Emergence of a New Threat! Operation Twisted Manta!

Prologue

“All units in position. Stealth Fire-teams, fan out and secure pre-ordained objectives.” R’in looked at the map of Greenbeard’s base, tracking the two stealth units as they closed on the buildings. A simple raid on an Ork installation like this was the perfect training opportunity, which explained why none of the teams comprised bonded veterans.

Everything about the operation was methodically, unimaginatively by the book. Snipers had taken the high ground and were waiting for sentries to emerge.

“Team Maet’el, status?” They were close to the first strategic point, a small Ork supply drop outside of two barrack-like buildings.

There was no reply.

“Maet’el, this is Firebrand. Report.”

Silence again. One of the transponders blinked out and then came back to life.

“Firebrand, this is Maet’el. Technical difficulties.”

“Technical… difficulties?” R’in was prepared to get angry whatever explanatin they gave. Poorly-maintained equipment was an offence.

“I’ri brought a part of the building down, damaged two stealth plates.” Maet’el, the team leader, sounded appropriately nervous. R’in knew her reputation preceded her. “It’s fixed now. No enemy contact.”

“Status of the objective?” R’in knew the best thing to do was keep calm. It would unnerve Maet’el and I’ri and keep them sharp.

“Nothing but empty barrels. Residual traces of engine oil, or possibly cooking-oil. Buildings are locked tight although we detected faint electrical charge around the doorframes, suspected tripwire. Authorisation to breach door?”

“No. Continue to second objective.” She changed the channel. “Pathfinder team Mor’din, status?”

“No enemies. We began scans of enemy command HQ, high voltage concentrated around communications antennae and – no, Ta’ril, recalibrate your scanner. I told you before that they don’t take well to being dropped – apologies, sir. Ta’ril’s scanner is malfunctioning. Ork command HQ is showing thermal spike consistent with internal power core location.”

R’in bit her lip, fighting the urge to demote Ta’ril, and Mor’din, and I’ri. Malfunctions, pathetic amateurish blundering, nothing seemed to be going right.

“Keep an eye open for enemies. Team Tai’lha?” She hoped she could rely on the other stealth team.

“Enemy outbuilding scan completed. It is a refectory. It has been abandoned for some time.”

“How long?”

“Days, for sure. Supplies have spoiled due to the heat and ruptured packaging. As if the Orks sabotaged their food supplies to prevent an invader from stealing them.”

“Noted. Check the communication array.” The former Imperial air-search radar seemed to be the likeliest location for an Ork garrison outside of their main HQ.

Maet’el reported the second objective – an area of disturbed ground and crates – was a crude pit-latrine. R’in half expected to hear I’ri had fallen into it.

“Firebrand, this is Tai’lha. Communications array is in full lockdown. Energy weapon scarring on outer wall not of Ork origin, although impossible to tell age. Presume previous occupants of base engaged in combat with some other enemy. Suspect Eldar. Energy readings from inside suggest installation is running on backup power.”

“Confirmed. Check the enemy watch-tower.” Change line. “Maet’el, advance on main structure.”

Tai’lha’s unit leapt to the top of the primitive watch-tower and R’in watched through her camera. A crate, large enough to carry heavy weapons, sat abandoned on the platform.

“Opening crate.” The two stealth suits with Tai’lha readied their weapons as she smashed the lock.

Inside was a dead gretchin, cooked by the sun’s superheating effect on the metal ammunition-crate.

“Single ork slave-species. Deceased, apparently for some time. Corpse well-preserved. No sign of injury, likely killed by heat or asphyxiation.”

“Proceed to regroup with Maet’el. Be ready to breach-” A flashing red warning from I’ri’s suit distracted her. “Maet’el, report.”

“-creature- attack- I’ri” The communication was confused. “Repeat, Ork domesticated predator-creature attacked I’ri.”

“Status?”

