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post #141 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-24-13, 03:53 AM Thread Starter
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The odious creature stared at the newly appointed Centauri Ambassador with mild disgust, flicking its fat tongue over its eyes to clear out the dust kicked up by opening the cabinet. Vir poked the oversized lizard with the handle of a broom in a futile effort to dislodge the creature from where it had apparently decided to nest in the large cupboard of his office.

The lizard hissed twice, before fluttering its blue flaps of calloused scales angrily. This was its territory now, and Vir was trespassing.
Like most buildings in the nascent Imperial colony, nature had reclaimed the ambassadorial residence of the Centauri with astonishing thoroughness. The staff left behind by the Centauri fleet had been minimal: ten Centauri Guardsmen and a single sullen secretary from House Drogo. It was all they could do to make the residence livable with so few warm bodies on hand to do what was needed.
Vir contemplated asking one of the guardsmen to come in and shoot the creature as Londo Mollari swaggered into Vir's office. "Are you still dealing with that damnable creature?"

"It's starting to budge," Vir prodded it with the shaft of the broom, jostling the disinterested creature's excess girth. It narrowed its slitted yellow eyes, trilling in irritation as it snapped at the shift. With a jerk of its neck the shaft snapped, cut clean along the razor sharp beak's edge. "Or not!"

Londo sprinted the distance to the cupboard, slamming the thick wooden door as Vir recoiled from a swipe of the now angry beast's claws. It scratched angrily at the cupboard door's interior, hissing.

"Vir, perhaps this is a job best handled by men with training," Londo pushed his shoulder into the cupboard door as it bucked forward, twisting the deadbolt into place to prevent the creature's escape. "And guns. Large guns."

"I didn't want to hurt him." Vir sighed.

"It would seem that you achieved your goal most admirably, Mr. Cotto." Londo jibed. "The creature is most definitely uninjured. Whether we remain similarly well is up to the quality of this lock. Hopefully they didn't try to cut costs on that; it would be like them to skip on details like that."

"Londo I don't know if I'm ready for this. I mean, an Ambassador? Me? It's too much." Vir swallowed nervously. "I mean, you know?"

"Vir, if you continue to fish for compliments then I will be forced to deflate your already non-existent ego." The elder Centauri picked up a bottle of Imperial wine gifted from the Lady Sáclair from the table, opening it and sniffing the contents inquisitorially. Apparently meeting his standards in such things he poured generous, measure into glassed for the two of them. "Which would be a shame so early into your tenure. I would prefer to save that for your first major screw up, so that I can enjoy the privilege properly."

"I just - " Vir interjected.

"I will hear no more of this insistent self-deprecation. You will do fine, Vir. The Imperials already like you, which is more than most Ambassadors can say. They trust you - to some degree, at least." He pointed to the bottle of liquor. "This is a good vintage of wine. Not a great one. Not a spectacular one. A good one. Do you know what that means, Vir?"

"That they didn't have much wine on hand?" Vir replied exasperatedly. "I'm not really a heavy drinker, Ambassador."

"Vir. When I give a gift on behalf of my government I buy something extravagant. It has to be something that will showcase the might and majesty of our Republic. When I give a gift as an Ambassador or as a member of house Mollari I must be memorable, but not wasteful, in demonstrating my own importance to society." Londo sipped the wine before continuing. "But this, this is the sort of wine one does not keep in a cellar for generations to prove that you own the bottle. This is not a wine that is brought out for some special once in a lifetime occasion. This is a wine to be drunk, a wine to be enjoyed with a pleasant meal. It is a casual gift between equals."

Vir took a drink from his own glass. It was...nice. Not the best he'd ever had, but it had a smooth and earthy flavor. "You're sure?"

"You have much to learn, Vir." Londo lounged in the chair of Vir's new office. "But you will learn, and learn quickly. You are not as incompetent as you at first appear."

From Londo, it was high praise.

"I've taken the liberty of contacting the Homeworld and informing them of the situation. I admit that they were surprised by your appointment to the position but when I informed them that it was you or no-one else, not even the Homeworld was foolish enough to miss a chance at permanent diplomatic relations with the Empire." Londo shook his head, and slapped Vir across the shoulders. "Why are you so determined to fight thism Vir? It is a good move for you, a smart move. Be happy, or at least pretend to be till I leave."

"It just isn't me. I'm not – I can't be," The younger Centauri pulled at his collar, trying and failing to cool his chest with the stiflingly humid air. "It's just – too important for me."

"It is important Vir. It is extremely important." The Ambassador swirled his wine, resting his hand upon the windowsill. Tropical birds trilled happily, flitting about the bright green foliage encroaching upon the settlement. "Vir, do you know why I was appointed to Babylon 5? It was not out of respect for my abilities and my position, I assure you. It was a joke. No one expected it to last more than a year. No one expected to last more than a week. It was a final insult to end my career and destroy what remained of my honor."

Londo turned from the window, raising his glass and leering happily as he chuckled in mirth, "But now? Now I am important. People seek me out, seek my favors. The fortunes of house Mollari are my own."

With a sigh of exasperated sympathy, he patted Vir's arm paternally. "You must never let them think that this job is – that you are – a joke. It must never be a joke to them, or to you. Our people are great, but we forget our limits. You have an opportunity to make
yourself relevant, to make yourself capable. I expect great things of you, Mr. Cotto."

"But what about you?" Vir's mind returned to the devious man who now guided those same good fortunes Londo enjoyed, the snake Morden. "What will you do without me?"

"Vir!" Londo's voice cracked irritatedly. "I survived without you for years of my life. The couple of months it will take to send me a new secretary will not kill me."

"But-" Vir tried to get a word in edgewise, failing miserably.

"But nothing, Vir." The Ambassador downed his drink, slamming the glass on Vir's desk. "You will be here and you will do a good job of it too. I've promised the home office that you are a qualified Ambassador and I will not have you making a fool of me."

Londo frowned, a hiccup working its way into his speech. "And – and I feel it would be better for you to be away from me, Vir."

"Ambassador?" Vir swallowed apprehensively.

"Vir, things are getting beyond my control. You've seen the signs: the Vorlon fleet attacking seemingly at random, new powers arising that can destroy entire Narn fleets, and even the appearance of the Empire. The galaxy is changing, and I think not for the better."

Londo picked at his jacket, pulling a burr from it and flicking it to the floor. "I've allied myself with dangerous people, Vir. People who will destroy anyone who is not a useful ally. I – I need you here Vir. I need you to be safe. I – I need someone I can trust in a position to help the Empire if something should – should something happen to me."

A hard rapping crack of a guardsman's knuckle upon the door to Vir's office silenced whatever reply he might have had. Vir looked to Mollari, briefly expecting the elder Centauri to speak, before remembering that they were in Vir's Embassy, not Mollari's.

He spoke a nervous, "Enter." that earned him an eye-roll from Ambassador Mollari. He could expect a lecture from Ambassador Londo on a properly scornful greeting in the near future.

The breast-plated guardsman strode into the room, saluting and declaring, "Ambassador Ta'lon to see you sir," before turning permitting a broad-shouldered Narn through the door.

G'Kar had appointed the singularly intimidating Narn to the rank of "interim-ambassador" until the Narn homeworld could select an appropriate diplomatic representative. Although he was probably the best choice from the Narn fleet on hand, Vir suspected that the decision had not been made in the best of faith by G'Kar. The warrior was a curious choice of representative, for as a bearer of the K'tok, he could never permit his blade to be taken by another.

Vir had, thankfully, been warned of Ta'lon's appointment with enough prior warning to issue a standing order to permit him to carry the K'tok blade to avoid a diplomatic incident. The Guardsmen still eyed the blade disapprovingly, but Vir doubted he had anything to fear from the other Narn.

In their time together on the Endless Bounty Vir had come to know him as a recalcitrant, irascible, and crotchety grimace of a man, never using five words when a decent grunt and glare would do just as well. For all his apparent unpleasantness, though, he was a surprisingly forward-thinking person and well respected by his Narn peers.

Ta'lon did not like the Centauri, but by all accounts he seemed to tolerate Vir. It was as much as anyone could hope for, he supposed.

"The Imperial is causing me problems," Ta'lon interjected without preamble or greeting. "I assume he is causing you the same."

"Yes," Vir sighed. "He is."

The 'he' in question was none other than Gaer Tiber, the cyborg in charge of Belzafest's military. The sour tempered cyborg hated all aliens. He resented the embassies, the Centauri, the Narn and anything that wasn't a pureblood human. Gaer could not, of course, do anything overtly hostile to either the Narn or the Centauri while they had the blessing of both the Inquisitor and Lady Sáclair but that did not stop a number of "accidents" from happening around the alien embassies.

Supplies disappeared. Predators made it past the security perimeter. All manner of local flora and fauna proved to be regularly too much for the Imperials to clear without specialized equipment, which of course could not be spared for weeks or even months. Individually none of these were enough to suggest malfeasance, but the accidents were happening with such regularity that they could be nothing other than intentional sabotage.

The Imperial had obviously blamed it on internal strife with a displaced ethnic group, but it was obvious in the man's scorn that he was lying. Vir recognized that look of contempt. It was the same look his uncle had worn whenever he'd spoken of the Narn.

"I've had to repair my tachyon array ten times in the past three days." Ta'lon barked. "The flying skulls keep 'accidentally' flying into its transmission dish. The man claimed that we were 'summoning them' with our foul machine spirits."

"And what do you propose we do about it?" Vir looked to Londo. "Confront him?"

"Not unless you want to look like an idiot." Ta'lon growled. "No, that would only result in more overt hostility from the man. We do not need to irritate the hound to stop him from biting us; we need only yell to the ones holding his leash. You have... connections that I cannot claim."

Vir nodded. House Sáclair had a certain level of respect for him. And while he couldn't be sure of the Lady Sáclair, he knew for a fact that Ami Sáclair would be a sympathetic to his plight. "Do you want to be at the meeting?"

"Yes," Ta'lon growled. "I do."

The electric lights flickered, spitting and hissing as they struggled to draw power. A distant screech of machinery howled out from the center of the settlement, mingling with the screeching binary prayers of Imperial Machine cultists.

"Great Maker!" Londo shoved his fingers into his ears. "What the devil is that?"

"It would seem that the pillar they've been building in the town square is being put to use." Ta'lon commented dryly, massaging his own ear with a gauntleted palm. "They do seem determined to make the loudest racket possible."

"They ripped up most of the internal defenses we left behind," Vir shouted over the noise. "They seemed to think they couldn't trust them."

"Probably wise," Londo admitted. "They were outdated by decades, even by our standards of weaponry. They must look archaic to the Empire."

A pillar of light shot up from the town center, a flowering ark of blue light emanating from the fifteen story tower and spreading out into the sky. A thin film of energy spread across the settlement in all directions for ten miles, providing a translucent canopy of protective force. Tiny motes of light rained down from the energy dome, tiny dancing stars frolicking through the sky.

