Out of the Sky

The Drop Pod was buffeted by storms as it plummeted through  Adrilles’ violent atmosphere. Dark clouds were torn by the shrieking metal cone only to reform behind it soon after, erasing the machine’s passage, swallowing it like a hungry beast. Inside, Kadall Ironclaw did one final check of his weapons. His hands moved deftly along the surfaces of the killing instruments despite the ferocity of the descent.

“Sixty seconds!” shouted Sergeant Blackheart. The scarred veteran was as eager as the rest of the Grey Hunter squad to return to Adrilles. They had been deployed in the initial assault on the planet, but had left when the order came to retreat. In the ensuing chaos of extraction during a battle still raging, Blackheart’s squad had left battle brothers behind. The retreat had not sat well with Blackheart. Kadall shared his commander officer’s anger and frustration.

“We’ll get a chance to get up close with the Jagers,” said Janson, “And when we do the rest of you slow bastards stay out of my way.” The squad jeered and shouted at him. Janson spat back as much insult as he was given.

“Thirty seconds!” Blackheart’s shout silenced the other four Grey Hunters. Each readied themselves in their own manner. For Kadall that meant a brief closing of his eyes and mind to the sights and noise all around him. He found the quiet and snapped to attention at the very moment the Drop Pod stuck its landing.

Their shoulder restraints snapped loose. The five Grey Hunters were at the ready as the hatch doors blew their bolts. The soldiers’ boots helped drive the hatches to the ground. As one, the Grey Hunters gave the roar of their voice to the cacophony of the battle already underway. Kadall’s enhanced vision automatically compensated for the change of light as he moved from the red-washed interior of the Drop Pod to the subdued light of Adrilles, but then a great shadow fell across him and he found himself looking up at a winged horror.

The downward beat of the enormous beast’s wings was slow, almost lazy. The resulting rush of air swirled debris and smoke not yet settled from the Drop Pod’s harsh arrival. The wingspan was near one hundred feet wide, stretched above the opened transport and the Grey Hunters like a leathery sail. The body born between was sick white chitin and wet darkness. The head was thrust forward. The mouth was sickeningly stretched by a protruding, thick, wet tongue that was shaped like a gun barrel. What was most disturbing to Kadall was that the monster took no notice of he or his fellows.

Hallfred Hammerfall pushed past Kadall on his way down the Drop Pod’s ramp. Once past, he planted his feet and fired his Bolter from the hip. The light from the muzzle flare and the thunderous roar of the weapon snapped Kadall back to attention. Within a moment, he, too, was firing at the flying beast. He had let loose two bursts when the other Grey Hunters joined in.

Every shot flew true, striking the flying apparition in the exposed underbelly. It twisted and shook and its languid glide became a staccato dip. The Grey Hunters formed a line and continued to lay into the beast. Kadall shifted his aim ever so slightly and saw his rounds rip the tip of a wing to shreds. The beast’s head snapped around to fix upon the Grey Hunters a baleful glare a moment before its bulk slammed into the ground. Kadall felt the strength of the impact in his legs.

“Forward,” yelled Sergeant Blackheart. “Don’t let it up!” He took off at a run. His Grey Hunters were right behind him. As Kadall ran with his battle brothers, switching to close work weapons, he shifted a part of his senses to observe what was occurring elsewhere.

The Drop Pod had landed on the top of a derelict refinery. Kadall knew from the briefing Blackheart had given on the flight deck of the Claw of Russ that they were deployed to the volcanic north of Adrilles, a place where the heat of volcanoes had driven Imperium factories before Tyranids had ravaged the planet. A signal had made its way through the atmospheric storms. Space Wolves had engaged the Jager Corps. Blackheart’s squad was being sent down to give aid in the fight and gather information about the Vlka Fenryka still active in the area. What had not been included in the signal was information about the presence of the xeno scourge, but as Kadall surveyed the scene around him it was obvious the Tyranids were the threat and the Jagers nowhere in sight.

Kadall and his companions were thundering along a metal walkway spanning two sections of the crumbling refinery. To his left through haze he could see the rise and fall of more sections. The grey walls were blown in at some places and blown out at others, old wounds from battles fought before the planet had died. Less than a hundred yards straight ahead, the felled winged Tyranid thrashed on the walkway. Its great wings shuddered the metal, knocked weak railings free to tumble. As Kadall watched, one such metal spear tumbled through smoke and struck a Land Raider rolling laboriously over the cracked ground some fifty feet below. That heavy assault vehicle was just now emerging from under the walkway over which the Grey Hunters ran, its weaponry blazing away at large, dark shapes in the smoke way off to Kadall’s right. Those shapes were hugged up against the towering walls of another section of the refinery or could only be partly seen from his vantage point. On his left, multiple squads of Blood Klaws followed in the Land Raiders’ wake. He recognized the lanky figure leading. It was Redmaw.

