The Line of Battle

Talleris, western hemisphere: 1500 hours.

Kragarian fifteenth regiment, fifth platoon Sergeant Koll Gramman Drew the deck of cards out of hit kit bag and placed them at the center of the circle his squad was sitting in, in the damp earthen bunker with an exaggerated flourish. In response his men clapped their hands in mock applause. Quickly he dealt out two cards to each of the five men, then himself. "Wagers?" Private Gardener drew out a broken Ork stabba taken from his first deployment on Kargan a year ago; Corporal Shoaggoth revealed a hundred-credit stick from when they had scammed the Valgar 42nd out of their combined earnings en route to the invasion a month ago. Private Curze dropped in his copy of The Imperial Guardsman's Uplifting Primer; the last one between the men. Private Krane added a double barreled, break action bolter pistol, and Private Gerring dropped in a laspistol, finally Koll added a long, serrated knife of inhuman design. "Lets begin." He turned to Gardner seated on his right. "What you got?" The brown haired and tall, yet barely fully grown soldier held up an Emperor and a five; fifteen.

His grayish blue eyes squinted for a moment in thought as he weighed his odds. "Hit me" Koll drew a card and handed it to him face down. A Primarch; ten points for a twenty-five: four too high.

"Ooh" several people winced as Gardener sighed, dropping his cards and passing over his wager. Koll turned to the next man down; Shoaggoth. "Hit me" the burly, always helmeted man said, holding up a four and a six. His next card was a ten.

"Go or stay?" Koll asked unnecessarily.


Average sized Curze sitting directly across from Koll was up next. He held with a Primarch and a seven, "Go?" He considered it for a moment.

"Stay." The squad collectively groaned.

"Come on Curze, thought you were better then that" Gerring chided him.

"Fine, go" Curze muttered. Koll passed him a card, Curze flipped it to reveal a three.

"Fortune favors the bold," he said, before turning to Gerring. Outside, he heard a rumble of thunder from the dark clouds that had been gathering for the better part of the week. As if that thunder was a heralding trumpet, the clouds immediately burst open and unleashed a torrent of fat raindrops. Within seconds the bottom of the trench their bunker branched off of was flooded and Koll could hear shouts and curses at Mother Nature from the men trapped outside on guard duty.

"Pray the emperor spares us from attack today, this is the worst kind of weather to die in" Gardner muttered. Gerring had a five and a four, and received a six for his troubles. He went again and got a seven. Koll chuckled as he relieved him of his prized sidearm.

"What's the matter, afraid to get a little wet?" He turned to Krane, seated on his left and holding a pair of sevens. "The wetter the better."

"Because you grew up in a swamp" Krane muttered under his breath, then; "hit me." Koll gave him a card. All eyes were on the huge man as he flipped it. A sly grin spread across his face.

"What is it?" Curze demanded. Koll, who had been with him the longest, recognized the smile instantly. Limply he picked up the knife, and dropped it at is feet.

"Oh Frack" Gerring lamented as Krane turned his card so the squad could see. Impossibly he had managed to receive a third seven.

"Your wagers please" he grunted, holding out a gloved hand.

"I call foul play!" Gerring bellowed. Gardener nodded. "No one gets three sevens in a row without a card up their sleeve."

"Want to fight me over it little man?" Krane asked, standing as high as he cold in the six-foot ceiling, his upper body hunched over as he grinned menacingly as the tiny Gerring. Koll sighed, then reached over and flipped up both of the man's cuffs before he could react.

"Aha!" he shouted in triumph, withdrawing a four. "Krane, return the wagers." The man hesitated, frowning at the expressions ranging from amusement from Shoeggoth to Gerring's harsh glare. "That's an official order, do you need me to find the Commissar?" Koll asked. The threat was empty, but still Krane limply dropped his prizes into the circle and dropped heavily to the ground.

"Sorry Sarge" he mumbled.

"Accepted, now can we keep playing, or should we go back to twiddling our thumbs?" he held up the deck and looked at the mud stained faces around him. They had landed on Talleris three weeks ago and advanced rapidly across the agrarian world's western hemisphere. Just three days ago had been ordered to dig in and hold until the liberation force was reinforced from orbit and boredom was beginning to have an impact on tempers. The twenty new regiments promised had never showed, and so they were stuck in this spot until the Imperial Navy could muster a large enough convoy for three-hundred thousand men and send it over from the sector depot in the Aggras system. Two weeks including on and off artillery barrages across the five-hundred yard no man's land from the cannon they had lugged into place, and still not a peep out of the hordes of Tzeentch and Khornate heretics and possible daemons they faced.

