Red Sand – Prologue

*picture created by luth, please follow him on twitter and support him on patreon

Venqah sat in the middle of the room, facing the transparent wall. Outside of it, the cold void of space stretched from one side to the other like a great black curtain. Within that darkness, distant stars, like so many dots, shone brightly. Each of them, she knew, held a host of secrets that she could never learn in a mere single lifetime, even one as long as hers’. Sitting cross legged and rigid at the center, she slowed her breath and stilled her body in preparation for the coming trance. She wore a simple flowing blue gown that complimented her light blue, almond shaped eyes. Her long raven black hair was tied in a top knot and cascaded behind her back like a waterfall.

She gave one last sweeping glance, making sure all her preparations had been met. The room itself had its illumination lowered to the barest minimum, drowning everything in it in long shadows. The floor had been covered in pinkish sand, evenly distributed across it. It served as a vast canvass into which Venqah had painstakingly engraved runes in concentric circles radiating from the room’s center where she now sat. Smooth polished stones had been carefully laid between the circles, forming constellations now lost to her kind forever while also serving as a pathway of sorts from the only door to her seat. Her seat was a raised circular dais made of what looked like polished obsidian. Even with the dim lighting, it shone with a purple hue that seemed sinister to the naked eye. Outside of these there were no other decorations, the walls and ceiling themselves showing only the smooth bone white surface of the material used in their formation. With the low light and the pink sand, the white walls conjured into Venqah’s mind the inside of some enormous predator’s mouth. The transparent wall only adding to the illusion.

Feeling reassured by her examination, she started to block all of these sights from her mind. After all, they had all been prepared for the ritual. Now her concentration was needed to make it work. Adjusting her sitting position, Venqah took a small parcel which she had placed between her feet. It was a bundle of silks, the size of a clenched fist. In it was wrapped the object of her inquiry. Carefully, she unraveled the fabrics, revealing a piece of jagged metal the length and width of her thumb. It was immediately obvious this was a piece of something larger, a blade of sorts. The surface of the shard was scratched and gouged, having seen repeated use. A couple of stains showed where acids and even rust had eaten into the metal. Even so its edges were still sharp, a testament to which Venqah’s hands bore silent witnesses. The smooth pale skin of her palms was scarred in crisscrossing patterns.

With the shard completely revealed, she plucked the shard and discarded the bundle of silks to her side. she carefully held the shard in one hand then overlaid her other hand on top of it. Clasping the two together around the shard, she drew in a deep breath. She focused her consciousness and her considerable psychic gift, forming an image of herself and throwing it into the shard. She felt herself sink into the shard, seeing it expand all around to encompass her, or perhaps she was shrinking into it. She could see into the metal constructs, the myriad of tightly woven threads expand all around her. As she continued to dive in, they gave way to a great web of molecules. The molecules themselves started to untangle, revealing gaping chasms. Soon she saw single atoms, spread out like the stars outside her window. Finally there was only darkness – true, oppressing darkness. It weighed on her, like walking at the bottom of a deep ocean. However in front of her was the object of her desire: A whispy thread, almost invisible and dancing to some unseen, unfelt current. She reached out to it, grabbing hold and immediately felt herself pulled through.

In the room, the temperature dropped quickly as the gifts of the immaterium were unleashed within it, causing frost to form on the walls and window, spreading quickly in gossamer webs. Goosebumps formed on her skin as her body shuddered uncontrollably due to the cold but she was unaware of it. Instead sweat poured through, drenching her gown and causing it to stick to her body. Her hold on the shard never wavering. Her mind had gone back through time, flung into distant worlds…

…She was lying on her back, her legs crushed under the body of a Carnifex. The beast had been felled by her hands but its charge bore her down with it under its massive bulk. Trapped beneath the creature she could hear the sounds of more chitinious horrors making their way over the slain body of their comrade. The clicking sound of hundreds of small feet moving en masse was unnerving. She could do nothing to get away but wait for the swarm to arrive and engulf her. However, she was not going to give up, she won’t end as Ripper chow. Readying her two blades, she was prepared to fight the incoming horde. She felt anger coursing through her veins, synthesized hormones driving her battered and exhausted body forward. She made herself as mobile as she could while the scraping sound of countless feet drew ever closer, slowly drowning out all the other sounds of the battlefield. Finally the first line of Rippers showed itself. They were ugly things, a cross between a worm and a centipede with a gaping maw filled with sharp teeth. Like oversized ravenous rats the thought came. “Come at me” she screamed her challenge and the creatures obliged, storming ahead in hunger as she brought her blades forward…

