Johannes the Butcher
By: Gregor Wiesen
This story was originally submitted to Mythic!
The great iron doors of the ancient cathedral opened with the slow, malevolent movements of an approaching thunderstorm. The five soldiers of the Empire strode into the grim chamber with confidence and determination. Faith in Sigmar held their minds at ease in the presence of the unspeakable, palpable evil within the darkened sanctuary.
Long ago, the cathedral had been a place of worship of Sigmar. It stood as a triumph of the Empire’s architecture, reaching towards the heavens with a pinnacle of gleaming marble. Alas, it had long ago fallen into disuse by the righteous, and word had spread that new rites and worship were taking place in the fallen chapel. When the soldiers arrived, they found the once clean windows boarded over. Dirt, ash, and stains of questionable origin had darkened the polished marble exterior.
The commander pushed against the doors of the cathedral and they resisted his arms for a moment, but then surrendered to his strength – swinging inward and revealing the gathered darkness within the once glorious building. A hot charnel house wind rushed from within the chamber toward them once the door was opened. The stench of death and the fetor of decay nearly slammed the soldiers down upon their backs. There was a sound of small things scuttling in the shadows and larger things, unseen, moving in the reeking darkness.
The five soldiers entered the desiccated ruins of the once holy ground, and one of them started to laugh nervously. One glance from the steel blue eyes of the commander silenced the lilting laughter of the soldier, but the sounds echoed on through the abysmal chasm before them. They walked forward, all five holding their swords out – prepared for the worst – their commander was clutching his large sword in both hands, his hold was growing tighter, and sweat was dripping from the pommel of his weapon. “In the name of Sigmar and the Emperor,” the commander shouted, “we have come to cleanse this profaned sanctuary!”
His words did not draw an echo. They charged into the air around them, and seemed to die before reaching the walls. They moved forward, seeing the altar before them in the sickly light that seemed to stream nervously from the doorway. The commander listened for any sounds in the darkness, preparing himself for an attack. He heard the unsteady footfalls of his men, staying near to him. They were unwilling to sweep out as they should have. His eyes narrowed to pierce the gloom before them, and he cocked his head slightly as a new sound crept from the darkened roof above them.
“Have you seen the stolen midnight tongue that drips with honey and magic?” a silken voice whispered to him. He looked to his men. They made no movement, no sign that they had heard the soft, gentle voice from above. The commander looked up but saw only darkness, only the void that spoke to him once more, “They are all dead, Johannes.”
In his mind the grim commander saw his family. His beautiful wife and their three children. He had entered the service of the Empire after hearing reports of a town overrun by the legions of Chaos. He had heard of what the vile marches had done to the innocent people of that hamlet. He saw his wife’s soft, downy breast torn open by the cruel swords of warriors covered in living iron. He watched with his mind’s eye as one of his children was torn apart by a pile of gibbering pink and blue monstrosities. Another of his children, the eldest boy, was stripped of his skin and given rebirth as a servant to the dark gods of the north. As his village burned and the streets buckled, roiling in the onset of the howling Chaos winds, his youngest child was seized by a horde of beast men, and he watched as they tore his body to shreds. He saw his son’s arms thrown to the hungry maws of the braying goatherds of Chaos, and watched a tall, bearded beast gnaw upon the headless jawbone of his child.
“This is the world you wish to defend, Johannes?” the voice whispered into the deep reaches of his mind. “This world is dead, my child. This world shall slide off its skin, and slip into the fiery baths of creation. What you defend is without reason, without purpose.” Sweat beaded down the commander’s forehead, his eyes twitched nervously all about the cathedral. Still he could not see the bearer of this rich, hideous voice. His men looked to him for strength, and in them he could only see their failure. He saw his children and wife murdered and mutilated again and again. His men would fail.
“They already have, my child” the voice slid into his mind once more. He closed his eyes tight, hoping they could somehow block out what he heard and saw. The darkness around him was only replaced by the dark screen of his eyelids, where he watched his beloved Empire crumble, and stamped to dust beneath the iron heels and hooves of the limitless Chaos legions. He watched the world remade by the winds of change, watched the verdant hills of his homeland replaced by rolling acres of flesh and rivers of blood. “This is your world, my child. This is your future. You need only take your place within it. You need only take the first step, and I shall catch you if you falter.”
The scream came from their commander’s lips, but no human voice made it. It was a guttural roar of unimaginable rage, the screaming of the world’s afterbirth. The four soldiers looked to their commander, and saw his great sword swinging, faster than possible and cleaving one of them in half at the waist. The other three soldiers tried to rally themselves against him, but each fell before his wrath. The luckiest of them died immediately, but one was merely separated from his arms and legs by several vicious swings of his commander’s weapon. Screaming in pain, he laid upon the cold surface of the chapel floor, a twisted mass of flesh.
The commander went up to the altar, and laid his sword down upon it. A rushing of wind and the thunderous beating of wings echoed through the twisted cathedral. The wounded soldier watched in speechless horror as the abomination spiraled down from the darkness above and landed before his commander. Its feathers rippled with power and glistened in an iridescent rainbow of insanity. Its buzzard head turned toward the soldier, and it snapped its hideous beak at the poor man.
The commander kneeled before the creature. The ancient daemon seemed pleased with its servant. It laid a hand upon the man’s forehead, and a torrent of azure flames bathed the man. The soldier watched on as his commander’s armor grew darker and seemed to twist and writhe, growing and attaching itself to the man within. After a moment, the flames subsided, and the commander rose before his new master. “Now,” the hideous creature said in a voice that was a thousand voices, “Go my child. My champion. Let the name of Johannes the Butcher be sung by the servants of Tzeentch, and screamed by those who would oppose us!”
The soldier watched as Johannes turned around toward him. Upon his forehead blazed a cobalt brand in the shape of an orb and a slithering line. His armor was black, though it seemed to shimmer with vibrant colors as he moved. The soldier could see that his hands were now tipped with ragged claws, and he gasped in horror – his own blood gurgling in his throat – as he watched a third arm, grown beneath his former commander’s left arm, reach out and pick up his sword. The blade was now notched with dozens of spikes on each side; and as he raised the weapon before him the blade burst into a tempest of blue and pink flames.
The soldier’s eyes grew wide in horror as the Butcher approached him and he waited for the final fall of the champion’s terrible weapon. But all he saw was the face of his former leader coming closer. The eyes now filled with purple, blue, and red. The mouth opened to reveal rows of barbed, serrated teeth. The hideous maw was growing wider and wider until it seemed to devour the entire world.