Battle Report #13: Unforeseen Variables

c. Forge World

Provisional Site B-VT

Arka’shun Plains

Disc-world of Yo’vai, Nemyar Atoll

“As you can see, Aun’o, the situation is under control,” the chief Earth Caste scientist said as he walked through the halls of the provisional site. On either side of him, one of his aides was busy poring over holo–screeds generated by drones hovering nearby, assessing continuous information updates on the project. Behind the three of them strode another pair of T’au, of a taller and more imposing build than that of the stocky Earth caste: even if they had not been wearing ornate golden armour, regal white tabards or wielded massive bejeweled staves that looked as deadly as they did ornamental, these two T’au each still possessed an aura of fierce, aloof confidence that demanded the respect and obedience of everyone in the facility.

And even then, these two T’au were nothing compared to the wizened figure who sat behind them, hovering in the wake of the group upon a great ivory throne set upon a great circular hover-dais. At the mere sight of this individual, all T’au in the facility immediately bowed in instinctual reverence, their thoughts filled with joy that he had blessed them with his very presence.

“So you communicated a kai’rotaa ago, Fio’o Ku’nais,” said Aun’va, the Supreme Ethereal, the Master of the Undying Spirit, his voice clear and melodious despite his advanced age. “And yet, given what you described of these anomalies in your last message, I wished all the same to see them in person. You mentioned that they had highly…unusual physical properties?”

As they reached a tiered observation deck, Kun’nais turned and gave a reverential bow to the Supreme Ethereal. As he did so, he paused. Had he just noticed the image of the Supreme Ethereal…flicker, like a malfunctioning holographic image?

No, of course not, he chided himself. The very notion was ludicrous: all these long hours of work without rest were merely taking a toll upon his mind, that was all. The things he did for the Greater Good…

He turned and tapped a command into his wrist-mounted computer. Immediately, the black screen set at the end of the chamber flickered, revealing the flat metallic plain of the containment grounds, a vast hollow rectangle the length and width of a small town. A few geometric structures, resembling buildings or barricades, had been set into the dull gunmetal surface of the testing area, making it seem like an otherwise unremarkable live-fire testing ground. What was remarkable, however, were the little motes of blue light hovering at random locations across this testing ground, flickering and whirling as though alive.

“From what we’ve been able to ascertain,” Ku’nais said, “these light sources are in fact small, isolated breaks in local space time. They give off particles and radiation consistent with those of small black holes, and yet unlike black holes, they are not emitting any noticeable gravimetric pull– a fact that should be impossible, given their properties.”

Aun’va gave a warm smile. “Fio’o, we stand upon a world unnaturally shaped like a flat disc, and yet possessed of a perfectly breathable and stable atmosphere. What is and is not possible has been significantly redefined as of late.” He gave a gentle laugh. “But you mentioned that they are breaks in local space time. You have confirmed this, even though they exert no visible gravity?”

Ku’nais nodded. “While they do not pose too much danger to a shielded observation team at a safe distance, it has been noted that time fluctuates within a radius of five tor’leks of them. It is inconsistent: some of these floating anomalies cause time within their area of effect to speed up by ten dect’aa, while another might cause time to slow by ten ro’taa. There is even one that causes time in its field to speed up by ten tau’cyr.” He gestured to one of the floating, shimmering balls of light: the prefabricated structures close to it were already showing some signs of discoloration consistent with age. “From what we have been able to ascertain, they seem similar, in composition if not in scope, to the Mont’yhe’va– many of the energies and particles that they emit match nothing known to our science, save what we have analyzed of that vast storm. At present, we are investigating any possible relation between the two, and we have suspended all tests involving live personnel for the time being– we still do not know what effect this time dilation will have upon our physiology, if we are not careful.”

The Supreme Ethereal nodded sagely. “You have been very prudent, Fio’o,” he said. “However, I hope that this prudence has not been inhibiting your duty. I had requested that you examine the possibility of weaponizing these anomalies for the Fire Caste; it would be quite the achievement if the Empire were to master time itself.”

Ku’nais felt a cold sweat on the back of his neck as he bowed. Of course he had considered the military applications: this was, after all, a weapons testing facility, and the local Fire Caste commander had been very insistent that the anomalies be made ready for possible weapons tests– a project that Ku’nais was now behind schedule on. And yet, the more he had examined these anomalies, the less they had made sense, and the more he saw of their connection to the great storm that the gue’la called “the Maledictum,’ the more concerned he became. He had been devising several ways to explain this to Aun’va for when he arrived. And yet, now Aun’va was here, hovering over him with patient, expectant eyes, and Ku’nais– who could instantly calculate the mathematical variables of the vibrations of a hummingbird’s wing in less than a dect’aa — could think of nothing to say.

As it happened, he didn’t need to worry about an excuse, as at that moment the site-wide alarms suddenly began to blare.

“What’s going on?” he snapped, whirling on his subordinates at the monitoring stations. Every monitor in the station was coming alive at that point: from where he stood, he already saw several energy readings from inside the containment zone spiking.

