Thank you for waiting, and here is the next chapter and the end of Arc 2.
We will now be returning to Arc 3 after an intermission... which will be made up of episodic chapters involving how the Zerg are setting up shop around the galaxy.
I am sure there will be many questions asked about the ending of this chapter and what happened to Anubis the Patriarch, and what's up with the Silent One?, what's with the Farseer?, and will Judanus be returning?
These questions must wait so that they can be unspooled at the right time.
Some hints though... Anubis does not die, and he will return. Silent One is a major plot point later on. The Farseer will also play a major part in dealing with the Eldar. Finally, Judanus Subplot will surprise you all.
Overmind vs Eldar
Giant burning feet scorched the very ground they stepped on. Drips of blood both real and ethereal at the same time dripped to the ground, leaving a trail of gore that seemed to contain infinite sadness.
-I know of you.-
Overmind smirked as he eyed his newest opponent. The very presence of its enormous presence gave remaining Eldar strength to fight again while the Zerg, instinctively psionic creature by nature, cowered a little.
-The Bloody Handed God of the Eldar...-
The great blade sang its sorrowful and fearsome whistle and the aura of immolation shook the very reality around it. Seeing the being striding forward to meet him, the Overmind also drew from the well of his power. The Hybrid Destroyer form convulsed and grew to match the size of his opponent, its glowing flesh darkening and turning solid in places.
"I AM KAELA MENSHA KHAINE~! I WALK AGAIN!"
The Avatar of Khaine roared as its flames spewed from between the thick iron plates that formed his golem-like body.
-Come then, Khaine! Let me taste your fiery blood! Let me chew upon your metallic flesh! Let me savor your undying god-soul!-
The claws glowing in deep purple energy extended, the tentacles swirled around in their own nimbus of destruction. The Overmind knew that this was a dangerous fight. Though even if the Avatar of Khaine wins the fight and slay this body, the Overmind would not be seriously hurt. It would be no more than getting some nasty paper cut, but it would have serious repercussions to the Zerg on the planet and surrounding space that are fully ready to swallow the entire Riax Sector in a single bite. The impact of Overmind's own avatar being destroyed by a powerful psychic manifestament such as Khaine was something very serious.
The Eldar got back up. Their number dwindled but their resolve was renewed and set aflame. Only the wounded Exarch Ahrae Zir and his lover Farseer Seyeris remained unmoving, only their gaze following the battle-to-be. Even as the battle resumed around them, a Hybrid Reaver charged at the Avatar of Khaine. It was the will of the Overmind to see what that Avatar was capable of.
Two swift strokes of Reaver's attacks were blocked so easily by Khaine, and the Overmind was surprised at the speed of its reaction despite the size and composition of its iron flesh. Then the Wailing Doom struck. The Reaver screamed as the burning blade of a god struck down its shield with but a single stroke, and it was no easy feat even if the Reaver had handled many Eldar before this. Then the powerful weapon of the Eldar god struck again, this time, the Reaver bled. A large gash appeared across its body and blood exploded from the wound before the wound was cauterized. Yet, the burning fire that cauterized the wound did not stop. It kept eating into the Reaver's flesh. Tentacles flew and struck the Avatar, and Khaine stumbled a little but unfazed. The Eldar god roared and from its mouth came a torrent of sizzling air hot enough to fry a man. Indeed, it was enough to temporarily blind the Reaver before the Wailing Doom skewered its brain from under its jaw.
What surprised the Overmind wasn't that the Reaver was defeated, but that the soul of the Reaver did not return to Overmind as hole. It returned fragmented and charred and twisted, as if the flames that wreathed around the Avatar burned more than flesh and bones. The Essense immolated on the spot, fueling the Avatar further. The Overmind growled.
-Impressive feat, Khaine, but I am GREATER!-
With a focus of his will, the Overmind sent forth a torrent of psionic pulse translated into spatial distortion. It was similar in principle with Phase Disruptor of the Protoss, albeit highly focused due to its organic origin. Khaine was no easy picnic. Screaming incoherently, the dead god of Eldar slammed his right foot into the ground, and the ground exploded upward and volcanic walls of stone and lava shot up and formed a blockade that shattered against the Overmind's attack.
"KHAINE'S ENEMIES WILL PAY WITH THEIR LIVES~!"
Khaine made a great leap at the Overmind, jumping over the exploding stone wall and landing right in front of the Overmind's avatar. The two avatars of greater beings stood face to face for a single moment, and in that moment their minds collided in a destructive storm of rage and hunger, neither giving an inch. The empty left hand of Khaine curled up into a fist and slammed into the side of the Overmind's face, and at the same time the four of the tentacles of the Overmind's back crashed into the chest of Khaine. Both god-like beings were flung apart, Overmind to the side and Khaine backwards.
