BATTLE REPORTS - The Hand of the King - 7 (The Sword and the Dagger)

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And Sanario thought that the sharpshooters had been insufferable. These cadets were even worse. Free political thought, it seemed, was one of the unfortunate side effects of losing the commissariat. Why the Kingsguard saw it fit to make philosophers out of its soldiers, the priest would never understand. It was almost enough to drive one to regret at the loss of their black-clad overlords. Well, not really.

"Well look," one of the lascannoners began, "it's not that I have a problem with the fact that the king is the divine appointee of our holy God-Emperor. I'm only saying that there should be restrictions on the arbitrariness of his executive authority for the sake of the commonwealth of his subjects."

"It's heresy," Sanario growled.

"No, look, sir," the loader replied, "I'm not making an ecumenical argument here, I'm making a legal one. There's an important distinction."

His partner swept his basilista, looking for targets in the freezing mist.

Prince Rupert's plan to form a triangular fortress was going well. With overwhelming force concentration, they had managed to carve out most of the territory despite stubborn local resistance. More miraculously, Sanario thought, despite endless storms of freezing rain and ice. The cadets to which he was attached had just managed to ride out the most recent storm on the way to their point of attack.

They were attacking the last fortified roadblock that wound up the tall, jagged hills. With the road completely blocked off, the enemy trapped in the valley beyond would finally be completely cut off. The terrain had made the work up until now difficult and the weather made it treacherous. The enemy had been able to smartly collapse their defense, fighting until the last and then retreating into the storms, eluding complete destruction.

Imperial climatologists predicted a break in the ceaseless rain. If the guard forces arrayed were able to strike everywhere successfully, the imperial air forces would be able to mercilessly destroy the enemy as they desperately attempted to escape. Sanario looked overhead, and could see the clouds speeding off, and the last mists beginning to lift. They would certainly be able to attack soon - their scouts had just reported that the fortified checkpoint was just up a narrow bend in the ravine.

As Melchoir's forces peered into the rocky terrain ahead, it suddenly became apparent that some of the hulking masses were not, in fact, rocks.

Melchoir began his carefully planned attack. It was one of the officer's main weaknesses, the priest felt. Over-thinking, over-planning, and over-contriving all left one vulnerable to changing conditions. Faith and providence beat out thoughtfulness three times out of four, as far as he was concerned. Moreover, thinking about anything too much would only lead to heresy. Speaking of which...

"Even if you wished to make such an argument," the priest returned angrily, "it is still vanity. If you remove arbitrary power, you are in a state of anarchy."

"Yes, but -" the loader replied,

"Silence!" Sanario interrupted, "It is always in a person's rational self-interest to steal things from their neighbor rather than to toil for their creation. There is no better value labor to goods. 'But what if I defend myself?' you ask. Even if I need to split my winnings in half, it is still our best self-interest for both me and a partner to team up against you. You can build as much of a castle as you want, but you won't be able to defend it alone. Eventually you will need warriors to help you. As such, from anarchy springs a system where those with the biggest castles and the most thugs controls everything. Anarchy creates feudalism. End of argument."

The loader looked at the priest, unsure what to say.

"And in the end," Sanario continued, "the thugs will fight each other until one of them becomes the arch-thug. So you have to ask yourself this question," The priest leaned in, mustache twitching, "Do you want to have a king that is divinely given to us by the great and gracious God-Emperor of all mankind, or do you want some filthy heretic ruling your life and your very soul?"

The priest had a way of being convincing to those around him. It was part of his job description, actually. The cadet shrank back as his cannon prepared to fire. The enemy was advancing, and there was work to be done.

As the mists suddenly began to boil away, he could see the enemy glistening in full regalia, the foul traitors could be seen everywhere manning their fortifications and preparing for war. Fire began to exchange between the lines with a barrage of fragmentation missiles from the fortification's left side pounding into the men, shrapnel flying off of their carapace armor.

Before him, he could see the enemy charging up the side of the rocky slope at them. He activated his massive chainsaw sword, revving it angrily to inspire those around him. Melchoir formed up his troops and prepared to receive the enemy. Sanario frowned. Receiving the enemy? They were right there, just asking to be beaten to an eviscerated pulp. Another one of the officer's "plans" no doubt.

As the enemy crested the hill, the troops behind calmly awaited the order to fire.

The officer was determined to wait until the last possible moment to fire, to let the meltaguns get into the best range possible.

Just a little bit closer. The enemy's tactical dreadnought armor hissed and whirred as their behemoth forms barged forward.

Just a little bit closer.

A little... bit...

Three valkyries flew smoothly information as the low-hanging clouds began to whisk away.

The Kingsguardsmen had been thoroughly trained for the mission. Ground forces would lead the assault while the stormtroopers would assault weak positions from the air. With Foleran forces everywhere, the opponent's ability to resist would be neutralized, with both speed and force. There was only one caveat - air forces needed to be able to coordinate their assault with the ground. While the communication lines were there, unfortunately so was an impenetrable ground cover. The valkyries had been skimming over a sea of fog for the past hour, and the pilots were getting restless.

The storm trooper sergeant looked out the side hatch as his ride continued its orbit around the drop zone. The fog was beginning to clear. He was left with two options now, either to wait for better clearance, but risk aborting the mission due to fuel shortage, or to risk a drop onto uncertain terrain and uncertain enemy dispositions.

The Kingsguard had been taking appalling casualties over the previous month. Poor coordination with ground forces saw reinforcements accidentally attacked by their own troops, poor training by aeronautica pilots had been scattering and mishapping whole units of stormtroopers, and there was still the ever-looming threat of enemy aircraft stabbing into their convoys from directions unknown. These thoughts swirled through the sergeant's mind.

But he was in the service of the king of Folera, after all. He was one of the best of the best of an entire planet. He knew where his duty lay, and he knew that he had a mission. A mission that had to be carried out, whatever the cost.

As the fog thinned, the sergeant instructed the valkyrie to begin the drop off. The red light in the troop cabin flashed on, and his stormtroopers rose to their feet and clipped in their repelling hooks. The aircraft began to bank sharply, and the ride began to jostle and shake as the vehicle dove into the turbulent ground-level air.

After a few moments, the valkyries had found their targets and swept in. The rear hatch of the vehicle groaned open. The red light blinked off in favor of a green one. Silently, the men ran out of the vehicle, repelling gear catching on the line as their transport fired off its landing engines. The force of the pivoting vehicle flung the soldiers out of the back. With precision training, the men caught their lines mere feet off the ground, releasing their harness buckles and falling to the wet earth below. In a moment, the valkyrie was up and away.

But the stormtroopers didn't wait to see it off. From the moment their feet hit the ground, they were ready to go. Ahead of them, the enemy had taken up in some ruins, raining fire down on some target opposite of the stormtroopers.

Immediately the ruins lit up as the leading stormtroopers opened up with their flame throwers, bathing everything in liquid flame. The rest of the stormtroopers added supporting fire with their hellguns, throwing overcharged laser shots into the sheet of flame.

From behind the ruin, an explosion rocked their position. Another stormtrooper unit had landed on the other side of the fortification and attacked an enemy vehicle.

It was sheer pandemonium as the enemy desperately attempted to come to grips with the new threat. The soldier in the ruins with a plasma cannon quickly attempted to return fire, but the shot went high, catching only a few of his men in its disintegrating blast. Enemy fire that had been shooting upfield suddenly whirled around and attempted to attack the stormtroopers who had just taken over their entire left side of the roadblock.

The sergeant quickly took stock of the situation. The road itself was cut by fortifications, but the hard points of the defense itself were a bastion across the road, and the heavily fortified ruins on his side. He could see the promised ground forces slowly working their way up to the road under considerable fire. If the sergeant could just hold his position, the enemy would be crumpled on both flanks.

A few particularly keen enemy attempted a quick counterattack against the sergeant and his men, bolter fire smashing into their reinforced carapace shells.

The enemy had appreciated their threat, and began to move against them. The fight to sweep the ruins was quickly devolving into a bloodbath.

From behind him, the whine of the third valkyrie's engines roared over as the third unit of Kingsguard deployed into the ruins.

With swift action, the new arrivals dispatched the new threat. The sergeant turned to look at his other unit. They had taken up positions behind a defense line, but were getting fire poured into them from the road. They had turned their backs towards their enemies, trying to shield themselves against the fortifications while firing back up into the ruin. With a lout shout, one of their number found their mark, as the plasma cannon gunner fell forward out of the window and crashed into the ruins below.

Their position was all but taken. The stormtroopers prepared krak grenades and hellgun to mop up the broken enemy resistance. They were about to set upon their grim task when the atmosphere around them exploded with violence. Missiles rammed into the ruins, raining down shrapnel on the soldiers below and enemy small arms began to flash against the windows and walls.

It was a full-fledged enemy counterattack.

The enemy came crashing against their fortified position. It was now a matter of time. They just needed to hold out until the forces on the other side of the road could hit their adversaries from behind.

All around him, his men started to go down. The sergeant ordered for the front squad to retreat to the ruins. They quickly obliged his order.

"This is the place men," the sergeant barked, "We will hold HERE!" The other stormtroopers nodded assent.

