Hello again Lizards - I have been so busy of late that I have had hardly any time to do anything hobby-related more than look up the latest news. This means I have got quite a bit behind, not just with my models, but also in posting old Short Story Contest entries into their own threads. Now when I wrote my very first short story, ‘One Man’s Meal is Another Man’s Poison’, I simply let all my thoughts spill out into what I thought was a good story, then cut it down to meet the contest criteria. However, with my next contest entry, ‘The Visitor’, I went one better - once I had finished my original draft, I copied and pasted it elsewhere and cut down the copy to meet the word limit, meaning I still had my original draft available. This included some additional dialogue between the two Skink characters at the beginning and more ruminations from the Slann, as well as a whole fourth ‘Phase’ examining life on the other side of the rivalry between Lizardmen and Necrons. Therefore, it is with my greatest pleasure that I unveil the ‘Author’s Cut’, as it were, of ‘The Visitor’! The Visitor Phase I Izri and Huitchli left the city on their daily hunting trip and travelled down the straight paved road that led out from the city gates and into the jungle. The blue Izri, the smaller of the two Skinks, was striding out in front, whistling contentedly and holding nothing but a javelin and his blowpipe, with his pouch of darts for the latter wrapped around his middle. The green Huitchli, the larger of the two, was trapsing along behind, weighed down by several large packs on his back, including Izri’s javelin holder, as well as his own hunting equipment. “Just one thing Izri,” Huitchli complained, “Why do I have to carry all of this stuff while you prance along in front?” Izri stopped and tutted at his unintelligent friend. “I keep telling you Huitchli, I do all the thinking in our little team. Therefore my brain needs to be kept free of distractions so that I can determine exactly where our prey is, and when you’re humping a load of bundles on your back, you’ve got a lot of weight on your mind, quite literally,” he replied in his irritating, uppity voice that was squeaky even for a Skink’s. “Don’t I know it,” Huitchli replied grumpily. “You on the other hand are stronger and more muscly than me, so you do all the carrying because you can take the weight. Now come along, or all the Marsh Piglets will have heard you complaining and run home,” Izri retorted. “I’m sure that half these things aren’t really necessary,” Huitchli called back as he began to lag behind even more than he was already. “Honestly, how many times do I need to get it into your thick skull? We need to be prepared for any emergency, whatever it may be. Say you got mauled by a wild Razordon while we were out hunting. You’d feel a lot better if we had our medical supplies on hand to patch you up than if we had left it back home just because it was too heavy. Say we got lost and we hadn’t caught anything, and needed something to eat? Those Salamander steaks I packed would be a welcome relief in such a situation. Say we...” “All right, all right,” Huitchli grumbled, “Don’t bite my head off.” “Shut up,” Izri scolded, “I can see something moving over there in that bush.” He squinted at a particular mass of ferns to the right, where the foliage was indeed moving, as the two Skinks could now very well see. “Do you have any idea of what it could be?” Huitchli asked. “Haven’t a clue,” Izri replied, “but there’s only one way to find out...” He took careful aim and then threw his javelin as hard as he could towards the movement. There was the sound of the weapon hitting something, but no squealing or crying out in pain, only the telltale signs of the creature, whatever it was, moving away from them through the bushes. The two Skinks stood there mystified. “I thought I hit it!” yelled Izri indignantly, “I was sure I hit it!” “I thought you did too,” Huitchli replied, “It sounded like a Stegseye.” “Well don’t just stand there gaping like a fish, come on!” Izri said then, loading a dart into his blowpipe, “It seems to be moving pretty slowly, so we should be able to chase it down and kill it pretty quickly!” The two Skinks ran towards the bushes where they had last seen the creature, and brushed their way through the thick undergrowth. Balancing speed with cautiousness, they made sure to make as little noise as possible when running through the tall ferns, but after about ten minutes of rapid pursuing, they found nothing. “Oh it’s hopeless,” Izri grumbled, “How in Sotek’s name could that thing have outrun us? You probably slowed us up too much!” Huitchli shrugged. “Perhaps we should split up,” he replied, “we can cover more ground between the two of us.” Izri turned to his companion. “Do you know, that’s probably the first truly intelligent thing you’ve said today,” he congratulated Huitchli, “That’s actually a decent idea. We’ll go off in different directions and if either of us find anything, we’ll make Terradon noises so that