Short Fiction

A Mind Of Their Own

A Mind Of Their Own

An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Justus Ackermann
Reading Time: 27 minutes

‘PREY. KILL. BLOOD.’ Gorger storms through the deep jungle alongside his pack, the blood in his veins boiling like acid. ‘DEVOUR!’

His mind is filled with a singular thought, the urge to find and kill his prey. The vegetation is dense; thick trees growing into a maze of lashing branches and treacherous footing. Mist casts the canopy in a perpetual twilight even at the height of the day, and the air is heavy with scents from a myriad of blossoms.

Yet the jungle is silent. No birdcall echoes through the trees, no animal betrays its presence among the thick undergrowth. They know of the alien predators in their midst.

Where the terrain would prove difficult for a less evolved species, the Tyranid Warrior barely registers the branches breaking on his chitinous carapace as he smashes through the thicket with ease. Gorger leaps on a fallen tree and stops in a crouch, tilting his head left, sniffing for the unmistakable scent so at odds with the lush life bursting in the jungle. For miles he and his pack have been closing in on the amalgam of dead metallics and squalid, organic matter. 

The feral instincts of his species, now bereft of the controlling influence of the hive mind, run hot within him and he is about to lose himself in the anticipation of the kill. His muscles tense, as his endocrine system pumps toxic stimulants in his body; saliva drips from his mouth and a gurgling noise escapes his throat. ‘DEVOUR,’ is all he is striving for now.

‘PREY. HIDE. HUNT. ’ This time, the thought flashing into his mind is not his own; it carries Ripper’s scent and is laden with an urge to remain hidden, to stalk the prey and kill it with a swift strike from the shadows, rather than bursting along into their midst and slaughtering everything in his path in blind rage.

At first, after the all-consuming presence of the hive mind had receded from Gorger’s conscience, it had been chaotic to have contrary instincts running through his mind. He was soaring through the sky on leathery wings, feeling the gush of humid air on his body; he was running through the jungle, vaulting fallen trees and bursting through the bushes; he was feeding on the corpse of a slain creature, crunching bones and drinking warm blood. Over time, it had become possible to separate his own senses from those of his brood-pack. Now subtle undertones make them as unique as their scent. As Ripper’s thoughts enter his mind, Gorger feels himself ripping through his prey as if it were his own claws parting through the warm flesh, like the others can feel themselves gorging on bloody carcasses during his thoughts.

Occasionally, the pack had stumbled upon other members of their species, but could never share their thoughts. Most had taken flight, but some had attacked. All filled the pack’s bellies alike.

Ripper bounds on a rock to Gorger’s left, standing tall with his wings unfolding behind his back, adopting a dominant pose with his talons spread wide. The Tyranid Shrike has the same dark grey, almost black coloured flesh and green carapace; an effective camouflage for a jungle world. Gorger snarls at the presence in his mind and rises to the challenge with boneswords raised.

Mauler and Wrecker join the fray as they emerge from the bushes; their minds, like Gorger’s, set on tearing through their prey with sword, claw and tooth. While Wrecker is content with standing besides Gorger to reinforce an aggressive approach to the hunt, Mauler shoves him to the side, froth forming at his bellowing mouth, murder written in his eyes.

‘HUNT!’

The thought flares up in the minds of the pack like a thunderbolt, inevitable in its dominance. Crusher. The Tyranid Prime has a powerful mind and had quickly risen to be the alpha of the pack after the severance. After the pain, when at first there was no thought, no will like before. When Gorger felt the loss of limbs, even though he was unharmed. When he was dying yet still alive.

Gorger feels his choler diminishing. Wrecker is already adopting a submissive stance, but Mauler is too far gone in his rage. Crusher does not possess the strength of the hive mind, that singular conviction permeating an entire species.

‘DESTROY!’ Mauler’s reply is fierce, and the challenge for supremacy over the brood it carries is palpable.

