Planetfall: Part 3

Holographic displays recreated the last moments of the battle between the Ultramarines and the Tau. Warlock Sereth watched distastefully as the Tau leader attempted to transmit the data that his infernal device had acquired. “These methods are barbaric! The device must be destroyed.” He said, unequivocally. Hidden in the webway; a realm between the warp and the materium, the elegant Ulthwé warship Asredil was invisible to the belligerents upon the nearby world of Tarandros. Within the vessel’s meditation chamber, a heated debate was underway.

“They are a young race, Sereth. They do not fully comprehend what it is that they meddle with.” Farseer Erethentil retorted. The warlock was not dissuaded “even so, it is our duty to protect the younger races from their own folly. These manipulations can only serve to draw the attention of the Hive Mind” Sereth insisted. “Can we risk open war with the Tau? Has it not been seen that they are our best hope for survival?” asked Warlock Lenea. Having remained silent thus far, Farseer Aramel answered “the Seer Council of Ulthwé has indeed determined that the Eldar must align themselves with the Tau Empire. Only together can we hope to stand against the dark powers. However, this does not mean that we can allow their youthful curiosity to drive them along a familiar, ruinous path.”

Erethentil nodded in agreement “fortunately, the Ultramarine Captain prevented the Tau leader from transmitting the emitter’s collected data” he said. “But it was not destroyed!” complained Warlock Sereth. “The mon-keigh fools did not even notice that it existed. They slew all without bothering to discover why the Tyranid creatures could fall under another’s control!” he continued. “Surely those that wrought this device will seek to recover it.” Aramel sighed before responding “sadly, that is the way of the Astartes. They live only for war, much like the Exarchs of our race. Little interests them beyond battle and defending their empire.” Sereth scoffed “what empire? their power has no serious opposition in this galaxy and yet they can barely hold their crumbling government together! What are these mon-keigh defending? They have no culture to speak of, except for their fanatical devotion to their corpse emperor!”

“You go too far Warlock!” Aramel said sternly. “The Crippled King does more for the war against Chaos than you can possibly imagine! You have walked the path of the Seer for only a brief while. If you cannot participate in our councils civilly, then perhaps you walk the wrong path.” He added. Cowed, the young warlock apologized “I am sorry, Farseer Aramel, I spoke without thinking. I allowed my passions to overcome my sense.” Aramel nodded. “Our emotions can serve us well, but there is a time and a place for each of them. It is well that you recognize this” he said. “We should influence events against the recovery of this device if possible. But open conflict with the Tau should be avoided” voiced Erethentil, eager to return the discussion to the topic at hand. “Agreed” the other Seers said, unanimously.

Suddenly, the mind of every Seer present was touched by another’s. It was Farseer Ithiniael, communicating telepathically from his diplomatic quarters aboard the Tau flagship in high orbit above Darkstar Sept. “It is I, Farseer Ithiniael. May I address this Council?” he asked. Though everyone knew his identity, decorum demanded that the ritual words be spoken. Every mind within the meditation chamber consented to Ithiniael’s intrusion. “I have spoken to Commander Darkstar’s Ethereal, Aun’ro” the Farseer mind-spoke. His message was conveyed not just in words, but also in emotion and images of his summit with the Tau leadership. “It would seem that the Tau’s sensors have detected the approach of the Alpha Legion, and recognize this threat. We have been granted permission to enter the Tau Empire’s sovereign soil of Tarandros, and are invited to joint-operations with Tau forces to expel the forces of Chaos. However, Aun’ro expressed great dismay at the uninvited arrival of Imperium forces to this system. Particularly given that the Imperium’s ‘reclamation fleet’ far exceeds their colonization armada. The Tau respectfully request our aid in expelling the Imperium interlopers. In spite of this, he made no mention of the open hostilities between the Tau and Adeptus Astartes.”

The gathered Eldar psykers were not surprised to learn this. The new Tau weapon, that allowed limited control over Tyranid forces, was obviously a closely held secret. The Tau would not risk revealing its existence, even to would-be allies. Quite familiar with intrigue, the Eldar had no intention of pressing the matter. “Is it wise to antagonize the mon-keigh by joining forces with the Tau against them?” Lenea asked with her mind. “We have already examined the skein thoroughly. All favorable futures require collaboration with the Tau” mind-spoke Erethentil. “The Tau Commander Boldstrike is tasked with securing an abandoned industrial sector” added Aramel. “Unbeknownst to him, the Imperium forces count with the support of the Dark Angels. Without our aid, he is doomed to fail. Under cover of darkness, we can descend upon the humans and disrupt their communications. Their leaders will believe that only the Tau were responsible for their demise” the Farseer continued.

