The Princess of Commorragh
A humorous look at life in Commorragh through the eyes of Reri Hesperax, daughter of Lelith Hesperax.
“...and in other news: The Flayer Queen has put forth a personal challenge to Lord Auvryl, Archon of the Kabal of the Third Abyss, after overhearing his comments about her wyches’ performance. Lord Auvryl is alleged to have stated, ‘I’ve seen Orks that were more graceful than these pathetic excuses of flesh.’ The number of open conflicts between the Third Abyss and the Cult of the First Blood is already on the rise, so make sure to stop by their arenas on your way back from those realspace raids. At the third scream, the time will be…”
Reri’s hand batted at the Vox Alarm Clock as the warble of some poor soul being flayed alive broke the silence of her bedroom. It was early, too damn early, but that was simply part of the price one paid when one was the daughter of a Succubus. A typical day for Reri never seemed to truly start until her mother had inflicted some fresh wound upon her, physically or otherwise, and the longer she took getting ready, the more vicious her mother would be.
Yawning, the Dark Eldar slid from her bed and strode past the wall-sized windows that afforded her a view of High Commorragh’s splendor. Having lived among the tops of the blackened spires for close to a quarter of a century, the baroque beauty of it all barely even fazed Reri these days. She quickly strolled into her bathroom for a quick shower before donning her usual outfit, ignoring the impressive blood fountains produced by the Scourge’s morning feast all the while. An assemblage of gold-trimmed, segmented plates fused with a tight bodysuit, her Wychsuit was but one of the many tools that would keep her alive to see another day. The form-fitting attire was lightweight and allowed her a full range of motion, though it sacrificed several degrees of protection to accommodate such. Still, it was the mantra of wyches to avoid projectiles and blows, doubly so for the Trueborn child of the head of the Cult of Strife.
Hesperax: the family name of the deadliest gladiator ever to grace the arenas with her presence. The popularly-known “Queen of Commorragh” had always been the subject of much speculation and rumors due to her incredible skill, especially given that she never relied upon drugs in combat. Many believed Lelith to be the product of some Haemonculus or Daemonic experiment, and her child, Reri, doubly so. Though it was true that Lelith rarely graced others with her presence, save for the occasional realspace raid, the Succubus had somehow managed to conceal her pregnancy for the several years of gestation commonplace among Dark Eldar. It was as if, in one moment, a part of Lelith had budded off and gained sentience. A terrifying thought to many, but one that furthered the Queen’s legend nonetheless.
None could say who the father was, least of all Reri herself. It had simply been hammered into her during her education that she did not have one. Lelith never once let her daughter think of herself as one of the more common “tube-born,” however. After all, it was rather hard to think anything else when the elder Dark Eldar constantly complained about how slow carrying Reri had made her. In reality, the Queen’s already legendary speed had increased as a result of living and training with an increase of body weight for years.
In the end, all that mattered to Reri was the fact her blood warranted her the title of “Princess.” It was far from an endearing or respectful label, however, mainly hurled as an insult or challenge by those who had the courage. Which, much to her dismay, were plenty in number, least of all from within the Cult of Strife itself. All that she did was constantly picked apart and compared to her mother in hopes of finding a way of dethroning the Queen. Though life in Commorragh was itself a collection of scheming plots and webs of lies, the constant feeling of being in Lelith’s shadow was a staple that weighed heavily upon the back of Reri’s mind.
One day, she would have to succeed her mother, or perhaps lay claim to her own throne.
But first, she had to have breakfast.
Flowing from shadow to shadow, Reri left the relative safety of her room and crept down the corridor towards the kitchen. Lelith had taken to hiding small traps throughout the household as of late, though there had always been an unspoken rule that hallways, bedrooms, and bathrooms were “safe.” Designed to keep her daughter’s awareness at its peak, they were a practical means to ensure Reri would never find herself ambushed and slain by would-be assassins.
Nothing so far… and the archway looks clear, Reri thought to herself, staring at the kitchen’s entrance with an appraising eye. She had the overwhelming sense of being watched, and she knew full well that she was walking into an ambush. True, she could easily steal out of a side passageway and have a meal elsewhere, but that would invite some form of reprisal from her mother later. No, it was best to get it over with.
