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post #11 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-01-20, 04:06 AM Thread Starter
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The fleet of Elva, along with its auxiliaries (Imperial Army and otherwise), regathered at the barycenter of the Jummi binary star system, one day too late.

The withdrawal from the Red Pit had been orderly, and bereft of violence. The vespid had kept their truce. Varald wasn't reassured by that by any account, but it was what it was. But Elva'd had some splinters, and more importantly, there'd been Warp lag because of a whole lot of maleficarum everywhere in the galaxy. From the Navigators' words the Emperor wasn't doing it on purpose, and in fact was probably trying to smooth it down so that his own fleets could get through. But that was the thing - when you called up maleficarum, you couldn't get rid of it just like that. You and everyone else were stuck with it, for better or for worse, and it was usually the worse. It was perhaps somewhat of a relief that even the Emperor's power couldn't cheat that.

But on these waves it meant that they had to wait for each other and find each other, and while they were doing that they missed the Wolf King's muster.

They'd received word during transit, that the Vlka Fenryka would strike at a growing hrud threat to the galactic east of Ultramar. But the way time went in the Immaterium, especially now, when the Warp was the most dangerous it'd been in a century, the first message had come too late, and for all Varald knew the second could've come too early. But in the end Leman Russ had grown bored of waiting for them, and maybe their own astropathic message had been lost, and one way or another -

One day before they were due to set course for Macragge, at the barycenter of the Jummi system, the word came that they were to remain in the greater Ultramar area, to pursue targets at their own discretion.

"In other words," Ve, thegn of Varald's Varagyr, spat, "we've been left behind."

Ve was indisputably right, and though Varald was somewhat more phlegmatic about the matter, it was still trouble. There was no shortage of fronts to lend their strength to, but it was also a perfect moment for any treachery to rear its head, or for a more honest challenge of leadership. And their orders were no constraint, because they were next to nonexistent.

So Varald had extra soundproofing installed, to allow the crew some sleep, and then called a thing of three dozen to chart their course.

The mjod flowed freely, and so did the words. The mjod was of substantially better quality. Varald stayed quiet at first, as did Vili, and the men who spoke were those who did not care to hear either of their words before offering their own. Some of the ideas were feasible, some were logical, and some had strategic value. None fit all three criteria.

One such proposal that came up especially often, Varald had to chop down himself. "The Primarch told us not to follow him," he said, "and he did so for a reason. It's not like he's broadcasting his strategy for the whole galaxy to hear, and the intelligence we have now is months out of date. So we'd have to find the fleet before we could join up - else acting on our own, we'd do more harm than good. Scare the beast away and such. And given how long that took last time, the campaign will be done before we get there."

That settled that, but the supply of youths with more enthusiasm than sense was vast. Vaster than Vili's patience, it turned out.

"Enough," Varald's second eventually said, standing up. "Enough! Before we rush to kill ourselves on new snow, let's reminisce for a bit. At the very least, let's remember the last damned battle we fought. Let's remember the Red Pit, and whatever happened there. Because I haven't seen that sort of absurdity anywhere in the Verse."

Varald inclined his head in query. He had to restrain himself not to do more, because his hearts were pumping quite furiously. Vili had agreed to the negotiations, and he'd had nothing at all to say during the evacuation.

But it turned out that Varald had been right to hold his tongue, because it wasn't Varald that Vili was flame-goaded by. "The vespid changed behavior completely," Vili said. "I know we all say xenos are unpredictable, but from wave tactics to stealing our communications in a day?"

"It was a long day," Anchi put in, stroking his beard.

"They adapted their tactics," Bjalmaal said. "Plenty of xenos do that. Most of them aren't mindless."

"But the negotiation? Out of nowhere? With confusion about why we were even fighting?" Vili shook his head, his blond mane tangling. "Something happened. And it so happens that two Terran days earlier, the Ultramarines began excavation of a vast xeno artifact on Sotha. And during transit, the rune priests picked up an indistinct psychic signal, of xeno origin, from Sotha."

