Monday, July 17, 2017

Battle Report: Hammers of Man, Battle of New Babylon

Author's Note: This battle was played with roughly 50 power level on a 4'x4' map. We used a couple of different scenarios/rules. The first was Maelstrom of War: Cloak and Shadows, in which the assumption is the map is completely dark; units farther than 18" receive a penalty to hit, and Tactical Objectives are kept hidden. We also used the Cities of Death rules, which include various special rules and stratagems. The most prominent of these stratagems in this report was "Booby Traps". My opponent spent three command points booby trapping buildings in the city, which caused mortal wounds to any enemy that entered them.

Battle Report: Battle of New Babylon (53PL, 8th Edition)

From the personal log of Astartes Captain Vlasi Tchaikovsky (Pod-born: Astartes Unit Alpha-Kappa-011, Redesignated after the Battle of Rusov)

We received word that we were to deploy to a system near the Cicatrix Maledictum named New Babylon. The intel reports told me that the system was once a bustling hive world, a shining example of the Imperium's potential. All that had ended when a Chaos cult had taken root, infecting the population so quickly and so completely that the Inquisition had had no choice but to sentence the planet to Exterminatus.

New Babylon, and its capital hive of the same name, were empty ruins now. Virus bombed beyond recognition, the planet was now home to nothing but death.

New Babylon: Population 1,000,000 0

Yet, on the surface, something stirred.

Surface scans indicated life readings near a sector of the city formerly home to a massive shrine. Imperial records were incomplete, but several sources seemed to imply that the shrine could have contained a large collection of Astartes relics. Our mission was to obtain these relics before whatever was on the surface secured them.

Since the surface of New Babylon was still considered inhospitable to humans without proper respiratory filters, our Guard compatriots were unable to deploy alongside us. We were alone. On one hand, I somewhat relished the opportunity to flex the might of my Marines without worrying about the survival of the unaugmented humans. But on the other hand, their presence had become a comfort to me; I respected their bravery and flexibility in battle.

We dropped into battle in the dead of night, deploying in a large square and moving by foot into the mission zone. I set up a base of operations in a tall building on the western edge of the sector, situating my Hellblasters on the roof and a squad of Intercessors on the floor below.

The Command Post

Intercessor squads Dimitri (Д) and Zhuk (Ж) I deployed in forward positions, led by Lieutenant Rav.


We moved into position swiftly and silently and awaited more detailed scans of the area to ascertain the exact positions of the relics in the sector.

Just then, my helmet sensors picked up movement in the ruin across the main street of the sector. Something bulky and dark. "Request illumination, Grid Alfa-Roman-Roman" I said quietly into my helmet vox, although there was no need. A flare popped from a handheld launcher, and the brilliant white glow illuminated the building I had designated.

The enemy is revealed

Three huge Astartes Centurion suits occupied the upper floors of the crumbling ruin. "OPEN FIRE!!!" I called without hesitation. If these Astartes had deployed here without notifying my high command, then that could mean only one thing. They too had been corrupted by Chaos.

The Hellblasters' plasma incinerators lit up the night with their harsh blue glow, Sergeant Fyodorov ordering two of his men to overcharge their weapons, while doing the same with his own. I saw one of the Centurions go down in a heap of melted slag, but the fight was far from over. I received word from reconnaissance on the positions of the potential relics caches, and while my first instinct was to ignore the reports in favor of destroying the enemy, I remembered my mission. I ordered Lieutenant Rav to advance the forward squads.

The night exploded.

Tripwires in the ruins had triggered booby traps. The heretics had been expecting us. I saw a Primaris Marine savagely eviscerated by shrapnel, and even Lieutenant Rav was wounded in a blast as he sprinted through a ruin to link up with Dimitri Squad.

A bloody advance

"Relic cache recovered, Sir" I heard over my vox network. The advance had cost us, but we were completing our objectives.

The Centurions opened fire, tracers streaking through the dark and illuminating the rubble of the city below. I saw another burning light and recognized it as the glow of jetpack exhaust. "All units, be advised, assault troops incoming!" I barked into the vox, but it was too late. Bolt pistols roared and raked fire along the length of the advancing squad's line, taking down three of their Marines.

"Lieutenant, get in that building and take down those Centurions!"

"Yes Sir!" Rav replied, and moved what was left of his squads to the enemy's base of fire. Meanwhile, I spotted a ghostly arc of lightning jump to the ground behind the Centurions' ruin. Psykers.

