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In My Spirit Lies My Strength By Dae It still hurts to think about him, even after all these years. He was like a god to me and though I suppose I
was never really the closest person to him, I was probably the one most affected by his death. Of course, it also hurts because the tattoo on my forehead reacts to such thought and sends a spike of pain into my brain every time my memories from everything I used to be grow too strong. The closest thing I can remember without pain is them holding me down as the scriptomancer’s ink needle descended onto me, but that is enough to fuel the hate that keeps me alive. I have tried to escape them on four occasions and every time I expected death when they eventually caught me, but instead they laughed that vicious, shrilling laugh of their kind as they summoned the scriptomancer to tattoo more of his witchery art on me. In addition to the pain-sigil they gave me the day they caught me, I now have two burdenlocks resembling thorn vines etched around my ankles that make my feet feel heavy as lead unless I fight, a flowershaped neural enhancer on the side of my chest that multiplies a hundredfold the pain of any wound inflicted there and a wither-ink in the palm of my left hand that gradually cripples my fingers, one after another. They were particularly happy about that last one, because each new finger lost would be a cause for a renewed rush of bets on my death in their arena. Fuelled by pain, hate and the memories I have of him, I have never lost. I have killed former comrades with tears in my eyes and I have emerged bloody but victorious from confrontations against alien nightmarish creatures. I do all of this to be more like him, closer to the ideal he incarnated: a warrior of perfection, devoted to his task and to the Emperor. It grieved me to have to be pitted against children and women, but once all was over and I wept quietly with their blood still over me, I remembered the teachings he gave us: the warrior must show compassion, but he must also understand that there will be those he cannot save. Had I not killed them, someone or something else would have. I do my best to apply what he taught us, even if I have to suffer the torture of the headaches. Like him, I never throw away my weapons. Like him, I keep my spirit unbroken. Like him, I use my rare moments not spent fighting or training to hone my concentration and steel my will. I fight without relent or pause until my opponents are laid low with their life blood drenching the ground and the crowd is erupting in cheers and jeers. I do not listen to them, because they are Xeno. I wait for the day I can submerge them with my anger and destroy their impure existences, but a warrior must realize that he cannot achieve all of his goals at any time. I must wait for the perfect chance to strike. My first target knows I want to kill him. I remind him of it after every fight, standing over the bodies of my adversaries, as I point my weapon at him and he smirks. I know he is protected by some force field in his arena honour throne, so I do not waste my strength throwing it. I roar my challenge so loudly it drowns their delighted whooping, weapon firmly held in my right hand as my left index finger at the extremity of my outstretched arm marks the Xeno leader with the death-touch, the invisible symbol of those about to be slain. Every time, the pain spikes through my mind with such burning intensity I have to fight back the tears as I repeat his battle-cry in a homage they can’t understand. The words give me strength and purpose as they roll and echo around the enclosed pit: “Courage and honour, for Guilliman and for the Throne!” He was my ideal, my hero and my commander. He fought for us even when so many others had fallen already. Until his end, he was a martial legend and a just war leader, a demigod we would have followed to the confines of the Galaxy had he but asked. He was a Space Marine in a glorious livery of blue and white and much more to us than just a member of his Astartes Chapter: to me and every other resistance fighter, he was so legendary he was known under a single nickname designed to strike fear into our enemies by letting them know who they were up against. He was everything I can never become. He was Ultramarine. # I have been a soldier since I was sixteen, the year of life during which they attacked us in the first of many raids to come. When the Planetary Defence Forces resisted them, they grew crueller and stopped taking prisoners, attacking without relent until our military was splintered. It was then most of the able men took up arms and formed isolated resistance cells, myself included. We thought grimly that they would hunt us down and kill us, but that did not happen. They did not even try to starve us or cut our weapon supplies. It seemed that the Xeno were content with
In My Spirit Lies My Strength August 4, 2011