The second she stepped through the arch, the telltale whistle of a dagger met her sensitive ears. Already in motion, she flowed out of the weapon’s path along her abdomen with a careful sidestep. Another dagger, this time aimed at her head. Dropping low, two more flung at her knees. All said and done, six deadly knives embedded themselves in the walls about Reri as she ended her graceful ballet with a flourish.
That was her first mistake of the day.
“How many times have I told you…” came a velvety purr from right behind Reri. Before she could even process the words, the girl found herself in a tight headlock. “...that you should not be trying to show off to one far beyond you? Are you truly so vain that you think a simple twist of the hand will garner you favor in the arena?”
“Love… Love you too… Mom…” Reri spat as she pried in vain at her mother’s arm about her neck.
A chuckle slipped into her ear. “Now, repeat Rule #23 before you collapse from lack of oxygen.”
The chokehold increased, leaving Reri fighting to get the words from her throat. “E-Every movement should… be deliberate…”
“That’s my girl.”
In the time it took to blink, Reri found herself falling forwards as her mother’s hold upon her evaporated. Barely catching herself in time, the young Dark Eldar glared at the Succubi who was now opposite her in the kitchen. Acting as if nothing was amiss, Lelith hummed as she began to work the stove.
“How would you like your eggs, dear?” she inquired, voice thickly laden with a false sweetness one usually reserved for pets and small children.
“Soaked in your blood,” mumbled Reri under her breath as she rubbed her neck.
“I thought so. Set the table, would you?”
Making as much noise as she could, Reri grumpily prepared the ornate slab that took up a majority of the dining room adjacent to the kitchen. Beyond the voluptuous table lay a balcony adorned by flying buttresses. Not only did the platform offer its occupants an overlook of the arenas managed by the Cult of Strife, but, if one listened hard enough, they might even be able to hear the delectable cries of agony below. It was the sort of luxury afforded to only the most elite of Commorragh, but one Reri loathed all the same. Mostly due to the fact she seemed to be thrown off of it into the pits below every other day.
Still, there was one bright side to all this: her mother’s cooking. Somehow, in-between all the rigorous training Lelith did, she had honed her blade in proper food craft as well. The smell alone was enough to cause Reri’s mouth to water in anticipation.
“Hurry up, you old cow. Sometimes I wonder if you just enjoy watching me suffer,” she whined, only half-serious.
“Oh dear, you’ve found me out. Whatever shall I do…” came Lelith’s reply, as she strode into the room with two plates overburdened with food. “Eat up. I’m expecting a Scourge with your name on it shortly.”
Reri wasted no time in digging into the culinary work of art placed in front of her. Normally, she might check it for poison, but her mother never applied such when there was a job to do. Technically, Reri was not an official part of the Cult of Strife. Nor was she Lelith’s aide. Reri was a mercenary, one often used by her mother when she could not entrust a task to anyone else. It allowed the Queen to remain detached from the political machinations of the Dark City, all while being right in the middle of it.
Dabbing her face, the young Dark Eldar eyed her elder counterpart with curiosity. “I was supposed to meet up with Lord Vincus of the Shadow Eclipse today. Something about his Kabal’s beasts getting loose in the Old City. I take it this more important than some slaves being eviscerated and their masters complaining?”
Lelith chuckled as she picked her teeth clean. “Indeed. Far more. This comes as a personal favor from Vect himself.”
That got Reri’s full attention, albeit with a sigh. “Don’t tell me it’s another one of those packages of his. I still haven’t gotten all of the greenskin’s blood from my other set of armor.”
“Oh, but you loved every minute of those Orks falling around you. You might be young, but I know even you had to delight in that level of raw combat and pain.”
“Hmph. Still doesn’t make it any easier to clean. And besides, *some* of us don’t need to splurge on agony to keep ourselves looking good.”
“Remind me to have some bloodbrides pay you a visit later. Oh, but here’s your bird…”
Both women watched as a twisted, winged figure alighted on the balcony. At Lelith’s beckoning, the Scourge let himself into the dining room to stand before the pair.
