Grim Twilight of the Distant Future: Chapter 2

May 20th, 2016
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  1. Grim Twilight of the Distant Future
  2. By IceMan
  4. Chapter 2: Artillery
  6. >Dawn comes, a low fog hanging over the muck of soiled earth, blackened oil, and dried blood of the no-man's-land between the battlelines.
  7. >Mixed with the smell of gunpowder, soot, and hemoglobin is the acrid scent of beasts of burden, the 500-odd cavalrymen of the 91st riding on their death horses.
  8. >Among the rangers, they were an elite corps, formed from the highborn members of Equestrius and armed with the finest equipment the regiment could scrounge up.
  9. >Firm chainswords and shiny laspistols swung at their sides, and a well-kept lasgun shone in their hands in the bitter, sharp morning light as the sun faintly rose over the brownish grey horizon.
  10. >Where vehicles could not go, such as across the muddy shell pits and barrens of no-man’s-land, their nimble beasts could, striking with all the ferocity of a Chimaera.
  11. >But these were not the oddest sight on the battlefield today.
  12. >That would go to the Ironstrider walkers, whose design you could barely comprehend.
  13. >They stand on two legs, somewhat like a Sentinel, and of a similar design, in three segments - one jutting from the hip downwards, followed by another rearwards, and then downwards again.
  14. >But there, the similarities end, for these protrusions were covered in heavy crimson plate armor, some pieces with small silver spikes.
  15. >Two small mechanical arms extend below the “head” of the walker, a goggle-like piece with four beady blue eyes.
  16. >Upon further examination, you realize the head is connected to a small man with no legs, plugged into the walker’s body through a series of tubes attached to his spine.
  17. >On top of the walker sits a double barrelled cannon of indeterminate pattern; you could not determine whether it fired solid slugs or laser beams, and you suspected it fired some sort of other, arcane ammunition.
  18. >Behind this was the strangest piece of the walker of all: a man dressed in red robes and silver battle armor, a tin gasmask descending from his face, his eyes (if he had his human eyes left) covered by a quadruple of ocular sensors.
  19. >His arms and legs were, obviously, mechanical replacements, somehow both elegant and brutal in design: finely crafted of shiny metal, but skeletal and cold.
  20. >From seemingly every place on his body sprung tubing and wires, every part of him more machine than man.
  21. >Beneath it, a techpriest with a purple arm stripe on her robes mutters a few prayers and places seals of sanctity upon its legs.
  22. “Are you done yet, cogpriest?” you ask, checking your chrono.
  23. >“Patience, Commissar. There must be patience in preparing a machine spirit for the act of war.”
  24. “Yeah, well, hurry it along. This fog won’t cover our advance much longer in the morning sun.”
  25. >You pull a pair of binoculars to your eyes, observing the enemy lines.
  26. >A few jittering sentries stand above the trenches, sharp spikes poking from their crude battle armor.
  27. >Behind them stand the heavy guns, their barrels pointed, fortuitously, in another direction.
  28. “If we wait any longer, those guns will wheel about and pound us to death.”
  29. >“We have not yet received the order to begin the assault,” Scintillula says. “We must wait and attack as a full force.”
  30. >As if on cue, your vox unit rattles with the Lord Commissar’s voice, “Commissar Caelitum. Have your mortar squadrons bombard the enemy positions. Mixed smoke and explosive rounds; we need to keep our cover for the primary assault.”
  31. >You draw your chainsword and switch the vox to the 45th’s command channel.
  32. “All batteries. Load explosive and smoke rounds. Coordinates fifty-dash-thirty-four-dash-nine to sixty-dash-ninety-one-dash-nineteen.”
  33. >Metal shell casings slide along the steel barrels of the mortars as the launchers are loaded.
  34. >You drop your chainsword to your hip.
  35. “Fire!”
  36. >A dozens thuds ring out followed by more from more distant locales as ordnance is flung towards the enemy lines, resulting in geysering columns of mud, flayed body parts, and other debris.
