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The planned new supplies and reinforcements could do nothing to assist the plight of the 19th siege regiment though. It was cut off, surrounded by the enemy with its back to the unbridgeable Demus trench. It had been a necessary sacrifice to save the other regiments of 1st line korps, but that was little consolation for the Krieg guardsmen now trapped and facing certain death.
The instrument of that destruction would be the warbands of the Plague Father - the dreaded Lords of Decay and the Apostles of Contagion. The blighted followers of the Chaos god Nurgle had also come to Vraks and it was a battlefield to their liking. Already devastated by the ceaseless artillery duel, where the dead lay unburied and the ground had become infectious with disease from the decaying corpses of the slain, it would be a fertile ground for Nurgle's followers and his favoured weapons. With the 19th siege regiment trapped, they would become the subjects of the Lord of Decay's special attention and pleasure.
Since the beginning of the war, the Imperium's commanders had suspected that Cardinal Xaphan's forces were in possession of proscribed weaponry. Vraks had once been used as a safe storage dump for chemical weapons that had been forbidden thousands of years ago. It seemed these must have fallen into the Cardinal's hands when the revolt overthrew the Emperor's rule. It was one of the reasons Krieg regiments had been chosen to conduct the siege. They were troops hardened enough to face such weapons of mass destruction without breaking. Chief amongst the chemical weapon stores was the toxin Trimethyline-Phthaloxyic-Tertius, known as TP-III.
TP-III was a horrible combination of highly acidic and corrosive heavy gases. Greenish in colour, it was lethal if breathed in, killing in less than 30 seconds due to massive damage to the respiratory system. Concentrations of TP-III caused acidic burning and rapid corrosion, melting skin from bone in minutes. In strong concentrations it could corrode through metal and armour. The chemical's acidic gases were highly volatile and difficult to control on a battlefield, but it could be devastatingly effective in large concentrations.
So far the Apostate-Cardinal had held his captured stocks in reserve, as his weapon of last resort should the time come when it seemed that all was lost.
The arrival of the Chaos Space Marine reinforcements on Vraks, whilst strengthening the war on the ground, had actually weakened the Cardinal's position as the ruler of Vraks. Amongst his new allies were men who had no intention of following his orders. The warbands had come for their own purposes and where they did not correspond to those of the Apostate Cardinal's, he was ignored. He had no control over the Chaos Space Marine warbands that now roamed Vraks' battlefields at will, seeking their own glory and following their own agenda.
Even Arkos, the Warmaster of the Alpha Legion on Vraks could exercise little influence and was not inclined too. What was this petty Cardinal's little uprising to him? Only a chance to do the work of far greater powers. Whilst all parties in the loose alliance had been formed with the same goal - the destruction of the Emperor's forces, they had very different ideas of how to achieve it. Xaphan was now hidden away deep within his fortress, enduring the nightly bombing raids and listening to the reports of his corrupt counsellors and advisors, chief amongst them Deacon Mamon, the appointed commander of the Cardinal's Disciples of Xaphan. He had little idea of the true situation beyond the fortress walls.
Upon arrival the Nurgle warbands had not plunged directly into battle as the bloodthirsty followers of Khorne had. Instead they gathered their full strength, mustered their followers under the warband leaders and carefully selected their first victims. The 19th siege regiment would be it - they were about to commit a monstrous experiment upon the trapped Krieg guardsmen. This would not be warfare for any strategic gain, but an unholy ritual, a preparing of the ground. They would seek to turn Vraks' already infectious environment into a toxic nightmare of disease and pestilence. To this end they forcibly seized the secret supplies of TP-III and prepared to put them to use. They would show Xaphan's mortal followers that the true nature of the universe was decay and the only way to survive it was to embrace it.
At 711823.M41 the first attacks began. Not with an artillery barrage or bombing raid, but in the eerily cold of dawn a strange light could be seen, staining the horizon in a greenish haze. Steadily the light grew stronger as thickening bilious clouds rolled towards the trenches. Krieg sentries issued warnings as the unnatural fog approached, blotting out the first rays of dawn's light. Thick and heavy it clung to the ground, tumbling into every shell hole and crater. Then it reached the trenches...
The clouds of TP-III had a hideous effect. All Krieg guardsmen had been trained to meet chemical attacks and fight on regardless. They were well equipped for just such events, but against the acid soaked cloud respirators provided little protection. The concentrated acid burned through protective clothing and respirator masks. It melted armour and corroded metal equipment. In minutes it would strip a naked man to bare bones. Then it began to envelope the front lines. Skin blistered and burned as their protective clothes decayed, exposing the guardsmen to the full horrors of the acidic environment. A respirator failure resulted in an agonising death, the acid burning the respiratory system and melting lungs so that blood bubbled up from within, foaming from the mouth and nose of its victims even as flesh melted away to expose white bones beneath. In places the chemical was less virulent and the Krieg guardsmens' protective equipment coped well, but where the gas was densest it destroyed everything in its path. Entire platoons were wiped out in a few nightmarish minutes, turning guardsmen to bubbling, steaming pools of sticky flesh as it struck. As the front line became enveloped in turmoil, the first attack began.
