"Hagard Munk" Picture courtesy of Devilin.
The snap of a match followed a rasping breath as Staff Sergeant Hagard Munk lit his grotesque pipe. He glanced up at the scared looking troopers huddling in their seats and fidgeting between clinging onto the handholds inside the bucking Chimera and clinging onto themselves. As the 20th Mechanized chimera plowed across the red smeared tundra, eating up the distance towards their rendezvous with the Lieutenant Colonel at what these ragbag Cadians were calling "Tau Hill", he grimaced to himself and exhaled a cloud of stinking smoke.
Munk caught one of the troopers glancing apprehensively at Hagard's pipe. The guard looked up into the cruel dirty grey eyes, and wondered at the scars that mottled the veteran sergeant’s face, a great grey slice that turned the left side of his mouth into a sneer.
"Like the pipe do you boy?" Hagard growled. The trooper noticed his teeth we broken, uneven and badly set. The pipe smoke smelt of burning rubber and filled the interior of the transport. Unlike the troopers, Hagard wore well worn carapace armour, but he was not a large man. The trooper stared at Hagard as if he hadn't understood.
"Emperor’s Name, wake up boy!" Hagard roared as he slapped the trooper in the shoulder. The rest of the troopers jerked and looked up, awoken from their reverie of the coming storm. "You like this pipe?" Hagard repeated, pushing the pipe into the boys face. "You want this pipe? You gotta do more than just stare at me boy, you gonna hafta kill me!" He glared at the trooper, who seemed to shrink under the piercing intensity of the gaze.
Hagard pushed himself back in his seat and taking a long toke on the pipe, exhaled the foul black smoke around the already suffused cabin. Not one trooper noticed the surreptitious eyes sweeping the faces between squinted lids. "What's your name boy" Munk grumbled.
"Er... Reynolds sir." the guard mumbled. Munk barked a hacking cough and the troopers all jerked again.
"Well Reynolds, you might die soon ... you all might die soon, so I'll tell you why this damn pipe is so damn important!" Hagard paused to inhale another toke. As he spoke the tendrils of grey- black soot curled from his mouth and nostrils like the enquiring arms of an aquatic cephalopod. The chimera continued to roll and buck, more as if on a high sea that churning towards their target across a strewn battlefield. "This pipe ain't no ordinary pipe, and this tabac ain't normal either." he glanced about - there was interest now, and not a little trepidation.
"This pipe used to belong on the hand of a monster. What them mechanicus call a Tyranid Warrior. Now you boys ain't old enough to have fought Leviathan, so you ain't seen Tyranids up close. You probably scanned the pixts and herd scuttlebutt from liars who thought they seen 'em, but let me tell you different." He grimaced and removing the pipe from his mouth, held it out so all could look at the calcified claw. Reddish in tone, it was clearly taken from a mighty beast, brass had been mounted about the tip of it's vicious looking claw and the stump of it knuckle was ash blackened with extended use.
"Tyranids are ugly. They got little scamps with weevil guns that'll eat through you guts like a harronen grub. They got four armed monsters that leap on your defenses and whip claws through the gun ports, taking your friends face with dem." Munk gathered phlegm and spat a dirty glistening mark on the grilled floor. He glowered.
"They got giant monsters which stand like a space marine venerable one and spit out acid and screams as it rips through your bunker. They got all this, and they don't fear you, and they keep coming. But you know what's the most terryfying thing about those damn monsters?" He looked up and down the cabin, the troopers were all his now. The coming battle was forgotten.
"You wanna know what really terrifies the core of a man when facing Tyranids?" He paused, turning back to Reynolds. "It's the stink. Those Earth-damned sons of gonads smell like your death grandmother crawled up inside you grandfather and you gotta dig her out!" He burst into a mucus laden cackle that quickly transposed into a fit of hacking coughs. Munk wiped his mouth, "now you want this here pipe, you gonna have to get past both Pride and Joy." He patted the twin hellpistols that under slung his armpits. "Not to mention my standard hellgun - quip. Oh and my meltagun too ... I call him Blue Peter." The hellgun and meltagun's straps looped over Munk's knees. He tucked the pipe into his pocket, leaned forward and grasped the back of Reynolds neck - pulling him close. Reynolds flinched away from the scar, the hacked up features and the cancerous breath. But he could drop his gaze from the piercing ash eyes.
