Nightfall [40k]

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim, dark future there is only war.

Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Thu Aug 15, 2013 7:46 pm

Ahoy-hoy!

It's been a while since I last put finger to keyboard in the name of fan-fiction, but it turns out I survived the cataclysm that destroyed the original Black Library forums and I've finally managed to claw my way out of the rubble. To think you poor, misguided fools believed you were free of me! :twisted:

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this latest offering of prose. I've been a bit out-of-touch with things of late, but hopefully it hasn't slowed me too much.

Have fun!

-Samnite
"There's a special rung in hell for those who waste good scotch..."
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Thu Aug 15, 2013 7:47 pm

Prologue: Blades and Nightmares

Some secrets are better left buried.

When lieutenant colonel Kirsten ‘Syb’ Sybella woke in the morning, the worst she had to worry about was the training of new recruits. The veterans of the 14th Zimmer Fusiliers had just returned from their fourth tour – the third which had been extended – on the perpetual warzone that was Cadia, and had been battered about worse than usual. While it was nobody’s fault that half a dozen Renegade battlecruisers had bashed through the naval blockade, Sybella was adamant that it was Dark Angels. She’d never admit it to anyone other than her bottle of amasec, but Sybella truly loathed the way the Adeptus Astartes chose to abandon their position in favour of chasing half-baked stories and rumours of Hydra Cults – she’d lost nearly half the regiment in troop carriers that the renegades had strafed on the way through the gap they left. Now Chaos warbands had scattered themselves around the sub-sector; never in groups large enough to warrant sending a battlegroup after, but enough to do some serious, if sporadic, damage. The term ‘mop-up operation’ seemed laughably inadequate.

But for now that wasn’t Sybella’s problem. While she mourned the loss of the soldiers under command, it was an emptiness she’d learned to live with a long time ago. She felt a growing sense of weariness at the prospect of collecting new bright young things to throw into the Emperor’s meat grinder – both at the seemingly excessive loss of life, but also at the knowledge that for the first rotation they’d all be useless compared to the soldiers she just lost.

Sybella sat up in her bunk – to call it a ‘bed’ was too generous – and massaged her face into wakefulness. Light streamed in through the part-drawn curtains, clear and bright. Sybella took a deep breath and sighed; what little sunlight there was on Cadia was often dashed with bruised colour from the latest flavour of witchcraft the enemy was employing, and could deaden the soul if stared at for too long. Not like this; clean, natural sunlight was something Sybella tried not to take for granted.

She swung her legs out onto the floor and padded across to her wardrobe, where her uniform was hanging neatly. She struggled to pull her trousers up over her expansive waistline – she would’ve thought Cadia would’ve at least made her thin, for crying out loud – and shrugged her shirt on over her shoulders. After wrestling with the jacket, she briefly studied herself in the mirror. Sybella started to wonder how long it would take for the new recruits to refer to her as “The Emperor’s Blimp,” or “the human Dreadnought.”

The latter was unlikely – the little bastards wouldn’t even know what a Dreadnought was, let alone have fought beside one. Besides, let them have their fun – she’d once taken a dagger in the gut up to the hilt and it hadn’t bothered her none. Granted, she’d been very drunk at the time…

She marched over to her desk and flipped open her terminal. A collection of duties, rosters and reports clamoured for her attention, most of them regarding the arrival and upcoming training of the greens. As usual, most of the reports were for routine more than anything else – she trusted her subordinates to do their job properly when it came to training new arrivals. They’d had plenty of practise.

She was dismissing the fifth report when she stopped, and re-read it. A frown crossed her face, and her eyes narrowed. Still with her eyes on the screen, she leaned over her desk and pressed the intercom.

“Waylen, a word.”

Half a minute later, her aide knocked on the door and marched in without waiting for an answer. Waylen had learned that Sybella was pretty easy-going with protocol if you’d been around her long enough, so he didn’t even salute as he strode in. “Everything alright, Syb?”

“This report,” said Sybella, still staring at the screen. “how many more are there?”

Waylan crossed the floor and stood behind her, peering over her shoulder at the information. “Quite a few, actually. A whole bunch of civilians had contacted the Arbites, saying they can’t get in touch with their folks over at Trian City last night. One or two is nothing to be particularly concerned about, but we’re talking dozens of reports.”

“Why is an Arbites matter flashing up on my terminal?”

“We figured you’d want to know, Syb,” said Waylan, full aware of how the colonel liked to be kept informed. “Plus a whole bunch of recruits arrived from Trian a couple of days, and the reports started coming in last night. They probably wouldn’t know anything – best to be careful with telling them there’s home problems.”

“Hmm…” Sybella grunted, drumming her fingers on her chin. “Have the Arbites actually done anything about this?”

“Well, they’ve established that there’s nothing wrong with communication lines, but they can’t get in touch with their Trian precinct either. Satellites aren’t in the area, so last I looked they’d sent an ornithopter over to check it out.”

“OK, keep me posted,” said Sybella, rising to her feet and closing the terminal. “If there’s still silence by sunset, we’ll send a platoon over.”

“The Braves, Syb?”

“No, let the veterans have a rest. Send Dodger with a platoon of greens. Tell those lucky, lucky boys they’re getting some first-hand experience.”

“You’re expecting trouble, then?” said Waylan, raising an eyebrow.

“Hmph,” muttered Sybella as she marched out of the door. “Well I’d rather send Dodger into the unknown than the stormtroopers, the conniving little bastard…”

* * * *

Eight hours later, Hayek and Minas had joined Trian in silence. Sybella’s gut was chilling her in an unpleasant way, but she would be damned if she would show it. Instead, she sent Dodger’s platoon out three hours earlier than she had originally intended, and granted his demands of a Sentinel escort much more readily than he expected. He shrugged on his lasgun and boarded his Chimera transport a little elated and perplexed at the victory, but Sybella had already moved on.

It would take them a day to reach Hayek by road through Zimmer’s vast, grand forests. Sybella had authorised fly-overs from Thunderbolt fighters to see if they could see something – anything – that could give her a clue as to what was happened. Cities did not just go quiet. Not here.

The images of Hayek and Minas were troubling; from what little she could see, the cities were empty. Cars were abandoned on the tarmac streets, illuminated by street lights and electronic billboards in the growing twilight. Sybella even saw the Arbites ornithopter, safely landed on a hab-spire, but there was not a soul in sight – not even on thermal imaging.

But Trian was even more disturbing. When the Thunderbolts passed over the Bowden River and got to within a kilometre of the city, their signal simply went dead.

Weylan watched his colonel’s face as she ordered the communications teams to re-establish contact, and to try harder, damn it. When radio silence had been endured for almost a minute, she called him over and told him to mobilise everyone who was left from the regiment who wasn’t training the greens.

“Even the Braves?”

“Especially the Braves,” she growled. “Once is coincidence, twice is suspicious and thrice is enemy action.”

Weylan swallowed as she said her mantra. “You don’t think it’s…Renegade Marines, do you?”

Sybella looked at him. “That’s my first thought. Those warband whoresons are playing merry havoc with the subsector, stands to reason they’d come here eventually. Especially since we keep sending soldiers to kick their arses on Cadia…”

“Normally I’d agree with you, but we’ve fought them enough times, and this is not like them – there’s a lot more posturing, threatening, join-us-and-we-won’t-eat-your-kids about them, right?”

“True enough,” said Sybella, clenching her fists. “But we won’t know who it is until we smoke them out. Contact the Navy, see if they’ve picked up any cruisers or hostile contacts in the area.”

She turned back to the communications team. “Tell Dodger to double-time it. As soon as he gets to Hayek, get me his helmet camera on screen.”

****
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Mossy Toes » Sun Aug 18, 2013 6:41 pm

Samnite wrote:...and I've finally managed to claw my way out of the rubble.


Samnite wrote:Some secrets are better left buried.


Ain't that the truth.

(Welcome back, Cap'n. maybe I should finish that story I stole your username for, now. Will read this as soon as)
What sphinx of plascrete and adamantium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Imperator!
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Wed Aug 21, 2013 9:44 pm

Good to be back, Herr Toes, to writing and thy dry humor ;)
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Wed Aug 21, 2013 9:47 pm

****

Lieutenant Jan ‘Dodger’ Theron stared suspiciously through the grille of the Chimera transport. His field of view was woefully restricted, but he wanted to have a good look before setting out into the unknown.

Unable to see anything, he turned back to his platoon. Thankfully, he managed to bring Zak and Beron along, as well as a handful of other veterans, but the vast majority of his detachment were recruits. Syb had initially set this out as a training exercise – by the time the magnitude of the situation had escalated, it was too late to change them back.

Best not to get them worked up, though, right? Dodger looked the faces in front of him, trying to look professional beneath uniforms and equipment that they hadn’t gotten used to. They all tried to put on face of fearless determination, but you can’t fake the eyes.

“Right, lads, this is just a simple reconnaissance job. I know you haven’t been here long, but you lucky sods are getting stuck straight in – there’s no better teacher than experience,” he said, trying to sound jovial. And no better sacrifice than a worthless, untrained newbie….

“Look at the man next to you. As long as you’ve got his back, he’ll have yours, and everything will be OK. That’s ninety percent of a guardsmans life right there, so let’s see how you do with that.” He reached over to his side and thumped the ramp release button, and a shaft of moonlight spilled into the compartment with the fresh forest air.

“Keep in radio contact, check in every two minutes. You find something that could tell us what happened here, give us a holler,” said Dodger, making a big, elaborate show of checking his lasgun, hoping that the newbies would get the hint. Most of them followed suit, and they began to file out of the transport.

They had arrived at the outskirts of the city, where the hab-blocks were no more than two stories high. Hayek was one of the smaller settlements, but a population of a hundred thousand did not just disappear. Dodger exited the Chimera, but turned back to call to the driver.

“Keep thermal vision on. If you see so much as a shadow, holler.”
“Yes, lieutenant.”

That done, Dodger stepped out onto the tarmac and saw that his recruits had formed a passable defensive ring. Silently impressed, he took a deep breath of the midnight forest air and started towards the city where the street lights still burned.

The soldiers fell in step around and behind him. Out of the corner of his eye, over at the treeline he could see the gangly, bipedal forms of Sentinels begin to tread their way forward in a flank guard formation. Their deployment was a good choice – on-board sensor equipment and multi-lasers would come in very handy for search-and-destroy.
The other two Chimeras opened, swiftly disgorging their troops onto the road. Sergeant Zak caught up with Dodger and fell in step next to him, his lasgun butt pressed tight into his soldier.

“You hear that?”

Dodger could hear his heart thumping in his chest, and nothing else. “The birdsong…”

The forest world of Zimmer had an over-abundance of wildlife – cackling wolverines, hooting gibbons and shrieking avians were common even in the city centres. Yet the area was utterly deserted of all noise.

They proceeded deeper into the city. They passed abandoned cars, empty shops and vacant houses. Underslung torch beams swept the area, casting shadows in recesses and through shop windows, and the Sentinels panned the area with passive and active scanning arcs. They could find nothing.

The vox suddenly crackled in Dodger’s ear, causing him to start. “What do you think, sir?”

“Damn it, Beron, you scared the shit out of me!” hissed Dodger. “I think you should choose your damn moments better, that’s what I think!”

“Sorry, sir,” muttered the corporal. Dodger could feel the man’s amusement even when he was at the back of the column. “But seriously – think it was renegade marines?”

“I can’t think of anything else,” said Dodger, “but you would’ve thought that there would be a lot more carnage. Renegade marines are a lot of things, but subtle is not one of them.”

“That we’re aware of,” retorted Beron. “Ain’t that a chilling thought?”

“Shut up, Beron.”

They reached the central plaza, a wide expanse of marble littered with benches and decorative trees brightly lit from the surrounding billboards and street lights. Wouldn’t find a place like this in a hive world, no sir – Zimmer was practically a garden world compared to those cess-pits. Here, the skyscrapers stretched into the sky, and Dodger could see that lights were still on in many of the windows. Boulevards disappeared down in between the buildings in all directions from here, making Dodger think of being in the centre of a spider’s web.

“Hold ground, form a perimeter,” he ordered over the vox, and called his corporals over to him. Zak watched the recruits’ valiant attempt to co-ordinate and form up with the Sentinels. “Damn it, this place is supposed to be safe…”

Dodger snorted, and dug a map out of his pocket. He unfolded it and lay it on the ground, jabbing his finger at various points as he spoke. “OK, here’s the plan. Zak, take your platoon to the medicae centre here, and Beron you check out the schools. You’ve got two hours before we rendezvous back here and we exfiltrate. I’m going to take the Sentinels and…”

The lights died. The square-kilometre park was suddenly plunged into darkness so thick that Dodger cried out, along with most of his men. The city lights had been extinguished like someone snuffing out a candle, leaving the guardsmen totally blind. For a brief, panicking moment Dodger nearly lost control of himself, but then swiftly gathered his wits together. From the shouts and frightened moans from around him, he heard that the new recruits weren’t faring as well.

“Shut up,” he hissed into the vox, his heart pounding in his ears. He gripped his lasgun so tight it almost hurt. God damn it, he really couldn’t see a thing – even the moonlight was behind the skyscrapers. The whole city was down.

“Sentinels, anything on your scanners?”

“No, lieutenant.”

“Nothing here, chief.

“Negative, I…wait…”

Dodger strained his ears, trying to discern something. “Have you got something?”

“I…yes, sir – heat signature, approaching from the north.”

“Where the hell is north?” muttered Zak. Dodger couldn’t even make out his silhouette.

“Ssh…,” said Beron, “I think I hear something.”

It was faint, but Dodger could hear it too. A thin howling, almost like the wind whistling between the buildings. It sounded like it formed words, but Dodger couldn’t make them out. “Is that…crying?”

They could hear it better now. The breeze carried the sound of gentle weeping, interspersed with empty sobs and low moans. A woman’s voice. Dodger could feel chills shivering up his spine. “I think…” he managed, his mouth dry, “I think it’s getting closer.”

Dodger reached up and unclipped his helmet, leaving the hissing vox behind. The tearful sound drifted closer, carried on the wind. It was a low, unearthly wail that Dodger had never heard leaving a creatures lips, and it unsettled him. He couldn’t tell where it was coming from – the whispers seemed to lick at him, leaving chilling contrails across his skin as they passed and left him shivering. He felt himself break out in cold sweat, and his grip slipped on his lasgun.

Dodger seized his rifle tight before it fell, and scrabbled for the underslung torch. He struggled to find the switch as the moaning knifed through him, causing his knees to go weak and churning his stomach. He finally hit the button, and painfully bright flash of light burst from the end of his gun.

The beam hit the creature dead in the face, and the crying stopped. As the monster whooped and hurled itself forwards, the crying changed to screaming which ripped through the guardsmen like a hurricane. A handful of soldiers had managed to activate their torches as well, and they lived long enough to see the shadows come alive and vault towards them on long, acrobatic limbs and bearing wicked blades. Dodger felt Zak drop to the ground next to him, clutching at the toxic dart in his throat and screaming until his vocal chords ripped and he convulsed in seizures. Beron let out a panicked spray with his lasgun which went hopelessly wide, and he was pitched up off his feet as a wide, barbed blade was plunged into his guts.

An exploding Sentinel threw the scene in horrible light, and Dodger saw cackling black armoured nightmares pounce on his men with exotic blades and vicious claws. He did not have time to take the terrible scene in before a hand gripped his shoulder and spun him around. A savage blow knocked the lasgun from his grip before he could raise it, and Dodger found himself looking deep into the wide, void-black eyes of the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. His mouth fell open as he saw the smooth, unblemished skin, the angular ears and wide, voluptuous mouth.

“Eldar!”

The mouth opened in a grin, revealing row after row of needle-like teeth and the eyes flashed with relish. Before Dodger could cry out another word the Eldar leapt at him, wrapping her legs around his waist and pressing her face hungrily to his. Her razor sharp talons dug into his spine and shoulder blades, lacerating the muscle and shredding his nerves as her barbed tongue slithered into his mouth. Dodger’s eyes went wide with agony and blood cascaded from a million rents on his face and body, and the Eldar Wych moaned as she drank in his confusion, his shock and his terror, bearing him to the ground and feeding on his pain.
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Sun Sep 01, 2013 11:41 pm

Part One: Red Tape

Sybella was awoken by a soft chiming at her intercom. Her red-rimmed eyes flickered open, and saw her breath misting on the cool metal of her desk. Still with her head down, she slowly rotated her wrist until she could see her chronometer and groaned softly when she saw it was Terran standard four o’clock in the morning.

She lifted her head off the desk and stretched widely, trying to massage some feeling back into her deadened limbs. She didn’t even realise she had fallen asleep, but with the non-stop events of recent weeks it was bound to happen sooner or later. She rubbed her face vigorously with both hands and blinked a few times to bring her groggy mind to attention, and idly groped for a nearby cup of recaff. It was a sloppy puddle of cold mess now, but she gulped it down anyway.

The chime sounded again on her terminal, and she clicked the link open. Weylan’s face materialised onto the screen. “She’s here to see you.”

Sybella merely nodded, and the link clicked close. A few seconds later, the door to her office hissed open to admit the new arrival.

“Colonel,” she said, in a soft, foreign accent.

“Inquisitor,” replied Sybella, standing to greet her. It was one of the few formalities that Sybella adhered to – in the past month, her notorious lack of attention to ceremony had only deteriorated. Thankfully, her visitor never seemed to care.

Inquisitor Kazeitz strode into the room, and not for the first time Sybella inwardly shook her head. This woman had the kind of figure that hundreds of men – and, aye, a lot of ladies – would kill to possess in one way or another. The slender curves of her waist and thighs were only enhanced by the thin, skin-tight body glove she wore, which was dappled with camouflage designs and covered her up to her throat. The suit clung to her body so tightly she may as well been wearing nothing at all to some of the men – and no one, especially Sybella, could miss the way heads turned when she walked through the strategium.

She artfully strode across the room and took a seat on the other side of Sybella’s desk. The blasted woman moved like a god damn panther – Sybella never felt so inelegant. But she had more important things to worry about.

“Another rough night?” purred Kazeitz.

“Do we get anything else these days?” muttered Sybella, seizing her terminal screen with one hand and swinging it around for Kazeitz to see. “We lost the Bowden Bridge last night.”

Kazeitz studied the screen, and saw damage reports from the district. She frowned, her almond-shaped eyes narrowing. “Your men didn’t destroy it?”

“No,” Sybella sighed, putting her head in her hands and looking glumly at the Inquisitor. “The Eldar bitches were onto us this time, and made the sappers a priority target. Looks like they got a bit sick of us denying them a route over the river.”

“What are the chances of taking it back?”

“Slim. It’d take us ages to get any sort of heavy support out there – as pretty as the Zimmer forests are, they make getting tanks of any sort anywhere a complete clusterfuck. The Xenos can move much faster than we can with their skimmers over the treetops. Pathfinders say they’re already setting up a forward base – a big one, at that.”

Sybella pushed a few buttons on her terminal, bringing an overhead map to Kazeitz’s attention. A large swathe of forest had been cut down on the near side of the Bowden River, and was teeming with miniscule heat signiatures. Spined, glassy towers were being erected at the site, and Kazeitz could see a thick double wall ringing the compound.

“They’re not doing much to hide anymore…”

“Why would they?” grunted Sybella. “When we smoked them out a month ago they largely traded stealth for speed and just swept through us. A dozen cities fell, and Bowden Bridge was one of our strongest points out there. We’re requisitioning reinforcements across the planet but it’d be a while before they get here in any decent numbers. Especially with the skies in Eldar control.”

When the Dark Eldar were first exposed, the Imperial aircraft and spaceports were the first things they hit. Saboteurs and lightning fast raids had hit the airfields and annihilated Sybella’s contingent of Lightning fighters and Marauder bombers, and gutted all the shuttles. Upon arrival, Kazeitz had told her that was a typical Dark Eldar tactic – cut off the means of escape first.

“Dark Eldar attack for prisoners, nine times out of ten,” she had told them. “And trust me when I say it’s better to die than live at their hands."

“What about the tenth time?” Weylan had asked.

“It’s for fun.”

Thankfully anti-air batteries had kept Eldar skimmers away from the military bases, but other than that they were free to move unmolested through the skies.

Kazeitz picked up the recent battle reports again. “A lot of soldiers died last night…”

“One is too many,” said Sybella, shaking her head. “We’ve still got a lot of the Sentinels and the Braves, though. They seem to be the only things that can move through the trees faster than they can – had a few successes with the lads.”

“So an assault on the bridge isn’t out of the question, then?”

“We haven’t got the men for that kind of operation!” snapped Sybella in frustration. “Most of the recruits are already dead and a big chunk of what’s left are evacuating civilians. Too few vets left as well.”

“Then pull the soldiers from evac duty,” said Kazeitz, a hard edge to her voice. “They’re needed in the fight, not holding hands with civvies.”

Sybella’s mouth dropped open, staring at the Inquisitor. “Are you out of your mind? You said so yourself how fucked up being captured is…!”

“And if the soldiers aren’t used properly we’ll all find out first hand,” retorted Kazeitz. “Put them on the lines. Even if I didn’t outrank you in every conceivable way, you know I’m right.”

Sybella slumped in her chair, tiredness washing over her again. “…Bitch.”

“I didn’t hear that, Syb,” Kazeitz told her, her eyes flashing.

“Deaf bitch.”

Kazeitz glared at her, and rose to her feet. If Sybella had over-stepped the mark she was too exhausted to care, but the Inquisitor turned towards the door. “Walk with me.”

Sybella looked up, and after a moment’s hesitation pushed her chair back and stood up. Kazeitz held the door open for her as she walked through, determined to get another cup of recaff before she was executed or whatever.
Sybella started towards the strategium, but Kazeitz steered her in another direction. “This way.”

Kazeitz led her to a tram station, and boarded the waiting car. Sybella took the seat next to her and gripped the handrail as the car smoothly accelerated on oiled rails. The Imperial headquarters, code-named Taipo, was a sprawling complex of barracks, training facilities, landing pads and workshops so large it had its own monorail system. Dimly lit lumaglobes flashed overhead as the tram zipped through the tunnels, and through the small windows Sybella could see dawns first light creeping over the horizon. The wind whistled through her hair, doing a little to refresh her tired mood, and she wondered where Kazeitz was taking her. She could feel that they were gaining altitude, and she wanted to ask but the wind made conversation impossible.

The tram slowed to a halt, and Sybella read the wall signs as they disembarked. “Why are we at the landing pads?”

“You’ll see,” said Kazeitz, marching towards the large blast doors leading to launch pad kappa. “Some friends arrived this morning – maybe retaking Bowden Bridge isn’t such a large leap after all now.”

Sybella stopped “What, not more of your Kroot freaks?” As an Ordo Xenos Inquisitor – and about as radical as you can get, in Sybella’s opinion – Kazeitz had access to many more resources than the average Imperial Guard Colonel. One of those resources had turned out to be a kindred of Kroot mercenaries who acted as Kazeitz’s bodyguards. After death threats had been thrown about like shit in a monkey cage on their arrival, a compromise was reached – Kazeitz would keep them far away from the men, and Sybella won’t have all of the filthy xenos shot. But even Sybella couldn’t ignore just how damned effective the spindly, stinking aliens were at forest combat.

“No, not more Kroot,” said Kazeitz, smiling softly as she padded towards the blast door. “I think you’ll find the company of these arrivals much more agreeable.”

She pressed the access button the door, and the metre-thick blast doors slowly ground open. A gale of wind swept into the building, and the shine of the rising sun forced Sybella to squint. She put her hand in front of her eyes briefly to help adjust, and then followed the Inquisitor out onto the landing pad.

Landing pad kappa was one of the bigger constructs – it had a larger area, and was supported by repulsorlift engines at the far end to accommodate heavier craft. The smaller pads, which Sybella could see stretched out either side of her, held Valkyrie Assault Carrier craft in sub-level loading bays, where the troops would embark before the craft was elevated for take-off. Hidden from the enemy, these Valkyries were among the only craft to survive Eldar aerial raids.

Crosswind whipped at Sybella as she marched next to Kazeitz, which dropped as she passed into the lee of the large, boxy dropship squatting on the landing pad. It had only recently touched down – the engine nozzles faintly glowed cherry-red, equalizer gasses spurted from vents, and the decreasing whine of powering down engines could still be heard. If she stood too close to it, Sybella knew she’d still feel some of the heat from atmospheric re-entry.

She recognised the pattern of dropship, even with its back to her – they were comparatively rare compared to Thunderhawk gunships, but after nearly eleven tours on Cadia Sybella knew an Adeptus Astartes Storm Eagle when she saw one. It dwarfed the air support gunships and fighters she was familiar with, and the angular missile pods and wing-mounted lascannons guaranteed it could outfight them all as well.

She looked at Kazeitz, her mouth open to form a question, but the Inquisitor merely smiled and motioned at the drop ship. With a blast of escaping pressure and hiss of oiled axles, the rear ramp began to descend. As it hit the landing pad, a massive black armoured titan emerged from the craft, swiftly followed by nine others in loose formation.

“Ah…Deathwatch,” said Sybella, finding her voice. “Yeah, they’ll do.”

* * * *
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Sat Oct 12, 2013 12:08 pm

* * * *


Sybella had a team of servitors assembled a holotable in one of the grand reception chambers. Normally reserved for honoured dignitaries – Inquisitor Kazeitz had been received in a similar one a month ago – it was a measure of necessity; the strategium simply couldn’t fit all ten of the Deathwatch marines among all the tactical terminals and gawking personnel.

News of the marine’s arrival had spread like wildfire throughout the facility. Weylan had already known, as he’d overseen the check-in and allocation of the landing pad. When Sybella asked why he hadn’t told her as soon as he’d known, he shrugged and said “Soph wanted to show you in person – thought it might cheer you up.”

If there was one thing Sybella hated more than Weylan using that tart’s first name, it was that it seemed she had tried to do something nice for her. She also couldn’t fathom why such a creature would go anywhere near her aide – he wouldn’t admit to even flirting with an Inquisitor (he valued his life over gossip, amazingly enough), but Sybella could read him like a book.

But the revelation that there were Adeptus Astartes in Taipo had eclipsed any talk of Weylan’s affair, for it was well known that in the Imperium there are fewer Space Marines than there are planets. The marines had requisitioned the grand chamber as their own – quarters to accommodate guests of their stature seemed to be the one thing Taipo lacked – and personnel kept finding excuses to walk by and gaze inside.

They were certainly impressive, no one could deny that. The shortest of them was still eight feet tall in full armour, and the big fat Terminator bastard was larger still – Sybella was still amazed at how easily he moved with what appeared to be half a tank on his shoulders. While their armour varied in pattern and style between each marine, the colour of it was a deep, midnight black. Each of them also sported a different insignia splashed across one massive shoulder pad, denoting the Chapter from which they hailed. Sybella recognised the colours of the Imperial Fists, the Salamanders and the Raven Guard, but the rest were more unfamiliar. She noticed one of them had no heraldry at all – his shoulder pad was as dark and featureless as the rest of his armour. Before she could ponder on the meaning of this, the marine had noticed her staring at him, and Sybella had looked away hurriedly.

Their nominal leader sported a slight variation – his right gauntlet was a deep, blood red to match the insignia on his shoulder guard. He introduced himself as Captain Oxamin, and saluted with a banged fist to his chest plate. Sybella was sure that if she attempted that it wouldn’t look nearly as impressive, and so made the sign of the aquila in response. She’d spent a fair amount of time with Astartes on Cadia, but no-one ever really knew how to handle themselves in their presence.

For some, it was a case of awe and child-like wonder. Astartes were the noble knights and slayers of foes that grandparents told their grandchildren – ninety-nine percent of the Imperium’s citizens would never meet one in their lifetime. For others, it was a more religious experience; Astartes were created by the God-Emperor to wage war in His name, and seeing one was the closest they would ever get to being in His presence. Sybella had seen more than a few of her soldiers muttering prayers whenever they were within eyeshot.

For herself, it was a feeling of unease. Astartes were genetically enhanced super-soldiers, elevated through semi-ancient science to be faster, stronger, smarter and deadlier than a regular human could ever hope to be. They were equipped with the best armour and weapons the Imperium could produce and sent into the worst warzones to come out smiling, eager for more. And they all handled situations differently, both on the battlefield and off. Sybella knew that some Astartes chapters were so far removed from humanity that they had trouble distinguishing between men, women and vermin.

She had seen a team of White Consuls tactical marines shred their way through an attacking Tyranid swarm without breaking sweat to save and extract the population of a hab-spire. She had also seen a Minotaurs Dreadnought butcher an entire Imperial Guard command squad because one soldier accidentally discharged a rifle in its direction.
But if Oxamin was aware of her discomfort, he waved it aside. As Sybella gave her updates on the Dark Eldar situation on Zimmer, Oxamin was attentive, courteous and polite.

“Do you know how the Xenos arrived, colonel?” he said, as he marched around the holotable, his hands behind his back. “We did not detect any void-craft on arrival.”

“We’ve had a few fractured scout reports and grainy satellite images,” said Sybella, manipulating the holotable controls, “and we think they came through an undiscovered webway gate.”

The holotable image settled on an image of the ghost city Trian. An ugly, shapeless bruise covered a square kilometre of the image, interlaced with flashing static. Oxamin studied the image intently. “How long has it been open?”

“Over a month now, and xenos are still coming through.”

“That’s a lot more Eldar than your typical raid,” muttered one of the Astartes, a heavy-set marine with a shock of white hair who was tending to a massive bolter cannon.

“True,” said Kazeitz. “Can we bomb it from orbit? We’ve only got troop carriers stationed here – while in orbit they’re out of reach of the Eldar, but they haven’t got any cannons worth a damn. Now that you’ve arrived…”

“No,” said another marine, who looked up from his ministering of a pair of ornate bolt pistols. “The Ignis Valiant is not suited for bombardment, and even if it was any naval attack will ignite the forests. Probably destroy most of the planet.”

Sybella looked at the marine, noticing that it was the black armoured Astartes she had been staring at earlier. He wore no helmet, but sported a gunmetal grey respirator that covered the bottom half of his face, including his mouth and nose and wrapped around his neck. When he spoke, there was a static buzz at the edge of his words.

“What’s your name?” she blurted, before she could stop herself.

The marine looked at her for a few seconds, then glanced at his captain. Oxamin nodded once.

“Just call me Penitent.”

“What about,” said Kazeitz, wrenching attention back to her, “other naval units? With more pinpoint strikes or drop pods?”

“Be a long time before any such vessels are here, Inquisitor,” said Oxamin, folding his arms. “Most of the Imperial forces in the area are hunting down and exterminating The Fractured.”

“The Fractured?” said Sybella. “You mean the renegade marines that broke through the blockade?”

Oxamin’s face darkened considerably, but he nodded again. “The very same. They parted the Imperial lines and dispersed themselves through the sub-sector like sand in a gale. It will take months to kill all of them, but we will get there. However, first we need to deal with these xenos before they become a bigger problem – Inquisitor Kazeitz was right to requisition us.”

Kazeitz smiled slightly in appreciation, but Oxamin did not seem to notice. He addressed Sybella again. “Do you have a plan in motion, colonel?”

Sybella swallowed. She’d spent nearly thirty years in the Guard, but still felt out of her depth talking tactics with Astartes. “At the moment we’re pulling what few guardsmen we have left off evacuation duty to mass for an assault on the Bowden Bridge.” She tried to ignore Kazeitz’s triumphant smile as she said the words, and continued. “The xenos took it last night, and they’re building what appears to be a large forward base of operations on the near bank.”

She panned the holotable image to cover the river. The mighty Bowden was a roaring torrent of water several miles wide at this point, teeming with wildlife from freshwater weed to small orcas. The bridge was an engineering marvel that spanned the expanse, and was a vital lifeline between the east and west halves of the country. There had been other bridges at narrower points, but they were all so much debris scattered down the riverbank as guardsmen demolished them at the point of being overrun.

About a mile north of the bridge was where the Eldar were building their base. It was nestled equidistant from five densely populated cities – if they completed it, they would reap the Zimmer populace like harvesting wheat.

“That base needs to be destroyed, but even now it’s heavily fortified. Even if we did manage to level it, Eldar reinforcements are still pouring in from the webway gate so that needs to go too. To get there, we need to take the bridge back. That, I think, is where I’ll need you most.”

Oxamin did not answer at first. He leaned on the holotable, staring intently at the ghost city of Trian. One of the other marines, different from the others in that his armour consisted of overlapping plates rather than solid shell, moved to stand beside the captain. As he got closer, Sybella began to feel a slight pressure at her temples. She blinked to clear it, but could feel her pulse quickening, began to feel that water was rushing through her ears. She noticed the way the marines armour curved up over his head, embedded with minute and intricate circuitry, and realised that the Astartes was a Librarian – a psyker.

“Doesn’t look that big to me…” muttered the Librarian, oblivious to the discomfort he was causing Sybella. Tattoos were patterned over one side of his face, spreading from his jawline up to his mohawked scalp which seemed to twist even as Sybella stared at them.

“My thoughts exactly, Tyr,” said Oxamin. “Could probably take that with half of us. Colonel?”

Sybellas attention snapped back to the captain, and the aches receded a little. “Sir?”

“We would be better served by going straight for the webway gate, I think. Cut-off reinforcements and means of escape, then we can proceed to wipe out the mewling freaks as we please. Base, bridge, everything.”

“I understand, sir,” began Sybella, “but how would you get there? Eldar have the bridge and air superiority.”

“You have Valkyrie assault carriers, yes?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Sybella, waiting to see where he was going with this.

“We will need a pair of them to transport us over to the operational arena.”

“Can we not take the Storm Eagle, Ox?” called a marine. Sybella did not recognise the star and alpha insignia on his green shoulder pad, nor his thick, guttural accent.

“Not this time, Sva,” Oxamin responded. “The Eldar bastards will see it coming from half the world away, and know that Astartes have come for them. Let them think there’s nothing more than guardsmen facing them until it’s too late.”

Oxamin turned back to Sybella. “In order to keep Eldar fliers off our back, you will mount an assault on the Bowden Bridge. Use whatever forces you think are necessary, but leave anti-air support behind, so that it opens you up to attack from the skies. You’re the distraction.”

Sybella felt her mouth drop open. You bastard, thought Sybella, despite your big words and airs and graces, you’re a ruthless bastard like the rest of them. The instant she thought it, the psyker marine coughed slightly, giving her a pointed look. She guiltily put a reign on her thoughts, and managed to nod. “Yes, sir,” she managed. She couldn’t stop herself from adding under her breath “I suppose dying is what we’re best at, after all…”

Before Oxamin could retort, Kazeitz cut across him. She had been quiet for a little while now, maintaining the air of attention whilst retreating into her own mind of plots of machinations. “I know a thing or two about the Eldar webway. Give me about four hours and I’ll get you a device to take that thing down.”

When Oxamin looked at her curiously, she glared straight back. “Well how did you intend to destroy it? You’ve only got one lousy heavy bolter in your team!” She threw a look at the white-haired marine in question, who seemed to hold his cannon a little closer to him with a defensive and hurt look on his face.

“She’s called Natasha…”

“Well, we’ve got Ifrit as well,” said Oxamin, nodding to the behemoth in Terminator armour standing at the edge of the group. His teeth flashed white against his dark skin as he grinned, typical to the Salamanders of Nocturne, and he pointedly hefted a hammer larger than Sybella over his shoulder.

“But I see your point,” the captain continued. “Try and get it sooner. Do you want Svarog to assist?”

As his name was mentioned, the thickly accented marine with the star and alpha insignia looked up, throwing the Inquisitor a lop-sided smirk. “Da, Inquisitor. Better not get your pretty hands dirty, yes?” Sybella could almost smell the spirit on his exhalation from across the room.

If scowls could kill, Kazeitz would have incinerated the Astartes where he stood. “No, marine,” she spat through gritted teeth, “I can’t trust you with metaphysics when holding a candle to your breath would torch us all.” Svarog simply smiled wider.

“There’s no way I’m getting in a Valkyrie with Sva at the controls again…” muttered Penitent.

Svarog laughed. “Not only will I get us there safe, but I will also race! Who wants to play?”

“Enough, techmarine,” growled Oxamin. “Sober up, that’s an order. You can have all the akvavit you want when you get back.”

Sybella was fascinated – she’d never seen an Astartes make a jest before, let alone be drunk. “I don’t think we’ve got any akvavit…” She didn’t even know what it was.

“Not surprised – one sniff would kill you faster than ballistic carnifex, little lady” slurred the techmarine. “Only Aurora Chapter apothecaries make it, and…damn fine drink it is…can also be used as explosive, da?”

Kazeitz shook her head in distaste. “I’ll get started on it immediately. Colonel, how long will it take to put together an assault on Bowden Bridge?”

Sybella forced herself to pay attention. “We can mobilise in ten hours.”

Oxamin turned to one of his marines – a Raven Guard. “Munin, what time is nightfall?”

“Twenty-one nineteen, Terran standard,” said the white-skinned marine quietly.

Oxamin nodded. “We will move out at twenty-one twenty-five tonight, under cover of darkness. You have until then to organise your assault on Bowden Bridge, colonel, and for you, Inquisitor, to build your contraption.”

Kazetiz stood back and folded her arms, nodding. “Any further questions?” None were forthcoming. “Very well. Zero hour is in thirteen hours and forty-seven minutes. Ave Imperator.”

“Ave Imperator,” the Imperials chorused back. Only two figures in the room did not echo the prayer – one was Svarog, who merely hiccupped. The other was Penitent.

* * * *
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Tue Nov 12, 2013 9:57 pm

* * * *
As the amber sun was sinking over the horizon, Sybella watched the marines divide into two teams and march to separate landing pads. Valkyries had been raised from their hangers and were being prepared for lift-off by a team of ground-crew servitors. Sybella felt a wave of foreboding sweep over her; soon, servitors will be all she has left.
She had mobilised a sizeable portion of her remaining forces to assault the bridge. It was mostly composed of recruits and conscripts – there was no way she was wasting the elite Braves and Sentinels in a suicide mission. But no matter how skilled her veterans were, they will not be enough to hold the Eldar back from Taipo. Once the xeno freaks realised that the bulk of her army was gone, it was only a matter of time before the headquarters was overrun.

Sybella had asked the Taipo priests to pray for all the souls she was about to damn. She wasn’t usually a religious woman anywhere other than Cadia, but she also prayed for herself – she prayed to the Emperor that He would understand. Somehow, when one considered the times they lived in now, she felt He would.

A boisterous scuffle broke out on one of the landing pads. Svarog had produced from nowhere another bottle of akvavit, and a pair of marines tried to wrest it off him. Svarog laughed in between gulps of spirit as he fended them off with his free hand and kept trying to bat them away with the servo-claws attached to his backpack. The altercation ended when he held the bottle away from their questing hands a little too far, and Penitent smoothly drew one of his pistols and shot it out of his grip. The trio of marines stopped as the spirit dribbled onto the floor, and Svarog looked glumly at the shattered bottleneck left in his hand.

“I’ve never seen anything like it…” said Sybella softly.

“I have,” snorted Kazeitz, standing beside her. “And you thought the Space Wolves were bad.”

Sybella looked over at the other landing pad. Oxamin carried the device that Kazeitz had crafted for him – it was an odd angular contraption about the size of a human torso. She saw engine fumes emitted from the nearby Valkyrie curve around an invisible, turbulent perimeter emitted by the device; Sybella’s hair on the back of her next had stood on end when Kazeitz presented it, and the headaches she’d experienced in the presence of the psyker returned.

“I’ve always wanted to use this,” Kazeitz had said proudly. “I designed it myself. It’s built from cannibalised astropathic stations and little bit of warp trickery. When activated, it causes a temporal displacement bomb…”

“Spare us the science, Inquisitor,” snarled Sybella, eager to be out of its presence. “What does it do?”

Kazeitz glared at her, and saw Sybella’s exclamation reflected in the faces of the Deathwatch marines. She sniffed, a little put out. “In guardsmans terms, it will destroy the gate and drive a negative backlash through it – the energy released in the gates collapse will reflected out on the other side, into the webway, and hopefully obliterate everything there for miles…relatively speaking, of course.”

She had looked at their blank faces. “Simple enough?”

“One more question, Inquisitor,” said Oxamin, “how do you turn it on?”

