Just a quick summary of what this post is going to be about, before I get started on what will undoubtedly be a terrible piece of fiction.
Dark Heresy is a pen-and-paper role playing game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Last week we played our first game and finished up what you’d call “Scene One” last night.
If you’re not familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 setting, I’ll try and write it in a manner that makes enough sense to you. If you are familiar with 40K, I’ll probably have to apologise for butchering it.
This has been something my friend and I have been working on for quite some time but have never really got around to doing. We used to play pen-and-paper games – D&D, Warhammer 40,000, Inquisitor, D20 etc – back in high-school, but never really found the right group. Now that we’re older, however, we reckon we can find a couple of people who will dedicate the time to see this adventure through to the end.
My friend and I are both storytellers and performers and want to create some kind of sprawling narrative that we both have input in. It might sound a bit wanky to some, but to me it’s actually feels like I’m building a world and a character.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy mission one of our Dark Heresy campaign:
Jacques stomped along the grungy narrow halls of the Lust for Penance , the ship to which he’d been assigned. To either side of him were two guards, looking less than pleased to be part of the crew.
Jacq guessed the pair weren’t part of the “Reclaimed” on board. Jacq was one of the Reclaimed. While he didn’t know exactly what that meant, he knew that all the soldiers on board had been committed some crime but had been picked to be used as the pawns of some higher power. He knew that without the intercession of Agent Adgencourt, he would still be serving on the front line as a penal legionnaire. Would probably be dead.
Lustful Penny, the nickname the rest of the Reclaimed had given the ship, groaned as she orbited a small planet. While the noises of the ship unsettled some, to Jacq they reminded him of home. Reminded him of the noisy, steel hive where he grew up.
The guards suddenly stopped, apparently arriving at their destination. They all but threw Jacq into the room and the door slammed closed as Jacq stumbled inside.
Adgencourt was sitting behind a small timber desk, which was strange to see on board a ship like Lustful Penny. Jacq supposed Adgencourt could be called attractive. She had fine features, a shaved head, small nose, and deep brown eyes set in flawless dark brown skin. Her robe was dark grey and trimmed with brilliant red, and tight enough to see the occasional feminine curve.
But Adgencourt was cold. Not just because Lustful Penny was an old, run-down wreck of a ship and heating was considered a luxury. She was cold like a mechanic. It was as if she saw people as gears in an engine. If the gear was missing a few teeth, it was worthless and needed to be discarded. Jacq knew that if she wasn’t pleased, he may as well throw himself out the nearest airlock.
“Mister LeLapin de Sanglant, please come in. We have a favour to ask of you,” she said with a smile that looked more like an afterthought. Jacq had been waiting for weeks while Lustful Penny travelled through space and while it was almost a relief to finally be called to action, but his instincts told him the “favour” would probably end up costing him dearly.
“We need you to recover a book. It’s down on that planet. Tokugawa, is its name.”
“Don’t s’pose it’s worth me asking what you need this book for?” Jacq said, still standing as Adgencourt had the only chair in the otherwise bare room.
“No, it isn’t, guardsman. Your job is not to question – I believe that was one of the reasons you’re in this predicament in the first place. We’re sending you down to the Maiyo Mukari monastery to collect it. The book is large and appears to be leather-bound. In it is a list of names. They are not important to you,” she said, hands folded lightly on the desk in front of her.
“And where might I find this book?”
“It is in possession of a man named Daisheiku Sagaki, the administrator of the facility. You will seek refuge at the facility, posing as a pilgrim volunteering to fight in the Damascus Crusade,” Adgencourt explained.
Damascus, Jacq thought. We’ve come a long way from where they picked me up. We must have been travelling the entire time to get here.
“It is of the utmost importance you do not mention who you work for or that you are there for any other reason than to fight in the war. There is a shuttle ready to pick you up in the capital in five day’s time. I strongly suggest you be on that shuttle.”
“And what if’n I need to find a way off before then?” Jacq asked, knowing full well what happened to the best-laid plans of men.
“Well, we have faith in your abilities. That’s why we’ve picked you, Jacques.” She said with that same afterthought smile.
As Jacq turned to walk out, Adgencourt called out.
