‘I must say, Lord-Chairman, I’m very impressed.’ Solana smiled, sitting as he gestured to the chair opposite his desk. It was soft and smelled of rich, smoky leather.
‘I aim to please, Madame Archduchess. No-one is more important to me than my benefactors.’ He poured them both an amsec from a crystal decanter.
‘Of that I am certain,’ she said, clinking her glass against his before taking a sip.
She leaned back in her chair, sliding one leg to rest over the other.
‘May I ask you a question, Lord-Chairman?’ she asked.
‘I am at your command.’ She smiled coyly at that. ‘And please, call me Rhetton.’
‘Alright, Rhetton.’ She took another sip. ‘Back in 1.8 post VCM.M41, there was that terrible market crash in the Hezhuti sector. How, if you’ll pardon the language, in the Emperor’s name did your company stay so profitable?’
He chortled, ‘You have a good memory. You must have only been a slip of a girl back then.’
‘As I recall, there was also that fire that took out almost half the hive. Terrible times! Yet here you are, a phoenix from the ashes. How did you do it?’ She asked, leaning closer.
‘Can you keep a secret?’ he asked with a wink.
‘Rhetton. I am very, very good with secrets’, she replied with a sparkling grin.
He looked around theatrically. ‘That fire was no accident.’
‘Really?’ she gasped.
‘Neither were the locked gates barring off the sector. Nor the insurance I had taken out on behalf of all my dear, dear indentured workers.’
‘Genius!’ she cried. ‘Thousands must have died!’
He continued, ‘Only worth a handful of credits each, but it added up. Removed that nasty problem of our worthless factories too.’
‘And you were able to get the insurance agency to pay?’ she asked in earnest.
‘My dear, it helps to have friends in high places.’ He grinned and finished his amasec
‘I couldn’t agree more,’ she beamed. ‘Good friends. Like Harvort Gerard.’
He laughed. ‘Yes, old Harv-’ He stopped. ‘How do you know that name?’
Solana rose to her feet and poured herself another drink.
‘I know lots of names.’ Rhetton tried to speak, but was cut off as Solana called out. ‘Bring him in.’
The door opened and a man dressed like janitorial staff entered, dragging a bound and bleeding figure across the floor behind him. The captive was naked and covered in hundreds of cuts. Casting him to the ground, her accomplice used his bloodied hands to start smearing a runic circle around the struggling prisoner.
‘What is the meaning of this? Is… is that Harvort?! I demand you-’ Rhetton blustered.
Unsheathing a dagger concealed in her skirts, Solana pointed it at him. ‘Silence!’ she snapped.
He fell back into his chair as Solana moved over to the quivering mass on the floor. The cleaner completed his rune, bowed to Solana and left, closing the door behind him.
The bound man, Harvort Gerard, was sobbing. His mouth was gagged with bloodstained cloth, and blood mixed with splinters of teeth oozed from his lips. Solana wrenched his head back, and slit his throat.
‘Nine hundred and ninety-nine,’ she muttered as his blood fountained across the room. Rhetton wretched as it splattered and soaked into his fine wool suit.
Solana drew a handful of herbs from a tabac pouch on her belt and threw them into the ritual circle. She began to murmur in a tongue Rhetton could not recognise. He looked at his desk for some kind of weapon. Desperately, he hurled a crystal glass at her, but under her furious glare it stopped in mid-air before flying back at him. The glass hit the wall behind him and shattered, cutting him with its shower of shining shards.
A fire made of unnamed colours burst within the ritual circle before dying down. In its place stood the daemon. It regarded Solana with dozens of eyes set into the bony protrusions on the sides of its head. Its blue skin glittered like the carapace of an iridescent beetle. In one of its three arms, it held a staff. It opened its great mouth and greeted her.
‘Ah Solana, my favourite student.’ Its mouth and words were somehow out of sync with one another. ‘How lovely to see you.’
‘Greetings, Master.’ Solana curtsied deeply at the creature. ‘You honour me with your presence.’
‘Of course, my child. I admire a student who seeks more interesting ends than the mere riches and power I can provide.’ The daemon floated towards Rhetton. Instead of fine cologne, he now reeked of his own urine.
‘It was all according to plan, Master.’ She bowed her head before walking over to join the daemon.
‘This is the creature?’ The daemon asked. ‘The man I promised you, in return for your service and your soul?’
‘He is, Master.’
‘Your will be done. Together, I think. It shall be a good lesson.’
Rhetton was sobbing now. Begging for mercy. She looked down at him.
‘You will burn’, she said. ‘I will watch you burn, as I watched my family burn from behind a locked gate. You will be helpless as I was helpless. But you will not die.’ She stroked his hair as he whimpered. ‘Your suffering shall be eternal.’
Rhetton felt his skin begin to prickle, then burn. The two figures loomed over him and chanted in that impossible tongue.
He screamed as his bones burst within his skin. Blood and viscera oozed from his every orifice as they widened and shut, emerged and receded. He was blind; he was covered in eyes. His screams echoed from a dozen mouths. He shrunk, or else his tormentors grew giant before him. Horns and tentacles burst from his flesh, wet and seeping. He burned alive. Transformed.
The newborn familiar mewled pathetically, abasing itself at his new master’s feet, grasping the hem of her skirt like a frightened child.
Solana smiled as tears of joy bejewelled her cheeks. ‘He’s perfect.’
About the Author
Jenny Strath is the author of fast fiction and audio drama ‘The Consuming Gaze’, as well as fast fiction ‘The Good Citizen,’ ‘Setting the Stage’, and short story ‘The Silk Spire.’
A lifelong lover of fantasy/science-fiction, horror and gaming, she found her home in Warhammer. Based in Melbourne, Australia, her other passions include history, heavy metal, high heels and her Alaskan Malamute, Fenris.