"However sharp your wit may be, SHOOT HIM!", Steren bellowed, bracing her heavy stubber against the gun mantlet.
Andreas almost fancied he could hear a note of panic in her normally composed tone, but was just as soon overwhelmed by the roar of the belt-fed weapon coming to life and his need to duck aside to avoid a faceful of spent casings.
Priming his lasgun as he knelt into cover, he took aim and fired repeatedly for the bike as it curved around some distance ahead. He fancied he must have put at least one shot through that massive front tyre as it came to bear, but the vehicle and rider stayed as steady as a rock. Armoured and self-sealing, no doubt.
The bike's engine gunned again, accelerating straight towards the makeshift convoy.
Andreas almost thought the dull flash from the bike was the low dawn sun glinting off the broadsword still clenched in the World Eater's hands, but some instinct told him otherwise. He only just ducked behind the mantlet before a low velocity grenade slammed into the front corner of the Chimera pattern chassis and blasted fragments over the top of the vehicle.
Even protected, he started slightly as a second grenade from the bike's front mounted launcher exploded against the hull.
A glance up told him the psyker evidently didn't deign to be concerned by shrapnel, still hammering rapid bursts of fire downrange almost as if on a firing range. Behind her, Dovin had taken cover as he had, and apparently also unharmed. If the rhythmic thud of the Salamander's heavy bolter was any indication, Iona had survived. And they hadn't yet crashed, so Tanis was presumably still conscious. He couldn't really ask for more than that.
Daring to look above the armour again, he fired again for the traitor.
Below, Pantariste took in the situation. Iota's shots were mostly going wide, her vision obscured by the low sun ahead. The three in the gun bay above might as well have been armed with slingshots for all the good it was doing.
She took her decision, with only a prayer the tank was heavy and armoured enough that the Emperor might protect them.
"Hold on!", she barked.
It wasn't perfect. The bike swerved, the rider turning away from the impending collision. Yet, Pantariste was just fast enough to react, wrenching the controls and sending the tank's path twisting into the bike.
The impact only winged the bike, but it was enough for the already ruined vehicle. Something in the steering column gave way as it reeled from the crash, and the bike tore in two with a soundtrack of tortured metal. The front forks span away. The torn armour plate on its underside of the collapsed chassis dug into the road surface. Robbed of speed by the tearing asphalt, the sheer momentum of the ruined bike flipped its carcass and rider as missiles.
The instant for which the chase seemed to have been ended was shattered by the resonating crash of magnetised boots finding grip on the roof of Jael's half-track.
Uncurling from his crouched landing, the World Eater turned to look at the tank ahead. His helmet hid the face beneath, but the glowing eye sockets and the warrior's eye sockets still managed to be gloating.
"...That's new too."
It was about all Andreas could actually find to say.
The sharp crack of Dovin opening fire again snapped him out of his shock. Joining the fusillade once again, he fired repeatedly into the warrior, but even Steren's freshly reloaded heavy stubber did little to impress the beast.
Turning away unimpressed and disinterested, the Marine set about mutilating the roof of the half-track, its light armour peeling apart around the massive blade.
Steren tossed her machine gun into a corner.
He didn't get an answer before the psyker leapt, almost flying over the huge gap between the vehicles to slam into the Marine with equal parts force and grace. Latched onto the Astartes' backpack with diamond hard claws, she climbed against the thrashing warrior's physical protestations and latched her hands onto his helmet.
Her wrench of the warrior's neck didn't come quite soon enough. A massive gauntlet clamped around her arm, flinging her to the roof. She rolled away from the landing, her toes puncturing her once expensive boots and reshaping to claw into the metal.
The Marine uncurled his other hand from the sword embedded in the half-track, standing up from his handiwork.
"Impressive.", his voice sounded amused, even distorted through the vox-grille, For a psyker, anyway."
"Save your compliments. Your words are worthless.", Steren spat.
He didn’t hesitate, reaching for the hilt of his sword. Lunging against the grip of her distorted feet, Steren forced forwards, smashing at his descending hand to knock it aside. A twist of her torso and a swing of the elbow delivered the next blow into the weak hip joint of the power armour and was rewarded with the crunch of some ancient component working its last, paint fragments flying from a fresh dent.