Crusher turns on him with a rattling hiss. With preternatural speed he slashes his scythed tail across Mauler’s face and is upon him. Pinning him to the ground, Crusher bares his teeth mere inches from Mauler’s exposed throat and snarls with unmistakable intent.

Mauler’s eyes are still blazing with rage above the fresh wound from the scythed tail adorning his left cheek, but at last he closes them and turns his head away in obsequiousness.

The others acknowledge the reaffirmation in the pecking order with subdued grunts and nodding heads.

‘HUNT.’ Crusher’s single thought comes again as he lets Mauler be. Gorger, Wrecker and the newly subservient Mauler fall in line and continue to stalk through the bushes, while Ripper silently takes to his wings. Their prey is close now and adrenaline is coursing through their veins in anticipation. Where before the pack was storming through the jungle with speed and little regard for stealth, now their movements are barely detectable, the perfect predators on a hunt which will see their prey taken by surprise. The brood spreads out and blends in with their surroundings with a dexterity betraying their sizeable bulk.

Theta-Nu-6614 leads his squad of Skitarii Rangers deeper into the jungle. His position guidance system chimes twice, marking their arrival at the designated point of entry into grid 14-0-3. It had taken them 4.7 minutes longer than estimated to reach this point from the forward fortification centre, which means they would have to comb through the square mile 4.7 minutes faster to meet their allocated quota.

The eight Rangers adopt standard formation beta-3, training their galvanic rifles equally to all sides. Theta-Nu analyses a host of sensory data, ranging from atmospheric composition over a sensitive auditory array up to various visual spectra, in an instant as he is scanning his surroundings.

“Atmospheric distortion: negative. Multi-spectral analysis: negative. Data extrapolation: no threat,” he communicates to his squad via noosphere. “Commence search, retain beta-3 formation.”

“Compliance.” The cohort’s replies in binaric cant are instantaneous and in unison.

The noospheric access modules implanted in the half-lobotomised brains of the Ranger allow for a far more sophisticated communication than ordinary vox links employed by the unaugmented troops of the Astra Militarum. Differentiating, acknowledging and confirming seven simultaneous replies is as effortless for Theta-Nu as if his cohort were standing before him, weapons at the ready.

Theta-Nu starts walking along the eastern fringe of the search grid, continuously sweeping his weapon from left to right in a ninety degree arc every twenty seconds.

Marching in lockstep, every member of his squad does precisely the same, their firing arcs overlapping by five degrees to eliminate blind spots. Their cybernetically enhanced legs barely make a sound on the soft ground, but their largely metal bodies and beige robes, marking their allegiance to Forge World Lendax, make it harder for them to blend in with their surroundings. Skitarii Rangers do not waste a thought on being subtle; their hunting prowess is based on perseverance and relentlessness, not stealth.

Theta-Nu and his squad have already cleansed twenty-one grids in the five days since Magos Biologis Garanos had trapped the Hive Tyrant in the teleominiotic chamber and four other Ranger squads have done the same. The combat at the central complex had been bloody and the Skitarii had suffered casualties in excess of the estimated extent, so much that the Mechanicus forces would surely have been overrun, if trapping the Hive Tyrant had not worked exactly like Garanos had predicted. The effect was instantaneous; the swarm had lost all cohesion and purpose, some creatures continuing to throw themselves at the Skitarii, while others retreated deep into the jungle. Picking off the uncoordinated enemy one by one had been as easy as targeting practice for the elite Mechanicus warriors.

Garanos had been ecstatic with the results. Much about the workings of the Tyranids is still unknown to the Divisio Biologis, but it is general consensus that eliminating a Hive Tyrant severs the connection of the lesser creatures to the hive mind, at least temporarily.

Garanos had theorised that, when a Hive Tyrant was not killed but trapped in a neurogenic field with a precise modulation – while of course closely adhering to the sacred rituals of the Cult Mechanicus – his connection to the collective could not only be severed, but effectively turned into a null field, prohibiting any Tyranid creature to enter without losing the connection to the hive mind itself. It would revolutionise fighting against the hive fleets threatening the whole imperium!