the level of opposition we provided, and looking back on it now I think they must simply have found it very dull to raid unopposed. Whenever one of their raids would stumble upon my cell, we fought back with all of our hatred for these monsters who had taken or murdered our families. Yet even then they rarely fought back, instead trying to ignore us and evade our bullets. It was a game to them, a test of strength to see who could pass closest to us without being hit. Only when we killed one did they retaliate: fifty lives for each of their dead was the price and they delighted in not reaping this toll from us but from the prisoners they had taken instead. They would bring them forward and torture them just out of our reach to goad us out of hiding. As we learned the hard way, whoever leapt out of cover then was killed by them or taken away. I had been fighting the raids for four years when he arrived and by then I had been bred into a powerful man by the constant state of war. I was, at the time, the leader for a little urban resistance cell of five men and six women – all women able to keep pace with us joined us gladly, for it was all too notorious what specially refined horrors the Xeno had in store for the women they caught. The raid came without warning as usual and in broad daylight, which is how I was able to tell one of them would pass under the window I was at when I saw the shadow of his anti-grav surf gliding over the wall. In a split second I saw the chance to hit a Xeno with my bare hands and that was what made me jump out and into him as he sped past. Judging by the cry he made, I think he had been as surprised to be struck as I was to actually hit the mark. We struggled for the briefest moment before he slipped off his surf and we both crashed to the ground. He got up first with a grin that promised me all kinds of hell and took out a barbed knife as I pulled my bayonet blade out from my belt. I don’t remember how long we fought – it felt like hours to me but it could very well have been only a minute or so. I was entirely focused on him, but I could tell some of his comrades had stopped to see us fight. He was fast but I was strong and my skill matched his, or so it seemed until I noticed he was laughing and not even breaking a sweat when I was panting and heaving. It was then that I saw two things very clearly: the first was that he could kill me whenever he wanted and the second was the trail of fire coming down from the sky, right onto us. I dived away and heard the sneering taunts of the Xenos turn into screams of agony as a jarring impact shook my entire world. He was there when I opened my eyes, offering me his gauntleted hand to get up from the rubble and the devastation the combined effects of the drop-pod and his squad had inflicted on this portion of the street. “You did good,” were his first words to me. He said something else after that, but the shock overcame me and I did not hear him. # The arena is different this time. Not the grounds themselves, but the attitude of a crowd that for once seems less enthusiast in its mocking or at least doesn’t direct it entirely at me. When I see my opponent I understand and I smile because for the first time, I know I will finally kill one of them. He is tall and thin like they always are, but his posture lacks the trademark arrogance and his protective gear is torn in many places, dirty, ragged and lacking more than a few plates. I note with pleasure as we circle around each other on the black sand that he isn’t smiling and that his eyes resembling slits don’t have any arrogance in them. Rather, his scowl is one of hatred and it makes me glad. Hate me, so I can hate you back even more intensely than before. Fear me, so I can grow stronger and erase your impure existence. They gave us knives with blades shorter than my hand as our only weapons. I know they do that when they want a prolonged fight and both fighters suffering, when they want screams of pain and drawn out agonies. I remember I was only given a blade that fit in my palm when they pitted me against women and children they had captured. My opponent lunges in first, I dodge his jab and the lethal dance begins. Ultramarine taught me how to fight with a knife: with a blade so short and a finger guard so small, it is best to rely on dodges rather than parries. He showed me how to use my entire body as a weapon without limiting myself to the short piece of sharp metal I hold. Of course that was easy for him to say – my fists can’t break bones and my forehead can’t cave in skulls, but still I always did the best I could to follow his teachings. Focusing on Ultramarine’s lessons brings the migraines back in a flash of pain so sudden and so searingly painful that I almost let the Xeno’s knife rip through my abdomen. The last second dodge I throw in desperation isn’t enough to prevent the tip of the blade from carving a bloody line across my chest that thankfully misses the pain enhancer by a breath. My opponent jumps back and smiles, looking rather pleased with himself – so much in fact that his posture slackens and his guard lowers. I wonder why at first, but the moment of relief is as welcome as it is unexpected. I control my breathing as Ultramarine taught me, relaxing my muscles one after the other to regain as much stamina as possible without dropping my own guard.
