Just East of Zymran’s Ferry
The air hissed like a stuttering snake as half a dozen lascannon bolts burned their way downrange toward the advancing armored personnel carriers. One exploded in a towering ball of flame and the other had a track and half a forward road wheel sheared off. The wrecked track shot forward like a serpent and the vehicle slewed halfway around and began to disgorge its troops.
The berserkers ran forward screaming their battlecries. A dozen sentinels opened fire with their multilasers. Screaming. Then screaming stopped.
Next to Senekal the vox transmitter just inside the chimera’s hatch crackled to life. He quickly grabbed the handset. “Senekal.”
“How are we for timing, Colonel?”
It took the Danikan a few seconds to recognise the sepulchral voice of The Revenant – the first captain of the Void Phantoms and their overall commander. He’d given up asking why they didn’t just have a Chapter Master like anyone else.
“No point as of yet, milord,” he responded. “So far we have the situation in hand. These idiots are feeding us their army piecemeal and we’re chopping it up in bite sized bits. Makes no sense to commit reserves at this time but the situation is fluid and could still –“ he paused, his voice drowned out by an entire company of Leman Russ tanks firing nearby. “That is, milord, the situation could still change with virtually no warning.
“Understood, Colonel. We will await your word. What is the status of the beacon sites?”
Senekal nodded, he’d been expecting that question. “Not too bad so far. Alpha and Gamma on the right flank are clear enough. Delta on the left flank is still optimum. Traffic’s pretty heavy in the center but it looks like Chi is still the best choice.” His eyes picked up movement beyond the enemy troops. Something large and ponderous. “Wait one, milord.”
Snapping his binocs to his face, Senekal trained the glasses on the dusty distance in the centre of the battlefield. At first he could make out only the rushing forms of Khornate berserkers, but then a large tracked vehicle appeared through the dust. While it began disgorging dreadnoughts into the silt filled air, a pair of giant wheeled cannon drew up on either side. Senekal got back on the vox.
“Milord? Chi! Immediately! We’re about to have some most unpleasant company!”
“Affirmative, Colonel,” the Revenant replied. “We shall join your little party shortly.”
Senekal didn’t wait for a response. He immediately switched channels. “Verrus! Get ready to blast those Cannon to pieces.”
The vox crackled with static, “I’m already on it, Colonel. Two tanks drawing a bead now. I’m engaging the Dreadnoughts.”
“Leave ‘em alone for now. They’re about to have problems of their own. Take down those Cannon!” He cut the comm without waiting for an answer.
On the far right flank, the Shadowswords and Stormblades were engaging a group of Chaos titans, light units primarily, and giving worse than they were getting due to their heavy revetments. The left flank continued to hold. It was the middle where things were looking dicey. He waited until the blue-white flares of teleport arrivals began to flicker and then got back on the com.
“Speeder one-six this is Black Devil 6”
“Read you five by five, Colonel.”
“Very good. Take three squadrons and head up the middle. The tanks’ll open a hole for you. I want you in close support for the Astartes attack.”
He watched as the tanks flattened more of the attacking force down the centre line. Basilisks and Griffons thundered from behind the lines raining more shells on the attackers even as the Void Phantoms First Company started introducing themselves to the dreadnoughts. His light contragravity headed out into the centre of the battlefield to support the Void Phantom attack. Things were starting to look up a bit…
Over Cascade Hive
The Thunderhawk bucked again and flipped half over before the skilled pilot righted it to continue the descent. The flash of lightning and the roar of thunder rocked the world of the crew and carried troops. It would have broken the minds of lesser passengers. Chastain Manassas moved a Warrior. “Check!” he hollered over the thunder, “Your go!”
Heironymous Cracken studied the Regicide board carefully, it’s holopieces unperturbed by the crazed motion of the Thunderhawk. He muttered to himself quietly about his own shortcomings as a player before finally moving a Fortress to take the Warrior. This game would be close, and ought to be over before they grounded. If he could avoid losing in three moves he should have the big Astartes beat by the time seven were over. He sat back further in the seat, wincing as the kicking transport strained his still healing injuries. The transport hit a pocket of calmer air and seemed to drop thirty meters as another thunderflash lit the viewports on the port side.
On the other side of the cabin, Wulfgang von den Loewen grabbed for another barf bag and tried to heave his long empty insides into it. “Gah, Commissar. I don’t see how you can play Regicide in this!” he jerked his thumb at the storm beyond the viewports.
“It’s all a matter of discipline, Wulfgang. Surely your training in the arts martial covered discipline?”
