“I am telling you, I saw something move on the other side of that hab-block.”
Brother sergeants Maher and Tarssen stood on the edge of the temple square of Carrae. Ruined hab-blocks surrounded the nearly empty square. A statue of the emperor stood unbroken in front of what was left of the mighty imperial cathedral. Where once flowers and ceremonial offerings would have littered the area in front of the holy effigy, now only lay rubble.
Brother Tarssen peered in to the shadows on the other side of the square. His gene-enhanced vision, increased even further by the technological marvel of his power armor’s helmet, detected nothing. No movement, no heat signatures… Just empty shadows.
“I am sorry brother, I do not see anything. The auspex scans confirm it, the enemy has left this area. You know how fickle the Dusk Wraiths are. They raid an area and then move on. They don’t tend to stick around.”
Brother Maher nodded, not completely convinced and returned to Chain Squad. Brother Dracek stood hunched over his heavy bolter, cleaning out what little dust had gathered in its inner workings in the last hour since he had performed the action before. The others sat against a ruined wall, waiting for the word to be given to advance on to the square.
Down the line Brother Tarssen rejoined his own men as well. Sword Squad stood waiting for him, the impatience and anticipation clearly visible on their unhelmed faces.
“Any word sergeant? We have been waiting here for almost an hour now. The square is empty and the supply drop…”
Brother Sergeant Tarssen cut him off with a simple waive of his hand. Keln fell silent but his fierce gaze betrayed his irritation.
“I am sure we will be moving up any minute now. Let’s put on those helmets and get in to formation. Remember your briefing, the southern drop point is ours to secure. Whatever resistance we will face, we will not pull back. Brother Keln, that missile launcher of yours better be ready. We’ll need it If that gunboat reappears.”
The gunner gave his heavy weapon a few gentle taps before hoisting it up on his shoulder. The auto loader on his back came to life as well. Its humming seemed to accentuate Keln’s next words.
“Ready Brother Sergeant, and hungry for vengeance.”
Something wasn’t right. Brother Kothar could feel it. The temple square lay abandoned, as expected. The relative safety of this location was one of the reasons they had chosen the site for a supply drop. The recent weather had prevented the Stormhammer from ferrying supplies down to the planet, so a drop-pod would descend shortly. Original scouting had reported the presence of more Dusk Wraits. Most likely these were the same xenos they had run in to at the manufactorum. Brother Haukim, one of the chapter’s Justiciars had recognized some of their iconography. The Kabal of the Poisoned Tongue he had called them. The name meant little to him, but brother Kothar would not soon forget the defeat they had inflicted upon his forces mere weeks ago. He had relished the idea of facing them again. To take his vengeance and prove his worth in the fires of battle, he had longed for it. He had deployed his forces as the edge of the drop zone anticipating a battle. However, now that they had arrived, no enemy could be found.
Brother Cerrop, sergeant of the veteran squad Forge Tenders, took one last look at the auspex. “I agree, but there seems to be nothing here. All we can do is proceed with caution. The supply pod will come down any minute now. We’ll work fast. Secure the area, unload the supplies and fall back to base. Unless you want to signal the Stormhammer not to send the pod?”
“No, not again. We have been waiting for too long already.” Kothar thought he knew what his brother was thinking. Ever since the battle at the manufactorum he had become more cautious, some would say almost paranoid. Some of the veterans were probably questioning the captain’s decision to give him this command. How could they not be? He opened a vox link to the entire patrol force embanked on the edge of the square. “Everyone move out. For Vulkan! For the emperor!”
Chain squad moved up in to the ruins of one of the hab-blocks, looking for a way on to the second floor to provide cover fire for their brothers on the square below. The staircase seemed to be undamaged but the weight of the marines’ power armor proved too much. As Brother Maher advanced at the head of his squad, the concrete stairs crumbled, forcing chain squad to look for another way up and delaying his arrival at the vantage point.
Brother Tarssen lead Sword Squad between the buildings at the southern part of the square. His advance was uncontested and they soon had eyes on their objective. The Razorback Erymanthius similarly moved up to the center of the square. It halted near the statue of the emperor and the ever-burning holy flame that still burned in its brazier.
