The sea green Stormraven banked heavily into the wind. The wind battered against its armoured flank, as its engines screamed against the inexorable pull of gravity. Fighting micro squalls its pilot skilfully spun into a hover, the fuselage brushing the tops of the long grass. The pilots had learned early on that the ground in the jungle clearings tended to be unstable; with many of them consisting of a thick layer of matted vegetation over deep sinkholes. These natural formations acted like giant ursid traps; and several armoured vehicles had been lost, before forward ground auger sweeps were made standard procedure.
The rear embarkment ramp slammed down and the evac began in earnest. Sister Hospitaller Aoife bounded into the craft with power-armoured grace, her pupils dilating as she adjusted to the gloom. And standing there, she took in the bloody horror as she had done countless times before.
As had become custom the Stormraven was crudely segregated, the wounded sisters of the Adepta Sororitas arrayed on the left; while the greater bulk of the Primaris were crowded on the right. The injuries were for the most part, all of a particular type, dismemberment. Anything less severe would be treated by the apothecaries in the field, anything more and the victims were already dead. Aoife was joined seconds later by Faris, Primaris Apothecary of the Void Tridents. He was unhelmed as she was, and his piercing blue eyes took in the scene in moments; performing a mental triage not only on his own charges, but hers too.
‘We must hurry,’ said Faris. ‘My brothers may recover from this, but your sisters are weakening swiftly. I have summoned the servitors.’
The Stormraven bounced briefly skyward and Aoife shot out an arm to steady herself, her augmetic hand gripping a stanchion hard enough to dent the metal. The pilot voxed an apology for the unexpected movement and steadied the craft once more.
Faris’s Primaris physiology had adjusted his balance with preternatural speed, and stood unmoved by the turbulence. He observed the damage Aoife did to the ship with a raised eyebrow. ‘We may have to make some more adjustments to your arm Sister, we can’t have you breaking our gunships,’ he said with a smile.
‘Later, brother,’ Aoife replied, stern as ever. ‘My sisters serve under his eye, his strength will sustain them but not for long.’
‘Very well Sister…’ replied Faris. ‘…Let’s begin.’
Laevis IV was both fortunate and cursed, depending on your point of view. For the planetary governor and the populous it was difficult to determine which. A minor splinter fleet of Hive fleet Leviathan had entered the system; and was making all speed for the populated worlds and moons. The SDF or System Defence Fleet had fought valiantly, destroying many of the smaller organisms, but the advance had been unstoppable. In any normal sequence of events, the planet would have fallen; leaving yet another barren rock to remain spinning in the void.
It was not to be.
As luck would have it, a sizeable force made up of Void Trident Astartes, Sororitas from the Order of the Bloody Rose, and several Astra Militarum regiments were passing through the system for refueling and resupply. Their long range augurs detected the Tyranids and they turned the fleet to respond.
The battle barge Argo, flanked by her escorts, the cruisers Castor and Phalerus; then engaged the remaining Hive ship at range with lances and torpedoes. The brave men and women of the SDF had performed their duties with distinction; leaving the Imperial Navy only this wounded monstrous bio-ship to contend with.
Castor took heavy damage during the attack run and her captain chose to make the ultimate sacrifice, detonating the ship’s plasma drives in the gaping maw of the massive Tyranid vessel. The wound proved mortal and the ship spasmed once, twice, and was still. Unfortunately for the people of Laevis IV, the Tyranid ship had launched a spread of mycetic spores towards the planet; and despite a rapid response from the air wing of the Planetary Defence Force, many of them landed in the equatorial jungle.
In ordinary circumstances, with this much available biomass to the xenos, the planet would be written off as a lost cause, and exterminatus protocols enacted. However, the world was a major promethium producer, and its loss would severely disrupt Imperial war efforts in the segmentum. The decision was therefore made to land forces and attempt to cleanse the Xenos on the ground. The battle for Laevis IV had begun.
