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The Gentleman
12-17-2009, 06:23 AM
I started this story a while ago but haven't worked on it for at least 2 months now. I'm hoping to revive it again. Untill then, I'll post the first chapter (chapter 2's in the works). Comments and constructive feedback greatly appreciated! :D

P.S: I appologize for any typos or cencorships brought on.


WHITEGUARD

Xeningraz – a five year prelude

“Why me sir?” The trooper inquired as the two men traversed the stone corridor.

It was an ancient place, a castle built on a precarious cradle overlooking the great bank and a roaring beast of a river. For over a millennia its walls, floors and furnishings just slept their time away in the shadows, utterly undisturbed.

Dust was a common commodity here; it seemed to smother every surface. It was the only archive by which the places true age could be recognised. There was as certain malice about it. The furniture was intact, as if brand new, just take a dust-brush to it then you'd be able to pass it off as fresh merchandise. It was as if some supernatural power kept them in timeless suspension, as if frozen. Such a mystery gave its new occupants a feeling that something evil lurked in this hallowed place, the places latest occupants were even too scared to touch said furniture when not necessary.

“He requested you personally, by name, boy.”
They were both distinguishable, not just by uniform. One was a dark, ageing, leathery skinned representative of the commissariat somewhere between sixty and seventy, the other was a pale, tall, lean young man wearing a loose combat vest, mud caked trousers and guard issue boots. The younger of the two had a long barrelled lasgun slung over his back in a slack fashion.

“But why ME?! I've never even heard of the guy.” The guardsman expressed with no small measure of nerve in his voice.
“Trooper, he won't talk to anyone else. Hell! This inquisitor chap couldn't break him!”
They continued on. The boy felt so isolated here, in the company of the commissar among a thousand other guardsmen in extravagant uniform. The bloody commies, they never sat well in his unit. Embodiments of the Armchair's disregard for the men under their command.

There was a common idea in the guard, throw enough resources and meat at it and you can always win. It was a true philosophy, but then there were the commanders that knew the abilities of each soldier at their disposal. Assault specialist, gunners, interrogators, they knew how to apply each and every one of them. The application of morale too. An army would only tolerate the lash for so long.

Manoeuvring through several corners and elongated corridors brought them to the lower levels of the castle.
He'd had the briefing, some sort of excavation activity had been occurring on the surface of the planet for the last year. The newly founded regiment had been brought in to quell a small scale uprising somewhere in the Jarence sector, close to the Domocles gulf. There were wild rumours now, of a mass evacuation of imperial forces there. But the hangmen were keeping a real hush about the whole thing, the dog soldiers of the guard had very little to go on.
As they came to the holding area they saw more commissars, probably more junior members, armed with short, wire stocked lasguns. They immediately snapped to attention as the commissar and the boy entered.

“Sir!” Their voices came back with a strong touch of nerve at seeing such a senior commissar.
“I have the boy. We're here to see prisoner 24.” The commissar said, flashing them a few dog tags and some ID.
“You sure sir? He's been a bit...lively, this morning.”
He fixed the two cadets.
“Just follow orders lads.”
Eagerly, they moved to one of the many cell doors in the chamber. The scale of the whole fortress made the trooper wonder if he was now in an entirely separate complex, it was hard to believe that if all fit into the place. Bloody hell, no wonder they were edgy around here!

The door opened with a hefty, agonising scraping noise. The boy walked in, he was tensing, his hands held up in a position that indicated he expected something to happen. Those commies had been **** shady about him being dragged all the way down here.

The older commissar leant over to the cadets.
“Don't open it until we get a response.” The creaky faced man whispered in a low voice.

A loud slam behind the young guardsman signalled that he was now on his own in the cushioned, lit room. Dazzling light assaulted his senses as his retina adjusted.
It was completely unfurnished, accept for a steel chair and an oak table with two glasses of water perched on it. Then there was a men, his face hidden in some sort of unnatural shadow, how there was a shadow there in this light was open to discussion.
He wore the purple robe that gave him a certain scholarly aura, there was also a white jacket, torn and blood strained from the interrogations carried out. This must have been one of the researchers on the excavation site. If what the commie was saying about an inquisitor was true, it looked rather merciful.

“I knew you would come, they told me.” He mouthed silently, it surprised the boy just how sudden and hoarse his voice sounded.
“Wha- Who? Who the hell are you?” The trooper asked, beads of sweat clinging to his forehead.
“Names, titles? What good are they?”
“What the hell?”
“But I suspect you're here on other matters. No?” The man said again. It freaked the rookie how his voice didn't seem to match the movements of his mouth.
“Why am I here?”
“Why? Why are we all here? We all have some purpose in this life. Some of us are meant tio die, nothing more, nothing less...”
“Stop this s**t!” The trooper burst out. “Tell me why I have been dragged down here.”
The figure regarded him for a moment. A smile grew across his face; it didn't even seem to be his.

