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"Stranglehold of Dust", a Dark Angels short story.
The following is a narrative inspired by a recent Warhammer 40,000 battle I participated in between my Dark Angels and a friend's Necrons. I normally write small narrative blurbs for the battles we had but I was motivated to write a lot more this time. C+C welcome!
Brother Ezekiah surveyed the manufactorum. The dull red light of the planet’s nearest star made for poor visibility and the atmosphere of the planet resulted in exhaustive heat. The horizon shimmered across the dusty facility and all seemed quiet.
“Hardly seems worth it”, a voice behind him said. Ezekiah turned and smiled. He noticed the company Librarian, Targas, was sweating profusely. His Mucranoid gland working overtime to combat the heat on the psyker’s face. “You were never one for these fringe world missions Ezekiah” the Captain replied. “I recall the Hive Worlds are more to your liking.”
Targas nodded, “it’s the emptiness of these unmanned factory planets that get to me brother. The deafening silence of nothing.” The campaign for Galvadus VI had entered its fifth month, with elements of the Hammers of Dorn 2nd Company and Red Dragons 8th spread across strongpoints against an invading Xenos force: Necrons. Ezekiah and his 3rd company Dark Angels had held the same dusty patch of land for ten days after taking it from a small patrol force. Reinforcements were expected, and overdue.
“Scans reveal Xenos activity moving towards this point no more than an hour ago, a retaliatory force. They intend to take this place back. So…”
“We hold.” Targas completed his battle-brother’s sentence. The Captain nodded at his old friend.
Ezekiah looked over the remains of the company. They had suffered considerable losses in the previous month’s fighting, with only a handful of firstborn and Primaris left to hold the outpost. The hum of the machine spirit of Brother Croesus whirred as it scanned the horizon. Encased in his new shell, the Redemptor Dreadnought bore the grim resolution of his former body before he was cut down by Orks less than a year prior. The hulking machine trudged past the aging hull of Vetus Fidelis, a Vindicator-class tank that had been in service longer than most of the company, as a trio of Ravenwing from the 2nd completed their patrol. “Necrons approaching from the north side” said Idrael, the Sergeant. His face in a permanent scowl due to the talon of a Genestealer that had taken a chunk of cheek and jaw. “Septimus’ scouts are on the balcony overlooking the approach.”
“We should pull the scouts back.” The Captain replied. “Their rifles are needed on the defense line. We can reposition them in the water tower.”
“Yes Captain, I’ll finish our patrol and take up defensive positions.” Idrael opened the throttle of his bike and raced across the plaza, his wingmen close behind.
“Septimus”, Ezekiah called over the vox, “report.”
“Visibility low sir, moving across the gangway to reposition.”
“Negative Septimus, fall ba..”
Ezekiah’s transmission was cut short by loud static, and the sound of explosive fire as gauss rifles saturated the platform. In the distance he could see a plume of green smoke rise from the scout position.
A broken voice came over the vox, one of Septimus’ men. “ENGA…. …ENOS…. HEA….FIR… …ALLING BACK”. Ezekiah turned to Targas who nodded at his unspoken question. Closing his eyes and focusing he reached out for signs of life. “A lone scout remains, dozens of Necron signatures.” He opened his eyes once more, they were tinted lightly with a faint blue. “And I was just getting used to the quiet.” His eyes began to glow a brighter azure, as he drew his force sword and plasma pistol. “For the Emperor sir.”
Ezekiah slung his bolter from over his shoulder and cocked the loader, chambering a round. “For the Emperor.” He replied.
Looking over his minions, Akhetamun checked his gauntlet. Its deadly payload was primed and ready to fire. He flexed his mechanical hands and tightened the unnatural grip on his glaive. This outpost had caused enough trouble for his troops in the last two weeks. An insignificant open-air factory placed on a significant ridge. Overlooking the main energy reserves he required to bolster his force. To lose such a strategic strongpoint to the 1st Chapter of Man’s Space Marines was an error he was eager to correct. The Necron Lord, despite being older than the Imperium itself, still felt the bitter sting of defeat from time to time. He did not enjoy it but appreciated what it meant. Standing over the bodies of the smaller, less-armoured Astartes he scanned their faces. Expressions of shock and pain with dead eyes gazed back up at him. He turned to his direct underlings, a graceful Plasmancer and a brutal Skorpekh.
