Dropping like a fiery comet, its descent preceded by a thunderous roar, the drop pod of the Knights of Altair announced the beginning of the battle.
All morning, Imperial and Tau troops had been advancing toward a satellite array that stood in the center of a pastoral valley to the north of the port city of Pradeep.
Although not an essential installation, the array was somewhat isolated, and it proved too great a temptation to the Tau commander, Commander Swiftstrike, who was aggressively testing the Imperial defenses around the port city.
Soldiers on both sides watched the drop pod fall. All knew what its fiery presence signified: The greatest of mankind’s warriors, the Emperor’s own Adeptus Astartes—the Space Marines—had joined the fight to defend Dar Sai.
Only seconds before the seven-meter-tall drop pod crashed into the ground, its retro engines fired, slowing the assault transport before it slammed into the soft dirt of the valley floor. Its landing was hard, abrupt, and surely would have severely injured or killed any normal man riding inside.
But there was nothing normal about the warrior within. Explosive bolts freed the drop pod’s doors, which fell heavily outward, opening like blossoming flower pedals. But there was little beauty to the sight. As the smoke and dust that swirled around the drop pod began to dissipate, out strode a massive metal monstrosity: A dreadnought. Brother Boras, ancient warrior of the Knights of Altair. (1)
A change of plan
From 2,000 meters above the battlefield, the Tau commander, Commander Swiftstrike, stood at the open hatch of a flying Orca Dropship that was waiting to descend and reunite the Tau leader with his troops.
He watched the drop pod fall, his heart sinking at the sight. There was no clearer sign that his troops would face the genetically enhanced elite troops of the dead Gue’la emperor.
Invested within his XV22 Stealth Suit, the Tau officer followed the movement of friendly and enemy troops on the holo-screens within his helmet. After determining how best to address this new threat, he tapped his comlink and began issuing orders.
“All heavy weapons will target the Gue’la orbital drop vehicle and its passsengers. Eliminate the threat. Expect elite, well-armored troops to appear on your front. Fire pattern X-1A is in effect until further notice.”
To the west, he could see the dust clouds of approaching armor. There were more combat vehicles than he’d expected, and he knew his small contingent of Hammerhead tanks could not stand up against such a force.
Swiftstrike contacted the Orca’s pilot. “We will not be landing with the troops. Head toward the armor formation to the west. My team will perform an aerial drop behind them. Let’s see how well their tanks fight up close and personal.”
A mighty hero falls
At that very moment, Brother-Sergeant Foix was racing across the valley floor in the ancient and honored Pride of Dorn. From his command throne, he studied the auspices of his Predator tank, seeking out potential threats to target with the four lascannon at his command.
On his left flank, a column of Rhinos, Razorbacks, and a menacing Vindicator tank were racing down the valley’s single road, their goal to reach the satellite array before the xenos.
To his front, he saw the drop pod descend and slam into the ground, and the venerable Brother Boras, encased in his ceramite-armored sarcophagus, stride out to meet the enemy.
Then, to his horror, Brother Boras was engulfed by a massive explosion of flame. As the flames died down, Foix saw that the dreadnought’s sarcophagus stood motionless, its armored legs twisted and blackened.
“Brother Boras is down,” Foix said over his vox, his throat tight with outrage and horror. “We shall avenge him.”
In his earpiece, his driver, Brother Octave, reported. “Enemy armor identified. Forty-seven degrees to right, hidden in the copse of trees on the far side of the crop field. Classification: Hammerhead. Likely armament: Rail gun.”
“A thousand curses to the xenos,” Marcellus said. “All lascannon energized to maximum output. Target that heretical Tau.”
Two seconds later, the Predator fired—and a Hammerhead died. (2)
Pathfinder Shas’ui R’Myr observed the Space Marines’ armored force move down the road. He saw the Vindicator stop as it reached the satellite array and fire upon a Tau Devilfish racing forward.
The shot struck home, the left engine of the hovering transport exploding in flame. The transport careened sideways before its left engine cowling plowed into the ground and sent the Devilfish spinning to a stop. (3)
A side hatch opened and Tau warriors scrambled from the burning wreck.
“All units, prepare to guide anti-armor fire,” R’Myr said over his comlink. Power up your markerlights.”
Behind the Vindicator, half a dozen Rhinos and Razorbacks swung out to the tank’s right flank, clearly attempting to create a wall of metal to screen the infantry troops running behind the armor.
The plans of the Gue’la quickly went astray. Leaving the road, the armor accelerated into a boggy area obscured by thick brush, and numerous Rhinos and Razorbacks bogged down, their tracks sinking impotently into the mud.
The armored advance came to a halt, and as R’Myr watched, the back hatches of the transports opened, and more of the Gue’la’s genetically enhanced soldiers disembarked and stumbled as quickly as they could to drier land.
A moment later, the Gue’la looked up. More fiery contrails appeared in the sky above, but they were not more drop pods. Smaller in size, there was only one possibility.
“Target priority has changed,” R’Myr snapped over his comlink. “Enemy elite troops are making an aerial drop. Target them as they land.”
A bad landing
High above the battlefield, Captain Nevarre struggled to guide his descent against heavy winds that suddenly swept through the air at 1,000 meters above the battlefield.
A half-dozen Vanguard Veterans surrounded him, all struggling with their jetpack controls to maintain a proper attack formation as they were blown north of their initial target zone.
Already half a kilometer from the center of the battlefield, Nevarre calculated their likely landing spot and took note of a squad of fire warriors surrounding a large Tau armored walker, what was classified as a “Broadside Battlesuit.” His squad would land dangerously close to this xeno force.
Switching to infrared optics, Nevarre identified a squad of Space Marine scouts advancing through some trees near where his squad would land. “Nevarre to Squad Rolande—I will be landing 50 meters to your southwest. Screen our landing.”
Almost at once, the scout squad appeared out of the woods, firing their boltguns at the Tau and drawing their fire. (4)
Nevarre knew the scouts would take heavy casualties, but if his assault squad hit the ground without major casualties, he would repay every scout’s death one-hundred fold.
The trio of Piranhas swept across the valley floor at blazing speed, the ground passing beneath them in a blur. Piloting the lead hovercraft, Shas’ui Alan’da N’tok aimed at a gap in the woods to the left flank of the advancing Gue’la. (5)
“The woods are screening our advance nicely,” his gunner, Shas L’atyr said over the com link. “We shouldn’t have any problem getting on the flank of that Gue’la tank.”
“Don’t tempt the universe,” N’tok scolded. “We don’t know what’s on the other side of these woods yet.”
As they raced forward, the crew of all three hovercraft could see the blazing contrails of falling elite troops, both Gue’la and Tau. In the distance, to their right, they could see Kroot engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Gue’la warriors clad in gray armor.
Neither opponent was of interest to N’tok. His orders were to maneuver onto the Gue’la flank and strike at their tank support.
They passed the rear of the woods, and N’tok turned his Piranha to the left. Into his com link, he gave his orders. “Arm fusion blasters. We’re on the armor’s flank. Let’s set them aflame.”
Ahead was the deadliest armor threat, what the Gue’la called a “Vindicator,” and L’atyr adjusted his targeting array. A moment later, he opened fire.
The Corvus Cluster is a Warhammer 40K blog documenting our wargaming adventures in the fantastical sci-fi universe of Games Workshop.