The End of Duty (40k)

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White Haven
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The End of Duty (40k)

Post by White Haven » 2013-06-05 10:36am

This is a piece I started writing a good while ago, but couldn't figure out how to continue, so I shelved it. Inspiration finally came to me, so here's the first section. It won't be incredibly long, but...well, I can't say much more without spoilering it myself. Enjoy.

“Why.”

The rough, gravelly voice from the other side of the door to my cell called a slight smile to my lips. I had known, of course, that there was someone there, someone who had taken a long pause before finally slamming the inspection slit open and speaking through it. Heavy footsteps were difficult to conceal, after all, and now that the slit was open I could hear the deep, expansive breaths of the figure on the far side of the heavy, reinforced door. I had guessed at the presence’s identity, but the old, familiar voice confirmed it. Anger, frustration, loss -- from any of my other brothers, I would not have been able to pick them out so easily, but from him...oh yes, I could pick them out. For a moment, I debated keeping silent, sparing both of us this last conversation, but no, I owed him this much at least.

My eyes opened, dilated pupils drinking in the dim light streaming into the cell through the open slit. The walls pressed in around me, too small for even a normal human to lie flat on the floor, much less my own augmented bulk. My knees rested in a pair of shallow depressions worn in the duracrete floor by millennia of penance-seekers praying for forgiveness or salvation or just a merciful, quick death or...who knew what? I was no heretic, no traitor to know the minds of the condemned.

Rising smoothly to my feet, I turned to face the open slit and the pair of eyes framed within it. They flicked upwards, just a hair, then back down to meet my own eyes, and I inclined my head in mute reply; I knew what he’d seen. I could have wiped the blood away, but instead I’d simply let it dry and clot, leaving three dull ruby jewels where once service studs had graced my temple. Trickles of brownish-red descended towards my eye, but had dried before they could reach it. I tilted my head fractionally aside, responding to the mix of accusation and confusion in the eyes boring into my own with a silent question of my own. With anyone else, it would have been perceived as stone-faced silence, belligerence, sullen refusal, but with one as close to me as a brother in truth as well as title, it was all that was required.

“Why did you do it? Did you even do it?”

My lips quirked in a slight smile at the rough, raw pain lacing the questions that lashed the musty air inside the cramped cell. My brother had not yet -- quite -- reached the question he truly wished to ask, but he wouldn’t ever reach it without help. Help I could provide, even if not in any way he wanted.

“I will not speak of it, brother. I didn’t to our Chapter Master, I will not even to you, even now,” came my simple reply. My voice was normally a smooth, rich counterpoint to my brother’s rough, raspy tones. Today, though, my throat bore the still-fading bruises of a blow to the neck by a clenched fist to rival my own, one marred by the half-healed cuts and tears left by an armored gauntlet; my hoarse voice bore the same marks.

The door shook beneath the frustrated blow of my brother’s fist but not with the booming ring of armour on steel, not here at the heart of the fortress-monastery itself. I could hear air being drawn into titanic lungs in preparation for a shout... and then, just as quickly, a long exhalation as my brother forced himself under control and closed his eyes. Seconds passed, my eyes staring at close eyelids, and then the eyes on the other side of the slit flicked open at the heavy tread of armored feet. My brother’s face turned away from the slit, giving me a close-up view of an ear and close-cropped black hair.

The vox system of an Astartes helmet masks a voice’s tone, but it does nothing for word choice, cadence, rhythm; I recognized the partially-muffled speaker as another of my battle-brothers, one almost as close to my brother as he was to me. The sound was as close as a vox system could come to a whisper, “Five minutes, at most, and keep it quiet.” The footsteps receded once more as my brother turned back towards the open slit and finally asked the question he’d stubbornly refused to admit to himself that he wanted to voice.

“Why won’t you speak?”

My own eyes closed at my brother’s question. There it was at last: the question I longed to answer, yet could not allow myself to. The question my brother, of all people, deserved an answer to, yet could never have. The question that, absent an answer, would kill me.

