Madness: the Tale of the Silent King

Szarekh watched from his tombship, far “above” the galaxy’s disc. From here, the stars and systems that constituted Sautekh space was like a scattered pinch of glowing sand, and the Gidrim Dynasty was just a few grains of that.

His people were dead. Lost, possibly forever. All because of Szeras’s technological madness and Szarekh’s own quest for immortality.

Yet in spite of all this, here they were, awake once more, 60 million years later, putting their empire back together.

No. Pretending to put someone else’s empire back together. The Necrontyr were gone. Finished. Their culture died with them. All that remained were the Necrons, pale shadows of their former selves, inferior in every way except longevity and deadliness.

This wasn’t the empire Szarekh remembered. This wasn’t the empire Szarekh wanted. Not at all.

The enhanced lifespan, certainly. That was wonderful. That was what his people had always longed for. A culture built around the horrors of cancer and death would always seek to escape, and that was exactly what the Necrontyr had done. But they had lost their soul. The Necrons had no art of their own. The Necrons had no music of their own. The Necrons had nothing like a culture anymore.

Every single Necron Szarekh knew of was just a conquest-hungry machine clinging to what he had known in life in an insincere charade. Imotekh. Trazyn. Anrakyr. Every leader of every dynasty.

Except one. There was still one leader who remembered how Necrontyr culture worked. One leader who remained incorruptible through it all. One leader who would never let his new state get the better of him. One leader who still remembered how to fight honorably and rule fairly.

And he was completely insane. His sincerity was admirable, but without his aide he would have fallen within a year of waking.

Perhaps that was what needed to be done, then. Perhaps the Necrons needed to simply embrace what they had become and do what it took to rule again.

Or perhaps they were not yet so far gone.

Had that not, after all, been the lesson Szarekh himself had learned at Devil’s Crag?

These extragalactic invaders, these “Tyranids”, were a threat to everything. Even the Necrons. A completely lifeless galaxy is not worth ruling, and even if the Necrons could somehow regain flesh-and-blood form, doing so in a post-Tyranid galaxy would mean being reborn only to starve to death.

Devil’s Crag had been interesting. Red-armored humans, the “Blood Angels”, and Szarekh’s own forces found themselves locked in combat, struggling for supremacy, when the Tyranids arrived. Szarekh turned and gave the order to fight on both fronts, defending against the enemy in front while focusing on the enemy at the flank. The Blood Angels commander did the same. As they realized they had just each given their own troops the same order, they hailed each other from across the battlefield on the comm.

“Our priorities coincide,” the human said.

Szarekh stared into the screen.

“I have no love for the Tyranids, and I see you feel the same.”

Szarekh nodded.

“Together, we can beat them. Help us.”

Szarekh stared for a long time. In all his millions of years of life, he had never, ever, received a plea for aid from an alien race. He didn’t know how to react. Slowly, he nodded, and shut off the transmission.

The combined forces of the Necrons and the Blood Angels proved too much for the invaders. As the battle drew to a close, Szarekh prepared to give the order to continue destroying the humans.

“My lord, a transmission from the enemy commander.”

“You fought well, xeno heathen.”

Szarekh stared.

“My forces are exhausted. Today, we will withdraw.”

Szarekh couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“Mark my words, alien. I will grant you the Emperor’s justice. But not today.”

Szarekh stared as the screen was shut off, and the humans began to fall back. He let them leave, before withdrawing his own troops.

Three armies had come to claim the world. None succeeded. But Szarekh had realized something very important today.

The Necrons had to repel the Tyranids alone. They were too brutal, too cold, too destructive to work together with any alien race for any meaningful length of time.

But the Necrontyr did not.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Willingly subjecting oneself to madness is nothing if not desperate.

Szarekh turned from the viewport. He stared at the crew, on the bridge. He willed them to be flesh and blood again. They refused, as expected.

But for a brief second, he had seen skin instead of metal. For a brief second, he had seen the rise and fall of breathing chests. For a brief second, he had seen the world through the eyes of Nemesor Zahndrekh, the one leader who still knew what it was like to be Necrontyr.

For a brief second, he had felt alive. And in that brief second, he had realized what it would take to beat the Tyranids.

“Gidrim,” Szarekh ordered.