“Farseer Aramel and I will lead the strike force. Warlocks Lenea, Sereth and Naril will join us. Farseer Ithiniael will remain with the Tau” mind-spoke Erethentil. Psychically, the gathered Council expressed its unanimous agreement. The Eldar seers aboard the Asredil felt Ithiniael’s mind depart. “What of Farseer Maceil?” asked Lenea. The two Farseers looked uncertain. A force of Eldar from Craftworld Windu had made contact with them as soon as they had reached the Sorathian webway network. It was they that had warned the Ulthwé Seers of the approach of Chaos to Tarandros. Maceil had led his own strike force to the planet surface, but none aboard the Asredil had heard from him again. The skein was strangely clouded to all inquiries into the Farseer’s fate. “For now, knowledge of our kin’s whereabouts is beyond us. We must hope that he is well, and focus on the task at hand. Fate will no doubt reveal the truth, in time” said Aramel. With that, the Coucil session was adjourned, and the Seers destined to do battle went to don their arms and armor.

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The Imperial Guard 678th Cadian Armored division had been ordered to reclaim Tarandros’ industrial sector in the name of the Emperor. Their landing transports had reached the planet surface soon after the Ultramarine spearhead pierced the ork horde. They spent the remainder of the day mopping up the rag-tag bands of savages that had taken up residence in the ruins of an ancient Manufactorum. As the sun set, enormous abandoned cranes cast long shadows on the Guardsmen below.

A portion of the division was ordered to patrol the perimeter. This force consisted of two Hellhounds, two Chimera transports filled with veteran Guardsmen, a squadron of two Flakk tanks and a squadron of two Lehman Russ battle tanks. They were joined by Adeptus Astartes of the Dark Angel chapter. None of the Guardsmen had been notified of their arrival, they had simply appeared, seemingly intent on joining the patrol. This made Guardsman Yorik nervous. He had heard tales of the mysterious Dark Angels. It was said that they always follow their own agenda and are utterly ruthless in the service of the Emperor. But they would not travel all this way just to kill orks. Something more must be afoot and the possibilities gave Yorik chills.

The Guardsman’s musings were interrupted by a loud explosion. He peered out of one of his Chimera’s firing grate and saw that something had turned the nearest Hellhound into a smoldering ruin. The vehicle burned brightly in the night, but there was no sign of the attacker. On instinct, the Cadian forces fired their considerable armament in the direction they believed that the enemy shot had come from. Yorik’s world shook as his transport’s gunner opened fire with his multi-laser armament. At least some of the shots struck home, for the Chimera’s search lights zeroed in on the target. The illuminating beams revealed the hull of a black-painted skimmer, of unmistakably Eldar design. The Lehman Russ behemoths lumbered onwards, unleashing their battle cannons upon the revealed enemy vehicle. But the skimmer was moving too fast for the Imperial gunners, and the shots went wide. Eldar walkers revealed themselves with a torrent of laser fire. They pelted the advancing Dark Angel bikers with their scattered beams of light, before racing back into the gloom, out of reach of Imperial guns. To his horror, Yorik saw that five mighty Astartes bikers fell to this barrage.

The Chimera’s vox exploded with a stream of curses. “Hammerhead sighted…bring it down boys!” someone shouted authoritatively, probably the battle psyker that Commissar Nemo had left in charge. “Call for air support!” someone transmitted. “Outbound communications are down. Can’t reach Command” another replied. From his vantage point, Yorik could not make out the Tau forces, but he did hear the unmistakeable rumble of a heavy rail gun. Tau weaponry featured heavily in guardsman training-vids. Its first shot smashed into the front armor of a Lehman Russ, but its adamantium plates held strong. The other Chimera was not so fortunate and was wrecked by the Tau battle tank’s next volley. Yorik could see a triad of the infamous Crisis suits rise from the rubble using their jet packs. From the air, they sent streams of missiles and plasma fire into the Astartes bikers, only to disappear into the ruins to reload.

From the frantic vox communications, Yorik learned that the second Hellhound had moved up the right flank and begun to roast the Xenos hiding in the ruins. The painful screech of metal brought the guardsman’s attention back to the battle nearby. One Lehman Russ had finally succumbed to the Tau and Eldar combined firepower. Unexpectedly, bright bursts of light lanced into the Dark Angels’ land speeder from above. This was followed by a barely perceptible stream of projectiles. This proved too much for the vehicle and it was torn asunder, violently forcing the Astartes pilots out of their seats and throwing them several yards away from their destroyed land speeder. Clearly these shots had come from a flyer, but if it had made any noise during its arrival, Yorik had not heard it. The Flakk tank squadron immediately opened fire. Looking up through the Chimera’s top hatch, the Yorik finally saw the enemy flyer. Its hull was black, just as the skimmer that he had seen earlier. It made impossible maneuvers as it tried to jink out of the torrent of Flakk fire. But the Cadian anti-air tanks were unrelenting and eventually struck home. Bright sparks erupted from the flyer’s fuselage and one of its wings began to trail smoke. Although the flyer was not destroyed, it turned and flew out of the combat zone.