Apothecary Faris walked the perimeter of the medicae camp. The night was cool, and the sky was clear, allowing for an uninterrupted view of the stars and the planet’s twin moons. As he watched, a cluster of meteorites flashed in the upper atmosphere, as they burned up on reentry. Some type of local fauna was buzzing in the undergrowth, adding to the susurrus of the wind among the tall grass. The only sounds of humanity were the gentle hum of the perimeter sensor grid, the soft breathing of his sedated patients, and the quiet growl of his own power armour. It was, for want of a better word, peaceful. Faris reminded himself that the world was in a battle for its very survival. Less than 200 kilometres distant the imperial forces were engaged with the terrifying threat of the Tyranids; the shooting stars he had witnessed were likely debris from the void war; this camp and his presence was a direct result of the conflict, and he was very much required.
But still, peaceful.
Eventually his circuit of the camp brought Faris close to Sister Aoife’s tent. He could hear her at her prayers, so he waited respectfully, until it sounded as if she had finished; and then announced his presence with a polite cough.
Aoife opened the flap of her tent and looked out at him saying, ‘Yes?’she asked sternly. ‘What do you want?’
‘Only to talk,’ replied Faris. ‘We have not had an opportunity for introductions, and we will likely be serving together for some time. I had not come across you during the campaign, and so thought it best to come and greet you.’
‘I shall be honest,’ Faris added, ‘Our resident Tech Priest is not good company.’
‘Very well,’ replied Aoife, her expression still dour. ‘But I am not certain that I am either. Enter and speak if you wish brother.’
Faris ducked to enter the tent and took in the sparse furnishings in an instant. A hard cot, neatly made up; an arming rack holding the sister’s bolter, and curiously, the shattered remnants of a power sword; and finally a small portable desk and chair. Along the back of the tent, a small shrine had been assembled, an effigy of the emperor ascendant surrounded by oath papers and devotional candles. As Faris watched, Aoife made her way stiffly to the altar, and began to snuff out the candles, pinching them out with the metal digits of her right hand.
‘So,’ she said, her back still to Faris. ‘What do you wish to know?’
‘You were not always a hospitaller were you?’ asked Faris.
Aoife seemed to stiffen even more if that were possible, her shoulders taut. Her back still to Faris she turned to look at the arming rack, her gaze falling on the broken sword.
‘No,’ she said quietly. ‘I was not.’
Faris waited patiently for her to continue, the silence drawing out, the nocturnal jungle noises penetrating the fabric of the tent. Eventually Aoife turned to face him, her eyes hard. ‘I was a Seraphim Sister Superior, of the Order of the Bloody Rose. Until Valen. Until the Orks.’
‘What happened?’ Faris asked.
Aoife’s eyes lost focus for a moment, as if seeing events in the past. An involuntary shudder passed through her and she clenched her fists in response. Finally, she looked directly at Faris and sighing asked, ‘Do you truly wish to know?’
‘I do not mean to pry, Sister,’ he replied. ‘If you do not wish to speak of it, we can move on to other subjects.’
‘No, I expect it will do me good to elucidate this. The sisters who cared for me in my convalescence, encouraged me to tell the tale, to give voice to the memory that caused me such pain; but at the time I was unable to do so. Maybe, now is as good a time as any.’
Aoife sat heavily on the cot, suppressing a pained wince as she did so.
‘Were you with us at Valen?’ she asked.
‘No,’ replied Faris, ‘I was part of the resupply convoy, I joined my brothers of the sixth company some months after that battle.’
‘It was grim. The Orks had had the run of the planet for many months, perhaps years before we arrived in-system. The imperial population was either dead, enslaved, or scattered to small moons or desperate flotillas. The greenskins had been busy and the near orbit of the primary world was a mess of makeshift docks and ramshackle fortifications. Despite their appearance the defences were effective. Through sheer weight of fire, the accursed xenos destroyed many of our vessels before the navy outmanoeuvred them, and brought the guns of the line ships to bear. My commandery landed in force to hold the eastern flank; while the guard regiments were tasked with containing the threat; at the same time the Space Marines were to deliver a decapitation strike. There was a failure of intelligence and the Astartes strike force found themselves chasing ghosts. Their target coordinates did hold a substantial xenos camp; but the Orks they found were the weaker variants of their kind. Of the warboss and his retinue there was no sign.