Varald closed his eyes for several seconds before opening them again. But no - he was fairly certain he had heard correctly, though why Vili was veering the conversation into some xeno ruin he had no idea about.

But there was still chatter about the words, from the Terrans especially. Uproar, even. And Varald had to admit that the Ultramarines digging up and, apparently, using xeno artifacts was... bizarre, at the least. Maleficarum was, as they all knew, no laughing matter. And even aside from this, xeno technology had a fashion of backfiring on those who tried to use it at the worst moment. Even the Mechanicum avoided xenotech, and with cause.

"This doesn't sound like Guilliman," Varald said.

"It's true," Vili said, and began supplying the evidence.

It was a detailed story, and it gave Varald time to think. He didn't think this obsession was any sort of play by Vili. By all accounts, his lieutenant was genuinely concerned about what the Ultramarines might unleash, and had been even before the Red Pit. But while Vili sounded half-deranged on the topic, there was a reason a lot of the thegns were nodding along. Even if it was one chance in a hundred that this was as bad as it sounded, it still sounded very bad.

And Elva needed to resupply first, regardless. Visiting Eastern Ultramar on a mission of investigation, rather than war, would give time for that as well.

And the shift in the vespid had been strange.

"Vili," Varald said, standing up, "the Ultramarines are our brother Legion. We watch them, but we should not cast aspersion onto their light without good cause."

"And is this not good cause?" Vili interrupted. The Wolves at the tables rumbled, most of them sounding in agreement with Vili. Varald smiled.

"To fight our cousins, no. Any such decision must be made by the primarchs. But to gather information for the eyes of the Wolf King? That is another matter entirely."

Varald scanned the thegns as he spoke, watching for reaction. The decision to go to Sotha was obvious, and with both him and Vili in agreement none would question it. But Varald's greater concern was not for Guilliman's loyalty, but that of his men.

What he saw did not comfort him. Doubt, above all else. Tears in the pack's fabric. Had he said no, would they have followed Vili to Sotha regardless? And would they have come to uncover truths, or to cut threads?

Edges, that they were all balancing on. And at their pace, those edges would soon narrow to vertices, sea stacks amidst hurricanes.

"I am sure," Varald continued, "that there is some reason behind the Ultramarines' actions that Vili has not found. But they should have informed us, even so." He spoke of his reasoning, and Vili clarified his, making clear that he had never meant to attack the Thirteenth - and more likely than not it was truth too.

But even so, as the fleet of Elva reorganized itself before the Mandeville point to dive into the Warp, as the Navigators and Astropaths steeled their wills and the crews brought in supplies from planetside, Varald Helsdawn felt less like a jarl of the Vlka Fenryka and more like a hounded outlaw.

In the last hour before their departure into the Hel owned by their foes, guided by the tainted light of Terra, Jarl Varald Helsdawn left command of the fleet to Shipmaster Quistalllar, walked up to the golden bridge, and watched diverging lights. The primary sun of Jummi - not that the difference between the two stars was any more than marginal - hung only slightly above the artificial horizon, as if either rising or setting. Above it, dazzling with its glare, the Thermaik Lensers and a dozen other units of the Imperial Army, under General Mosei Rivabar, flew west to the defense of Accatran. A squadron outside the windows' field of view targeted Konor with that information which was too sensitive to entrust to astropaths. And the Eleventh Great Company of the Vlka Fenryka, the brightest lights sprinkled throughout the surrounding sphere, made for Sotha.

And as the shutters rolled up in preparation for Warp transit, eclipsing the sun from below, Varald wondered how much longer those ship-fires would shine for.

Renegades Saga contributions
The Emperor has turned to Chaos. The dream of the Imperium has become a nightmare. But Horus and his Coalition stand against the dark, here at the end of time.

