The murder-machine crooked a finger and the wallscreen fell went dark, filling the room with silence. The sole occupant leaned back in his chair. If you had asked him yesterday and he had given an answer instead of slaying the questioner, he would have said he did not care. If you had asked him an hour ago and he had been feeling generous, he would have said that for him only the discipline mattered. Most of the survivors would have taken him at his word. He would have even believed it.
But absence had revealed it's importance. The foundation of his life, his assumptions, had been removed and what he had not thought about in decades rushed in. His kind were ruthless, pitiless, sadistic monsters and even by his people's standards he was a cold, death obsessed killer. It was the nature of his folk that he was admired and respected for that. That he had a rare sense of integrity and self discipline that made his word far better than that of most of his kind was viewed as a beneficial quirk and not questioned. His order was both deadly and useful among the intrigue and treachery laced spires.
That was not all that he was. He had shaped himself into an instrument of death and denied other aspects of himself, but other emotions rose surging in him now. That he was cold and cruel did not mean he could not feel anything other than cold cruelty. That he was a murderer did not mean that he wished all lives ended.
No human could experience the surging tides of emotion that washed over him. He was not one of their slow, clumsy, dull kind. He felt incomprehensibly profound grief and the the blackest sorrow along with towering hate and the aching lust of vengeance. Memories of joy swept him only for tides of loss to drag him back down. He sat still, motionless as they surged within him and he bound himself with his discipline and his iron will and bade that all he had sworn off to leave him. It did not. The storm gathered strength.
He sat silently seething for a personal eternity before throwing back his head and shrieking. It was a wild, terrible keening sound that filled a room that was no stranger to shrieks of pain. He sprang from the chair, his teeth bared in a wolf's snarl and landed at the base of a weapon rack. His hands closed on the hilt of the great, single edged sword and he swung it of the rack, sending it dancing through the air as if it weighed nothing. "Yes," he said in the tongue of his people. "Yes," he said as he swung the weapon through the air, letting the hilt leave his hand and the great sword spin twice before catching it again. "Yes!"
The expression on his not human face was one that a human could read and understand. Such a hypothetical witness would have shuddered to see it, but he would have called it glee.
Mass murderers ran blade drills and spared under the gaze of a huge iron statue cast in the form of a demonic eldar warrior. The least of them had slaughtered hundreds. The greatest of them was in his personal quarters. The wore segmented black warplate that fit perfectly with no visible gaps between plates, adorned with spikes and blades as was normal for their people. Each suit was crowned with horned helm and emblazoned with a cracked jewel, a horrific trophy of their initiation rites that bombarded their enemies with pain. The Imperium of Man used codewords derived from terms for mythic witch cults to classify the Dark Kin and these warriors were the ones they called Incubi.
One of the killers stopped in mid strike. She raised her blade back to a ready position and stood still. Others turned, the tracking systems in their helms showing them what they never expected to see again. The klaivex had emerged from his private quarters and garbed for war, but not wearing Incubi warplate. Instead he wore the midnight blue plate armour of lightweight resins that had been his harness when he joined the shrine. A pistol and a barbed whip girded his hips and a carbine was slung over his shoulders. His klaive, the killing blade from which his title was derived and the signature weapon of his discipline, was in his hands. Around his neck was an amulet set with a large, blood coloured gem.
The klaivex walked slowly to his left until he was directly under the statue of the Bloody Handed God. "I am leaving," he said to the silent room. "My armour and position go to the strongest." Silence answered him.
He took a step and then another. "The bloodstone," said a male voice, musical and beautiful, "is a talisman of our order."
"So it is," replied the former klaivex. "A talisman that is seized. You may try me Ivarian Seszk, if you wish."
The other did not reply. The klaivex continued forward, the the great ebony doors that were the exit of the shrine. Behind him he felt the heat of the flames that burned in the heart of the statue of Kaela Mensha Khaine and flared from its eyes and mouth. The memory of that day, that day that had changed his life as this day had also changed his path coursed through him. He bared his teeth in a silent snarl. Enough with this.
The last incubi spoke. "No one has ever deserted this shrine," he said. "In here there are only incubi, aspirants, and prey." The former klaivex was accutely aware that there were a score of killers at his side and back. The speaker had chosen his moment well. The air was heavy with impending violence. The incubi were not in position to strike, but that was meaningless. It would take them mere fractions of a second to raise their blades and close.
"Do I need to kill you again Meshesz?" the former klaivex asked. "Do you think that this time the homunculi will succeed and drag your soul screaming from the warp and into new grown flesh and feed it with pain or will this time be the time they fail? If you were strong enough to be a worthy klaivex, you would have already struck. Instead you are a weakling that hopes others will do your work for you."
"Only a fool fights fair. And you are no longer klaivex."
"And you will never be. Azaria will mount your skull on a trophy rack first. And I have not relinquished the bloodstone. Or my plasma grenades. Who wishes to test the honour and skill of the humunculi they have contracted with by matching their warplate against my aim and my ghostplate's field defences? And for what gain? To avenge the defeat of this fool who will never be klaivex and wants you to do the dying for him?"
The incubi took a collective step back. And then another. The former klaivex blurred into motion, fast even the by standards of his people. His klaive fell and Meshesz barely paired, the power fields sending out fat sparks as they interacted. Another strike, diagonal and impossible fast was barely blocked. The crackling powerfields shrieked as Meshesz's blade was knocked out of position and the incubi fell back a step.
The klaive's next sweep came too fast and too low for Meshesz to recover in time. His left leg ended at the knee as armor and flesh came away in a spray of blood. He lost his left hand before he hit the ground and then the klaive opened up his abdomen and spread his guts on the floor.
"A gift to you," the former klaivex to his former followers. "Drink his pain or finish him as you wish."
No one else tried to stop him as he left.
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Faint light, tainted and leached of much of its strength, fell from the slave-suns onto thousands panes of glittering crystal before it reached the lower levels of the great city. Ghostly illumination pouring from the great reaver portals that could accommodate entire fleets and lesser portals threading through the entire webway city contributed to the perpetual twilight of poisoned colours. The spires of the upper city drained energy away from the slave suns located in realms above and beyond the city and cast long shadows through the decayed lower city.
The former klaivex stood at one of the border areas between above and below. Spires overshadowed him, but there were only a few nearby. Most of the buildings here were shadows of their former glory, decaying mansions, crumbling temples, and fallen edifices from another time. The incubi served as mercenaries in the perpetual intrigues of the archons and their kabals and so were not properly part of the world of the spires, but they were not among the poor and powerless. The incubi were rarely targets, but they did not neglect their defences by trading upon their brethren's nonexistent benevolence. The shrine had existed almost since the fall, what was once a temple to the splendor of the Eldar's pantheon of gods having been transformed into a fortress-monestary devoted to the art of murder.
He strode through the maze of ruins, the home of the dregs of Commorragh who could claim now cult or kabal worthy of the name. Dark eyes in pale faces watched him nooks and shadows and hands moved close to weapons, but on the street all made way for him. He carried a wealth of armour and weapons and with such an arsenal was the surety of his skill in their use. Few owned weapons that would be of any use against his ghost-plate even if their blows landed while he possessed the means to commit massacre on any scale he chose. The omega predators shied away from the alpha.
The one following in his wake was more circumspect and far better armed. Like the former klaivex the stalker wore far better harness and superior weapons to the dregs. The stalker moved swifty and quietly, staying to the shadows and deploying stealthed suspensor-eyes to buy room and assist in shadowing the former klaivex. Behind the stalker the few skulkers who saw them both began to gather, jackals who wished to feed on the scrap's of a lion's kill.