"You okay Sarge?" Koll awoke from his thoughts at Gardner's words. He realized he'd been staring slack-jawed through him.

"Yeah, just wondering what they're doing on the other side." His answer set the men on edge.

"Probably some ritual to give us a couple of charnel daemons, maybe even a daemon prince if they're feeling particularly generous" Gerron supplied.

"Nice guys they are."

"Or they too are spread thin" Gardner said optimistically.

Koll shook his head. "There were two-hundred million people on this world before the Tzeentch scum converted them to chaos. Between the bombardment, our offensive, and them culling the ones who resisted that leaves maybe a hundred and fifty million, I doubt they're spread thin." They had brought just over half a million with them on the initial assault.

"Well they haven't been active for two weeks so chances are they're not going to be coming anytime soon" Curze hopefully suggested.

"Don't say that you fracking idiot, now they'll send a Daemon prince for sure, maybe even a couple squads of Beserkers for good measure" Gerring hissed. Shoeggoth reached over and put an arm on his shoulder.

"Enough with this discussion, bad for morale" Koll finally said, kicking himself for not doing it a minute earlier. The fact was that no matter how hard he tried to avoid it, every conversation always ended up turning to their enemy. With the card game derailed, he only had one distraction left. "Now, I happen to have received this" he reached into his kit bag and pulled out a medium sized liquor bottle, "from one of the Ratlings for the rest of those credits we got on the flight over, now who wants a sip?" He was rewarded by every man's expression lightening several notches towards joy and a dry clap from Krane. He knocked the spout against the stock of his lasgun, leaning in the doorway behind him, relishing the loud crack as the cork was blow off in a fountain of froth. At that moment there was a second, distant crack, the one more closely associated with a far-away Earthshaker being discharged. "Oh, the gunners are starting up again." Then his eyes widened as he realized that the sound had come from the opposite direction of the rearwards artillery positions. A low whistle began, growing louder by the second. Rapidly the squad caught on. Curze looked out the doorway.

"Frak" he whispered. At that moment they were knocked to the ground as the left wall of the bunker imploded, partially collapsing it in a cascade of earth and wood. Up and down the heretic's lines hundreds of guns roared in unison.

Koll exploded outwards from the rubble with a loud cry and found himself looking at hazy daylight through a foot-wide hole in the ceiling. "Get up!" he bellowed unnecessarily as one after another his squad broke free. "Grab your weapons, we're under attack!" He grabbed his lasgun and leapt out the now significantly wider door, splashing through several inches of brown and red water. The barrage landed throughout the trenches, kicking tons of earth and body parts high into the air and smashing equipment and dug in tanks. Men splashed through the trenches in all directions, running frantically for their positions. Gardner pulled himself to his feet and dug his lasgun out of the rubble, quickly wiping away the mud over the sights with slightly less muddy hands. He glanced across to the source of the blast and saw that the shelling had split open the bunker next to theirs like an overripe melon, pulverizing the seven men of Terzan's squad inside it.

"Lets go!" Gerring yelled, grabbing him by the shoulder as the squad sprinted outside. The heretic's shells boomed and the ground shook as they impacted. Koll watched them emerge.

"Man your stations, prepare for attack!" Lieutenant Krin was ordering over their vox beads. "Sergeants report in." The five remaining officers sounded off

Koll waited for his turn to report, then; "Koll, third squad is intact, awaiting orders." None came as the next salvo landed and a sharp roar echoed over the line. Looking down, Koll saw the impact of a nearby blast knock the Lieutenant off the bunker roof he'd climbed onto. Fortunately, unless he somehow landed on a shard of wood pointed towards him, he'd live with minor injuries, unlike the five men who had been vaporized. Another shell split open the trench the yards in the opposite direction with bloody results for two squads from Jol's sixth platton on their immediate left. Koll glanced around at his own squad to see them at the trench lip, guns aimed through the barbed wire fences at the open ground, faces set in determination as they tried to ignore the slaughter going on around them and the rain coming down in blankets of water that rose around their shins. Finally, their own guns opened up in reply.

"Spotter Valkyrie's reporting enemy foot soldiers approaching in mass assault" Krin finally said, "lets show them the wrath of the emperor!" Koll roared in agreement along with every man and women in the platoon. He peered into the clearing, nothing. Another volley landed, this time in the support trenches further back. A wing of Valkyries sporting bolters and missile pods bolted onto their hulls raced overhead. In the hundred-yard visibility, Koll saw a mass of shapes moving towards him.

