The Horror of Hive Fleet Inferno!

Prologue

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“If the swarm is not contained or redirected it risks altering the plan.” The message from the Panopticon was clear. The ingredients of the remedy were prepared. The Tyranid swarm of Hive Inferno had been drawn to an abandoned city, and what remained was to expose them to a virus which would thin their numbers.

In order to make the bait palatable, a significant force – Mechanical Beasts and the rabble that followed them, dozens of Iron Masks and even a small contingent of the Hell Cross Division – had been assembled. An intentionally weak and strung-out formation to meet the Tyranids head on.

Before the battle, the barrage had come; not explosive shells or energy-fire, but apparent duds, burning with latent energy. One of them was the virus, the others simple stores of biomass extracted from the slurry at the base of the Panopticon. Contaminated, for sure, with vile plagues, but not the rapidly-evolving bio-weapon that Vogler had designed to decimate (in the literal sense – merely to thin their numbers) the Tyranid horde. Everything was intended to force the Tyranids into a killing ground then reduce their numbers as a show of strength, forcing them towards the other armies massing on the planet.

It was a highly ambitious plan, yet one elegant in its simplicity. The sacrifice was no object, for the cost of failure was so high. If the Inferno Fleet was left to its own devices, it would easily consume its opponents far faster than anyone could react and then the Panopticon had predicted the total annihilation of all life in the sector.

Hell Castle had finally found its new home; its master would not see it wiped out in such a way.

Thus it was that the Mykene forces met the Tyranids, a roiling mass of nauseous orange-and-green carapaces gleaming in the sunlight.

Cycle One

The first sign of the Tyranids’ attack, in an action which to Vogler in his command centre confirmed the archives of the Tau, was a horde of polyp-like fleshy artillery shells vomited from an egg-like tumour growing over an abandoned anti-aircraft gun. The gobbets of orange slime, bleeding bluish ichor, burst over the Iron Masks in a shower of acid which melted two of the Space Marines into a fleshy sludge. The others were slow to react, an incessant psychic wail from the sun-silhouetted figure of an immense Tyranid on the horizon scrambling sensors and dulling reactions.

In a show of supposed tactical competence, the Mykene were spreading out to seize the “objectives”, each canister reached spiked to detonate ready for the great contamination that would follow. The Cult of the Great Fire seized their canister, the Brotherhood of Lehr another. To Vogler’s amusement, two more canisters were overrun by scuttling, writhing termagants and their plague-ridden contents were greedily consumed.

“Behold the greedy animals consuming as locusts.” Vogler was recording the operation for the benefit of his masters. “They eat and eat, gorged fat on rotten meat.”

 

Cycle Two

“It is not time to attack.” Vogler had styled his escort of the Hell Cross on the archtraitor Horus’ own personal guard, an affectation that he felt showed due respect to the progenitor of Chaos. “Let the enemy enter the trap further.”

More slugs of living ammunition filled the sky as the dragon Caesar M dived towards the Tyranids, its liquid metal fire intended to funnel the smaller, lesser creatures into the path of the virus. It spun around to avoid them and burned into the horde, the unrelenting crush of bodies easy prey for its weapons.

The Khedoran Omega followed, exploding blobs of viscous, cherry-red magma punching into the swarm, and then more from its fellow Mechanical Beast Gorgon LVI. The Tyranid line was full of ragged holes now, bloody breaches where the afterburn of livid metal shots smoked and filled the air with a turned-meat smell.

A crippled brood of genestealers turned tail and dissipated into the shadows, certain to pose problems for others who might seek shelter in the buildings around them but certainly in no position to fight. All remained well within parameters.

Yet it was too early to assume that this would remain the case. A gnarled, bark-like edifice streaked from the sky and embedded itself in the ground close to Caesar M, and its shell cracked like a hatching egg. From within, instead of a mewling chick, emerged with heavy steps a Carnifex, glistening with the protective mucus that had engulfed it within the spore pod. It pointed a knot of stretching, reaching arms with seed-pod like tips skyward and the sky was suddenly filled with biting, cutting seeds that engulfed the mechanical dragon and caused it to suddenly explode.

Cycle Three

The Tyranids were upon the Mykene, well within the trap. The siege tank Toros VI fired at a monstrous, hunched creature that loomed high even over the brood-queen that was Vogler’s target, yet its shell seemed to do little but tear a deep gash in its flank. This was followed up with more exploding magma-shells from the Brotherhood of Zuul, and the Khedoran Omicron, but the thing still moved unhindered by its wounds when the barrage died down.

Flying creatures held aloft on tattered, glistening wings met heavy fire from Gorgon LVI and the Iron Masks, and one of them exploded into pieces. The Carnifex that had downed Caesar M turned to return fire when suddenly the air around it burned white and Vogler himself emerged, surrounded by Terminators.

