The Siege of Hod’s Anvil, Part 2: Ambush on Furion Road

c. Games Workshop

The column inched its way down Furion Road with a ponderous, methodical slowness, looking from a distance like some vast dun-red caterpillar crawling across the wasteland. Rows of red-robed Skitarii marched in unison through the ruins of old outpost towns, their steel-soled feet clanging dully against the centuries-old pavement, marching in perfect, synchronous lockstep. Long-limbed Ironstriders loped around the edges of the column, looking for all the world like the vigilant desert lizards scanning for prey, their gunners swivelling twin-barrelled autocannons against the horizon as their mind-impulse units took in thermal information. At the rear, larger quadrupedal walkers stomped along with a trundling, beetle-like gait, their arrays of weaponry aimed skyward. Hulking robots, their forms squat and bulbous, stomped along on a pre-programmed path, the blank visors covering their dome-like heads flickering every once in a while with an electromagnetic glimmer of mechanical awareness.

It was gloom as the war-congregation of traversed down the unused road towards distant Saguntum. They had been on the march for the last ninety-six hours, unfettered by mere biological needs such as food or sleep, moving on foot as their ancestors always had along the great dunes of Mars. Binaric chants flooded the noosphere as the techno-magi made invocations to the Omnissiah, and at the head of the column, specially-built servitors dispensed red dust onto the road, so that the congregation could walk upon the holy soil of the Red Planet. This march was as much a holy pilgrimage as much as it was a tactical retreat, for Saguntum was a forge-city and thus holy in the Machine God’s sight. And none knew that better than the vast, centipedal monstrosity who crawled in the centre of the column on multiple iron-shod legs.

It had been almost a week, Belisarius Cawl knew, since the loss of the 12th Gate, Fortress Erinyes, and numerous other defensive installations to the Ork and T’au invasions. From the outset of this conflict, Cawl had known that the xenos would inevitably be able to effect a landing (a likelihood margin of 86.5 percent), and thus far, everything was happening well within those ranges of prediction. And so, the most logical course of action was to retreat back to Saguntum, and there to weather the coming storm behind the walls of that ancient forge-city. Several maniples of Skitarii were still fighting a rearguard action hundreds of miles behind them, buying time with their lives against the Ork horde. If their retreat continued unabated, then they would reach Saguntum within less than a day.

Their best hope, at this stage, lay in Saguntum, and in its vast network of fortifications, sprawling tunnels, vast industrial complexes and ancient repositories of technology. Saguntum would, fittingly, be the anvil upon which the invading armies would break. It would have to be so: Hod’s Anvil was a vital world, not only to Mars, but also to the Adeptus Mechanicus, and thus, to the Imperium as a whole. The Lord of Mars would not abide its loss to the xenos, or allow countless technological relics to be defiled by alien hands.

At that moment, there was a spike of alarm in the noosphere. Cawl immediately zeroed in on the source: Onager 22-B’s auspex arrays had detected movement in the gloomy sky overhead. Its thermal signatures had not spotted anything, but that didn’t necessarily mean that nothing was there. Cawl knew from painful experience just how deceptive the senses could be sometimes.

He inloaded the sensor data, and played it back in slow motion. He had anticipated the possibility of coming under attack by Ork aircraft, or by a T’au drop insertion force, but either of those would leave a definite heat-signature or energy output. As Cawl reviewed the grainy footage, he saw…nothing.

Nothing, that was, except for a nanosecond-long glimpse of a bladed shape flitting through the clouds overhead.

Immediately, Cawl sent a directive through the noosphere for his congregation to take up defensive positions. With mechanical efficiency, the Skitarii formed a defensive circled and the vehicles’ weapons elevated skywards. And then, a second later, the shrieking began…

****

After missing out on the second round of the Hod’s Anvil campaign (due mostly to conflicting schedules and poor communication between my opponent and myself), I went on to the third round to face off against the Adeptus Mechanicus. My opponent Xavier and I had a choice of one of three scenarios to play, but we both agreed that it would be most thematic to play the Ambush scenario. For this game, we also both agreed to field the dirtiests lists we could possibly run.

