The Great Devourer
The incessant booming of Imperial artillery blended with the sound of thunder as storm clouds unfurled over the darkening city. Lightning forked across the skyline, illuminating the towering factory complex in sporadic bursts. An icy gale howled through the rusting supports and girders, hurling rock and debris against the abandoned buildings that clung to the cracked surface of the industrial world.
The Exarch turned the unblinking, green crystal gaze of his helmet towards the sky, watching as the last stars were blotted from view by the coiling, dark clouds. Flashes of light could be seen, high up in the atmosphere. He knew that these were explosions of unfathomable size, as the combined fleets of the Saim-hann craftworld and the Imperium desperately tried to forestall the approach of the Tyranid hive fleet the humans called ‘Leviathan’. The ancient armour worn by the Exarch was beautiful in design and craftsmanship. Intricate and twisting runes coiled across the psycho-sensitive material that made up the armour’s form. It had seen countless centuries of warfare, an endless stream of bloodshed that blurred within the mind of the Exarch who wore it. He had only a dim remembrance of his life before donning the powerful suit. It might have been weeks or centuries since he became trapped on the Path of the Warrior, his memories and experiences merging with those of his predecessors. His name was Fierann now, the name adopted by all who had ever worn the arcane armour.
The Exarch cocked his helmeted head to one side. A faint whining sound could be distinguished through the tumult of noise. The Exarch turned to peer expectantly down the street as the sound got nearer. A squad of Dire Avenger Aspect Warriors stood like statues around him, their shuriken catapults held loosely in their hands. The wind whipped around them as they waited on the high gantry overlooking the street below. Visibility, always restricted on the polluted industrial world of the ignorant Mon-keigh, was further reduced by the storm that approached, darkening the land. The sharp eyes of the Eldar picked out a hint of movement that flickered in the gloom, moving towards their position at great speed. There were three of them; long, sleek jetbikes painted the fiery red of the Saim-hann craftworld. They screamed along the street, closely pursued by a group of hunched creatures that travelled at a tremendous pace, crossing the black earth in great bounding leaps.
“Hormagaunts,” Fierann breathed, his voice thick with loathing. The jetbikes screamed below the Dire Avengers’ position. The indefatigable alien creatures bounded after them, their black insect-like carapaces reflecting the lightning that crackled in the sky above. Their sickly grey skin was pulled taught across their faces to expose an array of wickedly sharp teeth, and gleaming black talons extended from the front limbs of the creatures like great sweeping scythes.
Fierann raised his shuriken pistol, taking careful aim as the alien creatures began to swarm past their position along the street below. Picking his target, he fired a burst of shuriken. The head of the lead Hormagaunt was ripped to shreds as countless razor sharp projectiles tore through its skull. The Dire Avengers’ shuriken catapults whined as streams of shuriken sliced through alien bodies, cutting through chitinous exoskeleton and flesh with ease. Wave after wave of the creatures fell beneath the Aspect Warriors’ unyielding fire. Their momentum broken, the alien horrors tried frantically to find a way of reaching the Eldar above them. One of the aliens leapt straight up, its claws catching on the edge of the gantry where they stood. Fierann unleashed a torrent of shuriken directly into the face of the snarling creature as it tried to scramble onto the platform. Its head erupted in a shower of black blood and nauseating pale fluids.
More and more Tyranid creatures poured through the gloom, a living tide that surged up the street in an unstoppable wave. Fierann motioned swiftly and the Dire Avengers began to fall back towards the factory door, their weapons whining as they continued to fire into the endless Tyranid horde. A group of Hormagaunts bounded up the stairs leading to the gantry where the Aspect Warriors were positioned. The Eldar focused their fire against them, mowing down the aliens as they launched themselves forwards. Engines screaming, a squad of jetbikes hurtled over the top of the factory high above, dropping down to sweep over the horde of alien creatures that filled the street, weapons clouding the air with a storm of shuriken. At their head rode Caillataan, the Wild Rider Chieftain screaming the battle cry of his family-tribe. The aliens screeched in their death agonies as more fell beneath the combined weight of Eldar fire.
