It was dark here. It was always dark here on Acheron. Everything from the sky, with its limited spectrum of a deep grey stratosphere in day and pitch black night, to the manufactorum architecture that reached upwards like twisted, arthritic talons, forever casting the darkest of shadows over its populous thousands of feet below.
Tonight was not different to the majority of its ignorant citizens, as foetid rain fell in ceaselessly torrents from the black heavens, filling the damp air with the stench of machine wastes and human effluent. The unfortunates caught in the foul weather, scurried for shelter, busily locked within their own insignificant thoughts to care that something unusual was about to happen in their world.
And whilst those of sane mind clung to the overhangs in a vain attempt at protection from the deluge, no one cared to pay attention to the child, walking undeterred across the length of the thoroughfare. Had they done, they may have paused and considered the strangeness of such a sight, the sight of the small girl, wearing nought but a white night dress, drenched through to almost transparency, her awkward gait betraying a deceptive nocturnal wandering as she staggered barefoot in the mud. The rings of darkened flesh beneath flickering eyelids, in contrast to her pallid and gaunt features, marked endless nights of sleepless abuse.
The low moans that escaped her thin, bloodless lips, sketched the thinnest lines of nightmares that plagued her unconscious mind. Abruptly, amidst the pouring rain, she stopped at the entrance of a small alley, and stared sightlessly toward the rusting girders that formed an ad hoc archway to the void beyond. Without further pause, the small girl shuffled into the deeper dark, unaware of the hunched shadows that crept silently forward, driven from their holes and dwellings by curiosity and the multitude of eyes that watched her pass.
Two large shadows detached from the walls, motivated by more than intrigue, lecherous intent shining in their eyes and thoughts of perverted pleasures roiling at the forefront of their minds. A pair of muscled arms hauled her from her feet by her emaciated shoulders. Her legs continued to twitch with movement, her head fell back to stare at the heavens letting rainwater slide across her skin, as she was pulled closer for inspection. Even in sleep she could feel her captor’s hot breath upon her face.
Wordlessly they appraised her, rough hands roamed over her small frame, until one withdrew sharply with a disgusted grunt. The perpetual sound of dripping water masked the thin rivulets of urine that snaked down her thin legs.
She was thrown bodily to the wet ground, spraying mud on the impact. A dull crack-chime sounded as her head collided solidly with a half-buried iron spar jutting from the sodden earth. She lay still and silent, only her shallow breathing gave testament that she still lived. The silhouetted hulks paused momentarily, expecting the young girl to open her eyes, scream, anything, but she remained unmoving, the ceaseless rain failing upon her like transparent fingers, vainly attempting to prod her awake.
One of the brutes shrugged his thickset shoulders and nodded slowly to his companion. Half dead or half alive, it didn’t matter, the child was still of use to them. As they approached her fallen body, her left hand twitched slightly, followed by her feet and suddenly her entire body were in the grip of seizure. Bloodied froth dribbled from between her lips as paroxysms shook her thin frame. The brutes backed away cautiously as an unnatural keening shriek, unnervingly modulated as though played through a broken vox-caster, erupted from her throat. Her back arched as she writhed on the ground, her limbs twisting as though in cramp, and the metallic stench of ozone filled the alleyway. One of the brutes rushed at her in an attempt to quiet the girl, lest her screams summoned the watchmen, or worse, the enforcers.
The brute came to a sudden stop as he slammed into an invisible barrier, lost his footing on the wet mud and fell backwards with a winded grunt, mouth agape in a shocked expression.
Like a discarded marionette whose strings had been pulled, the girl jerked unsteadily to her feet, her head rolled limply against her chest. Her unearthly cacophony ceased and an eerie silence descended. The fallen brute tried to retreat from the child’s horrific display, scrabbling backwards on all fours as the girl slowly raised her head.
Her eyes snapped open, revealing cataract-orbs of pus coloured marble. A cruel smile stretched to an impossible length across her innocent face.
