The Legend of Adam Caine) has passed along his superb 40k fan fiction short.
It's an 8500 word short so I'm going to split it into four sections over the course of 2 weeks. Enjoy.
Two men walked out between the army of metal corpses.
One held the stump of his left arm in his hand, stumbling against the wreckage of a holed-out Chimera transport. He wore the braids and epaulettes of a lord militant, though his uniform jacket was torn and bloody. His holster was empty, the remains of a sword belt hanging limply from his waist.
The other stayed two paces behind. Always two paces. He wore the khaki-coloured uniform of an Imperial Guardsman, a specialised carapace jacket peppered with old scars and dents, and tattered camo-cape around his shoulders. In his hands he held a battered las-rifle, a chainsword strapped to his back. The cape was pulled up around his mouth and nose to protect him from the elements.
Harsh wind pelted them with dust, and caked them with it.
The dust was something else: a rusty red colour that blended the horizon with the sky in one huge miasma of confused landscape. It was dark and bright at the same time, the thick fog-like substance amplifying the light, making it claustrophobic to the extreme.
Their hair, such as it was, was red with it, their faces pale and bone-dry.
The lord militant –or at least the one dressed as one- stopped for a breather, trying to imitate the other by pulling his undershirt up over the tip of his nose. But it kept slipping off, exposing his dry mouth to the elements.
“Aren’t you going to give me some water?” the Lord Militant croaked.
The Guardsman snorted derisively, shaking his head with amusement.
“You could at least give me some painkillers, dammit.” He held up the cauterised stump that was left of his arm below the elbow. “This hurts you know.”
“Good,” the Guardsman growled.
The Lord Militant tried to spit at the Guardsman, but his mouth was too goddamn dry. He tried to flip a middle finger, and then realised it was the wrong hand. He swore, and felt the barrel of the lasgun tap his shoulder.
“You’re a bastard,” he cursed.
The Guardsman nodded, and gestured forward with his rifle.
Something thumped overhead, jets screaming as it headed towards the enemy frontline. It was followed by a crump of detonation, and a flash of explosive energy that lit up the dust behind them.
Something else with the blurred shape of a Vulture gunship followed the first, then another, and then another. Each time, it was followed by the flash and crump of air-launched munitions on a ground target.
The edge of a major offensive was only a few miles to their left: the combined might of infantry and armour regiments clashing with wave after wave of enemy hordes. The howl of the wind drowned out the noise of the fight, but both knew it was horrendous.
They walked on, passing through the metal skeleton of a downed Destrier bulk transporter. Its hull had been stripped of any useful armour plating, and its crew were strewn about the place, the blackened skeletons hunched over wrecked control consoles, as well as the burnt out corpses of their alien attackers.
The Lord Militant almost tripped over a support stanchion.
“This is intolerable,” he coughed.
“Suck it up,” said the Guardsman. He used his combat boot to push the other along. The Lord Militant stumbled again, but this time fell on his face. He rolled over, spitting out a mouthful of dust. “Get up,” the Guardsman ordered. He clutched the las-rifle tightly, cautious of a trap, the butt tucked hard into his shoulder, the barrel pointed towards the ground.
“Get. Up.” He repeated, stressing the urgency of the situation.
“I’m a Lord Militant, dammit, I deserve better treatment than this. I have served the God-Emperor for forty years, and won numerous medals and awards. I have a title, and should be treated with the respect it comes with.”
“You gave up that right,” the other sneered, “when you did what you did.”
“Naturally, Flacker sent you to retrieve me.”
“Naturally,” sneered the Guardsman. “I’m good at what I do.”
“So our relationship has nothing to do with it, of course?”
“None whatsoever,” spat the Guardsman. To highlight it, he kicked the Lord Militant in the leg. “You’re a coward. Don’t expect any special treatment besides what you deserve.”
“I’m sure you’ll be the one to pull the trigger in the end, won’t you?”
The Guardsman smiled for the first time. The Lord Militant found it to be a chilling and evil smile.
“The first in a long queue.”
