The Fog of War(Deathwatch Story)
I wrote this for that recent submissions window the Black Library had. That didn't amount to anything so I thought I might as well put it here
The Fog of War
Attalus walked through the ruined world. His bolter was raised and he strained his preternatural sight to penetrate deeper into the oppressive fog.
Wrinkled, suffocating xenos flora were crushed under his steps, his feet digging deep into the marshy soil beneath. A handful of the dying, brown weeds retained enough life to flail drowsily, scraping poisoned barbs over Attalus’ armoured leg.
The Great Devourer had come to the world of Aegis. Situated in the Salvation Star Cluster, it had been a model Imperial world. Rather than committing entirely to one form of production, the planet had balanced itself between industry and agriculture, never letting one reach a level where it threatened the other. Spacious, gleaming industrial cities had stood next to rolling pastures covered in the stalked, ochre crops that were the staple food of the world. The two pursuits had made the planet prosperous and self-sufficient, with enough of a surplus of both contribute to the Imperium and import the few resources that it couldn’t produce.
That idyllic world was gone. Tyranid plantation had been seeded through roiling clouds of spores, breaking down and ingesting the native crops and grass as it grew. The tendril had been destroyed, the tyranid bio-forms had been scattered and mostly hunted down, and the xenos plants were being deliberately poisoned through chemicals spread by atmospheric disseminators, but the soil and air would never recover. The fog that covered a quarter of the planet’s surface was a side-effect of both the disseminator activity and the general disruption caused by the invasion.
Attalus could already see the planet’s future. Having lost any means to feed its own population, it would have to expand its cities and rapidly become a forge world of endless iron and choking pollution. This process would be driven on by Mechanicum adepts, no longer opposed by the landowner alliance in the Aegis high parliament. Paradise had been lost here. Attalus reflected that while humanity as a whole dreamed of a golden age, a perfect era of contentment and safety, there must be thousands of worlds in the Imperium where that dream was real. Shining lights in the greater blackness, constantly being dragged down into the dark age around them.
Attalus pulled his mind back to the mission. He performed a routine visual inspection of the kill team, his responsibility as its acting leader in the absence of Watch Captain Aldo.
They all wore the black and silver power armour of the Deathwatch, the elite alien killers of the Holy Inquisition. Their bulky forms whined faintly as they moved, fiber bundles and internal motors moving the amour in perfect synchronicity with their bodies.
Titana was nearest him, easily identified by the Crimson Fist insignia on his blue right pauldron. Titana had always resented being seconded by the Deathwatch, claiming his chapter had no brothers to spare, and that a single turn of chance could wipe them out, leaving him nothing to return to. Despite that, when a mission began he turned into a perfectly focused, fully devoted machine of war, performing his duty as well as any other Deathwatch Brother
To Atallus’ right were two other members of the kill team.
Attalus could not see their chapter insignia from his side, but the low, loping gait of the nearer marine identified him as the Space Wolf. Sigurd was a berserker, a scarcely chained force of nature. Attalus had initially considered this a weakness, but he’d since seen enough instances where Sigurd’s sheer relentless fury had been the difference between death and victory, and now had a healthy appreciation of it.
The remaining marine, further on from the Space Wolf, was Lattar, a Black Templar. He was a singularly silent figure, saying the bare minimum to communicate only the most vital information to the rest of the team. The only time he seemed to say anything superfluous was after killing something that had presented a real challenge, when he could be heard saying a number. With every kill the number raised by one. If Attalus remembered correctly, it was up to 213.
Finally there was Sesiphys, the Raven Guard. He was a few hundred feet ahead, unseen in the still fog, functioning as their scout.
Attalus himself had been seconded from The Keepers of the Flame, as evidenced the purple, gem-like flame on his white pauldron.
Attalus heard Sigurd growl through the vox.
“It’s been two days”.
“It’s been 30 hours” Titana corrected him.
‘Fine, 30 wasted hours. If this thing even exists, there’s no finding it, especially not in this fog. If a Son of Russ can’t smell something, it probably isn’t there. We’ve been sent to some reeking little ball right after they’ve cleared away anything might give us a half decent fight”.
