During the 'Seven Days of Damnation' I've been covering a range of different aspects of the Space Marines known as the Legion of the Damned. The principle aspect that concerns me as an author, however, is writing about the Damned Legionnaires. Black Library released a snippet from the novel a few weeks ago and a number of you asked for a longer extract. Those readers lucky enough to be granted early copies of the Horus Heresy novel Deliverance Lost will have been treated to a longer extract, as part of a teaser contained at the end of the book. With it being the season of goodwill,and as part of the 'Seven Days of Damnation', I thought I might treat interested blog readers to the same. I have been faithful to the original teaser, despite the fact that I have since made a few minor edits in readiness for the novel publication.
The blurb reads as follows:
"Following the trajectory of a blood-red comet, the berserk World Eaters blaze a path of destruction across the galaxy in its wake. The small cemetery world of Certus Minor appeals to the Space Marines of the Excoriators Chapter for protection, but the force dispatched to deal with this grim threat is far too small and their losses against the renegades are high. Just as all seems lost, salvation is borne out of legend itself as sinister spectral warriors descend upon this planet of the dead, and the enemies of the Imperium come face to face with those who have already travelled beyond the realm of the living..."
In the following extract we join the Excoriators Space Marine Chapter during their doomed participation in the honorific competition, the Feast of Blades. We are introduced to one of the novel's main characters, the Chapter Champion Zachariah Kersh - also known as 'the Scourge' - and, of course, the titular Legion of the Damned. Enjoy!
‘HOW GOES THE Feast, Brother?’ called Apothecary Ezrachi, across the frigate Scarifica’s tactical Oratoria. Corpus-captain Shiloh Gideon stood at a rostrum decorated with runeslates and scrolls of vellum. As Ezrachi approached, the small gathering of bondservants about the rostrum peeled away. The Apothecary’s right leg was a full bionic replacement and almost as old as Ezrachi himself. While robust and powerful, it sighed with hydraulic insistence and lagged a millisecond behind its flesh-and-bone equivalent, giving the impression of a slight limp.
‘The Feast of Blades goes badly,’ the Corpus-Captain lamented. ‘For the Excoriators, at least.’
‘How many?’ enquired the Apothecary as he approached.
‘Too many,’ Gideon snapped, running a palm across the top of his tonsure-shaven scalp. He grasped hair that grew like a silver crown around his skull in obvious frustration. ‘We lost three more to our Successor Chapter kin this morning in honorific contestations. Occam, Basrael and Jabez. Occam fought well but not well enough. I thought Jabez was dead. I don’t think anything is going to stop that Crimson Fist. The Feast may already be their’s.’
‘Brother Jabez will live,’ Ezrachi assured him. ‘Just.’
Gideon didn’t seem to hear the aged Apothecary.
‘Shame begets shame,’ the captain said. ‘Our failure at the Feast is tied to the loss of our Chapter’s sacred standard. I can feel it.’
‘Your head is full of Santiarch Balshazar’s sermons. I honour the Primarch, but Dorn lives on through our flesh and blood, not dusty artefacts,’ Ezrachi insisted. ‘The loss of our standard is a mighty blow, but in truth it was but a blood-speckled banner.’
‘Rogal Dorn himself entrusted his sons - our Excoriator brothers - with the standard over ten thousand years ago,’ the corpus-captain said. ‘It displays the Second Founding’s decree and is threaded with the Honours of every battle fought in our long, bloody history; it carries the distinctia of the Astartes Praeses and our service in garrisoning the Ocularis Terribus; it bears the Stigmartyr - the emblem that the Chapter adopted as its own.’ Gideon turned to present his own ivory shoulderplate, adorned with the scarlet symbol to which he made reference: a gauntleted fist clenching the length of a thunderbolt-shaped scar. ‘It is much more than the blood-soaked rag to which you allude and I’ll have you mind your irreverence, Apothecary.’
‘I meant no offence, corpus-captain,’ Ezrachi replied plainly, slapping the adamantium scaffolding of his thigh. ‘As you well know, there is more than a little of my own blood splashed across that standard.’
‘Our brothers fight for a broken honour,’ the captain continued, oblivious to Ezrachi. ‘We are accursed. The Emperor’s eternal fortitude, once absent in the brother that surrendered the banner, is now absent in us all. It is our collective punishment.’
‘Is it not our way?’ Ezrachi put to him. ‘Do not the Excoriators of all Dorn’s sons feel the loss of the Emperor deepest? Do not the Excoriators alone know our Primarch’s true grief, the agony of his redemption and the cold wrath of his renascence? Do we not purge his weakness and our own from this shared flesh through the Rites of Castigation and the Wearing of Dorn’s Mantle?’
‘This is beyond our inheritant sin,’ Gideon said miserably. ‘The loss of the Honoured First Company; the near assassination of our Chapter Master; the failure and near decimation of the Fifth; and now this – one hundred years of humiliation in the making, right underneath the disapproving noses of our Legionary kindred. All as spiritual censure for the loss of Dorn’s gift - the very embodiment of our Adeptus Astartes honour.’
‘We have lost a great symbol,’ Ezrachi admitted, ‘but not what the standard symbolised. That is alive and well in the hearts of every Excoriator who bears his blade in the Emperor’s name. As they do here brother, at the Feast of Blades.’
‘Blades drawn in disbelief and sheathed in failure,’ the corpus-captain said grimly.
‘Is our standing in the Feast really so dire?’
‘I’m pinning our hope on Usachar and Brother Dathan. Usachar is a squad whip and a veteran; Dathan is young but fast and has a way with a blade.’
‘Some hope, then,’ Ezrachi said.
