The torrential rain cloaked the miserable world in grey, giving its broken, war torn surface a softer, more pleasant focus.
He held his ground in the middle of a once beautiful plaza, the broken statue that had grace it in pieces at His back. He pulled His broad sword from a particularly large greenskin. He swept around in a fluid movement, beheading a second and skewering a third. Ichor flew in the wake of His gleaming blade. He had become inured to the stench hours ago.
There was no end to the green vermin; more and more kept pouring onto the square. They were everywhere, as far as His mind could reach. Their low grade psychic resonance was like a knee-deep morass of stunted emotions and half-wit thoughts.
Lightning arched from His fingertips like shimmering, forked blue spears. The boom of thunder rolled around the plaza whenever they struck home, pulverizing masonry and pulping greenskins, leaving nothing but smoking craters in the mud. The plaza had once been a monument to Humanity’s greatness, but now it lay broken under the onslaught of His righteous fury.
He had become separated from His son and custodian guards. The former was beyond the plaza, his psyche bright and potent amid the swamp. His Justaerin were with him, He could feel the one whose mind was like a tempest in a glass: Abaddon - a suitable name.
His sword rose and fell; fluid and swift, piling dismembered greenskins at His feet in heaps. Lightning flashed at His fingertips, crackling in anticipation.
His custodian guards were trying to reunite with Him. They were not difficult to find, the architecture of their individual minds intimately familiar to him: Aquillon. Kelgan. Valens. Thendrat. Vendatha. And besides Vendatha, the impression of another; a small spot of calm amid the waves, crashing and coiling around something that was not there. A faint smile appeared around his lips. It was stolen away mere seconds later.
There had been a sudden jerk at the fabric of the aether, like a vacuum abruptly filled. And He could no longer feel the absence that marked her presence. He snapped his gaze around and out of His dual sense of reality, focussing only on the physical now. The custodians were a blur of gold and red in an ocean of green. A blur of gold and red. The streak of black that marked the young Sister’s physical location was gone.
He drew in the invisible currents around Him and time seemed to slow and stop as He coiled them into a storm within His mind. For a single moment, His heartbeat was the only sound in existence. The next He unleashed His will with the fury of an angered god, shaping a psychic shockwave that pulped the feeble minds of greenskins for a mile around.
With effort He reigned himself under control. His breathing was heavy and His heart beat loudly in His ears. His gaze snapped across the devastated battlefield, locking on the custodians rushing towards Him. A weary smile appeared around His lips when He suddenly saw her spring across a ruined wall section, bounding towards Him across piles of debris and corpses alike. Her thoughts soared ahead of her, and a frown creased His brow.
The moment Arlette rose in the wake of the shockwave she saw she and the custodians around her were not the only ones: An Ork of monstrous proportions clawed its way out of the rubble behind the Emperor. He did not seem to notice as He turned to look at them. How could He not notice? Aquillon shouted a warning, his voice breaking under its own volume. Arlette rushed headlong forward, her gaze fixed upon the Emperor's golden form. Her heartbeat struck loud in her ears as the metres disappeared under her bounding steps, a singular thought on her mind. And she bends her entire will to it: Behind you!
The Orkboss let out a deafening roar and swung the chunk of statue like an improvised club. Sparks flew as gilded ceramite buckled. And the unforgiving marble of His own likeness struck the side of His head with bone crushing force. A streak of solid, blue light slammed into his side a moment later, burning into His flesh long after it had impacted. The world span, lights glinting across the corners of His sight. Horus' cry of fury echoed across the plaza as the unthinkable happened: the Master of Mankind collapsed onto His knees.
The Orkboss reached down and grabbed the Emperor with its klaw, lifting him by the chest. “Puny humie fight long,” the brute chuckled as it squeezed its klaw closed. At first nothing appeared to happen.
“Hrnf!” The beast growled, squeezing harder, and the unmistakable screech of protesting ceramite rang across the suddenly quiet square. The Emperor gasped as the thick plates compressed his chest, scraping at the wound in His side and constricting His breath as He struggled to gain control over the ringing pain dominating His mind.
“Humie shoudda wear more red,” the Orkboss laughed as he indicated his own, badly painted red armour. “Red 'uns are stron---.” It stared stupidly as his arm came loose, severed at the elbow.
With a roar that could have spelled the apocalypse Horus swung his blade once more, throwing himself at the vile beast.
Arlette rushed across the plaza towards Him, stumbling onto her knees at His side in her hurry. Her grey eyes were full of shock and there was an edge of panic to her thoughts as she reached for His cheek. Her fingers trembled. He took her small hand and placed a kiss on the torn knuckles.
+ You are safe. +
Arlette nodded and wrapped her arms around the ruined gold of his chestplate, biting away her tears. He flinched at the embrace, though whether in pain or in response to her blankness was not clear. She did not notice anyway. He returned the embrace a moment later, a hand resting lightly against the back of her head as He held her close.
