He could no longer remember how long he had been down here. It could have been a day, a month a year…time and memory had devolved into fleeting, hazy things in the wake of all of the pain, the blood, and the screaming. At least, he knew there had been pain, because his entire body throbbed with raw, incessant agony, and every time it dulled, his captor found some way to make it return, hotter and sharper than before. He knew there had been blood because he smelled its familiar copper tang, and felt it awash across his naked form. And he knew there had been screaming, because his throat was hoarse and raw. Beyond that, the details of how, why, where, when and who escaped him.
No, wait…that wasn’t true. He remembered his name. Khyrus. Yes. That name resonated within him, and he felt certain it was his. Khyrus. Halfborn. Little by little, his memory began to reconstruct itself. He remembered the war on Hod’s Anvil, and the shame of repeated failure, the pain of constant death and resurrection. He vividly remembered his duel against the mon-keigh known as Azrael. It had been glorious, his blade moving in a smoky blur as it clashed again and again against the Space Marine’s glimmering broadsword. He had managed to get one, two, three hits past the Space Marine’s guard, and until the Space Marine’s sword had come whistling in at the field of his vision and…
Realization hit him like an ice-cold bullet to the forehead. “I died again,” he croaked. “This is why I’m here.”
As if on cue, the entire chamber was suddenly flooded with bright, hateful light, searing at Khyrus’ bloodshot retinas. For a few seconds, his eyes were screwed shut as he tried to block out the accursed light, but slowly, through supreme willpower, he forced them open, blinking furiously as he tried to adjust to the brightness. He almost wished he hadn’t opened his eyes at that point.
There were two figures standing there with him, in what was revealed to be a small, circular alcove, full of the familiar sharp implements, vials and surgeon’s tools of the Haemonculi’s craft. The aforementioned Haemonculus was craning over Khyrus right now, staring down expressionlessly at him with his faceless bowl-helm– he could see his reflection staring back at him, pale and distorted, mere inches away. Even though he could not see the Haemonculus’ face, Khyrus got the distinct impression that Lazhareq was not happy with him.
The other figure stood in the doorway. Even half-blinded by the light, Khyrus could make out a familiar armoured shape, its head ringed by a halo of curving horns.
“Yes, Halfborn,” said Hierarch Zhael, stepping closer into the light. “That is why you are here.”
The Hierarch strode towards him, until she was leaning down over his prone form, before she continued. “It is a pity,” she went on. “For a moment there, I had thought you had made up for your past failures. When you retrieved the arcane device from the Mechanicus facility, you had done the very thing that our Lord Scyrex had commanded of you, for a change. I felt vindicated at that moment, that perhaps it hadn’t been a mistake to entrust this mission to you.” There was a cold hiss of metal on metal as one of Zhael’s armoured hands clenched. “But then you allowed the Dark Angels to find you in orbit, to board and destroy your ship, and make you lose the device in the process. Everything we have fought for on Hod’s Anvil was lost, in a single instant, by you and your unfathomable stupidity.”
Khyrus felt his heart shrink in his chest as he took in the words. His ship was gone. His last attempt at saving face had backfired horribly. He had no ship, no warband…he had nothing left. And now, it was very likely he was going to spend the rest of his long existence enduring perpetual torment at Lazhareq’s hands.
At this point, begging was his only option left. “I will find the device again!” he cried out, shaking in his bonds. He was surprised at how hysterical he sounded. “I…I had it encased in a reinforced field within an adamantine container! It…it could have survived the Talon’s destruction! It may be drifting in space still, or may have crashed back down to the surface!” He tried to sit up– and was rewarded with a his of pain as the razor-sharp bonds bit into his skin. “Release me, Hierarch, and I will find it! I can still make this right again! Please”
Khyrus knew how pathetic he sounded. No self-respecting Drukhari would ever debase themselves by begging like this…but at this point, he had nothing left to bargain with. He felt an involuntary shiver as Zhael leaned down to look at him, the expressionless mask of her faceplate gazing coldly at him. Zhael and Lazhareq were now framing his vision, two masks hovering over him like strange gods about to pass judgement.
Finally, Zhael spoke again. “You will be given another chance, Khyrus,” she said. “As it so happens, we have already located the device. You will be there to help retrieve it. But you will not have command of this raid– not this time.”
Khyrus nodded, conscious of how absurdly lucky was to have this chance. “Of course! Then you will be leading us this time, Hierarch?”
And then, as Khyrus watched, Zhael suddenly twitched. Grabbing onto the edge of the oubliette with her armoured hands, the Hierarch suddenly began to shake and twitch spasmodically, as though taken by some terrible seizure. Then, as abruptly as it began, the twitching stopped, and Zhael stood again at her full height. Except, as Khyrus noticed, there was a subtle difference to her posture now: before, she had been quiet, confident, and elegant, but now, it there was an aggressive uprightness to her posture that demanded attention.
“I will.” The voice that came out of the vocalizer of Zhael’s helmet was not hers. It was a man’s, hoarse and cracked with age, and yet deep, resonant and powerful despite this age. It was a voice that immediately caught the listener’s attention, a voice that was used to obedience, a voice that knew a hundred and one secrets you didn’t.
An involuntary shiver went up Khyrus’ spine. “Lord Scyrex,” he managed to say. “Y-you honour me with your presence.” He had heard the stories, of course, of how the Kabal’s mysterious Archon rarely took to the field of battle personally, and of how when he did, he acted remotely through Zhael and the armour that she wore, moving and speaking through her body like some twisted puppeteer. Some whispered that Scyrex Deledras was a psyker, others that he was no longer bound to the physical realm. Whatever the truth, he rarely took to the field except when events required his direct attention.
