Hello my faithful readers. Did you miss me? Hope so... if you didn't I'd be mighty put out. No, I'd forgive you. My writing volume is impacted by the unfortunate presence of such irksome things as real life, and the requirement to eat.
Smallfish: Did that drop pod land in your backyard?
Huh: Thank you for your analyses. They are always interesting, and well worth my read. More food for thought, in every case.
Rroan: That, the meeting of cultures, is how the story is interesting, and, to me anyway, not simply another 40k slugfest, fun though they are. Thank you also for your compliments.
Bienvenido S. Canonizado: Recent events have given me a unique appreciation for your plight. This chapter has been written entirely in size 36 font, and I haven't driven in months. Further, that computer voice that comes with the PDF program is really poor. Any suggestions? And, of course, thank you for your detailed thoughts regarding my work... I find it very therapeutic, and a good diversion from my somewhat pressing health concerns at the moment.
Dominius Anaetheron: Space Marines rock. In combat terms, certainly, but their power lies in their independence. Within an Imperial system, the concept of independent armies is remarkable, particularly with the degree of autonomy they are granted. THAT, coupled with their individual prowess and control of their planets, along with a hearty dose of pride, is what makes them dangerously susceptible to the 'ubermenschen' attitudes you point out.
Smithklein: Get out of my head. Answering your review in any detail would give away plotlines :P. You remain, as ever, surprisingly perceptive.
Nefar: Yes, I do plan on updating soon. Quite soon. Now, sounds good, actually...
Trasaric Comnenus: Janeway is being used more because she was theatre commander when the problem came up, and had already been lobbying to increase battle readiness in the sector. To be quite frank, I'm a little surprised she was made Admiral at all.
LegacyZero: Thank you for the congrats. My wife has 4 months to go. She's very cute, but thinks she's fat. She's just pregnant and sensitive, but also very stubborn. You may find this chapter's length more to your taste, incidentally...
The Sithspawn: The Sword is beyond comprehenson. DS9 wont get it, until they see it. I'm looking forward to writing that bit.
Duken: There is always method in the madness. And sometimes madness in the method...
Shortyland05: There is most definitely starcraft to WH40k similarity. Because starcraft ripped off 40k. In a good, but very different, way. Stick with the Army. And you Kiwis are without a doubt some of the best in the world. I'd much rather have you lot backing me up than... well... you guys are good.
Wirespeed91: Warhammer warp IS faster than ST warp, but is more unpredictable, and requires extremely precise navigation, which cannot be accomplished properly without a reference point.
Some person: Thank you. I aim to please.
Somos: Cheers. Are you working yet? 'Cos we're all worried about you.
Grayangle: My children will survive, and flourish, because those are their orders. I didn't ask for their input :P...
Shinova: The story. It lives. It's a monster. And it needs to feed. Feed it. FEED IT!! Ahem. Sorry.
Dartz-IRL: You are 100 spot on. THAT is one of the central themes of this work, and I am glad you have seen it.
Liljimmyurine: bow Why thank you. The pleasure is mostly mine. And my wife's. I like to think she enjoyed it as well :)
Duckman154: I did think that you might enjoy the hull reference. I was actually thinking of your reaction as I wrote it... Help Somos get work. Poke him relentlessly. And also enjoy the girly squeals. In a loving and unselfinterested way, of course.
Pipboy: This story will be finished. Come blindness, pregnancy or drought, although I give no guarantees on time frame.
Juubi Karakuchi: I return the compliment, and await more of your fine work. You'll see where the link comes at this piece's conclusion...
Before I forget, would any of you be willing to purchase (cheap) a strategy guide, were I to publish one? The collation of 14 years of WH40k gaming experience as Space Marines. Let me know in reviews, if you'd be so kind. If you wouldn't be, let me know as well... But only if you want to... don't feel pressured... really. No pressure...
Tomorrow (as I post) is Easter. Spare a thought for Him, who died for us, while we were still His enemies. He will return. You ready for it?
The corridors were dank, and seemed to swallow sound. Mucus dripped from oval passages, and doorways weren't so much doors as sphincters that opened to meltabombs. Auspexes went haywire. Lifesign readings weren't worth squat when the whole Emperor-damned ship was alive.
Revinius lashed left with his shield, and resistance notified him that yes, the front had indeed hit something. Without looking, he drove his power sword in behind it, pulling his storm shield away at the last minute.
Powered metal cut through chitinous armour, and a high pitched squeal signified the onset of the next wave.
Minutes passed in a welter of ichor. Revinius' black-and-green armour had a grisly washed out violet tinge, like a ghastly purple aura. Two full squads of his cohort had vanished without a trace, and prayers to the Emperor for lost brothers -and lost geneseed- seemed to be falling on deaf ears.
Haste warred with caution. Too fast, and the cohort would be ambushed and would take unacceptable casualties... and lack the force required to complete the mission. Too slow, and either the over-stretched Deathbringer company or the grotesquely understrength cohort of Brother-Centurion Kedron would be overrun, and the effort would fail outright.
Lysander had secured one of his company's two neuro-synaptic relay objectives, and time was short - 15 minutes - before Kedron was supposed to be in position at the psi-resonator. So there was 15 minutes left to secure two of the three neuro-synaptic relays.
It had been a tall ask from the beginning. The two hundred and twenty seven marines were supposed to achieve what entire armies of Imperial Guard, whole battlefleets of the navy, and full strength legions of the Adeptus Titanicus had failed to accomplish. The true-death of a Norn Queen.
His body was on autopilot, training operating his limbs. Blade to the left. Parry. Strike. Follow through, blade to the right, slash, parry, kill. Boot to the front, shield left, bludgeon, blade to the front, kill. Duck the claws to the front, blade forward, shield up, blade down. Brother-Centurion Revinius, even while he pondered higher strategic ramifications and concepts somewhere in his mind, was very much inclined to stay alive. He ducked another clawed limb, rolled between the legs of a... something... and stood, plunging power sword straight up into the thing's midsection, in to his elbow, wrenching the weapon clear and rolling to his feet, the monstrosity crashing to the floor where he had been.
He shifted his weight to one foot, leaning to the left as a purple blur hurtled past, all claws and fangs and teeth, raising his blade at the last second, tyrannic roar turning to verminous scream as two halves collapsed to his side.
Bolters spoke behind him, and an unknown number of smaller tyranids died as Squad Vegetius covered his position. Still the creatures came on, the Norn Queen defending herself from the influx of foreign bodies.
Claws lashed out and were severed by blurring blades, and a tyranid head was staved in by a ceramite-clad foot.
Tyranids ahead front. Tyranids to the rear. tyranids to the left, tyranids to the right. Even as his sword and shield blurred into motion again, his subconscious whispered another observation.
This planet was infested in the worst possible way. It would take decades, centuries even, to cleanse Ichar IV of the Devourer's minions.
That would be mopping up, his conscious countered. The war is won here, if it is won at all. There would be countless lives lost after this action. But if they succeeded here, then the outcome was assured.
Jump clear, counterslash, parry, block, shield-bash. Hormagaunts and Termagants never quite seemed to know how that one worked. He gave a mental thank you to whichever one of his trainers taught him to use his shield as a weapon.
He reversed his grip on his blade, and drove it through a tyranid sternum in a savage downstroke.
The voice of Legate Brutilius, echoed through Revinius' mind, memories from a time several centuries ago, while warp storms still ringed the Nadgazad system, isolating it from the Imperium. The same storms had held the Dark Templars prisoner within their home system, an entire legion of loyalists unable to assist during the Heresy. Not held in time-stasis, as the traitor legions were, but simply cut off. A system in isolation.
Brutilius, then a centurion, had said to Revinius, an optio;
Brother, an inch of thrust is worth three feet of slash.
Parry, parry, damn that'll sting, thrust-kill.
Revinius had, once, been a thinking, feeling man. He still thought, but it wasn't the man that did so. It was his consciousness, as disconnected from him as he was from the thunderhawks that still desperately strove to maintain their landing zone for the marine exfiltration. His body was moving autonomously, centuries of combat moving his muscles with a grace bellied by his bulky, ornate armour.
A backhanded slash severed a 'gaunt's head from its shoulders, the toothed maw wide as it spun away to the brother-centurion's right. His gaze snapped back to the left as a larger creature rounded a corner.
Carnifex, his mind supplied.
Great, his consciousness stated as it slid seemlessly back into his body. He absently thought that he preferred it watching in that detached fashion it seemed to take on during a portracted melee.
He raised his powersword, whispered prayers to the Emperor on his lips as the monstrosity came charging towards him. The powersword was 3 feet of energised plasteel. The storm shield an ancient, powerful relic, a tower-type shield, five feet high and two feetwide.
It felt he was facing a rhinoceros with a kebab-stick and a serviette.
Lysander squeezed the trigger on his plasma pistol once, twice, then a third time, blue-bright blasts of super-heated matter impacting with three hormagaunts, their chittering cries fading away as Brother-Sergeant Theodorous set the last of the melta-bombs in place on the neuro-synaptic relay secured by the half-company Lysander was accompanying, and informed his commander as such.
"Brother-Captain, charges have been set."
Lysander fired again, plasma fire burning a scything furrow through the chest of... something... It was dead. He didn't care any more.
"Acknowledged, Brother-Sergeant. Brother-Lieutenant De Laan, status?"
It was a couple of seconds before the man resopnded, and Lysander could hear the strain in his voice.
"Progress is slow, Brother-Captain, and resistance is heavy. Heavy and increasing."
"Eleven so far."
That he meant dead was without saying. Eleven dead from fifty. 22 of Brother-Lieutenant De Laan's force strength. Technically speaking, his force had been neutralised. In practice of course, they were Space Marines, and would push on. But never in his four centuries of warfare had Brother-Captain Lysander heard of such atrocious casualty rates amongst Deathbringers. His company had, including those lost under him, now lost 18 percent of its combat power killed. Decades to recover...
In this situation, the wounded walked and fought. Or were carried, and fought, if possible. Or they formed a rearguard, and fought. Or died where they fell. Something along those lines.
This time, their geneseed would more than likely stay where it fell. Marines loathed leaving geneseed behind. It was who they were, what made them marines, and was the future of the chapter.
It was also the embodiment of the sacrifice of the fallen.
Lysander gave the matter no more than four seconds of thought. Focus. Grieve later.
"How long, brother?"
"About five minutes, sir."
Lysander nodded, not even realising he was doing it.
"Acknowledged. Be quick. Time is short."
