All is Dust: the Tale of the Thousand Sons

“So you see, the Emperor is no more than a corpse, worshipped by our blinded brethren. We are trying to open their eyes to this fact.”

“I see,” replied Lord Akhentomen.

“Your help in this battle will be greatly rewarded, I assure you. I will see to it that you get your cut of the conquered territory,” said the Sorcerer Lord.

“The Nemesor will be pleased to hear that.”

“Your leader, this ‘Nemesor’, intrigues me. Why have I yet to meet him?”

Akhentomen stopped walking for a moment, halting in the middle of the Thousand Sons encampment. Around him, he saw animated suits of armor, standing stock-still, waiting to be called into action. There were no tents. It was more like an animal pen. Or a garden full of statues.

“The exalted Nemesor Zahndrekh is…off-putting, for some. Friendly, even to ones such as yourself, but his manner tends to be confusing, even to his own servants.”

“How do you mean?” asked the Sorcerer.

“The Nemesor is… eccentric. A brilliant tactician, perfectly deserving of his place at the head of the glorious Gidrim Dynasty, a prized weapon in the hands of the wise and powerful Phaeron Imotekh, Stormlord of the Sautekh Dynasty (may his name and greatness endure forever), but…”

“But…?”

“I tell you this in the strictest confidence. If you breathe a word of this to anyone, I will see to it that the Gidrim Dynasty annihilates you, and everyone who looks like you, and everyone who looks like everyone who looks like you.”

“The only thing Tzeentch loves more than secrets is keeping them.”

“…he thinks you are Necrontyr.”

“What?!”

“He thinks EVERYONE is Necrontyr. Even the Necrons. He is unaware of the biotransference. Or the differences between our species. To him, you are a long-lost brother from a different dynasty, allied in our struggle. To him, our enemies are rival dynasties, trying to take our territory. To him, eating and drinking are still possible.”

“…you are led by a madman.”

“We are led by the madman and his sane bodyguard.”

“Ah, that is why he prizes his Vargard so highly.”

“Indeed. Obyron amends his orders to fit reality. It is Obyron who sees to it that the needs of the Necrons are met. The Necrontyr…the Necrontyr are no more.”

“Perhaps Obyron should rule.”

“He does not wish to. His loyalty is too great.”

“He is a fool for not seizing power when it is within his grasp.”

Akhentomen looked into the Sorcerer Lord’s eyes with a nearly unmatched fury.

“Your opinion is not required. Only your assistance. We strike your ‘brethren’ tonight. Be ready.”

“Of course.”

As Akhentomen prepared to leave, a thought struck him. He turned back to the Sorcerer Lord.

“I have heard tell of daemons and gods at your disposal. Disregarding the foolishness of such superstitions…”

He sensed that the Sorcerer was extremely displeased at this statement, but the Sorcerer was not prepared to jeopardize an already fragile alliance when there was so much to gain. Akhentomen finished his question.

“…why have I seen no evidence of their involvement in this matter?

The Sorcerer stepped closer, with a strangely conspiratorial air to him. Akhentomen could not see the expression he wore under his helmet, but he imagined it was a nervous one.

“…they despise you.”

“Why?”

“You are anathema.”

“Explain.”

The Sorcerer paused for a moment, clearly seeking the correct words. Akhentomen waited, patiently.

“You know of the Warp, yes?”

“Of course.”

“The Dark Gods live within it.”

“So you have said.”

“The Warp is composed of all the emotions of every race with any psychic potential. Any at all. Every living race.”

“And? What is the problem?”

“Every LIVING race,” the Sorcerer replied, emphasizing the operative adjective.

“…Ah.”

“They cannot feed on your emotions. They cannot grant you their gifts. They cannot benefit from your service. You are purely material, completely detached from the Immaterium. You are blank, null, untouchable. I risk Tzeentch’s displeasure by even forming this alliance with you.”

“Yet you pursue it nonetheless.”

The Sorcerer shifted uncomfortably, as if he was not sure if he could speak truthfully. He glanced upwards, into thin air. Akhentomen suspected he was looking to his gods.

“Tzeentch is capricious. When he sees how we have benefited from this alliance, he will be pleased.”

