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Chapter One: Headaches and IntroductionsEdit

His boots clicked as they met the flooring, hard black rubber announcing his approach to anyone in the hallway. He quickly adjusted his cap, ensuring it was straight before he walked into the room; the two guardsmen on door duty gave a salute to him as he passed, he ignored them. The doors slid open as he walked in, and the three men in the room turned to face him.

Alaric snapped to attention as General Pyote stepped over a wire to get to him. The buzzing of the holomap wormed into Alaric's head and served no purpose than to worsen his headache, but he tried not to let the annoyance and pain show on his face. The general didn't notice and quickly told him to go to ease, grasping his hand in a firm shake soon after.

"Colonel Attelus, good to see you." Alaric gulped and nodded, trying his best to shake back.

"Likewise, sir." Pyote gave an easy smile, Alaric saw something behind it, something in his eyes. The dim realization that the man had read his file dawned on him.

"You no doubt have gotten your orders, the Deeprok twelfth are already prepared to meet us on the ground."

Of course I fogging know that they are prepared... he thought to himself, but gulped down his anger instead and said, "Yes sir, I was halfway up the boarding ramp when your aide found me." Pyote seemed pleased by his answer and walked back to the holomap, Alaric followed nervously. No one had told him why exactly he was being called back, not even the aide knew. Glancing at the map, he saw a local map of the system... and what looked like several red ships speeding towards Deeprok. His heart leapt into his throat and a cold sweat broke out on his forehead.

The men all went back to what they were doing besides one, who continued to stare at Alaric's face. The man, short and squat with a beer belly smiled a cocky grin at this.

"It appears our friend has realized what is happening." Pyote stopped at the end of the table and turned around to face them all, his old scarred face looking grim.

"Yes it appears he has... Alaric, judging by how pale you have gotten, I think you are correct. The arch enemy has destroyed Battlefleet Aska, the Imperial Magnificence and the Triumphant are the only ships to have survived the engagement." Alaric's jaw dropped, any force capable of wiping out an entire battle fleet was one that could destroy a planet like Deeprok. The man took a glass from the edge of the holomap and raised it to his ip, exposing crooked yellow teeth as he drank.

"Good news is that the Aska wasn't the crusading battlefleet or else the crusade would be over right now. The other good news, is that we gave them a good one when they hit us. Our nemesis's fleet seems to be working at one fourth of the power they were before, and they split to hit several worlds at once. You should be fighting only a few thousand men. Five hundred thousand at most."

It took everything he had for Alaric not to groan out in frustration, instead when he tried to gather his thoughts, his mind numb in the frustration. Pyote saw his discomfort and stepped in, looking angrily at the squat man who continued his cheeky grin despite the generals glare.

"This is my chief tactician, Victus Andreas. He has a tendency to... overstep himself." Victus quickly took the opportunity to hop in, his smile broadening even further.

"I am sure you will do fine when the chaos fleet arrives, a quick check of your record shows that you have experience fighting the arch-"

"Tactician Andreas! I will not have you instigating the colonel!" It was the tacticians turn to pale, the generals face looked angered and his frown seemed to stretch the scars that cut through his squared face. Andreas glanced at Alaric and then mumbled an apology.

Rot in the warp was all that he could think, the general ignored the tacticians apology and began briefing Alaric himself. Alaric was able to find some solace in the hatred he felt for everyone in the room.

"The seventh through tenth Deeprok have already left seeing as they have their commanding officers already, the eleventh was forced to stay behind due to munitions issues and will be assisting you in holding off the invasion force. The enemy won't be able to unload its army all at once, and even if it did," he shot a glare at the tactician again "you most likely won't see more than a hundred thousand of them who actually carry a rifle." Alaric took a deep breath and decided it was as good a time as any to ask questions. Any semblance of protocol was already out the airlock at this point.

"I won't be able to hold off that many heretics, even with 3,000 men." The general nodded in understanding, Alaric hated the man for having recommended him for Deeprok, for preventing him from having just been moved back to some backwater outpost where he wouldn't have to fail again. Still, he appreciated him for the fact that he realized how terrible the situation was. Most ranking members of the Imperium had their head stuck so far up their ass that they forgot there was a galaxy outside.

"It will be hard, but these aren't... well... they're not corrupted space marines..." the general seemed uncomfortable saying the words, and Alaric forced back a shudder from the mention of the arch enemies greatest triumph. "These are going to be regular fanatics, they will try to swarm you and overrun you with numbers, however we have superiority in equipment, discipline and position." Alaric shook his head slowly and bent over so that he could lean down onto the holomap.

"Even then, we can't spread two different regiments across an entire planet..." a tall man who stood at the generals right nodded, he stood a head higher than the general and was slightly taller than Alaric, his figure slim and lean with loose fitting green robes that shadowed his face. Alaric could feel the warp radiating off the man, an astropath it seemed.

