The Nachmund Crusade, Part 1: Arrival on Vigilus

Stol breathed hard as he ran, his boots crunching rapidly against the sheets of frozen tundra moss as each lungful of air sent a knife of cold stabbing deep down into him. A part of him– the part that that had been working around the ice sheets of Kaelac’s Bane for thirty years– urged him to slow down, to be more cautious, to remember that his frenzied movement might catch the attention of the ice mantises. Given what was behind him, at that point he was more than ready to take his chances with the mantises.

To say the past few years had been hell would be an understatement. Once…Stol was no longer sure how long ago…he was just another ice miner, like his father and his father before him. Life had been simple: work at the glacial quarry, get your quota in, eat your rations, and above all else, never look directly up at the sky– no matter how pretty those aurorae were, his father had always told him, there was nought but damnation and madness up there. Maybe it was because no one in the quarries had ever looked up that they had never noticed the Aeldari descending upon them that one fateful night– not until the xeno monsters were in their midst, all flensing blades and cruel laughter, maiming and dragging away those they did not kill.

Stol and his fellow survivors had been running ever since then, going from hiding place to hiding place as the world around them went to hell. First it was the Aeldari, harrying them for sport…and then after, it had been the other creatures, the things that manifested from the twisting colours of the aurorae, their thirst-filled shrieks echoing across the night. Stol always had nightmares about them in the few nights he was able to steal fitful rest in caves, feeding on lichens to survive. Sometimes it was hard to distinguish dream from reality anymore: he hadn’t even known there was a war going on.

After a while, all of Stol’s friends died or were captured, and now it was just him. And after wandering the depths of an abandoned mine shaft, looking for something more substantial than lichen or dried rations, he had found…something. Something made of black obsidian, that pulsed with an eerie green light when he had touched it. The next thing he knew, a legion of the dead had come marching out of that cave system– rank upon rank of skeletal figures made of the same, coldly gleaming metal, carrying rifles that pulsed with eerie light, their skull-like heads betraying no emotion as they advanced in unison after the fleeing Stol.

He was sobbing as his tired legs finally gave out under him, forcing him down onto his knees. He didn’t even need to look behind him to know that the skeletal legion was behind him, their footfalls echoing like some dreadful metronome across the tundra plains and the ruins of the long-abandoned mining facility he had been sheltering in. This was it, he knew. Maybe, just maybe, the God-Emperor would forgive his weakness and cowardice, and–

And then a light suddenly sprang into being ahead of Stol. He blinked, at first, unsure if it was a hallucination The light persisted, though– a halo of golden light that was rapidly expanding before him. As Stol watched in amazement, the halo widened until it was the size of a hab-unit, and then armoured figures began to stride through. His heart leapt in his chest. He was saved, he realized: the Emperor’s Angels had come!

It was only when these figures finally stepped into the starlight of the night sky that Stol had the creeping sense that these were not the Emperor’s Angels. Their crimson armour did not bear the winged symbols of the Imperial Eagle, but rather were adorned with golden ornamentation that seemed to twist and writeh with a light of its own. Symbols that stung to look at adorned their weapons, and an unearthly blue glow radiated from the eyes of their crested helms. But what was the most chilling thing of all was the way they advanced in a unified, relentless gait, utterly devoid of emotion or individuality…not unlike the skeletal legions advancing behind Stol.

Stol’s cry of horror was lost in the background, however, as the two soulless legions on either side of him raised their weapons and opened fire, filling the empty tundra with the thunder of battle…

*****

In the first two weeks of the Crusade, we were running lists at 25 power level (or roughly the equivalent of 500 points). Given that Thousand Sons are not exactly for being cheap or numerous, that did not give me a lot of room to play with, though I was encouraged by the fact that, at that point level, I was also unlikely to run into many of the high-damage weapons that are the bane of Rubric Marines.

In the first week of the campaign, I got a quick glimpse of what the other players were running, and was surprised by the amount of Chaos on the field: in addition to my Thousand Sons, there were also Death Guard, Alpha Legion, and one really well-painted army using the rules for Red Corsairs, as well as allied Chaos Knights. Of course, there were also the obligatory Imperials, with Ultramarines and Space Wolves both showing up, as well as the store manager and his Custodes. Finally, there were at least two Ork players, plus a veteran Eldar player trying out the new book. Overall, with the Imperium, Chaos, Eldar and Orks all in attendance, the crusade was already matching thematically with to the fluff of the war for Vigilus.

