Valdane's Chronicles

Shadows Over Praxos - Part 10

Culling the hordes. The Heretek's escape.

More and more of the wretched hybrids slam into the sides of the Repressor, trying to claw their way inside. The cacophony is deafening within the cramped interior, as claws and teeth try to pry the armoured transport open. Using repurposed mining equipment, the mob begins to do structural damage to the vehicle’s reinforced hull.

Taeric is the first to grab an autogun, shooting wildly through the vehicle’s firing slits. The full-auto blast rips into the tightly packed horde and the other acolytes follow suit. Two of the Arbites add their combat shotguns to the frantic defence.

Arkady, clasping his jury-rigged chemical sprayer, jams the weapon through one of the firing ports. Squeezing the trigger, a hissing cloud of fluids showers the mob. The reactive chemicals oxidize rapidly, burning through flesh and bone before they catch alight – immolating scores of the abominations. The unlucky hybrids scream as they begin to die slow, agonizing deaths.

The acolytes pour more and more automatic fire and chemical bursts from their vehicle. Finally, the encroaching mob begins to thin. Still, the beasts rip at the hull.

Over the din of their raging gunfire, the acolytes hear a heavy thump land on the Repressor’s armour plating above. More disconcerting still is that the noise moves about the vehicle, clawing and ripping at the transport. The Repressor’s ceramite and plasteel layers protest as the unseen beast begins to tear through the hull.

Although he tries, the turret gunner can’t get an angle on the creature above.

Going through magazine after magazine of autogun rounds, the acolytes continue their staunch defence, eventually finishing off the remnants of the frenzied mob.

Still, they dare not venture out while the creature above continues dismantling their transport. Taeric and Ishamael wait by the entry points and hatches, ready for whatever may come.

To get a better look at their foe, Felpox depresses the necessary access runes and lowers the Repressor’s rear assault ramp. Peeking around the side of the hull, he locks eyes with the beast. The creature’s impossibly alien, jet-black eyes pierce through the shaman’s soul, bringing the nightmare of Tertia-12’s cramped maintenance tunnels back to the surface. Felpox retreats back from the doorway.

The acolytes wait, not sure of where the beast will attack from.

After a moment of dread silence, the Repressor’s gun turret is ripped away in a hail of sparks. As the attacking creature’s powerful rending claws tear through the armoured cupola, the gunner is rent in half – spilling his innards onto the passengers below. The Storm Bolter’s ammo hopper is also caught in the assault, creating a powerful explosion that rips past the acolytes. From the blast, the Repressor’s pressurized hydraulic fluids burst into flames, spraying fire throughout the cramped compartment. The flames spread quickly, leaping from surface to surface.

Caught in the deluge of fire, one of the Arbites is instantly immolated, his charred flesh being forcefully blown from his body by the pressurized hoses. The Repressor’s driver, trapped in his forward compartment begins to slowly burn alive. Even over his screams and the raging flames, the acolytes hear the popping and crackling of the Arbite’s skin as he becomes fused to his control dais.

Reacting as quickly as possible after the surprising blast, Ishamael reaches out to extinguish the fires. The psyker taps into the veil beyond reality, bending the all-consuming flames to his will. In an instant, a psychic microburst rips through the crew compartment. The acolytes shudder, as an unholy wind extinguishes the raging inferno around them.

Gasping for air, the acolytes wait by the Repressor’s entrances, now vulnerable on two fronts. Again, Ishamael and Taeric are ready. Calidus prepares himself and his inhaler, readying powerful combat narcotics.

Arkady steps forward and fires his sprayer through the gaping turret-hole, hoping to immolate whatever creature responsible for the damage. The jets of hissing fluids blow upward, igniting in mid air.

Terrified, Felpox sprints from the vehicle and down the mine’s dark main tunnel. Calidus follows, attempting to distance himself from his potential tomb and to get a better vantage point of their foe.

Caradoc steps out carefully, checking his corners, hunting for the beast. Clinging to the side of the vehicle, the genestealer locks eyes. Immediately, Caradoc raises his weapon, firing a volley from his hellgun. With all six limbs, the powerful creature pushes itself away from the hull, leaping clear of the incoming rounds.

In a lightning-fast motion, the genestealer attacks. Its four razor-tipped claws are a blur, rending deep gouges through Caradoc’s heavy armour and taking one of his arms. Caradoc drops to the ground as blood begins to pour from his ragged stump. Quickly, his autosanguinators desperately work to stem the flow.

Seeing the genestealer standing over Caradoc’s body, Ishamael takes a single step out. Cloak flowing behind him, heat waves begin to ripple around his extending arm. With a blinding flash, he projects a ray of burning fury. The hissing xenos is caught in the beam, bursting into a snarling cloud of ash.

With the immediate threat terminated, Felpox regains his senses and rushes to aid his fallen comrade. With a variety of crude clamps and ties, he bundles Caradoc’s torn limb.

The acolytes drag their remaining gear from the Repressor’s burned-out hull and take stock of their remaining ammunition and manpower. Two Arbites are still standing, including the commander. The acolytes, wounded and isolated, decide to press on deeper into the mines. Even with their losses, they still hope to prevent the hybrids’ breach into Midstone.

Calidus scouts ahead while his comrades finish regrouping. Activating his stummer, he skulks off into the darkness. After only a few hundred metres, he feels it – massive tremors, rippling down the length of the mine, shaking the very core of Praxos itself. Moments later, a massive pressure wave blows past, confirming his fears – the breach into Midstone has happened. With renewed purpose, he continues his reconnaissance.

