In November of 2017 – Christian and I ran an event called ‘Open War’ at Jimcon 7 – the local table top games convention. As we had an odd number of people at the event, I was fortunate to get to play a couple of bye games. They were huge fun, and the first games I’d really gotten to play with the Danikans in the new edition with their Codex. In the end, I chose to play them as Catachans for doctrines as that very much fits the individuality of the Danikan culture. It also lets me field Senekal as Colonel ‘Iron Hand’ Straken – meaning he plays to the way he is written in fiction.
My second game of the day was against Josh Grummett and his wonderful Hive Fleet Apophis. I should note that while my troops may think Apophis is a silly name in the story, I personally think it’s a fantastic and evocative choice. Josh is someone I have known, albeit only slightly, literally since he was a babe in arms. His dad Kevin is a very good friend of mine and it was fantastic to get a game in with this fine young man. The game, by the way, wound up being a draw and only by the skin of my teeth. Just as in the story – Father Halpern’s Rosarius really did save the day, leaving him standing with a single wound remaining!
So – without further ado –
Ikbod Rawlins pulled his filter mask down, leaning under the angled armor of the Wyvern’s turret shield to re-light the much chewed stogie he normally kept clenched in the corner of his mouth. He drew on the cigar hard as he moved back to the gunner’s station, trying to keep it lit against the deluge from the sky.
Behind him, Lieutenant Viktor LeFeu simply shook his head, unsurprised. “That’s bad for you Rawlins,” he said, resettling his own mask and trying to keep the seal tight where it butted against the bottom of his goggles. The damp that got in stung his skin slightly. The effect of the same acid content that caused a faint fog to rise from the armor of their tank as the rain sluiced down the slablike sides. Where it hit the ground around them the miasma was even more intense – the acid reacting to other pollutants previous weather had left in the soil. Had the rain not been coming down so hard there would undoubtedly have been a thick pea soup fog – as they’d seen on other days. Today the downpour hit too hard for that, leaving strange rags of mist that rose and were then quickly torn apart.
AV-5692. This place didn’t even have a proper name, just a designation from the Administratum. It was an industrial moon – terraformed just enough to give it a marginally habitable climate which the industry built on it was continuously trying to wreck as fast as the Eco-magos could fix it. The colors were all brown and grey – made worse by the sheets of acid rain and the fog and mist it created. LeFeu wished again that they’d had time to repaint their vehicles before being shipped here. The tan and brown worked but in this environment the deep green which made up the third part of their camouflage paint scheme actually made the vehicles stand out. Very little on this rock was green. Well, enough time in the acid rain would probably fix that, he figured. Assuming that they had time which seemed unlikely.
“Don’t really care, El Tee.” Rawlins grunted, swinging the turret right and left slightly to check that it wasn’t jamming up. “Life without a see-gar is not a life worth livin’!”
LeFeu looked back at the plasparch scroll he’d been reviewing. Unlike the armor the stuff it was made of didn’t seem to care about the pollutants in the rain at all. The top showed an image of a Xenos creature, dark tone carapace but with distinctive red striping and the crested head of a Tyranid Warrior Prime. Nasty critter with huge scything talons and a mouth full of sharp teeth – a literal killing machine. This shot had been taken with a servo skull auspex unit as the creature had fled from a research station, now overrun. Apparently it had gotten away with some kind of bug biomass the station had been working on and they’d been given clear instructions that the thing was an alpha target. It needed to die before that stuff got back to whatever bosses the critter answered to. The lieutenant looked to his left to his other problem – as if one wasn’t enough.
distance the Colonel’s commandeered Buffalo APC sat, also steaming in the rain. Inside that vehicle with the Colonel and his bodyguard was one of the regiment’s preachers, Father Halpern. The Colonel had entrusted him with the document they had come out here to get. A small notebook clad in strange grey leather. The commander had called it the ‘greyskin psalter’ and had given it to the preacher as he was slightly less ‘in your face’ in a fight than Senekal himself. So they had two missions. Kill the critter and keep that book safe. Lovely. As if one thing to do wasn’t enough.