Kazeitz had sighed as she showed him, again frustrated by the lack of appreciation of her efforts. Ifrit had initially volunteered to bear the ‘web bomb,’ as they had named it much to Kazeitz’s chagrin. “No! It’s a temporal…oh fine, it’s a damn web bomb…” Sybella hoped she would live to see an Inquisitor sulk that much again.

Oxamin had overruled Ifrit. “While you can carry it easier, we do not know what the effect would be if you were to teleport while bearing it. And besides, if anyone’s going to be doing the difficult and untested task in my team, it’s going to be me.”

And that was that. Sybella watched Oxamin board the leading Valkyrie, Gypsey-09, along with Ifrit, the marine psyker Tyr, the Devastator marine and a Black Templar bearing wicked lightning claws. Sybella had not spoken to the Templar, but he had worn a sneer across his face as if it were his natural expression.

There was an exasperated cry from the other pad – Svarog had unfathomably found another bottle of akvavit. Before anyone could stop him, he swiftly drained half the bottle in a single swig and hurled what was left at the Valkyrie, Gypsey-07, smashing the glass on the fuselage and anointing the ship in the foul-smelling spirit.
“Let’s do this!” he yelled, as he vaulted into the cockpit, landing in the pilot’s seat with a thud and laughing to himself.

“I’ve seen them do that with their tanks as well,” muttered Kazeitz. “The Aurora Chapter. They’ve got more Predators and Land Raiders than any three other chapters combined. Battlefield stinks to high heaven of booze after they’ve charged.”

“Hell,” muttered Sybella as she watched the Valkyries power up, “if they succeed I’ll give him his own distillery here.”

Part Two: Sundering

It had been several years since Oxamin had been at the helm of a Valkyrie assault carrier. The controls, built with typical human proportions in mind, felt too small and fragile in his gauntlets, but thankfully the Bifrost-pattern Valkyries were significantly larger than their standard issue counterparts normally found in Imperial Guard arsenals. The regiments on Zimmer found they did the vast majority of their logistics by air rather than road, due to the widespread and rapidly overgrowing forests that made land routes regularly impassable, so they had pioneered the design of the Bifrost-pattern to increase their efficiency; larger payload, fewer trips.

The extra cabin room was well-received by the Deathwatch marines – normally, Ifrit in his Terminator armour and Dimitrius with his jump pack would’ve taken up the entire hold by themselves. As it was, the librarian Tyr and Raguel with his heavy bolter were also able to squeeze into the spaces that were left. Kazeitz’s web bomb sat at Raguels feet, where warp-sensitive Tyr eyed it suspiciously.

The Valkyries skimmed low across the treetops, trying to minimise their silhouette. The topmost branches shook vigorously as the ships soared overhead, the keening noise of their engines cutting the night sky. Oxamin had to hope that most of the Dark Eldar would be enjoying themselves with the abundance of targets at Bowden Bridge too much to trouble them to any serious extent, but he still feared the presence of scouts betraying their presence. Hopefully when they reached the river the roar of the rapids would held smother the din of the thrusters.

They were south of where the battle was taking place, circling around to take a long route a circumvent trouble. The xenos base was between Taipo and the Eldar webway gate as the crow flies and to the north of the bridge itself, and satellite scans indicated that it had grown significantly further in the time taken to mobilise the diversion force. Oxamin looked ahead and to his left, and saw that the night sky had started to flash sporadically with red pinprcks of light. The moonless night made the glare of lasgun fire and heavy munitions glow all the brighter, illuminating the horizon in a kaleidoscope of colour.

“Dark Eldar…” he muttered, “It’s been a while since I fought them.”

“It’s about time, though,” growled Ifrit, his deep voice crackling over the vox. “I’ve been looking forward to this.”

“What makes you so eager?” said Tyr, sparing the massive Terminator a glance.

Ifrit ignored him. “What’s the plan when we get to Trian, Captain?”

“We hit the ground lightly five kilometres outside of Trian and spread out for recon. Eldar interference – usually warp trickery – is playing merry havoc with satellite scans, so we don’t know what kind of defences we’re up against.”

Raguel rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Typical Dark Eldar modus operandi is strike fast and swift. Lots of fancy blades, lots of fancy poisons. Very nasty. Fast on their feet, though.”

“Break like twigs when you smash them,” muttered Dimitrius, checking the fuel gauge on his jump pack.

“Quite,” replied Raguel. “I haven’t met any Dark Eldar fortifications really worthy of the term – they prefer to be mobile, agile, and rarely stay in one place for so long. Hopefully that will make the assault on the webway gate easier…”

“…but?” prompted Oxamin.

“But that’s what confuses me,” said Raguel, frowning. “They’re actually constructing bases and operational posts. Dark Eldar normally show up like nightmares on a backwater Imperial world, and they’re gone by the time the populace have even cried for help. I have never known them to assault an Imperial garrison world like this.”

“So what do you think that means, sergeant?” said Oxamin.

“Well, to state the obvious this is not a typical prisoner raid. The size of their presence and the fact that they are still here suggests that this is more of an invasion.”

“I’d thought something like that as well,” said Ifrit, “but why now? And why this world?”

“We can find that out after we’ve stopped them,” said Oxamin firmly. “Do we have an identification on which cabal of Dark Eldar we’re dealing with?”

“Armour specimens retrieved from initial engagements suggest we’re up against the Cabal of the Thorned Soul,” said Raguel.

“Damn,” Tyr hissed, baring his teeth. “Those xenos hate psykers. Most Dark Eldar know a thing or two about torturing minds, but they have but passing interest in warp-agony compared to the Thorned Soul.”

Dimitrius snorted. “Better be extra careful then, shouldn’t you, witch?”

Tyr scowled at the Templar. “And yet somehow I think I’d prefer their company to yours.”

“Do not start this again, you two,” snapped Oxamin, arresting the argument before it began, “I’ve traded enough words on this matter, and I expect better from the pair of you. We’re barely an hour into an operation and you’re already bickering!”

He could feel the animosity between the two marines seething even when he was in the cockpit, and an awkward silence permeated the Valkyrie. The Black Templars distaste for all things psychic was well-known, and Dimitrius never missed a chance to have a dig at Tyr. As a Black Guard, Tyr took any and all comments against his honour extremely seriously, and it had taken a great deal of persuasion when they first met to stop the librarian from attempting to gut Dimitrius where he stood.

The silence was broken by a short burst of static over the vox. Munin’s voice drifted over from Gypsey-07, which flew beside Oxamin’s craft with Svarog at the helm. “Are we expecting escorts, captain?”

“No. Why?”

“Because we are picking up contacts approaching from the north, approaching fast. Navigation tells us they are
Imperial, but…”

“They’re Eldar!” barked Raguel. “They use Imperial signatures to sneak up on targets!”

“Damn it!” cursed Oxamin, “They’re onto us. Svarog, gun it!”

Da, captain! The race is on!”

Oxamin seized the throttle control and rammed the lever forward, causing the Valkyrie to lurch forwards with a blast of flame from its turbines. The treetops below merged into a speeding blur as the Valkyrie accelerated, and Oxamin pushed the craft to go even faster. A warning blip caught his eye, and he glanced down at the navigational display; a group of Imperial contacts had appeared, closing swiftly – too swiftly for any genuine Imperial craft.

“We have visual,” called Penitent from the other Valkyrie, “Three Raider troop skimmers and five Ravager jetbikes!”

Oxamin could see Gypsey-07 out of the corner of his eye – unburdened with the Terminator mass that was Ifrit, Svarog’s gunship was gradually overtaking his own as they screamed through the sky. Oxamin saw that Penitent had strapped himself in to the side-mouted heavy bolter, and was checking the ammo feed.

“Tyr, Raguel – on the guns!”

“We will be within weapons range in twelve seconds!” called Svarog.

“Push it faster!” ordered Oxamin. “If we’re forced down here, we’ll have to fight our way across the bridge!”

Da, captain, that will not happen.”

Oxamin urged the Valkyrie to go faster. Up ahead, he could see the treetops abruptly drop away, indicating the edge of the Bowden River, and he yelled at his ship to give him more power.

“Incoming fire!”

* * * *
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Wed Feb 26, 2014 12:24 am

* * * *


It was Temujin who called the warning. Manning the heavy bolter closer to the contacts, the apothecary was the first to pick out their angular, spiked silhouettes in the night sky, and saw the bolt of light lance towards their Valkyrie
Svarog was ready. He banked the craft ever so slightly, causing the occupants to stumble in the hold, and the darklight shot intended for their engine went wide. The Raider swiftly fired again, and Svarog was forced to twist the Valkyrie into another turn to evade the strike. When another Raider opened fire, Svarog took the hit on the armoured wing rather than the vulnerable engine turbine. Shredded metal spiralled off the Valkyrie as the beam gouged a deep line in the aircraft, but the integrity held.

Temujin opened fire with the heavy bolter, blasting tracer rounds at the Eldar air formation. They scattered in the face of the onslaught, knowing that even one of the massive shells would decimate their light armour, and they twisted and turned around the volley. Svarog pushed the accelerator and forced past Oxamin’s craft, allowing Raguel to add his power to the return fire.

The jetbikes darted through the air like fish in a shoal, devoid of any semblance of formation – they spread out and assailed the Valkyries from a dizzying array of angles, slashing past the assault ships and lancing them with exotic laser fire. Festooned with blades and spikes, a single Reaver could decapitate a platoon simply by flying low, and the Eldar pilots whooped and cackled in their acrobatics. A pair of them arced high into the sky over the Valkyries before swooping down, zipping through the air and lashing out with blaster shots. Svarog rolled the Valkyrie as they passed, allowing Temujin to chase them with his heavy bolter and punch one of them out of the sky. The sheer speed the bike was travelling at tore the contraption apart just as much as the bolter shots, and the screaming Eldar pilot was thrown through the air before he was silenced upon collision with a tree trunk.

“Ha-hah!” yelled Temujin. “First blood for the Khan!”

If the Eldar noticed the demise of the brethren, it did not dissuade them at all. The Raider skimmers had swooped in behind the Valkyries, and were hurtling towards them on the calls and jeers of the Dark Eldar crew. Oxamin, piloting the rear Valkyrie, saw beams of darklight antimatter flash past the cockpit as the heavy weapons opened fire, and felt the Valkyrie shudder as one of the shots glanced off the port wing.

He cursed, and yelled at his gunners. “Keep them off us!”

“We’re trying, but they’re not exactly…” Raguel was forced to dodge as a screaming Eldar tore past on a jetbike, lashing out with a falchion at his head. He threw himself backwards into the hold of the Valkyrie, and the Reaver tore the heavy bolter from its mounting in a shower of sparks. Raguel got to his feet, finishing his sentence. “…easy to hit!”

A terrible screeching of metal caught his attention, and Raguel looked back to see a jagged harpoon had ripped its way into the rear of the fuselage, swiftly followed by another. There was a lurch as the Valkyrie’s speed was suddenly cut, and Raguel was thrown to the floor again.

“Captain, we just got hit by harpoons!”

The Valkyrie shrieked again as a darklight impact slammed into the rear access ramp, tearing it from the craft and sending it spiralling into the treetops. Wind ripped through the hold as a trio of Dark Eldar warriors rappelled up the harpoon lines and gracefully somersaulted into the Valkyrie, drawing wicked blades and barbed whips. Their taunting laughter was suddenly silenced as they found they were face-to-face with Ifrit.

“Hello,” he said with a grin, and solidly booted the first Eldar back through the opening. The alien was dead before it hit the ground, its chest pulverised by Ifrit’s strike. The second and third Eldar died in as many blows, faceplate smashed in by a fist and head crushed between Ifrit’s elbow and the hold wall. Surprise was on his side this time – they would not be so easy to catch now that they knew they were fighting Astartes.

The Raiders suddenly picked up speed for a handful of seconds before slamming on the breaks, causing the Valkyrie to lurch again. The cockpit was awash with red warning lights and beeping alarms as the assault ship strained against the leashes suddenly stabbed into its hide. A flash of sparks exploded in Oxamin’s face as he reached for a console, and he realised the Eldar were transmitting disabling signals through the harpoon cables.

“Svarog, we need you!”

Da, captain!”

Svarog angled Gypsey-07 out from in front of the other Valkyrie and circled around behind. He saw that two of the Raiders held Gypsey-09 with their harpoons while the third was angling around for another strike. A trio of jetbikes saw his approach and attacked head-on, spraying laser fire. Svarog rolled to avoid it and replied with a lascannon shot of his own which knifed through one of the attackers, causing it to explode in mid-air. Penitent and Temujin managed to blast the other two from the sky as they were thrown off-course by their cousin’s demise.

Svarog could see Dark Eldar warriors zipping up the cables that linked their ships to Gypsey-09 to attack the marines inside. Those that entered through the ruptured access ramp were swiftly thrown back out again, but the purple-armoured aliens began to swarm over the Valkyrie like biting beetles to cut their way in from other angles. Held fast by the harpoons, Oxamin could not shake them off.

“Damn it, Sva, get them off me!”

Svarog did not wait for a target lock before he thumbed the trigger. A pair of hellstrike missiles dropped from the wings of Gypsey-07 and screamed towards the nearest Raider where they slammed into its flank, punching it from the sky and immolating it in a blazing fireball. The wreck briefly threatened to drag Gypsey-09 earthwards, but the cable housing tore itself free of the downed skimmer and was left trailing out behind the Valkyrie.

Svarog aimed a lascannon shot at the second Raider, but it nimbly darted aside from the strike. He started to line up another shot when a proximity warning suddenly blared, and he realised with a cold shock of dread he had forgotten the third Raider.

