Beneath the overshadowing canopy of branches, leaves and vines, a platoon of guardsmen slogged through Armageddon's quiet jungle. At their head strode a black-armoured colossus, an Angel of Death guiding stunted mortals. To Lieutenant Balthus of the Nemedian 68th, it was remarkable how the Angel's massive bulk slid through the underbrush with such graceful stealth, noiseless save for the soft humming of servos in the mechanised joints. Silently, he thanked the God Emperor for the presence of an Angel on this particular occasion.
Even among the Adeptus Astartes, the chamber militant of the Ordo Xenos was considered elite. The Deathwatch rarely gave direct assistance to the Imperial Guard, but the hive world of Armageddon could not be lost. The devastation wreaked by Warlord Ghazghkull had been so total and the size of his green horde so vast that Fortress Panoptes could not idly stand by. Once initial victory had been achieved, Imperial commanders desperately sought to minimize any probability of an Ork resurgence. When high command discovered that Orks were gathering in the equatorial rainforest, a campaign was initiated to utterly exterminate the surviving xenos. The greenskins' ability to release reproductive spores throughout their lives made this goal all the more urgent. If the infestation could not be cleansed by conventional means, the Inquisition would likely resort to more extreme methods.
The Astartes glanced back at the troopers behind him. Their faces were cheerless but determined. Unlike some of his prouder Battle Brothers, Valerian held no disdain for human soldiers. Every loyal Imperial subject was worthy of respect. Worthiness was measured in one currency...dedication to duty. Against the terrors of a hostile cosmos, mortal courage was often the last and only line of defense. Valerian did not dismiss that courage for he had witnessed the sacrifices made by Ultramar's human defenders. Lord Calgar himself had praised those acts of heroism.
The courage of mortals was in many ways more a miracle than the gene-bred fearlessness of his kind. That such strength of will could take root in fragile human minds housed in weak human flesh…that was truly inspiring. Perhaps his views were influenced by his recollection of mortal life. For most of his brothers, such memories were no more than snippets of fading dreams, but despite his own psycho-indoctrination, Valerian recalled his mortal youth with uncanny clarity. On occasion he had shared his musings with his old comrade in Sixth Company, Horatius. His friend had jokingly dubbed him "Valerian the Philosopher".
A Mark VI Corvus helm concealed the Ultramarine's patrician features as he cut through the jungle. He had chosen the helm for its craftsmanship and the sleek avian appearance. Within his own chapter, Mark VI and other earlier variants were no longer used by the rank and file. They were preserved as relics reserved for use by a select few veterans. Mark VII Aquila was the current Codex standard, and Lord Calgar had recently approved the introduction of Mark VIII Errant. Uniformity and efficiency outweighed something as trivial as personal preference. After being loaned to the Deathwatch, Valerian had enjoyed the small freedom of selecting wargear from the fortress armoury.
The remote sensors housed in the helm's beak detected movement. A small circle containing glowing dots appeared on the retinal display of his right eye-lens. Each dot represented a moving body. There were eight of them, 60m ahead and moving almost in single file. The immediate area was clear of other Imperials. The Ultramarine smiled. A band of the greenskin filth were skulking through the jungle. If he cut diagonally to his left, he would be in position to spring upon what passed for their rearguard.
The Angel halted. Lt. Balthus stopped immediately and signaled his men to do the same. From the mag-holster on its hip, the Angel plucked a huge bolt pistol. A fearsome-looking chainsword was already in its other hand. Without turning, the Angel addressed Balthus in a low, vox-filtered growl. "We have contact, lieutenant. Pack of eight ahead of us. I will deal with them. Stay behind me. Provide supporting fire only if necessary." Before Balthus could say "aye", the Astartes was loping through the undergrowth like a predator homing in on prey. "Follow him," Balthus hissed.
With the force of an armoured freight train, the Ultramarine slammed into the first Ork to turn. A human warrior might barge into a foe to stun or bewilder. The same maneuver executed by an Astartes generally spelled death.
The impact splintered the creature's bones and pulverized internal organs. The green thing flew into a tree, bounced off and crumpled into a broken heap. A second Ork took a bolt to its ugly face. The mass-reactive round detonated inside the beast's head a microsecond after entry. Skull fragments and bloody brain matter exploded in every direction, splattering onto Valerian's sable armour as his chainsword roared to life. He swung the weapon in a vicious howling arc. The blow struck off an Ork's head as it tried to bring its crude shooter to bear.
