Off in the distance, Gav heard more explosions. He’d been hearing them for hours, though, and they’d faded into the background for him. The battle that had been going on since they arrived hadn’t finished yet, or so it seemed.

“We had any updates on the meeting yet, Grint?” Trobb asked, his voice in Gav’s ear.

“I would have woken you if word had come down,” Grint replied.

Gav wasn’t sure what was going on, but he’d been nervous ever since they landed. Coming down in the drop ship was bad enough, especially with explosions all around. Then once they landed, Traela told Gav, Grint, and Trobb to stay with the ship. There were space marines on this planet. They had another name, but Gav tripped on his tongue when he tried to say it. Traela had shown Gav picts of them. They were big, with black armor, and chains on one arm. Templars, she’d called them. She said they were stubborn, and a lot of them didn’t like people like him and Trobb. Most of them wouldn’t like Grint, either, even if he had met the Emperor and they hadn’t. She would have to persuade whoever was in charge to listen to her, and she didn’t want to start off by making them mad.

Traela told him there were other space marines on the planet, too. Traitors. Gav didn’t like that one bit. Traitors were bad. Traitor space marines were worse. Worse than daemons, unless they were really big ones. She said they would be wearing dark red armor, and they’d have a spiky wheel on them. Probably other symbols too, but she couldn’t be sure which. Gav had a feeling he’d know them when he saw them, though.

“Think I see what happened,” Trobb said in Gav’s ear. His voice was quieter, and there was no more joking in it. Gav gripped Bob a little tighter, and raised the barrel so the gun was ready. “Half a klick ahead, right near the cliff base.”

Gav walked forward, trying to be quiet. He saw the cliff that went up and up, so high he could barely see the top of it through the hole in the trees. When he got closer, Gav saw what had come down through the trees, too. It was a space marine, still in his black armor. It looked different than the picts Gav had seen, though. Gav saw the chain on one arm, but it was snapped into pieces. The space marine had hit a big rock when he landed, and there was blood everywhere. It made Gav think of that time he’d seen a tomato hit the wall when Bob had started a food fight.

“Is he dead, Gav?” Trobb asked.

“Yeah,” Gav said, giving the body a nudge with his boot just to be sure. The space marine’s head lolled to one side.

Trobb swore under his breath. That was when Grint spoke up. “Who’s dead? What’s happening?”

“Is one of those space marines,” Gav said. “The ones in the black armor.”

This time Grint swore. Gav looked around, making sure he was still alone. If Trobb and Grint thought it was bad, then things were probably bad. The back of Gav’s neck, and that spot between his shoulders, felt tight. He didn’t like that feeling, but he knew whenever he felt it that there was probably fighting to do soon.

“Gav, I need you to listen carefully to me,” Grint said. “Are there gold leaves on the helmet?”

Gav looked down at the dead space marine. He nodded, and then reminded himself that Grint couldn’t see him when he was this far away. “Yeah.”

“His armor,” Grint said. “Are there prayer seals? And words carved onto it?”

This time Gav remembered. “Uh-huh. Lots of ‘em.”

Grint and Trobb were both silent for a bit, then they started talking back and forth. Gav tried to follow the conversation, but he quickly got lost. They were using a bunch of words he’d never heard before, and he knew that if he asked them to stop and tell him what was going on they’d just get mad at him. So Gav waited for them to figure out what to do. That was when he looked down, and saw something he hadn’t noticed before. There was a sword in the tall grass. It was a big sword, with a long grip. There was a big, red gem right in the guard, and the blade was black. Gav thought he could hear it humming. He glanced at the dead space marine, and nodded to himself.

“He must have dropped this,” Gav said as he bent down, wrapping his one good hand around the grip. “I’ll give it back to him.”

Gav’s fingers had barely finished wrapping around the grip when a funny feeling went through him. It felt like what happened when there was a storm, and lightning hit close enough for him to see it. It made the hair stand up on his arm, and on the back of his neck. Gav wrinkled his forehead, and looked around. Trobb and Grint were still talking in his ear, and they were talking louder, but they sounded very far away. Gav’s heart was beating fast, and he looked around the clearing, trying to find where the feeling was coming from.

