To Make the Stars Tremble

4.25/5 (1)

Zu’lasa Craftworld, Eldar: There is no information on this lost Craftworld in Imperial records other than the fact that it once existed. -Ordo Xenos records, known xenos gatherings

 

+++

 

+Suranas, 657.2 Years until the Great Awakening+

The chamber shook, dust spilling from almost-seamless cracks to fall for long seconds before alighting on a surface. Moments later a solitary figure entered the cavernous chamber through its only door, jogging towards the centre where an imposing flat-topped pyramid stood. Without stopping, the figure took to the challenge offered by the pyramid’s staircase with a vigour borne of tirelessness. 

Master-wrought servos hissed and clanked as they bore the figure up the steps. The stride didn’t falter, even as a distant rumble caused a minor quake to rock the chamber even harder. The lithe figure crested the final step and spared a half second to measure its efforts: 82 blackstone steps, ascended 16.8 seconds. Even the fittest human would have only made it a third of the way in that time, and the average Eldar only two-thirds. Satisfied, the figure approached the stasis crypt, cracked its synthetic knuckles in muscle memory, and got to work.

Legions of phos-glyphs appeared and were swept away faster than the human eye could track, the figure immersing itself in raw code and programming with the ease a bird takes to the air. The process was unfathomably complex, buried under layers of data-traps and decision tree paradoxes, and even one who knew the perfect route, as the figure did, would still have to satisfy two-hundred and twenty-two different requests for authorization. With dogged determination, unflinching concentration, and most importantly of all, the ease of one who had intimate familiarity with every line of code, the figure efficiently satisfied each. 

So engrossed with its vital work, the lithe figure didn’t notice its compatriot until the bulky figure was only a few steps from the top, plodding up with much less haste.

‘Are you done yet?’

The lithe figure sighed without expelling air.

‘Almost. This is quite a complicated procedure, and I am working as fast as I, or indeed any other being, can…’

‘No excuses. There is no benefit to your role if you cannot undo that which you have wrought.’

‘Speaking of being useless, how is the defence going? The defence which has gone so poorly that we are required to force-wake our lord ahead of time?’

‘Just… finish. I’ll accept judgement from him, not you.’

With a flourish that would leave a musical conductor proud, the lithe figure tapped the final glyph, concluding the crypt’s instruction. Beckoning the bulky figure forward, he went to one folded knee in supplication. A moment later, so too did the bulky one.

‘He’ll not be pleased with this situation.’

‘Your ability to state the completely obvious is no doubt how you have gained your lofty role, Cryptek.’

‘That’s Chief Cryptek.’

The bulky one raised his head to offer what he no doubt thought was a witty response, but both were interrupted as the top of the pyramid slid open, the stasis crypt it had shielded now exposed to fresh air for the first time in millions of years. 

Moving smoothly with the ease that only expertly maintained machinery could, the stasis crypt rotated in place to face the two supplicants and rose, stopping once it had reached near verticality. Locking bolts disengaged, and with a hiss of cryonite gas the front of the crypt peeled open revealing its occupant. With a static snap, a surge of power flooded the interior of the crypt, the grandest and most sophisticated of its type across the entire planet. Oculars opened, blazing with lambent ochre. A metallic hand, trembling slightly, rose and gripped the edge of the crypt. 

The voice, when it spoke, was as strong as the other’s had been, though its tone was laden with confusion.

‘This… is not right. It is early… much too early. Nearly 700 years too early… This is not the time that was promised… attendants!’

The lithe figure, who had been bowing almost deep enough to touch his flat face to the floor, straightened at once, hands now fluttering to the Atun gesture of respect from lesser to higher. 

‘Lord Annobakh, the Implacable, Lord of Necrons, scion of the  worthy and respected dynasty of Atun, undisputed ruler of Suranas…’

This time, the voice that responded was shorn of its confusion and resonated with authority.

‘Enough ceremony, Norak. Speak plainly. My refuge from the ravages of time has been concluded early, and I am greeted from such by the merest sliver of my advisors.’

‘My lord, there is testing required upon awakening from the great sleep, to check that your mental engrammatics have not been eroded, and time is short…’

The hand gripping the edge of the crypt clenched, leaving finger-impression dents in the metal. With a squeal of metal Lord Annobakh rose to half-standing. As befit his station, the metallic body of Annobakh put all others to shame: he was tall, straight backed, and broad of shoulder. The lights of his stasis crypt paled in comparison to the fiery orange glow of his oculars, casting the dynasty’s chosen colour over the coloured bars of adamantium that were inlaid artfully over his chest and shoulder plates to emulate a form bedecked in a fine vest. For a moment, Norak found his gaze drawn to the symbol of Atun rendered in full on Annobakh’s fan-shaped head crest. Etched by the glow of a captured and hyper-compressed pulsar, it was the most complete rendition of the Atun symbol allowed on a Coreworld, and a thing of majesty to witness. But then Annobakh was speaking, and Norak chastened himself to pay attention, lest his master be forced to do so.