“Inquisitor Wizen tasked us with finding whatever this thing was and bringing it back, dead or alive, and we will not rest until we have done that.” said Attalus. “And something must be out here. The reports from the Imperial Guard…”
“Aye, I read the reports from the Guard. A new type of tyranid. One that can change its size, shape, and even how bleeding many of it there are at a moment’s notice. One that can disappear and re-appear in different places. I remember what it was like before I was Astartes. Eyes and ears not worth Grox shit, and the more scared you were the less you could trust ‘em. And if Wizen thinks chasing some dream of a xenos is worth our time, he can bloody well chew on the back end of a Blackmane.”
“I invite you to share that opinion with the Inquisitor when we see him again.”
“Whenever that is. We can’t vox him over the interference from the disseminators, he can’t see us through the fog, so we can’t even ask to abandon the search. Seems the plan is to wander around till the end times hunting a ‘nid born out of some second-rate guardsman’s pissed pants.”
“304 guardsmen’s pissed pants” said Titana.
Suddenly a shout tore into Atallus’ ear, his vox squealing as it struggled to convey the volume.
Attalus looked around. It came from none of the marines in the vicinity. They were unharmed and had heard the shout on their own vox beads. They bent their knees into sturdy firing stances and moved apart, automatically covering all angles of approach.
“Sesiphys” said Attalus urgently into his vox system. “Sesiphys, have you been engaged”?
The screaming had stopped, and Sesiphys’ voice came in over the vox, a low, dark susurrus.
“Sorry Attalus, one of the Tyranid plants must have been holding up better than the rest. Speared in between my armour plates. Small chemical deposit, nothing that should have much of an effect.”
“Are you certain?” asked Attalus. “The sound you made.”
“A rare lapse of composure, Brother, nothing to be alarmed about. The plant has been neutralised”.
‘What is it with you lot, just say kill’ put in Sigurd.
“Everyone be aware that certain plant life has maintained significant offensive ability” said Attalus.
“Dangerous” muttered Sigurd. “The bloody word is dangerous”.
They carried on into the fog, walking in silence for about a minute before seeing a low, blurred shape.
“Sesiphys, we see an unidentified object. Did you cross this”.
“Yes Attalus” said Sesiphys. “It was a rock, deemed unworthy of comment.”
“That’s a breach of protocol Sesiphys, are you sure you’re doing alright up there”.
“Yes. Don’t worry.”
Attalus set up a private vox channel that included all members of the kill team apart from Sesiphys.
“Approach with caution” he said, and they crept towards the shape.
It began to resolve out of the fog, definition building up until it became clear it was some sort of motionless, crumpled figure. Finally they were close enough to see the blue pauldron emblazoned with a white raven.
Instincts kicked in before Attalus had fully processed the sight, and he marshalled the kill team.
“Fan out and cover all approach angles! Sesiphys is down!”
The three other marines complied without a word, aiming their weapons into the endless grey while Attalus moved forward to investigate.
He bent down and rolled the body onto its back. Sesiphys almost looked unharmed, save for three incisions in the armour that wept dark blood, two on his torso and one through his buckled faceplate.
“How? We just spoke.”
The three Deathwatch Brothers began to walk backwards, closing in together. Attalus joined them, covering his own section of the fog’.
“Looks like we’ve found this thing” said Sigurd, almost panting at the prospect of a fight.
“Probably more accurate to say it found us” said Titana.
“Focus” said Attalus. ‘If this is one the smarter bio-forms it’ll have defaulted to taking out local fauna once the hive-mind disconnected. If we just wait, it should come back to us.”
A heavy silence dragged on as each marine waited for an attack. Attalus and Sigurd aimed into the fog with bolters, robbed of their usual sheen by the muting effects of the fog. Lattar also had one, but he was likely to forsake it as soon as possible for the lightning claws sequestered in his oversized vambraces. Titana carried a faintly humming Melta, the hefty weapon ready to unleash the infernal product of the fusion reaction that raged within it.
Only the lightest pattering sound alerted Attalus to the presence behind him, but it gave him just enough warning. He had begun to move to the side when he heard a sharp, whistling sound. Something hard and lightning fast glanced against his neck-guard, tearing through the metal like paper. The force of the blow enough to throw him off-balance. He heard more whipping sounds behind him, inhuman reflexes letting him spin around and protect his chest with the side of his Bolter.
Long, fiendish blades thundered into the blessed weapon, crushing it, the power of the blows carrying on to launch Attanus back into the ground.
