The Hunting Raven
Chapter 7 part 1
Michael's eyes slowly opened to the light filtering through the still un-curtained window. After the incident the week before, he hadn't allowed himself to sleep deeply. He rose from his position on the bed, his armor clanking audibly as he did.
Mentally, he steeled himself. Today was the day; the day that they would hunt a beast of evil that Michael himself had thought could only be produced by the Warp.
He remembered the scene (quite vividly) that had ensued when the group had scouted out what they were hunting today…
Michael crouched behind the other hunters, causing the gravel beneath his boots to crunch loudly. Thardus turned to give him an irritated look before looking back toward the green lizard-bird below them, as they were at the edge of a small cliff that overlooked this apparently common landing area for Qurupecos.
From the look on his face, Thardus was not forgetting about the Gigginox incident any time soon. It was odd, none of the other hunters were angry about it, but they seemed to avoid talking to him now.
Then there was the woman beside him. The spikes of her custom built Gobul armor glinted menacingly. Her hand rested near the handle of her dark switch axe, the Soulbreaker. The incident had only given her even more reason to distrust him. He could see the tension on her face, though it faced bolt forward.
Meanwhile, Michael began growing impatient watching the Qurupeco. It was one thing to hide and wait for an ambush…but they were just here to observe.
"Where is i-" he began in an irritated voice. But he silenced even before everyone turned to shush him. His sharp, cybernetically enhanced ears heard something. It sounded like a rhythmic pounding, like that of a blacksmith's hammer, but it was too even for that. It almost sounded like…footsteps?
Then the others began to hear it as well. With a hurried clanking sound, they faced forward again, each pulling binoculars up to their faces. Michael merely touched the side of his helmet, zooming in his vision. The Qurupeco looked around nervously, its tail began to open into a fan shape.
Then, a looming shape appeared on the crest of a nearby hill…a massive, green shape. As it ventured closer, Michael's look of disgust deepened.
The monster was clearly worthy of the title Warp-spawn. Sharp spikes protruded from its massive chin like deformed, mutated teeth. Muscle and fat alike rippled along its hideous length. Two skinny legs popped out from underneath, but Michael could see the corded muscle that writhed underneath its vomit colored skin. Acidic saliva dripped from its wretched maw, dropping to the hot, dry sand with a hiss. Its useless forearms twitched against its chest. The jagged form of a scar traced its way across the beast's face.
Abruptly, the creature reared up, unleashing a roar that penetrated down to the very marrow of Michael's bones. Max, Marina, Cydni, and Jazz all shivered. Only Thardus remained still, his hands clenched into tight fists.
With a panicked squawk, the 'Peco reared backwards and into the air, desperately trying to gain altitude. The Wandering Demon below crouched and did something that Michael would never have expected.
It seemed almost impossible, but the beast practically flew! As it arched back toward the earth below, its deadly jaw jutted outward, striking the fleeing birdlike reptile and flinging it back to the ground. Once there, it wasted no time. The rows of teeth within the beast tore into the still very much alive Qurupeco, tearing a hunk out of its stomach.
The 'Peco screamed.
There are few things that are capable of chilling an Astartes to his bones, and that sound was one of them. A scream of mortal agony that could not possibly be heard anywhere (or from anything) else. Unbidden, images flooded into his mind.
A human mother stood before him, her hand held up in futile defense. The scream from her throat mixed with that of the Qurupeco, they harmonized together, creating a song of the insane, a melody of the damned.
Michael shook his head angrily. He would NOT let this get the best of him!
As he looked back at the scene, he was shocked to see that the Deviljho was already almost finished. A wing disappeared slowly into its mouth with each snap. All that was left on the ground was a giant, red blot. Even the bones had been eaten.
Then the ever-ravenous monster turned, catching the whiff of a potential meal. It slowly turned its evil, beady eyes up to the cliff, licking its spike covered lips clean of blood. Cydni slowly brought her binoculars down away from her face.
"Thardus," she said in a nervous singsong voice.
"We're fine," he said tightly, not taking his eyes off of the monster. "He can't reach us up here."
"Uh, boss?" Max said nervously. "You may wanna look down."
Thardus did so, and quickly turned toward Michael, fear in his eyes. Once he had moved, the Space Marine saw why. A long, ragged crack ran from the edge of the cliff down where the Rathbane leader had been squatting only a moment before. It ran from the edge all the way…
…all the way to Michael's right boot, straight down the middle of where the Rathbane were.
"Oh…shit…" Jazz murmured from the side, his face was serious for once.
Down below, the Deviljho decided to jump against the cliff at that exact moment, jarring it with an immense impact. The outcropping of rock that the Rathbane was sitting on let out an ominous icrack/i.
There was just enough time for everyone to look at each other.
The rock gave out, dumping everyone toward the waiting maw of the Deviljho. Michael's instincts kicked in. Immediately he grabbed at the blurs of blue, tan, and green around him before jabbing his hand straight above him.
Their descent halted. Down below, the Demon received a mouthful of rocks and sand instead of meat, throwing it into a raucous fit of coughing and sneezing. Looking back up with an impatient growl, the thing stalked off, deciding that the small morsels weren't worth the trouble.
Only once the monster again crested the hill did the Rathbane resume breathing and tear their gaze away from the ground. That was when they noticed their new predicament.
"How the hell did we get like this?" Jazz demanded from off to the side, he was hanging over Michael's shoulder.
"Michael…how did you do that?" Cydni asked from behind, holding on only by wrapping her arms around his neck, squeezing the flexible material between his helmet and breastplate. Then she noticed the straining sounds coming from him. Holding up all these people couldn't be easy.
"Hey, however he did it, I ain't complaining," said a voice from below. Everyone looked to Michael's other arm, startled. Then they relaxed once they saw Max. It seemed that the Astartes had been off a bit, grabbing Max upside-down instead of right-side-up. Marina held on to the plates on his elbow for dear life. Thardus was slung over Michael's other shoulder.
"As impressed as I am with that," Thardus said. "I'd be even more impressed if someone came up with an idea out of this…now."
With that, Michael's tender grip on the cliff slipped somewhat, causing Cydni and Marina both to yelp and squeeze even tighter. Not a problem in Marina's case, but the other happened to be squeezing his neck. He let out a gagging sound.
"Oh, sorry," she apologized and loosened her death grip.
"Right," Thardus said, glancing downward again through his helm. "Now then…any ideas?"
Getting out of that had not been easy. Astartes muscles felt soreness for a much shorter time than normal humans,' typically only an hour or two. In this case though, it had lasted for almost the entire day.
As he walked to the planning room, Michael thought over his short-lived reaction during the Qurupeco's death. How was that still affecting him? It had been odd enough for him to have the nightmare occur in the first place…but now it was resurfacing? It couldn't be a good thing, especially not when it could happen in battle. But why was it happening? Could it simply be his long time away from his battle-
Abruptly, the only thing Michael could see was white plaster and brick. It would seem that he was so lost in thought that he had forgotten to duck in order to enter the room. He stepped backward and entered the room correctly, noting the new indent around the door. It was shaped a lot like him…
Every last person in the room was staring at them. He stared back levelly, ignoring the slight discomfort. Cydni had her mouth covered, looking like she was about to explode.
"Well," Thardus said, clearing his throat. " You…eh…sure know how t' make an entrance, eh Michael?" Cydni made a coughing sound behind her hand, which both chose to ignore.
Michael sighed inwardly, renewing his steele that he had mustered before.
It was time to begin the hunt.