The Siege of Hod’s Anvil, Part 4: Boarding Action

(Artist Unknown)

It felt good to be back on his command throne, Khyrus thought to himself as he eased back into glossy obsinite seat at the centre of the Talon’s bridge, welcoming the feeling of the jagged spines of the armrests digging into his palms and forearm. n the familiar gloom of the ship’s interior, he saw the dull brown orb of Hod’s Anvil on the holo-ghost before him, turning with a ponderous slowness in the void.

They had spent several long weeks on Hod’s Anvil– weeks of harrying the mon-keigh armies, bleeding them white with continuous hit and run raids, and striking at their most vulnerable strategic assets, while in orbit the Talon had played havoc with their ships, using its stealth capabilities to prey on convoys and warships alike. And now, they were finally leaving this ugly brown mudball, though they weren’t leaving empty-handed– hundreds of thousands of fresh slaves filled the Talon’s holds, and more importantly, that ancient mon-keigh device that Lazhareq and Lord Scyrex craved was now in their possession.

Involuntarily, Khyrus’ thoughts drifted back to the device– to that twisted, centipedal thing that looked utterly unlike any mon-keigh technology he had encountered before. Lazhareq told him that the device was a regenerative tool of considerable sophistication, a panacea that cure cure any ailment or disease, and even bring life back to a long-dead husk. But the covens of the Haemonculi already had such wonders, and someone like Lazhareq needed no long-lost mon-keigh trinkets to accomplish this. No, there was something that the Haemonculus was not telling him…

A stab of pain in his chest brought him back to reality. He almost winced– almost, as doing so would have been a fatal admission of weakness before his underlings, who no doubt were already smelling blood. He had suffered a great deal of personal humiliation in this campaign, falling in battle no less than three times in a row, each time to one of the mon-keigh’s lumbering champions. The fact made him seethe with frustrated rage, but it also made him fearful of his position. His Warriors had seen him fall, and dark murmurings now spread through their ranks about how their Dracon had grown soft and weak. Khyrus had already killed a few of them to maintain discipline, but it would only be a matter of time before one or more of them tried to usurp him. It was, after all, how he had first seized command.

“Your orders, Dracon?” The question came from Arvaneq, his second in command. Quiet, introspective Arvaneq, never one to risk himself at the forefront of a raid. Just what could he be plotting?

Khyrus his his unease behind his usual mask of cool arrogance. “Inform the Umbral Spire that we are returning,” he replied smoothly. “Make sure to mention to Hierarch Zhael that we shall arrive shortly with Lord Scyrex’s prize.” Come to think of it, why hadn’t Zhael stripped him of his rank by now and and thrown him to the Haemonculi for excruciation? He had imagined at first that she had a particularly diabolical fate in mind for him, but now, he wasn’t so sure. Perhaps his success in obtaining the mon-keigh device, in the end, was worth more than whatever minor failures he had suffered? He almost laughed out loud at the thought. No, Zhael had to be up to something…

“We are ready to return to the Webway, Dracon,” came the sibilant voice of Helmsmistress Lakhyria.

Khyrus gave a relaxed smile, putting his restless thoughts to the back of his mind as best he could. “Excellent,” he said. “Helmsmistress, take us home.”

In the background, he heard the quiet him of the Talon’s engines start up…a quiet helm that was suddenly interrupted by the metallic shriek of warning sensors.

He immediately leapt to his feet. “What’s going on?” he snarled.

“Proximity alert, Dracon!” came the reply of the augur-master. “We have a ship approaching from one of the mid-orbital dustclouds on our starboard flank, five thousand kellicams and closing!” The colour drained from the augur-master’s face. “Dracon, they are on an intercept course with us!”

“Impossible!” Arvaneq spat. “Our mimic shields are operating perfectly! No other ship should be able to see or detect us!”

“Give me visuals, now!” Khyrus ordered. In an instant, the ghost-holo flickered, showing the grey, mist-like dust clouds that permeated much of the middle and inner portions of the Hod’s Anvil system. Emerging from the clouds, like some predatory sea-creature rearing up to the surface, was a blocky mon-keigh ship, its rectangular form crenellated with bastions, turrets and iconography so that it looked like some spacefaring cathedral. Its hull was a dark forest green that looked black in the void, and Khyrus could see a familiar symbol on its hull– a white sword, plunging downwards, its hilt framed against a pair of while angelic wings.

“The Dark Angels,” Khyrus swore. The Astartes that had killed so many of his warriors at the start of this campaign were here again, catching them in a perfectly timed ambush in high orbit.

And even as he watched, the Dark Angels ship started launching torpedoes. “Evasive maneuvers!” He shouted. “I want our turrets and fighters active now! And rouse the Wyches– inform them we are about to have unwelcome guests…”

*****

“First volley of torpedoes away, Grand Master,” said Shipmistress Honoria of the Angel of Caliban. “Boarding torpedoes and assault craft are primed and ready for flight. We will be in lance range of the estimated target in roughly ten minutes.” On the strike cruiser’s viewscreen, a wave of torpedoes hurtled towards the void at…nothing. Only empty space could be seen ahead of them. However, Azrael knew all too well that if there was one thing the Aeldari were skilled at, it was subterfuge. Well, the Sons of the Lion could play that game as well.

“Saul, are you sure you have an exact location of their ship?” he asked the figure next to him– a figure clad in bulky Terminator plate, wearing the cabled hood and blue heraldry of the Chapter’s Librarius.

