Teaser from the book (this is from one of the most 'Only War-esque' parts of the novel):
I got bored waiting in the stairwell. Lasar looked like he wasn’t going anywhere, so I slipped up the stairs and up to the roof. The new sniper didn’t look very pleased, but Jons waved me over and I slipped down next to him.
“I remember hearing Sarge tell you to stay with Lasar in the stairwell,” he whispered.
“New orders,” I said.
Jons just chuckled.
More men had gathered in the ruins around out location, close to two hundred, according to Jons. He figured it had to represent the bulk of the fighting men available to the Kiones. I think he was a bit surprised by the large turnout. I had heard him and Sarge discussing enemy numbers earlier, and Sarge believed the Kiones couldn’t have more than a hundred men under their banner.
Gathering together like this would be a very bad course of action for insurgents. It was by avoiding stand-up fights with the IG they had been able to grow. They usually operated in small groups, struck from hiding, and then faded away. They engaged in sniping and used improvised explosives to make movement difficult for the Guard.
But this wasn’t a normal situation. We had – again – taken a long good piss at whatever authority Preacher Maxentius had managed to build up, both with his own men and with the locals. If he didn’t act quickly and decisively, neither his men nor anyone else, would ever take him seriously.
Jons eventually chased me off the roof. I wandered down the stairs again. I checked on Lasar, but he’d fallen asleep. I went to check on Mazzo’s team. They weren’t doing much except waiting. None of them wanted me around, so I went back up to the fourth floor to see what Roverto was up to.
Rat and Owan had persuaded Roverto to make some improvised barricades to protect their flanks and rear. Both men seemed convinced the enemy would find an alternate route into the building and fall us in the back. Roverto didn’t share their concerns, but had agreed to put the other two at ease. They didn’t seem to mind my presence – Rat even called me ‘his little canary’ – so I curled up behind one of the barricades and fell asleep.
They came at us right before dusk. Whatever passed for their officers must not have believed them to be sufficiently skilled to carry out a coordinated night-time strike. They compensated for the lack of darkness with a liberal dose of suppressive fire and home-made smoke bombs, plus a fully functional Chimera. I wondered where they’d scrounged it up from; it looked well maintained and still had its Imperial Guard markings intact.
The presence of an armoured vehicle was an added complication. The enemy infantry could advance in relative safety behind the Chimera’s heavily armoured body, while the vehicle’s multilas provided accurate covering fire. I knew from personal experience just how dangerous such a weapon could be. The one mounted on the Chimera was even more potent than the one Rovo lugged about. It had superior rate of fire and higher energy output. Plus it had an effectively unlimited ammo supply; it drew power from huge energy stacks that were, in turn, recharged by the Chimera’s powerful engine.
The vehicle got to about eighty meters from the main entrance before Mazzo managed to put a missile into it. The Chimera survived the hit – damnably resilient machines Chimeras are – and started peppering the upper stories with lasfire. Mazzo’s fireteam relocated to the other side of the building and he tried again. This time he went for the gun cupola rather than the main body. The missile struck true, and the gun fell silent. The Chimera continued to lumber forward, but at least we didn’t have to worry about the multi anymore.
I backed away from my observation post, scurried over to the stairwell, and went down to check on Lasar. He was awake, but seemed a little unfocused.
Down on the ground floor I could hear the first directional charges going off. There were sounds of automatic shotgun and autogun fire, interspersed with more irregular booms whenever Vincenzo fired his melta gun. Sarge had placed his charges well, and for a few confusing minutes the first enemy push was halted in the entrance hall.
Lasar looked at me encouragingly. “It’ll be all right kid. They are just where we want them.”
I could see he was in pain; his eyes were kind of hazy and his skin looked feverish. “I know,” I replied curtly.
I dug out his canteen for him and made him take a sip.
“Thanks, kid,” he said and handed back the canteen. “I’m just a little tired, is all.”
“**** tired,” I replied. “Soon those assholes will be coming up those stairs. We gonna need that pistol of yours.”
“I guess you’re right,” he began. He shook his head a bit to clear his mind, and then prodded around his trauma pouch for a while. “Go find Ivo, see if he has some more stimms. I’m all out,” he concluded.
I spun around and headed for Ivo’s position.
‘“Friendly,” I screamed at the top of my lungs, “coming through!”
None of the soldiers turned to look at me. They kept their eyes on the enemy and their hands on their guns. Now that the Chimaera’s gun had been taken out they were able to fire to good effect at targets in the streets below.
