The Kriegsman stared off into the distance, white snow flurries stained red by the plastic lenses of his mask. Stamping snow off his boots, he shifted his gun into a more comfortable position. This far from the rest of the outposts, nothing ever bothered them. Inquisitor Rylas requisitioned ten of the Kriegsman assigned to defend Planet M77823. KK4046696 tilted his head, a soft buzz filling his ears. It vaguely reminded him of the hum of Eldar anti-gravity engines. Dismissing the thought, and any more of the xenos, KK4046696 shifted again, trying to will the unusual buzz from his ears. On the other side of the outpost's gate, KK404823 shouted something, and pointed into the distance.
KK4046696's head swiveled, and he could just barely make out four dark specs headed their way. Sprinting forwards towards the trench embedded in the snow, the Kriegsman dove into it, taking cover behind the high walls. The humming sound grew louder, punctuated by a series of sharp screams as the vehicles drew closer. KK404823 scrambled for the edge of the trench, his lasgun hastily readied. Before he could throw himself into the protective snow, a large, dark blue and black jetbike, festooned with spikes, drove beside him. The unfortunate Krieger staggered, a hand clutching a gash in his gut. The sharp sound of a Splinter Rifle followed, and he fell to the ground.
A hiss of stale, sterile air accompanied the opening of the base's door. Eight more of the 404th legion sprinted from the opening, headed to their emergency posts. Another ululating scream vibrated through KK4046696 and he slapped his hands to the sides of his helmet. More Splinter Rifles sounded across the desolate plain, followed by the few screams of the dead and dying. The Kriegsman dared a look above the edge of the snow embankment. All he could see were a few shots of lasfire, woefully short of hitting the flitting blue shapes. Humming grew louder in his ears, and KK4046696 turned to face the sound. His eyes grew wide; one of the black and blue jetbikes barreled towards him. He ducked beneath the sharp, bloodstained front, throwing his lasrifle to the side. Suddenly, his feet fell out from underneath him and something hard slammed into his side. Flailing around the barred cage, the Korpsman felt sick. The jetbike's rider howled and shouted, calling his companions in the strange, Eldar tongue.
Underneath each of the other three bikes, a similar cage to his held a Kriegsman. Once they realized that escape was not possible, they each gave up struggling. Wind whipped through the cold bars, cutting straight through KK4046696's jacket. Numb fingers flexed back and forth, vainly attempting to stave off the deathly chill with what little motion he could achieve. Warmth leeched from his body, drowsiness overcame him, and he closed his eyes.
The Emperor protects. The Emperor... protects...
Alloth Tyran waited in the docking bay with his ship's only Haemonculus. He sent out his warriors in search of some new souls to bring back to Commorragh, to Vorl-Xoelanth. The Haemonculus twitched restlessly, ever-impatient for her shipment of quivering, scared meat-flesh, borne by the weak bodies and minds of the Mon-Keigh. Sharp blades of the torturer's Scissorhand whisked through the air, sliding against each other with a soft whisper of metal. He knew the pickings of this raid were paltry at best, roped together from people not missed. That Inquisitor proved most malleable to the temptations of Slaanesh. The Shipmaster's crew fell behind his compatriots, and the eyes of his Archon were upon them. They could not return to Commorragh without proper tribute this time.
The Dark Eldar turned to the Haemonculus. Drool dripped silently from the vent-grille of her face mask, her eyes focused on some point in the far distance. Clearing his throat, he brought her attention back to the present. "You must leave at least three of the prisoners alive for delivery to the Dark City, X'ltan." Alloth Tyran's authorative tone brokered no argument, and the Haemonculus offered none, save another absent tangling of her weapon. He narrowed his eyes. Zhrysha's behaviour needed to be watched more carefully. Scytherunner required her to function for now, but with a sufficient harvest of souls?
A secondary hum, lighter and faster than that of the ship's engines, penetrated the hangar. The Shipmaster broke from his thoughts, returning his attention to the task at hand. Four jetbikes slid through the open hatchway, cages full of squirming whelps. Snow sloughed from the uniforms of the captured soldiers, melting into dirty grey water. An Aquila stood proudly on their helmets, and what skin he could see looked sickly pale. Alloth knew nothing of where they came from, or who they were, and he did not care. Curled up, shivering in the jetbike's cages, they posed no threat to him or the Kabal of the Dying Sun. What could the short-lived humans do to them, the Eldar?
