Continuing on with part 5. Part one can be found here. Enjoy
“She can see the entire battlefield, General. The whole fecking thing! I want the filthy pysker here, not ‘stealer-bait on the frontline. I need that kind of intel close at hand.”
“My orders are very, very clear, Colonel. Blood the Matroyshka. End of orders. You know where they come from – you met his sodding messenger boy. Conditions on Ventia Illustra were not to his master’s liking, and we know how that turned out. I’m not about to disappoint him, or his master for Throne’s sake. She stays where she is. You’ll have to make do with the comms link, Colonel. Dismissed.”
The muddy smear in Vhuna’s psy-scape wasn’t going away, but it wasn’t coming any closer, either. The silvery deformations to the north, however, were almost upon them, and Koju had been in regular contact with the command tent keeping them updated.
And then the leading edge of the lifemass reached the pass at the far side of the valley, and word went around the waiting troopers.
Lieutenant Chemenko’s voice came over the vox on the platoon’s channel. “Stand ready to engage the xenos,” as klaxons erected across the plateau whooped three times, a harsh, lifeless sound, and then fell silent.
Not a single vehicle had made it back up the road from the original frontline. Nothing had been seen of the five thousand troopers who had prepared fortifications there just a few days ago. Comms had been silent for hours.
In between liaising with the command tent, Koju was run off his feet ensuring morale among the three platoons on his stretch of the precipice did not waver. It was an increasingly difficult task as night had fallen, suddenly and completely as it does in the mountains, and the valley ahead of them had become a bottomless pit of shadow.
Overhead the now invisible clouds had rolled over, utterly blocking the stars in the once-clear sky, bringing with them the stench of burning fields, burning fuel and burning men. Bringing with them xeno chems that reddened the skin and make the throat burn as the ecosystem was perverted by the insidious spores.
With the intense lake of light from the landing site at their backs, their shadows leaping ahead of them like the mindless bravery they all wished they possessed, the troopers waited in the acid darkness for the arrival of the enemy.
First came the noise. Distant, almost inaudible to begin with, soon every ear could hear the scrabbling sounds, the far-off echoing of claw and chitin scratching and sliding on rock, a myriad tiny landslides as more and more xenos poured unseen from the darkness of the pass somewhere ahead of them and swarmed down the far side of the valley. Soon the noises were blending into a muted roar, like some hidden waterfall, then louder and louder, resounding off the valley walls and ringing from the towering peaks around them. Harsh cries, cold, alien screams, hoarse bellows rent the chill night air as they surged skywards from the rubble floor a thousand feet below.
Few of the troopers had faced these xenos before, and all were appalled at the wall of noise coming at them out of the inky blackness. Individual sounds rose from the cacophony, screeches that were half-way between a baby’s wail and a dog’s bark, nightmare sounds that froze the blood of the waiting Guard and ran ghost rivers of ice in their minds.
Some of the tank crews revved their engines mightily, and every trooper near enough to hear gave silent thanks as the mechanical roar replied to the xenos’ howled challenges in kind. The tank engines raced again, this time across the entire plateau surface as defiance spread, shaking the ground with their colossal noise, hammering the air with all the righteous might of man. Vhuna felt a pounding in her chest and throat, a throbbing resonance that shook her whole body. Now the troops added their own ear-splitting bloodlust to the furious sound, screaming vengeance and denial into the night.
“Ready the promethium canisters!” shouted Lieutenant Chemenko, as the smell of the xeno hordes reached Vhuna’s nostrils. She gagged on the foetid stench as she helped manoeuvre the heavy barrels into position. The tank commanders had given their reserve supplies up grudgingly, but even they had had to concede that extended manoeuvres were highly unlikely in the coming engagement.
They were right on the edge of the plateau here, their shadows simply vanishing as the obliquely-lit terrain dropped suddenly away, swallowed up by the black void only scant inches from them.
Scrabbling sounds could be heard now, coming from directly below, accompanied by a throaty hissing. The northern face of the plateau was a thousand feet of sheer, crumbling rock, but the chittering horde were simply swarming straight up it.
Vhuna’s scryer-sense was being overwhelmed by the sheer proximity of so much life, and she was finding it difficult to sharply delimit the encroaching tidal wave of bone and claw. They were coming up the cliff in numbers that horrified her – that was all she could tell now.
Lieutenant Chemenko lit a flare and tossed it over the side, the sudden phosphor glare blinding the troopers before it winked out of sight as it plummeted away. The rope around Chemenko’s waist was held taut as he leaned out over the drop, looking down. He was already counting.
“One, two – there they are. Throne! Pull me in, dammit! About a hundred and fifty metres down, moving fast. Let ‘em have it,” the Lieutenant shouted along the line.
Dozens of canisters of promethium were tipped on their sides and the viscous, reeking fluid rushed out spilling over the edge to drench the monsters scrambling their way to the top. The barrels were quickly rolled along the lip of the drop to ensure complete coverage. Once all the liquid had gone flares were struck along the line of men. Vhuna raced with the others back to the questionable safety of the sand-bag redoubt.
At a signal from the Lieutenant, each man touched his flare to the glistening oil soaking into the porous rock and leapt away, stumbling after their squad-mates. Behind them rose a crackling, smoking inferno as liquid gouts of flame rushed up into the cold air, and hideous screams of xeno agony rose with them.
Vhuna ducked down behind the sand-bags as a wall of heat rolled over her and the other troopers in her squad, for once being grateful that she had no hair to singe. As soon as it passed she rose back up with the others and trained her lasrifle on the now brilliantly silhouetted cliff-edge, waiting for something to make it through the hellish conflagration.
She felt rather than saw Koju kneel down behind her, thankfully not too close.
“You be safe, Shiny, you hear? Stay close. Aim high. Just like on Ventia.”
