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 Carrion Guard

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Barking Agatha
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PostSubject: Carrion Guard   Mon Feb 15 2016, 16:58

Objectionable content warning:
 

This is a slightly different adventure for Meeran and Vermipox. Instead of the artsy dark fantasy I've been writing, I thought I'd try to write some serious military science-fiction, and this is the result. I hope you enjoy it!
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PostSubject: Re: Carrion Guard   Mon Feb 15 2016, 17:06

CARRION GUARD


PART ONE

The squad advanced cautiously as they approached the abandoned outpost, with Watkiss in front and Duher in the rear. Their situation was desperate: Johnson, Dickins, and Toole were out of action. They had fought as hard as they could for as long as they could, until they had lost so much blood that they could no longer stand. Captain Stackwood didn’t think that they were going to make it. They were a limp weight dragging on the ground that had to be pulled by Coxstroke and Baltickle, and they were slowing everyone down, but there was no question of abandoning them. It might have been different if they had been officers, but the Captain was damned if he was leaving behind any of his privates.

They were all that remained of the 301st Pantzdown regiment —  the Rough Three-Oh-One — plus two gunners of the 66th, and Corporal Pat Bean, lonely survivor of the Pinchitt 1st. Their entire division had been wiped out when their base was overrun by the man-eating  tyranids of Hive Nadsquish.  The attack had not been a surprise: the imperial guardsmen had had plenty of time to fortify their columns, oil their big guns, and pile up plenty of ammunition, but no amount of preparation could have availed against the massive crevice that yawned open before them and the endless waves of voracious harridans, harpies, termagants, crones, hags, furies, and old bats falling down upon them with bone-shattering force.

The 301st had held firm. The battle had begun with disciplined fighting, the guardsmen pumping out shots in orderly bursts, but the tyranids had just kept coming, and coming, and the regiment began to feel the strain. Soon they were shooting indiscriminately all over the field, draining the last of their reserves in a last, desperate push until their cannons ran hot and their gears dropped off, and still the tyranids would not stop coming, turning it all into a panicked struggle in the end when their rear perimeter was breached and every man fought to extricate himself from the invasion.

After the final onslaught Captain Stackwood found himself up to his neck in limp bodies and realised that his entire front was dead and that a second force of tyranids was working its way up the pass, so he called out to the few men still left standing ordering them to grab their wounded members and fall back to the rally point —  there was nothing for it but to pull out and retreat.  Stackwood was crestfallen: of course this was the guard, and it happened to everyone sooner or later, but it was the first time he had been defeated in a hot engagement, and it had hurt his self-esteem. Fortunately Sergeant Major Krochpak was there to remind him of his duty to the corporal, and especially the privates. Perhaps headquarters would send in reinforcements, but until then they would have to stick together and hope for the best.

They found no one at the outpost to guide them in, so they skirted the defences and slipped in through the back, nice and slow —  it was a narrow entry point, and they were in no condition to deal with a rough insertion. As soon as they were inside the walls, the Captain burst out:

‘All right, men! This outpost looks empty but let’s not take any chances. I want you to split up into teams and clear every building, and keep an eye out for any supplies we can use. We need rations and ammo, and if you find any medi-kits hop back here on the double — Johnson is on his last leg, and Bean is swelling in the face. Sergeant, what’s the trouble?’

Sergeant Krochpak looked worried. ‘I don’t trust that old tunnel behind the bush, sir. The hatch looks intact, but something smells fishy.’

He was proved right almost immediately as the hatch flipped open. Exhausted as they were the guardsmen assumed ready positions with military discipline acquired by frequent drilling. What emerged, however, was not tyranids, but a girl: waifish, pretty, with a shaggy mop of black hair, and wearing imperial fatigues several sizes too big for her. Ignoring the guns pointed at her she spoke to Stackwood.

‘Are you the general?’ she asked.

‘Captain,’ he said, pointing at his baton and epaulettes. It was good to see another human face, if indeed she was human. In different circumstances he might have sworn that she was eldar, although that wasn’t quite right either. There was something about her that would have been unnerving if his nerves weren’t already frayed beyond repair. ‘Name and rank, soldier!’