I skidded over to Ivo. “Lasar needs stimms,” I shouted.
“Right back pocket, green auto-syringes,” he shouted back at me, continuing to fire all the while.
I grabbed two and closed the pouch after me. I didn’t get more than two meters before something exploded inside and adjoining room. The force of the blast was considerable. I was thrown to the floor, and my ears began ringing like crazy.
When I got my breath back I twisted and looked around. Ivo was down, but like me he had been shield from the brunt of the blast by a low wall. Ribaldo wasn’t as fortunate. He lay there, motionless, covered in dust specked with red. Several of his limbs looked like they had acquired new joints. I was sure he was dead, until I heard him moan.
Mazzo appeared from somewhere. “Get the **** out!” he shouted at me. So I did. I got up and ran crouched for the stairwell. Behind me I could hear him shouting to the rest of the fireteam, for Ivo to help him drag Ribaldo and for Cresside to keep firing.
Having tested and breached our defences, the enemy launched several consecutive waves of attackers across the Esplanade and the Champs. They were fairly well organized and quick about it. There was no way we could hold so many of them back. Any attempt to fire at them was met by volumes of suppressive fire, including a multiple-launch missile system, the very one that had just screwed fireteam Mazzo.
I got back to Lasar. He lay there, slumped on the bench where I had left him. He was dead. I couldn’t figure out how he’d died. Maybe he had been hit by something? Maybe his injuries had been more severe than we had believed? I shrugged and put the stimms in my satchel.
While I was standing there, undecided, Mazzo and Ivo appeared, dragging Ribaldo after them. Cresside was not with them, and I realized her gun had fallen silent. That didn’t bode well for our female gunner.
“What happened,” Mazzo asked me, indicating Lasar’ body.
Ivo briefly checked Lasar for lifesigns, but found none.
“I dunno,” I said. “He was lying like that when I got back.”
Ivo bent down to examine Ribaldo.
“Too bad,” Mazzo replied, “we also lost the *****. Got her ugly face blown off by a sniper – I think Jons got him in return though. And Ribaldo here is looking none too good.”
“Actually,” Ivo interjected, “he’s not as badly wounded as I feared. He’s got a broken arm and two broken legs, but his vital signs are decent, so I think he’s voided serious internal injury.”
“Well, keep him sedated then,” Mazzo replied. “We’ll drag him upstairs. He can be evacuated from the roof – if we survive this.”
Ivo grabbed a blue syringe from his medicae kit and pressed it against Ribaldo’s neck. Then both men took hold of the unconscious soldier’s webbing and made ready to drag him up to the 4th floor.
“You wanna be useful kid?” Mazzo said while hunched over Ribaldo’s body.
I looked over at him and was immediately pinned by his gaze. “Sure,” I said, somewhat reluctantly.
“Then get your tiny little ass down to Sarge and tell him to get his big fat ass up to the fourth. You got that?” he asked for good measure.
I nodded, rechecked Jons’ sliver pistol, and ran down the stairs.
Now that the enemy had fully committed himself the rain began. Not an ordinary rain, but a rain of anti-personnel submunitions, scattered by cargo shells bursting overhead. Commissar Joaquin had sent Major Burness over to the 10th Laskin Artillery to coordinate. Now they were conducting a fire mission with their Basilisk batteries on our behalf, Jons acting as a spotter and Hash voxing in corrections.
Those of the enemy out on the Esplanade suffered horribly, but those on the Champs fared a little better, on account of having more cover relative to the trajectory of the incoming shells.
The survivors from both streets quickly crossed the remaining distance and got into the relative safety out the building. They joined the squads that were already struggling to get past Sarge and his explosives. It was impossible to say exactly how many were inside the building, but I guessed there might be somewhere between six and eight squads. Meaning it was now nine men and one boy against sixty or so enemies.
Plus the enemy had at least two squads providing covering fire on each side of the building. They packed a handful of heavy support autos, which were a lot more powerful than anything we had, except Rovo’s gun. The only saving grace was that the damned missile launcher had fallen silent. I was certain our snipers were responsible for that blessing.
Better odds than before, but still pretty badly stacked against us.
Sarge and Vincenzo had backed up to the first floor after the first firefight. Coming down from the third floor I caught them beating a hasty retreat up to the second floor.
Sarge was dusty and covered in soot, but otherwise looked fine. His weapon smelled strongly of burnt propellant. I vividly recalled the two insurgents I had seen torn to shreds the last time I had seen the weapon in action.