With an uninhibited view of his flank, the Raider did not waste the opportunity. It fired a darklight beam straight into Svarog’s port engine, shredding the mechanisms and setting it ablaze. Gypsey-07 listed violently as it lost power from one side, and Svarog punched the buttons for countermeasures to right themselves.

“We’re hit, captain. Hit bad,” he spat, frantically responding to the growing number of warnings shrieking through the cockpit. He quickly consulted the long-range auspex, and groaned. “And more are on the way. We are too tempting a target, no?”

He heard Oxamin curse over the vox. “Looks like the valiant colonel didn’t commit enough forces to keep them busy.”

The Raider that had dealt the fell blow closed in on Gypsey-07, and Penitent and Temujin tried to ward it off with heavy bolter fire. Svarog launched flares to increase their chances, but with one engine practically gone it was not looking good. “Can you get that Raider off you, captain?”

“Dimitrius, deal with it!” called Oxamin. “Sva, once we get it off we’ll come around to assist.”

“Negative, captain – we won’t be able to keep up with you,” growled Svarog through gritted teeth as another darklight beam speared past the cockpit. “Once you get clear, head for the drop site and don’t stop. We will draw the Eldar zhopas away, ditch the Valkyrie and rendezvous with you later!”

Oxamin looked at his auspex. He saw the growing number of signals approaching from the north, and he saw Gypsey-07 accelerate towards them. “Very well, good call. Don’t go getting my men killed now, you drunk bastard.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, captain!”

In the hold, Dimitrius pushed past Ifrit as he and Tyr fought off the Eldar invaders. He took a running jump and launched himself out of the back of the Valkyrie towards its tormentor, drawing his lightning claws with a sheen of metal in mid-air. He fired the thrusters on his jump pack and speared into the prow of the Raider with a roar of hate, digging one claw into the angular hull for purchase and batting the darklight cannon off the ship with a swipe of the other, causing an eruption of purple sparks. He leapt through the fire and into the Dark Eldar warriors gathered on the deck, sweeping his claws through the midriff of the first and sending it crashing to the floor. He swiftly followed up with an elbow, a kick and another flurry of slashes as he drove his way into the slender aliens, screaming with Templar fury.

The Eldar were pressed for room, and a pair of xenos were pitched off the Raider to hurtle to the forest below. They broke apart before Dimitrius and scattered, some launching themselves over the railings to clamber over and under the craft to confront him from different angles. Dimitrius felt blades whip out at him with impossible speed, scoring deep gouges across his armour, but all of them failed to penetrate. He struck out with his claws again and severed the aethersail boom stretching down the middle of the craft, and wielded it like a club to sweep two more Eldar off the deck. The others ducked or flipped over his arcing blow, so Dimitrius dropped it and stomped an Eldar into the floor before it could rise. A snarling Wych lashed out with a toxic dart which Dimitrius took upon his shoulder armour rather than his face, but was unable to avoid a nimble razor blade with slashed across his forehead, gouging a deep cut. Dimitrius rammed his claws into the offenders belly, lifted the screaming Eldar up and hurled it across the deck at the Wych, sending both crashing to the deck in a tangle of bleeding limbs. Before they could right themselves, Dimitrius leapt up on jump pack fire and blasted down onto them, crushing the pair beneath his bulk in an explosion of viscera.

He dispatched the few remaining Eldar with sweeping blows from his claws. When all that was left was moaning, mortally wounded creatures, he cut open a floor panel with his claws and dropped a krak grenade through. He then severed the harpoon cable which whiplashed onto the deck, releasing the Valkyrie. Dimitrius took a running bound and activated his jump pack, leaping off the skimmer and soaring up into the Valkyrie where Ifrit caught his outstretched arm. Behind him, the Raider exploded, almost blown in half by the grenade in its innards, and spiralled into the forest as a flaming wreck.

Oxamin allowed his evasive flying to slacken as pursuit dropped off. On the auspex he could see Svarog and his damaged ship veer off on another vector with the last Raider and jetbike in pursuit. Through the cracked cockpit glass he could see the treeline drop away, and he gently nudged his ship forward as they began to cross the Bowden River.

“Status report,” he said into the vox.

Ifrit answered. “Extensive damage but most of it is superficial. Not sure if she’ll survive the journey back.”

“Is the web-bomb still functional?”

“Aye,” said Ifrit, moving through the hold towards it as it lay close to the cockpit. He passed Raguel who was using a piece of fabric torn from a fold-away seat to wipe the blood from Dimitrius’ vision, and found the web-bomb at Tyr’s feet. The Librarian had guarded it against Eldar attack, and he had definitely suffered for it. While the rest of the Deathwatch sported slashes and bruises typical of any scuffle – which even now were rapidly healing – it seemed the xenos had made a concentrated effort to wound the Librarian. He sat heavily on the deck, alien blood sizzling off the rune-etched daitō he held in a slack grip. Ifrit could see a trio of ugly, pulsing welts on Tyr’s neck where he had been hit by toxic darts, and blackened veins spread out from the wounds like spiderwebs, criss-crossing under the tattoos on his skull. Tyr had been meditating, inhaling and exhaling in deep and controlled breaths in an effort to dispel the pain he clearly was in.

Ifrit dropped to one knee next to the Librarian, examining him. “Tyr’s been battered around a bit, but he’ll live.”

On hearing his name, Tyr opened his eyes and looked at the Terminator. The movement caused him to wince a little. “Those xenos otaku really hate psykers…”

“Is the bomb still functioning?”

“Yes – they didn’t get to it.”

“Good work,” said Ifrit, reaching forward and tilting Tyr’s head to one side to look at the wound. It wasn’t clotting the same way everyone elses wounds were, and pus dribbled out of the punctures. Ifrit silently wished that Temujin were here, but the White Scar apothecary was flying with Svarog.

Finished with Dimitrius, Raguel moved forward and pushed Ifrit to one side, drawing a salve from a pouch at his belt and handing it to Tyr. “Apply this to the wound. Keep pressure.”

The Black Guard did as he was bid, clamping the biomaterial to his neck and exhaling slowly. Ifrit could see some colour begin to return to his face, but he would need rest. Those Eldar bastards really know their poisons to lay a marine this low this quickly.

“Temujin would be able to extract the venom completely, but that should relieve the worst of the symptoms for now,” said Raguel, picking up his heavy bolter where he left it and reloading it with a swift series of movements.

“Let’s hope we see him and the others again soon.”

* * * *
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Thu Feb 27, 2014 7:02 pm

* * * *


Gypsey-07 was dying. With one engine badly damaged, trailing smoke and scored by laser fire, the life of the Valkyrie could be measured in minutes. With the additional Eldar skimmers that were beginning to bear down on it, that time seemed to become even shorter. Svarog could see the jagged craft ahead, skimmers of both Raider and heavy weapon Ravager variants, powering through the sky towards them like sharks.

A Raider and a jetbike still pursued them. Temujin and Penitent were doing their best to discourage them with heavy bolter fire, but the Eldar were adept at darting and weaving around the barrages. Svarog was forcing the Valkyrie into evasive manoeuvres as it limped through the sky, but it simply could not twist fast enough to avoid the beams of darklight that lanced at the craft.

In the hold, Munin had taken up his stalker bolter and wrenched down a lever, and the rear access ramp slowly yawned open. He braced himself against the fuselage of the craft and aimed at the darting skimmers pursuing them, hoping to fend them off with small arms fire. He spat carefully aimed shots at them, but between their speed and Svarog’s evasions there was little hope of striking them. Sparks cascaded over the Raven Guard’s head as an electrical fire broke out, the systems tortured by the strain of keep the Valkyrie aloft.

“What’s the matter, Raven?” called Temujin, as he swung his heavy bolter around, “Aren’t you familiar with the concept of moving targets?”

Munin spat a curse back at his taunts, but otherwise didn’t reply. He focussed on trying to pick off the steersman from the closing Raider, but the xenos bastard knew his craft and kept the ship veering aside from Munin’s careful shots.

The last marine of the Deathwatch moved to stand next to Munin at the hatch. Until now he had been content to endure the Eldar attacks and Svarog’s skilled yet hampered piloting, but now he felt he could add his contributions to the defence as well. Sparks rained down on the twin scythes on his shoulder pad as he sighted his bolter at the cackling jetbike, and, after waiting a handful of heartbeats, he fired a grenade from the underslung launcher. It left contrails through the air as it soared towards the Eldar and intercepted it, slamming into the prow of the Reaver and blasting the jetbike apart in an explosion that lit up the night sky.

Munin gave his companion a sidelong glance. “Ah, glad thou decided to join us, Mangala.”

Mangala smiled slightly as he reloaded his launcher. As they both opened fire with their bolters on the Raider, they heard Penitent over the vox. “Sva, I see a Ravager heavy skimmer coming around on the flank.”

“Same here,” called Temujin on the other side, “pincer assault pattern.”

“You don’t say,” muttered Svarog in the cockpit. Eldar skimmers were designed to be difficult to spot, especially at night, but with his enhanced Astartes vision Svarog could see a shoal of craft bearing down on them. Armoured Eldar warriors and lithe Wyches clung to the sides and railings of the troop carriers, eager to take the head of a space marine as a trophy of trophies. They wouldn’t destroy the Valkyrie outright – they’d much rather board it and flay those inside alive.

“Marines, activate your magnets!” he shouted into the vox as he flicked a number of switches on the control bank. Confused replies were fired back at him.

“What? Why?”

“Art thou going to…?”

“Wait – no!”

Svarog seized the controls and rammed them forward, throwing the Valkyrie into a vertical dive. Darklight beams criss-crossed the sky he had occupied as the Valkyrie plummeted towards the forest and plunged beneath the treeline. Branches snapped and whipped at the fuselage, cracking the cockpit glass and exploding into splinters as Gypsey-07 broke through the canopy, and Svarog hauled back on the control stick to level them out. Trunks as wide as hab-blocks filled the forest, and Svarog used the extra speed afforded by the dive to hurtle between them, twisting and banking the carrier to keep them alive.

He gripped the control lever tight as the Eldar followed them into the forest. Although they were more manoeuvrable than the Valkyrie, the speed at which they were going at and the density of the forest made it impossible for them to close in. Proximity warnings screamed at Svarog as he dodged tree after tree after tree after tree, and he jerked the control lever savagely to wind between them.

The Valkyrie shook as stray branches caught the ship, temporarily dislodging Temujin. A sudden bounce threw him against the side of the ship and back to the floor, and Svarog’s insane flying left him no chance to regain his balance and reattach his magnetic boot clamps. He saw Ravagers zipping between the trees, accompanied by screaming Eldar on Hellion anti-grav skyboards. One hand clung onto their bladed, narrow steeds as they pursued the Valkyrie with feral relish, and the other held either a barbed glaive, spiked boomerangs or swinging hooked chains, and they rolled and weaved through the forest in gleeful chase. Temujin saw one leap from his board and somersault over a branch before landing back on her craft without any loss of speed, but the next time she tried it Munin punched her from the sky in mid-jump with a well-placed stalker shot, and the skyboard careened into a tree.

Svarog could see the trees stop at the banks of the Bowden just ahead, and he gunned the accelerator further with grim determination. But as the Valkyrie cleared the treeline and shot out over the roaring river, the fires in the damaged engine, fuelled by the increased oxygen owing to the speed, completely overwhelmed it. It exploded with a shriek of twisting metal, ripping the port wing off and sending the Valkyrie tumbling into a spiralling descent.
Munin and Mangala braced themselves against the sides of the craft as warning klaxons cried out, and the centrifugal force of the spinning ship threatened to cast them out in to the rapids below. Temujin was dragged out of the ship, hands scrabbling for purchase when another Dark Eldar impact rocked the ship, throwing him out into the air. Mangala dropped his bolter and lashed out with his free hand to seize the apothecary around the wrist, digging his other gauntlet into the metal sides when Temujin threatened to pull him out as well.

For a heartbeat the montage was held; Svarog hauling on the control lever in the cockpit. Penitent clinging on to the mounted heavy bolter. Temujin, his legs swinging out into the air, desperately gripping Mangala’s hand who in turn curled his fingers through the metal of the ship for purchase. Munin braced against the fuselage.

A final Eldar darklight shot scythed through the middle of the damaged ship like a knife through butter, and Gypsey-07 was torn screaming in two. The rear tail was flung out into the roaring torrent of the Bowden River, taking the three marines with it, where it was seized by the current and wrenched downstream. The cockpit and belly continued to spiral, smoking and flaming, into the shallows at the river bank where it smacked down with a churning of mud and spray of riverwater, bouncing once before rolling into the forest and shedding armour sheets as it tumbled. It finally came to rest at the roots of a mighty darkwood tree, and the cacophony of crashes finally subsided.

Smoke billowed from the inside as it smouldered, and for a while the only sound was the crackling of oily flames. Shadows flickered behind the surrounding tree trunks, cast by the red flames, and the wreck softly glowed like a beacon in the night. Forest creatures fled from the commotion, nocturnal animals blinded by the light and confused by the sudden invasion, but they were swiftly passed by shapes heading in the other direction. Hissing and cackling, the Dark Eldar closed in reap the survivors.
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Fri Oct 10, 2014 12:33 am

Part Three: Divide and Conquer

Gypsey-09 flew through the night sky, silent compared to the roars of the Bowden River. It was scarred and battered, but largely intact, as were the Astartes inside and the web bomb they carried. Svarog had succeeded in drawing off almost all the pursuers with the promise of a wounded target; the Eldar had seen blood in the water and swam in for the kill. The single Ravager that had tried to follow them was seen off with a volley of heavy bolter fire, and had retreated, hissing, in pursuit of easier prey.

