Story: The Total of Nightmares
|The Total of Nightmares|
The Armageddon dropped out of FTL with a burst of blue light, and into orbit of Lisiss.
Below it, many other Daemon Warships slowly drifted above the yellow clouds, and explosions could be seen from their altitude.
The Armageddon began to descend, and other ships joined it as it sank through the misty atmosphere. In a V-formation, they swooped towards the main citadel, trailing flame and smoke.
A vast swarm of Grakk had gathered at the spaceport, and they gawped at the enormity of the approaching ship.
The ramp dropped open, and there was Bloodburn, Zahhak either side. A train of Korgrath followed behind, fully armed and armoured.
The welcome party trembled slightly as this group marched towards them.
Bloodburn glared at them, eyes burning. "Where's the general?"
One of the Korgrath pointed a shaking claw towards the keep.
Without a second glance, the arrivals marched on, a path cleared before them through the mass of Daemons. Astounded muttering could be heard throughout the crowd. Bloodburn did not so much as turn his head, staring fixedly forwards.
They cleared the Grakk, and the blackmetal drawbridge was lowered before them. Koris, the Korgrath general in charge, stood in the gateway. "Welcome, my lord. It's..." His voice was lost as Bloodburn's massive hand closed around his throat. With a crunch, the Gehennian snapped Koris' neck.
He turned to the army that had assembled. "I'm taking charge here. You've failed me up to now, so you had better not fail me again! Get to the front line!"
They all scrambled to be the first out of the Keep, rushing into the streets. Warships lifted off, heading for the white city that was ringed with explosions on the horizon. Bloodburn gazed at it. How could this city have stood a month of siege?
But what did it matter? He was here now. And he did not fail.
He took off, flanked by his ever-present Zahhak and a formation of Korgrath. A mass of Djinn flew in front and behind, and the Armageddon was just visible in the clouds.
The city was getting closer now. The turrets and towers could be made out, the stained white masonry and the bursts of fire that shot from the walls.
The ground surrounding the city was carpeted with Daemons of all shapes and sizes. Titans pummeled the gates, flying chimaeras wailed as they flamed at the shielded hoardings. A twisting serpent of vile bodies coiled around the city's shield, and ships blasted their thunderous cannons, dirt exploding from the impacts.
"Clear the way for the Hellbeam."
The Daemons parted before the gate, and an impossibly loud crash rang out as white light filled the air. The wall was gone.
Then, the horde was inside the walls. The beleaguered defenders were there too, but they were drowned in the black and red flood. Waves filled the streets, ripping through defenses and tearing down the houses.
Bloodburn laughed. This was fun.
With the planet crushed, Bloodburn took off again. An empty planet didn't need someone of his greatness to control it, one of the more pathetic Gehennians should take this burning world.
The Armageddon went into FTL again, flanked by Daemon Warships of many shapes and sizes.
"We're going to slaughter the Angeli now. Prepare all weapons!" The ships dropped out with a flash of blue, and before them lay a fleet of white, shining warships. They had predicted this. Bloodburn was slightly unnerved by the Angeli's cold precision and their durability, but he still wanted to rip them apart.
A grating whirr told him that they were sending a message.
A group of the Angeli stood in the prow of their warship, staring blankly at the screen.
Bloodburn sniggered. "So, how are you thinking of dying today?"
The gold-clothed Angeli leader ignored him. "Withdraw. Leave this area now."
"Once you're all smoking shreds, I was planning to. No sense in staying around longer than necessary!" Bloodburn raised a clawed hand, and the Armageddon's Hellbeam began to glow. Then, a red stream, blindingly bright and immensely thick, blasted straight through the white battleship.
At this signal, the other Daemon ships began to accelerate. A volley of driver shots and Lucifer Cannon projectiles lit up the darkness, met by a blitz of white missiles and thin beams.
The Armageddon cruised straight through, assaulted on all sides. Its Hellbeams crushed foes right and left, and Bloodburn roared with laughter.
"Alright, now we stop!" The airlock opened, and Bloodburn threw himself into space. Through the eerie silence he swooped, straight onto an Angeli vessel. With a sweep of his claws, he opened it as if it were nothing but foil.
Stepping inside, a dozen Angeli appeared. Each carried a blazing sword, and with blurring speed they came at him.