  37. >Suddenly, overhead bursts, in an even paced double-staccato, the thump of the Ironstrider’s double heavy autocannon, serving iron death onto the sentries standing above the trenches.
  38. >The vox crackles again.
  39. >“Have your first company begin the charge,” Lord Armis says. “Order your mortars to keep their shots ahead of your men. Creeping barrage.”
  40. “First company! Afix bayonets!” you yell into your vox over the din.
  41. >The right wing of your regiment readies itself, steel knives glinting in the sunlight.
  42. >Pulling a whistle to your lips, your sword raised, you emit a shrill rattling peal, dropping the sword.
  43. “Charge! For the glory of the Emperor!” you shout, hoping your voice can even be heard.
  44. >Your guardsmen repeat your warcry, or simply let out a bellow of indeterminate noise as they charge onto the flat muddy plain, disappearing into the fog and smoke along with the companies of other regiments.
  45. >Almost instantly, a heavy stubber, hidden in a small bunker behind a wall of earth, flashes with deadly fire, spurts of dirt and blood following the trails of its bullets as they zip through the air.
  46. >Many a guardsman falls beneath the storm of fire, until a lucky mortar shot takes out the emplacement.
  47. >Then, two more crews reach their guns and open fire, resuming the slaughter.
  48. >Through your binoculars, you can see a few squads of guardsmen reaching the outer parapet, only to be sawed through by chainswords and autogun fire.
  49. >Perhaps one or two defeat the outer sentries and begin making their way into the trench system.
  50. “Second company, prepare to charge,” you say into the vox unit, readying your whistle and sword.
  51. >Same as before, the second company goes over the top, enveloped in haze and gunfire, ready to die for the glory of the Emperor.
  52. >Barely twenty of them reach the enemy trench past the stubber fire; barely ten manage to make it past the first line of defense.
  53. >“Good initiative,” Lustris Armis says over the vox unit. “Ready your third company for attack. Our forces seem to be breaking through, but we shall see what these heretics decide to do next.”
  54. >You follow the Lord Commissar’s commands to the letter.
  55. >Another company heads into no-man’s-land, greeted by stubber fire.
  56. >Through your binoculars, you can see the barrels of the artillery cannons turning.
  57. >“If we don’t make a breakthrough soon, we won’t be able to break those guns,” Lieutenant Colonel Musculus Femoris says over the vox. “I’m ordering my men to charge.”
  58. “Those heavy stubbers will rip you to shreds, Colonel -” you begin to say, but the 91st was already on the move, hoofbeats trampling across the muddy wasteland.
  59. >As if on cue, the stubbers swivel to take down the oncoming cavalry, targets much easier to hit and more valuable than the footsoldiers advancing towards them.
  60. >In the first few seconds, a dozen horses are dead, their riders thrown to the ground, most likely with the same fate.
  61. >“Dammit all! Commissars, ready your fourth company and send them out with the third. We can at least use this as a distraction.”
  62. >Once again, the shiny whistle shrieks to accompany the revving of your sword and the raucous cries of soldiers running into the killing fields.
  63. >One lone man sits in a dugout of the trench, cradling a lasgun between his arms.
  64. >You march up to him and cock your boltpistol, the gold Imperial aquila sparkling in the sunlight, now nearly full.
  65. “On your feet, soldier,” you, pointing with the gun, your finger off the trigger.
  66. >“I can’t. We can’t. You can’t do this to us,” he says.
  67. “Cowardice will not be tolerated.”
  68. >“I don’t care! Emperor protect me -”
  69. >You get down to his level.
  70. “Yes. The Emperor protects... but only the courageous.”
  71. >You drop your finger to the trigger.
  72. >“No!”
  73. “Let us hope he’ll protect you as well.”
  74. >Blam!
  75. >The guardsman slumps to the floor, a pool of blood where his head used to rest against the earthen wall.
