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Novel: Hunter's Shadow


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#1 Logen Ninefingers

Logen Ninefingers

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Posted 13 February 2014 - 03:22 AM

Note from the author: I'll be trying to post a chapter every month or so - and keep up the momentum through the year. With any luck, the Sydney GW will allow me to release it there at the same time.

 

 

 

Hunter’s Shadow

- Adrian Collins -

 

 

One.

Colonel Andeferon Morn walked into the strategium of the Avenger class grand cruiser Angel’s Fury and almost had to reach up with his hand to stop his jaw from dropping open. He openly marvelled at the immense capital ship’s tactical hall, the trepidation of meeting the battle-group’s commanders melting away in the face of such industry. He felt a hand rest reassuringly upon the colonel’s insignia freshly sewn onto his jacket’s shoulder, and turned to his commander.

 

“Took my breath away when I came here for the first time too, Ande. Just do your best not let your mouth hang open like a slack-jawed servitor,” said Luten, his general’s stars just as new upon his shoulders. “This is just another part of the war machine, like a baneblade or valkyrie, just not as pretty.”

 

Andeferon grinned, the strategium’s spell broken, and did his best to take in the vast chamber before him without looking like a green recruit.

 

From how long it’d taken him to get here he knew the strategium was carved into the deep and protected bowels of the immense ship.  Thick buttresses and blocky bulkheads ran up and around the bare adamantium walls like the inside of a titan’s rib cage. Heavy cabling wrapped in ridged grey insulation fed the room from the ship’s proudly beating heart a kilometre or two to stern. Every flat surface except the floor was studded with sound dampeners shaped like round-headed rivets. Thrumming soundlessly, they generated their fields and cast eerie shadows from the boxy glow globes that sprouted amongst them.

 

Walking beside Luten, Andeferon shook his head in wonder at the sheer volume of tactical officers and servitors that lined the three-tier stadium-style room they were making their way to the centre of. His ears filled with the dull buzz of hundreds of human and mechanical voices as the room communicated between the thousands of Guard and navy units that made up the battle-group, and the huddle of commanding officers at its centre.

 

As Andeferon and Luten came within twenty paces, the general staff turned to look at them. In some of those gazes Andeferon read genuine remorse. In others there was hard-won respect. One or two officers were unreadable. A man strode towards them from the crowd; almost white eyes, surrounded by brutal red and purple heat scarring, squinting as they focused on the two Arminians.

 

That’s the bloody lord general. Andeferon instinctively smoothed down his flawlessly pressed grey dress jacket. He ran nervous fingers over the gold plated aquila stamped buttons to make sure they were done up properly, over the hard edge of the corner of his Uplifting Primer in his chest pocket, and then the upper thighs of his matching dress pants. Getting the lines just right had taken him hours of hard work and frustration.

 

“General Luten, my sincerest condolences and my congratulations,” began Lord General Adarin Tibor, his stocky soldier’s frame still holding its muscle under his thick green, red trimmed overcoat.

 

Andeferon stopped beside Luten and snapped off a sharp salute, the campaign medals pinned to his jacket clanking heavily. He held the salute until Tibor returned it briefly, and then stood at ease.

 

“Thankyou, sir,” said General Luten stiffly. “The division will miss him. He was a fine leader.”

 

“I shall miss him, he was a fine friend the past eight years of this mission,” said Tibor, genuine sadness playing across his features for a moment. “He had assured me, in passing, that you would be a worthy successor should he fall. I pray he is right; I’d hate to have to replace you. Please, introduce your offsider.”

 

“Colonel Andeferon Morn, tenth regiment,” said Luten, ignoring the barbed comment.

 

 “A 2IC from your old regimental command, General Luten?” asked Tibor, locking eyes with the new general.

 

Luten nodded resolutely. “Sir.”

 

Tibor stuck out his bottom lip and nodded slowly, then held out a white-gloved hand to Andeferon. “Welcome to my strategium, colonel. Drink?”

 

A servitor whirred over, its rubber padded caterpillar tread making little to no sound. A deathly, pale-fleshed limb held out a wide silver tray with a selection of beverages and sparkling crystal glasses.

 

Both Luten and Andeferon shook their heads. “No thank you, sir.”

 

Tibor leaned in, his bulk imposing and his white eyes narrowing as his gaze switched from man to man. “I insist.”

 

“Sir,” both men responded in unison, Andeferon reaching out and picking up a liquor glass after Luten.

 

Tibor picked one up also. There was a moment of awkwardness as the three stood there, not moving, before Andeferon realised what was expected of him.

 

“Lord general, the choice is yours, would you prefer wine or something stronger?” asked Andeferon hurriedly, his big, callused hand reaching out to hover over a small selection of wine bottles.

 

“Something stronger. We are not holding wine glasses, after all,” said Tibor, raising his stubby glass to ensure Andeferon could see.

 

As Andeferon reached for a bottle, the lord general sighed loudly. “No, not that one, I’ll have a glass of the 421.M41. A special year, that one.”

 

Andeferon poured into the lord general’s cup first, and then into the other two glasses. He saw a tightening of the man’s thick lips under those foul eyes before he remembered to pour a few drops of water into each glass to release the flavour. The servitor turned and trundled away. Inwardly Andeferon fumed, I’m a soldier, not some bloody serving wench, you pompous arse!

 

Tibor smiled without joy. “You, colonel, are an easy man to read. A typical soldier. Remember your place, Andeferon.”

 

Andeferon quickly hid his shock and looked down at his glass, his cheeks burning. Tibor’s gaze switched back to Luten.

 

“Sir, my apologies on behalf of Colonel Morn, he will become accustomed quickly,” said Luten.

 

Tibor waved it off as if it were nothing. “Do not bother excusing the colonel. Let us discuss, quickly, the time required to complete the planet-side ceremony and move on.”

 

Luten nodded. “The revealing of the statue and headstone shall be today, after the general staff meeting. The entire Arminian division will then need to be lifted back to one of the troop carriers. Just under fifty-five thousand men, four hundred valkyries, fifty vulture gun ships, and two thousand chimeras. Navy estimate has it at four days, sir.”

 

The muscles on the side of Tibor’s jaw clenched and stuck out like thick cables, before releasing. “Unfortunate your predecessor had to allow himself be killed on this worthless planet. Without his funeral ceremony, we could have been on our way to the next planet tomorrow. As it is, we are already in for three weeks of warp travel to get there.”

 

Andeferon forced himself to remain calm, watching his general do the same more successfully out of the corner of his eye.

 

“Annoying, but a must to keep the morale of the men up, I suppose,” mused Tibor whimsically as he took a sip of his drink and turned away. “Join us at your leisure, gentlemen.”

 

As the lord general walked back to the general staff meeting, Luten turned to Andeferon and hissed under his breath, “Ande, this isn’t an inter-regimental strategium, you can’t fire up whenever someone insults you. This is the bloody lord general and the bloody general staff of the battle-group! Get your head out of your arse and at least act like an aide for the next few hours.”

 

“I’m not a...” objected Andeferon.

 

“Colonel, don’t make me repeat myself.”

 

“Yes, sir. I’ll sort it out immediately,” responded Andeferon curtly, fists discreetly clenching by his side.

 

“Gentlemen?” called out the lord general, looking over to them and focussing the entire meeting on their separation. “Won’t you join us? I’d dearly like to get started.”

 

Annoyance flashed across Luten’s face. He turned away from Andeferon and strode over to the tac-table. Andeferon just managed to keep in step as they approached the circle of the general staff. Immediately Andeferon picked out three generals, one colonel, and one surly looking captain from the storm trooper company attached to the battle group. They stood amongst a tactician, a commissar, the master of the navigators, the lord admiral of the navy, and a Mechanicum magos.

 

Leading the colonel around the tac-table, Luten introduced Andeferon to Lord Commissar Lewin Myke, a lean man with a face that reminded him of the hard dark iron edges of a sword breaker, and General Xonin Ject of the 56th Cemar infantry division along with his aide. Andeferon took an immediate dislike to the Cemar general, a weak-chinned man with a sweat sheened face and a manner that reeked of softness. The man’s aide, a Colonel Illen, was the exact opposite; solidly muscled with a strong jaw line. Andeferon noted two small golden aquilas for valour pinned to his grey dress jacket alongside a host of campaign medals.

 

Luten moved him on to General Jon LaFour of the 33rd Parin infantry and General Lombi Bausch of the 21st Alyrian artillery. These two generals appealed to Andeferon’s soldiering mind far more so that Ject. General Bausch was a hard eyed, handsome, middle-aged woman of slight build that spoke of whip-corded muscles beneath her dress yellows. Her dark green eyes shouted intense intelligence in demand of a challenge. LaFour, a stout lean man with short greying hair and hard cold eyes freshly chiselled from an arctic polar ice cap, had a hand equally the size of Andeferon’s, capable of a confident and satisfyingly crushing handshake. Andeferon smiled as he sized the general up subconsciously, remembering the way his father had always taught him that a great way to judge a man’s fighting spirit is through the strong grip of his handshake.

Out of the corner of his eye Andeferon noticed a group of sergeants and lieutenants sitting upon a side bench out of the way, but within earshot of the meeting. They wore different uniforms, a mix of infantry with a scout and armoured cavalry uniform or two, each man in a different state of bored unhappiness. None of those guardsmen met his eye. Andeferon snorted and dismissed them with little afterthought, returning his attention to the men and women around him.

Before long, the lights around the tac-table dimmed and a throat was cleared loudly enough to quiet the assembled generals immediately. Tibor stood upon a slowly rising dais that took him a good meter above the tallest soldier on the floor. He looked down over the assembly, the light of the tac-table playing shadows up his face.

 

“Gentlemen, and lady,” he said, nodding Bausch. “I’d first and foremost like to raise a toast.”

The group raised their glasses.

 

“To a fallen general, a great friend, and a servant of the Emperor.”

 

Glasses clinked and drinks disappeared down greedy gullets. Andeferon pulled his lips back over his teeth as his drink burned its way down to warm his stomach pleasantly.

 

“In four days the Arminians will have completed their funeral rites for their general, and we shall be able to fully depart this system, bound for the next. At this time I would like to welcome General Luten and his offsider, Colonel Morn, to our fold. You will all have known General Luten from previous strategium meetings, but may not know Colonel Morn.

 

“Colonel Morn is the esteemed leader of the elite tenth regiment, having previously led their first company with what I have been told is extreme valour and bravado. Please welcome him warmly.”

 

Faces turned back to Andeferon and glasses were raised once more in welcome.

 

“Can I have a quick appraisal of losses for this planet please,” said Tibor. “Anything of urgent note, such as a lack of rifles and so forth, as well.”