My opponent for the first week, Mike, was running something different, however, and my relentless Space Egyptians found themselves facing…a robotic, relentless legion of Space Egyptians.

CUSTOM DYNASTY PATROL (Relentless Expansionists, Eternal Conquerors)
Technomancer- Canoptek Cloak, Staff of Light, Veil of Darkness
20 Necron Warriors- gauss reapers
3 Skorpekh Destroyers- 1 with gauss reap-blade
Canoptek Reanimator

In previous games in the store leading up to the Crusade (with my Sisters of Battle, though, not with my Thousand Sons), I discovered that Necrons are quite a challenge at 500 points, especially when they are running big blocks of infantry: unless you bring something extraordinarily killy, it will be extremely hard to put their units down. However, I was still reasonably confident, as not only was I packing a lot of psychic firepower in addition to my actual firepower, but with All Is Dust and Time Flux, I could hopefully weather the storm of gauss fire Mike was bound to unleash. Those Skorpekhs, though, were potentially going to be a problem.

For my list, I ran:

CULT OF TIME PATROL:
Akhenatu Senoth (Exalted Sorceror)- Disk of Tzeentch, Prosperine khopesh, Athenaean Scrolls, Weaver of Fates, Tzeentch’s Firestorm, Immatrial Echo
Sectae Hasturos- 5 Rubric Marines w. soulreaper cannon, Icon of Flame, Sorceror w. Doombolt
Sectae Zhamat- 5 Rubric Marines w. soulreaper cannon, Icon of Flame, Sorceror w. Temporal Surge
Sectae Medea- 5 Rubric Marines w. 4 warpflamers, Icon of Flame, Pyric Flux

For my first week, I just went with Senoth and all my Rubric squads: not only did I want them to rank up as early as possible, but I was also hoping that 15 Rubric Marines would be a tough nut to crack that could still dish out decent firepower as well.

(Note: I think it’s worth mentioning as well that these games took place a few weeks before the Armour of Contempt update took place, so none of my Rubric Marines were reducing incoming AP any more than they normally were)

For the scenario, we randomly rolled and got Sweep and Clear. For our Agendas, I took Pursuit of Knowledge (as I wanted to start racking up Arcane points nice and early), while Mike took Supremacy Through Annihilation, going for the simple but effective route of trying to destroy my army.

THE BATTLE

Upon stepping through the arcane portal onto the soil of Vigilus, Senoth and his brothers found themselves not in the urban maze of Hyperia Hivesprawl, but near an abandoned mining complex in the southern polar region of Kaelac’s Bane. Unfortunately for them, the sheer amount of arcane power caused the portal to rupture, scattering its component focus pieces across the landscape. To make matters worse, they quickly found themselves immediately being advanced upon by a relentless legion of Necrons.

A phalanx of Necron Warriors advanced upon the Thousand Sons, with a Technomancer directing them from the back alongside a Canoptek Reanimator.
On the right flank, a trio of Skorpekh Destroyers seethed with barely contained rage as they hid behind an administrative building, waiting for their moment to pounce.

Senoth immediately took the initiative and ordered his forces into action. While Sanakht at the rear directed his Rubricae to begin searching for the shattered crystal foci needed to reactivate the portal, the other two Rubric squads moved up aggressively.

An intense firefight broke out in the center of the battlefield. Crackling witchfire and the strobing flashes of inferno bolt shells ripped into the Necron Warriors, tearing a great many of them off of their feet, although many still simply lurched back upright. Still, before long half of the Necrons had been felled.

The ensuing firefight was not completely one-sided, however, as one of Hasturos’ Rubricae was blasted down by accurate gauss fire.
Employing his own techno-arcane arts, the Technomancer activated the Veil of Darkness and teleported his Warriors further back. Yes more firepower lashed back at the Thousand Sons, with the Technomancer also firing searing rays from his Staff of Light.

Another three Rubricae were soon blasted down, leaving Hasturos on his own.