  76. “Fifth and sixth companies, be ready for attack,” you say into the vox. “Remember the punishment for cowardice. The Emperor protects, but only the courageous.”
  77. >Once the sixth company attacks, you will go over the top as well.
  78. >You load one fresh round into your boltpistol’s magazine to top it off, then blow your whistle and signal with your sword once again.
  79. >The fifth company sprints forward into the hellstorm of brass and mayhem.
  80. >The battlefield is somehow quieter now, the stubber nests having been silenced by the first few waves of infantry and the mortar fire, both having now moved on deeper into the trench system to attack the rear lines.
  81. >Meanwhile, behind you stand the behemoth Ironstriders, yet unused besides for fire support.
  82. >A few techpriests and Skitarii infantry gather beneath them, chittering in Techna-Lingua.
  83. >Your vox unit vibrates.
  84. >“We - agh! We’re breaking through, Commissar! But we need support. Send the next com - urrah! Aah!”
  85. >The line goes dead.
  86. “Sixth company! Charge!”
  87. >You vault over the trench parapet, boltpistol loaded in one hand, chainsword revving in the other.
  88. >Sprinting over the open ground, you reach the enemy trench and jump down, finding no sign of the enemy cultists except their maimed corpses.
  89. >You round a corner, six guardsmen following you.
  90. >From a gap, a giggling heretic wielding a rusty axe emerges, a Chaos tattoo over his face briefly visible before you chainsword him in half and your men fill his body with laser shots, reducing it to a burning acrid pile of flesh.
  91. >Now thoroughly soaked in blood, you continue into the trench system, stopping with a start when you hear a tremendous explosion from up ahead.
  92. >The artillery guns are aimed and firing.
  93. >On your reserves.
  94. “We’re too late, Lord Commissar,” you say into the vox. “The enemy has already zeroed in on our position.”
  95. >“We have come this far, Commissar Caelitum. Such losses are... understandable,” Armis says.
  96. >“Fear not, friends of the Omnissiah. The 39-Nu-Sigma-Tau Ironstrider Cavaliers will -” a techpriest begins before being cut off.
  97. >“Hold position, Archmagos. I need your Cavaliers to defend our position in case of an enemy counterattack.”
  98. >“My 1st Rangers Maniple has already deployed. 19 units, plus one Ironstrider. They will guarantee the success of this attack. They are under the command of Magos Nu-Sigma-Tau-Thirteen-Forty-Two-Prime -”
  99. >“Yes, yes, Magos Scintillula. Understood. Very well. Have them support the attack. If we can push through before our reserves are depleted, then so be it. If not, then we will be forced to retreat.”
  100. >A huddle of footsteps comes from behind you.
  101. >Instinctively, you raise your sword, praying to the Emperor that it’s not a cultist attack from the rear.
  102. >15 men in red robes storm past you, completely oblivious to your presence and coming quite within your limited personal bubble.
  103. >Each of their steps is calculated with absolute precision, a direct vector from one point to the next with the narrowest avoidance of obstacles such as yourself.
  104. >Most carried copper rifles of a design you could not recognize, completely different from your troops’ lasguns, and some carried what appeared to be weaponized coils of metal that sparked with the blue-white of high-voltage electricity.
  105. >A smaller techpriest, carrying only a simple red laspistol marked with a Mechanicus cyberskull and cogwheel, walks behind them slowly, giving orders by means of short clicks and beeps.
  106. >Scintillula gives you a brief strained look, then continues commanding her troops forward.
  107. “Move up, men. Don’t let these iron freaks get the better of us!” you say, motioning forwards with your sword. “Onwards!”
  108. >The Skitarii weapons did not pulse like lasguns or thud like autoguns, but instead crack and zap the onslaught of heretics with ragged beams of azure violent energy.
  109. >With mechanical efficiency, they cut through the enemy forces ahead, leaving none remaining for your guardsmen to mop up except a few cultists hiding in foxholes or small bunkers, away from the metal gaze of the Skitarii Rangers.