"Zoya Squad!" I called out on the vox.
"Zoya Squad conducting orbital maneuvers, Captain. Awaiting orders."
"Drop in Grid Alfa-Ivan-Eho. Eliminate enemy command." I said grimly.
"Yes Sir, Comrade Captain."

A few moments later, three shooting stars appeared over the horizon, moving faster than the roaring sound of their crash through the atmosphere. They slowed and slammed down on the eastern side of the sector, their drag chutes glowing red in the dark.

The Inceptors raised their assault bolters and fired a blistering fusillade into the enemy. Through their helmet optics, I saw what I had expected. A psyker, and what looked like a decorated veteran with glowing lightning claws. I also saw clearly for the first time the emblems on their shoulders. Raven Guard. That would explain the enemy's stealth, and their use of traps.

That they weren't an enemy never crossed my mind. Some of my Marines, good men, were lying in the street bleeding from bombs and bullets that the Raven Guard had fired. Short of a direct order from high command, I was going to be settling the score this day.

My Hellblasters and Intercessors continued to pour fire into the enemy, and I saw flashes and heard flat bangs from the Centurions' post as Lieutenant Rav led the men in to clear the building, tossing grenades through crumbling doors to precede them.

Just then, I saw the jets of flames from my Inceptors' jump packs, and they arced through the air towards the enemy commander.

Enemy sighted

There was a thundering crash, then silence. A moment later, my vox crackled.

"Warlord down." came the terse report from the Inceptors. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Lieutenant Rav and the remnants of Dimitri Squad were making good progress through the upper levels of the Centurions' ruins, smashing through a scout squad on the lower level. But the enemy was closing in. "Fall back!" I ordered, but it was too late.

As they descended the floors of the building, the assault marines surrounded the ruin and began firing. I heard nothing but static on Lieutenant Rav's channel, and I cursed myself for ordering him to carry out what would become a suicide mission.

My vox chirped, and Zhuk Squad reported, "Relic 3 secured, Sir. All objectives secure."

I sighed and relayed the status to my command.

"Hammers, fall back to the extraction point. Mission accomplished." I voxed.

My words should have been victorious, proud. But with every casualty I suffered under my command, my pride diminished. Victory felt very far away.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Battle Report: Hammers of Man, Battle of Heretics' Ambush

Battle Report: Heretics' Ambush (2000pts, 8th Edition)

From the journal of Kapitan Vasili Usukov, 1st Company, 99th Rusovian Regiment

The landing on Dagob 4-H was uneventful, but as we dropped through the misty atmosphere into the muddy green of the planet's surface below, I couldn't help but feel a sense of dread at the coming battle. This would be my first action since the escape from Rusov, and if possible I felt less prepared now than I had then. 

I had been issued a power sword and plasma pistol from the armory, armaments befitting my new rank, but for some reason I wished for the familiar hum and snap of the lasgun I had used in training. The sword hung heavy at my side and the holstered pistol was already hot enough to feel the warmth through my fatigues. 

As we disembarked from the landing craft, our men formed a rough perimeter around the swampy clearing, as we had been trained to do. The air was oppressively hot, and so humid one could barely breathe. Alien creatures chittered in the forest around us, but otherwise the landing site was ominously silent.  The Primaris Marines, some of them still with unpainted ceramite armor, formed up in neat ranks, their orders and conversations unheard to us. 

Colonel Antonov bellowed to form up in parade column, and we began our march into the sodden jungle, following a rough dirt road that wound into the 83rd Catachan's territory. 

We trod through the mud of the road, trying our best to peer through the fog for signs of our potential enemies. Our Rusovian greatcoats became soaked with sweat and mist, and many of us shed the garments, storing them in the company Taurox. 

After several hours of marching, with the fetid swamp water beginning to seep into my boots, the Primaris Lieutenant on point raised a fist suddenly, and the column halted. Through the damp air came a muffled sound...the growling of engines. 

After a few seconds of listening to confirm that the vehicles were approaching closer, I shouted for my men to "FORM UP!!" As they began to deploy into ranks, one on either side of the Taurox and officers' detachments, Colonel Antonov strode back to confer with me. 

"Vasili, shouldn't we await contact before we deploy? These guardsmen are supposed to be our allies!"

I gave him a flat look, replying, "We'll await contact, yes. But I think we should be in battle formation in case that contact is hostile." Then to the rear of the column, I yelled for the heavy weapons teams and the Earthshaker cannon crew to begin deploying. 

