The Orphean War was a military conflict of epic proportion between the Imperium of Man and the Maynarkh Dynasty of the Necrons that ravaged the Orpheus Sector. This once powerful Sector Imperialis located at the very border of the Segmentum Tempestus had always been troubled by strange phenomena and events, which unfortunately were never recognised as evidence of Necron activity.
Following the awakening of at least a part of this ancient race, designated the Maynarkh Dynasty by Imperial savants, these xenos attacked the Orpheus Sector in full force, leading to the cataclysmic Battle of Amarah which ended inconclusively for both factions but nevertheless sealed the fate of the Orpheus Sector.
While still an ongoing conflict despite the disastrous losses on Amarah, the Imperium is currently withdrawing all strategic assets from the Orpheus Sector, hoping to contain and hold the Necrons at bay long enough for a full-fledged Imperial Crusade to be launched.
To this day, the Orphean War stands as a dark example of what might befall the entire Imperium if the Necron menace is not quickly identified and dealt with.
"He that sees the face of the enemy sees only his death, he that hears the words of the enemy hear’est only lies, but he that know’eth the heart of the enemy, hath the wisdom to slay'eth all before him in their measure."
- —The Sermons of Saint Marduk, Cantos 12-84
From what later investigations have discovered, it would seem that the Orpheus Sector was partly created on what had, in the distant past, been the domains of the Maynarkh Dynasty, given to them by the Silent King for their contribution in the War in Heaven and the elimination of the C'tan that followed after it.
Numerous pre-Imperial ruins -- obviously of xenos origin -- were notoriously discovered and in some cases even explored in the Drucillan Sub-Sector, but no xenoarcheologist could have made a link to the Necrontyr-civilisation. While the Maynarkh's coreworlds are believed to lie outside of the Imperium of Man's territory, it seems evident that some of the outlying planets had been colonized by Man.
Time and time again the Orpheus Sector was subject to many strange phenomena -- whole fleets vanishing and worlds going silent without the Inquisition ever making the link between these events. Under other circumstances, an Inquisitor of the Ordo Xenos might have raised the alarm in time to destroy the Maynarkh Dynasty, but as it was the Orpheus Sector was firmly in the grip of the Ordo Malleus, the part of the Inquisition specialised in hunting down the servants of Chaos and its daemonic emissaries.
In the late 41st Millennium, the Orpheus Sector had been increasingly weakened by a notable rise in Warp-activity: once safe Warp-routes were rendered dangerous through the outbreak of Warp Storms, whole populations became plagued by Warp-induced nightmares, and crises of dementia and hysteria ran rampant. In 819.M41, on the world of Chemarium II, an entire Hive City succumbed to seemingly contagious waves of madness and despair.
Civil order dissolved quickly and the madness quickly spread to other cities. Chaos-aligned Cults like the "Endless Tide" and the "Crawling Darkness" swiftly rose to power, following their dark prophet Ranker Nonesuch, the so-called "Beggar King." With civil war erupting on other planets of the Chemarium System, it is understandable that as the first reports came, the blame was put on the Ruinous Powers or Eldar Corsairs rather than the Necrons.
The Nightmare Awakens
For millions of Terran years, the Maynarkh Dynasty of Necrons had slumbered. During their sleep, aeons passed and the Imperium of Man rose to power in the galaxy. The awakening of the Maynarkh Dynasty is believed to roughly coincide with an unusual stellar phenomena that was consigned to the records of the heavily defended Mechanicum outpost of Harrow Watch in 990.M41 -- the death of the Caracol System.
Caracol was a binary star system, yet both its suns rapidly degenerated and went supernova ahead of what the Magi of the Cult Mechanicum expected to be their natural lifespan. The phenomena did not raise further questions but was accompanied by an even more unusual event within the aetheric spheres -- a great bow-wave that rippled through the Warp and entirely snuffed out the Warp turbulences that had been plaguing the Orpheus Sector for several centuries.
Only the particularly fierce Warp Storm to the sector's East -- the Howling Vortex -- remained untouched. Throughout the Orpheus Sector, hundreds of Astropaths burned out instantly and thousands of Imperial citizen perished as their voidships were broken in two while still in the Warp. No Magos, savant or Inquisitor could have guessed that these events were in fact connected, and while not intended as a weapon, the Warp-wave had already weakened the sensitive Imperial communication network.
When the attack came, it was with a ferocity and swiftness no one expected. Not one, or a dozen, but a score of worlds were targeted simultaneously. The front line of this new attack moved so fast that the only evidence available to those worlds not yet fighting was the utter silence that answered routine communications or scheduled exchanges of information. Many of the worlds assailed by the Necrons did not even have time to send a distress signal, or if they had transmitted one, no message reached the part of the sector still in Imperial hands.
The Maynarkh's victory was so swift and complete that even in hindsight nothing can be said for certain on the fate of those border worlds that first fell to the Necron advance. Pallasite, Khatris, Borus Landing, the Feudal World of Ayrith and the old Agri-World of Epirus, all virtually ceased to exist overnight. Even the heavily fortified outpost of Harrow Watch was defeated. All in all, the Orpheus Sector lost nearly sixty inhabited planets, outposts and colonies to the Necrons in the first days of the Orphean War.
It was only when the Necron advance reached the Inquisitorial Fortress World of Apollyon, close to the heart of the Orpheus Sector, that the alarm was raised. A single Black Ship, burned from stem to stern, was able to launch and make the perilous voyage to Amarah, surviving long enough to transmit a warning to the sector's capital world. On Amarah, the reaction consisted mainly of shock and disbelief, but the seal of the Ordo Malleus quickly overcame initial doubts on the veracity of the message. Its content and the appended codes were quickly verified by the Inquisitorial representatives on Amarah and declared valid.
Almost immediately the general call to arms was issued. Planetary Defence Forces were activated and the Orphean Guard mobilized. The Imperial Navy's Battlefleet Orpheus was tasked with ferrying the mustering Astra Militarum forces already assembling for a renewed assault on the Chemarium System to Amarah. Battlegroup Salvation was also retasked and asked to redeploy in defence of Amarah Prime. As astropathic communications encountered increasing difficulties and were deemed unreliable, Battlefleet Orpheus was called upon to relay the call to arms through fast Warp-capable messenger ships. Only when the first of these ships failed to return did the true extent of the invasion become clear.
The Bloody Hundred
Given the allegoric nature inherent to astropathic communication, even with the alarm raised, the true nature and identity of the enemy remained unknown. The messages sent to the outlying worlds were seemingly swallowed by the darkness, and even those messenger ships despatched to carry forth the warning vanished. Following a scimitar-like curve stretching from the world of Tlaloc to Epirus, an impenetrable dark veil had fallen upon the Orpheus Sector.
This fact alone greatly put the Imperium's Orphean Command on edge, but the total absence of contact with Libethra nearly caused the sector's Imperial Commander Calibron Laan to panic. Libethra was the homeworld of the Angels Revenant Space Marines Chapter, the most stalwart and powerful of the Orpheus Sector's defenders. More than any other factor it was the silence of Libethra that saw Orphean Command throw themselves into hasty and panicked preparations rather than striking out in blind aggression. First, squadrons of the Battlefleet Orpheus were despatched on picket duty around the worlds of Midwinter -- which harboured the Battlefleet's own orbital shipyards -- and Drucilla Majoris, planets once deemed safe but now threatened by the rapid advance of the enemy.
With a mounting sense of dread, long-range Auspex systems, aetheric surveyors and even ancient optical scopes were all trained on those worlds having gone dark, but none of them could perceive the veil that had fallen on the Emperor's domains. With the sector's capital world directly threatened, the ever-more paranoid Sector Governor Calibron Laan issued several edicts by dictatorial command to bolster Amarah Prime's own defences, stripping the Arcantis Cluster of both armies and materiel to ensure that his world was safe.
Warships and merchant-vessels alike were brought together during a great muster at Battlefleet Orpheus' principal fleet anchorage at the edge of the Amarah System. With the Imperial military power gathered at Amarah growing day by solar day with still no sign of the enemy, tension grew within the Imperial command. The dire warning of Apollyon had spurred the sector into action, but as the solar weeks turned to months, impatience grew to the point that Laan's own nobles and military commanders pressed the Sector Governor to act and not merely wait for the enemy's next blow to land.
Orphean Command and Battlefleet Orpheus tacticians and commanding officers had drawn plans ranging from fleet-scale reconnaissance missions conducted by the Imperial fleet alone to a fully-fledged counterattack. Those generals of the Chemarium taskforce reasoned that with the resources available to Battlegroup Salvation, an attempt could be made to strike out for Libethra, where the Angels Revenant would surely still be fighting the enemy.
