“Doubt is like tomorrow’s storm, we cannot see it, we do not wish to face it, it may never come to pass, but to ignore it is to risk being swallowed by its winds and drowned in its rains.”
– Qu’ro, the War Seer of Ki-leng
The ash tides of the Med Dustbowl were in constant motion. Atomic winds shifted the sandbanks, molding and reshaping the desert in mock imitation of the ocean that once existed here. The process was glacial compared to ancient ocean tides, but over the course of days or weeks the landscape would be transformed, hills of reddened dust would vanish from where they had been only to reappear months later. Millennia-old ruins would appear from the ground as the sands were swept away, only to vanish once more, reclaimed by the hungry desert.
Travelers, warbands – even entire armies – had been known to have disappeared in the Dustbowl. At the mercy of useless maps, they would become lost, starved and eventually swallowed by the rolling tides of ash and dust.
In another life, Amon had lived upon the fringes of the Dustbowl, his village was to the East and his father had been a guide out there, feeling the wind and reading its flow. Only a life lived amongst the restless sands could produce such prescience and Amon had spent much of his youth learning to read the currents, understanding the relationship between the wind and the desert.
Amon had since forgotten his father’s name, the gene-forges had left no room in his mind for such irrelevances. But he had never forgotten how to read the sands of his homeland; some lessons settled marrow-deep, deeper than any surgeon’s blade could reach. Amon had a new father now, though in truth he did not know his name either, but the Emperor had taken him, a wilful and naive youth and raised him to be stronger than his real-father ever could have.
Kneeling in the sand, Amon scanned the dust-banks around him and, after a moment, removed his helm. His face was dry, the texture of a hewn rock, skin darkened by a lifetime of hot sun and battered by relentless atomic winds. His eyes had long since become accustomed to squinting against the dust-storms that blew permanently through the Dustbowl, and they were now like carved nicks in a rock face. Without the display of his helm, visibility was short, scarcely a hundred yards even with his gene-hanced eyes, but out here, Amon knew, one must see with more than just the eyes. Against his skin, Amon could feel the wind and could hear its pitch and tone, a high shrill to the North-West, suggested the wind was whistling over a sandbank, while the lower notes of the wind he felt on the back of his neck told him that the way to the West was clear. At least for now.
Amon took this all in, feeling and absorbing all that the winds could tell him and, once he was satisfied, he mapped a few kilometers on the wrist-display attached to his armor. He moved off then, marking his current position with another electro-tag on his data-map. He replaced his helm, rose and set off westwards.
He had been traveling through the Dustbowl for three days now, but it was almost a solar month since he left the Imperial outpost far to the East. He had made such journey’s before, dozens of times, but this was unlike any assignment or campaign he had yet embarked upon. Here, he wasn’t heading a patrol on a sweep of the wasteland, nor scouting for an army of the Emperor’s Thunder Legions, he was alone, truly alone. The electro-flare in his pack could be used in a pinch and a lighter of Imperial troops would come to his assistance, but his orders were clear, move unseen, attract no attention, do not engage unless engaged or Eden is within sight.
The objective had been codenamed ‘Eden’ and that was all that Amon actually knew about it. His orders were puzzlingly vague, seek and secure Eden, if unable to secure, destroy Eden by any means. What Eden actually was, whether it was a place or an object, perhaps even a person, was all unknown to him. An Astartes’ mind operated by ruthless efficiency and straight forward reasoning, such mysteries and uncertainties as this were anathema to him.
Yet he picked his way westwards, following the ghosts of a rumor that had flickered across the wastelands of Terra. This rumor had found its way to the ears of the Imperium and so Amon had been sent. His orders to seek Eden had left Amon with a deep unease that he had not felt since before his ascension to Astartes and he had thought that such doubts were impossible for him now. The revelation of that troubled him more deeply than he could ever reasonably explain. But orders, especially these orders, could not be refuted.
Amon was, after all, Sixth Host and sometimes the greatest threat to mankind could be the smallest rumor.
As he walked, he checked once more the mission details in his helm display; a data file that was desperately scarce on solid information. There was only one consistent thread connecting every rumor and reference to Eden and Amon murmured aloud the name of his objective as it was given in its localized dialect. It was the only word he had said out loud since he left the Imperial outpost a month ago: