Monday, January 31, 2011

Tales of the Rancid Blade: Part 37. The Genius

Jungle vines hung through the blasted window that had once looked out across the stars. Its wide oval was about thirty feet across and where it once it held a view of dark stars it now held the prospect of an overgrown jungle. Green vines spilled forth into the command chamber of the Tau battleship. Leaves and plants hanging down over command consoles. The power had been off for about a month and so the edges of once white chamber were hidden in shadows. Dark control panels were quiet and where once the chatter of Air Caste pilots had sounded, now the chatter of exotic birds called out.

Anemos walked cautiously into the chamber. Its silence and her witness to the remnant of what this place once was, made her shiver. There were parts of the ship that still buzzed with activity. She had made sure of it. Despite the rough landing and the destruction of the main viewing chamber, the ship was still intact and she had been running the war from the tactical alcoves several decks below. Hundreds of Fire Warriors worked and planned from other parts of the ship in full confidence of eventual victory. Anemos was not as confident. She returned to this place knowing that this was at the heart of the campaign. She swallowed hard facing the reality that at the core of her command was this room and madness of the jungle crowding around. She looked toward the shadows. She was looking for her god. She knew he was here. She knew he was lurking in the shadows.

“My lord” she called to the darkness “we need to speak of the war”. There was no response. “It goes poorly”.

“I see it” the voice came from one of the dark corners. She looked closer and saw the shape of her Ethereal. “I see it in you. I see your desire”. The voice was ghostly and lonesome. She started toward the dark form and saw that he was dressed in little but rags. “You want me dead. You want me gone”

“I do not. I seek your council.”

“You seek to blame me for your failure.”

She breathed out slowly measuring her temper. He was right. She did want him dead. He had lead their forces into an evil alliance with the Dark Eldar and and their wytches and the Cemephon expansion had become their playground. Their wanton destruction and torture had become her daily observations. They all had been lead to their doom.

“I've seen the horror. Horrors that you've seen.” The voice came from the blackness.

"The field is lost. Our forces are in retreat. The northern front has collapsed and the hives cities are overrun with Imperials.” She paused. Her anger was building. “Obolis is missing. Tranthus’ break through assault on the dark gate has failed. And he is dead!” She paused letting her words sink into the darkness. They also sank into her mind. She thought of Obolis’ warning all those months ago... “Whatever walks through that gate will destroy us” he had said. She now came to see that he had said was right. The call of a Jimjok bird sounded in the jungle outside and brought her back. She could feel her own contempt. “What is your wisdom?” she spat. Her words were soaked in malice.

“You have a right to kill me” the voice from the darkness was slow and seemed to slide across the room like a filthy oil. “You have a right to do that, but you have no right to judge me. I am your god and I have lead you to this point of glory”


“Glory indeed. The inky, bloody revelry of what we have made is glorious. It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what glory means.”

“How are we glorious? How?” Her face was twisted in a snarl.

“Glorious in death”.

Anemos eyes grew wide. She now knew what Obolis had seen all those months ago at the start of this war was true. The Ethereal was mad. She loosed her sidearm from its holster and drew it up to fire but her finger never made it to the trigger. A ghostly shadow from behind darted over her striking her and lodging a needle through her neck. It protruded from one side through to the other. She dropped to her knees gurgling as a poison strode through her body. Her face contorted as she twisted against the toxin. She was trying to see the face of her attacker.

The voice from the inky blackness sounded again as calm and slow as cold tar. . “Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and mortal terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.” She hit the cold deck still writhing against the poison. Her eyes could only see the long black heeled boot of her assassin standing before her. She heard the rasp of her own breath. “The genius of it. The genius. The will to unleash mortal terror on your foes and love it. If I had ten divisions of those dark eldar kin, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have warriors who are moral and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill with feeling, with passion, with judgment--with Passion! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure.”

The Ethereal had stepped from the darkness and walked toward her. She could see his tattooed body. From head to toe it was covered in the insane etches that now covered her warrior’s suits in tribute to this insanity. He carried a halberd in his hand. It was the once proud and now defiled symbol of his office.

“I realized what they could stand was so much beyond what we could do.” He came to stand before her looking down at her. He stood beside the Lady Hosphel, the assassin, and they both looked down at Anemos’s prostrate body. The fire warrior was now still. Her breathing was a labored panting. “These were not monsters, these were warriors, trained cadres, these who fought with their hearts. Our kin, Anemos, the Tau, have no passion. Passion is what is needed.” And with that the Ethereal raised the long blade of the halberd. And with a swift ease he inserted it into the soft flesh of Anemos’ stomach. It easily slid through to the floor with a dull sounding. She gasped with the last of her strength and her fingers spread wide in agony.

“The genius” the Ethereal said again, repeating himself as a widening pool of Anemos’ blood neared their feet.

The Dolgath Legacy Part 18: The war is done

Dolgath sat unnoticed in a dark corner on the seventh tier of the tactical command center. It was a tall, circular chamber located in the most secure core of his battle cruiser, the Subjugator. He had never used it himself, preferring to conduct operations from his private audience chamber. Shortly after taking command of the campaign, Nelthas had moved her operations here – systems dark for centuries suddenly flickered to life, servitors long dormant slowly twitched into motion, fitful glow-globes cast reluctant amber illumination upon ancient heroes carved millennia before in immutable bronze and immaculate marble standing in silent vigilance.

The tactical command center was designed to provide full situational awareness. At the center of it was a holographic sphere that displayed an incredibly detailed, three-dimensional representation of the battle zone. One morning, after not meeting with Nelthas for their customary breakfast, Dolgath discovered her in the newly awakened command center standing at the nexus of the holographic sphere like some towering avatar of war.

Dolgath was at first surprised, not pegging Nelthas as a war-monger, yet she had never before been given full command of a campaign. She seemed to embrace it with frightening force and efficiency. Her victories were quick, efficient and brutal. She wasted nothing. Every asset at her disposal was utilized to its utmost; every advantage was exploited for maximum effect. Although the xenos invaders possessed superior resources and technological capabilities, Nelthas outmaneuvered them at every turn. Her victory was almost frightening in its speed and ruthlessness. Inquisitor Welch was sent packing back to Ordos command even before he was fully settled into his new quarters.

At the dawn of the twenty-seventh day of the campaign, Dolgath entered the main floor of the tactical command center. The guards did not challenge him; they were his own men after all. Nelthas still hovered at the center of the holographic sphere – she had not left it since the beginning of the campaign. She was like a dark god, her arms outstretched, and her eyes like faintly glowing emerald embers. Only a few tiny red indicators remained in the entirety of the battle zone – a few last pockets of feeble resistance…

“Nelthas,” Dolgath said tentatively. She did not respond.

“Nelthas!” Dolgath shouted.

The god’s eyes flickered uncertainly and then focused on Dolgath.

“Come, the war is done,” Dolgath said with his arms outstretched.

Nelthas descended from the battle sphere like a puppet whose strings had been cut. She literally fell into Dolgath’s arms. He bore her back to his private chambers; a tiny slight bundle. It was fourteen days before Nelthas was well enough to join him once again for their customary morning breakfast meeting.

On the fifteenth day, Nelthas glided into his audience chamber, all slight of stature and demure, adorned in cream and sea-foam. Dolgath glanced up with a lopsided smile.

“It seams the Ordo Hereticus congress has recommended you for consideration for Lord Status for your work in this campaign…” Dolgath commented casually.

Dolgath watched as Nelthas carefully picked up her customary liquid nutrient glass, inserted the straw between the succulent full lips of her psychomorphic mask, and took a long drink…

“Swell…” she replied noncommittally.

Dolgath lowered his head and began to laugh – slightly at first and then growing in volume…

Nelthas watched him for a moment, and then began laughing herself…

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Nelthas Ascendant

The Aquilla-pattern shuttle was configured for command and control, as such; it was heavily shielded and outfitted with the best systems the Adeptus Mechanicus could cram into her small frame. Other than its crew of three, it held five individuals whose positions were critical to the Imperium for the prosecution of the war. Had the xenos invaders been aware of it, they would most certainly have sent every resource available to destroy it. As it was, the small craft drifted like an insignificant speck in low orbit, providing its passengers a brilliantly panoramic overview of the territory over which the coming conflict would be fought.

Standing at the pinnacle of the observation dome was Inquisitor Nelthas outfitted in a sleek and severe garment of glistening black and crimson leather. Her psychomorphic mask bore more resemblance to a helmet crafted in the most elaborate Imperial fashion, the face a fierce blending of a beautiful woman and a raptor, surmounted by feathered wings carved of white-lacquered adamantine. From her position she had a commanding panorama through the hemispherical view-ports around her, as well as of the various pict-screens and com-relays arrayed around the dome.

To her right stood the hulking form of Captain Jeremiah of the 9th company of the Imperial Dragons chapter of the space marines, representing the primary force at her disposal. His youthful face surmounted by golden curls seemed incongruous set as it was atop the gleaming suit of green and ivory power armor. To her left was Major Raker of the 3rd Company of the 77th Kelten Rifles Imperial Guard Regiment. He represented the secondary force at Nelthas command, which were actually the remnants of Dolgath’s original battle force who secured New Boston. He was dressed in the trademark black, white and grey striped camo pattern uniform of the White Tigers company, with a dark grey cape resting over his shoulders. His face was broad and lantern-jawed; his eyes peered from beneath the brim of his peaked cap like a surly predator. Behind him stood a woman shrouded in a voluminous white cloak trimmed in luxurious fur from which peeked a high-cheekboned face of porcelain perfection with dark eyes as inscrutable as a statue. This deadly raven-haired beauty was Palatine Quallar representing the Ordo Hereticus force left behind by Inquisitor Treyquill. Lastly, there was a figure who sat inconspicuously in a dark corner, seemingly oblivious to the important personages standing before him; instead, his attention was focused on a well-worn leather book. He was dressed in a simple dark grey overcoat with a black felt collar and lapels upon which was pined a tiny golden Ordo Maleus seal. Inquisitor Lord Dolgath’s face was a lean stony mask, his eyes as deeply green and unfathomable as the sea.

Beneath her impenetrable mask, Nelthas was concerned about Dolgath. He was special to her. Ever since she first constructed the entity that was, Nelthas, she knew that most would avoid her, and a small few twisted individuals might be attracted to her. Never before had she encountered someone who was so accepting of her. Dolgath had become increasingly quiet and withdrawn since control of the campaign had been transferred to her. At first she assumed it represented a certain amount of petulance on his part; which was understandable considering he lost command of the campaign which he had so far successfully prosecuted. Yet, his relief at ceding control of the campaign was palpable. He performed the required transfer functions almost happily. Once all his duties were done he offered up his audience chamber to her and retreated to his inner-sanctum. He would join her at every morning and evening meal and discuss the latest developments in the campaign, but inevitably as soon as the meal was over; his nose would be buried in a book once more. Nelthas had grown to suspect that Dolgath, the inspiring battle commander, was as much a façade as her own, and she was just now beginning to see the real Dolgath; the introspective delver into forbidden secrets...

“Inquisitor, we have a Dark Eldar signature on the scan,” one of the crew stated.

The four commanders focused on the pict-screen, all accept for Dolgath who seemed oblivious, engrossed in his book.

The pict-screen resolved on the territory within which the defense missile silo resided. Nelthas quickly evaluated the associated data; it was an automated facility manned by servitor drones that had been entirely ineffective at striking the invading forces. A second pict-screen showed the xenos forces descending on the facility and quickly taking control of the command center and fuel bunkers. A third pict-screen showed Imperial Guard forces moving into position to assault the xenos-controlled areas. Nelthas summed up the situation and made her decision instantly. She turned to Major Raker.

“Withdraw your troops, Major,” she said confidently.

“What?” his heavy jaw dropped in surprise.

“You heard me. Have them retreat in good order and establish defensive positions around the Starport.”

“Inquisitor, with all due respect…” Raker began to say with something less than a respectful tone.