Sector Governor Laan would have none of it. Backed by the esteemed Inquisitor Lord Hiram Ntshona, a veteran of the Ordo Malleus and now the sole surviving member of the Inquisition's Chamber Apollyon, Laan dismissed every option laid before him. He was adamant that the Imperial forces needed to secure even more men and warships for the defence of Amarah. This was the sole task the increasingly unstable and desperate Laan showed any interest in.
To Ntshona, who strongly believed this attack to be the work of the Ruinous Powers, the build-up of Imperial power on Amarah was the only right course of action. As soon as the warning had been heard, Lord Inquisitor Ntshona had secured access to the most powerful Astropath on Amarah to contact his superiors within the Ordo and their Chamber Militant, the Grey Knights.
Who else but the gods of Chaos could calm the Warp before their marching armies, yet hinder their opponents through Warp Storms? Who else could engulf entire star systems in shadows and thus shield the battlefields from the inquisitive glance of the Imperium? This reasoning would prove a tragic mistake that would claim a bloody return later in the campaign.
From what has since been gathered from Lord Inquisitor Hiram Ntshona's personal records -- released post-mortem to the Conclave of Eurydice -- it appears that almost at the same time that the Necrons attacked the Orpheus Sector, the Sector Governor began a slow descent into madness. Being a close advisor and confidant to Calibron Laan, Lord Inquisitor Ntshona was privy to sensitive information regarding the health of the Governor.
Laan was plagued by a series of repeating and ever more vivid nightmares in which he found himself seated at a great feasting table, surrounded by terrifying figures Laan himself described as "deathly" and "masked in bone and gilded steel...clad in the golden and darkly jewelled raiment of barbarous and alien kings and princes." The table upon which they were seated bore plates of grey dust, glowing cinders and raw meat, so fresh it still dripped with blood.
From this last dish, a sole figure draped in raw skin was the only one to seemingly enjoy the feast, grasping the raw meat, smearing bloody chunks of flesh into its twisted mask, unable to chew the meal it craved and unable to drink the flagons of steaming blood.
The rest of the assembly silently watched Laan, seated before a terrible enthroned figure upon which Laan never dared to look. Silently, one of the figures bid Laan to taste the strange meal, all eyes fixed malevolently upon him. Screaming to be let go, a hooded and shrouded figure would manifest itself out of thin air behind him and whisper in his ear:
"These are worlds that were once ours, the worlds that you trespassed upon and are now ours again. The worlds on which we have risen have already been cleansed. The worlds where we once walked we shall now walk upon again. As the rites demand, you are given a cycle of the pale stars to prepare yourself for extermination. Maynarkh comes and the banquet shall be served again."
Dismissed as daemon-induced lies, Ntshona saw Laan's dreams as an act of psychological warfare designed to sow panic within the Imperial forces and mislead them on when the Archenemy would strike. It is unknown what measure the venerable Lord Inquisitor took to preserve the Sector Governor from these nightmares. Laan's "dream" must in fact have been reality, the Maynarkh Dynasty in some way bypassing all the security measures protecting the Sector Governor to take him to an undisclosed location and provide him with a warning of their coming.
Had Ntshona not misinterpreted the signs, or had he been a member of the Ordo Xenos, he would have recognised that the vast concentration of Imperial armies on Amarah played right into the hands of the Maynarkh Dynasty. The concentration of Imperial force represented a challenge to the Necrons that they would never be able to refuse.
As suddenly as it had fallen, the ominous silence was abruptly shattered on 3806.991.M41. Where before there had only been darkness, there was now a savage blaze of light, the mass of information streaming from the lost worlds of the sector now so important that it blinded the superluminal auguries of several watchposts. Scores of astropaths reeled and even died under the stress of having to process the incoming communication, the channels filled by an overlapping cacophony of distress calls and the death screams of the dying, distorted and folded in overlapping time.
It was as if the astropathic message had been suddenly unleashed after being frozen in the Warp for several solar months. Scanners and empirical detection devices showed strange energy spikes on the borders of the Veiled Region, whose strange radiations and particle storms travelled along the Sector's Warp routes. The communication invaded even secure Vox channels and communication webs, a cacophony of gibberish eclipsed by the fading echoes of agonised screams and a single phrase, repeated over and over: "Maynarkh comes".
Wherever the malign signal gained entrance, communication systems and machinery suddenly failed, the electromagnetic contagion causing it to shut down entirely or to malfunction. Cogitators froze or fell into terminal loops, while Servitors were driven mad or went on a homicidal rampage. Any normal safeguard against malefic machine intrusion used to prevent this sort of affliction soon proved useless. The menials, Adepts and Tech-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus increasingly resolved to use galvanic purges to free their machines and instruments from this influence.
This action created a firewall which stopped the signal from causing serious damage to the Orpheus Sector's most sensitive cogitator and communications networks, but Imperial communications took many solar weeks to recover from the assault. On some planets like Amraphel and Midwinter, the signal lingered long in the public Vox network. It bombarded fearful Imperial citizens with strange flickering symbols and cries of pain, leading to mass hysteria, rioting and brushfire insurrections that the local forces of law enforcement and Imperial rule had to fight with great brutality.
With the veil having finally parted, the true extent of the catastrophe could be ascertained for the first time. On Apollyon, the former fortress of the Ordo Malleus, every trace of Imperial life had been obliterated. The planet had been shattered, the broken debris of its continents now circling the orb as a new asteroid chain after its own moon, Elohiem Mortua, had struck the world like the fist of a wrathful god.
Sector Command's worse fears were soon confirmed, as scans indicated that on Libethra, where once hundreds of basilicas had been raised to honour the blessed dead, there was now only a fiery ball of cooling lava and ash deserts. The Angels Revenant's mighty fortress-monastery had been broken and apparently overcome by the planet's fiery lifeblood.
The sector's most powerful defenders were no more. As this news spread across the sector, panic flared and several worlds were brought to the brink of total anarchy. Fortunately for Sector Governor Laan, the first troop transports and a detachment of warships from the neighbouring Eurydice Sector were already inbound and put to good use. Yet these meagre reinforcements could not hope to change the course of the oncoming war.
The next Necron blow landed on Drucilla Majoris, one of the principal worlds of the entire Orpheus Sector and capital of its own sub-sector. On the day of the attack, the sun failed to rise on the doomed planet. All Vox-contact with the world and with those elements of the fleet despatched to it abruptly ceased, a lone astropathic message breaking through the blackout on 4917.991.M41.
This last broadcast spoke of a chilling cold settling over the planet, as if Drucilla Majoris had been plunged into an unexpected and unheralded nuclear winter, surface temperatures steadily declining to critical levels for the world's population. Elsewhere on the planet, strange structures like basalt obelisks and outlandish pyramids of black metal erupted from the bowels of the earth, sinister necropoli emerging from the dying planet's crust.
Shortly after this new calamity, the space between the Drucillan Sub-Sector and the sector capital world at Amarah was filled with new distress signals and calls for aid, voidship traffic coming under attack from unknown foes. This helped Imperial strategists to pinpoint the enemy's location: he was heading to the stellar West, towards Amarah.
With the enemy on the way, Amarah's calls for assistance became more frantic, especially when its direct neighbours came under attack. Fortress Tarris, a Ramilies-class Starfort protecting Battlefleet Orpheus' orbital shipyards orbiting Midwinter was powerless to repel a massive enemy incursion, led by strange voidships before being boarded by metallic figures "fashioned as spectres of death."
The foe manifested itself within the very decks and vaults of the fortress before the entire star system fell silent. Yet still, Calibron Laan refused to take offensive action. He cowered within the emergency bunkers built in times past beneath his palace, impotently watching as one by one the star systems surrounding Amarah fell to the enemy, millions of fighting men and women and hundreds of warships standing by but taking no action. Ultimately, only Amarah remained, cut off from its former domain and still sending out pleas for help. With the "Bloody Hundred" over and the Orpheus Sector cut in half, the stage was set for the Battle of Amarah.
The Battle of Amarah
As emphasized by the writings of Inquisitor Ha'Vass of the Ordo Xenos, the Battle of Amarah would finally reveal the true identity and vast strength of the foe. The Battle of Amarah was to prove a crucial turning point in the history of the Orphean War and constitutes to this day the single greatest loss of life within the entire Segmentum Tempestus. It was after this battle that the Imperium was forced to launch what has become known as the Orphean Salvation Campaign, a protracted counterassault to contain and defeat the Necrons.
