I called this battle the “Bugout from Argon Meadow.” The regimental history didn’t even bother to record the fight at all. Too small; too insignificant. But that just rubs me wrong. The life of an Imperial Guardsmen may not account for much in the big scheme, but I think a conflict where more than 100 comrade-in-arms die should have a name.
Not that there’s anything good to write about what happened. After the xenos’ first volley, the company opened up with every weapon it had, tearing apart the brush and trees on the meadow’s edge.
I don’t know what the xeno casualties were. I’d have dropped to my belly and crawled away. I suspect the Kroot slipped away.
They certainly weren’t interested in a straight-up firefight. When the officers noticed there was no more enemy fire, a ceasefire order was issued.
My gut told me that the Kroot just wanted us focused to our front. I’d fought the xenos before. They may be savages, but they’re not orks. They know we have more firepower. They know they can run circles around us in the woods. So why go head-to-head?
It took me a few minutes to work this out, then I asked permission to shift my position to the right flank. I just had a feeling that, as we’d sent out a patrol to our left, they’d test our right.
The grot-thinking lieutenant started to chew me out on the vox for asking. . . until Captain Flatz got on the line. How he keeps track of all the vox traffic in the middle of a battle defies me. But he told me to get my ass moving.
I would have loved to have seen the lieutenant’s face when he heard the captain back me.
I’m thorough. I’d scouted all around the meadow before I’d deployed up on the hill. A good sniper studies his ground. I ran down the southern slope to ensure I didn’t get spotted by one of the xeno’s snipers (if they had any), and then I turned east and headed to the flank.
I jogged behind the firing line, ignoring the few troopers who looked up as I passed. If I hadn’t been carrying a sniper rifle, some sergeant or lieutenant would have stopped me. But a sniper does his or her own thing. So no one was going to question me on what I was doing.
As I reached the edge of our line, I headed toward a low knoll just beyond our right flank. It only rose three meters above the surrounding ground, but the forest here was full of mature trees, with canopies that blocked the sunlight and limited the undergrowth.
I’d be able to see anything moving for 100 meters in all directions, which wasn’t much advance warning but better than nothing.
I’d only just settled into my new position when I spotted movement. I warned the captain, who told me to slow down any advance while he shifted troops to the flank.
The Emperor protect, I thought. Captain Falk was putting a lot of faith in my reports. I’d damned well better be right.
I was. At least 50 Kroot were advancing through the forest. They moved slowly, quietly. They’re woodland creatures, and despite their size, they’re agile. I saw them flitting from tree to tree, using the terrain and making a clean shot difficult.
Then I saw him. One of their leaders. He wore some kind of headdress, his mangle of feathers bright with colored beads and bits of cloth. He stood out like a sore thumb. He also moved more leisurely than the others, as if he was trying to maintain an aura of dignity and fearlessness.
That just made him an easy target.
One shot, and the Kroot chieftain went down—and all hell broke loose. As soon as their leader dropped, an outburst of guttural squawks and whistles rose from the xenos, the volume rising to a dull roar. They began running in my direction at full tilt.
I managed one more killing shot before my position was spotted and the enemy fire started ripping up the ground around me.
I managed to roll out of sight, then scrambled on my elbows and knees down the low hill. Once it was safe to stand, I was up and running.
The Kroot were probably halfway to me, by now, so I took off as fast as I could. The rate of fire for a sniper rifle is, at best, a third of that of a lasgun. So, a sniper doesn’t stand around and take on a frontal assault, particularly alone.
So, I hauled ass. I won’t deny I was scared out of my mind. I’m fast, but I knew some of those Kroot were faster. I wasn’t eager to be lunch.
I almost was a victim of friendly fire. Captain Faltz had sent two squads to cover our flank, and at least one asshole took a hasty shot at me as I tore through the woods toward them. But their fire control wasn’t awful. I could hear a sergeant ordering the troops to hold their fire.
“Right behind me!” I yelled, offering some warning of what was coming. Once I got to the firing line, I dropped beside a heavy bolter team and started to reload.
I wasn’t lying. As I dropped, the firing line opened up. The Kroot were running right at our line, hooting and cawing as they came.
A veteran sergeant was in charge of the position, and he bellowed an order for a volley. The combined fire of 20 guardsmen, plus the loud thump-thump of the heavy bolter, filled the forest with a roar.
I put my rifle into position just in time to see the first wave of xenos fall. I didn’t fire. It’s not my job to stop the riffraff. Even with only 50 meters separately us from a full-on charge, my mission was to take out the officers—the leaders—and any other major threats.
Forget that, I thought. The Kroot were coming at us fast, and there was no time for tactical niceties. I fired one shot of my sniper rifle, knocking one avian bastard off his feet. But instead of reloading, I pulled my laspistol from my holster. It wasn’t nearly as powerful, but at the range I was firing at, what mattered was rate of fire.
The xenos almost got to us. They’re tough bastards, and many took more than one shot to bring down. But we put 40 bodies on the ground. Still, they got within 10 meters of us before they fell back.
It was that close.
I left it to the sergeant to keep higher command informed. We could see more Kroot forming in the woods, so we knew they were readying for a second attack..
Then word came down the line. We’d taken heavy casualties on the left flank. There were a lot more of the xenos than we’d guessed, and with both our flanks dangling, we were in danger of being surrounded.
So, time to go.
That was easier said than done, though. Withdrawing from an enemy on the attack is not an easy thing. When you’re withdrawing through the woods with the Kroot on your tail, it’s even harder. We were in for some tough times.
I got my orders soon enough: Fall back 100 meters, find a good spot, and use my skills to slow down the xeno pursuit.
I muttered something unladylike under my breath, then did as I was told. There was another small rise behind our position, so I ran to it, plopped down with my rifle, and kept my eyes open as the rest of the company fell back.
The Kroot didn’t pursue right away, which allowed us to fall back by platoon. Platoons were paired off, and while one stood their ground, the second would run back 50 meters and set up a firing line. Then they’d cover the first platoon as it fell back 50 meters behind the new firing line.
We call it leapfrogging positions. We repeated that maneuver for the next six hours. We managed it with some finesse. Discipline was good, and the Kroot—for whatever inexplicable reason— were content to follow at a distance.
It’s a slow way to move, though. We only managed to fall back about five kilometers before nightfall. That wasn’t very far, and we began to wonder if the Kroot were just waiting for darkness before attacking again.
I wasn’t happy about that idea.
The Corvus Cluster is a Warhammer 40K blog documenting our wargaming adventures in the fantastical sci-fi universe of Games Workshop.