"In the Trailward edge of the Kariasi Sector stands a region of space known as the Lameryan Reach. Named after the Warp route that crosses its systems. Quick, safe and reliable than most when compared to the rest of the Corridor, the worlds around the Corridor held out longer than most against the dangers of Heresy, secession and Xeno attacks. In fact, by the time Warmaster Gogol Buratin had finally given the order for the first elements of the Crusading fleet to advance, a dozen or more worlds still held out all through all through the length of the Lameryan Reach. Cut off from the Imperium, these remnants had fought tooth and nail against all manner of foe in the decades since with little consistent communication or support from the wider Imperium. Their efforts earning them considerable popularity back in certain circles among the home front, helped along by heaps of propaganda.

The Lameryan Corridor, as the route itself was known, was also a very attractive target for Imperial planners. Offering a quicker advance route through Kariasi and eventually bringing Crusader forces deep into the territory controlled by the Archenemy and the heartlands of a handful of their allied Xeno Empires. The Corridor would also do wonders to remove the strain upon Imperial supply routes in that area. Adding to that, the daring, half mad Rogue Traders that made up the Reach's major remaining link with the Imperium, often brought back worlds with untapped fortunes in resources. One would just need to pacify the area and move in to stake its claim.

For all of those reasons, it was no surprise that the Warmaster saw the relief of the Lameryan Reach as a priority for the campaign. That said, it has proven to be easier said than done. The start of the Lameryan Corridor was still relatively far from the Crusade's staging grounds. A combination of determined enemy resistance, setbacks elsewhere and mounting supply issues had slowed the advance to a crawl. And while Imperial forces had finally managed to establish a somewhat reliable lifeline to supply their remaining outposts in the Reach, that was far from enough to allow them to win the fight by themselves. And with every new report, their situation only worsened as the Archenemy and its cohorts seemingly decided to redouble their efforts in putting out the Lameryan pocket before the Crusade could arrive in force in the Reach."

Green Isakal

Red Isakal was a gas giant at the edges of the Isakal system. Once, it provided an impressive amount of valuable gasses for Imperial industries in the Sub-Sector. War had destroyed the extraction facilities within Isakal and ravaged the industries it fueled. It had also stopped any attempts at restarting exploitation activities. Deeper into the system, Imperial Navy detachments battled with heretical ships while the Agri-world of Green Isakal burned beneath. But still the soldiers fought and died in the ashes of its colossal farms. The Heretics had nowhere to run, save for finding a way to break the blockade and escape. While the Imperium was determined to wipe them all out as soon as possible and start working on rebuilding whatever was left to feed its endlessly hungry armies.

For Colonel Wodan of the 15th Valdivian Penal Regiment, this all seemed like too much blood and sweat to spend on a place like this. His regiment had been one of the latest to arrive in the theater. And already problems were piling up. The entire front was straining with supply issues, the idea that they could help sustain the campaign with the planet's own produce had proven to be false as soon as the fighting started and burned the fields. While Warp interference and enemy activity had ensured convoys coming into the Isakal system would not have an easy time of it.

The 15th, being a Penal unit, got the worst of this situation. Oh Wodan was well aware of the calculus Marshal Valastes made. And it made sense, there were six Penal Regiments fighting at Green Isakal, of which the 15th was the largest. They brought nothing but cannon fodder to the table. And besides, their purpose was nothing more than smooth the way so someone better could do the job.

The newly minted Colonel accepted that as sound military wisdom. It didn't mean he liked it. Especially not for his first campaign as the 15th's commanding officer. Still, nothing he could do besides grumble and sigh in defeat every time. His best hope was that the campaign would end soon and that the 15th would be redeployed somewhere with better supply lines.

The tired Colonel heaved a sigh. Calloused hands rubbing his weary face as he leaned into the the table in his command tent. The old wood groaned at the added weight. Blasted thing would break apart at any moment. Dataslates and scattered piles of paper stood haphazardly thrown ontop of a series of maps, scrawled into almost unusability.

Around him, a handful of aides and officers worked their own tasks in silence. Quartermasters, logisticians and comm officers stuck in their own little corners. Lost to their own tiresome and thankless work. Wodan paid them little heed, most of them were still new faces. Promoted from the ranks or picked up along the way from the butchery that was the Ardaxian Campaign. The former had little formal education, the latter were mostly the kind of people one would expect in a Regiment like the Valdivian. The almost drop outs and disappointments from a smattering of PDFs and academies through the Sector.

Wodan stared without looking at the map. The lines blurred with each other and he found himself drifting away for a moment before shaking himself back to the present. There would be no master stroke. At least not from him. The 15th would continue to grind away at the Heretic lines like they always did and in doing so would make sure their betters would carry the day.

