Finally an UPDAAAAAAAAAAATE!
Little bit rushed. I've still got a little more ways to go before I can finish the chapter (probably only 50-60% done with it, including these snips) but here's what I got so far... more silly hijinks as we prep for the endgame.
Do you know what the really interesting thing is about the mindscapes, aside from the whole 'making things out of thin air' schtick that I have going on right now? Or the whole fact that you need to have powers that Christopher Nolan could only (ahem) dream about to access?
You only ever get tired when your mind does.
Which, in this case, kind of worked against me.
The mindscape is essentially a place of natural… well, 'chaos', and with the introduction of minds - mine, theirs, whoever's - we imposed with our wills a sort of 'order'. The laws of physics become more familiar, start to make sense again, and things like walking in a straight line become possible again. While Chaos could be created on a whim (in the latest case, snapping your fingers to start a rockslide), the latter had to be enforced actively, so if you were against the idea of bleeding out to death, well... it won't really happen unless someone else really wants you to.
"This... can't be natural." I grumbled, palming my face as I rested my head against the wall, finally exhausted, but surprisingly unhurt. I mean, most of my lower body should be flat enough to mail by now, but no. I felt fine.
Maybe it was just a flesh wound?
Zara chuckled with the cold, almost malevolent humor typical of our most recent training sessions. "Of course it isn't. This is a place of the mind, Michael. How many times do I have to remind you of that fact? Your body has no bearing upon this reality."
I gawked up at her, still pinned to the wall. "But... I mean, Christ... that was big. I mean, that should have been impossible."
"Yes. Anything can be as big or as small as you need it to be, and my I ask: Since when has impossible stopped you before, here in the mindscape?" The wall of gatling guns came to mind there, but still, she had to be wrong somehow...
Mutely, I nodded, but still protested: "Alright, fair point, but could you kindly explain about you and me going on and on for four hours? Normally, I'd last five minutes doing that sort of thing, and I'd be too much out of breath to even talk to you, let alone scream about it."
A cruel smile crossed her lips as she pressed her leg onto me. "You were screaming out a lot just then as well, if I recall correctly."
I found my cheeks burning in embarrassment, so I ignored her, before glancing down. "Honestly, my lungs should have given out a long time ago. And a few other things."
The Farseer tilted her head to the side, a smile creeping across her lips. "Again, I wonder at your inability to grasp at the fact that this is a mindscape, Michael. Your stamina – as are your other abilities – are augmented by your natural affinity for such a place."
A wide, un-Zara-like grin split her face, her eyes twinkling with a mix of amusement and... pride? I hope it was pride. "Which makes you quite capable, if you ask me."
"A place where you just lie back and enjoy while I do all the work... " I grunted reproachfully.
Zara gave a small laugh. rocking back and forth with a pleased murmur. "Of course you're doing all the work. You are the one being trained, after all."
Facepalming again, I let out a very familiar sigh - one of my growing collection of sighs. "Yeah, but I didn't quite have that in mind when I think of 'training'."
"It teaches you to be imaginative, to improvise when needed, to start picking up on hints and subtleties in others and no doubt builds up stamina and strength all at the same time. Or rather, teaches you about the lack of need for strength and stamina." She listed off, uncurling fingers as she did so. "I find this to be the perfect way of training you."
Nevertheless, I still felt the need to complain: "But must you really choose to be so... passive?"
"Yes I do." Zara answered, smug. "Admittedly, I do not have quite as much... experience... about this matter as I would like to have, so I have also decided to study the ways other do... 'this', and while that is happening, I am simply being an involved spectator."
I threw her a hot glare, which metaphorically bounced off her ironclad expression of amusement. "Alright, but when you finally get there why do you always come down like you do and nearly crush me flat?"
"A matter of reward and punishment, I suppose." If it was possible, her grin would have grown ever wilder as she leaned into her plush seat and lazily reclined. "You keep going on ahead without me."
"Uh huh." I deadpanned. "That's because you keep rushing things and go too fast."
"Fast is fun, Michael." Chuckled Zara. "Fast. Is. Fun. Going slow is too boring, if you ask me."
