- Objectionable Content Warnings:
Without any warning, Vornassian’s seat erupted into a three-meter tall spike. It impaled the unsuspecting trueborn, piercing through his segmented armour and lofting him high into the air with a shower of warm blood. The audience around him barked and cheered with delight at the unexpected murder of a fellow attendee, faces wetted and hair soaked crimson as they watched the trueborn’s retinue desperately try to recover Vornassian’s flapping body from the obsidian spike with little avail. When that distressed display had outlasted its amusement, the audience turned their attention back to the central pit of the elegant Nhexus Arena.
The deadly combat had been particularly entertaining this evening. A host of newly captured orks were set loose on the arena floor, herded and harassed by the Cult of the Cursed Blade, the green-and-gold armoured wyches dancing and twirling across the trap-ladened theater as they engaged the muscled brutes, clashing their artful and varied fighting styles against the heavy-handed orks. The Nhexus Arena itself had claimed most of the kills thus far, monofilament wires slicing heads from unsuspecting shoulders and poisoned darts catching the combatants off-guard, their toxins quickly causing them to swell up and tear open like over-ripened fruit. Even the audience were participating in the carnage, a row of seats in the upper-section collapsing into a drill-filled pit from which only blood, viscera and screams escaped. The atmosphere of pain, danger and anticipation was addictive, a poisoned chalice from which all the drukhari attendees drank to sate their blackened souls.
Of all the performers, one was putting on a particularly good show, and the nightmarish yet adoring shrieks of the onlookers made it all the more apparent. The bloodbride Vialeth sliced through scarred ork flesh with expert sweeps of her razorflail, the segmented blades rending apart pauch stomachs and blinding beady eyes as it whipped in deadly arcs through the air. When they pursued her, she led them into the cruel snare of the arena’s traps, predicting their ever-changing placements and leading the orks to their gruesome deaths. When only one chaser remained, Vialeth launched onto them with her punch dagger, a serrated blade mounted on her wrist and modified by the Haemonculi of the Hex, able to stab through not only flesh but soul as well. She buried it into the ork’s neck and ripped it free with gushes of thick green blood, tearing out both viscera and the tatters of her victim’s essence.
In the midst of this brutality, three new competitors made their arrival via a flourish of light.
Dressed in his old wych’s attire, Arzurdar strolled out from the webway rift with all the arrogance of an Archon after a planetary conquest. Half his body was hugged in a skin-tight black wychsuit while his chest was almost entirely bare, fitted only with harnesses to support his bladed pauldron and segmented armour pieces over his arms, allowing his strenuously trained musculature to be on full narcissistic display. Agoniser whip curled in his left-hand and knife held in his right, Arzurdar lifted his chin contemptuously and looked across the Nhexus Arena’s blood-soaked floor. Yl’saeth said his first test would be to return from the arena with something of worth, though as of yet, nothing seemed worth his attention.
Behind Arzurdar, two more figures emerged; Glimmer of Graith spun out from the rift with a dazzle of bleeding colours, while Obrithaen Eldshadow hopped out with his Shrieker Cannon held like a reaper’s scythe. Both Harlequins flanked Arzurdar, the three new arrivals immediately catching the attention of both audience and competitors alike as they were temporarily broken from their drunken sadism.
Spotlight stolen from her, Vialeth set her murderous stare upon the new challengers, particularly the uninvited wych. Her dark-painted lips twisted into a hateful sneer, revealing rows of needle-pointed teeth. She ripped her punch dagger from an ork’s skull, kicking aside his corpse as she acquired a new target. The audience were suitably bemused by this, assuming this was a planned twist by the Cursed Blade’s succubi. After all, cunning feints and unexpected turns of events were part of their show’s dangerous appeal.“Every corner of the arena floor is ladened in traps and every sharp edge poisoned,”
Arzurdar repeated his earlier warning to his Harlequin companions, his lips holding a hint of amusement, “try not to die.”“We have fought on stages far more tumultuous than this,”
Glimmer of Graith turned her mask’s vile visage towards the arena combatants, “and have woven betrayals far more grand and terrifying than these wyches could ever hope to match.”“Darling Glimmer, I wager I will earn far more of the audience’s favour than yourself.”
