This is an old piece, one of the very first ones that I wrote. It was created directly out of a v2 40k game against the Tyranids. Back in those days they looked very different and were painted differently. You can see in the game, that it’s long enough ago that the Imperial Guard were still allowed jump packs. In addition, the old old Tyranid Codex had ‘event rolls’ which were done before the battle to represent the impact of the horror of fighting a Tyranid invasion. Things like the delayed troops and the damaged tracks on the Leman Russ as well as some of the morale effects came directly from those tables.


So it’s a bit of an old piece – the writing unpolished and very much nostalgic, but I hope you enjoy it!

 

14:28 hours Caladen Village

In the heat of the late afternoon, the tired guardsmen plodded through the town of Caladen. “Like the others,” thought Colonel Senekal, “Just like the others.”

The single main road of the town was clogged with scattered possessions fallen from overturned carts and vacant vehicles. Here and there, a forlorn pile of clothes lie empty on the cobbles, torn and clotted with old blood. There were no bodies. The bugs seldom left that much. A shriek split the heavy air.

Senekal’s anger rose in him like a serpent of fire. He was tired of this! Tired of empty ruins, of haunting death, of men going missing in a shrill cry – their bodies never found. This time someone; no something, would pay.

He broke into a run energizing his power fist. Rounding the corner he did not find the expected Tyranid horror mangling one of his men. All he found was PFC Yalto staring into an open doorway with his mouth working silently. Sergeant Sherman ran up just behind the Colonel, his jump pack having slowed him enough for his commander to beat him to the shout. Together the two men pulled Yalto away from the doorway. He was still mouthing the words that could just be made out if you listened very carefully, “Just a kid. She was just a kid.”

“Get him out of here, Sarge, ” the commander ordered. He took a quick look at the carnage beyond. With effort, he swallowed the bile that tried to rise and pulled the door shut. He knew beyond doubt that a tiny hand holding a stuffed animal and ending in – something that wasn’t any longer a child, would be added to the worst of his nightmares; the ones that he would endure for the rest of his days.

Two and a half months of this. And all it did was get worse. He had selected Caladen as a rendezvous because it hadn’t been hit and the men needed some rest before starting out on their next assignment. They wouldn’t be getting that break. Most of his Danikans were long service troopers and more than a few units were true veterans, but the endless fighting was getting to them.

The Tyranids were an inhuman and horrible enemy to face. His men had fought them time and again without flinching but those times were over. Veterans or no, his men needed some time away from the battle front. Time to rest and time to heal. The rape of Caladen had denied them that. Exhaustion settled over him like a hot lead blanket and he slid down with his back against the door to what was now only an abattoir.

Sherman’s men had been in the thick of it. Close combat against the Tyranid hordes was not an easy thing but the veteran soldiers of the 2nd platoon, 2nd squad, C company, had held up far better than could be asked of the hardest of troops. But now he could see that thousand yard stare in their eyes. And they weren’t the only ones. The Ratling infiltrators had that same look, as did Sgt. Morgan’s veteran “Tree Ghost” unit. The two tactical squads from the 3rd platoon had held up well, so far. They were the freshest of his units, having only been rotated in from their base on the eastern continent two weeks ago. One of them accompanied Father Zromlor about as he said last rites over the occasional small piece of wreckage that had once been a human being.

Heironymous Cracken, his commissar, and Lt. Carrington’s command unit had been with him from the beginning, but unlike many of the others, they appeared unaffected by the surrounding terror. They were still waiting for most of the rest of the unit to link up. As he listened he made out the sound of an engine approaching and then that of tracks on the cobbles in the square. He rose, and hurried towards the sound.

Marshall’s Leman Russ main battle tank had just ground to a halt when the Colonel arrived. Sergeant Wio Marshall was already clear of it before it had stopped and was peering intently at the left track, occasionally lifting the ablative armour sheathing to do so. Some kind of red and blue gunk like moss or lichen was all over the ablative and on much of the track housing. He pulled a can of something out and sprayed it on the goo, watching it as it dissolved into foul smelling black smoke.

