Into Silence: Rosa Vitae

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knightofthewr
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Re: Into Silence: Rosa Vitae

Post#19 » Apr 12 2015 11:17

That was amazing sir. I want more.

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Kakapo42
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Re: Into Silence: Rosa Vitae

Post#20 » Nov 16 2015 09:19

Hello there.

Particularly watchful readers that have been following this story might have noticed a distinct lack of activity on it, especially with some of the recent developments in the other Into Silence stories. This latest update was originally planned to be finished much sooner, but the last semester of this year proved to be exceptionally time-consuming, and so I had to put this on hiatus for a while, along with my various modelling projects, non-tabletop related hobbies, and the vast overwhelming majority of my life.

Fortunately, a few weeks ago I finished the semester, and with it my course. Ideally I should be graduating some time in December.

The good news then is that after giving my brain a short holiday (it was in dire need of one after the last few months), I can once again get back to my twisted tale of darkness and depravity.

So then, on with the show! I came back here to write Warhammer 40,000 background and eat toffee-pops, and I'm all out of toffee-pops...

knightofthewr wrote:That was amazing sir. I want more.


Then it is more you shall have!

XXVI.


Inky stained smoke radiating a sour, chemical stench of agonised death coiled out in serpentine columns from the blackened corpse of the Tau captive, the latest in Visen'thaye's dynasty of test-subjects as he sought to perfect his latest stroke of brilliance. Though the creature's life had just been excruciatingly ripped from its smouldering body, the marvellous expression of pain and horror moulded from its face still occasionally shifted and distorted along with the rest of the cadaver as the chrono-retardant phase bubble around it faded away. Visen'thyae studied the scorched ruined shell of a body with a look of cold disdain and appointment, dissecting it with his eyes, his superior Eldar vision scrutinising every detail - every failing - with all the ruthless precision and dissonant intent of a scalpel blade.

"Time until death?" He asked without shifting his gaze, his voice utterly clinical.

"18.2 minutes between moment of attack impact and subject's life signs registering negative," Came the prompt reply from Oeg'iv, "A marked improvement over the last trial if I may say so master, why at this rate we will be graced by yet another sure triumph of your impeccable intellect in a matter of mere-"

The Haemonculus silenced his creation with a razor-swift gesture from his third arm. On the surface he appeared lethally still, statuesque in the perfection of his composure. Inside however he raged and screamed inside his skull, his blood seethed and boiled with humiliation. It was still too quick! In one of his hands rested the device in question, Visen'thaye's latest invention and the weapon responsible for the Tau captive's demise. It was a small, one-handed weapon in the design of a pistol, with a wicked assortment of probes and antennae in place of a muzzle and a bulky mechanism somewhere between a camera, a gyroscope and a nightmarish eye atop. The Haemonculus had lavished countless hours of work into its creation, incubating it's concept from the very instant of conception in the storm-lit raid on the Tau colony world, which now seemed like a lifetime ago. It had seemed so simple a task in that initial flash of inspiration. Visen'thaye was fascinated with lightning, with its speed, brilliance and lethality, and he sought to share this wondrous force with lesser creatures. The means to do so first hand was easy enough to identify - a form of pistol worked nicely, having both portability and allowing enough distance to allow lesser beings to truly appreciate the brilliant flashes and bolts before they died in agony, but now the Haemonculus faced a far greater challenge. Now he needed to improve upon his favourite phenomenon.

For though lightning had many fine properties, it lacked a certain finesse in the way it killed. Victims of lightning normally expired almost instantly, or otherwise in the space of a paltry few moments. There was no time to savour the splendours of the pain scourging through every nerve in their body, nor to fully enjoy the nuances in their excruciated screams before they were cut short. For Visen'thaye that simply would not do. He was a proper connoisseur of torment, the finest, rawest, most beautiful form of art and poetry, and to have only such a fleeting taste of the pain felt by one struck by lightning left him feeling cheated. No, he needed more. He craved more. More time to study the intricate muscle spasms as the creature's nervous system went haywire. More time to enjoy the chorus of their cries of horror as the electric torture coursed through them, to marvel at the subtleties of the transition of flesh from vibrant with life to barren and burnt. More time in the presence of his muse.

But so far that agony had proven a fickle and ever elusive paramour. Even the most powerful chrono-retardant field generator he could fit to the device to stem back the flow of time around the target had only stretched the time he had in its company to less than 20 fractions of an hour, still not enough to satiate his needs.

"Why does she taunt me like this Oeg'iv?" The Haemonculus asked at last.