"We've been ordered to evacuate the planet immediately..." the old man took a deep breath, Alaric was sure he would keel over and join the emperor at any moment. Instead, in a sheer defiance of the fact he was practically a skeleton, he wheezed on, "We have around six days to evacuate the populace, you have the honor of leading the main evacuation force... colonel." Alaric had no idea if he paused to get some breath into his ancient lungs or to insult him, he didn't dare ask, instead he stated the obvious.

"How am I expected to evacuate one million people in less than a week? It'll probably take that long to evacuate the capital alone." The generals face suddenly darkened and he took a step back from the holomap, glancing at his advisers, he looked Alaric in the eye and said sadly,

"It won't be a complete evacuation. We won't be sending guardsmen out to gather, we won't be waiting for anyone left. Anyone who isn't on a ship on day six will be left behind, whether or not they are in their home or waiting on the landing deck. May the emperor watch over them, for the emperor protects." Alaric was speechless, but like everyone else in the room, the words came by impulse.

"The emperor protects."

**

The pilot's voice came worriedly over the radio.

“Uh... colonel sir... there's a problem.” Alaric rubbed his temples and glanced around at the other faces in the shuttle. Dormont, Tauron and Kali. Standard bearer, Commissar and Vox-caster respectively. Women weren't welcome in Deeprok regiments, but Kali was the only one who had gone through each of his campaigns with him. They had become friends on Calarran and he had managed to convince command to let her follow him to Horones, he still remembered arguing that he couldn't trust a penal battalion with his whole command staff. He was still sad that he was right. She had nowhere to go any longer, the 4th Calarran had been destroyed in his first major failure, and him and Kali were among a dozen or so survivors, Calarran was mostly chaos held nowadays regardless, so command let her stay with him.

Tauron scared him, the man's face was slightly reminiscent of General Pyote if instead of one scar he looked like he had been raked with a set of claws. As far as Alaric knew, that was the cause of it, though Tauron would never explain the source of the scars, regardless, everyone was too afraid to ask him. He remembered on Horones when one of the members of the penal battalion suggested they run away, fall back to towns square and set up defenses. It wasn't a bad idea, Alaric himself was prepared to make the same order after the sixth wave of heretics fell upon them, running over the still fresh bodies of orks. The man had received las through the skull for his trouble, and the commissar hadn't even batted an eyelash before he was back to yelling for the men to keep fighting.

To be honest, Tauron wasn't someone he wanted to come with him from Horones to Deeprok, he would rather spin the dice of fate and see which other Commissar ended up stuck with him. However, command insisted that if Kali followed him then so would the Commissar. Deep down, he had a suspicion that Tauron was spying on him, waiting for another screw up. Bloody vulture was all he could think, but he didn't voice his fears.

Then there was Dormont. Dormont was the wild card, as in he was completely insane. Whereas Kali was friendly and outgoing and Tauron was strict and brooding, Dormont was so loony and deranged that it was a wonder he hadn't gotten himself thrown out of the guard via airlock. Dormont had been handed over on Horones along with the penal regiment. Despite this, Dormont wasn't actually from said penal regiment. In fact, no one knew where he is from. His file said he was from a shady backwater station called Elcador, he claimed he was from the manufactorum planet of Rhinefort and Commissar Tauron claimed that he had reason to believe he was born on Terra itself, though he claimed that he couldn't divulge why. Alaric was sure it was some sort of joke against him.

Past the issue of birthplace, Dormont was completely and legitimately crazy. He called his flag Lisal, and when Alaric noticed he was calling his new flag pole Lisal as well, he asked why. Dormont simply smiled his yellowed teeth and said in the ratty little voice he uses, “why colonel, Lisal is whichever one I am holding, ain't she pretty?” That event was just the tip of the insanity iceberg, at one point during the battle on Horones, he recalled Dormont charging through an empty street full of gunfire with his flag, reaching a machine gun nest and stabbing the closest traitors eye in with the blunt end. He proceeded to whoop and cheer as he struggled with the heretics ammo loaders bayonet. Alaric would suspect him of the taint if he didn't also carry enough figurines and idolization’s of saints and the Emperor to make a priest blush. Or if a large and intricate tattoo of the Emperor looking over Terra wasn't forever placed on the man's skull, which he claimed he somehow tattooed on himself.

”Sir?” The pilot asked once again, Alaric shook his head, he had lost track of his thoughts. The other members of his command staff looked at him oddly, he shot a glare at them. Kali looked away, Tauron met his stare and Dormont simply smiled and let out a cackle.

“What's the problem?” He shouted into his vox-set. Even in such close proximity and with the set on max, he could hardly hear anything over the din of the engine. The pilots voice came back nervously over the vox.