“It would be better for you to die than be taken alive, Jacques.”
“Gunmetal soup for dinner, I get it. I’ll knock the mud off my boots before I get back on Penny.” Jacq said with a sigh.
“Snow. You’ll knock the snow off your boots.”
The door slammed shut.
… … … … … … … … … … …
Jacq wandered the ship, attempting to calm his nerves as he waited for the shuttle that would take him down to Tokugawa. The planet didn’t look very populated. Open spaces still made Jacq nervous, even after all this time.
He’d already changed from his Imperial Guardsman uniform into some utilitarian overalls, which earned him some raised eyebrows as he shuffled along the grimy corridors. He found himself in the quartermaster’s before long.
The tall, bald man was hunched over a holopad, doing numbers for something or other. He didn’t look up as Jacq entered.
“Hey, Teeth, I need some extra arms,” Jacq said. “Teeth” was a sullen man who hated his job, the crew and just about everything on Penny. His sunny disposition, huge ears, spotted face, and lack of teeth made him an easy target for the rest of the Reclaimed stuck on board.
“Piss off,” Teeth said without looking up. “I ain’t got nothing for you.”
“Boss wants me planetside and I’m thinking I might needs some extra boom in case I run into any trouble.”
“I said ‘piss off’ Lapin, don’t bother me. I got nothing extra for you unless you’re headed out with a crew who know how to reign in your love of the ‘boom’.”
“Might be that I needs to see if I can find it elsewhere then, Teeth. I look forward to seeing your pretty face when I get back on board.” Jacq said, and started to wander off to find the black marketeers. Teeth hated that he didn’t have control of the entire ship’s munitions.
When Jacq found Deel, he didn’t have much more luck. Although he had a slightly better time about it.
The trader was void-born, with greenish-white hair and long limbs. While Teeth was tall and ugly, Deel looked more like somebody had fused several snakes together. His movements seemed to defy logic.
“You should see me more often, fare! It’s landed that I don’t set eyes on your smiling helm more often,” he shouted as Jacq walked in. In truth, Jacq had only seen Deel once before, but the void-born were strange, and Deel was a trader, which made him exceptional in his weirdness.
He frowned when Jacq said he was going to the surface and needed extra supplies.
“Landed, I don’t have anything for you at the moment. Most people have set up their beacon at the Damascus War and I won’t have anything for you until then.”
“You’ve got to have something, anything that I might be able to take with me down there,” Jacq said. He didn’t feel at home wielding anything without some heft or explosive power. And while his lasgun, shotgun, and pistol were sturdy, Jacq wanted something a little more.
The void-born looked torn, but then reached into the huge sleeve of his pastel yellow coat. The grenade had seen better days, with the pin looking slightly bent and several scuff marks on the casing.
“Look, fare, I can give you this without customs, but I don’t know how airtight it is. Call it a favour.”
Jacq looked at the grenade. He couldn’t even tell if it was concussion or not.
“I’ll take it. See how we go anyways,”
“If everything goes boarded, can I have your stuff?” Deel shouted as Jacq walked out.
It was time to go.
… … … … … … … … … … …
Jacq cursed the Emperor. Then he cursed himself for a fool.
He’d been so caught up in procuring extra weaponry that he hadn’t thought to pack cold-weather gear. He’d got a few stares from his fellow passengers in the shuttle, but he’d seen some dressed worse than him.
The wind howled around him and the snow was lightly falling as he climbed the mountain toward the monastery. There were a few pilgrims that were climbing either in front or behind, but Jacq had few peers as he made his way up.
When he got to the door, primitive firelight shone from the windows. It still shocked Jacq to see there were some civilisations that used things as basic as timber fire to light and heat a building. The hives were heated with steam, electricity, thousands of bodies, and Emperor-knew what else.
He was met at the door by a kindly monk in a large, heavy tunic. The monk smiled, the snow falling on the top part of his shaved head not seeming to bother him. He showed Jacques through the complex and toward the largest of the buildings. A pond sat in the middle of the courtyard, with a statue of a beautiful woman standing in the centre. The buildings seemed to all be made of timbers and woven natural materials.
