- Objectionable Content Warnings:
Greasy smoke and shredded metal surrounded the young halfborn as he lay maimed and burnt upon the steeped seats of Qarnathae Arena. He dragged himself over the obsidian steps and away from the jetbike’s crash site, smearing blood as he painfully pulled his limp body along, nails digging into the floor as he did. Arzurdar’s flight had been regrettably short-lived, not entirely unexpected considering in all his six years of life he hadn’t once piloted anything. Nearby, the jetbike’s original pilot lay smeared over three rows of seating, all cracked bone and torn viscera. The reaver had landed with an unceremonious splatter and died instantly upon their abrupt crash into the Wych Cult’s colosseum, unlike the young thief.
Coughing and retching after taking a lungful of vile-tasting smoke, Arzurdar finally emerged from the smouldering wreckage and slumped over one of the walkways separating the ornate rows of arena seats. With a sneer on his split lips, Arzurdar pressed his bloodied hands against the floor and splayed his fingers. The halfborn whined and pushed as hard as he could, desperate to overcome his grievous wounds and rise up onto his feet. His muscles strained and quivered in agony as his feet weakly struggled to find purchase on the blood-slicked stone. Tears of pain and frustration streaked from his dark eyes as he pushed with all of his failing strength, but to no avail.
With a whelp of defeat, the young halfborn flopped down onto his front. Laying in a growing puddle of his own blood, Arzurdar’s weeping eyes flickered and his consciousness fled.
Arzurdar’s eyes strained open. A discomforting purple light shone down on him from the sundered roof above, revealing a sky filled with the virulent storms of the Immaterium. His vision blurred and fingers twitched, his senses painfully returning one-by-one. It was only then that he realised he was choking. Arzurdar’s entire body strained in agony as he rolled onto his side, spitting up a mouthful of blood and dust onto the cracked mosaic floor.
Retching up a final globule of thick red spit, Arzurdar wiped the back of his hand over his scarred lips and looked groggily around himself, seeing the gilded interior of a mon’keigh palatial building. Stain glass windows, grim-faced statues and murals of a golden human surrounded by swarms of fleeing fiends covered the interior walls. Looking at the gaudy mon’keigh artwork only seemed to worsen Arzurdar’s splitting headache. Yet despite its faux-resplendence, the palace was hollowed of all its furnishings. Anything that could have been transported away was when the planetary elite fled the approaching warp storm, leaving an empty husk in which Arzurdar now lay, injured and bewildered.
How did he end up here? He rode the Skyweaver with Duinafal, striking at the Chaos incursions alongside the Harlequins. They detonated the munitions factory, and then…
Screaming, Arzurdar strained his hands into fists, feeling a molten pain surge through his spine. His combat drug dispenser was damaged by the fall and was now pumping improperly diluted Hypex into his system, causing his veins to bulge around his neck and his heartbeat to frantically race. Arzurdar grasped desperately at the device and tore it from his back with a snap of tubes and a spray of liquid stims, hurling it aside with a loud clutter, causing the cylindrical glass containing the concoctions to break and sizzle on the floor like acidic venom.
The Dracon pulled himself up onto one knee, flashes of nerve-searing agony rushing through his beaten body as he forced it into motion. Everything hurt, from his bruised muscles to the throbbing pain that threatened to split his skull open, but better he died over-exerting his injuries than being found and devoured by warp-spawn. Pressing a bloodied hand against the floor with fingers splayed, Arzurdar balanced himself and rose unsteadily onto his feet.
Nearby, a soft glint of azure light shimmered upon the floor. Arzurdar hobbled towards it on a wounded leg, soon recognizing the eerie glow as the spirit stone he recovered from Ambeda. Leaning down with a strain of wounded muscles, he scooped the waystone into his bloodied hand and tucked it away. Yl’saeth said this thing would be important and Arzurdar didn’t gut a giant eel just to lose it here. And where exactly was that damned Shadowseer anyway?“Yl’saeth!? Glimmer!?”
He shouted their names with an indignant rage. “You brought me back to this wretched rock and for what? To die here!?”
Only Arzurdar’s echoes answered him.
Unwilling to wait to be found and thus be left vulnerable to the doomed world's daemonic invaders, Arzurdar set off on bloody footsteps towards one of the baroque doorways leading out into the sprawling corridors of the abandoned palace. He fought through his pain, having walked away from many arenas in far worse shapes than this. But as he approached the shadowed hallway, he saw something moving amidst the thick blanket of darkness ahead. And when he took a deep breath to centre himself, he noticed an intoxicating scent in the air, sweeter than the rarest flora in Krethaq’s poison gardens.
