- Objectionable Content Warnings:
Saederych’s doom was nigh. The former Maiden World was locked in the jaws of an encroaching Warp Storm, long tongues of the Immaterium’s corrupting energies rolling down onto the world’s spasming surface and lulling it into the storm’s incomprehensible mouth. In less than an hour, the world would be fully engulfed and disgorged into the Warp. Yet despite that, the battle upon its tainted surface was not yet decided.
Parsephelos plunged his pincers into the palace floor, shattering the stainless marble and narrowly missing the trio of Harlequins who jumped away from his sundering strike. The Daemon Prince recovered with balletic grace, sweeping his silver swords out in a deadly pirouette that sent more of his masked assailants leaping back to avoid being sliced apart. The speed of the Harlequins allowed them to narrowly outmanoeuvre the quicksilver daemon, flipping over his blades and evading the strikes of his snake-headed tail as its venomous jaws snapped at the empty air, eager to again taste aeldari flesh.
Some of the Troupe attempted to retaliate, thrusting slender blades and wrist-mounted weaponry through the Daemon Prince’s golden armour and ivory flesh, but always found themselves quickly countered by his many-armed strikes which tore open their varicoloured holosuits with bright red slashes.
The bodies of three of the Troupe’s Players now lay motionless upon the cracked stone floor with their weapons held limply in their hands, colourful motley stained with blood and masks grinning even in death. Nine of the Troupe still lived, ten including Arzurdar, yet none had gone unscathed.
Yl’saeth was bleeding from two deep sword cuts, Glimmer’s forearm had been completely flensed by a pincer-strike and Obrithaen’s left-leg was maimed and numb courtesy of the snake-tail’s bite. Arzurdar himself had been savaged multiple times, only standing thanks to the Whispering God’s power still flowing through his damaged body. But this performance was far from over, so the flagging actor’s remained firmly on the stage.
Parsephelos stepped elegantly over the colourful dead, his obscenely long tongue sliding free of his lips. He shrieked with roiling rage at his impudent aeldari foes, the pitch of it enough to shatter the nearby glass windows and mirrors while bursting the chandeliers upon the high dome ceiling, causing sharp fragments of glass to fall upon the Troupe. Most danced aside from the razor-sharp rain, though a few remained crouched in place and silently suffered the raining shards of glass. For dramatic effect, of course.
As the Daemon Prince’s howl faded, the gruesome wound upon his neck spewed a stream of silver blood. It was an obvious weak-point for the aeldari to exploit, yet none had managed to break his faultless guard and deliver a final fatal blow. But not for lack of trying.
Unfortunately, the Daemon Prince was no longer their only concern. Parsephelos’ scream had drawn more of the Immaterium’s invaders to his side, summoning lithe-bodied daemonettes who pranced through the palace’s gothic halls and joined a deadly dance against the Harlequins. Behind them emerged blue-armoured Violators, traitor Astartes whose extensive corruption leaked as purple ichor from the rivets and joints of their power armour. Stimulated by electric pulses wired to their mutated neural receptors, the Violators roared with ecstasy and unleashed their bolter fire on the aeldari, who deftly dodged the explosive rounds and the onslaught of claws snapping at them.
A laughing daemonette leapt with her avian-like feet towards Arzurdar, a mane of flowing pink hair surrounding her epicene face as she snapped a claw for his neck. He ducked aside, thrusting up with Soulbite as he skewered its serrated edge through her abdomen, splitting flesh and destroying the daemon’s warp-spun essence with a distorted, echoing scream. Nearby, Glimmer decapitated another daemonette with a scything kick and Obrithaen began launching a counter-barrage at the traitor astartes with his Shrieker Cannon.
Shattering the helmet and skull of a corruption-addled Violator with a swing of his miststave, Yl’saeth looked through the shower of gore towards Arzurdar, his mirror-mask glimmering with the distant drukhari’s face. The Shadowseer’s ethereal voice echoed in the Dracon’s mind over the din of battle.‘If the Daemon Prince lives by the Warp Storm’s arrival, we have lost. Time escapes us like tears from Isha’s eyes.’
