I think this place used to be a pleasure-park. The arrangement of the devotionals and the buildings is of no tactical value and definitely of no spiritual one. It is a haphazard thing made doubly so as the ****** have turned it to a muddied blasted wasteland.
It represents the ******** in our mission to ******** the ******* and as a result I, and my friends, are ******* within *******. Since the ****** the weather has been perpetually loathsome, a kind of dull incessant rain which soaks the bones and leaves me unable even to light fire or cigarette.
We have been sent on a most holy and spiritual crusade. I know it has been many, many months since I last saw you but rest assured that I do the Emperor’s Work, and rest assured that if I should die, if the ***********, then **********
Pvt. 18F4G, Gardani F
Note from Cssr 56N7D Novak D: Letter NOT, repeat NOT suitable for dispatch on mail vessel. Content impossible to rework within standard Imperial censorship codes; recommend 18F4G rewrite. FAO Ob. 26Q6I Issa Q; accompany recommendation 18F4G rewrite letter with notification he is to be assigned early watches and sanitation-cleaning duties until further notice. FAO Ob. 26Q6I Issa Q (addendum): accompany recommendation 26Q6I send recommendation to 18F4G with recommendation that 26Q6I also report for disciplinary action for failure to adequately censor mail.
The Imperial forces stretched like dull blue-grey ants over the landscape. From the top of the Gleaning Engine, through screens showing the Panopticon’s all-seeing eyes, the slate-coloured greatcoats and the lank, feeble bodies that hung within them worked with busy industry to move against the Mykene. Feldmarschall Blitz of the Death Korps had, frustrated with the inefficiencies of the Astartes and operating underneath Inquisitor Stahl of the Demonhunters, taken matters into his own hands. Massive artillery batteries, unwieldy tanks, and the numerous verminous men who served only to clog the barrels of the General’s guns, all marched with inevitable purpose towards the altar.
Within the depths of Budo, strange experiments were grinding on, as yet unfinished but accompanied by a constant chorus of screaming and curses in alien tongues.
And so it fell, as it always did, to the shock troops of the Legion. Acheron marched at their head, the Hell Cross Division behind, and the rapid response arm of the Iron Masks rode in their metal boxes, the dull and rusted frames of Astartes Rhinos. Still further back the heavier echelons of the Corroded Ones, surrounded by a baying mob of cultists from the church of Bardos, scoured the skies for enemy aircraft.
The engagement would be in an old park, fallen statuary and old gazebos forming a perverse sort of maze. It was one of the Korps’ forward gun batteries, artillery set up in an old chapel’s ruins that had once been in an elegant landscaped area. Attacking it was as much a message to the enemy as anything else; it would do little in the short-term to stall the Imperials’ advance but it would make them out to be weak.
Thus, in the depths of a rainy night, when the perpetual downpour that the planet now found itself under had turned to a vile, biting sleet, battle was joined.
Private Falco Gardani could feel cold water soaking through even the three layers of thick, military serge he wore, and the oilskin coat over that. Even around the edges of his gas mask, where the thin rubber touched upon his face and butted up against his mousy hair, the icy water was soaking in and burning upon his cheeks.
When Oberst Issa cracked the butt of a lasgun into the small of his back, his first thought was how unfair it was. He hadn’t even been asleep, just so paralysed by the cold and the earliness of the morning that it had looked it.
“Soldat! The gun will not load itself! The Generallmajor has reported we have Kaos sighted in this sector! Be ready!” The pain in his back (for Issa had a strong arm) motivated him to turn to the crate of shells, packed four-at-a-time in egg-box like racks, and lift one. The routine was one he was well-drilled in. Pull the shell from its box, then with Soldat Thurston’s assistance place it within the breech of the gun, and then secure it.
Oberst Issa, her duty of care to Gardani done, peered again through the Munitorum issue night-eye she had been given, and confirmed what she had reported to Generallmajor Sturm. Five figures apparently defiling a large engraved rock in the shape of an Aquila. Large enough, even through the night-eye’s thin slit of sepia tones, to clearly be Astartes.
