by Michael Bard
In 001.M42, Shakarandras noticed a disturbing possibility in the mists of the future. A Tyrannid attack that was occurring on the Imperial planet known as Fredrick's World would eventually spawn a Tyrant that would lead an attack on the Haras ag Iadonna Craftworld itself. If the Tyrant that was the root of the genetic tree could be destroyed now, then this future would not occur. Shakarandras sent a small force consisting of a Scorpion tank, two Night Spinners, and some escorts, to the site of the conflict as only a small surgical strike was needed.
The Tyrannid horde was endless, and there was no way the forces present, even with Eldar aid, could stop them. An entire ork invasion force had already succumbed to a massive group of ripper swarms that had detached from the main column to destroy them. All that remained before the horde was a small detachment of Blood Angel marines and a handful of Imperial Guard. They knew they were doomed, but had determined not to sell their lives cheaply.
The Eldar arrival gave the defenders some heart, once quick negotiation confirmed that the Haras ag Iadonna forces were there to fight the Tyrannid, and not the Imperial troops.
Balanthril monitoring the Mon Keigh comm. signals as the Scorpion waited. Long range psychic scans confirmed the arrival of the main Tyrannid force, and psychic probes were attempting to identify the Hive Tyrant that was their primary target. The pair of Night Spinners rested behind the ridge upon which the Scorpion rested, ready to fire, and a pair of Wave Serpents and guardians rested nearby dedicated to defend the artillery. Via the senses of artificial psychic spirits in the wraithbone, Balanthril watched the Mon Keigh long range fire, and monitored the Tyrannid as the shells pounded them, blowing gaunts to scattered remnants, but not having any appreciable affect on the horde.
The Tyrannid force consisted primarily of gaunts and warriors, although a few carnifexes and tyrants were present. The psychic engines had not yet identified the target, so Balanthril linked to his wife in the gunners cockpit…
"I already know - shoot the closest and let Khaine sort them out."
Balanthril couldn't help but laugh, feeling the warmth of her love even through the blood haze that had been awakened when they'd prepped for combat. With a thought he brought the warp core to power, and felt the rising warmth and consciousness of the gravtank as it rose off the ground. Lights flickered, and artificial thoughts indicated that all weapons and defenses were at the ready. All around him the tank hummed and whispered through its mechanism as Sandariel tested the pulse cannon and rotated the turret towards the approaching mass.
Through his mental link to the Scorpion's sensors, Balanthril could now see the clouds of monofilament from the Nightspinners raining down into the gaunts, cutting and slicing the lead forces into a sea of blood and ichor, but the Tyrannid force just ignored the bombardment. The three Tyrants commanding the forces swung towards the left flank, and the Mon Keigh, and the sea of gaunts turned towards the Eldar. Behind the gaunts a massive Exocrine began firing and Balanthril moved the tank across the hill to minimize the effects while Sandariel pulsed the main guns at the Exocrine burning great chunks from its armoured hide. Return fire streaked through the sky and impacted on the Scorpion, exploding into a green ooze that tried to dig into the wraithbone hull and failed, but did manage to seep into the turret ring.
A sudden silence told him more than the panicked screams of the artificial spirits in the wraithbone that the pulsar had been temporarily disabled. Spiders crept through narrow tubes and began to repair the damage whilst Balanthrial guided the tank, as his wife requested, until the secondary Brightlance could fire at the incoming forces.
Another hail of fire from the lines of warriors impacted all around the tank, most missing, but some splattering their noxious life forms onto the hull. A moment later the spiders finished their repairs and the main gun hummed into life and fired three pulses at the still active Exocrine, blowing a hole through its guts, leaving only a hollow chittinous shell standing.
The Tyrannid answered with the massed fire of every warrior in range.