As he slid through the weed-choked marsh, his breath a strained rasp, Attanus saw the beast that had attacked him.
The tyranid, almost twice the height of an Astartes, towered over the Deathwatch brothers who fired at up at its head and chest. It seemed completely immune to whatever hit it. Even the searing orange discharge of Titana’s melta couldn’t so much as scorch it, and bolts exploded in impotent flashes against even its bare flesh. It was a lithe giant of barbed black carapace and brown, craggy skin stretched over an angular skeleton. It had six arms, two ending in huge talons and the others four rearing over its back and ending in single blades as long as a man’s leg. Its lipless mouth was filled with needle-like fangs.
How could something so big have gotten past the marines? They’d had every approach angle covered.
It began to strike at other Astartes, swiping and thrusting with the blades on its back. The marines weaved, ducked and leaned back as the attacks came at them like a storm, keeping up their fire as they moved. As Attalus stood up, he realised something was wrong with what he was seeing. Every few seconds, there’d be a moment where he could see more limbs than the creature originally had, flashes of seven or eight appendages launching out at knees and neck joints.
Attalus’ curved, exotic power sword gasped as he pulled it from it sheath. Its surrounding field leapt to life, hair-thin spiderwebs of energy dancing across its surface. He charged the 30 foot to the target in a half a second, swinging at its chest in a powerful upwards arc.
His sword passed straight through the tyranid. It didn’t cut, it just passed through the creature as if it was air. A moment later something smacked across Attalus’ helmet, causing him to stumble, dazed, down onto his knees. He felt warm blood run down his face.
Knowing that a killing blow was coming, he lashed out behind him with the sword, taking the sharp tips off of two claws before they struck and rocketed him back across the marsh.
As he struggled to stand up he realised nothing visible had hit his helmet. It was not a matter of speed. Attalus was able to see an autogun round pass by with enough detail to read its production number. Whatever had hit him simply couldn’t be seen.
He looked back to the battle. Lattar had extended his crackling power claws, forcing the monster back with wide, low swipes. The two other marines followed him, pouring useless fire onto the monster.
“How?” came Titanas voice. “Nothing hurts it, nothing…”
Titana’s voice was cut off when the tyranid managed to swat Lattar aside with backhanded blows from two of its blade’s, the momentum carrying it forward to thrust another straight through Lattar’s gorget. Attalus heard a hoarse gargle over the vox and Titana went limp, dragging down the limb as he fell to his knees. His melta beam cut off, the steam shrouded weapon slipping down into the mud.
Sigurd unleashed a primal scream from deep in the bestial part of his mind, dropping his bolter and leaping forward.
He’s going for the throat. Attalus realised.
But Sigurd passed right through the tyranid’s torso just like Attalus’ sword, smacking down and tumbling like a boulder on the creature’s opposite side.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Lattar leapt, bringing a lightning claw down across the joint of the blade still lodged in Titana.
The flesh parted in a puff of vaporized gore and a grating scream tore from the monster as it backed off from the two Astartes. Attalus had moved up and now stood next to Lattar.
Looking down, he saw the bladed joint that Lattar had separated.
It’s smaller than it looked before.
“Attalus” came Sigurds crazed voice. ‘The bloody thing’s multiplying. ‘
Attalus looked up to see dozens of identical tyranids emerging instantaneously from where the original had been standing, spreading out to encircle the remainder of the kill team.
Soon they were forced to stand back to back as the newly formed pack crawled slowly inwards from all around them, the original impossible to pick out.
Some of them were starting to change in random ways, growing larger or smaller, some had their claws fuse together and swell into thick pincers, and others had their mouths melt into masses of writhing tentacles.
‘Alright’ said Sigurd, ‘If someone could take some time to explain to me...’
‘As if we know!’ said Attalus. ‘It feels like fighting some kind of daemon, the way it doesn’t follow the rules’.
A single, haggard breath came over the vox from Lattar, his only reaction so far.
A handful of the tyranids burst forward. The three Deathwatch brother’s dodged their barrelling bodies. Now amongst them, the tyranids lashed out all around. Attalus sidestepped a downward slash, ducking under a hooked appendage that would have taken his head off. Now inside his attacker’s guard, he jumped towards its torso, pushing his power sword out in front of him.