“I do not come to honour you, Dracon,” Scyrex replied, flexing Zhael’s armoured arms as though trying on a suit…which, in a sense, he was, Khyrus realized with revulsion. “I come to finish what you started. I come to ensure the success of this mission. But most of all…I come for sport.” He drew the long, baroque blaster rifle that Zhael kept sheathed at her back. “After all, it has been far too long since I heard the screams of the battlefield.”
It had, Marshal Damius Everson reflected as he sat in the armoured cupola of his command Chimera, sipping a mug of stale recaff, been a hell of a month.
Over the past few weeks, the situation on Hod’s Anvil had gone from dire, to disastrous, to positively doomed, all in a very rapid time span. After being forced into a retreat from the 7th Gate and its surrounding fortifications by the T’au orbital assault, the Iron Heart 23rd had retreated back the Torbjorn Line south of Saguntum, linked up with their armoured reserves, and managed to blunt a probing attack by the Death Guard. Properly reinforced, the Iron Heart had been ready to roll out into the ash plains, scatter or divert the Speed Freek tribes occupying the region and break the enemy encirclement of Saguntum. That had been the plan, at least, before the retreat had been called.
Even now, Everson still couldn’t believe it. Soon after the Orks had started to breach the inner-city defenses of Saguntum, Grand Master Azrael of the Dark Angels had declared Hod’s Landing to be lost, before he and his Chapter had unexpectedly flown back to their ships and left the system. Everson had been incredulous at the news: the situation on Hod’s Anvil had still been salvageable, in his estimation, and with a little more time they could have broken the siege of Saguntum and gone on the offensive again. With the departure of the Dark Angels, however, the Imperial forces on Hod’s Anvil were now severely weakened. Whatever ranking generals were left on the planet followed Azrael’s last command to the letter, and with the sinking resignation of defeat, the remaining Imperial forces had abandoned Sanguntum to the enemy and began a long exodus toward the eastern mountain ranges, towards the last remaining spaceports under Imperial control.
That had been only a week ago. In the intervening time, the 23rd had made its way across the continent, suffering increasing casualties from Ork and T’au attacks on their rearguard– the only thing that kept them from being overrun was the fact that the damned xenos, thankfully, had finally turned on one another: the T’au and Orks had never actually been working in concert, merely fighting in the same direction. With no more Imperial forces to distract them now, however, they warred against one another for the ruined shell of Saguntum. With the xenos attacks lessening, the Iron Heart made a point of gathering refugees with them on their long trek east: word had it, after all, that the remnants of the Imperial fleet in orbit were preparing to visit Exterminatus on this lost world as soon as the evacuation was complete…
Yesterday, they had finally reached the snow-capped Anvilgard Hinterlands, only a few miles away from the spaceport. Everson had hoped to set up a temporary command post in the old Guard armoury at Pallett Village and gather more refugees before linking up with the Thuramaran 9th and commence the evacuation. That had been the plan, at least…until their advance scouts had reported flames and smoke in the distance. Pallett Village had been utterly destroyed: incredibly, a ship had fallen on it from orbit.
They were well into the second day now of excavating the wreckage, and they had finally cleared away most of it. While the village itself was a burnt and crushed ruin, the old Guard fortifications, at least, had survived, and parts of the ship that had crashed into it were still intact. Up close, Everson was able to recognize the curved lines and organic shapes of the Aeldari, even with the hull blackened and pitted as it was with weapons fire and the burn of atmospheric entry. What the Eldar were doing here, however, and who had shot them out of the sky, were mysteries for another time: Everson’s main priority was getting the refugees sheltered for now.
Already, his airborne units were scouting out, trying to find other pieces of wreckage, or other refugee groups, or other Guard units– anything at all to help them with their current situation. He glanced over at the perimeter of the ruined village, where the refugees sat around grease-fires in the ruined shell of a hab-unit, and not for the first time, he considered the fact that he would not be able to save all of them.
He was brought back to reality by the crunching of metallic feet upon the snow. Turning in his cupola, Everson saw the approach of Mandrake, one of the Enginseers attached to the 23rd. Four gangly servitors followed in Mandrake’s wake, and Everson noted that a hover-bed followed in their wake. A burnt, cylindrical piece of twisted metal lay on its surface, and at first Everson thought it was yet more debris…that is, until he noticed the strangely hooked limbs jutting out of its surface, the insidious loops of cables ribbing its underside, and the unmistakeable cog-and-skull sigil of the Mechanicus emblazoned on its surface.
Everson gave Mandrake a curt nod. “Mandrake,” he said, glancing at the hover bed. “What’s that you’ve got there?”
“Uncertain, Marshal,” came the Techpriest’s flat reply. “What I am able to ascertain, however, is that it is sealed with Omega-level seals that render it inaccessible by a lesser Magos such as myself. Furthermore, for whatever reason, it was contained within the wreckage of the Eldar ship.”
At this, Everson perked up a little in his seat. “Are you telling me the Eldar were carrying this….whatever it is?”
“There is a ninety-five percent likelihood, Marshal,” Mandrake replied. “I can make no speculations as to their reasons why, but given the warding seals on this device, it must be of extreme importance to the Mechanicus as a whole. It is imperative that we get this device off-world and into a properly sanctified area immediately.”