It was a shield, a shield that covered the settlement - and then some.

"Great Maker," Londo whispered.

"It is a wall," Ta'Lon growled. "Nothing more. Will, flesh, and minds will trump it no matter how impressive it might be."

"I would very much like to see you defeat that with your blade," Londo joked scathingly.

"I already have defeated it." Ta'lon replied. "A wall cannot keep out a man who is already beyond it."

The Narn nodded to Vir, "Arrange a meeting with the young Ms. Sáclair, before her mad dog takes it upon himself to correct that error."

Vir nodded, staring from Ta'lon's blade to the now closed closet and back as a thought took shape. "Ambassador Ta'lon. How well does a K'tok cut through scales?"

The Ambassador's lopsided mouth curved up into a grin, "The K'tok cuts through solid steel. Why?"

Vir explained his lizard problem over the sound of Londo's uproarious laughter and Ta'lon's muffled chuckling. Let them laugh! The creature would finally be gone. The Narn Ambassador wiped tears of mirth from his eyes, sauntering over to the still-rocking cabinet.

"Come then Ambassador Vir, let us battle with your fearsome foe."

At least one thing would go right today.

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Glowing with the baleful energies of Eldar sorcery, the construct cleaved its way through the hull with a curved scimitar. Smaller Eldar constructs swarmed through the hole, moving like nothing Magos Tuul had seen before. The necromantic machine-constructs of the Eldar were bulky things, monstrous machines summoned only in the direst of circumstances when soldiers were few enough that binding the ghosts of the dead to mortal form need be done.

The Eldar construct towered some five meters tall, a lithe and spindly skeleton of psycho-reactive plastics and glowing gemstones. It hovered in the center of the cargo bay four solar sails, glowing yellow material that shimmered like the wings of some giant insect. It's elegantly swooping chassis and elongated digits could barely be seen through the constant torrent of weapons-fire streaming from the shoulder mounted cannons.

These Eldar machines were not burdened with the sort of perpetual inaction he'd studied in theoretical xenomechanics. They flitted about the cargo bay on antigravity harnesses, as agile and vibrant as the Eldar pirates themselves. He swore angrily as a burst of superheated matter flashed across his refractor field, covering his optics with his arm reflexively even as the augmentics shut down to conserve his vision.

His optic nerves still recuperating from the flash of the explosion, the Magos activated a subcutaneous transmitter.

The sensation of using servitor skulls to provide him with vision was, at best, stomach churning. He watched himself hiding within the cargo crate as though he were observing from afar, the flickering green image of the battlefield as seen by the skulls focusing and blurring as constructs moved and were destroyed.

Though the mental image was bright green Tuul knew that the entire room was actually painted red with gore. Uncaring, unthinking and meticulous, the Eldar constructs had murdered everything in their path. Servitor, crewman and Ogryn alike had been gutted and gored in meticulous slaughter, filling what air had not already been sucked out into the gaping void of space with was filled noxious eldar poisons fatal to anyone unfortunate enough to pass through them.

Ducking back into the relative protection of a supply crate Tuul lashed out at the offending machine-construct, his plasma cutter severing the machine into two neat halves.

His oxygen gauge pinged twice, he was down to 80% of his oxygen supply. He could only sustain this level of physical exertion for another twenty minutes or so before he'd be forced to retreat or inject himself with the vial of liquid oxygen on his belt, which would only give him another ten minutes under duress. The servitors and other tech-priests would start to suffocate long before that though.

They had to repel these boarders, and fast. They were the worst sort of xenos constructs, well designed and deadly thinking machines. If he gave them a second's hesitation, they would win. They would win and the Endless Bounty would die.

But they would not have their victory, not until they ripped it from Tuul's cold, dead hands. A scion of Oita, he would not bow down to the whims of the Omnissiah's bane, the thinking machines.

Another construct advanced upon his position, the shimmering vision painted red by the limited intelligence of the servitor machine spirits. Tuul waited for the flickering image to get within six span of him before leaping out from cover and planting the blade of his halberd within the creature's chest, it spasmed twice in an effort to lift it's weapon before falling dead.

Tearing the halberd from the construct with a kick of his greave, the chest cracked open like a shattered walnut. A viscous green blood dripped down his blade in imitation of the blood seeping from the now shattered chest of the construct. It was neither organic nor entirely machine, internal organs of curious purposes intermixed with strange circuitry.

The magos had heard of such practices in rumors and the darkest of speculative reports. Splinter groups of the Eldar supposedly engaged in dark rituals and forbidden sciences to convert the raw matter of their victims into weapon constructs, to great and terrible effect. Tuul smashed the torso under his boot, enjoying the crunch as he toggled the command for the Tech-priests in the starboard quadrant to activate the Arco-flagellants.

Forced to respond to the charging mad-people, a quartet of Eldar machine-men took to the skies. They swooped upwards, dodging the meter long-shock whips of the flagellants. The quartet became a trio as one of the combat-servitor's caught an Eldar machine's leg with it's tentacles, dragging the xenotech construct into the frenzied berserkers.

It howled piteously as it was gored to death.

The flying trio shot Engsineer Kov in the face, as a cadre of heavy-bolter servitors caught them in a deadly crossfire. The Eldar constructs burst in an explosion of flame and alien matter.

The massive Eldar construct bellowed in sympathetic pain as it shot across the cargo bay, smashing through the cargo containers in an uncontrolled fury. Ignoring the heavy-bolter shells pockmarking it's hull, the construct annihilated the servitors with a swift swipe of the scimitar and a shot of the warp-energy cannons on it's shoulders. Eldar warp weaponry was as nightmarish a weapon that one could conceive. It opened a gateway to hell, literally dragging whatever was caught in it's blast to be devoured by the forces of evil in a dimension of eternal torment.

For a race that prided themselves on their own sophistication, their propensity for violence was beyond compare. The constructs chanted in psychically enhanced sing-song mocking symphony, tittering in the impossibly complex language of the Eldar as they attacked hither and thither, floating on their luminescent wings.

If the Tech Priests could just get rid of the larger construct Tuul was sure that the combat servitors would be a match for the Eldar machines but the contemptible xeno-dreadnaught just refused to die. Between a flickering field of psychic shielding and the constantly self-healing armor it was two steps short of invincible.

Tuul opened his optics, zooming in on the machine's wounds as the wraith-bone giant healed it's cracked and lacerated carapace in seconds. How did one kill something that could just shrug off a hellfire shell? The nearest lascanon was two decks down and welded to a broken Leman Russ. A close range melta-gun shot or melta-bomb might have done the trick, but the Magos wasn't willing to get within swinging distance of the construct's scimitar.

Come on, Tuul thought to himself as he grabbed a smaller construct with his servo arm, clamping down and crushing it with a hissing growl of piston pumping power. What would Kerrigan do?

Omnissiah but it would have been great to have Kerrigan and her top of the line war servitors right that second. The Ogryn based war-machines had been designed for precisely this sort of threat. But Omnissiah forfend that things ever go Tuul's way.

It was heretical to think it, but it seemed to Tuul the Omissiah's will provided more challenges than solutions as of late. A feeling all the more enforced as a lance of Eldar laser fire scored the pauldron of his armor, damaging the internal components to his augmentic limb.

Ignoring the “movement impaired” warning flashing across his optics Tuul tossed a fist sized ball through the air. It bounced off a cargo crate, flashing twice before a repulsorlift within the device launched it in the opposite direction.

Propelled by artificial gravit lift it whizzed behind Tuul, exploding in a ball of shrapnel to force a pair of constructs out from where they'd been attempting to sneak up behind him.

“Oh no you damn don't,” Tuul barked, grabbing the barrel of a construct's rifle with his adamantium fist. With a bellow of fury Tuul yanked the construct forward to block the wraithcannon shot from it's companion.

As the bubble of warp energy disappeared, taking the construct's head along with it, the Magos slew the second construct with his halberd. Tuul's heart stopped as the massive construct turned it's oblong head in his direction, aiming its cannons.

He leapt to the side, deactivating the magnetic clamps in his boots to take advantage of the loss in artificial gravity near the torn hull as he dodged a salvo of warpcannon fire from the massive construct.
Soaring through the, he felt the cold cloying screech of the warp. The swirling black mass of darkness undulated with thousands of shadowy limbs and tortured faces before snapping back where it came from, repelled by the gellar fields of the ship.

So close to the hull breach, the vacuum of space sucked at his remaining flesh. Wet pops snapped from where the vacuum was yanking at the pink meat attached to his augmentics. Rivulets of the viscous fluid he'd replaced his blood with seeped from the open wound on his thigh, but not rapidly enough to worry him.

He still had 95% of his reserves intact according to his HUD, it wouldn't be till the 80% mark that he'd need to worry. Tuul landed hard, wincing as a piston in his leg cracked from the impact. A 10% loss in functionality to his left leg, damn. He wouldn't be able to dodge the next shot.

The massive construct aimed it's cannons to Tuul, only to shift it's attention to a furious arcoflagellant at it's back. The crazed servitor whipped, bit, and tore at the construct's face and neck, shattering one of it's translucent wings and scoring the wraith-bone armor of it's leg.

Making a mockery of the thick helmet upon the poor creature's head, a swipe of the giant scimitar spread arco-flagellant brains across the deck. The massive xeno-dreadnaught's swipe had been wide, exposing it to the four other combat-servitor's at it's flanks.

Tuul did not waste the opportunity to assess his surroundings. There had to be something in the Omnissiah forgotten cargo bay that he could use to kill the spiteful thing. His optics lingered upon the gaping hull breach behind him.

Of course!

By the will of Mars, why hadn't it occurred to him sooner?

Tuul activated the transmitter in his head, tapping at the side of his face with his thumb and forefinger to activate the pressure sensors as he wirelessly tapped into the ship's battle-net. It was a dangerous move, he wouldn't be able to move his actual body at the same time that he was engaging in the virtual space of the Endless Bounty's machine spirit.

He hand only minutes before the construct would crush the arcoflagellants and then him.

Tuul soared through the data pillars of the network, authorizing and re-authorizing his credentials to the agitated data-angels protecting the ship's spirit. The blessed spirit constructs growled and gnashed their teeth, agitated by the battle and their master's anger but they allowed him to weave through the thousands of pathways that lead towards what he needed.

Tuul hovered within the sensor net, watching the hazy shape of the Endless Bounty as it saw itself. A chaotic mess of sensor images and system updates combined into a single image of the majestic ship swimming through space in glorious battle. But it was not the great predator that interested Tuul, it was the flitting forms of lesser green ships around it. Hundreds upon hundreds of smaller ships flurried about the Endless Bounty like a swarm of angry insects, fighting, killing, and dying with equal fury.

