The Warp’s Curse – A Blackstone Fortress Short Story (Black Library)

Hey all,

My second short story for Black Library came out today. The Warp’s Curse is a story set in Games Workshop’s Warhammer Quest Blackstone Fortress Setting. Set in Escalation, the forthcoming expansion for Blackstone Fortress, it tells the story of four explorers setting off into an ever changing fortress.

Here’s the info: (Copyright Games Workshop Limited 2019)

 

The Warp's Curse

The Warp’s Curse

A Warhammer Quest story

A Primaris Psyker, a Ministorum priest and an aeldari walk into the Blackstone Fortress… Will any of them emerge, or will their rivalries destroy them before even the defences of the Fortress can?

READ IT BECAUSE
Enjoy a combination of very different heroes, each with their own reasons for venturing into the alien horrors of the Blackstone Fortress, in a labyrinthine and darkly satisfying tale.

THE STORY
Venturing into the Blackstone Fortress makes for strange allies… For Primaris Psyker Aradia Madellan, an uneasy pact with Ministorum Priest Taddeus the Purifier and his zealot Pious Vorne is bad enough – both would happily see her burn for her witchery, after all. But adding in the strange aeldari ranger, Amallyn Shadowguide, makes the situation fraught with peril – and that’s before they face the dangers of the Fortress itself on their quest to penetrate its deepest workings…


 

Blackstone Fortress is not only a great game, but a rich and intriguing setting. It was a huge honour and privilege for me to have the opportunity to write these characters – including the brand new character and model Aradia Madellan – and see what they got up to in the depths of the Blackstone Fortress.

You can get it here:

Black Library (Worldwide): Click here

Amazon (UK): Click here

Amazon (US): Click here

The Long War

Hello! I felt like it was time for a blog update. This time it’s not so much about writing, but something slightly different.

At the weekend I went to my first doubles tournament at Warhammer World. Which was a great experience (despite some awful powergaming by some grumpy bastards from Leeds.) Even though we didn’t win a game, we still had a great time and there were a couple of hilarious games. One including a complete vendetta against my Heldrake, which resulted in a draw. My team-mate Chris played Dark Eldar so I decided to start my Chaos army. Had I know they were desperate allies, which severely hindered us, I would have chosen something else.

As part of the tournament there is an award for the army list. so I decided to write a story for it as follows:

The Long War

By Michael J. Hollows

THE CATHEDRAL BURST into a ball of pyrotechnic fury as stained glass windows exploded from the pressure change. Brother-Sergeant Amatius didn’t see where the shell had come from as he proceeded on foot into the vast nave, his back to the firer. His squad fanned out either side of him, bolters blaring at the unseen enemy. Smoke and the smell of cordite hung in the air. The stained glass fell from the windows, crashing amongst the knocked over pews as screams pierced the gloomy air. They weren’t the screams of glass-cut agony, but screams of delight.

A group of warriors, clad in spiked blue armour, rushed the Space Marines from the aisles. Splinters from their rifles peppered the cathedral and lodged in the wooden seats. The Ultramarines ducked behind what cover they could find, but brother Portius was thrown from his feet by the force of a blow. The splinters stuck out from his armour at jaunty angles and he knocked them away with a sweep of a vambrace before crawling towards a plascrete pillar.

Amatius returned fire with his boltgun and the two nearest eldar disappeared in a cloud of thick, arterial gore. Vertebrae hammered the pews as the aliens were blown apart by the concentrated fire. To his left, Caius discharged his meltagun, liquid fire cooking the last of the onrushing aliens. The Codex Astartes was clear in this situation and he was confident his brothers would clear out the cathedral in an efficient manner.