“I uh... the landing zone is obstructed. There are people swarming it, I am moving us to the backup landing site. Terra, there are civilians everywhere.” Alaric sighed and leaned back into his seat, Dormont's voice came over the vox.

“Why don't we just land? I'm sure they will run off when they see us, or not. Sure as sure.” The whole crew looked over at the smiling man, Tauron opened his mouth to say something when the pilot announced they were landing.

Alaric slowly stood up, his legs aching from the ride. He steadied himself as the dropship landed, the hull shaking in response. He was out the bay door almost as soon as it lowered.

And by the Emperor were there a lot of people.

Chapter Two: Welcome to DeeprokEdit

Alaric marched down the ramp, readjusting his cap as he went. The hundreds of people that packed the plaza were in huddled groups of families and neighbors, having panicked to the landing pads as soon as they heard word that an evacuation was in order. Alaric was rather confused, as his brief had told him that the fact that an evacuation was taking place would be kept secret until the 11th and 12th were mobilized, which meant some sort of leak had taken place.

But that was for minds above Alaric in the chain of command to bother with, and he decided instead to play his role and be the dashing hero. Despite his hatred for all things that represented the ever ridiculous roles the military had tried to force him into, such as being a hero, he respected that there was a reason behind the insanity.

Simply put, people weren't like him, they expected heroes to come save them. If the civilians saw a hero strut down the ramp, a beautiful uniform freshly pressed, a head held high, the cool mix of brevity, bravery and a bit of uptightness, they would feel assured, safe, and wouldn't panic. He had to be the image of the Hero of the Imperium, a Ciaphais Cain, a Ursakar Creed, an Ollanius Pius.

Of course he had never met any of these people, had no idea what they were actually like in person and truth be told he had never seen a 'hero' in his years of military service. So instead he channeled the popular character General Mordax Hallstad, who was a common hero in the propaganda films (which were coincidentally, the only films.)

In these movies, he bed many women across the Imperium while only letting the Emperor ever get to his heart, all the while slaughering millions of heretics and xeno scum across the Imperium indiscriminately and coincidentally ignoring the mass amounts of collateral damage he caused. He was the very model of a good Imperial officer, and Alaric liked to imagine he did a good job strutting down the ramp like a complete ass, just like General Hallstad.

He had a good feeling that there had been a rather large commotion and his landing had caused a bit of a cease fire between the panicking group of PDF and Arbites that had formed two thin lines next to the ramp that led to a tunnel through a building and out into a street.

Alaric thought this because every face stared at him in blank amazement. As he stepped up to an awe-struck looking PDF sergeant who had walked up to him, two troopers in tow, he noticed their shadows were facing away from him. A quick glance behind which he disguised as a respectful nod at Tauron (not that he'd ever do so seriously) proved his suspicion correct.

The huddled masses of beleaguered sand farmers had most likely never seen an off-worlder before, nevertheless one in a beautiful uniform in an Imperial ship. This would normally be enough to amaze them, but when combined with the fact they had gone to a landing site completely unexpectedly and then descended right in front of a rising sun to make Alaric look like the emperor himself it probably made the more religious among the crowd (IE: all of them) to see this as a rather awe-inspiring thing.

Alaric shook the dumbstruck sergeants hand and after a brief mental debate between an award winning smile or a super serious nod of the head, decided it was a rather serious series of events that had brought him to the spot and thus went with the nod.

“Sir! Sergeant Galagan, Deeprok 5th PDF Light Infantry, we didn't expect you here, sir!” Alaric was rather amused, Sergeant Galagan had been hardened from at least forty to fifty years of life in the desert cliffs of Deeprok. This made him quite Alaric's senior, and no doubt the man had a few children Alaric's age already. Despite this, he looked at the foreign colonel with a disturbing mix of the reverence for a powerful god who had just landed in his backyard in a huge metal box and a child looking to his father for guidance.

Alaric would be lying if it didn't give him a bit of a power high, and he decided since it helped his persona he'd let himself ride it out. Looking the man dead in the eyes, he gave him the look that said 'I've seen this a thousand times before, let me handle this' and began walking down the path, towards the archway. Steeling his voice to make it sound a bit more heroic, Alaric began dictating to the man,

“Sergeant, I want your commanding officer's commanding officer's commanding officer on the line ASAP, and I mean ASAP, get one of the nearby troopers to do it now...” he paused as the sergeant hurried after him and then yelled at one of the other bewildered PDF trooper to find some lieutenant Alaric didn't bother to get the name of,

“...thank you Sergeant Calaghan, now when you get him on the line make sure you have him lock down this entire city. I want all major population areas swept for refugees, these landing pads are going to need sniper overwatch and barricades and all major entrances to the city will have to be mined.

