The foes which arrayed the trench line in the distance were unlike any foe Canoness Isobel Deschain had ever seen before. There were hundreds of them, each one vaguely humanoid- albeit stooped and hunched- in appearance, scurrying around the trench line like rats. On closer inspection, Isobel realized, they WERE rats.

Isobel adjusted her macroviewers slightly to get a better look at these creatures. Each one was covered in brown fur which could only be described as "mangy," and each one had a leering rodentine face and a thin, pink tail. Most of them were clad in dirty brown robes, though one group of them, Isobel noticed, was sporting what appeared to be looted Imperial Guard flak armour. And flak armour wasn't the only thing they had evidently looted: although some of them were sporting outlandish weapons like rifles made partly from glowing green crystal, or large multi-barrelled gatling guns which they dragged around in teams of two, the vast majority of them were holding on to standard-issue Imperial lasguns. Even more alarmingly, they even had a few Imperial vehicles among their force- a trio of Sentinels, a Chimera, and, of course, the Basilisk which was currently lobbing shells into the distant fortress. The vehicles were painted in the same brown colour as the robes of the rest of the creatures, and were daubed in bizarre, alien symbols Isobel couldn't understand.

The layout and deployment of this force was alarmingly similar to that of the Imperial Guard. At the very center of the force was what appeared to be their leader- a taller creature clad from head to foot in red robes and all manner of bizarre machines and implants. In one hand, it held onto a glaive which crackled with raw power, while in the other it held a bizarre looking pistol. At the creature's side stood a slightly bulkier rat-man wearing filthy robes and chittering madly as it hefted a massive two-handed chainsword. On the other side of the leader stood a rat-man who held aloft a massive banner which proudly bore the words "RATERIAL GUARD" in Imperial Gothic.

"What are they?" Isobel asked, almost to herself. "Are they xenos or mutants?"

"I don't know," said the figure standing beside her.

"And I don't particularly care. And neither should you, Canoness: your job is to kill them, not to philosophize on their nature."

Further behind the two, Sister Superior Avriel Solemnas bridled at the tone of the Inquisitor who stood next to Isobel, and would have hurled an angry retort at her, had not Sister Aleana Esperanza, one of the new squad leaders who had been sent from Nantus, motioned for her to keep quiet. Isobel's commandery of the Order of the Blessed Damsel had been taking part of the purging of the wayward Haruhian Cult of Suzimiya IV, and had been advancing on the enemy capital to crush the cult once and for all, when a certain Inquisitor Bernadette Caledon of the Ordo Malleus had shown up, commandeered their force via an Inquisitorial Edict, and transferred them away from the advance on the capital to the southern front, where there was nothing but small enemy forts to fight. Well, that, and, apparently, these rat-creatures.

Isobel ignored the Inquisitor's rude tone: she had been taught long ago to turn the other cheek to rudeness and insults directed at her. "Why are they attacking Fort Seras?" Isobel asked. "Isn't that a heretic stronghold?"

Inquisitor Caledon nodded slightly. "Indeed," she said, "but simply because these things are freaks does not necessarily mean they are allies of the heretics, Canoness." Inquisitor Caledon was a surprisingly beautiful woman, seemingly still somewhere in her twenties, with a thin, unblemished face and lustrous brown her that was done up in a long ponytail that ran down her back. She was clad in a black, cloaked bodyglove and a suit of dark blue plate armour which seemed to hug her slender form. Despite the ornate sword and the bolt pistol which hung from her waist, however, Inquisitor Caledon's relaxed posture and haughty attitude did not give off the impression of a stern warrior of the Emperor, but rather that of a spoiled noblewoman- which did little to improve the Sisters' opinion of her, since the Order of the Blessed Damsel had strained relations with Imperial nobility. Her eyes, though... Isobel thought she saw something hidden behind those indifferent, ice-blue eyes of hers. Anger? Rage? Fear, perhaps?

The Inquisitor took a step forward and gazed intently at the fortress in the distance. "Either way, it's imperative that these creatures don't gain entrance to that fortress," she said. "Otherwise, they may unwittingly unleash the thing the heretics are guarding in there."

Sister Renee Arias tensed. "What is this 'thing' you speak of, Inquisitor?" she asked.

Caledon didn't even bother to look back. "That's classified Ordo Malleus information, Sister," she replied bluntly.

Arias' expression soured. "With all due respect, Inquisitor, how are we supposed to combat... .whatever's in there... if we don't know what it is?"

"As I said, you are only needed to kill those Rat-men," Caledon replied. "Once that's done, specialists I have waiting in orbit will be able to make a teleport attack inside the fortress itself. You and your Sisters are simply inefficient and unprepared for the task at hand."

Arias' face went red. She was about to shout angrily at the Inquisitor, when Sister Nevel Fatima of the Seraphim grabbed her by the shoulder and shook her head. Glumy, Arias calmed down.

"We'll need to attack now, then, while we still have the element of surprise," Isobel said as she put the macrobinoculars away.

