Written for the Wheat City Open, February 2019. I don’t normally play ITC stuff, but in this case, as I’m not going to play to win, I figured why not play it as a narrative event with all that entails…

The huge green and brown vehicles rolled across the frost burned fields in three wide spaced wedges. The sky was iron grey and low, with a few scattered flakes of snow occasionally drifting down. The air was cold, but the ground still warm enough that the flurries melted as they made contact with the tall grain that the civs had not been able to harvest.

In the open terrain, the arrowhead formation that was ‘Reaper 1’ took the center rear. On the left flank ahead at about a 30 degree angle was ‘Reaper 3’ consisting of Merry Thanos and his trio of Hellhound flame tanks, while the right held ‘Iron Fist’ – a trio of close in Russ Demolisher variants.

Recon units had gone through this area a couple hours previously, but Cantrell was taking no chances. His own command tank sat right at the center of the company – even with the flankers on either side. From here he could lend supporting fire either way, as well as call in shots from the battlecannon in the rear. It was unlikely that any sizeable ambushing force would be here, but small groups could hide in bunkers or entrenchments and might be missed. If they should pop out, the array of close ranged weaponry right on top of them would be an unpleasant, if brief, surprise.

His vox crackled. “Everard to Cantrell, see anything yet Captain?”

The huge Tank Commander keyed the transmit switch on his helmet. “All units halt here.” As the vehicles rocked to a stop, Cantrell reached down into his turret for his map and binoculars. Swinging the heavy stubber to one side, he spread the map out on the turret top in front of him, taking a quick look before raising the binocs to scan the horizon. Finally he answered the senior Sergeant commanding Reaper 1’s Vanquisher command tank. “Looks like we’ve got a small village up ahead. Map ID’s it as a place called Granurb. It’s right at the edge of a defile with a small creek at the bottom.”

“Anything could be hiding there, sir.” A different voice. Lieutenant Knox commanding ‘Iron Fist’.

“Indeed Harald,” the captain agreed, nodding to himself even though no one would likely see it. “Last thing we want is to find some mad melta gunners or fusion lads hiding down there.” He switched frequencies to the one used by his supporting infantry. “Sergeant Ufand? We’ve got a village at the edge of a little stream valley. You’re up.”

“Affirmative, sir. We’re on it. Shall I bring Dieter and the boys?”

“May as well. Let them have some fun if there is any to be had.”

There was a click as Ufand cut his mic. Both knew that with a 5×5 connection there was no need for more confirmation. The tanks held position, guns trained on the tumbledown buildings of the little town as a pair of IFV’s caught up from their tail end Charlie position and passed through the formation. Jogging behind them was a section of Ogryn led by the inestimable bone’ead Dieter, the latter’s huge back banner clearly marking where he was on the battlefield so his dim witted comrades wouldn’t lose him.

Danikan soldiers were long service vets and the precision of their maneuvers showed it. The chimera and buffalo APCs halted seventy meters from the town for the infantry to de-bus. Grey clad troops spread out, virtually disappearing into the unharvested grain. The only evidence of their presence was the Ogyrn leader’s banner, waving like a disembodied flag. After a short time the two IFV’s began to move forward again, keeping pace with their advancing infantry in order to support them if needed. Cantrell keyed his own mic. “Alpha company, slow advance. Reaper 3, angle toward the town to support the PBI. Iron Fist, stay wide but be ready to flank. Look sharp people!”

Suddenly the high pitched crack of lasfire filled the air, followed moments later by the heavy thudding of Ogryn ripper guns. “Contact front,” Ufand voxed.

A moment later the other squad leader, Benollow Questioner called in, “Left flank, light infantry in the ravine. Not much AT visible. Request support.”

“Affirmative, Sergeant.” The Captain switched frequencies. “You heard the man, Merry. Time for a little cookout.”

Reaper 3, aye,” Sergeant Thanos’ cheerful voice came back. The Hellhound platoon sped up, their tracks throwing up rooster tails of unharvested grain as the vehicles roared forward, first bearing a bit more left and then dropping out of sight into the defile. Moments later huge clouds of orange flame and black smoke reared up above the ridgeline.

“Ufand, fall back to the edge of the grain and lay down suppressing fire on the village edge. Think you can get the Ogryn to break off?”

“Not immediately, captain. They’re uh – having a bit too much fun.”

“Well get ‘em back as quick as you can. Reaper 1, target the edge of the village, but only fire on my command.”

Cantrell watched as more flames seared the left edge of the village and the valley beyond. There was more shooting, some shouting and then he could suddenly see Dieter’s back banner moving back away from the town. He keyed his mic, “Looks like the Ogryns are clear, all units, fire on the town!”

And just like that – the world became fire.

*             *             *

Cantrell stood in the ruins of what had been Granurb, a few flakes of snow drifting down to sizzle in the small fires still burning. None of the walls were over knee height now. He hoped there’d been no civs left in this village. His heavy tanker boot crushed the charred remains of a cultist skull as he moved down the main street, lascarbine in hand.

“All clear, captain,” Sergeant Willem Ufand said, coming out from what might once have been a doorway. “Glad we got everyone clear in time, that cannon barrage was really something.

“It’s rare all of Alpha Company fights together, rather than being parted out to other ops as regimental support. Damned impressive when we do though.” He strolled thoughtfully down the boulevard. “One thing though – how the heck did you get Dieter and his Ogryns to fall back so quickly? Aren’t they supposed to be hard to control?”

Ufand chuckled quietly under his breath and grinned. “Oh, not so hard as people think, sir.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely, Captain. Easy as pie. We just told them it was chow time. They were heading back for their ration packs faster than a Commissar shooting a coward!”

Captain Aaron Cantrell threw his head back, pearly teeth flashing against his ebony skin. And he laughed and laughed and laughed.