"You watch yourself boy, 'cause I ain't nice. I'm a nasty piece of work and I fight dirty and I win. You want my pipe, I'd give you better odds with the Tyranid." another cackle followed the first. Munk released Reynolds and looping his hellgun over his shoulder, he lifted and hefted the meltagun. The other guard stood carefully, swaying with the roll of the Chimera transports.
Munk triggered his microlink comms system and interlinked with 14 the other transports and 10 Hellhounds riding vanguard. Suddenly his voice filled the cabinspace. Rough, echoing and raw.
"Now you sons of terra, we gonna take this mechanized company and we're gonna shove our chimeras and hellhounds up these cowface xenos buttholes. I heard from Leftenant Colonel Falcon that these scum want my pipe. They do not understand pipe making or the fine art of smoking stimms. I like my pipe and they can't have it. Every one of you will kill any Xenos scum that covet my pipe. We are the Kochi 20th Light Cavalry and we do not care for the xenos learning how to smoke. Now lets kill these blighted cow heads ... Munk out, sergeant's check in, we rendez-vous in two minutes."
He clicked off the microcomm switch and the Chimera was eerily silent. After the sonorous gravelly voice, you could hear the grind and churn of the chimera tracks across the ground and in the back ground muffled bangs and the wallowing sound of subsonic explosions.
Munk glanced over at Reynolds and winked.
"Ah.....unk, move on ....ition. I a ... having some piranha toub..." Crackled the intercom. Munk hit the speaker a few times, but all he received in return was crackling radio static. Through the pict viewer he saw the approaching expanse of what could only be Tau Hill.
It was well named. Piranha fast attack vehicles swarmed about its peak, strafing clusters of rubble from which the sporadic tattoos of red line lasrifle fire sniped. From the mount to its base, armoured Tau and birdlike Kroot swarmed over the strategic mound. Fusion and pulse weapons blazed from layer upon layer of carapace shelled bodies. A roughshod melee of bodies filled the summit and at an epicentre weapons, arms and bodies whirled in a fearsome ruck.
A frantic figure in the uniform of the Strategio Commissariat was fighting his way up the mound. He had plunged recklessly into the mass, a glistening power sword hacking at the armoured heads and necks of adversaries as he cleaved his way to the summit. trailing behind him, battle worn and blood weary cadians staggered forward in support of his lunatic charge. Short stocked bayonets dark with the sticky ichor of alien blood. It was impossible to tell whether the commissar was attempting to rescue the Deamonspawn or striving to administer it’s demise.
Either way, it was a mess.
"No one's helming this tub, and they're playing in the rigging while the rocks kiss our keel." Hagard mused to himself, scratching his three days growth of grey black mottled stubble. It was clear that this battle was in its last moments, and despite the desperate acts of a valiant few, it was the last desperate punch delivered before the true weight of the Tau fell.
"Lucky for them the 20th is in the last minute business.” He mused to no-one in particular. He triggered his intercom, all channels.
"Huntpack Alpha: flank left and vent those Tau. Huntpack Beta: flank right, I want concentrated fire, rout those Tau and isolate the hill. Chugs are up front and centre, target those blasted skimmers. Branch out and form a firebase at the Colonel’s position. Watch your spacing and go spare with the ammunition, we got friendlies up there."
He paused and glanced around at the apprehensive faces about him. "Kochi Regulars, I want a gun line drawn up. Get good position at the firebase and deploy the heavy weapons. Kochi Irregulars, you are with me. Advance in cover formation, find and secure Colonel Falcon - secure the hill. Driver, give us a ten second heads up. Emperor’s Grace. Munk out." he clicked off the intercom.
Munk rubbed his eyes and looked up at the troopers. "You recruits are new and that’s why I’m keeping you with me. I'm going straight up that hill and the safest place for you will be right behind me. When I get to the top of that hill, if you are not behind me, there better be a damn good reason. Dead is acceptable. Anything else and you will very sorry on a very permanent basis. Do I make myself clear.” He glowered until sure they all understand. "I will kill you if you disappointment me, do not disappoint me."
“Private Reynolds!” Munk yelled. His voiced echoed with the confined quarters. The soldier jerked in apprehension. “Mr. Reynolds, in recognition of curiosity above and beyond the call of duty you have been selected for a special duty. Step forward!” Reynolds eyes were rigid front despite being wide with withheld anticipation. Munk looked the hefty trooper up and down.