“At the moment, Mandrake, nothing will be happening ‘immediately’.” Everson casually tugged at the edges of his lichen-steel veil as the bitter hinterland wind picked up. “We will take it with us, certainly, but for now, our main priority will be getting the refugees to an extraction point.”
While Mandrake had no human facial features to speak of, Everson could tell by a quiver of his red robes that he was agitated by Everson’s reply. Before the Tecphriest could press the issue, however, the vox suddenly crackled to life.
“Hearthfire, this is Treehouse, reporting aerial movement at six-six-five-omega-dash, over,” came the report from one of the spotters at the top of the worn bastion in the center of the town.
Everson went cold at this. Aerial movement. The Valkyries weren’t due back for another twenty minutes. He unslung a vox unit from the side of the cupola. “Treehouse, can you confirm? Over.”
“Negative, Hearthfire, we cannot confirm,” came the static-laden reply. “Movement was too faint to get a good read before it disappeared into cloud cover. Altitude was too high to be avians, over.”
Everson swore under his breath. After years of fighting the Eldar on dozens of battlefield, he knew all too well what this meant.
“Wide channel, now!” he shouted down at his comms operator, before raising the vox again. “Hearthfire, initiate alarm klaxons, now! All units, take up defensive positions and prepare to repel airborne assault! This is not a drill, I repeat, not a drill! Vox, I need you to raise the Grenadiers, get them to return to nest in combat readiness, immediately!”
The moment he switched the vox off, sirens began to wail all across the outpost as the soldiers of Iron Heart ran to fortifications, manned vehicles, and grabbed their weapons. Overhead, in the cloudy sky, Everson could now see dark shapes flitting just above the clouds.
And then, to his horror, the clouds parted, and the sky began to rain missiles….
For the final game of the Hod’s Anvil campaign, it was coming down to an all-or-nothing assault by the xenos upon the Imperial defenders. My opponent for this round was my friend Andrew and his Imperial Guard, and of the three scenarios we had to choose from, we both opted for something suitable epic– namely, the Forlorn Hope scenario from Chapter Approved 2017, which would see my Drukhari launching an all-out orbital assault on the Guard’s defences. As it was the final battle of the campaign, we both decided on a 2500 point game, as we both wanted the grand finale to be suitably epic in scale (plus, Andrew wanted to bring a Baneblade, so there was that as well). This battle was going to be a first for me, as, up until now, I had never played with any of the Planetstrike rules, though given all of the defensive buildings Andrew would be taking, I knew I would be flying right into a meatgrinder of guns and fortifications. Fun stuff.
For my list, I took the following:
KABAL OF THE REVENANT SHROUD (with Cult of the Blade Unforged and Coven of the Black Circle)
KABAL OF THE FLAYED SKULL BATTALION:
Archon (Zhael)- blaster, agonizer, Obsidian Veil, Master of Planning
Archon (Khyrus)- blast pistol, huskblade
9 Kabalite Warriors- blaster
5 Kabalite Warriors- blaster
5 Kabalite warriors- blaster
Ravager- 3 disintegrator cannons
Ravager- 3 dark lances
Ravager- 3 dark lances
Razorwing Jetfighter- splinter cannon, 2 disintegrator cannons
Raider- disintegrator cannon, splinter racks
Venom- dual splinter cannons
Venom- dual splinter cannons
CULT OF THE RED GRIEF BATTALION:
Succubus (Karath Deathsong)- splinter pistol, Blood Glaive, Adrenalight, Hyper-swift Reflexes
Succubus (Nyxera)- hydra gauntlets
8 Wyches- shardnet & impaler, Hekatrix w. power sword
8 Wyches- shardnet & impaler, Hekatrix w. power sword
8 Wyches- shardnet & impaler, Hekatrix w. power sword
6 Reaver Jetbikes- 2 blasters, 2 grav talons, Painbringer
PROPHETS OF FLESH SPEARHEAD:
Haemonculus (Lazhareq)- electrocorrosive whip, Vexator Mask, Master Artisan
Talos- dual haywire blasters, dual macroscalpels
Talos- dual haywire blasters, dual macroscalpels
Talos- dual haywire blasters, dual macroscalpels
Total command points: 10
Pre-Game Stratagems: Alliance of Agony, Prizes of the Dark City, Scorched Skies
As per the Planetstrike rules, all infanty and flyers would be able to deep strike in from anywhere on the board, and do so within 6″ of enemy units…and as luck had it, my entire army was nothing but infantry and flyers! It was almost as though the Drukhari were naturally good at orbital raids or something. For this list, I ran what I pretty much ran in my 1st 2500 point game against Phil, with the exception that I would be leaving my transports for the Wyches at home. I figured that, since they would be deep striking right within charging distance of the enemy, I wouldn’t need any fancy transports to support them with. Of course, to bulk up on the Wyches’ numbers, I had to cut down on a few of my Grotesques, but with Lazhareq there to back them up, I was confident that they could withstand anything the Guard threw at them.
The overall plan was fairly straightforward: shoot his tanks, shoot and assault his squishy infantry, and use my natural mobility to try to grab the objectives. If I was in control of at least one objective by the end of the game, I would win…which meant I would have to be prepared to accept some pretty heavy casualties.