Vincenzo was covering the stairwell, but no enemies appeared. Suddenly there was movement, almost too fast for the eye to follow. Vincenzo shouted, “ripper drones!” then fired his melta gun in the wide dispersal mode.
A dozen or so thumb-sized drones were vaporized by the blast, but he hadn’t caught all of them. The rest of the swarm came racing for us. Vincenzo managed another shot before they were upon him, but a good handful avoided the blast and sliced into his body. He didn’t so much scream as gurgle.
Sarge shoved me out of the way and towards the stairs. As I scrambled to get away from the razor-sharp drones, he stood there, calm as a rock, swatting the few remaining drones with his shotgun as they tried to chew him up. Sarge got some superficial cuts, and his shotgun came away with two drones bored into the stock, but he didn’t look seriously injured.
We hauled ass up to the fourth floor. Mazzo and Ivo had come through already, on their way to the roof with Ribaldo. Sarge lobbed his last charge – held in reserve for just such an occasion – down the stairwell. There was a loud satisfying bang, followed by even more satisfying screams of pain.
Rovo’s team – all of them were still alive at this point – joined us in the stairwell, and we made a fighting withdrawal up to the fifth floor. Guardsman First Class Roverto deftly used the gun-mount’s servo-arm and suspensors to full effect, covering us every step of the way without slowing us down noticeably. The enemy seemed extremely reluctant to come after us as long as the lascannon had power remaining.
But all clips eventually run dry, and Rovo was forced to discard his main weapon and rely on his hand cannon. A useful self-defence weapon to be sure, but nothing like the multi in terms of firepower. Mazzo and Ivo returned from their trip to the roof, tipping the power balance in our favour. The enemy renewed their assault, but we held them off.
There was a lull in the fighting. Rat and Owan were convinced the enemy was working their way around our position. It seemed a reasonable assumption, so Mazzo ordered the two men to watch the flanks.
Lo and behold – no pun intended – the insurgents made a three-pronged attack on our position, from the stairwell and from our own floor. They had indeed found an alternate route up. Owan fell back to join the rest of us, but Rat was cut off by the enemy.
We had no choice. We had to retreat once more, up to the sixth and final floor. On the way up I shot a particularly eager fellow who tried to throw as sticky-grenade after us. The sliver pistol wasn’t quite as powerful as my late autopistol, but it was exceptionally accurate. I purposefully shot him in the arm, foiling his throw. The sticky went off at the poor fellow’s feet. He screamed for a while, until blood loss from his missing legs silenced him. To me his screams felt soothing.
Jons joined us shortly thereafter. There was nothing for him to do on the roof. His sniper buddy was up there, manning the vox and keeping an eye on Ribaldo. Together the rest of us would hold the sixth floor until the enemy gave up, or we were all dead.
Below us we could hear the insurgents gathering strength for a final push. When the offensive came it was short lived. Mazzo launched his second-to-last grenade down the stairwell – the last being the traditional starshell – and to our relief it turned out to be a real plasma grenade, rather than the prophesized confetti.
It filled the entire area with hellish fire. Those that didn’t die suffered horrible burn wounds or were set on fire. Some of them screamed for a long time. The sounds were sweet in my ears.
My penchant for the screams of the wounded and dying aside: A great cacophony of wind and dust followed in the wake of all this screaming. The Valkyries were here. With heavy bolters pouring out a steady stream of fire to keep any insurgents from popping shots at them, they deposited their precious cargo of Guardsmen on the rooftop before peeling off. Now the remaining insurgents, probably no more than thirty or forty of them, faced twice that number of heavily armed, veteran Guardsmen. The balance of power had shifted entirely in our favour.
The insurgents providing cover from hiding places in the surrounding cityscape fared no better. Heavily armoured Chimeras, bristling with guns and loaded with the remaining men of the 57th Lo, came racing in to close the trap.
I was told the enemy put up an unusually spirited, almost fanatical, fight. Only when faced with two promethium-spitting Chimera variants they had finally lost heart, tried to flee, and run right into the men of November and Lima companies, who had been deployed to counter just such an eventuality. And, like I said, you can’t dodge or outrun lasfire.
The insurgents trapped inside the building with us proved equally resilient. They put up a very spirited, if a little unpolished fight, keeping it going until they ran out of space and ammunition. We only got six of them alive, including their leader, the preacher I had so vividly seen directing the abuse of my mother.