"... y'know, I think you're enjoying this way too much, considering that this is 'training' for fighting against Chaos sorcerers."
The Eldar Farseer smirked, reaching below and pulling free a bottle of what I presumed was water; a clear liquid, ice cold. Between sentences, she was slugging back gulps of cool, refreshing liquid. "I may not be supposed to enjoy it, but what is the harm if I do? It would be a shame for me not to, and don't forget that it would be completely against the point of doing that if no enjoyment was involved."
"But seriously!" I growled. "How is doing that meant to be a realistic representation of combat in mindscapes?"
"It's not meant to be realistic, so that the real thing would be easier for you."
"Such as me finishing you off and then having you get back up and keep on going. I mean, how is that even remotely similar to anything that I could encounter in live combat, huh?"
"Zombies." She teased. "But if I were to collapse like some puppet with cut strings, that would be no fun, Michael. Not to mention that a realistic response to such an action would be troublesome in the long term."
A brick almost caught me in the left ear, but given how trapped I was underneath Zara's foot at the time, neither managed to duck underneath it nor avoid the crunch of brick against brain. The two of us turned to see the thrower.
"Y'know, from over here this conversation sounds really, really, wrong." Chimed in Yoza cheerfully, having finally dug himself out from underneath the small apartment building's worth of bricks that I dropped on top of him.
I looked at him reproachfully, the empty rocket launcher that I had been constantly respawning up until now (there was a trail of discarded rocket launchers stretching out about five or so miles behind us) still in hand as Zara sat idly in the over plush command chair of the Eldar 'War Walker', a slender bipedal weapons platform which was about twice as tall as it should possibly be on its chicken-legs. One of its feet still pinned me in place, a feat which would have normally caved in my entire torso were it not for the peculiarities of our mindscape.
No harm would be done to any of us in here: we could keep going and going and going until our bodies in real life wasted away and died without mind nor soul within it, and so Zara had spent the past four hours in the mindscape chasing me around with that impossibly swift machine while lounging about in the pilot's seat, blasting me every now and again with the weapons tacked onto the side. I had been stomped on, shot at and kicked about like a rag doll, and so far hadn't suffered anything more than a case of jelly limbs that would 'reboot' themselves fairly quickly.
My rocket launcher – and various other hastily constructed weapons – had been ineffective against Zara's defensive tactics. Even shooting her in the face with the assault rifles that I had called forth had been completely ineffective.
I was starting to think that she was cheating, or that compared to modern equipment the 40k-era stuff was just ridiculously overpowered.
Throwing the hollow tube (Vincent or Miles would have called it an AT-4) away, I sighed as I pulled out a bolt pistol and began firing on Zara, the recoil next to nothing as the heavy .75 caliber shells streaked across the space between us. She weaved around them like they were particularly slow tennis balls.
I pointed at her, looking in askance at Yoza. "See what I mean?"
He just grinned, matching Zara's own.
Sighing, I blasted at him with the bolt pistol, missing horribly but still succeeding in causing a secondary avalanche of bricks to cover him.
"Well fuck you, too. I'm waking up."
I closed my eyes, and stepped back from the illusions around me. It felt like I had just sneezed the entirety of my brains out. That sensation was closely followed by the feeling of falling. The drop shocked me awake, and I opened my eyes - my real, flesh and blood eyes (though some people would argue there's no real 'flesh' in an eyeball).
They still remembered being blinded by Zara's flash grenades, and hurt like they had been hammered down deeper into their sockets.
Blinking, I reached out for the curtain, throwing it back to let in the sun...
… which wasn't there.
It was still dark outside.
Cold, too. The edges of the windows were tinged with condensation.
With another sigh - defeated, frustrated, and tired - I slumped back into the pillow, trying to focus what passed for psychic powers. Clutching at the two small beads and the rubber band bracelet in my hand as I sat back up and crossed my legs. They were engraved with a pair of Eldar Runes, as well as plastered over by a series of Imperial purity seals and prayer scrolls. I was told that they would act like an amplifier for me, allowing me to do things like go around in the mindscape without having to have somebody hold my hand for me. I kept them looped around my right arm, the strong leather cord looping around my arm several times before it became tight enough to keep from slipping off my wrist.