With a powerful kick of its legs, a Hormagaunt sprang upwards as the jetbikes swept overhead. Its talons bit deeply into the side of one of the speeding vehicles. The jetbike dropped closer to the ground under the extra weight, bobbing unsteadily as the pilot fought to control the unbalanced machine. More Tyranids pounced on the swaying vehicle, dragging it down into the rocky ground. It ploughed amongst the creatures, erupting into a rolling mass of fire and wreckage. Aliens screamed and writhed as the flames engulfed them.
Caillataan swung his jetbike into a tight turn, the Wild Riders behind him mirroring his movements precisely. They swept back towards the beleaguered Aspect Warriors, skilfully angling their jetbikes to come alongside the raised walkway. The creatures streaming up the metal stairs were torn to shreds by their shuriken weapons as they screamed past. The jetbikes hurtled along beside the walkway, cutting a deadly swathe through the aliens. Caillataan leant over in his saddle, striking one of the Hormagaunts with his humming power axe. The jetbikes veered off as they neared the Aspect Warriors. Caillataan saw Fierann fighting the aliens with his powerful diresword, and marvelled at the Exarch’s skill.
Fierann spun his powerful rune-etched sword around him in an entrancing dance, deflecting the wild attacks of the Hormagaunts with practised ease. With blinding speed he sliced one of the creatures deftly across its abdomen. It fell screaming, its two halves kicking and thrashing as they leaked sickly pale life-fluids onto the black ground. Several of the Dire Avengers had fallen under the savage horde of aliens, and the remaining Eldar were struggling desperately to fight off their frenzied attacks. Fierann leapt at another Tyranid as it hacked down a Dire Avenger with its vicious talons. It screamed as he plunged his diresword deep into the creature’s back, pinning it to the metal grill of the walkway beneath.
Fierann felt a familiar warmth touch his mind.
Continue with the plan... they are waiting... hit hard and fall back, always fall back...
The message came from the Warlock Danshaar, riding his jetbike behind the Wild Rider Chieftain. It was not a voice speaking directly into his head as such. Rather, it was a series of images and emotions that formed together within his mind to convey the Warlock’s message.
The gantry was briefly cleared of aliens under the concentrated shuriken fire of the Aspect Warriors and the jetbikes as they swept past once more. The Dire Avengers spun quickly, sprinting towards the heavy door that led into the factory complex. Their all-encasing armour flexed and moulded to their elegant movements as they ran. The Hormagaunts followed them, leaping up the stairs in great bounds.
One of the Dire Avengers punched a rusted plate on the wall, and the factory door began to hiss open with aching slowness. The rush of Hormagaunts bore down on the Eldar figures with terrifying swiftness. Shuriken catapults whined, cutting down the leading creatures. They were trampled beneath the horde as it surged towards the Aspect Warriors.
The Dire Avengers slipped through the doors as they were still opening, Fierann following last of all. Hitting the glowing plate on the inside, the doors began to grind shut. His shuriken pistol burst the chest of a Hormagaunt apart as the creatures filled the doorway, dark blood splattering over the pale blue armour of the Aspect Warriors. Claws and talons clutched at the closing doors as the alien creatures tried to push their way through. Their hissing faces were pulled back, saliva dripping from row upon row of razor sharp fangs. Shuriken fire ripped their flesh into tatters, the bodies falling forwards as the aliens crushed in behind. Severed limbs and contorted alien faces slid to the floor in a pool of dark blood and pale ichor as the doors groaned shut.
The Aspect Warriors sprinted through the debris within the factory complex, leaping over the fallen girders that were strewn across the ruined floor. The gleaming red form of a Wave Serpent hovered in the centre of the compound, the prow of the sleek vehicle rippling with energy. High above, forked lightning could be seen through the shattered ceiling of the factory.