…The battlefield was nothing but sea of chaotic flesh and metal. The greenskins and space marines fought each other in a gruesome melee, choppas and chainswords gleaming in the merciless white sun as they descended upon opponents. Bodies littered the ground in the thousands, mostly of Orks but human bodies of Imperial guardsman and space marines could be seen in the mounds. The parched ground, blasted by the sun’s heat, drank in the blood and quickly became a sucking, muddy mire. It took so much effort to just move one foot ahead of the other. Even so, the Orks didn’t seem greatly bothered by the conditions and fought on with the ferocity their species was renowned for. One of the green beasts charged her but was hampered down by the mud, his run slowed down to a waddle. She managed to sidestep his axe chop with some difficulty. The weapon lodged itself within the mire and its owner with the mindlessness attributed to his kind simply attempted to pull it out, allowing her to step in and slash its throat open. A geyser of dark ochre erupted from the wound as the beast collapsed. She scrambled up a pile of bodies half sunken into the ground and pulled herself out with some difficulty. Careful in her steps, she overlooked the battlefield again searching for the chieftain. It wasn’t hard to locate the beast, a giant clad in scrap metal and wielding a huge power klaw. He stood where the fighting was thickest, dispatching space marines like they were mere toys. He was twice their height and several times their width. Even so the space marines managed to injure the monster, dark ochre ran in rivets from a dozen gushes in the scrap armor. She made her way towards the giant, spreading death among the ork ranks as she prepared to face it. The chieftain had its sights set squarely on the space marines so she shouted a guttural challenge at him, amplified by her suit’s vox caster. The giant turned around and faced her, bringing his power klaw to bear. She prepared her twin blades and once again hurled insults at the monster…

…She was on top of a mountain of corpses. They were human corpses, though barely deserving that distinction. Vile and wretched things covered with scars, filth and other crusted fluids. They wore the tattered remains of military and civilian garb on which the symbols of the Dark Gods had been scribbled over the God Emperor’s. She had cut them down by the dozen yet more and more clambered on top of the fallen. The mountain itself was a precarious thing, its terrain treacherous as feet slipped on congealed blood or snagged over awkwardly placed limbs. Many a cultist had caused a gruesome landslide as entire segments of the mountain detached themselves in an avalanche of flesh. Hack, stab, parry, slash. Her entire being had been distilled to these single moments. She had gone beyond exhaustion, her body moving by sheer will power alone. Her armor was filled with rants and dents where a lucky hit or a slowed reaction cost her a wound. Blood trickled from open wounds, her movements re-opening them time and again as she was forced into another desperate melee. She had lost all sense of time. It seemed to her she had always fought on top of the pile of corpses, and always will. She could hear in the distance the crackle of ionized air. Bolts of light started landing on the flesh mountain, hitting cultists at the back and the side. Reinforcements, her mind registered as she stabbed a cultist in the eye socket, his blood gushing out and making it easy to retrieve her blade. Slowly the tide of cultists thinned out as more las bolts descended upon them. Even so she had hardly time to breathe. Something else was climbing her mountain. It was a chaos space marine, his armor a mass of spikes and chains. His helmet had two great horns sprouting from it, twisted and black. The entire armor itself was painted dark red with what she realized had been blood. As he ascended the corpse pile his mailed boots crushed flesh and bone with a stomach churning squelch. In his mailed hands he carried a great power sword which he burnished at her in a challenge. One final contender for her throne at the top…

…Nivash entered the room to see her in the grip of the trance, her fists tightening over the shard which cut into the soft flesh of her palms, drawing clear blood. Nivash raced over, heedless of the inscribed runes which were glowing with ethereal light, his boots imprinting on the soft sand and blurring many of the engraved runes. They sputtered angrily as their glow petered out and soft columns of smoke rose.