Tuul picked the ship best suited for the duty he had in mind, reaching out with his presence to touch the machine spirit of the fighter wing's leader. He felt the lesser machine spirits, weaker spirits by far than that of the Endless Bounty and appealed to them. He offered them prayers of supplication and authorization, humbly entreating them to allow him access to their pilots.

Their data-angels were furious at the intrusion, rejecting him reflexively for fear that he might be an attacker. Tuul winced as they slashed at his fingertips from their little green dots, forcing his own implants to resist the damage. He tried a more ham-fisted approach, throttling them with a string of logic borrowed from Kerrigan's archives. The data-angels struggled, but ultimately were forced to acquiesce.

Tuul touched the spirits of the fighters, reaching out to their comms with his mind as he broadcast his thoughts into their speakers, “This is Magos Tuul. Authorization Gulf-Zeta-Emperor-1-4-5-Mars-Mars-Tyranid-Warp. Acknowledge.”

A confused voice spoke back, replying in shock. “Uh... Acknowledged Magos.”

“I have a live fire situation,” Tuul thanked the Omnissah for his luck. He'd feared that the ECM might distort his words beyond understanding. “I will be laser painting a target for you on deck 38 cargo bay G-36 marker sixteen. Bring on the thunder. Transmission band”

“Repeat Magos?” The pilot leader replied in confusion. “You want me to fire on the ship?”

“What is your name boy.” Tuul growled.

“Flight Wing Captain Marcos Magos.”

“Well Flight Wing Captain Marcos. If I do not get the fire when I paint my target and the Eldar kill me I promise that my last act on this earth will be to log your execution into the duty roster for the Inquisitor.” Tuul didn't want to scare the boy, but he didn't have time for this. “Am I understood.”

“Crystal clear sir.” The fighter pilot replied. “Transmission band ETA ten seconds.”

Tuul snapped back to his body as the torso of a servitor smacked the bulkhead next to him. No longer burdened by gravity, the impact caused rivulets of servitor to burst into hovering balls of gore and offal. Tuul waded through the cloud of liquified servitor, pointing his index finger at the construct. A thin green beam of light shone from his fingertip, shimmering on the chest of the Eldar machine.

The construct's formerly pristine form was cracked and lacerated from dozens of electroshock whip impacts. The warp cannons hissed and spat where they'd cracked. It hovered lopsidedly on it's shattered wings, but even as it brandished its scimitar in unspoken menace Tuul could see that the damages were rapidly disappearing. The construct stared contemptuously at Tuul, growling as it slunk towards him.

The cannons, less damaged than they'd first appeared, hummed with the thread of warp discharge. The creature pointed to Tuul with it's blade, psychically growling in what could only be described as a laugh.

It was gloating.

“Mine's bigger.” Tuul clicked his thumb in imitation of the hammer falling on a subber pistol, shouting through the screeching hiss of escaping gasses rushing into space.

Five beams of concentrated energy tore through the open hull of the ship, a torrent of lasfire guided by Tuul's laser painted target that exploded into a corona of green atomized matter. The giant Eldar construct screeched and howled, it's psychically enhanced voice screeching in sing-song incomprehension.

It lashed out with it's blade as it died, catching Tuul at the waist and eviscerating his bowels.

Warnings flashed across his HUD, disabling his pain sensitivity as the bundle of synthetic guts fell from his belly and onto the ground. He ripped the scourged intestine from his chest, more irritated than worried for his health. A series of redundant augmentics in his torso would serve as a temporary digestive system.

Tuul stared at his crushed bowels spread about the shattered remains of the Eldar giant and assessed the damage as a pair of Tech-priest Enginseers dragged him out from the cargo bay and to their forward defense point.

“Omnissiah's bane,” Tuul snarled, “The bastard got all four synthetic kidneys.”

The tricky devices required an artificer Magos of Kerrigan's skill or better, meaning that he would have to do without. Tull would survive the wound to his body, but he wasn't sure that his ego would survive Faest Nor's smugness at replacing broken synthetics with vat grown flesh.
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It was the sudden and unnatural breeze that warned Captain Xingjiang trouble was afoot. The airflows of a star-ship were static, one always knew in which way the wind blew. Acting on instinct he ducked to his right, shielding his face from a blinding pocket of starlight in the center of the bridge.

Where once had been nothing but empty space stood a trio of soldiers, two hulking beasts flanking a feline alien in combat fatigues - well, one and a half. The leftmost giant seemed to have had less luck that his fellows. His lifeless eyes stared confusedly up from where his body had materialized halfway through the deck, killing him most soundly.

Unfazed by their compatriot's half formed and mutilated apparition, the strike team attacked. Klaus barked in shock as a half meter long pincer flung him from where he stood to collide with the bulkhead.

The bridge crew scrambled to unholster their PPG, unprepared for the sudden intrusion. Major Kria fumbled with the fasters on her holster. Fingertips slipping on the leather as a barbed tentacle whipped across her chest, the woman's abdomen and left breast parted from her body. Wet squelching gurgles were the closest thing she could muster to a scream.

Furious at the death of their companion, the bridge crew opened fire on the giant, eight PPG pistols flash frying the giant into charred monster. It died in instants, but it's survival had never been the point.

The heavily armored Dilgar had not stood idly by to watch the giant, charging towards Captain Xingjian with a laser rifle. The deadly orange beam sliced through Li's uniform, burning through the cotton fabric and searing the flesh of his back, shot driven wide as the gunnery-chief pushed the barrel up. The Dilgar assassin hissed in apoplectic rage as the chief swung on the heels of his magnetic boots and flung the alien towards Xingjiang.

“滚蛋 you cat faced bastard!” Captain Xingjian punched the Dilgar shock-trooper in the face, enjoying the crunch of flimsy cartilage as rivulets of blood sprayed across the bridge. Digging deep into the alien's ribcage with his serrated combat knife the Chinese man swiped up and across, jabbing the knife in and out as he went.

He kicked the corpse upwards, propelling it out the door of the bridge before shouting to his XO, “Are you alive?”

“Lamentably yes,” The persnickety German officer groaned, massaging a llesser plasma burn on his shoulder. “Where the blazes did that come from?”

“I do not know Xi approached the malformed body of the giant who had not been dead on arrival, shoving it with his foot and marveling at the clean cut across it's flesh. The giant's body seemed to have ruptured at a precise and perfect imitation of the floor beneath it, skull, bones and offal matched to every crack and imperfection in the ground.

On a hunch Li tapped his link, “Major Danvers.”

“Yes Captain,” Replied the Major.

“I need you to go directly below the bridge, to the forward light arms armory, and tell me exactly what you find on the ceiling two meters from the door.”

“Sir?” The Major replied.

“You heard me,” Li glared at the bridge crew. “脑残! The hell are you standing around for? Do you think they stopped the battle so that we could catch our breath? Get back to your posts or we're all going to die.”

Klaus shot Li a dirty look over the shoulder of a medic seeing to his wound, professional disapproval etched into the hard lines of his face. He though Li was being too hard on the men? Bah - better to be abused and alive than slow and dead.

A bemused Major Danvers called Li's link in a mix of confusion and revulsion. “Captain, I – I found – I don't know what I found.”

“Half an unidentifiable creature's corpse hovering in zero gravity with wounds parallel to the ceiling?” Li replied, his suspicions confirmed.

Major Danver's paused in pregnant surprise, “ – Uh... yes Sir. That is exactly what I found.”

“Those unbelievable 該死” Li hissed in fury, “They've figured out how to teleport.”

“Oh, that is just spectacular,” Lt. Meyer winced, halting his speech as a dressing was applied to his mangled shoulder. “They've got Vree technology?”

“I don't think so. It doesn't match the intel we have on Vree tech,” Li strapped himself back into his seat. “The Vree despised the Dilgar as much as anyone else, and their teleportation tech is their strongest military edge.”

Li stared at the tactical display, observing the shimmering form of the massive, winged dagger ships. “No this is something we've not seen be – AFT THRUSTERS FULL REVERSE.”

Already jittery from the attack the helmsman smashed the emergency propulsion reserves into action, spinning the Beijing Beauty out of the way of a dart ship's cutting beam. Warning kalxons screeched as a monotonous mechanical voice repeated “Hull breach in aft corridor six. Hull breach in aft corridor six.” on an endless loop.

“Shut the bulkheads to that corridor and send a repair crew to the levels above and below that corridor to double check that there aren't any fractures in the deck. The last thing we need is to be venting oxygen in addition to every other damned thing,” Klaus hissed into his link, a pained edge to his speech.

“Do we have a firing solution on those 死屁眼 ships yet?” Li turned to the surviving ops officer. The exhausted young man mopped his brow with the sleeve his uniform, wiping away the thick beads of sweat. The dark skinned officer chewed his lip, tilting his head slightly in meaningless assent. Li's temper snapped, “Ensign, yes or no, can we fire on the targets?”

“I... I'm not sure sir.” The Ensign scratched the back of his head in thought. “I – we studied how to get through Minbari ECM in training sir. It was basically all we studied in theoretical xeno-warfare. We never managed to get through it.”

“So you can't,” Klaus interjected.

“I have a theory sir. Just a theory.” The Ensign pointed to the tactical HUD in the main view-screen. “These dart ships are way more advanced than the Minbari ships but they seem to have been designed to deal with a radically different set of sensors than the Minbari ships were. The computers can't even seem to see the distortions in spite of there being seemingly nothing to target.”

“Get to the point.” Li sighed.

“Sir... what if the problem isn't our sensors. What if we are the problem.” The Ensigh raised his hands placatingly at Captain Xingjian's incredulous glare. “Hear me out sir. The ground chatter is talking about some serious telepathic warfare on the ground. We know that the Empire can use telepaths to send messages and they seem freaking terrified of these new guys. What if there isn't actually anything wrong with our targeting sensors.”

“What do you propose,” Li cringed as a Dilgar missile burst off the side of the Beijing Beauty, prompting a new set of warning klaxons and monotone damage reports.

“Sir our SOP when we encounter any sort of ECM is to verify the targets of our automated targeting computers manually to make sure that they're not firing at empty space. Whenever we do that our gunners are seeing a dozen different ships moving faster than the eye can follow,” The Ensign shrugged, “Why don't we try just letting the ships computers have a go?”

“It can't possibly do worse than we are already doing,” Li nodded in assent. It was a total breach of protocol and a violation of every single Earth Alliance military doctrine in dealing with electronic counter-measures, but needs were musts. Li pulled a data crystal out from his pocket and handed it to his XO “I'm authorizing that the ship's weapons be put in the hands of it's AI. Make it so Mr. Meyer.”

The XO took the crystal and produced one of his own, nodding solemnly as he floated over to the primary targeting computer. The German officer inserted both crystals into the data ports of the system, turning them a quarter turn to the right and speaking into the computer's mic, “Gunnery override six-zero-five authorization Meyer-nine-one-Beijing. All guns to main computer, full emergency military authorization.”