The guardsman had no time to celebrate this small victory. Another Eldar skimmer began to move towards his Chimera at impossible speed. His gunner fired at it with all available weapons, to no avail. The next thing Yorik knew, the Eldar vehicle was right next to him. Enemy artillery hidden in a ruined building fired directly at him. The weapons emitted arcane waves of supersonic sound. When these hit the Chimera’s hull, the entire vehicle began to vibrate uncontrollably. Within moments, the chassis was ripped apart, and the passengers were forced to disembark. Yorik and his fellow guardsmen climbed out of the wreckage, only to be greeted by a volley of laser fire. The guardsmen were cut down where they stood, until only four members of their squad remained. Seeing that the left flank was crumbling, their Sergeant ordered them to fall back. As Yorik scrambled to follow the remnants of his squad, he was struck in the back by a laser blast. Immediately he felt his body paralyze, and then his world went black.

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Aramel’s wave serpent glided to a halt just past the destroyed human vehicle. The attack was proceeding just as he had foreseen. Several Tau had fallen but, so far, no Eldar lives had been lost. Throughout the battle, Farseer Erethentil had guided the war-walker squadron, allowing them to perform their vital role of neutralizing the Dark Angels. He also used his powers of prescience to direct the guardians controlling the unit of Vibrocannon artillery that he had joined. Thanks to his guidance, the support battery was able to destroy several of the human vehicles. By now, only a handful of space marines and their lesser brethren remained. The two remaining vehicles would soon fall to the Tau onslaught. The carnage was unfortunate, but unavoidable.

Once the designated position was reached, the wave serpent’s door opened and the disembarkation ramp descended with a gentle hiss. Aramel’s unit of Storm Guardians drew their weapons and started to move out of the transport. The Farseer walked with them and was joined by warlock Sereth. Before they were able to exit the wave serpent, however, Aramel sensed a disturbance in the warp. A presence had entered realspace earlier this day and only now, that it had been momentarily cast back into the warp, was it forced to reveal itself. By his expression, Sereth had sensed it too. But he knew not the perils that lurk in the warp. Even as Farseer Aramel shouted at him with both mind and voice to stop, the bold warlock gazed through the raw warp at the servant of Tzeench. What he saw, consumed him. The titanic truth of the greater daemon’s presence within the warp was too much for Sereth to bear. His physical body could not withstand the vast psychic pressures that his mind had forced upon it, and he fell, lifeless.

Aramel’s heart was heavy as he gently placed the young warlock’s glowing soul stone in a special container within the transport. Perhaps this fate could have been avoided, but any future becomes uncertain when the changer of ways plays his hand. The Farseer chanted a quiet prayer to Isha, then donned his ghosthelm and joined the Storm Guardians on the planet surface. Wary, he reached into a pouch within his robes and began to cast his wraithbone carved runes and divined the possible futures to come. Using the specially designed ammunition intended for this mission, the warriors of Ulthwé fired their pistols at the last remaining Astartes.

Xxx...Expunged Security-vid Record...xxX

Xxx…Expunged Security-vid Record…xxX

Just as the last one fell, Aramel saw a future where the three fleeing humans nearby opened fire upon his Guardians. He saw over half of his ten-strong squad being consumed by flames. As the moment approached, the Farseer forewarned his squad members. Many jumped out of the flamer’s path before the bearer had even fired. Yet still three Storm Guardians fell, either dead or badly injured by the searing gouts of flame. Whilst the casualties were rushed back onto the wave serpent, the two guardians bearing fusion guns fired at their attackers, vaporizing the three humans in their tracks. All imminent threats having been neutralized, Aramel walked towards the group of Astartes that had fallen in the ruins ahead, located at the furthest edge of the Imperium’s collapsed left flank. The Farseer walked to a specific point in the rubble, and used his telepathic powers to raise the heavy slabs of fallen metal. With an effort of will, he found his buried objective, and wrested it from deep within the ground.

