Depths of Laeran
The cold stillness of the depths enveloped the sparse ranks of armoured figures as they marched, with slow, soundless steps, over the pale sand of the ocean’s underbelly. Towering as they might have been among men, they would have appeared minuscule to an onlooker then, faded spectres lost in the writhing darkness. No lights pierced the murk to herald their movements, no blinking electronic eyes. Like creatures of the abyss, they saw through the watery shroud around them, smelled and tasted through it, found meaning in the whispering of its waves and surges.
Like denizens of the deep they appeared, too, strange and manifold in shape. Dark-garbed wraiths, faceless in their visors, bristling with claws, spines, curiously shaped chain-blades, strode alongside imposing colossi of mechanical plating, husks so massive that it could have been difficult to believe a single body, however superhuman, could don them as mere armour. Their sunken heads, looming spinal carapace and rounded, spike-studded pauldrons made them seem malformed, horrid stalkers of the seafloor, hunched like ghouls and incrusted with fanged teratomas, yet they scarcely were out of place in the shadowy procession.
For among them, between the outlandishly armed legionaries and the tremendous Scyllas, crawled beings more inhuman still. They dragged ahead on crooked, segmented legs, oceanic shapes grown hideously out of proportion, cannons and torpedo batteries sprouting from their backs like strange parasites. They glacially forged ahead as massive metallic simulacra of creeping life, raising clouds of sand with every stomp of an armoured foot, driven by the maddened will of undying warriors. They covered the seafloor like a plague of flesh, dragging themselves forward with hooked claws and pushing off in weightless leaps with hard-shelled limbs.
Ahead of them, blurred through the masses of water even to the piercing eyes of those who still had any, lay an impossible city. It stood, enduring, under the crushing weight of the global ocean, yet it clearly had not always been that way. Not with those spires, or those slithering domes that could not have been built by human hands. Like a corpse exhumed and brought back to unnatural life, its dry bones covered anew with flesh, it seemed as if a drowned relic had been reinforced and revitalised with alien ingenuity, no longer rusting and crumbling but once more teeming with life.
That was not to last, Morrek thought as he readied his bolter and motioned for part of his unit to break off to the right. Not for one day more.
Though he knew as well as any that distances in deeps could be deceptive, the outer sprawl of the city seemed close enough now, narrowly within reach. By his reckoning, his force was still safely outside the range of any precise spotting system, but the fact that he knew too little about these xeno beasts still gnawed at him, as it had from the outset of that expedition. They could cast their senses impossibly far, that much was clear, but how far exactly? Such questions might have sounded like minutiae, but in combat they were far more crucial than whatever insight into the breeding of those things the Fleshweavers had pried from the few bodies available to them.
They have their duty, and I have mine. No more time for reflection. If the enemy’s augmented eyes really were so prodigious, advancing any further was a pointless risk. He silenced all thoughts but the litany of the consensus. There is no I. Only duty.
Morrek raised a hand and lowered it in a slicing motion. Fire.
From the backs of crawling beasts, from heavy steel throats mounted on ancient sarcophagi or carried by entire Devastator squads, missiles whirred to life and shot out in eruptions of tempestuous currents. Their rippling trails streaked towards the buildings ahead, twisting and interweaving before crashing into their targets. The blasts were difficult to see, though the surreal flaming lights of phosphex blazed to life on some of the peripheral structures.
The enemy had indeed been caught by surprise. Serpentine shapes swarmed out of distant awning doors, rushing between the impact points like a disturbed nest of wasps. Groups of them split off to meet the advancing Lurkers as they emerged from the turmoil of sand and shadow, and soon beams of bright green energy cut through the water, answered by salvoes of gas-propelled bolts. Bodies on both sides were ripped apart and left drifting, spreading clouds of augmented ichor. None shed true blood.
Though momentarily disoriented, the Laer were more numerous, and their fire struck true. This does not matter. As long as the splinter group was able to get in position, the current odds were inconsequential.
Morrek’s vox-captor thrummed, more vibration than sound, once, twice, thrice. That was the signal. The beacon had been planted, close enough to the designated point.
Soon, the true assault would begin. Hopefully his Lions counterpart Maurinius also met with success.
Legate Maurinius chose a far more direct approach as swarms of modified boarding torpedoes crashed against the ocean. Working like improvised submersibles the torpedoes speedily descended down to the depths, outrunning any chasers. No Laer could swim as fast these sinking hunks of metal. The first phase of Operation Steel Rain was a resounding success.