Hunkered down behind a bush, Lt. Balthus watched the Angel smash into a surprised Ork. The impact was spectacular, flinging the thickly muscled greenskin like a ragdoll. Balthus kept the muzzle of his las-rifle trained on the other xenos as the Astartes wheeled about. Balthus and his Nemedians had partaken in the defense of Aventine Secundus just prior to deployment on Armageddon. The frontier planet had inexplicably been targeted by Eldar raiders. Still fresh in the lieutenant's mind was the lethal finesse with which the xenos had fought, their graceful movements almost mesmerizing in their deadly beauty. In comparison, what Balthus witnessed now was the application of brutal, overwhelming force. The Angel was a hurricane of destruction, each sweep of its chainsword, each crack of its bolt pistol dealt bone-cracking, flesh-mangling death. If only they had been blessed with Angels on Aventine…how many Nemedian lives would have been spared?
He had their attention now. Primitive slugs ricocheted off his Astartes warplate, chipping off paint but inflicting no further damage. Angry bellowing filled the air as the other xenos came at him with no semblance of order or discipline. Their swinish faces and hunched backs made them a hideous mockery of men. A mockery Valerian would soon erase. He cracked off two more shots and two more Orks fell, chests ripped open by the exploding bolts, shattered rib-cages exposed.
Valerian parried the overhand swing of a snorting greenskin. The Ork's crude scimitar slammed into the activated blade of his chainsword. The vicious cycling of the hooked teeth tore the creature's weapon from its grip. The piggish thing grunted in surprise. The grunt turned to a gurgled yelp as the screaming chainblade chewed into the creature's waist. Dark blood sprayed in every direction as the carcass fell in two ragged pieces.
An enormous greenskin exploded through a dense wall of vegetation. The giant Ork must have been lumbering out in front when Valerian had fallen on the straggling rear. Twice the height and width of a regular Ork, the towering monster dwarfed even a space marine. It took Valerian less than a heartbeat to appraise the first real threat of the day: an Ork lieutenant. They were called "Nobs" by some of his Deathwatch comrades. Each pounding step it took sent slight tremors through the jungle floor.
In fists the size of small boulders, the hulking Nob clutched the handle of a massive axe, its huge blade honed to a razor's edge. A jagged metal plate both masked and resembled the creature's tusked lower jaw. Seemingly nailed in place, a large piece of rusted scrap metal protected the front of the Ork's torso. The monster sported huge pauldrons painted in a ridiculous checkered pattern of red and black squares. Its head was topped with hair, rare among greenskins. That hair was tied in a long dark horsetail bobbing madly as the creature picked up speed.
The ease with which Valerian had dispatched its minions seemed to anger the giant Ork as it trampled the undergrowth. The Nob's sole surviving lackey tried to scamper from the path of its rampaging leader. The smaller creature's effort seemed to annoy the Nob even more. With a downward chop, the brute murdered its lesser kin, reducing the hapless creature to a mess of dark red and green on the jungle floor. The Nob issued a wet throaty roar as it closed in.
Valerian sensed a psychic pressure. He could feel it almost physically as a leaden weight on his head and shoulders. He knew that he was experiencing the effect of the greenskin's aura. The theory was that it was generated by nothing more than a powerful Ork's belief in its own invincibility. For a moment, the creature's will strove to crush his own. His mind, however, was a fortress crafted by the Emperor himself, and His will was as unassailable as the sheer face of a mighty cliff. The moment passed. Against his fortitude, the xenos mind-assault broke like a harmless wave. Valerian aimed his bolt pistol and opened fire. He emptied his clip on full automatic. Single precision shots no longer worth the time required to aim.
Bolt rounds pounded into green flesh and junk armour. Impossibly, the beast's crude breastplate withstood the barrage. Rounds that struck exposed skin left bloody craters of ruined meat. To his disappointment, those craters were miraculously small, only flesh wounds on the Nob's hulking mass. Either the monster's hide was ridiculously tough, or its simple-minded confidence was affecting reality in yet another way. A bolt slammed into the junk metal covering the Ork's lower jaw. The detonation left a black smudge on the jagged plate. Yet the beast advanced without so much as staggering. Valerian holstered his bolt pistol. He held the handle of his chainsword with both hands at chest-level. The weapon extended upward from his grip at a forty-five degree angle. Knights of an old Terran race had begun their honor duels from this stance. Valerian had mastered their ancient form.