“If he is so capricious, you cannot know that.”

The Sorcerer did not respond. He seemed very disturbed by this thought. He turned away. Akhentomen left, to bring his news to Obyron.

***

The battle had gone wonderfully. With the Thousand Sons at their side and Zahndrekh’s brilliant leadership at their front, the Gidrim Dynasty had driven the Space Wolves from the Helridor fields of Jenthor III. A few more battles like that one, and Jenthor III would be firmly within Gidrim space.

So why did Akhentomen feel so tense?

“The human sorcerer, Malgus, was of great service to us, Akhentomen.”

“Yes, Vargard. He was.”

“His strange magicks can do things our Crypteks cannot replicate.”

“This is true as well.”

“The Nemesor wants that power on our side.”

“Impossible. Necrons have no presence in the warp, no psyker potential. The sorcerer told me as much.”

“You do not understand. He does not want power LIKE that. He wants THAT power.”

“…wait, you mean…?”

Obyron nodded.

“If he wants it so badly, he can get it himself.”

“You know perfectly well that is not an option.”

“Then you can do it.”

“I don’t have to. I can make you do it.”

“Not if I refuse.”

“Am I to understand that you are disobeying a direct order from your superiors?” said Obyron, his voice becoming a soft mechanical growl more threatening than any shout. His warscythe glinted menacingly in the moonlight of the camp.

“…no.”

“Good. It would be unfortunate if I had to appoint a new Lord to the Royal Court and explain why his predecessor is the legless jester. See to it that these ‘Thal-Zend Szunz’ are on our side for the rest of the campaign.”

“I will.”

“Excellent. We are moving to take what the humans call Foren’s Pass in two days. Relay the situation to our new ‘allies’.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Akhentomen?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Don’t think you can get out of this by enraging the sorcerer into an uprising. I will know, and I will hold you responsible if this alliance falls through.”

“…yes, Vargard.”

***

“Malgus.”

“Akhentomen.”

“These Luna Wolves–”

“SPACE Wolves,” Malgus corrected.

“Space Wolves. You have no love for these Space Wolves, correct?”

Akhentomen was glad he could not see Malgus’s face under the helmet. The sorcerer’s arms trembled at his sides, and a strange sputtering noise emerged from the helmet. When the sorcerer spoke again, he was screaming, as foam and spittle flew forth from the open T-shaped visor from the helmet.

“THEY BETRAYED US!” Malgus shrieked. “IF NOT FOR THEM, OUR CHAPTER WOULD NEVER HAVE LOST PROSPERO! THEY WERE OUR PERSECUTORS, HUNTING US FOR THE ‘CRIME’ OF OPENING OUR MINDS TO WARP TO EMBRACE THE POWER WITHIN! THEY–”

The Sorcerer cut off, cursing indistinctly. When he spoke again, his spit had taken on a reddish hue and his speech had taken on a slight lisp. Akhentomen concluded with amusement that he had bitten his tongue by accident.

“THEY DETHERVE EXTINCTION, IN THE NAME OF MAGNUTH THE RED, TZTHEENTCH, AND ALL THAT ITH!”

“Then you would not be adverse to continuing our alliance against them, I take it?”

“The very idea that I would not ith inthulting.”

“Excellent. We strike Foren’s Pass in two days. Can we count on your support?”

“We will be counting the–AAARGH!”

Akhentomen stepped back. The sorcerer had stopped trembling with rage, but was evidently being taken with some sort of seizure. Of course, this had to happen now, right after Obyron’s threat. Of course the alliance had to collapse before it had begun. Why did this always happen to him?

“Are you all right?”

The sorcerer fell to the ground, coughing and gagging, as though choking on something. After several long and awkward minutes of this, his breathing settled down, and he got to his feet again.

“The Changer of Ways has ssssssssssssseen fit to grant me a new tongue, to replacccccccccce what was damaged. Truly, Tzeentch’s generossssssssity is unmatched.”

A triple-forked fleshy protrusion flicked in and out of the depths of the helmet as the sorcerer spoke. Akhentomen did his best to hide his revulsion.

“Do we have your aid?”

“Of coursssssssse.”