Attalus passed through the creature, landing behind it. He pushed himself up and spun around to feel a streak of pain rip down his black. Reflex took over and Attalus whipped around, his sword swinging past the legs of one of the beasts. He felt resistance, the furthest point of the sword cutting through something solid. An ululating scream stabbed into his ears and just for moment the tyranid in front of him became translucent, He half saw something that reminded him of some deep sea creature before the original tyranid reasserted itself, stumbling desperately backwards.
The tyranids amongst the Astartes slunk back into the rest.
The marines re-grouped in the wake of the attack. Attalus reached behind his back, finding that a laceration now ran down its length, already clotted by the Larraman cells that swarmed in his bloodstream.
“I think most of them are illusions.” he said. “If I’m right, there’s only one of them, and we still haven’t seen what it actually looks like”.
“And I was just thinking planet eating bugs weren’t enough hassle” said Sigurd.
Attalus thought quickly as the phantom xenos closed in. There was definitely something out there, something that could be hit and could hit them, but it was hidden in false targets.
Attalus saw the Melta next to Titana’s body and had an idea, sheathing his power sword.
He hefted the melta and pulled the trigger. The plasma hissed over the ducked Astartes, blazing like the finger of a feral world sun god. The heat backwash was such that he could feel it through his dented faceplate. The beam passed through the first tyranid it met, blanketing it in a sprawling heat haze but leaving it unharmed.
He began to spin around with the melta, lowering and raising its angle of fire.
Soon he heard the shriller hiss of a melta coming into contact with flesh, and an alien scream to accompany it. He brought the melta back to where the scream had come from, playing it around the area as it threw up surging banks of superheated steam. Another short scream came, then a longer one that told of even greater pain.
The phantom tyranids became translucent and began to dissipate into the air. Soon there were only a handful of transparent, slowly moving ghosts remaining in sight. He lost track of whatever he’d managed to hit, swinging the beam back and forth in the hopes of finding it again
‘I think I might have gotten...’ said Attalus before his voice broke into a scream.
Something had dug deep into the back of his knee, and he turned to see a tyranid looming over him. It was bigger than the original, and its limbs were arranged differently. More chitinous spears darted out.
Sigurd stepped between them batting the blades aside with a screeching chainsword. His other arm swung in to empty a bolt pistol at the tyranid.
Attalus grunted as the blade in his knee was torn out, gouging at more muscle and bone as it went.
He saw Sigurd launch himself at the tyranid as it backed away, stopping suddenly and making a confused garbled sound. Five slits had opened in the back of the space wolf’s armour. Sigurd had been impaled with invisible swords, distinguishable only by the blood that covered their surface.
Though Attalus’ had fought with Sigurd for fifteen years, and thought of him like he would a Battle Brother of his own chapter, his first thought at the sight was that that the bloody outlines of the blades were smaller than those he could see on the Tyranid.
Attalus sprinted forward through the thick ground, withdrawing his power sword and triggering it back to life. Enhanced adrenaline made the pain in his knee dull and distant, even as it threatened to give out underneath him.
Two of the tryanid’s visible blades swung in at Sigurd. The prone Space wolf pulled both arms up to protect himself. One of the blades was caught by his vambrace, becoming stuck in the in thick layers of adamantium and ceramite. His other arm raised too slow, the blade slicing straight through the thin armour around his fingers to bury deep in his helmet. Blood fountained out from the collapsed wreck of Sigurd’s head.
Attlaus swerved around Sigurd’s corpse before diving in side-ways to thrust his sword at at the xenos.
The tyranid wrenched its blades out of Sigurd and lunged back from the flaring energy of the power sword before vanishing altogether.
Atalus turned around and around, trying to catch some glimpse of the creature. He saw Lattar, on his knees, cutting down at something with his lightning claws.
Attalus approached, sword raised, locking the growing pain in his knee away in a discreet corner of his mind.
“Lattar. What are you doing”?
Rounding Lattar’s left side, Attalus could see that he was just striking the ground, parting dead tyranid weeds and kicking up brown steam.
Lattar plunged one hand directly down, two feet into the soil. A warped fizzing sound was generated as the energy fields around his claws destabilised and evaporated the wet earth that surrounded them.
Finally, Lattar said something in his dead, distant voice.
“Lattar, are you seeing something under you? There’s nothing there”.
