Battle of Refusal
|Outcome||Dark Eldar victory, Haemonculus betrayal of Yctria Ghularis|
|Unknown|| Succubus Yctria Ghularis|
Haemonculi Croniarch Sekh
| Cadian Shock Troopers
| Cult of the Red Grief|
Prophets of Flesh
|Annihilated||Most Redgrief Bloodbrides|
The events began when the Cult of the Red Grief under Yctria Ghularis wished to spearhead a realspace event, one of such unbridled violence that it surpassed even those launched by Lelith Hesperax herself. Yctria had identified a location perfect for her purposes – Refusal, a fortress world that had been reinforced by Humanity’s footsoldiers as a defence against Craftworld Saim-Hann. Though they knew it not, the Imperial Guard's Warp translation had dislocated them in time, for Saim-Hann had long ago taken what they wanted from the planet. The witless buffoons of Cadia had stood vigil for months, waiting with bovine patience for a foe already long gone. Yctria planned to give them the war they so richly desired, and in great measure. If they obtained not only the allegiance of the Prophets of Flesh but also the rare elixir rumored to be in Haemonculi Croniarch Sekh’s possession, the Wych Cult’s exhibitionist slaughter would be memorable indeed. Yctria would ensure the Coven received the lion’s share of the spoils, including – at this point the Succubus smiled radiantly – several platoons of Ogryn abhumans; the perfect raw material for forging new flesh-terrors. Sekh’s fellow Haemonculus, the scarecrow-thin Quvelich, recoiled imperceptibly at Yctria’s presumption. It was a serious breach of etiquette to tell the Covens of their own business, let alone to dictate terms of employ. Croniarch himself merely smiled, sketching a slight bow as he agreed to take part in Yctria's proposed realspace raid. He had indeed perfected the Elixir Barghesi, a vintage so rare and so original that not even Asdrubael Vect himself possessed a sample. What good was the creation of such a marvel, mused Sekh aloud, without a chance to try it out?
Before the night was out, a magnificent fleet left the Port of Infinite Sorrow. Shark-like and graceful, its vessels glided out of the Dark City and passed through the star portals beyond. Their departure was broadcast into a million waking dreams as a titillating hint of the carnage to come. In the command boudoir of her flagship, Yctria examined her prize; a sharp crystal sliver imbued with a single drop of the priceless elixir she had sought. She had already switched the shard she had received from the Haemonculi with that of her second-in-command, the Succubus Idyliane, just in case. The youthful pretender to Yctria's throne was getting too popular for her own good, and if the arena queen's instincts had been correct, Sekh's mask of politeness hid a poisonous bite. To her mind, the flesh-sculptors had agreed rather too readily to her proposal. Only an ingenue trusted a Haemonculus, and she was far too cunning to be caught in their webs of deceit. The midwinter sun glinted feebly from the metal-skinned fortress world of Refusal, failing entirely to warm the Cadians that manned every rampart and bastion. Breath frosted as the Imperial Guard troopers stared impassively at the skyline. They were expecting to face Eldar, a race said to be able to appear out of nowhere. Where such a notion would seem terrifying to an untrained citizen of the Imperium, it was nothing new to warriors such as these, for every Cadian spends his youth training on the Chaos-haunted threshold of the Eye of Terror.