“Begin the assault.”
“Keep an eye on those flanks! 3rd Squad secure the stormbolters on that munitorum container.” Ezekiah barked at the Primaris squad. The Intercessors, standing high above the firstborn loaded their bolt rifles and scaled the container, preparing to use their height advantage to lay fire on the approaching force. The skies above their position crackled with dark energy and a flash of green light struck the ground in front of the Astartes. Large Necron warriors had teleported down ahead of the main force. These warriors were unlike the countless ranks of gauss-wielding cyborgs, instead wielding glowing blades as big as a Cadian soldier, and standing tall on a trio of scythe-like limbs. These Skorpekh Destroyers, backed by their lord, an impressive and terrifying sight of pure malice and vengeance, charged towards the Intercessors. The marines fired their rifles at the incoming machines, but the high-powered explosive shells did nothing to deter the advance. As swiftly as they appeared the Skorpekh cut down the entire squad of Primaris Astartes with brutal efficiency. Their thresher blades slicing into the ceramite armour, swathing paths through the very molecules holding the Space Marines together. As the last Intercessor fell, the Skorpekth consolidated their assault and pounced towards the Ravenwing squad.
Idrael slammed his bike into reverse, a hyperphase blade narrowly missing his arm, and led his squad around the munitorum container as 2nd Squad opened fire at the destroyers and Skorpekh Lord. Bolter fire pounded at the frames of the Necron elite and the hum of machine spirits cried out as ancient plasma weaponry were levelled and set to maximum heat setting. The white-hot matter spat out from the fusion cores and struck their targets, eating away at the skeletal xenos bodies. Croesus’s bulky torso swivelled on its axis and finished the foes with his onslaught gatling gun. Barrels spun and shell casing scattered to the ground as the bullets ripped through the Skorpekh. Like teeth of a wild beast, tearing apart the destroyers at close range. Servo legs whined as the Redemptor Dreadnought charged forward and crushed a Plasmacyte with its fist, clearing the defensive line of all attackers.
Ezekiah looked upon the bodies of the fallen Intercessors. He charted their location for gene-seed recovery and bowed his head in a short prayer. The initial assault had been repelled but mere moments of respite were all the Dark Angels were given. Through the red haze the remaining scout from Septimus’ squad came into view. Covered in the blood of his fallen brothers he limped, holding a missile launcher over his shoulder. He slid behind a low wall, ruined by the previous weeks of fighting and loaded his last Frag Missile.
They heard them before they saw them. The unmistakable trudging of metal feet on sand-covered iron flooring. The dull clang in unison as the unfeeling horde of the Necron force appeared in view. The scout fired his missile directly into the centre of the largest body of warriors, taking down two of the corroded mechanoids before he was torn apart from the return fire.
Bolter rounds and gauss energy exchanged blows. Necrons were struck down but continued to rise. With every clip exhausted from the Tactical Squad another Warrior rose, its reanimation protocols returning it to the skirmish as if it had never been struck at all. Ezekiah saw the source of their renewed power, towering striders from the Tomb Worlds waded through the thick of the Xenos force, beaming nano-scarabs over the bodies of the fallen troops, picking apart their wounds and rewiring their sinews. These Canoptek Reanimators provided an endless supply of reinforcements from the fresh dead of the Necron force. Ezekiah contacted the Vindicator through the vox and targeted the ancient atomisers. Vetus Fidelis leveled its demolisher cannon and fired. An explosion of cannon fire tore open the carapace of a reanimator, green energy poured out from the wound as the creature toppled into the sand.
The Ravenwing squad advanced down the left flank, unsecured by the invading Xenos force. Dust was thrown up behind them as they engaged their boosters. Idrael spotted a thin figure exposed behind the lines of the Necron Warriors, unlike the others around it. This mechanoid was sleek and thin, with crackles of electricity arcing up and down its body. The figure seemingly floated above the dusty floor of the manufactorum. Enclosed by a retinue of timeworn thralls bearing scythed limbs instead of hands, sharpened beyond the quality of even the finest infinitite by nanotech, these guards watched over their lord with scouring viewfinders. The bikers sped forward to get ahead of the bulk of the force, jinking to avoid fire from the side, aiming for a clearing in the courtyard ahead to get behind their foe.
