Chapter 1

The work of a Devil

Commorragh. The dark city. Home of the piratical dark eldar, their last refuge from She who Thirsts. The city in the webway. Towering dark spires stabbed towards the ceiling, their pitch black frames covered in sculptures of leering faces, snarling monsters and humans screaming in horror. Every tower was connected to its fellows by an intricate latticework of arched bridges, adorned with decaying corpses and skeletons swinging from rusty, knotted chains. Between the bridges floated humming illumination globes, their weak lighting bathing the entire city in a mixture of blood-red light and dark patches of twilight. Scurrying figures hurried across stained boulevards and twisting alleyways, seeking to conduct their business as swiftly as possible. Staying out for too long in the dark city was tantamount to suicide. Flitting shapes filled the air, ranging from the sleek luxury transports that only the upper echelon could afford, to the one-man sky boards ridden by the near-insane hellions, who every now and then would dive sharply down to sever a limb or head from some passer by, cackling madly as they bathed in the blood of their victims. From some of the towers, sounds of hideous screaming sawed through the air, the haemonculus competing with each other to extract the loudest screams from the poor unfortunates captured on the many slave raids mounted daily from the ports to the west. And, from one particular area, the sound of a street battle reverberated.

Khulan Blade-fist, warrior of the great Vect and Arch-dracon of the Kabal of the Black Heart, fired his splinter pistol and watched in satisfaction as the lithe form of one of the enemy warriors crumpled, his blood pouring out of the gaping hole in his neck once occupied by his jugular vein. All around him, his incubi bodyguard hacked their way through the press of enemy bodies, their fearsome punishers bathing the area in the harsh white light from their energised blades and their tormentor helms spitting streams of splinter fire at the enemy. Their matt black armour clicked as they moved, and the gold rims that denoted their Kabal were almost obscured from sight by the clotted blood and gore. Overhead, the shrieking of engines filled the air as reaver jet bikes and hellions duelled, their intense aerial ballet mesmerizing in its complexity, and every time a warrior miss-stepped, another ruptured corpse would fall broken to the ground. On the convoluted bridges volleys of splinter-fire whipped back and forth, both sides seeking to drive each other away and claim this stretch of street for their Kabal. On the ground level, things were much more intense as the combat troops slaughtered each other in the narrow alleyways. But, no matter how close the battle seemed, Khulan knew that the Black Heart would soon be victorious. He had only deigned to drag the fight out this long to make sure that all the enemy were fighting. Lord Vect had demanded a complete massacre of all the upstarts who had dared lay claim to this portion of the Black Heart's territory, and Khulan was only too happy to comply. Deciding that the enemy was not, in fact, concealing any hidden strengths at this stage, he raised his gauntlet to his face and flicked open the communicator on his wrist. Speaking in the guttural tongue that the Kabal used for secret transmissions, he said two words. Just two.

" Finish this"

Immediately, the battle took on a new and deadly phase. As one, all the Black Heart jet bikes spun in the air and raced off. The enemy Hellions started to give chase. Black darts fell from the air, spreading leathery wings and swinging around large cannons to bear on the sky-board riders. With a shriek, the scrouges opened fire. All of the Hellions were cut down within a few seconds by the splinter cannons and their battered corpses tumbled limply to the ground, spinning like leaves in the wind. On the walkways, all the Black Heart warriors put up their rifles and ran for it, retreating back inside the towers. Their opponents yelled in triumph and poured across the walkways in a living tide. It was to be their last mistake, ever. With a shrieking of engines, the raiders of the Cult of Pain fell on them. Leaping from the hovering raiders, the cult's wyches fell into the warriors and began to put their gladiatorial equipment to what they had been trained from birth to do, butchering. Blood rained from the sky, pouring in thick streams from the bridges and Khulan bathed in it, tasting the delicious souls that flowed down past him. In the streets, the incubi withdrew along with the rest of the Kabal and cleared the way for the re-enforcements. Like avatars of death, two Talos floated out from a side street and powered down the body-strewn lane towards the enemy. Each resembling giant metallic scorpions, the flying monstrosities crashed into the Dark elder and ripped them to bloody rags with scything claws and whipping tails, spraying blood in liberal quantities all across the street. Khulan clearly saw one of them gentle pick up an enemy warrior and brutally impale him on the spikes jutting from its hull. The poor fool would remain there for days, slowly having his life force leached from him by the daemonic construct. The nerve of the rest of the warriors broke and they fled down the street, their lithe forms easily outpacing the lumbering death machines. Seeing this, the incubi on Khulans left raised his weapon, sighting it on the back of one of the fleeing warriors. Khulan raised his hand and firmly pushed the barrel down. The incubi looked at him and, even behind the expressionless white mask, Khulan could see his confusion. In a voice like oil, Khulan explained. The incubi nodded and watched with a great deal of interest as the fleeing warriors reached an area hidden from the light globes and thus bathed in shadows. All forty or so warriors ran into the shadows and became the slightest hint of silhouettes. With a sudden flurry of movement, half a dozen extra shadows appeared and slashed at the warriors. All the Incubi could see was a shifting flurry of movement until a single warrior stepped back out of the shadows, his pale face drawn into a rictus of horror and pain. The tottering warrior advanced a few more steps before falling over, face down. Despite the distance between them, Khulan could clearly see the long, serrated blade protruding from his back. Then he saw the thing that had killed him. Pacing calmly out of the shadows, the six mandrakes seemed to drag the shadows with them. Most of them stopped at the limit of the shadows, but their leader, the one with the most severed skulls hanging from his belt, walked right up to Khulan and handed him a small piece of armour. Khulan took it in one clawed hand and examined it. He laughed, and even the mandrake blanched before the horrible sound. Looking at the mandrake, Khulan raised his free hand and lightly touched his brow, the closest a dark elder ever came to expressing respect.

" Congratulations. You and your brethren have the gratitude of the Black Heart, and also the pick of any loot."

The mandrake hissed softly in acknowledgment and walked away. Still chuckling quietly, Khulan turned and walked off, heading in the direction of the city centre, and his meeting with Lord Vect.