"The Ancient has fallen! We must protect him!" Sergeant Filos was shouting into his vox-caster. Vercingetorix saw a dense knot of his brethren shoving through the panicked crowd, laying down hails of heavy bolter fire behind them as they struggled to reach the Dreadnought. Gun drones swooped down the Marines, pulse weapons peppering the squad with ineffectual fire. The stealth suits had stopped shooting into the crowd and were now leaping from rooftop to rooftop, those with fusion guns melting through the structures' bronze domes in search of the city's hidden anti-air defenses.
"Negative, Brother-Sergeant," said Sergeant Aedon. "The Lord Revenant's instructions were clear. We must stop the aliens from disabling the anti-air defenses at any cost."
"Squad Filos, return to your transports," said Vercingetorix through his vox-caster. "I am not dead yet." Vercingetorix fired his plasma guns, incinerating an enemy drone, which crashed at his feet. He crushed it with a stomp of his massive foot. "Brother-Sergeant Aedon is right. Destroy the stealth teams; one of their Shas'La must be controlling the drones." The Dreadnought scanned left and right, searching for the Tau, but his HUD was full of target indicators, some focused on the Tau but most tracking the fleeing Imperial citizens. "Spirit, this damnable targeting array has become more hindrance than aid. If you cannot assist me, then shut it down. There was a time when I killed the Emperor's foes without the aid of an auspex. I can do so again."
As you wish, my companion.
The machine's HUD overlay faded out completely and Vercingetorix was left with only the simulated sight of his visor. "I have you now," he said, drawing a bead on a stealth suit, which was busy melting a hole in the roof of a small commercial dome. He fired all of his guns and was rewarded with a flash and a sizzle as the alien vaporised inside its suit. "All units, report."
Sergeant Filos spoke first. "No casualties, Lord Revenant, but our Razorback threw a tread. We are making our way to the Arbites precinct, three blocks from our current position. They have weapon emplacements and a commanding view of the city. The corporal and his combat squad are escorting Brother Haphastes to the disabled tank."
"Brother Gaelon is wounded," said Sergeant Aedon. "A rail rifle round through his thigh. They have drone sniper teams deployed on the hills outside of town. I sent Brother-Sergeant Kylos and Black Wind squadron to hunt them down."
Vercingetorix continued along the parade route, firing his weapons at any foe he encountered, but the Tau forces were moving away from him toward the edge of the city.
"This is Gunnery Sergeant Richter, Third Planetary Militia, the Fighting Third. I don't know how we did it, but we beat them back. Our ammo is near dried up, though. We won't handle another attack."
"Marshal DeSalle, Nobilis Precinct. The Tau are falling back on all fronts. I am deploying mounted sorties to drive them back, but we can hardly keep up with the speed of their retreat. I don't think they expected you here so soon, Lord Revenant."
My companion, the Spear of the Lightbringer has detected multiple inbound orbital strikes. Three Tau cruisers have emerged from stealth and launched planetary torpedo bombardments. It seems that if they cannot claim this city, the aliens intend to raze it to the ground.
"Tell Captain Tauron to deploy boarding forces and disable those cruisers at once. If we cannot achieve superiority in orbit, this battle is already lost." A drone zoomed in front of Vercingetorix from a side street. He swatted it with a massive fist. The drone careened into a building and exploded, catching fleeing men and women in a fiery blast. Some lay still; others screamed in pain or crawled away covered in shrapnel and blood.
The Arbites Marshal noticed the torpedoes moments later. "Deploy the flak guns! Incoming bombardment! Impact in five minutes!"
"Belay that order, Marshal," said Vercingetorix. "This is a trap."
"With all due respect, Lord Revenant, it's a damn good trap. If we don't activate our defenses, it won't matter how well they're hidden."
"Give my men three minutes, then deploy the guns."
There was a pause. "Very well, Lord Revenant. Don't let me down."
Vercingetorix hastened as quickly as he could through the nearly-deserted streets. As he ran, called up the local map on the ATG. "Squad Filos, are you within the precinct fortress?"