“They told me you would be here, and you will be there, a long time from now.”
“I don't have the time! Who told you?”
He leapt from his seat, the chair toppled. The man's eyes were those of the enraged, the maddened. Before the trooper could reach his lasgun the man was on him.
Panicked, maddened, insane. The man looked like he would snap and slit his throat. He had remarkable strength, the rookies hands were tied.

“Angels, angels they told me! They told me!” His voice now stuttered, the eyes staring into the troopers were not eyes, but pits; black pits where beast and daemons stirred, where insanity reigned, there was neither time, space, sense or matter.
A pit of nothing.

To look at it further would have driven the young man as raving as the old man before him.
“They told me you'll be there! When blood flows, beasts will stir and the sins of old let loose! You'll be there! You must not let them have it! You must make them repent!!!”

The madman simply fell off him, onto the cushioned floor, his body simply erupted into spasms. Blood streamed from his nose and ears. His mouth frothed as he spat insane gibberish.
The erratic body movements stopped abruptly. He simply curled up on the floor, like a hedgehog. In one sharp motion, his head turned to the trooper, who was now clutching the foam of the cell walls in pure, speechless fright.
The scholar was now glassy eyed, his pupils missing.

“You must make them repent, Trooper Omian Varlon.”
Then the mans head burst in a cloud of skull fragments, brain matter and blood.


It has been a subject of great discussion among imperial military historians just how a few green imperial guard units managed to hold a small ring of planets not yet under control of the heretic Tau forces. Before the battle of Karaskitav, the Tau's “Third Sphere Expansion” had surged across imperial space surrounding the domocles gulf. Emboldened by this surprise string of successes, the high command of imperial forces stationed on the borders of the xenos empire began to hit back against the invaders. Now that the defenders were now on the offensive, many more new regiments were raised and spearheaded by the, now veteran units that had been baptised in fire during the defence of the Juzc ring (previously the last bastion of imperial control in the sector). A year later in the later stages of 945.M41, the forces now fighting the “Veleleque crusade” (as it was now dubbed after a local legend, see archive C59.U345 of the inquisitorial data banks for more information) prepared to attack a line of fortress planets named “The Abyss line”. Such planets as Orchia V, Khorus would become common legends of there own during this period of history...
-Chapter 56, a history of later imperial crusades


Chapter 1 – Gate of ashes


-ONE
Colonel Omian Varlon, Monian 37th. Times like these he'd think back to his last conversation with his father, back in the frozen wasteland he called home. A long time ago...a long way from here. He'd asked Varlon if he was still a praying man, and he'd replied “Yes,” eagerly. Heh, falk. At times like these he could here that same voice in his head. That voice telling him to pray harder, 'cause it isn't working.
That's exactly what Omian Varlon was thinking there in the trench, in some emperor forsaken forest.

Ash descended - it felt like snow, looked like it, it remained so as it made fall on his bare forearms, stuck to his winter fatigues and cameleoline cloak. Here on the wrong side of hell it was impossible to see the sky. A never ending blight of ash cloud filtered the light from the heavens until it came down as some beige twilight.

The Monian 37th “wraiths” as they were coined squatted in their trench, in the deep shadow of forested hills, now greying as they were starved of natural light. It was an awful sight. It looked like winter with the ash, something to do with atmospheric disturbance caused the by munitions tossed at the planet from the navy cruisers. The falking ash...
It was effectively a dead world, but a fortified one. And as long as a Tau soul stood upon its soil, the armchair generals would not leave it alone. A dead world, with wraiths living on it.

Varlon leant on the bank of the trench, looking at the walls, those great black walls. Behind was a tower, a very big tower, the tallest thing on this whole bloody planet.
The monians were an unusual bunch to say the least. Soldiers from the coldest hell in the Ultima Segmentum. Naturally tall and lean. They were pale and had dark eyes that tended to creep people out. Marksmen, swords and survivors of no equal. Generally they were issued navy blue or black flak armour, grey or winter fatigues and cameleoline camo webbing. Many had long barrelled lasguns with monian steel stocks.

Beyond that there was no end to the variation. With no commissars in the regiment, monians would scavenge anything at hand if it could be put to use. You may have 10 variants of lasgun in a single platoon. Scavenging was essentially a monian military doctrine.