“I bring word from Supreme Overlord Vect. For Hesperax’s eyes only.”
Lelith held out her hand expectantly, in which the Scourge deposited a wax-sealed missive. “Commorragh is better for your service. Take your pick of four slaves working on the exterior as a bonus for your efforts.”
“My Lady humbles me, I shall take my leave.” He bowed, then took off without wasting any further time. As Lelith began to unseal the message, both Dark Eldars’ sharp ears picked up the distant cries of alarm that indicated the Scourge had made his selection.
“Mrmm… Another package indeed. This time a Haemonculus whose name I do not recognize. Here.”
Reri caught the letter thrown at her like a dagger, then glanced at the single line upon it: “HAEMONCULUS BRYTH: 1”
“He’s never very specific, is he?”
Her mother shrugged as she made to clean up their dishes. “That’s Vect for you. Now run along before I decide to really send those bloodbrides at you.”
“Remind me to get you a mother-of-the-year award later.”
“Moving on to item number twelve, we have an orphan from a recent raid on Piolea…”
A small child, perhaps twelve years by Mon’keigh standards, was prodded onto the small, raised dais. Surrounded by a throng of eager-looking Parched on all sides, he quickly erupted into tears.
“No! Leave me alone! I want Mommy! I want Mommy!”
“As you can see, the mon’keigh’s anguish is simply delectable. Perfect for your personal use or even as a gift. We shall start the bidding at…”
Where is he… wondered Reri as she scanned the crowd of her decrepit kin. For a nightmarish surgeon of the damned, Haemonculus Bryth was proving hard to nail down. Reri’s information web had brought her here, to this auction of realspace raid goods, where Bryth was known to lurk. That fact alone was already setting off alarms in her head. Any self-respecting haemonculi rarely left their laboratories within The Core, much less performed the menial task of slave-fodder gathering themselves. It reeked of a new Lord of Pain trying to establish a foothold, of one that was growing desperate, or perhaps of both. None of the cases helped explain why Vect was interested in this individual. Or, for that matter, what Bryth might have that Vect wanted.
Though, that was the nature of Vect’s tasks, Reri supposed. In each instance, she had been given a name and the number of items she was expected to collect from them. In some cases, the owner had already been informed of Vect’s interest and a deal struck behind the scenes. Those were the simple milk-runs, a glorified delivery service that, for some reason lost on Reri, could not be trusted to Scourge or countless other qualified individuals. Boring, but relatively safe. The real excitement came when her quarry made an effort to conceal the prize, or, at least, made the trip down into the festering cesspool that was the Lower City worth the effort.
Lately, however, someone or something had gotten wind of Vect’s machinations. The Princess was used to being constantly tailed, but there was something far more sinister lurking in her shadows as of late. Mercenaries from the Null City, gangs of Hellions, and Incubi, to name a few. It all pointed to a plot much larger than herself, and made her current task all the more worrisome.
“Do I hear fifty? Fifty? Ladies and Gentleman, this child is from a nobleborn home, perfect for corruption and… Fifty from the man in blue. Do I hear sixty?”
There, hovering at the edge of the crowd. He’s alone. No Wrack bodyguards.
“Sixty going once… going twice… A splinter pistol aimed at my head from the woman in green. Do I hear a shardcarbine? ...A shardcarbine from the man in blue.”
“I WANT MY MOMMY!”
As the assemblage of wretches began to whip themselves into a hellacious standoff, Reri slipped from her vantage point and up behind the Haemonculi. Before he could react, she had planted a blade across his throat and against his back.
“Scream, and you will be the first food these pathetic excuses of flesh will taste. Do you understand?”
A nod. Good. That made things easier. Still, she had to act fast, before the crowd’s tension broke and a blood orgy erupted.
“You have something that you should have never had in the first place. You’re going to take me to it. Now.”
The man’s head twisted, just enough to allow him to see who his abductor was. He smiled. “How adorrrable, it’s The Prrrrincess. Which means you’rrre after that...”
A flash, followed by a ripple of reactionary gunfire. Reflexively, Reri pulled the haemonculi out of harm’s way. The man’s sparse frame offered little resistance, but she still had to wrestle to keep him from escaping.