On the Eve of Destruction
In less than one hundred solar days, the Orpheus Sector had been cut in half, system after system falling before the still unknown enemy. Yet this mysterious foe earned victory after victory, every battle becoming a desperate retreat and every retreat becoming an anarchic rout. No Imperial force could vanquish the enemy, but their sacrifices did slow the enemy advance, buying other worlds precious time to prepare. Then, inexplicably, the enemy invasion halted.
Not knowing how long the respite would last, Sector Governor Laan concentrated every available resource at Amarah Prime, the sector capital world, even as Laan's slow descent into madness weighed heavily on the Imperium's battle plans. Out-of-sector reinforcements were directly routed to Amarah, joining the troops of the Chemarium task force already requisitioned by Governor Laan. The build-up of Imperial forces was further augmented by local units stripped from their respective worlds and transferred to Amarah, weakening other planets to reinforce the sector capital. Yet this decision considerably impacted morale and planetary politics across the sector and even lead to several cases of outright mutiny which needed to be brutally dealt with by the Imperial Guard's Commissariat.
Since the beginning of hostilities, the military build-up at Amarah had reached colossal proportions. Over nineteen million Imperial Guardsmen were firmly entrenched on the world and supported by perhaps ten times that number of reservists. Thanks to the industrial might and wealth of Amarah, these troops were well-equipped according to the Cadian Pattern of the Departmento Munitorum.
Amongst the last reinforcements to arrive on Amarah were two million Guardsmen drawn from the notoriously effective and resilient Death Korps of Krieg, which were spearheaded by the veteran 17th Line Korps under the command of Marshal Karis Venner, the Castigator of Valtine. Several detachements of the Adeptus Astartes had also answered the call to arms, chief amongst them the entirety of the Minotaurs Chapter, which had fought alongside a company of the Marauders Chapter against Aeldari raiders who had been forced from their lair within the Hesod Nebula.
Battlefleet Orpheus had been heavily reinforced, the armada now numbering over sixty Cruisers and capital vessels, at least seven of which were Battleships. Knight-Commander Georg Carew, the Grand Admiral of Battlefleet Orpheus, personally lead the armada from the bridge of his mighty flagship, the Apocalypse-class Battleship Arica Dominus. Seldom in the history of the Imperium had such an overwhelming force been gathered to defend a single star system.
The Black Fleet
With Sector Governor Calibron Laan and Inquisitor Ntshona stalling every offensive action, Grand Admiral Carew's Battlefleet Orpheus had looked after its defences and moulded the battlefield to its liking. In the star system's outer reaches, the battlefleet had deployed an extensive net of minefields around Amarah's Mandeville Point, the most likely place for a Warp / realspace translation into the system that was safe and could not be interfered with by its primary's gravity.
Orbiting Amarah's third planet -- locally referred to as Laymon -- lay the Imperial fleet proper, ready to intercept any formation breaking through the minefield and heading in-system to try and land troops on Amarah Prime. If the enemy proved too powerful, Battlefleet Orpheus and its allies could still fall back and anchor their second line on Amarah's orbital defence platforms. This battle plan was sound according to standard Imperial tactics, and Grand Admiral Carew and his crew on board the Arica Dominus believed that the battle against this mysterious foe could be won in space alone.
When the attack came, it came suddenly, with no preamble or warning. No auguries or deep-space scan warned the Imperials of the Necrons' arrival, nor had the attack been predicted by the visions of an astropath, Seer or Librarian of the Adeptus Astartes. The Necrons used an unknown technology to disorient, weaken and disorganise their foes. At 1534202 local time on 3970.992.M41, auspex readings and other sensoria registered a gravitational anomaly in close orbit to Amarah's sun, destabilizing the star's fiery corona. The star began to expel large amounts of plasma and radiation in the form of gigantic solar flares.
The star's emissions were so massive that on Aurici, the innermost planet of the Amarah System, the flares reached the surface, flash-incinerating everything on its dayside. The flares blinded the augurs of both the fleet and the orbital defence grid and caused a major breakdown in communications. Blinded and reeling from this unexpected turn of events, Battlefleet Orpheus did not detect the enemy fleet emerge within the system.
By unknown means, the Necron fleet entirely bypassed the Imperial minefields and manifested out of the void well within the system. Blacker than the black of the void, the strange shapes of the Necron vessels headed straight for Amarah. It was only when battle station Sentinel 4 in deep orbit around Amarah Prime exploded that the Imperial fleet truly realised that battle had been joined. Still at anchor, the fleet could only watch helplessly as the black ships of the enemy passed them by, utterly ignoring them and heading for the system's primary world whilst moving at a speed no Imperial vessel could hope to match.
Grand Admiral Carew watched impotently as the strange silhouettes of the enemy ships headed to the world he had sworn to protect. Ordering the fleet to mobilise and the Arica Dominus to engage its engines, the armada of Imperial Battleships began to stir. But for Amarah Prime it was already too late. By the time a warning could be send, the Necron ships had already obliterated the interior minefields and destroyed first Sentinel 2, and then Sentinel 1, each station harbouring the firepower of an entire Cruiser squadron. Amarah was systematically stripped of the defences that had been so painstakingly assembled. The orbital battle stations fiery demise illuminated the night sky above Amarah, stirring the ground-based defenders into action.
Virtually unopposed, the legions of the Maynarkh Dynasty landed on Amarah. Ground-based orbital defence batteries and great missile silos concealed under Amarah's grey seas opened fire, raking the skies with their power. But the strange half-moon and spear-shaped spacecraft of the invaders easily eluded them. The first sign of enemy invasion were unnatural storms that darkened the skies, while strange, eerie flashes of light and pale radiances randomly illuminated the great spires of the hive cities. Still affected by the electromagnetic interference caused by the solar flares, communications proved difficult. Amarah's unprotected tactical Vox-networks, long befouled by static, suddenly came back to life, filled with panicked reports of simultaneous and multiple attacks.
A spectral army of black skeletons composed of living metal suddenly manifested on the great ceremonial plaza of Callowsheen Hive, opening fire on the civilians gathered there and wreaking a fearsome death toll. Slaughtering all before them, the enemy began to spread into the city's streets. At Duneradt Starport, Amarah's main orbital transit facility, a ravenous swarm of metallic beetles unearthed themselves, erupting from Amarah's soil to attack troop shuttles and gunships stationed on their slipways. The defenders of the starport were swarmed by these machine constructs, later identified as Canoptek Scarabs.
Elsewhere, in New Vassburg City, the largest of Amarah Prime's arcologies, the enemy descended from the skies, the sleek shapes of Doom Scythes and Night Shrouds attacking the defenders from the storm-wracked skies, eliminating artillery positions and armoured redoubts to pave the way for the Necron phalanxes. The Night Shrouds' antimatter bombs delivered their targets into oblivion, tearing great wounds in the arcology's spires and infrastructure until the towering structure began to topple, burying thousands beneath the rubble.
Only a powerful and determined counterstrike led by the Space Marines of the Minotaurs Chapter would keep New Vassburg from falling entirely into enemy hands. The oceanic, half-submerged Tritonus Hive was similarly overrun, the Necrons emerging from the black waters on great, funeral barques. Having no need to breathe and stalking the darkness in search of their prey, the Necrons even benefited from the flooded, labyrinthine streets and sub-levels that formed Tritonus Hive’s principal defences.
In many cases, the Necrons bypassed the defenders' barricades and attacked from the rear or from other unexpected quarters. Flayed Ones stalked the darkness, emerging from the shadows and mercilessly slaughtering every inhabitant. After the great massacre was complete, Tritonus' air-domes and coral-shaped heights collapsed, further trapping the survivors inside the hive. Its watery streets echoed with the screams of the dying.
The Maynarkh concentrated their first attack on Amarah's hive cities. With the notable exception of the Duneradt Starport, military targets were attacked only in the second wave. The foremost of these Imperial military outposts on Amarah was the polar base of the Bastion Militaris, the true lynchpin of Amarah's planetary defences. The Bastion Militaris was the first to be besieged, as strange hulking war machines silently floated over the ice flow to strike the installation. The Necron phalanxes proved unstoppable, ignoring the large rents torn in their formation by the base's plasma cannons as they closed in on the Bastion Militaris.
The base's curtain wall, composed of solid granite, was destroyed by flashing blasts of energy and strange waves of seismic force, crumbling as if they were made of sand. On the Marcovan Peninsula, where prefabricated barrack-blocks had been erected to house nearly a million Guardsmen, the mustering armies were simply annihilated from orbit by a blazing lambent shaft of light. It transformed the peninsula into a plain of fused silica glass and the Guardsmen into smoldering ash.
