Green Isakal - On the road

In theory, it would take the elements of the 15th two to three days to travel between their initial staging grounds and their section of the front lines. Where the vanguard of the Regiment had already deployed.

In theory, the Valdivian 15th would have access to plentiful motorized transport. In theory, the 15th would be traveling through sturdy and well maintained roads built by military engineers. Part of a wider network. Linking the ever advancing front lines with the supply hubs that kept it fed and supplied. Theory also said that the war on Green Isakal should have ended months ago.

So, in short, what do the theoreticians know?

Not much, is what Colonel Wodan thinks. Covered in sweat under the merciless noon sun. Crossing a rocky path inside an old cargo truck. With its ventilation systems broken. No air currents coming from the broken plains outside either. Of course the wind would stop the day they set out of camp to the front. Just as the rain did. It was on par with everything else that had happened to the Regiment so far. Because having high command and Heretics make their life hell wasn't enough. The planet itself had to get in on it.

Still, the Colonel mused, he should count himself lucky. At least he was riding in one of the commandeered trucks. Most of the Regiment was marching on foot. Even if the supply depots were overflowing, no one was actually gonna waste too much on Penals. And since the supply situation was far from ideal, the 15th had to make do with little. A few dozen trucks interspersed with wagons. Some of them pulled by large bipedal, flightless birds. The local draft animal of choice. Others, by the wretched and unfortunate among the 15th. More than the average, at least. This was a Penal Regiment after all. The Enforcers always had more than enough names to offer for all these unpleasant jobs.

The road was little better. Ruined excuses of paths, shattered by the conflict. And what shoddy patch job there was already crumbling away. Not that going off road was an option. War scarred the agricultural plain. Abandoned trenches, ruined buildings and mass graves alongside other signs of battle littered the ground for miles. They made sure no one in their right minds would dare taking the old trucks out of the road. The truck jostled enough as it was.

Above them, thunder and lighting rumbled. One of Green Isakal's freak atmospheric events. Lightning storms that wrecked havoc on communications. Whenever they happened, the victims relied on runners and couriers.

The storm also did nothing to help with the damned heat.

The Colonel shifted on the chapped leather seat of the truck. The sweat was already making his uniform stick to the back of it. If only there was something he could do to distract himself while they were on the road.

Wodan glanced at the driver. A short stick-thin Blackhat by the name of Mura. If he recalled correctly, an organ trafficker in whatever worthless backwater spawned him. As far as Penals went, however, he was as good as any other Blackhat. And his grisly past gave him some half decent medical experience. A unit like the 15th, with all its deficiencies, treasured these men and used them for all they were worth.

"Could use something to drink myself, sir." Mura spoke. Breaking the silence without taking his eyes off the road.

"You have a flask of water. Use it." Wodan replied as he scanned the empty horizon.

"Don't know when we will get the chance to refill our canteens, sir." Mura said. "Don't wanna drink up everything now and end up without a drop until we make to the front. Get it, sir?"

"Then don't drink now." Wodan shrugged. Wondering if this was this an attempt at small talk or was there a point to this inane line of conversation?

"I heard Commissar Pretty Boy left something at your tent yesterday, sir." Mura said, eagerness seeping into his tone. "And since we all know you're not the drinking type..."

Ah, so this was where the bastard was getting to. Time to put him back into his place.

"You are driving a Militarum vehicle, soldier." Colonel Wodan started with a pronounced frown as he turned his full attention to the driver. "Drinking while on duty is already enough of a violation. But drinking while handling valuable materiel is grounds for execution, soldier. You may be a Blackhat, Mura. But that doesn't makes you indispensable. You're still as expendable as all the rest. Remember that and dont let the hat squish your brain."

"Didn't mean anything by that, sir." Mura replied, looking contrite.

"I'm sure you didn't." Wodan grumbled. "And don't let Tharkar hear you call him Pretty Boy either. He's still a Commissar."

"Didn't meant no disrespect to him either, sir. Just slipped. That's all" Mura added, eyes widening as the implication set in.

"Don't let it happen again, soldier."

Silence returned to the truck. Wodan now wondered just how much of a loose leash the Blackhats were given if they were being that flippant to their superiors. Could be just Mura's cheek hadn't been beaten out of him yet. But even then, that was still a problem. Though perhaps a smaller one. Something to check upon again later, once they were settled down at the trenches at the soonest. The Colonel would also have to have a talk with Commissar Tharkar and the Enforcers. Another round of beatings and a few executions will fix the problem if it does actually exists and persists. Or maybe just assign the worst troublemakers to the vanguard in the next assault.