“It's not safe to have these refugees milling about like this. Your PDF boys are obviously stretched thin, as well as the Arbites, so I'm going to let the real troopers assist you. As soon as I gain control of my regiment I'm going to mobilize in order to help keep order and secure the entrances to the town, you're going to have to keep up the brunt of the evacuation procedures... I understand this city... Highka...” he stumbled along as he tried to remember the briefing “...Highkar, is the largest one on Deeprok?”

The sergeant walked after him for a moment, blinded by the light of Alaric's glory no doubt, and only spoke again as they walked through the arch and into the shade of the hallway.

“Uh, yes sir. Highkam... kam, is the largest city by far. The second would be Slaepso-”

“Yes yes, this will be our stand for when the invasion force arrives, so at least we'll get most of the urban population out. I'd rather build up in a less densely populated area, but no doubt your world doesn't have much to supply us in the way of cities, so we'll do with what we have... hopefully this stone will hold up.” As Alaric walked out, he tapped a knuckle one one of the stones that made the large yellow arch to the street outside. The material was some sort of yellow-orange sandstone, as was almost everything in the city.

He didn't like how hollow it sounded, not dense at all. That meant when the bombardment inevitably begun (and most likely ends in a siege to starve out the defenders, which would lead to Alaric having to eat Dormont in order to survive) that the city wouldn't withstand very long. Defensive positions would collapse, troops and refugees would be buried, and nothing above three stories would survive.

Still, it would at least mean a lot of rather large barriers and the perpetual bombing of every single damned thing would mean the enemy would have no high ground to take. Really, it meant they would have a few days to cry and starve before they died.

Alaric was suddenly sad.

Regardless, he nodded after a minute and stopped, turning to the sergeant and then quickly asking him where his ride was.

The sergeant stuttered out a reply as a series of PDF vehicles led by an Imperial Guard Leman Russ came riding down the road, crushing many a sandstone and leaving a trail of cracks where it went, true Imperial machinery. A tanker poked his head out the top and spotting his uniform and the regimental banner being held by Dormont, waved the convoy to a halt.

Alaric was confused, the 12th was a light infantry regiment, a Leman Russ would most certainly not belong in the group. His question was answered when the vehicle turned a bit and showed a number 11 stamped on the side of the vehicle. The 11th regiment was a mechanized infantry regiment, and had a small supply of tanks to keep the mechanized vehicles safe. Alaric was surprised to see the vehicle, as the 12th was stationed well away from the 11th.

“Colonel Attelus I presume!” the man shouted cheerfully. Alaric was sweating himself half to death, but the man was managing to wear a greasy rag around his head along with his tank cap and ride around in an unconditioned tin can without a drop, so Alaric assumed he had some good reason to be cheery if the emperor had blessed him like that.

“You presume correct guardsmen, where's the 12th?” Alaric yelled in return, standing with his hands folded behind the small of his back. The Leman Russ slowed to a stop in front of him and then rocked on its treads as it came to a full stop, the engine loudly blocking out almost all other noise. Refugees gave looks at the tank as they ran past and into the plaza, most of them never seeing an actual Leman Russ besides the occasional propaganda flick or parade.

The tanker waved him up and Alaric motioned for the rest of the group to find transport with the PDF as he grabbed a rung and carried himself up the small ladder on the side of the vehicle. Tauron grumbled something about deserving a vehicle more befitting his rank but eventually found a nice Tauros behind the Leman Russ to hitch a ride in.

A few grunts later, Alaric was sliding through the hatch of the tank, the tanker ducking down to allow some space. The tank began moving not long after as the radio operator in the tank gave an all clear and the lead vehicles began pulling off the side of the road. The tanker got himself comfortable next to Alaric's legs, looking through some sort of parascope. After he listed off some meaningless numbers to the driver, he began filling Alaric in,

“You landed pretty far away from where the 12th is sir, straight into the 11th's deployment zone actually. We're here to drive you over to 33rd of St. Katherine Street, the 12th is all organized on there, waiting for a commander.” Alaric nodded as he straightened his back and held his high, nodding to the passing bands of civilians who slowly came to a halt at the sight of the guard tank. Alaric wasn't sure if they were amazed to see an actual Leman Russ or to the see the foreign colonel, Alaric liked to imagine it was the latter.

“They're still waiting for me? Who is commanding them in my absence?” Alaric asked, the man thought for a minute before shrugging,

“No one really, Major Naveed is technically in charge but he had no idea what to do even when we were just running simulations, so I doubt he's exactly great at his job. No offense to the esteemed major, of course, much better man than I'll ever be no doubt. Of course.” Alaric looked down and eyed the rather bored looking man before deciding he liked him. His apathy was truly quite agreeable.