With the enemy materialising out of thin air and attacking everywhere at once, the defenders of Amarah were hard-pressed. At Callowsheen Hive, the rampaging Necrons were met by the tanks of the Tekarn 234th Armoured Battalion. Unfortunately for the counterattacking Tekarns, they realised that the Gauss Flayers of the Necron Warriors they faced could harm even their heaviest armour at close range. Not wanting to let themselves be hemmed in by the streets of the hive city, the battalion retreated to the city's wide concourse where their superior range could be brought to bear.
Choking the streets with their Leman Russ tanks, Manticores and Basilisks, the Tekarn drew their line on the wide avenues and unleashed everything they had at the Necrons as soon as their foe emerged from the buildings. The unrelenting barrage of shellfire would have annihilated a lesser foe, but the Necrons were made of sterner material.
Even as rank upon rank of Necrons were blasted into fragments, more took their place even as others dragged themselves up from where they had fallen and began to re-assemble. The Tekarn watched in horror as their fury did little more than hold back the metallic tide that threatened to overwhelm them, yet they could not relent. With greater haste, shells were slammed into breaches and the Tekarn's guns soon began to glow dull red with the heat of the shells flying at the Necrons. The result was stalemate, but it was a stalemate the Tekarn officers knew they could not sustain for long.
The valiant Tekarn would however never have the chance to see how long their defiance would last as their doom already approached. According to the testimony of Trooper Yeon Bak, sole survivor of the entire 234th Battalion, the enemy struck from both above and below. At first, the din caused by the Tekarns' own guns obfuscated the Necron attack. It was only when the new foe fired their weapon systems that the true threat became apparent.
Trooper Bak reported that the first sign that the enemy was near was when the trooper directly in front of him was instantly incinerated by a focused beam of heat. This same beam also cut through the leg of a Sentinel Power-lifter, causing the walker to tumble and break into flames. Bak further described the unknown weapon's effect as reminding him of the Meltagun technology employed by the Imperium, though the beam seemed more focused and to last for a longer duration.
Fortunately for Bak, he and his comrades were just returning from the frontline, otherwise the searing heat of the beam would surely have ignited the ammunition they supplied for the line troops. Bak himself attributed his survival to pure luck. He threw himself into cover at the first sign of danger and so was able to see the shape of this new enemy: huge black robotic insects, crawling along the habspires on their multi-segmented legs. Some of them flew over him, producing a notorious buzzing sound. As tall as a man, this swarm fell upon the Tekarns' rear, trapping the tanks of the 234th Armoured Battalion between the Necron phalanxes and themselves, their cutting beams slicing even the heaviest armour apart before hacking the crews within with their bladed limbs or energy-wreathed stingers.
Trapped so close to each other and unable to move and bring their weapons to bear on these new assailants without hitting their own troops, the Tekarns were quickly slaughtered. Tekarn Command valiantly tried a counterattack with its infantry platoons, hoping that concentrated fire from Hellguns and portable Plasma Weapons would overcome the enemy, but the counterattack was quickly defeated by further Necron reinforcements. These included rapidly moving arthropod-like constructs that erupted from the ground and assaulted the Tekarns with metallic claws.
Fast and able to move through solid matter, these unknown killing machines swiftly completed the massacre of the Tekarns. The entire 234th Armoured Battalion was eradicated in less than twenty solar minutes. Trooper Bak himself survived, crawling into a sewer duct where he was carried away by the flow of human faeces and spoiled water. His testimony constituted the first account of what the logisters of the Ordo Xenos have since categorized as Canoptek Acanthrites and Tomb Stalkers. After recovery and debriefing, Trooper Yeon Bak was duly executed for cowardice in the face of the enemy.
The Valour of the Death Korps
In the days that followed the initial Necron assault, Amarah Prime was laid to waste and blasted into burning ruins. The Maynarkh Dynasty had concentrated their efforts on wreaking a blood toll amongst the civilian population, concentrating their assaults on the planet's hive cities and other settlements which were soon all under enemy control. The Necrons gave the fleeing civilians no quarter, nor did they take prisoners.
This left the outer reaches of the hives -- where many of Amarah's defenders had been stationed in expectation of a traditional ground assault -- relatively intact. While the settlements themselves burned, Imperial resistance on Amarah was far from spent. In those stretches of Amarah's urban landscape spared either by accident or design from the orbital and aerial bombardments, ad hoc units of survivors established rallying points, with the most important formation commanded by Marshal Karis Venner of the Death Korps of Krieg.
Given the Death Korps' reputation and the adverse effect the proximity of the bleak men of Krieg had on other Imperial units, especially on the local forces of Amarah's Planetary Defence Forces and the Orphean Guard, the Death Korps had been stationed far away from local barracks in an out-hive area of New Vassburg City called the Karalsa Industrial Plains. Having arrived late to the great muster of Imperial forces, the 17th and 60th Line Korps found their intended quarters, a hundred square kilometres of warehouses and manufactoria, wholly inadequate.
The buildings were deemed not secure, and so the Kriegsmen set out to transform their dwellings according to their doctrines of siege-warfare. Where possible, buildings were reinforced, trenches dug and bunkers improvised, but most of all, the Death Korps Engineers made use of the underground network of utility tunnels that criss-crossed the area. They expanded the network where deemed practical to store ammunition, fuel, arms, tanks and men. Safely billeted underground, this foresight would allow the Death Korps to emerge almost unscathed from the initial Necron assault.
Determined to drive the enemy invaders back, the Death Korps emerged in their thousands, establishing a security perimeter around their own defensive positions before dispersing into the ruins of the Karalsa Plains, conducting methodical sweeps of the area. Where they encountered the enemy, they fought, and where they encountered other Imperial units, they linked up with them whilst the experienced Death Korps Quartermasters would explore abandoned positions and strip them of arms, ammunition and fuel.
Overall tactical command resided with the Death Korps' own commander, Marshal Karis Venner, who ordered the summary execution of several senior officers of the Orphean Guard that he considered to have failed in their duties to the Emperor when they retreated before the enemy. To the surviving officers he offered a simple choice: share their superior's fate or continue to fight and gain glorious martyrdom against the enemies of the Emperor.
Nearly two hundred Guardsmen rallied to Venner's banner, including a dozen squadrons of Imperial fighters and attack aircraft reconstituted from survivors of decimated formations. Venner dispersed these aircraft into smaller groups, ordering his engineers to clear portions of the Hive World's great macro-crawler highways to use as airstrips.
The fighting with the Necrons proved fierce, but the Death Korps were veterans of the most terrible battlefields of the galaxy and experts in fighting on such a broken landscape. Every ruin was turned into a strongpoint, every half-crumbled wall hid a lookout and the Death Korps were not beyond hiding snipers within the ruins. Yet the Necrons proved particularly resilient to the weapons of the Guardmen, their metallic Necrodermis almost impervious to laser fire and their strange war-constructs capable of shrugging off most conventional heavy weapons fire.
But the Death Korps were more than willing to match the implacable Necrons with relentless determination, to even the odds no matter the cost in lives. Learning to fear the Necrons' firepower, the Death Korps soon shifted tactics, combining long range, indirect artillery fire with extreme close quarter assaults, overwhelming the Necron phalanxes through sheer numbers.
It quickly became evident that the cost of this new method could not be borne indefinitely, even without the Necrons' ability to self-repair. Underground the war also continued, as the Death Korps Engineers, experts in tunnel-fighting, used seismic detectors to warn them of enemy assaults from Canoptek Scarabs. The Engineers kept them at bay with Flamer and Meltasquads standing at the ready around the clock.
Marshal Venner knew that the gains he had made were at best transitory. With no reinforcements to be expected, cut-off from other Imperial units and with much of Amarah's surface controlled by the Necrons, it was only a matter of time before the 17th and 60th Line Korps were surrounded and eradicated. Before he would let this happen, Venner decided to strike out and pursue martyrdom in the destruction of the Emperor's enemies rather than let his forces be bled dry to no effect. All he needed was a target for his wrath.
Despite the numbers of the Death Korps, they were not the most potent defenders still on the ground, as some elements of the Minotaurs Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes had become trapped on Amarah as well. Having engaged the enemy in what remained of the New Vassburg hive, the Minotaurs had been able to identify an enemy stronghold in the ruins of the former arcology. Where previously there had been only tons of ruins and wreckage, a strange and sinister pyramid now rose, its walls coming together at strange angles and apparently made from green-black stone that contained arks of emerald energy that would manifest like veins in a block of marble. The sinister pyramids rose high in the sky, drawing lightning bolt after lightning bolt to its apex, feeding on the energy of the elements, for as each bolt struck, the entire pyramid blazed with brilliant ghost fire.