Obrithaen’s words rung with giddish delight, the Death Jester lunging up onto a vantage point and readying for the carnage to come. It almost appeared like his skull-mask was smiling.“You do delight in being defeated by me, Eldshadow.”
answered Glimmer of Graith as she swept off towards battle, eager to face the Cursed Blade herself.
Left to fend for himself by his two masked companions, Arzurdar focused squarely on Vialeth. The bloodbride was striding right towards him, her gore-soaked weapons glinting against the stagelights of the arena floor. Arzurdar knew of the Cursed Blade’s reputation as faultless fighters, for so many tricks and betrayals leaves only the strongest of their Cult alive. He had a terrible battle ahead of him, but he cared not. Feeling the dark texture of the stage beneath his boots, seeing how the blood of so many different slave-races painted its ground like a blank canvas, and hearing the heckling audience desperate to have their souls sated.
By the Dark Muses… he missed this.
Unfurling his agoniser whip with a sharp crack and slapping his hand against his shoulder, Arzurdar activated his combat drugs. A white-hot rush of pain flooded his body as a concoction of Hypex mixed with Grave Lotus flooded his veins via a back-mounted distiller, the green bubbling liquid racing through the transparent cord upon his pauldron and into the flesh at the base of his neck. His heartbeat raced, muscles swelling and tightening with artificially enhanced strength. The world suddenly seemed to move slower to his eyes as his senses were sharpened beyond natural ability. He was ready to fight.
With a sudden blur of speed, Vialeth leapt forward and struck her heel against the arena floor with purpose. A pressure plate bucked and a nearby wall slid open, a hail of poisoned darts flying straight for Arzurdar. Hearing the mechanism activate just a millisecond prior, Arzurdar slid aside with liquid speed before their toxic points could pierce his skin. A nearby ork was struck instead, veins bulging as his flesh bloated and burst in a shower of rapidly putrefied gore before the beast even had the chance to let out a roar of anger.
Vialeth was quickly upon him, her razorflail splitting into a blade-segmented whip that she swung for the Dracon, razor-sharp edges snapping for him and slicing his chest and bicep. Arzurdar rolled aside to avoid a second slash, countering it with a lash of his agoniser. Vialeth leapt high enough to avoid the strike, twisting her lithe body through the air to avoid a second crack of the neuro-searing whip. When she landed, another pressure point activated. Suddenly, the floor beneath them slid open to reveal what looked like the mouth of a lamprey, its blade-teeth spinning in a deadly whirl that promised to reduce any who fell into its maw into a fine red paste. Using their lightning-quick reactions, Arzurdar and Vialeth snapped their whip-like weapons against nearby pillars and swung themselves out from the deadly pit, landing on opposing sides as the crowd cheered at their display of agility.
Arzurdar crouched low when he landed, knife and whip held ready. Blood rolled down his torso and along his arm, dripping onto his feet and spattering the polished onyx floor. Vialeth looked overwhelmingly smug, staring at him from across the pit like a gyrinx would a cornered mouse. Though it pained his monumental ego to admit it, Arzurdar realised he was outmatched by the bloodbride’s speed and skill, even with his combat drugs. He needed to change his tactics. Fast.
Behind his smirking foe, Arzurdar saw Glimmer of Graith bounding with balletic grace over one wych and sinking her Harlequin’s Kiss into another, shredding their insides as the monofilament wires of the Troupe Master’s weapon made short work of her foes. Obrithaen Eldshadow leapt constantly out of reach of a trio of orks, his Shrieker Cannon wailing as it launched swirling disks that sliced through flesh and caused the victims to violently explode, always with a delighted quip from the Death Jester. At least those two were having fun. “Have you a name to share before I crush you under my heel, worm?”