At least his position was good. LeFeu and Rawlins’ Wyvern mortar carrier was parked behind the heavy construction of a Skyshield landing pad which sat on a low, rocky rise, surrounded by armored shipping containers and abandoned cargo crates. To his left, there were a couple of the 4th Danika’s recon sentinels and beyond that the Buffalo with the Colonel, his Bloodcoat bodyguard and Father Halpern. To his right and a bit to the front, Lieutenant Harald Knox’s ‘Mailed Fist’ platoon of Leman Russ tanks sat, also steaming in the rain, while a bit closer in one of Charlie company’s heavy weapons teams had set up a trio of 60mm mortars behind a berm formed by a crater blown in the ground, probably by an orbital spore mine.
Atop the Skyshield, Lieutenant Carrington had arrayed the 2nd Platoon of C Company. Three tactical squads and his command squad had both cover and an excellent field of fire. The Danikans had a good defensive position – their troops carefully arrayed to prevent any kind of bug trick. But that is where the good news ended.
Past the Skyshield, a group of larger cargo containers sat. These had originally been dropped by large Munitorum transport craft and after they were emptied employed as barracks and offices for those who had once staffed this re-supply point. Now they provided places for enemies to hide. Beyond that there was an ancient statue of an Astartes that pre-dated the depot, some rough terrain and the wreckage of a plane that had apparently been trying to reach the landing pad but had failed. Cover, cover and more cover. Always an issue when fighting bugs.
And these bugs – they were something all right. Hive Fleet Apophis, the Colonel had called them. LeFeu wondered for the thousandth time who the heck thought up these names. Apparently they came from ancient pre-spaceflight history – so he’d been told. Still sounded dumb, Rawlins had said and the lieutenant didn’t disagree.
“Movement”, Rawlins grunted, looking left. The rear doors of the Buffalo had opened and a flex ladder dropped. Even through the rain the Wyvern crew could make out the bright red and white uniforms of the 4th Danika’s famed ‘Bloodcoat’ bodyguard and at the head of it Colonel Senekal himself, the 4th’s commanding officer. They were walking toward the Sentinels and the Skyshield.
“I wonder what the Colonel wants?” LeFeu mused aloud.
“Movement!” Rawlins hollered.
“Ikbod you already said –“ LeFeu stopped short as the thunderous sequenced bangs of the Wyvern’s quad Stormshard mortars drowned him out. In a split second all hell broke loose.
It all happened at once. In one moment there was quiet save for the hiss of the rain and the only thing moving were the rags of fog. Suddenly there were shapes in the fog. The movements were quick and jerky – the outlines sharp with fierce blades and talons. The dark chitinous forms of the great devourer. The Tyranids.
The soldiers of the 4th Danika were long service veterans. There was never any panic or confusion. Their responses were practiced and calculated. On the right flank, Knox’s ‘Mailed Fist’ platoon of Leman Russ tanks rumbled forward slowly, concentrating fire on a group of larger Tyranid bio constructs on their far right who had stepped out from between the containers. These were modified warrior forms – Tyrant Guard – who hunkered down behind the carapace shields which made up their left arms and prepared to weather the storm of fire from the tanks. In the center a huge command creature leapt out, apparently unconcerned about its own safety. It clambered up atop one of the containers and ran forward, leaping from one to the other over a sea of smaller bugs before leaping to the ground with a terrifying shriek. It carried four huge boneswords, glowing red and orange with unnatural chemical reactions as hot as a forge, the rain sizzling as it hit the weapons. Around it smaller attack forms scuttled forward towards the Skyshield trying to overwhelm the defenses even as Stormshard flechettes and mortar bombs dropped in amongst their swarms blowing creatures into gruesome paste and bits of chiton. Las weapons from the infantry strafed the creatures as they came, destroying even more.
The fusillade of the armor platoon made short work of the Tyrant Guard. They then continued forward, one of the vehicles making a faster advance. Most of the fire was focused on the huge command creature, while the flamers of the Eradicator Hell Here seared hormagaunts into gooey ash.
But while the gaunts were easily dispatched, the same did not hold true of the huge swarm commander. Shells, lasers and melta bolts either glanced off its armor or shattered against its scintillating psychic shield. It responded by blasting mind force at the guardsmen atop the Skyshield, causing one trooper to collapse as his head exploded in his helmet. The squad sergeant looked down in disgust before yelling to his men to keep firing.
Knox was frustrated beyond belief. Despite excellent accuracy, the rain was playing havoc with their fire. Almost an entire platoon had fired at that thing and they had nothing to show for it! He gripped the handles of his pintle heavy stubber and added the big 12.7mm MG rounds to the storm of lead being spewed by the punisher cannon just in front of him, and was rewarded by a small spray of blood from the creature’s neck.
