Deathwatch: Scything Talons

Where a Gunbeast Can Go, a Man Can Follow

Upon arrival at high orbit over Hethgard, Kill-team Talon is spared only scant moments before they are immediately petitioned for an emergency deployment by Lord Admiral Anastasia Arkelius, on behalf of Lord General Curas. Accepting the deployment, the Kill-team make ready to drop to the surface of Hethgard on a daring mission

Firebase D6 was one of many new firebases that lay outside the comfortable of the guns that lay in Hethgard’s fortress walls. Apparently, a daring new strategy by Steward Militant Lukas Vierling involves establishing many of these new firebases as far remote from the walls as possible. Relying on local fire superiority, it is hoped that a majority of these firebases will become quickly strengthening strongpoints, and future areas of expansion for the increasingly complex installation that is Bastion Primaris. One such firebase, labelled “D6”, has come under extremely fierce attack, and has been weathering a storm of Tyranid assault and artillery bombardment for two days. It is not expected to last much longer… that is, unless help arrives. With Kill-team Talon the most mobile force nearby that enjoys a free deployment zone, they are tasked to drop behind Tyranid lines and relieve one flank of Firebase D6 from assault and silence Tyranid gunbeasts.

Command of the Kill-team falls to Andromakles, the apothecary of the Iron Snakes chapter. As Kill-team Talon prepares to deploy, visions of comrades past occupies the already doubt-filled mind of Andromakles. He sees a vision of the long-dead Jorgen McTeague, a former brother of Kill-team Talon, who fell in battle against the Tau. Clad not in the black of the Deathwatch, but in the blue-and-white of his brother Storm Wardens, the vision gives Andromakles pause. As the apothecary was unable to retrieve Jorgen’s geneseed, he considers Jorgen’s death an irredeemable mistake, another failure that he is haunted by. When he shakes the vision off, he finds that he is the last to board the Valkyrie that will deploy them to the mission. As he boards, Inquisitor Victoria notices something amiss about the Astartes, but does not pry further.

En route to deployment, Inquisitor Victoria, herself heading to Bastion Primaris, begins to poke and prod at the pride of the warriors under her charge, only now noticing the chink in their armor. She makes vague suggestions on their physical vulnerability, in light of their previous mission, as well as underscoring issues of loyalty. Though in the end, the Inquisitor waves the matter off as quickly as she started it, it makes the some in the Kill-team suspicious about her enigmatic motives.

When at last they reach the deployment area, Victoria opens the ramp, and they file out, first Brother Mason, then Brother Andromakles and Draegor handling the attack bike, followed by the rest of the Kill-team. To avoid a generous portion of Tyranid surface-to-atmosphere fire, the Kill-team is deployed by E-HALO jump, otherwise known as an orbital dive, just at the lower edge of the planet’s lower thermosphere, a 100km above ground: an altitude known as the “dive line.” This is a feat only possible for, and performed by, Space Marines. As the Tyranids are using zoanthropes, a species known for its deadly accuracy, for its air defense, they are left with little choice. This insertion places no danger to the deploying vehicle, and builds speed that offers them protection from fire. In addition, they are dropped with chaff and dense metal particulates that will attract and nullify some of the potency of the zoanthropes’ psychic barrages. For a man-made dive, it is long, lasting almost 4 minutes and allowing the Astartes to break the sound barrier, their descent heralded by multiple sonic booms resounding in the sky.

Thanks to grav chutes and jump packs, the Kill-team makes planetfall safely behind enemy lines. Brother Mason’s landing is a few meters away from the rest, however, and this makes all the difference. Immediately spotted by Tyranid hive beasts, he is beset quickly by a mass of hormagaunts led by warrior strains. The Kill-team quickly mobilize to support him, Brothers Erzell, and Elyas moving quickly to close with the hormagaunts or take up firing positions. Meanwhile, brother Lucius and Cassius move to higher ground to observe and provide support-by-fire, but face more warrior strains in their upward advance. Andromakles rides the attack bike, with Draegor in the side car, providing mobile fire support to those who need it. However, their advance was slowed considerably by the sheer density of the Tyranid horde. Despite their best efforts, they made slow progress. Brother Andromakles elected to charge through with the attack bike, trampling many of the hormagaunts in the process and giving Draegor perfect firing angles with which he could lay waste to the Tyranids with Fang Storm, his custom heavy bolter. Even with this, it was slow going. Brother Mason himself suffered from temporary blindness, and only through sheer willpower did he fight on for as long as he did. Kill-team Talon needed to assault through 600 meters of enemy lines, and at 200 meters, the tactical initiative that the orbital dive had given them was already slipping.