“Suit undamaged. Presume enemy creature was watch-dog.” R’in wanted to be angry but knew that it was not impossible that the creature could have detected a stealth suit so close. “Continuing with mission.”

Another communication came from Mor’din.

“Commander, this is Ta’ril. I have-”

“Explain yourself.” That was the final straw.

“I have confirmed my initial report. Scanner equipment is not malfunctioning. Sending tactical data to you.”

The thermal spike Mor’din had reported was, in fact, a complete fabrication. The reactor of the Ork HQ was, according to Ta’ril’s scanner, burning at absolute zero.

“Mor’din, would you care to explain why you lied to me?”

At the door of the Ork HQ, the effects of the cold snap inside were clearly visible. The main hatch inside was coated with a thick frost despite the heat of the desert sun, and vapour – heavy, cloudy gas of some kind – was seeping from the frame.

Tai’lha smashed the door down, the metal brittle from its supercooling. The inside of the building was pitch-black, and it took a few seconds for the blacksun filters to kick in.

“Commander R’in? Are you seeing this?”

The inside of the Ork HQ was a mess of smashed machines and corpses splayed out over the floor. Those nearest the door were the most intact, merely broken as if something large had laid into them with claw or fist. Those in the centre were mostly a paste on the floor and walls.

Hunched in the middle, at first impossible to differentiate from the shadows of broken pipes and machines and dead orks, was a humanoid figure.

“It seems whatever – whoever – that is has already killed the Orks.” R’in smiled. “Should we congratulate it or kill it, I wonder?”

The figure turned with ponderous movements and at that point a panel of the Ork building’s wall fell off with a harsh clatter. As Tai’lha’s sensors again recalibrated, she saw that the thing apparently had no legs, but instead was floating a foot or so off the ground.

There was a momentary impasse, the Tau unsure what to do and the creature staring at them with simple, cow-like eyes and a flabby, pallid face.

Then the mask of imbecility slipped, and its features writhed into bare red muscle and flayed flesh, the thing growing in size at an impossible rate as its skin-disguise tore and burst. Its lips and gums disintegrated to reveal huge, herbivore teeth in a rictus skull-grin, and then whip-like arms lashed out to grab I’ri and his wingman. Pulse fire flickered against its skinless limbs, and Tai’lha watched as it distended its jaw to swallow a stealth suit whole. The second, I’ri, thrashed against the muscular fist, and was suddenly bitten in half by the thing.

“All units retreat! Fall back to team Mor’din! I will hold the creature here!”Maet’el took a firing-stance and forced himself to watch the thing mashing I’ri between its flat-topped teeth, never stopping firing even though the shots bounced from its muscles.

“Prepare the main force for advance.” R’in adjusted her suit’s controls. “Be prepared for combat with unknown contact.”

“Hold position.” The voice had gentle, commanding weight to it. “That is an order from Gue’va’O Vogura.”

“With all due respect, Por’O, that is-”

“Hold position, R’in, or I will be forced to be unreasonable. Vogura reports that there are fellow Chaos cults on this planet and he will not risk angering them with an attack.”

Eu’fea locked the line, and R’in knew violating orders from the Water Caste would be suicidal. “All units fall back to Mor’din’s position. Suppress the unknown creature, designation Kaiju, and await orders.”

Tactical data from the black boxes of team Maet’el was flooding her screen. She began transferring it to Vogler and Eu’fea to try and expedite their investigations.

The creature finished eating Maet’el – or that was what R’in presumed it had been doing, for sensors and cameras seemed to be failing across the recon team as a sandstorm whipped up. All she knew was the last footage from Maet’el had been the thing grabbing him. It proceeded, to her shock, to simply walk through the wall of the Ork building, blinking unsteadily into existence and then from its cavernous maw engulfing team Tai’lha in thick smoke. As that in time faded, one of their number was gone, vanished who knew where.