The pressurised hatch of the Eldar vehicle opened with a hiss as it swung around for the warriors to embark. They crammed inside the vehicle which was occupied by the robed forms of a pair of Warlocks and the revered figure of the Farseer Andrioch. As the Wave Serpent pulled away from the ground, Fierann breathed deeply – the cool filtered air was so much cleaner than the air of this world. He watched through the crystal plate in the rear hatch as they rose straight up into the air. As they crested the towering factory, his eyes widened. Explosions lit up the streets below them and the land seemed alive with movement, writhing like a living sea as countless thousands of Tyranids swarmed over the once prosperous industrial sector of the city. A great organic monstrosity strode amongst the hordes of smaller creatures, towering over the buildings it crushed beneath its enormous insectoid limbs. It screeched an intense, piercing cry which was echoed by a similar call in the distance.
“Open a communication channel with the Mon-keigh commanders,” Andrioch ordered.
“Go ahead.” The harsh human voice was projected through the Wave Serpent.
“Destroy it,” the Farseer whispered.
As the Eldar vehicle soared away from the factory complex, an intense light split the clouds apart, lancing downwards. It impacted deep within the heart of the industrial complex, exploding into an expanding fireball that rose hundreds of metres into the air. Countless thousands of Tyranids were caught in the blast. There were further detonations as the abandoned chemical factories and warehouses were engulfed in the explosion. The Wave Serpent was buffeted by a wave of intense heat that radiated from the mass detonation. Looking down, Fierann could see the blood red shapes of Saim-hann jetbikes speeding away from the explosion that seemed to chase them through the twisting city streets.
Caillataan felt a surge of adrenaline rush through his body as he rode before the wave of roaring hot wind. He was pushed further back into the saddle of his jetbike as he increased speed, the roiling mass of hellish fire thundering behind him. The ground sped past as the jetbikes hurtled over the rough ground. Caillataan whipped his jetbike into a tight turn around the corner of a ruined building, his movements mirrored by his kinsmen, picking up speed again as he swept along the wide road. His blue-painted face broke into a wild grin at the feeling of invincibility as he slewed his jetbike from side to side, narrowly avoiding the debris that was scattered along the abandoned highway. His kinsmen too rejoiced in the feeling of speed and danger, displaying skill and swift reactions far beyond those of the Mon-keigh.
Caillataan cocked his head as a message came to him from the Warlock Danshaar.
Its numbers are endless... the Mon-keigh will distract them... we must continue to target those creatures linked to the overmind... the seers move together... the web tightens... Great Devourer... the Hivefleet must be drawn...
Caillataan nodded his head in acknowledgement. The Seers had divined that if the Craftworld was to be saved, the Mon-keigh city must, for now, hold. The Eldar had been on this world for weeks, engaging in a series of lightning raids, hitting the Tyranid forces hard, then pulling back. He longed for the day when he would be able to leave this world that reeked with the filth of the Mon-keigh.
The thoughts of Danshaar pulsed into his mind once more.
Hive mind activity...
Under the Warlock’s guidance, the Wild Rider Chieftain directed his jetbike down a narrow side street, heading towards the conglomeration of synapse creatures that the Farseer had sensed nearby. They screamed around a corner into a wider road, divided along the middle by a line of crumbling statues. A swarm of vicious, small creatures raised their heads, hissing as the bikes hurtled past them. The Wild Riders ignored them, weaving around the fallen statues towards the larger forms further down the road. The towering creatures turned in unison towards the approaching Wild Riders. They crouched, teeth bared, hefting their glistening bio-weapons. Their breath appearing as great wafts of steam in the frigid air of the dark planet.
The Wild Riders flew onwards, Caillataan screaming his battle-cry as the shuriken cannons of his comrades began to deliver a constant stream of mono-molecular shuriken discs towards the foul alien horrors. The barrage of shuriken fire tore through the chests of two of the creatures, who fell screeching to the ground, the lethal ammunition slicing through their bony shells with ease.
Shuriken catapults added to the weight of fire as they came within range of the alien horrors, who returned fire with their own hellish, biological creations. The creatures’ weapons were an extension of their bodies, and they pulsed and spasmed, launching corrosive living ammunition into the Wild Rider’s formation. One of the living organisms impacted with a jetbike, spreading its acidic juices across the canopy of the vehicle and the tall helmet of its rider. The canopy instantly softened, caving inwards as its form corroded. The Eldar rider’s helmet hissed as it was eaten away by the foul liquid and he screamed as it burnt into the flesh of his face. The jetbike ploughed into a fallen statue as the Wild Rider frantically struggled to remove the helmet.
