Today we have the first submitted Short Story in our new short fiction column. If you enjoy reading this please check out Courtneys blog over at Cadian 127th.
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The Tenth Battle Honour
Praetoria is an arid, hostile and barely survivable planet on the far reaches of the Zelan System. This hive world is home to over 20 billion people scarcely managing an existence on the planets meagre resources.
Slowly the space hulk containing the Ork invasion force, aliens with a hunger for battle, drifted towards the planet. The unsuspecting inhabitants would soon be amongst the fiercest fighting that this planetary system had and would ever see.
* * * * *
The Desert Barons had been sent to Xaris along with 8 other regiments to protect civilians that were fleeing from the advancing Orks. They had unwillingly had to remain and were now fighting an heroic rearguard action due to the Orks rapid advancement. The regiments faced certain annihilation if they were not re-supplied and reinforced soon. They had been relentlessly bombarded and attacked, suffering heavy casualties. An entire regiment had already been lost, and two others had retired to the relative safety at the rear of the refugee column due to their insurmountable casualties. The Desert Barons had consisted of approximately 8,000 men before the attacks. This had now shrunk to just over 6,000 men. Many of these are walking wounded. Hundreds of the troopers had died in due to the incredibly strange weather that had struck this part of the planet. Usually a heat scarred hellhole, this area had seen heavy rain and freezing temperatures. They desperately needed reinforcements.
Their commanding officer, Commissar General Alexei Kyroskinovitz, walked slowly along the line, checking every trooper as he went. Despite the cold, Kyroskinovitz walked as proud and upright as ever. The cold did not seem to affect him. The young general did not even flinch when a freezing wind pierced his red tunic. He entered the sandbagged bunker, and was saluted by an exhausted and battle worn looking sergeant.
“Yes sergeant?” Kyroskinovitz asked. Alexei was from a planet not too dissimilar to Praetoria, he was from Earth, the birthplace of the Imperium, and had moved with his parents to Praetoria when he was only 4 years old. Since he was old enough to carry a lasgun, he had been a trooper in the Guard, rising rapidly through the ranks due to his tremendous capability to lead and win battles.
Kyroskinovitz had fought the Orks several times before. Unfortunately, his previous encounters had been costly. His first meeting left his original regiment, the 98th Mordian, known as the Urban Sharks, below the number of men required for continued service. The regiment disbanded the survivors had been dispersed into other regiments after an Ork force had slaughtered all but 37 on an uninhabited planet. Those lucky few men that had managed to survive had hidden under the corpses of fallen comrades and in caves for several weeks before they were able to call for a transport to take them off that God forsaken rock.
When he was reassigned, he once again encountered the Orks. This time, his regiment was not destroyed; it was instead handed to another commander, after he had refused a direct order from superior officer to attack an Ork position. He believed it was a suicide mission. For this refusal of a direct order, he was sentenced to several years in a detention centre. As soon as he was released, he once again joined the Guard where he was immediately placed as second in command of the Praetorian 127th, the Desert Barons. When the commander of the regiment was reassigned, Kyroskinovitz took over, and it has remained that way for the past 2 years of his life. He was only 24.
“Sir, we’ve had a reply from main command. They’re sending two Leman Russ battle tanks, an Exterminator, a Basilisk and an Executioner. They are also sending extra ammo, weapons, food and additional clothing. 45th Storm Trooper has been sent and Schaeffer has also ordered Colonel Davids to support, with his veterans,” replied the sergeant.
“Davids eh, damn it. Not everything goes our way. They could have at least attempted to send another regiment. Damn them all. They’re not the ones here fighting. They are all safely tucked up inside that fortress. Sharpe could at least look after his friends from the old regiment better than this. The civvies may be needed to help out on this one,” murmured Kyroskinovitz.
As the reinforcements arrived, Kyroskinovitz himself met Davids as he stepped out of the Valkyrie transport that had just landed. Several others transports landed in close proximity. The Veterans were made up mainly of men whose regiments had been disbanded. Colonel Davids was the officer who was ordered to take command of Kyroskinovitz’s last regiment. There was now a life long grudge between the two. There was also respect.