‘I did not go to the trouble of enlisting one of the foremost Crypteks in the empire and have him labour to create a crypt that would allow myself a swift and complexity-free awakening, to waste time on tests. I recognise you, Maintenance-Seer Norak, and that will suffice. Or do you not have faith in your own artifice?’

Norak, his rangy frame and single emerald-colored cyclopean optic marking him as one of the scientist-caste of Necron Crypteks, hesitated. His nimble seven fingered hand idly picked at the full-body hooded coat of office he wore, a nervous habit that led to Norak worrying at the tough fibres of midnight blue synthweave that swathed him.

‘Not at all, Lord Annobakh…’

Annobakh made to speak again and Norak was silenced mid-simper, the Maintenance-Seer not possessing sufficient clearance to be allowed to speak while his lord was. 

‘Good. I see you too are here, Khatep. I assume there is good reason why my awakening has not gone according to plan? Arise.’

Straightening, Khatep stood. The chamber’s brightening lights illuminated the unique Crotalid-hide bracers he proudly wore and the gleaming glaive he carried. Khatep was everything that Norak was not: a straight-backed armoured form, mimicking though not eclipsing his lord, as evidenced by the general’s less complete chest sigil. His body was adorned with fewer precious ingots than his ruler, replaced with  more utilitarian battle-badges denoting his duelling and command achievements.  

‘I apologise, my lord. Suranas is under attack. There is much destruction. The efforts to defend the tomb entrances are… going poorly. Much was damaged in pre-emptive strikes before the tomb’s master program even knew it was under attack.’

Annobakh lurched forward with a growl of anger, stepping fully out of the crypt. At the movement, the long-segmented trails of his decorative cloak, each link forged from the tribute or conquest of a world in Annobakh’s domain, swayed and clinked with an orchestra of metallic pings. He looked set to smite the invaders with his bare fists. But upon taking his weight, his legs collapsed, leaving him awkwardly kneeling on the ground. In a blink, Khatep and Norak were there, heaving to assist their heavier lord to his feet. They could not properly support his weight.

‘Lord Annobakh, as promised your rousing will be swift, but not instantaneous. It will take some time to acclimatise to active consciousness again. It is my recommendation you rest, if only for a short time.’

With a growl, Annobakh allowed the straining courtiers to place him back into the stasis crypt. Cables slid into ports on his body, connecting to systems and feeding extra power and defragmentation routines to soothe his recovery from millions of years of sleep. After a moment, though still weakened, Annobakh gestured with a hand, before lying recumbent once more.

‘So be it. My world is besieged, and I shall rest only long enough to be able to best defend it once more. Norak, you will attend to my recovery, and begin to tabulate reports detailing all that these attackers have done to my world. I would know the size of the butcher’s bill we will lay at their feet. Khatep, I name you acting Nemesor until I can assume command. The data-writs of service for two full legions of Lychguard are yours. Awaken them and orchestrate the defence. Drive these invaders back, and then to their graves. My will be done.’

‘Thy will be done.’

Both advisors stepped back, receiving interstitial messages from Annobakh to assist them in their duties. With the ruler of Suranas awake once more, all obstructions were cleared from the interstitial network, and the tomb began to waken to full life once more. But there was much to do.

With a final bow, the two courtiers turned to leave, already planning on how best to execute their duties. But one was halted.

‘And Khatep?’

‘Yes, my lord?’

‘Crush the army befouling our world. But bring the commander of it to me. I want them alive.’

 

+++

 

Annobakh stood on the parapet, and watched Suranas burn.

Before the great sleep, Annobakh had made an uncommon decision amongst the Necron nobility: not to sterilize the flora and fauna of the planet, to let nature have dominion of the world and return it to a primal, untouched state. There would be plenty of time, he reasoned, to re-tidy the grand garden he would find on waking. It would be a gentle warm up for what the Necrons were going to do to the galaxy at large upon returning. 

His last thoughts before the stasis casket took him to dreamless oblivion had been that he was fortunate indeed to be granted rulership of such beautiful lands. Not the wealthiest, most tamed, or most picturesque of worlds, but one that had beauty.

Now, those lands had been ravaged by war. Bodies littered the grounds, more with every second as Necron legions pushed them back. Fires burned, consuming the groves of swaying acamar trees and leaving only ash. Necron installations, ruptured by the invader’s bombs leaked harmful radiation, blackening and poisoning the soil so that nothing would grow. Annobakh had gone to sleep on a beautiful vista. He awoke to a smoke-strewn wasteland.  

‘How bad is it, Norak? How far does this defilement go?’

Behind him, Norak consulted his device, a conjured hard-light stylus slicing the air as he filtered and composed a colossal amount of data into focused reports.

