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"There," Melchoir noted, satisfied.
It was all finished. He had spent the past day fortifying his position. He was completely lost, in a solid wall of atmospheric ground cover, far behind enemy lines (he thought), with no communication with anybody. At least now, he had those few surviving soldiers properly positioned for defense. Well, mostly.
"Hmph," the priest replied. Defense.
"Oh, come now, Sanario. Hard manual labor is good for morale. Better than them just sitting around freezing."
"Yes, morale can only be maintained by hardship," the priest was forced to admit, "but now we have no more manual labor to keep up morale. I would like to note that there is no limit to how long a group can be force marched for."
"Well, the breeze shifted a few hours ago," the officer replied, a keen observer of his surroundings, "it can't take long now before this all clears up."
"In the mist or clear," the priest retorted, "I can eviscerate just as well in either."
"Yeah, if only the same could be said for those shooting lasguns."
"All we need is faith."
"Well, faith we have. We also have some decent defense-works now, too. Really, all we lack is hookers and liquor."
"Just hookers," the priest replied.
"Oh?" Melchoir asked.
"I still have a half crate of my liquid fortitude left. We'll have to ration it carefully, though. I don't know when I'll get more."
"See? This is why logistics matter."
The priest rolled his eyes.
He had to admit, though, the officer's needless cunning was occasionally handy. The wind blew in strongly from the south. Already the wall of grey around them was quickly breaking up. Perhaps they'd be getting hookers now after all.
He looked around at the men. They were starting to stir as the fog blew away.
The priest squinted down the line. He had been up and down it several times today, and there was something there that decidedly didn't belong. As the sunlight pierced down from above, he saw it.
"Melchoir!" Sanario cried in alarm. The officer quick looked over and saw the enemy vehicle, just itself beginning to notice its environment.
"Enemy!" Melchoir shouted, "They're here! Everybody open fire!"
Confusion reigned as the guardsmen suddenly found the enemy around them. Two enemy skimmers were literally already inside their defenses. Lasgun shots quickly began to erupt, followed by hastily fired lascannons booming over them.
On the left, the mist rapidly blew away, leaving an exposed target, a nearby officer turned his lascannon team and fired into it at point blank range. The skimmer exploded in a spray of violent shrapnel. Right in front of the command squad, another did the same a heartbeat later.
"Keep firing!" Melchoir ordered as his troops began to engage the survivors scrambling from the wrecks.
All at once, the once-impregnable fog suddenly flew off the top of the hill.
Melchoir looked forward. There were more of them coming up at him. These weren't lost enemy, or a probing action, this was a real attack!
Then the aircraft arrived. From the skies poured down the first wave of enemy fighters, their engines screaming against the departing clouds.
"Hold your positions! Keep firing!" the officer shouted again. With a sudden burst of violence, the enemy slammed into their defenses.
As the enemy fliers spotted the guardsmen below, the swooped down and began to strafe them. The guardsmen, in a panic, desperately tried to return fire on the aircraft.
"No!" Melchoir shouted, "No! No! Shoot the ground targets, the ground targets! You're never going to hit anything up there!"
The guardsmen only started to get the message as two enemy champions that had survived the skimmer crashes rushed in to attack them.
Those nearby fired desperately into the attackers, masses of well-drilled overwatch fire attempting to find their targets, but only too late. Already the enemy was beginning to wade through them.
Melchoir looked forward again. Behind the enemy overlords was even more units coming forward. As the mist continued to fly away, the officer's jaw dropped. Behind the attackers that had already made it up the hill there were more. And then there were more.
In a few moments, the officer stood in shock as thousands of enemy soldiers began to appear before him, backed by hundreds of vehicles. Their armor shone in the emerging sunlight. The great horde of them writhed forwards.
An entire army was attacking just Melchoir Theleos.
He didn't know where he was, or where the rest of his army was, but exactly one thought passed through his mind.
"Fall back!" the officer shouted, "Everybody! Let's get out of here!"
The officer turned and began to run away himself.
"Oh no you don't!" Sanario bellowed chasing after him, "Come back here!"
Melchoir turned and saw the priest revving his chainsword at him. He desperately tried to speed up, running away from the priest. It was no good, though. Despite being a fair bit older, the priest was in much better shape and was at least a foot taller. The clergyman soon tackled the officer to the ground.
"Where do you think you're going?" he demanded.
"Are you INSANE!?" Melchoir shot back, "A hundred of us against a hundred THOUSAND of them?"
"All you need is faith, Melchoir."
"All I need is an entire damn army!"
"Peace, Melchoir," the priest retorted, calming his voice. Around him, guardsmen began to obey the order to fall back.
"Halt!" the priest shouted, "Halt men of Folera!"
Some of the guardsmen began to slow, confused by the conflict in orders, and confused by why their commanding officer's throat was getting stepped on.
"Knights of Folera!" the priest continued, "Now is not the time to shame yourself! Now is not the time to be a coward! Your mothers and wives at home are depending on what you do here today. Your kallistas and your king are watching you here and now. Your whole planet is here, by your side! You are fighting, here and now, in the name of the God-Emperor of all Mankind!
A day may come when you break your oaths. A day may come when you fail everything that is good and right. A day may come when you let xenos, heretics, and TRAITORS have their way unresisted. But it is not this day! Not this day will you pathetically die in vain! Not this day will you face the enemy and fail! Not this day!
This! This is the day we fight! This is the day we do our duty to our king and to our god! Right now! Turn your lasguns, and fix your bayonets!"
"But we need reinforcements!" Melchoir protested weakly.
"You need reinforcements?" the priest shouted, "All you need is faith!"
Sanario looked up. As the first wave of enemy fighters swept past, another wave of aircraft came in from the other direction. Dozens, hundreds of valkyries and vendettas flew over them, and toward the massive enemy army below. A massive roar overwhelmed them as they streaked over at low altitude, formation after formation blowing by them.
The priest weakened his grip on the officer, who squirmed out from underneath him. Melchoir got to one knee. The officer, the priest, and a few dozen guardsmen all looked down the south side of the hill, away from the enemy.
There, arrayed in front of them, was what must have been the entirety of the Foleran 3rd army.
"But I guess if that's not enough for you," the priest continued, "... then I guess reinforcements will have to do."
Melchoir was speechless. He had never been directly between more armed men in his entire life.
"See?" the priest said, turning to the men, "This fight is not lost, it is hardly beginning! And it is we who will draw first blood! Come on, men, to war!"
With a great shout, the Melchoir group turned around and charged back towards their defended positions.
From all around them, the first wave of reinforcements began to pour in. A few valkyries saw the battle going on on top of their hill and dropped off some stormtroopers. A recon detachment that had been lost in the fog joined the fray.
The priest ducked down as a vendetta swooped in overhead, narrowly missing a nearby ruin. From its back hatch, a squad of kingsguardsmen repelled down with frightening speed. Those with flame throwers ignited their pilot lights as the aircraft quickly pulled away.
Yes, things were just getting started.
"Men of Folera!" the priest shouted, "Charge!!!!"
Fired by the oratory of the priest, those few, brave soldiers began to rush forward to engage the enemy.
Sanario watched as the stormtroopers nearby began to unload their hellguns into the enemy overlord in front of them. At first, the shots struggled to find their mark, but as the enemy charged in, every step brought it into harder and harder fire. A mere few feet in front of them, the hellguns pounded the enemy lord to the ground. It wasn't even able to make it into close combat.
The priest turned and looked at the other enemy overlord, who likewise fell to a massive barrage of spirited lasfire. The enemy in their midst was now gone. There was now only enemy in front of them. Now, there was only forward.
Sanario looked up as a second wave of enemy fighters descended upon them. The priest scowled as the aircraft began their strafing run.
"Approaching coordinates now," the gunner's voice crackled to the pilot.