His plasma beam raked the decks, and he smashed right and left. He rejoiced in the destruction of all before him, Zahhak following on behind.
He tore through the corridors, straight to the ship's bridge.
There stood a gold-clothed Angelus, who regarded Bloodburn gently. A speaker to his left passed on his words- "Welcome, Gehennian. Let us battle."
"Yes! Finally, we are of one mind!" Bloodburn let out an enormous bellow as he leapt forwards. His plasma beam flashed, but the Angelus lifted her blade and it diffused harmlessly around her.
Bloodburn was getting angry. He swung at his foe, but it was parried. His other arm came round, but it was stopped. The combat got faster and faster and faster, sword parrying claws and claws blocking blade.
They disengaged for a moment, circling each other. Bloodburn's shoulders were up, his mouth wide and threatening. "You are nothing, you useless and pathetic Angeli. In the end, when i sit up high and laugh at you, you will rue the day you challenged me!"
For the first time ever, Bloodburn saw an Angelus smile. "You, a lackey of Hectocapitus? The creature with seven heads but no brain? Let me show you how things will end." The Angelus lifted her blade, and the room filled with blinding light. A succession of pictures were emblazoned in Bloodburn's eyes, images of death and peace, of stars and starships. And Bloodburn saw a shadow across space, of impossible immensity, and he saw a mouth open around Inferno.
He saw Hectocapitus helpless and broken, lying at the mercy of a Laughing God. And Bloodburn's eyes opened wider than they ever had before.
The light vanished, but the Angelus was still there. She regarded him fondly. "That is what will come to pass, as things stand. The future does not seem to be set in stone, but you will all die. So will we."
Bloodburn stepped back, shocked by what he had seen. Was this possible? He hid behind his rage, and swept at the Angelus. No resistance was offered, and her body was smashed under the blow.
Bloodburn now felt guilty. He realised what he had lost. He picked up the remains of the Angelus and turned away.
As he headed back for the Armageddon, the Angelus starship flared white behind him.
He closed the airlock behind him with a heavy heart. He opened his great chest, and placed the lifeless corpse within.
"Thank you, my foe."
He turned back to his Zahhak, who were too stupid to understand. Throwing them aside, he stepped up to the control panels. He had to escape this feeling. He had to carry on killing, to hide behind blood and death.
Bloodburn stared into the void, and wondered. He didn't like doing this, it brought doubts. Doubts prevented war, prevented power, prevented his joy.
He was heading for Inferno, at the Master's summonings. He preferred not thinking about what would happen. The planet was a dark grey in his viewscreen, cut and scoured by orange marks. Warships filled the sky, and the forbidding lights of Daemon cities could be made out below.
The Armageddon cruised gently into orbit, and other Deathships reverently moved aside. Coming from behind, he could see Deadflame's ship, and Skybreaker's too. Ha, that weakling.
As they entered the thick, swirling atmosphere, the ships swooped lower and lower, into the great citadel Pandaemonium, and there they settled. The ramps swung open, and the three Gehennians marched out. Bloodburn's escort was the largest, and Deadflame came up beside him.
"What's going on? Why have we been summoned?"
Bloodburn gave him a resigned shrug. He glanced at Skybreaker, who was staring unhappily forwards.
They came to the walls, and the immense gate creaked open, ancient cogs and gears turning. Long lines of Korgrath lined the streets, all the way to the Tower of the Master, known as K'sra.
Great red searchlights surrounded the building, and they settled on the oncoming party. Living faces of innumerable tortured prisoners were stuck in the wall, screaming silently in living death.
Several enormous warbeasts, covered with eyes and bearing great wings, descended from the tower. These Argi surveyed the newcomers thoroughly. A battalion of twisted, blackened Praetora, each with a black cloak, followed suit. The largest of them, a Blackwave in his armoured claw, spoke.
"God will see you now."
The Gehennian's escorts stopped, aware of the rules. Their commanders walked on, into the shifting Cubi-forged tower. Flying eyes and mouths, stuck to wings and claws, surrounded them. They pushed through, and stepped onto the central stone. It began to reform and rise, the Cubi making the stone carrying them to the Master's room.