The computer hummed in effort, unused to processing this much tactical data at once. The monotonous warnings of damages and danger onboard the ship drifted off into bellicose silence as every single byte of spare memory onboard was repurposed.

The forward laser cannons fired, shooting to a seemingly empty pocket of space behind a Dilgar cruiser. The energized particles exploded within the empty void, piercing the veil of shadows and crushing one of the smaller dart ship's solar sails and bursting it's engines. The ship drifted listlessly towards the planet's atmosphere, spiraling through towards the planet's ocean in a brilliant corona of fire.

It had been an escort ship no larger than a Hyperion cruiser, but they'd hit it. They weren't fighting blind any more. “Send a message out on an encrypted channel to anyone who isn't dead yet. We need to press this advantage while we can we – oh … oh no.”

Li grabbed onto the arms of his seat as the bridge bucked starboard, forced to the side as one of the massive black bio-ships collided with the Bejing Beaty. He watched the external cameras in horror as tentacles half a kilometer long wrapped their way around the ship as the spidery protrusions from the black ship perforated the Beijing Beauty's hull.

“Can we still contact the rest of the fleet?” Klaus shouted over the growling screech of organic protrusions penetrating steel.

“No,” Replied the comms officer. “Tachyon transmitters are down... engines are down, everything is down.”

“We're being boarded sir!” The ops officer swore in a language Li did not recognize as he tried to activate every bulkead on the ship. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph they're just pouring through the hull.”

“Is the self-destruct still operational?” Li growled.

“Sir?” Klaus swallowed nervously.

“No sir,” Replied the Engineering officer. “Self-destruct is in-operational.”

“What about the nuclear arsenal?” Li checked the charge on his phased plasma pistol, 40% power remaining before he'd have to reload.

“Unknown sir. I'd assume the warheads are intact.” The Ensign replied. “The magazines are well armored.”

“Can we detonate those remotely?” Klaus queried, a nervous hitch in his throat at the idea of it.

“Negative sir,” The Ops-officer shook his head. “All ship-board comms are fried. We'd have to do it manually.”

“Well then, what are we waiting for?” Li stood up. “Grab any weapons you can find and follow me. We're heading for the ship's magazines.”

“Sir.” The nervous comms officer swallowed, “I – I don't want to – I'm not ready to die.”

“We're attached to one of the largest vessels in the Enemy fleet. We have no weapons and engines.” Li growled in recalcitrant fury, “You've heard the ground reports of those things. There are likely thousands of them in a ship that large. They will kill, rape, and eat anything that they find on this ship. Hopefully in that order. If I can blow the monsters to hell then I'm going to do it.”

He looked to his soldiers, staring each of them in they eyes in turn. “The part of the ship they're entering through is between us and the escape pods. It's between us and the shuttles. There is no escape. You can die like heroes or quiver like cowards. The choice is yours.”

Non-one said a word.

To a man they followed him out the door and towards the forward magazines. It was a shame that nobility always seemed to come right before a man's demise, if people acted half as worthy as those who knew they would die Li might actually have liked his fellow man.
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Glimmering, skeletal figures emerged from thin air. Seeping in through the wisps of air that snuck past cracked walls, the silent figures carried baroque and curious weaponry. They moved without noise or pretense, their xenotech-steel greaves preternaturally silent.

The Necron were a mystery to the Empire. Till a hundred years ago they'd been a product of rumor and speculation, isolated incidences and unexplained battles with mechanical raiders. They were a bed time story for border worlds, the skeletal men who stalked the stars. Reapers of flesh and bone, the murderous species had a soulless hatred for the fleshy beasts who wandered in view of their great necropoli.

“Blood of the Emperor's betrayal,” Daul Hilder hissed the most potent oath he knew. “This is a Necron Tomb World?”

He identified at least five distinct models of Necron in the room, though none seemed to conform to any of the blurry battlefield recordings of the Black Templar crusade upon the Tomb planets of Axxa VII or the Blood Angel's extensive recordings of Necron troop movements. This was out of his depth, there were only one or two Inquisitors in the entire Empire qualified to make any practical assessment of the Necron menace.

Omnicidal, immortal and posessing technologies beyond the wildest dreams in the hearts and minds of the Adeptus mechanicus, it was by the grace of the Emperor alone that the Praetorian had not flayed them alive.

Vira'capac hissed in horror, raising his weapon to shoot the Necron and prompting the Sh'lassen goat-man to do the same. The Necron waved a finger at the pair of them with an almost lazy sigh, activating energy field generators around the pair to freeze them in place. “I should hate to have to kill your adjuncts before we'd finished speaking Inquisitor, it would make you less willing to accept our terms.”

“I doubt I have much choice in accepting or rejecting your terms.” Daul massaged his damaged augmentic limb reflexively, running a gauntleted hand over the exposed wiring. “Your people do not negotiate, they demand.”

“It is greatly refreshing to encounter someone who knows to give their betters proper deference and realizes why that deference is due.” The Praetorian's mechanical drone hitched in imitation of amusement. “Especially from a race so talented at irritating the puppets of our oppressors. Your men have demonstrated a unique and admirable hatred for the Alai.”

He waved his gilded fingers towards the holographic displays, summoning a thousand hovering images of the League Coalition and Imperial forces clashing with Eldar warriors. The Eldar were killing men by the hundreds, gleefully butchering human and alien alike. “It's a shame that their skill and ability does not match their impetuous defiance. There are few joys as glorious as watching Alai be defeated by primitives. Not that you can kill them I suppose, but the injuries are amusing to watch.”

“I can assure you that I've killed my share of Eldar.” Daul replied, centering himself around the memory of killing the xenos earlier that day. There were no xenos beyond the Emperor's justice, even the mightiest of them could be beaten. Even the Necrons could be beaten – not easily, but it could be done.

“You genuinely do believe that don't you?” The Necron's optics twitched, a vestigial memory of the flesh it had once been. It was an echo of what might have once been laughter. “Allow me to enlighten you. The children of Asuryan are but one breed of many weapons. They are not flesh.”

The Necron waved it's hands, summoning the holographic eldar to spin about his body, tiny dancing figures weaving and bobbing around his crimson cloak to shimmer along the glitteringly golden necrodermic armor.

“They have bodies, but the bodies are irrelevant. It's skin. A mask.” A bitter echo etched it's way into his whispering lilt, “The soul persists. The soul always persists. Yet another joke of the enemy, making weapons with the gift they deny their betters.”

He grabbed the holographic image of an Eldar aspect warrior, crushing the energy projection within his gauntleted fist, mashing his golden fingers as though he were crushing the Eldar within his grasp. A few pregnant seconds passed while the furious Necron muttered to himself in his native language, lost in his hatred for the Eldar.

The machine was clearly rampant, raving, perhaps even insane. It was not unheard of for the mechanical men to resurrect in states of semi-coherence, trapped in their former memories of past wars. It may well not even wholly remember which battle it currently fought.

As long as the Necrons delusions left it agreeable to talking rather than indulging in the bloodthirsty pastimes of his race, Daul was in no hurry to disrupt the flow of conversation. Every second the Praetorian spoke was a second longer to figure out an escape.

The Belzafester soldiers shifted nervously, eying the necron soldiers behind their war-party with apprension. For fear that one of them might get them all killed, Daul willed the thoughts not yet towards the trigger happy soldier's mind, “What name do I call you?”

“I have none – well, none fit for primitives to speak.” The Triarch Praetorian sheathed his blade into a pocket of empty air, concealing the blade within a space unseen. “What you decide to call me is none of my affair. I have little interest in the affairs of lesser cattle. But the path was chosen, and I will walk it.”

“What path?”

“Inquisitor Hilder, your coming was known to us, to me. It is no accident that I am at this remote scrap of useless turf. It is no accident that fifteen such remote scraps of nothing are being torn asunder by the unseen one.” The Necron's eyes flashed, anger coloring the monotonous drone of his voice. “It is no accident that the Alai have been told of our hidden places and we awake before the prescribed end to our slumber. Someone searches for that which should be forgotten.”

“Dead gods should stay dead.” Hissed a diminutive skeletal cyclops – a cryptek perhaps – as he leaned upon a tall staff. Still a head taller than the largest of the humans, this new Necron hunched over as though bowed with age. An illusion of feebleness to be sure, thearter for the benefit of their human audience.

His aged silk cowl quivering with the movement of miniature gears and servo-motors, the hunched Necron slammed his staff but on the cold stone twice, hissing like a boiling kettle. A garbled mess of screeching warbles and groans mixed together in grotesque parody of language, a murdered parody of the Adeptus Mechanicus prayers.

The Skitarii snarled in response, his furious binary punctuated with a hand gesture that required no translation.

The Inquisitor's heart raced as he steeled himself for the worst. He willed a subtle suggestion towards his apprentice, expressing with though faster than he could ever have hoped to say with simple words. Daul might be able to take out the gloom crystals closes to Susan, giving her time to kinetically implode the door-frame and let at least some of the men escape this death trap of a room.

A weak feeling of assent replied, Susan's abilities with the mental arts left much to be desired. No patience for the subtle nuance of the human mind, Susan's destructive potential would likely always outstrip her telepathic ability.

“Inquisitor, you do realize that the crystals can detect any psychic discharge in their presence? I know you're speaking with the other mind walker.” The Necron spoke a tone of near amusement, as it looked between Daul and Susan “I would greatly appreciate it if you would stop planning ways to kill me and my soldiers, Inquisitor.”

The cryptek trilled in it's whispering screech, “We are making great allowances for your primitive foolishness, but our patience is not limitless.”

“You'll pardon my rudeness,” Daul cleared his throat apprehensively. “It is a habit of my profession.”

“I would have been offended by your cowardice had you not tried.” The massive Necron sighed. “It would have been a shame to consider you a dishonorable foe. I do hate to slaughter those who are still of use.”

“And what use would that be?” Daul queried.

“We have a common enemy Inquisitor, a common goal.” The Triarch Praetorian snapped his fingers, prompting a shimmering apparition of Soren Faust to hover between them. It glared at the two of them in unimpressed disapproval, bloodless face and pale skin stretched across ancient features. “It is my intention that you, your allies, and your quest succeed and prosper.”

Cackling in what could have been either laughter or pity, the hunched Necron rolled it's cyclopean optic, tittering incomprehensibly. The Triarch Preatorian nodded once and held out his arm towards Daul, “Of course your eminence. The time of primitive words has ended. What need be spoken hath been spake. It is time.”

“Time for what precisely?” Susan's calm voice pierced the calm stillness after the Praetorian's pronouncement. Steady hands held her pistols at her sides, low enough that they could be brought to bear at a second's notice without appearing aggressive. There was not even a hint of worry in her stance.

