The Battle of Brynn Station
by Steven C. Plagman
Archon Aestra Khromys and a small Trueborn retinue stepped through a flickering webway portal and into enemy territory. She expected treachery, but instead of the flash of the Dire Avengers’ tuelean fire or the piercing shriek of the Howling Banshees’ infernal masks, they were greeted with polite bows and flowery words from unarmed servants. Khromys ignored their useless prattling, and instinctively began searching for traps. Pity
, she thought, as she realized her misguided craftworld brethren intended to honor their pledge of safe conduct. It has been a while since my last excursion from Commorragh. A shame I must waste it with words and not weapons.
The droning of the Ulthwé Craftworlders voices finally subsided. The servants then led them from the waygate, through the crystal spires of the craftworld itself, toward the heart of the worldship. This was not her first time aboard such a vessel, but it was the first time she’d been an invited guest and not an attacker. There was something profoundly unnatural about seeing blue skies and lush greenery everywhere she looked, without a column of smoke or the signature black flash of dark lance fire to shatter the illusion of peace. Everywhere she looked, she could see the Eldar inhabitants of the ship going about their daily lives, as if everything around them wasn’t a colossal lie. They seek to honor the ancient past with their clean, bright surroundings, tall statues that venerate their dead ancestors and murdered gods, and a life that mirrored what they fondly remember our shared past to be. The True Kin remember the way things truly were. Not in these artificial mockeries, but in the way we live. We take what we want because we want it, and it is ours by right of birth. We destroy everything in dark fire simply because we can. We find new sensations and experiences, no matter the cost to anyone, anywhere, because life without them is unbearable. Even if we have to indulge ourselves with our so-called brethren.
She could see the hatred and disgust in the eyes of her guides, barely disguised beneath their platitudes and pleasantries, but what truly interested her was the underlying emotion swirling just below the surface. Fear. They fear us. And rightfully so. Aestra controlled the personal weapons production of Commorragh, because the weapons produced in her factories and workshops were the best in the galaxy. Keeping up with the constant demand required a steady influx of slaves, not to die to blade or blaster in the arenas, but to work to death in the bowels of the Dark City. She herself had once been condemned to such a fate, but unlike the countless others who shared a similar death sentence, she found a way out. Now she commanded the very kabal that had deemed her unworthy of life, and in return, she brought them untold riches, and a lifestyle that was the envy of Commorragh. All that it required was for her to keep producing the very best weapons in the Dark City, but to do so required a constant stream of skilled workers. Luckily, the Eldar produced excellent craftsmen. That was the reason for the fear in the Craftworlders’ eyes. To them, Khromys and the Obsidian Rose were the darkest of nightmares, the creatures that came in the night to steal Eldar away from their families, never to be seen again. And the best part was, the stories were all true.
Eventually, they reached a large crystal dome, located near the heart of the craftworld.
“You must leave your retinue here,” explained one of her guides. Khromys could tell her guide expected a protest, but Khromys was confident enough in her own skills not to need someone watching her back. She turned her head only the slightest amount, and her Trueborn guardians instantly recognized the signal and took positions by the door, fingers resting lightly on the triggers of their blasters. They would wait there until her return, or until she signaled to them that they were needed. If this was a trap, her kabal would fight to the death to extract her from it.
As she entered the chamber, she recognized the two oldest members of her race, both of whom were rumored to remember the Fall not as a historical event, but as a living memory. Eldrad Ulthran, the most powerful Farseer the Craftworlders had ever produced sat at one side of a large round table made of intricately carved wraithbone, while Urien Rakarth, the Master Haemonculus, sat at the opposite end. The pain radiating from Rakarth invigorated her, almost making her hair stand on end with its intensity. It sharpened her own hunger, reminding her that she had been too long away from this sensation.
“Lord Rakarth. This is an unexpected honor,” she said, finally speaking. “I was not told you would be attending.” That was the simple truth, and her spymaster would pay for that failure with his life upon her return to Commorragh.