“It’s not Jagers, but it will do.” That was Janson. A feral grin stretched from ear to ear.

The thrashing beast got its belly down and, using its wing tips, managed to spill itself over the rail. The wings flared and caught the turbulent winds. For a moment, its bulk hid the Land Raider and then it was climbing far beyond the reach of the Grey Hunters who shouted angrily as it escaped their wrath.

Kadall felt a strong push from behind– a wind like a wall slamming into him and the squad. He turned and his vision with filled with another winged horror. This one was a towering beast of tail and biomass weapons slung between wings greater than those of the other Tyranid. It streaked directly over the squad, its pincer tail snapping down like a whip. Kadall fell to his belly, but he heard a thump of impact and the whoosh of breath cut short by shattered armour and splintered ribs and knew not everyone in his squad had been as quick.

Kadall rolled onto his back. The bulk of the massive creature was now upright, borne aloft by muscles on the outside of its body and by the powerful wings that now flapped back and forth to hold its position. Its head seemed to leak a tumultuous energy that crackled and coalesced into a frothing ball that hung in front of the beast. When the tyrant screamed a split second later the ball of energy turned into a lance that stuck the rear of the Land Raider as it rolled along the ground below. Where the energy touched metal was ravaged, and then the same energy shot out of the vehicle’s portholes and gun barrels, and then the Land Raider detonated. Shards of white hot metal struck the underside of the walkway with tremendous force. Kadall felt the metal beneath him shudder. He rolled to his left as a weakened panel tore lose and fell into the smoke billowing from the ruined vehicle.

As Kadall got to his feet, he was aware the other Grey Hunters were firing at the hovering creature. Kadall found his weapon and did the same. He spared a glance over the walkway’s edge and saw bulky figures moving through the fire and smoke of the Land Raider’s carcass. Three Terminators had survived and were even now moving clear of the debris. Off in the distance, explosions erupted in the haze. A moment later the ground around the Terminators was thrown into the air. There was a smaller flare in the haze and Kadall could see a mass of tentacled, living spores sailing toward the Terminator position. Where those spores landed– some of them striking the Terminators– there were bursts that sent even more rock skyward. And yet the Terminators walked on, backs straight and eyes locked forward, taking range readings and noting the location of the beasts that had fired upon their position.

Janson was laughing at Kadall’s side. He slammed another clip into his spent weapon. His damaged helmet lay at his feet. Blood ran down his face from a gash along his heavy brow. He raised his weapon and laid into the monster that mere seconds ago had laid waste to the Land Raider.

The tyrant’s side dripped black blood like foul rain. It twisted its body with a crack of its wings. Kadall could see the weapons fused to its arms and carapace. The monstrosity shrieked and ducked its head. With a great swoop of wing it rushed toward the Grey Hunters, propelling itself straight into their hellish fire. Kadall and the Grey Hunters would bring it down or the full weight of the tyrant would smash into them.

The tyrant shrieked once more and then it hit the walkway with such a force that railing and grating shattered like glass. The great beast’s body rolled on top of its own wing. Kadall heard the snap of bone. The creature’s velocity put it into a fat roll. The Grey Hunters slung their guns and brandished their close quarters weapons and charged the thrashing mass. Its weapons sprayed streams of worm-like parasites that stuck to their armour. The sudden howls of Hallfred Hammerfall meant some had found exposed flesh or a crack in armour and were even now burrowing with speed through flesh to seek the brain.

And then Kadall slammed into the tyrant and all was the flash and slash of close work, with spurts of hot wash, and trying to keep his feet as the beast tried to knock him aside. In one moment the dying Hammerfall was at his side, eyes already glazed as the devourers ate his senses, but instinct kept his sword arm thrusting, at least until the beast’s great jaws parted, snapped down, and tore his head from his shoulders. Blackheart took the fallen soldier’s place, driving his armoured fist up under the tyrant’s jaw with such force that bone burst through both sinewy cheeks.

And then the monster was sliding backward on the slick surface of the walkway, its limp weight dragging it into the gaping hole. Janson, Blackheart and Kadall watched it crash wetly onto the ground below.

