- Objectionable Content Warnings:
Moving with alarming speed, Krethaq ducked beneath the swing of the ork’s thick arm. The brute huffed with frustration, aiming a flat-footed kick at the Archon who again deftly avoided the blow. Krethaq lashed out in retaliation, slicing his crystalline djin blade along his opponent’s stomach. The blade carved through the paunch flesh of the ork’s gut, causing green blood and tightly clumped guts to pour out through the open wound.
Barely hampered by his injury, the ork snarled and swung his choppa down at the Archon, a crude blade notched with many kills. Once again, Krethaq weaved aside from the blow and leapt high into the air, lashing out with lightning quickness. This time, he sliced through the ork’s thick neck, separating his head from his shoulders with another spray of soup-like blood. A spasm of sadistic delight sounded from the surrounding spectators.
Krethaq landed with grace. Soon after, the ork’s head thudded loudly against the onyx floor of the Archon’s theatre, followed abruptly by the greenskin’s heavy body. The Archon looked at the remains of his opponent and twisted his face with displeasure, having barely sapped any agony or fear from the ork during their short fight. Thus, he was left deeply dissatisfied. Even his djin blade, possessed with an ancient sentience, seemed to stir with unsated sadism.“Another one, Beastmaster.”
Krethaq commanded.“Forward, mon’keigh!”
Crahlmar struck his agoniser whip against Polonius’ bare back, sending waves of nerve-searing agony through the Space Marine’s body. Suppressing any response to the crippling pain, Polonius stood tall and defiant at the arena’s edge. Alas, his collar and manacles soon lit up and dragged him forward with a magnetic pull, feet scuffing against the blood-slicked floor of the Archon’s personal killing theatre.
Duels like this were a whetstone for Krethaq’s blackened soul, wetting his appetite for torment while ensuring that his murderous expertise was never allowed to atrophy. Plus, having his Kabal in attendance to witness his skill first-hand was a useful reminder of how he earned his position as Archon. Not via an ancient bloodline like it's late founder, but through violence.“Which one is this?”
Krethaq asked, swiping his sword aside to lazily clean it of green gore.“The beast was captured during our raid on Comeria Prime, Archon.”
Crahlmar sneered beneath his fanged mask, shaped in the nightmarish likeness of a khymera. “The lone survivor of his group. The other four have either been killed or ‘processed’ by dear Vircylith.”“Comeria Prime?”
A cruel smirk curled at the corner of Krethaq’s lips as he recalled many bloody memories. “Quite the fruitful harvest that proved to be. The world’s populace was so fattened with self-worth they thought themselves untouchable. It made it all the sweeter to show how wrong they were.”
Polonius did not respond. Instead, he tensed his considerable musculature and balled his hands into heavy fists, sending a clear message; he was ready to fight. For months he had been kept alive by the drukhari, locked in a stasis cell when not being excessively tortured. Every moment he imagined how best to take retribution for his lost brothers. And now, staring at the smarmy xenos warlord responsible for their deaths, he finally had his chance.“Your little troop must have been there to protect them. Such a tragedy. But take heart, mon’keigh...”
The Archon gestured to one of his nearby courtiers. Suddenly, Polonius’ shackles opened, sliding off his wrists and clattering against the floor. Another drukhari threw the Space Marine his sword, which he deftly caught. “Now is your chance to avenge them.”
Readying his blade, Krethaq spread his footing and set his gaze directly upon his opponent. Polonius steeled his mind and steadied his abused body, examining the Archon’s stance and armour, watching for any weak-points to exploit. Near half-a-minute passed in tense silence before the Space Marine finally charged forward, quickly crossing the small battle-theatre towards Krethaq.
