AN/ I REQUIRE SUSTENANCE BEFITTING MY GIRTHY BULK

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M43. 664

Crusade Designate: Thanatine Crusade

Segmentum: Obscurus.

Sector: Charion

Subsector: Amantium

System: Mulvan

Planet: Valtavyn

Status: Under Siege. Beginning M43. 660

Defending Elements: Heretic Forces of the Arch Enemy.

Attacking Elements: Combined Imperial Crusade Forces.

Forces Present-

Imperial Guard:

Jantine Praetorians; 5 regiments.

Vostroyan Bluebloods; 3 regiments

Calibrian Linebreakers; 1 regiment

Penal Legions; 10 regiments worth

Adeptus Astartes:

Sons of Medusa; one company.

Disciples of Caliban; one company

Suns Descendants; half company

Griffons Rage; quarter-company

Adeptus Sororitas:

Order of the Ebon Chalice; 2 Preceptories.

Order of the Valiant Heart; 2 Preceptories.

Questor Imperialis:

House Hawkshield; 3 Knights.

Freeblade; 1 knight.

Imperial Inquisition:

Redacted.

M43.644.286

Not a bang, not a whimper, a slow, bleeding groan that stretches into the ever-malignant uncertainty of the future.

This is how an empire dies. Slowly, marred in violence, subsisting only through the sacrifice of unnamed and unknown heroes who fight and die at the command of uncaring and distant lords.

Madmen, blind prophets, and accursed heretic demagogues all, made their hysteria known on cardinal worlds of the Imperium. Screaming dark names, apostate preachers roused their cults and filled the streets with their foul hymns in the claim that now was the time of Ending. As these prophets burned at the stake, they would still say that the manifest destiny of mankind has become bitter and ashen, that The Shattering had seen to the death of all, that their dark gods would at last have their fill.

For the sin of speaking against mankind's dominion, pyres across the Imperium are erected, and purifying flames send these heathens to the afterlife to be judged before the God Emperor. It is only in truth, that despite its blasphemous portents, the cold kernel of doubt remains in the heart of the faithful.

Never before has the Imperium been so weakened- not even after the great heresy. Never before, has the Emperors light been so dark and distant- the shining beacon at the head of the throne world nothing more than a faint ember. Once thought limitless, the ranks of the Imperial guard now dwindle. The strength of the Astarte's; once thought indomitable more akin to a blunted sword coated in rust. The Sisterhood of the Sororitas, a bastion of peerless faith, finds a dark needle of blasphemous uncertainty lacing its thread through their tapestries of devotion. The venerable hulls of the Imperial Navy are as scarred and broken as the battlefleets they are a part of, and the revered god-machines of the Adeptus Titanicus find their maniples under strength and under supplied.

The once unstoppable might that was thought to be the Imperium of Man has been broken. It was shattered. It all came to its end upon the day Abbadon launched his thirteenth and final crusade. And although it can be readily said that the Imperium did not break without its allotment of blood, the cost for defeating Abbadon the Despoiler once and for all was a price that has now crippled what little strength the Imperium had left. The borders are closing in, the shadows teem with xenos raiders, dark cults stir, and Ork warbands coalesce. Mankind has not the strength to weather another storm. The galaxy does not care. The waters begin to rise.

It was a world of blue and green. Now torn and scarred, its skies are now alight with ash and fire. It was a once noble planet. It's People bent towards production and humility, its rulers humble and kind.

Its prosperous lands, tilled by the peasantry lived quietly under the guidance of a single grand monarchy, it's holds spanned across the singular equatorial landmass of the largely aquatic planet.

In the times before, in the days of the great crusade, it was brought into the imperial fold from the depths of old night. It's saviors came from the void, their heraldry that of a wolf. They were the Luna Wolves, with the favored son of the emperor, Horus Lupercal at their head. It was this cursed history that would lead to their ruin. A schism grew within the monarchy as these old tales were rediscovered, the days of founding. Recidivists saw to the usurpation of the king and queen, and the installment of their own puppet lords that cried the name of Horus towards the sky in adulation, braying for their master to show them the truth of his ways.

Deep roots of corruption, born from these howling madmen, rose to the surface and made known their unholy growths. They summoned up dark magicks that hid away the sun, and they carpeted fields with rotting black flags, each one painted with a singular blood red eye that leered up at the cosmos in calling. Dark runes were carved into innocent flesh, the still beating hearts of these victims torn out and sacrificed upon crimson alters bespoken of grand and eternal war. The gods of the warp- fickle and malicious granted a portion of their favor to this damned world. Heretic prognosticators screamed of dark glory to be gained, of a return of Chaos Triumphant in the conquering of this defenseless systems bereft of men and ships, this dark promise of hope drew forth the Warbands and Renegades, lost without the protection afforded by The Eye of Terror. So it was made so, that upon the eighth day of genuflection unto the dark name of Horus and his legacy of treachery, that the sky above Valtavyn was turned black by the millions of war-scarred landing ships dyed red by a gore-hued sun.

Valtavyn fell first; it fell long before even the first survivor of The Shattering set foot upon its fields, the land already sewn with chaos and heresy by the feudal warlords that now vied for control of its grand central cathedral. The system of Mulvan fell and from Mulvan, the ramshackle warband of a thousand destitute cults and traitors and legions and warbands turned their attentions to the sub-sector and conquered its several hundred worlds in the name of the dark gods. With this great boon of slaves and resources, this cursed stretch of subsystems now decreed itself the Apostates Lash. This cull of hedonists and murderers turned its claws to the entire sector, and skewered through the meager defense flotillas that were not drawn from to defend the Caidian Gate from the mutual destruction wrought of the disastrous 13th.

The Apostates Lash was a collection of the desperate and the weak; for the conquering of this swath of once imperial territory was not out of strength, it was out of desperation. The Eye of Terror, once a haven for the madmen of chaos, was in turmoil. Discord within the Eye of Terror was nothing new, it was a realm of Chaos and so it was naturally chaotic and inclined to the whim of the dark gods. After the Shattering, this changed. The balance of power had shifted unequivocally, the Great Game of the Chaos Gods had been turned on its head, and within the warp did great armies of daemons clash against each other in a manner never seen before. There had been a deception, a trick, a gambit that not even Tzeentch had foreseen had been enacted by the Dread Anathema. Of what he had done, of what he had stolen from under their noses that had incited the chaos gods in such a manner none can say, but its effects were manifest in the absence of daemonic incursions- if only for a moment. The Imperium and its learned few knew nothing of this, for all they knew, nothing had changed and the forces of the arch enemy were as strong as ever. And it was so, that even when battered and weary, The Imperium gathered what was left of its strength.

The Great Crusade saw to the gatherings of the greatest number of imperial forces ever imagined. The Emperor and his sons oversaw the mustering of billions of ships and their countless trillions of soldiers, serfs, and servants.

In the dark days after the Heresy but before the shattering, crusading fleets under the guidance of Warmasters saw to the reconquering of imperial territory lost to the countless enemies of mankind. Still, these conquests were but pale shadows of the numbers seen during the Great Crusade. Though a shadow in comparison, they were still mighty, they were unstoppable gatherings of imperial strength, the resources of an entire galaxy-wide emperor condensed and distributed for one, singular purpose in the destruction of an enemy, the Imperial war machine was both unrelenting and unstoppable.

In the darkness after The Shattering, what now served as an Imperial Crusade was nothing more than a ragged band of those with power enough to fight. The back of the Imperium was broken, even a few dozen battlefleets was almost too much to ask for, and several hundred dozen regiments almost unmanageable, to say nothing about Astartes, Titans, Knights, and Sororitas. The losses the Imperium suffered during those dark decades were said to rival those seen during only the Horus Heresy.

A crusade against the Apostates Lash was not wanted, nor was it needed. The renegades of the Lash were crippled, and tired. They were exhausted and depleted. Their ships were barley held together wrecks without the means to repair them, their supplies were so depleted that those traitor astartes among them had resorted to using repurposed PDF weapons in most cases. The several desolate forge worlds they had captured were nothing more than skeletons, and the supply worlds among them were barren. The realm of the apostates lash had neither the means nor the resources to be of any immediate threat to the imperium. If given at least six centuries to gather slaves and allow the dark mechanicus to man the forge worlds and gather resources, then maybe the Lash would pose a threat, and if the masters of the lash were of such right-mindedness, than maybe they would agree to stay their hand for the moment.

Imperium and Lash both smelled the blood in the void, the blood of each other. They wanted the fight to end. Both wanted the Long War to finally be over.

The remnants of Chaos prepared its defenses, the broken armies of the Imperium made ready for one last war.

There is a soldier, an Imperial Guardsman, his armor is in tatters and his equipment is dented, burnt, and chipped. His body is battered and his ears are bleeding. He is filthy with mud and smeared with soot and shit. His scarred, torn up and worn face is smeared with a look of grim petulance, and despite a split lip and freely bleeding gash in his cheek, he does not seem aware of the pain. He is fighting to survive, in a blood-drenched pit. The guardsman thrashes, fighting tooth and nail, clawing at his enemy, grappling for control of his opponent's weapon. Entangled with him is an equally dirty man, but his filth seeps from the soul. Covered in ritual brands and scarred with devotionals towards dark powers, a Heretic with exposed muscles and animal furs stitched to his own skin snarls at the guardsman with peeled back lips. The Guardsman currently has the advantage, but only barley. He struggles to pin the cultists face down beneath him, trying to force the lunatics head below the murky loam at the bottom of the crater they find themselves embattled within. It is an ugly brawl, brutish and uncivilized, both of them snarling in contempt for the other. Within its pure animosity, it is perfectly human by way of virtue.

The Guardsman punches, torn up knuckles driving into the back heretic's skull before he forces the cultists down again, trying to keep the sigil-scarred mans head just under the brackish water long enough for him to lose strength and drown. Seething with equal parts hate and desperation, the guardsman wraps an arm rippling with muscle around the cultist's neck and squeezes. He struggles to keep the cultist pinned; the wild thrashing nearly throws him off, and his gurgled screams ring in his ears. The Guardsman grits his teeth, trying to force the man back down as he surges upwards with a burst of strength and throws him off. It is only a second after that the heretic is falling upon the guardsman with an ecstatic, gleeful shriek.