But the one thing that marked them out was the wraithbane.
Made of monian steel, among the hardest in the Imperium. It was sleek, light, never blunted. It fitted with their natural abilities with blades perfectly. They were more than weapons though. On every wraithbane was inscribed the names of all previous wielders. A wraithbane would be handed down through generations, parents to offspring. It was more sacred than a weapon. It was more effective than any bayonet.

“Sir?”
The voice of Major Coraz was instantly recognisable from behind him.
“Sorry Cor. A bit out of it this morning. I think that tower's getting to me.”
“If you'd like, colonel, it could get some caffeine. It's fresh – well, as fresh as it comes around here,” the major of A company offered in a commendably perky tone.
“I guess I could use something to wake me up.”

The colonel moved out of the twilight and into Coraz's dug-out. It was nice to feel the artificial light of the lamp; at least it felt like normal sunlight. A few flasks and a large pot of steaming brown liquid sat on the table near the bunk. Juran, the lean head medic of A company, was on the lower bunk, rummaging through his pack checking his syringes, bandages and other supplies. Juran was young, intelligent and tall, even for a monian. It made Varlon wonder how he ever ended up here.
Coraz moved to the vox set on his bed as Omian poured himself a cup of the caffeine. Its sweet, almost alluring aroma pursed his senses as they peaked. He took in the smell of the drink with vigour.

The major sat at the vox, donning the headset. He went to his work, turning the dials and listening attentively for incoming signals.
Another figure now entered the dug-out, its brown hair flowing freely and a necklace of assorted teeth hanging from its neck. Sergeant Valina then moved across the floor quickly scooping up one of the flasks.
“Great! New blend?”
She was particularly energetic today.
“Morning sergeant.” Varlon voiced, slightly amused by Coraz's surprise at her sudden entry.
“Hi sir. Heard there was more caffeine rations and y'know sir. Around here you've got to get it whenever you can.”
Valina was an exceptional sergeant. Fleet footed and bold as anything. At her thigh was holstered a revolver style autopistol. She treated it rather like a child would treat some stuffed toy their mother knitted. It's large calibre bullets meant that it was essentially a “one hit – one kill” kind of weapon.
Varlon then turned to the sergeant.
“Valina, before I forget, your squad's on picket today. Get them assembled and ready.”
“Yes sir.” She replied and set back outside.
The colonel took a few more minutes to savour the hot, brown brew. Coraz continued to monitor the vox lines.
“Keep working Cor.” Varlon mentioned before moving back out.

--

Major Forzak, C company, Monian 37th. At around the same time, he walked his section of the line. He was best described as “pushy”. Like Major Torez of E company, but to a lesser extent.

Easily distinguishable among the veiled figures that sat there, waiting, watching...
Forzak could usually be found wearing a pair of scratched, green lensed goggles, even when it was not necessary. Personally he thought it was good to show a slight disregard for the enemy when the falk is flying.
He checked his plasma gun, a good piece of kit, heavily modified with overheat warning devices, scopes, the works. It was even adorned with small plug-ins that helped increase the reliability and accuracy of the weapon. The major had really gone to town on it.

Stubbers were set up in concealed in gun nests just behind in support ditches and small supply caches set up at equal intervals along the frontline trench.
This day was going to be a big one. It could not be explained how the monian soldiers got that illusion, it was just a feeling in the frayed air. Falk! As if the ash clouds hadn't got them worked up enough!

Forzak knew he had to try and loosen a few shoulders around here.

Troopers Dalix and Sverge. The two who, no matter what was going on, always remained incredibly optimistic. They were first choice when the elite core of the regiment “the scouts” were first picked. The scouts were split into two halves; “The Stalkers” and “The Nightblades”. The former were snipers of no equal and Nightblades were wetwork experts.

Sverge giggled.
“You're so full of crap Dal!!!”
Both were best mates, inseparable. Even raging Kroot hounds and Tau grav-tanks couldn't break them up. Dalix was 20, had a thin face and high cheek bones that were easily visible. Sverge had pudgy facial features, was slightly shorter than his compatriot and had a barrel chest.

They both smiled as the major approached.
“How are you guys this morning?” Forzak inquired.
“Eager and waiting sir.” They said back in unison.
“The lads and ladies are a bit tense this morning. I hear we got our first shipment of fresh caffeine in months and I'd like you two to go down that way and tell everyone not on picket to head to the dining dug-out to grab it while its hot.”
“On it sir!” They both leaped to their feet with unanticipated enthusiasm and were off.
Another voice beckoned the major from somewhere down the trench. It seemed to echo against the surrounding hills.

Like the two snipers had just done, Forzak hurried in the direction of the voice. One of the lookouts was waving for him.
“Sir! You may want to look at this!”
The monian guardsman pointed out into the large clearing that separated them from that **** city, fortress, whatever it was.
In the mist there was a silhouetted figure. Upon further examination, Forzak could see that it seemed to be creeping towards the trench, on its own. Surely that's suicide?! It didn't even try and keep low.

