The night was bad. The company deployed in a rough circle in the forest, and, sure enough, the xeno attacks started as soon as visibility dropped.
We had a normal allotment of night-vision auspices, so the attacks weren’t a total surprise. The troopers just had to shoot blindly at first, but once the firing line opened up, the flash of weaponry provided some illumination for aiming. Xeno fire also helped light things up.
There were four attacks in all. I had a night-vision telescopic lens for my rifle, but I really couldn’t pick out high-value targets. They best I could do was target the crew of the few heavy weapons that fired at us.
The second attack was the worst. There was no high ground for me, so I was right among the first rank of troopers, using my rifle lens to warn of approaching xenos. It seemed that the Kroot had massed to swarm over our position and, this time, they actually managed to hit the line and threaten to overwhelm us.
It’s hard to describe just how big birds can be so scary. But the Kroot are big. They’re also muscular, with a sharp beak and sharp claws. Not as tough as an oak, but tough enough.
When they reached our lines, I did what I could. An illumination flare had been fired by HQ, so we had a shadowy light by which to fight. I saw one trooper’s arm chopped clean off by a swipe of one Kroot’s claw.
Thankfully, I wasn’t directly engaged, so I was able to pull my pistol and take out some of the surrounding xenos.
The men around me, however, were going down, and I was just beginning to think about pulling back when an entire platoon came charging toward our position, their bayonets gleaming and a roar in their throats. By sheer numbers, these reinforcements managed to stem a breakthrough and force the xenos back.
Day in Hell
I thought dawn would make me feel better. I was wrong.
Turned out that we’d lost more than 100 men overnight, and using infrared sensors, an overflying Valkyrie reported that a column of xenos nearly 1,000 strong were marching toward our position.
The Kroot had disappeared into the woods, and Captain Falk decided that—just maybe—we’d hurt the Kroot enough that they weren’t going to challenge us without reinforcements. It was a gut feeling, but he had no choice. We had to get back to our main defensive line about 10 kilometers back, and we needed to do so quickly.
So we cobbled together some makeshift stretchers, grabbed our wounded, and marched south. No more leapfrogging tactics. We were a retreating column, with strong patrols surrounding us. If the Kroot attacked, the patrols would give us a minute or two of warning. We’d close up where we stood and fight.
Thank the Emperor, there were no serious attacks. The patrols took casualties, as the Kroot would snipe at them and make the occasional rush.
As a sniper, I was spared my turn hauling a stretcher. But I had a more dangerous task. I moved from patrol to patrol, sometimes moving past the patrols to see what was beyond.
So, I not only had to worry about getting ambushed by the Kroot, but I had to worry that some nervous trooper would make me a victim of friendly fire.
I had two major scares: At one point, a small group of Kroot saw me and gave chase. I hurried back to the nearest patrol, yelling at the top of my lungs as I approached. The xenos gave up the chase when they realized they would come under fire.
The worst moment came when a Kroot saw me before I saw him. He tried to slip up behind me. But he was too greedy. Instead of shooting me, he came at me with a blade. Some sixth sense warned me. I spun, raised my rifle, and shot him square in the chest when he was only two meters from me.
One second’s delay would have left me MIA.
Knights of Altair
I can’t say with certainty that the Knights of Altair saved my company from annihilation. We might have fought our way back to the main lines without them. But with so many Kroot coming up behind us, I’m more than happy to give them the credit for stopping the xeno advance.
We were about five kilometers from safety when we got word that units of the Space Marine chapter were approaching. We were ecstatic. We’d been awake for more than 36 hours straight, fought at least five major battles, and were struggling to stay on our feet. We really needed relief.
The Knights of Altair certainly looked impressive. They were deployed in a valley where the trees thinned out, and where their continent of armored vehicles could be used. There were surprisingly few of them—perhaps 30—but, at more than two meters tall, they towered over us in their power armor as we trudged by.
As a sniper, I was able to fall behind the rest of our column, and I took a big liberty in stopping to watch the battle that followed.
It was hard to really follow everything that happened. It was a very short fight. But although the Kroot and some accompanying Tau support put up a good fight, wherever the Knights closed into melee, the xenos were slaughtered.
I thought the Kroot were scary in up close. I still shiver when I think of what I saw the Knights do. One Space Marine would wade through a score of Kroot, and he’d be the only one still standing at the end . . . covered in gore but unscathed. Truly the Emperor’s blessing is upon these Astartes.
I’m not saying the Knights were invincible. The Tau weaponry is superior in every way to ours (hope no commissar reads this), and if a shot hit a Space Marine, he sometimes went down . . . or at least felt it. But if a xeno fired and missed, he never got a second chance.
I pulled myself away from this spectacle. I didn’t want to end up in a penal battalion, charged with abandoning my company, so I hustled back to my comrades just as we reached our main defensive lines. I was there when we lined up for roll call, and no one was the wiser.
That’s the advantage of being a sniper. No one really knows what the hell you’re doing when you’re doing the job . . . or when you’re not.
A long wait
The life of a soldier is all “hurry up and wait.” After our grueling adventure, we were fed, allowed to sleep for half a day, then deployed into the trenches in anticipation of the oh-so-certain Tau attack to come.
Only there was no attack. We waited, and waited, and finally got bored. Rumor has it that the Knights of Altair gave the Tau and Kroot a good bloody nose, and the xenos have lost their stomach for a fight.
I doubt that. I suspect they’re simply gathering their forces together. They’re also a cunning foe, so I think we can expect them to wait until they identify a weak spot in our defenses so they can exploit it.
As I’m now rotting away in a muddy, befouled trench in the center of the line, that makes me pretty happy. There are heavy weapons batteries all around me, which has me thinking that the next xeno attack will be far from my position.
And that’s just fine with me.
The Corvus Cluster is a Warhammer 40K blog documenting our wargaming adventures in the fantastical sci-fi universe of Games Workshop.