The former klaivex passed beyond the maze and into once has been a grand avenue lined with trade houses and palaces. Long shafts of light pierced the gloom, painting the street in a multihued radiance that was almost as bright as true day. Above circled a pack of hellions, vicious gangers standing on batwinged skyboards. There were nearly a dozen of them, most carrying poles tipped with hooked blades that were useful in maintaining balance and slicing apart prey.
Two banked down toward the street as the former klaivex walked down the avenue. Underslung splinter pods went live, but did not track. That would be provocative and the former klaivex was clearly not one to engage casually. Besides, they were paid to prevent trouble, not kill customers. Haemonculi were dangerous even for kabals to cross.
The hellions swooped by the klaivex at head level, buffeting him with the wind of their passage. He snarled, but restrained himself. He was in a mood to kill, in a mood for world ending massacre if the truth be told, but he was here for a greater purpose. Death would come soon enough. It always did.
He stopped a ruined palace that had once been an art gallery, if such a mundane phrase was appropriate to the works of the eldar. It still was, in a way. Spy eyes watched him as he climbed the cracked and worn steps and approached the armoured doors. "Identify," a voice rasped the effigy of serenely beautiful eldar face sculpted on a pillar flanking the door.
"Vyljen Zalyr," he replied. "You know why I'm here."
"Ah yes. Of course." The door swung open, revealing a long white hall. "Do come in."
From the shadows, the skulker watched. Inside, deep below, an eldar garbed in layers of leather and silk floated above a floor filled with esoteric machinery that was embossed with far more blades and spikes than was necessary. Two mechanical limbs unfolded from his midsection and slid together as the haemonculus committed himself to his plan of action. This one was dangerous, so very dangerous. He could not be permitted to put on his guard. That's why he had been let in.
The hellions might not have succeeded and having failed, they would put Vyljen on his guard. This way the former klaivex would step into the Killing Room of his own accord, without any warning of treachery. Then there wouldn't be any problem at all.
Sophia Delarain tapped a card against the edge of the table as she considered her hand and the stakes. The pot was already a king's ransom, enough to make up for her losses tonight but not enough to make up for her last few times at the table. But that was then. Now the Emperor smiled on her. At last.
Three Heirophants, the Penitent Psyker, and the Outcast. The last two cards were garbage, but three beautiful high cards were not to be despised. It wasn't the strongest hand in the game, but it was up there. She pushed two more gold tiles into the middle and considered her opponents.
Syla Morr was slim, dark, and fiddling with her cards like she always did when she held garbage. Gabriella Vann was as pale and blond as Sophia herself and was as coldly unreadable as Sophia liked to think she herself was. Erenza Kabaya was wrapped in red and gold brocade and far too eager to raise. She had something good, but how good was the question? Could Sophia take her or would she lose the pot to the
To the Throne with it, Sophia thought as the betting came back to her. She pushed the small mound of gold tiles that made up what was left of her stake into the center, about enough to buy a large factorum complex and run it for a year. Syla fluttered her hand about, but folded. Gabriella didn't even blink. She matched the stakes. Erenza Kabaya hesitated.
"Match us or get out," said Gabriella Vann. Erenza glared daggers at the other woman and then folded her cards. "Just you and me now," said Vann.
Sophia put down her cards. "Three hierophants and the Penitent."
Gabriella's face was coolly unreadable as she looked at Sophia's cards. She put her own down and the blood drained from the Rogue Trader's face. "The Chapter Master, The Archmagus, and last hierophants. Three Pillars of the Imperium. With a pair of Lords Militant."
Vann swept the pot to her side of the table. "See you again when your next in port Sophia," she said with a smile.
Delarain's right hand clenched and for a moment she considered drawing her bolt pistol and putting a round through the surgical perfection of that self-satisfied face. But only for a moment. There were things that even a Rogue Trader couldn't get away with, at least not here and now. Still the idea of shooting her in the face with a bolter or her digital laser was very, very appealing.
Instead Sophia got up and left the table, her skirts swishing as she stalked angrily through the lushly decorated private club room. Her guards, and the guards of the others, were waiting for her in much less luxurious waiting room where no one would care that a careless laid gun might damage a table's finish. Sophia made eye contact with Minerva Xiphos. "We're leaving."
The dark haired woman rolled her eyes and sat up. "You heard the boss boys," she said. Four men in carapace armour stood up, two putting their helmets back on. Their armour was scarred, but functional and their autoguns were in good working order despite having seen some hard use. The laspistols and heavy bladed fighting knives they carried were high quality models bought in bulk for the armsmen and each of them carried something extra whether it was a brace of grenades or a three shot hold out snub nosed bolt pistol. Delarain preferred her bodyguards to favor functionality over appearance.
Minerva Xiphos was slightly taller than her employer, who topped out at a very respectable one hundred ninety centimeters and was taller than most men. Currently Xiphos had her long hair drawn back in a braid under a black and silver tricorn hat. She wore a matching coat with mesh armour lining over a white blouse, black pants, a polished silver breastplate, and a pair of riding boots that enhanced her already considerable stature. A light dueling blade and an ebony and gold bolt pistol completed the dashing rakehell display. "Lost again," she said. It wasn't a question.
Sophia was currently affecting a less military style than her right hand woman and chief gunslinger. She was wearing a gold and white samite silk jacket with diamond buttons over a cream colored silk blouse and skirts. Her gilded bolt pistol had ivory hand grips and was thrust into a cerulean silk sash. Gold and diamond rods were thrust into a moderately complex coiffure and jeweled rings, three of which were concealed digital weapons, graced her fingers. She looked every inch what she was, a high born noble lady. She was also a Rogue Trader, head of the Delarian noble clan, holder of the venerable, venerated Trisun Warrant, and Lord-Captain of The Golden Venture.
Sophia swept passed her guards, heading for the door of the club. Two liveried servants and two elderly, portly gentlemen moved out of her way. The last two sputtered in indignation, but Sophia ignored them. "I don't want to talk about it."
"How much this time?"
Sophia strode through the front door and down the steps. Her guards, finally unconstrained by liveried servants, high society gamblers, expensive furniture, and narrow doorways were able to rush down the stairs to either side of their mistress and form up around her. "I said I don't want to talk about it," said Sophia. "We're still solvent if that's what you're worried about."
"This is the third time in a row and it's killing our profits. Which are, in part, my profits. Profits which will pave the way for my retirement on an island, which I will own, in the tropical zone of a nice planet that has an abundance of virile, athletic men who will compete to massage my body with exotic oils, cook me splendid meals, give me fruity drinks with a staggeringly high alcohol content, and vie for the honour of sharing my bed."
"You? Retire from a job where you get to shoot people and then party until the drugs fail to keep you awake afterwards? Not likely. Besides, the money will come back to me. Gambling's like an ocean, the money floats around. It'll wash up on my shore soon enough."
"I've known a lot of people with that attitude."
"They were crying like babies when I dragged them back to the people they owed. Well, all but one. The organleggers paid good money for his body."
"You," Sophia accused, "are a killjoy."
"You just accused me of liking killing and partying too much. And you're jealous that you're not this beautiful shade of brown and burn like a heretic under a hot sun."
"Consistency is for lesser mortals," replied Sophia airily. "Besides, we'll make it up on the next venture. Make it up and more."
"You said that the last time."
"This time. I promise."
Mazderon floated in front of a bank of screens, his mechanical fingers tenting and untenting together every two and a half seconds. He watched as Vyljen Zalyr traversed the featureless, white entrance corridor, the tips of his left gauntlet gliding along the wall. "What is the one doing? He has been allowed inside. He has not been attacked. What is it up to? Come closer. Walk faster. What you desire awaits. Yes, yes."
A thick, armoured door had receded into the ceiling ahead of Zalyr, revealing a short corridor lined with white tiles that lead to stairs heading down. Vyljen stopped for a moment.