Looking around me, it finally dawned on me where I was. My living room. Twenty eight Belmont Street. I turned around, and looked at the digital readout of the alarm clock beside me.
The red numbers read four-thirty in the morning.
I turned to the noise beside me. Miles, who was on one of the mattresses laid out on the floor, finished climbing out of his sleeping bag, groping around in the dark for the rifle which rested against the wall beside him. He groaned as I motioned to him that it was a false alarm, and he nodded, laying back down to sleep. Or at least try to; in the distance, we could hear the sounds of battle, punctuated by the rapid clicking of a mouse.
Zara probably planned on this. Realization sunk in as cheers from below filled the room.
I breathed in and slowly breathed out.
= Kitchen =
It was finally morning, and I had finally gotten some sleep. I half-stumbled, half-plodded, my footsteps and pace more akin towards a titan than a human, walking over to where breakfast awaited, thanks to Alice. My friends had brought in beds, mattresses, sleeping bags, whatever could support a sleeping human, and had set them up all around the house.
"Mornin', Mike. Sleep well?" Vincent sat cheerfully on the table.
"Mmgrm." I pinched my nose as he reached up and began to search blindly for his glasses. "Vince. Please tell me why you've been gaming the entire night."
"Wasn't gaming." He grumbled. "Teaching."
The techmarine nursing his cup of coffee snorted. "Teaching? Is that what they call it now? 'Cheer up', I think that's the phrasing. It's only been twenty seven hours since I last slept and you were sleeping for half that."
My friend beat his head onto the table again, shaking the whole thing and sending the minis staggering. "You're an ass, you know that, right?"
Chuckling, the Techmarine made a gesture of warding daemons. His single extended digit stabbed skywards.
"So, what did you guys end up playing?"
"Bunch of games. World War II and modern shooters, couple of sci-fi things as well. Didn't play anything done by GW, though. I didn't want to start a fight." Vincent sighed, reaching out for his discarded glasses, which he awkwardly shoved onto his face. "Oh, and I showed them a few MOBAs, couple of strategy games… yeah… uh..."
I cocked my head to one side, arching my eyebrow at the nerd as his eyes lost focus for a moment. He blinked, refocused, and sighed.
"Sure it was. Hey, here's your loot." Chuckled Miles, who had covered one end of the dinner table with a cloth. On it was the recently reassembled Colt, which he had put back together after the Imperial cultists covered it with fine etchings, symbols of the Mechanicus looked over with a critical eye as he applied the last few bits of spit and polish. Satisfied, Miles grabbed it by the business end and passed it across to Vincent, who took it and the poffered magazine that followed. He slotted the clip in, and slipped it into the shoulder holster Miles had brought along for him.
I looked at the concealed weapon, and arched my eyebrow. "I'm pretty sure that's illegal."
"Pretty sure I can get Emma to cover for me." The gunman shrugged.
Emma poked her head in from the lounge. "Nope, you're on your own if you get caught!"
Vincent scowled as her head disappeared back into the realm of the perforated couch. "Fine, fine, I'll get myself a gun license. I'll do that as soon as we finish this. Promise."
Now it was Alice's turn to poke him. "That," She said, pointing at his shoulder. "is not open carry."
The sleep deprived gamer rolled his eyes and flopped over. "Ugh."
I patted him on the back. "Cheer up, Vinny. We'll sort it out soon enough."
He gave me a warding gesture; a clenched fist with upraised middle finger. Laughing, I departed.
= Porch =
"The neighbor's dog just tried to eat one of the Marines."
I arched an eyebrow. "Is he going to be alright?"
"Dog or Marine?"
Emma snorted. "I did the Jedi thing to the dog. Nobody got eaten."
"Oh. Good." I sat down beside the black-haired girl that would one day become the God-Emperor of Mankind. She had this nostalgic and pensive air about her, lost in memory and foresight. When I say 'timeless', it was in the sense that nothing was still for her; her mind seemed to be everywhere at once, and because of that nowhere. She blinked, perhaps picking up that stray thread of thought creeping into her consciousness, and turned to me as I passed her a glass of water to drink.
