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It was heresy, but Brother-Sergeant Pare loved the desert with the same passion he loved the Emperor. The dust that got into everything, making the joints of his power armour grind through their motions rather sliding smoothly and silently didn’t deter him. As the sun rose he only had eyes for the riot of colours against Kali’s horizon. Running a hand through his mohawk a shower of grit ran down the back of his neck and slid through his collar seal. Pare laughed as it trickled down his back, and his voice echoed off the ridges that rose and fell before him.

Brothers Gere and Arval looked up at Pare and smiled from where they knelt in the long shadow of their disabled Razorback, their chanting interrupted. The ritual being performed by Brother Braas, the techmarine who had been dropped off to remount the transports thrown track, was not interrupted. Neither was the swing of his mallet, which rang again and again on the new rivets holding the replacement track sections.

Brother Dade was almost indistinct as his red armour blended with the paint on the Razorback where he sat with his back against the lascannons. He extended his left hand in a silent thumbs up towards Pare which was clear enough though. His right never strayed from his missile launcher, which rested at ready hand. Even Brother Reed, their driver from the Seventh Company, waved from the top hatch.

Pare knew they all felt as he did, glad to finally be in action after the long trip out from Priory, even if it was just chasing rumours of Eldar across the trackless wastes of Kali. He was also cautious. A dozen brothers of the first company had died when they had first dropped on this Emperor-forsaken world. He knew all to well that it would take them too if they failed to keep their guard up. “Brother Jaymes, report.”

Jaymes’ voice came over the commlink from his perch on top of the butte to their left, “Quiet as a Sister’s bedroom brothers.” They all laughed, even Brother Braas, who dropped his mallet and smacked the side of the Razorback. As they settled down the techmarine rose and said, “That will do it. Now how about giving me a ride back to camp? Emperor willing or not, I’m sure someone has managed to break something else by now.”

Pare smiled, “It’s not as if we try.”

“Only my patience brothers.” The techmarine carefully placed each of his tools in their case, murmuring a short benediction to their good service.

“Movement to the West! Repeat, movement to the west!” Jaymes was practically shouting.

“Everyone into cover, now!” Pare consulted his auspex as he headed for the rocks at a run. A hand of the Emperor’s tarot flickered in its display, the Alien, the Magus, Strength, Fortitude. And Death. Pare keyed the command channel, shouting to be heard over the roar as Brother Reed gunned the Razorback’s engine to life, “Second company patrol squad Epsilon reporting, we have contacts, repeat, enemy contacts, strength unknown, request immediate support!”

Pare recognized Lieutenant Kahn, the Primus Pilus' voice on the line, “Confirm message received brother, all units in your area are being dispatched. Can you confirm enemy identification and strength?”

Pare went to his knees behind cover and swept the horizon with a monocular, “I’ve got two, no three Eldar grav tanks, class unknown, and support infantry.” Pare paused and drew a gasping breath as a massive figure came into view, draped in ornate armour and surrounded by eerie fire. He could barely whisper at the awful sight, “Emperor’s teeth… it’s an Avatar.” He was so shocked at the sight that he didn’t even mention the Wraithlord that stepped ahead of the terrifying monster.

“Control requests confirm Avatar, repeat, confirm Avatar.”

“Confirm Avatar.”

“Eye. Sorry, Control sends hold until relieved. Emperor be with you brothers.”

Pare killed the transmit on the line, “He damned well better be,” then switched to the squad channel, “Time to pray now brothers.” He could hear their voices muttering over the channel as they took firing positions in the rocks. Dade slid in close to Pare, dust and gravel flying. He laid his spare missiles at the ready, then sighted down the tube of his launcher at the approaching enemy.

“Report in.”

One by one they sounded off as the Razorback roared forward ahead of a plume of dust churned up by its tracks, then suddenly shrieked to a halt in a sheltered firing position. Finally Reed called in, “I have a fistful of the Emperor’s wrath ready here.”