“Good. The Nemesor will be most pleased by this news. I will take my leave. Ready your troops.”

“Until we meet again,” replied the sorcerer, his tongue sensually caressing the edges of the helmet as it explored its new home with a mind of its own.

***

The battle of Foren’s Pass had gone even better than the battle of Helridor Fields. Not a single Necron phased out. Not one Canoptek Wraith or Spyder fell. The Necrons had not suffered one meaningful casualty in the entire fight.

As near as Akhentomen could tell, the Thousand Sons had taken no real casualties either. He had gotten a close look at one of their fallen, and there was no body. There was only a pile of dust, and a scattered suit of armor.

When he spoke to the Sorcerer, however, the story was quite different.

“Three entire ssssssssssssquadssssssssssss of my brothers, wiped out, and you made no effort to come to our aid!” hissed Malgus, around his writhing tongue. I thought you ssssssssssaid we were in thissssssssssssssss together!”

“We are. No organic casualties were sustained. The magical adepts of both squads are standing directly behind you.”

“THAT ISN’T THE POINT! I mean the marinesssssssssss that fell in that battle! The brothers that will never — CAN never — be replacccccccccccccced!”

“They were dust to begin with. With your powers, surely you can make more.”

***

Akhentomen got up onto his knees as his jaw slid back into place with the sound of knifes sliding across each other. He had not anticipated the sorcerer’s reaction to his perfectly logical suggestion.

Nor had he anticipated that the sorcerer’s staff would be at his throat when he recovered.

“I should smite you with all the power at my disposal until you are a scrap heap, machine.”

“Why?”

“For daring to ssssssssssssuggesssssssssst — to even DREAM — that my brothers can be replacccccccccced as easily as one of your automatons.”

Akhentomen was not sure if the prospect of replacing a necron or the fact that he had called them mere automatons angered him more. He kept calm, however. Too much was riding on this to jeopardize it now.

“Clearly I do not understand the problem. Please explain.”

Malgus pulled his force staff back reluctantly and struggled to regain his composure. When he spoke again, his rage was still clearly evident, but more contained.

***

“That ‘dussssssst’ is all that remains of the sssssssspaccccccce marines that were oncccccccce the Thousand Ssssssssons.”

Akhentomen’s blank stare was all the reply the sorcerer needed to this statement. Akhentomen did not understand, and he let it show.

“Oncccccce, we were flesh and blood, like the ssssssssssspacccccce marines we now fight at your sssssssssside. The Weaver of Fatessssssss, in his wisdom, wracked usssssssss with mutations. His gifts. His blessssssssssings. But we were not prepared. He overesssssssstimated what our frames could withsssssssssstand.”

Akhentomen stared in silence, understanding, but lacking sufficient information to speak. Malgus continued.

“One of our greatesssssssst sssssssssorcccccccerers, Ahriman, went againsssssssst the will of Tzeentch. Or ssssssso he thought at the time. I have ssssssssinccccccce realized this was Tzeentch’s will all along. How could it not be? He is resssssssssponsible for all things.”

“Skip the superstition. Get to the point.”

Clearly irritated by his interruption, but more than willing to continue expounding on his legion’s history, Malgus continued.

“Ahriman ssssssstopped the mutations. By turning all but our pssssssssykers into dussssssst.”

Akhentomen felt something he never thought he would feel for the sorcerer: sympathy.

The tale of the Thousand Sons reminded him of the end of the Time of Flesh. It reminded him of the pact struck with the C’tan. It reminded him of the pain and horror of his own rebirth.

And it reminded him that somewhere, out in the universe, there is always someone worse off than you.

“I see. We will be more…co-operative in the future.”

Malgus staggered backwards. Akhentomen saw that he seemed astonished that it had been this easy to gain more help from this alliance.

“Of course, we ask that you extend us the same courtesy. There is more to our warriors than meets the eye, as well.”

“Until the Ssssssspacccccce Wolves are crushed, you have our aid. Now go. We captured ssssssssssome Guardsmen in the lasssssssst action, and their sssssssssssacrificccccccce will be most pleasing to the Lord of Change.”

Any pity Akhentomen felt for the sorcerer evaporated in the face of such gleeful barbarism. He turned and left, without another word.