Jacq was lead into the main hall and told the monastery had been catering to pilgrims for several weeks now. He was part of the tail-end, as the next shuttle was due to leave in a several days.
He was sat a table with three others, while the rest of the monks chattered at their own tables in their own dialect, which seemed to be only loosely based on Low Gothic.
“Well met, brother,” the big man sitting across from Jacques said with a grin on his face and a spoon in his hand. “Glad to be out of this cold, aren’t you? You’re not dressed for it, that’s for sure.”
Jacq shook his head. The man looked like a soldier. The other two sitting as his table did not. One was a small young man, reedy, and huddled in his robes. The third was a woman who looked Tokugawan, but was clearly out of place with the rest of the monks.
“I’m Brother Severus,” the big man said, flicking his wild reddish hair out of his eyes with his spoon. His beard appeared to have caught some of the remaining soup.
“Rabbit,” Jacques said, giving one of his old nicknames from the hive, and then lapsing back into silence, looking around the room.
“I volunteered to go to the war. You look like you have too, brother. I’ve missed it. Fighting for the Imperium, fighting for the Emperor, that’s what makes your soul sing, that’s what makes your heart beat.” The man prattled and Jacq was cold and irritated.
“Can’t say that I agree with you there, friend,” Jacq said. Severus looked puzzled and Jacq knew he should have kept his mouth shut. He wasn’t cut out for espionage – he was a driver, a heavy weapons man, not a spy.
“Well if you’re not here to answer the call, why are you here? I left the Guard. Not by choice. But this is the way I should be serving the Golden Throne.”
“I’m here because we all have to do what we all have to do,” Jacq said. It seemed to satisfy the big man.
Severus turned back to his soup. Jacq wondered if Severus strained his beard to get the last drops of the meal out.
“You don’t look like a fighting man, what are you here for, boy?” Jacq said to the young man.
He jumped at the question and looked nervous, but took a deep breath.
“Rane, Ezra Rane. My name is Ezra Rane. I’ve been studying here for a little while. Here in this monastery. A couple of weeks. Here.” Rane coughed and took a slurp from his soup.
“It’s really quite remarkable. This building is an architectural and historical marvel. It’s centuries old, but it’s been well maintained.
“The monk who founded it was climbing on the side of the mountain and nearly froze to death. He was rescued by a woman, an Imperial Saint. Well, he says he was. Who knows what really happened? But when he recovered, he decided to build this complex and dedicate his time worshiping her and the Emperor.
“That’s why you see all these statues of women around. They’re all supposed to be her. The Saint, I mean.
“Eventually he started to gather followers and…”
“Might be that I want to read any of this for myself.” Jacq interrupted. He was glad he could cut the boy off. He felt bad, but didn’t want to stay in the monastery longer then he needed to.
Rane looked surprised. “You read Tokugawan?”
Jacq almost choked on his soup and again cursed the fact he wasn’t a spy.
“Uh, no. Might be that I might just like the look of it. I’m somebody who appreciates the look of things.” He said weakly. It sounded stupid, even to him.
“Well, there are some lovely illuminations all around, especially in the grand hall, if you’re interested. I’m sure I could show you around tomorrow.”
“Uh, no that’s all right. I was hoping there might be something more in the way of a book. My family had a whole slew of leather books when we were children.”
Rane looked unsure of himself, clearly puzzled by this stranger’s very specific request for leather books on a mountainside monastery.
“Well there’s nothing like that here. Well, except for Master Sagaki. He has a ledger. We call him The Bear. Not the ledge. Master Sakagi.”
Jacques noticed the monks had started packing up and decided to give the attempted espionage a rest for the night.
He and Severus were lead to a small, cozy room with two beds. While Severus bunked down almost immediately, Jacq decided he’d sneak around the complex. He waited an hour or so, with the sound of Severus snoring and Rane chatting in the next room with his roommate.
The sound of snow falling outside got heavier and the living quarters had begun to fall silent when a piercing scream split the quiet.
Jacq, already awake and with a guardsman’s nerves, jumped up. His lasgun was still strapped to his back, and he reached for his axe and laspistol. Severus had also shot out of bed at the sound of the scream. Jacq was relieved to know the man was a light sleeper and could be combat ready in seconds.