For this game, I brought the following:

KABAL OF THE REVENANT SHROUD (with Cult of the Blade Unforged and the Coven of the Black Circle):

KABAL OF THE BLACK HEART BATTALION

Archon (Zhael)- blaster, huskblade, Writ of the Living Muse, Labyrinthine Cunning- 93
Archon (Khyrus)- blast pistol, huskblade- 86
5 Warriors- blaster- 47
5 Warriors- blaster- 47
5 Warriors- blaster- 47
Ravager- 3 disintegrator cannons- 125
Ravager- 3 disintegrator cannons- 125
Ravager- 3 dark lances- 140
Venom- dual splinter cannons- 75
Venom- dual splinter cannons- 75
Venom- dual splinter cannons- 75

CULT OF STRIFE BATTALION

Succubus (Nyxera)- 2 hydra gauntlets, Adrenalight, Precision Blows- 54
Succubus (Karath)- splinter pistol, Archite glaive, Serpentin- 50
7 Wyches- shardnet and impaler, Hekatrix w. agonizer, Grave Lotus- 61
5 Wyches- shardnet and impaler, Painbringer- 45
5 Wyches- Hypex- 40
Raider- disintegrator cannon- 80
Raider- disintegrator cannon- 80

PROPHETS OF FLESH SPEARHEAD

Haemonculus (Lazhareq)- splinter pistol, electrocorrosive whip, Vexator Mask, Diabolic Soothsayer- 76
8 Grotesques- 280
Talos- two haywire blasters, dual macro-scalpels- 99
Talos- two haywire blasters, dual macro-scalpels- 99
Talos- two haywire blasters, dual macro-scalpels- 99

Total: 1998
Total Command Points: 14
Pre-Games Stratagems: Alliance of Agony (1), Artefacts of the Dark City (1 CP), Preliminary Bombardment (3 CP), Night Raider (2 extra turns, 2 CP)

For this scenario, I was trying a few things that were wildly different. The first was using the Kabal of the Black Heart instead of my usual Flayed Skull, as they are generally considered the go-to competitive Kabal, and given that Xavier and I had agreed to use mean lists against one another, I wanted to try them out. I figured that this sudden change in Kabal Obsession would represent Hierarch Zhael and her superior tactical acumen coming onto the field. If nothing else, I hoped to make great use of the Black Heart’s relic, warlord trait, and, of course, the ever-infamous Agents of Vect stratagem. I also tried using disintegrators on my Ravagers instead of my usual dark lances, as they were not only cheaper, but again, might be able to hurt a wider variety of enemy units with their massed shots…plus, again, they seem to be the go-to choice for netlists (I still like my dark lances though, dammit). Finally, again, just to test it out, I went with the Cult of Strife for my Wyches instead of the usual Red Grief: I would be starting close enough to the Mechanicus forces that I didn’t think I would need the extra charge distance anyway.

You will also note that I went VERY heavy on command points in this game. In part, that is because the scenario comes with its own stratagems for both the attacker and defender to use, and so I decided to go for a Preliminary Bombardment (even though it was next to useless in my game against the Dark Angels) and another stratagem that would pretty much extend Dawn Raid to turn 3. On the one hand, it would mean that my forces would be at -1 throughout that time, but on the other hand, the same would go for Xavier and his very scary shooting.

Speaking of Xavier and his very scary shooting…

THE FORCES OF MARS:

MARS BRIGADE:

Belisarius Cawl- Static Psalm-Code
Techpriest Enginseer
Techpriest Enginseer
7 Skitarii Rangers- transuranic arquebus
5 Skitarii Vanguard
5 Skitarii Vanguard
5 Skitarii Vanguard
5 Skitarii Vanguard
5 Skitarii Vanguard
5 Sicarian Infiltrators- flechette blasters and taser goads
5 Sicarian Infiltrators- flechette blasters and taser goads
5 Sicarian Infiltrators- flechette blasters and taser goads
Ironstrider Ballistarius- twin cognis autocannons
Ironstrider Ballistarius- twin cognis autocannons
Ironstrider Ballistarius- twin cognis autocannons
6 Kastelan Battle Robots- twin heavy phosphor blasters, shoulder-mounted heavy phosphor blasters
Onager Dunecrawler- Icarus array
Onager Dunecrawler- Icarus array
Onager Dunecrawler- Icarus array

Total Command Points: 15

Ouch. Not only would I be facing three very scary Onagers with Icarus arrays, but I would also have to deal with a gigantic unit of Kastelan Robots. I had read about Drukhari vs Mechanicus tactics ahead of time in preparation for this battle, and one recurring theme was DON’T LET THE ROBOTS FIRE. The fact that Cawl would be giving everything rerolls only served to make everything scarier.