They stood back up, and charged at each other. Two swipes of tentacles were blocked by the Wailing Doom, the Warp Blade sheathing the tentacles crackling against the god's weapon. The Wailing Doom quickly followed its parry with a devastating thrust, against which the Zerg's own god responded by formed a large ball of psionic lightning that sent forward such immense and intense electromagnetic pulse that even the Bloody Handed God was pushed back along with its sword. Then the Overmind shot that bolt of lightning at the Eldar god, shattering several pieces of its glowing iron flesh.
Khaine did not hesitate to retaliate. A swing of its sword sent a wave of intense heat that burned at the flaring shield of the Overmind's body, then the next swing brought forth a wave of lava sprayed at such velocity that it may well have been rains of cannon shells. The Overmind took three steps back in the aftershock of his enemy's attack, but he did not falter. Launching himself forward once more the Overmind slashed at Khaine with such speed and ferocity that the Eldar God of War blocked all but two such attacks. The energy of the Void encasing his talons made short work of a large chunk of Khaine's chest and his shoulder armor. Khaine fought back by punching his sword hand into the face of the Overmind, the guard his sword meeting the Overmind's face first. The shield flared but the physical impact aside, the psychic attack was enough to make the Overmind step back once more.
Khaine sought to strike at the Overmind once more, but this time, the Overmind managed to grab Khaine by his wrist as the blade came down and bit into the left shoulder of the Overmind, bypassing the shield as if it was nothing. The blood boiled and flesh charred, yet the Overmind was the lord and master of the Zerg, and his will was that of a god. Still holding the right wrist of Khaine, the Overmind's right hand grabbed Khaine's face and tackled the Eldar god's leg. Then using that momentum, the Zerg god shoved the Eldar god into the ground with such impact that the Zerglings and Eldar corpses scattered into an explosive burst.
Still, the Eldar god was no stranger to martial arts. While the Overmind had used something akin to human martial arts, the Eldar god was a master of its own martial arts. Even as the Overmind lifted Khaine's face up to slam it down again, the Eldar god kneed the Overmind, sending the Avatar of the Overmind sprawling across the mountainside. Instantly, four tentacles tried to spear the god, but Khaine was already back on its feet and slashing at the tentacles, clashing against the Warp Blades and managing to cut off one tentacle. The Overmind was not ready to give up because it became a brawl. He launched his body into the belly of Khaine, sending both down on to the ground with a massive thud that destroyed the damaged form of a Shuriken Cannon platform.
Both god-like beings punched, kicked and bit to victory. Yet, the true battle was that of psionic versus psychic, and the psionic, being both purer and concentrated in nature, won out. The Overmind's right claw dug deep into Khaine's chest even with the Wailing Doom having pierced his belly. Sharp teeth of the Overmind's avatar then took a large chunk out from the side of Khaine's neck.
With that last word from Khaine's avatar, the Overmind's mouth opened and fired a concentrated burst of Phase Disruptor, shattering Khaine's head shattered like a jar of broken glass. Victorious, the Overmind was weary and his avatar was so gravely wounded that even a single Wraithlord could easily finish off his avatar. Indeed, damages suffered from the Wailing Doom severed many strands of connection between the Overmind and his avatar, and he could barely control its grievously damaged form.
-I will savor your soul, Avatar of Khaine!-
"No, I think not."
The Overmind's massive body was flung aside by an immense psychic impact. Farseer Seyeris had formed a nimbus of great psychic power around herself.
-How? You were exhausted.-
"So are you. Your form has been so greatly weakened that I can slay you right here at the cost of my own demise. We are the Eldar, we will not be defeated by a butcher like you!"
With that, she flung another bolt of telekinetic burst that imploded upon contacting the Overmind's left leg.
-Argh! You dare, little bitch!-
Angry roar was followed by a retaliatory bolt of Phase Disruptor, destroying the ground around Seyeris, yet she was untouched. Her body crackled in a nimbus of psychic power so intense as to shred the very space around her.
-How? You cannot muster such powers by your own soul... Ah... Your kinsmen sacrificed themselves.-
The Overmind could now see a dozen Spirit Stones floating round above her head, and in his vision he could see the souls inside them being used up like fuel.
-It is not enough to stop me or my children.-
Indeed, a fresh wave of Zerg creatures were climbing the mountain even as they spoke. Seyeris chuckled as she waved at the Zerg and they were torn into pieces by such overwhelming telekinesis.
"I can certainly buy enough time to recover our Avatar of Khaine and finish you off."
Few surviving Dire Avengers carried near-unconscious form of their Exarch and the shard of Khaine from the fallen form of the Avatar. They took with them as many Spirit Stones with them even as they disappeared into the ancient temple. Still, the Farseer stopped the Overmind from interfering.
-You are down to your last two Spirit Stones to burn, Farseer. You will be powerless against me the moment you use up the last one.-
"Already most of my kin have entered the safety of the temple."