The girl saluted, badly. ‘Meeran, sah, reporting for duty!’

‘Your rank!’

She looked sad. ‘I’m very sorry, sah! I was in that tunnel for a while.’

Stackwood eyed her up and down. She looked just about old enough to be a fresh recruit, but if she was in the guard then her regiment had really let standards slide. More likely she was a civilian, perhaps with a mental disability. Stackwood wondered what to do with her. Babysitting a civilian could put them all in danger, but then again she might be the last one still alive on this world, and an extra pair of hands were nice to have in a tight spot.

His thoughts were interrupted by Private Tong calling out a heads-up. ‘’Nids coming out of the buildings, left, three hundred yards!’

‘Fire at will!’ yelled the Captain, shouldering his lasgun. Well, this was it. Termagants were pouring out of the barracks while  hormagaunts charged at them from the commissary. They were not very big packs: his men could take one, and maybe even the other one, but not both at the same time.

The girl was unperturbed. ‘Sah!’ she tugged at his shirtsleeve. ‘Shoot those little guys first, sah, I’ll stop the other ones!’

‘Don’t tell me my job!’ he rebuked her, but it made sense. The termagants were armed with fleshborers, and could damage them at range. If they could drop them quickly enough, they might still have time to bag a hormagaunt or two before the rest of them reached them and chopped them to bits. ‘Focus fire on the termagants!’ he ordered.

The termagants went down beneath their discharge before they could get into effective fleshborer range. Stackwood turned around expecting to see a giant angry arthropod about to take off his face, but the hormagaunts had stopped in front of the girl a few yards away. They seemed uncertain, sniffing suspiciously at the air, then snarled like frightened animals and took a few cowed steps back, but it was too late. She grinned like a tiger and fell upon them like a high-speed thresher. Stackwood could not see what was happening inside the blur, but heads and limbs and other bits of hormagaunt came flying out of it in all directions as if a particularly horrible roundabout had gone even more horribly wrong. The last hormagaunt scrambled to get away, but a hand reached out from inside the blur and dragged it back in by the tail. When it was over there was only the girl, grinning like a loon, standing in a pile of shredded hormagaunt.

She was still not done. She cocked her head to one side and held up her ear, as if listening for something, smirked playfully when she heard it, whatever it was, and launched herself like a rocket at an empty corner. Or at least, Stackwood would have sworn that there was nothing there but the shadow of a power cable and some hanging rags, but when she connected with it it became a snarling mass of teeth, claws, limbs and tendrils squirming in her grasp. They fell into a pile of junk behind a dustbin, kicking up a cloud of dust, and there came a loud crashing and thumping, the sound of breaking crockery, one or two bedsprings going, ‘poing!’, and the girl going, ‘ow!’ and ‘oof!’ whenever a naked leg or arm poked out over the edge. The dust settled and the girl emerged, her hair an even bigger mess, her uniform torn and shredded, and her skin bearing a few scratches, but with the lictor’s severed head in her left hand.

She saluted proudly  as she presented it to the Captain. ‘I knew it had to be there, sah! The little ones are useless without a big head!’ The belt on her oversized trousers snapped and they dropped down around her ankles.

Stackwood drew his laspistol, pointed it at her head, and would have pulled the trigger if a voice at his side hadn’t stopped him. ‘Captain, wait!’ said Sergeant Krochpak. ‘A word first, sir, if you please.’

‘She’s not human, sergeant,’ said the Captain.

‘No, sir, she is not.’

‘She killed those ‘nids with her bare hands.’

‘Yes, sir, she did, and she seems to be on our side. I urge you to think about that for a moment, sir.’

‘Whatever she is, it’s an abomination in the sight of the Emperor!’

‘Have you considered, sir, that maybe the Emperor has sent her to us?’

The Captain hesitated. ‘Do you really think so, Sarge?’

‘I dunno, sir. I’ve never been one for religion. But a few moments ago we were all dead, and right now we are alive, and I’d call that a miracle, sir.’

‘All right.’ Stackwood holstered the pistol. ‘But if she’s going to hang around here, she’s going to have to shape up. You!’ he bellowed at Meeran. ‘Who did you say you were?’

She saluted again. ‘Meeran-S’hlee, sah! The heart and the virtue, wine and water, sah!’