An inhuman scream sounded behind Attalus and he turned to see nothing but the bleak landscape.
The keen notes of sliced air and two momentary squeals of metal caused Attalus to turn again.
Lattar’s severed head, encased and crushed in its collapsed helmet, was skewered on a serrated talon. His body had slumped to the ground, the clean stump of his neck gushing a quickly narrowing stream of blood.
The tyranid’s illusory projection had changed again, now having four gangly arms ending in curved, wicked claws. Winding, coiled tendrils sprouted from its back, ending in thin knives.
Attalus was alone now, staring into his enemy’s false eyes. They weren’t real, but they carried perfectly the nature of this abomination. There was an intelligence in them, but no fire, determination, but no hate. It took no pleasure in its work. It’s was a cog in a machine, and it would carry out its function with dispassionate efficiency.
Attalus thought of the battle brothers this thing had killed, how it had struck them down like any other prey after they’d driven back the apocalypse on a thousand doomed worlds, and a thought crystallized in his mind, iron hard and unyielding.
“No more. My entire team doesn’t fall to the likes of you.”
Attalus exploded towards the tyranid, driving it further and further back with thrusts and slashes from his sword.
He remembered his obscured glimpse of the creature. It had been far shorter than the cloak it cast around itself, so he aimed his attacks low. Anything above its hips was a decoy, designed to attract attacks by creating the image of important targets.
He maneuvered around the claws and tendrils as they flung at him. A few times a second he would swing his sword almost parallel to his helmet and chest, hoping to neuter any invisible strikes from his foe
Attalus leaned to the right as one of the tendrils scraped past his breastplate. He swung his sword up, cleanly severing it. What fell to the ground wasn’t a tendril, but another of the jointed limbs that ended in single blades.
As the beast screamed and faded, Attalus stepped in and thrusts at the thrashing shape inside.
The front of his blade dug into flesh and bone, the screams increasing in pitch. The bioform flew back, almost toppling over as its cloak became solid again.
It started to run, fleeing into fog and making wounded noises.
Attalus followed, pushing his post-human physique as hard as he could, even as his devastated knee wobbled and flared with pain.
The ground streaked past as he pushed sixty miles an hour, following the trail of trampled and torn weeds.
Four legs, thought Attalous as he automatically analysed the trail. A lot of weight on them.
He spotted points along the trail where something had stabbed through weeds to dig into the ground. Additional limbs, used to pull target forward. Making due. Not built to run. Must be catching up.
He looked up to see a large shape looming in the mist. As he got closer, detail filled in and he stopped.
It was a black, damaged Imperial vessel. A massive, jagged hole gaped in its flank, revealing multiple stories of frayed metal inside. Attalus couldn’t see how long it was, both sides vanishing into the fog.
Song of Sorrow. Attalus remembered the ship from the battle reports he had read on the way to Aegis. It had been lost in the battle for the planet’s orbit with the Hive ships. Bio-weapons had burst against the craft, splattering it with acid that ate through the decks in several places. One shot had eaten its way down to the engine room. As the craft’s systems had begun to malfunction, a tyranid melee ship had gotten a grip on it, setting it on a collision course with Aegis. If the ship had hit at full speed, a fraction of the planet would have been obliterated, but the crew had slowed it down with secondary propulsion systems. Contact with the vessel had been lost on its way down, and it was assumed it had been obliterated upon impact.
The trail led into the jagged opening.
He climbed into the vessel before heading through a mangled archway, the dimness of the dead ship swallowing him.
This section of the ship was bare and ramshackle. The floor was a metal grate, and the walls were covered in criss-crossing pipes and drooping wires. The light faded as he got deeper into the ship. Occasionally he would come across a small shaft of light where acid had eaten through dozens of floors.
It wasn’t long before things started to become strange. As he walked he felt like the ground, the entire corridor, slowly twisted, turning him over and over while his feet remained firmly underneath him. The corridor began to curve, to rise and fall like garden path, while a sickening sensation built in Attalus’ gut. It got worse as he went along, and Attalus became sure he was walking loops on an endless incline. This wretch was still playing its games.
He reached a room that served as a branching point for the endless corridors. He found it hard to gauge how big it was. It seemed to change as he looked at it, some parts of the room contracted while others ballooned out. Some exits were feet away while others crept further and further into the distance. He spotted something trip out of another entrance. It was hard to tell due to the warped perspective, but it looked human. Atalus walked over the uneven ground towards the figure, sword in his hands, wary of any treachery that might reveal itself.
