- Objectionable Content Warnings:
With powerful strokes of his arms and elegant waves of his legs, Arzurdar swam deeper and deeper into the teal sea of Ambeda, a world swathed in languid oceans and the location of his next quest. Dressed in a black bodyglove with his blue hair tied back in a tight braid, Arzurdar’s athletic form was sleek and streamlined, perfect for navigating the warm waters. Pressing his lips tightly around the breathing tube fed into the corner of his masked mouth, Arzurdar swam deeper still.
Owing to a long-standing tradition of underwater raids organised by Archon Krethaq Ivensyr, Arzurdar was both a skilled swimmer and experienced underwater combatant. Every decade the Archon selected fifty of his favourite kabalites, of which Arzurdar was always first pick, and paid visit to the ocean world of Hapth’an'tan. The Archon’s clique would receive body modifications from Vircylith and her wracks; some chose webbed fingers and toes, while others added blade-sharp fins to their arms and backs, morphing them into deadly aquatic hunters. With their alterations complete, they would dive in and sow delicious terror among Hapth’an’tan’s docile populace of aquatic aliens, abducting the vulnerable and stealing their serpent-god’s relics.
Memories of those raids brought a flutter of excitement to Arzurdar’s black heart, but alas, such reminiscing would only be a distraction to the Dracon. He had a mission to complete and this venture into the depths would prove far less entertaining.
Decades ago, a vicious battle was fought between a Swordwind of Craftworld Biel-Tan and a warband of traitor Astartes, and though the aeldari annihilated the brutish worshipers of the Blood God, their victory came at a cost. Dozens of aeldari lives were lost in the air-fighting, bodies scattered and lost to Ambeda’s depths. Though some were recovered and their spirit stones returned to Biel-Tan's infinity circuit, one important soul remained missing, hidden away amongst the colourful coral reefs where aquatic predators of all shapes and sizes lurked, waiting to fill their bellies. Now, it was Arzurdar’s task to find and return it.
Saving souls was never something the Dracon envisioned himself doing, but neither was doing the bidding of a Shadowseer with a penchant for cryptic vagaries. Yet here he was, doing just that.
Swimming through a school of blue-yellow squid, Arzurdar neared the coral reefs of Ambeda. They were as many-coloured as a Harlequin’s holo-suit, an assault upon the eyes of one so used to the gloom of Commorragh. Frilled branches and glossy tentacles sprouted from the fleshy hills of coral, catching smaller sea-creatures and feeding them back into the thousands of devouring mouths hidden beneath their spongy facade. Spindle-legged crustaceans and shape-changing cephalopods patrolled the nooks and crannies of the reef, stalking their fellow coral-dwellers with deadly adroitness. It was a deadly feeding ground, an arena of diverse predators all hunting one another with a variety of poisoned tendrils, serrated claws and slicing fangs; it almost made Arzurdar feel at home.
With a sharp twist of his body and sway of his strong legs, Arzurdar lowered down into the labyrinthine reef. The spanning arms of coral blocked rays of light from Ambeda’s twin-suns, darkening the chasms that Arzurdar lowered himself into. He used the bioluminescent lights of the see-through worms that wriggled amongst the coral to guide him, searching for the glint of a spirit stone amongst the rocky chasms and polyp-covered crevices. He occasionally found the wreckage left by the battle fought over Ambeda, warp-forged metals scattered amidst the vibrant marine life, unholy runes caked in a coating of thick green algae.
At first, there was something bemusing about this mundane task, but that feeling soon curdled into nerve-numbing boredom. Why had the Harlequins sent him here? The arena battle he understood, for murder was his specialty, but why this backwater puddle? To kill him with tedium? To ‘humble’ him with a menial task? Perhaps he had been too compliant and owed his captors a bloody reminder that he is a Dracon of Commorragh.
Arzurdar’s mind raced with schemes as he listlessly searched for any sign of the ‘lost soul’ Shadowseer Yl’saeth had mentioned, when suddenly, a long shadow swept over him.