In My Spirit Lies My Strength August 4, 2011
Something seems to be disturbing the Xeno. He stares at me in what looks like incomprehension, glancing alternatively at my wound and at his blade as his smile slowly turns into a grimace of anger. The adrenaline of the combat recedes, freeing my ears from the sound of my own beating heart. The noise of the arena washes over me like a tidal wave of sound, but it isn’t what I had expected it to be. The spectators are laughing, pouring a cascade of mocking sounds not at me but at my opponent, some of them pointing and laughing so hard I can see them doubled over in their seats. It is then the realisation dawns upon me: my opponent must have been convinced there was poison coating his blade. Maybe there is, maybe this is another of their elaborate mind traps, one in fact intended for me. But the pain throbbing across my chest isn’t excessive, my mind doesn’t feel clouded and my muscles show no sign of weakness. Then again, what could the Xeno possibly have done to earn himself the shame of becoming little more than a laughingstock destined to be killed? I shut my mind to such questions. Ultramarine taught me there was little point in trying to understand the Xeno. Wanting to know why they fight or how they fight is the first step to warming up to their cause. Let scholars study the ruins we leave behind, he said to me. Warriors like us need not understand to kill. I do exactly that. My opponent is still spitting insults back at the arena when I barrel into him in full sprint, bringing down my knife at the same time I slam him backwards. Even surprised, even wrong-footed the Xeno manages to keep his balance and deviate my swinging arm. He does not see, obscured by my body, my heel slam down hard on his unprotected foot. He gives a short yelp and the short moment for which he remains pinned is what I needed to make him lose his footing. As he stumbles backwards I weigh down on him, savouring the lurching feeling of the two of us falling to the ground. Both of our knives escape our hands in the stumble, but he is underneath me and his frail musculature can’t unpin him. His hands reach for my face, scratching and clawing as my fingers close around his throat. I lean close to him to deny him the satisfaction of gouging my eyes or my lips, his fists then only able to thump uselessly against my back. I am vaguely aware of the pain he causes me, a pain that is almost entirely eclipsed by the pleasure of hearing his agonising gurgles, feeling his blood-tainted spittle on my face and, at last, crushing his throat in a wet crack. The arena cheers at me, the first time it has ever done so. They are actually cheering, not mocking me, not laughing. I can’t make out their usual sarcasm and that has me distracted for a moment as I get up, letting go of the Xeno’s limp body. I want to maim it more, to have revenge for the suffering they inflicted to me, but what I want above all that is to honour Ultramarine’s memory. He explained to me that we need only worry about destroying the Alien. Once it is dead, we must banish him from our thoughts. “For Guilliman and for the Throne of Terra! Courage and Honour!” Emboldened by my kill, I cry out the words with more passion than usual. Maybe it is why I can see, as I point at him again, the Xeno leader rise up from his seat and whisper something to the figure next to him. I squint my eyes and I can just about make out his arm indicating my general direction. My posture of challenge does not waver an inch to betray how high this simple mark of attention lifts my fighting spirit. I have killed one of his kind today – not the first I have killed in my life of fighting them, but the first since my capture. Soon it will be him. # They let me the choice of weapons today before they unshackled me, presenting me a rack of blades of all lengths and shapes. I hesitated a long time before choosing, not because I did not know which one to choose but because I didn’t want to willingly take a Xeno-made weapon. It is one thing to be forced to fight with one of their weapons but quite another to taint my mind and my hands by deliberately selecting a weapon of alien origin. Ultramarine insisted upon that very often, because we used to be so impressed with the sorcerous-like power of their rifles and cannons that we wanted to seize the weapons of their dead. He took great care to teach us how that was in fact spreading the taint of the Alien, until we saw the error of our ways. There is, almost lost in the array of exotic weapons, a bastard sword that I have seen as soon as they brought me in front of the rack. It does not look to be the product of their forges – too blunt, too unsophisticated for their tastes. It is a brutish tool of war and so it is all that I require. I stretch my muscles before the barbed doors of the arena open. I feel good doing that and I realize I am fitter than I used to be. Training whenever I wasn’t shackled seems to have paid off or maybe there was more than symbolism in Ultramarine’s words when he told me that strength lied within ourselves, waiting to be tapped. The desire to kill one of them again, channelled into cold fury, has bestowed upon me the physical ability to carry out my just revenge. The noise of the arena does not faze me as it used to. I have purpose and I am focused now, more than I ever was. Tasting the death of one of the Xeno under my bare hands has been the wake-up shock I needed to become stronger. My mind is set. I do not waver, even when I see the female walking towards me on the black sand. I know
In My Spirit Lies My Strength August 4, 2011