Epistolary Saul nodded. “I have a mental imprint of the Drukhari, based on all of the mental scans I have conducted on the prisoners we took from them,” the Librarian replied, his voice quiet and thoughtful. “Their ship is out there, in the coordinates I’ve described. Their avarice, their spite, is radiating out to me like a living flame.”

Azrael nodded. “Good.” Throughout this war, the Drukhari– the same Drukhari that had ambushed them on Argus Rho-77– had been an unpleasant wildcard in the war for Hod’s Anvil, striking from out of nowhere and delivering ruin to Imperial armies already tied up from dealing with marauding Orks and T’au. Most disturbingly, they had ambushed and nearly captured Archmagos Cawl, and had recently captured a device that was of apparent importance to the Adeptus Mechanicus. All the while, that damned ship of theirs had been a dark ghost, launching devastating hit and run raids on Imperial ships to the point that Navy crews had developed a superstitious fear of it.

Well, that was all going to stop now. After studying the pattern of Drukhari void-attacks, Azrael had managed to deduce the location of their likely exit point, and had kept the Angel of Caliban hidden in the dust cloud in ambush. As the Drukhari eschewed the use of psykers, they were at a disadvantage against the trained Interromancy of Saul and his brothers. The time to strike was now.

Even as Azrael watched, the first volley of torpedoes suddenly detonated. He saw the unmistakable flicker of void-shields amidst the explosion, and slowly but surely, a sleek, bladed vessel suddenly materialized, the Drukhari dropping their disguise and coming about to face them. They must have realized now that they had nowhere to run.

“Mistress Honoria, please keep the xeno vessel engaged,” Azrael said. “Saul, meet me at Thunderhawk Bellerophon for embarkation. I will need you to guide our path.” With that, Azrael took the Lion Helm from one of the diminutive Watchers and clamping it to his armoured collar. Around him, the assembled officers and heroes of the Dark Angels began to gather their squads. “Master Zadkiel and the majority of Third Company are to strike at the prow of the xeno ship and fight towards their bridge. The rest will accompany me– we will strike for the engine room of the xeno ship to either cripple or destroy it. One way or another, my brothers, we are putting an end to the Drukhari’s raids today!”

And with that, he raised the Sword of Secrets high. “Repent!” he shouted.

“FOR TOMORROW YOU DIE!” the assembled Sons of the Lion roared in answer.

*****

For the next round of the campaign, the Imperium launched a massive counter-attack against the xeno invaders (myself included), which meant for once that I would have to play a battle as the defender– something that the Drukhari aren’t exactly that well known for, given the hard-hitting glass hammer nature of their army. For this round, I was pitted against another Dark Angels player, Victor, and after looking over the available scenarios for this round, we picked Thunder Run from Chapter Approved 2019. For this round, however, the campaign organizer had a rule that any xeno defender playing Thunder Run would be playing without flyers– something that made my task go from difficult to seemingly impossible.

So, in order to make the scenario not only more fair, but a little more interesting, Victor and I both agreed to make this a Zone Mortalis game and use the boarding action rules from Vigilus Ablaze– ie no vehicles or units with the FLY keyword allowed, and any time a strength 7 or higher weapon rolled a 1 to hit, it would have a chance of creating a hull breach that could inflict mortal wounds on nearby models.

The campaign organizer really liked the idea, and we both agreed to 1500 point lists. And so it was that I was given the challenge of having to make an all-foot Drukhari list, with no vehicles whatsoever:

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

KABAL OF THE POISONED TONGUE BATTALION:
Archon (Dracon Khyrus)- blast pistol, Djinn Blade, Hatred Eternal
Archon (Arvaneq)- venom blade
10 Kabalite Warriors- 2 blasters, splinter cannon, Sybarite w. agonizer
10 Kabalite Warriors- 2 blasters, splinter cannon, Sybarite w. agonizer
10 Kabalite Warriors- 2 blasters, splinter cannon, Sybarite w. agonizer
5 Incubi

CULT OF THE CURSED BLADE BATTALION:
Succubus (Nyxera)- 2 hydra gauntlets, Adrenalight, Precision Blows
Succubus (Karath Deathsong)- Archite glaive, Serpentin
8 Wyches- shardnet & impaler, Hekatrix w. power sword, Grave Lotus
8 Wyches- shardnet & impaler, Hekatrix w. power sword, Hypex
8 Wyches- shardnet & impaler, Hekatrix w. power sword, Painbringer
Clawed Fiend
Clawed Fiend
Clawed Fiend

PROPHETS OF FLESH VANGUARD:
Haemonculus (Lazhareq the Sculptor)- electrocorrosive whip, Helm of Spite, Master Artisan
5 Grotesques
4 Grotesques
7 Mandrakes

Total Command Points: 14
Pre-Game Stratagems: Prizes of the Dark City, Alliance of Agony

For this list, I was experimenting with several things, the first being the Poisoned Tongue battalion. I had never used the Kabal of the Poisoned Tongue before, as it is, sadly, a Kabal that is overshadowed by the other three Kabal obsessions in the Drukhari Codex. However, my usual choice of Flayed Skull is useless without vehicles or transports, and the Black Heart, similarly, works best if they have vehicles to take advantage of their 6+ ignore wounds rule (true, they still have an amazing relic, warlord trait and stratagem, but I nonetheless wanted to branch out from them). While I was tempted to go with the Obsidian Rose, I figured that the extra range would not be of much use on a Zone Mortalis board, given all of the narrow corridors and line of sight blocking terrain. In the end, the Poisoned Tongue, with their rerolls of 1 to wound for splinter rifles, seemed like a natural choice.

