Depravity and Decadence [Raem]
Prisms, geometric shapes, and centipedal entities crawled through the recesses of Caha'ga's surroundings. Off in the distance he thought he saw a congeries of bubbles that almost took notice of him. The sound, like the roaring of some dying lion played along with 300 decibel African tribal music, threatened to rupture his sensitive ears. His body threatened to give out.
No. Their lives depend on me. Two polyhedrons about him shifted. Keep your focus.
And then three-dimensional space flooded back in, and Caha'ga's sanity and soul remained unthreatened. He hated Walking. Other wakongi enjoyed it, the feeling of the unknown, the unexplored. The generals had made journeys they didn't speak of, through places unmentioned. As for himself? He stayed in the more conventional levels, and hated every second of his troop through them. The sound reverberated in his ears as that feeling you get after coming out of a very loud concert accosted him. He shook his head a bit.
A second-in-command shook him briefly. "Trip successfully made, sir. Are you alright?"
The wakongi looked around. "Fine, son. The Nonhonzhinga said life was here, so bygod we better find something. We should have stayed in A'kada and been happy with it, I always said. Damn the generals and their expansionism."
Something is here, the Council was right. But what?
The ship was from the Osage Empire, and like all ships of moderate and up size it was an asteroid, with the delicate interplay of perpendicular light-lines playing across it like the street plan of a perfect city that marked it as more than just a floating rock.
As it emerged from what had been dubbed the Between Spaces in an explosion of energy, the ship floated through space, unaware and unknowing of the danger it was in. It was small, perhaps a hundred meters in diameter, but it was charged with exploration of this sector, where the Nonhonzhinga swore civilization had been sensed, wakonda had been felt.
Caha'ga wasn't sure everything felt should be investigated. But he was here, nonetheless. The two shi'kijin beside him remained as mechanical as ever, but he was glad they were here. They were with him There, and gave him some comfort when he had to make the Trip. He shuddered in remembrance. The higher-ups stressed ease there, but he never felt it.
A sense of dread assailed him, and his premonitions were usually reliable. The steel guardians around his chamber and the wakon'do made him feel safer, as did the the staff he leaned on, but a general feeling of uneasiness pervaded the air.
How right he was.
Confusion reigns on the bridge of Razor's Kiss in the moment the glowing asteroid arrives. Panic spreads from the arguing crewers manning the ship's sensors. Surely the vengeful guns of the Solar nations could not have followed the Kiss out here. No, look, it is not a ship at all, it is a thing of nature bent to the will of thinking things.
He should be told. Of course.
And so a runner is sent: a terrified thing which was once a man and is no longer. It flees the bridge in fear of punishment, eager to serve though it knows service brings no reprieve from the wrath of the Masters. Nothing brings peace or comfort to the grotesque's tormented existence.
It wheezes to fill lungs which where long ago ruined by the noxious skies of the twilight city, rasping with a voice made forever hoarse by uncounted hours of screaming. It cowers before the Master of the ship, one Kher Rath le'Sheya, the once-mighty warlord of the Kabals. What lies on the deck after his passing is no longer even a tortured wretch, for such is the fate of those fool enough to interrupt their betters.
He studies the asteroid without passion or fear. Whatever he might think of it, his masked face does not betray. The voice that orders an attack is the cold and mechanical voice of the speakers built into his helmet.
Only the shimmering of starfield betrays the presence of the Kiss and Rictus Smile as they close with the asteroid. The Dark Ones had spent a very long time learning how to avoid being seen by their prey.
The Black One...the Flayed One...Death-Escaping-Notice...he had many names, and his images haunted Caha'ga's dreams. Congeries of bubbles...interconnected spheres. His lord's agents drew nigh...No! No!
The captain awoke in a frenzied sweat, panting. They warn you about this...about attracting the Central Powers, the Nuclear Powers, Bahi'xtsi...why would they single me out? Walking will become dangerous if they have taken notice...