The Cadians had spent months of inactivity in the constant, gnawing cold. By now, even the ice troopers of Valhalla would have let their guard slip a little, whiling away the hours with conversation and perhaps a little gambling for contraband lho-sticks. Not so the garrison of Refusal. It was a credit to the Cadian mindset that their response to the Dark Eldar invasion took less than three seconds to begin. Wreathed in shadow, dozens of Raiders hurtled out of nowhere towards the Cadian emplacements that perched upon the shoulders of the mountainous metal fortress. As soon as the first silhouette of a Raider flitted over the silvered landscape, war klaxons were sounded and distant artillery thumped large-bore shells high into the skies. The Cadians manning the fortresses shouldered their lasguns with professional calm, taking shots at the skeletal skimmers arrowing towards them even as the artillery shells ploughed down to detonate amongst them. Each craft attracted a storm of missiles and lascannon beams as the Guardsmen cannily aimed ahead of the darting transports – their orders were to land a hit where the targets would be, rather than where they were. And still their shots had no effect. Cadian brows furrowed under regulation helmets as krak missile and laser alike passed right through the shimmering transports. The Haemonculi, knowing that the dull ranks of Humanity had never mastered flight, had set their apparent attack to skim tight to the steel plains. The Cadians, whose limited imaginations had subconsciously assumed a horizontal vector of invasion, had emerged from the gargoyle-crusted crenulations of the fortress to level a hurricane of firepower at the incoming craft. Only once the armada of skimmers came close did the deception become clear. The attack was nothing more than an illusion, a shadow mirage bought from Commorragh’s Aelindrachi allies at a high price in royal souls.
The illusory invasion broke across the Cadian defences like smoke, dispersed into tenebrous tendrils, and faded into shadowy nothingness. Then the skies above screamed like an open mouth, and the true Covenite attack began. A cluster of black-hulled craft were suddenly carving downwards like knives hurled from the clouds. Platoons of soldiers reformed with parade ground efficiency, squinting into the midday sun as they took speculative shots at the jagged craft above. Hydra flak batteries cranked their autocannons upwards to draw a bead on the newcomers, each loosing a fourfold barrage that riddled the skies with clouds of black smoke. Venoms and Raiders darted and veered, but the flakstorm hurled upwards by the Cadians’ air defence was so thick that three of the Dark Eldar craft were caught and blasted into jagged shrapnel. The Wracks that had clung onto their craft’s sparse fuselage fell flailing from the skies, their half-naked bodies thudding into the weapon emplacements below with such force their blood burst out in spreading halos. Impossibly, some of the Wracks still dragged their shattered bodies towards the Cadian heavy weapons teams nonetheless, their faceless masks staring up with silent intent. Others gave sharp cracks of bone as they twisted their mangled bodies into spidery new shapes and wriggled towards the horrified Imperial defenders. The Cadian Heavy Weapons Teams were unable to re-position their mortars in time. Instead, they grabbed their lasguns and blazed away at close range. Many scored kill shots in the nick of time, but many more fell to the jabbing silversteel blades of the shattered wrecks writhing on their bellies towards them. A skimmer squadron swung in low, several more cells of Wracks leaping from the open decks of their Venoms to land barefoot on the silvered grilles of the artillery platform. The Cadians scrambled to engage, but although their hastily-taken lasgun shots burned through the muscular frames of the invaders, they slowed the Covenites not in the least. Hollow laughs rang out as the Wracks stepped in, their surgical tools glinting in the emerald light of the Webway portal high above. Within a matter of seconds the gunners had been dismembered, their wounds cauterized and their limbless torsos propped near the gunnery decks to better appreciate their own impotence.
With a curt shout, a platoon of weatherbeaten soldiers emerged from a vault door on the slopes above. A rain of metallic objects bounced down the incline, and the Wracks were killed in their turn, their bodies ripped apart by demolition charges and krak grenades. Still, the cells’ work had been done – the Covenite vanguard had cleared the entrenchments of threat with scalpel-like precision. Bought a reprieve, the Raiders and Pain Engines bursting from the portals above were approaching unopposed. A trio of Raiders swept towards the Imperial Guard troopers manning the lower balconies of the fortress, and the Wyches that clung to its fuselage vaulted and somersaulted downwards to land amongst the tightly packed ranks with acrobatic precision. Masterwork knives whipped out to plunge into necks and eye sockets, hydra gauntlets drove thickets of blades into torsos and backs, and razorflails transformed into segmented whips as their victims tried unsuccessfully to evade them. Yet for all the speed and precision of the kills, it was nothing that had not been seen a thousand times before in the arenas of Commorragh.