She – Throne almighty – Susan Ivanova wasn't afraid of the Necrons.

They were just another alien to her. An unusual alien perhaps but she'd spent so much of her adult life surrounded by xenos that she lacked the instinctual fear of the metal men. For that matter, would she even know to fear a thinking machine? The Alliance employed numerous primitive machine minds in their daily lives.

Of all the Throne cursed times for her to not have one of his memories, why did it have to be his survival instincts in dealing with the children of Necrotyr. Susan stared into the Triarch Phaeron's glowing optics without flinching, awaiting an answer.

The cyclopean Necron laughed, a hollow and whistling sound. “The young races of this generation are bolder than I recall.”

“The Nightbringer's image holds only the meagerest of holds upon them. It is to be expected.” The golden Praetorian adjusted it's cloak, pulling a glowing crystal from it's folds. “The Praetorian orders can only guide chattel so far without drawing the attention of the enemy. We cannot all operate within the dimlit pocket realities of the Diviner.”

The Necron held the crystal out to Daul between two taloned fingertips, the fragment pulsating with an eery green light. “I propose an alliance. I shall grant you the peace of the Silent King upon you and yours. We shall take what is owed to the Dynasties and crush the children of Asuryan to dust.”

“I assume that you are planning to kill me if I refuse.” Daul eyed the crystal suspiciously, even touching Necron technology was a dangerous prospect. The slightest touch of Necron xeno weaponry could enslave the mind and destroy the soul. Mindshackle scarabs, brain wiping subatomic particles or any one of a million of the cruelties of the Necrons could be visited upon those who agreed to an “alliance” with the Necron menace.

The Necrons did not have allies, only victims for a later date.

“Slaughtering your forces would be inefficient. I would prefer that they lived to spread what they see here today, to prepare your races for our inevitable dominion.” The Triarch Praetorian waved around the room, clicking in the curious necronese. The baroque weapons of the Necron soldiers hummed to life, glowing green arks of lightning spluttering and dancing with fatal purpose within their scythe-tipped-rifles.

“You prefer to explore the alternatives?” The Cryptek queried, a slight joking edge to his monotony.

“An alliance it is,” Daul took the crystal from the Triarch Praetorian's grip. The tiny sliver of crystal in his palm seemed to hold the weight of the universe as he slipped it into a pocket of his tabard.

“Well then Inquisitor,” The Cryptek's monotonous hiss broke into a cackle of murderous glee. “It is time to go to war.”
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The Eldar throwing-blade nicked the edge of David's chest, alien poisons eating away at the metal with a voracity matched only by the noxious gasses expelled in the reaction. He screeched in horror, ripping at the straps of his breast-plate to tear the sizzling mess of ceramics across the deck before ducking back into the cover of the med-bay doors.

“Get back you foolish boy,” Donat's fusillade scorched the hall, narrowly missing the offending xenos who'd tossed the blade, “Get back and get another round in that useless sack of flesh.”

The Med bay had been designed to funnel any attackers into a choke point, a narrow passage that could not be easily traversed without coming into view of the two gun servitors wedged into murder-holes along the walls. Low velocity bolter shells wouldn't pierce the hull, but their chemical cores would dissolve whichever boarder was foolish enough to get into their firing range.

While they were more than capable of aiming themselves, they were lamentably unable to reload on their own. This mean that every twenty shots either Donat or David would have to rush out of cover and manually reload the platform with chem-rounds. Right now the only thing standing between the civilians and injured currently behind the sealed bulkhead were two human lives.

David slapped the drum magazine into the fixed gun mount, hoping against hope that the emergency refractor field attached to his belt would stop what his breast-plate could stop no longer. The heavy canister slurped loudly as the air pressure within the gun changed, propelling one of the fist sized canisters down the hall to explode into a chemical inferno.

David rushed back into the cover of the med bay, massaging the chemical burns on his chest tentatively. His fingers stung slightly from the contact with the wound, “Throne!”

“Is it bad?” Donat tossed a tube of synthetic skin over to David, watching as the younger man stripped his shirt.

“It's poisoned I think.” David felt a stab of pain shooting through his chest as he sprayed syntha-skin over the wound. The white foam bubbled and sizzled across it's surface, reacting to whatever chemicals had been on the knife. “I – Throne that hurts.”

“Not poison, just acid I suspect.” Donat fired at a shadowy figure that popped it's head around the bend, cracking it between the eyes. It hissed, wounded by not dead. Not an Eldar to be sure. The knife ears had allies? “Eldar poisons are potent, if you'd been hit with one you'd already be writhing on the floor in agony. The vicious bastards aren't fond of waiting.”

“Aren't they immortal?” David pulled out a syringe of general combat stimulants, a cocktail of immune boosters and synthetic adrenaline to keep him going. The needle went into his thigh smoothly, though his hands shook as he depressed the activator on the single use injector.

“You'll find that those who've waited longest are often the least patient once close to achieving their goal, young Sáclair. People ignore the longer term solutions, the better solution, when trying to get what they want right that second,” Donat pulled a cigar from his breast plate and chewed on the end of it. He did not light it, that would have given away their position, but just having the tobacco between his lips seemed to have a calming effect upon his demeanor. “No, for all their talk of eternity and permanence, the Eldar are as trapped in the moment as any of us.”

“They're welcome to say impatiently trapped in the moment,” David replied, “So long as they stay trapped on the other side of that corridor.”

“How are we doing for ammo?” Donat shifted the cigar from one side of his lips to the other, sucking at it as though he were actually smoking it. He took the tube from his mouth and exhaled a phantom smoke cloud, relaxing in to the motion. It was as close to misbehaving as the man had likely ever indulged in.

“I've got another two charge cells and we've got six reloads for the servitor guns,” David did the math in his head. “So if we keep going at the rate we've been going -”

“We'll last for another ten minutes before they overtake us and slaughter us.” The ship's first mate replied wearily. “Well, that's just wonderful.”

“The med bay doors should last long enough for Osma's men to break through and save them though.” David replied. “That's what matters.”

“Yes – yes that is what matters,” Donat rubbed at his immobile cheeks. “A pity your uncle isn't here for this, he would have loved the thrill.”

David looked up in confusion. Nathaniel Sáclair's siblings were rarely spoken of by the Captain and his mother hadn't had an affair with the Captain early enough to meet them. David knew, of course, that they existed but knew little more than that. “My uncle?”

“Well, one of them anyway. The legitimate ones that is, your grandfather never would have acknowledged a bastard child – of the opinion that they were weaker and inferior I suppose.” He paused briefly to look at David, looking over the boy's wounds and discarded breast-plate. He snorted in what might have been mirth at looked David in they eyes conciliatory, “Even the Emperor was wrong once.”

David snorted at the dark humor about the Horus Heresy, firing down the corridor as he listened to Donat continue the story.

“Your uncle Fabian was the middle child from your grandfather's second wife, a real shrew of a woman who insisted upon keeping her title of 'Dutchess Azarnego.” Color seeped into the older man's cheeks, “I – uh – if your family asks who told you that it wasn't me.”

“We're going to die soon,” David replied, eyeing the ammunition count in the leftmost servitor. Six more shots before he had to reload. “I doubt it will come up in conversation with the knife-ears.”

“Right, well – The Dutchess didn't much like that Sáclair and his siblings were ahead of her boy to inherit the ship. She did all that she could to prove that the Lord Sáclair was unfit for power, started all sorts of rumors that he was a drunk and a lech and what have you.” Donat snorted. “The thing is that your uncle loved the rumors so much that he decided that Nathaniel was his favorite brother. The old shrew wasn't any nicer to her own brood than to her adoptive one, and the child was amazed by what his big brother could get away with. Nathaniel realized that it was far easier to become the rumors than it was to fight them.”

“I don't understand,” David blinked nonplussed. “Why would he do that?”

“There wasn't a story anymore. She'd start a rumor that he slept with a nobleman's daughter, Nathaniel would sleep with their entire family. She'd start a rumor that he was in drinking competitions with the Lionhearts so he'd go down and win them.” Donat chuckled. “You can't hurt someone with an identity they own. So Sáclair owned his role of the pirate king and groomed your uncle into his pirate apprentice.”

“My Uncle went with my father?” David queried. “Another thrill seeker?”

“Your uncle puts your father to shame. He was so determined to reject his mother that he started taking risks, huge risks, to defy her. The Dutchess would say left, so he'd go right just to spite her.” Donat's lips quirked in the ghost of a smile. “He'd lead defenders of the ship, charging any any all enemies armed with his blade, his greatcoat, and a witty challenge.”

“What happened to him?” David queried.

“He got beaten to death by a mob of Orks in the cargo bay for being jaw droppingly stupid enough to attack a group of them with nothing by a greatcoat, a blade, and a witty challenge. Bravery doesn't excuse foolishness,” Donat sighed sadly. “He was a powerful personality like your father, but his grox-headedness got him in the end.”

“Is someone going to talk like that about us when we're gone?” David shivered, two rounds left before he'd have to pop out and reload the servitor.

“The noblemen will, almost certainly, but they were going to gossip and criticize us for not cowering in our household's safe houses no matter what.” Donat smiled, “But Bonafila will mourn us, and your family will call you a hero. They called your uncle a hero as well. He delayed the mob of Orks long enough for the Lionhearts to slaughter them with auto-cannon fire.”

“I'd prefer not to die at all.” One round left before reloading.

The lights flickered as a nightmarish screeching whine of a klaxon echoed through the entire ship. The normal boarding klaxon shifted from red to a deep purple, flashing from red to purple to red then back again. A voice spoke a terrifying pronouncement in ancient Damascan.

The Endless Bounty's void shields had failed.

“We all have our time.” Donat replied, “We've been living on borrowed time since the Inquisitor pardoned us anyway.”

David lifted the ammunition cylinder, “The least we can do to thank the Emperor for that extra allowance is to take some xenos out in the process.”

“Even though we're likely all going to die when the ship goes up?”

“Of course.”

David stood, shivering for a moment before Donat asked, “Do you need me to push you?”

“Please, I'm too terrified to get my legs moving.”

Donat kicked, David moved, and the Eldar fired down the corridor once again.
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Susan's eyes snapped shut in reaction to the abrupt shift in air pressure as the bright light shimmered across her body. Her body ripped backwards, pulled by an invisible hand gripping the back of her navel as it compressed her through a tiny pinprick of open space. Her body squelched through the point twisting and compressing through the empty space and back up into reality, ejecting her upon the cold ash-covered earth.

She landed hard, gasping in shock as Shan's elbow connected with her midsection. The entire Inquisitorial Retinue appeared from the air around her, haphazardly projected from thin air. The teleportation was messier than the first time they'd done it, less controlled and more painful.

They were at the edge of the battlefield, north of the main Centauri beachhead. Susan could just see the outline of the Eldar titan in the distance, a shadowy statue with the bird-like shape of Eldar tank formations flittering about it's body.