My plan, such as it was, was to try to tie his Robots up in close combat first with Wyches, etc, and focus my firepower where possible on his more mobile units– which in this case would be his vehicles and his Infiltrators. To win, all I needed to do was deny his stuff from getting off the board: for that purpose, I hoped to use my Coven units as a big wall of high-toughness baddies that would be impossible for the Mechanicus to get through. Or, at least, in theory.

THE BATTLEFIELD:

The battlefield was fairly evenly laid out, though the Mechanicus, as the defender, would have sparse cover on turn 1.

DEPLOYMENT:

The Mechanicus castled all of their vehicles in the centre and rear of their formation, protected by screens of Skitarii.
The Robots, as the Mechanicus’ toughest unit, took up the front of their formation, with the Skitarii again forming a screen against potential chargers.
At the centre of the force, Belisarius Cawl watched and waited for the enemy attack…

PREGAME (PRELIMINARY BOMBARDMENT):

As the shrieking engines of the Drukhari vehicles pierced the gloom, the soldiers of Mars quickly took up defensive positions, their Onagers suddenly swinging their guns upright as their sensors detected aircraft overhead. Icarus arrays blazed to life, painting the dawn gloom with tracer fire, the dark shapes of Razorwing fighters flitting between the flak shells to launch missiles down at the tightly-packed Mechanicus formation. Explosions blossomed as the missiles struck home: four Vanguard from one squad were shredded by bladed shrapnel, while another squad was forced to go to ground, losing one of their number to the lacerating blast. One of the rearmost Onagers took a direct hit from a missile as well, taking four wounds.

After the preliminary bombarment, the hidden Drukhari forces revealed themselves. (My army had set up by hidden deployment, which meant I marked all of my starting positions down in secret before Xavier set up his own stuff.)

On the left flank, Ravagers and Venoms lurk, waiting to fly forward and strike at the enemy armour.
In the centre, Grotesques and Taloi form a wall of corrupted flesh in front of the Mechanicus column, goaded forward by their Haemonculus.
Though they are out of sight in this picture, the Raiders carrying the Wyches, and one of the Venoms, occupy the other flank.

(Note that, while the Mechanicus were using their Canticles of the Omnissiah every turn, I will not be mentioning them, as I forget which ones were used)

TURN 1

The Mechanicus forces were still reeling from the airborne bombardment when the Drukhari forces came swooping in for the kill. On the right flank, the Ravagers angled to bring their heavy weapons to bear, while one Venom flew upwards to get into rapid fire range with its splinter weapons.

Zhael stayed close to the Ravagers, ready to provide her tactical expertise to them as they prepared firing solutions.

On the left flank, meanwhile, the large squad of Wyches, along with Khyrus and both of the Succubi, disembarked and sprinted forwards to engage the numbering Kastelan Robots, while a smaller squad of Wyches disembarked and sprinted towards the unit of Skitarii that had gone to ground.

Finally, directly ahead of the Mechanicus column, the Grotesques and Taloi advanced under the direction of Lazhareq, blocking off the Mechanicus’ escape route as the noose around the mon-keigh forces closed.

Scything beams of pure darkness cut through even the pre-dawn gloom as the Drukhari opened fire. One Ravager focused its lances on the damaged Onager, slicing open its hull and coring it instantly, leaving it a smoking wreck. The other two Ravagers split their fire, with one firing on another Onager and dealing a few wounds to it, and the other raining plasma bolts into the Kastelans, severely damaging one of them. Massed blaster fire from the Venom-mounted Warriors on the left flank soon finished the Kastelan off, a lance bolt rupturing its bulbous upper body and sending it toppling over.

Seeing the damage that the Drukhari ambush was already inflicting, Cawl tried to input emergency commands into the Kastelans to have them return fire. He was thwarted, however, as Zhael opened an arcane, box-like device that released a carefully-prepared burst of scrapcode, dissipating Cawl’s emergency command in the noosphere before it could be received. (My opponent tried to use one of the scenario’s stratagems to have the Kastelans immediately return fire, but I countered it with Agents of Vect).

