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PROLOGUE Blood for the Blood God! Skulls for his throne!

Let nothing li A clawed alien hand decapitated the crimson-armoured warrior with a single blow, sending his head bouncing and spinning across the roiling terrain and out of sight amongst the heavingarmoured bodies of his charging comrades. The dead warriors battle-brethren roared in anger and surged forward as one to crash against the advancing aliens like a tidal surge, their bloodlust and hatred consuming them so utterly as to make them heedless to the encroaching danger of the alien horde. Chainblades sang and bolt pistols thundered as the blood-slicked, power armoured horde met the advance of the alien mass without fear or hesitation. The two forces met amid a cacophonous din of white noise. Thrashing, churning bodies smashed against one another as the berserkers and the aliens clashed, their numbers merging to form one huge mass of flailing death. Raw, palpable bloodlust rippled through the conflict in waves and the air itself glistened with blood. The night skies above the vast desolate plains of the Anubis Gulf were angry now, blackened with the countless falling seeds of the swarming alien invasion force. The cloudless sky boiled and flashed as if in protest to the living rainfall, the countless seeding spores of the attacking aliens saturating the horizon as far as the eye could see. Set against the backdrop of Contu Prime, largest of the planets moons, the vast hiveships hung like giant living dirigibles, each one the size of a small city, visible even from the ground. Far above the surface of the planet Daedalus huge, leather-winged monstrosities blocked out the stars as they slid ponderously through the night skies, wave after wave of smaller creatures detaching themselves from thearmoured bellies of the huge beasts to descend like a rain of death amid a deafening cacophony of screeching hatred. Horgotha, Champion of the Blood God thrust his arm into the air and roared with exultant delight. Surrounded by magnificent, glorious combat he felt alive, his every nerve set alight by the sea of death surrounding him. He watched as the falling spores plummeted towards the distant Imperial city, only to be obliterated by the powerfuldefences surrounding its walls. The air above Phrennec Mantris flashed and burned with a pale emerald iridescence as the pylons plucked the spores from the skies, their ethereal energies whickering and snaking across the falling mass relentlessly. Soon the mindless alien scum would realize that their efforts were futile. Soon they would abandon their attempts to take the city and instead concentrate their forces on the World Eaters. None of this mattered, for he knew of lord Karkattamorgs plans for this blighted planet. They themselves would bring the ancient city of Phrennec Mantris to its knees. All they had to do was wait for the seeding to stop, to buy the rest of the World Eater forces enough time to take the city their own way. Even now the others were waiting for thedefences to fall silent, it was only a matter of time. Then the planet Daedalus would scream the Blood Gods name. The suit lights of the giant World Eater terminators probed the closing darkness malevolently as they advanced through the twisted wreckage, the ancient storm bolters in their hands flaring as they belched death. All around them the multitudinous, many-limbed monstrosities of the attacking hormagaunt wave swarmed like insects, their swift, chitinous march resounding like hailstones on glass, countless legs skittering across the dusty rocks underfoot. The creatures moved like a shoal of fish, twisting and turning as one, altering their course in a heartbeat as they spied the advancing warriors. Within seconds the vanguard was upon them, leaping high in the air amid screams of intended malice. The first wave disappeared in a hail of ichor, atomized by the wall of auto-reactive shells that slammed

into them, the momentum of their attack coating the ancient armour of the traitor marines with a film of foul alien matter. High-pitched shrieks and screams rose from inhuman throats as the chattering advance was halted time and time again, as wave after wave of living weaponry was blown apart leaving nothing behind except a scattering of barbed limbs and a pungent mist of drifting blood-substance. Horgotha turned as the huge armoured warriors lumbered through the twisted wreckage, battering aside crooked girders and crumbling walls with gore-splattered power fists as they found their lord. Stood atop the blackened, smoking wreckage of an upturned rhino APC Horgotha roared at the angry skies, his powerful arms outstretched. The brass trim of his crimsonterminator armour shone in the light of the raging fires burning around his massive frame, giving him the appearance of a daemon encompassed by the fires of hell. In each hand he held a mighty double-headed chain axe, each one as large as a normal man from hilt to head. The toothed blades of the whirring axes screamed maliciously, spraying the aspiring champion with foul alien blood from his last kill. The alien dead were heaped around him, a tangled and bloodied mess of limbs and meat at his feet. My brothers! he roared, a twisted smile splitting his bloodstained lips. Let us flood this wretched planet with the blood of the alien! Let us douse the fires of this battlefield as we open the veins of every damned tyranid on the surface of this world! We will take their skulls, every last one of them, in tribute to Khorne! Nothing else but death! Nothing else but blood! For the Blood God! For the Blood God! the warriors echoed as one, thrusting their powerful arms into the air. He and the others of his warband had been brought here at the whim of the dread Karkattamorg to slaughter the pathetic inhabitants of Phrennec Mantris and had been taken as much by surprise as the beleaguered Daedalusian government when the alien fleet had emerged from the warp less than a day ago. Still, to the followers of the Blood God, an alien kill in His name was as good as any. Thecolour of blood matters not, brethren! He thundered, his voice a terrifying and rending thing, almost god-like in its hoarse yet enhanced amplification. Regardless of the vein from which it spills, blood is blood! Our lord Khorne demands slaughter in his name! Even now I feel his blessed power coursing through me! Onwards to glory! Onwards to immortality! The Crimson Dawn is upon us! A hissing, slithering shape burst forth from the darkness, nothing more than a flash of movement passing across the eyes of the champion. Within seconds it was upon him, snapping and hissing malevolently, all slashing claws and snapping teeth. Horgotha felt the hardarmoured shell of the rhino slam into his back as he toppled, the weight of his attacker throwing him back. He threw his head forward instinctively and smashed his head into the face of the creature, the blow spraying chitin and fluid as it connected. Dazed, the creature withdrew only for a moment, more than enough time for the champion to bring his chainaxes up and into the beast. The ravener came apart amid a welter of blood, its lithe, armoured body trisected by the screaming blades. The parted alien tumbled away and Horgotha hauled himself to his feet, the thick hull of the rhino buckling under his immense weight. He pushed himself free of the wreckage and glanced around, his glowing eyes scouring the whispering darkness. He turned his gaze towards the distant city and smiled as he saw the powerful, impassible pylons begin to sputter and die. The Manflayer had made good his promise to Karkattamorg. The tyranids had all but aborted their attack on the city. By the time they realized that the pylons had fallen silent it would be too late, Karkattamorg and the others would have taken the city and the defences would be reactivated. Even now he could see the tiny, distant pinpricks of light descending towards the distant walls. The city was as good as taken. Despite this, he knew that within moments the defences would be reactivated in order to ensure that the attacking tyranids would not be able to follow. He and his brethren would have to leave this place soon if they were to follow their lord to glory within the walls of the doomed city. As soon as the aliens realized that the citys defences had fallen silent they would renew the attack.

He would have to move fast. To the thunderhawk! he bellowed, gesturing for the crimson armoured behemoths to follow him. A swift glance at the skies warned of a change in the pattern of the descending swarm. The great harridans had begun to turn their massive bulks away from the city and were headed his way, sensing the presence of the remaining World Eater forces. Their rending screams echoed across the skies as they called the gargoyle swarms to them, intent on engaging the retreating traitor marines. All around him the constant, ominous thud-thud of the landing spores could be heard, the noise underlining the cacophonous din of the raging conflict. The swarm was angered now; the alien creatures denied their original goal. It would seem that Horgotha and the remainder of the World Eater invaders would suffer the wrath of the tyranids. His heavy boots thundered through the scattered debris as he moved out towards the waiting corrupt gunship, the distant craft visible only by the harsh lights shining through the gloom. The terminators of his retinue followed in his wake, smashing aside everything they came across, indifferent to the closing swarm around them. They had advanced no more than a few paces when the light suddenly swayed and then dimmed amid a terrible and thunderous squeal. He slowed, watching as something monstrous and hidden tore the craft apart, its massive, flailing form swathed in shadow. He was too late. Brothers! he roared, turning to face the silent warriors behind him. Glorious Khorne wishes us to stay and face the alien scum! Let us sell ourselves dearly to serve our magnificent god! Nothing must be allowed to stop the Crimson Dawn from coming to pass! He thrust one huge axe up at the night skies and his retinue lifted their gaze, watching in silence as the thousands upon thousands of descending spores enveloped the stars themselves directly above them. We will not survive this fight! Horgotha announced, not a single hint of fear or sorrow in his sonorous voice. The terminators heard this and turned their attention back to their champion. It matters not if we fall this day! Lord Karkattamorg has shown us the way forward! His glorious vision shall be realised here on Daedalus! Our lord will ascend to greater glory and bring the wretched Imperium to its knees! He will become an unstoppable force of destruction against which no power in this galaxy will be able to stand! He will stride unopposed through the Eternity Gate on Terra and tear the desiccated corpse of the Emperor from its resting place! The Golden Throne shall be his, and all the skulls of the servants of Man shall be heaped at his feet! Glory to Karkattamorg! Glory to Khorne! The World Eater terminators thrust their arms into the air and howled, elated by the prospect of the coming conflict. Dread Horgotha threw back his head and roared an inaudible challenge at the approaching abomination. A heartbeat later the mighty champion turned and thundered off into the night, uttering blasphemous curses as the shadows enveloped him. Horgothas terminator retinue watched as their lord flung himself into oblivion, his sonorous voice echoing through the darkness long after he disappeared from sight. Within seconds the sound of his chainaxes could be heard, screaming in the darkness as they met with the ominous, unseen threat. Something nameless and terrifying roared in response, its inhuman cry shaking the loose rubble underfoot. As one they surged forward to meet the threat, the crackling power weapons they carried raised and ready to deal death. The death-bellow of their aspiring champion howled across the archaic vox-link of their headsets, the noise serving only to incite their bloodlust further. The ground beneath them now began to shake more violently as the thunder of approaching hooves echoed through the dead space beyond. The sound grew louder and louder, the tremors increasing as each moment passed. Something was approaching.

Something big. The terminators began to lock and load the storm bolters in their right hands, ready for whatever approached them. Fierce, guttural growls of blasphemous challenge echoed through the air as each huge warrior readied himself to meet the unseen threat and a burning fire of exhilaration coursed through the squad, lighting every nerve. As one they began to chant, their broken, inhuman voices loud and powerful as they carried across the battlefield in perfect unison. Blessed be Khorne, the lord of death. Let all before Him be split asunder, let none survive. Death in the name of Khorne! Death in the name of Lord Karkattamorg, Chosen of the Blood God! All shall become trophies at the feet of the Blood Gods throne! The roaring chant continued, audible even over the crescendo of white noise surrounding them. The broken terrain before them exploded and shook, random detonations and pinpricks of incandescence illuminating the huge, bounding shape fast approaching them, moving with a swiftness that far belied its hulking size. At this point any lesser being would have turned tail and fled in sheer terror or through survival instinct, but not the terminators of the World Eaters. The insatiable bloodlust within them could be contained no longer. Driving the heels of the mighty armour they wore into the ashen soil, they countercharged. Screaming and shouting the terminators drove forward to meet the oncoming assault, the storm bolters they held convulsing in their gauntlet hands as they hammered round after round into the boiling darkness. Palpable waves of hot rage pulsed from the squad as they advanced, the runes carved into their ancient armour glowing white-hot. One of the warriors lurched back violently and in a flash of light was gone, enveloped by a searing blast of white-hot plasma so powerful the incandescent bolt vaporised most of his head and shoulders. Too powerful for even the legendary tactical dreadnought armour he wore to withstand, the blast left a smoking crater in place of the warriors chest and head. Even as the remnants of the dead terminator crashed to the floor a huge shape barreled forth from the black expanse and slammed into them, bowling the giant traitor marines aside as if they were leaves caught in a breeze. For a moment the colossal carnifex stood still, its huge chitinous sides heaving as it inhaled in deep, snorting breaths, each one spraying the air before it with a mist of thick saliva as it was expunged. The huge quadruple talons it bore hovered gently down by its sides, slick with blood and crimson armour fragments. Lodged fast on one of the huge blades was the twisted, sigil-marked turret of a World Eater predator assault tank, the crushed barrel of its autocannon trailing forlornly across the dusty ground. The mighty champion Horgotha had never stood a chance. Suddenly the gigantic living battering ram was struck from behind by a blow powerful enough to stagger a squiggoth. The creature bellowed in pain and staggered forward, lashing out in instinctive retaliation as it did so. The blind sweep parted the attacking World Eater below the shoulders and sent his body flailing across the loose sand underfoot, the storm bolter in his hand still firing wildly out into the darkness as his arms and head hit the floor. The remains of the terminator lurched backwards, hissing and crackling as the ancient suits protective field overloaded in a shower of sparks, unable to cope with the extreme force of the blow. The death of the warrior had bought the others time enough to recover and they attacked, surrounding the monstrosity The carnifex lowered its huge head and roared, the hot steam of its breath pouring from its cavernous mouth like a geyser. The terminator before it strode forward and punched it full in the face, shattering teeth and crushing the armoured layers of chitin like eggshell. The furious nightmare responded by clamping its huge mouth around the head of the World Eater and shaking him violently before flinging him through the air and into a nearby wall, his body disappearing under an avalanche of rubble. The others closed in on the beast and began to punch and pummel its vast body, the potent weapon-fists of their armoured suits flashing and crackling with each blow. The carnifex threw itself around and drove a talon through the chest of another of the armoured berserkers, impaling him

without effort. Despite their ferocious power and the blood-hunger that burned deep within their dark souls, the terminators were as good as dead. A blood-curdling roar resounded across the acrid air, deep and powerful and resonating with such unmatchable force that it could be heard clearly over the tumult of the chaotic conflict. The remaining terminators paused mid-blow and a respectful silence of recognition befell the squad. As one the warriors stepped back, almost as if in veneration. Even the massive carnifex shuddered, its twinkling eyes freezing in their sockets. The sound continued for a moment longer, a deep, foreboding and terribly ancient thunder of rage and hatred pouring forth from the throat of some unthinkable monstrosity. Karkattamorg. one of the terminators uttered reverently, taking a step back. As the monstrous carnifex swung its huge head around to gaze into the numbing darkness its marine opponents fell to their knees as one, their heads bowed in respect. For them, no greater honour could be bestowed than an audience with the dread lord himself. An acrid stench of charnel and death drifted through the hot, tangy air, an odour that seemed to emanate from nowhere and yet surround and envelop them. This sudden scent seemed to excite the carnifex and the massive monstrosity flexed its talon limbs, its blood-thirst roused once again. The vast alien killing machine opened its maw and roared at the shifting darkness, rolling its oversized head from side to side as if in challenge. From somewhere in the black distance and closing fast, the challenge was answered. The huge dark shape snorted and bellowed as it bounded through the murky gloom like a charging bull, each heavy footfall shaking the ground as it landed. The sound of squealing metal and splintering glass rang through the cold night air as the approaching monstrosity relentlessly crushed everything in its path as it advanced. Men, aliens and tanks alike were batted aside or crushed underfoot as the raging beast thundered across the battle-scarred terrain, its quarry located. Emitting a roar of pure hatred the massive figure took to the air, the mighty leap carrying it across the remaining expanse in seconds. Karkattamorg, daemon prince, lord of the World Eaters landed heavily before the carnifex, his crimson armoured bulk smashing into the ground like a falling meteorite. The alien monster took a step back, momentarily bewildered by the new arrivals bold challenge. The monstrous abominationslowly rose to his feet, the eerie light of his glowing red eyes shining through the long strands of blood-encrusted hair covering his face. His entire frame seemed to creak like the flexing hull of a ship as he rose up, the vast plates of ancient armour strapped to his body grinding together. His breathing was deep and heavy, like that of some huge primeval beast, hot steam pouring from his nose and mouth. The surface of the debased armour encasing him seemed to glisten as if coated with fresh blood, the runes and sigils etched into it pulsing and writhing as if hungry for combat, their eerie light echoing that of the scattered fires surrounding him. At last. He uttered, his inhuman voice heavy and ageless as it rumbled across the scene like a peal of thunder. A foe worthy of my attention. A fitting tribute for my lord Khorne. The carnifex roared in challenge and lunged forward. Karkattamorg saw this and thrust his arms out by his sides, revealing the two ancient and terrible weapons he wielded. In a blur of motion and colour the two titans met, the thick, scythed talons of the alien battering ram cleaving the air as they descended. The daemon prince swung his immense bulk around and swept his mighty chainaxe through the air, batting the blades aside and sending whickering chunks of shattered chitin spinning away. With his return stroke he slashed at the carnifex with the huge daemonic sword in his other hand, the writhing blade carving a dark swathe through the thick organic blades. The carnifex roared and staggered back, two of its four arm-blades severed cleanly by the single blow. The

creature seemed to shudder and convulse as it backed away, giving off a strange, ethereal mist that floated into the living blade. The two combatants began to circle one another; the terminators surrounding them moving back even further. The carnifex began to visibly sag, its thick, sinuous legs shaking as they struggled to support its vast weight. The sword of the daemon prince had caused it more damage than was immediately visible. Nevertheless, its unshakeable thirst for destruction kept it on its feet, its primal instincts driving it on. The carnifex stooped low and charged forward, saliva trailing from its gaping maw. Karkattamorg leapt back as the clumsy fiend thundered past and thrust his chainaxe out, catching the exposed turret ring dangling from one of the creatures remaining talons with the tip of the weapon. The carnifex stopped dead, its titanic frame grinding to a halt as if halted by some impassable, invisible wall. Mere feet away from the observing terminators, the looming carnifex suddenly flew backwards with incredible speed and was thrown through the air without effort. The flailing monster disappeared beneath an avalanche of crumbling masonry with a thunderous boom. Karkattamorg roared with delight and with a flick of the wrist turned the shimmering sword in his hand and drove it deep into the cracked rockcrete at his feet. The living blade quivered and screamed as it pierced the ground, the thick road surrounding it shattering and splitting like the web of a spider under the potent power of the daemonic essence bound within. The mighty daemon prince turned and lunged at the smouldering remains of the crushed rhino, driving the fingers of his free hand deep into the thick armoured hull. The kneeling terminators looked on in reverent silence as the daemon prince lifted the squealing, groaning wreck high above his head and hurled it at the emerging juggernaut. The spinning shell smashed into the alien and shattered across its bulk, driving it back into the rubble from which it had begun to emerge. The leering abomination plucked his sword from the ground and advanced, his burning eyes fixed upon the shifting wreckage of the APC. The carnifex roared and thrashed as it struggled to break free of the ruined vehicle, too preoccupied to notice the daemon princes advance. The daemonic World Eaters gigantic chainaxe flashed through the air before him, driving down with the force of a crash-landing drop pod into the armoured shell of the thrashing alien. Shards of chitin and organic juices sprayed upwards into the air as the screaming blade drove itself deep into armoured flesh, then again and again as the immensely powerful thrust was repeated three, four, five times. The carnifex bellowed more through anger than pain and kicked its hooves in desperation, throwing the daemon prince momentarily off-balance. Karkattamorg stumbled back, reeling from the blow. His alien opponent roared defiantly and hauled itself up onto it feet, bloodied steam escaping from the huge gaping rends torn across its thick armoured hide. Though grievously injured it drove its heels into the ground and bounded towards the daemon prince, far from defeated. Karkattamorg raised his right hand and swept the terrible captured daemon sword NaGzetchh before him, the writhing blade screaming with rage and bloodlust. The air itself glittered and shimmered in its wake and the sword bit home, cutting a deep groove through the charging behemoths chest and all the way through to its back armour in one single pass. No matter how thick its armoured hide was, no protection in the galaxy could withstand a blow from a weapon designed to ignore the laws of the material universe. More through shock than pain the screaming beast slammed into the floor beside the daemon prince, kicking and writhing as its huge frame became enveloped in a swirling miasma of blue and pink chaos power, the swords warping powers beginning to attack the monster at a cellular level almost immediately. The downed carnifex began to warp and shudder, its vast frame cracking and shattering as it transformed into something twisted and indistinct, its body stolen by some nameless horror of the warp. Only when the victorious daemon prince brought his huge war axe down across the beasts neck did the alien juggernaut fall silent, its torment ended.

A roar of triumph rose from the great immortal beast as he thrust his head back and bellowed into the dark night, victorious in the name of Khorne, the huge head of the carnifex impaled upon the chattering blade of his sword. The terminators around him lifted themselves up, baying and whooping in celebration at their daemonic champions victory, the bloodlust within them surging through every vein like fire. Nothing would stop them now. Neither the pathetic Imperial defenders of this planet, nor the attacking alien menace of the tyranid hive fleet. Daedalus would be cleansed, cleansed in an orgy of blood and fire and death that would last until no other living thing remained except for the victorious warriors of the World Eaters. They would turn this planet into a necropolis and they would use the skulls of the fallen to build the greatest shrine to the Blood God this pathetic galaxy had ever seen. Daedalus was a dead world and its dying scream would echo throughout the eternal night of space until the stars themselves cooled. Then the Crimson Dawn would be unleashed and the galaxy would run red with its own blood. Karkattamorg would be made a god. This was the promise of the World Eaters. Karkattamorg, immortal champion of the Blood God, the Great Chieftain of the Crimson Tide turned and surveyed his surroundings. He watched in silence for a moment as the endless tyranid rain continued to fall about him, saturating the vast plains of the Anubis Gulf with its vile, pervasive stain. His glowing eyes burned with an ageless balefire as he watched the advance of the swarm, his altered eyes able to pierce the roiling darkness with ease. He smiled a terrible predatory smile, exposing a mouth full of yellowed canine fangs. The tyranids were as nothing to him, less than a swarm of scrabbling ants at his feet. He would be the one to bring this wretched planet to its knees, of that much he was certain. His own efforts would dwarf those of the damned Despoiler and the servants of the Emperor would scream his name as they died in their millions by his hand. His would be the ultimate glory, the ultimate ascension. He would become a force of supreme might against which no power in this galaxy would be able to stand. He would see himself transformed into an entity with power enough to exceed that of even great Angron, the mightiest of all the Primarchs. The dying galaxy would scream in its death throes. Scream the name Karkattamorg. Far in the distance he watched, the accursed Flesh Manipulator, his gaze burning from the shadows of the city walls. He watched as the huge and mighty Karkattamorg, Chosen of Khorne took to the air on giant wings of leather, intent on seeking out a challenge worthy of his attention. The huge daemonic warrior was no more than a speck set against the mindless carnage of the melee, visible only through the light of the many fires blazing across the scene. Invigorated by the glorious, chaotic carnage spread out before him, he ran his dark, glistening tongue across yellowed teeth, savouring the heady scent of death as it drifted in from the devastated industrial regions of the Anubis Gulf. The whole district burned, ravaged by the attentions of both the World Eaters and their tyranid pursuers alike. He smiled, his ancient eyes surveying the distant scene. The Devourer of Worlds had come, just as he had predicted, drawn like moths to a flame by the call of the dying mother. The intrusive, knowledge-seeking fools of the mechanicus didnt have a clue as to what they held here in secret, deep beneath the surface of the city. They were little more than nave children, trying in vain to understand and contain a force more powerful and vast than any member of the Imperium would ever be able to do so. Now they were dead and gone, their labours unfinished, their quest for knowledge incomplete. So illicit were their activities here beneath the city that they were unable to rely on the rest of their so-called Imperial allies above to defend them when he had descended like an avatar of retribution to claim their efforts as

his own. The secretive conclave had lived and died here, far beneath the streets of Phrennec Mantris, their violent demise as unknown to the unsuspecting populace above their heads as their long years of subterranean existence. He and his Nephilim had taken the facility with all the ease of a member of the vaunted astartes stealing from the smallest child, and he had ensured that they had been made to suffer greatly for their mistake. He knew of the secret that lay in wait far beneath this damned city. He knew of the true potential of what had lain dormant beneath his feet for an age. It had taken nigh on seven years of ceaseless toil but now the final stages of the plan were starting to take shape. The host was almost ready. Karkattamorg and his World Eaters had come, lured by the promise of that which the daemon prince had sought for centuries. He would surpass himself this time and Daedalus would fall, no matter the cost. Damn the blunt Khornate mastodon and his blundering stampede across the worlds of the Imperium. Theirs was not a meeting of equals, a combining of resources in order to reach a mutually beneficial goal. Karkattamorg was just another senseless, narrow-minded tool to be pointed in the right direction, to be used as he alone saw fit. The galaxy would burn and in its death throes it would scream his unholy name. A tide of death would come to sweep the countless worlds of both man and xenos alike clean of the filth that infested them, a scouring, cleansing cataclysm like the hand of some mighty god. He and his brethren would emerge from the ruins to take their rightful place as the heralds of the new age. A new Imperium would be born. His Imperium.

CHAPTER 1: A CALL TO ARMS +++++ To: From: Date: Subject: Clearance Level: Thought For The Day: Ordo Malleus Inquisitor Lord Vorkohnen Warmaster General Bombola 999.M41 A Call to Arms, The Ancient Enemy Magenta Preparation is all.

Daedalus. Fifth planet of the Borteth system. An industrious and wealthy giant, Daedalus is a centre of commerce that is unrivalled the length and breadth of the sparsely populated Profundo Cluster. Though largely arid and infertile in terms of both flora and fauna, the northern hemisphere is home to one of the most impressive and productive collections of manufactorum and refinarium to be found anywhere in the Cluster. Its countless factories have produced munitions, fuel and armour for the Imperial war machine for centuries. Daedalus is the lynchpin that holds the Borteth subsystem and indeed the entire Profundo Cluster together, its importance and strategic value within this sector of space paramount to the Imperium. All lines of communication with the planet have been suddenly and inexplicably lost. Way stations across the subsystem have fallen silent, one after another, without warning or explanation. All outgoing traffic from the manufactorum world has abruptly ceased. We can only assume some terrible, unknown disaster has befallen the planet. Now you have heard the standard rhetoric, inquisitor. Now you have heard what should be enough to warrant swift and decisive action by the Imperium. Now you yourself have heard the exact call to arms given to almost each and every Imperial organisation asked to participate in the campaign to free Daedalus from the clutches of suspected enemy occupation. Now you alone will hear the whole, horrifying truth. Know that you are privy to information kept from all but the highest-ranking individuals involved in this campaign. Something dark and evil transpires within the Borteth system, inquisitor, something so terrible it must be brought to your expert attention. The ancient and insidious forces of foul chaos are behind this, of that much we can be sure. The first indications we had of this was when the Astropathic council of Terra detected a strong and incredibly powerful psychic presence emanating from somewhere at the systems centre, most likely originating from the capital world, Daedalus. One solar month ago, two weeks after the detection of the psychic presence a defence outpost stationed on Contu Prime informed high command that what seemed to be a large invasion force of vile traitor marines had emerged from the warp and had taken up orbit around Daedalus. Communications were soon lost but not before they had managed to confirm that the commander of the warband had insolently identified himself as an individual named Karkattamorg. Sources provided by your esteemed colleagues within the ordo malleus indicate that Karkattamorg is one of our most ancient of enemies and has been hunted with utmost vigour since the days of foul Horuss treachery. He is named amongst the vilest of those we seek to destroy, listed high in that most holy of tomes, the Exterminatus Hereticus. It is said that the Emperor Himself, praise his Holy name, spoke to the Astropathic council of Terra through the blessed Tarot, disgusted by his presence on Daedalus. That the God-Emperor

of mankind would wish this fiend dead above all else was enough to stir the High Lords themselves into seeking immediate action. Five naval reconnaissance vessels and three escort carriers under Admiral Quasdathe were sent out to investigate. No one has heard from them since. During that time it came to our attention that all Astropathic communication with the Borteth system had been rendered impossible and that the Astronomicon was unable to penetrate the sector. This is an occurrence that the adepts know as the Shadow in the Warp. The Shadow is a phenomenon that we have encountered before on numerous occasions and can lead us to only one conclusion; that the vile xenos creatures of one of the tyranid hive fleets are also somehow involved. This is grave news indeed. How or why the hive fleets seem to have specifically sought out this isolated world we cannot say, though it would seem that their actions are driven by something more than a simple desire to consume the planets bio-mass. The High Council have authorised military action in the Borteth system with immediate effect and command has been given to me. As we speak I am mobilising a large and powerful invasion force with which to take back the stricken planet and as such am in the process of enlisting the best forces and individuals I can muster. Even now I am receiving word of yet more insidious presences upon the systems capital world and as such have been taking steps to ensure that they meet with the ultimate resistance when we arrive. I have sent numerous spies ahead of us to assess the situation as best they can and it was while waiting for their response that your name was passed on to me. It was brought to my attention that you are among the most fervent and zealous of the ordo malleus daemonhunters and that for years you have made it your lifes holy work to seek out and destroy the foulest of the Imperiums heretic foes. Word of your exploits in pursuing the Arch-heretic Xaxxarfon the Perverse soon reached me and I can think of no better individual to deal with the foul Karkattamorg. It has long been known to me that you swore an oath before the Golden Throne to hunt the foul creatures named in the Exterminatus Hereticus and that you have hunted Karkattamorg himself for years. Today, inquisitor, I give you that chance. I humbly ask that you join us in liberating Daedalus and putting an end to whatever foul and insidious plans the ruinous powers have for the planet. The Emperor Himself has called for this war, inquisitor, and it is our duty to answer. I look forward to your response. Lord General Jophius Garant Bombola, Supreme Commander of the Borteth Crusade.

+++++ To: From: Date: Subject: Clearance Level: Thought For The Day: Warmaster General Bombola Lord Inquisitor Vorkohnen 999.M41 The Emperors holy work Magenta Our lives are His.

Lord General, I thank you for choosing to seek my help in despatching this most foulest and terrible of the Immortal Emperors ancient foes. Karkattamorg is as good as dead.

Lord Inquisitor Devan Vorkohnen.

CHAPTER 2: DAEDALUS.

Sergeant Moneth Hastor looked on in stark, horrified silence, the thick shielded glass of the viewing port
frosting under his hot breath. The huge battleship Incursus shook once more and began to list slightly, the rumbling vibrations dimming the lights above his head as they passed through the massive leviathan. He swallowed his fear and watched as another salvo of huge, streaking torpedoes cut a sparkling multitude trail through the inky blackness of space and slammed into one of the many distant organic behemoths orbiting the vast planetary bowl beyond, sending a shuddering impact wave across the ship-creatures thick armoured hide. If the silent abomination felt anything resembling pain, it did not register. He swallowed hard and his heart raced as he looked upon the hive ship for the first time, an air of utter disbelief hovering over him. In all his years as a seasoned veteran of the Imperial storm troopers he had never come face to face with a single tyranid organism until this moment, a fact for which he had given thanks to the divine Emperor numerous times. He had heard many, many stories in the mess halls and garrisons of the countless worlds he had visited about the hive fleets, heard men recounting the experiences they had endured at the hands of the unknowable inhuman beasts from beyond the galactic rim, drawn to the fertile, teeming worlds of the Imperium by their endless, insatiable quest for sustenance. He had felt bile rise in his throat as men had described the passing of the swarm, of how entire worlds were stripped to the very bedrock of everything. Animals, plant life, even water and atmosphere, nothing was left behind in their wake. These were creatures more truly alien than any other he had encountered in all the years of his service, insidious and terrifying predators from beyond the boundaries of known space, the tyranids were a foe unlike any other. Blessed Emperor, he could think of no greater evil in this galaxy, save perhaps for the insidious monstrosities of the Empyrean. He had hated even the concept of the tyranids with all his heart and soul for many years and now, as he found his gaze upon them for the first time, he found he hated them all the more. The Incursus shuddered violently again, shaking him free from his waking trance. Warning lights and runes flooded the vast, echoing chamber and alarm sirens began to resonate throughout the length of the Mars-class battlecruiser, rousing each and every man and woman held within its enormous belly like a jolt of pain. Heads up everyone! We are under attack! Tyranid assault craft inbound! someone hollered, the owner of the voice lost amongst the packed bodies of the massive main hold. Hastor leapt to his feet as yet another huge blow shook the Incursus to its very core, the jolt so powerful that it shook bolts loose from the bulkhead above. The shockwave vibrations sent him flying backwards and it was only by the grace of his practised reflexes that he managed to turn and grab the handhold behind him, his face stopping a hairs breadth short of the thick glass of the viewing port. By the Golden Throne He breathed, his gaze falling upon the space beyond the window. Three huge organic shapes swept past, tracer fire hot on their heels. Huge, ugly scythe-nosed creatures screamed past, twisting and turning skilfully as they evaded the multitude defence guns of the giant battlecruiser. Sweat began to moisten his brow and he backed away from the port, almost as if he were afraid that the creatures would spot him and view him as a potential target. Stalker drone ships. Ugly b-------s, even by nid standards.

Surprised by the voice Hastor turned, his gaze falling upon a familiar face. The mans trademark, halfmoon scar ran the length of his features from the left of his temple down to his top lip. His hair was shaved into a single, neat line, further augmenting his already fearsome appearance. The officer stared back at him, his cold gaze hiding a familiar warmth that few who knew him recognised. Hastor, however, knew this man better than most and he smiled weakly, moving his arm in the beginnings of a salute. At ease, sergeant. The officer whispered with a lopsided grin, waving him aside so as to get a better look at the circling creature-ships. Colonel Vorpax, sir. All hell seems to be breaking loose out there. I-I didnt even know the Tyranids had such monstrosities at their disposal. The first and foremost rule of warfare, sergeant. Know your enemy. The colonel barked gruffly, smoothing down his padded Elysian drop troop battle-dress as he pushed himself away from the viewing port. The multitude creatures of the hive fleet match us on every front. Whether land, sea, air or even space, Emperor damn them, they match us. What you see out there is the largest breakaway splinter fleet we have encountered since the emergence of Leviathan. Emperor knows why they broke away from the main fleet. All I know is that half the damn Imperium seems to be on their way here to fight them, including us. Hastor studied the Elysian colonel as he once again peered through the thick glass of the port, his icy eyes scoping the dark space beyond. He had fought alongside this man for many years, and he could think of no other officer he would follow into battle as readily as Colonel Hondu Vorpax of the Elysian 3rd. Shouldnt be long now, sergeant. He announced, turning away from the turbulent skirmish beyond. Whatever were seeing here, its much more than a simple invasion force. They dont want us here. It seems the entire fleet is currently under attack, but they will not stop us. Stalkers and Razorfiends are no match for the combined might and firepower of a fleet of Imperial Mars-class battlecruisers. We will break through. God-Emperor willing, we will make the surface of this forsaken hell-hole yet. What then, sir? Hastor asked, unsure of what to expect once the mighty ships of the invasion force finally broke through the living blockade. Vorpax turned to leave, an expression of stone setting his features rigid. We pray to the immortal Emperor, sergeant. We hunker down; we sight anything not sporting the aquila and we fry it. Then we pray a whole lot more. As you were. Hastor settled back uneasily against the hard backrest of the seat as he watched the colonel leave, trying as best he could to drown out the blaring sirens that still resounded throughout the massive ship. He closed his eyes briefly, feeling the massive bulk of the huge vessel shift as it began to pick up speed, sliding forward through the cold vastness of space. He muttered a silent prayer to the sleeping Emperor, praying for his benevolence. Trying as best he could to block all thoughts of the monstrous foe from his mind, he began to recount the mission briefing he and the other officers had received before they had dropped into realspace little more than half a solar day ago. The plan seemed simple by all accounts. The Elysian 3rd, 6th and 11th were part of a massed invasion force on their way to liberate the fifth planet of the Borteth system from a two-pronged attack by the foul forces of chaos and a large tyranid invasion fleet. They were to form part of a huge ground counteroffensive, their primary mission to provide the first stages of the main Imperial assault with a base of fastmoving, hard-hitting shock troops in their efforts to liberate the planets main population centre, the city of Phrennec Mantris. Together with the Juntan 15th and 16th War Hawks, the 51st Vortan Paras and the fearsome zealots of the Centotrine Penitors, the Elysian regiments would provide the drop ships of the main Imperial assault with a solid core of swift, hard-hitting ground-based infantry in order to facilitate as safer landfall as could be

provided for the larger, more vulnerable carriers. It was Bombolas plan to saturate the main landing site with light assault infantry prior to the arrival of the main attack force. The chosen landing zone was the heart of the planets manufactorium district, some way from the besieged city and the bulk of the swarm. Though active, the enemy were thin on the ground there, hopefully too thin to cause the invasion force much trouble. He hoped that an army of well-equipped, ultra-trained assault specialists would be able to hold off the foot soldiers and living artillery of the swarm and in doing so clear a space in order to allow the valuable armour of the massed Imperial assault to establish itself. The landing site would be bombarded from orbit prior to the arrival of the assault troops, leaving them to clear any pockets of resistance that managed to survive the preliminary attacks. A desperate plan by all accounts, and one that in his personal opinion would no doubt result in heavy casualties throughout the advance force. Still, he was as faithful a servant of the Emperor as any, and as such would carry out his mission to the letter, no matter the cost. Your thoughts, sergeant? He opened his eyes to see a friendly face before him, another storm trooper sergeant whom he immediately recognised to be his one of his oldest friends, Deucius Bellanor. Deucius! I dont believe it! Praying to the Emperor already, Moneth? By the light of the Throne, thats not like you. Mind, you always were one of the more superstitious among us. He laughed, landing a heavy slap on the sergeants knee. Hastor smiled. Bellanor referred to the time they spent together in the Schola Progenium back on St. Pinitas World, the orphanage where the two friends had been raised. It was rare these days to see his old comrade. Indeed, it was a rarity for more than one squad to be sent to any war zone at one time. It is good to see you alive after all these years, brother. He smiled, extending his hand. Bellanor took it and the two men exchanged a warriors handshake, hands clasped around each others arm. Well met, old friend. It is good that you are still raising hell amongst the enemies of our Emperor, though it would seem you are more and yet less than you were when last we met. The soldier observed, referring to the smooth, cold metallic forearm in his grip. An arm and an eye? He remarked, seemingly impressed by the augmetics that replaced Hastors left eye and right forearm at the elbow. Im jealous. Its clear that you have been busy exacting the Emperors justice upon much more worthy foes than I, Moneth. Hastor smiled and released his grip, flexing the fingers of his fleshless hand proudly. I lost the original on Jeraphon five years ago. I made the ork that bit it off savour every damn mouthful, then I put a ball of plasma through its skull. The eyes fresher, barely a year old. Ill keep that one a secret, let you read about it sometime. He smiled, tapping the thick lens of the square optical replacement with the thick finger of his replacement hand. Bellanor shook his head, a wide grin spread across his face. Me, I step out of the way. I like my body just the way it is. He announced, glancing out of the rounded window beside him. Having said that, its damn hard to avoid an enemy when your stuck in the hold of a battlecruiser. Have you seen those damn things, Hastor? God Emperor, they have ships! I never knew they couldgrow such things. I hate these alien monstrosities with a passion, Deucius. He whispered, his smile quickly fading. We face the might of a full splinter fleet, already well established in its assault. Theyve had time to dig in down there, old friend. Its going to take more than a downpour of light infantry to uproot the tyranid masses.

Bellanors expression changed as he listened to Hastor and he fell quiet. Hastor could see almost immediately that his old comrade shared his opinion. I agree. Something doesnt sit right here, Moneth. I feel it also, a tension in the air. Bombola is a competent and efficient warsmith and this campaign just doesnt seem to be his style. Retaking Phrennec Mantris this late after the onset of a seeding seems to me to be little short of suicide, but then again, who am I to say? We are nothing more than small cogs in the vastness of the Imperial war machine. Hastor wiped the sweat from his face, realising perhaps for the first time just how stifling the packed hold of the Incursus was. In this chamber alone, upwards of eleven hundred men sat in wait, each one in silent, nervous anticipation of the horror to come. Whether storm trooper or guardsman, every single member of the Elysian 3rd was a hardened and seasoned veteran, the survivor of countless battles with the multitudinous enemies of the Imperium. Each and every one of them had already seen more death and conflict than most other guardsmen see in a lifetime. They had been to hell and back and they had survived. Despite this, the cavernous chamber was filled with the quiet murmur of prayer as eleven hundred souls waited uneasily for the slaughter to begin. I was speaking to Finnis earlier. Bellanor continued, referring to the Elysian tactical officers adjutant, another of their close friends and one whom they grew up with on St. Pinitas World. Going on what Ive heard, Daedalus is going to go down in Imperial history as one of the largest ground assaults this sector has ever seen. Chaos be damned, they say we go to take part in what will be known as the next Armageddon! It should be a glorious battle, brother. Hastor shook his head gently; biting his bottom lip as yet another blast rocked the huge cruiser. Better it was Armageddon, I say. I would rather face an army of accursed orks than the foes we go to engage. As debased and alien as the greenskins are, at least you know what youre fighting. You know what to expect, how to anticipate their next move. The tyranids are different, Bellanor. They dont seek to enslave, to conquer. How can any one of us hope to get into their minds, to think like they do? They are too alien to comprehend. Bad enough that we face an entire invasion fleet of the Great Devourer, a thought that turns my stomach inside out. Worse still should we stumble upon the horror of a legion of World Eaters. I have met these monsters in battle before, Deucius. They are nigh unstoppable, more mindless and unreasonable than any ork. I have seen a handful of them tear apart a baneblade with nothing more than the axes they wield so readily. This mission can only bring death to us, I swear. Bellanor rose to his feet, the Imperial winged skull crest of his dull grey carapace chest armour glinting under the pale light of the chamber, his face a mask of proud determination. Both his fists were curled tightly, not in anger but pride. Where have you been this last day or so, Hastor. Dont you realise the extent of the forces that move with us to win back this stricken world for the Emperor? By the Throne, I have seen the roster of this campaign with my own eyes! We are nothing compared to the greater picture, brother. Never has a mightier force been mustered in this sector of the front. The Cadian 15th, 21st, 23rd and 42nd follow us in, as do the 31st, 32nd and 33rd Krieg Death Korps. There are more, so many regiments I can hardly remember their names. The 5th Kentu, the 45th Belusian Admonishers, the 8th Encyian Outriders, the Sentinels of the 15th Yamin, the list goes on! Hastor sat up as he heard this, his morale slowly returning. Thats right, Moneth, and I havent even begun to list the heavy support. The Cadian 28th, 29th and 30th Armoured Fist, the Phyressian 2nd, the Macraleusian Bombardiers, the hellhounds of the Fire Drakes He faltered, moving closer to the listening sergeant as if fearful of unseen, listening ears. Hastor frowned, taken aback by the sudden change in tone. Theres more. Bellanor whispered, taking a seat beside Hastor, his eyes burning with vigour. Astartes, Moneth, space marines. Here, fighting alongside us. It seems high command consider the combined threat

we face too great for the guard to face alone. The warriors of at least three companies follow us in, my friend. White Scars, Crimson Fists and Thunder Dragons, all lending their might to the mass assault. Yet still the intrigue runs deeper. Bellanor moved closer still, his weathered features creasing as he looked deep into his old comrades eyes. I saw the ship with my own eyes, Moneth. Small and black, almost hidden save for the stars it shadowed, like some insidious, cruel spike sliding through space behind us. It bore the mark of the Officio Assassinorum, most likely a cryo-ship. We have an assassin following us in, most likely an eversor. Hastor inhaled sharply through bared teeth, the very mention of such a being freezing his heart. He had heard tell of these unfeeling monsters, the Imperiums ultimate killer. Fearsome unstoppable killing machines fuelled by burning hatred, the legend of the eversor was a popular story amongst the guard. To think that one of these bio-enhanced fiends would be stalking the killing fields with them sent a shudder down his spine and he mouthed a silent oath to the Emperor. That an agent of the Imperium could evoke such fear and revulsion throughout those it fought alongside was testament indeed to the terrifying reputation of the eversor temple. They seek out Chaos then. Hastor concluded, trying as best he could to push all thoughts of the assassin aside. To send an eversor against the forces of the Great Devourer would be little more than futile madness. The tyranids are said to be a faceless foe, their command structure little more than superfluous in the grander scheme of the assault. They have no overlord to speak of, save for the distant and immortal hive mind. No, their target must be the fiend behind the chaos forces on Daedalus. Whoever commands the foul legion of World Eaters down there must be an important target, as sure as I am a faithful servant of the Throne. Were it not for the few brave souls who still defend Phrennec Mantris in the name of the Emperor of man, I would have seen this cursed planet magma-bombed and have had done with it. The motivations behind this ill-fated incursion vex me greatly. The lights of the immense chamber suddenly shifted in spectrum from pale white to red, cutting the conversation between the two sergeants short. Both men stood sharply, the carapace armour they wore grating together under the sudden movement. Orders are orders, Moneth, and we have ours. We are to support the main Elysian deployment as ordered. Our primary task is to locate and destroy the enemys bio-artillery. We cannot allow the armour and infantry of the main assault force to fall victim to the enemys spore mines before they have a chance to disperse. Stay focused on the task at hand, old friend, we will win this planet back soon enough, and we will do so in the name of the blessed Emperor. May He watch over you on the field of battle. Bellanor extended a padded gauntlet that Hastor gripped eagerly in his own and the two soldiers exchanged a nod, both their faces set in a grimace of determination. Our lives in the service of the Imperium, as it shall be always. Be safe, brother. He watched his old friend depart, thinking back to the days when the two of them served in the same squad. That both of them had come so far had been as much a blessing as a curse. Men who fought together shared a bond unlike any other, a bond that surpassed that of even siblings. Bellanor was more than a friend, he was a brother, linked not by their own blood but rather the blood that they had shed together in the service of the Imperium. Promotion had done what all the enemies of the Emperor could not, it had seen them separated, taken away from the familiar, enduring faces of their own squad in order to command another. Such was life within the armies of the guard; a life filled with none of the simple comforts afforded the other citizens of the Imperium. Careers, family, friends; these were all to be found within the confines of the squad. The men you fought alongside were both family and friend to you. You worried for them, looked out for them, sought to keep them safe from harm.

Sir! Hastor looked up to see a number of familiar figures approaching him, arms laden with weaponry and equipment, pushing their way through the packed bodies of the Elysian 3rd. Nesker, Tessok, Brandbaar, Regan, Autis, Fordar, Corpo, Zith and Moranith, the men under his command. Sarge, we have to go. The valkyries are prepped and ready for launch. Nesker announced, the old, grizzled veteran shoving his way roughly through the two-tone blue Elysian armour. Hastor snatched his equipment from the floor of the hold and broke into a jog as he heard this, heading out towards the rest of his men, the pace of his heart beginning to quicken. So soon? We werent scheduled to Theyre wasting no time on this one, sarge. The fleets managed to punch a hole through the tyranid blockade. They want to take the Incursus into low orbit so they can begin the bombardment while the enemy fleet is still reeling. Our window of opportunity is fast closing, sir. Zith announced, his eyes scanning the space beyond the small porthole. If we dont do this now and the enemy engages us, we wont be able to launch. We have to move. Then lets do this, Validus. Hastor commanded, his face a mask of determination. For the Emperor.

CHAPTER 3: FALL.

Noise. Rushing, tumultuous noise rising up to greet him as the world around him fell away, resonating and roaring with a dull, ominous rumble, loud even through the sealed carapace of his full-face rebreather. Gravity seized him in its scrabbling claws and a buffeting, howling wind tore at his covered face, his head forming the tip of the hurtling arrow that was his body, the force of the rushing air as it howled past threatening to snap his neck. Hastor gripped the belt-mounted adjuster-rune of his grav-chute tightly, ready to slow his descent the moment he gave the order. His other hand braced his hellgun tight to his chest, the weapon primed and ready for the conflict ahead. Behind him the shrinking armoured hull of the Valkyrie span away, still bleeding bodies from its gaping back end. The rest of specialist squad Validus followed their commander out into the vast upper atmosphere of Daedalus, adding to the thick precipitation of bodies already plummeting towards the barren, distant ground. Staring past the screen of tactical displays and status readings that flashed across the visor of his helmet he could see nothing but thick, moisture-darkened cloud, broad and endless, obese and grey with moisture evaporated by the scorching sun. That such a barren planet as Daedalus would even have such contradictory weather conditions seemed strange to him, though in truth he didnt give this a second thought. Bombola had chosen this site personally; recognizing the advantages the usually sparse rains of the northern hemisphere would provide his advance force with. Better that the enemy remain unaware of the presence of the attackers until they were right on top of them. A sound plan, by all accounts. Water droplets began to form in rivulets before him, streaking across the thick glass of the protective rebreather. His suits communicatons array came alive at once with streaming vox-link chatter, so profuse and fast he could scarcely make out a single audible word amongst the auditory tumult. He began to cycle through the frequencies until he found the familiar channel used by his own squad. Squad Validus, this is Hastor. Confirm successful grav-chute deployment, over. He listened and for a moment there was nothing but silence, that and the constant vibrating rumble of the passing air. Seconds later a steady stream of voices began to bark back in answer. Regan. Autis. Fordar. Corpo. Brandbaar. Moranith. Zith. Nesker. Tessok. One by one they answered the sergeants request, the sound of each recognisable voice bringing with it some small flourish of relief. Thank the Emperor, his entire squad had deployed successfully. Squad Validus, ready yourselves. He barked, his own voice nothing more than a dull, buzzing drone in his own ears, more felt than heard. We will break through the cloud cover in approximately two minutes! Do not engage descent buffers until I give the order! I repeat; do not slow until I give the order! Hastor out! The vast, rolling strata loomed ever closer, seeming to expand and unravel before his eyes. Dark shapes below hurtled through the bloated grey mass like bullets, stabbing deep holes into the cloudbank as they plummeted out of sight. A sudden flash of movement by his side caught his attention as something larger than a man cast its shadow across him, blotting out the glaring sun. He turned his head slowly to the left so as to prevent injury to his neck and his eyes found the source of the dark shadow. He found himself reflected in the wide, mirrored full-face pilot goggles of an Elysian, the trademark blue-grey of his fatigues instantly recognisable. The man shook and rocked as he descended, the air resisting his fall much more than Hastors own, encased as he was in the thick, squat armour plating of his modified bipedal Sentinel walker, surrounded and ensconced by the thick roll bars of the vehicles cockpit. He nodded his head and shook a

fist of greeting at the sergeant as he slowly slid away out of sight, the heavy scout walker dragging him towards the planet far faster than any single soldier would find himself falling. Hastor watched as the sentinel and its human heart plummeted away out of range of his sight, the popburst of its specially fitted descent stabilisers sending out micro-plumes of turbo thrust all across its armoured hide as they constantly worked to keep the vehicle in its upright position. The fat grey cloud stretched as far as he was able to see now, a telltale indication of its proximity. He pushed his head forward so as to look upon the vast, moisture-laden strata below him and managed to catch a glimpse at the swirling puncture hole vortices of those who fell below him, their hurtling bodies already obscured by the thick strata. Hastor braced himself as he prepared to do the same; not through fear of injuring himself in connecting with the thick mists below but rather in preparation for what would meet him beyond. The grey fog enveloped his falling form, swirling before his eyes as it swallowed him whole. The temperature readout imprinted onto his eyes began to fall almost immediately though the suit he wore protected him from the near-freezing embrace of the thick cloud. Moisture streaked before his eyes, running across the thick glass of his re-breather unit as if trying in vain to find a way into the thick sealed mask. The roar of his descent rumbled through his head, the air itself resisting his fall. The sound became thick and concentrated, muffled further by the closeness about him. The voices of his men were barely audible over the din; such was the all-encompassing pressure of the noise in his ears. He braced his neck as the dense cloud thundered past, fighting the forces surrounding him. Soon, he thought to himself. Soon he would be through. Soon the obscuring fog before him would fall away and reveal the sprawling surface of the arid planet below. Then the hell would begin. Suddenly and without warning his vision cleared. Like the first image of a freshly activated pict-screen the immense plains of Daedalus stretched out before his eyes, unravelling like a vast orange blanket. He gasped quietly as the world opened up before him, an endless expanse of open air unfolding and increasing as he fell. He and his squad were still a long way from the ground and he held his breath for a moment, his eyes rolling across the human rain before him. An immeasurable hail of bodies descended below him, countless squads falling through the vast lower atmosphere of Daedalus, filling the horizon as far as the eye could see. No matter how many times he had witnessed this spectacle, it never failed to take his breath away. The regal blue and grey shock armour of the massed Elysian regiments dotted the skyline in every direction as far as the eye could see. The vaunted, rapid-response troops of Elysia fell in ten man squads, their practiced descent perfect and immaculate. Here and there he spotted the specialist teams dotted about the main force, spread around the sealed drop canisters in circles, each man hanging on to the large equipment containers as if their lives depended on it. Sealed within were the deadly tools of their trade. The smaller ones contained a mix of assault weaponry, packed tight with plasma guns, meltaguns and all of the other standard Imperial munitions favoured by the guard as a whole. The larger canisters held more specialized equipment such as rapid deployment, snub-nosed mortars and powerful demo-charges. Many enemies of the Imperium had made the mistake of expecting the attacking Elysians to be weak and ill armed, assuming them to have foregone many of the more powerful killing tools of the Imperial army in order to accommodate their unique arrival technique. Many, many of the Emperors enemies had died for such mistakes. The Elysians were able to land right at the heart of the enemy and present a powerful and well-armed force within seconds of their feet touching the ground. They were a force to be reckoned with.

The contrasting reds and oranges of the feared Centotrine Penitors, the vicious headhunting zealots of Centotri Primus, added flashes of bright colour to the packed blue-grey mass. The Penitors were the antithesis of the Elysians in every way possible. The Elysians were cool, methodical and murderously efficient. They displayed an air of practiced confidence that was usually enough to shake all but the most hardy of foes. The Penitors were maniacal. Loud, raucous, aggressive and utterly fanatical, every one of the feared Centotrine warriors was more cultist than soldier, driven by zeal as opposed to duty. He shifted his gaze and met the descent of the Juntan Warhawks. Thousands of bodies filled the horizon to his left with a white and violet haze as they fell, their para-gliders catching the updrafts as they broke the thick cloud cover, their numbers looking for all the world like some huge avian migration. A glance to his right confirmed the presence of the feared Paras of the Vortan 51st, yet another of the regiments involved in the landing, the contingent responsible for the famous storming of the Dexar Moon Palace. The air below shimmered with the collective spin of a thousand heli-packs, their communal drone low and subsonic below him. Hastor saw all this and smiled to himself, proud to be counted amongst those surrounding him. No matter the nature of the opposition they faced, he was confident that the enemy would be well met.

CHAPTER 4: LANDING.

Light of the Emperor! He cursed as a blue and grey body hurtled past, almost smashing him to a pulp as it seemed to rocket skywards. Such was the utter shock of the sudden occurrence that he found himself struggling to maintain his practiced fall and instead fought to stop himself tumbling hopelessly out of control. Much to his utter dismay others began to follow, their descent buffers whining as, one by one, the Elysian 3rd began to slow their descent. Within seconds the skies above Daedalus became an obstacle course of human bullets threatening to break him to pieces as they tore past. The Elysians were already beginning to slow their approach and in doing so, they were making a terrible mistake. Hastor cursed his guard brethren. It was too soon! The enemy was as thick as ants down there and by now surely knew that the assault had begun. Though the tyranids seemed nothing more than mindless drones he knew that they shared some deep, unfathomable intelligence, a single hive mind coordinating them flawlessly in every move they made. They would recognize the Imperial assault as surely as any other enemy would and to slow now would only serve to provide the bio-artillery with a blanket of defenceless targets. He knew from experience that the 3rd had never faced the creatures of the swarm before. It seemed to him that they were severely underestimating the enemys potential. Plumes of orange-red fire blossomed far below as the preliminary bombardment of the orbiting Imperial ships impacted with the surface of Daedalus, the vanguard of the drop troop assault. Columns of bright explosions spread out before his eyes, erupting across the surface of the planet beneath him, still so distant that the thunderous cacophony of their combustion was lost to the distance. From this far up the buildings of the manufactorum district were small and indistinct, little more than clusters of black squares surrounded by the dull grey of the streets and roadways connecting them. Hastor silently gave thanks as he watched the surface burn, entire factory complexes disappearing before his eyes. This at least would buy the Elysians time, time to allow them to realise their mistakes. The bombardment wouldnt last much longer; he knew this from experience. The shelling would have to subside in order to allow the troops to land, and Hastor knew he didnt have long. He knew that as soon as the shelling seized the attacking Imperial forces would answer to a violent retaliatory response. Hastor to Validus! Do not be swayed by the Elysian deceleration! he yelled desperately, unwilling to allow those under his command to make the same inaccuracy of judgement. We need to hit the ground as soon and as fast as we can! Once the enemy knows we are here they will start to pick us from the skies at their leisure! Do not slow until I give the order! Do not slow! Somewhere below him the sky exploded, a dull whistling detonation sending shockwaves washing over his falling form, a sound that managed to penetrate even the thick layers of protection around his ears. He rocketed past a screaming Elysian; the mans arms flailing wildly as he came apart mid-descent. A fine mist of red particles spattered his carapace armour and something bounced wildly off his shoulder, a ragged, spinning arm that threatened to throw him into a violent spin. He cursed under his breath, his pulse quickening. It was already happening. Another explosion below him seared the arid air of the lower atmosphere, sending fragments of chitin and Elysian body armour alike into his path. The debris pinged and bounced off his carapace armour, hissing as it scorched away the paint on contact. The retaliation of the enemy had begun in earnest.

He knew now that the wave of attacking guardsman didnt have long to make landfall. The Hive Mind had sensed their approach and the living artillery had already begun to send their accursed spore mines high into the air. Though the aim of the massed creatures below was clumsy and rushed, he knew that it was only a matter of time until they began to saturate the skies with their vile living shells and exact heavy casualties amongst the lightly-armoured attackers. Validus, remain calm! Keep your heads and do not slow your descent! he screamed, the sound of his own elevated voice causing his head to shudder. You all know the drill, we have to hit them hard and fast or we wont live to see landfall! Stay together at all times and do not lose sight of me! We mus The return fire intensified, shaking the breath from the startled sergeant mid-sentence. All around him the air was burning, innumerable explosions throwing out blistering heat and tumultuous noise as they ripped apart the Imperial descent. The very substance of reality shook and blurred as the skies burned, blistering fireballs of heat and noise expanding across his vision as far as he was able to see. Somewhere to the left of him a sentinel exploded spectacularly, its armoured shell coming apart in a brilliant flash of burning light, its human passenger atomised within its centre. He braced himself and thrust one arm out before his eyes as one of the enemys spore mines found a small Elysian mortar squad. The hurtling orb slammed into the cylindrical drum at their centre and detonated, bathing the surrounding soldiers in a wash of scorching heat. The men screamed and span away as they died, their tight formation disintegrating as they burned and broke apart, scattered by the explosion. Bodies and limbs span past like whickering shrapnel as he fell by, missing him by inches. He closed his eyes tight and whispered a prayer to the Emperor for the souls of the departed warriors and then, a fresh stab of anxiety coursing through him, he prayed for the safety of those following him twice as hard. He opened his eyes again and glanced around him and his gaze found the cloud of drifting explosive orbs of the enemy artillery for the first time. Intelligence had reported that the Tyranid spore mines were unlike any other form of bombardment ordinance ever encountered. Instead of exploding through impact or timing sequence the mines were proximity activated. As they drifted into the Imperial descent they probed the surrounding air with long, tentacle-like protrusions, detonating only when in close proximity to the enemy. The others didnt seem to realise that by slowing their descent, they were increasing the chances of activating the drifting mines. He prayed that the others would soon come to realise their tactical error and hasten their fall, but gave it no more than a thought as he concentrated on staying alive. In truth there was not much he could do except sit tight and pray to the Emperor that he and his men would ride the storm unscathed. The skies above Daedaulus became a living hell. They exploded and burned, filled with the screams of the dying. Hastors entire body shook violently as he plummeted towards the heaving ground below; his eyes squeezed tight shut. Suddenly, almost instantaneously, the roaring explosions around him seemed to quiet and subside. He opened his eyes again; unsure of whether or not his hearing had been affected by the raucous din. Sure enough, scarcely able to believe his own eyes, he saw nonetheless that the explosions about him had ceased. The ordinance of the vile enemy still poured into the skies like a reverse rain, a rain consisting of fat, black, ominous droplets the size of a human head. The tentacled spores seemed to be passing him by, their destination much higher than his current position. It seemed the grace of the Emperor shone down on him this day as he had made it below the enemys field of fire. He watched for a moment as the tiny black pinpricks that were the massed alien ground forces continued to cough out wave after wave of the terrible

spore mines, the deadly orbs hurtling past his falling form and up into the skies above, ready to end the lives of more of his Imperial brethren. A shadow crept across the skies above him, blocking out the light of the harsh Borteth sun. He turned his head back to see a huge flapping shape gliding underneath the bombardment above, its armoured bulk the size of a drop-shuttle. A mass of writhing, chittering winged creatures that clung to the behemoths underside had begun to disembark, launching themselves at the hapless soldiers around them. Men who had seconds before thought themselves lucky to escape the fiery massacre screamed as they were carried away under leathery wings, struggling vainly against the grip of the beasts. Others hurtled past, entwined with their captors in a death embrace. As he tuned his attention away from the sickening scene, the words of Colonel Vorpax echoed through his mind. Whether land, sea, air or space, they match us. It was only now that Hastor could see just how accurate the colonels assessment had been. It was a trap. The alien bastards were picking off the survivors of the spore mine attack as they fell beneath the bombardment zone. He has passed by the trap only through chance, due to his accelerated fall. The Imperial numbers beneath him were now almost nonexistent, a fact that set the alarm bells ringing inside his skull. Sooner or later he would find himself the centre of an unwelcome attention. He purged his mind of all thoughts of the danger surrounding him and began to count, calculating the speed of his descent and the distance between him and the surface. Ten. Nine. Eight Another searing explosion rocked him, showering his carapace armour with fragments of spore shell. An incessant beeping began to sound in his ear but he ignored it. He would not allow anything to divert his attention away from the task at hand. Four. Three. Two One. He slammed his fist into the rune on his belt and, tipping his head harshly so that the shock pistons of his suits neck absorbers activated, twisted it harshly, activating the chutes descent buffer. Almost immediately his entire body was slammed backwards as the grav-chute slowed his fall, its elongated arms screeching and quivering as they fought the incredible forces of the sudden manoeuvre. He screamed the order for his squad to do the same, his eyelids snapping open in the same instant. Even as his keen eyes fell across the first target he brought the hellguns sight up to his face with immense effort, training the digital crosshairs upon the rapidly growing lump of xenos mass below him. The biovore shuffled ponderously across the ash-sand, slamming its thick, chitinous green forearms into the soft ground in slow, lumbering, primate-like movements. The bio-cannon protruding from its back began to shudder and ripple, preparing to release yet another spore mine into the skies surrounding the attacking enemy. The creature opened its wide maw and bellowed, thick globules of viscous saliva spraying the sand beneath. Suddenly a thin, searing beam of red light pierced the mouth of the cannon and ignited the mine within, obliterating the creature in a concussive blast of burning biological fuel and potent acids. The smouldering biovore slumped to the floor, a huge crater torn across its back. Another of the lumbering monsters paused in its slow, cumbersome trudge and turned, watching silently as the charred remains of its comrade fluttered gently to the ground. A body slammed heavily into the ash before it, feet first, sending a plume of grey dust into the air. The biovore bellowed and began to haul itself around to face the sudden threat, though the heavy creature was nowhere near fast enough and it fell, punctured by a flurry of las fire. As the writhing form of the thickset creature slumped lifelessly into the soft sandy ground sergeant Hastor rose to his full height and ripped the grav-chutes release mechanism from its housing. The heavy chute thudded to the ground behind him, no longer of any use.

The emplacements remaining creature roared a terrible, guttural roar and began to lurch towards him, its huge paws driving into the soft earth as it advanced. He watched as the cannon on its back began to shudder, the spore within its thick trunk squirming and writhing as it matured. He clutched at the line of grenades hanging from his belt, plucked one free and primed it, ripping the safety pin out with his teeth. As his squad began to land all around him he hurled the krak grenade at the surprised beast and turned, shielding himself from the resultant explosion. Fan out and find cover, double-time! he roared, another nest of the foul aliens already in his sights. For the Emperor! The rest of his squad began to search the surrounding terrain for cover, quickly taking advantage of any they could find. Within seconds of landing on the surface of Daedalus, the men of squad Validus began to hunt. Behind him trooper Brogann Autis broke into a hunched run the moment his feet landed, the prize Ryzan plasma gun in his hand spitting round after round of searing death into the nearest emplacement. He dropped a trio of the monsters in quick succession as each hissing round thumped free of the glowing muzzle. The unfortunate beasts screamed as a salvo of superheated gas slammed into them, boring holes through their alien flesh with ease. He careered towards the burning, dying biovores, his finger jammed against the trigger of the ancient weapon. The crumbling wall they had been using for cover began to smash apart under the powerful assault, punctured and shattered by the power of the fearsome gun. Barril Fordar had dropped almost right on top of an emplacement, surprising the nest of alien artillery as he landed. The intense heat of his melta-gun cooked the air as it melted and fused the unfortunate creatures together. Alien flesh ran like water as Fordar swept his meltagun across the nest again and again until nothing remained of the enemy but blackened, liquefied ash. By the time his spent grav-chute had touched the ground, another emplacement had been cleared. The grizzled veteran Fen Nesker landed amid a flurry of frag grenades, hollering and roaring as he pumped out a stream of explosive cylinders into the nearest beasts, his eyes wide with zeal. He only stopped firing when the grenade launcher in his hands ceased in its bucking convulsions, empty. Tark Regan threw himself behind a collapsed section of wall, skidding across the loose ash as he ground to a halt behind the flaking rock-crete. He glanced over the waist-high section for no more than a second; quickly ducking his head back down as he spied enemy movement. We have an emplacement here! he hollered, the fingers of one hand pressed against the vox-activator fastened to the opposite wrist. He slid the flamer strapped to his shoulder round in order to reach his belt and plucking a brace of krak-grenades from their holding straps like fruit from the branches of a tree. Fire in the hole! He tossed the primed grenades up and over the wall, shoving himself flat against the ground in preparation. Seconds later the crumbling partition shook as the grenades exploded, silencing another bio-artillery emplacement. For good measure the storm trooper leapt from his hiding place and scoured the smoking nest with gouts of blue-orange flame, incinerating any survivors. No enemy creature was to be allowed to live. Hastor looked about him for a moment, assessing his surroundings as methodically and logically as any storm trooper sergeant worth his salt would. They had hit paydirt. They had fallen into the enemys artillery line, far away from the main tyranid force. If they could hit these bastards hard and fast enough they should be able to punch a crippling hole in the enemys ranged attack, allowing the other elements of the invasion force to establish a strong ground

deployment. All around him the other drop troops were beginning to touch down, slowly carving a gouge into the biovore line. Despite the initial heavy losses, the attack was going to plan. Validus, this is Hastor. He voxed. Lets keep it neat and tight. Were the first through the door and the others are right behind us, so lets try and remember our manners. I want everyone to finish up and converge on my position, a.s.a.p. Hastor out. The rest of his team began to emerge from the surrounding rubble as the first few Elysian survivors began to touch down, their bodies low and hunched. The alien biovores were thick on the ground here and, though they had cleared a good space around them, there were still plenty of enemy units to throw themselves upon. He turned his eyes skyward and watched as the shrieking mines continued to hurtle upwards in untold numbers, vile inhuman tentacles trailing behind like multitudinous vermin tails. Sarge! Nesker stood beside him, his chest heaving with effort. Foul gore and smouldering grenade fragments peppered his uniform. He reached up to his face and tore his rebreather free, casting it aside as if it were more of a hindrance than a piece of vital equipment. Damn thick with the alien bastards around here, sarge. The veteran snarled, grimacing as he tore a smouldering shard of chitin free of his shoulder and threw it to the floor beside his discarded facemask. The Elysians and the others are taking a beating up there. Whats the plan? Total sweep, fast and hard? Hastor was about to answer when another of his men fell into line beside him, his rebreather already gone. Biovores, sir. Zith uttered, almost as if the sergeant had asked him a question. The quiet man stepped forward and pointed at the thick skies above. The swarms artillery, as you can see Theyre mean and fierce but theyre not very fast, not built to hunt like the rest of the swarm. It looks like we managed to touch down at the right time and in the right place. I think that they were migrating towards the city when we attacked. The rest of the swarm seems to have left them behind, probably because theyre so slow. If we can finish them off now and allow the rest of the forces to land then we should have a good chance of securing a good base of operations before the rest of the swarm realise their mistake and fall back. Its the spores we have to worry about. Once they realise whats going on theyll start to track us, then well be in a whole world of trouble. Oh, and we need to vox navy command. Hastor turned as he heard this, his eyes widening. Why? He asked, the single word filled with foreboding. The harridans. Those big, ugly flying monstrosities up there. He answered, pointing to the skies. They are as deadly to the ground troops as they are to those still up there. If they follow the rest of our troops down, were as good as dead. They need exterminating as soon as possible. Hastor nodded in agreement. Zith knew their foe better than other member of the squad. Before his recruitment by the Elysian officials Zith had been a veteran trooper serving with the Entian 15th. He had met the tyranids on a number of worlds when his regiment had been sent to defend the Segmentum Tempestus against the might of hive fleet Leviathan. He had fought the genestealers on Carpathia, helped defend the planet Posul, home of the Space Marines of the Mortifactors chapter. He had been one of a handful of survivors that had escaped the death of the planet Dacia, an Adeptus Mechanicus explorator base that had fallen in a single night. There he had witnessed the full horror of the tyranid foe and had never been the same since. He hated the hive fleets more than any man, even Hastor, yet he held an almost morbid fascination with the multitude creatures of the alien race. At that moment, Hastor knew that Zith would prove invaluable as the campaign progressed, Emperor willing. The rest of the squad had begun to join them, one by one, and it was clear that each member of Validus had seen action in the few minutes that had passed since they had landed on the planets surface.

Throne, there are nests all over this district! Regan cursed, frantically screwing a fresh promethium canister into his smoking flamer. No wonder our boys are getting slaughtered up there! Hastor had heard enough. Okay, lets do this! Corpo, you heard the man! Get the damn navy down here to support us! He barked, slinging his hellgun over his shoulder. The rest of us down here still have our work cut out. The others began to lock and load whilst their sergeant reached down to the holster at his hip and unclipped his sidearm. He drew the plasma pistol hanging there and activated it with a flick of the thumb. His other hand reached up and over his shoulder and, with a shrill ring, he produced a short, thick sword, the length of a mans arm. The blade thrummed and vibrated slightly as it was brought to life, a hazy blue field of energy enveloping it from hilt to tip. Time to do the Emperors work. The large oblong canister rang as it landed, the dull resonance echoing through the packed warehouses surrounding it, its mounted grav-chute deactivating. The survivors of the Elysian squad touched down around it to the collective sound of their own discarded grav-chutes clattering to the floor as one around them. Without a word one of the soldiers sprang at the canister and tore the access hatch away, exposing the contents within. One by one the Elysians began to snatch the contents up until, within seconds, the canister was empty and the four guardsmen were ready for war. Target? One of the soldiers spat, the single spoken word hardly distinguishable as a question. He hauled the large missile launcher up onto his shoulder and lowered himself to one knee. His ammo man moved silently before him and slid a sleek, spike-nosed missile into the tube. Target acquired. His counterpart whispered by his side, thrusting one finger out in the direction of a nearby nest. The soldier nodded and shifted his aim slightly, sighting the shuffling creatures as he did so. He rocked slightly as the projectile screamed free with a shuddering whoosh. Seconds later the emplacement exploded in a huge crescendo of blinding fire, the aliens utterly immolated. The other surviving team followed suit and in the space of a heartbeat another nest was silenced, taken apart by the powerful weapon. Target? the soldier asked again, his half-hidden expression unchanging. He never noticed the silent spore gently floating towards the ground above him, its slime-slicked tentacles probing the air blindly beneath it. None of them did. Light of the Emperor! Hastor cursed, skidding to a halt. He watched helplessly as the spore drifted down into the bewildered drop troops and detonated, incinerating them utterly as it ruptured and exploded. The resultant shockwave threw him off his feet and he landed heavily on his back amongst the others of his squad, temporarily blinded by the blast. Sergeant! Sir, are you injured? He heard Moranith, the squads medic cry. His vision began to clear and, ignoring the question he waved the slowly forming shapes away, pulling himself back up onto his feet. Sifting through the gathered bodies, Hastor grabbed one of them roughly by the arm, pulling him to the front of the group. Corpo, activate the comm-link! If Vorpax has made it down safely then we need to let him know that the

nids have started targeting the ground troops. Get to it, soldier. Sir! Corpo spat, hurriedly activating the flashing instrumentation strapped to his back. Hastor turned to face the others. Okay, listen up. Weve been lucky so far. Weve all made it down in one piece. The rest of the boys are still up there and theyre getting blown to hell, so its up to us to try and get them down here safely. You all know what to do. Stay together and stay focused. One by one, we help the rest of the squads land safely and then leave them to their own devices, theyll do what they do best. Follow me. The squad began to deploy under the direction of Hastor as the distant skies above continued to blossom in a crescendo of light and noise. Heads low, Validus began to pick their way forward, out into the melee beyond. He maneuvered the men towards a burnt out hab unit, the loose rubble underfoot crunching as they ran, their bodies stooped. As they neared the broken shell he held up a hand and they slowed. He unclipped a small, hand held device from his belt, activating it with a flick of his thumb. The auspex hummed to life, bleeping and whining as its systems came on-line. The others waited in silence as the sergeant began to sweep the ruins before them, making sure that there were no hostiles hidden among the twisted rubble and shattered window frames. Xenos signatures, three of, ground based. He whispered, pointing one finger at the wall before him. He lowered the scanning device and turned to run his eyes across the group. Tessok, take them out. The young marksman nodded and dropped to one knee, slipping the black leather case off his shoulder. He placed the case on the floor and unclipped the end, watched by the rest of the squad. He slid the powerful rifle free, whispering a prayer under his breath. Each member of the squad eyed the ancient, revered exitus rifle in silence as the sniper slipped his fingers around the grip and rose to his feet, as silent as a wraith. He nodded to the sergeant and crept over to the shattered sill of a magnificent arched window, the ornate stained glass that had once sat resplendent within it long since shattered and fallen. his prized rifle shouldered and ready. Three short, dull whispers later and the alien creatures were dead, finished off without effort or mercy. Tessok turned and nodded again and the squad continued. The team moved into the broken building, their every sense alert despite the auspexs reassurances. After a quick sweep they joined the sergeant who was crouched behind a pulverized section of wall. They all took up positions behind him, moving as if they had received some mental command. Hastor looked up, his gaze shifting left and right as he looked at each man in turn. Lets keep this simple and short. The auspex is glowing like a lantern here, so we must have stumbled on the main advance. If Zith is correct then we must have disturbed these bastards while they were on the move, so at least we have the element of surprise. There is still tons of ordnance being thrown up into the skies so, at least for now, we should be able to be over the wall and into them hard before they have a chance to retaliate. Pour it on and dont stop until I give the word. Tessok, hang back and watch for any enemy ordnance. If a single spore even smells like its headed our way, take it out. Corpo, I want you to continue to try and open a channel to Vorpax. Everyone clear? A wave of confirmation erupted across the group, each man clear on what to do. Hastor tipped his head in response, satisfied. Good. Lets do this. As one, the squad exploded from the ruins like a tidal surge, pouring over the low section and into the shuffling herd-mass, a salvo of whistling frag grenades preceding them. Hastor was first into the enemy, his plasma pistol glowing as it hammered huge, smouldering craters into alien flesh. His power sword hummed as he swept it from left to right, carving a viscous swathe before him. Thick limbs and gaping-jawed heads

flew in all directions, separated by the irresistible blade. Into them, lads! For the Emperor! he roared, pressing forward, unstoppable and unopposed. Nesker, Autis and Regan broke away to the left and began to cut a huge bloody chunk out of the massed biovores, their collective weaponry blasting bodies apart as they advanced. Neskers grenade launcher bucked and shuddered as he pumped a stream of frag grenades into the packed enemy, their heavy numbers proving deadly under such an onslaught. Bright waves of searing fire washed over the creatures as each grenade exploded in their midst, killing three and four at a time. Autis and his plasma gun added to the slaughter, smashing apart body after body as if they were made of the softest clay, each hissing shot punching through one body and into the next with the power of a miniature sun and continuing on until the vast energies at its centre were exhausted. The Ryzan plasma gun he wielded was deadly enough to punch a hole through armoured steel. The chitinous bodies of the biovores didnt stand a chance. Regan braced himself and unleashed a huge gout of roaring flame into the mass. Aliens screamed as they burned, enveloped by the withering flames. He swept the flamer before him and the flailing fire washed over the enemy like an angered snake, igniting all it touched. Those unfortunate enough to find themselves in the path of the fire howled and thundered out into the rest of the massed broods, their flaming bodies setting fore to others as they lumbered on. Brandbaar, with me! Zith! Moranith! Corpo! Follow us, hellguns at the ready! I want a continuous wall of suppressing fire as we advance! Let the others saturate the area with wide-effect ordnance! Tessok, keep those eyes open! Hastor hollered, charging forward. The dark-skinned scout Brandbaar joined him, his silenced bolt pistol spitting death; his black-bladed combat knife gripped tightly in his other hand. Got your back, boss. He whispered, running the long serrated blade through the skull of the nearest creature, whilst at the same time blowing a hole through the eye of another, all without even breaking stride. Hastor and Brandbaar continued to carve their way through the bewildered beasts, the hissing red stiletto las blasts of the others stabbing through the air about them. Keep them close! They wont release spores whilst were among them! Zith shouted, hammering a brace of bright blasts into the nearest creature. And watch the claws, theyre like sledgehammers! Hastor jumped back as one of the monsters swung its fist into the ground where he had stood a heartbeat before, the huge driving into the soft earth with the force of a thunder hammer. He raised his pistol and blew the creatures brains out of the back of its head for its troubles. Keep it up! Wade into them as far as you dare! Its the only way to prevent them from opening fire! he roared, impaling another on the blade of his sword. Sir! Friendlies, ten o clock! Hearing Corpos voice he turned, gazing out across the sea of alien filth before him. Sure enough he spied a squad of Elysians touching down, their lasguns blazing as they fought to clear a landing zone around them. Move it! Brandbaar, on point with me! Tessok, cover us! he snapped, his boot crunching into the face of the nearest animal. As one the squad began to pummel their way through the enemy to where the stricken Elysians had begun to land, surrounded by the baying biovores. He jumped as an Elysian sentinel came down hard, its double-jointed legs buckling under the impact. The squat walker squealed and groaned as it stumbled forward, its cockpit dangerously low to the ground, the damaged grav-chute ports on its back hissing and fizzing.

A few clumsy steps and the vehicle toppled forward, losing its footing as it careered into the swarming creatures around it. The sentinel crashed to the floor, quickly lost amongst the teeming bodies. Leave it. The pilots as good as dead. The sergeant ordered, pushing on. The others turned their heads away from the pilots agonised death screams and pressed on. Imperials! Hold your fire! Hastor hollered, carving his way through the shifting mass. With one almighty lunge he drove forward and broke through the flailing biovores, his advance bringing him face to face with the Elysian squads sergeant. Emperors oath! the man cursed, stepping back. Hastor dropped to one knee and looked up, his breath coming in great, ragged bursts. Foul-smelling alien ichors coated him from head to foot, his uniform glistening with the stinking fluids. He rose to his feet and thrust his pistol out before him, releasing a bright, burning blast that passed over the Elysian sergeants shoulder so close that it singed his guard plate. The lunging biovore behind screeched and dropped to the floor, its chest shattered and burning. In the Emperors name, pull yourself together and get these men organised, sergeant. We have an L.Z to secure. He growled, undertaking a swift headcount of the beleaguered squad as the rest of his own men flooded the space around him. Listen to me if you want to live through this. Youre down to eight men. Two on point, equipped for close quarter fighting, pistols and blades. Three at the rear, two marksmen, one guard. The marksmen will keep their eyes open for spores; the other will watch their backs. That will leave three of you to add firepower to the advance of the point men. Move, and may the Emperor watch over you. The shocked Elysian simply nodded, stunned by the arrival of the storm troopers. It took him several seconds before he was able to gather his wits and begin to organize the men under him. As soon as you are able, find yourselves some cover and Sir! Hastor wheeled round as he heard this, reacting faster than thought. Tessok was standing at the rear of the group, the barrel of his rifle flashing as it recoiled. A wash of concussive heat from behind rocked him, causing him to stagger forward. Chunks of chitin pattered against his armour as the spore mine exploded, its progress halted by the keen sniper. Luckily, the dying spore expired without any further loss of life. This is bad, sir. Theyve started to fire amongst their own. Zith announced, ominously. Tessoks rifle thudded again and again, announcing the presence of more of the vile mines. We have to get out of here! Were sitting ducks out in the open! Hastor commanded, sweeping his arm before him. Move it! The squad began to head towards cover, leaving the Elysians to their own devices. Hastor and Brandbaar hacked and slashed their way through the opposition whilst the others continued to blow huge chunks in the lumbering horde. Sarge! Straight ahead! Nesker thrust a finger out over the shifting tide of alien filth and Hastor saw another small group of Elysian survivors, currently immersed in the task of righting the heavy drop canister that had followed them down. Tessoks rifle flashed again and the arid air above the unsuspecting squad burned, turning to raging fire before their very eyes. Damn it! Hastor cursed, breaking into a sprint. The rest of the squad clenched their teeth and followed without a word. Hellguns flashed as they spat glowing stiletto death at the swarming creatures, punching through tough, alien hide as if it were nothing.

Brandbaar rolled across his vision, his blackened blade slicing through the neck of raging biovore. A cold, consummate killer, that was how he saw his ominous scout. Of all his men, Brandbaar was perhaps the furthest removed of the group. He was a true predator, his cold eyes devoid of emotion as he plied his gruesome trade. He gelled with the men as much as any other, it was just that, of all the men under him, Brandbaar seemed by far the most comfortable with dispatching the enemy. Any enemy, be they alien or human. Of all the men under him, Cleathe Brandbaar was by far the hardest to read in terms of his emotions. The scout leapt high into the air as a huge talon-paw swept by under him, too quick for the bellowing creature. As he landed he put a bolt round through the biovores face, its brains scattering out across the loose sand behind it. Hastor lunged forward and joined the fray, thrusting with the power sword. Another wretched creature fell to the floor, convulsing and flailing as its innards cooked. He closed his eyes and whispered a prayer of thanks to the Him On The Throne. Of all the myriad monstrosities that made up the tyranid swarm, he knew that these living artillery pieces were by far the slowest, the most cumbersome of all the base organisms. A shudder went through him as he imagined the horror and death that would have met them had any of the other broods been stalking these warehouses at the time of their arrival. Here amongst the lumbering, slow-witted biovores they were relatively safe, the closer the better. If they had been facing any of the other horrific creatures that Hastor had seen in the grainy training pictrecordings on board the Incursus, they would all be so much viscera staining the sands of Daedalus by now. He leapt over a smashed section of wall and landed before the struggling soldiers, the bright, hissing lasblasts of the others fizzing through the air around him, taking the head off an advancing beast as he did so. The Elysians before him turned and began to haul their lasguns around to face the threat, cursing under their breath as they forced themselves to stop before opening fire. Damn it! Where are your spotters? He snapped, striding forward. The men nearest to him backed away slightly, startled by the storm troopers terse words. Our drop canister took shrapnel on the way down. We lost con Im not interested what happened on the way down! You survived, that is enough! The Emperor did not grant you his protection just so that you could lose your lives, scrabbling abou He paused, shaking his head. Forget it. Lets get this thing righted. He dropped his weapons to the floor and, accompanied by Brandbaar, braced himself against the bulk of the canister, the rest of his squad spreading out around and behind him, their weapons barking. The rest of the Elysian squad saw this and joined the two men, renewing their efforts to overturn the protesting metal box. Within moments the large canister groaned and overturned, crashing to the floor with a muffled thud. The Elysians descended on it like a ravenous packs of wolves, tearing away seals to clutch at the innards of the case. Hands began to haul the contents of the canister free, dragging them over the side with barely contained desperation. Hastor stepped back to allow the soldiers to complete their task, stooping to retrieve his weapons as he did so. Regans ash-blackened face appeared over his shoulder, the whites of his eyes slowly widening. Now thats more like it. One by one, the three two-man heavy weapons teams hauled their heavy bolters out onto the soil of Daedalus, the stunted support legs at the head of each huge weapon unfurling automatically with a whine as they slammed onto the floor. Boxes of belt-fed shells were hauled into place, thrown open and emptied within seconds, the auto-feed of each powerful gun clunking as it gripped the ammo belt tightly in its teeth. Emperor be praised. Hastor whispered, watching with silent satisfaction as each gun roared to life,

shuddering and bucking as it exploded with auto-reactive death. The biovores around them exploded in a mist of gore as the screaming rounds found them, almost as if blown apart from the inside out. Bodies and limbs were shredded into mist, vaporised by the horrific power of the assault. Some of the beasts tried in vain to flee, throwing themselves around in an attempt to escape, their efforts ultimately futile. Within less than a minute, the area around the emplacement was devoid of alien life. This area is secure. We can move on. Hastor announced quietly, saluting the men before him. Each one of the Elysians returned the gesture and then quickly turned their attention back to the horizon, questing for more targets. Just then a noise startled the gathered soldiers. A high-pitched hydraulic whine cut through the air, accompanied by the crump-hiss of something much larger than a man approaching. They turned to find the source of the noise as a large shadow fell over the group. The thick, sloping canopy face of a sentinel loomed over the broken wall behind them, its side-mounted multimelta humming with nascent power. The reflective facemask of the pilot appeared, barely able to see past the guard and roll bars of the vehicle. Ave Imperator. He growled, his voice distorted by the thick, cumbersome rebreather. Ave Imperator. Hastor intoned, hidden relief flooding through him. With that the sentinel lurched backwards and was gone, a fine cloud of rubble dust billowing in its wake. The shadow receded and the walkers rumbling footsteps grew fainter, the whine of its piston legs drifting into off into the distance. Hastor followed the retreating vehicle as far as the wall. It looks like the rest are starting to make it down safely. This is a good sign He uttered, pulling himself up onto the broken, crumbling stone. A steadily growing sea of familiar bodies filled the horizon before him, shifting and churning as each man struggled to find his feet. Elysian heavy weapons teams threw themselves to the floor, fingers tight around the triggers of their weapons. Sniper teams hunted in twos, peppering the terrain before them with powerful needle rifle fire as their spotters found each new target. Sentinels stalked amongst the ruins, pulverizing the shadows with their awesome mounted weaponry. Lasfire criss-crossed the air in every direction, filling the atmosphere with the stink of ozone. The attacking forces were starting to gain the upper hand. A squad of Vortan Paras screamed by overhead like a swarm of huge insects, the blades of their heli-packs droning loudly, the bright blasts of their twin, shoulder-mounted lasguns stabbing through the air. To his left he watched as a huge group of crazed Penitors had congregated and then leapt and danced amongst the outnumbered aliens, their ritual shock flails humming and glowing like flashlights caught in a hurricane as they twirled and spun through the charged air about them. This will do fine. He announced, stepping down from the elevated position, satisfied that the landing was successfully underway. Sir, I have the colonels vox officer on the line. Corpo announced behind him. Excellent. Hastor replied, pleased to hear that the Elysian commander and his team had made it down safely. Let him know that our position is secure. Inform him that squad Validus is in overwatch, and be sure to relay our position and coordinates. After that, I want you to contact any other storm trooper squads in the vicinity. Let them know where we are. As Corpo began to fiddle with the comm-link Hastor gestured to the others, pointing out over the sill at the terrain beyond. Give thanks, brothers. Our first objective has been secured, the bio-artillery of this sector all but silenced. Now we must watch and wait. The others peered over the ruined sill and out across the devastated expanse before them.

A sprawl of broken industrial complexes and grey rock-crete hab areas stretched for miles in every direction. Plumes of smoke trailed lazily skywards in scattered groups, indicating that widespread destruction and death was all that remained of the once-bustling manufactorum quarter. Further into the horizon they could just make out the massive hab-spikes of Phrennec Mantris, the capital city of Daedalus. It was here that the last remaining inhabitants of the planet still put up a brave defence, holding off the attacking swarms by the skin of their teeth. Despite their bravery, they had little time left. Indeed, for all the Imperial forces knew, they were already dead. All communications with the city had broken down three days ago, and no one seemed sure that any of the population were even left alive, yet still the Imperial attack had been given the go ahead. Hastor couldnt understand why, yet he always followed his orders without hesitation. Besides which, he had his suspicions. The location of the main tyranid force was known to all. They could even be detected from low orbit by their collective heat signature, a large red glowing mass surrounding the beleaguered city. Hastor couldnt help but notice the apparent absence of the chaos forces rumoured to be abroad on Daedalus. Perhaps the warmaster suspected that they were trapped within the city. Whatever plan Bombola had, he was sure that the warmaster knew what he was doing.

Adept Finath chanted slowly and quietly, his slight voice echoing through the cold chamber. The darkness that surrounded him was flecked with a multitude of glowing points of light. Greens, reds and oranges flickered and pulsed rhythmically as status runes continued to display the operations of the many machines that flanked the foreboding chamber. Finath finished the task he had been concentrating on and bowed his head, muttering the liturgy of completion. He smiled as the console before him began to purr, satisfied that the machine spirits had been sufficiently appraised. Somewhere behind him his heard a rush of compressed air and became aware of a flash of pale light, albeit temporarily. He turned, just in time to see the door of the chamber slide closed once more and his eyes met a lone figure, obscured by the darkness of the room. My lord? Is that you? The figure stepped forward into the chamber and became partially visible under the blanket of runes about him, his stern face illuminated by the multicoloured strobes of light. Finath bowed his head respectfully as Lord General Bombola moved to greet him, his hands clasped tightly together behind him. Is he ready? Of course, Lord General. Would you care to see him? Finath stepped to one side in order to allow the campaigns commander to step up to the illuminated crypt in the centre of the chamber. Bombola stopped short of the oblong crypt, his face level with the screensized viewing port set into its thick adamantine shell. His eyes met those of the being within and he shuddered briefly, quickly disguising this involuntary act by muttering something about the temperature of the room. The last of the Procedures of Preparation are underway as we speak, my lord. He is ready for programming. I am about to initiate the primary neural link. Are you satisfied with the orders as they stand? No last minute changes? Bombola shook his head; his eyes still fixed firmly on the sleeping assassin entombed before him.

The orders still stand. Tell me, when was the last time thisindividualwas used? he asked quietly, turning to face the ageing Tech-priest. The old man smiled and turned to face the crypt, placing a loving hand upon the freezing metal. Eversor 317. His last mission was ten years ago, on the ice planet Curtsch Nubulus. He was sent to kill on Ork Warlord, his name escapes me. He decimated the entire war council of the enemy force in little under a day, as I remember. He is a proven warrior who has undergone many missions dating back hundreds of years, and for sixty of those years I have attended him. He is a fearsome creation and I am confident he will do the Emperor proud. Bombola nodded and turned his attention back towards the cryogenically frozen being. Though in deep stasis the assassins eyes were wide open, two piercing orbs of seething hatred staring lifelessly out into the chamber. Bombola dared not think about the inhuman anger that boiled and twisted behind them. Does he have a name? He has no name, my lord. Whoever he once was is long gone, absorbed by the monster you see before you now. He is Eversor 317, and he will be the scourge of whoever you have deemed unfortunate enough to receive the Emperors wrath. You may think of me as biased, but I tell you this without hesitation or forethought. He is unstoppable. Bombola turned to the Adept and half-smiled, a look of satisfaction creeping across his powerful features. The spies he had sent forward had managed to confirm the presence of another of the Imperiums ancient and powerful enemies, one that had escaped the clutches of both the Inquisition and the military for centuries. Why he was here on Daedalus had never been ascertained, though it was enough for Bombola to know that the bastard was here, grounded and trapped somewhere on the surface of the planet below. He could not allow the Flesh Manipulator to leave this planet alive. The Eversor would see to that. I prey you are right, Adept Finath. Bombola whispered, turning to face the frail Adept. If what we know is true, he may yet be the salvation of us all.

CHAPTER 5: . A whooping cheer rose up as the huge beast fell from the skies and slammed into the rubble-strewn ground nose first, decimating the remnants of a walled transport stockade in its death-skid. Already dead, it carved a deep gouge in the rock-crete as it ploughed along the ground before its vast body finally ground to a halt, its monstrous wings broken and trailing behind it, smouldering leather membranes peppered with blast holes. The jubilant guardsmen scattered around it waved, saluted and threw a rain of helmets up into the air as the victorious brace of marauders thundered past, screaming out across the ruins of the complex and into the distant skies beyond. Another foul harridan knocked from the skies, another victory in the name of the exalted Emperor. Hastor watched in brooding silence as the surrounding guardsmen cheered and applauded, yet he could allow himself no such celebration. He turned away, lowering his heavy eyes. The campaign to liberate the stricken planet was still in its primary stages. The straggling biovore hordes had been wiped out. The flying terrors of the harridan genus had more or less been taken care of, thanks to the navys swift response. The bulk of the Imperial crusade was now firmly established here amongst the blackened ruins of the silent factories and yet, he knew deep within his heart that the brave men and women of the Guard would have to go through hell before achieving total victory here on this Emperor-forsaken world. The multitude drop ships and troop carriers still continued to descend, looking for all the world like a vast swarm of fat, hulking wingless flies lining the skies as far as the eye could see, humming and droning as they came in to land. Indeed, his entire field of vision was one huge and endlessly shifting tapestry of activity, a fluid sea of colour and motion. Nowhere could he imagine bearing witness to a spectacle more representative of the mighty Imperium he served than here, right at the heart of the landing fields. He felt his heart begin to lift, fortified by each moment that passed as more and more support was disgorged onto the surface of the planet, reaching its shores safely and without hindrance. Cavernous edifices spewed forth lines of rumbling armour out onto the surface, vast convoys of tanks and personnel craft that churned the ground beneath their tracks to choking dust as they emerged. At least now the brave advance forces of the initial attack drop were at last beginning to be bolstered by the heavier elements of the Imperial war machine. Behind the huge leviathan craft of the tank legions came the smaller, more compact valkyrie assault ships, thundering earthwards on plumes of bright fire. He observed their descent for a while, pondering their presence. These small, compact drop ships were a regular sight to him. Purpose-built, specialist strike craft, the ubiquitous valkyrie was a common sight amongst the Guard legions, and storm troopers in particular the length and breadth of the Imperium. That they were being brought down to the planets surface now that the primary assault had already taken place was a mystery. Their holds were empty, for the massed manpower of the crusade was to be found packed into the bulbous bellies of the many troop carriers that accompanied their descent, filled to bursting with the faceless men and women of the Guard. Given the presence and numbers of the assault craft descending before him, he could only assume that the warmaster had other plans for the vast numbers of storm troopers here on Daedalus. He turned away from the landing fields and his eyes fell upon the rumbling, clanking tanks of the Phyressian 2nd, a line of armoured battle engines rolling forth from the hold of one of the massive carriers. The command tank of General Jontor Aquilus led a procession of leman russ battle tanks of every variation out onto the surface of Daedalus, throwing up a cloud of greyish yellow sand ash as it moved out into the centre of the zone. A long line of rumbling armour spilled out across the wide zone, the noise of their

arrival deafening, even from this distance. The Phyressian 2nd armoured company was famous for its varied battle tank numbers and the host contained almost every pattern and type of leman russ to be found on the battlefields of the Imperium, as well as a small number of destroyer tank hunters. Aquilus command tank, the Swift Retribution was a special leman russ variant armed with twin-linked lascannons. It was a popular rumour that the Great Wolf Kurn Drunas of the Space Wolves had given it to him after the battle of Fortans Moon where the Phyressian 2nd had saved the 3rd Company from certain death at the hands of the tau. Led by Aquilus, the vast company poured out of the hold of the huge ship in one massive column, the green-grey and contrasting Imperial purple of their armoured hides filling the landing zone before him as far as he could see. He watched for a moment as the massed armour began to disperse, spreading out across the scorched rockcrete expanses that pockmarked the dusty sector in perfect formation. Even he could not fail to be impressed by such an uplifting sight. There were two sizeable armoured companies taking part in the Daedalus campaign. The Phyressian 2nd and the infamous siege-breaker tanks of General Arkas Phylenes Macraleusian Bombardiers. The imposing urban-grey war machines of the Bombardiers lined the right hand side of the landing zone, filling the ruined commercia upon which they had deployed as far as the naked eye could see. Awesome baneblade and shadowsword superheavy tanks gunned their engines as their crews checked systems and primed weaponry. Hastor stifled a gasp as he looked upon the hulking war machines, at first mistaking them for habitation buildings, such was their legendary size. The mighty baneblade and its variants were the ultimate in Imperial armour, save perhaps for the omnipotent engines of the titan legions. Captained by a commander of sufficient competence and zeal, a single superheavy tank could take a city apart. Here, before his eyes, sat no less than seven of the legendary machines. Surrounding the imposing war engines was an enormous corral of siege engines the likes of which were rarely seen in such numbers on any one battlefield, Phylenes personal collection of siege artillery. Medusa self-propelled mortars and thunderer siege tanks were intermingled with rare manticore missile platforms and the long barrelled autocannon of hydra flak tanks. Down one side of the strip waited a huge line of basilisk mobile ordinance engines and griffon siege mortars, the more commonly found siege weaponry of the Imperium. Hastor even spied a small number of leman russ bombards, the heaviest of all siege machinery. Countless numbers of Atlas and Trojan support vehicles crawled between the varied machines, preparing to help deploy the huge force. Hastor shook his head as he absorbed the humbling spectacle, shaken by the sheer bulk of killing power before him. He could imagine no force in this galaxy that would be able to withstand such firepower. The city could be obliterated from the face of the planet by the sheer weight of the munitions before him. At the centre of the Macralieusian forces General Phylene himself could just be made out, standing aloft on the turret of his stormhammer command tank, the Defender of the Throne, conducting the efforts of his men passionately and with fierce pride. The deployment of the main force was by now well underway. Behind him the endless yards of the manufactorum district shifted and changed like the renowned grox plains of Gershuasen, filled with all the movement and colour of the varied Imperial forces. The Volunteers of the 15th Yamin patrolled the borders of the landing site ensconced within their infamous sentinel walkers, the bipedal machines lurching and striding as they stalked through the ruined buildings of the perimeter, weaving through the many automated tarantula sentry guns guarding the line. Rattling skulls and captured totems swung and clanged against the roll bars of their vehicles, gruesome talismans taken from their fallen enemies in battle.

It was said that the feudal warriors of the 15th Yamin were so skilled in the use of these machines that when they fought in battle they were as agile and deadly as any seasoned foot soldier. Indeed, one of the most celebrated modifications of the Yamin sentinels was the ceremonial power claw fitted to the underside of the vehicles nose, a weapon that the Volunteers used to great effect in combat. Whereas the other regiments favoured the sentinel as a scout vehicle, the Yamin did not. They were a proud and martial people, preferring to face the enemy up close rather than attack from a distance. Hastor watched the long-legged bipedal walkers as they scouted the perimeter, proud and unafraid. Each sentry gun they passed spun harshly on its axis to face them, the automatic vigilance of the machines logic engines investigating each potential threat. It would only take a second for the sentrys systems to recognise the Imperial ident-code of the passing machines and the tarantula in question would turn its attentions back towards the enemy lines, satisfied that the walkers were no threat to them. Colonel Vorpax. Hastor heard the harsh whisper and turned his attention away from the deployment, just in time to see the Elysian colonel marching towards him, the Type 5 pressure helmet of his drop suit in one hand swinging loosely by his side. An elite Elysian command squad flanked him, huge muscular warriors, each face set in a stern grimace. Hastor and his men saluted stiffly as the colonel approached, those that had been sat rising to their feet sharply as if physically provoked.. At ease men. Good to see Validus made it down safely. And you, sir. Hastor replied, relaxing. He lowered his hand slowly, his gaze falling across the Elysian colonel. Vorpax looked like hell. His carapace armour was dented and buckled in a dozen places, charred and blackened in a dozen more. It looked for all the world as if he had been hit with a sledgehammer across his left shoulder. His grey and blue fatigues were ripped in a number of places and he was covered from head to toe in ichor and ash dust. The thin stripe of hair down the centre of his head was almost solid, matted with blood both alien and human. Vorpax seemed to notice Hastors concerned stare and his scarred mouth twisted into a smile. We hit the ground hard, harder than we should have. If wed have continued to slow at the rate we did then we would all be dead. We were damn lucky. It seems you storm trooper boys are a little moreflexible when it comes to attack methodology. The colonels voice began to change, rising in tone as the smile began to fade. Ours was the mistake, Hastor, a mistake that I ensure you will not happen again. Vorpax doesnt make the same one twice were Elysians, damn it! We wrote the book on drop assaults. Heads are going to roll for what happened here today. The hard edge soon left his eyes, sinking back into him like a retreating shadow. His fading smile began to slowly return, almost as if apprehensive of its owners simmering mood. Hastor could see that the colonel was cut up about the losses sustained here today, losses he would no doubt take personally. Those filthy biovores may be slow but by the Holy Crusade theyre tough to take down close-quarters. Theyre slow as hell but as thick-skinned as a grox. The lasguns did okay but its hard to target eyes and knee joints with an M36 assault shotgun, that much we found out to our cost. Still, by the Emperors grace, most of us made it in one piece. It would seem, sergeant, that the counter-invasion is officially underway. Hastor nodded respectfully, sure that the Elysian colonel had approached him for reasons other than the mere engagement of idle chat. Sure enough, Vorpax soon confirmed the sergeants suspicions. As I said, its good to see that you and your men are in good health, sergeant. Lord General Bombola himself sends his congratulations. Walk with me. Vorpax turned and dismissed his bodyguard with a wave of his hand. The glowering group tipped their

heads as one and turned to leave without uttering a word. Hastor turned to his men and nodded, flashing them a wink of reassurance as he did so. The members of squad Validus glanced at each other for a moment, an uneasy exchange by all accounts. Loyal servants or no, this did not sound good. Problems, sir? Vorpax turned as he heard this, his hooded grey eyes swivelling in their sockets as he turned to face the storm trooper. Dont look so worried, sergeant. You and your boys did good out there today. You did your Emperor proud, as always. First on the ground, so I hear. Hastor simply nodded. He had always been uncomfortable receiving praise. Vorpax saw this and smiled, turning away to look out at the vast landing fields surrounding them. Squad Validus. You and your men are a valuable asset to the Imperium, Hastor. Your reputation precedes you. The warmaster himself knows you by name. He shifted uncomfortably as he heard this. Reputations were best left to the characters of the Imperial war machine. Men like Vorpax himself, resolute and charismatic leaders whose reputation could be used as a tool, a weapon in its own right. Hastor did not consider either himself or his squad to be worthy of such renown. As skilful and professional as the men of Validus were, they were still foot soldiers, mere vassals of the Imperium. Tools of destruction, forged so as to be wielded by men such as Vorpax. Relax, sergeant. The lord general does not seek an audience. Vorpax assured him, shaking his head. No, Bombola will be staying on board the Iratus Manus for the duration of this war. I merely mention that he knows of Validus and youre your achievements. Indeed, the lord generals favour does have its advantages. Nowhere else within the armies of the Emperor is any other squad allowed to express such doctrinal freedom. I know of no other storm trooper squad that has access to such an abundance of firepower. You and your men have earned that right, Hastor. No, there are other matters that require your attention. He frowned as he heard this, the ominous feeling within his gut growing. Other matters, sir? Other matters, sergeant. Tell me, what do you actually know of this campaign? What can you tell me of Daedalus itself? Inot much, sir. We fight the tyranids here, that much is obvious. It is also said that we face the vile servants of the Ruinous Powers, although I have yet to see any evidence of this. He paused for a moment, almost as if unwilling to continue. Go on. This discussion is between the two of us, no one else. Vorpax whispered, sincere in his assurances. Hastor turned to face him and held out a hand, gesturing slowly about him. We are part of a crusade, colonel. This is no ordinary conflict. The Guard numbers alone could conquer a small subsystem. General Phylene and his superheavies could win back the city if they so chose to and yet, as I have heard, we fight alongside the astartes. Vorpax nodded slowly as Hastor voiced his concerns, his demeanour never once altering. His expression was unreadable, a complete blank. This only served to elevate the sergeants concern. You speak the truth. Vorpax finally answered, his voice low and contained. It would seem that the lord general knows far more than any of us, certainly more than I. I agree with you, sergeant. This campaign seems a littleexcessive.

Hastor could tell that the colonel seemed to be choosing his words very carefully. He was an Imperial officer, one of the figureheads of the campaign. It would not bode well for him were he seen to be openly questioning the warmasters judgement. I sense you also have your reservations. Daedalus is by no means an important planet. True, it does form the lynchpin of this subsystem, though in truth I fail to see why this particular backwater subsystem is so important in itself. The entire Profundo Cluster is scarcely more than a stellar desert, a barren expanse of space in an otherwise fertile Imperium. Why His voice trailed off into silence, leaving the sentence unfinished. Despite their long association, it was as though the colonel had suddenly remembered that Hastor was merely a sergeant, and that such discussions were unseemly. Ah, it doesnt matter. We live to serve the Emperor. Besides, were here. Hastor stepped in through the low doorway after Vorpax. He removed his helmet and stared into the gloomy tent, allowing his vision a moment to adjust in the murky dimness of the stifling interior. Outside the sounds of heavy shelling could still be heard, a grim reminder that the tyranids of this sector were still engaged in conflict with the landing forces. As his vision began to adjust he became aware of a number of shadowed figures standing at the far end of the tent, still partially obscured by the shadows. He tensed, concern beginning to grow within his mind. Hesitant at first, he began to move further into the temporary command post and as he did so the shapes began to form, illuminated by the soft lighting at its centre. He could see a number of familiar shapes seated around the centre of the tent, storm trooper sergeants from a number of squads, around fifteen in total. Whatever the warmaster had in store for them was big.

CHAPTER 6: THE PLAN Hastor glanced around the gloomy command tent in silence. Many recognisable faces stared back, some he knew as old friends, others as those of the campaigns commanders. Aside from Vorpax and a number of other sergeants seated there, he recognised two of the men immediately. Jontor Merith Aquilus, commander of the Phyressian 2nd armoured company saluted back. He was a tall, proud man clothed in a meticulous grey-blue battle dress fringed with a deep orange trim and decorated with countless medals. His lean white features were flawless and clean-shaven, almost to the point of giving him the appearance of a hawk. The other figure recognised by Hastor was General Arkas Phylene of the vaunted Macraleusian Bombardiers. Phylene was a short, stocky dark-skinned man, much shorter than Aquilus, though no less imposing. His cap removed, Phylenes smooth, hairless head shone under the pinprick lights of the tents many monitoring stations. A fat cigar protruded from his moustache-trimmed mouth, filling the small space about him with thick blue wisps of smoke. His own gunmetal grey and white uniform was as pregnant with battle honours as his Phyressian counterpart and he displayed them proudly, his chest protruding in an almost comical fashion. A tall, imposing man swathed in billowing black robes stepped forward, his presence causing the quiet conversation that floated through the space to die down. His hands were lost inside the sleeves of the long cowl and his face was barely visible. Hastor shuddered as he looked upon the figure, recognising him in an instant for what he was. I am Inquisitor Devan Vorkohnen. The towering man purred, his voice deep and echoing, almost as if it originated from somewhere outside his own body. Thank you all for attending. Let us begin. Vorkohnen gently slipped the hood from over his head revealing a pair of glowing eyes pulsating with otherworldly energies. Hastor gasped quietly as he felt something wash over him; permeate him, as if a warm gentle breeze had passed through his body, searching for probing deep inside his being. Emperor preserve me He whispered, shivering despite the nauseating warmth of the wraith-like caress. Now he looked upon the face of Vorkohnen for the first time, he found the mans appearance confusing. Though weathered and split by an old scar that ran from the left-hand side of his temple down to his jawbone, Vorkohnens face was strong and vigorous. He had the appearance of a young man, despite the long grey hair that hung down to the top of his neck. Hastor dared not guess how the man managed to remain so invigorated, it had to be witchcraft. Vorkohnen seemed to smile a little as Hastor thought this, much to the sergeants consternation. He would have to censer his thoughts around the psychically-active inquisitor. The robed figure smile soon faded and he seemed to shudder for a fleeting moment, gritting his teeth as if beset by some deep ache. He glanced around the room at the other commanders, a look of concern upon his imposing face. It grows stronger. By His holy light, the abomination calls to them. We are running out of time. The Imperial invasion must press on. Gentlemen, let us get down to business. Hastor turned and glanced at the men around him. They were clearly shaken by the Inquisitors foreboding words. Witchcraft of any kind was never easily accepted within the Imperium and the Inquisitor reeked of it. He shook these thoughts from his head and turned his attention back towards the gathered storm troopers

around him. He smiled as he recognised the third face to his left and his old friend Bellanor smiled back, clearly pleased to see that he had made it safely to the surface of the planet. Bellanor gestured to his left and Hastor shifted his gaze to be met with another familiar face from his past days. Sergeant Drafe Hoolias raised his right hand in greeting, pleased to see his old comrade. Along with Bellanor, Hastor and Hoolias had served in the same squad years before, under an old, fiery sergeant named Rayner. Squad Concordia had been the best in their field, legendary amongst the guard of the Orpheus sector. Serving with these men had been the making of him, the making of them all. Hoolias and Bellanor had saved his life more times than he could ever remember, and he had reciprocated this many, many times. No matter what lay in store for them here on Daedalus, Hastor was glad of their presence. Colonel Vorpax moved into the centre of the room and activated a small device set into the table before him. Numerous runes began to pulse and flicker upon the surface of the device and a flickering map of blue light appeared in the air, illuminating and displacing the floating dust particles that hovered lazily above the table. The holo-map was a topographical display of the region beyond the landing zone, showing the walled city of Phrennec Mantris and its surrounding townships. Hastor was immediately impressed by the sheer size of the fortress-city, although he more than understood why Phrennec Mantris had been designed the way it had. The Borteth system was a small, backwater settlement, almost lost amongst the unpopulated regions of the sector and many light years away from any of the Imperiums more populated systems. It was his understanding that the planet and indeed the city itself had been attacked many times, mostly by marauding Orks and Dark Eldar raiding parties. The inhabitants of the planet had designed the city to be one vast fortress-complex, an oasis of safety in this otherwise dangerous system. Phrennec Mantris was designed to be completely self-sufficient and held within its walls all manner of farms and food processing refineries as well as vast silo complexes housing emergency food, medical and munitions supplies. Most famous of all were the citys defences, their unique design legendary among the Imperial inhabitants of the sector. Phrennec Mantris boasted an array of powerful and advanced weapons systems, all designed and configured to deal with the almost constant threat of invading forces. The Adeptus Mechanicus themselves had designed the city and as such their greatest work had been the design and construction of the vaunted Praesidium pylons. Hastor had spied the lofty pylons of the city when he and the squad had made the drop to Daedalus the day before, and even at such a distance he had found himself in awe of the distant, towering structures. The pylons were a wonderful and deadly piece of Adeptus Mechanicus defence technoarcana, their reputation almost as fearsome as their power. He didnt even begin to pretend that he understood the enigmatic machinations or how they worked. All he knew was that they were autonomous, utilising the equally mysterious machine spirit of the Adepts of Mars so as to enable them to maintain a constant and eternal vigil of the surrounding terrain. The pylons themselves were rumoured to be psychically sensitive conduits, constructs that were rumoured to leech psychic energy from the very warp itself. They emitted a frightening and immensely powerful burst of energy whenever a supposed enemy strayed too close to the city walls, whether by air or by land. As he contemplated these ancient and potent pieces of arcane Mechanicus technology, he found himself beginning to grow uneasy. Colonel Vorpax appeared by the side of the holo-display, brandishing a small pointing stick. He began to gesture towards the bottom of the pulsing photonic light map at a multitude of flashing icons and the subsequent ream of information that continued to roll down the left hand side of the zone.

The main astartes attack force is already deployed and approaching their positions, Inquisitor. Vorpax announced, his scarred face lit by the glowing display as he pored through the information before him. Distracted by the main Imperial invasion force, the enemy werent expecting the arrival of the astartes. The space marines were able to deploy safely south of Phrennec Mantris, the last known location of the World Eaters. Since deploying en masse some three solar hours ago, they have encountered little resistance and as such have already begun to converge upon the southern gateway. The marine captains believe that the enemy may have gone to ground inside the city walls, and that this is the reason why we are unable to reach the resistance. We may have already lost the city. The audience surrounding the colonel remained silent, yet there was clearly an air of unease about the command tent. Everyone taking part in the Borteth crusade had silently hoped that the city was still under Imperial occupation. Now it seemed that even the legendary defences of Phrennec Mantris had not been enough to hold the fearsome World Eaters at bay. I had already feared as much, colonel. Vorkohnen seethed, his low, rumbling voice nevertheless loud and potent even at such a level. The sickening stench of Chaos hangs heavily in the air. Already the warp begins to churn and boil in the skies above Phrennec Mantris. Something far more insidious is happening on Daedalus, something more than a simple two-pronged invasion. Even the World Eaters of Karkattamorg, Emperor curse his name, would surely have fallen back in the face of a tyranid splinter fleet. Daedalus holds no strategic importance for them that we know of. No, something else holds them here, something dangerous and dark and I intend to find out what. Vorkohnen paused for a moment, closing his eyes. The air around him seemed to shimmer and whisper, snaking tendrils of hazy light wreathing his grey skull. More witchcraft, Hastor thought. The tyranids sense it too. He whispered, his eyes still closed. Something attracts them like a moth to a flame. They came here to Daedalus seeking something, something more than the harvest. An ancient and terrible voice calls to them, its source to be found deep within the catacombs of Phrennec Mantris. I became aware of this as soon as we entered the system. It is a deep and incredibly powerful psychic force, so powerful in fact that it may be the cause behind the Astronomicons silence. In any case, whatever lies beneath the city brought them here from the other side of the system, undoubtedly using the Empyrean to relay its message. We must strive to find this artefact before it is too late, wherever it is hidden. Beneath Phrennec Mantris we shall find the answers we seek. We must take the city. Hastor shifted his weight uneasily as he listened to the words of the Inquisitor. He was a soldier, a warrior of the Imperium. All this talk of the warp and unseen, ancient evils made him uneasy. He was a man who liked to fight what he could see, whether it be alien or human. As he often told his men, if it was born, it can bleed. The best kind of enemy was the kind that faced you in the field of battle, not the kind that festered and churned deep in the shadows. Suddenly Vorkohnen seemed to shudder, a brief and involuntary movement. Behind him a number of the shrouded, obscured astropaths that were part of the mission command also paused, some emitting quiet gasps while others let out more audible moans. Almost in the same instant one of the many systems operators that lined the workstations of the command post rose from his seat, a look of jubilation upon his pallid face. Inquisitor, we have just received word from Imperial Navy Command. The splinter fleets norn queen has been disabled. The tyranid invasion force is now no longer self-sustainable.

Vorkohnen glanced up as he heard the words, his eyes running across the gathered figures before him. Gentlemen, this is good news indeed. Without the norn queen the splinter fleet can no longer generate reinforcements to bolster the ground assault. All we have to contend with now are the forces that are left on the surface of this planet. The astropaths behind him began to chatter and murmur, their slight, wispy voices all but inaudible to the others. Vorkohnen listened for a moment before nodding and turning to face the assembly before him. As I suspected, the death of the queen has also provided us with another advantage. Without the powerful psychic presence of the queen to amplify the signal, the unknown presence is no longer able to project its call beyond the dampening effects of the pylons. Such is the pylons unique design, I am told, that they act as psychic buffers, dampening all but the most powerful of psychic signals. When activated they disturb the warp, their draining effect creating miniature storms and fierce, localised currents within the surrounding Empyrean. Surrounded by the pylons, the presence is unable to transmit beyond the city, thus blinding the hive fleet to its location. This is indeed good news, gentlemen, and it means that we have the advantage, an advantage we must press home as soon as we are able. Colonel? Thank you Inquisitor. Vorpax moved into the centre of the room, folding his hands behind his back as he did so. He stood on silence for a moment, surveying he faces around him as if searching for signs of weakness or doubt. He was pleased to see that there were none. There are forces at work here on Daedalus that threaten the very fabric of the Imperium. This is no ordinary military engagement. We face the combined might of both an entire tyranid splinter fleet and possibly the largest gathering of traitor marines that any of us present today, including me, have ever seen. The might of the Imperial forces here on this planet is indeed impressive, but let us not forget that, facing a foe of such strength both in numbers and in power, we still have a long way to go before this war is over. What started as a simple re-invasion exercise has quickly escalated into a desperate struggle for survival, not just for this system but also indeed for the entire Imperium itself. Why these enemy forces pose such a threat or what it is that lays in wait for them deep within the core of the city are all questions that we cannot answer at this time. All we know is that were here to stop this. Vorpax paused for a moment so as to allow the weight of his words to sink into the minds and souls of the men before him. In silence he ran his gaze across each of the men in turn, his eyes passing over them as if they were each and every one an old friend or acquaintance. Tuvius. Remphine. DesCharris. Limm. Sintaar. Helphonne. Greiss. Hastor. Jubiaz. Montessorax. Bellanor. Hoolias. Zeph, Rangillies. Noorwater. Vorpax recited each of the assembled soldiers names in turn, much to their collective surprise. Fifteen men, fifteen of the finest veteran sergeants this campaign has. Each one of you command ten highly-trained men, fighting machines that have seen more action in battle than anyone I know. Proud, brave warriors of the Imperium, the Emperors finest. You have been called before us today because you are all the best at what you do. The best that the Imperial Guard have to offer. The best that we have here on Daedalus. Men, we need to retake the city of Phrennec Mantris and it is with your help that we shall do just that. Hastor listened intently as Vorpax began to underline the plan. Though stopped short by the nigh-impenetrable Praesidium pylons the space marines had nonetheless been successful in attracting the attention of the occupying World Eaters, meaning that the impending guard

assault would be virtually unexpected. There were two main gates into the city. The astartes had converged upon the South Gate and in doing so had drawn the traitor forces to them, leaving the much larger North Gate all-but unguarded. It was Bombolas intention that the main guard attack would sweep up to the North Gate to face the tyranid forces converged there. The Phyressian tanks of Aquilus would carve a path through the tyranids and then keep the alien monstrosities busy while Phylenes super heavy tanks and siege engines got to work on the gates. Once brought down, the rest of the huge Imperial force would surge into the city and engage the World Eaters from the rear, trapping them and ending their miserable existence forever. Then it would only be a matter of locating and securing the mysterious presence behind all this, ending the threat once and for all. Colonel, sir? Vorpax turned as he heard the voice, finding Hastors inquisitive face amongst the gathering. Sergeant? The pylons, colonel. You havent mentioned the pylon grid. If the astartes are unable to bypass them, what chance do we have? Surprisingly, Vorpax seemed pleased with this question. He moved over to the hovering holo-display behind him and picked up the devices remote handset. Good question. He pressed a number of the runes littered across its surface and the image warped, transforming before their eyes into a grainy pict-recording. The image itself was blurred and unfocused at first, surrounded and flanked by all manner of statistical data and information. As the men watched the image slowly sharpened to reveal a scene of horrific, heart-stopping carnage and destruction. This recording was taken yesterday by a long-range sat-drone. He informed them, gesturing towards the busy, teeming melee beside him. It shows the North Gate, our designated point of entry to the city. A blurred tide of bone and green swirled and surged before the gates, the noise they emitted almost deafening. Before them stood the huge gates of the entrance, only the bottom third of the mighty armoured gates visible. Lurid blue flashes of lightning forked and coruscated from somewhere high above them, slamming into the massed creatures like the grasping, probing fingers of some huge, nameless god. Whatever the lightning touched turned to a haze of wet mist almost instantaneously, combusting and bursting apart within seconds of coming into contact with the ethereal whips and arcs. All fell before the warp-generated storm, from the lowliest of the countless soldier organisms to the mightiest of the tanksized xenobeasts. Nothing was able to penetrate the awesome defences of the city and the mighty Tyranid army fell about in disarray, unable to do nothing except die. Vorpax turned to the watching veterans and gestured towards the screen with the stick, pointing out key elements as such as Carnifexes and Hive Tyrants as they died, vaporised as quickly and easily as their smaller siblings. As you can see, the pylons are still operational and as such the tyranids were unable to penetrate the city. Indeed, it is known that Phrennec Mantris has already survived one tyranid attack in the past, around three hundred years ago. The pylons were instrumental in their defeat the last time, and it seems that none of their potency has lapsed since. How the traitor forces were able to bypass the defences we do not know. What we do know is that somehow they were able to gain access to the city safely, and as such they have continued to allow the pylons to function, thus preventing the invading tyranids from gaining access.

We are not tyranids. We are not the expendable drone-soldiers of some mindless, alien race, we are an elite, resourceful army. We will not continue to throw ourselves at the gates in the vain, desperate hope that a handful of us may make it through. Phrennec Mantris was, and still is, an Imperial city. It took a lot of work and some serious cajoling, but our friends in the adeptus mechanicus have provided us with a means of entry. Dismayed that we threatened to obliterate the pylon grid from orbit, they generously provided us with an alternative means of bypassing these ancient and valuable pieces of technoarcana. We have the pylon grids deactivation codes. Vorpax flicked another rune and the screen changed again, back to an aerial map of the city and its surrounding hab zones and factory complexes. Hastor watched as Vorpax lifted the pointing stick and began to gesture towards a number of small amber runes across the length of the gate, some fifteen lights in total. Even as the realisation of what the lights meant hit him, Vorpax had already begun to explain the plan. Here is where you come in. As soon as the pylons are deactivated, General Phylene and his war engines will begin bombardment of the gate. Our best tacticians and lexmechanics assure us that to do so prior to the pylon grids deactivation would be futile, as they are able to repel all but the most powerful of siege ordinance. Now, as soon as the pylons fall silent and the super heavy siege tanks come into play, the basilisks will begin bombardment of the immediate city surrounding the gate. This will hopefully quash any resistance we may meet with when we finally enter the city. This is where you come in. We have fifteen valkyrie drop ships standing by. Fifteen of the best ten-man squads will each take one of these assault craft. You will enter the city directly after the basilisk bombardment and proceed to clear the area of any pockets of resistance that may be left. You will execute a standard search and destroy manoeuvre, sweeping the square and its buildings and eradicating any defences you find. Vorpax paused and turned to face the gathered storm troopers. You will be the vanguard of the invasion, gentlemen. Your work will allow the rest of the massed Imperial forces to enter the city unmolested, close the trap and suffocate the b*****d Karkattamorg and his vile followers. Once the Imperial advance is well within the safety of the city walls, all that will remain is for Aquilus and Phylenes forces to follow us in. The pylon grid will be reactivated and the remaining swarm behind us will commit suicide as they throw themselves upon the gate. Simple, efficient and very, very deadly. We can pull this off. Inquisitor? A murmur of determination floated around the small group, each man sure in his allotted task. As they quietly discussed the coming conflict, Vorkohnen reached over to the small black workstation set in the centre of the gathering and pressed a series of runes set into its surface, his actions causing the glowing hologram before them to shift and change. The others watched eagerly as a score of small, mauve lights began to ignite all over the display, spreading across the photonic map like some accelerated biological infestation, almost covering the display in seconds. This display shows the current movements of the tyranid force. The indicators range in size to give us some idea of the genus of the different broods and where they currently are. As you can see, the main advantage we have over the tyranids is the fact that we caught the invasion in the early stages. The successful destruction of the queen early on in the campaign means that the most potent war machines of the tyranids were never conceived. The worst we can expect to encounter out there are the creatures of the hive tyrant and carnifex genus. The fact that the tyranid forces are now no longer sustainable gives us the advantage, gentlemen. What we have to do now is press on into the city and find thisthing.

Vorkohnen slowly surveyed those before him, his glowing eyes burning within their sockets. They all stared back awkwardly, their gaze faltering as it met that of the imposing Inquisitor. Soldiers of the Emperor, I know I can trust you all. Bombola knows he can trust you. Colonel Vorpax here tells me he would trust each and every one of you with his life and I sense he tells the truth. You are the best this campaign has. I know you will do the Emperor proud. Hastor remained stiff and silent, unflinching save for the slow rotation of his head as he worked out a crick in his tired neck. Vorkohnen bowed his head and stepped away from the centre of the room, deactivating the holo-display as he did so. Vorpax took his place and approached the men with sharp, confident strides. That is all for now. Go and brief your men and then we will contact you with more details. You are all dismissed. Each of the fifteen officers rose to their feet and saluted before turning to exit the tent single-file. +++ I dont like it. The others stopped what they were doing and glanced at Nesker, watching as the old veteran took apart the grenade launcher in his hands with practised skill. I dont like it. He repeated, wiping the thick barrel of the weapon with an oiled rag. This mission doesnt sit right. It doesnt add up. We dont even know what it is were being sent to find, all we know is that we have to wade through hell to find it. Whatever it is, its Tyranid. It has to be. Zith muttered, his eyes fixed on the open pages of a tattered, leather-bound old tome. Ive seen something like this before, back in Ultramar, on a planet called Malthor. Old One Eye, thats what some of the boys called it. By the sounds of things, he was probably some form of mutated carnifex. Doesnt mean anything to us, Zith. Theyre all just bugs to us. Tessok answered, shrugging his shoulders. Come on, Tyranid-Boy, whats a Carnifex? Moranith urged, sending a chuckle through the rest of the squad. Oh, youd better pray we never have to face one of those things. Imagine the biggest, nastiest Dreadnought youve ever met. He doesnt even come close. All claws and teeth, thats a carnifex. Ive seen one of those boys rip apart a leman russ as if it was made of paper, and that was without even breaking his stride. If you ever meet a Carnifex face to face, youd better run. Hey Zith, youre wandering again. What about Old One Eye? Brandbaar asked, leaning closer to Zith, eager to learn more. Well, some said that he had the power to summon the Hive Mind back to Ultramar, see? Wherever he went, splinter fleets came to him as if they had been called. Thats whats happening here. Whatever it is, it has to be Tyranid. So, are you saying that this Old One Eye, whatever it is, is here on Daedalus? Is that what were meant to find? Some giant monstrosity? Tessok asked, his voice tinged with apprehension. Zith smiled and shook his head; his concentration still fixed upon the small book in his hands. I dont know about that. The men looked up as Hastor joined them, saluting the sergeant as they became aware of his presence. At ease, men. Go about your business.

The men returned to their duties, stripping and checking their equipment and weaponry. Hastor stepped into the circle of bodies and pulled up an empty ammunition crate to sit on. Listen, about this mission. He began, sitting himself down. You all know how dangerous this is going to be. You all also know how vital this mission is, not only to this planet but also to the entire Imperium. We have to do this. We are the best this campaign has. He shifted his weight, struggling to make himself comfortable on the hard wooden crate. The astartes have already begun their assault on the city. They have converged upon the South Gate, drawing the enemy forces to them. The fact that the chaos force consists of World Eaters may work to our advantage. Those boys dont like being cooped up behind thick, safe walls. Theyll take the fight to the Imperial forces, engaging them at close quarters. With any luck, those bloodthirsty Khorne-worshipping heathens will leave the safety of the city to meet our boys, deactivating the southern pylon grid as they do so. Thing I cant figure out is why? Nesker piped up, his gruff voice rumbling through the air. Why the hell are World Eaters here on this planet? We all know what they think of psykers. What the frak does a Khornate warband want with a suspected psychic presence? Like I said, this thing doesnt add up. Hastor shrugged. I know, Nesker, and I agree with you. None of this makes sense, and that is why we must do what we can to find out what is going on here. We live to serve the Emperor, boys, and thats what were here to do.

CHAPTER 7: TREMLOCKE Emplacement 25-Gamma fully operational. No hostile activity reported. The Cadian trooper replaced the handset of the portable comm-link, taking time to glance across the silent terrain before him for a moment. Nothing passed between the endless, empty concrete canyons of the Manifactorum complex except for a gentle breeze. Despite the ruinous nature of the abandoned sector, he found the found the silent, desolate grey buildings to have an almost serene quality about them. He sighed and reached into his top jacket pocket, producing a small white stick. He put the object in his mouth and lit it, exhaling a wisp of swirling smoke out into the cool air. Want one? he asked, turning to face the silent, heavily-augmented servitor unit standing behind him. The servitor remained still and ignorant, its normal human responses long burned away to be replaced by a machines cold, hard logic. Good. Vesk declared, wafting the smoking stick before him nonchalantly. I didnt feel like sharing anyway. Vesk had been a guardsman all his adult life. At thirty-four he found himself amazed that he had lasted this long, still alive and largely unscathed despite the tremendous amount of conflict he had been thrown into over the years. Most of the friends that had accompanied him at the founding were gone now, their bare bones lost amid the rubble of a hundred alien battlefields. Of those he knew that still lived, most were augmented and barely recognizable, bristling with bionic implants or decorated with masses of facial and body scars to such an extent that their original appearance was forever lost. He peered at his own body, turning his hands and arms over in the air before him as he contemplated his luck. One hundred percent Vesk, he mused, everything where it should be. Suddenly the tarantula emplacement beside him jerked, almost causing the soldier to jump out of his skin. He gasped and threw the smoking stick to the floor, driving it into the soft ash with his boot while at the same time grabbing the lasgun that hung from his shoulder. He bounded sideways, throwing himself behind the nearby cover of a heap of sandbags and slamming the lasgun down hard on the pile, its muzzle pointing out into the empty surroundings. The automatic gun beside him whirred and beeped as it swept from left to right, hunting for some unseen target, the twin heavy bolters it wielded rattling and clicking as the machine spirit cycled and armed them. Please be a malfunctionPlease be a malfunction the Cadian repeated, mimicking the sentry guns movements with his own, his eyes wide with terror. Behind him the servitor coolly moved its head in time with the machine it had been programmed to guard, scouring the wreckage littered area before it with bionic, red-lens eyes. Suddenly and without warning the tarantula stopped. He listened in amazement as the machines internal servos powered down, their decreasing whine fading into silence. There was nothing out there. The trooper sighed and hauled himself to his feet, shaking his head. Damn sentry guns. Useless piles of junk, the lot of them! He spat quietly into the servitors emotionless face, afraid of offending the weapons machine spirit. Cursing silently, Vesk made his way over to the smouldering remains of his smoking stick, letting out a long sigh of displeasure as he looked down upon the crushed remains.

Useless piles of junk. He repeated, driving his boot through the loose ash beneath him. That was my last one. The disgruntled Cadian threw the servitor and the tarantula a curt hand gesture as he left them and headed out across the abandoned yard towards the next emplacement, his curses fading as he dropped out of sight. Behind him, hidden deep in the shadows of the gutted storage outhouse the dusty air shifted and rippled, moving slowly as if alive. It had found them. +++ Hastor watched as the men loaded and prepped the valkyrie begrudgingly, listening to their muffled curses and objections. They were muffled for his benefit. As he approached the men they stopped what they were doing and turned, their protests dying down. Hey sarge, whats the deal here? Brandaar began, hefting a heavy ammunition crate up through one of the side doors of the armoured vehicle. The valkyrie is a fine assault craft, but well never make it past the pylons in this thing. Hastor held up his hands as the others joined the protest, appealing for silence. Come on boys, you know the valkyrie is the only way to go. Weve considered every option available to us. A grav-chute or para-glider would be suicide. Even with the pylons deactivated, we have no way of knowing who or what we could run into on the other side of those walls. You have to remember we are fighting both tyranids and traitor marines. They would be all over us in a heartbeat; we wouldnt have the protection we have in one of these. Besides, look what almost happened to us the last time. The biovores nearly took us apart He made his way over to a pile of crates beside the flyer and placed one on top of the other. He pulled out a piece of paper and unfolded it, placing it on top of the elevated crate. It was a map, showing the schematics and layout of the city walls. As the others began to gather round, he began to outline the plan. Here. This is where we need to be. He pointed, showing the others. The location in question was a small square directly beneath the towering gates, a prime ambush location for any would-be defence emplacements. The fifteen squads that make up the initial attack have each been given a sector to cover and sweep. Ours is here, covering these three buildings to the left. Together with Fortis and Constantia our mission is to suppress and secure the target location, ensuring that the following Imperial forces are able to enter the city safely. Fortis are in on this? Ha! I bet Grendirn already has a book running on who gets to the bug first! Nesker laughed, shaking his head. Looks like weve got a challenge here, boys. We cant let Fortis beat us on this one. The others smiled and nodded in agreement, their light-hearted banter masking their relief. Old rivalries aside, it was good to know that at least they wouldnt be going it alone. Hastor saw this and allowed himself a smile, knowing that Hoolias and his men were effective, strong allies. Validus and Fortis had fought side by side for years, and he knew he could depend on them in any situation. Listen, if we are successful here then we shouldnt even need to enter the city itself. The big guns can deal with that side of things. Once we take and hold the gateway, I believe that our role in this campaign will be largely over. He folded the map back up and placed it in his pocket.

The Imperial forces will converge upon the North Gate en masse. The navy will begin the assault, saturating the tyranid-held sector with as much ordinance as they can muster. We will follow in their wake, flanked by an escort of Lightning fighters. Upon reaching the city, high command will deactivate the pylon grid and General Aquilus will concentrate his efforts on engaging the remaining Tyranid forces, allowing General Phylene and his Bombardiers to set up a siege blockade around the North Gate. Command hopes that the assault on the North Gate will pass by largely unopposed by the remaining chaos forces, their attention held by the combined Astartes attack. With the pylons reactivated, the remains of the tyranid swarm locked out and the Imperial forces safely within the city walls, the Worldeaters wont stand a chance. Victory is almost assured here on Daedalus, if the warmaster general is to be believed. The others groaned and shook their heads, a reaction Hastor had more than expected from them. Theres no such thing as a sure victory, sarge. Moranith uttered, his voice strained with the effort of attaching an ammunition drum to one of the Valkyries door-mounted heavy bolters. You should know, you told us that yourself. I know, I know. Hastor admitted with a smile. It was one of his prime principles, something he always told the new additions to his squad. Belief in victory over the enemies of the Emperor was paramount, a fact he could not deny. This aside, he never allowed his men to grow complacent, even if the mission before them seemed a simple one. Complacency when facing enemies of the Imperium led to nothing save for defeat. So what about this thing we have to find. Any idea what it is yet? The others echoed Fordars question, causing Hastor to shake his head slowly. Unfortunately not. Were going to have to play this one by ear. Intelligence has confirmed Ziths theory that the target is most likely a tyranid organism. I think that its safe to assume we are hunting some form of mutant bug, though what it looks like, we dont know. Zith, you will be the best chance we have of identifying the creature, given your past experiences with the more common strains of tyranid organism. If you see something you dont recognise, we need to know immediately. Zith nodded, confident in his abilities. Good. Now, the assault goes ahead in seven hours, standard Terra. Once you have finished here, get some rest. None of us know when the next opportunity will arise. Hastor was about to continue when he noticed Nesker staring over his shoulder, a look of disdain set into the old veterans features. Look sharp, sarge. It seems we have a visitor. Hastor turned as he heard this, his eyes meeting with a cold, calculating stare. Moneth Hastor, as I live and breathe. The thin, snapping voice drove through Hastor like a spike, sending a shudder down his spine. He recognised the new arrival, even before his eyes had begun to relay their optical information to his brain. Tremlocke. The commissar was short and stocky, reaching no higher than the sergeants shoulders. He stood before Hastor, resplendent in his black, medal-encrusted uniform, one leather-gloved hand resting upon the hilt of the power sword that hung from his belt. A huge black leather greatcoat was draped across his shoulders like a cloak, adding to the air of haughtiness about the man. His scar-twisted mouth was fixed in a halfsmile, though the expression radiated little warmth.

Commissar Titus Tremlocke, reporting for duty. Its been a long time, Moneth. A long, long time. He oozed, stroking the small, diamond-shaped tuft of yellow hair that sprouted from his chin. And look at you, a storm trooper sergeant, no less. I always knew you had it in you, Moneth. I always said you would go far. Look at you now, eh? Your own squad to command. Hastor grimaced as the commissar droned on, his lip trembling with each unabashedly sarcastic undertone. The men behind him watched uneasily as their sergeants hand hovered over the hilt of his own power sword, a dangerous gesture indeed. Whoever this Imperial political officer was, it was clear that Hastor hated the man with a passion. Titus. Im afraid well have to catch up some other time. Hastor finally whispered, his tone low and far from friendly. My men and I leave soon, and we need all the rest we can get. Good day. Hastor turned and gestured for the others to follow, muttering some unheard curse under his breath. Oh Moneth, not so fast The words stopped him dead in his tracks, the tone of the mans voice hinting that his presence held some dark, unseen agenda. Hastor closed his eyes, his head bowing a little as he awaited the commissars next remarks. The snake-like officer removed his gloves and clutched them in his fist as he moved into the centre of the gathering, tut-tutting as he noticed the dusty grime that had begun to form upon his immaculately polished boots. Im afraid that I am not here to catch up on old times, sergeant. I am here on official business. Lord General Bombola chose me for the mission personally. The sergeant slowly turned, his glaring eyes burning into Tremlocke with an equal mix of fiery rage and icy hatred, though the commissar was clearly unmoved by this. What mission? What the hell are you talking about? I dont have time to play games, Tremlocke. This entire system is in danger I am about to play my part in trying to save it. Say your piece and get the hell out of here. Tremlocke stepped back in mock surprise, a look of bemusement spreading across his scarred face. He began to shake his head slowly and sarcastically, rebuking the sergeants anger. Please sergeant; in front of your men you will address me as commissar. Let us lead by example, shall we? And there is really no need for such hostility. After all, we are all here to do a job, are we not? All eyes turned to Hastor. None of the others dared even open their mouths to speak at this point. They all knew only too well that it didnt pay to cross Moneth Hastor. I received the order from the lord general himself, a little over five hours ago, standard Terra. The commissar continued, breaking the icy tension. This mission is of the utmost importance, I am sure that all of you realise that. I am here to ensure that we are successful in playing our part in this war. I am here to ensure that the job gets done. My men are loyal, devoted servants of the Imperium, Commissar! How dare you suggest that they cannot be trusted to carry out this mission to the best of their abilities? Hastor raged, though his anger only seemed to amuse the Commissar more. Besides which, we are an advance force, the spearhead of the Imperial attack. We are to secure the city gates and nothing more.

Sergeant Hastor, chaos is at large on this world, and chaos should never be underestimated. Tremlocke continued, almost ignoring the sergeants last announcement. Every single day, billions of the faithful swear their allegiance to the eternal Emperor. Despite this, entire worlds are still swayed to the side of the dark gods. We fight against the denizens of the warp in a ceaseless, eternal battle; yet no man can ever truly promise that they will never rebel, never turn their backs to the Emperors shining light. Besides, as I said, I am here to ensure the job gets done. We must see this through to the end, we cannot rest until the organism is captured, even if this means we must give our lives to the cause. Hastor looked on, bewildered by the commissars apparent lack of hearing. As he moved into the centre of the gathering he held up a hand in order to sway the others, not wanting them to get involved. You dont seem to be listening, commissar, so I will say it once again; we are an advance force. It is not our place to go in search of the psychic presence. Your presence here is wasted. What part of that do you not understand? Tremlocke smiled as he noticed Hastors mounting anger, as if tormenting the sergeant brought him immense pleasure. He straightened his jacket collar and moved slowly to stand before the man, his face a twisted mask of smug, satisfied pleasure. Sergeant, I am not a stupid man. I am fully aware of your current mission orders. As soon as I heard of the vaunted Squad Validus involvement in this I personally requested to be assigned to you as your acting commissar. Isuggested to the warmaster that perhaps it would be prudent to ensure that the members of the strike force were sufficiently proof against any possible taint or corruption in the face of the enemy. Given the importance of our holy work here, he agreed. We cannot risk this campaign faltering in its primary stages, sergeant. If the initial assault does not go to plan then all is lost, it is as simple as that. I will ensure that Squad Validus sees this mission through to the end. I hope that I have made this clear. With that, Tremlocke turned, nodding to the others as he prepared to leave the gathering. Bombola trusts you, Sergeant. I trust you. That fact aside, I will be accompanying you on this mission. I will report back to you shortly, but for now I have some business to attend to. Gentlemen. The others watched Tremlocke leave, their eyes burning into the departing Commissar, each man emulating their sergeants disdain for the objectionable man. History, sarge? Regan asked, his eyes still fixed upon the political officer. Hastor turned away from the others, his head bowed. Some other time, Regan. Lets get this assault carrier loaded and ready to move out. Regan looked at the others and his bemused gaze was met with a line of silent, shaking heads. They were right. Hastor was a complex man, and it didnt do any good to push him. Along with Tessok, Regan was the youngest and most recent addition to the squad. As such there were still times when the others had to offer him gentle guidance. This was one of those times. Whatever you say sir. It looks like Id better make room for another then.

CHAPTER 8: PREY
The sentinel lurched forward, its powerful hydraulic limbs carrying it over the scattered rubble. The stalking metal walker ground to a halt beside the ruins of an old librarium, its sound-dampened systems hissing and whining quietly as it slowed. The various trophies and totems fastened to the frame of the vehicle clanked and rattled as they swung, thrown around by the walkers sudden pause. The Yamin pilot leaned forward in order to survey the surrounding buildings of the edge of the Imperial zone, watching for any sign of the enemy, his keen eyes barely visible beneath his wide, fur-trimmed helmet. This is Huryishino, 15th Yamin scout patrol. Everything good here. Am proceeding to emplacement 27Gamma. Huryishino out. The sentinel pilot moved his hand away from the vox-bead fasted to the side of his head and took up the vehicles controls once more, affording himself one final assessment of the sector as he prepared to move on to the next checkpoint. The soldier was about to move the vehicle out across the empty street when he suddenly spied something amongst the rubble of the storage yard to his right. A two-tone grey shape could be seen, lying broken and ragged amongst the scattered stones and debris of the site. The sentinel moved quickly, its gyro-stabilisers whining in complaint as they compensated for every uneven piece of ground beneath its pad-like feet. With the flick of a switch the specialised power claw hanging beneath it hummed to life, rising and snapping twice as the vehicles machine spirit ran its standard hardware-activation check. Who is out there? Are you injured? The Yamins call was short and sharp, a trait characteristic of the Volunteers feudal nature. He stared out across the scene at the mysterious object, his thin eyelids closing even further as he struggled to make out the shape. As he closed upon the ruined building he recognised the grey bicolour of the Cadian urban battle-dress and his heart rate began to increase. Cadian! Can you hear me? Are you injured? Cadian, answer me! A long, clicking croak echoed throughout the broken skeleton of the outhouse complex as if in answer, the noise bouncing and reverberating across the cold stones like the call of some gigantic night insect. The Yamin looked up and gasped in horror, watching as something large and hideous burst from the shadows in a flurry of frenzied movement, leaping and bounding as it headed his way. The entity, though large and imposing was also indistinct and hazy, its broken form shimmering and shifting like a massed collection of stone grey leaves blowing in the breeze. Sweet Emperors light! He gasped, throwing himself back in his seat. As the phenomenon closed in on him the pilot wrenched back on the controls of the walker and the humming power claw thrust itself forward, raking the air before it. The thing launched itself up and over the flailing sentinel, its speed and agility greatly belying its size. Control, this is Huryishino, I am under attack! I repeat, I am under attack! Enemy hostiles reported in section 26-Gamma! The Volunteer roared, spinning the cab of the sentinel around in a desperate attempt to engage the frenzied predator. The entire walker swayed and rocked as the cab span, almost toppling over.

We have a Spook here! I need back up! I need The lictor appeared as if from nowhere, launching itself at the sentinel on legs of powerful sinew. As it closed in on the walker it revealed itself fully, its alien form shifting and changing as its chameleonic scales reverted back to their original colouration. The pilot felt the air burst from his lungs as a pair of huge, scythe-like blades slammed into the walkers chassis, the blow almost toppling it. A curse on you, devil-thing! the Yamin roared, bringing the crackling claw to bear. The creature screamed as the power-wreathed claw sheared away one of the embedded talons and it took a step back, spraying the cockpit of the sentinel and its pilot with thick, purple ichor. Ha! The strength of my ancestors flows through me, monster! Emperor, guide my hand! Steel my soul against this horror from beyond the Rim! His prayer was cut short as the sentinel rocked again. Though injured the creature was back, stronger and madder than ever. It pounced upon the walker, smashing the power claw from its holding with one sweep of its remaining scythe-claw and sending it spinning away across the street amid a shower of sparks, much to the pilots dismay. A pair of huge, powerful hand-like claws exploded from its sides, tearing and ripping the armour plating of the cockpit to shreds in an instant. All the while the pilot wrestled with the controls, pushing the Sentinel to its limits as the struggle continued. Though fast and agile, the light vehicle was no match for the monstrous alien and the guardsman began to feel the vibrations that shook the floor of the sparking cockpit. The sentinels legs were beginning to give way under the assault. No! I will not die like this! You will not have me He began to frantically search the cab, trying his best to ignore the squeal of bending metal as the claws of the Lictor closed around the vehicles roll-cage. Barbed extremities lashed out at him, whipping through the air before his face as the alien hunter tried again and again to reach him. The pungent, acrid stench of the Lictors breath stung his nostrils as it reared closer, its whipping, flailing feeder tentacles flicking alien slime across his dark skin as they probed the air, struggling to reach the soft flesh at the centre of the metal shell. Emperor guide my hand. Give me the strength of will to face this foe the Yamin whispered, at last feeling his fingers finally close around the grip of his laspistol. He turned, grunting with effort, struggling to raise the pistol in his hands in the confined space of the cockpit. The pained screech of shearing metal rang in his ears. As he managed at last to free the weapon be became aware of a multiple, hissing twang and he turned to meet the gaze of the shimmering monster. A hail of barb and sinew as the Lictors flesh hooks were unfurled once more was the last thing he ever saw. +++ Damn it! I gave a direct order that every patrol squad be trained in the use of an auspex! I told you the sentry guns would be unable to detect xenos infiltrators! The Cadian major backed away, his forehead glistening with perspiration. Vorkohnen slammed his fist down onto the table before him, the blow almost smashing it in half.

Inquisitor, please! I-I gave the order, I swear I did! Whoever didnt follow my instructions to the letter will be punished, I promise you that. The adepts surrounding the angry inquisitor eyed him warily, shifting their position as discreetly as they could. Even the soulless servitors that manned the control consoles shuddered briefly, the last vestiges of their organic components feeling the palpable psychic wake of Vorkohnens anger. All around him was chaos. Alarms reverberated around the command tent and warning runes flashed in every sector, indicating that the enemy Spooks had surrounded and infiltrated the camp. Phylene and Aquilus had already left, realising at once the need to mobilise the armoured regiments as soon as possible. Vorpax hadnt been far behind them, shouting down the vox-link to his men, ordering them to prepare for combat. Major, this is all your fault. Because of the failure of your men, the camps integrity has been compromised. Because the lictors were allowed to enter our position unchallenged, the enemy knows where we are. The pheromone markers they leave behind will draw the rest of the swarm to us and we are not yet ready to face them. The failings of your men will cost us dearly. He growled, his terrifying voice as inconceivably deep and inhuman as ever. The major shook his head, removing the grey mottled cap he wore in order to wipe the sweat from his brow. I understand that, Inquisitor. I-I will mobilise the Cadian Armoured Fist regiments as soon as possible. May the Emperor forgive me for my transgressions. The officers head disappeared in an explosion of gore, torn apart by the bolt shell that thundered across the room. Vorkohnen took a step back, startled by the Cadians violent demise. May the Emperor forgive you indeed, major. I will pray for your soul. The startled inquisitor looked out across the scene and his eyes fell upon the commissar, his smouldering bolt pistol thrust out before him. Light of the Throne, Tremlocke! Was that really necessary? The commissar moved forward, holstering the gun as he stepped over the still-warm corpse. His actions have cost us the element of surprise, Inquisitor. It is my duty to see to it that any transgressions or failures are duly punished. I am a dedicated servant of the Imperium, just as you are. Vorkohnen ran his eyes across the short, cold-hearted man, shivering as he looked into the Commissars joyless eyes. Executing major Horphus will change nothing at this stage. It may not have been his fault. Even with the use of an auspex these creatures are incredibly hard to detect. They give off little heat and, if they remain motionless they are hard to track. Besides, they have almost all been flushed out and we are now looking at a much larger threat. Here, take a look at this. He activated the holo-panel before him and a large, shimmering display sprang up, stretching and shifting into three dimensions as it took form. Here. We have the entire tyranid ground forces converging upon our position as we speak. The operation is to begin immediately, for we are out of time. We move to engage the enemy as soon as possible. Tremlocke nodded, clicking his heels together sharply. Of course, inquisitor. I shall return to Hastor and his men immediately. May the Emperors protecting light shine down upon us this day. We shall prevail.

Vorkohnen watched the Commissar leave, his eyes flashing pure white as he psychically probed the mans soul. Tremlockes conviction and faith could not be questioned, but that didnt mean that he liked the man. As the cold-hearted commissar left the command tent he passed by a hooded figure swathed in black and beige robes without acknowledgement. The mysterious man seemed to be in a hurry, anxious to locate something or someone. As his hidden eyes fell upon the inquisitor he hurried over to where Vorkohnen stood, stepping over the cooling corpse of the unfortunate Horphus as he closed in on his commander. Lord inquisitor, a suitable transport has been sanctified and is ready for use. The figure uttered, bowing his head as he joined the wistful daemonhunter. The faint yet distinctive scent of sacred oils and incense hung in the air about him, an odour as familiar to the inquisitor as the man himself. Thank you, Soth. It seems our plans have been brought forward somewhat, though this should not prove to be too much of an inconvenience to us. Prepare my belongings and inform the others that we will be leaving soon. Yes my lord. The others are ready and await you. Unis is sure that we should be able to locate the Unholy One without too much difficulty, despite the increasing psychic disturbance. We will meet with you soon. With that the man bowed and turned to leave, heading back towards the entrance of the command room. Soth? The shrouded exorcist turned as he heard the Inquisitors voice, his grim face partially revealed in the soft, gently swaying lamplight of the room. My lord? Are you ready for this? You have served me well these past years, but I fear the task ahead of us will be our most difficult yet. Vorkohnen asked quietly, his voice low in the presence of the swarming command crew and menials that flitted about the tent. My lord, I exist but to serve the blessed Emperor. The nature of our daemonic foe means little to me. He was revealed to us by the Emperors Tarot to be the one who brings about the ruination and destruction of the Imperium. Together, both he and the Flesh Manipulator will bring about the Red Cataclysm, and the galaxy will die screaming and sundered. Lord Karkattamorg is a vessel of the dark powers and it is my duty to slay him, or die in the process. I am ready. Vorkohnen nodded and the Exorcist left, sweeping the long shroud away from his feet as he turned and left the tent. Lord Inquisitor? He turned to be met with the apprehensive face of one of the tents many menials, a young officer. My lord, we have just received word from the fleet. The message came from the Arm of the Emperor itself, from the lord general. He understands that the movements of the swarm have caused the entire campaign to be brought forward. He has notified the temple-ship and the eversor is being prepared as we speak. With the swarm heading our way he can see no reason why the pylon grid cannot be deactivated now. The astartes force has been briefed and is ready to begin the assault on the South Gate. The invasion is underway.

CHAPTER 9: THE HUNTER To the South Gate, brothers! Let us destroy the misguided fools of the Husk-Emperor! The lone berserker looked up as he heard this, dropping the still-warm corpse of his victim onto the cold entrance porch as he heard the call. He had witnessed with his own eyes as the burning green energy-igniters of the towering pylons above had first faltered, then faded to nothing, winking about across the length of the walls as far as he could see. The air hung warm and heavy within the city walls, thick and charged, the tang of ozone seeping through his rebreather. Then came the word. The lookouts posted at the South Gate had spied armoured figures, hundreds of them, converging upon their position. Power-armoured warriors were moving to assault the gate, daring to challenge the fearsome might of the Worldeaters of Karkattamorg. They would pay, with their last, bloodied, gasping breath they would pay. The World Eaters hollered and bayed as they charged through the deserted streets, their heavy boots sending a thunderous, clattering echo through the tall, ruined buildings. The huge, serrated axes they wielded shone and flashed as they caught the pale street-illuminators of Phrennec Mantris, still wet with the blood of the citys former inhabitants. Among them lurched the huge and fearsome daemonic war machines of the Khornate marauders, striding among the teeming throng like ships carried on a living tide, as eager as their human counterparts to engage the misguided fools of the loyalist legions. For Khorne! For Khorne! the berserker raged, thrusting his blood-coated chainaxe into the air as he watched his dark, twisted brethren pass by. He felt a rush of jubilation surging through him, igniting the fire within his soul. At last, real combat was to be had. The baying bronze and red stampede soon passed, leaving nothing in their wake except for a few fluttering pieces of debris and the streets once more fell silent, the only audible noises being those of the distant South Gate assault. The berserker turned to look upon the sad, pathetic body beneath him, broken and twisted by his unquenchable fury. The man had been old and frail, hardly a fitting tribute to his patron-god. Nonetheless, he swung the axe down, severing the mans head from his shoulders with a single blow. Another skull for His throne, another kill in His name. He was finished here now, and he would join his brothers in their glorious assault on the pathetic Astartes. It had been too long since he had fought his genekin. The World Eater leapt down from the porch and onto the road, its surface cracking under his massive weight. He turned and prepared to charge headlong after his brethren when he became aware of something, a noise emanating from somewhere behind him. Alien sounds began to drift through the shadows of the surrounding buildings, multiplying and growing with each passing moment. He glanced about him, his glowing eyes scouring the empty streets. So, someone else wishes to add their heads to the skulls heaped about His throne. He thumbed the activation rune set into the hilt of his weapon. The teeth of the chainaxe began to scream and whirr, splattering his armour with the cooling blood of his last victim. So be it. Lord Khorne welcomes all to his feet. The berserker slunk into the shadows, drawing his bolt pistol eagerly as he disappeared into the inky darkness. Show yourselves to me and let us be done with it! I have more worthy foes to slay! The shadows cannot hide you for-!

His guttural voice ceased abruptly as the sounds of claws tearing into ancient ceramite echoed through the darkened alley. A group of low, bobbing shapes emerged, clicking and whistling as they stepped out onto the lonely streets. A small hormagaunt brood, lost and confused. Numbering no more than five creatures, they had been left behind by the retreating tyranid forces when they had first assaulted the city by mycetic assault pod, one of the incredibly few assault squads that had actually managed to penetrate the powerful Pylon grid defences. They had lurked within the shadows of Phrennec Mantris since, hunting and feeding off the surviving civilian stragglers and any lone World Eater foolish enough to think the streets safe to walk alone, unaware that their instinctive behaviour was ultimately pointless, for they were dying. The hormagaunt was not designed to feed. It was an attack organism, grown in the vast hive-wombs of the swarm for one purpose; to assault the enemy. With little more than the most rudimentary vestiges of a digestive tract, the Hormagaunt organism was unable to sustain itself for a prolonged period of time. Despite this the hunched, man-sized creatures spread out across the street, sniffing and tasting the air, searching for any sign of life. Without the guidance of the Hive Mind they were running on instinct, little more than basic animals. They had watched from the shadows as the main World Eater army had thundered past, awaiting the chance to pick off any stragglers or wayward members of the herd. Now, even with the kill made, their endless hunger was far from satiated. A distant thunderclap echoed through the skies, causing the brood to stop and look upwards, sniffing the air as they did so. The sky burned briefly far above them, little more than a flash of orange, barely visible even to their keen eyes. A small, black shape became visible, a pinprick of movement hurtling towards them at great speed, growing larger by the second. Something was coming. The hormagaunts shrieked and began to scatter, moving in bounding leaps across the wide street and into the surrounding shadows, startled by the new arrival. Seconds later the drop-pod thundered into the rock-crete road, sending a shower of chips and debris up into the air. The alien creatures peered from the dark recesses, eyeing the smouldering pod warily as they tasted the air. They continued to watch for the next few moments, unsure of what to make of the strange object. A previously hidden hatch appeared, revealed as the shutters hiding it were peeled away. The hatch slid open and an ethereal mist poured out into the surrounding streets, swirling and hissing as the pods internal pressure shifted to match that of its surroundings. The gaunts gingerly left the protection of the shadows and stepped out to investigate the pod, creeping closer in short, hopping steps. A shot rang out and one of the aliens fell, its carapace-fringed head smashed open. The others responded immediately, driving their six limbs into the floor beneath them in order to pick up as much speed as they could. Another shot reverberated through the rock-crete canyons, dropping another of the beasts. The remaining creatures continued to bound towards the pod, driven mad with rage by the aggressive attack. Two more were blown apart, each one falling to a single bullet. The surviving beast drove its heels into the ground and launched itself at the open doorway, screaming in rage as it flew through the air. A flash of black moved across the pods open hatch and an arc of blue light swept through the air, decapitating the lunging creature as it reached its destination.

The dead gaunt fell lifelessly onto the pods access ramp, twitching and convulsing as its body shut down. A black boot drove into the chitinous body, shoving it aside callously. The eversor stepped out onto the street, his burning eyes surveying his surroundings. He deactivated the power sword and slid it back into its scabbard, at the same time activating the sentinel array strapped to his back. He was here, somewhere deep beneath the city. In the name of the Emperor, he would be stopped.

CHAPTER 10: FLIGHT


The tyranids were here. Alarms began to sound across the length of the base, piercing the air with their shrill cry. Gun emplacements chattered and thrummed, soldiers screamed and shouted. War machines revved their engines as they prepared to hold back the oncoming living tide. Commander Aquilus leapt up onto the hull of the Swift Retribution and flung the turret cupola open, his eyes fixed upon the shifting alien mass in the distance. Get us moving now! he roared, leaping through the small space feet first. Theyre here! Get the vox up and singing, let everyone know the plan has been moved forward! Were moving out! The Phyressian tanks gunned their engines and began to spread out across the wide, open space of the machine yard, manoeuvring as one so as to protect the weaker siege machines of the Bombadiers while at the same time engaging the oncoming tyranid forces. Though the combined infantry of the various regiments formed an impressive if not panicked defence against the surging alien tide, Aquilus knew that there was no substitute for Imperial armour. Under his command the rumbling battle tanks spread out, forming a corral of awesome firepower around the rest of the packed vehicles. If they were to stand any chance of success, he knew that he would have to ensure the survival of the weaker siege artillery. Phylene saw this and ordered his super-heavies to join the defence ring, eager to lend their might to the Phyressians. His threatened siege engines were still hammering away at the main enemy assault, leaving only the hydras silent. A silence that did not last. From high above the drifting smoke came the sound of a thousand beating wings, their combined leathery flapping the hanging fog to swirl and shift as the huge gargoyle swarm descended upon the exposed infantry. Men began to scream and die as the flying monstrosities entered the fray, screeching and swooping as they spat a hail of ravenous, burrowing organisms at the foot soldiers. Soldiers fell in their dozens, clutching at their bodies as the living black projectiles ate their insides, condemning them to a lingering, agonising death. Yet more of the flying monstrosities swooped low across the Imperials, vomiting forth blasts of vile bioplasma at the scattering troops. Phylene looked for all the world like some peculiar, dark-skinned sea cow as pushed himself up out of the turret of the Defender, horrified by the vicious assault. The aliens had appeared as if from nowhere, probably dropped straight onto the infantry from high above by the huge harridans, the living air transports of the tyranid race. Good men were dying out there. Their deaths would be avenged. This is Phylene! Hydras engage! I repeat, hydras engage! We have enemy flyers bearing south, southeast, approximately thirty feet A.G.L! If its airborne an it aint sportin the aquila, bring it down! The long line of air-support vehicles responded almost instantaneously, training their huge, quad-barrelled autocannon upon the cloud-like swarm of alien flyers. A phenomenal hail of tracer-fire zipped through the air and into the circling gargoyles, so thick and vast

that it seemed the air itself had solidified. Chitinous bodies began to burst and pop like balloons, unable to escape the concentrated fire of the hydras. Autocannon shells ripped through membranous wings and smashed open bodies as if they were made of glass, the natural armour of the creatures no match for them. A sickening rain of mucus, bone fragments and other assorted biological matter fell upon the scattering guardsmen, much to their disdain. Those of the swarm that were not obliterated slammed into the ground, screeching and writhing as the revenge-seeking Guard finished them off. Ha! All-consuming? Chew on autocannon shell, you bug-eyed sons-of-bitches! Phylene spat, slamming his fists into the metal turret beneath him. +++ Just got the word from command, sarge. The pylons are down. The marines have already begun their attack on the South Gate. The guard assault on Phrennec Mantris is to begin immediately. Okay Corpo. Keep that channel open, I want you to keep abreast of the situation at all times. Hastor answered with a quick nod. He watched as the squads vox man turned his attention back towards the comm-link he carried, listening intently to the transmissions being relayed between the various factions of the Imperial assault. He knew that it would not be long before he and the others would be called upon to begin their mission. The craft began to shudder, the vibrations that rippled through its metal shell increasing as it began to rise. He felt the weight of the assault craft shift as its turned to the right, bouncing and rocking as it negotiated the wreckage-strewn ground, slowly picking up speed. The two door gunners rocked and swayed as they tried their best to remain upright, hanging on to the fixed weapons for dear life. The vehicle had been specially modified for the mission and had seen the addition of extra armour, added in order to increase its survivability. Unfortunately this modification meant that the vehicle lost some of its manoeuvrability and speed. Still, if it meant that the men reached their destination safely, none of them had a problem with that. The shuddering craft climbed, passing over a section of compound wall to meet with the long procession of Cadian armour that had begun to converge upon the main highway towards the city. The pilot lifted the craft a little more and then fell into line behind the moving convoy, widely using the massed armour as protection. At the head of the line the Fire Drake hellhounds cleared the way, their turretmounted inferno cannons searing a blackened path through the massing tyranid numbers. The convoy began to pick up speed as they hit a wide section of highway unscathed by the war. Behind them the war machines of the Phyressian 2nd joined the line, blasting away at the enemy as they charged forward onto the smooth surface, headed in the direction of Phrennec Mantris. Corpo, keep your ears glued to that comm-link. Im going to assess our situation. Hastor rose from his seat and moved over to where Fordar sat, sweeping the heavy bolter before him as he hunted out the nameless creatures of the enemy. He pushed past the silent storm trooper with a nod and braced himself against the rush of the passing air as he thrust his head out of the open door. The stench was almost overpowering. A strong, sickening odour saturated the breeze and he found he had to steel himself against the foetid smell of the swarm. His eyes ran across the endless mass of rumbling, clanking vehicles behind them, war machines of all shapes and sizes, their weapons blazing a trail of burning death through the roaring, chattering enemy.

He pulled himself around so that he was facing in the opposite direction, pausing for a second to duck as something man-sized and organic hurtled past, sent reeling through the air by the thundering vehicles below. Merciful Emperor For a moment it looked as if the Imperial convoy was rushing headlong into the ocean, a living, green sea of writhing, snarling teeth and claws. The enemy stretched before them as far as the eye could see. Creatures of every shape and size imaginable surrounded the advance force. Never before had he faced an enemy so numerous. The others glanced behind them as Hastor slumped down onto the valkyries seating bench; his eyes wide and filled with disbelief. Sarge? Sir, what is it? Moranith asked, concern creeping across the field medics face. This is madness. Its utter madness. We should have used a Mole to gain access to the city. Well never make it. The others paused, unused to Hastors tone. They had never seen him this way before. Thatthat wouldnt have worked, sir. The others diverted their attention away from the sergeant and towards Zith, the unofficial xenos expert of the team. Im sure that the crusades tacticians are aware of the insidious nature of the enemy. A subterranean attack would have been impossible. The tyranids many capillary towers and spore chimneys will already be accelerating towards full maturity beneath our feet even now. Not only would we have found our way hopelessly blocked, they would have been alerted to our approach the minute we came into contact with one of those things. They would have been waiting for us the moment we surfaced. Believe me sir, Ive seen it before. We wouldnt have stood a chance. At least out here we are packed in tight, protected by the bulk of the armour and high enough to see any intended attack. This assault craft is the best chance we have of reaching the city. Hastor seemed to change as he heard this. The expression on his face faded slowly to be replaced by one of newfound determination and resolve. Of course. What was I thinking? He rose from the seat and moved out into the centre of the hold, his fingers finding one of the support handles that lined the carriers hold. He glanced around the hold at each of the men in turn. His men, his squad. They were Validus, the best that this campaign had to offer. Each and every one of them, from Nesker, the oldest and most war-weary of them to Regan, the squads youngest, were like brothers to him. They had fought by his side for years, winning objectives and quashing resistance, never once faltering in their sergeants eyes. They were a team in every aspect of the word, a brotherhood of comrades so close-knit it almost made Hastors command position redundant. He continued to watch them for a moment, feeling the assault craft pick up speed around them. Moranith was closest to him, sat almost directly across from where he stood. The squads medic was lost, caught up in his own little universe as he checked over the systems of his packs inbuilt narthecium. He had joined the squad after being recruited from the survivors of the 14th Mentheesan Hammers after the massacre at DarZoujn. For ten years he had tended to the squads injured, saving each mans life more times than he cared to remember. He had been there for Hastor when the sergeant had lost his arm on Jeraphon. He had saved Hastors life that day and many times since, a fact that Hastor knew he would never forget.

As with Moranith, the sergeant felt an affinity with each and every man under his command, and he would ensure that each of them would survive this ordeal unscathed. Sarge? Hastor turned to see Corpo staring back at him, the headset of the vox-caster pressed against the hearing slit of his helmet. The other birds are in the air and following us. He confirmed, raising his voice against the scream of the valkyries twin thrust carbines. He held up a thumb and turned back towards the others, seconds before the heavy bolter manned by Regan began to bark to his left. Contacts! We have contacts, airborne! Regan hollered, the huge bolt cannon writhing and bucking in his hands. Hastor turned and peered out of the open side door in time to see a dark cloud of flapping shapes advancing upon their position. In the distance winged creatures screeched and fell, blown apart by the bite of the heavy weapons bolter shells. Behind him he heard Fordars heavy bolter fire up, thudding and booming as it spat out round after round into the flying hordes around them. Spent shell casings tinkled and cascaded across the deck of the hold, blown back into the carrier by the rushing air. Great moons of Caulderax, look at that. Nesker breathed, his scarred mouth dropping open as he craned his neck to peer out of the open door. We dont even need to aim. Theres so many of them. Hastor shook his head and picked his way hand over hand to the sealed crew cockpit. He reached the cabin door and slammed his fist violently into the thick metal, his entire body swaying as he struggled to remain upright. Commissar, get that multi-laser opened up, damn it! Were in danger of being surrounded here! The shuddering, high-pitched staccato whine of the Valkyries heavy weapon finally coming into play soon answered his angered request. Sir, I think I can see where these damn bugs are coming from! Fordars voice piped up. Take a look at this! The sergeant took a deep breath and began to pick his way back towards the side door of the carrier where Fordar was busy hammering out a steady stream of bolter fire. As Hastor approached he lifted his arm and pointed out of the door before him and into the skies beyond, a worried look upon his face. Hastor pulled himself into the doorway and peered out across the roiling skies, almost immediately laying eyes upon the source of his troopers concern. Horus be damned! Look at that! Though the creature was still some way off he could see it as clear as if it was inches from his face. A leather-winged and monstrously huge flying beast, its ponderous form filling the horizon before him as it disgorged brood after brood of flapping alien obscenities from its ribbed, armoured underside. Harridan. It has to be. Zith uttered, watching the sergeants face from his seat along the hold. He turned to Autis by his side who stared back at him anxiously, already worried by the unseen creatures presence. Eleven tonnes of flying xenos muscle, twenty-eight metres from snout to tail. It could knock this bird from the sky with one pass without effort. He explained nonchalantly, much to Autis disdain.

In all likelihood it wouldnt bother even closing in on our position. Once its through deploying the gargoyle broods that nest around its belly it will probably turn its bio-cannons on us. Ive seen one of those things take a warhounds legs out from under it with one shot. What? Sweet Emperor, we have to down that thing! Tell the sarge before its too late! Autis stammered, scrabbling with the clasp of his restraint harness. Zith shook his head, his expression unchanging. What with? The best we have is two heavy bolters and a multi-laser. That thing has four point fifty millimetre chitin armour plating. We wouldnt even scratch it. We really could have done with a lascannon or two on this thing. Autis eyes widened and he looked up at Hastor, finding the sergeants shocked face staring back at him. Sarge I know, I heard him. Hastor snapped, watching as the huge creature began to unleash searing biological energy blasts into the teeming mass of armour below. It would only be a matter of time until it turned its attention toward them. Hastor had heard every word that Zith had said, and though he knew nothing of the creature they faced he trusted the mans word implicitly. His mind reeled as he considered his options, though he could think of nothing. Zith was right; the armoury of the Valkyrie was wholly inadequate to take on the alien fiend and win. They best they could hope for would be a miracle, a lucky shot. A lucky shot. He turned to Tessok, placing one hand on the mans shoulder. Tessok paused and turned, feeling Hastors hand. The sergeant peered behind him and nodded in the direction of the leather carry case. How good are you mobile, son? Think you can handle it? Tessok glanced at the waiting case and a smile slowly spread across his lips. Theres only one way to find out, Sarge. Hastor watched the monstrous flying beast as it began to turn slowly in the air, its incredible bulk as such that it gave the alien the appearance of a ship turning in the ocean. The hull of the Valkyrie hissed and thudded as the attacking gargoyles continued in their attack run, firing off mixed salvoes consisting of bio-plasma and fleshborer rounds as they swooped past, their multitude screeching rending the air. A sizzling gout of plasma-bile splashed against the side of the carrier, so close to Fordar that the trooper had to duck back inside the craft, searing energy washing dangerously close past his face. Tessok quickly unsheathed the rifle, throwing the carry case back down into the Valkyries hold. Move it son! Were running out of time! he heard Hastor call; his frantic voice intermingled with the hot, muffled thud of his plasma pistol. Yes sir. He unfastened the restraining straps of his harness and pushed himself to his feet, the effort of standing made even more difficult due to the carriers mounting speed. Rifle in hand, he began to slowly push himself up the bulkhead towards Hastors position, feeling the rushing wind press against his body as he progressed. Whats the target, sir? The bigger it is, the easier it should be to accurately hit. He hollered, raising his voice over the howling wind. Hastor thrust his finger out before him and Tessok let out a quiet gasp. Is that big enough for you, soldier? The squad marksman began to check lock and load the exitus rifle, trying to block out the melee around

him. The heat from the scorched hull and the rattling heavy bolter at his side began to warm his face and he tried his best to ignore it, slipping the special exitus magazine into place. Ever since his father had given him the weapon, the powers-that-be had tried their damnedest to take it away from him. It had taken all Hastors powers of reasoning and bargaining to get them to let him keep it. He had had to convince them that with the rifle, Tessoks contributions could mean the difference between failure and victory. Here and now, Tessok would once again justify the rifles possession. He peered through the scope, allowing himself a moment as his vision blurred then magnified. A flurry of green chitin darted across his sight and he struggled to single out a viable target amid the leering alien faces and membranous wings. Suddenly the huge monstrosity hove into view, all teeth and claws and terrible alien rage. He watched for a moment as it reared up, its huge body turning slowly in the skies. He shifted his aim a millimetre or so to the left and the beasts massive, crested head slid across his scope, its tiny, baleful eyes no more than pinpricks lost amid the endless chitin of its armoured face. Hellfire shell. He whispered, barely noticing the sounds of the battle as they faded into silence. The electronic cross hairs of the scope slid across the harridans glowing eye and he held it there for a moment, shifting his aim so slightly that Hastor could not even tell if the gun was moving or not. Whispering a silent prayer to both his dead father and the immortal Emperor, he pressed the trigger. The gun shifted so slightly in his hands that he hardly noticed it, the inbuilt recoil dampers and microsuspensors of the exotic rifle making light of the incredibly powerful shot. Seconds later the creatures eye burst in a spray of ichor, its evil glow put out by the bite of Tessoks bullet. The huge creature began to sag and flap its huge wings in distress as the special shell began to burn through its brain stem, incinerating the Harridan from within. It began to lose its motor functions and begin to plummet towards the ground, black smoke pouring through its eye socket. Yes! Excellent shot! Hastor jubilantly exclaimed, punching the air as he watched the dying creature begin to spiral downwards in a death spin, its gargantuan wings wrapping themselves around its plummeting form. The others let out a cheer, even those of the squad who had been unable to see the drama as it unfolded. Tessok smiled and picked his way back towards his seat, quickly refastening the harness. As the others began to shower him with praise and light-hearted gibing he just shook his head and smiled, feeling the weapon smooth and heavy in his hands. His father would have been proud. Tremlocke glanced behind him as the cockpit door opened, craning his neck so as to look upon the sergeants face. Is there a problem, Sergeant Hastor? Theres a problem alright. Pilot, how far do we have to go? The valkyries pilot glanced over her shoulder, perspiration running in rivulets down her pale face. At our current speed we should reach the disembarkation zone in approximately fifteen minutes sir, standard terra. Its hot down there, sergeant, and its getting hotter by the minute. Weve already lost most of our hellhound escort. The woman paused for a moment to check the instrumentation set out before her, her eyes running across the multitude runes and dials of her flight controls. Were losing lightnings out there by the score. Luckily for us they are soaking up much of the enemy

firepower. The Phyressian 2nd is steadily moving up the line to give the attack wing fire support but its taking time. Theyve already begun to sustain casualties. Damn. Hastor cursed, shaking his head. And what about Phylene? Where the hell are his war machines? Hes having them protect the siege engines. The siege engines stand no chance of making it to the city if theyre left on their own. They have neither the defensive capability nor the survivability to take on the swarm close quarters. Besides, they are far too slow to keep up with the rest of the armour. Its a no-win situation, sir. Hastor shook his head and exhaled deeply, the current situation leaving him anxious and worried. He glanced out over Tremlockes high-peaked cap at the swarming mass of green and bone beyond, his eyes running over the sheer expanse of living weaponry before them. The swarm had suffered severe bombardment from all sides and yet the enemy was still without number, a tide of malicious hatred unfazed by the relentless Imperial assault. He prayed to the Emperor that they would be allowed to make the city safely. +++ The severed, blood-red torso clattered and rang as it bounced down the metal stairs, its single arm and helmet-encased head twisting and flopping in all manner of unnatural positions as it fell, finally coming to rest upon the dusty floor of the deserted city. The rest of the berserkers body soon followed it, its lifeless legs flailing and crooked. The two World Eaters ignored their companions demise, concentrating instead on the black-clad abomination before them, its shimmering power sword hissing as it cooked its last victims blood. One of the berserkers raised his chainaxe and charged, though had only advanced no more than a few paces when he convulsed. His head snapped back, the bolt round penetrating his helmet cleanly through his left eye socket. As the traitor fell with a crash onto the metal grille of the walkway the final remaining Khornate marine turned and broke into a run, dropping his chain axe as he did so. His huge armoured form shook the scaffolding underfoot as he thundered heavily towards a small console set into the wall at the far end of the battlements. He reached out for the red button set into the console, leaping the last few feet as if desperate to activate the device. Suddenly his hand exploded in a burst of ceramite, bone and gore, preventing him from depressing the alarm rune. The warrior fell to the floor, cursing and shouting vile and unholy phrases, seconds before his brain exploded out through his forehead and he slumped lifelessly to the ground, a river of blood pouring through the open grilles of the walkway. The eversor stood over the dead warrior in silence, its cold eyes glowing with righteous hatred. It had been lucky, spying the three lookouts moments before they had raised the alarm. The cold assassin looked up over the crenellated top of the city wall and out across the expanse before him. The alien scum were everywhere. They filled the horizon from end to end, a living carpet of filth that soiled the Emperors domain. There, barely visible even to the trained eye, a column of smoke rose up from the centre of the massed tyranid horde. Pinprick explosions flashed across the scene, telltale signs that the Emperors forces were on the move. The sentinel array upon his back told him quickly that there were no more lookouts across this stretch of the wall, which meant that the Chaos forces would not be aware of the Imperial approach until it was too late. With that the assassin somersaulted over the handrail and was gone, sinking into the depths of the dark city in silence, his mission far from over, his quarry still at large.

The Corrupter would fall to his blade soon enough.

CHAPTER 11: THE NORTH GATE


Control, this is Eagle One. Am requesting return confirmation. I repeat, am requesting return. Our bearing is one-three-five. The enemys AA is already hot and hissing, command. We have a spray of flak blanketing the skies mid-range. Flak and burst, standard Nid pattern. Most of Eagle Flight are running light and dry up here. Weve already lost three birds to ground fire and three to air contacts. Theres little more we can do out here, control. Am requesting immediate return on all craft. Respond, command, over. The marauder commander flipped the return switch and listened for the response, ignoring the shaking jolts as his plane came under attack again. He knew that they were relatively safe for now, but to remain in the air for much longer would be little short of suicide. This is Eagle Three! Wkxzzkxznder attack! Enemy fliers converging upon our pos The vox cut out as quickly as it had activated, the transmission erupting in a burst of white noise followed only by the soft hiss of static. Commander Jayniz cursed as he saw a bright wash of flame sear the skies to his left. Eagle Three was gone. This is Eagle One calling Talon escort! We have enemy fliers bearing south, southwest! We need support! I say again, we need support, Talon! He listened as the vox came alive with a steady procession of garbled responses, both from the attack craft of the fighter escort and the other marauder bombers of the attack run. A brace of gunmetal-grey lightnings screamed past him, splitting down the middle and parting before the large flyer like surf before an ocean liner. Bright lascannon blasts and thudding autocannon tracer-fire zipped through the air about his craft, seeking their unseen targets menacingly. Runes began to light up across the board before him, informing him of the activation of the nose and tail heavy bolter emplacements coming to life. Things were definitely hotting up out here. Command, this is Eagle One! Again, I am requesting confirmation of the immediate return of Eagle Flight, over! The flyer shuddered again and yet more warning runes began to flash, informing him of another downed system somewhere along the length of the fighter-bomber. Up ahead he watched as a large brood of gargoyles were blown apart in a flurry of glowing autocannon shells, their armoured bodies and frail wings atomised by the hail of fire. The fighter responsible hurtled past the right hand side of his craft, spinning in the air as it banked away, its next targets already sighted. The long-range vox crackled and hissed, finally emitting a string of audible feedback. Tzzkzzkmmand to Eagle One. Copy on yourzzzkation. Turn tail and head on back. Over. Got that, command. Over and out. The marauder commander nodded over to his co-pilot who reached up and flipped a number of switches above his head, activating the squadron recall beacon. Satisfied, he brought the powerful plane around in a sharp bank and began to climb sharply, turning to face the way they had come. Behind him, the rest of Eagle Flight followed his lead, turning their fighters around to follow their commander home.