Beyond that, it ended up being a bit of a challenge to find enough infantry to cram into 1500 points. I ended up bulking my Kabalite squads into big units of 10 rather than their usual, Venom-mounted squads of 5, and I took some Incubi to support them (a unit which rarely sees the table, given their priciness and fragility, though that might change when/if the new plastic kit is released).

For my Wych Cult detachment, I took the Cult of the Cursed Blade (for their strength bonus and bonus against morale), and, as an experiment, took three Clawed Fiends, hoping to use them to soak up overwatch, tie up Dark Angels in combat, and/or block routes with their natural speed and tenacity. I had a bunch of old plastic lions from the High Elf Lion Chariot lying around in my bits box, and so I decided to make use of them: honestly, I just loved the irony of throwing bloodthirsty space-lions against the Sons of the Lion. And finally, rounding out my Coven detachment, I took my usual Grotesques and Mandrakes.

My overall plan was to swamp the Dark Angels with numbers, to tie them up in close combat wherever possible, and to deny them the ability to get their special units off the board by hold narrow alleyways and choke-points against them. I didn’t have much in the way of firepower, so I hoped that my strategy of aggressive defence would be enough to hold the Dark Angels back away from my board edge.

The Dark Angels, meanwhile, took the following:

THE DARK ANGELS:

DARK ANGELS BATTALION:
Azrael- Brilliant Strategist
Lieutenant- combi-plasma, Heavenfall Blade
5 Tactical Marines- plasma gun
5 Tactical Marines- plasma gun
5 Tactical Marines- plasma gun
Chapter Ancient
6 Deathwing Terminators- chainfist
5 Ravenwing Bikes- plasma gun
5 Devastators- 4 plasma cannons

DARK ANGELS BATTALION:
Librarian- bike, force sword, Aversion, Mind Worm
Librarian- Terminator armour, storm bolter, force staff, Righteous Repugnance, Trephination
5 Scouts- bolters, heavy bolter
5 Scouts- bolters, heavy bolter
5 Scouts- bolters

Command Points: 11

Overall, I would be dealing with a lot of bodies, a lot of bolters, and a lot of psychic shenanigans. This battle was fought after the new Space Marine codex was released, so it was going to be a test of the new Shock Assault rule, meaning that all of those Dark Angels would be meaner in assault as well. No matter what, this was going to be a bloody game.

Also, for this game, I made it a personal mission of mine to kill Azrael. Given how instrumental Azrael was in defeating me in my first game, I was eager for some payback. If I could kill the big boss man of the Dark Angels (preferably with Khyrus), then all the better.

DEPLOYMENT:

The Dark Angels deployed the Ravenwing on the left flank, along with the Librarian and a Tactical Squad. Their centre was held by a staggered line of Tactical Marines and Scouts, while their far right flank saw Azrael and the other Dark Angels heroes surrounded by two Tactical Squads, some Scouts and the Devastators, all of whom would be benefitting from Azrael’s reroll aura.

Meanwhile, I ended up cramming my own deployment zone with models. My Kabalites ended up spread across the left flank and centre, with Khyrus and Arvaneq there to provide vital rerolls, while the Wyches were spread across the centre and right flanks. Both units of Grotesques anchored the back left, while the Incubi were placed back as well, both units there to either block any Dark Angels that punched through my lines or deal with any Terminators that might show up. Finally, all three Clawed Fiends were spread throughout my lines, ready to move up and cause disruption at a moment’s notice.

The Deathwing and their attendant Librarian were placed in reserve, as were my Mandrakes. As per the scenario rules, Victor had to choose three units as his Thunder Run units: if just one of them managed to get off my board edge, he would win the game. For his three units, he chose Azrael, and both Librarians.

And with that, as per scenario rules, the attackers went first. I failed to seize the initiative, and so the game began.

TURN 1

The battle began with the Sons of the Lion going on the offensive. On the right flank, the Ravenwing Bikers and their attendant Librarian zoomed forwards, weaving through the narrow halls of the Drukhari ship with expert precision.

In the centre and left flanks, meanwhile, the Dark Angels infantry advanced inexorably, Tactical Marines and Scouts moving forwards to bring their guns to bear on the enemy. Further back, the Devastators stood their ground, ready to light the darkness of the Drukhari ship with white-hot plasma.

Channelling the powers of the Warp, the Dark Angels Librarian attempted to Smite the shredder-armed Kabalites, but at the last minute felt his focus slip, and the power failed him. Unperturbed, he channelled his powers again and filled the Drukhari’s minds with Aversion, making the sinister raiders feel fear at the approach of the Emperor’s chosen.

And then, at Azrael’s signal, a storm of fire was unleashed. Bolter fire lit up the gloom of the Drukhari ship as the Bikes utilized the Speed of the Raven to fire with unerring accuracy as they raced, and they and a nearby unit of Scouts annihilated the shredded armed-Kabalites in one overwhelming fusillade (despite their Prepared Positions).

Another three Kabalites from one of the leftmost squads were also pulverized by bolter fire from the Tactical Marines, and one of the Clawed Fiends was burst apart as concentrated fire by the Scouts brought it down.

“Hey, cut that out, those Fiends are (probably) endangered!”

At the back of the Dark Angels lines, the Devastators, seeing the danger posed by the four-strong unit of Grotesques, overcharged their plasma cannons and fired on them. One Devastator, however, suffered a fatal overheat and died as his plasma cannon exploded on him; thanks to their Lightning-Fast Reflexes, the Grotesques were able to evade many of the shots, though one of the corrupted Wraithguard still took three grievous burns from the plasma fire.

