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Into the Gallowdark Episode IV: The End is the Beginning

Updated: Jun 26


She sits in the dark, steel room illuminated by a single light above her. She is handcuffed to a metal ring protruding from a smooth metal table, her dossier splayed out before her. An interrogation room. She hears, but cannot see, voices from the shadows -- the Imperial Tribunal, the Inquisition.

“We understand,” it says, “You are the sole survivor of Ignis Squad.”

She shakes her head, “No, there was another. Telon, the Ironkyn.”

She hears laughter.

“The synth?” it says, “It was picked up by The Kinband. But you. You, they delivered to us. You are under questioning for crimes against The Imperium, desertion, blasphemy, meddling with chaos entities, and insubordination. So, tell me, what did you find there?”


Alpha Squad


The runes glow a bright red as the purple lightning cloud fills the room. A fiery oval flickers in space, right in the center of the pentagram, right above the datacore, right where Telon is standing.

They hear a voice from deep inside their bellies, an overwhelming compulsion, a deep, dark thought. Kill… kill… maim… blood...

The face of a demon shrouded in horns materializes in the almost fully formed portal.

Sarge slowly steps forward, drawn to the warp fold.

“Sarge?” asks Rebel.

He continues unheeded.

“Sarge, what are you doing?” she asks.

She aims her grenade launcher at the portal.

She calls out, “Clear!”

Telon struggles with the datacore. They are cutting it out with a plasma torch. “Wait!” They say. “I need a moment!”

Comms lowers Rebel’s barrel down towards the ground.

“Hold your fire,” he says, “I’m going in.”

Comms gets on his knees and tries to destroy the runes, but they aren’t simply painted in blood, they have penetrated inches into the plasteel. When he touches them, they burn. It feels like his hand catches fire, he sees his flesh burn, but there is no flame, only that voice from within. Burn…

Sarge reaches his hand out towards the demon.

“I’m sorry,” he says, “I’m so sorry.”

He sees the face of all those he’s let die. His comrade killed by the Commissar, Rookie, and all the rookies that came before. Then, sees the faces of all the men he’s killed with his own hands. He draws his heirloom laspistol and raises it to his temple.

“Sarge, no!” yells Comms. He rushes towards Sarge in an attempt to knock the gun from his hand.

Sarge’s wrist impossibly turns the laspistol towards Comms and shoots him in the chest then he immediately returns it to his own head.

“Get down!” yells Rebel.

She fires a krak grenade into the portal, it bounces off the bulkhead and ricochets across the room.

And it explodes between them sending pieces of Comms across the room and hurling Sarge forward through the portal. The fiery oval flickers and the demon inside roars, turning its attention to Rebel.

Telon, who is modeled after the sturdy body of the Votann, is too heavy and too stalky to be moved by the explosion. “Almost there…” they mutter.

The warp lightning strikes a violent purple flash and the room goes silent.

The bridge is in pristine condition and well lit. There is no dust, there is no damage, there are no bodies, there are no runes and there is no Sarge. Telon stands in the center of the room holding the datacore, a smiling emoji on his viewscreen.

“What was that?” asks Rebel, “Where’s Sarge?”

Telon types something into their datapad.

“It appears the warpstorm has subsided,” they say. “There are no lifesigns in the immediate vicinity except for you and I.”

“How can that be?” asks Rebel.

“He seems to have been taken by the warp,” says Telon. “I suggest we find a way off this space hulk. Perhaps we should find somewhere safe to set off a beacon?”

Rebel gathers herself.

“Right,” she says, “The mission above all else. That is what Sarge would have wanted. And maybe he’ll meet us at the rendezvous point.”


Elsewhere

Consume…

He gasps as he opens his eyes in the darkness. He can’t feel his body. His eyes adjust and he looks down and sees he is fastened to the wall in something like a cocoon. The distant red lights of a lockdown reflect off the claustrophobic corridors.

