Tau'Va Final Hour

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This story is a sequel to The Coming of Kraken. You may wish to read that story first.

Chapter I

O'Sun'yi was attractive by Tau standards. She was tall for a Shas, her body muscular. Age had been kind, and though the years showed on her face, she still had a strong beauty in her features. Her eyes were Amber, and her concrete-grey hair was cut short, tied up to keep her spike-plug clear. Her body was covered in scars, earned form a lifetime of war. Most prominent of these was the symbol of Tel'Oshi, carved into her flesh during the Ta'lissera many Tau'cyr ago.
She was a warrior, a commander, and renowned as being fearless in her duty... but this was one task she had dreaded for a long time. She hoped, deep inside, she would not be asked again, but with grim inevitability, the Tau'va asked of her that which she did not wish to give...
Shas'Ui Tash'var Shi'myr sat beside her, naked to the waist. He gave her a warm, friendly smile, though the Shas'O could smell the fear rising off him. He had fought the O'res'la for many years, engaged the Gue'la, battled the terrible bests that stalked the colonies of Dun'Makh... but when asked to mate with a female, he was as nervous as a 'Saal on his first Trial.
"I take it this isn't your first time," he said, trying to keep his voice calm and friendly.O'Sun'yi shook her head, "I've done this a lot. It was fun, at first, but age brings it experience... " she stroked the scar upon her chest, "and experience brings memories, ones I would rather forget.""So... " the Shas'Ui gave a cough, clearing his throat and taking a deep, quivering breath, "so how do we... go about this?"The Shas'O gave the young male a long, serious stare. "Well traditionally, you take your erect penis and-""I meant-" Ui'Shi'myr began, before he had to stop, laughing uncontrollably. O'Sun'yi couldn't help but smile, seeing the Shas'Ui relaxing for the first time since he entered the room.
"I know what you meant," she said kindly, placing an arm around his shoulders, "I generally like to talk first, to get to know my partner. Once I feel I know a little more about you, we can move onto some foreplay."
Ui'Shi'myr smiled, his face managed to look both eager and embarrassed at once.
"I know this will probably sound really silly but... I've dreamt of this. I've... always had a thing for you, ever since I watched the Por'Hui reports of your victory against Snigkog the Arsonist."
O'Sun'yi paused briefly, remembering the campaign, "That... that was a long time ago. You must have only been a 'Saal back then."
Ui'shi'myr nodded, "just started puberty as well. I think everyone does it... I mean, who wouldn't want to mate with a famous commander?"
"El'Ma'kona was my first time."
The Shas'Ui stared at her, "Shas'El T'au Ma'shi Mal'kona!?"
She nodded, "that's right. I couldn't believe it... I'd never really thought about him, because I had a crush on... on someone else... " her voice faltered a little, but she rallied, "but still, to bear the child of a famous Shas'El like him was an honour. I was so excited I-" she gave the Shas'Ui a wry smile, "I think I'll keep that between me and the Shas'El. It's not a memory I'm proud of," she gave a quiet laugh, her face lit up with memories of happier times.
"I guess you know how I feel then," the Shas'Ui let his hand rest on her knee, looking hopefully into her eyes.
O'Sun'yi gave a sigh, "alright, let's get this over with... " she pulled the Shas'Ui closer to her, their lips meeting, and she did her duty for the Tau'va.