The brother-captain cast his gaze across the psi-resonator chamber. Sloping, rib-like apendages ran across the floor, and there wasn't a straight line anywhere in sight. Everything pulsed, flowed, oozed or twitched.
It felt wrong, unclean, as if the very fabric of reality cried out against the monstrous blasphemy that was this, the focus of the tyranid race.
Something fell from the roof, a blur of movement barely reaching the floor before it moved again.
Lysander's plasma pistol sang again, marine reflexes still sharp despite his growing fatigue.
His mind urged De Laan onwards, willing him to advance. Inch by bloody inch, if necessary, but that neuro-synaptic relay had to go down. Everything else, even the loss of the entire company, was secondary to that.
Tareleyan barely noticed the infinitesimal lurch that heralded the exit from the waygate. Of far more concern to him were the readouts from the bridge of the otIarstill, a heavily modified Shadow-class cruiser,indicating their presence in the Ichar system.
He pursed his lips, a rare open display of worry. The runes had not lied. They never did. But they hadn't quite been as clear as he had made out to his warlock student Korian.
The runes for furta and furte, present and future, are often ambiguous, depending on where the mind of the caster is at the moment that he casts the runes.
The runes had told Tareleyan that the situation on Ichar IV was pivotal, dire and worsening.
The runes had been cast when the Farseer's mind was in the present. The situation; desperate, but salvagable.
Now it was the future, and the situation was salvagable no more. The degree of danger had been clearly dire... but it had not been quite certain on just how dire.
Tareleyan had been at Iyanden when the ranger Irilith told of the magnitude of the Tyranid threat. Had been a warlock at the time, with a high regard for his own highly potent capabilities. Had scoffed when the woman had told of how every Eldar aboard Iyanden would have to gird for war. Nearly remembered her words now, as the past slid easily through the Farseer's near-infinite mind.
- Flashback -
The woman was short for a ranger, who tended to be physically hardier than their compatriots from the craftworlds. Her cameleoline battlecloak was well worn, and her features lacked the refined, almost polished features that the mon'keigh so admired amongst the Firkionash (Craftworld Eldar). But the long rifle across her back, and rugged features proclaimed many years of travelling, adding weight to her words for those who were wise enough. Tareleyan, still young then, at less than 200 years, was not one of those, however. He was far more concerned that the great Farseer Kelmon had called for him, in his capacity as a warlock of the Halle'Iesu craftworld, to listen to the debate within the Iyanden great hall about the imminent arrival of one of the two largest subfleets of Hive Fleet Kraken.
The debate had stalled. Civilities were not being observed. Courtesy was a very optional thing, so it appeared.
The last speaker had argued for erecting a Fiallathandirel (psi-shield, 'wall against evil') around the Craftworld, and awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from other craftworlds, or Mon'keigh fleets, which had declared their intention to assist when possible.
It had seemed feasible, even likely. Years could pass before the Eldar psi-reserves were depleted.
But the assembly had gasped in disbelief when Irilith had began to describe the true threat posed by the Tyranids.
The voice of a scoffer rang out from anonymity.
Irilith was scathing in her reply, anger creasing her features, a display of lack of control that would have been unbecoming, were she not a ranger.
"iam CreagLiam Aual am? Bonnikel. Iam illkionash Iyanden. Iam liran tial tharaIlirun. Iam thelriann thara breaga Aual am? Garisam jois kelTiusich iamam? (I tell you lying stories? Think about it. I am no longer of Iyanden. I have a home far from these domes. Why would I come here to decieve you? How can it avail me?)
The murmurs quietened, although only briefly. The ranger was a skilled speaker, and seized her moment.
"Aual furtaman, Aualesh! Da Aual koruan gceilan ucan uelasskam koem Enad uom Baharr, an uel furtaMure. Na Aual aill-ucan uel a'ifieth.(You will die, all of you! If you wait, hiding behind they who stand as stone before the storm, then they will die. And you would follow them into darkness.)"
No one moved. The air was supernaturally still, and nothing stirred within the branches of the iolar trees.
"illMureead koem feon Aual. Pal am? uel koruan. uel koruan gona Iyanden kionash, lan Asuryan sol koem uom iEsik-kuron. uel koruan gona iavten'menesh, furtestera'esh, joisa'esh aill'Mironin till, tomam iem quaan eana an furta tageth ucan (Tyranids are standing above you. Why? They wait. They wait until Iyanden Craftworld, light of Asuryan, stands alone before the Devourer. They wait until all strength, all hope and all possibility of preservation is slain, when our will gives out and the future falls away.)."
The assembly looked stunned, and brow beaten. In less than a minute Irilith had peeled back the lies that shored up the walls of their courage, and exposed the pseudo-cowardice for what it was. To do nothing, to wait for their Eldarkin, or, worse, for human warfleets... those were paths to oblivion.
Irilith now turned her keen intelligence to the second age-old weakness of the Eldar race. Pride.
"aillEsteram Aual koem na ainaarin cresistaueadar koem sol ishIllMuread am? Aarthia gonaEsh amure Eldar am? Ainaarin uelOa far kion raiph iavten'men iem aika seachmall am?(Would you stand by and let humans stand alone against the Devourer? Showing for all time the decline of the Eldar? Let them see with inaction that the strength we profess is an illusion?)"
Anger was stirring in the mob, but anger that would not, could not be directed against her. Tareleyan marvelled as she crafted her words, words that he knew, even then, would resound in his mind for centuries.
"They are children, kindred. Children before us. But they are countless, and their weapons terrible. They will fight the Devourer, and if they fall, so to do we. If they prevail, they will turn to us in rage at not shouldering our share of the burden of war. If we show weakness, if we do not stand, they will smite us down in turn."
Fear, pride, contempt and frustration warred within the minds of Iyanden. The Devourer of worlds had bludgeoned its way through the Imperium's eastern defences, and the mon'keigh were struggling to regroup for counter-offensive. So slow to act, but the force of an Imperial offensive was unique in the galaxy. Relentless, implacable. You could see it coming long before it struck, could smell it, could feel the calm that seemed to be the eerie herald of the coming storm. But when it came it was unstoppable. One simply heeded the warning signs, and cleared the area.
If the craftworld was to wait for the mon'keigh, they would be doomed. It could be a full generation of Eldar before the Imperium made good its promise to assist. A generation that would never come to pass, if the Devourer was to make its move.
"But we are strong still. Are we not the Eldar? Masters of the stars by the power of our will, by the potency of our fleets and by the superiority that was once ours by right. Let us seize the reins of that power, and show the galaxy that the Eldar have strength still."
There was no cheering. The situation was too sombre. Death was too close. But not here. There was strength yet amongst the Eldar. Strength of mind. Strength of purpose. And they would endure.
Iyanden did endure. The second most potent of Hive Fleet Kraken's tendrils was turned aside.
But Iyanden lost 80 of its total population. Its delicate wraithbone spires were left smouldering, acid-eaten ruins. The carefully tended domes were charnel houses. The infinity circuit, the last resting place of the Eldar, was the sole remaining bastion of power in what had been the largest of the Eldar craftworlds. Untold numbers of spirits had moved and fought as Wraithguard and Wraithlords. A horrific blow to the dwindling Eldar race. A horrific blow from which they may never recover.
But there was, still, strength left among the Eldar. They struck not for the now, or for the tomorrow, but for that which may come to pass years, decades or centuries ahead.
Eldar forces would strike hard, fast and without warning, laying waste to their target then vanishing...
Random acts of capricious brutality to the Imperium. But carefully, painstakingly orchestrated and intricately calculated acts of surgical precision.
The Imperium could not know that the unprovoked attack on an Imperial garrison on the minor planet of Yeftecka V would prevent a revolt of 80 percent Imperial military forces throughout the Segmentum Tempestus under Fleet Admiral Sven Jacobsen. Why? Because Fleet Admiral Jacobsen's father was killed in that raid, long before he was to have conceived the son who would shatter the Imperium in the bloodiest conflict since the Horus Heresy.
Nor would it, could it, know that the four Eldar warships that ambushed and destroyed the Gothic-class cruiser Majestic were responsible for saving the Imperium from a plague that would have rendered two thirds of the senior naval officers of Battlefleet Obscuras incapable of duty during the 13th Black Crusade.
The Eldar were neither capricious, nor vindictive, nor random. Far from it. But the humans were still far too primitive to possibly conceptualise the ramifications of their actions across four dimensions with any degree of clarity.
So the Eldar would do it for them, with or without their consent.
But one slip, one mistep, one attack too many, or in too sensitive an area, and the weight of Imperial wrath would fall upon the Craftworlds, and the conflagration would doom both species to oblivion.
Here in the galactic east, the Eldar were far more likely to be heard as the allies they sought to be. The spectre of the Tyranids was great, and the Imperium was not blind to the assistance that the Eldar were providing. In the east, the Eldar could tell many Imperial commanders of the effects that decisions would have upon future events, and most would at least take those statements into account.
But of course, having Imperial authorities willing to listen to the emissaries of the craftworlds was the product of many years of Eldar action to just that end.
He didn't have to state his orders to his CaTuisich (First Officer), although he could have. An Eldar crew member is able to bond to a warship's Wraithbone core to gain control over it that is simply not possible using normal controls. In such a way, utilising their psi-conductive technology, Eldar vessels are able to have far smaller crew numbers than equivalently sized vessels among other races. Unlike their Human counterparts, they do not have specific functions. Each crewmember is equipped with a headband in which is set a fragment of the carrec'enad (soul-stone); by means of this they merge their minds with the ship's Infinity Circuit, forming a composite mind capable of handling multiple thoughts and actions. This mind is linked to the ship's mechanical systems by Mind Impulse Units that are far in advance of those used by the Imperium.
In this case, Farseer Tareleyan was not a crew member. But as a Farseer, he didn't have to be.A mental command sent the otIarstill gliding through space on the solar winds, daetrin cloak suppressing all electro-magnetic radiation rendering it near invisible to the naked eye. That was as per most holofield-based technologies, but the daetrin cloak also made it invisible to the battery of active and passive systems that the biofleets were known to use.The Battle of Iyanden had given the Eldar an insight into large-scale tyranid operations that few had managed, and the unusual fact that the target world had survived had generated an even greater wealth of information. Information that the Eldar were more than willing to analyse and put into practice.
The otIarstill's tasking was simple, but absolutely crucial. The last engagement fought by the Eldar here was before Iyanden writhed in agony under the Devourer's onslaught. The constant fighting that had raged across the planet's surface, and in the space around it, had completely destroyed the once extensive network of webway gates and portals.
