The Engines of Vaul will smite them, and bring fire upon them, and in agony they will depart this realm, their souls screaming into the black void that awaits their pitiful race. And with their banishment there will be peace in this place, and we will be one step further along the road we must tread…
There was no glory to be gained from fighting Orks. The vile beasts are a plague in a galaxy already riddled with conflict. War for its own sake is a decidedly brutish thing, especially when waged against those who do not even have the decency to know when they are dead. Saim-Hann always had a harmonic relationship with the land-bound kin of the Maiden Worlds. Twas no surprise to see the Cosmic Serpent baring its fangs in their defence. The infestation is not overly large, but remains a challenge, one more easily handled by a unified front.
But a moment of weakness can be exploited by darker forces. So it was, so it will ever be; and there are worse things than Orks roaming the stars. An opening is all which is needed for them to cry havoc. Eldar slaves fetch a good price in the Dark City, as do exotic materials. Many an archon would seek to use the opportunity and reduce casualties by raiding a foe whose back is already turned. Distant kinship counts for little in the face of profit.
Alas, sound though the twisted logic is, the warlock can only summon contempt in the face of such callousness. Murderers in the night. Foul thieves, betrayers of kin, scoundrels and sadists, depraved fiends. Here to kill her Exodite allies. It is an outrage. Unfortunately for the dark kindred of Commoragh, they were not facing a clumsy defence of the Imperium of Man or exhausted and beset Dragon Knights. Faulty intelligence can cause many deaths but none can match Saim-Hann for speed. No, the Farseers have divined the portents, the rune of Khaine shining brightly, orbiting around the symbols of torment and subjugation. Even an apprentice was capable of understanding what it meant, and the warlock was no apprentice. Golden of hair, clad in a riot of fiery colours, the rune armour vibrating with potency, she would have been a beautiful sight. If not for the war mask. Underneath the gaze of the War God remains only death. The fair face is frozen in a rictus of fury, as cold as the depths of the void. War paint decorates both cheeks and the chin in an intricate pattern.
The witch blade lays neglected in an ornate sheath.
She does not need a weapon to fight when she has something much more potent. An iron-clad mind taps into the energies of the Empyrean, channelling them remorselessly, more skilled than any sword. Such defilement on a kindred world already plagued by a vile Green Tide. ‘Tis deserving of the sternest rebuke. And what a rebuke it was! Warlocks occupy a place of honour within the Craftworld hosts. Their sheer destructive powers have tipped the scales of many a conflict.
Wyches are immolated where they stand, charred meat sliding from bare bone. Warriors in thorn-covered armour are crushed within its confines, backs and femurs snapping. There is no reprieve, for she is not capable of such. Screams are meant to be relished. This is the true horror of Khaine’s gaze, for it annihilates all pity and mercy, leaving behind nothing but a remorseless killer. Warriors of differing shrines and aspects advance, exploiting the openings. Alas, not always uninjured. Not easily does the foe relinquish life.
There is no escape on an open plain. Not every risk is worth taking.
The runes fly around the warlock in a gleaming halo as she observes the battlefield, the bladed vessels of Commorragh littering the landscape, Reavers and Reapers, a taint against the vibrant greenery. All jagged edges and unnatural curves. Familiar, yet alien. A dark mirror. The thought fills her with disgust.
No great assault was this. Merely opportunism. Lithe of foot, she seeks stragglers, her fury volcanic. As she walks in the waking world, her conscience races across the skein, checking the immediate future, seeking blood. And finding nothing. It is over. With a sigh, the warlock turns her back upon a small transport, alert eyes scanning the immediate surroundings, pondering the overall strategic position. New orders will be forthcoming, Saim-Hann never was a mistress accepting of idleness.
That is when she hears it. The tiniest of whimpers. A mewl in the dark. Warlocks do not stagger aimlessly. Cautious and collected, she peers into the future and finds ruin. Pivoting on a wraithbone-clad heel, the warlock makes her way to the nearest downed Ravager. No fire rages, but it has crashed badly, splitting in half. The interior reveals a plethora of shackles and whips, cruelly barbed, stained with blood. Broken instruments of torture whose purpose she can not understand. This is a slave pen.