just from looking at her that she is of formidable skill, the way her shoulders and hips sway as she moves telling of her agility. She is thin, like they all are, her skin is white like their skin always is. She wears very little armour and even less clothing – in fact, her equipment hides almost as little of her supple body as her mane of black hair does. It is clear she is a true fighter. Her lack of armour and showing of naked skin isn’t only arrogance and overconfidence, it’s also her way to use every weapon at her disposal. It will not work on me. I am far too focused on what else I can guess by looking at her: her left leg is plated but not her right, so it must be this one she puts forward when attacking. Her left arm is bare and her right arm hand is gauntleted in iron, yet she holds her long crescent knife in the left hand: I must be careful for when she will switch hands. She doesn’t speak, doesn’t laugh. Her sculptural features are as rigid as an alabaster mask even as she races towards me without a moment’s notice. Left leg, watch the left leg! She comes at me like I predicted, using her right foot to jump at me with her left leg in front of her. The kick is easy to dodge but the blade follows so quickly that it is purely by luck that my own blade parries her slice. She is unnaturally fast, much more than I had expected, but I do not have time to feel overwhelmed before she comes at me again. This time, I am ready. I swat her thin arm aside before she can strike while simultaneously thrusting my sword forward. Her body bends in an impossible way to dodge the blade a fraction of a second before pain explodes in my chest. Unbearable, burning pain, worse than anything I’ve ever felt. I fall on all fours at her feet in spasms, the despair of having failed almost as bad as the pain. Managing to look up, I see her smiling victoriously, holding her fist high for the crowd to acclaim her. I understand that she knows everything about the pain enhancer tattooed on me and that she struck precisely there with her claw-like nails. Why is she merciful? Why doesn’t she kill me now instead of slowly backing off? A real warrior would have ended my life, yet she seems more intent on parading and showcasing her talent. As I get up wheezing from the pain, I begin to think I was wrong about her. She is not a warrior, she is a player. This is for her entertainment and that of the crow, not for the fight itself. The respect I had for someone who shared my ideals even in a warped, alien way, instantly vanishes. Only hatred remains and I scream it as I run at her, swinging my blade. Steel clashes against steel, kicks meet leather or iron armour, punches are blocked. The melee seems to last forever and I pay little attention to the fact that she doesn’t have the superiority she had before. Time has slowed enough for me to see her moves coming even if I still can’t get past her guard. The renewed hate at the wrongness she incarnates, at the false warrior she is, brings me clarity of vision and insufflates strength in my blows. Our bodies are blurs, our blades flashes of silver, until she falters at last. It is not a grave mistake she makes. Lesser men could have been felled by the trick she tries to pull off, but I have seen it coming. As I had correctly guessed, she deftly passes her blade from her hand to the other, aiming again for the pain-enhancer. For a moment I think that I will not be able to do anything else than see her do it before speed I did not know I possessed allows me to knock away the blade before she can reaffirm her grip on it. Her weapon spins as it flies beyond her reach. I smile through the surprise at my own success. She doesn’t hesitate. She continues to attack bare-handed, going for my face, my throat and my wrists. She must know that if she stops now, she will not be able to block the swings of my sword. For all of her efforts, she achieves nothing. This new speed I possess does not go away, this new power does not recede. I block her attempts with considerably less effort than before, replying in kind before finally finding an opening in her attacks to slash upwards. She sees it coming, of course. A swirling kick of her armoured left foot connects with the blade to block it and it is then I finally manage to trick her. I let go of the sword at the very moment she blocks it, safe in the certainty I can kill her with my bare hands. She had intended to use the block to stop her momentum and attack again in the opposite direction but she now finds that there is nothing to stop her rotation. She is wide open. My punch is a solid body blow, right under the ribs that would absorb part of its strength. It connects cleanly, throwing her backwards. I intend to follow with a kick to the pelvis but she has picked herself up already and dodges, albeit with less grace than before. My punch has had a profound effect on her, maybe both physically and psychologically if she thought I was incapable of touching her. It pleases me to see that she looks worn out for the first time and it is probably to recover strength that she tries to grapple me. I may be faster, but I was expecting another attack. Instead her legs wrap around my body and her right arm clutches my neck. She is so close I can feel her breath on my neck, my vision lost for a moment as her hair sweep over my face. I can make out her other arm reaching behind her back. A hidden weapon perhaps? No, I would have seen it. Her intentions are much simpler. She unclasps the lock of her corset armour and arches backwards, her legs still fastening her to me. Head thrown back, she lets me behold the splendour of her pearly body, the curvature of her breasts and I have to give her credit for trying. Her body is her weapon – this is a mindset I can understand, though for a short moment I am unable to think of anything but the miracle of beauty she is showing me.
