Drop pod assaults were always a dangerous means of insertion. There were many points where a simple mistake could leave the entire force scattered, and unable to regroup. Sudden storms, enemy fire, faulty mechanisms or spirits all left a level of chance that, during a normal assault, were simply risks of the trade. The technique that Jarrel had helped to pioneer as a World Eater during his second campaign pushed the limit of what was reasonable and turned a risky endeavor into a dangerous one.
This thought passed through his mind, as it always did when an assault of this nature was taking place. Four other Marines were in the pod with him, their normal power packs replaced with jump packs, they were strapped into the pod as it descended through the atmosphere of Kharon IV. The tactical information- at this point nothing more than a rough grid location of the pod relative to the ground, and an altitude reading- was shown to him by the pods navigation system. Contact with the other pods was impossible given the level of ionization that occurred when entering an atmosphere at such high speeds. Yet, with as little as he could see, he could tell if his pod- and by default the other twenty pods in the assault- were on course. They were.
Hours earlier, as the Marines on board the Salvation prepared for their assault, scouts had located the enemies command and control hub, and marked certain targets for orbital strikes prior to an assault. Jarrel had decided to use his old trick to execute their raid, and bring the Chaos insurgents to their knees in as short a time as was possible. The targets marked, the pods had been launched from high orbit, following large arcs through open space. The total time for the drop was almost two hours, yet the timing of the pods launch had ensured that they would arrive at the same time, in the same area. This was the plan of every drop pod assault, and rarely did it go as smoothly as this assault would have to go.
The pod bucked as it hit a dense pocket of air, and more tactical information became available to Jarrel. The ionization around his pod had ebbed, and now he could see the dispersion of the scouts on the planet, as well as the targets that had been laid out. The other pods- all twenty- had come out of the ionization as well, and were making their final descent. Jarrel smiled as he saw the concentration of the pods, perfectly aligned by the nav systems of each as they fell, tethered by their signals, toward the ground.
Jarrel looked to his left, toward a recent convert, a former Khorne Marine. He could see that the Marine was trembling visibly, the restraints of the pod barely holding him in check.
“Calm yourself, brother,” Jarrel said soothingly.
The Marine’s shaking subsided, and his shoulders slumped. After a moment he seemed to have retained himself. “Thank you, brother,” he said in reply.
“Hold onto yourself- it has been thousands of years since our fall from grace- now we fall on the enemy as we did before…” Jarrel couldn’t say it.
The Marine nodded.
Jarrel returned his full attention to the tactical display before him. There were a total of five targets marked by the scouts that were in need of a strike to ensure that the retrieval Thunderhawks could arrive without being destroyed. Four pods per target seemed a good amount, as only one pod was needed to deal with each target, but anything could keep that from working, given the long ranged nature of the attack.
The pods launched from Salvation were no ordinary drop pods. Unlike other pods that would land and the Marines would disembark, these were each equipped with a large warhead designed to explode at ground level. The warhead was a larger version of a Demolisher shell designed to break armored targets apart. Other warheads could be affixed in its place, such as mine layers, anti-personnel, or dispersed anti air, but in any fashion, they restricted the use of the pods to jump pack wearing Marines exclusively, and this limited their compliment to five per.
The altimeter counted down, and Jarrel did the math. “Fifteen seconds to break,” he said. “Brothers, ensure your drogues are deployed the moment you hit air. Peace be with you.”
“And peace be to you,” the other four chorused over the Vox.
The seconds ticked by, the tension mounting as the clock dwindled down until the altimeter read one thousand meters.
“Break,” said Jarrel.
The doors to the pod blew off and swung upwards in the strong upward winds created by the atmosphere. As soon as the doors were clear, the five Marines were blown out by explosive charges of their own, flinging them from the pod. Five drogues opened, slowing the Marines and letting the pod fall alone toward its target. Jarrel looked about him, the tactical information flooding to his visor showed the locations of the other hundred Marines as they fell toward the ground, their pods descending from them. Once the pods were clear of the falling warriors, their main engines engaged, accelerating them to four times the speed of sound as they arched toward their pre-planned targets.
The warriors falling through the sky watched their own objectives, letting drag slow their descent so that they would not beat their pods to the ground, or arrive to close to the explosions. Jarrel held his storm shield close to his body, using it to both retard his speed and protect him from any fire that might have been coming his way. The altimeter passed eight hundred meters when the first pod- his own- slammed into its target, causing a brilliant ring of fire in the early morning light that was replaced by an ever expanding ring of dust. He could make out defensive positions dug into the ground by the heretic forces around the now destroyed target, and as the altimeter passed five hundred meters, and the other twenty pods found their targets, he gave his final order before landing.