‘Soon we were to learn the reason for this. As night descended the Orks fell back from the line, the withdrawal was disorderly and they took heavy losses. The Militarum command decided they were in full retreat, and ordered the regiments to pursue and destroy. It was a ruse. Through some foul xenos cunning, the warlord had held the majority of his forces in reserve. Howit achieved this with its famously quarrelsome species, will be a matter of debate for the Inquisitors of the Ordo Xenos for some years to come I expect. How it did it is irrelevant but the outcome was horrific. The noble guardsmen suddenly found themselves out in the open, and were in danger of being completely overrun. My Canoness assessed that the Orks would quit the field to fight amongst themselves; if their leader could be slain, and so in a desperate gamble she dispatched my sisters and I. Fully thirty Seraphim took to the skies that night, our orders were to destroy the warlord, as nothing less would do. We held our faith in the Emperor to our hearts, and sang his praises at the top of our voices; as we began our attack, but in truth the mission was a forlorn hope. We faced hundreds of the blasphemous beasts, all swollen muscle and dumb rage. My wrath grew in my breast as we descended, we were a blood red arrow striking at the heart of their force.
‘Sister Naimh was the first to die, torn apart by wild fire before she’d even made ground-fall. She made no sound as she fell, killed too quickly to even scream her defiance. Iona and Siobhan were next, clumsy cleavers tearing into them as soon as they landed. We fought back, bolt shells bursting skulls, flamers immolating them where they stood. Within seconds my sword was slick with green alien blood, the disruption field straining to burn it away as I struck limbs and heads from torsos with every swing. It wasn’t enough, it was never going to be enough. My sisters fought as hard as I had ever seen them, singing hymnals even as they were struck down, riddled with bullets, or crushed by massive fists.
‘Soon there were but five of us remaining, but by the Emperor’s grace our bloody path had brought us within sight of the beast! My sisters knew their duty, and threw themselves into the its bodyguards with even greater ferocity, selling their lives dearly to clear a path for me to face it…’
Aoife stopped, tears running freely down her face, as she recalled the desperate sacrifice of her sisters. Faris waited in respectful silence until she had composed herself once more.
‘What of the beast?’ he asked.
Aoife smiled for the first time since he’d met her and then reached across the cot to a footlocker. Reaching inside she pulled out a cloth wrapped bundle and tossed it towards Faris. As it landed, it unrolled itself, and a massive bleached Ork skull rocked to a halt at his feet.
Faris bent down to pick it up. ‘Impressive Sister,’ he said. “Very impressive. It does not, however, explain your change in station?”
Aoife stood, and wiping the last of the tears from her face said, ‘While my sisters paid the ultimate price my victory was not without cost. Though the Emperor saw fit to grant me humility through loss. When a guard patrol found me by the corpse of the warlord, I had sustained many wounds. I lost both legs above the knee and my right arm. The hospitallers did their best but the augmetic replacements available in a war zone are rarely the best. I was unable to manoeuvre as I once did, or use my weapons effectively. My time as a Sister of Battle was over, but I was still determined to serve.’
‘You switched vocations? Not an easy choice,’ asked Faris.
‘After a great deal of prayer and contemplation, I determined that I should aid my sisters as I had been aided myself. And so, with the blessing of my Canoness, I transferred to the Order of Serenity. They have a small contingent with the fleet and have long served with the orders militant. I was honoured to be accepted into their convent.’
‘I’m sure they were gladdened to learn from your first hand experience,’ said Faris.
‘They are hard lessons, I am pleased I can pass on the knowledge, while saving them the price in blood,’ said Aoife.