Andrew, of course, clearly meant for me to take some heavy casualties, as he brought the following:
IRON HEART EXPEDITIONARY FORCE (with Iron Heart Grenadiers)
TALLARN PLANETRSTRIKE DEFENDER DETACHMENT:
Company Commander- boltgun, Claw of the Desert Tigers, Grand Strategist
Tank Commander- Leman Russ Punisher w. heavy bolter, sponson plasma cannons, dozer blade, track guards
Infantry Squad- grenade launcher, autocannon
Infantry Squad- grenade launcher, autocannon
Infantry Squad- grenade launcher, autocannon
Infantry Squad- grenade launcher, autocannon
Command Squad- 2 plasma guns, medi-pack
Hellhound- hull heavy bolter, heavy stubber, track guards, dozer blade
Heavy Weapons Squad- 3 lascannons
Leman Russ- hull heavy bolter, sponson heavy bolters
Leman Russ- hull heavy bolter, sponson heavy bolters
Manticore- hull heavy bolter, augur array
Chimera- multilaser, hull heavy flamer, heavy stubber
Chimera- heavy bolter, hull heavy bolter, dozer blade
Chimera- heavy bolter, hull heavy bolter, hunter-killer missile
MILITARUM TEMPESTUS BATTALION:
Tempestor Prime- plasma pistol, power sword
Tempestor Prime- bolt pistol, power sword
8 Tempestus Scions- flamer, grenade launcher, vox-caster, Tempestor w. power sword
8 Tempestus Scions- 2 plasma guns, vox-caster, Tempestor w. power sword
8 Tempestus Scions- 2 meltaguns, vox-caster, Tempestor w. power sword
Primaris Psyker- Nightshroud, Psychic Barrier
Commissar- bolt pistol, power sword
Commissar- bolt pistol, power sword
Commissar- bolt pistol, power fist
2 Servitors- servo-arms
2 Servitors- heavy bolters
TALLARN SUPER-HEAVY AUXILIARY DETACHMENT:
Baneblade- 2 lascannons, 2 twin heavy bolters
Total Command Points: 14
Pre-Game Stratagems: Krak Traps, Foxholes
So, not only was Andrew bringing a scary number of tanks, but he was also taking a Baneblade, plenty of infantry to hold his buildings, and a wave of Tempestus Scions to come down and start freeming me with special weapons on turn 2. Whoo boy.
For this scenario, for the sake of balance, we had both agreed that the defender would be getting free fortifications. I had no idea if this would have made the game more or less balanced, but I went along with it all the same. For his fortifications, my opponent took a bastion, a bunker with a quad gun, a few defence lines and two battle cannone turrets.
The board was set up as follows, with plenty of fortifications.
Alarm klaxons sounded all around the base as Drukhari aircraft came shrieking down from the grey clouds. A second later, bursts of darklight, explosions of scything metal and blossoms of poisoned gas burst along the Iron Heart lines. Three Guardsmen from the squad facing the south were torn into chunks of shredded meat by shatterfield bombs, while raining pulses of darklight tore into the Iron Heart tanks and the central bastion, inflicting damage wherever the struck.
Even as the Iron Heart reeled from this bombardment, the Drukhari came swooping in for the kill. On the right flank, three Ravagers descended to ground level, while behind them, a small webway portal opened as Zhael, Hierarch of the Revenant Shroud, stepped onto the battlefield behind them.
On the left flank, meanwhile, the Coven of the Black Circle teleported in force– three Taloi, as well as a coterie of corrupted wraithbone Grotesques, all guided into battle by their fiendish master Lazhareq. The shadows themselves seemed to morph around them as a pack of Mandrakes stepped onto the battlefield as well, hissing at the sight of fresh prey.
Finally, at the front of the battle-line, a squad of Wyches teleported onto the field, eager to wet their blades on the mon-keigh, while nearby a Venom and a Raider arrived, both laden with Kabalite Warriors, with Khyrus personally standing at the prow of the Raider in a suitably dashing manner. Overhead, a Razorwing Jetfighter shrieked low, looking to strafe the mon-keigh as they reeled from the bombardment.
And then, before the humans could even react to their presence, the Drukhari opened fire.
Massed dark lance fire and volleys of poisoned shards rained down on the human lines from the shrieking Drukhari vehicles. The rightmost Leman Russ was the first one to die, gutted by dark lance and disintegrator fire from the Ravagers before it could even swing its turret around.
The Tank Commander screamed orders for his vehicles to return fire…just before the turret of his Punisher tank blew apart as yet more lance fire sheared into it, leaving the tank a smoking carcass. As the Hellhound traversed its turret to face the incoming Drukhari vehicles,the Razorwing swooped overhead, unloading a payload of shatterfield missile on it. Between them and yet more lance and disintegrator fire, the Hellhound exploded, the fiery detonation killing one Guardsman from the nearby infantry squad.
The mon-keigh’s pain did not end there: splinter fire bracketed the infantry squad, killing another three of them and leaving four of them huddled behind the defensive line. Further on the right flank, the Mandrakes unleashed their baleblasts, freezing the entire infantry squad opposite them in an instant. Crackling electricity spat from the Taloi as they turned their haywire blasters on the nearest Leman Russ, inflicting severe damage on the human tank.
Crying out in elation, the Wyches tried to charge the remaining Guardsmen. The Infantry Squad’s fervent prayers for deliverence were answered, however, as they managed to fell one Wych with a well-aimed lasbolt as they charged, causing the rest to falter and fall short.
