Raging Rat Ogre
It has been fifty-four days since I came down here. The room is large enough to support a small family, but I am on my own and my family are dead.
I listened to the vox-net for the first few days, as orders gave way to gunfire; as the gunfire gave way to pleading; as the pleading became screams. Then the screams became laughter, and the laughter finally died into silence.
The planetary data-net went quiet several days after the vox. Citizens had to be sanctioned to use the data-net and then only for the most mundane purposes. During the disaster, many survivors like myself appropriated it, exchanging what limited knowledge we had. What I heard was harrowing: skies that rained meat, banners made of flayed skin flapping above our cities, some kind of burning rupture that blotted out the stars at night. Chimney-stacks began to billow clouds of bone ash. People were bound hand and foot, and drowned in puddles of blood, while demagogues screamed blasphemies. The landscape began to die, food ran out and people began to eat one another, crawling on all fours like mad canines.
Armies of unnatural creatures battled our military. The Planetary Defence Force had fought no end of greenskin incursions over the last two millennia, but by all accounts, the creatures they now faced were as far beyond the orks as a man is beyond a feral skagrat. The last I heard, what PDF forces remained were actively cutting their way through crowds of refugees to escape the nightmare.
I could hear them from time to time, the unnatural things. The daemons. I could hear them in my head.
“Are you there?” they would ask, and it took all my willpower not to reply.
I had nightmares. Sickening nightmares that left me praying to remain awake. Four of them were the same thing with different actors. The first took place in a graveyard. A man stood on a plinth, looking away from me across a landscape of graves. He was robed and hooded, and carried a scythe. Flies buzzed around him. I was unable to stop myself from climbing onto the plinth and standing beside him. Buzzing creatures began to swirl about me, occasionally diving to bite my skin.
“Why have you killed all these people?” I found myself asking. “They were innocent. They had done no harm to you.”
“You think me a murderer?” he whispered in reply. “You think this is the end?”
The double-barrelled question caught me out. I didn't know how to reply.
“This is a charnel house,” the figure whispered. “There is no new life here. There is nowhere to sow my seed... one lonely soul is not fertile ground.”
He turned to look at me. I saw my own face, skull-like and rotten. Movement pulsed beneath the skin. I drew breath to scream, and then I woke, drenched in sweat.
The next dream was a battle. A hellish battle, as men fought hand-to-hand against monsters made from blood. One of the monsters was larger than the others. It turned to look at me, and again I saw my own face, leering and burning.
“Coward!” it hissed at me. “Sniper! Flee this place, and pray you do not hear the hounds... you will not escape the hounds!”
It resumed its slaughter of PDF troopers, and I awoke with the smell of blood in my nostrils.
One night later, I dreamed that I was floating through a cavern. The walls were made of crystal whose colour kept changing between blue and purple. These colours seemed to pulse, as if the walls themselves were breathing. Strange faces formed and re-formed in the crystal. Each wore a different emotion and all of them were me. I passed along a tunnel where the walls whispered mad poems and fairytales of a fearsome and monstrous sort, although I do not remember them now. The tunnel opened into a chamber with a huge central pit. A flame that was every colour at once jetted from the pit. Something squatted before the flame, studying it. This creature was impossible to define. It was a blob, it was humanoid, it was an eagle. Its long neck craned around so it could watch as I drifted nearer.
“If I cast you into the flame,” it said in a high-pitched, creaking voice, “you will not be remembered.”
Another voice spoke at the same time, saying “You are of no value to me.”
Both voices said together, “This is the Well of Eternity. Seen through my eyes, it is everything at once. To you, it is a fire in a hole. You will crawl like a worm, knowing what is happening to you, and watch as I change your parents into beasts who rut and devour one another; and I will savour the curdling of your willpower, until you become a worm, and make worm noises.”
I was spared further maddened ranting. Something sucked me up, through the crystal rock above, and it seemed for a moment that I glimpsed paradise. Then I woke up. My body ached with the grinding flare of arthritis. This dream had changed me. I was damaged by it. The dream had followed me into the material universe, in this spiteful, mundane way.