A grinding of metal on concrete behind him made Amatius turn. An Ultramarines Vindicator was crossing the threshold of the cathedral, entering the nave and adding its thick exhaust fumes to the smokey interior. What was it doing; entering the building with a vehicle was madness. Amatius tried to raise the commander on the vox, but was met with white static. He waved at the vehicle to slow and the vox suddenly flared into a scream of feedback, overloading his auto-senses. Amatius ripped his helmet from his armour throwing it to the floor in disgust, dulling the vox squeal. He looked up, regaining his composure, as another shell flew through the air and detonated sending out a wave of high pressure that squeezed against his skull.

Shrapnel spread across the room and Portius cried out as scalding-hot metal ripped through his leg, severing the bone. Bright blood pooled around the stricken Ultramarine.

Amatius tried to reach his comrade, but was forced back by the sea of eldar warriors. Madness, he thought. What had got into the Vindicator’s commander? This wasn’t the Ultramarines way, they had strict codes and doctrines that prevented this kind of folly.

He dodged another attack and brought his chainsword up in reply. The spinning metal blades made easy work of the eldar warrior and sprayed blood across his deep blue armour.

Amatius looked for Portius, but he was still on the ground as enemy warriors crowded him. He fought back furiously with combat knife and fist, breaking through armour like paper, but they would soon overwhelm him. Malius was the nearest Ultramarine to Portius, pinned behind a pillar to the squad’s right.

‘Malius, break through to Portius and engage a withdrawal, now!’ Amatius shouted, the vox hardly necessary in the acoustics of the cathedral. The Space Marine looked back in the sergeant’s direction, and shook his head slowly from side to side.

What was he doing? Portius needed his support.

Amatius tried to edge closer, but the eldar still blocked his path. He hacked and slashed with his chainsword, pushing the aliens back, but their numbers weren’t thinning. The eldar had lured them into this trap and their only way out was by forming an organised withdrawal past the Vindicator, but first they would need to regroup and cover each other.

He unclipped a grenade from the mag-lock at his waist and primed the fuse. While fending off the aliens with his chainsword, pushing the blade into their faces, blood splattering, he lobbed the grenade in an overarm throw. Amatius hoped it would cause enough damage in the close confines to confuse the enemy.

With a crack of releasing pressure the grenade detonated. Body parts and blood flew through the air in deep crimson droplets, decorating the scene in a macabre hue. The remaining eldar hissed and wheeled on the spot, retreating further into the church.

Amatius signalled to his men to regroup on his position, but before they could respond he rushed to where Portius lay. The Space Marine was a ruined mess where he had fallen, breaking a pew in half as it collapsed underneath his weight. The sergeant checked for life signs, but there were none. He sighed and placed the warriors weapon on his chest, before clasping Portius’s lifeless hands around the hilt.

He looked up at his men, but only Caius and Praxis stood by him.

‘Where are the others?’ he asked, before standing to look for himself.

As Amatius gained a view of the cathedral nave, he saw Malius walking away in the direction the eldar fled, his bolter relaxed in his gauntlet down by his side.

‘Malius, what are you doing? Regroup!’ he shouted after his brother.

The Ultramarine didn’t respond, but kept walking as the sound of the Vindicator revving it’s engines drowned out the Sergeant’s protests.

Malius’s armour-mounted speaker elicited a hiss followed by a deep, resonant voice Amatius didn’t recognise.

‘Not Malius.’ He paused in his tracks and looked back, deep green-tinted lenses boring into his sergeant’s skull. ‘I am Alpharius.’ he said as the next wave of eldar warriors pushed past him, like a tide around rocks. Splinter rifles spat their charges once more.

The last sound that Sergeant Amatius of the Ultramarines 6th Company heard was the deep rumble of a shell exploding as the traitorous Vindicator finally lowered its aim.

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Taking the Scenic Route

It’s mad that this is my first blog post of 2014, but then the year has started off massively busy. My New Year’s resolution was to write every day, which so far I have managed, even if only a few words, or I have done some editing. This worked out pretty well until I realised that I had a week to paint an army for a tournament in Nottingham next weekend. Life is about challenges right?

