Saturday, 12 November 2016

Dreadtober: Death and Rebirth




Brother Buliwyf bared his canines as the Storm Eagle jolted again. Wind shear bounced the armoured conveyance like an errant leaf in a winter storm. Hector did his best to guide it through the shifting gusts, but he was no Hephaeston.

“Beginning final approach. Prepare for disembarkation, tactical deployment omicron.”

Brother Carnis slapped Buliwyf’s auto-reactive shoulder pad and headed for the craft’s midsection. It was no secret that the Space Wolf disliked sub-orbital flight, even after all this time. “Come on Bull, time to go hunting.” Red light and grim preparedness greeted him as he entered the transport compartment. A platoon of Van Diemen’s World veterans were performing their final checks in the dim glow of the cabin. Their usual banter was subdued; they were perturbed. Carnis took the slouch hat from its webbing on the bulkhead and dumped it none-too-gently on the Commissar’s head, covering his eyes and roughing his hair. “Don’t forget your hat, Muldoon, we will not be going back for it this time.” The troops around them guffawed. There; better. Carnis took the ornate powersword from its sheath and activated it, adding its light to the red of the lumen strips. He also checked the cutting edge of his chainsword, noting the missing teeth, and revved its motor with a squeeze of his fingers. He had done his best to maintain the venerable weapon, but he was no Hephaeston.

The Ophidian Fist punched through the low cloud and its landing thrusters roared to life. Waves of force slapped the foliage down as it hovered, hunting for targets with its formidable targeting auguries. The side hatches dropped and the platoon of veterans deployed immediately, forming a defensive perimeter. The marines of Deathwatch Squad Hector emerged from the opposite hatch, hungry eyes roving. Buliwyf, with his heavy bolter strung with fetishes, Carnis, with his twin swords, and the Black Shield Librarian, Hyun. It was the latter who spoke first, saying what they all thought, as the whipping fronds around them crackled with hoarfrost. “We are too late.”  Buliwyf spat. Mounds of Orks, by the hundreds, lay messily dismembered. Their severed and exploded bodies oozed with mould and clouds of spores drifted from them. Amongst them, were the equally macerated remains of a Tyranid swarm. Biological acids were steadily reclaiming their scythed and clawed cadavers in morbid fumeroles. Towering over this panoply of carnage were the ruined walls of an Imperial fortress. It’s ceramite walls had been breached and re-shaped into a stygian mockery of their former glory. “Search pattern Theta. Execute.” With his warp-insight, Hyun could sense the faint echo of their Brother’s final stand here, but he could not make sense of it. He tried to track the Dark Angels last movements through the chaos, to read the logic in the combat-spoor, but he was no Hephaeston.

“We’ve found something. Bearing 35.3492 degrees North, 150.2651 degrees West.” The marines converged on the position in the forest, leaving the carnage of the battlefield behind them. Two veterans stood on overwatch around the bloated corpse of a massive Tyranid, whilst a third investigated its gaping maw, his head deep within.  “Report.” The veteran emerged, wiping mucous from his temple with the back of his wrist before replacing his slouch hat. “Tyranid. Monstrous class. Scythed Heirodule. No significant external injuries.” He grinned fiercely. “That’s not usually how it goes down.” He heaved the lip of the top jaw up, revealing the decomposing gums beneath. “And there is this.” Protruding from between two of its teeth was the unmistakable hilt of a combat knife, capped with a skull pommel. “Now, I’m not Hephy, mate, but that looks a hell-of-a-lot like a Mk IV Talon pattern combat knife with custom ray-skin grip and skull pommel…”. Buliwyf wrenched the knife out and inspected its edge. There; a tiny notch. His shoulders dropped.

The faint but unmistakable squeal of auspex brought them to their senses; the swarm had found them. Hyun immediately barked out orders: “CONTACT. Deployment Delta. Muldoon; fall back to the Fist. Hector, advise.” The distant roar of the Storm Eagles engines intensified as it prepared for combat. “Squad Hector, prepare to deny. On route 30 seconds. Lock down that auspex reading and prepare for strike package.” The Van Diemen’s troops melted into the forest, as they ex-filtrated rapidly towards the waiting gunship. Hyun drew his bolt pistol and turned to Carnis. “Bearing and size of contact?”. Carnis did not take his eyes from the shifting shadows and filtered light before them. “I do not know, I gave my auspex to Hephaeston when he left.” The auspex chimed again, more insistently, but still faint. Both Hyun and Carnis looked at the Tyranid corpse, as it suddenly took on much greater significance. “Buliwyf…?” but he was already moving, dragging the axe from the loop at his hip. The Space Wolf began hacking at the Tyranid’s armoured hide, creating a blizzard of Tyranitin chips with his frenzied assault. Carnis sheathed his swords and retrieved the dropped heavy bolter, as the first creature slid from the tree-line. He bared chiropteran incisors as he depressed the bolter’s handlebar trigger, shredding the forest in a storm of exploding micro-rockets. The creature buckled under multiple impacts, spurting ichor and bilious fluids. Buliwyf managed to cut a slab of armour free from the Hierodule, revealing the softer connective tissue beneath, which he slit with his combat blade. Smoke and ash poured out of the opening, pooling around his feet. The interior of the beast reeked of burnt flesh and ozone, making the Space Wolf stagger backwards warily. A large black form slid from the hole, accompanied by a blurt of chattering binary. “Russ’ beard, stop complaining Haest, we’ve been in worse places.” They hadn’t. The stinging rebuke was in harsh contrast to the wolfish grin that delivered it. “I have Hephaeston.” Hyun dispatched a gangrel stalker with his bolt pistol, then strode over to his brother's side. With a single fluid movement he flung the broken Techmarine over his shoulder. Hephaeston's armour was pitted with corrosion, stealing the lion’s share of its mass, as were the pitiful stumps of his legs. “We are leaving.”

 “Give me that, pretty man.” Buliwyf ejected the glowing barrel of the proffered heavy bolter expertly, replacing it with a spare from his specialised backpack. “Get back to doing what you do best and stop stealing my thunder.” He opened fire, laying down brutally effective streams of incandescent bolts that cut two tall creatures in half and spun another into the undergrowth. Carnis swung his chainsword, clipping the frontal lobe from a scythe bladed drone. It could not stop itself from falling onto the point of his powersword, which split it from glottis to tail-tip. There; better. Hyun punched another drone over with an accurate bolt pistol shot, then unleashed a spear of warpfire that incinerated the rest of the brood. With a terrific crash, a colossal Tyranid gun-beast emerged from the smoke and splintered trees. It leveled its drooling artillery piece at Hyun, who bellowed his defiance, even as he shielded Hephaeston with his power-armoured form. Hephaeston emitted another, piercing, burst of code. They all heard his final words through their vox receivers: “I hear the pinions of Deathwing, coming to claim my soul.”

The Ophidian Fist unleashed its fury upon the Tyrannofex, lancing through its toughened hide with quad lascannon blasts, before cracking it open with a volley of missiles. A close range multi-melta blast incinerated the tottering remains, as Van Diemen’s World veterans laced the air with stinging las rounds from the ship’s side hatches. “Good shooting… Hector.” Carnis raised an eyebrow as he checked that Hector was indeed at the controls; the Black Templar looked rattled. “I am as surprised as you are.” He was a trained pilot but he was no…

Carnis glanced over at Hephaeston, as Hyun powered him towards the hovering Storm Eagle. The Techmarine gave him the briefest of thumbs-up, before finally succumbing to the agony of his wounds.