Around the main edifice, several lesser structures made of the same bleak stone appeared, their strange battlements studded with arcane weapon emplacements. These outlying buildings where connected to the main structure by angular trenches filled with a glowing fog. The enemy patrolled the pyramid complex heavily, and the Minotaurs had observed a multitude of corpses and pieces of wreckage being carried into the pyramid as if the dark mountain was swallowing the detritus of war like a living thing. It was against this target that Marshal Karis Venner decided to unleash the fury of the Death Korps.
As the Death Korps' troops mustered in the cover of the ruins, forward observers reported that a portal of green energy had opened in Amarah's tormented skies, showing distant and unknown star constellations. It was from this portal that the energy struck the pyramid at regular intervals. Silently, the assault brigades formed up, kneeling in the dust and ashes to better avoid discovery, waiting for the silent signal to go over the top and attack the Necrons. The men of the Death Korps knew from the beginning that it would be a costly affair, for between their forward positions and the Necron defences lay a strip of nearly one kilometer that had been cleared of debris, turning it into a perfect killzone. Yet when the signal finally came, the Death Korps did not flinch and attacked as one.
Almost immediately, Necron Sentry Pylons materialised on the battlements of the Necron citadel, training their strange guns at the Imperials. Howling beams of emerald energy blasted the Death Korps, obliterating great swathes of men from existence, while Tesla Cannons incinerated everything their lightning-like blasts touched. Hundreds of Guardsmen died within the first moments of the battle, reduced into their constituent atoms by Gauss Weaponry or left as cinders mingling with the dust of the ground.
But these fatalities did not stop the Imperial advance, as undeterred, observers and Quartermasters noted the coordinates of the Necron gun-emplacements and transmitted them to their rear lines where the Imperial artillery waited to spring into action. Venner had ordered every gun and every shell to be mustered: there would be no reserves, nothing to fall back to. With diligence, the Death Korps had prepared their Basilisks, their Medusas, Colossi and Praetors. These powerful artillery pieces answered the Necron heavy weapons with a furious bombardment, hurling tonnes and tonnes of shells at the Necron fortifications.
Almost instantly, the Necron pyramid and its sub-citadels were wreathed in a mantle of flame as hundreds of shells burst against the alien structure. Great chunks of green-black stone were torn free, and one of the outlying pylons was destroyed under the relentless bombardment. After the pylon's destruction, the pyramid flickered for a moment, as if vanishing from this reality, only to become solid once more. Faced with this tremendous firepower, the Necrons redirected their own weapon fire upwards, lashing out at the onrushing Imperial shells and missiles, causing them to explode while still airborne. The twin bombardements cancelled each other out, and the Death Korps used this respite to press their advantage, rushing the outer defences while their tank companies -- held in reserve until now -- joined the fray.
When the forward elements were roughly a hundred meters from the nearest sub-citadel, the ground burst open under the feet of the Guardsmen, disgorging a swarm of murderous Canoptek constructs directly into the onrushing Death Korps. The big Tomb Stalkers rose on their articulated bodies, tearing through the forward platoons, while the smaller Canoptek Scarabs dragged men down, stripping the flesh from their bones. They were met with bayonet and Lasgun, Flamer and Frag Grenade. The Imperial Guardsmen did not falter, and like the incoming tide, the men of the Death Korps rushed past their foe in great waves. Behind the Canoptek constructs, Necron Warriors were mustering, streaming from the citadels, but soon became the target of the advancing Imperial tanks, throwing shells from their Battle Cannons into the ranks of the Necrons.
On the left flank of the Imperial advance, a squadron of Macharius Omega super-heavy tanks unleashed the fury of their Plasma Blastguns, each of them firing away with the power of a miniature sun, heedless of the overheating cannons such was their determination to rid their comrades of the threat posed by the Necron Sentry Pylons. On the opposite flank, Centaurs sped forwards, their Quad Launchers in tow, trying to deploy them as close to the enemy as possible. Scores of them were destroyed by Gauss fire, but the remaining crews continued undeterred.
Thousands of men were dying and many tanks erupted into fire but Marshal Venner's plan was working: with the destruction of the first Sentry Pylons, ever more shells were landing on the pyramid, whose smooth surface began to crack, lightning playing sickly across its splintering surface and smoke billowing out from its interiors. Far to the rear, the infantry companies left behind to defend the firing positions of the Kriegsmen's big guns were suddenly assailed by claw-handed foes emerging from the shadows.
They soon faced a desperate battle for survival. Necron Attack Craft shrieked from the skies, conducting strafing runs on the Krieg artillery, but were intercepted by squadrons of Lightning-fighters and the heavier Avenger. Weapons blazing in the night sky, each human pilot commended his soul to the Emperor before diving bravely into the heart of the enemy Night Scythe formations.
But now the die was cast and there would be no going back. Tens of thousands had already died, but true to his oath, Marshal Venner ordered the second wave to storm into the path of the first. To show his commitment to this task, the Marshal himself raised his sword and personally led the charge. Another tide of men in greatcoats surged forwards across the blasted battlefield, toppling and crushing the remaining Tomb Stalkers in a wave of flesh. Trampling the Scarabs beneath their boots, human soldiers swarmed over the Necron fortifications as if they were ants.
By now the bombardment was slowing down as the Imperial guns were destroyed or their ammunition stocks were entirely spent, but the damage had been done and the Death Korps had successfully invested the pyramid complex. The Necron Warriors were surrounded and eliminated in murderous crossfires, pressing the skeletal figures back. This was bloody business, but for every man of Krieg the Necrons slew, a dozen took his place.
Having reached the pyramid proper, the Death Korps carefully placed Demolition Charges on the structure, slamming Meltabombs into those cracks opened previously by the bombardment or those energy conduits unearthed by the fighting. The violent explosion that ravaged the black pyramid blinded onlookers from five kilometers away, carving an ash-white crater into the soil of Amarah, a crater visible even from space.
Although the Death Korps were not the only Imperial defenders that succeeded in holding off and even repelling the invaders, these hard-fought victories were unable to deny the reality that the Necron invasion had been murderously effective: Amarah's three major hive-cities all lay in ruins, the sector's rulers, Governor-General Calibron Laan and Lord Inquisitor Hiram Ntshona, were presumably slain, Duneradt Starport was in enemy hands and Amarah's key defensive facilities had been reduced to rubble. For the Imperial forces, strategic victory could now only be gained by one last gambit--a decapitation strike.
With its task accomplished and the Undying Legions of the Maynarkh now deployed onto the surface, the Necron fleet turned its attention to interplanetary space, leaving Amarah Prime's atmosphere shrouded in black storms. That blackness was illuminated only by the fiery trails of the debris reentering the atmosphere after the destruction of orbital defence stations Sentinel 1 and 2. But the Imperial armada was ready for the Necrons, and raced at full burn towards Amarah Prime.
When the Necron warships began to stir, the Imperial captains swore, believing that the enemy would run before their gathered might and leave them bereft of their only chance to avenge their previous failure. They were wrong. Turning with almost contemptuous grace, the black fleet formed a perfect crescent-shaped attack formation and locked onto an intercept trajectory that would take them straight into the heart of the Imperial Battlefleet. With a sudden acceleration none of the Imperial ships could match, the Necron starships picked up momentum and rushed right into the path of the Imperial armada.
On the bridge of his flagship, the pride of Battlefleet Orpheus, the Apocalypse-class Battleship Arica Dominus, Knight-Commander Grand Admiral Georg Carew watched the tactical holo-sphere of the bridge relay the movements of the Necron fleet with apprehension. Although he desired nothing more than to make up for his failure and avenge the losses of Battlefleet Orpheus and the slight made upon its honour, unlike many officers and ship captains under his command, Carew would not let himself be blinded by his wrath. He commanded the greatest battlefleet ever assembled within the sector, a gathering of Imperial might unknown in the history of the Orpheus Sector and whose firepower was unimaginable--a mere fraction of the fleet's massed strength was already enough to shatter worlds.
By conventional wisdom the Imperial fleet outnumbered and outclassed the Necrons at least four to one. With the fleet's Auspexes repaired, Carew could finally draw a precise picture of the enemy fleet's makeup. Not only did the Necrons field less than a quarter of the starships he possessed, but most of their craft were considerably smaller than his own vessels and would correspond to Escorts in Imperial terminology. The larger vessels, identified as Scythe-class Harvest Ships thanks to the intelligence provided by the Ordo Xenos, numbered only twenty and were led by the two crescent-shaped behemoths of Cairn-class Tomb Ships. These Tomb Ships were gigantic, each one over fifteen kilometers in span and surmounted with strange pyramid-like structures whose energy readings baffled even the highest-ranking Magi of the Imperial fleet.