***

“What do you have for the Nemesor, Akhentomen?”

“Our allies request that we offer them greater protection on the battlefield, my Vargard.”

“A pointless waste of our efforts. This alliance will be terminated at the end of the campaign. Every loss they suffer is one we don’t have to inflict later.”

“Yet a necessary waste of our efforts, if you really want this alliance to work, Vargard.”

Akhentomen imagined that Obyron was at least as irritated as he was.

“Very well. He shall have our aid. The final assault on the human base of operations will occur in three days. Inform him.”

“With all due respect, Vargard, must we maintain this alliance? We have routed these Wolves with few if any casualties so far. Surely we can take the rest of the planet alone.”

“It is irrelevant. The Nemesor wants them, ergo we must see to it that he has them.”

“But Malgus is MAD. He is a barbaric fanatic, devoted to warp-spawned horrors that mutate and twist him. He counts himself blessed to have the most disgusting tongue in existence.”

Obyron looks Akhentomen in the eyes for a long minute. When he spoke, it was quiet, and his tone was deadpan, yet the words were marinated in sarcasm like a fine steak.

“I cannot for the life of me imagine what it must be like to work with a mad ruler. Truly you bear a greater burden than any of us. Lord Akhentomen is the bravest Necron of any dynasty that has ever existed. My heart bleeds for you.”

***

Akhentomen approached Malgus, to bring him Obyron’s instructions. The sorcerer was turned away from him, hunched forward and…giggling?

“Malgus.”

“Ak-ak-HEN-tomen, sssssssssssso good to sssssssssssssssee you again! Before. Again. Now.” The sorcerer’s back was still turned. Ordinarily, Akhentomen would consider this supremely rude, but something in the back of his mind told him he didn’t want to see the sorcerer from the front again. Ever.

Despite his better judgment, he had to ask it. The alliance was necessary. There was no other choice.

“Are you…are you all right?”

The sorcerer whipped around, and Akhentomen nearly bolted for the Necron base. The sorcerer now gripped his force staff in a sickening claw jutting from a feathered arm, but even as Akhentomen watched the feathers were shifting colors and texture, now becoming cilia as the hand became covered in the sticky nubs of some sea creature, now becoming fur as the hand became a beast’s paw, now becoming chitinous and insectoid as the hand became the stone fist of a statue.

“There was an accccccccccccident,” the sorcerer said, his tongue flicking out obscenely, now covered in scales and hairs in equal measures. “No, there wasn’t. The ssssssssacrificcccccce went jusssssssssssssst as it hadn’t not been planned. We told him I couldn’t hold your knife steady…”

“T…told who?”

“USSSSSSS!” cried the sorcerer triumphantly. Small mouths opened up on the tongue as it slithered out, and they joined in the glorious proclamation. “No, Tzeentch! But he is IN usssssss now! His generosssssssssssssity is unparalleled! We welcome his giftsssssssss!”

Akhentomen offered no response. He could think of nothing to say. Malgus stepped towards him, with a strange, hobbling gait.

“And he wantssssssssss to grant YOU his giftssssssssss too, Necron, but you won’t take them. Why won’t you accccccccccept?” Malgus was very close now. His eyes, glowing beneath his helmet, had a monstrously deranged look to them.

Akhentomen took a step back, barely containing his disgust. This would be the last time he spoke to the sorcerer. EVER. He hoped.

“Three days. We attack the base in three days. Be ready.”

Malgus approached even closer, his tongue flicking out to dance across Akhentomen’s collarbone. Paralyzed with revulsion and fear, Akhentomen stood perfectly still.

“We will be ready…ready for you…for them…will you be ready? For usssssss? For the Wolvesssssssss? Of coursssssssse you will, it is in the plan…or maybe it isn’t…one of them, cccccccccertainly…”

Akhentomen turned on his heel and left as quickly as he could without overtly running. This alliance was getting worse with each passing moment. He desperately hoped that either he or the sorcerer would be annihilated in three days’ time.

***

“All right, gentlemen, I will be leading this assault from the barge personally. Fight honorably. Remember, our enemies are not evil. They are necrontyr, like you and me, and you will treat them as such!”