“Very well, let's see how Major Naveed is running my regiment.”

Guardsmen Grendel Zech sat on top of one of the dust covered crates they had dug out of an ancient military warehouse in the desert and then carted back to the city. The crate, along with dozens of others, sat on the 33rd of St. Katherine, one of the largest avenues near the governor's estate. The estate itself could be reached if the road was followed up the winding hill, twisting around and up so that it could loom protectively over the city.

He had never cared much for the governor who lived there, he thought in silent comprehension as he polished his sniper rifle without even bothering to look at it, and had sure as the warp not voted for the governor either, though he guessed he had to be thankful he even had the opportunity to vote. The one or two traders from other worlds he had met in his 31 years of life had spoken of absolute governments being the norm outside of his planet, it didn't sound very fun. Just rather grim, and a bit dark.

“Grendel, hup-two!” shouted Sergeant Arash as he jogged past, using Zech's first name. Guardsmen Zartosht and Olivares (the sole female sniper in the regiment) followed Arash closely. The four of them made up the regiment's snipers, who, like the rest of their comrades, were slightly excited to be able to shoot more than rocks in the desert or stun rounds at the 11th for once.

Zech was however, slightly less excited. He wasn't as ecstatic for the ensuing invasion as much of the regiment was, the idea of his home being bombarded and then occupied by a group of insane heretic's didn't appeal to him. Of course the idea of knocking a bit off the top of their shoulders from a thousand yards didn't hurt either, so he wasn't too worked up.

Still, he quickly reassembled the rifle, slid off the crate and followed after, tugging the strap of his sniper rifle to make it more comfortable. He waved and nodded to some choice friends in the company but never responded to the questions or hellos. Zech was a quiet man, and would prefer not to chat with them, even if they were his friends. The only person he was ever truly person with was Olivare, the two having a rather public on and off relationship, even his other 'best' friends had never heard him talk in detail about himself.

And even if he had been in the mood to talk, he was rather dumbstruck with the deployment. He had walked down this very street on a very rare date with Olivares, years ago, and the change was amazing. It was the same sidewalk they had walked down, the same yellow stones their feet had fallen on, same cracks in the road they'd cautiously stepped over, but now there were troopers swarming the street, there were barricades being risen, there were windows being smashed and replaced with metal sheets.

Various vehicles were parked to the side of the road, most of them PDF owned. Squads of guardsmen had turned the old cafes and apartment complexes into a variety of command posts, armories, motor pools, barracks and other such military related buildings, while whichever refugees they found were being dragged out into the street in order to be sent to one of the many evacuation centers, whether they wanted to be or not.

There were barriers everywhere, outdoor dining tables and chairs and fences had been torn down and turned into barriers themselves to make some room, it was surreal. Everything was just like he remembered it, but turned into a strange militarized caricature of its former self. War truly had come home for Grendel Zech, who had been born only two blocks away from 33rd of St. Katherine.

As they entered the regimental CP in the cafe him and Olivare had eaten a nice dinner at, all the tables and seats shoved roughly out of the way to make room for the various bits of equipment set up, they were greeted by tall and muscular Lieutenant Suero.

“Men, Naveed is about to be relieved of commando. Our now colonel is here,” Suero said in his thick nomad accent. Deeprok's population could be separated in half, the city populations were urbaners with tanned skin and a decent ability to withstand the sun, but when they kept inside too long their skin would slowly fade back to their natural pale after several months. They spoke in even toned, slightly voices and kept to the cities which they had founded when the Imperium first colonized the planet.

Then there were the nomad folk, the native population the Imperium had discovered when they discovered the planet. Although now most of them lived in cities like the urban half of the population, they still held the dark skin and odd tastes that centuries of nomadic life had given them. They had been found in the caves on the sides of the steep cliffs and chasms that dominated the Deeprok landscape in huge natural trench systems.

The nomads had traveled out when the rolling sandstorms of the planet had found the way to their caves and scared off the game, and marched through the deserts to the next caves, on and on for thousands of years. The 12th was cut nearly completely between the two, and the two sides had, despite centuries of distrust between the two cultures, come to a decent understanding in the fact they were all stuck in the guard.

Despite the fact that Zech did not care about the petty prejudices many of his fellows held, he was very happy to hear Naveed, a nomad, was being relieved.. The man wasn't... bad, at least not personally, but he was simply not a good soldier.

The Deeprok regiment's couldn't muster the man power to play the mass Human wave tactics that so many regiments loved, and they didn't have the mineral wealth to crank out armored divisions. This meant that they had to focus on good training and tactics, and Naveed had failed in this respect, having been moved to the guard from several years in the PDF, where standards were far lower.