Kyroskinovitz ordered that a company of men were to assist in the unloading of tanks, ammunition, food, clothing and surplus weapons. Only a small amount of men could be used, as he could not risk putting the defensive line under pressure. This had to be done quickly due to the constant fear of an Ork attack. There were Sentinel power lifters available to speed up the process of unloading, as the loss of several Valkyrie transports would not go down at all well. Part of the front line was dangerously close. So close that the odd shell whistled overhead to land only a few feet from the crates packed full of ammunition in the landing zone.
The Storm Troopers were rapidly deployed to the weakest part of the line, where the troopers stationed there were only too pleased to be relieved. Hopefully the Storm Troopers would be able to hold that part of the line with their superior equipment, armour and weaponry. They might only vulnerable to elite Orks.
The armour that had been sent as well was warmly welcomed, since the troopers in Xaris did not have any heavy weaponry. Obviously they had section weapons such as heavy bolters, lascannons and mortars, but they did not have the kind of firepower that the Basilisk’s Earthshaker cannon could provide.
Having seen the gun ships depart, the Commissar General and Colonel returned to the command bunker. Kyroskinovitz showed Davids a large map of Xaris, with the strength of each squad in the line.
“As you can no doubt see, our weakest part was here,” said Kyroskinovitz pointing to a spot on the map, “but now that the Storm Troopers have arrived, I would say that its now the strongest point. We have had attacks all along the line. The Orks are probing. They’re looking for the weakest part of the line so that they can push through and split my forces.”
“Your forces? I thought that there were five other regiments here, Sir,” inquired Davids.
“Yes my forces and yes there are five other regiments. However, they no longer have commanding officers, so I have taken command of them. With the approval of their officers and troopers of course.”
“Just checking Sir. What would you say the size of the Ork force was?” Davids asked.
“I would say anywhere between forty and fifty thousand are out there. That doesn’t include any reserves and those that are manning the artillery that they have been using to bombard the line.”
“And now that the Storm Troopers are here, where is the weakest part of the line, Commissar?”
“Now that is to be decided. We have stronger flanks now, as I’ve been able to concentrate the men a bit more, but the weakest point is probably running right down the middle here. This is the main street, or what’s left of it, but I’m going to put one of the Leman Russ’ there and the Exterminator. Also, I want you to set up your men along the street in these buildings,” explained Kyroskinovitz, pointing out the positions as he spoke. “I want you to act as a rear guard if we have to fall back completely into the centre of the city, if they break through the centre of the defence. In the first place, I don’t want them to get down the middle. We have to stop them before they have a chance to split our forces. A force split is a force beaten is what I was always taught.”
“Now that depends Sir,” said Davids, “on whether you intentionally split your forces and then ambush the enemy.”
“I believe that we have a plan starting to unfold here Colonel. Maybe we can draw the Orks down the main street and then use the buildings as a defensive position, block their exit and then crush them! If we let them believe that the line is weak there, they will pour into the gap, only to find the end of the road blocked. Then with perfect timing, we close the entrance with barricades and men. They will not survive. Rats in a trap.”
“Well Sir, it’s your decision but from where I‘m standing, you can expect the full and utmost co-operation and involvement of my men.”
“Excellent. Tonight, when there is least likely to be an Ork attack, trust me we’ve been here for long enough to know the Orks wont attack at dark, I will assemble the majority of the troops on the LZ, apart from the heavy weapons teams which are being redeployed as we speak. We have a plan. Now all we have to do is to get it to damn well work.”
“Incoming!! Everyone down!!!” Shells hammered into the city.
“Let it begin,” muttered the Commissar General.
* * * * *
The men huddled together in the biting cold, waiting for their joint commander to appear. Over thirty thousand men had been assembled. The remains of a rear guard of forty thousand. Troopers were talking about what may be going on. Words of a retreat were in the air, and then these were contradicted by those of an offensive. The battle worn captains of each company ordered for ranks to be formed. Unwillingly, the old parade ground drills filtered back to the men and they quickly, but calmly, formed into their different regiments and then companies, all in relevant positions.
“ATTENTION!!” shouted the only surviving Major; the other three had been killed in the same shell explosion. The men snapped to attention as Kyroskinovitz and Davids approached the makeshift platform.
Kyroskinovitz hauled himself up onto the stand. Slowly his eyes searched across the men. They were exhausted, hungry and a large number were wounded. Now that relief had come however, they did not look as bad as when they had been inspected this morning.
“At ease men. Men! You have fought well these past days. Many of your friends are dead some stand around you wounded. You yourself may be wounded, but the Orks cannot destroy you or me or the man next to you or any of us. Just looking at you, I can tell you are exhausted. So am I. I have called you here because we have a new battle plan. With assistance from Colonel Davids, a plan has been devised on how to win this battle. The latest intell shows that the Orks are massing for a final offensive. It may happen tomorrow, the day after or in a week, but it will come. We must be ready, and this plan will give us victory.”
The Commissar General then outlined the plan to the troops. There were murmurs of disagreement and discontent through out, but gradually the men began to become confident, not only with the plan, but with their commanding officer, and also with themselves.
“Whenever the attack comes, you will be ready. You will fight with the power of a hundred men, for I know that you can and will defend your lives and the lives of your comrades. Somehow every person here will summon the strength to carry on. I have no doubt of you abilities to fight. I know that the possibility of death is abundant, but it is also there for me. Many of you may not believe this, but I am not as fearless as you think. When all signs point to defeat, you will be scared, but I have learnt from my fear. I have learnt that nothing will stop us from becoming victorious in this, our most decisive battle yet. We will win, or we will die.”
The sun rose above the horizon, seemingly crumpling the dark. The ground slowly warmed and the deadly cold of the past days melted away. Then came the smell. The smell of dead, rotting flesh. The smell of congealed blood and sweat. The familiar sounds of early bombardment whistled and screamed overhead. Somehow, the frequency and number of shells seemed to increase. It’s coming the troopers thought. The time of attack is approaching. The increased artillery activity meant only one thing: the coming of the green hordes.
Now the shells were landing. Thumping into buildings, sending up plumes of smoke, dust and debris. Two Ork bommers flew low overhead, narrowly avoiding the withering hail of fire thrown up against them. Circling round, the bommers released their payloads. The firebombs ignited the centre of the city. The two bommers again swung round, but this time the guardsmen were ready. Several missile launchers and the one remaining Hydra flak battery unleashed their fury on to the Ork flyers. The missiles instantly destroyed one flyer and the other spiralled off into the rubble.
“Sir! I think that you should look at this,” said the officer on watch.
“What is it?” replied Kyroskinovitz, lifting up his binoculars.
His expression explained everything. The horizon was no longer a glistening red sunrise, but a bristling, murderous horde of green swelling towards them.
“Oh SHIT!!! Prepare for contact! Get that artillery firing! Everyone to your defensive positions! Move it now God damn it!” screamed the General, grabbing his power sword and lasgun as he moved towards the bunker’s exit.
“How many of ‘em are there sir?” asked Davids.
“Too many colonel. More than 50K. It’s more like 250K. It doesn’t matter. The task is still the same. To your position Colonel Davids.”
Guardsmen were rushing in every direction. Jumping into trenches and shell scrapes. Last minute adjustments were made to camouflage as the men tried to conceal their plan. Weapon checks were carried out and extra clips distributed. Heavy bolter operators loaded the chain link ammo into their guns and forced the first round into the breach with a satisfying click.
Slowly the mortars and the Basilisk began to drop their rounds onto the approaching Orks. The dull whump as a mortar bomb left the tube became constant as the hundred and fifty mortars of the combined regiments found their rhythm. Ork casualties were high when the bombs began to land. The aliens were packed close together and provided an idyllic target.
In the first defensive line, men of the 49th rose up, weapons ready, bayonets fixed, one foot on the firing step. Sweat poured from every man, due to the heat and fear. The section weapons now opened fire. The anti-personnel capabilities of autocannons and heavy bolters would soon be shown. Ork vehicles now stormed onto the field in a mass of dust and engine smoke. They were close now. Close enough.
“49th Fusiliers! On my command, two rounds volley fire! Then fire at will!” Guns appeared over the entrenchment. “FIRE!!”
Six thousand lasguns unleashed their fury upon the advancing aliens. The green hordes front row crumpled but they advanced still.
“Second volley! FIRE!!”
Again the green mass took punishment. Casualties however were not important to them. They still rushed forward. Now the gunfire was quicker as other regiments joined the fray. The ability of rapid fire was cherished, although it wasn’t quick enough. The Orks were upon them. The first wave crashed into the trench, hacking down the guardsmen, spilling their blood onto the ground. Two commands came over the comm. net, one to the engineers, the other to the 49th.
“49th! Retreat! I repeat: retreat!” was the first order, “Engineers when all that are able to retreat are clear, set off the primary devices.”
Men from the 49th struggled to get away from the trenches. As the last survivor escaped from the defences, an engineer pushed a button on a detonator and the whole line of trenches exploded, killing thousands. Lumps of flesh were hurled into the air and blood rained down upon those below. All available men shot at the massive force. Not every shot would kill, but they would wound sufficiently enough. The Orks now advanced further in, but could not penetrate the dense defences and barricades. Instead they swung round towards the centre street, slashing through another regiment as they went. The dead were mounting up.
A chink was found in the barricades, and the Orks flooded through. The men of the 12th Cavalry stood their ground. They fought back to back. Chainswords whirring in the ferocity of the battle. Scything through the Orks. To no avail. They were soon overrun. Their bodies left hacked on the ground. The Orks had partially fallen for the trick. They had moved into the main street, but they were also attacking from another side.
The Orks crashed to a halt at the end of the road. They looked around, dazed, confused, and bloodthirsty. Little did they know that they were about to receive a destructive wave of bullets from over twenty five thousand men hidden in the ruins all around them. Men were desperately trying to close the trap around the entrance. The armour came into play. Slowly, the Leman Russ tanks crunched across the entrance crushing any foe unfortunate to get in the way. Heavy bolters firing lascannons destroying Ork vehicles. They rolled into position, and then the trap was sprung. As if from nowhere, the men of three regiments, materialised from their hidden positions in the buildings. The shadows covered them entirely. Unaware the Orks glanced round.
Kyroskinovitz climbed out over the rubble at the blocked end in the centre of the city. He stood in full battle dress; five medals on his chest and nine battle honours, with the highest-ranking officers from each of the regiments. Medals shone from every man and battle honours gleamed. The battle standards of the regiments fluttered in the wind. With a flick of the index finger, Kyroskinovitz turned the power on to his power sword. He drew it from its glistening sheath, and the metre long sword glistened in the early morning light, a dull throbbing noise came from within and the sword glowed slightly green. A deathly silence fell across the battlefield.
“Alien invaders! You have come to this planet for conquest! But you shall not get it! You face the men of the Praetorian Imperial Guard! And by God, you shall die! OPEN FIRE!” shouted the General.
On every side of the Orks, lasguns and every other weapon that was available fired into the green mob. There was no time for them to retaliate. The Orks merely fell, side by side, on top of each other in a mass of green death. The ground was washed with green, but still the Orks attacked. This time for revenge. They burst into the area again. Pouring into the fray.
“Men of the 127th, 141st 73rd and 82nd! Fix bayonets! To glory!”
Kyroskinovitz led the charge. Bundling down into the Orks. Swinging his power sword high in the air slashing into the enemy, cutting some in half, whilst others attempted to get at him. Now the infantry had arrived. They charged in formation into the battle. Stabbing, thrusting, slashing, shouting, screaming with fear and fury.
As the battle raged on around him, Davids found that he was trapped. On every side there were Orks. He plunged into several killing them instantly, but then he was cut down. The Orks piled upon him, tearing his clothes, revealing the bare flesh that was hacked and slashed at. His blood poured onto the ground. Kyroskinovitz had seen him fall, and had shouted for the command squads to follow. He rushed through the conflict and killed any Ork foolish enough to stand in his way. The command squads arrived and set up as much of a defensive perimeter as possible, killing those that attempted to get at the commander. Looking up, Davids saw the outline of the General.
“I’m fucked aren’t I Alexei? Don’t even attempt to lie to me. I can feel it, I’m dying” he said, coughing blood whilst attempting to speak.
“Yeah Luke. You’re right. You are fucked. Sorry you had to go down this way.”
“Ha ha… oh God it hurts. Please Alexei, put me out of my misery. Kill me. KILL ME you piece of shit!”
“Luke, you know I cant.”
“God damn it. I don’t care about your morals. Just kill me damn you!”
Kyroskinovitz pulled his pistol from its holster. “Good bye Luke,” he said as he placed the gun to the colonel’s forehead and pulled the trigger. The man’s brains splattered onto the earth under him and his blood saturated the soil. Kyroskinovitz got up and looked around. His men lay dead around him, amongst the Ork dead. A shout from behind him caused him to swing round, but he was too slow. An Ork had broken into the defensive area and rushed at the general. He had swung to block the blow, but the Ork had swung his crude sword at his arm. The arm came off in one blow and lay, twitching on the floor. The general looked at the stump, swaying from side to side, shaking, blood gushing from the wound. Fuck he thought. The world swirled round, and he collapsed onto the floor and lost consciousness.
The ignominious heaps of dead scarred the landscape. At the horizon, the city burned sending up plumes of choking smoke. The sky was on fire. A ferocious heat, even for this world, spread like a plague of locusts.
The burial details dragged, carried and pushed the lifeless remnants of their comrades and enemies to separate mass graves. The smell was atrocious. Vomit lay congealing with blood and other spilt body fluids. Losses were high. Too high. Four regiments decimated, nearly forty thousand men disgusted the landscape. And for what reason did these men die? For dominance? For food? For a better life? These men gave their lives for a common cause, the defence of their planet and its inhabitants. Some had survived. Two regiments. Still Alive.
Kyroskinovitz looked across at the ravaged battlefield. He knew about the losses in war, but this astounded him, and froze his heart. Four regiments, he thought, slaughtered acting as a rearguard to the retreating civilians. It could have been worse, a lot worse. There were another five regiments protecting the refugee column, a column was said to be three million strong. They would have all been butchered. Men, women, children. No mercy shown. No prisoners taken.
Losses to the Desert Barons were again high. Two and a half thousand killed and double that number wounded, leaving only a quarter of the regiment fighting fit. Again, losses could have been higher, were it not for the timely arrival of two armoured regiments and Marauder bomber and Lightning fighter squadrons, which had been mustered from the nearest city for the battle.
The aircraft had come in over the heads of the beleaguered guardsman expertly flown only fifty feet from the deck, weapon pods fully loaded, and decimated the steady green tide that poured into the front line. The earth had been scorched with wave after wave of Hellstrike missiles, ripping anything unfortunate enough to be caught in the multiple blasts to nothing more than splatters of flesh. The advance had been stopped. A half-mile strip in front of the line was clear, and despite their lust for battle, the Orks retreated. Terrified by this awesome display of concentrated firepower, that appeared from the smoke of the smouldering city.
The fighters then proceeded to strafe the retreating force with cannon fire and several more missiles, inflicting many more casualties. These extra casualties were extra Orks that would not be able to fight in the inevitable battle at the towering gates of Praetoria Prime.
As the immense, choking clouds of dust settled, the fatigued guardsmen fought off the remaining Ork force that was trapped in the defences. The remaining men of two regiments, close to twenty thousand at their peak, scrambled out of the blood filled hell holes that had once been fortifications. Each man dripped with blood from the fury of the battle. Giant, cupped craters sunk away into the earth in every direction.