“My patience runs thin, and your time short. Where is it?”
“You arrrrre too late, Prrrrincess… I’ve alrrrready sold it to someone…” His chuckle was cut short as the wych-blade began to slice into his neck.
“Who? Answer quickly. I give you about twenty seconds before you’re unable to speak, and another ten beyond that before the Parched start to tear you apart.”
The dagger went deeper in response. “Who?”
“Some Mon’keigh, paid in Arrrcheotech…”
“Hmph. So you were just desperate, then. Pathetic. You don’t deserve the privilege of calling yourself Eldarith Ynneas.”
Twirling on her heels, Reri strode away from the cacophony of battle. Bryth’s head fell from his neck a moment later, much to the delight of the nearest Parched. Such self-contained riots were commonplace around auction-sites, and were the perfect means of disposing a body in a way that prevented any competent haemonculi from reviving them. After all, it was rather hard to piece back together a soul, much less a body, when it was torn apart and consumed by scores of desperately hungry bottom-feeders.
A Mon’keigh, huh? Maybe today won’t be boring after all…
Authors Note: I'm sure there are errors and drastic style changes from the last sections. Feel free to correct/add content.
Sister Ellyn was not having a good day.
She could tolerate being assigned to an eccentric Rogue Trader in the hopes that she could keep him in line. She could tolerate said Rogue Trader making passes at her every ten minutes while ignoring any advice given to him. She could tolerate negotiating with fringe worlds and even the occasional xenos when it meant the Imperium of Man benefited. What she couldn’t handle, however, was wading through a thick, green mist in the blood-soaked dregs of a xenos city far from the warmth of the Emperor’s light.
“Mr. Rolf, are you quite sure we were to meet our contact here?” The arrogant and haughty voice of Captain Mabuse made the party of four easy to pinpoint, much to Ellyn’s chagrin.
“Indeed Captain. Unless of course our lovely Sister misheard the man. Maybe that’s why she got assigned outside of the Dia…”
“Shove it Rolf,” she snapped, drawing her cloak tighter around her. “It’s more likely the knife-eared bastard decided to just ignore our agreement. This is what you get for trusting a xenos. But noooooo. No one ever listens to…”
“She really needs to relax, don’t you think Mr. Rolf?”
“Maybe we should get her a beau while we’re here. She’s probably into half the messed up crap they do here. I mean, she is a Sister after all. Sexually repressed and all that.”
“What an excellent idea Stevens! Mr. Rolf! Note that down! Before we leave the webway, we are getting Ellyn here a new companion.”
It was all Ellyn could do to keep her voice level. “If we ever make it back to realspace, I’m taking the next shuttle out. I don’t even care if it’s going to Dusk. I’m done. I’m so done.”
The three men had a laugh at her expense as they continued walking, further drawing attention to themselves. It was a miracle that they had yet to be attacked or even approached by how badly they stood out, something that was beginning to set off alarms in Ellyn’s head. She did not know much about the Dark Eldar’s home, but she knew that humans should not be having this jovial of a time walking around. As if to drive her worries home, they finally came to a dead end bordering upon a diseased river. They had gotten lost.
“Well, that certainly doesn’t look like it’s fun to swim in. Anyone see a bridge or sorts?”
“Nothing Captain. But uh, it looks like we have some problems to the rear.”
Ellyn followed Stevens’ pointing to see a group of wiry, lecherous xenos blocking the path behind them. At first she wasn’t overly concerned - it was only three of them. Then a horn sounded and suddenly Parched were swarming towards them.
“Mr. Rolf! I expect you to get us out of this without staining my coat.”
“That… might be problematic Sir.”
A high pitched whine caught Ellyn’s attention as the rest of her group fired wildly into the oncoming maw. Turning, she saw a flat anti-grav barge working its way down the river towards them. On it, a single cloaked figure stood waving to them. It wasn’t much of an escape plan, and it reeked of a trap, but it would have to do. Moments later, the party fell to the deck of the barge as they sped away from a throng of angry Parched on the shore.
“Well done Mr. Rolf! Not a single scra… THERE IS A DROP OF BLOOD ON MY FURS.”
