|COVERING THE RETREAT
by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
In 998.M41 Shakarandras' Pirate Raiders were under pursuit by a Crusade led by the Raven Guard Marine Chapter. Shakarandras would have led the rearguard himself, but his son, Mathadril, who claimed the honour and led the rearguard to delay the Crusade advance forces long enough for the majority of Shakarandras' forces to withdraw through a warp gate before detonating it to cover their retreat. Long range sniping, tank duels, and feints delayed the advance for most of the day and the Raven Guard force was only able to engage Mathadril a few hours before sunset.
As the sun was setting to the west, Mathadril and his forces dug in behind rock outcrops on the sand wastes of Nexus 10's largest desert. A few remnants of devices from the Dark Age of Technology extended above the sand, but otherwise it was a wasteland as far as the eye could see. Far above a Phoenix bomber circled, waiting. Waiting for the rearguard to lure the Raven Guard into a preset bombing zone to make them pay for the indignities they'd caused.
The battle started slowly with long range shooting on both sides, but then the Raven Guard made a concerted push on Mathadril's left flank. Mathadril and his bodyguard set themselves up as bait and were soon surrounded by the majority of the Raven Guard.
And that was what Mathadril wanted.
Protected by his powers, Mathadril survived the Raven Guard fire and fell back. Unfortunately both of his bodyguard fell. To pursue, the Raven Guard command moved back into their Land Raider and that was when Mathadril moved his queen.
"Signal acknowledged Sword One, beginning our attack run."
High in the rarified atmosphere, a Phoenix bomber arced up until it was vertical, let the main engines die, tumbled, and then fell into a vertical dive. With a banshee-like howl, the engines screamed to life, accelerating the bomber down towards the battlefield and its target. The engines were silent as the bomber exceeded Mach 1, continuing to accelerate.
Sinaril watched as, with agonizing slowness, the desert wastes grew larger and clearer as they passed through the fine wisps of cloud. Soon the arrayed forces could be clearly seen - the Raven Guard massing to pursue the rearguard. Weapons flashed, and the Mon Keigh comm band was filled with staccato encrypted signals that the wraithbone spirit began to decrypt.
"...o'clock. Fire as...bears..."
Sinaril guided the craft through a series of rolls and tumbles, feeling the faint hum of the gravitic drives in the wings through his bones, easily dodging the scattered Mon Keigh fire. Then, as the Mon Keigh Land Raider filled his vision, he pulled up, sending his mind and will through the wraithbone and into the psychic controls of the gravitic engines, their hum changing into a rattling roar as they arced the craft out of its dive and into a level bombing run. All around the twin cockpits, localized gravitic drives kept the 15g arc from crushing the crew.
For a moment the universe paused as the bomber reached position and Galathral released the bombs. He'd been updating their psychic programming throughout the dive, and only required a single thought to release the load.
And then the battlefield was gone, the sand rippling from the sonic boom of the Phoenix. Sinaril peered through the psychic scanners and enhanced the view from the bombs as he pulled the craft back up high into the atmosphere beginning to turn for another run.
Slowly, gradually, the bombs accelerated down towards their targets, driven by micro-gravitic engines and guided by their psychic instructions. Sinaril could almost feel their eagerness to destroy, their eagerness eerily similar to the happy mind of a thorinth, throwing itself into its task. Twenty separate views expanded, showing first the desert, and then individuals, as the bombs happily accelerated towards their targets.
Sinaril switched to the aft view of the bomber and watched and smiled.
The smaller explosives impacted into the massed Mon Keigh causing some casualties, but not as many as hoped. But it was the warp bombs that hit the Mon Keigh Land Raider that made the run worth while. The first bomb detonated and opened a hole into the purplish radiance of the warp and blew through the Land Raider's hull, the second bomb exploded on the sand and destroyed the treads on one side, but the third and fourth bombs passed through and into the hull. One of them must have hit the power system directly as the entire Land Raider suddenly detonated into an expanding cloud of debris, throwing bits of Raven Guard command squad through the air. Here a leg, there an arm, and over there the magazine of a weapon.
As he smiled, Sinaril remembered once more how he loved the purplish haze of warp destruction in the evening.
The Raven Guard recovered quickly from the destruction of their command, but the momentary disruption allowed Mathadril to organize his forces and escape through the warp gate that night, destroying it afterward.
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