The otIarstill was carrying a starship-class webway gate (QuasDeash), and would deploy it just outside the planet's gravity-well. The ship would then transmit its success, and three of the five warfleets of the Halle'Iesu craftworld would materialise adjacent to Ichar IV, along with whatever combat fleet elements other craftworlds could despatch. Eldar units would launch for the surface, and establish webway connections to the surface of the Imperial world.
Warhosts from nearly a dozen craftworlds would lend assistance to Imperial forces, in particular to the attempt by the two marine chapters present to destroy the Norn Queen that was even now on the surface of the planet. Even the notoriously Eldar-supremacist Biel-Tan Craftworld had pledged its swordwind. High Farseer Hry'thar of Saim-Hann himself lead a sizeable contingent from his craftworld, and even now waited aboard the Void Stalker-class battleship Sha'eil-till (Hellslayer).
Targets had already been selected for the aspect warrior detachments, fire prisms, guardian battalions and phantom titans that would exit the webway portals. The runes had been specific enough for that.
They had also been specific about the fact that there was virtually no chance of the otIarstill passing undetected through the Hivefleet's lines. And virtually no chance of passing through the lines once detected. And literally no chance of fighting off the Hive Fleet on its own.
Debate on this point had been fierce amongst Halle'Iesu's Seer Council. But there appeared no other way. The more ships sent, the more chance that the Tyranids would detect one of them, and then know that Eldar were operating in the area. And the combined strength of all of the Craftworld's ships would not break the Hive Fleet. The Hive Fleet would, however, manage to break the Eldar just fine...
No, the only way to proceed was like this. But that wasn't why Tareleyan was proceeding along this course. He was proceeding because he felt compelled to. An unfamiliar sensation. A disturbing sensation, and one that all his training and prior inclination told him to ignore.
But he didn't want to, this time.
Existence itself hung by a thread, and he was gambling the fabric of reality on a hunch.
Perhaps the most powerful battleforce the Eldar had assembled in millennia were staking their lives and souls on that same hunch.
Brother-Centurion Kedron was beyond exhausted. Neither he nor his cohort (he still had troubles thinking of them as such) were in any way combat ready.
But they could pull the triggers on their bolters, and that would do. The Imperium had need of every scrap of firepower at this point, and every scrap included them.
Unfortunately, that meant that Kedron hadn't even had time to get his arm replaced.
So he fought with his plasma pistol. Just his plasma pistol.
His accuracy had always been good, but was becoming even better, in the short time that the fighting had been going on, which was not unreasonable given the difficulties inherent in only having one hand...
The 27 marines that made the 5th Cohort were going nowhere. They had penetrated a scant fifty metres into the Norn Queens body, and bogged down. Waves of Tyranids hurled themselves at the three squads worth of marines. Flamers held side tunnels, forcing the tyranids to engage from one direction. Concentrated bolter fire, both calibres, raked over the single direction in which the tyranid forces could advance.
Again the passageway was cleared, its walls leaking fluid from a hundred different bolter holes.
'This can't go on.' Kedron thought. 'Emperor-be-praised, none have fallen, but the ammunition cannot hold out forever.'
He fired off two more shots into the gloom, and was rewarded with the sound of a muffled scream.
Something had to change. And change quickly.
His comm-link activated, the voice of one of the thunderhawk pilots coming over. Calm, but with an undercurrent of tension.
"Strike Lead, this is Herald Lead. Be advised that the LZ is now hot. I say again, LZ is now hot, over."
There was silence over the comm. The landing zone was under attack. Dreadnoughts would hold it for as long as they could. Which wouldn't be all that long, really. The Thunderhawks on the ground would fire in defence, and those in the air would provide targetting telemetry.
If the position was over-run, there would be no exfiltration. This would become a suicide mission. Three entire companies would be lost to the two chapters, regardless of the success of the operation. A worthwhile sacrifice, but, generally speaking, members of both chapters preferred not to die, if it could be avoided. While they did, without exception, look forward to the eternal rest and salvation promised by their faith in the immortal Emperor, they also took immense satisfaction in doing His work in defence of that which was His.
Which meant staying alive, where possible.
No voice had gone over the comm-link in response to Herald Lead's call, and right on cue, the comm activated again.
"Strike Lead, this is Herald Lead, I say again, the..."
Revinius' voice came strong over the comm-link.
"Acknowledged, Herald Lead. We heard you the first time. Out."
Kedron was a little shocked. Revinius had only once been short, only once in centuries, and that had been less than ten hours ago, on board the Gladius. The man was feeling the pinch.
Bolters blazed behind him, and more Tyranids died to his front as the shells flew past him.
'No'. He thought. 'This ends here. I will use my own body as the battering ram... but we must move.'
"Brother-Optio Gaius, you and your squad to me. Brother-Optio Pontius, guard our rear, but stay in contact. With me brothers, we press forward."
The Dark Templar 5th Cohort began to move again, Kedron and the eight brothers of first squad pushing the tyranids back along the corridors towards the psi-resonator chamber by concentration of fire.
Fire that wouldn't last. But as long as it got them to the psi-resonator chamber, it would be enough.
Lines of probability slid through the Farseer's mind. Each was examined and discarded as the situation changed, the sleek Eldar ship slicing through space towards the tortured planet.
Orders slid from Tareleyan's mind to the crew of the otIarstill even as the threads of the future were analysed as they changed before his mindsight.
"Come right 15 degrees, and down 12 degrees. Roll left 25 degrees."
The ship moved with an effortless grace that belied its size. Tareleyan knew that any other manoeuvre would have triggered an explosion. He didn't know exactly why, as he wasn't, nor ever had been, on the Path of the Mariner.
But the reason was that the area of space was littered with spore mines.
The Eldar cruiser had just pirouetted in space, and slid through a gap in the mine clusters, a gap that by all rights shouldn't have been wide enough for the streamlined warship to pass.
Tareleyan would have been sweating. His mind raced along the probability lines, tracing the results of each and every order that he could project to the gestalt consciousness that was the otIarstill.
"Up 24 degrees, roll right, 13 degrees and come left 8 degrees."
A flight of tyranid drone-ships sailed through the space where the otIarstill would have been, had the order not been given.
And another thread, urgent this time. A Hive Ship going to come around the planet within minutes.
"Cut power from sails. Transfer all available power to the daetrin cloak."
The ship's solar sails gave a very low energy output... but the energy flow could distort the read outs from the daetrin cloak.
The monstrosity came around the arc of the planet, looking strangely graceful, silhouetted against the glow of the sun through the planet's ionosphere.
The fate lines bent. Options began to decline. Something I've missed. What was it? Energy readings below detection threshold. Negligible thermal differential. What was it? What was going to cause it? What was...
They had silhouetted themselves against the moon behind them. Tareleyan almost smacked himself for being so stupid. The bloody things could see him. SEE him.
A rookie mistake, and one that would cost the Eldar, and possibly the galaxy, very dearly.
"Disengage cloak. Arm primary array."
Tareleyan could feel the ship's discontent. The minds that worked together as the ship's consciousness knew that such action, regardless of its success, would doom the ship.
Synapses fired and thoughts flew, from the ship to the minds of its crew to the Farseer and back, a blur of thought, far faster than any human mind could process.
The Eldar ship-consciousness was confusing to converse with. Sentient without a doubt, but there were echoes in the background. A disturbing quality, the echoes giving mind-voice to concepts not quite the same, though similar and often equally important. Parallel lines of reasoning, expressed simultaneously, in a way that a true single-mind could not replicate.
"Time. Mission importance. Dispersal of Hive fleet units. Planet's gravitywell. Absence of assistance from Eldarkin."
"?Absence query?Assistance clarification?Importance statement!Situation analysis.Options analysis."
The otIarstill had concieved of something that he had not. But had not yet informed him. A rare affirmation of the ships confidence in him, despite the fact that it queried him.
Heart warming at another time. Now it was time wasting.
"Time critical. Detection imminent. Defensive measures required."
"!Eath, Idiann! (No, Farseer)"
A rare moment of total unity. A hundred minds spoke their disagreement to him, out of synch but in perfect harmony. Crucial milliseconds passed while Tareleyan recovered from the shock.
"Propose option, otIarstill."
The Farseer should have seen the option. That he hadn't was damning. Perhaps in more ways than one.
The fact that the otIarstill had was more than slightly surprising. The collective consciousnesses were rarely capable of that degree of independent forethought.
"?Idiann queried, reference viability?Appropriate to objectives?Risk involved?"
Tarelyan frowned. How could he answer the gestalt if he didn't know what it was proposing... and the Hive ship was approaching detection range. Less than 35 seconds.
"?Cresistauread?Mon'Keigh?Imperials?Humans?Losseainn?Space Marine ships?Strike Cruisers?Transports deployed.Query purpose?Present alternative?"
Tareleyan smiled a rueful half-smile. Of course. Always the uncertain element.
"Target Hive ship, disengage daetrin cloak, lock-on all forward weapons systems and fire. Signal the strike cruisers. We bring the swordwind to Ichar IV. With their help, it shall arrive it time to turn this war against the Devourer."
Everything happened as the Farseer's mind 'voiced' it. The neuro-psychic reaction times possessed by an Eldar warship were so far ahead of the Imperial equivalent that is was breathtaking. The control process was more akin to vocalising your own movements.
The otIarstill's outline blurred, and it shimmered into existence, a microsecond before its over-powered forward armament, including four pulsar lances, opened fire on the Hive ship.
Space between the two vessels came alive, as flickering lightning sailed across the void. Colours sparkled around the hive ship as the spore mines surrounding it exploded to the fire of the weapons batteries.
Right on time for the pulsar lances to punch through the opening.
Great rents appeared in the Hive ship's hull-flesh. Lubrication-ichor and control-fluid leaked into space alongside purple liquid and cartilaginous superstructure.
The creature's psychic death throes hurt Tareleyan's mind, the powerful creature's anguish blazing through the immaterium.
The otIarstill's archaic communications system, expressly for the purpose of dealing with non-Eldar, transmitted its signal to the Space Marine strike cruisers at the edge of the system, just as those two Imperial vessels registered the fiery, explosive destruction of the Hive Ship.
Aboard the Leonidas, too much was happening at once for the crew and captain to process properly. But process they did, and respond, they did. A tribute to Bondsman-Captain Phillips' skill.
Bondsman-Lieutenant Fitzpatrick, on shift at sensors, was first to start the commontion, but the difference was so thin that it would take a computer to tell them apart.
"Sir, multiple expolosive transients, bearing..."
Bondsman-Sublieutenant Kirkshaw, tactical...
