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Melchoir peered through the darkness. He could scarcely make out the silhouette of the large buildings in front of him. This was apparently a temple to St. Shalina, or a temple complex, to put it more accurately. In any case, it was the hardest strongpoint in the enemy's defenses, and Melchoir was going to put an end to it.
Nearly a month had passed since Melchoir had been excused to medicae due to his concussion. While off duty, he had the opportunity to spend more time with Inquisitor Quistl Amns. Ever since his senior partner's disappearance, Amns had been thrust into the position of being the person in charge of... well... everything. The Imperial governor had long since been slain, as had any seriously high-ranking officer of the planetary defense force. The planet was in complete ruins, and though the xenos and enemy space marines had largely fled the planet, left behind were the remnants of the traitorous part of the planetary defense force, still putting up scattered resistance. Being abandoned by their former allies, they had no real option but to fight a guerilla campaign to the death.
All of these many planetary duties, on top of his inquisitorial ones had vastly overwhelmed his single person's capabilities. Worse was that Amns was many things, but he didn't have a particularly strong grasp of logistics, nor much of an interest in them either. After spending several hours getting help from Melchoir, who did have such a mind, and nothing better to occupy it, Amns took it upon himself to delegate.
For the last three weeks, Melchoir had been the supreme general of all loyalist armies. The title was extremely grand, but it was also absurd. His "all armies" consisted of between twenty and sixty thousand Folerans and, at most, half that many of the planetary defense forces, who were kept completely occupied serving as a police force. He had spent all of the previous days desperately trying to assemble something resembling a general staff from scratch. He had spent countless sleepless nights just trying to figure out how many soldiers were at his command, and where they all were, and where there was enemy resistance.
While most action (that he knew of), seemed to be little more than hit and run operations scattered about the planet, there were a few small pockets of actual, organized resistance left. The most dangerous of these was tucked away in an impossible bit of terrain - sharp, broken ground, covered with a dense mass of forest. Already, he had lost several hundred soldiers and a dozen war machines - losses he simply couldn't afford - before he even was made aware of the threat. The piecemeal attack had to end, but Melchoir was lacking in absolutely everything, from artillery, to air cover, to fast breakthough units.
A day and a half before, he had used what little commanding presence he had to round up the remainder of the armored vehicles still in working condition, and drove out to the place. He would personally lead the assault, and break the enemy's strongpoint. Hopefully a single coordinated attack would be all it would take. Melchoir had begged and pleaded Amns to help him, leading whatever inquisitorial forces he could spare. The inquisitor gladly agreed to help with the assault.
And now here they were, picking between boulders and knotted trees. In front of them was the ruined temple of St. Shalina.
He had opted to make a night attack, hoping on surprise for his sudden assault. So far, it seemed to be working perfectly. Foleran forces had surrounded the compound area, and had managed to sneak up almost to the defenseworks themselves in the darkness. To make it even more perfect, there was a decent-strength breeze blowing in the night air; the sound of rustling leaves helping to obscure the rumbling growl of the tank engines around him.
Melchoir took in the night air for a moment before reaching down to his vox set.
"This is Melchoir to all Foleran forces. We are set up on the south-east side of the temple complex. Everybody else report in."
"We're ready on the east side of the temple complex, Melchoir," came a voice crackling quietly over the vox.
"We're prepared to attack along the gully, too."
"I think we're in place on the west slope, Melchoir. It's really hard to tell with all of these trees."
"I'm ready on the north side. All of the houses look deserted."
Melchoir nodded to himself. That would have to do. In a way, it slightly didn't matter, as the enemy would be attacked simultaneously along a 10-mile circumference. In the dark. Things were about to get confusing beyond the ability to really plan or control. At least everything was set up correctly.
"All right. Commence attack... Now!"
Melchoir switched to the micro-bead. "Hit the lights!"
On command, his heavy vehicles all turned on their spotlights, sending their bright beams showering onto the dark ruins in front of them.
"Move out!" the officer ordered, and with a sudden surge of engine sounds, his armored fist started to grind its way forward.