"Go in, go in," whined Mazderon. "There is nothing to fear yes? You have not been attacked. You have contracted with me. Come in, come in. Step onto the killing floor." On the monitor Vyljen stepped into the white tiled room. "Now, now you die!" Mazderon cackled with glee.
Vyljen walked forward. Nothing happened. Doors did not slam down, trapping him within the room. Nozzles did not emerge from the walls and spray the room down with streams corrosive fluid. No concussion charges fell from the ceiling and the floor did not become a lethal electrified grid. Nothing happened at all. Then the screen went dark. Then all the screens went dark. "What?! What?!"
He spun around and screamed, a high pitch whine of frustration and anger. The swine had subverted his systems! The gall of it! What had he used. Nanotech? A spider drone? A burrowing cybercentipede launched before he left? Something more exotic? Well, Mazderon would find out soon enough. He would rip the truth from Vyljen's screaming body and then begin instruction on the true nature of suffering. Oh yes, how he would suffer.
"Minions!" he screamed. His apprentices, two twisted and flesh warped horrors garbed in leather flayed from their victims, stood in the shadows of his lab. Monoedged cutting blades and lethal splinter pistols were held at the ready and they possessed the lethal cunning of their race. Besides them, four less subtle and elegant weapons stirred in their cubicles, drug injectors triggering automatically to bring them into a state of combat arousal. The Imperium, in its tawdry and dull manner, classified them as grotesques. They were clay resculpted for war, that which had been Human almost indistinguishable from the former Ork. Mazderon had remade them into unstoppable berserkers that fed off their own pain. Their frames bulged with grossly enlarged musculature that covered implanted armour, drug injectors, grafted organs, and massively reinforced bone. Claws and hooks replaced their hands. Helmets of black iron with neural stimulators wired into their brains reduced them from victims to instruments of their maker's will.
The grotesques rambled across the sprawling, cluttered lab toward the door that lead to the levels above. Two of the grotesques were drawing close when the door blew inward. The blast sent fragments flying through the lad and knocked the two grotesques on their back. The dark blur of Vyljen Zylar darted from the doorway to a position behind a table which held the dissected body of a portly human male. An eye searing beam, blacker than black, cut through the air and would have scarred any unprotected retinas observing it. The chest of one of the two standing grotesques' exploded. The tormented monstrosity fell with a smoking crater where its chest once was.
Vyljen leaped the table and fell upon the two grotesques who were staggering to their feet. Splinter fire whipped through the air where he had been, but failed to strike him. He wasn't concerned. Ordinary ghostplate was quite resistant to splinter weapon fire and his suit was a masterwork reinforced with exotic materials and two additional field generators. The blast pistol was back in it's holster and he drew his klaive as he charged. The first blow bisected a grotesque's head, shearing through the neural control helm and what was left of the creature's brain. He whipped the blade out of the wound and then sliced the other grotesque across the thighs, cutting down to the bone. He disemboweled the creature on the back swing before it finished falling.
Mazderon rose to the ceiling and took down an acid whip and shardcarbine from a weapon rack bolted there. His apprentices were trying to score hits on Vyljen, but he was dancing around, using the last surviving grotesque and the laboratory equipment as cover. Poison splinters sliced through the air, stitched into the grotesque's back, and punctured macabre equipment. Dark beams of unlight flashed back, annihilating whatever they struck. A crater was blasted in a wall, a vat of harvested organs was blasted to char, and one of Mazderon's apprentices was consumed in flash of unlight produced by the exotic particle interactions of darklight and real matter. There was just enough left to produce noise as it hit the ground.
Mazderon hosed down the area Vyljen was in the high velocity razor sharp shards loaded with hypertoxins. The former klaivex responded with a leap powered by muscle and assisted by grav tech and psychic vampirism. He passed over the stream of splinters, rebounded off a table and dived across the room. In one hand he held his lethal blast pistol. In the other was his agonizer whip. He struck before he landed.
The lash snaked out through the air and struck the last unfortunate apprentice in the temple. The altered physiology of a haemonculi apprentice could shrug off pain and trauma that would kill a human, but this was a head strike from a weapon studded with neural stimulators capable of shredding an Astartes's nervous system through his armour. The last apprentice died almost instantly, which was the only mercy he would receive. Vyljen struck again, before Mazderon (who was skilled with a killing blade and torturer's scalpel but a mediocre shot) could line up and open fire again.
The haemonculus screamed, loud and shrill as the agonizer crippled his right arm. Mazderon was intimate with pain, but this was beyond bearing. The shardcarbine tumbled from his lifeless limb and then Vyljen struck again. The relays on his artificial limbs blew and he was falling, wracked by agony. Vyljen kicked him across the floor of his laboratory with an almost lackadaisical blow from his sabaton. "You are a poor deceiver Mazderon."
The haemonculus gasped in response. "Now," said Vyljen, "you have betrayed the compact that you had with my parents and several of their allies to return them from death because you either fear Teylzara too much or you decided that what Teylzara could offer you was worth breaking your compact and damaging your reputation. I don't think you fear Teylzara so that means you held onto the flesh samples and have them somewhere as bargaining chips. Where are they?"
Mazderon laughed. "Ah Vyljen. You think yourself so clever. Did it occur to you that I was paid off before, before Teylzara starting purging her kabal? That your parents weren't as clever as they thought they were when they secretly, secretly compacted with an independent haemonculus for resurrection? Teylzara planned the purge for years fool. Everyone she suspected gone, gone in one swoop! And you, you klaivex hold nothing, nothing. And I? I have a place waiting in her kabal. Kill me Vyljen and I will be resurrected, resurrected! The only reason you're not already dead is because you were an incubus! Now, now your days are numbered!"
"So are yours," replied Vyljen. "The only immortality that you've secured is privilege of dying again at my hand until your pain ceases to amuse me and I cast your soul to She Who Thirsts!" A shot from his blast pistol blew the haemonculus into smoking wreckage. He holstered the weapon and slowly surveyed his surroundings before activating his helmet communicator and employing an old encryption routine. The security wasn't perfect, but it would do.
It took a moment for an answer. "Vyljen, a long time. What can I do for you, mighty klaivex?"
"A number of things Alcair, but first let me offer you something. How much will you give me for an almost perfectly intact haemonculus lab?"
Three raiders dropped from the sky at a leisurely pace. The upper deck of each arrowhead shaped craft was manned by a half dozen Eldar and each had several weapons mounted directly on the craft or attached to the rails. As they neared the street a burly Eldar jumped off the deck of the lead skiff and fell three meters to the ground. He landed easily on his feet as if he had just jumped the last step of a stairwell. His ghostplate was not the equal of the set worn by Zalyr, but it was formidable armour nonetheless. The armour was done up in dark red fading to purple, which meant it looked like the blood of any of a dozen sentient species depending on the lighting. A slim curved sword and a splinter pistol were holstered at on the Eldar's waist. The weapons weren't the real threat, of course. The Raiders and the killers on their decks filled that role.
"Alcair," said Vyljen. "Good to see you again."
"And you as well," said the ganglord. Like many of his kind, Alcair assumed the manner and titles of his betters. "Cabal" was far too grandious a word for his gang and "dracon" was too lofty a title, but that was what they called themselves. "I take it the promised treasure lies within?"
"Yes," said Vyljen. "Among other things. Bodies for one. Contingency charges for another."
"Vyljen, you hurt me. I make a very good living as a broker because I don't betray anyone. And here you are suggesting I would have my warriors gun you down in the street and just take the loot without paying you." As he spoke several warrior moved on the nearest anti-gravity skiff. Alcair's position make it hard to bring the dark lance mounted on the nose of the lead raider to bear, but the splinter cannon currently attached to the rail of the left raider had a good shot at the former klaivex.