With a swift grasp and flick, Krethaq snapped his Animus Vitae from his sash and hurled it forth. Polonius swung a fist to knock the silver orb aside, but upon making contact, it burst into a writhing cloud of razor-sharp wires. The cordes whipped and flailed, wrapping around his broad form in a frenzy of lashes. Polonius fell, captured in the mass of constricting wires that continually tightened, sawing through flesh and muscle alike. He roared in pain while the Animus Vitae ravenously fed off his lifeforce, channeling his pain into the air as a fountain of purple light.
The drukhari onlookers cheered and laughed as they greedily drank in Polonius’ tortured life-essence, all while he lay trapped on the theatre floor in a tangle of blade-sharp wires. “Alas, your vengeance must wait, mon’keigh.”
Krethaq strolled around his unfortunate foe, deeply amused with himself. He too sampled the agony in the air as if it were a rare, well-aged vintage, all while basking in the cruel admiration of his audience. However, his enjoyment was short-lived. In the throes of his cruel triumph, Krethaq saw the sobering sight of a mirror-like mask nearby, its enigmatic wearer stood waiting for him at the theatre’s edge.
Thinning his lips, Krethaq ended his preening and approached the figure.“Shadowseer Yl’saeth. Enjoying the show?”
Yl’saeth twirled his Miststave like a baton between his dexterous fingers, faceless mask staring back at Krethaq from beneath a motley hood of blues, reds and blacks. When he spoke, his voice was a distorted echo, as if ten aeldari spoke at once from all different angles. “It was invigorating to watch you perform, Archon Ivensyr. Yet you set an important stage elsewhere. It would be remiss if my Troupe were not present to play our part.”“Scathea.”
Krethaq answered sharply, not wishing to dance around the subject as Yl’saeth had a tendency to do. “As suspected, S’voel Vethidran knew about the Haemonculus’ plans. After the Thirst withered him away to almost nothing, he proved rather forthcoming with the information I sought.”“We sought.”
Yl’saeth corrected. “Our strands remain intertwined, Archon Ivensyr. We travel the skeins of fate as one.”“So you often say.”
Krethaq sheathed his djin blade at his side, dark eyes set firmly on the Shadowseer. “Regardless, Gruelthax Xylle seeks a temple of Vaul upon the aforementioned Crone World.”“The craftsman seeks his lost patron.”
Yl’saeth ceased the twirling of his Miststave. Lights danced upon his mask, swirling like sunstruck zephyr. “What have you planned?”“An ambush. The moment our elusive Haemonculus makes landfall, he will be swarmed by the daemons of She Who Thirsts. As his Covenites hold back the ravenous horde, we will strike directly for Gruelthax Xylle. I will personally carve out and collect his soul.”“And I will take it.”
Yl’saeth answered in kind, his many-voiced words lowered to a whisper. “The Whispering God has plans for this Lord of Pain. The mirror awaits his reflection.”“Whatever foolish plans you or Ynnead have for him, make sure he stays dead.”
Krethaq turned his nose up with visible disgust. “That wretch has caused me considerable trouble and if he somehow returns to take vengeance, I will be very, very displeased, Shadowseer.”
Yl’saeth said nothing in response. Krethaq got the impression that behind his mirrored mask, he was smiling. The Shadowseer performed a graceful bow and spun on his heel, taking his leave with a shimmer of bleeding colours.
Krethaq knew when he was being used. Ever since the Shadowseer led him to the Ynnari, he sensed there was a secondary motive. A greater purpose? A necessary sacrifice? The plots of the Harlequins were hard to predict, even for an Archon. Whatever the case, Krethaq at times felt as caught in Yl’saeth’s schemes as Polonius was in razor-wire. And he loathed it.
But for now, their alliance remained profitable. For now.
Attention drawn back to the Space Marine’s loud suffering on the theatre floor, Krethaq unsheathed his djin blade once more. He motioned for Polonius to be dragged off the stage and one of Vircylith’s wracks hastily obliged, leaving a trail of wet blood. Re-entering his personal arena, Krethaq looked directly at Beastmaster Crahlmar.“Another one.”