“Give me those binoculars.” He ordered. The lookout handed them over.
It was human, not Tau. Forzak wasn't entirely surprised. Tau were not as savage as orks or as merciless as followers of the great enemy. They were smart, they coaxed into giving in, to joining their cause. Monians weren't what you could call great fanatics of the Imperium, but they knew what those ******** did to you.
Forzak had a bad feeling about this. Must be a Tau trick to draw them from their positions. The xenos falkers must know what the Wraiths were capable of. Now they're trying to rid them of their advantage.
No such luck ********!

“Hold fire sergeant!” He hissed. “They must be trying to coax us out.”
It was all too late that they reacted when that solitary traitor produced some sort of advanced flare gun. Many guardsmen and women recoiled as blinding white light bathed the immediate area.
That lone figure was now just another of the bodies that lay out there.
Great blue pulses shot into the air from behind the black walls, a rush of air, the inhuman whine.

Those were the signs that the soldiers of the Monian 37th were about to get their first slice of hell for the morning...

-TWO
A whole mile behind the frontline was Lord Commander Farrere Zukan, just waking up from a nights rest. In the camp he was accompanied by a full company of high command bodyguards, equipped with full plate, vexhian pattern carapace armour that made them resemble some peculiar marriage between man and some sort of beetle. Also, they were tooled up with large calibre gold rimmed autoguns and high grade targeting systems.

Still in his red night robe and sleeping cap, the lord commander stepped out into the misty air of Saker Prime. The ash still descended, making the trees which surrounded the command camp seem ever more dead and frozen by the day.

Zukan was eighty one and was a big, intimidating presence. Wide and tall, and he was the one orchestrating the war on this part of the Abyss line of fortress planets.

Looked out at the camp he looked on the milling guard troopers attending to their daily agenda. He called over to one nearby, a bodyguard lieutenant of naval command, and ordered him to fetch Zukan some tanna tea. This was his typical morning routine out here on Saker Prime. He then attended to his holographic tactical map sitting on the wooden table in his large tent. The device emitted a low, droning buzz as it cast the light blue glow on the board and its mechanisms linked in with the navy's observation crews in orbit.

On the board was laid out the constant movements of every trooper, along a 9 kilometre front. They tended to merge into larger shapes and were typically colour coded by regiment. This morning, as it had been the last 70 mornings, the icons were packed into one long strip representing the trenches and their adjacent support and gunnery lines. On the other side were the icons representing the xenos positions on which they had less intel on. The xenos had managed to create enough electrical disturbance to hinder navy observation in that area, and due to atmospheric conditions, that only contributed to the problem.

Now, this morning there seemed to be something going on.

The Tau positions opposing the section of trench which housed the dark blue icons were lighting up. Large energy signatures were visible on the tactical map. A few of the dark blue dots were disappearing every now and then.

The commander looked round and saw Colonel Baransk enter. He had the beige greatcoat of his regiment; the 3rd Pashtons grenadiers. They served as the imperials experts in shock tactics here. With a long and proud record of loyalty, they were kept in reserve. They were too valuable to be placed on the line.

“Who would that be down there Colonel?” The commander asked in his pristine, high gothic tongue that sounded so fluent and so fine that it could probably be wrapped up and served on a platter.
The Pashtonian examined the map for a moment, looking for the spot the lord commander had asked about.
“I think that's those monians.” The colonel stated in a voice that betrayed no sense of emotion.
“Monians?”
“Yes sir. Wraiths, I believe they're called.” He stated again.
“Oh yeah! Varlons lads I think.”
“Yeah, Varlon sir.” This time the colonel had a certain sting to his voice.
The commander noticed.
“You don't like him?”
“I have a...”
“Don't be so formal colonel.” The lord commander laughed slightly.
“Frankly I think him and his lot are a load of ******* cowards sir. The sort of hunker down instead of hold a bayonet to the enemy and stand firm.”
The commander looked from the colonel, mentally dismissing his last sentence.

“Well Baransk, this is a red letter day. Our enemy has finally revealed themselves, now we can play our hand.”
Zukan leant across and made several hand movements across the board.

“We order Varlons boys to not only hold the line, but pursue the Tau forces in a counter assault.” The commanders hand started sweeping across the walls visible on the tactical map. “The xenos will move their reserves and shift their forces and artillery guns to stop the breakthrough. We'll finally have a chance for your lads to stage a rapid attack on their positions. On the other end of the line.”