"I am not sure I understand master," The assistant replied, "The subject was identified as male, and it expired in what appeared to my humble senses as tremendous pain."

"Oh Oeg'iv, my faithful servant," Visen'thaye found a bare crumb of amusement at the simple-minded ignorance of his creation, "Perhaps in time you will learn to grasp the metaphors of life, that which is invisible but there like music."

"As you say master, I will endeavour to improve upon myself for you as best as my lowly self is able."

Visen'thaye chuckled at his assistant's efforts to please him, so much like a pet vying for the attentions of its master. But it did little of practical use, the conundrum still remained. Visen'thaye worked the mystery over in the shadowed labyrinth of his mind, probing and evaluating like a master strategist might approach defeating a stronghold. There was something he was missing, he was sure of it. He turned and tested the various pieces of the puzzle before him - there had to be a way of demonstrating the unnatural blinding radiance of lightning, while at the same time lavishing it's agony, it's ferocity, it's death...

Visen'thaye's eyes widened in astonishment. A wretched tortured grin began to creep across his face. Of course! He had been looking at it all wrong. Much like his minion moments before, he had only been seeing the obvious, the apparent, what was directly before his eyes, and taking it at face value. He had only taken in the outside features of his muse, and not seen past them into the inner places that beauty came from, the raw components of its essence. He may not be able to make lightning slow down enough for him to truly indulge himself, but he could certainly convey the elements of it that so drew him to it. Indeed, he already thought he knew how. If he could just find a way of making it reusable...

"Oe'giv!" The Haemonculus commanded, "See to it that this refuse is cleared away. Then prepare my genetics equipment and ready the biology station and my workshop, and source me a webway portal - a portable one. And prepare a fresh set of specimens. We have work to do..."


XXVII.


A thousand fibres connect each of us with our fellow Tau...

The famous words of Shas'O'vior'la'Kais resounded inside Shas'el'Kel'shan'Mont'yr'Ta's head, half thought and half spoken. The Firewarrior commander no longer knew when he said the words in reality and when he simply thought them, the distinction between the two having eroded and deteriorated over time until finally collapsing altogether, the two versions blending into something that was at once both and neither. After what seemed like a thousand eternities of unrelenting darkness, pain, despair and horror the walls of his mind - or maybe it was the walls of his skull now - had been worn down to almost nothing, a thin raw bare shell riddled with fine cracks and held together by a thread. As time went by the hellish nightmare that had become his lot was working its way into every square inch of his tattered mind. Even what had once been the last remaining bastion of strength and courage in his mind, his memories, was no longer safe, and more and more El'Mont'yr'Ta found his past experiences becoming twisted and poisoned by the agony and madness that permeated his existence. The two kai'rotaa he had spent with his cadre in Au'taal on recreational leave after a particularly hard-fought campaign was a fine recollection of the idyllic blissful time in paradise that it had been (or, at least, what El'Mont'yr'Ta thought it had been), until the relaxing warm sunlight that rained through the gaps in the foliage of the trees overhead tarnished into the sickly amber half-light that stabbed into his cell through the paltry window in its door, the leaves drifting through the air turned to razors, the branches became the arms and blades of torture devices, the birdsong into distant anguished howling and the lovely young local Shas'vre reclining over him whispered into his ear - not in her voice - a screaming demand to confess what he knew about the main craft's defending troop compliment.

In contrast, being brought back to his memories of the ordeals he had faced on the battlefields of the Eastern Fringe, which were still largely untouched, now brought El'Mont'yr'Ta relief more than anything. At least then he had his brothers and sisters in the Fire Caste by his side, he could strike back at the monsters he faced, and more often than not against those terrors he had triumphed.

A thousand fibres connect each of us with our fellow Tau...

The Tau's hands trembled. His whole body shook and quaked, shivering not just from cold, but from fear and powerlessness. Ever since waking up inside the prison he now called home (although he had long since forgotten whether the life he thought he had once had before then was true or just a feeble imagining his mind had created to find some semblance of comfort in) El'Mont'yr'Ta had strived to resist his captors, to fight their torments with every last scrap of the strength and valour and fury and fire that was the heritage of his people and his caste. Even without weapons or a battlesuit or troops to command he struggled against these insidious new horrors with the same tenacity and cunning that he reserved for any of the monsters and villains that menaced his fellow Tau and the empire he had served, using whatever his wits could devise to counter the depredations of the suffering and darkness that besieged him. His mind, his spirit, his very being had turned into a battleground, and just like in every other engagement he had fought in, as soon as the enemy subverted or overcame one stratagem or defence, he adapted and faced them with a new one. He was a hero of the empire, and if it was war these devils wanted, then he would give them one worthy of that title, in whatever way he could.