‘Damage to the planet’s ecology is far-reaching, but repairable. Canoptek constructs should be able to reverse most damage to the surface in a little under three standard years. There will be a fractional amount of species extinctions, but in your foresight we kept repopulation samples of all the original species, so that should be largely mitigated. At an estimate, Suranas has received 22.8% devastation on the Rakszan scale.’

Norak stopped, hesitated so long that Annobakh began to turn to address him anew. Only then did he sigh and speak again.

‘It is far worse for the tomb complexes, lord. Entire tombs were destroyed with explosives or cave-ins. Multiple resurrection bays are non-functional, some beyond repair. The same goes for the awakening facilities. It could have been worse, fragmentary footage I am in the midst of retrieving from Canoptek constructs suggests the attackers intended to destabilise the planets’ core and destroy the entire world. Thankfully, the above average-number and quality of our Canopteks prevented this attack, but in doing so left many of the tombs lightly defended.’

Annobakh’s voice was as cold and devoid of emotion as the machine he resembled.

‘The citizenry?’

‘Still compiling reports lord, but around some eight hundred million are deceased. Maybe a quarter of them can be restored to fresh bodies, given time and resources.’

Annobakh stiffened. It was so much worse than he expected. That was the population of the entire primary continent. All slain in their crypts, never to wake. The perpetrators of this would suffer, he vowed. Already the seed of an idea grew within his mind…

Heavy footsteps heralded the arrival of Khatep, and presumably his prisoner. Steeling himself against the fire-hot urge to simply crush the breathing apparatus of whatever biological filth he was about to be presented with, Annobakh turned.

Khatep had indeed succeeded: flanked by four Lychguard with Warscythes poised to execute on a moment’s notice, was an alien. And more interestingly, a familiar alien.

Oh, the garb was different. The style had changed with the passing of eons. And he didn’t recognise the function of some of the accoutrements that adorned the garish clothing. But before him, unmistakably, was an Eldar female. 

With a single thrust of Khatap’s polearm, the Eldar was forced to her knees before Annobakh. Khatep drew from behind his back a gleaming spear of intricate design and with a contemptuous flick tossed it to Annobakh’s feet.

‘The blade of the enemy commander, claimed in personal combat, my lord.’

Annobakh had eyes only for his foe, but he nevertheless flicked his gaze up long enough for a nod.

‘Excellent work. I am extending your authority as Nemesor, you have earned it. I want these upstarts driven back with all codes of vengeance followed to the letter. There are to be no further prisoners. My will be done.’

‘Thy will be done.’

As Khatep strode away, Annobakh turned to his prisoner. He waited, the moment hanging long.

‘Well?’

When the Eldar continued to sullenly stare at the ground, Annobakh surged forward, grasping the Eldar by the chin and forcing her head up to stare at his face. Eyes as blue as sapphires glared balefully back at him, framed by hair as auburn as finely beaten copper. 

‘As per the ancient traditions of adversary, I demand to know your name and affiliation.’

The glare tightened a little, but no recognition entered the unblinking eyes.

Annobakh conjured a sound-file of a huff of frustration. 

‘I see the passage of time has not been kind to what your civilisation considers culture. It is considered good comportment when two commanders of the ancient races meet to exchange names and titles. Allow me to demonstrate. You find yourself at the mercy of Annobakh, known to many as The Implacable, son of the Atun Dynasty and ruler of the Coreworld of Suranas. The world, I might add, that you and your kind have tried to destroy with your unwarranted act of aggression. And you are?’

The Eldar grimaced, spoke as eloquently as she could with a vice-like grip holding her face. 

‘Unwarranted? Soulless abomination, I only wish that we had succeeded…’

The fist holding her face tightened, cutting off further vitriol with a moan of discomfort.

‘I asked for your name and affiliation, not confessions of the crime you have committed. We shall get to that in due time. Now, speak your name and affiliation. If any other words come out of your mouth you will find yourself missing a mouth.’

He released the Eldar’s head, leaving her to probe bruised jaws with a swollen tongue before speaking.

‘I am Cerenais, of the House of Arathion and Farseer of Craftworld Zu’lasa.’

If Annobakh had eyebrows any more they would have risen.

‘The House Arathion? I stand in the presence of a living relic it seems. My lady, I had the honour to face the Arathions multiple times during the War in Heaven, they were stalwart and worthy foes. To see an heir again, in such circumstances…’

And then Annobakh’s surprise washed away as he remembered why he was here, who this was, and what had been done. In its place was raw fury, not hot as the biologicals would feel it, but cold, cold as the void between stars, roaring and hungry. 

The idea that had before been but a seed, grew like a weed, grew leaves heavy with sharp thorns eager to draw blood. Curiosity had its place, but this was a time for vengeance. 

Almost without conscious decision, Annobakh’s arm swung up and back like a pendulum, swatting the Eldar in the head. Without even a cry, Cerenais fell limp, unconscious.