Even as lance and disintegrator fire ravaged the Mechanicus’ vehicles, a rain of splinter fire came hailing down on the Skitarii from the Venoms and their passengers. While most splinter fire pattered harmlessly off of the Kastelans’ armour of the left flank, on the right, massed fire from a Venom and its passengers brought down four Vanguard, leaving only one of the Martian soldiers standing.

Laughing, the pilot of one of the Wyches’ Raiders gunned the engines and charged headlong into the Kastelans, only to fly into a sheer, burning wall of phosphor fire: the Raider took 6 wounds before slamming headlong into the robots, badly damaged but still mobile. At the same time, the large squad of Wyches and Nyxera multi-charged both the Kastelans and the last Vanguard from the squad that had been mauled by the aircraft, although crucially, Karath failed her own charged against the Kastelans and was left standing out in the open!

Another squad of Wyches charged the Skitarii that had gone to ground, although one Wych was felled by accurate radium fire on the way in. (Note: I can’t remember if my opponent used a stratagem to bring his Skitarii back in action, or if we forgot that they couldn’t shoot while they had gone to ground) Finally, Khyrus drew his huskblade and charged into one of the Enginseers near the Kastelans.

In melee combat, the smaller Wych squad sliced apart two Vanguard for no loss, laughing as they encircled remaining two cyborgs. Elsewhere, the larger squad of Wyches diced apart the sole surviving Vanguard and inflicted a large number of wounds on the Kastelans, but none could pierce the robots’ armour. Nyxera was forced to show them how it was done, her blades flashing as she carved two deep wounds into the nearest robot. In response, the Kastelans lashed out with their massive gun-limbs, failing to hurt the dodging Wyches but crushing two wounds off of the Raider.

Finally, Khyrus and the Enginseer dueled, with Khryus slicing two wounds off of his cyborg foe while effortlessly evading the Techpriest’s return blows, mocking him relentlessly all the while. Of course, given that most of the Enginseer’s emotions had been partitioned away, Khyrus’ biting insults were lost on the Techpriest.

With his vehicles now suffering extensive damage and the Drukhari swarming his forces in melee, Cawl enacted defensive protocols. At Cawl’s noospheric command, the Kastelans pulled back from the fight, leaving the Wyches exposed. (I had forgotten that Kastelans are not infantry, and therefore cannot be locked in combat by Wyches! D’Oh!). Elsewhere, the forces of Mars castled where possible, trying to maximize the amount of firepower they could bring to bear on the attacking xenos.

Further to the edge of the battlefield, three units of Sicarian Infiltrators that had been scouting ahead of the main force came out of hiding. At Cawl’s directive, they prepared to flee the battle and run as fast as they could for Saguntum, to bring word to other Imperial forces of what had transpired here.

And then, as Cawl transmitted ballistic data to the rest of his war-congregation, the Martian forces returned fire. Though the Kastelans were unable to fire as they withdrew from combat, the massed ranks of Vanguard had no such difficulties, wiping out 4 of the Wyches with radium bursts and dealing a grievous radiation burn to Nyxera, while Cawl raised his solar atomiser and vaporized yet another Wych. The Onagers and Ironstriders, in turn, lit up the pre-dawn gloom with tracer fire, dealing one wound to a Ravager and two wounds to another, and while one Onager’s full firepower managed to strip four wounds off of one of the Venoms on the left flank. In an encore, the transuranic arquebus of the Rangers tracked the damaged Raider and fired, putting a round through the skull of the pilot and sending the vehicle crashing to the ground in a wreck.

In melee, however, the last two Vanguard fell to the Wyches’ blades, the victorious Drukhari prancing onwards to find more worthy foes. Meanwhile, the Techpriest who had been valiantly fighting Khyrus also met his end, as the Dracon arrogantly sliced his arms off at the wrists before spinning his blade around to decapitate his foe. Flicking blood and oil from the blade, Khyrus strode towards Cawl, an arrogant smirk crossing his pale features.

In the midst of the chaos of battle, one of the Wyches from the squad that had been shot up took the opportunity to quietly retreat from the battle, leaving her partner cursing her as he remained the last member of the squad still standing.