They passed over the scores of thundering armour below, kicking up clouds of dust and grime as they hurtled past. Tanks and war machines of every possible shape and size passed by under them, weapons blazing as they cut a swathe through the enemy. He looked up as he heard the collision warning alert sound off and had to lift the bird slightly as he spied the wedge formation of valkyrie assault carriers heading towards him, their armoured bellies pregnant with the elite of the Imperial force. Soon he had passed over the rear of the armoured convoy and within moments found himself hurtling over a living carpet of bodies, a mighty sea of Imperial infantry the likes of which had never been seen before in this system. Guardsmen from a score of regiments passed by below like a vast herd of stampeding beasts, charging as fast as their legs could carry them across the shattered wastes of the outer hab-zones. Its all up to you now, boys. Jayniz whispered, lifting his gaze as the last few bodies disappeared out of sight. May the blessed Emperor guide you this day. +++ The massed Imperial advance drove deep into the stampeding tyranid horde, the collective weaponry of the packed armour at its spearhead driving a wedge deep into the sea of alien bodies. Engines roared as the armoured column pressed on, tearing across the wide highway and into the scattering creatures of the swarms vanguard. Inhuman cries and roars mixed with the constant thud-thud of the implacable Imperial firepower, creating a deafening cacophony of violent noise. This is Aquilus to all Phyressian armour! Advance! Advance! Push up the line and take the lead! Try to ignore the enemy and push forward! We have to try and take the spearhead! The gathered battletanks of the 2nd gunned their engines and raced up the sides of the long highway, tearing across the parched, scrub-filled strata, plumes of thick black smoke and choking dust rising up as they advanced. Battle cannons shuddered and belched as they thundered out shot after shot into the surrounding enemy, the need for accuracy long gone. Aquilus himself led the charge, taking point in his command tank the Swift Retribution. He held on to the turret for dear life as the fast tank gunned its powerful engines, tearing up sand and kerb in equal measure as it passed by the lead Armoured Fist chimeras and rapidly-dwindling hellhound flame tanks amid a hail of inhuman projectiles, snapping teeth and flailing talons. Push onwards! Sear your names into the hides of these accursed creatures! Let them know what it is to face the Emperors finest! Carve a path to the city through these vile monsters in the Emperors name! He hollered through the dust cloud, one hand clasped tight around the peak of his tank commanders cap. The Swift Retribution literally bounced back up onto the road amid a cloud of sand and swerved in front of the lead chimera, passing through the gouts of flame its hull-mounted heavy flamer belched out into the massed enemy before them. The twin lascannons of the Swift Retribution pulsed and bucked as they seared huge holes through the packed broods before them. Its sponson plasma cannons flashed and pulsed with hissing energy discharge, punching burning holes in the enemy numbers with each blast. Target acquired, bearing three-one-zero! Alpha threat! Aquilus shouted into his headset and the turret of the tank shifted sharply to the left. The double lascannons kicked back as they lit up, sending a brace of parallel white light out into the swarming mass. He watched with satisfaction as something huge and lumbering stopped dead in its tracks, thrown back by the punch of the powerful cannons. The Phyressian 2nd sends their regards! He hollered, his hands finding the grip of the storm bolter before him.

He began to carve a swathe through the teeming broods before him, shattering bone and carapace with extreme force, his wide-eyed face lit by the flash of the guns muzzle-flare. A steady stream of battle tanks began to appear either side of him, adding the might of their varied weaponry to that of the Swift Retribution. The path ahead exploded as the full might of the vaunted Phyressian 2nd charged headlong into the living automatons of the Great Devourer, seemingly unstoppable in their advance. +++ Hastor watched as the huge, imposing walls of Phrennec Mantris loomed ever closer, the wind whipping across his face. The huge pylons of the defence grid, proud and magnificent yet mysterious in their ancient, arcane design stood towering before him like titans of old. His eyes ran across the distant, circling gargoyle broods above them, wheeling through the skies high above the constructs. They seemed almost hesitant to approach, almost as if afraid of the towering artefacts. It was likely that these creatures had witnessed their alien kin die by the thousands as they had attempted to gain access to the city. More importantly, Hastor thought to himself, it seemed these alien creatures knew how to fear. The valkyrie fleet had sensibly decreased its speed and fallen back to allow the tanks of the Phyressian 2nd to clear the way, fearing the bite of the tyranid swarms more powerful bio-weaponry. He himself had witnessed more than a few of the lightning escort knocked from the skies by the energy flares and unseen shells of hidden xenos cannons, only to plummet down into the teeming alien throng. It still amazed him to witness the full and complete diversity of the swarm, given the fact that they were no more than a collective of overgrown insectoid creatures, driven as they were by an alien code of conduct and warfare more akin to instinct than actual intellect. He found himself almost relishing the opportunity to engage the chaos marines, as ludicrous as this sounded. He withdrew his head and stepped back inside the hold of the carrier, turning to face the others of his squad. This is it men, we are closing upon our position. It is almost time to do the Emperors bidding. Let us all pray that we make it into the city. +++ We are through! This is Aquilus to all Phyressian armour, we are through to the North Gate! The Swift Retribution slowed and began to come about as the huge walls of Phrennec Mantris loomed into view, revealing themselves as the last of the scattering green tide parted. Behind him the first of the accompanying tanks began to turn, the armoured host parting down the middle as they began to circle back towards the alien foe, clearing an ever-widening path as they spread out. Keep pushing out into the surrounding enemy! We must clear a space for the armoured companies to deploy and it must be wide enough so that the Bombardiers can converge upon the gate! The Swift Retribution moved out to the left of the gate, followed closely by the battle tanks Emperors Might, Hammer of Macharius and the Benedictor. Behind them came the two exterminators Avenger and the Penitent Pilgrim and the much-revered destroyer tank hunter, the Millennial Fist. The Millennial Fist was one of the oldest tanks in the service of the Phyressian 2nd, its crew one of the most celebrated of the entire regiment. Many an enemy vehicle had fallen foul of the tanks powerful laser destroyer, blown apart from afar without ever even being aware of the tanks presence.

The companys three vanquishers, the Longshot, the Tigrus Lost and the Bane of the Heretic moved out to the right in perfect formation, their seasoned crews well used to executing such manoeuvres. The two ancient executioners the Ryzan Avenger and the Thunder Hammer followed closely behind them, their powerful plasma destroyers hissing and booming as they spat out shot after shot of super-heated death into the rapidly departing aliens. The mighty cannons of the companys three demolishers, Iron Vengeance, Imperial Paladin and Storm Talon bolstered their courageous run, sending the tyranids scattering in all directions. Aquilus watched this and was pleased. As the rest of his regiment slewed into the corral they were closely followed by the first of the Armoured Fist chimeras. As the transports slowed the troops within them began to spill out onto the field, urged on by their commanding officers as they threw themselves down the exit ramps of their squad carriers. Hails of las-fire punctured the air as the new arrivals took up hurried defensive positions along the armoured half-moon, the only real cover between the gate and the enemy swarm. Heavy weapons teams began to set up between the hulking tanks, disgorging a firebase of heavy bolters, autocannons, lascannons and mortars out onto the defence line. A fine mist of gore began to drift across the wide walls; such was the level of firepower poured into the pursuing tyranids. Those creatures foolish enough to break free of the packed front line were almost instantly vaporised by the intensity of concentrated Imperial fire. The thundering guns of the Imperium shattered termagants, warriors and carnifex alike, the alien warriors unable to gain even an inch under such punishing firepower. More and more troop carriers skidded to a halt inside the corral, bringing yet more troops into the fray. Ratling snipers scurried down exit ramps and up onto the roofs of their vehicles, vying for the best positions they could find. Commissars walked among the lines of guardsmen, shouting and making their presence felt as they oversaw the heroic defence. Huge ogryns lumbered out onto the dusty ground in powerful but unkempt squads, eager in their simplicity to serve the Emperor whom they adored. Never before had this planet or indeed system seen such a display of Imperial might. +++ Theyve done it! Corpo hollered, holding the headset of his vox-caster up in jubilation. Weve just received word from the Phyressian 2nd! Theyve broken through to the North Gate! A murmur of acknowledgement drifted across the others. They were pleased that the Imperial forces had penetrated the swarm and yet were still understandably apprehensive. Up here in the air they were still conspicuous and vulnerable, and more than a few of them had witnessed the demise of a terrible number of the escort fighters that had accompanying them. All they had to do now was sit tight and pray to the Emperor that they would make the city walls alive. +++ Move it! Come on, move your worthless rears! We have a perimeter to set up! Vorpax hollered, waving the troops down the ramp of the chimera with his combat shotgun. The first of the Elysian Armoured Fist squads were still disembarking from the huge number of chimeras that lined the gate. A mighty force of carapace-armoured warriors poured forth from the idling transports and out onto the dusty highway, a tide of blue and grey sweeping across the surface of the planet, the multitude voices of the many bodies it consisted of echoing through the dust-filled air. The war cry of a over a thousand men shook the stinking air as the Elysian 3rd spilled out to face the tyranids alongside the other factions of the Imperial force. They began to set up fire points and makeshift emplacement across the line, lending their own firepower to the others, the ratlings and the ogryn, the Cadian shock troops and the other varied regiments that the defence line consisted of.

Vorpax waited until his own command chimera was empty of its human cargo before taking flight and breaking into a sprint across the soft ground, his keen eyes scouring the defence line for any signs of weakness. Aquilus tanks roared about him, their engines screaming with the effort of moving several tonnes of powerful armour across the ash-covered highway. Everywhere before him the massed troops of the various regiments were engaging the hurtling wall of alien attackers, their efforts assisted by the thunderous guns of the stalwart battletanks. You there! Get that heavy bolter set up! He raged, rushing over to a small group of Belusians and their servitor crew. The soldiers glanced round nervously as they heard the colonels snapping voice, their efforts immediately doubling. It didnt matter that he was Elysian. Now was not the time for argument or dispute. Now was the time for war. Vorpax was upon them like a bolt of lightning, charging into the middle of the group like a madman, his shotgun raised and ready for use. He barrelled past the soldiers and blasted a looming hormagaunt brood to pieces with a series of thunderous shotgun rounds, scattering the creatures like leaves before him. He fired off another brace of shots into the routed brood for good measure, felling yet more of the screeching beasts. At his side the heavy bolter finally began to add its rough bark to the melee, its activation at last sealing the break in the defence line. Within moments the surrounding area was filled with running, shouting soldiers, their lasguns and other assorted weaponry creating a wall of withering fire that the broods closest to them could not break, regardless of their frenzied efforts. Sure that the position was now secure he turned to the heavy weapon crew, breathless and red in the face. This is no practice run, damn it! We do or die out here; there are no second chances! If this line does not hold then we are lost! To fail in the Emperors eyes is to consign us to an eternity of disgrace and abandon! You will hold this line with your lives if need be! The teams response was short and sharp but exactly what the colonel needed to hear. They would not fail. A deep, low rumbling could be heard even over the din of the fracas. Atop their chosen vantage points the ratling snipers cursed, their aim thrown by the increasing tremors that accompanied the noise. The swarm before them seemed to shift its position like a shoal of fish, alarmed by the yet-unseen source of the mounting tremors. Despite their collective frenzy, the tyranids seemed troubled. Whats that? A trooper asked as he sidled up to the colonel, his face fraught with apprehension. The others craned their necks to see what it was that headed their way. Vorpax began to scour the enemy line before him, growing concerned. Something was headed their way, something huge and powerful and terrible. The vox officer of the squad behind him held the receiver of the set to his ear, trying his best to listen to the garbled messages being relayed to them. Ah, sir? I think wed better move back. He uttered, hooking the headset to his belt as he began to step backwards towards the safety of the line of idling chimeras. Vorpax turned as he heard this, intrigued. Even as he broke into a hurried jog to quiz the vox officer the others were already moving back, their comrades warning enough to spur their retreat. What is it, soldier? Its the Bombardiers, sir. Theyre here. The tyranid front line parted under a hail of shattering bolter-fire. Alien bodies shook and burst apart as a

maelstrom of shells mowed them down. A huge, hulking metal monstrosity lumbered into view, its progress steady but unstoppable. General Arkas Phylene appeared atop his beloved stormhammer super-heavy tank, the Defender of the Throne. The stormhammers vast heavy bolter batteries tore a bloody path through the massed swarm as it rolled onwards, shattering entire broods as it progressed relentlessly towards the waiting gate. Behind the Defender of the Throne came the rest of Phylenes vaunted war machines. At the head of the procession came the regiments single stormblade, the Pride of Ryza, the sight of its massive plasma blastgun enough to send the hardiest enemy scrambling for cover, their tail between their legs. Following the Pride of Ryza were the Giantslayer and the Death From Afar, the regiments two shadowsword titan-killers. Behind these the Siege-Breaker rumbled into view, closely followed by Phylenes two baneblades, the Destructor and the Vengeance of Macraleusia. Like the Pride of Ryza the Siege-Breaker was a variant of the shadowsword, its huge volcano cannon replaced by a powerful siege gun. The two baneblades were the most common of the Imperial supertanks, their weaponry affording them a more general role on the battlefields of the Imperium. Together these seven tanks had the power to level the entire city in a single day had the need arisen. They were unmatched by anything on Daedalus, and their participation in the campaign meant, in the opinion of a great many of the guardsmen that victory was almost assured. Whatever the truth, the sight of the seven Macraleusian war machines lifted a great many hearts as they thundered on through the alien horde and out into the centre of the corral, the infamous General Phylene at their head. Behind them came the base machines of the Bombardiers, an armoured convoy of some fifteen basilisks, griffons, thunderers, medusas and hydras, their progress largely unhindered by the teeming alien menace. Along the way they had lost two basilisks, a hydra and a griffon, though these were acceptable losses given the size and ferocity of the enemy force. The Bombardiers were finally here. Now at last the siege of the city could begin. +++ Hastor and the others nearest the open side doors watched as Phylene manoeuvred the Bombardiers into position, utilising years of skill and practice. Ive got to admit, no matter how many times I could witness them in action, the Macraleusians are aweinspiring. Regan whispered, shaking his head. So much power in one armoured regiment. Emperors light, they could conquer the planet if they had to. General Phylene and his Bombardiers have conquered many planets. They are the best at what they do. Hastor replied, a fierce pride swelling his heart. They are a credit to the Emperor and to the Imperium. It was they who retook the Imperial naval base of Cypra Mundi from the orks, alone and unaided. We truly stand among giants here today. They watched in silence as the powerful cannons of the Macraleusian Bombardiers began to open up on the towering North Gate, shaking it to its very foundations mere seconds into the bombardment. Alien and heretic alike would pale before the might of the Imperium. +++ My lord, the Imperial forces have successfully converged upon the North Gate. I am pleased to report that they are as yet unopposed by the Khornate factions. More so, it seems the tyranid war machine is in the process of being routed.

Bombola sat in quiet contemplation, one hand resting thoughtfully upon his chin. Before him, projected into the air by the holo-map the activity on the planet far below flashed and pulsed, filling the otherwise darkened command bridge with a cacophony of light and sound. The tyranids will not fall back. They have nowhere to go. We have disabled all their hive ships. He uttered after a moment, shifting his weight slightly. No matter how well the campaign progresses, it would be foolish to assume victory at this stage. Tell me, what of the chaos element? The adept turned back towards the screen in front of him for a moment, lost in the endless reams of data rolling past his eyes. My lord, it seems the World Eaters of Karkattamorg are wholly committed in engaging the astartes. They have massed upon the South Gate in their entirety and are engrossed in battle. I doubt they are even aware of the presence of the Imperial guard. Hmm. Good. Tell me; is their any news of the assassin? Did he deploy safely? Yes my lord. As far as I can ascertain, the eversors deployment was successful. He stalks the city as we speak. Bombola nodded slowly, satisfied with this fact. I see. And what of the Shadow in the Warp? Has it intensified? The adept seemed to pause as he heard this, almost as if he feared the lord generals reaction to his answer. Well? The Shadow moves closer, lord. It grows by the hour. Astropathic communication is now almost impossible. Also, there is something else. Bombola frowned as he heard this. There was something about the adepts tone that displeased him, made him feel uneasy. Something else? Adept, what do you mean by this? Lord general, it seems the astropaths have discovered something else in their search for the approaching tyranid fleets. Somethingdisturbing. How so? Something seems to behow did they put it? Growing. Something is happening in the Empyrean. A warp storm seems to be building but it is unlike anything the adeptus astra telepathica has ever encountered. Its signature is unrecognisable. The approaching tyranid fleets are not the cause, nor are the chaos factions on Daedalus. If it continues to build then we are looking at something very serious. It could pose a very real threat to us all. Bombola shifted uneasily as he heard this. He reached over to the tray held by the waiting servitor and took the delicate glass of turquoise spirit that had been brought for him. He tipped his head back and poured the liquid into his mouth and down his throat in a single gulp, his face contorting briefly as the harsh drink burned his taste buds. What about this psychic disturbance that we have been sent to investigate. Could this not be the contributing factor, the cause of the brewing storm? It is possible, sire, though highly improbable. What little we know about the tyranid psychic mind is enough to tell us that the growing disturbance is somehow different, more attuned to the likes of chaos than the presence below. It is likely that the powerful call emanating from the planet has attracted the attention of something within the warp. Until we are able to thoroughly investigate this new threat, we cannot say for sure. Bombola nodded, his calm exterior belying the mounting fear within him.

That some unnameable force of chaos could be materialising in orbit around Daedalus here and now was more than he dared think about. For now he would try to push all thoughts of this new and terrifying menace from his mind and concentrate on the task at hand. Let us first win back the city before we worry about anything else. Adept, inform the storm-troops that they are clear to proceed. The second phase of the Imperial assault will begin immediately.

CHAPTER 12: COMETH THE SWARM Here! In here! The Elysian trooper pointed to the ramshackle storage shed, guiding his two flamer-wielding comrades to the site. He watched as the small red dot flashed and pulsated on the screen, giving away the hidden enemys position. The two guardsmen followed his lead, keeping low and hunched as they crept towards the entrance of the leaning construct. They reached the open doorway and, giving each other the nod they sprang forth, filling the small shed with a twin burst of searing flame. The hidden lictor roared as it smashed its way free, a huge living fireball bounding out into the open courtyard. The stricken creature fell almost instantly, punctured by a concentrated flurry of las-blasts from the remainder of the Elysian spook-hunter squad, its redundant camouflage scales useless and hidden by the fire that engulfed it. Control, this is Unid, Elysian Hunter Patrol 6. We have successfully subdued another spook, the sector is clear. Unid watched as the men exhaled heavily, removing his helmet to rub his drenched forehead. Somewhere in the distance, out in the enemy-held zone he could hear the dull staccato thump-thump of the marauder squadrons explosive payloads, their attack run ahead of time by several hours. The enemy was heading their way now, of that much he was sure. A brace of Yamin sentinels lurched past, their occupants scouring the horizon. Nothing could be seen beyond the industrial sector though, the buildings too thick and concentrated to provide a good view of the distant swarms. Behind him several Cadian heavy weapons teams were hastily constructing makeshift emplacements, hefting the selection of heavy bolters, autocannons and lascannons they carried into position across the front line. A chorus of rattling belt-feeds and humming power packs filled the air, providing a little comfort to the anxious hunter patrol. At least the rest of the swarm wouldnt catch them napping like the Lictors had. Trooper Unid nodded at the line of guardsmen, his silent gesture assuring them of the sectors spook-free status. Okay men, were done here. Lets wrap this up and prep for the attack. Its going to be a rough ride to Phrennec Mantris. The team began to move out across the street to their next location, weary but ready to do their duty for the Emperor. Before they left, Unid turned and glanced across the dead zone at the distant buildings, watching as the skies beyond them burned. Somewhere out there, despite the navys best efforts, the swarm was headed their way. +++ He watched in silence as the heaving, multitude creatures of the great devourer filled the horizon before him, a vast, writhing swarm consisting of millions of living, roaring monstrosities, relentless in their advance. Bio-engines of every size and shape flapped, bounded, slithered or ran across the blood red sand dunes, their collective mass as such that a huge cloud was thrown up in their wake, a dust storm so large it could

be seen from space. Even from this distance the drumming of thundering hooves and claws was almost deafening. He could afford no distractions now and so he adjusted the audio-filters of his mask, shutting out the terrible noise. The heat and smell of the massive swarm began to drift on the gentle winds towards his position and so these too were shut out, the technology of his field equipment protecting him from the surely intended psychological distraction. He could feel the rifle in his hands, smooth, comforting and familiar. The ground beneath him was beginning to shake now, only slightly but still noticeable. The fine red dust beneath him danced and vibrated as if imbued with a life of its own. There was nothing he could possibly do about this, though at this stage it did not matter, he would compensate. He shifted his gaze slightly so as to look upon the lines upon lines of guardsmen beneath him, their numbers almost as thick as the swarm itself. He watched with almost voyeuristic eyes as men twitched and shuddered, visibly shaken by the incalculable horror that headed their way. Though he could hear nothing he watched as the waiting line of earthshakers and griffon mortars opened fire upon the advancing horde, shuddering and reeling as they unleashed salvo after salvo of burning death into the teeming blue and orange horizon, obliterating entire broods with each round. Still the swarm pressed on, heedless of the danger, compelled to succeed regardless of the losses by the mysterious Hive Mind. Losing troops meant nothing to the swarm; all matter would be consumed and reabsorbed once the planet had fallen. He diverted his attention away from the Imperial lines and out across the endless dunes until his enhanced vision came across the swarm. He held his gaze for a moment, watching as a never-ending ream of life thundered past his vision, flowing across his eyes like a raging torrent of floodwater, a tide of snapping jaws and slashing talons. Now was his time, and so he began to search. The visor of his mask whirred and vibrated as it continued to magnify the distant horde, caught up in a never-ending loop of continual adjustment and refocusing. There. A huge, looming monstrosity lurched into view, its image sharpening and forming as he focused on its imposing bulk. It was a tyrant, one of the main synapse creatures of the alien assault. The creature roared and snapped at the lesser beings beneath it, urging them onward with its psychic presence. This was his prey, the most dangerous of the swarms bio-engines. The innumerable foot soldiers were to be ignored, for to engage them would be futile, a waste of his talents. No matter how long it took, he would bring the swarm to its knees. He peered down the telescopic sight of the powerful rifle, shifting his aim with a quick series of microscopic movements until the red electronic crosshairs were centred upon the creatures impressive head crest. The tyrant roared in fury at the skies for one final time before the exitus round tore through its head and into its hive node, sending it screaming into the red sand dunes beneath it. Even as the swarming hormagaunts around it began to falter and reel in the psychic wake of the tyrants death the Vindicare assassin adjusted had his aim, searching the swarm for another target. Within seconds he had found another hulking tyrant, the huge alien cannon it wielded trained upon the distant lines of Imperial armour and ready to fire. He put a single hellfire round through the monsters eye and the shot burst its head like a balloon. It began to writhe and slash at its surroundings as it died, its death spasms causing the evisceration of a number of lesser tyranid warriors before it slammed into the earth, kicking up a cloud of red dust.

His aim shifted again, this time finding a line of floating, bulbous-headed creatures, their feeble, shrivelled bodies compelled onwards by their powerful psychic presence. The beasts shimmered and pulsed with warp energy, a living line of bio-artillery that had begun to assail the Imperial defences with withering salvos of psyker energy. The Vindicare took careful aim; exhaling slowly as the first of the bulbous-domed zoanthrope beasts hovered into the centre of his crosshairs. The rifle dug into his shoulder as it flashed, splitting the curious creature open like a ripe fruit. Its chitinous head burst apart and the zoanthropes atrophied frame slumped into the loose sand, lifeless and done. The wave of tyranid psykers began to rupture and explode as if caught up in some huge chain reaction, each of the creatures slain by a single exitus round to the head, the entire line dead within moments. Far below the plateau the Imperial defence lines thundered volley after volley into the advancing horde, unaware even of Vindicares protective presence. Hidden by the sheer mass of the swarm they never even saw the assassins handiwork, never noticed the succession of tyrants, lictors, raveners and carnifex as they were sent reeling onto their backs, halted by the lone Vindicares powerful rifle. Unbeknownst to them the swarm was being slowly taken apart. Tessok! Tessok! Storm trooper Gredion Tessok felt a pair of rough hands shaking him and he slowly opened his eyes. The real world began to seep into his senses, slowly replacing the scene being played out in his head. The Nids are here! Theyve found us! He looked up to see Brandbaars dark face staring down at him, anxiety written across his features. The squads scout hauled him to his feet, pointing out across the distant buildings at the blossoming fire beyond. The time for daydreaming is over. Corpo just received word of the attack. We move out now. Tessok glanced around him at the chaotic scene. Men and vehicles thundered past, urged onwards by the shouts and cries of their commanding officers. Marauders and lightnings screamed overhead, moving to meet the oncoming tyranid advance. The Imperial counter-offensive was already well underway. Tessok shook himself and began to gather up his equipment, snatching up a large, elongated leather holding case from the dusty floor beneath him before quickly moving out to join his comrade. Come on, the others are waiting by the valkyrie. I thought Id never find you. Brandbaar exclaimed, taking some of Tessoks equipment from him as he noticed the storm trooper struggling. I dreamt about my father again. Tessok whispered, slinging the heavy carry case over his shoulder. I saw it, just as he described to me when I was a child. Whats that? Hemnron. The dune planet. It was one of his greatest missions. He used to tell me stories when I was a child. Well, he said that they were only stories, but I knew the real truth. His missions were classified, but he used to whisper them in my ear at night before I went to sleep, just as if he were reading from some childrens literature book. Hemnron was one of my favourites. He killed hundreds that day. He took the swarm apart. Brandbaar smiled, familiar with Tessoks proud Imperial heritage. Like the others he had heard many, many stories of Tessoks father, an Imperial Vindicare assassin. Herfus Tessok had been one of the greatest Vindicare assassins of his day. Though all the assassin temples were seen as sinister, mysterious organisations, Tessoks exploits were nevertheless well documented. The details of his missions and the techniques he used were commonplace in the Imperial education literature

used by the Imperiums many Schola Progenum schools and training camps. Your father was quite a man, Gredion. You must be proud. Tessok smiled, feeling the familiar weight of the carry case and its contents pressed against his shoulder. My father was an inspiration to me, Brandbaar. My mother thought that his death would break me, but she was wrong. It made me stronger, made me the man I am today. Besides, this case and its contents were his parting gift to me. Every time I use them, I honour his memory, a tradition I intend to uphold today. Brandbaar glanced at the long leather case, featureless except for the small silver skull pin set into the top of the strap and the patch of white, embroidered letters stitched underneath it. Exitus Acta Probat. The Cadian major held onto his helmet for dear life as the marauder screamed by overhead, blinking as the tanned leather fastening straps whipped and slapped his face. Get those damn emplacements ready! We dont have much time left! Two men per gun, one operator, one ammo feeder. Come on, you all know the drill! He glanced out across the buildings, noticing that the bombardment had ceased, a fact that filled him with dread. This could only mean one thing. The swarm was close. Molner, vox command! I want to know why Phylenes damn basilisks are still silent! After that I want you to get hold of the navy and get us some orbital support! Everyone else, I want you ready and on-hand with all available ammunition. When the bugs get here these guns are going to be hammering constantly, so we cant allow any of them to run dry. Wesporth, take a team of three men and gather as many servitors as you can find. We need bodies up there on the front line, feeding the tarantulas. Its going to be hell when they get here and I wont ask any soldier of mine to face that. Go! Bodies were running in all directions. Teams of men rushed past him, grunting and heaving as they hauled crates and boxes of shells to and fro. Sentinel power lifters followed in their wake, their huge industrial claws filled with piles of tool crates and magazine boxes all destined for the numerous weapons that lined the Imperial defences. The major hurried out across the busy yard towards a small sandbag lookout emplacement flanked by a pair of heavy bolter tarantulas. The two men behind the makeshift wall looked up as he approached, saluting quickly. No sign yet, sir. Weve extended target range to maximum and set up the long-range auspex, but we havent spotted anything yet. He pushed past them and slammed his foot down hard upon the top row of sandbags, removing a thick cigar stub from his top pocket as he did so. He lit the stub and began to twist the glowing object in his mouth, his eyes fixed on the horizon beyond. Oh, theyre out there, you mark my words, soldier. Believe me, youll hear em before you see em. Grax, youll smell the bloody things before you see em! It dont matter what we throw at em, theyll keep on coming until they get what theyre after. He turned to face the two men, exhaling a thick blue cloud of smoke as he towered over them. Do you know what it is theyre after?

The two Cadian lookouts shifted uneasily as they heard the question, glancing at one another in silent fear. Theythey want to eat us, right sir? The major unleashed a single, joyless laugh and turned back around to face the distant maze of buildings, the mock humour written on his face quickly dissipating, leaving behind a stern frown. Crap, they dont want to eat you! They want to kill you, to rip you to pieces, tear you limb from limb. All they want to do is kill you. Thats what theyre bred for, see? Eating you is what the small ones want to do, the ones that come after. They only eat the dead long after the battle is over. Prey, thats all we are to them. Speaking of prey, youd both better pray to the Immortal Emperor that we hold them off long enough to get this mission underway. Now remember, you see those bugs coming and you get out of here as fast as you can, back behind the big guns. As you were. He left the two shaken men and headed back towards the line of heavy weaponry, throwing the spent cigar to the floor with one grubby hand. He opened his mouth to speak but the words that followed this gesture were lost, swallowed by the thunderous boom of an unseen earthshaker cannon, the first of many to open up in the seconds that followed. General Phylenes Bombardiers began to decimate the distant buildings, each powerful shot levelling the horizon. This could mean only one thing; the swarm was now in range and getting closer. This is it, men! Get ready to defend us in the name of the Holy Emperor! Anyone who dies here today better do so in a blaze of glory! No one is to fall back until I say so! He barked, wheeling round to face the approaching horror. The horizon was ablaze now, a wall of searing fire that stretched the entire length of the distant complex. A pall of smoke and dust drifted towards the defence line, impeding the soldiers visibility even further. The major saw this and cursed, worried that the mens fear would overwhelm them. Steel yourselves, brave men of the Imperium! Defend this planet with the same zeal you would our beloved Cadia! Remember, each world conquered under the Imperial Eagle is a testimony to our beloved saviour, and to lose that world is to fail in His eyes! We must not fail Him! We cannot fail Him! The ground began to shake, only slightly at first. Bricks and plaster fell from the surrounding ruins, followed by clouds of dust and glass. Soldiers swallowed and whispered silent prayers, steeling themselves in the face of mounting terror. Fingers tightened around triggers, ready to squeeze. Suddenly the line of sentry guns began to rock and shake, unleashing a hail of las and bolter fire into the encroaching dust cloud. In the lookout emplacement the two scouts rose quickly, blinking under the hail of bolter shells that were expended in their midst. They began to wave and shout, though their voices were lost amidst the cacophonic din of battle noise. One of the soldiers held aloft the long-range auspex and was waving the device frantically. Where the hell are those damn servitors? Were running out of time here! the major barked. You two, fall back! Fall back! The two scouts noticed the majors hand signals and began to climb free of the emplacement when suddenly something small and spherical parted the smog and landed at their feet, falling in among the scattered sand bags with a dull thud. They stopped and peered at the object quizzically, its sudden appearance causing them to falter. Their hesitation saw them instantaneously torn apart by the explosion of ripping, flailing tentacles that burst free from the rapidly maturing strangler pod. The two soldiers died without a sound, their bodies

scattered and shredded by the whipping alien extremities. The major took a step back, visibly shaken by the horrific deaths of his men, his eyes wide and fearful. He opened his mouth to give the order to commence firing but no sound came out. He was lucky, the heavy weapons teams did not need to be told. Tessok leapt up onto the closing rear hatch, ducking as he hurtled into the belly of the flyer. For a second the others were bathed in darkness and then the vehicles interior lighting blinked into being, illuminating its cramped interior. We thought youd never get here. Where were you? He opened his mouth to speak but was silenced by Hastors open hand. Forget it. Throw your gear under the seating grill and hold on tight. Fordar, Autis, get those damn heavy bolters racked and loaded! The men did as they were ordered and the carrier was once more bathed in natural light as its side doors were thrown open, leaving the remaining men gathered around the sergeant. Corpo, I want you up front next to the cockpit. We need to stay in contact with the others and with high command at all times. Everyone else, find a seat and strap yourself in. Its going to be a bumpy ride. Commissar? Tremlocke turned, raising his eyebrows as he awaited Hastors imminent instructions. Due to the surprise of the enemys attack we are short one crewmember. How are you with vehiclemounted weaponry? Leave the multi-laser to me. He answered with a nod, scrambling quickly away towards the small gunners seat set into the nose of the craft. The others watched him go in silence, turning their eyes away only as the hatch slammed shut behind him. Now, everyone listen to me. Hastor began, pausing slightly to ensure all eyes were upon him. He is an Imperial officer and each and every one of you will treat him with the respect his rank deserves. The fact that there is history between us means nothing to you. I will not see any of you before a firing squad because of it. Am I understood? The others nodded grudgingly, knowing at once that he was right. Hastor was a good servant of the Emperor and he conducted himself properly at all times. If he could live with the situation, so could they. Good. Lets get this thing underway. He reached over to the bulkhead that separated the drivers compartment and slammed his fist against the thick metal three times, answered almost immediately by the shuddering ignition of the valkyries engines. +++ Maintain fire! Maintain fire! I dont care it the damn weapons start to melt, dont let up! We cant allow a breach! Scores of green and bone-coloured bodies poured from the mist and threw themselves at the guns, visible only for a fleeting moment before being atomised by the concentrated fire of the defence line. Amid them the tarantula sentries still chattered and blasted, some of them no longer visible, lost under a blanket of bodies both dead and alive. Some of the attacking creatures managed to leap clear of the mounting pile of cadavers, only to be blasted apart as they bounded towards the Imperial troops. The major watched almost as if detached from the rest

of them, awakening from his trance-like state only occasionally in order to fire off a volley of laspistol shots into the surging tide. He rocked slightly as a trio of sharp and incredibly fast projectiles passed by him, missing him by a hairs breadth as they screamed past, crackling with energy. The whistling metallic crystals slammed into the heavy bolter emplacement behind him and shattered against the barrel of the hammering gun. Shards of poisonous crystal whickered out and into the two soldiers behind the gun, lacerating, electrocuting and poisoning them in the same instant. Emplacement down! Someone man that gun now! the major screamed, sweeping his hand before him in the direction of the silent heavy bolter. Two of the ammunition troopers quickly dropped their lasguns and rushed over to the waiting bolter, throwing themselves onto the floor behind it. He spat out the glowing stub and threw his spent laspistol aside, his face a mask of frantic effort. His fingers reached down to his belt and he freed the combat shotgun hanging there, sliding the barrel-mounted rack back with a satisfying click. The screams of the dying were echoing across the defence line now, loud yet barely audible over the tumult of bright explosions and packed Imperial firepower. He watched as another tarantula emplacement fell, bowled over by the seething mass of alien bodies that surged forth from the battle-smog. Though upended the large twin guns kept on firing, bright columns of white energy scything through the chittering hordes that passed over it, their bodies bursting like ripe fruit. He shook himself and began to stumble forward, fazed by the terrible confusion all around him. He levelled the shotgun in his hands at an oncoming brood of Hormagaunts and fired, peppering the charging xenos beasts with hissing shot. Bodies screamed and fell, writhing on the floor, punctured by the scattering blasts. For the Emperor! For Cadia! he roared, filling the air before him with a hail of shredding pellet-shot. If he was to die today then he would die well. All that mattered was that the enemy be stalled until the Imperial counter-attack was ready to deploy. Even as these thoughts entered his head a huge, looming shape hurtled through the mist and slammed heavily into the ground before him, its massive wings folding behind its back as it landed. The bone-white tyrant rose up to its full height and looked down upon the terrified man, its eyes glowing with mindnumbing and utterly alien malice. The major closed his eyes tight and whispered for the Emperor to forgive his sins.

CHAPTER 13: A SHOW OF MIGHT The line of siege machines ground to a halt side by side, the huge North Gate of the ancient city towering before them. Around them the Phyressians continued to blast the tyranids into oblivion, the wall of fire they unleashed nigh on impassable. The enemy would not be allowed to prevent the Macraleusians from penetrating the city. Phylenes Defender of the Throne ground to a halt behind the line of rumbling siege engines, taking centre place amongst his prized super-heavy tanks. As the huge tanks engines shuddered to a halt Phylene emerged from inside the huge turret, almost lost amidst the mass of plasteel and ceramite around him. He turned to face the waiting gates, placing a headset over his dark shining pate as he did so. Upon their arrival Phylene had ordered each of the six war engines of his command company to test their main armaments upon the waiting gate. Even their preliminary test shots had shaken the huge barriers, scoring huge gouges and cracks across its thick surface. The general order to advance had been given to the waiting storm trooper squads. This meant that it was time for he and his forces to begin to work upon the final barrier between the city and the massed Imperial army behind him. Upon his spoken command each mighty gun was trained upon the gates amid a cacophony of whirring and squealing as a host of targeters and range finders acquired their firing solutions. The huge cannons of the baneblades and their variants trained themselves upon the vast North Gate and the multitude of smaller, more numerous siege engines that formed the backbone of Phylenes forces followed suit, levelling a score of earthshakers, mortars and innumerable other variants of powerful artillery in the direction of the waiting entrance. +++ As Hastor and the others watched this from above, time seemed to slow. The noises of the ongoing battle around them faded away to silence and they watched, frozen in anticipation, as the last of the large guns settled into position. At the centre of the siege line Phylene held up one hand, the other pressed against his ear. He held the pose for what seemed to be a lifetime, his hand held outstretched before him as if challenging the city gates themselves. At the head of the Valkyries hold, Corpo turned his head abruptly and thrust a thumb in the air. They had been given the order to advance. Far below, within a fraction of a second after Corpos signal, Phylenes hand dropped. The air itself split in two as the cannons of the Bombardiers unleashed their might in a single instant. The titanic North Gate shuddered and buckled under the weight of the barrage. Huge chunks of adamantium and plasteel tore away and thudded into the ground beneath it, some as large as the super-heavy tanks themselves. Rockcrete came away from the gate hinges in huge sections, shaken loose by the inconceivable might of the onslaught. Huge cracks began to appear along the wall at either side, some as wide as the gates themselves. The vast twin barriers of the North Gate would not withstand such punishment for long. Hastor and the others punched the air in jubilation, their spirits lifted by the show of Imperial might. Ha! Go on, boys, show the enemy what were made of! Nesker barked, a huge smile spreading across his face. Let the chaos scum know whos knocking at their door!

The others cheered and whooped, shielding their faces from the combined super-heated backwash of the volcano cannons and plasma blastgun as the valkyries accelerator thrusters fired up, shifting the craft from its hanging position above the rest of the Imperial forces. Damn! Theres nothing quite like a super-heavy tank suntan! Regan shouted, his comments causing him to receive a round of good-natured shoves and punches from the others. Look at that! Now thats what I call a plasma gun! Autis exclaimed proudly, watching as the carrier passed by the mighty stormblade, the huge tank busily blasting huge holes through the gates with its terrible weapon. Ha! You Ryza-boys are all the same! Plasmas the best thing since sliced grox-meat until it blows up in your hand! Nesker teased, pushing his comrades head away playfully, much to the amusement of the others. Whatever, old man. Im telling you, the footsloggersll be sad they missed this! By the time they get here the siege will be over. Hastor pushed past the others and slammed his fist into the small rune set into the doorframe before him. The door slid open to reveal the cabin of the carrier and he caught a glimpse of the city walls looming before them. They were closing fast and at this range the nearest pylon was a vast obelisk of black-green girders and interlocked framework, as imposing and daunting even at this range and despite its dormant state. E.T.A five minutes sir. The pilot announced, acknowledging his presence with a short, swift glance. No sign of enemy hostiles so far. It is truly glorious to witness the Emperors best at work below us, is it not, sergeant? Tremlocke marvelled, his eyes still fixed firmly on their destination ahead. It swells my heart to think that we few have an important part to play in the suppression of His most reviled foes. I trust your men are ready for the task ahead? Hastor ignored him and turned to face the pilots onboard instrumentation, his eyes scouring the many flashing runes and readout displays before him in an attempt to gleam any information possible of the whereabouts of the other carriers. What is the status of the others? he soon asked, giving up on the endless displays before him. The pilot turned her attention away from the terrain before her and ran her eyes across the multitude displays, soon pointing out a series of violet dots scattered about one of the many small and inconspicuous screens laid out before her. All valkyrie craft are airborne and on course, sir. The advance wings progress is steady and each of the carriers has met with little airborne resistance. Validus, Fortis, Constantina, Veritas and Firmamentum are all minutes away from passing over the city walls. Acutus, Falx, Mollis, Columen and Ultio form the second wave. All are running at peak efficiency and have reported no setbacks as yet. Tutus, Fastigium, Unicus, Lex and Integer are bringing up the rear. There are reports of engaging enemy fliers but they are holding fast. So far the advance wing have little to report, sir. The assault goes well. Good. May the Emperor be praised for His divine guidance. Hastor uttered, pleased that the storm trooper element of the invasion was fine and in little danger of being sidetracked. Praise the immortal Emperor indeed, sergeant. Tremlocke oozed, a humourless smile forming at the corners of his mouth. Let us hope that we do Him proud here today. After all, we cannot allow ourselves to fail in His eyes now that He has granted us His hallowed benevolence. I trust that your men are ready to die for Him if need

be? As always, Commissar. My men are the best at what they do, as I told you before. They will not falter. He answered, rolling his eyes. I know that, sergeant. I am here to ensure that. Hastor scowled as he heard this, his hatred for the commissar growing further. I will go and join my men. Try to be ready the moment we set down, commissar, we dont have time to hang around. With that the door of the cabin slid shut, leaving Tremlocke in the gunners seat, a wide, lipless smile creeping across his cold face. Such a curt, insubordinate man. He whispered, the comment directed as much toward himself as it was the pilot. I fully expect him to disregard my exacting orders upon arrival. In fact, I almost hope this to be the case. +++ Another building exploded all at once, first swelling up like a heaving chest for what must have been less than a fraction of a second before coming apart in a tumultuous explosion of light, heat and wreckage. Countless shells fell all around the wide square, their rapid descent filling the air with shrill, shrieking whistles, a terrible noise cut short only by the explosive demise of the buildings and structures they obliterated. The cultists scattered in all directions, their arms high above their heads. Half naked and swathed in robes the colour of freshly spilled blood, the Khornate cultists scattered like frightened cockroaches in the wake of the sudden and terrible bombardment, caught unawares as they moved to investigate the supposed activity centred around the North Gate. All communications had been lost between the main army and the lookouts a short while ago following the retreat of the tyranids and the unforeseen deactivation of the pylons. Each and every one of the World Eaters were caught up in the furious fight for the South Gate that had followed, lost in the frenzied bliss of facing their errant kin in battle. The cultists had moved in force to investigate, shunned by their vastly superior peers and having been deemed unworthy to take part in the fight. Now they were here, all five hundred-plus of them, caught in the open and trapped by the distant guns of some as-yet unidentified foe. Onwards, you dogs! Advance or face the bite of my blade! The massive scarred frame of the demagogue towered over the other scattering men, his face alight with rage. Those around him paid no heed to his commands, their minds broken by the terrible bombardment that rained down upon them. Bodies fled in all directions, no longer caring in which way they ran. The demagogue roared and swung the huge chainblade he wielded before him, slicing one hurtling figure clean in two as he attempted to run past. No matter the dire urgency of their situation, he would not be denied. The buildings all around him broke apart and burned, smashed to pieces by the thunderous barrage. He ignored the cacophonic devastation, too incensed by the cowardice of his followers to heed the danger all around him. Weak filth! I will not see my commands denied! He thundered, hacking and slashing at those unfortunate enough to attempt to pass by him. Retreat is for the weak! The followers of Khorne do not flee! Steel yourselves, dogs! I will add your skulls to the foot of His throne myself if you do not rally!

He soon became slick with gore, his bare muscles glistening with the corrupt blood of his own brethren. If he had to slaughter each and every one of the pathetic underlings around him then he would do you without a thought, for like all those most faithful to the Blood God, he knew that blood spilled in His name was a testament to his lord and master Khorne, no matter the vein from which it spilled. A huge, armoured hand reached out and closed its fingers around the demagogues neck, plucking him from where he stood as if even his muscular bulk meant nothing. He cried out in pain and surprise and began to sweep the air around him with the chainsword, almost as much through instinct as any other reaction. The mighty sword soon shattered and span away, smashed to pieces by his attackers free hand. He gasped as he looked upon a twisted and scarred face the colour of winter shadow. The bald, pallid head of the power-armoured giant before him was punctured and covered with all manner of pulsing tubes and probing, skeletal pipes, the dark eyes at its centre hidden and lifeless. Its baroque armour was dull and dingy, the colour of old terracotta and fringed with tarnished brass. Chaotic runes were daubed all over the Marines massive frame and eight-pointed stars were fixed in brass to many of its armour segments. The demagogues eyes widened and the burning rage that filled his soul began to subside, an ominous fear rising in his black heart. The Nephilim.

CHAPTER 14: ANCIENT ENEMY M-my brother, please the demagogue began, probing the air with his feet in a desperate attempt to find solid ground. If I had but k-known it was you who The armoured giant flicked his wrist and the mans head came off in his hand, falling wetly to the floor beneath him. His decapitated form slumping haphazardly onto the floor and left to wallow in the pool of blood that began to creep around it. The monster turned and glanced silently at the two marines behind it, giants of equal appearance and stature. The warriors gazed up at the crumbling buildings surrounding them then turned back towards the first, nodding their heads in silent unison. The three hulking marines turned and began to march back towards the centre of the city in the direction they had come, their huge footfalls cracking the road surface underneath them as they went. Suddenly a huge explosion ripped through the air far above them and they faltered, turning their eyes to the skies above. An earthshaker shell had ripped through the top of the building to their left and a huge chunk of the corner came away, rumbling and whining as it slowly toppled downwards. The three Nephilim began to lumber away from the impending danger but one of the inhuman beasts was not fast enough. The huge chunk of rockcrete landed on top of him with a thunderous boom, burying itself deep into the ground beneath it and pulverising the marines body utterly. The other two picked themselves up and stared at the crumbling wreckage for a moment, their expressions never once changing. Imperial fire. One of the monsters growled, its voice deep and synthetic. The other nodded and reached for a communicator hooked to his belt. He activated the device and it came alive with a low-pitched thrum, red and green lights blinking on across its surface. My lord, the North Gate is under siege, as you suspected. He growled monotonously, his shadowed eyes fixed to the distant gate that was no more than a dot on the horizon. As he awaited the reply he ran his eyes across the rapidly increasing semicircle of crumbling and flattened buildings that continued to spread forth from the gate and down the vast artery that was the Grand Path of the Victorious, the huge highway that ran the length of the city. The air between was filled with a blanket of glowing, screaming shells, each one destined to reach further and further than the next. As the ponderous marines watched the slow, methodical progression of the withering barrages they soon began to realise that the forces beyond the gate were not interested in the city itself. They sought the Mother, the one whos call echoed across the stars. They had somehow managed to deactivate the pylons and were moving to thwart their commanders plans. The two ponderous giants turned their heads as the communicator began to hiss and whisper as if multitude of wispy, chattering voices struggled for dominance. I understand. Came a thin, croaking voice, jagged and shredded by centuries of corruption. As I suspected, the wretched Imperials move against me from all sides. No matter, let them throw themselves upon the gates of my captured city with abandon. The fools suspect nothing of what conspires here. The voice oozed, swimming in its own ancient self-righteousness. They are fools and I despise them. How dare they assume that they are facing nothing more than a mindless, unthinking foe? I will prove them wrong. I will prove them all wrong. The two Nephilim looked at one another, their never-changing expressions fixed in a stony glare of silent nonchalance. You may return. It is time to show these Imperial whoresons what it is to face the might of one who

watched the very streets of Terra burn and crumble as the children of the warp overran them. As they shall again. With that the two mysterious titans turned and walked calmly away, leaving over five hundred of their cultist brethren to die amid the crumbling buildings of the Grand Path of the Victorious. +++ Validus is approaching penultimate waypoint. Am beginning descent procedure in two. Validus out. Tremlocke watched as the valkyrie thundered through a bank of thick, acrid smoke and emerged from the other side like a predator leaping from shadow. They had passed over the top of the wall unscathed, so far so good. Validus has passed penultimate waypoint safely. Auspex detects no enemy presence city-side. Am initiating decent, standard S.T. manoeuvre, over. The pilot stated matter-of-factly, her progress monitored implicitly by the distant mission command. She flicked the vox-caster over to receive a whole host of garbled information. The vox came alive with intermittent bursts of information, all mixed and blended into a steady stream of almost incoherent audio data. Fortis has reached penultimate waypoint. Am beginning descent... This is Veritas. All systems are green, run is good. We are approaching wall... 'Squad Mollis, we are experiencing minor enemy activity in the skies north of the city. Light enemy fliers, no more than seven or eigh Obscuring flightpath, over. Repeat, this is Squad Unicus to command. We are experiencing minor navigational problems Tremlocke smiled as he listened to the intermittent bursts, proud to be taking part in such a noble and holy crusade. This mission would be the making of him. Fordar and Regan swung the heavy bolters from side to side; ready to engage any possible enemy emplacements hidden in the surrounding area. So far they had met with no resistance, a fact that disquieted Hastor somewhat. They were quite a way ahead of the others now, and would easily be the first squad out onto the punished streets of the city, the Emperor willing. He hung on for dear life as he watched the wall pass by under them, keeping himself as close to the gunners door as he could. He wanted to be the first out, to lead by example. The others would exit the carrier via the rear ramp and he wanted to make sure that he was there to wave them out. The valkyrie began to slow and descend, the entire hold shifting with a jolt as the descent dampers kicked in. The retroverters began to shake the metal beneath his feet as the crafts shuddering descent intensified, the men around him becoming broken, vibrating shapes in his eyes, almost as if they were images taken by an unsteady pict-recorder. H-has a-anyone s-seen m-m-my t-teeth? Regan exclaimed, a broad smile spreading across his face. The others laughed and joined in the joke. Nesker made some comment on the fact that the young trooper made the exact same joke each and every time they made a landing, though his light-hearted sarcasm was lost amongst the rattling, shuddering clamour of the landing. Landfall in fifteen seconds. The pilot informed them, her voice carried through the hold by the carriers crackling intercom.

No visual contacts. Auspex indicates no signs of enemy resistance. We have a clear landing zone. Hastor turned and nodded to each man in turn, a silent gesture that each of them responded to in kind. Some began to whisper silent prayers, their eyes closed and their heads pushed back against the bulkhead. Others made the sign of the aquila before them, blessing themselves beneath the Emperor's ever-watchful eyes. They were ready to do His work. +++ Magos Zorbathains screams were loud and piercing, echoing throughout the cold, dank chambers like roaming invisible wraiths, his wretched voice reverberating across each and every surface like a rolling tide of agonised pain. The monster at his side laughed, his broken, scraping voice rising in volume with each scream. The Magos should have been dead. To look upon him for even a fraction of a second was enough to see that. Yet he clung to life, his pitiful survival no doubt thanks to the countless pulsing tubes of ichor and rusting mechanical extremities that protruded from his punished, twisted body. He lay trapped and helpless, fastened to the filth-laden operating table by the remainder of his hands and feet. The various prosthetics and augmentations his body had once housed were gone, torn away by his sadistic torturer. His eyes had been the first to go. The ancient and magnificent bionic implants had been torn from his face clumsily and in their place sat a pair of clouded, organic orbs that twitched and slid loosely in their sockets as he glanced about him in horror at his perverse surroundings. P-please He begged, the newly implanted human voice box shuddering and vibrating in his scarred and sutured throat. Stop this. Stop this travesty. You d-dont understand what this is d-doing to me. The figure by his side cackled callously, running a gore-slicked leather glove over the terrified techpriests face. The hand moved gently up and over the exposed glistening brain of the magos, the fingers leaving a trail of slime and cranial fluids as it slipped past. Zorbathain could feel the numbing emptiness in his head where the beast had removed his cranial implants. He could no longer hear the whisperings of the machines stacked about him, the comforting presence that he had experienced for so long now cold and gone. He was more alone that he could ever remember, even in the days when he had been merely human. He had never experienced agony like this before. His torturer and cruelly and methodically removed each and every one of his blessed and sacred augmentations, wickedly delighting in the removal and destruction of each and every one. In some cases he had even grafted atrophied limbs and plundered organs in place of the removed augmentations, bringing the magos closer to humanity with each sickening addition. He was slowly being taken apart and made organic once again, something that terrified him beyond all description. The priesthood of Mars. If ever there was an organisation so completely idiotic and worthless in this galaxy then it is yours, magos. To remove the organic components of your body and replace them with the cold, synthetic extremities and machinations that your kind is so fond of is a concept utterly alien to me. I revile you and all that you stand for, perhaps more so than any other faction of the organisation that has hunted me these long years. Machines are not to be worshipped, priest. They are our slaves, created to do our bidding. The flesh shall

always rule over the machine. In time you will learn to accept that. Zorbathains ears burned as he listened to the cruel figures mocking and irreverent words, his stomach and chest tightening. To speak of the machine such was the utmost blasphemy and it pained him to listen, though bound and helpless as he was he had no choice in the matter. All he could do was listen, watch and long for dearth as his ancient captor continued to torture him. The machines that worked upon his body were corrupt, twisted things, travesties that affronted his very being with their presence. Long arachnid fingers of dark, pitted metal snaked over him as if motivated by some brooding malicious force separate to the beast, exploring his ravaged frame as they searched out each and every alteration to his original form. The fiend that tormented him so loomed overhead, his glazed eyes searching the length of Zorbathains wracked torso for the next procedure to perform. K-kill me. Just kill m-me, please. The magos moaned, the eyes that were so wrong rolling slackly in their wet, exposed sockets. Then tell me. His torturer rasped, his ancient face shrouded in shadow. Tell me what I need to know and I will end your miserable life. Give me the activation and targeting codes. I wish to initiate Total Invasion. I will! I will! Zorbathain gibbered, feeling the oppressive weight of the multitude organic components implanted into him heavy and alien. I will help you reactivate the pylons. M-may the Omnissiah f-forgive me. The ancient one smiled.

CHAPTER 15: BETRAYAL The valkyries landing feet touched the ground and Hastor was out, his pistol drawn, his keen eyes scouring the surrounding area for any sign of danger. The rear ramp yawned open and the others poured out into the city, leaping from the settling craft and spreading out smoothly and quickly, ready to take on any would-be attackers. Validus is down and active. Repeat, Validus is down and active. Corpo declared, keeping the message short and to the point. Were proceeding to target area to begin sweep and search. Corpo out. Brandbaar was the first of them to break away and head towards the nearby buildings, his silenced bolt pistol and black longknife drawn and ready. The scout broke into a low sprint and headed towards the nearest of the structures, his eyes darting across the face of the building as he sought out the slightest movement or hint of weapon-flash that would serve to give away a hidden enemy. Tremlocke and the others followed closely behind, the assault weapons forming the flank of the disembarking squad. Regan and Nesker covered the left flank and Autis and Fordar the right, thus forming a protective shell around the rest of them. Tessok covered the rear, his eye the keenest of all. He scoured the closing buildings with the exitus rifle, ready to take out any emerging head or other body part that would be foolish enough to drift into his sights. Hastor watched as his scout halted, checked his surroundings and then disappeared into the nearest structure, sinking into the shadows of the open doorway some hundred and fifty metres away. So far so good, he thought. In truth he was still apprehensive, unable to accept that the enemy would have nothing waiting for them, though for now he was thankful that the landing had at least been a good one. As they reached the doorway he turned, hearing the thrumming burners of the other assault craft clearly now. Fortis had touched down right behind them and Hoolias and his men were on their way over to his position, their target building right next door. Another three were descending rapidly and the rest were on their way, their sleek grey bodies bursting through the pall of smoke like attacking birds of prey. The carrier they had arrived in had already begun to ascend, its precious cargo delivered. Sir? The pilot wishes us good luck in our mission. She sends us the Emperors blessing. Corpo informed him, one hand pressed against his helmet. Hastor smiled and turned towards the lifting craft, raising his thumb in a gesture of thanks for delivering both he and his squad safely. From this distance the pilot could just be made out, all but hidden by the several tonnes of armoured shell that cocooned her. She smiled back and raised a fist, her pretty face framed by the thick glass of the flyers windscreen. Suddenly she was gone, her delicate features atomised almost instantly, engulfed by a ball of searing flame so bright it burned Hastors eyes. The carrier followed her a scant second after, its armoured bulk disintegrating in a vast mushroom of fire and debris so powerful and violent that it shook the ground beneath his feet even from this distance. Throne of Terra! He gasped, watching in sheer and utter disbelief as the entire craft disappeared, atomised by the crackling finger of pulsing blue lightning that slammed into it from somewhere high above. Burning wreckage whickered and span away from the blast, all that was left of the pilot and the craft that had carried them safely to their destination. The others turned slowly and fearfully as if somehow aware of the nature of the blast even before they had

begun to look upon the devastation behind them. The pylons Tremlocke exclaimed, watching as the rest of the descending craft began to sway and disperse, their pilots thrown into disarray by the surprise attack. They were deactivated! Good God-Emperor, they shouldnt be active! The mechanicus assured us The mechanicus were wrong! Hastor screamed, his eyes falling upon the nearest of the huge constructs, its distant peak already glowing as a corona of coruscating power began to build around it, flashing and crackling as it continued to charge. The damn tech-priests were wrong, Tremlocke! The pylons are active and the entire guard forces beyond the gate are sitting ducks! We are all dead! Tremlocke span on his heel as he heard this, his face a mixture of fear and anger in equal measure. No, you are wrong! I dont understand how this has happened but there is no possible way that the enemy could have taken control of the defence grid! Only the most powerful and influential of the tech-priesthood have access to the activation and targeting codes! There is simply no way that any member of the brotherhood of Mars would have betrayed us in such a fashion! This cannot be as it seems High above them the lurid skies flashed white, the intense burst followed a fraction of a second later by another huge explosion. Hastor and the commissar watched in horror as the snaking, groping energy finger of the nearest pylon instantaneously annihilated the valkyrie carrying squad Acutus. The crafts pilot and ten of the Emperors finest were vaporised without ever knowing what had destroyed them. Hastor turned to the commissar and bared his teeth in rage, his eyes half closed due to the backwash of heat as the entire craft dissipated in the air above the city. This is exactly as it seems, Tremlocke! We are all as good as dead! Tremlocke faltered, barely noticing as squad Columens and squad Ultios carriers were torn apart in quick succession, their flaming remains cast to the four winds high above the city walls. The advance had been thrown into chaos in less than a heartbeat, the Imperiums tactical advantage already lost. Through some unknown treachery the pylon grid had been reactivated and now the entire invasion was on the verge of collapse. He felt a rough hand grab his collar and yank him violently around to face the rest of the stunned squad. Hastor thrust his face into the Commissars own, a glowering mask of hatred and revulsion. Now what, Tremlocke? What the hell do we do? Come on, talk to me! The commissar couldnt answer. He glanced about in dumbfounded silence at the building carnage and confusion, his mind temporarily lost amid the chaotic melee. Another of the armoured carriers was struck, the thrumming energy whip shearing away its right wing and sending it into a death spin. The stricken flyer screamed as it disappeared out of sight, its rotating dive sending it barrelling into the buildings behind the disembarked storm troopers. The ten men of squad Mollis were added to the mounting list of dead. Total Invasion. Tremlocke whispered, almost as if afraid of uttering the words. The damned whoresons have initiated Total Invasion. We are not safe here. What? What do you mean? Hastor queried, grabbing hold of the stammering officers greatcoat lapels. Tremlocke turned, his eyes wide and filled with fear. The pylonsthe pylons are complex. Their machine spirits can be programmed to differentiate, to eradicate only certain species or recognisable forces. In the event that the city is in danger of being overrun the mechanicus are able to alter the settings of the grid so as to lay down a blanket of indiscriminate fire both outside and inside the city walls. The pylons lock onto any heat signature in their range, no matter how large or small.

Even inside the city walls we are not safe. We have to find cover, sergeant! We have to find cover now! Hastor had heard more than enough. He threw himself around to face the others to meet with a host of confused, frantic faces. We are all in danger out here! Stay together and move out into the surrounding buildings, we need to get out of the open! But sir, what about the others? Moranith began, pointing out across the expanse before them at the other arriving squads. Constantina had been the last of the first wave to set down and now all that was left of them and the carrier that had brought them was a ball of burning wreckage, the flaming tomb of ten of their storm trooper brethren. Fortis had been luckier, managing to disembark and move away before their own valkyrie had been taken apart by the searing energy flail of the nearest pylon far above. Squads Firmamentum and Veritas had also both managed to exit their carriers and were hot on the heels of Hoolias and his men, sprinting across the flaming square as they desperately tried to get themselves clear of the danger zone. We cant help them now, son. Im sorry, theyre on their own. Hastor exclaimed, his voice heavy with regret. The panicked medic quailed as another fearsome blast erupted above, sending a shockwave of heat and flame out across the square. But sir, theyre getting murdered out there! There must be something We cant help them. The sergeant repeated, shaking his head. Emperor help them, theres nothing we can do! We have to get clear of the L.Z!. We must to fall back! That is a direct order! Tremlocke broke into a sprint and urged the others to follow him as he headed out towards a nearby alleyway. Hastor nodded his approval to the others and sprang into action, signalling for the others to do the same. The squad began to move out as one towards the safety of the surrounding buildings, spurred on by the horrific fate of the other teams. Hastor turned and began to follow the others, the absolute horror of the situation only now beginning to seep into his mind. They were almost halfway across the square when Brandbaar appeared, his face sagging as he threw himself through the open doorway and out onto the square, attracted by the tumult outside. He stumbled forward a few paces before grinding to a halt and raising his eyes to the sky, watching as the nearest two pylons destroyed the carriers of squads Lex, Falx and Tutus, the latter caught as the pilot of their craft was in the middle of attempting a desperate escape bid. No The startled scout whispered, staring in stunned silence at the deaths of his unfortunate storm trooper brethren. What the hell is happening? The grid, it was meant to be dormant! This cant be real Its real, Brandbaar. Move it. Hastor snapped, grabbing wildly at the bewildered scouts arm as he thundered past. Were not safe even here, son. We need to get off the streets. The two men broke into a panicked run and headed towards the waiting alley, the rest of the squad surrounding them. Hastor found he had to literally drag the shell-shocked scout after him. As they reached the others he found himself leaping the last few feet, Brandbaar in tow.

The two of them landed heavily amongst the scattered rubbish that was strewn across the alleys entrance, the rest of the squad breathless and panting around them. Come on, move it! Autis hollered, waving his arms frantically as he watched Fortis sprint across the open square. The others picked themselves up of the floor and joined in, desperately urging the fleeing squads to join them. Hastor picked himself up quickly, throwing scraps of refuse away from him as he rose to his feet. He quickly checked that Brandbaar was okay before moving to join the others, soon adding his own shouts of encouragement to those of his squad, desperately unhappy that he could do no more. Yet another fearsome blast grabbed his attention and he glanced up into the skies above the towering city walls. The remainder of the third wave had begun to turn back towards the Imperial lines, realising that they stood little chance of surviving the onslaught. No sooner had Hastor raised his eyes to the scene than the assault carrier of Integer was blown apart, the inescapable lightning whip of the nearest tower seeking out the rear of the fleeing craft. The stricken valkyries was engulfed by a chain reaction of booming explosions, the blasts eating the craft away from the back to the cockpit in an instant. Even as the obliterated craft dispersed the snaking energies of the pylon moved on to its next target. Hastor watched as the rear of the descending valkyrie opened and a steady stream of bodies poured out into the burning skies, leaping the last few feet to the ground. The unfortunate members of Squad Unicus had soon realised the extreme danger they were in and were in the middle of one last, desperate attempt at escape. Somehow they knew that the pylons main targets would be the vehicles of the assault and had decided that they stood a better chance of survival should they take to the skies utilising their grav-chutes. No more than three or four of the unfortunate men managed to leap clear of the carrier before it was torn apart, the resultant blast atomising not only those still inside but also a number of the soldiers still within the branching fireballs radius. Even those brave few who managed to survive the death of their carrier were destined to perish as the flashing, snapping finger of withering energy found them. Hastor whispered a silent prayer as he watched three or four bodies burst apart like bloated balloons, utterly decimated by the potent and unstoppable power of the pylons. The craft that had carried Squads Fastigium, Veritas and Ultio to the trap disappeared from sight, thankfully escaping the terrible devastation that the others had been subjected to. Of the original fifteen craft, theirs were the only three to escape the horrifying touch of the pylon grid. It was then that Hastor began to realise that there were no more airborne targets for the pylons to concentrate their murderous efforts upon. No He began, his voice first leaving his lips as a whisper. He began to repeat the word again and again, each time growing louder and louder. He broke free of the group and began to run towards the others, waving his arms frantically. Get clear! For the Emperors sake, get clear of the damned square! A pair of strong arms grabbed him and pulled him back. He heard Neskers voice form somewhere behind him requesting calm but he ignored it and continued to call out, his entire face vibrating with the effort.

He watched as the grounded carriers of both surviving squads were incinerated one after the other, their demise lasting no more than half a second between them. Move it or youre dead! Theres no time left! Please The lightning found Squad Firmamentum first. The metres-thick energy whip passed over the squad and ten hurtling bodies burst apart with a series of muffled, staccato thuds, leaving nothing save for a fine mist of cooked blood in its wake. Hoolias and the rest of Fortis barrelled past Hastor and into the alley where they fell into the arms of the others, totally and utterly exhausted. Hastor barely even acknowledged this, his eyes fixed firmly upon the sprinting members of Veritas as they desperately ran towards the safety of the alley. He ran his eyes along the hurtling bodies until he found the distressed face of his old friend and battle-brother, Deucius Bellanor. Bellanor, the man who had saved his life on Grazior Primus when he had stared death in the face at the hands of the eldar of Biel Tan. Bellanor, who had dragged him screaming from the wreck of their chimera when the necrons had ambushed them in the dead, airless crystal fields on Gammets moon. Bellanor, the man who had saved him from court martial and almost certain execution when he had stopped him from turning his hellgun upon one of his own squad following the death of his former sergeant and mentor, the late, great Mephius Jometh Rayner. Hastor watched in horror as Bellanor swelled to almost twice his original size before coming apart like a ripe jeptafruit, his entire body split right down to the atomic level by the immensely powerful and mysterious energies of the ancient mechanicus weapon. Within a fraction of a second Bellanor and his entire squad were dead and gone, turned to crimson mist by the merciless, deadly energies. In less than five minutes, over one hundred and ten of the invasion forces finest elite warriors were either routed or dead.

CHAPTER 16: SLAUGHTER


General Arkas E. Phylene watched in bewildered astonishment as the hazy blue fork of unnatural lightning cracked across the skies far above him and into the distant carrier, tearing it apart as if it were made of the flimsiest matchwood. The remnants of the fragmented craft broke apart and span away from the blast leaving burning trails of fire and smoke like falling stars in their wake. Good God-Emperor! Did anyone see that? He uttered, speaking into the microbead wrapped around his ear. His stubby fingers dug into the rim of the turret as he watched the descending progress of the flaming, creaking wreckage, its scattered trajectory sending it hurtling into the packed ground forces below the wall to disappear amid a sea of armour and flesh. Men began to shout and scream, scattering like startled vermin before the surprise bombardment, confused and startled by its sudden presence. The pylons He whispered, even as the microbead in his ear began to sing with the garbled voices of an army waking up to the realisation that they were in terrible danger. The damn pylons are active! Another withering crack resounded through the charged air and this time the energy whip snaked downwards and into the massed armour around the North Gate. An idling Armoured Fist chimera lifted wholly off the ground and exploded in a wash of searing fire, its fuel tanks touching off. The resultant ball of liquid flame incinerated the unfortunate craft and several squads of tightly packed infantry unfortunate enough to be in the way, a sight that chilled the squat, stocky general to his bones. Unsatisfied and undaunted it arced through the air and into its next target, a line of Phylenes basilisks. Armour squealed and buckled as the machines exploded, one by one, torn apart by the irresistible energies. Soldiers screamed in terror and fled before the onslaught, only to die horribly as the arcane lightning found them. Whole squads were turned to blood-mist in the blink of an eye, swallowed up by the blinding and deadly caress of the pylons. He hurriedly tapped the microbead twice and the distorted voice of the comms-operator crackled in his ear. Orders sir? Patch me through to all Godhammer units! He barked, his thunderous voice wavering. This is Godhammer One! Godhammer One calling all Godhammer units! The pylons are hot! Repeat, the damn pylons are hot! Prep for re-alignment ASAP! He watched as the crackling green towers began to pulse and vibrate with a renewed vigour, picking off more ground targets with each passing second and cutting a swathe through the gathered tanks and infantry around the gate with contemptuous ease. Buzzing forks of groping, crackling power darted amongst the heaving mass as if alive, destroying all they touched in the most violent and horrific manner possible. It took precious seconds for the general to realise that the forces here before the gate had precious little time left to act. Godhammer One to all Godhammer units, ignore the gate! I repeat, ignore the gate! Godhammers Two through Four, power up! Power up now! As soon as your live I want you to lock onto my targeting array and match it!

He tapped the tiny communications device once and the link transferred itself to the Defenders gunner crew, the muffled vibrations of the mighty tanks heart resounding over the inter-com channel. Gunner command. This is Hentrich, sir. Do we have a new target? Youre damn right we have a new target, boy! Take a closer look at the targeting arrays, grid bearing fivethree-five-naught point three-two-seven. What do you see? The inter-com hissed out nothing but static for a moment, and Phylene could feel his patience waning, not that he had ever had any. Just as he was about to scream down the link Hentrichs voice burst forth from the tiny earpiece and into his head, almost deafening him. Great Saint Solars swagger stick! Look at that! The defence grid is active! But Hentrich, you and your two cronies have around five seconds to bring the battle cannons to bear upon that thing before I come down there and rip your ugly heads off! Was that clear enough for you? His harsh command was answered almost immediately as the huge turret of the stormhammer began to squeal and turn, its main battle cannon whirring and rising. Phylene himself had to hold on for dear life as the huge gun repositioned itself, turning its barrel to the skies above the city walls. Even as the Defenders main armament moved to acquire its target the rest of the mighty tank began to turn on the spot, its huge, churning tracks cracking and breaking the solid ground underneath as the entire vehicle followed its turret faithfully, bringing the hull-mounted demolisher cannon to bear. Godhammers Two through Four follow my lead! Fire at will! Fire at will! Godhammers Five through Seven, match our trajectory! All other Macraleusian units, alter your trajectories immediately! Take aim at the western tower and bring it down! I want every earthshaker, mortar and siege cannon still runnin blasting chunks out of that damned pylon! We need to throw everything we have at these Emperor-damn things or were all dead! +++ Come about! Come about now! Aquilus barked, his thin, hawk-like features tight, his eyes wide and chary. Somethings wrong. The Swift Retribution slewed to a halt, almost breaking into a three hundred and sixty degree spin as its tracks churned the loose ashen sand. A few of the many battletanks following juddered and swerved as they thundered past, taken by surprise by the sudden halt of their commanding officers vehicle. Aquilus and his crew all but ignored the speeding corral of oncoming vehicles and within seconds the driver had corrected their course and the rumbling leman russ annihilator struggled back onto the solid surface of the road, its engines screaming with effort, its tracks crushing the corpses of the fallen enemy as it thundered on. What the hell is that? The Phyressian commander exclaimed, peering through the bouncing, rocking viewport in front of him in disbelief. To his complete amazement and utter shock the pylons were active, lighting up the sky around the looming walls with pale blue flashes of sterile light. Azure zigzags of incredible energy were plunging into the Imperial lines, throwing up huge fireballs and chunks of scorched hull wherever they passed over the unfortunates beneath. Helpless and exposed, the forces of the invasion were being slaughtered. No! Aquilus roared, rising from the cramped seat of his command position. We have to do something! We have to try and save them!

He snatched the handset from the startled comms-operator by his side and almost wrenched the device from its holdings as he brought it up to his mouth. Throne Prime to all Phyressian Armour! Break away from the tyranid lines and follow me! The survival of the entire invasion force rests upon our shoulders and so it is imperative that you obey my every command without question! For Phyruss! For the glory of the Emperor! +++ Fire! Fire! Fire at will, damn you all! Phylene thundered, throwing an arm in the direction of the nearest of the towering automatons. A deluge of withering, searing artillery the likes of which most of those present had never seen before roared through the charged air towards the nearest of the towers. A devastating amalgamation of energy pulses and titan-killer shells of such combined ferocity and destruction that even the most potent of void shields would have been powerless to stop it. The ancient pylon responded immediately to this new threat, its whickering energy lash smashing three of the mega-battle cannon shells to pieces mid-air. The whickering energies snaked through the charged air and through the whistling shells, pulverising them with little effort, though it response, however potent, was ultimately in vain. Not even the legendary and mysterious defence technoarcana of the adeptus mechanicus was unable to halt the combined firepower of seven of the galaxys most mighty war machines. The aim of the Giantslayer and the Death From Afar proved true, the immensely powerful volcano cannons of the shadowsword brace hammering their ultra-heavy laser blasts home. The blinding, searing beams tore through the pylons support struts, severing guide wires and tearing through three metre-thick Tyronian plasteel as if it were less than nothing. Seconds behind it the artillery of the Pride of Ryza, the single Macraleusian stormblade thudded home, the huge ball of energy burning like a hazy miniature sun as it slammed into the pylons mid-section, engulfing the tower in a flash of light and heat. The pylon began to squeal and buckle even as the speeder-sized ordinance shell of the Siege-Breakers Stormsword siege cannon slammed into the pylons crackling peak, utterly decimating the murderous construct in a wash of fire and shrapnel. Yes! Phylene roared, swinging his fists so hard he almost toppled from the turret. He watched as the devastated construct twisted and sagged, its particle generator gone. A multitude of small explosions began to erupt along the length of the toppling tower as it began to fall, huge chunks of the city wall on which it stood cracking and breaking free in its wake. All Godhammer units turn west! Alter trajectories and locate the next target! he hollered into the microbead, vigorously accentuating his orders by waving his arms in the direction of the next pylon. Coordinate your firepower and take it down! We have to clear a safe path through the gate! Get your damn arses in gear! Confused, witless bodies began to scatter and part as the Phyressian 2nd roared into the defence lines, a huge cloud of ash-dust rising behind them like a building sandstorm. At their head was the Swift Retribution, its twin lascannons raised and active as it pumped out shot after shot at the distant pylon, to little or no avail. Aqulius watched in dismay as the parallel white lances of energy were nullified time and again by the flailing particle forks, their incredible energy absorbed and refracted with unsettling ease. Ronta s--t! We cant get a shot past it! He cursed, shaking his head in despair. Makis, keep trying! Well burn the bloody generators out if we have to! If we dont drop that pylon were history!

As the Phyressians continued onwards towards their target the first of the shaken basilisks opened up, its huge earthshaker cannon recoiling back into its casing with such force that it shook the entire vehicle. Around it the others of its company followed suit and within minutes the air was filled with a crescendo of whistling shells and thunderous cracks as the multitude siege engines of the Bombardiers concentrated their fire upon a single section of the wall. And so the exchange continued, the Imperial forces locked in a desperate struggle for survival so intense and tight that every second counted.

CHAPTER 17: VORKOHNEN


Lord inquisitor Devan Vorkohnen held on to the shuddering handrail for dear life, his face contorted into a knot of concentrated labour. His closed eyelids pulsed with hazy energy, the orbs beneath glowing through the thin layer of skin. The cables that ran from his psychic hood to the hull-mounted amplifier before him shivered and writhed like angry serpents wreathed in glowing, crackling electricity. Despite his best mental efforts the psychic shield around the consecrated ordo malleus chimera Eternal Vigilance began to weaken, such was the power of the ethereal firestorm that assaulted it. By his side the lexmechanic Jessanus watched the endless reams of data pass by his eyes, his lips moving silently as he processed and re-calculated the mass of battlefield information. The energy whip should pass by in nine point seven seconds. The autosavant murmured matter-of-factly, the emerald glow of the cogitator screen reflecting off the small, rounded glasses hiding his eyes. By my calculations the energy arcs, though incredibly potent, should be sufficiently displaced by the psychic shield, though any calculations made regarding psychic phenomena are at best only base estimations. The energy displaced by the shield should theoretically reduce the power of the assault, thereby enervating the said energies to a level whereby penetrating the chimeras 80-150mm ceramite armour plating should prove an unlikely occurrence. This hypothesis aside, I deduce that direct contact with the said energies may possibly result in an instance or instances of violent vehicular displacement. Unsurprisingly, the lexmechanics incoherent ramblings were largely lost on those surrounding him. I willtry toto assist you, inquisitor. Unis uttered, attempting to stand. His thin face was wracked with pain and his entire body seemed to quiver uncontrollably. The troubled astropath felt a strong hand grip his shoulder, pushing him gently but firmly back down onto the seat. He glanced up through blind and pain-filled eyes to where the large, muscular warrior stood over him. Forget it, Unis. You know what the inquisitor said. You need to rest, conserve your energy. Well need all the help we can get in locating Karkattamorg. Unis wiped the sweat from his bald, glistening head as he sat back down, his thin, wiry frame shaking fiercely. The disturbance continues to grow, Fortan. The empyrean is in turmoil He whispered, his laboured voice barely audible over the rumbling squeal of the punished APC. Soon the inquisitor himself will begin to feel the oppressive presence. Even now the psychic resonance of the pylons is weakening. Something approaches this planet through the warp, something so dark and incredibly powerful that I feel my soul itself flickering, growing dimmer. I fear whatever it is that is causing it, my friend. If it continues to build at such a pace then I fear the warp will overrun this place and all will be lost. Be strong, Unis, and have faith. The Emperor will protect us. The old veteran reassured him, clutching the double-headed aquila symbol that hung around his neck. Soth the exorcist appeared by his side, his hands placed on a thick, ancient tome. He negotiated the rumbling deck and lowered himself so that his eyes were level with those of the trembling astropath. Fortan is correct. We must place our faith and our lives in His hands. He will watch over us as we do His work. Together we are strong, much stronger than any of the forces that seek to undo us here on Daedalus. We shall prevail. With that the old priest rose and quickly made his way over to the inquisitor.

He knelt before him and opened the book, placing one hand on the shaking man. Be strong, inquisitor. I am here. Vorkohnen was probably unaware of his old friends presence as he began to recite the litanies of psychic strength and mental fortitude, verses intended to bolster the inquisitors efforts. The entire chimera shook violently as something passed over it, rocking and vibrating with such force that lights popped and rivets rattled free along the hold. A host of silent, worried faces nervously glanced about the red-tinged gloom. Heads twitched nervously as buckles formed in the bulkhead. Knuckles whitened as hands tightened around seating boards and support bars. Imperial guard veteran Nando Fortan left the quaking astropath and strolled across the shaking deck, his eye twitching as yet another power relay overloaded in a shower of sparks beside him. He passed by the whispering Jessanus and came to rest at the side of another, a young, slender man in a black and red battledress. He wore a breastplate of smooth black carapace studded with chrome rivets, and his thin arms were hidden beneath the armoured sheaths of his cherished Menthusi suspensor gauntlets. At his side rested an idle chainsword of splendid artifice and a huge, man-sized shield, its battered surface scored and pitted with impact craters of all sizes and shapes. It was thanks to the suspensor gauntlets that the young man was able to wield the heavy shield and chainsword, the ingenious devices allowing him to lift and use the equipment with ease. Do you think that well survive this? He asked, sweeping a mop of messy blond hair away from his eyes. Ive faced the enemy on a dozen planets, Fortan. When I die I want it to be on the field of battle with my wounds to the fore, not trapped in the hold of this damn tub. There is no honour in dying this way. Fortan smiled and sat back against the quaking bulkhead, the many field components and accessories strapped to or contained within his bulky backpack rattling and ringing. Do not worry yourself, lad. The inquisitor is powerful, he will hold this boneshaker together. I suppose were lucky these damn mechanicus contraptions are powered by psychic energy otherwise wed all probably be dead already. Besides, he would never allow us to die while our quarry yet eludes us. Have faith. Youll live to see your glorious death yet. The two men stared at one another for a second or two before sharing a laugh. Fortan liked Benaith Razmuss considerably. Like him, Razmuss had been a member of the imperial guard before his chance meeting with Vorkohnen, though at his tender age his service had been far shorter. Razmuss was a Menthusi Shielder, a former member of the twelfth founding on Menthuse Astreides, a small planet found in the Strenatha system, a region of the Numis straits west of the Solar Segmentum. Menthuse Astreides housed one of the largest enforcer bases of the entire sector, and it was customary for natives of the planet to either join this prestigious organisation or sign up for service with the worlds guard regiment, the infamous Menthusi Shielders. The Shielders took their name from the huge refractor-generating power shield they wielded in battle, a variant of the riot shields carried by the enforcers. Fortan had seen Razmuss stop a lascannon blast with it before, though the effort had snapped his right arm like a twig despite the buffering effect of the suspensor gauntlets. Razmuss liked nothing more than to take the fight to the enemy, a honourable trait mirrored by Fortan. In truth, he saw a lot of himself in the young man and as such he always kept a watchful eye on him in battle. Both men looked up as a voice crackled over the inter-com, catching their attention despite the roaring

noise of the assault and the battle outside. Jourabel here. Im not sure how much longer we can sit here and take this, guys. The Eternal Vigilance is close to breaking apart around us. All systems are redlining and I dont know how much longer the psiamps gonna hold up. Its like a light show in here. A youthful female voice warned them, the communication soon distorting and cutting off abruptly as the chimeras inter-com system soon became the next part of the vehicle to melt down. Shes just panicking, kid. Dont worry about it. Fortan shrugged, tightening the straps of his fingerless leather gloves. Razmuss shrugged, sinking further into the shuddering seating grille beneath him. What about these three? He piped up, tapping Fortans wide, tanned shoulder with one delicate armoured hand. He gestured towards the cabin bulkhead at the figures located in the crimson shadows there. They dont seem to be all that bothered by our situation. Fortan glanced down the hold at the two silent, seated battle-servitors, their augmentation-lined faces emotionless and still. They simply sat at opposite sides of the deck ensconced by their restraint rigs, facing one another in eternal silence, totally unfazed by the thunderous assault around them. Inquisitorial servitor units Gorg-005X and Menzat-7X were total opposites of one another, by function as well as appearance. The huge plasma cannon fixed to the dark-skinned Gorg-005Xs shoulder socket lay idle, its thick barrel facing at the low ceiling. Gorg was a fire servitor, his primary systems attuned to targeting and locking on to the enemy and his augmented eyesight vastly altered to cope with the ever-changing melee of combat. Menzat-7X was an altogether different unit, specialising in mid-range to close assault. His pale, augmented body was host to a number of different weapons systems, the main being the flamer and the power claw he wielded with deadly effect. Behind these two half-living warriors something huge and dark could be seen, its massive chest rising and falling in its drug-induced slumber, the suppression field of its small prison fizzing and popping. The remaining emergency lighting glinted off its massive armoured extremities, its huge metal arms so vastly large and oversized that they gave the figure the appearance of a sleeping primate. Magog. Razmuss whispered, his voice accented with more than a little fear. I pray to the immortal Emperor that the power systems of the Vigilance holds out. Fortan flashed a smile his way, though behind his eyes the young Shielder could see a suppressed apprehension. Even Fortan was afraid of the huge, lumbering creation though, as always, the old guardsmans words told a different story. Ha! You dont have to fear him, lad. Even if the Vigilance fell apart around us that field would still hold. Besides, only the enemies of the Emperor need fear the wrath of Magog. He may not be the brightest among us but he knows the difference between the righteous and the sinner. When Vorkohnen sets him free on the field of battle youll see why we keep him around. I hope I get that chance. Razmuss whispered, watching nervously as the bulkhead above groaned once again. +++ Phylene watched in horror as the pylon guarding the right-hand side of the gate tore through his precious siege machines as if they were pebbles being kicked along a beach by the foot of a god, the energy whip annihilating them as it passed.

The basilisks in particular were built for long-range warfare and so they suffered the most, their light armour no match for the pylons destructive embrace. All along the siege lines the air was filled with clouds of thick black smoke and squealing metal as the helpless field artillery was thrown into the air or incinerated where it sat, their gunner crews screaming as they died in violent agony. His magnificent armour was dying before his eyes. Bring down that damn pylon! Bring it down! He roared, writhing atop the turret as if caught fast. The huge turret of his own tank was the first to respond to his command, spinning round to bring the potent battle cannon of the stormhammer to bear. Phylene cupped his hands over his ears and braced himself as the cannon prepared to fire, though he was still almost thrown off his feet by the violent lurch of the huge gun as it hammered the shell home. Amazingly the whistling, man-sized shell hit home, managing to bypass the snaking blue energy tendrils of the pylon as they continued to assault the weaker siege engines before them. Yes! Pick that damned shot off if you can! Phylene gleefully roared, watching as the shell exploded against the pulsing particle generator of the distant construct in a puff of fiery smoke. The multitude lashes sputtered and faltered, grievously affected by the withering blast. Feeling victory within his grasp Phylene jammed his hand against his ear and yelled with all his might. Godhammers Two through Four, concentrate all your fire on the target1 I want it brought down before it recovers! Five through Seven, bring the damned gate down! We have men here on the ground that need to get the hell out of this Emperor-forsaken death trap! I want this invasion underway now! Slowly, painfully, the tide of war began to turn.