In the meantime, Lex ordered to be disembarked at Firebase D6 itself. Upon arriving, he took stock of the firebase’s haphazard defense, where guardsmen were running to and fro to plug gaps in the walls and prepare for another desperate Tyranid charge. There he met a battery commander of the 114th Cadian Heavy Artillery, who was currently overseeing the continued suppression of the Tyranid artillery that was Kill-team Talon’s objective. Seeing that the zoanthropes were merely shooting down the rounds and achieving little, if any, target suppression, he ordered that the battery bombardment instead be moved to conduct danger-close fires to support the beleaguered Kill-team Talon. The battery commander was having none of such talk however, and with an impetuousness rare for a regular Imperial citizen that faced a Space Marine, he told Lex that he should tell the regiment commander himself if he so wanted the orders amended. Lex set about to doing just that, find the commanding officer of the 114th in the central strategium, convincing the colonel of the soundness of this amendment to the tactical target. With the bombardment target set, and a firing solution estimate provided by Lex and based on the Kill-team’s current location, an entire battery—eight Basilisk artillery guns—bombarded the target with a high angle fall.

Mere seconds after the guns were fired, Kill-team Talon were witness to an impressive display of firepower. The inner canyon that the Kill-team was pushing towards, and where many of the Tyranid creatures lay, felt the full force of the Basilisk battery’s accurate fall of rounds. Many of the smaller strains suffered grievous losses, while warriors and other creatures were shocked and sent reeling. Seeing the opportunity to retake the initiative, Kill-team Talon went on an all-out assault while the beasts were down. In quick flurries of bolt, las, flame, and crackling power weapons, the creatures were slain one by one, in a bloody slaughter that lasted mere minutes. Meanwhile, Lex communicated to the Kill-team a plan that could make their mission easier, or even solve it entirely. He intended to launch another fire mission at the Tyranid battery, fully expecting the zoanthropes to shoot down the rounds as per usual. At that point, he needed one in the Kill-team in high ground to observe where the psychic lances would be coming from, and provide fire correction to Lex, so that the entire artillery regiment could then fire on it, overwhelm the defenses, take some of the creatures down, and scatter the rest. Since Brother Cassius was at the highest ground on top of the ridge, almost level with where the gunbeasts were, 600 meters away.

Cassius performed a calculation that to call accurate would be an understatement. From the flares of fire that erupted from the Tyranid artillery position 600 meters away, he made a pinpoint calculation that would land all the artillery in a perfect spread pattern to decimate the creatures. If it didn’t kill them, they would most certainly displace from their position, relieving Firebase D6 of a significant portion of the artillery plaguing it. Cassius gave the coordinates, and from the distance, he heard the boom of the guns, and his enhanced vision watched the shells fall, easily numbering more than fifty guns worth. Though the zoanthropes once again focused their psychic energies to intercept the rounds, the majority fell through to strike home. Cassius could not tell what was happening to that position from where he stood, but it didn’t take a smart man to tell that the Tyranids were not having the best time.

As Kill-team Talon made their way to their supposed objective, they were met by charred and blackened ground, with many a corpse of Tyranid creatures laying about. Their objective was much the same, with nothing free left standing save for rocks and soil, the rest being blackened craters and cracked ground, and corpses. Nothing was left alive, so accurate and effective was the bombardment. It was easy to tell that they had not even killed close to the majority of the organisms, and there was no telling how many of the gunbeasts or zoanthropes were left alive, but it was obvious from the tracks that a fair number of them, as well as a few larger creatures, had fled. Where they went, the Kill-team could not say, but at least they wouldn’t be bothering Firebase D6 today. They start the long 3 kilometer trek to Firebase D6, where they will be transported to Bastion Primaris.