It was a pinprick, and it bothered the creature not at all.
Off to one side, Colonel Senekal chewed his lower lip in annoyance as the Swarmlord shrugged off fire. This miserable rain! The damned thing should have been paste by now. Shrugging, he moved forward with the Bloodcoats, taking up position behind the Sentinels, who were adding their fire to the huge creature also to no effect. “Want something done right,” the Colonel muttered more to himself than to anyone else. He’d see what this thing was made of soon enough.
Still, all in all this was going surprisingly well. They’d inflicted a lot of damage and so far casualties were surprisingly light on the Imperial side while bugs, even if only the small one, were dying nicely.
The ground beneath the commander’s feet shuddered, slightly. Over by the Skyshield seismic sensors triggered alarms and over to the left and a bit behind the Swarmlord creature, a huge section of earth reared up like a living thing. The actual living things were beneath it, however.
Carrington cursed loudly as he watched the Trigon tunnel up through the earth. While some distance away, another huge monster could not help but be trouble. He was not wrong as the giant snakelike form reared up and vomited forth caustic electrified chemicals which struck Ufand’s squad. The troops screamed horribly as they were dissolved alive. Willem Ufand himself tried to hold back the couple remaining men, but there was no stopping them. They ran, pursued by the cursing sergeant yelling at them to come back and fight like guardsmen. Despite the loss, Carrington had a hard time blaming them given the steaming remains of their comrades came almost to his own boots and sloshed around the platform of the landing pad like obscene red mud.
Senekal cursed a blue streak sufficiently caustic that even Father Halpern, used to the Colonel’s language, gave him a withering look. As the Trigon moved closer to the landing pad, the hole it left had not closed up. Other creatures boiled out of it and they were heading straight toward the Colonel and his bodyguard. Dark blue carapace and purplish soft tissue combined in an unnatural way to give away their classification. That bane of many worlds and even more Space Hulks, the Genestealers.
Stealers were always fast, but these were faster yet – faster than any of the guardsmen had ever seen. They lost no time, rushing forward with tremendous speed, shrugging off shots and dodging bombs before slamming into the pair of scout sentinels with the fury of what seemed a thousand rending claws. Defensive fire from the walkers did little. In desperation they even salvoed hunter killer missiles into the creatures. Between the rain and the unnatural speed of the aliens, who also seemed driven by unusual amounts of the cruel lash of the hive mind, there was little effect. The ‘stealers surrounded the walkers, swarming up the legs of the forward one, tearing apart its innards and skewering the pilot with the long claws that tipped two of their four arms. The first machine fell, one leg torn off and the pilot dead. The second fought back, smashing a creature with an armored foot before it, too fell victim to the aliens, the engine housing torn open, the whole vehicle exploding in a flash of yellow promethium.
The forces of the hivemind had chosen well. The armor was out of position to support the Colonel. His Buffalo, Bloodcoats the artillery and a few of the infantry on the platform were all that could blaze into the aliens. Lasers and grenades, a melta gun and heavy flamer, plasma weaponry, Stormshard mortar rounds – all of it ripped into the Genestealers. The Bloodcoats followed up, terribly outnumbered but rushing into the creatures with chainswords shrieking.
Senekal watched – knowing full well that this was a sacrifice. His personal bodyguard, some of them his friends, badly outnumbered, buying him the time to fall back with Halpern as the tanks maneuvered around to try and get line of sight. The Bloodcoats went down under a savage sea of claws and talons, but they had done some damage, winnowing down the horde. He and Halpern continued to fall back, firing as they went, trying to buy time and make the sacrifice worthwhile.
On the landing pad things continued to be rough. The Trigon had closed and loomed over the troops, spewing more toxins, killing more men. Heavy and special weapons returned fire and again did nothing to the giant creature, either missing or failing to do any kind of meaningful damage. Carrington overcharged his plasma pistol and fired at the thing, cursing as the shot punched a tiny, meaningless hole beneath one talon. So far – so far it had not come up here – but when it did things would not go well and even overlooking the pad its acid sprays were creating horrific casualties. Still, he thought to himself, things could be worse. Most of the smaller bugs had either been destroyed or driven off and the tanks were fresh and could deal with the monsters – he hoped, when they could finally draw a line of fire on them, and that would not be long at all. He called encouragement to his men to hold for just a little longer – and he prayed they would listen.
