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They were short, blue-skinned creatures, ugly and inferior to the Eldar. Had Rasmus and his Troupe not happened to pass through this region of the Webway on route to Ko'Shanniah, he probably would not have given the creatures any thought.
Now they were tinkering with Eldar technology, and this he could not stand for.
He turned back to the waiting Troupe. There were a little over a dozen of them, waiting by the shimmering shapes of their Venoms.
"These Mon-Keigh creatures meddle with that which does not belong to them. The Laughing God mocks their efforts, and laughs as his retribution draws near."
The Harlequins nodded, and boarded their vehicles.
* * * Shas'Ui Tau'N Visk was bored. He had just finished stripping and re-assembling his Pulse Carbine, and was now busying himself by polishing the weapon.
He didn't know why so many Firewarriors were needed here anyway. Thirty warriors, three Crisis Suits and a Hammerhead were all deployed around this alien artifact, just to protect the Fio archaeologists... despite the fact the deadliest thing on this world was the occasional falling coconut.
Not far away, La'Ukos and La'Xin were standing watch, panting gently in the tropical heat. They'd taken their helmets off, but Ui'Visk knew how unbearably hot it was with them on, and let the breach in regulations slide. Saal'Ail was walking from sentry to sentry, exchanging their half-empty water bottles with full ones. Vre'Kauyon, the guard leader, was visible in the distance, the distinctive bulk of his Crisis Suit stood in the shade of a cluster of palm trees.
La'Xin gave a sudden, yelping cry. Ui'Visk hopped off the Devilfish ramp and saw the Firewarrior clutching his chest and gasping in pain. There was a strange noise, like stretching cloth, and Ui'Visk realised the Shas'La was swelling at a frightning rate. Within a second he had swelled to twice his normal size, and then, with a short, painful cry, he exploded. La'Ukos was splattered by dark-cyan gore that burned through his flesh and armour like acid. There was a whispering "schick!" sound, and Saal'Ail dropped to the ground, writhing and swelling before his body detonated like La'Xin.
By the time that happened, the Firewarriors were already in anarchy. A white-hot streak of light bored through the rear of the Hammerhead, igniting the Hydrogen Cells needed to power its Ion Cannon and immolating the war machine. A heartbeat later, a blur of darkness mixed with sparking colour leapt from out of nowhere, and dove upon Vre'Kauyon and his bodyguards. They died swiftly, their mighty Crisis Suits shredded like paper. As their mysterious assailant came to a halt, the blurring vanished, and Ui'Visk was able to see his enemy clearly.
He was tall, a head taller at least than a Gue'La, and dressed completely in black. His clothes were covered in sparkles of colour that seemed to slowly move and change places. Random bands of colour flowed across the costume at irregular intervals, making focussing on any specific detail all but impossible. Ui'Visk raised his weapon to fire, but the creature was moving again, diving skywards in a mayhem of colour. As he reached the apex of the leap, the blurred form of a Skimmer darted out of nowhere, and with perfect timing, swooped under him to catch the Solitaire on its troupe platform. The skimmer banked, and fired a blast of solid heat into the flank of the Devilfish. The engine melted, the fuel lines caught fire, and the last thing Ui'Visk remembered was the bone-shattering detonation as his transport was blown apart.
* * * When he awoke, there was nothing left.
Everyone was dead. The bodies of the Firewarriors lay scattered around the artifact. Some had been stabbed, or hacked down by blades, but most had either exploded, vapourised, or been sliced to ribbons by alien weapons. The archaeologists had suffered a similar fate.
"Vre'Kauyon! This is Kor'O'Shi! Vre'Kauyon... anyone... respond!"
Ui'Visk clicked on his intercom, "this is Ui'Visk... everyone's dead. Requesting immediate evac. I don't have time to explain, just get me out of here before they come back!"
"Understood, Orca Dropship en route. Fall back to Nav Gamma for retrieval."
* * * Rasmus and the Solitaire watched the lone Mon-keigh flee.
"Should we persue him?" The Solitaire asked.
"No," Rasmus replied, "let him go. He will speak of this battle to his companions, and the fear his tale will bring shall keep them away from what is ours. The Dance of Death is over, and our performance was exemplary. Come, we move on to Ko'Shanniah, and we shall have a new tale to dance for them on our arrival..."