‘Norak, does the Suranas Dolmen Gate still function?’

‘A moment… yes, lord. It remains perfectly functional.’

‘Excellent. Shackle this meat and then send diplomatic missives to the esteemed Dynasty of Oruscar to meet at Thanatos as we have business to conduct with them. 

‘Of course.’

‘I cannot be expected to declare judgement in a place such as this. We owe an honoured adversary a better setting. The Atun Dynasty, at least, are not savages. Thanatos will serve us well. Prepare my honour guard for travel with all haste. Khatep will conclude things here.’

Now unwatched by Annobakh, Suranas continued to burn. 

 

+++

 

+Thanatos, Crownworld of the Oruscar Dynasty+

‘Wake up.’

Cerenais was ripped back to consciousness as electricity arched through her limbs. Gasping, she writhed on the ground as her muscles shed electricity. The shock was brief, if highly unpleasant, and after a few moments writhing her body uncoiled, and she could take in her surroundings. 

‘Get up. Walk or you will be carried. We are here.’

Annobakh, his orange oculars conveyed no warmth, no mercy. Not that they could.

‘I’ll walk.’

‘As you wish. But hurry. I have no further patience for delays.’

Grimacing, Cerenais stood, idly noticing that apart from the fading ache of the electric shock, she was in good health. Her ribs, which had been cracked in her duel with the Necron champion, were healed and the swelling around her eye was gone. 

‘How long did I rest?’

Annobakh turned away, gesturing for her to follow him. Around her, several of his heavily armoured Lychguard moved in eerie lockstep, keeping her hemmed in.

‘A little over six weeks. You were placed in a stasis crypt and allowed to heal while we travelled.’

Cerenais took stock, noting that she was still clothed in the sweeping amethyst purple and black robes of her office. The pins keeping her normally immaculately-sculpted war-braid bound had been taken out, leaving her copper locks to limply fall with gravity. A hand shot to her chest, and she let out a quiet sigh of relief to feel the hard shape of her spirit stone still against her breast. Apart from her weapons and bag of seer runes, which were absent, she had all her possessions on her. 

‘Not that I’m complaining, Necron, but do you allow all your prisoners to walk around unshackled and dressed in their own clothes? I could be a threat.’

Annobakh turned. His metallic face creased as much as it could, giving her an approximation of a wry smile. 

‘Oh, I’m not worried about that.’

‘Keep thinking that’, thought Cerenais. ‘I don’t see any form of your abhorrent technology on me… so trusting in your inept guards. No need to play my trump card yet, but soon you will rue your arrogance. Soon.’

They walked in silence for some time but eventually Annobakh seemed to grow weary of the silence.

‘Though eager to arrive, I must say I put the travel time to good use. I have been catching up on galactic history, several million years’ worth. It has proved to be equal parts inspiring, disappointing, amusing, and sad. Considering my company, I decided to focus my studies on your people, Farseer. Such a rise and fall the Eldar civilisation has had! I think now that perhaps the Silent King ordered us into the Great Sleep less because it would have been unbearably costly to contend with your people for pre-eminence on the galactic stage, and more because he foresaw the glorious self-wrought blunder you would make on your own. You literally created and birthed your own extinction. Marvellous!’

Cerenais knew she shouldn’t rise to the bait, but her passion burned hot, it always had. It was why she had petitioned the Craftworld so earnestly to launch the pre-emptive strike on Suranas and to be the one to lead it.

‘The Eldar will rise again, we are not extinct yet,’ she snarled.

Annobakh merely chucked.

‘Look at you: the mighty Eldar. Undergoing a fall as dramatic and complete as any penned by any bard in the history of storytelling, and you still delude yourself into thinking you might rise again.  How precious. As to your extinction: the Eldar struggle to survive, let alone thrive. Always walking on the knife edge of destruction, your admittedly good balance has allowed you to walk it this long, but you were always going to fall.’

‘At least if we go, Necron, we will go with dignity.’

‘Perhaps so. But the entire journey we made from Necrontyr to Necron was in service to not going at all.’

To that, Cerenais couldn’t seem to find any response. Annobakh’s chuckle echoed loud and long off the empty corridors.

 

+++

 

After what could have been hours, but was probably just minutes, of trudging through identical-looking deserted corridors, they had evidently arrived. Arrayed in lines by a particularly ornate door were several statue-still guards and an officious-looking Necron standing by to receive them. Rather than Annobakh’s angry orange, these Necrons glowed with a cerulean blue.

‘Ah, honoured curator! A pleasure to see you in these times. I hope you don’t mind if we keep the chatting to a minimum at this juncture, I have matters to attend to,’ Annobakh stated amicably. 

‘Of course. Now as to the matter of payment: one interaction within the Orrery in exchange for all outstanding debts and favours the Oruscar Dynasty owes the Atun Dynasty being rendered null and void.’