The thick aroma was disarmingly addictive, compelling the Dracon to breathe deeper and invite more of the aromatic perfume into his lungs. And it was familiar… as was the feeling of heady intoxication and numbness that worsened with every breath he took. Daemonettes, he thought, servants of She Who Thirsts. Slowing his breathing to lessen the soporific musk’s effects, Arzurdar reached for his agoniser whip and unfurled it from his waist, cracking its neuro-searing tip against the ground as its paralysing electrical arcs danced on the flooring. His injured state was far from ideal for battle, but he would not run and hide from the warp-spawn like some cowering mon’keigh. He would fight.“Come then, you spawns of filth! I’ll send you screaming back to Her side!”
Arzurdar roared, as if he were Khaine himself goading Slaanesh to face him.
Alas, what emerged was no mere daemonette.
Ducking his horned head beneath the skull-lined arch of the doorway, Parsephelos strode out from the darkness and into the central chamber with a balletic grace to his steps. He rose up to his full impressive height, nearly three-times that of the Dracon, a towering colossus of flawless ivory skin and gem-encrusted golden armour. He extended all four of his arms either-side of himself in a satisfied stretch, snapping the gilded pincers of his lower-pair. Dangling lifelessly in his upper right-hand was Duinafal, the Harlequin pilot hanging limply between the Daemon Prince’s pale fingers, held like an unloved toy.
Setting his onyx-black eyes on Arzurdar, the smooth-faced daemon stretched his lips into an unnaturally wide smile. “I remember you.”
All of Arzurdar’s bravado sank into a bottomless void, replaced with an nerve-numbing feeling of captivating dread as he stared up at the perverse visage of Parsephelos. For a single second he was paralyzed, enslaved by the sight of the Daemon Prince, until an old and trusted instinct shot through the Dracon’s mind; run. Falling back to his survival instincts honed as a child in Commorragh’s brutal underbelly, Arzurdar turned tail and fled back into the palace’s central chamber.
With quicksilver speed not meant for a creature of his size, Parsephelos raced past Arzurdar as a blur and cut off his escape, the wind of his momentum hitting the Dracon a few seconds after. The towering daemon stopped directly in front of the now-staggering drukhari and lashed out with his serpent-headed tail, its golden fangs bared. Its bite snapped a few inches short of Arzurdar who swung himself back to avoid it.“I remember you well, Dark One. You fled from me on Cerecope as well. How curious it is that we find eachother again.”
Parsephelos’ lascivious voice disturbed the air, causing a throbbing pain in Arzurdar’s heart and a tension through his soul. Like the coils of a serpent, Arzurdar felt the familiar grip of She Who Thirsts constrict around his soul. Even Ynnead’s protection was not enough to shield him as the sensation worsened and worsened as he peered into the Daemon Prince’s eyes, as if he were once again sinking into the bottomless black mire of his soulthirst. “I thought… I thought Mero’athys had killed you.”
Arzurdar sneered with bared fangs, dark eyes flicking left and right, searching for a possible escape he knew did not exist.“Mero’athys,”
Parsephelos repeated the succubus’ name with a sinuous hiss to his voice. “Long have I imagined her since our fateful duel, but I lacked a name to remember her by. Mero’athys.”
The daemon whispered the name with sensual longing, like that of a lover, as he idly licked the air. “It sounds sweet on my tongue.”“You have–”
Arzurdar strained, fighting through the sensation of his very soul being drained. In a matter of seconds he felt as if he had been stranded in realspace for a millenia without having fed on a single drop of torment. “Nrgh. I don’t care about your sick fixations!”“No, I would not expect a mortal to understand.”
Parsephelos looked towards the lifeless body of Duifanal still held in his hand, tossing him away so that he landed at Arzurdar’s feet. The Harlequin’s mask was half-broken, revealing the red-haired aeldari once-hidden beneath. Duifanal’s eyes were locked wide-open, a testament to his agonising final moments. Parsephelos then licked Duifanal’s blood clean from his hand with a grotesquely long tongue. “Delicious, but nothing compared to the polluted souls of your kin, Dark One.”
The Dracon took a single step back, looking upon his co-pilot’s corpse with wide eyes. His grip around his agoniser tightened, his icy cold terror beginning to thaw away with fiery anger.“His Troupe is going to destroy you for that, daemon.”