The men wandered. Disorientated. Shocked. Exhausted. Some collapsed on the ground and wept, as the ghastly images of the slaughter flooded back to them in a sea of misery and fallen comrades. Fellow troopers tried to comfort each other. The year of fighting had drawn these men closer to each other than any friendship ever could. Veterans sat with rookies, trying to calm nerves and emotions. The scars of this battle would run deep in the memories of all that survived. They had seen friends die in an instant next to them, felt the splatter of their blood, heard their screams of pain, then carried on fighting. Only to go through this mentally destructive phase again and again and again, every minute for two days. No rest. Only pain, death and courage. The dead were the only ones that slept.
Those with sufficient mental stability drifted between positions, checking the bodies, removing dog tags and weapons. Personal items were left, and any man who attempted to steal from the fallen would be shot on site. There would, however, be no need for this order to be carried out.
Alpha company’s commander, Captain Rimington, inspected each man he found. He carried a large notepad with him, listing the names and numbers of the dead. He jumped down into a crater, and immediately the warm sensation of blood flooded up to his knees. Littered inside were the remains of Blue Squad, C platoon, the “Dead Eyes” as they were known. All ten men had been killed in the same hole. They looked so peaceful know, the Captain thought. These men had once been the elite of the regiment. Deadly snipers now reduced to nothing more than limp forms.
He waded through the knee-deep collection of blood and bodily fluids. The liquid saturated his trousers. Attempting not to vomit, he moved between “Dead Eyes” corpses, slinging weapons over his shoulders. Rimington closed the eyelids of the men who stared into oblivion. Having recovered the lasguns, he then removed the men’s dog tags, listing their names and numbers slowly; double-checking to make sure it wasn’t another trooper Jarvis Lukes.
As he clambered out of the shell hole, a small vehicle slid to a half only yards away from him. Recognising the Commissar General immediately, Rimington called the order to stand to attention. Kyroskinovitz stepped out of the Ravager light transport and saluted the captain. He slowly moved around the area. Eyes fixed in disbelief at the numbers of dead, but stature still tall and strong.
“How many dead so far captain?” the commissar general asked kneeling down to inspect a cluster of bodies.
“Err….. so far Sir, I’ve counted 378 dead, the majority of them from Alpha Sir.”
“How many from Alpha captain?” A long pause ensued this awkward question.
“Well Sir. Out of an original 280 men, there are three survivors. Myself, a heavy bolter operator and a sergeant from E platoon.”
Shock and disbelief riddled the general’s body as if he had just been hit by a volley of bullets.
“Three survivors,” he murmured, “out of a 280 man company.”
The general turned slowly, gazing across the terrain. Only now, with the smoke cleared, could he see the masses of dead. He walked slowly, very slowly, back to the transport staring into the bleak darkness of the approaching night.
“No mass graves for the men, our men. Individual graves. Right here on this field, this field of lost hope and shattered youth. Give the order to begin digging single graves. Get me the Adeptus Architectus on the comms now.” A lieutenant disappeared into the Ravager and began to set up the communication equipment.
“What are you thinking bout Sir?”
“Well captain, these men deserve more than a mass grave. They deserve a memorial. One to remember those that have given their lives for this planet. One depicting a group of men standing proud as the bombers fly overhead. On every side shall be the names of those who perished. Men from the 49th fusiliers, 73rd and 82nd infantry, 12th cavalry and those who died from the 127th and 141st.”
“Sir, I believe that that memorial will be honoured throughout the civilised worlds.”
The lieutenant returned from the tank.
“General, I have the Adeptus on the comms.”
“Thank you. Captain Rimington, on my right please. Active immediately, you and the two men that remain under your command from Alpha are now part of Regimental Command.”
“Sir, Command on the comms as well. They say that the regiment has earned their tenth battle honour.”
“The tenth battle honour eh?!”
All around them, the dead were being removed, and the wounded treated, but somewhere in the distance the faint rumble of battle could be heard.