Jacq didn’t wait for Severus, he knew the guard would be behind him. He opened the thin paper doors to his and Severus’ room and cracked the door to Rane’s quarters with his axe and reading his pistol.
Rane was trying to melt into the corner of the room while his roommate convulsed on the floor. It was Rane who had screamed and he was trying to get as far away from the body as humanly possible.
“What happened here?” Jacq shouted as a blast of cold shot right to his core. The heating had gone out somehow.
“I don’t know! I don’t know! I was almost asleep when all of a sudden he sat up and started just shaking.” Rane said, his breath pluming in the air.
“Check his pulse!” Jacq shouted.
“Sir, I don’t have any medicae experience I’m j…”
“Do I look like I’m playing around? Check it!” He shouted again. He knew from his time in the penal legions that men like Rane could be easily intimidated. He felt bad for it, but Jacq was a cynic and had seen too many things to touch an unfamiliar body.
Rane whimpered and put his hand to the monk’s now still neck. Rane yelped, not as loud as the scream before, but loud enough. He pulled his hand back, his fingertips black.
“What happened? Where’s the girl?” Jacq said, squatting next to the injured man, but it was no good.
Rane was crying, babbling about how he was just a scholar and didn’t know anything.
Jacq turned to Severus and nodded. The pair began searching the rest of the rooms.
They found five other bodies. The rest of the cells were empty. Jacq noticed all the fires in the braziers had been snuffed out and the coals were black as if they’d been out for hours. Something wasn’t right and it was getting colder and colder.
As the pair made their way into the dinner hall they noticed a body crumpled in the floor. Severus’ and Jacq’s breath came out in white geysers as they edged toward what looked like a monk.
Jacq couldn’t see any white steam coming from the fallen body.
Unnaturally, the body seemed to jerk. It was as if somebody were trying to stand it up by its legs first.
Jacq and Severus backed up as the monk slowly got to his feet and looked around. His head stopped as it looked at the two men. There was still no steam coming from the monk’s mouth as he opened it in wordless horror.
While Jacq had seen horrors, he hadn’t seen a supposedly dead man rise up and start shambling toward him. He felt a stab of adrenaline in his chest and an almost animal snarl sprung from his lips. Without thinking, he raised his laspistol and fired, barely bothering to aim, and fired.
The beam hit the monk square in the chest and punched a three-finger wide hole in his torso. The monk staggered as his robes began to smoulder and burst into flames, toppling as the fabric ignited.
It had all happened so quickly, Jacq barely had time to register it. War did that to a man. It honed his instincts and made him act without thinking. While Jacq had never fought a man he thought dead, he’d fought plenty of living men and greenskins not so long ago.
The adrenaline had made him breathe heavily, and it was several seconds before he noticed Severus staring at him.
“I’m glad you’re here, brother.” He said awkwardly, but with clear relief. Severus was clearly a solider, but one who liked to talk to deal with the horrors of war.
“I’m glad our friend over here isn’t any more.” Jacq said as he made his way to the fallen body.
While the robe had burst into flame, the monk had not been consumed by the fires. The fabric had burned back to the monk’s shoulders, leaving his chest exposed. Black veins stood out on his chest, but Jacq didn’t have the experience to tell if that was from whatever had reanimated the monk or from the fire.
Jacq carefully examined the monk’s body. Remembering what happened to Rane’s hand, he used the blade of his axe to prod the body. Eventually he lifted the eyelids. Instead of the usual Tokugawan brown, they were bright blue.
Something wasn’t right and it was only getting colder. Jacq wished the monk’s robe hadn’t burned. The cold was worse than when he’d adventured down to the lower hives when he was a child. The lower hives had notoriously bad regulation and could become scalding hot or freezing in a matter of seconds. Jacq had lost the tip of his middle finger to frostbite during one “adventure.”
Severus was standing over Jacq, watching the examination when he pointed to the next room. Jacq could see two more fallen bodies in the shadows of what he remembered was the kitchen.
The pair edged their way toward the room. The bodies were silent and still.
As they approached, the bodies of the fallen monks twitched and began to get up. This time Severus was ready and opened fire, his lasgun peppering the room with holes. He’d overestimated his foes, however, as the shots went wide, sizzling hair but not much else on the monk.