“Sensors are detecting a massive influx of energy readings at several new points, Fio’o!” one of the Fio’la shouted from her station. “

In the distance, upon the screen, Ku’nais saw multiple new points of light suddenly yawn into existence. These were different, however, from the other anomalies: they were taller, wider, and for some reason, the moment he saw them, the first word that Ku’nais could think was ‘portals’…

And then figures came striding out of these swirling gateways…two at first, then five, then two dozen, then more. They were impossibly tall, clad in baroque powered armour of a deep metallic crimson, their heads obscured by glowering helms with crude vox-grilles and burning green eye lenses. Ku’nais remembered the history holos he had seen of the Battle of Dal’yth, and recognized the dreaded gue’ron’sha of the gue’la Imperium…except these were different. Their armour was fetished with numerous strange symbols that made his eyes hurt, their helms were framed by strange crests that seemed strangely ceremonial, and finally, they marched in unison with a stiff, relentless gait, not with the terrifying speed that had been documented of the gue’ron’sha. They seemed less like bio-engineered warriors, and more like a legion of robots…

And then, as Ku’nais watched, these strange newcomers levelled their ornate rifles, and fired.

Screams erupted across the room as the viewing port– made from a metres-thick opaque allow that should have been able to stop most weapons fire– shattered as it was struck be several multihued bolts, sending shards scything into the room. Several Earth Caste fell, sliced apart at their stations by the shards; many more were gunned down as they tried to run, their bodies instantly immolating into blue flames as they struck. The flames, unnaturally, continued to dance across their charred bodies as they slumped to the floor, dancing as though alive.

Taking cover behind a bulkhead, Ku’nais was about to scream for Aun’va to take shelter, but froze when he saw that the Supreme Ethereal remained motionless on his throne, his expression serene even as sorcerous bolts whipped past him.

“Alert the garrison, Fio’o Ku’nais,” Aun’va said softly. “And tell them to activate the experimental battlesuit you have been working on. These intruders shall not interfere with our destiny.”

******

So a while back (long before the current T’au book had been teased, that is unfortunately how long this was on the backburner), I decided to try out the Thousand Sons for a change (heh heh). I had always liked the lore and models of the Sons of Magnus, and had decided that this year was finally going to be the year that I took the plunge and tried the army out. Their army book had just been released, and I had been eagerly devouring their new rules, particularly things like their new unit profiles, the Cabalstic Ritual rules, their relics, expanded spells, etc. Granted, the book isn’t quite new any more, but that’s pretty much what months of stress-induced writer’s block and extremely busy holidays will do for you. Anyway.

This battle, like so many others, was fought on Tabletop Simulator, which is fantastic if you are testing out a new army and don’t necessarily want to buy new models yet. For my all-comers list, I brought the following:

THE CRIMSON SCRIBES BROTHERHOOD

CULT OF DUPLICITY PATROL

Exalted Sorceror Senoth- Disc of Tzeentch, Athenean Scrolls, Tzeentch’s Firestorm, Weaver of Fates, Temporal Flux, Lord of Forbidden Lore, Rehati
Sorceror Mandrazura- Terminator armour, Inferno combi-bolter, force axe, Swelled By The Warp, Twist of Fate, Battle Psyker
Infernal Master Ktesis- Egleighen’s Orrery, Prescience, Glimpse of Eternity, Malefic Maelstrom
9 Rubric Marines- 8 warpflamers, Icon of Flame, Aspiring Sorceror w. Pyric Flux
5 Rubric Marines- soulreaper cannon, Icon of Flame, Aspiring Sorceror w. Doombolt
5 Rubric Marines- soulreaper cannon, Icon of Flame, Aspiring Sorceror w. Empyric Guidance
5 Scarab Occult Terminators- soulreaper cannon, helfyre missile rack, Scarab Occult Sorceror Hasturos w. Glamour of Tzeentch and Rites of Coelescence
5 Scarab Occult Terminators- soulreaper cannon, helfyre missile rack, Scarab Occult Sorceror Abydos w. Temporal Surge
Hellforged Contemptor Dreadnought- 2 volkite culverins, cyclone missile launcher
Forgefiend- 2 Hades autocannons, ectoplasma cannon
Heldrake- baleflamer
Heldrake- baleflamer

Pre-game Stratagems: Risen Rubricae, Martial Legacy, Sorcerous Arcana

The general idea behind this list was to take as many units of Rubricae and Scarab Occult Terminators as possible, both to get as many Sorcerors as possible and to maximize the number of Cabal points I could take. While most of my units were kitted out to do damage at medium range, I had at least one squad with warpflamers ready to teleport-infiltrate into roasting range. This list also featured a number of vehicles I wanted to try out, including the dreaded (heh) Volkite Contemptor, a Forgefiend, and a pair of baleflamer-armed Heldrakes to act as big scary distractions, I had no idea how effective they were going to be, but I was sure I was about to find out.