... and along those fibres our deeds run as causes which come back to us as effects...

But now, despite all his efforts, the Tau was all but spent. Mental attrition from the unending cycle of torture and insanity had exhausted him, and his mind was starting to completely unravel. The darkness, despair and pain had begun to saturate him, to seep into every pore and opening in his conscience. It bled into his his thoughts, his dreams, his emotions, his identity, and now even his memories. It leaked into every part of him, and stained even the very deepest reaches of his psyche. He felt sore all over at erratic times due to no discernible cause, welts and ulcers spontaneously formed on his skin despite suffering no noticeable injury at their sites. His eyesight blurred at times, and he felt it hard to focus at times. Ghost pains from tortures long past flared up and ravaged his nerves like storms over a settlement. And just as the world outside El'Mont'yr'Ta and the world within him were beginning to bleed together, the various elements of his perception of them were beginning to bleed into one another as well. He no longer knew if he slept any more or not, the hallucinations he suffered while awake by now had no real difference from the musings his subconscious made while asleep. Memory blended into nightmare which blended into reality. Emotion blended into sensation. Thought blended into word and speech. And it was this last development that disturbed him the most. For all his time spent in this perdition El'Mont'yr'Ta had clung to the knowledge that his captors had gained nothing from him, none of the secrets he held had fallen into their hands, and that he would sacrifice everything for the Greater Good and die before any of them ever would. But now that the boundary between his thoughts and his words was becoming increasingly thin and blurred, there was every chance the information might float out of its own accord without him realising it. All his efforts could ultimately prove to be in vain.

... everything we do must be in furtherance of the Greater Good...

Sweeping through his cell like a cold gust of wind, a tortured howling scream from the nearby torture chambers snapped El'Mont'yr'Ta back to what was left of his senses. He had to work out a plan, something new to keep him going. Time was running out. He thought back to the wars he had fought in, thought of his brothers and sisters in his hunter cadre, the ones who looked up to him and relied on him to see them through the darkest of times, just as he relied on them to see him through them. Together they had seen some of the bloodiest fighting against the most terrifying monstrosities the galaxy could throw at the Tau Empire, and together they had emerged victorious. They were more than his troops, more than his comrades, more than his caste-mates, more than his friends. They had been his family, and between them ran a deep bond that had been forged and tempered in the horrors of an uncaring galaxy that seemed hell-bent on drowning itself in its own blood. It was this connection between them that had been the greatest weapon of all that he and his cadre had wielded, and with it they were unstoppable.

But there was none of them around now. El'Mont'yr'Ta's cadre was far away from him, separated by walls and darkness and uncountable billions of kilometres of deep space. His hellish captors had cut him off from that powerful weapon, and the only remaining precarious trickle of it, his memories of them, was even now slipping from his weakening grasp. The Tau looked around his environment, at the inky blackness that surrounded him, the wall of madness and he rested against with its many thousands of messages that would never leave the darkness, the half-light that beamed into the cell from the outside - a weak ray of broken light lost in a sea of darkness much like himself. He looked over at the massive wall of voices, and then back at the twinkling points that seemed to study him from the other side of the cell, and opened his ears to the little sounds that punctuated the room's atmosphere, and he accepted the truth.

The truth that despite all these things, he was the only soul there. Despite all his wishes for it to be otherwise, he was alone.

He was powerless.

And he was lost.

... lest we return to the Mont'au, the Terror.

Mont'au. The Terror. The ultimate primordial symbol of evil for the modern Tau Empire. The very antithesis of all that the Greater Good stood for. A time of darkness and horror when his people almost extinguished themselves. It was now that El'Mont'yr'Ta began to dwell on the real nature of that great dread spectre upon the collective psyche of the Tau. And it was now that he began to realise that the Mont'au was upon him. It was madness and bloodshed, and he was surrounded by both. But more than that, it was the fear of being alone, being lost in a sea of darkness without the power to change it - only the Ethereals and the Tau'va, the Greater Good, had given his ancient ancestors the power to do that. But now he was alone, and lost in a sea of darkness and pain and his options to change it were all but non-existent.

The Tau closed his eyes. At least he thought he did, the overwhelming gloom meant that his vision changed little depending on whether his eyes were opened or not. His mind was sinking, breaking apart. He had looked into the abyss for long enough, and now the abyss had looked back. He was within total darkness, and slowly, bit by bit, the darkness was growing in him. His visions, his twisted memories, the growing chance of the knowledge he held leaving him of its own accord were all signs of it.

