Deep within the Zone of Silence, something wicked stirs in the dark...
Leu'kyarrth stared out at the tiny scarlet wisps of blood, almost like smoke, rising out of the arboretum below the viewing deck he was on. The arboretum stretched out from beneath the deck, reaching out from under the panoramic window-port and well into the icy star-studded void beyond. The arboretum itself was a vast sunken pit, upon which countless rows of enormous coal-black spikes emerged, each one tipped with an impaled prisoner. The spikes were fitted with rudimentary life-sustaining systems, which combined with the carefully modulated atmosphere-shielding ensured that each prisoner would only have their life leached from them at a snail's crawl, the vacuum of space slowly draining it over a matter of agonising months rather than the few short minutes it would normally take to die from exposure to the endless abyss.
Leu'kyarrth always enjoyed watching the myriad swirls and coils the blood made as it drifted away from the writhing masses. He found it relaxing and that it helped to take his mind off the constant gnawing unease in the pit of his stomach, a normal occurrence to be expected when in real-space, brought on as his psychic essence was pawed at and coveted by the great enemy, She-Who-Thirsts. Even within the depths of the Webway he was not immune to the sensation, however there it was lessened to the point of being almost unnoticeable. Besides, the blood-wisps added such a delicate stippling of colour, the perfect compliment to the star-scape beyond.
And the star-scape itself, the endless expanse of the cosmos, was an ideal backdrop for the portrait of Leu'kyarrth's reflection caught upon the viewing window. He took a moment to admire himself, his short straight copper-gold hair immaculately preened to the sides with only a sliver reaching down in front, his sharp features and cold piercing eyes. His gaze was momentarily caught by a small amber twinkling in the reflection as the small display in the left of his chest armour, over his.. heart.. quickly flashed a readout.
The Dark Eldar was alone within the shadowy expanse of the observation deck, except for two companions. To Leu'kyarrth's left stood Sybael, Succubus of the Cult of Tears. The starlight coming through the window-ports glinted off the glossy jet-black Wychsuit that clung to her lithe athletic form, propped from behind by her rich crimson hair, let loose so that it almost reached her waist.
Leu'kyarrth turned to her. "remarkable, is it not?"
"Yes, it reminds me of my first kill. To this day I do not know whether it was the drugs flowing through me, or merely sheer exhilaration, but time seemed to come to a halt as I tore his throat out. The stars alone bring back the thunderous roar of the arena crowd to my ears."
Contemplating the figure in front of him, Leu'kyarrth's thoughts began to drift, as they often did, to.. her. Merrighan. The Archon of his kabal. The one who commanded him. Even now his mind's eye conjured her slender aggressive form, the merciless expression she wore at all times, her venomous green eyes, her porcelain skin, her long flowing tresses the colour of night-
Leu'kyarrth shunted aside such thoughts. There would be time for them soon enough, after he had played his move. He would remain here in this god-forsaken stretch of space, his forces would descend upon the unsuspecting re-colonisation fleet, they would rip apart the upstart aliens, these 'Tau' as they called themselves, carry off with the colonists and refugees as slaves, and then, then Leu'kyarrth would strike his true target. He would seize power, tear it from Merrighan's grasp, and reign supreme over the Kabal of the Bleeding Rose as he should have done from the start. And perhaps afterwards he might even keep Merrighan herself as a trophy, as his personal pet. A smile almost formed on Leu'kyarrth's face at the thought...
"It is splendid indeed is it not? Truely a marvel to hone such a device down so that it maximises their lives, stretching and tweaking the torment to within an inch of it's life." The remark had come from Leu'kyarrth's second companion, Visen'thyae, a Haemonculous of The Enlightened, the coven allied to the Bleeding Rose kabal. It was their elixirs, treatments and arcane science that allowed the kabal to linger in real-space for so long. Visen'thyae however longed for greater pursuits, and the resources for them.
"Indeed Visen'thyae, you have done a fine job of calibrating these ones." Leu'kyarrth warmed as the remark stung the twisted, hunched, sullen individual.
"Fie! That fool Wydian has me labour at mundane chores a simple Wrack could achieve! He believes he knows best, that his ideas are the only ones of merit! What hubris! What blindness! I will show him. I will show them all. My work, my creations, my ideas will eclipse anything that has come before. Even Rakarth shall take note at my handiwork!"
"So I can expect your support in this coming endeavour then?"
"Yes, yes, but of course. My children and I will stand with you until the very end. Provided, of course, we have our place in the sun by the end of it?"
"Of course you will have leadership. Your coven deserves a true visionary at it's head."
"And I," added Sybael. "My followers will lend their skills to your cause also."
"Then we are in agreement?" Leu'kyarrth inquired. Both his companions nodded. "Very well then, a pact between us."
"Splendid, splendid!" visen'thyae exclaimed before gesturing to the other two. "Now come my friends! Accompany me to my chambers! You want to see the future, I can deliver it to you! These little blue ones, these children of the galaxy's east. They will have so much to share with us once I have finished with them...:"
A tiny river of thick midnight-blue liquid wept down from the Tau's nasal cavity. A number of veins or capillaries must have ruptured in shock from the sheer pain. The Tau coughed, spluttered, panted and shuddered as his nervous system fought to recover itself from the last caresses of the Maiden's Embrace that dug and probed into him.
"You know it ends whenever you want it to," Leu'kyarrth said as he paced slowly back and forth in front of the Tau, "simply tell us what we want to know, enlighten us with your knowledge even, your kind seems to enjoy doing that, and all of a sudden the hurt will stop. No more suffering for the rest of the time. No more torment, wouldn't that be nice hmm?"
"I'm not telling you sick Res's anything!" The Tau spat back in response.
"Very well, as you will it." Lu'kyarrth gestured to Visenthyae, seated next to him to oversee the interrogation. Visenthyae signalled the Wrack operating the Maiden's Embrace, and at the touch of the control panel the metallic tendrils tethering the prisoner to the device whirred and buzzed, quickly drowned out by the howling screams of the captive as waves of sheer agony coursed along them directly into his nerves. "It doesn't bother me much at all really. I mean, of course I'd much rather tend to other matters at this time, but I never complain about having to bring pain to something. It's quite pleasant actually." Leu'kyarrth wasn't lying. He found it refreshingly cathartic to see other races in pain, to know that it wasn't just his own kin and forebears that suffered unjustly at the hands of the universe, but that the other, lesser, unworthy strains of creature were equally miserable, as it should be.
Leu'kyarrth looked up at the chron-tick on the wall. Yes, it was time again. Leu'kyarrth leant down over the writhing Tau and held his mono-molecular knife to the creature's cheek, letting the pain-induced spasms bring the flesh into the blade, carving a tortured twisted line. Leu'kyarrth spaced the intervals carefully, so that the subject would have no idea of their true purpose. Seemingly random acts of cruelty. Leu'kyarrth counted the total so far. 15, remarkable. most other prisoners would have either been broken or expired by now. Cretinous and primitive he may be, but his endurance was commendable.
"How are you finding the spectacle over there?" Leu'kyarrth asked his colleague.
"Magnificent Leu'kyarrth! The sonorous song of the screams, the tender accompaniment of the maiden as her arms tickle and stroke, the sweet colour of it's blood, so much like sweet-treats. It really is exquisite! You must be in this part of the room one day, the acoustics are quite lovely." Visenthyae replied.
Leu'kyarrth let out a slight chuckle over the Haemonculous's amusement. The Maiden's Embrace died down, it's in-built routines shutting it off to allow the subject time to recover. "Look," Leu'kyarrth said to the prisoner, "We know from chats with the others that you are a high-ranking member of your kind. We know that, prior to your acquisition by us, you were a major overseer of the security and construction of the station, this 'path resurgence' as you lot call it. And that, as a result, you will have fairly in-depth knowledge about it. Now, if you would, do share with us what you know about it's structure and course through this region."
"Know this, D'yi. I am Shas'el'Kel'shan'Mont'yr'Ta. I have led my cadre to victory on the shattered soil of my home in seven major battles and three dozen minor ones. I have witnessed horrors beyond numbering, in the hellish depths of war and the chilling depths of the void and beyond. I have defeated Mont'au, Ores'la, Y'he, Gue'la. I have been isolated from aid within a sea of terrors, and survived-"
"And I am your worst nightmare!" Leu'kyarrth interrupted. "Now that we have exchanged titles, just answer the questions."
"Make me." Mont'yr'Ta said, before immediately realising his mistake.
"Gladly," said Leu'kyarrth before switching on the nightmare glove on his left hand. The arcane gauntlet thrummed and became sheathed in blackness, surrounded by a flickering swirling red corona. Leu'kyarrth placed it on the Tau's forehead, and as he did so Mont'yr'Ta became bombarded with visions, an unrelenting stream of images, horrors from the past and fears of the future he had hoped would remain buried forever, assaulted his sight. He saw, relived, the terrible attacks on Kel'shan, screaming madmen, insane armoured giants, monstrous Orks, hellish creatures that could only have been created in the depths of some fevered nightmare, and then the endless masses of the Y'he, the Tyrannids, swarming, chittering, scuttling, tearing. He saw his fellow Firewarriors, his friends and brothers, cut down in front of him, and then.. at last... Sio'Ta, the one individual that had been around him his whole life, quite possibly the only being in the universe to have ever truly understood him, shared and felt the things he had. He saw her, her eyes ablaze with fury, standing defiant.. and then, just as he had before long ago, he saw her ripped apart, reduced to sticky ribbons of gore and a cyan coloured wet smear on the ground, as if it had happened again right before his eyes.
"NO! Enough!!" Mont'yr'Ta bellowed. To see it all again was too much. Almost immediately, the visions ceased as Leu'kyarrth withdrew the nightmare glove, the light surrounding it dissipating as it was deactivated.
"That's more like it," Leuk'yarrth said. "Now, tell us everything about this station. It's structure, it's destination, it's travel schedule, it's defences, anything you know."
Mont'yr'Ta slowly raised his head, then spat a thick glob of milky-blue pus and blood, which splatted home just under the Dark Eldar's right eye. Without hesitating, the Wrack controlling the Maiden's Embrace immediately set the device to full-burn. There would be no reprieve until the device was deactivated. Leu'kyarrth wiped the mess from him as the machine whirred into excruciating life again, and picked up an agony-wand from a nearby rack of equipment, before holding it against the chin of the now-screaming and writhing alien. The wand immediately began to burn.
"Honestly, such a lack of respect it's appalling. I have encountered small crawling things on the gutters of Low Commoragh with more manners than that. Really your snivelling kind makes such a show of being welcoming and hospitable and reasonable, and yet when I ask a few simple questions this is the response I get. Honestly I have no sympathy at all."
Reaching around, Leu'kyarrth picked up a second agony-wand and thrust it into the Tau's open howling mouth. No amount of pain could ever atone for such a slight.
The razorflail sang a clear high-pitched ring as Sybael swung it downwards in a vicious killing blow on an imaginary opponent, it's sister blade twirling upwards at the same time. Sybael often duelled with such non-existent opponents in her spare time, not only did it serve to hone her lethal skills even further, but she also found it helped her think... helped her concentrate... helped her focus.
And at the moment Sybael had a lot to think about.
Now the Succubus decided to try and deal with three fictitious opponents. She decided they would be Wyches, and that one would have a shardnet and impaler, while the other two were both armed with razorflails. Immediately she began to twist and spin and weave, both herself and the serrated, segmented blades she was wielding a blur as she dodged and parried and thrust against the hypothetical trio. At once the imaginary Yraqnae brought it's shardnet around to snare Sybael, who rolled out of it's assumed way and swung out in retaliation , a flick of the switch on the razorflail's handle extending the segments out along a solid cable tether, forming a deadly lashing whip that swiftly coiled around the assailant. A simple twist of Sybael's wrist and the blades would spin around and back across, reducing the victim to a mass of shredded bloody flesh, as had happened so many countless times in the coliseum. Sybael dearly missed the blood, and longed to again feel the tension in the razorflail handle as it's points and blades pierced and tore into an adversary, to hear the slick slithering sound as her opponent was ripped apart, to feel the gentle pitter-patter of blood against her skin...
But this would be a long venture, with raids few and far between, so Sybael understood that live opponents had to be carefully conserved to last the entire time.
As she turned her blades on the other two imaginary opponents, Sybael's mind turned to the matters at hand. She first thought of Leu'kyarrth, somewhat oddly the first thing she often found herself thinking about in recent times. Her mind's eye examined him, his immaculate features, his impeccable posture, his finely drawn hair, his dashing, daring eyes... Sybael decided that she might like to spar with him one day, to match her blades against his. She might even let him live if he proved worthy enough.
The razorflails were nought but a pair of dark blurs that swiftly shifted around Sybael as she leaped and pirouetted, effortlessly evading strike after strike from the two hypotheticals. Such skill, and yet her and her cult had only a small following in the wider scheme of Commoragh. Certainly a shadow compared to the adoration reserved for other cults, like the Seventh Woe... or strife. How Sybael loathed and despised the Cult of Strife, and their spoiled princess Lelith. How unjust it was that the highlights and cream of Commorite society flocked to gape at her and her spineless followers night after night after night, despite them simply treading the same tired routines over and over and over again. That brat could strut around free of any normal constraints, with a whole set of special privileges granted by the sycophantic Archons she had wrapped around her finger. Meanwhile Sybael slaved and laboured tirelessly to perfect her skills, to sharpen them such that they could cut through any opponent, and what gratitude did she get? What attention? What rewards? NOTHING!!
One of the razorflails slashed straight through an imaginary opponent and struck the floor, carving a gash in a flurry of sparks at the power of Sybael's fury. She pictured Lelith in front of her now, laughing at such a fool-hardy display of anger, an error that could cost her victory. Mocking her. Sinythea, another Succubus in the Cult of Tears, was there with her, jeering at Sybael. The way Sinythea stuck and slayed and dodged, so effortless.. They were both against her, she was sure of it. Conspiring behind her.. sneering.. scorning... plotting...
It mattered not. She would kill them both, just as she had killed every other that had stood before her. One day.. she would pin them against the arena wall, she would slice open the throat of that delicate little flower Lelith, and hold her body aloft by the hair for all to see. Then she would get the respect and admiration she deserved...
Finally, Sybael thought back to the last meeting she had had with Merrighan, before the raiding fleet had departed. Though the Dark Eldar were each concerned only with their own well-being, and as such had little to no notion of true friendship, Sybael and Merrighan were both nonetheless.. close. They had known each other for a very long time, and had fought side by side on many realspace raids. Indeed, on numerous occasions a skilfully placed shot from Merrighan had killed an opponent that had somehow managed to get behind Sybael, allowing her to resume her deadly work, while at other times Sybael had slain a particularly formidable opponent that threatened to overpower the Dread Archon. Still, if it came to it, Sybael would not hesitate to claim Merrighan's head as a prize, and she knew Merrighan had equally many qualms with removing her if she got in the way.
Sybael recalled their discussion now, as Merrighan had briefed her on what had to be done. "The main prize is an enormous craft at the centre of their fleet," she had told her. "It's intended to set up a new colony somewhere in this region of space. This is the main target of the venture. But know this Sybael, I want them alive. Any you encounter who take up arms and actively resist are fair game for you to slay, but no more, no others. I want as many slaves from this venture as possible. Do you understand?"
Sybael had nodded. "Good," Merrighan had continued, "And be sure to inform your warriors of this as well. I know you and your ilk, I know your lust for bloodshed. And as pleasing and satisfying as it is, you are to restrain yourselves as much as possible when it comes to the main craft. Though, of course.. the ones on any of the defending vessels are all fair game. I am not totally without compassion." Sybael had smiled with this news. Aboard the escorting fleet, her and her pupils would be free to relish in the carnage that they did best.
"And one more thing," Merrighan had said. "I know our mutual colleague Leu'kyarrth well, and I am very aware that he has eyes to one day replace me in my seat. He may use the time away and considerable prize this sojourn offers to make some feeble ploy to usurp me. Knowing him and how he is wont to leverage what charisma he has against such ladies as us as a weapon, he may attempt to sway you to his cause."
"What am I to do then?"
"You are to appear willing of course. I need you to enter into his little power-play on his side, such that I have someone able to plant the poisoned dagger in his back as any traitor should have acted upon them. And I know from your spectacles in the arenas that there are none better able to land a blade than you."
"Yes, that is true."
"Good, I am pleased you concur. Now, being the pitiable lout that he is, you may find yourself... swayed, by Leu'kyarrth. And if this happens, you may find yourself hesitant to cut him down. If you should choose not to, to follow through with his cause-"
At this Merrighan had, in a split-second blur of motion, spun and drawn a blast pistol and fired it into the wall of the corridor they were in, burning a jagged smouldering hole in a flash of violet light.
"-Well.. I expect you will make the right decision Sybael."
Shas'el'Kel'shan'Mont'yr'Ta collapsed down against the wall of his cell. The Firewarrior commander shuddered and trembled at the after-sensations of the latest session he had had with his captors. His face and chest were both stained marine with blood, either from shattered internal veins or from gashes left by sharp tools. His chest was dominated by the triumvirate of enormous curving scars, a parting gift from the Maiden's Embrace as it's tendrils had withdrawn from him, sealing their points of entry as they left, a process that caused a searing burning sensation and left the area very tender. Even when releasing it's captives the Maiden's Embrace was painful.
El'Mont'yr'Ta looked down at the other myriad scars carved into him, a collection of intricate runes and markings that seemed almost impossible to have been made by hand, and yet they were. El'Mont'yr'Ta did not know what they meant, but he assumed from the expressions he glimpsed from guards and Dark Eldar he passed on the way back to the cell that it was something demeaning or derogatory. He ran his hand over the line of markings burned into his right arm, likely an identification code.
The commander tried to work out how long he had been here, a captive to these monsters. Was it 4 Rotaa now? 3? 6? Contained in near utter darkness, with no links to the outside world except when he was taken out for interrogation or simple torture, all the days and times seemed to blend into one, a single hellish twisted nightmare from which there seemed to be no awakening.
The cell he was in was almost completely dark, pitch black as far as they eye could see ahead. It was like no other darkness El'Mont'yr'Ta had encountered, thicker and more total than night, more impenetrable than a dark room. The darkness almost seemed tangible, with a sort of mist-like air, a physical sea of solid blackness that swallowed up all it touched, any features, any objects, even light seemed to disappear into it. Such was the darkness that even now, after all the time he had spent here, he still had no idea how large the cell really was. For all El'Mont'yr'Ta knew, it could be kilometres across, or only just slightly larger than his arm could reach. The only points of reference to be had were the wall the Tau had propped himself against, and the cell's door. The door was just as dark and foreboding as the rest of the surroundings, it's sole feature of interest being a small window through which eerie half-light shot in from outside in the ship's interior. The wall adjacent to it was bitterly icy cold, and oddly textured. The Shas'el figured it was some sort of ploy to keep a would-be captive as uncomfortable as possible.
The Tau also was unsure of weather or not he was alone in the cell. While there seemed to be no other captives present in the cell, and no-one else ever came to collect the paltry meals sent for captives, and at most times the cell seemed to be empty aside from El'Mont'yr'Ta, there were other times that were... different. Times when the total darkness of the cell became punctuated with tiny lights, sometimes flickering or shifting or moving. Perhaps they were stars, and the far side of the cell contained a large window. But he could not shake off the feeling of what they most likely were, eyes. Watching. But what for the Tau could not fathom.
The darkness in the cell might have shrouded and hidden sights, but it did nothing to dampen sounds. Despite being alone in the barren cell, there were a plethora of sounds that the Tau could often hear. Most were quiet, small rustlings, scamperings and the occasional skitter, sometimes accompanied by what seemed to be a tiny movement just on the corner of his vision. These sounds only added to the feeling that he might not be entirely alone in the cell. Others were slightly louder, but quite distant, clangs, buzzes, sobs, cackles, howls, dripping and even on rare occasions what sounded like the playing of some old keyboard instrument, though the chords it struck seemed twisted and menacing more than anything. El'Mont'yr'Ta did not know if these were simple results of happenings around him, or were deliberately made by his captors to inspire fear. Most likely the majority of them were of his own invention, simple figments and musings of his fevered and tormented imagination, perhaps even the effects of his sanity slipping. Maybe he was losing his mind.
And then there were the screams. They were the loudest noises of all, and came shrieking and skewering through from the nearby torture chambers, piercing through ambiance and thoughts alike with equal ease. El'Mont'yr'Ta had found some of them familiar, and so far he had managed to make out 17 other Tau (of whom he estimated 6 were other Shas, 3 were Por and the remaining 8 were Fio), 3 Naga, the shrill pain-chirps of 4 Vespid, 2 Tarellians, the reverberating echoing wails of a Nicassar, the howling shrieks of 3 Kroot, 2 Fr'aal, and at least 7 Gue'la (though El'Mont'yr'Ta often had trouble distinguishing the subtleties between different Gue'la voices, so this number could be higher or lower). There were even times when he could have sworn he heard an Eldar in agony, though he may have been wrong.
El'Mont'yr'Ta began to recite to himself, as he always did after a session out of the cell, and many other times as well, the words of Shas'O'Vior'la'Kais. "A thousand fibres connect each of us with our fellow Tau," he said to himself, "And along those fibres our deeds run as causes which come back to us as effects. Everything we do must be in furtherance of the Greater Good lest we return to the Mont'au, the Terror."
The Shas'el also took heart in one thing. They still had yet to get him to talk. He still withheld the knowledge he had. They still did not yet know about the Path Resurgence's layout, or it's defences and course. And they never would find out through him. He would die first. They would have to uncover it's secrets some other way, or better yet, not at all. Perhaps that was why they currently seemed to be torturing so many Fio.
It was times like these, when hope was fleeting and far between, when his fate seemed sealed, that El'Mont'yr'Ta wished Sio'Ta was still here. Even now he imagined, part wishful thinking, part dream and part fevered hallucination, her there with him, his hand clasped firmly in hers, her bright fiery eyes looking across at him. On the stage of his mind, she reached around and pressed him in close in a warm side-on hug. "You can do this," she would have said, "Don't let them get to you, stand up, resist. You're better than this, your tougher than them, stronger. We'll get through this before long." The figment smiled at him, then gave him a hard pat on his back. If only any of it were actually real, but he knew, as any would from being there, that no comfort could survive in this cold, dark, maddening place.
It was just then that El'Mont'yr'Ta's finger ran over a grove in the wall, that he noticed something. That particular incision seemed familiar. Maybe... the Tau turned over and examined the wall he had been resting against. Even with his vision adept at seeing in the dark, or natural dark at least, the Tau struggled to see anything in detail with the meek amounts of light available. But eventually, the details began to one by one present themselves. El'Mont'yr'Ta managed to see where his finger had touched. And immediately wished he hadn't.
It was a message, a tiny phrase carved into the wall by some unknown means. It was only two words long, and they were written in the language of a Gue'la, but the Tau understood them.
At once the Tau began to notice that the texture of the wall didn't come from deliberate design, but was instead the result of other messages. There were hundreds. Thousands.
THERE IS NO HOPE
WHY WON'T I DIE
I WANT TO DIE
WHY DON'T THEY LET US DIE
MAKE ME DIE
ABANDON ALL HOPE
KILL US ALL
WHAT DID I DO TO BE HERE
I SEE THEM
LIGHTS IN THE DARK
I'M NOT ALONE
NOISES IN THE DARK
LEAVE ME ALONE
BLACK GOLD HAIR
I'M ALL ALONE
SO MUCH PAIN
THEY KILLED HER
THEY CUT ME UP
OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER....
And countless others. Prayers, litanies, threats, hopes, dreams, secrets, life stories, journals, attempts at escape plans, tallies and calendars, insane musings, mantras written over and over again, and random intelligible scrawling that no rational being would be able to produce, let alone make sense of. Some seemed to be written in blood. Others carved into the wall itself. Most were in various Gue'la dialects, but there were others in other languages, some the Tau recognised, others he had never seen before.
Frantically trying to recall the memory of Sio'Ta, one final writing caught his eye, seemingly jumped at him, as if by cruel design.
SHE IS DEAD
At seeing this, a tear began to fall from the Tau's eye.