“R’in? Do you read me, R’in dear?” Eu’fea’s tone was as cloying as it could possibly be. “Your information was most valuable. Vogura informs me that the creature is definitely not a Chaos bioweapon or summoned demon. Engage at will.”

The delay, though, had been crippling. The sandstorm made a co-ordinated attack impossible, and already the line had been broken up.

Cycle One

Cadre Ai’yan sprinted blindly through the thick dust-clouds, firing at the ghosts of movement, not knowing if they had scored any hits. A salvo of rails from Mor’din’s pathfinders momentarily cleared the clouds with supersonic wakes, and revealed the colossal entity now missing half a hand, its thumb and first two fingers shorn off by the projectiles.

There was a hail of static, and the sky was shadowed by the arrival of Ai’lto’s Razorshark fighter, spiralling beams of blue light that should have burned into the creature’s hide dissipated and refracted to uselessness.

IMG_2985

“New contacts! New contacts!” Mor’din broadcast the new sensor data to all units. “Unknown enemy contact at Ork HQ. Enemy infantry, unknown designation, at barrack-complex.”

Lightning bolts danced from the storm, sickeningly green against the ochre desert, and one of Cadre Ai’yan’s warriors burst into flames.

Cycle Two

R’in had somehow made it to the front, but well out of position. She could see Mor’din to her left, when he should have been on her right. Tai’lha’s unit was falling back ahead of her. Ai’yan was somewhere off behind the large building where Mor’din was holding out.

Her bearings well-set, she looked for targets. The large monster was out of range, absorbing fire from Tai’lha’s unit as they retreated and looking none the worse for it.

Ai’lto dived into the storm and she saw his fighter’s guns cut deep glassy scars into the sand, melting three of the enemy infantry – still only spindly silhouettes in the dust even with the image-enhancement of the drone she had assumed direct control of.

Ai’yan and Mor’din poured fire on enemy contacts they could barely see, hulking shadows the size of a Crisis suit, and one of the things collapsed in a pile of wreckage. She wished that the storm would clear, just for a second. Knowing the enemy was vital.

IMG_2986

No sooner had that thought crossed R’in’s mind, her wish was granted in a perverse fashion. The enemy infantry, previously distant and shadowy, suddenly with one step appeared within spitting distance of Ai’yan and laid fire on him – albeit to little effect. The drone’s camera picked one of the figures out and matched it within seconds against something from the database.

Enemy: Necron

R’in was suddenly, for the first time in her entire career, afraid.

Enemy beetle-like machines were burrowing up around her team, still apparently disoriented by the storm, but drawn towards their bestial master.

The enormous thing – apparently growing by the second still – charged Mor’din’s unit. R’in passed the scanner over it, hoping to see what it was for sure.

Enemy: Unknown

Maet’el had had the stomach to watch his team annihilated by the devouring maw. R’in cut her suit’s camera as it took Mor’din in one massive hand and the rest of his team in the other.

A lick of wind-tossed sand blocked Ai’yan’s vision momentarily and as he pulled himself upright, buffeted by the sudden squall, he felt a pressure at his ankle. Some kind of metallic tendril had caught him and before he could react he was pulled back to the ground and it was only an instinctive roll, fighting the unseen enemy’s grip, that saved him from the heavy sword that embedded itself in the sand. Whatever was attacking was hard to see, and his cadre were spread out in firing-positions, but when he called for them to report in apparently two others were caught by tentacles of some kind.

Prepare for close-range combat.”

Cycle Three

Cadre Ta’el tried to block Ai’yan’s distress calls from their minds as they fired on the creature that was still merrily snacking on Mor’din’s pathfinders. Ion charges from the Razorshark exploded around it, but it seemed to never quite be where the shots were falling, its body almost fluid.

The reassuring reports that Cadre Ai’yato had also arrived on the field, and were suppressing the approaching Necron infantry (for R’in’s message of the nature of the foe had got out despite the interference) with the help of L’Eref’s Crisis team made it seem almost like the tide had turned. All but one of the Necrons were smashed by the weight of fire, their shrouded overseer crippled and broken, and only one was able to pull itself back upright in the grotesque way the machines could.

