Cold Blood by David Guymer. An Apocalypse short story, originally published by The Black Library, July 2013. Approx. 27 pages.
Death is descending upon the prison colony on the moon of Ixus IX. The fallen sons of Olympus, the Bloodlords, are swooping down for what promises to be an easy feast of sanguine nectar. Meanwhile, the destroyer ship Bloodhammer maintains a deliberate orbit above; with a minor god lurking in its bowels champing at the bit for the moment to vent its unholy rage.
However, although both the descent and approach upon the penal colony were executed with precision, what was found with the prison habs was not the bloody banquet anticipated. In fact, it was a horror that posited the ultimate dilemma for the thralls of Khorne.
How would they fare against a foe that would yield no blood?
That right there is your paper-thin story premise. Cold Blood does not read as a character-driven tale; it is a play by play analysis of a tabletop scenario. This is fine, assuming the author has put together some solid action. Glad to say, Guymer delivers in this tale.
Cold Blood bifurcates between two parties; alternating between the assault on the penal hab by Circios and his group of assault Marines and the actions of navarch Ladon aboard the Bloodhammer. For Circios and his squad, we watch as they descent into their inevitable bloodlust; beginning with edgy, hostile anticipation and ending with them succumbing to the full rage of it. Aboard the Bloodhammer, we are treated to a mental duel between Ladon and his Warpsmith, Sabaktes. The bickering takes an interesting, entertaining turn when we realize how wrong things are going down on the surface of the moon.
The prisoners are all dead. And what awaits them is beyond dead.
As Cold Blood is a story focusing on combat rather than emotional journey, it is critical that the "units" are done proper service. For the Bloodlords, the former "Spears of Olympus", Guymer paints the Traitor Astartes as avian scrappers, from their swooping, stabbing spear attacks to the birdlike contours of their armor. They are haughty and deliberate, at least until totally lost to lust. On the other side of the table, Guymer does a stellar job playing up the physical descriptions of the Necrons. This is important, as the Necrons have no emotional component to present, it becomes a challenge to make reading about them enjoyable. The focus here is on their frightening physical presence, their unnatural motions, and their unquestionably lethal technologies. There is also an added bonus here; an appearance by an honest to goodness Lord of Skulls. Now while this feature should be cause for celebration, and although Guymer does admirable work describing its fierce armament, its role ultimately feels somewhat obligatory and tacked-on. As if the only reason it showed up is by request of the BL overlords, hoping to bolster sales of the tabletop units. Which is exactly their prerogative. You can almost imagine a note saying "make sure you stress how big it is and also make sure it uses its three primary means of armanent". All I'm saying is the story could have worked fine without it, and a separate story revolving around a Lord of Skulls causing merry havoc would have done this beastly contraption more justice.
If anything detracts from Cold Blood, it is that the arc focusing on Ladon and Sabaktes remains unfinished. After a thrilling scene midway through where the Bloodhammer goes at it with the prison hab defense arrays, the focus returns to Circios and company and stays there. Five more pages would have done wonders for this story.
Other than that, this is as solid a short as you can ask for. The technical descriptions resonate legitimacy (the few opening paragraphs, focusing on Circios' descent to the surface of the moon, are quite excellent), and there are some classic fight sequences; especially when Circios goes toe to toe with a tomb spider. Great stuff.
Here's what it is:
When you read a Black Library tale, you are either getting a story or a commercial. Cold Blood is a commercial, but it is presented in an excellent manner. It's always fun to read stories told from the view of Chaos Marines, and it is a real treat when an author can properly handle necrons. Cold Blood is worth checking out.
What can I say? It's a silhouette of a Lord of Skulls, set against a smoldering backdrop. It is not even a flattering angle of the Lord of Skulls either, making it pretty hard to read. Why they didn't use another picture, even an older one, only they can tell you. If this was a print work in a bookstore, this cover would do no one any favors.
Cover Final Score: