The thunderhawk shuddered, and Scout Sniper Vash of the Onyx Warriors tried to ignore the sick feeling in his stomach, partly from the constant up and down motion of the transport, and partially from the fact that this was his first combat drop in a thunderhawk. All of his other insertions had been via large landing barges, moving like titanic whales through the sky. Nevertheless, this would be a chance to further prove himself to his brothers, and if he performed admirably, then perhaps Scout Sergeant Castus would honor him with a promotion to battle brother. Vash gripped his sniper rifle tightly, and closed his eyes to try and dispel the airsickness he was feeling. Castus looked over at him and laughed.
“Not all it’s cracked up to be eh scout?”
“Sir…” Vash tilted his head back for a moment and swallowed. “No sir.”
Castus slapped him on the back playfully, causing Vash to fall forward onto his hands and knees and throw up all over the deck of the thunderhawk. The thunderhawk was dropping fast to avoid enemy anti-aircraft fire, and so the scouts were exposed to the full force of an orbital landing. Making matters worse was the fact that they were not strapped into crash seats; riding instead on long metal benches.
“Don’t worry scout, I did the same thing on my first drop.”
Vash wiped his mouth with his glove, still tasting bile, and looked up at his Sergeant.
“And how was the Great Crusade sir?” Vash said playfully. He and the other members of Squad Castus had learned long ago that the Onyx Warriors encouraged this sort of loose relationship amongst the enlisted ranks, believing it built camaraderie, as long as, at the end of the day, you still knew who your superior was.
Castus leaned over and swatted Vash on the back of the head with his bolt pistol. Even playfully, the blow still hurt dearly and Vash yelped like a whipped dog, rubbing his bruised head. Castus laughed again, and was sure the other members of the squad would have too, had they not been busy retching up a lung as well.
Castus stood and addressed the squad, looking the ones who had their heads up in the eye.
“All right, we’re landing in a little bit. Our target is a large refinery, which is currently being used by renegade Guardsmen to produce weapons and munitions. Intel says these guys turned traitor when a terrorist group, known as the ‘Black Hand’, attempted a hostile takeover of the planet. This factory not only produces weapons and munitions, but is also where the former PDF got its vehicles from, so it’s an extremely high priority target. Expect heavy resistance however. It’s got the STCs for the Basilisk Self Propelled Artillery, the Leman Russ Main Battle Tank, and the Chimera Armored Personnel Carrier.”
The squad whistled appreciatively, and Brother Scout Brock, their heavy weapons man, asked,
“Why are they sending 5 scouts instead of oh, say, a Landraider squadron?”
“Because we’re not there to kill it, we’re just there to distract them. And who better to send than 5 scouts with sniper rifles and a missile launcher?”
The squad murmured in agreement, and Castus cleared his throat, indicating a wish to continue.
“Now, we have a rhino on site to extract us if things get sticky, and if you get separated, the extraction point is here.” He said, motioning to a red dot on the tactical map.
“Also, a word of warning. Always keep in mind that these are men who have thrown their lot in with Chaos, so there is no telling what we may find. You would do well to remember what happened to Battle Sergeant Dumont at the Qweris VII disaster.”
The last major training exercise the Onyx Warriors had been on took place on the small planet Qweris VII, and had ended with a Sergeant becoming possessed by Chaos and killing his entire Tactical Squad. He claimed a further seven men from an assault squad before he was brought down by a razorback. The Inquisitorial investigation was still pending.
The other scouts began to murmur about traitors and daemons, but when Castus rose his hand there was silence. He produced an auspex from his cloak, and projected a map onto the floor, carefully avoiding the part Vash had thrown up onto.
“We will set up here,” he indicated the position on the map, and a red dot appeared. “On a ridge above the refinery, and wait for the main force. You are not to fire until I get permission Brother Captain Krish. Understood?”
“Sir yes sir!” The four of them yelled.
“Very good. Now, Vash, Nolan, Eurebus, and I will deploy on the ridge with the sniper rifles, and Brock will cover our rear with the missile launcher. Brock, you do not have permission to fire without my go ahead.”
“Sir yes sir.” Brock said, hefting his missile launcher. Brock carried a large satchel on his back, filled to the bursting with fragmentation and krak warheads.
The thunderhawk rumbled, and Castus gripped a bar on the ceiling tightly.
“We’re landing soon, and shall commence attack on the refinery immediately. Remember the plan, and we’ll be okay.”