During the regiment's three month's of the regiment's training, the 12th had done several practice battles against the 11th regiment. Since Deeprok had no competent soldiers to make a colonel with, and they just happened to know a perfect one was sitting nearby (only five months away!), they just had to wait a bit for the blighter to show, in the meantime they had used Naveed, the regiment major, as the CO.

This had led to every one of the members of the regiment being 'killed' or captured in each battle, with minimal losses to the 11th. Naveed should never have been allowed near a command position, but he'd sat in the PDF so long that when the regiment was first founded, he had gotten the job just because of the 'prior experience' (primarily behind a desk.)

All in all, it was nice to hear Naveed was stepping down, of course the only problem was the new guy.

“You know anything about the new guy?” Arash asked Suero as they walked in, the two nomads lowering the scarfs around their heads to show their faces. Scarves to block out the sun was standard on all Deeprok uniforms, and they matched the brown-orange color of the rest of their fatigues. Zech lowered his own and let the warm air rub against his face, raising his goggles to his forehead at the same time and squinting against the light.

The entire room was coated in sand, as the windows had been smashed out to prevent more shrapnel from the inevitable artillery barrages. Normally the city would hire people to sweep the streets and ensure the sand didn't build up too far, but with a chaos invasion to worry about, priorities had shifted, and now Zech was stepping over a pile of sand that had accumulated in the front of the store.

“The new guy?” Suero asked after exchanging notepads with a passing Lieutenant Brog of 2nd company. Suero thought for a moment and then nodded at a screen set up on one side of the room. It was replaying news footage of a Valkyrie landing in one of the plaza's on the south side of the city, crowds of civilians watching as the sun was silhouetted by the vehicle and a tall, blonde haired man in a nicely pressed tan officer's uniform strolled out as if he thought he was the governor of the damn planet.

Besides the assorted crew members of the Valkyrie, the man was followed by a weaselly specimen of a Human who carried the 12th's regimental standard, looking slightly hunched over and ready to bite anyone who got close to his flag, a prim young woman with a vox pack almost as large as she was, and a commissar that looked like he had forced a blind man to chisel the scowl straight into his slab of a face and was none too pleased with quality of the work.

Suero pointed out which one was the colonel as if any of them couldn't tell and Zech sighed in resignation. He looked like he'd be the type of leader to send them on a human wave and then drink whiskey in a bunker as they were slaughtered, and Zech already had the feeling of deeply disliking the man.

“We know what he's actually like?” Zech found himself asking despite the fact he'd already made up a character profile in his head. Suero shrugged and looked out the window where a column of PDF vehicles were filling in the road,

“Why don't we go and see ourselves?” he mumbled as the man rode in like the emperor himself on an 11th company tank.

Chapter Three: Some Fun Pre-Battle YellingEdit

Alaric saw the assorted men slowly stop what they were doing and watch as their new commander came into view. Some were watching from windows, some were in the street carrying heavy equipment, for whatever reason, some were watching with scowls from an old cafe. Regardless, he gave a goodbye to the tanker, who nodded and gave a half salute in return as Alaric pulled himself out of the hatch.

As he slid over the metal and his boots met the ground, a tall, ebony skinned man in a major's uniform came walking out of the cafe, pushing between the group who Alaric could tell were snipers by the long rifles they held over their shoulders. The major, who Alaric assumed was Naveed, held out his hand for a shake as he strolled up, trying to assume an easy smile.

The man, despite his attempt at a smile, looked positively wrecked. Worry lines were etched into his face despite him almost being of an age with Alaric and his uniform was completely disheveled. The scarf that all of the guardsmen of Deeprok owned hung loosely around his neck, covered in sweat. When he shook Alaric's hand and Alaric introduced himself he immediately perked up, knowing he was no longer going to have to be the CO of the regiment.

All in all, it made Alaric rather uncomfortable. His XO couldn't lead a regiment to a single city in a few hours without breaking down, but Alaric also thought none of them were going to live for 24 more hours so at the least it wouldn't be a problem for long.

“Sir, I am Major Naveed, it is an honor to have a war hero among us, sir,” the major said in a thick accent that the tanker had oddly not shared. Alaric took a look around again, closer this time, and was confused to see the mix of skin colors and body types. Most planets were either obviously multicultural or had such a limited gene pool they all looked alike, here there seemed to be two groups. He briefly considered asking but realized he didn't at all care as long as the two didn't kill each other.

Still, Alaric tried to make his best humble expression, which was helped by the fact he detested the term 'war hero' (Alaric was adamant that war and hero were two very contradictory statements) and said in his 'hero' voice,

“Why good major, it is an honor to be in such esteemed company myself! The regiment's of Deeprok are known for their combat prowess! Now let us go and plan this battle, we have a war to win!” he said this with as much gusto as he could possibly muster to mask the blatant lies while also speaking loud enough for his voice to reach the surrounding troops, hoping no one would notice the slight twitch in his eye when he finished the sentence.

