Morbus Est

The Freeblade pilot could not bring himself to look at the being before him straight away. His eyes dropped to the metal grate immediately in front of him – the thing ponderously moving into the room too painful to look at. Not just painful for the eyes, but for the soul as well.

The thing creaked and hissed, churned and scraped all at once as it came to a standstill before him. The pilot started to slowly look up.

“Well, Lord,” the thing drawled behind an impossibly deteriorated mouth grill, as it almost filled the entire claustrophobic space, “Welcome aboard the Terminus Est.”

He felt like his reality was melting away as a deep, animalistic fear set in. He’d seen these creatures from high up in his knight’s throne, but never this close. Never this near. Face to face, it was like humanity’s most true enemy personified. It simply was disease…and death.

“Tell me, for I am a curious creature,” it wheezed once again, “why do you wage war?”

If the pilot ever had an inclination to talk, he would have been shocked silent by this question. He was expecting this to be the start of a long death at the hands of the worse beings in the galaxy, not a philosophical debate.

“F-for the Emperor of Mankind. To serve and protect my people.”

The room echoed with a hissing noise, seemingly coming from all directions, but in reality originating from the plague marine’s rusted vox grill.

“The Emperor of Man,” it said, as its version of laughter ceased, “is dead. I hate to be the one to tell you. I have conversed with those who were present on the day he was slaughtered and his corpse confined to that ridiculous throne.”

“H-heresy! You shall die for such heresy!” blurted out the pilot, before he could stop himself. Although how he could make this situation worse, he could not think.

“Heresy, yes, that is your answer, isn’t it?” came the amused response. “That is your reason for waging galactic war. The eradication of ‘heresy’. There’s more to this wide galaxy and indeed this universe than two sides. Black and white. Emperors and heretics.”

For a split second the pilot forgot where he was, he felt like he was back on his home-world again, sentencing cults for their crimes as they spouted their false logic in front of the courts. Nonsense, all of it. Dangerous, misguided nonsense. Still, if the cultists knew somehow that beings like this would be their hypothetical allies, he could at least now see why they had turned to them in their desperate droves in the first place.

There was a horrific scraping noise, of rusted knives screaming as they were being dragged along metal. The plague marine was leaning in closer to the cowered noble. “You kill, and you kill, and you kill. Indiscriminately, I might add. You were probably aware that only yesterday those you had slaughtered in their droves were contented servants of your Emperor?”

The pilot was silent. It continued, “But then someone somewhere, far removed from the war zone, declared them heretic, and so you ended their lives. You eradicated the heresy. That is all that matters.”

He was aware of a small thought in the back of his mind that had been there for some time, that now grew and was almost impossible to ignore. The feeling of…guilt. Of shame. Of turning from his household and dealing out his own justice on a petrified galaxy of loyal citizens of the Imperium.

“Your machine was not destroyed, its spirit lives,” the thing said. “It is safe…within the bowels of our ship. It could definitely do better for company down there but…let’s just say it may accept a new reality faster than its current pilot.”

And with that, it limped and scraped back to the doorway, and was gone, the door slamming firmly behind. The pilot was alone again. He had not had a finger laid on him, and yet felt more despair and unease than any time in his life.

His arm tingled. Strange, he had not recalled even feeling that arm since he awoke. Not since he blacked out after the battle with the Death Guard. He glanced down at where his nerves were reawakening. A piece of flesh protruded from his forearm: a slick, green tentacle. His examined his fingers in horror as they too took on this emerald shade and were beginning to elongate. He screamed in the dark.

He awoke. He felt his surroundings more than saw them. They were familiar. Sounds and electronic chirps, like from a distant memory. Similar, but somehow changed and foreign. He had an old friend in his head. No, this was new. Something had taken their voice. It was so hard to tell. It was the same voice that told him to kill, kill, kill the heretics before he was taken captive. It was saying this once again, over and over, in an ever growing shrill and maniacal frequency.

He was…back in his knight. Cocooned within his Imperium Throne.

He opened his eyes. His entire right arm was a writhing mass of moist tentacles, grasping at controls and pressing rune-keys impossibly fast. His left arm grasped a control platform, and ahead of him he could see from the intoxicating view from his knight’s helm. Before him spread what looked like a city, and before that, a line of tanks – Leman Russes perhaps – as well as artillery pieces, and on the left flank, a group of blood red transports. His knight’s ocular lenses focused to highlight the symbols on these Rhinos – Emperor’s Children chaos marines.

The voice grew in urgency now. Kill, kill, kill the heretics! Had the machine spirit within his knight always been this bloodthirsty? Was this right? At that moment in time, it did not matter. What mattered was that in front of him were servants of the dark gods, intent on the destruction of…something he cared about. Something he could not quite recall.

Kill, kill, kill the HERETICS!

His new arms moved across the cockpits controls with frenzied speed as he brought the two thermal cannons to bear on the traitor legionnaires. As they sped towards him, he opened fire. The ground erupted in a heated blaze of melta-fire, the rhinos all but being incinerated or hurled across the battlefield like mere playthings. The pilot laughed. He couldn’t tell if it was his voice uttering the words now, as he let loose another volley, this time into the traitor guardsmen. The enemy lines blazed.

His auspex scan picked up movement from around him as the voice partially calmed, satiated for now. Sickly green and ochre figures crept into view beneath him, advancing on the decimated line in a loose formation, letting off a bark of bolter or plasma fire as they found survivors. The pilot spotted hulking figures with purple cloaks, billowing in the wind created by the firestorms, armed with hideously huge flails and axes and scythes. Around them, flies buzzed constantly.

His vox crackled. An even more disturbing voice came into his earpiece, worse than his prison guard, worse than his insane machine spirit, worse than the sound of his own demise.

“This is Typhus. Advance on the city and take what we came here for. Grandfather has blessed us with a new, and strong ally. He will bring our gifts to Terra itself. Welcome to the first company… Morbus Est.”

At these words the knight’s machine spirit screamed with glee, and hatred, and remorse. It was Morbus Est now. Whatever was trapped inside this machine with him, he vowed to use it to bring about swift and violent ends to the heretics, in whichever form they came in, enemies to the Throne or not.

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