The general plan was: get my dusty boys onto objectives as soon as possible (using teleportation spells if necessary), and kill the enemy with firepower and mind bullets. My opponent, meanwhile, was bringing the T’au (from their old codex), and I was in for quite a surprise when I saw his list…

KEL’SHA SEPT

T’AU BATTALION
Aun’va- Through Unity Devastation
Commander- XV86 Coldstar battlesuit, 4 missile pods, shield generator, Cross-Linked Stabilizer Jets, Vectored Manouvering Thrusters, 2 Marker Drones, Exemplar of the Mont’ka, Promising Pupil
5 Fire Warriors- 2 Marker Drones
5 Fire Warriors- 2 Marker Drones
5 Fire Warriors- 2 Marker Drones
4 Tetras
XV109 Y’vahra Battlesuit- advanced targeting system, 2 Shielded Missile Drones

T’AU SUPER HEAVY AUXILIARY DETACHMENT
KX139 Tau’nar Supremacy Armour

Pre-Game Stratagems: Promising Pupil

*Note: I may have forgotten some shield drones here or there, it is honestly hard to keep track of the T’au and all of their drones.

I hadn’t played against the T’au that much in 9th edition, but I knew that they struggled in close-ranged battles to hold objectives, and I was fairly confident that I would not only be able to outlast my opponent’s forces, but also to out-gun them thanks to the critical edge provided by psychic powers. I was much more concerned, however, about that Supremacy battlesuit: I had never faced this garguntuan Lord of War before, and had no idea what kind of firepower it could throw at me. I was going to finding out soon enough….

SCENARIO AND DEPLOMENT

For the scenario, we ended up playing Battle Lines from the Grand Tournament 2021 pack. For secondaries, I chose Vital Ground, Engage on all Fronts, and Warp Ritual, reasoning that with all of my teleportation spells, it would be easy to achieve board control and put my Rubricae where I wanted them. My opponent, meanwhile, took Engage on all Fronts, Bring It Down, and To The Last, aiming to kill all of my vehicles and keep his expensive battlesuits alive.

For my deployment, I used the Risen Rubricae stratagem to deploy my warpflamer-armed Rubricae up far on the right flank.

Otherwise, I deployed as many of my Rubricae and Terminators behind cover as possible, with my Heldrakes on either flank ready to fly forwards and burn some things. In general, I tried to ensure that the Supremacy battlesuit would have as few targets as possible on turn 1.

For their part, the T’au deployed the Supremacy centrally, with most of their characters clustered around it, and deployed as many of their Fire Warriors behind cover as well, ready to push forward and grab objectives when the time was right.

With that all done, we rolled off….and the T’au won the first turn. With a gigantic titan-sized battlesuit staring down my army, I knew this first turn was going to hurt….

TURN 1

As the forces of the T’au Empire moved into positions, the voice of Aun’va spoke across their TacNet, invoking both the Sense of Stone and the Storm of Fire as aspects of the Greater Good. As the Sons of Magnus watched, the looming shape of the Tau’nar stopped in its lumbering stride, seeming to settle itself behind the line of prefab units of the containment facility. There was an immense boom that sent a shockwave rippling across the field as the massive war engine’s feet clamped in place into the earth: the Rubricae, however, remained impassive as the shock wave rolled over them, dust billowing around their stoic armoured forms as they stood resolute, far beyond such mortal concerns as fear or panic.

Too late, however, Senoth realized that the xenos were using the shockwave as mobile cover. He scryed the situation with his warp-sight and saw, too late, that the T’au Commander has jetted across the field using the dust as cover, his Coldstar Battlesuit propelling him a great distance in a heartbeat. On the other flank, the Y’havra, similarly, flew forwards in the wake of the dust cloud, using the placrete walls to maintain cover as it closed with the Rubricae’s lines. Further back, a squadron of Tetras flitted to the far left of the battlefield, angling to bring their markerlights to bear on the strange shapes of the Gue’ron’sha armour vehicles, while a Fire Warrior Strike Team sprinted forwards, ready to secure one of these mysterious energy-points once the Gue’ron’sha had been dealt with.

Flickering red lights strobed across the battlefield suddenly, as markerlights from Drones and the Tetras marked the airborne shapes of the Heldrakes, with the rightmost one tracked further by an Uplinked Markerlight system. And then, there was a deep bass hum that shook the earth, and with a flash of light like the violent eruption of a star, the guns of the Tau’nar spoke.

Two star-white bursts flashed from the behemoth’s pulse ordnance drivers, and a second later, the leftmost Heldrake was simply gone, a few skyborne puffs of ionized metal left as the as the only trace of its existence. A split second later, the triaxis ions cannons lit up, blinding the entire battlefield in the angry flash of their discharge. When it cleared, the rightmost Heldrake was badly scorched and wobbling in the sky, but it remained airborne. The Forgefiend also took several direct hits from another triaxis cannon and a zipping shoal of smart missiles that slammed into it a second later, but it too remained standing despite the intense damage.

Even as the Tau’nar’s guns roared, the T’au Commander spotted the warpflamer-armed Rubricae from around the flank, and unloaded a barrage of missiles into them. The armour-piercing warheads struck true, obliterating three of the revenant Astartes in bursts of shattering ceramite and atomized dust; even as the Sorceror leading them whirled around to face this new threat, the Commander was already flying out of range of retaliation in a perfectly timed hit and run strike.

The board after the first turn

Beneath his helm, what human features remained of Senoth’s face gritted their teeth: a quick telepathic query to Ktesis told him what he dreaded– that, from what the Warp had whispered to the Infernal Master, none of their weapons had the power to adequately damage the Tau’nar. Grimly, he realized that the rest of the thrallband would have to buy him time while he conducted the ritual– and that no matter what, it would be a costly affair.