Rakarth ignored her completely, his gaze never wavering from that of Ulthran. Indeed, though neither moved a muscle, she could sense a byplay between them that transcended a mere test of wills. They were already battling, testing each other’s mettle and looking for a weakness to exploit. Without waiting for an invitation, she took a seat next to Rakarth, and waited for the conclave to begin.
The doors opened again, and four other True Kin and two Haemonculi entered the chamber, hesitating as she herself had when they saw exactly who was in attendance. She recognized them all, and considered them true threats—high praise indeed in their world. The first to enter were Lady Tahltria and Lord Malyn of the Bleaksoul Brethren Kabal. They were married, and shared power within their kabal, an arrangement Khromys herself considered a foolish aberration. Her disdain for the couple lessened somewhat when Tahltria took the lead, telling Khromys that despite the united front they presented to the rest of their society, she was the true power in their arrangement.
Following behind them was Lady Lilith of the Kabal of the Poison Lotus. Khromys had never met the Lady Lilith, but she was aware of her reputation. A daring raider, with much to prove. Hungry.
But then, aren’t we all?
As soon as the doors slid shut, Eldrad Ulthran preemptively ended his clash with Urien Rakarth and turned to face the newcomers.
“You are welcome here, Lady Lilith, Lady Tahltria, Lady Khromys, and Lord Malyn. Please be seated and we will begin.”
The two haemonculi moved from behind their respective masters and joined Urien Rakarth at the end of the table. Though she could not identify either of them, they both bore the markings of the Prophets of Flesh, Urien Rakarth’s personal coven. Khromys maintained excellent relations with the Prophets of Flesh for the simple reason that making an enemy of them would be a fatal mistake for both her and her kabal.
While the others took their places, Eldrad waved his hand, and runes on the periphery of the table sprang into life, projecting a holographic image of a heavily industrialized world.
“The human world of Donovan Prime. It lies within the Gothic Sector, and will soon be the focus of a massive invasion by the forces of chaos.” Khromys leaned forward in her seat, narrowing her eyes at the runes marking the defending forces. She was already choosing the best routes for attack, when Ulthran waved his hand again, changing the projection.
“Brynn Station. An industrial planet that provides arms and ships for the Imperium. While it is almost as heavily defended as Donovan Prime, it is also vulnerable. Striking this planet at the proper moment will leave the entire sector without the means to defend itself. When the Ruinous Powers attack Port Maw, we will strike this planet.”
“I think not,” said Lady Lilith. “I do not follow the orders of Craftworld scum.”
“Reconsider,” hissed Urien Rakarth. That single word, barely audible in the room, froze Khromys’ marrow in her bones. Lilith’s face went pale, and she went silent, her defiance gone in an instant.
“Ulthwé will lead the attack, but our forces alone will not be enough. The other Craftworlds will not support us in this. Therefore, I have sought the aid of Lord Rakarth, and he has personally selected your respective kabals for the raid. We will need your fastest units to breach their defenses. Be prepared to face heavy armor from the Astra Militarum, two chapters of the Adeptus Astartes, and the Adeptus Mechanicus.” He tilted his head to the side, narrowing his eyes. “Ulthwé’s goals aside, the rewards for this raid for your respective kabals will be great. This is a penal colony as well as a manufactorum. The population has a high percentage of hardened killers working as slave labor in the factories.”
Khromys licked her lips at the thought. Humans in general were meagre playthings, barely worth the effort to collect them. Prisoners, on the other hand, would do anything to survive, which meant they were worth much more in the slave pens of Commorragh. Tiny flickering lights, the souls of men, so easily corrupted or extinguished. Yet so magnificent in their guttering.
“Moreover,” he added, “destroying the manufactorum will cripple the Empire of Man’s ability to defend this sector, making it child’s play to conduct future raids. The Gothic Sector will be laid bare for the taking.”
Khromys could imagine her fleets striking with impunity, taking what she wanted from the heart of the Imperium--the mighty Adeptus Astartes impotent to stop them. She had no idea what Ulthran had offered to Rakarth to secure his aid, but his presence meant that to defy Ulthran was to offend the Prophets of the Flesh, and risk her alliance with the Master Haemonculus himself.