The tanker’s confidence reassured Pare. Dade unleashed a rocket that hit the lead Eldar tank, a Wave Serpent, as it came into range. They all cheered, but the grav tank continued on, unharmed. Then twin beams of light lashed out from the Razorbacks turret, and the Wave Serpent seemed to shudder, then crash to the ground in a cloud of smoke and dust. Another cheer went over the comm, but Pare went cold when he saw a handful of elaborately plumed figures jump clear of the wreck. “Keep your eyes open brothers, we’ve got Banshees out there.”

There were curses and a hail of bolter fire aimed at keeping the enemy assault troops down, then another Wave Serpent skimmed over the wreck and the small rocky hill that partly obscured the other one. Its twin guns blazed pulses of light at their position in the rocks, but they all went high. Rockets and another shot from the Razorback reached out to swat it down, and more Eldar bailed out even closer to their position, Scorpions if Pare’s guess was right. Behind them the rest of the Eldar force kept advancing, now joined by a squad of jetbikes.

Pare keyed the company channel again, “Where in the Eye is that support, we’re in a world of trouble here.”

“Quit your quaking brother, we’re here.”

Pare turned briefly to see a squad clambering into the rocks to join him, led by the distinctive figure of Sergeant Kolya, whose bald black head gleamed in the sun like it was polished. “This is too much even for you Kolya.”

Kolya said, “Eye,” as he reached a position that afforded him a view of the oncoming host. Pare could hear him say, “Control, we’re going to need a lot more help here,” over the commlink.

More squads sounded their ETA’s over the channel. They would be here soon. He hoped it would be soon enough.

Another Wave Serpent flashed ahead, shrugging off missiles from Kolya’s and Pare’s squads, and was next to the downed lead tank before it too succumbed to Reed’s fire. Pare called into the commlink, “Good shooting brother.”

“The Emperor guides my hand.”

Another Razorback burst into the valley on the left of Pare’s butte, laying down covering smoke as a dreadnought followed close behind. An Eldar speeder cut through the plumes of smoke rising from the downed grav tanks, leaving a swirling tornado in its wake. Its gun hammered bursts of light into Kolya’s position, and a number of marines went down, though Pare wasn’t sure if they were hit or diving for cover. Then the dreadnought fired and scored a hit on the speeder, but not enough to down it, thought it ceased firing.

Rockets trailed into Pare’s squad from behind the advancing Eldar infantry, driving them from their cover. Only four fell back, and the commlink relayed Gere and Jaymes' screams as they went down. “Emperor damn them, they’ve got Reapers back there.”

A trio of bright red landspeeders burst into sight on Pare’s right, the black armour of the seventh company marines in the cockpits clear even at a distance. Their heavy bolters were hammering rounds into the advancing Eldar infantry, and Pare could see figures going down under their fire. Behind them came two more squads, one of scouts and another of marines, hurrying forward to find firing positions.

Then the massive forms of five Terminators shambled into view, sheltering behind Reed’s Razorback, and Pare breathed a sight of relief. The marines poured what they had into the advancing infantry, and a shot from the dreadnought was barely avoided by a biker who had joined the advance, elaborately arrayed, and clearly the leader of the attacking army.

They held their position as the Wraithlord made its opening salvo, but again the fire went wide of their position on the butte. The Reapers had shifted their fire and were pouring it onto the landspeeders, which continued to gun down the Eldar infantry. One was hit and shuddered, its gunner clearly down, but it spun to cover the other two, which drifted after their crews were stunned by the enemy fire.

Pare’s attention was yanked back to the situation in front of him. All their heavies were firing into the Eldar Wraithlord, but it kept coming. Then Reed fired again, a burst from the lascannons and the one-shot missile launcher slamming home, and the Wraithlord stumbled to the ground with a crash that could be heard even at this distance.