The Windhost banked away from the horrific brood of alien creatures, swinging into a wide circle. As they swung back around the giant pillars of an ancient building, a squadron of Vyper jetbikes emerged from one of the smaller side streets. The weapons homed in on the towering aliens as they accelerated towards them. Beams of incandescent brightness leapt from the elongated weapons, lighting up the street as they lanced into their targets. They punched through the chests of the Tyranid warriors, leaving great steaming holes, bone and flesh fused together under the intense heat. The darkness seemed to come alive as a towering creature rose out of the gloom.
Chameleon-like scales reverted to their normal shiny-black form. It lunged at one of the passing Vypers, razor-sharp flesh hooks shooting from its body. They latched onto the delicate Eldar vehicle, wrenching it out of the air as the other Vypers hurtled on. The alien creature leapt towards it, great scything claws plunging downwards into the delicate vehicle, smashing it to the ground. The towering creature stepped a cloven foot onto the wing of the vehicle, pulling its claws from the crippled Vyper as the crew frantically tried to escape their harnesses. The creature grasped the gunner, ripping him in half with a vicious twist of its sharp talons. The shorn halves were then tossed to the ground, the dying Eldar gasping for air as he watched the blood flood from his body.
The creature’s great claws plunged downwards, shattering the crystal hood of the vehicle, impaling the hapless pilot in an explosion of blood and gore. The vicious monster screeched as the bright red jetbikes of the Saim-hann swung towards it, before disappearing from sight, its form blending once more with the concealing darkness. Caillataan swore as the monstrous creature vanished from his sight. Danshaar sat up in his saddle suddenly, receiving a series of psychic communications from Farseer Andrioch. Quickly, he conveyed them to Caillataan, who flashed a smile at the Warlock as he received the telepathic messages.
“Finally,” he whispered to himself.
Swarms of living creatures poured into the square as the Eldar forces converged. They were far behind the front line of attack where the booming of Mon-keigh weapons could be heard, the pitiful human defence gradually being torn apart by the endless hordes of aliens. Creatures were being drawn from this main attack as an unheard call sounded throughout the city, compelling the monsters to return to protect their Hive Tyrant.
Dark rain began to fall as Caillataan and his kindred roared into the square, hurtling over the heads of the countless aliens that were frantically clawing their way towards the large ruined temple that formed the centre of the great square. Several of the jetbikes were peppered by a spray of diamond-hard spines that embedded themselves in the canopies of the vehicles and pushed deeply into Eldar bodies. They crashed spectacularly amid the sea of creatures who set upon them in an instant, tearing the pilots limb from limb in a swarming, gory frenzy.
The Wild Riders swept through the ruins, once a great temple to the corpse worshipped as a god by the humans. Caillataan’s eyes widened at the sight that greeted him within. In the centre of the cracked stone floor stood a huge creature, flanked by a pair of towering aliens that stalked protectively around it. Each heavy footfall crushed the colourful glass that lay scattered below the shattered windows. The immense monster swung its heavily armoured head back and forth as Eldar vehicles soared around it, peppering the snarling creature ineffectually with gunfire. It answered with a weapon of its own, a muscled tube that seemed to grow from its chitinous arms. Firing the biological weapon with unerring accuracy, the shot impacted with a Falcon grav-tank in a burst of electricity and the hissing of corrosive fluid.
The Wild Riders made an attacking run towards the Hive Tyrant, their ammunition embedding harmlessly in the fused, bony shields of its guardian creatures. They bared their fangs at the swiftly moving Eldar around them. One of the creatures whipped out with a coiling, muscular extension of its arm. It gripped onto a jetbike as it hurtled past, dragging it to the ground with a vicious tug, where it was set upon by a swarm of smaller creatures.