“When, and where?” was all she asked, and she and the other Archons eagerly listened to the Farseer lay out his plan to strip Brynn Station of everything and anything of value. As the plan took shape, she began to smile. There would be risk, but the promise of reward far outweighed it.
The swirling colors of the Waygate disappeared, leaving only an afterimage to mark its departure as the connection between Khromys’ fortress in Commorragh and Craftworld Ulthwé was severed. She nodded in approval as she saw neat rows of Kabalite warriors standing on either side of the stairs leading up to the arcane archway. Each group stood in precise formation, holding their custom-built splinter rifles at the ready. The power of her Kabal rested upon those weapons, for everyone knew the Obsidian Rose built the finest weapons in the Dark City. Behind her, her Trueborn escort fanned out, looking for threats as they held their blasters ready. Khromys’ eyes narrowed when she saw her court waiting for her at the bottom of the platform.
“Overseer,” she said to the Talos Pain Engine floating silently behind the court.
“Mistress,” it replied in a synthesized voice.
“Escort Spymaster Trellian to the Haemonculi workshops. They are to extract a suitable apology from him for his failure to warn me of Master Haemonculus Rakarth’s presence at the meeting. When they are finished with him, tell them to send me his skin as recompense for my humiliation.”
The condemned spymaster threw himself to the ground, begging for forgiveness, but mercy was not a trait any of the denizens of Commorragh could claim, least of all an Archon. She waited until the Overseer dragged the screaming man away, savoring his terror, then pointed at Trellian’s assistant.
“You are my new Spymistress, Faunril. Congratulations on your promotion.”
“You are too generous, Lady Khromys,” replied the sharp-featured woman who had just watched her superior being dragged away. “I hope my service pleases you.”
“It had better. Find out everything you can about a human world called ‘Brynn’s Station’.”
“Of course.” The newly promoted spymistress quickly left to carry out her duty. Khromys turned her attention to her Kabalites and said,
“We raid.” It was a testament to their training and discipline that none of them even twitched at the news, but she could feel the pleasure emanating from them nonetheless. “The raid will commence in a few weeks, but there will be a war-kit inspection in one hour. Expect an extended raid against an entrenched foe.”
The Kabalites and Trueborn broke formation, and filed out of the Waygate chamber. Instead of following them, Khromys walked toward the hardened and shielded structures housing her machines of war.
Each Raider and Ravager in her fleet was a mirror-image of the last, with no personalization allowed. Most Kabals allowed their raiders to cover themselves in trophies of past glories, or to paint them with runes and kill-markings, but Khromys was different. She believed that trophies were things to be brought back from a successful raid, not something to be taken to a raid. Past glories mean nothing. Only future glory matters.
There weren’t as many Raiders as she might have liked, floating silently in their armored crèches, but transports weren’t nearly as important to her as the warriors they could carry to war, or the spoils they could bring back. In point of fact, she considered them to be expendable, and would sacrifice as many as necessary to achieve an overall victory. Further into the bay she saw rows of Ravagers, optimized for hunting the largest prey. Across from them sat Razorwing jetfighters, each one lovingly cared for by its owner. The Razorwings were particularly important to her, for maintaining air superiority would be key to achieving a decisive victory.
Still, the most important part of her army was and always would be her infantry. War machines had their place, for wrecking defenders and fortifications alike. But as powerful as they were, they could not enter the deepest of holes where their living quarry would undoubtedly hide from the destruction bearing down upon them. No, if she wanted slaves, she needed soldiers to fetch them for her. Only infantry could drag the mon-keigh screaming from their hiding places and back to Commorragh to feed the ravenous appetites of the denizens of the Dark City.
She decided that the greater part of her army would be composed of Kabalite warriors, armed with the best weapons she could provide, and given whatever support she could glean from the Prophets of Flesh. But first, she needed to see Brynn Station with her own eyes, to better judge the conditions under which they would fight.