 

The Lord Admiral strode forth. “Two light cruisers now stripped and scuttled into Ryvan’s Belt. Six fighter wings lost. The rest of the fleet is warp and combat ready.”

 

Luten was next. “Two thousand three hundred and forty two men lost. Fifty-five thousand will be ready for duty after the ceremony tomorrow, sir.”

 

Tibor nodded, marking down on his data slate.

 

“Under six thousand lost, sir. I have one hundred and twelve thousand troops embarked and ready for transport,” said General Ject.

 

“Seven and a half thousand lost on this miserable excuse for an Imperial planet, sir, but I’ve got almost two hundred thousand more where those came from,” said General LaFour. “We’ll need the munitorium to divulge a few thousand more flamer units to my men, as we’re running short.”

 

“Noted,” said Tibor.

 

“I’ve thirty thousand Alyrians already in orbit, sir,” said General Bausch. “We sustained minimal casualties. In half a day our artillery pieces should be loaded and my ladies’ll be ready to move on.”

 

“Light casualties,” finished the storm trooper captain.

 

Tibor finished noting down the casualty counts. “Right, that leaves us with just short of four hundred thousand, plus my armoured division. I hope that is enough to get our next job done.”

 

The lord general held up a controller wand and pressed a stud upon it. A previously saved holo-image leapt up for a moment, showing the fleet’s current orbit around the grey globe of Alanta Prime. In the background, the Ryvan’s Belt asteroid string rolled slowly by, bisecting a small piece of the old Orpheus Salient of the Achilus Crusade. The image dropped back to the tac-table quickly and then leapt back up from the centre, revealing a rusty brown coloured planet as it sprung to lightly flickering life and began to rotate slowly before them.

 

Andeferon leaned in closer.

 

“Ronus Four, gentlemen,” said the lord general. “A labour planet; population of approximately eight hundred billion inhabitants. They provide skilled manual workers for almost every manufactorum and harvest planet within a month’s warp travel. Essentially, the planet is breeding and storage. The levies they provide annually to the Guard are in the millions. The Ronus Defence Force is massive, though poorly trained in anything but riot control. The rich here are astronomically so, and the poor live knee high in their own excrement until they are hired off world where they work until the Emperor takes them.

 

“They have also been infected: Infection Protocol red. In lieu of a Splinter Protocol this is our next priority target.”

 

Everyone leaned in closer as a recording began to play.

 

“This is governor Decium Ven Itis, of Ronus Four. 501.576.M41. Calling all military commands in system. As per the Infection Protocol, be advised we have found evidence of genestealer infestation deep within Beta Hive Three. The RDF have been activated and all reserves called for active service. All hives have been advised and have begun security sweeps. Infection Protocol level orange is in place. Stand by for updates. The Emperor protects.”

 

“That was two years ago,” stated Tibor, as he clicked another button upon the controller wand. “Then, six months after the initial transmission.”

 

Andeferon listened intently.

 

“This is governor Decium Ven Itis, of Ronus Four. 451.511.M41. To all military commands in system. We have found the infestation centre at the bottom of Beta Hive Three. The bottom fifteen layers of the hive, along with their inhabitants, have been cleansed by fire. The bugs are assumed dead. Infection Protocol level green is in place. Glory to the RDF. The Emperor protects.”

 

“If Infection Protocol level green is in place, why are we wasting our time on the planet?” asked Ject.

 

Tibor shook his head.

 

“Shut up for a few minutes and you might find out, general,” snarled LaFour, making no effort to hide his disdain for the man.

 

Ject reddened. Colonel Illen looked up at Andeferon and locked eyes for a heartbeat, his look betraying his embarrassment.

 

“If I may,” said Tibor, indicating again with the controller wand. “This is from six months ago.”

 

“Decium Ven Itis, Ronus Thr... no, Four! To all military commands that hear this; send aid immediately. Send whatever you’ve got! Infection Protocol level red. I repeat, level red. They were hiding! They came from nowhere. Three of the smaller hives burned from top to bottom, oh, almighty Emperor forgive me as I send you these tweny billion souls. Look after them as you would my own children.

 

“Five of the larger hives are showing signs, freaks like you wouldn’t believe! Our men are overwhelmed and slaughtered as they confront the foe...”

 

Tibor shut off the recording.

 

“The governor continues along the same line for another five or ten minutes. His reports describe the foe as deep rooted into the hives, attacking key structures and figures, millions turned and billions burned; so on and so forth. The outer planets and systems won’t touch the workforce with the threat of infection. There’s no food going in to slake a hungering populace, and no workers going out to relieve population congestion. Several large-scale uprisings have already been put down, but more are beginning every moment,” Tibor paused for effect.

 

 “That means no guard levies, three hundred thousand of which were supposed to join my fleet, and no workers for the planets who rely on them to meet their quotas. This spirals on to a food and materials shortage in the sector. Shortages that will take months, maybe even years to remedy through increased output from other systems. Again, we will be affected,” continued Tibor, locking eyes with every member of the general staff. “I cannot express to you the importance of this planet in any clearer terms. If it falls, and one of the larger splinter fleets hit the area, we could potentially lose this sector and have a fleet that has fed on the biomass of many trillions of people and the planets they reside upon loose within the Imperium. Does anybody here fail to recognise the trial we face?”

 

There was silence as each solemn individual awaited his next words. Andeferon exhaled, realising he’d been holding his breath as the enormity of the task placed upon them rested upon him.

 

“Sir?” said General Luten.

 

“General Luten,” said Tibor, indicating the general should continue with a flick of his hand.

“It’s rare there would be an infestation and uprising unless there is a splinter fleet nearby, ready to consume the planet. Have we had any word?”

 

The entire room around Andeferon seemed to go quiet. Looking around, it seemed like even the servitors had gone still in anticipation. He knew enough to understand that a splinter fleet was what they all feared most – and what they had been given standing orders to find and destroy. Luten had explained, over a glass of amasec the previous night when the general had handed him his colonel’s pips, that a battle-group of their size could not hope to stop anything more than a small splinter fleet. Andeferon shivered as the memory ran an icy chill of insignificance down his spine.

 

The weedy master navigator stepped forward, putting up a skinny, translucently skinned arm to touch the dark blue shawl worn over his third eye. The navigator was stooped over and had fat blue bruise bags under his sunken eyes. A white handkerchief, stained with pinkish blood and yellow-brown mucus was clutched in his other hand. That the man was under an unknowable strain was obvious from his visible exhaustion.

 

“The way to Ronus is fraught with hidden peril. The warp lingers like heavy storm clouds awaiting an atmospheric shift to unleash its full potential. Something lurks; hangs over this entire region of space like a wet blanket suffocating us, heavy with a predator’s potential. A predator that would step upon us ants without realising we were there on the way to its prey.”

 

The collective assembly looked at him in confusion. The heavy mixture of perplexity and disgust on Andeferon’s face prompted the navigator to further himself, as if talking to a child.

 

“The tyranids. Their very presence, or the lingering aftereffect thereof, I cannot tell. A focus point loiters in this region of the Imperium. Every time we jump, we jump blinder than the last time. More than that I cannot say. They may be here, they may be there, their psychic presence blinds and wounds all of us; it is a constant battle to keep us alive. We’ll not know until they are right upon us. The planet and ship’s augurs are our best early warning system.”

 

There was quiet, for a time, then the navigator sniffed loudly as a fat worm of semi-congealed blood oozed from his nose. He lifted his soiled handkerchief and smeared the blood away.

 

“I must depart to the stasis chamber, sirs, if you will excuse me. The shadow over this region is straining me. I must be fresh for when you decide to jump,” said the navigator, before turning and leaving without acknowledgement.

 

Andeferon watched the hobbling man until he left the strategium, before turning back to Tibor.

 

“Succinctly, we do not know for sure. The best we can get from the data Ven Itis sent out is the region of space surrounding the Ronus system is clear,” said Tibor to a collective sigh of relief. “Though, in truth, gentlemen, that scares me more so. ”

 

“Better the tyranid you know than the tyranid you don’t,” said General Bausch in her sharp voice, her harsh gaze lingering on the tac-table.

 

Tibor nodded. “Well said. All the more reason for us to get our forces moving immediately. I am dividing the fleet. The ships conveying the troops currently in space will depart within the next twelve hours. General Ject, you will transport ten thousand of your men aboard the cruiser Mankind’s Wrath and a further five thousand upon each of the escort cruisers Endurance and Mykar’s Shield. The remainder of your men will come with me under command of General LaFour.”

 

Ject’s jaw tightened and he looked about to object, but was quickly spoken over. Andeferon spied a predatory smile spread over LaFour’s face.

 

“You will await the embarkation of the Arminians upon the ironclad, Emperor’s Bounty, and then follow with all due haste to the Ronus system and rendezvous with the main force at Ronus Four. General Luten assures me the embarkation will only take four days.”

 

Ject was obviously still smarting. “Sir, I... If we are attacked after you are gone, I will not have enough men to hold a world.”

 

Tibor shrugged dismissively. “We all know the xenos hunger. If they were still here, we’d already be knee deep in them. We’ve cleansed this system of its xenos taint, general. I see no risk. I feel I’ve been more than generous with the men I’ve left behind for you.”

 

“The cowardly general always asks for more men. The righteous general asks how he can make each man he does have worth more,” stated LaFour, ice-blue eyes glinting in challenge.

 

“Warmaster Iten Volarnus, M38, if I am not mistaken,” mused Tibor.

 

“Rightly so, lord general,” said LaFour, ginning at Ject.

 

“Sir, I... ah, I ah... the potential of a splinter fleet, ah... the navigator said they could be anywhere…” stammered Ject.

 

Luten stepped forward. “Sir, he has a point. Leave twenty thousand more and a few tank regiments just to be safe.”

 

“I did not think to put you in the same book as Ject,” snarled LaFour.

 

“You would question my courage?” asked Luten, his voice colder than the void outside.

 

LaFour held Luten’s stare for a moment, and then huffed loudly, looking back up to the lord general as if the Arminian was below him. Ject flashed Luten a look of thanks. Andeferon followed Luten’s example, and made a point of ignoring the man. Colonel Illen was right; the Cemar general was an embarrassment.

 

Tibor made a few adjustments to a data slate and raised his hands. “Placate your anger please, gentlemen. I’ve assigned two regiments of my own Severethian battle tanks to the Arminians. I need the foot soldiers for the assault on the hives of Ronus. Lord Admiral Minus, please make the arrangements for the transport immediately, that will be all for the navy today.”

 

The heavyset Lord Admiral Tiberius Minus nodded and left without further word, already speaking into the vox attached to his large augmetic ear unit.

 

“That will be an end to the matter,” said Tibor. “All of you, please refer to the tac-table to see your mens’ ship and command allocations.”

