- Objectionable Content Warnings:
TORMENTS OF THE HEART
Screams were like music to Vircylith. A symphony of agony was always playing within her baroque laboratory, echoing out from its surrounding oubliettes and entertaining the flesh-sculptor as she went about her work. Wracks extracted the cries from her unfortunate victims with nightmarish methods, wringing them for every red drop of torment and siphoning their tortured essences into the regeneration pods lining Vircylith’s lair. Within, dark-eyed fiends with half-reformed bodies lay twitching, limbs sprouting and flesh creeping over exposed muscle, their bodies regrowing with every nourishing dosage of pain fed to them.
Sitting up upon a slanted surgical table, Krethaq watched Vircylith’s masked acolytes with half-lidded eyes, observing how they cared for the regenerative pods like eager insects tending their queen’s eggs. The Archon’s distracted gaze drifted to the nearest chamber in which Zetria’s melted remains were in the process of reforming, a tight layer of wet viscera pulled across the pilot’s leering skeletal face. She almost looked as if she were smiling. When finally the perverse sight no longer amused him, Krethaq glanced back to his own surgical procedure.
Looming over him was flesh-sculptor Vircylith, her four arms working in perfect unison as she repaired the torn flesh and muscle of Krethaq’s left-arm. She guided new strands of sinew between her fingers like a spider weaving silk, sewing them through the Archon’s sundered bicep as she skillfully repaired the lingering damage done by the Deathwatch’s autocannons. Krethaq endured the procedure without sedation, suffering and savouring the nerve-searing sensation of his muscles being knitted back together. Decades of finely-honed paranoia had taught him that such anesthetization would leave him vulnerable, and a vulnerable Archon would soon be a dead Archon. The discomfort was the better option.
To further stave off such vulnerability, Krethaq was flanked by his two most deadly guards; Klaivex Iruhiron towered to his left, the Incubi’s already impressive height accentuated by the razored horns of his helm and the twin trophy-racks on the back of his warsuit. The sslyth Uhlaash kept vigil to his right, one set of hands wielding a power glaive while the other held the helmet of the Deathwatch marine he killed, carving intricate runes into it with a knife.
Krethaq sniffed with boredom, flexing his pale fingers and watching his half-repaired muscles tighten and contract. Inspecting the perfect form of his own body even left himself appeased at times.“How much longer will this take, Vircylith?”“Not much longer, Archon Ivensyr. The procedure must not be rushed.”
A petulant part of Krethaq yearned to scoff and demand it be done quicker, but one could not rush perfection. Even the slightest fault in his musculature owed to a hurried completion could be fatal in battle. Instead, he simply flared his nostrils with silent displeasure and sat further back upon his cushioned surgical slab. “When the repairs are done, Vircylith, you will be joining me on a rather tedious venture.”
Krethaq wafted his right-hand dismissively. “I have been summoned to Ynnead’s Dream to report on what exactly happened upon Saederych. If it is anything like my other meetings with the Ynnari high command, it will be a rancidly dull affair.”“The Ynnari have made a personal summons for you, Archon?”
Vircylith’s voice was sinuous, echoing artificially from behind her black face mask. Her eyes never left her intricate work. “Was the battle against the mon’keigh mutants so unfavourable?”“Trinkets.”
A ghost of a sneer curled across Krethaq’s lips. “That is all they destroyed, mere trinkets of a bygone age. Alas, our ground forces were slaughtered and I doubtless will be questioned on their deaths. Our fair-feathered kin tend to overreact when lives are lost, even those of their outcasts.”
The flesh-crafter’s body rattled with a questionable form of delight at the Archon's words as she laughed, a horrid noise that even offended Krethaq's own ears. “They are sensitive little souls,” she concurred, “I oft enjoy how much my presence offends their sensibilities.”“Then you will be with my court, flesh-sculptor, as will Iruhirion and Uhlaash.”“And what of our missing Dracon?”
she questioned, gaze locked on Krethaq’s open arm, threading pale skin back together and hiding away glossy red muscles.
Our Dracon? The implication that Arzurdar belonged to the Kabal irritated Krethaq. Arzurdar was his and his alone, his prized possession, his favourite subservient. But… he was gone. Discomforting emotions coiled like a ball of serpents within Krethaq’s chest, emotions he had tamed for his own self-preservation and survival; worry for another being beyond himself, fearing for them, longing for them. These torments of the heart were unbecoming of an Archon so he violently suppressed them.“Due to his ongoing absence, we will be without him. I have had to appoint Gth’zeir as Dracon of the Ravenous in his stead, perhaps permanently if he does not soon return.”