"Ground cover insufficient to identify targets," the pilot replied.
"I think it's clearing up."
The valkyrie swept forward through the low-hanging clouds. Beams of sun began to break through, splashing rays of light onto the wings of the aircraft as they shuttled through. This was it, the big offensive. An entire army backed up by all the air power that could be found. Now all they needed to do was to find the battlefield.
"Do you think we passed it?"
"Negative, this should be the place."
"Should I call formation command?"
"Negative, gunner. Just keep your pants on."
The clouds suddenly began to give way in a stiff breeze a few hundred feet below them.
"That's more like it."
Suddenly, out of the clouds, a wave of enemy fighters blew right through the massive formation of loyalist aircraft. The short-wave vox began to chirp and crackle as a dozen voices all broke out at once.
As the two groups of aircraft passed through each other, they both began to react to the unexpected presence of the other. The valkyrie gunner was nervous. He had never been in a dogfight before. He was never supposed to be IN a dogfight ever. He was supposed to deliver cargo.
The aircraft on the fringes began to circle as dozens more valkyries and vendettas pushed through. The perimeter would handle these threats, they had a mission. The gunner looked down as the ground suddenly melted into view. Before them rose a large hill.
"Piloting the bird is my job," the pilot retorted as they flew low over the hill.
"Hey!" the gunner shouted, "There were guardsmen down there. Fighting. We must already be over the battle."
That was good enough for the pilot. He calmly switched on the door lights and began to lower the back hatch. He brought the vehicle around in a wide, swooping arc, his wingman banking his own vehicle around to follow him. The two fliers circled through the evaporating mist. Below them, they could see Foleran infantry units already engaged in battle.
The pilot knotted his brow for a moment. This wasn't right. The army underneath them was still behind, so who were these guys? Well, it didn't matter now. They were friendlies, and they were fighting. That was good enough for him. Plus, he'd already opened the door, and he'd already almost come to a stop. He flipped the door light switch.
The dark cabin suddenly switched from red to green. The stormtrooper sergeant shouted for his men to pile out of the vehicle. As the flier just barely came to a stop, the men were already repelling down to the earth below.
As boots hit wet earth, the Kingsguard took stock of their situation. It wasn't difficult. The stock was that there was a gigantic mechanical walker striding forward.
"Take it down!" the sergeant barked. Immediately, soldiers with meltaguns raced forward. The walker tried to turn to see what the commotion behind it was, but the Kingsguard was already in the action. Seething melta blasts ripped off two of the vehicle's legs. As it stumbled onto its side, another shot found its mark as the stormtroopers attacked with practiced precision. Suddenly, the vehicle erupted in a fireball, spraying burning fuel and bits of the machine. The shrapnel pattered harmlessly off of their reinforced armor.
"And that is how it's done, gentlemen," the sergeant stated as a second, smaller explosion let out another fireball from the wreck in front of them. As far as the sergeant was concerned, if there wasn't something dead within 15 seconds of landfall, they were doing some thing very, very wrong.
The sergeant turned and looked behind him. There hovered an alien skimmer, pulsing with malice and power. There were other stormtroopers that had landed behind it, and were desperately attempting to bring it down with meltaguns, but to no avail.
"Amateurs!" the sergeant growled, "Come on, boys, let's show them how it's done!"
The stormtroopers ran forwards. Suddenly, the enemy vehicle opened up with its guns, sending hundreds of pale-green beams of energy towards them. The meltagunners opened fire at the enemy vehicle, while enemy soldiers inside fired back.
The meltaguns scattered and bounced off of the quantum shielding. A krak grenade was thrown to no effect. The sergeant took one of his own krak grenades out and primed it. One by one, the stormtroopers around him began to fall. They were right in the thick of the enemy, being attacked from everywhere.
At full-sprint, they managed to make it up to the vehicle's hull.