‘You’re filthy, Private Water! Find yourself a pair of trousers!’

‘Oh, I don’t mind the cold, sah, I like to feel the wind blowing through my hair.’

‘Nevertheless, you’ll make yourself presentable.’

‘There isn’t time, sah! The licky saw us, it isn’t safe here, sah!’

The sergeant leaned in. ‘She’s right, sir. The lictor leaves a scent trail. It will bring the entire hive mind down on us, if it isn’t on its way already.’

Stackwood said, ‘Let them come. This post is tight and firm, and I don’t want to leave all this behind.’

‘Sir, it may be tight, but they’ll still corner us in the end. Once they get in through that hole, there’ll be no pushing them out.’

‘Sah!’ said Meeran. ‘There’s another place up north between two hills, much safer than this one and just as good, sah!’

‘I don’t know. The squad is exhausted, and what about our wounded?’

‘My master will fix them right up, sah, I promise.  If you’ll just push a little further,  I’ll keep up my end!’

‘What do you think, sergeant?’

‘I don’t know about this master of hers, and I don’t like it any more than you do, sir, but we can’t stay here, and we have nowhere else to go.’

‘Then let’s get going, sergeant. Assemble the men and get them out!’

‘Ten-HUTT!’

The squad marched on in despondence toward the distant twin peaks, taxed beyond exhaustion, all the time knowing that if they were to be ambushed, it would be their end. They were so drained by the time they reached the cleft that they could barely push themselves through. Their whole run so far would have been too much even for a squad of space marines, but they were the guard: they might not have the muscles, or the power, or the strength, but they always had the spunk.

A large dome was perched on the end of a long bluff of solid rock, the shaft guarded by a tangle of razorwire. It was a good standing position: the enemy would have to force themselves into a narrow channel and thrust upward all the way to the top. Its heavy plasteel shutters opened to allow them in and an alien stood before them. This one was definitely eldar: his eyes were black as marbles, his hair a matted nest of grey, and he was dressed in dark robes sewn from screaming faces. ‘I am Vermipox,’ he said. ‘Quickly! Bring your wounded, we haven’t got much time!’

They laid them down inside on cots that had been prepared for them. Captain Stackwood glared at Vermipox, torn between mistrust and hope. ‘The girl says that you can save them,’ he said.

‘My daughter is correct.’ Vermipox pulled out an enormous syringe. ‘But I’m afraid the process will be painful. They’ll have to take quite a large prick.’

‘Typical eldar arrogance,’ scoffed the Captain. ‘We are guardsmen, it’s not the first time we’ve seen a big plunger.’

Vermipox shrugged, and he injected the men with a sickly glowing fluid. Almost immediately they broke into convulsions. The next few minutes were a nightmare, as Johnson, Dickins, and Toole thrashed and screamed in unbearable agony.

‘Alien scum! What have you done to them?’

‘Be patient, Captain,’ said Vermipox.

And then mercifully it was over. The Captain watched in amazement as a very healthy Johnson snapped to attention and saluted. ‘How do you feel, Johnson?’ he said.

‘Ready to get back into it, sir!’

‘I suppose that I should thank you,’ the Captain said resentfully to Vermipox.

‘No need.’

‘So why are you helping us?’

‘Is it too much to believe that I hold kindness in my heart?’ Vermipox laughed. ‘The truth is that you are the last humans still alive on this planet, and we need your help fighting the tyranids. It is as simple as that. We can’t afford to lose any of you. You will need Johnson on the front, and my daughter will need Dickins.’

‘You expect us to fight for you?’

‘I expect you to fight for yourselves. The hive mind is a threat to every human world in this sector.’

‘And how do you expect the twelve of us to take on the entire hive?’

‘You have already dealt it a major blow, Captain. All that remains is to squeeze the last few drops of life from it.’

‘No. I say we hold out here, and wait for reinforcements.’

‘By then it will be too late. All those tyranids you’ve killed are still biomass. Even now the hive mind is reabsorbing them, reprocessing, and converting them back into more living tyranids. By the time your reinforcements arrive the hive will be back up to full strength, and with the biomass it has absorbed from this planet it will be unstoppable when it spreads to other human worlds.’