“Inquisitor” he said with shock.
The figure that pulled itself up from the ground an aging man, with a stern, wrinkled face and close cropped orange hair. He wore glossy, battered power armour, worked over in flared, curling designs shining gold, coming together over his chest to form the shape of the Imperial Aquilla. Coagulated blood formed a flaking mask on the left side of his face.
“Attalus” said the Inquisitor. “Did you find the Xenos?”
“We engaged it. The others are all dead and I followed it back here.”
“Emperor’s light, this thing killed four Astartes.”
“Yes, but you should be in Outpost 27, how did you get here?”
“We’d dropped you off at the insertion point and we were fifteen kilometres out. A rock formation...I don’t know, materialised in front of us. The pilot swerved to avoid us, and we smashed into the ground. Everyone else died”.
“That’s how the tyranid works” Attalus said. “It creates illusions, visual, audible, tactile. Anything it needs.”
“Do you have an injury from the creature?”
“Then turn around and let me see it”
Attalus had started to turn but stopped himself,
“Inquisitor Wizen, I never said the wounds were on my back.”
“How did you know where the wounds were?”
Wizen took too long to think before he answered.
“It stands to reason, I can’t see…”
“No” said Attalus, raising his sword, “Tyranids can stab between armour plates, insert poisons through pinpricks. They could have invaded my respiratory equipment and carved up my oesophagus. Wizen knows all of that better than me.”
“You say that like I’m not here”.
A loaded silence hung between the two, broken suddenly by alien limbs erupting from the air in front of Wizen, all surging towards Attalus. He dove aside, rolling and standing up to find himself alone in the room. Only the faintest suggestion of scratching assured him the tyranid had not left.
The tyranid, hidden in an image of one of its larger brethren, burst from the empty air, charging at Attalus as the deck roared beneath its foot-steps. Attalus stepped to the side. Sensing further movement in the direction he was heading, Attalus twisted suddenly. He saw a spectral tyranid blade fly past his chest, digging through plate and flesh to leave to carve a shallow wound.
Attalus jumped back. His vision darted around the room, and he found that multiple conjured tyranids darted back and forth around its unnatural perimeter.
As one they ran to Attallus from every angle, closing in a flailing, screeching noose.
Attalus dove between two of them, hoping to avoid the confusion of being surrounded, but as soon as he was through new visions appeared all around him. They attacked in inescapable unison, and Attalus was unable to keep up, picking ones at random to swing low at. The tyranid, where-ever it actually was, began to score hits, a deep rent down his arm, a merciless cut across his back, forming a large ‘X’ with the previous laceration,, and a further stab through his half shattered knee.
Seconds later another slash raked down his knuckles, and he dropped his power sword, forced back before he could retrieve it
Attalus was now purely evasive, hearing his knee joint crack and threaten to give way as it sent protests of spiking pain all the way up his leg. He moved as unpredictably as he could, dancing through the flurry of blades that came at him from all around
He knew he had no chance. His enemy controlled the very world around him. The only time he was sure it was close was when it had already hit him.
As he weaved through a dozen possible attacks, Attalus realised that he had it figured out. When it hit him, he knew it was there. That was the key.
A man would have hesitated, would have had to build up his courage, remind himself of his duty to the Emperor, or his world, or even the honour of his family, but Attalus was an Astartes, and he knew no fear.
He dropped to his knees, acting like his knee injury had finally overcome him. He left his chest wide open, and a moment later felt three blades punch into his chest.
He seized two of the limbs that had stabbed him, feeling the tyranid start to panic as it tried to pull them out. Struggling against the strength of the creature, Attalus got a sense of its weight. Almost as light as a man.
He heard the beginnings of its other limbs scything through the air, but the sounds cut off as Attalus swung the screaming tyranid up over his head, smashing it down on the ground behind him with a triumphant wet crunch. The sickness that had built in his gut since he entered the remains of Song of Sorrow vanished in an instant. The floor flattened and the walls and angles of the chamber pulled into reassuring regularity.