Whispering blistering un-words into the air, Ktesis made a pact with the Warp to empower the guns of Hasturos’ Terminators with a Malefic Maelstrom. At the mental command of their Sorcerors, the Lost Sons of Prospero advanced to meet the foe. On the left, the Hasturos’ Terminators strode forward relentlessly, while further in the middle, Abydos’ Terminators stode forward as well, guided by Senoth, Ktesis and Mandrazura. One squad of Rubrics remained holding one of the ley-line points that they would need to reopen the portal, while another strode forward, their Sorceror ready to lend his magicks to the aid of his brothers.

On the upper right flank, the warpflamer armed Rubricae squad advanced out from behind their cover to deal with the incoming Fire Warriors, while the Heldrake roared overhead, angling its still smoking body around as it sought to pursue the enemy Commander. Finally, ancient form of Brother Apophis, and the growling Forgefiend, both manouvered to bring their guns to bear on the oncoming threat of the Y’vahra Battlesuit.

As one, the Sorcerors of the legion joined their efforts in unison to weave magicks with which to confound the Tau. Hasturos’ Terminators were blessed by the Weaver of Fates and allowed to Presage things to come, while Hasturos himself cast the Glamour of Tzeentch to further confound the enemy’s guns. Abydos’ Scarabs, meanwhile, had their aim augmented with Empyric Guidance, while Senoth manipulated the fabric of causality itself, casting a Temporal Surge that allowed the Terminators to stomp rapidly across the battiefield like a sped up image. Abydos himself drew upon the powers of the Warp, employing the Ritual of Imbued Manifestation to fling a bolt of pure warpfire across the battlefield, Smiting down two distant Fire Warriors. Finally, the Sorceror leading the warpflamer Rubrics cast a Pyric Flux upon his brethren, vastly increasing the hungry potency of their weapons.

And then, sorcerous shells shrieked across the air as the Thousand Sons answered the T’au’s firepower with their own, bringing their weapons to bear on what few T’au targets were visible. On the right flank, the Rubricae turned their warpflamers upon the Tetras; three of the nimble T’au craft were instantly incinerated in the ensuing conflagration of inandescent warpfire, and the last one was quickly blasted out of the sky by helfyre missiles from Abydos’ Terminators, whose combi-bolters also shredded the last three Fire Warriors on that flank. Further ahead, the Heldrake opened its mechanical jaws and let loose a great gout of blue warpflame upon the T’au Commander. The xeno screamed as he found himself being boiled and burned inside his melting suit; only the quick application of Stimm Injectors kept him from passing out. (Note: the Heldrake did 6 unsaved wounds to the Commander, but use of Stimm Injectors meant that the T’au Commander ignored two of these, saving him from death).

On the left flank, Hasturos’ Terminators unleashed the Wrath of the Wronged upon the incoming Y’havra, and were joined in by Brother Apophis and the Forgefiend. Inferno shells, shrieking missiles, superheated ectoplasma, accursed autocannon rounds and blistering thermal rays lit up the sky, and while the Y’havra dodged and banked in a brilliant display of aerial acrobatics, it was still buffeted by the incoming storm, taking irreperable damage as rounds tore through its hull. By some miracle, though, the T’au battlesuit remained airborne even as it belched smoke from numerous damage points. (Note: I managed to reduce the Y’havra down to 4 wounds remaining…unfortunately, not enough to remove the threat it posed).

With a metallic roar like the grinding of engines, the Heldrake swooped low towards the T’au Commander. The Shas’o responded swiftly, sending another wheeling volley of missiles up at the Heldrake and blasting two holes in its metal hide as it came swooping in, before firing his suit’s Vectored Maneuvering Thrusters, blasting backwards out of reach of the Heldrake and escaping just before its metal jaws slammed into the earth, carving a great furrow across the landscape as the hellforged wyrm awkwardly tumbled and crashed. (The Drake failed its charged thanks to those damned Manuevering Thrusters)

The map at the end of the turn

TURN 2

Aun’va continued to invoke the elements, his oratory imbuing those Fire Warriors around him with the Sense of Stone and a wish for a Storm of Fire. Knowing that a Mon’kta strike was needed, the Y’havra pilot jetted forwards, Nova-charging his weapons and engaging his suit’s Automated Repair System to repair two damaged areas as he flew in front of the Forgefiend, gaining line of sight to the majority of the Gue’ron’sha lines.

The T’au Commander, meanwhile, pulled a similar aerial manouver, flying past the floundering Heldrake to get into close range of the warpflamer-armed Rubricae. Finally, the leftmost squad of Fire Warriors advanced forwards, quickly hiding behind one of the plascrete walls as they managed to secure the site of one of the anomalous readings.

Once again, markerlights blink-clicked onto targets of opportunity, marking the Forgefiend and the Heldrake for the cadre’s targeting systems. Revving up his guns, the Y’havra pilot split his fire, dousing Hasturos’ Terminators with blue-hot plasma from his phased plasma-flamer, fusing one of the relentless automata to slag and badly damaging another, before spinning around in midair and obliterating two of Abydos’ Terminators with a volley from his ion discharge cannon.

The T’au Commander, in turn, sent a volley of missiles shrieking down into the warpflamer Rubricae, blasting three of them apart with armour-piercing warheads, before engaging his reaction thrusters and flying back out of range of retaliation.

