The muffled footfalls of the Dreadnought sounded through the night, monotonous and yet at the same time erratic. Within its graven, bespiked chassis, the ancient pilot snarled and writhed with the wires and fleshmetal cables that held his ruined form within its formidable walls. A constant buzzing, slathering noise crawled from the hulking monster's vox-caster, the sound of heavy breathing, anticipation for the slaughter to come. The monstrous form cut a swath through the tall grass, each plodding footfall crushing more of the crop beneath its cuboid frame. Hellfire and smoke belched forth from the exhaust pipes upon its back, the smog constantly shifting into the screaming, scorched faces of the souls constantly burned and tortured within its daemonic engine. A new sound snapped from the nightmare form as the assault force neared the point of ambush, the Reaper Autocannon mounted at its left cycling rounds, an instinctual reaction to the mounting battle lust that so possessed the beast.
"Lord Geudan hungers, we must hasten our approach!" The lithe, robed form keeping pace with the monstrous engine of war hissed through her vox-caster, sickly green bionic eye leering from the darkness of her tattered and defiled robes at the hulking form with its back to her.
"Silence Heretek! Lord Umbal leads this strike force, your 'master' will get his fill when he sees fi-" One of the Raptors snarled at the Tech-Sorceress, only to be reprimanded by the Dreadnought's savage glare, the burning lenses of its spiked helm forcing even the prideful warrior of the Prince of Pleasure to avert his gaze.
"Come whelp! Come close and chastise my retainer within my arms reach! I promise, it will be quick!" Geudan's voice boomed after the Raptor, who offered no further dissent.
Umbal cracked a smile behind his golden, fanged vox-caster. In a voice of slick quicksilver he cooed over the strike force's vox-frequency;
"Remember, dear Battle Brothers, we must hold until the mercenaries make the first move. We simply cannot allow your... better halves to sully our best laid plans. This ambush must be absolutely flawless. Is that understood?"
With the Slaaneshii Champion's words came a low din of horrendous voices, each in the affirmative. The nightmare horrors that stalked in the grass beside both the Raptor squad and the Helcult bore the basic shape and size of the average Chaos Marine, but that is where all semblance of the once sacred form of the Space Marine ended... and the barbaric shape of the Daemon took over. The Possessed Chaos Marines of the 13th Storm, the infamous Death Eaters of the Storm Draugar, stalked through the five meter tall grass as silently as a child's nightmare, only the occasional growl of their Power Armor or rasp of chitinous exoskeleton and razor sharp claws sounding over the general din of war that lit up the clouded night.
The strike force moved swiftly, Dreadnought and his cult notwithstanding, and the forward force of mercenaries had already reached their positions. In the darkness, the ruthless bands of Chaotic Storm Troopers known only as Othello's Raptors waited for their prey, tired and wracked by shell shock, to stumble into their ambush.
It was now only a matter of time...
The rumble of the Chimera's engine made it hard to pay attention, but it also lent a feeling of safety. The constant roar of the lumbering machine's engine imparted a level of power, it was, after all, part of a 6.9 meter war machine outfitted with a powerful Multilaser and several gunports, each of which allowed the Militia men within to respond with withering fire should the convoy be attacked. And, though Victor and his comrades were embarked on the top and sides of the Chimera, he felt no less safer for it. Tales of the invader's preference for hand to hand combat made him feel much more secure sitting atop the machine of war, should anyone be crazy enough to attack the sizable convoy, they would have to contend with the footsloggers first.
The armored vehicles rumbled forwards and chatter could be heard from the front of the convoy all the way to the last vehicle. It was nervous chatter. Everyone was making small talk just to break the silence of fear. Even Victor and his comrades were doing so as they sat idle atop the Chimera. They discussed simple things about their simple lives such as how the crops were doing, the current weather, and books they've read. It was all just a distraction, a distraction from what lay within all of the soldier's heads. Thoughts of the horrible rumors of the invaders gnawed savagely at the corners of Victor's mind. He had been in the PDF for several years, and was inured to some of the realities of being a soldier. He could strip and reassemble an Autogun in under twenty seconds, he could put a slug in between the eyes of a rampaging Grox at over a hundred yards with little difficulty, and damn if he didn't know a thing or two about knife play. But it was what he didn't know that scared him. He had yet to face these invaders, these savages from beyond the Emperor's realm. But he head heard plenty, he had seen the mangled wrecks of his fellow Militiamen in the infirmaries, the things they would scream.
