Consequences

Pain was everything. Her existence was a red haze scattered with stars. Voices sounded around her, but they were unintelligible, reduced to the background as white noise. A keening wail sounded over the voices. If she had been capable of coherent thought, she would have realized it was her own screams.

The Bloodletters charged toward her, blades slashing. She turned to face them, grinning as they got closer… Closer… Closer… She activated the Repulsor Impact Field of her Arrakon Class Battlesuit. Bloodletters were thrown back by the energy web before being explosively torn apart. It was one of many nasty surprises this Crisis suit had within it. Much like Neran’s Farsight Crisis suit, it had been modified with extra offensive and defensive systems not found in a standard issue battlesuit. T’Hara prepared for the next wave of enemy forces. Despite the tricks of her suit, she was aware her and her allies’ forces were in danger of being imminently overrun.

Her heads-up display showed the disposition of the forces of the battlefield. Necron ground forces were a good distance away but the scythe-like fighters above were deadly as they struck. The XV88 Broadside suit exploded from an enemy strike, its impressive armor still not enough to withstand the combined Necron/Chaos/Tyranid forces.

R’jon stood atop a wrecked transport, firing his twin-linked fusion blasters into Tyranid Biovores. He had managed to escape the enemy’s attacks using clever hit and run tactics, much like she had done until the Chaos and Tyranid ground forces overran her position.

She moved her cyclic ion blaster to take aim at the Chaos daemons that were renewing their assault. The creatures seemed to defy physical logic, moving faster than they seemed. They would run like a trooper then suddenly be on her in an instant. They slashed at her armor, sparks flying as control systems failed. Her Impact Field was unresponsive. Flailing her arms, she tried to keep them at bay until one of her weapon systems could activate, but it was too late. They swarmed her, filling her field of vision. Sudden pain on her left side wracked her as she heard the battlesuit’s systems speak.

“SURVIVAL PROTOCOLS ACTIVATED…”

****

T’Hara slowly opened her eyes. It took several seconds for her eyes to adjust to the dim light. As the world came into focus, she saw she was in a makeshift camp, not unlike the ones they had been in since their arrival on this death world. She was lying on a pallet, a battlefield medical kit set up around her. An intravenous bag was hung beside her, the line reaching into her right arm. She felt no pain, in fact she felt quite good. Around her, others were being administered care. Tau and Jager Corps both. Some of them were beyond help, approaching their final moments. Others slept. Beyond the medical stations, she could see damaged Crisis battlesuits, some beyond repair. Space Marine armor was being repaired by technicians. The camp was bustling, but even the small part visible to T’Hara was enough for her to know they had lost a good many soldiers.

She tried to sit up but a gentle yet firm hand pushed her back to rest. It was Pathfinder R’Jon.

“Rest,” he said. “For now, we’re safe. We have patrols established on the perimeter.”

“We lost,” said T’Hara.

“Yes,” said R’Jon, “But the enemy paid dearly for it.”

T’Hara looked into the night sky. “Our forces?”

“We lost good men and women,” said R’Jon. “But we have learned much. Every battle we learn more of their tactics. Even the Chaos creatures and Tyranids exhibit tactics that can be calculated and predicted, if a little more haphazardly than say, Space Marines.”

“We’ll need the drones to conduct a full battlefield analysis,” said T’Hara, “Have you uploaded the collective footage?”

“It’s being done now,” said R’Jon. “You need to focus on resting.”

“I feel fine,” said T’Hara, “More than fine, actually.”

“That’s the painkillers,” said R’Jon. “You needed them… We had to perform surgery.”

“Surgery?” Asked T’Hara. She looked down at herself. Everything looked fine… She could feel her legs, arm… Only one arm. Her left arm was gone.

“You barely escaped,” said R’Jon. “The battlesuit jumped away, but not before the Chaos creatures had taken your arm.”

T’Hara looked away. “Neran?”

“Dead,” said R’Jon.

T’Hara closed her eyes. She wanted to sleep and never wake up.

****

Days passed and the combined Jager and Tau forces mourned their dead and regrouped their forces. Repairs were made as well as could be done. The battle had been lost, but the war continued.

T’Hara stood facing the Farsight Crisis suit that had been worn by Neran. It was surprisingly unblemished, the technicians doing an impressive job of undoing the battle damage.

She flexed her cybernetic arm. It still felt odd, but in other ways felt better. It had some surprises built into it that the Tau and Space Marine weapons techs had devised after reviewing the battlefield data. In particular, a sigil etched into it that was also now on every soldier and battlesuit. The next time they faced Chaos, they would not go down so easily.

Next time, the battle would be on their terms. They couldn’t change their forces… But they could change the battlefield.

“Shas’nel T’Hara,” said R’Jon as he ran up to her. He was out of breath. “Librarian Hoeth needs us. He says he’s received a message.”

Now that Neran was dead, command had fallen to T’Hara. “From who?”

R’Jon led T’Hara to the Jager Communications Shelter. “It came from deep space. From someone calling himself Trazyn.”

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A New Chapter

Logan Grimnar stood at the centre of the Strategium on the Ironfist, hands clasped behind his back. The smooth, polished walls of the circular room were devoid of datascreens. Instead, tapestries hung at regular intervals. The weaves were faded but nonetheless vivid in their depiction of this ship’s storied history. Grimnar sneered. The portrayed triumphs were unknown to him, mere blips in the far grander tapestry of the Imperium’s work among the stars. Grimnar’s gaze slid down to the floor and his lips curled into a snarl. The symbol of the Imperial Guard was engraved on the tiles, the work inlaid with shimmering gems that alternated between blue and red depending on the play of the ambient lighting. The garish engraving and the display of tapestries in the Strategium smacked of pride and was the sole doing of the ship’s current commander, who was now stamping up and down the raised platforms of the bridge rather than standing behind Grimnar in the Strategium.