-Do you think that the temple will protect them against me?-
"It's not really a temple."
Then there was a flash of light that shot out from the top of the temple into the space above. The Overmind could feel the Eldar ships above, hiding from his vision, but their presence in the Warp felt like tiny sparkles in thick mud.
-You have sent them away. Clever... but my Zerg will chase your ships.-
"Not before I destroy you."
The two last Spirit Stone burned. The price was paid. Souls of two Eldar had been sacrificed. The avatar of the Overmind screamed as its flesh was picked up into the air and pulled out to all direction. The creature exploded in a massive shower of psionic energy and physical gore. The impact was such that the Eldar temple shattered as if made of glass, and Seyeris fell unconscious and did not notice the gentle rain of pure psionic energy blanketing her. Yet, before the Eldar ships above could do anything, more Zerg came. Devourers and Corruptors were coming right behind swarms of Mutalisks. The Eldar ships fled, their vessels disappearing into puffs of illusion.
New Char - Zerg Homeworld – Overmind's Nest
The Overmind groaned as the connection to his avatar was severed in such violent manner. Although the amount of consciousness poured into the avatar was but a tiny fraction of the whole, the very impact of the avatar's death was an immense impact. For a moment, he had lost all connection to the Zerg near the detonation point. Had he invested more of himself into the avatar the impact could easily have been planet-wide.
-At least I know what to expect from an Avatar of Khaine. I nearly lost the battle. Two more strikes of that sword would have severed all my connection to my own avatar... and the result would still be a devastating destruction of that body.-
His focus resumed to reconnect with the Zerg creatures near the battlefield. They had become utterly feral for a few minutes as all connection to the Overmind was severed for them as well. The level of impact was magnitudes greater than when a Patriarch or Matriarch dies, and perhaps greater even than when a Hierarch dies.
-My beloved children... now must... Wait... Is that... The Farseer... she lives.-
The Overmind paused. Then he chuckled darkly.
-Now I think I can do something fun with her. Children, recover her. Keep her sedated and bring her to Hepsilon Sextus. I think Hargen could use a good female companion for a while.-
Zerg vs Imperials
Planetary Capital – Rugale Fortress
It had been over three days, and the fortress held strong. Though the cost of defense had been significant, the walls were impregnable while the guns of the defenders forced the Zerg back with their relentless shooting. Yet, the Zerg were as relentless in their assault too. With their numbers continuing to swell from the Nydus Worms that crept closer each day, Volran did not allow the humans to rest. The battle literally lasted three days and nights, no minute without the sound of gunfire.
Volran knew very well that the fortress would not run out of munitions anytime soon. Even with over 70 hours of endless combat, the manufacturing capability within the walls was enough to fulfill the need of the guns. Volran was not aiming for that. He also knew that there were enough Imperial Guards and the Planetary Defense Force to man that walls even with the cost of nearly six thousand men a day. The waves of Hydralisk spines, Baneling bombardments from the precious few Banelords that brought up the rear of the Zerg army, and the entire fields of Zerlings climbing the wall were enough to cause such damage to enemy's manpower, but Volran knew that it was nowhere enough to break the will of the enemy.
No, he wasn't looking for any of that. Instead, he was looking for the most basic engineering fault. Then in the morning of the third day, the first sign of fatigue began to show among the guns and cannons of the humans. It was true that the Imperium utilized such weapons so sturdy that they could fall into water and roll in the sand and yet work perfectly. It was also true that they could see constant action over a week and still no problem would come. Some weaker weapons such as Lasguns may require barrel exchange after a while, but weapons such as Earthshaker Cannons, Heavy Bolters and other heavy weapons were made of resilient materials. However, not even these weapons could face the rigor of over 70 hours of continued use. If they had rests and breaks in between, they would have lasted many more days without concern. The Zerg did not give such chance.
First ones to fail were the quad-Heavy Stubbers set upon the Saber Defense Platforms. Installed on the lowest level of the wall's open defense area, these guns complimented the Autocannons, Heavy Bolters and Lascannons on the same level. Numbering in the ratio of 4-to-1 for each of other heavy weapons, the Heavy Stubbers numbered nearly two hundred. However, as their barrels glowed beyond the ability of its metal content to withstand, they began to fail. Not only that, the sheer temperature within the gun caused the munitions to explode. Unlike the Heavy Bolters which had sophisticated technological lock against such overheating, these Heavy Stubbers were primitive weapons, and one by one, they failed.
Then as the battle continued well into the fourth day, the Autocannons began to fail, not because the overheated barrels but because of the ammunition that exploded within the barrels. Had these shells been in good conditions or made with superior materials and technology, they would not have failed. Yet, these stored munitions had been of inferior quality. Although the shell's damage power was within acceptable perimeters and the range of the shells were enough to barely be accepted, they weren't designed to be used in a battle that kept on going straight through over 80 hours.