Chapter II

O'Sun'yi wandered through the corridors of the Tel'Oshi Shas'Ar'Tol, heading to the Council Hall. The cream oval-leaf doors slid open with barely a sigh as she approached, revealing the rosewood-lined room beyond. The south wall was composed of massive sheet of glass, reaching from floor to ceiling, that overlooked one of the many internal communal gardens.
"good to see you again, Shas'O."
O'Sun'yi turned at the sound of the vox-augmented voice, "El'Shi? What in the Mont'au happened to you!?"
Shas'El Tel'Oshi Vior'Shi floated out from behind the console. His legs were gone, his whole abdomen merging into his hover-dais in a mess of cabling and support systems. His right arm, along with half his face, had been replaced with bionics. He reminded The Shas'O, quite uncomfortably, of the biomechanical Gue'la freaks.
"I had an unfortunate encounter with an ork force-rocket. Frankly, I'm lucky to be alive."
O'Sun'yi felt a pang in her chest, "You... when did this happen?"
"A month ago."
"Then... why didn't you tell me!?"
The Shas'El sighed, which made an odd murring sound through the vox, "I didn't want to upset you. You've had a hard time, with everything... you deserved some time alone with your new child. It's a boy, isn't it?"
"Yes, his name is Jannol... " The Shas'O smiled to herself, "I'd forgotten how wonderful it feels to hold a Shas'Al in my arms... do you know what I said to him when he was born? I told him, I promised him, that he would never know the horror of the Tyranids... "
The Shas'El looked up at her, "About them... there are some things we should talk about. The Gue'la have told us of a fleet approaching, a fleet that dwarfs everything we have faced so far."
"It's that bad?" O'Sun'yi felt her heart rate increase. The old horrors of her life were returning.
"It's bad enough for the Gue'la to seek our aid. They are sending a battlefleet to meet with our own forces. They arrived at Dal'yth four days ago. We have been approached by the Eldar Corsairs as well, although I doubt their intentions are quite as noble... I won't lie to you, O'yi, there are many of us who think this is the end."
O'Sun'yi sat down at one of the tactical consoles, "why does this happen to us, El'Shi? Why are we made to suffer?"
The cripple-officer gave a faint smile, "It's our lot in life. We suffer for the Tau'va."
O'Sun'yi met her friend's gaze, tears in her eyes, "I've had enough, Shas'El. I'm tired of the war. I'm tired of the fighting, the killing, the pain, the death, the misery... I just want it to stop." She gave a mournful sigh, "Do you remember Kor'O T'au Kovash? He put a gun to his head because he couldn't stand facing these beasts anymore. I don't want to die like that, El'Shi. I don't want it to end that way... "
The Shas'El didn't reply, he couldn't reply. All he could do was sit, and listen to the Shas'O as she was consumed by her grief.