And then, once again, the guns of the Tau’nar roared to life. The pulse drivers opened fire, once again turning the battlefield white with their discharge; when the volley was over, the Heldrake had been utterly annihilated, joining its twin in oblivion, while Brother Aphophis suffered twin impacts that would have sheared a battle tank in half. Though Apophis was rocked on his feet, however, he remained standing– whether by the designs of the Changer of Ways or by sheer force of will, he had survived. (Note: by some miracle, the Contemptor survived on 1 wound remaining) While all of this occurred, the triaxis cannons again focused on the Forgefiend, blasting chunks out of its hull with ion blasts. Though the Forgefiend had four great rents torn in its hull, it too remained standing, giving a monstrous metallic roar in defiance.

The board at the end of the battle round

As Ktesis made a pact to obtain a Glimpse of Eternity, Senoth guided his disk towards where he knew the ley-lines converged at the center of the battlefield, resolved to handle this ritual himself. His thrallband could not match the sheer firepower of the T’au cadre, he knew, and so he had to act quickly. The remnants of Abydos’ Terminators moved up to form up alongside him, taking cover behind the vast bunker in the center of the battlefield, while Hasturos’ Terminators moved up to claim the leyline point that was being held by the Fire Warriors, the armour of the one damaged Terminator reshaping and reforming thanks to the Rites of Coalescence. Further up, the warpflamer Rubricae retreated in the face of the T’au firepower, taking shelter behind the placrete wall they had been hiding behind earlier. Behind them, a squad of Rubricae moved up to lend support, while the squad of Rubricae far in the backfield angled to bring their guns to bear on the incoming Y’havra battlesuit.

Once again, the Sons of Magnus wove magicks that the T’au could not fathom or counter. The squad holding the leyline in the Thousand Sons’ backfield unleashed a bolt of blistering warpfire with which to Smite the Yhavra, using the Ritual of the Malevolent Charge to pierce the T’au battlesuit with four fatal lances of energy. The battlesuit pilot screamed, but even in death, he gave his life for the Greater Good, triggering his Fail-Safe Detonator and causing his suit to explode violently, damaging the Forgefiend and wounding one nearby Rubric Marine with flying shrapnel. The Aspiring Sorceror leading the Warpflamer Rubrics, meanwhile, unleashed magicks of his own upon the T’au Commander, using his master of flame to Smite the T’au, causing his battlesuit’s ammo stores to immolate, killing the Shas’o instantly.

Meanwhile, another Aspiring Sorceror cast the Ritual of the Echoes From The Warp, gaining valuable insight from the whispers of the Immaterium. Elsewhere, however, the strain of the battle robbed the Thousand Sons of their focus, as Hasturos failed to cast the Glamour of Tzeentch on his Terminators, and the nearby Ktesis failed to grant them a Presage, the spells slipping from their grasps at the last moment. Senoth was forced to employ his own magical skill, casting the Weaver of Fates to shield Hasturos’ Terminators from danger, and creating a Temporal Surge to speed them along faster, focusing his mind and channeling all of his thoughts into the Warp Ritual needed to harness the arcane nexus.

(A quick note: at the time I had thought, mistakenly, that a psyker could cast his own psychic powers and still cast Warp Ritual if he had not cast his max number of spells that turn. Obviously, I was mistaken, as a psyker attempting to Ritual can only cast it and nothing else. I may owe my opponent an apology the next time I see him)

Even with the vehicle losses they had suffered, the Thousand Sons’ vehicles returned fire. Badly damaged, the Forgefiend nonetheless turned its guns upon the T’au Drones clustering around the ley-point in the T’au’s lines, blasting apart two of the Shield Drones as they huddled around Aun’va. Chuckling in derision at the T’au’s feeble attempts to kill him, Brother Apophis returned fire at the Tau’nar, lashing out at it with volkite rays and armour-piercing missiles and dealing four points of damage to the xeno war-machine as well as destroying two of the Drones that sought to protect it…though the Tau’nar did not even seem to register this damage. Finding that they were able to draw line of sight to the Tau’nar as well from behind their cover, Abydos’ Terminators fired at it as well with helfyre missiles, but failed to pierce the super-heavy battlesuit’s thick armour plating.

Hasturos’ Terminators, for their part, focused their firepower on less durable targets, and annihilated the five Fire Warriors on the objective point with a concentrated storm of inferno bolts.

The map at the end of the turn

TURN 3

As Aun’va continued to invoke the elements, a great, monstrous sound of grinding greats and heaving metal could be heard as the Tau’nar began to stride forwards, stomping slowly but resolutely towards the T’au lines. Ahead of the massive war machine, the last squad of Fire Warriors advanced, hoping to get to one of these mysterious energy-points before the Gue’ron’sha could make use of them. Though the T’au had lost a number of their assets at this point, the Tau’nar still had more than enough firepower with which to humble these Gue’ron’sha.

And, after selecting his targets, the suit’s pilot once again gave a demonstration of that firepower. White hot waves of energy shook the battlefield as the Tau’nar’s guns roared to life: the Forgefiend was instantly annihilated, atomized by ion fire, while Hasturos and his remaining Terminators were similarly annihilated by pulse drivers. Last but not least, Brother Apophis finally fell to several direct hits, his Dreadnought shell finally toppling over as it took critical damage.