Oh, Caha'ga was not a particularly powerful wakongi, but he was wiser than some of the more powerful ones. The line between dream and reality was blurred in several places, so that one could become the other. Premonitions were often right, and right now he felt a great trap closing around himself.
His crew were getting worried. The ke'xtha'tse maintained their silent vigil around his quarters, and inside the shi'kijin were ever on call, but the bulk of his men were just that, men, and he was unnerving them. If the dream-light descended, he would have to go. He must not let it. Descent into madness wasn't uncommon, but it must not happen to him. He was stronger than that. The general spent many of his hours There and Beyond There, and he was sane..wasn't he?
Premonitions, he told himself, weren't always right. Were they?
The ship continued, oblivious to its fate.
One by one, tiny assault shuttles break away from the Kiss and the Smile. A new field of stars moves in the deep night. Forward, ahead of the cruisers, flies a tiny swarm of tiny shuttles, each a gunboat, a fighter, a two-man vessel with a Webway portal through which the marines of the ships would come.
Though the fighter vanguard races ahead, they are not first to fire. This privilege the Kiss holds for itself. Great power grows in the cruiser's belly. A barrel blacker than the void twists in its mountings. Then, with an almost cruel slowness, something bridges the gap between the two ships. A lance of dark power reaches out to touch the asteroid like a scythe,clawing at the asteroid's outer skin.
It is the first blow of a volley, of many batteries of dark lances turning upon the lonely and far too small rock.
The ship shuddered, and the net of lights grew brighter and began to fade a bit. This was the first time an Osage ship had been attacked by something not Osage in ethnic origin, and the ship shuddered under the impact. Caha'ga's face grew deathly pale.
Cries erupted among the crew, and the lesser wakongi, led by Caha'ga, entered the room of the wakon'do.
It was nothing more than an empty room, except in the center, where a semiprecious gem waxed bright, casting shadows across the wall. Tender light-threads extending vertically from the top and bottom of the gem, connecting it with the ceiling and floor from where it floated in the middle of the room.
This was a wakon'do, a simple gem at birth that had then been infused with large amounts of wakon, till it became an artifact powerful enough to control asteroids, fling them at fractions of the speed of light through space, and control its offensive and defensive operations. At heart it was an object of raw energy, to be directed by the wakongi, and now was such a time.
I felt this coming... Hands reached out around the stone, and it connected with them, and the united consciousness of stone and the wakongi searched for their enemies, struggled to maintain the net of light that kept the asteroid from being ripped into tiny pieces. Each blow was like a knife being inserted somewhere into the men, but screams of pain were not uttered. No. They fought on.
From among the net of light a sphere formed, grew in volume and mass, a white ball that began to distance itself from the asteroid. It was white flame, with the barest hint of red, and gradually it grew to a massive fireball and sped along at unimaginable speeds toward the enemy ship, with all the force of an advanced technological rocket. Then another one, and another one, and another one, until a flurry of the budding explosions grew and flew at the enemy ship. The asteroid was barely a hundred meters, very small by Osage standards, and it really had no hope against the ships of the Dark Eldar. Still it rose its hand in defiance, and the spectacular light show of the white fireballs whizzing at the enemy ships would have delighted if it wasn't the death throes of a soon-to-be dead ship.
A knife to the throat, a wakongi fell, and the net of light weakened. The lances made holes, some of them opening into the tunnel systems within the asteroid, some of them being dead-ends, deadened by the protective force the light-lines gave. The net quickly closed around the asteroid, but the holes were there, and they would be penetrated.
Soldiers marshalled, the ke'xtha'tse were summoned, and the shi'kijin struggled to maintain their existence even as their masters maintained the ailing ship against the Dark Eldar ships.
Debris spatters against the hull of his shuttle as another of the little gunboats dies in terrible light. Lights flicker in the cockpit, but he leaves them and the handling of the boat to the pilot. His hands turn instead to the tiny device, the shuttle's only real cargo. He presses a series of buttons on the plastic surface of the device. A shimmering blue circle cuts through the air in the cabin.