Susan shoved the larger man off of her, gasping in surprise as the no longer breathable air filled her lungs. The long talons of Vira'capac reached over her face, fitting the breathing mask in place before heading over to one of the Belzafesters and repeating the process.

“Throne ,” Shan hissed from where he sat upon the ground. Unaccustomed to the sensation of teleportation, the Belzafester patted every part of his body to double check that he'd come out in one piece. Apparently satisfied with his assessment he looked around the group, counting heads. “Is everyone alive?”

“Ask me later,” Susan groaned, coughing as her body expelled the unwanted methane from her lungs. “I'm still not convinced.”

The Skitarii helped Inquisitor Daul to his feet, weaving the openly damaged augmentic shut with his mechandrites in the process and sealing it from the elements. Cairn's normally jovial demeanor had ceased, an iron attitude of menace coloring his every movement. The man was displeased, though if he was more displeased by the presence of the Necrons or Daul's deal with them Susan could not say.

He was uncharacteristically silent to Daul's comment of “Thank you Cairn,” not even sparing the man his usual silently sarcastic jibe. Though it was probably distraction more than anger that caused the ire.

The ground beneath them shook and shivered, seismic irregularities inducing the geysers of the great plains to disgorge ten mile high pillars of spinning green flame. The pillars weaved about, guided by some unknowable mechanism, dancing through the air before smashing across the ground in molten whips of destruction.

The molten whips lashed around the arms and legs of the Titan, forcing the Eldar super-heavy vehicles to re-direct their fire in an attempt to free it.

“What sorcery of the nameless gods is this,” V'Clath whispered in fear. “What have we woken?”

“There is no sorcery at work V'Cath,” The Inquisitor stared out across the battlefield, “No sorcery, just science, the impossible sciences of Necrotyr.”

The ground rumbled and shook, pulsating as though it were water rather than earth and stone. The massive spire at the center of Matok cracked and crumbled, it's wide black face pierced by glowing runnels of unnatural viridian luminescence. The mountain started to spin like a top, flinging building sized hunks of earth to the battlefield. Soldiers on both sides struggled to avoid the massive stones as they collided to the ground, crushing anything beneath.

The spire of Matok burst, shedding it's centuries old skin of obsidian and revealing the true face of the fortress. A golden starship, larger still than the mountainside it hid in, rose from the earth. It was a steep and angular pyramid riding upon a crescent moon, a construction of alien mechanical wisdom.

It rose from the ground, ignoring the frenzied salvoes of weapons-fire from both armies. Even the eldar Titan's weaponry was as nothing to the shimmering energy fields collecting and coalescing around the shell of the interstellar pyramid.

It rose into the air, hovering above the battlefield through no obvious means of propulsion. It hung in the sky as though to defy the lesser creatures beneath it to comprehend how it disobeyed the physical constraints they labored within. It unleashed a single, screeching pulse of air, a noise so loud that it displaced the clouds of gas around it in the screeching garble used by the Necron Cryptek.

The two kilometer wide shaft left in the ground by the Necron starship shimmered, shifted, and disgorged a swarm of insects. The buzzing thrum of millions of metallic wings thundered across the gorge, heralding the beginning of the end for the Eldar Titan. The monstrous horde of Necron insects descended upon the Eldar Titan, literally devouring it.

Susan scrunched up her face as the Titan's pilot projected pleas for help, asking, ordering and finally begging for someone to assist him. She couldn't understand the Eldar language, but she understood his pain. She gasped in horror as she realized that the pilot was going to be eaten alive.

Daul rested his hand on Susan's shoulder, projecting an empathic barrier across her mind with the physical contact, “There are some things that even an Inquisitor need not explore.”

Susan watched the sands shift, disgorging glimmering figures she knew all too well were Necron foot-soldiers. “They're going to kill everything they see.”

“No,” Daul spoke slowly. His voice, already distorted by the vox-caster in his armor's helm, came out in the sort of halting jerks one might expect from someone struggling to catch a memory long forgotten. “The Triarch Praetorians are incapable of lying or deceit, and despise it in all forms. If they say that we will come to no harm then will come to no harm. It's – it's how they were built to be.”

“Inquisitor?” Susan replied, worried for the man's state of mind. Had the fear cracked him?

“I- I uh....” The Inquisitor cleared his throat, shaking his head to dispel the cobwebs from his mind. “The Triarch will keep his word. It would reflect poorly upon the Phaeron of whatever dynasty we've stumbled into if he broke a direct promise, especially one to help fight the Eldar.”

“Sir,” The Belzafest comms officer held up his portable vox caster. “We've got access to the Imperial comms channels. Your orders sir?”

“Tell them – Emperor have mercy upon my soul.” Daul looked out at the pillars of flame battling the half-devoured Titan, “Tell them that we're expecting re-enforcements.”
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post #147 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-24-13, 04:00 AM Thread Starter
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Physical size was virtually meaningless in a zero gravity engagement. The normal physical advantages that one might expect from being a larger, faster, and stronger were, in fact, detrimental. It took years or even decades to re-train the muscles and mind to compensate for the sudden abdication of Newtonian constants, and even longer to be able to fight in them.

Li Xingjiang, never a patient man, had opted for a surgery in his youth to remove his sense of vertigo. It damaged his sense of taste, but he'd never once regretted the decision. He was a small target in the best of situations, that paired with his surgically enhanced ability to move in open space gave him a huge boost.

Li bounced off the conference room wall, kicking hard to shoot past the half-breed creature aiming for him. The creature, more vicious than well trained, struggled to keep up with the Captain. It turned slowly, pulling itself with long tentacle-like protrusions to correct it's position in the open air and shoot the little man.

Li didn't give it the chance. His phased plasma pistol scorched the beast's abdomen, cooking the creature's spine and paralyzingly it from the head down. It's jaws snapped open and shut, howling in agony as the limp body floated across the room.

The comm's officer's jump into the room wasn't as well judged as Li's, he shot across the room and clipped the opposing wall, catching himself awkwardly with his left arm. The man's wrist cracked, spinning him out through the bulkhead and into a trio of half-breed monsters.

As the unfortunate officer's death screams echoed down the corridor, the weapon's officer tossed a plasma grenade into the confined space with a shout of “Fire in the hole.” Unencumbered by gravity the four corpses worth of offal shot in all directions, filling the passageway with the venomous blood of the half-breeds.

“God dammit,” Klaus growled, “Why did you do that? Now we can't go through there, the ones with horns have bellies full of acid.”

“What did you want me to do? Shoot them?” The officer waved his pistol in irritation. “The last one we shot exploded so hard that it actually ruptured the hull.”

“We can close the bulkhead on a decompressed section of the ship, we can't just walk through acid.” Klaus fired into the mess of organs, dissolving a bubble of venomous blood creeping towards them. “We're going to have to go around.”

David Ng, the Engineering officer, coughed twice to interrupt his superior. He held up an alan wrench in one hand and dislodged table top in the other. “Might I suggest an alternative?”

Li nodded, “Do it.”

Officer Ng pushed the ceramic bock forward, displacing the human and alien remains from the corridor and into the room beyond. Weapons-specialist Gomez led the way into the forward chamber, taking the unenviable duty of being the first to enter a possibly occupied room.

The Argentine officer whistled twice, all clear. Ostensibly he was to whistle once were it unclear, but Li felt it was redundant considering the necessity of weapons-fire if enemies were present.

“There are fewer of them heading for the ammunition than I'd expected.” Ops officer Vincent's hands shook as he hovered into the room. “Only a dozen so far.”

“The G.R.O.P.Os are on the level they entered.” Li whispered in reply, cutting his hand across his throat in admonition of Vincent's loudness. “They're going to have to fight their way past them to get to it.”

Klaus shrugged, as he typed the over-ride into a sealed bulkhead's computer. The massive double doors to the cargo bay were nearly as wide as the room itself, “If the Inquisitor's information is to be trusted they are drawn to carnage. It's in their nature.”

“It's in my nature not to let annoying crew men ramble when we're supposed to be doing something foolish and noble.” Li snarled, his hackles raised at the idea of relying upon that man. “Are we going to be able to reach ammunition storage through the deck 15 connection?”

“It will if we can – oh Scheiße.” Klaus backed slowly away from the now open bulkhead, holding up his arms and raising his side arm to a less aggressive pose. Ten Dilgar shock-troops hovered in the cargo bay, hanging mid air in their gravity harnesses. The commandoes pointed their heavy laser rifles towards the human soldiers, dead to rights.

The damned flight deck, Li had forgotten that they could enter through the flight deck. Dilgar gravity harnesses gave them an unprecedented level of mobility in zero-gravity assaults in the later stages of the war, it was foolish of him not to anticipate this.

Li closed his eyes and spoke what he expected to be his final words, “It's been a pleasure men. I look forward to seeing you in warmer weather on the other side.”

They were good last words, he'd been preparing his last speech for years. It was a shame really that after practicing them for so long he would use them prematurely. A quintet of curious figures stepped out of thin air behind the Dilgar, massive cyclopean giants of gold and steel. They glared up at the Dilgar in silent contempt, raising their elongated rifles and firing brilliant green beams of energy through them.

The Dilgar howled in confused agony as the green beams tore them apart, flaying them inch by inch and pulling the atomized matter into the swirling vortices at their gun barrels. In a matter of moments the Dilgar assault team was rendered down into their component particles, a thin film of dust the only indication that living beings had ever been there.

“Your plan is unnecessary Captain,” Screeched a metallic voice from Li's left. A skeletal cyclopean hunchback hobbled towards him, walking normally in spite of the total absence of gravity. “Your death – the death of this ship – it is premature. You are still needed.”

“And who are you? You're as gaudy as a 斷背.” It was not Li's most charitable statement to date, “狗崽子/狗仔子, is there a sign on my ship saying 'boarders welcome'?”

“讓自己冷靜下來” Hissed the cyclopean hunchback. “We are not your enemy on this day. The bargain has been met. The first half has been given, now comes the second.”

“Oh for – I don't have time to listen to some 死鬼 ramble like a Vorlon, I have a ship to save.” Li spat on the ground.

“Man thing, your part is still necessary,” Hissed the giant. “For that, and that alone, I do not kill you where you stand for comparing me to those contemptible liars. Fear not for your ship, the Deathmarks are more than a match for this pathetic rabble.”

“Deathmarks?” Klaus queried.

“An unfortunate necessity of politics.” The cyclops hissed. “I have no urge to linger here. I will speak my peace then you primitives are welcome to continue as you will.”

“And what do you have to say?” Li asked.

“Tell me Captain, do you believe in Gods?”