-All Drukhari drop in except 2 squads of Wyches, both Succubi, and Reavers; shooting destroys Tank Commander, Leman Russ and Hellhound; 1 Infantry squad is wiped out; foremost infantry squad loses 3
-Wyches fail charge on Infantry squad, lose 1 to overwatch
The Iron Heart were reeling from the Drukhari onslaught, but they were not out of the fight– not by a long shot. Reacting swiftly to the invaders, a Chimera wheeled up next to the Wyches, ready to hose them down with heavy weapons fire.
On the far left flank, another Chimera moved up to confront the oncoming Taloi, bravely moving into optimal firing range of the metallic monster.
. Exiting the central bastion, the Techpriest Enginseer and his Servitors braved the Drukhari guns to repair the structure, while the Primaris Psyker hid behind the Manticore to lend his powers to the fray.
Drawing on the powers of the Warp, the Psyker placed a Nightshield on the Manticore, surrounding it with living shadows to make it harder to hit. He then attempted to strengthen the neaby Leman Russ’ hull with a Psychic Barrier, but the last moment, he lost control of the power, and it failed to manifest.
At the rear of the Iron Heart lines, the mighty Baneblade swivelled its guns to engage multiple targets, and then the massed heavy weapons of the Astra Militarum roared to life in reply. One of the Ravagers was quick to utilize Lightning-Fast Reflexes, and escapled unharmed, but another took three damaging hits from battle cannon rounds and from chattering heavy bolter fire from the bastion. The rightmost Ravager, however, was less lucky, taking several direct lascannon hits and quickly going down in a flaming wreck.
To the south, massed lascannon fire from the bunker, and heavy weapons fire from the Chimera, managed to deal three damaging hits to Khyrus’ Raider, while one Wych was scythed down by lasfire from the Chimera’s side sponsons. Finally, on the right flank, the Grotesques recieved the attention of the majority of the Baneblade’s guns: the massive Baneblade cannon shook the very earth as it fired, sending clumps of earth rising into the air. The nearby defensive turret and the Leman Russ both joined in, and when the dust lifted, two Grotesques had been shattered beyond repair. As an encore, the Leman Russ’ heavy bolters managed to blast a chunk out of the Wraith-Talos, though the heavy weapons of the Chimera failed to so much as dent the armour of the rightmost Talos.
Having weathered the Astra Militarum’s return fire, the Kabal brought more of their forces into the fight. On the right flank, a gang of Reaver Jetbikes came swooping down from their cloud cover, while another squad of Wyches teleported into the fray next to them.
At the south of the field, yet more Wyches arrived, along with Nyxera, who was eager to lead her sisters and brothers into the teeth of the enemy guns. Curiously, Karath chose that moment not to arrive, leaving Nyxera to lead the fight unsupported…
On the left flank, the battered Grotesques moved onwards, along with Lazhareq and the Mandrakes, coming perilously close to one of the fragments of the Talon’s wreckage. Ahead of them, one Talos moved up towards the errant Chimera, the middle one moved towards the Leman Russ, while the Wraith-Talos moved after one of the battle cannon turrets.
Gunning their engines, the Drukhari vehicles moved closer towards the bastion, while the Wyches all sprinted forwards towards the bunker. Finally, the Ravagers drifted slightly, trying to stay out of line of sight of the dreaded Baneblade while keeping their guns trained on the enemy bastion and Russ.
Once again, the battlefield rang to the sound of Aeldari lance-weapons singing through the wind as the Drukhari opened fire. The bastion and the rightmost battle cannon turret both took heavy damage, as did the southern bunker. One Ravager targeted Everson’s Command Chimera and wrecked it decisively, sending Everson and his command stuff tumbling out, right in front of an incoming wave of Wych Cult forces.
On the left flank, lightning crackled as the Taloi once again unleashed their haywire blasters, dealing minor damage to the Iron Heart armour and fortifications. Despite the sheer amount of fire being thrown out, however, this time the hulls of the Iron Heart vehicles stood firm.
With a tremendous shriek, the northernmost Talos charged into the Chimera, shrugging off its fire and barrelling into it like some obsecene beetle, tearing six great gouges into its hull with its macroscalpels and leaving it severely damaged.
Further to the south, the Wraith-Talos similarly charged the battlecannon turret, its corrupted sword also tearing six wounds into the thing. In the centre, the third Talos charged the Leman Russ, but this time, the Defensive Gunners of the tank were ready: booming battlecannon and lascannon fire ripped into the Talos as it charged, dealing six wounds to it and, more importantly, causing it to falter and fails its charge!
In the south, both units of Wyches charged the last Guardsmen manning the barricade: the mon-keigh barely had time to raise their lasguns in defense before they disappeared in a red mist, the cackling Wyches consolidating onwards to surround the bunker.
On the right flank, the Reavers and other squad of Wyches both charged into Everson and his Command Squad: the last members of Everson’s staff were torn to shreds by the Wyches, before Everson launched a stunning Counter-Attack, his shimmering blade slashing one Reaver from his saddle. Whooping, the Reavers made a pass, the blades of their jetbikes tearing a grievous wound into Everson and dealing two gory wounds to the Commissar: roaring prayers of defiance, the Commissar swung out with his power fist, snatching a Reaver from his saddle and crushing him like a bundle of twigs.
Knowing that fighting the Drukhari blade to blade would be a losing battle, Everson withdrew, avoiding the snares of the Wyches as he escaped. (Note: as there were no Wyches in base contact with Everson after consolidation, he was able to fall back without the No Escape rule coming into effect) Not one to leave the Commissar to fight on his own, however, he ordered the Techpriest to send his Servitors into the fray to help.