(Note: I realized only after the battle that Coven units cannot use Lightning-Fast Reflexes, which means its quite possible that round of shooting should have done more damage. I caught this mistake after the fact and have since apologized to Victor for it).

Seeing one of the Drukhari’s leonine beasts up ahead, and seeing its very existence as an affront to their Primarch, a unit of Scouts drew their combat blades and charged one of the Clawed Fiends. The Scouts’ over-eagerness, however, soon got the better of them, as not one of the Sons of the Lion could hurt the Fiend, while the xeno-beast in turn tore two Scouts to shreds with its razor-sharp fangs and claws.

Annoyed at the temerity of the Dark Angels attacking him on his own ship, Khyrus ordered his warriors to respond to the Astartes’ aggression in kind. On the left flank, both squads of Kabalites moved up to bring their guns to bear on the incoming Tactical Marines, while in the centre, a unit of Wyches, Nyxera and Arvaneq ran up behind one of the walls, hoping to ambush any Dark Angels that came their way.

On the right flank, one of the Clawed Fiends broke into a charge toward the Ravenwing, with Karath and another unit of Wyches following in their wake, while another unit of Wyches moved forwards as well.

At the back of the Drukhari lines, the Incubi quietly drew further back, knowing that the Astartes would likely teleport more warriors into battle. Both units of Grotesques similarly moved back, trying to limit the number of areas where the Deathwing might be able to safely teleport. Utilizing his Fleshcraft, Lazhareq repaired the damaged Grotesque, bringing it back up to its full health.

At Khyrus’ command, the two squads of Kabalites concentrated their firepower on the nearest Tactical squad. Four Dark Angels went down, atomized by blaster fire or else riddled with poisoned shards, though the plasma gunner of the squad remained standing with grim resolve. Elsewhere, the Wyches fired their splinter pistols into the oncoming Ravenwing Bikers, but failed to so much as dent the Astartes’ ebon armour.

Snarling, the rightmost Clawed Fiend hurled itself at the Ravenwing, though as it charged it took no less than three grievous wounds from bolter fire. Following in the beast’s wake, both Karath and her attendant Wyches charged the Ravenwing as well. In the ensuing storm of blades, Karath laughed as she elegantly decapitated one Biker, while the Wyches managed to slice open another, though the Clawed Fiend only succeeded in breaking its fangs upon the thick Astartes battle plate. The Ravenwing fought hard, but failed to hit any of their agile opponents, and soon found themselves being surrounded as the Wyches pressed in on them…

Meanwhile, one unit of Kabalites, eager to finish the Dark Angels off, tried to charge the last Tactical Marine, but fell short. Unsheathing his blade, Khyrus and the other Kabalite squad charged on the Scouts fighting the Clawed Fiend: the young Astartes didn’t even have time to turn around before all three were decapitated in the blink of an eye by the Dracon. Hungering for yet more souls, the Djinn Blade briefly turned on its owner, but Khyrus’ supreme force of will kept the malevolent entity inside contained for now. (Note: the Djinn Blade rolled a 1 to see if it would hurt its user, and inflicted a mortal wound on Khyrus…but he then rolled a 6 to ignore it!)

TURN 2

With the Drukhari now at engagement range, the Dark Angels moved to respond. On the left flank, the lone plasma gunner from the Tactical Squad moved forward resolutely, eager for vengeance, and was followed closely by the other Tactical Squad, Azrael and the assembled heroes of the Dark Angels.

On the right flank, a unit of Scouts moved up to assist the Bikers against the Wyches, while the bike-mounted Librarian gunned his engines and zoomed past the swirling melee, knowing that the mission depended on him getting to the engine room or bridge of this xeno ship. In a well-practiced hit and run manouever, the Ravenwing attempted to disengage and fall back…but quickly found that their Bikes had been expertly ensnared by shardnets, preventing them from escaping. (Note: Again, I had forgotten that the No Escape rule of the Wyches cannot affect Bikes, only infantry.) Everywhere else, the Dark Angels edged forward to bring their guns to bear, knowing that their best chances lay in winning this battle at long range.

With a crackling of electricity, six ivory-white figures teleported into the back of the Drukhari lines as the Deathwing entered the battle, accompanied by a Terminator-armoured Librarian. No sooner had the Terminators arrived when their storm bolters blazed to life, the surprise Deathwing Assault catching the smaller unit of Grotesques unawares as the mass-reactive bolts dealt two wounds to the corrupted Wraithguard.

“Did you hear something? Oh that’s right, I never crafted you with ears.”

Drawing on the power of the Warp, the Terminator-armoured Librarian invigorated the minds of his Deathwing brothers, filling them with Righteous Repugnance, before unleashing a crackling ball of Warp energy as he Smote the Grotesques, destroying one of them in an explosion of greying wraithbone.

The Biker Librarian channeled the Warp as well, unleashing a Mind Worm that staggered and wounded another of the Grotesques.

At Azrael’s direction, the Dark Angels focused as much fire as they could into the Grotesques, the Devastators and Deathwing combining their fire to lay into the monstrosities with bolt and plasma, felling another of the monsters and leaving two standing. Elsewhere, the Tactical Marines and Scouts focused their fire on the undamaged unit of Kabalite Warriors. Once again, plasma and bolter fire rained in on the xenos, punching through their armour and blasting the frail xenos apart in coordinated arcs of fire. Within moments, all of the Kabalites lay dead, humbled by the bolter discipline of the Dark Angels.

