Setting the Stage

4.88/5 (2)

Bound in heavy chains, Alphra sat as if upon a throne. Her violent pink coat draped over the bare metal chair, orange diamonds and black hearts shimmering. The vibrance drained all colour from the spartan chambers so much so that the human, Cannoness Katinka, almost faded away. She was armoured in black and white, with the hint of red fabric made to look brown in contrast. Alphra allowed a smile to manifest on her Agaith mask, causing the woman to wince as she looked upon her captive. Likely the poor creature had never seen such colours. The world they were currently trapped on was a constantly clouded grey sphere of misery and machinery. 

The Cannoness spoke with a dry voice that sounded rarely used.

‘Are you alone?’ she asked. 

‘We are all alone. We are never alone.’ Alphra trilled.

‘Speak plainly or die,’ the Cannonness replied simply.

‘Why speak plainly when one can speak prettily? To perniciously ponder poetry and propose pleasant prose?’ Alphra’s smile grew wide behind her mask .

‘Speak plainly or die,’ the Cannoness snarled, irritation twisting her lips.

‘Is it shameful that I command your slovenly syllables so splendidly?’ Smile now stretched, reaching to her ears and becoming distorted. 

‘Speak. Plainly. Or. Die,’ she repeated, drawing a large, ugly pistol from her belt.

‘Do not dare to command me, mon-keigh,’ Alphra growled as her mask twisted into a snarling fanged maw.

The Harlequin tipped the chair back, kicking the bolt pistol out of Katinka’s hands. Twisting like a serpent out of the chains, the chair clanged to the floor as she sprung into a cartwheel. Drawing a power sword hidden in the folds of her coat, Alphra slashed out in a fluid motion. Her sword met its opposite, desperately drawn to block in the hands of the Cannoness. Teeth bared and power armour whirring, Katinka pressed back, shifting the balance. Alphra could feel her slippers shifting on the floor under her opponent’s amplified strength. She dropped into a split, sending the Cannoness toppling over her. Pressing her palms to the floor she flipped, both feet striking her stumbling opponent in the back before she rolled forward and upright.

Katinka regained her balance and lunged forward, but Alphra slipped easily out of the way, the smile wide upon her mask. Another slash. Another dodge. With a scream of frustration, Katinka lashed out with her sword in one hand. Alphra slid for a third time, but the Cannonness’s free hand shot out and grabbed her pink coat. Snarling, Katinka hurled her lithe Aeldari frame into the stone wall. As she bounced painfully and dropped her sword, Alphra’s smile did not fade. This mon’keigh was smart. Good. 

Alphra crawled dramatically across the floor, inching towards the pile of chains. 

Looming over her, Katinka went to deliver the final blow. At the last moment, Alphra snatched the chains and looped them around the Cannoness’s ankles, and pulled hard. As Katinka’s legs whipped out from under her, Alphra vaulted up and wrapped the human in chains before she could hit the ground with a rattle and a thud.

‘Listen or die,’ Alphra said, wearing the fanged maw once again. She plucked the Cannoness’s sword from her bound hands and aimed it at her prone captive.

‘With the fight scene complete, it is time for exposition,’ her mask transmuted into a neutral expression.

‘Seems you talk no matter what I do,’ Katinka muttered.

‘We are but players in the great performance, and this planet has become the stage.’ Alphra watched the sisters’ eyes narrow. ‘The Dark Prince approaches. Tell me, what is it that you know of He you call, Slaanesh?’

‘Enough,’ Katinka replied. ‘Ruinous powers. Xenos. Heretics. All equal under the blade of the Emperor.’

The fanged face blazed as Alphra’s temper flared. 

‘You will not compare me to those abominations again.’ With a calming breath, the fangs retreated.

‘My faith is pure, the ruinous powers hold nothing to me,’ Katinka said proudly. Alphra laughed, ‘The Dark Prince has no interest in your dull, colourless soul or this dull colourless world. But outside these walls are countless humans that would join His chorus. That would slaughter freely for a chance in the spotlight before it burned them to ash. I have seen it in my dreams. It is why I am here, and why you are still alive.’

‘I heed no filthy xenos lies,’ she replied, with the barest tremor. 

Alphra leaned in close. ‘What is more important? Your god or your people?’ 

For just a moment, Alphra allowed the mirage of her mask to melt away to reveal her true face.

‘We have one kinship. The burden of command. Fail them, and they will adopt the script of a terrible god with sweeter lies than ours.’

Katinka was silent for several heartbeats. ‘What do you propose?’

‘Fight with us.’ Not awaiting an answer, Alphra pulled an end of the chains to release the Cannoness. Throwing the stolen sword beside her, she retrieved her own. 

Katinka untangled herself with as much dignity as she could muster as Alphra made to leave. 

‘Emperor forgive me.’ Alphra heard Katinka whisper.

Stopping at the threshold, Alphra chuckled.

‘It’s funny. The difference between our gods. We know ours is laughing at us.’

Alphra looked out over the battlements as humans scurried to and fro like a disturbed nest of insects. Hirin Ka approached, the rictus grin of his Death Jester mask turned to her. ‘So, these mon’keigh are not quite as stupid as they look?’

‘Just the right amount of stupid, fortunately,’ she replied.

‘A good addition to our travelling show,’ he nodded.

‘Ready the webway gate. Ensure there is room in the transport crafts. These new troops are promising and I’d prefer them comfortable for our journey. We leave as soon as the battle is won, when they won’t be expecting it.’

‘What performance awaits our newest ensemble?’

The grin on her mask mirrored her own underneath it.

‘The Twisted Path shall guide us.’

About the Author

Jenny Strath has previously written for Cold Open Stories and is the author of ‘The Consuming Gaze’ and ‘The Good Citizen’. 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.