There had perhaps been a moment, when they were crammed into the Orca body-to-body and the air had been heavy with the dry heat of the desert, when the thought of a trip into cool, metallic tunnels would have been a welcome one. Yet from the moment they had landed, in the forest of small obelisks and arcane, inscrutable structures that jutted from the desert, and the building had sat blackly, light pouring off it, on the horizon, Shas’ui O’Shie had been sick to her stomach. The way it shone like an oil-slick, and every so often ripples of greenish light would trace out patterns of circles and lines on its surface, didn’t seem right. It was certainly cooler around the building, but it was not at all welcome respite from the sun; it was cold enough to cause the breath to condense and to bite painfully at the lips.
“Fall in, Cadre O’Shie. You will follow Cadre O’Shouko into the complex in the first wave.” R’in’s voice was unwelcome, a reminder that the Pathfinders had to be right at the front of the attack. “Enter by the main accessway. Your data-chips have been updated with our presumed map of the complex.”
Presumed map. O’Shie swallowed her fear, and with it the desire to tell R’in it was insanity to attack an enemy base with no intelligence.
The entry point was a wide, gently spiralled corridor the seemed to slope in an unnatural way; the stairs were tilted towards their centre in a way that made any uncalculated step risk sending one falling into the pit around which they turned. She was remaining at the back, with the two soldiers carrying the heavy gravity disruption generator. It sat unpowered in a long coffin-like case, to be deployed within the tomb to keep enemies suppressed.
R’in’s unit had rushed ahead, using their suits to effortlessly jump down the stairwell. From the body-language of O’Shouko, she wanted to follow. O’Shie was no way going to let that happen. The thickset battlesuits were reassuring to have close by, their heavy weapons waiting in standby a comforting background noise. Finally the spiral stairs opened into a small room, and O’Shie called for the others to follow. The complex itself was a web of corridors in the same slick-looking black material that despite its almost liquid surface was resistant and unpleasantly dough-like to the touch.
Vital scanners were useless against this enemy. The defeat at Greenbeard’s fortress had proved that. Instead, all O’Shie was looking for was energy anomalies; coldnesses, or power spikes, that signalled enemies appearing.
Isiset Perfectio, Queen of Ruin, was not the same Necron as had humiliated R’in at Greenbeard’s fortress. The Tau attack had, in fact, awakened the tomb as it was mid-recovery from a spirited and fruitless Ork raid, and few warriors were available to defend the complex.
Nevertheless, from stasis-pods and from sarcophagi, the Legion of Ruin emerged. In the centre of the maze, in crystal tubes, half-formed canopteks hung suspended with cabling running from their fractured spines and strange golden masks over their skeletal faces. Two awoke with screams that echoed down the halls, the fluid inside the crystal pods bubbling. Control had been transferred in that instant to two spider-constructs that latched themselves to the ceiling and began to move towards the intrusion.
The screaming had snapped O’Shie from the happy, desensitised reverie she had finally entered, the combat-trance that helped her survive. It still rung in her ears, a painful echo that would not leave.
“Commander? Firebrand, this is O’Shie.”
There was a burst of static that initially seemed to be a deafening return of the screaming and O’Shie cringed, but then it resolved into the return transmission. “Speak.”
“You… you are further inside the complex. Any contact?”
The channel closed. O’Shie hadn’t been expecting R’in to at all be comforting or to provide any kind of support, for that wasn’t R’in at all. Talking had been… foolish.
R’in, meanwhile, had almost relished the interruption. Her team were arranged around a sealed door, a slab of crystal engraved – definitely engraved, not simply glowing beneath the surface – with sigils and cartouches. It had absorbed a fusion shot; the beam had simply vanished into the darkness.
Behind it, R’in could detect faint hints of a negative energy signature that had only begun after the sound-disturbance. The plan had been to breach the door and ambush the enemy, if it had been breached. The shot should have carved through it like the tank-armour it was designed for.
R’in heard movement and brought her flamethrower up in case something emerged from the darkness.
Instead her entire battlesuit shut down, and when it reactivated the diagnostics were reading a reactor coolant breach coincident with a targeted fusion pulse aimed at the XV8’s known weakpoint.
Neither of her retinue had seen anything. They had also blacked out.
The door was still glowing with its green hieroglyphs. She fired again, more out of anger than anything, and this time it melted away. Almost too neatly, in fact, as if it knew it should melt when shot but was in fact opening to let something in or out.
There was nothing behind it except a shadow rapidly leaving the dimly lit chamber.
O’Shouko had brought her team up to the door to the chamber R’in was planning to enter, and began the operation.
R’in’s blackout and suit damage had distracted her too much to send the abort code, meaning the expected Crisis suit backup was not there.
O’Shouko opened the door and walked straight onto the claws of a waiting Canoptek Spider, decapitated instantly. Her team were lucky enough to flee before the sluggish thing could follow, falling back to O’Shie’s position at the end of the corridor.