There used to be a unit of Kabalites here.

As if in an encore, long-range fire by a unit of Scouts managed to blast down three of the middle unit of Wyches, causing their sisters to shriek in rage at the insolent Astartes.

Invoking the names of the Lion and Caliban, the lone plasma gunner charged the last unit of Kabalite Warriors. The Drukhari were ready for him, however, and he was met with a withering hail of overwatch fire, one shot catching him fatally in the throat. Even as he fell, he caught sight of the banner carried by the Ancient: filled with grim resolve, the Dark Angel held down the trigger of his plasma gun, blasting down two surprised Kabalites before he fell.

He did not fall unavenged, however, as a second later Azrael was charging into the xenos, flanked by his trusty Lieutenant and Ancient. The Supreme Grand Master struck with the force of a hurricane, the Sword of Secrets a blur as he lopped off heads, bisected torsos and removed arms. Within seconds, all five of the remaining Kabalites had been hacked down by the furious Grand Master, Azrael’s helmeted gaze then drifting towards the arrogant form of Dracon Khyrus.

Echoing their Grand Master’s example, the Deathwing charged into the Grotesques, slamming into them with the force of a sledgehammer. Crackling power fists slammed down against Wraithbone hides, and one Grotesque fell, shattered by the furious assault of the Terminators. The last one, however, fought with a monstous frenzy as it was corners, its razor-sharp scalpel blades slicing one Terminator down in reply.

Finally, the rightmost unit of Scouts charged into the Clawed Fiend fighting the Ravenwing, and swiftly disemboweled the beast with their combat knives. Emboldened by the arrival of the Scouts, the Ravenwing fought harder, their combat blades cutting down two of the Wyches; in exchange, Karath sliced down another Biker, while her Wyches swarmed and dragged down a second.

(Note: in the aftermath of the combat, Karath…somehow…found herself unable to move into base contact with anyone, and thus free from combat. I cannot remember how this happened, why, or whether or not it was even legal. If it was something that should not have happened, then I think I owe my opponent an apology when I next see him)

Seeing the Master of the Dark Angels directly in front of him, Khyrus strode forwards, eager to confront his nemesis blade-to-blade. He was quickly joined by the leftmost unit of Wyches as they, and Nyxera, came racing over to engage the Dark Angels heroes, while the last Clawed Fiend ran at the leftmost unit of Tactical Marines, hungry for blood.

Turning around a corner, Arvaneq moved to surprise the Ravenwing Librarian, while Karath, now free from the combat, left her underlings to deal with the Ravenwing as she skipped forwards to engage a distant unit of Tactical Marines.

The middle unit of Wyches, meanwhile, ran forwards to engage the Scouts that had so rudely shot at them.

Finally, in the back flank, the Incubi hid behind one of the ship’s many walls, waiting to ambush any Dark Angels that tried to make their way to the engine room.

Lazhareq and the other unit of Grotesques, meanwhile, moved up to deal with the Deathwing, the Haemonculus wishing dearly to punish the mon-keigh who had hurt his precious creations.

At the back of the Astartes lines, meanwhile, long, spindly forms with lank hair and serrated blades suddenly began to pull themselves out from the shadows, as the Mandrakes suddenly arrived on the ship. Sensing prey-things, they raised their hands towards the leftmost and unleashed blistering blasts of pure cold at the Astartes, freezing the hearts of two and felling them.

Firing as they ran, the middle unit of Wyches managed to bring down one Scout with their splinter pistols. Khyrus, meanwhile, took careful aim at Azrael with his blast pistol and squeezed the trigger. Azrael, however, remained immobile, glaring at Khyrus as the searing bolt of darklight washed harmlessly around the force field generated by the Lion Helm. (Note: I nearly had Azrael then and there, as Khyrus managed to score an unsaved hit on Azrael, but then Victor managed to save him with a CP reroll).

With a roar, the Clawed Fiend charged the Tactical Marines, though the Astartes managed to inflict two wounds on the beast with accurate overwatch. Bleeding and frenzied, the leonine beast slammed into the Sons of the Lion, bearing one to the floor with a tackle and tearing out his throat with its powerful jaws. Reacting quickly, the Tactical Marines set upon the beast with combat blades and rifle butts, quickly avenging their fallen brother as they slew the alien Fiend.

The Dark Angels were much less fortunate on the right flank, however. Shrieking war-cries, the Wyches charged into the Scouts, losing another of their number to overwatch. This did not stop them, however, as they slammed into the young Astartes in a hurricane of blades: within seconds, all four Scouts were dead, perfectly bisected by the Wyches’ blades.

Hissing, the Mandrakes tried to charge the Tactical Marines, but the distance was too great, and they fell short of their prey. In an instant, however, Karath was upon them, laughing as she danced past their overwatch before lopping off the head of one of them, casually avoiding their return blows with acrobatic grace as she toyed with the mon-keigh. Further behind her, the melee between the Ravenwing and the Wyches continued, both sides fighting to a furious stalemate as neither side managed to hurt the other.

At the back of the Drukhari lines, the other unit of Grotesques slammed into the Terminators, accompanied by the sinister form of Lazhareq. The Deathwing chose that moment to Counter-Attack, striking first and striking hard at their charging foes and smashing down one of them. In reply, however, the serrated blades of the Grotesques rose and fell, chopping through ancient ceramite, meat and bone alike. Three Terminators fell to the fury of the Grotesques, while the Terminator Sergeant died screaming as he was ensnared by Lazhareq’s electrocorrosive whip. The last Terminator soon found himself alone, all but surrounded by the towering wraithbone freaks.

