72. Doubtful Comrades
Titus had not forgotten what Vox had recommended to Correl Aventus once and chosen to drop polewards of their objective. To cross a stretch of desert instead of a dense building complex in the opposite direction would hopefully lower their chances to run into Tyranids as well.
The planetfall was uncomplicated. Their equipment was undamaged, the weather was clear, the pod had landed perfectly upright in the red dust. Titus had rarely had a drop as smooth as this.
After this, things could only get worse.
Aegis made their way towards the mountains, visible in the distance. All of them were informed about where to go and how to get in, in case they were separated.
Now, they just had to get there.
Like Vox had promised, their equipment was the very best. All ranged weapons were fitted with silencers. Tiberius had a flamer at his disposal. Each and every one of their melee weapons was an artefact of unbelievable, deadly beauty. Vox had even found Titus a power axe. All except Tiberius were fitted with jump packs. The techmarine was very heavy and he preferred the use of his third arm over the possibility to fly short distances. If they had to move fast, two of them would have to carry him along.
Or leave him.
For now, they walked. They would need the jump packs for difficult terrain or to retreat should the case arise. If the main entrance was inaccessible for some reason, they might even need them to enter the shrine.
It took them about half a standard day to reach the first rocky outcrops of the mountain range they had to cross. Here, the wind sprang up. It was only a steady breeze, bringing relief of the heat but Vox had warned them that it would get stronger and far more erratic the closer they got to their objective.
The mountains loomed above them as if they had been dropped here. No hills led up to the steep formations. Only a field of rubble with the occasional boulder in between announced the change of terrain. They made their way through the stones in watchful silence when Vox suddenly stopped as if to listen. He turned a bit.
“Shit”, he said flatly and went down with the horribly distinctive noise caused by a bullet hitting armour.
Titus understood immediately. There was a sniper somewhere in the rocks ahead.
“Disperse!”, he ordered, grabbed Vox and powered up his jump pack.
Bolter fire ripped through the still air. It was unmistakably the noise their own weapons would produce, not the evil, organic thud of a Tyranid weapon but it was unsilenced. None of Aegis could produce such a noise at present.
Titus dragged Vox into cover behind a boulder and checked on him. His friend was conscious and crawled around on his knees for a moment. Suppressive fire zinged off their stone. Without standing up, Vox suddenly fired up his jump pack. He pushed himself out of cover, straight into the line of fire, drawing his sword in the motion.
Furiously, Titus ordered him to return but, like once before, the brother did neither react nor reply. He could hear the jump pack disappear towards the mountains, then everything went eerily still. When he checked, no one was in sight.
“Aegis, come in!”, Titus ordered after five breathless seconds of this.
“Converge on my position”, Titus ordered and took his helmet off. It was a way for him to get his head clear. The auto senses were useful but provided him with more information than he needed at any given time. Right now, he wanted to sort through his memories.
He had seen the enemy during his dash for safety. Only for a split second but this was enough for him. There had been at least three of them. Space Marines in scout armour which camouflaged them perfectly unless they moved.
“Tiberius, scan the area”, Titus ordered when his remaining warriors had reached him. “Dankwart to the left, go!”
Titus took to the right, ducking into cover behind the rocks and closing in on the position he had seen one of them occupy. Dankwart was more aimless in his approach but it was of no consequence. Tiberius stood up and walked over to them, rendering their sneak attack pointless.
“No life forms close in”, he informed his sergeant. “I can push my range but I need more altitude for that.”
Titus neglected his cover and looked around.
“How did he draw them all?”, he asked himself out loud while Dankwart walked up from the other side. “They must have seen that we were four. He couldn’t have drawn them all. Unless…” Titus conjured up the memory again. Yes. The attackers had worn Mark VI Corvus pattern armour.
“Unless he still knows their frequencies.”
Titus saw his left hand tense for the fraction of a second. The perception was so clear, it almost hurt. With this his fellow Ultramarine had confirmed the horrible suspicion: Their librarian had just vanished with a couple of renegade Space Marines of his own chapter who had attacked a kill team of the Deathwatch on sight. Had he drawn them to protect Aegis and aimed to kill them? Or had he turned?