Feast on flesh… consume…

That voice again from deep in his belly -- a hunger. He can feel something twisting inside him. He can feel it growing. His right leg bursts forth from its confinement. Grown and twisted. Powerful. He feels a lurching in his throat, an alien something. An impossibly long tongue slithers out of his mouth and wrenches the rest of his body free. He is complete. He is transcendent. He is hungry.

          

Alpha Squad


At the rendezvous point Rebel builds makeshift barricades of metal crates while Telon finishes setting up the distress beacon.

“Now we wait,” they say.

“I still don’t understand,” says Rebel, “What could have happened to Sarge?”

“Have you spent much time around warpstorms?” asks Telon.

“Can’t say that I have,” she says. “People like me tend to steer clear.”

“The warp twists reality,” says Telon. “It folds spacetime in upon itself. The warp is the space between, the dark matter that holds up the rest of the universe. It is the void into which all things flow. It is death and darkness incarnate. Without the warp we cannot have realspace. It is anti-reality. When it creeps over into our perspective it changes how things work. Sarge is somewhere, just not here. But one thing is for certain -- he’s not Sarge anymore.”

Telon’s scanner picks up motion beyond the door.

“We’ve got incoming,” they say, pointing.

Rebel takes up position and loads a frag grenade into the chamber.


Beta Squad


“On three,” says Spotter, “One, two, three.”

Gunner turns the wheel and at the moment the door unlatches a bolt of purple lightning strikes the area behind them. Shooter, Gunner, and Spotter are blinded by the flash. They hear a thrump followed by a clink, clink, clink. 

Then silence.

Spotter sees it first. “Grenade!” he yells. He grabs Shooter and Gunner and shoves them with all of his strength through the hatchway. Then he dives on top of the little metal ball of death shielding the others from the explosion with his body. His blood and guts splatter all over the walls.

“Spotter! NO!” screams Shooter. He rolls onto his back and points his Long-las towards the direction the grenade was launched from.

“Shooter!?” yells a voice from behind a makeshift barricade across the room. “It’s me, Rebel!”

“Rebel?” shouts Shooter.

“I’m so sorry,” says Rebel, “I had no way of knowing it was you. There was that lightning flash and I mistook it for a gun firing. Is everyone okay?”

“You killed Spotter!” yells Shooter.

“What?” she says. “Oh my god-emperor! I didn’t know!”

Shooter lowers his gun silently.

Gunner gathers himself to his feet and helps Shooter up. Together they walk over to the beacon.

“Shooter,” says Rebel. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know…”

Shooter holds out his hand for her to be quiet. He takes a towel and wipes off what is left of Spotter from his clothes.

“We must have gotten turned around,” says Gunner. “We were investigating that beacon.”

“Yes,” says Telon. “I have set up a distress beacon to call for the return of the dropship. I have secured the objective.” They hold up the extracted ancestor core. “It is time to go home.”

“At least this wasn’t all for nothing,” says Gunner.

“I wouldn’t be too hasty,” says Telon. “I am detecting a lifesign approaching.”

           

The Bridge


Sarge is on all fours drawing forbidden runes in his own blood. He will summon his master and offer up these morsels in tribute. He will ascend. He will receive absolution. But first he needs a sacrifice.

A red light begins blinking on the ship’s radar screen. A dropship approaches. Sarge licks his lips with his mutated tongue. The universe provides.


The Rendezvous Point


“It is coming from the direction of The Bridge,” says Telon.

“Do you think it’s Sarge?” asks Rebel.

“What happened to him?” asks Gunner.

“He disappeared when the warpstorm hit,” says Rebel. “I was hoping he’d rendezvous with us here.”

Telon’s dataslate beeps. “I am detecting the lifesign directly on top of us.”

“That’s impossible,” says Rebel.

A loud thump from the ceiling.

“It’s that thing,” says Gunner. Switches his gun into rotary cannon mode. “It’s in the vents.”

“Gunner wait!” yells Rebel.