She looked first at the clear water, moving her hand around underneath it. Then she looked at me. It felt like she was looking through me, through any flimsy tissue paper mental defense that I might have tried to put up, and simply said, "I know what you're going to ask."
"A lot of people want to ask it." I observed, not being able to help glancing up at the miniatures above and behind us. And Vincent, who had stopped walking across the living room floor for a moment.
The black haired girl arched an eyebrow. "But you don't?"
I lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. "I do, but I figure it would be like asking your age." I said, which managed to draw out a genuine smile.
"Honestly, I don't even know anymore. About my age, I mean." The goddess girl sat there for a long long while, soaking up the silence. She breathed in, and a swerved in a tight whisper.
"But… as for your other question? It was because Horus was the best choice."
I arched an eyebrow. "Best choice?"
"My powers are neither omniscient nor omnipotent. Even the gods have their limits." She settled into the couch, curling up until her chin was resting on her knees. The God Emperor of Mankind looked small indeed. I sat down next to her. "The future is not set in stone, Michael. You get hints, and clues, and sometimes visitors from a future, but not the future. Only a dozen years ago, the Tau were nothing more than savages still fighting over their desert rock. Now, though, a trillion small changes - a trillion choices - have made it so that they will carve their own empire into the stars."
"The future was a much darker place, some years ago. Now its brightened, just a little. And then perhaps in a few years, I will see only shadows where there was once light." She leaned to one side, resting her head on my shoulder. Uncomfortably, I shifted around as we found something that worked. "But that is not answering your question. You ask me; why did I let Horus fall, and in doing so take so many of his brothers - my sons - with him?"
I nodded, mutely. Emma showed her teeth when she smiled this time.
"The best choice." The hollow chuckled that followed chilled me. It was totally devoid of any joy, of even petty cruelty or malice. It was a dead laugh, and did not belong with the voice of a child. "Were it be that there were such a thing..."
Her knees folded up, and she hugged them to her chest as she talked. "I saw many futures. Many. Believe it or not, ten millennia and more of war, strife and darkness was... palatable, when compared to the others. Had Horus not been taken, one of my other children would have fallen in his place. Had I let him be corrupted, yet stopped him early, others would not recognize the magnitude of the threat that Chaos posed to my young little Imperium, and I would have seen them turned against me one after another, their arrogance leaving them to fall one at a time as we stumbled through our waxing Crusade."
"Magnus had always been subtle, and was the most likely to be the next target to be corrupted had Horus been discovered early. My son's machinations would have turned even Robute and Rogal against me. To think nothing of what Lion or Konrad would have been like, unfettered and uncaring of their purpose."
I didn't know when she had started leaning against me, but the weight of this child was nothing to the weight on her shoulders. Here she was, already knowing some thirty thousand years ago what was going to happen. That hopeless knowledge of her children, her twenty sons and the uncountable trillions that would perish with them. How many were to suffer while she went through the motions, helpless. Emma's face was unreadable as she continued to speak.
"Their Blood Crusade would have ended the Imperium and the resulting infighting would leave everyone too weak to stop the advance of the Tyranid, the Ork Waagh's left unchecked, or the awakening of the Necron. All that would have been left was a dead galaxy in the mere centuries afterwards."
"Leman Russ would have turned my reunification into a massacre, leaving barren worlds in his wake. The Siege of Terra would have been broken the forces of Chaos did not flee to the Eye of Terror. Rather, they created a new one with the death cries of my sons, taking them all to damnation. So many horrible fates awaited my sons... so I chose the ones that would hurt the least, the ones that would, believe it or not, cause the smaller amount of suffering."
Emma let out a short sigh, lowering her head while I pretended to not see the tears in her eyes.. "Such is the universe I will die in."
I nodded, slowly. "Makes... sense... I..."
She cut me off, glaring. "You don't understand me. You can't."
A stuffy silence stretched out.
Then I looked Emma in the eye and said; "That was a horribly cliche thing to say. Like, the worst thing. Ever."