Chapter III

Smoke rose in the distance, the sharp smell of burning ferro-plas tainting the air. The Shas knew already not to expect survivors; if whatever had happened could melt the walls of the compound, med-kits wouldn't help.
Co'res'la Ta banked around the rock-spires, following the squadron leader tight through each turn. The other Piranha held back, watching the rear in case of an ambush. They knew the spires well, it was a natural formation covering hundreds of square miles. An excellent training spot, as the rock formations were not too large, and had good gaps between. Co'res'la squadron could fly them blindfolded.
Ui'Xesa, the tactical operator of Co'res'la Ta, was humming his usual irritating tune, causing his pilot, La'Va, to hiss in annoyance.
"Xesa, must you do that?"
The Shas'Ui smiled, though no-one could see it, "yes. Yes I must."
"Behave, the pair of you," the firm female voice of Vre'Savon chirruped through their ear pieces, "If you keep acting like 'saal on a field tour, I'll put this squadron over and spank the pair of you!"
The threats made both the Shas grin. Vre'Savon had speant a lot of time with the Gue'vesa Cadres, and picked up several of their strange habits, such as the use of threats. However, they had performed the Ta'lissera many Tau'cyr before, and they knew not to take her threats seriously. They did, however, often cause some confusion amongst those not part of the Bond.
"Save your kinks for after the mission, Savon," La'Va replied. He was getting just as bad. Ui'Xesa decided he would have to speak with-
The comm-spiked, and went dead. Ui'Xesa clicked onto the emergency frequency a heartbeat before Vre'Savon could, "Xesa to Co'res'la N! Please respond! Co'res'la N! La'Doran? La'Gue'D?"
"Co'res'la Y to Co'res'la Ta... they're gone. Get low, and keep tight to me. Whatever killed them might come for us. We're going to pull up, and get a clear relay to Shas'Ar'Tol. You two keep going, find out what happened to the outpost. Ko'vash Tau'va."
"Tau'va Shi!" the warriors replied in unison, their Piranha speeding forwards as their wing-ship banked and rose. Neither Shas spoke, already painfully aware two of their Bond were dead... and they had no idea how.
Xesa looked at the scanner-screen, watching as the base came into display-range, and began registering.
"Va, we've got something. Contacts... but no Ident-Codes. Assume hostile."
"I've got visual, Xesa," the pilot replied, "tell Savon we're going in!"
The craft dipped downwards, lining up on the ruins... and ruins they were. Everything was gone, the entire complex obliterated. There was no piece of wall left standing more than one Tor'lek high. Whoever had done this had wanted nothing to remain.
"To'Tau'va! Xesa, look!"
The Shas'Ui glanced up, and stared in puzzled wonder at the object in the central square. It was a Crisis Suit... but caked in filth. It looked as if it were rotting... swarms of flies surrounded it, and from their downwind position, the taste of it in the air made them retch.
"Shtlk! Get us on the ground, Va, we need to check this out..."
The two Shas advanced carefully, carbines panning left and right as their hooves shushed through the rubble. With no cover of any kind, they would have been able to see any attack coming easily, but Ui'Xesa did not rule out the possiblity that they could be ambushed from below.
With great care, and despite the protests of his helms air-filter, the Shas'Ui approached the foul suit. "Xar'vesa... Va, this is Shas'O Co'Ru'Fio!"
"Indeed it is."
Both firewarriors span, Carbines raised at the speaker. Va gave a curse, "Gue'Or'es'la!"
The Marine held his arms wide apart, "Come now, Fire Warrior..." he began advancing slowly, "I am no enemy. I am here to help you, and your Shas'O."
Ui'Xesa was not convinced, "That's close enough," he raised his gun at the Marine's face for emphasis, "What happened to O'Co'Ru?"
Lowered his arms, "Shas'O T'au Co'Ru'Fio was concerned with mortality. Your race lives so few years... you are so insignificant. I myself have existed longer than your species, and so I could only confirm his fears... you are nothing."
"Get to the point!" La'Va snapped, annoyed at the Gue'Or'es'la. He showed no concern at being targetted, and that made the Shas'la more than a little jumpy.
"I offered him immortality," the Marine replied, "My name is Tzanoth, and I am gifted with sorcerous power."
Ui'Xesa was about to reply, when O'Co'Ru moved, swinging around to smash the Shas'Ui in the side of the head. The blow crushed his helm, and cyan blood began to flow freely.
"Xesa!" La'Va turned, only to be struck in the right bicep by a metal snap-claw. The steel teeth bit hard into his flesh, and the momentum of the impact knocked him to the ground, screaming in agony. He felt a heavy foot placed upon his head, keeping him pressed into the dirt, face down.
"Ah, Huntsman, there you are..."
"He's not a bad specimen," a second voice, low and feral, replied to Tzanoth, "Perhaps I should keep him as a pet..."
"Klkn T'auk'cka!" La'Va roared, "Vre'Savon will come looking for us! You'll have a whole Hunter Cadre here in Al'Decs!"
A cruel laugh followed, the Huntsman by the sound of it, "I doubt that. Your comrades are all dead. Apparantly, your precious Vre'Savon couldn't fly with a mantrap impaling her face..."
La'Va swore again, tears dripping onto the inside of his helmet. The pain from his wound, and the pain of losing his comrades, overwhelmed him. He was also beginning to feel numb, the man-trap locked on his limb must have been poisoned...
"Hmm, looks like he's gone limp already. Perhaps I overestimated their xeno-metabolism."
"If his heart stops beating, then we'll know you have..."
The third voice made the Shas'La wince. It was Tau... but sounded vile and sickly, as if the speaker was drowning in bile.
"...cadre...come..." La'Va felt his mouth seizing up. The pain was gone at least, but now it took all his strength just to keep breathing.
"Ah, yes, your Hunter Cadre... you are concerned for them, for they are your comrades..." the stink of faeces and rotten flace made the helpless Shas'la want to vomit, the sound of buzzing flies filled his ears. "Be not concerned, for Father Nurgle has blessed me greatly, and I shall shower them with gifts, loving them as the Grandfather loves me..."
Shas'La Vash'Ya Va did not hear the final words of O'Co'Ru. The toxins of the Mantrap had overwhelmed his system, and he passed out.