“What the hell is that, Sergeant?” Marshall just shrugged.

“Nasty no doubt, Colonel. Comm’s for you.”

“Mmmph.” With effort, he climbed up the side of the tank, reaching through the top hatch for Marshall’s comm. He place it to his ear, “Senekal.”

“Colonel?” The airwaves were full of static that came and went. The result of distant high power energy blasts and the occasional Tyranid Spore being pounded from orbit.

“That would be me.”

“New orders, sir. Code Alpha X-ray Niner.” The Colonel easily remembered that as today’s radio call sign. As if anyone needed radio call signs against Tyranids. The bugs wouldn’t know a radio from a rock.

“Code Confirmed and locked. Download to mapbox.”

“Sir I,” a blast of static interrupted, “-box. Interference!” The Colonel sighed. Of course they couldn’t download. Not through this crud.

“You don’t say, son. Okay, what are they wanting now.”

“There’s a -” another blast of static “-ve Tyrant Psyker -” static “-ll it?”

Senekal pounded on the radio case. “What was that?” More static. “Okay, son. Let me try this. One click for yes, two for no, okay?” The radio crackled once. Obviously base wasn’t having any trouble with HIS signal. Figures. “There’s a Hive Tyrant you want me to kill?” One blast of static in the affirmative. “Where away? Use tradecode!”

Senekal dutifully took down the coordinates of the target sent in bursts of static. His teeth ground together in anger and excitement. For the men he’d lost, for the people of Caladen, now he’d get his crack at paying the bugs back!

17:22 Hours Drieger’s Farm
(17 Km outside
Caladen)

Colonel Arcturan Senekal didn’t like the look of things at all. The sun was setting in the west and the oppressive heat and humidity still beat at the guardsmen like some kind of soggy hammer. A long drop of sweat beaded under his uniform cap and ran down his nose. He swatted a bug and wished it was a Bug. Soon enough, he told himself, soon enough.

As if battle fatigue wasn’t severe enough, both his Hellhound and Chimera hadn’t reported in. And that crud on the treads of Marshall’s tank had been causing enough problems that the tank commander didn’t trust the vehicle’s response time at speed. He was worried about throwing a track. Arcturan hadn’t liked that either. With Marshall’s Russ on the right flank, it was reasonably secure, but how mobile would it be?

He sighed. No sense crying over what he couldn’t change.

The guard Colonel turned his attention back to the battlefield. He didn’t know what Drieger had farmed (or for that matter who Drieger had been) but whatever it was, it hadn’t required the kinds of large open spaces that crops normally occupied back on Danika. The place was tight with hills, rock outcrops and woods. Crummy terrain for fighting bugs, but it always fell to his men to dig the toughest nuts out of their shells. The left flank was dominated by two main features. A small wood was located at the foot of a long hill that ran west, straight toward the bugs. There was plenty of cover for his men here. The Rough Riders were hidden in the woods, while his own Bloodcoats were just at the foot of the hill behind one of the third platoon’s tactical squads. Farther west, along the ridge, ratlings had taken sniper positions in defilade to cover any approach the bugs might try.

There was a small arroyo north of the ridge. Its north edge was bordered by thick forest that dominated much of the central battlefield, jamming up lines of fire all over the place. He’d hated it at first sight. East of it was another small ridge where he’d placed a lascannon team detached from one of the tactical squads and the Treeghost heavy bolter unit. Farther north were another tactical squad, led by Father Zromlor, backed up by Sherman’s Assault Troopers led by Commissar Cracken.

Just in front of them sat Drieger’s farm house, a large stone fountain just in front of it and an old brick and cement gate behind which Zromlor’s squad covered. On a hill behind them was the Treeghost Missile Launcher team. Farther to the North sat Marshall’s tank and beyond them, on a tall hill in an overlook position, was another tactical lascannon, the Treeghost Lascannon and Lt. Carrington’s slick heavy bolter section.