“Hello, Gav,” a voice said from nearby.

It's been a long time, old friend.

Gav whirled, bringing the sword up and leveling his gun. A man stood there. He wore a long coat, and a hat that was a little crooked on his head. He had a bolt pistol on one hip, and a long sword on the other. One of his legs was metal. He didn’t have a shadow, though. Instead of shadow, golden light shone out of him, like he was full of bright candles. Gav’s mouth dropped open, and he lowered his gun.

“Arry?” Gav asked, staring at the glowing vision of the old commissar. “Is that you?”

“Yes, Gav,” Arry said, giving him that old, patient smile Gav remembered so well even after all these years.

“But… but you’re dead,” Gav said. “That ork burned you up. We put you in a hole, and we said the words over you.”

Arry nodded. “You did, Gav. And I went on to the Emperor.”

Gav didn’t know what to say to that, so he nodded. Tears were welling in his eyes, but he tried to blink them away. He sniffled.

“Gav,” Trobb said through the bead in Gav’s ear. “Who the hell are you talking to?”

“The Emperor needs you, Gav,” Arry said. He reached up, and patted him on his good arm. “And he sent me here to guide you one last time.”

“What do I have to do?” Gav asked. Trobb was still talking. So was Grint. But all of Gav’s attention was on Arry.

“That sword is given to the Emperor’s Champion, to fight in his name,” Arry said, nodding toward the sword in Gav’s hand. “The last bearer has fallen, and there is no time to find one of his brothers. The traitors are coming right now to try to take it for themselves.”

Gav didn’t like that. He gripped the black sword’s hilt harder. That funny feeling came back, but this time it was up on his head. Like he was wearing a crown. Arry smiled at him, and when he did his eyes disappeared for a moment. There was just golden light inside him. Then he blinked, and his eyes were back again.

“Make him drop the sword, Grint,” Trobb was saying.

“I… I can’t,” Grint said.

“I hate traitors, Arry,” Gav snarled. “I hate them! I love the Emperuh!”

“That’s good, Gav,” Arry said, squeezing Gav’s arm. “Because he needs you to fight them. To stop what they’re trying to do. Listen for the Emperor’s voice. He will tell you where to go.”

Gav was about to say something else when he heard a loud noise from the stone wall. He turned, and the rocks came apart. He saw a metal lip as a hidden door opened, rising up out of the way. Behind the door came three figures. They were big, nearly as big as Gav. The one in the lead carried a black sword in his hand, but it wasn’t like the one Gav had found. This sword was ugly, and twisted, dripping shadows from the edge. The other two had bolters in their hands. All three of them wore dark red armor that made Gav think of blood that wasn’t quite dry yet. There were symbols on their armor, too. Gav didn’t recognize all of them, but he’d seen some of them before.

“Traitors!” Gav bellowed, cutting loose with his ripper gun.

The traitors were in power armor, but Bob was loaded with the big hammers, as Trobb called them. Gav wasn’t a very good shot, but the space marines were close, and they didn’t have time to get out of the way. The one in front got his sword up, and it seemed to push the bullets out of the way. The two behind him weren’t so lucky, though. One of them staggered as his knee exploded. The other jerked as the bullets hammered into his chest and head as he tried to get out of the way of the barrage. Gav only got a few bursts off before the one in front charged him, swinging his sword.

Most opponents would have fled that charge. Even another space marine might have taken a step back to ready themselves. But Gav was an ogryn, and his blood was up. Gav met the charge with one of his own, moving faster than any creature his size had a right to. The marine’s shoulders adjusted, and he brought his blade down in a powerful, overhand cut that would have ripped a tank in half. Without thinking, Gav slammed the black sword up to block the attack. The swords clashed, and power sparked, exploding out in waves that made the trees shudder. At the same time as he blocked, though, Gav’s momentum carried him inside the marine’s swing. He rammed Bob’s barrel up under the traitor’s arm pit where there wasn’t as much armor, and pulled the trigger again. Wet blood sprayed, and chunks of metal exploded outward as the bullets ricocheted through the space marine’s body, tearing him up.