All I could do was smile for a moment, a sad look in my eyes robbing the expression of any pleasure, and shake my head back and forth slightly. My brother deserved an answer, but he did not deserve the consequences of that answer, and neither did the Chapter.

“I am sorry, brother...” I began, then paused as a trace of genuine, albeit gallows, humor quirked my lips again. It was outlawed, anathema, forbidden...but what did I who was about to die care? Maybe, just maybe, it would help my brother accept what must be. The ancient refrain of the ten-thousand-year-dead warrior lodges rolled off my tongue, “I can’t say.”

My brother’s eyes widened through the slit, then hardened, and then it slammed shut. I released the breath I’d been holding, slowly so as not to let the sound penetrate the cell door. Good. The one person who could have -- who would have -- interceded with the Chapter Master now had just enough uncertainty to avoid taking that step. For all that it pained me for my brother to hold a trace of uncertainty regarding my loyalty, it was necessary.

Alone in the blacked-out cell, I settled back down to my knees once again, my eyes closing as I did so. A heretic, desperate for redemption in the eyes of the Emperor or rescue by his foul patrons, would pray the night away. A man uncertain of his fate would pray for intercession in the outcome of his trial. I knew my fate. I, who lived to make war in the Emperor’s name, was at peace with the Emperor.

I allowed my mind to clear of thoughts and drifted off to sleep for the last time.
Last edited by White Haven on 2013-06-09 02:27pm, edited 1 time in total.
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White Haven
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Re: The End of Duty (40k)

Post by White Haven » 2013-06-06 02:49pm

Morning.

In many chapters, I would have been shot without trial on the mere strong suspicion of treason. In others, I would have been tried, sentenced, and then shot after being found guilty of treason. Not so for my brothers, not for a traitor caught and imprisoned in the waning light of late afternoon. Only the blazing radiance of a twin-star sunrise pouring over the distant mountain crags would do for one such as me, one set to receive the judgement of the Chapter Master of the Furious Dawn.

As I walked in the midst of a guard of six of my brothers, I could not help but reflect on my gratitude for that fact. While I had not been tired, per se, my final night of actual, deep sleep had been the deepest peace I had known in years of campaigning. Decades. No need to keep half of my brain alert, no danger of ambush by greenskins or Eldar or the forces of the Ruinous Powers. For better or for worse, and given that I was about to die, I could not help but call it worse, those problems were behind me. The only way an enemy of the Emperor would -- could! -- ever be my problem ever again is if the Fortress-Monastery of the Furious Dawn chapter of the Adeptus Astartes were to fall in a single day.

Would they press a weapon into my hands and hurl me at the enemy? Doubtless a more honorable death than what was planned for me. Regardless, it was not to be; no host of the enemies of Man laid siege to the fortress, and I was to die this day. If Abaddon himself were to crash down out of the stars tomorrow, I would be beyond the ability to care.

I matched the steady, measured tromp of my guards’ armored boots, my own bare footsteps soaked up into the heavy clanking. Habit, I suppose; even now, I marched with my brothers to my death. The dull ringing of heavy chain links filled the air between steps, heavy chains linking the massive adamantine shackles that bound my arms behind my back. A simple white robe hung from my broad shoulders, adorned with marks of rank and service. No kindness, no respect drove my captors to garb me thus. When I was to be found guilty, they would need something to focus their anger at my betrayal on. Ceremony, even in this.

All six of my guards were in full battle-armour, helmets sealed, bolters not slung but held at hand. The two flanking me to either side each gripped one of my biceps. The four behind -- I would not spoil the moment by looking back over my shoulder, but I had no doubt that four bolters were aimed at my back.

Anonymous, all, at least in theory, but these were my brothers. To my left, Sorrien, from the pattern of gouges torn across the upper curve of his right pauldron by an Eldar chainsword. I could still remember his wry smile as he instructed the chapter armorers to leave the scar unrepaired as a reminder. To my right, Cetrix, from the heavier tread of his right leg every other step. Orkish accuracy was never good on the best of days, and we had joked at the time that the massive battlewagon shell that had blotted away his leg at the hip had been aimed at a Predator half the battlefield away.