Kadall took a deep breath. Below the walkway but partly obscured by jagged edges of the refinery, the Blood Klaws had formed a line and were firing at chitinous creatures with long hooks at the end of many arms.

“Look there,” shouted Janson. Kadall followed his pointing finger. The Terminators were moving across open ground, seeking to close with whatever creatures were hiding in the haze and it the shadows of the towering refinery far to the left of the Grey Hunters’ elevated position. Tyranid warriors at a similar elevation were firing at the Terminators, but the elite soldiers showed no signs of slowing down.

“Form up, Grey Hunters,” shouted Sergeant Blackheart. The grizzled warrior’s armour was punched in along one shoulder and in the chest, but his eyes were still sharp. He drew Kadall and Janson’s attention to the top of a cooling station some 150 yards ahead. More bony xeno warriors were at its top, moving quickly. Kadall surmised these beasts were moving to form up with the others firing down at the Terminators. Kadall nodded. Janson laughed. The three Grey Hunters moved back a dozen feet, took a few running strides and launched themselves over the hole in the walkway. They landed sure of foot and put on speed, eyes locked on their target.

Kadall glanced over his shoulder. From this vantage he could now see down into the space between industrial infrastructure where Blood Klaws were dealing a messy death to the long-limb xenos. Satisfied with that grisly tableau, Kadall looked to his right. Now that some distance had been eaten by their long strides, his enhanced vision could pierce the distant gloom. He howled in triumph as he witnessed the Terminators rip open the belly of what appeared to be a sort of living tank.

The Tyranid warriors lost sight of the Terminators so they turned their guns on the Blood Klaws that were moving swiftly past the wreckage of the Land Raider. Adding rounds to the fray was the second unit of warriors. As he clambered up a ladder to the next elevated platform, Kadall saw a couple Blood Klaws go down in a tumbling heap.

A great wind announced the return of the first flying monster. On fully extended wings the beast emerged from the gloom. The weapon in its mouth spewed globules of steaming mass onto the Blood Klaw position. It soared past the Grey Hunters, who never broke stride, and was immediately lost in the shroud.

A moment later, the Grey Hunters were at their prey. The xeno warriors’ ranged weapons spoke, but the Space Wolves paid no mind to the growl.

Kadall lost all sense of the larger battle. This close work with the xeno warriors demanded all his attention. The beasts were fast. The hooked arms made it seem like each warrior was two. When one of the three-foot talons was driven into the crack in Blackheart’s breastplate, Janson knocked aside his own opponent and lopped the arm off the beast. Janson caught the buckling sergeant, but in doing so turned his back to the fight. Another hook caught Janson in the back of the neck. The gushing blood painted his grey-blue armour red. Blackheart’s sorrow gave him strength. He took Janson’s weapon and continued the fight, one foot of talon buried in his chest, the other two feet sticking out, a dripping war banner.

Kadall stomped a fallen warrior’s head into a pulp. When he straightened he could hear the sound of battle ranging elsewhere but here in this spot there was stillness. Cracked and slashed xeno bodies steamed and leaked foul liquid. Janson lay among them.

Kadall found Sergeant Blackheart a few feet away. The old warrior had dragged himself to the edge of the platform and was looking out at the battle that continued among the thick haze that violence could not disperse. The hooked talon was still buried in his chest. The back of his scalp had been peeled away by a warrior’s swipe. There was bloody foam along his lips.

Kadall looked where his sergeant looked.

Redmaw was climbing a ladder on the outside of a distant section of the refinery. At the foot of that ladder was the slumped form of a Terminator. Another bulky form marked the place where a second Terminator had died fighting some xeno with an over-sized oblong-shaped cranium. Other dead– Wolf and xeno alike– littered the open ground, including the folded shape of the great winged beast with the drool cannon in its mouth.

Kadall could see that Redmaw was trying to reach the other batch of xeno warriors, the last of the Tyranid threat. A lone Blood Klaw had cleared the killing field and was now vaulting over the dead Terminator to reach the ladder Redmaw had just climbed.

Kadall looked at his sergeant. Blackheart gave the order and then died.

Kadall’s boots were slick with the gore of slaughter, but his steps were true as he ran along walkways and across the raised platforms of the refinery. Redmaw closed with the xenos. A few moments later, the Blood Klaw joined the fight. Kadall’s entire field of vision filled with the sights of that melee. His ears heard only the clash of those bodies and weapons. Every stride took him closer.

Closer.

Closer.

Closer to the end of that one fight.

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