CHAPTER 18: AFTERMATH


Sergeant? Are you alright sir? Moranith slapped the sergeants face gently three times and breathed a sigh of relief as the man slowly opened his single natural eye with a soft groan. His augmetic implant followed suit a moment later, the dark orb slowly flooding with a tiny pool of glowing red light as its internal micro-systems came on-line. Hmmmmwhatwh Sarge, its me, Moranith. Are you hurt? Can you move? II dont think Im hurt badly. Hastor croaked, his vision blurry but beginning to clear. What happened? How are the others? Dont worry about that for now. I need to get you checked out. Hastor nodded and began to pull himself up slowly, his entire body aching. As he rose shakily to his feet the medic quickly checked him out and was soon pleased to find no serious injuries. What happened? How long was I out? The sergeant murmured, slowly shaking the dull grogginess from his head. Hours sir, like most of us. We were all incapacitated by an immense energy wave, some kind of feedback. There was a huge explosion and the next thing we knew we were picking ourselves up off the ground. Weve all been unconscious for hours, sir. Luckily we all managed to survive the blast intact. Come on, wed better meet up with the others. Hastor negotiated the awkward opening and stumbled out into the main hall of the shattered building to be met by a host of dazed, bloodied faces. Hey sarge. Glad to see you made it. Nesker mumbled, cradling a burned arm. A number of smaller, less serious injuries were apparent about his person, though the grizzled veteran seemed otherwise unfazed. Moranith left the sergeant and moved to join the others in order to tend to their various wounds. The medic had set up a makeshift field hospital in the upturned hall in order to treat those injured. Regan was on his feet and assisting him in tending to the wounded, fortunate enough to have escaped any serious injury himself. Hastor limped over to the centre of the room to join his men. As he moved closer he was pleased to see the familiar faces of sergeant Hoolias and his men, all dirty and battered but otherwise unharmed. Tremlocke was with them too, and he and Hoolias were engaged in a lengthy and heated discussion. It was clear that from the look on his face, Hoolias was as pleased to see Titus as Hastor had been. Sergeant! Its good to see you made it. Hastor exclaimed, ignoring the commissar as he greeted his old companion. Hoolias tuned and his face broke out in a smile of relief. He left Tremlocke and moved to greet Hastor, one arm outstretched in greeting. Moneth! Well met, old friend. He smiled, clasping the sergeants arm tightly in a warriors handshake. Squad Fortis survived this thing by the skin of our teeth. As did Validus, my friend. Any news of the others? Hooliass smile faded as he heard this, the joy of seeing Hastor alive and well draining from his weathered face. He looked deep into the sergeants eyes as if hesitant, almost afraid to tell him of the fate of the other squads. He shook his head slowly, confirming Hastors worst fears. I am afraid that we were the only ones to make it over the walls alive. Youyou saw for yourself what

happened to the others, to Bellanor Hastors face tightened and he looked away, closing his eyes. Bellanor didnt deserve to die like that. None of them deserved the fate that had befallen them. The pylon grid that Vorkohnen and Bombola had assured them would be inactive had come to life and consumed them in an horrific maelstrom of death and fire, damn them both. He made himself a promise there and then to bring the Emperors justice to whoever was responsible for the callous and evil act. Tremlocke joined the two men, clearly angered by the fact that he had been ignored. As he stomped into view he glanced at each of them in turn, his cold eyes burning with contempt. This is no time to renew old acquaintances, gentlemen. No matter our present circumstances, we still have a mission to perform. This city is not yet lost. Hastor opened his eyes and turned as he heard Tremlockes voice, a sneer of revulsion creeping across his face. Commissar, look around you. You saw what happened to the others out there. What the hell are we supposed to do now? What are we, two storm trooper squads against the combined forces of chaos and the tyranids? What good can we do here now? We are alive, Hastor! Tremlocke answered, shaking his fist. The Emperor has blessed us with this much at least! He clearly has us marked for great things here on Daedalus, and I for one will not give up while I still breathe! I will not allow any of us to falter until we are dead!. Hastor opened his mouth in order to rebuke the commissars haughty statement but found himself unable to do so. Tremlocke was right, however much he hated the man. To admit defeat now would be to fail in the eyes of the Immortal One, a crime he would not allow himself to commit. Alright, commissar, what would you have us do? It was Hoolias who answered the question, much to the disdain of Tremlocke. As implausible as it sounds, its is not all bad news, Moneth. Come, let me show you. Hastor covered his eyes as he stepped out onto the devastated streets, the strange, unnatural light of the open air hurting his eyes. Hoolias jogged out into the square ahead of him and stopped, turning back towards Hastor, his arm outstretched. Drafe! The pylons! Hastor screamed, instantly disregarding the pain in his eyes. Even as he shouted the warning he found himself stumbling backwards, the danger the ominous constructs presented burned into his subconscious mind. No, Moneth, look! There is no more danger here! Look above you! Hoolias replied, gesturing upwards towards the top of the building towering above them. Hastor hesitated for a moment, his subconscious still unable to overcome the fearful presence of the destructive, towering defence weapons. Finally, slowly, he began to realise that it was safe to join his comrade, a fact substantiated by Hoolias surprising well-being. He stepped out onto the street slowly and cautiously, turning to see what it was that Hastor gestured towards. As he turned and looked above him he let out a quiet gasp, his eyes falling upon the reason behind the buildings partial collapse. There, sat atop the ruined magistratum was a huge and twisted chunk of green wreckage, its many smouldering giant girders splayed and gnarled like the roots of some huge, ancient tree. The magistratum itself was almost cleft in two by the massive object, and only the first two floors had survived the assault intact.

Great saints of Holy Terra. Hastor breathed, looking up at the sight in awe. We were underneath that thing! We are indeed blessed to have survived that. Look at it, Moneth. Look what it is. Hoolias urged him, wanting him to look closer. See what it is? They did it. They managed to bring down a pylon. Hastor stepped back in surprise as he realised that Hoolias was telling the truth. He ran his eyes across the giant object and came across the peak, the shattered particle generator that crowned it cold and dead. Phylene. It had to be Phylene. Only he would have had the power to topple one of those things. Hastor deduced, shaking his head in wonderment. That old dog! Look, to the west. He managed to fell two of them at least. Hoolias continued, pointing in the direction of the position of the fallen construct. He cleared a way through for the others. Come on, let me show you the rest. +++ Hastor looked about him in stunned silence at the devastation and carnage that the pylons had wreaked in his absence. As he and Hoolias approached the gaping mouth of the gateway ahead of the others they passed the rows of silent sentry guns, only half of them still active despite their vast numbers. The bodies of servitors lined the ground around them, broken and charred by unseen alien weaponry. See? At least some of the others managed to make it into the city. I suppose that they left these guns here as a deterrent, to stop the swarm from following. Hoolias guessed, laying a hand on one of the silent automations. Emperor only knows how many of us made it through the gates unscathed, but it cant have been many. Great Macharius, Moneth, they deployed directly underneath the damn grid! The losses must have been phenomenal. Hastor remained silent, his eyes scouring the vast number of sentry guns that lined the wide gateway. Most were idle, their systems cold and dead, their ammunition reserves drained. A good few of them were no more than smouldering shells, punctured and in some cases torn apart by the alien bio-weaponry of the swarm. The swarm He whispered, suddenly realising the absence of the vast xenos army. Hoolias shrugged his shoulders and sighed, as much in the dark as to the whereabouts of the surviving tyranids as his companion. We havent seen as much as a Ripper out here since we left the magistratum. Who knows what happened to the swarm in the wake of the grids reactivation. Its probably a blessing that the Bombardiers only managed to destroy the two pylons that flanked the gateway. At least this means that the swarm would have to pass through here if they wished to follow. Maybe theyve fallen back in order to regroup. At this stage we cant be sure. Hastor suddenly turned, becoming aware of a loud yet distant noise somewhere on the breeze. Can you hear that? Munitions fire, somewhere out there in the depths of the city. He exclaimed, his comrades changing expression confirming the fact that he wasnt hearing things. Phylene must have survived the attack, possibly even Aquilus too. Neither general would have abandoned his post unless the task at hand was complete, no matter what the enemy threw at them. Theyre somewhere inside the city. Youre right about that, sir. He turned to see Morten, one of Hooliass men striding towards him. Weve found evidence that a quantity of armour survived here. It seems that they made their way into the city. Your man, Brandbaar has gone on ahead through the gate to see if he can find any other survivors.

Hastor nodded and turned to where the soldier pointed Huge gouges were driven into the road surface along the centre of the main highway, deep parallel ruts that could have only been created by the sheer, crushing weight of the tracks of a three hundred and nineteen ton super-heavy tank. Several furrows ran the length of the road in a varying criss-cross pattern, hinting that at least three or more of Phylenes Baneblade variants had survived the massacre unscathed. This meant that there was still a chance that the invasion could yet succeed. So, there were survivors then. Hastor observed, his voice a mixture of hope and sadness. There were indeed, brother. Follow me. +++ Two hours later, Hastor found himself before a small army of survivors, a rag-tag bunch of men blackened and scarred by the vicious pylon attack. They stood or sat before the gateway in a line, and the sight of them brought a great sadness to the sergeants heart. Among the assembled members of both the surviving storm trooper squads were a small number of Guardsmen from the various regiments taking part in the invasion. Kentu, Cadian and Elysian stood alongside tank drivers and gunners, their uniforms tattered and torn, their faces blackened with soot and grime. Many of them were swathed in bandages, treated as best they could by Moranith, the only medic to survive the slaughter. Unlike Hastors specialists, Hoolias and his men formed only a standard storm trooper squad. Carrying nothing more than hellguns and a single meltagun, Fortis had no medic among its numbers. With Hoolias and Hastor by his side, Tremlocke addressed the gathered men. Survivors of the pylon assault, it is good to see your faces before me. It pains my heart to know that the men and women of your regiments are gone, slaughtered by this callous act. We are all that remains of the Imperial invasion now, a handful of the faithful left to face the wrath of the two powerful enemy forces with designs on this city. These past two hours we have learned much of our fate here on Daedalus. Our forces are decimated. Our mighty machines laid low by the treacherous defences of this city. We are trapped within the walls of Phrennec Mantris, caught between the unknown depths of this chaos-cursed city and the foul swarm beyond. They are out there on the ash plains, waiting for any opportunity to enter the city and destroy us. They may be routed but they will return. It is only a matter of time before they regroup and storm the defences left by Phylene and Aquilus, and when that time comes the failing sentry guns and other automated defences will stand little chance of impeding them. He paused for a moment, looking out across the line of battered men, knowing in his heart that they would be no match for the multitude creatures of the swarm. The powerful Imperial armour that had held the swarm at bay was gone, either destroyed or somewhere deep within the city, taking the fight to the enemy. The weapons the survivors wielded were weak and all but spent of ammunition, hardly a threat to the larger creatures of the tyranid army. By the time the aliens realised that the city was open and the way was clear for them to advance they would begin their assault anew. It would be a massacre. Tremlocke left the two sergeants and marched up to the head of the small crowd, fastening his greatcoat tight as he advanced. He peered out at the gathered men before him, a steady stream of hot breath leaking from between his lips and out into the cool night air. Brave men of the Imperial Guard, hear me. We may be bruised and bloodied, but we are alive. While ever the servants of the Emperor still tread the ground of Daedalus, His will may yet be done. We still have a war to win. We still have a chance to see victory here on Daedalus. We few survivors here

are no match for the remaining swarm. To attempt to defend this gateway would be ultimately futile. Bravery is no substitute for ammunition and weaponry. A murmur of contention rose up through the small army of survivors as they heard this. Though it was clear that most realised the burgeoning futility of their situation, these were brave warriors of the Guard, men and women whose duty it was never to give in to defeat. There is a threat somewhere at the heart of this city, the very reason for us being here. Tremlocke continued, pacing down the line, his hands behind his back. It would be better to enter the depths of this city and try to do some good, try to salvage this campaign while we are still able to do so. I propose that squads Validus and Fortis continue this mission, to seek out and identify this unknown threat. If we give up now we might as well surrender to the enemy. None of us here know the true extent of the losses we have incurred here today. None of us truly know who amongst the Guard has survived this terrible massacre and entered Phrennec Mantris. The chances are that the astartes have met with the same fate at the South Gate. We have to assume the worst. We are all that stands between defeat and victory here on this planet. Validus and Fortis will continue, but we will need a head start. Everyone else stays here. You will defend the gate to the last man. Hastor frowned and glanced at the small army of strays that had survived the massacre. A host of silent, bloodied faces stared back. He and Hoolias began to move towards the commissar, their faces set in stone. Not a chance, commissar! Not a damned chance in hell! Hastor barked, thrusting an angry finger in Tremlockes direction. Were not leaving these people here to die! This is non-debatable, Hastor. We simply cannot allow these men to tag along while we undertake this important mission. They are to remain here and wait for reinforcements. My word is final. Hastor glanced back towards the huddle of bodies and was surprised to be met with a number of slow, understanding nods. Despite this, he wasnt convinced. Now wait a moment Are you deaf, Hastor? What did I just say? Fortis and Validus are the only two squads here that are capable of pulling this off. Make no mistake, sergeant, there are things transpiring here in Phrennec Mantris that even you are unaware of. I myself know little of the true threat we were sent here to prevent, yet I know enough to assure you that we will need only the best, the strongest of mind and body to end it once and for all. These men will only serve to slow us down, sergeant. We cannot allow that. Hastor opened his mouth to protest when suddenly he found his intended objections cut short. Go, sergeant. The survival of the Imperium is all that matters. One of the soldiers before him uttered, pushing his way through the group. The three men turned to see who had spoke and froze, their eyes falling upon the familiar figure. Colonel Vorpax pushed clear of the crowd, dragging a bloodied leg behind him. His face was contorted with pained effort as he approached them though he never once faltered in his progress. Colonel Tremlocke gasped, taken aback by the mans presence. Sir, I wasnt aware that you had survived the slaughter. If Id known Vorpax held up a hand to silence the shocked commissar, a gesture that proved immediately effective. The commissar is right, Hastor. He began, his voice weakened and unsteady. He had clearly suffered greatly in the events of the pylon grids reactivation.

No matter how cold or callous his suggestions may seem, he is right. There are things happening here on Daedalus that dwarf the tragedy of even this horrific situation. The World Eaters, the tyranids, they are all involved in what could prove to be the greatest disaster the Imperium has ever faced since the days of Horus, perhaps even more so. What are the lives of a few survivors if it means ending this threat before it has truly begun? We can hold the tyranids back, sergeant. We can allow you time to seek out this threat. Aye, we are all His servants. We will fight to the last and, if need be, die with honour and integrity. A Kentu survivor added, placing one hand across his chest to form a Kentu salute. If your actions save the lives of our children and our grandchildren, then I give mine without hesitation. The other scattered survivors murmured in agreement, nodding their soot-blackened heads. Though, like Hastor, none of them had even the slightest idea what was transpiring within the depths of the city, each and every man and woman present trusted the word of the colonel implicitly, and as such were prepared to lay down their lives for the cause. Hesitating for one moment more, Hastor nodded his head in respect to the brave soldiers, his eyes passing by each of those before him briefly in turn. You are all brave men and women, a credit to the Imperium, one and all. All we need is a head start, a chance to search out the source of the disturbance before the tyranids return and breach these defences. With your help we will win here this day, I have no doubt in my mind. May the Emperor watch over you and receive your souls in death. I salute you all. Vorpax nodded back at the sergeant, reciprocating the gesture. With that he hobbled forward, the corners of his mouth upturned in pain. Sergeant, we have little time. Meet with Hoolias and discuss the coming mission. I must talk to the commissar alone. Of course, sir. I will discuss it with Hoolias immediately. Hastor assured him hesitantly, puzzled by the colonels sudden need for secrecy. After all, Vorpax had no reason to mistrust him. +++ I am at the mouth of the gateway now. Commencing reconnaissance of the area. Brandbaar advanced through the smoke, his body hunched, his weapon ready. He quickly picked his way over the scattered debris as he jogged across the devastated zone, keeping his back to the city walls at all times. Upon reaching the smouldering shell of an upturned Chimera he stopped and crouched down, quickly checking his auspex. The readings came back nonsensical and garbled, the many scattered fires that still burned throughout the zone continued to blaze brightly, and this proved to be too much for the sensitive equipment. The gateway is clear. No sign of enemy hostiles. He whispered, peering out across the immense devastation beyond. I just need another moment to be sure. He reached for his auspex again and though a quick sweep of the surrounding area revealed nothing except a multitude of smouldering wreckage and charred remains, the machines readings confirming his observations. The area is clear. I repeat, the area is clear. I am now moving beyond the gateway. He slid around the dead vehicle and out into the open, again keeping low to the ground. As he passed the great opening he found himself having to negotiate huge chunks of ceramite and adamantium of increasing

size and width, remnants of the huge North Gate. He picked his way over the massive man-made rocks, sliding between the many twisted plasteel girders jutting from the fragments as if negotiating a forest, all the while scouring his surroundings for any signs of life. He bypassed a number of hastily-scattered mines and climbed to the top of a particularly huge chunk of gate where he stopped, finding himself looking over a clearing at the centre of the pile. Here the gate fragments had been blasted aside, pummelled into tiny pieces by weapons of terrible power. Mighty tracks, wider than the tallest man had been driven deep into the dusty soil. They passed through the centre of the clearing and deep into the city, as far as he was able to see. I have reached the main highway. It looks as if General Phylene survived the attack. The roadway has been cleared and there are war machine tracks leading into the city. I estimate that around six or seven vehicles have passed through here. Sensor readings estimate that the tracks are around eight hours old. I am also reading a number of variable weapons signatures and vapour trails that do not match any known super-heavy tank standard pattern. It is possible that a number of Leman Russ passed through here. We may still have Aquilus and his Phyressian 2nd with us. I will secure the area and wait for you. Brandbaar out. The scout slid a little way down the artificial boulder and into a small crevice in order to set up a lookout post. There he settled into the small space, leaving himself enough elevation to see across the clearing and out into the dimly lit city beyond. No sooner had he placed himself in the tiny space than the micorbead in his ear came to life, a steady stream of static followed quickly by the familiar voice of his teammate, Corpo. Corpo here. My apologies for the poor channel. We have confirmed the presence of both Phylene and Aquilus. The tracks of their war machines run right into the heart of the city, as far as we are able to tell. Ive just received new orders from the sergeant, Brandbaar. You need to pull back. The presence of the swarm is no longer our concern, nor is the search for survivors. We are heading out into the city, old friend. Get back here as soon as you can, Corpo out. Brandbaar confirmed the order quickly and without question, though he found himself a little bemused. He pushed himself up from his crouched position and climbed of the hollow, eyeing the mass of twisted green girders that lay to his left warily. Though the pylon was dead and cold he could not shake the feelings of terror and revulsion he had felt upon seeing the storm trooper advance destroyed as if nothing, though he quickly purged the images from his mind as best he could. At least the fact that Phylene and Aquilus had survived the massacre lifted his spirit greatly. Together they would unleash the Emperors retribution upon the heretics that had taken hold of the once-proud city. That was when he first noticed it. At first he couldnt put his finger on it. Ever since he had awoken in the belly of the shattered building he hadnt felt right. The sensation had been subtle at first, a dull, gnawing pain somewhere in the back of his mind. It had continued to worsen ever since, and now he had begun to feel slightly nauseous. Then he had noticed the break in the dark, rolling clouds above him. To his complete astonishment and horror the skies above him boiled and churned as if alive. Fingers of multi-hued iridescence whipped and stretched across his vision, a myriad of swirling colours both recognisable and utterly unfamiliar. It was as if a sea of nauseating colour rolled across the sky above him, and as he stared at the phenomenon he found he had to turn away as his stomach began to roil and his eyes hurt, such was the potency of the strange sight. He gasped quietly as forks of electric blue lightning flashed earthwards, illuminating the thick rumbling clouds with each burst and he was sure he had seen leering demonic faces slide across the spectral phenomenon.

There could be only one possible explanation for the horrific sight before him and even thinking this caused him to quake right down to his very soul. Chaos, it had to be. The stomach-churning and utterly unmistakeable stuff of the warp itself continued to build above Daedalus and, try as he might, he could not shake the feeling of impending doom from his heart. Brandbaar closed his eyes tight and prayed, fearing for his soul. There could be only two possible explanations for what he was seeing, either the warp itself threatened to consume the planet or he was going mad. He prayed to the Emperor with all his might that it was the latter of the two.

CHAPTER 19: INTO THE CITY


The line of bodies silently moved away from the ruins of the huge gateway and out into the city. Hastor paused and turned, his eyes falling on the distant North Gate. The defenders could still be made out from this distance, though by now they were little more than multicoloured pinpricks on the horizon. Fortis are about to move out of our range of sight, sir. Corpo announced, snatching the sergeants attention. Sergeant Hoolias sends his regards. He wishes all of us success in our mission. Tell him to watch his back, Corpo. Tell him well meet again when all this is over. Hastor answered, glancing out across the huge square to where the distant squad stood. In fact, tell him well vox him as soon as we locate the objective. Tell him I hope that he wont be too far behind us. Corpo smiled and tipped his head. The final transmissions were exchanged and Validus moved out, heading deeper into the city. As they began to cross the desolate Grand Square they continually checked their surroundings for any signs of life, though nothing could be seen except for ruin and disorder. The surrounding buildings were forlorn and shattered, reduced to little more than smouldering shells by the terrible bombardment of the Macraleusian Basilisks. Look at that. Phylene didnt want to leave anything to chance, did he? Regan whispered, eyeing the sagging buildings warily. The good old Imperial Basilisk, a Guardsmans best friend. They can dish it out but they cant take it. Fordar answered, warily eyeing the strange skies. You saw what was left of them back there. It looks like not one of them survived the pylon assault. They didnt stand a chance; they werent built to withstand that kind of close up punishment. They should be sat behind at least a mile of Imperial territory to be fully effective. It is a great loss. The squad continued on their way past the once-magnificent buildings of the Grand Square and deeper into the dead city. They barely acknowledged the piles of scattered dead as they pressed on, intent on seeing their mission through to the end. Bodies in civilian attire littered the surrounding streets. Some were tied to vehicles or nailed to doors, others simply left to rot where they had fallen, surrounded by the dark stain of their own blood. All had been slaughtered by the ruthless traitor marines of Lord Karkattamorg, their heads taken as trophies in honour of his patron god. Sick b------s. Look at this. Nesker snarled, glancing in utter disgust at the festering corpses as they passed by. These people were innocent. Emperors mercy, they even murdered the children. What I wouldnt give to be able to do the same to them. Retribution will come in time, trooper. Concentrate on the task at hand. Nesker glanced behind him into the cold stare of Tremlocke and turned away, not wanting to let his mouth land him in trouble. He was used to dealing with political officers, encountering many during his long service with the Imperial Guard. He had seen men executed for answering back, and he would not fall victim to his own impetuousness. Sergeant? I think you should see this. Hastor glanced over to his left to see Zith and Regan standing over the power armoured bodies of a trio of eviscerated World Eaters. Zith in particular seemed concerned with the grisly find and Hastor knew that this was not a good sign.

Traitor marines. Tremlocke sneered, spitting on the floor in disgust. So, we meet the chaos-loving filth at last. As the others reached the scene Zith got down on one knee and, after a tremendous struggle managed to roll one of the armoured soldiers over onto his front, helped by Regan. The two men recoiled as they finished, their faces twisted in disgust. At first I thought that this scum had fallen foul of the Basilisk barrage, but I was wrong. They have been dead for at least two days. They were killed by a Lictor, sir. Look here. He pointed to a small entry wound at the back of the dead marines helmet. The ceramite had been punched through cleanly and a hole had been driven deep into the back of the dead warriors head. Hastor joined Zith on his knees, in order to inspect the wound more closely. Interesting. Intelligence was sure that the tyranids had been unable to successfully gain access to the city, but this proves otherwise. It makes sense that a Lictor was able to bypass the citys defences. In all likelihood the swarm saturated Phrennec Mantris with as many of these creatures as they were able to produce. Well spotted, men. Now we know that we have to maintain extra vigilance here. Hastor rose to his feet and was about to give the order to continue when he found himself interrupted by the tyranid expert. Its not that, sir. Zith continued. This find gives us a better idea of how the swarm is working here on Daedalus. All three of these traitors died the same way, and the wound is highly characteristic of a Lictor attack. A Spooks feeder tentacles are able to literally lobotomise its victim. By consuming the brain it is able to directly absorb not only the victims genetic data but also its immediate memories. I believe that they were sent to look for whatever it is the World Eaters are involved with. They are also hunting for the psychic presence. Hastor froze as he heard this. He began to glance about the squad as if searching their surroundings for any sign of the enemy, his face fraught with concern. This isnt good. We have to find shelter until we can come up with a plan of action. Everyone activate his auspex and follow me. We have to get off the streets. +++ Any idea where we go from here? Moranith asked, snapping the barrel of his hellgun back into place. The noise reverberated across the walls of the darkened room of the small, abandoned trading store they had chose to shelter in. Hastor placed the map down upon the dusty table with a sigh, leaning back against the bare wall of the small room. This city is a maze. Colonel Vorpax was able to tell us little concerning the mission but at least was able to give us clues as to the whereabouts of the mysterious presence. From what he was able to tell us it sounds as if the psychic emanations are originating from the very heart of the city, far below the streets. According to this map there is a large subterranean tunnel system of unknown origin, possible something to do with the once-prominent mechanicus presence here on Daedalus. The tunnels are very old, and by the looks of things havent been accurately charted for years. This map shows the nearest entrance to be a quarter of a kilometre from here, located in the basement of the

PDF North Precinct. I sent Brandbaar ahead to check it out, make sure the way ahead is clear. PDF? The buildings probably levelled by now. The planetary defence and arbites sector houses will have been the first places the World Eaters hit. Autis calculated, no stranger to the cruel, violent ways of the blood-worshipping traitor marines. The World Eaters arent defenders by nature, but they would have sought to suppress those who represented the worst threat to them first. Brandbaar should be cautious. Hastor nodded his head in agreement. We will soon know how we stand. He should be back soon. I ordered radio silence this close to a sector house. City-Def units are weak. They are usually the first to surrender themselves to the Ruinous Powers when a world is invaded. They may have even been part of the uprising here on Daedalus. In any case, we cant risk whoever may be occupying the building picking up any transmissions. Well just have to wait and see. Tremlocke peered out of the shattered window at the other end of the room, craning his neck so as to see past Tessoks crouched form. The Imperial marksman looked up as he became aware of the commissars presence, his concentration broken. Remain vigilant, soldier. As you were. He turned his attention back towards the centre of the room to where the others were huddled around a small table, bare except for a dim, flickering illuminator. A steady stream of hot breath drifted from between his lips and out into the cold air as he spoke. What of Fortis? Do you honestly think it wise that Hoolias and his men have taken a different path. He asked haughtily, uncomfortable with being uninvolved with any aspect of the mission at hand. Hastor sighed and turned to face him, displeased with the interruption. Commissar, this mission has a better chance of success if the two teams split up and take to the tunnels separately. We have no idea of what we face within this city. We are more or less alone out here, with no help from any of the other factions of the invasion force. Any survivors that managed to make it even this far into the city are silent, we have heard from no one, not even Phylene or Aquilus. Tremlocke scowled and gestured around him at the silent, empty buildings. Surely you are overreacting, sergeant. We havent seen a soul alive since we began to make our way into the city. Im sure a few scattered Lictors would prove no problem for the combined forces of two storm trooper squads. Who knows, maybe the World Eaters perished when the pylons were reactivated. Yes, and for all we know the loyalist astartes may have been destroyed along with them. We cannot be sure, commissar. We have no way of knowing who or what stalks the streets of this dead city. At least this way we double our chances of locating a viable entrance into the catacombs. Not only that, we have a good communications link with Fortis and as such will be able to coordinate our efforts efficiently. Whoever finds the target first will be able to inform the others and then sit and wait for assistance. We are storm troopers, sergeant. Its what we do. Tremlocke paused for a moment, almost as if he agreed with Hastor and yet was unable to admit his mistake. He paced up and down for a short while, deep in thought. This precinct. Sergeant, are you sure this is a good idea? We have to gain access to the tunnels as efficiently and stealthily as we can. We cannot allow the enemy to learn of our presence here. Is there no other point of access nearby? Hastor shook his head solemnly, consulting the map before him. According to this map the majority of entranceways are within the boundaries of the pylon grid. There is

no possible way that we could reach these access points safely. The nearest alternative to the precinct is over four kilometres away. We cant risk moving deeper into the city. Not only do we have the World Eaters to contend with, we now also have tyranid vanguard organisms hunting through the city streets. This mission has taken a turn for the worst. Tremlocke seemed taken aback as he heard this. How so, sergeant? The swarm used us, commissar. The tyranids played us for fools. Ever since they entered this system, they did so with a single purpose; to find whatever it is we are looking for. They tried and they tried but they could not breach the citys defences. Without the support of their biotitans they did not have the strength or the resources to break the walls and so were unable to storm the city en masse. They needed a way in and we provided it for them. Ridiculous! The tyranids are little more than Mindless creatures, commissar? Yes, I thought so too. We all did, and that is why we are possibly the last ones left alive out here. We were always aware of the swarms martial strength but we underestimated its intelligence, and look at the price we have paid. They sat back and waited for Phylene to destroy the gates and then watched as we were obliterated for our efforts. It is only a matter of time before they realise that the way is clear. Phylene and Aquilus may have survived the onslaught but even they are no match for the combined enemy forces. We are effectively on our own. As Hastors explanation began to slowly sink in the commissars expression changed. The colour slowly drained from his face and he stood in silence, the weight of the situation beginning to bear down upon him. Merciful Emperor! If you are right You know I am, commissar. That is why we must gain access to the tunnels as soon as we can. Time is running out. Tremlocke seemed to explode at once, his entire body lurching into action. Panic overtook him and he started towards Corpo, his hands outstretched, overturning chairs and tables as he rushed towards the communications officer. Radio silence be damned! We have to contact the fleet, let them know what is happening down here! If they have to initiate orbital bombardment of the entire planet then so be it! We must prevent the enemy from finding the presence! Hastor leapt to his feet and met the commissar half way across the room, his powerful hands acting as buffers against the mans shoulders. Its too late, Tremlocke! We cannot raise the fleet! The last attempt at trans-atmospheric transmission failed. Phylene called for orbital assistance after the pylon massacre and was unable to reach the fleet. Corpo found the failed transmission logged in the memory of his comm-link. It was the first thing we tried, remember? Whatever is happening above our heads is preventing any communications between the fleet and the planets surface. It looks like a warp storm, Tremlocke, and its growing. For all we know the fleet may have left or even been swallowed by whatever it is out there. We cant think about that now, we have to proceed as planned. Tremlocke seemed to grow lucid as he heard this. He relaxed, took a step back and began to rub his face, his eyes wide and distant. Y-yesyes, of course. We cant allow ourselves to become distracted by what is going on around us. We have to stick to the original plan. No matter how complicated the mission becomes we must press on. We all live but to serve the Imperium. No sooner had the commissars words left his lips than a dark shape appeared in the doorway of the room, blocking out the light from the corridor beyond. The others turned immediately, their weapons ready.

Brandbaar stepped into the room, his bolt pistol held above his head. Brandbaar. At ease, men. Hastor commanded. The others did as ordered, lowering their weapons. The scout nodded and lowered the weapon before stepping into the dark room. He found an old armchair and flopped down, clearly exhausted. The precinct is occupied, sarge. It looks like theyve turned. The entire building looks like a damn chaos temple. The others sighed and cursed, their worst fears confirmed. Bloody PDF. Those scum can never be trusted. Nesker snarled, his leathered features twisting into a scowl. Ive seen it on a dozen worlds. They did it to us on Nammeth five years ago, wiped out the rest of my squad. As soon as they get even the slightest whiff of chaos they drop to their knees and surrender their weapons. I say we storm in there and wipe the filthy turncoats out. The scout shook his head slowly. Its not as easy as that. The precinct is currently under siege. A large brood of Hormagaunts has the building surrounded. The traitors are holed up inside. The members of Validus glanced at one another as they heard this. Of course. Nesker growled, rolling his eyes. Id hate for this mission to get any easier.

CHAPTER 20: THE ASSAULT Tyranids, here in the city? How the hell has a brood of Hormagaunts managed to bypass the defences already? Regan asked, growing uneasy. They could have slipped in behind Phylene or Aquilus, who knows? Zith answered, rising from his seat across the room. We cant worry about that for now although, by the sounds of things, we at least have one advantage. If the swarm was aware of the significance of the tunnels then they would send a lot worse than Hormagaunts against the traitors. It sounds as if the tyranids are still unaware of the location of the presence and merely seek to destroy the cultists. We may yet have a chance. I agree. Hastor nodded, snatching up his field equipment. The conflict between the two forces may even work to our advantage. If we can slip by the brood and gain access to the precinct then we should have no trouble dispatching those inside. Its getting light out there so we have to move now if we are to do this. For the Emperor! For the Emperor! the others responded as one, grabbing their belongings. Within moments Squad Validus was through the door and gone. +++ Hastor peered around the corner of the building and out across the wide street, his gaze falling upon the commotion beyond. A shifting, chittering hoard of alien creatures swarmed around the main entrance of the corrupt precinct, screeching and hissing as they fought to find a way in.. Alien bodies burst apart and fell as they were punctured by the defensive lasfire of the corrupt PDF soldiers. The ground floor doors and windows had been hastily barricaded. The entire complement of first and second-floor windows flashed and pulsed, giving away the positions of the traitorous defenders. Hastor listened closely, straining to filter through the cacophony. There it was. Rumbling across the maelstrom of sharp, whining lasfire the bark of a heavy stubbier could be heard. Theyve turned alright. Hastor informed the others, sliding back into the shadows to join the rest of the waiting group. The outside walls are daubed with blood and filthy heretical symbols. They seem well dug-in but poorly armed. Standard-issue Guard lasguns and at least one heavy weapon. They shouldnt pose too much of a threat. A standard siege-breaker attack formation should do it. You all know your places. The others nodded in agreement and began to disperse, each man taking up his position in the surrounding terrain. Tessok disappeared through the nearest doorway, intent on finding a suitable vantage point. The others began to fan out and disappear, blending into the shadows surrounding them. Okay commissar, youre with me. Remember how to do this? Tremlocke paused for a moment and then nodded his head, a familiar twinkle in his eye. Of course. It may have been a long time, Moneth, but a soldier never forgets. He whispered, sliding his power sword free of its hilt. He flicked the small rune set into the base of its blade and the weapon shimmered, a wreath of blue energy enveloping it. Ready whenever you are. Tessok placed the barrel of the exitus rifle gently down upon the jagged window frame, careful not to

scratch or mark the precious weapon. He watched the swarming creatures below for a moment before settling into position. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, rotating his neck before resting his eye against the weapons powerful sight. He was ready. The lens of the sight began to immediately adjust itself accordingly, focusing upon the building a short distance away. He shifted the guns position slowly and with a practised, fluid motion until the sight came across the first of the occupied windows. A gnarled, blood-flecked face loomed into view, its shadowy skin and piercing, maddened eyes illuminated by the weapons advanced targeting system. The crazed soldier barked and snapped as he poured round after round of indiscriminate fire into the massing tyranids, caught up in a blood-frenzy so intense he hardly seemed to care whether or not he actually hit anything. His mind was clearly gone, as was his soul. No matter what he once was, Tessok thought to himself, he was now the enemy. He was no longer human, no different from the baying creatures that leapt and snarled below him. Tessok pressed the trigger of the gun gently and the man fell back as if hit by a rampaging Dreadnought, a bright trail of crimson moistening the air in his wake. The chinking clang of his falling lasgun resonated through the desolate man-made canyons about them as it bounced off the windowsill and into the horde below, disappearing amidst a sea of alien bodies. Without a second thought the sniper shifted his sights and came upon the next window along, spying his next target within seconds of his first kill. The chaos-worshipping soldier was hanging almost halfway out of the broken window, a blazing laspistol in each clenched hand. A trail of thick saliva sprayed from his lips as he chanted and sang, his face contorted in a grimace of sadistic glee. An exitus round cut his rant short and he fell forward out into the writhing brood, his forehead atomised by the shot. The storm trooper marksman shifted his aim again and quickly came across the next occupied window. The brute almost filled the scope, such was the size of his bare muscular frame. Khornate symbols were splashed across his torso, symbols written in the blood of his fellow Daedalusians. Two thick belts bristling with frag grenades were slung across his girth and he plucked them free as if plucking fruit from a tree, joyously casting them into the broods midst. Tessok smiled as he saw this and aimed the weapon at the middle of his heaving chest, the crosshairs sliding into the centre of the largest of the vile symbols. He fired off a single round and the brute staggered back in shock, a burst of bright blood spraying from his chest. Before the man had even realised he was dead the marksman twitched his hand and the sight fell across the frag grenade still clutched in the fist of the enemy. He fired again and the grenade exploded, engulfing not only the flailing cultist but also the entire room in a ball of liquid flame, the explosion so intense that it shook the remaining glass from the adjoining windows. Tessok was on a roll now. He had settled into the task at hand and without realising it everything else around him faded to black. The explosion had obviously caught the attentions of the other corrupt soldiers despite their frenzied state and they were beginning to falter in their defence. They began to investigate the disturbance, some merely glancing about them while others hauled themselves up and away from the windows to investigate. Tessok noticed this and began to train his sights upon those who were intent on finding out what had happened. He cut men down one after another as they rose from the windows and turned their backs to him. The

cultists fell in twos and threes as they met to discuss what was happening to them. By the time they had realised that their comrades had been shot they too were falling to the floor, never again to rise. Coolly and methodically, Gredion Tessok decimated the traitorous soldiers to a man. Hastor crept up to the corner of the building and watched as the ravenous Hormagaunts began to attack the bodies of those who had fallen from the precincts windows, blissfully unaware of the presence of squad Validus. He waited for a moment in order to confirm that they were indeed unexpected before turning and giving the signal, a series of swift hand movements. A tide of shouting, hurtling bodies charged from their hiding places, unleashing a hail of blistering fire as they advanced. Nesker leapt clear of the wall behind which he had been hiding and fired off a salvo of screeching frag grenades into the brood, incinerating a large proportion of the creatures in seconds. Regan appeared as if from nowhere, vaulting the burnt-out shell of a small personnel carrier with the skill of a trained athlete. He landed on the pavement before him and tumbled forward, rolling across the cracked flags with incredible momentum. In a heartbeat he was up on his feet and still running, the flamer in his hands alive with burning death. The promethium flames washed over the brood and the startled aliens scattered and ran, squealing in pain as their armoured bodies burned. Hastor hurtled across the square, blasting a burning Hormagaunt headed his way off its feet with his plasma pistol. Tremlocke followed closely behind, his own bolt pistol barking maliciously. Autis and Fordar joined the others from a side alley, followed closely by Zith, Moranith, Brandbaar and Corpo. Autis plasma gun bucked as he raked the tyranid lines and Fordars meltagun cooked the air between the two forces, the unstoppable heat beam it cast forth melting and fusing the unfortunate aliens together. The others squad members followed, filling the air with hot zipping lasfire that singled out any Hormagaunt foolish enough to try and break free of the brood. Close in! Close In! If any of these things manage to make a break for it theyll tear us to pieces! Regan, Autis, Fordar, hammer the brood with everything youve got! Nesker, switch to your hellgun, were getting too close for grenades! Everyone else, cover us! Hastor hollered, leaping into the midst of the brood. The sergeant landed among the scattering creatures and swung his power sword from left to right, hacking off limbs and heads with each sweep. His blade spat and fizzled as it sliced through the aliens without effort, pulsing and glowing as the energy field bypassed their natural armour with ease. He turned sharply and swept his pistol before him in a wide arc, sending a glowing hail of plasma through the chittering monsters. Tremlocke chanted and shouted as he joined the sergeant, hacking and slashing with his own power sword like a man possessed. Strike the alien filth down, men! Cleanse this planet of the presence of the Emperors enemies! None shall stand before us and live! He thundered, striding through the enemy lines as if invincible. Suddenly a flash of green and bone leapt through the air and at the unsuspecting commissar, a blur of snapping teeth and flashing talons. The Hormagaunt screeched as it flew through the storm of Imperial fire, intent on taking Tremlocke down for good. The creature was no more than a metre away when it suddenly veered off to the left in mid-air, its head burst open like a balloon. The dead alien skidded to a halt on the road beside Tremlocke and he turned, looking down upon its already cooling carcass. He glanced up at the building behind him and flashed a nod of gratitude at the still-hidden Tessok before once more turning to begin the slaughter anew.

The lone Hormagaunt drove its clawed feet into the ground and leapt up onto the wall, a multitude of laser fire raking and bouncing off the rockcrete behind it. The alien hurtled onwards; bouncing down the alleyway from wall to wall as it desperately tried to escape. It managed to travel a few metres more before its ribcage burst and it fell crashing to the ground and into a pile of discarded refuse, its bid for freedom cut short. Thats the last of them, sir. Zith announced coldly, lowering his gun. Hastor nodded and gestured for the others to join him, deactivating the sword in his hand. Good job men. The Emperor will surely be pleased with your work this day. Tremlocke sheathed his deactivated blade and joined the gathering storm troopers, a look of satisfaction on his scarred face. I agree with your sergeant. An exemplary effort all round. Hastor, your men are a credit to you. I can certainly see why you were chosen to undertake a mission of such importance. He glanced about him until he came across the squads sniper, jogging across the square to join them, his deadly rifle slung over his shoulder. Tessok, I am grateful to you. He nodded, genuinely grateful. Even if I had noticed the creature in time, it is doubtful that I could have acted fast enough. Your quick actions saved my life. Not every man would have done the same. You are a fine servant of the Imperium. Tessok slowed to a halt as he heard this, clearly taken aback. He seemed puzzled by the commissars gratitude. Sir? Im sorry but I dont understand. Come now, lad. It was a magnificent shot, make no mistake. The alien was almost upon me when you fired. You saved my life. Tessok took a step forward and shook his head, glancing at the others gathered around him in confusion. No sir, I didnt. I saw the Gaunt fall at your feet, but by that time it was already dead. I didnt kill it, commissar. It wasnt me. Tremlocke opened his mouth to speak but his voice faltered. He looked at the others around him, their faces blank and confused. But who..?

CHAPTER 21: HUNTER


Hastor moved like a blur as he sprung into action. He drove his heels into the uneven ground and launched himself towards the precinct, blasting the barricade that blocked the front doors aside with the powerful pistol he carried. Move it people! Get in here now! The others followed instinctively, their bodies reacting faster than their minds. One by one the squad threw themselves through the smoking doorway and into the building, activating their pack lamps as they entered. Nesker, take Regan and make sure this area is clear! Autis, Fordar, cover the doorway! Hastor hollered, skidding to a halt inside the gloomy entrance hall. The others followed his commands without question, spreading out in order to find shelter away from the sights of the mysterious sniper. There was an unknown element somewhere out there, hidden on one of the buildings surrounding the square. Hastorthrew himself against the wall and remained still for a moment, glancing around him at the sickening desecration surrounding him. Arcane symbols of chaos had been daubed across the walls of the wide chamber. Twisted Khornate sigils and marks adorned the entrance hall, symbols that made his stomach twist and churn at the mere sight of them. Flayed human hides flapped in the breeze, pinned to broken window frames or nailed to the blood-soaked walls. Broken furniture lay scattered about them. Every single Imperial mural or poster had been horribly defaced. He shut the sickening surroundings out of his mind and vowed to himself that when this was over he would burn this place to the ground. Brandbaar, Tessok, over here. He whispered, waving the crouched figures over to him. Brandbaar and Tessok joined him as ordered, crawling across the filthy floor on their hands and knees. The sniper must be located in one of the surrounding buildings. Any ideas? Tessok lifted his head slightly and peered through the smoking doorway to where the bodies of the dead Gaunts lay scattered across the flagged precinct entrance.Chitinous parts littered the scene, making it difficult to pick out any one dead alien. Frustrated, Tessok shook his head. Sorry sarge, I cant tell from here. Youre right about the location, though. Hes most likely grounded in one of three buildings, here, here and here. Hastor followed Tessoks outstretched finger as he assessed the overlooking ruins, and pointed out the three largest structures. Okay. Make your way up the stairs and find a good vantage point. I want you to keep an eye out for this man. Shoot to kill, Tessok, this mission is too important to take prisoners. Tessok nodded and began to crawl out into the darkness of the hall, heading out towards the main staircase. Soon he was gone from sight, only the crunching of broken glass giving away his departure. The others watched him leave in silence, finally turning their attention back towards the doorway as he disappeared from sight.

Brandbaar, youll be his backup. Find a back entrance to this place and then contact Tessok. As soon as he spots our man youll move in and take him out. Understand? The scout nodded sharply and was gone, sinking into the darkness of the hall within moments. Sir, maybe we should forget about this presence and try to locate the tunnel entrance. We have the precinct pretty secure now. Zith whispered, hidden somewhere in the pungent gloom. Your man may be right. This is only wasting valuable time, sergeant. Tremlocke added, shuffling across the floor. Maybe, commissar. Then again, we cant afford to leave anything to chance. Whoever it is thats out there may betray our position to the enemy. As far as we are aware, no one else yet knows of the strategic importance of the access tunnels. If they were to call in reinforcements and then discover the tunnels for themselves then the mission would be greatly jeopardized. We cant afford to leave any loose ends. The commissar thought for a moment and then nodded his head in agreement, just as Hastors helmet comm-link began to crackle and sputter. He held one hand up to his head for a moment and listened. Its Regan and Nesker. Theyve confirmed it. The precinct is clear. He uttered, removing his hand. Now we wait. +++ Brandbaar listened as Tessoks voice hissed in his ear, trying as best he could to concentrate on the broken words of his comrade. The multi-hued disturbance overhead continued to play havoc with communications and after what seemed an age, he finally had enough information to begin the search. Tessok had spied something. His mark was on the second floor of the adjoining building, as far as he could ascertain. He cautiously made his way out of the dark alley and into the street, his sidearm at the ready. The side entrance of the opposite building lay a short distance away, and it was in here that Tessok had spied movement. He held his breath and ran across the puddle-filled alley as fast as his legs could carry him, his wet footfalls echoing down the lonely rock-crete canyon as he went. He soon reached the doorway and he flung himself through, shattering the cracked, blistered wood with his elbows. The door submitted easily, shattering into a hundred pieces as if struck by a power maul. Brandbaar barrelled inside the building and threw himself against the side of a nearby stairwell, snapping his bolt pistol out before him. It was clear. The scout slid up the stairs silently, moving like a creeping shadow in the gloomy depths of the abandoned deversorium, a hunter searching for his prey. Each footfall slow and practised, every inch of his advance covered. Nothing would take him by surprise. +++ Out in the alleyway, something stirred. A collection of grime-laden refuse silos creaked and shifted and six pairs of red eyes emerged, blinking as they peered out at the open doorway. Hunched, alien bodies crept out into the dim lights of the alley, the stark illumination sliding like fluid over chitin and bone as the creatures bounded forward, gurgling softly. Prey. +++ Brandbaar reached the top of the stairs and was about to step onto the landing when he spied something

and froze on the spot. A small, thin tripwire stretched out across the landing, inches from his foot. At one end a collection of rusted tins and items of metal cutlery were suspended, rocking gently in the slight breeze that wafted through the smashed windows above. He cursed himself silently and took a step back, watching as the wire trembled slightly under the movement of the decrepit stairs. There was no doubt about it. The sniper was up here somewhere. He sat himself down gently upon the second step and removed his auspex. Although his helmets inbuilt proximity alarm remained silent, he knew that the mysterious assassin was nearby, hidden in one of the rooms beyond. He couldnt be too far away, Brandbaar reasoned, for he had to be within range of the makeshift warning system in order to hear it. With this in mind he activated the device and began to scan the surrounding area. There. As he ran it across the wall behind him the screen of the device began to pulse rhythmically, giving away the position of the hidden sniper. He was directly behind him, behind the thick wall and across the other side of the room, most likely crouched beneath the window. Brandbaar placed the auspex gently on the ground and rose to his feet, his pistol at the ready. He reached down and unclipped the huge combat knife from his belt. The metal sang softly as the knife slipped free of its scabbard. He took a deep breath and offered a prayer of safety to the Emperor. This wouldnt take long. Suddenly the auspex at his feet began to flash and pulse, the small collection of lights that ran across its screen grabbing his attention. He glanced down to where the device lay, his eyes widening. Intruders, newcomers, somewhere below him. He clasped the knife between his teeth and picked the auspex up, running his eyes anxiously across the screen. The scanner indicated six hostiles, directly below him. His mind raced as he tried as best he could to decide what to do next. The newcomers had to be hostiles, of that he was sure. Numbering six, there was no way that it could possibly be members of his team down there. He glanced back towards the top of the landing, then over the banister of the stairs at his side. He could make out a number of shapes down below, skulking through the murky gloom. Whoever they were they hunted for something. For him. Damn it. He whispered, pressing himself back against the wall. He had thought the sniper alone, and now he was surrounded. It was a trap. It had to be a trap. A short guttural growl echoed up the staircase and across the cold landing, a sound so utterly alien it chilled him to the bone. He had thought that the intruders were chaos scum, most likely the rest of the snipers cultist brethren. Now he knew different, for the sound was unmistakeable. Somewhere down below, tyranids hunted for him. He realised he had little choice but to move on. He replaced the auspex and took the knife from his mouth, readying himself. Gingerly, he lifted his foot and stepped over the tripwire, inching himself forward as fast as he dare. As his foot came to rest upon the wooden landing the boards beneath it creaked, the sound echoing through the hall beyond, seeming almost deafening in the silence. He cursed again, sure that the sniper had heard the noise. He had no choice now, he would have to face the

man. Better that than going toe to toe with the six tyranid creatures below him. He stepped out onto the landing and headed towards the nearest door, the entrance to the room that contained his quarry. Pressing himself against the crumbling wall he lifted the knife and with his other hand removed a small piece of smooth silver foil from his leg pocket. He wrapped the foil around the black blade of his longknife and, as slowly as he dared given the urgency of the situation, carefully slid it across the doorframe and out into the room. Down below he could hear the sounds of the hunting aliens, their low snarls and gurgling growls echoing through the abandoned inn. Somewhere underneath him something heavy clattered and crashed to the floor as it was upturned, the noise rebounding off the walls that lined the staircase and sweeping down the corridor beyond him. He glanced at the blade in his hand, searching the mirrored reflection for any signs of movement or life in the room. There were none. He withdrew the knife and brought the pistol up to his face, ready to rush the doorway. There was no turning back now; the sniper could not have failed to hear such a commotion. He braced himself for action, inwardly cursing the untimely arrival of the tyranid hunters. With the proverbial rock waiting for him inside the room and the hard place searching the lower levels for him, he knew he was damned either way. The best he could hope for was to be able to dispatch the sniper quickly and cleanly, allowing him to prepare for the arrival of the alien search party. If he was to die here today then he would make damn sure that the enemy would feel the full force of the Emperors wrath, even if it ultimately cost him his life. Brandbaar dropped low, bunching his body into a tight ball. He thrust the combat knife into his mouth, clamping his teeth around the keen blade. With his hand now empty he proceeded to reach for his helmets chinstrap and slid the clasp free with a soft click. His fingers closed around the back of the helmet and he removed it, his movements hastened by the urgency of the situation. He stared at the object in his hands for a moment and then, holding his breath, hurled it into the centre of the room. A powerful, echoing crack reverberated through the sparse chamber beyond and the hurtling helmet span away to the right in a shower of sparks, exactly the occurrence he had been expecting. Even as the Centauro-pattern piece of Storm Trooper field equipment bounced across the bare floorboards Brandbaar grabbed at his belt and produced a small, cylindrical grenade, flicking the pin free with his thumb. He raised the photon flash-flare up above his head and prepared to cast it through the doorway, the snipers position confirmed. Suddenly something large and fast leapt up over the banister behind him and onto the landing, snarling maliciously. He felt the intruders hot breath on the nape of his neck for a fleeting second, his brain still in the process of recognising the threat. He exhaled sharply, his mind virtually exploding with sudden, horrifying shock. Even as his reeling brain struggled to deal with the sudden trauma his body instinctively took over. His muscles exploded into life and he threw himself around, turning to meet the threat head on. He thrust the grenade clasped tightly in his hand up and into the gaping maw of the intruder, not even realising that he had done so until he saw his own gauntlet fist disappear. The Stealer stared back, his burning eyes pitiless and malevolent. Emperors mercy

CHAPTER 22: NOWHERE TO RUN


Other dark shapes began to ascend the staircase, launching themselves up the stairs on thick, sinuous limbs. He caught a momentary, fleeting glimpse of the brood as they threatened to surround him, an enfilade of snapping jaws and singing, blade-like talons. Before he knew it he pulled his arm free, turned and launched himself through the doorway, no longer caring whether or not the assassin was waiting, his gun at the ready. As he felt himself leave the ground he snatched the blade from between his teeth, closed his eyes and awaited the brief sting of pain that would undoubtedly precede his death. It was this almost involuntary action that undoubtedly saved his life. The photon flash-flare exploded, vaporising the lunging monsters head as it did so. The resultant wave of white light spread like a wash of flame, bathing the corridor, the staircase and the room in a blinding flash of luminescence. The creatures behind him roared in anger as their cortical nerves were momentarily fried, the sudden release of light blinding them. Brandbaar was unaware of this as he landed hard on his shoulder and threw himself into a practised roll, finding himself up on his feet even before his brain registered the move. He opened his eyes, blinking twice. Though the brief flash had subsided his vision was still patchy and blurred, the photonic blast so powerful it had permeated his eyelids. He stared out across the left-hand side of the room, frantically searching for any sign of danger. As his impaired vision passed over the scene another shot rang out, the screaming bullet grazing his shoulder pad and igniting the small ammo-belt full of bolt shells it held. He dropped to his knees and brought the pistol up to his face, struggling to make out any distinct shapes amongst the fog that clouded his retinas. Another needle round zipped by over his head, atomising the ornate light fixture above him. He cursed and homed in on the weapons muzzle-flash, focusing on a small heap of rags piled up in an open walk-in closet in the corner of the room. He sprang sideways and half-blindly fired off a salvo of silenced bolt rounds, watching as the shells slammed into the mound and the surrounding walls. A small, almost high-pitched squeal of terror rose up in answer. Though unharmed, his target had been spooked by his response. He rose from his crouched position and hurled himself across the room, barely aware of the fearsome holler that rose up from his own throat. He remembered the knife still clutched in his hand and he raised it, ready to dispatch the startled assassin. Adrenalin coursed through his system now and as he reached the pile of rags he brought the knife up above his head, ready to deal death to the stricken enemy once and for all. Before he had even the chance to strike the room behind him exploded. The walls either side of the doorway gave way under a flurry of shrieking man-sized bodies as the blinded aliens smashed their way into the room, obliterating the plaster and wood partition as they thundered blindly forward. He turned in time to see one of the rampaging creatures throw itself across the room and headlong through the gaping window, not realising that its angered charge would end in its death. The alien plummeted to its doom onto the streets far below, flailing and screaming amid a cloud of dry plaster and rubble. The others skidded to a halt, stumbling and falling, covered in plaster dust and confused by their blindness. Genestealers. Brandbaar breathed, his stricken eyes widening as he looked upon the flailing, screeching monstrosities before him. His heart began to race all the more as the identity of the tyranid beasts soaked into his brain. Unlike the other hideous monstrosities of the swarm, he had encountered these creatures before.

As a Guardsman with the Fedaleen 19th he had fought these terrible monsters on a number of worlds, planets that had succumbed to the insidious touch of the Genestealer taint long before the rest of the hive fleet had reached them. He had been part of a garrison force on his home planet Fedal Cantor when the Inquisition had arrived with word of a suspected Genestealer cult uprising. It had taken a year and a half for the Inquisition and the Fedaleen military to purge the taint of the Genestealer from their home soil. The Genestealers were the vanguard of the enemy, sent out to corrupt the populace ahead of the main fleet in order to facilitate a much smoother reception of the approaching invasion force. He had witnessed first-hand the ferocity and malevolence of these alien organisms, by far one of the most blood-thirsty and deadly opponents he had ever had the misfortune to come across. His momentary lapse of concentration waned and he fired off a salvo of muffled shots at the flailing creatures. One of the blinded Genestealers screeched and fell under the hail of bolt fire, its head burst open. The other remaining three began to sniff the air around them, their keen animal senses taking over. Slowly but surely they began to advance, raking the air before them with their cruel claws. Brandbaar noticed this and realised that the creatures were seconds away from locating his scent. He began to panic, thinking back to the horrific battles he had waged with these creatures, battles that had seen many of his old comrades fall. He knew that if the beasts managed to get close enough, he would stand no chance. He leapt to the side just as one of the Stealers caught his scent. His swift displacement saw the beast bound headlong into a decrepit armarium, the construction collapsing in on it as it smashed head first into the wall behind it. He landed heavily against the wall, his armoured shoulder burying into the crumbling plaster. Momentarily stunned he watched as a dark shape sprang forth across the room towards him, its alien arms outstretched and ready to tear him apart. A shot rang out and the creatures leap halted mid-air as it was thrown into the wall before him, its thick cranium punctured. Its comrade followed swiftly, snarling and slavering as it thundered towards the downed scout, its keen senses locating the prey. It launched itself through the dusty air towards Brandbaar, roaring and snapping, its cruel, slavering jaws stopping inches from his face. Eviscerating, snapping fangs filled his vision, kept at bay only by the fact that his knee had been thrust up into the aliens armoured belly at the last possible moment. He found himself shouting in desperation, frantically trying his best to lift the pistol in his hand up towards the attacking creature. The Stealer slashed at his face and body with its sweeping talons, scoring deep grooves across his carapace armour as if it were made of the flimsiest paper. He slashed back, raking the serrated knife across armoured chitin. It was not enough. Its vile alien tongue flicked in and out, as if the beast was desperate to pierce his soft flesh with the sharp, snaking extremity. Its strength was inhuman. He could feel his shaking arms beginning to give way and yet he dared not give up, knowing that even the tiniest lapse in effort would see the tyranid hunter end his life. He pointed the weapon up towards the alien and fired two, three times, watching as the bright pulses ripped through its armoured torso, the resultant wounds seemingly ignored. Hot ichor began to pour from the gaping holes, spraying his chest and face with the monsters foul-smelling lifeblood.

He fired again, this time managing to sever one of the Genestealers grappling limbs. Hard, brittle chitin shattered and an almost-human hand bounced across the bare boards beneath them, spraying more alien matter as it went. The Genestealer roared and staggered back, allowing Brandbaar the chance to pull himself up onto his feet, just in time to see the other survivor of its brood pull itself free of the wrecked armarium, tattered clothing garments hanging from its bulbous head and twisted arms. The beast roared and shook its head, dislodging the faded cloth scraps that encumbered it. Brandbaar lifted his pistol and sighted the alien. The Stealer roared and reared up, screaming its anger to the sky. He levelled the weapon and fired, shattering two of its four arm-like limbs. Movement to the left of him saw his aim shift again and he turned, firing his final remaining bolt round into the other Stealers head, dropping it once and for all. One left, he thought to himself. One left and no more ammo. The pistol clicked emptily in his hand, its ammunition drained. He cast the useless weapon aside and brought his longknife up, his dark features tightening. Come on then, you filthy alien son of a bitch! Do it! Do it! He held his breath as the alien emitted a blood-curdling scream and leapt at him, knocking him to the ground. He felt its hot breath on his face as it loomed over him, its sharp tongue darting in and out. It stabbed him in the shoulder and he felt a pang of pain shoot through his body like an electrical surge, igniting his every muscle. He screamed and thrust his combat knife up and into the aliens neck, driving it in with such force that it only stopped when his fist thumped against the Stealers windpipe. The monster emitted a gurgling roar of pain and stepped back, clawing at its neck with bleeding stumps. Another step and the back of its head exploded outwards, ending the furious conflict once and for all. Brandbaar watched as the alien slumped lifelessly to the floor, throwing up a cloud of dust as the final breath left its body. Tears of pain clouded his eyes and he struggled to his feet, the strength gone from his legs. Emperors mercy. He whispered, steadying himself against the wall of the room. Bright lights began to snap across his vision like fireworks and he felt his stomach begin to churn and boil. He felt his legs give way underneath him, felt himself falling backwards. A rushing sound filled his ears, slow and deep, almost as if his head was beginning to fill with water. The ceiling above seemed to drift slowly away from him, further and further until it seemed like the smallest speck, the slightest dot on the horizon far, far away. By the time he realised that he had hit the floor, everything began to fade. Unable to speak or even move, he knew what was coming next. Blackness. Chapter 12.

HUNTER
Light. Light so bright it stung his eyes. As it began to pour into his vision he began aware of shapes about him, spectres drifting on the edge of his vision, flickering in and out of reality like soft, pulsing strobes. Several muffled voices began to drift amongst one another as if through water, interlaced spirits

whispering to him on the breeze. It almost sounded as if they were arguing, fighting as they decided his fate. He opened his mouth and tried to speak, though there was no sound. He recognised one of the voices, though it sounded distant, detached, almost as if it called to him from somewhere far away, from another reality. One of his comrades seemed to be desperately trying to revive him. The other voice was much deeper, darker even. Like distant thunder rolling across his mind. It seemed to speak in a tongue he didnt understand, words that made no sense, and yet To me. Brandbaar? Come on man, snap out of it. Cleathe, speak to me. Brandbaars vision began to clear and the familiar face of Moranith formed before his eyes, blurred at first but sharpening as each second passed. Sir, I think hes coming round. Hastors face joined the scene, hanging over him like some huge leering Titan ready to stamp him into the ground. Welcome back trooper. You had us worried for a moment there. Are you able to stand? Brandbaar nodded and sat up, his head still spinning. Yes. Yes, I t-think so. Im alright. Helped by Hastor and Moranith the scout slowly pulled himself up to be greeted with a host of grinning faces and a barrage of well-meaning slaps. Hey Brand, you killer you. Nesker laughed, holding up the severed arm of one of the alien beasts. Brandbaar, the Stealer killer! You did good, Fedaleen. I think the Emperor likes you. The others stepped aside to allow the dazed man some room, revealing the scattered remains of the dead alien brood. Brandbaar looked about him in quiet disbelief, the events of the conflict flooding back into his mind. II thought I was a goner. What happened? I knew something was up when you blinded me. Tessok appeared, an forgiving smile on his face. I was watching the window through the scope in case the sniper re-emerged when I caught the arse-end of a P.F flare. By the time the others came to see what all the hollering was about they could see and hear the small arms fire flashing across the room. Well, that and the fact that a Stealer threw itself out of a second storey window right in front of us. Autis added, shaking his head. Brandbaar steadied himself against the sergeant, his eyes widening. The sniper..? The rest of the squad looked at one another, almost as if they were unsure of what to say. Brandbaar glanced at each of them in turn, waiting for an answer to his question. Excuse me sir. I believe this is yours? He felt a sharp tug on his trouser leg and looked down to see a small, almost child-like figure standing beside him, no higher than his waist. The small humanoid creature was dressed in the scaled-down uniform of an Imperial soldier and wore a peaked cap on his bushy head. Shaggy sideburns flanked his chubby, genial face, his eyes warm and not in the least malicious. Brandbaar noticed with some disconcertment that the small man-creatures disproportionately large feet were bare and covered with a mat of thick, wiry hair, as was his hands.

The figure held up Brandbaars helmet, struggling to reach high enough to place the object in his hands. I say sir, I said I believe this helmet to be yours, yes? Here you go. Bemused, the scout nodded and took the helmet from him, barely acknowledging the exchange. The small mans accent was thick and unfamiliar, not unlike that of an agri-world citizen. I can only apologise, sir, taking a pot shot at you like that. Its me reflexes, see, sharp as a carving knife they are. Keen as a cleaver. Im mighty relieved that your head wasnt in it when I shot it, I am. Wouldve broke me heart to have killed one of me own, it would. No hard feelings, eh sir? The little man doffed his cap at Brandbaar and walked back through the crowd, returning within moments with his weapon, a rather archaic-looking needle rifle. We made a good team, you and me, eh? Taking those Stealers out like that. Fast buggers, those Stealers. Right nasty pieces of work, they are. Im right glad we teamed up when we did, sir. Deeks the name. Quent Deek, Ratling marksman, finest of all the Windrus Rifles, Emperor rest em. Watched with some bemusement by the others, the curious Ratling sat himself down on the broken remains of the smashed armarium, his hands crossed over the muzzle of his rifle as if he rested on some form of walking stick. He sighed, his ruddy face sagging a little. Just telling your commissar how I came to be here. Terrible business, this pylon ambush. I still cant believe the lads are all gone. Tewk, Bruzzle, old Squinty Fethis, so sad, so sad Tremlocke appeared, unsurprisingly frustrated. He marched through the crowd and up to the little abhuman, lowering himself onto his haunches in order to bring himself level with the sad-faced Ratling. You saved me from death, Ratling, and as such I agree to grant you the benefit of the doubt. Should it be discovered that you deserted the front line No sir! Not on your life, I say! The pint-sized man seemed justifiably angered by Tremlockes words, his reaction causing even the stonefaced commissar to falter. Im no deserter, sir, its just not in me blood! I love the Emperor with all me heart. When the Greenies attacked me home planet it was the Emperors men what drove em out. Ive got me wife and me young uns back on old Tutelwinth Secundus to thank Him for. Thats why I joined up, see? Thats why we all did. I would never desert sir; I would never leave men behind. Youll not find me wanting, oh no. Deeks sighed again and leaned on the rifle, pressing his rounded jaw into the tops of his furry hands. They could have left when the going got tough, but they didnt, see? They stayed and they sent the Greenies packing, drove em from Tutelwinth with a boot up their green backsides and I see it as me duty to do the same. I always pays me debts, sir! Hastor joined Tremlocke, dropping to his knees beside the angry-faced commissar. He held up his hands in a gesture of peace, not wishing to see either mans temper flare any further. I believe you, Quent. We believe you. He flashed Tremlocke a cold glare before turning his attention back towards the flustered Ratling. Listen, youre the first person weve met who actually made it inside the city. What happened to you, Deek?

The small man exhaled deeply and shook his head, a slow, sorrowful gesture that seemed to accent the look of sadness once more creeping across his face. It was hell. It was like the Warp opened its mouth and swallowed us up. The Rifles were lined up across a small barricade of knackered transports, all settled in and giving it a right old go. Squinty Fethis, the old dog, hed got the best vantage point. He was picking em off left, right and centre, he was. Bonno was to me left, Grupps to me right. We was all shouting and hollering, all proper, mind. Oaths to the Immortal Emperor, bless him. Together we were unstoppable, the mighty Windrus Rifles, hammering into the bloody Nids like we was unbeatable, invincible. Thats when it came. Like the wrath of the Emperor it was, raining down on top of us. Falling all around us, knocking tanks left and right. I swear on His holy throne that Ive never seen anything like it, nor had any of the lads. It was a sight to behold, and a terrifying one at that. Course, the alarms start to go off and the order to retreat comes. Bodies were falling back thick and fast, all scrambling for a safe place to hide, to sit it out. It seemed like no matter where you turned, there was no room. Can you believe that? I mean, look at me, its not like I stand shoulder-high to a bleeding space marine, is it? A stifled chuckle rose up from somewhere amongst the men, quickly silenced by a stern glare from the sergeant. Anyway, we manages to find this old Trojan with a bit of room in it, just left there when the attack began. Was it a Trojan or an Atlas? I always get them two muddled up. Well, we finds this old workhorse and climbs inside, only not all of us can fit in. Me, Bonno and Bruzzle volunteers to be the ones to leave and find somewhere else. It had one of them Cyclopses fastened to the back of it, you know, one of them automatic bomb-tank thingies. It had thrown a tread or something. Tremlocke let out a long, frustrated sigh, clearly growing tired of the Ratlings meandering story. Hastor tried his best to ignore this and urged the small humanoid on. We know what happened out there, Deek. We need to know what happened after the explosion. The small man nodded slowly, shifting his weight slightly on the uncomfortable wreckage. Of course, sir I do apologise. We were running out of time. Me and the other two started to panic, looked around for whatever cover we could find. Thats when we spies em, the big uns. The Bombardier war-horses. Hold onto your hats boys, I says to em. Ive found us a bolthole! We only just managed to make it under one of those things when the big blast went off. We got curled up behind the tracks, me and Bonno and Bruzzle, fingers in our ears, eyes squeezed tight shut. Thats when the world exploded. Rattled us to our bones, it did. Shook the tank like it was made of kindling, it did. It held out though. Them super-heavies are made of strong stuff. He gave off a small, humourless laugh, his sad expression unchanging. The Macraleusians and a handful of the Phyressian lot, thats all what survived out there. Anything with less armour than a Russ went up in a ball of flame, got thrown up like a rag doll or was crushed by another tank. That old Trojan might have even survived them fingers of lightning too if it werent for that bloody Cyclops stuck behind it. When that beggar went up it left a crater the size of a toppled Warhound. They never knew what hit em. The slightest hint of a tear began to form in the corner of his eye, forcing him to compose himself. He pulled himself up from his seat and smoothed down his tattered camo-jacket, sniffing sharply and blinking his eyes. Well, after that we didnt have much of a choice, did we sir? Before we know it the tanks revving its

engines, ready to move out. We scrambles clear and makes a dash for it, not wanting to get crushed after everything whats happened. I suppose General Phylene and General Aquilus wanted to make it count, make the best of a bad situation, so to speak. With the North Gate fallen they just gunned their engines and headed off into the city like a herd of sore-headed grox. Hastor scratched his chin thoughtfully, disappointed with the lack of useful information to be gleaned from the Ratlings tale. He had hoped to learn a little more about what had happened in the hours before they had embarked upon the mission. Is there anything else we should know, Deek? What happened to you after that? Where are your comrades? These last few hours have been a blur, sir. A whole lot of madness and confusion has assailed me senses since then. What happened next was, we saw the others making a break for the city, what was left of em, and we saw what was behind us. Now, old Deeks no coward, sir, but hes no fool neither. There was no way three Ratlings could take on the swarms of the hive fleet and win, so that was it. Wed take our chances following the lads in. So off we went. It wasnt until we were inside the city that we noticed the sky. Bloody strange, that. When we did notice it, mind, we were terrified, thought that the Warp was falling on our heads. Funny thing is, by the looks of what we saw, the Nids thought the same. Hastor and Tremlocke looked at the Ratling sniper strangely, perplexed by his comment. Deek noticed this and laughed tersely, his jovial face creasing in an expression of sincere glee. Ha! Thats right, sirs! You should have seen em! Ive never seen a Nid so spooked in me life, worse even than when the pylons fired up! Even the big winged one looked like he was about to mess himself! They were scattering this way and that, trampling each other into the floor, the job lot! I tell you, Ive never seen the like. Thats right, sirs, when you see the swarms of the hive fleet scattering, you know somethings not right. So off we went deep into the city, running as fast as our stumpy legsd carry us, praying that they wouldnt follow Big winged one? Zith interrupted, his voice tinged with more than a little apprehension. Deek, what do you mean by that? What did it look like? The small Ratling seemed taken aback by the soldiers abrupt question. To him, all the monsters of the swarm were more or less alike. Well, it were certainly something out of the ordinary, like. It sort of looked like one of them Tyrant beasties, except that it had these huge, leathery wings on its back. It looked a mean sod by all accounts. I think that the reason it stuck in my mind was that it was a different colour to any of the others Id seen out there, like a bony white. Swarm Tyrant. Zith breathed, taking a step back. IIve heard stories about those things. I wasnt sure that they were even real. I thought that they were just the figment of a few mens imaginations Hastor frowned, unsettled by his mans reaction. Is there a problem, Zith? Do these Swarm Tyrants pose a greater threat to us than any of the other synapse creatures out there? Thats just it, sir, I cant be sure. Ive heard stories of those things, none of them good. Some say that theyve encountered flying Tyrants on a number of different worlds and the descriptions they give are all very similar. Highly psychic, ferocious in combat, enhanced command potential. The mother of all Tyrants. We must remain extra vigilant if such a creature walks among the swarm.

The gathered storm troopers fell silent, Ziths words chilling each of them to the bone. Anyways, we made it. Deek continued, oblivious to Ziths analysis. Next few hours seemed a bit of a blur after that. Running and hiding, moving from building to building, trying our level best to survive. Poor old Bonno, hed taken a bit of shrapnel to the gut when the Trojan exploded, he never managed to get over that. Poor sod bled to death in the end, leaking like a rusty bucket, he was. Bruzzle bought the farm an hour or so later to the sharp end of a Gaunt talon. There we were, trudging through the city, trying to find a bit of decent shelter to hole ourselves up in. We turns the corner and wham! A whole sea of ugly heads turn and look at us. We knew there and then that the both of us wouldnt make it out of here alive. We managed to drop at least seven or eight of them before old Bruzzle was flat on his back, his chest full of chitin. Thats when I turned and ran for me life, ran as fast as me stumpy legsd carry me. It was me those Nids out there were after, see? They chased me this far before they noticed the barricaded precinct, and then it was like they just forgot me. Cant say Im sorry about that. I was biding me time up here, watching the fight, waiting to see who came off best. Thats when I saw you fellows, sneaking up like ghosts, you was. I couldnt risk calling out to you, could I? Ive no vox unit and I didnt dare shout out to you in case I blew your cover. I did what I could, staying up here, taking pot shots at em, biding me time sos I could wait for just the right moment to get a shot off without giving me position away. Thats the game of the sniper, see? Ask your lad over there, hell tell you. The Ratling sighed, taking a deep breath. One thing was for sure, Quent Deek could out-talk a Tau ambassador. Anyway, here I am, Quent Deek, the last of the Windrus Rifles. Me lifes in your capable hands now, sirs. I cant express how glad I am to see a friendly Imperial face out here. I tell you, I thought I was a goner, out here by meself. Finding you fine men is a blessing from the Emperor, I knows that much. Hastor rose to his feet and watched as the jovial little figure waddled over to each of the men in turn, extending a friendly hand. They seemed to relax a little, warming to the quirky Ratling almost straight away. He found himself trying to imagine what Deek had gone through in the past few hours, what horrors he had witnessed. A rough hand that grabbed his arm, interrupting his thoughts. He turned to see Tremlocke glaring at him, clearly unimpressed by the newcomers presence. We cant allow him to tag along with us, sergeant. You understand that, of course. His voice was low and joyless, his eyes fixed on the stunted ab-human sniper. Hastor glanced back at Deek, watching him as he laughed and joked with the others. Though he understood the commissars reaction he couldnt imagine leaving the poor man behind to face the horrors of the city alone. Commissar, I understand he began, though his answer was swiftly and abruptly halted by Tremlockes outstretched, black-gloved hand. Sergeant Hastor, the mission we are currently undertaking is of the utmost importance. It is of the most highly sensitive nature and we simply cannot afford to adopt each and every waif and stray we encounter along the way. If you do not inform thisindividualof the situation then I will. I will not risk the future of the Emperors realm under any circumstances. Is that clear? Tremlockes voice was raised now, all traces of his previously tactful tone gone. The others stopped their exchange of words and turned to stare at the cold-hearted officer, their expressions slowly changing. Are you serious? We cant just leave him here! Nesker exclaimed, stepping forward through the others.

How the hell is he meant to survive out here by himself? Were not leaving him here to die. Tremlocke raised his chin slightly and began to purse his lips, his expression one of stony determination. We have already discussed this matter, trooper. Our window of opportunity narrows with each passing moment. Squad Validus was chosen for this mission for a reason. He is not a storm trooper. He is not an infiltration specialist. Ratlings are not trained to undertake covert missions; they are trained to shoot and to cook. He is not coming with us. A murmur of rising disconcertment rose up from the others, Tremlockes attitude causing each mans blood to boil. Now listen here, leash. I dont care what he is, hes one of us. Nesker growled, his fists beginning to tighten. We left good men behind to die like dogs because of this damn mission. At least they have each other. They wont have to die alone. This poor graks got nobody out here. We are not leaving him. Do you hear me, you b Hastor held up one hand and shook his head slowly, his eyes wide with caution. Neskers voice died down as he saw this, though his anger clearly remained. Tremlocke inhaled triumphantly and turned on his heel to face the sergeant, intending on thanking him for his support. After seeing Hastors dark, serious expression, the thanks never came. Instead he found himself being led away by the arm to the corner of the room, out of earshot of the rest of the men. Do yourself a favour, Tremlocke, and listen very carefully to me. Whether you like it or not, it looks like Mr. Deek will be accompanying us. Tremlockes features sank and his mouth curled downwards into a foreboding frown of contention. His eyelids seemed to tighten and he stared into Hastors eyes, fixing his gaze to that of the sergeants. He was an Imperial Commissar. His orders would not be questioned. Im warning you, Hastor, I will not be countermanded. It is not my job to make the most popular decisions, just the right ones. Im warning you No, Tremlocke, Im warning you. Hastors sharp reply silenced the commissar abruptly, the retort causing his mouth to snap shut like a sprung trap. He was clearly taken aback by Hastors assertiveness. I have nine men under my command. Nine good men, men who possess all the finest qualities a human being could possibly display. One of the first things they are taught as an Imperial soldier is loyalty, and you forced them to break one of the greatest ethical codes of the Imperial directive when you made them leave those men behind back at the Chimera. I know my men and I sense their disposition. If you order them to leave this man behind I fear we could have a mutiny on our hands. Im warning you Tremlocke, dont do this. The commissar reached down and placed a hand upon his bolt pistol, his glowering face struggling to hide the anger welling up inside him. I will not be dictated to, sergeant. I will not be undermined. I was placed with this squad to ensure that the mission was undertaken to the letter and I will be damned if I let these men make the decisions for me. Make no mistake, I will enforce my word using ultimate force if I am provoked to do so. Hastor shook his head at this remark, unafraid of the commissars all-too obvious threat.

Ah yes, summary execution. Tell me commissar, exactly what would that achieve? What are you going to do, execute all nine members of my squad? How would that affect the mission? Furthermore, do you seriously think that my men would stand there and wait for you to blow their brains out, do you? Dont you see, its not your choice to consider. By the looks of things Deek is coming with us whether you like it or not. This is not something you would be able to resolve with threats or with bullets. My men will not respond to that. Tremlocke slammed his fist into the palm of his hand, livid at the prospect of being subverted by the members of Hastors squad. His eyes darted across each determined face in turn, projecting a hateful malevolence as they moved from man to man. They will pay for this, all of them! Refusing a direct Commissarial order is a capital offence and I will see to it that each of th Dont you understand what Im saying? Hastor interrupted. They dont care. If by the grace of the Emperor we survive this, the Imperium will have been saved. Each of them is as devoted a servant of the Emperor as you are ever likely to meet. All that matters to them, to us, is the successful completion of this mission. Im sorry Tremlocke, I truly am, but it looks as if Deek is with us whether you like it or not. Tremlocke seemed to explode as Hastor announced this, his face an almost scarlet red. He thrust Hastor aside and wrenched his bolt pistol free of its holster with such violent force that he almost ripped the thick leather case from his belt. He took three strides forward and thrust the weapon before him, his eyes wild with animal anger. A wave of rifles and guns appeared in response, clicking and snapping as they rose to meet him, their owners ready to defend themselves with ultimate force. Try it. Nesker breathed, his voice low and oozing caution. Chapter 13.

GHOSTS
He awoke with a start, his entire body lurching upwards into a sitting position as if possessed by some terrible force. Perspiration poured from his forehead and his eyes were wide and filled with fearful madness, a deep, foreboding terror the likes of which no man should have to face. Unis! Be calm brother, you are safe. Fortans strong arms gripped the fevered astropaths shoulders like twin vices, holding him fast so as to prevent the shaking man from injuring himself. Unis blinked instinctively as the world around him began to coalesce, reality slowly sinking back into his minds eye. The others dropped whatever they had been doing and rushed over to greet the stricken man, concern etched upon their faces. The gathering parted to allow Vorkohnen through. The towering inquisitor loomed over the shaking psyker, his power-armoured frame blotting out the dim glow globes of the ancient Chimeras hold. Unis! We thought you lost to madness, your mind taken by the encroaching warp storm. You have been drifting in and out of consciousness for nigh on the last two hours, muttering and flailing at unseen foes. Brother Soth has worked tirelessly to tend to your troubled soul all this time, and it seems the Immortal One heard his prayers.

You spoke of visions and portents, Unis, so strange we were unable to decipher your incoherent ramblings. Tell me, what terrors troubled your soul so? The troubled psyker closed his eyes tight and wiped the sweat from his gaunt face with one shaking hand. His fevered dreams had clearly taken their toll upon him. Even now the Warp gnawed at his mind like some insidious rodent, scratching and burrowing as it tried to take him body and soul. II cannot explain it. It was as if my mind was being invaded bysomething, I do not know what. Voices, so many voices, struggling to make themselves heard to me. Faces, names, all merging and swirling in a maelstrom of light and colour, all too much to take in. I saw them, saw them all. I The frail astropath shuddered, clutching at his smooth, bulbous cranium as if his actions would make a difference to the agonizing pressure he constantly endured. Vorkohnen moved closer, his eyes widening. He began to mutter a litany of mental fortification and placed his hand upon the mans pallid forehead, his other hand laid upon the ancient book fastened to his belt. Tell me of your visions, brother. Were you given a sign? Names. Unis answered, his voice slight and quiet, audibly weakened by the strength-sapping ordeal. Names and faces. Terrible visions of what has gone before and what is yet to pass. So much information yet so vague. We are part of something so big here that I am terrified, inquisitor. What I saw in my dreams almost shattered my soul to pieces. Names. Vorkohnen uttered, his voice seeming to magnify in the cramped hold of the vehicle. The others stepped back, fearful of the inquisitors wrath. Though he was no tyrant they could sense his urgency, his need to gather whatever information he could about the foe they faced. He was not a man to trifle with. I saw them. Oh Emperor, I saw them all. Unis continued. Some, lights shining through the darkness, others sinister, ancient, terrible. All compelled to journey here, drawn like moths to a flame, all of them searching for the same thing. I have seen the ancient one, the Slayer of Armies, Champion of the Skulls, waging his eternal war on all creation. He cares nothing for what transpires here. All he longs for is the utter and complete destruction promised to him by another, the insidious Corrupter, the Father of Pain. I have seen the Dark Mother, bound and brooding beneath the earth, writhing in agony and torment. The Father and his twisted children taunt and abuse her even now and she screams her rage across the stars. Together they threaten to bring about a catastrophic catechism of death and pain so furious it would put out the lights of the galaxy. Others, the Voice from Beyond, legion in number are her armies though they no longer hear her call. They are in disarray, confused and mindless, so utterly alone. I have seen Death himself stalking the city, unstoppable in his thirst for retribution. Pure are his convictions though his efforts could ultimately prove to be the undoing of us all. The psyker shuddered, his slight body wracked with convulsions. Others search the city as we speak, lord, blind to the truth yet unfaltering in their quest. A brotherhood of men shall grow. They shall rise from the ashes of defeat to become our best hope in these bleak times. With that Unis quietened, fear washing across his pale face. He began to tremble as he pored over the visions in his mind, struggling to put into words what he had seen. At the centre of this hell it waits. He whispered, his voice wavering. It slumbers my lord, waiting to be

born. Even now I can hear its call, sense its malevolent dreams. Should it be allowed to come into being then all will be lost. Emperor preserve my soul, I have seen it. I have seen it born into this universe and I have witnessed what it can do. Should any of those who search for it discover its true potential then the realisation of what is coming would destroy them, such is its horrific nature. Vorkohnen shuddered, sensing the psykers raw terror. Though the man had only glimpsed at what the future held, his mind was all but shattered. Tell me. He whispered, his own voice barely more than a murmur. Tell me what it is that lies in wait at the centre of all this. What is it that we seek to find out here, Unis? The astropath grabbed Vorkohnens arm tightly, his thin fingers clasped around the ebony armour of the inquisitor. He pulled himself up so that his face was inches away from his masters, his eyes wild and terror-stricken. The Mammoog. That is how it shall be known, though no true name can be given to such evil. It is both incredibly ancient and yet to be born, it is everything we fear despite having no distinct identity. It is an amalgamation of everything we fight to protect ourselves against. Gods shall tremble and pale before it, such is the threat of its growing power. Never before has the Imperium seen anything like it. It is destruction and death incarnate, a force that can never be allowed to come into being. Vorkohnen and the others gasped as they heard this, recoiling in horror at the sanctioned psykers foreboding words. Though none of them truly even begun to understand most of what Unis told them, each man trusted his word. The Astropath seemed so pale and drawn now, as if the effort of speaking the abominations name had drained him both physically and mentally. Yet he clung to Vorkohnens arm, afraid to let go. It was if he feared himself slipping away and falling into complete madness. All this I have seen, Inquisitor, and I think I am beginning to understand. I know what we must do. It is not our place to seek out the Mammoog. There are others here in this city that are destined to quest for the truth. It is our holy task here in Phrennec Mantris to seek out and engage the Slayer of Armies, the Lord Karkattamorg. He is the key; he is the one who seeks to bring about the Crimson Dawn. He must not be allowed to join with the Mammoog if this galaxy is to survive. Wewe must Unis shuddered and went limp, falling back into Fortans arms. A loud clang resonated through the Chimeras hold and the small group parted as a slender, lithe female pushed her way through to the inquisitor, her slight frame slipping through the crowd with the grace of a feline predator. The others seemed to part almost fearfully as she entered the throng, their eyes falling upon the scores of tiny blades and studs that were fastened to the thin leather bodysuit she wore like a second skin. Lord Vorkohnen, we must move out. She hissed, her voice quiet and foreboding. It would seem that the storm above us is beginning to take effect. The Vigilances augurs have detected what appears to be a number of daemonic presences south of our current position. Thank you, Haerindu. Inform Jourabel that we are to move to investigate the manifestations immediately. Vorkohnen whispered, sending the death-cult assassin back to the vehicles cabin. Truly, the test has begun, my lord. It seems that the growing disturbance is already beginning to influence realspace here on the planet. I fear we may face many a daemonic foe on Daedalus before we taste victory. Soth warned him, the holy icon that hung around his neck clutched tightly in one hand.

That may be so, Soth, but the extent of the corruption here in Phrennec Mantris is of little consequence to me. No matter whether we have to face one or one thousand daemons in our quest to bring down Karkattamorg, we will end this crusade with his head on a pike. I swear to the Emperor that I will not allow any of us to rest until His will be done. We follow you as always, lord. To our deaths, if need be. Fortan uttered, bowing his head in servitude. He glanced at Unis, watching as the pallid mans face quivered and contorted as if caught in the midst of a fever dream. What shall we do about brother Unis, my lord? Let him rest. The Vorkohnen whispered, slowly rising to his feet. We know what we must do. +++ Hastor watched Brandbaar closely as he disappeared through the crumbling doorway and down into the pitch-black basement level of the precinct. Within moments the silent scout was gone, hunting through the dark chambers below them in his search for the hidden tunnel entrance. He turned and leaned over to Moranith, making sure he kept his voice low. Tell me, how is he, really? I know he seems fine but the mans just survived a Genestealer attack. Im concerned with his physical state. Moranith shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. He seems fine. I gave him double the normal dosage of P.A.R in case the Stealers were venomous but apart from that I couldnt find any trace of physical injury. He still seems a little shaken but I would say hes otherwise okay. Still Hastor paused as he heard this, already expecting a but. Genestealers can be tricky. Its not venom you have to worry about with those things, is it? Weve all heard the stories sir, how entire planets have fallen under enemy control after a single Stealer bite. Once a Stealer cult takes hold of a planet, the only way to cleanse it is by Exterminatus. Like I said, I couldnt find any signs of physical injury on him, but I think wed better keep a close eye on Brandbaar for a while, just to make sure. Hastor nodded and glanced in the direction of the empty doorway, his worst fears confirmed by the medic. Brandbaar would have to be watched very closely. Chapter 13.

GHOSTS
Oh, I can do stealth, no worries there. Its part and parcel of being a sniper, stealth is. Tessok watched the stumpy Ratling closely, intrigued by his quirky mannerisms and jovial nature. Deek was busy stripping and cleaning his needle rifle, though his eyes were constantly wandering over to the exitus rifle sitting in the storm troopers lap. Say, shes a beauty, isnt she? How did a storm trooper manage to get his hands on a rifle like that? he asked, finally giving into temptation. Tessok smiled and shook his head, running a hand lovingly across the smooth black barrel of the exclusive weapon. It was a gift, Deek, a legacy left to me by a great man. The exitus longrifle is the greatest piece of Imperial weaponry ever devised, a snipers dream. My father was one of the most infamous Vindicare assassins of his day and he had it built especially for

me. Its part of a matching set. He reached down into the black holdall by his side and produced a small, bulky pistol, similar in design to the longrifle. He held out the pistol and Deek eagerly took it, his eyes wide with wonder. Whatever you do, dont press the trigger. He warned, flashing a smile. Both weapons are genetically encoded to my D.N.A and are set to explode under unauthorised usage. It prevents them from falling into enemy hands. Deeks face dropped and he quickly handed the gun back to Tessok, fearful of losing his hand or worse. Very cloak and dagger. You know, I wouldnt pretend to know a lot about the assassins game but do I know this much. They wouldnt just allow any old person to get their hands on a set of tools like that, and I can see youre no Vindicare. Whats the story there then? Tessok sighed and placed the pistol gently back in the leather case, his manner changing. My father had always hoped Id become an assassin. One day I hope to follow in his footsteps and become the greatest Vindicare this Imperium has ever seen. Until that day comes, this is my life, my contribution to the Emperor. Deeks smiled and nodded, looking around him at the gathering of men secreted throughout the small hallway. I suppose you couldnt have better practice, being a storm trooper and a sharp-shooting one at that. Its only one step away from where you are now. All you need is a black bodyglove and youre there! The two men both laughed together for a moment, forgetting the situation. It seemed that Deeks presence brought an air of calm to any circumstances, no matter how serious. Well, its not quite that simple Deek, but I appreciate your support. Tessok smiled, his laughter dying down. Its very rare that an established soldier gets the opportunity to enter one of the assassin temples. It has to take a pretty special recommendation for that to happen. Thats why I was glad when I heard about this mission. This could be my big chance, Deek. This could be my ticket into the ranks of the Vindicare. Deek opened his mouth to speak when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder, its strong fingers clasped tight. Deeks looked up to see the cold, stony grimace of Tremlocke staring back down. Mr. Deek, whether I like it or not, it seems that I am stuck with you. I therefore strongly suggest that you dont give me any ammunition. Are we clear? Deek nodded nervously, his eyes wide with fear. Tessok scowled at the commissar as he walked away, his eyes burning with loathing. Dont worry about him. Just make sure you toe the line and youll be alright. He whispered, patting the small mans shoulder. Hastor looked up as Brandbaar emerged from the dark doorway. The scout approached him, shaking his head. Sergeant? I think youd better come and have a look at this. Following Brandbaar, he picked his way down the wet, slippery steps, straining to see in the gloom of the basement level. The lighting here was sparse and inadequate, consisting of nothing more than a few

flickering glow-globes scattered throughout the large subterranean chamber. He activated his pack lamps as he reached the bottom step and waited for a moment until his eyes adjusted to the gloom. The basement was vast, stretching the full length of the precinct above. He glanced around into the cavernous space before him and shivered, feeling suddenly very cold. Brandbaar stood at the far end of the basement, illuminated by Hastors lamps. Behind him the sergeant could see a vast pile of collapsed brickwork and rubble. Im sorry sir; theyve blown the tunnel entrance. I initiated an auspex echo-burst at the tunnel head and the readings that came back arent good. It looks like they set charges to blow the first hundred metres of the passageway. Theres no way well be able to breach that. Damn it. Hastor spat, slamming his fist into the wall by his side. Are you sure theres no way through? The scout shook his head, sure of his findings. It would take us days to clear that kind of blockage sir. Were going to have to find another way in. He turned away and mouthed a silent curse, angered by this latest setback. It seemed as if the squad were hitting one rockcrete wall after the other, in this case literally. The others joined Hastor and Brandbaar, picking their way through the strewn rubble to reach the demoralising blockage. Emperor give me strength! Tremlocke snapped, removing his cap and wiping the back of his hand across his brow. This setback is going to cost us valuable time. Is there no possible way of breaching this? Hastor shook his head solemnly as he scoured the large chamber for any signs of an alternative entrance. Im afraid not. It looks like were going to have to find another entrance to the subterranean levels. Just then, somewhere across the far side of the chamber something metallic rang as it fell, the noise magnified as it echoed through the dark space. The squad froze for a moment, fingers tightening on triggers. Hastor snapped his head back and forth, searching the dark space for any signs of life. The others glanced at the sergeant and watched as he made a number of gestures, silently ordering the squad to fan out and begin to search for the source of the noise. Squad Validus began to pick their way through the tangle of upturned furniture and rotting piles of material before them, their keen eyes homing in on any suspect shadow or shape. One by one the team split up and began to scour the gloom, leading the way with their firearms. Deek clambered up onto an old dusty bureau, his stumpy arms and legs struggling with the ascent. As soon as he reached the top he slid the peak of his cap round to the back of his head and then shouldered the needle rifle, activating the rustic weapons lamp pack with a flick of his thumb. Tremlocke was almost to the far corner of the room when he slowed, his ears detecting a familiar noise, the telltale whine of an activated mobile generator powering up. He drew his power sword and raised his bolt pistol in readiness, his years of field experience allowing him to recognise the threat even before he had laid eyes on it. The crazed cultist threw himself out of the shadows and into the bright glow of the storm trooper lamps, a filthy mass of rags and bare, flagellated skin. As he flew through the air towards the commissar the rusting chains that were wrapped around him rattled and chinked, their barbed ends scraping the lichen-encrusted walls of the damp basement. The archaic power fist that engulfed his left hand sparked and crackled as the power pack strapped to his back sent energy pulses coursing through it, giving him a potential blow more powerful than five towering men.