“Cadre O’Shouko, report! Report!” O’Shie tried not to sound like she was screaming. “Status?”
“Seal the door seal the door seal the door now!” One of the survivors ducked behind an altar-like construction. “There’s… there’s a thing. Large. It killed O’Shouko. It came out the walls, or the ceiling or something but it was there when she opened the door. R’in wasn’t there and I can’t raise her.”
The fusion leak had killed R’in’s sensors, or something in the complex was jamming them. Unsure if O’Shouko had had the brains to abort the attack, or if O’Shie was still alive, Firebrand pushed on into the winding corridors before coming out into a room from which a sloping corridor plunged down. There was a thin whining in the air, ever-more insistent.
R’in’s motion-sensor screamed warnings and instinctively her team fired. Flamethrowers blanketed the corridor with chemical fire, fusion shots punctuated the air with crisp blue beams. The motion-sensor fell silent and R’in examined the corridor before her. Three shattered Necron flying-drones, torsos and attached spines jutting from a mass of thrusters and guns. Melted instantly by the wall of fire. She sighed at the sight, glad something in the complex died when shot.
O’Kita, leader of the newly-repaired Crisis suit team that had been overwhelmed by the Necrons in the last battle, saw neat ranks of infantry at the end of the corridor and opened fire. Two died, as permanently as these things could, melted to nothingness by plasma. He ordered his team forward, with To’Chiro’s stealth suits as a vanguard. Their salvos did little to stop the Necrons regrouping in the chamber, but he knew it was a vital image to keep the terrified cadre of O’Shie in line.
From her strongpoint in the altar-room, O’Shie saw snatches of the firefight and realised O’Kita and To’Chiro were here to relieve her. With them was likely O’Lin and An’Tar and their Fire Warriors, who would form a rearguard and fortified fall-back point. The thought that even in this hellish, icy black maze the strategies of the Tau could be observed to success was enough to calm her.
Then the Necron return-fire came, ball lightning fizzing and dancing down the corridor and engulfing To’Chiro to leave only fried electronics and a nauseating burnt-meat odour. The Necrons, in their larger chamber, had set up a killing-ground in the corridor where O’Kita fought, preventing any kind of rendezvous.
The sound of something – the thing that had killed O’Shouko most likely – tapping and testing at the sealed door brought the waves of sickening fear back.
The door began to buckle, glowing iridescent red and white as something superheated gnawed at it from behind. Then the first breaches appeared, a pincer stabbing through and carving slowly downward, and O’Shie waited for the moment to fire. It seemed terrifying, too terrifying to bear, the gradually emerging vista of a mechanical arachnid disassembling the door with methodical swipes of its burning claws, but firing too early would waste the one good salvo they would get.
The moment came and she ordered her cadre to fire. Pulse fire, including ineffectual sprays of burst-cannon shots from the survivors of the Stealth team, flickered against the spider’s body. Then rails, smashing into its carapace with sounds like breaking bone, knocked it backwards, its anti-gravity engines shattering and leaving it a twitching, broken wreck.
O’Shie couldn’t feel elation any more. A victory like that, a desperate salvo against a crawling chaos, should have been a source of joy and pride in her cadre. Instead it was just survival, a few more minutes of terror to enjoy in the darkness of this maze. She didn’t know how long she had been in there, or how the others were faring. All she knew was she was alive.
O’Kita saw a lightning-storm burn at his wingmen’s armour, disorienting the Crisis suits and slowing the barrage he had ordered laid down. Each step in the corridor seemed hard-fought, the Necrons well dug in.
That brute, mute machines could show such cunning offended O’Kita. He was close – dangerously close – to ordering an insane rush on the enemy position to douse them in plasma and saturate them with missiles.
The fact their guns fell silent stopped him. He had sent To’Chiro’s unit to regroup with O’Shouko’s and outflank the enemy, and they must have succeeded.
The firefight finally stopped, O’Shie ordered her unit out of cover to regroup with O’Kita.
“You’re alive, girl?” The Crisis suit’s voice modulator made its pilot sound much older. “Have you raised Firebrand?”
“No. She is too deep within the labyrinth, moving towards the main objective.”
“I see. We will secure secondary objectives with support from O’Shouko’s unit-”
“O’Shouko’s unit are still in the altar-room. I ordered them to defend-”
It was O’Kita’s turn to feel sick. Out in the open as he was, he felt the inevitable snipers’ sights on him as pinpricks on his skin. When the image of the corridors’ end cleared, he realised it was far worse.
Isiset had joined the battle and her Immortals had stopped fire to let her pass.
A spider-construct crawling along the ceiling rounded on R’in’s team as they pushed forward. Before its turreted guns could fire, she transmitted data to the others about how to engage and blew its carapace wide open. There was a massive negative energy cluster around the primary object and R’in knew she had to reach it fast.