‘Thank you for your candour sister. I will leave you to your rest.’ Faris started to leave, but then stopping said, ‘One last thing though, I believe we may have more in common than you expect.’
Faris removed his left gauntlet to reveal an augmetic hand.
‘I lost this on Kalinus Prime. The mono-molecular flechette rounds of Eldar dust cannons are extremely sharp. Lost the leg too. I had the benefit of Astartes resources and my trans-human physiology, so my recovery may have been easier. If you would permit me, I would be happy to examine your augmentics. I have become quite adept at their maintenance.’
‘Will that not anger our resident tech priest? He seems very attached to his machines,’ said Aoife.
‘Maybe. We might be forgiven a degree of latitude after losing so many Tech Marines in the Kintara Incident. I was granted something of a field apprenticeship to help make up the numbers,’ said Faris.
‘Very well then,’ Aoife smiled, a degree of warmth penetrating her stern demeanour at last. ‘I would be grateful Brother.’
Sister Aoife walked down the aisle between the cots that held her patients. Sixteen battle sisters were under the care of her and her team of servitors. She had requested additional hospitallers at the camp, but they were in short supply and all required at the frontlines. Aoife was diligent and had directed her energies into preserving life, with as much focus and righteous zeal as she had when taking it. It was late in the evening, when she performed the final rounds of her sleeping charges, before then retiring to her tent for prayers and rest.
She stopped at Sister Magdalena, taking time to review her biosigns for abnormalities, and confirming that the augmetic leg was not showing signs of infection where it met the flesh. She spotted a slight reddening, and applied an unguent to the site of the wound from one of the vials she kept at her belt; making a note to revisit the injured sister first thing in the morning.
Satisfied that the sister was in no immediate danger, she left her bedside and began to walk back towards her quarters. Her route took her past the Primaris section and she paused, looking for Faris. She spotted him at the primary apothecary station or apothecarian; and watched as two servitors lifted a heavily injured marine onto the operating table. The marine was missing most of his left arm and sported a massive wound to his lower torso. He still appeared able to talk and looked to be having a heated discussion with the apothecary marine. Aoife turned to continue her walk to her quarters; but Faris spotted her. ‘Sister Aoife!’ he called out. ‘Will you come and meet brother Ajax? Maybe, explain to him that missing an arm, means that he can’t go back to the battle just this minute?’
This last comment was made with a wry smile; and met with no little consternation by the recumbent Ajax. Who tried to rise but was gently, but firmly, pushed back down by Faris.
Aoife entered the glare of the apothecarian lumens, and approached the operating table. She ran a practiced eye over the space marine. The arm ended just below the shoulder; but there was enough humerus bone protruding to form an effective anchor for an augmetic. The stomach wound was horrific, all torn muscle and exposed organs.
‘Well brother, no need to be impolite, introduce yourself,’ said Faris.
‘Brother Sergeant Ajax, Hellblaster, Void Tridents Sixth Company. Well met sister,’ said Ajax through bloodstained teeth. ‘I apologise for my appearance, I am not at my best right now.’
‘Brother Ajax and I were both part of the same Primaris aspirant group, in a sense we have known each other for millennia,’ said Faris, ‘Although of course we slept through most of it.’
‘You never told me you were an Unnumbered Son!’ said Aoife.
‘You never asked,’ said Faris. ‘It makes little difference in the grand scheme of things.’
‘But you must’ve been born in the Age of Wonder!’ said Aoife.
‘I suppose I was,’ replied Faris. ‘Although we didn’t call it that of course.’
‘But to have been alive when the Emperor walked the stars…’ Aoife trailed off, lost in reverie.
‘I hate to interrupt the history scholam,’ grunted Ajax. ‘But I may be requiring attention.’
Ajax spasmed on the table, his back arching so high, that it seemed as if his spine would snap. He cried out in pain, an animal sound that Aoife never expected to hear from a human, never mind a gen-enhanced angel of death. Faris was immediately in motion, directing the servitors to return to the table and restrain the thrashing marine. The first lifted its clamp arms into position and secured Ajax’s legs; but as the second approached a wild swing of his remaining arm sent it flying out of the tent walls, smashed and unrepairable.
