Aslong as they don't throw heavy armour at us for the next 20 minutes. With only a few tube launchers to his companies name, and a double handful of cookers, an armoured push would see this company as chewed up and spat out as the scout company.
A heavy thud trembled the ground under Jarn’s feet, and far ahead of them a cone of black smoke jetted up above the village.
“That’s ours.” Herkja said, having paused a moment to cock her ear towards the explosion. She cuffed sweat from her forehead with a flame-inked arm. “One of our guns is still firing after the airstrike, at least.”
Jarn grunted tensely. The Adrantean sub did
use a different calibre of field gun from the ones the frakking Imps had hauled in from Scintilla, and if anyone was going to be able to tell them apart by the sound of their shell-fall alone it was probably Herkja - but with the vox swamped with jamming, whatever artillery they had left would be firing blind. It wouldn’t be stopping the Imps except by some outrageous luck. It was down to them.
The Patriot garrison had cut the trees back some distance from the north bank of Endurance, but to the friendly south they had left the trees in place, and that was to their advantage now. Travelling light, the Jotunhel rushed out onto the ploughed-up fields and were within a hundred metres of the Imperial picket line before the latter realised the danger. The picket was a few strung-out squads of drop troops, lying flat against the furrowed earth while the bulk of their comrades had pressed on towards the village. First they met the Jotunhel charge with snapping, snarling bursts from their lascarbines, and they were effective. The man four metres to Jarn’s right was drilled through the thigh in a puff of vaporised blood, and he tumbled to the ground spitting curses. At Jarn’s roared order the Jotunhel pressed on, firing back with bayonets fixed and hull-axes drawn.
In Jarn’s experience there were some things that even the bravest men turned and ran from. Flamethrowers were one. Naked steel baring down on you at close quarters was another. The prone Imperials began to scramble up and try to back away, spoiling their own aim, and making them easier targets. Jarn saw one cupping his ear and shouting frantically into his vox-bead, but whatever was jamming their communications cut both ways, and Jarn buried his hull-axe in the man’s clavicle as he tried to backpedal away from him. Then they were through, running through mud and blood and the overturned bikes of Droplaug’s scrambler company.
There’s no damn cover out here, they’ll have gone to ground in the village.
Jarn clung to that thought as they plunged on into the smoke-shrouded hamlet and saw lasbeams hissing back and forth through the murk. Heavy stormtroopers and lightly-armed drop troops were pressing in towards the centre of the hamlet, and they turned too slow as the Jotunhel came blazing in from behind.
The killing began again.
+ + + + + +
On the north bank of the river, the mill that had formed mangos Krypter’s anchor point had finally collapsed into rubble, but red-clad skitarii were still occupying the ruins, and stalking the trenches. The Castellax war-automaton, surrounded by corpses, swatted at a thrown melta bomb and lost an arm in the explosion. It staggered, recovered, and swung its remaining mauler cannon to bear, sweeping a storm squad out of existence in an eyeblink. Vesta and Braidy heard the bangs and shrieks of the robot’s handiwork as they scrambled for the safety of the second trench, hard up against the riverbank.
“Oh shit!” Braidy shouted, pointing. “Look!”
There were Imperials at the south end of the bridge. Some of them were on their knees, blazing fire back towards the burning hamlet. A few others spotted the two running Teph Mins, and Vesta and Braidy rolled into the trench just in time as the earth above them detonated in showers of burning mud.
In the trench with them were a few of the Wolf Pack, and a depleted squad of skitarii, calmly reloading.
“Tell me you’ve got orders.” one of the Pack implored them as lasbeams hissed back and forth across the river, some knocking chunks out of the bridge, others smacking the water and puffing up steam. “Or at least an idea of what the frick’s going on out there.”
+ + + + + +
"Grab some gear, boys!” Starolf shouted as he kicked over a crippled stormtrooper and confirmed the kill with a brutal stab of his blade. “The Guard get better stuff than us!"
Moving through the village, they had finally made contact with a few survivors from the scrambler company. Kast was kneeling next to Droplaug, having dragged her free of the collapsed homestead. Jarn’s second in command was torn up almost beyond recognition, but her eyes were open - all of the capillaries in them burst red from an overdose of combat stimms. Jarn wondered how many of them she had killed before going down. Not quite enough.
“Sir?” asked one of the Siculans, speaking up for a knot of his dusty, smoke-blackened comrades who had banded together from whatever was left of Hancock’s peacekeepers. “What do we do now?”
“What do you think?” Herkja answered harshly, and pushed a dead drop-trooper’s lascarbine into his hands. The agri worlder flinched at the sight of her flame tattoos and blood-streaked face, but he took the gun and checked it over competently enough.
Without vox, the fog of war never ceased to amaze Jarn. They had raised hell a few hundred metres behind the remaining Imps, up to and including detonating a flamer operator’s tank in a fireball that reached higher than the buildings, and most of the enemy ahead of them were still facing north across the river as they slunk forward round a half-collapsed church wall. Drop-troopers on the riverbank were laying down covering fire while a few men slipped and slithered down towards the bridge foundations, no doubt hoping to cut the wires to the explosives they had spotted there.
+ + + + + +
Calvan could feel blood
trickling from his ear.
The sudden artillery strike might have been fired blind, and from a single functioning gun, but it had been enough to make every Imperial within a hundred metres of the trench line go to ground for a moment. Now the panic of the first trench settled into a lull of sniping and lobbing grenades - their own grenades, Calvan thought ruefully as he spotted a distinctively spherical Tephaine-pattern frag bounce over them and explode harmlessly outside the trench. Probably from that crate he’d been forced to abandon. Some reinforcements would be great round about now - maybe Jarn’s Jotunhel, or maybe even Tanaka’s vaunted Tephainian Rangers would get off their arses and come help.
Sisilia and Frank had somehow survived, and came stumbling along the trench towards them. Frank spied a periscope on a dead skitarius, and extended it over the lip of the earthworks. Whatever he saw made him curse.
“What do you see?” Calvan asked urgently, fearing the answer.
“More Imps coming.” Frank reported, ducking back down. “And they’ve got tanks.”
” Durock blurted. "The artillery at Prospect was supposed to stop them!"
"You're an idiot.” Benton told him bluntly. “They know artillery can't give up their prepared position and fight them in open ground. The bastards just bypassed them."
"Are we getting anti-tank support, at least?"
"Yeah, up your arse. If they'd got AT guns to spare they wouldn't be sending us, would they?"
“Only got two of these,” Brenna wriggled up to the firing step and hefted her rocket launcher. “Might as well make ‘em count.”
The crosshair icons on the targeting monocular pulsed, beating like a frightened heart as she trained it on the enemy emerging from the tree line a kilometre away. The infantry came first, sweeping cautiously ahead of their camo-painted Chimeras. She also spied a couple of Sentinel walkers and a low-slung Salamander scout car, but they were keeping well back. The Jotunhel traps and Krypter’s ambush must have spooked them.
As she tracked potential targets, a trio of Leman Russ tanks with stubby conqueror cannons mounted to their turrets rumbled forward, keeping within the concealment of the tree line. Brenna saw the turret hatch on one open, and a woman with some kind of black bionic visor appeared, tapping the side of it as she scanned the town. No doubt she was just assessing the situation, though Brenna couldn’t shake the feeling that the tank commander was looking right at her
“Now?” she asked Calvan, “Or when they get closer?”