In the centre of the battle, Arvaneq slid out from behind the wall to surprise the Biker Librarian. His venom blade found several weak points in the Dark Angel’s armour, and Arvaneq was able to deal three grievous wounds to the Librarian. Gritting his teeth, the Librarian swung back with his force sword, piercing the shadow field protecting Arvaneq and slicing a wound into the Drukhari leader in return.

Finally, the Wyches and Nyxera charged into the Lieutenant and the Ancient. Nyxera’s blades flashed as she confronted the Lieutenant, moving too fast for him to follow as she sliced two deep wounds past his armour, while her sisters similarly dealt two wounds to the Ancient. Nyxera quickly found that she had underestimated her foe, however: the Lieutenant’s Heavenfall Blade flashed, striking past her guard and dealing three grievous wounds to the Succubus. Bleeding and close to death, Nyxera was further caught off guard as the Ancient drove his banner through her chest like a spear, killing her.

Even as the Wyches surrounded the Dark Angels heroes, Khyrus raised his Djinn Blade and charged at Azrael, eager to claim his head– only to be met by the full fury of the Lion’s Wrath as Azrael fired his combi-plasma at close range, blasting through Khyrus’ shadow field and wounding him. Severely burned by the plasma, Khyrus nonetheless hurled himself into Azrael, and the two duelled blade to blade. Khyrus moved to swiftly for Azrael to follow, and his Djinn Blade struck past Azrael’s guard again and again, slashing four deep wounds past the Grand Master’s artificer armour. For a moment, it seemed that Azrael was done for…but as Khyrus raised his blade for the finishing blow, Azrael stabbed out, driving the Sword of Secrets through Khyrus’ heart. Gasping blood, the Dracon toppled over and fell, seemingly slain (for now) by his hated adversary.

“Aaaargh, not agaaaainnn….”

TURN 3

Even though he had slain the xenos leader, Azrael could tell at this point that the battle was turning against the Dark Angels. The vast majority of his battle brothers were embroiled in close quarters combat, and little by little they were starting to suffer severe losses. Unless they could fight their way through to the Drukhari’s engine room, the battle would be lost.

Reluctant as he was to leave the last Terminator alone, the Terminator Librarian stomped off down the corridor, leaving the field as he went off to fulfill his objective. (And in that moment, Victor technically won the game by getting one of his VIP units off the table. However, we agreed to keep playing until the end of the turn, as we both wanted to see how the rest of the battle would fare). Gunning his engines, the Biker Librarian disengaged from his fight with Arvaneq and zoomed towards the Drukhari lines, hoping to soon join his brother Librarian. The last of the Deathwing, knowing that he had to buy time for the Terminator Librarian to carry out his mission, backed out of combat with the Grotesques, yelling at them daring them to come after him. Everywhere else, however, the Dark Angels remained stuck in melee combat, those engaged with the Wyches finding themselves unable to withdraw as the crafty xenos ensnared them.

As he raced through the halls of the Drukhari ship, the Biker Librarian spotted the Incubi lurking up ahead. Channelling his will, he Smote down one, obliterating it in a burst of crackling warp-lightning, before using the power of the Mind Worm to pulp the brains of another.

Further at the back of the Dark Angels lines, the Devastators once again trained their guns on the Grotesques, sending out bolts of overcharged plasma to destroy yet another of the wraithbone constructs. The last unit of Scouts, meanwhile, spotted Arvaneq alone and within their sites, and blasted him down in a fusillade of bolter fire.

On the left flank, Azrael, the Lieutant and the Ancient fought back to back against the cackling Wyches. Azrael fought like the Lion himself, the crackling blade of the Lion Sword bisecting two Wyches. The Lieutenant, however, quickly fell as an impaler was driven through his helm, killing him instantly. The Ancient fell almost immediately after, his primary and secondary hearts both punctured by Hekaratii blades; the chapter banner remained upright in his firm death-grip even as he fell. The Supreme Grand Master of the Dark Angels soon found himself alone, bloodied and weary, as the Wyches moved in to surround him…

Elsewhere, Karath finished off the last two Tactical Marines, humbling the Astartes as she killed them both in the blink of an eye. Further back, however, the Wyches fighting the Ravenwing were having much less luck, unable to pierce the Space Marines’ ebon armour, although the Bikers in turn found it impossible to hit their constantly-dodging foes.

Seeing that the Dark Angels were losing ground, the Drukhari moved in for the kill. The remaining Incubi moved up to deal with the Biker Librarian, while the last Grotesque from the smaller unit shambled over to join them.

Note: I forgot to remove two of the Incubi as casualties when I took this picture (I was getting pretty tired). I remembered to remove them, however, before the subsequent assault phase.

Lazhareq, by this point thoroughly tired of these meddlesome Deathwing, hovered over to deal with the last Terminator himself, deciding that these irritating mon-keigh needed to be made an example of.

The middle unit of Wyches, still flush from their victory over the Scouts, ran off after the unit of Scouts that had just killed poor Arvaneq, their thirst for Astartes blood not yet sated. Finally, the Mandrakes slunk around the Dark Angels’ backfield, looking for yet more prey to hunt.

Spotting the Devastators in the distance, the Mandrakes raised their hands and unleashed their baleblasts at them, the eldritch bursts of chilling cold leaving the entire hallway frosted over in their wake. This time, however, the Dark Angels stoically endured the cold, and not one Devastator fell to the Mandrakes’ eldritch blasts.