"Of course not," replied Vyljen. "I'm just adding an additional inducement to deal honestly, in case someone suffers an irrational attack of greed."
Alcair laughed. "At least that time in the temple didn't make you brain go soft." He turned back to his raiders. He gestured. Four Eldar wearing a mix of leather and form fitting armour plate drove a dozen wretched Human and Tau slaves down the gangplanes of the Raiders and onto the ground. The Eldar were armed with a mix of splinter weapons, sinister blades, and barbed whips. "Pick it clean. Report on condition."
The Eldar drove their slaves inside the haemonculus's lair. Time passed and then there was a chime sounded on the inside of Alcair's helmet. "Report."
"It is as promised," replied Tamaris.
"Wait," said Alcair. He turned off the channel and address Vyljen. "You did not lie."
"And now I should be the one hurt."
"Just insuring no one gets foolishly greedy," replied Alcair. He handed over a bag of stones. Vyljen examined their contents carefully and then nodded.
"Load as you will."
A few minutes later the slaves came staggering back, heavily burdened with equipment. Whips cracked, opening flesh and the slaves sweated and strained to load it on board before rushing back inside. Hungry eyes drank down their suffering. There were dozens of other ways to load the Raiders but this way also fed the Eldar's lust for pain. Only Vyljen only spared them a cursory glance, but the former klaivex's had already gorged himself on violent death.
A white haired human male fell to his knees and a whip opened up his back. He screamed and tried to get back up. Alcair flicked a throwing blade at the human that opened a cut on his leg. Straining the human tried to rise and failed. The whip fell again. And again. And again. "Enough," said Alcair. The profits were more than large enough to justify expending a slave. He surveyed his warriors. Who to reward? "Myzaya, show us your knife work."
He turned back to Vyljen, but the former klaivex was gone. Alcair was mildly dismayed that Vyljen had been able to disappear that easily, not because he thought he could steal his payment back but because when Vyljen was on the move others bled. An inside track on when and where there would be a hatestorm of blood and death would be both fulfilling and profitable. The human began to scream again and Alcair turned back to watch. Myzaya was good with a knife. This would last.
Paranoia was a survival trait among the Eldar and Vyljen had his fair share. After taking a few twisting turns he moved into an alcove eaten into the side of a ruined building by an ancient dark lance shot and waited to ambush or double back on any pursuers. Not because he thought he had failed to elude anyone on his trail, but in case there was someone that good following him.
There was. "Klaivex," she said as she stepped from path that ran parallel to the one he had used. The Incubi warsuit obscured her gender from most observers, but Vyljen knew both suit and voice.
"Azaria," said Vyljen, without holstering his blast pistol. Stealth was one of the arts the incubi sought to master. Vyljen's skills were sharp, but Azaria had been the best in the temple. "Why follow?"
"Why else?" she asked. "To serve."
"The title of klaivex is yours if you wish to seize it."
"It has alway been mine whenever I wished to seize it," she replied. "If rank had been my ambition, I would have joined another temple. I wished to kill and hone my skills and so I joined yours. None who are greater than you take students. The Hand of Khaine has long been upon you. Blood flows where you walk. Only the blind could not see it. Even your archon feared you, before you joined the order."
She paused before speaking again. "Incubi serve a patron and you are now no longer khlaivex. Will your hands still run red?"
"Will the slaughter be great?"
"There will be enough blood and death to wake Khaine from his slumber in the Craftworld tombs."
"That sounds like more even than you can accomplish alone. Do you doubt my value?"
"Do you possess the means to hire my services?"
"Are you sure you are not a Craftworld seer?"
"This time I will take that as a compliment."
"Yes, I have enough wealth to purchase your services and that of some others. That and the means to acquire what we need to begin the Dance of Blades."
"Then command me dracon. My blade is at your service."
There are hungers in the darkness. Reavers stalk the void, stalking the flotillas of predatory merchant-princes while would be conquistadors look for fresh territories to conquer. Some of the hunters are human, many are not. Some are princes or warlords in their own right, others owe fealty to a greater master, and some hold a place in eclectic hierarchies that is not easily defined. They all have appetite in common.
But having gorged themselves on the kill, these sharks of the blackest needed a place to dispose of the the less digestible parts of their kills. Throughout the dark edges of the frontiers between powers can be found dark ports that serve and service the marauders and opportunists. Davin's Folly is one.
Centuries ago it was half hollowed asteroid that served as a pirate base and repair yard, but it had grown since then. Nestled in an asteroid belt located in the lawless Veiled Stars, Davin's Folly changed hands several times before ending up in the hands of the enigmatic Iron Conclave. It's rocky surface has now almost vanished, buried under conglomerations of ever expanding construction and grafted hulks. It floats in the darkness like a great cancerous, mutant spider waiting for prey.
The Golden Venture slid towards Davin's Folly, gliding through the network of killsats and weapon platforms that guarded the freebooter haven. The Imperial vessel was a sleek Tempest class frigate, a kilometer and half long shark armoured in ceramite and adamantium. Auspex masts and command towers dominated her aft quarter while auger vanes protruded from her bow. Her dorsal surface was covered by great gun turrets while lesser defense batteries studded her sides and guarded her towers. The massive thruster tubes in the rear were cold now as the Venture closed in low speed, but if needed they could roar to life and drive the ship forward on a mammoth tail of fire.
Retrothrusters fired briefly and maneuvering thrusters were triggered, providing minute course correction as the Rogue Trader vessel closed in to dock with one of Davin's Folly's immense boarding arms. From her position beside the command throne, the docking arm looked too much like the leg of a insectile predator or Tyranid warbeast for Minerva Xiphos's taste. "I hate this Throne benighted place."
Sophia turned her throne forty-five degrees to address her friend and subordinate. "I thought it was your kind of place."
"You don't hunt predatory scum in a place where they have overwhelming strength," she replied. "Then you become prey and in this place there is no limit to how that can be. So much so that it doesn't even matter if you're a woman."
"Afraid?" asked Sophia Delarian with a smile on her lips and cocked eyebrow.
"Sensible," replied Minerva Xiphos. "You've never lived without heavily armed retainers being within earshot, let alone walked into scum pits where every women is considered fair game. Rape isn't close to worst thing that can happen to you there. It's the start and it gets worse from there."
"Well, you wanted profits and we won't be alone. Or unarmed."
"The only cargo we should be delivering is live atomics," Minerva replied. "Strategic or Exterminatus grade ordinance. In quantity. Free of charge and by the grace of the God-Emperor."
Sophia snorted. "And you have the gall to talk to me about profit margins. Davin's Folley is a pirate stronghold crawling with smugglers, heretics, and xenos but it's a place where we can sell our cargo for a profit and pick up cargo for a very reasonable price that will sell for a very pretty penny. And we probably won't have anyone shoot at us. That's better than your former line of work."
"As long as it goes right. It goes wrong and it's much, much worse."
The boy twitched on the white marble floor, clutching his ruined face, in a pool of his own blood. Teylzara flicked blood from the blades on the end of her left hand. "See that the mess is cleaned up," she said. "And send him to the fighting pits."
"Your will, Mighty Archon," replied a middle aged woman with downcast eyes. Her pronunciation was tolerable. Like all of Teylzara's body servants, she was human. The only Eldar the archon trusted to serve her closely were her Incubi. Teylzara dismissed her servants with a wave of her hand. They all but ran from the room.
The mirror in front of her displayed the image of an Eldar female of slightly below average height. Her skin was pale and her eyes were dark. Her face was too long to be thought beautiful by human standards and her eyes were disturbingly large. Her cheekbones were sharp and her face was all angles. The perfect symmetry of her face should have made her at least handsome, but everything about her screamed predator and so to recoil was the natural human reaction. She knew this and it was a source of pleasure to her. Even in donning a gown she tormented victims. Mon-keigh only existed to be prey anyway.