We formed into firing ranks and stood silently, peering into the mists as the rumbling grew louder. Suddenly, several large masses appeared through the fog, crushing the undergrowth under their treads and tires. Their profiles were strange to me, all of them seeming to be adapted to the swampy terrain.

Antonov raised a vox-speaker to his mouth and shouted, "MEN OF THE 83RD REGIMENT! STAND DOWN IMMEDIATELY AND APPROACH FOR PARLEY!" 

There was no answer. The vehicles' engines idled as we waited with bated breath. Sweat trickled down my brow, and my plasma pistol hummed quietly in the silence.

Just then, a high pitched whistling sounded high above us, descending in tone rapidly. "INCOMING!!!!" I screamed, and dove to the dirt. A mortar round exploded next to the squad of veterans that had been leading the column. Immediately, the air was filled with the cacophony of battle. Lasguns snapped, the Earthshaker began to fire, more mortar rounds burst all around us. I saw men fall to the earth with shrapnel eviscerating their bodies.

 I heard a sound that was as out of place as it was eerie: the whinnying of horses. I saw the Earthshaker cannon swing around to the left, and the charging cavalry got a round of grapeshot over open sights, like horsemen on some ancient, gunpowder-clouded Terran battlefield. 

Through all of this, the Space Marines stood impassively, like stone statues in a rainstorm of steel. I resented them and admired them in equal measure in that moment; while my brothers were being scythed down like wheat, the Primaris were weathering the enemy fire as if it was nothing. 

"FORWARD! WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!!" Antonov shouted in the confusion. Tanks, cavalry, and now infantrymen were swinging around our sides in a pincher movement. The forest ahead was much thicker, however, and I questioned in my mind the wisdom of moving into unknown ground, away from our support section. 

The Taurox leaped forward and the Marines began swinging out and forward, their bolt rifles working with machine-like efficiency. Looking around the chaos of the battlefield, I saw very few of my guardsmen comrades still standing, piles of still forms lying where they once stood. 

A dark-green tank with massive tires lurched forward from the enemy formation, and from its turret spewed a gout of flame. More infantry fell, writhing in pain, and even a couple of the mighty Primaris were engulfed in the inferno. Rifles, mortars, and artillery shells streaked in, focusing fire on the hellish tank, and my face was hit with an oven blast of heat and light as the vehicle exploded in a giant fireball.

We pushed forward, still under fire from the enemy mortars, and from the thicket ahead charged two squads of heretic guardsmen, pushing forward and swarming over the Taurox as it tried in vain to mow them down with its gatling cannon. The Primaris strode forward and quickly overwhelmed them, the Captain's thunder hammer cutting swathes in the ranks of enemy infantry. 

In the rear, the support section struggled to hold off a flanking attack on the Earthshaker cannon, and I saw a heretic priest in the thick of the melee, spewing foul curses in some warp-tainted language. The big gun fell silent as grenades pelted the position, smoke rising into the sky as the bloody exchange continued. 

With the last of the charging heretics thrown off the Taurox, the Primaris and remaining Guard formed up in a rough horseshoe around the vehicle, hoping to form a wedge that could break through the forest ahead.

It wasn't to be. Out of the treeline emerged three fresh squads of howling traitors, sprinting toward our bloodied lines. Behind them, a man I recognized as the legendary Colonel Trakken raised his sword and urged them on. 

"FALL BACK!!" a vox-enhanced voice yelled, and I realized it was the Primaris Captain. Space Marine and Guardsmen alike began to give ground rapidly, and the Taurox covered our retreat with suppressive fire. On my way back to the rear, I passed tangles of Rusovian dead lying in the mud, their limbs twisted through each other like the roots of a mangrove tree, their eyes glassy and still. 

I cursed Antonov for leading us here. I cursed this pointless loss of life. I almost cursed the Imperium for sending us to our doom, but Commissar Lievanov was running not far from me, and I wanted to take no chances. I settled for cursing the fetid planet and the traitor guardsmen who had attacked us. But it was over. 

Our transport ships lifted off, much lighter than when they had arrived. I sat back in my jumpseat, remembering the dead stares of my brothers and friends. Welcome to the Guard. 

Backstory: Hammers of Man, Part V

Part V: Enlistment

The escape from the Rusov system was a blur, and after the adrenaline-fueled stand at Camp H, I was too spent to stay aware of what was going on. I remember flashes of light, shifting gravity, wailing children. Sensory overload as the transport made a mad dash to open space, linking up with a nearby battle barge. I lost consciousness shortly after the jump into the warp.