 

Andeferon held back along with the other aides as the generals all moved forward and inspected the information presented to them by the tac-table. Luten and LaFour were done quickly and moved away. Bausch, Darin and Ject lingered as they double-read the information to ensure their understanding. Eventually Ject was the only one left, shaking his head lightly.

 

“What now general? Forgotten how to read?” teased LaFour viciously.

 

“That will be enough, General LaFour,” said Tibor.

 

LaFour scoffed a laugh. “As you say, sir. My most heartfelt apologies, General Ject.”

 

Andeferon looked over to Colonel Illen, who was positively red with shame and anger now, as he watched the exchange between his general and LaFour. Andeferon pitied the poor colonel. The Arminian leaders were all battle hardened. They were strong men from a planet where the Emperor stripped the weak away from the gene pool so that His workers and regiments would be harder. Andeferon could never see himself in a position to appreciate what Illen must be thinking as the Cemar’s weak-willed commander continued to ignore all and scroll feverishly through his data.

 

“Now if that will be all...” began Tibor.

 

“Sir?” started Ject, raising a hand without looking up.

 

Tibor visibly stiffened with annoyance. “You have thirty seconds.”

 

“Sir, I must object! You’ve left me a mix of under strength regiments and reserve companies whilst taking all of my experienced and elite men. One of the companies you’ve left here is an infirm rehabilitation company! Some of them are awaiting augmetic limb implants and haven’t picked up anything more than a bowl of food in months!” finished Ject in an exasperated shout.

LaFour barked a laugh out loud.

 

“You’ll watch your tone when addressing your betters, general,” growled Tibor, his face clouded with indignant rage. “The Arminians will be with you. Follow Luten around for a few days, maybe he’ll show you how to conduct yourself as a servant of the Emperor.”

 

LaFour laughed even harder. Bausch cracked the slightest grin.

 

Ject just looked around at the faces at the table, becoming more incredulous with every moment but unable to form words with his babbling lips. Finally his eyes came to rest on the bench full of sergeants and captains sitting in the shadows. Some of those men sat quietly laughing at him; others stared at him malevolently. Not one face showed any form of sympathy or support.

 

As soon as the grin appeared in the corner of Ject’s mouth, Illen’s head went down. It took only a moment longer for everyone else to catch on.

 

“Oh, for the Emperor’s sake...” began LaFour.

 

“Shut up, LaFour!” shouted Ject, before turning to Tibor.

 

Tibor just raised his eyebrows in anticipation of what was to come as Ject brought a screen full of regiment names and numbers to the centre of the tac-table and enlarged it with a quick swipe-spread of his fingers.

 

“The 65th and 66th Tallon Rangers, the Riven IV armoured, the 5th and 6th Kistanii infantry, the 59th Kodan heavy infantry, the 659th Strachians light infantry; the list goes on!” said Ject excitedly, building momentum. “Individually used up regiments numbering only in the hundreds but collectively there must be five or ten thousand veteran guardsmen languishing in the hulls of those troop ships and cruisers!”

 

“A mongrel regiment...” said Tibor, as if the very name was like rubbing dung worms on his tongue.

 

“You can’t be serious,” said both LaFour and Bausch in unison.

 

“While the fleet is preparing to set off to the jump point they can all be ferried over to the Mankind’s Wrath. Just give them to me and I’ll manage their integration into my forces!”

 

“This is an insane waste of navy resources,” stated the munitorium clerk.

 

“It’s an insane waste of experienced soldiers, is what it is!” shouted Ject.

 

As the argument raged on, Andeferon placed a hand on Luten’s shoulder and pulled him aside.

 

“General, some of those regimental names ring a bell. The 659th Strachians are expert hive fighters and we fought with the 65th Tallon rangers five years ago and they were good. Most of them were slaughtered in the jungles on Dagun, but they were good,” whispered Andeferon.

 

“I remember the Rangers,” said Luten. “What of it?”

 

“General Ject has a point.”

 

Luten nodded for him to continue warily.

 

“Hear me out, sir,” said Andeferon. “It looks like there are five or so thousand experienced fighting men down there. We just spoke about losing our reinforcements to the contamination, we need every man ready to go planetside with a gun in his hand.”

 

“The logistics of putting together a mongrel regiment border on the ridiculous,” hissed Luten. “You’ve got small groups of men from many different worlds and cultures and martial disciplines all shoved into one regiment, do you have any idea how hard that would be to manage?”

 

“Couldn’t agree more sir,” said Andeferon.

 

“Then what is your point, Ande?” asked Luten. “With the threat of the splinter fleet potentially being anywhere, we don’t have the time to mess around with this sort of foolishness.”

 

“Let’s bankroll Ject to do it.”

 

“Bankroll him? What do you think this is, a bidding war?” asked Luten.

 

“That’s exactly what this is,” responded Andeferon, tightening his grip on his general’s shoulder.

“The lord general, the Emperor bless his command decisions, is a cold hearted pompous arse. From the looks of him, he loves his wine and spirits as much as he loves his wars from the safety of his strategium - ”

 

“You tread a thin line, colonel,” interrupted Luten, his eyes narrowing.

 

“Okay, fair call, general. I apologise,” backpedalled Andeferon. “My point being we have a chance to strengthen the forces on the ground with these men. Men who may very well direct the claws and fangs of the horde away from our own boys.”

 

Luten nodded in thought, but was far from convinced.

 

“Who cares if they are co-ordinated?” continued Andeferon, gaining momentum once more. “Who cares if they in-fight? A harsh commissar and a bolt pistol will sort that out for the most part. All that matters is that we have more lasguns on the ground and more pumping hearts for the bugs to stop before they get to us. Support the general. Offer up some of our wine or something to help his cause. Tibor will never go for it otherwise. Then take over and use them as meat shields for our men.”

 

Luten frowned. “You disappoint me, colonel. These are guardsmen we are talking about, not sacrificial lambs.”

 

Andeferon scowled. “You would choose them over us?”

 

Luten locked his harsh stare in his subordinate. “I would value experienced men as more than kindling for the tyranid fire! Let those poor bastards have their retirement, albeit in the hulls of troop ships. Let them languish in peace. You disappoint me, I’ll not entertain this folly further.”

 

Andeferon made to object but was instantly silenced by Luten’s venomous stare. The Arminian general’s ice-cold gaze brooked no further disagreement from his subordinate. 


  • Green Knight, ak-73, Avdnm and 1 other like this

#2 pearldrum1

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 10:01 PM

A few mispellings and awkward sentences. Nothing serious.

 

GET THE NEXT ONE UP!!!



#3 Logen Ninefingers

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Posted 26 February 2014 - 01:19 AM

Yeah, there's bound to be. I wrote the first bit of this about 9 months before He Did His Duty. You'd be surprised how quickly you learn when you really go for broke with writing!

 

I'll get the next bit up soon. Have the first draft of a novel and the beginnings of a grimdark ezine to wrap up. But I'll get it in here soon.

 

Adrian.


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#4 Logen Ninefingers

Logen Ninefingers

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Posted 09 March 2014 - 12:50 AM

Two.

 

Luten turned and walked back to the table. Andeferon shook his head, following him back into the hubbub of the argument. Even the mechanicus representative had joined in now, right in amongst the throng of generals, his mechandrites twisting with annoyance from the polished steel of his piston powered limbs.

 

“This is madness, why are we wasting our time on this?” shouted Bausch, her trademark cool gone.

 

“Ject, you are an absolute fool!” roared LaFour. “Lord General Tibor, you cannot be considering this? Surely not!?”

 

“Fool enough to make use of wasted man power!?” yelled back Ject, his hands gesticulating wildly.

 

“Silence!” thundered Tibor.

 

There was absolute quiet as the lord general’s rage radiated down upon the assembly. Most averted their eyes in shows of embarrassed supplication at their loss of control. Only the magos still stood staring up at the lord general. Andeferon focussed on the magos.

 

“Lord General Adarin Tibor, you promised me some base material for new servitors. Soldiers make excellent base material for battle servitors and from the elevated tone of your general staff’s discussion, you’re going to need some of my praetorians,” stated the magos, his voice soulless.

 

Even Lord General Tibor’s mouth slung open for a moment. “You want… you, what?”

 

“I have scoured your ship’s dungeons for thieves, rapists and murderers. You’re short of the quota promised to me in meeting referenced General strategium resource meeting 1421.236GSRM, held forty three point six standard terran days ago upon the third hour, Imperial standard. I can bring up a recording of the meeting, if it pleases you,” stated the magos.

 

The entire general staff sat gobsmacked; LaFour recovered himself first.

 

“Take the mongrels upon the ships carrying my men,” he said without much conviction. “All these left-overs do is cause trouble amongst the true fighting regiments. I care not what happens to them.”

 

The low ranked men on the bench by the wayside were now earnestly watching the discussion, knowing now their very lives hinged on it. Some had stood, torn between remembering their place and striding forwards to defend themselves. One huge bearded man had tears running down his cheeks. Andeferon tried to push away the guilty feeling of their betrayal that had engulfed him.

 

“Seven cases,” stated Luten, his face barely masking horror at what he was witnessing.

 

Tibor looked down to him as the rest of the meeting focussed on the Arminian. “General?”

 

“Lord general, I have seven cases of Arminian red, bottled two years prior to our departure and now aged perfectly to ten years,” said Luten.

 

Tibor nodded, recovering himself. “I have had a drop of that last we dined together. Yes, it is quite a wonderful vintage. What’s your point?”

 

“Give the left over companies to Ject. Let him build his mongrel regiment. Don’t waste the men. They’ve done the hard yards for you, sir. Lost hundreds of thousands of lives for this mission. They deserve to go out on a battlefield and not on the mechanicum’s assembly lines,” pleaded Luten.

 

Tibor paused for a moment, smothering a smile and putting on a show of consideration. Andeferon watched Luten as he pleaded the lord general with his normally cold and stern eyes. Luten; as hard a man as any Andeferon had ever known, had been born and raised in the hab blocks ringing one of the combat shotgun assembly manufactories on Arminia. A man whose youth had been spent leading hive gangers headlong into brutal knife fights stood like a peasant; begging. It took all of Andeferon’s self control not to explode at the lord general. This fat waste of a Guard uniform was stringing this moment out of Luten. And the white-eyed bastard had recovered himself well enough to vukking well enjoy it.

 

The magos was still fuming. “Lord general. You demand more praetorians, yet resources are not supplied. I cannot…”

 

Luten took a step forward in earnest. “Ten cases and consider me in your debt a favour.”

 

Tibor couldn’t be happier to have done so, a disconcerting glint of sick satisfaction flashing through his bionic eyes as he looked down to his data slate once more to make adjustments. “Gentlemen, consider yourselves in my debt. Ject, those men are yours. You can chase down the lord admiral and explain to him what you want. His unhappiness at these non-scheduled transports will be supreme.”