The body hadn’t even had time to fall when bolter fire ripped into him from behind. The traitor Gav had hurt was on his good knee, leaning against the wall, firing his weapon one-handed. A round flew past Gav’s head, and two more slammed into the dead traitor’s backpack, driving the corpse into Gav. Gav let go of Bob, the thick strap digging into his shoulder as the ripper gun fell down to his hip, and he grabbed the dead traitor with his steel hand. Rushing forward, Gav threw the body into the hole, watching it slam into the kneeling marine, sending his bolter skittering across the floor. Gav stalked after, his knuckles white on the hilt of the sword. He was just about to step into the cave, small dark space or not, when red lights flashed, and the door started closing again.

Gav slammed his metal arm into the door, grunting as he tried to push it back. It refused to stop. Gav leaned into it, his shoulder trembling with the effort. The third traitor was leaning against the wall. He’d taken off his helmet, and Gav saw his face was covered in old scars and new blood. He gave Gav a broken smile as he walked closer, hefting his bolter and putting it to his shoulder.

“I should thank you,” the traitor said, spitting out what looked like part of a tooth. “With Aspex and Burtaros dead, I’ll be the one who claims the victory for taking that sword.”

The traitor’s head exploded, showering the walls and ceiling with gore. His body fell, his armor clattering. The traitor with the mangled knee was holding himself up on one arm, his smoking bolt pistol in hand. Gav watched as the barrel started to shift in his direction. He pushed harder on the door, trying to get some breathing room. He heard a loud crack from the trees behind him, felt something shoot past his head, and then a neat, round hole appeared in the traitor’s left eye lens. He hung there for a moment, like he couldn’t remember what he’d been doing. A single, thick tear of blood rolled out of the hole, and he collapsed onto his face.

A moment later, Trobb came running out of the trees. His rifle was still smoking. He was shouting as he came, and Gav was hearing it loud in one ear, and not so loud in the other. It was making his head hurt.

“I ought to let that door have its way with you,” Trobb snarled as he wove between Gav’s legs. He reached up and slammed a button on the wall, and the pressure on Gav’s arm stopped. Gav let go of the door slowly, and stepped inside the cave.

“There’s traitors, Trobb,” Gav said. He flexed his shoulder, then hefted Bob again. “They’re doing bad things. Arry said the Emperuh wants me to go stop it.”

Gav wanted to explain it better to Trobb, but he couldn’t. The feelings inside him were a lot like ogryns themselves; big and powerful. Trying to make those feelings squeeze down into words was like trying to get Gav’s tribe to get into the small armored carriers. He might have been able to do it, if he had the time to sit, and think about it. He knew he didn’t have that time, though. The sword was pulling at him. Not at his arm, but at his brain. He had to go. The Emperor had told him what to do, and it was his job to do it. Gav turned, and walked deeper into the tunnel that led into the mountain.

“Grint, make this all make sense to me before I lose what little calm I’ve got left,” Trobb said, following along in Gav’s wake.

“What’s happening?” Grint asked. He was out of breath. It sounded like he was running.

“Big guy’s advancing,” Trobb said. He barely broke stride as he brought his rifle up, and fired around Gav’s hip, catching a man in defaced guardsman’s armor full in the face and splattering his brains against the stone wall. “We just had hostiles. Three traitor astartes. Looks like Gav’s on a mission.”

“Try to mark your path,” Grint panted. “I’ll catch up.”

Doors opened, and footsteps came in a rush. Small arms fire and war cries filled the hallway for a moment. They were drowned out by Gav’s roar of fury, and the bellow of his ripper gun. Gav kept walking, stepping over three dozen bodies that had been torn to pieces in the tight confines. Trobb followed, snatching a frag grenade off the belt of one of the corpses.

“That’ll be easy,” Trobb said, working the bolt on his rifle. “Just follow the bodies.”