My dreams were dark, haunted by slavering daemons, fangs and spikes clawing for me… reaching for me… 

I awoke with a start, and towering over me was the shadow of a hulking daemon. Spikes jutted from the thing’s head as it leaned over my bed, gripping my shoulder with its cold claws, and my heart lept into my mouth, terror silencing me. 

“Relax, Captain. You’re safe.”

My eyes focused, and I realized that what my mind had painted as a bloodthirsty creature of the warp was actually a Space Marine. The heavy bulk of his Gravis armor and his Iron Halo marked him as the Captain of the Primaris Marines at the training camp on Rusov. Around me, medical devices hummed and beeped softly.

Catching my breath and sitting up, I corrected him, “‘Work Leader,’ if you please Sir. I am no Captain.” 

“Commissar Lievanov told me you had accepted your commission…” He paused before continuing, “No mind. Perhaps you were unaware, Work Leader Usukov. All of the men formerly of your work crew, as well as the other human inhabitants of Camp H, have volunteered for the Guard.”

Images of my men in firing ranks, loosing volley after volley into the foul daemon horde, suddenly returned to me. 

“All...of them?” I asked after a moment of silence.

“To a man.” the Captain replied. “These are your men, Vasili. They will follow you. They have followed you. Lead them.”

While I considered his words, he continued. “The survivors of Rusov have formed a new regiment, actually. The Rusovian 99th, the ‘Hammers of Man’. Their flag is the flag of the Worker’s Republic of Rusov.”

I nodded, replying, “It is fitting.” I thought of the eagle holding the worker’s hammer in its talons. Then I noticed the Captain’s armor. It had been painted from dull gray to a rich dark green, similar to what I had seen the Republican Guard wear during a past trip to the Rusovian capital. His shoulder pauldrons were a deep blood red, lined with brassy gold trim, similar to the colors of Rusov’s flag. 

“Your armor…” I said, pausing.

“The Primaris trainees of Camp H have been mustered into a new Space Marine Chapter as well. We could think of no colors and heraldry more fitting than that of Rusov. If I have my choice, we will accompany the new regiment wherever they are deployed.”

My heart swelled with pride, and simultaneously sank in sorrow at the thought of my planet dying in a deluge of hellish blood. 

I lifted my eyes to the Captain, firm in my resolve. “I will accept my commission, Sir. I will join my men, and lead them wherever they may go.”

It turned out that I would not lead them, per se. I was given the rank of Captain and put in command of a company of men, primarily consisting of the workers of Camp H. The regiment, however, was to be commanded by one Colonel Andrey Antonov. 

Colonel (or Polkovnik, in our tongue) Antonov had been a career supply officer stationed in near orbit when the attack on Rusov had begun. His primary duties before the disaster had been to ensure that the newly raised units lifting off from the planet below were supplied with lasguns, greatcoats, canteens, and everything else an average guardsman might require. In this duty, I am sure he excelled. However, an experienced combat officer he was not. He had inherited the Hammers of Man solely by virtue of the fact that he was the highest ranking commissioned officer in-system when the warp had ripped open. 

He took his new command very seriously, I will credit him with that. Coached and prodded by the Lord Commissar, he gave (what he thought were) stirring speeches to the new regiment about duty and honor, sacrifice and faithfulness to the Imperium. Looking into the eyes of my men, I could see that his words rang hollow. They would fight for the Imperium, yes. But their goal was a simpler one: revenge. To a man who had days before seen his family ripped apart by nightmarish creatures, duty and honor weren’t among his primary motivations.

Over the next few weeks, we trained on board the battle barge, being given a crash course in infantry procedures and tactics. Soon, we were told our destination. 

“Gather ‘round, men!” bellowed Antonov, his gold braid and buttons glistening in the ship’s lights. “We’ve received orders for our first taste of action!!” He punctuated his last few words by pumping his fist in the air, clutching the sheets of flimsi that I assumed contained said orders. He seemed not to notice the sideways glances of some of the men; for many of us, whatever came next wouldn’t be our “first taste of action.” Our first taste had been nothing to celebrate. Our first taste had been bitter indeed. 

“Dagob 4-H!” he continued, almost cheerfully. “We’ve been asked to link up with the Catachan 83rd, who have dropped out of telepath contact of late.” 

“A certain… Colonel Trakken…” he said, peering down at the orders, “has dropped off the map in the lowlands of Dagob 4-H. We’re to ascertain his fate, bring him back to Segmentum Command, and continue our campaign from there.”