He screamed something blasphemous and dark as he lunged at Tremlocke, his wild eyes glowing with hatred. The commissar sidestepped the descending blow with ease and the awkwardly angled table behind him shattered into a thousand small pieces, decimated by the furious strike. He span on his heels and slashed the glowing sword across the twisted cultists other arm, severing it at the elbow. The twitching limb bounced across the room, still clutching the serrated knife it held. The cultist roared and turned to face the Tremlocke, barely noticing his grievous injury. Indeed, such was the extent of the ritual scarring and self-flagellation that covered his half-naked frame that it was more than likely he enjoyed the sensation. Not a chance, chaos filth! Tremlocke raged, pointing his pistol at the crazed man. He fired of a single round and the cultist reeled back as if hit by a thunder hammer, his fall illuminated by the muzzle flash of the commissars powerful firearm. The others rushed to assist Tremlocke but he urged them back with a wave of his hand. This one is mine! he snapped, picking his way across to the downed man. As he reached the attacker he stopped, watching in amazement as the snarling heretic scrambled to his feet. Bright blood pumped from the stump of his severed arm and the gaping chest wound he had sustained but still he continued to face Tremlocke, mortally wounded yet far from done. He took a step towards the commissar and swung the huge fist out before him, the rusting red power weapon humming as it passed inches from Tremlockes chest. He responded to the attack with a swift kick to the foul mans groin and followed this with another bolt round, the shot tearing through his shoulder. As the cultist staggered back again Tremlocke stepped forward and thrust his sword through the mans stomach, causing him to freeze, his eyes wide and filled with sudden shock. Tremlocke withdrew the sword and the man dropped to his knees, his blood loss finally beginning to drain him of his strength. The cold-faced officer placed his pistol back in its holster and walked towards the man, kicking him onto his back with a boot to the face. The cultist slammed back, bright blood spurting from his nose and mouth. Tremlocke loomed over him and stepped on his remaining arm, pinning the power fist to the floor. It takes years of training to wield such a weapon, scum. Training you clearly do not have. Your vile god will not be impressed by your poor martial skills. Give him my regards when you see him, and tell him this. Cowering in the warp will serve nothing. The Emperors vengeance will find him in time. He raised his sword and prepared to put the man to death when the cultist began to laugh, the sound rattling in his throat as his mouth slowly filled with blood. F-fool. You are all fools. The man spat, struggling to speak. Weak fools who serve a w-weak corpse. You have n-no idea. Hastor joined the commissar and gently lowered the crackling sword. Wait. See what he has to say. He dropped to his knees and leaned over the man, trying his best to ignore the foul markings that were daubed across him. How did you know we would be coming here? We would have heard a blast that size from outside the precinct. That tunnel was blown long before we got here and I want to know why. The cultists face twisted into a weak but sadistic smile and he stared at Hastor, his flickering eyes still burning with loathing. Pretentious idiot. The access t-tunnel wasnt blown for your benefit. The Imperium and its soldiers pose no

r-real threat to our plans here. Before you and your interfering kind arrived we were besieged by the tyranids. Wewe would have all willingly shed our blood for our god b-but we knew we would not have been able to fight the bitchs influence if the Stealers h-had found us. Blowing the tunnel was the only way we could be sure to keep the swarms out. Its done now; theyll have to find another way in. The Mammoog is safe. Hastor reeled back as he heard this, almost tumbling over Tremlockes leg. What? What did you say? What is the Mammoog? You know what it is that we are trying to find, dont you, you heretic son of a bitch? The cultist laughed again, weaker now, close to death. Soon the Mammoog will be born and the Imperium will f-fall. The precious worlds of mankind will be destroyed and consumed by blood and fire. Not even the weak, pathetic corpse-Emperor you follow will be able to stand against the ascension of a true god. The man began to laugh briefly, the weak, rattling noise soon dying in his throat. Tremlocke cursed and kicked the body in frustration, the answers they had sought once more eluding them. As Hastor backed away in despair the commissar descended upon the dead man and tore the power glove from his arm in a fit of rage. He lifted the wrecked body and slid the power pack from its back, clumsily slipping it onto his own. As the others watched in shocked silence he then thrust his arm into the power gauntlet and charged towards the blocked tunnel, shouting and screaming his rage at the accursed Blood God. He began to smash the glowing fist against the huge rockcrete blocks before him, shattering each one in turn into smaller fragments with each fearsome blow. Commissar, that wont do any good! The tunnel will just continue to collapse in on itself. Hastor reasoned, though he knew that his words would fall on deaf ears. Tremlocke, please, we are just wasting time here Corpo shuddered as yet another blow echoed throughout the chamber, the resultant concussive shockwave rattling his teeth. The commissars rage was a fearsome thing, enough to shake even the finest of the Imperial Guard. He watched for a few moments as Hastor attempted to talk some sense into the man before turning away, the despair of their situation beginning to creep in. The others had begun to move back towards the basement entrance, their progress slow and uneasy. He could clearly see that none of them wished to leave their sergeant alone with the maddened commissar, despite the fact that he had ushered them away from the scene. Grudgingly he picked his way over the strewn debris and back towards the waiting stairs. He had almost reached the others when he suddenly noticed that the headset he wore was hissing and cracking, the noise previously hidden by the thunderous, echoing booms of the power fist striking home. He paused for a moment and listened to the noise, trying as best he could to pick out any useful sounds or familiar noises, anything to signify that there was life on the other end of the set. Realising that the deep, thick walls of the basement was interfering with the signal he started back towards the staircase, picking up speed with each stride. As he neared the others the signal began to clear and though still faint, he began to make out distinct noises and words amongst the interference. He reached the others and they turned to see him, looks of puzzlement upon their faces. Nesker moved forward to greet the comms officer, tearing his attention away from the scene beyond him. Corpo, what is it? W

He held up his hand and Nesker fell silent. The others watched as he reached them, his face fraught with concentration. This is Validus; we are receiving you, over. I repeat, this is Validus. Youre breaking up. Who is this, who am I talking to, over? The others watched as Corpos face slowly dropped, a glimmer of recognition washing over him. He listened for a moment more, his face tightening and twisting as he struggled to make sense of the garbled message pouring through the headset. Someone better fetch the sarge. He breathed, not daring to raise his voice in case he missed any of the vital message. Its Fortis! I dont believe it, Fortis are still out there. The others smiled and exchanged hands, their hearts lifted by the knowledge that their storm trooper brethren were still alive and well somewhere within the depths of the cursed city. Hope that had been slowly draining from their hearts was now injected back into them with gusto and they thanked the immortal Emperor for this. Sergeant Hastor sir, we have Fortis on the vox! Regan hollered jubilantly, holding up a hand so as to present the listening comms-officer to Hastor. Once he was sure that the sergeant had heard him he turned and grinned at Corpo and as his eyes met the mans face, his expression changed. Corpos face was ashen and solemn, his expression joyless. Bad news? Regan whispered, his hand dropping slowly. Chapter 14.

LIFELINE
The sky churned. Hot and humid, the skies above Daedalus shifted and boiled, snaking black tendrils of shadow sliding across the crimson hue. In the distance forked scarlet lightning drove its multitude bright fingers into the ground, illuminating the horizon like a distant barrage. Colonel Hondu Vorpax stared out across the vast plains, feeling the warmth of the growing wind against his skin. Sweat trickled down his grime-laden face, the ambient temperature around him rising. I can smell them, sir. He turned to see a young Cadian trooper standing behind him, watching the shifting horizon over his shoulder. The mans uniform was tattered and torn in a dozen places, his arms covered in burns and gashes. Blood ran down his arm and dripped from the grip of his lasgun and yet he seemed to be oblivious to this. So can I, son. It wont be long now. He answered, turning his attention back towards the open plains and scattered manufactorum complexes before him. Is everyone ready for this? Yes sir, as ready as anyone can be. Weve restored as many of the emplacements as we were able. We were able to scavenge a number of pintle mounts. Three heavy stubbers, four storm bolters. Weve bagged them in around the mouth of the gate. A couple of the Krieg found a crippled Chimera with a working turret, so we have a multi-laser and a decent firebase some thirty metres north west of the gate. Vorpax nodded. He screwed his face up and pushed himself up onto his feet using his shotgun for support.

The acrid stench began to burn his nostrils now, growing stronger by the minute. Tell everyone to take their positions and brace themselves. They are closing fast. In a few minutes well be able to make out the larger bugs. He grunted, slamming shells into the breach of his weapon. Yes colonel. Sir? Vorpax turned, his eyes narrowed and his face tight, a telltale sign of the pain he was in. Yes, trooper? What is it, sir? Whats wrong with them? Vorpax lifted his gaze and watched the roiling skies, his eyes beginning to throb after only a few moments of silent observation. I dont know, son. Throne, Im no expert on these damned creatures. All I know is that somethings changed. Somethings altered, shifted; I can feel it in my bones, in my teeth. Somethings not right. I feel it too, sir. I think we all do. No one can explain it. Its like a power cut, like all the lights in the universe dimming at once. I think its got something to do with this storm, sir. All Ive been able to smell for the last half an hour is blood. Vorpax nodded, watching as the horizon itself boiled and shifted like an angry sea. The ground underfoot began to quake now, an ominous rumbling surrounding them like the low thunder of a battleships warp engines. Those things out there, theyre not Nids any more. Not the Nids we fought at the landing. Somethings snapped, somethings gone. Theyre not coming for us. Hell, I doubt they even know were here. Theyre heading for the city and theyre going to run right over is as if we werent here. Weve just got to make sure we take as many of the damn things down with us as we can. Go on, soldier, go and take your place with the rest of the brave. And dont despair, well all find our way into the arms of the Emperor soon enough. The Cadian nodded and turned to leave, breaking into a hurried jog. A second later he stopped, turning back towards the colonel. Colonel, sir. Die well. He called, saluting. I intend to. Vorpax answered, racking his shotgun with a determined motion. With that he began to limp towards the coming tide, a smile slowly spreading across his scarred face. Chapter 14. LIFELINE The others waited in hushed silence as Hastor listened to the handset, his ear pressed tight against the small receiver. His face continued to change, tightening and loosening in quick succession as he struggled to take in every word, every scrap of information relayed to him by the stuttering vox unit. Tremlocke had ceased his maddened pummelling and had pushed his way forward to stand by the sergeant, eager to hear of squad Fortis progress. The fingers of his newly acquired power fist were wreathed in smoke and flexed impatiently as he stood in silence.

Hastor continued to communicate with the other squad for a few moments more, finally replacing the sets external receiver, a grim expression creeping across his face. He turned to look upon the faces of his men, his eyes running across the line of silent, anxious faces. Sir..? Regan whispered, removing his helmet. Fortis made it into the depths of the city safely. Sergeant Hoolias informs me that they have found an accessible entry point into the catacombs. A murmur rose up through the men, a mixture of relief and jealousy. Hastor held up a hand as he heard this and the noise died down immediately. If you havent already guessed it, theres a setback. It seems the fight between the astartes and the traitors has spilled out into the city. Hoolias and his men are stuck dead centre of a full-scale war. Damn! Regan spat, lowering his head. Figures. Nesker grunted, rolling his eyes. Fortis were lucky. They managed to reach the entrance before the battle surrounded them. Weve hit a dead end here. It seems that this entrance is our only remaining option, and to reach it we must run the gauntlet of this war. Throne, sarge! Are you serious? Autis stammered. I knew you were going to say that. Zith whispered. Figures. Nesker huffed again. The squad cast furtive glances at one another as they let this fresh information sink in. They were storm troopers, the finest soldiers to be found within the ranks of the Imperial Guard. Each one of them had years of training and combat experience enough to rival any veteran or elite unit to be found amongst the countless regiments and units of the millions of Imperial worlds scattered throughout the galaxy. Each member of squad Validus had fought against and ended the lives of aliens, heretics and mutants the length and breadth of the galaxy. Against the might of the World Eaters, they didnt stand a chance. +++ Twisting in the air, it landed silently on padded feet and perched atop the shattered building in a crouched position, the smooth black synskin of its body glove dancing with bright movement as it reflected the roiling skies above. Below it the battle raged, rendered all but invisible by the thick cloud of combat-smog and arterial mist that drifted amongst the buildings of the massive square. He adjusted his vision and the innumerable warriors below him were suddenly visible, a seething mass of combatants locked in mortal combat. The din of the frenzied confrontation was ear shattering. It watched for a while, its dark soul writhing in ecstasy as the armoured warriors slaughtered one another, revelling in the carnage and death below. Its entire body ached as the conflict called out to it, igniting its dark soul. It longed to be there, longed to participate in the furious, glorious combat. A quick sweep of the area and the sentinel array had detected the entrance far below, hidden amongst the sprawling buildings of the vast city. Others had passed this way recently, loyalist forces also intent on finding this place. It knew little of their intended mission and cared for it even less. The Imperial soldiers were as nothing.

The forces below were as nothing. The mission was all that mattered, all that existed, more imperative and vital even than the urge to satiate the bloodlust that threatened to consume every single waking second of its existence. The entrance it had located was about a quarter of a mile from its current position. Its quarry would be found deep inside the catacombs of the city, and to reach him it would have to go through the chaos and hell below. The thought of this caused the assassin to shudder with anticipation. The Eversor pushed itself up from the crouched position, springing into the air on twin coils of sinew and muscle, its black, muscular arms outstretched. It rolled over in the open air, bringing its legs up and over its head like some graceful trapeze artist before plummeting earthwards, its feet pointed at the ground. The Eversor landed like a feather, breaking into a perfect barrel roll across the dusty flags of the square, its every movement practised and controlled. Within seconds it was up on its feet and running, pounding across the square towards the writhing mass of bodies before it, gleaming eyes glowing with fire in their skull-like sockets. As the black-clad hunter neared the mass of struggling, flailing armoured bodies it dragged his power sword from the scabbard upon its back, the blade shrilling as it cut through the air above. The blade was in its hand and humming with power as it reached the battle. The hurtling figure smashed into the first of the traitor marines, knocking the huge armoured giant aside with a powerful shoulder barge. As the ancient warrior fell the sword in the Eversors hand flared and the warriors head was sent spinning across the square, helmet and all. Losing none of its momentum the assassin span in the air and kicked out at the next berserker, snapping his head back with the powerful blow. One quick thrust and the ancient berserker marine dropped to his knees, disembowelled. The Eversor howled and held the sword aloft, revelling in the death of his heretical enemies. A small squad of Khornate berserkers broke free of the main battle and set their sights on the fearless assassin, shouting and cursing as they bore down upon its lithe form, the whirring axes in their hands held ready for combat. The five berserkers thundered across the space between them, shaking the ground with their heavy footfalls, their speed and agility greatly belying their size and bulky armour. The Eversors eyes fell upon its would-be attackers and it counter-charged, its fearless advance throwing the warriors off their stride. Even as they slowed the first of them fell forward onto the blood-soaked ground, his belly open to the cold air. The assassin ducked as the warriors quickly moved to surround it and spinning on its heel it slashed the glowing sword up, splitting the chest plate and helmet of another armoured heretic in two. A screaming axe-head slashed by, missing it by a hairs breadth. Another whirred by overhead, clearly intent on striking a decapitating blow. The Eversor remained unfazed and unafraid, seeming to revel in the dangerous proximity of the enemy warriors. Another axe swung in its direction and its response was to thrust an open palm out to counter the blow, snapping the haft of the weapon in two with one powerful, effortless blow. The legendary blood-rage of the ancient warrior faltered and he stepped back, staring at the sparking pole in his gauntlet hands. This opening was all the assassin needed and he hammered its blade into the berserkers chest with a single lunge, burying it up to the hilt. The ancient marine began to spasm and shake as his back ignited, sparks fizzing from the penetrated sub-

atomic core of his armours power unit. Keeping a firm grip on the hilt of the sword the superhuman assassin twisted and hammered both feet into the dying heretics chest, sending the huge warrior staggering back into another of his twisted brethren and freeing the sword lodged in his victims chest in one perfectly-executed manoeuvre. Still airborne the Eversor flipped up and over the head of the fifth Khornate warrior, hooking its legs around the Marines thick neck and under his armpits in a move of such practised skill no human should ever have been able to perform. The assassins momentum caught the ancient warrior off-guard and he found himself, despite his size and weight being flung over and onto his face, the impact cracking the dusty flags beneath him. The Eversor snatched something from its belt and hammered the device onto the back of the Marines head. Magnetic anchors hummed as they locked the object in place and it began to beep, the slight noise lost in the surrounding tumult. As the dazed warrior roared in anger and began to scramble to his feet the assassin kicked out, sending its opponent reeling back, his balance thrown. Without even turning the Eversor brought the sword up to his left shoulder and flung it with all his might around and behind him, releasing the flashing blade. The sword screamed through the air briefly before embedding itself in the faceplate of the World Eater struggling to shift the dead weight of his deceased comrade. The ferocious assassin turned to retrieve his blade as the as air behind him shimmered and flashed, the powerful meltabomb incinerating his final opponent. That was when he turned and saw him for the first time. Out across the square, something ancient and terrible roared and bellowed with all the power and malice of a furious god.. A dark crimson blur roared and bellowed as it advanced, tearing into the loyalist astartes like a raging storm front. A company of Crimson Fist Space marines fought desperately against some unseen, giant opponent, a battle they were surely losing. Blue-armoured bodies were cast aside as if nothing, smashed, slashed and pulverised by an unstoppable force of such magnitude that they were less than defenceless against the storm. A huge, immeasurably evil shape lumbered into sight, smashing bodies away with each lunge of its oversized arms. It stood over ten feet tall, its gargantuan form encompassed in thick plates of crimson armour, the countless runes and sigils that covered it turning even the Eversors stomach. Armoured bodies and severed limbs littered the ground around it, piled in heaps where they had fallen, the cold air steaming with their cooling blood. Its own troops faltered and backed away as it lumbered through the melee, knowing that to approach it would surely end in death. The ancient and mighty Karkattamorg, Lord of Blood, the Chosen of the Blood God thundered through the Imperial forces, utterly decimating them. The Eversor watched for a moment as the titan continued to lay waste to the reeling astartes, revulsion and fascination filling its dark soul. Finally the unquestionable parameters of the mission began to burn into its mind and its shook himself free of the distraction and broke into a run, heading out across the edge of the square and on towards the hidden entrance. The lord Karkattamorg roared and brought the massive weapon in his left hand down onto the head of another of the accursed astartes, splitting him in two from head to crotch in a shower of gore and sparks. These children were nothing to him, less than nothing, little more than flies buzzing around him. They were an annoyance, not a challenge.

He screamed in rage as yet another of the corpse-Emperors pathetic warriors fell, cursing the heavens with all the rage his damned soul could muster. Is there none who can stand against me? He raged, his voice shaking the buildings around him with such force that glass rained down onto the shattered streets. Is there no opponent worthy of my attention? Hear me, you decrepit old husk! To think I once served you, revered you as a father and a great warrior! Why do you insult me with these moronic children? I swear by the Blood God that when I am done with this world I will return once more to smash open the Imperial palace and tear your withered remains apart, piece by desiccated piece! I will bathe in your dried blood and befoul your precious Golden Throne! Karkattamorg is coming! The Eversor heard this and stopped, as much through instinct as any conscious will. The glowing orbs fixed within his eyes sockets flashed, burning brighter than ever. He turned slowly to face the distant daemon prince. Karkattamorg fell silent, almost as if he sensed the building rage of the unseen Eversor. He lowered his head slowly, his glowing red eyes shining through the strands of lank black hair that were streaked across his blood-flecked face. The monster stared out across the ruined square, searching for the source of the seething hatred, hot breath streaming from between his thin black lips. His gaze met that of the distant Eversor and he snarled, exposing a mouth full of razor-sharp fangs set into obsidian gums. The Eversor lifted his sword and pointed the blade across the square at the seething monster, the silent gesture conveying a clear message; Karkattamorg was marked for death. The glowering monster smiled as he watched the Eversor break into a sprint and disappear amongst the buildings of the square, mistaking the assassins dedication to his primary mission for cowardice. Ha! There are none to challenge me! he sneered, turning once more to answer the irresistible call of war.

Chapter 14.

LIFELINE
Tell me, Tremlocke. What are we walking into? What do we face? Hastor asked quietly, walking alongside the commissar. Tremlocke continued to stare straight ahead, the thick power fist he had acquired swinging by his side. We face heretics, sergeant. The damned and the lost. Would that we had the time to purge each and every one of them from existence. Hastor glanced around at the others, making sure that they were not within earshot. He had no doubt in his mind that the men under his command were the best the Imperial Guard had to offer, though despite all their skills and expertise they would pose little threat to even a handful of the damned marines of the traitor legions. However, it was not the nameless followers of the Blood God he truly feared facing, it was their immortal master. Karkattamorg. He whispered, the name turning his stomach even as it spilled from his lips.

Tremlocke twitched, raising his chin slightly. Despite the commissars steel will Hastor could clearly see that the mention of such a monstrosity disturbed even him. You are a commissar, Tremlocke. You were sent to oversee this mission and it stands to reason that you were given an extensive briefing beforehand. I need to know what it is we are going to find ourselves up against. The last thing I need is a squad of men that are too shock-numbed to perform their duties properly. This mission is all, as you have stated on many an occasion now. We all need the facts if we are to pull this off. Tremlocke turned to face the sergeant, clearly uncomfortable with disclosing information on the ancient daemon prince. Hastor could not discern whether this was through reluctance to disclose classified information or through fear of his foe. Either way, Tremlocke decided to speak. Vorash Sant Karkattamorg, Herald of Angron. He is ancient, Hastor, one of the oldest of the traitors that still stalk the Imperium. He was Kharn the Betrayers battle-brother and one of Angrons most trusted lieutenants, back before the dark days of the heresy. A bloodthirsty, fearsome warrior even then, his reputation was one of cruelty and violence. During the heresy he aided his Primarch in the assault on the Emperors palace. Since those dark days he has become even more of a threat, his constant raids and wars ending the lives of millions the length and breadth of the Imperium. After razing the fortress-planet of Herramentass he attained daemonhood, his orgies of death and bloodshed finally granting him the immortality he craved. He now sees himself as the emissary of Khorne, believing himself to be even more powerful than his daemonic Primarch. Tremlocke paused for a breath and lifted his chin again, almost as if he was attempting to compose himself. Hastor was unsure if he would continue, but after a moments silence, he did. He is an unholy monster, Moneth, utterly unbeatable by our standards. His goal is one of absolute destruction, his thirst for skulls rivalling that of the Betrayer himself. It is said that he has travelled the foul space encompassed by the Eye of Terror these long years past, in a crusade of violent recruitment. Kharns betrayal on Skalanthrax saw the World Eaters torn apart and the might of their once huge legion dispersed into smaller warbands. Karkattamorg has always deplored this separation and it seems that he is intent on reuniting the World Eaters once more under his banner. Scattered intelligence reports compiled over the last century or so seem to suggest that he has had some measure of success in doing this, a fact that is clear to see here on Daedalus. We face one of the largest Khornate traitor warbands seen since the days of the heresy. Hastor nodded his head slowly, as if the commissars answers had managed to solve some previous puzzle he had kept locked away in his mind. Of course, now it makes sense. I was told that an Eversors cryo-ship had entered the planets orbit with us, and now I can see why the High Lords would sanction such an act. If this Karkattamorg is as ancient and powerful an enemy as you say then it is clear that they would want him dead, especially given the fact that he took part in the sacking of the Emperors palace. This act alone would immediately place him at the top of the High Lords assassination list. Tremlocke glared at Hastor and the sergeant initially mistook his reaction as one of shock brought on by his knowledge of the Eversor. It was only when the commissar shook his head that Hastor began to suspect otherwise.

Tremlocke continued to walk in silence for a few moments more, gazing at the surrounding buildings as they passed by. Though Karkattamorg would make a fine target, this is not the case. He is a powerful and dark creature, and I fear that perhaps even an Eversor would find him too much in single combat. He is a scion of chaos, more daemon than man. Everything in his possession was crafted by servants of the dark arts, both mortal and daemon, powerful artefacts that he has procured over the millennia by destroying the leaders of rival warbands the length and breadth of the Eye. His most prized possession is the Doombringer, a daemon-forged Khornate chain-axe that was gifted to him after the assault on Terra by Angron himself. It is a terrible and ancient weapon that has grown with him, now measuring over nine feet in length from haft to head. The head of the Doombringer is as wide as the torso of a space marine and lined with teeth that are said to have been taken from a Bloodthirster by the cursed Primarch himself. Despite its great size and weight, Karkattamorg was so taken by the tremendous honour bestowed upon him that he swore he would never put the axe down, and so had the legions artificers fashion a bronze gauntlet around the haft that locked his hand to the weapon in an eternal embrace. The gauntlet was ritually sealed, meaning that the sacred weapon would never leave his side; such is his twisted blood lust. The commissar fell silent for a moment, almost as if he was unsure of whether or not such restricted information should be shared. His armour was taken from Warlord Gruxxor, scourge of the Limmaphou Reach. He took the daemonic armour, rumoured to be nigh impenetrable to both physical force and psychic assault, as well as Gruxxors entire warband. Of all his prizes, the daemon sword NaGzetchh is one of the greatest. Stolen from the hand of Juaaramneth the Changer, one of the mightiest champions of Tzeentch. Despite his hatred of all sorcery he kept the sword, his dominion over it a constant mockery of the Lord of Sorcerers. The sword is a reluctant but powerful servant, a hellish amalgamation of daemon, sorcery and warpmagicks. Its disgusting blade seethes with flickering iridescent colours and tormented, leering faces. The foul Greater Daemon that is bound within the blade steals the souls of its victims, keeping them locked forever in its twisted embrace where it feeds upon them, hoping to one day grow strong enough to escape the clutches of its master. Hastor shuddered, his mind reeling in the wake of Tremlockes enlightening information. Part of him wished that he had never pressed the commissar into talking. Despite how he felt about the man, he couldnt help but sympathise with him. He had carried this burden around with him single-handedly up to now, and such knowledge could not sit easily upon the soul. Hastor hoped that this newly acquired knowledge would not prove too much for him to bear. The small group ground to a halt as, far ahead, Brandbaar signalled for them to stop. They did as instructed; keeping out of sight until he had confirmed that the junction they approached was safe to cross. Hastor pushed himself against the wall of the building behind him, lowering his pistol. He glanced across at Tremlocke, his thirst for knowledge not yet slaked. He had been taken by surprise by the commissars loose tongue, suspecting that the lull in fighting and the increasing urgency of the situation was responsible for his willingness to talk. Besides, he could not guarantee that Tremlockes sharing mood would last. Its clear from what you have told me that Karkattamorg could not possibly be the Eversors intended target. If this is truly the case then who or what is? Who else here on Daedalus poses such a threat to the Imperium that the High Lords themselves would

send one of those monsters against them? I, like yourself am but a cog, a small part of this huge operation, sergeant. I am not privy to every scrap of information regarding what is happening here. I have already told you all I know, more than I should have but for the sake of the mission. All I know is that, whatever the Mammoog is, it involves both Karkattamorg and one other, whose identity escapes me. Whether Bombola or even the High Lords know him is a mystery. All I was told was that our mission was part of a three-pronged attack on the forces at work here. We were sent to locate and identify the source of the psychic signal with a view to capturing or silencing it if need be. Inquisitor Vorkohnen and his daemon-hunting retinue were dispatched to deal with Karkattamorg. The Eversor was sent ahead of the main attack in order to infiltrate the city and deal with the unknown driving force behind this travesty, a being I know only as the Flesh Manipulator. I believe his identity is known to the higher powers, a belief supported by the Eversors presence. Beyond what I have told you, I am as blind as you to the greater picture. Hastor nodded gratefully, enlightened at least to a certain degree. Though the information given to him by Tremlocke did not sit easily within his mind, at least he had a better picture of what was happening here on the planet. The vox-link in his helmet crackled and Brandbaars whispered voice followed, announcing the all clear. Hastor urged the others on with a wave of his hand and the trek resumed. The short column of bodies crossed the square quickly, keeping themselves hunched over and low to the ground. Eyes scanned the surrounding buildings as they passed by, ensuring that their progress continued unseen. The squad rounded a corner and set off down a long wide street, tall buildings lining their path as far as they could see. Scorched and torn banners flapped in the cold wind high above them, some still ablaze, all dancing silently under the stomach-churning skies. Up ahead of them in the distance they could see Brandbaar, weaving amongst the scattered and upturned civilian vehicles and forlorn, decimated trees that lined the street. As they passed by a small area of grass that surrounded a hideously desecrated statue of the Immortal Emperor Nesker glanced to his side, his eyes falling upon a small group of headless, eviscerated bodies. Their sorry remains had been torn to pieces, thrown aside as if discarded without thought. He stared at them as they passed by, finally tearing his gaze away as the angle of his neck became too hard to maintain. Hey sarge, I was wondering Hastor turned as the greying veteran picked up his pace to join him, watching as Nesker continued to look about, almost as if searching for something. What is it, trooper? Weve found bodies in here, hundreds of them, scattered about where they fell to the heretics. They were all slaughtered without thought, hacked down like cattle. He growled, revulsion clear upon his voice. That is the way of Khorne, Nesker. The vile warriors of the Blood God care nothing for the sanctity of human life. All they know is death, brought about in the most violent way possible. Innocent or not, these pitiful wretches will have been shown no mercy. Exactly. Nesker whispered, his abrupt answer surprising the sergeant. Thats what Im trying to say. Weve found hundreds of their victims, but a city this size Hastor slowed, realising what the veteran was going to say even as he said it. Phrennec Mantris is the largest population centre in the whole Borteth system. This city is the home of millions. Where the hell are the rest of them? Chapter 15.

DEEPER
Warmaster General Bombola watched the sickening, lurid colours swirl and shift through the thick glass before him in silence, finding it hard to turn away despite the dull throbbing pain in his head. Behind him, several crewmembers of the Iratus Manus, the flagship of the Imperial fleet were retching and holding their stomachs, nauseated by the growing chaotic maelstrom. Others ran around furiously, tending to flashing consoles and shrieking alarm sirens, struggling to maintain order. My lord? He turned as he heard the voice, dragging his gaze away from the disturbing phenomenon beyond the bridges vast viewing portal. You requested an audience, lord? Before him stood a small group of figures, all of which he recognised immediately. At the head of the group stood Admiral Hesuphore, commander of the Imperial fleet in orbit around Daedalus. A tall man, he towered above the others, clothed from head to toe in the regal blue leather of his ceremonial naval command dress, the dark colour broken only by the light beige trim and ivory buttons of his jacket. A full-length cloak of thick beige brogas weave hung from his shoulders, trimmed around the edges with gold filigree. The admiral was flanked by his own personal guard, thickset men covered in matt-black, plated armour, the gold seal of the naval elite guard etched in silver into their chest plate. Admiral Hesuphore, Primaris Eusanct, please step forward and report. Bombola commanded, his hands clasped tightly behind his back. Hesuphore bowed and stepped forward, followed by one of the shrouded figures to his left, a gnarled, hunched individual swathed in flowing sky blue robes. Embroidered in gold across the chest of the billowing ceremonial dress was the symbol of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica. Primaris Eusanct was the fleets head astropath, responsible for the campaigns complement of psychic crew and their actions. As he moved to join the warmaster he removed his billowing hood to reveal an ancient, withered head bereft of hair and peppered with countless sockets and plugs. Milky, sightless eyes stared at Bombola, blind yet able to see on a level incomprehensible to most ordinary men. Report, Admiral. Bombola commanded, taking a seat before the two men. Hesuphore bowed his head respectfully, his gloved hands clasped tightly around his back. Sire, the storm grows worse still. Several of our ships are experiencing minor problems. The Formido and the Infinitus have been plagued by numerous system failures since the onset of the phenomenon. The entire fleet is experiencing communication problems. We have deemed it prudent to activate all Gellar fields across the fleet, though the disturbance seems to be somehow growing stronger than anything we are able to resist. We may have to consider the possibility of a tactical withdrawal, my lord, should this threat continue to escalate. Bombola nodded, one hand resting thoughtfully upon his chin.

And the chaos fleet? No sign of Karkattamorgs ships, my lord. Whether the hive ships destroyed them upon arrival or they jumped to warp before that, we cannot be sure. Long-range sub-system scans conducted before the warp storms emergence were unsuccessful. It is a mystery. Indeed. Bombola uttered, perturbed by the mystery but nonetheless thankful. I find it hard to believe that the World Eaters would run from any foe so easily, especially with their commander still on the surface of the planet below. Still, we have more pressing concerns for now. Eusanct, enlighten us. The aged astropath seemed troubled, discomforted by the swirling, pulsing ocean of colour beyond the confines of the vessel. My lord, the warp storm continues to cause havoc amongst the Choir. Five have already died throughout the fleet, with more growing sick by the hour. All communications between the planet and the fleet have been severed. I do not know what it is we face here, Warmaster. It is power beyond anything we have ever experienced. We will not be able to hold out against this growing tempest for long. Bombola studied the skeletal man carefully. Even now he seemed drawn and weak, beads of sweat lining his paper-thin brow. His eyelids fluttered agitatedly, a telltale sign of the psychic discomfort he felt this close to the occurrence. Are we any closer to ascertaining exactly what is happening out there? Something has brought this storm to Daedalus, something that lies beneath the surface of the planet. Imperial intelligence is aware of the traitorous elements at work beneath us. Neither of them is known to practice sorcery and yet the warp itself threatens to break through into the space surrounding Daedalus. Eusanct, what could be causing this? The Primaris shook his head, even this small gesture seemed laboured to him. Sire, I cannot say. The psychic voice below ceased a little over twelve hours ago, just before the onset of the storm. Most of the fleets astropaths are now under sedation, others already driven to madness by the brewing evil. Most of the navigators have entombed themselves within their chamber-sanctums, terrified by this growing maelstrom. I myself have never experienced anything like it. It is almost as if the warp itself churns impatiently, awaiting something. I sense that the storm outside is b-barely a fraction of what it will become. It seethes, lord, like a beast awaiting its prey. Should the storm reach its peak, this fleet would be obliterated by the backlash. We cannot stay here much longer. We have to leave this system. Bombola shifted his weight uneasily, his worst fears confirmed. In an attempt to compose himself he turned to Hesuphore, his eyes meeting with those of the thin-faced admiral. What of the campaign? Do we have any idea of how it is progressing? We have been unable to raise anyone on the planets surface, lord. As with the fleet, the disturbance is rendering all attempts at surface contact useless. However, we received an in-bound near-space message drogue around three hours ago, sent by Inquisitor Vorkohnen. It contained an encrypted message intended for your eyes only. Hesuphore stepped forward and presented the warmaster with a small, matt grey data slate, bowing his head as he retreated. Bombola activated the slate and pressed his ring of office against it, the tiny garnet set into it transferring the necessary clearance codes to the small device. The screen lit up in a flash of colour, illuminating the Warmasters serious face. He read for a moment, his brow creasing slightly.

Sire, does the campaign still hold its own? Sire? Bombola did not answer, his eyes still fixed upon the small glowing screen before him.

To:
From: Date: Subject: Clearance Level: Thought For The Day:

Warmaster General Bombola


Inquisitor-Daemonhunter Devan Vorkohnen 799.M41 Status Of campaign Magenta Death is no excuse for failure

Guard Invasion (Manus Primus) force severely suppressed by tyranid elements--Overwhelming losses--Astartes Invasion (Manus Secundus) met with heavy resistance (traitor legion)--City penetrated (Manus Primus sector)--City penetrated (Manus Secundus sector, astropathically confirmed)--Mission Status: Eversor successfully deployed (Astropathically confirmed)--Storm Trooper Squad Validus successfully deployed (Astropathically confirmed)--Storm Trooper Squad Fortis successfully deployed (Astropathically confirmed)--Inquisitorial Warband successfully deployed--Targets Acquired/located: Eversor: Confirmed (Located, Astropathically confirmed)--Storm Trooper Squad Validus: Pending--Storm Trooper Squad Fortis: Confirmed (Located, Astropathically confirmed)--Inquisitorial Warband: Confirmed (Acquired)--Losses: Eversor: None--Storm Trooper Squad Validus: Unknown--Storm Trooper Squad Fortis: Unknown--Inquisitorial Warband: None--Additional Information: +++ Astropathic sensitivity was lost a little over an hour ago. Whether this is due to the increasing warp storm or to one of the enemy forces at work here on Daedalus is not known. Aside from myself and the other factions of the mission there are also a number of other capable survivors at large in the city, intent on locating and subjugating the enemy. I implore the warmaster to allow us time to complete our holy work and bring about the destruction of the heretical and alien forces that plague this planet. The psychic anomaly must be captured and studied so that we may glean any information necessary in order to prevent such an incident occurring again. If contact has not been established between ourselves in the next forty-eight hours, assume that the mission was a failure and proceed with Exterminatus. This is a direct Inquisitorial order and I trust that you, as a faithful and capable servant of the Emperor will see to it that my instructions are carried out to the letter--Praise be the holy Golden Throne and to He whom sits atop it at the centre of our universe, watching over his children for all eternity--Vorkohnen out--- +++ Bombola deactivated the data-slate and cast it on the floor, crushing the fragile device under his heel.

Despite the might and numbers of this vast campaign, he was among one of the few individuals who possessed the whole truth behind this incursion. Despite this, the reasons and the true purpose of the enemys presence was still a mystery. It was a mystery he had sworn an oath to resolve, no matter the cost. Obliterating Daedalus before learning the truth behind its invasion was an option he did not want to take. Nevertheless, as the storm outside continued to grow, the choices he had became slimmer. He closed his eyes and prayed to the Emperor to deliver to him the answers he sought. Chapter 15.

DEEPER
Youre sure about this? Brandbaar looked up and nodded, rising from the dusty ground. He patted himself down and wiped the grime away from his left ear before replacing his helmet. The noise and the vibration is pretty unmistakeable, sir. Something big is headed this way. The others glanced at one another as the scout repeated his theory, their shared trust in his abilities enough to warrant unease. At the front of the small gathering, the small ab-human sniper Deek shifted his weight uneasily, sniffing the warm air. Hes right, sirs. I can smell em, even from this distance. Emperors light, I was wondering where theyd got to. He uttered, his usually high-pitched voice suddenly ominously low. Hastor lifted his head and began to look about him, his eyes scouring the surrounding avenue cautiously. He glanced down the long length of the Grand Avenue as far as his eyesight would allow, staring into the hazy distance, back the way they had come. And youre sure that its the tyranids? Brandbaar and Deeks nodded in unison. The scout was the first to offer his expert opinion. Its all in the low noise. Can you hear it? It sounds like muffled, boiling water. Thats the sound of alien hooves drumming against rockcrete, Emperor knows how many of them. If Deek can smell them as he claims Its no claim sir! I can smell the wretched things as if they were a bad cologne! The Ratling answered, angered by the suggestion that he may be mistaken. If he can smell them approaching then theyre headed from the west, the same as the breeze. Along with the fact that the Avenue is probably the widest channel to be found in this sector of the city, I think its fairly safe to conclude that they are headed straight for us. Hastor turned to face the others, his eyes awash with foreboding. That would mean that theyre coming up right behind us. They must have dispersed into the magnacite plains and the canyons of the Anubis Gulf and now theyve doubled back and breached the city, entering the same way we did. I was wondering where the hell the swarm had got to. Damn it. This is a setback we just dont need. Okay everyone, I want two teams, even split, one sniper per team. Move it! The squad quickly split down the middle, each man instinctively shifting his position to either the left or the right of Hastor.

Deek, caught up by the sudden shuffle of bodies first moved to the left, only to be ushered gently but firmly in the direction of the other team by Tessok, who had already filled the sniper role. Okay, Regan, Zith, Nesker, Tessok and Corpo, youre with me. Commissar, take Autis, Fordar, Brandbaar and Moranith with you to the other side of the avenue. Tremlocke nodded and opened his mouth to speak, though Hastors sudden order cut his intended argument short. We need to get off street level and as high as possible. Well take the upper levels of the administratum offices behind us. Commissar, take your team to the librarium opposite. Set up an observation position on the top floor. If anything happens to us, take your team and get out of here. Likewise, if you should be detected, we will make a run for safety. We are going to see this through to the end. May the Emperor watch over us. Tremlocke stood in silence for a moment, almost as if contemplating the consequences of such a division. Finally he flashed the sergeant a nod and urged the others to follow him with a wave of his hand. Good luck. He uttered, making a break for the opposite side of the avenue, his allocated team members in tow. +++ Hastor glanced out of the shattered window before him, craning his neck round so as to get a better view of the street beyond. The low thunder continued to build, increasing to such a volume that the shattered window frame around him shook, dislodging fine splinters of glass. He pulled his head back inside and turned to check on the others. Tessok was by his side, his prized exitus rifle out of its case and ready for use. Regan and Nesker had the door, ready to dispatch any would-be foes intent on storming the room. Corpo was behind the wall to the right-hand side of the window, his hissing comm-link active, a lifeline to the others opposite them. Zith stood by Hastors side, awaiting the swarm and eager to offer up his expert opinion should the need for action arise. Sir, a message from Brandbaar. Corpo barked, holding the headset up to the audio vents of his helmet. He says that in his estimation the swarm will be passing by us is approximately eight minutes. Hastor looked over to the crouched communications officer and nodded before turning to face Zith, a gesture that seemed to break the mans concentrated silence. Any ideas, soldier? The swarms presence, or rather lack of it, has been bothering me since we first stumbled clear of the wrecked square. Where have they been? What was it that scared them off? Why are they back now? Where the hell are they going? What are they searching for? All these questions and more are running around inside my head and theyre starting to eat away at my brain. Come on, Zith, tell me what you think? The quiet trooper rubbed his chin thoughtfully, glancing out across the square as if lost in thought. Its hard to say, sir. Its hard to assess any of this. None of the behaviour displayed by the swarm since the pylon grid incident is textbook, to say the least. All I can offer you is that I think it must have something to do with the warp storm. Whatever is going on up there must be playing havoc with the hive minds hold on the creatures here, maybe even severing the link completely.

Whatever it was that brought the growing storm to Daedalus seems to have thrown the swarm into disarray. The creatures we have encountered since entering the city have seemed even more feral than normal, something that only normally happens when an individual or brood is cut off from the presence of the hive mind. It is something that the Officio Xenos Biologis refer to as instinctive behaviour. Should synaptic control be severed, the brood or broods affected revert to their basic, animal instincts, much like the Hormagaunts we encountered back at the Arbites precinct. The Genestealers that attacked Brandbaar and Deek seemed by description more ordered and methodical, displaying all the classic behaviour of a typical tyranid brood. This is down to the fact that Stealers by their very nature are vanguard organisms, bred to rove ahead of the hive fleet. They maintain an exclusive brood telepathy entirely separate from the main swarm and so were unaffected by the sudden psychic iterruption. Hastor nodded silently, assuming the role of someone who understood the confusing explanation. In truth he hadnt the slightest clue as to what Zith was talking about. As for the rest of them, it almost seems as if the entire swarm itself is suffering from this condition, or at least was suffering from it. The fact that they are now regrouped and heading in a singular direction seems to me that a certain amount of order has been restored within their ranks, how or why I cannot say. In my opinion sir, and it is only an opinion, the disturbance above is somehow the cause of the swarms current behavioural path. My only suggestion is that one or more of the swarms higher organisms have somehow managed to impose a rudimentary sense of order upon the rest of the creatures. How this is possible, I shudder to think. What about the big one. Tessok uttered, his contribution startling the others. They turned to face the crouching sniper, watching for a moment as he slid a fresh box-pattern magazine into the reservoir of the matt-black weapon in his hands. You remember, the huge white beast that Deek told us of. The winged Tyrant. You said that they had been known to display an advanced intelligence. I cant imagine any of those damned creatures to hold the slightest bit of rational thought in their heads. Never underestimate the intelligence of the swarms higher organisms. Zith snapped, almost offended by Tessoks lack of understanding. The Hive Tyrant is an extremely intelligent and capable creature. Many an Imperial commander has lost against the tyranids because of such a dismissal. Tessok held up his hands in apology, the rifle resting across his bent arms. Sorry, sorry. Zith murmured, shaking his head. Its just so frustrating, wondering what it is that drew them here in the first place. If we knew that then maybe we would have a better chance of ridding the galaxy of them for good. Sir! It was Corpo, his eyes wide with a mixture of fear and excitement. Its Tremlocke! He says that Deek has spotted the swarm through his scope. Theyre almost here. Chapter 15.

DEEPER
Foul daemons of the Warp, I abhor thee! Stay thy thrice-cursed and abominable presence and begone from this place! With all the power of the mighty Emperor of mankind I cast thee back to the hell-pit that spawned thee!

Vorkohnen screamed his righteous rage at the top of his voice as the Eternal Vigilance, his own personal Chimera bore down upon the snarling, blood red abominations before him, its turret-mounted psycannon chattering threateningly. The large, snarling daemon pack dispersed at once, breaking apart as three of its number exploded amid a hail of sanctified shells. Below the pintle-mounted psycannon the barrel of the more standard-issue multilaser screamed as it spun out hot, searing lines of energy into the scattering pack, a number of the bright bolts striking home to add to the righteous death-toll, not that these creatures had ever truly been alive. The Chimera slewed to a halt as the remaining Khornate Flesh Hounds bounded into the annex, snarling and baying. By the time they had realised that they were trapped, Vorkohnen had leapt clear of the open turret and was on the ground before them, his weapons brought to bear. Turn and face your doom, chaos-filth! This planet shall not suffer the presence of warp-spawn while ever Inquisitor Devan Vorkohnen draws breath! Vorkohnen was wild and raging now, as if the mere presence of the daemon-beasts was an affront to him. He stepped forward, a coruscating corona of psyker-power swirling about his head. His long grey hair fluttered about him as if caught in the warm updraft of a breeze, though the air seemed eerily still, suppressive even. The heady tang of sulphur and hot, fresh blood seemed to hang in the air, an odour brought into being by the emergence of the unnatural horrors before him. The huge crimson hounds turned to face him, each one of them easily larger than the inquisitor for all his power-armoured bulk. The Flesh Hounds of Khorne were a terrifying sight to behold, much less stand against. Huge, shaggymaned and broad-shouldered canine beasts with large, bestial horns that jutted and curled from their matted heads and wide, slavering sabre-toothed maws. It would have taken a supreme effort of will by any man to even look upon them; such was the terrible aura of death and savage ferocity they exuded. Lord Inquisitor Devan Vorkohnen was not just any man. A member of the Ordo Malleus, he had dedicated his long life to hunting down and destroying creatures such as these, and he had never once come across any warp-spawned monstrosity that had yet been able to best him. The mans sheer tenacity had caused the creatures to stall in their almost legendarily ferocious attack. They were immortal daemons of the warp, born and reborn into the real universe so many times and yet they had never faced a foe so confident, so unafraid as the flesh-thing before them. Nonetheless they began to shake their huge heads and dig their clawed feet into the ground beneath them, their glowing eyes burning in their sockets. They were cornered, an act that only served to anger them further. Vorkohnen raised the combi-bolter and fired off a brace of consecrated bolts, shredding the unfortunate beast in his sights. As the hound roared and combusted in a flash of obsidian flame the others leapt forward, baying and snarling as they thundered towards their quarry. Even as the inquisitor cast his gun to the ground and brought his ancient force halberd to bear one of the beasts was incinerated mid-leap, disappearing in a flash of bright, fuzzy energy. Fortan, the inquisitors veteran Guardsman companion appeared, the muzzle of his plasma gun glowing and hissing. Behind him followed Soth, the zealous exorcist of the warband, shouting as he read aloud from the holy tome open in his hand.

Muttering holy incantations of his own, Vorkohnen stepped forward to meet the advance of the creatures head on, sweeping the nemesis blade before him in a wide arc. The ancient weapon whined as the powered blade thrummed to life, the integrated censers set into the hilt of the blade coughing out a thick, pungent smog of smouldering daemonbane incense. Another of the baying hounds howled in agony as the ancient blade tore through it, a trail of spiced smoke following in its wake. The beast fell away and unravelled like a ball of string, thrashing and writhing until there was nothing left of it but bitter black smoke. The inquisitor turned on his heel and lunged, driving the powerful weapon through the open jaws of another of the slavering beasts, the daemon bursting and turning to smoke within seconds. Haerindu was at his side within seconds, a sleek black shadow twisting and spinning as she tumbled into the fray. The shrill scrape of her blessed twin power blades rang through the air as she drew them mid-cartwheel. Even as the snarling daemonhounds sensed her presence she had sent two of them howling back to the warp amid a cloud of ichor-mist. Soth strode forward, tall and confident, swapping the sacred tome in his hand for a small holy icon, which he retrieved from the chain around his neck. He turned as one of the beasts caught his scent and thrust the icon before him, his voice so loud and powerful that his dark face shook with the effort. The canine daemon that had turned to face him was thrown back as if hit by a lascannon, its thick, muscular body propelled some thirty metres through the air and into the wall behind it with bone-shattering force. Though Soth was no psyker he was a powerful and devout member of the Ecclesiarchy and one of the most feared members of the Ordo Exigare, the infamous daemon exorcists. The power of his faith was a palpable force, perhaps more potent to daemons than any other weapon, and Soth was among the most deadly of the warrior-priests of the Exigare. He marched forward, his hand still thrust out before him, his holy words causing the blasphemous beasts excruciating pain. He reached up and over his shoulder and produced a long-hafted thunder hammer from somewhere behind him, activating the weapon as he brought it round and to his front. By Saint Euphista and by Saint Cynis I challenge you, daemon-scum! Face me if you dare! Face me and know what it is to face the might of the Immortal Emperor himself! One of the hounds appeared to his right and lunged at him, all teeth and claws and ravening, blood-mad hatred. Soth swung the mighty hammer one-handed and disintegrated the creatures face without even blinking. His jade-green robes darkened as a fine spray of empyrean-ichor hit them, only to dissolve to nothing a heartbeat later. He turned just in time to see another of the Flesh Hounds leap clear over the Vigilance and at him, incited into a frenzy by the pain of his holy chant. He rolled to one side, his superb reflexes saving his life. As the creature passed by so close that he could feel its hot breath on his face he thrust the Icon of the Holy Bones into its open, saliva-trailing mouth and it exploded, the blast first rupturing its head before moving down the rest of its body like an explosive chain reaction. Banished back to the warp, the hound dissolved into a cloud of choking smoke and the pendant clattered across the pavement below, steaming with warp residue. Vorkohnens wrist-mounted storm shield sang and pulsed as it deflected a razor-sharp talon, the field it generated crackling and hissing as it dissipated the energy of the blow. He returned with the force blade in his hands, parrying another swipe with the rune-encrusted haft before slashing the beasts black innards out and sending it back to the Empyrean. Fortan snarled and moved to his side, ducking slightly as the lightning-fast and incredibly lithe form of Haerindu hurtled past overhead, her blades flashing in the half-light.

The fearless old Guardsman strode forward right into the heart of the beast-pack, confident and unafraid, blasting away at the enemy with his ancient plasma gun. Behind them the Chimeras multilaser whined as it spat round after round into the pack, each shot seeming to hit the beasts with uncanny precision. Not a single beam missed its intended target. The lexmechanic Jessanus was a formidable battle-technician, calculating the location of each shot faster and more accurately than any target tracker or cogitator ever devised. Vorkohnens brace of battle-servitors had now emerged from the rear of the Chimera and moved to engage the enemy. Menzat-7X and Gorg-005K were fearsome creations, huge constructions of heavily muscled flesh, augmetic components and powerful weaponry. Gorg-005K lumbered forward, the huge, bucking plasma cannon bolted to his shoulder unleashing bright blasts of energy into the daemons. The dark-skinned servitors expression remained impassive as he strode amongst the baying hounds, assessing and calculating each target his hunting bionic eye located. His roving eye never once faltered or ceased in its eternal quest for its next target. His broad shoulders contained the recoil of the mighty cannon as it pumped out shot after shot into the snarling pack, ever searching for the optimum line of sight or elevation of its current position. Gorg-005k was a true gun-servitor, as cold and as calculating as the keenest sentry weapon. Menzat-7X moved far more quickly than his soulless brother, breaking into a run as he spied a brace of stalking daemon-hounds preparing to ambush Fortan from behind. Unlike the cannon-wielding Gorg, Menzat-7X was much more close combat orientated, armed with a withering arsenal of weaponry. In his right hand he wielded a large, screaming chainsword which, unlike the other weapons at his disposal was carried freely, making his role all the more flexible. The entire left-hand side of his body was gone, replaced with all manner of mechanical upgrades and devices, the most potent of which were the heavy flamer and the servo-arm that sat underneath it. Menzat-7X charged headlong at the Flesh Hounds, his crackling, synthesised voice rising to a roar in his metal throat. The flamer fixed to his side barked and engulfed the nearest enemy creature, destroying it in a burst of holy flame. Its companion veered out of the way of the fireball at the last possible moment and skidded to a halt once clear, turning on its heel to face the Servitor. It lunged at him and knocked him aside, causing the bright flames to splutter and die. The combat-servitor was on his back as the hound leapt upon him, its huge claws digging into the thick armour plate of his chest. Its snapping jaws opened and it turned its head, ready to clamp them closed around the servitors head. The hound never stood a chance. Menzat thrust the servo-arm fixed to its side up and snapped its mechanized claws shut around the throat of the beast, halting the killing blow. Servos hissed and popped as the hound was lifted without effort, allowing the chainsword in the Servitors right hand to deliver its retribution. The Flesh Hound screamed and died, leaving only a pall of rapidly dispersing smoke as the only sign that it had ever been there. Vorkohnen moved to join Soth, realising that holy prayer was their best chance of banishing these loathsome atrocities back to whence they came. Despite his Emperor-given powers, these daemonic canines were all-but immune to his telekinesis and telepathy, thanks to the abhorrent collars they wore. Exclusive to the minions of the Blood God, these collars dispelled all but the most potent of psychic energy, meaning that to attack them with the mind was futile.

Vorkohnen and Soths combined voices echoed through the tall buildings around them, magnified and amplified to such a degree that the ground beneath them seemed to shake. Vorkohnen began to make the sign of the Holy Ablution, a powerful ward devised to rid real space of the excretions of the warp. As he continued this, Soth paced forward amongst the survivors of the pack and picked up his fallen pendant, whereupon he continued to wield it menacingly, sweeping it before him like as if it were the most potent weapon in his possession. I cast thee back, daemonspawn! I cast thee back into the void in the name of the Holy Emperor, god of all mankind, whose very soul is sickened by your abominable presence! Back, I say! I cast thee out! The last sentence of his chant boomed forth like a thunderclap, so loud and terrifying that the earth itself shook beneath his feet. The Flesh Hounds writhed and screamed, their huge bulks shuddering and breaking up as they began to unravel. The beasts seemed to collapse in on themselves, shrinking as their mass became intangible, the chaos-stuff that had bound them to this reality seeping away. Finally, painfully, their hold in this dimension slackened and they were cast back to the warp, howling and screaming every step of the way. As the last of the beasts disappeared its exit was followed by a sound not unlike the closing of some huge door, the sealing of some unseen, powerful vacuum. They were gone. Soth dropped to his knees, sweat pouring from his dark brow. Fortan ran to help him to his feet but found his hands brushed away. No, brother. If this physical drain is the price I must pay for the Emperors assistance, then I accept it with pride. My strength will return in time. He whispered, his powerful voice reduced to nothing more than a hoarse croak. As the others began to gather themselves together, Vorkohnen retrieved his fallen combi-weapon and made his way over to where Soth still hung on his knees, his head low. Well fought, old friend. A good test for the rigours still to come. Soth lifted his head slowly and gave a short, abrupt laugh, his bloodshot eyes rolling lazily around in their sockets to look upon the Inquisitor. A mere test, brother inquisitor. The ruinous forces here are much stronger than any we have ever faced. The Blood Gods power grows still, and soon it will be all we can do to dispel even the most base of his foul minions. Already the building maelstrom has grown to such proportions that it has eclipsed even Brother Unis potent psychic link to the Astronomicon. We are no longer able to tell if the other factions at work here are still alive. We should have requested the presence of the Grey Knights, Devan. I fear that when next we need the minions of the Blood God we may even be forced to unleash Magog. I only pray to the Immortal Master that when the time comes Vorkohnen leaned forward and placed a power-gloved hand upon the aging mans shoulder. Do not fear, good Soth. When the time comes for us to face the heretic Karkattamorg we will find the strength within us. The Emperor will see to that. Come, let us get you back inside the Vigilance, you need rest and sustenance. Our window of opportunity grows ever smaller. Vorkohnen offered his hand to the priest and it was grudgingly accepted. As he slowly rose to his feet there was a commotion from the Chimera behind them. They both glanced round to see a figure emerging from the rear ramp of the vehicle, waving and shouting. A tall, lean woman in her late twenties bounded across the space between them gracefully, finally grinding to a halt before the bemused Inquisitor.

Jourabel, I told you to stay behind the controls at all times! Should we ever need to leave in a moments notice Jourabel Orshant DeLumenburg. At the age of twenty two she had been a noble of House DeLumenberg, a wealthy and powerful upper-spire family of the hive of Necromunda. At the age of twenty five she was a rogue trader, specialising in rare archeotech and exotic xenotech, both of which she had in abundance. She was an attractive young woman, save for the glowing red orb that had replaced her left eye a year or so before and the fact that she wore the most gaudily-coloured and hardly modest attire Vorkohnen had ever come across. Like the others, she had come into the service of the Inquisitor after a chance encounter on one of his many missions. Like the others, she had needed little persuasion when Vorkohnen had asked her to join his warband. Unlike the others, Vorkohnen had never fully been comfortable with her presence under his care. It wasnt the fact that she was one of only two females currently serving under him, for in his long years as an agent of the Inquisition he had employed many women. It wasnt particularly because of her lewd, slightly over the top manner, for at times he found her wit quite refreshing. No, it was primarily the fact that, of all his agents, she was by far the mostradical. The tools of her trade were, by their very nature, extremely prohibited. Her use of archeotech and in particular xenotech was to all intents and purposes, borderline heretical. It was only due to the fact that her unofficial arsenal had, on more than one occasion, played a major part in saving cities, planets and on one occasion even a star system from the evil machinations of the Emperors enemies that her less-than-legal activities were overlooked. Jourabel Orshant DeLumenberg, his cross to bear. A raucous, crude harlot of a woman whose overtly boisterous demeanour seemed suddenly very, very sober. He looked into her eyes for a moment, trying to work out exactly what it was that seemed wrong. There was fear there, a rising, welling fear the likes of which he had not seen in her eyes since the day he found her, cowering in the hold of the dark eldar slaveship, the Shredder of Souls. Jourabel? What is it? he asked, suddenly growing very, very cold. We have to get out of here, Devan. She spat, sweeping the long, pink matted dreadlocks of her fringe back over her dandy-hat. The mid-range proxalarms of the Vigilance just lit up like a solar flair. I couldnt get a clear reading, thanks to the sub-standard quality of Imperial hardware, so I hooked the tau sensor spine array up to it andSweet Emperor, theyre coming! The tyranids are back and theyre headed this way! The whole snakking swarms headed this way! Chapter 16.

SWARM TYRANT
Like a tide they came, a tsunami of roaring, slavering hatred. Such was the vastness of their numbers that they filled the wide boulevard like water raging down a sluice, a living torrent of teeth and claws and chitin. The ground underfoot shook as the terrible monstrosities that were the Carnifex thundered their way down

the street, flanked and surrounded by the smaller base warriors of the swarm. Around these crested warriors the numberless broods of the Hormagaunt and the Termagant scuttled and skittered, squealing and snarling and chattering like the birds of some huge flock of plague proportions. Others, snake-like organisms armed with scythe-bladed talons and snapping, oversized jaws slithered amongst the mass of writhing bodies, hissing and screeching as they searched the shadows for any signs of life. The ground shook beneath their collective hooves so that the air above them became a dust-filled haze, choked by the clouds of loosened rubble that were shaken from the buildings at either side. Everything before them was smashed aside or trampled to dust. It was as if no force on this Emperorforsaken planet had the power to stop them. Thats how it seemed to Hastor, who watched as the beasts below thundered past. Mercifully, neither team had been spotted or sensed by the stampeding swarm, and for this he was thankful. That aside, he found himself growing rather concerned by the fact that the swarm seemed to be heading in the same direction as they had intended, hoping against hope that the tyranid agenda differed from their own. He knew full well that the swarms current path would take them right to the heart of the vicious fight between the Astartes and their twisted kin. More importantly, it would take them right to the access tunnel they sought to find. If the tyranids even suspected this He glanced round the room at the others, feeling the boards beneath his feet shudder. Corpo was still behind the wall across from him, pressed hard against the cold jessawood cladding, his eyes squeezed tight shut. Tessok waited in a tight ball beneath the quaking window ledge, his precious rifle locked in a tight embrace. Zith was behind him, peering warily over the ledge at the surging mass below, watching their progress in silent wonder. Of all the nervous group, he was perhaps the only one actually experiencing anything other than apprehension. At the door; Nesker and Regan cautiously guarded the deserted corridor beyond, alert and pumped, ready to repel any ambushing forces. Across the way he could just make out the telltale varying greys that made up the urban camouflage of the rest of his squad, their heads low, barely visible above the windowsill. He was thankful that the airborne elements of the swarm were far above, sliding through the skies of the city well clear of the buildings. This at least meant that he was able to keep one eye on the swarm as it passed below. They are definitely acting in unison. Zith whispered, turning to address the sergeant It may appear to you as if they are lost in some mindless stampede, but thats not the case. They are heading to a definite location with a single purpose in mind. Textbook synaptic control behaviour. Hastor continued to watch the swarms progress to see if he could see exactly what it was that Zith had picked up on. Sometimes it amazed him how the trooper had ever managed to come up with this sort of information in the first place given the relatively short life span of those experienced in fighting the tyranids. In truth, he really didnt want to know. You know, judging by what weve seen so far, this swarm is pretty large. It could be a while before its safe to move out. He turned to look at Zith, who continued to stare out at the roiling mass of living weaponry beneath him. I suppose. Why, what do you have in mind? Sergeant, its been nearly forty hours since any of us had any rest. I suggest that now would be as good a time as any to grab some sleep. Its clear that the swarm have no interest in us. If they had we would probably be dead by now. We all need

rest. Hastor opened his mouth to speak and then realised that his man was right. It had been too long since any of them had slept. It was only upon hearing Ziths observation that he suddenly realised just how tired he himself was. Every minute they sat up here awaiting the passing of the swarm was a minute wasted. They might as well utilise the time as best they could. Maybe youre right. Corpo, signal the others, tell them to get some rest. We still have another He paused, checking his chronometer. twenty-two hours of daylight left, which should be more than enough. Nesker, Regan? The two troopers looked over as they heard the sergeants call. We should be safe up here; theyre clearly not hunting for us. Grab some rest. Ill take first watch. +++ He awoke with a start to the sounds of panic and disarray ringing in his ears. Nesker was hovering over him, shaking him violently awake. He raised his bionic hand instinctively, only to have the seasoned veteran brush it aside without a thought. Come on sarge, get up! Weve got trouble! Hastor stumbled to his feet, his eyes still bleary with sleep. He checked his wrist-mounted chronometer. Hed been asleep for almost two hours, finally managing to grab the meagre rest time after Regan had relieved him. He looked around the room at the panicked men under his command. Corpo was still in his position beside the window, hollering into the vox-set like a man possessed. Tessok and Zith were crouched before the tattered gothic arch, their heads low but at a level that afforded them a little observation to the outside world. Regan was back at his place beside the door, frantically searching the corridor beyond with his eyes, clearly expecting trouble. What in Terras name is going on? Hastor croaked, his mouth dry from his hastened awakening. Nesker said nothing for a moment, too busy with the effort of bundling his commanding officer towards a safe corner of the room. He reached the right-angled corner of the office and shoved the sergeant into it before affording himself a quick glance behind him. Its found us! Emperor knows how, but the bitch has found us! he spat, flashing another glance towards the window. What? Whats happening? Who..? Tessoks exitus rifle cracked the air behind Nesker, stopping the sergeant in mid-sentence. He pushed himself away from the wall and past the assault weapon trooper, adrenalin quickly washing away any last vestiges of grogginess. He violently shoved away an obstacle of office furniture and descended upon Corpo, the trooper still occupied with the active vox-link. Its found them sir! Oh throne, its found them! We have to help them! We Hastor rose to his feet sharply and pushed past the communications officer as he headed towards the window. As he neared the large opening, Tessok looked up from the sight of his rifle, almost surprised by Hastors sudden presence.

Shes back, sir! I thought wed seen the last of her, but shes back! He stammered, tipping his head in the direction of the street before them. Hastor slammed his hands down on the glass-peppered windowsill and thrust his head out through the opening. The streets below were still filled with the bodies of the swarm, though by this time the vast tide had begun to thin, the main body of the tyranid stampede far into the distance. He lifted his gaze so that his eyes were level with the top-floor windows of the librarium across the way, and he gasped. Where the window should have been was a huge, utterly horrifying blur of bone-white death, its armoured form bristling with an array of organic blades, hooks, spikes and barbs. The shape hovered awkwardly in front of the window on a pair of huge, bat-like leather wings, the extremities so large and imposing that each sweeping flap caused the creature to rise briefly before hovering back down to face its intended target; the members of the other team. Damn it! How in His holy name did that thing find us? Zith? I swear I dont know! The xenos expert stammered, clearly as shamed by the Tyrants presence as he was concerned. There was nothing about the swarms behaviour to indicate that it would find us. Theyre not a standard invasion force. By all thats holy, sergeant, I never thought shed come for us! Underneath him Tessoks rifle cracked again and the huge Tyrant lurched forward, a shimmer of bright, psychic energy washing over it. Another shot, milliseconds after the first, rang out and the creature dropped three storeys, thrashing and screaming as it tried to maintain its equilibrium. Its psi-shielded! Tessok spat, turning to face the sergeant. Damn it! The shield-breaker round is having some effect but the thing is just too powerful! I cant bring its defences down for good! I was hoping for a head shot but its too fast to draw a bead on! Hastor didnt hear him. He turned and thrust his boot out towards the crouching sniper while in the same instant shoving Zith in the opposite direction. All three men fell to the floor, seconds before a bright and terribly powerful salvo of hissing, coruscating energy slammed into the stone arch, tearing chunks out of the thick edging blocks as it passed over them. The ceiling behind them crumpled and turned to dust, blown upwards by the terrible, warp-spawned energies of the trio of blasts. Warp plasma! Zith coughed, his mouth full of rubble dust. That shouldnt be possible! How the hell is it able to summon warp plasma out here? Its psychic potency should be severely compromised by the storm above! Worry about that later! Hastor barked, hauling the downed trooper onto his feet. We need to find better cover. Tessok, are you alright? The squad sniper scrambled to his feet, clearly still dazed by Hastors painful but successful attempt to save his life. Y-yes sir, Im okay. He mumbled, immediately checking his weapon over. Good. Lets get the hell out of here! He pushed Zith and Tessok towards the door and then grabbed Corpo roughly buy the shoulder, hauling him up onto his feet in an instant. Regan, Nesker, move it! Corpo, get onto the others if you can, I need to talk to Tremlocke. The small group rushed through the doorway, another salvo of warp-energy hot on their heels. The walls

surrounding the doorway buckled and shattered, offering little resistance to the bright bolts. A choking cloud of wall fragments and dust billowed into the corridor, filling their mouths and eyes with acrid grit. They pressed on regardless, packed together in the cramped passageway, jostling blindly as they strived to find an exit. The windowless halls interior globes flickered and sparked as the thunderous barrage continued behind them, hunting blindly for kills despite their relative safety. Sir, I have the commissar on the other end of the link! Corpo coughed, thrusting the receiver of his vox set in the general direction of the sergeant. Hastor probed the blinding dust for the handset before finally feeling it press into his palm. Another damned setback of this mission. They had discovered early on that the disturbance above was affecting even the short-range vox sets of their storm trooper helmets. Only Corpos more powerful unit had any effect, which even then was only limited in most cases to short-range, inter-squad communication. Tremlocke, can you hear me? Its Hastor! Can you hear me? The link crackled and spat, Tremlockes voice distant but just audible over the interference. ..just heaou. I dont kn.ound us, it just seem.where! He cursed under his breath. Even at this short range the commissars voice was barely more than a fuzzy hiss. Listen very closely to me. You have to get to the roof. There are still tyranids down on the street and to make our way to ground level would be suicide! Get your men up to the roof and Ill contact you from there! Hastor out. Just as he handed the receiver back to Corpo there was a huge, tearing crash from the room behind them, almost as if the outside wall itself had been punched through. The dust had begun to clear and Hastor noticed Zith glancing past him towards the noise, fear clearly etched upon his dusty face. It cant follow us down here, surely. The size of its wings alone should prevent it from being able to f The doorway behind them exploded outwards, the thick Daedalusian jessawood disintegrating into a fine mist of sawdust and splinters. Something huge blocked out the light of the glow-globes as it barrelled into the passageway, roaring its hatred at the retreating storm troopers. Nesker was the first to react. He barged past the sergeant and raised his Mordian-pattern grenade launcher up to his shoulder, unleashing a screaming, whistling tube in the monsters direction. The projectile rang as it struck the advancing Tyrants thick chest carapace before exploding, the blast shaking the walls either side of them. The compact and contained explosion of the krak grenade lifted the alien clear of its feet and slammed it onto its back amid a flash of spitting warp energy, the punishment inflicted on the warp field encompassing it such that the entire corridor was filled with the stench of ozone. The snarling veteran waved the others back before unleashing another brace of grenades at the smokewreathed monstrosity and the hallway was rocked by another sustained blast so fierce that it shook loose a fine rain of plastercite from the ceiling above them. The interior door swung open with such force that the wood around its hinges cracked and splintered, seconds before the hurtling shapes of Hastor and his men threw themselves through it and onto the landing. The sergeant was at their head, his gaze darting from left to right as he searched frantically for any signs of elevation. Damn it! I was hoping these stairs carried on up to the roof! Come on, this way!

The men turned and followed him as he ran left down the next corridor, throwing each door he passed open with a violent shove. Come on, come onhere! He threw open the end door and exhaled a sigh of relief as his eyes fell upon the ascending staircase before him. The others hurried quickly by him with Regan bringing up the rear, one cautious eye still on the doorway at the other end of the corridor. Shes up and moving, sarge. He uttered, breathing hard with fear. If krak grenades cant stop her, what can? Shes going to find us. If we cant stop her, trooper, then well just have to slow her down. Nesker? Nesker appeared in the doorway, his scarred face drenched in sweat and caked in plastercite dust. Sarge? Frag this corridor to hell. The Guardsman nodded and quickly swapped the circular drum fixed below his launcher for another one strapped to his side, locking the new drum in place with a swift slap of his palm. He stepped back through the doorway and lifted the launcher once again. A hail of shrill, whistling shots filled the corridor, each one preceded by the hollow, bottle-top pop of the launchers air-assisted firing mechanism. Fiery explosions filled the space beyond as the grenades exploded, shattering walls and doorframes and bringing the ceiling down as each grenade blew itself apart. Within moments the way between them was a smouldering, twisted no-mans land, full of jutting ceiling struts and pockets of electrical fires. Regan, your turn. Hastor uttered, turning to face the flame trooper. Yes sir. Regan stepped forward and depressed the ignition button of his flamer, activating the weapons blue pilot light. The tang of promethium began to seep into through the doorway as the trooper stepped forward, the end of his weapon exploding with bright fire. A liquid gout of searing fire surged into the wreckage, igniting it violently and turning the remnants of the access way into a raging inferno. Hastor watched the fire burn for a fleeting moment before turning back towards the staircase, satisfied. That should hold the bitch. Come on, lets go. Chapter 16.

SWARM TYRANT
Cold, ethereal daylight hit Hastors eyes as he stepped onto the roof of the administratum, causing his face to wrinkle. Already he could feel the nauseating presence of the storm above starting to seep into his mind. Tessok, Corpo and Zith were already at the edge of the roof, peering down at the mass of living weaponry below. Zith was the first to notice Hastors arrival and he turned to face him, stepping down from the ledge. It looks as if the main stampede has passed sir, although there are still quite a number of enemy organisms down there. My guess is that theyre simply confused by the Tyrants disappearance. Now that the hive minds psychic link has been severed, the Swarm Tyrant seems to be the primary hivenode creature, or Tyranicii Preafeceta, I think the term is. They have become reliant on the Tyrant to provide psychic stimulus. That led me to thinking

Hastor made his way over to the edge of the roof and peered down at the streets below, his mouth twisting into a dark frown. This warp storm must be having severe side-effects on the entire swarm. Zith continued. More so, I suspect, than anything the hive fleets have yet encountered. Have you ever wondered why their have been no reports of instances of tyranid activity in or around the Eye of Terror? Hastor waved his hand dismissively, barely listening. His attention was held fast by the creatures below. I think that its more than a coincidence, sir. Theyre afraid of the warp. Its the only thing that is able to block the hive minds psychic presence. Sure, they use the warp just like we do but I suspect that they are as wary and afraid of it as we are. Every swarm large or small is driven by something, some huge, unseen presence. Its all very hypothetical sir but I suspect that one way or another something managed to block out this driving force completely. Thats why the hive fleet was unable to begin seeding the planet. Thats why they are only partially developed as an invasion force. They arethey are incomplete. Hastor turned as he heard this. Up till now he had been largely uninterested in Ziths assessment of the swarm, concentrating instead on the immediate danger presented by the creatures below, yet there was something about the troopers words that caught his attention. Despite the fact that he was no scholar and that he held considerably less of an interest for the creatures than his comrade, he was eager to hear then man out. How do you mean, partially developed? From what Ive seen of those things out here they seem more than capable of facing an Imperial army. Yes, but where are the big guns? The bio-titans? They came here to find something, but once they got here they were unprepared for a full-scale war. The question is, why didnt they adapt? If they had followed the normal course and managed to seed the planet prior to our arrival then we wouldnt have stood a chance. Something here on Daedalus caused a halt to their accelerated evolution, something far more powerful than anything they have yet encountered. Hastor seemed taken aback by this, the weight of Ziths words finally beginning to register within his mind. So what happened here then? Why are they so under strength? Zith pointed to the skies above them, his eyes still fixed upon the sergeants face. That. There is something growing within that disturbance so powerful, so incredibly potent that it has managed to block out the hive mind completely. Im no expert on the machinations of the warp, sir, but I can safely say that, whatever is building inside that storm is more powerful than anything we or the Nids have ever encountered. They are scared, sir. They are confused and frightened. For the first time since their birth these creatures are alone, separated from the influence that drives their every effort, their every thought. We have an entire splinter fleet gone rogue, sir, blindly following the Tyrants dwindling psychic presence. The Tyrant has displayed an amazing example of evolutionary adaptation in assuming the role of the hive mind, though I suspect that the effort of sustaining such a role is ultimately beyond even the tyranids abilities. The swarm is breaking down, sir. It is coming apart. Throne, Im only beginning to see the bigger picture even now. Whatever it is that lies in wait beneath this city is drawing them like moths to a flame. This is big, sir. Very big. Hastor was humbled. He had always know that Zith was an intelligent man, perhaps the most learned member of his entire squad, but this was the first time he had ever truly wished that he was wrong. Thatthat is a lot to take in, trooper. However, for the time being we have to concentrate on our present

situation. We have a Tyrant on our tail and we are trapped on this roof. We need to consolidate our forces and get the hell out of here as soon as we can. Zith glanced back towards the roof access door and it was clear that for a moment he had forgotten about the raging, biological weapon behind them. He pondered on this for a while before turning back to face Hastor, his eyes wide with excited realisation. The Tyrants got me thinking as well, sir. Its clearly a one-off organism, a mutated strain of the standard Tyrant genus. As I said, it seems to me that the white Tyrants creation was, I dont know, some kind of last resort, desperate measure by the Queen as she realised the power of the approaching warp disturbance. This Tyrant is the first I have encountered that is able to actively influence the swarm without any contact with the hive mind. Its as if some level of her consciousness was transferred permanently to the Okay, okay Zith! Throne, I get the picture! The sergeant snapped, waving his hands at the babbling soldier. I appreciate the thought you have so clearly given this matter but at the moment it is all irrelevant. Our main concern is escape. We need to put as much distance between ourselves and the damned Tyran He froze. Realisation flooded his brain as Ziths words finally sank in. Whether he realised it or not, Lieutenant Foucho Zith had provided him with the best answer to the tyranid threat he could possibly have come up with. Thats it. Zith, thats it! he whispered, seconds before the roof access door exploded outward in a hail of splinters. Sweet St. Anjuels arse! Nesker cursed, spinning around on the spot. Frag grenades screamed from the barrel of the launcher and into the bulk of the emerging monstrosity, only to blossom harmlessly against its diamond-hard shell. Zith and Hastor quickly added to the storm of fire with their own weapons, the hissing shots kissing the armoured hide of the alien commander like rain pattering of a window pane. The Tyrant roared and lowered its huge crested head. Flashing tendrils of multi-hued energy swirled about it for a moment and then it lifted its huge cranium and emitted a blood-chilling roar. Dear God-Emperor! Zith screamed, dropping to his knees. His hellgun clattered onto the roof beneath him, his fingers no longer able to grip it. Nesker reeled in the wake of the psychic blow and the last two frag grenades in the rapidly-emptying ammo drum went wild, leaving smoking trails as they whistled clear over the Tyrants head. Hastor himself staggered backwards, recoiling in sheer horror at the Tyranids terrifying presence. Though the beast had been horrific enough to face before, now it was as if he were a small child, his mind and body wracked with uncontrollable fear. Then, as suddenly as the assault had begun, it was over, the Tyrants hold upon their collective minds quashed in an instant. Sir! Sergeant Hastor! Breathing heavily, Hastor turned to see Corpo waving frantically over by the edge of the roof. The receiver was in his hand and he seemed as if we was about to soil himself. Its Tremlocke sir! He says to warn you Hastors heart nearly stopped again as he watched something large and monstrous fly up and over the communications officer. It screeched and swept a huge, scythed talon down as it passed overhead, knocking the man clean off his feet.

Corpo! Noooo! Two more shapes appeared behind it, their massive wings casting a shadow over the rooftop where his downed comrade lay, their malicious green eyes fixed upon him. They were almost upon him when Regan appeared as if from nowhere and hosed them with a gout of bright, burning flame, knocking them from the skies. He turned back towards Zith who had recovered his composure and now continued to assail the roaring Tyrant with lasfire, despite the lack of effect his efforts here having. Nesker had used up all his remaining frag grenades and had discarded the launcher for his hellgun, realising that they would all be dead before he ever had a chance to reload it. Its no good sir! All were doing is knocking it back! We cant penetrate its warp field, and even if we could Hastor watched as the hot, zipping shots of the hellguns slammed into the beast, sending up bright flashes of energy as each one connected. Under any other circumstances each one of the impacts would have been a clean kill-shot. Against this beast, they were less than nothing. Its no good! These things are next to useless against that monster! Tessok! Way ahead of you, sarge. The squad sniper, who had until moments ago been introducing the newcomers to the nasty end of his exitus pistol appeared by his side, the pistol back in its holster and his rifle held firm against his shoulder, his eye pressed against the exotic sight of the weapon. Rifle, switch to vocal command recognition mode; clearance: Exitus-alpha-3243-zeta! A small rune set into the black gunmetal above the rifles grip winked green and emitted a small bleep, signifying that his clearance code had been accepted. Hearing this noise, Tessok grinned. Rifle, three rounds, turbo-penetrator. Under his command the thick, stocky ammunition clip of the rifle whirred and clicked three times. Three things matter in marksmanship, my father used to say. He uttered. He waited until the last click echoed, and then fired. Location The Tyrant jerked back as the first bullet hit it square in the chest, the impact throwing up a dazzling, shimmering wave of crackling blue energy. Location The second round hit the creature in exactly the same spot, shattering the thick, rib-like carapace and driving straight through into its vast innards. A spray of bright bodily fluid cascaded from the wound and the huge beast staggered back, bellowing in pain. Location. The creatures left eye disappeared in a spray of blood. A millisecond later the back of its head exploded outwards, the bright detonation sending a spray of hit chitin cascading through the air. The Tyrant roared and staggered forward two paces, its massive frame lolling drunkenly from side to side. Its quadruple scythe arms flailed and tore through the roof, dislodging tiles and rockcrete with each sweep. The stunned group looked on as the gigantic beast crashed into the roof belly-first, its descent and weight as such that the felted tiles splintered and cracked underneath it. Foul fluids ran like miniature rivers from the wounds it had sustained, staining the roof beneath it.

The Swarm Tyrant was dead. Regan stumbled backwards so fast that he fell flat on his rear at Hastors feet, dazed and blackened by the smoke of his own weapon. Sarge Hastor turned on his heel and glanced behind him, suddenly remembering the other intruders. One of the creatures lay still on the floor, nothing more than a dead, burning carcass. The other two were stood before him in eerie silence, almost as if held immobile by the field of a stasis grenade. They hovered for a moment, gently swaying from side to side, hypnotised by the Tyrants sudden death. Tyranid warriors, Harpy species. He heard Zith whisper from somewhere behind him. They were probably acting as the Tyrants guard, chosen for their ability to mutate. II dont think they know what to do next. Zith was right. It was as if the creatures had been suddenly and violently lobotomised, their psychic bond with the dead Tyrant severed. They were alive, he could tell this by their heaving chests, but it was as if all synaptic activity had suddenly and utterly been wiped from their minds. Hastor watched them for a moment, not daring to take his eyes off the swaying beasts. Suddenly, behind them he spied movement. To his great relief and surprise Corpo pulled himself up onto his knees, the wrecked vox-caster he carried sparking and hissing. Ohhhh.damn it. The communications officer groggily reached for the shoulder straps and removed the heavy pack, cursing as his eyes fell upon the deep rend that furrowed the metal casing. Excellent. So much for my role in the squad. He groaned, throwing the wrecked device down hard upon the flat, tiled roof. Corpo, over here. Hastor whispered, desperately trying to catch the soldiers attention. After what seemed like an age the trooper looked up, his eyes still hooded and glazed from his short, violence-induced sleep. Hey sarge, Ioh. Sweet. Merciful. Emperor His eyes fell upon the gently swaggering creatures before him and he seemed to realise all at once that they were a very real obstacle between him and the rest of the group. Stay there. Dont move a muscle, soldier. Hastor whispered, holding both hands up in Corpos direction. The creatures before him began to twitch, almost as if their brains were beginning to boot back up. Low, throaty snarls rumbled up from their throats like the grumbling of a waking canine. Sir, as much as Id like to believe that these things are brain-dead, I Zith began, only to have his sentence cut abruptly short by the sergeants wagging finger. I think Im starting to learn a little about these things, Zith. The most important lesson Ive learned so far is never underestimate them. He whispered, his voice cautiously low. He turned back towards the stranded storm trooper and slipped his pistol into its holster before proceeding to sign him a question, not wishing to aggravate the aliens by the sound of his voice. Corpo, check your grappling launcher. Is it operational? Corpo recognised the signed command and hastily checked himself, confirming this with a nod. Hastor nodded back and slid his plasma pistol from its holster once again, accentuating this so that Corpo

could clearly see his actions. The vox officer noticed this and followed suit, crossing his arms in order to draw a pair of laspistols from the holsters beneath his armpits. Hastor glanced behind him and the others each held up a thumb, their own launchers operational and ready for use. At the rear of the group, Nesker gently crouched down and retrieved his fallen grenade launcher, his eyes fixed firmly upon the brace of large xenomorph life forms between him and the edge of the roof. Confident that his team were as ready as they would ever be, he turned back towards the waiting Guardsman, flashing him one final nod. He snapped the pistol up to his head height and fired, the shot disintegrating the monsters shoulder carapace. It would have decapitated the beast if not for the fact that it had already begun to move, suddenly springing to life as if awoken with a start. Corpos double laspistols whined and a flurry of shots struck the other warrior, slamming into the carapace between its shoulder blades and wings. The alien screeched as its delicate wing membranes were torn and burned and blackened craters were scored across its back. It turned, suddenly very awake and raging with bloodlust, its primary bestial instincts taking over. Corpo, go! You know what to do! Hastor hollered, breaking into a sprint across the roof of the administratum. The others followed suit, hurtling past the frenzied monsters as fast as their legs would carry them. On his way past Nesker clutched the strap of the spent grenade launcher in his fist and swung it with all his might, smashing it into the face of the nearest beast with some relish. Ha! Eat Imperial steel, gellad! he snapped, using the old Caulderaxii insult gleefully. Hastor had always meant to ask him exactly what a gellad was, but he had been sure that he wouldnt like the answer. Corpo leapt over the edge of the building without a thought and was gone from sight even as the snapping warriors turned, setting their malevolent sights upon the others. Hastor drove his heels into the floor beneath him and ran as fast and as hard as he could, firing the pistol behind him as he hurtled towards the precipice. He reached the ledge in time to see Zith leap up and lift his arms, seconds before dropping out of sight. With one almighty effort Hastor vaulted over the waist-high line of rockcrete blocks and was gone.

Chapter 17.

CUT OFF THE HEAD

Teeth. Glistening, snapping, puncturing teeth. Snapping, slavering, grinning jaws. Shining, slime-coated carapace. Horns, hooves, slashing, bladed talons, rending, ripping, grabbing claws. Snapping tendons and barbed, serrated hooks. Shining eyes full of malevolence, slithering, thrashing, writhing tentacles and pulsating extremities, creature upon creature, sliding, slithering, crawling, scrabbling, shining, chattering squawking screechingchirpingroaring. The ground below him was alive with alien filth, a tide of xenos effluence driven into an uncontrollable frenzy by the death of its foster parent. All semblance of order lost, the multitude creatures of the tyranid war machine were reduced to a screaming mob of organic, insane biological mass, as wild and blood-hungry as ever.