The Lord Militant slumped for a second, appearing to accept defeat. The Guardsman relaxed his posture a little, and never saw it coming. The Lord Militant’s remaining hand flicked forward, throwing a handful of dust and ash at the Guardsman’s face. The Guardsman flinched away from it, distracted for a second.
The Lord Militant jumped unsteadily to his feet; he gathered what strength he could, and dove at the Guardsman. He collided with the flak armour on his upper torso. It hurt his shoulder, but the Guardsman let out a ‘whoof’ of surprise, and the two went tumbling to the ground.
The Guardsman smashed his head on the ground, and he was out for the count.
The Lord Militant rummaged through the other man’s belt-pouches and pulled out a cantina of treated water. He gulped a little down, swished it around his mouth, and spat it onto the Guardsman’s armoured chest, then downed the rest, soothing his dry throat.
He discarded the cantina, and tried to pull the lasgun away from the Guardsman. Unfortunately the strap was wrapped around his torso and shoulder, and wouldn’t budge.
He heard a skitter of movement off in the distance, like claws on metal.
He grabbed the autopistol in the Guardsman’s waistband –it had been his own before it was confiscated anyway. He still had a couple of clips in his pockets, where they had sat uselessly until now.
He slapped a fresh clip in the pistol’s grip, and pulled the action, loading the first solid round. Gripping the autopistol, he contemplated putting a round through the Guardsman’s head, and preventing the younger man from chasing him.
He aimed the pistol, but he couldn’t pull the trigger, his hand trembling.
That skittering noise came again, closer this time.
He hoped it wasn’t what he thought it could be.
The ground vibrated under his feet, and then again and again, getting harder and harder; he knew what it meant, and knew he would have to stay away from the source. The ground shook now, the source moving closer and closer.
Looking around, he saw what was left of an ancient stone building off in the distance, away from the Guardsman, away from the source of the shaking, and away from the skittering noise.
He bolted, ignoring the pain, until he was safe.
* * * * * *
Chief Master Sergeant Reag Fellheimer awoke with a start.
In his unconscious state, he had been dreaming of claws and chitinous armour, and giant stomping feet that cracked the ground. Upon awakening, the pain in the back of his head throbbed like hell. His memory of the last few seconds before unconsciousness was blurry and full of dust.
He didn’t need to look around to know his prisoner had escaped. His waistband was empty besides his own battered body: the confiscated pistol had been taken –why hadn’t the General taken his holstered bolt pistol or the lasgun across his chest?
The autopistol had been a compact weapon, designed for emergencies not for sustained combat: it was a 0.22 calibre pistol with a ten-round clip, and a tendency to jam in dust conditions.
In fact, the dust had saved Fellheimer’s life, jamming the General’s pistol just as he was pulling the trigger when he caught up to the older man. He had lopped off the man’s firing arm before he could clean the weapon.
He used a twisted piece of metal sticking up from the ground to pull himself to his feet, wiping the black grime on his khaki fatigues.
This was when he discovered the source of the banging: he hadn’t just been dreaming that the ground was breaking and shaking, something outside of his dream had been influencing it.
A massive shadow fell over him as the ground shook with a boom-boom-boom of giant footsteps. He turned just in time to see a gigantic square foot with four massive outward-splayed toes coming down towards his head, blotting out the dust-covered sun.
He ran, and flung himself forward as hard as he could.
The Warlord Titan’s foot came crashing down, and crushed the remains of the Destrier, missing Fellheimer by millimetres. The resulting impact jumped him a metre into the air, and landed him on his chest.
Battered and bruised, he looked up to see the green-armoured Warlord stride on, its feet crushing the wreckage of several tanks, and kicking up clouds of dust with every step. Fellheimer watched in awe as it carried itself over the field of debris, and marched towards the frontline.
The green giant seemed unconcerned that it had nearly squashed an ally, and similarly unconcerned that it was walking on the literal bones of the dead. Fellheimer was sure the crew of the titan, sat up in the head far off the ground, were completely unaware of what was under their feet, viewing anything but a titan beneath their notice.
