The buzz of the disconnected vox gave way to a crushing silence along the walkway above the complex. A cascade of slapping flesh on metal rumbled from beyond the pale lamplight. Still as the night, the Astartes remained readied behind payloads and shipment containers long left abandoned in a hurry. Gerad ordered a cautious advance through the cluttered equipment, to which his warriors crept behind him in compliance. Each step that was raised from the steel tiles let out a cold groan into the pipeworks beneath them. The rhythm of Zalthen's march combatted the silence with a barrage of metal footfalls. The skirmishers reached a domed bunker, which they planted themselves in with a full view of the main cohort's path.
Specialist gunners pintle-mounted their heavy weapons on the lip of an embrasure and prepared them to fire. Brother Forvax of the 8th Tactical Squad primed his plasma cannon, illuminating their small alcove with the tortured cyan that churned within the weapon's plasma coils. Brother Mar of the 10th Tactical Squad clutched the grip of his melta-gun in anticipation, which stirred with pressurized magma underneath its casing. Clicks of chambering bolt-rounds bounced around Gerad's head as his men established their ambush. He turned to press his cheek against the wall of crates behind him and peeked through a gap to observe Zalthen's formation. Two rows of Two stomping in concert, with the Ancient marching in the center, raising the banner of the 7th high. An arch of red horsehair lined the scalp of his helmet from the back of his skull to his forehead, with a faceplate reminiscent of the ancient legionaries of Calth. Patient eyes lay beneath the cold ceramite, shining green in thin beams that faded in frayed ends. Every proceeding footstep he took was fostered by a strike of the standard's quarterstaff on the metal grating, sounding the dull chime of brass bells and ornaments.
Zalthen surveyed the platform before him with satisfaction, seeing the area as suitable for insertion from the Auxilia. The field was divided into 12 landing pads that had been elevated to his own height, each capable of holding at least 4 aircraft and linked by hatched metal bridges. More than enough to hold the incoming guardsman and their mechanized assets. Cylindrical tanks of petroleum were bolted to the beds of servitor transport carts, however, the lobotomized drivers were missing from their seats, which were instead occupied by heaped chunks of thrashed wires and blackened bones. The Ancient picked up a minute detail in the massacres. The bones of the servitors had been picked clean of flesh, with the only thing making the corpses identifiably human were devices and control boards that had low gothic scribbles etched into them. A suspicion bit at him; the meticulous theft of their skin and muscles matched the behavior of the creatures he had heard from the Chapter's veterans. A swift bludgeon of the banner ordered a halt, echoed by the synchronized pound of the cavalcade's last step. The stench of the bodies snuck through his helmet's filter, filling his nostrils with every intake of recycled air.
"Spread out across the airfield, form up in two ranks and provide overwatch for the area until the Auxilia lands." Zalthen ordered. The neat parading formation was broken at his command and the sergeants directed their men accordingly. In cells of 10, gun lines were established across the airfield's perimeter in neat rows. 5 marines kneeling in front, 5 standing behind them, all with weapons raised. Zalthen vaulted onto a landing pad and gazed out into the unlit complex, relaxing his standard onto his shoulder and letting the creased tapestry hang down. He peered up at the ocean of stars, just to take in the beauty of Macragges skies. He swallowed a deep breath of the night air, losing himself in the presence of the heavenly bodies above the atmosphere. He reached under his jaw and released the mag-lock of his helmet, which hissed with colourless gas as his head was depressurized. He grasped his temples and gently raised the helmet over him as the full force of the putrid smell assaulted his senses. He showed no reaction. He didn't wince or cringe at the stench, only briefly frowned at the odor of the dead. The distant heat of suns lightyears away bathed his face and sent tingles under his cheeks and brow and flooded his retina with swirls of the cosmic tides. How lucky, he thought, to find a moment of peace in such a time of adversity. Pockets of purple darkness opened and closed like blinking eyes scourged with abyssal cataracts, constantly opening and closing and flowing with celestial tears. The pockets somehow grew larger, blocking out the tunnels of light and bulging into the silhouettes of winged creatures, lit from behind with the bloom of the stars. Horrible shrieks of coarse alien throats stung his ears, followed by the squelch of toxic munitions barreling toward the ground.