“Detach drogues- Peace be with you, Brothers.”
Private Hoffa scratched his head. The scar tissue from his new mark itched, but the power it conferred gave him confidence. Twice his unit had turned the followers of the carrion God. Twice he had killed former allies for the Dark Gods. The Imperial forces had little ability to drive back against them, and soon, his unit would move forward and destroy them in place, and march to the capitol hive of Priam. Or at least that is what their leader was telling them. He wasn't so sure.
“The sky,” shouted someone to his left.
Realizing the shout was a warning, he looked up. Above him were the fiery trails of twenty drop pods. He had never known of a Chaos Marine force to use such tactics, droppods assaults being almost exclusively an Imperial tactic. Within the time that he watched, thy flared out, telling him that they were through the upper layers of the atmosphere and falling toward their final dstinations.
“What’s going on,” barked their leader, a demigod by the name of Ashlander.
“Sir,” snapped one of the other traitor guardsman, “there are a number of pods descending near our position.”
He looked up, and seeing nothing, returned his gaze to the traitor sergeant. “Trust in Tzeetch, and the other gods of Chaos, and will see this through.”
Hoffa looked skyward again, this time seeing a small flash. This was followed immediately by a large number of other flashes. He had never seen this before, and was perplexed. Within a second, he saw more flashes- this time causing the pods to streak through the air at a preposterous rate of speed. He and any others had no time to contemplate what that meant before the first pod impacted the ground with a terrific explosion.
A Leman Russ disappeared in a titanic explosion, then another, then an AA battery, then a command and control Chimera. More explosions seemed to concuss the area without relent. Hoffa fell to the ground, bits of shrapnel flying over his head, dirt falling on it. Less than a meter from him, the wheel of one of the vehicles recently destroyed land with a thud in the mud.
“This wasn’t a drop pod assault, this was an orbital strike,” cried the Demigod. “They are too afraid to attack us directly. The imperial cowards need to beat us from afar with heavy guns!”
His ears still ringing, Hoffa stood shakily and looked about himself. The area around him was ablaze, and in the early morning light, it was difficult to tell where one group of soldiers began and another ended. Screams from the wounded and the sounds of secondary explosions from exploding fuel and munitions filled the air, blotting out the other less noticeable sounds. Amongst these sounds were those of flaring jump packs, and the revving of chainswords. However, the first bolt pistol shots seemed to ring with a clarity of their own through the chaos of the traitors positions giving the first clue that a drop pod assault had occurred- just not the way that they were normally conducted.
Hoffa turned toward the sound of the bolt pistols, fear taking hold of his mind as he realized that no matter where he looked, the sound always seemed to come from somewhere else. AS his eyes passed over the burning remains of the command Chimera, he caught a glimpse of the massive shadowy form of a space Marine as it dispatched one of his fellow troopers. The shadow then burst from the smoke that obscured it, and for the first and last time in his traitorous life, Hoffa saw the blood stained armor of a Khorne Brzerker as it locked eyes with him, and fired.
Jarrel hit the ground, and barley stopped. The passengers in his pod land with him in a semi-circle, oriented toward the command Chimera. Other squads landed around the perimeter, their tactical information shown on his visor as green eagles. All of them were converging on the same location- that f the demigod that was running the rebellion. Jarrel moved without a second thought, drawing his chainsword as he ran. A rogue traitor guardsman moved in his way, firing his lasgun at point blank range into the storm shield which he held. The shot spent its energy, leaving a small mark that would soon be lost amongst a slew of others before its originator was slammed to the ground, and run through with the rotating teeth of Jarrels sword.
The Marines that had been in his pod formed with him on the run, cutting down with ruthless efficiency anyone that stood in their way. Jarrel noticed, as he moved and killed, that the single Berzerker in his pod was causing serious panic within their adversaries. More so that any of the other Marines nearby. This was not a new occurrence, but one he always found amusing. Less than a minute into the assault, Jarrel spotted the Demigod as he slew an imperial Marine- a former Ultramarine- in singles combat. Four others lay around him similarly dispatched.
“Stay away from the demigod- let m and mine deal with him. Destroy the traitors,” Jarrel commanded.