Who needs them, he thought angrily, when they do more damage to their allies and friends than to the enemy, and care nothing for others? His initial awe at seeing the Warlord titan had gone, replaced by the anger of nearly being killed.
He stood there, watching as it strode without effort almost the entire twenty miles to the frontlines.
Off in the distance, he could see a long line of other walking mountains in the distance. They were marching as one, their footsteps quaking the ground. The furthest was barely visible, obscured by the dust clouds, whilst the closest were grey and indistinct, like the gods of old striding in the mist.
A skittering noise off to his left attracted his attention to the devastated path the titan had walked. He knew the sound better than most humans. It was bad; at least for him. The distant titans wouldn’t have a problem with it.
Just as he said that there was a terrible inhuman screech that pierced the air, and the titan rocked backwards. Flames haloed around the titan, and it took a step backwards. Its void shields flashed and flickered. Its volcano cannon spat fire and something screeched again, much more higher-pitched this time.
And then the circular void shields died, and its volcano cannon was ripped to shreds by a pincer-wielding limb. Fellheimer felt horror fill him for the first time in a long time, and saw something’s massive shadow eclipse the Warlord. He could see long barbed limbs and a .
Something punched through the Warlord’s sternum, and the point of a vast leg protruded from its bulging engine stacks. The leg suddenly twitched to one side, and bisected the Warlord, the two halves falling apart like a Guardsman sliced in half by a power sword. The titan’s power core was touched off by detonating munitions, and the entire visage was replaced by an expanding mushroom cloud of smoke and flames.
The mushroom cloud blasted masses of dust that rushed over Fellheimer’s position, drowning out anything visible but the outlines of the very distant titans and their Tyranid equivalents.
He couldn’t help but flick his comm-bead over to some of the open Imperial channels. There were panicked and horror-filled screams piercing his ear. There were calls for reinforcements that were cut off by gurgles of pain, and screams for evac that was never going to come.
It was chaos.
There was one scream that seemed to cut through the lot of them, and it sent a chill through Fellheimer.
It was the worst possible thing he could hear, though he could see its distant silhouette for himself barely bigger than a small arachnid in the distance. The thing had been responsible for killing the Warlord, and now it stood in its place, rearing up and roaring. Hydraphants were the biggest Tyranid life-form that could walk on a planet’s surface, and thus the most dangerous and hardest to kill. They devastated worlds all by themselves.
Someone, he didn’t know who, ordered the retreat.
Soon, this area would be flooded with thousands of panicked Guardsmen, and alien killing machines chasing them down. He had a mission to complete, a prisoner to return to High Command. More than ever, he needed to prevent the ‘nids from capturing and absorbing a Lord Militant General’s mind and all the codes and tactical data that came from it.
If he had to, he would kill the General and destroy the body before letting it get into the claws and jaws of the ‘nids.
The skittering noise came again, and it was closer; a lot closer.
He tucked the lasgun’s butt into his shoulder, and scanned around. He discovered a path made by the coward: smudges where he had lent on debris with his stump, and the metal filings where the coward had used his autopistol to steady himself on other chunks of wreckage.
It was an easy enough trail to follow.
The skittering got louder.
He was being hunted.
There were clicks from all around him: more than one gaunt from more than one direction, and they were communicating in their own mindless way. They were hunting him. And they were hunting as a pack –bad for him, because they were usually mindless beasts directed by something else. This meant that a synapse creature or something similar was nearby, and it was hunting him.
He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
He moved as fast as he dared, still scanning to the right and left of him, his rifle ever ready, and still keeping an eye for the General’s trail. There was a clicking sound behind him, followed by another to his left and then again to his right.
The gaunts were no more than a few metres away, and yet he couldn’t see them. The dust was obscuring them, and they were already close enough to strike. And then there was sudden silence.
The first Hormagaunt came bounding out of the dust, head low so that it’s cranial and spinal armour plating was all parallel to the ground. Its scything claws were drawn back for a quick kill, and its long mouth was open, showing all its razor-sharp teeth. Its powerful muscular legs pushed it along between the twisted metal until it came to a large sloping piece of armour.