The next day, she sprinted through her personal webway portal and onto the dirt of another world. The air was hot and dry on Brynn Station, and contained smells she strongly associated with the upstart mon-keigh who inhabited the world: rusting metal, burning promethium, and unwashed bodies—thousands upon thousands of them. She dismissed the portal and activated her shadow field, allowing it to obscure her from view and to protect her from any potential harm. When she reached cover, she rechecked the power level of her blaster, then drew her huskblade, careful not to touch the weapon with her bare skin. Doing so would result in every drop of water within her being sucked away, leaving nothing but a desiccated corpse behind. The binding arcane agreements she had painstakingly negotiated with the Prophets of Flesh meant that dying—even in such a dramatic fashion—wouldn’t necessarily be permanent, but trusting the fleshcrafters with restoring her to life would be needlessly foolish, and in this case, completely avoidable.
She ran past a ruined mon-keigh building with the warning “DON’T OPEN, CHAOS INSIDE” scrawled across the sealed doors of the entrance in worn black paint, along with a crudely sketched eight-pointed star for added emphasis. The dire warning amused her, for though the mon-keigh had apparently heeded the warning—the doors were still closed, after all—in the end it seemed to have done them no good. The rest of the building was a blasted ruin, with a deep crater located in the very center of the rubble. Whether the destruction was wrought by something trying to get out of the building, or by someone desperately trying to keep something else in was beyond her ability to parse. If she had to guess, it would be the latter, for it was humanity, and not the Ruinous Powers, that still ruled this world.
The upcoming attack on Brynn Station was still weeks away, but her new spymistress had uncovered signs of a military buildup on the industrialized world, which meant the mon-keigh may have somehow discovered the upcoming attack. The disturbing part was not knowing how they might have uncovered the raid. If they had, she would have to decide whether or not to commit her Kabal to a potential ambush anyway. Walking into a trap could bring disaster, but in warfare there was no reversal quite as devastating as ambushing an ambusher. That was why she needed to personally scout the target. The visual images her spymistress compiled with remote scouts were excellent, but no mere representation, no matter how clear, could compare to seeing things with her own eyes.
Finding a good vantage point, she brought her optical magnifiers to her eyes and scanned the horizon. Sure enough, deep trenches and hardened fortifications were hastily being erected around the most vital defensive points of the manufactorum. Drop pods were landing at key position, and the unmistakable armored forms of the Adeptus Astartes carried heavy weapons into bunkers. She recognized the distinctive markings of both the Dark Angels and the Blood Angels, two extremely potent foes. She made a mental note to congratulate her new spymistress for her discovery, and to reward her appropriately. Just as Khromys detested failure and punished it severely, she generously rewarded both loyalty and initiative.
The Archon watched the fortifications being built until after the sun went down and long into the night, shifting positions every few minutes. As she watched, she wondered if it was simply a coincidence that the mon-keigh happened to be building up their military just weeks before the attack? Or were they warned—either directly or indirectly—by one of her “allies,” seeking perhaps to further their position at her expense? Khromys didn’t believe in coincidences, which left only the latter. Was the leak deliberate? Or was it incompetence? Was one of the True Kin responsible, or was it an effete craftworlder? Neither possibility truly concerned her—betrayal was common in the Dark City, after all--but the thought that worried her was not knowing if Urien Rakarth himself might be responsible. He was certainly capable of stabbing his allies in the back, and if it was indeed the Master Haemonculus who had betrayed them, her agreements with the Prophets of Flesh, as well as the immortality they promised, were worthless. That would mean that I would truly be risking my life in this venture
, she thought, and a delicious thrill of fear shot down her spine. The possibility of dying for a final time and having her soul consumed by She Who Thirsts was enough motivation to make her decide to carry out her part of the attack. With the greatest of risks comes the greatest of rewards
, she thought as she activated her webway portal. Khromys took one final look at the human fortifications and grinned.
“I’ll be seeing you soon,” she said to the oblivious mon-keigh, scurrying about like busy little insects, and impetuously blew them a farewell kiss, already anticipating her return. “Next time, I won’t be alone.”