The roar of engines reverberated through the poisonous cloud as the Plague Marines approached, their corroded and corrupted vehicles bouncing across no-man's land. Rhinos, Predator tanks and Land Raiders emerged from the green mist and opened fire. All along the front the followers of Nurgle attacked, quickly taking advantage of the turmoil their heinous chemical attack had wrought. They had crossed no-man's land against virtually no resistance.
The adamantium and ceramite doors of rusted and boil-infected Rhinos and Land Raiders sprang open and out poured the bloated and foul enemy, bolt guns blazing as they spread into firing lines and began the final advance towards the parapets. It was difficult to believe these abominations had once been Space Marines, loyal followers of the Emperor. Now they were a disgusting parody of their former selves. Putrefying flesh hung limply from their pitted and pox-marked power armour. Maggots crawled upon their bodies feasting and fat flies buzzed around them in swarms. For all their grotesque appearance they were still superbly disciplined troops, none of their skill had been lost with their decay - both physical and moral. They attacked with the ruthless efficiency of the Adeptus Astartes, a steady stream of bolter rounds detonating amongst the trenches as the first squads waded the last yards of no-man's land and began to leap down into the trenches.
Just as against the Khornate Berserkers, even the training and morale of the Krieg guardsmen were no match for the supernatural power that drove the Death Guard into battle. They seemed impervious to damage and unstoppable as they swept trenches clear with bolter shells and began tossing blight grenades into dug-outs. These exploded with powerful blasts, spraying more acid and toxins into the air and filling dug-outs with thick noxious fumes. In close combat their powered armour was more than a match for the Krieg bayonet, which was easily turned aside or just snapped on impact. In return the Nurgle worshippers wielded long brutal knives, rusted and oozing unknown poisons. With their massive strength the Traitor Space Marines cleaved through armour and helmets, hacking and slashing their way through the guardsmen as they fought desperately to defend each trench. The Krieg guardsmen fought well, standing and fighting to the last. No other Imperial Guard regiment could have withstood the onslaught of acidic gas and bolter fire so well, but they could not hold for long. In desperation platoon commanders called down supporting artillery fire on their own trench lines, and Earthshaker shells were soon screaming in, exploding indiscriminately amongst both sides.
The gas cloud was dispersing now. The fog lifting from the battlefield to reveal more enemy forces approaching. Across no-man's land came a second wave of men, a ragged horde this time of militiamen and mutants advancing through the Krieg counter-barrage, following in the Traitor Marines' wake. They too were soon in amongst the trenches and forcing the survivors back along the communication trenches and overrunning the second trench lines.
No help could be sent to save the 19th regiment from the assault. It was too late for them and they had no option but to fight their last stand. There was nowhere to withdraw to. One-by-one their trenches fell to the enemy, field artillery was abandoned as their crews ran out of ammunition and fell back. The few remaining tanks the regiment could field fought from their dug-in positions, hull down, engaging the enemy vehicles as they rolled forwards. The crushing weight of Land Raiders collapsed the trench walls as they passed over them, crushing anybody below. One after another the Krieg tanks were hit and destroyed by the accurate fire of Land Raider and Predator lascannons.
Night fell, but saw no let up in the fighting. Colonel Keled, commander of 19th, reported that he would hold for another day, after that his ammunition would be spent, his last artillery overrun and his regiment scattereed and annihilated. His men served their Emperor well and the 19th regiment clung on, fighting to the last man and last round for another three days as the frontline shrunk ever backwards. The enemy repeatedly and mercilessly unleashed more chemical weapons. All the dead were left to rot, often stripped bare and gathered into piles where the airborne chemicals could quickly strip the flesh from them. The muddy ground was littered with stinking, decomposing corpses. Fat maggots writhed over them, merrily feasting. Soon thick swarms of black flies crawled over the dead.
All communication with the 19th siege regiment ceased at 735823.M41. It was over - the last pocket of resistance had been shattered by the remorseless onslaught of the Plague Marines and their foul followers. Behind them they left a fetid charnel house with an atmosphere still thick with poisonous chemicals. Pools of green gas hung in the bottom of blasted trenches and deep shell craters. They had turned sectors 61-44 and 62-44 into a playground for the creatures of Nurgle. Strange beasts could be seen stalking the trenches and dug-outs, creatures from nightmares that crawled and oozed, and spider-like machines stalked the mists. Here was a land fit for Nurgle's servants. Their master was pleased.
The Death Guard's onslaught was just the beginning. It had been a testing ground for their chemical weapons. Now they could turn their attention to other sectors, and subject them to the same treatment. They would use the TP-III indiscriminately and the Krieg guardsmen soon learned that such chemical attacks were always the precursor to an assault or raid. Wherever the Nurgle Space Marine warbands roamed, they left a trail of decay, torturing the land with their foul toxins, spreading disease and poison wherever they could.
It was a deliberate and calculated act. The Death Guard and their allies were not interested in fighting this war of attrition. It mattered not whether Vraks stood or fell. All that mattered was that the Lord of Decay would be pleased by the wanton destruction and corruption of Vraks' surface. They were preparing the ground, creating a toxic land, making Vraks a home from home for those creatures of Lord Nurgle that were unseen but eager to join the fray and spread their own delicious diseases amongst Mankind. This was not war as the Death Korps of Krieg's commanders understood it. It was a giant unholy ritual, fanatically pursued, paving the way for worse horrors to come...
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