Chipped and dirty fingernails claw at the Guardsman's face, digging into flesh as the enemy wraps his hands around the guardsman's neck, crazed like some pestilent beast. Choking for air, the soldier kicks upwards, trying to dislodge the fiend even as another salvo of artillery hammers down from the sky itself. The cataclysmic crashing shakes the world, beating his eardrums into deafness. The Guardsman feels himself weakening, his pulse screams in his head. The heretic squeezes tighter, grunted slurs and oaths spill from his blood filled mouth, spitting out of his stitched-open lips.

The Imperial soldier reaches around him, plying the murky loam with desperate fingers until at last fortune favors him and his hand scrapes over a familiar shape. With an unheard prayer he brings up the mud-slick revolver from the loam and plants the barrel squarely under the heretics chin.

He pulls the trigger before the cultist can move to bat it away, the cylinder turns, and a burst of heat lances through the skull of the cultist. The lasbeam burns through meat and bone, incinerating the brain in a split instant that sees to gore spilling out from eye sockets, dribbling out of the cultists nose and mouth, splattering across the guardsman's face. The body falls limp atop the guardsman; blinking rapidly, trying to clear his eyes of the heat flash, he breathes through his nose, trying to wipe the vile gore of the cultist off of him. He can taste charred bits of skull and hair in his mouth, along with even viler substance- he nearly vomits. He shoves the corpse off him, letting it slip down into the murk- forgotten and damned.

He struggles to stand as the world is shattered again as yet another bracketing salvo of high-explosive shells smashes into the ground around his deep, waterlogged shelter. Any semblance of the once pristine farmlands was being torn away with each barrage as traitor and imperial batteries dueled each other from entrenched positions miles away. The guardsman seems to ignore all of this like it was a rainstorm. He leans back against the side of the crater; he tries to wipe the mud and guts and bits of heretic from his face and only succeeds in smearing them across his blunt and tired features even more. He gives up, and instead focuses on his weapon. Only now realizes how out of breath he is, how heavy he is breathing. He vomits weakly; half digested rations spewing down the front of his flak vest. He wipes his mouth and fumbles his lasweapon in shaking hands- he had thought himself rid of the shakes years ago.

The muddy revolver is cold in his grip; he swings out the cylinder and removes the spent microlas capsule, exchanging it with a fresh one. The weapon held only six shots, but each shot was enough to punch clean through carapace armor, the person inside it, and out the back with still a considerable amount of energy remaining. He thumbs the grip; he feels the engravings that press into his skin, they comfort him, they remind him of home. Satisfied that it would not fail him, he then slides it back into its holster. He takes a moment to shut his eyes, silence the daemons in his head and stop his legs from shaking like a frakking newblood conscript before a charge.

His name is Hastis; he is an Acolyte of the inquisition.

Across from him, coughing and half conscious- his world spinning from a concussion, and his brains rattled from the brutal shelling that sent them reeling through the air and into this wretched pit of heretics, was another guardsman, strapped to his back was a heavy set of Vox equipment. Heaving, struggling to breathe with almost a quarter of his face torn up from shrapnel. The front of his flak vest is shredded; it likely saved his life. Grabbing the guardsman by the shoulders, Hastis hauls him up, steadying him; he methodically begins tearing the worst of the shrapnel from the ruined side of the guardsman's face. He ignores when the Vox carrying guardsman heaves, coughing up chunks of dirt and mud that splatter across Hastis' face, Hastis simply holds him straight.

The guardsman's eyes clear, panic fading as he begins to breathe in the ash and soot of a battlefield. The Hastis grabs him again, this time rolling him over, looking at the bulky vox backpack he is wearing, tracing the wires that lead to a helmet, and slamming it back onto the guardsman's head. "Are you with me?" Hastis asks, the simple question is enough to pull his friend into focus.

The guardsman coughs again, finally finding his balance. Blood still runs freely from the savaged right side of his face, his helmet is askew, its strap broken, torn clean off by the shrapnel. The guardsman wipes the mud from his eyes. Hastis leans in, grabs the radioman by the sides of his helmet; he forces him to look him in the eye. "Can you walk?"

Pausing, blinking, the radioman nods his head, not saying anything yet, just closing his eyes and trying to breathe as he steadies himself, trying to force his way through the shellshock. He manages to spit out a few words regardless, "Bastards." He coughs. "Facking Heretics… Facking…shelled their own position."

His name is Lagorn. Inquisitorial Adjutant and Vox Technician.

Hastis smacks the side of Lagorns helmet and nods grimly. He has a new priority; reaching down, searching through the mud and the blood he rolls over a corpse, and finds a rifle still in its dead grip. He pries off the fingers, and clears the mud from its workings. Standard M35 Lasrifle, Galaxy pattern. He checks the barrel, clearing any obstructions over the lenses, he then checks the powerpack and finds it half full.

He staggers through the mud, stumbling over dead bodies of heretics and guardsmen alike. He makes it over to the opposite side of the crater. He paws through the bodies until he finds one leaned up against the side, slumped over, half buried by filth. Ragged and gaunt features can be made out through the occluding viscera and shit covering its face. Hastis checks for a pulse- he almost seems angry when he finds one. Even so, he winds back with one arm- and strikes the man across the face.

Life seems to flow back into limbs. "Wake up, you bastard!" Hastis strikes the man again, shaking him; his teeth grit and contrasted against the murk and grime that was the rest of his visage. "Wake. Up." He hits the man again, this time striking him in the gut.

The man hiccups, gasping, and then beginning to shout. "Enough of that, I'm awake, damn you," Hastis strikes him once more- just to be sure. "Sin on the throne! Do you have to do that?"

"Just making sure, sir." Hastis lies, stepping back.

"I know if you're lying. Hastis." Inquisitor Hyork of the Ordos Hereticus, Lodge Militarum, coughs and stands, his black and red coat is covered with grime and mud. His wizened face is smeared with ash, and there is a deep cut across his scalp that still bleeds, trickling down over his face and into his beard. Only his electric grey-blue eyes are clear, although unfocussed.

"Are you injured at all?" Hastis spits. "Can you move?"

Hyork takes a moment to pat himself over, wincing several times as he shifts his weight, stumbling forwards, nearly falling into the loam. "I can move, just let me, just give me my-" Hastis reaches down into the muck, pulling free a long black cane of metal, its handle flecked with brass etchings, and forcefully gives the Inquisitor, it was ornamented with various sigils and seals, most prominent of all- despite being but a tiny emblem- was the inquisitorial I.

"Then move." Hastis doesn't wait for his superior, he glances over at Lagorn; the Voxman nods back and picks up his rifle- his landed not far from him. Hastis checks his own plundered rifle again as another volley of high explosive shells hammer home around them, despite the protection of the crater they were almost buried, it was fast becoming a dubious safety at best. "They'll bracket the lines with earthshakers soon. We have to push with the rest of the penals." Hastis looks skyward, trying to will his eyes into piercing the soot-stained sky as if he could see the procession of artillery barrages as they spear downwards from their apex.

Stumbling over to him, no amount of grime and mud keeping him from looking alien on such a brutal battlefield, Hyork grabbed Hastis by the shoulder. "That's suicide." He snaps, trying to steady himself with his ornate cane but unable to find purchase.

"Might not've been had the facked Astartes not botched their end of the deal." Hastis glares back at the Inquisitor and shrugs off Hyork's hand, "Your damned fault we're here in the first place." He says as he makes his way over to Lagorn, the vox-operator is checking over his equipment, the large backpack vox likely took damage from the brutal initial bombardment.

"Sir, the cables are good as gone, I need to repair it."

"Repair it in the trenches." Hastis grunts "On me." Digging his fingers into the sides of the crater, he hauls himself up, rolling over the lip and back into the war.

It was once a picturesque visage of a feudal world devoted to the God Emperor with hamlets and fields, small villages and townships with dirt roads all leading towards the grand central capital. This used to be one of those noble, humble fields where crops would be harvested, rolling plains of gently whispering golden stalks. On days of gravest, the farmers and children would take to these fields under beautiful clear blue skies with rolling clouds, felling the grain with scythes.

Now, the only thing felled on these fields of mud and gore was man.

"Move!" Hastis shouts over the tortured screams of dying men and the ripple of machinegun fire. Diving forwards into the mud as the screaming artillery barrage ripped through the sky and tore up the landscape behind them, the shockwave tears up the ground even further, and Hastis can feel the heat wash over his back as another cluster of shells hits, sending legionaries screaming into death. He grabs Hyork by the coat and drags him forwards with him, sprinting with hunched backs over spent casings and laspacks, Lagorn lands right beside him, a death grip on his rifle.

The dead are all around them, bodies surging across a ruined landscape, being turned into charred meat as lasers and bolts and bullets snap overhead. Olive drab shapes sprinting through the loam- heavy iron collars around their neck pulling them towards the distant trench line with electric shocks and threats of assured death. They hold rifles to their shoulders, holding down the trigger and spitting out lasbolts at fortified targets. They stumble over bodies, and crawl under razor wire; they use the dead for cover- only moving when the hideous beeping of their collars threatens them with death for their lack of forward momentum.

"Keep low!" Hastis growls, keeping a firm grip on Hyork, holding him down as they scramble across the battlefield. Hastis takes the lead, through filthy puddles and over burning debris of what may have once been farmhouses as the world shrieks again, another bombardment slamming down upon the field of battle. "Incoming!" Hastis screams diving forwards. Hastis covers his head, opens his mouth, and curls into a ball, behind him; Lagorn does the same, Hyork copying them only after a seconds pause.

It was Murder, this battle line. Hemmed in on either side by towering mountain ranges, a full three kilometers apart from each other, this singular pass was the only viable means of attacking into the fortress capital from behind. The ground before it was a hellish affair of static defenses and endless trenches pocketed with bunkers and mortar emplacements. Those mortars shouted constantly, only outspoken by the distant heretic artillery camps that thundered with devastating earth shaker munitions.

The Penal Legions were to storm the fortified mountain pass and force a break in the kilometer long line of bunkers and trenches that even three full days of imperial shelling could not break, and air support only balked at the triple-A emplacements scattered about within. Tanks and transports could not traverse the terrain, and the Astartes and Sororitas were pitted against the enemy's own armored cadres outside of the fortress walls of the capital itself alongside the Imperial Guard regiments in a brutal gambit of keeping the enemy from sortieing out from behind their walls and launch a counter attack.

That left the Penal Legions with the task of opening the back of the city through sheer weight of numbers. It was a task that would have been made easier though no less bloody had it not been for the enemy's heavy artillery camps- camps that were supposed to be silenced by a strike team of Astartes that had deigned to assist this operation. They had clearly failed or met some form of resistance that not even they were capable of quickly overcoming.

Hastis grits his teeth, his ears still ringing as he uncurls and surveys his surrounding, his head pounding in time with his heart. He was still alive.

Painfully still alive.

All around him is death, spanning outwards under an obscured sky, upon a red-black field of bodies, pocketed with craters and lengths of tangled barbed wire. In the grand scheme of this siege, this was just a singular part of a three-kilometer long defensive line. Not even the most heavily guarded one, but despite that, Hastis knew that this was their own part of Hell. A Hell he, Lagorn, and Hyork no less deserved.

As the mortar barrage trickled off, and Hastis could unclench his teeth, he was moving, pulling Hyork with him, struggling forwards under wire and through mud, it was a typical killing field: littered with bodies of cannon fodder- penal legionaries, some still even were alive, streaming across the field towards a line of trenches and a wall of guns. It was the only chance they had. Lagorn was right next to him, he had the bloodied lasrifle gripped with white knuckles in his hands as he crawls forwards, closer to the trenches that ripping lines of tracer fire hissed above.

More shells scream overhead right as they make it to the lip of the first trench line, already bought with the lives of thousands of condemned men. They roll into it, tearing up their flesh as flattened razor wire catches on their clothes. Hastis presses himself against the trench wall, breathing hard. His hands are torn up, but he doesn't notice.

"Lagorn, vox." He snaps and the radioman hands him the speaker.

"Put me through to the Prefect. We need to move on the bunkers."

Lagorn nods, already flipping open his wrist-mounted cogitator, its wires running up his arm and into the vox unit. He scans through the channels, the chatter filtering into his head through his helmet. Hyork remains silent, nursing a wound on his side, it was bleeding pretty heavily, but he was still standing and Hastis had no time to waste on a condemned inquisitor.

The trench was filled with dead men, some still dying. Legionaries and sigil scarred cultists and slaves. Hastis bent down, turning over several legionary corpses, stripping them of several Laspacks before he found what he wanted. He tossed the medical kit to the inquisitor before resuming his search. Hyork fumbled open the medicinal pouch, several syrets spilled out as the inquisitor tried to still his shaking hands.

"This is filled with more narcotics than there is anything useful." Hyork noted

"It ain't meant to save their life, just make 'em fight through the pain." Lagorn said. "No use waiting anything on a dead man." He commented before putting his helmet straight once again, refocusing on the Voxcaster.

"Can't agree more." Hastis stood up, he saw Lagorn helping the inquisitor wrap a bandage under his coat but over the undershirt that was doubtlessly made of woven flak material. It didn't do anything to stop the knife, however.

"Should help for now." Hyork sighed, looking up as Hastis approached.

"Take this," Hastis forced a laspistol into the inquisitor's hands. The man scrutinized the weapon before looking back up at Hastis. "You know I don't need one of these."

"Take it anyways." Hastis snapped. "Can you move?"

"Of course," Hyrok stood, sounding indignant before Hastis yanked him back down.

"Keep. Low." He hissed through grit teeth. "I thought they said they taught you about warfare?"

Hyrok muttered something indiscernible under his breath, and then they were moving once more.

It was barley wide enough for two men to stand shoulder to shoulder. Each corner was a right angle meant for a single person to stick their rifle around and unload blindly. The lips of the trenches were covered with razor wire and sandbags, and if you wanted to move without getting your head blasted apart you had to crouch. This was a trench, a premade mass grave for countless trillions upon trillions of lives since the very first once was ever constructed. Blood slick walls on either side of them, pocked with holes from bullet and laser, they stepped over corpses both imperial and heretic alike. Hastis kept the butt of the lasgun to his shoulder, finger hovering over the trigger.

Shells shrieked overhead constantly, above them with screaming engines navel bombers lumbered through the air with rocket pods blistering high explosive wrath across the battle line as flak batteries sought to rip them from the skies. If the Navy was sending in its bombers to this portion of the battle that could only mean that either progress was being made or the engagement was becoming truly desperate.

They kept low, Hastis in the lead, trying to listen over the barrage of artillery that slammed home with almost dogmatic consistency, spraying dirt and shrapnel into the trenches.

Hastis held up his hand and took a knee, "Ears open, listen."

"Listen to what? I can't hear a damn thing after all this noise."

"Just shut up and listen, Inquisitor."

"Don't you dare stop firing, you scrat-heaps! Every last one of you keep pushing! Clog the barrels of their guns with your intestines if you have to!"

"I believe we found the Prefect."

"Just make sure she doesn't shoot us."

There was no tact required when commanding a penal legion. Its operation was simple, its purpose clear. It was an instrument of penance and cold logic. You find an enemy position, and you drown it in bodies. Made up of the filth of the imperial guard and bolstered by the countless overflowing prison worlds of the Imperium, the penal legions of mankind were given the dubious glory of being the first to die at the guns of the enemy. They were thrown into the grinder by the uncaring men at the back of the line- the Prefects.

Standing straight, assuredly exposing herself to the guns of the enemy, she lashed out with hateful words. Her sneer as biting as any sword, she was surrounded by countless shock-maul wielding arbites, warshields ready and mauls sparking with energy. "More bodies on the field- next wave charge!"

Countless legionaries, pushed up over the trench wall by those at their backs met their end almost at once as a blister of machinegun fire mulched them down- but countless more sprinted out into the dead zone between trench networks- that much closer to the bunker complex that barred the imperial forces from the city walls and the heretics that skulked within.

"Next wave! Charge!" her augmeticly-enhanced voice shrieked, almost giving out as she thrust outwards with her chainsword, her augmetic arm whirring. Again more legionaries vaulted over the trench wall- but this time, several hesitated for an instant- an instant too long, their heads popping as keen eyed arbites put lasbolts through their skulls- urging on the others through their execution.

"Prefect?" Hyork called out; the prefect didn't respond for a moment, eyeing the battlefield before turning around, and stepping back into the trench, her shield wall parting to let her through. She eyed them, her eyes as mechanical as the grilled vox-hailer that replaced her mouth.

"Inquisitor?" She asked, "I had assumed you dead with the rest of the rabble."

"Nearly." Hastis nodded. "Shells went wide, knocked us about. Got lucky."

"Not lucky enough, it would seem. You have yet to meet with the Emperor." The prefect nodded. Hastis withheld a groan. He loved the emperor as much as the next man but a zealot was always a pain to deal with.

"So it would seem, Prefect. Regardless of that, would you give us a summery of the situation?" Hyork replied.

"The heathens are just over the way, Inquisitor, holed up in a trench overlooked by a bunker complex that stretches the rest of the way to the city."

Hastis chanced a look over the edge of the trench, nearly a mile of fortified positions stretched out across the wasteland set before the great walls of the crown city of this fetid planet.

"Hardly seems like something that could taken with only infantry." Hyork said aloud.

"It isn't." The prefect replied. "Hence why it is the perfect chance for redeeming these wretches. Next wave!" She shouted, and again the miserable line of scum cowering in the trenches was forced over the wall. Nearly a hundred men dying at once as a mortar barrage impacted in the center of their charge.

"Should they fail- as this scum likely will- it matters not." The preceptor continues. "Their duty is to be ground into meat so as to pave the road with their corpses."

"They're doing a fine job of it, it would seem." Hyork added grimly, another wave was sent over the trench wall. Hastis remained silent. It did not go unnoticed.

"The artillery." He finally said. "They've stopped the bombardment."

"Sounds like it, sir."

"Isn't that a good thing?" Hyork questioned.

"No, it isn't," Again Hastis grabbed the inquisitor by the arm, "They're preparing for a counter charge-

"Prepare to repel this scum!" The precept roared, and Hastis bolted upright, staring out across the dead zone as seemingly a wave of corruption- countless heretics swarmed out of the bunkers, a wave of sound- like the roar of some great beast, or the laughing of a mad god- washed over them like a cloud of palpable dread.

They said nothing, staring across the trenches at a red-faced wave of madmen that poured into the trenches as they left their bunkers, clearly having been bolstering for this assault.

"Meet their charge you scum! Forwards!" The Precept upholsters a bolt pistol, leveling at the dwindling ranks of legionaries at her disposal she fires into them, mulching several before the rest scramble up out of the trench and into massed autogun fire from a horde of cultists that continues to stream out of their rockcrete dens. Hastis strains to say something in the face of what could only be summarized to appear like a blanket of hate, sweeping over a field, it is a sight Hastis has seen far too many times before.

The only sound is the eruption of their screaming, any artillery ceasing for a moment, any machine guns stopping, the battle line goes silent for the briefest of seconds before their roar beings. Their chants and trumpets, it's like this every time.

Most enemies will keep you pinned with their big guns when they charge your position.

Not Cultists, not followers of the Archenemy.

They want to charge you while you were standing.

"Aim!" It's Hyork who shouts this, his voice seeming to echo in everyone's head for a moment before his order is unquestioningly followed, even the arbites and Preceptor all raise their weapons and ready their shots.

It wasn't supposed to end like this.

He rests his cheek against the stock of his plundered rifle, noting the sickly sweet smell of blood that seems to permeate the air all of a sudden. The cultists are closer- swarming in the trenches now, frothing at the mouth to retake the defenses that the Penal Legionaries had bought with blood and bodies.

He never wanted to be part of the damned inquisition.

Hastis stares across no mans land for what feels like an hour- a feeling he is familiar with, a feeling as warming as his finger caressing the worn trigger of the lasgun he holds. The roar is deafening, thumping like a heartbeat in his ears, and then Hyork bellows.

The fecking old man, Throne damned Hyork, he ruined everything.

"Open fire!"

He didn't want to die here.

Hastis pulls the trigger, right as the first madman begins to charge. His head snaps back as a lasbeam blows through his skull and incinerates his brain- his body falling limp. Down the line, the scene repeats, lasbolts burning through the ragged cloth or bare chests of cultists as they scramble up over the ridge of their trench, hysterical with rage and glee, armed with only crude weapons and some not even armed at all- their hands curled into claws or fists, their teeth sharpened into nail points.

"Hastis!" Hyork shouts, he has the laspistol drawn, he pulls the trigger with succinct curtness, taking his time and aiming despite the mass of flesh before him- impossible to miss. "Use my codes- put me through with the nearest imperial forces!"

"But sir, the Council-"

"To hell with that!" Hyork doesn't look away from his firing, bullets snap through the air around him but he hardly pays them any mind, simply stepping to the side every so often. Hastis doesn't move for a moment, as the inquisitor he remembers from years ago comes back into focus before him. "DO IT NOW." Hyork roars.

"Sir!" Hastis snaps, turning to Lagorn, "Do it."

The first madman hits the trench line. A screaming hulk of rippling muscle, diving over the edge into a clump of Legionaries, by the time a lasgun is pressed flush against his skull he has already eaten through the throat of two men and is tearing the head off of a third, and by the time the lasbolt blows apart his brain, three more of these fiends have slaughtered their way into the trench- their rage howling through the air and blocking out all else.

"Preceptor! To me!" The Inquisitor pockets his pistol- powerpack empty, he grabs his cane and twists, along its length a blade emerges, and glows with brilliant white light, the head turns and straightens, forming to his grip. The Preceptor, howling her battle hymns only gives the faintest sign of acknowledgment, her shield-bearing Arbite enforces shifting around her, stalking back through the double wide trench to encircle Hastis, Hyork, and Lagorn.

"This is our stand!" She bellows, her pistol ejects a cascade of shells as she holds down the trigger, emptying an entire stack of bolts in a matter of moments- the trench before her exploding into a gore heap as mass reactive rounds tear through legionary and cultist alike. "No mercy only death! Only Duty! Only the Emperor!"

There was no battle cry or epitaphs from Hastis and Lagorn, just inarticulate screaming, and the animalistic lexicon of grunts and shouting as the horde fell upon them, their bodies seeming to blot out the sky as the jumped down upon them, into the trench.

Hastis emptied the powerpack into the first two that fell before him, he had no time to even remember what they looked like, what horrid brands they wore, not their scars or ritual markings, or even if they wore armor, they were the enemy, and they needed to die. Hastis shouldered his lasgun and held down the trigger- superheated beams of light punched holes in the unarmored cultists, searing through flesh, boiling blood, burning bone and stitching a line of charred meat through the dogs of the dark powers.

He whipped around, holding the barrel of his weapon- ignoring how it scalded his hands as he smashed the stock over the head of another cultists that thought to spear him through the back with a crude blade. He kept ahold of the bent weapon, swinging it back around and into the gut of some mutant thing with too many arms. It grabbed the bent piece of metal that was once a lasrifle, and Hastis let it have it, stepping back- feeling the bulky shape of a Vox caster against his back as he did so. He needn't think twice to know that it was Lagorn- his brother and closest comrade.

He ripped out his revolver- fanning the hammer as he held down the trigger, each shot tore chunks out of the mutant, each lasbolt powerful enough to dig a hole in the trench wall before dissipating, he spun it around in his hand, catching his weapon by the barrel he clubbed it across the head of a cultist, and then another before slipping it into his holster- drawing straight steel, and plunging it into the heart of another.

He grunts, something sharp cutting into his side, being drawn out and than slamming back home again. He slams forwards, into a cultist that now wrapped an arm around him, hugging him close- he can smell his sickly sweet breath- he doesn't let go, so Hastis rears back, and slams his head into him, and then again, he grunts, and Hastis knees him in the balls. He groans in pain, Hastis plunges his knife into his eye socket, digging it in, letting it cut into grey matter before he lost his grip from the welt of blood that erupts from the wound and over the hilt. Hastis snarls, kicking the corpse away from him and into the melee beyond, he spins around, in time to catch another frenzied cultist across the face with his elbow.

Hastis balls his hands and screams smashing this heretic across the face with his torn up fists, a quick jab to the stomach- something smashes across his back and he staggers forwards, taking the cultist in front of him down with him. He grapples with the heretic, turning over, holding him in font of him as he feels something stab into his gut, through the body of the heretic. He snarls through his teeth, his hand searching the ground around him, he screams through a clenched jaw as he feels several boots trample over his fingers but his hand finds the hilt of a weapon.

He throws the dead Heretic off of him, his gut wrenching in pain as whatever was lodged within him was torn out, he brings up his weapon, his broken fingers bent at every wrong angle, and the snarling chainsword of the Preceptor bites into the neck of a cultist, and through into the chest of another. Hastis scrambles to his feet, a flurry of arms and elbows from every side as the trench fight dissolves into madness at every angle, he cracks a cultist across the head with the flat of the chainsword, and punches its tip through the gut of another, its whirling teeth grinding through bone and muscle and organ before he pulls it back out- the squall of gore that follows it floods the ground around his boots. He has no time to react as another heretic smashes into him with a full body tackle.

No finesse, no skill required, Hastis just holds the chainsword against the body of the heretic as he screams in time with its engine. He keeps his back to the trench wall, chainsword held in front of him, his teeth bared. Snarling, raging, a shape rushes him, he doesn't recognize the colors so that makes it fair game, he ducks under the swing and brings up his weapon, it bites into flesh and tears through out the other side, leaving a gory mess of two halves of a body. He swings again, feeling something punch through his leg; he ignores it, despite how it hobbles his step.

Another cultist falls, something clubs him across the face and he goes to the ground, he rolls, an impact telling him of a narrow miss, he brings the chainsword around, a moment of resistance, more screaming, more red splattering over him, and a shape falls next to him, just inches away, he gives it no chances, rolling over onto it, he sinks his teeth into the meaty flesh of the neck and bites down around a tube.

He pulls, tearing out something vital and important, he spits, blood leaks down his throat so he vomits, retching as he reaches out, grabs a cultist by the neck and pulls him back off of a familiar shape adorned in colors he could recall through the red haze covering his eyes. He kicks the knee out of whoever he has a ahold of, they go down and he makes sure they stay down, the chainsword howling still in his grip rips into meat and snarls through bone, there is screaming all around him, the ripping shrieks of pain and anger.

He nearly loses ahold of his weapons as an impact from behind forces him to his knees. He goes limp falling to his side a shape covers him for a moment-he kicks upwards, boot finding purchase against a body. It staggers backwards and he scrambles to his feet, his off hand and finding purchase on the hilt of the still snarling chainblade. A sloppy swipe, the grinding teeth intercepted by something metal batting it back down, he heaves himself forwards, throwing himself against the body before him like some sort of drunkard.

He smashes his elbow into what looked like a face, pain and vision blurring together against the red foreground. He smashes his elbow into a neck, a chest, again, again, until something breaks and hands from behind wrap around his throat, cutting off his screams. Words- shouting, he makes them out through the violence surrounding his existence- Lagorn:

"Support-" Lagorn screams, Hastis grins, roaring through the blood flecking his teeth; he smashes his elbow back against the cultist strangling him. "Inbound-"

A roar, louder than the cultists and louder than his own, shrieks overhead.

Hastis can only think 'Airstrike' and he braces for the explosion, but it doesn't come, he tears himself free of the cultist grip, turning around, taking a single seconds to smear his hand across his face, to clear the blood from his eyes.

He can only make out a whirlwind of green and brown violence. Dropping into the trench from above- from screaming shuttles that blitzed over the ground with open cockpits and torrents of gunfire. Giants with axes and staves, landing among the cultists with boot and weapon and fist, standing out amongst them was a length of glittering gleaming silver, pulverizing skulls and cracking into bodies- turning cultists double as spines snapped in half.

It was over in seconds. The trenches outside the bunkers awash with blood as the screaming hovering speeders tore up the bunkers with blisters of armor piercing rounds and shrieking missiles, even more deadly were the giants that leapt from the cockpits, landing amongst the rabble, tossing grenades into firing slits, all while not speaking a word.

Leave it to the Astartes to steal all the credit.

Hastis spat blood, dragging out the chainsword that had saved him from the corpse of a heretic.

He looked around him; the bodies littered the trench in their countless dozens, nearly stacking up the sides. He couldn't find Lagorn, but he could see Hyork. Surrounded by what might of have been cultists, but now reduced to heaps of ash, there was not telling how many he had slain.

And then there was the space marine.

Almost seeming to appear next to him, along with ten others. They didn't wear that armor they were always known for; instead, they wore what Hastis could only guess to be carapace plates. Colored a dark brown and green, with only white trimming on their should pads denoting a variety things that Hastis didn't even bother to understand- aside from the VI that every one of them carried. They all looked similar, only faint differences telling each of them apart.

One of them stepped over to Hastis; he was holding a metal staff easily taller than Hastis was. He was grim looking, dour and taciturn with steel-blue eyes and several studs driven into his skull. The marine looked him over, saying nothing. Hastis didn't either. He wasn't going to be the one to talk first, not to a marine.

The marine seemed to take the hint, nodding to Hastis, "You are wounded." The marines voice was just as deep as he expected it to be.

Hastis grunted. "I didn't notice." He didn't look down at himself. He didn't really want to see just how bad it was.

The marine nodded again, as if confirming it with himself. "Votar, see to him." He said as he turned away, looking to Hyork.

It was only at this point that Hastis allowed himself to pass out.

Hastis opens his eyes, only to shut them again and groan aloud. The uncomfortable metal bench he's laying on slams back against his head as he tries to block out the light.

"So, you're breathing." A voice tells him, almost amused. "That's an improvement."

It took another few seconds to gather his thoughts, as his mind felt clouded with fog and uncertainty. He tried to raise his head only for someone to shove him back down.

"No, stop that."

Hastis tried to bark out an insult, tried to say anything, but with his tongue feeling like gum the best he could manage was to drool all over himself and gurgle like an idiot child.

"Throne, look at you," something soft dabbed at his face, mopping up his drivel. "Can hardly believe that you'd be a inquisitorial agent the way you are now. But, I suppose you have the merits to prove it." He clung to the words being spoken to him like the were a lifeline pulling him back into reality, dragging him out of the swirling fog occluding his mind. Grunting in reply, he tried opening his eyes again. The light was far less harsh now, and blurry shapes began to swim into relative focus.

He was on his back, lying on a slab in the back of a medical truck, a casualty carriage or meat wagon, some guardsmen would say. The truck was moving, the hazmat shell around the roll cage rustling and buffeting, his body jerking numbly with every bump in the terrain. A sister hospitiler was glowering down at him, the left half of her face a mess of augmetics and lenses, her remaining half still of the flesh but significantly scarred. She was dressed in the armor of her order, power armor of a lighter mark, made for stability and dexterity more than raw protection and power.

"Are you of your senses, now?" the Sister asked, a dry and clipped tone about her voice. She sounded like a Noble. "Blink for how many." She ordered, holding up two fingers, and then five before going back down to three while moving her hand about his filed of vision. Her blinked in accordance, tracking her hand, "Well enough." She said, taking a second to pry open one of his eyes and leer closely. "You should be relatively safe to move around. Not at all comfortable, but," She grins, no humor in it at all, just regret and despondence. "I'm sure you can handle a bit of pain, now, cant you?"