The battle hung in the balance. The rain was finally beginning to slack off which should hopefully allow the Imperials to extract from this trap. Clearly – the xenos knew that Halpern was an objective of some importance – although how such creatures would understand the value of the writings in the book, Senekal did not know. The genestealers – now down to seven creatures, a shadow of the horde they had been, made their last, desperate charge against the preacher. Realizing it was now or never, the Colonel triggered his combat drug dispenser and rushed in to intercept. He managed to stop most of the stealers but a few got past him to Halpern nonetheless. Senekal wasted no time and made the best of his intervention – smashing into the stealers at speed. He was nearly as fast as they were but he fought smarter. Not under the lash of a hive mentality which saw them as little more than expendable munitions, the Colonel struck and faded, dodged and weaved. His powerfist struck like lightning while his dress sword parried and flickered into openings with the speed of a fencer, penetrating an eye through to the braincase here, severing the equivalent of an Achilles tendon there. Stealers fell around him.
Behind him, Joachim Halpern blazed away with this autorifle as the creatures moved in. Dropping the rifle, he drew his chainsword and raised it in a salute to the sky. “To the Emperor,” he sang above the battle din, “do I bequeath my soul in death!” He stepped into the charge of the first stealer to reach him, tripping it with his staff and bringing the spinning chain teeth down onto its skull. One of the creatures ripped at him as it went by, managing to penetrate the conversion field of his Rosarius and punch a nasty hole in the flesh of his left hip. The wound hurt, flooding his vision in red – but his battle hymn went on uninterrupted. “Amidst the weeping and the woe – accursed daemon do thou remain and rot!” He slammed his shoulder into another creature in such a way as to intentionally take the hit with enough force to trigger the Rosarius field. This time it went off, converting the kinetic energy of the creature’s strike into light creating a brilliant strobelike flash which startled and partly blinded some of the monsters. A foot talon caught his calf, ripping through his heavy leather boot and opening the muscle nearly to the bone and still Joachim Halpern sang, “I know thee filthy as thou art, I know the blackness in thine heart!” He spun, swinging the sword in an arc, taking the head off a blinded xenos creature. Another strike triggered the Rosarius again, and yet another got through his guard, snapping his staff in half and ripping the flesh of his left arm – his song matched his worry but still heartened himself, the Colonel and those guardsmen close enough to make out the words. “For my fear hath whispered, cold and pale – in the hopeless dark of NIGHT!” He punctuated the last word with a swing at a ‘stealer which dodged with inhuman speed. “But I TRIUMPHED o’er it with soul made hale – pressed lasgun to cheek and return’d to fight!” He jammed the remains of his staff into the toothy maw of a stealer which tried to bite him. It didn’t kill it – but the woody interruption definitely threw off its fighting rhythm. “For all around me stand comrades tall – made fearless by brazen clarion call.” The stealers were thinning now, some seeming to hesitate. The Colonel took down another with an actinic strike from his powerfist. Seeing that things were hanging in the balance, Senekal joined his voice to Halpern’s deep baritone for the final verse of the hymn which they bellowed in unison. “NO CORNET PLAYED WITH FINE REGARD – BUT THE THUNDER OF GUNS OF THE IMPERIAL GUARD!”
And they broke. Not – Senekal was sure, because of any failure of morale. The huge Swarmlord stood not far away, backed up by the Trigon still looming over the landing pad. The command creature seemed more to be conserving its resources, not wasting them on a fight it had determined it could not win. Strangely – the huge command form paused a moment – and raised one of its red hot boneswords in what almost looked like a salute to the Colonel – who returned it without a thought.
The remaining ‘stealers skittered back toward the Trigon’s borehole, followed by the swarmlord and the remaining smaller creatures. They were chased by more Stormshard and mortar barrages and now shots from Mailed Fist – Knox’s tank platoon had finally turned the corner and was sending fire at the xenos to make sure they didn’t change their minds.
Senekal looked back over his shoulder, astonished that the priest was still standing although running with red blood down over his brown robes. He looked like he’d been run through a meat grinder. “Damn, Father – how the hell are you still walking?”
Tired but looking content nonetheless, the priest held up his Rosarius Aquila pendant. “The Emperor Protects.”
And – as if on cue – the rain finally ceased.