It ran up the incline, and jumped into the air, claws and talons extended, its mouth open wide for a killing bite.
Fellheimer span on the spot, and shot it point blank. The energy round slammed into the back of the gaunt’s open mouth, and blew out the back of its armoured skull from within, spraying ichor and brain matter backwards. Its dead body fell to the ground beside him, and the second and third gaunts made their move.
The second did much the same as the first, only this time it jumped from ground level, bounding straight for his head before he could turn his lasgun in time. The gaunt missed him as he twisted, but its leg caught on his shoulder, and knocked him to the ground.
The third gaunt was on him in a flash, charging through a downed pylon to snap at his feet. It bit at empty air, and he rewarded it with a single blast from his rifle. The las-round, hastily shot, hit the gaunt in the shoulder, and took its left forearm off, reducing its lethality by one. The gaunt jumped back from the pain, span, and then dove at him again.
He fired again, and this time caught it in its stomach.
The creature squealed, and fell to the ground, writhing in agony in the dust.
The second gaunt, recovered from its daze, tried to sink its teeth into his arm, instead getting a mouthful of lasgun barrel. Its teeth locked into the hard casing, its scything talons too far away from him, and its brain too small to try something else at the same time.
It shook its head relentlessly, trying to free its teeth.
Even with its incredibly strong jaw, it couldn’t do it. So Fellheimer let go of the lasgun, letting the sudden change in momentum carry the ‘nid backwards. He whipped the bolt pistol out, and shot it through the head.
The loud bang and the explosive crump as the round hit the creature’s hard skull echoed weirdly around him, making him wonder just what was out there besides the wreckage.
He tapped the commbead in his ear, and switched it to a secure channel.
“Gauntlet, this is Alpha-Four-Five. Need pick-up ASAP.”
The line crackled for a second.
“Understood, Alpha-Four-Five. Activate your beacon; be there in twenty.”
He reached for his belt, where the small vox-beacon was normally sat. All that was there was a mess of ripped wires and the case half-missing. The last gaunt must have smashed it, during the tug-of-war for the lasgun.
“Frak.” He tapped the commbead again. “Gauntlet, my beacon is smashed. You’ll have to lock onto my commbead signal.” He checked his position using a dataslate from his webbing. “My current position is fourteen point three klicks south-south-west of Command HQ, around the wreckage site of Heavy-789. I’ll be as nearby as I possibly can.”
There was a long pause, presumably the vox-operator checking with his superiors. “Acknowledged Alpha-Four-Five, stay close to the wreckage. Stay safe, a general retreat has been ordered and the area will be full of traffic.”
“Thanks, Gauntlet; hurry.”
As if to confirm this, Valkyrie assault carriers rushed overhead, escorted by dozens of Vultures. Fellheimer wondered who they were for: the troops or their privileged officers. It put into perspective his own mission here: the whole Army Group was plagued with the same elitist attitudes towards the troops. He knew it would be the end of the Group if such attitudes were allowed to continue.
Leave that to the commanders and tacticians, he thought.
He had a mission, and a target.
Unfortunately, his lasgun was beyond any real combat use. There were even teeth left behind in the casing, although he could make good use of those in the future. For now, the lasgun would be slung over his shoulder, a memento if he ever got out of here alive.
The General couldn’t have got far. Without water or food, or even medical supplies he would succumb to his injuries.
He ran to follow the trail left behind by the other human.
He knew something else besides the gaunts was hunting him, or had the gaunts been left behind by the last offensive, hibernating until something that smelt like food came along? Wouldn’t have been the first time a ‘nid or two had done that.
The cacophony of battle was getting louder as the legions of Imperial Guard fought a fighting retreat back towards headquarters. The noise was a distant din, but it was getting quickly louder.
The Valkyries he had seen before rushed in the opposite direction, their engines roaring, being pushed harder than they should. There weren’t as many as before, and two of those remaining were trailing smoke. The accompanying Vultures whizzed past faster than he could track, their munitions spent.