Oxamin had killed the external lights, and relied on his Astartes eye-sight to guide them through the darkness. It had taken them almost half an hour to cross the wide expanse of the Bowden, and only now did he begin to see the form of the opposite riverbank materialise out of the gloom.

For the umpteenth time, he tried the vox. “Gypsey-07, Gypsey-07, respond. Svarog. Temujin. Anyone. Respond.”

“It’s no use, Captain,” responded Ifrit, heavily. “There’s no way that ship would still be in the air by now, with the amount of xenos gunning for it. We should maintain radio silence.”

Oxamin was silent for a while, then thumped a fist into the side of the cockpit in frustration. They were barely a handful of hours into this operation, and it had already gone badly wrong. This was Rynn’s World all over again…

“How’s Tyr doing?” he said.

“I’m fine,” began the Librarian with an edge to his voice, but Raguel cut across him.

“He’s operational, but the toxins are still in his body. The oolitic kidney can remove them, but…”

“Can you fight?” growled Oxamin.

“Yes,” snapped the Librarian, kneading the grip of his sword.

“Then he stays conscious, Raguel.” One of the twenty biological implants that separated a homo sapiens from a homo astartes, the oolitic kidney was capable of removing almost any poison from a marine’s system. However, the purification process rendered them comatose for a short while, which was an impracticality at best and a fatal setback at worst. “I’m already five men short, I don’t need any more losses before we’ve even hit the operational zone.”

Raguel shrugged. “Suit yourself, captain.”

The marines fell silent once more. Oxamin guided the Valkyrie towards the riverbank and pulled back on the control lever, gently easing the ship up and over the treetops. They were officially in Eldar territory now – to the north lay the cities of Trian, Hayek and many others that had winked out of existence as their populations were reaped. Yet for now the forests remained unchanged, a sea of black-green towers that blanketed the land up to the horizon.

Oxamin slowly brought the Valkyrie around and headed north. The closer they got to the operational zone – Trian city – the better, but every second they stayed in the sky was a risk. He wondered how far they could push their luck.

“Found a suitable landing zone, captain?”

“Not yet, Ifrit. Going to push this a little further.”

The Terminator was pacing in what little space he had in the ship, a restless animal. “They’ll be hunting us, you know,” continued the Terminator in his thick voice. “They saw one Valkyrie got away. The sooner we get on the ground and within hammer-reach, the better.”

“They’re pretty likely to kill each other off in the pursuit, really,” remarked Raguel. He was sat at the stern of the craft next to the ruptured access hatch, keeping vigil for pursuit with his heavy bolter. “The only thing that matches Dark Eldar sadism is Dark Eldar selfishness – they’d rather see their comrades die than take a space marine captive.”

“True,” muttered Ifrit, “I’ve seen enough of that for myself.”

Something in his voice caused Raguel to turn towards him. “What do you mean?”

Dimitrius spoke up. “You’ve fought these bastards before, haven’t you?”

“Fought and killed them, aye,” said Ifrit, sitting on his haunches, “and in their home territory, no less.”

“What?” snapped Tyr, sitting up, “You’ve been to Commorragh?”

“A long, long time ago. I was only a scout at the time,” he said. His dull red eyes glowed slightly as he recalled Black Citadel. “Us Salamanders were officially the first to draw Dark Eldar blood, you know, over five thousand years ago. They had captured the Forgehammer, one of our strike cruisers, as it was patrolling the Desaderian Gulf. Funnily enough, we wanted it back.

“The people of Nocturne grow up hearing those stories – the heroics of Captain Phoecus, the last stand of Chaplain Har’kell, the unmatchable psychic talents of Librarian Hestion. Half a chapters worth of marines from the Salamanders, the Howling Griffons and the Silver Skulls fell upon Commorragh like a meteor. I remember watching the vids as part of my training – it was a truly epic engagement.”

He stood up and marched past the marines to stand at the rear, next to Raguel. “I am not so blind to know that if the Dark Eldar had counter-attacked in a co-ordinated, controlled fashion we would have been wiped out. As it was, their leaders – Archons – preferred to let their rivals rush in ahead to be slaughtered while they seized power over their corpses. The xenos drip-fed their forces into the battle, and we slaughtered them at every turn. Still, with their numbers and their home at stake, it was a close run thing. The Forgehammer was extracted, and we managed to pull out back into realspace.”

“That’s a legend, Ifrit,” said Dimitrius. “First contact. Five thousand years ago. When were you there?”

“Turns out the Eldar don’t forget tales like that, either,” mused Ifrit. “About two hundred years ago they ambushed Captain Mir’san and slaughtered his command squad. They took him prisoner, but myself and a detachment of Howling Griffons gave chase.

“We stepped through the webway after them, and into a nightmare,” Ifrit’s voice grew hard as he remembered the horror, the shadows, the screams and the blades. “Dark, spined towers stretching into the un-sky, mewling xenos monstrosities prowling the streets and aesthetics and sights that tormented your vision. An entire tactical squad simply disappeared, swallowed up and snatched into the darkness, and Eldar ambushes constantly knifing at us. They used catapults that fired toxic crystals, poisons that boiled eyes from skulls and blades that cut clean through power armour. I still have a trio of scars on my chest that will not heal.

“Through sheer dogged stubbornness we managed to retrieve Mir’san, and made a fighting retreat out of there. Out of a task force of sixty marines, only twenty-two made it out again.”

Silence filled the Valkyrie, save for the engines, as Ifrit’s tale sunk in. “I was the only scout to survive. There should have been more, but a Howling Griffon tactical squad chose to tend to their comrades rather than cover us. Needless to say, that operation secured my ascension to full battle-brother, but… there should have been more.”

Raguel spoke up. “Was there more evidence of backstabbing amongst the xenos?”

Ifrit looked at him. “Aye – I’m pretty certain a rival warlord helped us get clear. If I had to guess, the thought of a captured Astartes, especially one as skilled as the Captain, acting as a gladiatorial champion for another Archon was too risky. The prestige and renown Mir’san would’ve won in the pits would’ve altered the balance of power, so steps must’ve been taken.”

He looked back out of the Valkyrie. “Either that, or they were trying to capture Mir’san for themselves. Dark Eldar torture for the sake of torture – pain is a way of life for them, regardless of who it’s inflicted on – and an Astartes would’ve withstood an unimaginable amount of agony before expiring. Endless entertainment. Death is often a preferable alternative than survival beneath their administrations.”

“Don’t worry, Ifrit, you’re too chunky for them to carry you through the webway,” said Oxamin.

Ifrit snorted at the abrupt shift of tone. “Leave the jokes to Sva, captain, you’ve got a very creative interpretation of humour.”

“Hey, I can be funny!” protested Oxamin. “I just pick my moments.”

“Often very poorly, but we forgive you,” said Tyr. “What’s our ETA?”

“We’re going to stay in the air for another eighty-three minutes. We’ll proceed on foot from there. Check your weapons and armour – I believe this is the last respite we will have for some time.”

+ + + + +

A trail of smashed vegetation, broken branches and shredded leaves ended at the wreck of Gypsey-07, where it lay propped up by the roots of a massive darkwood tree. For a long while, there was no sound but the dull crackle of flames from electrical fires, and no light save for their orange glow that caused shadows to pulse and flicker in the twilight. Smoke curled into the moonless night sky, dense and dirty, blackening the leaves as it drifted through the treetops.

A dull thud echoed from the wreckage, swiftly followed by a crunch, then a curse. A moment later the front canopy of the cockpit was catapulted away into the darkness, where it tumbled to a halt on the forest floor. Svarog clambered out of the wreck, irritably slapping a small fire out on his vambrace. Once extinguished, he reached back into the cockpit and retrieved his combi-meltagun.

He crouched down on top of the wreck and surveyed the area. His Astartes vision, augmented by his helmet, enabled him to see through darkness almost as clear as day. He cycled through various spectrums of vision – thermal, electromagnetic – trying to pick out anything approaching. Satisfied he was alone, at least for now, he slipped off the fuselage and landed on the forest floor with a muffled crunching of twigs.

Looking down, he saw something that caught his attention beneath the wreckage. A pair of servo-claws, smaller and more discrete than those usually found on the mighty servo-harness of techmarines, unfurled over his shoulders and gripped at the torn metal. Svarog braced himself, and with a grunt of exertion he willed the servo-claws to lift. A protesting shriek of metal responded to his efforts, but inch by painful inch the remnants of the Valkyrie began to rise.

“Ah, Blackshield – you yet live.”

Penitent, his armour scratched and battered, took Svarog’s hand and the techmarine dragged him out from underneath the wreck. Once clear, the servo-claws released their grip and Gypsey-07 crumpled back onto the churned earthy ground.

“You’re a bit of a mess, Pen,” said Svarog, running an engineer’s eye over the gunslinger.

Penitent gave him an exasperated look. His armour had saved him from any severe injuries, but now sported numerous dents and scratches to show for it. As he got to his feet Svarog could see that his left shoulder joint sparked when he tried to move it. Penitent noticed too, and he could also see that his arm was unnaturally bent. Wordlessly he activated a painkiller, seized his wrist with his free hand and gave it a savage jerk, popping his shoulder back into place with a bark of pain.

His cry came through as a burst of static, muffled and distorted from the damage done to his mouthpiece. Svarog could see strands of wires protruding from rents, and part of it was twisted. “Want me to have a look at that for you?”

Penitent waved away his proffered hand. “It’s fine, I’ll deal with it.” He reached up to his chin and started to rearrange and reset the metal device that covered the bottom half of his face and neck.

“Why do you wear that, anyway?” said Svarog. “Is what’s beneath it really that ugly?”

Penitent snorted in what could have been mirth. “Took one too many shurikens to the face,” he grunted, his voice starting to return to its usual buzz. “And yet I’m still a damn sight prettier than you.”

Svarog chuckled. “I would agree, but that’d be the akvavit talking.”

“It’s always the akvavit talking with you, Sva,” said Penitent pushing past the techmaine and gazing around the clearing they had created. “Although even drunk off your Aurora arse you’re still a better pilot than Oxamin…”

“Not that much better, it would seem,” replied Svarog, gesturing to the crash site, but then he dropped his smile. “What happened to the others?”

“Mangala, Temujin and Munin took the fast way down, so to speak. I think they landed in the river.”

Svarog checked his retinal display, which told him there was no vox contact with their three brothers. “Can you reach them?”

Penitent briefly searched his vox contacts, but then felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. It was faint, but he could make out the hum of an anti-grav engine in the darkness, and it was getting closer. “No, they’d be miles away by now. Listen, Sva, we should get going – this wreck is going shine like the Astronomican in this forest.”

“Very well. Do you have a plan?”

Penitent furrowed his brow. Oxamin was never one for contingency plans – he trusted his men to fend for themselves if things went awry.

“Let’s head north – might be able to meet up with the others who were washed away.”

He could hear the skimmer coming closer. An unaugmented human would not be able to hear anything but the wind whistling between the trees, but Astartes could pick out the sound of an engine. It was still difficult to determine how far away it was, such is the elegancy of Eldar technology. He quickly began to head north, but Svarog stopped him.

“I have a better idea. Do you think we could hold off this initial attack?”

“Probably, but why take the risk?”

Svarog was staring the Valkyrie, a calculating expression on his thick face. “I think I can rig up a long-range vox from what’s left of the airship. Would be able to contact Temujin and the others, da? May even be able to reach our comrades across the river.”

Penitent looked at him, then looked towards where the hum was emitting. “How long will it take?”

Svarog headed back over to the cockpit of the wreck, his servo-arms unfolding at his command. “Depends what’s left, but not long. Give me ten minutes.”

Penitent unsheathed his bolt pistols, checking the ammo and mechanisms on both. “You’ve got about six,” he said, as he saw dark shadows approach from high up in the tree tops. Leaves rustled as branches were shook by the downdraft of skimmers, and a flock of startled avians fluttered overheard.

The silhouettes of two Raider transport skimmers materialised in the gloom above them. Eldar Kabalite warriors descended from both, suspended on thin rappel cables like nightmare spiders and bearing an assortment of rifles, pistols and combat blades. Red glowing eyes were pinpricks of light from their angular helmets in the gloom, and after landing on the forest floor they began to stalk forwards, forming a ring around the wreckage of Gypsey-07.

Penitent took a step backwards, bolt pistols raised in each hand. Svarog was at his side, combi-melta held ready and servo-claws flexing in preparation. The Aurora marine leaned close and muttered in Penitent’s ear.

“Comrade…you take the ten on the left, and I’ll take the ten on the right.”

Penitent snorted. “Just kill them. Quickly.”

He fired. A brace of shots rang out from his pistols at the instant the Eldar whooped and charged forward. First blood went to Penitent as his opening salvo caught two of the attackers, one in the chest and one in the head. The bolts smashed straight through their armour and into the Eldar, detonating a split-second after penetration and blowing the xenos apart.

The rest flipped and pirouetted around his shots as they closed in. Penitent ducked as a howling Eldar swept a wide blade through the air, and he put a pistol to the alien’s torso and blasted it backwards. A rifle blade descended towards his face as he rose, and he crossed his pistols in front of him to catch it. He pushed up and kicked out, thrust his arms out either side of him and fired again. Two more Eldar fell.

Svarog fired twice with his bolter and switched to the meltagun. A beam of superheated molecules lanced from the end of his gun and he swept it through the clearing, scything three Eldar in half and scoring a glowing gouge in the trees. He turned as an Eldar fired, and took the venomous shards on his shoulder pad, but as he rotated back to deal with the alien another slashed a blade across his face, inflicting a deep cut across his eye. Svarog snarled, and with a burst of thought one of his servo-claws swept down and thumped the warrior into the ground.