Around 95 hour mark, the first Lascannons and Heavy Bolters began to fail, although such things were rare in sight. Only the weapons brought to the planet by the Imperial reinforcements were strong enough to withstand the rigors of the continuous battle while the planet's own manufactured weapons were of less resilience. Then, as the massive moat that circled the fortress' exterior began to overflow with the dead bodies of the Zerg, one of the Earthshaker Cannons located deep within the walls exploded.
The Imperial defenders had placed twenty five Earthshaker Cannons within the walls deep enough to defend the cannons against enemy artillery while keeping enough firing range against the enemies. Divided into five groups of five cannons, they served as much needed fire support against the Zerg. Only weapons that guaranteed kills against Ultralisks were the heavy artillery, as Lascannons were too busy shooting down Hydralisks and Roaches to focus enough fire upon the lumbering beasts. When there were lone Ultraliaks, the job fell to the twelve Manticore Batteries or the eighteen Medusa Siege Tanks. However, as the moat began to fill more and more with dead Zerg, the Swarm began direct assault against the main gate using groups of Ultralisks. They had to be taken out with Earthshaker Cannons.
Now, if there had been no other variable, the battle would have continued on in this manner. Unfortunately for the Imperials, by the 76th hour, the Inquisitor and his commanders agreed to turn all the orbital weapons satellites to turn their guns on the Zerg fleet now heading toward the planet instead of facing the planet. When the commanders of the Imperial forces received the news of their fleet's defeat, it came as a massive surprise and an alarm. They now realized that the Zerg infestation was not localized. The encroachment of the Zerg had been silent and hidden, and only now they had revealed themselves. Decisions were made, and now time became a factor.
"We must take the fight to the enemy. I have located their leader. I have fought him, and I sense him. He is vulnerable now more than ever," said the Epistolary Harax as he gripped the Force Axe in his hand.
"It's lucky that our forces have turned back. Our reports suggest almost thirty Baneblades still remain in service and they are pushing through enemy blockade. This has split their forces," spoke Hadrian as he rubbed his chin, scratching the thin beard he had grown in the last few days when there weren't enough leisure to shave. "I cannot see any other way, but to retreat from this world. This world is lost."
"You give up too easily, Inquisitor, but even I think this is a lost cause..." agreed the Veteran Brother-Sergeant Ser Henri de Arignon of the Crimson Knights.
"I do no like turning tail against such enemies," growled Chaplain Matoras, but he too realized the futility of the battle, "Is there anything we can do? We have so many men!"
There was a silent, unspoken gloom in the command center of the fortress.
"As our guns are weakened and failing, the casualty rate has risen to nearly thirty thousand each day," explained Cyrus, "This rate is going to rise steeply, and even then we shall be forced to the inner sanctum within the week."
Henri slammed his fist on to the table.
"A week is good! A week will give our men to withdraw completely from the front, and..." roared the Crimson Knight, but his voice lacked conviction.
"You know that our main forces have been sandwiched between the blockading Zerg and the Zerg from the front. We are layered now. The blockading Zerg are trapped between the fortress and our main force, while our main force is trapped between the two Zerg forces. The only difference is that we are on the defensive, and they number in the millions," rebuked Cyrus, and all deferred to his cold and calculated assessment of the situation.
Hadrian turned to the silent member among them.
"Captain Titus, what is your opinion in this?"
Sitting in the shadows, Titus had been meditating deeply, running through scores of scenarios he could have run this battlefield. Then he shook his head.
"I have been pondering," whispered Titus in tired voice, "and I cannot see any scenario that we can win. We had been within an elaborate and deadly trap long before we had arrived. I do not know how, but everything we have seen and heard and experienced here... was a trap of massive scale."
"Then what do you suggest?" asked the Inquisitor.
"I agree with Epistolary Harax. Taking out their leader would give pause to the Zerg, and with that, we can perhaps purchase precious time to evacuate," answered Titus.
"You realized that we do not have enough ships to evacuate the whole planet. There are some civilian ships but they won't be enough to take up the millions of civilians," said Matoras.
"We save what we can. This is a campaign, not a single battle. We must look at long term perspectives of this war. Every soldier out there is a veteran of this Zerg War, and they will be extremely valuable," muttered Titus his gaze darkening at his own words, "when the war comes to the heart of the Imperium itself."
There was a silence, and silent nods. All of them were Space Marines, and an Inquisitor. They knew to sacrifice the lives of civilians and Guardsmen to save the important things. The value of a human life was very little when it came to this kind of decision.
"Then it is decided... We shall save what we can... meanwhile, we need to take out their leader," concluded the Inquisitor.
"I shall prepare what remains of my Terminators, given how rest of our Chapter's forces here are with the main army," added Henri.