That’s kind of what this blog is about. I haven’t done any proper writing in the last few days because I’ve been knee deep in paint. I also felt that I needed to type up the writing we did in class this week as, once again, I didn’t feel like reading it out in class. (Turns out someone wrote a similar story to me, but did it better – such is life!) It’s also, partly, what the title is about; taking the scenic route to finishing my tasks for this week.

This week we had the external examiner, Carol Clewlow (I had to research that spelling!) who is a novelist in her own right, come in and talk to us. At first it seemed as if she would just talk us through the assignment, but that was only a brief introduction. What followed from that was a very interesting workshop about editing and scenes. We discussed the importance of bridging scenes – just getting a character where they need to be without boring the reader – and crucial scenes – where the detail is included – and their differences. Carol also talked about how it was quite often a shame that a scene was used as a bridging scene when it had the potential for some much more.

I just realised I’ve been typing this in silence without music. Sometimes when you get in the flow that just happens, other times I need music to help me concentrate. If you’re a writer, what do you write to? I tend to favour soundtracks as I find I often end up following lyrics if I listen to anything else. They also help me imagine the drama. I think today’s choice is Game of Thrones season 2, though it’s now making me want to watch it.

Carol gave us a bridging scene:

We left home at 6.30. Not long after turning on to the motorway we hit an accident with a long tailback. A wrecked car was still on its roof as we passed. Despite this we managed to reach dover by late afternoon and by evening we were in France.

We discussed that this scene has so much potential for detail which could add to the story. So, Carol gave us a task, turn this scene into a crucial scene. What follows is what I wrote in that task and also a later edit where she asked us to find that one part that needed more. Rather than splitting it in to two of what is essentially the same thing, I give you the finished version (I may also have cheated and added more as I typed it up – oops!):

We left home at 6.30 in a hurry to put everything into the car. The car screeched as the wheels spun off the driveway under the heavy way and we were away. Not long after hitting the motorway we hit an accident with a long tailback. It wasn’t uncommon given the circumstances. Everyone was in a rush to get away and rushing made people careless. A wrecked car was still on its roof as we passed, glass smashed across the carriageway. The poor people were still trapped inside the crumpled mess of the vehicle. The incessant cacophony of beeping horns wasn’t helping and there was no sign of the emergency services. They had enough to do right now. they would have a job getting through this crowd in time. The victims weren’t worth worrying about. No one could help them now, it was every man for himself.

Despite the crush we still managed to travel the 60 miles from Bromley to Dover by late afternoon. It’s amazing that even in an emergency most Brits wouldn’t drive on the hard shoulder. Its against the rules! But who needed rules now? The port got pretty desperate and fights were breaking out everywhere as we snuck our small car onto the ferry. By evening we were in France, a bit of money changing hands could get you anywhere. The badge didn’t hurt, but showing that around everywhere would raise too many questions. It’s a shame the ferry wasn’t going further, but I didn’t have that much money.

The crossing went relatively calmly, once people were onboard the hysteria had died down.

Driving down the ramp into the yellow ramps lights of Calais, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought about those trapped at home. Poor old Britain. For now though, we were safe.

Some of the group decided to completely change the original scene we were given, but I saw this more of an editing exercise. So what you can see here is a typical example of how I might edit. I’ll take a piece I have written and see if I can embellish the sentences that are already there. Sometimes I may need to take out a superfluous word and others I may need to alter the tense slightly, but as the scene we were given was already quite tight I didn’t feel any need to.

My scene could probably be edited further, but then isn’t that true of everything?

On another note, as anyone noticed that no one really talks on Facebook anymore? All that appears on my news feed is people sharing links to videos and various surveys that tell you which character from that poor remake of  that dodgy sci-fi film you are most like. What happened to people typing and having conversations, you know, social networking? Maybe it’s just my Facebook, but I was curious if anyone else had noticed a similar trend?

On that perfectly 1000 word count note, I shall leave you.