The final dream began in a pleasing manner. I dreamed that I was on a beach, listening to waves gently lapping at the shore. This is not something I have heard before, and it frightened and enthralled me in equal measure. The sun shone down. It was a beautiful feeling against my skin. I was entirely naked, but this didn't feel like a weakness – an invitation to a bullet or blade – as it would have been in the waking world. Behind me was a meadow surrounded by hills. The landscape appeared to have been drawn by a child. The colours were flat but attractive, and I felt that I could dwell in this place as a character stands forever in a picture.
I closed my eyes and enjoyed the feeling of sand and shells between my toes. It did not matter that the shells were human bone, or the sand was the remains of countless mortals, ground by gentle eons. The wind was the breath of a god, and it was poison against my skin, the bringer of cancers and allergies, and it felt as though I was wrapped in velvet. The sun would scorch my eyes out and bleach my skin away, but what price was that to pay for this moment?
Someone approached me across the sands. I turned, opening my eyes. She was a woman, but not a human. I have never seen an Eldar with my own eyes, but knew that she was such. Her eyes were wide and slightly oval. They were... they were celestial. They held the universe, a universe of longing, and what she longed for was me. This xenos thing was also naked, but neither of us were ashamed, and it no longer mattered that she was an abomination. We were both dead, far beyond Imperial doctrine, and we had this beautiful place to ourselves.
She opened her mouth to speak, and dread stabbed me in the mind. Her tongue was that of a serpent, her voice a laughing hiss. Her smile seemed suddenly mocking, the sly grin of a bully to other bullies as they prepare to humiliate a weakling.
“You have been rejected by my brothers, as you were rejected by your wife when she took your best friend into her bed. He made her scream every night while your pictographs looked down upon her from the bedside tables. She screamed in a different way the night he murdered her.”
“Be silent, vile xenos,” I said. The voice was not one I recognised as my own. It seemed feeble, too high, quavering like an adolescent boy's. My own voice had turned against me.
“He never told her what he planned to do to your children,” the woman said, smiling as tears ran from those magnificent eyes. “But then, he didn't have to. She knew about the razor wire. She knew what he had seen in the sewers, what the so-called heathens had done to the homeless and the dispossessed. She knew that somewhere in his heart, like a worm inside an apple, arousal touched him, as he cut the dead and dying from the walls.
I tried to lunge at her. A sniper I am by trade, but relentless combat against the orks has taught me to defend myself, and to strike swiftly, but I couldn't move. Nothing was there, no obstacle, no rime of psychic frost, no hands reaching up from the sand. The reason was the worst of all reasons: I wanted to hear what this walking blasphemy had to say. I knew it would hurt, and I needed it to, needed to carry it with me although it would rot me from within... like a worm inside an apple.
She spoke to me, but the words were denied to my mind. They still burned though. I wept, and I screamed, and I bit my tongue, and as blood drooled down my chin she leaned forward to lick it up.
“You are weak, and of little use to me, but I can give you power,” she whispered in my ear.
In that moment, the landscape vanished. I was in a dark place, a red place, standing on a rotating plate. Thin, whip-like tendrils lashed out from the walls, scouring my skin. I was wrapped in razor wire. Crowds of women like the xenos I had just seen stood around me, laughing at my pain, throwing jugs of foul-smelling fluid at me. Their hands were claws and their eyes were empty, as if they were only pretending to find this funny, and in fact could find no joy in anything.
I awoke, and prayed for hour after hour, rejecting the dream and the offer that had been made, rejecting the state of arousal it had brought me to. My prayers must have been answered, for the dream did not recur, and I remained alone in my bunker.
These prayers were supplemented by alcohol. When the alcohol ran out, and my body made the arduous climb back to alertness, I heard the call of my lasgun. I would sit on my cot looking at it, not thinking about anything except for the way the light glinted from its barrel, but I have never been one to give in to self-destruction. This galaxy was conquered by human courage, and our weakness is now tearing it apart, so it seemed like the Emperor had finally given me a purpose. Besides which, some bastard was going to pay for what happened to my family.
So I wore my armour, took up my weapons, filled a backpack with supplies, and left my refuge. It seemed that the gods themselves were responsible for the atrocity that had hurt my world. I might not be able to kill them, but they thought me a coward, so I would do the last thing they expected.
I would try to save everyone who was left.