This done, he races to strap himself in. The shuttle turns even as it approaches the asteroid, bringing the plasma torches at the aft to bear against the asteroid's outer surface. Soon, the real fight will begin.
Perhaps a dozen of the shuttles survive those deadly balls of light to latch onto the rock or burrow into one or another of the holes drilled by the massive dark lances of the cruisers.
Savage fire dances between asteroid and capital ships, the latter moving like vessels much smaller than they are, to evade fatal blows.
Within the larger, the Kiss, Rath stands at a shimmering circle, waiting for the first sign of breach in the opponent's defenses.
Knife to the heart. Another falls. The light-patterns begin to fade, but they still hold. The shi'kijin maintain their tenuous hold on corporeality, but it is slipping. Some must survive, if they hope to themselves.
The fireball barrage slows, but still it lances out against the capital ships as the Osage asteroid-ship enters its deaththroes. The wakon'do can feel the intruders, and the regular soldiers react, led by the ke'xtha'tse, which are followed by whatever shi'kijin can mantain their form. Caha'ga detaches himself from the wakon'do to aid the parties repelling the boarders, but even as he does a terrible doom begins to fill his spirit.
You will fail. The wakongi stops, panting, leaning on his staff, before continuing on.
I must not let this ship be taken.
First one, then another and then two more shuttles breach the rocky hull with their plasma torches. Rock glows beneath the caress of the torches, melting and growing runny with heat. The invading dark eldar allow only a few moments for the rock to cool before pouring out of the webway portals held in the gunboat cabins.
Splinters of shredded plastic-ammunition herald the arrival of dark eldar marines. They are as precise as they are deadly, laying down heavy sheets of covering fire even into empty rooms, just to be sure. The first team unloads an infanty version of the shipborne dark lances before setting out to see if it might locate a power supply that could be cut, to plunge the ship into darkness.
Team two launches a savage assault against defending soldiers and shi'kijin. Their weapons bear ammunition laced with poisons and venoms in the hope that even a scratch would fester or bring a man, screaming, to his knees.
A distant explosion gives hint to the fate of team three: a leak in the torch fuel line, ignited by superheated rock, spelled the doom of the shuttle.
"Hull breach! The outsiders have invaded! Reports from the crew suggest they are wakon-capable ke'xtha'tse or something similar!"
How can that be possible?
The shi'kijin are dispersed amongst the actual humans in the crew, and can only be spotted by someone who knows what they are looking for. Legions of men armed with spears but highly trained attempt vainly to attack the Dark Eldar marines. Most of them die in bloody carnage, but when some are gunned down they disappear, leaving only torn shreds of paper behind.
The Dark Eldar marines advance quickly, but finally the Osage ke'xtha'tse appear.
On Earth the closest cognate would be called a golem, but the name was hardly fitting for the ten-foot behemoths that stormed into the tunnels. They were forged out of some kind of steelike metal, and twin axes colored gold were in each of their hands, while a purple flame emanated from them, especially the gemlike eyes. They feel no pain, and even if a well-placed blow took off one of their steel arms, they continue the assault, massive axes wielded with unimaginable strength, dropping their twin weapons and opting to simply rip the arms off their opponents in some cases.
Caha'ga, for his part, remains in the wakon'do chamber, which is at the very center of the asteroid, directing its energies with the other minor wakongi so that the net-lights don't go out, volleys of fireballs that began to diminish in capability continuing their exchange with the Dark Eldar ships.
One of the members of team two dies shrieking into his helmet comm, in the middle of calling for backup to deal with the new arrivals. All around him, the attack of the dark ones falters: these marines aren't equipped or trained to get up close and dirty with walking walls. Splinter rifle fire from the remaining marines converges on the golem that recently bisected the ex-Eldar.
The arrival of Incubi, among the most deadly and heavily armored soldiers in the Kabals, is swift, thanks to the open webway portal. The first one through, Rath, is shrouded in inky blackness. Behind him march two disciplined columns of incubi. The guns mounted in their tormentor helms add to the hail of plastic flechettes turned on the golems.