As best he could, Balanthrial sped and halted, turning and changing course in a wide circling zigzag, so that the defenses spread the Scorpion's image far behind. But all the skill; all the power of Khaine, all were for nought as the sheer volume of fire drenched the Scorpion in gore. More spirits in the wraithbone screamed their deaths as the hull bubbled under the assault, and once again the main pulsar shutdown as the warp energy feed was halted to prevent an implosion. Internally spiders went to work, but the Tyrannid weapons dripped columns of alien death into the tunnels and passages and the spiders began to be consumed. Precautions were taken but they delayed the work on the pulsar as the continuous rain of Tyrannid fire continued.
Suddenly the psychic logic engine flagged a Tyrant as the target, and Balanthrial turned the tank so that the Bright Lance could fire. It fired once, twice, the psychic scanners straining to pierce the hail of alien life raining upon the Scorpion, and hit both times and the Tyrant staggered but did not fall, even though purplish fluid dribbled from its body.
Then there was a scream through the psychic link, not the scream of an artificial spirit but the scream of Sandariel. He felt her mind and saw with her eyes as alien slime penetrated a crack in the armoured shell of her fire station and burned through her armour. The spiders sealed the crack, but it was too late and he felt Sandariel's flesh melt and bubble with her.
And then her body ended, and her spirit fled into her stone.
A film of red poured across Balanthrial's vision as a rage, a hatred for the Tyrannid, consumed him. He wanted blood. The mission was forgotten; the pain of the spirits in the Scorpion was forgotten. All that was left was hate. Silently and deliberately, Balanthrial chained the Bright Lance to his command, and then turned the Scorpion and accelerated down the ridge towards the horde of warriors who'd killed his love. For a moment he cleared the rain of fire and could see from the falling monofilament that only one Nightspinner was still active, this time firing into the warriors that had killed Sandariel. But neither the warriors nor Balanthrial cared as each fired at the others. Bright energy killed a warrior with each shot as a rain of alien organisms fell upon the Scorpion and burned, seeking a vital psychic link. A shot found the main warp power feed to the Bright Lance and silenced the weapon, but Sandariel was beyond caring. All he did was accelerate, using the Scorpion as a ram, pulling it close to the ground and driving into and through the warriors. Slicing them with the hull; crushing them with the gravitic repulsors; sucking and grinding them through the engine turbines and spraying a red mist out behind. He could hear the screams of the last Nightspinner crew, and of the last of the guardians, as they went down under a sea of alien limbs and teeth, but he didn't care. Oblivious to their own casualties, the Tyrannid kept firing at the tank until finally one shot got into the main warp power feed into the left engine turbine and the Scorpion staggered and slowed as the spiders worked frantically to keep a feedback from destroying their mother.
It was only the flashing screams of pain as the engine cycled down to a safe level overriding his commands that brought a hint of sanity to Balanthrial. Warriors were crowding around him, gaunts leaping onto the armoured hull, screeching, their claws scraping and scratching as they tried for a claw hold and then slid off. And there was the Tyrant, still firing at him.
The mission. He had to remember the mission! Sandariel's spirit could be saved, their daughter was still alive, but only if he survived and killed the Tyrant. Balanthrial forced all the power he could from the engines and turned away and sped over the screeching horde towards the Tyrant. He had no weapons left except for the tank itself, its spirits screaming for vengeance. More fire followed him and he sensed the last of the Eldar die behind him, consumed by a carpet of living flesh. The Tyrant came closer. A shot from the creature it was holding staggered the Scorpion as it bit into a warp conduit and destroyed the spiders hovering around it trying to repair the damage.
And then he was there, and into, and through the Tyrant. It was dead. By Khaine, it was dead!
Turning away and speeding north away from the horde, Balanthrial watched as the last of the Mon Keigh fell, and the last of their tanks fell silent. The Tyrannid had won. There was no way he could recover the spirit stones of the others, although hopefully some would survive as the Tyrannid consumed this world.
But Sandariel's spirit was with him, safe. He could faintly feel its warmth and love as he turned back to the warp gate, and his daughter.