Lorgar's Betrayal
What was broken has been mended. And what was burned away can never be reforged.
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post #12 of 13 (permalink) Old 02-01-20, 04:09 AM Thread Starter
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Akalix-ztu-Liminality 'returned to the homeworld as she had left :bel. Despairing yet active'. Doomed' yet proud.

A species' last stand: the perfect' sky to inscribe with its soul'. That was not to say she was unaware of the tragedy.

The skies' were 'bright. They were actinic: they were always' actinic. It was the mark of the homeworld. A thousand other worlds had skies of a hundred hues. None were actinic. Tezth-vesp-Enlightenment had written of it as the essence of their 'species. Akalix vacillated between raging at Tezth's extremism and wondering whether the philosopher might have despised what her 'words had become. Tezth had never claimed to be a prophet. Her books were worshiped regardless.

The orbital traffic had been less than she had expected. Perhaps it was because of the difficult conditions of the Immaterium - but those vagaries did not explain why :peuk and :ivdd had more traffic than :vesp for the first time in her memory. She supposed her path had been deliberately 'cleared. As 'bright a sign as the sky': Akalix did not 'demand recognition but could not deny it pleased her. Perhaps the Senate-vesp-Empire had for once understood.

The ports above :peuk and :ivdd were on the other side of the homeworld. Most of its area was divided between them. But :vesp was visible even from planetocentric orbit. Not for its skies: for what was below them.

The skies' were always' actinic. But what lay below them was here alone not actinic but 'delicate tessellations of red-cryonal. By the standards of :ztu :vesp could be called the lone 'continent of the homeworld. Lepkats-vesp-Equanimity had taken that as an 'insult when Akalix had so told her. It had not been meant as one.

Grids' and pentagons' resolved into cliffs and towers and caverns. The lander slowed down as its walls faded to mid-vitan from the reddish calorific of reentry. Akalix did not delay her arrival for the sake of drama: she was feeling generous. And perhaps impatient.

She jumped from the open hatch and soared'.

Her honour guard fluttered after her. Eighty-one vespid aligned in a perfect' parallelepiped. The air was still thin here and her breath hitched in her mouth. Cold' too: they were nearly in the stratosphere. It was the boundary of the possibility of flight and that of life.

Boundaries were beginnings and endings both. Tezth-vesp-Enlightenment had written that as well. Akalix memorized those words as always and as always did not take them to heart. In some ways it was irrefutable that this was an ending.

In all the ways that mattered it was a beginning.

They 'dove in formation. Some athletes would have been impressed by the coordination. Akalix-ztu-Liminality chose her honour guard for the appearance of 'efficiency as much as its verity. Thin lines became fractal' growths'. Illusions became 'shadows. The delegation that greeted her became visible. It was dust at first. They were fewer in number than she had expected and many were standing rather than hovering but her concern did not last long. They were few in number but not in glory.

The 'illustrious Senate-vesp-Empire was gathered in full number and regalia.

They did not stand as a formation: they instead seemed a mundane' crowd from afar. Military discipline was not their way'. There were those among the generals who resented that. Akalix had spent enough time among them to know better. The Senate had many flaws but their disorder was not among them. Their organization was in many ways even more constraining than that of her own subordinates.

Knowledge was power. With power a vespid could do anything. But with knowledge a vespid understood when they had no genuine choice. A principle of Thlezq-peuk-Wisdom: a scholar too nearly forgotten on the homeworld but influential on :ztu. A younger Akalix-ztu-Liminality had been among those who took his writings for holy writ. But Wisdom-peuk-Thlezq was like any ideology too neat to describe the world. Too monist: everything reduced' to a singular 'root. And she was Akalix-ztu-Liminality and not Akalix-ztu-Thlezqism.

Past choices: not salient today. Past mistakes: more irrelevant still.

