“Commander! We have completed research into the super-dimensional rift incident at the icefield.” Perhaps against good judgment, and quite secret from the humans at Budo and their inhuman master, Sunset had ordered research into the St Clyne Massacre and its after-effects. And now before him stood two Earth Caste scientists with the results. “Will you begin?”
“Or will you?” They were twins, Sunset knew that much. They had exceptionally irritating mannerisms. “But no matter. We have established the existence of super-dimensional life forms, alien creatures that live on a higher dimensional state of existence to us mundane three-dimensional life forms. As it is well known lesser races travel within fourth-dimensional space known as the Warp to cross vast distances very quickly. Now the opening of fourth-dimensional space-gates is a two-way process-”
The other Tau began speaking. “-And so as a human enters, it is not impossible that a super-dimensional lifeform may leave. Now obviously based on dimensional theory a fourth-dimensional being cannot be properly perceived in three-dimensional space and so the occurrences as happened at St Clyne are effectively the shadows – much as a three-dimensional being presents a two-dimensional shadow upon a surface – of these beings upon our world.”
“Continue.” Sunset thought he understood.
“Thus the continued super-dimensional phenomena afflicting this region must have a source, likely a kind of rift in dimensional space. As a matter of fact we have triangulated the position of this rift using remote drones – although two of them have since been rendered offline. Based on hypotheses, we can assume super-dimensional intrusions are likely to increase exponentially unless we launch an attack on the mechanisms preserving the dimensional rift.”
“Very good. I will lead this mission personally. Are the new arrivals well settled-in?”
“Have our new air group leader ready to scramble. I feel air support will be needed here.”
Close to the rift event, the air was thick with a strange fog that it took all the capacity of a suit’s vision filters to see through. The clouds behaved like dust, swirling and ebbing in a way that almost reminded R’in of the deserts back home. Fighting in a dust-storm was almost second-nature, and well-suited a small and highly mobile force.
“Check in, all units.” One by one, the other suits sent confirmations, and R’in set off into the morass. She knew this was probably her last chance to excel, to make Sunset realise her value, and had a good idea of how to do it.
As the particulate matter – denser than dust, clumping heavily on the visor – engulfed her suit, warnings filled the screen; toxic atmosphere. Each blob of the yellowish stuff began in time to form a long liquid smear and she realised it was some kind of fluid, a poisonous fog easy to get lost in. The pilot lights of her flamethrower flared unnatural colours, sparking and guttering as the droplets of slime caught in the flame, and blind in the soup she waited.
The rift had been opened in a former township, first by accident as a pitiable excuse for a cult had said the right words and then formalised by the Death Guard as their dead-flesh-white ships had sidled into orbit with leaden silence. Demons, cacophonic minions of the plague-god, lurched and capered from the unpleasant, unnatural crack in space seemingly at random, and with equal capriciousness greeted its custodians before bounding and crawling off to meet the other demons.
The world was falling apart, in time it would become so covered in these dimensional rifts it would be collapsed in on its unwieldy volume and become a demon world. Until then the sons of Mortarion would guard it. But fourteen, twice their patron’s sacred number, stood watch over the holiest of grounds; seven more, the New Deathshroud, waited in the gap between worlds to step forth and reap. Perhaps overconfidently, perhaps justifiably, it was felt the cloud of demonic disease that engulfed the town was proof enough against attack.
Thus the arrival of the Tau of Sunset spurred action; at some point, the Death Guard had reached decaying fingers out to their brothers in damnation and purloined two demon engines, rasping, fleshy mosquito-like aircraft which spewed torrents of pus and acid from long, leak-riven hoses of flesh-coloured rubber-like stuff dangling from insectoid heads. These flies,with incessant buzzing, circled around to take positions on the former watchtowers and waited. An old defensive gun began its methodical circular motion, and with utter silence battle was joined.
From the fog, heavy-calibre shells crackled against a ruined bar’s walls, knocking pictures faded to blank death-coloured squares from their mounts where they crumbled to dust from the impact. Through the thin strip of vision his visor could impart, Mi’kel could make out the outline of an old Imperial turret sat within a nest of sandbags and low walls. In the absence of aircraft to engage, it was turning its attention to the largest clump of enemies in sight.
The Tau centre was safe within the walls of the recreational building, a unit of Fire Warriors in sniping positions on the roof and Broadsides ensconced in the main room. Rails spat out, the aftershock and heat-wave burning the corpse-gas the air was thick with in blue streaks, but merely deflected against the enemy’s defenses. Markerlights, flickering and wan in the fog, highlighted the outlines of Space Marines braced to fire, and a searing beam from Kai’la’s experimental battlesuit punched straight through the defensive wall and burned three away in seconds. A second salvo from the Crisis team on the left flank also sent bluish fire dancing among the ruined building, but only one more of the Death Guard succumbed.