the other knows where we are. Does that sound good to you?” “I’d say so,” Huitchli replied, before turning a fraction to the left, calling out “Happy hunting!” and disappearing. Izri, meanwhile, turned more to the right and followed suit. A few minutes later, Huitchli was making good progress, despite his heavy burden, when he heard a loud shriek in the direction from which he’d come. A Skink’s shriek that was especially high-pitched and squeaky. Fearing his friend may have got into trouble, he turned back. He ran as fast as he could through branches and bushes, until he came to a large clearing amongst some especially tall jungle trees. In this dimly-lit spot, he could see Izri on the ground a few feet ahead, but he wasn’t moving. Huitchli advanced forward a few steps, when he drew back again, reviled at what he saw. His friend had been beheaded. Huitchli gagged and retched at the sight, but before he could vomit, something else further away caught his eye. Something far bigger. As he approached it, Huitchli saw that it was an object nothing like anything he’d ever seen before. It was partially submerged in the earth, forming a sort of crater around it as if it had fallen from the sky and crashed into the ground. Even in this state it was far taller than him, and looked to be in a shape similar to the wooden boxes the Xho'za'khanx put their dead in. It was predominantly black, but the edges were highlighted with a bold blue colour, and a green transparent section in the top looked like some sort of spot where a driver or pilot would sit. It was also glistening with metal firearms that he had never seen before. They distantly resembled the so-called Cannons used by the Dro’kha’khanx, but looked far deadlier. Suddenly Huitchli heard the sound of footsteps behind him, and whipped around. He had barely time to give his own shriek of terror before he too was slain in a single calculated strike. Phase II Grakkar stood motionless at the parapet of the city walls, staring out over the vast expanse of jungle that surrounded his home. The Temple Guard had been guarding his city and his Slann master, Lord Therizinuital, with utmost dedication for over fifty years, yet he still felt that his duty was far from over. This morning he had been assigned the responsibility of patrolling the north wall alongside his Spawn-mates Rok-qar, Ghul-drak and Pe’Taq, the latter two of whom were standing outside the gates, while Rok-gar stood diligently on the wall the other side of the gateway from Grakkar. They were all waiting for two dopey-looking Skink hunters to return from their early-morning expedition, so that they could close the gates again as soon as possible. What were their names again? Izri and Huitchli, that was they were called. “Five more minutes and we’re closing the gates,” Rok-qar grumbled gruffly, “We can’t afford to spend anymore time waiting for two measly Skinks to finish mucking about in the forest.” The four Temple Guard were certainly getting bored - the hulking pile of muscle and scales that was Ghul-drak was clubbing the earth with his halberd in frustration, while the lazy Pe’Taq had completely dropped off. Only Grakkar continued to bother to hold a distractionless vigil for his city’s sake. Where were those little nuisances? “Finally, they’re coming back,” Rok-qar growled, relieved, when he heard the sound of bushes rustling just to the right of the gateway, but Ghul-drak down on the ground wasn’t so sure. “Whatever that is, that isn’t two Skinks,” he replied, “ it’s far bigger and heavier.” Indeed, he was right. What emerged from the undergrowth then was not a pair of skittering Skinks, but a tall, broad-shouldered, metallic creature that defiantly swatted aside the vines and briars and tramped methodically towards the Temple Guard outside the gates. Its body was stylised as a skeleton, but it was anything but a pile of old bones. Its eyes glowed with a sinister, green life that unnerved the Saurus standing before it, yet it acted with a calculated efficiency that was unlike the movements of any living creature. It clutched a huge, ancient-looking sword in one hand and an intricately-patterned blue shield in the other that was covered with metal extensions and devices. The head of a Skink javelin was embedded between its metal ribs, and what definitely resembled Lizardman blood covered the sword it wielded. Ghul-drak bellowed fiercely and raised his own weapon defensively as a warning to the creature, a warning that it duly ignored as it advanced relentlessly towards them. It was at this point that Pe’Taq awoke from his slumber and he immediately sidled over from his position beside the gate so that he was now barring the creature’s way alongside Ghul-drak, but the creature again took no notice and simply marched right up to them. It was around the same height as Ghul-drak and stood about a head taller than Pe’Taq, yet the Temple Guard were undaunted. Ghul-drak delivered a brutal blow with his halberd to the creature’s midriff, denting its metal hide but