Shepseskaf loomed over the dusty red sands as they slowly swallowed the bodies of the fallen. Articulated legs scuffed the rock beneath him as he waited, impatiently, for a report. Before him warriors dug amongst the remains of the humans, flipping ceramite, tossing chainswords aside, and tearing off helmets.
This battle was supposed to have been a rout like all the rest. How many times had he met the humans, these Blood Angels, in joyous combat, and cast them back to lick their wounds? To regather their strength and try again. The dance was endless and elegant.
Their leader was a kindred spirit, if there could be such a thing between Necron and Human. His passion for battle writ clear on his face at every meeting, his desire for victory palpable. Shepsaskaf was delighted to see his billowing white cape at the head of every charge, and relished seeing it again when the humans were cast back.
While the two had never spoken with words, their battles told their own tale. Across four worlds had they met, matching wits and swords. There was a dialogue to be found there. A kinship. Glory in battle to be sure – of fights well fought, triumphs earned, and defeats suffered. Beyond that a recognition at a chance for something…more.
This was taking too long.
The Necron Lord stepped from his place above the battleground into the sands below, his advisor Menkaure following dutifully.
‘The tomb world is safe, my lord,’ Menkaure started.
It was true enough. The Saqqaran Dynasty was small even at the height of the Necron empire. Now they held barely a handful of worlds, not least of which was this one that once teemed with verdant life.
Menkaure did not heed his master’s thoughtful demeanour, and continued. ‘These humans have harried us for so long, it is good to finally be rid of them. We can move on to better things. Our conquest can continue outward, and we can bring more worlds under your dominion.’
Dominion. To stand at the pinnacle of all species, with all worlds underfoot and no peer to be found.
Shepseskaf stopped in his tracks.
There, whipping in the desert wind, was the tail of a white cloak. Menkaure moved to call warriors over, but a hand gesture silenced him. The Necron Lord approached the sight and leaned down, slowly brushing sand away from the fallen human.
His armour was much like the rest, red and festooned with sigils of their empire. Marks of battle marred the armour as well – there a chip from a deflected sword blow, and there a shallow hole from a thrust during another of their matches. It had gone through, Shepseskaf could see now. How much had it hurt? He absent-mindedly held a metallic hand to his arm, where a blow from a power sword had nearly sheared it off. It had taken the Necrotects quite some time to repair the damage, he recalled fondly.
‘Why,’ the Necron Lord said softly, placing a hand on the chest of his honoured opponent. ‘Why did you not flee? I left the southern path open to you. I spread my forces thin there, for you to better see your way through them with glory and purpose.’
‘My lord?’ Menkaure inquired fawningly. A peer in name only. ‘The tomb world is…’
Shepseskaf exploded upwards at Menkaure, shouting. ‘I know! The tomb world is safe! The tomb world is safe! Stop and think, Menkaure! Was it ever in danger? Were we at risk of losing?’
‘Well, my lord, a protracted campaign…’
‘Would have brought us against our foe again and again for all time! Each rising of the suns to herald us into the bright glory of battle! To know them through battle, and have them know us!’
The advisor dipped his head obsequiously, but it was clear for all his centuries of wisdom he did not understand his master in this matter.
‘Shall I have the Necrotects…,’ Menkaure shrugged into the words and gestured at the body. ‘Try to revive it?’
‘What? No.’ Shepseskaf turned his eternal gaze away from Menkaure and regarded the body at his feet again. The wind whipped red sand into small dust devils and sent them dancing across the battlefield.
‘Menkaure,’ his voice came out softly. Too soft for the leader of the Saqqaran Dynasty. ‘Did you ever…did you ever have any friends? Before all of this?’
‘I’m not sure I understand you, my lord.’
‘Friends, Menkaure. Someone you could trust with your true self. Who knew you, perhaps better than you know yourself. Someone who would stand by your side through any trial or trouble.’
‘You are describing me, my lord. These are services I render unto you, through your indomitable will.’
‘No! No, Menkaure. That’s not…,’ Shepseskaf’s voice began to trail off. ‘A friend is someone who chooses to do those things because they want to, because being your friend means more than some arbitrary duty. Is this not something you would want, Menkaure? Friendship?’
A long pause existed between the two Necrons. Red sand washed up in waves against the ceramite armour of the fallen space marine. The white cloak was all but gone.
Finally the Necron advisor stepped forward, spreading his hands while lifting his eyes to the sky above.
‘We are masters of the galaxy. A mighty empire without peer once, and again. Stars are as our playthings and the endless void a mere babbling brook to be stepped across. Our might is unquestionable, our glory unimpeachable, our knowledge infinite.’
Menkaure continued, alight with righteous conviction.
‘Who needs friends?’ he asked, incredulously, lowering his gaze to regard his master.
Shepseskaf lowered his eyes, looking out at the bodies sinking into the rolling red sands.
‘I do,’ he whispered.
About the Author
Richard is a grade school teacher who currently resides in Halifax, Canada with his wife of fifteen years, Sarah. Pre-pandemic they travelled the world to teach, but now they while away their time pretending to be marauding bands of Drukhari and relentless legions of Necrons until such a time as the warp is safe to travel through again. They don’t own any pets, but the number of plants being cared for is reaching a level even Tyranids might be interested in.