Nurgle's Gift by Guy Haley and The Tallyman by Anthony Reynolds. A pair of Nurgle-related short stories, originally published by The Black Library, February 2014. Nurgle's Gift approx. 6 pages, The Tallyman approx. 12 pages.
Here we have a duo of tales revolving around everyone's favorite pustulant deity, the Plague Demon Nurgle. The prospects are good for a combo pack like this; the reader can expect tons of oozing orifices, bloated, buzzing creatures, rot and a pervading reek. And what makes it even better is that these two stories are penned by authors that excel at atmospheric prose. So how did they stack up?
The shorter of the two stories here, and far and away the superior. Barely longer than some of the Advent Calender works, Nurgle's Gift is fast, powerful, and cruel, like a punch in the gut from an older brother. In an unnamed village on an unnamed planet, the townsfolk are falling one by one to a vile plague that holds their land in its thrall. But there is "hope"; just outside of the village, from where the mournful chanting rolls down incessantly. Hope, just a ring of the gong away.
Hope is called for, and the call is answered by a sextet of shambling giants; Chaos Marines (the Black Library page says they are Sky Warriors) distended and deformed by their fealty to Nurgle. As promised, they offer hope, and for only a small price, for nothing comes for free. Humans being what they are (even in the fortieth millenium), the decision is fairly easily made.
I've lauded Haley's mastery with settings and descriptive wording before, and I am here to do so again. This is a true fireside frightener told in the WH40K setting. Haley does such a superb job painting these disgusting fallen Astartes in all their nauseous glory; and the doomed village, seemingly found in thousands of stories and movies before, permeates with fresh terror. There is no safety here; not when your God has abandoned you. That is why you do not stop to inspect the straws you clutch at. Or take the time to look Nurgle's Gift Horse in the mouth.
Bear in mind that there is no battling or bolter-fire in this story; it stands as a twisted parable. And again, it is the descriptions that make this story shine. The ending has some nice twists, although you will probably see at least one coming if you have ever watched Storm of the Century. But for depictions of once majestic bodies distorted by the most vile influences, you can't beat Nurgle's Gift.
Our second tale stars Reynold's star character, Word Bearers Dark Apostle Marduk. As Marduk's ship, the Infidus Diabolus approaches an infected jungle world (so infected, in fact, that the taint spills into the lower orbit), it receives a beacon from a missing First Acolyte. After being warned by the mysterious augur Antigane that a creature named The Tallyman lords planetside, Marduk takes a team down to retrieve the missing Word Bearer. Fairly simple setup.
It turns out that there is a good reason why the plague taint has saturated the planet so. Down on the fetid planet, there is a "Garden of Nurgle" in which labors the titular Tallyman, a creature which is essentially Nurgle's Accountant (making him a doubly odious creature).
Of course, the missing First Acolyte is smack dab in the middle of said Garden, so extracting him might lead to tempers flaring and bolts flying. Ergo, if you felt as if there was a lacking of action in the first story, it is more than made up for here.
Tallyman is written fairly well; the corrupted background is well rendered, and where Haley writes better physical descriptions, Reynolds sets up some scenes of suffering that make the skin crawl. Dialogue is fairly standard; no memorable quotes but nothing cringe-worthy either. The fight scenes are equally uneventful; they just are. The concept and execution of The Tallyman are done well enough; but he should have been given some real biting dialogue, a chance to chew the scenery some.
What keeps me from enjoying The Tallyman to its fullest is the limited extent of my knowledge of WH40K lore. I can only blame myself on this one; I started reading the books too late, and now I don't have enough reading time to fully catch up. If you are not familiar with any of Reynold's Word Bearer works, you might not care about Marduk, and you won't know him any better by the end. Same for Antigane; I would love some detail as to who she is and why she is important. And, without knowing some of the broader lore, the importance of the last sentence of the story is lost (although it is obviously a setup for something big). I am not suggesting that it is the author's job to provide a glossary detailing every person, place, and thing appearing in the story; and, The Tallyman is still fairly accessible to even the lay reader.
While not deep like Nurgle's Gift, The Tallyman is still enjoyable. Though some of the elements of the story seem arbitrary, Reynolds makes the most of the scenery in a Nurgle-themed party. Just wish that the title character had been given a stronger part.
Great cover by Black Library regular Paul Dainton. This is a perfect example of a work that matches the tone and content of the story within. This stalking horror seems to have waltzed right from the pages of Nurgle's Gift. Appropriate color palette, and a good choice in leaving the font plain white.
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