The Captain felt a tightening in his throat as he grasped the full extent of his predicament. If this was true, and of course it was true, his motley squad was all that stood between the tyranid hive and billions of human lives.

The squad saw the look on his face and protested. ‘Captain, you can’t be serious!’ ‘Sir, it’s impossible!’ ‘You can’t ask us to do that!’ Corporal Bean listened to their protests and moans with growing indignation, until he could take no more, stood up, and silenced them with a shout.

‘Enough! Have you forgotten already what the ‘nids did to our regiments? I dunno about you boys from the 301st, but Bean ain’t here just to be licked, and Bean ain’t here just to hide my head beneath my hood, no sir. That is not what made me come here. I came ‘cos I wanted to bust some ‘nids, and I will not go down until I’m fully satisfied. I may be only a little guy riding a leaky boat in a storm, but it ain’t finished ‘til I’m finished, and you know what? When word gets back home, they’ll say we were the lucky ones, ‘cos we got to come, and they didn’t! Who’s with me?’

‘Hurrah! Hurrah!’ came the enthusiastic reply.

Stackwood swelled with pride. ‘It looks like you’ve got yourself some guardsmen, Vermipox. What do you want us to do?’

‘Daughter?’

Meeran addressed the squad. ‘You need to get some rest, boys, but you deserve some chow time too, so sit back and relax, and get your heads down while I make waffles.’

‘Can I help, miss?’ offered Watkiss.

‘Sure! You can go downstairs, and bring up some honey.’

Soon they were enjoying their first decent meal since they could remember. ‘Hm, this is delicious,’ said Baltickle. ‘I have to say, miss, you do a very nice waffle.’

‘Thank you,’ Meeran beamed. ‘It takes a lot of practice, but I like to keep my hand in.’

They were interrupted by an alarm beeping from the control panel. Vermipox brought up the viewscreen. There was a lone figure outside approaching the dome, thin and dressed in black.

‘I thought you said we were the last living people on this planet,’ said the Captain.

‘The last living humans. Well, well. This will be interesting. Daughter, will you receive our guest, please?’

‘Yessah!’ said Meeran through a mouthful.

+++ end of part one +++
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PostSubject: Re: Carrion Guard   Mon Feb 15 2016, 17:13

CARRION GUARD


PART TWO


Antharos the haemonculus stumbled up the hill toward the tower as he ran for his life. He had led a small army of wracks and grotesques, but they had all been slain by the tyranids as they fled, and now he was alone and stranded on this infested world with the beasts closing in behind him. His only hope was to reach Vermipox and try to make a deal. Vermipox might be his enemy, but they were both stuck on this planet, and if they pulled together they might find a way to get each other off the rock.

The doors of the fortress opened for him and there stood the girl, with dirt on her face and dressed in the rags of a mon’keigh uniform. Others might have found the sight comical, but Antharos had some idea of what she was and he took an involuntary step back. He was about to run away back to the relative safety of the tyranid hive, but the girl put him at his ease with a polite curtsy and addressed him with formal respect:

‘Greetings, Master Antharos. My master bids you welcome and invites you to get inside his tent, if you need somewhere to hole up. Please, follow me.’

Antharos remembered his dignity. He drew himself up with the haughty demeanor of a Commorran of high standing and followed her into the courtyard, through the main entrance, and down the hall.

‘You are not going to rip out my soul?’ he asked.

Meeran gasped. ‘Master Antharos, you wrong me! I would never rip one out, not without my master’s permission!’

‘And what unspeakable fate has your master got in store for me?’

‘Master?’

‘He must hate me very much. I am sure that the deepest horrors of the warp will pale next to the atrocity of his terrible revenge!’

‘Why?’

‘Why! Have you forgotten that it was I who ran him out of Commorragh? That I besieged him and took his palace, the Palace of Fulsome Waters?’

‘Oh, Master Antharos. My master doesn’t care if you have taken fulsome waters. Just remember your manners, and you should be fine.’ She opened the door to the control room and announced him.

To Antharos’ dismay he found Vermipox fraternising with a mon’keigh soldier, going over battle plans as if the animal were a trusted retainer.