“I have no use for gods or other foolish superstition. ”

“A wise opinion,” The cyclops smiled. “One we shared implicitly when we killed all of our own.”
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post #148 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-24-13, 04:01 AM Thread Starter
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G'Kar dragged the Centauri general back, hissing angrily at the approaching half-breed hounds. The forward command post had been precarious, by G'Quan he had warned the General Ezra that it was an over-extension of their forces.

But did he listen? No - of course not.

Pleasant though he might have been his Centauri pride was still well in tact enough to ignore the advice of a Narn, even a seasoned Narn tactician. By no reasonable standard could the General have planned on the mountainside exploding into a space ship and taking to the stars. But then, that was after all why one did not place a forward command post in a precarious position. One had to live long enough to actually command when things went wrong.

It was a weakness in Centauri tactics that G'Kar himself had exploited on more than one occasion in their war for independence. “I was a fool not to see this.”

“In-initial battle projections did not account for presence of Necron threat.” Jak fired a shotgun blast at a half-breed hound that strayed in range. “Unreasonable assumptions of responsibility help no-one. New probabilities indicate less than preferable probability of survival.”

“How not preferable?” G'Kar slapped the cheeks of the unconscious Centauri General, waving a Centauri medic over to tend to the man's wounds.

“Current probability of survival in clash between Necron soldiers and Eldar forces puts survival at 0.000065% presuming that we can find an area dead to both Necron deep scans and Eldar telepathy.”

“Jak, if you think we're going to die I much prefer a straight answer to a statistical misrepresentation,” G'Kar shot a hound's haunch, saving a Centauri soldier from it's jaws. The wounded hound was immediately set upon by its hungering pack, stripped down to the bone in their blood frenzy.

“We're going to die in a manner that is considered to be horrible by any reasonable standard not involving Eldar pirate torture methods.” Jak chambered a new round in his shotgun and fired, missing a hound as it pounced upon a retreating Narn shock-trooper.

“There, was that so hard?” G'Kar snarled in irritation. Whatever initiative they might have had to repel the Eldar warriors had been broken by the sudden arrival of half a mountainside. The Earth Alliance intervention forces were in utter shambles. Casualties had been relatively minimal but the sudden change in geography troubled the Allied forces far more than the Half-breed coalition.

“Sir!” Jak grabbed G'Kar by the collar, dragging him down. “Necron forces incoming!”

G'Kar batted the terrified man's grip away, poking a crimson eye out from cover to see what frightened the Imperials more than demons. Eight massive skeletons rose from the ash, seemingly tearing through the bones of the earth as they lifted themselves to their feet. Their golden bones shimmered with glowing green hieroglyphs, spitting bursts of energy into the air around them.

The eight warriors turned their double-barreled carbines on the hounds, cascading bolts of lighting jumping from victim to victim as though propelled by a minds of their own. The pack of hounds died in agony, cooked from the inside out.

The Skeletons outright ignored the Narn and Centauri soldiers as they tried to kill them. Heads smashed, torsos melted, fingers cracked but the skeletons just kept walking, shambling forwards as their bodies knit themselves back together. They shambled closer, and closer, carbines at the ready.

They continued their unstoppable march, walking up to point blank range before – before continuing as though they hadn't even noticed the presence of either Narn or Centauri soldiers. They walked past G'Kar without so much as a glance, striding into and through the sheer cliff face behind the Centauri fallback position.

“Do you want to tell me precisely what that was?” G'Kar queried.

“Unknown,” replied Jak. “But it is safe to say that I will have to adjust my statistical assessment of the situation.”

“Sir!” A young Centauri officer rushed towards him, “The E.A. evac is here. I'm under orders that you, the General and Mr. Jak are to fall back to General Franklin's position immediately.”

“Very well,” G'Kar nodded. “We shall have to inform him of this new development any – what in G'Quan's name is that?”

He pointed with a gauntleted finger at a shambling group moving towards the fallback encampment. It almost looked like a squad of Centauri, though their skin was stretched and distorted as though it were not properly sized for the Centauri's body. They moved unnaturally, a shambling half-march that was a far cry from parade standard movement.

“Sir... you need to move now. We can take care of – whatever these are.” The Centauri officer nodded to the Narn and Centauri holding the line. “Leave it to us.”

“Very well,” G'Kar hated leaving his men behind, but he was needed elsewhere. He helped the medic lift the General as they climbed the makeshift ramp at the back of the command post to reach the smooth ledge that served as a landing pad for transports. The boxy Earth Alliance vehicle was waiting for them, hovering only inches above the ground.

The pilot stuck his head out, shouting over the gunfire below, “Sir we have a ten minute window to take off before we get stuck here for another hour. We need to go.”

“Very well, very well,” G'Kar shoved the general into the back unceremoniously, much to the chagrin of the Centauri medic, before helping Jak into the transport. He was just about to enter himself when a voice came from behind him.

“Wait!” Screamed the terrified Centauri, “Don't leave me here. Don't leave me!”

G'Kar turned and watched in horror as a Centauri guardsman fell to the ground, tackled by a silver skeleton with eight inch blades for fingertips. The skeleton, covered in the recently skinned flesh of a Centauri soldier, leered at him through glowing optics. It chittered in what might have been laughter as G'Kar scrambled onto the transport shouting “Go, go damn you! Go now!”

A trio of skeletons set upon the unfortunate Centauri soldier, splitting him like a suckling spoo. They fought over his skin and bones, chittering angrily over the best parts of him as they painted themselves in his parts.

“Tell me this t-t-thing has T-T-Throne Cursed weapons!” Jak swore.

“And then some.” The pilot growled in fury, turning to his co-pilot. “Curtis, light these bastards up.”

Curtis, a dark skinned man with wide biceps and no neck grunted once before activating the nose mounted heavy plasma-repeater. The trio of skeletons disappeared in a wave of plasma fire.

Their bodies writhed in the effort to fix themselves, twisting and undulating before dissolving back into the sand as though they'd never been. The black man whooped in victory, “Who-rah!”

“Set the tires and light the fires,” The G.R.O.P.O pilot fist bumped his co-pilot. “Let's give the Centauri a little bit of covering fire before we get – oh dear God in heaven.”

The airborne transport swooped back over the cliff face, staring down into the valley G'Kar had been in only minutes before. They stared down into hell. The valley was full of psychotically cavorting silver skeletons delighting in gore. There was not a scrap of the retreat position not covered in gore.

“How is that even possible?” G'Kar whispered in awe. “We were gone only moments.”

“Early exploration of Necron architecture indicates that Necron forces are capable of existing in parallel or overlapping time frames,” Jak nodded. “Linear time is not a necessity.”

“We're fighting people who can time travel?” G'Kar hissed.

“Slowing time is confirmed on small scale conflicts, larger scale applications are pure speculation.” Jak sighed. “The walls of the valley likely impeded w-w-whatever t-t-temporal distortion prevented the rest from escaping.”

“I'm guessing these things aren't taking prisoners?” The pilot queried.

“Highly unlikely.” Jak replied.

“Sir with your permission I would very much like to drop a bunker-buster on these mother fraggers.” The co-pilot growled through clenched teeth.

“Permission granted,” G'Kar nodded, staring into the soulless eyes of a skeleton as it stared up at the transport as though contemplating how to jump up to it. He knew that creature, by memory, knew it in the old tongue as it was spoken by the great prophet G'Quan.

The soldiers of darkness were the shock troops of the ancient enemy that the Narn had once expelled from their home world with the help of the angels, the same enemy who killed the Narn mind walkers. G'Quan preserve them, the darkness was awake. The first death was back and with them the soldiers of darkness.

Death walked among them. Ancestors save them all!
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post #149 of 159 (permalink) Old 10-24-13, 04:02 AM Thread Starter
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“Throne cursed whore's son of a slag ! Screamed Sergei as he came face to face with a three meter long centipede like robot. The machine observed him with mild interest, looking him up and down before shifting through the wall and away from him. He hadn't even had a second to raise his weapon before it vanished, and it took him a few seconds to get his heart rate down enough to proceed.

“Anyone else getting confused?” Falin queried, scratching his head as he prodded an Eldar corpse with his foot. “These things keep having us dead to rights then just fragging off.”

“Don't waste time and energy fighting things that are going your way soldier,” Gazan grunted. “I've got my hands full stitching you lot up without you seeking out new ways to die.”

Sergei couldn't help but agree as he watched a phalanx of jet-bike mounted skeletons clash with the Eldar flyers, countering the Eldar skill with mathematical precision. They were inelegant, moving with such unnatural accuracy that they did not seem to be part of the world around them. They would abruptly shift at right angles and zoom away, uncaring of the physical laws governing all other persons.

The battle between the two xenos armies raged around the smoldering hulk of the Eldar titan, dodging and darting through it's wreckage as they struggled to outmatch each other.

“But what are they? We've seen five different types of skeletons, none of whom so much as looked us in the face as they well – did this.” Falin waved at the charnel surrounding them. “If I'd known the Inquisitor had this chambered I'd have been a whole lot less worried about making it up to the front lines.”

“The Inquisitor's a son of a bitch but I don't think this is his doing.” Sergei squinted out at where the fortress mountain had once been. “Whatever was under that mountain had to have been there for a long time. Longer than even he can plan.”

Argos, grunted, “How far are we from their command post?”

“If the maps are still accurate – and lets be honest, they're probably not – we're only one tunnel from their main command post.” Falin ran his tongue over his lips, whetting them in thought. “If the skeletons have been as thorough in the forward bunkers as they've been in the adjoining tunnels then we should be able to break through their lines.”

“Should be?” Sergei snorted. “Well it's better than our odds have been so far. Why the Eye not.”

He shouldered his rifle and dropped into the trench beneath the bunker, curling his lip at the squelching bloody much and mire beneath his feet. If he survived uniform was getting burned before he took a week long shower while scrubbing himself raw. Throne alone knew to what he'd been exposed.

The surviving lion-hearts weaved their way along the path, staying low. They didn't have to work hard to avoid notice, the skeletons were mounting an offensive along the western front. Their shambling figures glimmered in the dusky shadows of the battlefield, a legion of death illuminated only by their weapon's fire. It was like staring into the face of armageddon.

Sergei did not bother to kill the sobbing Dilgar warrior crouched in the crook where three trenches met. The pitiful mewling kitten of a man sat there, grabbing at the cauterized stump that might once have been a leg, howling to raise the dead. The pathetic creature did not even notice him as he slunk by, so engrossed was it in it's own pain.

“Sir,” Gazan examined the creature's wound more closely. “A moment.”

Sergei turned and watched as the Medic pulled out a pain suppressant and injected it at the base of the Dilgar's neck. The creature's eye's rolled up into the back of it's head as it succumbed to a dreamless state of narcotic bliss, whiskers twitching contentedly.

“And why in Thrones' name are you using good narca on a xenos enemy?” Falin chided in irritation. “We could easily have just shot it.”