“Yes, my lord.”

Zahndrekh’s knack for interspecies diplomacy was a gift born of insanity. Perhaps Szarekh needed to go a little insane himself. It was time to pay a very interesting visit to a very interesting friend.

Foresight: the Tale of Orikan the Diviner

The stars shone, harsh and bright, above Orikan’s vision.

It had been simple, really. The Orks had come by surprise, the Waaagh! attacking Gidrim space out of nowhere. The delinquent Traveller and the hated Illuminor had been the first to stumble across it the assault, and tried to stave it off. They failed utterly. Planets burned, and within mere months the deranged Nemesor and his fawning servant were no more. With a dozen worlds under their control, the Waaagh! had gained even more momentum, and drove deeper into Sautekh territory like a poison spreading into the heart of its host.

Within the year, Mandragora had fallen, and the stubbornly proud Stormlord had died with a last curse for the greenskins hanging on his lips.

Orikan still remembered the sound of the Meganobz pounding on his chamber’s reinforced door. He still remembered the creaking, groaning noise it made as it started to give way.

He remembered nothing after that, however. Nothing had happened after that. And truthfully, nothing before that had happened.

Orikan remembered, back when the Waaagh! had arrived. He also remembered before it arrived.

And he remembered the ex post facto precautions he had taken.

Brushing off the black dust of the void as he emerged in the past, Orikan had locked the doors of his chamber, with the usual setup. He had knocked on the door to test it.

“Apologies, He-Who-Hates-The-Color-Green, but I’m in the middle of something right now. Kindly go away,” came the recording. Orikan had giggled a bit then, and giggled a bit now at the memory. Any other astromancer would be dismantled for such insolence, but Orikan knew how to keep himself too crucial to be lost.

The voyage had been long.

Orikan had set out alone to the farthest reaches of Gidrim space, and then beyond, tracing back along the Orks’ invasion path. His ship was too small to be noticed by the greenskins.

And as the disgusting Ork junkpile came into view, hurtling through space, Orikan flew up closer.

He fired. No missiles emerged from his craft. No rockets, not even Gauss fire. Just a small, simple metal object, that latched onto the hull noiselessly in the vacuum of space.

The shuttle turned around and headed back to the seat of Sautekh space, with the beacon securely affixed. A gentle nudge was all that was required here, a tiny push to ensure that the doddering Nemesor had time to react.

Orikan returned to his chambers, and then to his present. Well, a present. It was so difficult to keep track.

With the beacon in place, the incoming WAAAGH! had shown up on the Nemesor’s sensors like a supernova. The Nemesor had brought all his might to bear at once, greeting the Orks on the planet’s surface. The Traveller had arrived late to the party, to help clean up.

And now, the exalted Stormlord was talking to a senile old man to learn the tactics for dealing with a completely non-tactical foe.

Orikan chuckled to himself as he gazed out the viewport.

The stars shone, harsh and bright, above Orikan’s vision.

Fuzzy Logic: the Tale of Imotekh the Stormlord

“My lord?”

“Speak.”

“There is a transmission coming in.”

“Source?”

“The ID matches Nemesor Zahndrekh.”

“Ignore it.”

“But, my lord-”

“I said ignore it.”

Imotekh looked down impassively. Zahndrekh. Always Zahndrekh. The Gidrim Dynasty was powerful, yes, and a glorious weapon for the Sautekh Dynasty to wield, but its leader tried even Imotekh’s patience.

“My lord, transmission coming in.”

“Source?”

“Trazyn of Solemnace.”

“Put him on.”

At least Trazyn knew what was real and what wasn’t, even if his priorities were completely cockeyed. It was almost a pity the two were rivals. Trazyn would make a splendid Nemesor if he weren’t already a Phaeron in his own right.

“My dear Imotekh, so good to see you again. I trust you are doing well?”

“Get to the point, Trazyn.”

“Can I not simply call in for a friendly conversation?”

“No.”

“Oh, well. In any case, do thank Zahndrekh for me. That Ork bosspole was perfect, just what I needed. Ciao!”

“What do you mean ‘chow’?”

The screen went blank. Trazyn, as usual, was just being annoying, but he mentioned Zahndrekh and something about a bosspole.

A bosspole…

“Is that transmission from Zahndrekh still waiting?”