It had dawned on him in the middle of Ziths frantic assessment of the now-dead Swarm Tyrant. The swarm was one huge, incredibly complex organism, each individual creature acting in unison with the rest of its kind. Sever the head and the body would cease to function. Tessok had done just that, and now the brain was dead. The problem was that instead of dying the body continued to spasm and thrash, its motor functions sending it into wracked convulsions. The body was far from dead. All they had succeeded in doing was to make it as mad as ever, the last, lingering vestiges of its control gone. He lifted his head and looked out across the expanse, the wheels of the grapple-pulley in his hand screeching above him. He thanked the Emperor that he had noticed earlier the difference in height between the two buildings. The librarium opposite was a good storey lower, and the external safety ladder that led to the roof was almost straight across. Corpo and Zith were already climbing the ladder with haste, their ascent thankfully as yet unnoticed by the swirling biological carpet below. Nesker and Regan were close behind him, the hooks of their own grappling rigs embedded in the wall around his. He released his grip and hurtled into the ladder like a descending bird of prey, slamming against the cool metal with a sickening thud three storeys down from the roof above. For a moment he almost lost his grip as he struggled to find a foothold but again, the Emperor provided and he soon felt the steel rungs beneath his feet. Zith and Corpo were above him now and firing across the open space of the avenue. Lines of laser-light streaked through the air over his head and he craned his neck, trying to locate their intended destination. Regan and Nesker were still in mid-flight and approaching at breakneck speeds, their legs thrust forward ready for impact. Behind them were the two winged Warriors, now so wild and mindless that for a moment he thought they might have forgotten how to fly. Unfortunately for the others this seemed not to be the case and the aliens began to close on them, their cruel jaws and sharp talons lunging ever closer. Hastor longed to lend his own firepower to the defence of his men but he knew he could not. Regan was moments away from him and he realised at once that if he didnt start to climb, the trooper was going to land straight on top of him. With that thought in mind he turned back towards the ladder and started to ascend, grunting and snarling as he powered up the rusting rungs. He managed to climb another storey before the flame trooper landed below him with a thud, thankfully managing to gain a tight grip on the ladder. Move it! he barked, his command aimed at Corpo and Zith who were still above him and growing closer. As the two men responded to his command he heard the familiar exhaling, muffled hiss of the plasma gun of Autis far above. At least the others were now aware of their presence, a fact that he had been unsure of until now. He heard an inhuman screech of pain and turned in time to see one of the beasts spiralling towards the ground, bright phosphorous plasma fire wrapped around its plummeting form. He climbed another metre or so and then glanced round again, anxious to confirm Neskers safety.

Nesker! Where the hell are you soldier? Answer me! He began to scour the skies behind him as far as the natural rotation of his neck would allow, though to his dismay he could see nothing. He was about to turn back when suddenly the ladder shook violently as something large and heavy slammed into it, almost causing him to lose his grip. Damn it! He cursed, his feet slipping out from under him. He thrust his augmented arm forward and felt the cybernetic fingers close around a rung, the aged metal squealing as it gave way under his grip. He struggled for purchase, fearing that the step would give way at any time. After treading air for what seemed to be a lifetime he finally felt his feet find something solid and he hauled himself up, panting heavily. He peered down between his arms and saw Nesker and the warrior locked in a frantic struggle below Regan, who was busy desperately slamming his boot as hard as he could into the creatures face. By all accounts this wasnt a wise move, as the unfortunate Nesker clung to the aliens neck for dear life, his legs free and dangling beneath him. The alien was as mad as ever, and the two beings would have fallen to their deaths were it not for the fact that the warrior had unwittingly driven its bladed talons into the rockcrete wall of the flaking librarium wall on impact, talons that were now lodged tight in the crumbling rockcrete. It continued to thrash and shake its crested head, infuriated both by its predicament and the annoying preything that hung around its neck. Its huge, tear-ravaged wings fanned the air behind it in desperation and Nesker found himself battered by the creatures rolling shoulder blades. Now that he had noticed the tyranids situation, all reservations he had held about knocking it from the ladder were gone. All they had to do was kill it and Nesker would be safe. Regan! Help him! Regan looked up as he heard his name, a look of confusion etched across his features. Horus be damned, man! Your combat knife! Run the bastard through! Yes sir! The panicked trooper let go of the ladder with one hand and reached down to the scabbard strapped to his right thigh. He slid his combat knife free, the keen metal of the blade whispering a ringing hiss as it emerged. He spun the small but deadly knife in his palm so that the blade was pointing downwards towards the tyranids crested head and he began to descend. Moving down the ladder as far as he dare he raised the knife above his head and thrust it down. He gave out a yelp of surprise as the blade was sent spinning away into the screaming mass below, knocked from his grasp by one of the warriors clawed hands. He cursed himself for forgetting the fact that these unholy beasts were six-limbed, a fact made even more apparent as the warriors free arms raked the air, groping and swiping at him. Its tattered wings continued to beat, creating a barrier of flailing muscle and sinew that he would struggle to penetrate without being knocked from the ladder. Hastor spat with hatred as he saw this, impatient rage welling up within him. He let go of the ladder with one hand and swung out. Regan! Move it! The bewildered storm trooper looked up as he heard this, his face creased with a confused frown.

But sir Move it. Regans protests ended as quickly as they had begun and he soon pushed his way past the sergeant, ascending as fast as he could, wary of his commanders disposition. Even as he passed by Hastor the grim-faced sergeant was already on his way down, his power sword unsheathed and in his hand. We dont have time for this! He snarled, spitting the words out from between bared teeth. He came upon the beast like a madman, the crackling blade in his hand sweeping from left to right as he sheared away its flailing wings. The Warriors squeals of pain fell on deaf ears and he continued to descend, hacking and slashing at its grasping claws until they too were parted from the creature and sent spinning away towards the ground far below. The Warrior turned its head skyward and emitted a scream of rage his way, a heartbeat before its face slid away from the rest of its head amid a cloud of cooked blood-mist. Nesker, dazed and bewildered, peered upwards; vaguely aware of the decreasing whine of a compact power unit dying away and his eyes fell across an outstretched hand. S-sarge? Lets go, Fen. +++ The Ultramarines back arched and he slammed down hard, face first, the projectile so powerful that it shredded his armours bulky power plant to pieces. A dark shape loomed over him and a giant warrior clad in corrupt, blood red power armour appeared, its glowering moon-grey face twisted in an expression of mocking glee. Yellowed fangs lined its mouth, filed and sharpened in order to give the heretic warrior the appearance of a snarling predator. He carried the bulky Kai gun over one fur-lined, armoured shoulder, its barrel smoking with the hatefuelled residue of its bearer. Grisly trophies hung about him on chains and protruding from spikes, the heads of a mere handful of his victims. Shattered, bloodstained eldar helmets, withered, eyeless ork heads and even the synthetic sensor-skull of a Tau XV8 Crisis battlesuit adorned his armour, grim testaments to the countless battles he had fought in the name of his damned god. The Ultramarine pushed himself over onto his back, a dark pool of his own blood staining the pockmarked ground below him. His eyes fell upon the huge traitor marine and he uttered a curse, the words barely passing his dying lips. Vorsak the Headhunter laughed, a gravel-sharp cackle rasping forth from his scarred throat. Hah! Thats it! Curse me, soldier of the Imperium! I am already cursed in more ways than you will ever know. Feel the bite of Vorsak, Imperial dog! Look upon my face as the lifeblood flows from your body, and know that your death was as nothing to me. None of you children have yet proved to be a worthy opponent for my master. For this insult, I will add your head to the seat of the Blood Gods throne. Ignoring the marines weak protests the corrupt giant stepped forward, placing one thick boot upon the victims chest. He reached down and clasped the fingers of his clawed power fist around the warriors helmet and wrenched, tearing the unfortunate warriors head from his shoulders without effort. Vorsak roared with glee and thrust the head down onto the rusting spike protruding from his back, adding

the grisly trophy to the collection of withered heads and chipped, faded helmets below it. He savoured the thick, heady rain of blood that pattered down upon his face and shoulders, revelling in the life-essence of his slain victim. Somewhere to the east his lord and master, the mighty Karkattamorg sowed death and discord throughout the Imperial ranks, an unstoppable maelstrom of violent power that he knew could not be contained. No matter the impressive size of the combined astartes legions they faced, Vorsak knew in his black heart that victory would come to them in time. The pathetic forces sent here by the mummified god-corpse served only to delay the inevitable. Despite their legendary ferocity and reputation the World Eaters had never before fought with such singleminded and bloodthirsty determination, for they knew what was at stake here. They alone were aware of just how much they would gain should victory be assured here on Daedalus. With this fact foremost on the minds of each and every one of his battle brethren, he knew that no force on this planet would be able to stop them. The Mammoog would be loosed upon this unsuspecting galaxy and they would scream its name as they died. He thought of this and smiled. He was still smiling as he turned his head and his eyes fell upon the distant tidal wave of green and bone fury and death as it thundered through the man-made canyons of the Grand Business District, heading directly towards him. The smile slowly faded as his bewildered eyes slowly ran across the endless mass, his mind frozen with dumbfounded shock. No! Not now! Not now! he raged, wrenching the daemon gun from its position upon his shoulder guard. Bright bolts of searing psychically fuelled hatred thudded from the barrel of the weapon and across the space before him, only to disappear from sight as they sunk into the hurtling, baying mass. Wretched creatures! The Mammoog will come and consume you all! The sounds of his roaring curses were drowned out by the cacophonic noise of the swarm and Vorsak the Headhunter disappeared, swept away by the living tide of teeth. Glistening, snapping, puncturing teeth. Snapping, slavering, grinning jaws. Shining, slime-coated carapace. Horns, hooves, slashing, bladed talons, rending, ripping, grabbing claws. Snapping tendons and barbed, serrated hooks. Shining eyes full of malevolence, slithering, thrashing, writhing tentacles and pulsating extremities, creature upon creature, sliding, slithering, crawling, scrabbling, shining, chattering squawking screechingchirpingroaring. Chapter 17.

CUT OFF THE HEAD


Hastor paced the length of the burned out, shattered waiting room, checking his chronometer once again. He glanced over to the window at Tessok and Deek, the two marksmen of his squad. Their eyes roamed the rain-filled space beyond the charred window with practised vigilance, watching for any signs of movement outside. The others waited around and by the single doorway, their weapons to hand and ready to deal death at a moments notice. He turned and shot a glance at Tremlocke and Zith, both men waiting in the shadows of the room behind him. Zith flashed him an acknowledging glance to which he reciprocated. Tremlocke merely stood in silence, his grim face failing to hide a look of ominous, intolerant displeasure. They had managed to escape from the librarium rooftop by the skin of their teeth, the remaining creatures

of the swarm hot on their heels. It had taken them over three hours of running and fighting to lose the last of the pursuing tyranids and now they were here, awaiting the all-clear of the squads scout. A little over half an hour later Brandbaar stepped through the door and into the darkened room, dripping with rain. He moved to the centre of the room and shook himself down, shivering with cold. Anything? Hastor asked, his voice low and humourless. Brandbaar moved towards Hastor, his heavy boots crunching the crumbling charcoal remnants of a desk beneath them. He removed his gloves and helmet and wiped his hands across his face and nose, sniffing away the clinging drips of moisture hanging there. Fortunately sir, no. The streets are completely deserted for miles in every direction. It looks like theyve given up the chase. Either that, or theyve had a better offer. He slipped his gloves back over his hands and locked his helmet back into place, securing the chinstraps with a click. Hastor continued to watch him, his hands folded behind his back, his eyes hooded and serious. Brandbaar noticed this and raised his head a little, his eyebrows lowering. Sir? Is something wrong? Youre sure we werent followed? The scout seemed perplexed by Hastors question. He glanced around him, his eyes hovering upon the shadows were Zith and Tremlocke stood, hidden from sight. Yes sir. By all accounts, Id say we are safe to continue. Ive scouted out the surrounding area and plotted a course through a series of city blocks that should, all being well, provide us with a fairly safe route all the way to the intended target site. He watched as the two men emerged from the shadows of the far corner of the room. Their eyes were fixed upon him as they both joined the sergeant, taking their place by his side. His eyes turned to Tremlocke and he noticed the serious look upon the commissars face, his hand rested upon the hilt of his power sword. Drop your weapon. Place it on the floor and kick it towards me. He growled, deadly serious. What is this? The scout whispered, taking a step back. Drop your weapon, soldier. Do as I say. Brandbaar followed the order reluctantly, placing his bolt pistol on the ashen floor before him. He kicked it and sent it spinning through the blackened dust. How did the Swarm Tyrant find us, Cleathe? Hastor asked, his voice low and incredibly serious. Brandbaar glanced around him at the others. Tessok and Deeks had turned away from the window and were now staring straight at him, their weapons held in readiness. Behind him, the others had taken up the same stance. All eyes were on him, all weapons trained his way. I asked you a question soldier. How did the Tyrant find us? He turned to face his sergeant once more, his eyes narrowing. The sergeant had drawn his pistol, the weapons internal power cell whining as it charged the compact plasma generator within. Tell us the truth, trooper. Confess your sins before the Emperor and redeem yourself in his eyes. Tremlocke uttered, sliding the sword from its scabbard. Sins? Throne of Terra, you dont honestly think Why did the Tyrant attack your team, Brandbaar? I saw it with my own eyes. Zith asked, his face etched with sadness. We all did. She was passing by beneath us, flying over the rest of the swarm. The next thing we knew she just stopped dead in mid-flight. She hovered for a moment and then rose. She came straight towards your

group. Straight towards you. It could sense you. Brandbaar shifted uneasily but said nothing. He straightened his back and glanced at the corral of bodies around him, sensing the tension in the air. What? I dont understand what it is youre trying to say. You think I had something to do with the attack? This is ridiculous. Why would you even think for a moment that our discovery was anything to do with me? The taint of the Genestealer, scout. We should have seen it long before now. May the God-Emperor forgive our lack of vigilance. Tremlocke spat, activating his power sword. His gaze was cold and unfeeling, devoid of any pity or remorse yet alive, alive and burning with the fires of retribution. Cleathe Brandbaar, for the crimes of heresy and xeno-contam Wait. Hastor whispered, placing his hand upon Tremlockes sword arm. The commissar bared his teeth and glowered at the sergeant, scarcely unable to believe the interruption of his holy work. Sergeant Hastor, enough! I will not allow this interruption Commissar, please! This man has been my friend and a faithful servant of the Imperium for years. No matter the accusations levelled against him I will not stand by and watch him being executed without first knowing the truth. Moranith? The squad medic appeared from behind Brandbaar, a laspistol clutched in his fist. His face was solemn and remorseful, the face of someone clearly ill at ease with his current situation. Please, old friend. Make this easy on yourself. Make it easy on all of us. Show us the entry wound. Brandbaar froze. His hand began to move towards his belt and the combat knife that hung there, only to have Moranith shove the laspistol towards him, the intended threat utterly serious. Dont be a fool, Cleathe. If youve nothing to hide then prove it. Prove these people wrong and then we can get on our way. Remove your carapace armour and your jacket. But I For the love of the Emperor, soldier! Just do it! The medic snapped, his voice breaking. Brandbaar looked into his eyes and saw the pain behind them. He knew at once that this was the hardest thing that Heinshe Moranith had ever had to do. He slowly slipped the straps of his equipment pack off his shoulders and set the bulky object down on the floor. Protesting under his breath he unfastened the chest plate of his carapace armour and lifted the heavy protective plates over his head, casting them on top of the pack. All these years. All these years we have been together. Have any of you ever, ever had reason enough to doubt my loyalty? Question my faith? He asked, eyes flashing accusation at the gathered men. Regan and Fordar looked away as he turned to face them, sadness lowering their eyes. Nesker maintained eye contact with the angered scout, his grizzled face twitching. The others simply looked on, faltering as they met with his pleading face. The jacket, old friend. Moranith whispered, shifting his weight uneasily. Im sorry. All this is my fault. If Id just My word should be enough! Brandbaar snapped, ripping the jacket open to reveal a perfectly intact standard-issue undershirt, the white cloth untouched. See! Nothing! No marks, no puncture wounds! Damn you Moranith! Damn you all for

Take the jacket off, Cleathe. Moranith uttered, interrupting his rant. That was the mistake I made before. I assumed the wound would be somewhere on your torso. When I noticed the undershirt was unmarked I left it at that. Lets see your shoulders and arms. Remove the jacket and throw it to the floor. Sacred throne, no! Why will you not accept Moranith stepped back and thrust the laspistol into Brandbaars face, visibly shaking. Do it or Ill drop you where you stand, friend or not! He snapped, spitting the words from his lips as if they were poison. Brandbaars entire body lurched, contorting in a blurred succession of impossible shapes. His face twisted into an almost unrecognisable mask of hatred and rage and he lunged forward, tearing the knife free of its case with such force that the thick leather holster broke apart. Moraniths laspistol screamed twice and the scout tumbled back, pierced by the bright bolts of hard light. He creature that had been Brandbaar barely even noticed the cauterised puncture wounds that still smouldering across his chest as he quickly righted himself, flipping up and onto his feet with astounding grace. He growled and snarled as if possessed by some terrible beast, his eyes suddenly bright and sparkling with an amethyst light. He brought the knife up and drew his arm back, his legs taut and coiled, ready to bound forth. He was only a heartbeat away from leaping at the shaken medic when two distinctly different high-calibre shots cracked through the tangy air. His hand exploded, sending the knife spinning away. Almost in the same instant his left knee disintegrated and he fell to the floor, screaming in pain. Brandbaar was on his back now, gasping and sobbing, his blood soaking into the black ash beneath. His face was twisted and contorted so badly that he was almost unrecognisable, his dark skin suddenly a pale violet-grey and lined with thick, throbbing veins. Worst of all were his eyes, eyes that had once seemed so dark and deep, now two bright orbs of damson set into his skull, betraying his contamination for all to see. He was corrupt. The seed of the Genestealer coursed through his veins and he was lost, no longer human. He looked up through tear-streaked eyes to see Tremlocke and Hastor looking down upon him. Hastors eyes were red and full of sadness. Tremlockes were cold and unmoved. Hastor lowered himself slowly onto one knee, his face full of pity. He peered at the stump where his comrades hand had been and was sickened to see a thick, viscous violet- fluid flowing freely from the trembling stump. Im sorry, Cleathe. Im sorry for sending you out there to die. If Id known You The creature that had been Brandbaar coughed, more of the alien substance erupting from his lips. You s-saved yourselves. I w-would have b-betrayed you soon enough. As s-soon as the damned thing bit m-me I could feel it. I could hear it in m-my mind. I He coughed again, so violently this time that his head slammed back against the charred boards with a sickening crack. It was a few moments before the wracking cough ceased and he was able to open his mouth to speak. I tried, sergeant. I tried to resist, I r-really did. I tried s-so hard but it was always there, always wwhispering to me, urging me to betray you. I could hear it, I still cant believe it but I could hear the v-voice, so ancient, so d-distant. I hear it even now, ingrained in my soul despite the d-disturbance up above. I was to be the Hive Minds eyes and e-ears. It w-wanted me to lead it t-to theto the

To what? What is it searching for? Please, if you know what it is we search for then tell us. Tell us and redeem yourself. Brandbaar began to sob. He shook his head slowly, wracked with pain and guilt in equal measure. I cant. I cant tell you sir. I want to b-but I cant. I w-want to tell you w-what he is doing down there, but it w-wont let me. He bastardises it b-but calls it perfection. How could he d-do that? How could he thinkOh God-Emperor, it hurts so much! I want to tell you what it is t-that is down there b-but the words wont c-come. Hastor rose slowly, expecting no less. He aimed his plasma pistol at the scouts head. You were a proud and able warrior of the Imperium, as faithful a servant as any man I had the privilege to meet. It is my sad and solemn duty to end your life this way, though if there is truly any of the man you once were left in there then you know I have no choice. May the Emperor show mercy to your troubled soul, Cleathe Brandbaar. Hastor closed his eyes and exhaled deeply, the pistol in his hand slowly rising. The c-cysts. Brandbaar suddenly uttered, much to Hastors surprise. His entire body convulsed as he uttered this, almost as if he were fighting his very soul to speak. Forget the tunnels. Find the cysts a-and youll find thethe DD-D-D He never managed to finish the sentence. The thing that had once been Cleathe Brandbaar died in a hail of barking death, twitching and convulsing as bolt rounds tore through his body. The others stepped back, speechless, scarcely able to believe what they had just witnessed. In their midst stood Commissar Titus Tremlocke, the bolt pistol in his hand wreathed in grey discharge smoke. He who allows the alien to live, shares its crime of existence. He uttered, coolly placing the gun back in its holster. Inquisitor Apollyon. We would all be wise to heed his words. The others stared at him in silence, horrified by his actions. They began to step forward gingerly, their eyes wide and staring at the cooling corpse that had been the comrade and friend all these years. You idiot. Tremlocke turned as he heard this, his face twitching in surprise. Despite the nigh heretical insult he managed to maintain his composure, switching his gaze from the dead scout to look into the angry eyes of Hastor. I understand your loss, sergeant, and I empathise with you. The man was a capable scout, of that much I am certain. His corruption was most unfor Tremlockes jaw emitted a sickening crack as Hastors tight fist slammed into it. The grievous blow sent the commissar reeling a full three metres through the dank air of the charred room and onto his behind, his legs trailing behind him like streamers. Tremlocke was up on his feet in an instant despite the blow his sword drawn and his acquired power fist humming. His bloodied lips were drawn back in a snarl of rage, his face a picture of disbelief and retribution-thirst. He stepped forward to face the sergeant and raised his power sword, only to have the humming weapon spin away from his grasp in a shower of sparks. Take it easy, Commissar. Tessok growled, peering down the barrel of his exitus rifle. I wont allow you to harm the sergeant. The next one will take your head off.

Tremlocke snapped his head around to face the defiant sniper, his face alight with tumultuous rage. You dare to defy the will of an Imperial commissar? Striking one is a crime punishable by death! By firing upon me, you too have signed your own death warrant, fool! Who else would dare to defy me? Who else would side with these transgressors? You killed him. You killed him and he was trying to help us. Hastor spat, totally unconcerned with the commissars threats. You stupid, stupid blind fool. Shoot first, ask questions never. We were so close then, closer than we have been since we set off on this damned mission. He was trying to tell us something! He was a pawn of the hive mind, sergeant, nothing more. He was lost to us the moment he fell victim to the curse of the Genestealer. He would have told us nothing, only lies. No! Hastor spat, sure that the fallen scout had been trying to tell him something important, something about the object or creature they were trying to locate. He was close to death! The Genestealers corruption was losing its hold on him! He knew all along what it is that waits for us beneath the city! He knew and in his final moments he tried to warn us, to atone for his sins! You took that away from him and you took it away from us, and now we are back where we started. You have condemned us all, commissar! Tremlocke bent down and retrieved his fallen sword, wiping the blood from his mouth with the back of his oversized fist. A swift glance around the room told him that his best course of action would be to sheathe the blade. He did so reluctantly, displeased that his authority had been compromised once again. No, Moneth Hastor, you are mistaken. In striking me you have condemned both yourself and your entire squad. Sooner or later I will exact the utmost punishment upon you for your crimes, and when the time comes I will not falter in my duty. Is that right? Go on then, kill us all. Nesker snapped, opening his arms to the commissar. Come on, you worthless pile of Grox fodder! Execute us all and then see how far you get on your own! Nesker! Stay out of this. Hastor barked, holding his hand up to silence the brash trooper. He turned once more to face the Commissar. Hes right, Tremlocke. What are you going to do, murder us all, here and now? Without us you wouldnt stand a chance, we told you before. We are a team, and we make decisions as a team. If you dont like what we do and how we do it then leave. Go, turn around now and leave us to finish this thing alone. If not, stop with the empty threats and start to act like an Imperial officer. Tremlockes mouth twisted into a sneer of contempt. I am an Imperial officer, Hastor, I am a commissar. It is my duty to uphold the Imperial Creed with my life, if I must. I will not tolerate insubordination or defiance from the men I oversee, and I do not make empty threats. Hastor shook his head in frustration, tired of the pointless bickering and posturing of the man. He exhaled deeply, the anger in his face draining away slowly to be replaced by nothing but sadness. You still dont get it, do you Titus? Threats mean nothing to us out here. We are all here to do one thing, and that is to serve the Emperor as faithfully as we can. We are here to protect and safeguard His realm. Why do you think we have pushed ourselves to make it this far? Have you been stalking the city with your eyes closed? No matter our reputation we are but one squad of men. Look at what we face here. To even come close to our goal would mean nothing short of a miracle. This is

a suicide mission, Tremlocke, it always was. None of us expect to leave the walls of this damned city alive. If, by the grace of the Emperor, we manage to locate and end this threat then we will have done what was asked of us. None of the men before you have even the slightest idea what we face ahead of us. All that drives us on is the desire to serve our lord as best we can. If we make it, if we manage to stop this terrible disaster from happening, then go ahead and execute us. Our lives are but nothing in His presence. We have to stop this pointless bickering and concentrate on the task at hand. After that, its up to you. Hastor signalled to Moranith, who appeared by his side brandishing a plain green cloth, retrieved from his field pack. He unfolded the thick cotton shroud and placed it over Brandbaars body gently, his eyes filled with anguished sadness. The others began to gather round as he did this, silent and solemn, mourning the loss of their team member. We move out in one hour, commissar. We will eat and rest and then cautiously take the route suggested to us by Brandbaar, the finest damn scout any of us ever knew. Now, if youll excuse us, we have a friend to pay our last respects to.

Chapter 18.

THE EMPERORS FINEST


The Eversor slowed to a standstill, its entire body tensing. The deadly assassin had detected the sound of voices up ahead, low and whispering yet plainly audible, thanks to its enhanced hearing. It coiled its body like a spring and leapt up onto the bunched power line pipes above, first grabbing the slime-coated tubes and then swinging its agile body up and onto them effortlessly, displaying more agility and grace than the finest acrobat. There it remained there for a moment, crouched and hidden in the darkness, listening, observing. The squad was just visible, nothing more than a collection of bobbing lamp pinpricks in the distance. It reached slowly up and over his shoulder and curled its fingers around the hilt of his power sword. It stopped, retracting its hand. They were Imperial, soldiers of the Guard, the assassin could tell this much by the whispered conversation taking place. Why they were down here in these tunnels it did not know, but it seemed they were definitely searching for something. They couldnt know about the target. No other Imperial on the surface of this planet knew the identity of the Eversors prey. It soon decided that the soldiers presence would not prove a problem. It would pass them silently like a ghost, giving them no indication of its existence. It would not allow them to interfere with the Emperors holy work. The assassin was about to move out when the sentinel array came to life, its silent systems firing up. Information began to flash across its retinas, reams of data and multicoloured runes dancing and flashing in a code only the Eversor understood, warning it of some unseen, nigh-undetectable occurrence. Someone deep in the heart of the complex was attempting to communicate with the outside world. The arrays multitude code-breakers and cogitators began to whirr and hum, capturing and breaking the communiqu down as they struggled to decipher the heretic code. Up ahead the Imperial soldiers continued to cautiously pick their way forward, oblivious to the chilling

presence behind them. The squads vox-operator clearly had no idea what was going on. Indeed, his basic set would not be powerful or advanced enough to intercept the secret transmission. They would be nothing more than a distraction when it finally came face to face with its hated quarry, the accursed Flesh Manipulator. It listened as the powerful equipment reconfigured and cleaned the transmission, adrenalin slowly building. It was him. The Eversor inhaled with a hiss and rose, a surge of excitement coursing through its augmented body. Whoever the heretic b-----d was trying to reach and for what reason did not concern the assassin. It was from him. +++ Heres another one sir. Hastor and the others hurried over to where the armoured giant lay; his lifeless body sprawled haphazardly across the shell of a burned-out speeder. Moranith had removed the traitor marines heavy ceramite helmet and was busy examining the back of his head, carefully investigating the fist-sized hole that had been punched through his skull. He was hit by a Lictor all right. The medic informed them, letting go of the dead World Eaters hollow, leering face. Its just as Zith described. Thisthings brain was sucked clean out of his skull. Hearing his name mentioned the soldier pushed his way through the gathering. He lowered himself onto one knee in order to inspect the dead warrior. There can be no mistake, they are definitely hunting for the entrance to the catacombs. Zith declared, slowly rising once again. Weve been finding these bodies since we first entered the city. Not even I can claim to understand the tyranid psyche, but all the evidence suggests that they are somehow aware of the World Eaters involvement in all this. By attacking the traitor marines this way they hope to come across an individual with recent memories of the location of one of the access tunnels. Im not sure if any of this still applies, given recent events. The remnants of the swarm may be beyond all coherent thought now. On the other hand, they may now be intent on seeking this alleged psychic source out in order to compensate for the collective mental void they are now experiencing. In truth, sergeant, I just dont know what to think. All I know for sure is that this is bad. Hastor sighed and shook his head. By now Im getting used to hearing that, Zith. He mused, waving the others on. Come on, we cant worry about the tyranids now. We have to press on. The presence of these dead heretics could be good news, at least in one sense. Tremlocke uttered, his mood as dark as ever since the rebellion of the squad. The others paused as they heard this. As one the storm troopers turned, their faces tight with confusion. The commissar saw this and seemed to brighten a little, almost as if pleased with himself. I am surprised that none of you seem to realise the significance of these dead traitors. It would seem that not all of Karkattamorgs underlings were involved in the conflict Hoolias reported. Perhaps some elements

of the South Gate assault were also able to find their way into the depths of the city? We may yet have allies here in Phrennec Mantris. Allies? In a city this size wed be lucky to find any surviving allies before we run into the enemy. Weve yet to meet up with Phylene and Aquilus. Autis spat, raising one ear to the wind as he listened for any indication that the Bombardiers or the Phyressian 2nd were still at large somewhere among the endless manmade canyons. We havent even seen the slightest hint of anyone or anything Imperial since we found Deek. I think were alone on this one. At least we know that we dont have the Khornate cultists to contend with. Fordar commented, referring back to the sobering sight they had stumbled across little more than an hour before. We all saw what was left of them, thanks to Phylenes Basilisks. Thousands of crushed, lifeless bodies had met them as they had negotiated the ruins at the edge of the Basilisks zone of reach, a carpet of bloodied, crushed flesh and bone the likes of which none of them had ever witnessed in their lives. Though mangled and shattered they were unmistakeable in their appearance, and each of the men including Hastor himself had whispered a prayer of thanks to the Emperor that they had been spared a face to face meeting with them. We were fortunate indeed, Fordar. The sergeant declared, waving the others on. Come, let us find this Mammoog and end the threat of its existence once and for all. The small group began to move out, their eyes scouring the buildings around them. Now they had cleared the devastated region they began to feel a little easier about the whole situation. It meant that they were deeper within the city now, closer to their intended target. Despite the fact that the mystery of the whole situation still played heavily on their minds they were nonetheless eager to end this mission, each of them intent on making the Imperium of man as safe a place as possible for the billions of citizens they dedicated their lives to protect. +++ Half an hour later the squad reached a large junction, the wide expanse splitting the highway in two. They had seen and heard little since Brandbaars death, and the deathly quiet of the ghost-city was beginning to wear them down, a palpable, ominous silence that seemed all the more insidious due to the churning, darkening skies above. Hastor held up a hand and the squad ground to a halt, dropping low and out of sight. He gestured silently and Regan and Nesker moved forward and out onto the wreckage-strewn road, searching for any signs of enemy life. With Brandbaar gone it had become necessary for Hastor to rely on the others of his squad to scout out any suspect areas. They were already beginning to feel the scouts operational loss. As the rest of the squad waited in the shadows Tremlocke crept forward on his haunches to where Hastor rested, the edges of his greatcoat scraping across the loose detritus underfoot. Sergeant, we cannot afford the luxury of sweeping every open area we come across. Hoolias and his men are sure they have located a viable entry point. We must make haste for their last known position as soon as possible. He demanded, still intent on exerting his influence over the squads movements. Hastor turned and scowled at the commissar, resentful of his constant attempts to usurp control. We have to be realistic about this. Hoolias spoke of a raging conflict around the site. Even if we manage to locate this entrance, what are the odds of us being able to reach it? There are both tyranids and heretic space marines roaming this city, Tremlocke. We have to exercise caution. An uneasy silence fell over the two men. Hastor looked away as the commissar sighed, his cheek muscles

bunching. His impatience was a palpable thing. Before he died, Brandbaar tried to tell us something. Something about, what did he call them? Hastor asked, changing the subject. Cysts. Tremlocke answered, finishing the sergeants sentence abruptly. He said that we had to find the cysts if we wanted to find what it was we search for. Surely you cant be considering listening to the ravings of a dying heretic? He was no heretic! Hastor snapped, baring his teeth menacingly at the hated officer. His mind was clear on the moment of his death and he tried to help us. He knew something that we do not, something of great importance to our efforts here. Whatever these cysts are, we need to find them. I dont care how or why he died, Cleathe Brandbaar was a colleague and a friend and I believe in him. Tremlocke sighed and shook his head. Hastor suspected that the man was beginning to realise that the rest of the squad was not about to bend to his every whim, and as such he seemed to have lost the arrogant edge he had carried with him up to now, especially after the death of the scout. All right, have it your way, sergeant. For now we will have to agree to disagree. I say we make our way to the entrance point as planned and in the meantime we look for any signs of these cysts as we go. If we find anything we will investigate it fully but until such evidence becomes apparent we stick to the former plan. Agreed? Agreed. Hastor nodded, satisfied at least, for the time being. He suspected the Tremlocke was only humouring him but in truth he didnt care. If they managed to stumble across anything that remotely resembled the mysterious cysts then he would make sure that the rest of the squad followed the dying mans advice. The meeting was interrupted by the arrival of both Nesker and Regan, the two men done with the reconnaissance of the area. Sir, its all clear. Nesker informed the sergeant, much to his relief. We did find something, though. Regan continued, his comment causing Hastors body to tense. Tracks, sarge. Damned big ones. Nesker announced, pointing out past the small gathering in the direction of the open expanse. It seems that Phylenes still out there and sticking to the main highways. Aquilus too, by the looks of the wrecked Leman Russ we found out there, one of the Conquerors by the look of it. The Righteous Indignation, I think it was called. Anything that can take out a battle tank like that must have been big and mean. Nesker seemed genuinely troubled by the find. The loss of one tank at this stage is acceptable. At least we know that they are still somewhere out there, fighting the good fight. Let us pray that we meet with them again soon. Tremlocke stated matter-of-factly. We will all mourn the loss of our comrades-in-arms when this battle is won. For now we must press on. We have an Imperium to save. Hastor announced, rising to his feet. The sounds of muffled huffing and grunting echoed across the still, dusty air. A small, stubby hand appeared, slapping against the topmost barrel of the makeshift barricade on the corner of the next street. Deek appeared, cursing silently to himself. He pulled himself up and onto the top of the upturned rubble with great effort, panting and wheezing as if he were in the middle of clambering up the side of a mountain. After what seemed an age the little man finally made it to the top of the heap, whereupon he proceeded to lower himself into a crouched position. He brought the tattered, Windrussoak-wood sniper rifle up to his face and pressed the sight against his eye, scouring the landscape before him. Nothing. For miles around, as far as he could make out, there was no sign of any hostile activity. The sounds of warfare could still be heard on the winds that whistled down the many streets of the city, but here there was nothing. Deek breathed a sigh of relief, pleased that the way was clear. Were it up to him he would gladly make his

way through the entire city to find this Mammoog without having to fire a single shot, though he knew this to be highly unlikely. Satisfied that the next street was safe he made one final sweep of the way before him and was about to lower his rifle when he spied something. At first he passed it by, almost missing the partially hidden sight completely. He paused and snapped the gun around to his left once more, passing over the location again. My my, what do we have here, Deeksy-boy, eh? Chapter 18.

THE EMPERORS FINEST


The squad sprinted silently across the obstacle-strewn square, weaving through the scattered wrecks of Arbite vehicles and upturned oil drums as they made their way over to the building on the other side. As they neared the position the left and right-hand flanks began to split and fan out, making sure that every exit was covered. Hastor and Tremlocke led the advance, low to the ground, their weapons drawn and ready. Just as Deek had described, the ground before the front of the abandoned research facility was strewn with broken alien bodies, mostly of the Gaunt strain. As they neared the doorway Hastor waved his arm and the others responded as one, falling to one knee, their weapons raised. Hastor crept forward and his eyes fell upon the many fallen swarm members that had died there. At least three Lictors could be seen, their lean serrated bodies cold and dead. Punctured by numerous blot rounds and broken by the grinding teeth of corrupt chainswords, they had been punished severely. He studied these remains for a moment, growing more than a little apprehensive. Who or whatever was able to take down a trio of Lictors with such contemptuous ease would find little trouble in despatching them. Tessok, Deek, find a suitable vantage point and cover the building immediately. I want you to put a round through anything that rears its head. Everyone else, I want you to search the area for clues. Wait here, Im going to take a look around. He whispered, his commands causing the group to begin to shift immediately. Im coming with you, sergeant. Tremlocke declared. Better to be safe than sorry at this stage. Hastor nodded, finding himself unwilling to argue with the commissar at this point in time. The two men began to move out across the death scene, kicking cold alien bodies aside as they advanced. At his side Hastor heard the low thrum of Tremlockes brace of power weaponry as it was activated. The commissar clearly meant business. He activated his own power sword as they neared the waiting doorway, ready for whatever lay in store for them inside This was the first real lead they had been given. Finding such a scene of carnage and death had been impossible to ignore. The broken, burned out wrecks of Arbite Repressors littered the small square around the facility, surrounded by the bodies of many of the alien tyranids. This alone proved an intriguing enigma. At first glance it would seem that the law enforcement agents and the aliens had massacred one another in one huge, bloody battle, but he knew without a doubt that this was not the case. The Arbites and the Interior Guard of the city would have fallen to the World Eaters within hours of the

invasion, that much was certain. No, who or whatever had killed these men had done so long before the tyranids had reached this destination. It also stood to reason that the tyranids themselves were despatched by the same foe. Two separate forces had died here at different times, their motives unclear. He intended to find out why. Hastor was through first, his back to the wall, the plasma pistol he carried held out before him in readiness. He swept his pistol before him, checking each and every angle of the entrance hall for any sign of hostile presence. Its clear. He whispered, relaxing a little. Signal the others. I want everyone except Tessok and Deek to move up. Tremlocke moved quickly out of the doorway leaving Hastor alone for a moment. As he awaited the others he glanced around, taking in the scene before him. The entrance hall was littered with dead matter. More Lictors lined the floor, shattered and pulped by bolter-fire and chainsword. This was clearly the work of Space Marines, their identity or loyalty unascertainable. Ichor and carapace lay scattered around him, creating a film of greasy body matter so thick that it caused the feet to slide with each step. Desks and tables were upturned and the walls of the room were pockmarked and smashed by withering salvos of firepower, showing that the building itself had been the scene of some tremendous and violent exchange. Who or whatever this facility had housed had clearly been of great importance to both the swarm and the citys authorities. The sheer number of dead Lictors here did provide one important clue. It would seem the creatures had somehow extracted the existence of this facility from the memories of the dead World Eaters. Whatever lay in wait for them in the bowels of this complex was strongly linked to the ominous presence behind all this, of that he was sure. This fact was apparent, given the number of their dead that lay about him. Intrigued, he found himself compelled to move on, deeper into the facility, eager to learn more. Stay behind me, commissar. Its my turn to scout. +++ Tremlocke charged through the doorway and into the vast room, his wide eyes scouring the darkened laboratory. The others followed him moments later, spreading out as they burst through the doorway, their assortment of weaponry at the ready. Sergeant! Where are you? Are you hurt? Tremlocke called frantically, skidding to a halt. Almost as one the eyes of the squad fell upon the silent and still form of Hastor, his body partially hidden by the dark shadows of the room. The others slowed, the guns in their hands lowering a little. Sergeant Hastor, sir? What is it? Moranith called, his voice faltering at first. Zith, take a look at this for me. Hastor suddenly uttered, ignoring the questions of the commissar and the medic. Casting a few furtive glances at the others, Zith pushed his way through the small crowd and moved to join the sergeant, stepping over a heap of alien bodies as he picked his way forward. The dead were piled up in heaps here, and the lack of exits was a telltale sign that whoever had defended this building had made their last stand in this room. Zith arrived by Hastors side, his eyes falling upon the huge body sprawled on the floor before him. Light of the Emperor. He whispered, gazing at the huge, dead form sprawled before him, its massive frame covered with thick, dark maroon power armour.

Look at the size of that. The trooper gasped, running his eyes across the broken and bloodied body. I Ive never seen anything like it. Whoever this man was he dwarfed even the largest Space Marine. The others began to join the two men, slowing as their eyes found the dead Marine. From the expressions on their faces, it was clear that none of them had ever seen anything like it before. Woah, look at that monster. Fordar gasped, almost dropping his meltagun in astonishment. He was chaos, that much is certain. Hastor opined. Look at his armour. The sigils and cursed markings give that much away. I wonder who he served? Ill take a look, sir, though I cant promise you anything. Zith answered, descending towards the body once more in order to take a closer look. What of the Arbites? Did you find any clues out there? Tremlocke asked, turning to face the new arrivals. Autis pushed his way forward, his heavy plasma gun slung over his shoulder. All we know for sure is that we have a whole precinct of dead Arbites out there. Emperors mercy, they were taken apart. Combat teams, mastiff teams and heavies. We counted at least forty five dead officers, as well as a number of wrecked armoured units. We did find something interesting, although its still doesnt explain why they were here or who they were fighting. Fordar added. He stepped forward and handed the commissar a small, matt-grey dataslate. Tremlocke raised his eyebrows and took the device, clearly taken aback by the offer. Ah. What is it? Its a pict-recording we managed to salvage from one of the Repressors. Youd better take a look, commissar. Tremlocke obliged, activating the small device in his hand. The screen whined and glowed as the dataslate powered up, bathing the surrounding shadows with a pale, sickly light. He watched in silence as the recording began to play back. *** SECURITY LOG: STEEL VENATOR/SERIAL: 054-675. NORTH PRECINCT. *** RUNNING. Judge Gravian Desantis reporting in. We have the facility surrounded. Governor Momengast gave the order at 8:15 standard. The entire North Precinct has been mobilised to shut down this suspected heretic site and pacify any and all blasphemous insurgents within Tremlocke watched as the commanding officer of the Arbites outlined the plan, shifting his gaze away from the commanding officer as he watched the squads behind him moving into position. Within moments the vox-feed began to distort, filled with the sounds of hammering bolter fire. The judge broke off his communiqu and hurled himself down the ramp of the Repressor, followed closely by the bobbing tracker-skull recording the conflict. Black-clad bodies poured from the Arbitrator vehicles, falling into line around the hollering judge. Cybermastiff units unleashed their growling cybernetic charges as they ran towards the doorway, their shouts and cries inaudible. Heavy weapons teams began to pick their way through the fire towards the building, dragging their suspensor-mounted heavy bolters with them as they ran across the square, their bodies low to the ground. Tremlockes brow furrowed as he noticed the sanctioned psykers move in from the left, their pallid faces passing by the camera. They were drawn and sullen, their mouths moving in prayer. It seemed to him like they were directing the Arbites in some way, pointing them towards the direction of the building,. Bolter fire screamed as it shattered the windows, cutting the Arbites down as they advanced. The judge fell, his torso blown apart. A second later the image cut off, a bolt round finding the hovering skull. Tremlocke cursed under his breath and cast the dataslate aside, dissatisfied. Damn it! We need to know more! He cursed, shaking his head. There were psykers out there, directing

the Arbites. Why did they attack this facility? Its obvious they knew whoever they were hunting was a threat. Who was it? What had they discovered? The men around Tremlocke shrugged. Emperor knows, commissar. Nesker uttered, shrugging his shoulders. All we know is that the Arbites were slaughtered. They were taken apart by these guys. The gnarled trooper pointed to the cold body before Zith. As the others began to swarm around the dead cadaver Zith took a step back, scratching his forehead. Im sorry sir, but my knowledge of the chaos forces is at best limited. I do not recognise him as following any one chaos power. If he had been xenos then maybe As intriguing as this find is, Zith, he is not the reason I called you forward. Come, let me show you something. The two men picked their way past the dead Marine and moved further into the large room, pushing past a tangle of overturned file cabinets, work stations and lockers as they progressed. Hastor slammed his shoulder into a brace of teetering racks filled will all manner of strange vials and potions and they fell to the ground with a tremendous crash, their contents shattering and spilling out onto the grime-laden tiles underfoot. There, soldier. What the hell do you make of that? Hastor uttered, pointing to the revealed scene before them. Zith stepped out into the exposed area and stopped dead. Merciful Lords of Terra. I dont believe it. He exclaimed, staring in disbelief at the sight before him. They had reached the corner of the large room where a space had been cleared of all clutter. Large glass tubes lined the space in rows, each one filled with a viscous, murky fluid of a vile green-grey colour. Some of the dusty tubes contained bodies, chitinous alien bodies, mostly members of the various Gaunt species. Others were smashed open, their contents emptied out onto the cold tiled floor, the carcasses they once held withered and dried. All manner of tubes and wires hung from their dead bodies, suspended like ugly, twisted marionettes, their dead eyes staring lifelessly out into the darkness of the room. I dont believe it. This was clearly some kind of laboratory. Zith began, moving through the rows of specimens with awe. They have been experimenting on tyranids all this time. The damn fools have been running a secret laboratory ever since the last hive fleet attacked here. Its no wonder the tyranids came back. We cant be sure of that. Maybe this facility was an officially sanctioned geno-lab, set up by the mechanicus biologis after the first incursion, who knows? Zith shook his head, much to Hastors surprise. With respect, sir, thats just not feasible. All tyranid research facilities are of the highest profile possible, at least according to the rules of the Munitorium. The species is just too dangerous to experiment on without the proper clearance and security. There are only a handful of official sites where tyranid experimentation is permitted, and Daedalus is not listed among them. Whoever set up this xenos geno-lab did so without the consent of the Administratum. Im not surprised the planet attracted the attention of the tyranids. It would seem that the Mantrisian authorities knew of this threat. Tremlocke added, shoving through the squad. All the evidence suggests that the governor knew about this threat, albeit too late.

Hastor dismissed Tremlockes input and peered at the silent rows of specimens before him for a while before placing a hand on the troopers shoulder. As intriguing as this find is, these tubes are not the reason I brought you back here. Come, let me show you. The two men picked their way past the glass pillars and moved out into the space beyond, a small area of dimly-lit floor space situated right at the end of the laboratory. Hastor passed by the last of the tubes and stopped, holding out a hand. Tell me, Zith. What in the Emperors name are these things? Chapter 19. CYST. Look at that. Just look at that. Its amazing. Zith gasped, almost stumbling over to the sight before him. There, laid in rows across the floor of the laboratory were the remains of at least five strange, plant-like creatures, their shattered, alien forms smashed and torn apart. Wires and other assorted artificial extremities protruded from the dead life forms showing that they too had been subject to extensive experimentation. What were these things, Zith? Hastor asked, almost tripping over the cold, dead bodies of another two of the giant, unidentifiable Space Marines. I cant be sure sir, but whatever they were, they were worth dying for. These Marines gave their lives to ensure that the tyranids didnt get their claws on these things. Theyre definitely tyranid in origin then? The sergeant continued, looking to his xenos expert for answers. Im almost certain they are, sergeant. Look, here and here. These features seem unmistakeably tyranid. All we have to work out now is what they were. Hastor began to move down the line of decaying xenos corpses, searching for any clues as to what they once were. As he reached the end of the line he stopped, his eyes falling upon the alien organism. Zith! Over here, this one is still intact! The excited storm trooper joined him as he heard this, almost tripping up over the carpet of tubes and wires that littered the floor before him. As he joined the sergeant his eyes fell upon the fresh, still-pulsing form before him, its fleshy tendrils outstretched in a gesture of invitation. Fascinated, Zith got down on one knee and reached out to touch the creature, his hand hovering over the fleshy pink, mucous-coated pad at its centre. Now thats strange. He whispered, withdrawing his hand almost immediately. The organism seems to be emitting some kind of energy field; at least thats what it feels like. Almost as soon as I placed my hand near its centre I could feel some strange force begin to envelope my fingertips, almost as it was pulling my hand in. We have to investigate this further. The others appeared, pushing clear of the rows of specimen tubes slowly and apprehensively. As they moved out into the space before them their gaze shifted from the dead cadavers to the strange alien plants before them, their expressions as bewildered as ever. Looks like weve found something alright. Corpo declared, gingerly advancing towards the mysterious sight. What do you think they were, Zith? It doesnt matter what they were, trooper. Whatever transpired here is of no importance to us. We must leave this place and the dead here with their secrets. We have a mission to complete. Tremlocke growled, unimpressed by the sight before him.

The others accompanying the commissar sighed and rolled their eyes, beginning to feel worn down by the mans single-mindedness. Not just yet, commissar. This could be an important clue. Hastor answered, gesturing at the body-strewn floor around them. We must try and work out why the Arbites and the tyranids were so intent on capturing these things. More so, we need to know just why these organisms were so important that these Marines died to protect them. Just take a look around you, Tremlocke. The dead traitor Marines were heaped around the chamber, their broken, punctured bodies laid across tables or slumped against walls. Heads were missing, ceramite torn and punctured in a dozen places. More ominous were the bodies of their tyranid attackers. Dozens of Gaunts littered the chamber, heads, torsos and limbs scattered like detritus around the dead warriors. The tyranids had been torn apart in their efforts to gain entrance to the laboratory, dismembered with a single-minded and utter fury. These warriors fought desperately to defend this place. Hastor observed, glancing around his feet. Whatever this site held was more important to them than their own lives. They defended it against the Arbites and then they stayed to face the tyranids. They could have left, but they did not. These boys aint followers of the Blood God, thats for sure. Nesker spat, the name of the vile deity leaving a sickly taste in his mouth. This whole thing just gets weirder and more complicated. Blessed Emperor, what the hell have we stumbled on? Tremlocke scowled and ran his eyes along the collection of dead alien plants, frustrated by yet another distraction. The machinations of chaos are beyond the understanding of the faithful, trooper. The search for such answers can lead only to corruption. We must press on, leave the dead with their secrets. And what of these things, commissar? What if we have found perhaps the best clue so far as to what is going on here? Hastor answered, gesturing towards the nearest dead Marine. The warrior had fallen face down before the single surviving creature, his head pierced by the talon of the dead Gaunt laid across his back. His hand was outstretched towards the life form, the melta charge clutched in his fist never activated. It was clear even to the casual observer that he had tried to destroy the creature. They are nothing, Hastor. They are dead and gone. What possible use can any of these filthy xenos creatures be to us at this stage? You are chasing ghosts again, just like with the cysts your dead man tried to warn you about. Zith froze as he heard this, his face loosening in shock. He began to move back towards the intact specimen, the slow realisation of exactly what it was seeping into his mind. Of course. Blessed Throne, of course! He began, dropping to one knee once again. He began to shake with excitement as he searched his person, finally closing his fingers around a the hilt of a small combat knife fastened to his belt. Deek, try and find an arm or a leg from one of those dead Gaunts. He shouted, gesturing towards the specimen tubes behind the small man. If Im right then I know what these things are, and I think I know why the tyranids wanted them so badly. Deek appeared, brandishing the clawed hoof of one of the dead cadavers, the look on his face clearly displaying the disdain he felt at handling the body part. The Ratling tossed the extremity over to the crouched man and he caught it, barely even looking up as the body part sailed through the air into his grasp. Watch this. He whispered, holding the withered, limp extremity over the peculiar pod. He held it there for a moment before dropping it into the centre of the creature. The hoof landed with a soft thud, its presence causing the creature to shudder. It began to vibrate and quake, a soft film of static energy building in the air above it. Then, to everyones complete and utter amazement, the dead limb disappeared in a flash, breaking down

and atomising before their very eyes. Damn! Look at that! Nesker exclaimed, searching the length of the plant-beast with his eyes. Its completely gone. Whatever those suckers are, theyre deadly. Zith? What happened? What does this mean? Hastor quizzed the man, more than clearly taken aback by what he had just witnessed. Just as I suspected, sir. Emperors light! Ive heard of these things before, though even I doubted their existence. I cant believe weve actually found these things. What the hell are they, soldier? Hastor snapped, his curiosity aroused. Brandbaar was right, sir. These are the cysts that Brandbaar had been trying to warn us about. Teleport cysts. I still cant believe it! Its a Tyranid teleport cyst. Zith rose as he explained this, his face full of child-like wonder. Ive heard stories about these creatures, though like I said, up till now Ive never known whether they really existed. They are usually found on heavily infested space hulks. Its thought that the tyranids use them as a swift and effective means of sending reinforcements to any part of the hulk in question upon discovering intruders. How these people managed to get their hands on such rare xenos specimens or even why is a mystery I cannot even begin to explain. Hastor continued to assess the living matter transporters before him, at a loss as to what to do next. Given the swarms more than apparent interest in them and the fact that the mysterious Space Marines had fought to the last to defend them, he was sure that they had before them some as yet unknown tactical advantage. The problem he faced now was what to do next. He moved to join Zith by the single remaining intact cyst, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he neared the strange beast. What does this mean to us, Zith? I understand what youre telling me about these things, but what I dont know is why they were so important to the warring enemy factions here in this city. It seems we have an ace card now, so how do we use it? Zith looked back and smiled, a gesture that both puzzled and worried the sergeant. Weve been given a path, sir. All we have to do now is see where it leads. With that he stepped onto the cyst with an almost carefree manner, clearly unafraid of the alien life forms effects. Zith, no! Hastor began, lunging forward in an attempt to stop the foolhardy man. It was too late. In a flash of hazy light, Zith was gone. Chapter 19. CYST. The wind whistled through the Inquisitors silver hair as the Eternal Vigilance gunned its engines to peak capacity, the track motors screaming in protest either side of him. Above him the skies roiled and churned, the colours that stained them becoming brighter and richer with each passing hour. He was no longer able to see the two warring Space Marine forces in the distance; a tide of bone and green was all that filled the horizon. The stampeding swarm had caught both the World Eaters and the combined loyalist Astartes unawares, engulfing them even as they had fought each other tooth and nail. Already hard-pressed by one another

they had found themselves being pushed back into the depths of the city by the fearsome alien tide. As Vorkohnen and the others desperately chased the vicious melee he imagined what it would be like in the midst of such a frantic engagement. Space Marine against Berserker, tyranid against Space Marine, Berserker against tyranid. Truly such a conflict would be like hell on earth to those involved. There was a squeal and a clang as the heavy metal doors of the Chimeras top hatch were thrown aside and Fortan appeared behind him, his short grey hair swept back by the rushing wind. My lord, the others are ready and eager to face the minions of the enemy as always! He informed the inquisitor, holding onto the sides of the hatchway for dear life. Before we face the enemy, there is something you must know. Unis Unis feels it, old friend. As do I. The grim Daemonhunter uttered, his long grey hair whipping about his face. The power of the warp grows even stronger here. The presence of Karkattamorg acts like a conduit, channelling the death and violence of this terrible conflict. Each and every kill that is made on this bloody battlefield fuels the ruinous powers of chaos further. Soon even we will be hard pressed to dispel the daemons that continue to spill forth into this plane. I sense them even now, writhing and twisting as the bond between the material universe and the Empyrean grows thinner. Ready the others, Fortan. We go to face the worst of Khornes vile spawn. I feel this much in my bones. Lord. With that the grizzled veteran slipped back into the hold of the Chimera, closing the hatch behind him. The Vigilance tore through the carcass-littered streets and on towards the vicious, ever-shifting battle, Vorkohnen astride the turret as if riding a magnificent warhorse. He closed his eyes, feeling the warm wind against his weathered face. He couldnt shake the dark feeling gnawing at his stomach, a sense of utter foreboding that pressed down on his very soul. The Astartes were losing. He could sense this much, his own instincts as reliable as his Astropaths psychic confirmation. No matter the strength and resolve of the three Astartes companies, they were losing badly. Their numbers already dwindled by the abortive assault on the South Gate, they had been further harried first by the daemon prince and his corrupt followers and then by the crazed alien tide. They were as good as dead. Perhaps even more unsettling, something else had happened within the last hour. Something had changed, shifted, something far beyond even his ability to comprehend. It felt as if something had been born into the material realm, something connected to but not directly attributed to the disturbance above. The incredible psychic voice at the centre of all this had all but fallen silent now, almost as if weakening, dying even. The maelstrom above had seemed to suffocate its presence, snuffing it out as fingers would a candle flame. The attentions of the enemy had changed. The swarm no longer sought out this presence. Indeed, it seemed to him that the very reason for their being here on Daedalus was somehow no longer relevant, as if all they had now was madness and utter insanity. The swarm killed now as a dying animal would, striking out in feral, uncontained anger at who or whatever found themselves unfortunate enough to be in its way. So too the path of the Blood Gods minions had seemed to change. All the signs were there, as palpable and obvious as anything he had felt. They were in retreat, though they were running neither from the Astartes nor the tyranids. No, they seemed to be withdrawing with a purpose, almost as if drawn away from the conflict by some unknown change in their own events.

Something called to them and they had begun to respond, fleeing the fight in droves to leave the Space Marines and the xenos swarm to tear one another apart. As they began to pass through the wake of fallen bodies left behind by the running battle he tensed, sensing the warp churn and shift like a disquieted stomach ready to vomit. Stop! Stop here! he commanded, his powerful voice causing the Chimera to begin to slow almost immediately. The decelerating vehicle slewed around into a complete stop, throwing up bloodied dust and body parts as it skidded to a halt. Even as the dust began to settle Vorkohnen was up and free of the turret, landing on the ground before the side-on vehicle with a heavy thud. Unis, to me! Jessanus, man the psycannon! Everyone else, prepare to exact the Emperors holy wrath! He boomed, sliding his sanctified force halberd free of the holder on his back. As he stood in wait the rear ramp of the Vigilance fell open and the others began to emerge, Unis the first of them. The frail Astropath clambered down the ramp and moved to stand beside his commander, strained and breathless. He carried with him a large and impressive icon mounted on a long, ornate staff. The icon was fashioned as a wheel of skulls and set into its centre was a large yellow eye, the orb glowing and pulsing dully with some unknown arcane power. This was the Eye of Tellus, one of the warbands most precious possessions. Saint Tellus of Arnimoch had used the device to locate and hunt the spawn of the warp millennia ago, and it was inevitable that this most ancient artefact would eventually come into the possession of such a fervent Daemonhunter as Vorkohnen. The Eyes main task was to bolster the warp-related precognitive powers of Unis, allowing the Astropath to ascertain almost exactly when and where the daemons of the warp were about to impose themselves upon the real universe. Its unfathomable and ancient powers allowed the Inquisitor and his people a distinct advantage in their ceaseless fight with the evil minions of the chaos gods. As the two men waited in silence and stood sentinel over the landscape before them the others began to emerge. Fortan, Soth and Razmuss appeared, all in quick succession and ready for combat, their unique weapons of choice brought to bear. The assassin Haerindu emerged after the three men, effortlessly flipping her graceful form up off the ramp and onto the roof of the Chimera. The two battle-servitors marched quickly down the ramp after her, whirring and clicking as they activated their weapons systems. At the groups rear came Jourabel, her arms laden will all manner of exotic alien weaponry and technology. In one hand she carried a long, barbed power whip, a stolen dark eldar agoniser. In the other she held a tau burst cannon, the heavy gun supported by an improvised strap slung over her shoulder. Point me at 'em, boss. Theyre going to get a face full of Jourabel! She declared, huffing and panting as she struggled down the ramp. Just be ready when I give the word, girl. When the time comes you are charged with the responsibility of unleashing the dread Magog. The girl smiled, a mischievous and exceptionally inappropriate grin spreading across her pretty, made-up face. Of course. I hear you loud and clear Dev, you can count on me. Vorkohnen shuddered, closing his eyes for a second. He would really have to have a talk with the

audacious young woman after this. Suddenly the eye set into the centre of Uniss staff began to pulse and glow much brighter than before, its strange light growing as it detected something. My lord Unis uttered, drawing his ornate laspistol in readiness. It would seem we have a positive emanation. With the pistol in one hand and the pulsing staff in the other, Unis pointed out into the street, the shaking pistol thrust towards an area of ground nearby choked with the armoured bodies of the valiant Astartes, a terrible feeling of foreboding growing within his soul. Though blind as all Astropaths were, he found he could sense the bodies of those faithful to the Emperor, slain as they were by the terrible daemonic weaponry of the immortal Karkattamorg. There. Karkattamorg stood there, my lord. The daemonsword NaGzetchh slew many of our Marine brethren there before the swarm forced him into retreat. That is where the veil between the realms is thinnest. Vorkohnen turned and saw that the Eye had detected the inevitable presence of the cursed spawn of the warp and raised his blade up to his chest, ready for the fight. May the Emperor bless and watch over each of you. May He guide your hand and make keen your eye. May your faith and zeal protect you in these darkest of hours, and let your hand never once falter in its righteous duty. He chanted, his eyes fixed firmly on the space before him. May each kill you make be a good one, and let every drop of daemon blood you spill be in His name. The others bowed their heads as the Inquisitor finished his prayer, even Jourabel. With that he turned and looked out upon the spot his Astropath had identified, his long hoary mane waving softly in the growing breeze. Now remember, I want no one to move until the vile beasts attack. Let them come to us. Let them feel the burning faith of the Emperor as it assails their daemonic skin and twists their dark souls. Good hunting. The group braced themselves as the air before them burst open like a bloodied wound, spewing forth a steady stream of screaming, baying creatures of great size and bulk, their blood-red bodies slick with gore. Huge twisted horns crowned their shaggy black heads and their eyes glowed with an ancient, terrible light of such malice that no living creature could ever hope to match. In their clawed hands they carried huge, serrated axes, eternally slick with the blood of a millennia of victims. Bloodletters. Vorkohnen breathed, the corners of his mouth turning up in disgust. As I suspected. The Blood God sends his accursed foot soldiers against us. So be it, we will slaughter them with the utter contempt such unholy creatures deserve. Fire at will. The pintle-mounted psycannon opened up behind them, spraying the daemon pack with consecrated fire. Burning blue bolts thudded into the mass, tearing bodies apart and shattering torsos with contemptuous ease. At the foot of the ramp Jourabels tau cannon followed suit, emitting a shrill, rising whine as it powered up. The large gun flared to life, rocking in her hand as the screaming, spinning circular barrel pumped round after round of bright, hissing shots into the advancing nightmares. Hold your ground! Steel your minds against the horrors before you and await my signal! Vorkohnen roared, holding his sacred combi-bolter out before him. The weapon shuddered and kicked in his hand, its barrel already glowing red-hot with the effort of pumping out round after round of psycannon shells into the advancing red tide. Fortan, Jourabel, Gorg! To me! Pour everything you have into the damned horde before us! Jessanus, the

same! We need to hold these vile abominations back for as long as possible! The Inquisitor commanded, and within seconds those he had summoned were by his side, their potent ballistic weaponry all but taking apart the first wave of the Bloodletters. Psycannon bolts whipped by above them and slammed into the advancing daemon throng, the infallible aim of the lexmechanic sat astride the Vigilance never once faltering. Beside him the plasma rounds of Fortan and Gorg hissed through the air between the two forces, the large glowing superheated orbs accompanied by a multitude of faster, smaller energy projectiles thrown forth by the stolen xenos pulse cannon of Jourabel. Vorkohnen watched as the undaunted daemons bore on, their unholy faces locked in vile and terrible expressions of eternal rage and hatred. These unholy creatures cared nothing for the danger their enemy posed to them, all they were concerned with was destroying the enemies of Khorne as swiftly and ultimately as they could. Haerindu, Menzat, Razmuss, hold fast! As soon as I give the word we are into them! Soth, begin to recite the Rites of Exorcism! Jourabel, when I give the signal, you know what to do! Jourabel nodded and moved forward with the others, the cannon in her hand falling silent. She slid the gun from her shoulder and activated the agoniser in her hand, while at the same time reaching for a small device clipped to her belt. Razmuss stepped forward and dropped to one knee, slamming the foot of the huge shield he carried into the loose rubble beneath him. The chainsword he carried screamed as it shuddered to life, the thick, clumsy blade almost dwarfing the slender arm wielding it. The servitor Menzat-7X lurched forward, his own mini-arsenal of weaponry activated and ready to bring pain to the enemies of the Imperium. Vorkohnen began to whisper some inaudible, nameless prayer as he watched the Bloodletters advance, unfazed by the determined resilience of the daemons before him. He had faced these creatures many times before, and was well aware of just how frenzied and potent they were. He lifted both the combi-bolter and his force blade up before him, his cold, grey eyes fixed to the charging, baying pack of evil degenerates that bearing down upon he and his warband, and spoke. Know this, detritus of the warp! You will scream as you die! You will scream in pain and rage and you will curse the very name of the being that sends you hurtling back into the bowels of the filth-pit you were spawned from! I am Vorkohnen, Daemonhunter, scourge of all your kind! Tell that to your pathetic little god! Tell him that I am coming for him! Now! A gout of searing flame burst forth from the barrel of the combi-weapon in his hand, engulfing the beasts before him in a rolling avalanche of fire. Menzat-7X followed suit, his own flamer belching forth a bright, burning blanket of crackling flame into the hurtling daemons. Jourabel lifted the small device in her hand and pressed the rune set into its centre, the glowing symbol quickly changing colour from green to red. With that she dropped the appliance and raised the crackling whip in her hand, ready to meet the daemonic threat head-on. Inquisitor, Magog is loosed! she sang, stepping to one side almost instinctively. Something huge and terrible roared within the hold of the Eternal Vigilance. The entire carrier began to shake and rock as whatever had been held captive inside awoke, bellowing in rage at the world around it. Even Jessanuss legendary aim faltered as the carrier underneath him swayed and rocked under the terrible power of the being trapped within.

Magog was awake and thirsting for daemonic blood. The Bloodletters had begun to scramble past the burning, writhing bodies of their monstrous kin even as they began to dissipate and dissolve, their legendary blood-frenzy pushing them ever-onwards. These daemons were monstrous things, tall and covered in slabs of glistening crimson muscle. They roared and howled, completely lost in the eternal blood-rage that gripped them. Huge, serrated hellblades forged in the fires of the Blood Gods domain glinted in the light of the burning pyres around them as they tore onwards up the wreckage-strewn slope to meet with the Inquisitor and his warband. The first of them was mere feet away from the Inquisitor when something huge and monstrously heavy bounded past the warband and thundered into the daemon pack, its booming footfalls so loud and powerful that the flags underneath each broad foot cracked and shattered beneath its vast weight. The inhuman creature roared and bellowed like a rampaging bull as it thundered fearlessly into the bestial throng, its huge cybernetic arms whirling and flailing. The living incarnation of wrath that was Magog landed among the advancing Bloodletters amid a cacophony of guttural roars, a flurry of whirring, flashing blades and crackling power weaponry. Pistons and hydraulics popped and hissed as an arm as long as a man and as thick as a Space Marines torso swept through the startled daemons, its broad power claw shearing a brace of them in two before they even begun to realise what was happening. Magog emitted a long, guttural roar and raised his other augmetic arm, at the end of which a packed host of chainswords, power blades sat, each of them whirring or fizzing as they activated. The lumbering arcoflagellant monster turned and swept the limb across and down before him, drawing the blade cluster across the nearest of the daemons. The air before him exploded in a bloody mist of inhuman ichor and warp-stuff, even the corrupt bronze plate armour of the warp denizens no match for the host of screaming blessed weaponry. Magog! Magooooog! The terrible beast roared, bounding through the pack without fear, the humming power pack fixed to his broad back belching out a pall of thick black smoke as it fed power to the huge behemoths systems. Across his broad form countless censers and braziers coughed gouts of incense smoke out at the surrounding abominations, the sacred roots they burned inimical to the warp-spawned creatures. Magog was a living weapon, the bane of the heretic and the daemon. Surrounded by the very creatures his dark soul burned with the desire to destroy and urged ever onwards by the hissing, pumping stimminjectors set into his broad back, the terrifying arco-flagellant bellowed his bloodlust out across the roiling landscape. Into them now! For the beloved Emperor! Vorkohnen yelled, throwing his blade arm forward. Haerindu, Menzat, Soth, Razmuss and Jourabel set off down the slope, their combat weaponry drawn and ready. The air came alive with the sound of a host of exotic and powerful armaments being activated, from chainswords to force blades, all alive and ready to deal death in the name of the Immortal One. Haerindu was into them first, her slender form cartwheeling and vaulting over the heads of the others effortlessly and silently. She landed amongst the pack and began to kill even before the first of her thin stiletto-heeled boots had touched the ground, the power knives in her hands flashing through the red flesh of the Bloodletters with ease. She span through the pack like a dervish, using her long legs to block the lunging hellblades of the enemy while at the same time retaliating with a host of exotic weaponry, from throwing stars and knives to electrowhips and power-bolas.

Vorkohnen and Soth entered the fray as one, each of the men chanting and singing as they thundered into the daemon throng. Vorkohnens potent daemon-killing force halberd sang as it tore through the hulking warp-spawn, its inbuilt censers unleashing a steady stream of pungent incense, the heady smog burning the unholy flesh of his opponents as it wafted across the melee. A multitude of long ribbons and strips of holy parchment attached to the haft fluttered through the rank air as the long weapon span and twirled expertly in his hands, its flickering blue blade slicing through all it touched. Foul warp-detritus, I repel thee! I cast thee away from the faithful and the pure! He raged, his eyes glowing with holy balefire. His voice pealed across the scene like thunder, amplified to such a degree that it pained the daemons to hear it. I banish thee back to the regions of blood and pain! By my very soul I cast thee back! The Emperor Himself lends his strength to my soul and my will! Vorkohnen flung his arms out by his sides and drove one armoured foot into the ground before him, bolstering himself. His features widened and a scourging pillar of bright blue flame poured from his eyes and mouth, expanding and spreading as it billowed forth. The screaming psychic wall of flame washed over at least four of the daemons as they surrounded Haerindu, engulfing both the assassin and her would-be killers. The ethereal inferno burned brightly for a fleeting moment before retreating, shrinking back into the Inquisitors wide-open eyes and mouth like a striking serpent recoiling back into its lair, leaving nothing behind save for the startled assassin and a mist of thin, black dissipating smoke. Haerindu nodded her thanks to Vorkohnen before disappearing back into the midst of the enemy; her ceaseless work far from done. Soths voice rose as he strode into the beasts, thrusting the holy icon in his right hand out before him. The Bloodletter advancing upon him faltered in its advance, dropping the huge axe it wielded in shock, the combined holy might of both the symbol and the Exorcists prayers too much for it to bear. Soth responded to this by sweeping the force hammer he carried up through the air before him, its crackling head decapitating the beast for its hesitance. I abjure thee, foul travesties of the Immaterium! I renounce both you and the filth you serve in the name of the holy Emperor! Let my faith burn your dark souls! I will not rest my tongue until you all writhe in blessed agony! He bellowed, the powerful rhetoric seeming to cause him to swell and grow before the eyes of the others. Like Vorkohnen, he knew that, above all else, faith was the most potent of weapons with which to face the daemon and the damned. Only faith could guarantee victory here on Daedalus, for as each moment passed, the power of the Blood God grew stronger and stronger. All the signs were there, signs he had seen and heard so many times before. With each act of murder committed in the name of the Blood God its presence grew stronger, its vile hold on this world increasing. He had seen too many worlds descend into madness and death as the warp had spilled out into the material universe, lost forever to the Imperium. He had vowed to the immortal Emperor that he would never allow this to happen again, and he intended to keep that promise. Fortan strode quickly down the slope and fell in behind Jourabel and Razmuss, the barrel of his plasma gun flaring yet again as he unleashed a hail of shot into the pack, knocking another two of the beasts off their feet. One of the daemons roared and snarled as it disintegrated, its writhing form unravelling and transforming into thick, black smog. The other beast quickly scrambled for its weapon and raised its legs, flipping back onto its hooves. It snorted and shook its head, its shaggy black mane rolling behind it. Though a large hole had been burned into its bronze armour it hardly acknowledged this, its burning eyes falling upon the half-hidden form of Razmuss before it.

The twisted creature dug its cloven heels into the ground and pounced, throwing its large frame at the crouching, shielded man. Razmuss ducked his head behind the shield and grunted in pain as the roaring Bloodletter slammed its blade into the thick guard before it, the daemonic power of the weapon throwing out a burst of sparks as it clashed with the humming protective field emitted by the famous Menthusi riot shield in his hand. The suspensor gauntlet that supported it squealed and hissed, struggling to dissipate the force of the grievous blow, and Razmuss knew that his precious shield would not hold out for long. He waited for his moment and it came almost immediately. He watched as the daemon raised the twohanded blade, ready to smash it down upon the shield once more. Seeing the Bloodletters exposed body he brought the chainsword in his hand up and thrust it into the unprotected groin of the creature, the weapon shuddering and bucking as it tore through the flesh below its bronze armour. Fortan lunged forward and blasted another plasma shot at it, tearing its right arm away at the shoulder in a shower of black ichor. Jourabel winced. As the battle raged around him, Vorkohnen glanced out across the wide street and into the distance, his ancient eyes scouring the distance for any sign of the running battle between the three opposing forces. He could see nothing but scattered, heaped bodies and shattered obstacles, all that remained in the wake of the furious combat. His heart sank. Though they were close to defeating the Bloodletters it was as though Khorne himself, curse his name, was intent on preventing he and his band of Daemonhunters form reaching the accursed Karkattamorg, the vile catalyst behind all this. Still, no matter, he thought to himself. He would not rest until the ancient adversary fell to his blade. That was when he noticed it. At first glance it looked like any other obstacle, just a heap of dead, broken flesh laid oozing its contents out onto the city streets, blood pooling around its armoured form. A dead Khornate warrior lying in a heap in the centre of the road some three hundred or so metres up the highway, the banner he had carried in battle resting at an angle upon his armoured chest fluttering in the breeze, torn and ragged. The disgusting symbol it bore mocked him, the dried blood it had been painted with dark and fading. More than that, it seemed to call to him, palpable waves of fury and primal anger radiating from it like sonic pulses, grating at the edge of his mind and burning his soul. He shuddered as he felt the presence of the vile banner, recognising it for what it was. His stomach began to churn as the truth dawned upon him, his face slackening. The dead body twitched, the slight movement sending a deep, low rhythmic thump resounding through his head like the beat of some huge and terribly foreboding drum. It was the heartbeat of a god. No he whispered, taking a step back. He did not even notice as the last surviving Bloodletter lunged at him, only to be plucked from the ground by the huge, monstrous fingers of Magog, its stay in the material realm swiftly ended. No, it cant be he continued, his voice barely audible and tinged with apprehension. Not now, not when were so close. Divine Emperor, I beg of you. If we are to face this foe here and now then I beg your protection. Lend me your strength so that I may slay this foe and exact your righteous wrath upon the enemies of your realm. Guide my hand and lend strength to my heart on this darkest of days. Watch over your children and guide

us all, for without you we are nothing. Without you, none of us can hope to stop this abomination. Soth appeared by his side, breathless and flushed, his old chest heaving. Lord, we have the beasts His voice faltered and died, trailing away to nothing as he laid eyes upon the distant body, the presence of the dwindling daemon pack pushed from his mind. My lord, it cannot be he began, falling in beside the Inquisitor. The loud and terrible heartbeat boomed again, so loud this time that Vorkohnen winced, his eyes closing as the pain shot through his head. It is, Soth. It is exactly as you fear. The threat these daemons posed us is as nothing next to that of the abomination we are about to face. We must be ready, old friend. Soth nodded and brought the holy icon he carried up to his mouth, kissing it once. With that he placed the objects chain around his neck and unfastened the leather binder fixed to his belt, retrieving the holy tome contained within. Vorkohnen watched for a moment as the old priest began to leaf through the pages with shaking hands, hurriedly trying to locate the relevant hymns and verses within. Despite his legendary composure even Soth was afraid, this much clearly apparent due to the Exorcists fearful eyes. He had never in his entire life faced anything like this. Except for the Inquisitor, none of them had,. We should have summoned the Grey Knights. Soth uttered, still searching for the correct litanies of purification and banishment. If we had known It is too late to worry about that now, Soth. Faith is all we need. It is our greatest weapon, you of all people should know that. Fear not, old friend. We will face this foe and we will win. With that Vorkohnen turned to face the distant body and shuddered, watching with trepidation as it stirred again. Chapter 21.

LOSS AND GAIN


Reality imploded. A pall of darkness erupted from the twitching body and spread out in a wide arc across the scene, a pulse of pure, screaming rage so sudden and so powerful that it knocked everyone off their feet, everyone save for Vorkohnen and Soth. The living, screaming pulse passed over and by him, causing him to stagger back a couple of paces. Screeching ethereal winds tore at his face and hair. His eyes glowed with a pale blue light as he fought the effects of the transference, the violent arrival of the abomination. Soth was on one knee by his side, his jade robes fluttering about him, his smooth dark head pressed against the upturned hilt of his force hammer. He held the ancient grimoire tight against his chest, protecting the fragile and ancient tome from the violent winds. His mouth moved in silent prayer, his eyes closed tightly. Vorkohnen took a few laboured steps forward as the winds began to die down, his face shaking. He already felt drained, his efforts against the Bloodletters sapping him of his holy powers.

The Banishment had plundered his psychic reserves badly. It had taken all his strength to counteract the effects of the vile collars they had worn and send them back to their abominable master. The consecrated scrolls fastened across his armour began to smoulder and dull, the illumination of the holy inscriptions upon them seeming to dull. The unguents of warding painted across his armour began to evaporate, seared away by the terrible, growing power of the emerging daemon. He paused, his hand falling to the small pouch fastened to his belt. For a moment he considered its contents. No, he told himself. Not yet. Not yet. No matter how powerful this unholy creature may be, he could not risk its use so early in the fight to save Daedalus. This one is marked for Karkattamorg. Suddenly a sleek, black shape hurtled past him and he watched in complete and utter horror as the fearless female assassin charged headlong into the jaws of death, her twin swords held above her head. Haerindu! No! A huge and terrible shape began to rise from the body of the dead champion, boiling forth like rising dough from the shattered cadaver. The dead Marines crimson power armour swelled and bubbled outwards, warping and transforming before them into something huge, ancient and terrifying. Even the incredibly tough ceramite of the power armour was no match for the forces being exerted on it from within and the body began to burst and spilt, its shattered armour shell squealing and groaning as it began to crack open, knee and elbow guards and armour seals whickering through the air and spinning away as the pressure increased. My lord, our greatest test yet. Soth uttered, his eyes wide and fearful. We should have suspected this all along. The Bloodletters were merely herald to this loathsome creature, summoned forth before it to honour its blasphemous transfer into our realm with the spilling of blood. This scion of Khorne will not be pleased that his foot soldiers have not honoured his birth so. Vorkohnen did not hear the words of his Exorcist. His eyes were fixed to the charging Death Cult assassin as she hurtled headlong into the emerging daemon, slashing her swords across the transforming body of the Marine champion even as the ancient abomination within still struggled free. Ultimately and inevitably, her efforts were in vain. Something huge and malevolent uttered a scream of blood-boiling rage that shook the very ground beneath their feet. A pungent stench of sulphur and blood filled the air as the mighty Khornate daemon pushed itself free of the Empyrean and onto the streets of Phrennec Mantris, its huge and overbearing form filling the eyes of every man and woman of the Inquisitors retinue in a heartbeat. Bloodthirster. Haerindu faltered as the daemon loomed up over her, in awe of its vast size. The huge canine features of the Bloodthirster turned her way and the daemon unleashed a roar of ancient malice, the air around its wide, slavering maw rippling and distorting, its baleful red eyes piercing her soul. Haerindu sagged, an involuntary shudder passing through her lithe, leather-clad body. She uttered a quiet, child-like gasp and dropped her deadly swords onto the ground, the weapons ringing as they clattered at her feet. She turned to run, her spirit broken. She barely had chance to set off back towards the others when a loud crack resounded through the buildings either side of them and the Bloodthirsters barbed black whip coiled around her waist, grasping her with such force that she was almost torn in two. The roaring abomination flung his arm back and Haerindu was dragged backwards, screaming in fear. Her

flailing form shot through the air like a slender black bullet and she crashed into the ground at the Greater Daemons side, landing with a sickening thud. The others watched in horror as the beast gleefully placed on massive hoof upon her lifeless head and yanked the whip, tearing the unfortunate assassin in two. The assassins flailing legs landed before Vorkohnen in a spray of blood, a clear challenge to the Daemonhunter. The shock of Haerindus gruesome death soon drained from Vorkohnens face and he glowered at the ancient monster, feeling the heat of the radiating fury behind its eyes burn into his mind. The Bloodthirster was an impressive foe, larger than any single opponent a man could face. The Greater Daemons of the chaos gods were the largest and most terrifying of all the denizens of the warp, and of all the Greater Daemons, the most terrifying was the Bloodthirster. Vorkohnen was sure that even the legendary ferocity and martial prowess of the half-daemon, Karkattamorg would be sorely pressed to deal with such a foe, and it was almost certain that it was one of these vile abominations that the daemon prince had modelled himself upon. Standing before him was one of his greatest challenges yet, and it was a challenge that he would not back away from. He was not afraid. He had hunted these unholy creatures most of his adult life. He had trained with the Grey Knights on Titan. He had within his possession some of the most potent and blessed equipment and weaponry to be found within the ranks of the Ordo Malleus. His armour and weapons had been blessed by the most holy priests of the Ecclesiarchy and anointed with the rarest and most potent of unguents and sacred oils. He was Lord Inquisitor Devan Vorkohnen, Daemonhunter. The warp was filled with countless such unholy creatures, all clamouring for revenge against the man who had banished them from the realms of realspace. He had yet to find his way to the side of the Emperor. The daemon will be weak, its hold on this place diminished by the fact that its host was already dead. Vorkohnen whispered, a fact agreed by his companion, Soth. Aye. Our best chance of success would be to weaken the daemon both physically and spiritually. Our faith will be the undoing of this warp-spawned travesty. For the Emperor. For the Emperor. Vorkohnen repeated, sweeping the nemesis blade before him in an unmistakeable gesture of acceptance. The Bloodthirster lifted its huge, shaggy head and roared, shaking the mighty, man-sized axe and long braided whip it wielded in jubilation, ready to sate its thirst for the blood of its mortal enemies. Jessanus! Now! Vorkohnen roared, turning to face the distant Chimera and its lone occupant, the lexmechanic gunner. Standing atop the turret Jessanus nodded and quickly adjusted his round spectacles before grabbing the manual controls of the pintle-mounted psycannon and throwing it round to face the roaring daemon. He unleashed a salvo of glowing shots at the creature, his lips moving constantly as he silently reeled off a stream of logistical calculations. The daemon turned, just in time to see a hail of pulsing projectiles hissing towards it. It roared again and swung the huge whip it carried out before it, sending out a shower of charged sparks as it knocked a number of the shells from the air. The rest of them slammed into the Bloodthirsters armoured chest, exploding against its thick chest plate in a bright burst of flashing sparks, the explosions illuminating the beasts hound-like features in a strobe-flash of blue light. Now! Fire! Fire! Vorkohnen bellowed, his thunderous command chased almost immediately by a hail of stuttering, hissing firepower.

The Greater Daemon howled and thrust itself up into the air, its huge black wings sweeping down past its sides and carrying the beast up above the swarm of projectiles. Jessanus and the gun-servitor Gorg-005K adjusted their firing positions immediately, assailing the daemons airborne form with another burst of fire. Shells and energy blasts exploded along the length of the daemons massive form, troubling it yet causing no serious injury to the monsters warp-spawned body. Vorkohnen stepped forward as the monster landed, throwing up a cloud of debris as its huge hooves slammed into the ground underneath it. It drew back its massive wings and thrust the whip out before it, the thick black twined leather snapping through the air inches above the Inquisitor. Vorkohnen responded by raising his comb-bolter and snapped off a round of psycannon shots at the abhorrence, the weapon shuddering in his hand. The consecrated shells exploded as they hit the daemon, blasting away chunks of armour and red flesh along its huge frame, the pain caused by the rune-inscribed projectiles far more effective than the actual damage inflicted. The Bloodthirster shook its huge horned canine head, its skull-adorned dreadlocks flailing through the air behind it. Soth appeared by Vorkohnens side, the ancient book he carried open in is hand, his voice loud and booming as he recited the canticles of exorcism at the top of his voice. Gorg-005K and Jessanus continued to fire upon the daemonic beast, encompassing it in a flurry of bright, bursting firepower, their efforts seemingly only serving to anger the Greater Daemon further. Hold strong! Fear not this repugnant monstrosity, the presence of the Immortal Emperor will protect us from harm! Vorkohnen hollered, his eyes beginning to glow with unearthly fire. Above them, the skies grew dark. The charged air became filled with ethereal lightning, thrown forth from the growing rift between realspace and the Empyrean. Ghostly echoing cackles drifted through the rockcrete canyons, uttered by the mouths of creatures that were invisible and without number. Jourabel screamed and stepped back as she felt something warm and thick beginning to pool around her feet. Dark blood began to seep up through the flags and rubble, spreading and trickling out into the street. Scores of these small puddles began to appear, dotting the scene as far as the eye could see. The walls of the buildings began to run red with blood, the crimson stuff weeping from every crack or crevice in their surface. We have little time. Soth uttered, quickly returning to the book in his hand. Huge rends began to form in the floor around the Bloodthirster, opening to belch out thick, choking black clouds of sulphuric vapours. The ground beneath their feet began to quake as the earth opened up, spewing forth fire and smoke as the tremors increased. Vorkohnen had allowed this travesty to go on long enough. He thrust his heels into the ground and charged forward, dropping his bolter to the floor as he went. The force blade in his hands began to crackle with ethereal energies, pulsing and glowing as he neared the towering behemoth. Through the rumbling and the clamour, the Inquisitors sonorous voice could be heard, loud and booming, amplified by his own potent psychic abilities almost to the point of omnipotence. The others followed in his wake, charging after their lord faithfully. As one, Fortan, Magog, Soth, Jourabel, Menzat-7X and Razmuss all hurtled headlong into the midst of the Greater Daemon, their devotion taking precedence over the fear in their hearts. If they were to die, then they would do so with honour and integrity. Before them, the Bloodthirster roared with delight.

Chapter 20. CLOSING IN. The room was still filled with the clamour of a host of shocked voices when Zith reappeared, his body forming before their eyes in a burst of light that mirrored his disappearance. Zith Hastor began, wheeling round to face the foolish xeno expert, his tone as clearly filled with anger as it was with surprise. Im back, sir, just as I suspected. Th You are a damn fool, trooper! He snapped, his vicious tone catching the smiling soldier off-guard. Ziths face dropped as he realised that Hastor was far from happy with his reckless behaviour. Sir, I apologise. I needed to show you what these things were here for and I know that you would never have allowed me to do that if I had asked. Its okay, sir, look at me. Im back in one piece. Hastor opened his mouth to rebuke the trooper but faltered, his curiosity getting the better of him. He stared at Zith as he stepped down from the small fleshy podium, intrigued by the mans apparent lack of harm. Back from where, Zith? He asked curtly, beginning to realise once and for all exactly what the creatures were. It is amazing, truly amazing. From what I can tell by looking at this apparatus, someone has modified these things to allow for multi-species transportation. That is why they are festooned with cables and monitors. Whoever did this is clearly a genius in biological function and manipulation. Hastor sighed and shook his head, still angry at the mans rash actions. Answer the question, Zith. I asked you where this thing took you. Zith shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, still clearly exhilarated by the incredible ride. I have no idea, sir. It looked to me to be another of these facilities, probably somewhere halfway across the city. There were more of these things there, all intact this time. My guess is that each cyst takes you to a different location. Can you imagine that, being able to travel anywhere in the city in an instant? Truly amazing. Hey sarge, you know what this means, dont you? Brandbaar was telling the truth. Fordar uttered, flashing a curt glance Tremlockes way. The Commissar responded in kind with a sneering scowl of his own, though by now his presence didnt hold much sway with the others. Fordar is right. Zith continued, wiping away the rivulets of sweat that ran down his forehead. Being linked to the swarms collective consciousness, he must have sensed that the tyranids were hunting for these things. Despite the fact that they have been genetically manipulated, Im assuming these creatures will still have been able to attract the swarm, drawing them to this place. Its all starting to make sense now. See the others? They must have been destroyed in order to prevent the swarm from finding the secret location. At least one of the others here must have led straight to the target site. Hastor frowned, screwing his face up as he heard this. His bionic implant flashed in empathy, burning brightly for a second. Brandbaar had been true to them in the face of death, trying to tell them about this secret place. He had known about the cysts, known what they were and what they did after the damned Genestealer had stolen

his soul. Now it was up to him. He could either lead the others through miles and miles of dangerous, enemyinfested city or risk everything and take the plunge, step blindly into the unknown as Zith had done, hoping against hope that his efforts bore fruit. It was a sobering choice. Zith, you say that there were more of these things on the other side? Yes sir. At least five of them. By the looks of them they were still intact, though its anyones guess were they lead to. Im willing to act as the scout on this one if thats what it takes. I strongly believe that we have a solid lead here. Hastor turned to Tremlocke and nodded his head, out of both time and options. We have to do it, Commissar. If it is possible that these creatures can take us to the target site then we have to try. Unsurprisingly, Tremlocke was far from impressed by the suggestion. Consorting with aliens now, Hastor? When will this heretical behaviour cease? The Emperor We are doing this for the good of the Emperor! Hastor snapped, growing tired of the Commissars constant reproaches. All of this, everything we have done and everything we have yet to do, its all for Him! Damn you, Tremlocke, when will you climb down from that holy pedestal of self-righteousness and begin to realise that the actions we take are necessary. The end justifies the means in this mission; the fate of the entire galaxy rests upon that fact. I will not allow the Imperium to fall just because we had to resort to desperate measures to save it. If our actions mean that my soul is to be damned then so be it! I would gladly give my life to ensure that His realm survives. Zith, take point. Tremlocke paused, a cruel smile forming at the corners of his mouth. He lowered his hand and his gloved fingers found the grip of his holstered bolt pistol, his cold gaze fixed upon the sergeant. Did I hear correctly, Sergeant Hastor? You would renounce the Emperor and his holy teachings so readily? Even for such a noble cause, your words are heresy. Hastor turned away and watched as Zith stepped up onto the cyst and disappeared in a wash of pulsating energy, ignoring the Commissars words for a moment. As soon as Zith had left the laboratory he ushered the next of his men onto the creature, intending to be the last of the squad to leave. I am speaking to you, sergeant. Tremlocke continued, taking a step forward. You would openly and gladly forsake the Emperors teachings? Is even the legendary Moneth Hastor beginning to crack under the strain of this mission? Hastor did not answer. He continued to guide the others towards the creature, watching as each of the men in turn disappeared before his eyes, carried away by the mysterious influence of the alien organism to a location unknown to any of them. One by one, the men under his command, men loyal to him, were carried far away, leaving only he, Nesker and the Commissar on the other side of the city. The old veteran paused as he neared the cyst, turning on his heel to look upon Hastor. His eyes were narrow, his scarred face stern and impassive. Hey sarge, you want to go next? He asked, his voice little more than a low growl. Hastor shook his head. No, Fen, you go. I will follow shortly. Nesker remained still for a moment, his eyes shifting onto the Commissar, his expression unchanging.