TURN 2

Contrary to the expectations of the Mechanicus, the pre-dawn gloom did not subside: Zhael had used forbidden technology to ensure that the sun was blotted from sight for but a little while longer, ensuring that the Kabal were fighting in their natural element. Not wanting to let any of the Mechanicus escape her trap, Zhael had both disintegrator-armed Ravagers fly back to bring their guns to bear on the Infiltrators, hoping to destroy them before they could leave the battlefield.

On both flanks, the Venoms flew towards the rear of the Mechanicus lines, the Warriors on board aiming to bring their blasters to bear on more of the Mechanicus forces.

Elsewhere, the Wyches who had just destroyed a unit of Skitarii darted forward to engage yet more mechanical foes, while the line of Grotesques and Taloi moved up towards the thin red line as well.

(Note: I only noticed at the end of the movement phase that I had forgotten to move Lazhareq up! This would come back to haunt me later, as without him, my Coven units would not be getting their +1 Toughness bonus…)

Finally, Nyxera, the last Wych from the large squad and Khyrus all darted forwards to engage Cawl, aiming to, figuratively and literally, cut the head from the Mechanicus force. Karath moved up as well, darting around one of the Ironstriders to attack both it and the other Enginseer.

Once again, the Drukhari weapons crackled into terrible unlight. Massed dark lance and blaster fire gutted another Onager, obliterating its cabin and leaving the burnt stumps of its spider-like legs standing upright. Massed splinter fire pelted the Skitarii forces, killing a Ranger and dealing a wound to one of the Balistarii. Near the centre, the Taloi lashed out with crackling barbs of electricity from their haywire blasters, vaporizing one of the Vanguard opposite them. Most importantly of all, the two disintegrator-armed Ravagers focused their fire on the Infiltrators, and under Zhael’s careful guidance, they reduced all five of the cyborgs to free-floating ash within seconds.

Last but by no means least, Khyrus fired his blast pistol at point-blank range at Cawl, but the Forge-Lord’s refractor field crackled to life and absorbed the blast.

In the assault phase, Khyrus, Nyxera and the last Wych raised their blades together and charged Cawl, avoiding his hasty overwatch in the process. Karath, meanwhile, charged around one of the Balistarii, avoiding its lashing autocannon fire to engage both it and the last Enginseer. Finally, the Wyches shrieked as they charged into yet another unit of Vanguard, before the Grotesques– lumbering, twitching corrupted Wraithguard– slammed into those same Vanguard and another unit of their fellows.

In melee, both units of Vanguard were wiped out within seconds, sliced open by Drukhari blades or crushed utterly by wraithbone fists. Both the Wyches and the Grotesques then consolidated onwards, eager to get to grips with the Kastelans next.

In the centre, however, an epic clash erupted as two of the Kabal’s heroes fought the Lord of Mars. Nyxera was a blur of movement, rushing in to slash three grievous wounds deep into Cawl’s metallic hide to draw blood and oil. In reply, Cawl swung back with alarming suddenness, moving with such blinding speed that Nyxera was caught flat-footed. (CP interrupt): The Succubus failed to dodge in time, and was cloven messily in half by Cawl’s Omnissian Axe. At the same time, Cawl’s mechadendrites lashed outwards, overwhelming Khyrus’ shadowfield with several perfectly-calculated strikes and tearing a wound off of the Dracon. Cursing, Khyrus slashed the mechadendrites away and lunged, driving his huskblade into Cawl’s side and doing another 2 wounds to the ancient Techpriest. The last Wych fought hard as well, but failed to even scratch Cawl’s adamantine plating.

Finally, Karath lunged into the Enginseer, her whistling glaive slicing one deep wound into her metallic foe. The Techpriest proved to be a surprisingly skilled foe, however, his axe springing up and Karath’s other strikes before darting in and hacking a wound off of the Succubus in turn. Bleeding, the two foes circled one another, as around them the firestorm raged.

In response to the xenos onslaught, the Mechanicus once against castled their forces, withdrawing from combat where possible as the Drukhari closed in. The two remaining units of Infiltrators sprinted off into the distance, hoping to make it to Saguntum in time.

The Kastelans, meanwhile, engaged their Protector protocols, the stabilization rods built into their feet drilling deeply into the earth as they diverted all engine power to weapons. Cawl, in turn, initiated his body’s self-repair mechanisms, regaining 2 wounds.