It would have to do. One of the Tactical units, Ufand’s from the 2nd platoon, as well as Thanos’ Hellhound and Bock’s Chimera had all failed to reach rendezvous. All reported heavy bug harassment strikes and both vehicles had lost crewmen to surprise attacks.

Carrington had been left with the comlink to “Sky of Fire” the Naval barrage ship in orbit. They’d seen fit to spare him a single orbital barrage with the usual excuses about shortage of ammo and the like. This time it might even be true.

The battle was joined with a fierce blast that dropped from orbit. Carrington’s normally unflappable mien was disrupted by an uncharacteristic cheer, “Scratch one of the big bugs, Colonel! Darned claw near landed on me.”

“Tell the navy good work, Carrington. And hit them up for some more fire support while you’re at it,” Senekal barked.

As if it had been some kind of signal, the despoilers moved forward at speed. In the center, termagants led genestealers and were backed up by a pair of Tyranid warriors with guns to their right and rear. In the far distance, ungainly gargoyles lifted their bodies heavily into the sky, disappearing into the dusky haze.

Along the ridge on the left flank hormagants and ‘stealers rushed forward up the arroyo and over the ridge near his ratlings. Out of the woods strode a giant Carnifex and three more warriors. Somewhere behind it all was his target, the hive tyrant and its monstrous psychic powers. From the northern wing of the woods, just west of Marshall’s tank came another strange creature. It looked like a warrior but had a huge spiked head and its twisted body pulsed with the power of the warp.

The Zoanthrope screamed and a bolt of psychic energy flashed forward toward the Leman Russ. It blew through the ablative armor that covered the left track which, weakened by the hive crud growing on it, split apart. The tank would not be moving until repairs could be affected after the battle.

Senekal’s radio crackled with static and then went into the clear. “Thanos to Senekal! Thanos to Senekal, please respond, over.”

“Senekal, here! Where the hell are you, Merry?” Far away in the background he could hear the roar of Lt. Merry Thanos’ Hellhound engine and a faint crackle that indicated the activation of the vehicle’s electrohull.

“Sorry, Colonel! We’re going to be even later than earlier reported. Bock and I have run into a supporting unit of bugs moving up to pincer you.” The roar of the inferno cannon drowned out his transmission for a moment, forcing Thanos to pause, “Anyway, just as soon as we’ve finished with these bugs we’ll join you. Looks like a bunch of biovores. The ones that survive will be late for the fight!” The inferno cannon roared again.

“Just move your tracked butt, Merry! We need you here not playing games with the enemy.”

“As soon as we can break free, Colonel! Thanos out.”

As the comm went off. Senekal picked up the sounds of sniper fire on the other side of the ridge. He pointed at Sgt. Questioner, leading the tacticals in front of him, “Come on, Sarge! Get those men up to the crest. Let’s give the ratlings some supporting fire.” He followed behind them not bothering to check on his Bloodcoats. He knew the only thing that would keep them from following him was his own death.

As he reached the crest, he could see the ratlings falling back on his position, firing as they came. The noxious toxins of their laser sniper rifles couldn’t kill Tyranids. Nothing had yet been found that would poison them. But that didn’t mean that the laser propelled darts couldn’t do harm. He watched as one of the shots took a genestealer in the face as it rushed forward. It tumbled to the ground, unmoving.

“Score one for the good guys,” thought Senekal. To his right, he noted Sherman’s men advance and take cover behind the fountain by Drieger’s homestead. A voice nearby pulled his attention back to his own flank.

“Awright, you apes! Lay down some fire. I want to see some dead bugs down there!” Questioner’s basso order boomed across the hill and his men braced on the slope of the hill or dropped to one knee and fired. The faint hiss of lasgun fire split the air as the guardsmen raked the ridge line. The Colonel could barely see the ‘stealers as they dashed from cover to cover, their awkward gait eating ground at a frightening rate. But it didn’t help them much. Three more fell to the guardsmen’s fire.