Chapter IV

The Marines of The Emperor's Vengeance deployed at dawn on the ninteenth day.
By then, morale was at rock bottom. The Tyranids were everywhere; an endless swarm of chitinous death that was pushing the defenders of Tel'Oshi to breaking point. Imperial and Tau forces, united by their desperation, fought side by side to stop the endless hoard, but it was not enough; for every soldier deployed onto the soil of the contested world, ten were torn to pieces.
"Review objectives!" Mathias barked into the vox as the Thunderhawks screamed down towards the planet, "force LZ at Strategic Point Beta. Press on to the bridge at Epsilon. Purge the xenogen!"
"Does that include Tau xenogen?" Brother Velcar snarled, his throat replaced by an augmentic throat-vox sixteen years ago.
Mathias gave the Marine a cold stare, "We do not need that attitude, Brother," the captain spoke angrilly, "we need the support of the Tau. I do not like this any more than you do, but I would rather the Tyranids are stopped here and now than let them sink their teeth into an Imperial world."
Velcar nodded, "very well, Brother-Captain, so long as my objections are noted."
The gunships pounded SP Beta, Volcano Cannons gouging craters into the tide, missiles and bombs killing hundreds of the beasts.
SP Beta was a plateaux, chosen because it was only accessable from one side. The Tyranids seemed to favour it as an artillery post; Biovores, Warriors, Carnifex and even larger gun-beasts covered it, surrounded by a seething tide of Gaunts. The initial strike cleared enough space for Thunderhawk Primus to touch down, unleashing Mathias and his squad, Brother-Ancient Doramus supporting. Thunderhawk Tertius forced a landing, and Secundus waited for Primus to clear so its own cargo could deploy.
In total, sixty Marines, supported by three Dreadnoughts and Thunderhawks, slaughtered the LZ clean, and formed a fighting line on the approach slope. They slaughtered hundreds, and the orbital strikes and Deathwind pods that followed made it thousands, but Mathias knew his objective had failed from the offset; his forces would never make it to Epsilon.
"This is Brother-Captain Mathias, Vengeance 8th Company," Mathias' vox was relayed to the greater battle via the Thunderhawk's high-gain units, "SP Beta is held, but we cannot press the offensive. Casualties 4/11 and rising. Send supporting units ASAP. Nil Tempes Procastore."
The wail of cannon filled the air as two Dreadnoughts locked their cannons on a Heirodrule, shredding the monster with a five-second salvo. The Marines were careful with their fire, making each shot count, not knowing when resupply would come.
"...Vengeance Eight. This is Shas'O Li'Sun'yi. We have forces inbound, keep the... LZ... clear for us."
Mathias was back in the line when the vox came, and his aim did not falter for an instant as the Low-Gothic reply, filled with the nasal-accent of the Tau, came into his headset. "This is Mathias, we have a Transporter on site deploying Predators, come in when she clears. 48 seconds."
O'Sun'yi had no intention of waiting. She fired her jets, and leapt skyward, the granite rock blurring with speed as she crested on the rear flank of the Gue'Or'es. Every moment of this battle was a nightmare for her. She had grown up on the edge of the Kunas'Por D'Kyse, a winding river within sight of the battle ground. Her Saal'cadre had used these very cliffs for mountain-combat training, and in the few periods of leisure time she had received as a cadet, she had scaled these rock faces. She loved this place, and now the Yhe'sin were destroying it, destroying her past, and her future, in one terrible act of mindless fury.
She took her rage out upon the beasts. Landing behind Mathias, her Burst Cannons chewed the endless tide to pieces, missiles streaking off and blowing a Warrior brood to bloody pulp. The embankment was stained with purple ichor; the alien blood tainting the ground. Hot on her heels came Devilfish troop carriers, deploying Shas to bolster the Marines. The combined firepower finally started to drive the hoard back, allowing the alliance to finally start taking the plateaux in its completeness. It took twenty minutes to push to the base of the slope, and more than once the whole effort was threatened when supplies ran out, and forces had to retreat and re-equip.
After an eternity, the Tyranid assault stopped. A deathly silence filled the air, followed quickly by cries of victory.
"Discipline!" Mathias spat, O'Sun'yi giving similar commands a heartbeat later.
"This is not over," The Shas'O intoned, speaking Low Gothic for the sake of the Astartes, "this was nothing but cannon fodder, endless swarms to test our line."
"Agreed" Brother-Ancient Pelic strode forward beside the Shas'O, "The Tyranids will send a new threat, a challenge to find the strength of our defences. We must be ready, for it will come at any time... "
The wail of engines filled the air. A Guard bulk-transport wailed onto the SP, deploying soldiers in platoon strength. They were Vostroyan Infantry, freshly deployed into the campaign. A Cadian dropship loitered behind, eager to bring its cargo of infantry to the war.
Mathias turned to the Shas'O, "We have orders to follow, Shas'O. Guard forces will hold this position, but we cannot ignore this opening. SP Epsilon awaits, and taking that may prove critical in our efforts."
O'Sun'yi nodded, I will assign forces of my own to aid you. We know the terrain."
Mathias did not argue; he had seen enough to know the Tau were capable warriors.
"Very well. Have your troops make ready. We move in fifteen minutes."