"Yes, Lord Revenant. I commandeered a lascannon from an Arbites emplacement and was able to account for all drone sniper teams. The drone teams have retreated beyond the city limits."
"Very good. Squad Aedon?"
"We have four stealth suits pinned down in an abandoned hab dome. There are innocents inside. Should we flush the aliens out, or bring the building down?"
Vercingetorix inhaled a deep breath through his respirator, then sighed. His atrophied lungs burned with the effort. "Bring it down. We cannot afford the delay. May the Emperor guide their souls through the storms of the warp to rest safely at his side."
"Yes, Lord Revenant," said Sergeant Aedon. "This is the mercy of the Emperor!" Vercingetorix heard the whoosh of half a dozen missiles, then the eerie sucking thud of implosion warheads.
"M'lord?" There was a gentle tap on the Dreadnought's knee.
Vercingetorix looked down. Helspeth was staring directly into his visor.
Four minutes, my companion. Do we have time for your pet's games?
He spoke privately to the machine spirit. "We owe this enforcer our lives, spirit. Indulge her for a moment." His external speakers hissed. "Yes, Enforcer?"
"I think I saw something down that alleyway, m'lord. Don't know if it was human or not, but, begging your pardon, your skin is thicker than mine. You might want to take a look. And don't worry," she said, "if it's a big blue bug-eyed monster, I'll protect you."
Vercingetorix laughed, a grating bass rumble. "Your protection will not be necessary this time, young woman. This time my eyes are entirely open." He stomped over to the alley where Helspeth had pointed. "Spirit, full auspex scan."
As you wish, my companion. Scanning. Vercingetorix's vision seemed to blur and stretch as his auspex expanded his visible light spectrum to include a number of indescribable colours. He took a step into the alley. Something moved in the corner of his vision. "Not this time, scum!" He saw the faint ultraviolet shadow of a stealth suit with its camouflage field engaged. The suit's jump jets fired, filling Vercingetorix's auspex with brilliant light. His hand flashed out and he felt his fingers close on an armored shell. The stealth suit pilot pushed the throttle, trying to break free of the Dreadnought's fist, but the metal behemoth's grip was unshakeable. With a grunt of effort Vercingetorix heaved his weight into a swing and brought the suit crashing into a nearby wall. The armored shell fractured, the jump jets died, and the suit's fusion gun went spinning off into the darkness of the alley. "Twice your kind has caught me unawares, and twice you have tried to destroy this holy machine." He lifted the suit and slammed it into the opposite wall. Fragments of composite armor broke off, flying in every direction. "You and your kind desecrate the Emperor's world with your every step." He swung again and the entire suit shattered, leaving Vercingetorix holding on to the one remaining boot. The unconscious body of the suit's pilot slipped free of the boot and thumped to the pavement.
Vercingetorix gestured to the limp body of the pilot. "Helspeth, take this one and follow me to your precinct fortress. He may have useful information for us."
"Time's almost up, Lord Revenant," said the Marshal over the vox network. For the first time her voice betrayed her concern. "Tell me you have good news."
"Deploy the guns, Marshal. The enemy infiltrators are accounted for."
Throughout the city, sirens began to wail. Giant motors whirred and brass domes opened like the wings of enormous beetles. Massive cannons, surface-to-air missiles, and laser batteries all pointed to the sky and, as one, began firing. Above the city, dozens of torpedoes shot through the atmosphere. Wherever a flak gun's trail of tracers or a missile's vapor trail met an inbound torpedo, there was a flash of iridescent light and, seconds later, a boom and a shockwave.
All torpedoes accounted for, my companion. Captain Tauron is en route to engage the Tau ships. He is asking to recall all available Thunderhawk squadrons.
"Tell Captain Tauron that Black Wind is inbound, but we are retaining the services of Black Wind Alpha. I expect I shall have a great many uses for him before this battle is done." He spoke to Helspeth once more. "I believe there was to be a parade in our honour, Enforcer? Please, lead the way to the precinct. I am quite eager to speak to your Marshal."