Behind me, it was harder to tell, but I could at least identify Delros from his slightly mismatched stride compared to the rest of my metronome-precise guard. It wasn’t his fault; he was just small for one of the Emperor’s Chosen, with shorter legs to match. The others I couldn’t identify for certain, not sight unseen, but it didn’t matter. I knew them all. I knew all my brothers, just as they all knew me. I loved all my brothers, just as they all hated me now. I would die to protect my brothers. In fact, I would die to protect my brothers.

That thought brought a fleeting, wintry smile to my lips even as the doors in front of me split open and began to swing outwards. My pupils contracted suddenly as the light of the new dawn sliced through the gothic gloom of the fortress-monastery’s hallways. The hallway was perfectly aligned with the rising suns, but that was no surprise. It was always perfectly aligned. The entire top floor of the monastery as mounted on an enormous engine that compensated for the axial tilt of the world around it, always ensuring that the hallway leading out to the open-air terrace was perfectly positioned to greet the sunrise.

I was, not unexpectedly, the last to arrive. A sea of flame-trimmed black armour greeted my rapidly-adapted eyes, each and every suit polished to such a shine that for a moment, the dawn’s light appeared to transform my brothers’ colours to silver-and-flame, rather than black. The suits stood in perfect ranks, so motionless that they could almost have been simple mannequins clad in armour rather than the entire complement of Space Marines present at the monastery. Only one figure faced my guards and me as we strode down the clear lane formed by the bulk of ceramite-armoured forms to either side. My judge. Indeed, my executioner, soon enough. My Chapter Master, low esteem though I might hold him in.

Urias.

To any who didn’t know him, his expression was inscrutable, hidden behind a mask of detachment and faint disapproval. I don’t know why he bothered; many here knew him well enough to pierce the veil and see the truth on his face. He was enjoying this, and many of my brothers assembled here knew it full well. That, of course, is why I had to die.

He stood behind a stone plinth that bore two weapons, both pointed towards me as I was lead across the age-polished flagstones to a safe distance away from it -- and everyone else. My guards stepped away, forcing a semicircle behind me with bolters levelled.

I’m not certain what they expected me to do as an unarmored, unarmed Astartes in the midst of better than a hundred of my armoured and definitely armed brothers. Still, if the bolters made them feel better, who was I to object? I was going to die one way or another. For a moment, I entertained the thought of attacking Urias, or perhaps my guards. It would hasten the end without a doubt. After a moment, I discarded the thought as unworthy; I would meet my end with all the dignity that Urias could not rob me of, try though he may.

As the silence stretched out, my eyes flitted over the weapons lying on the stone plinth. One was beautiful, a masterwork worthy of -- well, a Chapter Master of the Adeptus Astartes, not to put too fine a point on it. Elaborate gold scrollwork adorned the bolt pistol, a work of art as much as a weapon, and as much as I felt contempt for the weapon’s owner, I could not help but envy him such a perfect, beautiful artifact of war. The other weapon was far from beautiful, but my hearts skipped for a moment at the recognition of my own weapon. My chainsword, battered and scraped and undaunted, lay beside the pistol, every nick and dent and wear-mark achingly familiar. One weapon, my own, if my judge chose to return my honor in granting my innocence. The other, the Chapter Master’s, to take my life should he finalize my guilt.

Urias and I locked eyes for a moment as mine rose away from the two weapons. We both knew what weapon he would choose today.

His voice boomed out, rolling across the crowded terrace with the leaden tones of authority and duty. I had to give him that; Urias was a masterful speaker.

“Brother-Sergeant Nicholai, you stand before your Chapter and the God-Emperor today accused of betraying your brothers in the matter of the Ninth Battle of Augustus Quintus Majoris.”

I could hear the scrape and rasp of armored boots shifting on stone behind me, just barely, as Urias spoke. My brothers stood behind me, all of them armed, many of them... apocalyptically dissatisfied with Urias’s words. My shoulders crawled with tension as visions of possible futures crowded my mind. No witchsight, this, just simple extrapolation of what I knew and could forsee.