The cry began. A lone Ork warrior stood his mighty Steam Gargant, and bellowed his feral cry to the heavens. The Gargant crew joined the cry, which in turn was picked up by the Squiggoth crews, Junka-Trukk drivers, Boarboy riders and every other Ork in the camp. The whole settlement shook under the force of the feral roar.
Warlord Tugnaz strode from his tent, and grinned at the roaring mob. He leapt aboard a waiting Junk-wagon, and bellowed over the noise, "dis iz it ladz! We'z gonna stomp da blue-boyz tonight!"
The roaring increased, and was joined by the stomping of beasts and the growl of engines as the feral Ork army began its advance.
* * * Kor'La Bork'an Mal'caor was struggling to fix the starboard prow engine on the Orca. It had taken a lot of damage in the descent, and a week of repair had done little to improve matters.
Damn Eldar, he thought to himself, why the hell did they attack us anyway? According to Kor'O'Shi the Eldar he encountered on the first expedition were defending their territory. These ones just turned up, blasted the hell out of the ship, and vanished again. It's amazing so many got off before the reactor overloaded... and it's even more amazing that every single Orca we brought with us has suffered irrepairable engine damage...
Something sparked, and La'Mal'caor screamed as the electrical discharge burnt the flesh of his hand and sent spasms through his body. He crawled, whimpering, out of the access and sat down on the deck. One of the Shas field medics had heard his cry of pain, and came to check on him.
"It's not too bad... no broken bones or anything serious. Just rest a while."
The pilot smiled, and nodded.
"Odd isn't it... the Eldar shot all our Orcas, but didn't cause enough damage to destroy them."
"They shot us? I thought the damage was caused by shrapnel from-"
"Trust me," the Firewarrior replied, "I know weapons fire when I see it. Every Orca's the same; hit by some high-energy cannon. The accuracy is chilling... they knew exactly how and where to hit us."
Footsteps rang on the access ramp, and Por'La Vior'La Kais joined the pair.
"Shas'La! Your commander needs you to report to the triage station, there's a massive Ork army inbound!"
Nodding, the medic ran from the Orca, grabbing his Pulse Rifle off the bench as he passed.
* * * The hoard was massive. The horizon was a living sea of green, interspaced with ramshackle vehicles, massive beats sporting armoured howdahs, and in the centre was a towering machine, like a titanic mechanical Ork.
The assembled Firewarriors knew the situation was grim. Hopelessly outnumbered, they would normally have attempted to engage in a running battle, but they had Fio, Por and Kor to protect, along with three Ethereals. Retreat was not an option; they had to hold ground.
Fortunately, they had not sat idle whilst the repairs were attempted on the Orcas. Fio and Shas worked together to erect defences designed to give cover to the defenders, slow down an attack, or channel the enemy into killing grounds. Beyond the defensive perimeter, sharpened wooden stakes had been driven into the ground, complimented by more advanced drone-assisted mines and photon charges. pit-falls designed to trap infantry and immobilise vehicles also lay in wait. However, in the face of the sheer number of Orks, all these defences seemed lacking.
The Firewarriors took their positions, weapons raised and ready. Hammerheads and Broadsides began to fire, blasting apart vehicles, blowing holes in the Ork line, gunning down the striding Squiggoths or smashing chunks of armour off the Gargant. There was a mighty bang as the Gargant returned fire, its titanic guns joined by smaller cannons amidst the hoard. One of the shells landed between a pair of Broadsides and blew the pair apart in a white-hot flash. Most of the other shots fell short, but a few overshot and peppered the Orcas. Those that landed on target blew massive holes in the defence lines, hurling Firewarriors into the air or pulping their bones with concussion blasts.