A Vyper imploded, collapsing under its own weight, leaving only a crackling nimbus of light that hung in the air for a moment before winking out completely. A strange creature hovered forwards, its atrophied limbs hanging loosely as it drifted towards the Wild Riders. Danshaar felt a horrifying surge of familiarity as his mind reached towards the Tyranid abomination. The psychic power that resonated from the monster reminded him instantly of his brethren. He knew that the Tyranid creatures absorbed the many races they overcame into their collective brood. Could this foulness before him be a result of the devastation wreaked upon his lost brothers of Iyanden? His mind recoiled from the foul creation in repulsion. With a horrified cry he broke from the Wild Riders formation, swinging his jetbike towards the monstrosity.
The Warlock could feel the creature focusing its energy once more, and he drew on his own considerable psychic powers to counter it. As he concentrated, he felt the creature’s power being drawn away as its connection to the warp was disrupted. The abhorrent beast hissed its frustration. Andrioch levelled his arcane spear that crackled with barely contained power, wielding it like a great lance as he hurtled towards the twisted creature. A field of light played around the Tyranid creature, but the ancient weapon passed straight through it to plunge deeply into its bulbous head. In a great nimbus of ghostly light and sparking energy, the psychically energised creature was impaled on the powerful witch-weapon. The foul creature slid off the ancient blade, falling to the ground in a crumpled heap.
The Hive Tyrant roared, unleashing a hail of fire from its symbiotic weapon towards the Warlock. Caillataan cried out as he saw Danshaar’s jetbike engulfed in corrosive liquid. As his jetbike fell, he was overrun by the hordes of lesser Tyranids that were scrambling up the steps towards the Hive Tyrant. They leapt atop his struggling form, vicious fangs plunging into his flesh as countless creatures swarmed over him. The creatures surged over the square in a never ending torrent, and Caillataan felt a touch of fear. Danshaar had fought by his side through countless battles, and his fall made the Wild Rider Chieftain begin to wonder if the Seer’s plan would work.
A Wave Serpent dropped through the rain, its shimmering energy field flashing as it absorbed incoming fire. As it neared the ground, its hatch hissed open, and the Exarch Fierann and his Dire Avengers leapt lightly to the temple floor. They unleashed a torrent of shuriken discs, clearing the area directly around the sleek vehicle of Tyranids, as a Farseer and two Warlocks leapt out of the Wave Serpent behind them. They began an arcane chant, their voices singing together as the vicious battle continued around them. The Saim-hann attacked the Tyranids savagely, strafing them with countless shuriken discs, keeping the area around the cluster of Seers clear of aliens. One of the Warlocks was knocked aside, his concentration broken as a shower of writhing forms impacted with his helmeted head. The black worm-like creatures instantly began boring through the wraithbone material. The Warlock screamed uncontrollably as the foul living ammunition pierced his skin, burrowing excruciatingly through flesh and bone and pushing into the soft tissue of his brain. His thrashing form was ignored by his comrades, who continued the incantation. Their voices increased in pitch and intensity, reaching an intense crescendo that ended abruptly.
For a moment there was a deathly silence as Eldar and Tyranid alike felt the concentrated surging of energy. The Hive Tyrant howled its defiance as the psychic power of the Eldar peaked.
A great rent appeared in the air above the struggling combatants, ripping open with a tremendous tearing sound. Psychic energy lanced across the dark sky in twisting beams and flashes. The chanting of ghostly Eldar voices could be heard through the rift as the Farseers, light years away within the towering wraithbone throne room of the Bloody-handed god, the living heart of the Saim-hann craftworld, struggled to keep the warp tunnel open.
A pair of glowing red eyes appeared within the overwhelming brightness of the rift. With a primal scream the Avatar, the living incarnation of the Bloody-handed Eldar god Kaela Mensha Khaine, hurled itself through the rent in real-space, the rift snapping shut behind it. The Avatar flexed its arms, looking at the movement as if for the first time. Its left hand dripped blood that ran in a constant stream, falling from its fingertips to the temple floor. The towering figure radiated an intense heat, and the falling rain hissed, forming steam as it fell upon its glowing body. Its burning eyes turned to survey its surroundings, finally coming to rest on the colossal form of the Hive Tyrant, who roared aggressively at the powerful figure. The Avatar narrowed its gaze, taking a step forwards, broken glass hissing and running molten beneath the searing heat.
