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.

Hammer & Anvil: the Tale of the Inquisition

“We shall smite the heretics together!”

“Of course.”

“For the glory of the Imperium!”

“Naturally,” Phornekhan said.

The Overlord of the small, yet substantial Hanekhim Dynasty attempted to stifle a yawn that he quickly realized would never come.

It had been so easy to get the Inquisitor playing into his hands. A single word, “Chaos”, and the small man’s attention was his for the taking.

“You will be allowed to leave the battleground in peace when we are done.”

“We will not exercise that right.”

“What?”

A snag. This was unforeseen.

“We will not leave.”

“You must. The Emperor demands it.”

“This is our conquest. This planet will be ours. We will take it. You will be allowed to leave in peace.”

The Inquisitor was visibly angered by this suggestion. Phornekan noted this for future reference.

“YOU will leave. WE will take the world. DO NOT QUESTION THE WILL OF THE EMPEROR, FOUL XENOS!”

“If it is his will, he can fight for it himself.”

“He will not! The Ordo Malleus will do so for him!”

“Then the Ordo Malleus will be destroyed.”

“YOU will be destroyed!”

This was only getting worse. Phornekhan had hoped his threats would be sufficient. Evidently, they would not. Perhaps a gentler touch was needed here.

“One moment, please.”

Phornekhan called his Lords to the bridge for advice.

“Actually, I will call you back in a moment. I must confer with my advisors.”

“I pray they show you reason, heretic!”

The council convened. It discussed. And it gave its opinion.

Phornekhan re-opened the transmission.

“We will take only equipment and artefacts we find on the battlefield after looting the dead, these Chaos Space Marines. You will be allowed to take the world.”

“It is good to see that you have finally bowed to the will of the Emperor! I had feared we would have to destroy you now and fight alone!”

“…Indeed.”

Phornekhan considered this. It meant that this battle would not be the end of the war, though the Inquisitor would be allowed to think it had. After taking the world once, the Necrons would be forced to take it again, albeit from less substantially entrenched forces.

Of course, the artefacts they took from the fallen foe could easily make the second battle entirely one-sided. On top of that, it wasn’t like Phornekhan had any interest in protecting his “allies” during the battle, and the Inquisitor had made his disdain for the Necrons perfectly clear already.

“We march for the Ecclesiarchy!”

“Yes. It is as you say.”

“May the Emperor tolerate your continued existence, xenos.”

The transmission cut out. Phornekhan barely noticed the Inquisitor’s rudeness. He was too busy planning the Inquisitor’s inevitable downfall.

Great Services and Greater Goods: The Tale of the Tau

Trazyn looked at the alien with a smirk. At least, he thought he was trying to smirk. Necrodermis made it so hard to emote.

“So, we have a deal?”

“Of course. Anyone willing to fight for the Greater Good is our friend, and crushing these invaders serves the Greater Good. Why would you question it?”

“I just want to be certain. Caution never goes astray.”

“Put your mind at ease,” the Ethereal said. “We fight together, for the good of the T’au Empire!”

Trazyn nodded, barely paying attention. The ancient jewels of the barial people of the planet Xenthon VI would soon be all his.

“Perhaps we can interest you in a more permanent arrangement, Trazyn of Solemnace? Your willingness to serve the Greater Good is commendable. We wish to commend it further in the future.”

Trazyn snapped back to the present.

“That’s PHAERON Trazyn. And no thank you. That is not in the best interests of the Solemnace Dynasty at this time.”

“Fair enough. The offer will still stand, any time you wish to accept it.”

“Yes, yes, I know. Be ready to move on my signal. Make sure you strike the right location. I assure you, hitting this place will break the invaders and send them scurrying from the system.”

It was a lie. Of course it was. The Tau would invade, give Trazyn cover to retrieve the relics, and then he would leave them to the aliens’ mercy. Not that the extragalactic monsters understood the concept of mercy.

“We will be there. You can be sure of it. Fight with honor.”

“I never fight any other way,” Trazyn replied. He thought about how to end the conversation. Realizing he did not know the traditional Tau farewell, he settled on his favorite, a human term, pulled from archives recovered on several conquered worlds.

“Ciao!”

“What?”

The viewscreen went blank.

Filosofy: The Tale of the Orks

“So den, we’z krumped ’em good!”