Victor sat there trying to hide his nervousness as he pulled his rifle close to him. He gritted his teeth as his squad mates spoke of combat reports from firefights earlier that day. Loudest amongst them the heavy weapons specialist, Jack Lalonic. Jack was a large man, borne of Catachan settlers who had come to Syprios eons ago following the Tarbest Insurrection, and second in command of the Platoon.
Every syllable they spoke carried the grotesque nature of what had happened to those Militia members involved in the previous incursions. The typical stories, told with the guise of being nonsense, but uneasy knowing tinged the boisterous bravado. The invaders were wild men they said, savages with no fear of death. In fact, many said they welcomed it. Tales swapped back and forth, about burly, beasts in the skin of men, wielding spears with laspistols crudely welded to them, charging machine gun lines with axes, disemboweling priests and using the churches as places of unholy worship once they had burned or otherwise defiled anything of holy value. But those were just the surface, what the men talked about. It was what Victor had heard whispered months ago that had him so on edge. Talons of helliron. Wings of fire. Daemon-spawn from the Warp itself. He knew not what they were, only that the most crazed and mangled of the men in the infirmaries whispered of them in the night.
Lieutenant Asina glanced over at the pale Victor, and delivered a good-natured punch to his shoulder.
"Hey! If you're gonna puke get off the Chimera and go in the grass, otherwise, keep your eyes open. We got a long night before we get to Kovoaro." The Lieutenant said this with her usual expression, the hard, disappointed look of a particularly harsh parental figure. But that was Lieutenant Candess Asina to a "t", at least as Victor understood her.
Victor nodded dutifully to the Lieutenant, working to regain his composure. What was he thinking? Daemons? Here? On Syprios? What would the minions of the ultimate evil want with a simple Agri-World? And furthermore, even if they were out in those fields, Victor had not only his Autogun but the Autoguns of three whole regiments of the Syprios Militia. Nothing could overtake this many armed and trained men and women, supported by the finest mechanized machines of war the planetary government could afford. If a bunch of heretic savages thought they could take out a mobilization like this with their spears and swords, ha!
"I'd like to see them try." Victor whispered to himself.
Then it shattered the night, a sound that immediately caused Victor instinctively cover his hears, letting his Autogun fall to the ground. In his confusion, he dove for his rifle, only to land atop one of his platoon mates. Victor looked, stunned, at the man he had taken down with him.
"Emperor damn it Vic!" Lukas screamed at Victor through the unholy noise, hands cupping his ears as if he was preparing to rip them off.
As Victor attempted to apologize to his squadmate of eight years, a sudden tremor rocked the ground, and the night was bathed in raging red light. Victor curled into a fetal position as the sudden burst of heat washed over him. For a moment, his ears rang, blotting out all the noise. His head was swimming, and it was only by bare instinct that he managed to secure his Autogun. Slowly, fighting sudden vertigo, Victor stood. His eyes swept the scene, but he did not register what he was seeing. Fire. Fire everywhere. On the grass. On the tanks and covered trucks. On the people.
Suddenly a yell tore Victor from his stupor, a panicked tirade of curses and screams. He looked to his feet to see Lukas trying to put out his flaming uniform. Victor immediately sprung into action, slapping at his comrades flaming fatigues.
Flares lit the night like chandeliers in a ballroom, the staccato crack of lasguns mingling with the frantic sharp barking of autoguns. There were other noises, strange, otherworldly sounds that Victor, in his panic, could not even hope to identify. Lukas yelled over the thunderous noise;
"Get your head on straight, Vic! The Grox has shat the bed and we need to get shit in order, find the platoon!"
As Victor moved his lips to say something in approval, he saw it. Merely a flash and a roar, a massive form leaping overhead, its spiked visage silhouetted by flares and wings of flame. The shape seemed to hang in the air for an eternity, fire and moonlight glinting off its bladed, glittering armor. That same hellish scream that had so deafened him before shattered the sky, and then in a split second the form dove down like an asteroid, vanishing behind the grass and flames. He then suddenly found himself dragged forward, pushed against the burning wreckage of the Chimera, Lukas dragging himself and his comrade to the safety of its heavy metal form as bullets and lasfire whipped up the grass in a frenzy of motion.
The sounds of battle drowned out everything, including reasonable thought. Victor and his comrade both went prone trying to conceal their profile and lower the chance of being hit by one of the many bullets that were cutting through the air. The pair began to crawl on their bellies, desperately seeking their fellow troopers. Every now and then in the chaos a shape would be seen set against the flames and muzzle flashes, whether they were friend or foe, Victor could not identify in the confusion.