And then, setting their sites on the oncoming Grotesques, the Kastelans opened fire. The air in front of them seemed to turn into a writhing sea of flame as their phosphor blasters fired to full effect, the Wrath of Mars made manifest through their guns. The sheer power and rate of the fire tore through the Grotesques, overcoming even their prodigious toughness and immunity to pain: six Grotesques were blasted down by the sheer volume of firepower, the last two staggering on, blackened and scorched, into the firestorm.

The onslaught of the Mechanicus didn’t end there. With Cawl feeding them ballistic information, the Balistarii Ironstriders focused their fire on the dark lance Ravager, managing several hits despite the gloom and blasting six wounds off of the nimble Drukhari craft. The Rangers, seeing the Wyches ahead of the Grotesques who had avoided the attention of the Kastelans, fired on them, mowing down all four of them in a single, precise volley.

Finally, the last Onager divided its fire among all of the skycraft on the left flank, its Icarus autocannon blasting down the damaged Venom and sending its crew tumbling out, and its gatling rocket launcher doing two wounds to another Venom. The remaining Raider, however, managed to evade the Daedalus missile launcher, keeping the Wyches on board safe for the time being.

Last but not least, the Enginseer fired his laspistol at point blank range into Karath, zapping a wound off of her. This merely served to enrage her further, however.

In melee, Cawl focused his attention on Khyrus: bereft of his shadow field, Khyrus was unable to stop Cawl’s mechadendrites from wrapping around his arms and legs, immobilizing him, before Cawl’s axe came down and carved him messily in half. Vengeance was swift, however, as the last Wych darted past Cawl’s guard and drove his punch gauntlet past Cawl’s armour, dealing a wound back to the Lord of Mars.

Alas, poor Khyrus…

Elsehwhere, Karath and the Enginseer continued to fight to a standstill, Karath’s glaive failing to get past the Enginseer’s blocking axe, while Karath in exchange dodged the blows of the Enginseer’s axe and servo-arm. The two of them duelled on, and, wounded as she was, Karath was nonetheless thrilled to have found an opponent worthy of her skills.

As the battle raged on, the last two Grotesques slowly but surely began to crumble as the maddened spirits within began to rebel against Lazhareq’s control. Before long, the two corrupted Wraithguard collapsed into so much bone dust, the souls within shrieking as they escaped from their shells. (Translation: they failed morale)

(At this point, however, despite the sudden display of apocalyptic firepower from the Kastelans, Xavier realized that he had no way of getting his remaining forces off the board. And with that, we shook hands, and he called the game.)

RESULT: DRUKHARI VICTORY!

THOUGHTS: I want to say that everything went exactly according to plan in this battle, but that wouldn’t be true. I had blundered severely with my Wyches in turn 1, forgetting that the Kastelans were vehicles and, thus, could not be tied up in close combat by the Wyches’ ‘No Escape’ ability. What I really should have done was to tie up as many of the Mechanicus’ vehicles as possible on turn 1: while I wouldn’t have been able to keep them locked, I still would have been able to deny their shooting for a turn. I also made the mistake of sending my characters in to fight Cawl: while they managed to do a fair number of wounds to the big guy, Cawl quickly proved how dangerous a character he is by regenerating most of his lost wounds and chopping my nefarious villains down in short order. Seriously, between his reroll aura and his sheer durability, I can see why Cawl is considered such a must-have for Mechanicus players.

And then there was my failure to permanently silence the Kastelans, and the shock I received when they finally did open fire. With 18 shots per robot, rerolling misses at strength 6 Ap-3, and doing mortal wounds thanks to Wrath of Mars, they vaporized almost all of my Grotesques (my toughest unit!!) in one shooting phase. I think my brain fart with the Haemonculus, of course, contributed to their demise, as the boost to toughness could have helped them survive. Had the game gone on, I think it would have been a struggle to kill off the remaining Robots before they, in turn, massacred the rest of my army, and I honestly wish Xavier had fought on just to see how much of my stuff he could kill.

To his credit, Xavier played a solid game and game my Kabal a good run for its money, but I honestly think the odds were stacked against him in this scenario. We had a discussion afterwards, and we both agreed that this scenario is heavily tilted in favour of the attacker: had our positions been reversed, then the Mechanicus would have undoubtedly gone first and shot most of my Drukhari off the field on turn 1. I honestly think that Ambush is a scenario that would better favour smaller points levels with fewer vehicles. At the very least, since Xavier was such a great guy to play against, I feel that at the very least I should play him again with a slightly more even scenario in mind.