‘Hello, Antharos,’ he said. ‘Captain, may I introduce you to a member of the nobility?’

Captain Stackwood eyed Antharos suspiciously. ‘Nobility, really?’

‘Oh, yes. He’s a genuine count. I confess that his presence is a surprise.’

Antharos made his pitch. ‘Before you do anything rash, Vermipox, consider that I can be of use to you.’

‘Absolutely. You can start making soul-traps and archangels of pain to bolster our defences. You should find plenty of materials lying around.’

‘What? You can’t mean to fight the hive mind. Have you seen what is out there?’

‘Yes. Strange, isn’t it? I wonder what the hive mind is even doing here?’

Antharos looked guilty. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, it’s rather far out of its way, don’t you think? And there is nothing on this world of particular interest to it. One would almost think that it had been lured here, perhaps as a trap. I wonder if that trap might have been meant for me?’

Captain Stackwood was furious. ‘Hang on. Wait a minute. Are you telling me that this… nob brought the ‘nids to this world, caused the deaths of millions of people, and got my whole division killed, all just so that he could get to you?’

Antharos sulked. ‘I suppose that you’ll give me a whipping for that.’

‘On the contrary,’ said Vermipox.

‘On the what!’

Vermipox sighed. ‘I mean no, Antharos, I’m not particularly upset with you. You have shown ruthlessness and imagination. I could almost be impressed, were it not that you seem to have been caught in your own trap.’

‘Yes, well…’

‘Let me guess: you did not expect that the psychic presence of the hive mind would cut you off from access to the webway. Well, you’re here with us now, and the Captain appears to have taken exception to you, so I would make myself useful if I were you.’

‘I can’t apply my craft without my instrument, and it’s locked away behind the veil.’

‘It’s not as if you know what to do with your instrument anyway, but fine. Daughter, would you fetch Master Antharos’ instrument?’

‘Yessah!’ said Meeran. She walked into the shadows, and disappeared.

Antharos was aghast. ‘You could access the webway all this time?’

‘Of course. My daughter’s realm is always open to her, and it connects to the webway.’

‘Then why are you still here?’

‘Why, I’m cleaning up your mess. If we don’t stop the hive mind here, it could annihilate every human colony in this sector.’

‘So what? They’re only mon’keigh.’

‘They are the future of our race, Antharos.’

Here it was, the famous Vermipox madness. ‘They are little more than animals!’

‘So were we, once.’

‘But we are eldarith!’

‘And what is eldarith? Is it pointy ears and a lithe frame? I am eldarith, I have always been and I never stopped being so. You? One day perhaps, when you grow up. And Vect… who knows what he’s thinking. I don’t know what his long-term plans are, or if he has any, but I will not trust the future to uncertainty. Where you see only a lesser race, I see a project.’

‘You… you mean to turn the mon’keigh into… us?’

‘Oh no, not into us. Into what we were before the Fall, and into what we would have become, if our development had not been hindered by that absurd misunderstanding.’

‘Impossible! It would take a million years!’

‘So what? I have time. Nothing is impossible for me, Antharos. I can make eldarith out of the mon’keigh, and I can make a mon’keigh out of you.’

Meeran returned from the shadows. ‘I had trouble finding Master Antharos’ instrument. It is rather small, and it was a mess in there, but I gave the whole thing a poke and it popped up. Your instrument, master.’

Captain Stackwood was still indignant. ‘I say we take him outside and shoot him!’

‘It would not do any good,’ said Vermipox. ‘He would only be reborn back in Commorragh. You will have to think of something more inventive, if you have the chance.’

‘This bastard will pay if it’s the last thing I do!’

‘Captain, I know that it’s hard and you want to get it over, but focus on the task at hand.’

‘Fine, I’ll leave it alone for now,’ he pushed a finger into Antharos’ chest. ‘But don’t think that I’m going to let you dangle it in front of me. I’ll be keeping in touch, and if it even looks like it’s going to slip away, I’ll be taking matters into my own hands!’

‘I wouldn’t expect otherwise.’

‘So long as we’re clear. Now, what’s the plan?’

‘We will fight the hive here, where we have the advantage. We will have to make them come to us by using ourselves as bait, so make sure that your men have mastered bait.’