After what seemed like an eternity, the Firewarriors opened fire. Many roared with rage as they fired shot after shot into the Orks, glad to be free of the waiting. Countless Orks died, but there were too many, and the Shas were too few. The junka-Boyz were the first to run the gauntlet of the Tau defences. Fleets of ramshackle trukks competed with each other to be the first to reach the Tau warriors. Pathfinders singled out drivers, gunners and vulnerable points for Firewarrior marksmen to hit, whilst the larger vehicles were reduced to hulks by Railguns and Ion Cannons. Pit traps and mines began to claim more of the vehicles, and Crisis Suits and Stealth Teams, equipped with Burst Cannons, raked the survivors with murderous salvos of fire. Boarboyz mobs and straggling vehicles were next to engage, using the wreaks of the first wave as cover. Whether by chance or design, the field-guns of the Waaagh began to fire, having been hauled into place whilst the initial assault began. Firewarriors found themselves showered with bombs, shells and buzzer squigs that bored into exposed flesh and ate them alive. One section of defenses was completely destroyed as once again the Gargant found its mark.
The Firewarriors of that section, dazed and demoralised, were hacked apart by the rampaging Boar Boyz. Stealth Teams withdrew to engage them, but this deprived the line warriors of their close-support weaponry, and the main body of the Ork army, its Boyz, Squiggoths and the terrible Gargant, were now beginning to risk the kill-zone. The Tau poured everything they had into halting the Ork tide, and a lucky Railgun shot decapitated the lead Squiggoth, causing it to topple and crush many Boyz below it, but there was no question that the defenders were overmatched. Firewarriors emptied clips, not needing to aim due to the thickness of the Ork press, and vowed through tear-filled eyes to die standing before the Orks reached the Ethereals and the terrified civilians.
* * * In a nearby Wave Serpent, Farseer Yilona of Ko'Shanniah watched the battle.
She felt nothing for the Tau, nor the Orks they fought. To her, they were both nothing but brutish monsters; creatures to be exterminated.
"I see the battle fares poorly for the Tau..." Yilona turned at the sound of the voice, and looked into the visor-eyes of Reih'nal. Once, centuries ago, he had been her lover, and was the father of her child. Now there was no feelings between them; she was a Farseer, and he an Autarch. Battle was his only love now, and her training and focus of the Path sealed her feelings of love so deeply she could not reach them. However, she sometimes wished that fate had taken another course, and they could be lovers once more. Many a night she awoke, crying and shivering at the terrible nightmares of Reih'nal's death. She had seen many fates, many futures, but even now she could not bear to invision a future where he was not alive and by her side...
...she pushed the thought away.
"We should join battle with the Tau."
She smiled at The Autarch's abruptness, "why do you suggest this course of action?"
He turned and watched the battle, "these Orks are the stronger foe. If they survive, it will be more difficult to destroy them in the future. Better let the Tau live, for they can be crushed more easily should Ko'Shanniah deem it necessary."
The Farseer nodded, "I hear your wisdom, and bow to it. The Warhost is gathered, lead them to victory."
* * * The world changed in one blinding moment.
The Steam Gargant exploded, reduced to a blazing hulk by two searing beams of energy. A mighty walker, over three times the size of a Crisis Suit, strode across the battlefield. "Strode" wasn't the right word; it leapt and bounded, dancing through the battle with a grace and agility that mocked the laws of physics and dared them to defy its elegance. In its wake came numerous skimmers, weapons firing into the hoard. With perfect skill and poise, they drifted to a halt and deployed Aspect Warriors before moving on once more to attack a new target. Monomolecular wire fell like deadly rain, entangling and shredding the Orks that sought to break the Tau barricades. Warp Spiders and Swooping Hawks struck seemingly at random, whilst the Wave Serpent transports seemed erratic in their choice of targets and deployment zones. It was only some time later, reviewing Aerial Recon-Drones that the brilliance of the attack became clear.
The Eldar were performing a reverse-snare. Artillery and Tanks would blast a gap in the line, which was then filled by Aspect Warriors who attacked outwards in all directions. At the same time, sections would make feints to lure the Orks in a specific direction, before the whole taskforce moved on as quickly as they came. Slowly, the Orks were moving themselves together into firing-zones overwatched by Dark Reapers, Guardians and Night Spinners that slaughtered them completely. Wherever the Orks believed themselves to be breaking a weakspot, they ran into an ambush. Whenever they fell back from strong resistance, they were crossfired by waiting guns of the Eldar or Tau. Within minutes, anarchy overwhelmed the hoard, and it tried to rout with nowhere to flee. Every last Ork died pincered between the two armies. The Warboss himself died, screaming with rage, as one of the Ravenants blew apart the final Squiggoth and, with perfect grace, stomped down on him and crushed him completely.