Melchoir gripped onto the side of his hatch as the chimera underneath him began to move. With his other hand, he shielded his eyes against the glow of the spotlights, searching for signs of the enemy.
It wasn't long before he spotted them. Inside the outer ring of the temple compound was a wall of battletanks pointed in his direction.
He held his breath for a moment, expecting the worst.
Except it didn't happen. The tanks were set up in their defensive positions, but they didn't appear to be active. Wherever their crews were, they weren't in their vehicles.
His plan had worked perfectly.
"We caught them completely by surprise," Melchoir announced proudly into the micro-bead, "Enemy armor is inactive. Those tanks don't have crews. Everybody pile in!"
The officer felt the thrill of battle begin to rise in his chest. He looked around ahead of him. He could see a panicking and disorganized enemy frantically scrambling around. Some were rushing to man their tanks, while others were trying to set up in prepared firing positions. Some, as likely as not, were already running away.
The spotlights continued to search for targets in the darkness as the attacking vehicles drove forwards.
Suddenly, the battlefield broke out with gunfire. Enemy tanks were starting to come online, their gunners frantically firing at anything. The Folerans slowed slightly and began to return fire against their blinded enemies. Melchoir had assembled the best forces he had at his disposal, and the sound of the curiously-engineered plasma tank could be heard blasting its hugely destructive automatic cannon over the sounds of veterans already in range to fire their meltaguns.
The air around Melchoir lit up as something began to shoot out of the inky blackness in front of them. A thunderous boom cracked through the ruins. Suddenly, an explosion rocked the chimera behind him. The concussive blast of a tank shell shattered the armored vehicle, the impact smashing through the driver's hatch and taking out a huge chunk of the wheel well behind it in a cloud of twisting debris.
As the chimera ground to a halt, Melchoir tapped into his own transport's vox net.
"Turret gunner," the officer spoke, sternly, "Find the source of that incoming fire."
With a hissing pop, the massive searchlight in front of the officer lit up. Its searing white glow cast itself over the ruins in front of them.
It took only a moment to find the source of the incoming fire.
Melchoir's eyes went wide.
"We have a pair of vanquishers in front of us!" he shouted into his micro-bead, "Everybody on my side, get out of your transports. Repeat, everybody bail out!"
There was no way that the armored transports were going to survive against the fearsome anti-tank power of the enemy's vanquisher cannons. They would have to take their chances on foot.
Behind him, he could see the infantry of the immobilized chimera behind him quickly exit their vehicle and start making a dash for cover.
"That includes us," he spoke to his transport crew, "You keep shining a light onto those tanks. It's going to be the best way you get supporting fire. Good luck."
With the hairs on the back of his neck bristling as a second vanquisher cannon shell crashed into the dirt right in front of his chimera, Melchoir ducked back into the cab of his transport.
"Come on, everybody, we're getting out of here," he spoke to his command staff.
With all the tense, practiced haste of a fire drill, the guardsmen followed their officer out of the back door and out into the cool night breeze.
The officer and all the guardsmen nearby began to run for the nearest cover.
The officer slowed as he approached the wall. He turned and ushered his command squad into the ruins. Complete darkness enveloped them.
"All right," Melchoir said, at barely more than a whisper. We have two enemy tanks in front of us, and I think I may have seen a third. We're going to rush in and take them with meltaguns before they do any more damage to our armor."
"Are there two or three?" one of his command staff asked.
Melchoir made his way over to a crack in the ruin. There were three. One of them was brightly lit up by his chimera's searchlight.
And it wasn't a vanquisher. The many-barreled maw of a punisher cannon facing in their direction met the officer's gaze.
"Dammit, they have a punisher," he muttered to himself. He couldn't possibly risk being caught out in the open against the brutal gatling power of that kind of Russ.
"A punisher?" someone asked tensely, sensing the officer's thoughts.
"Unfortunately," he replied as one of the vanquisher cannons next to him thundered another massive shell into his tanks. He had to think of something. He had to find some way of shutting them down, or his armored assault would be completely undone.
But it wasn't his vehicles that he needed to be most concerned about.
"Melchoir!" came a voice over the vox.
