Welcome back to the Matroyshka. If you are just joining us, part one can be found here.
All positions had been resupplied, and Vhuna had exhausted another three clips when something flickered across her psy-scape. She paused and reached out. The cliff face below her was still a silvered blur of biomass a thousand feet high but there were some glowing threads stretching out from it, above the surface of the plateau. That wasn’t possible, unless – the xenos were making their way up the stone towers to either side. They were getting above them, soon they would be flanking them.
Someone should have seen them by now, she thought angrily, command had anticipated just this sort of thing happening.
“Lieutenant! Lieutenant Chemenko!” Vhuna cried into her vox. There was no reply.
“Look up on the rock pillars! They’re up on the pillars! Can anyone see them? Someone, dammit! Koju! They’re getting around us!”
Vhuna ran from the redoubt and pelted along the flat, pebble-strewn surface in the direction of the Chimera. Its powerful arclights were blazing straight ahead as the trooper in the turret position ripped heavy bolter fire across the waves of screaming creatures that still poured ceaselessly towards the defenders. A few portable stablights on tripods were trained on the rock wall towering to the east, but she could not see anything moving in the stark, overlapping pools of light. Where were they?
She reached the vehicle and vaulted up the side, dragging herself up and onto the stationary tracks.
“Guardsman! Above you, dammit!”
The trooper saw her, the look on his face one of startled incomprehension. Vhuna reached over, her lasrifle discarded, grabbed the handles of one of the directional arclights and pointed it up at the sheer rock wall looming over them.
Even with the much brighter arclight it took her a few seconds to see them. Almost the same colour as the rock, camouflaged through some xeno trickery, and crawling very slowly. Dully glinting shapes clinging to the naked rock like spiders, they suddenly swarmed under the sweeping beam, perhaps realising they had now been spotted. They were almost directly above the line of defenders.
“Great God Emperor!” Vhuna heard the trooper on the Chimera exclaim, as she scrabbled to recover her rifle.
The guardsman began screaming a warning into his vox at the same time as he racked the turret round and opened up a thunderous fusilade of fire on the dark wall only metres away from him.
Quickly more fire rose upwards and in seconds the line of men were being showered in a hail of rock chips and xeno body-parts. Spraying ichor quickly turned the ground black, but there were too many creatures on the walls and not enough men.
Shapes detached themselves from the darkness and plunged straight down, talons ripping into the flesh of the unlucky guardsmen below, tearing their bodies asunder.
The diversion of fire from the forward line suddenly told as well. First one and then two beasts managed to reach the sand-bag wall intact enough to hurl themselves over and rend the men on the other side in their death-agonies. More were coming.
“Watch the cliff!” Vhuna yelled futilely over the thunder of the guns, as she added her fire to the defenders’.
A burst of flame surged up the wall, crisping countless hormagaunts poised to leap, but it was clear to Vhuna; they were being overrun. She grabbed the shoulder of the man firing the heavy bolter.
“Reinforcements! We need reinforcements!”
Crouched atop the thrumming Chimera Vhuna fired again and again, scouring the xeno plague from the cliff-top. The Chimera rocked, knocking Vhuna’s aim off. She turned in time to see a spiny fist-club sweep around and remove most of the head of the trooper by her side. His blood spattered warmly across her face. Then the thing looked up at her.
Her first shot hit it in the chest, and tore off a glistening chunk of plate-armour. It also knocked the creature back just enough that the sweeping talons of its upper arms scissored past each other in a blur just inches from her face. The next few shots tore ragged holes in the monster’s torso and pushed it even further back, but its claws scored deep runnels in the ceramite of the hull and it managed to cling onto the roof.
Vhuna screamed as the thing bunched and pounced in one fluid, feline movement. She threw herself backwards, firing on instinct, landing heavily on her back as the creature whipped over her prone body in a flash of sharp teeth and splattering ichor. Something hot burned up her leg and tore across her chest. She gasped in pain, finger still clamped like a vice to the firing trigger, but the thing had vanished over the side of the Chimera.
Her momentum rolled her backwards, her legs flipping up and over her head, and she toppled off the roof of the vehicle. Landing heavily on her side she cried out again as a razor-edged scimitar of bone whicked past her face. She had fallen on top of the hormagaunt, who was struggling against the pain from its wounds to get back to its feet.
She twisted, the lasrifle still in her hands, as the thing bucked beneath her. Something made of iron grabbed her foot and made her scream in pain again. Her face suddenly slammed up against a wall of teeth, dripping fluid and reeking ichor. The jaws flashed open, and she rammed her lasrifle into the sickening maw. She pulled the trigger, and blew the gaunt’s head apart with a savage cry of victory.
Gasping for breath Vhuna rolled off the quivering and thrashing corpse and away across the rough ground. She emptied the remainder of her clip into the body of the thing before trying to get to her feet.
Her leg was agony; her efforts to stand on it forcing a deep, startled gasp of pain; a gasp that only made the deep incision across her chest burn with a white fire. She forced the pain down before it swamped her.
She felt something move behind her in the chaos of her psy-sense and whirled, falling to one knee and raising her spent lasrifle again. Koju stood in front of her, chainsword screaming as he fired explosive round after explosive round into the carnage that had engulfed the Armoured Fist platoon behind Vhuna. Behind Koju, however, charged dozens of guardsmen, the precious reserve. Their lasfire began to turn the tide as they steadily advanced on the sea of hormagaunts that were flowing around and over the besieged Chimera.
