Ravens in the Snow

Two Space Marines in Power armour fight in the snow

An Unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Story

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            • Reading time:  13 minutes
            • Contains graphic descriptions
            • Artwork owned by Richard Jan Postema:  https://www.artstation.com/janovich

August let his fists fly down upon the renegade settlers in looping punches, with each strike a flurry of blood and shattered bone flew up, coating his gauntlets and chest in viscera. 

A settler dropped her lasgun and turned to run. 

With just a half-step, August reached and snatched her leg.  He lifted her into the air, then slammed her into the ground with enough force to fold the woman in half. 

A hand clasped August’s pauldron.

He turned to glare at his brother.

Remus was August’s equal in height.  Despite his face being hidden behind a crimson helmet, he was clearly frustrated.  It was in the subtle tension around his shoulders, the slight lowering of his head. 

“August,” Remus began gently, “that’s more than enough.”

August drew himself up and placed his bloody hands on his hips.

“Could you not find more, say, efficient, ways of working through your anger?”

“What better way than in combat?  Than by smiting the Emperor’s foes?”

“Oh please, don’t dress up this tantrum.  Sargent Tarkus dressed you down, and this is just your way of pouting. 

August felt his neck tighten as his shoulders moved up and forward of their own accord.  He looked up, forced them to lower and relax.  “And what does it matter to you, Remus?”

“It doesn’t, vent however you want brother, but you are slowing us down.  Let us clear the area and move on.”

August snorted, then unholstered his bolter, carrying the massive weapon loosely against his chest.  “You make out like these patrols are critical.  We’re in North Vandea Remus, there is no way a noteworthy enemy force could have infiltrated this far into our lines, not since we captured Victory Bay at least.  I wouldn’t be surprised if-”

A hollow crash came from one of the buildings the pair had already cleared.

August and Remus responded immediately.  Both were now crouched in the snow, their Boltguns trained on the building, with their overlapping arcs of fire covering every window and door.

The structure was a prefab Imperial Guard bunker, potentially uprooted from Victory Bay itself.  It was short, compact, and hexagonal in shape.  Window slits ran all along the circumference, and triangular supports extended from each point of the hexagon and stabbed into the ground, as if a clawed hand were pinning it to the earth from above.  It was crooked, perhaps hastily installed, with many of the ferrocrete panels either cracked or missing. 

They advanced on the building, moving quickly through the snow despite the monstrous weight of their power armour.

August moved away to approach the building’s only entrance, whilst Remus made his way to the hole they had blown into it earlier.

August reached the open door and paused by the side of it. He counted down to himself, knowing that Remus was doing the same.

3.  2.  1.

August flowed into the building, allowing his bulk to take up the space whilst the muzzle of his bolter tracked around every corner and alcove.  A corridor, a half-dozen offices and a bunkroom, all clear.  He turned into a large catering hall.  It was in the middle of the prefab and where he and Remus would finish their sweep.  August strode into the centre, kicking aside pieces of rubble and splintered tables in his wake.  He stopped abruptly.

Remus was lying face down in the dust.  A wide puncture wound had pierced a hole through the nape of his neck and exited through his gorget.  Blood had welled in the wound, and it steamed aggressively in the cold as it mixed with the vapours of his still humming power pack.

August stood over the body, grinding his teeth together as he smelt the mix of steam and astartes blood. 

He focussed his eyes and auto-senses into every crevice and dark corner of the Hall.  Nothing.

He risked another glance at Remus.  The puncture in his back was rectangular, with nodules on it’s top, and a slight bulge on the bottom left side, just like a fist hole. 

Something padded gently on the ground next to August.

His armoured frame whipped around and loosed a bust of bolter rounds towards the sound.  Each of the three bolts struck the other side of the canteen, exploding in yellow flashes that lit up the space and peppered the floor with splintered rockcrete.  Illuminated between each flash of yellow, a lunging figure closed the distance between them. 

August ducked under the attack. As the figure’s fist passed overhead, August could feel the strike’s pressure wave thud against him.

He dropped his boltgun and pulled out his combat knife in the same practised movement.  He shifted back, glaring at the figure in front of him. 

It was albino white and naked, humanoid, but certainly not human. It stood a head shorter than him but had the same interlaced ribs, barrelled chest, and enhanced musculature of an astartes.  Its eyes turned to him. They were cream orbs with dull grey iris. Its whole face regarded him in slack apathy. 

