The crescent shape loomed eerily over the battlefield. After a few seconds scanning for its next victim, the vessel started plummeting toward the ground like a shimmering bird of prey. A clamor began to rise over the wailing of the wounded when the Necrontyr soldiers saw their salvation. Their fire intensified. Soon, the enemy realized what was happening. As one they shot a psychic blast, but the pilot saw it coming and nimbly dodged it. The crystal on the underside of the ship emitted a sickly green light while a grin illuminated the Necrontyr’s face. Without further warning, the incandescent beam pierced the air with a shriek. Chaos ensued, as the horribly disfigured bodies of the enemy littered the field. In the center, a smoldering crater was all that was left of a once mighty war machine. The pilot pulled up at the last second. On the ground, cries of triumph resonated.
“No fair!” protested Akhu. “You just made that up!”
“I didn’t!” argued Manet, interrupting his whooshing noises. “You’re just mad cause I won again.”
Well, she was mad alright; though she was unsure if their game had anything to do with it.
“I’m always the bad guys,” Akhu pouted. “I wanna use our army, too.”
“You don’t need to, unlike me. I’ll be a soldier one day,” Manet proudly said.
“I know…” she reluctantly conceded.
Her gaze wandered to the skies, while she rested her cheek upon her palm. The rings of the planet were brightly illuminated in the blood red glow of the dusk. Maybe her dad was the heroic pilot of their game. Maybe he would be home tonight. She shook her head as her vision blurred.
“Time’s up kiddos!”
Her mother’s call disrupted the stillness of the countryside. They both quickly packed their toys, and hurried through the backyard. None of them wanted to incur the wrath of the overlord of the domain. Akhu was the first inside.
“I won the race!” she gloated.
“It was no race!” disputed Manet with a frown.
“Come now, your parents won’t be happy if you’re late for dinner,” interrupted Akhu’s mother.
The boy mumbled a shy thank you before heading to the front door.
“Wait a second young man, is that a new toy?” she asked playfully.
“Yes ma’am! It’s a gift too!” answered Manet with glee.
Akhu’s heart skipped a beat as she saw a military patrol march down the road through the window, but turned her attention back to the conversation when she understood they were not stopping.
“Well, you should go now. And do not linger on the way,” concluded Akhu’s mother.
Manet bowed his head and reached for the entrance panel. He waved his hand at Akhu; she smiled and returned the gesture while the door closed.
The rest of the evening was peaceful. Akhu helped her mother with chores; the farmers’ humble homestead lacked automated servants. As the late summer sun finally set, it was time for dinner. Although it was Akhu’s favorite meal, she could not finish it. Her stomach felt upside down.
“Is it not to your taste sweetie?” inquired her mother.
“That’s not it,” Akhu said promptly. “I’m not hungry is all.”
The accumulated tension dissipated when she felt the warm embrace. Still, she could not repress a shiver despite the temperate weather.
“Everything’s going to be fine sweetie, I promise. Understood?”
“Good,” her mother smiled. “Now go prepare, it’s almost bedtime.”
The young girl agreed and rushed to her room. As she changed clothes, she stared for a while at the ankh her father had gifted her. She did not know how to feel anymore. She grabbed the cold metal symbol and was surprised by its weight; it was heavier than she remembered. She could not dwell on these thoughts, for a strange smell interrupted her. Intrigued, Akhu slid the ankh in her pocket and left her room. As she followed the narrow corridor, the scent was getting stronger, until she reached the living room. There she saw her mother seated in front of an odd apparatus, resting on the table. A long, flexible tube connected to it left her mouth and smoke poured out. A bottle and a glass full of a green liquid completed the picture.
“Mom?” asked softly Akhu, half hidden behind the wall.
“Coming sweetie,” she replied mid sip, almost startled.
Akhu hastened back to her room and waited for a few seconds, unsure of what she had just witnessed.
“Alright, off to bed then,” said her mother as she entered the room.
Akhu got comfy and her mother kissed her goodnight. She realized she had kept the ankh in her pocket; it did not matter, she thought. She closed her eyes and soon, her mind danced across the stars.
Akhu stood in the middle of the backyard. A grim feeling overcame her while she looked around; she was alone. No one answered her cries for help. She began to panic when something fell on her cheek. She touched it and saw what looked like dust. As she realized it was ash, another one fell, prompting her to look upward. More were falling with each passing second. But the sun intrigued her further. She squinted and saw it becoming slowly bigger. How could this be? She began to suffocate. She held her hands up to protect herself when she saw it. A monstrous smile scarred the heavens themselves and two emeralds stared at her, glinting with the malice of eons. She was mesmerized as the grass ignited beneath her. Soon, the whole landscape was set ablaze, turning the beautiful vistas into a furnace.
Akhu woke up drenched in sweat. Her nightmare seemed so real; she still felt the heat in her dimly lit room. As her racing heart calmed down, she heard her mother bustling in the living room. Outside, a faint voice in the distance blared through loud speakers. She knew it was still early but decided to investigate nonetheless. The faint glow of the artificial lights greeted her when she exited her room, still groggy. At the end of the hallway, the voice outside resonated much closer.
“Loyal subjects of His Silent Majesty, Szarekh I. Rejoice, for you have been chosen on this day for ascendency. All men, women, and children are to embark at once upon the nearest ark. Any resistance will be met with deadly force. None shall stand between the Necrontyr and immortal glory.”