“That would have given away our position,” Gazan replied. “And there is nothing to be gained by letting the creature suffer. If we win this battle we will need captives, we will need knowledge. If it survives, a crippled Dilgar will be easier to manage.”

“Are you planning on carrying it?” Argos queried, holding up his flamer to demonstrate that he had no room.

“I'm – down -” Sergei dropped into the disgusting mire, spreading the muck over his body to conceal himself, doing his best to look dead. His thundering heart throbbed in his ears as the Eldar soldiers leapt the trench, howling to raise the dead. Their long plumes of razor-laced hair hung loosely from conical wraith-bone helms, jingling with the noise of jewelery carved of what could only be freshly harvested human jaw-bones.

Long capes of electrified razor wire dangled behind them, sparking and spitting in their wake. Anyone unfortunate to touch them would doubtless have fallen unconscious, leaving them open for a glowing power scimitar to find a neck. They weren't banshees, Sergei knew enough of the Aspect warriors that he could be sure of that, the aspect warriors were a more uniform group. But neither were they the Dark Eldar Wytches so ubiquitous in the pirate armada of the Dark City, who would shun all forms of armor in contempt. No, they were something he'd never seen before.

The screeches howled their way into the distance, though Sergei dared not breath till echoing clang of power scimitar on metallic skeleton rumbled in the distance. He lifted himself to his feet and stared into the pacified eyes of the Dilgar. The drug addled alien was sitting upright, using his remaining hand to make a castle out of the blood filled muck.

Sergei wiped the filth from his face as he stared at the humming creature as it swayed from side to side. “Gazan, Pit of the Eye, how much of that did you give him?”

“Twenty, no forty cc of morpha.” Gazan growled, using some of his drinking water to sanitize his hands. “It should be enough to last him till we get back.”

“Can it walk?” Sergei queried.

Argos swore, “We are carrying the damn xenos?”

“No Argos,” Sergei smiled, pointing to the Dilgar's rank pins. “We're bringing a key.”
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Biting down on his belt to keep himself from chewing through his own tongue the Captain muscled through the pain as he prow of the Endless Bounty smashed through the bioship's side. Firing vortex torpedoes at close range into the Faustian Bioship was not Sáclair's favorite memory. In fact he would go so far as to say that he far preferred Daul's caring ministrations with a knife and electroshock maul in the heyday of his imprisonment.

Still the bio-ship would die, which was easily worth the pain. The backlash would, of course, destroy the primary firing mechanism of the vortex torpedo launchers, but Sáclair was out of vortex torpedoes anyway. For that matter he was out of magma bombs, cyclonic torpedoes, and any other ordinance of worth.

Even the damned shields had failed. Kerrigan's improvements ultimately required a defter hand than Tuul could provide, especially whilst co-ordinating a counter assault at the same time. Damn that woman. Was trying to sabotage the ship once not enough for her spite?

Sáclair ignored the sense of panic from his ancestors, the overwhelming finality each of them felt for what was seemingly destined to come as the primary power distributor guiding the main engines cracked under the pressure of cleaving the bio-ship in twain.

The engines sparked, they sputtered, and they died. The formerly elegant grace of the Endless Bounty lay crippled and stilted in the burning husk of the black ship, groaning like a beached whale. Never, not once in Sáclair's entire life, had he felt so powerless.

As a boy it had been his secret dream to pilot an Eldar starship, perhaps with his own pet gryx. Men grow old, dreams die, but it is rarer still for a man to stare into his own dream as he dies.

He watched in terror as the Eldar Night Stalker whispered it's way through the battle on pinioned wings of starlight, predatory and agile in it's deliberate menace. It was beautiful really, an elegant war machine as old as the stars themselves.

It was, all things considered, an elegant way to die fitting of someone of his status. Throne if he was going to go out, he'd be damned if he did it cowering like some dull peasant.

“We're being hailed by the Eldar ship sir,” Sácomer chimed across the vox link, his copious jowls jiggling across his hololithic projection. “They say they are prepared to discuss the terms of surrender.”

“Open a channel to the Eldar ship.” Nathaniel Sáclair chuckled, “No, scratch that. Open a channel to all ships in the system.”

“Message sir?” Queried Sácomer.

Sáclair winced as he felt another section of hull decompress, an intentional one this time. He allowed himself a tiny smirk at he sensation of Eldar boarders being sucked out into the void of space. “Open the Vid-link. I want to be able to say this in real-time. Be sure to broadcast both sides of it on an open channel.”

Reclining into his throne, Sáclair straightened his Jacked and shirt. One must look presentable in the face of the enemy, it would do no good to look like some wastrel vagabond for one's final words. It was undignified.

The great hololith shimmered and reshaped itself into a narrow face, more peculiar for it's striking similarity to humanity than it's differences. It was a perfect face, too perfect. Human faces were not evenly matched, not properly balanced. Human faces had bumps, ridges, imperfections, tiny details to let you know they were not simply made on an assembly line like some sort of machine.

The Eldar had no such visible imperfections, and were less attractive for it. Their pinched and perfectly balanced faces were striking but could never be described as attractive, more like stylized dolls than actual people. The unnatural beauty of the Eldar always seemed to be perfectly accentuated by an omnipresent sneer of contempt.

The Eldar face spoke, it's cat like eyes narrowing as translucent lips danced across tapering ivory fangs. It's voice forced it's way out of the astropathic translator, the servitor's syllables colored with pain as runnels of blood ran from it's eye sockets.

He caressed the head of the astropathic servitor bound to his throne, caressing the feminine ear and scalp. She cooed and pressed back into the scratch, enjoying what little comfort she had left. It was unlikely the girl would survive her encounter with an Eldar mind, but then she was hardly alive to begin with.

She spoke in pained tones, struggling to keep up with the myriad of complex motions made by the Eldar vocal cords. “You will discuss the terms of surrender?”

“I lament to inform you that the Endless Bounty is not properly equipped to accept your surrender,” Sáclair replied, sipping from his flagon. He greatly enjoyed the look of confusion in the Eldar's face as the astropath fed his message back in the Eldar language.

“What?” The Eldar replied nonplussed.

“You have a sizable army on the planet, even if I don't include the Dilgar and traitor forces. I have nowhere near sufficient facilities to house all of you in conditions that meet the basic standards that a prisoner of war encampment must meet.” Sáclair ticked down his fingers one by one with each point. “And I'm afraid to tell you that my government's policy has been to never accept the surrender of xenos.”

He smiled into the furious face of the Eldar, “It is with great shame that I inform you on behalf of the Empire that we are simply unable to accept the surrender of the Eldar aggressors at this time.”

“Impudent princeling, ” The Eldar snarled, bolts of warp-fire spitting from his eyes and mouth. “You are a fool. A chance was given for a challenge met with honor. The path is chosen and done. If it is to be your doom, then so be it.”

“I'll see you in hell knife ear,” Sáclair replied. “I'll see you in – ” he blinked as his sensors reported something impossible “ -what the hell?”

The mountain fortress of Matok was exiting the planet's atmosphere at a remarkable speed. He sniffed his wine tentatively, searching for the odor of takka root or gejan berries. Finding neither he decided that, in fact, he was not hallucinating as the mountain continued to fly out from the planet's atmosphere and into the starry void.

It was a starship, larger than even the largest Imperial warship Sáclair had ever seen, larger than even a Ramilies Class Starfort. A ship with power readings worthy of the mightiest of hive cities, the Sh'lassen rebels had been hiding a secret worthy of note after all.

As his sensors reconciled the impossible with reality Sáclair looked up at the Eldar and smiled, “It would seem we both are destined for the Eye today.”

The Eldar's glare seemed to hover in the air long after the hololith ceased to broadcast the Eldar's face.

“Do we know if that thing is friendly or an enemy?” Sácomer quibbled, his quivering jowls shaking in fear.

“It isn't as though it makes a damn bit of difference.” Interjected Navigator Illrich, poking a pair of spectacles up his upturned snub of a nose. “We can't move, we have no large ordinance, and no throne cursed shields. We might as well be a target.”

“Eldar are moving to engage the pyramid,” Interjected a young officer, his voice shaky from exhaustion. “They're covering the retreat of the Faustian black-ships into warp.”

“The Dilgar?” Queried Sácomer.

“Still engaging the Non-aligned worlds. They seem to be frightened enough of us to stay out of range of our guns.” The officer replied. “Emperor be praised.”

“The Emperor protects,” Sáclair replied. If he actually survived this battle he was going to mass twice a day.

Sáclair extended his sensors and watched as the angry school of Eldar ships swarmed the pyramid like furious hornets, stinging and stabbing at it's sides with pulse lasers and arcane warp-energies. Their guns were as water to a stone, colliding with it before rolling off to the side. The unknown ship hung in place, passively accepting the incoming fire as it's sides throbbed with green light.

The light pulsed and pulsed with increasing frequency, speeding up little, by little, by little until the sides of the pyramid were erupting with a staccato frenzy of pulsing green light. The green flecks spun in an endless cascade of shifting viridian, twisting and writhing till they finally erupted into beams of iridescent lightning. The green bolts jumped from eldar dart ship to eldar dart ship, crushing them into shattered fragments of xenotech.

The Eldar capital ship's weapons fared no better, scorching the monolithic pyramid's hull but doing little else. A pulsing blue tractor beam wave snatched the Eldar capital-ship, entrapping it in filaments of starlight and shadow. The larger ship struggled, pinioned wings of energy pushing at the implacable force of the pyramid but for naught.

The pyramid ship fired it's main weapon at the Eldar capital-ship, tearing out one of it's wings like a small child with a moth. The Eldar ship struggled harder, firing again with all it's weapons. The pyramid's hull pulsed with flecks of green as it charged it's lightning once again.

And then a very strange thing happened. A pair of bio-ships ships simply appeared from thin air. The jagged and crab like craft opened fire upon the pyramid, cutting across the lower section of it with purple beams of immense power. The Pyramid ships' blue tractor beam dissipated, freeing the Eldar ship to speed off into the stars on it's remaining wings, disappearing into the web-way.

The pyramid unleashed it's lighting upon the crabs, but only shot it's beams into empty space. The crabs had disappeared as quickly as they came. Apparently furious at having lost it's prey the pyramid ship fired it's lightning at the Dilgar fleet, destroying or crippling what few Enemy ships remained.

Sáclair watched in confusion as the Pyramid folded in upon it's self, seeming to implode into a speck of nothing, leaving the battle in a puff of steam and plasma. The battle was over?

“We won?” Illrich asked in confusion, staring into his view-screen. “I'm not registering any remaining enemy troops in sensor range.”

“Let's settle for 'we survived” Sáclair replied, wincing as reports of the Eldar boarding teams increased in severity. The knife-ears did not take loosing well. “Sent a request for soldiers out to whichever of our Allies are still alive and see how many of our boys survived on the ground. I want these damn boarders off my ship.”
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