They pressed on into the corridors, unaware of what O’Shie was seeing.
First came the flames, a wall of green fire that burnt all the worse in the biting cold of the tunnels. The sight of three of her unit dying snapped O’Shie into concentration, but there was nothing to do. As comforting as O’Kita’s fire support was, his suits blocked the corridor behind. O’Shouko and To’Chiro reported the Necron infantry were taking the tunnel to the altar-room, leaving no line of retreat that way.
As she ran scenarios in her head, then came the presence. A painful psychic scream that washed over her unit.
One of the snipers took, with slow and methodical motions, a rail-pack from his belt. He opened it and took the metal spike from its gel housing, and rammed it into his eye.
Another turned his pistol on his friend.
The madness spread, O’Shie unable to stop her unit from slaughtering each other. Only those who had been back with her seemed unaffected; they had only felt the presence as a migraine-like pressure in the head, not whatever the unfortunates driven to self-slaughter had experienced.
She opened fire. O’Kita opened fire.
Isiset laughed, for all a machine could laugh, to see the mortals slaying each other under the psychic assault of DesPair.
When their return fire came, a wall of plasma and missiles and energy bolts impossible to avoid, and her Crypteks and her underlings were torn apart, she charged blindly into the storm trusting in her armour, only to be driven back as it began to crack and shatter.
O’Kita did not stop firing until his guns were dry, but when he could finally see for the actinic blinding mess of explosions and plasma he could see all the Necrons shattered on the ground, bones broken and unable to reknit. He ordered his comrades to completely destroy the remains and prevent any regeneration.
With the Overlord destroyed the few survivors – a knot of Immortals that had beaten down O’Shouko’s unit, and the Warrior phalanx R’in was gleefully burning to the ground – began to return to stasis. The tomb undefended, planting explosives at its structural points was an easy business and R’in was pleased to see casualties were certainly acceptable. The stealth teams had taken a heavy toll, for sure, and O’Shie’s unit seemed to have imploded in friendly fire, but none of the vital Crisis suits were destroyed. Thus ended the reign, or at least for the foreseeable future, of the Queen of Ruin.
“Are you happy now?” The briefing-room was darkened and all that R’in could see was the crimson glow of Ru’luc’s mask. “Five Pathfinders dead, three of them by their own hand. Another two stealth teams crippled. For what exactly?”
“The Necron destroyed.”
“A Necron destroyed. A tomb of a minor noble, it seems, or so the good Vogler says. But nevertheless, a tomb destroyed is a tomb destroyed.”
R’in seethed. Her commander listened too closely to the counsel of the humans and was increasingly inscrutable.
“I think, R’in, you would do well to reconsider the meaning of being Fire Caste. Your Crisis suit will be retired, placed in storage. A new one, fresh from the workshops, awaits.”
“Then who will lead my mission? You would not promote Qan, would you?” The exact gravity of the outrage Sunset had levelled upon her was lost in irrational fury at the thought of Qan promoted.
“Qan is barely capable as a commander of infantry. I have plans for her that involve assignment to your frankly inept Pathfinder teams where they can hopefully mitigate each others’ lack of strategy and marksmanship respectively. I will promote this… O’Kita? The pilot who apparently killed more Necrons than you did.”
“He is a good pilot.” There was no point lying or trying to spin events. “He will do well.”
“Inform him he will take the name Commander Resurgence and will lead the Ork Eradication Mission. A customised Crisis suit will be delivered upon receipt of specifications.”
Army List – Tau Necron Tomb Destruction Unit
- Shas’O, Flamer, Fusion Blaster, Shield Generator, Stimulant Injector, Onager Gauntlet, Neuroweb Jammer, Iridium Armour
- Two Bodyguards, Flamer, Fusion Blaster, Shield Generator
- 3 Crisis Suits, Plasma Rifle, Missile Pod, Stimulant Injectors
Cadres O’Shouko and To’Chiro
- 6 Stealth Suits, 2 Fusion Blasters, Counterfire Systems
Cadres O’Lin and An’Tar
- 2 units of 6 Fire Warriors
- 7 Pathfinders, with 3 rail rifles and a Gravity Disruption Drone
Army List: The Ruina
The Court of Isiset
- A Necron Phaeron with Gauntlet of Flame, Phase Shifter, Sempiternal Weave, Mindshackle Scarabs, Tachyon Arrow and Resurrection Orb
- A Necron Lord with Warscythe, Mindshackle Scarabs and Tesseract Labyrinth
- A Necron Lord with Staff of Light and Mindshackle Scarabs
- A Harbinger of Despair with Abyssal Staff
- A Harbinger of the Storm with Voltaic Staff
The Warriors of Ruin
- 15 Necron Warriors
- 10 Necron Immortals with Tesla Carbines
- 3 Tomb Blades with Nebuloscopes, Shield Vanes and Gauss Blasters
- 2 Canoptek Spiders, one with a Particle Beam