‘I accept these terms.’

‘Please also note that any further interactions made to the Orrery will incur the usual price, to be repaid via loans or transfer from the list of Atun Dynasty treasures you have sent ahead.’

‘I accept these terms.’

The curator bowed low and gestured grandly to the door. 

‘Then enjoy your time in the Celestial Orrery of Thanatos. It is a pleasure to do business with the noble Dynasty of Atun.’ 

‘My pleasure as well Curator. We shan’t be all that long.’

The door cracked open revealing a gentle light in the room beyond. As the Lychguard began moving again, obviously intending to shepherd Cerenais inside, the curator abruptly grabbed Annobakh’s arm.

‘You cannot seriously intend to take a prisoner with you inside the Orrery? Are you mad? The delicate workings of the Orrery must not be touched by outsiders…’

‘And they won’t be!’ snapped Annobakh. ‘I have paid your exorbitant fees for this privilege and I can assure you that I, and all in my company, will treat this wonder with the delicate touch it deserves. Should I be incorrect, you are welcome to charge me for damages. Until then, release my arm at once before I decide that I am offended.’ 

The curator’s arm sprang open as though he had been scalded.

Annobakh didn’t even stop to further acknowledge the curator, walking into the chamber and turning to allow Cerenais to step inside. 

‘Look, but do not touch, Farseer.’

Cerenais was about to muster a scathing retort when she registered what exactly she was seeing, what this Celestial Orrery actually was.

‘Merciful mother Isha…’ she breathed in pure awe.

It was the galaxy, wrought in living metal and light. 

 

+++

 

  Uncountable multitudes of objects floated in the air, each a masterful simulacrum of a star, planet, or other noteworthy celestial body. Cerenais had travelled the Path of the Stargazer before embarking on her current vocation and confirmed with only a passing glance that each model was placed totally accurately to its real counterpart in the galaxy. 

There, the human fortress-world of Cadia hung in the air as a dull grey clump of Necrodermis the size of her clenched fist, and almost enveloping it was the Eye of Terror, rendered in a crimson and magenta hologram that extended for metres in every direction. Her keen eyesight picked out some distance away the hazy representation of the Ghoul Stars, and over there, the many orbs that made up the Ork ‘empire’ of Octarius. Amazing…

‘Incredible, isn’t it?’ said Annobakh, actual awe in his voice. He slowly drifted around the space, carefully navigating around each exhibit, careful not to touch them.

‘I thought only a civilisation as cultured and advanced as yours could hope to properly appreciate this: the Celestial Orrery. Created at the very zenith of the Necron Empire’s mastery and power, using technology that is beyond the understanding of all but the most learned and visionary of our Crypteks. For its artistic value alone it is beyond priceless, a literally unique treasure. But it is not merely art. Come, see.’

With a single gesture from Annobakh, the metal floor beneath their feet changed to the consistency of loose sand, and they sunk through the floor. Another layer of the Orrey was revealed, this one of a sector halfway across the galaxy from their previous location. Again and again at Annobakh’s gesture they sunk through the layers like ghosts, each new level revealing more of the extent of the Orrey’s scope. The very galaxy flashed by, layer by layer.

Conflicting emotions warred within Cerenais. Though the hated enemy of her people would not shut up, she had to reluctantly admit that he was right: this place was a wonder, a thing of engineering and industry that rivalled even some of the greatest Eldar creations. Surely, Annobakh didn’t go to all this trouble to bring her here for an art gallery tour? Either way, when the right opportunity presented itself she would shut him up permanently. 

After a brief walk, Annobakh stopped before a planet, another dull grey orb that hung suspended in a patch of space that slowly drizzled holographic glyphs of blue. He gestured, like a fanatical collector showcasing his prized piece.

‘And here we have… us!’ crowed Annobakh. ‘The planet of Thanatos where we currently stand, hosted by the Oruscar. A good likeness to be sure, but as I said, the Orrey’s models are not merely models. Actions wrought on the models are replicated in reality! Were a visitor of a mind to, they could swat a model into its nearest sun, and that world, millions of Galactic didacts from here, would careen into the star, as if by magic! Truly astounding.’

This. This was her chance. It would require the ultimate sacrifice but Cerenais had been prepared to bleed and kill for her people ever since her adolescence. So why not die for them? 

Especially as she wouldn’t be going alone. 

‘What do you think? Admit it, even you are impressed.’

‘I think… that your admiration for the work of greater minds than yours should come to an end. It all comes to an end, Annobakh.’

‘How dare…’

She moved, while he was still in the midst of being pompously outraged. Her supposed guards may as well have been moving in slow motion as Cerenais ducked through their steel forms, rolling past snatching hands to come to her feet in front of ‘Thanatos’. With a cry, she raised one leg up high with the dexterity a professional gymnast would envy, intending to drop the leg like the blade of a guillotine, either breaking the model or smashing it down into the floor to shatter there. And victory would be hers.

