“Apostle?” came a voice from across a seemingly vast distance.
Shupro relaxed his grip on the gem that rested against his chest. He opened his eyes and brushed his unkempt hair from his brow, revealing the bridge of his vessel. Reality crashed into his blissful reverie. For a moment, he was disoriented, but then his mind bridged the gap between Knowing and Being.
“Yes?” Shupro croaked. His throat was dry. How long had it been since he had eaten? Or slept?
“We are approaching the coordinates for the realspace translation into the Namiera system. Estimated at approximately twenty minutes out,” one of the many Brothers manning the bridge said, his fingers punching commands into a yellowing console.
Days, then. “Good,” he replied.
Shupro gave a dry cough that hurt the back of his throat. He resisted the urge to touch the newly restored Heart of Zaral around his neck. Concentration would be key now, but he longed to lose himself once more in the stone’s psychic grasp. Being one with the Allfather was joy unlike any he had ever experienced. It had allowed him to know what had been intended when Cha-Dawn sacrificed himself. The god-child was so much more than flesh, and the destruction of his body simply allowed his spirit to roam freely through the netherworld. Now, here, in the Namiera system, on the third planet from this dim but palatable sun, Cha-Dawn would be reborn.
The Cult of the Allfather on the world was small, but more than enough to overwhelm the weak masters that oversaw the meagre, all-but-forgotten mining operations that were this outpost’s only purpose. Then, far from the watchful eyes of the galaxy, they would gather the Choirs and Angels of their master, and under Cha-Dawn’s knowing gaze, they would begin the Rapture itself. The galaxy would know a brief instant of pain, and then a release as conscious life surrendered its grotesque hold over the natural tranquility of the void. Shupro and his cohort would ascend. They would all ascend.
An acolyte handed him tea heavy with sweeteners and he sipped it gingerly, letting the heat invigorate him. The sulfurous taste in his mouth washed away and he breathed deep of the stale air on the bridge. From nothing they had come, and to nothing they would return. Just as Cha-Dawn had always promised. Here and now was an historical moment, unrealized but for the chosen few of the Brotherhood. He smiled a deep and knowing smile, content in his role as a harbinger of the galaxy’s new and glorious future.
Once the time had come, Shupro gave the order to break from the Immaterium. Tactical screens around him glowed briefly with the swirling magentas of the Warp before being replaced with cold starry black. A momentary feeling of weightlessness took hold of Shupro, as it always had upon the return to realspace, and then settled as the world reasserted itself around the ship.
“Translation successful.” An acolyte called.
“Excellent.” Shupro said. “Begin a coded transmission to Namiera Orbital Control. They will be expecting our arrival and awaiting our signal to begin operations planetside.”
“Aye,” came a chorus of replies. For a few moments, there was silence. As it began to drag on, Shupro gazed curiously around the bridge, noting the furrowed brows of the crew, and the worried glances they gave each other from across their stations.
“Report,” Shupro said, an edge of suspicion in his voice.
A small, bald man, his eyes long ago replaced with crude optics, swiveled his chair towards Shupro. “We seem to be experiencing higher levels of post-translation interference than would otherwise be expected, Apostle,” he said. The man’s head suddenly cocked to the side. “Wait... wait... I’m picking something up from the colony.”
Shupro nodded in relief. “Excellent. Now, relay our messa—”
“It’s a distress signal.” The comms officer cut in as his expression suddenly tightened. “Identical beacons are coming in from the planetary defense platforms as well. It’s the only communication... anywhere, Apostle.”
“Contact!” another crewman shouted, this one from Tactical. “Bearing zero-four-zero mark three-one-two! Two contacts, no, three, no…” he scoffed at his screen “…seventeen.”
Shupro stood, clutching protectively at the Heart. “Give me visual.”
The forward monitors filled with images of the incoming vessels. Hulking masses of brutal geometry and jagged menace, each covered in primitive warpaint and glyphs. They bore the scars of recent battle, but none seemed hindered by their wounds. Whatever war they had fought here had been short and decisive. Nameria III’s defense forces wouldn’t have had a chance...
“Enemy ships on attack vector!” came more shouts from the bridge. “Estimate firing range in one minute! Apostle, we have to take evasive action!”
But Shupro was already running. He had vaulted from his command throne before the images had even resolved. The Heart. The Heart had given him knowledge of what he faced, far more intimately than any scan could ever tell. At the height of its power, the stone could command beasts of nearly any lineage, but that had been before it was shattered. Its restoration at the hands of Cha-Dawn and the Merged was a beacon to the creatures of the Allfather, its call purified for the great diaspora of the Hive. Try as he might, the sliver of the Heart’s original form wasn’t nearly enough to let Shupro control the aliens now closing upon the ship. From their minds, he could only feel the malice and joy of a predator sensing a new target.
Shupro’s feet clanged out against the deck as he fled through the halls, but then they seemed to fly out from under him as the first salvo of enemy fire collided with the nameless cargo vessel, slamming Shupro against a bulkhead. He rebounded and gained his footing, throwing a terrified Acolyte out of his way as he scrambled towards his destination: the escape pods. Once inside, he would be able to summon the Allfather’s angels. They would come for him and ferry him to a new world; one where Cha-Dawn could be born again, and their plan finally brought to fruition...
Once again, the ship lurched. The force of the impact rang like a bell through the deck and was followed by the tortured groan of the ship’s superstructure. Shupro was thrown from his feet as the world around him quaked and buckled. His head caromed off of the wall beside him, and he collapsed to the deck.
For agonizing moments, Shupro lay prone. Blood was dripping from his temple and running from his nose, his nostrils burning as fires intensified around him, his vision swimming, fading in and out of consciousness. Then, with a start, Apostle Shupro remembered his purpose. With a renewed strength, he propped himself on his elbows, and rolled onto his back, an arm searching for something to pull himself up by. He would not die here. He would make it to his destination. He would see Cha-Dawn reborn, and the galaxy brought to Revelation. His hand found a grip, and with cold determination, Shupro began to rise.
Then a keening wail of twisting metal sounded from above him. With a final groan, the ceiling above Shupro collapsed, and the Apostle fell into darkness.