And in that moment their surroundings started to change. Greenskin corpses and ruined masonry made place for grass and common weeds and flowers. The fog dissipated to reveal a vale and a forest edge as if they had always been there. The weather broke and the sky cleared, the rain replaced by a watery sun as the twittering of birds replaced the clatter of steel and rap of boltguns. All signs of war disappeared around them, as if they had never happened. Or were yet to come to pass.
The heavy crimson fabric of His cloak had transformed into a himation under her fingertips, wrapped around His broad frame and the sleeveless chiton He now wore instead of His ruined war gear, the loose garment held at His shoulder by a plain rendering of the palatine Aquila. He could feel her embrace tighten, no longer obstructed by broken ceramite, her armoured body glove replaced by a plain peplos that accentuated her lean figure.
Arlette pressed her cheek against the exposed side of His torso, savouring the warmth of His skin. You almost died. Her thought was like the quietest whisper, soft and frightened. He heard it anyway. A moment later, moist gathered between her cheek and His chest.
+ I am fine. +
He gathered her against Him, onto his lap, but stopped when she cringed, a small noise of pain escaping her. He knew of the injury even before He saw the ugly bruise marring the skin of her side when He pushed the light cloth aside.
A frown congealed onto His shifting features. + You are hurt. +
It’s nothing. The thought was reflexive. He could feel her pain even though she tried to hide it, tried not to think of it. His hand moved from the back of her head along her jaw to lightly grasp her chin. He gently tilted her gaze up to His own, drawing in His aura as to not overwhelm her. She met His brown eyes haltingly, her cheeks streaked with tears.
+ You are mortal. + His mental voice was stern, and briefly edged with concern as He gently brushed His thumb across her cheek, erasing the streaks there. His free hand moved to carefully caress her injured ribs. + You must be careful. +
Arlette cast her eyes down, her thoughts ablaze with guilt and regret. Evidently a stray blow had hit her. He knew all too well: a stray blow could kill her. He pulled her back against Him in a protective embrace, her small fingers digging into His sides as she pressed her cheek against His chest once more. A soft noise escaped Him then, the first true sound in many years, as He firmly rubbed the back of his fingers against her other cheek and shushed her softly.
Her mind quieted under His light coercion and He placed His hand against the discoloured skin staining her side. The touch was comforting, its warmth seeming to seep through her skin and into her flesh, warming the aching muscles and soothing the mistreated bones there. When she sighed in relief He replaced it at the back of her head. + Be careful. +
A smile struggled onto her features as she glanced up at Him. I’ll train more.
He lightly squeezed the back of her neck in reply, feeling the thin muscles there flex briefly, the hint of a sad smile momentarily flitting across His unknowable features. Possibilities and solutions bloomed within His mind, but He dismissed them. He would not put her through that. It would not be enough.
He leaned forward and kissed her, His lips brushing past hers before making more substantial contact. She responded immediately, as He had known she would, her palms flat against His chest as she leaned up towards Him. The tentative press of the tip of her tongue against His lips made Him smile.
+ Impatient. +
He allowed her to deepen their kiss as He ran his fingertips down her spine across the light cloth of her peplos until He found the split at her hip and the soft skin there. He could feel the rounding of the thin bone as He followed its curve to the small of her back, His hand faintly visible under the delicate fabric. A dozen small muscles flexed when he pressed His palm against her lower back.
Her arms had slipped around His neck by then, the lean muscles pressing against his skin as she tried to draw Him further down, a little frown of concentration creasing her smooth brow as they kissed. When He felt the light pressure of her small hand against the back of His head He all but smiled against her lips.
He moved His hand to cup her bum, firm muscles shifting under His touch as He trailed their curve to the junction of her thighs. She made a small noise against His lips when He touched her. She arched against Him, her fingers curling; He could feel her nails scratch along His skin as she did so. Her thoughts blurred with need, their press warm and inviting against his mind.
She whimpered sweetly when He pressed a finger into her, her warm insides immediately flexing around the digit. Her kissing faltered, her lips parting to accommodate a small gasp when He added another. She mewled in response, pressing towards His touch, her fingers pawing at His skin. Her pleasure and need pervaded her mind, a mind He could see and feel as readily as His own. The images within her mind had long since strayed a mile from kissing alone. He enjoyed seeing them, feeling the intensity of the emotions He stirred. Carefully, He shared some of His own, savouring the little noises she made as He touched her.
His breath caught and the thoughts shattered when He suddenly felt her touch against His loin, lightly calloused fingertips brushing past His skin before slender fingers folded around the base of His length.
She stifled a giggle and dodged His gaze, her hand moving along His gender with surprising alacrity. Amusement seeped through His desire as He caught her chin. A mischievous joy set sparkles to her eyes as she looked up at Him. His amused expression must have briefly broken at the light squeeze because she giggled again.
+ Patience is a virtue. +
I want you. I love you. The blunt honesty of her thoughts hit Him like an emotional sledgehammer. But her expression fell a moment later. I thought I lost you.