Let him stomp, thought Grimnar. There is no room for pride in what is next to come. 

The Light Cruiser Ironfist had been part of a fleet tasked with destroying greenskins. Grimnar and his Wolves had joined the fleet less than a week ago, responding to calls of assistance. The Imperial Guard sent to do the job were unprepared for the sheer number of Orks and thus it had fallen once again to the Vlka Fenryka to finish what others could not.

Finish it we did, thought Grimnar. And yet I had no chance to congratulate my warriors.

On the eve of their victory, Grimnar had received summons from the High Lords of Terra. In his private chambers on the Strike Cruiser Stormpeak, Grimnar took the knee, bowed his head and received the following message: The situation on Adrilles had grown severe. He– Logan Grimnar– had underestimated the delicacy of the situation and had not foreseen other interested parties being drawn to the calamity brewing. As a result, Arjac Rockfist was not prepared for what he had found on the planet and was incapable of bringing the situation to a close in a manner befitting the Will of the Emperor, as communicated to and through the High Lords of Terra.

Grimnar had remained silent throughout the audience. He had glanced upward occasionally to view the flickering forms of the High Lords. The message had been clear even if the images and spoken words had sometimes only been half-formed from distortion.

“It shall be done.” That is what Grimnar had said when the High Lords of Terra had eventually fallen silent. There had been much more Grimnar could have said, but he held his tongue. He had done so not because he was acquiescent. Indeed, it was in his nature to tug ferociously at the bonds of faith and honour that bound him to the Emperor. No, he had played the role of scolded dog because it was clear to him that the High Lords did not understand the situation on Adrilles. They had put too much emphasis on the Jager Corps. The machinations of the Jagers had created the crucible on Adrilles, but it was what bubbled to the surface that was the greater threat to the Imperium.

Chaos.

But, the High Lords had spoken briefly of Chaos as if the demonic forces were a minor irritant. So many words spoken about the Jager Corps and the blasphemy of their psychic experimentation. The name Thousand Suns had been invoked and it had taken much of Grimnar’s strength to not laugh at the outlandish comparison.

Ruldolf was no Magnus.

Most telling, thought Grimnar, was that at no time during the one-sided audience with the High Lords had any of their esteemed number acknowledged their previous dismissal of Arjac Rockfist’s concerns regarding the Jager Corps when Grimnar had brought the matter before them several years ago. That audience– far shorter than the most recent– had resulted in Grimnar sending Arjac Rockfist on a solitary hunt. The hunt had been successful but the kill had not yet occurred because the quarry had attracted many more predators to Adrilles.

One other thing Grimnar had been able to successfully hide from the High Lords of Terra was his anger at not knowing of the declining situation on Adrilles before he had bowed his head in his private chambers to answer the summons. The last communication he had received from Arjac Rockfist was that he was taking the Claw of Russ, the Hammerfall, the Ire of Grimnar and several support ships to Adrilles where he felt certain the Jagers had found a suitable locale for their experiments. To be blind-sided with information about Chaos and feuding Necrons had shaken Grimnar. Fortunately, his bowed head had hidden his reflexive scowl and his power armour had masked his body’s sudden tautness.

“It shall be done.” It was as strong as any oath he had taken before going into battle.

When the flickering forms of the High Lords of Terra had dissipated like dying embers drifting into night, Grimnar stormed the passageways leading to the bridge. He shouted orders at any in sight, firm in the knowledge the contents of the messages would be swiftly carried to the intended ears. Within a few hours, Logan Grimnar and several hundred of his best were preparing to enter the Warp in the belly of the Ironfist. Most of his Vlka Fenryka would remain with the Imperial Guard to continue the fight against the greenskins in the sector. His own strike cruiser he left behind. The High Lords wanted results but did not want to commit a mighty host of The Fang to the cause. They did not want ripples extending through the Imperium.

Not that there would be any subtlety in Grimnar’s handling of the situation on Adrilles, but he could understand the High Lords’ concerns. Word of the Jagers psychic machinations and the confluence of powerful, destructive forces could unsettle great swaths of the galactic region. It could– and, in Grimnar’s opinion, most likely still would– draw more powers to the center of the mounting storm. And yet, somehow, the High Lords wanted a swift and contained resolution.

The whole of Grimnar’s trip in the Warp was occupied with speculation about the tactical truth of Adrilles and the devising of strategies to deal with the possibilities. And yet his mind also found time to ruminate on a haunting thought: Arjac Rockfist had not contacted Grimnar about Adrilles and he would not have contacted the High Lords of Terra directly. It was an impossibility. So, how was it that the High Lords of Terra had received the news they had imparted to Grimnar?

The answer to that question came to Grimnar when he learned there were shadows following the Ironfist through the Warp. Ships of the Cult Mechanicus. Grimnar could not stifle the growl that rose in his throat nor hide the scowl that furrowed his brow. Both brought all activity on the bridge to a halt.

For the remainder of the journey a new question had plagued him. How long had the Cult Mechanicus been involved?

That question had not yet been answered.

The door to the Strategium opened. Arjac Rockfist stepped in.

“We have much to discuss,” said Logan Grimnar. His voice was flat. Cold like the homeworld of the Wolves. “And I fear we do not have much time to do so.”

Arjac nodded. The doors closed. The tapestries stirred in the resulting breeze.


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.