"Enemy spotted, one hundred yards!" he bellowed. The cry was taken up along the trenches.

"Hold your fire till my word" Krim instructed. Koll saw him climbing up to his position out of the corner of his eye. A good day to fight he was thinking to himself as the rain washed over him. The shapes steadily grew larger, seventy-five yards, sixty, "Fire!" As Koll pulled the trigger, the ground in front of him abruptly detonated, blowing a blinding plume of dirt into the sky with a shock wave that sent the entire squad reeling. All along the front line, the tarea in front of the trenches rippled and barbed wire disintegrated. It had been timed perfectly, there was no other explanation for the accuracy of the shells as they blew away the defenses and blinded a good three-quarters of the line Further back the heavy bolters and autocannons opened up.

"Up, fire at will!" Koll yelled, leaping out of the mud completely soaked and pulling the trigger, sending a line of red bolts through the falling earth. His squad joined in, pumping las-bolts downfield while Gerring's light autocannon from his PDF days roared as it spat forty caliber slugs and Krane set up his heavy stubber on a bipod as it spewed solid death at the approaching enemy. As the debris finally cleared, Koll's heart instinctively jumped as he saw the heretics charging forward through the wild return fire in a human wave at forty yards. Quick aim adjustments all around fixed that, and they were cut down faster than they could run, pushing the charge back. Koll swept his lasgun up and down a ten-yard length of troops, slicing up the first few ranks. The heavy stubber gouged a twenty-man deep and ten man wide constant hole in the line, one that only widened as it roared. Inaccurate volleys of lasers and stub rounds shot over their heads, taking out a few unfortunates but missing the majority of the front lines.

"Think they conjured the storm?" Curze asked worriedly as he dropped an empty charge sell and slotted another from his ammo webbing into his belt.

"No, this is not one of theirs" Shoeggoth said in a low, barely audible mutter next to him. Somehow Curze believed him. The Heretics, clad in makeshift body armor and corrupted Imperial guard fatigues from the planet's two regiments painted red and blue and adorned with ruinous symbols were being cut to pieces and physically pushed back one yard at a time. Overhead, the Valkyries came roaring back, strafing the wave as they went. A couple of unused missiles blew out great chunks of mud and gore.

"KEEP IT UP, SHOW THEM THE PRICE OF HERESY!" a new voice roared through the air, somehow out shouting the impact of the chaos artillery's latest volley on the lines. Koll couldn't help but smile as he recognized Commissar Fury's unsilenceable battle voice. That smile vanished when he saw the first tank. Its main gun fired, disintegrating Sergeant Kolm and half his squad while its twin-linked bolters walked their fire up and down the trenches. A Leman Russ demolisher dug in ten yards behind the front line fired once, scoring a direct hit that took the tank's turret off. Almost immediately a second one came up, followed by half a dozen more fanning out through the lines. Heir shells joined the next artillery salvo. A second wave of Valkyries swooped in now. The gunships soared in long arcs along the length of the heretical charge, hurling bolter shells and missiles into the packed masses of shrieking bodies. Multiple tanks detonated, adding to the carnage.

Koll head the thunder as their artillery fired again, this time sending long streaks of glowing inferno rounds over the trenches. The entire attack vanished in a series of mushrooming fireballs. Napalm rained down across the battlefield, vaporizing the rapidly rising water into a thick fog that reduced visibility to almost zero. A chorus of pained screams rose above the steady buzz of the lasguns.

"Fix bayonets!" Regimental commander Wolfe barked over all channels. Koll grabbed the nine inch steel blade out of its sheaf and snapped it onto the barrel of his weapon. Around him two thousand men did likewise. Krane simply shortened the barrel of his weapon by a few inches and made ready a curved shortsword he'd taped and wired a shock maul emitter to with the help of the techpriest Heron. Behind them makeshift bridges came down across the trenches and the fourteenth Carrigan armored regiment made ready to go. A final volley of inferno shells, only audible, crackled overhead, this time judging by the sound landing amid the enemy trenches. "Charge!"