  110. >The trenches open up into a wider clearing, with several heavy guns, recently cleared by the cybernetic assaulters.
  111. >Magos Scintillula examines one of the quadruple barreled artillery guns.
  112. >“This gun could be salvaged,” she says as you place krak charges from a commandeered platoon leader’s backpack.
  113. “It has been tainted by the forces of Chaos, and we have no vehicles or horses, thanks to the mud and Musculus’s incompetence, to carry it with us,” you reply.
  114. >“Such a waste to see such a noble machine die. A worthy piece, gone to waste. I shall perform the rites to have its Machine Spirit pass peacefully into the void.”
  115. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever, cogpriest.”
  116. >She mutters some prayers in Techna-lingua, chittering and whistling in binary.
  117. “Lieutenant Pomus,” you say to the man, handing two charges to him.
  118. >“Eeyup?” he asks.
  119. “Head over to the next gun emplacement and set the charges. Get the cogpriests to help you if you need any assistance with their Machine Spirits. Go.”
  120. >“I assure you that will not be necessary,” Scintillula says. “The Spirits of these explosives are very rudimentary, and I can tell from here that -”
  121. “Okay, fine, don’t bother with that then. Just get going. And watch your back. The heretics could be preparing for a counterattack.”
  122. >With that mentioning of the devil, three cultists leap over the wall of the trench, only for their heads to be lopped off by a volley of lasgun fire.
  123. >Lieutenant Pomus’s platoon marches off towards the other gun emplacement
  124. “Everyone be ready,” you say, pointing to two guardsmen. “Keep your eyes on those trenches. I don’t want to get surrounded.”
  125. >But not a single cultist comes.
  126. “Where are they?” you mutter to yourself.
  127. >Your vox unit rattles.
  128. >“Commissar. We have set the charges on the enemy guns. What next?” a guardsman asks.
  129. “Good. Hold position and wait for further -”
  130. >“Wait, here they come!”
  131. >In the background, you can hear the buzz of chain weapons.
  132. >“There’s too many of them! We need back up!”
  133. “Stand your ground, guardsman. We’re on our way. Squads Three, Four, and Five, with me. The rest of you hold position.”
  134. >You sprint down the trench towards the other gun emplacement, chainsword revving.
  135. >As you round the corner, a cultist stands in front of you, his back to you,
  136. >You quickly blade him in two like a loaf of bread.
  137. >Your guardsmen take cover and begin to dispatch the enemy heretics one by one, your numbers now sufficient to make quick work of the remainder.
  138. >The air is filled with the pungent odor of ozone and iron.
  139. >However, it was not enough to save Pomus’s platoon, as well as 5 of the men who came with you, who now lay in various degrees of dismemberment on the earthen floor of the trench.
  140. “Lord Commissar. We have taken our two assigned gun batteries,” you say into your blood-drenched vox unit. “What would you have us do?”
  141. >“Detonate your charges,” he says. “And hold your position. We need to get the rest of our mechanized forces through to fill the gap in the line.”
  142. “Understood. All squads, fall back out of the blast zone. We’ll detonate once we’re out of the way.”
  143. >You head back towards the entrance to the trenches, readying your detonator.
  144. >Hanging around one of the corners to make sure all of your remaining guardsmen have gotten out of the way, you push the bright red button on the detonator.
  145. >Four massive plumes of fire, earth, and steel explode into the sky, a few artillery piece parts visible amid the smoke, the shockwave rattling your eardrums.
  146. “Back to our positions, men,” you order. “Get yourselves comfortable, we may be here a while. And keep an eye out for the enemy. I’m not sure if our other battalions have secured their objectives as easily.”
  147. >You sheathe your chainsword.
  148. “You have done well today, guardsmen. The Emperor’s light has truly been beside us today. Congratulate yourselves.”
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