“Very well Colonel Attelus, we have set up in this cafe right behind me, I'll give you the full report inside,” the man said with a nod. Alaric released his hand, walking towards the cafe as the man followed close behind, starting up on the basics,

“Sir, we have around 200,000 people in this city we need to evacuate. We are at reinforced strength at about 1,600 men, and the 11th is at full with 1,500,” Naveed told him as they passed through the doorway, the gathered snipers and other guardsmen dispersing and going back to do whatever it was they were going to do.

The inside was as much of a command post as Alaric had ever seen, and he was glad that they at least knew how to make a CP. Vox systems were set up around the room, a large map sat on a table in the center, under a hanging light, and barricades had been set up to block the windows. Racks of lasguns sat against one wall along with the few heavy weapons a light infantry regiment could gather. Around the table stood a short man, one of the pale ones, with a vox pack, and a dark skinned woman in a PDF uniform.

He found the woman rather striking, and his eyes lingered on her as he scanned the room. She didn't bother looking up at the new arrivals like the many in the room who had stopped to regard the colonel, instead her attention focused on the map where she was marking positions and such down with a red pen. Her ponytail was dark like her skin and her uniform seemed to fit snugly in all the right places, he cleared his head with a light shake as they entered.

“-and that means that the Heretic forces will be moving in through 13th Ave most likely, though-” Alaric cut off Naveed as he stepped up to the table,

“Yes yes, now it's time to get things done.” He walked up to the table and looked down at the map. In response to the significant lack of room afforded to her, the woman sighed and stood back, moving from her hunched over posture as Alaric began scanning the map himself.

“Uh, right sir. This is Major Anya Attar, she's our liaison with the local PDF forces, and this is our vox operator, Dac-”

“A pleasure, ma'am,” Alaric said as he held out his hand. The woman looked at his hand like it might catch fire at any moment and slowly shook it in return with all the subtle distaste that Alaric vaguely remembered his mother managed to muster for his father and his father for all the regiment's that the old man didn't lead.

Alaric briefly considered that shaking a beautiful woman's hand reminding him of an unhappy childhood might be a sign of some internal problems, but quickly decided that was drivel and went back to pretending he was someone he was not, shelving the thought in the same place he puts his memories of learning his father was dead and hiding in a closet in the Schola Progenium.

“It's an honor, sir,” Anya replied. Truthfully, Alaric hated almost everything, but a night with a woman was one of the few things that made him hate everything a bit less, and was one of the few things that might get his blood running in a way that wasn't out of a shrapnel wound. On that note, he decided to see if he could work a bit more closely with the PDF.

“Naveed, how many fighting able bodies do we have in total?” Alaric asked as he tore his eyes away from Anya and back to the map of the city. A marker was shown for the street they were on and several other markers recorded evacuation sites in various parts of the city. His eye found a plaza, marked as 'Pius Landing' and realized it was the one which he had landed in. He gave a bit of a chuckle at this and then began moving his eyes elsewhere.

“Like I told you sir, we have 1,600 men in total. 11th is at full with 1,500 and their CP is located here,” Naveed pointed at a marker on the opposite side of the city, in an Arbites armory if Alaric was reading correctly, “but their men have already been distributed across the surrounding area, setting up ambushes and barricading hard points,” as he said this, the major pointed out circles around various terrain features around the city and at crossroads and bridges inside the urban center.

“Why aren't we distributed yet?” Alaric asked, raising his eyes to give a questioning glare to Naveed. He was no longer in the lime light, and thus could give all the glares and scowls that the smashing headache that was inside his head and that summarized the entire situation was allowing him.

Naveed began stuttering out an odd excuse of an apology and an excuse,

“I- sir- I'm sorry... the- we didn't have time and... I-”

“Doesn't matter, you never answered my question, how many combatants do we have. Including PDF and enforcers,” Alaric snapped, cutting into the excuses he couldn't care less about.

“I... sir, the PDF has one regiment in this city and two in Slaepsong. One of them is currently inbound and will reach us in about six hours, in total around 3,000 men in this city. We could of course raise more but it would take several more weeks. The Arbites have 50 here in Highkam due to an investigation in the government that was underway, and we have around 2,000 enforcers on standby as well. So... 6,350 men, and fifteen hundred on the way,” Naveed said, reading off a notepad he was carrying.

Alaric was glad that the man could do math, when he led the Burgione 2nd on Horones, a penal regiment, his XO couldn't even manage that. Or read. Or go through a battle without converting to chaos and trying to drink Alaric's blood.

Better times, he thought to himself.