A warp rift began to open within the Tau lines but suddenly collapsed before anything could emerge. The disturbance in three-dimensional space had begun to affect the integrity of the local warp barrier and space was becoming deceptive.
The leader of the Death Guard, a proud veteran of the Drop Site Massacres, resplendent in off-white armour around which thick clouds of flies hung, took his chance as the eddies in space settled. The Deathshrouds were way off course, but that was better than being trapped between dimensions for eternity.
Far above the battlefield, the first mosquito-beast spun on its axis and dived towards the Tau. It grabbed with long, spindly forelimbs a Crisis Suit and, trunk swirling in the wind, plunged a triple-proboscis into the unit’s torso. Each feeding-tube was tipped with a knot of drills taken from mining equipment and with a surgical whine they pierced the armour and then the flesh within. With the vile, thick, sucking sound of a machine once used for cleaning the great fuel-storages of Imperial warships, the Tau was reduced to pulp and absorbed within the engine’s biological core. The Blightfly was based in some way on the same blueprint as the Great General’s own Dracodeus series of war machines, but a cancerous heart had been allowed to fester within its ribcage and the trapped spirit of a Great Unclean One had reformed it into a form more suitable to the Lord of Decay, a holy mosquito made from old farming equipment and industrial parts. Now it hovered above battlefields a predatory vampire, turning its victims into a slurry slurped up through overpressured pipes, blended with infernal poisons and then sprayed back like fertiliser over a field from the dangling, seeping trunk.
A rain fell on Ra’mi’s unit and he realised something was very wrong; the thick slimy air was one thing but this light shower seemed almost refreshing.
His hand itched. Looking down he saw his gauntlet had been scratched at some point, perhaps on the rusty ladder his unit had climbed to take their positions.
The itching was getting worse and he tore the glove off to see purplish rot spreading across his hand and disappearing up the sleeve, spreading fast enough to be visible to the eye.
His skin burned from the inside. Through bloodshot eyes he could see other soldiers tearing at their armour as the toxic mist worked its way inside through gaps too small to notice. The cold escape of a bullet to the forehead, fired with his good hand even as the blistering pox engulfed it, was all that remained.
Blightfly Botulus had killed eight Fire Warriors in its first pass, and dived to consume what remained before they completely decayed.
“Enemy aircraft, repeat enemy aircraft. Cadre Ra’mi crippled, Crisis Cadre Mo’ri reports casualties.”
Even in the roomy and well-equipped cockpit of Barracuda D69b, there was an oppressive humidity. Visibility was down to double-digits, far too low for low-altitude combat, and somewhere in the fog was an enemy bomber.
Its pilot, E’len, briefly considered aborting the mission; flying a craft as valuable as the Barracuda into a storm this heavy seemed suicidal. When anti-aircraft fire began piercing the fog that idea seemed even more viable but instead he dived, spotting the enemy flying drone and firing a spray of missiles to force it after him not the critical ground forces.
Blind to the dogfight above, R’in leapt from cover to attack the enemy. Ignorant of the nature of Chaos she simply fired as targets appeared, an automated gun-emplacement an easy target. Its form was hardy, however, and it still had life in it.
The second Blightfly followed Botulus into the fray, unable to find prey and flying down too low in confusion.
Kai’la saw it dive and fired. The ion-shot punctured its core and blood sprayed over the battlefield as the demon-engine spiralled out of control like a burst balloon. Its companion vomited yet more pestilence over Ri’vail’s cadre as it hid close to the surviving triangulation drone, and from her sniping-perch O’Shie saw them convulse. The skin-transmitted disease had proved too inefficient, and so Botulus had switched the tank from which its emanations flowed. This time, it was a heavy corrosive slime that reacted with most known materials to give off highly toxic vapours, and it wreaked a terrible tally on the Fire Warriors.
Lord Dredge lumbered still further forward, pouring suppressive fire on the Tau in the closes building. One Terminator from his retinue was slain but the remainder continued and he saw two bloody sprays as bolt-rounds found their mark.
Mi’kel was watching R’in’s attack and saw it fail through his scope. The gun-emplacement levelled its four barrels at him and again the building shook with impacts. The floor gave out with a scream of metal and the Broadside listed to one side, losing its grip on its rifle, and Mi’kel scrabbled for the eject option.
Another spray of shells caved in the head and torso, and the wreck came to rest in the cellar of the building.