She began to turn for a third strike, but Agares' stolen hand came at her from the other side, slamming into her head, forcing her smashing down into the roof. The metal buckled and split under the blow, the tortured metal torn further with a twist of the giant wrist to grind her skull against the ruined roof.
Seeing the Marine draw her back from the roof for a second blow, Andreas was granted the briefest glance at the weakspot under the armour's shoulder. Two of his shots went straight into the joint in the same moment that Pantariste slammed the Salamander into the halftrack's flank.
The daemon flinched. With a damaged roof distorting under his sheer weight, even the magnetised boots of his power armour couldn't keep grip, and he stumbled, dropping Steren to the roof as he struggled for balance.
But he found it quickly. As he repositioned his feet, the Salamander was now only scarce feet away and his stance tensed to jump.
"MOVE!", Nogal shouted. But the tank lurched away too slowly and her spray of lasgun fire found no weak spot in the daemon's armour.
Andreas' survival instinct was only an instant from throwing him from back of the tank in desperation.
He just as soon recoiled as the edge of the gun mantlet arced. Lightning flashed along its frame, spidering back across the gap and blazing over the half-track's roof. Just visible in the mire of the miniature storm, Agares twitched, fighting his protesting power armour.
Steren pulled herself from the roof, gory eyesockets flashing with arcs of energy. The normally stoic mask she wore was gone, bloody ruin and incandescent rage in its place. Remnants of lips drawn away from chipped teeth, she spat her curses at the daemon.
"You foul, forbidden beast! You are heresy and chaos incarnate, and I deny you in the Emperor's name."
Tearing apart the malfunctioning electrofibres in his power armour with brute strength, Agares swung behind him.
The backhand blow was too high, the psyker weaving under it, her fingers grasping and tear handholds in his aged armour. Hauling him up, she swung up and over as to throw him from the vehicle.
It was too much. The roof finally caved in.
As they tumbled into the hold below, Steren caught a glance of the voidsmen rolling away just before gravity helped both brawlers to find the floor. Ignoring the plentiful swearing, she slammed up and out, throwing Agares into the half-track's weapons rack. He lashed out in return, and she went flying, contributing yet another dent to the back quarter of the walls.
With the flash of falling steel, everyone saw what was about to happen next. His massive sword crashing off the middle of the floor, the daemon lunged with the agility that seemed so wrong and yet so familiar for the massive frame of his host.
From behind, uselessly blocked, Steren launched as best she could. Dion recoiled back, pulling the frozen Rosa clear. Javix leapt forward, trying to knock the sword aside.
Much to his own surprise, he did - the hilt just drifting past Agares' clutching fingers, the weapon clattered against the side of the hull. With a roar of anger, the Marine lashed out - his forearm collided with the voidsman, launching him into the wall head-first. The sickening crunch left no doubt as to Javix's fate.
The half-track lurched, throwing Steren into the wall yet again. The reason was clear - Jael was visibly quaking in terror, the wheel fallen from his hands. Dion was desperately trying to get past him, wrenching at the unfamiliar controls as best as he could guess.
"He's freaking! ...I'm freaking!", he pleaded in desperate hope.
Almost casually, he was interrupted, his hands brushed confidently aside by the savant. Something was immediately different about Jael's demeanour, fresh fire burning in his eyes.
"No. No, I'm not. I'll be alright.", his tone was unusually confident, "Steren, plan theta."
"Theta? That's...", the psyker was dumbstruck, "...oh, I like that."
She leapt up, driving her hardened fist up through the rear flank of Agares' armour. The bloody mess it came coated with on its return brought another howl of displeasure from the daemon, spinning, forcing her to move.
But that's what she wanted. Now free to brace against the side of the vehicle, she kicked out - forcing herself across the width of the hold, the attack had all the force it needed to slam the daemon's head through the scarred opposite wall. Guided by Jael's thoughts, the timing was perfect. Agares' helmet collided with the solid rockcrete column supporting a road bridge overhead. A fresh gouge drawn in the hold by his recoiling head, the daemon fell stunned back in and onto the floor.
Steren, however, was more interested in hauling Dion and Rosa from their feet, grasped by the back of their uniforms.