At this point, Senoth knew there was nothing they could do to stop the rampaging Tau’nar. If they were to win this day, then the thrallband would have to buy him the valuable time needed to complete the warp ritual. As Ktesis once again obtained a Glimpse of Eternity, Hasturos and his Terminators took shelter behind a nearby wall, making sure that they were close enough to the ley-point to control it and harness its energy. Otherwise, everywhere they could, the Thousand Sons took cover, and tried to weather the storm that the knew was headed their way.

Once again, an Aspiring Sorceror used a cabbalistic ritual to hear the Echoes of the Warp, while Senoth once again bestowed the protection of the Weaver of Fates upon Hasturos’ Terminators, before continuing the Warp Ritual. Mandrazura, however, who had been observing the battle from the rear lines up until now, spied an opportunity now that the Tau’nar was advancing. Casting a Sorcerous Facade, he disappeared and reappeared in the blink of an eye, manifesting at the back of the T’au lines, in full view of Aun’va.

“The Crimson King demands your death, xeno!” Mandrazura spat.

“I know not of your Crimson King, Gue’la,” the Ethereal Supreme replied calmly, “but in time, he too shall embrace the Greater Good.”

Not bothering to trade further words with the T’au, Mandrazura recited the Enumerations and unleashed a bolt of malevolently-charged warp lightning, Smiting down both of Aun’va’s Ethereal Guards. Drawing his combi-bolter, he then unleashed a stream of ensorcelled shells at the Ethereal. The majority of the shells simply pattered harmlessly off of the Ethereal’s force field, but two struck home, wounding the T’au. To his credit, Aun’va showed no pain at these injuries, his face still impassive and serene even as charred, bloody holes became visible on his white robes.

Unfazed, Mandrazura hefted his golden adze and was about to charge Aun’va…that was, until he received a telepathic message from Ktesis, showing a warp-vision of him being blasted apart by the Tau’nar before he could even swing at the Ethereal. Reluctantly, Mandrazura held back, biding his time with only the patience that a millennia-old veteran could muster. (Note: no way was I charging Aun’va when the Tau’nar was still in range to overwatch)

TURN 4

Despite his injuries, Aun’va continued to orate the Invocations of the Elements to the warriors of the sept, though he now engaged his hover throne away from the armoured Gue’a threatening him. A group of Drones moved past him, placing theselves between Mandrazura and their master, and, in the process, continuing to occupy the ley-point. The other squad of Fire Warriors continued to sprint forwards moving towards the leftmost ley-point, while behind them, the Tau’nar continued its earth-shaking advance, now casting a shadow over the Thousand Sons as it loomed over them.

Once again, the immense guns of the Tau’nar shook the world as it opened fire. In a tremendous volley of pulse and ion fire, Hasturos’ Terminators were annihilated, their sorcerous blessings no match for the raw firepower that had been unleashed. Elsehere, ion, missile and burst cannon fire rained down on the warpflamer Rubrics, shattering three of them and leaving their Aspiring Sorceror standing alone.

That Aspiring Sorceror could then only watch in horror as the Tau’nar suddenly swivelled to the side, accelerating its pace towards him. He raised his hand, attempting to throw up a kine-shield, but he was too late: the armoured foot of the Tau’nar came crashing down, crushing him with the force of a falling mountain. With that last Gue’ron’sha dealt with, the Tau’nar stomped onwards towards the Thousand Sons’ lines, casting its shadow over them as it stood mere metres away.

The map at the end of this battle round

Things had gotten desperate now, as Senoth and his fellow Sorcerors found now themselves staring up into the barrels of the behemoth’s guns. Ktesis tried to gain another Glimpse of Eternity, but failed, the Warp denying him insight this time. Cursing in irritation, Ktesis retreated around the side of the building, preparing to confront the Fire Warriors who were encroaching from that flank. Senoth, however, stayed where he was, knowing that he had to complete the ritual or die in the attempt. Around him, the remaining Rubricae circled the Tau’nar, trying to bring as many of their guns to bear on the lumbering behemoth as possible. On the other side of the battlefield, Mandrazura effortlessly strode through the wall, his Terminator-armoured bulk smashing through it as he chased after Aun’va.

At this moment, one of my Rubricae models decided to start hovering.

Gathering the power of the warp towards him, Senoth unleashed a blast of pure warp energy up at the Tau’nar, whispering the Ritual of Malefic Charge as he lashed out at the T’au war machine. Around him, the Aspiring Sorcerors followed suit, one Smiting the Tau’nar as well and the other unleashing a crackling Doombolt; their combined assault made a mockery of the Tau’nar’s armour, shearing or even passing insubstantially through its hull to shred the systems within, and the Tau’nar rocked unsteadily as smoke began to rise from its hull. Taking a deep breath, Senoth relented, exhausted by this psychic assault; he had just enough left in him to bless one of the Rubric Marine squads with the Weaver of Fates before turning and using what power remained to him to, hopefully, finish the ritual.