Undaunted, Hasturos employed his own magic to create a Time Flux, resurrecting one of his fallen brothers and advancing forward to reclaim another of the spell-foci needed to reopen the portal. The Technomancer quickly charged in to attempt to stop them, with the Reanimator stomping in alongside him. In the ensuing melee, the Technomancer was able to wound the resurrected Rubric Marine, piercing its armour with his Staff of Light, though Hasturos was able to wound the Necron in turn with his own force stave.

In response, Senoth advanced forward alongside Medea’s squad. Channeling his own spellcraft, Senoth smote down the Technomancer, and sundered many of the Necron Warriors with a Firestorm. The remaining Necron Warriors were soon annihilated by searing warpflame from Medea’s squad. The Skorpekh Destroyers at this point abandoned the spell-focus that they had been guarding and tried to join in the fray, but were out of range to charge, and were quickly torn to shreds by spellcraft and arcane firepower, with Zhamat’s squad finishing them off from a safe distance.

Alas, it was too late for Hasturos, as his remaining brother was quickly disintegrated by the Reanimator’s atomiser beams. Though Hasturos fought bravely, he was eventually felled, pierced through by one of the Reanimator’s claws. At this point, though, perhaps on some unknown command from its tomb complex, the Reanimator disappeared, leaving Hasturos bleeding but alive, and leaving the Thousand Sons in control of the battlefield.

RESULT: THOUSAND SONS VICTORY!

Thoughts: Well, my first game of the Crusade went fantastically according to plan. My durable Rubric squads were able to soak up the initial volleys of the Necrons, before returning fire in devastating fasion: Mike’s Necron Warriors were simply unable to stand up to all of my psychic attacks and massed AP -2 firepower, even with his resurrection protocols. Although he was eventually able to destroy Sectae Hasturos (after much effort), by then it was far too late. The fact that he kept his Skorpekh Destroyers back, holding one of his objectives, instead of charging forward aggressively only hastened his defeat. Those Skorpekhs were a very scary threat to my army, and had he been more aggressive with them, then the result probably would have been a lot closer. Either way, Mike was a great guy to play against, and his army was very well painted in the bargain.

BATTLE HONOURS

For winning this game, I was able to mark two units for greatness, rather than one: I decided to give the honours to both Senoth and Sectae Medea, both of whom did amazing work in this battle. As all three of my Rubric Squads had performed the Pursuit of Knowledge action, I elected to give the extra two experience points to Sectae Medea: this caused the squad to level up, and so I gave Medea the Psychic Might battle honour, so that she could cast Pyric Flux and still be able to cast Smite as well. To bolster that squad even further, I spent requisition to use the Aspiring Magister stratagem to give Medea the Incandaeum relic, to turn her force stave into dual-action hitting stick and flamethrower so that I could add yet more tasty autohits to the unit.

Senoth, meanwhile, had managed to kill a relic-bearing enemy character, and as such I was able to use the Path to Glory requisition to let him roll for a Chaos boon. He ended up getting Flesh Sigils for +1 wound. Not….great, but if it helps make him more survivable, then not bad either.

Finally, last but by no means least, because I had won the battle with Pursuit of Knowledge, and had a psyker kill both a character with a relic and a the enemy warlord, I earned 3 Arcane points from this battle. Three down, another twelve to go before I could get that nice looking Visions of Doom spell….

WEEK 2

FROM THE JOURNAL OF AKHENATU SENOTH, MAGISTER OF THE THOUSAND SONS

Our arrival upon Vigilus had nearly ended in disaster, for not only we we arrive thousands of miles south of our intended destination, in the frozen southlands of the planet– possibly an error in calculating translocation, but also possibly a simple quirk of fate– but, by happenstance, we found ourselves under attack by the legions of the Necrons upon our arrival. What the Necrons were doing on Vigilus, I cannot say: it is possible that there may be a tomb complex on the planet, or it could be that they had come to the world to fulfil some utterly alien objective. While I cannot speak to the motives of these xenos, we nonetheless managed to fend off their attack, shattering their metallic ranks with bolt and spell. I myself manage to incinerate one of their Cryptek-caste with a blaze from Mandragore’s Fifth Incantation, and as it died it dropped a small sphere of black obsidian. I have sent Hasturos back to the Silver Tower to study this sphere: hopefully the information contained within will be of use to us.