Once again, thanks for reading and any suggestions, comments or thoughts are welcome.

Existence is Futile?

Two blogs in as many days?! I know, I was just saying the same thing to myself. I don’t quite believe it either.

This is all part of my plan to, on my days off, get up as early as my body will allow, make a big cup of coffee (white, one sugar please) and spend at least an hour writing. So once again today I have been leafing through my notebook and typing stuff up. I like to do it this way as to me it gets at least one edit before it has even been typed up. From what I write in the notepad which can often be rushed, illegible and sometimes a bit basic, I can take that and refine it in to something better via a keyboard. Although there is some stuff in that notepad that I ain’t lettin’ no one see! Nuhuh!

So as of now, I almost have 2000 words for the ‘Project Xenos’ story, some of which I posted on here a short while ago (you can search for it under that title). And that is before I have even begun to flesh out the story. I aim for that to be my first proper short story rather than just a 1000 word short. I know for a fact I still have some parts for it later in my notepad, so you will see more from that story soon I hope.

Today’s story allows me to get a little arty-farty and philosophical, which is something I don’t tend to do. That is unless I have been plied with alcohol (make mine a red wine, scotch or cider please, ta!). This is where the title comes from. You can work so hard to achieve, get so absorbed in that work that you can forget the little things in life, then one day, one small act or one mistake can destroy it all. I don’t know where I am going to use this little scene but I really like what it portrayed. I’m sure it will come in handy somewhere.

Also, for those of you getting your A Level results today (though you are probably to busy to read this crap!); don’t worry if you don’t get what you expected. Sure it’s a great feeling to achieve and get brilliant results and it can open doors. But A levels are not the be all and end all of your life. I only managed to achieve one A level in Physics (thanks to having ME and my Chemistry teacher thinking it was better for me to dedicate my time to Biology that I was failing miserably rather than Chemistry where I was ahead of the rest of the class – see, I’m still making excuses!), I still got a degree, now I am a college/university lecturer, teaching sound engineering to degree students. So in short, you can achieve whatever you want to achieve if you put your mind to it, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t. You have the power to shape your own destiny, even if the fates can be exceptionally cruel at times.

Anyway, I digress, enough of that. Here is today’s story (Once again thanks for reading and I truly value any feedback):

Hector Lumus was a scribe, he was an exceptional scribe, the most efficient and well respected in the sector. Many other adepts came to him for the quality of his work. So much so that he was always busy with one thing or another. Many scrolls and slates were stacked in ordered piles on his workstation waiting to be started.

So busy that he did not notice the creeping, dark shape behind him.

The kill stroke was so quick that he did not even register his own death until he lay on the ground, his own blood pooling around him, the once neat ordered piles of dataslates now strewn about.

He stared up at the face of his killer, wondering briefly what he had done to deserve this pain, he had always worked hard. That grizzled evil face was the last thing he would ever see as the light faded from his eyes.

Astrum Xenos

So now for something different, well kinda…

A love story in space you stay? Not quite. My mum was telling me at the weekend of stories about dying soldiers having this really odd feelings of loved ones feeling close. 

I thought it was a cool idea for a story so I wrote the following. It’s quite dark I think so apologies…

Astrum Xenos

The stars were beautiful in the night sky, he had always liked the stars. Gazing in to their glittering depths had helped him to think. Now was a time for thinking. Now was a time for reflection. Wanting to visit them and explore their infinite mysteries was what had ultimately brought him to this place. To see the galaxy he had said, as he left his home.

Though despite all that, these stars looked different. Gone were the signs he remembered, the ever enlightening Throne, the one for the children, The Grox and the bad omen, The Tyranid. This place was not the home of his birth, every sign in the stars here was a bad omen. He had come a long way since he had left that place. No, these were the stars of another sky, another planet, far from home.