“Oh boy… here we go…”
As the Captain whirled himself into a fury, Ellyn tried to curl up into a ball and wish herself from existence. To her surprise, the stranger spoke.
“Give him pointed ears and he’d be prissy enough to pass for an Archon.” The voice was female, the language one of the Eldar. “Seriously, it’s a little blood. What did he expect coming to Commorragh? It basically rains the stuff here.”
Raising her head to eye the barge attendant, Ellyn muttered a reply in an attempt to be diplomatic. “You’re lucky you’re not stuck living on his ship. Thanks for saving us, I guess.”
“Hmmm. I’d say you’re more lucky in the fact I needed something from you.”
As Ellyn started at the hood masking the Dark Eldar’s face in worry, Stevens called over to her. “Hey Sister, what’s the xenos saying? Can you get us passage to somewhere with a ticket out of here?”
She decided to lie for the time being. “She’s babbling about how tasty the water here is. I’ll uh.. try though.” Returning to the foreign language, “What do you mean? Obviously, you don’t want us dead, but I won’t be some twisted slave of yours. I’ve been here long enough…”
“Shhh.” The hood tilted for a moment, then straightened. “I just want information. Then you can go. You transported something for one Bryth. Ring a bell?”
Given their current circumstances, Ellyn saw no reason to resist the line of questioning. “Yeah, a blue cube thing. An… acquaintance of the Captain’s wanted it. And like I warned him, the moment we handed it over we got stranded here in your awful city.”
“That tends to happen here. You mon’keighs are far too trusting sometimes. But I am in a good mood today. Tell me who this acquaintance was and I’ll drop you off at Sec Maegra. You should be able to find your way back to realspace from there.”
That was good enough for Ellyn, even if it turned out to be an empty promise down the line. “T’sal. I think.”
“Hrm… Poisoned Tongue then. Well that’s interesting.” A pause, then the woman added, “You know what, for being so helpful, I’ll send word to a friend of mine. You’ll probably have to wring his arm to get him to give up transport, but he will give you specifically something to relax.”
“I don’t want your vile drugs.”
“Oh no, you misunderstand. He’s a mon’keigh just like you. That’s how I tracked you all down in the first place. He follows all the reports of loud-mouthed apes running around the city. Besides, I’d thought you’d want something for those cramps.”
Ellyn scowled. “How did you know?”
The woman laughed. “You’re more pungent than the river is at the moment.”
“NO I WILL NOT GET A NEW COAT. YOU WILL CLEAN THIS ONE UNTIL…”
“We could say the same of you.”
It took another hour before Reri could rid herself of the Mon’keighs and return to her jetbike. True to her word, she sent a quick vox to Hobert telling him he had guests coming his way before launching herself into the air. As fate would have it, the Poisoned Tongue’s base of operations was not too far from where she was in the Bone Middens. The tricky part would be getting to T’sal though. She was not an Archon of great standing, but would be sure to have a least a few guards around her at all times. Unless…
“So let me get this straight, the Queen of Commorragh sent her daughter, the Princess, to personally ask if I’d like to be a part of her next realspace raid?”
T’sal’s eyes narrowed as she set her cup back down onto its platter. “You’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical. Neither I, nor my kabal, has done anything worthy of notice.”
Reri shrugged in return. “That’s precisely why she chose you. If you do well, you’ll make a name for yourself and owe her favor. If you fail, then another kabal turns to dust. Either suits her needs.”
The Archon considered this for awhile, giving Reri time to take in her surroundings. After gaining an audience with T’sal, Reri was taken to a parlor room not unlike the one of her own home. Two armored Sybarites stood guard at the door watching her every move, but she could easily deal with them should she need to. The key was in snatching up the blue, crystalline cube that stood on a pedestal behind T’sal.
“When does she want us?”
“In two day’s time. You can be ready by then surely?”
“Of course. Now if that’s all, I have other matters to attend to…” T’sal rose, as did Reri. Just as the Archon turned to leave, the latter spoke.