Then the Eldar leader, close enough now that Pare could clearly see it was one of their witch-kings, burst over the wrecked tanks followed by a squad of bikes. They were joined by the speeder which had clearly only been grazed by the dreadnoughts earlier fire. It opened up on the Razorback with a burst from its guns, and the tank went up in a blast, taking a nearby marine with it. Only four of the marines it was carrying made it out. The witch-kings spear spoke, and a flash of eldritch energy struck the dreadnought, and it too exploded, leaving another marine down. In the wink of an eye Scorpions and Banshees burst from cover to hit the reeling survivors of the transport, hacking them down.

Meanwhile the bikes swung around the butte, witch-king leading, to strike at Reed’s Razorback. Miraculously the burst of light from the spear went wide, and the witch-king surged ahead of his men, directly at Pare. Pare braced himself and swung his bolter like a club, but missed.

The spear descended, and Pare was surprised when it went wide of him, striking at one of the Terminators which had climbed up next to him. The Eldar weapon hammered into the terminator’s breastplate, but the ancient suit of armour held fast. The bulkily suited marine surged forward in a lightning tackle, arms wide. Pare could only watch in amazement as the terminator caught the witch-king around the waist, bearing both figures to the ground. The bike, slowing to an idle, hovered over them as the Eldar flailed uselessly with his hands at the terminator. Then the massive power fist squeezed. Lightning flashed; some field clearly trying to protect the Eldar, but the fist ground on, clasping the terminator’s other hand and pulling. There was a sickening crunch, and the mighty witch king went limp. The marine rose to stand over his fallen foe.

At the sight of their fallen leader the Eldar forces gathered in the valley stood stunned, and Pare knew it was time to strike. “Charge!” He shouted, and his men and Kolya’s streamed over the butte to stand before the Eldar there, bolters and plasma rifles at the ready. There was a pause, a moment of holy clarity, then as one the marines fired. Bolter shells and plasma bursts tore into the Eldar, knocking one after another from their feet. Reed’s guns added their fury to the storm, and bikers were blown out of existence by the fury of his lascannons. The Terminators, surging behind their victorious sergeant played a pair of heavy flamers over the Eldar, which sent more of them reeling to the ground, writhing and burning there.

Their storm bolters fired through the carnage, delivering death to even more of the Eldar. Through some miracle a few of the Scorpions remained standing, but the look in their eyes was one of horror. Then the marines streamed down off the rocks, striking with fists, bolter butts, and bayonets. Pare could see one Scorpion fighting back bravely as he swung his bolter down. The Eldar vainly tried to block the blow, but the weapon slammed home, and Pare stepped forward over the slumped body to find nothing but his brothers standing in the press. Discipline quickly took hold, and they consolidated back into the valley, away from the rest of the Eldar host. But as Pare watched the rest of host stopped, even the Avatar, who stood and waved a fist in their direction, eyes bleeding a bloody fire which flew away in the wind, mouth fixed in an angry grimace.

“Good work brother, you’ve even taken away that monster’s appetite for carnage.” The Eldar were streaming away now, falling back in cover. Pare turned to see who had spoken, and was surprised to see Secundus. He immediately saluted, and said, “Master, I didn’t hear you arrive.”

Secundus’ helmet was in his hand, and he swung in back towards the squad of the Pious Few that hand arrived with him, “I’m sorry we didn’t get here earlier, but it appears you have the situation in hand.”

“Thank you sir.” Before them the Eldar were continuing their retreat, a mere fraction of their earlier strength. The ground around Pare was covered with fallen Eldar bodies with a few marines scattered among them. Pare gestured to them, “Why did they stop coming?”

Secundus just shrugged, easily shifting the massive weight of the jump pack on his shoulders, “Why did they attack at all? Do not worry yourself with the concerns of others brother, we have our own butcher’s bill to tally, and then a ship to catch.”

“To where sir?”

“Blodsburg.”

Korvus 21:33, 9 February 2008 (UTC) Nicholas Cioran

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