Baransk seemed to perk up and smile smugly to himself at this news.
“You mean-”
“Yes colonel.” The lord commander interrupted. “You'd better be prepared.”
“For what, lord commander?”

Zukan smiled.
“Colonel, prepare to enter the tomes of legend.”

--

Troopers Steyr and Gaz were dead before they registered the first strikes of the artillery. Their forms were erased from existence in an instant - no bodies would lay to prove their previous occupation of this world.

Varlon heaved himself from the remains of his shelter where he had previously eating breakfast. His world was now nothing but bright blue strobe lighting and the deep whine and crack of the Tau's plasma artillery. Guardsmen and women dived into any recess available in the trench. Prayers were muttered and death screams echoed in the stale morning air.

He crawled along, taking his boltgun from its holster and checking that his chainsword was still in its sheathe. It all slowed down around him as adrenaline kicked in. Soldiers became nought but black and white blurs and the beige, cloud choked sky transformed into a swirling hell of red and blue beams and explosions. The corpse trees became tortured and twisted spires.

Soon, drops of reality started to trickle through the screen of disorientation that clouded his judgement.
Muffled shouts and screams became audible and the colonel was soon able to put names to faces. Sergeants were now rallying their units and getting them into concealed positions.

The colonel found himself clasped in the large hands of Sorun, sergeant of A companies nightblade section, with forearms like a bear and bushy facial hair.
“Wakey wakey Var!!!” He yelled over the chaotic blur of the realm of fire unfolding around him.
“You cocky *******!” Varlon replied as he was dragged to his feet.
“Looks like we'll be having fish for breakfast!” He yelled again.
As one of the veteran guard units who fought the battle of Karaskitav they had seen the Tau up close. They seemed to resemble a common species of fish and along with their various vehicles they were known to field, like their dive bombers resembling a sort of stingray.

“Falk! We've got contacts.” An exasperated shout came from somewhere along the trench. Several similar signals were sounding in agreement.
Varlon leapt to the firing step, out of the ash mist came silhouetted figures. It wasn't the fish-heads though. Humanoid figures in old pattern PDF flak jackets, totting wire stock autoguns - there were signs of scratched out imperial and local insignia.
The ********! They were using the human population as cannon fodder. It seemed all humanity had gone from their eyes, they had been won over by false hopes of “freedom” and “opportunity”. Some freedom.

Varlon thumbed his vox bead.
“All units to firing positions! Weapons at the ready! Rapid fire, wait for my order!”
He flicked to officer channel.
“Hailbrach!” Hailbrach was master of Coraz's heavy weapons section.
“Yes sir?”
“Get your boys to the gun nests! Be ready to fire on my order!”

He rested his bolter on the bank of the trench and looked at the traitors. Poor falkers. Won over by false promise and taken advantage of. It rended his heart for a few moments as he pondered on this.
“Get ready!”
The colonel felt the tension in the air as it built and soldiers braced themselves against the stocks of their lasguns, or autoguns where scavenged.

They were almost on them. Women and men were among their ranks, fanatical and devoted to their new cause.
Varlon picked his target, his bolter cross-hairs sighted one of the conscripts. He was a white haired man, with a scar down his left cheek. Ex-guard! **** the fish-heads!

Now they were nought 40 metres away.

“Stick it to them!!!”
The next sound to be heard was the mass reports of stubbers, lasguns and grenades.

--

The first traitor to reach the trench ended his life on the wrong end of Forzaks plasma gun.

A mass wave of bodies dived into the trench; there were multiple flashes of light as their signature longblades were drawn. In seconds in the small confides of the frontline trench the whole engagement degraded into a chaotic melee. The pattering noise of stubbers and the crack of lasguns were deafening traitor bodies fell and burst.

Forzak swerved around to bring the weight of his weapon down on the skull of a woman as she charged him with what looked like an extended iron stake. Her body was batted aside and broken on the duck-boards, a desperate scream signalling her demise. The major then saw another couple of the conscripts running down the trench towards him, one of them armed with some sort of civilian grade shotgun.

He let off one shot that went wide slightly and dissipated harmlessly on the embankment wall. His next shot struck the shotgun traitor on the side of his face. He fell to the floor without a sound, an entire half of his head vaporised.

His companion was almost on Forzak now, raising a rusty, ageing bayonet on the end of one of the defaced PDF lasguns. It looked too un-kept to fire reliably. Dropping his energy weapon and drawing his laspistol he took aim at the conscript.

The body went down in spasms, hitting Forzak. Next thing he knew he was sprawled on the floor with the limp corpse over him. His world became some terrifying enclosure of silhouetted blades and flailing figures. It seemed to be closing in even more, crushing him.

One stepped forward, another traitor. A 13 year old boy. A sick combination of childish innocence and psychotic fanaticism. He was lifting a crimson-soaked sickle.

There was a gut quenching crunch and a rapid spurt of bodily fluids as the young boy fell forward. A giant hole exposed what was left of his pulped brain.
Stood beyond was a monian figure, clutching a blood caked wrench. She wore a welding mask in an upright position and had a face spotted with black marks. It was the company teckie; Delrain, a slightly eccentric individual. Over her back was an electric crossbow she'd finally managed to get working. The electricity super-heated the bolt. It was an incredibly potent device.

“And you said this wrench would be a bad buy!” She shouted, flashing a cocksure smile.

--

“We've got a breach!!!” Sergeant Hailbrach yelled desperately, firing his lasgun wildly into the trench.

The barrage had ended. But the wraiths had a bigger problem.
A larger group of traitors had managed to push into a small section of the trench, swarming in and moving along and beyond the trench towards Hailbrachs stubber positions.

Trooper Darinzag was gathering his squad after noticing that his sergeant was now dead with a cleaver in his cranium.
“Darin! We need to plug that breach!” Varlon ordered, unsheathing his chainsword and feeling the motions down his body as the motor roared and the teeth bayed for blood.
“Move in!!!” The colonel yelled. Wraithbanes flashed as they were slid from their berths.

Eviscerated organs spewed over the trench as a traitor was run through by the chainsword. The gruff face of Darinzag smiled grimly as he decapitated one of the human auxiliaries, his head soaring as the elegant longblade sliced through the air.

There was a flurry of point blanc las-shot as a woman, bearing one of the heretical Tau symbols tattooed on her forehead, toppled with a mass of cauterised wounds in her chest.

Varlon shouldered his bulky bolt pistol and let rip. He strained to resist the buck of the bolter. Only a few campaigns he'd been through in the 3 years since his unexpected promotion. Much of the time he still felt like much of his regiment saw him as unworthy of command, and he wasn't even sure himself. The weight of responsibility crushed his shoulders. Still, there was the likes of Coraz who had full confidence in him - that was one of the most frightening things.

The mass reactive ballistic shells tore away at the crowd of auxiliaries. One of them burst immediately, all nearby persons blotted with blood matter. In a second there was nothing left of him. His comrade nearby then lost his arm, his agonised screams being drowned out in the chaos unfolding.

There was the sensation, not unlike that of one cheekbones cracking as the monian colonel was knocked aside. His bolter clattered as it skidded along the duck-boards.

Yelling obscene curses, presumably of a local dialect, another traitor went at his throat with a sabre. Varlon clasped the hilt of his wraithbane. The man hadn't even the time to make another motion before the light longblade pierced his stomach and warm, fresh blood welled from the wound.

He looked to see Darinzag still in fierce confrontation with two of the human conscripts. The colonel lifted his wraithbane and charged the group. The agile young man before him turned with almost commendable speed and parried the blade with his lasgun. But Varlon, being a master bladesman among bladesmen, ducked under the boys guard and under his fist that tried to counter the move.
Omian Varlon rugby tackled him and sent him sprawling. With airtight reflexes that could only come from a life of mist, unbelievable cold and some of the worse predators the segmentum has to offer, the colonel was on his feet and brought the unbreakable weapon round. There was the sickening sound of flesh giving way to metal as the knife entered his chest cavity.

It was almost maddening the calamity laid out before him. Bodies were now piling up, making movement tricky in the confides of the dugouts and sandbags. Intense strobe effects were the result of the large amount of fire being thrown about. Utter, never ending madness.

However, the amount of noise and movement had decreased since the traitors had first struck their positions. Scores of the dead were theirs and the monians began firing at the human auxiliaries that began to flee in a shambled fashion. Varlon then saw the dugout he'd been in with Coraz and Juran about an hour ago. Nothing remained but a pile of charred debris. Miraculously, the battered vox set had been thrown clear.
The faint crackling noise of a voice trying to get through was just about audible over the continuing noise of battle.

The colonel dashed across to the scuffed piece of equipment, scooping up his bolt pistol. He recognised the garbled voice on the other side as that of lord commander Zukan. There he got the news of their next orders. Zukan tried to dress it up but it was futile - it meant the same thing.

The ******* falker.

He looked aside, there was Coraz, still alive, kicking and pumping several of the defected citizens with las shot. Behind him was Juran, dragging a wounded monian with him to the still intact medical dugout, held by two guardsmen with scavenged autoguns. Several shots missed the young medic by inches. Juran was one of the luckiest men in the regiment; Varlon and Coraz had seen him make it through hails of sniper shots and escape blights of artillery fire with not a scratch among other things. For this reason, 80 monian soldiers are in debt to him.