As El'Mont'yr'Ta opened his eyes, he knew he had one last desperate gambit left. His captors would likely leave him alive to soak in this cradle of torment, lashing pain upon pain on him without killing him. If he wanted to die without breaking, he would have to do it himself. It was a terrible, awful action, but one that would guarantee his captors never learnt his secrets, and it was one that might yet save the Path Resurgence and its mission. A great sacrifice, but a sacrifice made for the Greater Good.

Marshalling what strength he could, Shas'El'Mont'yr'Ta, Firewarrior commander, hero of the Tau Empire, rose to his feet and braced himself against the wall behind him. If he could get just enough force behind him, it would be done with just a few blows. As he prepared for it, a memory came to him. It was one he was no stranger to, for ever since the event it reflected the memory had haunted him when he was by himself. It was an old revanant from one of his first commands, shortly after his third Trial By Fire.

She was so young...

El'Mont'yr'Ta looked at the wall of suffering one last time. At once the fateful message he had seen on that day, the one that had brought him so much misery looked back at him: SHE IS DEAD.

And with that painful reminder, the Tau broke down. With all the might he could bring up he screamed, a hellish tortured bellow of pain given voice that echoed across the cell, curdled the blood and sent shock-waves through the soul, and hurled his head against the wall. First one howling blow, then another. And a third. Again and again he threw his skull against the surface, until a growing patch of messages began to become stained with marine. Each hard crack shook through him, but still he went on.

But by now a growing sickening feeling had begun to take root inside the pit of his stomach. It was taking too long. His mind was swimming now, and El'Mont'yr'Ta began to slow in his actions. Too late he realised that the first handful of blows had not been hard enough.

The commander collapsed in a heap on the ground, fighting to stay awake. Whether he succeeded or not he could not tell, all sense of time had been long forgotten by him and the distinction between lucidity and unconsciousness was soon to join it. All he could remember next was sitting against the wall, with a dull aching pain in his head. It was then that he heard it.



"Hello? Hello?"
Last edited by Kakapo42 on Nov 19 2015 06:07, edited 1 time in total.
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T113
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Re: Into Silence: Rosa Vitae

Post#21 » Nov 19 2015 04:55

Wow, what a come back! Glad you're finally free to put time back into your story mate. Good job
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Calmsword
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Re: Into Silence: Rosa Vitae

Post#22 » Nov 25 2015 04:50

It's interesting how you comprehend despair for a Tau. In some ways it seems like Shas'El Mont'yr'Ta is alone yet the mantra of other Firewarriors reminding him of his service deflects the horror of what is happening all around him. It's doubly intriguing that I don't believe that Mont'yr'Ta is summoning 'courage' in the human way to defeat his captors. Instead, it's a truly 'Tau' emotion to be strengthened by service and (in this case a very painful) sacrifice.

Now... who's saying 'hello'?
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Kakapo42
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Re: Into Silence: Rosa Vitae

Post#23 » Jul 04 2016 03:51

Calmsword wrote:It's interesting how you comprehend despair for a Tau. In some ways it seems like Shas'El Mont'yr'Ta is alone yet the mantra of other Firewarriors reminding him of his service deflects the horror of what is happening all around him. It's doubly intriguing that I don't believe that Mont'yr'Ta is summoning 'courage' in the human way to defeat his captors. Instead, it's a truly 'Tau' emotion to be strengthened by service and (in this case a very painful) sacrifice.

Now... who's saying 'hello'?


Good observations. One of things I've been putting some thought into is how the extremely communal culture and society of the Tau might influence their point of view and how they'd react to things. Tau society is all about the group, and the idea that multiple people working together for a common goal - the Greater Good - is much more powerful than just one person working alone. The way I see it, at the very core of a Tau's outlook would be the age old idea that while a single stick can be snapped in two easily enough, a dozen sticks bundled together is much harder to break. This philosophy would then influence how they might react to difficult situations. The human concept of 'manning up' because no-one will be there to look out for you would probably seem strange to a Tau, who 9.9 times out of 10 probably would have a network of others looking out for them in the form of their Ta'lissera (or just their team if they haven't gone through a Ta'lissera yet), their cadre or equivalent grouping, their caste or just the wider Tau community. Because of this I imagine that instead of looking inward for strength to overcome hardships, a Tau would look outward to their community for strength and draw it from the connections they share with the Tau around them and their contribution or service to the Tau'va. If that makes any sense.

Of course, the other side of that is that the idea of being completely isolated from a community would probably be unnerving to say the least for a Tau (which could be one reason why Tau who frequently undertake missions alone, such as Mon'at Crisis battlesuits or Stealth operatives, tend to be thought of as a little bit odd by other Tau).