Hastis forced himself upright, extremely unsteady and he was sure that if not for the powerful painkillers blasting through his system he would surely feel the extensive damage along his mortal frame.

He mutters something, his words slurred as he rights himself, sliding off the gurney and almost falling as the medical truck comes to a halt, its brakes squealing in protest. He glances back at the sister hospiteller, a question forming in his mind before being drowned by the deluge of painkillers in his system. He exits the medical truck, and once again he finds himself on the front lines.

He can just make out the city capital in the distance. Grand spires of stone and metal piercing upwards against the backdrop of a truly massive siege-wall that bridges together two mountains, Hastis knows that on the other side of the truly herculean fortification. Dozens of guard armored regiments and astartes squads were dueling with a seemingly endless number of enemy armor- primitive tracked vehicles with cannons and machineguns that rolled out of caves set into the mountains base in endless numbers.

The conquest ahead was going to be a grueling task. Narrow city streets lined with any number of ambush positions and a likely extensive sewer network underneath that would be perfect for ambushes. It was only the start of it. In order to make it to that doorstep into hell, the final defenses had to be smashed. A wide and deep dugout had been made, the once remains of several heretic mortar positions, now occupied by imperial forces. He was standing in what was to become a triage station, the medical truck and support staff already setting up tents and unwracking medicae servitors from their box compartments. Hastis felt his wounds, still numb and tingly. He could afford to move around some more. He went off to find Lagorn.

There was thunder overhead, allied artillery, repositioned and commencing firing, now free to do so unmolested by enemy counter batteries. The mud sucked at his boots, more blood than mud. Already several guardsmen were running through the trench complex, readjusting ruined fortifications to face around and laying down duckboard. Several spared him a few quick glances before moving on, there was no time for laxity. This was still an active warzone.

Hastis found Lagorn with Hyork; they were standing outside of a command bunker once used by the Heretic echelons previously in control of this trench network. Ecclesiarchal servitors were scraping away at the walls of the rockcrete structure buried in the ground, muttering eulogies and hymns, sanctifying the place before it was made use of. Hastis could smell the saccharine sickly smell of flamer exhaust wafting up from within the complex, its walls doubtlessly purified by fire before being scraped clean.

"Ah, Hastis." Hyork said, noticing him now. "Good to see you moving. Damage must've looked worse than it actually was, I see."

Hastis grunted, looking at the third man among them. "This is…" He asked.

"Colonel Deov Vestalt of the Calibrian 76th Linbreakers." The man introduced himself. He was larger than them all by no small margin. The dress uniform he was wearing hugged a well-muscled frame and was laden with medals over his left breast. His features were long and stoic, his greying hair combed back over his scalp. He had the unusual complexion of dark yet pale skin that marked him out as a tanker from a desert world. Born under a punishing star but destined to die within a steel coffin. "A pleasure to be of service to the most holy Ordos."

"The pleasure is all mine, Colonel." Hyrok nodded. "To fill you in, Hastis, we're seconding ourselves to this regiment for the remainder of the campaign."

"Sir?" Hastis raised an eyebrow at the obvious complications that brought up. Lagorn caught his eye and subtly shook his head. Hastis closed his mouth, despite the protests in his mind. "As you say, sir."

"Damn shame about the Preceptor though, a fine warrior, may she rest in His light." Hyork sighed, Lagorn made the sign of the Aquilla over his chest. "Sorry if this is all a bit sudden for you, Colonel. But with their only being me and my two adjutants, I'm afraid I don't have the capability to really operate in the usual manner expected of those of my station. And I wouldn't dare take from the Astartes at the moment, they are needed on the battlefield to do as they will."

"It is of no concern, Inquisitor, my command staff has already been notified. We shall do as you order."

"Of those orders, you also need not worry so much. The assault is to go as planned, I'm here on the grounds of rooting out any potential chaos corruption that my try to worm its way through your ranks. While I have full confidence in your commissars I have found that a more 'nuanced' approach yields better results."

Hastis decided to let them talk, he waved Lagorn over, the vox operator complying reticently. "What is it." He asked.

"What's going on?" He said. "Why's Hyork doing this?" He snapped quietly, under his breath. "Nothing good will come of this later. Don't think that I won't testify."

"You think testifying will do you any good?"

"A painless death at the very least. I know better than to hope we get through this alive."

"I know, but he's got a solid reasoning to do this."

"And what might that be?"

"He reckons if we put in some good work before they catch up to us, we may have actual chance in a tribunal."

"Are you serious?"

"It's better than doing nothing, sir."

Stormshard mortars have a distinct sound. They spin as they fall. Once reaching the apex of their ark and beginning their descent, stabilizer fins canted slightly at an angle deploy, and the shells begin to rotate at a high speed, air being filtered through small intake chutes along the nose cone. This creates the whistling sound they are so known for. Due to the sheer volume of them, it often is like a constant shriek of death. The sheer volume of fire a single squadron of four Wyverns can put out is honestly staggering. An entire curtain of close support firepower blanketing an entire area of operations in lethal shrapnel in a matter of seconds, trenches filled with screaming death.

Hastis sat back against a pile of sandbags and watched the Wyverns go to work, their squat short barrels raised upwards as they continuously let loose with their rapid fire barrages. It was honestly something to see; hull down with only their turrets partially exposed, plumes of fire erupting outwards from each cannon. In the distance he could see the splashes of their impact, long stitching lines of explosions rippling over enemy fortifications. Their current duty was to keep any enemy mortar batteries or gun emplacements suppressed. They had been at it for well over an hour, a massive mound of shell casings was beginning to form around the chassis of the mobile artillery units.

Hastis also watched the movement of the guardsmen, running to and fro, either lugging munitions or clustering together in squads around what he assumed to be the regimental minister to receive the emperors blessing. From what Hastis could tell, the 76th were armored Shock infantry. Their duty was to press the line and smash through hardened enemy defenses. It is a high attritional role that breeds the hardest guardsmen in the imperium, with nerves of steel and blistered armor. The guardsmen were in the process of strapping on last minute adjustments to themselves, doubled flakvests or even carapace plates, shifting magazines and grenades to sit behind them, pulling down full armored masks or breathing respirators. The majority of the guardsmen had their home world equivalent of the lasrifle, mass-produced by their systems forgeworld.

A shorter stock and bulkier frame, a trained eye told Hastis everything he needed to know. Stopping power and single fire with an optional burst setting and overcharge mechanism. But it was the underslung attachments that made their weapons really unique. Some were built in, others just clipped on, but there was a menagerie of short burst flamers, shotgun or grenade launcher mounts. Hastis could only guess that they were a venerated regiment with an amount of leeway among the machine cult for the amount of modifications they were aloud. Any lesser regiment would likely be subjected to Servitor Imperialis.

It showed on their vehicles as well in the form of slabs of additional front armor and turret skirting, as well as dozer blades and armored tracks. There were plenty of adhoc weapons systems, upwards angled, short pre ranged mortars linked to a ripcord. This company was of a speartip formation; an elite veteran unit made for siege work- some of the most punishing kind of warfare. Hastis glowered at the thought of having to storm yet another enemy fortification. The only consolation was that at least this time it would be done with having to rely on a bunch of scum-sucking penal legionaries.

The Stormshards had fallen silent for the time being, the unit commander calling for a cease-fire over the vox. Hastis could see why- the barrels were literally glowing red hot. They would have to be changed and allowed to cool. Crewmembers were already scrambling out of the chassis, thick, padded gloves pulled on; they set to working the quick-release latches on the barrels. Other crewmembers wielded shovels, scoop still steaming shell casings from around the tank, throwing them into piles. Hastis glanced up as the Unit commander wandered over, thumbs hooked in his pockets, goggles pulled on. He was chewing on an unlit lho stick, and offered one to Hastis, who accepted with a nod.

"One hell of a charge across no mans land." The commander of the Assembled Wyverns commented, staring out across the way- smoke still rising from his preliminary bombardments, "Shouldn't the penals be up to this?" He asked.

Hastis let out a dark chuckle, knowing exactly what happened, having been there to experience it in the first place. "The Legion that was supposed to soften them up was decimated. Survivors are being merged into other legions assigned to both of the flanks on either side of us, sorry to say, but it looks like your company has to pick up the slack." Hastis lit his lho stick. He recalled that he used to hate these things. Funny how that changed.

"That is a damn right shame." The tanker grunted. "Gonna lose a lotta lads because of it. Might actually not be that bad, hoping that the honored inquisitor holds up to the rumors."

"Pretend I didn't say this, but I wouldn't get your hopes up too high, friend." Hastis sighed, taking a one long last draw on his narcotic before putting it out on his leg. "Rumors tend to be only rumors in the end."

Hastis found himself back with Hyork and Lagorn, forced together uncomfortably close inside a command bunker, a table had been set up in the center of the rockcrete fortification alight with the screen glow of cogitators and the muttering of Servitors. A map was displayed on the table, tiny markers and flags depicting the flow of the battle. Aside from Hyork, Lagorn, and Hastis, there was also the Colonel and his two counterparts: the commanders of the second, third, fourth and fifth companies of the 76th, . Of those five, two would be participating in the assault. Each was a dour man of around the same age and build as Deov, but unlike them they lacked the expansive lapel of medals and honors.

The commander of the first company began the proceedings. "Command is speeding up our time table, the assault is to begin now. We break through along the outlying defenses and penetrate into the city. If we can catch these bastards between us and the main advance we can crush them against the walls of the fortress."

The second company commander spoke up, looking at Hyork "Any support?"

The inquisitor shook his head. "There is not much I can do. I may be an inquisitor but the needs of the greater campaign come first."

Deov cut in. "It is of no concern. Astartes personnel will accompany us, they'll be using our armor as a screening force for their advance."

The third company commander spoke this time. "Is that wise?" He asked. "We'll be sure to draw a good deal of fire."

"I told them as much. They told me to 'Handle It.'"

Hastis growled, "Upstart bastards. Bet it's easy for them to say that when you're wearing a bloody meter of armor on your ass." Hyork gave him a withering glare that told him to be silent; Hastis ignored it as he always did.

"Regardless of that, it still remains that it will be our armor that will be taking the brunt of the assault. I would expect there to be losses." The colonel coughed.