Akhentomen silently suffered through Zahndrekh’s speech. The general’s sheer genius was the only thing that allowed him to retain power.

“As per the rules of war, you are to accept any surrender offered, and capture enemy officers alive when possible. With luck, we can bring their forces into the fold, and expand our dynasty with minimal bloodshed.”

Vargard Obyron shifted uncomfortably next to the Nemesor, but his eyes were on the rest of the Royal Court. Zahndrekh’s public appearances always stirred resentment. It was his duty to crush any who might threaten the exalted Nemesor.

“Vargard Obyron will brief you on the plan of attack. And remember, these Thal-Zend Szunsz are our allies. Treat them as such. Protect them if they come under fire. Expect them to show you the same courtesy. Good day, and good luck.”

As Zahndrekh left, Obyron moved into the place where he had stood.

“Akhentomen, the Thousand Sons are stable and loyal to our cause in this fight, yes?”

“In this fight, yes, Vargard. In the aftermath, I cannot say.”

“Fortunately, we do not require their loyalty then. Zahndrekh wants these Space Wolves as captives. As usual, you are to report that they either fought to the end and could not be restrained, or died trying to escape. Zahndrekh can only suspect you if he sees the truth, so follow his orders to the letter in his presence, but otherwise…”

Obyron leaned forward over the table, laying his warscythe down on top of it.

“Slaughter them to a man.”

***

Akhentomen retrieved his warscythe from his quarters. This weapon had been with him for millions of years, since the end of the Time of Flesh. It had been a gift, from a fellow lord long since dead. His tomb world had failed to come back online. When Akhentomen had last saw him, his metal body was being scrapped for the Canoptek factories.

This warscythe was all that remained of him.

And he would need it for this fight.

They were to employ a tactic the Nemesor jokingly called the “Tele-court”. Everyone had laughed at the pun when it was made, but only Obyron’s laughter had approached sincerity.

Obyron’s Ghostwalk Mantle was a fantastic device, created by a long-since-lost Cryptek who perfected the Veil of Darkness used by Harbingers of Despair. It was a device that defied replication, one which gave the user an incredible degree of control over his jump with the proper motivation.

Obyron’s will was almost too weak to use it properly, even now. Almost. But jumping to his master was the motivation he needed.

The barge would move on ahead. Zahndrekh would ride far above the battlefield, bringing death from above, until he was near his intended position.

Then, Obyron and the Royal Court would leap to him, and destroy everything in his path.

***

The battlefield was warm, even in the dark hours before dawn. The warm climate of this location was to blame, but the heat exuding from the Space Wolves base in the basin below didn’t help. The Space Wolves seemed to be preparing for evacuation, but not actually evacuating. They were not yet sure they needed to, but believed it could happen.

That would make this all the easier.

Without a word, Nemesor Zahndrekh raised his staff of light from his barge. He held it high, waiting for some signal that no other being in the battalion could see. Then, with a sudden movement, he pointed it directly at the base, and his barge zipped forward, leaving the Court behind, their trappings and accessories swaying in the sudden wind.

As Akhentomen watched the charge, a convoy of Ghost Arks followed the chariot, at full speed, and a swarm of scarabs and spyders parted to go around the Court like a river splits around a boulder. High overhead, Night Scythes and Doom Scythes zoomed in, preparing to strafe the human army on the surface. Beams projected from the bottom of the Night Scythes, and entire squads of Immortals materialized at the bottom, unleashing the fury of their Gauss blasters on the base’s motor pool.

In the wake of the Canoptek units, a trio of Thousand Sons Rhinos roared forward on their treads, as though eating the road itself. Malgus stuck out of the top hatch of the leading one, cackling madly. He had no new mutations…yet. Not that he needed any more to be abhorrent to Akhentomen’s sight.

The Chaos force passed by, with larger tanks following behind the Rhinos, bristling with primitive human weapons.

“Brace…”

Akhentomen snapped back at Obyron’s word. The time was nearly at hand. Zahndrekh was almost in position. Obyron stared out over the battlefield, watching the barge intently.

“Now!”