The Ork swept its massive axe down diagonally. Unlike the wild overcommited swings of its minions, the Nob's stroke was measured and efficient. Too fast to dodge, it could only be blocked. For all his gene-enhanced, power-armoured strength, the Ultramarine's entire frame shook from the impact of the blow. The beast's strength was prodigious. The roar of Valerian's chainsword heightened to a grating metallic shriek as diamond-hard teeth ground against the massive axe-blade. Sparks showered the jungle floor. Fibre-bundles and enhanced muscles alike strained to hold off the crushing weight of the Ork. The greenskin glared down at the space marine. Red eye-lenses met beady black eyes, bestial and fierce but not devoid of intelligence. Saliva splattered Valerian's helm as the Nob roared into his face. Grunting into his vox-grille, Valerian shoved with all his might. Their weapons disengaged as the Ork reared back. He hewed at the greenskins's belly. The chainsword slammed into the huge plate of scrap metal nailed to the monster's torso. A cascade of sparks...then blood rained as the cycling adamantine teeth breached the crude armour, chewing into the flesh beneath.
Valerian did not continue to press the ravenous chainblade into the beast's flesh. He was keenly aware that each moment he spent trying to disembowel the brute was a moment of vulnerability to counterattack. Valerian sprang back as a huge fist swung in from the side like a green wrecking ball aimed at his head. It passed the front of his helmet by less than half a foot. Instead of being thrown off balance by its missed punch, the greenskin simply lowered the shoulder of the arm it had swung. The beast barged forward, slamming its massive shoulderplate into the space marine's face and upper chest. Valerian reeled and staggered back.
His Astartes nervous system responded instantly, minimizing the shock. The Ultramarine recovered in time to register the Ork's next blow as it scythed down. He raised his weapon to block, both arms braced for the impact. This time, the force of the Ork's downstroke was enough to drive him to his knees. The roar of his chainsword had begun to sputter ever so slightly. The entire weight of the creature bore down on him. The beast seemed intent on locking blades with him as two rams would lock horns in a contest of strength. Whatever the brute's intent, Valerian had no wish to lose his footing. Being buried under a mountain of green muscle did not appeal to him. He began to rise very slowly. The joints of his power armour whined under the enormous strain as his real joints ached from the herculean effort.
From behind Valerian, thin shafts of blue light speared through the humid air, whizzing by him on both sides before slapping into crude armour and green flesh. It was enough to distract the Ork. The weight bearing down on his chainsword was abruptly lifted. The greenskin stumbled back, creating distance between them. Valerian saw the ragged gash in the creature's abdomen where the chainblade had dug a furrow of churned flesh and ruined armour. Dark red blood, almost black, still wept from the ugly wound as Valerian prepared to make it even uglier.
The beast roared in frustration as it was pelted by a second barrage more concentrated than the first. The Ultramarine lunged in, ramming the tip of his chainsword into the bloody gash. The creature yowled in pain. The howling chainblade drew a trail of gore through the air as the Ultramarine yanked it out hard. The Nob staggered. Its counter-swing was poorly aimed and sluggish. Valerian ducked it easily. He backpedaled, moving just beyond the Ork's striking range. The beast clutched its axe tightly in both hands. Snarling like a wounded bear, it had the look of desperation now. A river of blood bled from the aggravated wound. He would let it bleed out before delivering the coup de grace. The greenskin took a step forward, axe raised to strike. Valerian tensed, ready to deliver his lethal counterstrike.
The Nob stopped dead in its tracks. The brute's pupil-less black eyes bulged as blood streamed from its flaring nostrils. The Ork swayed as a tree about to topple. Then the creature's massive frame suddenly tipped back. With a thunderous crash, the huge xenos hit the ground. The abrupt victory left the space marine stunned momentarily. The blow had not been fatal. He was certain of that. Crippling perhaps, but not enough to kill a monster of this size. Valerian looked down at the fallen Nob. Several of the Nemedians, Balthus included, had slunk out of cover and were approaching the greenskin's corpse.
The lieutenant spoke softly, his tone reverent. "You've achieved a fine victory here today, Brother-Angel."
Last edited by MontytheMighty; 02-02-12 at 05:10 AM.