“No, my lord, it looks like he stopped when–”

“Call him. Now.”

The screen crackled for a moment, and then the image of Vargard Obyron solidified into view.

“Obyron.”

“My Phaeron.”

“Trazyn extends his thanks.”

“My lord?”

“The bosspole.”

“Oh. Yes, my lord, he requested it after the battle. Speaking of which, I tried–”

“Explain.”

“Of course, my lord. An Ork fleet entered Gidrim space and attacked a world on the fringes of our territory. We put down the invasion, with some help from Lord Anrakyr. I–”

“LORD Anrakyr?”

An unusual slip of the tongue on Obyron’s part. Imotekh knew that it was most likely simply a misguided attempt at showing proper deference, but it was important to keep Vargards on their toes about this sort of thing. He also would have questioned the phrasing had Obyron simply referred to him as Anrakyr.

“My apologies, my lord. I did not mean to imply that my loyalties had shifted.”

“See that they do not.”

“I attempted to contact you a short while ago to inform you. I received no response.

“I mistook you for the Nemesor, Vargard.”

“Understandable.”

“How big a part did Anrakyr play in this skirmish?”

“Negligible, my lord, though you would not think so to hear him tell it. He turned a decisive victory into an overwhelming one, but we were going to win regardless.”

Imotekh turned this over in his mind. Of course, the Vargard could simply be telling him what he wanted to hear, but that did not negate the possibility: perhaps the Stormlord had been giving Zahndrekh too little credit.

“Bring your master. I wish to speak with him about how he defeated the…?”

Obyron did not respond for a moment, then looked down, unwilling to meet Imotekh’s eyes as he answered.

“‘Ohr’kssh’ Dynasty, my Phaeron.”

“Yes. Bring him, that he might enlighten me on how to properly fight the…’Ohr’kssh’. Their strategy has eluded me for far too long. It is time I corrected that.”

“Immediately, my lord.”

Stressful Negotiations: the Tale of Anrakyr the Traveller

“What ho, down there! Make way, the Traveller is coming ashore!”

Anrakyr loved saying that. The title of “the Traveller” had appealed to him ever since he took it. It had such a wonderful sense of danger and adventure to it.

Come to think of it, so did his life, now. Well, unlife.

The Orks had been smashed, thanks to his timely intervention. Zahndrekh’s forces were doing fairly well, he had to admit, but surely the day would not have been won if Anrakyr hadn’t leapt in to drive the greenskins back.

Now if only these damned Gidrims would recognize that and pay their tithe.

“We cannot spare anyone. Go away.”

“Surely you can’t be serious. I just saved your world! I’m entitled to compensation. 5 companies of warriors, 2 squads of immortals, and 3 Canoptek battalions. That’s all I ask. Surely you can spare that?”

“We cannot spare anyone. Go away.”

How was he supposed to unite the tomb worlds if all of them refused to help him keep up his army?

Anrakyr looked back down from the commscreen to his databanks. The intervention had cost him a great deal of manpower. The Orks couldn’t stand against his armored divisions, but his infantry had been ravaged, torn apart under the green tide. Scarabs had been trampled, warriors had been ripped apart, and he was pretty sure he’d seen a few immortal heads on the trophy poles of a number of nob corpses.

Anrakyr turned to the crew of the Tombship.

“Well, brave hearts, it looks like we might have some more fighting ahead of us. Organize a landing party. Launch on my command.”

The crew around him stared vacantly for a few moments, then got to work.

Anrakyr waited a few minutes to give them a head start, and hailed the surface once more.

“Last chance. I’m willing to bargain a bit. 3 warrior companies, 1 squad of immortals, and 2 Canoptek battalions?”

The Lord on the viewscreen stared directly at him for several minutes. Anrakyr wondered at the meaning of this hesitation.

His wondering stopped as the Lord looked down, and the viewscreen collapsed into static.

“Launch,” sighed a resigned Anrakyr. He went to his personal shuttle, to prepare his command barge for the raid.

Hall of Mirrors: the Tale of Trazyn the Infinite

Such a wondrous, beautiful artefact. So marvelous, so perfect. And this was the perfect place for it.