Krethaq’s words were pridefully aloof, betraying none of his worry for Arzurdar’s wellbeing. His emotional foibles could not be exposed to whoever might have been listening, for unwanted ears were everywhere and would quickly exploit his vulnerability.“Could the Deathwatch have taken him?”
Vircylith asked. “In recompense for my possessing two of theirs. I would so loathe to return my favourite experiments, Archon Ivensyr.”“No. They are killers, they have no desire for prisoners.”
Krethaq rolled his long tongue against the inside of his cheek. He knew the Deathwatch’s reputation firsthand and had fought the over-glorified alien hunters on several occasions. Taking Krethaq’s favoured pet as bait seemed far beyond their usual tactic of heavy-handed purges. “My spies are also monitoring Watch-Captain Qalchar, for I plan to find and flay that beast myself, and they have reported no signs of Arzurdar. Thus, we are left with two options; either he fled, or more likely, the Harlequins have him.”“It was unusual to hear the Shadowseer was there,”
Vircylith agreed, slithering around Krethaq on her spinal tail as she fetched a new array of surgical tools, “when I was an apprentice learning the Black Arts of Shaimesh from master Mezarax, he often said the jesters believe all the stars a stage, and some spectators make better actors in their plays.”
Tension ran through Krethaq’s neck and jaw, cord-like muscles pulled tight. What damned play would Yl’saeth be staging that needed Arzurdar? Would he be a sacrifice for their show? Krethaq felt the knot of serpents within him starting to unravel, his vice-like grip upon his feelings loosening by the second. He felt the urge to rage and destroy, to blindly chase the Harlequins and kill them to the last, heedless of the consequences. He wanted to shriek, to howl, to make his Kabal suffer as he suffered. He had lost paramours before, had killed them with his own hands, and had quickly moved on to the next. Why was this affecting him so?
It was a poison of vile sentimentality, stripping away his cunning and guile and supplanting them with a desperate yearning reminiscent of the soulthirst itself. “The repairs are complete, Archon Ivensyr.”
With a final reknitting of Krethaq’s flesh, Vircylith slid back upon her anti-gravity suspension crystals and began putting away her complex array of flesh-crafting tools. Krethaq sat up properly, lifting his hand and peering at his palm, then turning it over to inspect his knuckle. He flexed his fingers, watching ligaments tense and muscle shift beneath pale skin without any feeling of pain or wrongness.
Sniffing with silent satisfaction, Krethaq slid off the edge of the surgical table and onto his feet, ornate boots scuffing against the laboratory’s glossy obsidian floor. Uhlaash sheathed his carving knife, slithering in closer to the Archon. Iruhiron took position right beside Krethaq, his demi-klaives fused into a singular deadly guillotine that he held readily in his large hands. “Quickly see to any final matters, flesh-sculptor. We will leave for Ynnead’s Dream once I have properly dined. The screaming here has given me something of an appetite.”
Before Vircylith had the chance to respond, all parties glanced up at the eerie heights of her laboratory. The flapping of wings was audible in the air, heralding a duo of red-armoured Scourges that made their descent from between a canopy of liquid-filled tubes and baroque torture cages. Swooping to the ground with elegant speed, the Scourges landed and perched themselves on their modified feet, taloned toes splayed and backs hunched as they bowed for the Archon.
Krethaq quickly recognised the pair. Solarite Baehrax was the leader of the Spiteborn Aerie, a peculiar creature with great black-feathered wings that she folded behind herself like a grand cloak. She lifted her avian mask to reveal an extensively altered face; her skin was riddled with green scales, her nose a pair of wet scent-pits, her mouth elongated and filled with needle-sharp teeth. She seemed more like a feathered xenos raptor than a drukhari, identifiable only by her pointed ears. Listhek, her subordinate, contrasted his mistress with a pair of intricately tattooed bat-like wings and wielded a barbed power lance. His face was similarly modified, a fusion of trueborn and bat, appearing like some primaeval night-hunter. “What is it?”
Krethaq asked, curtly. “A report, my Archon.”
Baehrax straightened up, tip-toeing forward on her arched talons. “From the Dark City itself. A familiar face was sighted battling in the Nhexus Arena.”
Krethaq’s heart began to race. “Who?”
he asked, patience dangerously thinning.“Dracon Arzurdar, alongside a pair of rillietann.”
Baehrax’s reptilian face twisted with barely-visible worry. “They fought and killed the Cursed Blade’s performers before leaving via a webway portal. Succubus Ksh’aka is demanding his head be returned to the arena.”
At last, Krethaq’s self control snapped. His eyes widened, lips twisting back into a wild snarl. His pale fists trembled as he lifted them slowly, stepping towards his winged messenger with murderous intent. “Find him and bring him back to me,”
he demanded, voice quivering as if an unfortunate soul had committed the greatest offence imaginable to the Archon.“NOW!”