Except, the idea never got past the ‘intending’ stage.

A hand’s breadth from the target, her leg went iron-stiff, ceasing its momentum as if it had been trapped in amber.

Gritting her teeth, Cerenais pushed but her leg refused to budge, the muscles somehow seized up with painful intensity. Cerenais strained to complete her blow, veins bulging and sweat breaking out on her brow. All to no effect. Her leg, and only her leg, would not respond.

‘I said, look, but do not touch.’

Annobakh stepped into view. His voice wasn’t filled with anger, but amusement.

‘Now that is spirit! A passably clever plan, to destroy the model of Thanatos, and thus us all. Except for the fact that I baited you, and you took the bait, ignorant that you can take no actions that I do not consent to. Give me some credit Cerenais, did you really think I would allow a prisoner to walk this precious place with anything approaching freedom? That was an illusion, and your petulance has forced me to rip that illusion away, courtesy of the mindshackle scarabs you were injected with during our trip here. A most useful device, they can subvert the neural pathways that enable your brain to send instructions to the rest of your body.’

‘Damn you!’ choked out Cerenais, a single tear sliding out of her eye. Her entire body abruptly seized up as Annobakh leaned in close, gently took the tear off her cheek with one metal finger and with a flick dashed it against the floor.

‘Damn me with every curse you know, scion of house Arathion, it won’t avail you. You’ve seen the sights, but not the one thing I really brought you here to see. Come, let us not tarry any more. Follow me.’

Screaming inside her head, Cerenais felt her body move in accordance with Annobakh’s command, taking them deeper into the Orrery.

 

+++

 

‘Recognise this world?’

It floated at neck height, orbited by two moons, the space of the system surrounded by falling Necron glyphs wrought in orange. This orb was a much healthier green than many of the worlds they had passed, so much so that for a second Cerenais thought it might have been a Maiden World. But this was a sight she had seen before: in her visions, in the scry-pool aboard her voidship. The picture of a target for invasion. Her invasion.

‘Suranas.’

‘The scene of your crime.’

Cerenais laughed, a thing borne of helplessness and exasperation. 

‘What did you expect, honestly? Remorse, or regret? We have been at war since the galaxy was young. Never have our peoples been at peace. I’ll not justify my actions to you. I’ll not break or plead for your entertainment. Just kill me and be done with it. Others will come to finish what I sadly could not.’

At the words, Annobakh’s eyes blazed with light and power, the sheer energy on display causing heat shimmer to boil from his optics. Though he no longer had a soul, only a ruthless intelligence, Cerenais fancied she could feel his anger as easily as the heat spilling from his eyes.

‘So much for the supposed ability to see the future Farseer, you’re wrong on both counts. No others of your mongrel kind will come to threaten my people. And you won’t die. You’ll only wish you were dead.’

Annobakh gestured, and pain seized Cerenais as the hundreds of scarabs situated through her body like virus cells released static electricity directly into her. Smoking, she collapsed to her knees, teeth chattering. 

‘I could just kill you and gain satisfaction from crushing your windpipe with my own hands, but execution is a simple, blunt thing, and I am of nobility. It is the responsibility of the ruling caste to create more of an example than just a corpse. See the Mettia system? Or rather what hides there.’

Head pounding, Cerenais forced her head up, looking at a system some metres distant. It could have been any one of numberless unremarkable systems, but for it possessing three suns in a loose triangular formation. And the hologram of a colossal voidship sailing slowly through it.

‘Zu’lasa…’ she breathed, and terror filled her breast. She had an inkling of the madness Annobakh planned.

‘Yes. Craftworld Zu’lasa, your home. Home to all the minds that sanctioned the razing of my world and the execution of my people. Now a single sun the Craftworld could evade, you do build for agility after all. But two, three? No one could evade that retribution. Light will be their death, and darkness their shrouds.’

‘Please, no. Annobakh, don’t do this…’ pleaded Cerenais. Annobakh gave no sign that he heard her or cared if he had. 

Cerenais tried to stand, to throw herself at the Necron Lord, to do anything. But her body would not aid her, and she stayed trapped.

To her surprise, Annobakh bent down and sat, just out of arms reach of her. When he spoke again, there was pain behind his voice, and he spoke gently, as if to a lover.

‘You are right Cerenais: we are enemies. Personally, I would have relished pitting the forces of the Atun Dynasty against the Eldar. I would expect no less. Your curiously advanced yet ethereal technology is the only true match for our own and your warriors are disciplined and deadly. We would have fought a campaign for the stars as equals, with begrudging respect, and I would have been proud to be part of that. It would have been a worthy fight, for a worthwhile cause. Even if we had met in the duellist’s ring and I somehow come out the lesser, I could have been content with that. It would have been honourable, and honest.’ 