‘Don’t worry about my men, they are veterans. They mastered bait long ago.’

‘I leave it in your hands then. They’ll be coming through the cracks with everything they’ve got, but we must not allow them to crank it up. The idea is to squeeze them into a tight space, hold them there for as long as we can, and then switch to a different position when they start getting close. Your men will have to hold steady but be ready to move away quickly, or else they’ll find themselves in a nasty jam. If it all goes well we will come together on the roof, and we can deal with the aftermath there.’

The Captain was rueful. ‘You’re asking a lot. It’s bound to get messy, and my boys will be in for a heap of pain. But I see no way to wiggle out of it. I’ll have the sergeant brief the men and give them some time to bone up, before we get the ball rolling.’

‘Daughter, would you like to see the men be briefed?’

Meeran shook her head. ‘I’ve already seen them debriefed, Master, and it wasn’t what I thought it was.’

‘As you like. Wish the men good luck for me, Captain. Win or lose, this rearguard action will go down in the annals.’

The men of the squad received the news with solemn resignation. As a temporary barracks they had lodged themselves in the aft quarters, and the mood in the room was grim. They were all determined to do their duty, but none of them expected to survive the dawn. They brought out holocubes of their sweethearts, wrote farewell letters to their families, and smoked lho-sticks in their cots. Someone pulled out a mouth organ and played on it a while, for the sake of completion. Sergeant Krochpak and Private Coxstroke brought out a pack of cards and set up a game of tarot.

Private Chastings approached them shyly. ‘Is this a one-on-one, Sergeant, or can anyone get in on it?’ he asked.

The Sergeant puffed on his lho-stick. ‘I’m personally not open to just anyone, but you can always take it up with him.’

‘Oh, Sergeant, how can you be so calm?’

‘It’s not my first time in a tight squeeze, kid. It always gets hairy at first, but after that it’s smooth riding.’

‘Then you really think it will end happily?’

The Sergeant gave him a reassuring smile. ‘Sure thing, kid,’ he lied.

+++ end of part two +++
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PostSubject: Re: Carrion Guard   Mon Feb 15 2016, 17:19

CARRION GUARD


PART THREE


The tyranids swarmed up the hill as only something that is actually called a ‘swarm’ can. The ridges crawled with chitinous carapaces creating a bottleneck at the foot of the rift, where they were an easy target for the tower’s defenders. The guardsmen positioned themselves in tiers along the rise, beginning with Chastings and ending up with Watkiss on the bottom, then Duher in the flakk launcher watching out for any flying ones, and the rest of the squad on the artillery, dropping down a big payload on the heads of the tyranids below. They made a token attempt to pick their targets, but it barely mattered: they only had to launch them down the pipeline and they were assured of hitting ‘nids. The carnage was immense, but even so the hive edged forward, and several broods had managed to get past them. Scores of genestealers and hormagaunts were scaling the walls, trying to get inside the courtyard.

Meeran was there, hard-pressed on the wall with Dickins at her back. She could keep it up for hours, but even for all her resilience she could not stop them all from coming inside, and she was getting swamped.

‘Lictors on your right!’ called Dickins.

‘I see them!’ she replied. ‘You hold them up, and I’ll take care of the lics!’

Two lictors had managed to get up on the wall. Meeran tossed them off while Dickins tore into the gap behind her. It bought them a little time, but a mycetic spore was spurting out its load into the courtyard, and more spurts were soon to come. They had to get off quickly if they didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of a cluster.

‘There’s too many of them, we have to go inside!’ said Meeran.

‘You go inside, miss, I’ll stop them!’ said Dickins, following the tyranids down the cellar trapdoor.

‘No, Dickins! Not back there!’ she called, but he went in anyway. She had no choice but to go inside and close the blast doors, leaving him behind.

Sergeant Krochpak gave her a nod as she regrouped with the rest of the squad. ‘Where’s Dickins?’ he asked.

The pained look on her face said it all. ‘Dickins went in the wrong way,’ she said.