Then, Yctria called out a single command from the prow of her personal Raider. Grinning fiercely, the Flayer Queen’s Wyches pushed their elixir-crystal slivers into their wrists. Within moments the battle changed from a spectacle to a slaughter. Squad after squad of Wyches hurtled up the incline of the mountainous fortress with blurring speed, leaping from gargoyle to spar, vaulting over the battlements and sinking their blades into the faces of the men behind. Metal doors clanged shut as the Cadian platoons above withdrew in good order, only to be wrenched back open with impossible strength by the Dark Eldar pursuing them. Silvered corridor walls were splashed red with Cadian blood, only to be stained soot-black by the fires of counter-attacking flamer teams. But even billowing fire could not keep the elixir-driven Wyches from their prey. Cackling madly, the gladiatrixes slid deftly under the oily flames to leap back up, blades-first, into the stunned humans beyond. Yctria herself was riding high on the invigorating effects of the Barghesi elixir. Outdistancing all but Idyliane and her own Hekatrix Bloodbrides, the Flayer Queen sprinted from kill to impeccable kill, leaving a trail of decapitated human bodies that impressed even the Haemonculi watching from their hovering Raiders above. Licking his long fingers in anticipation, Quvelich turned to Croniarch Sekh and raised a bald eyebrow, but a shake of the ancient’s head sent a simple message – not yet. Far below, the Cadians and their abhuman allies were fighting back with all the thuggish tenacity of their kind. Wyvern Suppression Tanks had trundled from the postern gates of the fortress, their stormshard mortars hurling steel flechettes into the skinless Wracks that had dismounted in search of fresh meat. Wherever the razored metal aquilas exploded outwards, corded muscle was shredded and bone splintered, but the Wracks merely shivered in silent glee. They scuttled forwards to surround the nearest tanks, tapping their sides like insectivores probing a hollow tree. Another airburst detonated nearby, flechettes slicing fingers and studding backs. The largest of the Wracks plucked three steel aquilas from his wounds and hooked their wingtips into the striated muscle of his chest so they shone there in the twilight, a mockery of Imperial medals.
Nearby, the Haemonculus gourmet Iridivyst rose up from the midst of his skinless attendants, scanning the Cadian lines for an enemy more interesting. So many deaths here, yet in its blunt and oafish manner the Imperium had failed to do much more than explore the hackneyed theme of kinetic trauma. Here and there a plasma blast shot out, coring the torso of a loping Grotesque or incinerating an unlucky Wrack, yet even that was an end the Haemonculus had already experienced. Aside from the obvious faux pas of experiencing the same death twice, Iridivyst was not in a hurry to repeat it – despite the delicious spike of agony that plasma provides, his resurrection had taken an impractically long time. The Haemonculus’ eyes lit up when he saw a white-bearded human psyker leaning over the battlements, two blinding whips of psychic energy lashing out from his temples to blast the Wyches darting below to atoms. Iridivyst snipped off a gnarled finger with a scissor-like appendage and handed it to his nearest Wrack – an unnecessary precaution given his extensive flesh-banks, but something that had become a pleasurable ritual for him over the millennia. The Wrack stowed the digit away in a thin crystal tube. His traditional pre-death ritual complete, the grinning Haemonculus drifted straight towards the elderly human psyker, spraying his stinger pistol’s poisoned needles into the packed Imperial Guardsmen below in order to prove himself a threat. Those unfortunates he hit convulsed as they drowned in their own blood. Iridivyst loomed in closer and closer, but still the human psyker ignored him. The Haemonculus was on the verge of rolling his eyes in impatience when the Cadian witch opened his mouth wide and screamed out a pulse of blinding fire that consumed Iridivyst from pale head to atrophied toes. As he burned, the Coven lord shook with ecstasy, his convulsions reaching a blurring peak before he burst apart in a cloud of ash.
