by Chris Cook

Thunder rolled. On a rain-swept battlefield the marines of the Red Talons chapter saw their enemies, let loose a hate-filled battle-cry and charged. Missiles streaked above the heads of the charging marines, slamming into the heavy armour of the advancing Rhinos and Predators. From the stricken vehicles hordes of green-armoured renegades emerged, their battle howls merging with the thunder that rumbled again.

Invidia swung his sword, laughing aloud as its brightly-coloured blade tore through the chestplate of the marine that challenged him, opening the man's chest, catching and breaking his jaw as it ripped past his head. The marine fell to his knees as his entrails spilled out, still trying to fight. He raised his chainsword, but death's grip made his arm slow, and Invidia tired of him and finished him with a careless slash across his neck. The chaos champion turned to look for a new partner.

There - a blue-armoured Librarian, standing out among the blood red of the chapter's warriors, delivering limb-shattering blows with a force staff as a halo of energy crackled around his head, leaping out to strike at any who came too near. Invidia climbed up the side of a Rhino, ignoring the flames that still crackled in its engine and licked at the legs of his armour, took a single stride forward across the vehicle's roof, and leapt.

One of the Librarian's bodyguard saw him too late, and was carried to the ground by the impact of the champion's body. Invidia was upright in an instant, driving his sword beneath him to impale the fallen marine, already readying himself as the Librarian turned to see him. The Librarian's staff swung down towards him, but met his sword, still dripping with the blood it had tasted seconds earlier. Invidia pressed forward, lunging at an opening, but the Librarian was fast, already side-stepping the attack as the blade leapt for him. Before the champion could properly recover the Librarian's staff had struck his leg, and he was forced to let fly a wild volley of shots from his pistol to give himself room to recover his footing.

Even so, when the Librarian bore down on him again he had the terribly feeling that he had underestimated his foe. He found himself parrying and dodging, moving as fast and striking as hard as he could just to maintain his defence. The Librarian swung his staff down in a double-handed stroke, causing Invidia to leap back to save himself. His eyes were drawn to the halo around the psyker's head, which seemed to be gaining intensity, and for a moment he saw, beyond it, his mistress outlined against the sky.

"My Queen!" he called to her, as the Librarian stepped forward to deliver the killing blow. Invidia saw Sylelle turn at the sound of his voice, and felt his nerves come alive as she made contact with his mind. The Librarian unleashed his power, lashing straight at Invidia's head with a lance of psychic energy. Invidia cried out in agony as the power flowed through him, but it flowed away again, through the channel that his mistress had opened between them. But at the same time the Librarian had swung his staff, so that at the moment the champion realised he was unharmed the weapon crashed into him, shattering his armour, driving through his shoulder. His beautiful sword dropped from lifeless fingers, and before he could raise his pistol the staff whirled around, tearing out of his shoulder as its other end buried itself in his abdomen. Invidia fell to the ground, already feeling the heat leech out of him, finding his legs numb and his remaining arm heavy, too heavy to move. His eyes began to close, but then he saw the familiar form of his mistress behind the Librarian, and he strained to remain conscious.

The Librarian turned, just in time to parry the white-hot claw that slashed at his head. In response his force staff struck out, but the sorceress caught it one-handed. The energy around the Librarian's head flowed down into the staff and along it, bursting on his opponent, tearing at her. Invidia forced his eyes to remain open even as the sudden light burned him, and for a moment he could see nothing but the blue-white after-image of the blast. Then, slowly, his vision cleared, and he saw his mistress. The psychic blast had blackened the metal of her claws, and the leathers she wore had burned away to a few charred fragments hanging from the steel buckles. But she was unharmed, walking out of the inferno as if it were nothing but a warm breeze. She pressed the point of the Librarian's force staff to her chest, staring at him. When she spoke, Invidia barely heard the words.

"Now feel my pleasure." Tendrils of blue fire crept along the staff, sinking through the metal of the Librarian's gauntlet, which jerked as if he were suddenly unable to release his grip on the weapon. The fire spread beneath his armour, occasionally appearing above its surface in tiny arcs and flares. The Librarian fell to his knees, the staff falling from his hand, his eyes darting wildly around as traces of the fire danced over his face. His breathing came in short, ragged gasps, and his mouth opened as if to scream but no sound emerged. He lurched forward, one arm lunging out to prevent him from falling into the mud beneath him. His other hand moved, slowly as if some internal battle were being waged for control of the limb, drawing his pistol from its holster. Just as slowly, he raised the weapon to his head, lowering its barrel to his temple.

"No!" ordered Sylelle, kicking the weapon away. The Librarian lunged after it, but fell short and lay writhing on the ground as it lay out of reach. Invidia struggled to reach out a hand to his mistress.

"My Queen..." he rasped. She turned to see him, surprised, as if she hadn't noticed him before. She turned her head this way and that, looking at him like a curious cat, then raised a hand to him. But instead of the warm glow of healing, the fallen champion felt her reaching into his mind, searching through his thoughts. Then, one by one, he felt fragments of himself vanish into her. All his memories of pleasure, his sensations, even the horror of death, drained out of his mind, leaving his mind colourless, emotionless save for the despair of losing everything. She closed her eyes and smiled, then nodded to something behind him. A shadow fell across Invidia as someone leaned over him, a cold shape wrapped around his neck, there was a pressure, a sudden sharp pain, a crack.

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