The daemon retorted.“I’m sure you thought the same before the succubus sliced off your wretched head.”
The Dracon finished with a taunting fanged smirk, tilting his head with a sway of his ponytail.
That comment earned a sharper look from the Daemon Prince, his dark eyes shining with scintillating rays of golden light as he stared right into Arzurdar’s soul. The Dracon could feel the weight of the daemon’s eyes, their invasive pressure upon his already tormented soul.“I underestimated her.”
Parsephelos conceded. “But she is unique. Your beloved Archon, however, would make for an easy and succulent meal.”
Incensed by the Daemon Prince’s words, Arzurdar’s sense of fear and self-preservation was overtaken by his possessive rage. With a scream leaving his lips, he lashed out with his agoniser and sent its barbed tip snapping lightning-fast for the daemon’s perverse visage. Ivory flesh sliced apart from brow to cheek and wept silver blood, the daemon letting out a trill of pain-addled delight as he lashed out in kind. Parsephelos’ pincer caught the recoiling whip, snapping it in half.
Holding only one-half of his ruined whip, Arzurdar snarled with feral fury and hurled it aside.“Enough games you mon'keigh-born scum! If you are going to kill me, take your chance!”
Arzurdar hissed behind his fanged teeth.“No. I may have a use for you, Dark One.”“A use for me?” “Perhaps,”
Parsephelos answered as he leaned in with sinuous grace, his long pincers perching against the ground as his smooth-featured face loomed over Arzurdar. “Mero’athys. She is the reason I bought my sundered form together again, so I might face her faultless artistry and feast upon our pain as we battle once more. You will lead me to her.”
Arzurdar parted his lips, ready to snarl his defiance at the Daemon Prince, but was cut short by another dazzling burst of golden light and colours that shone from Parsephelos’s eyes. The Dracon’s mind swum and vision blurred, everything he saw smearing into wild strokes of scintillating colour. Arzurdar stumbled back, guarding his eyes with his right-arm, before a strong hand grabbed it and slowly lowered it down to reveal who now stood before him.
As his vision slowly returned and focused, Arzurdar found himself staring into the black eyes of his Archon. Krethaq stood before him, skin bare but for a few floating strands of violet cloth, holding Arzurdar’s forearm in a reassuringly firm grip. Even though Arzurdar knew this was fake, a cruel deception played by the Daemon Prince, the sight and touch of his lover clawed painfully around his heart. It felt so familiar, so real, so close.“A fair deal, is it not?”
The false-Krethaq spoke, both voice and appearance uncanny for the Archon. “I will spare your soul, and the soul of your beloved Archon when he comes looking for you, providing you lead me to her.”
The false face of his lover leaned in close to him, close enough that Arzurdar’s soul twisted into an agonising corkscrew. Yet despite the terrible torment wracking every fibre of his being, the allure he felt for the daemon wearing Krethaq’s face was undeniable. He had taken something that was an honest visceral feeling within Arzurdar, the primal surge of want and need he felt when staring into the Archon’s black eyes, and twisted it into something terrible.“You aren’t him.”“I can be. Simply submit.”
Arzurdar grit his teeth so tight his gums bled, his injured body trembling as he struggles in vain to fight against the creeping grip of the Daemon Prince around his heart and soul. He shut his eyes, trying to escape the enrapturing sight of his false-Archon’s eyes, but saw them in his mind still. He couldn’t fight against it, he couldn’t… until he felt a sudden wave of clarity roll through him like a cold breeze, banishing the grip of She Who Thirsts from his soul. The spirit stone tucked into his sash began to glow a bright azure and the whispers of the aeldari dead filled Arzurdar’s mind, banishing the grip that Parsephelos had obtained. The echoing of the dead grew and grew, until an androgyne voice gave a single, clear command; fight.“Lead me to–”“You aren’t him!”
With a flex of his right-hand, Arzurdar unsheathed the punch dagger from his armguard, releasing Soulbite’s cursed edge from its hidden compartment. In a split second, Arzurdar plunged the dagger right through the false-Krethaq’s neck, splitting apart the daemon’s illusionary flesh with a spray of silver blood that washed over him like liquid mercury. The false image of Krethaq flickered and burst apart into streams of scintillating pink, revealing Parsephelos beneath as the daemon’s jaw unhinged and released an ear-bleeding shriek.