Every now and then Victor would look up, eyes prying the smoke and fire for a familiar face. He followed close behind his comrade, Lukas' boots taking up most of his view. They continued to crawl through the mud and blood, the fires and smoke of the burning convoy blinding the pair. As Victor attempted to blink away the smoke, he heard the sound of heavy footfalls, and suddenly Lukas' boots were thrown from the center of his obscured view, his comrade tumbling to the left. Then a new pair of armored boots took up his view. Heart racing, Victor let his eyes trail upward, past the rune engraved boots, past the tally marked grieves, up the scarred and battered breastplate of Carapace Armor. His eyes rested on the Hellgun leveled at him, it's muzzle glowing bright orange with the heat of a previous volley. It was then Victor dared to look his assailant in the eyes. The gas-mask was not the like seen in the holos, the ones Victor watched as a boy. It was not like the grim visage of the famous Death Korps. It was worse. Instead of a long, snaking tube, there was only a snub-nosed grille, ringed with fleshmetal fangs that dripped with blood. The bulbous, compound eyes of the helm glowed with an unnatural lambency. At the center of the heretic's forehead, there was the Eight Pointed Star, carved into the plasteel, anointed in fresh blood.
The horror before Victor lifted its armored boot, and brought it down hard on his head. Victor's skull bounced off the dirt, the world suddenly being bathed in searing white light. Another brutal impact rocked the young PDF trooper, and suddenly he was looking to the smoke filled skies. The stars that were once so bright were drowned out in smoke and fire, and the whining in Victor's ears, accompanied by throbbing pain, had all but banished coherent thought. The figure loomed over him once more, Hellgun leveled. Victor could not manage any coherent movement, his head foggy with pain. A low, rasping sound slithered its way through the butcher's vox caster. Horror gripped Victor's heart when he realized what it was. He was laughing. IT was laughing.
He watched as the heretic squeezed his Hellguns trigger, the rasping laugh clawing at his ears. Then, a shape came upon the heretic, wrapping a thick, muscular arm around its neck. The struggle was over before it began, and Victor winced as he heard the popping sound of the heretics neck snapping. Victor struggled to his feet, looking for Lukas, his mind still foggy from the recent blows it had sustained. The hulking shape that had dealt with the Chaos Stormtrooper strode past him, pulling the semi-conscious form of Lukas out from the mud. Blood flowed freely from Lukas' right ear, and his eyes were glazed over with pain.
"C'mon Luke, snap out of it, ya hear me?" Jack growled as he shook the dazed PDF trooper by his collar.
"Don't make me deck you kid, wake up I said!"
With that, Lukas found his toung, spitting back a Syprian curse. Sergeant Lalonic let the man drop from his hands and back onto his feet.
"C'mon you two, the L.T. and whats left of the platoon is holed up two clicks ahead, keep your heads down, and you're eyes open, I can't tango with every bastard what has his gun trained on ya."
Talons of the Storm
The feeling of bone breaking under his clawed boots sent a warm shudder up Umbal's spine. As did the expression on the infantrywoman's face, frozen forever, as his blade opened her throat with flawless ease. As the PDF Trooper's blood sprayed from her neck stump and her head sailed through the air, Umbal leveled his plasma pistol, pointing behind him. Without sighting the shot, he fired, and licked his teeth as he heard the sound of skull evaporating in mid air. His eyes were locked with the last terrified man of the squad, scrambling to unjam his cheap autogun. Umbal leveled his blade at the peasant, the point poised to plunge forth and end yet another life. But he hesitated... No... the blade was too subtle for this piece. A dull click echoed, and the small PDF Trooper snapped to position, rifle leveled. But then he heard the keening roar of a daemonic Jump Pack. Then his eyes met the spiked paldroun of Umbal's left shoulder, impaled with the rest of his body. The mangled, gagging corpse flew through the air, and to Umbal's drug addled eyes, it seemed a thing of unfettered beauty as it splattered against the burnt out hull of a Chimera.