Vialeth called out, shouting over the whirring of spinning blades and the droning of an impatient audience.“Arzurdar,”
he answered shortly.“A name I do not even recognise? Killing you will be a waste of–”
Before she could finish her insult, Arzurdar snapped his agoniser for her, his muscles already taut and springing into action like that of a serpent. Vialeth ducked her head aside and narrowly avoided the whip’s bite, but before she could retaliate, Arzurdar had sprinted around the edge of the pit and followed his attack with a swipe of his knife for her throat. Vialeth pirouetted away from the blade, but was promptly struck in the chest with a scything kick from Arzurdar that knocked her to the floor. She hit the ground with a viper-like hiss.
Lunging down with a stab for Vialeth’s heart, Arzurdar pierced only the onyx floor as she rolled aside from the blow and flipped up onto her feet. She parried another swipe of his blade before slashing her punch dagger over his inner-thigh, sawing through his flesh and slicing into his blackened soul. Arzurdar howled at the blade’s essence-rending caress, throwing his focus and giving Vialeth an opening which she quickly exploited with a kick square to his jaw. Arzurdar fell back and hit the floor right at the cusp of the blade-pit, head knocked against its rim and blue ponytail dangling a few inches away from the spinning deathtrap.
With unusual clarity despite the mix of dizzying pain and combat stimuli that affected his mind, Arzurdar realised how doomed his situation was. Should he try to get up, he will be exposed enough to be kicked into the pit. Should he stay down, he fights with a severe disadvantage that will quickly kill him. A change of tactics, he thought… and stayed down, appearing dazed and disorientated from his fall.
Deadly grace personified, Vialeth leapt for her prone victim like a descending razorwing. The audience held their breath, anticipating the bloody release of the killing blow.
At the very last moment, Arzurdar snapped his hand for Vialeth’s arm. He managed to push her punch dagger off-course before her finishing blow landed, missing his heart by mere inches. Stuck through the shoulder by her soul-piercing blade, Arzurdar returned the favour. With his other hand he sank his knife deep through flesh and bone, piercing Vialeth’s heart.
Warm blood rushed free, pouring over Arzurdar as the wide-eyed wych stared down at him in shock, her dark lips locked into a hateful sneer that dripped red. But that sneer didn’t last, twisting into something closer to a smirk. A rush of cold terror ran through Arzurdar, knowing full well what that meant; she had a contingency plan.
Hurriedly kicking up his legs, Arzurdar pressed his feet beneath Vialeth’s abdomen and thrust them out, hurling the dying bloodbride into the air with his knife still embedded in her ribs. Half-a-second second later, her Traitor’s Embrace activated. She burst apart mid-air, her bones erupting from her flesh like the ossified branches of a tree that spread out with murderous urgency, lancing into the arena floor in a deadly embrace. Arzurdar narrowly avoided the elongated bone barbs, one impaling the bloodied floor between his opened legs, while others struck the more unlucky audience members' faces and bodies.
A spasm of laughter and amusement spread through the audience of drukhari onlookers, entertained by the bloody conclusion to Arzurdar and Vialeth’s dance. They drunk in the savagery of her death, feeding off every morsel of violence and pain afforded to them.
Arzurdar dragged his injured body up, only able to move thanks to the concoction of drugs still pumping through his blood. He raised just in time to see Glimmer of Graith bow gracefully to the entertained audience, standing atop a small pile of bodies as she accepted her ovation. She did as promised and out-performed Obrithaen Eldshadow, who also graciously applauded her.
Seeing the audience give rapturous praise to the Harlequins and not on him stung Arzurdar worse than any blade or whip ever could. Not even the sensation he felt when the weapon of the bloodbride tore at his husk of a soul could compare.
Rising onto his feet, the wounded Dracon looked up at Vialeth’s ruined remains and noticed the punch dagger on her wrist, hanging by cords of dripping viscera from one of the bone-branches. Wisps of tattered souls still slid off the blade’s serrated edge, some of his own essence bloodying it. Yl’saeth did say to return from the arena with something of worth. Like plucking fruit from a tree, Arzurdar snatched away Vialeth’s disembodied hand with a wet snap.“Let’s leave,”
Arzurdar shouted to his companions, holding the soul-shearing punch dagger and the bloodbride’s still-attached-hand to his chest, “before their succubi show up.”