“Sure did,” he paused to heave again. “What it didn’t cover is airsickness on crazed rail-less roller coasters!” Wulf turned a decidedly green tinged face to the wall.
“You didn’t have to come,” Cracken hollered.
“Yeah, I did. You don’t know, Commissar. For all the time you’ve spent with us, you weren’t born on Danika. Weapon-gift is weapon-gift. You don’t turn your back on it.”
The overhead speaker crackled to life, “Five minutes to touchdown. Be ready for disembarkation. Winds are at a calm sixty five kilometres per hour, air/acid content is eight percent, temperature a balmy minus fourteen Celsius. Pretty nice day over all. For the surface of Lodi, of course. We’ll be putting you down about eight kilometres from the city base just opposite an unused loading dock. Records say that ground traffic ceased quite a few centuries ago when the planet finally went from marginal to uninhabitable. They use contragravity suspensor ships pretty much exclusively now for transport and trade between cities. I’d expect to have trouble with the door. Backup to follow you in and keep spacing at a 700 metre distance from main group. Touchdown now in three minutes.
The plane’s bucking lessened to a mere brutal shake and then subsided to occasional sideways shoves which also disappeared and the thunderhawk banked into the final descent. Jets screaming, the giant aircraft slowed its speed to a hover, using lateral thrusters to counter the wind gusts. The machine spirits did a good job of predicting and countering the mad wind. To those inside it seemed that the thunderhawk rocked gently as though afloat. There was a thump that rattled teeth and bones and then comparative silence as the jets cut out. After the plasma rocket drives the howl of Lodi’s poisonous winds seemed almost gentle.
Heironymous Cracken winced as he stood up. Medically he really wasn’t ready for this kind of exertion. There had been all kinds of fuss with the apothecaries over his condition, his convalescence and so on. In the end the colonel had had to cut through a great deal of it to clear his way to the transport that would take the rescue team to Lodi. The apothecaries hadn’t liked it. The commissar hadn’t cared.
“Filters and Visors, all!” Chastain Manassas barked out, beginning to secure his own Mk VII helmet to the neck seals of his power armor. At seven foot, six inches out of his armor, he was about average height for a bioengineered Space Marine. In armor with boots and helmet he reached nearly eight feet and was wide as a cargo hauler besides. Designed expressly for combat, marines had additional lungs, poison resistance, a second heart, enhanced size and strength, virtually unbreakable bones and a host of other handy alterations which made them genetically designed super warriors. Not for the first time was Cracken glad that they were on his side. He’d killed his share of traitor marines, true, but it was never an easy proposition. He certainly had little intention of making a habit of continuing his association with the Astartes, even though his friend the Colonel did.
Cracken shouldered his own light pack and gave Wulf a hand with his heavier one. The two guardsmen felt tiny, jammed into the compartment with the huge space marines. One of them could injure you simply by bumping into you but for all their bulk they moved quite gracefully. Manassas looked down on the two men. “Ready, soldiers of the Imperial Guard?”
“Ready as we’ll ever be,” Wulfgang muttered.
“Very well.” He snapped open a com line “Ready to disembark.”
The drop gate opened into a howling hell-murk of orange and yellow. Wind whipped sand flew horizontally through what could only be called “air” if one was very generous. In seconds it began to pile up on the thunderhawk’s assault ramp. Leaning heavily into the wind, the two humans made their way down and into the screaming grit storm. The five giant forms of the space marines followed them.
Eight kilometres isn’t normally a long hike – but with the shrieking gale, flying grime and rebreather masks which kept trying to crud up it proved incredibly taxing and very slow. The five astartes simply sashayed along as though walking along a parade ground, obviously slowed by the pair of guardsmen with them. In the end, each guardsman found a marine walking casually beside him, exactly upwind, blocking the worst of the gale. Nothing was said, it just simply seemed to work out that way. At first the fact that the marines thought they needed help galled Wulfgang. By the sixth hour of walking he was very glad for it.
After what seemed like an eternity, a darker shadow appeared in the dimness before them. Wulf thought it must be a cliffside or some other natural feature. Slowly as they grew closer, it resolved into what looked for all the world like a gigantic vertical pile of rusting wreckage. It took Wulf a few moments to realize that this was actually the side of Cascade Hive.
