Stormtroopers

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Chapter 1:

The music from the little lute hummed warmly in the gentle night air as shas'la fingers caressed its strings skillfully. The song was normally accompanied by a haiku, which was recited softly and under the breath to a small circle of listeners, but it was impossible to speak under one's breath in these helmets. Besides, there was no one to listen but the the Shas'la's own shadow.

Shas'la Yashi plucked the little instrument with his ungloved tau fingers, passing the long night gently by. He couldn't hear the waves of the water lapping against the shore, not from up here on the ramparts of the wall that wrapped around the rounded buildings of the fort. He stepped down a small flight of stairs to a lower part of the wall and passed by another shas'la, who was hidden underneath his dark green armor of the Dal'yth sept. His carbine was leaning against the wall, and he was staring down the wall.

"Something down there?" asked Shas'la Yashi, and he thought about loading his own carbine.

"No, just a bunch of coast apes," the other shas'la replied.

"Oh, interesting," Shas'la Yashi replied, looking over the edge. "Where?" He looked down at the rocks that met the lashing sea and searched for signs of the tau-like coast apes. He only saw blackness. His eyes moved over to the piers, which were now deserted. The tau who had been relaxing on the piers had obviously gone in.

"Couldn't see more than their shadows anyways," the other shas'la lamented. "It is just as well. The Aun would probably have us shoot them anyway, and roast them. Coast apes look like gue'la. You know how much the Aun hates the gue'la." The other shas'la yawned. "I'm sleepy." Shas'la Yashi shuddered in guilt. He recalled a time he'd fallen asleep on duty. He plucked his lute to remind himself to stay awake on nighttime watch.

"Ah we all hate the gue'la. Don't know what the Water Caste sees in them." Shas'la Yashi remembered his post and hurried up the stairs.

"Oh wait, I think I see one, just below," the other shas'la said, peering over. Shas'la Yashi looked over the cliff but saw only shadow. He grunted and wished he could wipe his heavy eyes with his helmet on. He played his lute to keep himself awake.

Shas'la Yashi continued on his watch, waiting for relief. Thoughts of the other shas'la brought thoughts of coast apes, which brought thoughts of the gue'la, which brought thoughts of the war. He looked up at the stars at one point and wondered how his brothers in the Damocles Gulf were doing, battling the gue'la invaders.

"This is to you, brother shas'la," he said aloud and played the lute. When he had played the simple tune four times, one for every kinsman he had fighting in the Damocles Gulf, he felt himself grow lonely.

Yawning, Shas'la Yashi returned to the other shas'la and found him sitting against the side of the ramparts, carbine across his lap, helmeted head slouched loosely to the side, and unresponsive. He was asleep. Shas'la Yashi shrugged, knowing he too was guilty of the same sin. His masters had taught him to be humble. To berate him for something like this would be hypocritical. Shas'la Yashi departed back to his post, playing his lute some more. He didn't feel bad about letting the other shas'la sleep.

This was Dal'yth, what could possibly happen?

...

"The other sentry is at the body, permission to fire?"

"No, he's leaving, drop him if he catches on."

"Copy."

"Team, proceed through the courtyard and into the secondary entrance of main structure. Isolate the target."

"Copy."

Chapter 2:

"We've pierced the main structure. Moving into position."

"Red team. Target isolated."

"Blue team. Security is sabotaged."


"Shas'ver! Why are four guards not at their posts?" Shas'el Uso demanded, stepping into the dark control room atop the horn-like tower inside the circle of pearly walls. Shas'el Uso widened his eyes while he looked over the three officers who sat at their terminals atop their crescent chairs. A simple assistance drone hovered in the middle of the air, its blinking blue eyes one of the few sources of light in the room. One officer, the shas'ver that Shas'el Uso addressed, looked up, his thin face illuminated by the blinking lights of the controls he tended. Shas'el Uso could see the reflections of the controls on is shining white suit.

"Forgive me Shas'o, I try, but the guards are ill-disciplined and inexperienced," the Shas'ver apologized with a timid bow of his head, sincerely shamed at the shortcomings of his sentries. "But, and please consider this honourable Shas'el Uso, this is something of a backwater…" Shas'o Uso slammed his balled fists on the nearest controls in characteristic anger. The drone shifted over to the controls to assess any potential damage. Luckily, tau arms were like willow: thin and weak.