‘Damn! We needed Dickins here. I’ll have to give you Toole, Tong will prep you. The rest of you know what to do. Man your foxholes and clamp down on them, hold out for as long as you can and don’t let them get behind you, or it all goes up and we’re busted. Don’t stay in one position any longer than you have to, get ready to blow it when you feel them getting close, and whatever you do, don’t get caught in the blast when it goes off. Remember, we can’t stop them digging in, but we can make them pay for every inch. May the Emperor help us all.’

The guardsmen legged it up the tower, but they were not yielding the bottom — it was a tactical retreat. They settled into carefully rehearsed positions on every floor. The tyranids moved in on them and tried to pin them down in a frontal assault, but the guardsmen turned their rear and the ‘nids were unable to penetrate their deep defences. It took nerves of ceramite to leave their backs exposed when they knew that it could go both ways at any time, but whatever else they were, they were crack soldiers: a lot was riding on their backbone, and they were there to take the brunt of it in the end. They filled their niches with liquid charges, and the walls trembled with the blasts of their constant detonations.

The tyranids kept up the pressure all the way to the top, but the guardsmen got a firm grip on their weapons and covered each other, leaving behind a messy trail. In ones and twos they entered the last chamber and climbed up the hatch, emerging into the roof. Vermipox and Antharos were already there. Meeran was the last one in, closing the hatch behind her.

‘Sound off!’ shouted the Captain. ‘Who did we lose?’

‘Tong got in too deep, Captain, and Chastings never had a chance!’ Johnson began to cry.

‘Don’t go soft on me now, Johnson. Save the waterworks for later!’

He peered over the railing into the valley below. The tyranid hive had been cut down to a fraction of their number, but there were still too many of them. Far too many.

Antharos cowered against the wall. ‘It’s over, Vermipox! You’ve tried, and you’ve failed! Get your creature to open the way to the webway now, before it’s too late!’

‘And leave the Captain and his men?’ said Vermipox. ‘Certainly not. We stop the tyranid hive here, or we all go down with each other.’

Captain Stackwood stared at him in amazement. Every instinct that had been instilled in him from childhood fought against the impulse to do what he was about to do, but if this was his final hour he would not go down regretting that his last and noblest sentiment had gone unsaid.

‘Vermipox,’ he said extending his hand, ‘you may be alien scum and a blight upon the galaxy, but you’ve done all right by us and you’ve acquitted yourself with honour. It has been a privilege to fight by your side.’

‘Aw.’ Vermipox was moved by the unexpected gesture. He searched the pockets of his robes and brought out a biscuit, which he put into the Captain’s mouth, giving him a nice pat on the cheek.

As if their situation were not already desperate enough they felt the ground under their feet tremble, and the whole tower threatened to give way beneath them as tremors shook the entire mountain and the earth down on the valley rose up like a massive wave. The tyranids below scampered to get away but many were caught in the swell and were swept away in the avalanche. It took Captain Stackwood a few moments to make sense of what he was seeing, and even then he could not believe the scale of the thing that had emerged. It was the scaled body of a wurm-like creature that spanned the length of the valley, rising up on legs as big as suspension bridges, reaching for the top of the tower with a gargantuan pair of distended jaws on the end of it’s reptilian head.

‘By the Emperor! What in the void is that?’

‘Proof of the hive mind’s stupidity,’ Vermipox scoffed. ‘Its biomorphs keep getting shot, so what does it do? It makes them bigger. If it had any sense it would make microbes, or nanoviruses. Then we’d be in trouble.’

‘We’re in trouble now!’ cried Antharos.

‘Tch. I had hoped it would not come to this. Daughter, you know what to do.’

‘Yessah!’ said Meeran, and she jumped over the side.

They watched her fall down into the waiting maw of the leviathan and disappear down its gullet as it snapped shut its jaws over her. The monster raised up its head and released an earth-shattering scream. It lashed out and thrashed in its throes of agony, tearing up the cliff and bringing down the tower. The roof tilted into the chasm, sending them all sprawling dangerously near the railing. Vermipox easily kept his balance at an angle, but everyone else had to cling on to something for dear life.