As for who's saying hello, well, you'll just have to keep reading to find that out. All will be revealed in good time though...


XXVIII.


"I must say, I am impressed with your... ship-keeping."

Leu'kyarrth glanced around at the teeming deck crews and slaves that frantically scurried about in packs or lines like sun-maddened ants around him and his companion as they walked along the dark cold stone floor of one of the launch bays on the Heartless Reaver. Customised as each Dark Eldar vessel was to its captain's individual specifications and tastes, the interior of this ship was an almost completely different world to the last carrier he had been on. Tortured half-light that seemed nonetheless harsh to the eye illuminated countless dark stains and spatters across the unforgiving grey floor, and cast sinister shadows over the enormous black runes of pain, torture and suffering that decorated the massive sheer walls that reached upwards to the launch bay's cavernous ceiling. The vast expanse of the floor was littered with piles of equipment and supplies laced with slender snaking conduits and energy relays. From here and there a malevolent light radiated from glowing power crystals, and every so often an errant fighter would race in from its patrol and hurtle roaring through the air like some massive hellish dragon before pausing in the manipulated gravity of an arrestor-field and gently settling on its landing talons in an empty area with a predatory grace. A broken, hellish smile crawled across Leu'kyarrth's face as he found an odd delight to the scene, likening it to a night-darkened countryside terrorised by enormous flying beasts, each stain a field or road, each pile a town-stead, each crystal a burning settlement. The Dark Eldar found himself fascinated by the pattern of it all, at first glance the entire launch bay seemed to be total bedlam, but as he observed further he began to notice a terrible, ruthless method to the madness, and one that made precisely zero room for error. He also couldn't help but marvel at the sheer scale of this monstrous edifice to pain, one part of the massive floating cathedral of torment that was the Heartless Reaver, although the... dedication, devotion even, made Leu'kyarrth shiver inside despite himself.

"Order begets success," replied Scy'thirica as she walked beside him, "Though the state of my ship would seem far more mundane for want of your presence more often."

"I should think you would be satisfied by my absence. I do not usually pay visits unless something has offended me."

"Or to assign prestigious tasks to a subordinate. Tell me Hierarch, what do you know of pain?"

"Pain?" said Leu'kyarrth, "Of pain I know many things. It is one of the most fundamental of forces in the universe, something all living things come to experience. It is central to us, a base part of our very being, and it is the lifeblood and cornerstone of our own civilisation. It is how we gain strength over our enemies, and there is much power to be found within it. Pain is splendorous thing to behold, bringing beauty to the eye and ear and teasing and caressing the heart with joy and satisfaction from watching it and being in its presence. And yet... it can turn its back upon you, lash out at you, forsake you, leave you reeling and maddened and lost in the darkest depths of misery and defeat. And yet, I know that for all these things, none know more about pain than you."

His conclusion was especially true. Scy'thirica was more intimately familiar with pain than any in the Kabal, or indeed most who dwelt in Commorragh. This made her a fearsome taskmistress and terrifying adversary, as well as one of the most skilled interrogators the Bleeding Rose had. Leu'kyarrth had almost transferred the relevant Tau prisoners in his custody over to her to break, but then Visen'thyae managed to succeed with his gambit of capturing and using one of their lords for that end (as reckless as it may have been, Leu'kyarrth was forced to admit that it had gotten results when no other method yet used did), and breaking one particularly defiant one had long since become a personal war to him.

"Very astute Hierarch. One aspect I would teach you is the ability of pain to bring forth hidden truths." As she spoke Scy'thirica inflicted upon Leu'kyarrth a staring, piercing, haunting gaze that striped him down to his very innermost core. It took all his might to hide how naked he suddenly felt. He realised only now, too late, how much of himself he had put in his answer, and where the true source of his descriptions lay. Had she seen that as well? Impossible!

"It strips us down, pain," Scy'thirica continued, "It permeates a soul like water, seeping through any crack or opening. It scourges away deception and untruths, and brings out ones purest self. You will never truly know someone until you have seen them in the most total, utter, excruciating pain. Only then, after holding them over the inferno, can you finally meet their real self. I know you have not come here simply to discuss philosophy and compliment my crew ethic Hierarch, what is the true agenda to this visit?"

Relief surged inside Leu'kyarrth. "In truth Scy'thirica you are correct. I have indeed come with more serious matters to discuss. Tell me, do you hear much in the way of talk or plans about me?"

"Very little Hierarch, though apparently there is a growing belief amongst the rank and file that you may be a better alternative than Merrighan as leader of the Kabal."