But it is not empty.
Among the scattered forms, crumpled like dolls a child leaves behind ere going to bed, one is still alive. Dispassionately, the warlock examines the human. Unhealthy pallor. The eyes are white, akin to milky orbs. With detached distaste, she recalls the rumours of the Dark Kin removing their slave’s tear ducts, leaving them to wither, feeding on the rising terror. Living in darkness is a threat so vile not many a heart would be able to bear it without bleeding. Already, her energies are extending towards the neck, aiming to snap it.
A mercy. Before she can do such, a single word pierces the charnel fumes.
Gothic is a primitive language. Easily learned with a measure of fluency. This one word pierces the veil.
Intrigued yet cautious, the warlock’s digits wipe away the rune of Khaine decorating her forehead. The war mask recedes into the deepest confines of her soul and mind, the fury sated. The Slayer of Eldanesh is a broken sword, wielded out of necessity. Only foggy memories of the carnage linger. Llacharni. That was her name. She is Llacharni. So much more than a faceless harbinger of wrath.
Stripped of the protective mental layers, she examines the human more closely. It resembles a female, though one sorely desecrated. A tiny whimper echoes as the slave twitches, aggravating the wounds. In the fall, her ribs have cracked. Internal bleeding. A slow, lingering death. Unworthy of a warrior.
Another whine escapes those thin lips. They are scarred. With rising horror, the Asuryani realises that there is not an inch of skin bereft of scars, brands, painful tattoos or cruel piercings, so designed as to injure one with every step. Knowing what is done is one thing—seeing it in full detail another. Gathering her robes around herself, the seer kneels, the sound of rustling clothes making the slave twitch, an incoherent exclamation of fear clearly audible.
Humans. Such a simple race. Brutish and barbaric, true, but also sentient, capable of loving each other and chasing an elusive glimpse of happiness, far too easily lost. Preferable to the vile Yngiract and savage Orkan, albeit that is not saying much. They, too, mourn their losses. Lesser, but not altogether hopeless.
A glove is removed, the digits pressing into the human’s forehead. The woman shudders in terror ere sighing as the pain abates, kept at bay by precise warpcraft. No Drukhari would ever remove the agony so completely. The child’s dry tongue, forked by vile arts, slithers, trying to lick the parched lips. Silence reigns.
Outspoken in council, bold in battle, the seer has nothing to say. There are no words for this.
A tender intellect peruses the memories, the tendrils as gentle as the breeze, lest the physical pain be compounded by the agonies of mental violation. A hard life. Smog and manufactorums. An existence spent in dirty rags, toiling. A mother slowly dying in front of one’s very eyes, yet cheerful to the last. Strong for her child. No father to speak of. Shambling abominations which were once sentient. Now, they are a mixture of rotting flesh and machine parts. Foremen with flint-like eyes and broken teeth. The smell of alcohol.
Shadows in the night. So dark so as to be patches of umbral ink. A mother dead. Then, agony. Fear. Pain. So much pain. Always pain. Pain with every heartbeat, pain with every breath. Vicious faces, dilated pupils, revealing, supping on one’s very soul. Malicious laughter ringing as one’s sight fails, so foul that even hearing it leaves a stain on the mind.
No inner steel can endure such pure, unadulterated malice.
Mother. What a word. Love. Unconditional. Something to wash clean the darkness.
Humming a soothing melody, the seer wrenches the slave’s conscience away, taking it with her, a tiny flickering spark shackled to an incandescent spirit of flame, all crimson and gold. More akin to a hearth fire now.
Back, back, back to the past. A hab-block. Beneath the darkened skies, a girl stirs in dirty blankets. There is an hour until the shift. The room is so small so as to give someone of Eldar height a distinct feeling of claustrophobia. At least it is somewhat warm.
Eyes open. Not milky, but blue, as blue as sapphires. Hair, unkempt and greasy, but not shorn for humiliation’s sake. Nondescript brown. No scars. No broken bones. A smile glimmers in the depths as the gaze falls upon a familiar figure. Once tall, now bent with hard labour. Formidable still and alert.