Marshal of the Empire Akalix-ztu-Liminality landed on her clawtips before the Senate-vesp-Empire. Her words were measured with only the most ethereal overtone' of doomed grandeur.

"Victory: we have 'defended :bel from the humans with substantial but nonterminal loss of productive capacity. But a more unsettling victory I have never won."

Most of the Senate looked upon her as a conquering' hero'. It was the first time: before she had always been above all a 'mad (if 'brilliant) barbarian' to them. The mood even reached the glare of Tsaivaits-vesp-Coherence: respectful for once despite being as cynical as ever. Somehow she was pleased by that despite having decided long ago that the opinion of Tsaivats meant nothing to her. Some of the senators still had hateful 'gazes: the faction of Gzahaseuth-ivdd-Purity. But that meant nothing without a majority. Gzahaseuth had many flaws but she would never try to exploit loopholes' or send assassins. She was true to her concept-name in its 'honour as well as its foolishness'.

Tsaivats spoke first as she always did.

"We are impressed by your victory regardless of its unconventional nature. But to call it unsettling is a grievous' understatement. If the humans truly are disguised and genocidally criminal' vespid I would ask you your intent against this threat'."

To go straight to business was unheard-of for Tsaivats. Akalix delayed the questioning of her good fortune and of the decision not to receive her publicly. Instead upon entering the Grotto-vesp-Parliament she discussed her plans for the desperate defense of the Empire. She took care to emphasize the centrality of the homeworld: though most of the population was no longer on it the tally was close. The 'static defenses she had once thought absurdly overwrought capped the matter. It was not even politics: if it had been the choice would have been a harder one thousandfold.

But the response of the Senate-vesp-Empire was not as satisfied as she had expected. Even the Empress upon her throne did not seem reassured. While the Imperial Family had lost decision-shaping power long ago their retained privileges provided a ghost' of influence' still: to advise if not to legislate in a 'curious inversion. And it was the Empress that interjected first.

"You do not expect to win a war against the humans."

"I believe we have a chance. But the disparity in force is extraordinary. Anyone that promises certain victory is lying: victory will require a miracle."

Tsaivaits was the one to respond. Her hum was thrice mournful'.

"Then it is as we thought after all. Defeat with extinction or victory with worse. I thank Akalix-vesp-Liminality for her service and call this session closed."

Confusion: Akalix realized her 'read had been false but had no clue to the true one. She was 'afloat in 'unexplored 'skies.

Put more concisely: what the 'hell?!

She approached Glitsalx-ztu-Destiny to ask directly. The senior representative of :ztu had in many ways been a political mentor to Akalix. There were no senators she could consider true friends: such assumptions were too dangerous in multiple directions. But Glitsalx was both more trustworthy and more knowledgeable than most.

Her verdict was simple. "Despair': they do not believe we can win."

"What difference does that make? You may send better negotiators if you wish. I do not expect them to succeed but I will be overjoyed if they did."

"No." Glitsalx's eyes seemed cloudy for the first time Akalix had seen her. "They do not blame' you and do not believe another could do better. What better negotiators do we have? We have thought ourselves united for so long.... You may well be the best we have."

"The best we have?" Akalix looked at Glitsalx askance. "If I were the best we had the Senate-vesp-Empire would not hate me."

"You are young and from the colonies and not yet a queen. It was inevitable half of :vesp would hate you. It is astonishing the other half does not."

Glitsalx's mention of queenhood echoed past conversations. She had been among those who had encouraged Akalix to undertake that 'metamorphosis. In earliest history the chieftain of a tribe had been a queen who could prevent any competitors from metamorphosing and bearing children. That prejudice' was long since gone: unenforceable' by the time the world was circumnavigated'. But it was still expected that leaders would be queens or in extreme cases males.

Except Akalix was a soldier. Metamorphosis would make her a marginally less effective fighter and margins were everything in war. And she was also still younger than her own mother had been upon her birth.