My fellow Sorcerors are in a jubilant mood now after this engagement. Medea, in particular, seems eager to take to the field once more: when I look at her through my witch-sight, I can see that her aura burns ever brighter now, a sign perhaps that her psychic potential has increased. Even as I write this, I must confess that I too have felt different ever since that battle. At first there was intense pain, like burning blades carving into my flesh under my armour…and now, I feel more fit and healthy than before. More importantly, I feel powerful. Ktesis tells me that the Changer has granted me a portion of his favour. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen: I know all too well that our patron deity’s favour often comes with a hidden cost.

In the meantime, we have recovered the foci necessary with which to rebuild the gateway, and not a moment too soon: we have received a psychic call for aid from the Storvahl hivesprawl. Apparently, there are cultis and bray-herds of the Changer still operating in the area and fighting hard against loyalist forces there. It is my understanding that the entire area suffered a massive arcane pyroclasm when the Neverborn of the Changer were unleashed there, so it surprises me that anything mortal can still be alive there. While I have no use for a bunch of groveling fanatics, Ktesis assures me that aiding these cultists will earn us further favour with the Changer and twist the skeins of fate further to our benefit. As much as it irks me to be distracted from our goal at Hyperia, I have nonetheless re-activated the gatway to deploy us to Storvahl. Hopefully, this business can be done quickly so we can return to the task at hand….

In the second week of the campaign, I was feeling pretty confident, with a win under my belt and some decent upgrades for some of my units. Going into my next game, I decided to switch things up a little, and allow some other units from my roster a chance to shine. I settle on the following:

CULT OF TIME PATROL:
Akhenatu Senoth- Exalted Sorceror w. Disk of Tzeentch, inferno bolt pistol, Prosperine khopesh, force stave, Atheneaen Scrolls, Tzeentch’s Firestorm, Immaterial Echo, Flesh Sigils
Sectae Medea- 5 Rubric Marines w. 4 warpflamers & Icon of Flame, Aspiring Sorceror w. Incandaeum, Pyric Flux, Psychic Might
Sectae Zhamat- 5 Rubric Marines w. soulreaper cannon & Icon of Flame, Aspiring Sorceror w. Temporal Surge
Children of T’Char- 10 Tzaangor w. brayhorn & herd banner
The Forgotten- Chaos Spawn
The Forsaken- Chaos Spawn

As a change of pace, I left one of my Rubric squads at home, and instead took a unit of (work in progress) Tzaangor and two (even more work in progress) Spawn. I figured that these units would give me some disposable chaff where I needed it: the Tzaangor could be relied on as cheap objectives, or as a screen for my more expensive Rubrics, while the two individual Spawn could be used to screen, to distract enemy firepower, and to hopefully tie up enemy shooting units or screen out enemy reserves. I didn’t expect much from any of these units, of course, but hopefully they would take some heat off of my more valuable Rubricae.

My opponent was Ivan, whose Tyranids I had faced in the escalation league a couple of years back and who this time was fielding his Altansar Eldar (though as he is not a fan of the current Altansar rules, he was fielding a custom Craftworld instead). He ran the following:

CRAFTWORLD ALTANSAR

CUSTOM CRAFTWORLD VANGUARD (Expert Crafters, Vengeful)
Autarch- Swooping Hawk wings, fusion pistol, Banshee power sword, mandiblasters
10 Guardians
5 Dire Avengers
5 Howling Banshees
5 Dark Reapers- Exarch w. Tempest launcher

All in all, a wide variety of Aspect Warriors, with a solid mix of firepower and close combat punch. I was surprised that he hadn’t put any powers on his Exarchs, nor any relics or warlord trait on his Autarch: Ivan explained to me that he is holding off on any such upgrades until this units perform well on the battlefield. As much as I admire Ivan’s commitment to fluff, I couldn’t help but feel that he was needlessly handicapping himself…

We randomly rolled on the scenario, and got Supply Drop. For Agendas, I once again took good old Pursuit of Knowledge, while Ivan went with Fight For The Future, which rewards experience for killing Chaos units (a very thematic choice for an Altansar army).