otherwise dealing little damage. The creature’s retaliation proved far more effective, for it swung its blade in a diagonal slice, the weapon easily cleaving through Ghul-drak’s chest and down into his abdomen. He staggered back, clasping his gaping wound, but the bulky Temple Guard did not fall. Amazingly, he managed to remain standing. “Quick!” Grakkar called to Rok-qar, “We must help them!” Rok-qar agreed, and the two Temple Guard on the parapet rushed down the tower stairs to aid their comrades on the ground. Pe’Taq swung his weapon at the creature’s small metal head, but it raised its metal shield to easily parry the blow. However, before it could behead Pe’Taq, Ghul-drak thundered into it, head butting its chest with his skull helmet, knocking it backwards so that it fell to the floor. Ghul-drak mustered his last strength to deliver a crushing overhead blow, but in his weakened state, he was powerless to stop his opponent from swinging its sword horizontally to sever his torso from his body. As his corpse fell to the ground, Pe’Taq retreated and rejoined his comrades, who had by this time descended to the ground. Although an instinct told them to slam the gates shut, they could not simply hide behind their walls. That was what Skinks did. They were Temple Guard, mighty defenders of the Lizardmen, and they would buy as much time as they could to help their city rmuster a stronger defence to repel the creature. Indeed, they heard drums beating a sonorous booming patter of notes as others heard the commotion and sounded the alarm. So it was that Grakkar and the others launched a renewed attack upon the invader, in a desperate attempt to fend it off. Phase III Lord Therizinuital had never predicted that the creature would arrive. Indeed, its attack upon his city had quite shocked him awake from his meditation. At this point he focussed his mind upon the invader. What was it doing here? It was large and strong enough to slay his finest Temple Guard without so much as a few dents, yet was small enough to dart into alleyways where his servants’ monsters could not reach it and the numbers of his warriors acted against them. He could sense the deaths of each and every one of his Saurus and Skink protectors that stood in the creature’s way, and it was coming closer all the while. It didn’t even seem to be alive in many respects - it had no living tissue to speak of in its whole body, and made no sound except for the clanking of its feet and the creaking of its joints. The only thing which the Slann could think of to describe this adversary was the phrase: Automaton. There was only one race of Automatons that the Old Ones had known of, and yet all knowledge of this race had been lost after the Old Ones’ disappearance. There had been something about a race of gods called the C’Tan...no, Lord Therizinuital couldn’t remember anything else. The Slann was suddenly brought back to the real world when he could hear a familiar clanking and creaking that disturbed him deeply. That sound just wasn’t natural - it was a sound that no living thing, whether the Old Ones made it or not, could ever make. Then, the Automaton itself strode through the huge doors of the Slann’s chamber and turned to face him. His warriors had fought valiantly - the Automaton’s right leg was badly damaged, and several large dents featured upon its metal body - but even in its wounded state, Therizinuital knew that it could kill him easily if it reached the immobile Slann. Therizinuital raised his head slightly to focus all the better upon his foe, before sending a bolt of lightning from one hand. The Automaton simply raised its shield and deflected the blast back at him. The Slann hurriedly flattened one hand to intercept the bolt, which deflected off it and hit the chamber ceiling, causing stone and plaster to fall to the marble floor. This foe was more resilient than he had expected. As the creature relentlessly advanced towards him, Therizinuital knew he needed to play more tactically if this monster was to be slain once and for all. The Slann then channelled his full power into a tugging, pulling force, stronger than the world’s gravity, to try and disarm the Automaton. It resisted with all its strength, but in this tug of war, the Slann was far stronger - soon he had shattered the Automaton’s great metal shield, the dark technology used to shield it from harm now destroyed. Unperturbed, the Automaton came closer still, never quickening or slowing as it approached the Slann, but Therizinuital had another idea. He channelled the same magic again, but this time upon the creature’s own body armour. The metal was tough, and seemed to try to knit itself back together every time the Slann forced it open, but soon he had torn the two sides of its metal ribcage apart, exposing the Automaton’s innards. They weren’t organs like those of any creature of this world, but long strings of metal. The Automaton continued its approach as though it hadn’t noticed a thing. It now closed with the Slann and quickly raised its