Stomping forwards, the last Grotesque charged into the Biker Librarian, as did the Incubi. Before the Librarian could even defend himself, the Incubi’s klaives flashed, and a few seconds later, the Librarian toppled from his mount, sliced into several perfect pieces by the Drukhari blade-masters.

Elsewhere, the middle unit of Wyches shrieked as they pounced on the middle unit of Scouts, cutting one of them down. This time, however, the Dark Angels were ready, and they managed to kill one Wych in reply with a well-timed knife blow.

Further on the right flank, the Wyches managed to deal a wound to one of the last Biker, but could not fell him. For their part, lone Ravenwing warrior continued to fight furiously as they were surrounded, but again could not even hit any of their agile opponents.

Closer to the Drukhari lines, Lazhareq glided towards the last Terminator, ignoring the mass-reactive bolts that exploded against his bare flesh as the Dark Angel fired into him. Almost like a live thing, Lazhareq’s electrocorrosive whip lashed out, ensnaring the Astartes and delivering a powerful electric surge that even his thick Terminator plate could not protect against. The last of the Deathwing fell, knocked out cold, and Lazhareq gestured for his Grotesques to take him back to his oubliette later as a guest…

Finally, Azrael fought on, surrounded on all sides by the Wyches and forced to defend from multiple angles at once. As Azrael blocked and parried strike after strike, one Hekatarii blade drove itself through his armoured thigh. Roaring in pain and rage, Azrael fought back, the Sword of Secrets a blur as he swung and slashed faster than the Wyches could dodge. Three Wyches were bisected by the furious swings, and the last member of the squad found herself alone against Azrael.

And with that, the battle had ended: despite their losses, the Dark Angels had succeeded in getting one of their linebreaker units off the board. Against all odds, it was an Imperial victory.

RESULT: DARK ANGELS VICTORY!

THOUGHTS: Holy cow that was a bloody game! The sheer amount of close combat going on in those 3 turns was impressive, as right from the outset the two armies got into stabbing range of one another. At first, I thought the game was going to be a struggle for me after the Dark Angels efficiently boltered down all of my Kabalites in short notice. However, once my Wyches started getting stuck in, the tide rapidly began to turn. By the end of turn 3, Victor only had a badly-wounded Azrael, a Tactical Squad, his Devastators and an engaged unit of Scouts left, whereas a large portion of my army was still intact.

The fact that I had foolishly allowed a gap for his Terminators to come in on– and more importantly, a gap for his Terminator Librarian to escape through– is ultimately what cost me the game. In retrospect, what I should have done was keep 1 or 2 of my Clawed Fiends back to act as deep strike denial units. Props to Victor, though, for playing a smart game, and for playing like a true gentleman even as the battle began to turn against his Dark Angels.

Some other quick thoughts on the game:
-The Clawed Fiends really weren’t that impressive: they all died either to close combat or to bolter fire, and inflicted minimal casualties whenever they got into combat. At least one of them did its job, however, by soaking up overwatch for the Wyches against the Bikes. In future, I wonder if Razorwing Flocks would have done the same thing for a cheaper price, or whether a Beastmaster would have been worth including.
-Cursed Blade Wyches are tasty! My Wyches being able to wound Space Marines on 4s was really useful in this game, as it allowed them to reliably hurt the Dark Angels whenever they got into close combat with them. The Cursed Blade is probably a strong contender for my favourite Wych Cult obsession…although they don’t have the awesome relic or the reliable charging power of the Red Grief.
-Going into this battle, both Victor and I thought that Shock Assault wasn’t going to have a big impact in this game…and sadly, it didn’t. Even his Terminators, on the charge, did less damage than Victor was really hoping for. If anything, I would say Bolter Discipline had a bigger impact in this game, allowing him to really punish my army at long range.
-The Poisoned Tongue…really didn’t impress me at all in this game. The rerolls to wound for their splinter weapons didn’t have nearly the impact I was hoping for. I think in future I will skip this obsession entirely.
-I am admittedly a bit bothered by the two rules mistakes I had made in this game. If I had remembered that Grotesques can’t use Lightning-Fast Reflexes, the Dark Angels would likely have killed a Grotesque, and most likely would have wiped that unit out in turn 2. Similarly, if I had remembered that Wyches can’t lock Bikes in combat, then there is a good chance that those Wyches would have been shot up next turn. Again, I am not too concerned, because Victor still won the battle anyway, but all the same, I hate it when I forget my army’s rules (to my advantage, no less).

Also, I am also now convinced that Khyrus is cursed: his ill-fated duel with Azrael marks his fourth death in this campaign (and the fourth in the row to an enemy hero!) At this point, I either need to demote the guy, or replace him with someone else worthy of leading my raiding parties to battle.

So, as of this moment, I am at two wins and two losses for the campaign. Next round, however, is the final battle of the campaign. Whoever I end up playing against, hopefully it will be epic…..

*****

Another knife blow rebounded against Azrael’s pauldron, the razor sharp blade sending sparks flying as it scraped against the forest-green adamantine. Azrael swung back, a fraction of a millisecond too slow as the Wych that had attacked him pirouetted out of the way, laughing as the Sword of Secrets missed her by a hair’s breadth. Cursing, Azrael spun, bringing his armoured forearm up to block a blow that would have pieced his eye-lens, before bringing the Sword up again to deflect jabbing trident that was aiming for his throat.