M'kai, leader of Tyran's jetbike squad, hopped from the back of his vehicle. Blood splattered the front of his carapace-armour, freeze-dried by the sub-zero temperatures outside. Peeling off his helmet, M'kai stared at the Shipmaster for a long moment. The jetbiker gestured to the live cargo, his voice carefully neutral. "We've brought them to you, Tyran." Silence nearly echoed through the hangar, broken only by the futile struggling of the flesh-sacks in their pens.
After a long time, Alloth Tyran replied, "So I see, M'kai. Next time, bring me more." The Shipmaster, satisfied that some slaves had been taken, turned on his heel and exited the room. The sharp clack of his heels on the metal floors resounded in their ears, reminding them all who held their future.
As the jetbikers dismounted, the Haemonculus tapped her weapons together, contemplating which of the mewling sacks of flesh she should sculpt first. She planned to perfect their larval and incomplete forms with poison and blade. They thought they knew so much of their worlds.
Walking to each of the entrapped Mon-Keigh, Zhrysha X'ltan tapped them with her Mindphase gauntlet. Their will leaked away, leaving them limp and listless. Inhaling deeply, the Dark Eldar could faintly small fear and some strange, synthetic smell. Pushing the thoughts to the side, she ordered the jetbikers to throw the prisoners into the Pens until she decided what to do with them.
The playthings of that rotting human 'god' held a special appeal. Their bodies were frail things, so easily carved into whatever aesthetic the Haemonculus chose. Their spirits, however, held on much longer than those of most other species. They cried and moaned, begged for deliverance from X'ltan's perverted attentions, day after day, week after week. It entertained her to no end. Perhaps this time, she would choose something different. Something new and unusual.
A stench like rotting meat assailed KK4046696's nose, burning a path straight into his brain. Snapping from his cold-induced sleep, the Kriegsman cast a wary eye around his surroundings. What light there was cast barely enough of a glow for him to see his own hands. Outside, he could just barely see the walkway that lead to each of the other cages. Dark stains littered the ground, painting an omninous portrait of those who had walked these halls before him.
Leaning back against the wall of his cell, the Korpsman inhaled deeply. Even stronger than before, that rotting scent seeped through his mask, curling around in his head until he felt nauseated. Since it broke on the journey anyway, KK4046696 pulled off his helmet and unlatched the straps holding his mask in place. Another waft of the smell hit him again, and he nearly retched.
Off in a darker corner of his cell, something moved. A crisp, crackling sound accompanied it, and the thing drew itself over the floor by its hands. Wet, skinless flesh left weeping streaks of fluid on the floor. KK4046696 jumped to his feet, ready to try and kill the thing if it attacked him. As it drew itself further into the dim light, he noticed something. A uniform clung stubbornly to the thing's shattered-looking back. The monstrosity raised its head and looked at the Korpsman, rasping in a voice part gutteral, liquid burbling, and part rasp, "Who?"
What had once been a Cadian, a proud defender of the Emperor's people, lay on the floor, wasted and broken. Bile rose in the Kriegsman's throat. One half of the man's face had been torn away, leaving him with dirty yellow bone bared to the air. All manner of pumps and filters surged through that half of his skull, refusing to let the flesh die, refusing to let him die. Both his eyesockets were empty, blinding him. The optic nerve on the right half of his face had been carefully preserved, then nailed to his face in a symbol KK4046696 did not understand.
Once more, the Cadian asked who'd been thrown into his cell, and finally the Kriegsman answered. "Krieger Korpsman, Legion Four Hundred Four, Trooper Six Thousand Ninety-Six. Lieutenant." Weakly, the Cadian struggled into a sitting position. His skin hung loose on his body, and it seemed to crackle and crunch as he moved. Watching him made the Krieger sick, so he looked just over him, trying to ignore the foetid smell wafting from his wounds.
"Private Jasun Talk. 714th Mechanized Infantry." The words wheezing from his mouth seemed to drip between what lips he had left. Talk's raspy breath turned liquid, and he turned to cough up a black substance. Splattering against the ground, it wriggled back and forth for a moment before sliding off. Adrenalin pumped through the Korpsman before he realized that whatever it was wouldn't be coming back. "If you can still," the private paused to cough again, "Move around like that, then she must not have taken you yet."