blade, intending to behead him. Quicker than light itself, the Slann conjured a fireball that hit the metal creature right in its exposed metal guts. The Automaton staggered back, making a groaning roar of pain. The Slann launched another at the same spot, and another, and another, until the Automaton’s body seized up, small columns of flame erupting from where its eyes were. Then its head seemed to explode in a gout of flame, causing the body to collapse to the ground with a tremendous crashing of metal parts. Knowing his foe to be dead, the Slann regained his composure, and stared at the Automaton’s corpse, still simmering with small flames, until an alien green light consumed it, along with the scattered pieces of shield and metal ribcage, and then it was no more. The Slann reflected upon this chain of events, and meditated. This particular Automaton was dead, but more of its kind would return, and in far greater numbers. Their evident knowledge of technology was incredibly worrying - the Lizardmen in their current state would stand no hope against this metal menace of a species - but Therizinuital knew of how his people could balance the odds. Some of his priests had recently discovered an asteroid made of a substance that they called Celestite, a rock that crackled with the power of the heavens. If new weapons could be made out of this, they could slice through even the ‘living metal’ of the Automata, and the Old Ones’ Children would be able to protect themselves from any future invasions with ease. The Slann mentally chuckled to himself. Fireballs were uncivilised pieces of magic, but they did the job. Phase IV Amantep’s photoreceptors refocused to accustom themselves to the darkness of the Stasis-crypt he had just awoken in. He had been in hibernation for several days while his body was being repaired after the corpulent amphibian had incinerated his internal circuits, but now he was ready to inform his Phaeron of his findings. The Lychguard tapped the access code into the keypad on underside the lid of the Stasis-Crypt to unlock it, before flipping the lid open and easily stepping out of his temporary tomb into the sepulchral chamber where all the Stasis-Crypts were kept deep in the underbelly of the tombship Pride of Manticoros, the flagship of his Phaeron, Mithihotep the Indomitable. He looked down at his body, pristine now that the scarabs had been at it. Not a single sign was there of the crippling injury that had caused his right leg to drag across the ground like a prisoner’s chain. His circuits, previously ravaged and torn by the amphibian sorcerer’s flames, were now functioning at 100% efficiency, just as they had been when he had first arrived at that...place. Picking up his Hyperphase Sword and Dispersion Shield, which had materialised with him inside the casket, Amantep briskly tramped between the long lines of stasis-crypts, past Warriors, Immortals and other Lychguard who had also been awoken from their hibernation, and left the chamber where the crypts were securely hidden through a sliding door inscribed with the dynastic symbol of the Laurekh. The hallway he entered was bright and deafening compared to the abyssal darkness of the crypt hold, where only the hushed whispers of the recently-awoken and the flittering of the Scarabs that tended the crypts populated the stale air. Soldiers and servants of the Phaeron and Canoptek constructs moved about the corridor performing their various tasks - the soldiers stood unmoving on guard duty or marched to their next duty, Mithihotep’s servants slipped past each other efficiently to get to their various destinations and Tomb Brooders hovered slowly to and from the circuit-embedded walls on either side in their near-endless responsibilities of maintaining the ship, getting in the way of everyone else. Amantep made his way past the other occupants and stepped into an empty Turbopod in one of the bays on the right hand side of the corridor. He typed the code that marked the Phaeron’s throne hall as the Turbopod’s destination into the keypad on one side. The transport capsule then closed its sliding doors before setting off on its journey, whizzing through specially-designed tunnels between the walls of the rooms that allowed the pods to transport occupants to any deck on the ship. The trajectory and speed of such a device’s passage would cause a human or similar living thing to succumb to nausea or dizziness, but a machine like Amantep felt this to be no bother - the pods even had their own gravity field generators so that the occupants wouldn’t be tumbled about as the capsules constantly changed direction and orientation. After only about a minute or two the pod reached its destination bay, and slid its doors open once more to allow the Lychguard to emerge into the entrance corridor to his Phaeron’s throne hall. Even before he entered the hall proper, he was greeted by a magnificent display of the power of the Laurekh Dynasty - the massive doors of the hall were carved with patterns resembling the