There will certainly be enough of them.

It didn’t take long for the sheer weight of the rock to blot out the signal from the microbeads. Not that Gav noticed much. Every time it felt like he was about to go down the wrong hallway, or take the wrong set of stairs, he felt more than heard a gentle whisper. It was like he could still feel Arry’s hand on him, guiding him with their old signals as he touched Gav’s hip to direct him. It was something the old commissar did when the guns were too loud for Gav and the others to hear him shout. There were more traitors, and they all shot at Gav. The las rounds hurt, but just left his skin singed. The auto guns were small enough that he didn’t even bleed that much, and the big plates on his chest and shoulders stopped a lot of it. There was a big cannon, just like the one Gav used to carry, too. The traitors had to mount it on wheels, and it took two of them just to move it. They were so focused on trying to hit Gav that they didn’t see Trobb, or the grenade he threw, until it was too late.

“Gav,” Trobb said, coughing through the smoke and shouting over the alarms that were blaring from the walls. He scavenged the wreck of the corpses, snatching a las rifle, spare charge mags, and palming a few more grenades. “I’ve got this funny feeling that they know we’re coming.”

“Good,” Gav said. He let go of Bob, put one foot on the axle of the cannon wagon, and pulled. Metal screamed, and rivets popped as he pulled off one half of the shield the gunner had stood behind. It was a big slab of metal, and Gav gave it a good thump with the sword’s pommel to feel its weight. He shifted his grip on the heavy steel ring welded to the armored plate until he held it like a shield. Gav glanced up, and saw Arry standing near a stairwell. His eyes were empty pits of light, and the commissar was waving him on. Trobb didn’t seem to see him. Gav frowned, and readjusted his grip on the black sword. “I’m coming, Arry. I’m coming. For you. For the Emperuh.”

It wasn’t long before the resistance stiffened. The traitors had all been facing the other way, focusing on the battle going on up at the top of the cliff, but now they were forming up into lines and trying to hold choke points against Gav. The hot shot las guns they had ate at his shield, and the auto turrets they had set up screamed while they spit bullets at anything that moved. The traitors set off mines, blew up smoke charges, and sent hot plasma down the tunnel. In the end, none of it was enough to stop Gav, or the sword in his hand.

The stairs ended, and Gav stepped into a place that used to be beautiful. There were big columns of stone, and the floors were shiny from where they’d been polished. Statues watched the place. They looked like space marines, but they were covered with old blood, or smashed to pieces. It felt like it had been a church a long time ago, but then the traitors had ruined it. Just like they always did. Outside Gav could hear shouting, and the sound of bolter fire. He heard daemon roars, too. Gav raised what was left of his shield, and wiped blood and sweat off his face. His scalp was torn from where a piece of shrapnel had grazed his skull, and he had a nasty burn along his bicep. His armor and shield were hammered nearly to scrap, one or two lucky shots had punched into his muscles, and he was battered and bruised from head to toe. Gav knew he should be in pain, but he didn’t feel any pain. It was there, but it was like the pain was behind a wall someplace far away where it didn’t matter.

“Grint ought to be able to find us easy enough,” Trobb grunted. He had a hot shot rifle in his hands now, with Spindra slung on his back. Gav didn’t remember when the ratling had picked up the rifle, or how long he’d been firing it. It looked almost silly in his hands, but Gav knew that Trobb could make his shots count no matter the size of the weapon. The ratling was covered in dirt and dust, and his arm was bandaged from where an autogun round had clipped him at some point. “Just where the hell are we going, Gav?”

Gav couldn’t explain it with words. There was a ringing in his head that made it even harder to think. He dropped what was left of his shield, and tugged the microbead out of his ear. It didn’t make the noises he was hearing go away, though. If anything, they got louder. Gav shook his head, and looked around. Across the polished floor there was a huge archway, flanked by bloody statues holding open books. Gav heard the voices rolling out of the door. Gav didn’t know what the words they were speaking meant, but he recognized them all the same.