She inspected her dress. It was a deep, shimmering black with sleeves and skirts decorated in a complex pattern of deep red and ebony. A conical headdress adorned with spike-like flares crowned her head. Blades glinted on her fingertips, rendering her hands useless except as instruments of torment and death. She considered her reflection. Yes, the effect was right.
"Archon," came a rumble from her left.
She did not turn. "Speak," she commanded.
"Your hierarch craves an audience," continued the incubus.
"Tell him to await my presence in the Third Audience Chamber." Teylzara was confident enough of her power and security that she routinely wore no obvious weapons or defences, but she avoided becoming predictable in her habits. "Attend me."
The four incubi gathered around the archon as he left her chambers and passed through a hallway and took a right at an intersection. Servants and kabal members fell to her knees at her approach. The palace levels of the spire were decorated in cold whites accented in stark blacks with the occasional splash of vibrant colour. The walls were tall and statues of ancient heroes and tyrants that were three times life sized stood in tall alcoves. Demon faces leered from the walls next to the beautiful and cruel faces of the Muses.
A contingent of a half dozen incubi accompanied by a dozen kabalite warriors of her personal guard met her escorts at the doors of the Third Audience Chamber. The incubi opened the doors of beaten gold and stepped inside to search and secure the room. Teylzara considered the intimate and terrible pleasures depicted on the doors while she waited.
"Mistress, the chamber is secure."
The archon finished her appraisal and entered the chamber. It was dark, too dark for human eyes to see much but there was more than enough light for Eldar Eyes. The Third Audience chamber was formed of dark marble and was devoid of columns or other embellishments that could serve as cover except for the alcoves where the archon's guards occupied. Two meter long square laques of beaten gold depicting screaming faces were mounted in between each alcove. Teylzara walked to the dais at the far end reclined on the dark throne. Then she turned her gaze to the man standing at the center of the room. "Hierarch."
"Mighty Archon," replied Dorestizen with a bow. He was stocky, be Eldar standards, tall and muscular if one considered him with human eyes. His dark hair was wavy, almost curly, and cut close to his head. Like his mistress he wore robes of state instead of armour, his decorated with a stark zig-zag pattern of silver over ebony.
"What is it that commands my attention at this hour?"
"Mighty Archon, the freelance haemonculus Mazderon has been successfully revived by your loyal retainers. He conveyed a story that Hezrulin considered urgent and passed onto me immediately."
"Mazderon? The ones that the betrayed the traitors to us?"
"The very same, Mighty Archon. His deceit was uncovered by Vyljen Zalyr, who took his life."
The look of haughty indifference on Teylzara's face vanished. "Vyljen?" she asked with a voice as hard and unyielding as an adamantium blade.
"Yes, Mighty Archon. He has left the incubi."
"No one leaves the incubi, least of all him. There is nothing that means more to him than slaughter. Kelvara!"
"My Archon," said an incubus with a bloodstone pendent on her chest.
"Is this true?"
"It might be, My Archon. Few leave the incubi, but it does happen. I would not have thought Vyljen would be one of those. If he has, it can only because of some very powerful impulse. Such as revenge."
"Which would indulge his appetite for slaughter if it didn't kill him," said Teylzara. "He was once dracon and then klaivex whose skills were highly valued. He would retain resources."
"Perhaps enough to hire a small body of mercenaries," replied Dorestizen, "not enough to hire and equip a force that could prevail against the Kabal of Bloodied Talon."
"Not on its own," said Teylzara, "but he was not made dracon by accident or mistake. He knows this. We have rivals. Enemies. He is dangerous to us and resourceful and therefore he must die."
"As you command, Mighty Archon," replied Dorestizen. "I will see to it immediately."
"I don't understand, Mighty Archon."
"I will see to the death of your friend Dorestizen."
"Former friend, Mighty Archon."
"Yes, he has many former friends. See to other matters Dorestizen. This hunt rests with me."
Dorestizen bowed deeply. "Your will, Mighty Archon."
Heyzayl was sitting with her back to the wall when the Webway portal activated. Her hand slid down to the butt of her pistol as a hundred stars danced in a the mirror-glare of the active portal and she shifted slightly so her feet touched the ground. In the time it would take to blink she could be airborne and firing.
There were other of the Dark Kin in the chamber. This area was theoretically neutral ground and that had never been seriously broken, but there was always a first time. For those that thought of themselves as the True Eldar nothing was taboo, except violating the Laws of Vect and those only counted if you got caught. One day even the great tyrant would fall or so every archon believed in the dark places that passed for their hearts.
Two kabalite warriors emerged from the portal. They were males, one armed with a splinter rifle and wearing well worn armour, the other carrying a shardcarbine and wearing a new harness. Their armour was typical of their kind, a bodysuit with hooks and barbs that pierced and stimulated the nerves of its wearer which had the intent of sharpening the reaction time, senses, and murder-lust of the pain dependent Dark Eldar. Segmented plates of light armour protected were attached the suit, protecting the wearer from light weapons. The elongated helmets housed sophisticated communication and targeting sensors which were Eldar's primary means of defense. See the target. Cripple and kill it. Evade counter attacks. Armour plate came last and least. Both of them bore a fresh rune marking on the upper left pectoral plate of their armour, a stylized inverted double S shape. It took a moment for Heyzayl to recognized it as a stylized dragon head and throat. She did not know this kabal. A promising sign.
A signal must have been sent because more kabalite warriors began to stream through the portal. They were mostly armed with splinter rifles and a variety of vicious, poisoned blades that passed as normal armaments among the soldiers of the kabals and the higher class of mercenary killer that aspired to join their ranks. Then came the incubi.
There were four of them in the great horned helms and elaborate and heavy segmented armour. They were as quiet as cats despite the weight of their warsuits and disturbingly, just as agile as their kabalite brethren, a product of unrelenting training in their demanding warrior discipline and the exotic materials that went into forging their armour.
Last came another Incubus, probably the klaivex, and male warrior wearing midnight blue ghostplate. The later was festooned with weapons, including an incubi's klaive. Like the others, he was marked with a fresh dragon-rune the colour of blood. It had to be him.
Heyzayl stood up and pushed the chair back. There were two other small groups of Eldar in the room and they were clearly keeping a wary eye on the strangers. "Mighty dracon," Heyzayl began, "perhaps I may be of service to you if this is your first visit to this trading post. For a modest fee I can handle the unpleasant details of finding and contacting the subcreatures that would best-"
Vyljen raised his hand to silence her. "Are you Heyzayl?"
She smirked and bowed. "Indeed I am, mighty dracon. I am pleased my reputation has reached your ears."
"It's said that you're even better than Beruda was."
"I am. He made the Mon-keigh jumpy. It was poor for business."
"And business is what matters."
"For me and those who use my services, yes mighty dracon. Other matters are not my concern and I stay clear of them."
"I need a human with a ship who wishes to become very rich."
Heyzayl threw back her head and laughed. It was not the cruel laugh of a torturer to her victim or a huntress who has cornered her prey, but the rich and full throated sound founded in joy. "Mighty dracon, you've come to the right place. Why don't you tell me any other requirement you might desire. It'll help narrow down the list."
Adrianna Mei-Lung frowned as the heretics inspected the lascannon. She was the kind of woman that might be described as matronly. Rejuv had begun to reach its limits and her job involved too much sitting and reading reports for her not to layer fat over muscle. Still, she was if not quite fit not far from it either. Cosmetics hid the lines around her eyes and mouth and dyes took care of her hair while her tailors worked their magic on the rest of her appearance. Currently she sported the image of a woman with an elaborate coiffure of platinum blond hair wearing a stark and severe suit consisting of a black waistcoast and overcoat over a dark blouse and pants. She was, in just about anyone's opinion, far more attractive than her potential clients.