It is pure chance that leads team one around the asteroid and close to the wakon'do chamber before meeting their first resistance. As with the others, their attack is vicious.
The ke'xtha'tse rampage through the Dark Eldar lines, silent death incarnate. The ir golden axes crackle with wakon, the fletchette blizzard serving the purpose of only minor damage to the steel bodies of the golemlike creatures, wearing away at them but little else. And then they meet the Incubi, the dark knights of the Kabals.
Behind the Osage constructs the armed soldiers rush foward in legions, nearly useless as anything other than cannon-fodder, but there all the same.
As for the steel warriors, only the complete removal of all working appendages removed them as a threat, and even then the torso would continue to glow with that malevolent purple flame. They continued their vicious assault on the Dark Eldar soldiers, but it was slowed by the onslaught of the Incubi, whose power-glaives were every bit the equal of the great dual axes.
But near the center of the asteroid, another battle raged for the control of the wakon'do. It was doubtful the Dark Ones knew that the key to victory lay just ahead, but there the wakon'do shimmed with infused power ahead.
Captain Caha'ga, for his part, saw them coming. "Ta'be i'the ke'xtha'tse kakona!" Legions of well-trained soldiers followed behind two great ke'xtha'tse as they sought to drive the Eldar back. Caha'ga himself left the manipulation of the wakon'do to the others their, taking another wakongi with him and entering the fray.
He concentrated himself, energized from his dealings with the central stone, and poured forth flame, a speeding fireball from his hands. Powerful wakondagi could fling dozens of them in a row, but for an average wakongi like this captain, only a few would exhaust him. The other wakongi flings a fireball as well, aiming just in front of the advancing golems, knowing the flames will not hurt the steel constructs.
The stiffening of the resistance, of course, indicates that something important lies ahead, and the captain feels his doom coming.
Rath sweeps forward towards one of the golems in a cloud of darkness that clings to the floors and walls as he passes. The glowing silver head of Rath's ancient and unique weapon flits out of the darkness to cleave at the golem's body. N'wah Man is heavy with the weight of years and is sheathed in arcane energies, all the better to rend flesh and bone and steel.
The incubi behind him crash like a wave upon the defenders, their terrible powered weapons striking here and there with brutal skill. Though their heavy armor is more than enough to ward off the spears of the soldiers, here and there the golems strike telling blows that tear through even an incubus.
Closer to the wakon'do, the Dark Eldar are having a more difficult time. Warriors with splinter rifles eneadvor to hold off the golems and soldiers while horrible bolts of black energy probe the line of defenders. The dark lances are murderously powerful weapons that cut through even the heaviest of armor, yet require a steady hand and careful handling. Needless to say, such qualities are often difficult to come by on a battlefield as limited as a corridor and the room beyond.
Several warriors from the first team's reinforcements slip around through the web of corridors to come at the defenders from the side, using versions of the dark-lance scaled even further down to allow for improved mobility.
Time isn't on your side when you are a soldier in lamellar armor with a spear, and you are outnumbered by one of the galaxy's most feared combatants. Any sort of gunfire is usually sufficient to carve deep holes in the Osage lines, as the disciplined formations of warriors close the ever-larger gaps, thinning the line.
The heavier versions of the dark lance manage to bend and twist and punch through the steel of the ke'xtha'tse, but even with yawning holes through their bodies they continue to fight, soaking up as much small arms fire as possible to aid the efforts of the handicapped Osage warriors, great weapons reaping a terrible toll, the wide arcs that they swing through capable of axing through more than one warrior at a time.
The wakongi reply to the dark lance with ever-larger fireballs, burning death exploding in the chambers. When they are hit from the side the fight is largely already lost, but the Osage die to the last man. Without the shield of the great forms of the ke'xtha'tse, the splinter rifle fire mows down the teaming masses of infantry, until only the wakongi and their shi'kijin, a few bloodied, limping survivors, and the ever-vigilant ke'xtha'tse (with holes through them, numerous dents all over the armor, and possibly a lost arm here and there) remain in a tight circle around the wakon'do itself.