The future Emperor looked at me in disbelief for a second, then let out a crude snort of laughter. She punched me in the arm with the full might of an eleven year old. That would not have hurt as much as it did had she not hit a bruise. I yelped and shifted away from her as she stood to her full height.
"I'm not a little kid!" She growled, still trying to suppress that smile returning to her face. "I'm a god!"
"Sure. And I'm Lord General of the Imperial Guard." I drawled, before suddenly turning to the Guardsmen watching us. "No offense."
Sohm shot back. "None taken. We already know its impossible for you to be one." He shot back with a wink, and as I acknowledged the good return, others joined his laughter. I let the barbs bounce off, glad to change the topic. It seemed like Emma had been pulled out of her little slump, a mischievous grin plastered on her face.
I must have suddenly developed clairvoyance because as I saw the glint of triumph in her eyes I got a really, really bad feeling. As good as it was that she was smiling, I really didn't like that one.
"You know… given that I'm, like, the freakin' God Emperor of Mankind and all that, I could make you outrank a Lord General."
That got the Guardsmen - and the gathering crowd of Imperials - pausing and muttering as they realized that yes, their god - who was standing in front of them right now - could indeed make me a Lord General.
"Hell, why not? Let's make you outrank a Lord of Terra. It's not like they're around to make a fuss about it."
I let out a short laugh. Good, just petty titles and things like that. I could live with getting a few meaningless titles stuck on. But still, I had to play a role. "Hey, lets not be hasty now. I'm not qualified to take on any of those roles."
"Its not like I was qualified to become a god, you know. I didn't take any courses in benevolent dictatorship or planetary administration and I did just fine. Well, better than the Lords of Terra, anyway, I'm pretty sure none of them are qualified." Emma tapped her chin thoughtfully, ignoring the theological debate suddenly cropping up behind her as Commissar Tomas got into an argument with his longtime friend Jeremiah about whether or not the words coming out of Emma's mouth was actually heretical, blasphemous or none of the two, given who she was. With a treelike, the rat-hunting Chaplain fainted dead away. Emma ignored him, and opted instead for stabbing a finger at the Assault Marine with the power sword.
"You there! Tell me the first Knightly Order that you can think of!"
"Uh… Order of the Golden Aquila, milord."
"Too bad!" Turning on her heel, Emma flashed me a grin and began to speak. "It's gonna be much worse than that, Mickey!"
"All Servants of Holy Terra, heed my words! By decree of the He the Most Holy on Terra, Greatest of All Men, Regent Dei Terra, Sol, Local and Beyond, the Brilliant Light of the Warp, Uniter of Men, Vanquisher of Dark, bla bla skip a few… He Who Protects, the God-Emperor of Mankind, I do pronounce that Michael, son of Benjamin, who stands before me now, has earned favor in my eyes!" She began, each part of her full name and honors slowly whitening the faces of the Imperials watching. Her hair began to float, carried by an invisible wind. Suddenly, the eleven year old girl was gone, her voice rumbling like thunder as she spoke.
"He now stands before me and is hereby empowered to hold authority second to none but mine! He may do as he shall wish and his word shall be absolute. By my power, this one may make take command of any armed force that has sworn fealty in my name. In him I trust my Navy, Army, my Marines, any man and woman in arms." Emma finished by sweeping her shit eating grin over the white haired - and pale faced - Sisters of Battle who had joined the spectators. Several had fainted completely with a soft rattle of armor, while others were on their knees in a range of supplicative poses. Marines, Guardsmen, even the Inquisitor had taken a knee.
Sohm quietly choked on his own words. "My god." He whispered. "What have I done?"
I nodded in complete agreement. This had escalated… magnificently.
"Kneel, Michael. I'm supposed to knight you now."
"Only need to kneel 'cuz you can't reach my shoulder when I'm standing." I muttered. A ripple of double takes cut through the crowd. Emma's grin made me feel all the better and a lot worse at the same time. She was going to get me back for this, if she wasn't already.
Emma accepted a sword the size of her pinky from one of the Marines, and lightly tapped me on each shoulder with it.
Then stuck me in the nose.
"GODDAMMIT NOT AGAIN!"
"Ah, it's good to be king." Sighed Emma contentedly.