The Colonel's musings were eventually interrupted when the truck jostled to a stop. Wodan cursed himself for being too distracted to notice the truck in front of him had stopped. And so the one in front of that one too. Sticking his torso out of the truck cabin, the Colonel could see that the entire convoy of trucks and wagons had ground to a halt. The Penals marching on foot along the sides of the road stopped too, dithering in place confused and waiting for orders. Several were already looking at him and even a few Enforcers were already moving towards his truck.

Wodan jumped out of the truck and motioned the nearest black clad officer. "Why did we stop?"

"I'm not sure, sir." The Enforcer replied.

"Get a squad and follow me." Wodan ordered, frustration already bubbling up. "And the rest of you stay put and stay alert!" He shouted out. And with that the Colonel stomped off along the road. The same Enforcer rushing to drag whatever Penals were closest and run them off to Wodan's heels.

It didn't take long for the Colonel to find out just what exactly had stopped the Regiment.

"Colonel Wodan, sir!" A runner shouted as he ran down the road, storming towards the Colonel, red faced and out of breath. Skidding to a halt and almost bowling right into Wodan's party. "Trucks broke down." He spit out amid his panting. " Close to the head of the column. Transmission busted in Captain Pujo's truck. Engine busted on another two soon after."

"Then get the blasted vehicles out of the road!" Wodan ground out in frustration.

"We're trying, sir." The runner replied. "But the roadside is too steep and we-"

"Colonel, sir!" A voice called out half panicked breathless. Wodan turned to look at a lone rider galloping at the roadside. A scout, one of the several dozen given local mounts and sent out to be the regiment's eyes and ears during the march. "Commissar Tharkar and our scouting party were ambushed. Several kilometres beyond the bridge. We also lost contact with the other groups that crossed the river beforehand."

Wodan snapped and screamed out loud a curse. Kicking the tire of a nearby truck before getting a hold of his emotions. He turned his glare towards the scout.

"How many Heretics? How long ago was the Commissar attacked? Any more enemy bands in the area? What about the other scouting parties?"

The scout wilted and flinched under the torrent of questions and Wodan's gaze. "A-at least a platoon's worth, sir. But we couldn't get a good look. As soon as the shooting started, the Commissar sent me riding back here to give the warning before we were completely cut off. They jumped on us a couple, maybe three hours ago, I guess. Don't know how many else are out there. Didn't stop to look." He swallowed dry then added in a pitful show of reassurance: "But the bridge was clear when I crossed over."

"The bridge is a hour and half ride away! And this column is crawling! For all we know they could have moved in right after you passed! IT MIGHT AS WELL ALREADY BE DESTROYED, YOU USELESS BASTARD!" Wodan snapped. The Colonel took a few calming breaths before turning towards the runner: "You go up to the head of the column and tell Captain Pujo to get his company in combat formation. I want them to secure the bridge." The Penal took off in a run and Wodan turned his attention towards the Enforcer: "I want the entire column on alert. Eyes sharp, the Heretics could be upon us at any minute! I want more scouting parties scouring our perimeter! And you-" Wodan pointed to the harried rider. "Go to Captain Uzalir and guide him to the Commissar's position! Follow Pujo's boys and help them secure the bridge if necessary!"

The rider took off as the Colonel continued to shout his orders and his men scrambled to obey. And amid the controlled madness of the Regument, Wodan wondered just what this Emperor damned planet will throw at him next.

Green Isakal - Somewhere in between

Commissar Vladam Tharkar enjoyed riding. Loved it, even. The wind caressing his face, the feeling of power that came with dominating the beast. Bending it under his will, spurring it faster and faster ever forward. It felt like freedom, like he could keep going forever and ever, riding hard towards the never ending horizon. Truth be told, Tharkar had tried incessantly- maybe even desperately- to get himself assigned to a cavalry Regiment from the moment he graduated from the Fezzanix Schola.

It never worked. So Tharkar took the chances werever they appeared. The native Bakis were a stinking and unsightly bunch. Ugly overgrown birds a far cry from the beautiful and noble steeds that filled his scrapbooks and drawing binders of youth. But he always took any chance that would let him put on his riding boots, silver spurs and whip something other than tied up soldiers.

In hindsight that had been the wrong move. Not that you could blame him. How was he supposed to know the scouting parties would find actual enemy parties? There wasn't supposed to be any enemy presence on their path until they reached the frontlines. The bloody advances of earlier months should have wiped out all enemy units in the area. And the frontline should have been dense enough to stop any significant.

Except it obviously wasn't. And the lightning storm had started just in time to cut off his comm-link. The other scouting parties didn't have them, but at least he should have been able to warn the Regimental column and get ahold of Wodan himself. Very convenient for the Greenies, all things considered.

All in all, Tharkar decided, it had been a rotten day so far. And it had started so well. But now he was hiding in a half ruined redoubt after losing his entire party. By dying, they served their purpose in covering his retreat. But he sure could use a few more living shields between him and the enemy fire. And the additional guns. But there was no use now. They were dead, he was alive and the Greenies were no doubt hot on his heels.

The Baki under him quavered and stumbled. The beast had been wounded in the ambush, right as Tharkar had decided it was a lost cause and turned to run. And had been running on pure adrenalide during the last hour. Now it seemed, the fear high was running out and it wouldn't be long until the bird dropped dead. And then Tharkar would be left stranded in the wartorn plain lost and on foot. At the mercy of the Greenies. Mounted, rested and thirsty for his blood.

Then, as if Saint Drusus Himself was answering his prayers, the Commissar stumbled upon an abandoned redoubt. Half ruined and shelled to hell and back, sure. But it was a good hiding place as any. The Greenies will find him soon. Of that he is sure. On an open field, he is as good as dead. But down there, in that abandoned strongpoint, the Commissar has a chance. A slim one, granted, but a chance nonetheless. And if that doesn't works, there are multiple trenches extending out of the redoubt. He could lose his pursuers in the forgotten maze of this old battlefield.

Not an ideal outcome, but at least it was a chance to survive.

Mind made up, Tharkar dismounted and took the saddlebags off the back of the big bird, now clearly struggling to keep itself standing. Its hindquarters stained with blood. Another strike from his riding crop and the Baki would have crumbled with him still mounted. And that was a broken leg and death in the making.

The Commissar drew his bolt pistol and shot the animal in the head. It crumpled noiselessly on the rocky ground. It was an act of mercy at this point, really.

Without sparing a glance back, Tharkar jumped down into the trench and started weaving his way to the central bunker. The mud, corpses and debris would leave a mark on his riding boots. But that was a problem for whomever was assigned laundry duty, not him. Eventually, after a couple of dead ends, he reached the central bunker. Metal door blown off its hinges and half the roof had caved in. Ruined equipment and a handful of bodies littered the ground. His eyes were caught by a vox caster before he saw the bullet holes on it. But even if it was still working, the storm still raged outside.

He was on his own.

He busied himself with preparing the battlefield. Tharkar had no idea when the enemy will show up. But it will be soon. They might even come from the trenches into the redoubt. Unlikely as he judged that possibility, it was still a possibility. The Greenies knew he was alone and riding a wounded bird. Easy prey as they come. Emperor willing, they would let overconfidence guide their steps.

In the meantime, the Commissar shuffled a few corpses around. They wouldn't deceive anyone close by, but from a distance, perched on windows and breastorks, they might be enough to startle a foe and take a few shots meant for him. Grenades became booby traps spread on the paths to the bunker and finally he availed himself to a bayonet. A bit rusty, perhaps slightly dull. But a small miracle in itself considering how thorough the quartermasters poured through the battlefields after the fighting ended.

In the end, it took the Greenies some two hours and half to find him. War cries and wild shooting alerting the Commissar as he was making his way back to the bunker. Since he was still deep in the trenches, this meant the dead decoys had done their work. Praying that the Heretics were distracted enough wasting ammo on the dead, Tharkar risked rising his head to the lip of the trench to glance at the foe.

13 men in green. All mounted and by the looks of it, most if not all had autoguns. Muttering a thanks to the Emperor for the enemy that hadn't asked yet why the supposed foe wasn't returning fire, Tharkar dove back down into the mud and dashed away. He would never reach the bunker before they were upon the redoubt. Time to improvise.

Tharkar hid in a dugout. Just off one of the main paths to the bunker. The only one he hadn't rigged with explosives.

Sure, the Greenies could try walking over the trenches, but if they still thought he had men in the bunker, they wouldn't risk walking through barbed wire fences while in their line of fire. Or at least that's what the Commissar hoped. One never knew when it came to Heretics.

The firing stopped. But the explosion came soon after. Tharkar grinned as he heard the screams that followed. One of the traps had worked. Throne on Terra, let the rest do just as well, he mouthed in prayer.

The Greenies didn't bother with stealth or hesitation. Which suited the Commissar just fine. With their stomping, shouting at each other and the occasional shot. It was rather easy to hear them approach. He gripped the bolt pistol as he prepared to exit the dugout and emerge behind them. But a pair of feet stopped following the main group and instead seemed to have instead taken the path towards his hiding place. Another explosion further away and the pair of Heretics suddenly started moving more cautiously.

They spoke in hissing whispers. Tharkar had never bothered to learn the local language so he had no idea what they were talking about. But he could hear the mix of distress and anger tinged with fear well enough. Some things truly were universal.

He held his breath while the Greenies passed through his dugout. The muddy, frayed canvas covering its entrance apparently enough to divert their attention away. Tharkar counted five seconds before sneaking out.

