"Two, watch it!" Ui'var barked at this team mate. "On your left!"
Ui'arran jerked up the bulky arm of his xor'vesa in time to meet a tooth-rattling stream of heavy bolt fire. Armour chipped and cracked under each strike, but held firm under the assault. The shas'ui twisted his suit out of the line of fire, for the first time noticing the rapid moving skimmer that had attacked him. Trailing debris from its ruined under-side weapon mount, it began to peel away, trying to reduce it's exposure to a counter attack.
"Leave it - with me!" Ui'var triggered his own thrusters, bounding out to the right from behind the massive silo, Ui'arran hot on his heels. Even as the tau warriors moved, missile fire rained down from above, showering their position with blossoms of amber-lit fire and plumes of blackened soil. "Stay on target, Two!". Stomachs lurched as the pair of xor'vesa bounded clear of the assault and brought their own fire to bear...
In the smoke strewn cockpit of Cerberus Unbound
, Princeps Geuren resisted the urge to cough and splutter; I will show these xenos no ounce of weakness - I am a Princeps of Him on Terra!
The fervent thought stilled the impulse to respond to the smouldering air that shrouded his command throne. Instead, he kept his voice low and controlled.
"Back us up; target the assailant and destroy it."
The titan, in a display of agility that one unfamiliar with the machine would have thought impossible, veritably hopped and skipped backwards, raising the curved, conical twin weapon barrel on its right hand side in line with the Piranha that was now banking sharply to escape retaliation. Conduits roared with lambent energy, and the entire front end of the weapon flared as the plasma stored within the war engine's heart was siphoned and channelled into a blast of pure destructive energy. Striking the tau skimmer squarely as it tried futilely to evade, the blast heated, melted then vaporised the light alloys of the smaller machine in a heartbeat. La'roh didn't even have the time to think about screaming; he simply ceased to exist. As the plasma flare darkened and passed, one of the kor'vesa from the Piranha tumbled unsteadily out of the blast zone, its blackened carapace spluttering the odd spray of actinic sparks. Had the kor'vesa been programmed to consider such philosophical dilemmas, it would no doubt have judged itself lucky to have survived.
Clinging smoke and plaster swirled around his xor'vesa as El'tyen, jaw clenched, sought for a way through the ruined structure, Stalker La'rua hot on his heels. The remains of the building shook as another spread of missiles from the nearby gue'la support vehicles cascaded around the two warrior's behind him, both shas'ui bearing the punishment stoically, moving their bulky suits nimbly through the gap made by their commander as all three made their way to find a firing position against the towering Warhound
. Movement across the street caught El'tyen's eye; power-armoured gue'la were moving to try and pin his cadre in place for the larger and firepower-laden titan to eradicate.Bold, but not very well executed.
El'tyen's mentor's mind marked off a string of "grudges" against the manoeuvre; it was half-cocked, poorly supported and woefully over-exposed. And here's why...
"Stalker - Fire and fade". Beside him, both xor'vesa of Stalker One and Two angled their weapons down, cutting loose with a barrage of fire that chewed methodically through plaster, brick, ferro-steel and ceramite armour, chipping shards of protective material from the alien warriors. One was caught in a vulnerable neck joint by a rail round, the projectile separating helmeted head from now-limp body, which slumped meatily over backwards in an awkward sprawl.
El'tyen ignited his jetpack, his armoured suit easily piling through the dilapidated roofing material above it as it performed an arc of movement towards the targeted squad. He let fly his own weapon systems at the top of the arc, a pair of rail rounds bowling one trooper over, while the stream of fire from the experimental PPAR on his right shoulder drilled home into a second gue'la, pitching it over onto it's helmeted face, a ragged series of holes torn through it. Scattered bolt fire came up to meet him as he descended, chipping armour but failing to do any damage. Sights set, the battlesuit careened into one of the troopers, knocking it back and down as the armoured knee of the XV8 pinned it to the ground. The trooper struggled, its armoured fists flailing against El'tyen's leg. In a blur of motion, the other power armoured trooper snapped his boltgun level and started blasting in at the tau commander's battlesuit. Blocking the shots as best he could with his arm, raised to cover the cockpit, El'tyen winced as crack after crack of exploding bolts shuddered against his armour. Lurching sideways, the xor'vesa punched its assailant squarely in the face, hurling it back through the crumbling wall behind it. Almost immediately, the marine that he'd floored with his initial attack drew its pistol and started blasting away at El'tyen's back. Reversing his direction, El'tyen dropped back down onto his knee, once again pinning the prone enemy, then hammered the armoured fist of his left arm downwards, crushing the helmet and ending the trooper's struggles.Right, and now for....