Designated the Sun Killer and the Dead Hand, these two monsters were the priority targets for the Imperial fleet, but Carew was confident in the abilities of his eleven Battleships to overcome the foe. The fleet arrayed against him represented the largest concentration of xenos vessels in Imperial records and what Carew had gleamed from the heavily censured reports of previous encounters with the Necrons was that their warfleets should not be underestimated. Carew conferred with Asterion Moloc, the sinister Chapter Master of the Minotaurs Chapter and requested that he keep his Adeptus Astartes support close at hand.
The Minotaurs' mighty relic assault-ship, the Deadalos Krata, led its own echelon of a dozen Strike Cruisers and no less than three Battle-Barges. This second echelon was deployed some way behind the armada's main battleline, ready to deliver the killing blow after the fleets had clashed or poised to intercept any vessel breaking through the Imperial line if the enemy decided to punch through rather than face the Imperial fleet. Carew issued a direct order to all vessels to maintain formation and engage only as directed, on pain of death. The battle-hungry captains of many destroyers and cruisers balked at the order but knew they faced summary execution by their own Commissars should they disobey the admiral's order.
With frightening speed, the Necron fleet closed the gap to the Imperials. Before any additional orders could be given, they entered extreme weapons range and Admiral Carew knew he could not hesitate. Upon Carew's order, the Imperial fleet was first to attack, launching hundreds of torpedoes from the launch tubes of the massed destroyers, frigates and cruisers. The weapons blazed straight and true on great pillars of flame. The Necrons came on undeterred and made no attempt to evade the wave of ordinance bearing down upon them. No evasive manoeuvres were taken and no defensive fire threw up a curtain of fire to thin out the wave of incoming missiles. On the flag bridge of the Arica Dominus, all eyes remained fixed on the holo-sphere and were watching breathlessly as the little blue icons representing the torpedoes entered terminal range.
Suddenly, only hundreds of kilometers from impact, red alarm glyphs flashed frantically. Scores of torpedoes simply ceased to function, their thrusters cutting out and the inert cylinders simply tumbling in the void, their warheads deactivated by some strange technology the Imperial Auspexes could not even detect. Others inexplicably self-destructed or largely veered off-course as if suddenly blinded. Only a few--far too few--flew true, and these the Necron vessels avoided with contemptuous ease. While the Tomb Ships took a few hits, their impassive black hulls easily absorbed the atomic spite of the torpedoes. Blacker than the surrounding darkness, the Necron ships came on.
Mere solar minutes after the spectacular failure of their first volley, the Imperial armada and the Necron fleet entered Lance-range, but this time it was the Necron warships that opened fire first. On every Imperial ship, alarm sirens began to howl as massive gravitational distortions were detected, closing fast at sublight speed. No countermeasures or evasive manoeuvres could be taken. Unlike the Imperial torpedoes, this volley flew true. Only too late did the struggling Cogitators and Machine Spirits of the Imperial fleet identify the nature of these projectiles--they were comprised of solar matter, the fragments of dead stars. Made of pure plasma, these bolts of oblivion shattered Imperial Void Shields with bright actinic flashes, tearing open starships with unsettling ease. All along the Imperial line, warships--both great and small--vanished into oblivion, flashing out of existence.
Alongside the Arica Dominus, the honoured Battlecruiser Richtenback, which had served the Imperium even before the Great Crusade, was struck amidships and exploded, showering Carew's flagship in fire and debris. While all around him the Arica Dominus shook, Admiral Carew bellowed his next orders despite the tumult that reigned on his bridge: the Imperial fleet was to come about to broadside and fire at will. Soon, the void between the two fleets became a blinding storm of blazing Lance beams, plasma fire, Macrocannon shells and roaring missiles, whilst the Necrons answered with a fury of emerald and amber light. The two fleets interpenetrated and then parted, raking each other mercilessly.
Carew could only watch in horror at what the tactical data of the holo-sphere showed him. After the initial chaos, details came flooding in, as did the casualties, for the moment a flickering list of Mechanicus-cant only a trained and augmented Tech-priest could read, but which was translated rapidly. Fully a quarter of the Imperial fleet was either destroyed or crippled whilst the Necrons had lost only a few of its vessels. Horror mounted on horror as after their pass, the Necron fleet arrested its inertia and turned, coming right back at the Imperial warships, engaging them from their vulnerable rear.
The second Imperial engagement with the Necron fleet was even more murderous than the first pass, as many ships had not recharged their depleted Void Shields or had already suffered damage at the first clash and were now attacked from the blindspot created by their own thrusters. Dozens of Imperial starships perished not knowing what had attacked them, including the Mendicatus and the Retribution-class Battleship Talisman of Grace, which was cut in two by the Sun Killer’s fire. Assailed by the smaller Necron vessels like a great pack-beast torn apart by predators, the heavy cruiser Mendicatus was mercilessly pulled apart.
The Imperial battle-line soon began to fracture, starships exploding in the void or gutted by fire as all cohesion was lost. Ships came about, firing wildly or pouring waves of fighters and bombers into the void, only adding to the slaughter when many pilots were gunned down by their own vessels' weapons. Frantically ordering his ships to disperse and break formation, Grand Admiral Carew ordered the Arica Dominus to turn as tightly as its veteran crew could manage, zeroing in on an isolated Harvest Ship and unleashing the full might of its broadside upon it.
The Necron ship soon succumbed and disintegrated in a flash of green flame under the cheers of the Arica Dominus’ bridge crew, but that joy proved short-lived. Stripped of its Void Shields, the Arica Dominus was assailed by a trio of Necron Escorts which deeply wounded the ship, breaking the vessel's starboard hull open and leaving it gushing atmosphere into the void whilst disabling its manoeuvering capacity, leaving the relic battleship to helplessly tumble, its engine deck on fire.
The loss of the Arica Dominus was a terrible blow to Battlefleet Orpheus, while the twin behemoths of the Dead Hand and the Sun Killer glided majestically and inviolate in their midst, annihilating every Imperial ship that crossed their path. Those fighters and bombers finding the courage to attack the great Tomb Ships soon found their own spacecraft bereft of power, their machines becoming cold, drifting caskets where they would eventually freeze to death or suffocate once the air reserves had run out. It was into this bloody melee that the Minotaurs charged headlong.
The Minotaur and the Reaper
Having observed how the battle unfolded on his own holo-sphere, Asterion Moloc, the bleak Master of the Minotaurs, had drawn his own conclusions from the defeat of Battlefleet Orpheus. Grand Admiral Carew had tried to match the Necron fleet in terms of long-range bombardment, firepower and manoeuvrability and lost. Using the same tactical approach would likely see the Minotaurs defeated as well, therefore Moloc ordered his fleet to ready itself for a close range assault. As target, he designated the Dead Hand, for the Daeadalos Krata’s ancient Cogitators had discerned that it had been the Dead Hand that had left Amarah's orbit first and also opened fire upon the Imperial fleet, the tell-tale sign of a flagship. This therefore had to be the throneship of the enemy commander, an entity Moloc and his Minotaurs set out to destroy.
The Minotaurs fleet adopted their Chapter's favoured attack position in the form of a bull's head. At the centre, the Daedalos Krata would form the bull's protected skull, with the Chapter's three Battle Barges forming its jaw and the eight Strike Cruisers its horns. The Minotaurs' fleet smashed into the heart of the battle, engines at full burn, but their guns remained silent until the last moment. Closing with the foe, the Minotaurs then unleashed hell from their Bombardment Cannons and plasma batteries, focusing their wrath on the Dead Hand, heedless of any stricken Imperial vessel caught in their path.
Those Necron raiders that tried to interpose themselves between the Minotaurs and their target were mercilessly shredded as the fleet plunged headlong at the Dead Hand. Two Harvest Ships turned sharply to engage the attack formation, their strange weaponry forcing the Battle Barge Daughter of Tempests, once the pride of the Lamenters' fleet and taken as a spoil of war in the wake of the Badab War, to drop out of formation, its entire foresection disintegrating, the venerable warship gutted.
The Dead Hand’s own guns retaliated, catching the Fidelitas Lambda on her portside and shattering it as well as destroying three Strike Cruisers of the left horn. Still, the Minotaurs pressed on, the Daedalos Krata still intact as at point-blank range it unleashed boarding torpedoes, Caestus Assault Rams and Thunderhawk gunships, every remaining ship concentrated on destroying the Dead Hand’s escorts or rupturing the great Tomb Ship's hull to let the boarders in.