It was all coming together, his masterwork, his flawless art preformed without hesitation. Such flawless execution, Umbal shuddered at the sheer perfection of the tribute he was making to the great goddess Slaanesh. Surely the Prince of Pleasure would be pleased, surely he would bless Umbal greatly for such a glorious slaughter. Umbal launched himself into the air once more, his daemonic Jump Pack sensing its master's will and putting an excess amount of thrust on the left exhaust, sending the shimmering, blood spattered angel of darkness into a dazzling corkscrew. Though a normal Astartes would be rendered disoriented, Umbal's unnatural senses allowed him to take in the whole battlefield, surveying the entire killing field from his lofty position above. All according to plan, the Storm Troopers were advancing from the front and the rear of the convoy while the Possessed Chaos Marines and Helcult took the center, sandwiching the PDF between bayonets and daemon claws. They would have only one place to go when the total rout began, further into the field, where Umbal's Raptors lay in wait, each according to his master plan.
Suddenly, Umbal spotted a patch of infantry. The information rushed through his mind. Platoon, twenty prey. Movement, due west, rapid. Suddenly Umbal's right eye began to twitch, they were moving in the wrong direction. No! This would not do, not at all! If they fell out of position, the entire tribute was for nought! With but a thought, his body was launched forth, a deadly blade given momentum.
He let loose a nightmarish war-cry, the air shuddering at his passage and realspace reeling at the unearthly tones as they tore through the air. Umbal slammed into the ground, standing before the deafened PDF, the foliage snapped and bowed from the force of his scream. As the hulking Raptor stood straight, the troopers fell into position, forming an impromptu firing line, letting loose with a fusillade of bullets. Umbal's Power Armor weathered the barrage as if it were hail upon the hull of a Titan, and strode forth at a casual pace. As he advanced, one by one, the guns fell silent as the PDF turned and fled once more... all but one.
The last solider stood, firing rapid bursts at the indomitable monster before him. Umbal's macabre interest was piqued, and he leveled his Plasma Pistol with a thin lipped smile, concealed by his smiling, fanged vox-caster. He fired, the burst of star-stuff searing the air about it as it soared past the PDF trooper's head. The man did not even flinch, instead, he redoubled his efforts, firing full-auto. Umbal's ice blue eyes widened, and the smile split into a savage grin as his casual pace quickened and the grip on his Power Sword tightened. As the Raptor charged, the trooper's gun jammed, as these cheap weapons were want to do, and he let it fall with discipline as he drew his sidearm. Umbal broke into a full sprint, and let loose another unearthly screech as pistol rounds slapped against his Power Armor.
The trooper did not budge, even as the Raptor closed with him. It was only as Umbal's boot smashed into his sternum with the force of a runaway Tauros that the trooper's stance faltered. As he watched the trooper smash into his destined location, creating a small puddle of gore and twitching limbs amongst the burning grass, Umbal marveled at the bravery and base stupidity of these Agri-Worlders. Surely, their ranks were not wanting for passion, but as with all men before the likes of the Storm Draugar, they would break. They would be sacrificed upon the altar of the Gods.
The Valor of Dead Men
She held him as he bled out, it took only seconds, but still she watched the life seep out of his eyes and onto the muddy ground. She knew he was dead the moment the bolt ripped through his chest. He had to know it too. Still, they were only human. And by the Emperor, that would have to do.
"Cortez! Status?" Lieutenant Asina snarled into the vox bead at her collar, taking aim at the Storm Trooper responsible for yet another dead PDF trooper with her Laspistol.
"Status is frakked L.T.! No one has heard from the Colonel, all the general staff up front is dead, and there's some kind of monster running around here! It's an Emperor-damned nightmare here! I know I ain't no four-star general but might I sugges-"
"You don't get to suggest Grox-shit Sergeant!" Asina barked as her lasbolt struck true, piercing the bug-eyed lenses of the Storm Trooper's gas-mask.
"We are PDF Cortez, we hold our ground long as we can! Get your men together and move on back to the rear, Agu's squad said he found some of our boys, but shit is sideways there too, they need as many guns as we can spare."
"Got it L.T. we'll be- Holy Emperor! Jackson look ou- Damn! Fire damn it! Fire! Fi-" The vox connection was bathed with a sound that seemed to issue from the blasted hellscape of the Warp itself before being reduced to static.
"Cortez? Cortez?! Emperor blast it!" Asina slid back behind the hastily piled sandbag and crate barricade the platoon had erected, pressing a thumb into her temple as she dealt with the loss of yet another squad. Within moments she had already done the necessary arithmetic, another unit of ten men likely wiped out to the last. Their numbers were dropping at a startling rate.
"Need a hand L.T.?"
The familiar baritone brought a smirk to Asina's face, in spite of herself.
"Nah, but I could use a trooper who can shoot straight." She looked up to see the hulking form of Jack Lalonic, autogun propping himself up as he keeled next to his commanding officer.