"What is it?" he shot back.
"Enemy flier inbound, it has strafing cannons."
"What?" the officer growled. He pushed through his command squad, nearly knocking someone over in the blackness. In front of him, he could see the veterans from the other chimera running towards him to get into cover. From behind them, the ghostly form of an enemy aircraft flew down on an attack run.
Melchoir winced as the flier began to spin up its weapons.
The night air exploded as a pair of red-hot beams of light ripped out of the aircraft as thousands of bullets poured out of the gatling cannons. Tracer fire chased after live ammunition as the flier strafed its inhuman violence down onto the veterans below.
Those who could tried to scramble for the ruin, only to be cut down, while those who dove for the ground only made themselves larger targets from above.
Melchoir could do nothing but look on in horror as the veterans were murdered from the sky.
With a loud rush of aircraft engines screaming overhead, the flier banked up and blasted over the ruins above the officer's head, speeding off into the night. The officer crouched as the engines washed over the ruin, sparing a moment longer to look at the remnants of his butchered guardsmen. His mind began to race with possible ways to handle the new threat.
"Sir!" came a voice form behind him.
The officer turned towards the voice.
"Come take a look, something is distracting the enemy's tanks!"
Melchoir stumbled forward. He made it back to the crack in the wall. The punisher, still lit up in a menacing searchlight glow, was clearly faced away from the officer, spinning up its guns to attack some other target out of sight. Both of the vanquishers had also turned, presenting their rear armor to the command squad.
"This is our chance, go!" Melchoir ordered.
Silently, the command squad made its way out of the ruins, running towards the exposed tanks in front of them.
At once, the command squad's meltaguns opened up, sending searing bolts of ulra-heated fuel out of the muzzles, slamming into the vanquishers. The air lit up as the steel angrily cracked and groaned against the awesome power of the weapons. Howling orange sparks blasted into the air as the armor began to melt as if caught in a blast furnace.
The tank in front of Melchoir burst into flame as its heavy armor bubbled and began to slough off of the wrecking vehicle. The awe-inspiring heat cascaded over everything and everyone as the meltaguns furiously discharged.
The officer turned from the blasting heat to see one of the meltagunners fumbling with his weapon.
"It's jammed!" he shouted over the torrent of burning steel.
The officer turned to look at the vanquisher to his side, it remained completely unharmed.
He would have to take care of this himself. He reached down and yanked on the starter cable of his powerfist, the disruptor field suddenly snapping to life. He grit his teeth as he began to rush towards the other vanquisher.
With all his effort, he threw his fist into the side of the tank, the armored gauntlet smashing into one of the side hatches of the lumbering behemoth. With a horrid crack, the disruptor field split the door off its hinges, letting the officer flick away the bent steel door. Melchoir slammed his fist into whatever was inside. The darkness lit up as a brilliant flash of blue sparks shot out from within past the officer. He reached the servo-controlled fingers of the powerfist around, grabbing and grasping at whatever he could find. When he got a palm-full, he clenched his fist and pulled hard, ripping out a nest of bent and broken pipes and wires. Another bright blue flash skittered out as he dropped the mangled wreckage to the ground.
Melchoir lifted up his leg and got his foot onto the sill of where the hatch door had just been. With a grunt, he managed to lift himself up onto the side of the tank, and reach up to grab the top of the tall wheel well with his power fist. The actuated servo motors groaned heavily as the officer lifted himself up by his powerfist. He desperately managed to swing his other arm around and grab the top of the armor near the treads, and with great effort, managed to get himself up onto the wheel well.
The turret in front of him began to turn around. Melchoir stayed ahead of it, running onto the back of the tank as it traversed. Beneath his feet, the engine block hatch vibrated noisily. The officer got down to one knee, and with all his strength smashed his powerfist into one of the two hinges that kept the hatch in place. The metal crumpled under the weight of the blow, shearing the hinge and allowing Melchoir to slip a few of his gauntleted fingers under the steel lid.
As the turret continued to move around towards him, he pried up hard on the metal, which groaned angrily before finally giving way, leaving a half-attached, horribly mangled piece of metal between him and the engine, shrouded in darkness underneath him.