“Field battery, fire!” Issa had removed her mask to better let her orders be heard. The call to fire was accompanied, to make sure everyone understood, by the thin whine of a trench-officer’s whistle. That followed, in time, by the twelve reports of the cannons, shells trailing dirty smoke and a stink of propellant. Yet even such a simple task as laying down suppression upon the traitors seemed too complex for the idiots she commanded; the first gun had fired somehow too late.
Gardani slumped back against the ammunition-crates, his aching back at the point of collapse after reloading his gun, and waited for revised firing orders. Instead he saw Issa approaching, her baton drawn, and waited for the inevitable beating.
Down the line, in Generallmajor Sturm’s field headquarters, the map-room was shaken by the report of Irma, the battery’s heavy Medusa mortar.
“Obergefreiter Hapsburg, report!” Sturm walked to the door and screamed against the deafness at Irma‘s spotter.
“Nothing, sir! Impact was good but nothing!” The massive shell had exploded against a chunk of stone wall, but the enemy had been well dug-in. “Oberst Issa reports success from her battery, one of the enemy Astartes confirmed killed!”
“Continue barrage, Obergefreiter! And send word to the Librarian that his services are needed!”
Acheron was not at all phased by the Kriegsmen’s barrage. The artillery was, with the exception of the clumsy, probing siege mortar, all small-bore stuff that paled in the shadow of anything Vogler and his insane cronies could devise.
What troubled him was the hissing, sizzling morass of black armour waiting by the enemy’s field headquarters. Why they had yet to make a decisive move remained a mystery but they nevertheless lurked close by. Blood Angels. Rumoured to be only one step removed from Khorne-worship, rumoured equally to take part in stomach-churning rites that appalled even the mutated, possessed Librarian. The Mykene – before the fall of Bardos – had been a proud chapter, honoured for their purity and adherence to if not Guilleman’s words but those of Ferrus Manus. Sanguinius had been… anathema to them.
With the Panopticon’s eye over the battlefield, night was no object. He saw the Corroded Ones open fire on the Space Marine leader who lurked by the enemy’s field guns, one of the shots tearing the Librarian’s arm off at the elbow. His own unit, the Terminators of the Hell Cross, gunned down two of the Blood Angels with the same precision. All proceeded according to plan.
“Battery, fire!” Issa again jabbed with her baton towards the enemies. Their guns had opened up now, shards of burning, near-molten rock tearing into Epistolary Eduardus se Andettere, throwing his concentration which should have been used to guide their fire.
This time, Gardani’s gun fired in time with the others. This time, the shells did not fall in harmless showers around the foe but right in their midst. Three of the enemies were torn apart. Issa let herself smile.
Irma fired again, punctuating the stuttering percussion of Issa’s battery, and this time falling masonry crushed one of the Cult of Bardos to a pulp. Its lack of results, though, troubled Sturm.
“Obergefreiter, explain this! Explain how this weapon is… ineffective!”
“I can but assume that my orders are not being followed, Generallmajor!” Hapsburg looked terrified, and with good reason. Sturm did not stand alone to confront him, but backed with his entire retinue. “I will redouble my efforts!”
Deep underground, in a tunnel that had previously been an accessway for overflow drains, in what felt to all the world like a coffin, the Second Pioneres were crammed into the rear compartment of a Hades Drill.
“When we surface, disembark at once and begin curtain fire to support the First Pioneres!” Stabsgefreiter Heim disliked how closely packed she was to her comrades. “Leutnant Lamperouge! Status?”
The tanker hated his new assignment. He hated Stabsgefreiter Heim and her shrill voice. He hated the cockpit of the Hades, which made a solitary madness-cell in the main base seem comfortable. The omnipresent smell of fuel burned both by the engine and the melta-drills before him made him feel sick.
“One minute to surface!”
The ground-sensor in the cockpit, his only way of viewing the world above, reported heavy footfalls. Terminators. The drill would eat them alive.