Deep inside, Leu'kyarrth skipped a beat. Some primal part of him began to swell with warmth and strength at Scy'thirica's words. It is the thought of my triumph and reign as Archon that will soon come to pass, he concluded.

"This chamber Scy'thirica, how keen are its ears?"

"Like a stone Hierarch. Is there mischief afoot?"

Leu'kyarrth took in the ambience of the room before speaking. He had deliberately chosen to converse with Scy'thirica in this part of the ship, and he was immediately reminded that it was a fine choice. The air was filled with a chorus of diligence; clangs, whirring machinery, barked commands, sharp cracks and agonised screaming, punctuated by the howling thunder of attack craft taking off and landing. No spy or eavesdropper would be able to overhear them through such a din. "Right again captain," he said, "The commoners who talk of me ascending may soon get a chance to test their beliefs."

"Are you saying what I think you are Hierarch?"

"I am planning to move against our Archon, and I am planning to move soon. And Scy'thirica, I would like you to fight at my side."

Scy'thirica looked closely at Leu'kyarrth, and paused in consideration for what seemed to the Dark Eldar like an aeon. At last she spoke, "I will remind you Heirarch, that discipline begets triumph. But discipline holds little tolerance for treachery. I would do well to detain you and punish you for plotting against the order of our Kabal."

Leu'kyarrth studied his opposite up and down. He took deep note of her features, of her whip-thin frame eroded from frequent fasting, of the scars that crept and bit into her skin, as numerous as the stars in the void that lay beyond the launch bay's shielded opening and of every conceivable shape and size - long, short, deep, dark, fresh, some still weeping blood, others enlarged into canyons through flesh, some straight, some curled, others still fashioned into runes or glyph, icons that stood testament to the profound devotion she had to pain, the only master that she truly served. He took note of the dark pastel bruises and burns that shaded her, of her harsh predatory eyes, utterly devoid of mercy, whose gaze skewered and impaled like a lance and constantly prowled for any sign of weakness to pounce upon. He took note of the way her hand hungrily circled around the handle of her custom-built electrocorrosive cat-o-nine-tails like a vulture over a dying creature, eager to join with the true end of her arm and dispense the gifts of her paramour. And as he did, Leu'kyarrth calculated a solution.

"If you must," he said, with all the humble meekness and servitude of a crocodile, "I suppose my death would even grant you a place as commander of this fleet, and a stepping stone to leadership of the Kabal itself. I do wonder what your reign would be like with such... unorthodox views."

It was common knowledge that Scy'thirica practised a brutal lifestyle of draconian discipline and almost religious supplication to pain, but Leu'kyarrth also knew that such values were unpopular amongst the nobility of Commorragh. Few, especially those in positions of power, would ever adopt them themselves, and would almost certainly resist at every step if they were forced upon them. Scy'thirica might be ruthless, cunning and perceptive, but she had few allies.

Just as Leu'kyarrth had wanted, She twitched. It was a swift movement, a tiny ripple across her features that lasted fractions of a second, but to Leu'kyarrth's sharp Eldar senses it was unmistakable. "And what, Hierarch, is the insinuation behind that?" she asked.

"Come now my dear Scy'thirica," said Leu'kyarrth, "We both know how alone you are in the grander scheme of things. How many times have you been criticised by your peers? how many times have you been looked down upon for your lack of knowledge in the arts or culture? How many whispers behind your back that you might be hysterical, how many lecherous Kabalite lords have you had to fend off from showing you, as they say, 'the simpler pleasures of life'? How many times have you been forced to defend your way of life against those who argue against it?"

Now it was Scy'thirica's turn to feel exposed. "What difference does it make?" She retorted in a frantic defence, "If I rule then I could command that they be killed. I could send assassins after them, or put a price on their head. It's not like I'll need the wealth after all."

"Perhaps, but how many do you think would carry out that order?" Leu'kyarrth countered, "After all, much of those in power would be against you. You might have your followers, but how long would they last when confronted by so many enemies? Even then however, you would of course have to beat Har'kir'syn to the position of Archon."

"Har'kir'syn?"

It was time for Leu'kyarrth to play his hidden ace. He knew that of all those in the Kabal, the hedonistic Har'kir'syn was the most absolutely polar opposite in values and methods. With such a vast divide, it would be a simple matter to make Har'kir'syn into a target for Scy'thirica's hatred, a convenient scapegoat to channel all her insecurities and frustrations upon, a political lightning-rod that would safely channel any negative opinions well away from him.