Gunner begins to fire, shredding holes all along the ventilation shaft in the ceiling above. He pauses to let his barrel cool when a tongue slithers down and wraps around his neck. It retracts and lifts him into the air, snapping his neck.

Shooter draws his pistol and fires an entire clip into the hole in the ceiling. The tongue retracts and then there is silence.

“Get out of here!” yells Shooter. “I’ll cover your escape.”

“You don’t have to do this,” says Rebel.

“I want to,” says Shooter.

Rebel nods. She and Telon gather their things and escape through the hatchway.

Just as they are about to close the door behind them they see a warp-mutated Sarge drop down in front of Shooter. Shooter fires another clip into the monster. “Sarge” slows to a stop. He looks down at his bullet wounds. He sticks his finger inside one of the holes and licks his own blood. He lurches his tongue across the room at Shooter. It wraps around his chest and “Sarge” uses it to launch himself at an astonishing speed.

Rebel slams the hatchway shut.

“We can’t let that thing through,” she says.

“I’ve got it,” says Telon.

They weld the hatchway shut.


Interrogation Room

“And that’s when we were picked up by the Adeptus Arbites who had intercepted our distress signal,” she says. “And they brought me here to you.”

“Yes,” says the voice. “All those exposed to the influence of chaos must be interrogated.”


Rendezvous Point

“I feel great!” says Spotter. His body stitched back together with little more than chaos runes and saliva. “But how?”

“I’m just glad you're alive,” says Shooter. “I thought I’d lost you.”

“Focus,” says Sarge. “Spotter, get to work on that jammed hatchway. I need it clear yesterday. Shooter, get set up behind the barricade, we’re about to have company.”

“Sir, yes sir!” they say.

Sarge turns on the cogitator access point to check the ship’s security feeds. He sees a ragtag squad of Imperial Guard led by a Commissar rushing out of the breach point. Good, he thinks. Now all I need to do is find a way to lure them to the bridge. He extracts the data from the cogitator onto a datastick when the access point bursts open.

A soldier crouch-walks across the room. A green laser outlines Sarge’s body in the low-lit room.

“Look alive!” shouts Shooter.

Shooter hits the soldier as the soldier slides to cover. Shooter screams as he’s engulfed in liquid flame.

Sarge raises his hands in surrender.

The other Commissar yells, “Hold your fire!”

Sarge looks him in the eye as a longlas blasts through his skull and he’s dead. Sarge is dead. In the moment before his death he realizes he was the sacrifice. Of course, he thinks his final thought.

Spotter turns his head completely around and whips his tongue across the room and grabs the datastick from Sarge’s upheld hand and leaps onto the ceiling and crawls through an open vent. He feels the heat of a flame thrower licking at his heels as he escapes towards the bridge. It is now up to him to complete the sacrifice. If he can finish the ritual, he can bring Shooter back. They can live on The Gallowdark forever.


The Interrogation Room

Rebel looks up from the dataslate recording of the encounter.

“How is that possible?” she asks. “Did we fight ourselves?”

“How much do you know about the warp?” asks the voice.

“Only what we’ve been told,” she says, “That it is the source of all evil, all suffering, disease, and dissent.”

“It is a separate reality that runs adjacent to ours,” says the voice. “One where time and space cease to have meaning. One where the past and future can be traversed like crossing between rooms. This is how interstellar travel works. Warp drives open rifts in the warp that allow us to travel through this in between space.

“Sometimes, however, the warp can leak into realspace. It leaves its mark on everything it touches. It is where nightmares are born. And, it seems, in this case, it created a loop. One where you both killed and were killed by yourselves.”

“What happens now?” asks Rebel.

“You have a choice,” says the voice. “You can give yourself over to The Emperor and become an Inquisitor.”

“Or?” asks Rebel.

“You can die,” says the voice.

“That’s no choice at all,” says Rebel.

“No,” says the voice. The shadowy figure moves into the light and Rebel sees it is an older version of her. “But I know what you choose.”

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