The metallic voice echoed in Akhu’s mind as she tried to make sense of it. What was that all about? Why were they forced to go so early?
“Mommy?” started Akhu.
“You’re already up sweetie,” her mother replied, her voice trembling. “Listen, we have to go. I’m preparing a few things for the trip. You want to help me pack?”
So many questions assaulted Akhu, though she kept quiet. She could hear the commotion outside, shocked voices and the regular march of soldiers. The sinister buzzing sound of the arks bound it all together. A heavy knocking interrupted their preparations. Her mother opened the door and before she could say anything, half a dozen armed soldiers stormed the living room. Without uttering a word, all but one of them went on to search the other rooms.
"You have to go now, ma'am," the man who stayed at the door solemnly declared. “I understand. Come, sweetie,” urged Akhu’s mother.
It was still dark outside and a heavy fog enfolded the small neighborhood. The chill preceding daybreak made Akhu shiver as she clung to her mother’s arm. Soldiers were barking orders at angry neighbors, some of them lightly clothed. The young girl scanned the crowd to find Manet but could not see him. While they neared the ark, the humming sound drowned the hubbub around them; the extraordinary machine was hovering above the ground, the sight of which almost made Akhu forget her fear. The soldiers helped her mother and herself board the vehicle. In the distance, a loud crackling noise made her mother grasp her. She cuddled against her and remembered the ankh in her pocket. She took the symbol in her hand, holding it tight.
The trip seemed endless. Akhu was cold and frightened. When the sun finally rose, they were farther from home than she had ever been. She could now see the famed necropolis her father used to describe in his tales. Giant black obelisks and temples littered the vast complex, while an enormous pyramid proudly stood above all else. Innumerable arks converged toward the ancient structure over the expansive surrounding farmland. Akhu’s anxiety mixed with a sense of awe as she felt something fall on her cheek. She reached for it, even though she already knew what it was. The faint hope she entertained to see something else was crushed when more ash fell. The closer they got to the tomb city, the heavier the specks were.
Akhu was busy dusting herself when they reached the immense outer walls of the necropolis. There the arks went on their separate ways. Finally, the soldiers helped them disembark on a public plaza. Several lines were formed in front of eldritch machinery. Each queue led to a trapezoid, black crystalline door. Everywhere, soldiers stood watchfully. The first person in line stepped through the door at regular intervals. Some of them tried to fight but were shoved unceremoniously inside. Each time, a high pitched screech could be heard. But Akhu did not pay attention to this ballet. The young girl was horrified. For every folk going inside, a shiny metal monster jerked to life next to the machine. Many more stood completely lifeless, connected via a plethora of wires to a spine-like contraption. She wanted to run away as far as possible from this nightmare. While the thought crossed her mind, she felt her mother’s grip tighten around her hand.
“I told you everything would be alright. Don’t worry sweetie, I’m here, see?” said her mother soothingly.
Soldiers suddenly grabbed her before Akhu could answer. Time seemed to slow down as the young girl tried to process what was happening. Did her dad do this too? Were they not supposed to protect her and her family? Akhu’s first instinct was to rush to her mother’s aid, but she felt abruptly seized. The ankh in her hand was flung away from the shock while her deafening heartbeat drowned her mother’s words. The young girl watched helplessly as the only parent she had left was thrown in the uncaring machine.
“Hello sweetie,” she heard a calm voice say.
“I want my mom back!” cried Akhu while thrashing around.
“I know,” paused the stranger.
Another creature twitched on the spine, and the horrible screech resonated once more.
“And you will be reunited soon,” he continued.
“Who are you?” asked Akhu through the tears.
“I am a friend,” smiled the stranger.
“Please help me,” begged the young girl.
“I will. But first you have to calm down, alright?” he answered, captivating her eyes.
His mesmerizing gaze appeased Akhu. She nodded timidly, and could feel the grasp of the soldier loosen.
“Good. Do you know what you are doing here?” asked the stranger.
Akhu shook her head and rubbed her eyes.
“It is simple, really. You see, your merciful King thought you were such a good girl that he decided to grant you a formidable gift. It is a whole new life; for you, and your mother. You will get a shiny body that will never die.”
He let his words sunk in before gently carrying on, with a theatrical gesture.
“This whole… masquerade… serves only one purpose: to help you be with your mother, forever. Now, would you like that, sweetie?”
“Yes,” she hesitated.
“Come with me, then,” he said, outstretching his hand.
After a few seconds, Akhu took it. She was surprised by its cold touch, but the thought of reuniting with her mother overshadowed everything else. They reached the black door and the man softly spoke again.
“All you have to do is enter. It will be like falling asleep, and when you wake up you will be next to your mother, in your new forms.”
The door opened at the end of his speech. Akhu looked at his gentle face and tried to form a coherent thought. His smile comforted her. Finally, she stepped in. The opaque outer door was transparent from the inside, letting her see the man standing in front of the machine. A bright green light briefly illuminated the small space she found herself in. Outside, she caught a glimpse of one of the metal bodies coming to life, next to her ankh. It did not feel right. The man said she was supposed to fall asleep and wake up in another body. But she was still there; something must have gone wrong! Panic reared its ugly head again while she pounded on the heavy crystalline door. She yelled from the top of her lungs when she saw it; that awful, carnivorous smile. The man’s emerald eyes glinted with a cold malevolence, and his skin turned to gold. Akhu’s screams were suddenly drowned by a deafening screech as jade flames seared her flesh.