The tech-menials were small men in loose coveralls with shaved heads and disquieting tattoos. The four warrior bodyguards were huge slabs of crudely augmented muscle hidden behind armour plate and rebreather masks. They carried massive autoshotguns, large bore pistols, and heavy chain weapons in the defense of their master, a thin man who was over two meters tall and swaddled in a heavy reddish-black robe. His limbs were too feeble to support his body in full gravity and he wore an exoskeleton walker to move around that whined with every step.
"Thisss weapon," he hissed in his appallingly accented Low Gothic, "iss ssame as Imperial Guard usse yess?" His long fingers caressed the two meter long barrel of the bipod supported lascannon laying in the Venture's cargo hold amongst other samples of the ship's wares.
"Yes," replied Adrianna. "Mark VII Solipek Pattern lascannon, widely used by the Imperial Guard and Planetary Defence Forces in three sectors. Uses half kilo disposable power cell good for a single shot or plugged into a larger power source like the backpack set up we have here. Two or three man crew for the man portable version, one man carrying the weapon and the other the power source. Easily set up in under a minute."
"Yess," said the heretic. "Will destroy Ork battlewagons, yess?"
"Chimerass, Leman Russesss."
"Yes," Adrianna replied uncomfortably. Damned heretics. There were certain Imperial goods that sold well at Davin's Folly. One were the luxuries from human space that were harder to get on the frontier. Good food and wine, appliances, fine clothes and furniture, silks and so forth. Medicines, medical equipment, drugs, augmentics, and other potentially life saving products of high tech industry were another. Reliable and effective weapons that were easy to maintain but difficult to manufacture was a third.
The Ecketari occupied a handful of star systems outside Imperial space and had previously been the target of a concerted campaign of conquest by an ambitious Rogue Trader. As heretics who did not worship the God-Emperor it was only a matter of time before someone else tried again. Add to that the various pirates, chaos reavers, and xenos and they didn't live in the safest part of space. The orbital elite possessed some high technology, but they were hungry for more and most of all they wanted weapons. It wasn't quite selling weapons to the enemies of the Imperium, but it was far too close to it for Adrianna's taste. With a little luck they would get eaten by a Waagh or converted by missionaries and cease to be a problem. But not until after they paid up, of course.
"Over here we have Solipek Pattern assault lascarbines good for close quarters and mid-"
"Unintressted," hissed the heretic. "Hard slug weaponss are sufficient in ssuch a role. These lasscannonss, space ship mountable yess? Defense turretss, guncuttersss, fightersss, bombersss."
Adrianna hid her irritation. "Yes. They can easily be mounted on a vehicle and fed from the power plant. A simple plug in allows contact with vehicles machine spirit, the lascannons' themselves possess a simple and biddable spirit."
The heretic snickered and then said. "Excellent. You have many of these?"
"Yes. You might also be interest in the Solipek Suppressor Pattern Multilaser. It isn't as hard hitting, but much more power efficient and possess a high rate of fire."
"Full auto vehicle lasss? Yesss, we are interessted."
One of her junior agents came up behind the heretics. He was handsome, smart as a whip, and young. Throne, to be that age again, too young and inexperienced to understand how little you actually knew. Giving the heretics a wide berth he approached her and bowed. "My lady, I regret disturbing you but there is a matter of some urgency."
She nodded and smiled sweetly and insincerely at the heretics. "Excuse me gentlemen, but duty calls. My assistants will be happy to answer your questions and show you all our wears, including live fire demonstrations. I will return shortly to finalize any details."
Nevbor lead her out of the cargo hold. "This had better be good."
"It's an Eldar. Heyzayl, the broker."
"What's she want with us? We don't carry any cargo any Eldar would want."
"To make a deal with the captain."
Blazing spheres of plasma floated in a neat line just below the ceiling of The Hall of Night, held suspended like miniature slave-suns by forcefields. Composed of different mixtures of blazing gas, each cast light of a different hue, mimicking the sky of Commorragh. The polished black marble of the floors, walls, and ceilings reflected the light around the room, as did the columns clad in mirror-bright platinum, turning the room into a twisted fairyland of sullen purples, cold blues, poisonous greens, and menacing oranges. The archon's dais was lined with her incubi bodyguards and the heavily armed members of her lifeguard. Force-grown in tanks, educated and conditioned to be loyal to their archon, the halfborn faced serious discrimination from other Dark Eldar that was alleviated by the archon's favor and indulgence. Through her they gained resources and status as well as the hatred of the rest of the kabal. Self-interest made them almost as reliable as the incubi.
Teylzara sat on her throne, clad in dark red ghostplate to emphasize the martial nature of this audience. From the other end of the hall five of her lieutenants entered. They were lead by a dracon and a haemonculus, the dracon tall and the haemonculus heavily built and almost as squat as a human. Behind the dracons were two sybarites, one of average stature and the other a tall hulk wearing heavy plate that was nearly the size of an Astartes. The last had wings with snow-white feathers protruding from his back and raven's beak helm held under the crook of his arm. Sharp white teeth gleam from the solarite's smiling mouth. With his short but wild sandy blond hair he looks more mischievous than monstrous, but his jokes are cruel and catastrophic. All of their armour is a shade of maroon that is reminiscent of blood drying under a faint lighting.
At the third column from the throne the leaders' stopped and everyone fell to their knees with gazes averted. "Rise," commands Teylzara.
They did so. The haemonculus has a handsome face, with intricate tattoos on his cheeks and bald scalp with a line of small chrome spikes set in his forehead. His armour is the specially treated hide of several exotic beasts and is nearly as formidable as the ghostplate the dracon next to him wears. Four long and terrible talon armed hands project from his back. "My archon," he says smoothly, "you have commanded our presence and we have come. Tell us how we may serve."
"Daharn, how perfectly you speak. If only you and your friends were so perfect in your choice of associations."
"My archon, Vyljen was among our ranks while he served you because he was useful to you and he was useful to us. That has long ceased to be the case. We discarded any loyalty to him well before he left your service. He had grown erratic as well as dangerous. We are, as we have always been, your most lethal weapon."
"Once, perhaps. But no longer. Vyljen has decided to move against me. He has left the incubi and is crawling around in the lower city. He's probably trying to gather together enough of the dregs so that he will retain some rank when he grovels before our enemies and offers his aid in pulling us down. Hunt him down and bring him to me. Alive. Dead is better than nothing, but it will not earn you my favor and your performance of late has not placed you high in my affections."
The dracon bowed. "We hear and obey, Dread Archon."
"Excellent. You are dismissed."
"I noticed our hierarch was absent from our audience," said the dracon. The kabalites were now in a cavernous double level landing bay with a vaulted roof high in the spire. Troops wearing their maroon armour and marked with the stylized rune of the Bloodied Talon.
"He's too good now for the likes of us," the haemonculus replied. "And less dangerous to the archon at so his a rank with Vyljen no longer at his side. It has worked out very well for him. He rises as we fall."
"I noticed," said the solarite, "that you haven't left us Daharn."
"My labs are always hungry and raiders get the best share," replied the haemonculus with a feral grin. "Although it's nice to see that you care Styros."
"Too much brain power and will have already left us," replied the commander of the winged scourges. "I might have to lead the groundlings and that's too terrible to think about."
"Not too mention a waste of my glorious work," said Daharn. "The wings, the muscle implants, the hollowing of your bones, the implanted counter gravs, oh such beautiful torment it was. I almost shudder in recollection."
"Focus," said the dracon. "We need to get out there and find Vyljen."
"And bring him back alive," added Styros. "Don't forget that, Kalyph."
"Who's forgetting that? Goretz's ur-ghouls will find his scent and then our warriors will gun down his rabble. Shock grenades, slave nets, and if necessary a bear hug from Goretz will suffice."