Cursing the resilience of these foes, R’in braced herself for the charge of the enemy. A wall of flame, turned purple by the thick gas clouds around her, forced their first advance back and she anticipated another before too long.
Then, the warp rift returned. Obliterators, so far gone into cancerous ecstasy they were barely recognisable as humans, poured warpfire on Sunset’s carefully-chosen position. He had been waiting for the enemy to close, and when they had not had begun to formulate a new plan.
The arrival of these new enemies forced him into action. Spotter drones collapsed into unrecognisable shards, but for the moment his shields held.
E’len fired all weapons at the lurking Plague Marines, watching as two of them were torn from where they maintained the anti-aircraft position. R’in needed more support, but little was in any position to help her.
Botulus was feeding again, and easy prey for Kai’la; as markerlights played over it a hail of missiles shattered its gross mix of bone and armour and sent it thudding to the ground in a torrent of blood. The skies were, for the moment, clear.
The Obliterators had emerged in the midst of the Tau lines and paid the price; one was melted down by weight of fire, and another damaged. The last surviving Fire Warriors also held their ground on the left flank; although Dredge’s firepower was wearing them down, they put another Terminator down in return, and an uneasy standoff occurred in which Sunset made his move, advancing towards the finally-triangulated location of the rift to close it.
The Final Moments
E’len pulled up from his attack run too late; a spray of fire from the turret below sent the Barracuda into a spiral towards the ground. Although its pilot made it out, the craft was lost to the fog.
The Obliterators went down fighting; the survivors of Ra’mi’s cadre were engulfed in yet more witchfire, and moved to finish off Mi’kel’s wingman. Seeing this, Kai’la sprung forward, crushing the mutated thing in one hand as its blows pinged against his shield. As it left trails of greenish oily muck on the armour, he momentarily relaxed before hearing distress calls from across the battlefield. The surviving Fire Warriors needed cover as they broke from their defensible position to take the objective Mi’kel had died protecting. Sunset was engaged in a brutal firefight with enemies at the rift. R’in’s forces were being worn down by the enemy after failing to meet up with Sunset.
R’in saw the Plague Marine’s knife plunge at her suit’s visor again, and realised this would be the last time unless she did something. It would not die, no matter how many times she forced it back with augmented limbs.
Tearing at a control-panel, she exposed a bank of red switches which a single frantic motion set to active.
XV8 Emergency Detonation System: Active.
There was no chance to evacuate at this moment, and no way that she would have survived the poison mist.
“Sunset?” The knife smashed the glass. “It has been an-”
Her commander seemed to be laughing. “Die well, R’in. Blame it, shall we say, on the misfortune of your too-rapid ascension.”
The Crisis Suit exploded with a flat mushroom-cloud, wiping out one of the Plague Marines and sending the other bodily through a weakened wall.
Sunset, however, had little time to take too much satisfaction in the final demise of R’in. Fire from the defence gun was beating against his armour and the shield was almost depleted.
As the shockwave from R’in’s explosion washed over him, he saw too many Plague Marines still guarding the rift. There was one option.
Drone Control Override: Authorised.
He hit the eject switch and, as the cockpit pod catapulted backwards into the building, watched the XV9’s engines flare one last time as it launched itself towards the dimensional disturbance. As it neared it seemed to glow white-hot as its reactor began to melt down, and with a flash it vanished into the void.
Seconds later, there was a sound like a distant crash and from the building where the rift had been light began to pour out. The fog thinned visibly, and with a wrenching in space the void was gone. It had cost far too many lives, and far too many battlesuits – almost two entire cadres were annihilated, along with over half his infantry. He had had to sacrifice his own XV9 to provide the force needed to close the rift, but the Death Guard were already falling back, the Terminators stepping back into whatever infernal teleportation field they had arrived by.
His personal radio chimed and a hollow voice sounded in his ear.
“Superlative work, Sunset. Your attack has caused most great pertubation among the Infernal Powers.”
It was the General of Budo. Who had supposedly been ignorant of this mission.
“Do not be so foolish as to assume I did not know of your operation. But to be brutal, I would rather dozens of Tau lay dead and the rift closed than dozens of the Mykene. Do not grieve too greatly, however; your armoured suit can be rebuilt. Its end was at least a glorious one.”
Dredge paced the bridge of his flagship. The plan to accelerate the demise of the Cursed World by means of worsening the Demonic Rift had failed. The self-destruction of the XV9 had overloaded the rituals keeping the rift open and now the Lord of Decay’s armies lay trapped in the immaterium.
“We report our failure to Lord Typhus. Let him lead personal vengeance against these Tau.”