Attalus rose, yanking the tyranid’s blades from his torso and assessing the damage. He’d definitely lost a heart, he could tell that by his lowered blood pressure. Another of the blows hadn’t hit any important organs, but had shattered a rib in two, the frayed ends now scraping against Attalus’ insides with every movement. The last had ripped his liver, evidenced by the area it had penetrated and the rapid rise in blood toxicity, manifesting as a bitter, metallic taste in the back of Attalus’ mouth.
He would live.
Attalus saw the new bio-form properly for the first time, damaged though it was. Attalus had no frame of reference of its body type, except to compare it some kind of weaponized sea sponge. Its main body was a long tube of worn skin, bent at a wrong looking angle halfway down its length as a result of its impact with the floor. At one end were twenty or so folded limbs, bunched together so that their blades formed a vicious parody of a flower. Two more of the limbs hung limply off of the creature, ending in blackened stumps. At the other end were four legs that ended in claws of the same glassy black substance that made up the blades.
“Four Astartes” said Attanus. “Four men who’ve stared down the maw of hell and spat into it, and you killed them with your tricks.”
The creature wheezed, pitifully trying to move its broken body across the floor.
“I’ve been ordered to bring you in alive if possible. That order will be interpreted liberally”.
Attalus knelt down, raising his fist to finish off the tyranid. A wave of nausea and blurred vision overtook him, but it passed a moment later, some last attempt by his enemy to avoid its destiny.
His fist crashed down three times, obliterating the bone and rings of cartilage that had held the monster together. He stood up, prepared to carry the corpse the countless kilometres to the nearest imperial outpost when he realised his vox had established a link with Outpost 27. The vox interference must have eased up. He keyed in.
“Hello. This is Kill Team Delta. Is Inquisitor Wizen on site? I need to report to him.”
“Yes, I’m here Attalus.” came the blunt, rough voice of Wizen. “What do you have to report?”
“The bioform has been terminated. The corpse is with me. All the others are dead. Requesting pick-up.”
“Granted. We’ve extrapolated your location. Stand by”.
Wizen entered the circular chamber, regarding Attalus with a cursory nod before bending down to the tyranid. He withdrew a scalpel from the thick coat he wore over his spotless armour.
“Surely it’s protocol to get that thing to a proper, sterile environment before performing an autopsy.”
“I’m only making an initial examination. And besides, if we all followed protocol the specimen would have been brought in alive. I suspect I won’t be the first to be led astray by passion today.”
Attalus looked away from the Inquisitors gaze, having long since realised how his vengeance could hinder the Inquisition’s ability to learn about a new weapon in the Great Devourer’s arsenal.
Wizen cut into the tyranid.
“Densely packed muscle fibres, look capable of extremely rapid retraction. Designed for sudden bursts of energy. You say this specimen could create illusions that affected any combination of the senses?”
“I see, so it confounds nearby enemies, then kills them with single, powerful blows. The tyranids have used psychic power before, but this is a worryingly subtle application of it”.
“At least we understand now. We can spread this information throughout the Imperium, make sure they know how to deal with it.”
“Indeed. Your comrades gave their lives for no meagre prize today. This knowledge will save lives, steady the Emperor's forces on a thousand worlds.”
“I am sure they would be proud to hear that”.
It had no name for itself. It had no true self. It used to have an identity. It had been something huge, something that had spread out across the stars and feasted with a billion mouths. Now it laid on the grated floor of Song of Sorrow, a creature that was nothing but instinct and a bottomless, agonizing longing to be whole again. It automatically carried out the last imperatives it had been given, eliminate opposition, and protect itself so far as was compatible with the first imperative.
The unit of opposition lay on the cold metal beside it, twitching feebly as its motor nerves were tickled by the criss-crossing web of firing neurons in its skull.
The creature had known that the opposition was about to end it, and had behaved in the manner most in line with its imperatives. Straining its primary function as far as was possible, it had attempted something with an extremely low low chance of success. The memories and expectations that had buzzed inside the opposition had been used, extrapolated to assist in the forging a fully immersive perception based on what the opposition had expected to happen next, reality almost seamlessly blending into fantasy.
A number of its limbs extended outwards, hooking into the floor to pull it towards the opposition. Eventually it reached the shaking form. Another limb unfolded, resting its point against the opposition’s neck, at a joint of the metal carapace that surrounded it. It mustered what it could of its remaining physical energy to drive the point down through the metal, blood welling up from the opposition’s throat.