The Inquisitor merely nodded. "You may commence, then, Canoness," she said simply.

Nodding back to the Inquisitor, Isobel strode to the front of the waiting Battle Sisters. "Sisters!" she shouted. "Form up and prepare to advance immediately! We will bring fire and purgation upon these abominations!"


******


Hello everyone, it's time for another battle report from yours truly: my seventh battle using Sisters of Battle, and my first ever at the 1500 points level.

Initially, I thought it was going to be an average Thursday night at my gaming centre. That is, until my opponent turned out to be none other than Killersquid, one of the moderators of 40konline, who had brought his fantastic Raterial Guard army- an Imperial Guard force made entirely of converted Skaven. Naturally, I was pretty excited by the prospect of playing against such a unique army. We rolled Alpha Seek and Destroy, and even more interestingly, Killersquid proposed we play a 1500 point game instead of the 1000 pt missions which my Sisters were used to. After pulling out some extra units I had brought in my carrying case, I came up with the following list:

MY LIST:

Canoness Isobel Deschain- blessed weapon, inferno pistol, Cloak of St. Aspira, jump pack, Book of St. Lucius, frag grenades- 136

Squad Solemnas-10 Battle Sisters- meltagun, heavy flamer, Veteran Sister Superior w. Book of St. Lucius- 151
-Rhino- extra armour, smoke launchers- 58

Squad Arias- 10 Battle Sisters- meltagun, heavy flamer, Veteran Sister Superior w. Book of St. Lucius- 151
-Rhino- extra armour, smoke launchers- 58

Squad Esperanza- 10 Battle Sisters- meltagun, heavy flamer, Veteran Sister Superior w. Book of St. Lucius- 151
-Rhino- extra armour, smoke launchers- 58

Inquisitor Bernadette Caledon- bolt pistol, close combat weapon- 21

Callidus Assassin "Alice"- 120

8 Seraphim- 2 hand flamers, Veteran Sister Superior w. Book of St. Lucius

6 Retributors- 4 heavy bolters, Veteran Sister Superior- 140

Exorcist "Wrath of the Faithful"- 135

Exorcist "Divine Judgement"- 135

Note: It was only after the battle that I realized how below points I was. Had I realized it at the time, then I would have wasted no time in giving my Canoness a Mantle of Ophelia, and my Seraphim VSS an eviscerator.

RATERIAL GUARD (list supplied by Killersquid):

Senior Officer- power weapon, plasma pistol, Hardened Fighter
-Priest- eviscerator, Hardened Fighter

-4 Guardsmen- laspistols & close combat weapons, 2 w. flamers, Veteran w. Regimental Standard, Hardened Fighters

-Sentinel- multilaser, hunter-killer missile

Platoon Command- missile launcher, Junior Officer w. power weapon, Sharpshooters

-10 Guardsmen- plasma gun, heavy bolter, Sharpshooters

-10 Guardsmen- plasma gun, heavy bolter, Sharpshooters

-6 Guardsmen- meltagun

Platoon Command- missile launcher, Junior Officer w. power weapon & boltgun, Sharpshooters

-10 Guardsmen- plasma gun, autocannon, Sharpshooters

-10 Guardsmen- plasma gun, heavy bolter- Sharpshooters

-6 Guardsmen- plasma gun

6 Ogryns
-Chimera- multilaser, heavy bolter, pintle-mounted storm bolter

6 Hardened Veterans- missile launcher, Veteran Sergeant w. plasma pistol & power fist

7 Rough Riders- hunting lances

Sentinel w. lascannon

Sentinel w. lascannon & hunter-killer missile

Basilisk- armoured crew compartment

All in all, a unique, interesting list which didn't revolve around a preponderance of battle tanks like most Imperial Guard armies I've seen. It was also going to be a challenging list to play, since, with only 7 scoring units to Killersquid's 16, I would be hard-pressed to come out with more intact scoring units than him intact in the end.

DEPLOYMENT:

Upon deployment, I hit upon the plan of a refused flank attack: Isobel, along with Squads Esperanza and Solemnas, would zoom down the left flank to crush the enemy infantry and remove the Basilisk, wile Squad Arias and my harassing Seraphim would keep the rest of the enemy busy on the right. My Exorcists and Retributors, naturally, would have the job of blowing the rats to hell in the meantime. Hopefully, I thought, my Callidus Assasin would arrive in time to aid either of my flanking forces.

RATERIAL GUARD TURN 1

As the Sisters of Battle advanced, Isobel could already see the Rat-men shrieking in alarm and moving into defensive positions with alarming quickness. The Canoness cursed inwardly: they had already lost the element of surprise. Clearly, these creatures were more disciplined than they looked.

The technologically-embellished creature at the head of a swarm gave a shrieking cry, and immediately, the Raterial Guard advanced in a counter-assault. Half of their infantry came surging forwards in a furry mass, scuttling in the wake of three stomping Sentinels, while a Chimera slowly but surely trundled down the middle flank. On the left, a group of jump-pack equipped Rats wielding strange, lanceliked weapons took to the air and landed next to one of the advancing infantry squads, clearly setting up a countercharge in case the Sisters came their way. Isobel made a mental note to be wary of those warriors- those lances of their looked dangerous.

Both the Rat lancers and the infantry next to them, however, shrieked in alarm and scurried out of the way as the Basilisk behind them suddenly gunned forwards, cresting over the hill and coming down with a crash between the two squads. Isobel noticed the gunners at the back of the vehicle frantically shouting down at the pilot's compartment, before the Basilisk braked abruptly and groaned to a stop. Isobel blinked in surprise. Clearly, this had not been what the creatures had intended. Was it some kind of sabotage, perhaps? She turned and glanced further back at Inquisitor Caledon, who had the faintest ghost of a smile on her lips. The Inquisitor had arranged this sabotage, somehow.

Isobel's attention snapped back to the enemy, however, when the Basilisk suddenly lowered its Earthsaker cannon and fired a direct shot at Squad Solemnas. The shell slammed into the crest of the hill the squad was standing on, sending dirt and shrapnel flying outwards. Miraculously, the majority of the squad was unhurt, though one Sister had fallen, the shrapnel reducing her to a gory slab of meat.

As though taking their cue from the tank, the Raterial battle line opened fire. It was clear, however, that their surprise at being attacked made their aim hasty, and although a torrent of laser and solid slug fire lashed out at the Sisters, not one was felled. The advancing Sentinels, meanwhile, turned their attention to Squad Solemnas' Rhino. Their aim, was no better than that of their infantry counterparts, and lascannon bolts and hunter-killer missiles simply went wide of their target. Finally, however, a hunter-killer landed a solid impact on the Rhino's front armour and detonated, causing the Rhino to erupt in a spectacular fireball that sent shrapnel scything everywhere. Thankfully, though, the Sisters of Squad Solemnas took cover from the blast and were left unhurt.

SISTERS OF BATTLE TURN 1

Pulling the Blade of Tyr free from its scabbard, Isobel shouted the order to advance. On the left flank, Squad Esperanza mounted their Rhino and drove forwards, engaging their smoke launchers as they did so, while behind them, Divine Judgement trundled up onto the hilltop in order to gain a line of sight on the enemy. Squad Solemnas, deprived of their transport, slowly advanced out of cover, while Isobel powered her own techno-wings and flew into the nearby wood, preparing herself to launch an attack on the Chimera. On the right flank, Squad Arias, too, mounted their Rhino and drove up, engaging their smoke launchers to confuse the enemy, while Wrath of the Faithful drove into a position to target the enemy. The Seraphim took flight and landed in front of one of the advancing Sentinels, while Inquisitor Caledon, wary of enemy ordance, joined the Retributors on the hill.

At Isobel's command, the Sisters of the Blessed Damsel opened fire. Divine Judgement swiveled its missile launcher to track the Basilisk and fired, sending a single missile streaking and slamming into its target. The enemy tank's ammo stores detonated, and the Basilisk was instantly enveloped in a fiery explosion which claimed the life of a nearby Raterial infantryman. With the enemy ordnance neutralized, Wrath of the Faithful fired on one of the distant infantry squads- whom, judging by their scavenged armour, were Veterans of some sort. Sadly, the tank's machine spirit was less than cooperative, and it only fired a single missile which killed a single vermin.

The Retributors, meanwhile, focused on one of the distant infantry squads and fired. Tracer fire lit the air as a volley of heavy bolter fire washed over the vermin, scything down an impressive six of them. Despite these horrific losses, however, the Rats held, either bolstered by the presence of their blasphemous flag or else fearful of the stern gaze of their leader.

With cries of devotion to the Emperor, the Seraphim swooped down on the Sentinel and engaged it, firing close-ranged bolt pistol shots at it as they swarmed around it. An outside observer would have noted that their attacks would have been useless against the walker, but Sister Superior Fatima's intention wasn't to destroy it just yet- she wanted to use it as cover from enemy shooting before pressing on to hit the enemy gunline. The Sentinel flailed about, lashing out with its feet in a vain effort to hit one of the agile Sisters, and the combat remained deadlocked.

RATERIAL GUARD TURN 2

Undaunted by the casualties they had suffered at the Sisters' hands, the rat-men continued their scurrying advance. Up ahead, through the trees, Isobel could see the back hatch of the Chimera lowering. Her face went pale when she saw the massive figures lumbering out of the vehicle.

"Emperor's blood," she muttered. There were six of them, all monstrous in size, standing twice as tall and twice as wide as a normal human being. Their massive arms were thickly-corded and muscular, with numerous cutting claws and other bionic attachments welded onto them, and all of them held onto a crude gun roughly the size of a heavy bolter. They were thickly-furred, bestial creatures, each one with a massive rodentine head and a long, sinewy tail. And they were lumbering right towards her, snarling with salivating jaws as they scented prey... .

The Sentinels, meanwhile, continued their inexorable advance, supported by a small squad of six vermin wielding a looted meltagun. On the right flank, another infantry squad advanced to the side of the building Squad Arias' Rhino was moving around, preparing themselves to engage the Sisters once they disembarked.

With Divine Judgement out in plain sight, one of the Sentinels wasted no time in sending a lascannon bolt slamming into its side armour, piercing its armour and reducing it to a smoking wreck. Infantry-based heavy weapons lashed out at the smoke-obscured Rhino of Squad Esperanza, with a bolt from a plasma gun impacting against the transport's armour but only succeeding in shaking the crew. On the right flank, the Veterans returned fire on Wrath of Judgement, sending a krak missile impacting against its front armour and tearing off its right tread, immobilizing the tank. The rest of the infantry and Sentinels, meanwhile, concentrated their fire on the Retributors. While the majority of the enemy's lasbolts and heavy bolter rounds pattered off of their armour like rainwater, one lucky multilaser shot from the Chimera blew a clean hole through the chestplate of the Sister Superior, killing her instantly. Calmly, Inquisitor Caledon ordered the Sisters to hold their ground.

In the battle against the Sentinel, the Seraphim began to pray for the Hand of the Emperor to give them strength. As they did so, however, the Sentinel suddenly powered forwards, slamming its cockpit into one airborne Sister with enough strength to shatter bone, and crushing her like a fly against the side of the nearby building. Enraged, her Sisters swarmed the walker, swinging and shooting into it with redoubled fury. The Rat pilot watched in horror as their blows dented the reinforced steel of the Sentinel, rocking it back and forth as they smashed into it with inhuman strength. One blow smashed off the multilaser, while another ripped the door right off. The pilot shrieked as the Sisters began to fly towards the door, murder in their eyes. Shakily, he pulled out his laspistol and aimed it at his vehicle's fuel stores... .

The resulting explosion sent the Seraphim hurling backwards in all directions as the Sentinel was obliterated in a mighty fireball. Gingerly, Sister Fatima picked herself back up, and grimaced when she saw that two of her Sisters had been shredded by the explosion. Grimly, she and her Sisters took to the air to outflank the Raterial gunline.

Isobel, meanwile, saw the Rat Ogryns- for indeed, they did almost look like the abominable mutants the Imperial Guard called Ogryns- charging towards her, saliva dripping from their baying maws. She didn't feel an ounce of fear as she powered her tech-wings forwards, raising the Bade of Tyr as she shouted the Emperor's name...

Her crackling sword came swinging down on the closest brute, tearing a massive, bloody gouge in its chest. Roaring in pain, the Ogryn lashed out as her, but Isobel easily avoided the blow by stepping back; shouting in defiance, she lunged forward, driving her sword with all of her might into the thing's midsection.

To her horror, however, the thing didn't fall: instead, it looked down at her, pain, rage and hunger all written on its rodentine features. A second later, a heavy strike slammed into her back, causing pain to flood through her entire body as she felt bones snap, muscles tear and armour shatter from the blow. She was sent toppling to the side with a crash, unable to so much as scream as her whole body began to go numb from the shock.

A second later, a clenched metal claw came swinging towards her face, and the world went black... .

SISTERS OF BATTLE TURN 2

"CANONESS!" Sister Solemnas cried as she saw Isobel fall to the alien beast's blow, crumpling lifelessly to the ground. Part of her wanted to weep at the sight of her Sister and friend, someone whom she had known since she was a novice, fall to those unholy abominations. Her momentary sorrow, however, was quickly replaced with rage. "Sisters, advance!" she shouted, leading her squad towards the growling creatures.

On the hill among the Retributors, Inquisitor Caledon watched incredulously as Squad Solemnas advanced. Cursing, she grabbed a nearby vox-set. "Sister Solemnas, hold your ground!" she ordered. "As of now, I am assuming command of this force. Hold your ground!"

She waited for a reply. To her chagrin, however, the Sisters simply kept on advancing, singing prayers to the Emperor. Bernadette cursed again: she could see the trap the Sisters were walking into. On the squad's left flank, a pair of Sentinels and a small remnant squad were advancing, ready to swing in and encircle the Sisters once they closed the distance with the Rat Og

ryns.

Caledon quickly pointed to one of the Sentinels. "Bring it down!" she ordered the Retributors. The Retributors weren't as reluctant to follow orders as the Sisters of Squad Solemnas, and immediately complied, leveling their heavy weapons on the walker and firing. High-calibre shells ripped through the vehicle's armour, and the pilot could only give a quick, terrified squeek before he and his walker's cockpit were shredded. The Sentinel stopped in its tracks and, slowly but surely, listed to the side, toppling over with a mighty crash.

Meanwhile, Squad Solemnas had come within optimal range of the Rat Ogryns. From here, Avriel could smell their odorous stench as they skulked in the treeline, prodding Isobel's body as though questioning whether or not they should eat it. From here, Avriel couldn't tell if Isobel was alive or dead, but she didn't care. She just wanted to bring fiery retribution down on these beasts.

"PURGE THEM!" she roared. The squad's heavy flamer roared to life, enveloping the creatures and making them howl as their fur caught fire. The one which Isobel had wounded fell, its exposed innards quickly burning to ash as it died a howling, agonizing death. Another instantly had his upper body vaporized by an accurate shot from a meltagun, while bolter fire thudded into the rest of the brutes, opening fist-sized holes in flesh and killing one of them outright while leaving another badly wounded. Despite these losses, however, the Ogryns didn't run, but instead turned their hungry gazes to Squad Solemnas.

On the right flank, meanwhile, Squad Arias and the Seraphim moved forwards to deliver righteous fury upon the vermin. Disembarking from their Rhino, Squad Arias instantly opened fire on the startled infantry squad in front of them, annihilating them with flamer and bolter fire before they could so much as shriek in alarm. The Seraphim, meanwhile, swooped in around the nearby building and landed right in front of another startled infantry squad and the Veterans. At Sister Fatima's signal, hand flamers opened up, dousing the vermin in burning promethium. Seven normal infantry-rats and three of the veterans died in a shrieking, clawing mass. The Veterans stoically held their ground, but their less fortunate kinsmen shrieked in terror and fled the battlefield altogether. Fatima cursed: she had wanted to charge those vermin to keep the other aliens from shooting them. A sinking feeling rose in her gut when she was the entire Raterial gunline turning to face them with their beady red eyes... .

On the left flank, meanwhile, Squad Esperanza, moving with perfectly-drilled precision, swung their Rhino to the side and disembarked before the surprised Raterial lancers. Those said lancers didn't even have a chance to take to the air before the squad opened fire, obliterating them in a holcaust of flame and bolter shells. The infantry squad next to them glanced nervously at the scorched patch of earth where their brethren had once been, and shakily raised their weapons at the Sisters.

RATERIAL GUARD TURN 3

At a shrieked command from their leader, the vermin unleashed another withering volley of fire on the Battle Sisters. On the right flank, Squad Arias, standing over the charred remains of the infantry squad they had just wiped out, came under a hail of laser and heavy slug fire, and despite their blessed power armour, four Sisters were brought down. On the left flank, the infantry squad directly in front of Squad Esperanza unloaded everything they had in to them; las-fire pattered harmlessly off of their blessed armour, though one Sister fell as her upper body was vaporized by a direct hit from one of the creatures' bizarre crystal-weapons.

The majority of the Raterial Guard's fire, however, was focused on the now-exposed Seraphim. Laser, plasma and heavy lashed fire lashed into them, and despite their prayers for the Spirit of the Martyr to protect them, four Sisters, including Sister Fatima, were gunned down. Grim-faced, the last of the Seraphim stood her ground as the vermin came skittering towards her...

In the centre, Squad Solemnas found themselves being surrounded by the Ogryns, a remnant squad, and a Sentinel, who fired into them as they charged. Sister Solemnas screamed for her Sisters to hold as ripper gun fire bounced off their armour, although one Sister was felled as a multilaser shot from the Sentinel ripped right through her upper body. Standing firm, the Sisters prayed fervently for the Hand of the Emperor to give them strength as the vermin crashed into them from all sides. The Rat Ogryns smashed into into the Sisters hard, shattering the spine of one Sister with a savage backhand, although the rest of their blows either missed or bounced off the Sororitas' armour. In reply, one Sister drove her combat knife deep into the chest of an already-wounded Ogryn, causing it to roar in pain. This was the opening which Avriel needed to lunge forward and drive her chainsword into the thing's throat. Blood splattered everywhere as the weapon's buzzing teeth ripped into flesh and bone, and with a dying gurgle, the Ogryn teetered backwards and collapsed. For a moment, the creatures' assault seemed to waver, but, with animalistic ferocity, they piled alongside the infantry squad.

The last Seraphim, on the other hand, found herself being charged both by a Platoon Command Squad and the Veterans. Defiantly singing praise to the Emperor, the Seraphim lashed left and right with her hand flamers, battering away futilely at the rats before she was surrounded, dragged down under a tide of stabbing bayonets and biting teeth.

On the left flank, meanwhile, another platoon Command Section hurled itself at Squad Esperanza, who pulled out their combat knives to meet the enemy charge. One Sister fell as the Raterial platoon leader impaled her on his crackling sword, although in reply, one of the xenos had his skull caved in by the butt of a bolter. Stalemated, the two squads piled in and continued their melee.

SISTERS TURN 3

Sister Renee Arias gritted her teeth as she saw the battlefield go to hell right before her eyes. Her own squad had taken heavy casualties, Isobel was down, as were Fatima and her Seraphim, the Exorcists were either destroyed or inoperable, and Avriel and her squad were surrounded and gradually being dragged down as well. Only the new Sister, Esperanza, and her squad were having any success, as were the Retributors. And that pen-pushing Inquisitor, typically enough, was sitting back and doing nothing.

Renee pulled her sword free from her scabbard. "Sisters!" she shouted. "It's down to us! We must drive into the heart of the enemy force, like the Righteous Sword of the Emperor, and break them! The Emperor Protects!"

"He is our shield and saviour!" Her Sisters answered.

And with that, Squad Arias mounted their Rhino and drove off towards the heart of the enemy. Further back on the hill, Inquisitor Caledon could only watch in the scene in complete bewilderment. Those idiots will get themselves killed...

The Inquisitor raised her vox caster. "Sister Arias, hold your ground!" she snapped. "That's an order, damn it!"

If the Sisters of Squad Arias had heard Bernadette's order, then they made no visible effort to heed it as their Rhino gunned straight towards the waiting horde of rat-men. The top hatch opened, and one of the Sisters came up and turned her heavy flamer on the nearest infantry squad. Four rat-men died shrieking and writhing as their fur and flesh were burned off in minutes, leaving blackened skeletons in their wake. Despite this, the nearby proximity of their glowering warlord and their banner made the vermin hold their ground.

"Damn it!" Bernadette swore. Whirling around on the Retributors, Bernadette pointed at the enemy battle line. "Give them covering fire!"

In acknowledgement, the Retributors opened fire. A storm of heavy caliber rounds slammed into the side armour of the Ogryns' Chimera, shredding both the side tracks and the small rodents scurrying along the side, rendering the vehicle immobile. It wasn't enough, Bernadette knew. Damn it Alice, where the hell are you, she thought to herself.

In the centre, Squad Solemnas were fighting for their lives, trying to fend off not only the roaring Rat Ogryns, but also the smaller, stabbing rats and the stomping Sentinel. Once again, they tried to pray for the Hand of the Emperor to guide them, but their lack of numbers and the noise of the battle caused their prayers to be cut short. The Rat Ogryns went on a rampage, ripping open one Sister in a welter of blood, while another abomination grabbed a Sister in one hand, lifted her up off the ground and bit her head clean off, tossing the body aside into the treeline. Shouting in rage and defiance, Avriel lunged forward and stabbed the offending Rat Ogryns deeply with her chainsword, sending it staggering back. Glancing back at her three remaining Sisters, Avriel shouted for them to hold their ground, and the melee continued.

On the right flank, meanwhile, Sister Esperanza led her squad in their prayers as they fought the enemy command section, invoking the Hand of the Emperor. One Sister went down as a rat-man sank its teeth into her throat. In reply, however, the offending Rat-man had his throat sliced open by a Sororitas combat knife, while Esperanza shattered the skull of another with a well-timed blow from her mace. Outnumbered, the Rats' leader shrieked in terror and fled along with his remaining soldier, easily outpacing the Sisters. Deprived of their quarry, Esperanza and her squad turned and barreled into the next infantry squad, eager to purge them in the Emperor's name.

RATERIAL GUARD TURN 4

Seeing Squad Arias practically on their doorstep, the Raterial Guard sprang into action. The enemy leader and his retinue broke into a charge towards the lone Rhino, the rag-clad Priest's eviscerator buzzing hungrily, while the Veterans move to block off the rear of the vehicle and a Platoon Command Section moved to block off the side. The Battle Sisters, Caledon knew, had driven right into a trap.

The Inquisitor's thoughts were cut short, however, when the Chimera swiveled its turret and opened fire on the Retributors. Multilaser and storm bolter fire buffeted the squad: Caledon was suddenly shoved forcefully aside by one Retributor, who, a second later, had her head pulverized by an accurate shot from a storm bolter round. As the body tumbled to the ground, the Inquisitor stood back up and, glancing at the corpse of the Sister who had saved her life, ordered the squad to hold their ground.

With an exultant shriek, the Rat-men's leader signaled a charge on Squad Arias' Rhino. The vermincrashed in around the Rhino in a brown-furred tide, rocking it back and forth like rioters. Charging the rear of the vehicle, the leader of the Veterans swung his looted power fist into the transport's back armour, punching right through the weaker armour and hitting the fuel lines.

The inside of the Rhino instantly burst into flame. The screams of pain from the squad inside echoed across the battlefield. Bernadette grimaced and looked away. From where she stood, she could hear the rat-men whooping and shrieking in victory as they gleefully shot and stabbed down the surviving Sisters as they crawled from their tank's wreckage.

I ordered them to hold their ground. Damn it, I ordered them!

On the left flank, Squad Esperanza crashed into the nearest Raterial infantry squad with a vengeance, hacking and clubbing down four of the creatures with combat knives and the butts of their bolters. Stunned by the ferocity of the humans' assault, the Rat-men's return attacks were half-hearted, their bayonets bouncing off of their opponent's power armour, though they nonetheless held their gorund.

In the centre, however, Squad Solemnas was fighting a losing battle. Another two of the Sisters were ripped limb from limb by the Rat Ogryns, splattering Avriel with their blood. To her right, the Sentinel's left leg lashed out with a kick that connected solidly with another Sister; there was a sickening crunch of bone as the blow sent the Sister hurtling into the treeline. Avriel was on her own.

"FOR THE EMPEROR!" she cried, rushing at the nearest Rat Ogryn. Roaring, it swung its mangy paw at her, but Avriel had anticipated this, and swung up with her chainsword at the last moment, hacking the beast's paw from its arm. As the Rat Ogryn roared in agony, Avriel dove towards it and drove her chainsword right into its heart.

The Rat Ogryn went wide-eyed, and swayed for a minute, before finally toppling over with a crash. A second later, however, Avriel felt a rifle-butt slam into her skull, and collapsed, unconscious.

Further back on the hill, Bernadette could only shake her head and grimace. Things had just gone from bad to worse, and Alice was still nowhere to be seen. Where in the seven hells was that damned assassin?

SISTERS OF BATTLE TURN 4

Snarling with atavistic rage, the remaining Rat Ogryn leapt over the corpses of its brethren and came lumbering towards the Retributors, followed by the chittering remnant squad and the Sentinel. Bernadette's heart sank when she realized, full well, that the situation was hopeless.

Just then, however, there was a blurred movement behind the Rat Ogryn, and a lithe, black-clad figure appeared from out of nowhere. The rat-men didn't even notice Alice was behind them until she raised her humming neural shredder and fired, causing the area around the xenos to ripple and churn like water. The Rat Ogryn blinked a few times, but hardly even seemed to notice the arcane attack. The remnant squad, however, wasn't so lucky, as four of them collapsed, grey matter oozing from their nostrils and ears, while the last two shrieked in fright and fled back to their own lines. Even the Sentinel seemed to stumble slightly as its pilot was left disoriented by the blast. He didn't have time to upright his vehicle before a volley of heavy bolter fire from the Retributors shredded him and his cockpit, leaving the Sentinel as a burning, mangled wreck.

About bloody time she showed up, Bernadette thought angrily to herself. Silently and swiftly, Alice leapt at the Rat Ogryn, her phase blade crackling with eerie green energy. The lumbering beast didn't even have time to react before Alice stabbed her blade deep into its chest. Roaring in pain, it lashed out with its paws, but the Callidus Assassin easily dodged its clumsy blows, and somersaulted, and landed crouched on its back. Unable to see or strike at its opponent, the Rat Ogryn panicked and tried to flee. It didn't get far, however, before Alice calmly stabbed her blade down directly into the thing's brain, causing it to stumble and crash to the ground, quite dead. Her work done, Alice sprung off the thing's back and crouched in the nearby woods to avoid return fire from the rat-men.

In the combat on the left flank, meanwhile, the rat-men were hopelessly outnumbered, but nonetheless fought with desperate savagery, stabbing down one Battle Sister, while one rat-man was, in turn, smashed down by Sister Esperanza's mace. Chanting prayers to the Emperor, the Sisters piled in and prepared to finish off their foes.

TURN 5

By this point, both sides had been horribly battered, with their respective dead littering the field in droves. At a sharp command from their leader, the remaining rat-men shuffled away from the wrecked Rhino of Squad Arias towards the left side of the field, ready to counter Squad Esperanza the moment they defeated their brethren.

Once again, the Chimera trained its guns on the Retributors and fired, but this time, the Emperor was clearly watching over them, as the enemy fire simply bounced harmlessly off of their blessed armour. On the left flank combat, Squad Esperanza finally gained the upper hand, smashing and stabbing down the last of their foes in a bout of holy fury, while losing none of their remaining Sisters in return. Wiping foul rat-blood from her face, Esperanza turned and, seeing the enemy massed in the distance, bade her Sisters to follow her back to her waiting Rhino.

As Bernadette watched from the hill, the six remaining Sisters of Squad Esperanza mounted their Rhino and, like Squad Arias before them, gunned straight towards the xenos. Shaking her head, she turned to the Retributors. "Give them covering fire," she commanded, "unless you want them to end up like Squad Arias."

Nodding in reply, the Retributors turned their weapons on the Chimera in the distance and fired. The Emperor clearly guided their aim, as the mass-reactive bolts ripped through the frail side armour of the looted vehicle and reduced it to a smoking wreck. As pleasing as it was to hear the rat-man drivers shrieking as they burned inside their vehicle, however, Bernadette would have preferred it if the Retributors had instead targeted the exposed enemy command section. Already, she could see the enemy commander glaring at her from across the field with those beady red eyes of his.

The other vermin, meanwhile, shrieked in alarm as Squad Esperanza's Rhino came bearing down on them. Popping the top hatch, the squad's heavy flamer gunner emerged from the top and turned her weapon on the nearest enemy squad. Three of the abominable creatures died shrieking as the burning promethium consumed them, turning them into charred ashes in seconds. It wasn't enough, however, and the Raterial Guardsmen refused to flee.

Bernadette sighed and shook her head. This had been a disaster through and through. She raised her vox. "Sister Esperanza, there's nothing more we can do here," she said. "Collect whatever wounded you can and fall back."