“By the way, where did you get that cube? It’s a lovely piece of ar…”
On cue, the Sybarites lunged at Reri from behind. Dropping low, she swung her hair and easily severed their necks with the barbed hooks concealed within. Alarms began to resonate throughout the compound as T’sal screamed into a comms device. Energy bursts charred the spot where Reri was but moments ago as she lunged at the Archon. A blurred dance of daggers followed, finally ending with an uppercut that sliced T’sal’s torso clean open.
As the Archon slumped to the floor, the corners of Reri’s mouth twisted in a perverse glee. She removed a dazzling gem from a concealed pocket of her armor, causing T’sal’s eyes to widen in horror.
“You wouldn’t…!” the dying woman screeched, only for her cries to be cut short as the stone was shoved into her mouth.
“Oh, but I would. You’re going to be a lovely little bonus for my employer. And, knowing him, you’re going to be spending the rest of eternity in agony. Isn’t that simply delightful?”
Blood coated Reri as she plunged her blade into the woman’s chest. After plucking the now-filled soulstone from the departed Archon’s mouth, she stood and turned to face the Kabalites in the doorway who had arrived far too late to save their mistress.
“You have two options: Either you recognize that all that was once hers is now mine, or you will share her fate. Choose quickly.”
Helms swiveled as the group looked at one another. A moment later, those assembled bowed their heads and departed. Only one remained: a figure a head smaller than the rest, but one whose armor immediately identified them as Dracon.
“We are yours, Princ… Mistress. What would you have us do?”
Reri walked over to the cube, plucked it up, then waved for the man to follow her. “I care not for the politics that come with managing a Kabal. You shall report to Dracite Ksani of the Cult of Strife. She can handle the integration and whatever else comes of this.”
She paused as a thought crossed her mind, then added, “You will also tell her that The Princess of Commorragh sent you.”
Confusion was evident in the Dracon’s body language, despite the bodysuit which adorned his form. “As you wish.”
With that the conversation, and Reri’s task, was over. All that remained was to return to Vect and claim her reward. That, and a long bath, she thought to herself.
Supreme Overlord Vect watched as the young Wych’s jetbike faded from view. She had been rather prompt her in delivery, and had even gifted him the delight of a trapped soul to torment. A fine tool, one that he would continue to use.
Rising from his throne, he left his viewing room to pour over the contents of the cube which he had been brought. As he passed through an archway, a voice stopped him.
“Do you think she knows?”
Vect smiled. “Not a clue. Though she’s brought me something interesting.”
A laugh. “She is my daughter, after all. Now, where is it?”
The Archon flung the small, leather-bound novel into the shadows where he knew Lelith was waiting.
“The last existing copy. As promised. The author has been maimed beyond recovery and all other traces of it scorched from existence. Though, I would have thought…”
A dagger sailed by Vect’s head, just far enough off the mark to make the Queen’s mood perfectly clear. “I may enjoy giving a show, and even tolerate pict-recordings of them, but this is the sort of thing I cannot allow to exist.”
“You never cease to amaze.”
“And you need to be more careful if that cube contains what I think it does. You know Malys will be furious.”
“Let me worry about that. I shall let you know if and when you are required again.”
“I’ll see you in a week then.”
With that Vect was alone. It was not long before he reached his private study and was sealed inside. Only two rooms in Commorragh could rival the amount of artifacts and other such trophies contained within, and the gap would only be increased by the cube’s contents. Walking over to a rather impressive diorama of the Siege of Commorragh, Vect tapped the sides of the cube causing it to spring open. Almost immediately, a mechanical recording began playing.
++THE EMPEROR AND LOCAL MECHANICUS SMILES UPON YOUR WISE PURCHASE. THIS BATTLE BARGE IS LOVINGLY CRAFTED…++
Vect removed the tiny metal ship from its bindings and tossed the rest of the talking package away. Affixing it to the location where he distinctly remembered seeing it during the Siege, he stood back from his work and smiled.
“Wonderful. It’s finally complete. Now then…”
After settling himself down in a nearby chair, he produced the soulstone containing the late Archon T’Sal. “Before we begin, did you know my story dates back to the twelfth...”
Mid-way through her bubble bath, spires away, Reri could have sworn she heard a scream.