“Reynolds , you are a nosy son of a moll, and a molls get gets a molls role, you get me?” Blank apprehension replied in the negative. “You’ve earned the exclusive right to carry my standard and particulars. Now hand me your rifle.” Reynolds reluctantly unslung his rifle. Under the NCO’s piercing glare he passed the weapon across. “Now put out your hands.” Whispered Munk.
Into Reynolds left hand Munk placed a small tin box the size of a las-cartridge. Into his other hand he pushed the gnarled rouge pipe. The brass mouthpiece was smooth and chill against his hand and the Tyranid flesh rasped on his palm. Thick purple porcine hairs jabbed into his flesh and made his hackles rise.
“That there’s my pipe and tabac. Drop my tabac and I’ll take your hand.” He laughed and slapped Reynolds on his thick arm. “Before you go putting those things in your pack. They ain’t yours, their mine. You just carrying them for me. They stay in your hands and you stay with me.” He grinned maliciously and pulled Reynolds close.
“You pack them away careful, trying to steal them, I kill you. You drop them, I will kill you. I get to the top and they’re not ready for me to take a toke, I kill you. You spill my tabac, I’m just gonna hafta take your hand. You see me and the Emperor are so alike – we all just sacrifice and mercy.” He looked up and stared slowly about at the other troopers.
“Don’t be gawking and smirking at Reynolds luck, ‘cause you no hopers are watching his ass ‘cause he got my pipe.” Hagard smiled his broken leer. “and if he dies, I’ll pick the next nosy son of a moll that crosses me.” Munk sneered at the cowed troopers and hocked a lump of phlegm before spitting it on the floor. Reynolds noticed that whether on purpose, or due to the roll of the transport. The viscous mucus has splattered across his surplus size nines.
Suddenly the intercom crackled to life, shortly before the muffled but piercing shriek of the transports multilaser pulsed beyond their cacoon. “Sergeant, we have contact. Huntpack are engaged, Piranha down. ETA in ten seconds. We’re coming in hot!”
The Chimera lurched as it crashed through barracades and spun to a halt, the rear door yawing wide and crashing down. The small cabin was filled with light. Munk already had his twin hell pistols unholstered. The meltagun and hellgun slung over his shoulder. He glanced back, crooked scar forming a wicked weal across his features.
"I'd run if I were you Reynolds! And stick to me like glue." He leapt from the carrier door.
Fear gave Reynolds wings as he leapt from the rear hatch of the chimera transport, frantically trying to spot the Staff Sergeant in the maelstrom of noise, light and explosions that met his eyes. As his lurched forward towards a half built trench he staggered down on to one knee. His muscles deserting him in the face of such titanic and chaotic confusion.
The piercing shriek of multilaser fire was amplified tenfold outside of the womb of the chimeras interior. Great streaks of reddish power pulsed over his head, chasing skimming gliders that swooped and soared about their positions. As he watched aghast, two converging set of multilaser fire straffed across a skimmers bow wave and sliced gaping holes in it's flank and engines. Dirty grey smoke streamed from the breaches as the skimmer wavered and then flipped over, plunging towards the hills and knifing into the body of a xenos battlesuit aiming blue ordinance onto their position. The Piranha ploughed a furrow five metres wide and thirty long and it dragged the pinioned behemoth into the soil. Mere seconds after the impact, both vehicles erupted in blue fire, blowing tau armoured scouts and firewarriors about like marionettes.
Guardsmen streamed pass Reynolds. He tried to push himself up, but his legs wouldn't answer. He didn't feel afraid, just dull - this was all so unreal, so untrue, so unimaginable. The bodies littered about, lying broken and wasted. Within the space of mere moments, his whirring brain tried to digest the pungent meal set before it.
He stared at one corpse, desparately trying to think what might have killed it, racking his brain to comprehend and understand the enormity of the damage done. On other corpses the evidence was obvious, and in some ways that was worse. It was so real, so big in scale, deep in colour and texture, dazzling with the screams, pulses and desparate noises of combat. He felt immaterial, empty. Like a small content man, sitting on a small boat, glimpsing dimly through the lapping blue waves at the monstrous enormity of the ocean beasts that ply beneath him.
Reynolds hands gripped tightly to the tin and pipe as his mind struggled to comprehend. Bare seconds had passed when soft and sweating hands gripped under his arms roughly and pulled him forward into this carnage.
"Reynolds!" screamed a face, he thought it might be Corporal Geffin. "Reynolds, pull it together and get up that hill after the sarge." A hand came from out of the untrue nowhere and smashed into his cheek. With a giant swallow of air, the world in all its cacophany can swarming back into Reynolds senses.