But now Glitsalx seemed not to care about that or about anything else. Her 'timbre was not despairing: it was apathetic. "They believe that we will all die and speak of accepting their fate. They are fools: every generation thinks its crisis will be fatal." And now Glitsalx turned to Akalix with anger in her 'eyes. "You caused this. The humans are not disguised vespid: you misidentified them. They are no threat. But your nonsense has been leaked and believed. The humans could never have destroyed the Empire but your words may have done just that."

Akalix burned with fury: surely resignation' to fate could not have been the majority response? Surely :vesp had more 'fight in it than that? But her trust was refuted when she looked up into the sky.

The sky' was still 'bright and still actinic. But the most striking thing about it was that it was empty'.

The world was cowering.

Not all of it. As Akalix headed towards the Fortress-vesp-Convergence she saw signs of other reactions. Some disbelieved the news and pretended nothing was amiss. There were signs of looting by those who had decided to take advantage of the situation. But for the most part the tunnels' were empty.

The Grotto-vesp-Parliament housed the government of :vesp and sat at the center of the great sky-isle's surface. The Fortress-vesp-Convergence housed its military command and was placed in the center of its interior. It was an icosahedron whose entrances were in the main secret and nearly impossible to find. The exception: twelve perfectly straight shafts from its vertices to the ends of the Platform-vesp-:vesp. They were each runway and cannonbore both.

The design was deliberate: the Fortress-vesp-Convergence could only threaten external threats. There were other strongpoints for internal ones which did not hold 'apocalyptic weaponry. Its nickname was the Argument-vesp-Last. It was not well-maintained enough at the moment to earn that title. But there was 'still 'time.

There were long lines at the recruitment posts. They saluted as they saw the Marshal. In their expressions were anger' and determination': not everyone had given up.

It was a relief. There were others who understood. And in the Fortress itself there was also no sign of surrender. Panic was another matter: Akalix had to instruct the security personnel not to rush through the checks. The procedures were there for good reason.

The generals had her report already. Twelve in total: Akalix made thirteen. Kethits-eu-Columnar: the youngest. Her way was deliberate action and a heavy reliance on scouting. Tsagth-vesp-Eternity: a scion of the :vesp nobility who was nevertheless unerringly competent if orthodox'. Thlezq-vesp-Defiance: the maverick who had alienated her noble family and whose talent might have gone unnoticed if the enemies of said family had not supported her career out of 'spite. Kith-ivdd-Unbroken: a master of defensive warfare with a way of remaining calm regardless of circumstances. Lashch-spol-Inimitable and Lishch-spol-Argument: fearless sisters who complemented each other in rapid offensive operations. Sezeux-bas-Tesselate: unmatched in logistics and in rapidly adapting to shifting' circumstances. Lix-ztu-Imperial: a disciplinarian capable of working together with any of the others excellently. Pivabax-vesp-Beyond and Tsael-kabb-Coordinates: masters of void warfare with a healthy rivalry with each other. Sotholts-vesp-Instant: perhaps the most brilliant of them all if also the most taciturn. She had been considered for the post of Marshal but had turned it down for Akalix's favor because she did not consider herself 'suited to it. Her style was normally orthodox but on three occasions she had made the sort of maneuver that made Akalix wonder if she was an artificial intelligence. And Azz-peuk-Elemental: the oldest of them and the only one who had worked her way up through the ranks in full. She had an 'intuitive experience of life in the ranks and past battles that often trumped youthful brilliance.

There were twenty-two vespid in the galaxy Akalix-ztu-Liminality trusted with her life (not counting herself). Twelve of them were in this room.

"So." Lix spoke first as was her way. "We await apocalyptic' war and the Senate has surpassed even its previous ceiling of uselessness. What do we do?"

Akalix laid out her plans in greater detail. As she did so she took in the mood of the room. The underlying rhythm was desperation. The more concerning one was madness. Lix and Pivabax especially seemed like they had passed through despair and panic into sheer' insanity. But it was Thlezq who spoke out first.