The first company captain spoke up, ignoring the side comment made by Hastis. "Even with the fourth hammering them like this?" As if to drive home his point, another salvo of earthshaker fire rippled across the line.

The colonel nodded. "Even with the barrage, we cannot expect the big guns to do all the work for us." "In the end, it will be down to the tank commanders to suppress their emplacements once the big push begins. Further orders will follow once all units have made it past their second interior defensive lines."

The commander of the third company stepped forwards. "That's when we are to begin our press, correct?"

Deov nodded. "Indeed, keep it slow and steady, fifth will be moving up behind you with prefab fortifications, make sure they don't take a lick of fire."

"Understood, sir."

Hastis shifted as the planning continued on, he was antsy, sitting in a bunker like this was just asking for artillery fire. He coughed and stepped back. "If you gents don't mind, I think I'll take a step out for a bit. Never liked these damned permacrete bunkers." Before Hyork could catch him by the collar, Hastis ducked out.

Fire and earth billowed upwards across the way. Houses evaporated alongside entire city blocks as the residential area of the capital was subsumed in flames. From behind Hastis, the concussive thumping of more than three dozen light and heavy artillery guns let loose in perfect sequential fire.

Hastis couldn't help but be mildly impressed by the display. He's seen more bombardments that he cares to admit, each one unique in their execution, out of them all, this one was up there with some of the best in terms of coverage and consistency.

As another barrage was let loose, Hastis leaned out of the Chimeras opened top troop hatch. He had managed to find a tanker friendly enough to let him smoke in his tank while he waited for the charge to begin. Passing him another lho stick was the Chimera's commander, sitting at his turret mounted heavy stubber, leaning against the top hatch like it was some sort of lounge chair. He glanced back at Hastis, pulling up his goggles.

"Artillery contingent's almost done with its preliminary bombardment. Should be ready for us to move any minute now."

Hastis grunted. "Hope those ass-hats know what they're doing." He nodded in the direction of the artillery guns. "I've have had more than enough shelling for one day."

"You were embedded with that Penal legion, weren't you?"

"Unfortunately." Hastis chuckled. "The inquisition isn't all that glamorous as it's cracked up to be."

"You don't say." The chimera commander shook his head. "Well, you have my word sir, the only artillery running about here is our own, and they know where they're aiming."

"Pretty confident, aren't you?"

"The Calibre's fourth company has the best damn gunners you'll see outside of the Kriegers, just you watch! They'll clear the way for us in the first just fine."

"Aye, aye, whatever you say, kid."

"Guardsmen." Hastis and the commander glanced up, away from the explosive display in the distance. It was the marines, the commander straightened up, making the sign of the Aquilla. Hastis merely took another draw from his lho stick, glowering at the marines with an unconcealed loathing. There was around ten of them, each of them looking more or less the same aside from weapons and scars. Hastis recognized the one leading them, silver-grey staff and scoped bolter across his chest. He looked up at them, studying them for a moment before speaking in that damned gravel tone that all Astartes seemed to possess.

"I am Scout Master Yenald of the Sun's Descendants, Sixth Company. You are of the 76th Calibrian, first company?" he asked.

The Chimera commander nodded vigorously. "That I am, Space Marine, honored to fight alongside-" Yenald cut him off, Hastis shook his head as the Marine began giving them orders.

"You will form the spearhead with your tanks. We will strike from Land Speeders and remove their anti armor capabilities. You will follow in behind us after we move to engage from behind you. Clear their trenches and storm the city gates. We will provide support where we deem necessary."

"Yes, well-" The guardsman didn't get the chance to reply before the giants in carapace armor turned around and simply walked off, Hastis watched them go, before snorting in contempt.

"What'd you except, kid. Glory-hogging bastards, the lot of them."

The tanker glanced over at him, clearly uncertain. "You sure you want to say that about a space marine? I mean, you're in the inquisition and all, but, well…" He shrugged uselessly. Hastis barked a laugh.

"Throne, I talked like this before I was yanked into the damned Ordos. Nothing good happens to guardsmen when those damn glory-leeches are about." Hastis shook his head again, "We'd be better off without them, really." He took a drag from his lho stick, and nearly choked.

"Why?"

Hastis coughed, thumping his chest through his flak vest, having nearly swallowed his lho stick. He glared down at the Marine who had seemingly materialized just by the Chimera. Hastis leaned over the side and snarled angrily. "Thorne! Don't do that you filthy pizzgit!" he snapped. "How does a damned bloke as big as you move around like that? Nearly gave me a heart attack, damn you."

"You said that you would be better off without us? Why?" The marine asked. Hastis tried to place the face, having seen him before, but than again once more, they all bloody looked alike.

He didn't know what to say really, not wanting to delve into details he'd be more comfortable in not sharing. He glanced at the tanker who quickly shook his head, not wanting any part of the conversation. "Don't look at me, sir, your words, not mine." He said.

Hastis growled, and lit another lho stick, trying to ignore the marine, and just let this whole conversation just die. "Forget it, it's nothing."

The marine wouldn't budge, instead he looked about his surroundings for a moment, regarding the other Chimeras and Russ's, lined up and ready to move once the shelling stopped before he looked back up at Hastis, expression unreadable. "There surely must be something. Otherwise you would not have said what you said."

Hastis sucked in his breath and forced himself to hold it for several moments, letting the smoke suffuse his lungs, he could feel his blood beginning to rise and he struggled for calm. He was never good with his emotions at the best of times. "I said it's nothing." His words were clipped and curt, his trigger finger itched and he felt the need to bite something.

"Votar." The marine commander, the one with the silver stick came back, passive in his movements and expression he looked to his younger. "Do not harass the mortals."

It was nearly the time, now. They've been given five minutes to prepare, the whole of the 76th's Mechanized Armor was ready in just three. The fourth company's bombardment had ratcheted up several degrees with earthshaker rounds blasting apart the enemies' fortified positions with murderous intent, flattening razor wire and turning tank traps into shrapnel. Trenches were pulverized and bunkers shattered, and through it all, Hastis watched, mesmerized as he made his way just behind Hyork and Lagorn. It was a habit of his to watch artillery bombardments, something about it just felt cathartic to him.

There was commotion all around them as the three agents of the Inquisition wove their way through mobilizing lines of armor. Chimeras, Leman Russ's, and Salamanders loaded with heavy weapons were preparing to enact a mad dash across an open stretch of land in hopes of pushing the enemy back. It was a grim prospect that everyone was prepared for, but in only so much a way that one can be prepared to hand over their lives to the lady of fortune and grace of the Emperor.

"And this, I believe, would be our transport." Hyork said. Hastis approved of his choice. A grandiose monster fitted with armor plating several inches thick in the least armored of areas, a re-discovered piece of lost technology that had made its home in the Imperial Guard. The Crassus Armored Assault Transport. Growling even while idle, the massive infantry conveyance vehicle had dropped its rear ramp, heavily armored guardsmen in full carapace gear climbed aboard. Standing outside, one foot on the ramp and one hand on a power sword, was first lieutenant Suliko of the Calibre 76th, first company, first platoon shock infantry. Hastis didn't like the look of him, the folded beret and silver chain ornamentals told him everything he needed to know about the man. He was an officer that was more than willing to sacrifice all of his men to complete even the lowliest of objectives. He wasn't likely malicious about it, or even aware of it, thinking that a few lives lost were of no concern when put to the merits of victory. Perhaps, he was even right in doing so, but the way Hastis saw it, throwing the lives of honest guardsmen away was never justified.

The Lieutenant snapped off a crisp salute upon seeing the Inquisitor and his adjutants, he looked young in Hastis' opinion, young and proud with his fair share of scars that could be more rightly qualified as shaving nicks in a veterans guardsman's opinion. "Welcome aboard, Inquisitor!" Suliko grinned, waving them aboard. "Should be seats just up ahead. Might be a little loud and crowded, this old girl tends to shout and jostle when she's really fired up."

Climbing aboard and making their way forwards between the seated and standing guardsmen, grouped up in their respective squads, Lagorn couldn't help but whistle. "She's quite the beast. How old is she?"

Suliko was more than happy to answer, closing the ramp behind him as he climbed on after. "Good question, that one. Voltair's been in the regiment longer than any of us. Been around since the founding I reckon." He shrugged, still smiling, strapping in next to Hyork and Hastis, Lagorn sat across from them, his Vox Set taking up most of the seat. "Maybe she's been around even since the regiments first ever founding! Perhaps, even before that."

Hastis raised a brow at that, a machine like a Crassus was rare despite the efforts of the Mechanicum to increase their production rates of the beasts. "How so the Seventy Sixth regiment of your planet has her then?" He asked. "Why not your first?"

Suliko grinned again, the question only seeming to increase his enthusiasm. "Ah-ha, well now, you see, Mother Calibre has only ever managed to raise one regiment. So, in short, the seventy-sixth is the first regiment, but we've been reinforced seventy-six times." He grins. "Our planet doesn't have much in the way of people." He explained. "Populations never really managed to break over one billion, desert is too harsh for that, can't even build underground! Bloody huge sand worms won't let us, and hives always sink before they can be stabilized. So, our people live in these huge caravans, constantly moving, otherwise the storms would bury us! You could imagine trying to raise a family in that kinda place would be like, not very easy."

"That explains why you're all so damned cheery to be in the guard."

"Lotta people say they miss home, let me tell you, sir, we're sure as hell not among them!"

The lights in the Crassus Armored Assault Transport flicked from regular to red, and the noise ratcheted up by several ear breaking degrees as the massive armored carrier began to move, its tracks churning the earth beneath its weight as it climbed over the palisades and onto the field of battle. All around it smaller Chimeras and even a second Crassus Armored Assault Transport, along with squadrons of Leman Russes of various marks crested with it. Despite the massed amount of armor, none were more impressive than the leviathan among them- a twin barreled disciple of war, far greater than any leman russ main battle tank, was a Macharius Vanquisher. Classified as a Second Generation Baneblade, the Macharius proudly flew the regimental colors, within its hull was Colonel Deov Vestalt, and his steed was named Divine Judicator.

"Here it comes, gents." Suliko thumbed the top of his sword, every guardsman standing now inside the Crassus Armored Assault Transport, hands on weapons or handrails, respirators on, masks down, forcing their breathing to be both long and steady. Several whispered prayers, several ran gloved fingers over their weapons, feeling for faults, and several stood in silence, listening to the drumming of explosions and bullets outside, louder than even the roar of Voltair's engine.

