Deathwatch: Scything Talons

Descent Into Darkness: Part 1

632814.M41

En route to the Fortress world of Hethgard, Kill-team Talon is retasked to answer an urgent astropathic distress call emanating from a lonely, unremarkable planet named Khnum. Lacking an Imperial colonial presence, any strategic value to the Imperium, or even presence of human life, it is virtually non-existent in official Imperial records. The only records of it exist in Deathwatch census records, from which the planet’s name was found. Records indicate that Khnum was once a lush and verdant world. The recent invasion and ongoing consumption of the planet by a Tyranid hive fleet has likely changed such prospects, however.

Inquisitor Victoria accepted this mission under strong curiosity of some undeniable facts. The presence of the distress call itself is a mystery, as the planet was, on record, lifeless. Therefore, it stands to reason that there is some reason as to why infrastructure enough for an astropathic choir exists there in the first place. Another curiosity is the sheer power of the astropath that is sending the message. With the Tyranid presence on the planet all but prodigious, the fact that an astropath strong enough to pierce the interference of the Tyranid’s infamous Shadow in the Warp is reason enough to recover such a valuable asset. Finally, the astropath and whatever survivors still linger in the surface of Khnum have borne witness to a phenomenon few in the Imperium are privy to: the gradual consumption of a planet by the Tyranid race. Such data is highly sought after in its rarity, and without doubt of value not only to the Inquisition and the Deathwatch, but to Imperial strategists as well.

Thus, Kill-team Talon was tasked to conduct insertion into Khnum, locate the source of the signal, investigate the circumstances of any survivors, and evacuate them if at all possible. Inserting through both Valkyrie and Stormraven gunship, the Kill-team launched from deep space and cruised on silent running until they entered Khnum’s atmosphere. Once there, they were given chase by a few Tyranid flyer strains, but the piloting skills of Brothers Cassius and Andromokles was enough to give them the slip with little incident. This forced them to divert from their original drop zone to find a suitable place to land where they would not draw attention. What they found was a clear patch of land almost 8 kilometers from their objective. Proceeding on the surface, the Kill-team members largely went foot mobile, with only Brother Lex and Sister Mina going by combat bike to conduct forward reconnaissance.

They found the surface of the planet already a sickly sight. Brother Erzell, one of the few in the Kill-team to have faced Tyranids before, knew that you could find carnage and slaughter easy enough in the wake of a Tyranid invasion, but that was only immediately after the struggle to defend a planet. What he and the rest of the Kill-team bore witness to now was sterile, clean, clinical, with not a broken bone or a pound of wasted human flesh in sight… for they had all been consumed—indeed, the entire planet was being consumed, all the process of a Hive Fleet’s sustenance. The ground was inhabited by strange tendrils that pulsed like veins, their surfaces covered with bacterial micro-organisms, and the air itself was infested with spores and pheromone. The sun that set in the horizon (or was it rising?) cast looming shadows from the once-mighty mountain peaks of Khnum, darkening the empty plains for leagues around. Such plains must have surely been filled with trees and other foliage long ago, as was described in the briefing, but now trees gave way to Tyranid capillary towers, growing and reaching out to the void of space, as well as stabs that led downward into hives of smaller Tyranid strains. The very planet itself was the enemy, and Kill-team Talon knew that they would have to tread carefully.

Fortunately, their task was made much easier, thanks to a brilliant idea by Brother Mason. He suggested that they equip themselves with Infiltriol Enamel, a pheromone based deception, to make their way through Khnum undetected. This smart choice paid off, as the Kill-team found little incident as they traveled across Khnum’s barren surface. The Kill-team avoided an encounter with a venomthrope, and managed to circle around a concealed Tyranid feeder that had burrowed itself into the hollow ground itself. Later, the Kill-team made their way through a “forest” of little capillary stabs, finding a curious sight within. In a pool of clear water that had not yet been consumed by the Tyranids, they found a tribal warrior, badly wounded and clearly dying, his primitive spear lain beside him as he reached out toward the pool of water. The presence of primitive human life on the planet was never covered in the briefings, but the surprise was not the first thing on their minds. Sister Mina immediately attempted to tend to the man’s wounds, but it was clear he would not survive. Though they understood not his words, he nevertheless seemed relieved at the presence of the Battle Brothers and Sister, handing a trinket to the Kill-team leader, Brother Lex. It was a bone charm, no doubt a charm part of their warrior tradition. The man expired soon after that, as the Sister said his last rites. As he was human, he was already a citizen of the Imperium, in spirit if not in fact. Sister Mina regretted that their mission would not even allow them to give the man a shallow grave, but she knew that they must press on.