Aramel had unearthed an old human sensor array. It still functioned, as he knew it would, despite the centuries of disuse. He examined the device, but did not tamper with it. He placed it in the middle of a clearing within the ruins. After some time, he was joined by Warlock Lenea and her team of Black Guardians. They were followed by small automated hover-platforms, which carried the Dark Angel bikers, that had all fallen during the battle. With her hand, the Warlock led yet another hover-platform, this one carrying a device very similar to that excavated by Aramel. When she reached the Farseer, Lenea bowed her head and made a gesture of mourning for Sereth’s passing. The Farseer nodded and reciprocated the hand motion. “When will they awaken?” Lenea asked, referring to the ceramite-clad giants. “Fairly soon” replied Aramel, “our war walker’s scatter-lasers were modified to overload their nervous systems. I imagine that they will regain consciousness before day-break” he continued. “As for the toxin used by our Storm Guardians in place of their pistols’ shuriken fuel…It may be as effective. I obtained it from Archon Oberon. He owed me a favor.” Lenea nodded, but she was far from convinced. Their dark cousins made it very difficult for Craftwold Eldar to trust them.

Soon after, Aramel received a telepathic message from Farseer Erethentil. The Tau had been persuaded to relinquish control of the third sensor array. However, they knew nothing of the Space Marines’ survival and assumed that all had perished. Together, the three arrays will provide incontrovertible proof of the Alpha Legion’s presence within the Sorathian System and offer a clear indication of its movements on Tarandros itself. Once the arrays were in place, and the unconscious Astartes carefully deposited on the earth nearby, the protectors of Ulthwé prepared to leave. Before they parted, Lenea asked Aramel “could we not have simply told the shadowy mon-keigh that their quarry was here?” He smiled sadly. Though she could not see this through the Farseer’s helm, his mood was captured in the tone of his reply “alas, this is the only way in which Captain Tomas of the Dark Angels would believe our message. We explored countless futures before deciding on this course, but humans are very distrustful of alien species. This one in particular, would never accept that our warnings rung true. Thus, only the technology of his own people would suffice to guide him.”

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Guardsman Yorik was completely disoriented as he regained consciousness. He rose from the dirt and felt about his uniform for a wound, but did not find any. Though he distinctly remembered being struck in the back, he had somehow survived the same lethal weapon that had annihilated the mighty Adeptus Astartes bike squad. Yorik looked about, searching for friend and foe. Of the enemy, there was no sign. In the distance he heard the moaning of wounded Guardsmen. Occasionally Yorik would hear orders being barked, though he could not make out the words. It was probably that psyker again. All else was eerie quiet. As he searched his surroundings, he was very surprised to see a sizable contingent of Dark Angels congregating within the closest ruined building. These reinforcements must have routed the Xenos scum, the Guardsman reasoned. Carefully making his way through the rubble, Yorik moved in their direction.

When he was only a short distance away, Yorik could see three ancient machines placed in a semi-circle within the ruins. Standing before it, a Space Marine with finely decorated armor held a tiny disc-like object in his armored left hand. Yorik imagined that this must be the Dark Angel Captain. Before the Guardsman’s eyes, a holographic image projected itself from the strange device. It appeared to be a recording of some sort. It displayed a thin,robed, figure that began to speak. “Greetings Captain Tomas. I am Farseer Aramel of Craftworld Ulthwé.” The Eldar spoke Imperium basic with a strange accent. The words were clear and precise, but the inflection sounded forced and bizarre.

“Apologies for the subterfuge” the Eldar continued “it was the only way that we could retrieve these devices. Without them, you would not heed our warnings. Those you hunt are here. Know that they are our enemy also, and that we mean you no harm.” When the message ended, Captain Tomas crushed the projecting device in his fist. “Surely we cannot trust the Xenos scum?!” Blurted out Guardsman Yorik. The nearest Space Marine walked towards him, until he towered above Yorik. “Identify yourself Guardsman” he commanded. “Yes my lord!” Yorik exclaimed as he saluted. He then proceeded to stammer his name, rank and serial number. The super-human colossus nodded in acknowledgement “very well, Guardsman, you have served the Emperor well. Return to your unit” he commanded. “Yes my lord!” Yorik replied and went to rejoin the other Imperial Guard survivors. He had only taken a few steps when he heard shots fired nearby. He turned to see what was happening, only to come face to face with the Dark Angel’s bolt-pistol. Before he could say anything, the Astartes pulled the trigger.

Elsewhere, Chaos Lord Croxius lurked in the shadows, mounted upon his colossal warbike. The rest of his squad waited patiently behind him. In the distance, two Rhinos painted in Ultramarine colors rumbled toward an Imperial Guard checkpoint. The fools stood between Croxius and his goal. His misguided Astartes brothers had come seeking ancient gene-seed, to create more drones to serve the false emperor. “But they would not have it!” Croxius thought. The hated loyalist marines had hoarded his birthright for far too long. He would liberate the gene-seed and at long last the Legion would be allowed to grow, and engulf all of the Gods’ enemies. For this, he would be richly rewarded.