“They’re talking to daemons,” Gav said. He clenched his jaw, and narrowed his eyes. “The big ones.”

Trobb sighed, and pulled an injector vial out of one of his inner pockets. He popped the cap off of one end, set his teeth together, closed his eyes, then jammed it into the side of his neck. The stim stick emptied itself with a sigh. When Trobb opened his eyes again they were sharp, the pupils tiny little pinpricks of black. He smiled up at Gav.

“Let’s get it done,” Trobb said.

Gav stalked toward the archway. It was so big he didn’t have any trouble walking through it. There wasn’t a room, like he’d expected, though. Instead, it was a big, stone patio that went right up to the cliff’s edge. Half a dozen men stood in a circle, chanting those words that hurt Gav’s head. The sun was setting, and the red light was right in his eyes, but Gav saw there were four marines in dark red armor standing guard at the corners. They raised their weapons when they saw Gav, but before any of them could fire a voice boomed out so loud it even drowned out the chanters.

“No,” that voice said. “He is mine.”

Something that Gav thought was a statue turned, and looked at him. It was a space marine, but he was bigger than all the others Gav had ever seen. He was even bigger than Gav. He wore heavy armor that seemed to breathe like skin instead of metal. The eyes in his helmet glowed bright red, but the light in them wasn’t right. The light should have been steady, like a lamp. Instead it looked like there was fire burning inside the big marine’s helmet. The armor was covered in spikes, horns, and symbols that hurt Gav’s eyes to look at. There was also some kind of humming crown over the top of his helmet, with gems sticking out of it. The big marine faced him, and started walking closer. As he moved Gav saw there were tears in his armor. Some of them leaked black fluid. Some sparked and screamed as he walked. The sword thrummed in Gav’s hand, like it was trying to growl at the big marine.

“I will give you this one chance, simple creature, for you know not the role you play here,” the marine said. “Relinquish that blade to me, and you may walk away. Refuse, and I will take it from your corpse.”

Gav didn’t respond with words. He leaped forward, gripping the sword’s hilt with both hands as he brought it down in a vicious, overhand blow. The marine moved a split second before Gav did, bringing his power claw around in an arc. He didn’t attempt to block Gav’s blow, but instead he struck the flat of the blade as it passed. The force of it made Gav stumble, but he leaned into it, turning himself and rolling. Electricity crackled where he’d been standing, and the marine growled. He took another step, trying to bring his claw back around, but Gav was back on his feet. He struck out at the claw, and sparks flew. The marine tried to bring his other hand around to grab him, but Gav managed to slip his grip, ramming his shoulder up into the marine’s arm. Gav fought hard, but every time he managed to bring the sword around the marine was already there, ready to block him. Gav caught a fist in his side, and he felt his armor splinter, the ribs underneath breaking. Gav stumbled back, breathing hard. Wind blew against the back of his neck, and he knew the edge of the cliff wasn’t far away. The marine stood there, watching him. The chanting rose, and Gav risked a glance over at the men in robes standing in a circle. The big marine laughed.

“The time for play is at an end,” he rumbled through his vox. “The rite will soon be over, and at the appropriate moment I will break that sword. With its destruction the Imperium’s hold on this world will wither, and it will be sucked into the warp!”

Gav didn’t know what to do. He was surrounded by enemies, and he knew if they got that sword he would have failed the Emperor. Every instinct inside him, every urge in his bones told him to bull forward; to go down fighting. He heard another voice, though... a voice he hadn’t heard in many years. He heard Bob whisper in his ear, the way he always did when he was about to do a mischief, and he wanted Gav to be ready for it. Gav frowned, and let go of the black sword with his metal hand. He held the sword sideways, putting his fake hand up, palm out.

“If I give it to you, I can leave?” Gav asked.

The sound that came out of the marine’s vox made Gav think of a sick kitten. It made the muscles in his back twitch.

“Of course,” the big marine said, making a sweeping gesture with his power claw toward the archway behind him. “Let it not be said that the Word Bearers are not generous.”