With Brother Cassius’ auspex speaking of life signs coming from a nearby cave, they reasoned that there might be more survivors hidden within, and judged it worth the risk. With Brother Andromakles and Lex standing guard outside, and Sister Mina leading the way, they ventured further. It could be said that what they found was only to be expected, given the circumstances. In a high-vaulted cavern within the cave network, they found more hollow ground. Most of the Kill-team were quick on their feet and managed to jump clear of the collapsing earth, and those who carried jump packs were hardly bothered, but it was the librarian Brother Scours that fell into the pit. Though surrounded by Tyranid gaunt organisms almost immediately, and his psychic gifts failing him in the face of the Shadow in the Warp, he was almost overwhelmed. The Kill-team acted swiftly, however, and made short work in scything down the horde of hormagaunts and pulling Brother Scours out of the pit. Once they were out of the cave, they redoubled their pace to head towards their primary objective.

The objective point was a curious sight. Settled into a gentle valley between slightly sloping hills, this must have surely been a beautiful place in Khnum’s better days. The first thing the Kill-team took notice of at that point was that there were no Imperial structures present. The second is that it quickly became evident that the Tyranids had, for some reason, not even begun to consume this area. Sensing that something was afoot, the Kill-team quickly set about to finding their objective, mindful that in the far horizon, large Tyranid biotitans were wandering, silhouetted against the sliver of light. Who knows when Kill-team Talon’s ruse would finally prove futile? In the end, it was Brother Draego’s keenly honed senses that allowed them to find a way: an entrance hatch that was hidden from view and perception. In fact, if Brother Cassius’ auspex was to be believed, there was the surface of what looked like a bunker in the concave of the valley, all somehow hidden. Judging that whatever mystery would solve itself as they entered the bunker, they proceeded onward, Brother Cassius unleashing his plasma cutter against the uncooperative hatch door and cutting it open.

Inside, they found a tunnel that was clearly of Imperial make, covered as it was in cables, pipes, and glowglobes, and the occasional Mechanicus glyph. Wide enough to only permit a single-file entry, the Kill-team’s descent was slow and purposeful. Soon enough they found themselves in a large, tall-walled room, quickly spotting the heavy bolters set against the pillars of the room, and a spy globe whose machine spirit no doubt made short work of any intruder. It was Brother Scours that found a way through, concentrating his disciplined mind through the Shadow in the Warp to communicate with the astropath that was sending out the distress call. In a burst of telepathy, he clarified their situation and requested entry, which was granted in a few minutes. Safe from the compound’s secret traps, they proceeded onward, passing flamers set within the narrow corridors to arrive at a great bulkhead that bore a the familiar cogwheel of Mars. Once Brother Lex clarified further, they were granted entry. What they found inside, they could not have expected.

The room within was a large, high-vaulted strategium, of the sort found in Imperial cruisers and larger ships. In the center lay a holo projection of what was clearly the planet of Khnum. All around the strategium, menials stood attending to their numerous techpriest masters. Monotask servitors went to and fro, finding things to do. It quickly became evident to the Kill-team that they would not be able to spirit everyone away from Khnum’s surface, and some triaging had to be performed later. But the figure that greeted them at the door was none other than a Magos of the Mechanicus, and from his robes he seemed to be a Magos Biologos. He introduced himself as Magos Klute, and he thanked the Kill-team for their beneficence in arranging a rescue (though he could not hide some disappointment in not having an entire Imperial Guard regiment come to his rescue). Though the Kill-team informed him to make preparations for his team to evacuate immediately, he proposed a daring plan to Kill-team Talon.