Instinct took over and Arzurdar kicked against the ossified reef, knocking himself aside through the water. Half-a-second later, a giant eel lunged in and crushed the coral between its sword-toothed jaws, narrowly missing its aeldari prey. The eel’s sinuous body coiled as it shook away the debris from its deadly jaws. It's unsettlingly smooth flesh was vibrant green with a purple underbelly, covered in yellow flowing fins that resembled aeldari silks adrift in water. That beauty was severely undermined by its frightful visage, beady eyes set above an elongated mouth of dagger-sharp teeth that hid away a second set of jaws within its gullet.
Kicking his feet, Arzurdar swam away from the aquatic predator towards a spire of coral and grabbed hold of one of its thorny protrusions, snapping it free as a makeshift weapon. The giant eel swiftly pursued him, moving through the waters with agility that Arzurdar could not hope to match. Its mouth opened unnaturally wide, its pharyngeal jaw lunging out to bite and snare the aeldari. Arzurdar tucked in his legs, narrowly avoiding the first bite, but another quickly followed. Rather than try to dodge it, Arzurdar thrust the coral spine out and caught the eel’s secondary jaw, skewering the roof of its throat-mouth and locking it open. If the beast could scream, it would, fluttering its flowing fins in agony instead.
A swell of confidence surged within Arzurdar, having out-witted his deadly foe. He swam in closer, moving for the giant eel’s soft underbelly with intent to rip it open. But before he could enact his cruel plan, its wiggling body slammed into him with the speed of a wych’s whip and the force of a charging ork, knocking the wind and wits from Arzurdar. Momentarily stunned as he drifted back through the water, the eel’s body looped and locked around the drukhari
The eel’s slimy body constricted him, wrapping around the Dracon’s torso and legs and squeezing tight. He could feel the rubbery muscles of its body tightening until they were iron-hard as they began crushing Arzurdar’s torso, causing him to scream a stream of bubbles from behind his porous facemask. His lungs were pressed beneath his ribs, denying him any of the oxygen from his breathing-tube. Arzurdar’s head felt like it was going to burst, pressure building rapidly within his skull. His entire body cracked and strained, close to breaking within the eel’s constricting grasp, but he would not be beaten. With a muted scream of pain, Arzurdar slowly and painstakingly tried to drag his right-arm free of the coils.
The beast leered loathingly down at him, mouth lodged open by the coral branch and bleeding black into the clouded water. It wanted to watch him die. Arzurdar could almost appreciate the vengeful sadism were he not its victim. So he struggled on, desperately trying to slide his right-arm out from the giant eel’s coils… and finally, at the cusp of fainting from lack of breath, his arm slipped free with a foul pop. Dislocating his shoulder in the process, he dragged his arm out of the eel’s grasp and near-instantly popped it back into place.
Clenching his fist, Arzurdar activated his wrist-blade as it thrust free from his armguard; Soulbite, the punch dagger he took from the bloodbride at Nhexus Arena. He thrust it straight into the giant eel’s purple underbelly, raking it through the rubbery flesh as a rush of black blood and jelly-like organs slipped out from the gaping wound. The eel’s body quivered and loosened, allowing Arzurdar to drag himself out of its coils and swim free, drinking down as much air into his starved lungs as the narrow mouth-tube would allow.
Innards spilling free from its eviscerated underbelly, the giant eel twisted its body in agonised loops before finally falling still, drifting silently into the abyssal chasms below. Arzurdar watched its death throes with vengeful delight, biting his teeth into the tube of his mask as he grinned and savoured the beast’s final moments. But before it sank out of sight, something shining slipped free of its belly, caked in slimy jelly and emitting a heartbeat of warm light.
Diving down through the water thick with inky blood, Arzurdar reached out and snatched up the glistening object with his outstretched hand, saving it before it too was lost to the lightless depths. A spirit stone gleamed dimly between his pale fingers, not even remotely tarnished by the digestive juices of the eel’s innards, even after years of exposure. The psycho-reactive crystal felt unusual at his fingertips, as if something was tugging gently at his nerve-endings.
‘All this trouble for you?’, he thought, bringing the stone closer to his face as its glow illuminated his sharp aeldari features. ‘You best be the soul of someone important’.
Slapping aside a small group of jellyforms that flocked to the ethereal light of the spirit stone, Arzurdar kicked his legs and rushed back up to the ocean’s surface.