“Abomination!”  August gripped his massive knife tighter in his gauntlet, then charged the creature.  His knife hand whipped around in a familiar patten of slashes and thrusts.

The creature avoided every swing, almost anticipating his movements then sliding under them, or even pushing of from August’s armour, or landing hits of its own. 

“Why won’t you die!”  August threw himself into the attacks now, following up strikes with looping kicks or wild punches.

The creature dropped to one knee, one of August’s kicks finally landing behind its upper leg.

August grinned, and brought the knife down hard and fast on its head.

But the creature caught it, seizing August’s wrist in a nailless and white hand.

August pulled back hard and rained his free fist into the creature’s face and body.  Every strike cracked bones and punched deep dents into its flesh.

Yet it weathered the assault, in fact is actually pulled August closer towards it.

August reared back to strike again,

The creature leapt into the air and wrapped its legs around his shoulder like a vice. Its chest was now pressed against his forearm, with both arms now controlling August’s wrist, adn by extension his knife.  It flexed explosively, violently straightening out its body and locking out August’s arm. 

His power armour hissed and whined at the elbow joint, desperately trying to save it from hyperextension.

Still holding it aloft, August reached out with his free hand and gripped the creature’s head.  Its skull was cracked, he could feel fragments of it sliding against what he assumed was grey matter.  He pulled hard, threatening to rip its head clean off unless it released him.  He could feel the wet cracking of skull under his palm, and heard the hollow pops coming from its lengthening neck.

The creature looked up to regard August again.  Despite its injuries it didn’t bleed; its very human face simply looked into August’s, absolutely unconcerned with the tears in its flesh and the exposed sections of skull hanging from its head. 

It tensed up, then exploded its body straight again.  There was a flash, the sharp and piecing cry of shearing metal, the hollow snap of reinforced bone, the heavy splash of blood, the low gush of gas and the steady drips of oil.

August took a step back, the vice-like weight on his arm suddenly released. He raised his knife, but found nothing there.  His arm simply ended just above the elbow.  The near impenetrable ceramite was sheared and twisted around the stump.  Black oil dripped from the stump, as well as a rapidly expanding scarlet scab, his body already working to stem the bleeding.  

The creature followed up immediately, swatting his free hand away and punching him clean in the middle of the helmet.

August’s helmet split neatly down the middle and flew away in two halves.  His head snapped back again his collar’s seal, and he was flung backwards.  The rockcrete wall splintered behind him, sending jarring jolts through his body as he flew heavily and clumsily through the rubble, before coming to rest on his back in the deep snow.

His equilibrium remained sharp; he had already withdrawn the bolt pistol at his leg.  He trained it on the approaching white silhouette and loosed a steady burst of bolts into it.  One of them struck it in the side, exploding in a flash of yellow against the gloom of the bunker behind it. 

 The creature doubled over, a football sized hole now cut into its side, before darting further into the building and out of sight.

August kept his bolt pistol trained on the building, his eyes scanning into the gloom.  He puffed a blast of hot steam from his nostrils before climbing to his feet.  Gnashing his teeth together, he took a step towards the bunker, then stopped.

“Remus,” he said to himself, the silent words leaving his mouth as a thick cloud of vapour.  “I am being a fool…  Again.”

With his gun still levelled at the bunker, his thumped at his collar’s mounted vox unit with his stub.

Static and crackles. 

The snowfall had picked up now, threatening to become a full storm as it whipped up around him, almost becoming indistinguishable from the white sky.  

He flicked up his gauntlet’s display.

Connecting…  Failed to connect.  Connecting…  Failed to Connect.  Connecting… 

He slammed it closed.  “Typical.”  His eyes again scanned the gloomy interior, then he turned and retreated. 

The snow was deep, deep enough to rise up to his pelvis had he not been bounding across it.  But it was slowing him down.  As he progressed higher and higher, each explosive push from his legs seemed to do less and less. 

The listening post came into view, nevertheless.  It was a squat and boxy thing, with the tall banner of the Blood Ravens on its roof almost doubling its height.  It was a crimson cube, with two slowly rotating comms dishes affixed to either side.  Operating such a thing was beneath him, but it would have to do.

He leaped the rest of the distance, propelling his mass into the air and landing just in front of the post. 