Boots stomping on metal grates brought Wodan's attention back to the present. Commissar Vladam Thakhar stepped into the tent. Tall and broad shouldered, the olive skinned man cut an incredibly dashing figure. The type that was proudly displayed in propaganda posters. That much Wodan conceded. But the 15th's newest Commissar - God Emperor take old Silas' soul - had proven himself to be a far cry from the handsome and resplendent image one would expect.

"Woody!" Thakhar called out with a grin. Wodan scowled back at the nickname but found he had no energy to argue at the moment. "Wipe that scowl off your face and check this out." The Commissar said, retrieving a green glass bottle from his greatcoat. "Spicy Jirka, from Colonel Andronicus' own drinking cabinet." He finished with a flourish.

"I take it that you were too busy gambling with the Akhaians to carry out the inspections this morning?" Wodan asked with a frown.

"I have the Enforcers and the Blackhats for that." Thakhar shrugged. "Besides, I just fixed our little ammunition issue. Or well, rahter, I alleviated them. Andronicus' boys ought to be tossing some crates our way today." The Commissar grinned, twisting the bottle cap off and taking a swig. "I have my ways, Colonel. You should learn to trust me once in a while." He placed the bottle in the table. "Consider it a gift." He paused before adding with a smile. "Already drank my half."

"Your efforts are appreciated, Commissar." Wodan replied, forcing himself to muster up civility he didn't feel at the moment. "But we are moving the rest of the Regiment to the frontline in preparation another major push in a couple of days and I need to ensure our troops already at the front are ready for the operation."

Commissar Tharkhar laughed at that. Approaching the table he spoke up:

"The troops are hungry and under armed. We are relying on scavenged equipment to make up the difference and some of our companies are charging into battle with broken guns and sticks. Those that are armed more often than not don't have enough ammunition for proper combat and lack the training, experience or skill to do much besides dying screaming." Tharkhar reached into his greatcoat and picked up a lho-stick. "Morale is shit and my enforcers spend most of the day terrorizing and beating troublemakers to keep the troops in line. So I make sure to send them first into the fire." He took a drag, turning his head to blow smoke towards the tent flaps. "Our situation here is bad enough. But at least we are closer to the supply hubs and staging grounds. Down here." He jabbed his finger at the map, pointing at the trenches where the advanced elements of the Valdivians had been deployed for the last month. "Our choices are to either win or suffer unsustainable attrition. And I warn you, Woody. If this keeps getting worse we might just get the rank and file shooting us in the back. I don't need daily inspections to know that. And neither does you. So why don't we stop wasting our time?"

Wodan bristled at that, a retort forming on his lips. As if the 15th would ever-but that died out as quick as it came. This was not the Valdivian 15th he had so proudly served as Major. Not really, that Regiment had been all but wiped out. The 15th Valdivian under Colonel Wodan was as good as a new unit. An untested new Penal unit already under considerable strain. That never boded well.

"Any sudden insights of tactical genius?" The Commissar asked looking down at the maps, breaking Wodan out of his thoughts.

"Some." He sighed. "But nothing that would work with the timetable we've been given. Or the resources we have on hand."

"Nothing beats the good old frontal assault." The Commissar remarked with, Wodan noticed, some rather blatant sarcasm. "Old Iron Granny really wants to see us all wiped out before the rainy season, doesn't she?" He chuckled as he looked back towards Wodan. "If there's nothing else, Colonel, I will be doing the rounds before retiring for bed. We will see each other when we leave for the front tomorrow."

Colonel Wodan remained quiet. Counting his blessings that at least this Commissar didn't have that much interest in micromanaging operational planning or countermanding his own work. Perhaps, the Colonel thought, Thakhar simply also lacked the skill for such matters. The will certainly wasn't there. It was an opinion shared by others amongst the 15th's command staff. Not loudly or often, of course. Vladam Tharkhar was still a Commissar. And no one wanted to get caught badmouthing him. Then again, if that was the truth, at least he recognized his limitations. It would be far worse to have a pushy idiot trying to dictate battle plans.

The Colonel reached for the chipped mug resting on the map sheets. Atop a river crossing the 15th had stormed a month ago, to be exact. Finding it empty he sighed again. Reaching for the bottle left by the Commissar before changing his mind. Drinking wouldn't do any good now.

Wodan ran a hand through his face again. Nothing came to mind as he stared at the map of their current operational area. An almost featureless plain that had once been covered by kilometers of fields and scattered farming compounds. Now it was all blasted ground and crisscrossing lines of trenches and redoubts. The enemy's far more developed than the Valdivian's own. Supply shortages and the 15th's low priority on the hierarchy ensured they lacked access to much in the way of defensive supplies. From mines to barbed wire and rockrete. Marshal Valastes was also single mindedly stubborn in her insistence to break through the heretical lines. And the 15th suffered more than most because of that, repeatedly being thrown against trench after trench.

She didn't expect them to achieve any major triumphs. That much was clear to Wodan. But they needed to keep up the pressure on the sector. Push and keep pushing no matter how fruitless, how bloody. That way tying up enemy reserves and resources. The whole sector of the front was supposed to be nothing but an ever growing resource sink for the enemy. Intelligence reports placed the local heretics as being outnumbered and outgunned by the Guard. The Imperium held all the cards and its victory was inevitable. But the dogged resistance from the Isakal Liberation Church was making the whole process far bloodier and time consuming than it had any right to be. And if anyone was gonna have to bleed for victory, why not the Penals?

God-Emperor help them all.

The Blackhats were a recent addition to the 15th. After the bloody fighting at Ardax that saw much of the Regiment lost and the subsequent losses in men as many others were duly granted their freedom -or in the case of Colonel Mikonas and some of the surviving command staff, transferred to take command of newly raised Regiments elsewhere- the Valdivian 15th received substantial reinforcements in preparation for joining the Lameryan Campaign. The quality of these reinforcements, however, as expected, left much to be desired. The newly minted Colonel Wodan decided that rather than keeping the veterans of previous campaigns scattered around different companies, mixed with the fresh cannon fodder, the best option would be to gather them into special units. The Blackhat companies, the "elite" of the 15h. If such a term could truly be applied to a Penal Legion.

Sergeant Tigranes was one such man. Once a miner turned conscript for his Lord's militia, Tigranes had been on the losing side of one of Haykish's regular civil wars. That had earned him a one way trip to a Penal Colony. And from there eventually joining the ranks of a Penal Legion when opportunity presented itself. Joining the 15th right after their triumph at Ardax. His previous military experience, limited as that was. And motivation quickly set him apart from his peers. And the valor and bravery demonstrated since arrived in the Isakal system soon earned him a black hat.

In his case, a bowl-type helmet salvaged by Tigranes himself from the corpse of some poor sod from the local PDF, dutifully painted black as part of his induction ceremony. Unlike the rest of the 15th, the Black Hats could afford a greater degree of standardization, having the first pick of supplies. That said, they were still a Penal unit and the supply troubles faced by the Imperial forces on Green Isakal meant that this didn't mean all that much. So more often than not, the Black Hats engaged in as much looting and salvaging as their common comrades in arms. They were still an army of thieves and murderers, after all.

The Sergeant watched as a handful of said thieves and criminals were now getting shouted down by a screaming Enforcer further down the trenchline. It wasn't as if he was eavesdropping on purpose. It was just that all the commotion had woken him. Not his fault they decided to have their row near his squad's sleeping hole.

The Enforcer stood at least a head taller than the five Penals surrounding him. Clad in muddied brown armor and a black bodyglove. Electro mace already in one hand as the other gesticulated wildly as he snarled and screamed. The Penals for their part were the usual sorry bunch. Ragged, hungry looking and dirty. By Tigranes' estimations it had been already a good five minutes since he had started watching the scene, but despite all the spetacle, he hadn't found out yet why exactly the Penals were getting such a dressing down.

And he never would, as a matter of fact. For it was then that the bombardment started. That got the Enforcer to shut up real fast. Instead he now shoved and pushed the Penals away, sending them off running out of the secondguard trench and to the communication trenches that linked theirs to the forward lines. Tigranes ran out of his little hole and into the trench, followed by the rest of his squad. Taking position at the parapet even as the bombs kept falling in the first lines.

It was usually like that. The local heretics had neither enough guns or enough shells to launch a proper bombardment. So the forward lines were always the ones hit with a light drizzle of artillery before another green wave crawled over the top and charged. Often only the first. The 15th wasn't any better when it came to Regimental artillery. But at least they had access to the theater reserve whenever they were the ones on the offensive.

"Not even a minute." Stephan, one of his troopers, remarked to his left as the bombardment stopped.

"Lots of the Greenie bastards, though." Another, Dago, countered as he looked through a pair of looted magnoculars. "Here Tigs, take a look." He passed them on and Tigranes couldn't help but noticed how his broad, tanned face was twisting into worry.

"Throne of Terra." The Sergeant breathed. "It's a big one." Enemy soldiers were emerging all over their trenchline. Almost an unbroken green wave advancing through the broken no man's land. Tigranes passed the magnoculars back without a word. Gripping his gun tighter as he watched the dots coming closer.

"Should we move in to the forward line?" The last member of his squad, Iadar, asked out loud.

"We don't move unless the whole platoon goes. And I don't see them moving out." Tigranes replied nodding his head to the sides, where the other infantry squads of their Blackhat platoon had taken position alongside the second trench. The Sergeant looked around but couldn't find Captain Vokern. Probably still in the dugout where the platoon's Vox unit was safely held. For the better anyway, Tigranes reasoned.