A dozen assault craft succeeded in making a coordinated landing and managed to penetrate inside the great Cairn-class Tomb Ship. Inside, the air was still, as if burdened by the weight of time but reeking with the odour of spilled blood, a true slaughterhouse. Black corridors, filled with strange, alien sepulchres made up the interior of the great pyramid atop the Tomb Ship, its interior walls and floors crawling with malevolent scarab engines that launched themselves at the Space Marines. These were soon joined by Necron Wraiths, their immaterial form phasing through the solid walls to repel the boarders, drawn to the Minotaurs like anti-bodies trying to fight back a virulent infection invading a living body.
Implacable and unrelenting, the Minotaurs fought their way through these gathered opponents, bleeding for every step they took, every turn in the near-endless corridors revealing new, untiring machines trying to bar their way. The darkness was filled with the barks of the Minotaurs' Bolters and their battlecries, while the Necron fought on with eerie silence. One by one, the Space Marines fell, their armour scorched black by Gauss rays or punctured by the sharp claws of Wraiths and Flayed Ones, stalking in the shadows until only one squad remained--Terminator Squad Ixthalion.
Only five Battle-Brothers remained to press on, led by Veteran Sergeant Ixthalion whose Power Sword hacked and slashed tirelessly at the skeletal figures before him. Blast-scarred and bloody, the valiant brothers penetrated at last into the ship's vast central chamber, a cold and haunted place nearly a kilometer across that lay at the heart of the Tomb Ship. Strange alien obelisks covered in strange symbols had been erected around a central space where ranks upon rank of sarcophagi lay, bathed in a strange ghost-light.
In the centre of the room, a dais had been raised upon which the Necron Overlord stood, shrouded in pure darkness. It would be the last sight the honoured Battle-Brothers of Squad Ixthalion would ever witness. From the sarcophagi a phalanx of praetorians rose and slaughtered them for their transgression. Yet the martyrdom of Squad Ixthalion would not be in vain, for they had located the enemy commander--and perhaps more importantly, activated the Teleport Homer they were carrying...
Close enough to crash into the Tomb Ship, the Daedalos Krata -- now badly wounded, her dense armour carrying great rents from the Dead Hand’s heavy weapons -- pivoted her Bombardment Cannon and fired at point blank range, locking onto the beacon set by Squad Ixthalion. The fusillade of macro-shells pierced the Dead Hand’s armour and reached far into the interior of the Necron ship, exposing the vaulted chamber within to open space in a thundering bang of decompression and screaming wind.
The mighty Tomb Ship bucked away like a wounded animal, one of its crescent-shaped superstructures colliding with the Daedalos Krata, further denting her armour and sending the mighty assault carrier spinning, but this no longer mattered. The damage had been done. For as long as the Dead Hand’s armour had been intact, the Tomb Ship's interior had been impenetrable to the Imperial Auspexes. Now, with a massive, gaping rent in its hull, the ancient targeting arrays and sensors of the Daedalos Krata could get a clear fix on it. In an instant, the ancient teleporter engine of the Minotaurs' flagship came to life, delivering their baleful cargo right into the heart of the Dead Hand.
As the pulsing shockwave of teleportation cleared, Asterion Moloc and his bodyguard of thirty Terminator-clad Veterans and two Contemptor Pattern Dreadnoughts stood upon the deck of the Dead Hand’s central mausoleum, still venting atmosphere. They had come to confront the Necron Overlord believed to be none other than Kutlakh the World Killer, Nemesor of the Maynarkh Dynasty and the Necrons' supreme military commander.
No preamble preceded the clash of the two warriors, no warrior's salute nor a true challenge was issued. Instead, Asterion Moloc simply raised his weapon, the Black Spear, and unleashed its destructive power. A focused ray of energy erupted from the spear's tip, potent enough to pierce the armour of a battle tank and connected with the sinister figure of Kuthlak upon his throne-like dais. The powerful las-blast hit the Overlord in the shoulder, rocking him back, but failing to slay him outright.
With an eerie hissing howl, Kutlakh vocalised his anger at being struck by such an insolent warrior of an inferior species, and summoned his own weapon to his side. The great, cleaver-like blade of pale obsidian that was his weapon, Obsidax, apparently solidified out of thin air, materialising right into Kutlakh’s outstretched skeletal hand. Lightning quick, Kutlakh threw himself from the dais, slicing through the first Terminator with a savage backhand blow as if the veteran Marine's treasured armour, the most durable piece of equipment in service to the Imperium, was mere paper.
In a moment, battle was joined and the great chamber erupted in fury, the bark of the Terminators' Storm Bolters and Assault Cannons bleeding away into the void as air was greedily sucked from the great rent in the ship's hull. Glimmering gold and crimson in the surrounding darkness, illuminated by the Minotaurs' fire, their true opponents emerged -- Triarch Praetorians and Lychguards, their armoured forms bearing gilded and corroded death marks. In their hands, the Necrons bore great cleaving blades and tall segmented shields capable of repelling the densest concentration of fire, or arcane staff weapons blazing with ghostly luminescence that were able to reduce their foes to ash.
The Minotaurs were soon hard-pressed, even if they had already accounted for twice their own numbers. Yet, still more Necron constructs emerged from the darkness or reassembled themselves at the feet of their opponents. Soon, the Terminators were forming a defensive circle, but even their heavy firepower could not hold the advancing Necrons at bay indefinitely.
Moloc raged and slew as tirelessly as the machine-constructs he was facing, the Black Spear lashing and piercing without rest, his eyes burning with cold fury that was unmatched by the baleful malevolence of the Necrons. His ornate Storm Shield resounded with the blows of his opponents, while still the Black Spear hewed mechanical limbs from torsos, staved in skulls, slashed across vertebrae or punched through armoured carapaces.
Kutlakh, the dark overlord of the Necrons, fought and slew his way towards Asterion Moloc, no Terminator able to stop his advance, all of the Chapter Master's loyal Minotaurs bodyguards dying to buy their lord a little extra time. Leaving a trail of dismembered corpses and rent armour behind him, Kutlakh was suddenly stopped when the entire Tomb Ship rocked after taking an immense blow. The Dead Hand’s artificial gravity momentarily deactivated and the Necron Overlord unceremoniously fell to his knees.
Before he could rise again, the armoured form of Ancient Geryon, one of the two ancient Contemptor Pattern Dreadnoughts accompanying the Chapter Master, loomed over Kutlakh, fist ready to strike. Shrouded in destructive energy, Geryon's fist descended upon his foe, but just before the hammer-blow could land, Kutlakh interposed his blade, Obsidax, and the Dreadnought’s entire forearm exploded in flame and spinning pieces of shrapnel. The Tomb Ship tilted and Geryon staggered and reeled, the massive armoured feet of his Dreadnought frame skidding and losing purchase, a welcome diversion Kutlakh used to attack.
The Overlord sprang right at Geryon, striking with two hands at his opponent, his great blade splintering ceramite and sending a shower of sparks flying from the Dreadnought's frame. One actuator was severed, and Geryon fell to his knees, brackish blood and silvery amniotic fluid leaking from the wounds he had taken and spinning in the low gravity like trails of smoke. Kutlakh positioned himself over Geryon, ready to deliver the killing blow before the Black Spear found him.
Pushing the relic-weapon cleanly through Kutlakh's back, the Black Spear -- wreathed in pale flame and lightning -- suddenly erupted from Kutlakh's chest, exploding from the gilded ankh-glyph the Overlord bore on his chest. Impaled on the Black Spear, Kutlakh spasmed, undoubtedly feeling pain as his death-mask was thrown back, releasing a silent scream, jerking on the Space Marine weapon's blade before Asterion Moloc rammed his Storm Shield into the Necron's head, clearing his spear-blade from the weight of the wounded Nemesor's metallic body.
Just as Moloc was about to deliver the final blow, the Dead Hand was rocked by fresh impacts, the pure white flame of plasma discharges burning at the edge of the great rent in the vessel's chamber walls, illuminating the fierce hand-to-hand fighting in a fierce light. Moloc reacted instantly, with the instinct of a warrior that had been honed on a thousand battlefields. He raised his ornate Storm Shield, before his senses had even registered Kutlahk's falling blade, halting a blow that would have surely ended the life of the Chapter Master.
Enraged, Kutlakh hacked again and again, seeking to cleave Moloc's head in twain, but the blows were halted by the Space Marine's still-raised shield, until Moloc's energy shield field spat one last time before failing. The wild blows of the Nemesor made short work of the unpowered device, which quickly came apart under Obsidax’s dark blade.
Once more their world tilted, and Kutlakh and Moloc were separated by the ship's movement, the Chapter Master feeling the waves of hate that emanated from behind the burning crimson eyes of Kutlakh's deathmask as the broken figure of the Nemesor retreated into the shadows. The Master of the Minotaurs Chapter was swept out of the chamber and into the void, the broken bodies of his proud warriors floating beside him as if caught in a whirlpool.