"Why yes," the Dark Eldar said, "I have it on impeccable authority that he is also conspiring against our Archon, and misfortune has placed him against my cause. I would be concerned by this if I were you Scy'thirica. He is very popular with the upper classes, who find much to enjoy in the myriad pleasures that he lavishes upon those he favours. He commands much influence and power over key figures, and his leadership would likely be welcomed by those used to the comforts privilege offers. He would likely go very far, and where would that leave your way of life? But join me, my good Scy'thirica, and I will have the power I need to remove him before he can gain too large a foothold. I hold no ill will towards you and have nothing but respect for your tenacity and will. Should I become leader, you would find no ideological challenge from me. But Har'kir'syn? That is a very different tale, with no promises to the outcome. Don't think about my plot to take over Scy'thirica, think about Har'kir'syn's, and think about what consequences it might have for you."

At once a voice sounded in Leu'kyarrth's personal communicator. "Hierarch, this is bridge. We have a situation here."

A murderous grimace of irritation writhed across Leu'kyarrth's features. "Can it wait?" he growled.

"My apologies Hierarch, but I'm afraid it's urgent. I must ask that you get back here post-haste, you need to see this."

Venomous fury boiled across Leu'kyarrth at the insolence of this distraction. "I regret that my attention is required elsewhere at this time," he said, regaining his composure, "Just think about what I've said. You have so few on your side Scy'thirica, why not let me be another one and join mine? There is no reason we need be enemies. Just think about what I've told you before you act, Scy'thirica, that's all I ask. Just think about it."

And with that, Leu'kyarrth turned and strode with all speed to a way back to his own vessel. There had better be a very good reason for this interruption...


XXIX.


A cold despairing blue sheen gleamed across the darkened walls of the maze of corridors that Sybael wandered through and battled with the deep rich crimson on her hair that cascaded down from her head to her waist like a waterfall of blood, shifting this way and that ever so slightly as the Wych Succubus relentlessly paced onward to no real destination in particular save that of a mind that could rest. Part of her disquiet state was from the natural state of biochemical imbalance that came with combat-drug withdrawal which left her almost constantly on edge. A further factor was the never-ending sensation of nervousness and creeping tension as her soul writhed and struggled to escape the undying attentions of She Who Thirsts that plagued it in realspace, which made her skin crawl, her stomach churn and her mind even more agitated. But those were mundane irritants, not the sort of thing that would keep one of the most dangerous fighters in the galaxy awake almost until the last watch had ended on the ship. No, what was keeping Sybael up was something far more profound, and came from somewhere far deeper and more intrinsic, which made it all the more disturbing and confusing for her.

Sybael knew that Leu'kyarrth had similar experiences from time to time, and that he usually looked out into the stars or across the ship's arboretums to calm his mind. But such idle contemplation would not suffice for her. Sybael was, at heart, a soul of action and deeds, an indomitable huntress, an apex predator, and so she always found more comfort in movement and activity. Typically this came from her practice routines, or better yet duels with live opponents, but the latter was still restricted and the former had proved ineffective on this occasion. She cursed Leu'kyarrth with all the scolding toxic hatred that was native to her spiteful kind for his timid husbandry of the slave reserves. How DARE he withhold from her the exhilaration of the kill!The feeble ignoble cockroach of an excuse for an Eldar, Sybael wanted to drown out her fury with his agonised screams. She wanted to tear the skin from his flesh, she wanted to sear his bones and boil his blood. She wanted to rip him to tatters, to crush his throat, to shatter his skull, to pulverise his heart, to hear him howl for forgiveness for the transgressions he made...

But something arrested itself deep inside Sybael's core that unsettled her deeply. The thought of Leu'kyarrth dying made her hands falter, stay and twist themselves into knots. Her instincts screamed at her to strike a killing blow, but some invisible net would tangle her, hold her back. Her thoughts turned to fighting for Leu'kyarrth rather than against him, to bringing death to his enemies instead. She wanted to slaughter any who would dare move against him, to punish in his name, to dedicate her kills to him. She thought about what it would be like to have him there in the audience when she killed Lelith, watching her destroy that painted demon from the foremost rows, cheering as she slit her throat...

This was lunacy. She was the most lethal warrior in her entire cult. She slew champions of the universe without a second thought. Ending one petty little Kabalite noble should be a trivial matter. She tried to visualise it, taking his life, seizing his future with her hands and snuffing it out like a flame. She pictured him, on his knees at her feet, choking on his own ruined innards. She pictured the melee, pictured striking like a cat, pictured matching and evading his thrusts and slashes with the effortless ease of a falcon in flight, pictured landing the crippling blow that devastates his back and leaves him staggering and helpless. She pictured lacerating him through and through, taking his pristine skin and puncturing, piercing, ripping it to shreds with blades as much a part of her as her limbs, pictured his bones snapping in her hands, his still-hot blood running down her skin...