"This cannot be done with large number of men. That will draw too much attention. We need to strike fast and with a small but elite force," said Cyrus, "I have four of Crimson Knights' Scouts who are now well-versed in fighting these creatures. They will be of help with sniper fire."
"This could be dangerous for such lightly armored forces..." muttered Matoras.
"We do not have any more Space Marines to spare, Chaplain."
"You are correct in that, Sergeant Cyrus, but I cannot help but feel the unease of all this," replied Matoras bitterly.
Volran vs Space Marines
Supply Depot Haygal
It began to rain, and soon it became a storm. It was a lucky weather, or was it because of the immense psychic spell cast by the Inquisitor? In any case, it was enough to halt the Zerg from crossing the moat to the fortress. It was also enough for the handful of the Emperor's Finest to fly over the Zerg blockade. Two Thunderhawks and four Valkyries exploded out from the black clouds before heading west.
"There... I see him in my mind's eyes," growled Harax, for his hatred for the Zerg commander was great indeed.
"Calm yourself, Librarian. We cannot make a mistake here," chided Titus even as he checked himself one last time.
Titus and Harax were clad in Terminator Armor on loan from the Crimson Knights, taken from the fallen Terminators and painted in the colors of the Deathwatch. Indeed, this was the first time that Titus finally donned an armor in that black and silver color.
"What I do not understand is why you would want to clad yourself in such bulky armor when you know your enemy's claws will cut through you as easily, while their speed is not something you can ignore," muttered Matoras as he twisted his neck as a stretch.
"The agility is what we need you for, Chaplain. Rest of us will force the creature into a corner and take the brunt of the attack," answered Titus.
"Here we go!" shouted Harax as the vessel descended.
They had landed not far from the Train Depot Haygal, where the enemy leader was detected. The rain was terrible as the storm became larger and larger, spanning across the continent.
Captain Titus and Epistolary Harax in Terminator Armor were followed by Chaplain Matoras and four Scouts led by Sergeant Cyrus. The other team was Sergeant Henri de Arignon and five Terminators, two of whom were Assault Terminators. They also had the support of a full squad of Catachans and a full squad of Stormtroopers, tasked to aid the Space Marines in killing the enemy leader.
Carefully, they had made their way into the ruined and broken place. In such short time, the Zerg had utterly shattered the train depot and covered much of it in Creep and other Zerg biomass. Still, they moved on, and on the way, Sergeant Cyrus and his Scouts melted into the shadows and disappeared. All knew that they were going to set up good sniping positions.
"Stop!" gestured Titus into his communications port, and everyone stopped, "Librarian?"
"He is here... in the heart of the complex, and there are other creatures... but few."
"Alright... spread out."
It was not night yet, but the sun was waning, and the dark storm clouds above did not help with the lighting. Still, such trivialities mattered little to the Space Marines and their keen eyesight aided by the Power Armor's sensors. Amid the darkness, the half-ruined structures felt eerie as much as the abandoned trains that now sat silently in their rusting tracks.
"I see him. I see him now..." Harax growled.
Titus turned the corner and he saw the humanoid Zerg. Titus knew that this was a trap or at least a brazen arrogance on the part of his enemy.
"Welcome, Space Marines."
"So, you have been expecting us," answered Titus as he stepped forward with Harax to his left and the squad of Stormtroopers behind him.
"Indeed. I have felt your presence as your vessels landed nearby. Honestly, I didn't think you had such peace of mind to attempt such bold attack when you are so harassed by my forces," chuckled the Zerg commander.
"This is a trap then?"
"Oh, no~! If it was a trap, then you and your friends would have died without even seeing my shadows. This is a fight... a fight I longed for..." replied the Zerg leader before he shook his head, "Where are my manners? I am Volran, the Lord of this group of Zerg. One among many."
"I am Captain Titus of... the Deathwatch. I will bring Emperor's Justice upon your foul xeno soul today!"
Volran stood up from his throne of bones and flesh, and stretched himself out. Titus narrowed his eyes behind the helmet of the Terminator Armor as the chair that his enemy had seated himself began to unfold. Like giant snakes uncoiling, two Hunter Killers unfurled themselves into guarding position. Stormtroopers spread out, taking their own positions behind rubble that rose to their waist. Titus and Harax gripped their weapons tighter as Volran and his Hunter Killers standing on top of the mount of rubble and human corpses began to move. Then more Zerg came out from among the ruined structures, fallen walls and destroyed vehicles.
"Come, Space Marines... We shall have a great fight!"