Imperial Hives take many shapes and sizes and most evolve rather than being built from any kind of a future plan. Cascade fit that perfectly. Much like the better known towers of Necromunda, Cascade was a gigantic cone covered from top to bottom with spires, buttresses, finials, aerials and other completely unidentifiable pieces of ancient technology. Like many hives, it had grown vertically, rising higher as the industrial processes of the world slowly rendered first the surface and then increasingly higher altitudes uninhabitable. The hivers within also moved upwards accordingly, leaving progressively more of the lower hive levels abandoned, and these levels quickly fell into a startling state of disrepair. Even more quickly they become havens for the lawless, the heretical, the mutant and worse.
Wulf stared in wonder at the great cliff of metal and ceramite that rose straight up, disappearing into the flying grime above. He’d first seen Cascade from the air and the upper levels gleamed and shone like a great jewel standing above the toxic clouds. The blasted lower levels didn’t seem remotely connected to that fairy sky-city. The difference was even greater than that of night and day.
Navigation through the gritstorm had been good. The ancient entry portal was only a few minutes walk to the left. Wulf hadn’t known what to expect but it certainly wasn’t what he saw. The portal was absolutely huge. So large, in fact that he could see neither the top of it nor the other side through the crud in the air. The gigantic rusted doors were firmly shut, their surfaces scored from the long term effects of atmospheric acid. “How do we get through that?” Wulf had to ask.
Manassas nodded to the other marines and they set off through the storm to find some kind of access they could use.
Just East of Zymran’s Ferry
“Hit it!” The guard colonel yelled. “Go, dammit, go!”
Senekal’s cuirass struck the chimera hatch coaming as the APC manoeuvred around a burning wreck. Ahead he could see the flitting forms of the rare guard landspeeders darting through the air making strafing runs. Smoke candles went off with a bang, covering the vehicle in thick white fog as Senekal and his bodyguard disembarked into the hell of the Selmouth battlefield.
Las and bolter fire filled the air, missiles screamed overhead on pale contrails and ordnance shells went by with a sound like a freight train. The once fertile ground was churned into grey muck which alternated between a semi-liquid soup and hard ceramic where it had been baked by weapons strikes. A dark red and brass figure, easily two feet taller and much broader than the Colonel rushed at them, appearing like a ghost from the smoke. The giant chain axe whipped down as the berserker marine called “Blood for the Blood God!”
Senekal struck from left to right with his sword, aiming to connect with the gore soaked weapon, light footsteps taking him left. He couldn’t out-muscle a chaos marine but he could and did deflect the blow ever so slightly, his step and the deflection being enough to cause the unwieldy weapon to miss and hammer down into the muck. The colonel used his powerfist to rip the marine’s arm in two; axe, hand and lower arm remaining stuck in the mud. Unphased, the marine tried to bring up the bolt pistol in his left hand but only made it halfway before Senekal drove the tip of his sword through ocularium, eye and brain in one smooth motion. The heretic collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut. “The bigger they are, asshole,” he muttered under his breath as he sprinted on.
Around him sun-hot bolts of plasma pistols took out other Khornate marines as the colonel and his bodyguard rushed forward to relieve the beleaguered Void Phantoms terminators.
The dreadnoughts, it seemed, had been a trap. Heretic berserker troops had cut off the Void Phantoms assault force and it had been all that Senekal’s crazy driver could do to get him and the Bloodcoats into the fray in time to lend a hand. He hoped he could hold off the attackers long enough to bring up some rough riders or something else. Anything else to plug this hole and save the Astartes first company.
Another gore-red form rose up from a shell hole, the huge bore of its bolt pistol coming to bear on the Colonel’s chest. Senekal dived to one side but the pistol fired into the ground as a great axe enveloped in coruscating power literally slashed the marine in twain. “Well met old friend,” came the shattered voice of the Void Phantom’s chief librarian as he pulled his axe clear of the corpse.
“Good timing, Liche – that creep had me dead to rights,” the colonel replied, hurling his sword past the Void Phantom where it ended point first in the throat of a cultist who was trying to bring a flamer to bear. He quickly drew his pistol and shot another pair as the librarian opened fire with his storm bolter into the group, reducing them to spatters of gore. Quickly the guardsmen retrieved his blade from the steaming wreckage. “I don’t like this one bit. That was planned too carefully, old friend.”
“Agreed. I believe we may be in serious trouble Arcturan.”
“We’ve still got the 4th Danika to break this up.”
“Perhaps not for long.” The astartes pointed with his axe. Out of the fog of battle to the rear of the guard regiment a trio of towering giants strode. Chaos titans. As if on cue another wave of berserkers surged into the beleaguered Void Phantoms.
“Liche old boy,” the colonel said quietly, “I think we may just be screwed.”
Next Part VI – When Hollow Echoes fill the Dark