[This is mostly a post concluding things for my character in my last Dark Heresy campaign. Due to.... reasons, our campaign didn't have much of a chance for an epilogue, and I figured I'd write one up for my character.]
Darkness. Impenetrable darkness. That was what the Acolyte awoke to. His thoughts were laboured and slow. Confused. Then the pain struck. An agonizing pain that burned across every nerve in his body. He tried to scream, but found he was without a voice. Something was pressing on his chest, and stealing away his breath. What had happened? Where was he? His mind struggled to remember. Struggled to focus, but every moment he thought he had a hold on a clear thought it slipped away again. Instinctively he struggled against the weight on his chest, it shifted. Just a hair, before the effort became too much and the Acolyte slumped down again in the darkness. An acrid, burning smell was in his nostrils. Some part of him recognized it as the smell of charred human flesh. Who was burning? What had happened?
The Acolyte strained his ears to catch any sounds, but there was nothing. He strained his eyes to see if he could pierce the veil of shadow surrounding him. Dimly he could make out approximate shapes, but they were beyond his comprehension, and he could not be certain if he was truly seeing, or if his fevered and disoriented mind was crafting phantoms to give him hope. Still the questions circled endlessly in his mind. What had happened? Where was he? Why was he in such pain? He could sense the answers at the back of his consciousness, but they proved elusive to his worn and tired mind, distracted by the pain. He was certain he would have been writhing had he the room to move. Screaming had he the strength to scream. Trapped in this nightmare. Alone in the darkness.
At some point, the Acolyte felt something on his face. Stinging and wet. It was water. Dimly he could hear the sound of acid rain drizzling onto the rubble that held him pinned. That was a small comfort to him. Despite the pain it caused as it picked at his burnt flesh, it was a welcome relief from the monotony of the darkness and his own confused thoughts. It also meant that there was a flow of air to where he was, and that he wouldn't die. It gave focus to his thoughts; Allowed him to reach into the recesses of his mind. Who was he? Where was he? What had happened?
He began to find scraps of memory buried there. A face. A name. He saw a stone faced man who radiated power, a maul crackling with energy in both hands. He saw a woman, with long brown hair, clad in Imperial battle regalia. Bolt pistol in hand, he saw her battling as though she were a goddess of war. A soldier, with scarlet hair framing a breathtaking face; A pair of blades flashing about her like lightning, and crashing like thunder. Other faces came to him too. Other names.
Frost. Lanate. Utopia. Serenity.
His mind attributed great importance to these words, but he could not fathom it, even with his renewed focus. The Acolyte tried to calm himself, assured that he would recall in time. But with every passing moment, he felt his focus ebb, and the thoughts and memories slip away again into the darkness that surrounded him. Though he willed himself to be patient, frustration now eroded his mind. The ceaseless pain did not give him a moment's peace. Though the rain water which dripped onto his face gave him something to concentrate on, something with which to take the edge from the horrific pain wracking him, it was an ever present entity. A contant companion, mocking him and taunting him. A distraction which withheld the memories he so desperately sought from him. The Acolyte hated that pain now. Despised it with all his being. Hated it as he hated the great weight pressing upon him. With all his hatred he fruitlessly willed the stones upon him to move, and for a brief, fevered instant, the Acolyte swore he could feel the weight that pinned him to his tomb shift. He was near certain he had heard the creak and groan of rock grinding on rock. He at once gave pause, and listened further. Mentally willed his nerves to be as attentive as they might be, to detect the slightest shift in the debris that bound him.
The Acolyte heard nothing but the pattering of rain. The Acolyte felt nothing but the pain of his wounds and the weight of the stones. A rasping breath drew from his mouth as he slipped again into despair, and felt his eyes close. Perhaps if he allowed it to be, he might die in his sleep, and put an end to this monotonous and cruel hell that trapped him. An escape from his torment.
Sleep took him, and his mind wandered amidst a labyrinth of memories. More images flashed through his mind at a dizzying pace. A dark skinned scoundrel, a cocky grin on his face, and a pair of pistols in his hands. A hulking greenskinned beast. A raven haired woman, rifle roaring, a blazing fireball at her back. An old man, screaming in agony, his features twisting and warping. A huge, armour clad figure collapsing in an occult circle, his life torn away by the abomination that formed before him. Next a woman, youthful with flowing golden hair, a sharp gaze piercing through him. There was something he'd done. A promise he'd made.
Sacarius. Elizabeth. Valerion. Sylith. More names that struck a chord within the Acolyte's mind.
A final figure appeared in his mind. This was not a face that he had seen in person. It was a tapestry he had seen once. Long, long ago. A valiant knight, gilded in shining armor. Flowing black hair, a blazing sword in hand. A golden halo of power emanated from him. knight stood, stalwart and invulnerable against the encroaching darkness, the bones of his enemies broken to dust beneath his feet. There was no name that came to mind when this image surfaced in his mind, not even a word. It was a feeling. Not one that the dreaming man could quite grasp though. It was more than simply hope, it was more than obedience. It was faith. It was loyalty.