Brother Lex, for his part, is satisfied with his work. It is then that the favor that he called in on the Imperial Navy appears. An Arvus Lighter lands on Firebase D6, and he is waiting. The ramp opens, and from within comes an Inquisitorial Throne Agent, who wordlessly beckons him inside, motioning for him to hurry. He looks back northward, to the direction of his Kill-team. They cannot see him now, and perhaps they never will again. He had done his duty to the Deathwatch, but now he needed to do his duty for the providence of his chapter. Once he steps inside the lighter, he finds two familiar figures sitting on the bench, resting against the lighter’s wall. It is Inquisitor Victoria, and the child that Lex rescued from the dying planet of Khnum, Dictum. Victoria communicates to Lex. but without opening her mouth. It is then that she reveals to him that she is a psyker. Victoria knows exactly why Lex is going: to train Dictum as an intiate of the Lone Riders Chapter. Though perplexed by Lex’s dereliction of duty, she assures him that she could not stop him anyway, and that he has earned the right to ultimately fire himself. She promises that the Kill-team will be notified, and that Watch Fortress Erioch will receive the proper missives. She muses on how Space Marines can see so much potential in such small children, mentioning that she herself came from a background of utter poverty and destitution in the Black Ships as well. As a final farewell, she pats Dictum on the head, and adorns Lex with the hat that has become his signature accessory, before bidding them good luck and a desire to meet Dictum again, when he is an Astartes grown. She steps off the lighter, Agent in tow, and her back disappearing behind the closing ramp is the last that Lex sees of the strange Inquisitor for a long time.

When the Kill-team arrives at Firebase D6, they are met with rapturous celebration, and welcomed intensely by the guardsmen there with a mixture of awe and faith. Unfortunately for the guardsmen in the garrison, they are almost immediately sent back to their duties by the commanding officers. Firebase D6 isn’t out of the fire yet, after all. When they meet Victoria, she privately informs them of Lex’s departure. Though the Kill-team members all react differently, Victoria has only one order for them: that they all write a report to Watch Fortress Erioch informing them of Brother Lex’s unfortunate death in the line of duty fighting against the Tyranids, his geneseed unrecoverable and his body too mangled and broken for anything to be sent back to his chapter. Only Andromakles and Lucius register disagreement, but Andromakles accepts that this responsibility is his and that he will perform it. Lucius is harder to convince, mentioning that he will not lie to his superiors and his fellow Astartes, even on the orders of an Inquisitor. Andromakles, seeing as there was no other way to convince him, challenged him to a duel, the loser of which would have to abide by the terms of the winner. Lucius readily accepts.

And so the two Astartes duel to first blood as a matter of honor, a matter that is deadly serious for them, but also great entertainment for their audience of guardsmen in Firebase D6. Andromakles is again plagued by a vision, this time of a former battle-brother in the Iron Snakes who was Andromakles’ regular sparring partner. Though he lost this brother to the Eldar, he remembers his face, and he returns to Andromakles now to haunt him. Lucius arms himself with his deactivated power sword, and Andromakles with his shield and a simple blade. The duel is presided over by Brother Erzell. When the duel starts, Lucius goes on the offensive quickly, making Andromakles work on the defense with his shield and forcing him back. Soon enough, however, the apothecary gains ground again by turning aside Lucius’ more desperate blows and going to work with the blade, forcing Lucius to expend effort to dodge the strikes and slackening his offense. The decisive moment comes when Andromakles moves forward with his shield, bashing it against Lucius. Following it up, Andromakles follows with a motion toward an over-head slash, which Lucius anticipates with a 5th position guard. But Andromakles was feinting, instead moving to his second intention, an uoward fleche, a lunge that threatens in range by bringing the back leg past the front, toward Lucius’ high inside line, scoring a small wound on Lucius’ neck (or in Andromakles’ point of view, his deceased brother’s neck. In coincidence, it was in the neck that this battle-brother was struck by Eldar weaponry and died). The duel was over. But Lucius was uncowed. He moved his head further forward, opening a larger wound that led to blood trickling down to his chest, and forcing Andromakles to back away, the vision in his mind now dispelled. In a whispered tone, Lucius told Andromakles to think on what he made Lucius do, and how he forced a lie out of him. At that, Lucius finally sheathed his sword. Erzell raised Andromakles’ hand in triumph, proclaiming him victor. But Andromakles did not walk away from the experience without something to think about.

With the affairs of the day concluded, the Kill-team must stand guard and barrack in the firebase, until their transport arrived in the early morning to ferry them to Bastion Primaris, and to their scheduled meeting with the commander of the Orpheus Salient, Lord General Mikhal Curas.

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