+ Do not think of that. + And in the very instant the bleak addendum ceased to exist, leaving her mind unblemished by its depressing touch.
When He retrieved His hand from between her thighs she mewled most pitifully, tugging at the fabric of his chiton before reaching down to His loin with it as well. Please. Please. Don’t stop. Her thoughts tumbled one over the other, and it was all He could do to reign himself in. He kept His desire carefully in check. He could not afford to lose control, she would not survive it. But she was slamming her little fists on a whole lot of buttons she scarcely knew existed. When she leaned down to His loins He caught her under her armpits and pulled her back up.
+ No. +
Her mind objected fiercely, struggling against what she thought was denial. For the seconds He it took Him to turn her about, her flaring emotions were like a cold shower. However, they stopped the moment He pulled her down onto His lap. Her knees slipped off His thighs and suddenly her bum was firmly lodged against His loins. The press of her bum against Him was a temptation all its own, but at least He had more control over this position and, more importantly, it kept her questing little hands at bay.
She whimpered and ground against Him as He hunted after her wrists. He caught them and drew her closer against Him, until her slender back rested snugly against His chest with no room to spare. Not even for her small hands. She arched her back and tugged at her wrists, but He did not let go. He knew all too well what she wished to reach for beneath her.
Only then did He reach for her waist with his free hand, lifting her up before carefully guiding himself inside her, adjusting in tune with the undulating flow of her thoughts. She whimpered and pressed down, and His control almost slipped. His thoughts stumbled as pleasure ran amok with His mind, her tight embrace around Him making it difficult to focus. She whimpered and pressed herself onto him, desperate for friction as He scrambled to gather His briefly scattered wits.
He held her still, caressing her stomach soothingly and shushing her frantic thoughts until they had quieted down. He held her near to Him, in the closet of embraces, as He gently took her, reawakening her desire with controlled, languid thrusts. He let go of her hands and she leaned forward, arching her back as His hands slipped to her waist. They fitted around her slim hips as if they belonged there. She mewled softly in pleasure. Please. Need. Her thoughts had long since lost cohesion.
He kissed the soft skin of her neck as His hand moved from her stomach to her gender, his light touch drawing a gasped response from her. He enjoyed the physical pleasure the narrowing of her soft insides gave Him, but not as much as He savoured the tumbling of her mind, the way her thoughts faltered and her emotions hitched, stumbling together into the most beautiful psychic mosaic. He did it again, following the unintentional guidance of her thoughts, engraving the sensitivity of her mind to His touch into a lasting memory.
It did not take long before her thoughts grew strained, pleading for release. He could feel the pleasure course through her, lifting her mind to the skies. My Emperor. Please. And His thoughts whispered back all the things she needed to hear. She cried out, her mental voice so much stronger and encompassing than its breaking, ill-used physical counterpart. He savoured the music of her mind and made her pleasure His own. And when He carefully shared its intensity back to her, her mind soared once more, stretching its small wings beside His wide span.
For a brief, blissful instant, His mind was empty. Too soon His senses returned to Him. He gently held her until the tremors gripping her slender frame subsided into trembling while He picked up the scattered pieces of her mind and lovingly fit them back together.
When she began to stir He put a soothing hand to the back of her head and cradled her against Him until she quieted. He lightly brushed her small nose and waited for her breathing to even out. She slept quietly, her features calm as if they knew no care in the world. He would keep it so – not a care in the world. His hand still rested behind her head, he lightly caressed it as He leaned down to press a kiss to her forehead, and spoke softly against her skin: “Arlette mei.”
“My Emperor?” The words resonated within his mind.
A moment later the corpse of a gargantuan greenskin collapsed beside him, followed by Horus. The Orkboss roared and they struggled briefly but then Horus’ blade put an end to the beast, ichor spraying wide as he severed its ugly head from its rump.
“My Emperor?” Aquillon repeated. The moment the young Sister had thrown herself at the Master of Mankind a ripple had pulled through the aether and His aura had blinked. Aquillon had never seen such a thing happen before and he had wisely taken it to be a bad sign. Perhaps He was more severely hurt than they thought?
+ Worry not. + The world around Him congealed back to its grey, misshapen self. Rain still pattered down from the dark clouds above.
Aquillon nodded and let it rest. “That will rout them,” he remarked as he looked away from the marred form of his Lord. He could not well bear the sight. The impossible had happened, and He was clearly hurt. Aquillon’s blood roared for vengeance as he watched the greenskin horde fall apart.
+ It will be a long war yet, there are lesser factions to break. The planet must be cleansed. +
Aquillon nodded in grim agreement. Vendatha appeared at his side, his gaze on their felled Lord, still sitting in the mud with the young Sister seemingly asleep in His embrace. The Emperor nodded barely perceptible and Vendatha reached down, scooping the Sister up into his arms, careful as to not wake her.
“Better get started,” Horus remarked as he wiped and sheathed his sword, before reaching a hand out to his father. The Emperor took it, and Horus pulled Him up to His feet with a grunt and a smile. “First thing in the morning!”