It was during the season of Yávië, when the leaves are touched with orange, red, and gold, that a shadow crossed the night sky. Under the waning light of the crescent moons, a Mon-keigh carrack dropped through the forest canopy; and vomited forth a company of tall strangers, dressed in corpse grey armour and dark stippled cloaks. They moved with an uncanny grace for being so large, and their shadow-like forms travelled swiftly. But the Ishahíni, as the Exodites called themselves, had never seen such monstrous beings; and knowing nothing of their intentions or motives, were wholly unaware of the darkness that now walked among them.
While the strangers moved in a single file through the trees, hidden in the branches high above was Cûcalndîr, leader of the Nossë na Kurnunos kindred. And whoever these strange beings were, he knew they were intruders in the forest of Athel Itilcalndîr, and it was his kindred’s responsibility to defend their home.
‘Who are they?’ asked Anastarwen in a language only the animals could understand; and in a whisper, only an Aeldari could hear.
‘I do not know for certain, but they appear to be the Losseainn, or “Warriors of Iron”, which the Ranger Bëlinor of Saim-hann spoke of long ago,’ he replied in a whisper equal to hers.
The last stranger in the line now turned his cloaked face towards the two Aeldari watching in the trees. Cûcalndîr noted that the strangers seemed to be as aware of the night-time sights and sounds, as any of his kindred were. In awe at this insight, Cûcalndîr now signalled for silence, and let the strangers move on.
Moving from tree to tree, the kindred shadowed the stranger’s progress, disturbing the branches as little as a squirrel does running, while making no more sound than a moth does flying. One stranger signalled with his hand, and they all dropped to a knee. Whispering into a mechanical device, he said, ‘Sergeant Latro to Lieutenant Reus, we are nearing the objective…’
Cûcalndîr ordered the kindred to spread out and surround the strangers. Then, as each of them took their places, they notched an arrow and waited for the signal to strike. In the dappled moonlight, the last stranger in the line dropped to the ground, when Cûcalndîr’s arrow pierced his throat. Three more fell before the strangers even knew they were being attacked. Some were saved by their armour, which protected them like dragon’s hide; while others stumbled, when arrows pierced the back of their knees or struck them in the neck.
Pandemonium reigned, as the strangers’ weapons lit up the night with red streaks, and shattered the forest stillness with unearthly roars. The strangers fired in tight and disciplined bursts, yet their shots seemed enchanted, as if by some fay magik. A shot might pierce an Aeldari cloak here, or another shot chip the bark there, but otherwise, all were lost to the forest night. Meanwhile, the kindred let fly their arrows, dancing from tree branch to the ground and back again, all without suffering a single wound. Finally, the stranger’s leader shouted a command, and the survivors all rushed deeper into the forest.
This was the mistake Cûcalndîr was waiting for, and like the hounds of Kurnunos, he and his kindred leapt to the chase. Lifting the Horn of Orion to his lips, Cûcalndîr blew an echoing call that announced to the whole forest, that the Wild Hunt had begun. Following the ways of their ancestors, the kindred never showed themselves, keeping well away from the view of the strangers. But as they leapt among the branches, or ran along the ground, they kept up a steady flight of arrows. And the armoured monstrosities fell one after the other, crashing to the earth like slain River Trolls. Careful to never attack the wounded, they left them instead to the Oromandin and the Tavarin, the Dryads and the Treekin. The strangers’ stifled screams, signalling that the awful deeds of murder were done. The strangers’ leader then turned and drew a sword, which crackled with a blue eldritch energy, only to then be cut down in a hail of arrows.
Cûcalndîr now chased a single survivor, who although wounded by multiple arrows, still moved swiftly. Bursting out of the forest, the stranger then crossed into a boggy glade known as the Arda na Kurnunos. Sacred to the Ishahíni, the stranger’s very presence in the glade was a sacrilege. The stranger ploughed on, stomping and splashing his way through the wet muck until he came to the deepest part of the bog. There his large body and heavy armour began to pull him under. Cûcalndîr watched, as he fired in desperation at the shadowy phantasms, and dancing lights of the woodland spirits. Out of ammunition, the stranger now threw away his weapon and drew a large knife. Yet, it was all in vain, for by this time, he had sunk up to his waist in the bog.
Now stepping out into the open, Cûcalndîr showed himself by the light of the stars and the crescent moons. Lifting his bow, he let fly with an arrow saying, ‘I dedicate thee to Kurnunos!’ He let fly with another saying, ‘I dedicate thee to Lileath!’ And with the last one saying, ‘I dedicate thee to Morai-Heg!’
Treading on lily pads and twigs Cûcalndîr stopped to stand over the stranger’s corpse and saw that the body had sunk up to its shoulders. Pulling away the face mask, Cûcalndîr could see that the stranger’s facial tattoos, matched the white tribal markings painted on the armour. Strangely, the teeth had been sharpened to a point, like those of an aquatic predator. Then, as the monstrosity sank into the bog, Cûcalndîr took the knife from its hand; and there in High Gothic script were inscribed the words: Carcharodons 10th Company.
‘What evil is this?’ he thought to himself, as another dark shadow crossed the night sky.
About the Author
In the grim darkness of the upper mid-western US, on the storm driven shores of the great inland sea called Anishinaabewi-gichi-gami, lies an underground bunker. Within its depths is where you’ll find Mr. O’Duffy, spending his time writing Warhammer 40,000 fiction, as well as works of Gothic Horror, and Fantasy. When not writing, Mr. O’Duffy continues his fight for truth, justice and the American Way.