“I thought the fall of Malati was bad. But when the city’s defenses collapsed, and I had to run for my life, at least the Tau were behind me. But when the order was given to retreat at Port Aruna, the Tau weren’t just behind me—they were on my left, on my right, and in front of me. It was a gauntlet of fire that I never expected to survive.“—Private Journal, Pvt. Tyesha Levers, Baker Co., 728th Cadian Regiment.
Running the Gauntlet at Port Aruna
Pvt. Tyesha Levers
Dated: 3 563 740.M41
I couldn’t believe it. The Tau had broken through our lines. The date was 3 559 740.M41.
The order to abandon the outer defenses of Aruna—and fall back to new line in the middle of the city—had gone out, and it had taken me time to climb down from my sniper’s nest on top of a three-story ruin. So, as I began my retreat to the rear, I assumed I was among the last of Baker Company to still be in the area.
For that reason, I’d expected to see only a few wounded stragglers as I made my way through the ruins of Aruna, but when I reached the Avenue of Heroes, I was shocked. For reasons not entirely clear to me, almost the entire company was milling about on the street, a tightly packed concentration of troops that one well-placed artillery round would have annihilated.
I knew the command squad had taken casualties—Captain Faltz had been medevacked early in the battle—but this was a foul-up that suggested that command control had collapsed entirely. Not a good thing to see, although I did catch sight of a commissar shouting orders. I wished the murderous bastard good luck in getting people moving again—but also hoped the xenos took him down, as well.
I didn’t wait around. As a sniper, I’m allowed a lot of independence on the battlefield, and I used that to my advantage. I shoved my way through the milling crowd and climbed through the shattered window of a Mechanicum factotum, ran up what remained of the stairs, and found myself a vantage point where I could calculate the best path for my survival.
What I saw wasn’t good. To the left of the company, I could make out a Crisis Suit team and some Fire Warriors heading towards us, and more Fire Warriors and a lot of gun drones advancing on our right. Great, I thought, we’re going to be surrounded.
Oh, no, wait! I noticed something moving on the roof of an Administratum building to our front. I couldn’t see anything in particular, but there was a haziness to the air, as you’d see when hot air rises off a plasteel highway on a hot day. But it wasn’t that warm a day, and I just knew I was seeing the holo-camouflage of Stealth Suits.
Well, this eased my mind. Didn’t need to worry about being surrounded. We WERE surrounded. What a perfect shit storm.
Just about then, I began to hear the xenos open fire on both flanks. I couldn’t see the fighting below me, but I was later told the initial xeno volley only killed a handful of men.
It was enough motivation, however, to get the company moving. I could hear shouting, screaming, panic, shouted orders, and a ragged volley or two, but mostly I heard the sound of 300 guardsmen running.
Many guardsmen ran down an alley just below my position. It was a bad move. The alley was long and narrow, a death trap if the advancing Tau reached the other end of the alley. The xeno firepower would cut down scores of men.
And that’s what happened. The Tau beat my comrades-in-arms to the far end of the alley, set up a volley line, opened up, and high-powered energy weapons flashed down the alley, piercing the chest of one man, then the man behind him, and the man behind him.
Change of Fortune
I’ll give credit to the some unknown guardsman, probably a sergeant. Above the high shriek of xeno fire, I heard shouted orders to form up—and, a few seconds later, I heard the familiar roar of lasgun volleys.
The alley was too narrow to allow many guardsmen to fire, so this valiant effort was going to end in a lot more dead soldiers. But then salvation came. So occupied were the Tau on firing down the alley, they didn’t spot the Armored Sentinels moving through the ruins of a nearby building.
These powerful walkers smashed through the primitive brick-and-mortar walls of the building and, equipped with heavy flamers for city fighting, they bathed the xenos in burning promethium. Suddenly the path was open for the company to get their retreat going.
I only got glimpses of this fighting, as I had my own battle to fight. Those Stealth Suits were a formidable threat to the company escaping, and it was impossible to determine how many of these combat suits were deployed. In fact, it was almost impossible to get a shot on the bastards.
I finally managed it. I caught that faint glimmer of hazy air, and as I brought my telescopic lens to the spot, I saw a few small chips of rubble fall off a ledge. Something had dislodged it, and that’s where I placed my shot.
I hit something. I heard my round ricochet off something hard, and I saw a cloud of sparks where it slammed into the xeno. I never did determine if it did any damage.
As to what happened elsewhere, I have to rely on what a handful of survivors shared with me. Back at the Avenue of Heroes, a force of Fire Warriors advanced up on our right. Supported by Scout Sentinels, some of our men formed a volley line and sent the xenos running.
On the left, a platoon of conscripts had joined us. The scared fools no doubt thought we knew what we were doing. They were useless in the fight, except as a shield of flesh. When a team of Crisis Suits got within range, they began mowing down the poorly trained PDF troops, which was a tragedy, but it bought enough time for the veteran troops of Baker company to get off the streets and into the surrounding ruins.
It was just in time. Streaking down out of the sky was a Tau warlord in a Crisis Suit, accompanied by two bodyguards. Although 80 meters away, I felt the floor vibrate as the combat suits landed, and then I heard the familiar thud-thud-thud of burst cannon.
The Scout Sentinels didn’t survive the encounter. But it’s said they held out long enough. If they hadn’t, the Tau would have run right up our backside, and that would have been the end of everybody. So, I hope the Emperor took those brave souls into His embrace.
The Corvus Cluster is a Warhammer 40K blog documenting our gaming adventures in the fantastical sci-fi universe of Games Workshop.