"Sir, high-energy signature, class-unknown, near the second moon..."
Communications, Bondsman-Lieutenant Commander McReedy.
"Recieving non-Imperial communications, sir, analysis indicates..."
Bondsman-Captain Phillips couldn't hear himself think, over the commotion so he didn't bother. He counted mentally to ten, by which time silence reigned once more, waiting for his response.
"One at a time please, gentlemen. I can't make a decision if you all yell at me at once."
Brief, tittering laughter dispelled the sombre mood that had prevailed.
"Sir, readouts indicate appearance of a sudden high-energy ship signature, class unknown, near the second moon. Contact is extremely sporadic, and difficult to maintain, sir."
"Very good. Sensors?"
"Multiple explosive transients, bearing 340 mark 21. Readings consistent with spore mine field breach and hive ship decompression."
"Sir, we are being hailed on non-Imperial frequencies, audio only."
"Very well. Let's hear it."
In his many years of commanding Lycurgan warships, Phillips had fought Orks beyond counting. Had battled in Imperial fleets against renegades without number, heretic and otherwise (Imperial dogma about non-Imperial humans aside). Had watched fleets crumble under tyranid onslaught on two occasions. Had squared off against the Inquisition during the Nadgazad Confrontation.
But never in all his life had his spine tingled the way it did when the Eldar ship spoke, its voice resonant, almost musical, and not .
"Space Marine vessels, this is the Eldar Shadow-class warship otIarstill of the Halle'Iesu Craftworld. We are here to render assistance to your world. In order to do so, we request that you render assistance to us in the completion of our mission."
A dozen pair of eyes watched the Bondsman-Captain as he pondered the question.
What's the catch? he thought to himself.
The Eldar may have been a declining race... but the warships they operated were far from reflective of that. That Shadow-class ship was the equal of any Imperial cruiser, and better than most.
But that voice. That voice was utterly inhuman. Fathomless in its complexity, possessed of complete confidence and yet somehow without a hint of condescencion. Rarely had Phillips felt more ill at ease than he did right then, as an Eldar composite-mind spoke to the bridge of his ship.
He'd have wagered a year's credit that the Eldar ship had sent exactly the same message to the Triarius. And Phillips was fairly sure that he knew how the Dark Templar strike cruiser would respond.
The Eldar were here to help? Thank the Emperor. Why? What concern is this of theirs?
He knew the answer before he'd finished. The Eldar knew that they could not defeat the Tyranids alone. Knew that they needed mankind, with all the strength of the Imperium, if they were to endure.
Knew that for mankind to endure, Ichar IV must not fall to the Hive Fleets.
Phillips knew of Eldar machinations. Knew that their fickle, random nature was not. Knew that there was some form of method to their madness. Knew from accounts of battles on Cadia, Tallarn, Armaggedon and during the Gothic War. Knew that for all their unpredictability, the Eldar had been far more help to the Imperium than they had been hindrance, especially out here in the galactic east.
And knew that there were more than two companies of marines on that planet that were relying on them to make the right decisions, and to follow their commander's intent.
That being, of course, to maintain the Imperial control and use of Ichar IV.
"Eldar vessel, this is Bondsman-Captain Phillips of the strike cruiser Leonidas, of the 892nd Chapter of Adeptus Astartes. State your mission, and we will examine for compatibility with our own."
Phillips didn't wait. The Eldar ship could make its case. Unless it sought the overthrow of the Emperor from the Golden Throne, the Leonidas would assist.
"Mister McReedy, hail the Triarius."
"On screen, sir."
The image of the Triarius' captain was striking. The Dark Templars had always had a flair for the dramatic, and the view behind the other strike cruiser's captain was certainly that, with the enormous white-on-green templar cross banners hanging vertically behind him, ornate statues of Dark Templar heroes below them.
The Triarius' captain was no fool. He'd know exactly why Phillips was contacting him.
The man spoke with typical Dark Templar directness.
"The Eldar contact you as well?"
"They want help?"
The two men regarded each other. Phillips had never spoken to the captain of the Triarius before. Didn't even know his name, although it wouldn't be hard to find out.
But the marines that they both served under were brothers to each other in more than name, and their chapters were steadfast allies. The Triarius' captain spoke next.
"We have a fairly good idea what they want, don't we?"
"We do. They'll want an escort, so they can... do some Eldar thing."
"And we will give it to them?"
"Unless you have a firm objection. I'm sure they have some manipulative Eldar scheme... but at the moment their scheming is toward the same end as our fighting... I say we help."
The man nodded, his head looking a trifle small in comparison to his massive frame. Phillips spoke out next, voicing a query.
"Agreed. Do you want to speak for us, or shall I?"
"You can. Your guns are bigger than ours."
Phillips chuckled. The Leonidas did have a dorsal lance array more than the Triarius, and was a little faster... but it was hardly something to astropath haven about.
"In which case, patch comm systems through the Leonidas, and I will answer when they respond."
"Can do. Triarius out."
The welcoming, if a little ornate bridge of the Dark Templar warship was replaced by the twinkling lights of the starfield and the bulk of one of the gas giants near the outer edge of the Ichar system.
The bridge waited for Phillips' next orders. Even he wasn't quite sure how he'd go about this. Or whether Brother-Captain Lysander would have him shot for assisting xenos without orders. Phillips wouldn't have blamed him, all things considered. The weight of precedent was definitely against Phillips in this light. Even talking to xenos could get a warship's captain executed in some areas of the Imperium.
It was all pretty academic. If this attempt to pull off the strategic raid of the millennium didn't work, then everyone would be dead sooner or later anyway, so it wouldn't matter.
Not that Phillips wanted to be interrogated by the Inquisition. Really, he didn't. He guessed that that would be a rather unpleasant experience.
However, he'd rather be alive to face the Inquisition, than follow the rest of the galaxy into death.
He wasn't sure, but maybe he was just weird that way.
His musings were interrupted by McReedy.
"Sir, the Eldar ship is hailing, still audio only."
"Ok, Mister McReedy. Lets hear them."
The sound of the Eldar ship was once again strangely haunting. That didn't detract from the import of what it was saying, however.
"Farseer Tareleyan of Halle'Iesu leads a task force to combat the Tyranids in this sector. However, due to extensive Tyranid presence, and the intensity of the fighting on the surface, there remain no waygates on the planet, or in orbit, which we can use to bring in the forces that we have prepared. For this reason, this ship is carrying a warp portal. We seek an escort, and covering fire, to enable us to avoid the Hive Fleet, and deploy the warp portal in such a way as to allow subsequent waves to avoid being engaged by the Hive Fleet. Farseer Tareleyan has determined that if the Imperium loses control of this sector, then far more Eldar lives will be lost than those that might otherwise fall defending it. Does this mission meet with your approval, Bondsman-Captain?"
The atmosphere onboard the Leonidas was hushed. So much was riding on them that they had almost become desensitised to it. But not entirely. The fate of uncountable trillions of people never entirely became routine.
Phillips couldn't respond immediately. The illusion of due thought had to be maintained. Not just for the benefit of his crew, but for his soon-to-be allies, who he would have to feel gave his words at least a modicum of thought, before they speared off and did whatever they wanted to, the way Eldar always did.
The pause became protracted, with Phillips gambling that there was no immediate time pressure...
'Oh no!' he thought.
Those energy surges. Explosive transients. Comm signal NOW of all times.
The Eldar were already engaged.
This was the closest that the Eldar would give to a distress signal. They were in trouble.
"Eldar vessel, we accept your proposal. Come about to 168 Mark 6, and come to us. We'll accelerate towards you, and come in on either side."
"otIarstill acknowledges. Changing course to given vector. Heading towards you at best speed."
Phillips watched the readings, and sucked in a breath. They weren't kidding.
Bondsman-Sublieutenant Kirkshaw spoke into the silence.
"Sir, the Eldar ship is turning along indicated lines, and accelerating. Still accelerating. Still accelerating. Sir, its..."
"Steady, Mr Kirkshaw. That's an Eldar warship, and, more importantly, it's the ship that a craftworld has chosen should be the one to carry at least one very important person. I doubt that's the last surprise that ship will throw our way."
The otIarstill had not been enjoying the discussion time. The clean, smooth lines of the vessel's wraithbone hull had been scored and cracked in a dozen places before the conversation was over, with the Eldar ship ducking, weaving and sliding through space in an attempt to avoid the Hive Fleet that was massing around it.
A clockwise barrel-roll threw a pair of hive ships off the otIarstill's tail, but looked decidedly incongruous on the cruiser-sized warship.
Watching the otIarstill in combat was almost like watching a giant fighter aircraft pitch and roll. The handling was so far in advance of conventional warships that it was difficult to quantify the increase in performance.
Conversely, the lack of ability to withstand damage was telling.
The gestalt mind was reeling. Several of the crew that made its "body" were dead, or seriously injured, and it was becoming increasingly hard to focus.
A drone ship came in from starboard, pyro-acid batteries blazing. All the shots went high, and the otIarstill fired back, prow pulsar speaking once, then twice, shots ripping through the drone ship's hull with near contemptuous ease.
A second, third and fourth drifted into the otIarstill's path, pyro-acid batteries hurling destruction through the void toward the Eldar vessel.
Tareleyan was dimly aware of something fracturing, and something exploding. Never before had he been more earnestly hoping for the mon'keigh to come through.
The two strike cruisers at the edge of the system were all that stood between the Eldar and destruction... and consequently between the Imperium and the Devourer.
"Eldar vessel, we accept your proposal. Come about to 168 Mark 6, and come to us. We'll accelerate towards you, and come in on either side."
The release of tension aboard the otIarstill was palpable. While the situation was far from resolved, a means of securing the objective had now been realised.
Tareleyan mentally nudged the ship, which had had the entirety of its formidable collective mind focused on attempting to avoid incoming fire.
"otIarstill acknowledges. Changing course to given vector. Heading towards you at best speed."
The ship shuddered as another blast scored a hit, despite the still functional holofield. Nothing else seemed to be damaged this time, and the armour held.
Tareleyan altered his mental focus to the two marine warships. Strike cruisers, which meant light, well armed, and fast.
Perhaps fast enough to pull the otIarstill out of the mess it was in at that particular moment.
The Eldar ship slid through space, every fibre of the ship straining for maximum speed.
The vector that the marine commander had given the otIarstill was simple. Straight towards the marines, headed away from the star.
Fortunately for the otIarstill, it was in that direction that the Eldar ship could reach its maximum sublight speed, headed straight out on the solar winds.