Ripping free Soulbite from the Prsephelos’ neck, tatters of the daemon’s essence were dragged out as well, torn away by the cursed blade mounted on his wrist. Soulbite was a curious blade, modified by the Hex to shear through souls just as it did flesh. And as Arzurdar just discovered, a daemon’s unnatural essence was also highly susceptible. Cracks of burning black coursed out from the neck-wound, spreading over Parsephelos’ pristine flesh as his very essence was torn wide open, forcing the Daemon Prince to pull back.
With a violent hiss, Parsephelos’ serpent-headed tail lashed again for Arzurdar. He ducked beneath the first bite despite his injury-slowed state and hopped over the tail’s sudden attempt to constrict around him. Remembering his battle against the giant eel in Ambeda’s depths, Arzurdar hastily avoided the serpentine strikes of Parsephelos’ tail before lashing out with Soulbite in a wide arc that sliced through the tail’s soft flesh.
Screaming in fervent fury, Parsephelos lunged forward with a pincer and caught the Dracon, rending deep through his ghostplate armour and hurling him back through the air, crashing into the mosaic floor with a crack of stone and spatter of gore.
Sprawled upon the ground with blood pooling beneath him, Arzurdar cried out in pain and defiance as he dragged his torn chest off the ground and raised up to his knees to face his death proudly. But death wasn’t what greeted him.
Graceful bodies made of cascading colour fell into the palace as the Harlequins made their arrival, picking a dramatic moment to appear as always . The Troupe fell upon the Daemon Prince, firing shuriken pistols and sweeping out with power blades against his ivory flesh. Glimmer of Graith bound towards Parsephelos’ neck, her Harlequin’s Kiss piercing into the wound Arzurdar left and worsening it with a spinning web of monofilament wires. Perched upon the head of a nearby statue, Obrithaen Eldshadow unleashed the screaming shurikens of his Shrieker Cannon against the daemon, his skull-mask appearing as if it were grinning.
Wounded but far from beaten, Parsephelos fought back with spurned fury. Conjuring sleek silver blades into his free hands, he swung them in blindingly quick arcs for the Harlequins who deftly avoided most of the glimmering steel and lashing pincers with leaps, spins and flips. Though not all fared so well, with one Player being caught by the daemon’s gilded claw and sliced in half from shoulder to hip. Another was caught by his sword, their colourful blur disrupted with a shower of blood. But the Troupe’s attacks never once relented, whittling down the Daemon Prince blow by blow, striking at the malignant wound upon his neck.
With blood pouring from his sundered chest, Arzurdar watched the battle with blurring vision, the fatigue of his injuries and blood loss finally catching up with him. But his senses were keen enough to hear feather-light steps walk beside him, turning his head towards the sound.
Shadowseer Yl’saeth lowered down beside the Dracon, his mirror-like mask shimmering with flowing ribbons of light like the ever-changing streams of fate. He crouched down and regarded the bleeding drukhari, the edges of his form bleeding with dancing colours. When he spoke, his many-layered voice was melodic and soothing to Arzurdar’s ears.“You played your part well, Dagger.”“Nrgh. Wh–”“Listen.”
The Shadowseer reached forth with a yellow-gloved hand, sliding long fingers into Arzurdar’s sash and retrieving the glowing spirit stone stored within. He pressed it into Arzurdar’s bloody hand, wrapping the Dracon’s fingers around it as an azure light rolled off them both, wisps of ethereal energy rising from their bodies and those of the Harlequins who fell fighting the Daemon Prince. Power swelled in the air, like a rising crescendo that drowned out the ceaseless call of She Who Thirsts and replaced it with the revitalising chorus of the fallen.
Power flowed from the spirit stone as the aeldari soul stored inside channelled her essence out in psychic waves that washed over Arzurdar. He felt newfound strength filling him, bolstering his body and even stemming the bleeding of the fissure through his chest. Shakily he rose back to his feet, feeling the spirit’s voice pounding within his mind. Her name was Ghyllistra, sister of Autarch Saelindior and disciple of the Striking Scorpions shrine. A proud daughter of Biel-Tan who died fighting Chaos and now urged Arzurdar to continue the battle.
No, not urged, she demanded him to.“Come, Dagger. Our performance is not yet complete.”
Plucking blades of shimmering light from the air itself, Yl’saeth leapt forward and launched them towards the Daemon Prince.
Eyes burning with the wraith-like fire, Arzurdar’s bloody lips curled into a spiteful smirk as he joined the Shadowseer in charging for Parsephelos, Soulbite risen and ready to strike.