Chapter V

"Then it is decided."
The speaker was Captain Cassius of Vengeance, the listener Inquisitor Celios. The young Ordo Xenos operative turned to the giant Marine, sighing.
"The Tau will not like this..."
Cassius gave a dismissive grunt, "why do you care, of all people?"
Celios shot Cassius an angry stare, "We need them, Cassius," he circled the Marine slowly, "Leviathan had the Imperium at its mercy, and the price for halting it was too dear. I will not see the Eastern Fringe bled white as the Segmentum Solar was. With their help, we can stop them here and now... or at least use their Empire as ablative defence."
"Spare me, Inquisitor," the Captain replied, his patience tested, "I have been breifed in detail, several times. You and I both know this... Tel'Oshi... cannot be held. We should withdraw and employ Exterminatus. Deny the Tyranids their prize."
"And wipe out a Tau Sept. Tel'Oshi has given the Tau Empire its greatest Tyranid Hunters. They fight for the pride of their world... I fear they will not abandon it."
Cassius replied with a shrug, indicating they were free to die with the Tyranids if they wished.
Finally, Celios reached a desicion. "We no longer have a choice, as you have stated. As of 02:00 hours, Operation Final Hour begins."
Cassius nodded, "I will begin the withdrawl."
Final Hour, T-Minus 22:16...
The first Trygon smashed its way to the surface beneath a Hellhound, the back-blast of pyro-promethium searing the beast. A Battlecannon shell to the skull finished the job.
The second cannonned out of the plateaux, lunging skyward to slice apart an Orca that had just deployed fresh troops to the line. The dropship jerked, fighting to stay airborne, before plumetting down to the cliff base and exploding. Trygon three came up beneath Colonel Riddick, literally taking a bite out of the Cadian command structure.
In their wake came the Raveners, and seas of Hormagaunts. The breech-holes vomited forth wave after wave of beasts, each one hungry for flesh. The line faltered, unprepared for attacks from below and behind, and as such the Fenisco 118th, charged with vanguard duty, found itself without proper support when the hoard surged towards them once more. Ill-disciplined, and with rock bottom morale, the regiment was slaughtered. The Commissariat alone accounted for almost a hundred men when they ordered the Cadian support elements to open fire into the retreating units.
Of all the Guard, it was only the Cadian elements that could maintain a significant defence. The Vostroyan forces were all but useless. With the majority of their force deployed elsewhere, a platoon of sixty Vostroyans held what was lovingly known as "corpse-cavern", an indentation in the ground that the Tyranids had favoured to hide their advances. They were slaughtered in minutes by Lictors and Genestealers, hidden amidst the mountains of dead.
O'Sun'yi rallied her forces as best she could, directing her warriors with practised ease. Whilst her own core elements fought with skill and ferocity, most of her Cadre were unaccustomed to the Tyranids, and the sheer horror of the ambush-assault left them helpless. By the time the Broadsides had stopped the Trygons, her forced were down to half strength. It rose to 80% losses once the Harridan-led air offensive was repelled.
Her last missile streaked into the hoard, smashing into the face of a Node-Infiltrator and blowing the beasts head off. Her burst cannons were running low, and she knew at least one of her Xar'Vesa were already dry. The Gue'la Cadians were formed into a ring-formation, surrounded on all sides and fighting for their lives. they were so close... she could have been with them in seconds, but to do so would weaken her own line, and even one lost weapon was too many. It was a miracle they were still alive at all.
The comm-blipped into life, and O'Sun'yi realised it was an un-tuned vox burst. She strained her comm-ear, using the neural spike to retune her system. "-thias to- -uat- -eat, this is Mathias to Li'Sun'yi, Situation critical, confirm secure channel. Orders are not, repeat, not to be shared with ground forces."
O'Sun'yi felt concern rising in her. She had never held orders from her troops... even when those orders were terrible to hear, she knew their faith in the Tau'va would allow them to serve. Still, she knew the Gue'la lacked such unity. "O'Sun'yi to Mathias! Channel secure, speak fast, I'm busy!" Her guns roared once more, the ammo-bar on her HUD flashing a warning.
"Final Hour given."
"I don't follow- Shtlk!" Her guns ran dry.
"SP Epsilon is held by Vostroyan elements. Condition of SP Beta?"
"Lost!" she barked, jetting backwards and letting a Kasrkin team replace her. She wished the Orca hadn't gone down, she needed those supplies now...
"Acknowledged. Report to SP Theta. All forces expendable."
The Shas'O felt sick. Mathias had sounded so calm... 'expendable'? He had close to four-thousand men holding this position, or had at the outset of the assault. How could he leave them so callously?
She looked around the battlefield. She had nothing left, save a core of Xar'vesa units. There was no way off for anyone, Tau or Gue'la, without leaping off the cliff. The last two Devilfish seeking to land had been torn apart by Tyranid fire, or swamped by clouds of winged monstrocities.
Her gaze met that of Vre'Hai. His suit was badly scarred, with one Railgun missing, and all missiles expended. He seemed to know already.
"Go, Shas'O. Take who you can. We will sell ourselves dearly..."
"Vre'Hai-" her words were silenced by the roar of his gun, blowing a Node-monster in two.
"Go, Shas'O!" he roared, "We must die, but you can live to fight again! Take who you can! Kovash Tau'va! Kovash Tau'va!"
O'Sun'yi fired her jets, and leapt from the plateaux, a dozen Xar'vesa following her. The last she saw of Vre'Hai was his suit vanishing beneath a tide of chitin, and the white hot flash of a self-destruct.

