Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
Vapour coils along the bough, drifting away in little skeins of dissipating light. Tobias grins. Luminous breath: sure sign of irrevocable infection.
“How do you feel, my son?”
He looks up at the white rectangle glowing at the throat of the padre’s power armour.
“I’m fine, father. Some kind of feel-good side effect, I guess. Never felt better, to be honest.”
Spinal segments click as the helmed head nods.
“You’ve indicated you’ll not be wanting last rites?”
He waves his hand at the swamp about them: “Seems pointless, father. This far from Bethlehem, feeling this good, I’ve got to be closer to rapture than any man has ever been.” He grins as he finishes, taking the blasphemous sting from the words.
“You’ve been a righteous sinner, that much I’ll grant you, Tobias Ghent. Had more than an even share of prayers offered for your deeds.”
Tobias sits up, trailing luminous exhalations from both nostrils.
“Nothing that hasn’t been done by many others in service of the Great Crusade, father. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the urge to move is setting in.”
“Go with God, Trooper Ghent. May you find peace within his Grace before long.”
He swings down from the fallen tree and lands up to his calves in the pale amber waters of Naknarden Swamp – named after the first trooper to disappear into it. For some, the restless phase can last a long time. Sufferers are permitted to wander off as confinement produces a madness that has been deemed ‘unholy’. Therefore, the afflicted must surely be allowed to go forth, trusting unto God for their salvation.
He walks and smiles as the water deepens and the night stirs about him. The silence that surrounds the outpost being aberration, not norm.
God. He’s fought in his name and seen miracles occur on many battlefields. But the times he felt closest to his Lord was in the deep dark between the citadels of Heaven, as the vessel rested and recharged before daring the byways of purgatory once again. He could stand at a viewport, watching the endless night pass inexorably by, and feel the spine-tingling touch of divine attention.
He walks on as the night deepens about him, feeling unseen life surge past his legs. Nothing attacks. Moonrise finds him further afield than any who have ventured out upon this swamp-girdled planet. Great trees reminiscent of willows line his path, the firemoths amidst their hanging branches providing sufficient light for him to make his way.
Beyond the trees he strides out into what looks like a partially submerged meadow, long grasses waving above the waters that cover the ground. He coughs. The luminous breath is ruddy, his chest feels tight. With a smile, he looks about and chooses a circle of clear water amidst the verdant expanse.
Taking a knee, he bows his head.
“I am what I have become in willing service for those who will never know my name. To quiet waters He hath led me, to these still pastures, that I may seek no more.”
The next cough leaves him shaking in a cloud of ruby mist. The one after that sprays blood into the waters. He kneels and looks up. Stars he cannot name wheel drunkenly above as a fourth cough emits pure white vapour and a feeling of peace rushes through him so violently he knows what’s next.
The grasses nod to the languid echoes of a tide against a far-off shore. A soft breeze ruffles dark hair as moonlight sets a ring of silver about the body that used to house Tobias Ghent.