She was about to say something – what, she truly did not know – but he was up and away before she could form the words.
As she turned back something became visible through the surging flames, a limb, some kind of long, bony protrusion scything back and forth for a fleeting instant before falling back into the maw of the consuming fire.
The inferno below must be dying out. Some of the beasts were starting to get through.
The vox-channels lit up with chatter; tight and curt at first, orders and acknowledgements, then more. Shouts. Cries. Weapons fire came suddenly from the vox-bead in her ear, harshly clipped and drowning out everything else for a jarring moment. Then more fire, and more, transmitted over the channels. Vhuna began to hear the lasfire herself, without the vox, sounding muted through the huge rock pillar to the east, but growing in volume with every passing second.
Somewhere fairly close by, a stubber opened up. Then two more.
Another sickeningly curved and barbed bone-sword lashed briefly at the loose edge of the cliff ahead of them, scrabbling for a hold even as its unseen owner was immolated in the cleansing fire. It disappeared for ever, but not before one of the troopers had put a few lasrounds in its rough vicinity, sparking jittery yells of approval from various other Guardsmen. The flames were dying now.
And then they came, the crackling hiss of the fire turning to a screeching clatter of rage in a chilling instant as all along the cliff-top crested the advance forces of the xeno invasion. They did not stop for a moment, their speed almost as heart-stopping as the suddenness of their massed appearance. When the troopers opened up the first creatures had cleared half of the distance between the precipice and the sand-bag wall, which was suddenly looking almost like a bad joke.
The night air was broken a thousand times in those first few, frantic seconds by incandescent barbs each the heat of the surface of the sun as the defenders fired point-blank into the onrushing nightmare wall of teeth and claws. Armoured monstrosities burst apart under the furious hail of fire, creatures that were nothing but blurring whirlwinds of knives were blasted back over the plateau’s edge in a dozen shattered pieces. And for every one of the beasts that fell another three surged fluidly out of the darkness to take their place, raging their mindless need to kill.
Eject, reload, fire. Vhuna held her lasrifle high, aiming down the sights, firing continually and seemingly unable to avoid hitting something, anything. Pincers, horns, legs, heads – all fell apart under her unending stream of fire, but always there was more. Her ammo clips were arrayed on the firing-step before her, and she was shocked to look down after what felt like only a few seconds and see nearly half of them gone. Eject, reload, fire. Still there was no end to the torrent of xeno flesh to return to the cursed blackness that had disgorged them as if from the very depths of some twisted mind. Eject, reload, fire.
“Heavy weapons!” She heard someone cry, whether right next to her or in her vox link she could no longer tell. The sound from all around her was almost corporeal in its overwhelming totality. Quite when the tanks had begun firing she had no idea, but even the colossal thunder of their main guns and sponson weapons was simply the white froth on this oceanic swell of crushing sound.
“Ammo!” she yelled, her voice vanishing at once into the hellish cacophony.
White beams, a hundred times brighter than the heart of the sun, burned themselves across her sight. For an instant they lit the plateau edge and rock pillars like the fiercest noon-day sun never could and half a tonne of ravening xeno flesh flashed to vapour with it. Vhuna blinked the afterimages away from her silver eyes, tears blurring her vision. More lances of solid light dismissed the night in momentary novas, staccato pulses of destruction that swept the cliff-edge clear.
The Armoured Fists platoon to her right was making their awesome presence felt, carving molten swathes through the numbers of the beasts. The unmistakeable whine of an autocannon surged briefly through the din, and tracer rounds spewed across the ichor-drenched rock.
“Ammo!” Vhuna shouted again, before tumbling backwards from the sand-bag wall in confusion. In the flowing, monochrome relief of her mind she saw pulses of argent light, heading for the southern edge of the plateau, but these seemed to be underground. They were travelling through the compacted till under the road coming in from the north, burrowing below the front lines.
She scrambled to her feet and crouched low, trying to raise the command tent on her vox-link. She could not see Koju anywhere, but her custom vox-link took her through almost immediately.
“Message! For Colonel Lekh,” she screamed over the barrage of noise. “Psyker Vhuna reporting in. Be aware. Xenos approaching. Beneath the northern road. Underground. Repeat. Underground. Heading for the southern edge. Of the plateau. Over.”
She couldn’t tell for sure if she got an acknowledgement, and repeated her message once more, just in case. Her voice was hoarse by the time she had finished.
Hefting her lasrifle she headed back to her position on the redoubt, but stopped as she ran into Koju. He looked tense, his black face stony and forbidding.
“How’s it going?” she shouted in his ear.
“Splendid! We’re holding them at all points, and we have driven them back at the road. The night will be ours.”
“I said how’s it going, Blunt?” she shouted again.
He grinned for a second. “As well as can be expected, Psyker Vhuna. We’re committing our reserves at a hell of a rate, but I didn’t tell you that. We’re holding them, though. We haven’t seen the big beasts yet. Then it gets interesting. But you know all this!” He tapped his temple with one gloved finger.
“You looked a bit serious there for a minute, is all. Didn’t want you to do yourself an injury. Not when I could do it for you.”
“Any movement from the west?”
Vhuna shook her head.
“Let me know. Back in line, trooper!” he yelled, and moved off, firing his bolt pistol into the morass of xenos still being torn apart by the lasfire of Vhuna’s adopted platoon. Unheard in the din but definitely not unseen a rolling inferno of hellfire washed across the cliff-face as the Chimera stationed behind the Armoured Fists made its lethal contribution.
Vhuna ran back to her firing position, and added her lasrounds to the slaughter. Perhaps this night would be theirs after all.
Part 6 can be found herehttps://www.frontlinegaming.org/2020/05/19/matroyshka-–-part-6/
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