He explained that he and his team had been on Khnum for almost a hundred years, hidden there, studying xenos behavior. The arrival of the Tyranids presented an unexpected opportunity. They could study a phenomenon barely spoken of in Imperial texts: the consumption of a world. In their secure and hidden bunker, they studied how the Tyranids began to eat the planet itself alive. In their studies, Magos Klute was confident that he had finally found an answer to defeating Hive Fleet Dagon definitively. He explained that he and his team had crafted an evolving virus, one that was built with the knowledge of the failures of previous attempts, and defeat even the Tyranids’ penchant for rapid evolution and immunization. The Kill-team need only make their way to Tyranid digestion pool, and deploy the payload delivery device. Magos Klute understood that this would complicate the rescue operation, but explained that under the circumstances, the benefits outweighed the risk. He gave the Kill-team a few minutes to rearm their weapons, and by then they must have a decision.

Brother Andromakles took this opportunity to study the records of this artificial virus. He found only that it had a chance, a very likely chance, of doing what it was supposed to do, but it was a lot to bet on such a chance. He deferred to his Kill-team leader. For his part, Brother Lex found the astropath that was transmitting the message, inside a lonely astropathic choir that had obviously seen the entire choir die from the strain of communicating through the Shadow. The astropath herself, named Xhenek, was a young, frail, yet confident-seeming woman, blind as all in her station was, weakened from effort, yet exuding a calmness beside that. Xhenek was thankful for the arrival of the Inquisition, and prayed for swift delivery from the storm. Brother Lex, together with Brother Mason, also found the source of the curious cloaking that the bunker exhibited. In a chamber deep in the bunker, a single techpriest named Bhrawk powered an ancient archeotech device called the Subjectivity Engine that even he knew little of. He knew only that it projected a field around the valley in which the bunker lay, making it look like what it seemed most convenient to look like at any onlookers, forcing them to ignore it. He was impressed that the Kill-team even found their way inside at all. Regardless, the machine required only a brain to power it, and his was available. The techpriest Bhrawk seemed more machine now than human, and interacted in the curious, logically circuitous way of such men. Brother Cassius was able to talk to Bhrawk, and pry from him information that spelled something disturbing: the Magos Klute was not being completely forthcoming. It appeared that he had a teleportarium, whose coordinates pointed to nearby space orbiting Khnum. What purpose it served, the Kill-team couldn’t say, but they confronted Magos Klute immediately.

While the Magos did not seem to see the merit in being questioned for having an alternative escape plan, he seemed stressed nevertheless. He reiterated the mission that he offered, saying that whatever sin the Kill-team might think he had committed, them taking the virus now and introducing it into the Tyranid consumption process would still strike a blow far better than any internecine grudge.

Meanwhile, left alone with Adept Bhrawk in the Subjectivity Engine room, Brother Cassius inspects the walls and finds a curious burn mark, as if it had been melted away by acid. Just as soon as he spotted it, the alarms of the facility blared, heavy bolter fire faintly audible from the halls above. Cassius barely had any time to react before a prehensile tentacle emerged from the breach in the wall, snaring him. When the creature used its two long, spiny mandibles to tear the hole wider, he saw it for what it was. Tyranids, likely breached inside through the very hole the Kill-team used to gain entry. In a second, Cassius was pulled into the wall, left helpless for the few precious seconds the Tyranids needed. Hormagaunts swarmed over Cassius, though they didn’t harm him, instead focusing their efforts into overloading the power shielding Adept Bhrawk. In the end, they sacrificed a veritable wall of life, but they did it, and Adept Bhrawk was torn to pieces in moments. Brother Cassius would have to break free of the creature to even begin to do anything. The mission was in jeopardy now. Tyranids were loose. Many could die.

At that same moment, Magos Klute pulled the last trick from his sleeve, unleashing a focused haywire charge that left the Battle-Brothers helpless for a minute or so as their power armor discharged. When they regained their movement, Magos Klute was gone. Now Kill-team Talon must confront the Tyranids that they had been avoiding, and they have some weighty decisions yet to be made.

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