A few days before the raid, a bright flash of light marked the opening of the waygate located at the back of her Great Hall, and Aestra stiffened, standing a little taller than she had only moments ago. Her kabalites formed straight rows with their weapons at the ready. They aimed at the waygate, as both a show of force, and as a sign of respect. There were snipers in every alcove, and melee skirmishers moving behind the lines, ready to charge in at her command. Satisfied at the her Kabalites’ readiness, she focused all of her attention on her arriving guest.
Urien Rakarth glided through the gateway, floating nearly two feet off the ground. The grotesque appendages sprouting from his hunched back beckoned weakly, or flexed their clawed fingers, opening and closing fists seemingly at random. A wave of pain radiated from him, invigorating her and her Kabalites alike, reminding her of the meeting in Ulthwé Craftworld.
The Obsidian Rose soldiers tensed, but no attack materialized from the waygate. As the seconds ticked past, with no sign of an invasion following his arrival, Khromys relaxed imperceptibly. Inviting an outsider, no matter how important he might be, into her inner sanctum was courting disaster. Her kabalites knew this, and Khromys was pleased to see that they refused to lower their guards, despite both the dark majesty of their guest, and the gift of pain he brought with him. She hoped that Rakarth would understand that her precautions were a sign of great respect, but she had a moment of doubt. The ways of the Kabals were not the same as the ways of the Covens after all, and if Rakarth decided to take offense at her for treating him as a threat, her kabal would be obliterated in short order. Every other kabal and coven in the Dark City would court his favor by seeking her destruction. She tried not to let her doubt show, and when she looked in his eyes, she thought she saw a hint of approval in their inky black depths.
“An impressive display, Archon. Most impressive. You are worthy of your reputation, it seems.”
Khromys wasn’t stupid enough to take his words as a true compliment. She had no idea what her reputation might be amongst the other denizens of the Dark City, after all, and her own Kabalites wouldn’t dream of telling her what they truly thought of her. Still, she lowered her eyes appropriately at the “compliment” and said,
“For you to visit such an insignificant Kabal as ours is the highest of honors, Lord Rakarth,” though thankfully for her new spymistress’ continued good health, it was far from an unexpected honor. “Will you allow me to escort you to my chambers? We can converse privately if you wish.”
“That won’t be necessary. This won't take long. It has come to my attention that Brynn Station has been forewarned of our impending attack, though it seems they do not know when or where we will strike, or with what forces.”
“Truly?” she didn’t bother to feign surprise.
“I see you already knew that,” he said, with the same lack of feigned surprise in his expression. “Were you planning on telling any of your fellow archons?”
“No. Any Archon foolish enough not to thoroughly scout a potential conquest before an invasion begins deserves to be destroyed. Commorragh would be far better off without such incompetence infecting the rest of us.”
“Well spoken.” He cocked his head to the side, and she could feel him weighing and measuring her worth. “Would it disturb you to know that it was I who warned them of our plans?”
“Not at all,” she replied, her suspicions confirmed. “I considered the possibility, of course. Everyone in the Dark City knows that your plans are never straightforward.”
“Flattery, Archon Khromys?” He sounded . . . disappointed.
“Not flattery, My Lord. Simple truth.” He waited for her to elaborate, but she let the words stand as they were.
“Shall I tell you why I allowed them to learn of our plans?” he asked.
“I will admit to more than a little curiosity as well as trepidation,” she replied.
“There are two reasons why I warned them. Reason the first: the objective of this operation is to cripple the military might of the so-called Imperium of Man in what they call the Gothic Sector. To do so, we need them concentrated in order to strike a decisive blow before reinforcements can be summoned.” That isn’t necessarily true,
she thought to herself, careful not to let her own doubt and disappointment with the Master Haemonculus show. We could have done the same thing without warning them. It would simply have taken longer. Now we will incur far greater losses for fleeting gains.