Nearby, the dark artisan Maestru Thrylemnis sent his Engines of Pain towards a pack of Bullgryns that were busily stamping a cell of Wracks into the dirt. Upon seeing the macabre machines hover close, the abhuman brutes raised their slab-like shields and locked them together to form an impromptu wall, protecting not only themselves but also the Cadians that were redeploying behind. Thrylemnis’ creations merely floated up over the shieldwall, Synistrex the Talos Pain Engine plucking shields from muscular fingers as the Cronos Parasite Engine Dextrisyn sucked in great draughts of abhuman life essence. Whilst the Talos’ apparatus-limbs opened brain-pans and removed the pulsing prizes inside with clinical efficiency, Thrylemnis strode up to those Bullgryns that had been drained white by his Cronos and simply pushed them over with a series of sharp shoves. The Talos signalled its work complete with a metallic chime. As the trio moved on, Thrylemnis carefully peeled the skin away from the hand that had touched the abhumans and cast the contaminated remnants aside.
The dark artisan’s fussy precision was a stark contrast to the orgy of fleshcraft erupting from the Aegis defences above. Three more Talos Pain Engines had made it to the Cadian line – corpsethief machines that Thrylemnis would consider laughably inferior copies of his own devices, but terrifying nonetheless. They slashed and drilled and impaled everything they could catch in a whirlwind of blood, turning those too slow to evade into a selection of sweetmeats that they took inside them before seeking fresh prey. A stone’s throw away, the Haemonculus Xeryndtuil looked on in almost comical dismay as his Grotesques were hammered by the punisher gatling cannons of a Cadian battle tank squadron. Two of the lumpen monsters were blasted bodily apart in a spray of black fluids, though their masked comrades seemed not to notice. Frowning crossly, the Haemonculus clapped his primary hands twice, and the remaining Grotesques gave shuddering roars as the ichor dispensers in their backs dumped potent hyper-steroids into their bloodstreams.
The swollen beasts rushed forwards right into the hail of bullets that were tearing fist-sized chunks of flesh from their torsos. Heedless, the flesh-constructs fell upon the Leman Russ tanks, pounding their upper hulls and scrambling atop them. One of the Grotesques wrenched away the red-hot barrel from the cannon that had riddled it with holes, hurling it into the ranks of the Cadian riflemen that were desperately trying to level a kill-shot. Another ripped off a cupola plate and somehow funneled itself inside the tank, dislocating its joints so it could push in like a snake forcing entrance to a subterranean warren. A third punched a hole clean through the hull of the tank beside it and stuck its liquifier gun into the gap. A moment later the screams of the melting crew inside mingled with the muffled bellows of their killer. As the chorus of terror, rage and pain rose high, Xeryndtuil’s frown melted away into an expression of utmost tranquility. All across the slopes of the silvered fortress, scenes of surreal and disturbing power were unfolding. A veteran Cadian was hit by an ossefactor just as he pulled the detonator pin from his frag grenade, his body bursting into thorny spears that impaled his comrades a moment before the whole tableau was mercifully blasted apart. A raging Ogryn bit down heavily into one of the Wracks bearing him to the ground, only to find his jaws dissolving in the acidic ichor that gushed out of the wound. A Ratling sniper put a needle rifle shot through the heart of one of the Wracks scrambling up the swarf-scree towards him, and the rest of the Covenite’s cell fell upon their fellow’s twitching corpse, long tongues probing the wound to get a taste of Imperial poison. A reeling Grotesque was barged into the side of a tank by a heavy-set Commissar, the officer blasting the thing’s head from its neck with his bolt pistol only to be throttled by its corpse nonetheless.
Each of the events that the Haemonculi considered worthy of attention was absorbed by Medusae-hybrids and modified Cronos for later delectation. The pageant of violence was in full flow, the grisly denouement of years of fleshcrafting unfolding in a hundred different ways. Yet as far as Croniarch Sekh was concerned, the main attraction was yet to come. At the peak of the metal-skinned mountain, Yctria and her Bloodbrides were darting in amongst the Cadian high command. A trail of dead Wyches was testament to the bloody tenacity with which the Astra Militarum had fought, but now their doom was upon them. Even the psychic lightning crackling from the Cadian commander’s psyker adviser was not fast enough to catch the pirouetting Succubus Yctria, nor the least of her handmaidens. A nod came from Sekh, and Quvelich’s grin reached the corners of his eyes. He waved his activation needle. Each of the Cronos positioned on the shoulders of the mountain belched lighter-than-air gas from their carapaces, their emissions combining into a purplish mist that drifted upwards to shroud Yctria, the Bloodbrides, and their Cadian playthings alike.