 

Ject nodded gleefully and turned, aide in tow, and quickly marched out of the strategium. Andeferon could have chased the coward down and beaten the snot out of him. Not even a nod of thanks.

 

If the magos could have had a facial expression, it would have been livid rage. Without further word he turned and left, the scurrying of his adamantium leg mounts upon the pearl tiles like those of a hull spider.

 

Tibor looked to the rest of the assembly before shutting down the tac-table display. “That will be all lady and gentlemen.”

 

With that the general staff meeting dispersed quickly.

 

Andeferon turned to Luten as they both walked away from the tac-table. “Sir, I...”

 

“Shut up colonel,” snapped Luten as he continued marching stiffly from the strategium.

 

Lord Commissar Lewin Myke fell into step beside them. “General, I applaud your decision to help Ject take on the mongrel regiment. There is nothing the Emperor despises more than a waste of good guardsmen. They should be dying in battle for Him, and naught else.”

 

“It was not even a decision,” snarled Luten, still raging. “To even think of just giving good honest guardsmen to the mechanicum to be slaughtered like wild hab dogs and rebuilt into mindless servitors is... is...”

 

“I understand you loud and clear, general,” cut in Myke. “I only came by to let you know I shall be assigning myself to the regiment. They are going to need the best if they are to have a chance. Speaking of which, a pity you did not take them on.”

 

Luten shook his head. “The Arminians could not accommodate them. We are a sledgehammer regiment, ever destined for the thickest of the fighting. We are fex slayers, the scourge of stealers, the wall of the battle group as solid and sure as an adamantium shield plate on the ironclad. We are the Widow Makers. Splinter hunters. Scouts, basic infantry and ex tank crews would be...”

 

Luten locked eyes with Andeferon.

 

“... just meatshields.”

 

Andeferon reddened a little, with anger or embarrassment he could not yet fathom. The commissar read the moment quickly and changed the subject much to the colonel’s relief.

 

“How long until the ceremony, general?” he asked. “He was a good man, and I see it as justly fitting that the division he raised from his home world is there to see him off. In fact, if I am not mistaken, are they solely awaiting your arrival to begin?”

 

“That they are, lord commissar,” said Luten.

 

“May I attend?” asked Myke.

 

Luten shook his head. “My apologies lord commissar, but this is a day of mourning for an Arminian hero, that we must do it on foreign soil is insult enough. It is a private matter.”

 

“Ah, had I had you at the schola progenium as a young man you would have sent me away smiling as if you had just complimented, as opposed to rebuffed, me,” said Myke.

 

Luten dipped his head. “Apologies lord commissar; I am a soldier. Manners are something I am still trying to add to my arsenal.”

 

Myke stopped and saluted smartly. “To the departed and to the future, may the Emperor watch over you and your men.”

 

<-->

 

The drop ship arrived less than an hour after jettisoning from the immense hanger door. It had taken the navy over half the day to requisition a transport for them, long enough for Andeferon to see most of the fleet depart towards the jump point. As they’d travelled down through the atmosphere he’d tried to keep note of where the ships might be hitting their jump point. He was certain he’d seen a flash of light as the fleet had torn into the warp. He’d made the observation to Luten in the hope of bridging the silence between them that had lingered for their wait and descent. Luten laughed and called him a simple idiot.

 

As the doors thumped down Andeferon followed the general out in to the late afternoon summer heat and on to the immense stone plinth that sat underneath the ten-metre tall brass statue of the Arminian’s fallen commander. Up above the low lying haze of post-war smoke the sky was clear apart from some distant autocumulous lazily sitting above the distant plains, the late afternoon sun transforming their colours to look like a dull fires reflection upon an inverted snowscape. The two moons and distant stars had already begun to peek through the darkening sky.

 

In the distance the left over whisps of smoke rose lazily up from the piles of ashes that had been the bugs and their foul cults. Tens of thousands of mutant freaks and purestrains turned to ashes in the broad plains ringing Lerrunhive’s outer hab flats. Within the boundaries of the hive cremhouses burned day and night while priests murmured incessantly to bid those civilians, PDF and soldiers safe journey to His side.

 

“I’ll never understand why our people turn for them,” mused Andeferon. “stupid bastards must have a death wish. His Guard will slaughter them every time.”

 

“You’re assuming they have a choice,” said Luten quietly, as if to himself more that the Colonel.

 

“General?” asked Andeferon, not sure he’d heard his superior properly.

 

Luten smiled, somewhat sadly. “It matters not. They are dead, the planet is cleansed, our men have survived, and we’re off to another war zone.”

 

“The Emperor does love his Widow Makers,” said Andeferon, quickly forgetting his general’s morose comment.

 

Luten’s face warmed at the sound of his entire division coming to attention in unison. “That He does, colonel, that He does.”

 

Andeferon turned and marvelled at the tens of thousands strong Arminian host that stood before him in perfect rank and file. They stood sectioned off by regiment, company, platoon, and squad. Ceremonial regimental banners flapped in the residue downdraft of the drop ship. Fifty-five thousand of his fellow home worlders, drafted from the open shield hives and vast hab networks of Arminia. Colonel Andeferon Morn had not seen this since he and his division, eight years ago a hundred and fifty thousand men strong, had stood upon the assembly field waiting to embark the drop ships and step off their home world in search of bloody adventure. He found himself smiling, almost forgetting the hell storm they would be transported to in a matter of weeks.

 

He cast his eyes out to the back of the division, to where his regiment stood with their dormant valkyrie troop ships, the sun shining from the armoured glass of their canopies. Fifty vulture gunships hovered like lazy wolf wasps above. Four thousand men of the 10th, standing in front of their obsessively maintained ships in their thick carapace armour, concrete grey combat fatigues, and full faced rebreather helms. His men held a mixture of lasrifles, helguns, flamers, drum fed automatic combat shotguns, plasma and bolt weapons slung over their shoulders or resting on tripods. Four thousand elite men that were now his. His Widow Makers.

 

“Accompany me upon the dais for my speech?” asked General Luten.

 

“Respectfully, no sir, I’d like to spend the ceremony with my men,” responded Andeferon.

 

Luten smiled sadly. “I expected as much. Enjoy your time leading the men, Ande, they are the best Arminia has to offer.”

 

Andeferon saluted and put on his helmet, feeling the vox mic nestle against his cheek. “Morn to Valkyrie One. Pick up at the dais immediately.”

 

“Copy that, sir,” said the pilot’s voice.

 

 One of the troopships rose confidently from the ground, all soldiers within twenty metres smoothly taking a knee as it hovered over them briefly and then rose to twenty metres before dipping its nose and flying slowly over the formation. The troopship banked and turned as it presented its side to Andeferon, a gloved soldier manning a barrel-capped heavy bolter reaching out a hand of help.

 

Andeferon took the proffered hand and leapt aboard. Immediately the valkyrie rose and flew back to its space in the formation. As it was touching down less than a minute later the command vox burst to life with chatter.

 

“Command Relay Override... All local command vox networks… Emergency threat level red… Repeat level red.”

 

“What in the name of the Emperor is that?!”

 

“Off to port! Two hundred thousand kilometres and clo…”

 

“...fast, so fast!”

 

“Where did that bastard come from?”

 

“Ryvan’s Belt! Hiding in the Belt!”

 

“Break orbit! Break formation!”

 

“Is that the...”

 

“It’s hit the Bounty!”

 

Andeferon immediately cut the link and voxed the general. “Sir, are you getting this?”

 

There was silence for a moment. “Sir?”

 

“Colonel, a splinter fleet has ambushed us,” said Luten. “Emperor save us all.”

 

Andeferon felt his heart start to pound. Vuk vuk vuk vuk vuk.

 

Ject’s words came to mind. I won’t have enough men to hold a world…

 

Andeferon forced himself to think. He forced a deep breath to still his hammering heart and racing mind.

 

“If we try to get space borne in those drop ships we’ll be minced grox meat before we break into the void,” said the colonel.

 

“Agreed, hold for now, embark your men but hold position,” responded Luten.

 

Andeferon cut the link as he heard the general providing prep and hold fast orders to the rest of the regiment. He could hear the coughing start of two thousand chimera engines amongst the idling whine of his valkyries and vultures.

 

“Captains,” he voxed on the closed regiment channel. “Embark the men.”

 

“Sir? What’s going on?” asked Captain Mander of third company.

 

“Embark the men, captain,” responded Andeferon. “I’ll fill you in as I find out more. Get the pilots to cycle up the engines, full tactical alert.”

 

A host of affirmatives clicked off and Andeferon stepped to the side as the nine men of his command squad filed past him and jumped aboard Valkyrie One. He nodded to each man reassuringly as they passed him. Short and squat Olyvar Heskon jumped past with his massive vox system strapped to his broad back. Corpsman Thymit Ollins held his lasrifle by its carry handle in his left hand while his right did last minute checks through his already checked field kit. Asys Cuvue had his bulky bolter held across his thick forearms while sergeants Rian and Verton jumped aboard cradling stocky automatic shotguns with deep underslung ammo drums. His three special weapons troopers boarded next, trooper Sau nodding to his colonel respectively.

 

Last to jump on was his shield bearer, Honorary-Captain Vittus, a two and a quarter meter tall bull of a man carrying a holstered plasma pistol and ceramite shield over a meter in diameter. Whilst not standard Imperial Guard, the shield bearer was a relic position and rank from the days before the arrival of the Imperium, when the Arminians marched across open fields in their blacksmith forged steel armour and hacked at one another with sword and shield.

 

“With your leave, colonel,” said the big veteran.

 

“It is given,” responded Andeferon, giving the honorary-captain permission to depart his side.

 

Andeferon was about to climb aboard when his attention was pulled to the blue sky above. Reaching up to the right side of his helmet he flicked a small switch and then toggled a tiny roller to magnify the vision of his visor. At such long range he took a few minutes to work out what it was, and what surrounded it.

 

Immediately his colonel rank-spec helmet flashed a trajectory warning icon. His memory raced through the vox traffic he had accidentally picked up and then as the falling object smashed through speed barrier after explosive speed barrier like an immense meteor, it became horrifyingly evident what he was looking at.

 

“Holy Emperor, it’s the bloody ironclad, it’s the Emperor’s Bounty!” he said to himself as the fireball got larger by the second. “Captains! Incoming! Grab whoever else you can fit in your ships and lift off in fifteen seconds! Get as far away as you can!”

 

“General! General! Have you...” yelled Andeferon, not waiting for the affirmatives of his captains.

 

“Yes colonel, I have seen it, we’ve a minute at most,” said Luten calmly as panic began to sweep through the division and men began to stampede.

 

“I’m lifting off to get you now,” said Andeferon urgently. “I’ll have you out of the impact zone, sir.”