Annobakh shook his head slowly. ‘But that is not what you have done Farseer. You tried to slit my people’s throats in our sleep. So many died, and they never even got to open their eyes.’

Cerenais howled, a wordless bleat of frustration at her captivity. After long moments, she managed to get her sobs under control, trying to bargain.

‘You speak of death, yet you refuse to see that I cannot kill the already deceased. The Necrontyr are extinct! They were the moment your Silent King made that Daemon’s pact with the C’tan. You’re just like the shades in the tale of Anthalior: the dead who cannot accept they are gone and hate the living for it. I put the dead to rest.’

‘Shades? SHADES? You dare to compare your victims to allegories of your self-indulgent myth. Use those heightened senses Farseer and pay attention: they were my people!’ roared Annobakh. ‘Good people! They were farmers, and merchants, and artisans. Scribes, teachers, smiths, shepherds: Innocents!’

Displaying either courage or stupidity, Cerenais refused to back down, her tone twisted with scorn.

‘Tell me Annobakh, what use is a farmer who has no one who can enjoy his crop? What is the point of a teacher who no longer has any students to teach? Why bother to persist, when you have given up all that makes life a precious thing to be lived?’

Annobakh leaned in close, uncomfortably close. His pupilless, artificial gaze bored into Cerenais’ eyes, matching her intensity with the weight of aeons.

‘Tell me Eldar, you with your blessed longevity, your genetic gifts that you did nothing to earn, do you know what it is to watch your father sicken and die from sun-scorned tumours at the ripe old age of fifty years? To hold him as his sickly body fails him and try to whisper comfort to one who had once been strong and tall and rightfully proud?’

‘No.’

‘Then don’t pretend you understand anything about why we made the bargain we did. My father died a tragically avoidable death, and with that his responsibility to rule and care for his subjects passed to me. Subjects who entered the Great Sleep with hope, hope that they may awaken and have a future, may recover from the burdens fate placed on them. You and your kind have taken that away from them, Cerenais, stolen their potential. Cut down the guilty and the innocent, the rich and the poor alike! They wouldn’t have woken for hundreds of years. We were no harm to anyone, but you have woken a sleeping dragon with an assassin’s dagger, and for that there will be fire and devastation.’ 

Annobakh stood, and his voice was for the first time devoid of all trace of emotion.

‘You are a ruler, as am I. You know that there is nothing so hateful as to be a king who outlives his people. You tried to kill my people out from under me, leave me with nothing. Well, there’s a saying that comes from the human race, and I think it’s most fitting: turnabout is fair play.’

And with that, Annobakh strode forward, stretched an arm out to the first of Mettia’s suns. His hand grasped and squeezed with the force of a vice, snuffing the light out. 

‘I will make an example of you to make the stars tremble,’ he whispered, but Cerenais heard it.

Such was the quality of the Orrey’s artifice, that Cerenais could see as the sun went supernova in miniature. Annobakh paused for the barest moment, then squeezed again and again, snuffing out each sun like he was dousing candles. 

‘Three suns will cost me dearly, but there will be nowhere for you to hide.’

Suddenly shocked into its death throes millions of years before its time, Mettia’s suns expanded in eerie silence, just as it was doing in reality. How could something so eternal die with no sound to commemorate it? There should be noise. The roar of a billion crude human bombs going off, or the fsssk as a forest catches fire from a lightning strike. 

Cerenais wished to turn away but found she could not. She was required to watch as the expanding blooms of solar plasma did as Annobakh wished: left nowhere for her people to flee. And watch she did as the dying suns overlapped each other, totally enveloping Craftworld Zu’lasa in solar death. It took only heartbeats for the extinction of the entire Craftworld, with not a soul to bear witness but Cerenais and Annobakh. One was a weeping shell, while the other stood triumphant in the wake of the judgement he had made.

‘My will be done!’

Only soft sobbing greeted his words.

 

+++

 

The prisoner could barely stand for her grief now, so the Lychguard held her up mostly upright. 

‘Justice has been done, an eye for an eye. And yet there is a lesson to be delivered in all this. You will be that lesson, now the last of your line. I am not without mercy…’

‘Mercy? After what you have done, you would speak of mercy?’

‘I would. Every criminal that faces sentence feels they have been hard-done by, but it is done so that hopefully it may dissuade others from doing so. In my mercy, you will be teleported to one of the other Craftworlds of your kind…’

‘We have access to Varantha, my lord.’

‘Thank you, Norak. Varantha then. Go, live out the rest of your extended life amongst new kinsmen, and convey to them my lesson as a queen without a people: to never follow in Zu’lasa’s footsteps. That there are no lengths I wouldn’t go to in order to protect or avenge the Necron people. Now, one last matter: your personal punishment. Lychguard, her left leg.’

Cerenais didn’t struggle until the Lychguard gripped her left leg, holding it out extended. Then she did struggle, but it was far too late in multiple grips of iron.

‘Release me! What is the meaning of this!?’