"Inquisitor, we can still win here!" came Sister Esperanza's fervent reply. "We must destroy these abominations, for the Emperor and for vengeance!"

"There will be plenty of time for that later!" Bernadette snapped. "Right now, we need to focus on getting out of here alive! Now obey my orders, or I will charge you with insubordination, Sister!"

For a moment, there was no reply over the intercom. Finally, the Rhino made a sharp U-turn and headed back towards Bernadette's position. "Yes, Inquisitor," came the mumbled reply on the vox-set.

Taking a deep breath, Bernadette motioned for the Retributors to move back as well. Bernadette tapped a comm.-bead near her collar. "Brother-Captain, the attack has failed. We'll need to get into the fortress another way. In the meantime, I want you and you brethren to remain on standby."

"Acknowledged, Inquisitor," a deep voice said on the other end. "The Emperor Protects."

Bernadette nodded and closed the channel."I'll deal with you later, Alice," she said bitterly, not bothering to look behind her as the Assassin silently followed in the retreating Sisters' wake. And with that, the Sisters withdrew, leaving the field to the battered, chittering remnants of the Raterial Guard... .

SISTERS SCORING UNITS- 2

RATERIAL GUARD SCORING UNITS- 4

RESULT: RATERIAL GUARD VICTORY!

Thoughts: Wow, what a bloodbath! We ended at Turn 5, since others needed to use the table, but by that time, our respective armies had killed two-thirds of each other's forces.

That said, though, wonderful glorious victory was denied to me in the end. Time to bring on the excuses:

- My armour saves were HORRIBLE. My Sisters were dying off to individual pot-shots by pistols, storm bolters and multilasers, or else wound of getting kicked to death by Sentinels (or, when that failed, blown to bits by exploding Sentinels- the one on the right flank killed more Sisters by exploding than by actually fighting). Turn 3 was the worst by far, with two of my squads getting horribly decimated by small-arms fire.

- My Callidus absolutely REFUSED to show up. I don't know if she was smoking a joint, in a busy phone call with her friends from Assassin College, or what, but by the time she showed up on turn 4, most of my army was already dead. To be fair, though, when she did show up, she promptly wasted two of Killersquid's units in one turn. Even so, Lady Luck decided to be cruel to me in this battle, especially at the end: if Squad Esperanza had killed just one more Guardsman, and if the Retrubitors had not failed their priority test and shot the Chimera instead of the Command Squad, I would actually have pulled out a draw. And to top it all off, Killersquid just kept passing all of his leadership tests for the first half of the battle. Dangit, why can't Space Skaven be as cowardly as Fantasy Skaven?

- I committed two glaringly stupid mistakes by moving my Canoness right into disembark-and-charge range of a pack of hungry S6 Ogryns, and moving Squad Arias' Rhino up where they could be mobbed and wiped out due to having their exit points blocked off. It's especially embarrassing in the case of the Canoness, since during deployment, Killersquid kept going on about how his Ogryns could insta-kill my Canoness. I don't know why, in the name of all that is sane in the world, I placed my Canoness on the same flank as those Ogryns, or why I decided it would be a good idea to move into charge range of them. Heck, this all points to a glaring deployment error on my part, as Isobel and the Seraphim really should have been in each other's places. And as for Squad Arias... .I should have kept them back for a turn and then forward to disembark and double-tap the enemy.

And finally...

- I DIDN'T COORDINATE MY FORCES. I was sending individual units out piecemeal against his army, instead of coordinating my forces so that two or more units could attack the same area at once. If Squad Arias and my Seraphim had hit the enemy's backline at the same time, for example, the damage they could have done would have been massive. The same goes for the left flank, though my lack of coordination couldn't be helped due to Squad Solemnas being so rudely de-Rhinoed. It would have been nice if my Callidus had arrived earlier as well to join in the flamer-template carnage, but what are you going to do...

I have to get it into my head that Sisters of Battle are not Space Marines: to win with them, you need to use combined arms tactics effectively. One squad alone might do immense damage the moment it disembarks and fires, but it will be left all alone to face the wrath of any survivors from their target or from other enemy units. Two disembarking Rhino squads, on the other hand, would not only do immense damage when they shoot (especially with Divine Guidance against MEQs), but would also be a tougher nut to crack for the retaliating enemy. I really need to be less impetuous with my army, and learn when to commit my forces and when to hold them back for the opportune moment.

All in all, though, it was a great game, and Killersquid was a fun opponent to play against. All we need now is a Killersquid vs. BlueFox game (Rat-Guardsmen vs. Wolf-Guardsmen for the win!)

I'll get you next time, Mr. Squid... .

MVPs: It's a tie between Squad Esperanza and the Retributors. Esperanza and her squad burned and clobbered their way through two Guard squads and a Rough Rider unit, and nearly brought another unit below half-strength. The Retrubutors, meanwhile, mowed through more than half a Guardsman squad, two Sentinels and a Chimera. As a plus, both were above half-strength at the end of the game.