"The invincible tree can be cut down, shas'ver, and how?" Shas'o Uso gave his inferior no time to answer. "Dug it up: the ground it stands on is soft. A thing is only as strong as its weakest component." The shas'ver bowed his head with the respect that was better for an Aun.

"Yes my…"

"This is not a lesson, put me to the guards. By T'au, all of them will be caned for their incompetence." Shas'o Uso turned his head to the drone, which was working on his request. Him and every shas'ver glared at it as minutes passed by. His training told him something was wrong. Shas'o Uso thought about his battlesuit in its hangar. With one hand he patted the bonding knife he carried in his scabbard.

"Error 404. Connection not established," beeped the drone. Shas'o Uso's warrior instinct kicked in. He thought of the lessons learned in the classroom of the battlefield against the vile aliens who called themselves orks. Though he had experience with them, they did not fight in the shadows. A different kind of prey was upon them. Many of his lessons were useless. About him, he could see the alarm written in the eyes of his fellow tau.

"An interruption with communications could mean an assault is imminent," one Shas'ver remarked, rising to his hooves. "Drone, connect us with the docks."

"Error 404. Connection not established. All channels currently unavailable," the drone beeped. Shas'o Uso immediately took charge. Here was one lesson he learned against the orks: deploy your drones first.

"Drone, activate the automaton-activation mainframe…" Shas'o Uso began.

"Error 404, item not recognized."

"Activate the automaton-activation mainframe," Shas'o Uso demanded, his Fire Caste personality now dripping through his voice.

"Error 404, item not recognized." He tried rewording it.

"Deploy the stronghold's drones!" he barked.

"Command not recognized." Shas'o Uso frantically began searching his lessons for an answer. He thought of the ethereal inside the luxury of the fort, inside his estate. He had nothing to guard him but three bodyguards. The Water Caste members didn't even have weapons. Shas'o Uso grimly swore to die rather than let the ethereal die.

"Drone! Put the base on lockdown!"

"Command not recognized." That was truly impossible. Lockdown was the most important command the drone had. It was the most carefully guarded, like a turtle's heart. The shell was already pierced if it was broken. The shas'ver looked to their controls and worked them as though T'au itself was under siege.

"Shas'o, I cannot reach the ethereal!"

"Shas'o, I cannot reach the guards!"

"Are all channels of communication cut?" Shas'o Uso cried, now aflame with outrage. How could he have let such a calamity befall them…no…the ethereal?

"Yes Shas'o."

"Then stick your head out the window and yell!" Shas'o Uso demanded as he jumped to one of the controls. He looked over the lights and screens. His mind searched for his lessons in tech. One shas'ver leapt up and hurried to a window in the enamel wall.

"Servants of the ethereals!" yelled the shas'ver, shattering the night like a hammer shattered obsidian, "we are under…" a beam of laserfire caught him through the skull and threw the tau back into the room. Shas'o Uso knew it was war. He dove out the door and, with the grace of a silverfish, leapt down the spiraling stairs of the tower. Laserfire popped at him, barely missing his elegant form. If the communications were jammed then he would assemble the cadre personally. He leapt into the shadows and made his way towards the hanger, yelling warnings to the fort.


"Situation critical, xenos are alert"

"Copy. These xenos can out-shoot us. Keep to the shadows."

"Copy"

"Double-time to the target".

"Yes sir."

Chapter 3:

Target spotted.

Move in. Keep to the shadows.

The resident ethereal within the fort hurried towards the center of his innermost quarters, four white-helmed bodyguards close behind him. They passed through the ivory hallways, which were lit from the very stone itself. There were no shadows to hide in.

From the two posts on either side of the hall came a second pair of guards, their helmets the same glowing colour of the walls. The Aun'el was grateful for this extra support and would reward them when the enemy had been seen to.

The crack of plasma fire was not heard within the inner chambers of the fort. The Aun'el did not know how furious the fighting outside could have been.

"The ork would no be so cunning. Perhaps we face the lithe slavers?" suggested one of the bodyguards.

"The foe of the ork has many facets, like a jewel. But we do not stare upon a unique facet of orkish slag, but a far more refined and bloody stone," the Aun replied, his aged voice was as fine as the polished wood floor. They ran past the doorway and entered the circular room beyond: the eye of the fort. This was where the Aun'el could go when he wanted privacy. It lacked furniture, except for a single wooden stool in the center of the room. The Aun'el's robes flowed as he glided to it and sat down onto the stool. "We face the gue'la, who violates the northern border as we now speak." He looked darkly down at his lap. "The invasion has reached Dal'yth. Do these barbarians know no restraint?" He looked into the face-plates of his guards as the blast doors closed. "Do not let the lust of death take you in battle or we may end up as savage as they." The Fire Caste tau nodded, ever grateful for a lesson even in the heat of battle.