White plumes of fire shot from the thunderhawk’s engines, and it came to a slow landing, skimming across the grass before stopping completely. The rear ramp dropped, and Castus waved the scouts forward. All of them wore full face helmets with rebreathers, similar to the ones used by the Kasrkin of the Imperial Guard, so that their breath wouldn’t be visible to onlookers. They advanced at a crouch slowly across the frozen plain, their sniper rifles raised, scanning the horizon. Vash looked up and saw that the black and crimson thunderhawk was already just a dot in the sky. Castus clenched his left hand into a fist above his head.
“Squad, go to prone positions now!” His voice roared over the vox like a landspeeder’s afterburners.
The scouts dropped to their stomachs and crawled across the landscape, weapons slung across their backs. The cameleoline cloaks worn by each man rippled in the light breeze. It was fall on this agri-world, but the fields of grain were frozen solid, tall white obelisks in the cold.
Agri-World 23-19 was a world gripped in fear. An uprising of a local chaos cult, the Black Hand, had pitched the entire world into anarchy. Bolstered by warp spawn and elements of the Lost and the Damned, the Black Hand had become extremely dangerous. They had quickly overrun the 23-19’s meager Planetary Defense Force, and those that hadn’t died immediately were now fighting amongst the ranks of the heretics, as traitors or worse. The Chaos forces had even gone so far as to send the entire planet deep into the embrace of winter. For most of the citizens of the agri-world, they had never even felt temperatures colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, much less seen snow thick enough that walkers quickly became the only practical mode of transportation. The planet’s governor had dispatched a call for help to the Ordo Malleus, and they had sent one of their best, Inquisitor Nathe Garrison. Garrison had contacted the Onyx Warriors chapter master, as the chapter had a history of working closely with the Inquisition, and asked him for help. The chapter master accepted of course. Despite the fact that they were not the Inquisition’s playthings, they would still honor a legitimate request for help. Castus also gathered elements of the 17th Cadian Division, who, with the unofficial moniker of “Arctic Shock Troopers”, would serve the Ordo Malleus well in this campaign.
Vash was shook from his thoughts when Brock tapped him on the shoulder. He realized that they had arrived at the refinery. Castus whispered their orders to each of them, crawling down the snowbank they were hiding behind and tapping each man on the shoulder.
“Vash, eliminate all sentries on my mark.” Vash nodded, removing his from its sling and pressing it into his shoulder. He ran the scope along the wall of the refinery, and silently counted the number of sentries.
“Excellent.” He muttered, after counting four. With his superhuman reflexes, the swivel bipod on his rifle, and the extended clip, this would be easy.
“Mark!” Castus whispered.
Vash nodded, and took stock of the first sentry, in a tower on the east refinery wall. He held his breath, and ever so gently pulled the trigger. The rifle hissed, and the sentry fell to the deckplate in a cloud of pink mist. He quickly repeated the action with the other three sentries, and smiled with satisfaction as the fourth man tumbled over the wall into a bloodstained snowbank.
“Nice job Scout. Now, they’re going to figure out what’s going on pretty soon, and from now until I tell you otherwise, you have my permission to fire at will. Brock, you are to fire frag missiles at tightly packed groups, and krak missiles at any sentry installation you may see.”
Apparently their enemies were a rather dumb bunch, because the dead sentries weren’t discovered until the guards changed shifts. And even then, it took them another twenty minutes to muster any sort of a counter-attack. When the gates to the refinery opened though, Vash’s jaw dropped and he sincerely hoped that he was seeing things. Eurebus was best able to it into words though.
“Oh throne, that’s a lot of guys.”
Castus stood and fired his bolt pistol at the group of enemies quickly approaching.
“Fire at will! Fire at will!”
The sniper rifles cracked, and a frag missile snaked from Brock’s launcher across the battlefield, detonating in a spectacular airburst above a squad of traitorous guardsmen. Shrapnel flew everywhere, shredding the fatigues and flak armor of everyone it touched. But, despite the best efforts of the squad, the heretics just kept coming. Vash sighted a sergeant, the aquilas on his armor crudely removed with a bayonet, enthusiastically directing the fire of a heavy bolter team, and lined his head up in the crosshairs. One quick squeeze of the trigger, and the man’s head popped like an overripe melon, spraying gore all over his squad. The guardsmen on the heavy bolter may have been ill-trained, but they weren’t stupid. They immediately turned the large gun towards Vash’s position and let loose a burst of 75 caliber shells. Vash dove behind a tree, and the bullet stream followed him, reducing the tree to kindling and spraying toothpicks everywhere. He took a krak grenade from his belt, and, being careful to keep a firm grip on the spoon, pulled the pin. He leapt to his feet and hurled the grenade right at the heavy bolter, diving for cover even as he heard the familiar KRAK-BOOM!!! of the grenade detonating. Castus reached over and pulled him out of he snow, muttering,
“Yer not a hero yet boy!”