"This is too conservative. We cannot defeat the full force of the galaxy with this."

Akalix couldn't argue with that. "Not unless the scientists overturn everything. Preferably several times.... But in that case we cannot defeat the full force of the galaxy at all."

"Precisely." Thlezq leaned forward. "Which is why we must discard' everything except the chance of victory."

Kith spoke up. "The Senate are afraid of precisely that. They worry that the means by which we would win would make defeat preferable."

"They're also spooked about Warp travel for some reason." Azz affected a beat of frustration. "I think they don't remember what it was like a century ago. To say nothing of a millennium.... The present storms are a 'divot on an improving graph."

"More than a 'divot. But we can work around it." Tsael's suggestions veered the discussion back toward concrete strategy. They needed a miracle to win but a miracle would not be enough in itself.

They reached agreement on some things and disagreement on others. There remained a crack in the question of what could be funded. They needed a technological breakthrough of some sort: vast sums of vespid and resources were the only known means of making that happen. But that was the Senate's decision.

"We must discard' all save the chance of victory." Thlezq repeated his earlier statement in a more reserved tone. "Marshal. If the Senate stands in the way of the survival of us all...."

"Are you suggesting a coup?" Sezeux seemed curious rather than outraged. In fact no one seemed outraged. They should have been: perhaps Akalix's 'spites had infected them too much. Was this what the Senate had seen in her? (She knew it wasn't. They didn't give her that much credit.)

"A coup is not enough." Lix seemed to almost be discharging electricity'. "It is a beginning but only that. We are in the abyss' now. We must discard morality and tradition. Only victory matters. The 'humans' have shown us that much: they are monsters by our standards. Perhaps that is why they rule the galaxy."

Akalix knew from the responding hums that most of the generals did not agree with Lix. But she suspected they could all be swayed.

All but her.

"There will be no coup." Akalix let righteousness' and duty fill the lower frequencies and left the highest to silence'. She did not address Lix's further statements: she hoped that Lix herself would regret them. "We are sworn to protect the Empire rather than rule it. Temporary dictatorship has many problems. In this case it is not even a matter of a brief crisis. We have years and may even have generations. And it is a crisis with no clear ending: any victory would be defensive."

Sotholts spoke up for the first time. "But neither of those are your main reason."

Her words were true. Nonetheless it took Akalix a long pause to understand why.

"It is likely that this is our last flare." She swept her eyes' over the room and let her tones detune' from one another for a moment before bringing them back together. "Make no mistake: victory' is improbable at best. And who we are in this moment when we know our end defines us as a species. It defines the legacy of :vesp! Are we fools' to refuse to believe in an enemy? Are we cae-beasts' to offer no resistance to the butcher? Are we cowards' to throw our comrades in harm's way so we can leave one more moment?"

Akalix closed all her eyes as she thought of the way her species had come. Images of the past swam through her mind as she continued to speak of the future.

"Or are we soldiers' that remain true to our loyalty to the end? Not loyalty to the Senate. Not even loyalty to the Empire. Loyalty to its vespid and its ideals! To the people that are terrified yet still form geographically long queues before the recruitment centers! To the dreams' that united us and guided us through the stars'!"

She stopped. She opened her eyes'. She heard the rhythms.

They understood. They all understood.

Lix apologized for her words. But Akalix understood them now: they had not been in the same place after all. There was always a 'temptation to simplify the future: to look at 'eternity alone. Lix had been more prone to it than she.

Thlezq accepted that Akalix was right. But he did not apologize. He spoke contemplatively and plainly.

"You're right about what we must do. I understand that now." He looked as if through Akalix: upwards into the endless void' above. "But I am not certain the Senate will."

Akalix answered in the only way that could save them now: with the truth.

"In these cycles I am not certain of anything. And yet that makes no difference at all."

