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PRIDE OF PLACE
Gruelthax Xylle’s soul screamed, its pitch sharp and thin as it echoed off the walls of Krethaq’s crowded art gallery. Many of the Archon’s allies and subordinates were in attendance, kabalites and corsairs wandering side-by-side through an exhibition filled with both ancient aeldari sculptures and tortured knots of flesh fashioned from still-living victims. They admired these much-varied pieces of aeldari artistry, though all had come to see the Archon’s newest addition to his collection.
Balanced perfectly on blade-thin legs was a fifteen-foot tall mirror that wailed like a symphony of pure agony, a sea of howling faces ever-shifting upon its luminescent surface. One hundred souls had been imprisoned within the cursed glass, their wraith-like visages shifting like eerie light over the mirror as they coiled around one another. Writhing at the very centre of the mass of souls was Gruelthax Xylle, the ancient drukhari’s gaunt face stretched unnaturally long upon the glass as his shrill cries drowned out the other ninety-nine victims.
Great was the amusement of the onlookers. Trueborn cliques made mocking toasts to the damned Haemonculus, while Scourges perched on nearby statues to sneer with cruel amusement at their creator’s downfall. Gruelthax was responsible for so much of their Kabal’s recent woes, so they eagerly relished the chance to savour his torment.
But as the visitors revelled in the tortured bliss, their host had already departed.
Through diaphanous veils sewn from insectoid wings, Krethaq emerged into the baleful light of his sub-realm. A cadre of Incubi followed the Archon onto the balcony; two in front, two behind, klaives held ready to butcher any would-be assassins. Uhlaash slithered close behind, the sslyth’s forked tongue tasting the air for any airborne poisons.
The spires of Vensyrach stretched out before Krethaq like the malignant spikes of a great sea urchin. Tallest among the towers was the Blood Bazaar, the hub of slave trade and weapon manufacturing that provided the sub-realm its lifeblood. Streams of bladed aircrafts and pleasure barges soared through the gulfs of shadow that separated the black spires while larger vessels emerged through the floating webway gate of Soulfeeder’s Egress.
At the centre of it all, a golden colossi of Krethaq’s exact likeness stood tall and peerless over his realm. Its muscled legs were wrapped in the arms of aeldari who clung to it in worship, sculpted to be half the Archon’s height. Yet even then, they were gilded giants. The Archon’s titan had sustained considerable damage during the Dysjunction, but an army of slaves had been put to its immediate restoration. The bones of those that died now lay scattered over the colossi’s golden feet and many more would join them before the repairs were complete.
With pale hands wrapped around the balcony railing, Krethaq looked imperiously upon his sub-realm, expression mimicking that of the titan that he now examined.“Iruhiron, the supplicant worshiping my calves. His face looks ill-designed.”
Silently, the Klaivex turned his helmed head towards the statue in question, briefly allowing his focus to shift from the Archon’s immediate vicinity.“The expression is vague. It should be either terrified or enamoured.”“Precisely. There is a sculpture of Asuryan pleasuring Gea within my art gallery. Behead him and bring his head to the overseer of construction. His visage will make for a good reference.”“As you wish.”
The Klaivex turned a sharp look to his nearest Incubi, a silent command. She offered a curt nod in response before taking her leave to complete the task assigned to her.
As she departed, another drukhari strode onto the balcony with self-assured swagger.“Lady Viscanthix bought you an ‘impossibly rare perfume’ in celebration of your victory in Scathea, my Archon.”
Arzurdar spoke with a tone that bordered familiarity and respect, all the while wandering towards Krethaq and his retinue of bodyguards. “She was very resistant to the idea of me bringing it to you, something about my ‘filthy half-born hands'. But I insisted.”“Have it sent to Vircylith to be tested for toxicity.”
Krethaq answered, dark eyes still set on the sub-realm’s black spires.“Of course, my Archon.”
Arzurdar stopped by the balcony, gripping the railing a few feet away from Krethaq. He too joined in inspecting Vensyrach, a wry smile creeping over his lips. “Though I hope she’s more inventive than poisoned gifts.”“Lady Viscanthix’s bloodline owes a three centuries old debt to the Vethidran family. Additionally, her favoured paramour was formerly of the Black Heart.”
Krethaq listed this off with a flourish of his hand. “I have been expecting a move from her for years now, though this would be remarkably unimaginative.”“Your memory never ceases to impress, my Archon.”
Arzurdar smirked. “Anyone else overdue an attempt at treachery?” “Several. The greatest risks are being purged tonight.”“I hope none of my cliques are among the suspects?”“Perhaps. It may even be you, ‘my Dracon’.”
Arzurdar smirked with impish glee, running a thumb over his sharp jaw-line. “It is good to be back,”
he said with a sweeping look across the skyline of Vensyrach, “and I suppose the purges will keep us from losing it to Vect and his sycophants.”“Commorragh still suffers the spasms of the Dysjunction. Entire corners of the realm were torn away, leaving behind a disfigured city wracked in a violent war with itself. Any lickspittle Archons will be too busy with the ten-thousand threats immediately around them to notice us, let alone reach the ‘Living Muse’ to inform on us without dying in the violent crossfire.”“And we will purge any with dubious loyalty to the Kabal, just to be certain?”
Krethaq at last looked towards Arzurdar, sliding his pale fingers over the gold railing as he approached his Dracon. The Incubi tensed as they watched, wary of the Archon’s safety so near his second-in-command. After all, betrayal was a virtue the drukhari held above all. Despite that, Krethaq showed no concern as he ran a smooth hand across Arzurdar’s scarred cheek and leaned into his Dracon.“Precisely,”
he whispered enticingly into his lover’s ear, “and to answer your question, there is one within your circle I no longer trust.”
He paused for effect. “Kill Tressic for me.”
Arzurdar’s throat tensed at the request, a twitch running through his fingers, the slight movement enough to make Iruhirion heft his klaive up ready for attack. Yet after a single second of silence, the Dracon’s lips peeled back into a sharp-toothed smile. “I will nail his head to our bedroom door, my Archon.”“Good.”
Krethaq’s hand slid down Arzurdar’s chest, then fell back to the railing. “We leave in three days to intercept an Imperium flotilla fleeing a Warp Storm, Dracon. We have killed enough daemons of late, it is time we enjoyed real flesh, blood, terror and souls again.”“On that you have my complete agreement, my Archon.”
Arzurdar stepped away, departing to enact his bloody business. But after a few steps, he wheeled back around to look at Krethaq. “Oh! One last thing. I heard Succubus Mero’athys is having a giant mural of her slaying the Daemon Prince depicted within Qarnathae Arena. She’ll be holding its head aloft by its tongue! Apparently, it will be placed right above the highest observation tier.”
Above the highest observation tier? Above Krethaq’s throne? Though the provocation was not lost on the Archon, his lips curled into a smug smile. “A mural?”
He turned back to his golden colossus and looked upon it with vain satisfaction. “How lovely for her.”