THE BATTLE:

Please pardon the in-progress Tzaangor and Chaos Spawn

Arriving at the burnt-out ruins of a refinery, the Thousand Sons found but a single herd of Tzaangor, who, when questioned, claimed to have never sent any call for aid. Even as the Thousand Sons conducted their search, however, shuriken fire began to whistle at them through the burning spires. Searching with his mind’s eyes, Senoth saw the lithe shapes of Aeldari flitting through the ruins towards them, approaching them with violent intent. It was then that he realized that they had been lured into a trap by the perfidious Craftworlders.

Note: the Dire Avengers had been placed into Strategic Reserve

The Altansar war-host moved swiftly into action, with their Dark Reapers moving forward while the Autarch flew over to direct their shots, the nearby Guardians sprinting alongside him to cover his advance. On the lower left flank, the Banshees held their position, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce upon the Chaos-tainted mon-keigh.

Splitting their fire with practiced ease, the Reapers, managing to spy Sectae Medea, fired starswarm missiles into the Tzaangor, and blasted apart seven of the stunned mutants. The Exarch then fired clusters of smaller missiles from his Tempest launcher to arc over the burning buildings, shredding one of the Rubricae from Sectae Medea. The damage done, the Reapers then used their battle focus to sprint back into the cover of the ruins.

In response, Sectae Medea strode forwards, with Senoth hovering behidn them to offer guidance, while further behind, the Tzaangor held onto the one objective, and Sectae Zhamat another, with the latter conducting a quick search for the information the host was after. Knowing that the Aeldar would try to thwart them, Senoth bolstered Sectae Medea with Weaver of Fates, while Medea herself cast a Time Flux to resurrect the slain Rubric Marine. Finally, the Spawn raced forward on either flank, the mindless, ghostly creatures eager to get to grips with their living foes.

In response, the Guardians moved up to bring their shuriken catapults to bear on the oncoming mon-keigh, and the Banshees sprinted forwards. With perfect timing, the Dire Avengers strode onto the battlefield, ready to aid their Guardian kin against the servants of the Dark Powers.

The air whistled with shuriken fire as the Dire Avengers of Altansar unleashed a glittering storm of metal into Sectae Medea, felling one of the Rubricae and spilling their dusty remains to the earth. The Dark Reapers once again split their fire, annihilating one of the Spawn with armour-piercing missiles, though their Tempest missiles failed to do any damage to the Rubric Marines and their Reaper launchers only managed to damage but not kill one of Sectae Zhamat. (Note: I used the Unwavering Phalanx stratagem to reduce all incoming damage by 1, and it greatly helped against the Reapers) Finally, the Guardians turned their own shuriken catapults onto the Spawn, dealing three wounds to the ghostly creature, though it drifted onwards, uncaring.

And then, uttering shrieks that paralyzed the souls of even the damned spirits of the Thousand Sons, the Howling Banshees came charging in. Blades flashed, and one Rubric Marine was sliced in twain, while Senoth himself took two deep wounds from the Exarch’s blade. Recovering quickly, though, Senoth swung back with his khopesh, bisecting one of the Banshees, while Medea and her Rubricae fought hard and clubbed down another two.

In response to the Aeldari’s aggression, the Spawn continued to lurch onwards, hungry for mortal flesh. Seeking to aid his fellow Sorcerors, Zhamat Smote the Banshees, annihilating both of them in warpfire. Still disoriented by the dying shrieks of Aspect Warriors, Senoth nonetheless unleashed his arcane vengeance upon them, Smiting and casting the Firestorm upon the Guardians and searing away many with warpfire, before resurrecting one of Sectae Medea with a Time Flux. Medea, for her part, unleashed a Smite of her own, vaporizing yet more Guardians and leaving only one standing.

And then the guns of the Thousand Sons spoke: the last Guardian could only cry in terror before he was incinerated by Medea’s warpflamers, while the guns of Zhamat’s squad pulped down all but two of the Dire Avengers from long range.

Those last two Dire Avengers were then charged and torn limb from limb by the Spawn.

Seeing the situation deteriorating rapidly, the Autarch of the Altansar warhost resolved to end this personally, flying up to confront the Thousand Sons.

Elsewhere, the Dark Reapers, drawn to the scent of death on the wind, raced forward to claim their objective and to once again bring their missile launchers to bear.