Chapter VI

Final Hour, T-Minus 17:22...
Shas'Ui T'olku died screaming, flesh-borer beetles devouring him from the inside.
His death marked the fall of Ka'Shi Cadre, the last of the rearguard assigned to cover the escape of Captain Mathias and his men. The Astartes had hoped their allies would have lasted longer... but at least they outlived the Phyrrans.
The Marine retreat was desperate, the Thunderhawks fighting to get the Astartes clear of the fight. More than once, however, was the Eighth Company forced to watch their hope of salvation fall from the sky, bio-acid melting the hull, and winged monsters swarming through the breaches.
The rout found itself in an ammunition bunker, a position guarded by a ramshackle wall and a scratch-company of Tau, Guard and Marines, commanded by a Colonel Stahl.
"Captain!" The Colonel smiled for the first time in three days, "Leading a rescue party?"
"In a manner of speaking," Mathias replied, muttering a prayer of adoration to the Emperor for fresh Bolt clips and plasma cells. He spied a familiar face amongst the throng, and called to the Sergeant commanding the weak-point in the wall.
"Sergius! The Emperor smiles on you this day!"
Sergius nodded in acknowledgement to the Captain, "Our Company has evacuated, preparing for further action. I was unable to make it to the landing zone, and found myself here..."
Mathias had no time to reply. The hoard was coming once again, the main advance having finally reached this last stand of the alliance, an endless tide of chitin that reached from one horizon to the other. A Dozen Carnifex led the vanguard, with Bio-Titans striding across the war-torn landscape.
One of the Guardsmen fell to his knees, vomiting black fluid. The air was thick with spores, and the humidity had rose sharply since Final Hour had been given. The temperature was 34o precisely, and climbing. The air was blood red, a thunderstorm shadowing the coming nightmare. Even to Mathias, who had stared death in the face more times than he could remember, the foe that closed upon them was enough to chill his soul.
"FIRE!" he screamed, "Kill them all! Kill them all! Kill them all!"
The guns roared, and the last stand began...
Final Hour, T-Minus 14:58...
"This is O'Sun'yi! Is there anyone alive down there!?"
Mathias fired his last plasma shot into the skull of a Carnifex, blowing the head off the beast. For the second time in his life, he'd lost his left arm, and he was covered in wounds, some of which refused to clot. He was feeling sick, and struggling to keep upright.
"...Shas..." he vomited into his helmet, and fell to the dirt. He didn't see the Orca as it dove, Barracudas forcing a landing ground.
"Shtlk! Ea Gue'Or'es'el T'sav'Y'he!"
He didn't know who hauled him to his feet. There was a brief memory of a duo of Thunderhawks kicking up the blood-slick dust, and Sergius leading the retreat. The Colonel was screaming something, but his hearing was failing as alien toxins overcame his superhuman metabolism.
"...us, the...ving us to di..."
The Thunderhawks rose upwards, leaving the Guard behind. Mathias blacked out, a brief memory of an age-worn Tau female mouthing Y'era Hy Sav'Elan Sav'Ge, Mathias...