Once at sufficient depth the torpedoes assumed formation, ready to take on the Laer counterattack. Being mere boarding torpedoes the craft had little defenses but rather they held a hidden ace, Terminators. Wearing the unique Saturnyne-pattern armour modified for aquatic assaults, these heavier than normal Terminators were anchored to the torpedoes’ hull during transit but now they are let loose. A number of torpedoes split off early, taking on their role as scouts and advance guards. Housed within the lead torpedo Legate Maurinius Acciai listened to the non-stop feed of Vox reports. One of the scouts was already lost, them being surrounded and then choosing to go down in blazing glory. Even if used like makeshift submersibles, a boarding torpedo is still a torpedo.
The Legate intently watched the craft’s Auger. One ping, two rapid pings, one ping. That was the signal. He ordered a strike team of 6 torpedo craft to back up the 1012th Squad immediately. As soon as their departure was covered he ordered the rest of the Aquatic Taskforce to form up in a circle. They took up defensive formation using the thick hull of the torpedoes like fortifications. Subsequently the craft unloaded its deadly cargo of 8 companies of legionaries. Aside from Maurinius and his elite company all of them belonged to the proud Mergulus Chapter of Lions Illustris. With underwater as their natural environment they shall not be bested by inferior Xenos.
All of a sudden, the Laer found that a fortress had appeared in the midst of their own city. It was a makeshift one, for sure, and not one that would have endured a lengthy engagement with a proper force, but the hulls of boarding torpedoes were not something that could be cut through all too swiftly by the scrambling defenders. And it held a mighty garrison, one that now sallied forth in brief darting strikes, now retreated into the cover of its circle, harrying and disrupting the enemy’s focus. The xenos swarmed and shifted around the formation, and where a weak flank was exposed for so much as a moment, deft Shieldbreakers struck out, carving dents into the bulk of their foes under the cover of the Lions’ line of fire.
Not to be outdone, the aliens whipped and darted about with lethal grace and agility, turning to face the marines’ assaults with dizzying speed and lunging wherever their unnaturally sharp senses saw an opening. Power blades clashed with augmented claws, and as the battle ground on armour as well as reinforced flesh was marked with vicious gashes. Barrages of energy blasts punctured the metallic walls of the impromptu fortification, infallibly striking its weakest points and leaving behind gaping charred holes. The tide of strife swayed back and forth, now threatening to spill over through the gaps in the circle and overwhelm the defenders inside, now rolling back, repelled by a daring counterattack.
However, the inner front that had opened up within their walls was not the only one that kept the Laer occupied. All around the city, ranks of dark-armoured Astartes continued to emerge from the shadows, accompanied by packs of stalking and loping beasts. What had at first appeared to be a mere exploratory force was now steadily revealing itself to be a full-fledged battle force, hundreds, nay, thousands of warriors converging onto the besieged walls. Torpedo missiles continued to rain from the backs of charybdes, careful not to aim too close to the Lions’ insertion point. Spires and ornate walls continued to chink and crumble.
The vanguard had already reached the outskirts, and the xeno defenders poured out to clash with them. Though at first the two sides had traded fire over the rubble of collapsing fortifications, soon a chaotic, brutal melee was joined, and truly to an observer it would have been unclear who between the warriors of mankind and Laeran was the least human. Unlike the Lions’ quick, accurate strikes, the Lurkers eagerly plunged into the mire of sustained combat, and their own claws and pincers came forth to match those of the enemy. The Laer’s artfully calculated and targeted blows were matched with stubborn ferocity, steel clutches ripping out chunks of flesh and tearing into limbs and eyes. For once, the Abyssal legion had met an enemy who did not waver before its brute force, and returned every blow in kind. A bloody murk soon rose to cover the thick of the fighting.
Beyond a doubt, the Laer were one of the fiercest foes humanity had met through the long years of its conquest across the galaxy. Even caught on two fronts and faced with the strength of the Astartes, their tactical wit did not fail them, and they coiled between one Legion and another, striking back and forth with serpentine grace, not yielding a single inch without a toll in blood. Yet even they had their limits. They had not anticipated an offensive of that magnitude, not there, not then, and as their forces began to wane in the face of the invaders’ relentlessness, the signs of defeat became evident. The gliding swarms of their warriors broke apart and dispersed, reaching for the safety of the upper seas. The city’s inhabitants, not bred with the same awesome physical might, swam about in panicking disorder, hampering the troops’ movements. Buildings continued to burn and fall around them.
And, finally, they broke.
A mighty collected charge of the Lions, who came darting out of their torpedo circle in a massed shock assault, scattered the inner ring of defenders at the same time as the waves of Lurker forces surged over the exterior walls. From then on, the battle became a slaughter, as the Astartes’ coordinated action wiped out the last pockets of resistance and set loose upon the foe, now in full retreat. The city had fallen, and many more were soon to follow.