Obyron whipped back towards the Court, as the Lords readied their warscythes. His mantle extended out much farther than it reasonably should have been able to do, casting a black shroud over Akhentomen’s vision. For the briefest of instants, he was utterly blind.

The mantle slid out of his field of vision, and he was in front of the barge, surrounded by the rest of the Court, poised to enter the main building of the Space Wolves compound. Marines poured forth from the entry, and Obyron and the other lords cut each down with dispassionate, mechanical precision. Akhentomen followed the lords in as Obyron ushered them through the doorway, casting a worried glance back to the Thousand Sons. His last sight before the door slid closed was of Malgus, seeming far too excited about the battle raging around him. Obyron was staring at the sorcerer as well, staying outside with his master, where he belonged.

Akhentomen stalked after the other lords through the dull corridors, beheading confused servitors as the squad moved towards the center of the base.

***

The front of the Rhino opened. Malgus and his brothers issued forth from the front, fanning out like a gout of flame. His staff belched warpfire and lightning as Space Wolves died around him, and he gave himself fully to the Warp, as he had done countless times before.

But this time was different. This time, he could feel the Warp giving itself back to him. He could feel it overtaking him, consuming him.

It was a glorious agony.

***

The entire Space Wolves’s motor pool had been demolished, and the sun was barely up. Men fell in droves as Gauss and bolter fire rang out across the landscape, the noise drowning out even the screams of the dying. The evacuation would never come to pass. Their defensive turret grid lay in ruins, and their trenches overrun.

But desperation makes the brave foolish. An assault marine screamed up towards the barge, propelled by his jump pack, streaming blood from a nasty leg wound. He brought his chainsword down upon the Nemesor with a final, fierce howl of defiance.

Staff met chain as the two clashed. Staff gave way. With a sudden cry, Nemesor Zahndrekh clutched at his forearm, at the deep gash that had been cut into the metal.

Obyron’s eyes glowed with the intensity of a nova. He swirled his mantle, and appeared on the barge, next to his master. With a single swing of his warscythe, the presumptuous enemy was bisected. His master was safe again, for now.

“Thank you, Obyron,” said Zahndrekh, shrugging the wound off as if it hadn’t happened. His metallic skin was closing up, as if it indeed had not.

“My life is yours,” said the Vargard.

***

As the battle raged around them, Zahndrekh turned back to look at their comrades, this strange Thal-Zend Szunsz Dynasty. These necrontyr wore strange headdresses, but seemed to be most effective in combat, even if their vehicles all used primitive, outdated technology.

Why did it seem like the Sautekh Dynasty and its clients were the only dynasties that could build skimmers anymore?

This Mal’Gurzh seemed as primitive as his technology, at that. He rushed into battle clutching a staff. His power was impressive, certainly, but his leadership was lacking. How these Thal-Zend Szunsz had lasted so long with such ineffective leaders was beyond his ability to comprehend.

Before Zahndrekh’s eyes, however, Mal’Gurzh seemed to be changing…growing…

***

“Obyron…is…what in the name of the Phaeron is that?”

Obyron turned at his master’s call, and looked where he was pointing. Malgus was changing, growing becoming…something. Portals opened around him, and horrible pink monsters streamed out of them, butchering the Space Wolves with their many arms and throwing fire from their hands.

“I…I do not know, my Nemesor.”

“Obyron! OBYRON!”

Obyron’s attention snapped back to his master. “I told you, sir, I do–”

His voice caught in his vox. Zahndrekh was staring at his hands, as if seeing them for the first time. Zahndrekh looked from his hands to the battlefield, from the battlefield to Obyron, from Obyron to his hands, and back, with a sheer horror on his face.

“Obyron…I…you…we are METAL! What are these monsters around me? What happened to Mal’Gurzh? OBYRON, HELP ME, I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON!”

Obyron could have burst from all the emotions he felt in that moment, as time stood still. He was elated that his lord finally saw reality as it is, that the delusions were finally over. He was irritated that it had to come in the middle of a battle. He was angry that the sorcerer had suddenly become a liability and the alliance could no longer hold. He was in awe of the psychic power before him, twisting reality itself as a small girl might twist the hem of her dress. And he was frightened for his master, for his dearest friend, as he saw the sheer terror in Zahndrekh’s eyes.