But the hierarchy in the Adeptus Mechanicus is as strict as any cult can be and, after his first attempt to capture a Hive Tyrant ended in catastrophic failure, Garanos was called an upstart fool for his theories, some going as far as calling him heretic to the creed of the most sacred Omnissiah. He was chastised and ousted from the Divisio Biologis, but was not about to relinquish his great work. With the few resources and forces loyal to him he set out to the remote planet Pishon IV to continue working on his teleominiotic chamber, which would first lure in and then trap a Hive Tyrant.

And now Theta-Nu and the other Skitarii Rangers were eliminating the last scattered Tyranid forces on Pishon IV in the wake of the successful implementation of phase two, trapping the Tyrant. Garanos had sent an astropathic message to the council of the Divisio Biologis, informing them to come to Pishon IV for a demonstration of his prototype with all haste. All remaining Tyranid creatures in Pishon IV had to be caught alive where possible or eliminated if necessary before their arrival, so that Garanos could stand proud and unchallenged in front of his great work, basking in the envy of his former peers. There was already a sizeable zoo of captured Tyranid creatures at the main complex, so Theta-Nu’s objective had changed into a hunt and kill mission.

Since starting the purge, Theta-Nu and his squad had eliminated hundreds of creatures already; mostly small aliens of the gaunt classes, but also a few of the larger variants. Irrespective of their size, their behaviour was haphazard and uncoordinated, and did not pose any threat to the Skitarii Rangers.

“Atmospheric distortion: negative. Multi-spectral analysis: negative. Data extrapolation: no threat,” Theta-Nu gives his report stoically after the next interval of fifty steps. “Commence search, delta-two formation.” The vegetation in this area is particularly dense, and the squad would be vulnerable against an attack from multiple vectors. Theta-Nu calculates a risk of 0.004 against such an uncoordinated foe, but the creed of the Omnissiah does not allow for leniency.

Just as his warriors switch from the octagonal beta-formation into the delta formation, out of the shadows hooked tendrils shoot past Theta-Nu, hit Chi-332 and Omichron-5631 square in the chest and rip them apart, while four large Tyranid Warriors burst from the foliage, brandishing talons and boneswords and shooting living ammunition from biomorphic weapons.

As the time is right, ‘KILL’ is all Crusher has to think.

Within seconds of Wrecker launching his barbed strangler and the rest of the brood bursting through the undergrowth, their prey returns fire with their strange weaponry. But the pack has laid their ambush well and does not give the half-metal bipeds much ground to utilise their longer range. Slugs frizz past them with high velocity, one hitting Gorger in his upper left arm, sending white hot pain through the limb and into his torso. All sense of stealth abandoned, Gorger lashes at the prey with his whip without breaking stride. The tentacles wrap around the waist of one of the unfortunate prey with a slurping noise, already melting through his inadequate body armour with acid dripping from pores at the fanged tip. With a loud crunch Gorger wrestles the whip free, two halves of the dead Skitarii falling to either side.

Gorger is all rage now, lost in the frenzy of melee. If some of his thoughts are not his own, he does not recognise it anymore. He does not spare a glance at his fellow pack, each one engaged in brutal fighting. He does not see Mauler biting the head of his prey after he all but smashed it to pulp with his claws, nor does he see Ripper’s large shadow coming over two of the prey who returned fire on Wrecker. Shooting his devourer from the hip, Ripper lands amidst them and drives his talons through their metal skulls, burying them deep in their torsos. Crusher faces one of the more peculiar prey, the rod in his hand humming and glowing unnaturally. Crusher is a terrible foe, showering his prey in a hail of shots from his spinefists, lashing at the prey with his talons and scythed tail, but his prey does not falter. A bolt of lightning bursts from the weapon in his one hand, hitting Crusher square in the chest. Crusher cries in anguish, the air reeking of ozone and the smell of burned flesh. But still he comes at his prey, saliva dripping from his mouth in long threads. The Skitarii Alpha is skilled and deflects his attacks with his arc maul, sparks of lightning flashing when it connects with Crusher’s talons. But he is also only half the size of the thundering beast it is facing, and after exchanging a few blows with his inevitable doom, a talon finally finds a hole in its defence and rips him open like a dry leaf.