Still, looking at the numbers themselves, Alaric didn't trust the PDF to hold any longer than the table he was leaning on would after an artillery shell falls on it, and the Arbites and enforcers were so minor in number that he knew they would have almost no use in the battle. Still, the 11th was just as well trained as his 12th, which was fairly high by Imperial Guard standards and they had a fairly good amount of men in the city, so not all was bad.

At the very least, they'd be able to hold off the invaders for a few days, at least if they made some sacrifices and used the terrain to their advantage, and on that note, he tapped the area outside of the city.

“Where are they most likely going to come in from?” Alaric asked, looking at the terrain around the city. He thought he had a decent understanding, but he was a good enough commander to know he should probably trust the local bumk- guards who had lived on the planet their entire lives.

“Sir, the city is surrounded by a large canyon to the east which then leads into a trench to the west side. The trench can be crossed through these three bridges...” Naveed went on to point out three bridges in the more narrow parts of the trench to the north west. If Alaric was reading the map right, the trenches were 3,000 meters at their deepest, far too deep for some untrained heretic to climb up. Naveed continued on,

“The south can be traversed but it's mostly desert and the sand worms live out there, also-”

“Sand worms?” Alaric asked, Naveed nodded, pointing at the desert on the map,

“Yes sir, sand worms. Huge beasts that eat anything that tries to move through the desert. We only move through there when we absolutely must, and even then it's in a large convoy and we have to prepare to lose some people each time we do it, not a good place,” Naveed answered.

“Well that's perfect. Those bridges, what's past them? Any other barriers?” Alaric asked, Naveed nodded excitedly.

“Why yes, of course. The roads gradually go low until they enter the rifts, and our AA covers the roads up until that point. They'll have to go through canyon roads, easy ambush points... and there is this...” Naveed paused as he pushed the map to the side, pulling another rolled up map and spreading it across the table. This one was of the continent as a whole. “Sir, you can see here that there is a major rift going straight through here, from the north all the way to the south, we call that The Scar.”

“Of course you do, what about it,” Alaric said, interrupting. The three surrounding the table all looked up and Naveed stuttered as he continued.

“Uh... well... The Scar can only be crossed in two places that lead to the city. We don't have the supplies or time or know how to make a bridge that spans across The Scar, but there are two natural formations that go across. Huge bridges of rock that are large enough to hold the roads with room to spare. They're quite beautiful...”

“Great!” Alaric said, clapping his hands. “We can detonate them as they're crossed and block off the city. They're going to have to land in the rifts, it'll take them some time, all the while we can be hitting them...” Alaric found the plan simple but effective, tactics 101, but when he looked up, Naveed and the vox operator shared a look of horror. Naveed sounded aghast as he spoke,

“Sir... those arches... they're natural monuments, priceless cultural artifacts. The nomads call them the Arches of Empire because-”

“Anything I should know that is actually important?” Alaric asked, drumming his fingers on the table and finding his headache growing exponentially at the stupid.

“Er... sir, if I may,” Vox Operator Dac- began, “but we simply don't have a way to build those bridges again. If you collapse them, it will cripple this city when this invasion is finis-” Alaric felt his eye twitch at the operator, at the stupidity around them. Did they not see how much of a failure this entire campaign would be?

Even more, did they really think he was some sort of hero who actually could save them? Most of all, did they think that even if he was a hero, he'd still somehow manage to hold off hundreds of thousands of heretics? He was sick of the damned idealism, he needed soldiers, not fogging dreamers. He didn't even feel it when his hand slammed into the table so hard that it knocked the rolled off maps off, scattering them on the sandy floor.

“There won't be another fogging day of all of our damned lives at this rate, if we're lucky we have a week and that's if we blow those fucking 'cultural artifacts' and do everything we can to slow them down. And do you know what happens even if we hold them off from this sand filled hole? Huh?” the group, along with every single person in the cafe, was staring at him in surprise and horror. “Well I'll tell you, they're going to kill every other damned person on this planet as we get starved out. So you better start praying lads, it's game over.”

There was a heavy silence as Alaric realized quite what he had just said. Dac- was pale in fear, his mouth wide open, Naveed was covering his mouth with his hand and had taken several steps back. The silence stretched on and on until Anya cleared her throat rather loudly.

“Well, he has a point, we're going to have to blow those formations to stop the heretics from reaching us. The remains can become monuments to the battle of Deeprok,” Anya turned her eyes to Alaric, who was briefly calmed by how piercing and pretty they looked, “after we survive this, of course.”

“Yes, of course,” Alaric said, biting his tongue and deciding he was emotionally done for the rest of the day.

“Well... I think it's time we make a battle plan then...” Naveed ventured, but he was once again interrupted as Tauron, who had been sitting slightly outside the group throughout their discussion, cleared his throat.

“Or maybe we can ask which man in this regiment is the heretic.”

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