The Enemy Retreats
With a grace few other starships could hope to match, the stricken Dead Hand turned and began to accelerate away, the shadows cast by its massive shape revealing the broken form and burning wreck of the Minotaur Battle-Barge Fidelitas Lambda. With its dying breath, the Battle-Barge had rammed the far greater Tomb Ship, finally causing enough damage to the colossal Necron warship to force the Dead Hand to retreat.
With their master ostensibly withdrawing from the field, the other ships in the Necron fleet soon followed, disengaging from their battles with the still disorganised ships of the Imperial Navy. The Necron vessels were driven off, but hardly defeated. Dead hulks and burning starships marked the death of millions of men, the legacy of the Necron attack on Amarah Prime.
Unexpectedly, the second Cairn-class Tomb-Ship, Sun Killer, did not step in line to lead the Necron attack, but rather split off from the main body of the Necron fleet and made for the night-side of Auric, where it landed, a dozen smaller Necron raider-craft following suit. Soon, strange emerald lights could be seen from orbit, before thick stormclouds occluded what happened on the planet's surface.
At a safe distance from Amarah Prime and the remaining Imperial forces, the remainders of the Necron fleet and the stricken Dead Hand vanished without a trace, simply disappearing from the Auguries of the few Imperial starships still capable of tracking them. One moment they were still visible on the screens, heading out-system, and the next they were simply...gone. The Necron host, if not defeated, had been checked. Thus ended the Battle of Amarah.
Although the Necrons had ultimately retreated, the losses of the Imperium at Amarah Prime made it -- at best -- a pyrrhic victory. Of the huge armada the Imperial Navy had assembled to defend the throneworld of the Orpheus Sector, most had been destroyed, dispersing in vast arcing clouds of debris that would eventually rain down on Amarah as flaming meteors or tumbling wrecks that were still burning -- a funeral pyre that nearly spanned the entire star system.
Battlefleet Orpheus had been decimated. All its warships carried the damage of the battle to some degree, with less than ten percent of its initial fighting strength still rated as anything close to combat worthy. Leadership for these fleet elements would also be an issue, as with the loss of the Arica Dominus, all its Grand Admiral had also been consigned to the void.
Initially believed to have been slain, Asterion Moloc, the Chapter Master of the Minotaurs, was recovered drifting in space and would continue to lead his Chapter, albeit his wounds forbade him to take control of the situation immediately after the Necrons' departure from the system. What Imperial fleet elements remained were powerless to intervene on Auric, where the Necrons of the Sun Killer were believed to have established an advance base of operations for a further offensive.
Amarah's surface had been laid to waste, its proud hive cities now lying in ruins, still burning, their remains a graveyard for billions of Imperial citizens and loyal soldiers. Here too, the Necron forces had abruptly vanished, leaving the scattered survivors to claim a hard-fought victory. And here too, Imperial losses had been catastrophic.
Knowing full well that even a small-scale attack would sweep them away completely, what Imperial forces remained made preparations to abandon Amarah Prime. Marshal Venner of the Death Korps of Krieg gathered what remained of the 17th and 60th Line Korps and marched to Duneradt Starport, organising the evacuation effort. Other regiments such as the Necromundan 8th Regiment, called "the Spiders," could also be retrieved and gathered on the outlying worlds of Laymon and Calama. What remained of Amarah's civilian population was regrettably left to their fate, as the Imperial Navy lacked the transport capacity to evacuate them from the planet's still-smoldering surface.
The Orphean Decree and the Orphean Salvation Campaign
Regrouping and reinforced by fresh contigents of troops, warships and Astartes, the Imperium has been struggling to hold the Necron advance back. Cut off, the forces of Amarah Prime and Hydroghast were the next to fall, although scattered pockets of resistance boldly hold on. Having been stripped of most of its defences by Sector Governor Calibron Laan, the Arcantis Cluster became a prime target for the next Necron assault.
Although the phalanxes deployed in these first attacks were considerably smaller than those encountered on Amarah, they still caused considerable havoc. On the Mining World of Kaelogeddon, the entire 47th Armoured Regiment of the Death Korps of Krieg was lost in the Battle of the Outhal Depression, but their sacrifice enabled the Imperial forces to encircle the Necron spearhead and ultimately destroy it. Many of these bloody victories went unrecorded, for the Imperium had more pressing matters to address.
By 995.M41, it seemed obvious that the Orphean War was nearing its bitter conclusion, the millions of men and women thrown at the enemy only reaching a bloody and ultimately untenable stalemate. Left unchecked by the massive redeployment necessary to slow down the Maynarkh Dynasty, the Chaos element in the Chemarium System was left to fester, until the servants of the Ruinous Powers invaded outlying worlds. They too would soon be fighting desperately to repel the Necron invasion forces.
At the forefront of the Necron advance in the Arcantis Cluster, Imperial attrition rates soon reached 60% with no improvement or gain to claim. Fresh probing attacks were directed towards Amraphel and the Forge World of Myre, and Imperial tacticians are certain that the next big Necron push will target those worlds. The remainders of Battlefleet Orpheus and Battle Group Salvation desperately try to hold the line, but following the severe losses of the Battle of Amarah, they were badly outmatched.
In congress with the Ordo Xenos, the Synod Militaris Tempestus has concluded that except for the call of a full-fledged Imperial Crusade -- which estimates indicate will be unavailable before the passage of three to five solar decades -- the Orpheus Sector cannot be saved. Thus, Segmentum authorities petitioned the High Lords of Terra for permission to enact an Exterminatus Firebreak Protocol which would see the Imperium evacuate the remaining worlds of the Orpheus Sector and retreat to the Eurydice Sector, whose borders were to be heavily fortified.
These decisions were formally ratified in 999.M41 by a special Edict Imperialis of the High Lords of Terra, which has since then become known as the Orphean Decree. The Orphean Decree effectively put an end to the existence of the Orpheus Sector as a Sector Imperialis, its rights and tithes annulled and its historical records sealed except for the use of the Inquisition's Chamber Mori. Under the overall guidance of the Ordo Xenos, the remaining worlds of the Orpheus Sector were declared Perdita upon pain of death, except for the worlds of Gorgon Quintus.
The Gorgon Quintus System would serve as a rallying point and the headquarters of the Orphean Salvation Campaign, and the Fortress World of Lysmarchus, which was formally attached to the Eurydice Sector, as the new Imperial bulwark destined to hold the Necrons at bay. The Orphean Salvation Campaign would try to hold off the Necron advance as long as possible, with many of its regiments being granted the honour of martyrdom in combat, while strategically important assets were to be retrieved so that they might continue to benefit the Imperium.
Much of the new campaign's efforts were concentrated on dismantling and relocating the precious installations of the Forge World of Myre in the Orphean Capitoline Sub-sector to the colony world of Jirgath whose domains and people had been ceded to the Adeptus Mechanicus in compensation for the loss of their planet. On many other worlds, mineral wealth and equipment, including military assets such as troops, weapons and ammunition, were stripped, often leaving the population bereft of any protection before the Necrons or the advance of the Forces of Chaos.
Rearmed and repaired, the Minotaurs Chapter and the remains of Battlefleet Orpheus then enacted the ultimate sanction of the Exterminatus on more than twelve major worlds in the former Orpheus Sector, scorching the earth in order to further slow down the Necron advance.
Several regiments, by now veterans from the war against the Necrons such as the Death Korps' 134th Heavy Infantry Regiment, were purposefully preserved and placed under the orders of the Ordo Xenos' Eurydice Conclave to man the Imperial fortresses being erected across the newly-created stellar no-man's land that had once been a sector of the Imperium.
Select Militaris Tempestus Order of Battle on Amarah as of 0364.992.M41
|Adeptus Astartes - Minotaurs Chapter||10 Companies|
|Adeptus Astartes - Marauders Chapter||1 Company|
|Death Korps of Krieg||17th & 60th Line Korps|
|Tekarn Armoured Battalions||7 Battalions|
|Jopal Indentured Guard||4 Regiments|
|Synd Zan Bloodsworn||2 Legions|
|Necromundan Guard||2 Regiments|
Select Militaris Tempestus En Route To Amarah System
|Adeptus Astartes||3 Chapter Contigents [Confirmed]|
|Imperial Guard||16 Regiments [Confirmed]|
|Adeptus Titanicus||Legio Victorum (II) Demi-Legio|
|Ordo Xenos Cadre||[Classified]|
- Imperial Armour Volume Twelve: The Fall of Orpheus, pp. 26-61