He spun his head round to glare down the cliff and towards the buildings he had just retreated from.  The snow was calm, so far as he could see.

He turned, brushed a sheet of ice from the post’s interface, and began typing.  His massive and gauntleted fingers danced swiftly and delicately across the keys.

The post thrummed softly as it processed his request, text flickering onto its display.

Boosting signal…  Working…  Working…  Working…

August glanced back; the snow was still calm.

Working…  Working…  Working…

He slapped side of the machine, sending a loud clap of metal echoing through the air.  Heavy slabs of ice and snow fell from it, sliding off and sinking into the deep snow below.

Working…  Working…  Signal found: Fortress Monastery Castellum Incorruptus.  Connecting…   Weak signal: transmit only. Connected.

“This is Brother August of squad Tarkus, on patrol route 23.  We are engaged with an unknown xenos entity.  Brother Remus is down, and I am wounded.  Requesting reinforcements or-”

Static consumed his vox-unit again.

Connecting…  Connecting…  Failed.  Signal lost. 

He turned away from the post now.  The snow was still calm.

He frowned, slowly he knelt down and rested the back of his hand on the snow’s surface, the bolt pistol still held firmly in his grip.

The snow was not calm, it shifted slightly, unnaturally, behind him. 

August jumped to his feet and half turned. 

The snow behind him exploded up in a shower of powder as the creature leapt at him, diving for his back. 

August let it have it; as he felt the creature’s hands clamp onto him, he slammed his powerpack’s emergency release seal on his chest, and dived forward.  His entire power pack immediately released and was left in the creature’s embrace.

August turned into the dive, his eyes and bolt pistol trained on the pack.  It was a massive and armoured piece of kit, with the large exhausts on either side resembling thrusters, or even jet engines.  It still rumbled slightly, with the steam and heat-haze billowing from the exhausts standing in defiance to North Vandea’s bitter cold.   

The creature’s vacant eyes again focussed on August, but this time it was too slow. 

August discharged his bolt pistol, sending a round into the unarmoured inside of the pack and breaching the micro-fusion reactor within.  The stored plasma and gases discharged into the creature with a single blast of purple energy, and the sound of cracking lightning. 

August landed hard in the snow.  He allowed himself to lay there for a moment, enjoying the sharp cold of the air in his lungs.  He was slowly sinking into the snow, it steamed, boiling from his still hot armour.  It weighed more now.  Some of the fibre bundles and servos that allowed the armour to weigh nothing couldn’t be run on reserve batteries alone.  He would have to make do with carrying the extra weight.

“Rest over,” he said to himself, then stood.  After a step, he had compensated for the armour’s new centre of gravity. 

He looked at what was left of the creature.  Still, it didn’t bleed, it’s body was simply missing between the knees and neck, but there was no blood. Instead, a cream-like substance oozed from its open arteries and slowly become solid, as if it were self-repairing.

Emerald energy billowed around August like smoke, it had appeared from nowhere and suddenly enveloped him in tong tendrils.  He couldn’t move.  He tried to wheel around, raise his pistol, but his limbs refused, and instead sat in numb noncompliance from the neck down.

“Fascinating specimen.”  The voice came from behind him and spoke in perfect Low-Gothic. It was harsh, but also clipped and professional.

“Despite my observations, you yourself August have shown a resourcefulness beyond what I assumed your pretentious pride was capable of.”

The voice rounded August and finally stood opposite him.

A Necron, one of their noble class, its silver and skeletal body was clothed in a metallic and golden cowl.  It was hunched, despite being incapable of fatigue, and leaned heavily on a staff of shimmering emerald.  With its free hand it pointed a silver talon at August, with the emerald smoke that bound him stemming from it.

It waved its staff over the now mostly liquid creature, drawing it up and into the emerald point.  “It seems that I will have to make some modifications to this subject.  Wouldn’t you agree human?”

August spat of glob of phlegm at the Necron, “If you think-”

The lord raised a finger and August’s jaw slammed shut. 

“Rhetorical question,” it said, evaporating the phlegm on its shoulder with a casual wave of green fire.  “It is far better when you humans don’t speak.  Though I must say, I’m glad that you managed to contact your brothers, you Blood Ravens make excellent test subjects.  Come now, enough idle prattle, there is work to be done.

With that, the Necron tapped the base of its staff into the snow, and the pair of them disappeared into a cloud of crackling emerald smoke.

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