“In light of the death of Brother-Captain Tiercen and his command squad, I have personally questioned the sole surviving witness, Scout-Sergeant Xavien, regarding your acts.”

My jaw clenched visibly for a moment before I was able to bring it under control. Tiercen had been a good man, a fine brother. Xavien, on the other hand, I held in as much contempt and disrespect as I did Urias. From the low rumble of discontent I could just barely pick out from behind me, I was not the only one.

“Having considered the balance of evidence weighed against you, I find I have no choice but to condemn you as a traitor and a heretic. In light of your distinguished service record, I will allow you to speak if you should have any final words either to myself, or to the brothers you have so heinously wronged.”

Utter. Silence. Urias’s words rang out, then faded away, dropping into a well of stillness that was like nothing I had ever experienced. Even the sound of air flowing in and out of Astartes lungs would have seemed like thunder as over a hundred of my brothers held their breath. For my part, I could scarcely believe that Urias could be so stupid. He had to know how precarious his situation was, he had to know just how easily I could...I could...

At that point, I finally realized that he honestly, truly did not know. He simply had no concept that my brothers strongly suspected me to be innocent of the charges against me, and held him in contempt for pressing forward with them. He failed to realize that, quite simply, I could kill him and plunge the chapter into a civil war with, quite literally, a word in the opening he had just given me. He probably didn’t even realize why half the assembled Astartes were holding their breath behind me, waiting to see what I would say.

“Anything, Nicholai?”

Unlike Urias, however, I recognized all those facts. And I recognized one other; I remembered the histories of what happened the last time the Adeptus Astartes fell to blows against one another over ambition and pride and disloyalty. I remembered one other thing as well, a long-ago conversation I was privileged to have with one of His Majesty’s Ordos of the Inquisition. The exact quote escaped me by now, but the meaning behind it had stuck with me all these years.

We accept the merely mediocre and poor, because we must prevent the truly terrible and unthinkable.

And so I said nothing, just staring back at Urias with stony eyes. Perhaps I should have pretended to be a gibbering heretic, give Urias what he wanted and alienate myself in the eyes of the Chapter, but I had my pride. I would end with dignity.

“So be it.” his voice rang out again, shattering the silence with a mix of his own grave tones and the exhalations of a hundred throats. “By my hand and authority, you are sentenced to die for your crimes, sentence to be carried out immediately. Guards.” He paused for a moment while the half-dozen marines arrayed behind me came to attention, then continued, “Strip the prisoner of his rank and accolades.”

Armored hands closed on my simple white robe from all sides and tore it away, the light fabric shredding apart. The symbols of rank and accomplishment that had been embroidered into it went with it leaving me bare to the world. Dropping the tatters of my achievements to the stone floor at my feet, the guards stepped back again even as Urias took up the mastercrafted pistol from the plinth between us.

As Urias shifted to High Gothic to intone my formal abjuration, my mind wandered for a moment. I wanted, more than anything else in the world, to leave my true brothers with a token of my own dignity to remember me by...and had Urias been a shred more competent, I would have. The unfathomable depths of his misreading of the situation stayed my tongue, however, and my last words rang only in the privacy of my own mind. His control over my brothers would never survive them.

I will see you again, brothers, before the Golden Throne. Ave Imperator.

Urias fired.

The second of two parts. I realized partway through writing this that I was essentially writing what could have been the ending of A Thousand Sons shorn of the baggage of history and primarchs and gods and an ensemble cast. No relation in-character, of course, but a similar theme to the sacrifice Magnus ultimately failed to give, and for much the same reason on a smaller scale.
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Chronological Incontinence: Time warps around the poster. The thread topic winks out of existence and reappears in 1d10 posts.

Out of Context Theatre, this week starring Darth Nostril.
-'If you really want to fuck with these idiots tell them that there is a vaccine for chemtrails.'

Fiction!: The Final War (Bolo/Lovecraft) (Ch 7 9/15/11), Living (D&D, Complete)Image

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