- Objectionable Content Warnings:
Halfborn filth. Fourth boy of vatborn batch seventeen. Survivor of Vensyrach’s brutal lower-levels. Arzurdar’s earliest memories in life were pain, white-hot excruciating pain as he screamed to life, amniotic ichor rolling off his fragile body as he fell from his birthing pod. Unlike many halfborn, Arzurdar was not born fully developed, for Gruelthax Xylle wanted this batch to fight to survive from a young age, both mentally and physically. The young boy was tossed to the sub-realm’s festering underbelly, where fresh flesh was poached by hovering pain engines and stim-addled mercenaries would test their weapons on helpless targets. Arzurdar was ordered to survive and survive he did, for six brutal years.
But now, the scrappy halfborn wanted to do more than survive. He wanted to thrive.
Peeking out from behind the golden statue of Succubus Xyophella, the young drukhari set his dark eyes greedily upon a nearby jetbike. It was a sleek and deadly craft, decorated with all manner of bladed vanes, grav-talons and grizzly trophies that ranged from alien skulls to jagged finger bones. A proud display that served to discourage any would-be thief. Its anti-gravity motors purred idly as it hovered a metre off the ground, its thin-faced rider sat forward as he flirted with a blue-haired hekatarii from the Cult of the Bloodied Consort. The arrogant reaver smirked as he leant towards her, unaware of the young boy who coveted his precious jetbike like a gyrinx laying eyes on a new toy.
Arzurdar had never considered wanting a jetbike until this very moment, but now that he saw one up-close, his desire for it was overwhelming. With it, he could fly over the wretched streets and stim-dens he was forced to call home, soar rather than skulk. Be free of the musk of toxic rivers and the choking fumes of the venom-pits. Finally feel the piercing winds of the great spires as he soared free above. He pressed his dirtied hands against the gleaming gold calves of the towering succubus, sliding out from his hiding spot before carefully sneaking towards the oblivious reaver. Arzurdar’s steps were feather-light, his technique finely honed by years spent sneaking around and stealing food and weapons from the Blood Bazaar. He soundlessly slipped into the shadows beneath the hovering jetbike, undetected as the reaver remained engrossed in his attempts at philandering.
Biting on his lower-lip as the idle hover-motors of the jetbike above him silently pulsated his body, Arzurdar carefully concocted his plan. He grabbed one of the chain-hooks hanging from the jetbike’s hull and lifted it towards the reaver’s hanging foot, hooking it through his boot-strap. The slight caress against his ankle was noticed and the pilot quickly drew his splinter pistol, looking down and seeing nothing below him. Using that momentary distraction to his advantage, Arzurdar climbed up the opposite side of the jetbike with the speed of a racing spider and kicked the reaver in his side, knocking him cleanly from his saddle with a surprised yelp. Arzurdar reached forward and wrapped his pale hands around the jetbike’s handles. He looked at the hekatarii and saw her smirking back at him, clearly amused by this sudden turn of events. She even gave the scrappy child a nod of encouragement.
Without even a moment’s thought, Arzurdar twisted the handles. With a sudden break-neck propulsion and a scream of the unfortunate pilot being dragged along, the halfborn was flying.
Straddled on the back of a racing Skyweaver, Arzurdar smirked with delight as he spun and launched a star bolas towards one of the corrupt Astartes they raced passed. It wrapped around his mutated thickly-armoured torso and detonated, burning like miniature suns as the Slaanesh-worshipper was blasted apart with an artistic splatter of his corrupted viscera. Arzurdar’s other hand gripped the jetbike’s seat-handle so tightly the skin on his knuckles threatened to split, relying on his vice-like hold to keep him firmly in place as Duinafal piloted the sleek vehicle. The two-passenger jetbikes of the Harlequins were unusual beasts, arrow-quick and requiring a level of co-operation that Arzurdar wasn’t conditioned to accept. Yet when he suppressed that paranoia built over the centuries spent surviving in Commorragh, he almost found this shared flight exhilarating.
The city of Torrus raced beneath them a blur of golden steeples and greasy smoke. The warp storm had swallowed the Paradise World of Saederych whole, besetting it with violet storms that probed its surface with frantic arcs of lightning, and warp-rifts that heralded all manner of horrors onto its surface. First among the attackers were the forces of Slaanesh, there to reap the spoils of the dying world and make its populace their sport as they practised their abhorrent forms of excess upon them. Blue-armoured Violators joined prancing daemonettes and set upon the helpless mon’keigh populace of the city for their own perverse amusements, tearing through what defence force remained with bolter fire and serrated claws. They only paused their sadistic revelry when the Masque’s jetbikes swept low and cut through the servants of Slaanesh with sweeping glaives and shuriken fire.
Defending Saederych’s human populace was not the Masque’s objective, far from it. Shadowseer Yl’saeth was clear about their mission; they would sweep over Torrus and set its weapons factories and plasma reactors ablaze, reducing the city to cinders while its streets were filled with perverse parades of Slaaneshi servants, denying the Great Enemy its great prize. Eager to see both the witless mon’keigh and the Dark Prince’s followers burn, Arzurdar was more than happy to lend a hand on this mission.