Frantically trying to get away from the hellish thing, the Chimera on the right flank backed away from the Talos, while in the south, the other Chimera wheeled around behind the Wyches, setting its sights on the now-exposed Nyxera.
Even as the Drukhari swarmed the battlefield, Valkyrie and Vendetta gunships suddenly flew overhead, engaging the Drukhari in an aerial duel above. Grav-chutes suddenly came raining down, and a cheer suddenly went up along the Iron Heart lines. The Grenadiers had arrived!
Once squad of plasma-toting Grenadiers landed near the uppermost Talos, even as the Chimera it had been dismantling backed away from the foul creature. To the south, yet more Grenadiers arrived facing the flank of the Drukhari Ravagers, while further to the north another squad landed next to the mighty Baneblade.
At Everson’s barked orders, the Servitors fired on his target– in this case, the Razorwing swooping overhead– but their heavy bolters failed to hit the swift-moving flyer. Unperturbed, Everson ordered the Commissar to fight harder. The Commissar needed no encouragement, roaring praise to the Emperor as he swung out with his power fist, smashing one Reaver from the sky before pulverzing the rider of another.
And then, once again, the massed guns of the Iron Heart roared to life, the ordnance of the mighty Baneblade roaring the loudest. The Grenadiers, given Elimination Sanctions by their Tempestor, rained plasma on the uppermost Talos and, along with the Baneblade’s lascannons, blasted it apart. Another Grotesque was laid low by heavy weapons fire, while a handful of Wyches were blasted down by the troops in the bunker and by the Chimera. Once again, one of the Ravagers manouvered with Lightning-Fast Reflexes, once again the massed firepower of the mon-keigh damaged the nimble craft as they were caught in a crossfire from the Grenadiers, one Ravager being reduced to three wounds remaining.
To make matters worse, Khyrus’ Raider was bracketed with fire from the bastion, and went down in flames, one of the Kabalites on board dying instantly in the crash. A second later, Khyrus strode unhurt from the wreckage, his caped form cutting a hellish figure against the flames, and he pointed his huskblade at the distant bastion, vowing the deaths of every mon-keigh in that building before the night was over.
In the ongoing melees, the Wraith-Talos continued to hack away at the battle cannon turret, bringing it down to one wound remaining. Meanwhile, the Chimera’s commander ordered his crew to “Grind Her Down!” The Chimera’s engine roared as it cannoned into Nyxera: the nimble Succubus managed to avoid getting run over, but was still wounded by the sudden impact, her blades scraping uselessly against the tank’s hull in reply. At this point, Nyxera began to realize that, perhaps, Karath had sent her in the first wave to die.
The Servitors, moving with a mechanical urgency, charged into the Wyches surrounding the Commissar, but the clumsy machine-men failed to land any blows. For their troubles, all four of the Servitors were sliced apart in return, and while the Commissar managed to crush another Reaver, one Wych managed to drive her Hekatarii blade through the Commissar’s heart, finally ending the rampage of the heroic mon-keigh.
At this point, however, even as the battle was raging at its height…the Drukhari suddenly and inexplicably began to withdraw. Before long, the vicious raiders were retreating back to the webway, leaving the Imperial Guard firmly in control of the outpost. Given the losses they had sustained, however, the Iron Heart were unsure, exactly, of what they had just won…
Regrettably, due to both the late time at which we had started and the sheer amount of time we took in setting up the board, we only got to turn 2 before we both had to call it a night. This was an incredible pity for me, as the battle had just gotten exciting: both of our armies still had plenty of models left on the board, both of our forces were in a prime position to either capitalize or hold their gains next round, and, damn it, both rounds had been tense and exciting. We decided to call it a draw, since, as of the two rounds we played, it really could have gone either way at the point where we ended it.
Looking back at the battle, I think my biggest mistakes were not bringing enough anti-tank weapons: the fact that my Wyches spent so much of the game futilely trying to stab a bunker tells me that that was a fatal oversight on my part. I also would have been better off spending far more command points on more firestorms at the start of the round, and in placing all of the firestorm markers more closely together. Andrew, for his part, played a solid game, and even when his army started to lose lots of tanks, he still had enough forces left to give my Drukhari a serious hurting.
We did have some discussion on how much of an impact the free fortifications made. Honestly, I don’t think they were too overpowered, as the biggest impact they had in this game was in sheltering some of his more squishy infantry units: beyond that, their firepower didn’t make that much of a difference. I will say, however, that with my limited antitank, I found the buildings to be really hard to take out.
And so with that, thus ends the Hod’s Anvil campaign. In the end, regardless of the battle between Andrew and I, the xenos side won a narrow, but hard fought victory against the Imperial defenders. I must say that this campaign was an absolute blast, and I enjoyed every single game against all five of my opponents– I must thank them and the campaign organizer for such a great experience. Each game was also a valuable learning experience with my Drukhari…who, sadly, shall be taking a back seat for now, as very soon the Sisters of Battle will be getting most of my attention. Who knows, maybe I will have them ready in time for the next store campaign…
MVP: On Andrew’s end, the heroic Commissar, who held his ground for two rounds of combat, and even killed most of my Reavers in the process, gets this reward. On my end, it would probably go to my Grotesques, if only because they managed to shrug off the full fire of a Baneblade for a turn and remain standing afterwards.