The hulking eldar approached at the sound of his name. "I don't care to match my armour against an incubi's blade," he rumbled. "Not with restrictions and not against Vyljen."
"Less of a problem than you might think," said Daharn. "If you die, I can restore you. And if you kill him, I can restore him. We just need him in recognizable pieces so I can perform my art and then present him to the archon. No disintegrations."
"The red coat or the blue?" Sophia asked Adrianna. Her footmen were holding out an elegant and restrained dark blue knee length coat and a truly gaudy nightmare of red and gold.
"The blue," replied the seneschal with barely a glance. "She's Eldar. No amount of gold braid or medals is going to overawe her."
"You're probably right. The blue then." She extended her arms and her footmen put the blue jacket on her. "The Damontez twin barreled dueling las and the Isharae cutlass." He footmen wrapped a broad belt around her waist and attached the holster and scabbard.
Sophia consulted the bank of mirrors that were the outer doors of her wardrobe. "Good enough. Where did you put her?"
"The Oak Room. Gaudy isn't going to get us any points with the Eldar, but subdued good craftsmanship will at least make it harder for them to think of as a bunch of upjumped apes lining their nests with every shiny thing that catches the eye."
"You might have mixed a metaphor or two."
"Fuck it. Let's go. And don't forget the muscle. They don't think like we do and if it goes sideways it'll go sideways fast."
They left the captain's quarters with an escort of four armsmen with drum fed autoloading shotguns. They descended two levels and crossed two hundred meters of deck to reach the Oak Room. Inside the room was lined with rich panels of carved and polished oak depicting scenes from the myth cycle of Zylan Kings of Escoros from Zylan running with wolves after his family was slaughtered to his grandson Opren's slaying of the Dragon of the Mountain. At the center of the room, directly under the glow globes that provided subdued lighting for the room, was a great polished oak table. At one end was Heyzayl.
She was almost good looking, like the distorted reflection of a beautiful and athletic woman distorted and stretched by a fun house mirror. There was a vulpine, predatory look to her features but her features were symmetrical and her skin was smooth and almost seemed to glow. She had sharp-white teeth and black pools for eyes that were devoid of compassion. The overall impression was that of predator that had skillfully, but imperfectly, disguised herself as a human woman.
The rest of her appearance was less disturbing. Her hair was straight and shoulder length, shining black marked by violet streaks. She wore a black bodyglove and a long coat. A bulbous pistol and short blade were wore at her waist but the pockets of her jacket and bodyglove could contain many small and dangerous devices. Just another well armed pirate on a station full of pirates.
She inclined her head. "Lord-Captain," she said in almost accentless High Gothic.
"Yes," replied Sophia. Two of her armsmen stayed with her while the other two split off to the side wall so they could blast the Eldar from another ninety-degree angle without hitting their liege-lord. "You are the broker Heyzayl."
"Yes," the Eldar replied. "Nice room."
Sophia sat down on the opposite side of the table. Adrianna sat down at her right. "I'm told you have quiet a reputation here and that you had some kind of proposition for me."
"Beruda used to be our contact with the Eldar here."
"Yes, going back for some time, as you humans measure it. Your . . . dynasty? . . yes dynasty, has found it expedient to hire mercenaries of my race to aid you and to trade in certain goods. Beruda met with a mishap and will be some time recovering, if he ever does, and nature abhors a vacuum. I have a client who has needs that you a very well suited to provide. An opportunity for considerable profit exists for all parties, if they work together. Interested?"
"I'm not my father. I don't have enemies that need visits from Eldar raiders."
"Not that kind of arrangement. My client is . . . well 'prince' might be the closest human word so let's call him 'Prince Vyljen' wishes to acquire a great treasure that for various reasons are hard for the Eldar to acquire. He does, however, know the location and can help remove the defenses around this treasure."
"But he needs a human ship and human helpers."
"Exactly. Preferably one with a reputation for integrity, which the prince also possesses."
"So you say."
Heyzayl smiled. "So I say. But little details like 'trust' aside, are you interested or should I send my client elsewhere?"
Sophia looked across the table. "Just how much treasure are we talking about?"
The skies were choked with smoke and lethal phantoms fought between the trees. Eldar fought Eldar, Craftworlders struggling against their Dark Kin in a lethal dance that spilled blood that was more precious than gemstones and ended lives that had seen centuries of glory and splendor. All lost in flashes of weapon fire and lightning fast blade strikes.
At the end of a long trail of bodies two warriors struggled at the edge of a ravine under the light of the swollen cerulean sun. Vyljen's hand closed on the Striking Scorpion's wrist as he grappled with the Aspect Warrior. The Eldar triggered his lasblasters, igniting a green flare on the surface of Vyljen's armour as his force field refracted the blast. The Scorpion slipped his leg behind Vyljen's and pulled. Both Eldar fell down the slope, sending scree tumbling down around them. The mandiblasters fired twice more, but the force field ate enough of the blasts that Vyljen's ghostplate withstood the hits.
The Eldar hit the bottom of the ravine with the Aspect Warrior on top. Vyljen headbutted him with his helmet, knocking the Striking Scorpion's head back and allowing the dracon to twist about and end up on top. The ghostplate responded to Vyljen's will and extruded blades along his forearms and knuckles. Vyljen pulled back his right arm and struck. The Striking Scorpion partially deflected the strike, causing Vyljen to slice along the side of the Scorpion's helmet instead of puncturing the warmask. The Scorpion heaved the Dark Eldar off him and sprung to his feet.
Vyljen rolled to his feet, blades sprouting from his armour. A warning rune flashed in the corner of his eye, signaling that his force field was near overload-failure. Behind him he could hear the heavy tread of a walker approaching. Time was not on his side.
He leapt up and to the right, going higher than the Scorpion's head and dodging the mandiblaster shot. His leg lashed out as he passed, striking the Scorpion in the side of the head and knocking him to the ground. The Eldar was back on his feet in moments, but in that time Vyljen had landed and leapt again. The dracon's right forearm came down like an axe. The Striking Scorpion blocked, taking the blow on his left arm. The blades on the dracon's limb punctured armour, but did not bite deeply.
Vyljen's left, the true strike and not the feint, pierced the Aspect Warrior's guard and drove killing blades through the lenses of Scorpion's warmask. Blood jetted from the wound and the Aspact Warrior spasmed and then went still. Vyljen pulled away from the corpse as his environmental systems sounded an alert. He could hear the heavy tread of the walker behind him. He jumped away, spinning in mid air to become a harder target. He lacked the weapons to engage a Wraithlord or a war walker directly, because he had lost them when the Scorpion had grappled him at the top of the ravine, but he would manage. He always did. Then he saw it.
The environmental system was sending alarm spikes because hell itself was walking toward him. Kaela Mensha Khaine was striding through the ravine, setting the very air alight. The red hot iron statue was crafted in the for an armoured eldar demon-warrior three times the height on an Eldar. His eyes and the inside of his fanged mouth glowed white gold and only the vision shields built into his eye pieces allowed Vyljen to even look upon the god of murder without pain. In his right hand the Avatar held a long handled axe, no a tall spear, no a great sword. Suin Daellae, The Doom that Wails. His soul shook with anticipation.
The Avatar strode forward, long strides eating up distance. Smoking blood dripped from the Avatar's hands as it closed. It was like standing next to a blast furnace. Vyljen could see no weak spots, but he would die fighting. He crouched, ready to spring away from the Avatar's strike. The blazing gaze of the war god fell upon him.
The Avatar did not break stride. It did not raise The Doom that Wails or strike with its burning fist. It simply walked past him, towards the battle.