Vash reached for his sniper rifle, and snapped it up to his shoulder. Looking around the battlefield for new targets, he saw a small man in flowing black robes carrying a twisted eight-pointed Star of Chaos forged from wrought iron. He lined the man’s head up and fired. This time, his head did not explode but instead literally detached from his shoulders. The daemonic sigil fell to the snow with a clang, and Vash grinned triumphantly.
He was so busy searching for another target that he didn’t hear the fallen guardsmen sneaking up behind him, and was only alerted to his presence when a lasgun shot deflected off of his carapace armor. He turned and drew his chainblade in one, fluid motion, raising his arm sharply to cut through the man’s flak armor. The guardsman grunted in surprise as the razor sharp teeth of Vash’s chainsword sliced through his belly, spraying blood everywhere. Steam hissed off of the snow as warm meat from the man’s recently eviscerated torso hit the ground with a sickening splatter. Vash flicked the roaring motor of his sword off, wiped the blade roughly on his fatigues, and sheathed it again. Picking up his rifle again, he returned to his deadly duty without so much as a second thought to what he had done.
The scouts continued their work for almost half an hour, before the swarms of the damned became so thick their high powered sniper rifles were barely making a dent in them. For every zombie or traitor that fell, three more seemed to take his place. Castus stood above the squad, the barrel of his pistol cherry red as he fired into the fray with reckless abandon. They explosive .75 caliber bolts ripped through the soft flesh of the enemy, exploding on impact and spraying gore everywhere. There was chatter all over the vox; it seemed the same thing was happening everywhere. The main marine force had been crushed by massive waves of the beasts, and most of the guardsmen they had brought along had either bolted or been corrupted in the face of such an enemy. The few guardsmen who were either iron willed enough to stay and fight, or happened to be near enough to a commissar that they dared not try anything were quickly being herded back to the landing zone, where it was said a massive evacuation effort was going on. However, just because the weaklings were retreating, that didn’t mean it was acceptable for his squad to go with them! Castus would stay and fight until Captain Deus ordered the chapter off planet. His bolt pistol roaring, he gritted his teeth and continued firing into the unending mob of the damned.
Captain Deus sighed, cradling his head in an armored hand. The battle was not going well. Already, the detachment which had been sent planetside, comprising elements of the Onyx Warriors 2nd, 5th, 10th, and 12th Companies, had taken heavy casualties. The devastator detachment from 5th company was at under half strength, and even then, the ones who still lived had lost many of their Razorbacks. That would require that a flight of thunderhawks be sent to retrieve them, if indeed retreat was deemed necessary. The 2nd company’s assault squads had been hit hard, but thanks to their veteran skill and the grace of the Emperor they had only lost a handful of their numbers.
“Captain!!! You should see this!” Sergeant Hapes yelled. He ran up the hill where the marine’s hastily established command center lay, and was waving a data-slate around as if he were holding a flag. He stopped in front of Deus, saluted quickly, and handed him the slate. It scanned the captain’s retina, and, after it had ascertained that he was allowed to see it’s contents, blinked to life. Deus read rapidly, soaking in the latest casualty reports from 12th company.
“Emperors teeth, six Landraiders!?!? How in Terra did we lose six bloody Landraiders?” Deus breathed.
Hapes stuttered. “Well sir, as you know, the heretics have captured a large munitions plant, and they produced an insane amount of Basilisk Artillery Pieces. It’s an amount that, prior to this, they only thought was possible to make in this amount of time on a Forge World. They must have a hell of a lot of men down there sir. And well, you’ve seen the damage one Basilisk can do. Now, take that damage amount and multiply it by…”
Hapes pulled another slate from his belt and checked some figures.
“Three hundred sir. They have three hundred basilisks pounding us on the western flank.” He said sheepishly.
“Oh, throne.” Deus whispered. “We’re in trouble.”
Castus popped a clip out of his bolt pistol and slammed a new one home. He was now on his second bandolier of ammo out of three, and was all out of frag grenades. Against his better judgement, he found himself hoping they would call a retreat soon, as his squad would soon run out of ammo for their sniper rifles, and then it was down to pistols and chainblades. They woundn’t last long against such a giant horde, even with their superior weapons and training. There were just too damn many them. Emptying his clip into the face of a guardsmen who was getting ideas with his bayonet, he almost didn’t hear the crackle of his vox-set.
“This is Captain Deus to all Onyx Warrior units. Our lines are in danger of being overrun, and I want all units to retreat to their assigned evacuation zones. Again, all Onyx Warriors units, this is a general retreat, proceed to your assigned evacuation zones.”
Castus swallowed, and drew his chainsword. This was about to get interesting.