It was duty.
The Acolyte's eyes opened. A spark had ignited within his mind. His very soul. He remembered now. The memories came rushing back to him, some still foggy, others clear as crystal. Yes... he remembered them now. His comrades. Brothers and sisters in arms whom he had fought beside. Bled beside. In his mind's eye, he saw their final moments. He saw the stone faced man.... The Inquisitor. He saw him fall, betrayed by his closest ally. He saw the war goddess fall, a final grin on her lips as she expended her final breath to strike down the traitor who had slain their lord. The scoundrel... yes. He saw him as well, and the red haired soldier, disappear in a blaze of fire and shrapnel. His last memories in fact.
He was an Acolyte of the Imperium's Holy Inquisition. He had seen terrible things, and fought even worse, to find himself here. They had fought their way through a Hive City. To the cathedral... They had staged a tremendous battle, against an enemy that had been the epitome of evil. He remembered. The beast had been bested. His blade had been at the monster's throat. The end was nigh. But the creature had used the last of its power to bring down the cathedral upon them. His fellow Acolyte had ended it. He remembered him stripping his grenade-laden jacket. Removing the pin. Hurling it at the demon. Calling at him to run.
It had not been enough. The blast had consumed everything in sight. He had been lost.
The Acolyte stared into the darkness, absorbing his resurrected memories. Though pain still seared through him, he was rapt in thought and did not notice. He remembered who he was. Perhaps. He thought for a moment. Perhaps he was still there. That this debris crushing him, was the cathedral. A single eye glared. Then it burned. The debris trembled, and shifted as the Psyker's will began what his scorched and useless muscles could not. But the stones pinning him were heavy, and there were many of them. For an instant, he almost doubted himself. The memory of the golden haired woman surfaced in his mind again.
That was what she had told him the last time he had second guessed himself. That was what she had told him when he had thought him lesser than the challenge before him.
The Psyker's eyes had been burning. Now it blazed, an ethereal, unnatural light pouring from the socket. His nose gushed with hot blood. Yet even this might not have been enough to shift the weighted stones from his body, had not this burst of power driven the stones at the top away. The weight lightened. Not by much. Not by much at all. But it was by just enough that the Psyker's final reserves of power could push the next uppermost rocks away. And the layer beneath that. And then the layer beneath that. Finally, at last, he could see the light. The triumphant, smog-coated skies of the Hive City. The acid rain stinging his face. Aggravating his burns. The bright azure flame that burned in his skull died down, as it drove the final weight from his chest, and the Acolyte breathed deeply. A deep, admittedly painful and hacking excuse for a breath, but it was as though it was the first breath of a new life. He paused a moment, after taking this breath. Contemplating.
Rather than the exuberance he had expected to feel after breaking free of his stone prison, there was a hollowness within the Acolyte. He drew breath as living men did. His eyes saw the world as living men did. He felt pain, as living men did as well. But.... for what? Was this really? Living? Was he alive? Or had his body simply failed to stop? For yes, life flowed through his veins, but for what purpose? Surely... surely his comrades that had accompanied him into battle were dead. The soldier... the scoundrel... To think that they would have survived the blast was unrealistically hopeful. The Acolyte's eye closed in a different kind of pain. What was left for him then?
Scorched limbs attempted to move. To find purchase on the nearby terrain. But they were weak. Very weak. His injuries were hardly minor. He could see now, that burns covered almost his entire body. What armor he had worn into battle had been burnt away, leaving the scorched flesh beneath exposed. Shrapnel had ripped out muscle and skin, leaving gleaming white bone visible in some places. He could not see his face, but he imagined it had suffered similarly. He briefly considered that perhaps the fire had seared his bleeding injuries shut, as they had formed.
The cleansing flame. It burns away the impure.
A few days ago, the Acolyte might have smiled at this macabre silver lining, but now found his lips unmoving from a grim, hard, line. Smiling seemed beyond him now, as it dawned on him just how alone he felt. A single phrase helped him to focus his mind. A single phrase lifted from some ancient Imperium primer he had perused in his old quarters aboard his Inquistor's ship.
"The only true fear is dying without your duty done."
Was his duty done? Truly? Had he finished all he had set out to do? The Acolyte thought on this long and hard, as he willed his agonized limbs to move. Inch by inch, they crawled along the ground, pulling him slowly, ever so slowly, free of the wreckage. Progress was agonizingly slow, but it gave him time to think. Time enough, that by the time he reached the top, he had reached a conclusion.