Feeding off the miasma of death that filled the chamber as a rising blue mist, Arzurdar rushed towards the Daemon Prince once more. The spirits of the slain Harlequins pranced alongside him, illusions projected by Shadowseer Yl’saeth that distracted the Daemon Prince as he sliced through two of the spectral mirages with a single snap of his right pincer.
Leaping with a wyches grace over a charging fiend, Arzurdar spun mid-air and aimed another daring strike for the Daemon Prince’s maimed neck with his arcane punch-dagger, Soulbite. For a split second, he thought his blow would land and finally slay the vile princeling. But that moment of would-be glory was suddenly snapped away as Parsephelos’ serpent-headed tail caught his ankle, snatching him from the air with its golden fangs and hurling him back to the ground. Arzurdar landed with a heavy crash, then recovered with a flip and slid back on the balls of his feet.
Every nerve, muscle and bone quaked with agony, his body on the verge of breaking, yet the whispering of Ghyllistra’s spirit stone and the other aeldari dead numbed Arzurdar's agony and fuelled his vigour. Ynnead’s power sustained him. He would keep fighting and wouldn’t stop until the daemon was destroyed, yet he began to understand how unlikely their success was.
Dragging himself back up onto his feet and flexing his right-hand’s fingers with a few cracks, Arzurdar set his blood-stained eyes on Parsephelos and awaited a new opening to strike. His chest heaved with every breath, panting heavily as he lifted Soulbite readily. His instincts from his youth spent in Commorragh’s arenas screamed at him to prove his fighting excellence to the others and strike once more, yet the Dracon knew better. This was no show or crowd-pleaser, this was a crucible where any false move would damn him forever to the maw of She Who Thirsts, where not even Ynnead could save him. “Take succour from my beauteous presence, for I am endowed with the Dark Prince’s countless blessings.”
Parsephelos spoke with a voice terrible and disarming both at once. “Surrender yourself to me, utterly.”
Gold light gleaming in his otherwise void-black eyes, Parsephelos strode towards the defiant drukhari that had maimed him. Their eyes locked. With the suddenness of an assassin’s blade, Arzurdar felt something vile and invasive penetrate deep into his soul. As if the daemon’s perfect porcelain fingers had wrapped around his every limb, Arzurdar was bound and kept perfectly still by Parsephelos’ stare. And worse yet, it polluted him with a revolting feeling of wanton desire for the daemon he ached to destroy.
Despite his efforts, Arzurdar could not look away. He could not even blink. His eyes were forced open, transfixed by the golden glow of Parsephelos’ stare as daemonic melodies filled his sharp ears. The Daemon Prince’s face had changed now, appearing as an intoxicating visage of exquisite beauty, carved from marble and crowned with horns: Arzurdar saw Krethaq, a perverse reimagining of his Archon looming over him. The sight of Krethaq being used against him made Arzurdar’s veins strain with pressure as they pumped his drug-laced blood quicker, muscles tensing as he fought in vain to break Parsephelos’ hold over him. The daemon smiled soothingly down at Arzurdar, tethering the drukhari in place with paralytic feelings of lust invoked by his gilded eyes. “First you, Dark One.”
Parsephelos lowered one of his elegant claws, gently wrapping its serrated edges either-side of Arzurdar’s straining neck, his veins pulsing beneath his flesh as the Dracon fought for control over his traitorous body. “Then your Archon. Then Mero’athys. All of you shall be added to my collection–”
An eye-scarring beam of darklight cut through the air, as dark as the heart of a black hole. It sliced cleanly through Parsephelos’ chest, bursting from his back as his daemon-forged armour and flesh melted away, eaten by the void-stuff ammunition. His claw retreated from Arzurdar’s neck, the towering daemon stumbled back in shock as his paralytic stare was finally broken, looking down at himself with the same offence as a trueborn might when noticing dirt on their garments.
As if freed from ten-thousand bonds, Arzurdar collapsed forward with a snarl. His bloodied hands pressed onto the cracked marble floor as he gasped for a breath he had not realised he was denied. One-by-one Arzurdar’s senses returned and the first thing his keen hearing caught was the familiar buzz of webway portals opening all around him.