A hand shook him and Vyljen bolted awake, the memories of the Avatars sun-bright eyes and furnace heat receding into the fog of the past. He was already moving to strike. An iron hard limb blocked him and he pulled back for another strike before he recognized the warrior looming over him. He stopped.
"Peace, my dracon," said Azaria.
Vyljen sat up on the cot. The room was a small box with off white extruded plastic walls. "Old memories of battle," he said, which was a close to an apology as he usually gave. "How long?"
"Six hours dracon. Heyzayl has made contact with a human rogue trader and begun negotiations. The Mon-keigh wish to meet you before finalizing the agreement. They also wish details."
"Good. Then they are not fools." Vyljen shook his head. He had been up for four days straight, with some chemical help, gathering arms and resources in the Undercity and leading his troops through the Webway. He shook his head and reached for chem injector. It hissed as he pressed it against his arm and then donned his armour.
"Have you rested?"
"I will now, unless you wish otherwise."
"No, take an incubi guard and get some rest."
"As you will, my dracon"
Vyljen finished putting on his armour and chose to arm himself with a blast pistol, a pair of curved knives with serrated edges, an agonizer whip, and klaive.
"Ranged weapons are forbidden here. That rule is enforced outside the enclave."
"The use of ranged weapons is forbidden," replied Vyljen. "but I decline to surrender the option to use one."
"As you will dracon."
Vyljen exited the room and entered a larger room where the rest of his warriors were gathered. It consisted of little more than a crude commications system and several flimsy tables surrounded by flimsy chairs. Rooms sprouted of the larger center room for all sides. Almost all of his warriors were there, along with the guide. Most remembered to bow their heads.
"Mighty dracon, I am pleased to report a successful contact and conclusion to the first stage of negotiations."
"You work quickly."
"My clients do not desire failure. I will admit to a stroke of good fortune making things easier than expected."
"Good fortune is a welcome guest," answered Vyljen. "When do the humans wish to meet?"
"Soon. We agreed to set a time after I consulted with you, so the timing is what you will."
"You are very smooth Heyzayl."
"Thank you, mighty dracon." She paused. "Mighty dracon, may I make an enquiry?"
"This venture with these Mon-keigh, it is expected to be very profitable, yes? And you will be dealing with these Mon-keigh for some time. A skilled interlocutor, an interlocutor who can enact your will and read the intentions of these Mon-keigh, would be very useful, yes? One who served well would earn a considerable share of said treasure?"
Vyljen threw back his head and laughed like he had heard that his worst enemy had died slowly and in terrible agony. "I like you. I really do. But I don't trust you." His blast pistol appeared in his hand like magic and he was pointing the the bulbous weapon at the freelancer. "This is too convenient."
He put the pistol away. "Much better." The other Dark Eldar looked on in shock and confusion. "Very well done. Next time, be less perfect."
She inclined her head. "As you say, mighty dracon. What is your will?"
"You will join us, of course. Now that I know I can rely on your loyalties you are far too useful to leave behind. Take me to the humans."
"Of course." She paused. "One question, if I may?"
"You always call them humans. Not Mon-keigh."
"It leads to sloppy thinking and foolish contempt. They are not our equals, but lasers and explosives care nothing about superiority." He flexed his shoulder muscles. "Contact the humans and we will depart. Give us some leeway. I need to kill something."
Very pleased with the fact that you've given us something more to read.
Looking forward to reading more of you!
All the best
Kalyph dropped the body to blood slick floor. The leather clad Dark Eldar spasmed and twitched as blood oozed from the holes gauged in his chest. Kalyph dropped the splinter pistol in his other hand and clenched his bloody fist, sheathing his talons. "Anyone else feel like expressing their opinion?" he asked.
The rest of the scum said nothing. The caravansary was ancient, a scum pit that had existed for millennia and been the host of countless debaucheries and cruelties. The floor was worn and stained by untold decades and the stench of death had soaked into the walls and furniture. The long tables and secluded booths were full of mercenaries, thugs, and reavers. They were slavers and killers without mercy, bloody handed slayers with decades of killing experience each. They were also small fry. Compared to the kabalite elites facing them, they were prey and they knew it.
"No one? Good," said Kalyph. "Vyljen Zalyr came through here. He was hiring. He had incubi with him. Where did he go?" Behind him six of his kabalite warriors formed a firing line.
"Don't be shy," said Daharn. He gestured to the room with barrel of his liquifier gun. "Silence will only make this . . . entertaining."
A bulked up mercenary with a purple mohawk spoke. "He went to the Blades Bazaar."
"Weapons," said a sybarite armed with a blaster.
"Yes Mikatel," replied Kalyph. He turned and walked up the stairs to the dark sky of Commorragh. A score of kabalite warriors were waiting, along with Goretz and his pack of pallid and bestial ur-ghouls. Perched on the roof were a half dozen scourges.
"The Blades Bazaar," said Kalyph. "He's arming his dregs."
"He has a good eye for killers," said Styros. The scourge chief had the long barrel of a haywire cannon in an assault sling. "Like you."
"True," said Daharn, "but we're closing in."
"The question is," said Styros, "what's he up to with only a couple dozen warriors? What kind of target can he hope to hit?"
"Nothing worth hitting," said Kalyph, "which means he's up to something unorthodox. Someone at the Bazaar will give up his next move. Let's move."
The Dark Brethren approached the end of their enclave and the entrance to the pirate base in general. The walls were of rough hewn asteroidal rock strung with irregular lights and several power cables. A sign in half a dozen languages, one of them being Imperial Gothic and another the glyphs of the Eldar tongue, proclaimed that ranged weapons were forbidden. Beyond the cavern maw was a square plated in plas sheets and steel plates that swarmed with pirate scum and black market traders.
Four enforcers stood at the edge of the enclave. They were humans, big men made bigger by implants of vat grown muscle. They wore heavy cloth pants, heavy metal bracers, and battered breastplates. Their heads were encased in heavy helmets that looked like instruments of torture or primitive breathing apparatus. They carried massive shock mauls and had short barreled autoshotguns slung over their backs.
"Shoulder rifles," Vyljen ordered. "Blades only, if needed." The reavers slung their rifles, leaving their hands free to grasp a variety of deadly blades at a moment's notice. As the column of Eldar approached, the crowds parted. Human and barely human mutants and augments parted along with Kroot and reptilian Jarvish. Stilt legged Uvunish, their frail bodies reinforced by cybernetic exoskeletons, hurried their centauroid bodies out of the way.
No one dared to block Vyljen's way or threaten him. Warrior pride might have present among the pirates and reavers, but discretion not valor predominated when the Dark Eldar swaggered their way. They walked passed open air markets, drug dens, taverns, brothels, curio shops, beggars, poison emporiums, weapon shops, and slave markets.
The Dark Eldar walked along the a docking stanchion until they reached the airgate that connected to the Golden Venture. Vyljen stopped at the gate and addressed the guards. "I am here to speak with your master."
There was a moment as they communicated on their crude machines. A stocky officer bowed to him. "My lord, if you would follow me." He lead Vyljen through the airgate and into the docking corridor that lead to the human ship. They went through several corridors and up several decks via a lift. The officer stopped at a door.
"My lady captain and her senior officers are within. Your guards can remain with me."
Vyljen considered killing him for his insolence and then let it pass. "Heyzayl, with me. The rest of you remain here."
He entered the room which was paneled in wood worked by not unskilled carvers. Three human females in finery sat on the other side. Vyljen sat down, Heyzayl slouching at his side. "So you are Sophia Delarain?"
"I am," she replied. "These are my officers Minerva Xiphos and Adrianna Mei-Lung. We were very interested in your proposal."
"Good," replied Vyljen. "Then we both may become rich."
"We have some questions," Sophia said. "And there are a number of details that need to be worked out to our satisfaction."
"Then let us begin. Ask your questions."
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