"Contact! Above!" Zalthen yelled, discarding his helmet and diving from the lip of the landing pad. Wads of ballistic insects skimmed his legs and slapped against the rockcrete slabs, carving fist-sized divots of powdered rock into the landing sites. He collided with the ground below and tumbled down into the gantry overhang of the pad beside the one he had just leaped from. A sharp jab into his knee sent trembles through his spinal column, forcing a grunt through gritted teeth. His men reacted quickly, swinging themselves around and lobbing streaks of bullets into the crowd of boney animals that landed, some of which were too small to trigger the warheads in the Ultramarines' bolter rounds and simply vanished on impact. The crack of ballistics reached Gerads ears as the firefight began. He jabbed his finger onto his vox-bead.
"Zalthen?" Gerad blared, prompting his brothers around him to stare back at him, drawing their interpretations of the situation from his reaction.
"Stay where you are!" Zalthen groaned. "Don't reveal yourselves, some sub-species of the xenos are above us. They've gone and swooped down on us." Heaving breaths were picked up in his microphone as he rose to his knees. Gerad gave a worried nod back at his spectating brothers and continued to listen.
"They think we're the only ones here. If they throw a second wave at us, we'll need you to stand by and wait for them."
"Alright Zalthen, good luck."
The beasts scurried on taloned limbs, chattering in monstrous cants and leaping with great bounds, propelled by tattered and stitched wings. The tactical squads reversed their defensive formations inward, now facing toward the centre of the airfield and presenting arms. The gargoyles divided themselves into smaller clumps of bodies, weaving through each other's paths in chaotic swarms to sow confusion in their prey. Almost mimicking them, the marines also further divided themselves into smaller combat squads, led by a special weapons carrier when a sergeant was not present.
Gerad tried to ignore the firefight occuring behind him, still staring into the inner complex. Some marines pivoted their head towards the commotion out of curiosity, to which the Captain snapped "Eyes on the flank!" to keep them prepared for any surprise attack from the Xenos. He knew the Ancient was capable to lead and to stand his ground, as he had time and time before; even still, a silent prayer was dedicated to him under Gerads breath.
The flare of melta-guns and frag missiles above pierced Zalthens weary eyes, who had just begun to raise himself after his fall. His brain throbbed in his head as he propped himself up on one knee to survey the area. His bolt pistol, which had flung out of his holster, was stranded a couple of meters away from him, laying beside a refueller cart. He hobbled back to his feet with dust painting his face. Three of the winged attackers darted below the gantries, spotting Zalthen kneeling in the darkness and meeting his cold silver eyes with strained orbs of rancid yellow fluid. Their canine maws drew strings of foul saliva in great arcs from fang to fang, the clicking and snapping of soft cartilage and brittle bones rung with every subtle movement. The creatures readjusted their eyes to identify the Ancient as their enemy, to which they immediately launched a salvo of screaming carnivorous beetles in rapid bursts from their Fleshborers. In one swift motion, Zalthen drew a straight-edged combat knife from his side and hurled himself at the beasts, sprinting through their barrage. He swung through the soft carapace of the gargoyle's living ammunition with his shimmering blade with the best accuracy he could, given that the paths each critter followed in their flight were frantic and unpredictable. Some managed to find purchase on the surface of the Ancient's armour, rapidly drilling into the smooth finish before being crushed in the grip of Zalthen's free hand and tossed aside. Frustrated by the minuscule impact they mustered, the creatures began to hasten their volleys, scrunching their bodies as they intensified whatever process created these bugs and staring down Zalthen with strangled pupils the size of pinholes.
He met their savage hissing with a wrathful snarl, like that of a cornered animal bearing its claws. After a cast of his mailed fist, his combat knife was driven into the soft dermis of his first target. He couldn't identify what limb he had struck, but instinct made him rip it from its socket, tearing the tyranid's neck into strings of sinew that fluttered in the wake of his movements. A second strike from his opposite hand sent the scrawny carcass to stumble and slip in its own arterial mess, before finally giving out on the cold pavement. Not wanting to cease his assault, Zalthen darted toward the next gargoyle, who begun to hobble away in fright at the cobalt demigod.