Wings of bird and bat alike flapped against the air as Scourges disgorged from the rifts, following their Solarite’s example as they unleashed their darklight weaponry on the Daemon Prince and his cohort. Red-armoured kabalites leapt free of the rifts with splinter rifles and blades held ready, lunging into battle with almost giddy eagerness as they unloaded their poisoned splinter rounds into warp-flesh. With a buzzing of sawblades and a churning of alchemical fluids, freshly-made grotesques lumbered forward on heavy feet and rushed towards the traitor Astartes with their metallic claws outstretched.Up
, Ghyllistra’s ghostly voice commanded in his mind, get up
Ynnead’s power flared through Arzurdar’s body once more, a rush of cold fire burning through his bruised limbs as he dragged himself up onto one knee. Ghyllistra’s spirit stone blazed with white light as it hung round his neck, that same palee fire now burning in Arzurdar’s eyes. He looked up and blood rolled free of his lips, trying to collect himself to join the new onslaught.“Get up.”
That sudden sobering command jolted Arzurdar onto his feet, turning sharply towards its source.
Stood head-to-toe in his crimson ghostplate armour and surrounded by klaive-wielding Incubi, Krethaq stared back at Arzurdar from behind the green lenses of his horned helmet, burning bright like the depths of a mandrakes eyes. The two drukhari looked at each other for a few long seconds, disregarding the battle raging half-a-room away. Only the shrieking of weapon fire and wailing daemons filled the brief, still silence they shared. Eventually, Krethaq lifted his hand and tenderly wiped away the droplet of blood hanging on Arzurdar’s chin with his gloved thumb, willingly sullying the expensive fabric for his subordinate.“I should tear you apart for leaving me.”
Krethaq began, stilted rage clear in his voice and mixed with a clear pang of longing. “Have Vircylith reduce you to nothing but a miserable pile of flesh. Maybe lock you away in one of her haemovore tanks, let the blood worms feast on your body for aeons to come… but for now, let us be rid of this daemon and this world.”
Smiling with scarred lips, Arzurdar lifted a hand to gently grasp Krethaq’s wrist and rub his cheek against the Archon’s gloved hand, like a gyrinx starved of its owner’s strokes.“I missed you too, my Archon.”
Krethaq snapped his hand back at that display of tenderness, tempted to lance his djin blade through Arzurdar’s heart in offence, but quickly the Archon’s ire turned to the servants of She Who Thirsts instead. With a swift flourish of his dark cloak, Krethaq and his Incubi cohort charged on swift steps towards the Daemon Prince. Seething with reignited vigour at the sight of his beloved Archon, Arzurdar chased after him with Soulbite held ready to strike.
Extending her whiplike tongue with an animalistic snarl, a daemonette lunged down from one of the marble pillars overhead to strike her pincers into Arzurdar. With a rush of bleeding colour, one of the Harlequins intercepted the daemon mid-leap and sliced them in half with a sweep of his powerblade. One of the Violator marines levelled their boltergun at Arzurdar, a mutated eye peering out from the purple-oozing crack on his helmet. But before they fired, an Incubi sliced their head clean off with a sweep of her klaive. Blood spattered as two kabalites were cut down nearby, serrated claws rending through their armour and flesh as they were sliced apart. But before their souls could be supped upon by the daemonettes, Ynnead’s presence tethered them towards Arzurdar and fed the growing cyclone of soulstuff that formed around the Dracon. That deathly power siphoned outwards as well, rushing into the many aeldari around Arzurdar as their souls were nourished by those of their fallen kin.
Parsephelos swept around to meet their approach, lunging forward with viperous speed as his twin-pincers snapped at the drukhari. Equalling the daemon’s speed, the Archon and his Incubi darted aside from the snapping claws and circled around the Daemon Prince’s feet. One unlucky Incubi was caught in the jaws of Parsephelos’ serpent-headed tail, golden fangs gripping his shoulder-armour and hurling him away. Klaivex Iruhiron took the opportunity to strike that same tail with an executioner’s swing of his demi-klaives, severing its serpentine head with a spray of silver blood and a wail from the Daemon Prince. Enraged, Parsephelos struck out with his blades in a flurry of blows at his attackers, the Incubi wielding their klaives expertly as they deflected most of the sweeping silver blades, but suffered grievous injuries from the strikes that broke their guard.