So, overall, that’s one win and one loss for my Drukhari so far in the Hod’s Anvil campaign. Let’s see what the next round brings!

******

Another violet-black pulse of dark matter speared past Cawl, striking the last of the Onagers and tearing through its adamantine hull as though it were made of paper. The ensuing explosion sent flaming debris slashing outwards, and Cawl’s ocular implants fizzled with static at the backwash of released radiation. The loss of yet another broad-spectrum data tether caused the noospheric interface to fray further as vital links were lost, but it retained enough integrity for Cawl to see plainly that they were losing: more and more rune-idents winked out as Skitarii vitals ceased, and larger icons representing grievous material and vehicle losses began to fade as well.

Even as he analyzed this data, his finely-tuned cybernetic mind continued to multi-task, taking in direct audiovisual feeds from Skitarii while at the same time acquiring target locks and feeding ballistic data to the Kastelans…all while fighting against the last of the Drukhari Wyches, his axe swinging and chopping away at the xeno, who dodged every single blow with the fluid grace known to its species. Around them, the robots blazed away relentlessly with their phosphor cannons, setting the air itself on fire as they fired at full effect. Cawl noted a Drukhari skimmer going down in a flaming wreckage, and one of their clawed pain-engines collapsing with an audibly mechanical shriek. The Kastelans’ targeting arrays were functioning with near-perfect accuracy, and they would be reaping a terrible toll on the Drukhari before this day was over.

Except, Cawl noted as a nearby Ironstrider toppled and fell, its crew shredded with splinter fire and its chassis fused into glass by plasma, the day would be ending very soon. Factoring in current kill-death ratios, the number of mobile enemy forces, current ammunition stores and the increasing loss of anti-air firepower, he calculated a 95.3% likelihood that his congregation would be overwhelmed in less than twenty minutes. There was a further 97.4% chance that casualties would be total, that all remaining forces would be killed or captured, and that he would be among that number. In fact, there was a 98.3% chance that he himself was the target of this raid.

A sharp pain disrupted his calculations for a nano-second, as the Wych fighting him drove his punch-dagger through the armour plating of his right shoulder, rupturing several components and piercing some of the remaining flesh in Cawl’s frame. Focusing his attention to the Aeldari, Cawl lashed out with his snaking mechadendrites: taking the Wyches’ observed acrobatic movements into account, Cawl anticipated his opponent’s dodge and neatly ensnared his limbs in midair. The Drukhari shrieked as he was immobilized, before the mechadendrites clamped down tightly and began to pull. There was a brief cracking of bone and a wet tearing of flesh as the Wych was ripped apart. He ignored bloody pieces of the Wych falling to the dust, as his attention was caught by a nearby explosion: one of the Kastelans toppled over, its upper body ruptured by lance fire and its exposed circuits fizzing with electricity. It’s death was accompanied by a shrill whine as the neural matter inside flatlined.

The decision was obvious, then: he had to retreat. Although his withdrawal back to orbit would result in a 72.5% chance of Saguntum falling without his direct guidance, he knew that his death or capture would be an irreparable loss to the Imperium as a whole. He canted the Mantra of Expeditious Retreat, initiating emergency teleport protocols to one of the Mechanicus ships waiting in low orbit. Everything went white, and with a crackling of ionized particles and a stench of ozone, Belisarius Cawl was gone.

****

The Techpriest was swearing at Karath, she was absolutely sure of it. While she couldn’t interpret the litany of buzzes, clicks, and electronic warbles that emanated from the machine-man’s vox unit, there was an unmistakable note of anger to his machine-sounds as she dragged him across the scorched ground with her shardnet, the glaive in her free hand resting casually on her shoulder as she walked. His anger was adorable, really, as was the fact that he was still futilely trying to tear himself free from his entrapment. It had taken her and half a dozen Kabalites to overwhelm this robed cyborg and bind him in the battle’s aftermath, ending a duel that had continued to rage even after the last soldiers and vehicles of the Mechanicus had been overwhelmed and destroyed. The fact that he had even lasted more than a few minutes against her, and had dealt her a few choice wounds in the process, meant that she simply had to take him back to her arena: good opponents were hard to find, and besides, a machine-man was a novelty that the arena crowds would appreciate for a match or two.