R’in and her team opened fire on the beetle-constructs, but their shells seemed proof against the flamethrowers’ blasts that licked around them. The fusion-shots scored deep wounds in the metal, but the things carried on unharmed as the damage repaired itself in seconds.

She retreated, falling in behind Tai’lha to form a better firing-line.

Ai’yan had finally hacked the Necron tentacle from his ankle and identified his opponent. A Necron, bigger than most, melded with a kind of beetle-body and wielding a two-handed sword. It was accompanied by the source of the tendrils, a sinuous snakelike creature with bladed limbs protruding from a ribcage-like torso. He saw it grab one of his fellow warriors with two such tentacles and pull the Tau apart, while its arms decapitated another. The flying Necron swung its blade and it was a miracle he evaded, although the drone buzzing around him was less fortunate.

Another horde of Necrons tore themselves up through the walls of the building where once Mor’din had held position. Two seemed stillborn, crumbling as debris fell upon them, and then they opened fire. Two more seemed to malfunction, but the hail of lightning engulfed Tai’lha’s squad and shattered the shoulder-armour of her surviving wingman.

The beetles tried to press the advantage but were driven back by fusion-fire, still taunting R’in with their implacable movement and gleaming, impenetrable carapaces.

L’Eref, Ai’yato and Ta’el all poured fire into the devouring beast, and drove it back from a swooping, momentum-driven charge. Yet as they remained distracted, the surviving Necrons – those who had weathered L’Eref’s first volley – cut down two of Ta’el’s squad.

Ai’yan knew he had little time left. He was alone, now, against the serpent and the flying Necron. He had seen the serpent string up the last member of his unit with a tentacle and drive a spinning knot of blades into the immobilised soldier’s torso. He had seen the flying Necron bisect two fire warriors with one sword-stroke.

He was afraid.

L’Eref, pausing to take stock of the situation as the enemy monster licked its wounds, did not see the new threat arrive from the area of the Ork latrines. More flying Necrons buzzed in bird-like formation towards his team and with a hail of lightning atomised one of his Crisis suits. Instinctively he ordered evasive maneuvers, jumping backwards out of the storm of fire.

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Cycle Four

The Razorshark continued its attack, blasting two of the newly-arrived creatures to pieces with a satisfying hail of beams.

Ai’yato, seeing the weakened Necron squad close by, ordered a full salvo into its ranks and unsurprisingly the few survivors were torn apart. It seemed that that had been enough to stop them trying to regenerate.

R’in and her unit continued to fire on the beetles, but nothing seemed to work. They simply advanced, their compound eyes staring soullessly at her, their claws flexing almost in pleasurable anticipation of the carnage they would wreak.

Ai’yan was tiring. The Necron’s sword swings were ever-harder to avoid, and there was less and less room to retreat as the wall closed in behind him.

He did not see the tentacle lurking just beneath the sand until he was suddenly immobilised, pinned by it and two more, then a fourth hovering above his helmet before smashing downwards to put an end to the whole thing.

Tai’lha felt the Necron shots flicker around her armour and knew it would not hold for much longer. The beetles were close now, close enough that her team had time for one last shot before the cat-and-mouse game of dodging – hard in the clumsy stealth suit – began. The claws thrust and danced, and Tai’lha made a mistake before long. The first blade dug into her thigh and the second aimed higher and that, ultimately, was the end. Mercifully quick.

Her wingman lasted longer, which was perhaps worse. Burst-cannon fire peppered the beetle’s face and armour until he held the fire for a moment too long and the claw crushed the shoulder-mounted gun. He tried to dance away but dodged wrong, tripping over an extended arm and falling to the floor to see the underside of the thing’s helmet, a constantly gnawing mess of blades and gears. It extended its head. The faceplate opened up.