Jacq fired his pistol as one monk shuffled toward him, blue eyes fixed. The shot burned a hole in the monk’s left shoulder, but didn’t stop him. The monk crashed into Jacq, dropping Jacq to the floor hard.
Jacq let go of his pistol and swung his axe at the monk’s legs with his off hand. The monk must have had some semblance of control, as it stumbled to the side and began circling Jacq.
As Jacq got up, he saw Severus smash his opponent’s face with the butt of his rifle before opening fire. The shots hit Severus’ monk in the chest, arm and leg, seemingly putting an end to the threat.
Jacq was always more at home with a heavy weapon, but was thankful he’d bought his axe as he swung at the monk in close quarters. The axe bit into the monk’s arm, taking a chunk from the shoulder he’d hit with his laspistol earlier. The grisly piece of flesh fell to the floor and the monk was knocked off balance. As it stumbled sideways, Severus went down on one knee, bought the gun to his eye, and fired. A round hole appeared in the monk’s leg, instantly cauterised from the beam.
Jacq stood over the frozen monk, axe at the ready.
“Tell me what you want!” He shouted.
The monk gaped at him, blue eyes shining. His jaw worked and his head twitched. Then the monk began to turn its head to the side. But it didn’t stop. A sickening crack filled the room and the monk’s body drooped once again, apparently dead.
The soldiers looked at one another, both panting. While Severus was wearing sensible, winter gear, Jacq knew they would both need to find some way to get warm. His life as a soldier had taught him that hard work like combat would make you sweat, and when the sweat cooled, it could mean the end in freezing conditions.
Jacq grabbed the body of his fallen monk, careful to only touch the clothes. He began stripping off the monk’s heavy tunic. While the arm was torn and bloody, the torso was fine and would provide at least a little warmth.
Severus looked aghast and made some sort of holy sign as Jacq shrugged on the dead man’s clothes.
“How much wood you think is in those stoves?” Jacq asked, looking over at the kitchen equipment. Severus lit up and ran to the monastery’s ovens.
“There’s a bit. Not much though, brother. Probably about half an hour’s worth, if we’re lucky.” He called back, and set about lighting the stoves.
The room felt instantly warmer as the oven flared to life and the soldiers warmed their hands.
“We need some kind of plan, brother. The fire looks like it’s holding, but we need to get out of here soon.” Severus said, his voice quiet as he flexed his hands, returning circulation.
“I’m inclined to agree. I think we get our things, get Rane and the girl and torch this place.” Jacq said, thinking suddenly on the quiet girl at the table with Severus and Rane. He hadn’t seen her. Or any of the other monks in the food hall. It was strange.
“Tell you what, you go get our supplies ready and I’ll look around the rest of this building. ”
Severus nodded and ran in the direction of the room he and Jacq shared.
Jacq hadn’t brought any sensitive equipment with him, so he wasn’t worried about Severus. The man didn’t seem like the type to snoop. Jacq also needed a few minutes alone to see if he could find the administration office and make sure this mission wasn’t a complete debacle.
The snow continued to fall, getting heavier by the minute, sounding like it would rip the roof of the building off.
A quick inspection of the other room yielded nothing of interest. There was a dead monk lying in the middle of a large square room with polished floors. The monk had some sort of wooden sword with him. It looked as if he had died mid practice.
While Jacq edged nervously around the monk’s body, it didn’t get up, making him wonder what was different about this monk from the other three who had risen.
When he made his way back to the room, Jacq found Severus covered in blood.
The big man was frantically trying to stem the bleeding from Rane’s neck.
“Help me, brother! He’s bleeding out!” The big man shouted as the blood leaked from the young man’s neck.
“What happened?!” Jacq said, kneeling beside the pair.
“I came here and found his throat slit. I’ve been trying to stop the bleeding but I’m no damn medic.”
Jacq looked to Rane, who had gone quite still.
“I don’t think there’s much more we can do here. He’s gone, Severus.”
Jacq was used to death, and was suspicious of Severus, but decided he could interrogate, manipulate and fight a living man much easier than he could fight the dead.