Nelthas raised one of her tiny delicate hands and pointed a dainty finger at him; the gold ring upon her finger emitted a ruby targeting beam that formed a conspicuous red dot between his eyes. “Now, Major,” she said darkly.

Everyone’s eyes, including Dolgath’s, focused on Raker. He stood transfixed for a brief moment and then bowed slightly. “As you wish, Inquisitor,” Raker replied as he moved to a com-panel to relay his orders. Through her restrained fury, Nelthas noticed as the faint hint of a smile ghosted across Dolgath’s face.


The next morning, Dolgath appeared in the audience chamber for his customary morning meal, only to see servitors and functionaries scurrying about. Nelthas, arrayed in flowing garment the color of sea-foam, her psychomorphic mask like fine jade, had activated the holographic display above his desk and was engrossed in reviewing a stream of battle reports coming in. Dolgath sat inconspicuously down opposite her and observed the controlled chaos with a faintly bemused expression. After a few moments she finally noticed him. Her mask smiled with barely repressed satisfaction.

“I take it, the Dark Eldar took your bait,” Dolgath said.

“They could not resist. The servitors manning the defense facility would be naught but straw men to them; they could not leave the field without drawing blood and pain,” Nelthas replied. “They still control the defense silo, but they have been crippled with negligible losses on our part.”

“Well played,” Dolgath chuckled.

A servitor brought them trays of coffee and pastries. As Nelthas turned back to the battle reports, Dolgath pulled out his well-worn book and settled back to read.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Dolgath Legacy Part 17: Never show emotion

They both turned at the sound of strong rapid footsteps advancing into the chamber. A Space Marine officer in full regalia marched toward them – his green and white power armor gleaming, his feather-crested helmet held in the crook of one arm, his opposite armored fist gripping the pommel of an ornate power sword. A second figure trailed in his wake, endeavoring rather comically, to keep up with the massive stride of the Astartes. His attire was suitably impressive in the Ordo Maleus style, yet his flushed face and labored breathing defeated his attempts at dignity.

The Space Marine snapped to attention at the foot of Dolgath’s desk, his youthful, clean-cut face belied the fact that he was likely significantly older than Dolgath’s advanced years… The second figure stumbled up to his desk standing red-faced and breathing heavily.

“Captain Jeremiah, 9th Company, Imperial Dragons Chapter, Legions Astartes,” the space marine stated smartly.

“Inquisitor Welch, Ordo Maleus, Segmentum Obscurus,” the second figure said breathlessly.

Dolgath didn’t recognize either of them. Although had had worked with the Imperial Dragons chapter on numerous occasions over the years, he expected that he might not know some of their officers. Conversely, the Inquisitor was a member of his own order, yet he was young – probably hadn’t even been born yet the last time Dolgath had attended an Ordos congress. As Dolgath walked slowly to his desk, Nethas moved behind him rising up to twice her former height creating an effect both intimidating and comforting that Dolgath was growing quite fond of…

“Captain Jeremiah, the Inquisition acknowledges the past service of the Imperial Dragons as exemplary. In fact, I personally stand in your debt,” Dolgath bowed deeply. For a moment the space marine seemed taken-aback, but saluted smartly in return.

Dolgath turned toward Welch. “Why are you here?” Dolgath said in a strikingly icy tone. The space marine’s eyes shifted sideways, but his stony face showed no other signs of emotion. Welch blinked in surprise, but quickly produced a sealed message scroll and responded in a tone that seamed well-rehearsed.

“By order of High Lord Veridian of Ultima Segmentum Ordos Command and Lord Inquisitor Sarc of Charadon Sector, authority and command of all forces engaged in the prosecution of the subsequent campaign against the Tau invaders has been transferred to Inquisitor Nelthas of the Ordo Xenos. The services of Inquisitor Lord Dolgath shall henceforth be retained in an advisory capacity only.”

Dolgath took the offered scroll without expression; however, Nelthas suddenly rose up like a towering storm cloud her voice booming link thunder: “What!” The space marine actually tilted his head backward to gaze up at the enraged apparition. Welch cowered like a frightened animal.