“Yes. I know. The esteemed Overlord Yrendrikh knows as well. I have relayed this exact statement to him in Necrontyr seven hundred and fifty times now. You do not need to repeat it.”

“YOUZE CAN’T TELL ORKZ WHAT TO DO, METALMAN! I’LL BASH YOUR ‘EAD IN!”

Lord Narmoren shook his head, attempting to sigh. No sound emerged. An almost reflexive action, a memory from when he was alive, now useless and ineffective.

“While the tales of your, erm… conquests… are certainly riveting, Lord Hagdakka –”

“BOSS GAKHAMMA!”

“Yes, ‘Boss’ Gakhamma, His Magnificent Lordship Yrendrikh wishes to discuss more… philosophical matters.”

“I’z da smartest Ork in the WAAAGH, so I’z da wun youze want!” grinned the Ork.

“That… was my understanding,” lied Narmoren. “His Lordship has a question about the concept of ‘dakka’.”

“MORE DAKKA!”

“Yes, but he wishes to know what you do when you cannot add more dakka.”

“Wot?”

“What do you do when you cannot add more dakka?”

“…I don’ get it.”

“When you have added all the dakka you can, what do you do?”

“Y’ADDZ MORE DAKKA!”

“No, you have added all you can. You have no more dakka to add.”

“MORE DAKKA!” bellowed the Ork, clearly excited at the prospect.

“No, you cannot add more dakka.”

“…I still don’ get it.”

“Obviously,” replied Narmoren, turning to Yrendrikh to translate the exchange. Yrendrikh was clearly not pleased, but did not press the issue. Narmeron’s gratitude at this was very nearly a tangible thing.

“His Esteemed Lordship has no more questions. Report in tomorrow morning, at dawn. Try to be quiet. We do not want the eldar to know we are here.”

An enormous explosion billowed up from the Ork camp in the distance, quickly putting an end to that dream. The warboss looked out at it, and began whooping and cheering at the destruction. Narmoren tried, in vain, to sigh again.

***

All hope of stealth was now effectively gone. Narmoren slumped in a gently-floating obsidian chair, staring up at the holomap above him, at the colored haze representing the necron camp, the ork camp, and the presumed eldar territory.

Anagnosto III was a curious world. The planet’s axis was so starkly tilted that the poles were large and uninhabitable, inhospitably hot in the summer, deathly cold in the winter. A belt around the equator was the only place worth contesting for most lifeforms, yet those poles held the deposits key to the Harkhann Dynasty’s war efforts, and to control the poles, they first had to control the planet.

Unfortunately, it was already owned by an entire Exodite civilization. Most irritating. And while a necron tomb did sleep beneath the surface, it did not seem like it was preparing to awaken any time soon. Like so many other tomb worlds in the dynasty, something had evidently gone wrong, and the tomb would have to be forcibly awakened to be of any use, which meant directly invading the planet, and with the dynasty at less than a quarter strength, it was hardly ideal.

But it was necessary, Narmoren thought. Without Anagnosto III, the dynasty was in no position to resist invasions of its own. This had to be done early or not at all.

“These greenskins are useless,” boomed a voice in Necrontyr from across the table.

Narmoren leaned forward onto the table, picking absentmindedly at a nick on the back of his left handplate. He rocked forward and back in his chair a bit, almost nodding in agreement with his liege, but not quite.

“They could be made to serve us.”

“They could be sacrificed like the vermin they are for us,” came the response.

“Like I said.”

A groaning wheezing noise, like the sound of a broken fireplace bellows, filled the shelter.

“Sometimes I think the only reason I allow you to live is because you make me laugh, Narmoren,” Overlord Yrendrikh choked out.

“It is a legitimate strategy, my lord. If we can activate the tomb world beneath, we will have the legions we need to take this world by storm.”

“The orks cannot get us inside.”

“No, but they do not need to. They need only lead the eldar away.”

“The eldar are too smart for such an obvious ploy, Narmoren, and you know it.”

Narmoren stared back up at the holomap again. The fog was thick and distinct around the necron camp and the allied encampment, but the eldar territory had a fuzzy, thin quality to it. Neither the necrons nor the orks knew for certain where the eldar were hiding.

“My lord…do the eldar know we are here?”

“What?”