A battle cry of "for the emperor!" went up along the line. Roaring, Koll grabbed a broken shingle and used it to vault over the lip of the trench, landing halfway up his boots in a foot of mud. His squad came down around him

"Forward!" he bellowed, leading them on across the gap. He stomped over the piles of smoldering corpses. A still faintly twitching body in half-molten Arbite's carpace armor he dispatched with a boot through its skull. For a few moments there was no las fire from the opposite side, no artillery shells, nothing but shouts and the collective splash of thousands of pairs of boots. The shell-torn trenches appeared out of the fog, decked in banners displaying the mind-scorching symbols of chaos. The gun emplacements were deserted save for hundreds of corpses, many charred beyond recognition of having once been human beings.

"They've broken!" Fury called. At that moment, shutters and camouflage cloaks swung back to reveal the muzzles of a hundred cannon. Before Koll could mutter an "Oh Frack," they fired. The line was atomized, ejected skyward in a cloud of earth and bits of human, tossing him twenty feet into a long water filled dish with a grunt of pain. Krane managed to grab Gardner and Curze, tackling them into the water as the men around them were explosively slain. He pulled his head up just in time to see hundreds of screaming cultists, their features twisted by cybernetics and the mutations of chaos rise from the trenches and open fire on their comrades as they stumbled into the concussion wave.

"Get to cover we're dead out here" he growled as they leapt to their feet amid a hail of red beams. He hauled out the stubber as they sprinted the last twenty feet and leaped into the trenches. "Head for the guns!" he bellowed, riddling two cultists aiming at them from over the trench lip. Gardner rounded a corner, catching three cultists with a wild pull of the trigger, the other two coming up behind him. Something roared a few feet from his head on the other side of the trench. "Mortar pit, grenades!"

"Got one, cover me" Gardner announced, ducking in by the wall of the trench. Several cultists manning a heavy bolter and a platoon of infantry spotted him and let out a shout of glee as they raced forward, raising their weapons. Gardner almost nonchalantly drew out a grenade and pulled the pin as Krane mowed down the first dozen and drove the rest to cover. The two heretics on the bolter, whose hands appeared to have been fused to the weapon swung towards this new threat, only for Curze put two pinpoint shots through their heads. Gardner flipped the grenade over the trench wall. There was an inhumane scream before it went off, followed by a second, series of larger blasts as the mortar's ammunition was touched off.

"Nice toss" Curze noted as he picked off the last few and Krane tore into the flanks of a second group pinning down Lieutenant Hais' fourth platoon. Gardner spotted a melee ahead; Sergeant Carnigan and his squad desperately trying to hold off a horde of cultists armed with modified farming scythes fused to their hands.

"Up ahead!" he pointed. Krane nodded as they took off.

Koll emerged out of the water at the far end of the ditch behind the first line of trenches, cackling as he gunned down half a dozen cultists too intent upon their exposed prey to notice his arrival. They had made the mistake of attacking in the rain, this was his and anyone else raised in the Root Swamp's element. He swung around, catching a couple of cultists aiming his way with a single shot to each one's chest, then paused for an instant to take a mental snapshot of the battle. Around him his comrades were thrashing through the now knee-deep, blood soaked mud as hell rained down upon them. The tank spearheads and chimeras were rolling in, exchanging fire with the dug in and higher caliber artillery cannons. A Leman Russ equipped with a folding bridge vital for crossing the trenches had its front blown out by a shell that crashed straight through and detonated its engine block. He spun around, checked that the grenade launcher slung under his barrel was loaded, then plunged out and started up a torrent of water pouring down the hill, picking off individual heretics as he went. "Guardsmen on me!" He dove into a shell crater under a las barrage and scrambled to his feet to find two guardsmen already there, cowering against the far wall and half-submerged, their lasguns resting in the water. "On your feet guardsmen" he growled. No response. He kicked the first one in the shoulder, sending him sprawling, "On your feet!" Unsteadily both clambered up, still hunched below the rim of the crater. "Names?"

"Private Donnel" the taller one said.

"Private Garman." A third guardsmen slid into the crater and dropped to her knees as las bolts seared overhead. From her red hair and pale face he recognized her as Corporal Allis of Lieutenant Galloway's sixth platoon.

"My platoon's pinned down back there, there must be a hundred weapons against us alone" she said, doubling over in exhaustion, one hand over a long gash in her forehead.

"We are never pinned, you three are with me we're taking out those cannons so the tanks can clear the trenches" Koll growled. The three troopers nodded, and tried to set their expressions in determination with mixed results. The four of them clambered up the crater wall until they were just below the heretic's line of fire. "On the count of three, we move, find the nearest trench and jump in, we've got fifty yards to the gun emplacements so make it count." Before they could pause to consider the odds of making it up there, he continued. "One, Two, Three!" They threw themselves into the open and tore through the shattered barricades and barbed wire. Before they could react two hulking men with autocannons rose from behind a mound of bodies, and dropped, shot from behind. Behind Koll spotted Shoeggoth and Fury plus a half-dozen others emerge from a trench stuffed with slain heretics.