Gorger roars and charges the last remaining prey in his sight, a stray shot that hits him in the chest absorbed by his carapace. The prey tries to retreat from him, desperate shots from his weapon firing wide, and Gorger catches it around its ankle with his whip. Frantically the Skitarii tries to find purchase on the ground with his hands, failing to stop Gorger pulling him in and hacking it to pieces. Too much of the prey is made of a metal not even Gorger’s effective digestive system can break down, but he gleefully tears through the meaty parts in between.

Killing their half-metal prey is barely enough to still the brood’s blood lust; just as many oily fluids are dripping from the mangled corpses as gore and ichor, cybernetic limbs still twitching from autonomous power sources like post-mortem spasms. Ripper picks up his bounty and, beating his wings, jumps on a large boulder a little apart from the others, as the Shrike prefers his solitude when he feasts. Gorger cares little for such mannerisms, greedily devouring whatever carcass is in reach, while Mauler does not seem to feed at all but is content with continuing to bludgeon the remains of their prey in the dirt. None of the Tyranids escaped from the fight unscathed. Gorger’s upper left arm is still numb and dangles useless at his side, life only slowly returning to the limb drained of its synaptic energies, but it is Crusher who carries the most grievous wounds. Crimson blood still gushes from the deep crater in his chest, despite the cauterising effect of the lightning weapon. Snarling at Wrecker, hunched over a relatively well-preserved cadaver, he claims what is his by right of dominance.

‘HIDE.’ Like many predators after a successfully concluded hunt, Crusher strives to find shelter to feed on his bounty and recover from the wounds sustained in the melee. While Gorger and Wrecker slowly obey their alpha’s command and turn towards the bushes they emerged from to assault the Skitarii, Mauler does not cease to revel in the destruction of their prey. His blood is still singing with murder rage and, as there is no living prey around anymore, he turns on Crusher with a roar. ‘WEAK!’

The humiliation after his previous attempt to wrestle dominance over the pack from Crusher still fresh, Mauler does not give the wounded Tyranid Prime the chance again to subjugate him quickly. Before Crusher can right himself and adopt a threatening pose, Mauler is on him, covering the distance in great strides to lash at Crusher’s throat with his claws.

Crusher drops the Skitarii corpse barely in time to parry the claws with an upswing of his boneswords, unwilling to yield his position – and his life – without a fight.

Mauler is beyond restraint now and attacks with reckless abandon, his claws a blur of frenzied strikes. Crusher is pushed back by the onslaught; the bleeding of his chest wound intensifying upon the renewed strain. The other warriors of the pack watch the fight for supremacy intently, even Ripper leaving his seclusion for a better vantage point. None of them will intervene on either one’s behalf; there is no loyalty between killers, only a pecking order enforced by strength and brutality.

His thunderous attack and the grievous wound in the Warrior Prime’s chest have given Mauler an initial advantage, but he has to keep the pressure up to prevent Crusher from utilising his superior strength or the greater reach the boneswords afford him. Mauler roars again as he redoubles his efforts, moving in close and zealously rending at Crusher with his bloodied claws. He finally finds a gap in Crusher’s defence, pushes aside his left bonesword and drives one of his claws deep in the wet crater in his ribcage while the other aims for the head. Crusher howls and tries to dodge the second claw, almost evading the otherwise lethal blow. The claw leaves three deep gouges on his face, taking out his right eye in the process.