The battlesuit lurched again as the trooper he'd punched through the wall charged back through it and leapt at him.
Kicking open the door to the cellar, La'bryn had enough time to register the streak of movement passing before him before he shouldered his Pulse rifle and let fly. Dashing to impromptu firing positions, Archer One joined in their team leader's fire, riddling the landspeeder with pulse shots, tearing it to pieces. The tau warrior nodded to himself, then motioned his team into more secure cover around them...
Inside his cockpit, Ui'arran's fingers danced over the secondary controls, compiling SatCom and MagRes images into the OmniTrack gear which instantly fed them to his leaders xor'vesa as well. Data flew between the vesa of both suits, selecting the most likely targets. A warning flashed across the top left of his HUD, indicating another friendly unit was targeting the same squad of gue'la; smart missiles from Lancer One arrowed towards the enemy squad, shredding one limb from limb.
Grappling his primary controls, Ui'arran spoke into his commset. "Firing".
As both xor'vesa completed their sideways dash, their weapons unleashed a hail of burst and rail fire as they cleared the structure before them. Overhead, heavy rail rounds screamed through the air, igniting a trail of fire at its passing. Ahead and above, the towering form of the Warhound
was rocked as the shot from the Eighty-eight behind them ricocheted off at an oblique angle, while a second shot, from Ui'nierra's Hammerhead, chewed into the hipjoint of the machine, gimping it. Focusing his attention on the target squad, Ui'arran grinned as two more gue'la toppled over, one headless, the other clutching vainly at the gaping hole in its chest. Triggering his thrusters, he followed Ui'var back into cover.
The sky gently rolled above him, revealing beatific mandarin shading across the clouds high above. Twin suns, one a glowing orange, the other a deceptively cool blue beat serenely across the plain, warming his skin pleasantly. Sighing, he tasted the air as he inhaled, the tingle of wooden essence tinged with a subtle tang of... something that was beyond his ken, as if just out of reach. Closing his eyes, he inhaled again. There was something else there, much more sour than before; faint, yet palpable. He frowned in concentration.
As he sought recognition, he felt a dull throb pass through him, awakening sensations that had been there all the time, yet had previously remained unnoticed. Bafflement grew, nourishing his curiosity. Reaching for one of the now growing sensations, this one from his head, his fingers touched not his dry, sun-warmed skin, but something sticky, something viscous. This was not how he remembered this place...
The throbbing grew rhythmically into a distant pounding of drums that echoes through the hills and fields of his mind...
This is not real.
Yet still it persisted, just as the pounding grew, still as slow, but louder, and louder...
Not knowing felt like being out of control; and that was something a shas'vre could not...Shas'vre!
Realisation dawned. His eyes snapped open.
The vividly beautiful sky was replaced by a mottled grey shroud, viewed through a long, jagged tear in his xor'vesa's cockpit, the rend pinging metallically as it cooled from some massive heat impact. A roaring squeal of noise barraged his ears. Pain stabbed across his body like knives digging for bone. Electrics sparked and spluttered from his controls, while lubricant trickled down one broken panel and dripped down onto the exposed bone of his arm which poked sickeningly through his combat suit.
Blinking, disoriented, the ringing in his ears began to subside enough for him to make out voices; frantic, garbled. Then, one much clearer.
"Vre'wynn, respond!" Then, "Can anyone see him?"
Outside his wrecked xor'vesa, he not so much as heard but felt
the approach of a behemoth; a destroyer of lives. The Warhound
One of the other voices returned, much clearer this time,
"Confirmed; the eighty-eight is down, repeat, Vre'wynn is down".
"Keep up... the pressure!" El'tyen's rumbling voice sounded strained across the general frequencies as he struggled with the remaining foe before him. Out of the corner of his eye, he'd seen the salvo of fire from the gue'la heavy weapon team corkscrew in towards Vre'wynn's position. He had no time to worry about that now. Grappling with all of the strength his suit had available, both gue'la and xor'vesa wrestled with one another to force their opponent's weapons away from bearing on each other. The power-armoured trooper, slightly smaller in stature than El'tyen's XV8, had ducked in underneath his shoulder weapons, neatly evading their wrath. The Shas'el, however, took a more direct approach, crushing his assailant's bulky looking pistol beneath his armoured gauntlet, the force of which also seemed to cause significant damage to the gue'la's hand. Almost chest to chest, the two combatants struggled with each other in a deadlock...FLASH...