Around her, the surviving Mechanicus forces were being rounded up for the return voyage back to the Umbral Spire, the ugly wreckages of their even uglier vehicles now little more than guttering bonfires of scrap metal. Before long, the raiding force would depart back into the Webway, leaving behind this lovely scene of devastation for the mon-keigh to find and to wail over. As she dragged the Techpriest along, Karath saw saw her subordinate and rival Nyxera resting against the scorched hull of a downed Kastelan, recently resurrected after her fateful battle against the one called Cawl. This battle had been Nyxera’s chance to lead the Cult into action, and she had died in the process, dying while dueling the enemy leader. Karath flashed her a triumphant grin, savouring Nyxera’s bitter glare in return. She wouldn’t be letting her second blade be living this shame down any time soon.

Nearby, Dracon Khyrus of the Kabal was similaly recovering from his recent return to life, though he was obviously trying not to show weakness as he snapped orders at his Kabalites, trying to speed up their departure. Karath had no idea how a lowly halfborn like Khyrus had risen to the rank of Dracon, or why the Kabal’s supreme lord tolerated his lowly existence. If he had any merit whatsoever, then he certainly hadn’t been showing it in this campaign. Khyrus was on thin ice now, and it was going to be delightfully fun to watch this upstart try to avoid an execution or a knife in the back from this point forward.

Looking away from Khyrus, Karath turned to the figure standing atop the smoking wreckage of one of the Mechanicus walkers, silently overseeing the battle’s aftermath. Framed against the rising sun and a black pall of smoke, Zhael Yxlsae looked wonderfully imposing in her horned armour, and the entertainer in Karath appreciated this bit of theatre. “We have the last of them in chains, Hierarch,” she said with a respectful, but not subservient, bow. “Those that did not fall to blade or venom, in any case. None of them escaped our ambush. None, that is, except for their scouts, and for the leader of this rabble.” She smiled. “I’m very curious what you’ll do to the halfborn for failing to capture this ‘Cawl’.”

Slowly, Zhael turned her impassive mask towards Karath. “Nothing,” came the Hierarch’s reply, her icy voice made colder by the mechanical flanging of her helm.

Karath’s smile melted away. “Nothing?” she asked, her pointed teeth flashing briefly through her frown. “He let our prize escape, Hierarch. Were he one of my Wyches, the reward for his failure would not be nothing.”

“And yet he is not one of your Wyches, Karath Deathsong,” Zhael, her voice becoming razored steel. “Our Lord Scyrex has decreed no punishment for Khyrus, and that should good enough for you as well as for me.” Zhael paused, allowing Karath time to reconsider challenging her Cult’s closest allies, before continuing. “Besides, Cawl was never our main target.”

At this, Karath raised an eyebrow. “Oh really? For what reason, then, did we launch this ambush, other than for sport?”

Zhael raised a metal-clad arm, gauntleted fingers clicking as they gestured out to the ruin that the Drukhari had wrought. “We have just deprived Saguntum of much-needed reinforcements,” she said, “and deprived them of their most brilliant tactical mind, tearing a gaping wound open so that the body may bleed further. Lord Scyrex has designs on this world…designs that will be revealed in the fullness of time.”

Karath spat. “You know my Cult and I, Hierarch,” she said. “We only care for your Lord Scyrex’s plans as long as they bring worthy foes in reach of our blades.”

Despite that damnable mask she wore, Karath felt as though Zhael was smiling. “And there will be many of those, Karath Deathsong,” she replied. “This, I promise.”

Karath smiled, showed the serrated needles that were her teeth. “Good,” she purred, before glancing down at the captive Techpriest. “After all…we’ll want to make sure you have plenty of playmates on the red sands of the arena, don’t we?”

The bursts of machine-code came again, angry, hateful…and this time, Karath knew, afraid.

2 thoughts on “The Siege of Hod’s Anvil, Part 2: Ambush on Furion Road

  1. Awesome battle report! I particularly enjoyed the lore snippets before and after … very well done, and dripping with flavor. The game looked like a lot of fun, too. Nicely painted models and a nifty looking battlefield. Great stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

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