‘Help me sister!’ cried Faris, trying to hold down the struggling Ajax; while simultaneously holding an imager over the marine’s body.
Aoife dashed forwards, taking control of the imager while Faris struggled with the increasingly distressed Ajax. She keyed the activation runes and held the device steady while it warmed up.
‘Hold it there please sister,’ said Faris, the strain palpable in his voice. The image is coming through.’
Aoife looked back at the hololith projector, as a model of Ajax’s insides was sketched from green light in the air. Something moved within. Something with teeth.
‘Brother!’ she yelled to Faris as the Ripper burst from Ajax’s chest and threw itself at the apothecary.
Faris moved faster than anyone had a right to, catching the Ripper in mid air, and crushing it in his armoured gauntlet. He turned and tossed the xenos corpse into the medical incinerator where it was flash burned to ash.
‘Are you okay sister?’ Faris asked calmly. ‘Are you harmed?’
‘I am unharmed brother, look to your brother sergeant,’ replied Aoife.
Faris turned to the convulsing form of Ajax and swung the imager back over his body. The hololith built the picture once again, this time Aoife perceived even greater damage than before.
‘Can anything be done Brother,’ she asked quietly.
Faris looked at the image studying it for a moment before turning to his supine brother.
‘No,’ he replied sadly. ‘Not with the tools at my disposal. Sergeant Ajax has lost both primary hearts, his Belisarian furnace has engaged, but it was not enough. He has fought his last battle.’
Faris stepped to Ajax’s head and extended a short thin blade from his Nathecium. He bent lowand spoke so softly that Aoife strained to hear his words; and then plunged the stiletto into Ajax’s skull behind his ear. The marine shuddered once and was still.
Aoife waited outside the tent respectfully, while Faris performed the last sacred duty of an apothecary and attempted to collect Ajax’s gene-seed. So that the fallen marine could live on in future generations of Primaris marines. She breathed deeply, while she watched the stars, bringing her back into focus. It was true that as a battle sister she had witnessed many brutal deaths, the battle that had taken her legs and vocation had been full of them. But there was something about the way Ajax had perished that had unsettled her. Perhaps it was his helplessness, lying on the apothecarian slab; or maybe it was just the shock of seeing a warrior so mighty brought low, by an organism so mindless. Maybe she was just on uncertain ground following Faris’s revelation about his origins.
In due course Faris emerged from the tent and joined her in the cool night air. Cleaning the last of Ajax’s blood from his gauntlets he said, ‘Are you ok sister?’ he asked, his voice full of concern.
‘Of course brother,’ Aoife replied. ‘That was very sudden. I admit I had not expected it. Was the organism not detected during battlefield triage?’
‘That I do not know. It is curious behaviour from that genus of Tyranid. In my experience, the rippers are mindless, unable to plan or even lay dormant as this one seemed to. I will make my report available to command and the Ordo Xenos. We must make sure our brothers and sisters in the field are informed, lest this happens elsewhere. Will you add your observances to my report?’
‘I shall prepare them at once,’ replied Aoife. ‘What weapon did you use to deliver the Emperor’s Peace?’
‘It is not so much a weapon as a tool,’ replied Faris showing Aoife the Narthecium on his right arm. “For the older generation Firstborn Space Marines we would use the carnifax, a kind of spring loaded bolt to pierce the skull; but we Primaris are rather more difficult to kill, so I have this.” He slid the blade from its enclosure and triggered it. Blue lightning danced upon its length for a moment before he stowed it again. “The disruption field destroys the brain, it is swift and painless.”
Aoife made to leave but paused and looked at Faris. ‘May I inquire, brother what words did you speak to Ajax at the end?’
‘I thanked him for his service, that is all,’ replied Faris. ‘Ultimately service is all we have and all we can give.’