The firing had started. Penals in the first lines of trenches firing at the approaching green wave. The cracks of lasfire and the thuds of autoguns dropping Greenies like sacks of rock. What few heavy weapons they had deployed along the lines joined in. Sweeping salvos of fire scything down scores of enemies. And absolutely not keeping up with Captain Vokern's directives to conserve ammunition. Well, not like they could expect the fire discipline of the average Penal to hold in the face of that.

"Hold your fire!" Tigranes called out even as he itched to pull the trigger. While the Greenies were technically in range, they were still too far away for the second lines to start shooting with any accuracy. Not with the kind of guns they were issued and certainly not with the ammo rationing they were under.

The battle raged on and Tigranes could only watch as the Green wave thinned but didnt break, washing over the forward trench as it descended into a bloody melee. The shouts of Enforcers could barely be heard above the dim as they shoved more and more Penal squads into the communication trenches to reinforce the faltering first line.

Tigranes could feel the sweat on his brow. Anticipation building up inside him as he gripped his gun and tried to make out what was happening in the battle a kilometer away. Not that he could see much besides the flashes of fire and more and more Greenies dropping in.

"Emperor above." Iadar breathed. "We need to move now or they will take the forward line."

"Not a step until the Captain gives the order." Tigranes snapped back

"There are more coming!" Dago shouted as he peered through his magnoculars. "Another wave as big as this one coming out of their trenches."

Tigranes stomach went cold. He wrenched the magnoculars off Dago's hands and took a look himself. Throne of Terra, it was true. Another wave like that and the forward line would break for sure.

The Greenie second wave charged. And it was then that their bombardment started. Relief washed over the Corporal as the platoon whooped and cheered at the shells raining on the heretics on no man's land.


Still, the heretics charged on. The wave was broken and the shells kept falling but they advanced. Clusters and squads still streaming out of their own trenches.

Captain Vokern finally emerged from his command dugout. Blowing shrill notes on his whistle and waving his hatched up in the air as he started running through the trenchline shouting for the platoon to form up. Around them, the first reinforcements from the third and fourth lines were arriving through the communication trenches.

Corporal Tigranes jumped down from the parapet, heart pounding in his chest as he fixed his bayonet and rushed over to one of the communication trenches, followed by his squad. They joined the throng of Blackhats and Penals assembling under the Captain's command. And when the order came, soon after, for them to move to the forward line. Tigranes held his men back a bit as the Enforcers sent the Penals forward with threats and shoves. As he made his way in the back of the column, Tigranes noticed that the bombardment had stopped. He prayed that it had taken out enough of the second wave.

The sounds of battle were now closer. And the shouting of the Penals at the head of their group meant that at least they had finally engaged. Tigranes and his squad followed the throng, storming out of the communication trench and into the forward line with their own war cries.

The Corporal almost stumbled on a body, but regained his footing quick enough to spear a Greenie jumping from the lip of the trench. How in Terra's Graces were these bastards still coming?!

Another seemingly materialized to his left, waving a bloodied sickle and Tigranes dispatched him with a point-blank gut shot. Behind him, another column emerged from the communication trench. Their Enforcers herding them to the right as Tigranes took his squad to the left.

Stepping over the dead and dying, Tigranes followed the still charging throng of Penals through the zig-zag of the forward trench. The drug induced ferocity of the Penals was taking a heavy toll on the Greenies, already tried from the fighting. The Corporal hung back, letting them take the brunt of the enemy fighting as he and his squad took shots at the few Greenie stragglers still coming from no man's land and protecting the rear of their group.

The advance stopped as the throng of Penals met a knot of equally rabid Greenies. Tigranes held a hand to stop his men from rushing headfirst into the maddened melee.

The Corporal turned back just in time to see another group of Greenies emerging from a trench corner behind them. This close, even their lasguns didn't miss.

"How did you know they were coming behind us, Tigs?" Stephan asked, panting.

"I didn't." Tigranes replied. He looked at the ongoing brawl before them. The Penals were now close to overcoming the Greenies. The Corporal fired a few well aimed shots at the fighting crowd as another throng of Penals came up behing them, whipped forwards by combat stimms and the Enforcer's whip.

Tigranes stood aside, pressed against the trench walls as the convicts charged and finally overcame the remaining Greenies. He nodded to the handful of Blackhats following that particular group and jumped back into action when the Enforcer waved his whip at him and snarled.

After that, there wasn't much else to do besides advance and let the Penals bear the brunt of whatever fight the heretics still had in them. By the time they had finished with the stragglers and started looting the bodies and restoring the trenches, Tigranes had suffered nothing bigger than a bayonet cut to the arm and still had half a charge in his spare power cell. All in all, the battle had gone pretty well for him.

Throne willing, tomorrow would be the same.

A/N: Not sure if anyone still reading this, but its back. Updates will come, but they probably won't come quick. It has been years since I've done this so I'm incredibly rusty when it comes to fanfics.