‘Quite simple. I have passed sentence on the Craftworld, but as their chosen instrument in the matter, you have to be punished too. You Eldar are very advanced, but your reliance on psionics has left you puzzlingly underdeveloped in some of the basic sciences.’

Annobakh held out a hand and from his personal hyper-space he summoned his favoured blade, a huge, orange-bladed halberd. 

‘The field of prosthetics, for one.’

With a single, lazy swing, he took Cerenais’ leg off mid-thigh.

That was for the members of my family you killed, Eldar.’

Whirling the halberd around with a master’s skill, Annobakh delicately placed the thrumming blade flat against the stump, searing the bleeding wound closed before his captive could pass out. He patiently waited some minutes until the screams slowly dissolved into heavy panting before continuing.

‘There, now all hostilities are satisfyingly concluded and, while my punishment will require some adjusting to, it is not my intention to kick you when you are down. If you will solemnly promise here and now to encourage your people to seek no revenge for what has transpired today, then I would offer you this fine artificial limb, crafted of finest-quality Necrodermis, that you may leave this place under your own power with some measure of dignity. May it aid your recovery, in time.’

By Annobakh’s side, Norak stepped forward, reverently holding out a platinum-shiny metallic leg. Though smoothly crafted with few overt plates, the leg notably did not mimic Cerenais’ natural one, with only three flat toes. 

‘Should you agree, we can have it attached in short order, so you can greet your new Craftworld on two feet.’ 

Annobakh watched, honestly wondering if the hobbled Eldar would accept it. There was no sure thing with the proud. But though she managed a semblance of her old malice in a glare, the last member of House Arathion was a broken person, and her defiance crumbled. 

‘I… will do as… you… have said.’ Every pause was choked with hesitance.

‘You swear it?’

‘…I swear.’

Without another word, she silently accepted the prosthetic, holding it clumsily even as she was held by the Lychguard. 

‘It is time you began your new life. Do not forget what you have seen here today.’

‘I will never forget, Annobakh.’

‘Oh, I know. I hope we never have cause to meet again.’

With that, Cerenais was carried away. 

Norak made to follow her, but at a gesture from Annobakh, he stopped, and plodded over to his master.

‘She can wait a moment for the installation. We still have to settle up payment with the Oruscar. I’m afraid the Dynasty is now a little in debt,’ Annobakh said.

‘My lord, this venture will dig deep into the Atun’s treasury. Will not the Atun Phaeron be angered when he arises?’

‘He might be but fret not. The Great Awakening is not scheduled for hundreds of years, plenty of time to replenish the coffers with conquest and tribute. After Suranas is fully awakened, we will look to expanding the Atun’s borders a bit. Get a head start on the other Dynasties before they awaken en masse and things get very… interesting.’

‘As always lord, your wisdom proves the dynasty is in good hands.’

Norak fell silent, though Annobakh knew his advisor wished to say more than semi-empty platitudes.

‘I can tell you have another question. Speak Norak, you’ve certainly earned that much.’ 

‘It’s just… we cannot be sure the Eldar will honour the ancient  pact. What is to stop her from goading her new people to vengeance with us when out of our observation?’

Annobakh turned to stare at Norak, his optics once more blazing like the suns. 

‘That limb was not just a simple prosthetic. Even aside from the visual impact it will have, marking her out and no doubt causing for some very embarrassing explanations to be demanded, it has other functions. Nano-scarabs held in recesses will be released into her body over time, and begin covertly collecting data: physiology scans, neural mapping, technology analysis, surveillance of a craftworld’s layout to name a few. It should prove to be quite the trove of information for us. And most importantly it is verbally keyed; should the Farseer speak inflammatory words on her new residence, the limb’s Necrodermis will transmute to liquid form, flow up into her airways, and instantly solidify. I am done with blindly trusting the honour of aliens.’

Before his lord’s gaze, Norak fully appreciated why Annobakh’s primary epithet was ‘the Implacable’. Bowing deeply, Norak hastily made his leave, off to oversee the implantation of the necrodermis prosthetic of the and then make speedy preparations for their return to Suranas. 

Alone for the moment Annobakh banished his blade back to its hyper-space armoury. He allowed himself to be lost in thoughts of walking through the untidy gardens of his world as they were brought to order again. Just sunlight, birdsong, the crunch of grass underfoot. No Eldar.

Were he able to smile, he would have.

About the Author

Joshua Olsen hails from the possible Death World known as Australia and enjoys writing 40k Fan Fiction both as a means to entertain readers with equal parts characterization, fight scenes and Grimdarkness and to maybe, hopefully one day get picked up by Black Library and actually turn a hobby into a living.

Alternatively, he’s a Lord of Change merely adopting human guise and taking a holiday from the infinite lunacy of the Immaterium to spin tales and possibly do Tzeentch’s work on the side. Either way he enjoys writing fan fiction.

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