Gav bent down slowly, crouching as he made to lay down the sword. He never took his eyes off the big marine. The armor whirred as the marine stared down at the sword. Gav was just about to let go of the hilt when he grabbed Bob with his steel hand, turned, and opened fire on the chanters. The bullets should have ripped through them, tearing apart their limbs and blasting them into pieces. But they didn’t. Instead they just stopped. The air in front of where Gav was aiming crackled, and the bullets hung there. The chanting continued. They didn’t even look up.

Before Gav could react, the big marine had his hand around Gav’s neck. He shoved Gav down hard, using the strength and weight of his armor to force Gav onto his knees. Gav lost his grip on Bob, and the ripper gun bounced across the floor. Gav tried to swing the black sword up with both hands, but his arms stopped in midair. He strained, the machine of his fake arm whining and the veins in his biceps pumping as he pushed. There was nothing there, but he still couldn’t move.

“That was very brave of you,” the marine said. “Stupid, but brave. You had your chance, now, you die.”

Gav closed his eyes. He said a prayer to the Emperor. He told him he was sorry, and that he’d tried his best. He heard Arry call his name, telling him to get up. He heard Bob yelling from a long way away, telling him to fight. Gav heard another voice, too. It was bigger than the others. It was bigger than any commissar he’d ever heard, even when they yelled over a vox. It was bigger than the daemons he’d fought. That voice was bigger than the sky, and loud like every cannon Gav had ever heard at once. And he heard another voice… Grint’s voice.

“Now, Gav!” the psyker shouted, his voice echoing with power. “Do it now!”

Suddenly Gav’s arms were free. Grint was standing in the archway Gav had come from, his eyes glowing the same way Arry’s had. He had one hand out in front of him, like he was choking something invisible. The other was held palm out. Half a dozen bolter rounds were caught in his shield from where the marines had been firing at him. Trobb’s muzzle flashed as he returned fire. The big marine stood still as a statue, his armor trembling and his eyes blazing. Gav smelled blood and burning flesh, and heard more daemon words coming out of the marine’s vox.

Before the big marine could fight off Grint, Gav yanked himself to his feet. He held the sword up in both hands, and drove it down into the spot next to the marine’s helmet. Black blood spewed up, along with hot oil that burned Gav’s hand and forearm. The big marine kept trying to talk, but Gav yanked the sword down, pushing with all his weight as it tore into the marine. The words stopped, and the Word Bearer fell. Gav let him fall, letting go of the sword’s hilt. The cliffside all around him was shaking, and the air was starting to grow hazy. Shadows filled the sky, and everything started to get dark. Gav took two, careful steps, and picked up Bob. This time when he pulled the trigger nothing stopped his bullets from tearing through the chanters, and leaving them crumpled on the floor.

At first Gav thought he hadn’t been fast enough. But the shaking subsided, and the shadows began to disperse. It felt like whatever was trying to come through to this world couldn’t open the door the rest of the way on its own. There was a scream that made Gav put his hands over his ears as something tried to force its way in, but was pushed back to wherever it had come from. The sun came back out, and even the wind died down. Gav looked around. All the marines in red armor were slumped on the ground, unmoving. The candles that had been lit had all gone out. The voices he’d heard, good and bad, were gone now. Trobb was going from body to body, giving each an extra round from his stolen hot shot, just to make sure they weren’t faking. Grint was slumped on a stone bench, doing a series of breathing exercises.

“Is it done?” Gav asked Trobb.

The words were barely out of his mouth when Sheexa came charging through the archway, her melta locked and loaded. She swept the patio with it once, then lowered the weapon. Turning her head, she made a high-pitched whistle like a bird call. A moment later Traela strode through the doorway. She had a power sword in her hand, but she deactivated it when she saw what lay in front of her. Gav smiled, and waved. He was glad she was all right, even though Gav hadn’t been there to keep her safe himself. Traela touched her left cheek with two fingers; a sign she had worked out with Gav that he needed to be very serious. Gav frowned, and shifted his grip on Bob.