She fixed her diseased gaze upon the brute scrambling in the dirt like a panic-stricken animal, blinked and killed him. Cancerous melanomas and vile pustules burst and ruptured across his body, his muscles wasted away to brittle twigs, gangrenous sores cracked open his skin, his eyeballs melted, retinal froth dribbling from decaying sockets, off-white teeth became blackened stumps and within seconds, his flesh turned to a stinking liquid the colour of rotten vegetation and sloughed from his decomposing bones, leaving a putrid puddle of human soup that seeped slowly into the wet ground.
The other stood, stunned, his slow-witted mind wasting precious seconds deciding between fight or flight. Finally, anger overcame fear and with a ferocious roar, arm hooked back he charged the little girl as she admired her handiwork. His meaty fist swung around in a wide arc but never connected. The girl raised her thin arm and with unholy strength intercepted the blow before it fell, her dainty fingers clamping down on his wrist like a vice. She smiled sweetly up at him and gave his arm a playful tug.
With a wet sound of tearing flesh and sinew his arm was ripped from its socket in a welter of blood. She regarded the severed limb with a curiosity as the mutilated brute staggered backwards, dumbfounded. The girl casually discarded her trophy, which became maggot infested foetid mush as it hit the ground. The brute was still staring at the leaking stump of where his arm used to be, pain yet to penetrate through the shock of the impossible.
She took his remaining hand gently in her own; her fragile porcelain fingers caressed his palm. He looked down at her, his eyes dilated to gaping black holes in horror and as he watched, rooted with fear, she began to stroke the bare flesh of his arm. Where her touch landed, the skin became dry and shrunken, spreading out slowly, taking on the appearance of autumnal leaves. His arm withered, the flesh cured to brittle leather, the blood became sand and within moments the appendage crumbled to desiccated dust.
The brute choked on unformed words as his mind slipped beyond comprehension, beyond sanity. His legs gave way and he fell to his knees, this nightmare already regressing his shattered psyche. He finally found his voice and wailed pitifully, crying out to the God-Emperor, his family, anyone who would hear him, anyone who could save him.
The girl cupped his jaw between her delicate hands, his bowels loosened noisily.
“No more mommy, no more daddy, no more hands,” she giggled, “never touch me again.”
He screamed. A final, primal scream of defiance. The girl was still giggling as she twisted his skull, breaking his neck with an audible crack.
Six Months Earlier
Rain. Rain that fell from the darkness and it....burned? Or was he falling?
Falling. That was the first and last sensation that he felt. Yes!
And then....black. No! Black was the figure wreathed in flame. And light too, white light that scalded the eyes....yes....that was the Truth of it....
Truth! There was truth in the....philosophy....he remembered. Remembered the Truth.
He was wet, every raindrop a hammer blow....and he was an anvil. There was something beneath him...it was soaked and greasy and cold and......mud! He was lying down! Not falling!
No! He fell a long time ago....he remembered. He had....died? Wait!? Not dead! He was...alive....and lying....on the ground! His lips drank the tears of the sky....he could...taste? He could smell....the damp? His senses were reawakening. He could hear....the fire! The fire!? No! That was a long time ago! Smell the blood! His blood? Hear screams! Voices....shrieking! There was a war? No! That was millennia ago....centuries ago....millennia ago. Wait! Time! Was there still time!? To stop Its’ rise! It was created by him.....it....him...it.....him.....it...him. Its red eye! Red? With a slit? No! Colours were confusing in the monochrome!
His head hurt! That high pitched whine! He didn’t know....he didn’t....know....his....name! There was metal under his hands. He had.......hands? His eyes opened.....to....silence. Lights of a city before him.....in the distance.....still too blurry! He needed to...move. His knees...bent...and slid....in the...mud. He had....feet....ooze between his....toes....
He needed to.....he needed to....
He needed to get somewhere....