‘Under his eye,’ said Aoife.
‘Said quite well,’ replied Faris.
‘You do not believe in the divinity of He that resides on the Golden Throne do you?’ asked Aoife, ‘I am curious as to why that is.’
Faris held Aoife’s pious gaze, the night silent but for the breeze through the trees.
‘Cawl told us not to,’ he said, smiling gently.
Aoife was woken by an insistent beeping in her ear, the voxbead pinging to inform her of an incoming message.
‘Speak,’ she said wearily sitting up. She checked the chrono and was dismayed to see that it was still the middle of the night.
‘Sister, I may require your assistance,’ said Faris. ‘Please meet me at the northern perimeter. Bring your weapons.’
Aoife donned her armour swiftly, years of practice making her movements slick. Faris’s adjustments to her augmetics had significantly improved her control among other benefits; and she was ready in half the usual time. Her power armour in place she picked up her bolter, inserted the ammo magazine, and mag-locked it to her hip.
She picked up her Sabbat pattern helm and held it before her face. Like the rest of her wargear, it had been fastidiously repaired and re-sanctified after Valen; but she had not had cause to wear it. She looked into the deep green lenses and saw her reflection. The short bob remained, white where it had once been steel grey. Her eyes were a brown so dark, that they may as well have been black. Despite all her past injuries, her face had remained unscarred, the only marking a fleur-de-lis tattoo under her left eye. Her expression was hard as it ever was, as she held her helm in a loose grip and headed out into the dark.
A couple of minutes later she found Faris standing at the northern perimeter fence. He had brought his bolt rifle this time rather than just his sidearm and a long combat knife was sheathed at his hip. He was looking out over the fence into the jungle but turned as she approached.
‘I am glad you could join me sister,’ said Faris.
‘What is going on Brother?’ Aoife asked. ‘And why could you not tell me over the vox?’
‘I did not wish to worry any of our patients,’ said Faris. ‘They still have active vox and some of them may wish to join us. I fear in their current state they would be more hindrance than help. We are missing a patrol.’
‘How so?’ said Aoife.
‘Two of our Guardsmen have not checked in. They are currently more than an hour overdue. Given the relatively small size of our camp here, it is extremely unlikely that they got lost. In any case, the tech priest has triangulated their vox beads to the north of this section of the perimeter. It may be that they snuck off for a lho stick and got turned around; but given the situation on this world, I felt it prudent to have backup and you’re the most capable warrior available,’ explained Faris.
‘I’m a warrior no longer brother,’ said Aoife.
‘You and I both know that’s not true sister,’ said Faris donning his helm. ‘Now, shall we?’
Aoife donned her own helm, the familiar icons once more swimming across her vision. It felt like coming home.
‘Very well brother,’ she voxed, ‘Let us find our erstwhile troopers.’
A click in her ear told her that Faris was speaking on another channel, and within moments a section of fence slid to the side. She looked sidelong at Faris and then stepped into the jungle, bolter raised, thermal preysight engaged. A predator once more.
They performed a grid search, methodically crisscrossing their paths, so that they covered the likely location of the troopers in as much detail as possible. The dense jungle let in little of the moonlight, and they had to be wary of sinkholes that might prove somewhat inconvenient. After an hour they had covered just over half of the area, and Faris voxed Aoife to check in.
‘Anything sister?’ he asked.
‘Nothing brother,’ she replied tersely. ‘I would tell you if there was.’
‘It’s strange sister,’ he said. ‘Have you noticed any torn undergrowth? Any signs of something’s passage?’
‘None brother, and I agree it is peculiar. Guardsmen blundering in the dark should have left a path like a lascannon.’
Aoife blink-clicked a rune on her display, and switched her visual input from low light to thermal once again. She scanned the jungle around her, and on her second pass caught something in the trees.
‘Faris, converge on my position,’ she voxed, raising her bolter and slowly moving towards the source of the heat.