From behind the Colonel came the rattle of a heavy bolter. The noise joined a Tyranid warrior to the weapon as its body jerked in a dance of death and then fell.

Farther north, the Imperial’s fire was less effective. A krak missile bounced off a warrior’s hardened carapace. And Marshall’s tank managed to accomplish nothing despite a fusillade of fire which either missed or had no effect on its targets. In the distance, beyond the woods, a second barrage came down in the general vicinity of their main target, the Tyrant. Obviously Carrington had had some luck with the navy, not that it seemed to help.

Still they came. Into the teeth of his fire. On the left flank, the remaining genestealers and their hormagant companions charged the unfortunate ratlings. Senekal called out for them to stand fast, but the poor rats had had enough. They turned and ran.

On the right flank, more stealers and termagants had come into view. At speed they ran from the woods towards the waiting guardsmen. Lascannons, heavy bolters, grenade launchers, lasguns and pistols all fired but only a single hunter/slayer fell. As if on cue, the gargoyles dropped from the sky spewing flames from their flickering maws. The right flank firebase was bathed in flame. Lt. Carrington screamed into his comm and Senekal quickly changed channels. Nothing could have survived on that hill.

Looking down at the ground (and trying not to feel the shame that pulsed through him about Carrington) he noticed a shadow on the ground. Obviously Thanos hadn’t gotten all the biovores, he thought, as the spore mine passed over and touched ground far behind his troops. Thank the Emperor for small favors. But the bugs weren’t done yet.

Out in the open on the right two warriors stood, backing up the termagants and ‘stealers in the center. Together the warriors fired their weapons. One missed. The other sent a blast of fiery acid over two of Sherman’s assault troopers who made small sounds before dropping to the ground twitching, their bodies slowly dissolving.

The Colonel had been wrong about the northern hill. Two scorched and injured guardsmen from Carrington’s unit leveled heavy bolters at the gargoyles and fired. To their surprise, their shots were joined by lasgun, and inferno cannon fire. The Hellhound and Chimera had arrived. Despite heavy losses, the gargoyles continued to wheel overhead. It was uncharacteristic of them to stay, and a bad sign for the few surviving guardsmen.

In the center, Sherman’s men weren’t out of the fight just yet. They fired their jump packs and came down close to their targets, the termagants and the genestealers following them. Commissar Cracken landed long, right in amongst the ‘stealers. Two of the assault troops also went off course, coming down right in amongst the hunter/slayers. Those who landed correctly fired bolt pistols at point blank range, or threw frag grenades at the onrushing broods. They were joined by fire from the chimera’s multilaser and storm bolter as well as a few lasgun shots from the tacticals, whose fire was severely restricted by the presence of friendlies. Very few shots hit the genestealers, but the termagants took frightening losses. Father Zromlor also advanced, trying to move to where he could use his flamer to cleanse the universe of these horrid abominations.

Not far away, heavy Imperial fire failed to hurt the Carnifex at all. It was now closing on the assault troopers who were caught in a pincer between the genestealers and their supporting warriors, the two surviving termagants and the huge screamer/killer.

The far left flank was no quieter. Questioner’s tacticals had continued to advance, followed up by Colonel Senekal. The Hive Tyrant was now visible in the rear and he was determined to kill the thing! Just as soon as he could dispose of its screening force of killing machines. He activated his comm, “Thunder, this is Senekal. The word is go, Belliveau! Go now!”

The response was not on the comm at all. Belliveau’s cavalry simply put their spurs to their horses and charged the onrushing horde. They rode through a hail of fire from their own troops as Questioner’s gang fired salvo after salvo from their lasguns and grenade launcher. More ‘stealers and a pair of hormagants learned not to underestimate the guardsmen’s lasguns. It was a very permanent lesson.