No. The Acolyte had not done all he had set out to do. He had not yet done all that he could to serve the Imperium. Indeed, not only had he not yet finished his task, he realized, he had barely begun. This journey. This deadly journey, with so many near misses, so many losses, and so many harrowing experiences, had served only to set the stage for the real good he might do. When he had first set out on this mission, he had been naive. Inexperienced. Weak. Powerless. Through these trials he had gained power. Gained influence. Gained allies. Gained resources. Was it only now? Now at the very moment where he could begin his own battle against the darkness that his battle was to end? His battle. Not the battles of another.
The Acolyte stumbled as he removed himself from the depression, and leaned against a broken pillar, breath coming in short, whispy gasps, burnt lungs screaming for air after such a meager feat. His single good eye took in his surroundings. The cathedral was a ruin. Nothing was left of the second floor, save for some fragments of masonry, that had once been the outer wall. It was marked by battle. There was nobody here. No doubt, after knowledge of the abomination that had been summoned here spread to those who were worthy, and requiring of such knowledge it had been quickly quarantined. Perhaps it would even be razed, burnt and cleansed. That would be proper, and he knew that it was the same order he would have given, were he in a position to do so. The Acolyte was alone. A name came to his mind, as he rested, his strength expended by the climb.
That was his name. No. No wait. That wasn't right. The Acolyte's eye fell back to the pit out of which he had climbed. But he hadn't. He hadn't climbed from the pit. His physical shell had, yes, but a piece of him was still down there, and not merely the pieces that had been blown off from his body by the grenades. The piece that had died, and left behind the feeling of emptiness in his soul. Cole was still in there. No.... that wasn't right either. Cole had never been in there. Cole had died in the blast. The Acolyte that had awoken was not Cole. He had Cole's face (scarred as it was), and he had Cole's memories, his experiences, and perhaps even Cole's mannerisms. But these did not make up who Cole was. Cole had comrades. Cole had been whole. Cole had aspirations and dreams. Dreams tempered by the Emperor's cause, of course! But dreams nonetheless. Aspirations nonetheless.
The Acolyte had only duty. He was a tool. A weapon. A sword to ward away the Emperor's foes. A shield to guard its people. Personal goals and aspirations had been purged from him by the fire.
Speaking of swords....
Cole had wielded one. Forged in his own blood, and baptized in an Ork's throat, as any good blade should have. It was linked to him, and by extension, the Acolyte. He extended a hand. Cole had etched a rune into the blade. Marked it with his psychic signature. It had been his blade. The Acolyte called to the signature. Called the blade to him. He closed his eye to focus. A ripple passed through the Warp, and the ground beneath the Acolyte's bare feet grew cold, a chill wave clawing out from him and covering the ground in a frost, as the veil between the material world and that beyond, destabilized by the battle that had happened here, trembled. Then the Acolyte felt the hilt of the sword in his hand, and he looked down upon it.
Its blade, previously a gleaming silver, was cracked, and stained black with the blood of the devil it had pierced. The Acolyte remembered that well. Cole had run the blade straight through the beast's heart, marring the shining steel irreparably. Sparks sizzled on the hilt, as the machine spirits that powered the psychic matrix inlaid in the weapon whimpered in agony. The tip had been broken off, and it was streaked with soot and dents. The Acolyte looked at the sword for a time, and then into the pit one last time. His final farewell to Cole. Taking his former self's blade in hand, he then turned and began to walk away.
He would use Cole's resources. Use the influence Cole had worked so hard to gather, to pursue Cole's ideals. To destroy the darkness wherever it touched. To drive away the shadows that despoiled the noble Imperium of Man. To do his duty. And....
A final image came to his mind. It was the woman again. Long blonde tresses cascading down. Fair skin like porcelain, wearing a dress of shimmering blue silks. A look of mixed irritation and disappointment in her eyes. A promise had been made. A promise that would be kept.
The Acolyte focused on this image for a time, as he lifted his head. He would recover. Perhaps not fully. The burns were so viciously severe, that he doubted even his connection to the Warp, and the unnatural powers he drew from it would be able to completely heal him from this battle. There would be scars. There may be lingering damage, that would plague him the rest of his life. But he would recover. His strength would return. And he would set about a crusade against the darkness with unyielding tenacity and will. He would put heresy to the torch and heretics to the sword. He would not permit Xenos or the dredging scum that festered in the deepest depths of the Imperium to fluorish. He would destroy the enemies of the Imperium. Whether the Inquisition would take note of the Acolyte or not, he would serve his purpose. He was a weapon.
This purpose could not fill the void in his soul. It would not bring Cole back. Cole was dead. But the Acolyte lived. And he had inherited Cole's will. He did not smile as he limped from Cole's tomb, but his spirits were briefly buoyed. He could not dally here. He had to recover as soon as possible. Find some decent clothes. Make sure his power base was intact. Find a new name. A steel filled the Acolyte's eyes, and an ice covered his heart, growing harder with each clumsy step he took.
There was work to be done.