Zerglings and Roaches exploded from the ground, and Hydralisks came out from behind charred form of destroyed Chimeras. Terminators of the Crimson Knights, who had gone around to attack Volran's rear were immediately beset by the Zerg, and they fought with everything they had. Catachans that assailed the left flank along with Chaplain Matoras sought to punch their way to Volran, only to be stymied by Roaches and Hydralisks. Stormtroopers behind Harax and Titus fired their powerful guns while the sniper fire from Cyrus' squad took out Hydralisks coming from the right flank of the battle.
Within that chaotic battlefield, Captain Titus and Epistolary Harax called for a challenge.
Harax was the first one to strike, sending forth a torrent of bolter fire from his Master-Crafted Stormbolter, only to have the bolt rounds to shatter against the skin-tight shields of Hunter Killers that blocked the path to their masters. Hunter Killers replied to the attack by sending a wave of psionically charged spines wreathed in bright purple flames. Yet, the Librarian was not an easy target. His eyes glowed and a wall of telekinetic force exploded into existence, bouncing off the spines before Harax reached at the Hunter Killer to Volran's left with his Force Axe.
Laden with his psychic power and protected by the energy field of a Power Weapon technology, the Force Axe should have sliced through the Hunter Killer with ease, but the shield surrounding the elite Zerg creature was too powerful. Sparks and great flashes grew from the two strikes with the Force Axe. The Hunter Killer reared up and slashed down with its claw, its edge glistening in purple energy. The thick materials of the Terminator Armor could not fend off such attack without damage. Though the much more powerful energy pack and the polarization matrix protected the thick armor plates against such attacks, it wasn't enough. The toughened layer of adamantium, ceramite and plasteel could not hold against the molecule-disrupting power of the Warp Blade.
It was only the skill and experience of the Space Marine Librarian that saved his from having his left shoulder sheared off. It drew a little blood but it was literally a scratch. In return, the Librarian fired off a blast of bolt rounds into the creature's chest, forcing the creature back as the shield ran out and little blood and bones exploded out from the chest as the carapace caved, but not broken. Indeed, a Hunter Killer was a tougher creature than Hydralisks by far. Bleeding but still breathing, the creature used its right claw to pierce the open face of the Librarian even as the Force Axe flew toward the Hunter Killer's side. The Iron Halo and focused psychic power met the pointy end of the claw and they held in the air for a moment before the disciplined will of the Librarian broke the creature. The end half of the creature's right claw exploded into shards as the will of the Librarian manifested itself into powerful telekinesis that exploited the strain it felt against the energy field of the Iron Halo.
Titus also faced a Hunter Killer. The other Hunter Killer came upon Titus fast. However, the Hunter Killer underestimated Titus and went in for a melee combat. With a Master-Crafted Power Sword slamming into its face, the Hunter Killer was knocked aside though its shield protect the head from shattering into pieces. Resilient, the Hunter Killer roared and sought to charge Titus once more, this time slashing at him with its claws only to be blocked by the crackling Power Sword, then Titus fired his Plasma Pistol into the creature's belly, sending it back screaming. It was in that moment that a third Space Marine joined the fray. Veteran Brother-Sergeant Ser Henri de Arignon the Marquis of Ceaux had finished off the three Hydralisks that ambushed him and came to aid his Deathwatch brothers. Armed with a Thunder Hammer and his legendary Power Fist, this Terminator Sergeant relived his Assault Terminator days once more, and pounded at the Hunter Killer.
Now it was Volran and Titus, face to face, as the Zerg commander looked down from his high place to Titus in Terminator Armor.
"Impressive, Space Marines... quite..."
Titus did not imagine the strength and power of this creature. Had he done so, he would not have been so prideful in his steps. Volran moved so incredibly fast for a creature as big as Titus clad in Terminator Armor, and kicked Titus solidly in the chest. Titus felt every ounce of that impact, and he was flung back. Depite the seemingly lack of weapons, the Zerg commander had such strength, speed and other ungodly powers. Bolts of plasma were dissipated even as Volran and Titus neared each other once more, this time the Power Sword striking the creature in the chest, flaring the defiant shield with the stroke. Then the clawed hand dug into the armor plating of the Terminator Armor, shredding the metal until Titus knocked aside that hand.
What Titus did not realize was that Volran was the Lord of Ultralisks, and his combat relied on his brute strength more than anything. The other hand shot forth and grabbed Titus by his helmet. Titus tried to resist and struck the creature with his Power Sword. Ignoring the flaring shield, Volran lifted Titus up. The enormity of Volran's strength was felt by Titus and more so when the Zerg commander threw Titus to the side. The Terminator Armor crashed into the side of a ruined Manticore Tank, further ruining the destroyed vehicle. Titus lost consciousness for a few seconds and he realized that his helmet had been ripped out. Even from the distance, he could see Volran crunching up the torn-out helmet.
"You are strong, but not strong enough. I shall show you strength!" shouted Volran with an evil sneer.
Yet, that sneer did not last long as Henri buried his Thunder Hammer into the back of Volran's right knee, sending the Zerg command to kneel.