Dolgath’s calm voice quickly diffused the situation. “Our thanks, Captain Jeremiah; Inquisitor Nelthas shall convene a tactical briefing of all campaign forces at the earliest opportunity. Inquisitor Welch, accommodations shall be made available to you immediately.”

The space marine captain turned on his heel smartly and marched out of the chamber, leaving Welch to stand blinking up at Nelthas stupidly.

“Was their something more, Inquisitor?” Dolgath asked.

“Um, I was instructed to remain as an observer for the subsequent operations,” Welch replied focusing with difficulty on Dolgath.

“Very good, you shall be included in all subsequent briefings. Good day, Inquisitor,” Dolgath said with finality. A servitor came to escort Welch out. He departed with a rather bewildered expression. The moment the door sealed behind him, Dolgath turned on Nelthas and pointed a harsh finger up at her.

“That was unwise! Never show emotion, especially in front of an Astartes!” Dolgath growled.

Nelthas shrank like a deflated Emperor’s Day float. She seemed to vanish into a billowing pool of black and cream fabric, making Dolgath wonder just how tiny she really was inside all that façade. Her psychomorphic mask lay in the center of it, upturned; deathly pale, the mouth a tiny crimson pout, the eyes wept blood-red tears. Slowly, a tiny figure rose in the center of it all, hardly taller than a child. Dolgath moved to put his arm around those tiny shoulders, his iron-hard visage cracking for a moment.

“It makes sense, does it not? The elements of Chaos have left this particular engagement. This is now truly an Ordo Xenos matter…” Dolgath opinioned.

Nelthas rose up to stand at equal height. “Yes, you are correct,” she said with an overly harsh tone.

Dolgath looked at her and smiled. “Your outburst was unwise, but very much appreciated!” He smiled at her.

The eyes of her psychomorphic mask opened wider than he had ever seen. He almost though he caught a glimpse of the amethyst orbs that lay beneath. He reached out and touched it, brushing his fingers across the mask’s lips; they were surprisingly warm and yielding…

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Tales of the Rancid Blade: Part thirty six: Static

Loose static. Images in digital green came together and became clearer. Obolis’ looked at the communication screen within his suit. A communications signal was forming. He couldn’t see what it was yet. The data stream was struggling to form a clear link. The tau commander looked for his tap bar. He tried to boost the reception. While in his suit it was as if he were floating in a warm darkness. When inside the suit a warrior had the distinct feeling of levitation. The grasp of the motion actuators, that sent signals to the suit itself, was so slight that he couldn’t feel them~ even though they held him firmly. He just felt the sensation of floating. All about him, or so it appeared to him, were digital screens and monitors and control pads. They too were suspended in the warm darkness as if floating and as he needed them he would draw them in close or conversely move them to a less direct view when they were less important. He had dimmed the circular view screen that surrounded his head. Normally it showed the perspective he might have seen had he been able to see through his armor to the outside. It was background now.

He had been focusing on several incoming data feeds from the many Pathfinder and Stealth teams in the field. Three video images played in the background. He brought them to the fore and shuffled them like pieces of paper, viewing them each in time. The first was an image of several Devilfish APCs advancing on a burned out agricultural dormitory in the middle of a field. There was little opposition. The next image was from an advance stealth team. The grainy strange image of an eldrich gate. He could see its dark spires guarded by the cold forms of Space Marines. He looked closer at this one and pondered it. He had sent the stealth team to that remote location at the request of the Etherial himself. He dared not question the Etherial’s orders again. The partnership between the Dark Eldar of the Rancid Blade and the Etherial (and therefore him), forged at New Boston last year, persisted. The idea that the noble fire warriors were risking their lives in aid of the Dark Eldar was abhorrent to him. However, his words stating such had relegated him to obscurity (for now). He frowned, noting the data feeds from the Southern front. The dark warriors’ (as they called themselves) lightning attacks had opened an entirely new front in the southern part of the country. There was some good, he guessed, in their razor sharp speed sweeping across miles of territory while teams of Fire Warriors followed behind securing the critical assets. Perhaps the Etherial had been right, he pondered. The southern front had pulled away many of the vast resources that the Spaces Marines were directing to halting the Cemephon Expansion. He shuffled the image to the back. The third picture was an image of a large Imperial transport landing at the city sized space port close to the eldar advance. He could see the huge insignia of an Imperial Guard regiment on the side of the lander. He checked the scale. The lander was eight city blocks long. More Imperial reinforcements. He frowned again. Perhaps another foe for the Dark Eldar to deal with.