Caha'ga felt the raw energy of the stone flowing through him, and flung a great fireball towards the enemy lines again. Raw power like nothing he'd ever felt before coursed through him as he drew on the wakon'do, weakening the defenses on the outside but caring little. He reached out for the ceiling and brought it down in a huge asteroidal spear that crushed Dark Eldar against the floor and served to cover the rear of the dwindling warriors, who took cover behind the rampaging ke'xtha'tse, who even now began to fall as the heavy dark lance rendered them into twisted pieces of steel, all ability to resist gone away.
In other sections of the asteroid, the great golemlike constructs waged a war of silent death with the Incubi, axe against glaive. With the inevitable victory of the Dark Eldar in the other sectors, however, the heavy artillery of the dark lances, coming up behind them and to the flanks, ripped them in to little more than slag metal.
The glaives of the Incubi rend the constructs, taking out legs and arms until only a head and a torso is left, making it useless. A single ke'xtha'tse continues the fight with one axe, before losing another arm and finally attempting to crush an Incubi beneath its steel body, before losing its legs and being rendered harmless.
Caha'ga tasted defeat, watched as the last of his constructs went down, as the flames were quenched, as his shi'kijin turned into little more than shreds of paper, and knew the time of his asteroid was up.
But his, however, was not. He could not save the ship, but he could try to save himself.
He picked up a piece of charcoal from a spearshaft that had been caught in a fireball attack, and began to draw on the walls frantically. Right...acute...obtuse, 51 degrees, here and here. I need the correct angles. Yes! There!
And the captain of the asteroid vanished in a wisp of violet light, as the wall of shi'kijin around him died almost at once to the combined fire of the advancing Dark Ones. The room was silent, illuminated only by the faint glow of the wakon'do.
Turn left, and right. Ignore the polyhedron and the congeries..IGNORE THEM! Block the noise, that hell-spawned noise, another left...they follow but I must not look back. Sojourners! I've found them!
Another blast of violet light. He has not caught me yet.... And Caha'ga collapsed, on the floor, in the central chamber of a much different place, many, many light-years away.
Confusion takes hold of the dark ones as the asteroid's defenses crumble suddenly and decisively, leaving the aggressors milling about seeking instructions for several precious moments. Dark Eldar vie with each other for the spoils of the combat, clawing and fighting each other for the treat: souls who died in pain and fear.
Concentrated blaster and dark lance fire makes short work of the door to the wakon'do, leaving a hole big enough for warriors to begin pouring through in ones and twos. Others spread out, searching the bodies heaped in the corridors for those who are merely wounded, carting the unfortunate bastards off as captives and slaves whose fates are best not even pondered.
Rath considers the corpses with his cold gaze, taking in the rent and maimed bodies of incubi and warriors lying strewn around him. He would know to be prepared for those giant metal things the next time. A warrior with a dark lance steps up to one of the dismembered golems to begin dismantling the still-active torso and head. Others golems in the asteroid would suffer a similar fate as the dark eldar experiment, learning what threshholds of damage the things could endure before returning to lifeless steel.
All in all, the mop-up is nearly as swift and efficient as the boarding itself, carried out with the banal cruelty of those who have done this many, many times.
"Good morning, captain." A malevolent voice sounds in Caha'ga's ear, muffled and sounding distant because of the violent roaring cacophony he had just been through. He rubbed his head and discovered a huge lump and a pounding migraine, and when he opened his eyes the smiling face of Irul Kasaros greeted him.
He was grinning, but there was no mirth behind it. "I assume this means you had an encounter out there? Because otherwise you would be in very deep shit for abandoning your ship in unexplored territory without any means to get back, if you catch my meaning." The smile grew wider.