Titus felt like swallowing hot lead.
“Vox, come in!”, he voxed again. Once more no reply.
“What now, sergeant?”, Tiberius asked.
“We go on”, Titus decided. There was nothing more sensible to do.
“Can you scan while moving? I don’t want to walk into a trap.”
“Yes”, the techmarine replied. “But my range is limited.”
“It’ll have to suffice.”
It did not.
They had climbed the red mountains for half an hour, when the vox message reached them out of nowhere:
It was Vox.
Their straining senses had been concentrated on the ground and no threat had presented itself. The warning dragged their attention upwards.
A shadow just vanished behind the rock above them.
They had been spotted.
Even as the realisation sank in, they heard their foes coming. They must have been hidden from the auspex by chance. They certainly made no attempt at stealth.
All Aegis could do was to find a halfway defensible position before they arrived. Titus had seen Tyranids in a terrain like this. They were swift and nimble, able to climb anything with speed. To fend them off, they would need space.
Hastily, they retreated to the small high valley they had been about to leave and shot the Gargoyle as soon as it showed itself again. Even as it fell, its evil siblings were upon them.
The first enemies to arrive were about two dozen Hormagaunts. They were smaller creatures the Hive produced en masse. Agile and sleek, specialised in close combat. These were of a dark umber with jet black plates covering their disgusting, multi-limbed bodies. Those alone would not have troubled the three of them. The same amount of Termagants in addition presented a problem, however. These creatures grew weird biomorphic ranged weaponry from their limbs. If they were allowed to get into a position to fire, this fight would be over quickly.
“Engage the Hormagaunts!”, Titus ordered, drew power axe and bolter and threw himself into the line of Termagants.
Aegis did well for about half a minute.
Then, the Hive Tyrant arrived.
The smaller specimen of Tyranids were generally subject to the will of the Hive Mind but its true power was wielded by the large, so-called synapse creatures. They were responsible for the terrifying unison in which the xenos could move. Hive Tyrants were the most common among these commanders. They were massive beasts. Disgusting, nightmarish things with too many appendages. This one sprouted weapons for close and ranged combat alike.
Titus had fought Tyranids for several campaigns and knew a lot about them. His trained eye caught immediately that this Hive Tyrant was quite newly hatched. It was probably still soft. Could they have acted together, they might have been able to beat it but the fight had drawn them too far apart. They had to retreat to cover immediately.
Drastically decimated, the surviving Termagants used their chance to seek the protection of their larger sibling by hiding between its feet.
Titus gave out the warning to his comrades and only just managed to drop behind the only rock in his reach. Dankwart and Tiberius had reached more advantageous terrain a bit away. They would find cover easily.
While suppressive fire clattered around him, Titus tensed and hefted his axe. He knew what would happen next.
Only five Hormagaunts had managed to escape the skilled onslaught of his brothers. They sprang the lone sergeant in unison.
He knew he would be able to hold off three of them. The remaining two would have an unprotected flank to attack.
The suppressive fire stopped to allow the fiends access and in the ensuing silence, a jump pack fired up. Suddenly, Vox was by his side, dropping into place like they had trained it thousands of times. Never had the brother’s appearance poured such relief into his hearts.
The Hormagaunts were dispatched in a moment.
With renewed vigour, Titus took control of the situation.
“Team two, provide cover! Vox, Termagants!”, he bellowed.
They left their cover, spanning the distance with a few quick jumps. Supported by the salves of their comrades, they were able to undercut the reach of the Hive Tyrant and attack the Termagants between its feet.
Vox had judged his speed well, killed his share of critters and gotten out before the large beast could do anything about him.
But Titus had landed too close in.
He would have needed another jump to get out of reach.
Which he never got.
The Hive Tyrant spun around and swung its adnate gun like a club. Titus was picked out of the air. He hit the next rock head first and fell on his back.
The foreclaw of the xeno jerked down to skewer him.
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Guide Me Through the Darkness by Julia M. V. Warren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
I was tempted to start this chapter with “Unlike you, my poor reader…” but decided against it :D