Brother Kothar moved up alongside the Forge Tenders, heading towards the battered cathedral. He received vox messages stating that objectives were claimed and no enemies had been encountered and he started to wonder if he had been wrong after all. That’s when all hell broke loose.
The enemy had learned its lesson and dove down on to the battlefield well outside of auspex range. The first and last things Brother Kothar and the Forge Tenders heard was the horrifying screeching of the xenos gunboats’ grav-engines as it stabilized near a ruined wall of the cathedral. Dozens of shattered crystal shards flew from its weapons, breaking ceramite armor and tearing through gene-enhanced limbs and organs. In but a few seconds the entire command squad of the armoured patrol was down. It then turned south and opened up with its powerful energy weapons, seriously scarring the armor of the tank Erymanthius.
On the other side of the ruins a group of winged xenos dove down and opened fire on Chain Squad. Enemy fire tore through the walls of the staircase as they were desperately trying to reach their vantage point. While the building took the brunt of the attack, one member of Brother Maher’s squad was hit it the helmet and lost consciousness. When the volley finally ended and Chain Squad found a moment to regroup, the winged aliens flew on in search of more prey.
Screeching their battle cries, they found this new prey in the form of Sword Squad. Seeking to bloody their claws the xenos charged in but were met with fierce resistance. The marines reacted with the speed and ease that comes from hours of battle drills and met the charge head on. Brother Tarssen’s power sword made short work of one of the winged fiends while his squad managed to hold off the rest of them. “Show them they made a mistake attacking the sons of Vulkan, my Brothers. In to the flames,…!” As one they responded. “…on to the forge of war!”
Hurrying up to the second floor, Chain Squad finally got in to position. A cursory inspection of the battlefield revealed even more enemies moving up through the ruins towards Sword Squad. Maher signaled his brothers. “We have to buy Brother Sergeant Tarssen enough time to deal with the flyers. Target those xenos!”
An orderly firing line was formed in seconds and bolter fire rained down on the approaching warriors. The thundering sound of Dracek’s heavy bolter echoed down the battlefield, reaching the ears of not just his brothers.
The savage fusillade was to no avail. Of the 5 warriors running through the ruins only 1 fell. The others ducked and weaved, dodging the incoming rounds with lightning reflexes. Brother Sergeant Maher reached out to Tarssen on the vox. “Watch your flank brother, more enemies are moving your way.” “Let them come. If they are anything like this flying filth, we will brake them like impure steel.” Meanwhile, the crew of Erymanthius advanced their transport towards the far side of the square, hoping to secure the area for a safe retreat. Rubble crumbled beneath its tracks as it moved up, trying not to move in to the xenos gunboats’ firing-line. A loud clang signaled something had gone wrong. “Throne! That was one of the tracks…” The Razorback had overextended itself trying to reach its destination and with that failing it was now completely at the mercy of the nearby ship.
On the stern castle of the Drukhari Raider lady Aurelia Malys of the Kabal of the Poisoned Tongue was overseeing the battle in progress. If it could be called a battle at that. It was more like a slaughter. The enhanced mon-keigh warriors had expected her to advance her force the same way she did last time. She had taught them the error of their presumptions. She had lured them out and had then sprung her trap, striking deep between their lines after they had given away their positions. With their leader and champions gone it wouldn’t take long to mop up the rest of them. The slaughter being performed all around her brought a smile to her face. While it was all but impossible leach fear from these genewrought simpletons, they still felt glorious pain. One of her kabalite officers approached her wearily. His fear was palpable. She had heard others say her smile looked dangerous. Not out loud and in the open of course, but when they thought she couldn’t hear.
“The scourges are having a tough time dealing with their prey. At this rate they might get slaughtered.”
Although her smile never wavered, the thought of what she had done to those who whispered behind her back ensured her continued amusement, a hint of irritation crawled in to her voice as she responded.
“Have them fall back. Why for the love of the slain gods they charged in I don’t understand. Let the Incubi deal with the mon-keighs. Let them earn what I am paying them. Have the scourges target that damned heavy weapon. But signal them not to kill the entire squad. I want some of them alive.”
A few quick adjustments on the tactical screen in front of her communicated more orders to her forces. The raider sped on and closed in on the building housing Chain Squad. While both her kabalites and the scourges opened fire on the pinned down marines she uncoiled her whip and exited the ship.