He took a deep breath and plunged his powered gauntlet down hard into the void. He was met with a horrible screeching sound as pistons hammered against the disruptor field. A thick, black spray of fluid shot up at the officer, followed by several backfires from the engine hammering in quick succession.
Melchoir stumbled backwards, lifting his battered powerfist clear of the engine. He bumped into the turret, turning his body towards the top hatch. Adrenaline surging in his veins, Melchoir stood up onto the turret. The top hatch gleaned dimly in the reflected light of the spotlights sweeping around him, and from the burning wreck below. Oil dripped off of him as he looked down with clenched teeth.
He reached down and grasped the handle of the hatch with his armored hand. The powerfist fingers curled around the handle, the disruption field flickering against the steel below. Melchoir leaned back and pulled hard. His legs braced against the top of the turret as he heaved backwards with all his strength. The handle twisted and bent, but the hatch refused to budge. The officer stopped for a moment to catch his breath. He started to brace himself as he began to pull, but the handle suddenly snapped off, causing Melchoir to stagger backwards, almost falling off of the turret.
He recovered and returned to the hatch. With a colossal clatter, he smashed his powerfist onto the top hatch. The disruptor field angrily shot sparks out against the steel of the door. He hammered his fist down again, and then again, each time bathing the turret in ethereal light. Melchoir shouted as he slammed down his fist again. The hatch finally gave in, creasing sharply against the blow. With one more massive punch, the hatch crumpled up on itself. Melchoir reached in and grasped the lip of the door and with a mighty heave ripped it up and clear off its hinges. He rose to his feet, looking into the dark circle beneath his feet.
From inside, the tank commander poked his head up from out of the turret. In an instant, Melchoir brought his powerfist around, still holding the twisted hatch door in his hand. The hunk of metal slammed into the commander's head, spraying a tuft of blood into the air, and causing him to instantly collapse back into the turret. Melchoir discarded the hunk of steel over the side of the tank and drew out his plasma pistol. He flicked the safety off and pointed it down into the hatch.
The pistol bucked violently in his hand as glowing green blasts of plasma slammed down into the void, blasting and ricocheting down into the tank below. Screams began to filter up through the hatch as blast after blast flung through the interior of the tank. The heat sink on the pistol began to emit heat and then began to glow orange as the officer emptied the last of the small fuel jar through his handgun.
Melchoir stood on top of the Leman Russ, disruptor field and sunpistol glowing in different shades, casting his form in an eerie mix of light amidst the darkness.
From his perch, he could see the flaming wrecks of the enemy tanks all around him. His own infantry and heavy armor were starting to make their way into the ruined temple, search lights scanning for new targets as they triumphantly thundered forwards.
Suddenly, Melchoir started to feel dizzy. He looked down at his left hand. The disruptor field fizzled and smoked as blood dripped rapidly out of the armored gauntlet and pattered into a dark pool on the turret below.
"... In the Emperor's Name," Quistl Amns finished in his smooth baritone voice.
"In the Emperor's Name," those gathered around him chanted, finishing their prayer.
Inquisitor Amns cut an imposing figure in his custom built tactical dreadnought armor. He had assembled with him five grey knights terminators, each giant warriors in their own right. The veterans of a thousand battles, and all but invincible - shielded both by massive plates of polished ceramite and writhing energy fields, but also by their unshakable faith and monumental skill at arms. The six of them stood in the darkness on the smooth stones below them, near gods amongst mere mortal men.
"It is time, brothers," Quistl noted, "Let us away to battle."
The inquisitor reached down to activate his personal teleportation device. He could hardly be more glad of it. To Amns, being an inquisitor meant two things: discovering secret and hidden knowledge by any means necessary, and to use that knowledge to obliterate the enemies of mankind with extreme violence. Years of endless work and training had made him, by anyone's standards, superbly skilled at both of these activities. Both of these skill sets, though, had been going to waste over the last weeks. With the loss of his senior partner, he was suddenly stuck babysitting an entire planet and all the pointless nitpicking that that entailed. He had been laid low from one of the mightiest champions of the Emperor to little more than a glorified filing clerk.