Elsewhere, Ktesis unleashed warp-energy of his own to Smite the Fire Warriors, causing three of them to suddenly become dragged into a horrible nether-realm by insubstantial tentacles, before shooting down a fourth with a round from his pistol. Further at the back of the T’au lines, Mandrazura once again Smote Aun’va, augmenting his power with the Ritual of the Kindred Sorcerors, and dealing two grievous burns to the Ethereal. Following up, Mandrazura once again unloaded a clip from his combi-bolter into Aun’va, but this time the Supreme Ethereal’s force field caused all of his ensorcelled shells to patter off like rainwater.

Levelling their weapons, the Rubricae poured all of the firepower that they could muster up into the Tau’nar, with one squad firing with exceptional fury as they unleashed the Wrath of the Wronged. Encorcelled bolts tore into the Tau’nar’s hull until it was blackened and pitted, but the damnable thing refused to fall. (Note: between the psychic phase and shooting, I had managed to do 15 wounds to the Tau’nar! Unfortunately, it still had 11 left).

Hefting his force stave, Ktesis charged the last Fire Warrior and swung down to finish him off…but to his surprise, the defiant T’au caught the staff with both hands, defying the superhuman strength of the Astartes! Mandrazura, for his part, suddenly turned and smashed through the wall again, slamming into the two Drones sitting on the objective, and promptly hacked both apart with swings of his adze. As much as he desired to kill Aun’va, securing the ley-points was far more important.

TURN 5

Things were coming to a head now as the Tau’nar strode into the Thousand Sons lines, its footfalls shaking the ground with each step. Aun’va, for his part, backed away from Mandrazura, while his remaining Drones swarmed around him, attempting to ensure they would be able to gather data from the ley-point once this lone Gue’ron’sha had been dealt with. While the last Fire Warrior drew his pulse pistol and fired into Ktesis, to no effect, the Tau’nar pilot split his targets and fired: Mandrazura failed to throw up a kine shield in time before he was enveloped in a titanic ion blast, while Senoth, similarly, was obscured by a white-hot energy discharge, and vanished from view. Yet more firepower rained down upon a nearby squad of Rubric Marines, but, whether by fickle fortune or the whims of Tzeentch, only two of their number were atomized by the relentless T’au firepower…although one of those was the squad’s Aspiring Sorceror.

Fortune proved to be doubly fickle, as the Tau’nar’s guns, overheating after several rounds of continuous discharge, began to vent heat backwards, overloading several critical systems in the battlesuit and causing secondary explosions to ripple across its hull as those systems shorted out. (Translation: the Tau’nar took 6 wounds from overheats!)

Powering his suit onwards despite the damage, the Tau’nar pilot barreled into the squad he had just fired at. Another Rubric Marine was crushed utterly by the Tau’nar’s stomping feet, but the last two retained enough of their old combat senses that they managed to evade the behemoth’s feet. Further on the left flank, though, the lone Fire Warrior’s heroic struggle came to an end as he was finally pulped by the swing of Ktsesis’ force stave.

Sensing an opportunity to end the T’au threat once and for all, the Thousand Sons circled around the Tau’nar. The last two Rubricae fell back out of combat, and then every bolter remaining on the field levelled at the T’au war machine.

Gathering the power of the warp, the last Aspiring Sorceror on the field unleashed a Doombolt, blasting three ragged wounds into the Tau’nar’s hull. Eager to finish the hulking colossus once and for all, Ktsesis gathered power to himself, empowering his sorcery with a malefic charge, and Smote the Tau’nar. Hundreds of tiny flame-daemons suddenly manifested inside the Tau’nar, causing havoc as they overloaded systems, detonated fuel stores, and, finally, cooked the screaming pilot within his harness. Belching smoke and flame from numerous hull breaches, the Tau’nar finally toppled backwards, flattening the nearby bunker under its bulk as it crashed to the earth.

And with that, as the dust settled from the Tau’nar’s collapse, the remaining T’au retreated from the field. Though it had been a costly battle, the Sons of Magnus had narrowly emerged victorious.

RESULT: THOUSAND SONS VICTORY!

The score at the end of the battle

THOUGHTS:

Holy crap, what a game! Despite being fought between a brand shiny new (at the time) codex and one that was still badly in need of an update, the battle was incredibly close. Even though I managed to deal with most of the T’au army quite handily, the sheer firepower that the Tau’nar was able to unleash was terrifying. I found myself rapidly losing major units each turn as I clung on grimly to my objectives, even as my army wad depleted more and more. I went into the battle thinking that I would not be able to defeat the Tau’nar, and should just try to survive its onslaught: that I actually managed to kill it speaks volumes about the psychic power of the Dusty Bois, although it’s also a testament to the Tau’nar’s scary firepower that I didn’t have much left at the end of the game.

As my first game with the Dusty Bois, this battle was an eye opener for how well they could synergize with each other if the right powers got off, and further illustrated how powerful their psychic phase could be when used offensively. Despite their All Is Dust rule and 5+ invulnerable save, though, they die just as easily as any other Marine to high-damage weaponry, although the fact that they don’t have to worry about morale at least gives them a reliability I have yet to experience in any other army. I will say, though, that this battle was an eye opener as far as psychic actions were concerned– as someone whose only other armies are decidedly non-psychic, I guess it’s only to be expected that I did them wrong and had one psyker cast his own powers and still do the action. This is something I have been careful to remember for all games I’ve played with them since.