He arrived and dais and pried her hands open, struggling as her grip seemed like that of a vice. Finally he managed to force her hands open and shook them hard, forcing her to drop the blood stained shard to the polished obsidian floor. He then kicked it away into the soft sand where it sizzled, the fresh blood bubbling on its surface and blackening from the heat. It was whispering angrily at the Aeldari. Nivash then took the silk bundle and ripped it to ribbons in order to bandage Venqah’s hands. He was careful as he was thorough, not wishing to cause Venqah any more pain. Venqah herself was still recovering from the trance, her eyes slowly regaining focus and her breathing, which had been fast and shallow, slowing down again. The sweat had thoroughly soaked her gown, plastering it to her body and becoming see through which revealed her generous curves. It caused Nivash to slightly blush though such thoughts were quickly banished by his anger at her actions. Seeing that she was back to the present, he lashed at her “You promised you would not delve into that accursed thing again!” he said, his tone near hysterical.

“I promised no such thing” she said, panting. The memories of innumerable wounds had caused her body to develop sympathetic bruising. The pain slowly faded and with some difficulty she levelled her breath. She suddenly felt the chill of the room as her sweat cooled off. Nivash, seeing her tremble, unfastened his cloak and attempted to drape it around her but she threw it away. Instead she started looking for the shard, spotting it where Nivash had kicked it off. She crawled towards it, aware of Nivash’s rising anger and dejection but she didn’t care. He had interrupted her ritual and could have caused her grave harm not to mention ruined her divination. Even now she struggled to recall the sights and sensations, to capture the thoughts he had held as he swung the blade at his enemies. She needed to know more and Nivash had been constantly standing in her way, thwarting her out of some misguided belief. She had no pity for the aspect warrior, only contempt.

Nivash tried once again to interfere, tried to interpose himself between her and the shard “Do you even see yourself? You are acting like a mad woman” his tone pleading. She shook her head as she started laughing. It started in fits and gasps before it finally took over her entire body, shaking it to its core. She quickly hugged herself trying to instill a measure of calm into her manner. She couldn’t get over how pathetic Nivash looked in her eyes. Like a sad puppy trying to gain a stranger’s love. She had no time for him and his childish meddling. “You stand in my way again and you will no longer be able to stand!” she warned him after she stifled her laughter, allowing her anger to take hold instead.

The Aeldari warrior flinched from the tone of her words as though stung. Good, she thought. He reluctantly moved out of her path and she retrieved the shard. It was silent and cool, caked with sand and smeared with blackened blood which gave off a nauseating smell. Even so she held it gently, as though holding an infant. She quickly dusted it off with her gown, not even sparing a thought to the fabric tearing and being smeared by the dirt. Once it was clean she searched for the silk cloth only to get irritated as she saw the thing has been torn apart by Nivash to bandage her wounds. She covered it with the remains, she’d have to find a more suitable cloth later on in her apartments. She cast her gaze over the room, getting angrier as she saw the damage Nivash had wrecked in his oafish manner. Never mind, she consoled herself, the damage can be repaired and soon it would not matter at all. She felt her impatience raise its head once more at the prospect. Just a couple more weeks and she will meet the red clad warrior which had escaped her best scrying attempts. She felt like a teenage girl again and laughed at her own juvenile thoughts. You are a farseer of Saim-Hann, she reminded herself, not a girl hitting puberty.

Even so, she couldn’t let go of her excitement and Nivash had picked up on it, his rekindled anger emboldening him again “Look at you, lusting over a Mon’Keigh!” he shouted. She rose to her full height, even in her ruffled and dirty gown she still seemed imposing. “Is that what bothers you Nivash” she asked mockingly, “or the fact that I did not choose you” she let her barbs sink into his heart. “Or maybe the knowledge that he is more the man you will ever be” she let the final taunt strike deep and wound the warrior’s pride. She could feel his rage building, his wish to lash out at anybody but her. His puppy love had not been endearing or comforting to her and she had wished he’d stayed back in the craftworld. She knew what awaited Nivash and it was not pretty though as the shared voyage progressed she felt less and less guilty of the outcome. Fate after all, was born of choice, and Nivash had made his.

“This entire expedition is but a fool’s quest” he finally let out “And you will see your so-called knight is nothing more than a lowly, dirty Mon’Keigh!” he shouted, turning his back to her and storming out of the room. She spent a few seconds staring at the door, almost afraid he’d come back to give her another piece of his mind but thankfully he did not. Relishing the silence which had befallen the chamber, she took the shard she still carried in her hands and pressed it to her chest, as though embracing a loved one’s memento. “Soon” she whispered to the shard, lowering her head as though talking to a baby.

“Soon”.

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