When the Imperial Guard officer offered to lend a hand, he sloughed off as much of this meaningless responsibility onto him as he thought he could get away with. When he was asked to help spearhead an assault, he jumped at the chance, perhaps a bit too eagerly. Things on the planet were coming to a conclusion, though. Soon he would be able to wash his hands of it and get back to the real work for which he was so well-suited, and leave the tedium of administration to a hapless technocrat.
But now, there was this last thing to be done, and he was glad of it. He stood there in the darkness, in a circle with the others. The last of Druxus' sworn retainers at his personal command.
One by one, they began to disappear in a fizzling pop, leaving the smooth stones vacant under the cool night sky.
The world flashed into view as Amns and his retinue appeared between the dark shapes of ruins jutting into the air.
Amns focused his mind to collect his wits about him. He was in the darkness, with searchlights flashing through the air towards him. Already there was gunfire between the tanks in front of him, and the source of the searchlights. The inquisitor quickly and coolly assessed the situation with practiced grace.
"Fire on that one," Amns ordered, and the terminator brother with a psycannon instantly lit up the back of the nearest battletank. The bright, burning rounds of psychic fire and flying steel cascaded into the thin rear armor, the air dancing with light as the rounds impacted with a wailing screech.
The defending enemy, suddenly made aware of the presence of the terminators recovered from their shock and began to return fire against the inquisitor's forces. Sniper fire began to pick into them, and the lumbering tanks began to slowly pivot on the spot. The psycannon shots began to ricochet off and up into the ruins as the tank in front of them ground on its treads to present front armor towards them.
The night air exploded with fury. A pair of thundering blasts echoed through the ruins. A massive anti-tank shell hit them in the blink of an eye, the massive hunk of thoughtless metal crashing straight through one of the terminators with no effort, sheering the great hero clean in half. A fraction of a second later, the tank in front of them finished its turn and opened up the air with a crashing, ripping sound as its gatling cannon spun up and unleashed a burning stream of gunfire into them. Terminator armor desperately held out against the inconceivable laser beam of flying steel, the rounds blooming out as they ricocheted like a strange, glowing flower enveloping them.
The massive torrent of fire started to make it through, bringing one of their number to their knees and crashing another to the ground.
From behind, a spotlight glided onto the tank, backlighting the massive vehicle in a strange, brilliant glow.
"Follow me, brothers!" Amns shouted, hefting his mighty demon hammer up into the air. Those that were able followed behind, their massive armored bulks shaking the ground as the ran out of the line of fire and towards cover.
As they approached, gunfire sprouted out towards them from the ruins. They were running straight into a nest of enemy soldiers who had likewise thought it a good hiding place.
Amns brought back his hammer, preparing to swing as he approached the first enemy guardsman.
Through the night vision optics on his helmet, Amns could make out the last moment of frozen panic on the guardsman's face. Amns hammer came around his side and smashed straight into the enemy soldier. With a flash of light and a deafening thunderclap, the massive weapon's disruptor field discharged, the blast of energy instantly splattering the guardsman with its concussive blast, spraying the remnants of his torso against the wall of the ruin like a huge, bloody sneeze.
The air flashed again as the terminator next to him smashed into its own target. Amns brought his hammer around and thrust it forward like a sword, catching another guardsman with the mallet head and pinning him backward into the wall. With another strobe-like flash, the guardsman was instantly pulverized in a clap of thunder. The guardsmen began to scream in panic as the darkness flashed bright as one after another, they were exploded brutally, the shockwaves throwing gore onto everyone. In violent staccato, the bright flashes popped and strobed in quick succession, the light revealing a terminator here and then there, their martial prowess completely ending the guardsmen in an orgy of violence.
Amns looked before him. There was nothing but shards of armor and scraps of clothing left as thick clots of blood and tissue plopped down from the ceiling.
The drizzling gore was suddenly illuminated from behind in a pale orange glow.
The inquisitor turned and saw the flaming wreckage of a battletank behind him. Friendly infantry were beginning to swarm over the enemy armor as the main attack wave pushed into the ruins.