Caha'ga gulped. "Sir, yes sir. I am...the last surviving member of the asteroid. We came under assault by two great ships, their warriors came aboard. They seemed like ke'xtha'tse, but when our own cut them open they were like and yet unlike men. They had wakon, surely, but their staves were not like ours, and each of them seemed to have unlimited possession of it, but used it only in small amounts. The greater they used, the greater the object using it seemed to be, -"
"No, Caha'ga. They did not use wakon."
"What? Yes, they-"
The voice was sharper. "No. They didn't. Our explorations in Mi have confirmed so. They used these...these guns."
Caha'ga appeared to contemplate this, apparently arriving at the conclusion that these were things the general, and not himself, needed to be concerned about.
"Whatever they were, lord, we held out just fine, but were overwhelmed. Their ships were bigger, they outnumbered us. We could not win."
The general appeared to contemplate this. "I will gather the Tzi-shu. You will accompany me on my Trip, and lead me to where our ship was taken."
Caha'ga apparently looked terrified at the thought of going back. Kasaros noted it quietly.
"Only this time, we'll have a fleet."
He raised his hand to the wall, and Caha'ga's eyes grew wide when yellow lines began to trace against the wall, in angles and geometric patterns.
The Dark Eldar would have little time to exploit their victory. A massive violent explosion heralds the arrival of an entire fleet of asteroids, the light-lines dancing across their irregular surfaces. Around them little metal constructs that looked vaguely like hourglasses danced, apparently cognate to the fighters of other civilizations.
They did not, however, move against the lifeless asteroid that had previously been the sight of the battle waged between Osage and Dark Eldar. Kasaros had a plan, and the captain known as Caha'ga looked on frantically as the 10th general of the Osage Empire worked furiously on a map, making calculations with an abacus, using a compass expertly, and continually drawing angles with a protractor.
I need the correct angles... He latched onto the arcane signature of Rath himself, drew more angles and strange designs on the wall of his ship.
Finally he gripped Caha'ga's arm. "Follow me."
They were wrenched through a blast of violet light, to the place where the centipedal forms danced and the roaring noise of flutes and drums reverberated through your very soul. Kasaros and Caha'ga raced through them. We need to find the right points.
And then they were stopped, for a bubble-congerie and a polyhedron stood before them. Kasaros words seared themselves into Caha'ga's mind. You have THEIR attention? he hissed, obviously angry. In this different state of being, no words could be spoken. Then a centipede moved forward towards the bubble-congerie, and suddenly there were many polyhedrons about it, and Caha'ga got the feeling words were passing between the spheres and the 'pede, words he could not hear. An odd feeling of satisfaction emanated from the spheres, and they were gone, leaving him and the centipedal form to continue their navigation through the prisms.
Purple haze clouded Caha'ga's mind, and then three-dimensional space returned to them, and they were in a very dark place indeed.
Irul Kasaros staff blazed white, and a tiny string of white energy connected him with the being in front of him. An aura of power seemed to emanate from the man, who was 6'6'' and looked only to be in his late twenties, though the light of age shown behind his eyes. And then his booming voice spoke, commanding, almost with a tone of superiority in it, and yet also seeking parley. He was surrounded by the most criminal beings in perhaps the near side of the galaxy, and to his enemies, who could see only a man with a staff, he looked like he was not in a position to negotiate. They could not know what power lay behind him, one of, if not the most powerful wakondagi in the Empire. The voice spoke, and Caha'ga shuddered, and began to wonder why he had been brought along.
"Commander of the dark ships, I am Lord Irul Kasaros, general of the Osage Empire and lord over the fleet before you. The ship you assaulted was under the command of this," he puncuated the word by bringing Caha'ga to his knees with a well-aimed crack with the staff, "fool," he said, bringing Caha'ga to the floor with another blow. "You may have him if you wish, extract what little power there is in the man." Rath would hear the words in perfect Dark Eldar, with every nuance of the language perfectly pronounced.
"But I am... interested in talking."
Rath watches the arrival of the other ships with distant interest. So the little one had not been alone. It had been watched from afar. They must be swift now. He glances at one of the attendants hovering near him. "Recall the warriors," he says, "and scuttle the rock. We move, and quickly."