Hastis clutched the charm around his neck, thumbing the metal piece that hung next to his I-dent tags. Hyork closed his eyes, chin down; humming along to a song only he could hear. Lagorn double-checked his vox, sweat beaded his brow, in keeping with his own ritual, Largorn purposely cut his thumb on a bent metal panel of the vox and wiped his thumb over his left brow. From the crew compartment a gunner slammed his fist three times.

The ramp fell.

A hot wind swept into the compartment, dust and debris, carrying the scent of death with it. Ash plastered itself to the armor of guardsmen, uncaring of rank or standing. With it came also the rattle of Gunfire and blanket force of concussions, Suliko shouted to be heard over it all. "Go! Out of the belly lads! Go!" Guardsmen surged forwards, boots pounding down the ramp and stomping into fire-baked earth that was as much a mix of dirt and rock as it was of blood and shrapnel.

"Lagorn, on me," Hastis snapped, unholstering his weapon, the Las-revolver hummed with stored power. "Hyork, don't lose sight of my back."

It was like every other battlefield that Hastis had known: the acrid stench of ionized air intermingling with cordite and promethium, overlaid with the myriad smell of corpses- some burning, some bleeding, vomit and shit. "One and two! Take the left, three and four to the right! Flamers lead- purgation spread, clear the way! Voltair, drive in the spear!" Ambition aside, Hastis could see that the lieutenant was a competent commander, high caliber fire stitched sparks across the hull of the Crassus Armored Assault Transport and lasbeams scorched the earth around the disembarking Calibrians who sprinted to cover the last few feet of ground between them and the smashed ruins of buildings and streets- now nothing but scattered rubble and stone filled craters. Four squads, ten men a piece with a braying sergeant leading them each were quick to follow with the Lieutenants orders. Hissing flamers crouch-ran forwards, their squad mates shouldering rifles as they ran just behind them, putting down punishing scores of lasfire. Those at the head of the squads were quick to action in the face of hostile resistance, trenches yet occupied were subject to trained responses, the Grenadiers quick to rip frag grenades off of their webbing, thumbing the pin and tossing them ahead.

Through it all, the Crassus Armored Assault Transport, Voltair, like the leviathan it was ground forwards, its two front mounted heavy flamers erupted into a searing conflagration of heat that speared ahead of it, bright streams of purifying wrath that could melt even stone. Flickering briefly every other second, so fired its lascannons, bright instantaneous beams of focused energy strong enough to bore through the side of a land-raider. Smoke seemed to pour out from its sides, and Hastis feared for a moment that it had sustained damage somehow, a second later the realization only dawning that it was expelling billowing clouds of concealment so as to shroud the infantry disembarking.

"First platoon! Double-line advance!" Suliko called out, voice ringing in the vox-beads of the squad sergeants, Hastis could hear him clearly even without being tuned to their channel. The guardsmen were quick to comply, each squad staying within sight of each other, the heavily armored weapons specialists taking to the front of each squad. Behind and next to them the rest of the squad advanced, firing indiscriminately but not without purpose, the barrage of lasfire kept any would-be snipers pinned as the flamer's wafted searing promethium ahead of them.

The Crassus Armored Assault Transport smashed through the remnants of a bunker, grinding rockcrete and metal beneath its tracks. To its left and right the platoon clambered over cracked and shattered barricades and leapt over trenches filled with the scorched and curled corpses of heretics. The artillery had done well, smashing the worst of the defenses without a single guardsman having to fall to them.

"Are we making good progress?" Hyork asked, keeping up with Hastis and Lagorn despite his age. Hastis glanced back at him, keeping his head down, staying close to the cover of the Crassus Armored Assault Transport as it ground on ahead.

"Worst is yet to come." Hastis had known Hyork for far longer than he cared to recount. Despite it all, Hastis still forgot that the Inquisitor was no adept of war; he was unable to read the ebb and flow of the battle as easily as a seasoned guardsman like Hastis or Lagorn. Hyork was a bureaucrat and an spy, not a soldier; he had no place on an imperial battle line like this. The enemies he was meant to fight were ones that required subterfuge and bureaucracy to counter. Hastis and Lagorn were only supposed to be there should no small amount of muscle be required. They were the grunts, the damned bloody infantry. They weren't the ones that were supposed to be in charge, they weren't the ones that were meant to tell an Inquisitor how to do something.

"We need to keep up with the advance." Hastis snapped, he primed his weapon, "Stay low," Hastis kept his head down, wishing for a helmet at that moment in time as he felt a spray of shrapnel ping off the side of the Crassus Armored Assault Transport and knick him across the face, another wound to be lost among his myriad of scars should he survive.

"Lagorn, you with me?"

"Always, sir." The vox operator was reliable to a fault, someone that Hastis knew he could count on, more than any failure of an Inquisitor.

The smoke billowing out from the Crassus Armored Assault Transport cleared, the infantry now in cover, charging upwards as the streets began to slope towards the grand cathedral at the seat of the castle that was their ultimate objective. Hastis could see it looming above, streams of tracers billowed out from its battlements, its walls protected by a powerful series of voidshields.

"Into the city! All squads, advance ahead of Voltair!"

"That's our go, with me." Hastis broke away from the Crassus Armored Assault Transport; he could hear the shifting vox equipment behind him that was Lagorn and the crunch of Hyork's boots. The shattered defense lines turned into the ruined and desiccated realm of a once imperial city, feudal in nature, its buildings built out of brick and mortar, cobblestone streets now dirtied with spent shell casings and heretic sigils that hurt the eye to gaze upon.

The guardsmen were grinding forwards in a fighting advance, keeping to either side of the main street they dueled an enemy fortification that was determined to block their progress; an entrenched machine gun nest based in a three story lodge hung with red tabards that swore devotion to a cruel being. Men in stolen and defaced uniforms of the PDF leaned out of the windows, blasting away with autoguns, hosing the street in lead. Hastis caught a ricochet in the chest, the round almost knocking the breath out of him as his flakvest stopped it cold. Grimacing he ducked right into a recess carved into a buildings wall by an explosion.

The Calibrians had no such qualms about cover as he did, trusting in their heavy carapace pieces to protect them. In a madmans gambit, one of the squads doggedly advanced out of cover, two members popping smoke, hurling the canisters up the street while the rest of the squad let loose with bursts of lasfire, running through billowing clouds of concealment, sparks of bullets showering off of their chest pieces as the squads weapon specialist closed in.

The weapons trooper hauled up his flamer, the pilot light flickering sinisterly as an eruption of heat spat outwards, and through an open window on the second floor. Fire swept through the hallways, catching the dry wood alight and scorching bricks into a black mess. Hastis could make out the screaming from within. He couldn't help but grin at the sound. It was a good sound.

"Keep up, inquisitor, we're to secure a breaching point for our armor so that third and fourth platoon may encircle and engage from the flanks of the enemy." It was remarkable how calm the Lieutenant was despite the storm of fire that chipped away at the stonewall Hastis, Hyork and Lagorn were crouched behind for cover. Across from them was Suliko. Heavy stubber fire from multiple directions chattered relentlessly as the first platoon guardsmen fired back with blistering volleys of lasbeams. Hastis could feel the hairs on his arms stand up on end as the air around them became increasingly ionized from extended energy weapons discharge.

Voltair was relentless, crushing the street beneath her treads she advanced, her heavy flamers washing over the cultists positions and scattering them as ash. Without her support each engagement would take far longer though the outcome no different. "Positions cleared, advance!"

Hastis fell into position alongside Suliko, the Lieutenant made himself a target all too often for Hastis' liking but the squads covered their leader accordingly. "What of your other companies?" Hastis asked.

"Second company is pressing the enemy along the line further east and west along the, ensuring that we are not flanked ourselves. Third company is standing by for fire missions." Suliko shook his head. "Not that we can utilize them at all. This being a 'holy-city' and what not."

Hastis grunted in reply, there were times when the administratum was feeling particularly dickish, and went ahead and restricted the use of specific weapons on certain planets for fear of causing collateral damage to a particularly special building, hive, monument, factory or other. In this case, it was the cathedral ward that was to not be fired upon by heavy ordinance. There were hopes that it could be reclaimed with minimal damage to the structure and the Sororitas were making a fuss about it remaining intact. Hastis knew better than to hope. That did raise a question however.

"If the ROE forbids heavy weapons, than why are you rolling up armor?"

"Only the Exterminator patterns are pressing behind us, they aren't classified as heavy ordinance so long as they don't use high-ex." Suliko answered. "Shouldn't have to worry about the Ecclesiarchy going off on us for that."

"What about smoke shells, incendiary?"

"Wyverns should have that covered, they'll be moving in with the Colonel."

"Isn't the Colonel manning a facking Macharius?"

"Shouldn't be a problem so long as he doesn't aim directly at the cathedral."

"I see you Calibrians take ROE rather loosely." Hastis found himself starting to like this Lieutenant. "Can't say that I'm not a fan."

"I aim to please, Sir," Suliko grinned, fixing his beret.

The street began to narrow, walls and buildings closing in as the cathedral drew nearer. Suliko held a hand up, stopping their advance. "The road gets tight here, squads form a column. Voltair, hold with fourth squad, we'll see what's up ahead." The guardsmen moved to comply. Suliko turned to Hastis, twirling his power sabre with a practiced flourish. "Care to join me, Sir?" He offered.

Hastis chuckled and shook his head. "I haven't lived this long by becoming a red flag for a sniper, I think I'll stay back here."

"A damn shame," Suliko grinned again. "Very well, I hope you don't mind if I help myself to your share of the glory then, Sir."

"By all means." Hastis motioned for him to go with a smirk.

Suliko nodded and strode forwards, the idling engine of Voltair behind him, "First squad to me, second squad watch the ingress points, third squad provide covering fire from that building."

Hastis found himself falling into line behind the third squad as their sergeant kicked open a door to a more-or-less intact gallery filled with what must've passed for fine art on this world- garish paintings of black and red smears that were disconcerting to look at. As they walked up the stairs to the second floor, Hastis glanced back at Lagorn who stalled, looking out a window at the Lieutenant who boldly strode out into a plaza that held an ornate fountain at the center

"Bold or foolish?" Hastis asked. "Which do you think?"

"I dunno," Lagorn shrugged. "Damaged maybe?"

"Well…" Hyork stroked his beard, trying to work out the accrual of dirt and mud that clogged it. "That doesn't seem unreasonable."

