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Tempered Steel: Eleventh Hour

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Hmmm...this area looks like it could use a session report or two...

 

The 361st Meridian Sureshots are known far and wide as one of the most disciplined regiments of light infantry to grace the Emperor's armies. Born of the Schola Progenium facility on Meridian and tested in battle against underhive mutants and ganger scum, they represent the finest of qualities espoused by that venerable institution - discipline, courage under fire, and the will to serve Him on Earth even unto their last breath. As such, this latest regiment formed under the unorthodox Colonel Quindreth Varus, has been dispatched halfway across the galaxy to aid the expanding war effort in the Spinward Front. Its first mission: to assail the ork-held moon of Aeyras, acting as a go-between for the embattled 233rd Catachan Devils and the 17th Scintillan Fusiliers. What was once considered to be an easy assignment grew more complicated as the foul xenos dug in, and soon all hopes for conquering the moon were pinned on a desperate attack: Operation Hammerstrike. Crack teams of Catachan and Meridian saboteurs were to infiltrate orkish positions around the overgrown crater known as the Teeming, linking up and destroying guard towers and scrap forts to allow for a general advance. The risks were great, but failure was intolerable, and as night fell the operation began...

 

Dawn saw the remnants of C Company's Squad Tertius huddled in the remains of a collapsed tower, debating their next move. They had been ambushed halfway through the fort, and nearly half the squad was dead, including their sergeant. Point man Aaedan Halburth still stood, along with the medicae Annabelle MacKenna, ratling Specialist Vance, and troopers Turner, Holt, and Cort. After a few tense minutes, they decided to press on...and soon encountered their Catachan allies - or at least, what was left of them. Sergeant Dryak and his men had run into even stronger resistance, and a lucky ork with a shoota managed to score a hit on their supply of demolition charges. Now most of his squad were dead, the rest badly wounded, and he had no other thought but to slip back behind friendly lines. Their brief conversation was interrupted as Turner's vox flared into life, adding a babble of panicked voices carrying tales of ork breakouts all along the battle lines. The chatter was soon cut off as the 361st's Commissar Holbrooke overrode the channel, sounding a general retreat and warning that the navy would bombard the entire area between Firebase Long-Tooth and the Teeming in eleven hours.

 

Nothing motivates a guardsman like a solid deadline, and the remains of the two squads decided to exit the fort. Unfortunately, the most direct route led them right into an ork patrol, and the resulting firefight saw Aaedan badly wounded and one of the Catachans killed. There was no time for anything but a quick collection of cognomen tags and brief first aid; they set out again, barely reaching the shattered Catachan trenches ahead of even larger bands of orks. The hardy deathworlder's lines had been utterly overrun, although it seemed they gave nearly as good as they got. A brief march saw them reach the Scintillan positions further back, only to find the trenchworks utterly deserted, save for the odd piece of damaged equipment. After a few desperate minutes tinkering with a badly damaged Valkyrie, the squads elected to press on, bringing the wounded down the Switchback Climb as best they could.

 

Unfortunately, here was where the guardsmen would face their most daunting foe - halfway down the climb they encountered a makeshift rope bridge, snapped in half by some mischance. Unintimidated, the Meridians set out to leap to the other side...only for each in turn to back away from the edge as they drew closer to the gap, unsure of their ability to jump quite that far. Sergeant Dryak's timely discovery of a few spent orkish shell casings motivated them to work harder, however, and Aaedan soon located a fallen log that bridged the gap. If he moved carefully, he could reach the other side and restore the bridge for the wounded to use. A few brief, tense moments saw it done, and Annabelle was the first to dare the crossing. She had nearly made it across when an ominous roar caused her to look up, just in time for a wall of debris to come crashing down on the bridge as a pair of hidden orks opened up on the guardsmen. Trooper MacKenna was left clinging to a rope during the ensuing firefight, which (fortunately for her) was over quickly, both orks plummeting to their doom over the falls. The group now had five hours left to clear the bombardment zone...

 

It didn't take long for the squads to get on their way again, and soon after they encountered other stragglers - a few support troopers from the Scintillans, and naval Lieutenant Halbast, whose Valkyrie they had encountered earlier. Fortunately, one of the Scintillans could guide them to a fortified area his regiment had constructed to hold down their supply lines - if there was still transport across the swamps to be found anywhere, it would be there. The group, now fourteen strong, set off on a quick march - Vance lending Halbast his lascarbine, as the naval officer had lost his service pistol when he was ambushed back at the bridge - only to be greeted on arrival by a scene of anarchy.

 

A mob of several hundred Scintillan troopers beset a Commissar, who was attempting to organize an orderly departure in the last boat available. He had already had to shoot one guardsman and the others were holding back for now, but if they rushed him the small handful of loyal troopers at his command could do little to salvage  the situation. Upon seeing the Meridians, he commanded them to do their duty to the Emperor and show the highborn scum how to act like guardsmen. Incredibly, it was Specialist Vance, himself not a product of the Schola Progenium but as quick to their ways as he was on the trigger, who shamed the mob back into discipline (although he was assisted by Trooper MacKenna's timely whispering of choice phrases in his ear, and perhaps the glowering, shotgun-toting Trooper Halburth backing them up...) The guardsmen soon formed an orderly line as Commissar Vorgen selected those who would go by lottery (save for the wounded, who were given priority). Of the squad, Trooper MacKenna managed to win a place, but gave it up to Sergeant Dryak in favor of remaining with her squad. Lieutenant Halbast won one as well, and disappeared onto the transport with unseemly haste. Watching the boat disappear into the fog, the remaining guardsmen began to cast about for supplies with which to fashion a makeshift raft.

 

It wasn't until the transport was well out of sight that they realized Halbast still had the ratling's carbine.

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