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post #3 of (permalink) Old 04-01-13, 08:55 AM
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I'll throw my hat in the ring here. Good luck to all! This is 1087 words according to the counter in MS Office.

Survival of the Fittest

In truth, Brother-Apothecary Narel of the Deathwatch had great respect for their prey. Where the others of the kill-team scoffed and prayed as the foe was mowed down, Narel often examined the creatures they slew- and so often was impressed beyond measure.

He had been impressed when on the frozen wastes of Lycinth the tyranid swarms menacing the refineries and huge harvester-landships had evolved thick furred coats and blubbery outer layering, others simply adapting to the conditions by allowing themselves to freeze solid.

He had been impressed again on the Horizon of Knives, a great and terrible hulk. The creatures aboard had been thin and grotesque, made to squeeze down narrow access ways with all their fangs and claws to the front, powerful leaping legs and thick mantles of armor.

And now he was singularly impressed by what they were hunting today- and he hadn‘t even seen the creature yet. The reports from the Guard had been enough.

[Auspex is clean. Leading combat squad is moving forward.]

The kill-team was varied, as always, the forward team a pair of veteran Sternguard, scouting the dense urban environment. Long ago the planet had been a hive world- until nature had flowed up over the hives and taken over nearly overnight. Grass poked up through the rent asphalt, trees decorated the buildings. If the death toll hadn’t been so catastrophic, it would’ve been starkly beautiful. The marines had small clusters of algae and moss on their armor just from the day’s exposure.

“Following team is pursuing, maintain spacing,” the captain said- the man was stern and pious, the very model of a Salamander. Narel had watched the man’s combi-melta go right through a Warrior organism on Lycinth. In addition to the captain and Narel, there were two others- Fisken, a Howling Gryphons veteran who carried his own late captain’s power sword into battle, and Wyre, who sported the team’s heavy bolter.

[Getting something on auspex,] one of the leading marines said. The four trailing soldiers stopped- Wyre resting the heavy bolter on his thigh, looking around for targets. The wind blew gently through the empty street, passing overgrown ground cars and past deserted storefronts with bits of glass still poking through the dirt and weeds.

“Do you have a visual?”

[Negative. Patching it to your auspex.]

Narel looked down at his own auspex device- suddenly relaying the unknown contact, a bright red skull amid the chaotic ruins.

[Movement. Leading element going silent.]

The little red skull twitched, then disappeared.

“Ready weapons,” the captain growled, “Move up.”

The four marines stomped over the asphalt and debris, entering a large warehouse with Munitorum crates stacked ten high in places. More greenery decorated the crushed ceiling, the spaces letting in streamers of light. A large, two-foot wide grate was set every ten feet on the floor to drain water- now choked with soggy moss and mushrooms.

“The guard said we can’t trust the vox,” Fisken said rather suspiciously.

“The guard also said that their harvester-ships could outrun a swarm in Lycinth’s winter,” Wyre replied dismissively.

“Quiet,” the captain demanded, raising a hand to stop them in a small loading area. A pallet mover was sticking from beneath the roots of a tree, some vines wrapped around it’s forks, “Do you hear that?”

Narel cocked his head, boosting his helmet’s audio. As if from a great distance, he could glean a faint dripping noise. There was a sudden clang that made them all start.

“Lead element,” the captain said, “Break vox silence, what do you see?”

[Negative,] the lead element responded with a hiss, [Silent.]

Fisken tightened his grip on the old power blade in his hand, looking around. The crates creaked in the wind, worn metal complaining as it was stressed by the weight of the crates and plant life above.

“Lead element, you will tell me what you see,” the captain snarled, much more sternly.

[Auspex is clean.]

“Captain, there’s nothing on the auspex,” Fisken said suddenly. Narel looked at his own again, heart slightly catching in his throat- no red skull- and no indicators for the leading team.

The captain clicked his teeth, “Move forward. Reestablish contact with the leading element. For the Emperor, brothers, advance.”

As the Deathwatch moved forward, Narel turned to glance behind them, bolter held at a lazy ready position. Wyre followed his line of sight, the fat barrel of the heavy bolter tracking as the marine stepped backwards. The ammo feed clinked quietly. The apothecary only turned around when Fisken began to scream. A long bleat of bolter fire tore up the decking where the captain had been standing, just as the marine had set his foot on the grate- and then he had been gone, a loud clanging noise echoing down the drains beneath their feet. The trio condensed, looking around- the grates covered the floor.

“That was it- the target, the xenos,” Fisken stammered, slapping a magazine into his weapon- and then Wyre suddenly lurched backwards, the heavy bolter spitting and blowing huge chunks out of the ceiling and wall as a creature burst from the decking, disemboweling the marine with a single swing of scythe-like claws. It’s carapace was drenched in gore and muck, moss and mushrooms clinging to chitinous armor plates.

Fisken stepped over Wyre’s body as Narel aimed his weapon- stopping as the Howling Gryphon got in the way. The marine screamed out a battle cry- and then hesitated.

“Do you have a visual?” the captain’s voice asked as the creature‘s vocal cords abruptly shortened and lengthened- visible through the somewhat thin hide of it‘s throat, “You will tell me what you see.”

“What?” Fisken asked the creature. The ancient power sword clattered to the decking as the tyranid swept forward, taking his arm off. The marine howled and put a bolter shot through the thing’s midsection and it let out a bloodcurdling screech as Narel did the same, firing on fully automatic. It killed Fisken a moment later by taking off his other arm as he struggled to aim, then latching huge jaws onto the man’s helmet and crushing it into a pulpy mass of ceramite and gore.

And then Narel understood- he’d been the only one to ever be impressed by the terrible things they had seen, the things they’d killed. It wasn’t malice that drove this being- even as it reached for him with enormous claws and bloodstained fangs, illuminated by the last shots of the Apothecary’s bolter. It was merely competition among predators- survival of the fittest.
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