"This will hurt. Sorry.", she apologised as she moved for the back door.
"What are you doing?"
She answered with action - Dion flew screaming out of the open back doors, thrown to the Salamander now positioned in the wake of the half-track. He landed heavily, but regained his wits fast enough to scramble for a grip on the barrel of the autocannon.
Three seconds later, Rosa followed in similarly unsubtle and dignified fashion.
"I thought you were going to throw him out."
"That hit should have snapped even an Astartes' neck - throwing him out would be useless. Wouldn't it?", she snarled the last query as she circled past the slowly-standing Agares, "You might fool them, but you stink of your true nature. I can feel you in there."
"Very clever, psyker... you noticed. But don't let me interrupt; you sounded like you had a plan for how you were going kill me?"
"I'll leave that to her."
Steren gestured, a sweeping open palmed motion that led out through the open rear of the half-track, the daemon's head turning in kind.
Framed by the rended rectangle of the door frames, the Salamander thundered still - its tracks tearing furiously at the highway, its supercharger screaming over the roar of its engine and the muzzle of Iota's heavy bolter standing proud from its angled armour plates.
Agares' indignant roar yet managed to drown out the bark of the weapon as it opened fire, both daemon and high calibre bolt merging into a whirl of destruction that pulverising what little still remained of the half-track's interior.
Shrapnel flying wild, Steren watched the scene in each of its instants, taking the moment in an infinite beauty that mundane senses would never be able to see.
The flare of each rocket motor as it burnt out, its velocity imparted. The sparks of red-hot bolt jacket fragments spinning away as the deuterium cores detonated. Splashes of tainted, cursed blood flying free.
Using Agares' bulk and what little metal remained of the half track's cab as cover, Steren launched herself on top of Jael, huddling over him to fend off the tearing swarm of debris that shredded what tatters remained of her once valuable dress.
But still focused. She noticed the instant the bolter went silent. Spinning around to deliver the final blow...
"NO!!! Where did he go?"
The half-track was ruined, but utterly devoid of the World Eater.
From the Salamander, it was clear the half-track was ruined, almost limping to its halt.
"Probably best to slow with it, Tanis.", yelled Andreas over the engine, "But keep the heavy bolter ready."
Pantariste nodded, although mostly to herself, putting light pressure on the brakes to match the speed of the other vehicle as it came to a halt.
"I do not understand. This is tactically inefficient.", Iona spoke. Pantariste might have guessed the expression as an indication of Iona being unsettled, but who knew with that girl?
It was not an ideally timed distraction, as it bought an instant for something to fly from the back of the half track, crashing into the front of the tank.
The doubts about what it was were lost with the sound of a roaring female voice, audible even over the rending armour as she climbed.
"YOU LET HIM GO?!"
"What?!", the accusation caught Andreas off-guard.
"FOUL, STINKING TRAITOR! I HAD HIM, AND YOU LOST HIM!"
Lightning flared from the corners of her eyes, her fingers hardening into claws...
"Steren! GET DOWN FROM THERE IMMEDIATELY!", Jael yelled as he climbed from the half-track.
She turned, glaring at Jael with her blazing eyes.
"I mean it! Get. Down. From. There. This won't solve anything."
He wasn't in charge here. She was the master. She had to be the master. She pushed into his mind. There would be fear. It could be exploited. It would be exploited.
The fear wasn't there. Then what was...
"Yes. Yes. Of course." , her demeanour snapped back, suddenly level headed.
"Good. Go and see if there's anything salvageable about the half-track. Or in it."
She obeyed, jumping clear of the tank. Several expressions were passed around those she left behind - some of confusion, others fearful and one angry.
"What the frak was that?", Pantariste had her weapon ready at hand as she climbed from the hatch, tracking the departing psyker with its muzzle.
"She's a telepath. They can sometimes get into a cycle where their emotions are feeding off themselves. Rare, but... significant... in her case. She normally has her facade to keep it at bay, but she must have lost her focus in the brawl."
"That's a slight understatement, I think.", Andreas commented.
"Not so much. She just needs something to break the cycle."
Iona's head appeared from the driver's compartment.
"Given the current circumstances, I'd count that as a virtue. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm about to faint."