‘Kill-kill the interlopers!’
Ghree screeched and fired his fusil until his digits had gone numb. The cacophony of chaotic combat surrounded him, echoing within the close confines of his clan’s tunnels and warrens. The vermin kept coming in droves. There seemed no end to them.
‘Filthy, wretched things,’ Skroh spat, tail twitching in anger. Ghree’s den-kin despised extermination duty, even in self-defence. She much preferred the quiet solitude of their book burrows.
‘Hardier, too,’ Ghree complained. The creatures that first appeared a mere five loops ago were pink and frail. They turned to dust in moments by Qah’s grace. Those who followed were hardier with each loop. These ones resisted Qah’s grace, to a certain extent, their brightly coloured armour prolonging their existence. Brutish weapons spat explosive death in a hail of murder. Not even Qah could protect them completely.
The echo of the last shot faded slowly. The interlopers lay dead, their bodies decomposing faster than Ghree could examine them. It made knowing their foes difficult. Most frustrating.
Lair-sire Wyx limped towards them, blood seeping from wounds hidden beneath his devotional rags.
‘Praise Qah, that’s the end of them. At least for now. But these vermin will come again. Pack-pack your belongings,’ said Wyx with a heavy heart. Ghree and Skroh chittered consent and scampered to comply.
‘Sir, spike in the temporal anomaly detected. Growth exponential,’ a naval rating cried, eyes glued to a specially modified auspex.
‘Pattern matches pre-migratory phase,’ a magos biologis reported from another station.
‘Heading?’ asked Inquisitor Slitonius. His time-ravaged body was hardwired into the command throne of the Tempus Fugit, overseeing both the bridge and the culmination of his project. He had spent a dozen lifetimes studying the Hrud.
‘Twenty-six minutes coreward, fifty-four minutes counterspinward, nine minutes to the galactic south,’ Xerion, Slitonius’ interrogator rattled off the directions offered by a cogitator.
‘Incorrect heading. We need them to readjust. Send in another battalion of the Death Korps. Have them attack through the Perkolo Ravines. Demolition charges not permitted,’ Slitonius ordered and his subjects complied. Each word, each variable was carefully chosen to achieve the desired outcome.
‘Is that everything?’ Ghree asked, looking at Skroh’s meagre belongings. His den-kin clutched the sack tighter to her chest.
‘It is all I can carry,’ Skroh whimpered. Ghree couldn’t blame her. They were leaving behind precious libraries packed with selected works of the brightest minds. And all of that would be left behind for the vermin to gobble up.
‘We will rebuild what is lost today,’ said Ghree. Skroh’s tail coiled around her legs.
‘How? So much is left behind. So much is lost forever to rodents mindlessly devouring everything in their way. Each time we flee, we lose more of ourselves, of Qah.’
‘As long as we live, Qah lives within us,’ Ghree countered half-heartedly.
The clan gathered in the Grand Cavern of Transition at the end of the loop. Hrudkind huddled in familial mischiefs, checking their belongings as they praised Qah. On a raised dais, lair-sire Wyx conducted the holy ceremony that would see them to safety. His voice focused the disjointed prayers and melded them into a single harmony. Wyx could feel the power of Qah gather around them. In these brief moments before departure, he felt as if he could just extend his paw and touch the divine.
A voice suddenly disappeared from the harmony. The momentary connection to Qah’s divinity fled before it could be fully achieved. Cries of pain and the snap of weapons fire desecrated the sacred tune. Wyx screeched at this denial of fulfilment.
‘Kill-kill the interlopers!’
The shout was taken up by the night warriors of Hrud as they fought back. The vermin came in numbers, uncaring about themselves, only intent on destruction. With the whole clan gathered in one place, the battle was going in the vermin’s favour.
‘Lair-sire! We must flee-flee!’ Skroh screamed from beneath the dais. Ghree fired his fusil into the black-cad rodents. A dozen beams of searing light replied, half-blinding Wyx.
‘The Death Korps report significant losses, but their sacrifice achieved its objective. The xenos have taken casualties. Acolyte in situ reporting the Hrud numbers at three hundred seventy-two,’ the Tempus Fugit’s voxmaster relayed the message to the Inquisitor. It had taken three weeks for the Militarum battalion to get into position. It was crucial they followed the Inquisitor’s command to the letter.
‘Kill three more, then depart,’ Slitonius replied, before turning his attention to the temporal auspex. ‘That should do the trick.’
Three more den-kin merged with Qah before the vermin retreated, defeated yet again. His hate of the interlopers did not diminish Ghree’s astonishment at their swiftness. They could amass such numbers in the blink of an eye. No wonder they were always hungry for expansion.
‘Where do we go now?’ Skroh asked, nursing the stump of a lost arm. Her pain was palpable. She would no longer write poems for Ghree.
‘So few of us left,’ Ghree said, looking around at the devastation. Dead Hrud littered the cavern’s floor, Qah slowly departing from their remains.
‘Where Qah wills us,’ Wyx answered. ‘Join me.’
The lair-sire sang once again, a song of loss and escape. They would run, not as far as they originally intended, but far enough from these pink pests.
‘Pre-migratory phase detected,’ the magos reported. Without prompt, Xerion shunted the galactic directions to the command throne’s lectern.
‘Your orders, my lord?’ the voxmaster asked.
‘Recall the Death Korps and commend them for a job well done,’ Slitonius said. He felt a flutter of excitement, an emotion he thought long forgotten.
‘My lord, why are we letting the xenos filth escape?’ Xerion finally asked the question that has been on his mind since the first assault on the Hrud was launched five Terran years ago.
‘They do not escape. They migrate, destroying everything in their path. And by my design, they are migrating to the Maelstrom. Huron Blackheart’s days are numbered,’ Slitonius said.
‘Now find me another Hrud nest!’
About the Author
Daniel was born on a sunny, peaceful spring morning in Budapest, Hungary. He preferred watching television over reading books. That changed when his school took him to the public library and everyone was forced to pick a book to read. He chose The Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Despite his initial disdain, our hero devoured the book in a few days and hasn’t stopped reading since. If you got this far, please send help, his budget (and shelves) can’t handle more books! Oh, and he occasionally entertains the idea of being a writer. The fool.