With an inhuman scream, the Avatar threw itself at the Hive Tyrant. Its great weapon, the Suin Daellae, arced towards the first of the Tyrant Guards. Burning runes played along the blade, writhing with a life of their own. The bony spineshield of the creature split apart under the mighty blow, and the Tyranid was hurled aside by the Avatar whose focus was solely on the towering Hive Tyrant. The second Tyrant Guard was chopped brutally in two by a vicious backhand swing of the potent weapon.
The two mighty figures clashed with tremendous force, the Wailing Doom of the Avatar slicing a burning line across the Hive Tyrant’s chest. The Tyranid screamed its fury into the unflinching face of the Avatar, saliva dripping from rows of razor sharp teeth. The burning entity was knocked aside as the Tyrant viciously whipped its tail around. With brutal force its powerful bladed arms scythed down towards the off-balance Avatar. The godly incarnation spun to the side, the blow catching the towering warrior’s shoulder as it turned. The two figures circled each other warily, a cunning intelligence lurking behind the reflective black eyes of the Hive Tyrant.
The Eldar struggled desperately to hold off the ever increasing horde of Tyranid creatures that continued to swarm into the ruined temple. Broods of winged horrors clawed their way past the Vypers and Falcons that flew in the dark sky above, while countless Tyranids bounded up the temple steps, only to be cut down in droves by the shuriken weapons of the Eldar. The Farseer Andrioch and the remaining Warlock added their considerable mental powers to the impressive firepower, sending Tyranid creatures flying through the air as a storm of psychic energy erupted within their tightly packed bodies. But where one alien was gunned down, another two sprang forwards, and gradually more and more Eldar fell under the never-ending horde of creatures. Hissing pale liquid dripped from the numerous wounds on the Hive Tyrant as it launched another ferocious attack on the Avatar. Its talons scythed down only to be knocked brutally aside once more by the Eldar war-god. In a blurred flurry of attacks, a heavy claw ripped into the side of the Avatar. Molten metal exploded outwards, sizzling into the bony exoskeleton of the Hive Tyrant. It raised a claw in a follow-up attack, bringing it crashing down towards the Avatar. The blow was met with a similar force as the Avatar brought the Wailing Doom slicing upwards to meet the powerful strike. In a spray of pale fluids, the Hive Tyrant’s claw was severed by the burning weapon. The creature screamed its pain, the cry echoed by the countless Tyranids converging on the temple. Their frantic attack on the Eldar intensified.
Desperately, the Hive Tyrant leapt forwards, its uninjured claw sweeping around to catch the Avatar in a vicious embrace. It cut deeply into the burning figure as it was crushed against the creature’s bulk. The Hive Tyrant pushed its claw deeper into the Avatar’s searing body, trying desperately to cut it in two. Its claw began to smoke, the molten metal form of the warrior beginning to burn through the solid bone. The half severed figure of the Bloody-handed god punched its molten hand between the exterior ribs of the creature that was crushing it. The monster howled in agony as the Avatar’s searing hand pushed deep within its body. It thrashed violently, trying to push the burning entity away from it. The Avatar was thrown from the frenzied creature as it writhed in agony.
Grasped within the perpetually bloody hand of the Avatar was the enormous, palpitating heart of the Hive Tyrant. Sickly grey ichor mixed with the burning red blood that fell continuously from its fingers. With a roar, the Avatar hurled it to the ground, pulverising it beneath its burning foot as the entire city screamed with the pain and confusion of the Tyranid swarm.
“What is it?”
“The Eldar, sir! They’re gone!”
“They’ve gone, sir! Every last one of them!”
Frantic voices erupted throughout the bridge of the Vindication.
“Hive-tendril 176 has changed course, sir!”
“387 has changed its course too!”
Admiral Kleivman stood, looking despairingly out at the tortured Imperial world turning slowly below as reports came to him in a rush. Much of the hive fleet had changed course unexpectedly, as if triggered by some unseen event. And the traitorous Eldar had abandoned them, perhaps sensing the approach of the Tyranid reinforcements.
“What is their new course?” he whispered, his voice thick with despair, knowing the answer before it came.
“They turn in our direction, sir!”