The mist clung low to the ground, enveloping the foliage in a sea of white clouds. This late in the evening, the frail sunlight struggled to pierce the murky depths, rendering the forest floor below a murky twilight.
With a roar of engines and rotors, three Imperial Valkyries hurtled through the air. Each craft skimmed along the top of the forest canopy, search lights blazing as they attempted to pierce the fog below. Sat up front in the cockpit of the leading plane, Major Durra’s attention was focused on the glowing auspex in front of him.
Three seats down, Corporal Ferro checked her lasgun for the seventh time, expertly stripping down the weapon despite the turbulance of the drop-ship. Slapping a powercell into her weapon, she muttered a prayer to the machine-spirits and the God-Emperor under her breath. Command dossiers had said that the situation on Aphelion Beta was a regular combat drop, but nothing about this felt regular. They’d all heard reports of Tyranid activity on the moon, and seen the Thunderhawks of the Red Scorpions – plus the Inquisitor leading them. A career soldier for the past nine years, Ferro was no stranger to the Imperial war machine, but Astartes weren’t sent in unless the situation was in some serious gak, and that troubled her.
‘Listen up!’ shouted the Major over the roar of the engines. ‘We’re on an escort mission here, dropping this thing’ – he indicated the servitor next to him – ‘into the generatorum and getting the power back online to this Emperor-forsaken place. Scanners show no activity, but these bugs can be stealthy so consider the LZ hot. I want squads covering all entrances. We hit the ground hard, you see something, you shoot and shout. Clear?’
‘Clear, sir!’ chorused the guardsmen.
* * *
The game started with the Imperial troops dropped in around the generator, squads of Elysians fanning out to cover all directions. Seeing movement flickering in and out of the tree line, one of the Sentinels loosed a blast from its lascannon and was rewarded with an alien scream as the Lictor was evaporated by the strength of the weapon. In response, Tyranids flowed from the jungle around the guardsmen, scuttling Termagants and bounding Hormagaunts accompanied by the menacing shapes of larger Tyranid warriors. A hail of living ammunition flew towards the nearest Sentinel, and while most of the tiny voracious organisms clattered harmlessly off its armour, their acidic blood took its toll on the bipod machine and began to eat through the metal.
A bounding swarm of Hormagaunts leapt into one of the Elysian squads. A hail of grenades tore through the aliens, but the agile creatures dashed onwards into the guardsmen. Their bladed limbs flickered out, crimson blood spraying in all directions and staining the plantlife red as the Tyranids cut through the Elysians. Seven of the men were cut down by the Hormagaunts, but the remaining three held their nerve.
Inside the bunker, the servitor bypassed the local security systems to access the computer, and control runes on the screen blinked green as power was restored to the fences around the complex. Outside, the Elysians sent disciplined volleys of las-fire into the Tyranids, gunning down the Hormagaunts while the Sentinels brought their heavy weapons to bear on the warrior-forms. One of the lascannons missed, setting the nearby undergrowth alight, but the other sliced through a warrior, bisecting it at the torso and killing the xenos creature.
In response, the distinctive crack of the Warrior’s venom cannon split through the night as it returned fire, the corrosive crystals damaging one of the Sentinels. Now in range, the Termagants unleashed a volley of living ammunition, the horrific beetles launched by their weapons wiping out a complete squad of Guardsmen. The surviving Hormagaunts charged into a depleted squad of Elysians, but despite the casualties they’d suffered the guardsmen were ready, their overwatch fire gunning down all but one of the bounding creatures. Driven onwards by the force of the Hive Mind, the creature lashed about it as reached the men, slicing through the armour of the nearest soldier and leaving him clutching his own guts on the ground. Meanwhile, the Warriors reached the Sentinel, their scything talons cutting through armour and cables but, by the grace of the Omnissiah, the machine weathered their attacks and stayed standing.
Seeing the second squad of Warriors closing fast, the nearest Elysians opened fire. Their lasguns pattered harmlessly off the chitinous armour, but the squad’s meltagun was a different matter altogether. With a flash of light, the thermal weapon vaporised another Warrior, leaving one left standing. In an attempt to break the synaptic network and disrupt the swarm, one Sentinel pilot bravely maneouvered his machine into close quarters with the creature, hoping to use the metal bulk of his steed to crush and kill the alien. The xenos was nimble, though, and evaded the Sentinel’s clumsy attack. On the other side of the generatorum, the Termagants were engaged in a ferocious close-quarters battle with the other Sentinel. Their claws were unable to pierce the machine’s armour, while its heavy feet crushed a Termagant into the ground. Guided by the Warrior’s connectionto the hive mind, the little creatures stayed in combat.
Talons dripping with blood from the squad they’d butchered, the Hormagaunts bounded towards the guardsmen. Before they could reach them, however, disciplined volleys of las-fire cut them down. The Warrior, on the other hand, deftly charged into three Guardsmen, but the veterans were able to avoid its slashing claws. Dragging down the Imperial Sentinel through sheer weight of numbers, the surviving Termagants tried to push into the generatorum only to be met by the surviving guardsmen, led by Major Durra and his command squad. Unable to kill enough of the Elysians to force them back, the game ended in an Imperial victory!
* * *
The hissing of the Tyranids mingled with the rain, a sibilant background noise that set Ferro’s teeth on edge. Most of her men were dead, and the remainder of her squad had fallen back inside the generatorum to try and hold the xenos at the door. Hormagaunts and Termagants threw themselves into the narrow entrance, barely held at bay by las-fire. The snap-crack of lasguns was accompanied by the thermal roar of the melta and the boom of Major Durra’s plasma pistol, but for all their firepower the Tyranids were gaining ground, pushing into the generatorum.
Suddenly, chimes echoed out from the console behind them, and the monotone drone of the servitor announed its task complete. Ferro could hear the Major shouting into the vox for extraction, and the distinctive sound of the drop-ship began to penetrate through the noise of the rain and the Tyranids. ‘To the roof!’ she yelled, her men scrambling up the service ladder through the hatch to the top of the building. Snapping off a last burst at a Hormagaunt that caught it in mid-air and wrenched it away, she slung her lasgun over one shoulder and followed the guardsmen up the ladder.
On top of the building, flares had already been lit. As the last Elysian scrambled through the hatch, the command squad’s engineer slammed it shut and began to seal it with an industrial welder, even as the metal rang with the sounds of the aliens throwing themselves against it. Around the building, Tyranids leapt up the sides, scrambling to reach the soldiers just out of their reach.
The area was bathed in light as, with a scream of engines, their drop-ships banked in low and fast, weapons chattering and forcing the Tyranids away from the walls. Hydraulic whines screeched over the roar of the engines as ramps lowered, and the surviving Elysians scrambled on-board the hovering transports.
As the drop-ship banked away from the generatorum, Corporal Ferro looked back. The surviving Tyranids were no longer snarling and leaping – instead, each creature stood stock still, watching the departing Imperial craft with unblinking eyes. The sight of the creatures, who moments before had been a raging swarm of aggression, sent a chill down Ferro’s spine. ‘Sir…’ she began, turning to the Major, but then the craft’s door closed and they were gone.
* * *
So far so historical, with the Imperials winning the first two battles. I’m currently painting models for the next scenario, so stay tuned for the next part of the Anphelion Project!