In My Spirit Lies My Strength August 4, 2011
Then I notice the wrongness about her: the impossible thinness of her waist, the odd layout of her muscles, the shape of her head… I am horrified by how alien she is. This is what I needed to recover my clarity of vision. No longer hypnotized, I see her bending her body backwards so much that her arms, extended behind her head, touch the sandy ground. I see her pick a handful of cobbles out of the black, volcanic sand. I see her coming back up with the speed of an overextended spring, ready to smash the small stones into my face. She does not have the time to be surprised when she misses. My counter punch, perfectly timed, meets her nose with a satisfying wet crush that sends a shiver of satisfaction through my spine. Now her mask of indifference breaks, now she gags and gurgles through the bloody ruin her face is. I do not move when her legs let go and she crashes down, laying there twitching on the black sand. I am looking at my fist. I am surprised that it doesn’t hurt and that the blood covering it is entirely hers. I am certain I broke her nose and fractured the front of her skull, yet I am not hurt. The blow should have broken my hand and that was a price I was willing to pay, yet I stand intact and she lies broken. I do not understand. I do not try to understand because I don’t need to. If I have the strength to take down my enemies, it matters little where it came from as long as I use it for the right cause: the extermination of the Xeno. I have purpose and I have strength, just as Ultramarine said. Know what you want, he said to me, and if your goal pleases the Emperor you will be bestowed the strength to reach it. The Emperor granted my wish on this day. The time of my glory has come, I realize, and it is with a new light burning in my eyes that I look down again at the Xeno female. # She screamed for a long time before she died. She struggled and clawed and kicked, but there was nothing she could do anymore. She threw away all of her aloof coolness in her powerless fury. I was later told that their beauty was essential to them, a single scar considered a dishonour and I was glad to learn that because it meant I had not only destroyed her physically but mentally too. She was broken to the core, as was her jaw, most of her ribs, her knees and her arms once I was finished with her. I remember how white her filed teeth gleamed in the middle of the gored wreck her mouth had become. I remember having to pick them out of my closed fist. I took no pleasure in doing that, but it was necessary. Ultramarine said to me that there were times when a warrior had to set aside his killing intent and put fear in his enemy’s hearts instead by showing them the full extent of his strength. It doesn’t scare them because they think of you as a monster, said Ultramarine. It scares them because they see what unrestrained power is and that is a mirror in which they see themselves. They become scared of themselves, lost to the Emperor’s light, when they see what happens to those who stray from His guidance. Having been blessed by this newfound strength, I knew that now was the time Ultramarine spoke of. I showed them what I could do. I silenced their cries with her blood. When I left the arena, the only sound I could hear were my own footsteps in the sand. # In the shadow of my cell, fastened to the wall by heavy chains of black iron, I remember Ultramarine’s last words to me. It hurts like someone was driving a fiery needle through my skull, yet I focus on these words. The pain is both penance and purification: penance for having been hurt, purification for seeking forgiveness. He taught me that. “If you’re afraid, then your time hasn’t come yet. Today I die and you live on, Damian. Remember what I taught you. Remember me.” It was exactly three years, five months and twenty-one days since they had arrived. In that lapse of time the Xeno had considerably upped their game. To counter the deployment of our Astartes saviours, they had struck with more ferocity and more frequency than ever before. Two months after I first met Ultramarine in the ruins of the street, we were told that to better help us wage our just resistance, the Space Marines would break their squads and scatter across the planet. Each of them would oversee a local resistance area. Ultramarine remained with us. Five months later, he was the one to tell us that their ship had been destroyed in orbit. One year after that, it was him again who had the difficult task of breaking the news to us: they no longer had any idea if the relief fleet was en route or not, or when it would come. We were all stuck in the same mess. Except, he added, that he was with us now and that it made one hell of a difference. He trained us both physically and mentally. He forged the raw materials that we were into weapons of war. We came to love him eventually, so much that we made a legend out of him. Perhaps it was a way to cope with our dismay and our broken hope, but we made him into our saviour, our angel. Our hero.