‘Usachar is chosen against Knud Hægstad of the Iron Knights and young Dathan has drawn Pugh’s champion,’ Gideon reported. ‘It’s never easy crossing blades with those chosen to wear the Primarch’s plate, but with the Imperial Fists defending their title and the Feast fought on a First Company-conquered world - I don’t rate our chances. Even if they win, they’ll have to face that damned Crimson Fist in the next round. It’s fairly hopeless.’
‘So,’ the Ezrachi put to the corpus-captain, ‘it’s time.’
‘I would enter the arena myself, but for the desperation it speaks to our brethren.’
‘Making your decision all the easier and more forgivable,’ the Apothecary persisted. ‘You have no choice. Give the order: let me set free the Scourge.’
‘I would not do that for a hundred worlds,’ Gideon snarled. ‘He’s afflicted and has damned us all. Dorn has seen fit to punish him. The Scourge can rot for all I care. The Darkness is his to endure and I for one would not spare him his agonies.’
I AM IN a place... of darkness. I have never been here: yet I know it well. My mind - like my body - is in sensory overdrive. Something far beyond my genetic inheritance, beyond the rigors of Chapter indoctrination and the suprahormones roaring through my veins. This moment feels more acute, more vivid and keener than any I have formerly experienced. Every molecule of my being is devoted to it. Like the seconds have been honed to a razored-edge.
Despite the intensity of this experience, the world about me is dark and indistinct. Everything, from the walls to the floor beneath my feet, is cloaked in a peripheral haze. I try to focus, but anything upon which I settle my eyes assumes the quality of screaming shadow. The howling gloom spreads like a stain, running into everything else and framing me in a vision of smeared charcoal.
I wander the labyrinthine nightmare of this place, weapon in hand. Searching. Splattered with blood that is not my own. Knowing that brothers both lost and true clash about me. There is gunfire. There is death. I can hear calls of distant anguish. I cannot make out the words but know that they are laced with venom and cold reason. The hot ring of blades fills the air, before power beyond my comprehension is unleashed in the bleakness beyond. I feel its unnaturalness wash over me. My hearts hammer in unison. I am running. Fearful, but not for myself.
I erupt from the maze and come to a halt in an open space. A giant archport blazes with the light of a nearby globe, set against a pin-prick darkness. I know not this world, yet its reflected radiance draws me in. I am where I cannot have been: above Ancient Terra. The vista rolls and I feel the movement deep inside of me. I am aboard a vessel. A bastion of Angels. A cathedral amongst the stars. The bridge expanse beckons.
As I step between the armoured bodies, that litter the deck in anonymity, I come to realise that this is not a colossal command deck: it is a throne room. Before me are three titans: fallen and terrible in the murderous ruin they have committed – one upon the other. Two mighty brothers lay twisted and broken on the steps. Their god-flesh is still, their fratricide over. The chime of battle hangs about their corpses. Their weapons decorate the deck. My own falls to the floor.
Then, the centrepiece of the slaughter. The Father of All lies amongst his fallen family. The Emperor of Mankind. A beacon in the darkness. Withering to look upon. Impossible not to.
I approach as one might his doom. Hesitant. Uncomprehending. Child-like. The moment overwhelms me and tears cascade down my blood-flecked cheeks. I fall to my knees. I weep over my Emperor, for there is nothing left to do. No higher power to whom I can appeal. With His body held to mine I roar my defiance, like an infant freshly ripped from the womb. A new coldness clings to me. It saturates me with its despair. I sink deep within myself and find a greater darkness there. An Imperium without an Emperor. A fatherless humanity. An eternity without direction.
I quake. I know only fear and fury at an empty cosmos, devoid of answers. His head, in my arms, rolls to one side. His eyelids fall open and His divine gaze fixes upon the blazing archport. Dead eyes set on the dead space beyond. But there is a figure. Something I had not seen before. There and yet not. An armoured shape that steps from the darkness into silhouette, glorious against the Terran glare. Unlike my stygian surroundings or the Emperor, eclipsed by his own brilliance, the figure falls into harrowing focus. Its movements are slow and deliberate and as, it walks towards me, it grows in stature and menace.
An ally? An enemy? There are no shortage of either, dead on the deck about me. I think of my Emperor and tighten my grip on his malevolence-mauled body. I clutch only the crisp air of the bridge to my chest, for the Emperor’s hallowed form has gone. I remain kneeling, as though my legs are now part of the deck. My mind is overwhelmed with a grief beyond grief. I sit. I watch. I dread.
The revenant approaches. Its searing plate is of the blackest night. Each ceramite boot is wreathed in spectral flame. I look on as its incandescent steps fracture and frost-shatter the metal of the deck beneath them. The ghost-fire curls and crooks its way about the figure as one burned at the stake. It slows to an appalling stop and looks down on my kneeling form. Before me is an Angel of Death. A brother of the beyond. Devoid of Chapter markings, the armour speaks only of the grave: a rachial nightmare of rib and bone, a skeleton set within the surface of the sacred plate. Beneath, the ghastliness goes on. The faceplate of its helmet is smashed and a ceramite shard missing. The bleach-white of a fleshless skull leers at me. The glint of a service stud. The darkness of an eye socket that burns with unnatural life. Perfect teeth that chatter horribly.
‘What are you?’ I manage, although it takes everything I have left to brave the utterance.
It says nothing, but reaches out with a raven gauntlet. A bone digit protrudes from the splintered ceramite fingertip. I watch it drift towards my face with horror. The thing touches me. And I scream.
Seven Days of Damnation: Day 1
Seven Days of Damnation: Day 2 - Game On!
Seven Days of Damnation: Day 3 - New Skin
Seven Days of Damnation: Day 4 - Damnation's Calling
Seven Days of Damnation: Day 5 - Visions of Damnation