Trazyn carefully set into place his latest acquisition for his collection. That fool Zahndrekh was finally good for something. Trazyn at last had a genuine, intact, Orkish bosspole for his display.

It didn’t matter that the bosspole had come from an Evil Sunz warboss and he was putting it on a replica of a Goffs warboss. That wasn’t the point. The point was that a warboss should have a bosspole, and this one didn’t have one.

Until now, that is. As he slid the pole into place, he beamed with pride as he looked around the gallery. He knew he was beaming with pride. He could see himself doing it. His surrogate, in the hall, was watching it all, and applauded the completion of the display.

Trazyn would have grinned from ear to ear if his face still had that kind of flexibility. Another surrogate came around from the other end of the hall, and joined in the cheering. Soon, Trazyn was receiving a massed standing ovation from himself, surrounded by twenty-eight overwritten Lychguard and Lords.

Graciously, Trazyn dismissed his best friends to their own business, and downplayed the importance of today’s triumphs. He wouldn’t want to develop an ego, after all.

Trazyn strolled through the Ork gallery to the end, and went to check on Robby.

“Why, hello, Robby! And how are you doing today?”

The vast man didn’t answer. He couldn’t. The stasis field held him in place.

Trazyn almost wanted to find a way to dismantle the field. It was very insolent of this being not to respond to a friend’s greeting, after all. Still, the pose was absolutely perfect. That frozen open-mouthed expression always drew the eye right to it. Long ago, Trazyn had decided that the figure was in awe of his new surroundings, gaping and staring, unable to form words to describe the museum’s majesty.

Trazyn had chosen the name “Robby” because what he had scavenged from human civilizations suggested it was a fairly common nickname. Besides, his exhibit looked like a Robby. Or a Robert. Something beginning with Rob.

“Well, I’m afraid I must be off, Robby. As always, it’s been a pleasure to see you, and as always I can tell you are at least as pleased to see me. What was that informal greeting you humans use again? Hmm…oh, yes, I remember now. CIAO!”

Trazyn continued on through the gallery, nearly bumping into another surrogate as he did so. The surrogate bowed graciously in apology, and Trazyn bowed back. As Trazyn left the room, the surrogate wordlessly inclined his head toward Robby as he passed by.

Robby did not respond.

As he walked through the halls, Trazyn pondered what his next move would be. Now that the Ork display was finished — well, as finished as it would probably be for some time — he would need to pursue a different collection. Perhaps the Eldar exhibit needed a new acquisition.

Trazyn mused on the peculiarities of this race. still wasn’t sure why some of them had smooth armor and some of them had spiked armor. Perhaps it was intended as a sexual signifier? Eldar biology was so difficult to keep track of. Maybe the males wear the spiked armor to broadcast their sex to the females? But why do some have those strange chest-bumps and others don’t?

Trazyn looked around. His wandering had brought him to a wing he hadn’t visited in a long time. A long time. And he knew exactly why.

He looked to his right. There, he saw it. A portrait hung on the wall. A picture of a Necrontyr female, flesh-and-blood, before the change. She was smiling and wearing a small, scaled headdress. In front of the portrait was a pedestal. On the pedestal, in a glass case, sat a gem the size of Trazyn’s fingertip. The woman in the portrait had formed a small divot, at the top of her sternum, large enough to fit the gem.

The portrait was labelled with a name. The gem was labelled with the same name. Trazyn refused to look at the label. He turned around, and cast the wing from his mind, as he always had. An image formed in his mind, of a much younger, much more alive version of himself, dressed for a wedding. He held the gem, the same gem, in his hand, and was looking around, smiling.

Such a wondrous, beautiful artefact. So marvelous, so perfect. And this was the perfect place for it.

Whistle While You Work: the Tale of Illuminor Szeras

“I am the very model of a scientific Necrontyr
I’ve vivisected species from the Eldar to the…damn.”

Szeras pulled his scalpel away from his latest “patient”, an Ork nob delivered to him by Zahndrekh’s lackey. What was his name again? Obituary or something. It didn’t matter; what mattered was the song. Szeras couldn’t work without a song. He NEEDED music to underline his work, and the screams of his “specimens” would not suffice; he shut off his audio receptors to block them out anyway.