“I can see that you are not satisfied with my answer,” he said. “Reason the second: there is a treasure on Brynn Station that my esteemed rival, Eldrad Ulthuan, desperately seeks to claim. Or reclaim, I should say. Unfortunately for him, his much-vaunted scrying abilities have been insufficient to the task of locating their precise position. He was only able to narrow it down to a specific world.” Rakarth smirked at his cousin’s perceived humiliation. “For the insignificant sum of a handful of sacrificial ‘scouts’ I have forced the mon-keigh to redeploy their forces to protect that which they deem most important upon that world. It is in one of these locations that we will find the treasure he seeks.”
“Do you know what that treasure might be?” she asked.
“It will undoubtedly be something as pathetic as a cache of waystones, filled with the souls of his slain kindred. That is the only prize he would deem worthy of treating with me over. He hates me, after all.” He tilted his head back and sighed with amusement. “The two of us have a long and sordid history.”
“And we will truly risk ourselves for a handful of dead fools?” she asked, frowning.
“Of course not. Your prize remains the same. Destroy the forces defending this ‘Brynn Station’, and you will be able to raid without organized opposition for many years to come. I simply wanted you to know that there was a reason why the humans are preparing for us. In case you were having second thoughts about joining this . . . alliance.”
“Thank you for telling me this, Lord Rakarth, but even knowing that the enemy is preparing for our attack, I’ve already decided to fight.”
“Excellent,” he said, drumming the tips of his fingers together in a sinister fashion. “Now that your resolve has been tested and found agreeable, we can move on to more pleasant matters. As you know, thanks to me your forces will undoubtedly take far greater losses than they otherwise might have. I do feel some small sense of responsibility for that unfortunate situation, and I do hope you will allow me to provide you with restitution. Perhaps with a small gift? As recompense, of course.”
“I would be a fool to refuse,” she said, wondering what he had in mind.
Rakarth drew her attention to the open portal, and her eyes widened in surprise as an immense form slipped silently through the gateway, floating on gravitic suspensors. At first she thought it was a Talos, an immense weapon of war designed to rip and tear its way through a battlefield with surgical precision. Her own personal Pain Engine, the Overseer, was just such a monster, and she knew very well indeed exactly what it was capable of doing to even the mightiest of foes. But then, she noticed the distinctly sharpened proboscis extending from the spot under its helmeted head where its mouth should have been.
“A Parasite Engine?” she asked, astonishment finally overcoming her reserve. “You’re giving me a Cronos?” The priceless gift would indeed make the loss of even a significant portion of her Kabalite Warriors worthwhile, and would make her forces far more effective on the field of battle.
“Of course not, Archon,” he replied, shaking his head. She frowned, waiting for an explanation, when two more Parasite Engines floated through the open portal. Her kabalites drew back uneasily at the sight of the menacing figures. He smiled as they took up position behind him, and for the first time she noticed his yellow teeth were filed to sharp points. “I’m giving you three. They are yours now, with my thanks. How you choose to use them is, of course, up to you.”
From the safety of her stronghold, Aestra watched the beginning stages of the battle unfold. Imperial war machines rumbled or strode forward, spitting beams of coherent light and streams of bolter fire as they finally noticed the arrival of the combined forces of Ulthwé and three separate kabals of the Dark City. Before the battle began, she sent three large units of Kabalite Warriors, each supported by both a Haemonculus and a Cronos into defensible positions on the battlefield, and ordered them to wait for her command to strike. They were the bait, placed there to entice the enemy into leaving their fortifications to attack, and from what she could tell, the enemy was falling for it. Four Imperial Knights strode forward, blasting away at the Eldar alliance with their battle cannons, as the Dark Angels struck her left flank. Across from them, two Revenant Titans bearing the markings of Ulthwé opened fire, and Aestra seized her chance.
She’d kept the vast majority of her vehicles in reserve, trusting in their ability to appear anywhere on the battlefield at will. Her primary strike force was configured in a brutal formation called a Stormsurge, a high-risk, high-reward unit which she herself would command. Three Raiders, each escorted by three Reaver Jetbike squadrons, dove through a carefully positioned webway portal above the battlefield with reckless abandon. The swiftness of the attack took the enemy completely by surprise, allowing the Trueborn crews of the Raiders to strike with impunity.