Hectocapitus faced away at first. He turned slowly, his eyes sparking.
"Welcome back. Bloodburn, Deadflame, Skybreaker, i have a mission that needs doing. Several ships are coming through the Crossverse into our space, and you are tasked with annihilating them.
"As you command." They spoke as one, and Bloodburn saw in Hectocapitus' grin that there was far more than they had been told.
Still they left, pressing through the monsters and Daemons that thronged around, back to the spaceport.
The ships lifted off with great plumes of fiery exhaust.
For some reason, the Gehennians had all been put on the Armageddon. A dozen other warships flanked it, shooting towards their destination.
Bloodburn glanced at the other two. Deadflame fiddled with the weapons he had laid out in front of him. Skybreaker stared sadly out of the window. Bloodburn's lip curled into a smile.
On the screen appeared a visual. They were heading for a group of four large, well-armed ships. They had to be in distress, as they had all stopped completely and no radar or lidar emissions could be detected.
Approaching closer, the Daemons prepared their weapons. At that, the mysterious newcomers began to accelerate. Three of the ships headed straight for the Daemons, the other spinning off and getting faster and faster.
Bloodburn was being hailed. He transmitted the order to show his foe.
On the monitor was a reptilian, intelligent face, not unlike a Gehennian's. The newcomer recoiled slightly, and his mottled green and yellow colouring glittered in his ship's lights. His teeth poked slightly out of his snout, and searching, golden eyes scanned the Daemons.
"Who are you?" It asked.
Bloodburn stepped forwards. "The last face you'll ever see."
Deadflame laughed behind him. "You're gonna die, little lizard!"
The arrival's lip curled, and he smiled at his opponent. "You can do nothing against us, the Irihil! We will crush you like gossla under a badly-shodden boot."
Bloodburn decided to be sarcastic. "Oh no! Not the Hairy Hill!" His face then shifted into seriousness. "Watch this."
The Hellbeam fired, and one of the Irihil ships was obscured by flowing red.
The smoke cleared slowly, but the ship was still there. Its wings glowed slightly red.
The Irihil representative was unabashed. "Let us battle. May the strongest win!" His wings were visible as he turned away.
The connection was cut, and the ships positioned themselves. The Armageddon began to move, and then its guns lashed left and right. The other ships came on behind, blasting and releasing missiles.
The Irihil ships returned fire. Great blue particle beams raked the Daemon ships, and two were gone in an instant.
Skybreaker swore. "Flank them!"
Bloodburn gave Skybreaker a disapproving glare, then turned back. Both Hellbeams began to power up, and the cannons' fire began to focus. Then, with a blinding red flash, one of the Irihil ships was smote with a raging blaze.
For a moment, it seemed nothing had happened. Then, great shining cracks began to spread across it, and it exploded in a torrent of metal and flame.
They were being hailed again. The Irihil's face was darker this time. "Two for one so far. But you will die."
Bloodburn growled menacingly. "I cannot die. I am your salvation. But you are too late to save." He stepped closer. "So redemption comes in death."
The Irihil raised a sword. "This is what we are."
Upon it, in bright flame, letters shifted and swam.
As the translator got to work, they reformed. 'The Chosen of Day, born to slay the Night'.
The Irihil tilted his head. "Kill us, you're next."
Bloodburn frowned. Night? He dismissed it. "Kill them."
The barrage began again, and a second Irihil ship began to crack. Four more Daemon warships broke apart, but they were winning!
The last Irihil ship stopped firing. Its colours began to fade, the sharp lines melting away into darkness. And it was gone. Probably going back to the Crossverse.
"Alright. Let's get that stray ship."
The Daemons turned in space, and began to accelerate towards the distant plasma trail.
The lost Irihil ship was shooting through space, long plumes of gas and dust behind it.
It was headed for the planet Mura, which orbited a lonely white dwarf, the relic of a beautiful sun. The planet just held on to oceans and an oxygen atmosphere, and chemosynthetic life bloomed on the surface.
The Armageddon and its escort were only a few dozen miles behind when it hit the atmosphere, and the fiery air around it obscured its grey shape. It had began to glow slightly- the armour must have been very damaged.