The air crackled as the light flared impossibly bright for an instant, then faded, announcing the discharge of the titan's plasma weapon. Heat washed over them, being this close, blanketing them in an elemental's breath that threatened to send them toppling, yet neither warrior dropped their guard.
A cacophonic whining, punctuated by a staccato drumroll heralded the unleashing of the titan's other main weapon system, tracer rounds lighting up the darkening sky above like supersonic fireflies.
Teeth clenched hard, El'tyen heard the dismay over the comms...
+++"Vre'wynn's down, Vre'wynn's down - can you, can anyone see him?"
Ui'var cursed profusely within the privacy of his own xor'vesa - they'd just lost one of their two remaining big hitters; there was little chance of the brave shas'vre walking away from that hit. "Confirmed; the eighty-eight is down, repeat, Vre'wynn is down".
Well, that sealed it. Worse still, he could see the other crisis team falter, ever so slightly, as they tried to assess the situation. He brought himself in to cover, letting the targeting vesa select the best spread. Looking at the tactical display, he saw Stalker La'rua finally shift position as they prepared to line up on the Warhound
again. It was a sloppy manoeuvre; had they taken damage he hadn't seen?
"Stalker, tighten up, you're too loose; hug the wall, hu-".
Shell after shell chewed paving and wall with impunity as a line of destruction was walked across the titan's field of view, shredding first the drones then both xor'vesa's of Stalker La'rua limb from limb in a spray of metal, dirt, oil and blood. Staggering haphazardly from the assault, Stalker Two had enough time to stumble no more than five paces, weapons smashed beyond recognition, left arm missing and billowing smoke from the shoulder, before the whoosh of a descending missile barrage completed the display of destruction, hammering the now-wrecked suit to the floor.
He had to regain the initiative.
Arms strained, armoured joints creaked, wills matched; suddenly, El'tyen pivoted his suit back, dropping to one knee, but levering his foe off the ground for a split second. In that instant, the aged shas reversed his direction, throwing his head forward to cannon solidly with his foe. The blow knocked the gue'la back, only bringing his head up with enough time to see an armoured hoof fill his faceplate, shortly before it caved in his skull.
Squatting down to reduce his profile, El'tyen took a moment to regain some discipline. "Hunter, intensify your fire to compensate; I'll bracket the target from the east - I want those shields down so Lancer can make her shots count". Mind ever on the bigger picture, El'tyen delivered the instructions as if they had been planned all along. Switching frequencies, he opened up a direct channel with the last of his forces on station.
"Archer Two, I need you in this fight now
Within the shadow of the Warhound, the two squat Whirlwinds, their missile-laden snouts raised to the sky as if they could smell their distant targets, continued to belch off rounds over the roofs towards the tau. Smoke blossomed from each launcher with every discharge, which, coupled with the wind whipped up by the Warhound’s passing, shrouded the surrounding city block with a miasma of debris and dust, charged with latent energy and an ironic vibrance; the hulls of the two tanks almost seemed to spark and crackle.
Not thirty yards before the pair, within one of the now increasingly common ruins surrounding the area, a pile of broken ferrocrete shifted and clattered, unnoticed, to the debris-strewn floor, as a large metal grate flipped open with a heave.Mental note; I need a new rebreather and at least three rota in a de-con shower
. Poking the snout of her carbine before her, La’rellia ushered her charges out of the access drain, her eyes fixed on the missile launchers before them.
Even sealed within her armour, the shas kept her voice low as she chinned open the comms for the cadre. “Archer Two on-site and moving to engage”. And I just hope they have those ugly lumps of scrap buttoned up tight, or they will
smell us coming.
Gritting her teeth, she rose lithely from her makeshift cover, a burnt out heating appliance of gue’la construction, and pumped her fist forward twice.
As one, the team of Shas’la bounded forward, weapons up, and let fly at the nearest vehicle. Each hit sent an increasingly chaotic spray of armour-shards pluming from the Whirlwind, shredding antennae and lesser stored equipment as the shas frantically sought a weak point.
Behind them, Destruction Incarnate roared it’s frustration to the heavens.