The vox net was alive with static and screams as the battle raged around Everson. He limped towards the door of the bastion, trying to ignore the deep stab wound in his leg as he leaned against the ferrocrete doorway, holding his boltgun in both hands as he snapped off shots at any Drukhari that got too close. Somewhere in the fighting, he had lost his relic sword as he’d fought to escape the blades of the Wyches, and now he was left on his own, firing at shadows as he yelled orders into the vox-net. Around him, the guns of the Iron Heart tanks boomed, explosions blossomed, screams rang through the air…and little by little, the Drukhari began to break through.
He gritted his teeth as he blasted down another darting, shadowy form. A small part of him knew this was it. As his boltgun clicked dry, he pulled his laspistol free. He knew he had at least one round still charged in there…and he knew, as well as anyone, that the last thing you wanted was to be taken alive by those night-fiends. He pulled his pistol free and held it at the ready, his voice going hoarse as he continued to shout orders. In the distance, he could see the Drukhari and their glinting knives getting closer and closer to his position…
And then, inexplicably, they began to fall back.
Everson watched, speechless, as the Drukhari began to withdraw, sprinting away from the Iron Heart lines and re-embarking on their transports. Pulses of violet light bloomed into existence as teleportation matrices activated and webway portals opened. Little by little, the Drukhari began to disappear…until, after a few minutes, they all vanished completely. In their wake, they left only the crackling flames of destruction, the moaning of the wounded and dying, and the howling of the mountain winds.
Over the next half hour, as the soldiers of Iron Heart all recovered from their shock, the reports began to pile in on the vox. They had suffered moderate casualties, most from the first few minutes of the Drukhari assault. Though they had taken substantial armour losses, the fortifications had held, for the most part. For all of the suddenness and fury of the Drukhari’s raid, the bastion stood firm, as did the Iron Heart 23rd.
Except…as the casualty reports trickled on, Everson’s blood froze. Of the refugees that they had been guarding here at the outpost, almost all of them were now dead or missing in action. All throughout this long retreat, he had made rescuing the civilians and getting them off of this doomed world a priority, but now…now, he realized he had gathered them all in one place, and in so doing, led them to their doom.
The crackle of the vox suddenly brought his attention back to reality. “Orders, Marshal?” came the voice of his adjutant.
Wearily, he tapped his vox bead. “Continue post-action recovery of vital assets,” he said, “and refuel all vehicles. Gather whatever of the refugees are left as well. I want the regiment ready for departure as soon as possible for the evac zone.”
They would make it offworld, he knew, before the Exterminatus hit. They might even save a handful of people in the process. But that didn’t change the fact that they had lost here today. He might never know why the Drukhari attacked when they did, but that didn’t change the fact that he had failed to protect this people.
Muttering a curse to himself, Everson spat into the dark earth, pulled his lichen-shawl tighter, and stared out at the surrounding countryside. Goodbye, Hod’s Anvil, he thought to himself, and good bloody riddance.
The throne room of Scyrex Deledras was, in more was than one, like a tomb: a vast, hollowed-out chamber within the halls of the Umbral Spire, utterly lightless save for a few sigils of domination and rulership etched onto the walls in a permanent, ghostly light. The emptiness of the vast chamber seemed to press in on Khyrus like a permeable, crushing force in its own right, as no one stood in the chamber save for himself, Lazhareq, and Zhael, and the throne’s guards. A pair of Incubi stood before them, their polished klaives and horned helms glinting coldly in the unlight as they stood sentinel before a massive, glassteel alcove in the throne room. Beyond it, a swathe of mist swirled like a live thing, and oubliettes and still, humanoid figures could be seen hanging beyond…
Khyrus was already kneeling, his mesh-armour clacking against the dead wraithbone floor. He could feel the glares of Zhael and Lazhareq burning into his back, and did his best to ignore them. His next few words would be a matter of life or death for him.
“My Lord Scyrex,” he said, speaking towards the strange chamber. “I regret that the mission to Hod’s Anvil…has failed. The mon-keigh prevented us from taking the ancient device that you desired. Despite our best efforts, we failed to recover it before the mon-keigh destroyed the entire planet from orbit.”
There was no response…at least, not one that could be heard. Khyrus’ keen ears could make out, however, the rattle of chains on steel from inside the chamber, and the sound of dozens of bodies twitching inside their steel oubliettes. The mist, slowly but surely, began to abate.
Khyrus tried to ignore the creeping chill that crept up the back of his neck. “Hierarch Zhael has no doubt told you that the failure was mine, my lord,” he went on. “I wouldn’t dare counteract the word of your own Hierarch, my lord, and through her eyes, you yourself were witness to the last battle. But I–“
It was a male voice that spoke, as one of the figures in the oubliettes jerked to life– a withered figure, clad in rusted Kabalite armour, with stringy white hair and sunken, milky eyes that looked on at Khyrus with lifeless scorn. As the mist cleared, Khyrus got a better look at exactly what was in the chamber: twelve oubliettes, each crowned by a web of cables and wires, and each containing an emaciated figure, each with pallid, grey skin from years of suspended necrosis. All of those figures were staring at him with those same, sightless eyes. Beyond them, almost hidden by the lingering mist, Khyrus thought he could see a throne– a great dais of bladed edges and cold stone, upon which sat a hunched, shrouded figure crisscrossed with tubes and surgical implements.