The life of an Imperial Guardsman had taken him to many alien planets, to vast plains fighting the barbarous greenskin hordes. Archipelago planets where finding the sneaky xenos Eldar filth proved more difficult than it was worth and finally to the muddy torment of the trenches fighting the hated arch-enemy.

The machinations of the Chaos cults had brought him to this world with the full glory of his regiment. A mighty force spewed forth from the bulbous dropships, larynxes screaming oaths to the Emperor, lasguns blaring in white hot heat. He had run with them all, his own lasgun adding to the crack of fire, almost a veteran now in the few years of service he had completed.

That had been the initial invasion. Soon afterwards the war had turned in to a crushing battle of attrition, each side trying to wear down the other in a constant struggle from trench to trench. Their unit had been ordered in to battle time and time again, eventually being pushed back. The massed firepower of the enemy’s small calibre weapons and stubbers proving overwhelming. That was until the reinforcements were brought forward and the final push had been signalled. He had been one of the first up the trench ladder, the swill of the decking sticking to his feet threatening to drag him back down. An expert with his lasgun he had dutifully fired round after round of searing bolts to keep his enemy’s heads down, while his feet pounded over the ground.

He reached for his lasgun now, he had lost it somewhere in the confusion, but it must still lay nearby for he had not moved far. It had come all this way with him, the smoothly carved wooden stock the only physical remnant of his homeworld. Stretching the tendons in his arms, his mind sending impulses to the nerves of his muscles, he resumed the search. But no matter how hard he tried, how hard he concentrated, his limbs would not move. He attempted to cry out in frustration but the words caught in his throat. The thick brown dirty mud of the ground in no-man’s land was sucking at his body, making any slight movement even harder. That was that then, his arms were useless to him. He tried to shuffle at least, using the last strength of his body to move to somewhere else, anywhere else. But the cloying dirt was robbing him of any momentum. He was stuck, suspended, staring at the heavens.

As he lay there dying,  left with only his thoughts, the stars reminded him of home, of her. Producing an unnaturally vivid image in his mind. He couldn’t bring himself to think her name, it would only add to the pain and anguish he was experiencing. The piercing pain when he thought of her made him wish he had never left home. He remembered that day well, standing in the doorway of his hab, his parent’s eyes wet with tears, bodies wracked with sobs. He had had no choice, the Imperial tithe demanded his service.

‘I will return’ He had said.

He had made the same promise to her, but had vowed he would never say ‘goodbye’, those words were too final. At the time he could not bring himself to physically say them, it would have been as if admitting defeat. As long as they had known each other they had felt a connection they could not explain.

Lights filled the dark sky intermittently. The dull thumb of explosions occasionally joining the display of light. The war was still raging somewhere in the distance. The massed Imperial forces would be throwing everything they had at the enemy, forcing them from this planet inch by valuable inch. With lasgun and bayonet, with the huge tracked cannons of the armoured divisions they would hurl the traitors in to the abyss. But for now this war had passed him by.

He felt numb, his body slowly losing control. His extremities growing colder by the second. Though he could no longer move his limbs from the mud, he longed for her comforting touch. All physical sensation was leaving his body and he could no longer feel his arms or legs, the pain taking over. Despite his failing strength he had the uncanny sensation of an embrace, the soft touch of a loved one accompanied by a familiar smell. He glanced around him, his eyes the last part of his body he had any control over. Apart from the corpses smoking in the cold air around him he was definitely alone. Despite the pain his body was experiencing he could feel the presence reminding him of the contours of her body.  It was as if she was there with him now holding him, comforting him in the end. The touch he could always feel when he was lonely.

The last thought his broken mind could manage was the terrible guilt at the pain that he would inflict on her. That unnatural connection broken at long last, he knew she would be thinking of him, and it pained him more than his defeated limbs.

His body had gone, life blood mingling with the mud that lay all around him and caked his damp fatigues. The bright, strange stars still lit up the night sky, the alien sky…

But the last sight he would see, forever burned in the retinas of his eyes, was the mental image of his beloved.