It could not hope to hold back the hordes of the Devourer. But it could fire fast enough, and accurately enough, to make a plausible attempt to carve its way out.
Two more drones died under its guns as it desperately raced to slide out from the net.
Two more drones, one getting off a shot before the pulsar lances cut it in two.
And yet more.
The otIarstill was being over run. Despite its speed, its rate of advance was known, and the system was rapidly flooding with tyranids. More and more tyranid ships were being vectored into the damaged Eldar cruiser's path, the jaws closing on a trap that none save the Devourer could execute with such effortless precision.
Tareleyan swore, and slammed his delicate hand into a blank pat of the console in front of him. If he hadn't known better, he'd almost have thought that the space on the console was provided for just that contingency.
A quartet of Hive ships were closing on four different vectors. The otIarstill was fast running out of options.
A bio-plasma salvo flew across the Eldar ship's path, and it veered hard-a-port, cutting in front of the ship that just fired, blazing back with weapons batteries and pulsars, a stitched line of multi-coloured explosions changing as its spore-shields gave out.
The monstrosity's frustrated psychic screech made every psyker across a dozen sectors wince.
The otIarstill swung back to starboard, rolling right and pitching down as it did so, while the wounded Hive ship struggled to turn to halt its momentum and turn.
But the Eldar ship was out of its reach, and its pursuit trailed.
Not so the rest of the Hive, which was closing around the sleek ship quickly. The otIarstill's jink may have kept it safe from the four mass-superior vessels that were closing on it, but the delay had allowed the fleet to press closer.
A dozen ships at the outside of their firing envelopes. At least two dozen more pressing from multiple directions. So many drone-ships that they were almost literally beyond counting. Far too many ships. Pouring, flooding, streaming into the system. Probably the sector.
And Tareleyan had miscalculated. The fate of his entire race, and countless others (not that he really cared all that much about them) rode on success here. And he had failed. The otIarstill, despite his and its best efforts, was being slowly pulled apart by the swarm.
As if to punctuate the point, the ship rocked again, an unknown Tyranid bio-weapon scoring another hit. Wraithbone held against the strain, the finely crafted lines still unbending amidst the storm.
A stream of azure particles flew across the otIarstill's path, narrowly missing it.
But cleanly striking the nearest of the Hive Ships, blasting straight through its shields and into its chitinous armour.
Purple lubricating ichor and chunks of flesh spewed out into space.
"Eldar vessel, this is the Leonidas. Come about to new heading, 341 Mark 2, in eight, seven, six..."
The otIarstill barely had time to process the transmission while the countdown was approaching zero. Power was shunted from the weapons to the solar sails, as the ship prepared to turn hard-a-starboard its course.
"...ree, two, one, TURN."
The Eldar ship spun about, inertial dampeners straining to prevent the ship's occupants from smearing themselves against whatever they were sitting on or next to.
The space where they were headed came alive as the two strike cruisers let a rip with all available weaponry. The otIarstill, spinning around as it did, brought its own considerable prow armament to bear, and, for a moment at least, a storm of fire sang through the void. Violet pulsars and lightning blue lances flew alongside waves of missiles and cannonfire into the oncoming horde. For a moment, it seemed that it would not be enough.
But sudden weight of firepower began to tell, and two of the four hive ships at the Devourer's vanguard crumpled and died. Droneships kept coming, but the four remaining larger bioships peeled off.
Not beaten. No one aboard either of the three warships was fool enough to think them beaten. But they Hive could see the difficulties inherent in pushing directly into the firepower ahead of it with the resources it had right there. Tyranid bio-ships were perhaps the only organisms that the Hive mind strove to protect, where possible. Not that it would hesitate to use them, or risk them, but it would not throw them away as it would so many of its other creations. No. Actions by the Hive fleets were far more measured.
They had survived, Tareleyan breathed. For now anyway, death had not claimed them. She-who-thirsts would not take him just yet.
But illMureead, the Devourer, was still out there. Time was of the essence.
Again. It was so tiresome. He was more than six hundred years old, and yet he always seemed to be short on time.
He altered his mental focus, and addressed the otIarstill's gestalt consciousness.
"otIarstill, iam aillEstera taluclu cresistauead ardIonann. Belac bionnearan. Belah na cheapmai rega. (otIarstill, I would like to meet the human battle commander. The way is concealed. Path, and plan, distorts...)"
"?Confirmation?Clarification?Mode of address?"
"Audio only. I wish them to see me in the flesh, before they see my visage on their viewscreens."
There was a pause, a blissful, silent, unblemished pause, as the otIarstill's systems interrogated the communications system on the two Imperial ships.
Tareleyan began to speak, throat protesting at the guttural human language sounds that Tareleyan was forcing it to make.
"Imperial vessels, I am Farseer Tareleyan of the Halle Iesu Craftworld. On behalf of myself, this crew and my craftworld, I thank you for the assistance you have here granted us."
The human that responded sounded more than a little relieved himself. If he had known how much was at stake, he'd have been yet more.
"Farseer Tareleyan, this is Bondsman-Captain Phillips of the Leonidas. What do you propose from here? The Tyranids are now aware of our presence. We won't hold them for long, once they have regrouped."
Tareleyan was deep in thought, only the merest fraction of his consciousness holding conversation with the human captain. The rest of his mind scoured the lines and weaves of fate, searching, probing for a course of action with the faintest chance of success. The otIarstill had taken moderate damage, enough so the ship could no longer cloak. That option was out. The tyranids knew that there were Eldar in the area. Surprise of that nature was out. How in Isha's name could they advance their cause? Why was such a crucial world to the humans defended by so small...
That's it. The line of fate that represented the mon'keigh. The thread that was often largest, boldest, brightest and least predictable. The mon'keigh held so much power... but had so little idea how to use it that it drove the Seer Councils of the Craftworlds to distraction.
The mon'keigh were being unusually subtle. They had a fleet here. Not here, here, but here, in theatre, within an hour or two of warp travel.
They were... waiting. For... something. Something that the runes weren't clear about. Waiting for some form of signal, to come forward. Why weren't they defending Ichar? Why was such a powerful fleet just... sitting there?
They were insufficient. They were inferior to the Hive Fleet, and they knew it. They would most certainly give the tyranids a bloody nose, but wouldn't break it, and would squander their own lives and resources in the process.
The mon'keigh were learning. All too often they had stood and died, when retreating and regrouping were wiser. So many of them died. So many, and so childlike.
Tareleyan pondered the analogy. Indeed, children, they were. Short-lived, clumsy, inelegant, unrefined children. But they were so brave. So vibrant. To confront the galaxy with so little, in knowledge and in technology...
And then to defeat it! To subdue the galaxy as the Eldar had... with a fraction of the technology and an inferior physique, to say nothing of minds with only the slightest hint of an Eldar's power... truly, the humans were a remarkable species.
And so prolific. Blanketing the stars in scant millennia. A millennium could have two hundred Eldar become eight hundred, three generations of Eldar, born and birthing. That same millennium could see two hundred humans become 985 trillion.
Without the humans, the Devourer of Worlds would sweep the Eldar from the galaxy without the slightest hassle at all. The Eldar, the Orks, the Tau (and their allies, the Kroot and Vespids), the servants of the Great Enemy... all life, in fact. All life hinged on humanity, on the force that the Imperium could bring to bear, on the weight of men and materiel that would come crashing down on those who would fight mankind.
A terrible thing for the ever-proud Eldar to admit, and one that many of Tareleyan's seer kin still would not.
The days of the Eldar Empire were over. They were over and, despite what the war-mongers of Biel-Tan thought, they would not come again. The humans were too many to be conquered by the Eldar, and that way lay only destruction and damnation.
The only chance for the Eldar to endure would be alongside humans. As guides and allies, where possible. Enemies where action required. But alongside them. Eventually, perhaps, as part of human society, in the distant future when they spoke and acted as more than the children they now were.
A part of human society that, Tareleyan was confidant, would come to lead it, over time. That was the only way the Eldar could once more rule.
Humanity must not fall. Whatever else, whatever the cost, mankind must endure, or all was lost.
Bondsman-Captain Phillips was still waiting for him to reply. It had been nearly a minute. The man had been exceptionally patient, for a human.
"We must bring your fleet, Bondsman-Captain. Bring them in-system, and return to Ichar itself with them at our backs. Only then will we have the diversion required to deploy the warp gate that will secure this system. Our combined fleets can then reap the harvest of bioships, while the Devourer reels in shock from the carnage wrought by your Space Marines' assault."
Phillips heard the words. Heard the weight of experience that came behind them. But he didn't want to.
Phillips was, of course, assuming that the Eldar was speaking the truth. An assumption, not necessarily a fact. Assumptions piling upon assumptions. But, nevertheless, it was an assumption that stood to reason.
Which was near heresy in itself. Reason was uncalled for. Reason belied faith, to the Imperium at large, if not to Deathbringers. Reason when dealing with xenos was dangerous. All the more so when weighty decisions were to be made, upon which relied human lives.
What could he do? Really. What could the two space marine strike cruisers do against the Hive Fleet? Even with the Eldar ship alongside them, they couldn't halt the Hive fleet for more than a token period of time. Even now, Ichar was being subsumed, the space around the planet infested with Tyranid organisms, its defences splintered and demoralised.
All of a sudden, the rationale behind the heretical status of reason became clear. Reason made for analysis. Analysis of the situation could only yield one result. Ichar would fall, and humanity with it. Analysis and reason would hold that all that could be done was to preserve what they had, to put as much space between the Devourer and themselves as was possible, and to hope that the shadow in the warp would not reach them in their lifetimes.
That was why the Imperium despised reason. Reason lead to fear, to madness and to cowardice. Encouraging reason amongst fallible men was akin to encouraging their cowardice and, in the process, generating a self-fulfilling prophecy of terror and doubt.
Faith. Faith was their greatest weapon. Faith and courage more than any amount of guns and ammunition. Faith kept the armies and fleets fighting, despite all hope. And in the process, created hope. Created possibilities for victory that base reason would not have. Made examples for men to follow and ideals to inspire.
That lead to victory. A dictatorship of reason would lead to death.
But reason could not be abandoned completely. To do that would be to presume the Emperor's favour, and that presumption would bring a destruction all its own.
So many choices, so many actions, could all lead to the cataclysmic end of everything.
Phillips' face did not give away just how shaken his own introspection was making him. He had always had complete and total confidence in the Imperium. Perhaps, he mused, that was itself inherited from the fact that most of his time in commanding Deathbringer warships was spent in close company to Deathbringer senior officers, and few individuals anywhere extrude confidence and competence like a space marine company commander, Deathbringer or no.