He flipped to another page. “There’s also a note here to investigate possible ‘tech heresy’, whatever that is, and to… counter any resistance with deadly force…” 

Murmuring spread through the gathered soldiers. “Alright men!! Fall out!!” 

I could tell the Rusovian guardsmen didn’t savor the thought of using “deadly force” against fellow humans. But, if these… ‘catty-shams’ resisted the commands of the Imperium of Man… they must be heretics. My qualms about the orders were of a different nature. It just so happens I had read about the 83rd, their infamous Colonel, and their swampy homeland in a back-page column of the Regimental Standard a few months back. 

“Comrade Polkovnik, if I may,” I called as the men dispersed. Antonov turned, smiling at me and beckoning me over. “Excited about our new orders, Vasili?” he bellowed brightly. 

“Not exactly, Sir.” I replied when we were out of earshot. The colonel frowned, and I continued. “Sir, Colonel Trakken’s 83rd are hardened veterans, experts at fighting in the exact type of terrain we’ll be engaging them in.”

“‘Engaging them?’” Antonov scoffed. “No, Vasili, we’re simply returning them to the fold!” He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “Word from Segmentum Command is, I’ll be given command of both regiments if I can succeed in bringing these… swamp people… and their vehicles back.”

“Sir… I must advise caution. I don’t expect these men to be… ‘returned’ without a fight.” I tried to keep my tone measured, but the colonel’s hubris was causing my blood to rise. “Not to mention sir, you said our orders were to find these men in the ‘lowlands?’”

He nodded. 

“Sir… almost the entire surface of Dagob 4H is ‘lowlands’ is a swamp plan-”
“You worry about nothing, Vasili!” he bellowed, cutting me off and clapping me on the back. “Now, gather your men and prepare for our drop. We will bring glory to Rusov and the Imperium!!”

As he walked away, all I could think about was the men that I was going to have to bury, for the glory of one man.

Backstory: Hammers of Man, Part IV

Part IV: Deployment

I remember where I was when my world ended. I remember where I was when the sky split open and crimson filled the heavens. I remember where I was when Hell came to Rusov Major. 

It was a calm evening, cool, on the downslope to winter. I was taking out the kitchen scraps to the bin behind the mess hall. I paused to light up a lho-stick and looked up at the sky. It was dusk, with the sun shrinking in the east and the stars above beginning to show themselves. As I took a drag, I noticed a thin red line spiderwebbing out from a single point among the constellations. It rapidly grew, both in length and width, shining from within with its own light in shades of deep crimson and sickly fuscia. 

A deep foreboding grew within me, and the lho-stick dropped from my mouth when a long, sickening shriek tore from the officers’ quarters. The sound made my skin crawl; it was terror and death and madness all wrapped up into a single note. I found out later that the camp astropath had raked her nails over her head and face so violently that most of her skull was visible by the time the officers found her. My own head ached in that moment, and I stumbled back against the wall, watching the skies.

The wound in the heavens grew at an exponential rate, and thin tendrils of red snaked down to the planet’s surface like vipers released from a cage. One such tendril, hundreds of kilometers wide, fell upon the nearby hive. I don’t know whether the screams I heard came from the city, from the creatures of the warp, or from both. I didn’t stay to find out. Rushing into the crew barracks, I yelled for everyone to make ready. I didn’t know where we would go or how we would escape this, but I knew that whatever was coming would find us as ready as we could be. 

The next time I stepped outside, the sky had been consumed by blood. The land around me was lit up an eery red, except for the sky above the nearby hive, which glowed with the yellows and oranges of pillaging fire. I gathered my people up, making sure no one had been left behind. A glance down the road that led to the hive confirmed my fear. A moving, writhing wave of blood-red bodies was steadily advancing on the camp. Daemons. I could just barely make out horns, spikes, lashes, and blades among the rippling mass. It was death and fire and blood incarnate. We would never survive this. 

I rushed the civilian workers towards the landing pad, hoping against hope that one of the company’s dropships was still there. I doubted it. The Primaris were each worth a hundred thousand Rusovian ditchdiggers; it made sense to save these elites and leave this planet to slow the oncoming horde. As we rounded the corner of the main barracks building, I found that I was mistaken. 