The punisher cannon Russ in front of him turned, trying to reacquire its target in the darkness.
With a few bounding leaps, Amns made it up to the heavy vehicle.
He drew back his hammer with both hands and with a massive overhead swing, brought down his ruinous mallet. The giant head of the weapon slammed down onto the driver's viewport with godlike force. Inches-thick steel spontaneously imploded on itself as the hammer's disruptor-field generator blasted a thunderclap of power into the lumbering behemoth. Rivets burst under the unthinkable power, and the front armor of the battle tank buckled.
The inquisitor lifted his hammer and smashed it down again with all his strength. The right side of the front armor collapsed in on itself as the shockwave was met by the screams of breaking steel. He hit the tank again, and then again, the crumpled armor flying into the interior of the vehicle. Again he hit the front armor, this time on the hull weapon mount. The thunder crash ripping apart the entire mounting and slipping the gun from the front of the tank. With one more mighty impact, it fell clear from the vehicle along with several of the tank's treads and a shower of rivets.
Amns stuck his hammer into the tank and latched it on to the ruined hulk of a front armor plate, he pushed forward hard, using the shattered wheel well as a fulcrim and levering off the whole remnant of the tank's wasted front. With one final blow, he hit the armor from the inside, causing it to peel away like a tin of sardines, exposing the dark wreckage of the vehicle within.
There were no longer crewmembers in the yawning cavern before him. The shockwaves had reverberated through the cabin, blasting those inside to mush.
The inquisitor nodded with satisfaction as he turned towards the last of the surviving enemy tanks, readying his hammer for another charge.
Melchoir could hear footsteps approaching. Painfully, he opened his eyes and let in the bright light around him. His head swam with the pain killers, but in any state, he was able to recognize the tall figure of Inquisitor Amns as he entered into the room. The officer was strapped down to the table. He was covered by a rough cloth draped over his left side and over his legs.
The officer's breath came in seething gasps as he weakly thrashed against the bonds that held him in place. Amns approached him quietly. He placed down a complex armored gauntlet where the officer could see it. The hodge-podge of metal and wires gleamed menacingly in the bright lights.
It had been eight agonizing hours, and Melchoir had been in blinding pain. In the end, it was inevitable that he'd be here now, really.
Years ago, the dark eldar toxin-sheathed blade had burrowed into his left arm, all but ruining it. He had pressed on anyways, though, putting untold stress on the remaining bones and metal rods, accruing unknown stress fractures, and the slow bending and warping of the metal. It had required surgery that Melchoir couldn't be bothered to undergo. He should have stayed off it, but he didn't. Not only had he continued to use his powerfist, but he had used in on many, many occasions to shield the rest of his body from incoming attack, bullets and blade alike piercing into it since.
Sometime in the night, while attacking the tank, his battered old powerfist had finally given up. When the metal of the gauntlet had buckled and failed, all of the force of a powerfist-enhanced punch had gone straight through into his weakened left arm. How many more times he had used it after in his adrenaline-fueled rage, he didn't know.
What he did know now was that the main metal rod in his arm had bent completely out of shape, and was protruding from the skin. According to the chiurgeon, his arm from a few inches above the wrist all the way down to his knuckles was completely ruined.
Amns, greatly skilled in bionics pushed Melchoir hard towards amputation and replacement with cybernetics. Melchoir had resisted with all of his dwindling strength. Something had to be done, though, and soon. Blood was dripping out of his horrible, gaping arm wound about as fast as it could be put into him.
The inquisitor had been spending most of the preceding few hours throwing together a new arm for him based on a servitor project that he had been tinkering with. Eventually, the officer would give in, or pass out. Either way, the inquisitor would have his way. Trying to rebuild the officer's flesh, while possible, was mostly pointless, and wouldn't even be a lasting solution.
Now, Melchoir stared at the inquisitor wide-eyed from his prone position.
"Do not be afraid," Amns reassured the officer, "You are an exceptional person, Melchoir, and I have a gentle touch."
The officer's breath seethed through his clenched teeth.
"Do not be afraid."