But now the call was his to make. It shouldn't be him making the call. It should be the space marine commander. He just commanded the ship.
Brother-Captain Lysander would want his input. To give that, Phillips' would need every scrap of information he could get his hands on.
"How long do you need to deploy the warp gate, Farseer?"
Tareleyan could hear the man's hesitation. It didn't take much knowledge of the Imperial mind to fathom the reasons for it.
"No more than ten minutes, at the outside, Bondsman-Captain. There are forty-five warships of light capital size or greater preparing to exit that warp gate and make their presence felt, both in space and on the surface. The longer we tarry, the more of your people will lose their lives, and the stronger the Devourer will become as a consequence."
Phillips' head cocked to one side, then looked at McReedy. When he caught his eye, he waved his hand across his own mouth in the time-honoured mute transmission gesture.
"McReedy, did you hear how many ships he just said?"
"He said forty-five, sir."
"Forty-five light cruisers or bigger, right?"
"That's how I understood it, sir."
"Emperor's teeth. That could change the course of the war. Forty-five! I didn't know that the Eldar had that many ships available in this sector."
"They probably don't, sir. I don't know anything about warp gates, but who knows how far away they could reach with their unholy xenotechnology."
Kirkshaw made the sign of the aquilae, and Phillips resisted the urge to roll his eyes. The Eldar were apparently willing to help. Forty-five light-capital-plus ships willing to help...
But they would have to get them into the system. Would have to convince the Imperial Fleet that the change of plans was worthwhile, and viable.
Would have to trust the Eldar. It wasn't just his tortuous death at the hands of the Inquisition if he were mistaken. Not that he hadn't pondered that earlier. So much else was...
Phillips stopped himself. Too much melodrama. He got it. Call the boss, right... He nodded to McReedy, who re-activated te comms to the Eldar.
"Stand-by, Farseer, will advise."
"Acknowledged, Bondsman-Captain. We await your decision. OtIarstill out."
No sooner had the Farseer disconnected than Phillips was barking more orders.
"Tactical, divert power from weapons to short-range comms. Boost range all the way to Ichar itself. McReedy, establish comm-link with Brother-Captain Lysander. Relay via Herald Lead if required."
Kirkshaw at tactical began to respond, hands moving over the control panels with the skill and precision of a pianist.
"Aye, sir, diverting power to communications. Dorsal lances offline. Communications power at 150 percent."
McReedy answered him, reporting comms status.
"Range still insufficient. Estimate a further 75 basis points required."
Phillips nodded. There was a good chance they'd blow out the comms... but they needed that link, if only for a short time.
"Raise power output as far as required, Mr Kirkshaw."
"Taking power from engines, sir. Comms power still rising. 190 percent. 200. 210. 220... Diverting more engine power. Thrust down to 75 percent. Comms power passing 250. 260..."
"We have contact with Herald Lead, sir."
A chime sounded from the comm-station.
"System link established, sir."
"Herald Lead, this is the Leonidas. Our situation has changed. Patch through to Lambda Lead, over."
The sound of static came back over the link, then Herald Lead's voice came across clear once more.
Nothing, then sound again. Specifically, the hollow sound of bolters firing in an enclosed space, as heard over a comm-net. Then the atmosphere on the bridge relaxed palpably as Lysander spoke.
"Leonidas, this is Lambda Lead. Go ahead."
The battle the marines were fighting within the Norn Queen was rapidly going south. Not only had the Deathbringer 2nd Company become bogged down, having only reached one of its two objectives, but the Dark Templar 3rd was only just managing to hold onto its advance towards its objective.
De Laan was pinned in place at a four way junction, each of his squads holding one flank, while he and the detachment's sole assault squad held the centre as a reserve. They were firm in place, but stuck.
Revinius was still advancing, but the rate of advance had slowed to a crawl, and the marines were resorting to blocking corridors with piles of tyranid dead to prevent themselves from being overwhelmed. It would have stunk, and Revinius spared a thought to be grateful for the fact that his mind was focused on other, more pressing concerns.
The thought came just in time for a wave of nausea.
He had to think about the smell, didn't he? He was doing fine, thank you, but no. Just had to think about how good it was that he couldn't smell the corpses. Dang and blast.
The blue eldritch glow of his powersword was long gone under the layers of tyranid gunk.
About the only thing that wasn't gone was ammunition, of which there was still a precious little, and hope, of which there remained a modicum.
The Emperor was, after all, mercif...
Revinius was hurled to his right, as a section of the wall caved in, wave of tyranids behind it. He resisted the urge to rise as a genestealer leapt upon him, only for it (and a good number of its compatriots) to be torched by the wash of a flamer, three of the brother-legionnaires walking towards the breach, hosing the area down with promethium.
The brother-centurion rose as the three walked past, patting one on the shoulder with a clang, and taking stock of status. The schematics that had been tentatively provided by the databanks of the Gladius seemed to indicate about fifty metres to go. However past the next corner, his reconnaissance had indicated a large opening, with many entrance points and broken ground, to say nothing of many nooks and crannies in which to hide tyranids intent upon causing mayhem within the Dark Templar ranks.Casualties were mounting as it was, but, more importantly, time was getting very short. They were already well over-time, and this was starting to look more and more like a one-way operation.
He looked left, in time to watch a dog-like creature scuttle across the wall, to meet a well-aimed bolter round.
The legionnaires of the 3rd were firing on semi-automatic, the precious bolter ammunition being used one shot at a time.
The result was that the surroundings were much quieter, and the loud, slightly echoing and distinctive 'bang-whoosh' bolter reports were often punctuated by high-pitched squealing of lesser tyranid species, audible in most cases, rather than drowned out in the bass thrum that normally accompanied the cohort's advance.
Lysander's voice came over the commlink.
"Brother-Centurion Revinius, what is your status?"
Revinius' head didn't shift from the most likely avenue of tyranid approach, eyes roving for telltales.
"Still advancing, Brother."
Revinius grinned ruefully at the pause. He could almost hear Lysander's mounting frustration at the other end of the comm.
The three marine commanders had operated in the way they had for good reason. The Deathbringer company had an inplace command structure that enabled quick and easy subdivision, and Brother-Lieutenant De Laan was well able to command the five squads assigned to him.
Dark Templar units always operated at cohort level, and their docttine was designed with that synergy in mind. Dark Templar cohorts were notoriously hard to budge, but were rarely broken up, where possible.
That left two Deathbringer units of fifty marines apiece, a single Dark Templar cohort of approximately one hundred, and a grotesquely understrength cohort of 27.
All four units had been tasked according to their relative strengths, with the single full-strength cohort supposed to push the furthest, to the neuro-synaptic relay at the far point of what was essentially an equilateral triangle.
But they were encountering more resistance than they expected. The Norn Queen, and swarm at large, were responding faster than all previous Imperial intelligence reports would have suggested. Although, admittedly, all prior attacks launched inside Norn Queens had been while the bio-ships were in pseudo-stasis from interstellar travel.
This one certainly wasn't in anything like stasis, not that they had really thought it would be.
Revinius spoke into the comms, infusing his voice with far more confidence than he felt.
"We will make our objective, Richard. You just hold yours, and make sure your whelp gets his."
Revinius couldn't hear Lysander chuckle, as the man hadn't activated his commlink. Nor had he seen De Laan scowl. But he could picture them both clearly, and the thought made him chuckle.
Right before another section of wall caved in, a Hive Tyrant bellowing as it ran at him...
The Brother-Centurion sighed, and raised his sword and shield again, as bolters fired past him into the throng.
Kedron kept moving. He was exhausted, but if he faltered then the pitiful crawl that was an advance would stop entirely. He wished he had his arm again.
Brother-Optio Gaius was dead. The first to fall, after hurling himself in front of Kedron when a carnifex charged. Kedron had almost felt the sickening, nauseously wet sound of the monstrosity's tusks slicing through the plasteel of Gaius' armour and into his intestines with terrifying ease, hoisting the man upwards and shaking him until he came off, trailing bright red blood spray as he fell.
Even as the man lay dying from the massive internal haemorrhaging, he kept firing his bolt pistol, reloading it twice and pouring explosive bolts into the behemoth that had gored him.
He had died a hero, as much as any marine in combat could ask for. Save the manner of death. Gored by carnifex, not high on Kedron's to-do list. Kedron would personally have much rather been shot by a lascannon, if the choice had to be made.
Gaius had been a brother. In every way, save birth. And he would mourn him, as he would mourn all the brothers that he had lost these past days. All dead to the Devourer, but, thank the Emperor, their geneseed had been recovered.
Save those that might fall here.
There was a lull, and Kedron checked the temperature gauge on his plasma pistol. Hot, and nudging the 'danger' area. He almost laughed. 'Danger' was the weapon exploding, or not firing. Anything else, relatively speaking, was not danger at all.
Anger was building within Kedron, and he fought it down. Dark Templars, unlike many others who bore the "Templar" name, discouraged anger in combat. It clouded the mind. Prevented accurate judgements from being drawn. Could lead to recklessness, and a tendency to not consider the actions one implements.
But Kedron was most definitely feeling anger. A bright hot, yet perversely exquisitely cold fury that was starting to build in his belly as he took each shuffling step forward, endlessly treading on tyranid corpses that had fallen to the guns of the 5th Cohort.
He couldn't afford to look down at his footing. Couldn't take his eyes off the combat to his front. A moment's loss of concentration would either kill him, or kill one of his brothers.
More than that. He was the Brother-Centurion. A moment's loss of concentration and everyone dies. By extension, the galaxy as well, but he was trying not to dwell on that. He was a very recently promoted cohort commander. Galaxy-fate was very much a new thing to Kedron.
A termagant rose from a crevasse ahead, and Kedron snapped off a shot, plasma bolt disintegrating the creature's head and driving a furrow into the wall behind it. The corpse pitched forward with almost comical slowness.
The going was torturous. Painfully slow. Every metre fought over.
She knew what they were doing. Kedron was positive. The marine deployment was too specific to be anything else. And the Norn Queen was responding with characteristic blunt resolve.
Kedron would have bet credits that the bitch was having an ulcer though, and he took a feral glee in the thought.
We're not fast enough, Kedron realised in a moment of horror, stepping aside as another bolter-ridden creature sailed through the air, carried by its own momentum though dead before it hit the ground.
We aren't going to get there in time, if at all. One or all of the four marine groups was going to be overrun, and then the neuro-synaptic relays and psi-resonator would not be destroyed at the same time.