 

“Colonel, that thing coming down is millions of tonnes of adamantium. It’s an ironclad and it’s heading nose first for us,” said Luten. “You and I both know that anyone caught within ten kilometres of the impact is going to be vaporised by the shock wave. Lift off and get out now, colonel.”

 

“But general!”

 

Lift off now colonel!

 

Andeferon clicked off his link and screamed in frustration within the confines of his helmet. He waved to his eagerly awaiting pilot who kicked the engines to overdrive and speared the valkyrie low and away from the statue. He absently noted that his was the last valkyrie to lift off, while the vultures were already roaring off into the distance.

 

“Get as many men away as you can, colonel, and come back for survivors. Those are saviour pods coming down with the Emperor’s Bounty, don’t leave those that survive the drop to be mopped up by the bugs,” there was a pregnant pause.

 

Andeferon looked out the open cargo door. The ironclad filled a large piece of the sky above like a world ending meteor, horrible light covering the ground and the men below it as its bulk blotted out the sun but the shredding remnants of its thick adamantium reinforced prow glowed blindingly. In the sky above the falling ship a huge blue puff of blue-white flame erupted outwards as the engines spasmodically and explosively coughed their last impotent breath into the atmosphere, flash boiling any unfortunate native creatures within two kilometres. It hadn’t seemed possible for the falling mass of flame and steel to accelerate any faster, but with that burst two more immense white rings of superheated air discharged from around the prow with claps like the death of mountains.

 

“It’s been an honour serving with you, Ande,” said Luten.

 

“Vuk! General…” yelled Andeferon, looking around for something, anything he could do, his limbs full of nervous and useless energy as the valkyrie sped farther away from Luten.

 

“Let it go, Ande. The Widow Makers are yours now.”

 

The colonel’s fist slammed into the grey steel wall beside him as his head dropped in inevitable defeat. Andeferon could almost see the sad smile he knew Luten would be wearing. Outside the ground rushed by at blurring speed as the turbojet engines screamed throatily, unleashed to their full potential, but were almost drowned out by the roar of the supersonic million tonne missile headed for the earth.

 

Despite the vox against his ear, Andeferon struggled to hear anything further.

 

“Sir, what?” he yelled, cupping his hands over the side of the helmet, making just enough difference to hear.

 

“...with you, Ande. You’ve been a good soldier. A good friend.”

 

There was roaring static for a moment. The calm before the impact. Where lips moved but nothing came out, where the world outside slowed to the pace of a leisurely walk, where the power of cataclysmic potential took over.

 

“Serve Ject as you served me. The man needs you to help him. These men need you to help him. Not just ours, all of them.”

 

Andeferon’s head sagged further and his eyes closed.

 

The world outside the shuddering hold went fluorescent white.

 

The shockwave of the impact slammed into Valkyrie One three seconds later.

 

<-->

 

General Xonin Ject stood aboard the bridge of the Mankind’s Wrath watching in morbid fascination as the ambushing tyranid fleet erupted from Ryvan’s Belt. Inwardly he cursed the sheer stupidity of the naval officers around him. How in the name of the Emperor had the bugs ambushed them?

 

His eyes strafed the light blue curve of the stratosphere as the Mankind’s Wrath readied to break from orbit and make for open space before it was trapped between the massive spacefaring beasts of the enemy and the planet. Like tiny black specks below them, drop ships trailed to the planet’s surface to where the eye-burning bright flash of light had signalled the death of the Emperor’s Bounty and so many tens of thousands of Cemars, Arminians and navy crewmen.

 

Ject signed resignedly. He’d done all he could for the men on the ground, if any had gotten away from the massive impact. Despite the objections of the naval staff he had ordered his men to the surface. He’d taken action without consulting the navy captain, in sending those men planetside, but he was certain his action had been just and right. In hindsight, he almost wished he’d gone with them.

 

Up here, in the cold of the void, one of those leviathans might destroy all of them in the space of a heartbeat. He’d even heard horrible stories of ones that could grapple with the ship, sucking out every biological organism in a few short minutes to be digested and broken down into tyranid biomatter. The general shuddered at the thought of the few thousand of his own regiment and the remaining mongrels he had kept in the void suffering such a fate should the fleet not get them clear of the planet in time. At least those who had gone planet side had a chance. It wasn’t much of a chance but it was better than what they had in space.

 

Ject resignedly closed his eyes for a moment. He was sure he would be dead sooner rather than later. Nothing could stop what he knew was coming. An avalanche of bioflesh of one mind. A mind with a single purpose. Complete domination.

 

Looking once more into the black of the void Ject noted the brave tiny silver specks of the interceptor squadrons in V formations as they flew towards them. Every man and woman in those interceptors would already know that theirs was a suicide mission, a desperate attempt to buy enough time for the cruiser and light cruisers to get clear of the planet. The ambush fleet looked immense to Ject, that tremendous single ship surrounded by its escorts and drones taking up a massive part of the bridge’s viewing portal, while representing only a small part of the overall splinter fleet Tibor had them chasing. Ject laughed to himself, the name splinter fleet was at complete odds with what command had assigned to the remnant pieces of the great incursions that had taken Astartes, hundreds of millions of guardsmen, and a large portion of the segmemtum’s navy fleet to stop.

 

The Nids were like a disease to the Imperium’s body, mused Ject. No matter how many times you stopped them, how many you shot, burned, blew up, or virus bombed, the leftovers always came back in a thousand different places. And when they came back, they came back hungry.

 

On the bridge’s tac-table, Ject could see already see the two light cruisers were forming up around the Mankind’s Wrath, their captains readying their crews for the suicidal blockade run they were about to embark upon in an attempt to get into clear space. If they could get clear, Ject envisaged they could manoeuvre and attack from hiding, perhaps even in Ryvan’s Belt like the bugs had, until reinforcements could be called back from Ronus Four. Ject could hear the communications with the gun crews who were preparing consecutive full spreads of torpedoes and charging the lance batteries. Orders were shouted across the room and confirmations passed in clipped naval battle-speak, a language the general had no hope of learning.

 

Above the hubbub of the bridge Ject could hear screams, inhuman screams, screams that should have been reserved for those unfortunate enough to have their sanity shredded and torn away. They drifted down the corridors and through the bulkheads like flayed souls looking for salvation. He winced as their manic sounds scratched at his reddening ears and his despairing mind. Around him he saw several ratings visibly cower from the sounds that seemed to ignore the dampeners studding the walls.

 

He’d heard the effects of the tyranid’s presence upon those that could see into the warp before. Heard it more times than he cared to remember in the last eight years of cat and mouse warfare, and each time prayed it would be the last time. Before the master of the navigators had arrived Ject already knew the man’s charges were insane or dead, having been brought out of protective stasis chambers too early. Captain Praxys clipped his shoulder as he marched through the bridge.

 

“Throne, General!” barked the big captain. “Stick to a wall, you’re in the way!”

 

Ject nodded, looking around forlornly. He knew he was, he just wasn’t sure he cared enough right now to do anything about it. His view of the end of his life was pretty good from where he was standing through the bridge’s viewport. A naval rating bumped into him, spinning his dazed form a half step around. His eyes settled on a long range vox operator as the young rating looked around at the organised chaos of the bridge, seemingly without much purpose.

 

Ject waited for his brain to get into motion and realise that he was an Imperial Guard general and that he was bloody well still alive before he strode over to the man, reinvigorated with some small sense of purpose. “Rating! Get me a link to somebody planetside!” he barked at the surprised young man.

 

The operator hesitated, his eyes nervously flickering around looking for a naval officer to confirm for a second and then nodded to himself and began twisting brass dials and playing his fingers along scrawling wavelength frequencies upon a pict screen for signs of contact. Every few seconds he would call out a code identifier, or change a dial or small lever. Ject just stood there tapping his foot ever more urgently, trying to ignore the rumblings through the deck as the immense cruiser made final adjustments for the blockade run.

 

The captain strode by once more, but halted this time. “Ject? Why are you wasting that man’s time?”

 

“I’m trying to let the Arminians know what’s happening, Captain,” said Ject, trying to maintain his calm.

 

“Pointless,” stated the captain heartlessly. “The main battle fleet jumped while the nids were here. Bastard bugs just being in an area plays havoc with warp travel. They are, for all of our intensive purposes, lost. We’ll not find them and they’ll not find the Ronus system with the warp storm they probably went into. The entire navigator cadre in their fleet is probably dead or uselessly insane. Bloody Tibor was a fool and now he’s probably killed the entire fleet, Emperor rest their souls.”

 

“But those men…” said Ject weakly.

 

“The soldiers dirtside are already dead, they just don’t know it. We need to break out and escape, cut our losses. We’ll need the Emperor himself to smile upon us just to get away,” responded Praxys.

 

“So you’ve no intention of staying in system to try and support the men I’ve just sent to the surface?” asked Ject incredulously.

“What’s the point? We’ve no chance against what’s coming and neither do they. Get the men you have up here to the armsmen stations,” said the captain, turning to leave.

 

Ject stared at him in utter disbelief.

 

The captain turned back, holding his gaze while still walking away. “See that out there?” he barked, pointing at the immense ship at the centre of the tyranid mass. “That’s a Hive class ship. That alone could kill us before we landed a shot on its hide! Those escort and cruiser class bugs surrounding it can wipe our fleet out in one volley. Those little bastards around all of them could swarm us and the last thing you’ll see is a bug eating your guts while you mewl like a child!”

 

Ject just stood there, his face clouded with embarrassed anger.

 

“Do you understand? Do you? There is enough out there in that fleet to take all three of my ships a hundred times over,” roared the captain before taking a breath to calm himself somewhat. “Next time ask me about my plans for my ships before you go and do something stupid like that. Those men’s deaths are on your hands, general. If, by some miracle we make it out of here you can live the rest of your days with that weight on your soul.”

 

Praxys seemed to take some sort of sick pleasure in informing Ject of his mistake. Hard emphasis was placed on control of the fleet by the stocky man. Ject felt his heart fall within him. Another failure, another man stepping all over him just like LaFour had hours before. He sometimes wondered why the lord general had raised him from his happy position amongst the ranks to take on the role of leading the Cemar division. It was almost a cruel joke that a man like he, a former munitorium liaison with a rank by necessity and not for leadership, should be handed over one hundred thousand lives and command. He shook his head, command could be a curse.  

 

The Emperor helps those who first help themselves. He tests us to ensure we are worthy of Him. For it is not His responsibility to watch over us mere guardsmen, but ours as members of mankind’s shield to shed our blood for what He gave us.

 

Ject continued to watch the captain walk away from him as the regimental prayer trailed through his mind. A slight pang of nausea made him taste bile as he realised he’d just sent Colonel Illen and seven thousand men of the third Cemar regiment, two regiments of Severethian armour, any scraps of other regiments that had yet to disembark from the transports from the rest of the fleet, a few fighter wings, some munitorium pilots and their loads, and old Lord Commissar Myke to an abandoned death.