"Your strength lies false, xeno!" roared the Crimson Knight as he sought to pulverize the head of Volran.
"Worm! Truly pitiful is your attempt!"
A storm of lightning exploded as Volran's palm grasp the head of the Thunder Hammer, and the two weapons dueled desperately. The sharpened chitinous claws cracked and splintered even as the adamantium alloy that made up the hammer's head began to warp. Henri's Power Fist came down in trying to break the stalemate, only to be caught by the other hand. Suddenly, muscles of Volran's already thick arms began to pulsate and pump up, and it was only moments later that Henri found himself flying in his Terminator Armor and crashed into a Hydralisk and a Zergling, killing both of lesser Zerg creatures.
Still, Volran did not have the time to react to yet a third attacker. Harax the Dark Angel Librarian sent forth a bolt of crackling lightning that exploded upon the body of Volran and it would have rent his flesh apart had it not been for the powerful shield. Harax did not relent. He sent another bolt of Smite, this time forcing Volran back a step.
"I call upon the Might of the Ancients!" roared Harax, his words forming a spell as well as his declaration of will.
Psychic energy pooled into his muscles and its cells were saturated with wholesome energy that fed them incredible strength. With that strength, the Librarian leaped at Volran, hitting him squarely in the chest with the Force Axe before kicking the Zerg commander in the belly, sending the creature sprawling down the mound. Harax should have continued his assault, but his habit of guarding his mind against the perils of the Warp before casting another psychic powers held him back, and it was those precious few seconds that Volran needed to use his own supernatural powers.
From his maw shot forth a ball of bright white light that struck Harax in the chest and sent the Space Marine flying back. Volran opened his mouth yet again, and his fangs glowed in energy before pooling that energy into a single ball of pure energy that seemed to resonate with the very space around it. The Zerg was about fire this weapon when he was struck from behind by bolts of plasma followed by a thrust of a Power Sword. The shield flared for a moment before the blade went through, getting stuck in the thick armored carapace. The depletion of shield was alarming enough, but the impact of that back stab was enough to send Volran rolling on the ground.
"I am no easy to kill," said Titus as he launched himself at Volran once more.
Lying on his back, Volran blocked two strikes of the Power Sword with his arm, letting the thickly formed carapace laced with psionic energy block that deadly blade. Still, he bled, and Volran did not like it. He roared at Titus, sending a powerful sonic blast that deafened the surrounding and giving the Ultramarine a pause. Getting back on his feet, Volran sought to tear out Titus' face only to have his right wrist grasped by the Power Fist of Henri. The legendary weapon 'Claws of Salastos' had such strong servos and motors that even the impossibly thick and tough bones and carapace of Volran's avatar began to crack. Alarmed, Volran gathered up psionic power in his mouth to blast Henri with it. Yet again, he was thwarted as a whip of telekinesis wrapped around Volran's neck and choked him.
Attack came immediately. Titus' Power Sword was driven deep into Volran's belly, while Henri hammered at Volran's right shoulder joint, and Harax issued forth incredibly destructive lightning through that telekinetic leash around Volran's neck. It would have been the end if Volran had been any weaker. With a roar so terrible, Volran unfolded his Kaiser Blade wings and his muscles tensed up. His free left hand grabbed at Titus' right wrist that held the sword, then he squeezed. Titus could not help screaming as his wrist was crushed. Actual bones were merely bruised but the armor was broken, and as a testament to Volran's strength, Titus was flung to the side and collided with Harax as the Librarian stood immobile to keep his hold on Volran. With two of his opponents temporarily disabled, Volran turned to Henri who broke the Zerg's chest carapace with another well-struck hammering.
Impact was powerful but not enough to incapacitate the mighty Lord of Ultralisks. Though he coughed up dark blood, Volran was not so easy to kill. He grabbed at the thick power cable that fed the Thunder Hammer with energy and tore it out. Henri barely had time to retreat before the cable was pulled out. Another three bursts Resonance Cascade send Henri's body sprawling down the mound with severe injuries to chest and abdomen.
Volran turned to Titus who stood up again but was shaken.
"You Space Marines are surely great warriors. I had heard of your kind when I was but babe, and I used to so dream to be one of you... and thus I was made warrior but now... I surpass you, Captain Titus."
"You speak as if you were human, yet I see only a xeno."
"You know nothing of me, Titus. You think I stand here in my loathing for humanity? I assure you, I am human, much more than you would ever be... You are but mutilated and deformed abhuman with simply more use than an Ogryn."
"How dare you insult the greatest warriors ever made? We are the scions of the Emperor and we are his Finest!"
"Is that so, Titus? I have yet to see the best of you. If you are the best that humanity can throw at us, this galaxy is already our... Argh!"