Either way, this was a fun game against an equally fun opponent, facing off against a list that was very different to what I usually deal with. Of course, with the new T’au codex around the corner, I’m a little more worried about the little blue jerks now…

****

For the briefest of moments, Senoth was one with the universe.

Even as the ion cannon roared to life and his world turned a brilliant flash of blue-white heat, Senoth managed to speak the final words of the ritual…and then an instant became an eternity, and an eternity an instant. In that singular moment, he saw everything, everywhere, across time and space, his consciousness seemingly stretching across the timescape to glimpse singular flashes of what came before. He stood next to some of the earliest priests of the Mechanicum as they watched, with ash-stained lenses, as their first explorator arks disappeared into the starry expanse of the Martian night. He watched, a helpless bystander on an Aeldari garden world, as the walls of reality tore open and the jubilation of the xenos turned to blood-curdling horror. He watched as thousands of aliens, of a race long extinct, held hands together and joined in song before a monolithic altar upon verdant blue fields. He even caught a smattering glimpse of the streets of Tizca, white and resplendent as they had before the Wolves had come, and of Ahriman, in his old legion battle-plate, conversing with a mortal remembrancer…

…and then that scene was gone, lost to the unceasing, ever changing tide of universal memory.

On and on it went, a kaleidescope of scenes and sense-memory from a thousand different places in a thousand different times, entire lifetimes worth of memories distilled to single, fleeting moments before vanishing from Senoth’s mind forever. He was caught in the midst of it, like a swimmer in a fierce whirlpool, being dragged in multiple directions and once and fighting desperately to stay afloat. He recited the Sixth Enumeration to himself, focusing his mind in the midst of this chaotic sense-data, and tried to push his consciousness to a single point and place in time past the tumult.

Slowly but surely, he managed to gain a semblance of footing in this roiling timescape, his aether ghost stabilized by sheer will alone, even though the raw effort of the task was pushing his psyche to the breaking point. There. He could see it now: a place on old Terra. A dusty librariam, with the small of ink and parchment, and the taste of ideas long lost to the chaos of Old Night. If he could just make it there a little closer, witness even a snippet of it, he could pull a fragment of its essence back with him into the present…

It wasn’t enough. He felt, with a sickening certainty, that the magicks were starting to fail. He tried to push himself as the psychic image of this time and place began to fray, like a bad image on a picter. He pushed his astral self onwards, feeling the terrible strain on his psyche, screaming into the raging gales of the Immaterium as he felt the effects of the ritual unravelling around him, denying him his prize…

******

He blinked for a few times, his genhanced eyes quickly adjusting to the light filtering through his cracked helm lenses. He felt nauseous, his mind roiling like that of a man who had been spinning in a whirpool before lurching to a sudden stop. He was conscious of fluid in his mouth and in the corners of his eyes, and knew it was blood. Through clouds of white dust, a shape loomed over him– a hulking shape clad in Astartes battle-plate. Old memories of Tizca lurched to the fore, and he nearly, instinctively, reached for his weapons until he realized it was Ktesis. Not the Wolves, he assured himself, never the Wolves.

“How long…” Senoth croaked, his throat cracked and dry from the sheer amount of power he had expended.

Ktesis leaned over him, his crooked helm reminding Senoth of a carrion bird inspecting a corpse. “Ten minutes, brother,” he replied. “You live, unharmed by a blast that should have atomized you. Clearly, the Changer has plans in mind for you.”

Senoth groaned. He was not in the mood for Ktesis’ sermons. Alive as he was, his armour had been cooked by that close ranged blast, and his skin felt burnt and blistered underneath. He was only alive, he knew, because he had translated out of the timeline for that instant when the blast had hit– not fast enough to avoid the backwash of head, but enough to avoid being incinerated. Had he not timed the ritual perfectly by only a few seconds, he would be dead.

“The Changer can save my life a little less painfully next time, then,” he grumbled as he propped himself upright.”

He could not see Ktesis’ expression under his helm, but could sense the sudden, focused change in his emotions at that moment. “Did you see it?”

Summoning his fallen staff to his hand, Senoth used it to prop himself up. “A glimpse,” he muttered. “That was all I got. A glimpse.”

The Infernal Master nodded. “A glimpse can sometimes be enough, brother,” he replied. “To focus your gaze across time and space to a singular point…it is incredible that you even managed that feat, let alone a glimpse.”

“And yet it wasn’t enough.” With a wheezing of damaged leg servos, Senoth hobbled back towards the waiting ring of Rubricae. With a casual gesture, he traced a shape in the air, and a swirling portal opened before him. “We will return to the silver tower, and try to discern what the next link in this great chain is.”

“And what of the T’au?” Ktesis asked.

Senoth glimpsed behind him, at the smoking ruins of the T’au forces that had opposed them. The only survivor, he knew, was that master Ethereal of theirs, who had undoubtedly engaged a personal teleport device. Destiny had other plans in store for that xeno, he was sure.

“Leave them,” he rasped. “Our quest lies with the past. They are of no further concern to us, they care only for the future.”

Behind his helm, Senoth smiled, remembering a phrase from a book that had been burnt long ago by an ignorant Imperium. ‘Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’

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