That was as good as outright failure. The tyranid backups would come on line too fast for anything but simultaneous destruction to sever the link. Backups would have be unable to re-establish it, but they could maintain it, if all the primary systems were not knocked out simultaneously.
They had failed.
His eyes grew dark and cloudy, his anger building at that which would destroy what humanity had taken 50,000 years to build.
They may destroy him, but he'd give them a fight they'd never forget. It would be a long time before this Norn Queen would forget, of that Kedron was sure.
Minutes passed in an angry blur, three termagants making it to close combat with him only to be shot at point blank range, pistol-whipped to death or kicked into a pulp.
Another sprang around a corner, as Kedron began moving faster, rage flowing red-hot through over-stressed veins.
Everything was moving in slow motion. The tyranids, masters of blur-fast close combat, looked like they were moving through mud.
The termagant was still in the air, moving ever so slowly forward.
Kedron swung his right leg up and, without warning, time snapped back into the proper pace. The impact of the airbourne termagant slamming into the armour of his lower leg pushed the lower leg back to a standing position, while the termagant shattered around the plasteel. A plasma pistol shot, haphazardly fired straight down, ensured it didn't move again.
Kedron hadn't seen it on the ground. He was already moving forward again, breaking into a run.
His startled cohort were a couple of beats behind their accelerating leader, but didn't hesitate long.
Within seconds, the entirety of the fifth cohort had broken into a run, moving through the ship at a pace that would have put any un-enhanced human sprinter to shame.
The cohort wasn't hitting anything. But they didn't have to. Their commander was sliding through the tyranids like a hot powersword through butter.
He wasn't commanding. Ordinarily that would be a problem, but these were marines, and Dark Templars specifically. They knew their job, and, more to the point, he was way beyond issuing orders.
A tyranid warrior stepped into the Brother-Centurion's path, deathspitter already levelled. The marine's pace doesn't change, and a muted flash precedes Kedron's shoulder charge.
Brother-Optio Pontius turned the previous corner, eight steps behind the brother-centurion, then stopped, aghast, as the one-armed figure of his brother and leader charged into a tyranid warrior...
Only to see it shudder at the charging man's impact, and then topple to one side, smoking hole in the centre of its torso.
Pontius raised his bolter in his right hand, firing three times in cover as Kedron kept moving forward.
Every sense screamed at Pontius that this was wrong, and that charging after Kedron would only get him, and all those behind him, killed, dying in vain and squandering their lives.
But he knew it wasn't. The Emperor was with them. They were doing His work, and in this, He was protecting them, Pontius was sure.
He had brought them through the Norn Queen further in the past thirty seconds than they had come in the previous ten minutes. The Emperor was with them, and had inspired the Brother-Centurion. Who would have thought that the spirit of the Emperor would take hold of Kedron, of all brothers.
But it had. Kedron was His instrument. Was bringing His wrath on the Devourer. Was...
Throwing his pistol at a Hive Tyrant..?
Lysander was getting desperate. De Laan was taking more casualties. Time was slipping further out of their control. But there was no back up plan. Other than "fight harder", which, Lysander mused, wasn't really much of a back-up, per se.
Another way of putting it would be to say that the back up plan was to make the first plan work. But that was probably not a true "back-up" plan, either.
In fact, the root of the problem was the absence of capable back-up. The marines that had been tasked to this venture were hideously overstretched. Again. Back-up of any sort would have been highly welcome, at that particular juncture. Who knew, perhaps the Emperor would be merciful, and grant His mercy to them in their hour of need.
Not just the marines' hour of need. They always had hours of need. No, the Imperium, the civilisation constructed by His own hand, needed Him. Need Him to cast His immortal light over them.
'Send us a sign. Show us that we still are your people, that we fight according to your will.'
As if on cue, his comm sounded.
"Lambda lead, this is Herald Lead, over."
Lysander fired twice at a tyranid limb emerging around a corner. His second shot hit it, and tore the offending appendage from its owner's body.
"Herald Lead, this is Lambda Lead, over."
"Lambda Lead, Leonidas is requesting through-link, over."
Bondsman-Captain Phillips had something. More bad news, no doubt.
"Acknowledged, Herald Lead. Patch them through."
Lysander heard the sound of the pilot of the Thunderhawk adjusting something, then the chime that signalled the connection establishing. He spoke into the silence.
"Leonidas, this is Lambda Lead. Go ahead."
Bondsman-Captain Phillips' voice came clear over the comm, despite the distance. He was talking from more than an astronomical unit away, if he was adherring to the plan. That they could talk at all meant that there was some very serious power-amplification going on... doubtlessly more than was safe.
Lysander stifled a chuckle. What was 'safe' at the moment anyway?
"Lambda Lead, this is Leonidas. We have made contact with xeno-echo elements in system. They request assistance, so as to allow them to bring in further xeno-echo echelons. Contact would suggest that following echelons are theatre Imperial equivalent strength, over."
Emperor be praised, Lysander thought. How can that be? He'd just thought the prayer, not even two minutes ago, and the Emperor had provided.
Truly, the Lord of Mankind was with them.
"Acknowledged, Leonidas. Assist xeno-echo elements to facilitate arrival of following echelons. Urgency is recommended, over."
"Lambda Lead, be advised that xeno-echo elements have requested Imperial arrival be accelerated to assist xeno-echo arrival, over."
Oh. That was why Phillips was calling.
The Eldar wanted to bring the Imperial fleet in to cover their arrival.
Lysander hesitated. The Imperial fleet's return was the last remaining card he had to play. He had planned to play it when the marines had their mission accomplished. Playing it now would lose tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of lives aboard the Imperial Fleet. More importantly, if too many ships were lost, then even if the marines were successful, the fleet would be unable to drive off the disorganised tyranids, and the shattered tyranid units would swamp the navy anyway.
But the Eldar were here. This was, perhaps, the Emperor himself showing His people that He could use imperfect means to achieve His perfect ends.
Or was He reminding them that xenos were never to be trusted, and to fear the alien, the mutant and the heretic?
As was often the case there was no way of telling. The Emperor's scriptures were full of ambiguity. Why was nothing straightforward?
Another tyranid warrior turned a corner, and Lysander fired again, plasma blast taking its head off its shoulders.
That was one thing that was straightforward. Tyranids were overrunning them, and the whole Emperor-damned planet along with them. They might not actually manage to kill this giant space bug that the Mechanicus called a Norn Queen. If so, then an Eldar fleet might be all that stood between the Imperium and oblivion.
Much as Lysander disliked fighting alongside, let alone trusting, xenos, logic appeared to offer no better option.
Besides, had the Emperor himself not just dropped the very salvation Lysander had prayed for, right into his very lap?
"Leonidas, you are cleared to instruct fleet elements to execute. Authentication code lambda two niner lima yankee four zero two."
There was a brief pause, doubtlessly Phillips asking one of his officers if the authentication code was received.
"Acknowledged, Lambda Lead. Emperor be with you."
"And also with you. Lambda Lead, out."
Lysander smiled. The first real smile to touch his face since the Sword of Lycurgas was lost, several months ago.
Eldar were coming. He had prayed to the Lord of Mankind to send a sign, and He sent the Eldar.
Sometimes the universe was a very strange place.
Lysander spoke into the comm again.
Revinius was occupied.
He had carved his way through several carnifexes. A feat that the veteran cohort leader had no intention of repeating, if he could avoid it.
He heard his name over the comm, and subconsciously cocked his head, as if to shield his microphone from the wind.
A spike rifle shot ricocheted off his shield, and he swore, just as the comm activated.
"Emperor's teeth. What?"
Lysander's voice came over, loud and clear over the din of Revinius' cohort.
"Reinforcements are coming, Brother. The Leonidas reports Eldar are enroute, in equivalent strength to Imperial units in-theatre."
Revinius spat, and pretended not to be disconcerted when the acidic saliva didn't react to the corridor beneath him.
"Eldar. What in the Emperor's name are we coming to when it takes frelling xenos to pull us out of a frelling hole?"
Someone behind Revinius interrupted the flow of conversation, firing a bolter uncomfortably close to his ear.
"How many did you say they had coming?"
There was another crackle over the comm, and what sounded like plasma fire, before Lysander answered.
"Force equivalent to what we have in theatre."
Revinius was about to counter, then laughed, a deep bark that had two brother-legionnaires looking at him worriedly.
"They're scum, Richard. Not just scum but xenos. I hope you're Emperor-damned sure about this."
Revinius could scarcely believe what he was hearing. It was almost too good to be true. Out of the blue, Eldar turn up, supposedly to help. Revinius only trusted one type of xeno, and that was tyranids... you always knew exactly what they wanted, and they always came at you with that in mind. They'd never double cross you, never cheat you, never turn on you or otherwise abuse your trust. The fact that they wanted to eat you only slightly took away from the charm.
Lysander responded quickly, frustration evident down the line.
"Well what do we do? Open fire on them? Want to fight the Eldar as well as the Tyranids? Because, brother, that doesn't sound like the best plan I've ever heard you come up with. You're normally pretty good with plans, but, to be frank, that one is not good. At all. "
Lysander was frustrated. Revinius was angry.
For all the bluster, however, they both knew that the other was not the source of their mood. The circumstances that the two marines found themselves in were the catalyst, and they both took comfort in that.
Minutes ticked by in a welter of purple blood.
Both marine commanders were beyond tired. Lysander's plasma pistol was down to its last magazine. Revinius' shield was dented, and its power field was starting to fail.
Revinius broke the comm silence first.
"Whether we want them to or not?"
"Looks that way."
A hormagaunt sprang into one of Revinius' legionnaires, and raised its talons, in time to be cut in half by the giant cohort commander's backhanded slash.
Revinius scowled. At fate, at life, at then spoke again.
"Then they can do the dying for us..."
In the void between suns, thirty-two ships of the Imperial Navy hung silently, alternating lights and shadows against the starfield.
Admiral Antigonos was dead. Not many were concerned about it in itself (the man had been a despot in every meaningful sense of the word) but he had centralised command to the point where the fleet struggled to operate without him.
The cohesion had died when the Admiral did. Everyone felt better, and no one thought Captain Lysander unjustified in his actions, but the responses were mixed.
Some, notably Captain Jord of the Mackenay, thought that the Brother-Captain should be hauled up before a Naval Admiralty Courts Martial, be tried for the murder of a superior officer, and be shot or burnt as a traitor and criminal.
Captain Colefax of the Twilight Hammer thought the opposite, that the man was a hero for taking such a risk in the face of the Admiral's obvious incompetence.