Ezekiah held the middle of the line, commanding and directing the defence, Targas led a tactical combat squad to the right flank in a counter-attack to cover the hole formed by the destruction of the Intercessors. They moved from cover to cover, firing bolter rounds while the Librarian dismantled Necron Warriors with psyker energy, smiting his foe and firing his plasma pistol. The scream of the plasma discharge was overshadowed by the roar of the cannon, powered by the immense pack on the back of the Firstborn. With each shot the battle brother said a barely audible prayer to the weapon’s machine spirit, asking for temperance as he continued to push the spirit to its limits. Targas prepared the squad to charge under the covering fire of the Redemptor Dreadnought, conversing telepathically with the broken husk of the Primaris body stored in the engraved sarcophagus that coordinated the assault. Timing was essential to close the gap.
The ground in front of the Ravenwing squad shook. Sand and dust parting way as swarms of scarabs emerged from below. Their mandibles chittering in an unliving robotic buzzing. The bikers halted their advance and cut across the factory floor, narrowly avoiding the feelers of the swarm reaching out to devour them. Idrael planted his foot hard down on the ground, ceremite causing the metal below to bend from the impact. Pivoting his machine on point, with every bit of skill and strength he could muster he brought the Scarabs into the killzone of his calibrated twin bolters mounted on the front of the handlebars and released an entire clip of bolter rounds into the automaton beats. Explosive ordnance ripped the creatures to shreds, clearing the path for his squad.
The seconds counted by and the Librarian closed his eyes. He could hear the hearts of his troops beat, the shells being loaded into the Vindicator’s cannon, and the steady hum of electricity keeping the unnatural Necrons alive well past death. A lull in the barrage was felt, the moment was right, he gave the order to charge.
As the squad left the safety of the ruins a great blast came from the dreadnought. It had been struck with a powerful device. A Tachyon Arrow, fired from the Necron Lord, standing proud behind his minions, had struck Croesus in the chest. Arcs of electricity ruptured through the targeting circuits of the Redemptor, causing its covering shots to wildly overshoot the intended target. The Tactical Squad was caught in a crossfire of gauss blasts, all around Targas he heard the screams of his battle brothers as their bodies were stripped apart at an atomic level. Leaving nothing but their gene-seed recoverable from the mass of shredded muscle and organs leaked out from holes in their armour.
Targas felt the light of the squad fade within his mind’s eye and it stoked a fire within the aged Librarian. “PURGE THE MUTANT” he shouted his battlecry, seeing the carnage on the right flank Ezekiah dashed towards his old friend, drawing his Relic Blade from its sheath and thumbing the switch on its power source. The ancient blade whirred to life and began to glow a faint magenta. Joining his kin in the charge he thrust his blade forward “SONS OF CALIBAN! FOR THE LION!”, the ground shook as they raced across the square, bathed in the red heat of the star searing above. Croesus’s massive frame overtook the two firstborn. The body inside, controlling the machine singing battle hymns in harmony with the fierce machine spirit. The dreadnought barrelled through two ranks of Necrons, it’s monstrous claw tearing Xenos apart with raw energy.
Ezekiah and Targas dove into the melee, swinging deadly arcs with their Relic Blade and Force Sword respectively. The Librarian firing plasma shot and projecting brutal unrestrained psyker energy between each swing. Ezekiah swathing through the ranks with the fury of The Lion himself. Fighting his way through the mass of metallic bodies in order to reach the Lord on the other side. But for every Necron he cut down, another seemingly arose in its place. Limbs once severed were reattached and dead eyes lit up with the hellish emerald once more. More and more he struck at his foe, and they kept coming back. Emotionless expressions, blanky sneering at the Captain in defiance. Kept alive by technology never seen in the Imperium and completely alien to even the most adept of Tech Priests. His arms ached. He could see his brother, Targas in a full sweat, azure energy creeping along his face as he fought to control it. He was on the brink of falling to the whispers inside his head. Ezekiah looked up at the Redemptor. For all the armour encasing the body inside the sheer size of its chest may as well have had a target painted on it. gauss fire, and bolts of electricity, covering its circuitry with nano-scarabs picking and ripping at its insides. The source of the assault came from the back of the melee. The coldly elegant Plasmancer weidling its glowing lance fired wave upon wave of galvanic power. Croesus’s gatling cannon spun into action but four Xenos warriors threw themselves upon it, weighing the weapon down. A single warrior’s arm caught inside the barrels and was pulled apart with abrupt centrifugal force. Despite the grim situation Captain Ezekiah was grateful at least that one wouldn’t be standing again anytime soon.