One Imperial Knight staggered as blaster fire tore through its unshielded back, and it fell upon one of its brethren before its ancient reactor exploded, destroying it, and severely damaging its companion. The Trueborn shifted their fire, claiming the second Imperial Knight as well, and they were again rewarded with a favorable explosion as it too damaged a companion. Her Reavers spread out, turning their Heat Lances upon the enemy, each one biting through the armor of Adeptus Astartes tanks and destroying weapons and soldiers alike.
Her objective lay before her, a strategically vital location in the middle of the vast battlefield, but she would take her time reaching it, as holding it would leave her exposed to fire from all directions. She’d left another wave of war machines in reserve, including three Razorwings, but she trusted them to know when to attack. Instead, she concentrated on her own mission.
That’s when disaster struck.
Though her plan to catch them by surprise worked, the Adeptus Astartes reacted like the elite warriors they were, quickly turning their anti-aircraft batteries upon her formation. One of her Raiders exploded spectacularly, sending Trueborn falling from the sky. A second one nearly joined it, flames bursting from a hole in the side of the sleek craft. Despite the damage, it maintained integrity, and floated toward the ground on gravitic suspensors, still spitting defiant fire. Her own barge was not as lucky, as it too exploded, and she felt herself plummeting to the ground hundreds of feet below.
Her shadow field saved her, cushioning her from both explosion and impact alike. She stood in the midst of the enemy, and they quickly noticed her presence. A machine soldier of the Adeptus Mechanicus—obviously a leader of some kind—charged at her to finish her off before help could reach her. Though it had the reflexes of a combat computer and limbs of adamantium, her huskblade found a gap in his armor and snatched the life from him, transferring it to her in a glorious wave of agony thanks to the soul trap on her belt. The death of the Tech-Priest galvanized the rest of their forces, and an entire unit of the machine men charged her. Ignoring the rank and file, she sought out their leader, pointing her huskblade at him and snarling a challenge. Like the tech-priest before him, he too rose to the challenge, and his soul joined that of his leader in her soul trap as her blade found its mark. The terror of losing their leader, amplified by the Armour of Misery she wore, was enough to terrify the unit and send it fleeing from the battlefield.
Aestra had a brief moment to take stock of the battle, and from what she could tell, it wasn’t going well for the Eldar. The Revenant Titans of Ulthwé were sending wave after wave of destruction down upon the enemy, but the defenses of the Adeptus Astartes seemed to be impervious to the fire. Units writhing at the heart of indescribable destruction not only survived, but counterattacked. Her own kabalite’s splinter fire had virtually no effect on the war engines of the Skitarri, massive hulking machines similar to her own Cronosi.
She was just trying to reorganize the survivors of her Stormsurge, when a second unit of machine men opened fire upon her, striking her again and again with energy fire. Aestra felt her shadow field distorting as it tried desperately to divert all of that fire away from her, but in the end, there was one shot too many, and a bolt of blue fire struck her squarely in the chest.
Aestra slid from the birthing crèche onto a cold, metal floor, as a flood of amniotic fluid washed past her and into a series of reclamation drains. For three heartbeats she did nothing, then her back arched violently as she took her first breath in her new incarnation. Coughing violently to expel the last of the fluid in her lungs, Aestra rolled over, pulling the remnants of the amniotic sack away from her body. As the liquid flowed away from her, her memories returned. Knowing that she was not alone, she spoke.
“How long was I dead?” Her voice sounded too low and too harsh to her own ears, but she knew that to be a side effect of the regenerative cloning process.
“Only for a few hours. Not long enough for any serious cellular degradation to set in,” came the reply, and Aestra tried to stand up when she recognized the voice. Unfortunately, her new muscles wouldn’t comply to her mental commands.
“Lord Rakarth,” she said, hating herself for allowing one of Commorragh’s most powerful rulers to see her in such a weakened state. “I apologize for my failure.”
“Failure?” he asked. “What failure are you speaking of?”
“My death,” she replied. “And, I assume, for failing to achieve our military objectives on Brynn Station.”