We had learned the name of our enemy a few weeks prior: Preacher Maxentius. What little intelligence the 57th had on him indicated he had wandered in from the wilds one day, and immediately set about organizing a resistance movement in Thira.
My squadmates and I did not participate in the final clean-up. I guess you could say that we were generally just worn out and beat up. Rovo was out of ammo, but uninjured. Sarge had taken a nasty shrapnel wound to the scalp – his mates helpfully pointed out it could have been avoided by wearing a helmet – plus he had lots of cuts and bruises. Mazzo had been hit several times. He wasn’t seriously injured, but not exactly fit for another running battle. Ivo was pretty much in one piece, but busy vomiting his guts out. It was his way of coping with the downer that follows an adrenaline high.
Ribaldo was doing good, all things considered. He got airlifted out once the enemy had been neutralized. Jons, Owan, and the other sniper weren’t injured at all, and all three of them looked surprisingly fit, all things considered. The medics recovered the bodies of Vincenzo, Cresside, and poor Lasar. The big surprise was Rat; he was found all the way down on the second floor, severely injured, but still alive. For my own part I was uninjured. I had a few scrapes, but that was all. I was also feeling the aftereffects of too much adrenalin; it made me shake like a leaf, but I didn’t puke.
When we got down to the ground the Commissar was there, in his tall black cap and black flak stormcoat. He ordered five of the insurgents flayed on the spot. When the screaming died down, they were hung from light posts in the streets outside as a reminder to other potential insurgents: This is what happens to those that raise arms against the Imperium. Arrayed so they looked eerily similar to Mother.
Commissar Joaquin looked down at me, then over at the preacher who was being held down by two IGs. “This is the man responsible for your mother’s torture and subsequent death. He is also a rebel and a traitor to the God-Emperor of Mankind. There can only be one punishment for that. You may carry out the sentence.”
And with that he pulled out his bolt pistol, removed the magazine, leaving only a single shell in the launch chamber, and handed me the weapon.
I looked at the gun. I looked at the Commissar. He looked right back at me. I realized with a start that he knew. He knew I blamed him. He knew I had vengeance in my heart. That’s why he gave me a pistol with a single shot. Take your shot boy, his eyes were saying, make it count. Do it now, or forever keep your peace.
I looked at Jons. Then I looked at the preacher. He had long since stopped screaming obscenities about the false, Corpse-God Emperor; the IGs had simply smashed his head into the ground until he shut up. I looked at the red ruin that was the man’s face. I looked into his eyes, returning hate for hate. I looked at the gun again; I’d scraped up my arm again and red droplets were oozing down my fingers, smearing Joaquin’s immaculately polished weapon.
I whipped the gun up and around, and shot the preacher squarely between the eyes. The distance was only five paces, but it was still a nice shot. His head exploded like an overripe fruit in a spray of brains, bone, blood, and gore.
The Commissar retrieved his bolt pistol. The preacher’s headless corpse was strung up with the rest of the insurgents. “Another fine victory for the Emperor, another laurel for the 57th. Gather up, were moving out in fifteen minutes.”
Jons had a few words with Commissar Joaquin, then came over and took me aside. “We’re returning to the compound now. Your mother is dead and I’m sorry for that, but she has a grave, and vengeance has well and truly been served. Go to your sister and wait for me there. My offer still stands; the Commissar has given the go.”
I tried to speak, but I couldn’t find the words, so I just nodded. I could still feel that bolt pistol in my hand. The weight of it. The kick when the bolt fired. The majestic effect in the target. There are weapons far more advanced and deadly, but there is something about the bolter that appeals to me. I’ve always strived hard never to be without at least one bolt pistol – preferably two.
“Now get going, you don’t want to be hanging around here. Keep the sliver for protection. I can have it back when we move.”
I considered giving Jons a hug, just to seal the deal so to speak. But I’ve never been good at hugging, so I dropped the idea. Maybe it would also be too much, too soon. So instead I turned and started walking towards home.
That the Commissar suspected my true feelings was troubling, but I had obviously weathered that one. I needed to be more careful in the future. I clearly wasn’t as good an actor as I had believed.
But what really gnawed was the fact that I hadn’t seen Jax among the dead. The Kiones insurgents had been wiped out, but there was no sign of my brother. Some of the corpses had been too badly damaged or burnt to be recognizable, but still…I knew in my heart Jax was still alive. Had he not been trusted to take part in the attack? Or had he been present but somehow survived? I suspected the latter was the case. Abaddon be damned!
Edited by Green Knight, 07 May 2014 - 05:51 AM.