creatures that had once inhabited the Dynasty’s capital world, Manticoros, and had become part of the intricate yet unique mythology of the Laurekh Necrontyr before biotransferrance had evaporated much of that superstition. Above them was written a manuscript in Ancient Laurekh that was carved into the metal. Amantep did not know the Ancient Laurekh script himself for he had been born after all the Dynastic Languages had been unified into Common Necrontyr, but he, along with the other Lychguard of the Laurekh Dynasty, had been lectured on what it meant by their Phaeron: “Here reigns Mithihotep, Lord of Manticoros, Only Son of Adelhotep, Executor of the Reclamation, Bane of Greenskins, Slayer of the Reaver Prime. His Word is Law, his Will is Absolute, his Duty is Paramount. May All Those Who Enter His Hall Reclaim Their Destiny.” The Lychguard waited as still as a statue for permission to enter, and then marched in when the thin, gaunt figure of the Thirty-First Administrator opened the door for him. The ancient Mithihotep the Indomitable sat unmoving upon his throne, staring forward at the mural of him slaying the red human marines on Auldis III, but turned his head down to look at Amantep from his lofty position. “Ah, Amantep, “ he said slowly before giving one of his hoarse triple coughs, “I take it you have just been repaired in the stasis-crypt.” The Phaeron arose from his royal seat of power, his metallic spine straightening to draw himself up to his full height, and began to descend the steps that led up to it toward the Lychguard, who had duly knelt before his master. “I have indeed, my Phaeron,” Amantep replied simply. “Good, good. How went your mission upon the last world the Old Ones made?” “It seems to be colonised largely by primitives no match for our phalanxes, but there are a few there that they worship who have inherited a small portion of the Old Ones’ power. It was one of those that sent me back here... prematurely.“ Slightly worried that his master would be displeased at his inability to defeat the corpulent leader of the scaled savages, Amantep’s concern was quickly put to rest when the Phaeron replied, “That does not worry me. The combined strength of the Laurekh Dynasty’s armies will be more than enough to wipe out the Old Ones’ last, hurriedly-birthed creations. Scores of planets have already fallen to us, so one more will be little problem, especially with such pitiful resistance.” He signalled to his motionless bodyguard, Vargard Kromm, to stride over to Amantep and stand beside him. “You have done well, Amantep. For your services I am rewarding you with full command of the Eleuthera branch of the Laurekh Dynasty fleet, for purposes of invading this world and conquering its inhabitants. I will follow with the Tzaran branch once you have the world completely under control. In addition, for the duration of your command, I am assigning my bodyguard to also be yours.” “I am...truly grateful, my Phaeron,” Amantep replied simply. Although it sounded an emotionless response, as if he was unimpressed by the Phaeron’s reward, the Lychguard did honestly mean his gratitude - being assigned command of such a prestigious branch of the fleet as the Eleuthera section was truly an honour, not to mention being assigned the protection of the Phaeron’s Vargard himself. It was just that Amantep had never been the most emotional of Necrontyr before biotransferrance. Fortunately Mithihotep knew this. “Good. Kromm, show Amantep to his new position aboard The Doom of Colchis, and make sure that he conducts himself suitably,” the Phaeron ordered with a motion of his right hand, and the silent Vargard escorted the Lychguard away to his new-found status. As the heavy living metal doors of Mithihotep’s throne hall slowly closed, a collection of calls and utterances sounded from the rows of enclosures inhabited by Mithihotep’s collection of alien fauna, presumably disturbed by the noise, before all fell silent. Mithihotep hunched himself over and clambered back up the steps to his throne, before turning to ease himself down onto it, coughing three times again. Things were most definitely going according to Mithihotep’s wishes. Now that the theory of there being another galaxy far more ripe for the taking than this one were true, it was time to set the Phaeron’s plans in motion. The vile alien races of this galaxy had grown too strong for the Laurekh Dynasty to handle on its own, that was plain. Had the other Necron Dynasties been willing to cooperate, there would still have been a chance to purge the galaxy clean, but they were all far more concerned toward their own pointless squabbling and meddling in the lives of insignificant beings. So it was that Mithihotep realised that the only way the Laurekh could truly forge an empire without equal was by conquering other, more ripe and succulent planets with far less resistance, and this small planet that Amantep had discovered, with these last creations of the hated Old Ones squatting in the mud, would be the first to fall.