Regardless of what they all thought of the space marine officer, they were all following his orders for the time being, if only because he was the only person who had taken command with a ny degree of pseudo-authority. He'd put forward a workable plan, if only barely, and, more than that, he'd given direction to the fleet, and offered hope, when none had existed before.
So for now, despite widespread misgivings that would probably see an investigation after this campaign was concluded, the Space Marine brother-captain's orders still held the force of law in the fleet.
The whole fleet was holding its breath. Any minute they expected the communication from the Leonidas ordering them to return to battle, gambling mightily that the Imperium might yet hold. Word had filtered down. From the messes to the cooks, cooks to the quartermasters, and down to the gun-decks and engine bays.
The Divine Right waited for the go signal. The entire ship, and all those who made it function, were possessed of an unnatural stillness, a straining, as if an unnecessary breath might cause the ship to miss the all important signal.
A rating, tightening something on a gas pipe, dropped a spanner, and it clanged on the metal grating of the deck. More than a dozen heads swivelled, and eyes glared accusingly.
Even the sonorous, dirge like chants of the tech-adepts seemed strangely muted, mechadendrites still in the recycled atmosphere.
Filters hummed, and readouts beeped, but no one spoke.
Across the whole of the ship, no one spoke.
Over thirty thousand souls aboard.
And none of them spoke.
The designated time passed. Five minutes more. Ten minutes.
The bridge officers felt the growing, palpable dread. The campaign hung by a thread. Not because the time for launch was important, but because not making that time meant that something had gone wrong. And the margin for error was so terribly, terribly thin.
Colefax rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. It had been a roll of the dice. Gambling the future of the Imperium on action, or inaction. Either way, a gamble. One that, it seemed, had failed.
Now none of the ship captains wanted to speak first. To speak would break the bubble of denial. Meant acknowledging the magnitude of the catastrophe they were witness to, and accepting that they would have to pass judgement on 22 billion men, women and children. A massacre by nuclear fire, to spare them the agonies of being consumed by the tyranids. And to spare the Imperium the agony of the onslaught of tyranids created from their gene-stock.
Time was now crucial for an entirely different reason.
If Lysander and Revinius failed, then the consumption of the entire planet's ecosystem was only a matter of time. That could not be allowed to occur, come what may. Allowing that would be conceding up to a full quarter of the Ultima Segmentum to the Devourer.
At twenty minutes, Colefax judged that they could wait no longer.
"Lieutenant Hawthorn, prepare message to the Divine Right. Request that all captains meet aboard her for coun..."
Hawthorn interrupted excitedly, startling the Twilight Hammer's captain into silence. Ears all over the bridge turned to the communications officer, as he spoke his piece.
"Sir, incoming broadspectrum communication from the Leonidas."
"Put it on screen, Lieutenant."
The starfield view from the main screen switched to the bridge of the marine strike cruiser. In comparison to the architecture that was standard throughout the navy, the sight was almost plain. At the very least, it was somewhat spartan, with emphasis apparently being placed on functionality over anything else. Decidedly unconventional as far as Imperial doctrine went. But the white lambda on black prominently emblazoned on the main bulkhead behind the captain clearly displayed the vessel's allegiance. The picture had a slightly ephemeral quality to it, and the image was a little blurry. It was a transmission, rather than an open channel.
"Imperial Fleet, this is the Leonidas. Standby to commence fleet action. Be aware single xeno-echo vessel is in system. Xeno ship will be deploying hardware to allow further xeno-echo vessels to arrive in theatre. 30 cruiser-equivalent or greater xeno-echo ships are anticipated arriving in our support. Standby for authentication code. Transmission repeats."
Colefax stared at the transmission as it went again. The ramifications... no. Stick to the orders. Safer that way. Easier that way.
"Lieutenant Hawthorn, forward authentication code to the command chair, if you would."
The man didn't respond verbally, but his hands moving over the controls to his front were his acknowledgment. The code came up on the display in the arm of his command chair.
Lambda 2 9 L Y 4 0 2
It was a match.
Colefax had had more than half a mind that it wouldn't be. Colefax had fought Eldar before. By fought, he actually ment tried to fight. As the saying went, one can just as soon try to catch the wind as to bring Eldar to battle.
But now they were coming to battle. Here. Alongside them. He pressed his ship-wide comms button on the arm of his chair.
"All stations, this is the Captain. Prepare for combat warp jump. Standby for time to jump."
It was as if someone had flicked a switch. Which, in many ways he had. The ship came to life around him. Officers reported their responsibilities' state of preparedness. Tech-adepts moved about flipping switches and exchanging information in the strange language of the Mechanicus.
And in the background was a rising hum as the warp engines were brought up to jump levels.
Hawthorn spoke again, voice projecting through and over the din.
"Recieving fleet-wide comms, sir."
The screen filled with the image of the Divine Right's bridge, her captain, Edoaurd Chanlin seated at its centre. There was a pause, doubtlessly while the comms-link was established with other ships.
"Does any captain not acknowledge the authenticity of the orders we have just received?"
Barely a second passed before Captain Jord's distinctively accented voice came over the comms.
"I refute these so called orders! Who is this man that executes our officers, and then consorts with xenos? And now he'd drag us into heresy with him!"
Colefax heard himself defending Lysander, and wondered how his voice could work on autopilot as it did...
"Whether you think what he did is justified or not, we cannot NOT follow. He has given us direction. If we don't follow, then we do nothing, or spend too long working on an alternative, and then we lose. Victory is commemorated, failure merely remembered, and I do not want to be remembered as being captain of a ship that stood by while the hope of the Imperium burned."
"That man is leading us to destruction. He is trusting Eldar. ELDAR! We all know better than that, surely. Eldar 'allies' who turn on us when the fighting is done. Eldar who attack at whim anywhere in the galaxy, only to vanish without a trace. These are the xenos that thatmurderer would have us defend, when an Imperial world and the whole Imperium itself, hangs in the balance."
"He is our commander. He can see what is happening there. And he has given us an order to..."
"He is only our commander because he MURDERED THE ADMIRAL!"
The image on the screen was still that of the Divine Right's bridge. The captain on it seemed moderately irritated by the goings on over his commnet. Colefax and Jord shouted at each other over the open comms, and the bridge crews of every ship in the fleet could hear them.
Colefax started to retort, when the Captain Chanlinpressed the mute button. The man waited until he judged that the two captains would have shut up, then spoke into the silence.
"Interesting as this discussion is, we haven't the time. Seeing as the pair of you are discussing the orders we received, well, I can see you both received them. Has anyone not?"
After a brief pause, the man went on.
"Regardless of what we all think of Brother-Captain Lysander's actions, his plan is what has been agreed on, and his judgement we have determined to be the best chance there is of maintaining the Imperium's control of this area of space. We will leave the rest up to the Inquisition. I will be submitting a full report, and one to the Admiralty also. Until then, he IS in command, and we will follow his orders."
He very obviously released the mute that was preventing Colefx and Jord from talking, before continuing.
"Are there any here who disagree with what I have so far said?"
"Very well. As such, under the Imperial Fleet Directive 445-N-609, M36, I am assuming command of the fleet by right of vessel pre-eminence. In Brother-Captain Lysander's absence, I will direct the fleet, and provide tactical control, in accordance with aforementioned directive. Do any here object to this course of action?"
A voice began over the comm, and he muted it.
"Thank you, Captain Jord, your objections will be noted in the log. I emphasise that that objection does not absolve you from carrying out your duty as a captain of the fleet. Anyone else?"
"Good. All captains prepare your vessels for warp jump. We depart in seven minutes. Be aware that the arrival zone may well be hostile. Chanlin out."
15 minutes later, and several light years distant, Bondsman-Captain Phillips watched the 41-ship
Imperial Fleet drop into warp, winking into existence with a silence that belied the colossal energies that were being released. The relief on board the Leonidas was keenly felt. With the Imperial fleet here, the Tyranids could be held until the Eldar arrived... then, outnumbered, the tyranids would be driven off.
"Eldar vessel, this is the Leonidas. Accompany fleet advance towards inner system. Deploy warp gate as planned. Please acknowledge."
The Eldar did more than that, with the strange ship broadcasting on open channel to the fleet, who heard its eerie voice speak through their systems. It almost sounded as if it was in their minds, rather than their ears.
"Humans of the Imperial Navy, this is the otIarstill, warship of the Halle Iesu craftworld. We are here tasked to prevent your loss of this system to the tyranids. We have judged that the fall of this planet would not be in Eldar interests."
There was a pause, no more than a heartbeat, then the almost musical voice carried on.
"The Leonidas has instructed us to shadow your advance, and then deploy our warp gate. We intend to comply. The deployment of the warp gate will allow further Eldar starships to arrive, and conduct orbital insertion operations in assistance of human soldiers on the planet's surface."
Another two beats, the ship pausing to allow the slower human minds to process the words.
"It would suit neither the Eldar nor the Imperium to engage in hostilities. The future holds on a knife edge, and all are crucial here and now. Time waits for none, and brings oblivion closer."
Captain Chanlin prepared to respond, weighing his words as he balanced the galaxy on his answer. He opened his mouth, but was cut off by his sensor operator.
"Sir, we are reading multiple warp signatures, different vectors, all across the system."
Seconds ticked by as the man's fingers danced over the control panel.
"Ten tyra... fifteen. Thirty. Forty. Forty seven tyranid bioships have entered the system, sir." The repressed panic was evident in hs voice.
"Tyranid fleet elements are plotting an intercept course."
Chanlin was aghast. Forty seven additional tyranid bioships, now totalling over eighty tyranid heavy ships in-system, to 41 Navy and 2 Marine ships, barely half of them cruisers or greater. One of his bridge officers breathed out his words, horror leaking from his voice.
"By the Emperor, eighty three bioships. How in the Emperor's name..."
The question died unsaid, but no unheard. But Captain Chanlin had his opening. The sliver of hope amidst the despair.
"Yes, lieutenant. In the Emperor's name."
Chanlin's tone changed, steel sliding in where none had been, eyes locked on the sensor screen, red lights flickering with suppressed malice.
"Signal the fleet. All hands to battlestations. Every man is to do his duty. His will be done. Stand firm in that knowledge. Now, and forever, His will be done."
Footnote (from Human-Eldar reproduction comparison).
98,516,241,848,729,600, if you want to be precise... 60 year life expectancy, 4 offspring surviving to reproduce per couple and 20 years per generation, further assuming gender parity. At 50 generations for 1000 years, well, that's what the maths say... Figured the parameters sounded right for an Imperial Hive World... I was pretty staggered when I crunched the numbers all the way...