But he needed SOME sound. He needed MUSIC, something he could hum or sing to himself while he tried to extract that final missing piece, the last secret to show him how to help the Necrons ascend to the next level of existence.

But what in the name of the C’tan rhymes with Necrontyr?

The nob in front of him spat curses from his harness as Szeras stared off into the distance, lost in thought.

“Dok! Dose bitz on da table! Put ’em back! I need ’em, ya git!”

Szeras couldn’t hear. He couldn’t work, either. Not until he had a song.

And then one came. It was a foreign song, recovered when a Tomb World awoke to find itself covered in human civilizations. Some of their culture had been scavenged from the ruins. Szeras had always liked this song. It helped that he didn’t need to make up any lyrics to it.

Wielding his scalpel again and humming for a moment to check that he was in tune, he resumed his noble efforts.

“Grey skies are gonna clear up…Put on a happy face…”

Infuriating: the Tale of Nemesor Zahndrekh and Vargard Obyron

The Nemesor could be so infuriating sometimes.

“My lord, unidentified vessels have entered Gidrim Dynasty space. Preliminary scans suggest they are of Orkish make.”

“Ohr’kssh? Again? The Ohr’kssh Dynasty is trying to rise against the Sautekh AGAIN?”

“…yes, my lord.”

Obyron would have sighed if he still breathed. The Nemesor couldn’t be made to see reality anymore. Where the rest of the dynasty saw hulking, wretched greenskins trying stupidly to stand against the Necrons, Zahndrekh saw only living Necrontyr. Obyron braced himself for what he knew would come next.

“Hail them on my behalf. I can never quite wrap my mind around their accent. I’m sure you can handle the negotiations fine, Obyron.”

Pleased though he was at his lord’s faith in him, this task frustrated Obyron too much to take any joy. He would issue the typical ultimatum, and the Orks, as usual, would reject it and attack, and STILL the Nemesor would wonder about their obstinacy.

Obyron delegated the task to a Lychgard and watched the conversation from out of the camera’s view. He didn’t feel like talking to a greenskin again. The greenskins never felt like talking anyway. It was a formality, demanded by a senile old coot who was barely even fit to lead a cleaning crew anymore, much less a dynasty.

The ultimatum was rejected. As usual. The Orks continued their wild voyage further into the system. Battle was now inevitable.

Obyron wearily shambled back to the throne room. News like this was always a pain to give. As usual, the Nemesor would pontificate about how their brethren were so lost, and ramble about how shameful it was that such rebellions should be so common, and mourn that Necrontyr should die without being shown the error of their ways.

“Why do they persist? Why can’t they see that we should be on the same side? Why can’t we be allies in this? Why, Obyron? Why?”

“The …Ohr’kssh Dynasty is renowned for its warlike nature, but not its intelligence, my lord.”

“Such a pity. We shall strike swiftly. Be merciful, my dear Obyron. Mercy is the mark of a great man, and we are nothing if not great. Accept their surrender as soon as it is offered and bring me their commander, that I may speak to him.”

“…yes my lord.”

Obyron turned to leave the throne room and begin marshaling the Gidrim Dynasty’s forces. It would not be a long war. Barely worth the trouble, even. It was simply another annoyance in an eternally annoying unlife.

As Obyron reached the door, he heard the Nemesor speak again.

“And Obyron?”

“My lord?”

“When this is through, drinks are on me.”

Unbidden, a memory flashed into Obyron’s mind. Zahndrekh was still flesh-and-blood, and had just come of age a year ago, inheriting his father’s lands and title. Obyron had just similarly inherited his office from his own father. The two of them had just led the conquest of a neighboring province on the surface of Gidrim, incorporating it into Zahndrekh’s substantial territory. In celebration of their victory, the two drank the night away in the biggest settlement in the province. A perfect, almost photographic image came to mind of a crowned Necrontyr leaning on his bodyguard as they staggered back to camp, happily inebriated, in the wee hours of the morning. A conversation replayed in Obyron’s mind, as if recorded.

“Obyron, what do you call a province on the other side of Gidrim?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Mine by the end of the year!”

Obyron couldn’t breathe, but he could have sworn he felt an all-too-familiar choking sensation. He touched a metal finger to his cheek. No moisture. Of course not.

“…yes, my lord.”

The Nemesor could be so infuriating sometimes.