"The Lady. I saw her, but only once. Beware her Garden." Jasun Talk let out a wet, half-mad laugh. "The Emperor protects. But there is no escape. You'll be here for the rest of your life." Chuckling to himself again, the Cadian slithered back into his corner of the cell, mumbling to himself, and occasionally to the Krieger. For his part, KK4046696 did his best to ignore the madman.
Slumping into his corner of the cell, the Korpsman gritted his teeth. Thinking back to the "battle" that landed him here, he wondered where the Inquisitor had been. Inquisitor Rylas specially requested the guards of that outpost, but never even took to the field of battle. Whenever the Inquisitor even so much as heard of xenos, he turned violent. It puzzled the Krieger, but he chose not to question it. The Inquisition protected humanity even more than the Guard did; he had no grounds to judge them.
Closing his eyes, he did his best to block out the meat-smell of the dying Cadian and forced himself into sleep. A sharp, scraping noise shattered the doze he'd managed. Opening a single eye, he saw a black shape flit past his cell, towards something off to his right. A strangled screetch reverberated up through the hallway. It stopped as abrubtly as it started, and whatever the shape was vanished up through the hatch before he could get a good look at it, shutting off what brief light they had.
Over in his corner of the cell, Private Talk remained eerily silent. The quivering, broken frame of a man dragged himself back into the dimmer light, peering outside of their cell warily. Black, drug-sluggish blood pulsed through the skinless hands faster than before. "The Lady's Shadow. She is coming for us again." Watching the Cadian slither back into his hole, the Krieger went to sleep once more.
Bright light scythed down from above, stabbing through KK4046696's eyelids. Opening them groggily, he stood up to see what opened it. A black-skinned creature crawled down through the portan in the ceiling. This time, it moved much slower than before, and he got a better look at it. She -for it most definitely had feminine features- sniffed at the bars of each of the cells, peering into each. At last, the not-quite Dark Eldar planted itself in front of the Krieger's cage. He blinked once, and it vanished. Stepping forward, he wondered if it had simply been something he imagined.
Jasun laughed, a high, burbling sound. An arm wrapped around KK4046696's chest and a hand closed around his throat. Panic whipped through him, and he flailed at the fingers holding his throat closed. The creature holding him stepped backwards, dragging him along. Cold, even fiercer than the cold of the planet below dug icy claws into his body, robbing what little breath he had left. Darkness slammed over his vision as he flailed against the black-skinned monstrosity at his back.
Sitting in her Garden, the Haemonculus looked over her newest work. She sliced away the soft, imperfect curves of the Guardsman those cretins brought her. Pinned to the wall by various spikes, his flesh glistened and quivered. Long, bone-deep splits rent apart the flesh of his arms and legs, muscles and skin held apart by wires, stretched to obscene lengths. In a fit of fancy, Zhrysha had cut the meat-thing's torso in half, discarding the front and all its bones. The exposed organs pulsed in the bright lights of the Garden, hammering away around the needles and syringes entombed in the perfected body. His throat opened in a diamond shape and liquid occasionally frothed out of it. No longer capable of screaming, he simply gurgled and whistled, writhing in mute, musical agony.
A chill spread over her body as X'ltan's pet Mandrake emerged from her shadow. She bent the creature to her will thousands of years ago and Lesaka still followed her every whim. Without turning from her newest creation, the Haemonculus gestured toward the table. Whatever struggling fly the Mandrake chose ended up strapped down to Zhrysha's favorite sculpting table. Panic radiated from the synthesized man.
Once she discovered what prisoners were brought aboard, the Haemonculus initially paid them no mind. Only after inspecting the first of her new clays did she realize precisely what they were. For a long, long time she watched the Mon-Keigh crawl their way between the stars, oozing from their homeworld. They proved a plague upon her people, as well as their own. And now they struggled uselessly, a dying empire gasping for breath, predators on all sides waiting for the final, throat-wrenching bite. Out of all the armies of the bloated human "Imperium", some proved fascinating. Cadians, nearly always subtly tainted by Warp exposure. Elysians with their childish, ponderous airborne combat. Kriegsmen, synthetic beings designed to satisfy their war machine's hunger for flesh and blood. They all bled the same. Underneath their varigated skins, their bodies followed the same rules. Rules she broke and re-made, rules she profaned.
And now she had a new base to work her art.