R’in, again, cut black-box feed. With a gesture she ordered her cadre – her two sworn retainers – as well as any survivors to follow her back to the waiting Orca.

The few remaining fire warriors and Crisis suits of L’Eref’s team had formed a tight circle, but the Necrons advanced on all sides. Melee-constructs, with long knife-like fingers, tapped and scratched at the Crisis suits, the Tau machines’ blows too clumsy to effectively fight back but the Necrons unable to effectively pierce the cockpits.

The devourer consumed Ta’el’s squad in one greedy mouthful, its swollen head and dislocated jaw opening to titanic widths to swallow a whole handful of Tau in one motion.

As the flying Necrons harassed Ai’yato’s unit and ran it to the ground, L’Eref fled. He had seen R’in’s retreat order, and obeyed it.

Epilogue

It had perhaps been expected that some of the unbonded would die; even if they had merely been fighting Orks, R’in knew that idiots like I’ri would not have survived long. But the methodical grotesquerie that the Necrons had inflicted upon her forces – the Ork Eradication Army itself – was an insult.

Aerial surveys indicated that the giant, skinless warrior had vanished into the sandstorm, probably to wreak its outrages against someone else. She hoped it was the orks.

Although she had been too – she hated to admit it but afraid – to watch the fates of those the thing had consumed, or the beetle-machine’s vivisection of Tai’lha’s wingman, she had sent all the information to Ru’luc and Eu’fea. They would watch. They had to watch.

A transmission broke the silence of the Orca’s hold.

“This is a worrying development, R’in.”

“High Commander.”

“We have, we believe, with the help of Vogura and his Panopticon, reconstructed the cause of this. The Ork Greenbeard went on an ill-advised expedition into a Necron installation deep under his main base and… has yet to return. In his absence, the Necrons apparently launched reprisal attacks on a number of Ork bases.”

“I see.”

“We have identified a Necron command and control facility near to your location. Lead a mission to destroy it and perhaps you may go some way to atone for your defeat and… inglorious withdrawal from the field.”

“That is… a great honour.” R’in felt something that had been quite rare in the days following the defeat. The burning, most un-Tau-like loathing of the enemy that made her want to destroy every one of them. The malaise that she had been under was gone, replaced by nothing more than a coldly gnawing desire for vengeance.

Notes:

Army List – Tau Ork Eradication Force

HQ/

Commander Firebrand:

  • Shas’O, Flamer, Fusion Blaster, Shield Generator, Stimulant Injector, Onager Gauntlet, Neuroweb Jammer, Iridium Armour
  • Two Bodyguards, Flamer, Fusion Blaster, Shield Generator

Elites/

Cadre L’Eref

  • Crisis Suits, Plasma Rifle, Twin-Linked Missile Pod

Cadres Maet’el and Tai’lha

  • Stealth Suits, 2 Fusion Blasters/Target Locks

Troops/

Cadres Ai’yato, Ta’el and Ai’yan

  • 3 units of 8 Fire Warriors, two with a Gun Drone, all with a Sergeant, Markerlight and Target Lock

Fast Attack/

Cadre Mor’din

  • Pathfinders, with 3 rail rifles

Ai’lto

  • Razorshark Fighter with a missile pod and Automatic Repair System

Army List: The Necron Invaders

HQ/

The Lord

  • Destroyer Lord with Sempiternal Weave, a Destroyer Body and a Warscythe
  • Harbinger of Despair with an Abyssal Staff and Veil of Darkness

The Devourer

  • C’Tan Shard

Elites/

The Vivisectionists

  • 6 Flayed Ones

Troops/

The Legion

  • Two units of 10 Necron Warriors

Fast Attack/

The Swarm

  • 5 Necron Destroyers

The Serpents

  • 2 Canoptek Wraiths

Heavy Support/

The Overseers

  • 3 Tomb Spiders

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