The flunky hardly has time to walk off towards a knot of officers before Kasaros and Caha'ga appear on the bridge in a shower of light. Many of the eldar on the bridge cry out and shield their eyes, used to the twilight of the eternal city and the gloom of the ships. Rath, however, merely watches them. The eye slits of his helm deal with the glare automatically, and so he stands there feeling nothing.
The one-time lord of the Kabals is hardly a less imposing figure than Kasaros. The scorpion-tail weapon at the top of his helm makes him look taller than he really is, and its carefully carved mask displays a gruesome expression of fear and torment. Or, perhaps, it's not a carved mask at all. Sweeping silver pauldrons and the rune-encrusted N'wah Man are the only badges of rank Rath wears. For the Dark Eldar, martial prowess is sign enough of dominance.
His helmet tilts down a little to consider the prone sorcerer at his feet. A subtle gesture, one of the Incubi battle-signs, brands the poor bastard a prisoner-slave, calls forth hungry-eyes Haemonculi to bind him and remove him from the presence of the Masters. This, at least, Rath is willing to give to Kasaros: power calls to power.
"You have a flair for the dramatic, mon-keigh," Rath says at last. His words are punctuated by another flash of light: the destruction of the captured asteroid. As per Dark Eldar philosophy, they had destroyed what they could not keep. "Speak, then, if you've a mind to, but know that we will vanish into the void if you think to take revenge."
With me aboard, no doubt. The fading pleas of Caha'ga are ignored by the ashen-faced wakondagi. His black robes mask the muscled frame that is the premier general of the Empire.
The wakondagi's interest is piqued. "Mon-Keigh...you have seen my race before? You have had dealings with the nations of Mi?" Kasaros says Mi, the word for the star in the Osage tongue, but it firmly implants itself into Rath's mind as Sol, perhaps a trick of the translation spell. It means acolyte or student in his tongue, but Solar is the concept that comes across.
"How very interesting." The man's eyes narrow as the screams fade off. "You will excuse my subordinate. He was weak, too weak, and attracted the attention of powers that should not be contacted. Had he not been a fitting tribute to your race, he would have been inhumed personally."
He laughs humorlessly. "Revenge? Hardly. The asteroid was but a scout, if a weak wakongi, a few scraps of metal, and worthless soldiers die, what harm is it to an Empire? Their deaths mean little, I choose not to revel in nor revere their fall. As for revenge...if I wanted that we would not be speaking."
He looked away. "No, I seek a different path. We Osage have just now ventured outside of our system, and find it a very forbidding place indeed. In Mi we find a system of trillions in a delicate balance of alliance and counter-alliance, and here we find...well," He smirked. "You."
"No. I want something else. Information is paramount, but along with that, I think we can help each other. You do not speak the name of Mon-Keigh without distaste, and that tells me you have enemies. And the system of Sol does not yet languish under your yoke, and that tells me they remain unconquered. And what all of that adds up to is one thing: Opportunity."
"The mon-keigh of Terra are weak, foolish. They cower near their star as brutes crowding a campfire, fearing the dark between worlds. Your word-thoughts are true. We have taught some of them to fear us, to fear the darkness." Rath turns a little to walk towards the huge transparent viewport at the front of the bridge. Countless stars burn beyond, and the Smile is visible only as a hole in the glittering backdrop. Their ship slowly rotates, so the fleet of asteroids describes an arc across the sky.
"It is not our way to conquer. We are not like you, mon-keigh. I can hear lust for power in your thoughts. It seeps out of you like an odor. Be warned that though your cousins are as children in the night, they are stubborn and willfull. You must be canny and swift if you will realize your dreams. This, I presume, is why you have come," he concludes as he mounts the steps of his floating dais: a throne set upon a device crafted of skulls which float half a meter off the deck.
He lowers himself into the basalt throne, setting N'wah Man in its slot at his side, resting the clawlike finger of his gauntlet on the uncushioned arms of the throne. "Information have I, regarding some of the nations of Terra, and warriors at my disposal. What is it that you offer me, sorcerer?"