"There is no place for the enemy to hide Aun'el," promised one of the bodyguards as he unslung his carbine and held it casually. His more experienced brethren eyed the door, weapons drawn.

"Do not underestimate them. They hide, and are good at it. They snuck past the eyes of the shas'la. They may yet find a way to stab me in the eye," the Aun'el said, his gray hand casting about the solid walls of the room. "A master can do what the apprentice finds difficult, and the unskilled find impossible. Do not think they cannot hide in a room where there are no shadows."

A crash outside shook the walls, like distant lightning trembling the clouds. All six guards trained their weapons on the door, maneuvering themselves in front of the Aun'el to shield him when the enemy breached the door. The Aun'el sighed and observed everything in the room, searching for signs of the prey. Anything, even an odd crack in the seamless white wall would herald the enemy's advance.

'They would not come through the door,' the Aun'el thought. 'Not warriors with such skill. Nothing so crude.' He tried to think ahead. Only then, when all his bodyguards were looking at nowhere but the door did he see his mistake. But it was too late.

Target destroyed.

Copy. Retreat.

"Copy".

Chapter 4:

The Aun'el was dead. Shas'o Uso shook his head and pulled the cloth back over the body. He looked up at the sun in the sky and felt a tear roll down his cheek. They'd done their best and the gue'la had still killed him.

"I think you should get some rest," advised the shas'ver to Shas'o Uso while they walked through the courtyard. Earth Caste workers hurried around to assess the fort. Shas'la marched this way and that in tight columns, regaining control of the fort, searching every shadow for signs of the enemy. Shas'o Uso knew they would find nothing. The raiders had killed the Aun'el: they were probably long gone.

"I don't deserve the title of Shas'o," Shas'o Uso sighed as he walked beneath the open gate to the fort. He looked down the road to the cliff and saw a procession coming up. A line of hammerheads, escorting an esteemed transport that bore another Aun'el hovered sleekly up to the fort. "I cannot live with this failure. While I stabbed at shadows, the enemy murdered two of my Shas and…" He thought of the two naked tau bodies he'd found in the hallway outside the Aun's chambers. Evidently, six bodyguards had been with the Aun'el when he went into the eye of the fort. Four bodyguard corpses lay alongside him: shot at point blank range by tau weapons.

"Gue'la barbarians," Shas'o Uso sighed as the procession passed him. It rolled into the fort.

Shas'o Uso felt proud to condemn the savage gue'la. Their murderous tactics were so unlike the teachings of the Aun that condemning them showed he was still firmly rooted in the ideology of the Tau Empire. He could hold his head high above such savages and look down on them.

'One last lesson from the Aun'el,' Shas'o Uso thought as he and the shas'ver stepped down the road. 'He showed us the barbarity of the gue'la, showed us that there are things so detached from morality that they would murder an Aun'el in the guise of his own bodyguards.' Shas'o Uso actually smiled. "Gue'la barbarians," he said.

"Indeed," added the shas'ver.

Suddenly, their ears were briefly deafened. A bone-shaking explosion from inside the fort almost knocked them off their hooves. Turning around, Shas'o Uso saw a cloud of dust rising from the courtyard. The once beautiful fort was now polluted by the debris from a bomb. It was no longer the gleaming pearl it had once been, more now like a statue lying amidst a ruin: beautiful, but broken. Shas'o Uso sprinted up the path and back through the gates.

Tau were rushing in all directions though the smoke. Small structures lay in heaped ruin, bombs planted within them had left them in heaps. Wounded tau screamed, fires leapt up, and a wrecked drone lay on the ground where the explosion had thrown it, sparking. Worst of all was the procession's esteemed transport. It lay on upside-down, flames erupting from its cabin.

"Gue'la barbarians!" Shas'o Uso snarled through clenched teeth as his eyes filled with tears. "Gue'la barbarians!" He fell to his knees and screamed like a maniac at the sky. "Gue'la barbarians! GUE'LA BARBARIANS!"



"Mission accomplished"

THE END




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