Penitent blocked a swinging glaive with his forearm. The blade bit deep through his vambrace but failed to draw blood, and he fired beneath his arm with his second pistol, striking the alien in the sternum. Amazingly, the armour held, but the Eldar was still punched backwards, hissing in pain. Penitent backhanded his fist across its face and sent it sprawling to the ground, and neatly sidestepped as another alien was flung screaming through the air by Svarog’s servo claws.

Svarog was sent reeling by a trio of blows which struck his chest, hip and knee, the last one penetrating the flexible joint of his armour and drawing a spurt of blood. He dropped down and Penitent fired over him, gunning one of the attackers down. Svarog rose, shot a second and punched out a third as it closed in.

“We can’t keep this up, Sva!” cried Penitent. He swayed to the side to avoid a splinter shot and blasted his attacker in the face. “More will come!”

Svarog had been cut across the face again, and blood was running across his eyes. A spitting xenos came spinning in with a flying kick, but the techmarine seized its leg, whirled around and flung it into another Eldar. “Disengage, comrade! Break out and head north!”

As he spoke, a trio of bright blue bolts flashed through the forest and struck one of the Raiders at equidistant points along its length, blowing out one of the engines and sending it sideways into a tree trunk. Svarog heard its spine snap in a wrench of alien metal, and it tumbled down to the forest floor. He knew plasma bolts when he saw them.

“Imperials!”

Another volley of plasma slammed into the second Raider as it turned to deal with the new threat. Two of the bolts hit the prow while the third hit a tree, blowing a crater of splinters and bark into the trunk. The Raider listed sharply, its front all but blown off, and it swung over the clearing where the Astartes fought. The combatants – marine and Eldar alike – dived to the ground to avoid the careening skimmer as it passed over them, spewing flames and smoke from its ruined prow. It’s erratic path as it spun into the forest floor, churning up mud and bushes as it collapsed.

The Eldar got to their feet first, and lunged forward to dive upon the Deathwatch as they sought to stand. Before they could take more than two steps a dense hail of ruby-red laser fire tore through the clearing from multiple directions, piercing the Eldar armour and lancing through them. They fell where they stood, riddled with holes and bleeding onto the forests ferny floor.

For a moment, all was silence. Svarog pushed himself to his feet and started reloading his combi-weapon as shapes began to move forward out of the gloom. A squad of human soldiers came out into the clearing, firelight from the Valkyrie glinting off their helmet visors and weapon sights as they swiftly fanned out to secure the area. Svarog noticed their camouflaged carapace armour and their hellgun laser rifles, and turned to Penitent as he stood.

“Storm troopers. Imperial Guard elite. I didn’t think there were any left.”

“There’s more in the treetops,” muttered Penitent, his eyes upwards.

“Aye, and they’re the fastest things on this planet off the ground,” said one of the soldiers marching towards them. Unlike the others he wore a red beret in lieu of a helmet, and carried a heavily modified hellgun in his arms. Penitent also saw a power sabre at his belt and the markings on his breastplate denoting his senior rank. He stood before them, and offered a hand. “I know Deathwatch when I see them. Major Locke, 2nd Zimmer Grenadiers.”

Penitent eyed the hand, but did not take it. “So you’re the fabled ‘Braves’?”

“A pleasure, comrade,” said Svarog warmly, pushing past the Blackshield and grasping Locke’s arm in a firm handshake. He produced something from a belt pouch and offered it towards the storm trooper. “Drink?”
"There's a special rung in hell for those who waste good scotch..."
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby kurisawa » Tue Oct 14, 2014 2:23 am

Hey, Samnite.

Only read the first section so far, but like your style. Nice, tight writing. I like Syb as a character, and the introduction of the silenced city is a good set-up to draw in the reader to the story.

Will try to come back and read on. In the meantime, would love if you return the favour and check out my latest short story (number 4 in my sig).

Regards,

K.
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Sun Oct 19, 2014 5:34 pm

Thanks for the comments, Kurisawa - nice to know someone's reading it ;)

Favour returned. I should probably be more active on this forum if I want people to leave replies.
"There's a special rung in hell for those who waste good scotch..."
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby kurisawa » Tue Oct 21, 2014 12:51 am

Hi again, Samnite. And thanks for replying to my short. I don’t demand it of anyone else, but I make it a personal promise that if someone takes the time to read and comment on one of my stories, the first thing I do is seek out anything that commenter may have written and return the favour. I’ll invite others to do the same, if they want comments from me, and you have passed the test! :)

So, onto part two and the attack. I was surprised that it was DE after all the hints pointing towards Chaos (I was expecting Night Lords, given the title). Surprises for the reader are always good.

A new character, Dodger, and the advance into the town. I liked how you built the suspense leading up to the attack. It was a shame you killed him after just one chapter. I know this is pretty standard in BL works (creating a new POV character then killing them immediately) but I’m not sure it works for me. Maybe I’m a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to using POV characters, but I still feel if you switch POVs there should be a very good reason, and the gotchya effect of this style tends to discourage me from making any effort to get to know future characters, knowing everyone is going to die quickly. My own opinion is that it is far better to have the main POV form meaningful relationships with other characters (and by extension, the reader does too) then have the death of that other character impact on the POV. Meh. Different strokes, I guess.

Otherwise, I’m not sure “holler” is a good word for you. I suspect it was your intention, but such a specific colloquialism put me in mind of a very specific part of 20th Century USA. Together with the rather, umm, humdrum location, it felt a bit like a current-era US soldier / horror story trying to wedge itself into the 40k-verse. Again, maybe this was your intention to contrast with the almost supernatural Eldar.

However, with the vastness and potential strangeness of the 41st millennium and the entire galaxy to play with, I think a bit more world-building and effort to create some new colloquialisms for your space soldiers might reward you. Just some small touches (like sectoids and gemtrees, haha) are all it takes.

Hope this helps. Remember, it’s all just suggestions from just one reader.


K.
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Fri Oct 24, 2014 2:26 pm

Thanks for reading, Kurisawa. Any and all feedback is appreciated; I know exactly what you mean about getting annoyed about POV characters off - a certain 'Attack on Titan' really earned my ire for a similar stunt ;) I guess I didn't think Dodger would resonate with you as well as he did. I promise I'll be less...murderous with my POV characters in future :p
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Tue Nov 25, 2014 1:20 am

Part Four: A Measure of Justice

Dawn’s first light was slowly spreading across the Bowden River. The pale yellow sun was reflected in the blue crystal waters and cast motes of light over the stone and metalwork of the mighty bridge that spanned its width, and a dull purr of swirling water echoed around the supports as they parted the heavy torrent. Several of them stood proud of the water like engineered tree trunks, strong against the powerful current, and bearing the wide, long roadway across the top. The legs carried on to rear up into the sky, trailing thick cables that were lashed to the concourse to form a suspension bridge of marble and white Zimmer steel several kilometres long.

The monument to Imperial engineering was now marred by the scars of recent battle. Scorched and blackened bruises dotted the concourse from detonations and explosives, both human and alien, and great dents and gouges had been dug into the roadway. A way-station at the midpoint of the bridge was reduced to rubble, filled with shell casings that indicated the presence of a stubborn last stand, but the bodies were absent. Wrecked Imperial tanks in varying patterns lay where they died, some punched through by munitions, some corroded by alien toxins and others with great tears in them as if rent by a beast.

Dark Eldar, with the bridge comfortably in their hands, stalked across the bridge numbering in the scores. The rising sun glinted off the edges of their chitinous armour and pricked at their sallow green skin as they teemed on the bridge like insects. The mass was punctuated by the presence of larger grotesque creatures spawned from alien alchemy and low-hovering skimmers, but precious little of Eldar armour made any contact with the ground.
Beneath the roadway the cackle of xenos and hum of engines was swallowed by the roars of the Bowden River as it echoed and reverberated in the space between the bridge supports. Some Eldar preferred to skulk in the shadows down there as the heat of the Zimmer sun reached its peak, clinging to the metal scaffolding and trusses that snaked up and down the underside of the concourse, but in the early hours of dawn the area was deserted of life.

That was until a gauntleted hand burst from the surface of the Bowden and grasped at the stonework of a support. It curled its fingers around a hand hold in the concrete, preventing it from being swept further downstream, and Temujin emerged from the rapids as he pulled himself up. Water cascaded off his armour as he hauled himself up and onto a wide lip that ran around the base of the bridge support, breathing heavily, and he checked to see which parts of him had survived the journey.

Water shook from his hair as he coughed up what seemed to be half the river, and Temujin cursed to himself. Astartes physiology and implants afforded a decent amount of survivability in low-oxygen environments, but it was not as if they had gills! He hadn’t broken any bones but had taken his fair share of bumps and bruises in the turbulent journey – the gunmetal grey of adamantium shone in the sunlight from where the black paint of the Deathwatch had been chipped away. Temujin wondered whether that had been more from collisions with rocks or due to the indigenous freshwater barracudas that had taken a snap at him.

He had managed to mag-lock his bolter to his thigh before it had been snatched away by the tempest, but he had lost his tulwar. He did, however, have his apothecary equipment intact and a combat knife the size of a human sword. They will do.

He heard a change in the rushing water, picking out an anomalous sound, and look up. Seeing the source of the disturbance, he approached the edge of the lip and crouched down, his arm poised. As the shape passed by him, he plunged his hand into the water and withdrew it clutching the collar of a spluttering Astartes. With a heave, Temujin dragged the marine up and onto the lip where he collapsed onto his hands and knees, shaking the water from his eyes and ears.

Temujin sighed inwardly as the marine removed a wad of waterweed from his face and flung it irritably to one side, revealing hawkish features on a pale face. “Great, does this mean I’m stuck with you then?”

“Aye, looks that way,” muttered Munin as he got to his feet. He groped for his stalker bolter, breathing a small sigh of relief when he found it still attached to its sling, and turned back to the White Scar. “Clearly thou makes a better fisherman than warrior.”

“And clearly you’re a worse swimmer than you are a shot,” sniffed the apothecary.

Munin smiled slightly as he surveyed the area. “Hast thou recovered anyone else?”

“No, regrettably,” said Temujin, “no one on vox either.”

Munin frowned. “So we have no way of knowing if the valiant captain and the others even made it across the river.”

“Or even what happened to Pen, Sva and Mangala,” said Temujin, staring out over the river in to see if he could see any sign of them. “Where do you think we are?”

“This would be the legendary Bowden Bridge, one would think,” said Munin, looking around at the bridge supports and cables snaking from the concourse high up above them. “We’ve been washed a long way downriver.”

Temujin was about to reply, but a flash of light caught his eye. At first he thought he’d imagined it, but then it flashed again from the base of the next bridge support. Munin saw it too, and squinted his eyes to train his keen vision on the distant shape. “That’s Mangala!”

Temujin saw him too. The Scythes of the Emperor marine was signalling them using a piece of torn metal to reflect the sunlight towards them. Realising he had their attention, the marine started to send a dot-and-dash signal by periodically concealing the light with his free hand.

Munin narrowed his eyes as he mentally translated the signal. “Look….up.”

They did. For a brief moment they wondered what it was that Mangala wanted them to notice, but then the soft dawn light drifted forward and illuminated the scene clearly.

What Munin had initially thought to be cables dangling freely from the roadway were revealed to be guardsmen. Hundreds of guardsmen swinging in the gentle morning breeze, hung by the neck from the railings and girders of the Imperial bridge. Some were naked, others sported terrible scarring and lacerations and some were still armed, but they had all died screaming.

For a moment, words failed both the Astartes. The grisly scene stretched all the way along the Bowden Bridge, and some men and women were hung so close together that their shoulders softly bumped as they dangled like discarded marionettes. The means to hang them were as varied as the tortures inflicted – some were cables torn from Imperial machines, whereas others were barbed and envenomed cords of Eldar design. Every defender that had held the bridge, and every soldier that had tried to retake it, now hung here, hoisted by their own failure.

“Zounds…” said Munin quietly.

“As if we needed another reason to kill all these xenos sons of bitches…” growled Temujin, his jaw clenched. “I don’t care if it takes all day, we’re cutting each and every one of these soldiers down.”

“There might be a faster way,” said Munin, pointing. “Look at the tops of the supports – I believe that’s what the Scythe wanted us to see.”

Temujin looked to see where Munin was indicating. Nestled in the corners of girders and concealed by gloomy shadow, Temujin could make out several boxy shapes festooned with wires and metallic components. They stretched all the way across the width of the support, and Temujin smiled a vicious grin. He knew plasmite when he saw it.

“The bridge is still wired to explode.”

“Either the Eldar didn’t know it, or they have chosen to ignore it,” said Munin. “But we don’t have the detonators.”

“I’m sure we can come up with something,” growled Temujin. He motioned to Mangala across the river, who nodded, and they both marched towards their respective bridge supports. “We’re finishing what those men and women started. It’s the least they deserve.”

“So we’re blowing up the Bowden Bridge?”

“We are blowing up the Bowden Bridge,” confirmed Temujin, determined relish in his voice as he began to climb. “Oh aye, we are blowing up the Bowden Bridge.”
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Re: Nightfall [40k]

Postby Samnite » Fri Jan 09, 2015 9:32 pm

+ + + + +

Svarog hummed quietly to himself as he worked his way through the circuitry of the Valkyrie cockpit. Penitent watched as he seized a handful of cables, wrenched them from their sockets and delved past them to retrieve a collection of circuit boards. Svarog briefly inspected them and, seemingly satisfied, chucked them over his should to land in the growing pile of components.

“How much longer are you going to be, Sva?” said Penitent. “This bulkhead is getting pretty heavy…”

“Now now, don’t show weakness in front of the humans, Blackshield,” said Svarog with a chuckle. “I just need one…more…ah, here we go.”