They threw their grenades in. The enemy desperately tried to throw them back out again, but to little avail. The air burst with a half dozen krak grenades exploding in the middle of the transport, sending bits flying out from inside. The skimmer began to buck up and away, floating over their heads.
The sergeant turned to follow as enemy fighters poured down around them.
The aircraft murderously strafed at the Kingsguard, narrowly missing their own vehicle on the ground. The stormtroopers instinctively ducked as the air around them began to explode in death and violence.
A loud rush blew overhead as the strafing fighters flew off. The sergeant turned and looked at the other squad, now greatly depleted. The stormtroopers were running away.
"Where are you going?" the sergeant demanded from the other Kingsguardsmen.
"No you're not!"
"Sarge said to get out of there if he were killed, and he's killed now, so see 'ya!"
The stormtroopers continued to scramble away from them.
"Amatures!" the sergeant angrily shouted. No way that their sergeant had given them that kind of a lame-ass order.
The other stormtroopers gave a few parting shots with meltaguns as they ran, but it was no use.
The sergeant would have to solve his problem himself. The sergeant gave the order, and the rest of the stormtroopers followed him into a nearby ruin for cover.
There was the enemy vehicle, floating in front of them. Behind, a group of regular infantry was running up to meet them. The enemy skimmer began to open fire on them as they advanced. The sergeant looked around. The area was now clear except for this one floating menace.
"All right, boys, lets get it!"
The few remaining stormtroopers ran around and took up positions in the windows of the ruins. The lone meltagunner opened up at the thing. A hissing beam of destruction slammed into it from mere feet away. The air began to glow as the prismatic spray of the quantum shielding held against the weapon.
"Keep it up! Keep firing!"
Eventually the shimmering field in front of them began to flicker and warp. Finally, the quantum shielding gave in, just as the meltagun ammo tank ran dry.
"Reloading," the stormtrooper informed. It wasn't needed.
From somewhere else upfield, a lascannon team had seen the failure of the quantum shielding and had sent it a volley. The blast ripped through the vehicle and through the doorway between two stormtroopers. The vehicle wrecked burst into flames. Enemy soldiers bailed out as fast as they could before a series of explosions began to crumble the once-mighty vehicle.
Now all that was left was a handful of enemy. The whole location would soon be secure.
The enemy saw the guardsmen approaching. They unloaded with their unholy bale-guns into them, ripping them apart, flesh and armor. The sergeant watched as the other stormtroopers continued to retreat, while a wave of guardsmen advanced.
Things would be secure soon... if it weren't for these enemy fighters.
A third wave came down out of the sky, drawn into the fury of battle. A couple of sentinels nearby exploded as an enemy fighter launched a long, focused beam of incredible power at them, easily slicing the vehicles in two. More fighters fell out of the sky and mercilessly strafed the guardsmen.
As they began to take casualties, the enemy charged in.
But the Folerans fought back. Where one group of guardsmen fell, two took their place. Some more stormtroopers, running in the RIGHT direction came up from behind them, blasting flame thrower fire into the few enemy soldiers left.
"Reloaded, sarge," the meltagunner behind him said.
"Good! I want you to take THAT one down," he ordered, pointing to one of the larger of the enemy who seemed to be in command. The stormtrooper dutifully obliged as the rest of them began to pick into the enemy with hellgun fire.
The sergeant peered through all the chaos, and saw something that he did not understand. As he fired at the enemy mechanical soldiers, chunks would be blown off of them, but then, as if my some sorcery, the various parts would reassemble themselves. His meltagunner shot his target clean in half with an anti-tank weapon. The torso fell to the ground, but then floated back up in its various constituent pieces and began to re-form.
"What in the hell?" the sergeant muttered. Hundreds of lasrounds poured in, but the enemy just didn't seem to be effected. Bits flew off and flew on. The enemy fired back, uncaringly.
They were literally invincible.
More fighters came in and in a great blast of electrical fire, began to wipe away the guardsmen. Like wheat to the scythe, they fell by the dozen. What was going to be an easy victory was quickly devolving into a massacre.