Gav had barely been given the sign when another space marine came through the archway. This one wasn’t in red, though, and he didn’t have any of the daemon symbols on him. His armor was black, and he had a white cloth over it. He didn’t carry a sword like lots of the others; instead he had a stick with a winged skull on it. His helmet was a skull, too. Gav wasn’t sure what it meant, but he was pretty sure this one was important. The skull-faced marine walked across the cracked stone, stopping in front of the body of the traitor’s leader. The hilt of the black sword still protruded from his neck.

“What happened here?” the marine asked. If Gav had thought his face was scary, his voice was even worse. It was hard, rough, and cold in a way that made Gav wish Bob had more bullets.

“Your champion went down fighting, my lord,” Trobb said. Gav’s brow wrinkled. Trobb was using his ‘get out of trouble’ voice. “He challenged the traitor, and fought hard. He dealt this scum a deathblow, but the bastard witch sent him flying over the edge with his mind before he died.”

“I see,” the skull-faced marine said. He turned and looked at Gav. “Guardsman! Has anyone touched this sword but the hand of the Emperor’s Champion?”

Over the marine’s shoulder, Gav caught sight of Arry. He hadn’t been there a moment ago. He was hazy now, like a dream that was starting to fade away. He made the sign of the aquila, and then nodded. Gav straightened, and flicked his eyes back to the marine.

“No, Sir,” Gav said. “Only the Emperuh’s Champion touched that sword.”

It's just the truth.

The skull-faced marine stared at Gav a moment longer. Then he bent, grasped the black sword by its hilt, and drew it out of the body of the dead traitor. He pulled a cloth from a pouch, wiped the dark blood from the blade, and then slid it into an empty scabbard on his belt.

“Come,” the skull-faced marine said. “The battle is far from over, and we need every hand.”

The marine in black armor turned and vanished back through the archway, toward the sound of fighting. Gav looked at Traela. She nodded. Sheexa grinned, and dug into the wide pouch in the small of her back as she crossed the broken stone. She removed a heavy drum, and held it out to Gav.

“I had a feeling you might need this,” she said.

Gav smiled, took the fresh drum, and reloaded Bob. He yanked the charging handle, and smiled as the first round settled into position in the ripper gun.

“For the Emperor,” Sheexa said, giving Gav a wink.

“For the Emperuh,” Gav said solemnly. Then, under his breath, he added, “And for you, Bob.”

Would You Like To See More?

If you want to see more of my work covering the grim darkness of the far future, the fantastical realm of Golarion, and more, then don't forget to check out my full Vocal archive, as well as some of my other stories linked below!

- The Irregulars: My official contribution to the Pathfinder Tales, The Irregulars follows an Andoran unit as they throw a wrench into the gears of Molthune's war machine.

- Waking Dogs- A World Eaters Tale: For my fans of Warhammer 40K, this is a story I felt compelled to tell about one of the infamous World Eaters remembering who he once was. It was also dramatized by the channel A Vox in The Void, for those who enjoy audio renditions.

- Crier's Knife: My sword and sorcery novel, we follow Dirk Crier as he sets out to collect his wayward cousin from parts unknown. Dark tidings lie ahead, but those who stand in his way will learn why the mountain folk say only a dead man crosses a Crier.

- Marked Territory and Painted Cats: Join Leo as he gets roped into other people's problems on the mean streets of NYC. A Maine coon with a bad habit of getting curious, explore the world of street beasts in these nasty little noir mysteries!

Also, for those who want to catch up on Gav's previous adventures A Vox in The Void dramatized the first three installments for you!

EDIT: This includes a dramatization of THIS story as well!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, as well as on Pinterest where I'm building all sorts of boards dedicated to my books, RPG supplements, and greatest hits. Lastly, to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little donation can have a big impact.

You can even get all my information in one place if you want to check out my Linktree!

Sci Fi

About the Creator

Neal Litherland

Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.



Blog: Improved Initiative and The Literary Mercenary

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  • Brandon Coxabout a year ago

    I simply need more

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