The distance is closed as the woman takes a seat on the cot, next to her daughter’s head. Arms wrap around stick-thin shoulders. Closeness. Love again. A hand opens, revealing a marvellous gift. Hard candy. Wherever did she chance upon such a treasure?
‘Look what I have for you, my darling.’
Darling. Daughter. Nyla. A pretty name.
A voice dearly missed. With an obstinacy which has doomed her to life, Nyla shakes her head. ‘We’ll split it then,’ the girl insists, the voice still heavy with sleep.
Laughingly, the woman concedes.
From the corner, the seer observes the proceedings, ignored for the time being, out of place in the picture. She does not belong here. Her psychic powers keep the vibrant painting alive, the hug frozen in time, even as a ceremonial blade sinks into the heart with a sibilant hiss, the human sent into oblivion in her mother’s arms. Safe.
The Asuryani imagines she can sense a small kernel of gratitude, aimed at the universe at large. At long last, it is finally over. Then, nothing.
Once again, the seer is clad in a bodily form as she rises, dagger still in hand.
‘I had a mother too once.’ she whispers, albeit no one can hear her. Arms wrap around the petite thing, the corpse is taken outside. Only a vacant shell remains, yet Llacharni is certain the girl will appreciate resting underneath an open sky.
’Twas a luxury denied to her in life.
The broken form is laid out with something reminiscent of reverence, hands crossed on the chest. Turning her back on the gruesome sight, the seer stares upwards. Behind her, the ethereal energies embrace the body, flames licking with preternatural precision. With quick kindness, it dissolves into fine ash, flying on the wind, far, far away from the battlefield and cruel captivity.
The stars upon the night sky shine downwards. Cold and far away they may be, but a heart can still be pierced by their beauty. In the darkness around her, the funerary rituals are beginning. Voices are raised in a dirge as old as the field of battle, some of them trembling with unshed tears. Few casualties, but that is callous military thinking. Each life is priceless to this diminished race.
The next cycle, she will pay her respects as it befits a high warlock. She will present the unyielding strength of a chieftain’s daughter and bold warrior, canny and ambitious, a credit to the bloodline, resplendent beside a majestic father and an indomitable brother. Faced with such an image of martial splendour, the Exodites and Saim-Hanni will take heart and fight all the harder.
The Cosmic Serpent is stronger than the Green Tide.
Swifter than the Dark Kindred.
Victory is inevitable.
A cycle of rest and mourning, then back to the front. This night, though, she can not bear it any more. No appearances need to be maintained.
Light of tread, the seer leaves, long legs taking her to the destination ere it was chosen. She clambers onto the jetbike, engaging the psychotropic crystals, the grav-motors pushed to the brink as the vehicle races at breakneck speed. The saddle has a way of making everything appear simpler.
She does not rise into the air, preferring to hover close to the ground, the pennant snapping in the wind with calming regularity, the cadence melodic. Silver chimes sing about the storm.
Away from the carnage, away from duty.
When she returns, she will be larger than life, brighter than pain, faster than sorrow. But here, she can be herself and nurse an aching heart. Pity is a dangerous emotion, especially when stirred unexpectedly. A tiny part of her brain whispers of cowardice. That voice is ruthlessly silenced.
She can dwell on her own mother, struck down countless arcs before the time of peaceful repose. A life cruelly cut short by a human’s hand. The beast of war cares little for the pain it inflicts. The seer used to blame them. Now? She is just tired.
As she flees the cacophonous clamour of a war camp, racing across the grasslands, the light of the two moons shines from above. The seer fancies she can see a figure running to her left, side by side with the bike, effortlessly keeping pace, ethereal in the dust, the gait natural, wiping away the sight of a body broken beyond recognition. Motes dancing in the silver, sorrowful light. The phantom is scrawny and young, but the eyes resting on the seer are free and unburdened, calm and pensive, as blue as sapphires. A slight smile curls full, healthy lips.
An overburdened mind is a poor friend. Even so, it is comforting.
One might not be able to escape on the open plain, but things are more easily borne in quiet companionship.
And in this moment, that will suffice.
About the Author
Lee is a teacher from Serbia, using their free time to dabble in many wonderful worlds which have been created for our perusal and enjoyment.