HE watched as the icons that were moving toward the demigod changed direction as they found easier targets. Without a moment’s pause, Jarrel charged, raising his shield to protect himself and screaming at the top of his lungs a simple war cry, “NEVER MORE!”
His retinue of chosen warriors echoed his cry as they too joined in the charge. The demigod lived to his name, screaming Chaos profanities and charging them in return. Before they met, Jarrel noticed that the demigod was beginning to transform into a minor daemon.
Clawed hands reached out and tried to pry the shield from Jarrels arm, digging deep into its surface. The demigods crazed face seemed to close with Jarrels as if to bite him. Jarrle lifted his shield, pushing the demigods arm up and away as he swung his chainsword at his midriff. The teeth dug into the demigods armor, chewing through as if it were butter, spilling blood and gore onto the ground.
But this seemed only to enrage the Chaos leader, and in one angered pull, Jarrels shield was torn from his grasp, and smashed into one of the other Marines making the assault. Jarrel could tell by the sound that the victim of the strike would never walk away. Brother Vin was no more.
Jarrle had other things requiring his attention. The force of the attack that removed his storm shield spun him about, throwing him to the ground. The Demigod took the opportunity to attack, and almost made good on his attempt were it not for the young recently saved Berzerker who flung himself bodily into the forming daemon. The blow sen the daemon staggering back, giving Jarrel time to get to his feet. Before he could retaliate, however, the former Berzerker was dispatched, his head flying through the air as his body was ripped apart. TH demigod turned daemon seemed to savor his accomplishment, and this gave Jarrel all he needed.
He sidestepped around his opponent, using the distraction provided by Brother Avriel to close the distance, and sever the head of the demigod in one fast swing of his sword. The demigods head flying through the air, the other two Marines and Jarrel hacked into the body, and in a final act of defiance and victory, Jarrel stepped on the demigods head, crushing it beneath his armored boot.
For a moment, all seemed to quiet. The fight with the demigod was over- Jarrel having attained victory in what some brothers would call a stunning fashion. But the battle was not over, and soon Jarrel and his remaining retinue were busy once again. Less than thirty minutes later, the retrieval Thunderhawks landed, and the Marines boarded carrying their wounded and dead. In all, seven Marines were killed. Fifteen wounded.
Jarrel looked about himself, the scene seemingly fogged over, the dead seeming to be nothing more than a dream. He felt a wave of sorrow wash over him as he scanned the enemy dead lying in the mud. Around his assembled warriors, in the morning light, lay the corpses of almost four hundred traitor guard. A precious few were still alive. He walked over to one who was squirming, a gaping wound in his abdomen from the passage of a bolt pistols round. Seeing the man’s face, he couldn’t place if it was he who had shot the poor wretch, or someone else.
“Who are you,” said the man on the ground through gritted teeth.
“I am Captain Jarrel, of the Penitent Knights of Contrition. Who are you?”
“My name is Hoffa,” bloody froth began to bubble from his mouth, and indication of more serious wounds to the lungs. Hoffa looked about, and noticed the warriors that surrounded him. “You have Chaos and Imperial Marines in your Chapter?”
Jarrel smiled. “There are no Chaos Marines here. Only those wretches who have fallen from honor, or have fought for the dark Gods.”
“How-“ Hoffa coughed blood. “How can this be?”
Jarrel looked at Hoffa, as if contemplating something, then motioned for Brother Regil, the Companies Apothecary, to come forward. “We bring this man with. Keep him alive brother. In time, I will tell him our secrets.”
“As you wish, Brother Captain,” replied Regil as he fell to a knee beside Hoffa to tend to him.
Jarrel looked up toward the sound of descending Thunderhawks. Black smoke twirled in the morning sun, and the smell of burning promethium, somehow always able to penetrate the respirator of his helmet, filled his nostrils. Jarrel unclasped his helmet, and lifted it from his head. A cool wind touched his skin, and carried away the vapor from the sweat on his forehead. It also carried with it the smell of charred flesh. His unhindered ears now fully heard the sounds of the dying. He lowered his gaze to take in the view with his unaided eyes.
It was then that he saw the eyes of his killer, from less than fifteen meters away. A lone traitor guardsman, mortally wounded, his lasgun resting on the body of a former comrade, fired a single las bolt. Jarrel watched as it seemed to move in slow motion towards him, growing larger and brighter in his field of view until it struck his head. He could sense its passage through his head- the pain more than he had felt in recent years- as it passed from his left eye, diagonally through his head to exit just to the right of his medulla.
His body fell without a twitch as his soul raced away.