Krin leapt into the trench with ten men behind him. "Suppress those bolters!" he bellowed, blocking a blow from a scythe-armed cultist. A swift kick took its legs out from under it and brought his lasgun butt down on its face until its stopped moving. Half a dozen more appeared, and charged them. Corporal Crome and Private Holston switched their lasguns to auto and cut them down. Behind them Private Wyre picked off a pair leaning out of cover to get a clear shot. Krin aimed the squad for the nearest heavy bolter, situated thirty yards up the trench line in front of the remains of a Chimera. They barely made it ten feet before half a dozen heretics opened up on them, killing the two point men and driving the rest into cover. "Grenades" he demanded as Corporal Algar kept their heads down with his stubber. Private Meryn handed him two. Krin ripped the pins out and lobbed them over the trench wall just as the cultists were leaping up to try a rush and watched long enough to see the detonation consume them before ordering the advance. They emerged from the trench on the flank of a small dirt rise being used as cover by twenty odd heretics and cut them down, though Holston took two las rounds to the chest as the few on the end of the line spun around, firing blindly.

"Lieutenant, on the left!" Private Orwin called. Krin followed his gaze to the mouth of a trench leading straight back to the target heavy bolter.

"Everybody in" he ordered, leading them towards its open mouth. Two heretics in repainted PDF uniforms emerged directly in his line of fire and he put three rounds into each, leaping over their smoking bodies before they settled in the mud. Their target bolter spotted them and opened up, killing the last two men in and driving them prone to avoid a rain of bolts that blew the trench around them apart and marked their position to every nearby heretic. "On your knees" somehow they kept moving at a crawl.

"Lieutenant look out!" Meryn yelled. Krin looked up just in time to throw himself out of the charge of a frothing monster of a man, his face and biceps replaced by a metal mask and pistons and long chainswords protruding from his hands. Meryn was torn apart before anyone could respond, and even as Krin pulled his gun around using his legs as a makeshift bipod the beast leapt forward. Las bolts had no effect as it leapt onto the screaming and firing Crome, ripping him in half with an explosion of intestines. Wyre's modified lasgun was ripped from his grasp and his body thrown back the way they came like a ragdoll with a single offhand slap. The monster rounded on Alger, who backpedaled shouting wildly as his stubber roared. The beast picked him up even as a lucky lasbolt caught it in the knee, dropping it. It opened its mouth in an ear-wracking roar-and he rammed the barrel of his gun down it firing off the entire ammo reservoir, screaming. It dropped him as it slumped to the ground, only for a dozen berserker heretics to take its place. Krin tried to get to his feet, only for a metal boot to be brought down across his face. The heretic loomed over him, snarling through a mouthful of jagged teeth and pupil less eyes. He reached for the laspistol in his belt, only for it to level an autocannon adorned with chaotic symbols at his chest with a cackle. "Frack you" Krin growled as he waited for the end. Death was cheated however, as the cultist was kicked over him in a shower of blood. Gerring leapt over him, weapon blazing.

"You alright?" he asked as Krin slipped to his feet and joined him in blasting away at the enemy. Further down Alger was advancing towards them, Orwin in tow.

"I'll live, where's your squad?"

"Probably dead, I saw Koll get thrown a good twenty-" he stopped and grabbed his Vox bead, shaking his head. "Or not, he's survived worse."

"Squad, what's your position?" Koll demanded as he ducked beneath a brace of autocannon fire. Allis and Garman picked the five heretics off. Over the vox-bead, his squad rapidly responded. Meanwhile to his left Fury leapt into a trench filled with plasma drill armed berserkers, bellowing that their penance was at hand. He glanced around for targets and spotted two heavy bolters murdering a platoon struggling to cut through a still intact barbed wire fence. "Donnel, take out the further heavy bolter" he instructed, tapping the man on the shoulder and singling out the two targets. The sniper swung his modified lasgun around and put two shots into the gunners. Koll grabbed the trigger of his launcher and pulled. The weapon coughed and spat a black cylinder over the trench wall and into a long arc that ended between the two gunners of the nearer bolter, removing the emplacement in a powerful detonation.