Renegades Saga contributions
The Emperor has turned to Chaos. The dream of the Imperium has become a nightmare. But Horus and his Coalition stand against the dark, here at the end of time.

Lorgar's Betrayal
What was broken has been mended. And what was burned away can never be reforged.
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Awakening from the sleep of eons was a strange sensation. To be fair, Overlord Thoekh would probably have been disappointed if it had been otherwise. What was the point of unlife without odd experiences? (To be sure, Thoekh preferred when such experiences were not life-threatening. But it wasn't like the Great Sleep was anywhere near his decision to make, and he had survived anyway.)

Consciousness came back discretely. It was as if he was stepping up a ladder of awareness. First came agony, then consciousness, then memory, and only after a long while were his full faculties restored. Because his sense of time was one of the last parts thereof to boot, he couldn't say how long that time was.

It apparently wasn't as long as it felt, though, because upon awakening he perceived command diagrams signaling he was the first Overlord of the dynasty to awake. Technically, he was therefore acting Phaeron for a time. There were protocols to prevent him from seizing control of the entire Dynasty, but they were imperfect: there was a window of opportunity to make himself Phaeron permanently.

Thoekh did consider it, briefly - he'd never been all that honorable a person. But it was the sort of thing that, if it didn't go perfectly right, would get him executed at best. The expected result... well, Phaeron Chatezk had many positive qualities, but mercy had never been one of them, even by necrontyr standards.

And regardless, hacking of that sort was less absolute than it had been. Thoekh could even feel the missing chains in his awareness, though he found it nigh-impossible to describe how.

The Silent King had fulfilled his final promise, and abdicated his throne. The command protocols were gone.

"Cryptek Amsekhat," Thoekh ordered as he walked the still mostly dark halls of Bardic. "Report on the status of the Tombs."

The report was more or less that there was nothing to report. Everything was nominal, and nothing was ruined. Well, apart from Tomb Scaekth, but that tomb's location had always been precarious, which was exactly why Thoekh had given it to Motar. Treason deserved that type of reward. That Motar was still active was almost a disappointment.

There was one irregularity, though, which Amsekhat had either not noticed or not commented on. "The chronometers claim we're a few millennia early."

"A patina on the megayears we slept... of course, that doesn't explain why we awoke."

The answer, it quickly turned out, was a signal coming from outside the galaxy, carrying the mark of an authority that stunned Thoekh. He had thought the Silent King would either sleep with his former people or wander off to die alone. Certainly, he had assumed that he had triggered the Great Sleep out of madness rather than genius: why so long a time? Millennia, tens of millennia at most, would have been reasonable. Not tens of megayears.

But somehow Szarekh still lived, and now he called to the necrons to follow him once more, out of free will rather than programmed obedience. To save the galaxy and perhaps the universe from a prophesied End. An iron dawn, to avoid final dusk.

Thoekh had thought to spend a while on Bardic, because they had such time now, which once they had yearned for. But now, it was clear that would not do. So he gave only brief commands to his court, and then walked through the Eternity Gate to Charn.

Charn - the eponymous crownworld of the Charnovokh Dynasty, the Paradise In Oblivion. It formed a ternary system with the other two coreworlds: Charn and Thumn orbited around a common center of gravity, while distant and small Rynalt orbited them both. The system did not have a star, and spun past the edge of the main galactic disk. Perhaps the worlds had been exiled from their original system by orbital dynamics, or perhaps they had formed like this in situ; the necrontyr had found them like this, and the crypteks had never managed to ascertain their origin. Rynalt was made a fleet base and center of martial industry. Thumn was given over to scholarship, along with the more precise engineerings. And Charn was made, besides the seat of government, a garden world, the Phaerons of that time seeking to imitate the Old Ones in shaping life.