"Reynolds, come on. Stick with the sarge mate or you're deader than these poor bastards!" with a yank and a pull he heaved Reynolds down the trench gulley.
Staff Sergeant Munk was enjoying himself. After leaping from the Chimera he'd darted quickly for a likely looking trench opposite. Over the singsong pulse of the Tau weaponry he could make out the higher pitch whine of lasguns. Glancing back, he noted that the majority of his transport were right behind him. Men were spilling out the transports and he noted a good proportion of veteran Irregulars following him. Reynolds was nowhere to be seen.
Munk span back and motioned the irregulars forward, covering the apex of turns with his twin pistols. The hardened veterans broke forth, scuttling forward to locations and cover spots and motioning eachother into position. He was confident they knew their part. He beckoned to the recruits and raced forward down the channel, the recruits thundering along behind him.
The large squad of Tau pathfinders had clearly flanked Falcon's position and they strove dilligently to set up some sort of marker weapon on the back of the commanders position. Around the bend in the trench, Munk could hear the sing song voices accompanied by a curious chittering, like nervous laughter.
Motioning to the recruits to be silent, he indicated the teams plasma gunner up front and motioned for the guard to take the right side of this wide trench. Munk holstered one of his hellpistols and drew a frag grenade from his belt. Glancing quickly one last time, he primed the grenade and threw it as hard as he could, aiming for the apex beyond the Tau's position.
The grenade exploded, blowing a significant hole in the side of the far wall. The pathfinders immediately responded with heavy calibre pulse carbine fire. Stattaco whoomps bursting through the dust and smoke. Munk drew his hellguns and motioned the squad to move. Silently they sprinted right of the Tau's position, spreading out along the line.
Munk accelerated around the corner and with a great roar, pounded towards the Tau. His twin hellpistols, Pride and Joy were extended forward. The first burst of fire caught the rear most Tau across the back and calves. The lighter rear armour seered up in weal as the overpowered hallpistols carved heavy wounds into the xenos legs. The Tau squealed and twisted backwards, it's own carbine blowing of its leg whole as it heaved to the floor.
The other Tau span, but Munk was already jinking back and forth, trusting his own senses over the Tau's. He caught another Tau in the face, blistering his armour and forcing the soldier back. He saw the shot which caught him, but there was little he could do to avoid it, he flinched instintively as the pulse clipped his shoulder plate an span him about. He flung out his arms, hell pistols spinning away as he fell heavily into a muddy crater.
Through squinted eyes, he focused on the Tau as they scanned the area, searching for further targets. With nothing obvious they inched forward towards his position. Munk slowly eased his hellgun over his head and took aim at where he felt the Tau would aproach.
Nervous chittering and singsong talk bounced back and fourth. The sergeant depressed his microswitch and whispered "Ready to fire in five." At which point several things happened at once.
From behind his position in the crater, a distraught Reynolds appeared clutching his tokens. His steps faltered as Tau pulse rifles raised. Corporal Geffin grabbed his arm to pull him back into cover, Reynolds ducked his head and charged. Grinning, Munk said "Open fire!" and spat a gob of spit that swirled black in the muddy water.
They found Lieutenant Colonel Falcon four minutes later. The Colonel was overviewing the deployment of the Kochi Irregular reinforcements, standing atop an outcrop now that the Tau Piranhas had been driven off. Kochi Grenadiers stood guard about Falcon, their hellguns pulsing.
Hagard stepped up to the Colonel and saluted. Falcon turned slowly and examined the grizzled veteran Sergeant. He was covered in mud from the neck down, a great gouge was carved out of his shoulder guard, and a frantic looking trooper stood over his shoulder clasping was appeared to be a pipe.
"Staff Sergeant Hagard Munk reporting for duty Sir!" Falcon studied Munk's face, in repose it was almost more fiendish. A great pale dead scar. "We can confirm that the trenches behind are now clear, Kochi Regulars are now moving foward to fortify this position."
Falcon grimaced at the smell coming off Munk, he pointed his boltgun at Munks broken carapce paldron. "I hear you've been playing quickdraw with pathfinders, Munk, any luck?"
Munk grinned his broken leer. "Oh sir, That'd be Reynolds here, he does like to play with his food. Anywhich way, those Tau can't hit anything that moves quick, and I'm quick."
"Hear you cheated, Munk." Falcon looked amused.
"Would you want it any other way sir? Care to take the hill sir?" Munk asked, reaching for his pipe.