Varlon made for the major, a traitor tried to impede his path but was quickly seen to be the officers wraithbane. He grabbed Coraz's shoulder, getting his attention.
“Are you with me major?!” Varlon asked.
“To hell and back sir!” He replied without hesitation.

The colonel leapt to the trench ladder and drew his chainsword, sheathed his longblade and holstered his bolter. Men and women of A company and many others on the line looked to him.

“Zukan wants us to give the fish heads their wake up call!”
As he drew approval from the monians, he clambered the bank.

Charging into the must of smoke and dead leaves, guardsmen followed him across the field. Then Varlon thought, maybe he COULD be a leader...

-THREE
Major Deren Torez of E company mounted the hill with a deep, guttural laugh.

His monstrous frame boasted a brilliant construct of muscles and scars. Many call him insane, cocky, but he was also said to be bold and inspiring in the way that he'd wade into hails of lead and plasma. That was why the soldiers of his company followed him; he lead almost exclusively by example, always the first over the top.
As always he had perched on his head a deep crimson beret. It was hard to believe that this individual was part of a regiment that relied on infiltration and sabotage. Torez was your man if the mission had nothing to do with stealth. This was one of those occasions.

“Sergeant! Get your people to take that emplacement or I'll do it for you!” The major roared, such was the volume that it could almost be heard over the constant drumming of plasma artillery, rattling of stubbers and crackling of lasfire.
Dead, white encrusted leaves were crumpled underfoot and the ash still fell as it had done since they had got here. As they advanced, the great dark stone walls that protected whatever the hell lay inside got ever closer.

Spiralling smoke trails signalled the imperial counter bombardment. The immense tower was out of range but the assault of shells were starting to arc down on the walls and anything beyond. Out of nowhere, blue and green patterns opened up in the space just above the walls. The ******* xenos had an energy field!

Bright blue signatures opened up ahead. Plasma bolts cut the air as they lay into the advancing wraiths. A female monian fell beside him, her chest nothing more than a bloody mess. He tapped his vox bead.
“Colonel! Colonel! Varlon! Please tell me you're receiving me!”
Only static greeted his request.
“Falk it!” The fish heads were scrambling their comms, for now they were on their own.

“With me lads and ladettes!” Torez announced with a grin.
He hefted two large shotguns taken from the assaulting traitors, they were strapped over his shoulders as he wielded them.
The tau positions consisted of a line of trees the xenos had been careful to keep. The foliage contrasted with the black stone.
Now they were in eyeshot for the first time since Karaskitav, each one clad head to toe in an almost gracefully curved carapace. On their helmets were red blinking visors. It was almost hard to look at the ones with no helmet on. Their faces were a deep, purplish blue, and they had a few lined recesses in their face that looked to be scars until you noticed that every one of them had them. Their standard armament was some sort of long, arcane plasma rifle.

Once he had the target, Torez started to bull-charge the line in his own, famous fashion.
A stream of shots missed him as the men and women of E company followed, spitting lasfire and drawing their wraithbanes for close quarters.

The first tau warrior to oppose the major quickly found itself with its face staved in by a shotgun butt. There was then the hollow boom and the metallic click of the pump action as the next victim was blown back with horrifying force. Like a wave of spirits the monians rushed the tree line. The first line of xenos warriors they encountered were bowled over by the guardsmen, cut down by longblades and lasguns.

Torez continued to unload buckshot into the foe, blasting another four.
The twin weapons clacked dry. Torez wasted no time in discarding them, drawing his lasgun.

Another came at him with some sort of knife - judging by the unusual markings on his armour, a unit leader of some sort. It also bore what seemed to be a compact, carbine version of the long plasma rifles wielded the others, it screamed an inhuman obscenity as the thing challenged him.

The monian officer sidestepped him, the tau leader rebounded off the side of his bulk. The alien was dazed as momentum carried it on and tried to address itself. Torez took advantage of this opening and shoved his rifle into point blanc range. The tau's head simply vaporised to the touch of a close range barrage of ionised bolts.

“Lets stick it to them!!!” Torez chuckled so loudly that soldiers 600 metres either side of him roared heartily back in approval.

The wraiths continued in their furious onslaught, the laughing of their bulldog major Torez driving them on.

--

The curse, the bloody curse of C company.

Incendiary light burst up in great gouts of black mud, disintegrating leaves and debris. The unit had been thrown into confusion as the wrath of ten or more plasma batteries opened into the wraiths advance. They had lost contact with the rest of the regiment - only the weaker, company level signals were not completely impaired.