Volran could not finish his words when he was suddenly skewered by a large pole with a Commissar-issue Power Sword strapped to its end.
"What? What is this?"
Before Volran could turn to see his new enemy, the new enemy was upon him. A Hydralisk claw, severed at his joint, was sunk deep into the collarbone of Volran's body, crunching through the bone and flesh.
Volran violently spewed blood up before a Space Marine appeared, clad in Crimson Knight's armor soaked in Zerg blood. The Space Marine silently cut off Volran's right arm with a sword that seemed to be made up of an Ultralisk's secondary Kaiser Blades.
Violence exploded all around them, renewing the fires combat. Only the Scouts under Cyrus and the Terminators had survived, and with Chaplain Matoras already in coma after he was cut down by six Hydralisks. What Titus saw were thirty or so soldiers of Imperium all covered in dried blood of Zerg and clad in tattered and broken pieces of armor and Zerg carapace. They came rushing in, taking out the Zerg with such ease and expertise that even Titus was surprised to see. He saw Cyrus too. Cyrus and one of his Scouts were dragging unconscious form of Matoras to safety, and Titus could see that even Cyrus was wounded, no doubt from trying to save Matoras. Titus then realized who it was that dealt such blows to the powerful Zerg creature. It was the Silent One, the Chapter Ancient of the Crimson Knights whose mysterious crimes would force his own chapter to abandon search
"What are you? You are..."
The Silent One did not speak. He simply cut down Volran. Volran resisted but the Silent One seemed to read much of the Zerg's moves as if he was greatly experienced combating the Zerg. Volran made a final strike, firing another bolt of Resonance Cascade at the Silent One, who rolled to the side and easily evaded the attack.
"Impossible... Impossible..." muttered Volran his mind too stunned, then twinkle in his eyes returned, "I see... So... The plot thickens... You could have told me... and I would have played along... my master..."
Then Volran suddenly gathered another Resonance Cascade, bigger this time. Silent One was ready for it, with a lightning quick movements, he stuffed something into Volran's throat. Surprised Zerg commander widened his eyes before his head exploded.
That was not the only explosion, however. The moment after the head was gone, the rest of Volran's body began to glow. The Silent One and the soldiers he brought began to drag any Imperial survivors away, even as the Zerg around them began screaming and shook as if suffering from seizures.
Then came the explosion.
Like a giant firework, Volran's body exploded and the psionic impact sent everyone flying, and some of the broken pieces of vehicles were flung into the air.
Titus remembered little after that, and he was only vaguely aware as he was loaded on to what he surmised was the Thunderhawk that carried him and his brothers.
High Orbit - Argol II
The evacuation was a hurried affair.
So few were the remaining fleet elements that the Inquisitor Hadrian could not help but save military assets first. Baneblades and rest of the armored divisions were loaded up while the Crimson Knights aided in evacuating as many Imperial Guardsmen they could, elite elements first of course. After as many veterans were saved, civilians were given the chance to leave, and Hadrian had made a painful but necessary decision to cut off certain people. Anyone aged 40 and over were discarded from evacuation, and any cripple or diseased elements were also not allowed board any of the evacuating ships.
By the time they were ready, the Inquisitorial Blackship 'Boundless Hate' and the Crimson Knight Strike Cruiser 'Paladin's Blade' were the only two main battle ships while the escorts and twenty six civilian ships were almost useless in combat despite the large array of weapons they had carried.
"Inquisitor..." whispered the Crimson Knight Epistolary Kolonnes as he opened his eyes.
"I sense it too... it is lucky perhaps..." answered Hadrian as he too came out from meditation, "How are our brave heroes?"
"Captain Titus, Sergeant Cyrus and Librarian Harax should recover soon, but the wounds suffered by Sergeant de Arignon was grave... which is nothing compared to the wounds suffered by your Chaplain..." replied Kolonnes.
"I have spent a long time with him, Kolonnes... It would be a shame if we should lose him..." muttered Hadrian with deep sorrow in his voice.
"For now, we have patched him up as best as we could and interred him in the spare Dreadnought sarcophagus, though he remains unconscious."
Hadrian raised an eyebrow.
"A Dreadnought? I cannot ask for that..." said Hadrian in surprise.
"I have none to give, Inquisitor. We merely had the sarcophagus."
The Inquisitor paused.
Suddenly, the door opened and Magos Axkand entered the chamber.
"Somber: The Virus Bombs are ready. Give your word, and they shall detonate."
Axkand showed an elaborate switch in his hand.
"Thank you, Magos... How many bombs did we use?" asked Hadrian.
"Cautious: Four original bombs, sixteen modified bombs had been discovered. Two original bombs are set to detonate."
"Good... The Zerg fleet, for whatever reason, is heading to the surface of the planet..." murmured the Inqusitor.
After a moment, Hadrian turned to Axkand.
END OF CHAPTER 52