Mauler bellows triumphantly and, using his deathspitter as a giant cudgel, deals Crusher a massive blow to the head, spinning him over until he comes to a rest on his back, lying at Mauler’s clawed feet. As Mauler relishes his victory, arms spread wide to the side, head pulled back for a guttural roar, a hail of poisonous spikes from Crusher’s spinefists hit him at point blank range. His premature roar of triumph transforms into a wet gurgle, as Crusher’s scythed tail slashes across his throat, snatching away victory in the blink of an eye. Mauler stumbles back, helplessly witnessing a badly wounded – yet endowed with more stamina and cunning – Crusher getting back to his feet. Unlike his overzealous challenger, Crusher does not waste valuable seconds but takes Mauler’s head clean off with scissoring cuts of his boneswords. For a moment, the headless torso does not realise its missing head, blood pumping from the stump like a geyser, until Crusher pries the chest open, rips out the still beating heart with his teeth and swallows it whole.

Crusher turns to the rest of the pack. ‘HIDE,’ he sends. Gorger hesitates for a second, looking at the corpse lying in a pool of his own blood and entrails. He follows Wrecker and Ripper back into the bushes.

“No word yet from the Divisio Biologis, Sire,” says the communications adept via noosphere. Magos Biologis Garanos is getting increasingly frustrated. Warp travel is notoriously unreliable, but it has been twenty-two days since he informed his former peers about his triumph on Pishon IV and requested an expedition fleet be sent. Since he summoned them, as he has to admit. His lower face has long been replaced by a bionic, but if he would still be able to smile, now he would. It had been immensely gratifying to rub their smug noses into his success. Garanos was a name that would echo through eternity, en par – if not eclipsing! – with, well, with whom actually? He had single-handedly defeated an entire species, the greatest threat to humanity in ten millennia! Nobody came even close. The Omnissiah, maybe. Garanos is already thinking about the title the High Council of Terra would create for him. Something like Exalted Archmagos Biologis Super Omnia had a nice ring to it.

And now his ascension is delayed by the petty whims of warp travel! The planet is all but cleansed, his Rangers eliminating the last remnants of the large swarm he had lured to Pishon IV. The Divisio Biologis had left him only with his personal guard: Six Skitarii Ranger cohorts, a Kastelan maniple, a Sydonian Dragoon wing and a Dunecrawler. No small force, but certainly not enough to defeat thousands of Tyranid beasts. Not without his genius, that is. Now he has a Hive Tyrant captured and enslaved in the neurogenic stasis field of his teleominiotic chamber; and a host of other Tyranid beasts, even a mighty Carnifex, to prove it.

A data cant signals the return of the Ranger patrols. Garanos deftly moves down the slope, housing his precious invention, on his arthropod legs.

“Sire, Theta-Patrol has not reported in from search grid 14-0-3,” informs the adept overseeing the Skitarii cohorts. “Maybe they have encountered another one of the larger beasts.” His gaze shifts towards the caged Carnifex for a second, barely visible for a human, but slow as dropping pitch for Garanos.

“Unacceptable, adept.” Garanos is furious. The expeditionary fleet can arrive any second, Garanos will not abide any Tyranid creature roaming free on Pishon IV when that happens.

“Assemble the Sydonian Dragoons. Contact me as soon as the expeditionary fleet enters the system.”

‘PREY. KIN. DANGER.’ Ripper’s thoughts are confusing, stirring up both anger and caution in Gorger’s consciousness. The Shrike is using the cover of the night for a reconnaissance-flight to find new prey for the diminished pack. Crusher leads Gorger and Wrecker onward, in the direction of Ripper’s scent. Ripper guides them deeper into the jungle, where a range of mountains breaks through the canopy.

‘HUNT.’ Gorger feels the same sentiment evoked in him in Crusher. The Warrior Prime is already stalking through the dense jungle and stops often to sniff for suspicious smells. He changes directions multiple times, leading the pack along a winding path. Not before long a low hum fills the air and the sounds of more of their half-metal prey increase. But there are more familiar sounds and scents too, particular vibrations in the ground, carried along for miles. Their kin is there, other members of their species. But no smell of blood. The Tyranid Warriors spread out and crouch low to the ground, blending in with the undergrowth.