Chapter VII

The retreat to Colossus was frought with peril. The Strike Cruiser was hunted every inch of the way, and more than once it seemed they would be lost. For eleven hours the retreat continued, until at last the striken ship found shelter, latching onto its mothership-Monestary like a calf to its mother's teat.
Final Hour, T-Minus 02:04...
O'Sun'yi was taken straight to the bridge, meeting Aun'El Va'Elan on the way. The ship was truly vast, and it took several hours to reach the bridge. Upon arrival, O'Sun'Yi found herself faced by a pair of Astartes; one a Gue'Or'es'O in "Terminator" armour, the other one of their spiritual leaders.
A Servitor gurgled, "T-Minus Fifty-Three Seconds..."
Inquisitor Celios entered, looking less than happy. "Aun'El... Shas'O... I am sorry."
O'Sun'yi glanced to the Inquisitor, "What do you mean?" she asked.
"Operation Final Hour... do you know what it is?"
O'Sun'yi shook her head. El'Va'Elan took a step forward, "we had assumed it was a tactical withdrawl to prepare a counter-assault..." there was concern in his voice.
"No," Celios replied, "it is not... Final Hour is a denial tactic. Make the Tyranids expend as much bio-matter as possible... then purging the world before they can feed."
"What!?" O'Sun'yi hissed.
"T-Minus Ten Seconds..."
"No!" She gasped, "NO!" She lunged forward as she cried, towards the Servitor, as if silencing him would somehow stop what was happening. The Gue'Or'es'O grabbed her, "You can't do this! It's my world! Hyera Shtlk T'auk'cka!"
"T-Minus Three..."
"Inquisitor!" El'Va'Elan, "We cannot allow this!"
"...it's too late." He replied.
"We can save it! We can save it!" O'Sun'yi sobbed.
In the darkness of the cell, O'Sun'yi stared into nothing.
Her home was gone. The training-buildings, the drill-yard, the combat simulation arenas... the mountains, he hills, the valleys, the rivers... the birds, the grazing beasts, the chirruping insects... all gone. Everything she had ever fought for had died, consumed in the white-hot death of Exterminatus. They had brought armageddon to her world, and fled into the darkness.
Someone had brought her food and water, but both went untouched. For a thousand years she sat alone, for millennia she was consumed by the black void of pain inside her...
The lights flickered on, and the chronometer on the wall flickered into life, dull-blue runes giving ship time to be 06:00. The Ratings who normally dwelled within this cramped, stinking cell would be waking now, preparing for the day ahead. She didn't know where they were now. She didn't care.
After an eternity, O'Sun'yi rose from her mental prison. The clock said 07:13, and she grudgingly ate a mouthful of the cold, lumpy goop that had been given to her. She didn't know what it tasted like; to far gone to care.
Her hooves wandered the corridors, eyes not seeing the route her mind had chosen. It was not until she felt a breeze to her left, and a piece of parchment flutter against her ear, that the broke from her trance.
The paper was folded, crudely, into an Aquila-shape. The word
Was scribbled crudely in crayon upon it. O'Sun'yi stared at the curious object, and jumped when an armoured hand reached over her shoulder, and took it from her.
"I should put that back."
She turned, "Mathias!" the Shas'O gasped, looking into the polite smile of the Captain, who strode into the chamber the paper had blown from.