A hail of fire melted the immense Tyranid into a pool of bubbling, corrosive glue.

Another of the eggs smashed into the ground and this time a writhing, pseudopod-esque snake capped with a bulbous brain which seeped greenish mucus dragged itself clear. Immediately the air – already ozone-reeking even over the burnt-flesh fog and heavy with psychic potential – took on an even more oppressive weight. Yet that was all it did, lurk vilely in the corner of sight.

One of the Hell Cross was grabbed by a tendril that had reached from the Carnifex’s egg and dragged into the thing’s interior. Hordes of small spines from the chattering mass of termagants bothered Vogler, but to no end.

Then the immense beast, its wounds already scabbing over with more of the greenish carapace that covered it, vomited a tidal-wave of digestive bile over the Iron Masks, and three were reduced to skeletal remains.

Cycle Four

The soup of acid that was forming around the shell-crater where the siege-tank and the Iron Masks were making their stand – scant metres from the virus-canister – finally ate through its treads and guide-wheels, leaving it stranded. A strange beetle-like thing worried at the feet of the Tyranid queen, blocking the shots of the Mykene trying to anger the beast into a mistake.

The brain-snake seemed resilient, bullets dissipating around it, and then as if it had finally had enough of the annoyance a green pulse emanated from its knotted cerebral mass which removed two of the Iron Masks from existence, and then sucked a Terminator to the same fate of non-existence. Observers could have sworn those affected simply imploded when the wave passed over them, and the creature seemed to grow – more segments joining its sinuous body – for each casualty.

A barrage of cancerous artillery shells broke wetly against the siege-tank, and their acidic secretions quickly burned its weak top-armour away before igniting its magazine.

Another gout of acid from the monstrous Carnifex-like thing dissolved another of the Iron Masks, while the snake turned to Vogler. It stared the Chaos lord down with its blind worms’ maw, and then suddenly its new growths shattered and it recoiled in pain, its psychic power useless against Vogler’s carefully prepared wards.

Yet in that moment the Termagant horde was upon Vogler and they simply could not be killed fast enough to make headway.

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Cycles Five and Six

The final stage of the plan began. Gorgon LVI killed the snake as it reeled from its psychic misfire. The Brotherhood of Zuul continued their losing battle with the immense acid-spewing beast before them, while a skulking crab-creature which seemed to be the source of the ozone-fug that distracted and confused fell to a missile punching through its carapace and detonating with a bloody spurt.

Far away, Omega had reached the tumourous artillery piece and merrily burned the corruption away, sending its escort of smaller Tyranids fleeing the fire.

Vogler’s retinue was dead. The snake’s death-throes had sent out another psychic shockwave which had annihilated them. He took his fury out on the termagants that worried at his armour, pulping the creatures with methodical blows. Soon none remained – those which had avoided his blows having fled.

Finally, the monstrous beast’s acid-waves finished off the survivors of the Iron Masks defending the virus. Their sacrifice, Vogler felt, was admirable. It had convinced the Tyranid queen that there was something of value nearby, and sure enough it smashed the canister open.

A second Carnifex rounded the corner and smashed into Vogler, but he met its charge with a sword raised and was but momentarily disoriented. In the confusion, the beast was open to a hail of fire from the surviving Iron Masks and soon it was easily dispatched with a stab through the brain. Vogler knew he was wounded – his armour was cracked and collapsing – but the thing was destroyed.

Yet all was not well. The queen had taken the virus, for sure. But it was not working. The Tyranid was supposed to have been showing the symptoms of the plague yet instead its carapace seemed more resilient than ever. Each shot fired at the thing simply made it more resolved to kill.

As Omicron was trampled by the acid-spewing thing, and the Brotherhood of Zuul doused in its corroding tide, Vogler signalled to be teleported back to the Panopticon. The Tyranids, it seemed, were immune to the virus. Or if not immune, they reacted to it in a most unexpected way.

He ordered a general withdrawal to the main base. The Tyranids would not pursue, and all that could be hoped was their new vigour would break them against some other foe.

Their attack had been broken in fine style. He was not returning a total failure. But the grand plan had been elusive.

 

Epilogue

“Events have been set in motion which may not be preventable.”

The indispensability of the fate-manipulation engine attached to the Panopticon – vital in manipulating the Tyranids to attack, in convincing the Tau to remain loyal and in so many other subtle manipulations – saved Vogler. The operation to decimate the Inferno Fleet had been a failure and now the queen-beast was stronger than ever. Indeed, it was rumoured that a beast of ludicrous, grotesque size was stirring from their hive. A problem for another time.

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