Koll turned his attention back to coordinating his men. "Listen up, Shoeggoth and I are" he glanced around for a landmark. "Ten feet to the left of the purple banner, we've got a straight shot at those artillery turrets but there's a couple bolters covering the last ten yards of trench and we can't get a shot at them, anyone within range?"

Krane glanced around and found the banner. "We're thirty yards to your right Sarge, I can see the batteries." He motioned to Carnigan, who was five feet behind him pumping lasers into a trench with the four survivors of his squad: Rane, Fuller, Tarring, and Kurrior. The heavyset man glanced up. "Koll needs us to take out a couple bolters so he can take those cannons."

"Where?" Krane pointed them out. "Right then, lets move."

"Koll, I'm about thirty yards to your left and I've got the Lieutenant with me" Gerring growled.

"Do you have a shot at those cannon?"

"Aye sir." Gerring watched the trenches climbing all the way up the ridge. His came to within twenty feet of Koll's at the summit, but two guns down, and an idea formed. "We come within twenty feet of your trench"

"Two pronged offensive then, be careful though, they've got fifties covering the gaps." Gerring pulled back from the perch he'd been taking potshots from and turned to the three, no four others with the addition of Corporal Harzan and his much needed melta missile launcher. "Kolls taking the guns, we-" he was interrupted by the scream of the next wave of Valkyries swooping in to cheers from the beleaguered troops below. Those cheers died as a hail of tracer rounds from previously hidden Hydra flack turrets leapt into the sky with devastating results as almost a third of the wing was blown out of the sky before it could respond. Missiles and bolter shells arced over the trenches as they engaged the batteries, very few of which landed amid the trenches. "Down here you stupid fracks!" Gerring bellowed angrily, waving his arms.

"Duck" Krin said, drawing a flair gun. The four men ducked as he fired a glowing red flare over the nearest bolter positions. It took a few seconds, but eventually a Valkyrie streaked out of the sky and fired a pair of missiles almost directly down the barrels of the bolters as they swiveled upwards to meet it. The position vanished in a firestorm, clearing a path. "Now, what about those guns?" An earthshaker, by far the largest cannon within view range, fired. Two Leman Russ maneuvering through a field of concrete barriers vanished in the explosion, taking the entirety of seventh platoon with it. Gerring watched in horror as chunks of them flew out of the top of the plume of mud a second later and fell over a hundred feet into the ranks of the advancing guardsmen.

No time to mourn the doomed. "Koll has a shot at taking out those guns, he thinks we can meet him at the summit in a two pronged offensive." Krin thought for a moment.


"As soon as you give the word."

Krin took another glance at the position. There was an abrupt splash and Privates Wallin and Avery and Demolition Sergeant Hawk joined them. "Tell him to lead off and take the heat off us, we've got heavy weapons man and a Demo trooper to blow those guns out." Gerring relayed the orders.

"Understood, lets do this" Koll said. "Advance!" he ordered. In single file, the group pulled their way up the steep trench through a cascade of water. Koll saw Fury and the Shotgun toting Vinncen scaling the bare dirt wall and leaping into a trench branching off on the left. He put a hand forward to grab a protruding metal beam, and pulled it back fast as the autocannon twenty yards ahead opened fire. Behind him Leirin lost his grip with the sudden stop and slid screaming back down. A couple of autocannon rounds nailed him as he skittered out of the trench. "Get those bolters Krane emperor dammnit" Koll barked into the radio.

Krane's ears turned red with the blasphemy as he led his group down a trenchline about two thirds of the way of the ridge. Ahead, he spotted the bolter pinning them down. "Cover me" he growled back, and raised his autocannon to his shoulder. Fifty rounds killed the two gunners while Gardner and Private Sorian pinned down half a doze heretics in the next trench up. A grenade bounced out of the trench and down towards them.

"Why thank you" Carnigan said as he grabbed it. "You're too kind, here I insist," he added as he threw it back. The bomb detonated just as it dropped below the rim of the trench. Krane took out a second bolter, then a third. His autocannon coughed, empty, and he dropped back into cover, fumbling with a fresh box magazine. Curze stepped out and picked off anyone left standing with precision high-power shots. A bolter situated on a small hill opened up behind them, splattering Sorian against the trench wall and pinning everyone else down.

"I can't get a clean shot at it" Curze called, trying to poke his lasgun over the overhand he was crouched beneath. The bolter spotted him and fired. Krane ducked as several rounds landed between them. "Curze!" he yelled as his squad mate disappeared in a cloud of mud and water vapor.