His hand was curled around the hilt of his combat knife, a clear and unabashed gesture. You sure, sarge? I dont mindcoveringthe Commissar. It wouldnt be good for a political officer to be ambushed by any hostiles lurking around here without any support. I see it as my duty to ensure he maintains his irreplaceable presence within the group. Hastor turned and glanced at Tremlocke for a moment before finding the Storm Trooper once again, his head shaking slowly. Commissar Tremlocke and I will both be fine, Fen, I assure you. Go. Nesker bowed his head and, flashing the Commissar an evil sneer, turned and stepped into the soft life form. There was a flash of hazy light and a bang of shifting air and the soldier was gone. Sergeant, your ignorance only serves to convince me further. Tremlocke continued, his heart lifting as he watched the last of Hastors men exit the scene, leaving only he and the sergeant behind. He watched with satisfaction as the cyst flashed one final time, leaving behind a strong odour of ozone. He slid his bolt pistol from its holster and armed it with a swift thumb-flick. I warned you, you b-----d. He whispered, a malevolent sneer slowly spreading across his tight features. I warned you this day would come. You may have become some big-shot Storm Trooper sergeant, Moneth, but I am an Imperial Commissar. It is my duty to seek out and eradicate any sign of impurity or weakness. You have given me all the ammunition I require to end your miserable existence once and for all. Hastor remained with his back to Tremlocke, still and unmoving. He said nothing but reached down to his belt and slowly unclipped something, a shrill ring echoing through the silent chamber. Dont even think about it, Moneth. Turn slowly to face me. I want to see your eyes as I exact the Emperors vengeance. Do it now. Hastor turned slowly as the Commissar had commanded, his right arm rising slowly up and out by his side. Something small and dark was clutched tightly in his hand and Tremlocke struggled to see what it was that the sergeant held. Whatever that is, you had better drop it. Im serious, Hastor. You have pushed me too far this time. If you insist. Hastor whispered, opening his hand a little in order to allow the vengeful Tremlocke to see the object better. He gasped, taking a step back. Hastor held an active melta-bomb, the tiny runes set into its cylindrical surface flashing red. He spread his fingers a little more and the safety pin dropped to the floor with a shrill ring, the sound cascading through Tremlockes head like the peal of some terrible warning siren. What are you waiting for, Commissar? If you intend to kill me then get on with it. He whispered, his bionic eye glowing balefully. If I am to die by your hand here in this festering place then so be it, but is swear that I will take you with me, you sanctimonious little piece of Kroot turd. Whether you survive the blast or not doesnt matter, I will ensure that you are trapped here on your own. He tipped his head towards the alien cyst in order to emphasise his point. Besides, even you arent that stupid. You and I both know that if you appeared without me then my men would take you down without the slightest moments hesitation, regardless of the honeyed lies that would undoubtedly spill from your lips. Here and now is where you make the choice, Tremlocke. Either you step onto that cyst before me or neither of us will leave this place to see the end of this damned mission. Screw you and your vendetta; the only thing that concerns me at this moment in time is saving this planet. Youll get your chance for a reckoning after all this is over.

Make the choice. Damn you, Moneth. Tremlocke growled, denied once again. I swore that I would kill you after what you tried to do to me. I became a Commissar solely to hunt you down and destroy you. I will destroy you if its the last thing I do. Hastor smiled a foreboding, cautionary smile. It will be, Titus. I will make sure of that. Now move it. Tremlocke slid the bolt pistol back into its holster and pushed past the sergeant, uttering a roar of rage at being denied once more. He stepped onto the cyst and was gone, leaving Hastor alone with the pulsing bomb. Without hesitation the sergeant placed the active object quickly on the floor beside the cyst and stepped onto the alien creature, exhaling deeply. Within seconds, he was gone. He opened his eyes and the screaming stopped. The muffled roaring noise poured from his head like a raging torrent and the pressure cleared, leaving him standing in silence, a host of staring faces before him. Sergeant? Are you alright sir? When you didnt come through after us Hastor shook his head and stepped down off the creature, his thick boots slurping as they fought to free themselves from the sift, mucus-covered membrane. His men stood in a crescent around Tremlocke, their barrels of their weapons all centred on the defiant man. Tremlocke himself stood in silence before them, his head held high, his expression shameless. Everything is fine, Regan. He answered, running his eyes across the gathering. No one else will be following us, Ive made sure of that. Weapons lowered and muscles relaxed as the small crowd parted, allowing Hastor to step away from the smouldering cyst and out into the dimly lit room. Tremlocke stood back and swept his shouldered greatcoat back over him, his face a mask of barely suppressed rage. What now, sergeant? You have brought us this far. Where do we go from here? Hastor began to glance about him as his eyes adjusted to the light, taking in his surroundings. They were in a similar facility, smaller yet filled with the same type of scientific equipment housed by their former location. Though there were none of the various specimen tubes and dead xenos cadavers that had filled the first facility, there were indeed a number of the plant-like tyranid cysts, five in total, each of them intact. Nesker and Autis have moved out into the building beyond this room, searching for the exit. Moranith informed him, quickly checking him over. Are you sure that everything is okay, sir? We were worried for a while back then. I said everything is fine. Leave it at that. He snapped, and Moranith knew with utter certainty that the matter would not be brought up again. Hastor pushed past the medic and moved out into the centre of the small room, stepping over the sea of cables and tubes that snaked across the damp floor. More of the augmented teleportation life forms were scattered about the room, seemingly intact this time Zith was on his knees beside one of the repulsive creatures, mesmerised by the gurgling tubes and pulsing wires sutured across its blotched, fleshy mass. He prodded his finger into the clammy tissue with an almost disconcerting vigour. This is amazing, sir, absolutely incredible. Whoever modified these animals is a certified genius.

Everything seems to have been transported flawlessly between the two points, inert as well as organic. These things seem capable of transporting any and all matter, sir. Hastor nodded and moved deeper into the chamber, searching the dim surroundings with a keen eye. As he began to insect the various work stations and cogitator banks spread about him he raised one hand to his helmet Nesker, Autis, this is Hastor. Have you found anything, over? He waited for a moment, his finger pressed against his ear. Nothing, just static. Nesker, Autis, do you read me? If you can hear me then respond, over? He was beginning to worry now, already ill at ease due to the unknown location of this place. Damn it! Where are they? We need to consolidate, to try and work out where we are in the city. If only we could confirm our location with the fleet in orbit. If it wasnt for the damn warp storm We could be deep underground sir. Corpo reasoned, studying their surroundings. Either that, or the walls surrounding us could be too thick for the signal to penetrate. Though he had said nothing since the rooftops, he dearly missed his vox-pack. Hastor looked about him, searching the gloom for any sign of the other two. A pale light illuminated the darkness at the far side of the room and it soon caught his attention. I think I see an exit. Corpo, Zith, stay here. Im not moving from this place until we get some answers. Corpo, I want you to try and bring one of those workstations online. Get into the systems of this facility, find out who was responsible for these experiments and why. Zith, see if you can find anything else out about these creatures. No, before you ask, you are not to test any of the others until I get back. Regan, you stay behind too. Anything, and I mean anything, ports in on one of those things you burn it, friend or foe. Dont wait to see who or what it is, you torch it. Do all of you understand? The three men nodded and began to split almost immediately, each soldier clear on his orders. Good. Everyone else follow me. Let us see if we can determine exactly where the hell we are. Chapter 20. CLOSING IN. The skies were beginning to darken now, the long Daedalusian day at long last beginning to draw to a close. The illuminator lamps of the city had activated automatically once the slowly-receding light had had reached the required levels, their harsh, sterile radiance seeming somewhat jaded by presence the storm far above. Hastor was the first to appear, his silent form slipping through the doorway like a shadow, his pistol and sword drawn and ready. He moved out into the street, his head constantly turning left and right, the plasma pistol in his hand following his gaze. The others began to follow, one by one, their own weapons of war active and to hand. Tessok and Deek exited side by side, their similar roles bonding the two soldiers together. Tessok carried his exitus rifle in one hand while holding its smaller cousin, the exitus pistol, out before him, the thin red beam of its inbuilt laser sight spearing the drifting smoke clouds that passed silently through the streets like wandering spirits.

Hastor held up his hand and the others slowed. Sure that his order had been followed he ducked low and began to jog across the deserted street, his trained eyes covering every window and doorway as he advanced. There were more dead Arbites here, and more than a few Interior Guard bodies littering the rockcrete and paving slabs around the complex. He hadnt a clue how many of these facilities were scattered about the city, though judging by the presence of the dead Imperial authorities he guessed that each one had been hit simultaneously, or at least one after another in quick succession. Again, it seemed that the citys government had failed to suppress whatever heretical activities had been going on here, though, as he continued to advance, he began to notice a strict lack of tyranid casualties amongst the dead. Wherever they were now, it would seem that the swarm had not managed to penetrate this far. He reached the far side of the street and ran quickly over to the corner of the building, stumbling over the scattered bodies of the soldiers as he advanced. He glanced around the corner for a moment before signalling for the others to follow, finding the junction clear of any hostile presence. The small group had barely begun to negotiate the dead streets behind him when Hastor suddenly froze. He thrust the arm that held the plasma pistol into the air and the squad dropped to their knees, their sergeant quickly following suit. As each of the nine men crouched in unison their eyes fell upon the two silent shapes that rounded the corner before them, some thirty metres away. Nine ballistic weapons were quickly levelled upon the two figures as they jogged out of the side street and into the centre of the highway, their bulky, carapace armoured bodies a familiar sight. Everyone hold your fire! Its Nesker and Autis! Hastor hollered, the curt, sonorous command causing the two men to falter and slow, their eyes falling upon the others. Sir? Damn it, where were you two? We thought Hastor began, only to have his reprimand cut abruptly short. Never mind. Its good to see you both. Did you find anything out there? Autis and Nesker glanced at one another, their faces stern and ominous. Nesker merely shook his head, leaving Autis to step forward, wiping a hand across his face as he did so. Sir, youd better come and have a look at this. Id say weve definitely found something. +++ Emperors light! Hastor stood still, transfixed by the sight before him. He had seen ruination and carnage on a grand scale since the beginning of this war, but still the sight before him caused his mind to reel. The squad spread out slowly behind him as they rounded the corner, stepping out into the vast square slowly and filled with awe. They were before the South Gate, the location that had seen the Astartes first contact with the World Eaters of the Daemon Prince Karkattamorg. They had been transported almost the entire length of the city by the cyst. The scene before them was one of complete and utter carnage. Space Marine bodies and vehicles littered the massive square, torn and scattered like broken toys across the wide, flat expanse.

The burning shells of dead Vindicator siege tanks lay smashed across the length of the fallen gate where they had desperately charged into the city, risking everything in order to bring their relatively short-range but incredibly powerful demolisher cannons to bear upon the cruel, destructive pylons of the defence grid. It seemed that their desperate gamble had paid of though it had cost them dearly, the vast carpet of twisted, smouldering Vindicators, Whirlwinds and Predators scattered across the length of the gateway a testament to this. They had managed to bring down the gates but at a price, and as Hastor cast his gaze across the scene, he began to realise that the desperate plight of the Guard forces had been as nothing compared to this. This place is a graveyard. They must have gone through hell here. He whispered, shaking his head slowly. I can scarcely believe what my eyes see here. All this devastation It was a sight to sober the heart of any faithful Imperial. In amongst the graveyard of largely blue and crimson war machines were the shattered remains of White Scar Land Speeders, Rhinos and bikes. It seemed as if the attempt to storm the city had been a unified one. The larger tanks had broken the gates, allowing the APCs and the smaller assault craft to thrust ahead in an attempt to clear the danger area. The sheer number of Crimson Fist, Thunder Dragon and White Scar dead strewn around them spoke volumes of the plans actual success. See here sarge. By the looks of things the Marines tried to storm the gates from within. Look at all this. Nesker gestured, pointing in the direction of a score of fallen drop pods that lined the square behind the walls. Hastor and the others moved out among the twisted metal of the vehicle graveyard to investigate the scores of open assault pods that lined the square, struck dumb by the sheer magnitude of their numbers. The first ones they passed were relatively unscathed. They sat in an uneven formation around the edge of the square, large metal teardrops painted in the colours of all three Chapters, all dormant and cold. Their shape and the way they lined the square reminded Hastor of some huge, alien orchard, the many ramps of the open pods spread before them like man-made petals, exposing the contents they held within. Autis lowered his plasma gun as he approached the nearest of the constructs, its chipped and scorched armoured shell painted in a dull white and emblazoned with a faded red and yellow lightning strike symbol. Deathwind drop pods, Ive seen them before. He informed the others, running his hand across the scored and pitted surface of the cold construct. This one belonged to the White Scars. See these launchers inside? They were full of frag missiles, or at least they were. He pointed to the interior of the automated craft at the many small and blackened holes at its centre. Its a good thing we got here after the fight. These babies dont care who they target. They were probably the first things to penetrate the city from this end. The Marines drop these things in to clear a path. They just sit back and wait until the pods have exhausted their ammo supply then follow them in and clean up whatever is left, if anything. Theres another one here, sirs. Look at the guns this thing has! Deek exclaimed, exhaling deeply as he adjusted the peaked cap he wore. The others turned to look at the dormant green construct, their eyes falling upon the bristling, snub-nosed cannons that protruded from every angle of its five-sided surface. Assault cannons. Fordar exclaimed matter-of-factly, staring at the blackened, circular barrels of the pods in-built weapons systems. Ive always fancied having a go with one of those beasts. I cant understand why we dont have them in the Guard. Thunder Dragon, that one. Autis continued. It looks like each of the Chapters coordinated their attacks as one, intending to saturate the area with as many of these things as they could afford in an attempt to blow the hell out of Karkattamorgs men. By the looks of the World Eater dead around they were successful, at

least in part. Autis was right. At this distance away from the gate the enemy dead were thick on the ground. It seemed almost as if the berserkers had been in retreat when the first of the pods began to smash into the ground around them, taking them by surprise. The numbers behind the beast were considerable. We can only hope that they were thinned by the courageous efforts of our revered Astartes brethren. Tremlocke announced, his hooded, cruel eyes surveying the scene about him. Whereas the losses sustained by the Guard are almost always sustainable, the losses suffered here by the various Chapters involved may not be. We must offer a prayer to the almighty Emperor that these brave warriors did not suffer too greatly, and that their gene-seed was preserved by their Apothecaries so that their Chapters may survive. Hastor frowned. Though he agreed entirely with what the Commissar was saying, he cursed the deliberately distasteful way in which the man dismissed the losses sustained by the various Guard regiments when they had assaulted the North Gate. It was as if he was determined to antagonise the others. He shook the thought from his mind and turned to look out into the square towards the huge gateway, its massive barrier shattered and broken in large chunks before it. Im starting to see the larger picture here. He announced, the formulation of the conflict starting to form in his mind. See here? These pods were untouched by the pylons. The World Eaters seemed to be in retreat when the Marines attacked, almost as if they knew the defence grid would be coming online. The pod assault came unexpectedly before the activation of the grid and caught them unawares. It was a slaughter. It was a bloody planned slaughter. Out towards the South Gate there were more drop pods, scores of them, most half-buried where they had landed with a thud across the square. Some were no more than twisted, blackened heaps, cracked open by the unforgiving touch of the fallen pylons. Others still burned, gutted by the firepower of the World Eaters they had intended to assault. Intermingled with the graveyard of assault pods were bodies and vehicles in their hundreds, so thick that the floor of the huge square was all-but hidden beneath the carpet of death and destruction. The pylons had struck just as the assault pods had begun to fall. Rhino APCs of either allegiance were thick on the ground, some open and lifeless, their occupants fortunate enough to exit them intact. Others were on their roofs or sides, huge scorch marks peppered across them. In the distance before him he could see two of the craft locked in an embrace of death, their front sections fused together where they had desperately rammed one another in combat. Hastors lip curled as he looked upon the sickening, unholy markings and sigils that covered one of the vehicles, its corrupt chassis painted a lurid blood red and covered with all manner of rusting bronze spikes, gargoyle heads and withered flesh trophies taken from a score of races. A little to his right he could see a fallen Thunderhawk, its large and once-proud form smashed and listing, a huge gouge carved into the road where it had been brought down. It lay on its side, its left wing torn away. He could not believe how such a once-magnificent craft could present such a pitiful sight. He thought for a moment and then raised a hand to his helmet. Zith, Hastor here. I want you three to leave the Laboratorium and come find us. The confirmation came back a few seconds later leaving Hastor to turn and face the others. Search this place. There may be survivors here, Emperor willing. He uttered, his soul heavy. The others

bowed their heads and began to move out through the ruins. Tremlocke opened his mouth in an attempt to voice his displeasure. Commissar, I know what youre going to say. Hastor sighed, holding up a hand. This is one delay I think we can afford. Think about it. Any allies we may find here would be a great help to us when we locate this Mammoog. We havent even the slightest idea what this thing is, Tremlocke, though we know that it threatens the very Imperium should it be allowed to come into being. Any assistance the Astartes could provide us with would be greatly received, you know that as well as I. Actually sergeant, I agree. Tremlocke declared, much to Hastors surprise. I was about to suggest the same thing. The Space Marines are warriors, superhuman in size and strength and legendary in their work. It certainly wouldnt help to have a few of them behind us. We must be realistic about this, we cannot afford to rush headlong into facing this threat, only to find ourselves grossly outmatched. With that, Tremlocke turned on his heel and marched out into the sea of wreckage, sweeping his shouldered greatcoat behind him as he went. Hastor shook his head and turned to join the others, already lost amongst the endless corpses and shells of the intermingled Space Marine invasion forces. +++ Over here! I think Ive found something! The others were quick to join Moranith, emerging from amongst the scattered wreckage to find the medic standing before a particularly large drop pod, the construct surrounded by a number of dead Space Marines in dark blue armour, their bodies laying broken before the assault craft. As they moved closer Hastor, who appeared from behind an upturned Land Raider, his face wide and expectant, joined them. He pushed his way forward, his eyes falling upon the grim sight. Look here sir, this one appears to be intact. It landed awkwardly and I cant see any points of exit across its surface so the pod must only have a single access ramp. Whoever is inside couldnt get out. They must still be trapped in there. Hastor moved closer to the awkwardly angled pod, stopping as he came across the fallen Marines before him. Its Crimson Fist. The medic observed, pointing to the distinctive red fist emblem painted on the side of the craft. Its from the same Chapter as these dead Marines. He was right. The three power-armoured giants that lay before the pod were Crimson Fist. Each of the bodies bore the same symbols on their left shoulder pads and each of them wore a gauntlet on their left hand painted a rich crimson. It was apparent that they had died whilst trying in vain to rescue those trapped within. It seems they were trying to right the pod, sir. They were mown down as they struggled to lift it free of the ground. Moranith observed, a great sadness in his voice. Then we must continue their work. Hastor answered, eyeing the construct up and down. If there are people trapped inside then we must help them. It would do us no harm to gain allies in this place. Tremlocke appeared behind the group, marching through the debris in time to catch the end of the conversation. A fine plan, sergeant. Tell me, how exactly do you intend to shift the thing? +++

The Rhino lurched forward again, its progress spasmodic and intermittent. Nesker muttered something under his breath but made sure that his silent curses were inaudible, for he did not wish to anger the vehicles machine spirit further. Come on, old man. Youre doing fine! Fordar laughed, his meltagun swinging from the strap around his shoulder. He shook his head and held in for dear life as the vehicle rocked again, its tracks spinning in protest over the loose debris of the battle site. Im not doing fine, you sarcastic turd! Im no magnificent Space Marine, am I? He snapped, realising that the vehicles hesitance was down to the presence of its lowly driver. Though a great many Rhinos were constructed for use in the many military organisations of the Imperium, this one had been specifically assembled to carry Space Marines into battle, and as such its machine spirit was unused to having mere Guardsmen at the controls. Come on, damn it! He snapped, revving the engine to screaming point once more. Its your precious bloody comrades were trying to rescue! Cut me some slack here will you! Fordar made a clucking noise and shook his head, the mocking gesture testing Neskers already worn patience even further. Im warning you, boy, dont get me started. Im not exactly having the time of my life right now. He snarled, wrestling with the vehicles protesting controls. Fordar laughed out loud again. By the time the complaining Rhino rumbled into view the others had dragged the corpses of the fallen Crimson Fists out of the way at Hastors request. These were soldiers that had fought in some cases for hundreds of years, their long lives dedicated to the protection of the billions of men and women of the Imperium. The least he could do was to prevent them from being unceremoniously crushed under the tracks of the armoured personnel carrier, he felt that he owed them this much. As the last armoured frame dropped onto the floor beside the pod Tessok rested both his hands on his knees, his face bright red with the effort of shifting such a weight. The others looked up as they heard the small tank approaching, bewildered by its irregular jerking progress. Whats up with Nesker? Is he having some kind of fit? The marksman uttered, watching as the vehicle rumbled on, swerving and juddering as it inched its way forward. You know Nesker, Tess. He never was the most subtle of people. Autis smiled, shaking his head. Hes probably threatening to deactivate the Rhinos machine spirit as we speak. I just hope he gets his backside over here and pushes this thing upright before whoever is trapped inside starves to death. The rest of the squad stood back as the difficult vehicle finally slammed into the roof-mounted rudders of the listing pod with a resonating thud, its dozer blade buckling the scorched, squealing metal extremities as it pressed home. The drop pod shifted, emitting a curious, echoing groan as it began to rise. Hastor likened the noise to the call of the large, ocean-dwelling Whalons of his home planet, Mafeking Strontus. Strange, he thought to himself, how certain situations, however obscure, can sometimes remind you of home. Slowly but steadily the large construct rose, the Rhinos tracks spinning and shuddering as it struggled to grip the loose, cracked surface underneath it. The vehicle seemed to have realised what the Storm Troopers were trying to achieve and had ceased in its protest and decided to succumb to Neskers control at last, a fact that made the veteran extremely glad. Come on, a little more. Thats it. Hastor urged him, waving the others back even further in case the large pod suddenly slipped.

Black smoke now began to pour from the armoured carriers engine vents, adding to the already thick smog-cloud of choking vapours the vehicles quadruple exhausts belched into the cool air. With one final groan the pod righted itself, its underside sinking into the groove beneath it as it was pushed into an upright position like some huge ball socket, much to the relief of the men. A cheer rose as they watched the pod settle, throwing up a cloud of dust as it rocked back into its new position. Nesker reversed the traumatised APC, allowing the others to reach the pods newly exposed frontal section. Hastor and the others inched forward, their eyes falling upon the huge single access hatch that filled the front of the craft, the oversized Crimson Fist emblem covering it scratched and dulled by the rough landing. Look at the size of that hatch! Damn, sarge, what the hell is inside this thing? Tessok breathed, his pace quickly faltering. Whoever is inside we have nothing to fear from them, soldier. We are all children of the Emperor here. Come, we must try and find out if its occupants are still alive. Hastor marched up to the thick ceramite hatch and slammed his fist against its cool surface, the blows sending a trio of echoing thuds resounding through the carrier. Hello? Is anyone alive in there? This is Sergeant Hastor, of the Imperial Storm Troopers! Are you hurt? At first nothing. Just as he was about to give up, however, a deep, thundering boom shook the entire pod as whoever was within answered him. Emperors light! He gasped, jumping back. The others all turned to Hastor, their faces widening. Who or what the hell is in there? Autis uttered, raising his plasma gun towards the hatch. The others began to do the same and as he noticed this Hastor waved his arms, unwilling to antagonise the pods occupants further. Lower your weapons! The last thing we need is to find ourselves facing a squad of angry Space Marines! Let me handle this, sergeant. This situation clearly calls for diplomacy. Tremlocke sneered, adjusting the gold-plated chain that kept his greatcoat fastened like a cloak around his neck. Step aside. I will greet our Astartes brethren. Tremlocke marched up to the pod, his chin held high, his hand clasped around the gilded hilt of his power sword. As he neared the construct the hatchs brace fingers released as one with a loud click, steam pouring loudly from the exposed gap. He slowed, coming to a stop before the pod, his eyes watching as the ramp slowly descended. After a moment or two of inner struggle, he cleared his throat. I am Titus Tremlocke, Officer of the Imperial Creed and Commissar to His Eternal Majesty. On behalf of this rescue party I extend the warriors greeting to you, loyal Marines of the Emperor. He oozed, watching as the large hatch fell open to reveal a darkened chamber filled with more hissing steam. Your survival is a blessing, a sure indication of the beneficence of the Emperor of Mankind. Rejoice in His favour and join us in our fight. He fell silent, watching as something huge and imposing seemed to shift within the escaping steam cloud, the metal of the pods decking plates creaking under its immense weight. A small series of red lights pierced through the darkness, pulsing and shifting as whatever was inside moved. Imperial Guard. Something within uttered, its synthetic voice booming and omnipotent.

The Commissar shuddered and stepped back, shocked by the ancient, brooding ferocity of the voice. Y-yes. I trustI trust you are uninjured, brother. Tremlocke stammered, all traces of bravado and pomp leaking from him in an instant. I function sufficiently, Titus Tremlocke. The occupant replied, his ominous voice reverberating around the dark confines of the pod. Tell me, how goes the battle for the South Gate? Tremlocke turned and glanced at the others, the colour raining from his face. Thethe gate is won, brother, though at a terrible cost. The traitors were able to activate the Mechanicus pylon grid. A great many Marines have lost their lives here this day. The Commissars dire words caused a rumble of mounting anger to rise through the interior of the pod. He stepped back, finally beginning to realise what was happening, and his actions undoubtedly saved his life. Something incredibly huge and heavy burst from the belly of the pod and thundered down the ramp, its speed greatly belying its imposing size. Tremlocke and the others scattered before it like scurrying vermin, crying and shouting as the massive blue machine lumbered out onto the cracked, uneven road surface. The mighty engine faltered as it found itself before the sea of wreckage, its heavy chassis swaying as its thick, stubby legs drove into the ground to halt its progress, the hydraulics that powered the large limbs hissing and popping. A Dreadnought. Hastor uttered as his disbelieving eyes fell upon the huge walking sarcophagus, scarcely able to push the words out from between his lips. I dont believe it. Weve rescued a bloody Dreadnought! Chapter 21.

LOSS AND GAIN


Unis was still screaming, screaming so loud that his voice was beginning to shred. Thick blood poured from the sockets behind his pale, unseeing eyes and he thrashed about on the floor as if having a fit, complete and utter terror seizing him in its icy grip. Vorkohnen closed his eyes to the terrible noise, praying to the Emperor that he would eventually fall quiet, though he knew in his heart that he would not. The Astropath was lost, his mind shredded by the terrible and unholy presence of the Greater Daemon. Razmuss, fall back! Fall back! He yelled, watching as the brave but horrendously outmatched Guardsman stumbled backwards, paling before the daemonic might of the Bloodthirster. The warrior-servitor Menzat-7X leapt at the massive beast again, only to be caught by the daemons whip and flung headlong into the nearest building with such force that it would have destroyed any normal man. Another bright burst of plasma fire slammed into the daemon, swaying its huge bulk as it exploded against its crimson skin. Fortan and Gorg-005K appeared to his left, laying down a withering hail of suppressive fire. He glanced to his side to see Soth, his dark-skinned face pained and glistening with sweat as he continued to recite from the book in his hand, his voice loud and resonant, still filled with the burning fires of faith and devotion. Before them the daemon roared and shook its canine head again, wisps of grey steam seeping from its huge mass as the words of the Exorcist loosened its very grip on this plane of reality. I will hold this beast, Soth. If it means my life, I will send this disgusting abomination screaming back into

the fires of the hell it came from! He snarled, springing forward. The inquisitor lifted the long force halberd and set off towards the beast, sprinting across the cracked rockcrete of the street, the many purity seals and ribbons about his person fluttering behind him as he thundered onwards to meet with his destiny. Vile scion of Khorne! I curse thee! I curse thee with all the holy power of my blessed soul! Be gone from this place, I command this! As he neared the huge, thrashing monster he lifted the glowing azure blade up before him and began to scream at the top of his voice, reciting a powerful yet unintelligible prayer, his eyes beginning to pulse with the same bright light as his weapon. The Bloodthirster turned as it heard this, its slavering maw widening as it unleashed a blood-curdling roar of hatred at the sprinting man, great flecks of dark saliva spraying from its open mouth. Vorkohnens chant reached its crescendo and air before him began to hum and vibrate, the end of his blade began to glow brightly, forks of crackling energy shooting out like lightning as the power continued to build. Suddenly a huge burst of forked energy erupted from the tip of the halberd and snaked its way towards the Bloodthirster with such force and speed that the mighty daemon barely had chance to flinch before the blast hit home. Vorkohnens glowing form vibrated and shuddered as the psychic energy flowed through him, along the length of his halberd and into the beast, enveloping it in a swathe of writhing, crackling soul-lightning. The Bloodthirster screamed and writhed as it was punished by the attack, great lesions appearing across its body and ragged tears ripping through its wings as the scourging power hit home. The abomination dropped to one knee, its massive wings folding around it almost instinctively. The inquisitor drew the weapon back and the snaking forks of blue energy dispersed, the link broken. Seeing that the daemon was hurt he realised that this was his chance and he ground to a halt, skidding on the loose rubble underfoot. He lowered the halberd and raised his free hand to the darkening skies, his gauntlet-sheathed fingers curling towards the heavens. Mighty Emperor, father of all mankind, protector of the material realm, saviour of the lost and the wayward, I beseech thee! I call upon thy mighty and omnipotent presence to lend strength to my hand! He roared, the power behind his eyes shining like twin beacons in the darkness of the scene. Give me the strength to banish this beast of the warp! Aid me in my efforts to rid this place of the taint of all that is wicked and evil! Grant me a portion of your divine and eternal power so that I may send this abomination back to the hell from which it was spawned! I summon the wrath of the Immortal One! I cast thee back, foul creature of the Empyrean! Large black flakes began to float up from the Bloodthirsters crouched form, rising like ash as the inquisitor summoned all his strength in an effort to banish the daemon. Steam began to rise as the Bloodthirsters body continued to break apart and discorporate, its hold loosening. Suddenly the huge monster reared up, roaring and bellowing its rage at the skies above. It lashed out with its enormous whip and caught the inquisitors left leg, almost snapping the ceramite-armoured limb in two. Vorkohnen cried out and fell back, toppled by the hit. The Bloodthirster drove its hooves into the ground and sprang forward; raising the mighty axe it wielded up above its horned head, ready to strike. As it bounded on towards Vorkohnen the inquisitor raised his head and, fighting through the pain, began to realise that he was only seconds away from death. He raised his hand and uttered something under his breath, his lips opening and closing in haste. He closed his eyes and a surge of psychic power enveloped him, rising up from the ground beneath to create a bubble of miasmic green energy, its surface rolling and shifting like a puddle of spilled, unrefined promethium. The force bubble rippled and shifted as it grew, widening its diameter until it had spread a full seven feet

out from the downed man. The Bloodthirster saw this and lashed out with its terrible whip again, only to stumble and slow in surprise as the end of the massive braided lash struck the field and disintegrated. The daemon drew the smoking whip back towards it and threw it to the floor, its unquenchable rage as such that its eyes began to smoulder. Ha! You cannot win against us, monster! Do you understand? You strive to fight the very power of the Emperors faith! It is a battle you cannot win! Your vile weapons cannot penetrate this shell of protection, beast! Your daemonic essence by its very nature will be your undoing! Vorkohnen hollered triumphantly, his sonorous voice reverberating through the air about him. Despite his victorious tone, the Inquisitors heart leapt. He could feel his hold on the force shield already beginning to weaken. The daemon screamed in rage and turned to face the others, its bright burning eyes falling upon the scattered underlings of the Inquisitor. Thick black smoke bellowed from its snout as it snorted in anger, anger at being denied the kill. Suddenly the towering monster was gone, carried aloft on huge black and red wings up into the coming night, its blood-freezing roar echoing across the city. No! Do not allow it to escape! Vorkohnen cried, the shield around him dissolving in an instant. He scrambled to his feet and ran to join the others, their eyes scouring the skies above. I say let it go. Jourabel gasped, the words pouring from her mouth in great gasps. Its just too powerful. We need to regroup an A ringing clang resounded through the air behind them, accompanied by the screech of punished metal. The gathering turned sharply on their heels to see the huge daemon stood astride the Eternal Vigilance, its weight causing the thick armour plate of the Chimera to buckle and bend underneath it. Jessanus! Fortan cried, pushing past the others and breaking into a sprint across the street. The rest of the group joined him and they watched in horror as the daemon began to smash the huge axe into the transport, cleaving great rends into the top of the tank with horrifying ease. The Chimeras small side hatch opened and they watched as the struggling lexmechanic pushed himself through the gap, struggling to scramble free as the carrier shook under the repeated blows of the daemon. Jessanus pushed free of the hatch and dropped to the floor, just as the Bloodthirster swung one of its hoofs at the tanks turret. The entire turret and the weapons it housed broke away under the blow and squealed as it cartwheeled across the street, breaking into pieces as it rolled away. The others watched in disbelief as the lexmechanic reached back inside the assailed vehicle and proceeded to drag a lasgun and a hefty backpack out behind him, seemingly heedless to the danger above him. Damn it, man! Get out of there now! Vorkohnen shouted, watching as the daemon continued to hack into the Vigilance until it came apart, breaking in two down the middle. As the others ran to assist the escaping lexmechanic they lifted their eyes just in time to see something large and imposing hurtle headlong into the daemon, leaping up onto the cleft chassis of the Chimera and barrelling headlong into the Bloodthirsters midriff. The daemon swayed but did not fall as it was assaulted, though as it turned to see who had dared to challenge it a huge, crackling fist slammed into its canine face, snapping its head back in a shower of warp-blood. Magog. Vorkohnen pronounced, watching as the hulking arco-flagellant smashed into the towering daemon without fear, his thick, leathery face contorted in a perpetual grimace of rage and bloodlust. Smoke poured from the exhausts set into his back as he rammed the bristling weapon arm into the

daemons bronze chest armour, shredding it to pieces with a single blow. The storm bolter riveted to the mechanical power fist of his other arm chattered almost instinctively as it slammed home a deluge of sanctified bolts, the shells ripping through the Thirsters exposed flesh and causing it to scream in pain. Magog! Magoooog! The beast bellowed as he battered the huge daemon, the agility and speed he possessed far outmatching the size of his great bulk. He thrust his fist towards the mighty axe of the daemon and clamped his bladed fingers around its spiked haft, buckling the thick pole as the crackling finger-blades closed. The Bloodthirster roared furiously and swung its arm out, throwing the rampaging daemon-killing machine through the air and into a nearby wall with neck-snapping force. It then proceeded to leap clear of the smashed Chimera and lift the separated section with one hand, the vehicles contents spilling out into the street beneath it. It flung the large chunk of scrap metal at the rising Magog and the others watched as the powerful hunter disappeared beneath an avalanche of hurtling armour, the blow as such that it collapsed the crumbling wall down around the black chunk of metal. The others gasped as they watched this. They all knew only too well of the Bloodthirsters unmatchable power and yet they were still in awe of the beast before them. Even Magog, the inquisitors ultimate daemon-killing creation was no match for this terror from the warp. Vorkohnen shifted his gaze and watched as the gigantic unholy menace turned to look upon them, its burning eyes shining brightly in the cold, fading half-light of the Daedalusian evening. He raised his force weapon in the air and pointed with his free hand at the waiting monstrosity. Forward! Let us end this here and now! The Daemonhunters charged as one, shouting and screaming as they advanced upon the huge Khornate daemon. Fortan was the first to open fire, assaulting the towering warp creature with the trusty plasma gun he wielded so expertly. Bright balls of super-heated gaseous energy slammed into the beast and as the inquisitor and his retinue continued onwards, the Bloodthirster leapt down from its perch to meet with them, the screaming axe in its hand raised before it in readiness. Onwards to death or glory! Vorkohnen roared, his tall, proud form standing head and shoulders above the others that milled around him. Bright bursts of fire and screaming shells erupted from the group as they advanced, the fear in their hearts lifted by the presence of the inspiring Inquisitor. Let no man waver in the execution of the Emperors divine will! This abomination will not strike fear into us, the most faithful of His children! Let us avenge the death of our comrade Haerindu and the terrible crimes committed here in this city against those faithful to His rule! Let us send this creature screaming back to its twisted master! For the glory of the almighty Emperor, we shall The Bloodthirster took to the air on wings so large that they shrouded the area before it in darkness, its roaring form writhing and twisting as it prepared to descend upon the brave but suicidal attackers. Its huge, slavering maw opened wide and it howled in anticipation, preparing to give in to the heady, exultant bliss of mortal combat. A blast of light and noise filled the senses of each and every one of the inquisitorial warriors and they watched in complete shock as the daemon disappeared, engulfed in mid-air by a tremendous, blossoming burst of energy. Vorkohnen and the others broke away and fell back, thrown by the sudden assault. They scattered and ran for cover, shock coursing through them. As the heat and light generated by the tremendous blast dissipated the Bloodthirster appeared once more, its massive form slamming into the scorched earth before the others, its wings tattered and torn. The overwhelming behemoth staggered to its feet, its entire left arm missing.

Its bronze armour hung in loose tatters by its side and its thick black dreadlocks had been scorched away to nothing along with half its fur-matted face. A single, baleful eye shone out at the Daemonhunters, as filled with anger and unquenchable rage as ever despite the terrible damage the beast had sustained. The daemon picked itself up and began to stumble towards them, limping and staggering under the weight of its own tortured, broken body. Huge black flakes began to break away from its punished body and float up into the dark skies as it began to break apart, its hold weakening. It still held the mighty axe and it swung the powerful weapon before it drunkenly, its lust for blood ever unsatisfied. It had taken no more than a few agonised steps when a thunderous deluge of shells slammed into it, impacting all over the vast length of its body like a wave. It shook and convulsed as the assault continued, thousands of rounds smashing against it in an impenetrable wall of death, blasting away chunks of blackened flesh and cruel spikes of bone. It was as if a thousand men fired upon the daemon as one, and the vicious assault began to take its toll despite the relatively weak power of the shells being fired. The daemon bellowed in rage and turned to see who had dared attack it so, throwing its torn and bleeding body around to face the new threat. Another fearsome blast of energy screamed as it seared through the air and a column of solid white light as thick as a tree trunk slammed into the daemonic nightmare, punching a hole through the beast and disintegrating its entire torso. The sparse remains of the daemon combusted instantaneously and fell to the floor, no longer supported by the Bloodthirsters torso. By the almighty God-Emperor, what is this? Vorkohnen gasped, watching as the remains of their great enemy folded inwards and broke up, crumbling into ash before their eyes. The others around him began to pick themselves up off the floor and stumble free from their hiding places, the shock and fear that had seized them beginning to abate following the demise of the daemon. My lord, listen. Do you hear that? Fortan whispered, pointing out beyond the remains of the Vigilance to where the low rumble of something vast and powerful approached. Fortan was right. Someone or something was headed their way, and soon the very ground beneath their feet began to shake as their mysterious saviours grew closer. Give thanks to the Almighty One. Vorkohnen whispered, bowing his head, his chest heaving. It would seem we have allies here within the city. Chapter 21.

LOSS AND GAIN


Hastor and the others stared in disbelief as the Dreadnought strode forward, its huge adamantine bulk shaking the ground with each step. Deek scurried away in fright, running behind Tessok as the huge machine advanced, its thick legs hissing and whirring as they carried it out into the square. What has happened here? The ancient machine asked in a voice as ageless as it was strident, its thunderous tone echoing through the large metal headstones of the grim Astartes graveyard. Tremlocke opened his mouth to speak, though he quickly came to realise that his voice failed him in the presence of the mighty machination. His bottom jaw quivered as he struggled to speak, though in the end he could say nothing.

Brother Dreadnought, we bid you greetings. Hastor began, stepping forward. We feel the sad loss of your brethren as you do. It seems the assault on the South Gate was successful, but at a terrible cost. The Dreadnoughts wide cabin turned slowly, its whining motors emitting a shrill squeal as its entire top section rotated. The huge twin-barrelled autocannon fixed to the machines left side clicked and whirred as it armed itself and Hastor swallowed hard, fearing that the ancient and mighty warrior suspected treachery. Such death. The Dreadnought uttered, quite softly despite his augmented vocal synthesisers, eventually lowering the huge weapon and observing the devastation about it. In all my long years I have never before seen such ruination, such wasteful death. The World Eaters must be made to pay in blood for what they have done here. Hastor and the others watched in silence as the huge machine lumbered towards the edge of the debris field, the thick fibre-bundle muscles of its tree-trunk legs carrying it forward in a series of lurching strides. He and the others could feel the overbearing sadness of the ancient warrior sealed within the machines adamantium heart as he looked upon the ruination and death about him. The Old One stood for a moment, taking in the desolation and loss around him. It was a while before he spoke again. I am Brother Oumerus, former of the Crimson Fists 10th Company. Though it seems I was too late to join my brothers in their quest, I thank you for assisting me. Hastor stepped back, dumbfounded by the Dreadnoughts humility. The gratitude this ancient and mighty warrior displayed humbled him, as unused as he was to even interact with members of the Adeptus Astartes. Please, brother Marine, your gratitude is not needed. It is an honour to assist any of our Astartes allies, especially one of such venerable stature. He found himself proclaiming, hoping almost straight away that this response did not seem too fawning. Oumerus turned to face the others, his stomping form quickly closing the gap between them in a short series of large strides, his imposing advance startling and discomforting the others despite the ancient ones shared loyalties. How goes the battle for the city? You say the gate was taken? Both gates have fallen, Brother, though it seems we were betrayed. The Pylons of the defence grid took a terrible toll on both invasion forces, especially the Guard element. Only a handful of us survived the massacre, and even now the tyranids follow in our wake. We are in a race against time to find and destroy the source of all this chaos and bedlam. That is why we sought you out. We had hoped to find loyalist survivors here, warriors who could aid us in our quest. The Dreadnought uttered a deep, low growl, the sound crackling forth from the antique vocal synthesisers of the awesome and revered war machine. The huge power fist attached to the left of the walkers chassis flexed and relaxed impatiently, its short fingers wreathed with a corona of coruscating blue energy. Hastors heart missed a beat as he witnessed this. He had heard stories of these towering relics tearing apart Land Raiders with their fists before, and he was under no illusion of what such a potent weapon would be able to do to his soft, fleshy frame. I am grateful for your assistance, young ones. I cannot, however, commit myself to your cause. Though my mortal remains were interred within this sarcophagus many, many years ago I am still a Space Marine and I exist these days only to answer the call of battle. Stealth and investigation are the methods of soldiers such as you. This ancient adamantium body was constructed and devised to allow a warrior such as myself to carry the Emperors blessed wrath into the midst of the enemy. I am ill equipped to stalk the shadows of this damned city undetected. May the Emperor guide you well.

With that Oumerus turned and strode out towards the debris field, his imminent departure casting a blanket of stunned shock over his rescuers. Wait. Hastor called, starting out after the great mechanical juggernaut. Where will you go? This city holds many dangers for a lone warrior, even one so powerful as yourself. I go to answer the call of battle, young comrade. Oumerus answered, stomping his way into the distance. If even a single Crimson Fist still fights among the buildings of this city then I go to assist him. While ever I still exist, so too does the South Gate invasion. Oumerus uttered, his booming voice echoing amongst the many scattered wrecks set out before him. I go to honour my blood-debt with the Emperor and if this should ultimately mean my death, then so be it. I succumb to His divine will. The shocked men of the small group watched in silence as the huge and mighty Oumerus tore into the debris, flinging gutted tanks aside as though they were nothing in his wake. Where there was not space enough to pass, the Dreadnought simply smashed the offending obstacle aside with a single swing of his huge power fist, throwing up twisted metal and smouldering, ashen wreckage with each mighty swing. Before long Oumerus had passed out of sight, only the sounds of his departure giving away the fact that he continued to fight his way through the obstacles before him. Well, this has turned out to be one huge waste of time. Tremlocke sneered, waiting until he was sure the ancient warrior had passed far beyond earshot. The Astartes always were a petulant breed. You should have known that a Space Marine would never lower himself to accompany a simple detachment of the Imperial Guard. We are after all mere soldiers, as nothing next to them. Shut up, Tremlocke. Hastor snapped, his face twisting in disgust. To have saved even one life here in this place of death is reward enough. We have done all we can here. Let us leave this necropolis. The men began to pick their way back through the silent battle site to head back the way they came, passing through the many strewn tanks and vehicles without a word. Though each of them was glad to have assisted such a venerable warrior, they could not help but feel the heavy sadness of the place, such was the lingering stench of death that hung over them. They would all be glad when they had left this terrible location behind. As the squad began to near the edge of the site they slowed, each of them falling in behind their sergeant. What now, sarge? Nesker asked, glancing about them at the many nondescript junctions and side streets. Yes, Sergeant Hastor, do enlighten us. Where do we go from here? Tremlocke spat, cocking his head as if to accentuate the question, the heavy power fist he had captured resting on his hip. Your precious alien cyst brought us this far, so where do we go from here? We are no closer to our goal. In fact, I would say we are further away than ever. Hastor scowled, the Commissars patronising tone sending a shudder of revulsion through him. We head back towards the Laboratorium and see if the others have found anything. Hastor answered, pained to even interact with the repulsive Commissar. There are other cysts to investigate. Hopefully one of the other organisms will lead us straight to the heart of the location we seek. If not then we will scour every inch of this city if we have to. We will find what we seek. I have faith in you, sir. I know the Emperor is watching over us all. Deek declared, throwing the sergeant an encouraging nod. Hes guided us this far, bless Him. We all have a purpose, see? Thats why He saved us from the massacre at the North Gate. Hes got something in mind for all of us. Tremlocke smiled as he heard this, clearly deriving amusement from the small mans words. He shook his head and laughed, raising his eyes to the lurid, darkening skies. Is that a fact, Ratling? Are we all truly marked for greatness? Tell that to trooper Brandbaar.

The others snarled as they heard this, their fingers tightening upon the triggers of their weapons. To mock the death of a comrade was something none of them took well. You would do well to watch your tongue, Commissar. Nesker growled, his top lip quivering menacingly. Deek is right, Tremlocke. Hastor interrupted, sensing the ominous change in mood. I believe that the Emperors hand guides us even now. That Brandbaar died does not mean that he was forsaken. You saw how he repented upon the moment of his death. He tried to tell us of the alien cysts, information that we probably would not have come by had he not have infected by the vile seed of the Genestealer. That was his role in all this, just as we still await our own. Never speak of him again. Moranith turned away from the confrontation, something else catching his attention. He turned and looked out over the silent streets, scouring the many junctions and intersecting roadways that branched away from the square, searching for the source of the faint noise. Hey, anyone else hear that? He whispered, still looking out across the wide scene. No one else paid him any heed, all too busy with witnessing the exchange of words between the sergeant and the commissar. The loss of a man under your command is a fact of life in the Guard, Hastor. Get over it. We are fighting a war here. That trooper Brandbaar is the only loss that this squad has yet suffered is nothing short of a miracle. Do you really expect everyone else here to survive this damned city and its myriad of perils? Im warning you, Tremlocke, dont push me. This city is indeed a dangerous place. No one would even notice the insignificant death of a Commissar out here. Really? By the light of the Throne, Moneth, the heresy in your corrupted soul has a stronger grip on you than even I had first suspected. You would readily threaten an Imperial Commissar so readily Moranith cursed silently and shook his head, struggling to hear over the raised voices of the two officers. He was still sure that he could hear something, a rhythmic echoing thud growing louder by the second. Dont you dare try and sully my name with that overtly pious attitude of yours! Its about time you climbed out of your own a--e and started to actually assume the role of the officer you are, instead of For the sake of the Blessed Emperor, will both of you shut the hell up! The medic screamed, throwing himself between the two squabbling men with all the force of an exploding earthshaker shell. Listen, damn it! Something is coming! The two men fell quiet, shock seizing them in its icy embrace. The others reeled as the medic sprang forth, stunned by his angered outburst. Hastor lifted his head and almost immediately became aware of the sound of hurried, heavy footfalls, the echoing noise bouncing between the buildings of the road to their left. He could see that the others had also begun to realise that someone or something was fast approaching and he held out a hand, turning slowly to face the corner before them. The others halted abruptly and dropped to their knees behind the nearest crop of cover, raising their weapons in readiness. He pushed Tremlocke down onto his knees and pointed to Deek and Tessok, gesturing towards the nearest junction. The two snipers responded with a brace of sharp nods and quickly shifted their collective aim, pointing the barrels of their guns towards the suspected location of the approaching enigma. A blur of mottled grey burst from between the buildings, hurtling out into the square as fast as it could move. Its Zith, Regan and Corpo! Tessok hollered, and a sigh of relief murmured through the others. Hastor sighed and shook his head, relaxing a little. He was about to chastise the sprinting men when he suddenly froze.

Something was wrong. Zith soon spotted the others and began to wave his arms frantically, his inaudible voice nonetheless raised vociferously as he closed the gap. Regan and Corpo joined him, shouting and hollering for all they were worth, though at this distance their efforts were in vain. Somethings wrong sir. He keeps pointing behind him and shouting, though I cant make out what it is hes saying. Tessok shouted again, the sight of his exitus rifle still pressed against his eye. Everyone stay where you are! Hastor commanded, drawing his plasma pistol. Whoever is chasing them will soon come to regret their actions! Let us show them what happens when they pick a fight with the boys of Validus! In the scant few seconds before the trios pursuer lurched into view, the others became aware of a terrible, skittering, creaking sound, the noise soon dwarfing that of the three mens own hurried, galloping footsteps. Short but loud hisses of escaping steam and the squeal of groaning, grinding metal could be heard over the drumming thuds, a collection of sounds that disquieted the sergeant and the others almost straight away. I dont like it. Tremlocke muttered, activating his sword and power fist in cautious readiness. Whatever it is thats making that racket, its big. Its very big. Then we will have to make sure that it dies. Hastor spat, drawing and activating his own power weapon. Zith reached the others first, diving headlong into the scattered cover. Regan and Corpo soon joined him, their faces red with exertion. The three soldiers collapsed in a heap, their chests heaving from the effort of sprinting the distance between the Laboratorium and the square. Zith! What the hell is after you? Hastor snapped, grabbing the troopers shoulder harshly. DDef he answered, struggling to catch his breath. Come on man, talk to me! What in the Emperors name is it? DefDefiler. Chapter 21.

LOSS AND GAIN


The huge machine hove into view and the squad let out a collective groan of surprise and fear, their eyes falling upon the huge, lurching shape as it rounded the corner after the terrified trooper, a pall of thick, choking smoke following in its wake. The massive shape of the vile chaos-made creation filled the space before them, its huge, spider-limbed chassis terrifying to behold. The unholy engine squealed and groaned, its ancient, pitted surface alive with a creeping daemonic presence. It lifted its huge fore claws and drove them into the ground before it, a clear gesture of anger and impatience. Emperor, no! Tremlocke uttered, rising slowly to his feet. Look what the stupid b-----d has brought down upon us! Its a daemon engine! Its a damn daemon engine! The huge and terrifying Defiler ground to a halt as it thundered into the square, half as large again as the vast bulk of Brother Oumeruss Dreadnought armour. Inhuman squeals and roars echoed through the tank graveyard as it began to scour its surroundings,

searching for the fleshy things that had ran from it. Wewe left the Laboratorium and it w-was there. Zith gasped, still fighting to draw breath. We sstepped out onto the street and it j-just appeared. It s-saw us and we r-ran, we ran as fast as we could. Forgive me, sir, I d-didnt know where else to go. Forget it Zith, you did what any one of us would have done. You sought the assistance of your battle brothers. I dont know how but well take this vile thing down. Hastor declared, turning quickly to face the others. Okay everyone; we dont have much time so listen carefully. Deek, Tessok, find a good vantage point and stay there. Keep your heads down and out of sight. I want you to try and find a weakness in that things vile armour. Fordar, you and Autis are our best chance at hurting this abomination. I want you both safely behind cover and ready to move when I give the signal. Nesker, you might as well forget using krak grenades against this thing. I want you to saturate the area with random frag fire when this monster draws closer, try to keep it guessing and on its toes. Regan, Zith, Corpo and Moranith, try and get behind it. Its unlikely any of you will be able to damage it but its worth a try. I dont want any stupid heroics, just keep your distance and try to keep it guessing. Commissar, youre with me. The squad parted, each of the men sure of their allotted task and eager to follow the sergeants orders. Deek and Tessok soon disappeared amongst the scattered wreckage of the site and quickly out of sight. Regan, Zith, Moranith and Corpo moved out behind them, sinking into the sea of dead vehicles as they searched for a route that would take them through to the rear of the Defiler. The great metal beast turned its huge chassis towards them, the rusted crimson hulk groaning and whining as it rotated. Pulsing arcs of dark coruscating energy slid across the machines claws, shimmering and humming rhythmically. For a moment the sergeant stared out at the fearsome creation, almost mesmerised by its vast size and the imposing power it exuded, feeling bile rise in his throat. The Defiler was an awesome and terrible sight. An amalgamation of daemon and machine, its large metal carcass pulsed and squirmed as though alive, the ancient baroque metal straining and shifting as if struggling to contain whatever fouls essence lurked within. Cackling faces shifted and roiled across its pitted surface, mocking him and his very existence with their vile chaotic presence. Amid the rusting armour, whipping tendrils slid from rents and crevices to probe the air, glistening and organic and yet unlike anything truly alive. Pungent black steam vented from brass gargoyle heads that ran the length of its surface, filling the air with the stench of sulphur and blood. Unholy voices and screams vibrated the many gilded grills and speakers riveted to its pitted bulk, creating a cacophony of mind-numbing noise. The ancient daemon held within the heretical creation growled and squealed as it scoured its surroundings, searching for its prey, the many twisted sigils and runes that were painted across the Defilers surface pulsing and glowing as if red hot. Dear God-Emperor He whispered, his eyes widening. He had never in all his life faced anything of such size and power as this fearsome beast. None of them had. They were the best at what they did but even so, he began to feel that even Validus would be hard pressed to deal with such an unholy creation as the one stood before him here. Thisthis is madness. This is utter madness. We cant beat this thing. Tremlocke turned as he heard this, his cold eyes narrowing as they found the sergeant. What did you say, Hastor? I said we cant beat it, Commissar. Throne forgive me, we dont have a chance. We are dead men.

The daemon engine seemed to sense the fearful man-flesh hidden among the scattered vehicle dunes before it and began to lurch forward, its huge claws snapping eagerly. Tremlocke was about to rebuke the sergeant when the huge tooth-ringed barrel of the Defilers main armament, the huge corrupt battle cannon levelled itself at the nearest of the upturned tanks, squealing and protesting as it swung into position. For the love of the Emperor, get the hell out of here! He screamed, breaking into a sprint. He flung himself free of his hiding place and darted between the twisted wrecks as fast as his legs could carry him, dragging Tremlocke bodily behind him as he went A huge thunderous boom split the air behind him and he threw himself and the Commissar through the air, landing on his shoulder and rolling like a cannonball across the rubble-strewn ground. The blackened metal chassis barricades he and Tremlocke had been using for cover exploded in a starburst of light and noise, obliterated by the powerful shell. He felt the air surge from his lungs as the resultant shockwave threw him back against the exposed underside of an upturned Predator, the force as such that it sent his sword and pistol skittering across the ground. As he opened his eyes and struggled for breath he looked about him, searching desperately for any casualties. There was no sign of Tremlocke. He struggled to his feet and staggered over to where his weapons had been cast. As his hearing slowly returned he became aware of the short crack of high-velocity gunfire. Deek and Tessok had begun to make their play. Tremlocke! Where the hell are you? Are you hurt? He hollered, his voice pained and hoarse. Shots continued to ring out around him and he scoured the nearby wreckage for any signs of the two snipers, though he knew almost straight away that he would not be able to locate them. They were Imperial sharpshooters; it was their job to remain hidden. Tremlocke! He called again, beginning to fear for the Commissars life despite the hatred they shared. Still nothing. He dropped to his knees, breathing heavily. Thunderous fire began to smash into the scattered tank remains and he peered around his cover, searching the square for the huge metal beast. The Defiler had begun to move closer to where they hid, assailing the nearest tanks with volley after volley of autocannon fire. The large twin-barrelled weapon fixed to its side heaved and bucked as it spat out a hail of glowing shells, the screaming bullets alive with terrible warp-spawned energies. The shells ripped through the nearest of the dead vehicles, rending ceramite and plasteel to shreds as it lurched from left to right, hunting for the hidden snipers. He cursed and picked himself up, moving back into the relative safety of the Astartes graveyard. It would be useless to try and recall Regan, Zith, Corpo and Moranith now, he realised, for they would be too far into the twisted maze of armour. His best chance would be to find the others and try as best he could to formulate some kind of battle plan, although what he expected them to do against such a foe was beyond him at this time. He slowed as he reached a gap in the barricade, inching forward so as to get another look at the fearsome creation. The metal daemon-beast was still saturating the upturned vehicles with autocannon fire. Shots rang as they bounced off its armoured hull, shattering many of the leering bronze heads that belched forth clouds of noxious fumes and putting out the eyes of the screaming faces that slid across its surface, though the efforts of Tessok and Deek seemed to be having little effect. Where the snipers bullets struck the glowing runes daubed across its chassis the Defiler seemed to reel, almost as if it felt pain upon having the unholy symbols punished.

Hastor pushed himself back behind cover and depressed the small comm-link button set into the side of his helmet, hoping against hope that the two sharpshooters would pick up the message. This is Hastor! Tessok, Deek, I hope you can here me out there! Deek, I want you to aim for the symbols and runes painted across the monsters cab! If you can scar or mark them then it may diminish the things power. Tessok, I want you to concentrate on the pistons and joints of its legs! A few well-placed exitus rounds could slow this damn thing down or even cripple it! If you can hear this, men, may the Emperor guide your hand! Hastor out! He lowered his hand and rose to his feet, just in time to hear the familiar rumbling blast of a frag grenade exploding in the space behind his cover. Nesker had begun to make his play. He hesitated for a moment, wondering just where the veteran had managed to procure more frag grenades from, though he soon shook this thought from his mind and gave thanks to the Immortal One for allowing him a chance. He held his breath and flung himself across the gap, closing his eyes as he leapt from one piece of cover to the other. Screaming autocannon fire shredded the remains of the Rhino like paper, bursting through its thick armour plating like glowing, hurtling insects. He landed heavily and threw himself into a roll as best he could, though he winced as he felt a sharp pang of pain shoot through his left shoulder and up his arm. Straight away he could tell that the injury was not a serious one, though he knew it would hurt for a while. Sir! Are you injured? He looked up to see Autis and Fordar staring back, their faces wet with perspiration and alight with fear. He nodded and pulled himself to his feet, his eyes quickly searching out the weapons they held. Come on, we need to move further into this debris field. This cover is the only protection we have against that monstrosity. He spat, urging the others to follow. The three men began to pick their way through the twisted wreckage, negotiating the strewn, blackened tanks as best as their speed could allow. Deek, Tessok, this is Hastor. Fall back into the debris field. Its too dangerous to stay where you are. Nesker, forget the grenade launcher and rendezvous with the rest of us. That damn machine is too powerful; we need to come up with a plan of attack. Hastor and the others jumped as another battle cannon shell exploded somewhere behind them, shaking the very ground beneath their feet. Sooner or later one of the roaming shells would land among them, of that much he was sure. They were all living on borrowed time. The three men made their way into a relatively large opening whereupon they stopped, awaiting the others. It wasnt long before Nesker appeared by their side, followed moments later by Deek and Tessok, the small man being carried gratefully by the larger. Another blossom of fire lit the air to their far right and they all turned, shuddering as they watched the nameless target send a pall of thick black smoke up into the sky. All right, this is how it is. Tremlocke is missing and the others are out of range of the vox-link, so its up to us now. We need to find a way of stopping this vile machine in its tracks, though unfortunately its just too dangerous to go toe-to-toe with the damn thing. It can sense us, Im sure it can. Nesker piped up, his cheek muscles bunching as he peered out across the scene. Its the damn daemon inside it. Ive never faced anything like it before.

None of us have, Fen. Were all in over our heads here. That is why we cant fight it face to face. We need to go about this like Storm Troopers, use our minds as well as our skills. Its going to take everything we have to defeat this monster. A murmur of agreement passed through the huddled group. Though each of the soldiers knew that they faced a challenge greater than any of them had ever imagined, they knew they could not back down. They had nowhere to run to, no back-up to call. They would have to stay and fight. I think I may have slowed it down. Tessok declared, patting the rifle in his hand. I managed to sever a few cables and bend a piston on one of its legs, though it was all I could do. Nice work, trooper. Anything is better than nothing at this stage. Hearing this, Deek seemed to swell up, pushing his chest out before him. I put out the eyes of a few o them daemon faces. They wont be sneering at us no more. He announced proudly, his face contorted in an almost comical expression of determination. An I scorched a few o them runes. It didnt like that, I can tell you. Hastor smiled and nodded his appreciation at the small soldier, a gesture that filled the Ratling with visible pride. So weve managed to hurt it then. All we have to do now is work out how to kill it. If that damn ungrateful Dreadnought would have stayed then we would have had a chance against this abomination. Nesker uttered, spitting the words out as if they poison. That power fist and autocannon would have been the best chance we had against a Defiler. We ought to have all become Space Marines instead of Guard. Maybe then we would have had the weapons at hand to actually fight this beast, something with range as well as power. Fordar grumbled, holding out the meltagun in his hands. Hastor turned slowly as he heard this, almost as if a bullet had caught him in the back of the head. The others looked up, noticing the change in the sergeants demeanour, almost as if sensing the cogs in his mind as they began to spin. Come on, follow me. We dont have much time. The others broke into a swift jog after the sergeant, puzzled as to what he intended. They moved out into the square, watching as Hastor began to search through the rubble for something. Nesker, come with me. Everyone else, fan out and start searching these wrecks for any heavy weaponry that may still function. A lascannon, a sponson-mounted plasma cannon, anything we can use against the Defiler. It doesnt matter what its attached to, just as long as it works. As the others began to search the surrounding wrecks Hastor and Nesker continued to search the square, the grizzled veteran still in the dark as to what they were looking for. What are we doing, sarge? That thing is getting closer by the second. He uttered, peering out across the square at the burning, flailing wreckage as it was thrown about by the huge daemon engine. You were right, Fen. We need Oumeruss help. We cant defeat this abomination on our own. Nesker frowned. I know that sarge, but hell be long gone by now. If we start out after him that thingll be on us before we even leave the square. Its too late. No it isnt, trooper. Never give up, theres always a way. Hastor exclaimed, smiling as he ground to a halt. Youre the strongest among us. Do you think you can handle one of these things? Neskers eyes dropped and he looked down upon the large white object before him, the lightning-strike symbol of the White Scars that was painted on its side scratched and bloodied. He lifted his gaze and smiled at the sergeant, his grey eyes glowing with apprehension.

Theres only one way to find out. Chapter 22. IN THE FACE OF CHAOS. Hastor and Nesker both let out a long, pained sigh as they finally managed to right the large Space Marine bike, its huge thick tyres settling into the loose ground beneath it. Nesker cursed, feeling the weight of the vehicle in his hands. How the hell do they ride these things? He exclaimed, shaking his head. Theyre Space Marines, Fen. The bikes have to be built like this just to be able to carry their weight. Do you think that you can honestly handle one of these? Nesker climbed onto the huge bike, hoisted his leg over the wide seat and, with a little help form Hastor, finally managed to place himself up on the wide, padded saddle, his feet barely able to touch the floor. Well soon find out sarge. He shrugged, checking the brace of fairing-mounted boltguns sat between the wide handlebars. The twin weapons were loaded and in full working order, a fact that seemed to please him greatly. He proceeded to wipe away the blood of the bikes former rider and pressed the starter button, holding on tight as the powerful vehicle roared to life, shuddering beneath him like an angered and hungry beast. A pall of thick grey smoke hissed like dragons breath from the four vibrating exhaust pipes behind him and he took a deep breath, ready to find out whether or not a normal man would be able to take the reins of this chariot of the gods. Find him, Fen. Hastor shouted over the growling engine roar. Find him and bring him back here. Brother Oumerus is probably the last; best hope we have of surviving this monstrosity. Good luck, and may the Emperor watch over you. You too sarge. I wont be long. The old veteran pulled back the bikes throttle and revved the engine loudly, smiling as he felt its power beneath him. His entire body seemed to shake as the powerful engine roared, though Nesker hardly seemed to notice this. He slipped the growling beast into gear and, throwing Hastor a quick nod he tore away with a screech, throwing up a shower of rubble and dust as he powered out into the wreckage field, heading towards a gap in the scattered, ruined tanks. He banked the bike sharply to the left, hurtling through the gap at tremendous speeds, for he knew that to slow even a little would inevitably cost him his life. The immense thundering blows and explosions of the Defilers progress neared ever closer and before long he could see the twisted corona of spikes that crowned the machines chassis, lurching ever closer as it closed the gap between it and the rest of his squad. He skidded left again, the engine of his steed roaring. Struggling to keep the bike upright as he turned the sharp corner, he rounded a crippled Whirlwind support tank, passing by so close that he had to duck, the empty, blackened missile tubes protruding from it almost taking his head off. Suddenly the daemonic machine was before him, its massive bulk rearing up as he sped clear of the wreckage and out into the space cleared by the monsters powerful battle cannon. The vile daemon-thing reared up as it sensed the troopers approach, seconds before it spied him. Its huge claws lifted and it began to snap them together eagerly, thirsting for the mans life. Its huge armature turned and the corrupt reaper autocannon it wielded levelled upon him, the loud multiple clunk of its ammo loader echoing ominously through the surrounding terrain.

Too slow, you piece of daemon crap! He hollered, pulling back the throttle as far as it would go. The bike roared and accelerated so fast he thought he would be left behind. He lowered his head and pressed the trigger mechanism set into the left handlebar and the bike cannons roared to life, flashing and stuttering as they spat out a hail of bright death at the rearing behemoth. Auto-reactive shells burst along the length of the Defiler, blasting chunks of ancient armour away in violent bursts of impact, though Nesker knew even as he watched this that the shots would have little effect. His only chance would be to distract the walking metal leviathan enough to allow his escape, a desperate gamble that even he was not sure he would be able to pull off. Hot shells tinkled and rang like metal rain as they sprang free of the mounted guns and bounced off the fairing of the speeding bike, spinning past the troopers face and burning his hands. He ignored this and continued on, more eager to stay alive than to end the pain. He lifted his head and his gaze met the fearsome construct, just in time to see the reaper autocannon levelling as it prepared to fire. The large double-barrelled cannon heaved as it came alive, flaring as it unleashed a hail of white-hot shells at the speeding trooper. The speed of the bike and the closing proximity of the Defiler kept Nesker from having his body blown apart and he held his breath as a line of rockcrete shards and dust stitched its way after him, the powerful projectiles passing overhead at a hairs breadth. The furious daemon roared as it tried to adjust the cannon, lowering it as fast as it was able as its prey drew ever closer. Not today, chaos scum! Nesker roared, pressing his body flat to the bikes wide fuel tank. Hastor held his breath as he watched the speeding bike scream through the Defilers legs. The huge metal beast roared and swung one of its claws down, smashing the ground underneath it as if it were made of the flimsiest flak board, its efforts proving too late. Nesker passed under the towering monstrosity and headed out into the depths of the city after the Dreadnought, a rising could of dust particles following in his wake, leaving the Defiler frozen with confusion. Yeah! The old son of a groxs made it! Autis cheered, punching the air. The others of the group let out a similar cheer of triumph as they watched the fearless veterans successful run, unable to believe what they had just seen. The Defiler seemed to realise what was happening at last and began to turn, throwing its huge body around to face the rapidly departing Storm Trooper. A loud, screeching groan drifted across the square as the Defilers entire top section spun on its axis, the beast intent on ending the defiant soldiers life. No! Hastor yelled, realising what was happening. Though he was horrified by the daemon engines persistence, this was the moment he had been waiting for. Now! Do it now or Nesker is dead! The Defiler hauled its multiple legs around to even itself out, the spider-like appendages clanking and squealing as they clattered across the floor. The ratchet-whirr of its battle cannon could be heard as it elevated the huge guns position, ready to fire upon the escaping man. Suddenly a thick, bright brace of parallel white light hammered into its rear section, the twin beams striking the metal behemoth with such force that it lurched forward, almost toppling over. The battle cannon boomed as the shell was unleashed, its path altered at the last possible moment by the impact. The powerful explosive detonated as it struck the top half of a nearby hab block, the thunderous explosion

shearing away a huge chunk of the building and sending it toppling onto the street far below. The Defilers punished chassis writhed and squirmed as it paled before the blasts, the leering daemonic faces that slid across its pitted surface screaming as they were scorched away. The constructs bellowing dirge-caster fell silent as it exploded in a burst of molten metal and flashing sparks, its systems overloaded by the direct hit. The daemon engine screamed in rage and pain, the gaping hole that yawned across its metal back coming alive with a host of whickering, slime-glazed tentacles and viscous warp-stuff, the daemon bound within desperately trying to knit the damage back together. Yes! Direct hit! Hastor proclaimed triumphantly, turning to congratulate the gunner responsible. Fordar jumped up and held his fists in the air, almost falling from the immobilized, trackless Razorback behind him, its twin-linked lascannons smoking as they cooled. Stay on your toes, Dace! The beast isnt dead yet! The sergeant scolded him, his experience allowing him the wisdom to know when to fight and when to celebrate a victory. Almost as if in response to his cautious nature a series of quick, ringing impacts exploded behind him, a sound he immediately recognised as high-velocity sniper fire. Even as he spun to face the enemy once more he heard Tessok call out. Heads up everyone! I think we made it angry! He turned in time to see the massive leviathan charging towards them, its claws swinging furiously as it swept aside the scattered wrecks before it, driven into a raging frenzy by the painful attack. Its daunting cannon thundered again and Hastor found himself instinctively curling up into a tight ball as the ground behind them was pummelled to dust by the wild but immensely powerful exploding shell, the blast atomising everything it touched. Autis howled and dropped as something hot and whickering spun into him. The glowing object struck his shoulder armour, knocking him clean off his feet and sending his plasma gun spinning away across the uneven ground. Hastor picked himself up and shook his head, cursing the loud ringing in his ears. Fordar had leapt clear of the Razorback and was running to assist his downed teammate, leaving the Defilers dangerous approach unguarded. He scooped up his sword and pistol and set off out towards the abandoned vehicle, sprinting out across the chaotic scene as autocannon shells and exitus and needle rounds thundered and zipped to and fro, the two forces engaged in a ferocious fire fight. He knew that, despite their determination, the two snipers would be unable to inflict serious damage on the armoured beast. Tessok! You and Deek try and hold that thing off a little longer! He shouted out into the surrounding area, not knowing where the sniper actually was. Just as he reached the waiting Razorback he caught sight of a flash of grey in the corner of his eye and he turned to see the hidden marksman emerge from his hiding place, the powerful and exclusive rifle he carried shouldered and ready for use. Youve got it, sir! Rifle, voice activation! Switch to turbo-penetrator! The sergeant vaulted up onto the roof of the tank and into the gunners seat, just in time to hear the amazing gun emit a short, high-pitched whine, the sound a telltale sign that Tessoks command had been obeyed. The sniper braced himself and peered down the sight, his lips moving in silent prayer. He squeezed the trigger and the rifle thudded back into his shoulder as it released the intelligent shell. The bullet screamed like a Howling Banshee as it powered towards the lurching Defiler, its progress increased ten times over by the activation of the microscopic drive impeller set into its rear.

Hastor grabbed the dual handles of the mounted lascannons and watched as the streaking bullet slammed into the front left leg joint of the armoured daemonvessel, driving deep into the thick titanium and plasteel layers that protected it before exploding in a small but powerful flash of white flame. The joint groaned and squealed as it was blown apart in a shower of metal shards and melted cogs and the Defilers progress slowed. For a moment the infernal machine looked as if it would fall as it struggled to remain upright, the bulk of its possessed chassis teetering atop its unstable legs. Finally the assaulted appendage crashed to the floor with a groan, leaving the bellowing juggernaut minus one spiked and barbed limb. Hastor saw this and heaved the lascannons round to face the unholy creation, struggling to bring the heavy guns to bear. He levelled them off and found the Defiler in his sights, its dark, skull-lined bulk stood before him, mocking him with its very existence. Damn you, you warped, profane monstrosity! He cried, jamming his thumbs down hard on the firing studs. Bright burning light erupted from the barrels of the cannons and drew a line between the Razorback and the daemon walker, shearing through the elbow joint of its clawed right appendage as if it were nothing. The huge power claw dropped to the floor with a clang, throwing up a cloud of dust and dead matter as it cracked the rockcrete below it. He fired again and again, no longer even attempting to aim at the howling, thrashing mechanical colossus. The searing beams tore through the air about the Defiler, smashing through long, barbed blades and severing through the lines of bloodied skull trophy racks, punishing the machine and yet failing to do more serious harm. The shots fired by Deek and Tessok still burst across the daemon engines bulk like suicidal, exploding flies, hammering away at the thick armour plating relentlessly. Tubes and wires severed and burst, sending out floods of sparks and rivulets of unidentifiable, viscous fluid as the well-placed shots hit home, for the two marksmen knew that this is where they would do the most damage, disrupting the exposed systems of the otherwise impenetrable machination. The daemon bound within the armoured vessel roared and howled, its rage causing a gaudy hue of incandescent power to envelop the chassis, a lurid, shifting corona of warp energy that hurt the eyes and sickened the stomachs of the others. Hastor coughed up a mouthful of bile and turned away, nauseated by the unholy miasma. He was about to turn his attention back towards the Defiler when a hail of ringing shots hammered into the guard before him. He gasped and ducked down, the shells of the reaper autocannon missing him by inches. The shots began to punch through and he rolled from the gunners seat and out onto the hull of the vehicle, grabbing his weapons as he went. More shots thundered into the tank, smashing armour plating and ricocheting around him as he leapt clear of the immobilised transport and set off, sprinting for cover, his position discovered. He reached the blackened shell of a downed Land Speeder just in time as the Razorback exploded in a burning blossom of fire, its lascannon power cells breached by a stray shot. He lifted his head and opened his eyes, his chest heaving with a combination of fear and exhaustion. The Defilers wild autocannon fire still hammered into the surrounding dead tank barricades, the blood thirst of its daemonic host far from slaked. Hastor could hear it growing ever closer, hunting through the strewn metal obstacles for him and his squad. Throne, Nesker, I hope you find him soon. He whispered, the screams of the unholy creation ringing in his ears. We cant beat this thing. We dont stand a chance. Chapter 22. IN THE FACE OF CHAOS.

He hauled himself to his feet and staggered out into the space before him, watching the zigzagging lines of heavy calibre shell impacts as they burst around him. He could hear shouts and cries rising from the space beyond the clearing and he knew immediately that these belonged to the rear guard. The telltale hissing zip of hellgun fire pierced the air and his heart leapt into his mouth, fearing for the safety of his men. This is Hastor! Moranith, Corpo, Zith, Regan! If you can hear me then pull back! I repeat, pull back, damn it! Do not attempt to engage the Defiler! That is an order! He hollered, slamming his hand against his ear. A hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him round. It was Tremlocke, his face battered and bloody. Covered in a film of dust, the Commissar looked like hell. Commissar! Where th Forget it sergeant! I was knocked unconscious but am unharmed. We need to destroy this damned creation before it takes this squad apart! He spat, staring out at the closing monster with hate-filled eyes. We have been trying but its just too powerful. We dont have the weapons to defeat it. Hastor answered with a shake of his head. Yes we do, sergeant. Follow me. Tremlocke set off towards Autis and Fordar, Hastor close on his heels. As the two men approached Fordar looked up, his injured comrade cradled in his arms. Sir! Autis is hurt, though it doesnt look too bad. He took a piece of shrapnel in the shoulder. His armour stopped it for the most part but hes bleeding quite badly. Hell survive but we need Moranith here and soon, I cant do anything for him without the medi-kit. Hastor nodded and placed his hand up to the comm-slot by his ear, ducking briefly as another round of autocannon fire passed by him. He was about to summon the medic when Tremlocke gripped his arm. Sergeant, you stay here with your man. Im going to try and slow this vile travesty down. He uttered, nodding his head at the kneeling Guardsman by his side. Trooper Fordar, I will need your help. Are you with me? Fordar looked up at the Commissar then at Hastor, momentarily lost for words. Well? Are you with me or not, soldier? Hastor hesitated for a moment more before flashing the waiting trooper a curt nod of agreement. Fordar rose slowly to his feet and laid the unconscious Autis down on the floor before retrieving his meltagun. Hastor took his place by his side, taking the injured soldiers head gently. Whats the plan? He uttered, looking up at the stony face of the officer. Tremlocke sheathed his deactivated power sword and slid it back into its scabbard. We are going to take the fight to this unholy monstrosity. The Emperor will guide us and watch over us. He declared, bending to scoop up the troopers fallen plasma gun. Fordar, with me. Let us put an end to this damned delay and get on with saving this planet. Hastor watched as the two men made their way to the left of the approaching Defiler, heading out towards the relative safety of the tank corral. Deek, Tessok, give Fordar and the Commissar covering fire. I want them both back here alive. The Defiler thundered into the upturned Predator, smashing it aside as if it were nothing more than an annoyance. It continued to scream and roar with rage, angered by the grievous damage done to it by the small flesh-things it hunted. They would pay for the insult with their lives and the daemon within would sustain itself by feasting upon their ripe souls for a thousand years. It brought its remaining claw down hard upon an empty drop pod, smashing the discarded transport to a pulp. It stepped over the pods smoking remains and continued to stagger forward, its progress spasmodic and intermittent, the loss of its leg and arm appendages throwing the machine off-balance.

As it strode into the clearing it spied Hastor, slowing as it turned to face him. Though the machine had no eyes to speak of it nonetheless sensed the sergeant, slowing to a standstill as it became aware of both his and Autiss presence. Hastor lifted his head and gasped, surprised by the mighty daemon-puppets sudden appearance. Helpless and exposed, he began to fumble for his plasma pistol, trying as best he could not to disturb the injured and unconscious soldier in his hands. You wont take us alive, daemon-thing. I swear this before the Emperor. He snarled, raising the pistol to Autiss head. He swallowed hard, his eyes fixed upon the massive, towering behemoth before him, his mouth moving in silent prayer. He had never imagined that this was how hed end his service, though staring certain death in the face for what he truly deemed to be the first time ever, he found to his surprise that he was not afraid. He had served the Emperor as best he could, they all had. He knew that he had nothing to fear from death, a feeling he found incredibly liberating. In death he would be granted the Emperors eternal gratitude. He knew in his heart that there was a place beside the Golden Throne for each and every one of his men, including him. Do it! End it then, you vile, daemonic piece of filth! He screamed, pressing the pistol against the unconscious Storm Troopers head. It doesnt matter any more! You may end our lives but you will never take our souls, the Emperor will see to that! Do your worst, but know this! Even in death I defy you! Even in death I renounce your pathetic gods and all they stand for! The Defiler reared up and began to lurch forward, its massive bulk filling the space before him. Its huge, rusting claw snapped open in readiness, shards of shredded armour plate and chunks of rockcrete and ceramite armour plating falling away from it. This is it, Hastor thought. This is where I die. Time to make peace with the Immortal One. Suddenly a shimmering beam of energy slammed into the unholy juggernaut, stopping it in its tracks. The air itself seemed to bend and distort as the super-heated energy beam snaked towards the Defiler, striking it across the front of its writhing chassis. The daemon-thing screamed in pain as the meltagun blast turned its armour plating into hissing vapours and molten slag where it struck, the irresistible force of the sub-molecular thermal blast too much even for the terrible and mighty Defiler of chaos to withstand. The warp entity bound within shrieked and screeched as the super-compressed gas beam tore across its front section, scoring a deep groove along the thick armour plating and even melting and buckling the wide barrel of the powerful battle cannon. The gaping barrel of the cannon buckled and withered as the beam struck it, dripping and melting into a hissing puddle of molten metal almost immediately. Fordar appeared before the beast, shouting and hollering as he threw the meltagun from left to right, not bothering to target any specific area or weak point. As the beam passed over the reaper autocannon the weapon hissed and popped before coming apart and falling to the ground with a hissing clang, severed by the powerful blast. Hastor watched in amazement as the trooper dropped and rolled, his quick reactions saving his life as the massive claw of the Defiler swept by overhead. He was up on his feet again in an instant, the powerful close-ranged meltagun already agitating the molecules of its target before the Defiler had even had the chance to realise what was going on. Fordar swung the meltagun low and the rippling ray of highly pressurised pyrum-petrol gas passed over the constructs legs, buckling and melting one of them severely in a cloud of escaping steam. The Defiler responded immediately by sweeping its huge claw down towards the trooper, only to have one of the blades torn away by another fusion blast.

Tremlocke emerged from behind the behemoth, his thunderous voice building into a ringing roar of determination as he sprinted towards the towering beast. As he closed on the Defiler he lifted his left arm and slammed the crackling power fist into the back of the daemonvessels chassis, sending out a coruscating burst of bright sparks where he struck home. He reached up, leapt onto the lower body of the Defiler and drove the huge red fist into its back again and again, striking the Defiler three times in quick succession before the unholy creation had even realised his presence. The Defiler roared with rage and spun its upper body around, throwing Tremlocke violently away from it. The Commissar landed heavily on the hard ground, his long black greatcoat flapping as it enveloped his tumbling body. The chaos juggernaut was about to step forward and crush him when Fordar struck again, dragging the intense heat beam across the Defilers already pummelled back section and scorching away a good portion of its rear armour. The huge beast turned and, its previous prey forgotten, lunged at the brave Guardsman, towering over him to such an extent that it engulfed him in shadow. Fordar raised the meltagun again and pressed the trigger. Nothing. Chapter 22. IN THE FACE OF CHAOS. Oh crud Fordar whispered, his weathered face loosening. Hastor held his breath as he watched the panicked trooper break into a run, hurtling towards him, his ammunition spent. The Defiler started after him but had taken no more than a single step when a bright blast of glowing energy struck its lower body, momentarily engulfing its leg joints in a wash of heat and light. A hail of armour pieces and flaming debris whistled away from the walker and it stopped, halted by the powerful blast. Tremlocke appeared from behind it, Autiss plasma gun in his hand. He sprinted round to the front of the daemon engine and fired again, his face alight with rage. The hissing shot slammed into the joint between the Defilers upper and lower sections and for a moment Hastor thought it might break the beast in two, but the terrible machine was made of sterner stuff than that. Tremlocke roared and fired again and again, but by now the daemon had realised the threat and it swung the huge smoking claw at the Commissar. Again its blow missed, thanks only to the fact that the punishment it had received had slowed it down. Tremlocke stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, entangled by his own legs. The Defiler reached down and plucked the severed front section of a Crimson Fist Rhino from the ground beside it, lifting it as if it were constructed of the flimsiest flakboard. It raised the large blue bludgeon up over its bent and buckled form and a torrent of dead, broken bodies fell out of the jagged tear at its rear, scorched and blackened by some terrible, unknown weapon. Tremlocke scrambled backwards, struggling to maintain a foothold upon the loose ground beneath him. Pinging bullets and small craters continued to appear across the torn surface of the monstrosity, though it was obvious by now that the efforts of Tessok and Deek were in vain. Moranith and the others appeared by Hastors side, emerging from within the maze of wreckage after what seemed like an age. Im sorry it took so long, sir, weoh grox crap! The medic and the others with him skidded to a halt as their eyes fell upon the scene before them. Moranith dropped to his knees beside the injured trooper but found he could not drag his eyes away from

the drama unfolding there, torn between the two desperate situations before him. Suddenly something loud and bulky thundered past the Defiler and out towards Tremlocke, its screaming progress throwing up a cloud of dust behind it as it went. The speeding object roared past Tremlocke and a mottled grey shape leapt from its back and into the Commissar, barrelling him out of the way of the falling tank segment. Nesker! Hastor yelled, quickly leaving Autis in Moraniths capable hands. He clambered to his feet and set out towards the two tumbling figures, the thunderous, crashing frontal section of the Rhino coming apart amid a flurry of flailing armour sections as it rolled after them, thrown to the floor by the rampaging engine of chaos. He skidded to his knees as he reached the two entwined men, dropping before them anxiously, his heart pounding. Nesker, Tremlocke, are you hurt? Are you injured? The veteran and the officer both shook their heads, much to Hastors relief. Nesker sneered and let go of the Commissar, almost as if he had only just realised exactly whom it was he had saved, pulling himself to his feet under a wave of silent curses. Hastor thrust his hands beneath Tremlockes armpits and hauled him backwards, trying as best he could to get the dazed Commissar clear of immediate danger. I brought him. Nesker uttered matter-of-factly, dusting himself down. What? Hastor snapped, still struggling with the commissars limp body. I said I brought him, sarge. Hastor snapped his head back as the Defiler shuddered, its entire armoured form vibrating as it was assaulted by a wave of high-calibre shells. The air surrounding them echoed with a thunderous staccato hammering and the daemon engine lurched forward, its rear armour plating shredding away like paper under the withering barrage. Turn and face me, daemon! Look upon the face of your destroyer! A loud, sonorous voice boomed across the scene. Brother Oumerus appeared, his huge, dark blue form striding through the vehicle barricades to meet with the chaos monstrosity. The Defiler turned sharply, throwing its metal body around to face the new threat. Oozing organic tendrils and fleshy extremities slithered and waved as they slid from the many holes torn into its armoured hide, the daemon within excited by the presence of the ancient one. The two towering giants met each other in mortal combat, the scene filling all those before them with humbling awe. The Defiler lurched forward and Oumerus strode into him, their powerful combat arms meeting in a violent clash of coruscating sparks, the resultant contact splitting the very air around them with a thunderous boom. The Defiler screamed and brought the crackling claw down upon the Dreadnought, only to have the descending blow knocked away by the ancient one. As the Defiler reeled back Oumerus thrust the autocannon up into the melted and distorted barrel of the beasts battle cannon and fired, the power of the close-range assault as such that the shells punched cleanly through the daemonvessels chassis and exploded out behind it in a shower of armour shards and warp gore, the assault sending the chaos walker tumbling backwards amid a flurry of tortured, flailing limbs. Oumerus pressed home the attack, barrelling forward into the stumbling machine. He swung his terrible fist once again and smashed another of the Defilers legs away from its holding clasp, the blow causing the daemon engine to finally crash heavily to the floor, roaring and screeching as it went down. Hastor shook the Commissar and he began to come round, slowly opening his bloodshot eyes. Sergeant, t-the Defiler Taken care of, commissar. Dont worry about that now. Are you hurt? Tremlocke shook his head and painfully pushed himself up onto his feet, coughing up a stream of blood.