Terra....the third planet. The home of what the Dark Eldar call my race, and yet I know that there was latent wakon on the other planets, especially the fifth, none as much as this third planet, however. Colonies and expansions, perhaps. I doubt trillions of people could fit on just the one planet.
"You are cunning, dark one. Perceptive, though perhaps it is simply my flaw in being too transparent." He took in the spectacle of Rath, N'wah Man at his side, on the skulls, and couldn't help being a bit impressed.
"You are perceptive, but so am I. There is a hunger here, for slaves, and for amusement. You need toys."
He looked out at the stars. "In a nation such as the Empire, Law Enforcement is almost as powerful and well-armed as the military. In a nation where the power of the universe can be concentrated into the hands of a single, unsuspicious man, where walls around six sides aren't enough, and where numerous wakondagi of a powerful nature need to be contained on a regular basis...well. You don't skimp on firepower."
He paused for a moment, turning back to the Dark Eldar. "And there are more where Caha'ga came from. The notice of...things that we do not seek the notice of has led more than one wakongi to forfeit his life, or worse, his sanity. It is far worse to let Them take you, to scream when there is nothing and be unaware when something does hunt for you, to die with your senses rearranged and a terrible doom coming for you, then for someone such as I to mercifully let them go, as the law requires. If it were up to me the ones who cannot stave them off would be left to the quiet eating away of their souls as punishment for their weakness, but I do not run the Empire..." He left the unspoken word hanging in the air.
He smiled. "So I offer you a source of amusement: A constant supply of..undesirables from both the regular and wakongi prison planets for you to toy with. And the ones whose probings have gone beyond their power to deny. Perhaps the...treatment you can give them can stave off their own insanity. In return? Nothing more than no involuntary preying on our ships, information on the history, politics, and capability of Sol, and perhaps an unspoken writ of cooperation."
Rath considers the terms for a moment before inclining his head, by way of acceptance. He presses a section of the throne's arm so it pops open and reveals a black and steel control panel beneath. A few quick keystrokes causes the shadows of the bridge to coalesce into a slowly spinning representation of the Solar system. The insubstantial orrery is in negative greyscale, with the brightest object, the sun, rendered as the darkest.
"I am sure you have already begun mapping the system, but perhaps I can save you a little time. The three planets you must worry most about are the third, fourth and fifth." He gestures to Terra, Mars, and Jupiter. "Much of the system's strength lies near those three worlds. The Triumvirate of Yut, which all but commands the space near Jupiter, is of particular concern. We are on good terms with only one alliance in this system: Arda. It is lead by Morgoth, an aging god and once one of the great powers of the system. He has slipped into lethargy of late, as has all of Arda."
Rath turns his gaze to Kasaros and gestures to the shadow-projection. "We can prepare a map for your use."
Kasaros nods, taking in the information like a sponge. He turns to Rath. "Your aid is appreciated, Dark One. It will be remembered."
"The map will be unnecessary. We already have friends in the system, and they will aid my advance, knowingly or not." A grin followed.
"Opportunity, dark one. Sol is rife with it; you must sieze the right moment. I am at the beginning of a long path, dark one, but when the end draws nigh it will be heralded by the fall of the mighty."
He idly picked up his staff, pointed it at the ground, and began to move it like some giant pencil, drawing designs along the ground. "Goodbye, Lord of the Dark Ones. I leave you to your depravity, but may have need of your services when the time comes. Perhaps, sometimes, you may have need of mine, and I can be easily found if requested. In the meantime, the next ship that comes through hear will be laden with wakongi for you to toy with. Till the day comes...." He grinned one last time, before vanishing in a brief violet light.
Aboard the vast asteroid, the wakon'do'tonga glowed violently, unifying its domain with that of its ruler's mind. An explosion of color in the central camber belied the silent exit of the asteroid-fleet, and conclusion of business between the Osage Empire and the Kabal of Raem.