Usually this was the point where the smell of fuel was replaced by the smell of burning flesh and blood. Where the grinding of the engine and the constant rattle-scream of the drill bits was joined by shouts of terror.
Instead it was the point where the tank’s fore-section buckled, the drills blunted by a wall of energy. The shutters slid open as the drill pierced the earth, and Leutnant Lamperouge saw a Terminator larger than its peers projecting the force-field. He saw their waiting guns, their power-fists and lightning-claws glowing. He would have liked nothing more than to send Stabsgefreiter Heim straight into that slaughterhouse.
“Pioneren, halt!” His duty to the regiment came first. Firing the mining cutter – a vomited gout of energy which could cut through fortifications – was an arcane and precise process. Valves, stiff and seeping grease, needed to be mixed. Gauges checked.
The number four release valve was flickering into the red, like it always did. Perhaps slightly more than usual? Lamperouge didn’t care.
He completed the firing-sequence, and realised just for a few moments perhaps he should have cared as the cockpit flooded with white-hot propellant vented from the emergency escape valves. Usually they would have been pointed outwards, but Acheron’s wall of force had crumpled the fore-section of the drill such that the pipes were thrown well out of place.
Seeing the Second Pioneres‘ transport implode in on itself as its mining-cutter misfired, the First Pioneres began firing at the Terminators. Nothing happened, perhaps predictably. The wall of force remained.
Sturm heard these disquieting updates and knew his best hope of victory now lay in the Blood Angels. They planned a charge on a unit of Traitor Marines who now eschewed the protection of their metal boxes – it seemed heretical to call them Rhinos – and occupied a wood near his headquarters.
With prayers on their lips, the Death Company charged. Yet it broke down almost immediately into an inelegant firefight which left one Traitor dead and the Blood Angels licking their wounds.
Acheron dropped the wall of force as the surviving Corroded One put the burning enemy burrower out of its misery. Its passengers – feeble Guardsmen – were counting their limbs and blessings, no threat.
On the other hand the Blood Angels were. With barely any concentration required, he sent an arc of black energy biting into their ranks which sent all it touched into momentary paroxysm followed by brutal explosion. Blood Angels, killed in a bursting bubble of blood. He felt it poetic.
With a predictable efficiency the new aerial Mechanical Beast assigned to his army, Hadrian XIX, doused the enemy sappers hiding in a knot of ruins with flame that left their ranks broken. All to the good. Their deaths opened a path for the Iron Masks to lay fire on the enemy’s infernal mortars.
Irma had shifted targets to the Iron Masks, the Cult of Bardos almost mocking them with tenacity. This proved useful; while the first shell had been a wild ranging shot, it had nevertheless killed one of them.
Issa couldn’t say she had mourned Gardani for very long. He lay sprawled on the floor like he had so often been, only this time his brains were sprawled on the floor a few feet away. The mortars needed to cool, and all she could do was have her gun-crews take cover and a few moments’ rest (if such a thing were possible under the relentless gnawing of boltguns). She had never, in fact, been so grateful for having dispensed with her mask. It meant she could light the cigarette all the quicker and try to ignore the sight of Gardani while she smoked it.
The plan had been for the First Pioneres to provide covering fire while the mortars cooled. This had… not happened. Instead there was an immense mechanical dragon roosting – she laughed at the thought, a kind of frantic laugh of someone close to death – in a clock-tower and burning them for fun. For sure the survivors were doing their best, their lasguns flickering in the dawn, but these were Astartes. You couldn’t kill them with three men.
On the other side of the Kreigers’ crumbling front, Heim realised she was not dead. Neither, in fact, were any of her squad. Then terrifying realisation hit her. Neither were any of the terminators. Trying to hide that fear – genuine, cold fear, a lead weight in her stomach – led to her fatal mistake.
“For Krieg! For… For the Emperor!” She pulled the pin on a toxic gas grenade and led the bayonet charge at Acheron himself.