"Now get to work, you know what to do!"

His own squad scrambled up into the ruins, easily dispatching the remaining defender while the stormtroopers behind him went to work with krak grenades on the enemy rhino.

The few defenders looked down at the charging enemy terminators as the nearby anti-aircraft gun raked their position with autocannon fire. The sergeant winced reflexively as a shell blew apart a fist-sized chunk of the wall he was hiding behind.

All they needed to do was to hold their positions.

At any cost.

The sergeant fired his hellgun down into the advancing mob.

"FIRE!" Melchoir shouted.

The cadets pulled the triggers on their meltaguns at point blank range into the terminators. The air immediately burst forward in a massive explosion of fireworks. A rolling cloud of millions of sparks enshrouded the enemy as the force fields built into the storm shields desperately attempted to rebuff the wave of melta. Through a holocaust of electricity, Sanario could see the terminators stagger and desperately attempt to push forward.

He could see one desperately attempting to shield his face as the heat from the anti-tank weapons blasted into him. Slowly but surely, the storm shield began to disintegrate until the terminator was left to rely on his armor's refactor field which ground down in a blinding display of sparks shooting everywhere like a massive ground-borne fireball. Eventually, he could take it no more and fell to his knees before his armor finally failed him and he was knocked to the ground.

The wave continued to creep forward, the energy itself beginning to become shrouded in thick clouds of ozone and smoke. One by one, they began to fall until all of the weapons were pointing at just one remaining enemy. He continued to charge forward in a blaze of energy, slowly stomping forward against the onslaught of the guns. Melchoir flashed a nervous glance at his priest. The enemy hero was almost upon the Folerans.

The meltagunners continued to desperately hold down the triggers on their assault guns, burning through fuel as fast as their weapons could handle. The enemy approached so close that the spray of sparks began to cascade back onto the cadets firing at him. Then, mere feet in front of them, he came to a stop. His storm shield burned away and he was knocked down to one knee. He desperately attempted to get back to his feet, but the relentless fusilade kept him pinned down.

A lascannon shot into the roiling cloud of fire and smoke and hit its target, knocking him flat onto his back.

"Cease fire!" Melchoir shouted as the men around him began to choke on the ozone fumes and greasy smoke that lay around them. As the refractor fumes sifted away into the last of the retreating mists, the officer could see his defeated enemies strewn before him.

Sanario stood, a tear in his eye. Maybe it was the blinding spray or the thick clouds in his eyes, but he had never before witnessed such a brutal display of firepower against a more courageous enemy. He was stunned.

The priest blinked his eyes and attempted to regain his composure. Looking around, he could see the enemy was desperately defending the other side of the road against some other loyalist force.

"Look there!" the priest shouted after clearing his throat a few times "There are more true soldiers engaged in warfare most bitter against the foe! The traitors are broken before us! Now, let us charge forward and hit them in their hideous backsides! Come on men! Charge! For the king! Charge, I say!"

The men around him, eager from the kill shouted and began to charge the road, picking over dead bodies and ruined vehicles.

Sanario could smell it. Fear.

He knew what an impending rout looked like. Glory was imminently theirs.

He revved his ten foot long chainsaw sword as he ran forward, the men charging in all around him.

The stormtrooper sergeant looked down at the chaos unfolding around him.

The guardsmen had broken across the road, firing meltaguns and lascannons with abandon. As they became aware of the situation, the enemy began to break and run. "Tactical withdraw" his fat foot, he knew a break when he saw one.

"Come on, men, lay it on 'em!" he shouted as the few battle-worthy survivors began to pour hot-shot lasfire into the retreating enemy below. The guardsmen engaged the stragglers in close combat as they stormed the road block. The sergeant couldn't help but shout praise to the guardsmen and to the Emperor as the forces below him cascaded over the battlements.

"All right, that's a job well done," the sergeant told to his men as the other guardsmen secured the area, "Let's take care of the wounded and start the laspacks recharging. You know the drill."

The battlefield descended into relative peace as everyone got about the tasks assigned to them after the battle. Medics came forward and casualties counted. New positions were taken, and patrols were organizing to sweep for any enemy laying hidden on the field. The stormtrooper walked around the front of the ruin to meet up with the commander of the guard forces. He caught the officer's attention, and he and his retinue walked across to meet him.

As they approached, he could hear the priest talking to a few cadets.

"I've explained this before, and I'll explain this again," the priest growled, "it's not called FORCE if it's not arbitrary. Non-arbitrary power isn't actually power, regardless of its relation to the state."

The stormtrooper's interest was piqued. It looked like the priest had much to learn.