It was only now that she noticed her pace had increased tenfold in the space of these last few moments. Sybael found this strange, she did not recall being informed that uncontrolled motor-functions would be one of the side effects of withdrawal. She would need to consult specialists later, this could be a serious repercussion and would need to be dealt with accordingly.

It was this place, Sybael decided. Being confined in this labyrinth of metal and composite alloys suspended in the pitiless nothingness of space. Sybael had a roaming soul by nature, and one that craved freedom. She yearned to feel the wild air run through her hair, to be under open sky, to run, to leap, to hunt. To be confined to a cage like this, for so long, with nothing to do, it would be more than enough to drive one mad. It would be better once the attack began, she reasoned. Then she would be free to chase down and execute as many as she wished (provided they were combatants, of course), and she would be able to focus and sharpen her mind with the purity of the fight until she could once again fulfil the mission given to her by Merrighan.

Merrighan. Like most powerful leaders of the Dark City the Dread Archon of the Kabal of the Bleeding Rose seemed to lie close to the heart of many things. It was her patronage that had allowed the Cult of Tears to grow in power and popularity, and had afforded Sybael and her Warriors with countless opportunities to prove their mettle in combat outside the arena that would otherwise have passed them by. In return, the merciless assaults of the Wyches of the Cult of Tears allowed even large or well-defended enemy vessels to be seized swiftly and with minimal risk. Merrighan had given Sybael and her cult a chance when no other kabal would, and had saved her life numerous times. Sybael felt she owed it to her to help eliminate those she found plotting against the Archon - she owed her that much at the very least.

At once the back of Sybael's neck prickled and and a shiver passed over her spine. With a blur of motion her hand swooped to a sheathed throwing knife, ready to pin whoever was watching her to the wall behind them. She stopped, however, upon hearing from the darkness a voice like a spider.

"It's only me, my dear," it said, "There is no cause for violence."

"Show yourself Visen'thyae. How long have you been following me for?"

The Haemonculus reared out of the gloom and stepped towards her. "Long enough I would think," he said, "I was voyaging to a storeroom to collect some ingredients I had just run out of in my chambers when I noticed you dancing through this deck. Tell me my dear, what do you know of the Ones Who Watch?"

"I would say they often lose their eyes. However I assume you are not being literal."

"How observant of you," Visen'thyae replied, "I am and I am not. The Ones Who Watch are a family of creatures native to forested world towards the galactic core. The Mon'keigh refer to them as Basilisk Beasts or Gorgons' Children. They are predators that dwell in caves, but travel outside to hunt for food. What makes them remarkable, however, is how they trap their prey. Most species are rather slow runners, but very quiet, relying on stealth to close in on prey, and once they're close enough they trap the unfortunate animal with their gaze. All specimens possess large and phenomenally powerful eyes, and they are able to immobilise other creatures with a hypnotic stare. According to legend, they are said to see into a creature's very innermost soul."

"Am I to take it then Visen'thaye that these creatures are precious to you in some way?"

"I feel I share a kindred spirit with them in some aspects. I see much on this ship, Succubus. And I see much in the people within it, including you."

Sybael kept an outward appearance of stone, but the statement turned her insides to ice. "What, Haemonculus, is the meaning behind that?"

"One of your calibre should know full well. That gait was no side-effect of your stimulant withdrawal, nor is it of any ordinary clash of conscience. I know exactly what unseemly thoughts you have been weaving here, alone in the dark."

Deep inside, Sybael skipped a beat. From some unknown place deep inside her welled up caustic burning fear. Only with all her strength and practice in control and regulation did her heart avoid hastening.

"You plot a very perilous course my dear Succubus," Visen'thyae continued, "If I were to try my hand at guessing the machinations of fate, I would predict that soon, very soon there will come a time when you hold Leu'kyarrth's life in your hands. I sincerely wish for you to handle it in the correct way Sybael, for both our sake."

With that, the Haemonculus slunk back into the darkness, his third arm lingering above like a Scorpion's tail until he had truly departed. When she was certain she was once again alone, a rush of air fled from Sybael's chest as she sank back against a wall. She did not know why, but the encounter had left her exhausted. Her nerves were completely shot. She wondered if he really did know about Merrighan's pact with her.

When she was ready, Sybael began to walk back to her quarters. It was better to pace there, she decided, where there was no chance of unexpected companions.
A Shas and a Kor walk into a bar...
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