As the gas, thick and a vile cobalt-blue, roiled around Acheron and the Hell Cross Corps, he became aware of a human woman warily circling him, rifle thrust forward with bayonet mounted. She was jabbing the air, as if challenging him to fight.
It was all Heim could do. Truth be told, her nerve had failed before she had taken a single step towards the Chaos Sorcerer. Seeing the real patriots charge in only to be eviscerated with first the practiced dissection of lightning-claws and then the clumsy pulverising swings of power-fists had been enough to make her consider taking her chances with the Commissars.
Except the wall of force had been back. Someone had wounded the monster, for sure – his armour was scarred – but…
She began to do all she could. Recite the litanies of protection every Guardsman learned for when faced with Chaos. And hope that it would be one precise blow that finished her, not the atrocities she had seen the Terminators bring against the other Pioneren.
Yet in the woods, the results could not have been more different. The Death Company might have been worn down slightly but their charge was like a tide of locusts falling on the Iron Masks. Two of the Marines were cut down before they could respond, and the rest could do nothing but fall back under curtain-fire.
The remaining Pioneren of the first squad had not been looking up. If they had, they would have seen Hadrian XIX about to consume them, which it did with one diving birdlike motion. In the confusion, the last Corroded One saw a shot and took it; burning shrapnel decapitated Epistolary Eduardus, leaving the Kriegsmen’s guns without the vital psychic guidance they needed.
Hadrian continued its rampage, burning deeply into the field-gun battery’s redoubts and melting down the crews even as they hid behind the guns.
The Death Company had been blunted by the precisely-timed fall-back of the Iron Masks and found themselves in an ambush. Fire from the Cult of Bardos and from the Iron Masks brought two more of the black-armoured Marines down and then, to their horror, they saw the enemy charging them – not letting them get the time to regroup.
Sturm had left the command-room; he waited for his inevitable death (for there was nothing to warrant deceiving himself over – even if he fled the field Stahl and Blitz would simply make an example of him) on the balcony like an officer and gentleman should. He had called his personal guard to him to defend him to the last, Heereshilfspfarrer Kors holding the banner high.
Acheron felt this an insult. A very personal kind of insult – the broken foe flying their banner over their last stand. Assuming their legacy would endure.
The black whip of energy flicked out again and Sturm’s retinue exploded, showering the ornately-dressed major-general with gore. Humiliated now.
Even with Sturm’s men being melted and blasted around them, Obergefreiter Hapsburg knew his duty was to keep Irma firing until the end. The gun was zeroed on the nigh-untouched unit over by Issa’s battery, and it fired.
It struck true. Six of the unit of Iron Masks were simply pasted against the ground.
Take the shell from its crate. Open the breech. Issa realised how command had made her weak. The shells seemed heavy. Her and Soldat Glen were the only survivors from the battery, and between them they could just about manage a single gun.
When it finally fired, it was a barrage she should have beaten herself for. The shells fell harmlessly in a stagnant fish-pond. She called to Glen to begin reloading, and got no reply. She called again, thinking he hadn’t heard.
His body was draped over an open ammunition-crate, riddled with bolt-wounds.
The report of Irma had drawn Hadrian’s attention, and the beast raked the gun and its crew, slaughtering them. Hapsburg somehow survived the first pass, but died to the second, pistol raised and firing ineffectually into the beast’s maw.
Sturm faced death more stoically. He saw the dragon’s breath coming, as it did from such a height with an effect similar to what he understood a rainbow to be. It was plenty enough time for a final prayer.
I am currently ********* in an Imperial ship following injuries sustained ******* ago in combat against ***********. It is likely I will be returning home soon for a period of extended medical leave.
Do not think me weak; I did my duty until the ********** and never for one moment dishonoured the Imperial Guard. ******* ********** and ******** all ******** in this mission.
Ob. 26Q6I Issa Q
Note from [Redacted]: Let this letter pass. I require the sole survivor of this debacle to be in the best of health for “debriefing” aboard my ship.