Koju grabbed the muzzle of her rifle and hauled an exhausted Vhuna to her feet.
“That was pretty fancy, Vhuna.”
“I have my moments.”
“Shame –“ Too late Koju saw the gaunt spring out of nowhere onto the roof of the Chimera and leap at Vhuna’s back.
His shots went wide and he watched in horror as twin, barbed sabres of bone punched clean through Vhuna’s chest, her pale face going rigid in shock. The lasrifle fell from her grasp as the gaunt shook her, snapping her neck, blood jetting from the gaping wounds, and then flicked her lifeless body away to tumble over the rocky ground.
The beast’s long head snapped round to face Koju, and it poised to spring.
TWELVE YEARS PREVIOUSLY:-
“This is Fledgling Vhuna, Preceptor. The one I told you about? She’s been here for nearly a month, now.”
“Yes. Indeed. I have come a long way to see this one, Matrona.”
“Ah. Quite. Well,” the taller of the two women reached up and detached the data-slate from the cell door, while the other peered in through the barred hatch. The faint and troubling noises of the Scholastia Psykana echoed and rang up and down the long, marble corridor.
“Fledgling Arha Vhuna, then,” the taller woman continued. “Appears to be in her late forties, early fifties. Real age – unknown, and possibly meaningless. On the face of it a scryer of median ability. Some fringe pyrokinetic ability. Found in Lord Macharius’ arms –”
The tall woman tutted to herself, and made a correction on the slate.
“Found in “The Lord Macharius’ Arms” – a hostelry on Evidion Beht – by the local Arbites, ranting and raving. ID’d as a potential psyker and held for eight years until the Ships arrived.”
“Eight years?” The shorter woman didn’t turn around, didn’t take her eyes off the prone body of the female psyker strapped to the hard cot in the cell beyond. The silver eyes, wide open with the look of a trapped animal, were staring back at her.
“Yes, they were in the sub-sector already. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary at first. Usual mental traumas and so on, but she was fundamentally sane. As much as these wretches ever are.”
“And then she died. Accident aboard ship – no-one was to blame. As such. Of course, what happened next gave the Sisters of Silence the fright of their lives. The man. Fendahl, he called himself.”
“Yes. Indeed. That is what I am here to see.” The smaller woman turned round, her face eager, almost hungry. “How do you induce the change? I must see this for myself.”
The taller woman gingerly removed a vial of black liquid from her uniform pocket, a sub-dermal lance already attached. She held it up.
“There is only one way. Death.”
The hormagaunt tensed, limbs coiled for another killing leap, and then its head snapped back towards the body of the pysker. With a sound like a ramjet engine being pushed beyond breaking point the air and stone around the limp form snapped like a rubber band. Something flashed outward in a mist of faint, dark colour. Something rushed in, hard and tangible and real. And alive.
Koju took full advantage of the momentary distraction to place a bolt-round into the torso of the confused creature, and the explosive force rent its armoured form apart.
“Fendahl!” he shouted at the body. “Get up, old man! Move it!”
More taloned beasts were clawing at the guardsmen along the sand-bag wall, and some were breaking through. Two ‘stealers, massive creatures that seemed to have come from some orkish world, burst bloodily past a knot of troopers and between Koju and the former corpse.
The man sat up, holding his bald head and groaning. He wore the uniform of Vhuna’s and Koju’s old regiment loosely around his skinny frame, and was holding a laspistol slackly in one liver-spotted hand. He looked up as Koju shouted again, the bafflement in his old, lined face changing immediately to horror as he saw the monsters coming towards him..
“Oh,” he said, his face slackening as his silver eyes flared. “Koju? Where are the orks? I think I preferred the –“
The faintest halo of argent flames was beginning to form around his body when the closest ‘stealer pounced. Koju was already swinging his chainsword at the other, severing a grasping claw, but the first creature had reached the man he had called Fendahl.
The silver fire flared for a moment and then the ‘stealer’s talons tore the man’s chest open in a welter of blood and bone. It picked up his limp body, gore dripping over its thick, stubby claws, and turned on Koju. The Cadet Commissar was fast, and he had already managed to cut off another limb from the second monstrosity and tear a couple of deep rents in its chitin, but the beast was unnaturally large and strong and he was in trouble.
The ‘stealer that was holding the corpse of Fendahl opened its cavernous mouth to bellow its fury, but the sound died in its throat. A strange noise had come from the meat it was holding. It looked down.
The Boy opened his eyes, dark silver clouds roiling deep within them.
“Don’t touch me,” he said, meeting the unblinking gaze of the ‘stealer. His thin, quiet voice was jarringly incongruous in the middle of a pitched battle, although somehow it stood out clearly from the background noise. “Don’t –”
The chill air fractured around the creature, in a myriad places at once as if it were a sheet of ice hit by a boulder, and the ‘stealer collapsed in steaming chunks to the rocky plateau floor.
“– touch me!”
The Boy drifted down until his feet were touching the stone. He began rubbing his rough clothes where the thing’s claws had been holding him, his small body trembling.
Koju was on his back, swinging furiously with his chainsword, but he could not keep the xeno back. Its wounds did not slow its furious rage at all. Then he gaped in amazement as the thing just rocketed straight upwards, so fast he could barely follow it, vanishing almost instantly in the cold night air. A moment or two later thick, black-green ichor sprayed down on Koju, drenching him and the ground around him in reeking ooze.
Koju gritted his teeth. The Boy. That was all he needed.
Hope you enjoyed – Part 7 can be found here
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