“Follow me on this one, my liege. The eldar know the orks are present. This is undeniable. We have had casualty reports, and that explosion would hardly avoid notice. But do they know that we are here?”

“I would assume so.”

“Have our forces sustained any casualties as yet?”

“I…”

Narmoren looked directly into the Overlord’s eyes. To Narmoren’s knowledge, not a single necron had fallen since the forces made planetfall.

“…no, Narmoren, we have sustained no casualties. But surely they saw our ships.”

“A fair point. Perhaps one worth hedging against. Here is what I propose, master…”

***

The first rays of light began to creep over the horizon as Yrendrikh and Narmoren made their way to the assembled orks. If it was at all possible, the orks were actually louder now than the explosion had been. The chanting and WAAAGHing filled the air, a deafening cacophony that could surely be heard from the other side of the planet, much less from the eldar encampment. Behind the two Necron nobles, three small squads of Immortals marched single-file, as a bodyguard.

Yrendrikh drew near Boss Gakhamma and began to speak in Necrontyr again, with Narmoren quickly and smoothly translating.

“There has been a change of plan.”

“Wut’s dat?”

“We will not be committing our full forces to the initial assault.”

“Wut?”

“We will not be committing our full forces to the initial assault.”

“Wut?”

“We will be bringing fewer of our warriors to this fight, at first.”

“Wut?”

“…we are starting with less ‘dakka’.”

“WUT?! Youze can’t do dat! MORE DAKKA!” the warboss bellowed, flailing his arms like a child in a tantrum.

“Ah, but think of ‘Gurkanurka’.”

“GORKAMORKA!”

“Yes, those, your gods, whatever they are called. One is brutally cunning, and the other is cunningly brutal, yes?”

“Yeah?”

“We propose a strategy that will please both of your gods, Lord Bakslamma–”

“BOSS GAKHAMMA!” the warboss shouted, barely registering the actual meaning of what Narmoren was saying.

“Yes, Boss Gakhamma, I am sorry. We propose that in this battle, you be cunningly brutal, by hitting the enemy directly, full-on, from the front, while you allow us to take the brutally cunning role.”

“How youze gonna do dat?”

Narmoren prepared to speak, but then, behind him, the plan began to demonstrate itself.

“The eldar know we are here. But if they believed we were not…”

The first necron transports began to lift off and take to the skies, lifting the various elements of the necron encampment and the bulk of the necron forces away, back to space.

“Then we are free to strike where they least expect us.”

“Hey! Youze runnin’ away from da fight, metalmans!”

“No,” Narmoren corrected. “No we are not. But the eldar will believe we are, and then, when they think we are gone, and when you have them locked in battle, we will strike from their rear, and they will all be destroyed.”

“…ooh, I fink I see da plan now. Youze gonna run away, and den come back when they fink youze gone, is dat it?”

“…elegantly put,” Narmoren lied.

“When do we get to da fightin’?”

Narmoren looked to Yrendrikh and translated the sentiment. Yrendrikh did not even speak. He simply chopped his head forward once, and turned away.

“Now.”

“ALL RIGHT BOYZ! LET’S GO GET US SOME ELDAR ‘EADZ FOR ME BOSSPOLE! WAAAGH!”

The already-deafening clamor doubled in volume, and the necrons slipped away, their footsteps drowned out, as the last of their ships slipped away into the morning sky.

***

The secret entrance to the tombs below was quiet. Deathly quiet. That was good. No eldar had tried to stop them yet. That was good. From the immense noise that echoed across the landscape from miles away, the orks were locked in ferocious combat with the eldar and were putting up a very strong fight. That was good.

So why did Narmoren feel like something was just about to go wrong?

With a flourish of his staff and an ultra-sonic burst of speech, Narmoren slid the hidden door open, and the party prepared for their descent into the catacombs.

The din of the battle outside faded quickly as the strike team made its way down the obsidian corridor. Only the sound of the necrons themselves could be heard, clanking through the dusty passageways, disturbing air that had been still for millennia. The occasional whine of canoptek spyder servos met them every now and then, confirming that something in the tomb was certainly still functioning.

The sounds should have been comforting, but it was what was not there that had Narmoren on edge.