They come across their prey’s nest at the foot of the mountains, where the dense vegetation recedes and gives way to a large clearing surrounded by rock and jungle. It is a vast area, and their prey has dug itself in behind metal ramparts running the length of the clearing. The low hum had increased steadily over the last mile and is now revealed as emanating from a giant, round structure near the jungle edge; filling the glade with the ebb and flow of a rolling thunder, blue and white lightning pulsing with the tide. From its base, large tubes stretch out like arteries from a heart, snaking their way along the ground, the biggest ones leading up the mountainside to an even larger structure sitting on a plateau.

Spinning rings crown its top, but it radiates only silence. The Tyranids’ thoughts, clear and sharp before, are now muffled, and looking at the spinning rings sends jolts of pain into their tiny brains. But their short glances were enough to see what is trapped inside the large cavern of the structure.

‘KIN. MOTHER.’

Rage is stirring up once again in Gorger and he is tensing up in preparation to attack the metal herd head on. The flock is larger than the one they ambushed before, and there are taller bipeds among them. Towering over the remaining prey is a large crab-like one, and every move of its four metal legs is accompanied by high-pitched whines and hisses.

‘KIN. DANGER.’ Crusher’s thoughts enter Gorger’s mind, and his gaze follows the other tubes extending from the humming orb further left up to a range of smaller structures, housing more of their kin. Unlike their mother, their caged kin are running around in their confinement and thrashing against an invisible barrier, every swing of a talon igniting sparks of purple lightning and drawing cries of frustration from exhausted throats. Gorger sees some of his Warrior brethren on the far right side, but also several of his cousins, most of them small and frail Gaunts, but even a gargantuan Carnifex, which is basically just a pile of muscle and claws. Where his small cousins flinch when touching the invisible barrier with their talons, the Carnifex just continues to draw sparks with a savage roar. Like the other kin their pack had encountered in the jungle, Gorger is unable to hear his thoughts. But he knows his cousins, they have only one thought: Destroy.

‘KIN.’ Crusher entwines his thought with the scent identifying Wrecker’s thoughts, leaving his pack dumbfounded. ‘KIN! DANGER!’ He repeats his thought, again invoking Wrecker’s image in their minds. ‘PREY. KILL.’ His next thoughts are linked to the scents of Ripper and Gorger. Something stirs in Gorger, an instinct, like a faint memory of a time long forgotten; his ancestors, so different in appearance than him and his brothers. They are hunting, split up, surrounding their prey; a few attack, driving fear in the herd and disrupting their cohesion, goading them on into the fangs and maws of the predators waiting.

An understanding begins to form in Gorger’s mind. He looks at Wrecker, sees his confusion with Crusher’s commands. ‘SPLIT,’ he thinks, picturing the pack surrounding their prey in his mind. ‘SPLIT. KIN. DANGER.’ Crusher’s incoming thought feels like a confirmation.

Recognition seems to dawn on Wrecker, as he is finally leaving the pack and heads back along the jungle edge, nearing their caged kin. Crusher and Gorger move in the other direction, trying to bring more distance between them and Wrecker. Ripper is still nowhere to be seen, but the pack can still sense him, silently watching their prey from above.

‘KILL.’ Picturing Gorger and Ripper tearing through their prey, Crusher signals for the attack. With a guttural scream he storms out of the jungle alongside Gorger, heading for the nearest group of prey, felling two with hundreds of needles shooting from his spinefists on the run. The Skitarii react fast, moving in from all corners of the compound and returning fire only a heartbeat later. One of them is bringing a particularly large weapon to bear, training it on the roaring Gorger. Before he can pull the trigger, a shadow descends over him and Ripper picks his victim up with his clawed feet and carries him away screaming.