A silent line of Space Marines stood, their masked helmets surveying the scene impassively. We stopped in our tracks, thinking that perhaps the angels of death would kill us to prevent our leaving. But as we approached, the mob of slathering daemons washing over the edge of the camp behind us, a silent order made the Marines suddenly and sharply spread ranks. When the last worker had passed through the gaps in the line, the ceramite giants once more stood shoulder to shoulder, forming an impenetrable wall. I looked back in time to see them raise their bolt rifles to their shoulders, and then a cacophony of gunfire and daemons’ screams nearly deafened me. 

Behind the Marines, Lord Commissar Lievanov stood like a harbinger of death, his black coat whipping in the unnatural wind. 

“Women and children to the dropship!” he yelled above the din. “You men, follow me!”

One of the laborers cried out in terror, shrieking, “We’re just civilians, for Emperor’s sake!!”

Lievanov looked grim, shaking his head. “There are no civilians today, you fool.”

He led us to the armory, where among the bolt weapons and plasma incinerators, there hung short las carbines. I gripped the weapon in my hand, loading the power pack with trembling fingers. I looked up and saw that the Commissar was standing in front of me. 

“These men are your crew, are they not?” he said quietly. 

I nodded, breathing heavily. 

“Then they will follow you. They’ll do what you command. I need you to use that fact if we’re going to survive this.”

My eyes went wide. I’d never fired a weapon before in my life. I’d never seen combat, never killed anyone (or anything). How could I possibly - ?

“You can do this… Captain.” And he walked away. 

I lead the men out of the armory and we rushed across the parade ground to where the Marines still stood in an unwavering line. I saw a few ceramite forms on the ground, and through these gaps I could see a field of gore, the bodies of daemons littering the ground before the Primaris. Bolter casings rang off of ceramite and daemon carapaces as the Marines continued to pour fire into the endless ranks of monsters.

Our ragtag group took up position on the flank of the Marines, forming a line more or less shoulder to shoulder with the giants. We were pitiful in comparison to these gods of battle, but for some reason, just the act of standing against the enemy with the Primaris made my heart swell with courage and pride. I could see it on the faces of my men as well, a calm in the face of the death that I’d never seen before. 

Commissar Lievanov bellowed for us to make our weapons ready. As the daemonic horde surged and began to lunge forward again, we aimed and let off a blistering volley of las fire at the enemy. A few daemons toppled, but the beams of concentrated light scattered in the hands of the untrained workers. 

“Aim for the center of mass! Deep breaths! FIRE!”

I’m not sure how many volleys we fired, but the next thing I knew, the lasgun was clicking in my hand and Lievanov was yelling to “FALL BACK!” I turned to do so and noticed a rank of forge workers lined up behind us. We slipped through their lines and began reloading our weapons as they began to fire. 

“Second rank! FALL BACK!” he yelled again.

I saw what he was doing. The Marines were performing similar maneuvers, albeit silently and much more smoothly than our makeshift company. We were falling back to form a perimeter around the transport craft. I took up the order, and my men began to work in smooth procession, unloading their weapons into the enemy with precision. The daemons pushed hard against our ranks, and I saw some of my men eviscerated by unholy weapons. I chanced a glance back at the dropship and saw Marines and workers quickly boarding the loading ramp as the perimeter shrank. That was the first moment I thought that we might actually survive.

Then the swarm shrieked as one and surged forward. The man on my left was impaled. The man on my right had a chunk of flesh torn from his neck by razor-sharp fangs. The hope that had flared in my chest just a moment before was quickly snuffed out. Death had come for me.

Then, lightning struck. 

From the heavens, bulky Inceptor Marines fell with a thunderous crash, scattering howling daemons in every direction. The undersides of their armor and their finned grav chutes glowed cherry with the heat of reentry, but they didn’t seem to notice as their assault bolters began to unload on the surrounding horde. The snub-nosed heavy bolter pistols that they wielded in each hand reaped a terrible toll, and daemons screamed in pain, anger, and exultation at the carnage. 

I fired my lasgun until it scorched my hands, reloading when my cartridge was spent, doing my best to clear daemons from around the courageous Inceptors. I felt a firm hand on my shoulder and turned to see the Commissar, nodding towards the transport. I realized I was alone; all of the daemons had gravitated towards the skyborne Marines. I rushed back to the boarding ramp as it began to rise, and I saw the Inceptors being ripped apart by the foul monsters. 

My last look at Rusov was a planet covered in death, fire, and blood. Hell. I never saw my home again.