‘Acknowledged,’ said Faris in her vox bead; but she wasn’t listening. The blur of heat was beginning to take shape and her decades of combat experience were taking over. She became hyper aware of the environment. The wind blowing softly through the trees, the slight crack of dry branches under her boots. There were no animal sounds, it was if the jungle was holding its breath.
Faris caught up with her as she made her final approach. For a being so huge he could move surprisingly lightly. He made no sound but followed her gaze towards the low canopy. There, impaled on the branches, were their two missing Guardsmen. They had been struck with such force that their chests were torn open, viscera spilling to the forest floor. Both also had
received matching trauma to their skulls, their brain pans were exposed and strangely empty.
At the sight of the corpses, Faris immediately positioned himself back to back with Aoife, so as to cover her as she made her assessment.
‘They’re cold brother,’ she said. ‘Ambient temperature is low, but I estimate they have been dead for approximately two hours.’
Faris opened a priority vox channel to the camp, but was met with static.
‘Sister…’ he said.
‘I know brother,’ she replied. ‘This way.’
Abandoning stealth the two of them broke into a run. Faris, measuring his gait, so as not to leave the battle sister behind. He couldn’t think of her as a hospitaller now.
They slowed as they reached the ingress point in the perimeter and Faris voxed the entry codes. There was no response and after a few moments Faris keyed in the entry code. The section slid back once more, and with bolters raised, they swung into the camp from both sides of the gap. Covering each other as they advanced.
They were met with carnage. Someone had triggered the general alarm; but the tocsins were silent, only the strobing lumens remained. The flashing lights, highlighting the vignettes of horror, as they made their way deeper into the camp.
Servitors torn to shreds where they stood.
Scattered body parts and discarded lasguns.
A Chimera with broken tracks, its rear hatch wide open and covered in blood.
‘Split up and check the patents,’ voxed Faris, heading towards the Space Marine section.
Aoife ran on to find her sisters.
She slowed as she reached the tent, the entrance flapping in the wind. She pushed it open with the end of her bolter and stepped inside, sighting along the barrel. The lights did not penetrate, so she blink-clicked to low light, and caught her first look at her ward. It was a charnel house. As she moved down the aisle she passed her gaze over each of her patients. They were all dead. All killed in the same way, massive head trauma. She felt the bile begin to rise, but fought it down with rage. She began to pray. Biting out the words as they formed bitterly on her tongue.
‘A spiritu dominatus,
‘Imperator libra nos!
‘From the lightning and the tempest, Our Emperor, deliver us!’
She had failed her sisters again. She would have vengeance.
Exiting the other end of the tent, Aoife found Faris coming from the other direction. ‘They are dead,’ she said bitterly.
‘My charges have perished too. Massive cranial trauma,’ he replied.
‘The same,’ said Aoife. ‘We shall hunt what has done this and avenge them in the Emperor’s name!’
‘I don’t think we need to hunt for long,’ said Faris, slowly raising his bolt rifle to aim over Aoife’s head.
Aoife turned slowly, raising her own bolter as she did so. At first she saw nothing, but then she caught it, a slight hazing of the stars, a shimmer on the moon. As she watched as the creature took shape, the shifting patterns of its chameleonic cells solidifying; until in the moonlight, it was revealed crouching at the apex of the tent. It was huge, easily taller than Faris. Massive mantis claws grew from its armoured shoulders, arms ending in vicious talons, and it’s lower jaw was hidden behind a cluster of questing tendrils. It turned its head slightly to regard them and flexed its claws.
‘Sister,’ voxed Faris quietly. ‘When I engage it, run.’
‘I shall not leave you Brother, we shall vanquish this xenos beast together!’ hissed Aoife.
‘No!’ replied Faris. ‘It’s a Lictor, it has stolen the memories of our brothers and sisters. We must destroy it completely. Find the tech priest and vox for an orbital strike. This entire region must be purged nowSister!’ shouted Faris moving forward. ‘Run!’