 

He had to do something. He would not spend his last moments languishing in self-defeat and pity. He would not go face the Emperor upon His golden throne as a failure. Colonel Illen’s face came to mind. To see that man look at him with anything but shame or disgust would make this moment worth it. He would bloody well find a way or get court martialled trying. But how?

He looked about, men ran left and right and orders were shouted into the maelstrom of sound and activity around him. His quick bout of courage faded as he realised he didn’t know where to start. Inside, he railed at himself, what good was this epiphany if he couldn’t even start down the track to self-redemption? He was too far from the strategium to access the vast vox network there. It was too late to board a drop ship with more troops. He couldn’t commandeer the fleet, if they could even break out in the first place. There was no way they were getting messages through the warp to wherever the rest of the battle group was. Throne, there had to be something! Give me something!

 

Closing his eyes he began to pray once more, Emperor, who watches over Mankind...

 

“Sir!?” yelled the rating. “I’ve found live vox traffic!”

 

Ject’s eyes snapped open. “Get me a line to someone now!”

 

A few moments later the operator handed him a headset and a vox mic.

 

Ject cleared his throat and raised the mic to his lips. He would get these ships turned around and he would come back for these men. He didn’t know how but he would make it happen. He didn’t even know if they would get past the splinter fleet. He had to give those men on the ground something to cling on to when the spores began to rain from the sky and men started dying in their droves. He had to let them know that he had not forgotten them and that they would be back.

 

He had to give them hope where sanity would say there was none.

 

He owed those men that much.


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#5 pearldrum1

pearldrum1

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Posted 09 March 2014 - 10:58 PM

 

“Sir, what?” he yelled, cupping his hands over the side of the helmet, making just enough difference to hear.

 

“...with you, Ande. You’ve been a good soldier. A good friend.”

 

 

Damn, all my feels are belong to this.

 

 

They are, for all of our intensive purposes, lost

 

AHHH! Should read: "...for all intents and purposes, lost." A commond mistake, but one that needs to die like the filthy Tyranids against waves of holy bolters and flamers.

 

Awesome entry as always.



#6 Logen Ninefingers

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Posted 10 March 2014 - 04:22 AM

Balls, one of those silly mistakes made on the fly! Nice pick up (maybe you should become an editor mate). Glad you enjoyed the next instalment. 



#7 Avdnm

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Posted 12 March 2014 - 05:59 AM

I really enjoyed reading, once again :) Keep going!

 

Something I found along the way:

 

"On the bridge’s tac-table, Ject could see already see"



#8 Logen Ninefingers

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Posted 15 March 2014 - 04:46 PM

Cheers Avdnm! nice pick up. Just goes to show that a good editor is worth their weight in gold to a writer.


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#9 Avdnm

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Posted 17 March 2014 - 03:25 AM

You really wouldn't want to read the newer warhammer books black library released in german. It's almost like they had no editor at all.


Edited by Avdnm, 17 March 2014 - 03:25 AM.


#10 pearldrum1

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Posted 17 March 2014 - 06:49 AM

You really wouldn't want to read the newer warhammer books black library released in german. It's almost like they had no editor at all.

 

Oh, great. Luckily, I can't!



#11 Avdnm

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Posted 17 March 2014 - 07:30 AM

Well, I just switched to the english originals. Even though it's harder to read for me (warhammer literature uses a lot of uncommon terms for a not-native-speaker), it's worth the effort.


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#12 Logen Ninefingers

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Posted 21 March 2014 - 03:14 PM

There are still plenty of mistakes in the English ones!

#13 Avdnm

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Posted 24 March 2014 - 03:00 AM

Yeah, but I don't see those as much as in german. You know, mother-language and stuff :D



#14 Logen Ninefingers

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Posted 12 April 2014 - 12:34 AM

Three.

 

“General Luten! Colonel Morn! Respond!”

 

Andeferon moaned as his pounding head was assailed by the urgent and almost whinging voice.

 

“General Luten! Colonel Morn! This is General Ject aboard the Mankind’s Wrath, for the love of the Throne respond!”

 

Andeferon winced and tried to stifle a cry as more of his peaceful unconsciousness drifted away and his body began to scream out in agony. His eyes opened to the destroyed interior of Valkyrie One. His command squad were shredded. Pieces of them lay everywhere. The twisted grey interior paint was sprayed lustily with the lifeblood of his men. Twisted and shattered and torn steel had impaled torsos and sliced messily through limbs.

 

“This is General Ject aboard the Mankind’s Wrath. Any surviving Arminian forces, respond immediately!”

 

Pain lanced through his shoulder as Andeferon reached up to trigger his helmet’s vox. “General, I hear you.”

 

“Thank the Emperor! Who is this?” demanded Ject.

 

“Colonel Morn...”

 

“Then General Luten...” trailed off Ject.

 

“Is dead,” finished Andeferon.

 

“But you live, colonel. The Emperor protects,” responded Ject after a brief silence.

 

“It bloody well doesn’t feel that way,” groaned Andeferon as he tried to sit up, his hands and eyes running over his carapace armoured body, checking for injuries or wounds. His jaw clamped as the broken ends of his ribs grated against each other.

 

“Colonel. Repeat last statement.”

 

“Forget it,” grumbled Andeferon under his breath. “What the vuk just happened? Where did that come from?”

 

“Colonel, round your men up, get back to the crash site and pick up survivors. I’ve sent reinforcements to you but they will be a couple of hours in deployment. We lost low orbit to the bugs straight after those transports launched.”

 

“You’ll what? You’re leaving us?” asked Andeferon, suddenly wide awake.

 

“We’ve already left. We had no choice; we’re outnumbered and outgunned. We’ll be back in a few weeks with the battle group,” said Ject.

 

“A few bloody weeks!” roared Andeferon, the sound sending his head pounding all the harder.

 

“I haven’t got time to argue with you colonel! If you want to survive the next thirty minutes you need to move, and you need to move now.”

 

Andeferon cut off the link without responding.

 

He pushed himself to his feet shakily, throwing out a hand to catch the door as his legs buckled. He screamed out in pain as his bruised or fractured collarbone protested at the weight he placed upon it. Raising his head, he got his first view of the utter destruction the iron clad had wrought upon the earth, and upon his beloved division.

 

Thickening dust and smoke kept visibility to only limited, though the hulking wall of earth that bordered the impact crater could be seen like the silhouette of a mountain range. Fires raged out of control, anything that could burn was either already charred or still burning. Palls of smoke soared high into the air, reaching up to a distantly blurry dissipating mushroom cloud. The very air felt alight on his skin. He could make out six other valkyrie wreckages, each one more ruined than the last. Men who had been tossed from the troop holds onto the ground lay still, their clothes and flesh dancing with yellow and white flame.

 

Turning his attention back inside the hold he stumbled amongst the sprawled bodies, looking for signs of life amongst the ruin. Only three men lay with all of their limbs intact and without a jagged piece of metal piercing their armour-plated bodies. Andeferon rolled the first one over onto his back gingerly, and immediately averted his eyes. Trooper Cuvue had struck something face first, shattering his helmet visor and caving in his head.

 

Andeferon turned to the next man, a metre-wide ceramite shield with a deep gouge through it was still strapped to his forearm and fist. Please, thought Andeferon, Please be alive. Honorary-Captain Adrik Vittus groaned. The colonel almost cried out in delight as the massive man rolled onto his back, looking first at Andeferon and then down at his shield arm.

 

“Adrik, can you stand?” asked Andeferon, offering his hand.

 

“Sir; shield took the brunt,” he wheezed as he tried to sit up. “Shoulder’s broken. Gah.

 

Andeferon leant down and unstrapped the shield from the big man’s forearm and then helped him sit up against the wall. Vittus removed his badly damaged helmet and dropped it to the ground, his square jaw like a small anvil and his deep set grey eyes squinted in agony. His short shaved hair was beaded with sweat and purple bruises were already starting to show on his scalp.

 

“Sir, help me up,” his voice grated as he reached up to take Andeferon’s hand.

 

Andeferon helped the big man up, his legs quaking as he took the weight, and his breath labouring. The honour-captain’s shield arm hung limp, but Andeferon undid one of the clasps on the side of the big man’s vest and tucked the arm inside. Vittus cried out more than once, but by the end his arm was held securely against his body.

 

“Check on the others,” said Andeferon without much conviction, and turned to walk out of the twisted door.

 

He lifted his hand to his vox button. “Morn to all Arminian airborne units. Come in, Valkyrie One is down, request pick up.”

 

He waited a few seconds, strolling further away from the wreckage of Valkyrie One to loosen the bruised muscles in his legs, before repeating himself. He was cut off.

 

“Colonel, Valkyrie Two-One responding and en-route to your position,” responded the droning voice of a pilot.

 

“Valkyrie Two-One, advise ETA,” responded Andeferon.

 

He never heard the response as a white-hot ball of light flashed past his shoulder and slammed into something behind him that screeched inhumanely. He ducked and reached for a helpistol that was no longer in his hip holster as Vittus walked towards him firing shot after shot of burning plasma past and over him.

 

Andeferon spun to see a tangled mess of burnt limbs, claws and teeth melt to the ground as the superheated discharge of Vittus’s pistol destroyed the genestealer. He stood and limped quickly back to the ruin of Valkyrie One. He needed a gun. Vittus fired past him again, the shot leaving a white after-image across his vision.

 

“Bastard spores are already down! Back into the valkyrie!” yelled Andeferon as he passed his shield bearer.

 

Vittus began to take backwards steps as three creatures ran at him, their powerful legs whipping them across the burnt earth, jaws distended wide showing a vicious forest of needle-sharp teeth. Chitinous armour covered in taught alien flesh blurred as the creatures dug their thick, wickedly clawed feet into the earth and accelerated, small beady black eyes glistening with feral hunger and horrible unified intelligence.

 

Andeferon leapt into the wreckage and searched around desperately for a weapon. He picked up an automatic shotgun by its pistol grip and hefted it, only to find the barrel had bent out of shape. Outside, the big shield bearer cursed as his pistol ran hot, and turned to run. He was going to be too slow, the beasts were right on his heels. Immediately Andeferon saw Vittus had only moments to live. He spied a barrel and dropped to his knees to roll a body away.

 

He found the lightweight stock of an AR2 Tekla-pattern lasrifle and pulled it confidently from beneath the decapitated body of Corpsman Ollins. Ollins was the only man in his command squad that carried such a reliable weapon, and as Andeferon sighted down the rear drum sight atop the carry handle he was glad for every bit of the nine-hundred millimetre long piece of Aquila stamped Imperial manufacturing beauty.