Backstory: Hammers of Man, Part III

Part III: Duty

I kept waiting for the hammer to fall. For the cold metal of a bolt pistol to be pressed to my head, and my miserable existence snuffed out for all time. Through the interviews with the Commissar and the techpriest I expected at any time my sentence to be meted out. When it didn’t happen, I began to realize that death wasn’t my fate at all, at least not today. Halfway through a monotonous speech by the techpriest, I started and sat up straight in my chair.



The techpriest looked up, and again, for a face with so little capacity for human expression, he did an impressive job of looking annoyed. 

“Are you going to kill me?..” I asked suddenly, and his head tilted slightly at the suggestion.


“Then why the hell am I still here? Just let me go!”


“Non-servitor…” I was pulled to my feet by a guard and rushed out of the room before I could ask any further questions. 

I was brought to a room where a large group of people stood silently. I recognized them as the men who I had contracted to work on the construction of the camp. Along with some were their wives and children as well. Some of them looked at me with questioning glances, while others stared daggers, knowing what was coming. The Commissar proceeded to explain to us (in Low Gothic that we could actually understand) that we were now permanent residents of the camp, and were to maintain and operate the facilities. A few of the detainees began to shout their protests, some of the women wailing in sorrow. The Commissar endured the initial tirade with silent patience, but when one of the workers made as if to strike him, he caught the blow and put the man to the ground. In a blur, he pulled his gilded bolt pistol and turned the protester's head into a bloody stump. 

“Any other complaints?!” he bellowed. The group stood in wide-eyed silence.

“Good.” He holstered his smoking pistol and began to pace in front of the room, hands tucked behind his back. 

“My name is Lord Commissar Boris Lievanov. During the duration of your stay here, I will be the final authority on discipline in Camp H. Tech Adept Gallus here will be in charge of giving you your labor assignments. Follow your orders to the letter, and we won’t have any issues. Fail to do so…” he trailed off and glanced down at the headless corpse strewn on the floor.

The next several months were grueling. While most Rusovian employers stick to light or indoor duty during the sweltering summer months, Techpriest Gallus and Commissar Lievanov seemed not to have been notified of this custom. I lost a quarter of my men in the first month from heat stroke alone. As well built as the camp was, there was no shortage of startup issues. From lighting failures to issues with sewage capacity, my workers and I were kept busy each day.

We operated the kitchens, we cleaned and repaired the cooling systems. More civilians were pressed into service to operate the ceramite forges, which worked around the clock to create the Primaris Marines’ (for that is what I found them to be called) armor. And all day every day, the Marines trained.

It was hard not to be impressed by their stature and skill, and in watching them train, I came to pity whoever would dare to oppose them. Their firing was accurate, they overcame obstacles with ease. In hand-to-hand combat, they struck with precision and fierceness. And surprisingly, their physical prowess wasn’t the only thing that made an impression on my crew. 

In their interactions with the workers of Camp H, the Primaris were cordial and respectful. They listened to the issues the laborers were having and did their best to help resolve them. They even pitched in and assisted the workers when they needed it. I’ll never forget the sight of Lieutenant Rav, waist deep in sewage, ordering his men to lift the heavy steel drain pipes while my crew did their work. 

While we chafed at the responsibility of working in the camp initially, over time we generated a respect and a camaraderie with the Marines of Camp H. It is a bond that lasts to this day, although we had little inkling then of what the future would hold for us.

Backstory: Hammers of Man Part II

Part II: Conscription

It’s my own fault, really. I should have known how little tolerance the Imperium had for behavior that was at all aberrant. I should have stayed home that day. I should have sat in my hab and beat the heat with an amasec or two. Instead, I found myself loping over the dunes, trying to get a peek at the camp I had helped build. I knew the area well, and knew the best approaches, so it wasn’t long before I was peering over a boulder and down into the small valley below.

Off to one side, two Overlord-class transports were landed, their engines still spilling vapor onto the tarmac. I barely noticed the dropships, however. What caught my eye most of all were the giants forming up in neat ranks on the parade ground.

My first thought was that they were Astartes. I had heard of the gene-bulked warriors, and knew their fearsome reputation. However, this suspicion was disproven when a standard human Commissar strode out before the men (if they could be called that). The newcomers were massive in comparison, easily two or three heads taller than the Commissar. Accompanying the man was the bug-like techpriest adept that had contracted with me. He skittered along on metallic appendages, keeping pace with the officer’s brisk step.

The two of them joined a small group of the giants, who stood at attention before the ranks of others. While the main group of men (trainees I assumed) were dressed in simple tunics and fatigues, the ones the Commissar joined were fully armored, unpainted ceramite glittering in the summer sun. Further, they seemed to be in slightly different classes or varieties of armor, some heavier than others, some equipped with what looked like wings and boosters.

