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Chapter 14: The Necropoli

Like all good things in life, glory requires sacrifice. The passivity and tendency towards the defence exhibited by some inexperienced officers has at its heart a desire to evade the inevitable price of victory. I repeat: no amount of skill on the part of higher commanders, no training, however good, and no superiority of arms, however great, will allow victory to be won without being paid for in blood.

Praetor Aemellius Lucan, Instructor-General of the Ironglass Military Academy

From deep within the planet, great reverberations shook the surface of Iskandria, like the stirring of some sleeping giant. Minor earthquakes rocked the city-scape; in peace-time, they might not have caused much damage, but the widespread devastation caused by street-fighting and artillery bombardment had left many buildings in ruins, and many more with shaky foundations. This problem was only magnified by the complex networks of subterranean tunnels used by the Koralon and Triads, and the refugee encampments and shanty towns of the undercity, not to mention the deepest, darkest labyrinths, where plasticrete gives way to bare rock - tunnels inhabited by creatures best not examined too closely. Undermined to a critical point, some areas simply collapsed in upon themselves when the quakes hit.

But the quakes were only the heralds to the greater event. From the Phaeros to the old Acropolis, dark, claw-like structures began to rip their way forth from the ground, tearing aside everything which stood in their way, piercing the city and clawing a path towards the heavens like the fingers of an angry god. Stretching from Precinct 12 in the north to Colchis in the south, these structures rose to form a jagged crest across Iskandria Major. And everywhere, legions of steel-crested troopers began to emerge, gunning down all who opposed them.

At the Phaeros, the dark structures cradled the subspace beacon possessively in claws of rending jet. Surrounded and cut off, the VASA garrison gave their lives dearly. While the Suppressors fought to hold off the oncoming troops, Doctor Tarasov ordered his staff to destroy all of their records, so that the vital intelligence data they had gathered would not fall into the hands of their attackers.

In Pergama Sector, the 27th Onyx Jaguars, the Viridian Offworld Regiment defending Iskander's mausoleum against Syntha siege, were taken by surprise when claw-like structures ripped a path through the heart of their own defensive lines. With an army of power-armoured troopers cutting a path through them, and panic rising, the commanding officers of the Onyx Jaguars quickly recognised that their situation was untenable, and gave the order to retreat northwest, towards more secure Viridian lines. Not all Viridian units had that luxury, and, as necropoli rose across Thapsakus and Cordillera Sectors, sometimes well behind Viridian lines, the Regiments of the IDF and VAF found themselves engaged across yet another front. In Thapsakus Sector, the sweeping successes of Operation Headhunter proved to be a mixed blessing, as Viridian troops, fanned out to engage retreating gangs of Triads and Gladiators, found themselves both over-stretched and outflanked.

The VASA security units stationed at the Acropolis administrative complex fared no better, although the focus on mobility stressed by VASA doctrine ensured that their withdrawal was a more orderly one. Rather than leave their surviving troops on the Colchis peninsula, trapped between the Syntha and these new attackers, they attempted to flee across the Octanian Ocean to Greyburn, fighting a stubborn rearguard action around the docks and waterfront as the last of their troops fell back towards the ships - mostly a mixture of hastily-commandeered civilian fishing vessels and tankers. The evacuation was a success, but their perilous journey across Koralon-infested waters cost them almost as many lives as the defence of the waterfront had done.

As for the Syntha, although these twisted fortresses of jet cut a path through their territory in Colchis, Helion and Ur-Madigant Sectors, their appearance seemed to change little about the Syntha's fundamental strategy. Like the Gladiator warbands dispatched by the Junkers, the Syntha had displayed, from the very earliest days of the war, a great interest in capturing certain sites related to the reign of Iskander, hence the enormous numbers of Androsynths devoted to besieging Iskander's mausoleum and the Acropolis. Whether this was in the hope of recovering artefacts or technology hidden by the Great Tyrant's successors during the General's War, or for some other, more esoteric, purpose, is impossible to say, but the rise of the necropoli seemed only to have caused them to redouble their efforts. Indeed, when the necropoli rose from Iskander's mausoleum, the first action of Artemis Alpha 4.96 Kappa was to order her Lochos into a coordinated assault, perhaps in the hope of destroying the attackers while they were still engaged with the Viridians, perhaps out of a desire to gather data on their capabilities, so that her heuristic battlefield prediction subroutines would be better able to deal with them in the days to come. Although Kappa's Androsynths were repulsed, it was not without significant losses among her power-armoured opponents.

Using the mass of broadcasting and communications equipment situated at the Phaeros tower, a broad-wave proclamation was sent out across the city, across multiple radio and holo-view bands simultaneously - a holo-view which displayed the image of a withered man with sunken cheeks and mismatched eyes which gazed forcefully from their deep sockets.

"My fellow Iskandrians, it is I, your father, who speaks to you now. Join me: stand with me as your forefathers did, and throw off the yoke of your oppressors! For too long, this world has languished under the tyranny and incompetence of the Tripartite Confederacy. Now, even now, with the alien Koralon hissing at the gates, they bicker and squabble like children. United, the potential of humanity is limitless! Divided, it amounts to nothing more than plutocratic greed, naked tyranny, soulless automata. The accursed rivalry, the narrow minds, of the fools who have brought sister worlds and brother peoples to fight one another, would doom us all. As their ships burn in orbit, as the bodies of their soldiers clog our streets, they slowly sap humanity's strength, they slowly destroy the vision of the future which could be ours! And I? I offer a path to that future, the path of the New Man. I offer the fulfilment of mankind's immortal destiny. That path, the path of the New Man, of the Neo-Iskandrians, can be yours also, if you will but help me seize it! And seize it I shall, for the persistence of the flawed regimes which have wormed their way across this galaxy no longer remains an option. We lie at a crossroads in the history of mankind: evolution, or extinction. Choose wisely."

Despite the stubborn defence of VASA and the calculated aggression of the Syntha, many of the forces and militant groups across Iskandria Major had fared less well. Some were cowed by the devastating assault of the Neo-Iskandrian troops; others, particularly those with a high proportion of Iskandrian natives, were swayed by Iskander's words. They, along with great numbers of refugees and survivors, surrendered to the Neo-Iskandrian soldiers, and were led inside the necropoli...