Its dying convulsions were like the high-end scale of an earthquake. Finally it raised its head high above the tower and dropped  down dead on it with all its weight, tearing it from its foundations. The tower fell slowly with the groaning of twisting metal girders and snapping cables, until the roof was nearly vertical and they were hanging from the railing by their hands. It stopped suddenly with a lurch and Coxstroke lost his grip, falling down with a terrified scream that trailed off into a ‘huh?’ as he realised that they had descended almost level with the ground and he had only dropped down a few feet.

The rest of them dropped down and joined him. The whole valley had gone eerily calm and still. All around them lay the dead bodies of the tyranid creatures, littering the landscape as far as the eye could see. It looked as if they had died all at once, together with the gigantic biomorph, their limbs twisted in excruciating pain. ‘What happened, Vermipox?’ asked Antharos. ‘Why did they all die?’

‘It’s a hive mind, Antharos, and it’s just swallowed all of the pain in the universe. It was too much for it in its weakened state.’

Something moved beneath the skin of the fallen giant and a small bulge pushed its way out. The skin split open and Meeran emerged. She was a horror: the remains of her own skin were hanging off from her in shreds, she was covered in a gunk of digestive acids that were still burning off chunks of her partially cooked flesh, exposing the bare bones beneath, and half of her face was missing.

‘Ew, I stink,’ she said. ‘Did it work?’

‘You did it, miss,’ said Sergeant Krochpak. ‘You choked the big lizard.’

They had won. Twelve men, twelve guardsmen, had taken on an entire tyranid hive and emerged victorious. ‘No one will ever believe us,’ said Toole, ‘they’ll say we’re trying to punk them with our big crocks.’

‘Maybe,’ said the Captain. ‘But I will see to it that you men are remembered as the greatest heroes of the Imperium ever indexed in the annals. They say that some soldiers are made great, but we guardsmen know how it feels to have that greatness thrust upon us. We are not powerful like the Inquisition, or mighty like the space marines: we are just the rough grunts that always come out before the big ones, but there isn't one of them in all the galaxy, not even a primarch, with whom I'd rather share a hole.'

Vermipox listened to the speech with growing impatience. As soon as it was over he gestured with his hands and a large portal appeared, from which there emerged a large vehicle. It was a car from an urban train, converted into a caravan and made to look like a deep-sea fish, veined through with tubes pulsing with dark light and making a sad, keening noise. ‘Good speech, Captain, and goodbye,’ he said. ‘Daughter, you may refresh yourself inside the caravan, and I would appreciate it if you would.’

The doors opened and Meeran went inside. Vermipox stopped at the doors when he saw that Antharos intended to follow them. ‘And where do you think you’re going? Who said that you could ride with us?’

Antharos sputtered. ‘But… you can’t mean to leave me here!’

‘Why not? You must have gotten here somehow, surely you can leave the same way. We are not going back to Commorragh, and you are not going where we’re going. The Captain and his men will see you home, won’t you, Captain?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Stackwood with a murderous grin on his face. ‘We’ll see to him, all right.’

‘Thank you. Good luck to you all.’ The caravan shimmered, and vanished from their sight.

Antharos looked around at the unfriendly faces of the guardsmen gathering around him. ‘Well!’ he said. ‘Can you believe that guy?

+++ end of transmission +++


Last edited by Barking Agatha on Thu Mar 03 2016, 10:46; edited 3 times in total
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Creeping Darkness
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PostSubject: Re: Carrion Guard   Tue Feb 16 2016, 03:14

I enjoyed this, thanks for posting!

@Barking Agatha wrote:
serious military science-fiction

I admit that I had not been expecting this to mean 'playful romp' but I truly admire your dedication to innuendo Very Happy
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PostSubject: Re: Carrion Guard   Tue Feb 16 2016, 03:22

@Creeping Darkness wrote:
I enjoyed this, thanks for posting!

@Barking Agatha wrote:
serious military science-fiction

I admit that I had not been expecting this to mean 'playful romp' but I truly admire your dedication to innuendo Very Happy

No, not usually in my... oh, I see what you mean. Thanks Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Carrion Guard   Tue Feb 16 2016, 05:44

@Barking Agatha wrote:
@Creeping Darkness wrote:


I admit that I had not been expecting this to mean 'playful romp' but I truly admire your dedication to innuendo Very Happy

No, not usually in my... oh, I see what you mean. Thanks Smile

lol!
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