Akhetamun watched his loyal minions fall and rise again and again. A lone Reanimator stood over him, projecting nano-scarabs upon the expired Warriors. Injecting new life, another body for the cause. The sun was setting on this skirmish, he had been tasked to keep the Dark Angels occupied as long as he could afford to. Outside of its strategic location, this sector meant little in the grand plan they had for this world but to cause a distraction while killing as much of the Emperor’s children as he could was an exercise he took some manner of joy in. He saw the lumbering dreadnought ahead of him swinging wildly through his warriors. Pointing his glaive forwards the Thralls guarding the Plasmancer obeyed the silent command, slinking forward. Their blades shimmered as their hunched figures slipped into the chaos with ease. They navigated themselves past their mechanoid brethren and struck out at the legs of the robotic brute. Slicing through the thick armour like it wasn’t there, cutting ceremite and wiring and pistons. The Cryptothralls fought with a ferocity and speed unseen by Ezekiah before. He witnessed helpless as Croesus collapsed to the ground, crushing several xenos with it. Pushing past the ocean of reanimating Xenos the Captain avenged his fallen brother, removing the head of a Thrall with a mighty swing of his blade. The second assassin, hunched and moving fast, used the bodies of the Warriors to evade the Dark Angel, returning to his masters.
With the dreadnought defeated, the Plasmancer turned its attention directly at the Librarian, pitting its electric nanotech against the Psyker’s harnessed warp power. Targas struggled, fighting a battle on two fronts: the direct engagement with the mindless swinging from the never ending reinforced Necron squad, and the arcing bolts that danced across his armour from the Cryptek. He could almost make out a smile across the emotionless face of the Plasmancer, like it relished in torturing his aging body. Targas mustered every last bit of strength he could, swinging his Force Sword in a wide arc, cutting through two warriors, one he swore he had cut down four times already. Taking advantage of the space given by the former mechs he levelled his plasma pistol at the Plasmancer, muttered an oath to the machine spirit, and fired.
A bolt of searing plasmas ripped through the body of the Necron, electricity spilling out like liquid from the wound. But it was not Targas’s shot that rang true. Idrael’s squad blazed across the front of the flank, opening fire into the rear of the Xenos force. The Ravenwing Sergeant drove past the crumbling corpse of the Plasmancer and swung his chainfist at the remaining Cryptothrall. The teeth screamed as it shredded the face of the drone. The Necron emitted a scream of its own as the sword splintered its vocal module, a terrifying digital cry of pain.
Akhetamun sensed that the tide of the battle was beginning to turn against him. The green and black Space Marines had begun to gain the upper hand. Less of his minions were reanimating and he had lost enough elite troops to this unnamed factory already. Those who were lost he could rebuild but he had no desire to be one of those numbers. Transmitting a long-anticipated signal he contacted the greater force on the planet and engaged teleportation protocols. Ezekiah saw the Necron Lord lower his Glaive and begin to step back. He knew a retreat when he saw it. Kicking back a Warrior in the chest he drove his Relic Blade into the sand and swung his bolter off his shoulder. The gun’s barrel sprayed its payload toward the Lord but hit nothing. He had been a fraction of a moment too late.
The remaining tactical squad and the Vindicator cleared up the Necron stragglers. Those who did not teleport off the field with their Overlord. Targas made sure to sever as many limbs and torsos as he could, lest they continued to rebuild themselves. But without their Cryptek overseers and sleek Reanimators supporting them, the small Dark Angel force finally managed to put an end to every remaining mechanoid Xenos in the courtyard. Ezekiah looked at what was left of the defenders. He had lost more than half of his command, including the Primaris and Scout detachments. The shell of Croesus still struggled, on its back in the sand, with the final light of the sun illuminating every scratch and dent in the dreadnought’s body. It would take the Tech Priests some time to rebuild him, his mind and soul would be stored until needed again, if it survived the process.
As darkness began to loom over the manufactorum, the automatic lighting systems kicked in. Many lamps and floodlights were broken, or barely functioning. The bright sterile light casting abrupt shadows across the plaza. Targas limped towards his Captain, scarring across his face from the raw energy he had wielded in the fight, he laid his hand upon the shoulder of his brother, his friend, and nodded.
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