In My Spirit Lies My Strength August 4, 2011
I was with him just before he died. The raid was particularly violent this day but we were well prepared, wellequipped and our morale was soaring high, because today Ultramarine was with us. It didn’t happen that often, for we were only one of the many cells of the network he led. I was fighting at his side, shooting where he told me to shoot, going where he told me to go. I think I saw the Xeno lord before him, because he rewarded me with a pat on the back. “This is the moment I have been waiting for,” he told me. “At last he shows himself. If we kill him today, it will be a great step towards victory.” He looked down at me and at that moment I understood. He didn’t have to say it: slaying the Xeno lord would be a one-way trip. The certainty of it wrenched my guts, but I couldn’t tell if it was because I would die or him. “I’m coming with you,” I said. “Your bravery is appreciated, but you cannot help me.” “I’m not afraid to die,” I lied. “Let me come with you.” He considered the offer for a moment, then nodded. He gave his last orders to people who had no idea they would never see him again and we went off, hopping from cover to cover as me made our way through the firefight. Each time we would pass near a squad of freedom fighters, Ultramarine would have a few words of encouragement and tactical advice, directing their fire to clear us a path. I followed him as he charged into a group of the Xeno, holy bolter roaring as it blew them into gory heaps of flesh. I was right on his feet, yet I was too late to help him – he had killed all four of them before I got a chance to strike at anything and the two of us got jumped in cover behind a low wall. He only allowed himself a second of pause before vaulting over the concrete and into the fray again. His chainsword rose and fell, splattering alien blood in great crimson arcs. His bolter spat death. His fists punched through torsos, destroyed skulls and broke limbs. I followed him through the carnage, firing at what I could, finishing off wounded Xenos, until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had barely been missed by a ray of pure darkness that obliterated a whole section of a wall, stumbled into cover and been thrown aside by Ultramarine a split second before heavy fire shredded the wooden panels behind which I was resting. I tried to say something to him, but two grenades ricocheted off the wall and bounced into our positions. Ultramarine threw one of them back into the street. The other exploded in his hand as he threw it too and it was then I broke. I began to cry uncontrollably, clutching my rifle to my chest and curling into a ball. I wanted the fighting to stop. I wanted the noise to disappear. I shouted, I think, and it took me a moment to see that Ultramarine was looking at me. It made me cry again of self-loathing, but he didn’t chastise me. He told me to stay where I was. I had already been of great help, he said, and had proved my worth. No mortal could follow him where he was going, he said. It was normal to be afraid. “If you’re afraid, then your time hasn’t come yet,” he said to me. “Today I die and you live on, Damian. Remember what I taught you. Remember me.” I tried not to look at his mangled hand as he rolled out of cover and disappeared into the smoke of combat. I saw him once more, just before he died. I heard a roar of triumph and poked my head out of cover. He stood there in the middle of the street perhaps fifty or a hundred meters away, surrounded by dismembered bodies. In his hand, he held what I was convinced was the severed head of the Xeno leader. His armour was torn and his left arm had disappeared under the elbow. He had lost his helmet and his chainsword was broken, yet he still stood, screaming his victory. I felt awe and sorrow simultaneously, because I could see the blood marring the blue of his armour, jetting from his sectioned arm despite his enhanced physiology. “For Guilliman and the Throne of Terra! Courage and Honour!” he screamed one last time. Then, slowly, as if reluctant to yield even to death, Ultramarine fell to his knees. The very earth seemed to shake as he crashed, face first, into the bloodied ground. I buried my face into my hands and cried until they came and found me. My tears were still running when the shackles closed around my neck and ankles. # “Damian!”