All across the field, the first few strikes of close combat were felt. The last two termagants in the center were butchered by Sherman’s blue coated troops. In the south, Belliveau’s men smashed into the bug lines. The two remaining genestealers in that area were struck by hunting lances and exploded, showering the troopers with gore. Against the hormagants they had been instructed not to use their lances, relying instead on the skill of their blows with chainswords and laspistols. Two more hormagants fell under this onslaught, but a third one managed to bury its ripping claws in the chest of Sergeant Belliveau’s horse. The giant scythes punched clean through the animal, and one came out the other side ripping the guardsman’s calf, through his high leather boot, his skin and his muscle right down to the bone. Gritting his teeth from the pain, he threw himself off the dead horse and rolled clear as the creature began to rip at the corpse.

Watching all of the carnage develop, Senekal was waiting for his own opportunity when he felt a tug at his uniform sleeve. The Colonel whirled and was just able to keep from bringing his powerfist down on Corporal Guinney, the leader of the ratlings. He helped up the terrified Ornsworlder. “Careful there, Corporal! You know how sneaky some of these bugs can be.”

“S-sorry, Colonel. We is ready, sir. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t hold the boys when them things came a-rushing us. They’s ready to do some more shooting now, though!”

Arcturan smiled at the little sniper. “That’s all right, Guinney. Maybe it was for the best, anyway. Looks like Questioner and Belliveau’s bunch has got it in hand, now. Get ready to take this position as soon as I charge in.”

“You gonna go fight with those things, Colonel? They’ll kill you!”

Senekal’s smile went hard, “Not if I kill them first.”

But the bugs had a similar idea. The gargoyles swooped southward and came down in a rough circle. As they did so the genestealers in the center closed their end of the pincer, attacking Cracken and Sherman’s bluecoats as the Carnifex hit the nearest bluecoat from the other side. Amazingly Sherman’s troops held their ground under this assault. They dug in their heels and prepared to fight to the last man. Many drew their hand flamers as they resolved to take some of the creatures with them.

The gargoyles let loose in a blast of flame and Father Dieter Zromlor screamed in anger as the fire set off the ammo container of his own flame weapon. Despite the fire his last words were the Emperor’s curse on the entire hive fleet as the flames consumed him. The other flamespurts destroyed the last hardened heroes from Carrington’s squad. The ammunition of their heavy bolters could be heard across the field as it cooked off in the superhot flames.

On the left flank, where Senekal stood, the Hive Tyrant at last took a hand in the battle. It fired its venom cannon into Questioner’s men, as did one of the accompanying warriors, the other firing some kind of weapon which seemed to vomit forth little bugs. Two guardsmen fell and the Colonel thanked heaven that it wasn’t more.

Then, in the center, the killing started. Poor PFC Yalto stood his ground as the Carnifex tore him limb from limb. His last thoughts were of the little girl’s body in the town. He might die, but he wouldn’t let her down.

Two genestealers ripped apart assault troopers like paper. Their weapons and experience helped them only a little against this kind of implacable foe. A single trooper did manage to kill one ‘stealer, his hand flamer landing a lucky shot as it came in close and a second managed to stop a blow with his power shield and survive the fight. Commissar Cracken, for all his vaunted skill, was laid low by one of the foul beings. Still Sherman’s men refused to run as the remaining ‘stealers closed on them and the Carnifex, noting the attention of the Leman Russ, fell back into the woods again.

On the left flank, the single hormagant rushed on of Belliveau’s troopers who casually beheaded it with his chainsword as he looked for another target to attack.

Bock’s chimera had slowed after its high speed dash to arrive at the battle and this now helped a bit as the Zoanthrope’s psychic blast gutted the vehicle like a rotten fish. It rolled to a stop bumping lightly against the gates of Drieger’s farm and trailing noxious smoke from the hole in its armor as the four surviving tacticals bailed out and took cover behind the now wrecked vehicle.