Though the Aeldari warhost was much reduced, their firepower was no less formidable, as the Reapers split their fire, blasting apart one of Sectae Medea and annihilating the Spawn, though their Tempest missiles once again failed to harm Sectae Zhamat. The Autarch raised his fusion pistol and vaporized another of Medea’s Rubrics, before raising his glimmering blade and swooping down upon both Senoth and the Tzaangor.

The Autarch was a dizzyingly fast warrior, decapitating two Tzaangor in the time it took to blink, before turning and slicing another two wounds into Senoth. Breathing heavily, Senoth nonetheless fought hard, catching the Autarch with a slamming blow from his force stave that dealt two wounds back. The last Tzaangor tried to aid his master, but his clumsy blows missed the lightning-fast Aeldari.

Despite their losses, the Thousand Sons pressed onward. The last Tzaangor cravenly abandoned the fight to go hold onto the objective, leaving Senoth fighting the Autarch one on one. Sectae Medea advanced forward, and Zhamat’s squad edged forward to give them some much needed support.

Medea once again cast a Time Flux to revive one of her dead comrades, while Zhamat cast a Temporal Flux to propel Medea’s squad further forward, putting them onto the Aeldar’s home objective. Finally, Senoth brought a premature end to his duel against the Autarch, raising his hand an obliterating him with a Firestorm at point blank range.

Finally, the warpflamers of Medea’s squad blazed to life, enveloping the Dark Reapers in twisting, mutating warpflame that incinerated them utterly, not even leaving their spirit stones behind. And with that, the ruins descended to silence once more, as the Aeldari attackers had been utterly annihilated.

RESULT: THOUSAND SONS VICTORY!

Thoughts: Well, that went much better than expected! When I first went into the battle, I was a little apprehensive, as I had not yet faced the new Eldar and had heard that some of their revamped units (particularly Howling Banshees and Dark Reapers) were quite difficult for Marine armies to deal with. As it turns out, though, All Is Dust, invulnerable saves, and repeated castings of Time Flux allowed me to weather the worst that Ivan could throw at me. In exchange, my firepower, and more importantly psychic might, enabled me to casually wipe Ivan’s units off the board: at the time, I was starting to suspect that Thousand Sons might be a bit too powerful at 25 power level, but then I had yet to run into some of the more powerful armies in the league.

BATTLE HONOURS

For my Battle Honours, I was able to give Sectae Zhamat Battle-Hardened, enabling them to shoot while performing actions, which was sure to be useful given how often I had them performing the Pursuit of Knowledge agenda. Senoth himself, meanwhile, leveled up as well, and I took the opportunity to give him the Thrallmaster honour, which would enable him to automatically know the spells of any other Sorceror within 9″ of him– meaning that if I got his positioning right, he could become a very versatile spellcaster indeed. Of course, I also wanted to give him another Chaos Boon, so after spending the Beseech the Changer of Ways requisition I rolled and got Favoured By Fate– a very handy boon that would allow him to reroll a save, hit roll, wound roll or damage roll once per turn.

With two wins under my belt in just as many weeks, I felt reasonably confident going forward into this Crusade…though little did I know much harder matchups were to come….

Also, as a quick bonus, here are some of pics of the other armies involved in weeks 1 and 2 of the Crusade:

A noble Ultramarine Captain, finding himself surrounded by ghostly Traitor Marines…
Space Wolves and Orks clash in the middle of a fortress, with a Redemptor Dreadnought duelling a Squigasaur-riding Beastboss
More of those Orks, which were probably one of the best painted armies of the Crusade.

Below Senoth, roiling clouds of smoke and dust now choked the battle zone, obscuring much of the battle save for the crisscrossing blue strobes of gunfire– Senoth noted that there was an elegant, starry twinkle to the Aeldari’s shuriken traces that set them apart from the hungry blue flames of his brothers’ ensorcelled rounds. Through his autosenses, however, he could pick out the battle as clean as day: his ashen brothers were advancing relentlessly on the Aeldari, shrugging off their palty fire as they blasted them apart in return with inferno rounds and with spellfire. All resistance before their advance was crumbling, and as he watched, Medea’s squad strode over the blackened husks of what used to be a squad of Guardians, crushing the Aeldari remains underfoot as they marched towards the Aeldari’s Reaper aspects.