"Alright, take us in. We'll investigate the debris after the crash." Bloodburn glanced at the falling ship again. He was curious. "Deadflame, Skybreaker, back to your ships." The other Gehennians complied, Deadflame glaring angrily at him.
The Armageddon began its descent, and flames licked the windscreen as they came downwards.
The ship settled on a rocky plateau, overgrown with the microbe-moss that covered the land. Bloodburn stepped out, heavy footprints crushing the fragile organisms.
He lifted his wings, and began his ascent. His Zahhak and some Djinn followed behind. They swooped down over the crash site, a great furrow in the ground. Smoke and debris were scattered behind the ship.
Bloodburn landed on the ship's hull with a thud. His escort came down behind him.
"Go in, find out what happened. Kill anything still alive." The Djinn leader nodded, and brought his flock in, filing through a great gash in the ship's armour.
Inside, it was dark and dusty. Lights flickered occasionally overhead, and the metal grille floor was played upon by flitting shadows. The Irihil runes were inscribed into the walls, pointing directions to rooms and facilities. Racks were broken and collapsed, food dispensers shattered on the floor.
The Djinn moved on cautiously. The corridors echoed with their tread. Nervously, they glanced right and left, in silent and forbidding expectation.
What was that? A kind of chittering?
The Djinn began to huddle together. Some drew their firespitters, and others shivered slightly.
A shadow swept across the far wall. They couldn't be alone.
"Let's get to the engine room. Then out, quick as possible!" He couldn't hide the frightened tone in his usually snarling voice.
They entered the great engine room, peeking out from between each other and scanning every wall.
Great pipes and cylinders moaned and emitted sighs of steam, and red lights shifted across enormous toruses and consoles.
The Djinn reached the centre of the room, then heard a Djinn scream. They stopped. "Where's Damki?" They all began to panic. Their firespitters were out, and they were terrified in the cold glow.
Winged shapes appeared at the top of the pipes, crawling slowly towards them. Gentle chittering.
Amongst the red sparks and tumultuous chaos, glimpses of yellow hide could be seen. Great hooked mouths and grasping legs were on one side, then the other, impossibly fast.
Djinn were grabbed from the tight group and carried screaming to their deaths, torn apart by tooth and claw. They were becoming more and more frantic, their bullets always missing, shattering on the grey, oppressive walls.
"RUN! TO THE COCKPIT!"
As one, they ran, but the shapes were right behind. Even their sprint couldn't stop the grabbing, the low-flying claws that dripped with light Daemonic blood.
The cockpit door had already been wrenched open, and red blood lay in pools around it.
An Irihil body sat bolt upright, gun still in hand, gut dragged out.
The scene that was within was no different. Dead, maimed Irihil, weapons still in their hands. But there were other bodies too. Virnos.
At the very centre, one of the creatures lay, glowing sword through its pale, drawn chest. The Djinn turned to the door. They were coming.
Then, the roof fell in, and in a tide of stabbing claws, their screams drowned and their bodies broke calmly, smoothly, and they would never have to be frightened again.
Bloodburn listened to the last Djinn scream dying away. Ah well, there were always more.
He turned to his Zahhak. "Okay, we're going to kill them ourselves."
Bloodburn came to the entrance, and setting his claws against the walls, began to pull. It creaked under the strain, deforming and widening.
He sent his Zahhak in first, and followed on behind. They stepped into the corridor, and Bloodburn sniffed the air. Blood, fear, foes. He pulled his wings into his flanks and moved on.
In the hall, he saw bits of Djinn hanging from the walls. He scanned the ceiling, but there was nothing. He could hear chittering ahead. They were coming towards him! He smiled.
The hall entrance began to fill with Virnos, scrabbling amongst each other.
Bloodburn opened his mouth, and a blazing jet of plasma leapt into the fray, reducing the first mob into glowing cinders. There were more, as always.
His Zahhak stepped forwards, Blueblades extended. They sliced away at the oncoming beasts, and Bloodburn decided to join in too. He reached out and crushed one of the creatures in his great hand.
He swatted another group away, smashing them against the walls. The swarm was gone, now just a pile of bodies under the flickering light.
His claws were wet with Virnos blood, and he tasted them. It tasted quite sour, and he wiped them on the floor before turning away.
There would always be more beings to kill, worlds to destroy, species to exterminate.