Grim determination filled Sherman and his remaining troopers and they resolved to die as guardsmen should. The private who had held off the ‘stealer with his shield now called to one of his squadmates to fire on them both with his flamer, all the while warding off a flurry of strikes from the monster. Without hesitation his squadmate carefully took aim and managed to kill the creature without harming the harried trooper. Meanwhile Sherman, himself was under assault from two of the creatures. He called out to his friend Marshall to kill him cleanly and not let the bugs get him. The tank commander sadly ordered compliance and the left weapons sponson of his tank barked heavy bolter rounds into the fight. But the Emperor must have guarded that gunner’s aim as the bolter shells slew both ‘stealers, leaving Sherman untouched. Other weapons from the tank killed another two gargoyles and smashed the woods around the Carnifex into toothpicks but still failed to hurt the creature.

On the left flank Arcturan Senekal triggered the tiny injector on his wrist and gritted his teeth against the agony that flooded through his bloodstream and nervous system as the drugs took hold. “Go!” he yelled as his accelerated metabolism turned the world into slow motion.

As he ran forward at the Hive Tyrant, he watched two of his Bloodcoat bodyguard engage one of the warriors. Ewen and Wulf always liked to work as a team and this was an example of their finest work. Ewen moved in and sliced at the creature’s weapons and eyes to distract it as Wulf moved in on his left to strike from the flank. He could see their powerswords slicing through the air and actually caught Wulf’s strike that cleaved the warrior’s leg off at the thin part of the knee and watched with admiration as Ewen’s distraction feint turned upward and severed the head of the thing as it fell. Before the body had hit the ground they were moving on their next target.

The other two Bloodcoats; Osric and Bucky, had teamed up with a rough rider to wipe the other warrior out. He just saw it fall and then he was too close to his own target for more voyeurism. The remaining rough riders had charged the Tyrant with leveled lances in order to distract it from the largest threat, the Colonel himself. As the three riders went in, the one without the lance ducked in for a chainsword strike on the thing just as Senekal arrived.

He never got the chance. The whiplike weapon the creature carried suddenly came alive, slashing and flaying – it caught the trooper off his horse and buried several of its barbs in his chest before flying out in several directions taking the horseman’s ribcage with it. It slashed at the guard commander as well, impacting his conversion field and causing it to go off with a brilliant flash that blinded the Tyrant just before shorting out!

The others closed in on the Tyranid creature. Repeated blows flashed off its field but a lance got through blowing off one of the two arms tied up with the thing’s giant gun. Senekal also got in a strike which smashed one of the horror’s knees. It shifted its weight to its other foot but continued to fight.

Suddenly the creature seemed to radiate a horrible fear. The minds of the nearby guardsmen were filled with images of death and despair. The ratlings cowered, their minds filled with frightful images and Senekal, himself was treated to exactly what had happened to the little girl in Caladen!

Trying not to retch, the commander staggered backwards but the creature pursued and only by smashing at it with his powerfist and tearing chunks of unclean flesh from its torso was he able to win free. The Rough Riders, he could see, stood their ground. They knew that this thing had to die and they would do it or die trying.

Then the Tyrant’s eyes cleared and it turned to them and brought them their deaths. Killing one of them, the other tried to break away, knowing that he no longer had the advantage of his lance. The giant sword of the thing cut him down as he turned his horse away. The last rough rider fled for his life, putting spurs to sides and fleeing. Normally Senekal would have cursed him but in these circumstances he could understand.

Out of the woods drifted another one of the bug spore mines. Unlike the others, this one floated close enough that a Ratling’s presence set it off in a titanic explosion greater in size than the blast of a volcano cannon. When the flames died away, all of Guinney’s ratlings were gone as were two more of Questioner’s troops.

In the center field the last ‘stealer left on the battlefield charged at Sgt. Sherman, cutting him down as the Tyranid  Warriors opened fire on the others. Men died in a hail of fire and the last two fired their jump packs and fled for their lives.