What in the hell was going on here?
A sound caught the sergeant's attention. He whirled around.
There were enemy. Right behind him. Staring silently with their cold eyes.
The conscript winced as he charged forwards.
Behind him was arrayed the entirety of the power of mankind. In front of him was absolutely nothing. As far as he could tell, he was literally the first guardsman. That one. Right in front.
This made the conscript unhappy. He took no comfort whatsoever at the prospect of being the first to get in there and fight the enemy. None even a little at all.
But unhappiness came only right after regret. There were lots of things he regretted. He regretted the first person he had slept with. He regretted the last thing he said to his parents. He regretted being a conscript. Most of all, he really, really regretted forgetting to feed the crown prince's cat while he was away on command. That was his one job. How could he be so stupid? That one mistake would now be his last, he was certain. Well, at least, the crown prince was certain.
No, the conscript was pretty certain too.
It wasn't all so bad, though, he began to suppose. At least he had a lasgun, and that wasn't nothing. The guy to his immediate right was armed only with a shoe. And he had had to take it off of his foot to use it as a weapon, hobbling across the broken terrain with one bare foot.
Meanwhile, the guy to the left of him was armed with a lasgun, but it didn't have an ammo pack. The guy one further left was armed with a laspack, but not a lasgun. At least they both had weapons of some sort.
He wondered if they, too, had regrets as the massive wave charged up the hill. That was something he had always found so odd. Being a conscript was so depersonalizing. Everybody had a personality. Everybody had a story. Everybody had a shoe, or an ammoless lasgun, or a lasgunless ammo, and it was THEIR story. THEIR ammoless lasgun. Well, no, the lasgun belonged to the Imperial Guard, but their stories were still theirs. And here they were, all of them the same, none of them really mattering.
He wondered if this was the last thing he was going to wonder. The last thing he'd ever think about, in what was just about to be his very rapidly approaching end. Well, that would be dumb. He should at least be able to say that he went out thinking about titties as he was brutally gunned down, or something. Well, he wouldn't actually be able to say anything, because he'd be brutally gunned down, but the point still stood in principle.
As they made it to the top of the hill, an enemy aircraft circled overhead, and deposited some infantry.
To the conscript's surprise, they didn't immediately turn and fire at him. In fact, they turned and fired at someone else. Were there more guardsmen up here? He could hear the sounds of fighting, but you could never tell in a battle.
Well, that would certainly be a comforting thought.
As they charged up the hill, the conscript brought his lasgun up. Who knows, maybe he'd actually get a chance to kill something before he was gruesomely dismembered.
Just a few feet more... Just to the top of the hill.
And then they were on them. They had caught them completely by surprise.
With the mass of the entirety of the army behind them, the cosncripts barreled into their enemy. Lasfire began to blast all around them. Some of the shots were even aimed. Improvised weapons were launched, thrown, tossed, or shunted (depending on which verb seemed most applicable, based on the various weapons) into the enemy. Caught completely off guard, they began to fall to the inrushing guardsmen.
Those who survived were knocked to the ground in a human tide. They were beaten viciously as best as the guardsmen were able.
One of them wrenched free one of the enemy arms and held it aloft. In the confusion, he took a moment to put his other shoe back on, satisfied with his replacement weapon.
As the guardsmen continued to rush forwards, they came across the scene of a battle. The top of the hill was now deserted, save loyalist casualties everywhere strewing the ground. Above them, a feat of stupendous aerial acrobatics was unfolding. Hundreds of aircraft swirling around each other in a massive dogfight.
The conscript came up to a ruin where a wounded officer and a wounded priest were hiding.
The officer gave the conscripts a thumbs up as they began to pass by.
"You know, we really need to get better armor," the conscript could hear the officer say to the priest as he ran by.
He made it to the top of the hill.
Before him spread out a wide plain. The entirety of the enemy army charged forwards up towards him.
He wished he had better armor too.