He set the vids to repeat and then pushed them to the background. Several scrolls of text passed by to his left. He kept an eye on them also. They were repeating data feeds from the two fonts of this war. He pulled close another screen that had been pushed to one side. It was a medical report. His friend Maturn had been in critical condition for several days. The real time report showed his condition unchanged.

He looked again to the incoming data feed. It was slowly taking shape. It became clearer and solidified. It was another video feed. This one was live. The Imperials were advancing again on the Garison on the northern front. The outer pathfinders were relaying the images from their hidden positions. Several weeks ago, in the opening stages of the war, he had moved to secure an old Imperial Garrison on the outskirts of the Maximilian Hive city. He had been concerned at having such a large Imperial garrison on the doorstep of the hives cities that he controlled. The Garrison was yielded with virtually no resistance. The troops within had apparently been neglected by their masters because they had not put up any sort of a fight. He had secured the humans in their bunkers and the Water Caste had begun the process of indoctrination to the greater way. They reported similarly light resistance from the humans in this matter. Like the populations of the hive cities, the humans in the garrisons seemed to welcome the hope that the Water Caste presented to them. Hope seemed like a commodity the humans rarely saw. The Water Caste had it in ample supply.

The garrison had become a key asset in the war. Perhaps because of the efforts of the Water Caste the Space Marines seemed intent on securing it. Last week Anemos, the leader of the Cemephon expansion, had lead the successful defence of the Imperial Garrison when the Space Marines had sought to retake it. Now it appeared that the Marines were moving in to try again. He noted from the data feeds that gave narrative to the videos that a second advance into the dry hills to the west of the garrison and the hive was also occurring. The humans were widening the front of the war. They were trying to stretch and then break his lines. He looked toward a tactical display that showed his deployment of resources surrounding the massive city of Hive Maximillian. There were few resources to the west. He considered the twin advancing columns of the human forces. Repelling both the columns at the same time would be difficult. He tapped a control pad and selected several options. It sent a signal to the other commanders in the field and to Anemos seeking a council of war to discus the widening front. As the signal was sent he saw that several others of the commanders had requested the conference also.

A second video feed arrived from the same Pathfinder team as the first image. Obolis’ eyes grew wide as he saw the image. At the heart of the Imperial advance on the Garrison was the form of a massive war machine. A gigantic tracked weapon moved slowly along with the squads of Space Marines. It’s massive gun barrels swayed and turned as though the heads of a massive beast looking for targets. The scale of this machine dwarfed any resources he had. It’s presence could change the fortunes of the war. He zoomed into the image, concern showing on his brow. The widening font and the presence of this machine was cause for concern indeed. The Imperials had upped the anti. He closed out several of the other screens clearing the palate so he could focus on the changes of the northern front. This machine had to be stopped.

Then, like the turn of a ship on a tack his mind changed direction. He considered an opportunity. If this war machine broke through the tau lines at the Garrison it would roll right into Hive Maximillion with little resistance. The front would collapse. He considered the forces available to him. Many of his Fire Warriors were spread out securing a wide area of the region. Perhaps, however, there was a tool that he might use. He would have to pick well the location and his forces well to blunt this attack. He might even have to cede ground to the humans as he mustered his defences. The key would be stopping this behemoth and then moving the bolster the rest of the lines. He also considered that were he to stop this advance, were he to repel or even destroy this war machine he would at the same time be repelling the criticism that had been leveled against him. It would be difficult for Anemos and Tanthus to criticize him given such an achievement. He noted that several of the others were responding to his request for audience~ they too had seen the video feeds. He hit the key and immediately the images of the other commanders arrived, their faces seemingly in the warm dark with him. He saw that they had seen the video... but had they seen the opportunity?

Cemephon Campaign Turn 2