With a single large step, he was behind the first Heretic. His free hand covering the mouth while the bayonet went into his neck. The second Heretic turned just in time to get a splatter of blood on her face and a blade through her eye before she could even utter a scream.

Tharkar cleaned the blade hapharzadly on the sleeves of his greatcoat and availed himself to an autogun and a few clips of amunition from the bodies' belts. Turning, he moved back towards the main path to the bunker. Intent on catching them unawares. But just as he was about to make the turn, another Greenie popped up. No doubt coming to check on his comrades that had wandered off.

The enemy hesitated one second too long and got his guts filled with a burst of point blank fire as a result. No time to savor this small triumph, however. The rest surely heard that and soon more would be converging on his location.

The screams came moments after. A young voice, cracking and obviously panicked. Somewhere deep down, Tharkar felt genuinely slighted at the rank amateurs that had been assigned to hunt him down. But a bigger, louder part just rejoiced at the prospect of an easier fight. Wasting no time he headed towards the voice. Stopping at a corner and waiting with the autogun aimed at the place further down the line where it bent in the direction of the voice.

The Greenie emerged and the Commissar fired. The first shot went wide and then the gun clicked empty. He cursed loudly as he dropped the autogun and drew his bolt pistol in one swift motion. The startled Heretic had just enough time to fire back in panic right before the Commissar pulled the trigger himself. Three bullets hit Tharkar in the chest. And as a testament to either the strength of his carapace breastplate or the low quality of the enemy's gear - maybe both - he was still left standing while a chunk of the Heretic's torso was missing. The little bastard writhed and screamed for a few moments before stilling.

Tharkar touched the places he had been hit. They would bruise slightly come tomorrow. Far from the worst wound he had ever gotten, but the very thought he could have been killed by some inbred little shit on a forgotten backwater filled him with righteous fury.

"HERETICS!" He screamed as he started stalking through the trenches. Hunched low and intent on taking a long route back towards the bunker. "IF ANY OF YOU SORRY ZOOPHILES CAN EVEN UNDERSTAND PROPER GOTHIC, KNOW THAT VLADAM THARKAR IS HERE TO RENDER JUDGEMENT UPON YOU!" He stopped as he stepped over the wiring of a explosive trap he had laid earlier. "FEAR NOT, FOR I AM A FAIR AND HONEST JUDGE! COME AND DO NOT DELAY!"

Whether they understood him or not was irrelevant. The Commissar wanted the foe to come to him. Let them open themselves. Hunt him down through this maze of mud and ruin. He knew which places were safe, they didn't.

Another booby trap detonated as if agreeing with him. Tharkat continued on his way. By this point there were likely only a few stragglers left standing. And if any had survived the blasts, they would be easy enough to deal with.

As it turned out, not even that. Commissar Tharkar spent another half hour scouring the redoubt looking for any survivors but there simply weren't any to be found. Or at least any that had dared to face him. The sprung traps certainly had enoug bodies and pieces to look like the rest of the squad had simply blown itself up on his handiwork.

It was a bit insulting and frustrating. He had to admit. An Astra Militarum Commissar deserved more, he deserved more. But once again, his more practical side stomped that thought. By all means, Emperor willing, the Greenies will continue to grace him with ill equipped and incompetent enemies. That will surely make things far easier for all parties involved. He kills them with the contemptuous ease they deserve and walks out of this burnt out husk of a backwater without a scratch on his handsome face.

Yes, that will be just grand. And this little skirmish, just another good tale to tell around drinks in the future. To think he won't even need to embelish anything. Maybe the Greenies really are about to keel over and die once the next big push comes.

That was fanciful thinking, of course. He had gotten lucky once. The Emperor was looking out for him this time. He made sure to blow a kiss to the afternoon sky and mutter a prayer as he gathered what supplies could be salvaged from the bodies of his enemies. But if he allowed himself to grow complacent, then he will die. That much was still clear. That much the drill abbots back at the Schola had managed to beat into him. The Heretics had managed to sneak at least a large raiding part right beneath their noses. They were on their last legs, running out of manpower and supplies. But a cornered animal is the most dangerous.

At least the Greenies' Bakis were still there. Tied down but unguarded. Tharkar had his pick of the beasts, and after rifling through the other saddle bags for any interesting items, he mounted the big bird- this one yellow - and rode away. He was wasting time as it was. No doubt more would come looking for him and his would be hunters. And he had to return to the Regiment, Tharkar didn't even know if they had managed to buy enough time for the rider to reach the main column and warn them about the Heretics. Didn't even knew if this was just a bold raiding party or something more dangerous. Maybe the front had been broke open. Maybe they had already overwhelmed the main column. Maybe he was riding back to find his men butchered and the Imperium in full retreat.

Tharkar snorted in spite of himself. He could always count on himself to ruin his good mood