 

Ollins, as always, had the shot intensity up to its maximum. Andeferon’s first shot swung wide of the lead stealer, but the second punched through its nose and explosively cooked whatever the xenos filth called a brain out the back of its head. It took three more shots to bring down the second beast as Vittus launched himself past the colonel and into the valkyrie. The stealer tumbled end over end in death, and landed mere metres from Andeferon’s feet.

 

With the third monster following the second so closely there was no time for Andeferon to change his aim and shoot the final one. A huge clawed arm speared out for his body, barely missing him but wrenching the lasrifle from his hands as he threw himself backwards to the floor. Immediately it was upon him. Immense jaws snapped air once, twice, and then flashed by his head, teeth burying into the body of the fallen trooper he’d landed upon as he rolled away into a corner.

 

The beast reared and flicked its head, flinging the body – minus a chunk of its torso – out of the valkyrie, leaving a slipstream of flying gore, and then turned to pounce on Andeferon. The colonel closed his eyes. There was nowhere to go. Emperor, welcome me to your side...

 

A concussive bang reverberated throughout the shell of Valkyrie One. A nanosecond later, the xenos filth slammed into Andeferon and lay still, it’s cored body still pumping viscous deep purple fluid in a multitude of thick ropy jets. Andeferon couldn’t move. He could see the open gullet of the beast, a meaty chunk of shredded flesh still lanced upon those yellowing teeth, sliding down against his visor and catching against the edge of his rebreather mask. One of the teeth carved a slow gouge across the flexi-glass right in front of his eye as the body slowly slid down.

 

Then the carcass was gone, dragged off of him by the towering Vittus, a smoking bolt gun hanging from his shoulder.

 

“Sir, we need to get going,” said the big man. “Take this, it damn near broke my wrist.”

 

Vittus dropped the bolt gun into Andeferon’s lap. The weapon was heavy and large, not quite Astartes class, but still large enough to be considered a heavy assault weapon for his regiment. Before he stood, Andeferon laid the bolter across his lap and ejected the drum clip and checked the load, quickly snapping it back in satisfied it was only minus the one shot. As he stood, he racked the slide.

 

Vittus had used the contents of a few of the fallens’ water bottles to cool off his plasma pistol, and the dull red glow of the barrel faded back to its normal colour.

 

“Come on, move out. Let’s make sure there aren’t any more of those little bastards near by,” ordered Andeferon.

 

Vittus seemed hesitant for a moment.

 

“Vittus?”

 

“The shield; I cannot leave it,” said the big man, his eyes locked squarely on the ripped piece of adamantium lying in the centre of the hold.

 

“We’ll get a new one forged,” responded Andeferon, his eyes flicking between the shield bearer and the hold door.

 

Vittus was quiet for a moment, his face contemplating. “Sir, that shield has protected the Colonel of the 10th regiment for eight years. I have held it for two of those years. I cannot leave it. Strap it to my back.”

 

“We don’t have time for this, Vittus. Our bird will be here soon. I want a secure pick up site,” said Andeferon, beginning to lose his temper.

 

“Sir, please, the men need to see it. They need to see ceramite forged on Arminia Secundus watching over their colonel. Think of all the men we’ve lost, it’s for them; we are mankind’s shield… the Guard that is... I... I need it sir,” admitted the huge honour-captain.

 

Andeferon stared at him, malevolence eventually turning to acceptance.

 

“Fine,” snapped Andeferon and slung his weapon.

 

He grabbed the shield, and reached into his webbing for a roll of medical tape. “I swear if you get me killed because of this bloody thing I’m going to forsake going to the Emperor’s light in favour of haunting whatever bloody existence you may get after death.”

 

“Yes sir. Thank you, sir,” said the big man as Andeferon wound the tape around the shield and the shield bearer’s body, inwardly admonishing himself for words a more pious and fanatical man than Vittus might deem heretical.

 

“You look bloody ridiculous,” said Andeferon when he had finished. “Like some stupid hab-ganger has taped a big fry pan to his back.”

 

Andeferon winced as he barked out a laugh and his ribs grated. Vittus laughed at his cry of pain. The smile dropped from Vittus’s face at the same moment as Andeferon heard the heavy scurrying of clawed feet outside. Vittus had already fired two shots when Andeferon spun, his thumb flicking the selector to full auto, and unleashed the fury of his weapon into the swarm of tyranid beasts charging them.

 

The bolter bucked and kicked like a maddened Chaba bull, a hail of empty brass spitting sideways from the ejector port as the muzzle flare lit up the shadows of the hold. Beasts exploded as the mini warheads detonated the monsters from the inside. Limbs flew and chunks of the charging wall of claws and teeth fell and died. Lancing single plasma shots melted more of them, but despite all of their firepower, the swarm kept coming, still thirty or forty strong with quad-armed genestealers sprinting to the fore.

 

Click. Click. Click.

 

“Oh, vuk me,” said Andeferon, lowering the empty bolter.

 

The lead genestealer leapt at them, claws splayed wide and jaws open showing the purple veined pink of its inner throat behind its vicious teeth. Its head disappeared as a white-hot plasma bolt struck it mid-flight. It was a small thing, now they were about to die: one last foe before the end. Andeferon knew they were dead: his gun empty and Vittus’s pistol too slow to break the oncoming tide now only a few metres away.

 

With only a heartbeat to live, Andeferon drew his forearm length knife and prepared himself. At least he’d take one with him. 

 

Emperor welcome us...

 

A metre short of the door the leading tyranids were torn apart in a hailstorm of gunfire. Andeferon laughed as the familiar scream of hovering valkyrie and vulture engines and the roar of pintle mounted heavy bolters filled the air like a beautiful symphony. The hovering birds buying them a moment’s respite, the colonel spotted and grabbed a frag grenade from a fallen guardsman’s webbing and hurled it out in to the mass. Andeferon threw himself and Vittus back, both crying out in pain as they landed, and then again as the pressure wave from the grenade struck them.

 

He could hear the rain of spent shells tickling the roof of Valkyrie One above him as the advancing genestealers were pummelled into explosive submission by the fusillade. In his ear, his vox bead clicked and fuzzed.

 

“Colonel Morn, this is Valkyrie Two-One. Respond.”

 

Andeferon laughed grimly. “This is Morn, pick up for two. Medics required.”

 

“Affirmative,” came the response.

 

Outside, Andeferon could see the underbelly of a lowering valkyrie, dirt and dust and soot swirling up from where the jet engines roared.

 

He shook his head as his eyes flicked back over the ruination of his squad. Leaning down, he hauled a limbless torso off an ammo box and grabbed a couple of extra bolt drums for his weapon, grunting as his ribs grated and his shoulder ached.

 “What does a man have to do to get killed around here?”

 

Vittus was beside him. “Sir?”

 

Andeferon took a deep breath and smiled grimly to himself. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

 

*                *                *

 

Valkyrie Two-One hovered above the far outer edge of the impact crater, engine wash blowing storms of dust outwards below. Andeferon did his best to ignore the softly throbbing morphitine dulled pain of his ribs as he stared out from the open hold door. He searched for survivors amongst the wreckage, squinting for a moment as the second company man beside him unleashed a short burst of heavy bolter fire downwards and destroyed a wandering xeno. Andeferon watched the smoking muzzle begin to pan left and right for more targets as the remaining valkyries of first and second company, thirty-two beautiful birds in all, formed up alongside a trio of vulture gunships.

 

He noted that some of the valkyries were overloaded with men, some from other Arminian regiments even, but there was naught to be done. To drop those men off on the ground was to give them to the maws of the beast packs roaming the desolation of the crash site. When the last bird slid into place Andeferon gave the order to move forward and into the crater. At increments of a kilometre along the tall dirt ridge of the crater edge, he knew that the other paired one hundred and ninety eight companies of his command were mirroring his move. He couldn’t see them through the dust and ash hanging lank in the air, but he could hear their engines and the staccato bursts of their heavy bolters.

 

The first saviour pod they came across had been savagely torn open from the outside. From the air, Andeferon watched as two five man fire teams lined down to the surface from Valkyrie Three-Seven, while the remainder hung watchfully over the ten men. Having already cleared the surrounds by air, the men moved in, walking over six mutilated naval bodies laying around or inside the rent, and quickly disappearing from view.

 

There was no sign of the fire teams for a minute or two, then gunfire flashes lit the opening. When only six of the second company men came out and waved the all clear, Andeferon knew what had happened. He tuned in to the captain’s link of second company’s vox channel.

 

“...medics?”

 

“Don’t bother, sir, we’ve got their tags and ammo, whatever that was before we melted it shredded my guys. Probably isn’t enough left for body bags.”

 

“Any other survivors?”

 

“None, sir.”

 

“Tag the saviour pod and get airborne, sergeant.”

 

“Sir.”

 

One of the men bearing a sergeant’s two white stripes across his shoulder guard below them took out a small, fat marker and put a thick red cross next to the hole in the pod. Three-Seven lowered its belly a metre from the dirt, and the remaining Arminians of her squad embarked efficiently and without fuss.

 

Andeferon clicked his regimental vox. “First and second, tight spread: advance. Majors, report in progress.”

 

The three surviving majors of the tenth regiment, each now commanding a third of the regiment’s companies, called in one by one.

 

“This is Kunnan. Good progress, sir, we’re carrying forty-seven survivors, mostly navy. No losses.”

 

“Understood,” said Andeferon.

 

“Larack here. Encountering growing swarms of stealers, sir. Most of the saviour pods are gutted, only twelve live ones. We’ve lost two fire teams. Bastards are running bloody rampant but we’re fraggin’ a lot of em’.”

 

“Hamnit, calling in. I’ve got four companies covering the retreat of a couple of hundred navy and a few soldiers to our six, can’t be sure what regiment. The rest of us are advancing forwards. Wind’s picking up out this way, sir, visibility is increasing.”

 

Andeferon nodded to himself. “Hamnit, get those men double timing out of the crash crater. Keep pushing forwards to the crash site. We need to be in and out of here before too many spores fall.”

 

Squinting hard to see into the thick dust, Andeferon could begin to see the wind swishing and swirling through the haze and his visibility increasing as eddies and whorls of dust cleared small pieces of sky and terrain. Below, the turbo jet engines pushed at the ash and soot with such ferocity that they dug trenches in the piles of debris that covered the ground. As the debris cleared, Andeferon saw the first Arminian bodies from the division of men they had left behind.

 

He heard one of the men beside him moan unhappily as the ash and soot and dirt were pushed clear of the tangle of torsos and limbs that were revealed like a morbid carpet below. Pieces of combat fatigues caught aflame as the heat from the engines lit up the buried corpses. Instinctively the pilot began to gain altitude to stop the ruination of their men. The extra thrust revealed more of the horrible mass burial site.