* * * Shas'La Vior'La Gi wiped blood off his face, and stood up to survey the scene. By rights he should have been in the triage station, but he'd been called to the front just before the Eldar joined the battle.
Now both armies were stood facing each other. The silence was even more terrible than the din of battle that had preceeded it. Finally, one of the Ethereals stepped out of the broken defences, and approached the Eldar army. The Farseer did likewise, and the two met in the middle of the broken ground.
"I am curious; first you destroy our ship, then come to our aid... why?"
The Farseer seemed to ignore the question, "This world is yours if you wish it... for now."
"We have no interest in it at this time. Should we change our minds, rest assured we will take it from you."
"Why do you insist on being our enemy? Surely this day has proved that-"
"This day proved you are too weak to fight without us. Your expedition is coming back to this world in nine days... if you wish them to find you alive, I suggest you learn your place."
The Ethereal did not reply. The Farseer boarded the waiting transport and then, as quickly as they had come, the Eldar vanished into the distance.
History does not move in a straight line. It swirls and changes, looping through familiar tracks again and again. This is why the same joys, same sorrows, same feats and same tragedies repeat constantly across space and time. It is our blessing that we Seers have gift enough to see these swirling repeats, and alter them so the fate of our race can flow to its true and proper destination... -Farseer Yilona of Ko'Shanniah
History repeats, that much they knew.
It was that fact that had brought them here once more, destined to face and destroy those who would defile their world. Meoshiem watched the flaring engines of the crude, bulky transport as it descended, and at a though the wraith-matrix of his suit made a link to the Infinity Circuit, requesting any information on these vessels.
Several replies came, both from fleet and ground forces. They were a race known as the Tau, a race that had been encountered once before, about a month ago, and used as a breakwater upon which to smash the Ork hoards. Not an enemy... not yet, but no ally either.
The though-voice of Farseer Delphan drifted into the minds of the Scorpion Guard, advising caution on their part. Until the true intent and strength of the Tau had been revealed, no action was to be taken. The Eldar warriors obeyed, and slunk deeper into the thick green foliage surrounding them.
* * * Shas'Ui Tau'N Visk advanced with caution, as if expecting an ambush.
"Relax," Pathfinder Ui'Caj remarked, "there's nothing here but ruins. Orbital survey drones checked this world out... no intelligent life."
Ui'Visk closed his eyes, and watched again the nightmare deaths of his comrades. He could still see La'Xin swelling up, screaming in pain before his body exploded in a cloud of acidic blood... seeing the Crisis Suits torn apart by a shimmering ghost, feeling the heat of the flames as his own transport exploded and blasted him into unconciousness...
"That's what they said last time, Ui'Caj, and I was the only one to survive that mission."
One of the Fio caste called out from up ahead. They had found the ruins they wished to inspect.
Ui'Visk saw them, and screamed.
"What is it!? Ui'Visk calm down! What is wrong!?"
"The ghost warriors!" he screamed, "the ones who destroyed my Cadre! This is one of their worlds! They'll kill us all! Let me go Ui'Caj! Please, let me go! We've got to get out of here now!"
The Pathfinder looked around, unsure of what to do. He turned to Shas'El Vior'La Kauyon, hoping the commander would be able to help.
"Ui'Visk," El'Kauyon said softly, "I know how terrible it must have been for you to witness such losses, but you are a Shas'Ui, and I cannot have you panicking over an enemy that does not exist. There is no enemy here, and until there is, you must be calm."
Ui'Visk paused, then nodded.
"Thankyou. To be sure of our safety, I will double the gundrone patrol, and assign firewarriors to compliment them."
Ui'Visk nodded again, "Shas'El, I request to be a member of the patrol."
Pausing briefly, as if unsure of what to do next, Ui'Visk headed off to search the woodland around the camp, unable to even look at the ominous form of the Eldar Webway Portal...
* * * The creatures were camped around the Gate of Falcons, eager to steal the secrets of the Eldar.