Splinters acted as shrapnel; the last trees between the imperial trenches and the walls were torn, ripped apart, burst or simply erased from all existence. A multitude of shouts and screams sounded from the scattered monians as they attempted to return fire.

Forzak buried his face into the dirt of an older shell hole. Three bodies fell in beside him, troopers Darias and Narts, and with them sergeant Quasch, sporting a belt of improvised explosives around his torso and boasting a small autorifle.
“Good to see your still in one piece major!” Quasch bellowed, trying to be heard over the orchestra of explosions.
“Barely.” Forzak muttered.
The major hazarded a peek over the lip of the hole.
Through the musty smoke of the engagement there were the dark forms of the tau. Bursts of powerful plasma weapons cut down the guardsmen mercilessly. Just before his head was driven back into shelter by a well aimed shot Forzak noticed some decaying ditches. They were probably used by the locals when the tau first came to this planet.

“Sergeant, Darias, Nart! We need to silence those gun nests!” The major indicated the older trenches. “We make for those and flank them. Quasch! Better prep those bombs, we're gonna blow them!”
The three nodded their agreement.
Leaping from cover the guardsmen fired their weapons on full auto as Forzak took controlled bursts with his plasma gun. The tau guns chewed up the ground around their rapidly advancing progress.

The guardsmen fell into the ditch, holding their heads as they lay low in the shallow emplacement. Forzak turned to notice that Nart was not with them, but 5 metres back with his head missing.
“Wait for them to reload!”
Abruptly, from the nearest bunker there was a lull in its onslaught.
“Move!”
The major ran, him and Darias laying down a hail of covering fire as Quasch thumbed the detonator on one of his home made bombs.

There was a calamity of dust and chunks of rockrete as the charges went off. The three soldiers quickly swept into the flanking end of the tau trench. Two fire warriors stumbled from the ruined emplacement, dazed and confused. Quasch threw one back with a long stream of rounds from his autorifle. Darias drew his longknife, wrenching the other alien by his armour plating and ramming the wraithbane through what could be the xenos equivalent of a sternum.

They followed a similar routine as they moved along the line, leaving many fish head corpses in their wake. Soon the battered monians of C company rallied and overrun the aliens defence line.

Once again, through bloody nosed determination and flexibility, the soldiers of the cursed company had won through.

--

Varlon led one of the nightblade teams across the plain. Crumpled bangs filled the air as shells beat at the stone walls. The colonel was deafened by the amount of gunfire and detonations going on around him.

A field of lasfire erupted from the wave of cloaked guardsmen as they continued on to the tau lines, their response to the assault being somewhat hurried. It seemed that they hadn't the time to set up gun positions as the monians of A company had set about them as soon as the attack on imperial lines by the auxiliaries had been blunted and thwarted.

The gate was in sight, clearly not of tau design. Refurbishments aside, it had a deeply sinister architecture to it. Sporting large arched struts and had spikes jutting from its frame. Whatever the hell was behind that **** gate, Varlon didn't want to find out as to what it was. Unfortunately, there was probably no avoiding it.

Two trails of radiant red energy sliced through the ash clouds. The darkened frames of two vulture gunships, sporting the golden emblem of the Sariaficus fleet and their iron frames bristling with lascannons, bolters and missle pods descended from the heavens and began to unload their furious payload into the gun positions on the walls ramparts.

A faint crackling of static sounded in his vox bead.
“I figured you guys would need a bit of help!” Varlon smiled as he received the words from the squadron leader. Several whoops and phrases along the lines “Eat that whore-mongering ********!” and “Buuuuuurn!” followed.

Before anyone could say or do anything, several green bolts soared into the air. A couple barely missed one of the gunships but many more struck the other. A glowing orange star fell as chunks of metal were ejected from secondary explosions.

With the scream of a banshee the wrecked vulture slammed into the wall. Debris tumbled and crashed on the dead grass. Already the imperial soldiers were jumping into the entrenchments. Varlon led them, his chainsword motor spurted and roared as he flicked the activation runes.

The nightblades swept either way down the trench, with practised precision the scouts mowed down fire warriors trying to plug the breach. For a standard monian this was a good situation, wraithbanes flashing and barrages of lasfire sweeping. But for the elite, the nightblades who could decimate enemy defences in a flurry of surprise strikes, it was a win-win scenario.

The last remaining vulture was now turning back upward, still chased by AA fire.
“S**t! I'm pulling out!” The pilots voice was now panicked and high-pitched.
His friend had not died in vain however as a severe opening was inflicted in the wall and such was the rapidity of their attack that the monians now effectively owned the trench.

Defeated, the gate of ashes had given way. Victorious, the wraiths continued on, into whatever the falk lay in wait.