To say that the Drukhari were fast was an understatement. Every single movement of theirs, every strike, parry, pirouette and dodge, was like lightning, and even Azrael’s superhuman reflexes were being forced to their limit as he tried to keep up with his opponents. The Sword of Secrets became a wall of steel as he alternated freely between slashing and parrying, its crackling blade forming an aegis of lightning in front of him. Around them, the deck of the Drukhari ship was strewn with the bodies of his brothers and those of the xenos, and tactical feeds in his helmet fed him combat data even as he fought to survive against the Wyches.

They were losing: little by little, the Dark Angels were giving ground, suffering increasingly intolerable losses as the Drukhari counter-attack swept upon them. If they didn’t fulfill their objectives soon, they would be overwhelmed.

Sharp, biting pain brought Azrael back to reality as a Drukhari blade stabbed deeply into his left thigh, his attacker backflipping away with a mocking laugh before he could retaliate. Warning klaxons flared in his helm, indicating damage to his thigh plate…as well as his chestplate, and his right pauldron, and his abdominal plate, and his left arm, along with biomedical data showing deep stab wounds accompanying all of these breaches. The long melee was taking its toll on him, and each breath and movement was now accompanied by searing agony. Only his transhuman physiology and transhuman will was keeping him upright. Spitting blood, he saw the Wyches laughing as they spun and flipped around him, biding their time before they struck again, like jackals circling a wounded bear.

Except he was not a bear: he was the Supreme Grand Master of the Dark Angels, and a Son of the Lion…and the lion was a king among predators.

With a wordless roar, he lunged, feinting a swing with the Sword of Secrets, before reversing, instead looping the blade around to catch one Wych in mid-dodge, cleaving her in half at the waist. Stunned by the lumbering Astartes’ sudden burst of speed, the Wyches tried to attack, but Azrael was ready for them, releasing one hand from the grip of his sword to catch a lunging Wych by the scruff of the throat, before slamming her upwards into the spiked ceiling with enough force to pulverize every bone in her body. Another Wych came lunging in from the side, throwing a barbed net onto his arm and coiling it tightly before lunging in with a trident: dropping the limp corpse of the Wych he held, Azrael spun to the side, using the net around his arm to fling its wielder off her feet, head over heels, throwing her head-first into the nearby wall with a sickening crunch. Spinning again, Azrael expertly deflected a decapitating strike, before slashing upwards with the Sword of Secrets, cleaving the last Wych from crown to loin in a single, brutal stroke.

Within seconds it was over…for now. In the background, however, Azrael still heard the roar of gunfire, the sound of metal on metal, and the dying screams of his brothers. They were running out of time. He immediately thumbed his comm bead. “Saul, come in! If you are going to do something, we need you to do it now!”

****

“I read you,, Grand Master,” Epistolary Saul said as he strode into the engine room of the Drukhari ship. His green and blue Terminator plate was awash with blood from all of the Drukhari crew he had fought his way through to get here. “I have reached the objective. But I do not believe my melta charges will suffice.”

He had come expecting the engine of the Drukhari ship to be some sort of massive device, a gigantic machine capable of converting the infernal energies needed to propel the xenos craft through the void. What he found instead was no machine in any real sense of the word: he walked onto a platform overlooking a vast spherical chamber of obsidian material, its walls and gantries festooned with the spikes and vicious curves that were so prevalent in Drukhari architecture. In the centre of the chamber, suspended between two semi-circular structures at opposite poles of the room, was a vast, swirling nexus of rippling energies, violet light and dark matter seeming to conflict in a terrible, roiling mass.

Even standing a fair distance away from it, Saul could feel the raw power this nexus radiated, could feel the inconceivable mass that seemed to be pressing down on the entire chamber. His warp-born senses were alight as he directed his mind to it. Somehow, the Drukhari were powering their ship with the caged heart of a neutron star.

The melta charges he had brought with him would not work: he would not even be able to attach them to that roiling mass. To carry out his objective, he would need to use other means instead.

Closing his eyes, he began to draw power into itself, letting the roiling currents of the Warp flow into his body. Every one of his senses was flooded with raw sensation as he drew in more psychic energy than safety or sanity dictated, and he gritted his teeth as he felt the buildup swell inside of him, threatening to tear him apart: only his sheer force of will kept it from doing so.

Blood started to trickle from his nose and ears. Opening one eye, he saw a multitude of ragged figures crawling towards him on the gantries. They were human, he realized, though given how emaciated and skeletal they all looked, it was impossible to tell at first. They were no doubt some of the thousands of human slaves inhabiting this cursed ship, all being taken back by the Drukhari to a fate worse than death. They were sobbing at the sight of him, falling to their knees, screaming for him to save them.

“Fear not,” Saul said, smiling despite the pain. “Your deliverence has come at last.”

And with that, he unleashed the pent up psychic energy in a lance of raw power, directed straight at the energy core…

*****

From space, the sleek, bladed shape of the Talon suddenly seemed to start to fall apart. Roiling cascades of violet energy rippled along its hull, bursting free into space and tearing chunks of hull out with them. The ship listed to the side, tilting a little into the orbit of Hod’s Anvil as though keeling in its death throes, its hull convulsing and bursting with explosions of aetheric matter as the energies trapped in its core were unleashed.

And then, with a terrible finality, the Talon was torn in half as its central section was obliterated in a tremendous detonation that snapped its keel from its prow. Fragments of hull splintered out into the void as the two shorn halves of the Drukhari ship spun away from one another, both tumbling downwards into the gravitational pull of Hod’s Anvil, as the world the Drukhari sought to flee from reclaimed them once more…



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