Cold, metallic hands helped her upright, and held her steady as her body was flooded with strengthening toxins. When she could turn her head, she saw that the arms belonged to the Overseer, her personal Pain Engine.
“I thought you would appreciate having your Talos in attendance when you emerged from the crèche. As to the other matter, you are quite mistaken. I watched you fall. You acquitted yourself well in the battle, though I do sympathize with you. Being shot to death by energy weapons is quite distressing.” A hidden alcove opened, and a drawer slid out containing her personal equipment. “I was able to recover nearly all of your possessions when we retrieved your body. I’m afraid your shadow field is a lost cause, however.”
Aestra examined the scorched remnant of her shadow field generator. It had failed her at a crucial moment, leaving her vulnerable to the enemy's fire. The rest of her equipment was pristine, causing her to frown, for it should have been obliterated.
“Your Overseer brought another set of armor for you. Please, feel free to dress yourself. The huskblade is the same one you brought to Brynn Station.”
“Thank you for retrieving it for me, Lord Rakarth. That was generous of you.” She began strapping on her armor, sliding the barbed hooks through her pristine flesh to hold it in place. The pain was a potent, yet sweet reminder that her new body wasn’t quite used to the same sensations that her old one was. It would take some time for her to grow accustomed to feeling pain once again.
“Not at all, Lady Khromys. It is all part of the agreement between the Prophets of Flesh and the Kabal of the Obsidian Rose.” He floated into view, stroking his chin with a wizened hand. “How are your memories?”
“I remember dropping behind a contingent of Imperial Knights with my Storm Surge detachment, and laying waste to them, before having my raider shot out from beneath me. I survived the crash, but my Trueborn escort was killed. When I pulled myself from the wreckage, one of the machine men foolishly challenged me to a duel. After I killed him, his men attacked me seeking revenge, though they quickly scurried away after I butchered their leader. The last thing I remember was seeing the flash of energy weapons as yet another squad of the mechanicus opened fire upon me.” A thought came to her that made her laugh. “I do seem to recall seeing an Imperial Titan explode before I died.”
He grinned, exposing his sharpened teeth.
“A gift from Farseer Ulthuan. He foresaw the need for heavy firepower, and provided it in the form of adherents of the Fire Dragon temple, as well as a few Wraithguard, for whom I provided transport. The ‘Warhound’ titan, as the mon-keigh called it, fell victim to their wraithcannons.”
“I felt the despair of the enemy as it exploded, even as I died.” She slid the huskblade into the specially prepared sheath at her waist, though she left the blaster on the table. “How did the rest of the battle fare?”
“Oh, quite poorly,” he said. “The mon-keigh defenders were quite dogged in their defense of Brynn Station. Our forces were thoroughly defeated on the field of battle.”
“So, we lost?” Aestra felt a wave of disappointment at the news.
“Victory is not always decided on the field of battle. Militarily? Yes, I’m afraid so. However, thanks in large part to your attention to detail during the preparations for the raid, we were able to achieve our direct goals, though the Imperium of Man did succeed in defending the Port Maw sector. Disappointing, I suppose, though that doesn’t matter to us. By forcing the mon-keigh to redeploy their forces to protect the things they valued most, they left large sections of the planet completely undefended. You might be surprised to learn that human life is NOT one of the things they value most. When you return to your stronghold, you will find your dungeons filled to capacity with the worst scum the mon-keigh can provide. The fools left them completely undefended. It was simplicity itself to take them all
. Your soldiers are being returned to life as well, and I’ve already repaired the three cronosi. They are, of course, yours to keep.”
“That is most generous of you, Lord Rakarth. But will you indulge my curiosity in one more thing? Will you tell me why we agreed to help Ulthwé?”
“I owed Farseer Ulthuan a debt. A rather large debt, you see. One that is now paid in full, thanks in no small part to you.” He spread his hands wide, and a webway portal opened. Through it, Khromys could see the interior of her stronghold. “The Queen of Splinters has lived up to her considerable reputation. I look forward to raiding with you again, Archon Khromys. It was an honor.”
“The honor was mine.” She bowed deeply, then smiled. "Until next time."