Eyes thinned against the high-speed wind that caused his dark blue ponytail to whip wildly behind him, Arzurdar scanned the cityscape ahead for their target. A park of verdant trees and shallow waterways lead onto a wide plaza of bulky and brightly-lit human buildings, crowned with gothic spires that pointed up towards a tattered purple sky now poisoned with the Immaterium’s corruption. Amongst the architectural abominations was a structure decorated with golden friezes depicting all manner of mankind’s wars and conquests. “Is that the weapon’s factory up ahead!?”
Arzurdar shouted over the wailing wind.“The very one.”
Duinafal answered, his slender body hugged tightly against the Skyweaver as he piloted it expertly away from incoming bolter fire. “Make sure the charges are prepared, Dagger, for our window of opportunity is a slender one.”
‘Dagger’. The Harlequins had taken to calling him that since the bout at the Nhexus Arena, and oddly, Arzurdar was rather fond of the moniker. Far better than being identified as Krethaq’s favourite toy, at least. Arzurdar snapped free a trio of plasma grenades fixed to his belt and held them ready in his right-hand, focusing on their rapidly approaching target.
Sweeping around a burning cathedral with a deep purr of its anti-gravity motors, the Skyweaver shot lightning fast through the smoke-stained air towards Torrus’ weapons factory. Three more of the Masque’s jetbikes closed in at the same time, trailing cloaks of prismatic colour as they spun around the gothic structure’s roof, crowded with daemonettes that slaughtered the factory workers that hid upon its slanted tiles. Amongst the carnage was a roof-side opening designed for Imperial aircrafts to visit the factory and be re-armed.“The stage’s entrance is set.”
Duinafal twisted the jetbike’s handles and guided it into a high-speed dive straight towards that opening, the other three Skyweavers doing the same. “Now let us perform as if this were the Rhana Dandra–”“Enough with the tiresome dramatics.”
Casting aside their short-lived prey, the pale daemonettes snapped their bloodied claws with excitement and launched off the roof on their elongated clawed feet, leaping with grace towards the incoming Skyweavers. Duinafal spun the jetbike without warning, rolling aside from a daemonette’s claws. Arzurdar tensed his muscles and planted his feet to ensure he was not hurled from the jetbike’s back during the aerobatic manoeuvre, snarling in surprise. “Next time, warn me, you imbecile!”
snapped the Dracon, teeth bared. Duinafal laughed.
Others fended off the daemonette attackers with their zephyrglaives, slicing through ethereal flesh and skewering the soul-thirsting daemons mid-air, casting them back to the Immaterium. One Skyweaver, however, was caught in the clawed embrace of two of the epicene daemons. Pincers pinned down the rider and tore through the grav-craft’s engine and hull, setting it off-course until it crashed dramatically into one of the interior pillars of the weapons factory with a blaze of blue fire.
There was no time for mourning. The three surviving Skyweavers rushed through the vast factory compound filled with colossal storage crates and half-assembled mega-armaments, with still surviving mon’keigh running between its construction belts with weapons they had pillaged for their own self-defence. Some fired up at the jetbikes, though clumsy aim ensured no shot landed. Unphased by the attack, the trio flew for the back of the factory towards their target; a six metre tall plasma reactor glowing a grossly pink hue. Thousands of glowing cords sprung from its base like the roots of an ancient tree, fixing into smaller generators and delving underground into the city streets, providing Torrus with its power.
Circling the reactor, the Skyweaver’s riders hurled their plasma grenades down onto it, as if showering confetti in celebration upon Torrus’ power core. The grenades scattered over it and fell among its thick cables, the unstable light within them brightening by the second.
All at once the jetbikes disbanded, firing their shuriken cannons and shattering reinforced windows to make room for their urgent escape. Broken glass showered over Arzurdar as they flew out of the manufactory , a stray shard cutting his cheek. He hissed and looked behind him, watching as the all-consuming white light within the weapons factory brightened and brightened. With the shrill scream of a dying star the plasma reactor detonated and the factory walls vaporised, waves of blinding flame racing outwards and disintegrating buildings, humans and daemons alike. Arzurdar snapped shut his eyes and looked away, skin burning and vision lost to the terrible brightness as the detonation tore through Torrus, crippling its power supplies and plunging the rest of the city into darkness.
Racing beyond the vast explosion’s reach, Arzurdar winced and awaited his vision to return. Gradually the white haze vanished and his sight returned. Curiosity bid him to look back at the devastation and as he did, he saw something else; pale, sleak, almost as tall as the buildings below and rushing after them with long elegant strides, moving as quick as the jetbike itself. Quicker even. In a terrifying moment, Arzurdar recognised what that thing was.“Duinafal! Get us away from that–”
Arzurdar’s warning was cut short when the four-armed creature leapt through the air, swirling over the resplendent roofs of Torrus’ noble district and lashing one of its pincers for the Skyweaver. It cleaved the jetbike cleanly in half, hurling both Arzurdar and Duinafal into the air like ragdolls as they flailed and spun amidst the shower of sundered wraithbone. Arzurdar screamed, stuck in a terrifying tailspin as he fell fast towards the hellscape below.
He saw a purple sky. A domed roof. Then only darkness.