So it was true. Lord Scyrex Deledras had been crippled and immobile for millennia, and when he deigned to speak, it was through a chorus of mind-controlled bodies– bodies of those who had opposed, or worse, disappointed him.
“I have no wish to hear your excuses, Dracon,” said another of the flesh-puppets, a younger woman with a snide tone.
“Tell me why you should not be made to join my choir,” said another voice, a younger man with an aggressive snarl to his voice.
“Tell me why you should be allowed to keep that body of yours,” said the voice of an older man, his voice an almost necrotic rasp.
“Tell me,” the voices all demanded as one.
Khyrus could not force his gaze away from the macabre choir, even though right now he wanted nothing more than to stare down at the floor. He had nothing to offer here. Nothing that he could win with. Nothing that would convince the supreme lord of his worth. All he had was all he ever had: his boldness, his brashness, and his cunning.
“I brought thousands of slaves back to the Kabal, my lord,” Khyrus said, staring down at the figure on the shrouded throne. “I made the armies of the mon-keigh Imperium bleed and suffer, and planted our banner among the smouldering wreckage of their forces. The Hierarch and all the others can claim all the credit they want, but it was my leadership and my raids that brought us our successes.”
He stood up– a motion that caused the two Incubi to explode into motion, their klaives slashing out in a scissoring motion that ended mere inches from his neck. Knowing that to lose face now would be suicide, Khyrus ignored them, keeping his eyes focused on the distant, mist-shrouded throne.
“I admit, I lost your prize,” Khyrus went on, “and I take full responsibility for its loss. I do not even know why you wanted an inferior piece of technology from an inferior race, given that you have an entire Haemonculi Coven attending to your wants and needs, but…” He trailed off at that point when he realized he was on the verge of answering his own question. Suddenly, all of everything made sense– the strange orders from Zhael and Lazhareq, the need to mask their raids against an Ork invasion, and even their choice of target, one of the most heavily defended mon-keigh worlds in this region of space.
“You never wanted the device,” he said out loud. “You only wanted carnage. You knew that the mon-keigh would fight to the death, and endure any kind of pain, to defend their secrets on Hod’s Anvil, and so you sent me just to make sure they committed everything possible to its defence…and in so doing, diverted their attention.” He quivered slightly as the realization took hold of him, and he found himself equally elated and furious as the truth hit home. “Our attacks on Hod’s Anvil were only ever a distraction away from some other, truer target.”
For a moment, the throne room was silent. Then, slowly, one of the puppet-things began to chuckle in a dry, rattling laugh. Another followed suit, then another, until the entire throne room echoed to the brittle cackling of Lord Scyrex’s flesh-puppets.
“Very good, Dracon Khyrus,” one of the puppets finally said. “You were our tool of violence. Your reputation for shock assaults and devastation meant that you were our man of choice for delivering as much havoc to Hod’s Anvil as possible.”
“And while you were making the mon-keigh bleed,” another puppet said, “the rest of the Kabal’s splinters struck against other, weakened targets in the sector. Targets containing much more vital tools for the fruition of plans.”
Khyrus felt himself seethe with anger. He had been used. He had thought he was being given an important task, one that would see him return in glory to the Kabal. But instead, he had been used as nothing more than a distraction. His successes and failures, his victory and his pain…they all ultimately amounted to nothing.
He bit back his anger, and knelt, knowing that no matter what, he had to keep playing their game. “I am pleased,” he managed to force out, “that everything I did was to the Kabal’s benefit.”
There was more dry laughter from the puppets. “Your ambition, and your violent nature, were useful, Dracon Khyrus,” one of them said, “but do not think that your cunning or your wit have gone unnoticed.”
“You have shown excellent intuition by realizing your role in all of this,” another puppet replied. “Your attack on Hod’s Anvil was not merely a feint, but also a test…a test of your ambition, of your loyality, and of how well you could adapt to an increasingly impossible situation.”
“And above all,” another puppet finished, “a test of your resolve: of how far you were willing to go to accomplish your mission, no matter how much your suffered.”
Khyrus weighed Scyrex’s words carefully, before bowing his head low. He had been tested…which meant that, quite possibly, Lord Scyrex had greater plans in mind for him…though that could mean good or ill.
“Then, my lord, did I pass this test?” he asked.
He half expected the chuckling again. Instead, the puppets were silent. However, he did notice that a lot of them were smiling at him now, grinning eerily.
“We shall see,” one of the puppets replied.
“You are dismissed, Dracon,” another puppet said. “Your ambition pleases me…but remember, the higher the climb, the greater the possible fall as well.”
Khyrus nodded, stood up, and walked towards the exit. He was still alive, for now, and somehow, he hadn’t been thrown to the Haemonculi for eternity. But now he also knew he had Lord Scyrex’s eye on him. From this point on, one mis-step would be fatal.
His lips curled back into a razor-edged smile. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
As Khyrus exited the throne room, the portal of Scyrex’s chamber rumbled to a close again. As all of the flesh-puppets slackened again, Scyrex let out a long rasp into the breathing apparatus in his throne. Without any other observers present, his other guest finally took the moment to step out from the shadows in the corner of the chamber.
“So,” Scyrex asked the stranger without looking at her, rasping in his true voice, “is he the one?”
The figure merely cocked her veiled head to the side, her mirrored mask reflecting whatever slivers of light remained in the room. “His story has already been written,” she replied. “His fate is now in the hands of the God of the Dead.”
“Perhaps,” Scyrex replied. “And yet fate is not always what is seems…”