So they were Astartes. The strange project requirements suddenly made sense. But these had to be something new. Their size, their armor. These weren’t typical Marines.

As I watched, one of the armored Marines turned his helmet in my direction, and I quickly ducked behind the boulder to avoid detection. I could hear the Commissar launch into a speech about duty to the Imperium, and besides the ambient noise of the dropships venting their excess oxidizer, the steppe was relatively silent. I ventured a peek over the boulder again, and found the scene much as I had just seen it. Strangely, the officer that had glanced my way was no longer a part of the formation.

Suddenly, what sounded like a meteor roared in and landed right next to me. The sand around me kicked up and blinded me, and the impact of the object striking the ground was near deafening. As I regained my senses, I saw the bulky form of the Marine officer walking towards me, the heat from the large pack on his back making the air around him shimmer. He raised a stubby but massive bolt weapon and pointed it at me.

“CITIZEN. HALT.” came a vox-amplified voice.

His command was unnecessary. I couldn’t have moved if I wanted to. I literally shook as his piston-empowered stomps made the ground under me tremor.

A power-armored fist gripped my shoulder and hauled me to my feet.

“V..V..Vasili Usukov!” I stammered, swallowing hard.

The monstrous warrior turned his head slightly, as if listening to something.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Backstory: Hammers of Man, Part I

Part I: Preparations

Rusov Major. What a hellish place to live. Or at least that’s what I thought, before. Now it seems a heaven, in my memories, for that is the only place it still exists.

The climate of Rusov Major was cruel, made so by its eccentric orbit. Six months of its 15-month year were what one would consider “pleasant”. Three months were torrid summer, the plant life on the surface withering and dying, the steppes becoming deserts. The remaining six months were some of the coldest noted in Imperial records. Blankets of ice and snow wrapped the planet in white. Temperatures dropped to near absolute zero. Exposure of any kind to the biting cold was fatal.

“Hellish.” That’s how I described it as a young man. How foolish that notion seems now. I didn’t know what that word meant, before.

I suppose Rusov’s climate was what made it ideal for the type of training and field testing the adepts of Mars wanted to conduct there. The first word we received that a major construction effort was needed near my home hive was from a red-robed tech-priest, more metal exposed to the eye than flesh. I still remember the harshness of his mechanically-produced voice, the metallic clicking of his numerous bionic appendages as he dictated the project requirements to me.

I worked construction, and had for years, being the youngest of eight brothers when my parents died in a hab heater failure. Like all other Rusovian older siblings, my brothers were lost to my family as soon as they were no longer the youngest, volunteering in the Guard as war-sons, never to be seen again. I had often dreamt of joining them among the stars, mowing down xenos with my mighty lasgun instead of overseeing the construction of hab block after identical hab block. If I had only known what fate had in store.

We were to build a camp, the purpose of which was not immediately revealed to us. Poring over the plans and specifications, it was apparent that it wasn’t a prison camp. There were no fences, no cells. Beyond that, I had no clue as to the camp’s function. There was a large mess hall and a firing range, which would suggest a training camp. But a large space marked “Gene Laboratory”, along with a fully functional ceramite forge, seemed odd for a boot camp. The strangeness didn’t stop there. The camp contained billets, but...large...billets. Too large. I checked with the tech-priest to confirm that the dimensions weren’t in error. If a man with a robotic face can appear miffed, he certainly did as he assured me that the specifications were correct.

The beds, mess tables, and even the lavs were all...huge. Much too large for a normal man. I had heard of the bulky abhumans known as ogryns, but I’d never heard of them fielded in units as large as could be trained in this camp. My gut told me this was something else. The...creatures that these facilities were designed for must be large, much larger than even the fabled Astartes.

Construction on the camp began in the spring, and it was built quickly, in the traditional Rusovian style: sturdy, self-contained hab buildings that could be lowered into the ground during the winters. The tech priest oversaw it all with his cold mechanical optics, his bionics twitching like an insect. When it was complete, summer was just setting in. Most days had to be spent indoors, sheltering from the sun, which hung huge in the sky.

So when the transports flew over my hive en route to the camp, I heard them and felt them in my bones as their engines roared overhead, but I did not see them. It was this fact that fed my curiosity. It was my curiosity that led me to investigate the camp. It was my curiosity that saved my life in the end.