Whatever victory the Aeldari might have glimpsed in the strands of fate, that prophecy was now coming undone. This little ambush of theirs had cost them dearly, and unless the aliens’ Autarch had been content to sacrifice dozens of kin to fulfil his objective, then–

MASTER, LOOK OUT

Medea’s psychic warning screamed into Senoth’s skull just in time: in the corner of his eye, he saw a winged shape, moving as blindingly fast as a hummingbird, suddenly zip below him, a glittering blade casually bisecting a pair of Tzaangor, before that winged shape came arrowing up straight at him. Swearing, he mentally propelled his Disk to the side, the daemonic construct swerving to the side just as a shape– a blur of magenta, azure and silver– shot up past him. A blade that would have taken his head still sliced across his left forearm, biting deep into the bone as it made a mockery of his armour. The suddenness of the attack was enough to cause Senoth’s hand to open involuntarily, sending his staff falling from deadened nerves as he bit back a cry of pain.

The Autarch did not relent: its wings were a blur of motion as it corkscrewed around in midair and came at him again, forcing Senoth to respond in kind as he drew his khopesh. The two aerial combatants darted, spun and angled in the air like duelling fighter craft, and every time they came close to one another, silvered wraithbone would meet gold-edged Prosperine steel as their blades clashed again and again.

Senoth was an Astartes: he had been given some of the greatest weapons training known to humankind, and had refined it through centuries of warfare…and yet, all the same, he struggled to keep up with the Autarch’s sheer speed and skill. In the blink of an eye, the Autarch was gone: his sixth senses screaming danger, Senoth spun in midair, just in time to see the Autarch behind him, levelling its arcane pistol at him. Swearing, Senoth threw up a kine-shield, just in time to deflect a superheated ray of energy that shot from that pistol, momentarily blinding even his gen-hanced senses as the incandescent heat met the blazing power of the shield.

Too late, Senoth realized it had been a feint: with his vision still compensating, he saw the Autarch suddenly lunge forward. He brought his blade up too late to deflect, and the next thing he knew, a good thirty five inches of curved silver blade stabbed through his abdomen, punching out of his armoured back. A ragged gasp escaped his throat, and he felt blood at the back of that throat. His fighter’s instincts kicked in, and he tried to shoot an elbow at the Autarch, to pulp its skull in with one good blow, but the alien flitted away quickly, moving to a safe distance from Senoth. From here, he could the plumes of its helm fluttering from the backdraft of its glittering wingbeats, the lenses of its helm glaring with icy contempt at him.

And then, in the blink of an eye, it darted forward again, impossible to follow, with only the faintest impression of its blade raised for a finishing blow–

–followed by a sickening crunch, both of wraithbone and of the Autarch’s actual bones, as Senoth’s staff came flying in from the side, impacting with the Autarch like a javelin. The blow sent the Autarch spinning downwards like a dazed fly, crashing into the ceiling of a ruined hab. Taking a deep, bloody breath, Senoth let the levitating staff return to his hand, the ancient artefact answering his telekinetic summons. The Aeldari weren’t the only one with tricks up their sleeve, he thought ruefully.

And then, without a second thought, he pointed his staff down at the hab block below him, muttered Hazeqa’s Incantation of the Ninefold Firestorm, and annihilated the entire building in an explosion of blue flame. He did not see the winged shape escape the blaze.

With the death of their Autarch, Senoth saw the last of the Aeldari break into a retreat, leaving a great number of their host dead behind them. We’re done here, he sent the telepathic message to the rest of the thrallband, even as he started to close his wounds with a minor healing cantrip. He glanced down at the Tzaangor, who were giving out jubilant avian shrieks at the azure blaze that he had just started, raising their primitive weapons as they chanted one of the Changer’s many names. Gather them up and take them with us, they might be useful.

He turned his gaze back across the ruined landscape of Storvahl, and grimaced. Somewhere on this wasteland of a planet, he knew, there was ancient knowledge waiting to be taken. If he had to fight almost every single one of the armies fighting over this desolate rock, he swore, including the thrice-blasted Aeldari, then he would do so, and woe to anyone who dared to get in his way…

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