“OBYRON! HELP ME!”

With a swift bash to the back of the head with the pommel of his warscythe, Obyron did exactly that. Zahndrekh slumped back, unconscious, his systems scrambling to reboot and bring him back online. He would recover soon, and hopefully remember nothing of the insubordination that had just occurred, or the horror he had witnessed that had shattered his perception of the world around him.

“All units, fire on the Space Wolves only as a retaliatory measure! Concentrate fire on the Thousand Sons! Bring that monster down!” It took Obyron a second to realize the words had been his. He was destroying the alliance he himself had created.

And yet it felt so right, to strike down the writhing, morphing giant that had been Malgus. It felt like he was doing the universe a favor. He couldn’t explain why.

***

The collected lords fought the Space Wolves command squad with all the mercy of a hungry predator. Akhentomen beheaded the white-armored one as he injected something into one of his wounded brothers. His fellows slashed through the other marines like knives through butter.

But the commander was a different matter.

The claws on his wrists cut through a Lord and sent him sprawling to the floor. Green energy shimmered over him as he phased out. His assistance could no longer be expected.

A second Lord rushed the commander with his warscythe extended, but froze mere inches from the human’s face. The halo on the human’s back hummed with a strange power, and the human effortlessly chopped him in two. The parts had phased before they hit the ground.

And there was the opening Akhentomen needed. He launched himself forward, preparing to chop his warscythe into the back of the commander…

And with a bestial snarl, the commander brought his claws through the warscythe’s haft, cutting the head cleanly off. The handle sparked and died in Akhentomen’s grasp.

His weapon, his dear friend’s weapon, had been destroyed before his eyes.

The human would pay.

***

“And the enemy commander?”

“Captured. Killed trying to escape.”

“How unfortunate. It’s such a pity that we have so much trouble taking our foes alive,” Obyron replied, insincerity dripping from every syllable. Akhentomen would have laughed, but nobody was in a laughing mood right now.

“The Nemesor?”

“I don’t know. We have to wait for him to wake up.”

As if on cue, Zahndrekh began to stir. Obyron was at his side in an instant, taking his master’s hand in his own.

“Obyron…did we win?”

“Yes, my lord. The Spehzz-Oulf dynasty fought to the last man, and were slain to the last. Their commander died a coward’s death, in an escape attempt. The Thal-Zend Szunsz turned on us during the battle. You were incapacitated when their fire hit the barge.”

“Good. Very good. You know, I have the strangest memories of that battle…”

“No doubt dreams from your unconsciousness. Pay them no heed, my lord.”

“No…of course not…”

Obyron looked up at the assembled Court. His stern gaze told them everything they needed to know. They filed out, back to their quarters, leaving the two alone.

Akhentomen glanced back on his way out to see the Nemesor staring at his left hand as he moved his fingers through the air, as though expecting to see something in their movement. Obyron’s concern hung oppressively in the room, like a fog.

“Obyron…”

“Yes, my lord?”

“…drinks are on me tonight…”

“Of course, my lord.”

END.

***

EPILOGUE:

Obyron felt good.

The battle was won, Zahndrekh wasn’t on his case about this alliance anymore, and a new world was conquered for the Gidrim Dynasty.

He felt so good that he had informed Akhentomen of his imminent promotion, to Overlord status. In one year’s time, Akhentomen would have his own client dynasty of the Gidrim to rule, and his own world. The Lord had been taken aback by this, apparently expecting to be severely punished after the collapse of the alliance.

“I thought you were going to hold me responsible if it fell apart,” Akhentomen had said.

Obyron had replied, “That is precisely what I am doing.”

As he returned to his quarters, he looked to the desk in the corner. There, in its usual place, sat a hologram of a freshly crowned necrontyr overlord and his bodyguard. The Overlord had his fingers up behind the bodyguard’s head, as “scarab antennae”.

For the first time in a long while, Obyron had no mixed feelings. He was gladder than ever that his master still believed it was the Time of Flesh.

And for the first time in his life, Obyron didn’t want those delusions to ever end.

Obyron felt good.

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