"Death to ye, Xenos scum!" Zalthen roared with poetic righteousness as he reversed his grip on the knife and raised his arm in preparation to hammer it into the creature's skull. In response, the gargoyle raised the fleshy barrel of its fleshborer to block the blow; Zalthen grinned, as he knew his feint had deceived it. With an efficient grace, the Ancient shifted his weight onto the opposite leg and drove his plated knee under the creature's guard and into it's exposed head, flattening it on column of the centre landing pad in a shower of fizzing red ichor. He swung his head around at his last foe, who had already attempted to distance itself. It throw it's head back and shrieked into the sky, a cry for aid to its prehistoric brethren; several more of the avian demons slammed down on the deck soon after, vigourously searching for their prey.
Quickly noticing their returning gaze, Zalthen clutched his abandonned pistol and straightened his arm toward his new foes. It was then he noticed he had underestimated the amount of allies this one gargoyle had amassed; it was more than he had left in his bolt mag. 10 or so other tyranids had landed, speaking in clicks and snarls until they spotted him in unison, sounding another dreadful banshee cry. He snapped a frag grenade from his hip and bowled it down the column beneath their clawed feet, completely unbeknownst to them in their blind rage. Those of them that weren't torn apart by sharpnel were toppled to the ground by it's shockwave, giving Zalthen an opportunity to swivel around and bolt away. In their panic, the gargoyles fired off another salvo of fleshborer beetles down the alleyway in the Ancients general direction, this time one lucky insect had landed on his calf and began drilling through the ceramite. It's intricate chitin fangs dug into his skin and ate away at his muscle, causing him to trip and tumble back down onto the pavement. His head slammed against the hard ground, shaking his brain inside his skull, but not enough to make him fall unconscious. The agony of the beetle's invasion left him as soon as it came, as the invading creature had died feasting on his calf muscle. Now only pins and needles bubbled in his burrowed leg as he turned himself onto his back to search for his attacker. 7 remained in pursuit of him, scurrying past the fuel carrier while drooling foul spit in stringy wads.
The melee continued above the metal rafters, where the Astartes met a primordial fury from the bat-like carnivores. The Ultramarines were further divided in the fray of the flock, dumping entire magazines of their bolters into the ever-shifting surge of bodies; or for those who had no ammunition left, brutalising the aliens with the shoulder stocks of their guns, combat knives or clenched fists. Creatures were obliterated by the artisan technology of the Space Marines, being crushed in the imploding gravity pockets of grav-guns or bathed in streams of blazing kerosene from their flamers. Murky blood coated the ground they fought on in repeating layers of gorey lacquer with no side getting the upper-hand in the skirmish, further encouraging the sensless slaughter.
Seeing no other option, the Ancient raised his pistol-wielding arm and squeezed out the last of the magazine's contents with reckless abandon. The supernatural senses of the xenos' reactions took hold of them, making them leap out of the path of the ordinance. Unpercieved by them however, the bolts drilled into the fuel tank behind them, triggering a oxidising blast that shook the metalworks around them. Gargoyles were immolated by the splash of burning petrol, some rended by petals of warped steel, hacking their charred bodies into pieces. The shockwave wrought at Zalthen's eardrums, piercing his mind with a ring with a pitch high enough to dominate his superior hearing. A cloud of bulging auburn inferno climbed the air as the flame escaped from its containment within the fuel tank, quickly dying out in a cyclone of embers.
A layer of blur muddied his eyesight. Zalthen struggled to separate his eyelids, glued together by soot. The chime of his shaken eardrums slowly died out and gave way to his name faintly bouncing through his head. His slowly reawakening mind recognised the familiar tone of Gerad barking at him through the comms.
"Zalthen! Don't yield! Tempestus scions are close for insertion, reinforcements are near. The Emperor protects!" The Captain cheered. The Ancient forced a sedated grin at the good news. His conscience swirled into darkness and withdrew his senses from his body, forcing him into an adrenaline comatose on the ground.