I will live, sergeant. I see Nesker managed to locate the Dreadnought. The squad began to regroup as the nigh-omnipotent battle waged on before them. Tessok and Deek emerged from their hiding places and stepped out into the clearing, their silent faces alight with awe. Hastor left the Commissar and ran over to where Moranith and the injured Autis lay, still unconscious. As he neared the two men he could see that the medi-kit of Moranith was hard at work, the semi-sentient device flashing and pulsing with all manner of status runes as the small, spider-like extremities that protruded from it went to work on Autiss wound. Moranith looked up as Hastor approached and smiled reassuringly. Hes going to be fine, sir. The shrapnel went deep but luckily for him his shoulder armour stopped the most of it. Ive removed it and cleaned the wound and the auto-surgeon is just knitting him back together. Ive fed two pints of blood into the narthecium, kindly donated by Zith and Corpo, and the pack is in the process of converting the blood types as we speak. Well soon have him back on his feet. Glad to hear it soldier. Good work. Its what I do. Moranith smiled, turning his attention back towards the unconscious but stable man in his care. Hastor turned to see Fordar sitting propped up against the shell of an upturned Razorback, fumbling desperately with the gas canister that provided the meltaguns ammunition. He cursed as his bloodied hands slipped again and wiped them across his fatigues. Fordar! The soldier looked up as he heard Hastors voice, panting heavily. Blood streamed down his face and he blinked it away, running the back of his sleeve across the streaming gash. Sir! Just give me a moment and Ill be back out there! I just need one minute more Forget it. Youve done your part. Stay and rest, well take it from here. But sir Thats an order, trooper! Hastor snapped, activating his power sword and plasma pistol. You did good out there. I am proud of you. Sir! Fordar saluted, slumping back against the tank and exhaling a long, exhausted sigh. He turned and headed out towards the fight, leaving the others to gather their wits. The Defiler had almost taken them apart here amid the graves of the Space Marine strike force, an act that filled his veins with fire. The heretical machine was by now a shadow of its former self, reduced to nothing more than a small collection of flailing limbs and shredded armour plating, growing more and more daemonic in appearance as each and every new rend or tear was added to its broken form. As he neared the desperate fight he could see that Brother Oumerus was clearly winning, his massive, thrashing bulk hammering into the writhing beast with every ounce of frenzied determination he could muster, but it was not enough. The Defiler continued to fight back, its daemonic pilot enveloping the Dreadnought with whipping tendrils and snapping maws that sprang forth from the gaps in its upper compartment as if desperately fought for its survival. No, the damned creation would have to be made to pay for its heresy, and Hastor would be the one to administer this punishment. He strode up to the melee; raising the powerful pistol he carried up to target the hidden centre of the thrashing tentacles. He pressed the trigger and unleashed a salvo of pulsing energy bursts into the heart of the beast, watching as the plasma blasts slammed home. The Defiler screamed and writhed, the many glistening extremities that had coiled around Brother Oumerus retracting and slithering back into the broken shell. Oumerus staggered back, his equilibrium thrown by the sudden retreat. Hastor took up his position in an instant, marching fearlessly towards the crippled monster. He continued to fire into the breach, slamming home blast after blast of burning plasma into the gaping rend. The barrel of

his pistol began to glow white-hot and escaping super-heated steam poured from the safety vents set into it, hissing and flashing as it dissipated. Enough of this! Your vile existence ends here and now! He screamed, continuing to fire until the power cell of his weapon ran dry. He cast the gun aside and brought the shimmering sword in his hand up, hacking through the remaining feelers as they searched for him. Bright, viscous fluids burst free of the wounds he created and he hacked the extremities to pieces before him, his face alight with pious rage. Sergeant! Stand aside! The command boomed across the scene, so loud and powerful that even the fury-possessed Storm Trooper sergeant faltered. He turned to see the towering form of Oumerus behind him and he fell back, the wrath that had seized him draining away in the hulking Dreadnoughts presence. He staggered to one side and dropped to his knees beside his smoking pistol, his arms sagging as if severed from the rest of his nervous system. He lifted his head and watched as the mighty ancient stomped towards the dying beast, his progress shaking the ground underfoot. As Oumerus advanced towards the Defiler its huge claw swung out to meet the walker but he batted it aside, smashing the massive arm from its moorings and sending it tumbling out across the devastated street. The Dreadnought stepped between the tangled mess of girder-limbs and brought his great fist down hard upon the tortured shell of his opponent, the fearsome blow shattering the already weakened chassis of the daemon-machine. The Defiler was finished. Oumerus stepped back as great shards of black light began to burst free of the terminally ruptured shell, accompanied by terrible, rending screams of inhuman rage. The entity bound within the machine screeched and fought as its grip on realspace weakened and it began to dissolve and dissipate, dragged screaming from its vessel by the inevitable and irresistible pull of the Empyrean. Get back! Everyone pull back as far as you can! Hastor hollered, breaking into a run back towards the others. The Defiler is done with! Take cover The very fabric of reality imploded behind him and he felt his entire body lurch forward, shunted violently by the massive blast. He sailed through the air and landed in a heap against the side of an abandoned Land Raider, the thick armour plate of the vehicle rushing to meet him. Large, rusted rivets filled his vision, the last thing he saw before the world around him plunged into silent blackness. Chapter 23. REALISATIONS AND REVELATIONS. Try again, damn it! We need to find them! The trooper sighed and began to cycle through the channels of his comm-link yet again, shaking his head regretfully as again he came up with nothing. Sorry sir. We must be too far underground to be able to get a signal out. Its no good. Storm Trooper sergeant Drafe Hoolias slammed his fist into the lichen-encrusted wall of the tunnel and unleashed a torrent of curses, watched by the others of his squad. They were so close now he could feel it, though it seemed that this deep into the tunnels they had no way of letting Hastor and the others know of

their position. He sighed, glancing ahead at the small pinprick of pale green light at the end of the passageway. Without the back up of Validus, squad Fortis would have to face who or whatever lay in wait for them alone. I dont like it. We need Validus and their weaponry to be able do this right. I dont want to risk this squad by walking in there unprepared. All we have are hellguns and a one meltagun. What if we find ourselves up against a squad of Khornate Terminators, or worse? We are alone here. Unbeknownst to Hoolias, the men of Fortis were far from alone. Something dark and fast slipped by overhead, weaving through the scores of hanging wires and cables as it made its way silently across the pipe stack above them. The ghost-like figure paused as it passed overhead and turned to look upon the men, two pinpricks of red light flashing through the smothering darkness. It stayed for a moment and then was gone, swallowed up by the darkness, heading towards the distant glow at the end of the tunnel, onwards to the heart of the subterranean vault at the heart of the city. It was there he would find his prey. +++ Hastor glanced across at the hulking Dreadnought, allowing himself a smile despite the aching pain that wracked his body. The others were gathered around the mighty warrior, listening to his tales of times long past and of the great and legendary feats of heroism he had witnessed and, in many cases, participated in. Tremlocke sat alone away from the gathering, sullen and brooding. Hastor had decided that the others needed to rest, to recuperate after the ferocious battle with the daemonic chaos Defiler, and the Commissar was clearly unhappy with yet another delay. He himself still could still scarcely believe that they had actually faced such a powerful foe and survived to tell the tale. He had met many enemies on the battlefields of the Imperium but none even came close to those he had faced here on Daedalus. Hulking daemon-engines and mighty alien killing machines were the stuff of legends, foes normally encountered only in the tales of the old veterans or loud-mouthed braggarts of the various regiments that gathered in times of war. He could scarcely believe that they had gone toe-to-toe with such a monstrous enemy and emerged victorious and without loss. He would never forget the battle they had won here today among the killing fields of the South Gate. He pushed himself painfully to his feet and moved over to join the others. Deek was busy preparing a hearty meal from the sparse ration packs the others carried, laughing and singing as he cooked up the surprisingly generous victuals. Hastor thought to ask the Ratling how he had managed such a feat but hesitated, taking in the delicious odour of the food as it drifted up from the small field pan. Its ready, come and get it! Deek announced, brandishing a handful of plates and jugs. You see, I told you boys that you were lucky to have me. Us Ratlings are as good with food as we are with a rifle in our hands! The others began to stand and eagerly make their way to the small man, the rush of departing bodies clearing a space for Hastor to sit and rest his weary legs. He sat beside the ancient machine, lowering himself as slowly and carefully as he could, his limbs throbbing with aching tiredness. Your men fought well today, sergeant. They do you credit. Oumerus uttered, his mechanical voice still deep and imposing despite the calmness of the situation. Thank you, brother. They are good men, every one of them. I only hope that I can be the leader they

deserve and bring them through this ordeal unscathed. He answered, a hint of sadness and regret upon his voice. Oumerus shifted his great bulk as he heard this, the whining of the rotating sarcophagus suddenly very loud in the near silence of the surrounding buildings. Ah yes, they have told me of the one you lost. Brandbaar, I recall. The ancient recounted, sensing the sergeants lamentation. It is always disheartening to lose a comrade, though it is an inevitable fact of life here on the Emperors battlefields. Before I was interred within this sarcophagus I was a leader of men, just like yourself. I was a veteran sergeant of the tenth company, the commanding officer of a squad of assault Marines. Those were glorious days, sergeant. We fought against the enemies of the Imperium with a passion and zeal barely witnessed in these times. I remember it as though it was yesterday, though in truth it was nigh on a thousand years ago. Hastor listened as Oumerus began to recount legendary tales of heroism and bravery the likes of which had seldom been heard first-hand for millennia. The ancient one told him of the tremendous, valiant battles both he and his squad had waged against the forces of the enemy all those years ago, of the proud but arrogant Eldar and the rampaging, bloodthirsty Orks, the carnivorous Kroot and the mysterious Hrud. Hastor listened in awe and wonder as Oumerus told tales of battles fought on worlds engulfed by warp fire and littered with the tombs of civilisations long dead when the race of man was still in its infancy. He soon found himself enthralled by the words of the venerable warrior. He didnt even notice as the others began to join him, taking their places beside the huge war machine as he continued to regale the sergeant with his life story. I was once a man of flesh and blood, just like you, although I admit I had a little more to me than you, sergeant, no offence intended. It was on the world of Bahkara where I fell, defending the temple of Saint Euphista against the vile and insidious attack of a Dark Eldar cabal. The Crimson Fists had been summoned to deal with a force of Eldar pirates that continued to carry out murderous raids against the temple and the priests that maintained it. They ransacked the holy place and desecrated the tomb of the saint; an act that shocked and disgusted the High Lords of Terra, one of which held strong ties with the planet. I remember it as if it were yesterday. With that he paused for a moment, taking in the silent faces surrounding him. My squad and I were part of the advance force. We descended upon the vile aliens like the wrath of the Emperor personified, dropping into their midst as they assailed the defenders of the temple. We fell upon their Raiders, dropping in on them like birds of prey, the engines of our jump packs screaming as we landed. I remember Hentius smashing apart one of the infernal skimmers with one blow of his power fist, sending its broken form screaming across the wide moat and into the walls of the temple. Torvax landed amid the attackers of another assault craft, slaughtering each and every one of the cowardly aliens before they had even the slightest chance to respond, his chainsword slick with their blood as he carved them into pieces. I myself landed straight into the heart of the Archons retinue, a mixture of hardened veterans and armourclad daemons bearing glowing power glaives. I remember the fury that took hold of me that day as I tore into them, smashing slender bodies to bloody pulp and decapitating panicked xeno heretics with my holy power sword, it was a glorious fight. Oumerus seemed to quieten as he recalled the events of that day in his mind, his proud voice lowering to little more than a growling whisper. Hastor continued to listen, entranced by the tale. I fell that very same day, defending the remains of Brother Xelemon, the former occupant of the sarcophagus that now sustains me. Xelemon had fallen before the snapping blades of a terrible Eldar pain engine, a large, hovering torture device created by their twisted Haemonculi to serve as a weapon of carnage and death. I managed to destroy the cursed alien device but at a terrible cost. I had lost an arm and a leg to the hovering monstrosity before I was finally able to put it to death, ending its mendacious existence with the

sword I wielded. I finally fell to the concentrated fire of the attacking aliens, punctured and lacerated by their contemptible xenos weaponry. I remember nothing further until I awoke within this armoured shell, its chassis lovingly and painstakingly restored prior to me receiving it. Now I carry on the righteous work of Xelemon, using the holy armour he wore before me and the great Fernosar the Mighty before him to bring death to those who oppose the rule of the Emperors realm. Hastor and the others were transfixed by the Dreadnoughts tale. Some sat with their knees drawn up to their chests, others cross-legged. They looked for all the world like a group of transfixed, awe-stricken children, listening to the fables of some great hero of the Imperium. In truth, they were. He continued. Mine is a solitary, thankless existence. When not participating in open combat I am held within the deep vaults of my Chapters fortress, slumbering through the years until I am awakened once more to answer the call to arms of my brethren. All I know now is war. Any memories of what I once did or who I was before I became a Space Marine were lost to me long ago. Sometimes in my waking moments I mourn the loss of my past, of who I was before I chose to serve the Emperor as a warrior of the Adeptus Astartes. Hastor looked around at the faces of the others, all solemn and quiet as they listened to the Dreadnoughts tale of loss. Deek, who had been standing at the rear of the gathering turned and headed back towards the cooling field burner, releasing a long, lamenting sigh. I have occupied this machination for millennia, sergeant, and before that I was a Space Marine for as long as I remember. I believe I have served the Emperor for long enough. I wish to end this eternal existence of mine. It is time to lay these old bones to rest. Hastor looked up as he heard this, surprised by the ancients sudden proclamation. That a warrior of the Astartes would welcome death shocked him, the comment throwing him completely off-balance. Oumerus seemed to sense the sergeants reaction to his comment and turned his huge armoured form to face Hastor. Youyou wish for death? Hastor stammered, unable to believe what he had just heard. No, sergeant, I wish for peace. I have spent too long fighting the enemies of the Imperium. Make no mistake, I love and revere the Emperor, for he is the father of us all, but I have grown weary of enduring this violent, never-ending existence. My memory fades with each passing day. I ache for the silent comfort of death and I long to sit beside the Golden Throne and make my peace with the Patriarch of man and the greatest of his Primarch sons, my own gene-father, Rogal Dorn. My time as a warrior should have ended long ago, stood before the smouldering remains of Brother Xelemon in the courtyard of the temple of Saint Euphista. I have taken part in many, many battles and campaigns the length and breadth of this galaxy and I have escaped death on too many occasions to count. My existence is both a blessing and a curse, a blessing to those of the faithful I fight alongside and a curse to me. I wish for a grand warriors death and yet that fate has long eluded me, sergeant. I had thought that my time had finally come here on Daedalus until you awoke me from my slumber inside the drop pod. If you truly wish for a warriors death then join us. Hastor and Oumerus turned to see Tremlocke standing before them, dusting his greatcoat down with one black-gloved hand. He stared at the weary Dreadnought, his cold eyes holding none of the sorrow or sympathy of the others. If what you say is true, venerable brother, if you truly wish to die a glorious warriors death, then accompany us on our quest to save this planet.

Tremlocke, this is neither the time or the place. Hastor spat, rising from his seat, his fists clenched in anger. This is exactly the time and place, sergeant Hastor, or have you forgot why we came here in the first place? We are losing time even as we speak, thanks to your generous if not misplaced offer to allow the men to rest. If only chaos would be so accommodating. Brother Oumerus, we are on a mission to seek out and locate a terrible power that grows even now beneath our feet. If this Mammoog is allowed to come into being then the galaxy is lost, we know only this much. We are but one squad of men against this horrifying foe, and I imagine we stand little chance of defeating whatever it is we face. Your help in the pursuit of this heretical enemy would be of great help. If you truly wish to die as you say, then surely such a powerful and worthy enemy would provide the release you so crave? Upon hearing this, the Dreadnought turned sharply, the servos powering his mighty body whining. The others jumped back in shock, unprepared for this sudden movement. The Mammoog? Oumerus breathed, his great bulk shifting as he uttered the word. You seek the Mammoog? Thisthis cannot be. The others began to rise as he uttered this, alarmed by the grand walkers reaction. They began to grow anxious and fearful, wondering exactly what it was they sought to confront. You know of this beast, brother Marine? You have heard of it before? Oumerus moved out into the centre of the gathering, his thick legs whining and hissing as they carried his great bulk out into the midst of the others. My memory is not what it used to be, sergeant Hastor, though I know that I have heard of this Mammoog before. I never realised that it was this entity we sought to confront here on Daedalus, II couldnt have known. Our orders were to take the South Gate and drive the World Eaters from the city, nothing more. You must be mistaken. We are not. Tremlocke snapped, striding forth to meet the Dreadnought face on. Though we know little of what it is we face, we have heard the name of this beast uttered from the mouths of more than one being here within the city. A dying chaos cultist spoke of this Mammoog as though it were god. It is a god, Commissar. It is exactly that. Oumerus answered, his exclamation sending a wave of shock through the others. The Mammoog that was spoken of in the most ancient of holy tomes and saga books was a terrible and utterly ageless entity, an omnipotent force of carnage and destruction second only to the Blood God Khorne in power and ferocity. It is said to be the herald of Khorne and the legends that tell of it say that it will precede the coming of the Blood God at the end of all time when the Primarchs themselves will return to join with the Emperor upon the battlefields of the end days. The Mammoog is the avatar of Khorne, a force of such terrible power and intensity that no host ever to walk the realms of man would be able to sustain it. This is why you must be mistaken, Commissar, for to summon this terrible daemon would be pointless. Like the four major powers of the warp it is simply too vast to visit itself upon this dimension. No living host could ever hope to contain it. What about the Defiler? Such a creation is fashioned specifically to bind daemons to this realm. Could the World Eaters be constructing something similar in the hope that they could provide a vessel for this entity? Hastor asked, shuddering as he thought back to the ferocious battle they had taken part in such a short while ago. Not a chance. Oumerus answered, sure in his claims. No artificial shell ever devised would be strong enough to contain the presence of such a powerful entity. Even an Emperor Titan would break apart under the sheer power of the Mammoogs unholy presence, I am sure of this. Then what are the World Eaters planning? Why all this? No matter how sadistic and warped Karkattamorg is, there must be something more to this invasion than simple slaughter and destruction. Tremlocke argued, dissatisfied.

I do not have all the answers, Commissar. All I know is that I came here to fight the Emperors enemies. If you tell me that you are searching this city for something then I believe you and I will accompany you, but beyond that I cannot tell you what I do not know. Thank you, venerable brother. Hastor smiled, bowing his head. We will begin our search anew in four hours. The men here need rest and the long Daedalusian day is drawing to a close. We are all exhausted. Then allow me to take watch, sergeant. Oumerus offered, activating the strong searchlight of his ancient chassis, the strong beam bathing the surrounding area in pale, sterile light. Hastor smiled, grateful for the Dreadnoughts presence. He began to direct the men towards suitable sleeping areas, watching as they removed their heavy field packs and began to wearily unroll the blankets strapped to them. As this continued he glanced towards Tremlocke who stared back, his cold face glowering with rage and hatred. Again, Hastor felt an extreme gratefulness at the Dreadnoughts presence, for he knew that were in not for Oumerus, Tremlocke would undoubtedly kill him in his sleep. And so, as night began to draw slowly in, the men of Validus laid their heads to rest amongst the shattered tanks of the Astartes invasion force and, one by one, began to drift off into a restless, troubled sleep, the dire words of Oumerus still fresh on their minds.

Chapter 24. BENEATH.

Hastor checked his wrist chronometer again and frowned, realising that it had stopped working some time ago. He deduced that it was probably due to the damn interference far above them. The city itself had already begun to change. Whispering voices seemed to echo through the shadows at every turn, and he was sure that he had seen shapes moving amongst the desolate buildings as they had made their way back towards the Laboratorium. He shook the foreboding thoughts from his mind and turned back towards the others, watching as they talked among themselves by the alien cysts, awaiting the return of Zith. Each of them had managed to grab a little sleep, however brief, and it had done them the power of good. Brother Oumerus stood by the entrance of the chamber, his searchlight piercing the darkness around them. He had offered to guard the entrance and Hastor had readily agreed, welcoming the feeling of safety that the powerful war machine brought to the group. Now that Oumerus had agreed to join them in their mission he felt a sense of hope, where before there had been none, and he thanked the Emperor for guiding him to the ancient one. Perhaps Oumerus would be the first of many, he did not know. All he could do was hope. Corpo, youre sure of these findings? Yes sir. Most of the records were destroyed deliberately. However, I was able to ascertain that the facilities had been under investigation for two weeks or more prior to the Arbite attacks. Unfortunately for the Mantrisian government, whoever was in charge of these unsanctioned experiments was aware of this. Several surveillance logs indicate this much. It seems that the authorities suspected one or more rogue Mechanicus Biologis elements to be involved, though it seems that this was not the case. Who or whatever is responsible for this eliminated the original occupants of these labs and took over their secret work, all under the governments noses. By the time the

authorities got wind of what was going on here, it was too late. I see. And Zith? Well, according to Zith, these things are dying. There is nothing to sustain them. Whoever brought them here and did this to them never intended them to survive for long. They were a means to an end, a way for this unknown enemy to traverse the city and consolidate his efforts. For all intents and purposes, it seems as if his plans worked. Sergeant, how much longer is this going to take? Tremlocke demanded to know, the muscles in his cheeks flexing impatiently. We have effectively travelled the length of this cursed city and still we have found nothing. Hastor turned as he heard this, once again frustrated by the Commissars tactless intrusion. Not true, Commissar. We now count one of the Imperiums most deadly and proficient war machines amongst our number. Oumerus will be a great help to us when the fighting starts. Ah yes, a suicidal Dreadnought. Tremlocke exclaimed sarcastically, rolling his eyes. Such a fine addition to this team. Oh, and lets not forget the Ratling! What good is a sharpshooter if he cannot even see above the smallest of barricades? When the fighting starts Ill be sure to send him straight over to you. Im sure hes more than capable of taking on a Khornate Berserker! Hastor sighed and rolled his eyes, sick and tired of the officers constant whining. Tremlocke, if you dont have anything constructive to say then shut the hell up! He snapped, closing his eyes and exhaling deeply. We are all doing the best we can. This was never meant to be our mission. How were we to know that we would effectively be the only ones left out here to get the job done. Believe me, finding out that were supposed to seek out and destroy a god hasnt exactly done moral the world of good. I do not give a rats a--e about moral! Tremlocke raged, raising his voice to such an extent that the others turned to see what the commotion was about. I am here to ensure that these soldiers do their sacred duty regardless of the dangers we face! Do you think that I am happy about the situation? Do you really think that I am inured as to the severity of our circumstances? Whether or not I fear the coming confrontation is of no consequence to me, I must ensure that we end this threat or die trying! It is that simple! Its never that simple, Commissar. War and conflict are never straightforward. We are but men, one squad against the numberless, unknown terrors held within these city walls. The others held their breath as Hastor pushed his way through the rubble and towards Tremlocke, his face a mask of ominous displeasure. My men will fight and die in the Emperors name, regardless of what we face. It is what they were trained to do. Its what they were born to do. Cold, hard-faced treatment is not what these men need. They do not need to be pushed screaming into the abyss of warfare, they need proper leadership. They need to know that they are valued and trusted to do their job no matter the situation. Each and every one of them, regardless of how they came to be with us. Dont forget, when the fighting starts, when all about you is chaos and death seems inevitable, they are the only ones that will be fighting to keep you alive. The men that you try so hard to make hate you may be in a position to save your life before all this is through. A soldier will not take the time and trouble and risk his own life to save a man they despise. Tremlocke smiled as he heard this, raising his head a little. Really? Then why did you save me from the Defiler, sergeant? If anyone hates me with a passion it is you. Hastor hesitated for a moment, seemingly thrown by the sudden question. He stared at the waiting Commissar, his head slightly tilted. Because I saw what you did. He finally whispered, his voice quiet and low. You risked your life to face the daemon engine head-on. It doesnt matter how I feel about you, Titus, I respect you as a warrior if not a leader of men.

Cold and hard-faced, that is how you describe me, Moneth. My motives were no less born than of a desire to see this squad through to the end. As I said, I will not allow this mission to end until we are all dead. The Commissar uttered, his joyless features fixed in a glare of unrepentant callousness. As I should have known, Tremlocke. Fear not, I shall not make the same mistake twice. I am not concerned by your feelings towards me, sergeant. All that concerns me is the fact that time is fast running out for us. There you go again, damn it! Hastor spat, shaking his fists in rage. All you carp on about is the time that this is taking! What are you afraid of, Commissar? Why does this mission have to be completed so damn fast? Because we are sitting in the middle of ground zero! Tremlocke screamed, his crimson face shaking with burning rage. Emperor damn you, Moneth Hastor! If we do not find and destroy this threat soon then we will all be blown to hell along with whatever waits at the centre of this damned city! Are you so stupid and blind that you did not realise this? They are taking no chances here! Hastor backed away as a gasp of shock rose up through the rest of the group. His mind was reeling as he struggled to take in the Commissars unbelievable claims. What? II d-dont Exterminatus. Tremlocke whispered, his terrible anger slowly subsiding. The risk posed by this monstrous threat is simply too great to allow for any mistakes. That the warlord Karkattamorg is at large within this city is justification enough for Bombola to issue the decree. That a small but nonetheless potent splinter fleet roams this planets surface only serves to vindicate the decision further. Dont you get it? The evils that have been visited upon this world are so great that it is already as good as dead. The Warmaster-General would never allow such a vile and omnipotent evil to come into being, no matter how unlikely or fantastic its birth may be. Hastor slumped down on a nearby crate as he began to take it all in, his head falling into his cupped hands. Howhow long? I do not know. Tremlocke answered, removing his cap and smoothing back his silver hair. The growing storm has robbed us of any means of chronometric indication or communication. There is no way of us knowing when the strike will occur. You must not forget that, as far as we know, the fleet has had no contact with the surface since the slaughter. Bombola may be under the impression that we are all dead. He may soon decide that Exterminatus is the only option left open to him. When this time comes it will not matter how close we are to our goal. The world of Daedalus will die and it will take us along with it. We are all living on borrowed time. A bright flash filled the chamber with light and the two men turned to see Zith standing atop one of the cysts, his hellgun hanging by his side. Zith! Where the hell have you been? Hastor exclaimed, rising to his feet. All thoughts of the dire warnings of the Commissar vanished from his mind and he pushed his way over to where the trooper waited, stood at the centre of the smoking disc of flesh. The xenos expert raised his hand up to his face as the bright searchlight of Brother Oumerus turned towards him, yelping as the beam seared his eyes. Its okay, its Zith. Hastor called, moving out to greet the returning trooper. The others gathered round as Hastor stepped up to the fleshy platform, his face alight with expectation. Im sorry I was gone so long, sir, its my chronometer. Its stopped working. He explained, gesturing towards the small device strapped to his wrist. Dont worry about that. Tell us, did you find anything?

Zith smiled and stepped down from the organic plinth, a grin of triumph sliding across his face. In short sir, yes. I think Ive found what it is were searching for. The others smiled and shook their fists, relieved to be drawing closer to the completion of their mission. Well? Where does this cyst lead? Tremlocke asked, pushing through the others to join the temporary scout. Zith turned, his eyes finding the Commissar. To another lab, just like this one. My estimation is that there are similar complexes dotted all over this city. Its the same over there. All the cysts are dead bar the one that is linked up to here, but its the labs location that could be of interest to us. Sergeant, do you still have the map Vorpax gave you? Hastor quickly reached into a small pouch fastened to his belt and produced a small, tattered piece of paper. He unfolded it and passed it to Zith. Remember the square that sergeant Hoolias described the last time we were in contact with the others? He told us that hed found a useable entrance to the catacombs there. I think I may have found that square. The others waited with bated breath as Zith pored over the small map, his finger running across the smooth print as he compared the printed representation of the small square with what he himself had seen. I think this is it, sir. The buildings, the landmarks, everything matches. This is where Hoolias and the rest of Fortis entered the tunnels. Nice work, soldier. Hastor smiled, patting Zith on the shoulder. He took the map back and folded it once more, placing it back in the small leather pouch. Trooper Zith, tell me. Tremlocke began, much to the others consternation. How exactly did you survive your ordeal? After all, if this is indeed the square you say it is then, according to Sergeant Hoolias, you stumbled into the middle of a fierce battle. On hearing this, the soldier shook his head. There was no battle, Commissar. I did not see a single living soul out there. Trust me, though, this is the place. Tremlocke smiled and shook his head, unwilling to believe the validity of Ziths claims. So then, I take it that you are calling Hoolias a liar. He described a fearsome battle between the Astartes and the World Eaters. Are you telling me that you saw none of this? No sir. Zith replied, his tone darkening. I am not. I said that I did not see a single living soul. +++ Chapter 24. BENEATH.

Oumerus walked in silence amongst the dead, the only sounds he made being the ones emitted by the stomping footsteps and whining frame of the powerful war machine encompassing him. His chassis groaned as he glanced from left to right, his powerful searchlight running across the swathes of fallen Marines surrounding him. Hastor and the others followed closely behind, unable to utter a single word; such was the air of death and destruction about them. Armoured bodies lay in shattered heaps all around, their smashed torsos torn open and leaking rivers of vital fluids out onto the steaming ground. Though darkness had at last fallen over the city, the streets were still quite well lit, thanks to a combination

of both the still-functioning glow globe grid and the unsettling disturbance far above. God-Emperor, look at all this. Hastor breathed, overwhelmed by the terrible carnage about him. So many dead. So many... This is true chaos. Tremlocke added, visibly stunned by the sobering sights all around him. I thank the Emperor that we were not caught in the middle of this horrifying battle. Bodies lined the square as far as the eye could see. To their left, a squad of green-armoured Thunder Dragons had fallen as one, hacked to pieces by some terrible, unknown enemy. The nine warriors lay in a broken circle, their torsos split and torn open, their heads missing or smashed to a bloody pulp. One or two of them were little more than blackened skeletons, their power armour melted and warped by whatever had killed them. To Hastor it looked as if the men had been killed in one single, sweeping attack, slain before they had even the slightest chance to retaliate. He closed his eyes and prayed that this was just a coincidence, a cruel trick of fate. He didnt dare imagine what sort of monster would be able to do that to a squad of Marines. A little way to the right he gasped as he laid eyes on the remains of a White Scars Terminator, his ancient and treasured suit of armour stained heavily with the alien blood of the smaller creatures that surrounded him. A great swathe of Hormagaunt bodies lay about him in pieces, some shattered and broken by the unforgiving shells of his storm bolter, others reduced to bloody pulp by the long-cooled power fist that now lay some distance away from his corpse. The Tyranids found them. He whispered, turning away. This was where the swarm was heading. The Astartes didnt stand a chance. I cant begin to imagine what it was like in the middle of all this chaos. Sergeant, I think Oumerus has found something. Regan called, his voice causing the others to turn their attention away from the grim scenes about them and towards the head of the group. The sergeant broke into a jog and headed quickly towards the hulking walker, followed by the others. Oumerus had stopped next to a heaped pile of Khornate dead, their crimson-armoured bodies piled up on top of one another as if they had thrown themselves headlong into a stacked scrum. The dead warriors were punctured and smashed, their cooling bodies still steaming. What is it? What have you found here? Hastor called, moving to join with the silent metal giant. Oumerus said nothing but stepped forward, the powerful searchlight bathing the lifeless traitor Marines with its pale white radiance. He reached down into the mound and began to pluck bodies away from the pile, casting them aside like broken toys. As he dug deeper the corpses became more and more mangled and separated and soon Oumerus was flinging parted torsos and limbs aside, his large, dark-blue chassis slick with black traitor blood. No. The great warrior uttered, finally reaching the bottom of the heap. Dulled blue and red armour plating shone under the harsh light of the powerful lamp, stinking black blood staining its surface in dried, crusted rivers and splashes. Hastor moved to Oumeruss side to see what the ancient warrior had found. He stared at the huge, splayed body of the fallen Crimson Fist Dreadnought, its vast sarcophagus torn open and peeled back like the lid of a ration tin. Small pools of congealed amniotic fluid filled the open compartment and wires and tubes hung limp from its sides. A withered, hairless body lay sprawled across the Dreadnoughts assault cannon, broken and lifeless. Wrinkled grey skin, so thin that it pressed against the figures ribs was daubed in the twisted sigils and runes of the Blood God, the sickening symbols drawn using the dead heros own lifeblood. His legs were gone, replaced by a series of wires and suspended tech-units, some still attached to the

gaping centre of the massive war machine. The Berserkers had torn the ancient one from his resting place in a frenzy of twisted bloodletting, throwing themselves in such numbers upon the mighty warrior that he had eventually succumbed to their persistent attacks, falling to the snarling chainaxes they wielded. Ancient Felox. They have defiled his body. Oumerus uttered, his tone one of barely-suppressed rage. They committed suicide willingly, just so that they could offer him as a sacrifice to their Emperor-damned god. Even I would not wish for such a fate. Come, brother. Let us leave this place. Hastor whispered, laying a hand on the Dreadnoughts massive cannon. There is nothing more we can do here. I thought that I had witnessed my last massacre back at the South Gate. I thought that the alien transporter would carry us to a place of hope, of righteous destiny. I risked my life by stepping on that vile alien thing, not knowing if the transport would kill me. Now all I see is more death, more slaughter. Let us put an end to these Khornate b-----ds once and for all. Stand back. Hastor and the others did as Oumerus instructed and watched as the Dreadnought raised his huge fist towards his fallen brother. Join the Emperor, fallen brother. Take your rightful place by His side. He uttered, unleashing a column of promethium fire from the heavy flamer fixed under the huge paw. Know that Dorn is proud of you, just as I will make him proud of me. With that Oumerus turned and stomped away from the pyre, leaving the ancient body to burn along with those responsible for his second and final death. +++ Here! Sir, Ive found it! Hastor rushed to join Regan at the tunnel entrance, his heart beginning to pound. As he neared he could see that the partially hidden entrance was, though ill-maintained and decrepit, nonetheless quite spacious and large. Makeshift flakboard barricades had been hastily pulled aside and Regan pointed to where a number of the rotting boards had been yanked free, creating an opening just large enough for a man to squeeze through. At last! Praise the benevolent Emperor! Tremlocke rejoiced, descending upon the opening jubilantly, his face aglow. This is the first real breakthrough weve had since this cursed mission began. You have done well, trooper Zith. Zith raised his eyebrows in surprise as he heard the compliment; taken aback that Tremlocke was even capable of such praise. Come, we must widen the passageway to allow our Dreadnought brother to gain access. The Commissar continued, his tone clearly more joyful than any of the others had yet witnessed. Now each of you know the true urgency of the situation you will appreciate that we must make haste. This evil must be stopped. He activated the stolen traitor power fist and slammed it into the boards, shattering them with one blow. Pieces of wood and dust filled the air and a thunderous boom echoed down the long tunnel, the noise broken and distorted by the endless cylindrical channel. Commissar, please! Hastor shouted, tearing his pistol free instantly. We need the element of surprise if we are to engage whoever waits for us at the end! Tremlocke held up his hands apologetically, realising his mistake. Of course, sergeant. I am simply eager to visit the Emperors righteous wrath upon our foes. Rest assured, such a mistake will not occur again. See that it doesnt. Now, lets do this right. Regan, Nesker, you have the lead. Brother Dreadnought, if you would guard our rear?

Oumerus uttered a growl of approval, relinquishing himself to Hastors command. Thank you. Everyone else, fall in behind Regan and Nesker. Oh, and Brother Oumerus? I think it would be better if you extinguished your searchlight. Better that the enemy is not aware of our approach. Of course, sergeant. Right, lets move out. Onwards to glory. Onwards to glory! the others uttered, as one by one they slipped into the darkness. +++ Hoolias peered around the corner of the bend, his shadowed face slowly slipping into the pale green glow of the exit. He peered out into the light and ran his eyes across the exit. It seems to be unguarded. He whispered, slipping his head back. Bencine, get up here with that auspex. We need to be sure. Another trooper joined him, holding out a small scanning device before him. He activated the device and slipped his hand around the bend, sweeping it slowly before him. The exit is clear, sir. He whispered, withdrawing his arm. Hoolias nodded and the others slid past him silently, fanning out as they jogged towards the opening. He drew his hellpistol and chainsword and followed them, his eyes darting across the circular opening. The first two troopers to reach the exit dropped to their knees and began to sweep the area before them, searching for any sign of enemy activity. The next two ran to the exit and parted down the middle. They paused briefly before stealing round the corner and into a vast, open cavern, twitching their guns quickly in order to cover every possible angle of attack. The rest of the squad crept past them in turn, each man silent and determined, ready for any surprise attack no matter where it came from. Soon each member of Squad Fortis was clear of the exit and as one they moved out into the immense underground chamber beyond, creeping foot over foot as they slowly but surely moved deeper into the mysterious complex. Crud, what is this place? Any idea where we are? Hoolias whispered, running his eyes slowly across the huge storage space, the question directed at the man beside him. The trooper produced a small map, given to him by Colonel Vorpax before the onset of the mission. He pored over the small piece of paper, his face giving up the answer long before he even uttered a single word. I cant be sure, sir. Whatever this place is, its not on here. You cant be serious! Hoolias answered, his features tightening. This place must be a mile wide! It has to be. It isnt sir, I can assure you. Our locators stopped working some time ago but my guess is that were somewhere beneath the centre of the city, far below the surface. Whatever this place is, its existence isnt general knowledge, at least as far as the Imperium is concerned. Hoolias grimaced in displeasure, the mystery of his whereabouts clearly making him uncomfortable. Damn it. How the hell can we expect Validus to find us if we dont even know where we are? Henishen, try to raise Validus again. We need to let them know weve found the chamber, or at least we hope so. The communications officer nodded and reached round to detach the headpiece of his comm-link, hooking the device over his helmet and extending the mouthpiece across his face with practised ease. Fortis to Validus, I repeat, this is Fortis, over? Can you hear me Validus? Are you receiving, over? The sergeant thinks that we may have found the target location, over? After a few moments more the soldier looked up and glanced towards the sergeant, shaking his head. Its no good sir. Were either out of range or theres too much bedrock over our heads. Hoolias exhaled sharply and rubbed the glistening beads of sweat from his face as he weighed up the

squads options. Without the backup of Validus they were on their own, with no idea who or what lay in wait for them. Then we have no choice but to proceed on our own. Spread out but stay within visual range. He whispered. The others nodded and began to move out into the vast artificial cavern, stalking silently between the huge rockcrete pillars and storage containers housed within. +++ Fortis had been searching through the immense space for around half an hour when Hooliass scout, Bencine suddenly dropped to his knees and raised his fist. The others immediately stopped dead in their tracks and slid into the shadows without a sound. Bencine quickly held up two fingers and ran his hand across his neck before rolling across the corner and into the shadows, disappearing from sight. Hoolias curled himself up into a ball and slipped his head round the corner of the cargo box, intrigued by Bencines instructions. He had told the others that there were two enemy hostiles approaching their position but not to engage, and Hoolias couldnt understand why. The sound of heavy footsteps soon began to echo through the vast cavern and two huge figures rounded the corner, silently marching side by side. Hoolias saw them and gasped, quickly drawing his head back into the shadows. He recognised the hulking armoured warriors for what they were immediately. Space Marines, their burnished power armour corrupt yet immediately distinguishable. Hoolias had seen many of these imposing warriors before, both loyal and traitorous, yet the two giants that passed by the hidden squad were very different. For a start they were both much taller than any other Space Marine he had ever seen. The bald moon-grey flesh of their heads was twisted and marked, festooned with all manner of strange pipes and tubes that seemed to pulse as they pumped dark ichors into their skulls. The bulky dark power armour they wore was unidentifiable to him, utterly devoid of any of the recognisable symbols sported by the many traitor legions that terrorised the galaxy. The two behemoths passed by silently and without a single exchange of words, soon disappearing out of sight into the vast complex beyond. Hoolias let out a long sigh and began to slowly rise, urging the others on with a wave of his hand. Now more than ever he wished that Hastor and the rest of Validus were here to assist them. They were about to move out when a brace of heavy thuds resounded through the endless collection of unmarked crates, freezing them in their tracks. Hoolias threw himself round and stared out in the direction the two giants had gone but he could see nothing. Did you hear that? He snapped, scouring the space before him. A murmur of confirmation rose up amongst the rest of the squad and a number of the others moved to join him, their weapons raised. It sounded like something large and heavy falling to the floor. Corbel whispered, raising his meltagun slowly. The squad waited for a moment before cautiously relaxing at the sergeants command. Forget it. Whatever that was it doesnt seem to be heading our way. Lets move out. The small group quickly made their way further into the immense facility, unaware of the two glowing specks of light that burned into their backs. Their presence here was not a secret. The complex seemed to grow darker the further they made their way in. Continuous auspex sweeps revealed nothing, save perhaps for the approach of more of the strange giant warriors. The unidentified Marines moved in twos and threes, always passing by silently, their destination as much a mystery as their origins.

As the squad continued deeper into the vast chamber Hoolias grew more and more uneasy with the whole situation, feeling more out of depth than ever before. Something dark and evil was transpiring here, that much he was sure of, he just wished that he had even the slightest idea what was going on. Knowing that the opposition force consisted of corrupt, giant Space Marines filled him with dread, for there were none as formidable as these most ultimate of warriors. The fact that they were attuned to the machinations of chaos only served to heighten the sense of alarm even further and he prayed to the Emperor to afford his men protection when the time came to face the enemy head-on. The squad turned a corner and Bencine stopped, throwing himself up against the wall. The others did the same, pressing their backs against the cold, damp stone as one, each mans breath slowing as they waited to see what the scout had discovered. Theres an open doorway, approximately fifty metres away. It looks like its been blasted open. He whispered, thrusting the auspex out before him. He ran his eyes across the display for a moment, his brow creasing. Sir, these readings dont make sense. Im definitely picking up some kind of life signature but the auspex cant seem to centre in on it. It must be malfunctioning. Hoolias moved up to the front of the column of bodies to join the scout, his eyes falling on the small device in his hand. Look here. The readings are off the scale. Something must be interfering with the signal. Hoolias whispered, risking a glance around the corner. Forget the auspex. Lets take a look. He turned and nodded to the others before slipping past the corner and out across the deserted corridor towards the large, open gateway. The others followed closely behind, covering each and every possible angle around them with their eyes and their weapons as they had been trained to do. As Hoolias reached the gateway he pressed himself back against the wall and awaited the others. A pale, almost sickly light poured out of the chamber and into the corridor and he was sure he could hear something loud and incredibly deep, almost like the breathing of some huge and nameless creature. The newest addition to his squad, a young trooper named Mensees slammed into the wall beside him and gestured towards his ear, following this silent motion by pointing inside the doorway. Hoolias nodded his head, letting the trooper know that he too had heard the strange and foreboding noise. Holding up a hand, Hoolias slowly and gently craned his neck and peered around the corner. Though the noise seemed even louder from inside he could see nothing. A long featureless rockcrete corridor stretched out into the distance, the pale light shining at its end. More of the unidentifiable crates were piled up around the entrance, their dust-covered surfaces peeling and flaking and yet giving away nothing of what they contained. He felt his pulse begin to quicken as he pushed himself around the corner and out into the corridor, glancing left to right as he advanced. The others followed behind him, their hellguns pressed against their shoulders, their laser targeters activated. Slowly but surely Fortis slipped unseen out into the passageway, eager to locate the mysterious presence they sought. There were a number of doorways lining the passage at either side, all blackened and blasted open. Something had happened here, that much was obvious. He made his way to the first door and peered through, his eyes searching the gloom beyond. The room was small and unimpressive, some sort of office space or laboratorium. Whatever its former use the room was now in complete disarray, the sparse furniture inside smashed and scattered as if by some maddened wild animal. Dark blood stained the walls, dried and congealed where it had burst from its veins. Sir! We have bodies in here.

Hoolias frowned as he heard this and moved further down the corridor to meet with the others. He reached the next doorway and his eyes found the heaped pile of dead there, a stinking heap of rotting flesh and tattered cloth. They were Imperial by the looks of them, sir. Corbel observed, turning his nose up at the cloying stench. They wear the robes of Adepts. Any ideas? None, sir. These rooms are full of them. They were slaughtered, most probably by the traitor Marines we saw earlier. I dont understand it, sir. These men have been dead for quite some time. How come no one has missed them? Perhaps because no one else knew they were down here, Corbel. This entire facility wasnt even known to the crusade command. These are answers that will have to wait. Come on, lets press on. With that, Hoolias began to move down the corridor and on towards the sickly light, his men close behind. At the end of the corridor the vast chamber opened out once again, the immense domed ceiling above littered with thousands of twinkling glow globes, so many that it looked for all the world like a star-filled sky. Split up and spread out, Hoolias signed, his eyes falling upon the endless rows of containers and boxes that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. The others did as commanded, quickly disbanding and moving off in separate directions, searching for anything that could qualify as the purpose of their mission. Hoolias and Mensees began to pick their way down a long, open row of boxes and containers, the laser sights of their guns piercing the dark spaces between the crates as they passed by. Now and again they caught sight of the shadowy shapes of the others as they stalked the spaces beside them, their targeters flashing across the unmarked containers as they silently advanced parallel to one another. Hoolias paused and shook his head, unable to shake the strange feeling that had gripped him upon entering the chamber. It was as if there was a strange pressure behind his eyes, a dull ache that seemed to build and worsen the further he progressed. He glanced behind him at the young trooper and frowned as he noticed the mans similarly agitated state. Mensees had begun to falter, continuously pausing in order to wipe away the trickling rivulets of sweat that seemed to constantly pour from his forehead. Hoolias turned and made his way back towards the soldier. He lifted the young mans chin and looked at his drenched face with concerned eyes. Are you okay, trooper? Are you sick? No sir, II dont think so. Im not sure whats a matter with me. I dont know, I think I can feel something Is it like a pressure behind your eyes? Yes, thats it. Like a headache that seems to be getting worse. I think that its something to do with that damned noise. It sounds like something massive breathing. God-Emperor, I hope its not. He paused as he said this, almost as if he had suddenly realised who he was talking to. Dont worry though, sir, I can ignore it. Im ready for combat, I swear. Hoolias nodded and patted the boys shoulder reassuringly. Glad to hear it. Come on, letEmperors light, do you feel that? The two men turned and peered down the long walkway, suddenly becoming aware of a warm, fetid breeze. The gust seemed to follow the deep, rhythmic noise that echoed throughout the chamber, causing them to grow even more concerned as to what lay at its centre. Its definitely breathing! What the hell is out there? Mensees gasped, starting to visibly shake. Hoolias turned and grabbed the boys shoulder, gripping him tightly. Dont be absurd! It has to be machinery, nothing more. Get a hold of yourself, man! He spat, the whites of his eyes shining through the dull shadows of the crate canyons. We have a duty to see this through! The Emperor is with us here now more than ever; to falter would be blasphemy in His eyes. Stay strong, Mensees, glory awaits us in death. We have nothing to fear except failure. Sir! Emperors light, you have to come and see this!

A soldier named Corve had appeared from between the crates and was beckoning to them to follow him. He had removed his helmet and was standing with his shoulders hunched forward, his hellgun hanging loosely from his fingers. I cant believe it. Dinsk found a gap between the containers and managed to squeeze through. I heard him yelp like a frightened hound. The soldier muttered, barely even acknowledging the two men as they hurried past. He seemed to be shaking quite badly. Hehe found something in the middle of the chamber. Emperor knows what it is, butbut Hoolias threw himself through the tight gap and back the way Corve had come, grunting and cursing as he struggled to squeeze through. As he pushed himself out into the next row he glanced down the long aisle and spotted the others, standing in a broken group as they awaited him. He broke into a jog and moved to join them, quickly making his way past the endless, identical storage boxes either side of him. As he neared the others he glanced to his left and faltered, something catching his eye. Though the gap was only a few inches wide he could see something huge slowly rising and falling at the other side. It seemed to expand and contract in time with the thunderous rasping and the warm blasts of foetid air that continued to whistle up the channels and his heart missed a beat. Over here sergeant, this way! One of the others called, beckoning to the alarmed man. Hoolias responded to the call by picking up the pace once more, though he never once turned his head away from the gaps that flashed past his eyes. As each crate ended and another one began he held his breath as he caught glimpse after glimpse after glimpse of the heaving leviathan beyond, the fear steadily rising up within him. What is it? What the hell is that thing? He heard someone utter as he neared the others. The question echoed around his head again and again as the gaps flashing past his eyes grew steadily wider, allowing him a gradual observational improvement as he closed the gap between him and the waiting members of his squad. He found himself beginning to murmur in awe and shock, his parched, salty lips moving quickly and whispered silence. Here sir, this is where we managed to squeeze through. One of the others informed him, almost shoving him sideways through the body-sized space. Hoolias tumbled out into the centre of the vast chamber, the top half of his body bent forward almost to the point of irrecoverable imbalance. He managed to right himself after what seemed to him to be an age and he brought his eyes up to meet with the fantastically large sight before him, losing his breath as he looked upon the object of their search for the first time. May the divine and almighty God-Emperor have mercy upon our wretched souls. He uttered, slowly righting himself as his body ground to a halt. What is that? What in the name of the Golden Throne of Terra is that? Chapter 25. MOTHER AND FATHER. +++ The flagship Iratus Manus, in high orbit around Daedalus. +++ Jophius Garant Bombola watched as the space beyond the viewport churned and flashed, the distant stars themselves warping and distorting beneath the ominous phenomenon. He placed one perfectly-manicured hand against the thick glass, feeling the vast energies of the void shield generators thrumming through the entire ship. This was not good. This was not good at all. Warmaster. War. Master.

He ran the title through his head over and over again, feeling the weight of its significance bearing down upon him. So many ships, so many men, all under his control. The crusade had started with so much promise, only to degrade before his very eyes far beneath him to the almost complete and utter fiasco it now was. As far as he knew, most of his Guard were now gone, slain by the treacherous technologies of the damned Mechanicus. Even the vaunted Astartes had suffered badly at the hands of the Daemon Princes traitors. He hated this sickening feeling, this tight knot in the pit of his stomach. The sudden emergence and subsequent growth of the ominous warp-storm beyond had rendered all communication with the planet useless. He had absolutely no idea whatsoever of whether anyone loyal was even alive down there. The threat of having to initiate Exterminatus loomed ever closer. My lord? He turned to see Admiral Hesuphore standing behind him, his face a knot of barely-suppressed foreboding. My lord, the situation is worsening. The fleet is threatening to fall into disarray. The Astartes strike cruisers are demanding to know what is to be done about the loss of communication. They continue to grow concerned for the welfare of their warriors. What would they have me do, admiral? They know as much was we do about what is going on here. He answered, stepping down from the view podium. None of us could have predicted this turn of events. We are doing all we can. I am doing all we can. Hesuphore shifted uncomfortably before him, adjusting the cloak fastened to his shoulder. We cant wait here much longer, lord. Void shields fleet-wide are struggling to cope with the growing storm. Systems are beginning to degrade across the fleet. Astropaths are actually dying, warmaster. They they cannot stand the disturbance. Our own Primaris Eusanct has taken ill. He reports lurid dreams, dreams of impending disaster. The ships choir are beginning to degrade. We have three confirmed deaths so far. We must wait! Bombola roared, the sudden outburst causing the admiral to reel back. The warmasters eyes flared and his cheeks shook, turning an almost crimson colour. Bombola noticed Hesuphores fear and his anger seemed to drain away, the bright colour flooding his face draining away. II apologise, Daisan. I dont know what came over me. It is the pressure It is the anger, my lord. The admiral answered, holding up a hand. Please, think no more of it. I myself almost put a gun to one of my adjutants heads moments ago. II cant even remember why. The storm seems to be bringing out the worst in all of us. Yes, I feel it too. Every little infraction seems to ignite my rage. I feel it, Daisan, I feel it washing through the ship in waves. Have the Gellar Field powered up and on standby. Oh, and admiral? I want all weapons systems powered up and ready to initiate. Lord? Hesuphore uttered, his eyes narrowing. Remember the plan, admiral. If all else fails, Exterminatus may be the only option left to us. We are fast running out of time and alternatives. Yes lord. I will see to it that the macro cannons are brought on-line immediately. No, admiral, I want all weapons systems ready. Bombola uttered, his eyes shining with a portentous gravity. Some of our morevolatile comrades may be unwilling to see the use of such drastic measures, especially given the current emotions of the fleet. If through our actions we are to make enemies of the Astartes then wed better be sure we are able to defend ourselves. Do you understand? Y-yes lord. Hesuphore stammered, his eyes widening. As the Warmaster commands. +++ The rest of the squad began to pour through the gap behind Hoolias as they finally consolidated, the news of the incredible find pulling them together like magnets. Mensees stumbled through the gap and came to a dead stop behind the sergeant, his mouth falling open in horror as he finally laid eyes on the behemoth that slumbered at the chambers centre.

Now that the squad had managed to penetrate the maze of containers they stood on the edge of a vast, domed pit, a massive circular arena that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. Lights twinkled like stars overhead, nothing more than tiny pinpricks of light lost amongst the dark shadows of the distant ceiling. Each and every noise they made, however slight, reverberated through the immeasurable cavity before fading away into the distance to be lost forever amongst the endless chasm. Worst of all was the monstrous beast that slumbered in the pit before them, its immense alien form rising and falling in its torpor-like state. The vast beast lay on its side like a sleeping steed, clearly incapacitated by some unknown means. Immense legs that had once held hooves the size of Land Raiders were gone, cut away to short, useless stumps covered by a latticework patterns of trench-like scars and fibrous tissue. Its vibrant purple body was pitted and scored by lines and craters large enough to fit the entire squad into and covered with massive plates of dull, bone-coloured chitin. Somewhere over to the left of the pit they were just able to sneak a glance of the monsters head, its cavernous mouth open and slack, its immeasurable tongue rolling slackly backwards and forwards as if the lackadaisical extremity had a mind of its own. The mighty horned antlers that protruded from the alien beasts head were shackled and bound, festooned with a host of thick chains, each link the size of the mightiest Space Marine. Sarge, what is that thing? Corbel uttered, almost dropping the meltagun in shock. Hoolias shook his head slowly and continued to stare at the beast in wonderment, his mind reeling. He had not known what to expect to find down here. He had tried and tried as best he possibly could to picture the object of their search in his mind but had failed each time, the possibilities simply too endless to even begin to draw some kind of logical conclusion. Now, at last, he stood before his goal, or what he at least assumed to be his goal, and he could not even begin to understand what it was that lay dormant and incapacitated before them. Itits Tyranid, it has to be. He guessed, examining the beasts massive form. Emperor knows what it is or how it got here but it definitely looks Tyranid. There are far too many similarities to ignore. Damn, sir, I didnt even know the Tyranids grew em this big. Dinsk mused, spitting a gob of chewingbac onto the floor before him. Whatever it is, they must have built this chamber around it. Corbel observed, following the curve of the high ceiling with his weapon. What now, sergeant? Weve got this far, where do we go from here? Corve asked, uttering the question that had sat on the minds of the others since they had first laid eyes on the fantastic creature. Hoolias stared out at the alien beast for a few moments more, assessing its weak points and vulnerable spots. To his dismay the beast had scarce few of these immediately apparent to him. Do youdo you really think that this is what we were brought here to find? He found himself asking the others, still unable to believe his own eyes. In truth, despite his determination to see the mission through he was at a loss to explain exactly what terrible threat this immense yet crippled creature posed to the galaxy, given its current pathetic state. Subdued and limbless, he could not imagine what this beast could do to threaten the very fabric of their existence so, suspected Tyranid or no. Still, despite his reservations he had a job to do, and the monster before him was very much xenos in origin and so needed to be eradicated according to Imperial law. We need to destroy this abomination. Although we dont know what it is or what it can do, if its dead then it poses no threat. He uttered, his mind made up. Dinsk, round the others up and gather as many meltabombs as we can spare. Lets end this. Dinsk nodded and began to move through the others, gathering up as many of the small but powerful

bombs as he could carry. You got a plan, sir? Corve asked, freshly relieved of his own stock of high-strength explosives. I hope so. Was all Hoolias could manage as he began to make his way around he vast pit towards the behemoths waiting head. +++ Youre joking, right sarge? Hoolias turned and scowled at Dinsk, the expression on his face telling the trooper that mirth could not be further from the sergeants mind. Dinsk slowed as he peered into the huge, cavernous maw of the slumbering beast, his arms laden with explosives. At least a hundred Dreadnought-sized fangs glistened back, oozing with thick, glutinous fluid that ran in rivers out onto the grilled floor and into the vast pit underneath. The creatures tongue lolled about slackly, each huge movement creating a powerful draft that threatened to push the men onto their behinds. You want us to crawl inside the mouth of that bastard and plant these bombs? Thats what I said, Dinsk. You going deaf? Hoolias turned to face the bewildered trooper, his face a mask of quiet yet potent seriousness. N-no sir. Ill get the others. You do that, soldier. Lets kill this thing and finish the job. Dinsk nodded and whistled at the others to follow him. He turned to face the steep sides of the pit and began to look for a way down, peering over the side gingerly. It looks like well have to break out the climbing gear. He announced, spitting another gob of chewing bac over the side. Theres no way to get downnnnnnnu-uugghhh... Suddenly Dinsk convulsed, lurching forward. He dropped the handful of meltabombs and they clattered away down into the pit unused, ringing and clanging as they tumbled into the darkness. The trooper managed to grab onto the rusting handrail, his quick actions enough to prevent him from following the explosives yet not enough to save his life. He turned, his eyes large and bulbous, and began to scratch and claw at the back of his neck. The others rushed over to where Hoolias stood in shock, watching helplessly as their teammate began to gag and wretch, red foam gurgling from his mouth. Dinsk! What the hells wrong? Hoolias cried, dropping his hellgun onto the cold, slimy floor. Dinsk was unable to answer him. He stared back, his eyes now so large and bulging that they threatened to burst from his skull at any moment. Ghhhghccc.ccccccghccannnnnnb-b-bbbrrr Dinsk gurgled, beginning to choke on the bubbling froth that poured from his lips. Hoolias took a single step towards the terrified man and stopped as a spray of crimson mist pattered across his face, causing his eyelids to flicker. Dinsk reeled back, his neck gone, bright blood gushing from the burst, flapping wound. His face was the colour of deep purple and had swelled up to such a size that it blossomed out from the front of his helmet like a balloon. He fell back like a marionette relieved of its guide strings and tumbled into the pit without a sound, his feet flipping back over his head. Dinsk! No! Hoolias screamed, rushing forward in vain. The man was already gone. Your efforts would have been in vain. She is already dying. Hoolias froze, his eyes widening. His fingers tightened around the steel handrail as the rasping, ancient voice echoed through his mind. He turned slowly, numbed by shock and fear as he prepared to see who or what had killed his man.

Standing before him was a being so ancient and terrifying that he was scarcely able to believe his eyes. The others stood about the sergeant, frozen in shock. Despite the fact that this monstrosity had killed one of their own, all they could do was stand and gape at the towering figure, their muscles slack and useless in his dark, foreboding presence. No. Dear God-Emperor, no... He whispered, looking upon the true object of their mission for the first time. You. It c-cannot be The ancient and cruel figure laughed, its hoarse cackle echoing through the endless darkness around them. Yes, Imperial. I am he. The Manflayer. The Flesh Manipulator. The Chem-master. The Clonelord. The Primogenitor. Call me what you will. I am Fabius Bile, and you are trespassing here. Chapter 25. MOTHER AND FATHER. Hastor and the others slowed as they spied the very dead, very mangled body of the alien creature before them, its already horrifying and angular form utterly broken and twisted out of all proportion. Hold it! He snapped, the command immediately affecting the squads advance. Zith, get up here. I think we have a dead Spook. Zith pushed his way to the front of the procession and joined the sergeant, agreeing with his observation almost immediately. Youre right, sir. God-Emperor, look at this thing! He cursed, dropping to his knees beside the steaming corpse. Though recognisable to one such as Zith, the Lictor had been reduced to little more than a pile of bloodied carapace and snapped limbs, its barbed, sinuous body utterly torn to pieces. What the hell could have done that to such a beast? Hastor whispered, stepping back. Ive seen those things in action. Theyre as deadly as they come. I dont know, sir. It certainly cant have been Fortis. Theyre a damn good squad but even Hoolias and his boys would not have even seen this thing coming, let alone destroyed it as utterly as this. Moranith, here a moment. The squad medic pushed his way through the packed group to where Zith hovered over the dead Lictor, carefully picking over the corpse. Look. See the contusions beside these cuts here, here and here? Power weapon. Moranith immediately deduced, his knowledge of the various and plentiful scars and wounds of the battlefield solid. This alien was killed by a power weapon, most likely a sword or axe blade. He began to examine the stinking corpse, its pungent odour more akin to its xenos origins than its state of death. This thing was hacked to pieces by a single weapon. All the wounds it sustained are identical in signature. Whoever did this, they were alone, and damn but they were fast. So its likely that someone followed Fortis in then. Hastor uttered, his concern for the welfare of the other squad mounting. Yes sir. Its just as likely that the Spook also followed them in. Given the speed of these things and the fact

that they are able to hunt their prey over large distances, Id say that the Lictor found this place by leeching information of its whereabouts from the brains of one of its victims and then sensed the others when it arrived here. Zith explained, slowly rising to his feet. Moranith is sure that Fortis arent responsible for this, which means that someone or something must have followed the Lictor in. Whatever happened here is immaterial. Hastor announced, kicking the steaming remains aside. There are no bodies here which means that Fortis were not attacked. They are somewhere in here and we must find them. Hear hear. Tremlocke exclaimed, as impatient to continue on as ever. No matter how this vile creature died, it no longer poses a threat to us. Zith shook his head, wiping the viscous alien body fluids that coated his hands down his fatigues. Thats not necessarily true. Lictors are primarily vanguard organisms, as Im sure you could tell from the attack on the base camp. When they locate their prey they give off a powerful pheromone in order to attract the rest of the swarm. Its highly likely that this creature would have begun to exude the pheromone the moment it located the entrance to these tunnels. Despite the link to the Hive Mind being severed, a number of the higher organisms of the swarm, such as the Spook, retain a modicum of intelligent function, meaning that its almost certain that the Lictor has already alerted the others to this place. The fact that the majority of the swarm has reverted to their basic, animalistic instincts wont matter. The Lictors chemical call is very powerful and is sure to attract the others regardless of their state of mind. Then we must continue on. Hastor whispered, allowing himself one last glance at the dead alien. And pray that Fortis has not succumbed to the same fate. +++ The huge figure towered over Hoolias and the others, a good seven feet in height. His corrupt power armour was covered in a tight, sutured cloak of man-flesh, made apparent by the faded tattoos and openmouthed, eyeless faces that covered his giant form. Most horrific to behold were the animated arachnid extremities that snaked over his wide shoulders. Four black mechanical arms slowly probed the air before him, ending in a disturbing array of drill heads, blades and needles, enhancing the ancient traitors already horrific appearance. Hoolias had heard tales of this monster before, they all had. Fabius Bile was one of the damned, the most ancient of the Emperors enemies still stalking the galaxy. Like Karkattamorg, Bile had taken part in the legendary Siege of Terra and had fought against the forces of the Imperium when the Emperor himself had commanded them. He was a feared and reviled individual, hunted the length and breadth of the Emperors domain and beyond. Here before them was one of the Imperiums greatest enemies. You have journeyed so far, survived and overcome the rigours of this damned city like true warriors of faith. Such a pity your efforts were all for nought, young things. Bile wheezed, a cruel smile forming at the edges of his thin mouth. The mother is done with her task, and now she is all but dead. Giving birth to a god has taken more from her than she needs to survive. No matter, she is no longer required. She has played her part. I have learned from her all that I can. He stepped forward, his vast, genetically enhanced bulk blotting out the lights of the chamber and casting a grim shadow over the shocked soldiers. Hoolias shook himself free of the fear that gripped his heart and stooped low, retrieving his fallen weapon. Bile saw this and laughed, his glazed yellow eyes glowing with ancient malice. Now what, whelp? You seek to confront the Primogenitor? Do you realise how many of your kind have tried and failed to destroy me?

You are a fool. You are all fools. The ageless monster brushed a long strand of thin silver hair away from his grey face, totally unconcerned with the presence of the elite squad. As he stood and glared at Hoolias the limbs protruding from his back flexed and groped the air, almost as if they were excited by the prospect of a confrontation with the soldiers of the Imperium. Bile himself seemed complacent, almost as if he found the entire squad before him no more a threat than a group of children, for that is what they were to this man, nothing more than infants in his ageless eyes. What is your business here? Hoolias managed to blurt, slowly raising the rifle in his hands. What do you want with this planet and its inhabitants? Answer damn you, or taste the cold, final bite of Imperial retribution. Bile laughed again, greatly amused by the sergeants display of bravado. Bravo, whelp, bravo! Your boldness does you credit, though you would do well to remember who is the master here. I could end all your meaningless lives with but a wave of my hand. Watch and learn. Bile raised the skull-topped cane in his left hand and a dozen or more massive, power-armoured shapes appeared by his side, emerging from the shadows of the vast chamber and out into the half-light, their towering forms standing head and shoulders above even the Primogenitor himself. In less than an instant the space either side of him was filled with a phalanx of dull, red-brown armoured warriors, a wave of giants that fell in beside Bile silently yet exuding an air of suggested malice. Now do you begin to see? Bile asked, gesturing towards the line of outstretched bolt pistols that flanked him. Are you at last beginning to realise just how futile your efforts were? I have known of the wretched Imperiums intentions from the start. Just as I predicted, they couldnt help but respond to the powerful psychic distress call of the dying beast behind you. Just like the Star Locusts of the distant Hive Mind you came scurrying to investigate the anomaly, scared of missing out on something, always eager to lord it over anything that you do not understand. Your eagerness will be the instrument of your destruction, that much is certain. Hoolias stepped forward, his hellgun trained on the traitor despite the fear that wracked his body. The others did the same, eager to back up their commanding officer no matter how grave the situation. Im giving you one chance, Bile. Surrender now and cease whatever it is you are doing here or your long life will be put to an end here and now. We are not afraid of you, nor do we fear your mindless lap dogs. Make the choice. Bile shook his head slowly as he heard this, emitting a long, drawn-out sigh. He stared into the sergeants eyes, his gaze as timeless and ancient as anything Hoolias had ever seen in his life. Sergeant, I have ended the lives of thousands of men just like you, men who were as brave and misguided as you are. I have no doubt that I will continue to do so long after your bones have turned to dust here on this doomed planet. As for the purpose of my presence here on Daedalus, Im afraid that you are far too late to stop what has already been started. I have laboured here beneath this city for nigh on seven years, unknown and undetected. The pact I made with the mindless acolyte of the Blood God is fulfilled, I have realised my part of the bargain. My work here is done, and all that remains for me now is to leave this condemned place and take to the stars once more to continue my work. There will be a time when my new men overrun this galaxy like a plague, this I promise. As for you, you are of no threat to me. Do what you will to satisfy your misguided loyalties. Im warning you, abomination, this is your last chance. Hoolias growled, flexing his fingers slowly. Give up or die, its that simple. Simple? Everything is simple to one such as I. As Im sure you were all too aware, it was simplicity itself

to activate the dormant pylon grid and annihilate your pathetic advance forces. Bile oozed, his mocking smile exposing a double row of crooked, yellowed teeth. No one is able to keep secrets from Fabius Bile, not even the minions of the Machine God. Hoolias had heard enough. He shifted his aim and pulled he trigger, sending a thin shaft of solid bright light out from the barrel of his gun. Even as his finger squeezed the trigger a dark shape filled his vision and the beam ripped through the skull of the giant that had thrown himself before his master, popping his exposed, grey-skinned head like a balloon. As powerful and terrible as these giants may be, no exposed man flesh could resist the bite of the hellgun. As those around him began to mirror their sergeants desperate actions, Hoolias himself shifted his aim and fired again, this time succeeding only in tearing away the gun hand of another of the armoured brutes. The giant merely grunted as his hand came away in a puff of blood, the wound cauterising immediately. A second later Biles men returned fire and Hooliass world turned upside down. The space before him was filled with a deafening roar as Biles enhanced warriors opened up with their bolt pistols. Mathan and Grunz fell immediately, taken apart by the furious return, their bodies bursting apart in a shower of blood. Hoolias dived sideways and rolled, firing again. The first two of his shots pinged off the armour of his target but the third hit home, quickly leaving a gaping cavity in the warriors head. The wound began to pump dark ichors out down his face and yet the vile Marine remained standing, a look of utter contempt on what was left of his face. None of these corrupt abominations wore helmets, he suddenly noticed. Their mistake. Fall back! Fall back and find cover! He hollered, pushing himself to his feet as fast as he was able. He could hear the terrible laughter of Bile echoing throughout the vast cavern as he threw himself behind a nearby crate under a stitch of hammering bolt fire, escaping death by mere inches. One of his men screamed and he thrust his head around the corner to see the young trooper Mensees flailing and thrashing on the end of a shrieking chainsword, his stomach gone. Hoolias cursed the damned warrior responsible and unleashed a withering burst of las-fire at the giant, only to watch as it bounced harmlessly away from his thick armour and disappeared somewhere beyond the melee. Drafe Hoolias closed his eyes and whispered a desperate prayer to the Emperor of mankind, his heart pounding in his chest. To have come so far, only to be denied was something he could not allow to happen. He had to stop Bile, had to end this madmans reign of destruction and terror here and now, and he would need the strength of the Emperor behind him should his attempts bear fruit. He opened his eyes and threw the hellgun onto the floor, pulling his laspistol free at the same time. He rose to his feet and unsheathed his power sword, activating the blade with a quick sweep of his thumb. If he was to die here then he would make it a good death, a honourable death, and he would take as many of the damned with him as he could. Hoolias roared as he threw himself around the corner, his weapons bared and ready to deal death. The beast that had impaled Mensees turned to meet his gaze and the sergeant fired a brace of shots through the soft, flexible armour covering the monsters midriff, though the hissing beams didnt even seem to sway the warrior. The giant began to struggle with the dead Storm Trooper impaled upon his sword and Hoolias took full advantage of this, his crackling power blade slashing through the warriors sword arm and severing it at the elbow. The beast staggered back, thrown off-balance by the sudden lack of leverage and Hoolias slashed at

him again, slicing a wide, gaping hole in his chest armour. Black blood spurted from the wound and the warrior responded by kicking out at the charging man, though his clumsy counter attack sailed by easily over Hooliass head. The sergeant attacked again and again, his blade eventually finding the thrashing giants throat. He ran the sword across the Marines neck and his head came away, ending the hulking beasts life once and for all. Hoolias watched the monster fall and span around to find his next target. The fact that he had now taken down two Chaos Marines, a nigh impossible feat, barely registered in his screaming mind. He didnt dare let it. Laster tumbled past him, his entire chest gone. His men were still dying here, falling faster than he could afford them to do so. Another of the giants loomed over him and he turned, his sword held in readiness. The huge warrior was fast, too fast even for him and he gasped as he felt a huge armoured boot drive into his side, knocking him to the floor. He crashed into the handrail of the pit and felt a rib pop under the impact, sending a bolt of fire surging through his chest. The giant lumbered into view, his massive power fist raised up above his head, ready to strike. Hoolias glared at his would-be killer, determined to face his death like a man. The killing blow never came. Instead he watched in amazement and relief as the wide chest of the looming hulk began to bubble and warp before melting away, his blood flashing to steam as it burst free of the gaping wound. Hoolias pushed himself to one side as the warrior staggered forward and disappeared over the waist-high parapet without a sound, his lungs burned away. Corbel appeared before the sergeant, his meltagun steaming with white-hot heat. He extended his free hand and hoisted Hoolias up onto his feet. You okay, sir? Ill live. He answered, grimacing in pain. Were being slaughtered here. We need to fall back and regroup. Corbel knew that he was right. Corve and Bencine were in the process of felling another of the huge warriors. Both men had expended nearly a full clip and at last their efforts began to show, their concentrated las-fire finally causing enough wounds to fell the beast. Despite their efforts, there were still at least six or seven of them left to kill, as well as the ancient one himself. They were out of their depth here. Fall back! Everyone fall back! Hoolias commanded, breaking into a painful sprint. Corbel followed closely behind and shouted for the others to do the same. Corve and Bencine finished with the downed warrior and set off after the others but Henishen was not so lucky. He turned on his heel and was about to follow when Bile himself stepped up to him and struck him across the back with the skull-topped cane he carried. The unfortunate soldier yelped and fell to the floor; both his comm-link and his shoulder blade smashed by the blow, though far worse was to come for the unfortunate man. Bile smiled as he watched the communications officer begin to moan and thrash, the pain in his shoulder starting to build. He rolled around on the floor, his voice rising to an agonised scream of utter pain within moments of the blow. Hoolias gagged as he watched the unfortunate trooper convulse so severely that he snapped his own spine, knowing that there was nothing he could do. Bile lifted his gaze and looked up at the others, his evil face aglow with delight. Thats it, Imperial dogs! Run away! Run while you still can! You will not leave this complex alive, Fabius Bile swears this!

Hooliass stare met with that of the evil one and he thrust an accusing finger at the monster, his eyes aglow with hate. I will see you dead, Bile! I will watch you burn for this, I swear! He shouted, shaking with rage. Sir! Corbel grabbed Hoolias harshly by the shoulder and spun him around towards the opposite end of the vast pit. Scores of giant armoured bodies had begun to pour from the doorways and vestibules surrounding the large crater, a tide of seething, malicious hatred intent on destroying the valiant troopers. Now do you begin to see? You are nothing! The Imperium is nothing to one such as I! Bile hollered after them, throwing his arms up in the air. Where is the great and mighty wrath of your Emperor now, striplings? When will you people learn that you are alone in this universe? Who will save you now! Almost as if in response to Biles rant, a series of powerful, shuddering explosions echoed through the cavern and the collection of arched entranceways surrounding it collapsed as one, throwing a cloud of choking rubble dust across the distant walkway and into the pit. The roars and cries of those crushed and trapped by the sudden explosions reverberated throughout the chamber and even the mighty beast at its centre stirred, responding to the disturbance despite its critical condition. Even Bile seemed taken aback by this unexpected occurrence; his expression changing as he slowly glanced across the pit to where the collection of archways had collapsed. Bile. The single word slid through the air like an arrow, echoing maliciously despite being no more than a rasping whisper. The Primogenitor turned and looked out across the manmade crater, struggling to see anything past the thick cloud of grime. Bile. The voice whispered again, the location of its master unfathomable due to the acoustics of the place. Fear me, for I am your apocalypse. Chapter 25. MOTHER AND FATHER. For the first time since he had emerged, Bile began to grow concerned, his yellow eyes darting across the obscured cavern. Find him. Whoever this imbecile is, find him and destroy him. He spat, raising the antique poison gun that had killed Dinsk out before him. Find him and bring me his head. The towering Marines at his side moved off into the rolling dust cloud in order to search for the unknown attacker, leaving Bile alone to face the retreating Storm Troopers. This ends now! He roared, turning to face Hoolias and the others. Time is growing short and I have no desire to be on this damned planet when the Mammoog is born! You have inconvenienced me enough! He raised the infamous Xyclos needler and fired at the soldiers, unleashing a salvo of hissing darts at them. Corve pushed the others out of the way just in time and the whispering darts smashed into the container by their side, releasing a spray of potent toxins and bilious steam across the dull metal. Hoolias pushed himself upright and returned fire. Bright beams of hard light seared across the leatherbound armour of the traitor and Bile faltered, swayed by the attack despite sustaining no serious injury.

Corbel pushed his way past Hoolias and was about to engage the ancient turncoat with the meltagun when a sudden and terrible noise stopped him in his tracks. A high-pitched, animalistic scream of pure, murderous rage pierced the dusty gloom, followed by a short series of loud, thunderous blasts. Small flashes of orange light exploded within the dust cloud at the opposite end of the pit as whoever had set the melta-charges engaged the corrupt Marines with small arms bolter fire. Raised voices and shouts echoed through the rolling rubble-fog as the hidden aggressor slowly but surely fought his way around the pit to where Bile stood, alone and unguarded. Corve stooped low to speak with Hoolias, the sergeant still seated on the floor before him. Sir, who the hell is that out there? Is it Validus? I dont know, Corve. No one else even knew about this place. If Hastor and his men were here then surely they would have tried to contact us by now. He reasoned, unaware that Validus had lost their main communications equipment some time ago. Right at this moment, I dont care who it is. Anyone who wishes to take on those giant ba----ds is an ally in my eyes. Come on, we have to try and take Bile out while hes alone and vulnerable. Yes sir. Weuurghhhh! Corves voice halted abruptly and he disappeared before the sergeants eyes, hoisted high into the air, his arms and legs flailing madly. The others turned in time to see the struggling soldier die as the huge fist around his neck closed, squeezing his head from his shoulders. Corve! Hoolias bellowed, rising to his feet despite the searing pain in his side. Bencine and Corbel spun to face the attacker though were too late in their efforts. Bencine died instantly, his skull split by a burst of bolter fire. Corbel screamed and dropped to the floor, his arm shredded by the same salvo. Hoolias stared into the eyes of the dust-covered Marines before him, so large in stature that he had to crane his neck to look upon their faces. The horde of warriors stared back in silence, their dark eyes exuding a vicious, timeless hatred. Hoolias found himself overwhelmed by dismay. The warriors had caught them off-guard, making their way around the opposite end of the pit under cover of the thick dust cloud. Fortis had been taken apart by the vile Clonelord and his minions. Two decades of service to the Imperium had been destroyed by the evil that lurked beneath the city of Phrennec Mantris and now only he and Corbel remained. Two broken and defeated men were all that was left of the once-proud squad. Hoolias had always been convinced that the Emperor Himself watched over he and his men. He hadnt lost a single trooper in the twelve years he had been in command of the squad, and now it was all gone, reduced to bloodied ash by these nameless, traitorous monsters. Finish it then. He spat, throwing his hellpistol away in defeat. Put us out of our misery. It doesnt matter now. It doesnt make a difference how many of us you destroy; there will always be more to take our place. The Imperium is strong, much stronger than you or your kind will ever be. We are as eternal as the Immortal One who watches over us. Do your worst, you traitor b-----ds! One of the Marines stepped forward and plucked Corbels fallen meltagun from the ground before turning to face the writhing, groaning man. He lifted the weapon and slid a huge finger through the trigger guard, watched silently by his comrades. Hoolias raised a hand up to his face watched as the Marine lifted the meltagun, took aim and then exploded in a shower of wet gore, coming apart like a ripe fruit. Suddenly the entire line of enhanced warriors shook and vibrated as a hail of withering, large-calibre shells pierced the veil of dust and slammed into their backs, taking them apart. Chunks of armour and flesh filled the air as the Marines were cut down, reduced to a mass of shattered ceramite and broken body parts within seconds. Hoolias crawled forward on his hands and knees and grabbed Corbel by the shoulders before dragging him

roughly out of harms way, the mans ragged stump leaving a thick trail of blood after him. He managed to haul the injured man around the corner of the crate to safety before risking a glance out into the gloom. The remainder of the giants had turned on their heels and were hurtling out into the cloud, shouting and roaring as they disappeared. A furious exchange of fire erupted within the haze as they met with their attackers, the thick grey smog lighting up as the two forces fought to the death. Hoolias glanced behind him and looked on helplessly as Bile advanced towards them, his ancient features fraught with concern. He slowed as a bright, powerful light pierced the gloom and shone out towards the traitor, bathing his towering form in white luminescence. Now who dares to defile the reclusium of the Primogenitor? Bile spat, lifting his arm and sending a hail of poisoned darts into the cloud towards the source of the light. Sparks flashed deep within the smog and the darts emitted a shrill ring as they struck thick armour plating and bounced aside, powerless to hurt the hidden enemy. What? What is this? he uttered, stepping forward. Fabius Bile. Brother Oumerus uttered, his massive bulk emerging from the choking haze. It is rare indeed to meet an enemy older than I. You will be my greatest kill. Bile paled before the awesome machine, his fearless exterior melting away. He stumbled back, his eyes darting from left to right as he searched for an available escape route. Hastor emerged at Oumeruss side, accompanied by the rest of his grime-laden squad. He laid eyes on the ancient Chem-master and gasped, realising at once who the man was despite never having met him before. Itit is true. Tremlocke uttered, appearing at Hastors side. I had heard the rumours yet I didnt dare believe them. Bile. Bile is here on Daedalus. This is indeed a glorious day for the Imperium. Hastor turned to Tremlocke as he heard this, aghast at the commissar for having suspected the presence of the vile traitor all this time. You mean you knew he was here? You knew all this time and you said nothing? All I knew were whispers and half-truths, sergeant. I didnt pay them any heed. That the rumours proved to have credence comes as a great shock to me, I assure you. Besides, it doesnt matter now. We have the defector in our sights and I assure you, his capture Drafe! Hastor bellowed, suddenly spying his injured comrade. M-Moneth. You t-took your sweet time. Hoolias answered, shuffling himself into an upright position. I thought youd never get here. God-Emperor, sergeant, what happened here? Are you hurt badly? I think Ive broken a rib. I guess that makes me the lucky one. He coughed, nodding towards the unconscious, bleeding man beside him. Hastor turned and waved to Moranith to join them before turning back towards the downed sergeant. What about the others? He asked. His heart sank as Hoolias slowly shook his head, his worst fears becoming reality. Fortis had walked straight into a trap, and Hastor had allowed it to happen. Drafe, Im so sorry. If Id known about Bile Forget it, Moneth. Its over and done with. My men are dead and we have Bile in our custody. The capture of such a prize is worth ten times the losses I have suffered here today, or at least that is what I will tell myself in the years to come. Now if you dont mind, Id like to get the hell out of this Emperor-forsaken place. The others all stood before the ancient defector, their guns trained on his dusty, leather-clad form. Bile stared back, his dull, glazed eyes piercing the souls of each and every one of the men who had caught him unawares. So then, my captors, it seems you have me. Your names will be revered for all time amongst the scribes and clerics of the Imperial creed. You will be forever immortalised as the ones who finally managed to

snare the evil Primogenitor. My congratulations to you all. He sneered, dropping his weapons to the floor. With that he shrugged and awaited the inevitable deluge of bodies that would rush to restrain him for fear of allowing him to escape. Tremlocke whispered to the others for a moment before stepping forward and standing a metre or so away from the rest of the squad, Brother Oumerus included. He lifted his power sword high in the air and held it there rigidly, much to Biles consternation. Fabius Bile. He began, clearing his throat. You are amongst the deadliest and most sought-after enemies of the Imperium. Your name is listed highly within the ancient book of the Exterminatus Hereticus, and as such you are considered too dangerous to be allowed to live. I hereby declare that you are to be summarily executed according to Imperial law. May the Emperor damn your dark soul. Biles complacent expression slowly changed, his jaw dropping open. He had not expected anything like this. Wait. He began, holding up one leather-bound hand as if that would be enough to stop the vicious bullets of his would-be executioners. You cant kill me. You need me. You need me alive! Silence, scum! Tremlocke raged, his contempt for the ancient enemy utterly apparent. You are an animal, Fabius Bile! You are a vile traitor to your Emperor and a corrupter of the gene pools of His beloved subjects! You are not fit to live! No! Kill me and this planet will die with me! The Mammoog will be born into this world and all will burn! Only I have the knowledge and the power to prevent this! Kill this damned heretic! Tremlocke fumed, turning to face the others. Wait! Hastor rose and stepped out into the space before the others, his hands held out before him. The rest of the squad faltered as they saw this, their weapons lowering. Sergeant! Stand aside and let us put this abomination to death! Not yet! Hastor argued, his expression deadly serious. If he is the reason behind all this then he must give us answers. We still do not know what is happening here on Daedalus. There are still so many questions we need answering and killing the fiend now would only serve to keep us in the dark. He turned to Tremlocke, his face a mask of genuine concern. Commissar, I know we have had our differences but this is not one of them. Listen to reason, for the sake of all our lives. I agree that he is an inhuman monster and death is all he deserves, but first we must find out what is happening here. It had heard it said that the Tarot of the Emperor himself warned of a great catastrophe that would befall the galaxy. Such a dire portent cannot be ignored. So be it. Tremlocke uttered, lowering the sword. Let us hear what the whoreson has to say before he dies. Bile seemed to grow calm once again as he heard this, his gambit successful. Behind him the hidden battle still raged, obscured by the drifting rubble-smog thrown up by the collapsed entranceways. You fools. You have no idea what you have stumbled into, have you. None of you have the slightest inclination of what is happening here on this planet. You have come through hell to seek out this terrible threat and yet you know nothing of what it is you seek. Sir! Hastor turned to see Zith standing beside the pit, his face contorted into an almost impossible expression of complete and utter amazement. By all that is holy, look what he has, captured and bound down there! Hastor walked up to the handrail and glanced into the murky pit, his eyes taking time to slowly adjust to the dusty gloom. The rolling cloud had begun to slowly dissipate and his gaze met the gargantuan creature at its centre.

Throne of Terra, what the hell is that thing? He gasped, stepping back. The creature you see before you is known to your kind as a Tyranid Dominatrix. Bile whispered, twisted pride emanating from his aged, moon-coloured features. She is not the beast you seek. She is simply the womb and furthermore she is dying. I am done with her. Dominatrix. Hastor whispered, thinking back to the death of his scout, Brandbaar. Even I have heard of these giant monsters before, though I scarcely dared believe that they truly existed. Cleathe tried to warn us about this monster. He knew. He knew that this is what the swarm sought to find. With that he began to turn slowly, hatred blazing in his eyes. Bile, you damned heretic! It was you who brought the Tyranids to this planet! True, I am the one responsible for reviving the brood mother. Bile smiled. Yet her presence here was not of my doing, I merely liberated this facility and its ancient inmate. There is so much that you do not know of this place, Imperial. Secrets and lies, so like your Imperium to betray itself. As for the Tyranid presence, such things cannot be helped. Once awakened there was nothing I could do to prevent her from calling to her kin except kill her, and that would not have served me well in my research. Call off your other attackers and I will tell you all you need to know. I would advise haste. Hastor glanced at the shifting dust-fog behind Bile as he heard this, only just becoming aware of the echoing, hectic sounds of the battle raging somewhere deep within. What do you mean? We are the only ones to have made it this far. Whoever approaches is not one of us. What are you trying to pull, Bile? It is you who seeks to trick me. Bile argued, taking a step forward. He glanced into the rolling fog and stooped to pick up his fallen weapons. My Nephilim are engaged with them as we speak. Touch those and die, damn you! I mean it! Hastor shouted, the plasma pistol in his hand whining as it activated. Then call them off! I mean it! If I die then you and this damned planet will follow me to hell!! Ignore me at your peril, Imperial dogs! Bile. The ghostly, foreboding voice called again, much louder than before. Louder, or nearer. The rest of the gathering stepped forward, their aim shifting to cover the slowly settling cloud behind the traitor. Who is that? If you are Imperial then show yourself! Hastor called, stepping forward. If you are not, then I suggest you leave this place while you are still able! Two burning orbs pierced the gloom and a dark shape loomed out of the smog, its entire sleek yet muscular frame wrapped in midnight-black. Its leering, skull mask glistened with the blood of Biles Nephilim, the name he had given to the fearsome, substantially altered psychotic madmen he had created to serve as his elite bodyguard, now all dead by the inhuman assassins hand. A glowing, blue-wreathed sword hung from its hand, sizzling and smoking as it cooked the blood and flesh-scraps of its victims. Eversor. Bile breathed, stepping back. Though he had uttered only a single word his voice was filled with a terrible fear, a fear that perhaps had never been experienced by this ancient man in his long life until today. I told you, I surrender. Call it off, damn you! Call it off! The others looked on in shocked silence, each one of them too frozen with fear to even speak. Only Oumerus was able to respond to the Eversors presence, and he did so by shifting the beam of the powerful searchlight so that it bathed the terrifying apparition in blinding white light. Stand down, brother assassin. We have the heretic in our custody now. He will tell us all we need to know about the situation at hand. The ancient one commanded, his powerful, synthetic voice booming through

the vast cavern. The advance of the Eversor did not falter, despite the authority in Oumeruss voice. Bile continued to stagger back as the formidable warrior closed in on him, barely acknowledging the presence of the others. Bile. Fabius Bile. Former of the Emperors Children, said Chapter declared Hereticus following the days of the Heresy. Former status/rank, lieutenant commander. Previous status/rank; unknown. The Eversor intoned, its ominous voice devoid of emotion. Primary target located and identified. Blessed be the almighty Emperor. Stop him! He means to kill me here and now! Bile roared, reaching for the bolt pistol secreted within a small holster on the underside of his skin-cloak. Bile! Move your hand away from that gun now! Hastor commanded before turning to face the advancing assassin. And as for you, you must listen to me. We need this man alive, the information he holds is crucial to the survival of us all. Please, listen to me. Stand down, assassin! That is an order! Tremlocke barked, as gripped by his own delusions of grandeur as ever. I am an Imperial Commissar and as such represent the highest form of authority here in this place. Do as I say or your actions will be considered an act of treason. Again the assassin ignored the requests and, in some cases the commands of the others, instead continuing onwards towards the fearful tyrant, the glowing sword it carried slowly rising. Hastor began to panic. If the Eversor succeeded in killing Bile then they may never learn the true extent of his evil plan, and the entire planet could die as a consequence. In desperation, he did the only thing he could to save the life of the most evil, wicked man he had ever met. Tessok, I need a warning shot. Standard disarm. Seconds later the rapidly rising sword spun away from the Eversors hand amid a shower of sparks, leaving the assassin without its potent, killing strike. The Eversor froze for only a moment before raising the fearsome executioner bolt pistol it wielded up towards the marked man. Another shot rang out, this time from Deeks position and the pistol whirled away, knocked from the assassins grasp. Please, listen to us. We dont want to harm you but we will if that is what it takes to stop you. We need this man. We need him to save all of our lives. Please listen to what I am saying. The Eversor paused for a moment, its glowing eyes burning into those around it. It seemed