Seeing his opening, Arzurdar jumped and crawled up onto a nearby pillar, perching himself atop the shattered column as he looked at the bleeding neck-wound of the Daemon Prince, the sundered flesh still oozing with silver. Taming his urge to leap in and strike prematurely, Arzurdar poised himself atop the broken marble column and waited. Just as when he was a child in Vensyrach’s brutal underbelly, or a young wych fighting for survival in Qarnathae Arena, Arzurdar knew that perfect timing would alone determine the outcome of this fight.
His already break-neck speed bolstered by the tangible soulstuff in the air, Archon Krethaq kicked off one of Parsephelos’ claws and swiped his djin blade in a clean slice through the daemon’s face, laughing as he struck. Parsephelos swept his arm with enough speed to catch Krethaq mid-air in a sharp backhand and knock him off-course. The Archon's shadowfield took most of the blow with a black distortion forming around his body as he skid to a halt over the cracked mosaic floor. Golden light manifested in Parsephelos’ eyes, locking stares with the Archon and attempting to trap him in the same mental snare as he had Arzurdar. But before he could test Krethaq’s mental fortitude, the brutal arc of Iruhiron’s demi-klaives cut through his ankle and broke the Daemon Prince’s focus. Hissing, he struck for the Klaivex with his claws, but Shadowseer Yl’saeth shrouded the daemon’s sight with illusionary mist and hindered the accuracy of his attacks.
Though he was a mighty paragon of Slaanesh, Parsephelos was becoming overwhelmed by his many aeldari attackers, his wounds taxing his speed and his focus too divided.
All at once, the ghostly voices of many aeldari dead echoed in Arzurdar’s mind with a single command. Now
Wisps of Ynnead’s power drifting behind him, Arzurdar lept through the air towards Parsephelos. The Daemon Prince caught sight of Arzurdar mid-air, lifting a claw in self-defence and to snap the Dracon in twain. But with a resounding crack, Glimmer of Graith intercepted with a chitin-shattering kick straight to the pincer that knocked it off-course, breaking the surprised Daemon Prince’s guard. As she fell, the Troupe Master's grotesque mask almost seemed to wink at him.
Arzurdar grinned. Soulbite plunged. Blood spurted. With his punch-dagger lodged hilt-deep into Parsephelos’ already sundered neck and a boot perched on the daemon’s face, Arzurdar roared in triumph as he used to in Commorragh’s arenas, revelling in the feeling of the Daemon Prince’s neck tearing open as he twisted his wrist and tore the soul-sundering dagger through Parsephelos’ throat. The Daemon Prince’s wail was sharp enough to make ears bleed, puncturing ear-drums as his metre-long tongue flapped and flailed against the air. Finally, Soulbite cut completely through the daemon’s regal neck and tore apart the Warp-stuff that made him. Gold light gleamed within Parsephelos, shining brighter and brighter until the daemon’s form came undone with a burst of blinding radiance, his broken essence fleeing back into the Immaterium.
Without the perch of the Daemon Prince, Arzurdar fell through the lingering motes of light and landed with the grace of a gyrinx. The whirling storm of soulstuff about him finally calmed, absorbed into Ghyllistra’s spirit stone as the white light within finally dimmed. Battered, bruised and soaked in blood, Arzurdar looked up with wraith-fire in his eyes and smiled.
From the clear crystalline viewing windows of Archon Krethaq’s flagship, the Vilsqarn, the Kabal of the Howling Thirst and the Masque of the Midnight Sorrow watched as Saederych was finally consumed by the warp storm. Thousands of lightning-like tendrils dragged the former Maiden World into the gullet of the Immaterium, the force so great the world’s corrupted surface split and sundered as it was pulled into the Warp. Some laughed, clapping hands together as they enjoyed the spectacle and feasted on the prospect of the sheer, unbridled, hopeless terror the million mon’keigh survivors on Saederych’s surface were experiencing as their world was gluttenously devoured.