 

“Back to regulation height, pilot,” ordered Andeferon. “Their souls are with the Emperor now.”

 

The pilot obeyed immediately, begrudgingly.

 

“Sir, this is Two-Seven, saviour pod below, no hostiles, no visible friendlies, moving to clear. Stand by,” voxed one of the second company sergeants.

 

“Morn to all first and second company birds, hold the line, remain on station in support of Two-Seven’s position,” ordered Andeferon.

 

A host of affirmatives clicked back. A few hundred metres to his left he heard the hard bangs of a short burst of heavy bolter fire over the screams of the first and second’s turbojet engines.

 

“One-Three. Contact: hundred metres. Small pack. Five or six eliminated,” came the voice of another sergeant.

 

Andeferon was about to check on the progress of the pod clearance when three more groupings of short burst heavy bolter fire banged out from the left of the line. Then a sustained burst from the right. Then another sustained burst roared from further off in that direction. Five, then six, then eight birds called in contacts.

 

Soon, most of the valkyries heavy bolters were roaring in controlled bursts into the clearing gloom before them. Two-One’s left hand side pintle mounted heavy bolter opened up as the hunch-shouldered trooper drilled a quick burst into three silently hunting stealers on the ground. The beasts crumpled to the ground.

 

Without warning there was a huge impact and an explosion down the line of hovering valkyries and vultures.

 

“Vuk!” called out one of the pilots as the valkyries closest to the explosion banked away from fireball. “Throne was that?”

 

“Didn’t see it. Anyone got eyes on what just happened?”

 

“One-Nine is down! One-Nine is down! Came another pilot’s voice, something hit it from…”

 

The area lit up once more as another bird crunched with heavy impact and fell to the ground, spilling crew and soldiers to their deaths before the engines struck dirt and exploded with the burning white of fuel.

 

“Another one down! What is that?”

 

Andeferon looked around; surely it was too early in the invasion for any seriously big hitters to be on the ground? What could have…

 

And then it struck him, or almost did. A spore speared right past his open cargo bay and smashed into the ground below. The soldier manning the heavy bolter flinched with surprise and then stood tall and drilled another short burst into the mass of blackened purple flesh below as it opened like an overripe flower to reveal its cargo.

 

Andeferon swore and then tapped his regimental vox. “Morn to all units. That’s it; pull back. Get us out of the area. Rendezvous…”

 

“Sir! There’s still survivors!” voxed Major Hamnit.

 

“We’re wasting fuel and ammo and lives. Pull out,” snapped Andeferon.

 

The three majors acceded and affirmed the order.

 

“Colonel,” voxed the pilot. “Vox is picking up traffic from inbound drop ships.”

 

“Patch it through and get us out of here,” returned Andeferon, and waited a moment before continuing. “This is Colonel Morn, go ahead.”

 

“Colonel Morn. This is Commissar Myke. I’ve got men, tanks, and ammo, where do you need us?” came the crackly voice of the lord commissar.

 

“Commissar, get your ships clear of the drop site. Be advised: tyranid activity and spore drops are increasing. We’re pulling out of the area. We need to find somewhere defensible,” voxed Andeferon.

 

“Understood.” Then there was a moment’s silence. “The sacrifice the Arminian’s made today shall not go unavenged, Colonel. We may be outnumbered, we may have lost low orbit, but I swear by the Emperor we’ll make these bugs pay for every scrap of dirt on this planet.”

 

Andeferon cringed inwardly. It wouldn’t matter how many of the horde they killed. They could kill every single beast that stepped hoof or claw or foot planetside and it wouldn’t matter. So long as there were swarms to be dropped onto the ground when the fighting was done and all the humans were dead, then every little piece of biomatter would be ingested by the tyranid fleet and recreated into billions more creatures to assault another world.

 

That was how the bugs worked. They destroyed you and then turned you back on the Imperium. There was no victory to be had here. Andeferon held his bitter opinion to himself. Disheartening the men around him would serve no purpose. And who knows, the Emperor himself may smile upon them.

 

Ject might come through for us. Andeferon huffed a laugh.

 

“As you say, lord commissar. If you have long range scans, find me somewhere we can hold. We need a base of operations. Vox me the co-ordinates. We’ll meet you there.”

 

“Understood,” said Myke. “Lerrunhive is about fifty clicks south-south west. I was eyeing it off on the way down.”

 

“We’ll rendezvous there, Commissar. Shut the hive down. Get the PDF mobilised and fortifying the walls. Find me a line with a wide-open fire field before it. Morn, out.” Andeferon sighed and passed on the direction to the regiment.

 

“Sir!” called out one of the gunners.

 

Andeferon whirled around and quickly bounded to the man’s side. He followed the trooper’s outstretched arm to look into the thinning dust. A naval rating was sprinting their way as the pilot was beginning to pull away. The man was running hard with geysers of soot erupting behind him as his feet kicked out with desperate strength to power him towards safety. Andeferon voxed the pilot, who swung the bird around. Two Vultures dropped back in escort as the rest of the two companies continued on away.

 

In a shadowy flash, something felled the man and then disappeared into the dust as quickly as it had arrived. Andeferon knew the man’s life was over. He may have been kicking and soundlessly screaming as he tried to cover the stump where his leg had been but a moment ago, but the man was dead. He just hadn’t realised yet.

 

Andeferon clenched his jaw as he saw fifteen-odd creatures slowly advance out of the swirling storm. The man crawled backwards one way, and then another, his terror palpable. The beasts taunted him, leaping forwards and then pulling up short, baring teeth, snapping lazily at his remaining limbs. Andeferon voxed the pilot again and Two-One pulled up into a hover.

 

The colonel held out his hand. No words were needed. In a heartbeat, the pistol grip of a lasrifle was in his palm, and then its stock was pressed into his shoulder. He flicked the selector to single shot and looked down the sight. Andeferon saw the man reach out to him, remaining hand open, pleading for salvation from the terrors around him.

 

In that heartbeat moment more genestealers had appeared. Hunch backed gaunts and other larger beasts hulked like monstrous silhouettes amongst them, long and vicious claws swaying in the wind. Andeferon breathed out slowly to steady his aim, riding the pitching valkyrie deck with practiced ease. I’d expect you to do the same for me.

 

One shot was all it took. One hot, white flash of light that lit up the interior of the cabin one nanosecond, and punched a fist sized, cauterised hole in the man’s chest the next. The man toppled over dead.

 

As one, in sickening unison, every single set of black eyes snapped up and locked onto Andeferon. Andeferon lowered the weapon. Where there had once been fifteen genestealers now stood a horde. There must have been hundreds already, and the spores were beginning to fall like rain.

 

“Let’s go,” voxed Andeferon.

 

Immediately, the deck of the valkyrie began to tilt as the turbo jet engines roared to pull them out of their mid-air hover. Andeferon’s attention remained on the man he had just shot as the body was torn apart. As the air began to clear further of soot and dust and smoke and the late afternoon sky pierced in from above, Andeferon had a long moment of dreadful realisation as hundreds quickly became thousands. And thousands turned into tens of thousands as the wind picked up to a gale and cleared vision to many hundreds of metres. Massive fexes and other monstrous creatures picked their way out of shattered fat spores. Formless, shapeless beasts wriggled or slid to spew out eggs and mucus covered swarms of carnivorous worms that immediately started to work on the buried and freshly dead, breaking them down to base form biomatter.

 

As the screaming of the three birds’ engines began to take Andeferon away from the site, a four metre tall beast walked forth from the mass. Thick bone plates oozing viscous xenos filth and spattered in fresh crimson covered its sickeningly lean and muscular body. Huge spines jutted from massive hunched shoulders and a bone crest ran down its head to the nose. Four multi jointed arms, each ending in a differently horrid eviscerating weapon, reached up to point at him in challenge. The gesture was almost human.

 

Instinctively, Andeferon knew this beast to be the Tyrant: the lynchpin of the invading force. If he had his regiment on his wing he might have been able to destroy it and turn the tide of the battle in the space of time it took for a few hundred missiles to streak over the short distance. He cursed loudly and colourfully as the valkyrie began to pick up pace, away from the massive beast. Andeferon leant out of the hold into the buffeting wind, sighted the rifle back past the tail of Two-One, and shot it in the head.

 

The shot glanced down the side of the beast’s face, leaving a deep black, burnt flesh furrow from its avian beak to the back of its elongated head. Its thick, wedge like mouth widened slowly at first, revealing rows of needle teeth, then its powerful jaw wrenched open. Double hinged mandible bones split the beast’s face into three small forests of teeth as its body went taught and it roared with the voice of the horde, leaning towards Andeferon with effort and bestial prowess.

 

The noise made Andeferon shudder. The tyranid war machine was in full swing once more. The greatest threat this sector had seen in a thousand years had returned, and Andeferon was right in the middle of it with his men.

 

The planet and all of its Imperial soldiers and citizens had weeks left, at best.


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#15 pearldrum1

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Posted 14 April 2014 - 07:00 PM

 

drum clip

 

 

I will never stop hounding you about this. You will dream about me reminding you. Drum magazine! Haha.

 

 

 

One shot was all it took. One hot, white flash of light that lit up the interior of the cabin one nanosecond, and punched a fist sized, cauterised hole in the man’s chest the next. The man toppled over dead.

 

And then this small little error. These were the only two I picked up on.

 

I think I am more into Colonel Morn's story than I was the previous one. After playing so much Deathwatch, you tend to forget the importance and shitty job the Guard has. Well done, brother.



#16 Logen Ninefingers

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Posted 15 April 2014 - 04:59 PM

You cut to the core of me, Baxter. While SMs are good fun, I like that the best characters always seem to be in the IG - as humans we're incredibly fallible, and that's where the most Grimdark POVs tend to come from.
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#17 pearldrum1

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Posted 15 April 2014 - 05:11 PM

Yes, exactly. They are the most relateable characters as well. It is fun to picture yourself as an Astartes and attempt to relate to the situation but with Guard the reader can really start to empathize. It no longer becomes a question of, "Oh, yeah I would just hold down the heavy bolter until they are all dead!" It is more of, "I would probably be one of the dudes with no arms and legs screaming as the Nids picked me apart."

 

And then... shlt gets real.



#18 pearldrum1

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Posted 07 May 2014 - 11:30 PM

We are almost due a new installment, yes?



#19 Logen Ninefingers

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Posted 21 May 2014 - 04:00 AM

Overdue, unfortunately. I have the chapter plan, but getting a literary magazine off the ground and trying to wrap up a novel and find an agent has taken over my free time. I'll come back with more as soon as I can.
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#20 pearldrum1

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Posted 26 May 2014 - 01:43 AM

No worries, brother. Do your thing and get it done when you can. real life can be a pain.






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