"Did you manage to find anyone sergeant?" She asked, looking over his shoulder to the rest of the platoon. They had manage to erect a sort of slapdash forward base from the wrecks of two Chimera and supplies from on overturned truck, and though the situation was dire, the platoon seemed to be holding strong. They were down three squads, making their ranks a rough thirty, though with several wounded in the back of the makeshift FOB, Asina figured that the number of fully capable troops was more likely in the high twenties. Amidst the chaos of troopers running to and fro were two new but familiar faces.
"Just two." The sergeant answered, shouldering his autogun and peering over the barricade. He let loose a burst on a unit of Storm Troopers as they moved to relocate from their rapidly disintegrating cover, a pile of PDF corpses they had hastily piled when they had the advantage. His bullets struck one of the invaders in the leg, tripping him up but, thanks to the carapace armor, leaving him unharmed. It was when several other members of the platoon focused fire on the downed heretic that the Storm Trooper succumbed, his armor breached by the fusillade that churned the earth around him as his comrades abandoned him in the mud.
Asina paced (in a semi crouch) trying to formulate a plan to get the squad out from the center of the battle as the sentries took potshots at anything they suspected to be scurrying in the shadows. There was an ominous feeling lingering among the group of PDF troopers. Some were constantly checking their rifles while others were simply sitting with their eyes wide open with a startled expression. The constant cacophony of gunfire and explosions had died down somewhat which partly lessened the tense mood but it only allowed the soldiers to focus on the other horrors of war which attacked their senses.
Victor felt ill with the stench of rotting corpses and gunpowder hanging in the air. He sat there for what seemed an eternity clutching at his aching body occasionally coming close to fainting from the pain of his freshly acquired injuries. He could barely hear his fellow soldiers speaking to one another due to still being punch drunk from his encounter with one of the chaos trooper.
"Damn it boy! Are you listening to me?!" The L.T. hissed out.
That all too familiar tone snapped Victor back to his senses. He looked back towards his furious squad leader with a puzzled expression.
Asina's face was expressing fury, worry, and sympathy in equal parts. She adjusted her tone and repeated once more to the squad "We can't stay here and that means we've got to move. We're going to have to carry our wounded out of here while still trying to save our own hides. I don't want anyone playing hero and running off into the distance to chase some shadow and I definitely don't want any of you to break ranks because of cowardice. Am I understood?"
A series of voices sounded off in agreeance and Victor nodded his head. The L.T. stood up and began instructing the able bodied soldiers to collect any ammunition they could find and to start making stretchers for the wounded. A few minutes would go by until they were 'ready' to set out from their makeshift hideaway. They crept out from cover to move a few meters and then sat for a while and then repeated the process.
There weren't any foes close to them at this point though the sounds of battle still rung out through the humid air. The crunching of wheat and the occasional pained moan were all Victor could hear. Everyone was on edge as they proceeded forwards through the field stepping over bodies and bits of their destroyed vehicles. They walked forward into a charred part of the crop field which was devoid of plants and sat for a moment as Asina decided what to do.
"Alright lads, it's dangerous crossing open ground like this but we don't have much of a choice. If something shoots at us you shoot back and keep moving to the other side of the field. If any of us stay out on that flat ground when we're getting shot at we're just going to be turned into ground meat." The L.T said in a hushed tone.
After a stint of hesitation the collection of soldiers crept as quietly as they could into the charred plot. They made it halfway to discover there was a destroyed monstrosity of some sort simply laying derelict in the center of the field. Those militiamen who weren't occupied with tending to the wounding raised there rifles and their commander motioned them to stay in place. Asina crept over to the presumed dead beast and looked upon its hellish visage. Off color flesh, a fanged maw, and large crooked horns decorated this monster's head.
Asina drew her knife and jabbed the creature in the eye. To everyone's relief the beast lay still. The L.T. motioned her hand to her squadmates instructing them to continue to the other side. Quickly they dashed back into the shadows of the tall wheat plants hoping to conceal themselves once more. They sat there for some time hoping to catch their breath and check the wounded. "Looks like a couple bled out while we were carrying them." Lukas said informing Asina.
"Emperor damn it! Strip their kit off of 'em and throw their poncho across them. It's the most we can do for them right now." She replied with her voice showing more hints of worry.
Victor glanced over only for a second at his fallen comrades and witnessed their pained expressions. They were immobile yet they displayed nothing but absolute terror. Cold, unblinking eyes stared right back at him sending chills up his spine.