One of the guardsmen tapped against the wall of the building, catching their attention as they lined up along the second story, some of the guardsmen grenadiers crouching low over the balconies. This one spoke to them. "Nah, ain't that at all, if you'll pardon me sayin', sir's." The grenadier said, a clear accent in his voice. His voice was slightly muffled by the heavy rebreather he wore, his face was obscured by a full mask that came down from his helmet "Our ol' LT's justa' bit eccentric loik that. A lotta' the clan-leader types back home are loik that, yeh see'."

"Clan leaders? So, you're a tribal people?" Hyork asked, quirking a brow. "I wouldn't have guessed. You are quite, ah, 'civilized' if you do not mind me saying."

The grenadier cocked his head, almost confused it would seem, thinking. "Tribal? Eh, I guess you could call it that?" He said before shouting over his shoulder back at another one of his squad mates. "Hey, Skizzo, what're we again? A feuda-whatsit?"

"Whats'at?" 'Skizzo' leaned back into the building from the balcony overlook, only his head appearing. "Why you askin' me? I dunno fack all!" Skizzo shouted down the way.

"Well you're the one git always goin' on 'bout poli-tics and shit loik that, I thoughts' you knew somethin! Don' tell me you've been leadin' us on this whole time now."

Guardsman Skizzo waved dismissively. "Ah, shove off, you putz," His head whipped around as blood smeared across his mask, as the guardsman next to him had his head come apart from a high velocity round punching clean through his skull. At once, there was shouting; explosions and weapons fire ripping in every direction across the plaza as the ambush truly begun.

The guardsman next to Hastis brought up his lasrifle, shouting "Enemy fire!" He squeezed off bursts of lasfire, bracketing a tall building several blocks down that had erupted with an expulsion of autogun fire. "Thirty-Six exact from my position, white tower at three-fifty meters, top floor! Sniper!" More gunfire spacked off the walls, Hyork ducked in time as the wall above him was shredded apart as a heavy stubber up the street unloaded its belt fed hate. The report of the heretic snipers shot was the signal to begin. Hastis crouched low, moving quickly he made it to the first balcony, the grenadier named Skizzo was quick to re-target and put fire on the cultist heavy weapons team as his fellow Calibrians unleashed a full salvo against the heretic sniper. There was the hope that the shooter was untrained and only lucky, not knowing to reposition, thinking that sheltering in his tower was enough.

"Oi! Rifle!" Hastis shouted. Without taking his eyes off his target or letting up with his disciplined bursts, Skizzo kicked his fallen comrades weapon back towards Hastis. Hastis hadn't gotten a chance to take a close look at the weapons the grenadiers were using. Now that he had one it was clear that they were a specialist platoon made for close in engagements, if their lasguns were anything to go by. Hastis was used to the bog-standard M35 M-Galaxy pattern Lasrifle, it was the one his own regiment had used, and this thing in his hands was nothing like that. With a stub-barrel and bulky frame, and no stock to speak of, and a drum shaped charge back, he had trouble figuring out how to hold the damned thing. In confusion, Hastis looked to the Grenadier beside him. "You mind explaining what the fack this thing is?" He shouted over the roar of the battle.

The grenadier ducked back into cover and looked at him for a moment, taking stock of the situation before grabbing Hastis right hand and bringing it down to the weapons grip, and his left just below the barrel. "Right, ok, crash-course orientation." The Grenadier breathed, "Tangbak pattern 67 Assault Lasgun, Fully automatic close-range lasweapon operating in the 16 megathule range of power output, the barrel is good for over three-thousand shots, your charge drum has 800 shots, and the weapon fires at 360 cyclical shots per minute, weight is 3.5 kilograms, effective range is two-hundred and fifty meters. This is your pack release, this is your safety, this is the barrel release- push-twist counter clockwise and pull, make sure the weapons on safe, this is the trigger, and this is the underslung- you've got the scattershot attachment, manstoppers, five in the well before you have to reload. Grip here and depress the forward safety here, and push the firing stud with your index to fire, chambers automatically, and load shells through the ejector."

Hastis payed close attention, the grenadier quickly leading Hastis' hands over the short-barreled assault weapon. Hastis noticed a button next to the weapons pack intake; it was covered with a red safety cap. "What's this?" he asked pointing, the grenadier slapped his hand away.

"Don't touch, it's the overcharge, we never facking use it, you'll get only 50 shots before the gun overheats and explodes, and with it's rate of fire you won't be able to count them."

"Don't touch, understood." He nodded. The Grenadier clapped Hastis on the back and stood up, raising his own type 67 and firing short controlled bursts of light out across the way.

Hastis took a breath, and copied how the grenadier was holding his weapon, close across his chest, almost firing from the hip. Hastis stood and leaned out of cover slightly, looking out over the plaza; he could see Suliko and the squad escorting him. Hunkered down by the fountain, crouched low. They were taking fire; the fountain was falling apart all around them, bits and pieces chipping away from seemingly every angle. As if on cue when one of the grenadiers tried to crouch, to return fire, a squall of core blew out across the cobblestones, his chest seeming to cave inwards before blowing back outwards.

"Man down! Consto's bought it!" A guardsman shouted.

Hastis heard a curse- he didn't know the language but the context was enough to guess. He glanced over the squad sergeant barking out his orders now. "Ronnalo! Bracket that shooter! Break out the Heavy!"

"Sir!" A Calibrian with a heavy pack sapped into action, ripping the luggage from his person, he quickly assembled a tripod with an ease that spoke of years of practice. He called out and like quicksilver another grenadier slid into position next to him, his own pack coming unslung, a squat, short barreled, wide bore stubber coming together on the mount, a belt already being fed into the chamber. "Stubbers' set! Paint the targets!" Ronnalo took aim, squatting down and mounting the tripod before a window, he held his finger over the trigger guard and shouted, "Suppressing!" A thunderous stream of heavy lead bullets ripped out from the mounted weapon, a blitz of tracer fire streaming out over the plaza and rippling across the distant tower, ancient masonry was ripped apart by jacketed fifty caliber rounds. Hastis turned his attention back to the fight at hand, seeing that the sniper was more than dealt with, another few seconds of that guns ministrations would likely topple the construct and send the sharpshooter plummeting downwards. The Ecclisiarchy would have words about that, but Hastis saw no Commissar, and thusly didn't care.

"Multiple stooger's pilin' in! Looks like we got ourselves a roit an' proppa' foight, me lads!"

"Try n' keep score!"

"First ta' thirty get's ah bugger me sister!"

"Well," Hyrok commented, "At least they seem confidant."

The situation was harsh but not unmanageable. An influx of cultists wielding autoguns, clubs, and scatterguns pressed into the plaza but a steady stream of lasfire and grenades was seeing them off. Well-placed bursts of rippling laser light toppled mobs of heretics before they could gain momentum; madmen preachers and turncoat PDF officers had their torsos burst and bodies crumple as the grenadier on the stubber played his sights across them. Even with such an effective storm of fire, the lieutenant still was pinned down; his men and himself rolling into the fountain for cover, lying low, placing their shots over the lip of the fountain.

The Third squad sergeant snapped out orders in between bursts, he took close stock of the situation that Suliko was in, shaking his head at it, almost as if this was a common occurrence. "Cover the bleedin' LT, someone toss a smoker!"

"Aye, Sir," A grenadier with a particularly dented mask tore a dull grey canister off his webbing, thumbing the pin and handle. "Throwing-" His torso disintegrated, like his heavy carapace armor wasn't even there. His limbs spread about the room and his lower half swayed for a moment before falling back, half his spine still sticking out, his intestines splattering about the floor.

"Fack! What the- Facking Throne! Keeps yeh noggins down Lads!"

The chugging report and consecutive thumping explosions rung in Hastis' ears, the sound all too familiar "Heavy Bolter!" Hastis shouted, he could tell the weapon at once, having seen what just a weapon can do to a man far more than what could be considered healthy, "Hyork, you idiot get down!" Hastis found himself again yanking the inquisitor back from the window, shoving him down, at once the pungent smell of smoke filled his nostrils, the grenade the guardsman had been holding still rolling around the gallery second floor, filling the area with its thick concealing fog.

"Shit, shit! I can't see!"

"Get that fucking-" Hastis, cursed, fumbling around on the floor, trying to locate the hissing smoke grenade before he deemed it useless, switching his priorities as half the wall next to him came away in a shower of masonry, he could almost feel the contrails of the heavy bolters rounds whizzing just over his neck. "Shit!" He rolled back, yelling out. "Guardsmen!" He put as much authority into his shouting as he could, praying that the Calibrians heard him "To me! Clear the room!" He yelled, crawling over a dead grenadier to get to the stairwell, pushing Lagorn and Hastis ahead of him along the way "This way!"

Hastis took the lead, he may have been undermining the NCO of the squad but the situation demanded rectifying. The building was getting demolished bit-by-bit, shoddy feudal world construction. Despite the addition of the Calibrians mounted stubber there was still too much fire coming in and not nearly enough return fire going out, and then there was that damned heavy bolter that was still hiding in the maelstrom of crossfire outside. How such a weapon could remain hidden up until now was beyond Hastis, something like that was mounted and ranged in beforehand, not brought up once it was convenient.

"Where's the fire coming from?"

"I ain't gotta clue sir!" As if in answer, the street outside their exit exploded into a shower of miniature craters, the imperials dove for cover as fist sized holes tore through the wall and through the gallery, some of the mass reactive rounds detonating against more solid constructions and showering the guardsmen with shrapnel. "Damnit!"

"Hyork!" Hastis roared, "Something's really screwy about this!"

"It's not sorcery, if that's what you think it is!" The inquisitor shouted back.

"Does anyone have an eye on that gunnery?!" Hastis snapped, the two squads outside reported back, the NCO of the second relaying what they were seeing, Hastis had to ask them twice.

"It's coming out of the facking ground!"

"Are you shitting me?" Hastis shouted, his words quickly lost to the commotion erupting outside, he looked over the counter he had taken cover behind, only too see half of the street fall away into the ground.

"By the earthly throne," The war held its breath for a moment, the only sound in the plaza being the falling masonry of the crumbling buildings, and the sounds of metal grinding against stone as a dark dream from an age long past hauled itself up from the underground sewer system. Nearly eight feet tall, coated in black and bronze armor, and hefting a heavy bolter menaced with spikes of adamantium dipped bone, was a lost grandchild of the emperor, warped with dark power.

There was one name that rippled through the fear-vacated minds of those mortals who now bore witness to its thudding emergence from the under-street sewers.

Traitor Astartes

...

AN/ GIVE ME WINGS