Meoshiem transmitted his sight-image to the Craftworld, and immediately, discussion began as to the proper course of action. Reih'nal would almost certainly declare Autarchy, and launch a campaign against them. A feeling of sorrow flickered for a heartbeat in the Scorpion Guard's heart, knowing that the path Reih'nal was both admirable and terrible at the same time. To become an Exarch made him both a hero and a loss to the Eldar race, but to submit to the role of Autarch, and as frequently as he did, was enough to bring feelings of mourning to even the most battle-hardened heart.
It took an hour for the Council to decide. The Farseers saw no value in combat, and instead had chosen to confront the Tau and persuade them to leave diplomatically. There were some feelings of concern carried by the psychic transmission, suggesting not all the spirits in the Infinity Matrix trusted the decision... or the future was not entirely clear. A few moments later, Farseer Yinola announced that herself and Reih'nal, in his role as Exarch, would come to the world with a warhost. Contact was made with the nearby Eldar Corsairs, and they too were convinced to join the host, ensuring orbital superiority should battle be needed.
All the Scorpion Guard had to do now was wait...
* * * Ui'Visk dropped his heavy helmet, and collapsed into his cot. He was exhausted. All the time he was patrolling fears assailed him, and he expected to die at any moment to some terrible alien weapon, or be diced apart by the dancing figures of light... and he was certain he'd seen figures in the trees, green-armoured creatures that disappeared before he could take a second glance. He would have explored further, but he was too terrified to move away from the perimeter-drones.
Orks he could deal with. He wished it was only Orks he had to fight... Orks that charged and roared and died... and never, ever appeared from nowhere to kill an entire Cadre.
There was a drop in pressure, and a taste of electricity. Ui'Visk felt terror fill him again, and donned his armour once more. Grabbing his weapon, he stepped out into the sunlight, and stared in mute fear at the active portal. He turned and ran, to filled with fright to even consider his comrades. He ran to the trees, and stumbled through a thicket, tripped, and landed on top of a Scorpion Guard.
Instantly he was grabbed from behind, and hurled to the ground. The Eldar did not attack further, instead surrounding the prone Tau, waiting to see what he did next. Ui'Visk could see his weapon just inches away, but he knew to reach for it meant death. With nothing else to do, he let blind panic take over.
"Please don't kill me! We didn't know it was your world! It was a mistake! Please, just let us leave!"
The armoured figures said nothing. Finally, one of the warriors knelt down and stared into Ui'Visk's eyes.
"You have seen one of our portals before?"
"You were attacked by the Harlequins, and yet you survived?"
"I don't know what you call them, but I was the only survivor."
There was another silence, but Ui'Visk was sure his captors were communicating with each other via comm-links.
"Then it seems," the crouched warrior said eventually, "that fate has spared you. If the Harlequins did not wish you dead, then perhaps you have a greater roll to play... and it is not our place to question them."
the Scorpion Guard pulled back, vanishing into the forest. Ui'Visk waited an hour before grabbing his rifle and sprinting back to the camp.
* * * Ui'Visk returned, and saw the camp was packing up. El'Kauyon saw him, and approached.
"There you are. It seems that we have stumbled upon a portal of some kind, belong to the Eldar. We have decided to leave this world, and continue our explorations elsewhere..."
There was a pause, and a gentle click as the Shas'El switched to intercom.
"They are the same warriors who fought on Dal'Kos. I don't know if they are friend or enemy, but Kor'O'Shi has reported The Kindred and her fleet have entered the system. Frankly, he'd rather not battle the Eldar again, considering what happened the last time... and what happened to your Cadre."
"Sir... next time the Fio want to explore some ruins, can we just blow them out of the airlock?"
El'Kauyon smiled, hearing the fear in the Shas'Ui's voice.
"Don't worry, we'll take extra care from now on. Board your Orca, we leave in one hour."
* * * Farseer Yinola and the Exarch Reih'nal watched the Tau ships climb back into the stars.
After a moment, Reih'nal turned to the seer, "should we tell them what lies ahead?"
"No," Yinola replied, "this race is young, but ignorant. Let them learn the dangers of this galaxy on their own... the Necrontyr shall prove an interesting foe for them."