The Tyranids in their cages are driven into a frenzy as they witness their kin storming the glade, the air rich with pheromones and blood. His predatory prowess undiminished by the loss of an eye, Crusher is knee deep in the bloody remains of a handful of their prey by now. Between impaling one on his bonesword and taking the head off the next, he is sending ‘KIN. DANGER.’ along with Wrecker’s scent. The reaction comes quickly, as Wrecker is leaving his hiding place and smashes through a now deserted rampart. Within moments he has reached their imprisoned kin and begins tearing the structure down. Steel plating rips open like leaves in a storm and flies off the vulnerable circuitry in big chunks, as Wrecker is living up to his scent. The Carnifex in the middle cage redoubles his efforts to break free of his prison, relentlessly battering at the flickering barrier.

With a screech, Ripper returns to pick up his next target. But his shriek turns into a howl as multiple beams fired by the Dunecrawler hit him mid-flight. He is already dead as he hits the ground, smashing into one of the prey, burying the broken Skitarii below his crushed body. Another group of Skitarii turn and train their weapons on Wrecker, eager to rectify their tactical error and thereby leaving their flank unguarded. Unwilling to cease the demolition of the structure to take cover or bring his barbed strangler to bear, Wrecker is hit by a fusillade of slugs, crying in anguish. Reaching deep inside him and drawing from his last reserves, he lands a final, powerful blow on the exposed power coupling of the cages, and with a loud thump the energy barriers collapse.

A few of the Hormagaunts immediately run for the dense jungle to take cover, but most of them follow their larger kin into battle. For a moment, the thunderous hum of the mechanical structure and the sounds of the vicious fighting are eclipsed by the unleashed Carnifex’ terrifying roar. Without hesitation it charges into the fray, smashing through the smaller prey with contemptuous ease and heading straight for the Dunecrawler. His target tries to move away from the onrushing battering ram, a haphazardly fired shot bounces harmlessly from his rock-hard carapace, but nothing is able to prevent the living tank impacting on his prey like a meteor. Thick armour plating buckles under the immense kinetic energy, legs protesting against the titanic forces wielded by the monstrous beast. After a short but futile resistance, inertia finally takes its toll and the Dunecrawler is toppled over. The Tyranid behemoth continues to push the burning wreck around like the crab it resembles lying on its back, ripping the shell apart to get to the fleshy innards.

Entry of the reinforcements is a much-needed respite for Gorger and Crusher, who were close to being overrun at the other flank. They are bleeding from countless wounds, Gorger’s lash whip cut off at the hilt. And their prey is far from beaten, even with their walking tank destroyed. The Skitarii are still in the majority and make short work of the small Tyranids as they flood out of their former prison. With the Carnifex distracted, the remaining Skitarii can focus on the larger Tyranid Warriors, locking them in a stalemate. And as Crusher and Gorger see, the prey has incoming reinforcements of their own.

From the opposite side of the glade, a flock of tall metal creatures with long, spindly legs enter the fight. Among them is clearly a mature male of the species, crawling on six pairs of legs, his body segmented and his hide colourful, probably to attract females. The male climbs the hill to get to the large structure with the trapped Hive Tyrant, while the remaining creatures assault the Carnifex still devouring the last bits of the Dunecrawler. Their shots rouse him from his indulgence and he answers their challenge with an ear-shattering roar.

‘PREY. MALE. DESTROY.’ Gorger can sense that Crusher is barely able to stand. He feels his own life flee his body at a rapid pace. But he also understands Crusher’s desire to destroy their prey’s alpha, to kill their strongest warrior and crush their spirits. He follows the Warrior Prime up the mountainside, chasing after the male.

They catch up with him in front of his lair. Being so close in its proximity is a constant pain in their heads, and they can see that their mother is badly wounded. A strange light surrounds her; the blood around the wounds glistening wet, as if freshly cut. The Hive Tyrant looks alive enough, but they hear no breathing, see no muscle twitching.