In My Spirit Lies My Strength August 4, 2011
This isn’t possible. I must think and see through this obvious trap, but for all my efforts I can’t detect any deception. “Damian, when did they take you?” I will not answer, not before I am certain this isn’t a trick. It has to be, he cannot be standing there inside the arena. He can’t be my opponent today. I saw him die. “Has it been so long you can’t recognize me?” Though he looks considerably more worn since last I saw him, it can’t be anyone else. I have revered his image too much to not be able to recognize him. Ultramarine is standing in the pit and I do not know what I must do. “I thought you were dead.” The words escape my lips almost against my will. I know that the more we talk, the less I will know what to do. The arena is curiously silent today. Did they set this up? Did they know exactly what they were doing? I can hear repressed sniggers and stifled laughs coming from the spectators. Yes, they knew all right. “So did I,” says Ultramarine. “The Emperor decided it was not to be.” As I look at him, I can’t help but think it would have been kinder of the Emperor to not let Ultramarine decay like this. Without his armour, he looks smaller than I thought – I feel he is barely taller than me, when he used to tower over us all. His left arm is still missing and in some places it looks like his skin is hanging loosely, as if muscles had been dried up. He looks bad and it hurts me to see him like this. I say it out loud. “You have changed too, Damian. You are taller.” Is that how it is? I hadn’t noticed it. I get new rags to clothe myself in each day, but did they do this on purpose so it would be harder for me to tell? “I’m stronger now,” I say. “I did everything like you taught me. I hated them and I killed them inside this arena. The Emperor has granted me strength because my cause is pure, just like you told me He would!” He doesn’t answer. He circles around me and I can detect a faint limp in his moves. His skin looks wizened and leathery, covered in countless scars. Was he fighting all this time, too? Why hasn’t he been granted strength like I have? His heart is infinitely nobler than mine! “I am fast and I am strong like a real warrior should be,” I continue. “Together we will be thrice as powerful as the two of us taken separately. We can break out of here, bring the fight to them!” He shakes his head. When he looks at me again, I see regret in his eyes. Regret, sorrow and pain. “I can’t do that, Damian.” I am at loss for words. What does he mean? “This isn’t the work of the Emperor, Damian. This is their work. Their fleshsmiths have reworked you, subtly enough that you didn’t realize it. I can’t accept your help. You are tainted.” For the second times in two minutes, I find myself thinking that this is impossible. “I am blessed!” I cry out to him. “My mind is strong therefore my body grows strong, like you said it would!” “You didn’t understand,” says Ultramarine after a pause. As I hear that, my hand grips my sword with such strength that my knuckles blanch under the strain. “In your spirit lies your strength means that you must keep your mind an unbreachable fortress because not yielding to the tricks of the impure will grant you the spiritual strength to carry on, not that you will become physically stronger, Damian.” I don’t understand anymore. I was wrong, all this time?
In My Spirit Lies My Strength August 4, 2011
“Redeem yourself, Damian. Try to escape now, kill as many as you can, or let me end you. That will be mercy and the Emperor will know it when he weighs your souls.” “I did everything like you told me to!” I scream. I want to understand, I want him to be wrong. I want to be right. “You have become a weapon like I am, but you were forged by the wrong masters. Save your soul while you still can!” This has to be a trick. He couldn’t be saying that to me. He wouldn’t threaten to kill me. “I can’t die, not now! I haven’t killed him yet!” I yell, pointing at the noble in his richly decorated throne. “You told me a warrior had to wait for the perfect chance.” “The chance will come to me in time, but you will never have it, Damian. You are lost.” He is wrong. He has to be wrong. Those words he pretends I have not understood, I have repeated them endlessly like a mantra during my captivity. In my spirit lies my strength. My spirit is strong therefore I am strong. He will not acknowledge my strength, therefore his spirit is weak and so he has become weak. It all becomes clear. It is not I who is wrong, it is Ultramarine who was broken by the Xeno. They have poisoned him and weakened him like they like to do. I will bring him the Emperor’s Mercy and I will be rewarded with more strength for that. I will fight. I will kill as the warrior I am, because my hero taught me that. He taught me to stay true. We named him Ultramarine and he was everything I thought I could never become. Once I have killed them all, cleansed their entire species, I will not tell how he died, because he deserves a better memory. Through me, his legacy remains. I let out a blood-curdling roar of challenge as I charge to kill. The last thing I see before the combat and the desire to fight engulfs my universe is the Xeno lord, standing up from his throne. He is smiling. His hands, half-raised, are clapping in a soundless applause.