Now, roughly a kilometer from his warband, Calidus hears talking and murmurs. The corridor tightens and snakes its way ahead, shielding the origin of the noise. Catching a brief glimpse of dim light, he continues. Eventually, the tunnel opens to a massive, well-lit chamber. Huge digging and tunneling machinery sits silent around the room.

At the far end of the room, some kind of large plasteel platforms and scaffolding is bolted high to the rock wall. Beside, a massive hole tunnels up into Praxos. The breach is fresh, with mountains of debris and jagged boulders forming a makeshift ramp. From the breach, Calidus can hear the echoes of distant gunfire and explosions above, The fight for Praxos is already underway.

A large rearguard of miners and hybrids wait below, gathered in silence, looking up at their new path to salvation.

Atop the scaffolding, three figures pace back and forth, discussing some matter in detail. Calidus suspects that the first – clad in ornate layered purple garments – is the hybrid’s leader. The Magus’ bizarre staff – more of a polearm than walking stick – is bladed with a curved, organic-looking edge. The figure’s armoured collar obscures some of his features, but Calidus can see the wrongness of the man’s proportions.

The Magus is flanked by two others wearing the crimson robes of the Mechanicus. Even at this distance, Calidus knows that he’s found the acolytes’ target – the dreaded Heretek, Somnius Halbrel. Walking beside the Heretek, one of his misguided initiates keeps pace.

Calidus voxes back to his group, informing them of the situation. Slowly, the warband sneaks up the tunnel to join him.

They form a rough battle-line at the tunnel’s mouth, using the covering silence of Calidus’ stummer to prepare for a devastating ambush. Calidus and Caradoc take aim at the Heretek while the others prepare to repel the horde. The one-armed Caradoc braces his weapon against the rock face to get a stable shot.

In unison, Calidus and Caradoc fire. Calidus hits a microsecond earlier – his holy bolt rounds slam into the Heretek’s thigh, blowing a chunk from his mechanical frame. Calidus’s piercing burst slams into the blasphemer’s chest and shoulder. With a spray of sparks and unknown fluids, the Heretek’s arm is ripped from his body. He slumps back against the rock face as his mechanical body quickly reacts to repair itself.

Ishamael looks out to the hybrid leader, attempting to use wychfyre to burn the creature alive. The hybrid leader simply… resists.

The other acolytes hold fire, waiting for the hybrids to close in.

Locking eyes with his psychic assailant, the hybrid Magus reaches out into Ishamael’s mind. His psychic shadow looms over Ishamael, attempting to envelop him completely. The Magus claws and tears at the edge of Ishamael’s soul, but the psyker resists.

Meanwhile, the Heretek’s Initiate crouches down, rending aid to his master.

Knowing that the Initiate is working to repair the Heretek’s shattered body, Calidus targets him, messily blowing him apart with a chattering burst from his bolter.

The hybrids, now aware of their attackers, react in a disordered charge. Their bellowing screams echo throughout the mines as they quickly start to gain ground. The acolytes fire a savage volley, killing many of their monstrous attackers. Claws and faces are rendered to pulp.

Taeric braces himself, ready to take the brunt of the first wave.

Ishamael attempts to strike out at the Magus again. Distracted by the charging masses, his focus falters. The Warp protests, pushing at the thin barrier of reality. The chamber shakes violently. The acolytes fight to retain their footing, but Arkady is knocked to the ground. He stays prone, spraying a torrent from his manufactured weapon into the approaching beasts.

Incredibly, the Heretek stands, unfazed. He absorbs and dodges more of Caradoc and Calidus’s shots. Raising his remaining arm, the Heretek returns fire. His wrist glows white-hot as blue bolts ripple across the chamber. Calidus is hit in the chest and the burning plasma burns through his armour. He takes a knee, trying to collect himself.

The charging horde eventually makes it to the acolytes and Arbites, slamming into their thin defensive line. The combat turns into a swirling melee as heavy blows are exchanged on both sides. Righteous steel meets chitinous claws. Shotgun butts meet cursing faces.

The two Arbites manage to club a few of the monsters to death while Taeric slashes out with precise attacks. Arkady draws and fires his laspistol, pointblank into the mass.

Meanwhile, the unseen psychic war continues. Again, the distracted Ishamael becomes the Magus’ target. Again, the hybrid leader reaches out into the psyker’s mind. This time, the Magus’ shadow-claws wrap themselves firmly around his soul, dominating his very being and will. Ishamael, trapped in the prison of his own body, goes stiff. His eyes retreat to the back of his head, turning to alien, jet-black spheres.

Ishamael, within his puppet body, turns to his closest ally, Calidus. Forced to reach out, he can feel the Magus conjuring Warp magicks through him. The energies pull in and wrap around his arm. Still fighting for control, the heat burns the imprisoned psyker’s soul. The beam finally discharges, hammering into Calidus. Horribly burned, the young acolyte slams him into the rock wall behind him, rendering him unconscious.

Sensing an eventual defeat, the Heretek Halbrel begins to make his escape up into the Midstone breach. Caradoc braces his weapon and attempts to take one last shot. He misses just wide as the Heretek ducks and weaves before falling out of sight.

The ferocious fight continues, and again, the acolytes and Arbites finish off the remaining hybrids.

With only one target remaining, the acolytes take aim at the Magus, quickly blasting him apart. The hybrid’s elongated skull bursts open, soaking Praxos’ brown-grey stone with alien blood.

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