They came nowhere near, but it was clear even from the central chamber of Charnovokh Prime Tomb that the life they had created had lasted. There were mats of black plants matting many surfaces, absorbing the machinery's sparse infrared radiation to fuel their growth. Thoekh did not recognize the species; evolution had far greater a part in its creation than his ancestors' engineering, after sixty megayears. But it had at least not harmed the Tomb's function. Other plant types were rather more aggressive, and Thoekh was forced to call in supporting troops to remove them from the central region of the Tomb. One Warrior was even forced to reconstitute.

Given this infestation, Charn's awakening was slowed. So it was that as minutes became hours and hours became days, it was the other colonial Overlords that arrived, with their guard. They were many, for Charnovokh had always had many weak worlds rather than a few strong ones - a strategy coincidentally well-suited to the Great Sleep. Thoekh greeted them with the news of Szarekh's summons, and allowed himself some petty pleasures at temporarily commanding them. Phaeron Chatezk's awakening would certainly put a stop to that, but Chatezk also would not care what Thoekh had done in the interim, so long as he fulfilled his duty.

Most of them were unchanged; some were not. Byreaul was the worst of them, switching regularly between his full faculties and a personality obsessed with exterminating all exoskeletal animals, and only exoskeletal animals. More had developed tics of various sorts, exploitable bugs in their selves. Nevertheless they were all functional, and Anphem even seemed sometimes seized by an inspiration that - while unstable - granted genuine insight. Most likely it was some sort of connection with his world's computer cores; the fascinating question was whether it had been intentional, to which Thoekh suspected the answer was no.

They had different opinions on Szarekh. Most were skeptical; they all respected the Silent King's position, but not all forgave him for enslaving them, and those that did had serious concerns about his sanity, his competence, and his prior actions. Nevertheless, as they gained the measure of each other's new selves, they also received information about a galaxy that was very much not the defenseless lawn they had been promised, and Thoekh - receiving, as was his temporary due, more of this intelligence than anyone - began to wonder if Szarekh's words of Immaterium-charged apocalypse might have some truth to them.

Chatezk was last of the Overlords to fully awake, and indeed one of the last of the Lords. When he entered the council deck, his midnight-blue body was awkwardly hunched, still spasming as it adapted to his control. But the moment he called back the command protocols, Thoekh realized that this weakness of the body was irrelevant. Chatezk's mind had survived the Great Sleep fully intact.

"I have reviewed the information," Chatezk said.

And they listened. Not because they were unable to speak up, and not because they feared to, but because Chatezk's raspy voice only spoke when his mind had processed all variables - and Chatezk's mind was a powerful thing indeed. The Phaeron's victories were slow, his rule distant, his approach ruthless. There were even better strategists, among the Dynasties, or at least there had been. But what Chatezk was capable of, unlike any other Phaeron that Thoekh knew of, was to understand information - up to the scale of the galaxy whole - and synthesize every last one of its implications.

Thoekh had no idea whether the Silent King was correct, mad, or neither. But Chatezk knew. Even if he could not always explain how, he knew.

"Szarekh is right," the Phaeron of the Charnovokh said. "The End Times are coming. And for all his prior errors, his victories should speak for themselves. He led us along a knife-edge where a single false bit would spell disaster, and the disasters were only two.

"The End Times come an instant, geologically, before we would have woken. Ergo, it is not merely that they come, but that they are sent. And that it is the twisted powers of the Warp that sent them is even more obvious.

"So we must unite, and only one necron can do that. To end that which the Old Ones started, in Materium and Immaterium, and to cleanse the galaxy of any that would stop us from doing so. I kneel to Szarekh, and only to him; his foes will be exterminated. We are the first Dynasty to awake - the first ray of this Necron Dawn. And the dusk will never come!"

Renegades Saga contributions
The Emperor has turned to Chaos. The dream of the Imperium has become a nightmare. But Horus and his Coalition stand against the dark, here at the end of time.

Lorgar's Betrayal
What was broken has been mended. And what was burned away can never be reforged.
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