The Techmarine wriggled out of the crawlspace, clutching a power cell, and Penitent released his grip on the wrecked fuselage, allowing it to roll back into its original resting place. Svarog said a final prayer for the machine spirit of Gypsey-07, and without further ado sat himself happily by his collection of parts to get to work.

Penitent took a seat on the wing of the crashed gunship, the metal groaning slightly under his weight. He checked the crude repair job he had done on his respirator before drawing his bolt pistols and examining his ammunition.

Over the far side of the clearing, Major Adrian Locke kept an eye on them. In all his years and all his terms on Cadia, every Astartes he had met had borne their chapter colours and insignia proudly, splashed all over their shoulder guards or embellished on their banners. He had never heard of a Space Marine that refused to show his allegiance, and that troubled him.

He felt movement at his shoulder. “Something the matter, Lieutenant?”

“We’re still not getting through to Taipo, sir,” said Frey, second-in-command of the Braves. “But now some of the channels have been replaced with screaming. I think we preferred the static.”

“I bet that’s unnerving a few people back at home,” muttered Locke, frowning. “Maybe we can use whatever contraption the marine is putting together to force our way through the airwaves.

Frey looked to see where her commander was looking, noting his expression. “We can certainly ask, sir. Of course their first priority would be to contact the rest of their team – regroup.”

“I wonder how far down on their list of priorities we are,” said Locke, and turned to her. “There’s something not quite…”

“Sir, be aware that the Astartes can probably hear us before you say anything.”

Locke paused, nodded and shut his mouth. Some Astartes chapters did not take negativity very well at all, and Locke had no way of knowing how the Blackshield would treat him and his soldiers.

Svarog, apparently thinking along similar lines, spoke to Penitent as he worked. “You know, Pen, I’ve been trying to work out which Chapter you hail from…”

“Haven’t you all…” muttered Penitent.

“…and I think watching you fight gives me a few clues.”

Penitent regarded him with exasperation. “Sva, if I was ever, ever going to tell you why I’ve stripped my chapter colours from my armour, I would have done so a long time ago. I’ve explained myself to the Master of the Watch, is that not enough?”

Svarog tapped his fingers on his chin. “Are you…. Dark Angels?”

“No. And if I was, I definitely wouldn’t tell you.”

“Oh,” said Svarog. He paused. “Are you…” he began, ignoring Penitent’s sighs, “Ultramarines?”

“No.”

“Red Scorpions?”

“No.”

“Crimson Fists?”

No, for the love of the Emperor…”

Locke watched as they bickered. “Unbelievable…”

Frey caught his attention. “Sir? What would you have us do?”

“We will hold position until the Deathwatch are finished with their little project. Without further orders from Taipo we don’t really know what’s going on, and their radio will help us with that. I’d also be interested to know what their predicament is – they might need or want our help.”

“Yes, sir,” said Frey and Locke turned back to the Astartes. He heard a crack as Frey fired her grappling hook into the treetops and felt a displacement of air as she was swept off her feet skywards. Back on the ground, Penitent was getting more agitated by Svarog’s probing.

“Silver Skulls?”

“No.”

“Salamanders?”

“I’m light-skinned!”

“…Raven Guard?”

“Not that light-skinned.”

Locke marched over. “Techmarine,” he said, moving towards Svarog. Even sat on his haunches, the Astartes was only a head shorter than Locke. “Do you have any idea how long it’d take to fashion this vox?”

Svarog flashed him a grin. “Not too much longer, comrade. Thankfully all the important parts aren’t too damaged, but it will take a little more time. Go see to your pretty lady friend, it’s much more fun than waiting for me.”

Locke frowned. “She’s my lieutenant, Techmarine – I’d appreciate it if you’d address her as such.”

“Apologies, comrade, and apologies to Lieutenant Pretty Lady.” Svarog gave him a mock salute with the circuit board in his hand.

Locke’s scowl deepened. “Inform me when you’re finished,” he said, and stalked away. Behind him, an untroubled Svarog continued to bait Penitent.

“Knights of Teuton?”

“No.”

“Rainbow Marines?”

“Fuck off.”

“Space Tigers?”

“You made that one up.”

+ + + + +

Dark Eldar do not move openly in large numbers. However, the Bowden Bridge was the only feasible land-link between the continents for miles around, and with space on the Raiders reserved for the higher echelons of command, a great many of the Thorned Soul moved on foot.

They did not do so in lockstep parade formation, but took their time to admire the destruction that the recent fighting had caused. The broken barriers and collapsed sandbag walls of the Zimmer Guard regiments were daubed in blood, and there were great smears across the roads where the bodies had been dragged. Laser burns and spend shell casings littered the highway alongside misfired splinter rounds and broken blades, and formed piles around the gutted shells of Imperial and Eldar vehicles. The captured Imperial psykers, while few, had been singled out and strung up high across the roadway, barbed cables lashing their wrists to bridge supports that held the suspension cables.

One of the more entrepreneurial Eldar had set up a number of gladiatorial pits across the length of the bridge using rings of disused fortifications. True to their nature, the Eldar had acquired a great many captives from their recent gains; most had been whisked away to Emperor knows what fate, but still many remained in the custody of their local captors. Kaballite warriors giggled as they drugged prisoners, hauled them into the rings and watched as they awoke. They promised, sincerely promised release for the last survivor, and would throw a motley assortment of weapons into the pit alongside the men and women. Blades, chains, plasteel bars and in one case a human spine were given to them, just so the Eldar could see how badly they wanted their freedom. In another pit, Eldar would cast wagers on their prowess; one would bet that with his bare hands he could slay five humans armed with knives, while the next would boast she could defeat seven if they wore armour. The largest central pit would test their claims.

All the pits drew large numbers of Eldar to them, hooting and cackling at the spectacle whilst overhead the psykers screamed until their vocal chords withered. There was plenty to distract the xenos that would fulfil their vices.
So when an armoured hand reached over from the side of the bridge, seized a warrior leaning against a support by the throat and hauled him over the barrier, no-one noticed. At the other side of the support tower a knife appeared, plunged into the side of another Eldar’s neck and snatched the alien from the bridge. The Thorned Soul continued to cheer, heedless of their brethren who splashed into the river below.

Munin leaped up and grabbed handholds in the tower, securing his footing using the magnets on his boot soles. The bridge designers had thoughtfully included a groove that ran up the sides of the supports on the outside, which hid most of his body from view. He also had the advantage that the sun was rising on the far side of the bridge, which gave him the shadow he need to silently ascend the tower.

He had to pause to negotiate a path across the barbed cables that wrapped around the tower towards the top. He briefly considered cutting them and freeing the psyker chained to them from torment, but there was no room for such compassion at this juncture. He continued to the climb, ignoring the weeping of the tortured soldier which sounded all too close.

He reached the top of the tower, and carefully peered over the edge. A xenos sniper, wits dulled by the morning and too engrossed in the fighting below, was a simple target. Munin moved quickly, springing lightly over the edge and into the birds nest the sniper had made for himself. He darted close and deftly snapped the xeno’s neck with a quick wrench of his hands. Before the body could fall, Munin rearranged the positioning and propped up the xeno’s head on its rifle. If any alien freak suddenly found the concept of sniper cover more fun than the torment of Imperial citizens, they would be satisfied it was still in place.

Munin clicked in the vox. “I’m up.”

Temujin, clinging to the underside of the bridge concourse, replied. “Good. See anything we can use?”

Munin cast his eye over the expanse of the concourse, looking for any obvious weakness or points of interest, but seeing nothing but carnage and pain. “Nothing thou would consider worthwhile. It’s not a pretty picture up here.”

“No obvious places they’d hide detonators? The entire bridge is still rigged to blow.”

“There is a waystation at the centre of the roadway, but it looks little better than rubble.”

“Could we recapture a guardsman? They might know.”

Munin’s eye found the chain-gangs of prisoners, lashed together in scores. They cowered together, wearing the torn remnants of their uniforms. A chained pack of warp beasts – Khymerae – stretched towards them, rattling their chains and screeching their bloodlust at them and fixing them with their many unblinking eyes, while their Beastmaster looked on cooly as he toyed with the idea of releasing his mental control over the creatures. “Not a chance. Too many guards.”

Temujin cursed inwardly and shared a look with Mangala, who was cleaning his knife. He looked around him at the dormant plasmite charges secured to the underside of the concourse; the guards hadn’t even had a chance to prime them.

“Damn it, where’s Sva when you need him…”

There was a crackle on the vox. “Right here, comrade!”

+ + + + +

Locke narrowed his eyes at the contraption he saw before him. “I’ve seen Orks make less of a mess than that.”

Svarog’s ad-hoc long range communicator was a mess of wires, awkwardly secured metallic components and quick-set adhesives, but the power light was beaming healthily and the signal was clear. “And I’ve seen greenskins prettier than you, comrade,” said Svarog, grinning happily and slapping the Major on the shoulder, causing him to stumble.

“Orkoids don’t make anything without at least three guns on it,” said Penitent, leaning against a nearby tree. “They seem to communicate through sheer force of will.”

“Paint it red, it’ll go faster,” muttered Locke as he rubbed the circulation back into his shoulder.

“Svarog? Where in the nine winds are you?” came Temujin’s voice from the vox. “Is the Blackshield with you?”

“Aye, that he is,” said Svarog, “and we’ve picked up a few more friends in our travels. Where are you?”

“We’re at the Bowden Bridge. I’ve got Mangala and the Raven with me.”

“The Bowden Bridge?” interjected Locke, moving forward. “Are there people still alive there?”

There were a few agonising seconds before Temujin answered. “No.”

Locke blinked. “Are you sure?”

Frey moved next to him as Temujin replied. “I’m sure. Trust me, you do not want to see what I see. I take it you’re one of the friends Svarog mentioned?”

“Major Adrian Locke, 2nd Zimmer Grenadiers.”

“Avenge them, Major. Svarog, are you still there?”

“Aye, comrade.”

“Any word from Oxamin or the others?”

“None yet, but I shall keep trying. Do you have a plan?”

“For now, yes. We’re going to destroy the Bowden Bridge.”

Svarog shared a look with Penitent, and they both looked at Locke. He stared back, jaw clenched. “Do it. That region was lost a long time ago. I just hope that Bowden swallows as many of the Eldar bastards as possible.”

“We could use your help on that front, Major,” said Temujin. “The bridge is rigged to blow with plasmite, but we do not see any obvious means of detonating them.”

Locke produced a dataslate from a belt pouch and consulted it. “Two sets of detonators were present on-site. One set was held in a station in the centre of the bridge, and the other was in the east shore bunker.”

“Munin, are you hearing this?”

The clipped tones of the Raven Guard appeared on the line. “Aye. I see the central station. It is difficult to tell whether they’re still there. What do they look like?”

“They’ll be standard Militarum detonators, Raven. You know what they look like.”

“Like I said, horseman, it is difficult to see; there are a great many xenos in the way. Thou art welcome to come and see for thyself.”

“What about the east shore bunker?” asked Penitent. “Is that an option?”

“The Eldar hit the east shore first, and that’s where our counter-attack was concentrated,” said Frey. “It’ll be the most defended.”

“Can we rig the mines to blow from where we are?” said Temujim.

“Have you got any banatium rods?” replied Svarog.

“No.”

“Then probably not. You might be able to set one off but it won’t affect the rest. Nobody seems to realise how difficult it is to get a good explosion these days…”

“I see the detonators,” said Munin softly. “In the central station.”

“Acknowledged,” said Temujin. “Can you send me a pict?”

“Done.”

“Aye, I see them. Mangala and I will have to make a dash for them. You cover from the birds nest. Once we’ve got them, everyone into the river.”

“And then what?” said Locke. Everyone turned to him.

“What do you mean?” said Penitent.

Locke moved around the clearing as he talked. “What’s your plan once the bridge is gone? There’s still Eldar on Zimmer. Your Valkyries were heading towards the west shore of the Bowden so I assume you were intending to deal with the Eldar incursion at the source, but once you destroy the bridge there’s no way you you’ll be able to get there. Your original mission has failed.”

“There are more of us,” growled Penitent, but Svarog cut across him.

“I imagine you have an idea of what to do next, though?”

“Yes. Control of the Bowden Bridge allowed the xenos to create a stronghold on this side of the river, which threatens the surrounding area including Taipo base. The Braves are heading to destroy it. We could use the help.”

There was silence whilst the Astartes considered his proposal. Svarog spoke back into the vox. “Tem, did you hear that?”

“Aye. Sounds like a good plan to me.”

“The base is downriver of your current position,” continued Locke. “If you travel that way you’ll probably make it ahead of us, especially with your headstart.”

“Acknowledged. Sva, we’re going to focus on the task at hand. We’ll make contact when the job is done and arrange a rendezvous.”

Da, comrade. We’ll be on hand if you need us. In the meantime, we shall attempt to contact Oxamin and the others. Ave Imperator.”

“Ave Imperator.”

The link clicked dead. Locke moved back to join Frey as they left the clearing. “Prep the Braves. They can grab a drink and an energy bar, but be ready to move out at a moment’s notice.”

“Yes, sir,” she moved to head back into the treetops, but stopped. “Major, I… I know you had a brother at the Bowden.”

“I did, lieutenant,” said Locke, his voice non-committal as he pocketed his dataslate. “And now we’re going to complete a strategic objective and carry out some good old-fashioned revenge. I think we could all do with some of that.” He looked her in the eyes. “Are you still with me?”

“Do you even have to ask, sir?” she replied, and fired her grapple into the treetops.

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"There's a special rung in hell for those who waste good scotch..."
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