As soon as the Rhino transports came within sight of the Guardsmen, they were illuminated by several search lights. A vox-projector came to life with a loud burst of static “My lords!” exclaimed a nervous sounding Guardsman, “your Captain Titus has instructed us to ensure that none pass this point. We knew not to expect any Astartes from outside the perimeter” he continued. “Kindly speak the words of passage, and we shall hinder you no further” the Guardsman explained. Both transports activated their dirge casters. “For the Emperor!” twenty baritone voices shouted at the top of their genetically enhanced lungs. “Ah…indeed” replied the Guardsman, “but those are not quite the established words…if you…” At that point, the Rhinos accelerated to full speed and started to race towards the Imperial Guard lines. At the same time, their dirge casters began emitting a continuous stream of inhuman wailing and other disturbing, incomprehensible sounds.

Lord Croxius smiled wickedly as realization dawned upon the hapless humans. Thanks to the daemonic gifts that enhanced his already considerable Astartes physiology, he could hear the Guardsmen’s cries of terror. “Traitor marines!” Many of them shouted in shrill voices. The dirge casters’ symphonies were doing their work. The Imperial Guard scrambled to fire their guns at the advancing Rhinos, but it was too late. The chaos lord and his bikers revved their engines into a deafening roar and crashed onto the open cityscape, bellowing war cries and brandishing their cruel, daemon-morphed weapons. A pair of obliterators manifested out of the raw warp and unleashed powerful bolts of las-cannon fire upon the nearest enemy vehicle. The destructive beams burned deep holes into the Guardsman tank, turning it into a useless wreck.

As the chaos bikers rampaged across the battlefield, the Imperial Guard focused their firepower upon them. Two of their number were eventually shot off of their saddle, but Chroxius cared not. He hungered for carnage. Finally he reached the enemy’s lines and charged into the ranks of Guardsman infantry. They posed no real threat to the mighty chaos lord and he reveled in their slaughter. A demonic howl form above signaled a Helldrake’s arrival. It descended upon the puny mortals and bathed them in the glorious flames of Chaos. Meanwhile, the Alpha Legion warriors had jumped out of their camouflaged Rhinos. Together with the obliterators’ heavy weapons, they lay waste to the Guardsman infantry and armor.

Croxius gloried in his impending victory. The surprise of his attack had been complete, and the servants of the false emperor were being swept away like wheat before the scythe. The chaos lord was so consumed with thoughts of his inevitable ascension, that he failed to notice that the weight of Guardsman firepower was taking its toll on his squad. By the time he finished butchering a squad of guardsmen with his chain-sword, he found himself alone. It mattered not. He had been chosen by the Gods. Croxius knew with absolute certainty that no mortal weapon could harm him. He revved his bike’s engines once more and charged headlong into the last remaining squad of Guardsmen.

Hundreds of lasgun beams rained upon him. Croxius laughed at these pathetic attempts to slay him and accelerated. When he was almost face to face with this fresh enemy, the chaos lord sought to raise his chain-sword above his head. Inexplicably, his mighty muscles refused to comply. With all of his will, Croxius commanded his limb to move, but it would not budge. “What trickery is this?!” He wanted to bellow, but found that he had no voice. Unable to control his bike, Croxius was powerless to prevent his deviation into a pile of rubble. He crashed into it and was violently thrown off of his saddle. As he lied on his back, unable to move, the chaos lord realized that he was dying. Enslaved by his own bloodlust and thirst for power, Croxius had led his squad, alone, into the heart of the enemy forces. Heedless to his grievous wounds, he had fought on. Now, Croxius’ broken body was damaged far beyond its ability to heal. In his mind, the chaos lord howled in rage. But soon, his life-force was utterly spent. Somewhere within the warp, a Greater Daemon of Tzeench roared with laughter.

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Captain Tomas witnessed the complete annihilation of the Imperial Guard’s forces at the hands of the Alpha Legion. With his bike squad, Tomas had used the data retrieved from the sensor arrays to locate the Fallen. Having seen them with his own eyes, the Dark Angel was forced to accept that the Xenos had spoken truthfully, at least in part. He turned to one of his squad members and said “Librarian Darwyn must know of this. Inform him that our quarry has been found.” The marine nodded “it shall be done my captain. Also, Commissar Nemo wishes to know what befell the forces stationed at the abandoned manufactorum.” The Captain replied immediately “tell him that there were no survivors. The Tau slew all before we could intervene.”

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