Thanos’ Hellhound closed on the warriors and the last stealer. The inferno cannon spat superheated fuel over the genestealer and one of the warriors, destroying them both with cleansing flame. Meanwhile Marshall’s tank finished off the other warrior and darted another lascannon beam at the Carnifex as the creature disappeared into the woods.

Senekal drew his pistol and fired at the Tyrant, the overcharged laser bouncing off its tough hide. Around him, his Bloodcoats let loose with their plasma pistols. Streams of matter, bright as a star’s corona, ripped into the creature which let out a high pitched squeal, partly of agony and partly that of superheated steam blowing holes in its exoskeleton from the inside. Its arms were torn away, the venom cannon flying. A chunk of its head came off and it fell to its one remaining knee. The firing stopped as the pistols died and went into their recharge mode. With horror, Senekal realized that the thing was still moving! Still trying to escape! He reached for his comm to direct Merry in for the kill. He could hear the flame tank just the other side of the hill to the north.

Then the brush parted and the giant screamer/killer stood there. Much to the guardsmen’s surprise, it didn’t attack but rather gathered up the Tyrant and pulled it into the woods. The two creatures rapidly disappeared into the brush where the tank would never be able to catch them and the pain of his expired drugs caught up with the guard Colonel, sapping his strength and causing him to fall to one knee.

18:42 Hours (a clearing just east of Drieger’s Farm)

The remaining guardsmen had formed a perimeter in a wide field under the lowering sky now filled with black clouds. Bivouacked like this in shallow foxholes dug in a tight circle they were vulnerable to Tyranid wave attack and Senekal knew it, but moving through bug infested woods at night was even worse.

After collecting the survivors from the blood and ichor drenched ground, they had retired here to something like a defensible position. In the center of the foxhole ring Marshall’s Russ, the tracks now repaired, stood next to the Chimera and Thanos’ Hellhound. The APC had proved to be essentially undamaged and was now packed tight with corpses stacked like cordwood, Zinfan Bock and the rest of the carrier’s crew in amongst them. Burying was no good in areas that the Tyranids controlled. The bugs would just dig up the bodies and Arcturan Senekal was damned if he’d allow that!

The Colonel sat with the wounded. Their moans and cries filled the night sky with a sorrowful dirge that plunged knives deep into his soul. All those deaths. All these ruined men. And all for nothing. Only the Biovore and the two giant creatures had escaped his Danikans, but the Tyrant yet lived and the remaining morale of his men was shattered. They would not soon be able to face the bugs again. They had failed.. Miserably.

Arcturan looked over at the still form of Heironymous Cracken. The Commissar sat up, unlike the other wounded and was quietly reading to a horribly scorched trooper who had been too close to the spore blast. Tiny fungal growths were beginning to sprout from the younger man’s wounds. If he didn’t get some help soon, he’d be joining the other’s in the APC. Cracken, himself was more of an inspiration for his personal fortitude than for his quiet readings of the Psalms of the Emperor. Although he concealed it as best he could, his guts were held in only by a pressure bandage and they had been unable to stop all of the internal bleeding.

The Colonel dug into his kit and pulled forth a bottle of fine wine that he had won from Captain Wornor of the Ultramarines in the early, snowy days of spring. Tucked away in Marshall’s tank it had survived the battle nicely. Looking at it, he thought of Carrington, whose body they hadn’t even been able to identify. He though of little Corporal Guinney and his fine dumplings that he’d made for all the unit on the days after a victory. Of Sgt. Sherman and Corporal Bock and off all the others whom he could name and put a face to. Friends and comrades – brothers in arms all. All now gone to the Emperor’s grace, lost to his failure.

Arcturan smashed the top of the bottle off against an unoffending rock and raised the shattered neck in a toast to them. “To absent friends,” he whispered, tears mingling with the blood and sweat on his face.

He drank, not caring about the broken glass.

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