This was the moment when he saw a rather strange sight.
It was as if the dust was being pushed around by something, and yet there seemed to be nothing there that he could see.
Oh frak, he thought, lictors; at least two by the dust patterns.
He bolted then, sprinting faster than he thought possible. He was a veteran of many campaigns and had seen much, but being out here all alone with several lictors stalking him brought panic rising up inside him.
He heard a swoosh of movement behind him as something took a swipe at him. It missed him, and he heard something dig into the ground.
His hand went to the scabbard on his back, and pulled the chainsword out. He heard something swish through the air, and he dove to the ground on instinct. Something large, long, and dust-coloured passed through the air where his head had been.
He thumbed the chainsword to life, not waiting to hear it hum and chug as the diamond-hard teeth whirred to life. The heavy blade caught something equally hard, and blood sprayed over him.
The tip of a chitinous arm flopped to the ground beside him.
Definitely a lictor, he knew.
It screeched in pain, and he could just make out its outline, dark cold eyes staring out from its head. He could just see its feeding tentacles spasming below its large nostrils.
He had sliced one of its fearsome scything talons away, or at least a good chunk off the end.
It reared back, and its outline became a full-fledged lictor, presumably the pain cancelling out its chameleonic properties. Like the other organisms of Hive Fleet Leviathan it sported white flesh and purple chitinous armour.
Its scything talons reared up above it, rending claws poised for attack.
It leaned forward on its powerful long legs, preparing to strike.
Fellheimer stood his ground: if he ran now, it would kill him long before he could escape. He jumped to his feet, humming chainsword in both hands. He knew he didn’t have time to pull out the bolt pistol again.
With a rumble in its throat, the lictor jumped at him.
It moved faster than he expected, bounding in one move at him.
He dropped, this time rolling sideways, and swiping upwards in an arc with the chainsword, revving it at the apex of the arc. The whirring blade dug deep into the underside of the creature’s inner thigh, and carried on through the tough muscle. The leg fell away and the lictor fell screeching to the ground. Its talons and claws slapped at the ground in pain.
Now he pulled the bolt pistol, and shot it twice in the head, exploding the brain cavity, and covering the dusty ground with its brain matter.
He didn’t see the second lictor, waiting for him to turn his back. It swept him off his feet, dumping him on his back.
Pain erupted in his shoulder and collar as its scything talons pierced his muscle and bone. He could barely move it hurt so much. He found himself involuntarily being lifted off his feet, slowly drawn towards the lictor, and its quivering feeding tentacles. His chainsword fell out of his suddenly immovable left hand where the talon had pierced his shoulder joint, right between the two halves of the socket.
His other hand was moving, though fiery pain shot through his collarbone and chest.
The feeding tentacles dripped with juices, quivering excitedly.
The lictor’s evil alien eyes regarded him with calculating efficiency, coldly deciding how to dissect him and consume his brains for his information to be passed into the hive mind.
He didn’t dare struggle in case he lost an arm or worse, his head.
He was within an arm’s length when its tentacles started reaching towards him. Salivating juices dripped and spat on his legs as the scything talons ground in him, bringing him closer to the thing’s hidden maw.
It squealed excitedly as its prey was close at hand.
Just as the tentacles began wrapping around his leg, he kicked out, catching the lictor’s small eye. It flinched backwards, the tentacles retracting from his other leg. He punched it in the neck with his good hand, and suddenly he was falling to the dusty floor, the lictor having relinquished its piercing grip.
The lictor started scratching at its neck where he had supposedly punched it.
Clearly it was more intelligent than he had given it credit, as it started to panic, screeching right up until the moment it died.
The frag grenade he had shoved into the crook of its neck detonated, and turned its head and upper torso into bloody mush. The headless corpse sank to its knees, and toppled to one side.
Fellheimer breathed a sigh of relief, lying in the dust.
He closed his eyes for a second, and then heard footsteps.
He looked up, right into the barrel of a compact autopistol.
TO BE CONTINUED
Click Here for Part 2.