The Harlequins did not share in their dark kin’s revelry, recognising the loss of the Maiden World for what it was: a terrible victory for their Great Enemy. The mon’keigh colonists were nothing more than gnats, after all, so how could their deaths even marginally make up for the destruction of one of the Lilaethan? The Warp Storm’s violet glow shone off the Troupe’s many varied masks as they looked on somberly, watching as the once-verdant paradise world was swallowed whole by the Immaterium. Only Obrithaen Eldshadow took any glee in the unfolding tragedy, the Death Jester enacting his role well as he staged performances in the slave pens and torture galleries of the ship, re-enacting the events leading to Saederych’s destruction in front of the unfortunate mon’keigh stolen from its very surface.
Elsewhere on the Vilsqarn, hidden away from his kabalites and their allies, the Archon reconciled with his Dracon within the solitude of his private, well-guarded chambers.
Krethaq and Arzurdar stood face-to-face, locked in each other's arms. Their naked and still-injured bodies were pressed together, hands rested on their sides as their lips slowly, tenderly locked. The light of Saederych’s doom shone with an eerie purple, cascading through the chamber’s narrow windows and shining off two drukhari’s pale forms. Softly, intimately, in steep contrast to their usual primal and jealous passion, the two drukhari laced their fingers over bruises, scars and untended wounds alike.
Any desire to inflict vengeful torture upon upon his Dracon had distilled away within Krethaq, leaving behind only his longing, his yearning, his ache only soothed by holding Arzurdar. He wished to hold him so tightly they would become one body, to consume him in the tenderest of ways. And so he did, forsaking centuries of rigidly-enforced cruelty and self-discipline to indulge in the whims of his blackened heart. And indulge they did, for hours on end.
Perched outside the entrance to the Archon’s chamber on a high ledge and awaiting an audience he knew well he wouldn’t soon receive, Shadowseer Yl’saeth sat and twirled his miststave between his slender fingers. Beneath his mirror-like mask, the sly aeldari smiled, self-satisfied with how their shared performance had ended upon Saederych. Ultimately, this quest was not just to slay a Daemon Prince and prevent him from gorging himself upon the souls of its settlers, nor to save a world the skeins of fate had already decided as doomed. Instead, this stage was set for another purpose; to strengthen Archon Ivensyr’s attachment to the Whispering God and keep his Kabal firmly in Ynnead’s service.
In recent years, Krethaq’s interest in the Ynnari had waned and his vision flitted elsewhere. Yl’saeth needed to strengthen the bond again. And what better anchor to keep the Archon in Ynnead’s service than Arzurdar? His deadly Dracon, his favourite paramore, his greatest weakness to exploit. The Dagger played his part perfectly, following his ego-driven ambition for glory and embracing Ynnead’s power into himself to achieve it, even at the cost of tying his soul intrinsically to the Whispering God. Arzurdar would now worship Ynnead, the fruits of his devotion ripening with the reward of the Daemon Prince’s death. And in Arzurdar’s absence, Krethaq’s obsession with his Dracon only worsened like a burning sickness. With his beloved Arzurdar a loyal devotee of Ynnead, Krethaq too would remain in the fold.
Hopping soundlessly down from the ledge, the Shadowseer turned to the chamber’s entrance and performed a low, graceful bow. “Satisfied?”
Glimmer of Graith emerged from the nearby shadows, the Troupe Master stood a few metres behind Yl’saeth with blood-stained arms crossed beneath her chest. Her fiendish mask grinned wickedly at him.“Most satisfied.”
Yl’saeth answered as he rose elegantly from his theatrical bow. “The Dagger has returned and the Pale Shadow will remain as the Whispering God’s servant, just as we intended.”“Then our work here is done, Yl’saeth. Ceogorach does not favour the idle.”“Glimmer is bright as a nova and equally as unfeeling.”
Yl’saeth turned his head to Glimmer, the smooth mirror-like surface of his mask streaking with warplight. “But what of Vetrulai? Does it not hurt her to leave her child behind once more?”“I am no longer her, thus, he is no longer mine.”
Glimmer corrected with a caress of her Harlequin’s Kiss, flicking its barrel-tip with a musical pang. “Enough of your words, esdainn. There is much death still to be staged.”“As you wish, athair.”
With a light jingle of ancient aeldari trinkets, Yl’saeth turned and strolled away through the ship’s towering corridors. After a long pause spent staring at Krethaq’s chamber door, Glimmer turned and followed the Shadowseer, departing the hallways still flooded with the glow of the Warp Storm that first led them all here.