Cast A Hungry Shadow by Fehervari. A Warhammer 40,000 Genestealer Cults Story, originally published September 2016. Approx. 31 pages.
Back in September there was much rejoicing as we were graced with not only a full-length novel (albeit on the short side) from personal favorite Peter Fehervari based upon the newly released Genestealer Cults Codex, but we also got a tie-in short story as well.
The events chronicled in the cryptically named Cast a Hungry Shadow transpire between the explosive prologue of Genestealer Cults (during which the former stewards of the soot-ridden hellhole of Redemption, the Sisters of Battle, met their demise), and the rest of the novel, that brilliant chess match between the adherents of the Spiral Dawn and the Guard members of the Vassago Black Flags.
However, instead of the cultists vs. the Guard, what we have in Shadow is a different kind of gang war; one between the Spiral Dawn cultists (furthering their foothold on the planet), and members of an entirely different cult: the Chaos worshipers of the Scorched Creed. The devotees of the Scorched Creed abide by the calling of the teeming currents of Chaos which roil madly below the spires of Redemption, maintaining its liquidity; maintaining its....lie. Is the planet Redemption a lie? Or is redemption simply a lie? Both?
The cultists of the Scorched Creed are led by a fearsome brute named Gharth; a giant, hulking Chaos puritan who lost his eyes and gained true sight. On the side of the Spiral Dawn stands Aziah, a Chosen Claw, bodyguard of the Spiral Father, and trusted son of the glorious Saint Etelka, better known as the Sororita who betrayed her kin. What brings these two factions on a (literal) collision course is a presence of power so potent, so attractive...so useful, that it simply cannot be ignored.
Said source of power is a female psyker; one of such latent potency that it boggles the mind. It is also an amount strong enough to tip the scales of dominance in favor of the faction which retains her first; making it no shock that Gharth and Aziah a jockeying so voraciously to earn her favor.
From that framework, Fehervari delivers what may be his darkest story yet, with some of the most brutal action I've witnessed anywhere in the 40K universe. While it doesn't have as many links and Easter Eggs tied to other "Dark Coil" tales, what it does showcase is PF's immense creative ability in crafting unique characters and factions.
We already saw in Genestealer Cults the legitimacy and authenticity with which this new take on an old faction was presented (which reminds me; I'd recommend that one reads GC before Cast a Hungry Shadow). Aziah makes a fine, sympathetic protagonist here; especially this being a story bereft of "normal" humans for us to root for. He is a devout, true believer, but also prone to rage and fury issues.
But the real show-stealers here are the members of the Scorched Creed. Lifelong slaves to the slab-mines of Redemption, they find purpose and gifts of the flesh through their abominable creed. And yet, as Fehervari demonstrated in the belief system presented in GC, there is a seeming logic, dare I say a validity, to their belief? Gharth, the Blind Pilgrim himself, is so set in his way that until he was named and given a specific background I could have sworn that the burning shell of Audie Joyce had seeped through the Dark Coil from Phaedra to Redemption. Maybe he did....remember, everything is a lie. The psyker, the "Teller", sure reminds me of someone seen in a previous work. There's no telling for sure.
What really excited me in this story was the physical descriptions of the Scorched Creed. For the older readers, remember back in the 80's when people loved attaching the descriptor "from Hell" at the end of anything inherently evil? Well, the Creed is literally a "Biker Gang From Hell". They are haphazard amalgamations of black plating, razorwire, sharp edges, anger, and fury, all astride demonic motorcycles.
When you go back, and think about the things that first excited you about Warhammer and 40K, it was the torchlight to unleash images like this from your imagination that probably first drew you in. And that's what makes this story so fresh, and makes it leave such an impression. When you give an author like Fehervari free reign to create, these are the types of memorable figures you are left with. After you read the climactic battle, go back and reread it, and truly study the choreography of it all. This is some of the best action out there.
And yet, it is not all action and badass characters in Cast a Hungry Shadow. All the other hallmarks of Fehervari's authorial craftsmanship are evident here as well: deep sadness, despair, harrowing regrets, and misguided determination. Perhaps the best element of Shadow is the inner turmoil of the betrayer, Sister Etelka. As she comes closer to the Teller, and to the climax of her own story arc, she is continuously assailed by the gravity of her past actions. It is a form of the Act of Penance, in which she must make her own personal reconciliation.
Dark, foreboding, and crackling with chaotic energy, Cast a Hungry Shadow offers rich characters, a stark setting, brutal action, and bar none the best vehicle chase scene that I've read in any 40K work. Plus, it is all fleshed out with Fehervari's intentional, intelligent prose.
What a great partner story.
Basically the Genestealer Cult icon with some nice detailing and rendering. Something about this design reminds me of the basilisks from the old NES version of Archon. Fits into the whole chess aspect of Genestealer Cults, too.
One on the left, there, and one on the right as well.