There had been absolutely no eldar resistance on the way here. None at all. While it did mean the plan was working perfectly, it made no sense for the eldar to be careless enough not to set up some sort of guard, unless…

“Here it is. Gold team, prop up those obelisks. Silver team…”

Narmoren barely listened to Yrendrikh as he thought of the possiblities.

And then a loud PING confirmed the worst-case scenario, as an Immortal dropped with its head shot right off its shoulders.

“They are inside the tomb, my lord!”

“How? How is that possible?”

The vwooshing sound of a webway portal spitting out personnel told them all they needed to know. Sniper shots ricocheted out of the darkness at the Immortals, dropping some, distracting others. Canoptek Spyders, jolted from their catatonic caretaking by the obvious threat, rushed in to assist in repairing the damaged control chamber, while the Immortals turned their full attention to the interlopers.

“We will not let you take this planet again, vile machines,” a filtered eldar voice said from seemingly nowhere. “The orks on the surface above will be destroyed, and you with them!”

The two Necron noblemen brandished their warscythes in all directions, hoping to lay eyes on a target…but they could see nothing.

***

Boss Gakhamma pushed his boyz forward into the fray with all the courtesy and inspiration of a wounded badger. Despite this, the nearly suicidal charge was actually making significant headway. Having trampled a trench of warriors beneath their many, many feet and upended entire grav tanks by sheer orkpower, the green tide flowed ever onwards towards its inevitable end. Casualties had been high, higher for the orks than for the eldar in pure numbers, but every dead eldar weighed far heavier on the ancient race than the loss of any boy or nob did on the orks.

“KRUMP ‘EM, YA GITZ! DON’ STOP FIGHTIN’,” Gakhamma screamed at the top of his lungs.

“Oi, boss! What d’ya suppose dat buildin’ dere is?”

A large, pronged structure rose before them, a purple crystal clutched in its grip. The image was indistinct and hazy, and Gakhamma almost thought he was hallucinating it. But real or not, he sure didn’t like it.

“TEAR IT APART! Maybe it’ll explode! I love it when fings gets explodey!”

***

A spyder dropped to the ground, sparking from the gaping hole that had just appeared in its back seemingly out of nowhere. The surviving Immortals converged their fire in the space where the Autarch clearly must have been standing moments ago, but the Gauss beams passed through empty space and impacted harmless against the far walls.

Another Immortal dropped, bringing the total fallen so far to nine. As he struggled to reanimate, the same invisible blade that had skewered his torso impaled his mouth, pinning him to the floor, and he fell limp. Following the trail of destruction with their fire, the Immortals struck dangerously close to the columns the two nobles were using for cover.

Even beneath the surface, the noise of the battle outside still echoed down the passageways, though only the very loudest sounds were at all audible.

And suddenly, a very loud sound indeed echoed down. It sounded like a star had gone nova, right there on the planet’s surface.

And with that explosion, suddenly the Immortals had their target, as the autarch shimmered into view in front of them. Narmoren chopped forward with his warscythe, neatly beheading a ranger who had just now popped into view with a dagger at the ready.

The one-sided battle was no less one-sided now. Now, it was simply on a different side.

***

“Get dat big crystal-y gun off da eldar wagon! I want it mounted on my trukk!”

“Yeah, boss!”

“An’ see if you can get somefin’ out of da wreckage of dat big crystal fingy wut blew up real good!”

“You got it, boss!”

“Not yet I don’! STOP MUCKIN’ ABOUT!”

“Sure fing, bo–AAGH”

“What da zog?!” cried Gakhamma as he heard the nob’s scream.

All around him, the ground was starting to shift. It was starting to rupture. The nob was caught on something…or something was holding his foot in place.

1A bladed hand shot up out of the ground and messily disemboweled the hapless, confused nob. All around Gakhamma, necrons began to rise directly through the ground, an endless silver tide to match the green tide that had won the day.

Monoliths and starfighters descended from the sky, adding their firepower to the firepower coming from beneath Gakhamma’s feet. The necrons, it seemed, had finally added more dakka, and they had done it in the most brutally cunning way possible.

Gakhamma stumbled backwards as a huge metal serpent with scythed limbs shot up from the ground. He stared at it in awe, at the dried blood that stained its blades, at the rust and pitting that spoke of its millions of years of service. The last thing that went through his mind, as the wraith began to descend on him, was Narmoren’s strange question.

“When you have added all the dakka you can, what do you do?”

END.

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.