The gas engulfed Yctria and her Bloodbrides; all bar Idyliane – who had been gifted with an antidote in reward for her role in the Coven’s treachery – coughed and wheezed as the miasma filtered into their lungs. Their focus slipped as the purplish mist blurred their senses. One of the Wyches went down hard, impaled by a scar-faced Cadian’s chainsword, as the others scattered in disarray. Sekh’s Raider drew in close as a strange transformation began. Yctria’s perfect flesh began to buckle and writhe, sinews of ropy muscle and bulges of gross meat roiling out from every blood-flecked limb. Hurling those nearby away from her, the Succubus swelled like a ripening fruit, doubling, then tripling in size as her spine erupted from her back in shocking profusion. The Bloodbrides tumbled away in shock, and though they made a fighting retreat, all of them, even the nimble Idyliane, were shot down by Cadian veterans capitalising upon their sudden advantage. Yctria flailed and roared, her lilting soprano voice reduced to a saliva-choked bass as the terrible transformation took hold. The flayed skin she wore around her neck came loose, fluttering like a hideous flag caught in the breeze.
At a flick of the finger, Sekh sent his Raider lunging after Yctria’s cloak of scars. Leaning out with his elongated fingers extended, Quvelich plucked the fluttering shroud of scarred skin from the skies and handed it reverently to Sekh, who caressed it for a moment before locking it in a stasis chest. The elder Haemonculus nodded once, eyes closed. His Wrack gestured at a control panel, and the skies above the fortress pulsed white. With uncanny synchronicity every Wrack, Grotesque and Engine of Pain simply abandoned the carnage they were wreaking and made to retreat. The Cadians sent stabbing volleys of lasfire into the backs of their retreating foes, hardly able to believe the tide had turned so suddenly. Wherever a Covenite fell, his slump-shouldered fellows would unceremoniously scoop up his remains, loading them onto waiting Raiders and Venoms before departing en masse for the Webway portals high above. At the peak, the Yctria-thing was bound in crackling shardnets and hooked chains before being lifted like a fisherman’s prize beneath the largest of Sekh’s skimmer fleet. The rays of a new dawn started to push over the horizon as the Dark Eldar departed, leaving a corpse-strewn wasteland and a smattering of Cadians to claim victory behind them.
Seven Ilmaean cycles later, the Prophets of Flesh returned to the grand amphitheatre of the Red Grief. Croniarch Sekh and his fellows watched with quiet smiles from under their shadowed balcony. They drank in the sight of the Red Grief’s new queen as Kariasche, made whole once more, strode into the arena. Every one of the scars and blemishes that the dusky Succubus had worn so proudly in her former life was perfectly intact, a network of memories preserved in the very same skin her mysterious benefactors had taken from Yctria at the peak of the Cadian fortress. Led by a bone chain in Kariasche’s wake came a lumpen beast of impressive size. Its anguish was plain as it moaned and drooled from a dozen wound-like mouths. Clapping hesitantly at first, but rising to a crescendo as the truth of the spectacle sank in, the Dark Eldar in the arena got to their feet until the entire arena was united in a standing ovation. There was nothing so gratifying for the citizens of Commorragh than witnessing another’s pain, after all, and Yctria’s new incarnation had enough of that to last a thousand years. Subtly, but unforgettably, the Prophets of Flesh had reminded the denizens of the Dark City that to cross the Haemonculi was to invite a far darker destiny than mere death.
- 1: Haemonculus Covens - A Codex: Dark Eldar Supplement — A Hideous Beauty