The pair strapped on their gear and made their way back to the kitchen. They set about their work, setting smouldering timber in two of the corners and throwing oils and flammables on when the flame began to grow.
They moved to the next room, the food hall where they’d found the first frozen monk, who was still lying between two tables. Splintering some of the wooden stools and setting them under the larger benches, and against the timber walls of the monastery, Severus and Jacq set fire to the common room. Smoke from the burning kitchen began to waft through into the food hall.
The pair ran to one of the entrances and tried to pull on the door. It was jammed and the fire would begin to consume the timber building quickly.
The two soldiers braced themselves against the floor and pushed with all their might, Severus chanting prayers to the Emperor as he heaved.
The heavy door gave and snow poured in, pooling at their feet.
As the pair stumbled outside, they had to squint to see the other buildings. If the snowfall kept increasing it would be a total white-out and they wouldn’t be able to see their hands in front of their faces.
Severus forged ahead, taking Jacq’s hand. There was a small timber shed directly in front and Jacq knew the head monk’s quarters were a few metres to the side, near the pond he’d seen as he walked in.\
They made their way to the edge of the pond to give themselves a point of reference. As they neared the edge of the lake, something like both fire and ice stuck in Jacq’s heart.
He turned his head toward the statue of the saint and found himself staring at a writhing mass of darkness in the white snow, standing above the bodies of two monks on the frozen surface of the pond.
Jacq could only assume Severus felt the same presence.
The darkness seemed to turn its attention on the two men and warped. It took the shape of a small figure in tattered robes. Or perhaps the tatters were skin. It was hard to tell at this distance. All around the figure there seemed to be afterimages of faces. Deformed faces. Attractive faces. All screaming and writhing, constantly shredding themselves and reforming.
Jacq threw up and fell to his knees. He’d seen the horrors of war, he’d seen the heads of his fellow comrades explode to form a gruesome diversion, he’d seen thousands of men die at a time. But he’d never seen something so terrifying. It was like he was a small child again, afraid the Bolt Man was breathing over him as he lay terrified in his bed, too scared to move, too scared to call out.
Through the haze of his vomit and the enormous pressure on his head, Jacq managed to unsling his lasgun from his back. He looked up at Severus, who was still standing. Severus opened fire, seeming to hit several of the screaming afterimages of the face and even the horror on its chest.
Jacq feebly raised his gun in an attempt to aim. The horror seemed to notice Jacq. The hooded face seemed to take a more distinct form, bald, with deep, black eyes. Those eyes locked on Jacq’s and the world seemed to scream.
It was as if a thousand needles had replaced all the cold in his body and moved directly to his head. Jacq was dimly aware of somebody screaming, It might have been him, but the blood pouring from his eyes, nose and mouth blurred his vision and he couldn’t tell if it were Severus or not.
After what seemed an age, he managed to pull himself up. Severus had backed up to the timber shed and had opened fire on the horror once more. Jacq’s hands weren’t the unnatural black of frostbite, so he muddily assumed he must have only been out for a minute or two.
He rolled onto his back and grabbed his gun, slick with vomit and blood. As he propped himself back on his side and took aim he saw the horror advancing. While it was still hard to look at, the horror had seemed to become more real, more solid.
It noticed Jacq looking up and locked eyes again. Jacq felt the same nausea begin to rise in him when he smelled the faint smell of ozone. It was strange that something out of a nightmare was standing over him in a blizzard and the smell of ozone broke through the madness.
Four shots of las hit the horror, two in the chest, one in the arm and another in the leg. Severus was screaming a battle cry and charging toward where Jacq lay. The horror screamed along with the dozens or hundreds of faces that seemed to surround it. It stumbled back, taring it’s gaze from Jacq.
Jacq got the impression of feathers and smoke and then a profound silence. The horror was gone. Somehow Severus killed it. Or Jacq hoped Severus killed it. It was hard to think.
The red-headed soldier put Jacq’s arm around his shoulder and began to half carry, half walk Jacq toward the grand hall of the head monk.
End Scene One.
Well let me know what you think. This is my first time writing fiction in a long time. I’ve done backgrounds, but rarely do narrative and I’m interested in your feedback.