Aoife ran, the sounds of bolter fire at her back, Faris yelling oaths through his voxmitters. Even at a distance she felt the Lictor land and prayed that Faris was not beneath its claws. She quickly arrived at the primary vox, the still strobing lumens revealing snatches of damage. The vox room was smashed, the devices themselves destroyed without any hope of repair. She sifted through the wreckage, hoping that something might have survived. Movement caught her eye, and kicking away more detritus,uncovered the tech priest.
He was in bad shape, broken and cut through in multiple places, but still alive. His single surviving ocular augmentic focussed on her with a dull red glow.
‘How do you still live, priest?’ Aoife demanded.
The tech priest replied with a burst of static from his voxmitter, and then began to speak Gothic. His words scratched like a broken recording. ‘The organism found me unappetising it seems,’ said the priest. ‘It did not find what it was looking for.’ He used a mechadendrite to indicate a large hole in his metallic skull. “Luckily, I no longer keep my brain there. It is far too valuable,” He said, tapping his chest with the probing metal digit.
‘Can you vox the fleet?’ Demanded Aoife. ‘This area must be razed at once!’
‘That is a shame…’ replied the priest. ‘…As all my knowledge is lost.’
‘That is not all that will be lost, if we fail priest. Can you do it or not?!’ shouted Aoife.
‘I can attempt a connection to high command. What action will you be taking?’ asked the priest.
Aoife turned and headed out of the small chamber.
‘Vengeance!’ she said, starting to run.
Faris ducked into the Apothecarion, he was limping where the Lictor had caught him a blow to the leg. He was fairly certain his femur was fractured; and that he’d lost a fair amount of blood. He had fired on the xenos at point blank range, but it was uncertain as to how many times he had hit it. It was definitely wounded though, the splash of its foul ichor across his vambraces, attested to that.
He made his way to the cogitator station, keying in the sequence that would enact the preservation protocol on the gene seed vault. He depressed the final rune sequence; and was rewarded by a low rumble, as the vault began the process of burying itself deep underground. He sighed with relief knowing the chapter’s legacy was secure; but stopped as he heard another growl, from behind him. He turned as the Lictor leapt.
Aoife turned the corner in time to see Faris crash through the tent wall, the Lictor astride his chest, claws deep in his limbs. They hit the grass and rolled to a stop, the Lictor reared up above Faris and then slammed its claws into both of his shoulders, pinning him in place. Aoife cried out in fury as the xenos started to lower itself on top of him, feeder tendrils seeking his head.
Faris lay beneath the Lictor, its claws penetrating his upper arms. He felt strangely detached, as he watched the Lictors tendrils reaching out. ‘Probably oxygen deprivation,’ he idly diagnosed. Over the Lictor’s shoulder he caught a flash of movement.
Aoife ran at the Lictor, a wordless prayer forming on her lips, as she leapt as high as her augmentic legs would carry her.
Faris caught sight of Aoife as she reached the apex of her arc, a halo of moonlight, surrounding her head. He saw the blade slide out of he augmentic arm, as she descended like the wrath of the Emperor himself. Aoife landed heavily on the Lictor’s back and plunged the remade blade into the back of its skull, activating the disruptor field as she did so. ‘Imperator libra nos!’ she screamed, as fire burst from the Lictors eyes, and it fell heavily across Faris.
Aoife held Faris across her, it had taken all her strength to shift the Lictors corpse from him; and now she rested with his head on her lap.
‘I saw an angel,’ whispered Faris
‘Hush brother,’ said Aoife. ‘Rest now, I can fix you.’
Faris closed his eyes.
‘Do you hear that sister?’ he said.
‘I do brother,’ said Aoife gently. ‘Do not worry, they are coming for us.’
Around the camp the jungle filled with buzzing once more.
About the Author
Andy Clark is an avid reader of all things Warhammer having rediscovered the setting with the Horus Heresy series. He’s recently got back into painting models after a two-decade gap and wonders why he ever stopped. This is his first foray into writing 40k fiction.