The Tyranid Warriors charge in the instant they scaled the mountain. Their prey was expecting them and welcomes them with shots from a host of weapons. Searing pain lances through Gorger’s body, and where a second before a bonesword was, his upper right arm now ends in a bloody stump. Gorger crashes to the floor, blind from the pain, convulsing uncontrollably with spasms. Crusher fares only marginally better, but manages to remain on his feet and closes in on their prey, lashing at him with his boneswords. Their foe blocks his blows with a polearm held in two of his four arms, opening up Crusher’s midriff with the return strike. Acidic blood gushes forth from the latest grievous wound but drips harmlessly from the metal body of their prey.

As the spasms abate, Gorger is slowly able to get back to his feet. Now missing two of his four arms, he throws himself at their prey with everything he still has. Unscathed, Crusher and Gorger would have been more than a match for him. As it is, all they can do is sell their lives as dearly as possible. Their prey has no intention to drag the fight out longer than necessary herams the butt of his polearm in Crusher’s side to shove him back and then impales Gorger on its spiked head. Gorger slides from the weapon and, as he draws his last breaths, watches their prey round on Crusher. Yet his strike for the Warrior Prime’s head aims wide as, locked in combat below, the Carnifex smashes two Synodian Dragoons through the humming structure, leading to a massive quake shaking the mountain.

As the energies of a miniature sun are violently released in an instant, the demolished structure explodes in a whirlwind of shrapnel, tearing through both Tyranid and Skitarii still fighting below with equal ease.

His killing stroke forgotten, the Tech-priest stares aghast at the structure holding the Hive Tyrant captive. The rings crowning the chamber have stopped spinning, the ghostly light is gone and the blood from the Tyranid’s wounds is flowing. The Hive Tyrant screams a single high-pitched noise, resonating deep within the Tyranids’ minds, and falls down on its knees, breathing heavily. The Tech-priest turns around to leave the plateau, but a desperate sweeping strike from Crusher cuts off three of his limbs, forcing him to stumble. They both come apart in a blast from the Hive Tyrant’s venom cannon.

In the last moments before he finally succumbs to his many wounds, Gorger feels the overwhelming presence of the hive mind once again entering his consciousness, eradicating any sense of being Gorger in an instant.

“Entering real space, Sires.” Klaxons and warning sirens accompany the announcement over fleet-wide vox. A tremble runs through the ships as they pierce the open rift between the horrors of the warp and the calm nothingness of void space. Gellar Fields dissipate and real space engines slowly power up to propel the Mechanicus fleet the few thousand miles from the system’s Mandeville point to Pishon IV, an unremarkable jungle world in the Goldilocks Zone of a small Class Two star.

“Report.” Archmagos Biologis Hierox stands on the central dais in the command bridge of the Cogwrought, a venerable Adeptus Mechanicus cruiser. A servitor hard-wired into the reconnaissance bay parses the information coming in from the augur arrays.

+++ Zero noospheric communication +++ Zero ground activity of allied forces +++ Remnants of STC-based structures in the northern hemisphere +++ Residual power signatures, class five fusion reactor +++ Wreckage indicates heavy weapons fire +++ No Mechanicus identification signals detected +++ Insufficient data for analysis of hostile life signs +++

Genetor Xenologis Foryk, his adjutant, approaches Hierox from his left. “He failed, Archmagos, just like before, just as we predicted. Garanos’ ideas are dangerous, heretical even! The Divisio Biologis has shown him great leniency and he has defiled the creed of the most holy Omnissiah again without remorse. His… experiments are a shame for the Adeptus Mechanicus, we need to rip out the canker of his sacrilegious works before they take root. Or before the Inquisition learns about them. There must not be any trace of his work.”

“We are in agreement, Foryk. I had high hopes for Garanos once, he was a gifted adept. Alas, his hubris has cost him, and all of us, dearly.” Archmagos Biologis Hierox makes a noise that could almost be mistaken for a sigh. “Do it.”

Within minutes, the explosions of twenty Incinerator torpedoes transform Pishon IV into hell.

About the Author

Justus Ackermann is from Germany and 36 years old. He was introduced into the Warhammer universe back in 1996. A geneticist by training, he left the sciences and started writing science fiction / fantasy / horror last year.

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