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The Vilsqarn moved with the grace of a wych’s bloodied knife as it navigated through the Koronus Expanse. The battleships' bladed silhouette sped forth on engines burning with darklight, gliding past a pale world ringed with asteroids and space wreckage. The Vilsqarn’s halls were filled with violent delights, the Kabalites enjoying the rewards of a recent Imperial ship raid. Yet their Archon did not join them, for he oversaw a more important matter within his throne room.
Fishing his fingers through a shallow dish of viscous liquid, Krethaq snatched up another portion of brain-fruit, freshly harvested from his pet medusae. He regarded the tuber held in his hand, running his thumb over its rubbery flesh, considering something.“Have you ever sampled this sweet indulgence?”
he asked of his sslyth bodyguard, waving the alien growth lazily in the air.“Only once, my Archon.”
Uhlaash hissed, adjusting his grip upon his blaster. “It wasn’t to my taste.”“Saying no to a stimulus? How unlike you, Uhlaash.”
Krethaq’s dark eyes flitted over his serpentine bodyguard, both body and tail covered in vibrant teal scales and clad in crimson kabalite armour. “Was the experience so off-putting?”
Uhlaash’s forked tongue tasted the air, considering his answer. “It left me vulnerable. One must never be so exposed in the Null City.”
He lifted a hand, tapping beneath his artificial right-eye.
Vulnerable? Exposed? Pathetic concepts. Ones Krethaq would prove himself incapable of experiencing. He extended his elongated tongue, wrapping it around the brain-fruit and swiftly snatching it back into his mouth. He chewed slowly, biting apart the nightmare-laden pulp and relishing in the rush of tortured emotions that followed. Memories of shrieking victims and sundered bodies flooded through him, reliving the nightmarish hellscape of a Kabal raid in a single moment.
To the inexperienced, this level of emotional discharge would be crippling. But for a seasoned connoisseur such as Krethaq, the medusae’s nightmarish memories were a savoury delight.“Our guest is nearly ready.”
Arzurdar's voice cut through Krethaq’s terrible bliss, drawing his eyes. The Dracon paced around the regenerative sarcophagus, staring down at S’voel’s viscera-wrapped skull and watching as flesh crept over its wet musculature. “What have you in store for him this time?”“Nothing. He will speak without prompting.”
Krethaq kicked up his boots and crossed them atop S’voel’s coffin. Five times he had rebirthed his rival and five times he had killed him. Krethaq was beginning to lose interest in the process, the pleasure taken from S’voel’s humiliating demise lessening each time. However, the information he held remained vital. Thus, this eve would mark his sixth and final rebirth. “He broke during our last session.”“A shame not all are so easily made to submit.”
Arzurdar stopped near Krethaq, his scarred-but-handsome visage smiling down at his Archon.“If you want me to hurt you, you need merely ask.”
Krethaq’s voice was mellow with warning. “But if you want me to kill you, keep using that tone.”
Arzurdar dipped his head in silent deferral. “Do you believe he truly knows where Gruelthax hides?”
He reached for the dish of brain-fruit, though Krethaq swatted his hand aside.“Most certainly.”
Krethaq answered sharply. “But he knows more than that. Why else would he so vehemently guard the Haemonculi’s location? He is holding onto something.”“Such as?”
Arzurdar asked, folding his muscled arms beneath his Ghostplate-armoured chest. “Let’s find out.”
Krethaq kicked the lid of the sarcophagus, sliding it open half-way as a torrent of steam rose from within. A pulse of psychic energy ran through the cist shortly after, awakening its regenerated host.
S’voel’s brittle hand reached out from the vapours, shaking as it groped for the coffin’s lid. He pulled himself up, a withered husk compared to what he was before. The Thirst had wracked both body and soul, the Archon’s true age and corruption clearly showing. His skin was translucent and riddled with faded purple veins, every rib and vertebrae pressing jaggedly against his tightly wrapped flesh.“You look vile, S’voel.”
Krethaq rose up onto his feet, looming over the sarcophagus.
The withered Archon turned his eyes, sunken black pits, onto his tormentors.“Let’s be done with this, shall we?”
Krethaq continued, gesturing with his hands. “Tell me where Gruelthax is and what his plans are. Then you can at last be free of this cycle.”“Scathea.”
S’voel rasped from a tense throat. “Gruelthax seeks Scathea.”“And what is that?”
Krethaq lifted a brow, interest piqued.“A world. He seeks something there.”
S’voel turns his gaunt face towards Krethaq. “A temple of Vaul.”“A temple of a dead god?”
Krethaq iterated incredulously. “Is there something there worth finding?”“He believes so.”
S’voel strained, hunger seething in his black eyes. “He found something within a Talisman of Vaul. He now searches for more. He never told me… nrgh, more than that. Only that if I helped him find Scathea, he would give me full access to his Coven’s forces. I planned to deceive him with a false lead, kill him and take my reward.”“A short-sighted scheme as always, S’voel.”
Krethaq ran a finger along his sharp jawline in consideration. After a short pause, he turned his gaze onto Arzurdar. “You have been disappointing me of late, Dracon. So, take this as an opportunity to win back my favour. Find Scathea.”
Arzurdar lifted his chin, an impulse to strike out barely contained by the Dracon. He stared at Krethaq for a few silent seconds before his lips peeled back into a sharp-toothed smile. “Then I best see to readying my forces. I will visit your chambers before I depart, my Archon.”
Both enticed and enraged by Arzurdar’s insolence, Krethaq watched him depart with a keen stare. It was only when S’voel rasped a pained breath that he looked back down at the withered Archon. Krethaq’s gaze flitted between S’voel to his dish of medusae brain-fruit, formulating an idea. He reached down, cupping a hand beneath S’voel’s chin and tilting his head back, looking into his hungering eyes.“You did well sharing what you did, S’voel.”
Krethaq spoke with an uncomfortably soothing tone. “And I have quite the reward in mind for you.”