When the barrage died down she held out her arms and snapped her fingers. Two mandrakes, foul and despicable but useful creatures, emerged from beyond space-time to gently hold her arms. With the same wicked smile still on her face Lady Malys gave her order. “Take me up.”
Brother sergeant Tarssen saw victory slip through his grasp. The flying abominations took to the sky at the same time a group of dark armored warriors charged his squad. These new enemies were far more capable in melee combat. Their poisoned blades made quick work of his brothers and while he put up more resistance, even taking down another one of their warriors, he too fell to their assault.
Near the cathedral, Erymanthius burned. A single piercing shot from a xenos’ energy lance had managed to puncture the engine and had set the promethium tanks ablaze.
Arrogance flowed off of Lady Malys in vast waves as she appeared on the second floor of the hab-block. The scourges’ fusillade had weakened but not destroyed the mon-keigh warriors. Two still stood, their weapons gripped in useless defiance. The mandrakes were ready to engage but Lady Malice dismissed them with a callous wave of her hand. Their disappointment and resentment were nice appetizers for the pain she was about to taste.
On board the strike cruiser Stormhammer company captain Kascus stood on the observation deck, looking down on Malifa, the accursed planet they were orbiting. Somewhere down there the Dusk Wraiths had dealt another blow to the armored patrol force sent to secure an abandoned settlement. For the second time in weeks Brother Kothar had let the xenos outsmart him.
The outer doors opened, giving entry to two others. Kascus didn’t turn around. He knew who was approaching him, he had summoned them after all.
“What is the damage?”
Captain Kascus could hear both brothers kneel behind him before one of them, brother Verr, answered.
“The Razorback has been retrieved and the survivors have been brought on board. We have abandoned the encampment below.”
The second visitor rose and approached his captain. “Was that the right decision, my lord? Abandoning the planet so soon?”
Kascus turned to face Svarog. The chaplain’s armor was mostly black but was still adorned with salamander iconography. He also wore a green tabard in honor of his chapter and Kascus knew of no other salamander more devoted to the promethean cult.
“We could secure the area by landing more of our forces but I am not yet ready to fully commit to the reconquest of this world. We may be needed elsewhere.”
Brother Verr now rose as well. He wore the traditional blue armor of a librarian. Kascus was almost surprised to see brother Verr without Raurim, the drake he had brought from Nocturne, who always accompanied him. No doubt the large beast was waiting dutifully in the ship’s hallways outside.
“I bring more bad news, my lord.”
“What more is there? Two humiliating losses in a mere weeks, a severely damaged Razorback, one of our techmarines who is in a deep sus-an membrane coma and we still have no idea what is going on down on that throne forsaken world!”
Despite the rising voice of his captain, brother Verr did not flinch as he answered.
“We are missing three warriors.”
“Yes, my lord. They were not among the survivors and their bodies could not be found by the apothecary.”
“Yes, my lord. Scouts have confirmed the location of a nearby web-way gate. No doubt they were taken through.”
Svarog took a step closer to Kascus. “They will suffer. The Dusk Wraiths are known for their torture techniques. Even our heretical brothers of the 8th legion couldn’t match their savagery.”
“Little can be done about that now.”
“We can retrieve them.”
Both captain Kascus and chaplain Svarog turned to face brother Verr in amazement. The captain finally broke the minute long silence.
“Impossible. Venturing in to the web-way is one thing, but to breach Commorragh…”
“What cannot be done with strength can often be accomplished through cunning.”
Surprised at Svarog’s stance in the matter, the captain motioned him to continue.
“While I agree that an assault on the Dusk Wraith city is impossible, we may be able to send in a small patrol to infiltrate and extract our captured brothers.”
“Risk many others to save three?”
“Don’t forget that it was our father who faced and defeated the Dusk Wraiths on Nocturne. He fought a foe others said was impossible to defeat. He broke an age long cycle of raids and abuse at the hands of these Dark Eldar.”
“You are saying this can be done?”
“I am saying we should try.”
Turning back to the view of the planet all three brothers fell silent. Finally, after an hour of contemplation brother captain Kascus, leader of the second crusade company, spoke once more.
“Send for Brother Hurac, I have a job for his Umber Drakes.”