O'Sun'yi followed, and stared in wonder. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of parchment-eagles covered the Chapel. They had been lined on pews, shelves, the altar, the lecturn... even pinned or stuck to any vertical surface available. All had simple words, sometimes names, sometimes more, written upon them. Her eyes passed over the closest...
Valdimar - Fortis Et Honous.
May The Fleet-Captain Bring You Home, Shugo.
Brother-Novice Octavion. We are proud of you.
Emperor watch over deck-officer Zeig Vulpin, and the crew of Chains of Faith.
For Those Who Are Lost...
O'Sun'yi felt tears form in her eyes. People had come here, written prayers upon parchments folded into Aquilas, praying for their friends, their families... what caused her the pain was the compassion of the act, something she'd never believed the Gue'La were capable of, and the unquestionable fact no such prayers would be given aboard the ships of the Tau...
She caught sight of Mathias, pinning his own prayer-bird to a board near the main altar. Hooves clicking on the hard floor, and stepped close enough to read the Captain's prayer.
"Emperor watch my Brothers and Sisters of the Chapter..."
Mathias nodded, "we are all one. From the lowliest Rating to the Chapter Master, we are all brother and sister, united in service of the Chapter, and the Imperium. I offer a prayer for all those who are lost. Many ships have not reported, and we know not if they are alive or dead.
O'Sun'yi nodded, "reminds me of something I used to believe in..."
The Captain gave her a stern look, "this isn't over, Shas'O. We need your skill, and we need you to fight. Tel'Oshi is gone, but if the Tyranids are not stopped, more worlds will fall."
His words seemed not to reach her. Mathias turned away, knowing he had duties to perform elsewhere.
O'Sun'yi followed soon after. As her hooves echoed from the Chapel, she left behind a parchment-eagle.
Upon it was a single word, written in Tau'sia.

Chapter VIII

"...your Kor'vesa is ill, Aun'Ui."
Aun'Ui Sa'cea Bentu'Ro gave the Fio'Vre a puzzled glance, then looked back at his personal recorder-Drone, currently rotting in the centre of the quarantine-surgery chamber.
"Vre'Ty... I do not mean to question your medical knowledge, nor question your capabilities..."
The Fio'Vre nodded, understanding, "but it's a machine, and machines do not get sick. Nevertheless, your Kor'vesa has contracted the D'vio'he virus.
"It's not just the Drone," a nearby Fio'la added, "we've got thirty critical in the third ward, and seven dead have been reported so far."
Ui'Bentu'Ro sighed, his terracotta robes feeling strangely heavy on his shoulders. He tried to be calm, and to spread that calm to the others, but this epidemic was frightening... it had come out of nowhere.
"Do we have a source of infection?"
Vre'Ty turned to a hovering readout drone nearby, and read the dorsal data-screen, tapping a few keys on his multi-com to bring up the desired data.
"The first four dead came from the Monitor Station, which was receiving incoming information about a n engagement... something about Shas'O Co'Ru'Fio... the internal sensors detected the contagion right before they went off-line..."
The Fio stared at the screen, watching little beads of grey run down the display. They increased in frequency, data began to randomly flicker, and then the whole screen died an instant before the drone fell to earth, it's anti-grav motor shut down.
"...shtlk..." Vre'Ty hissed, and collapsed, vomitting watery cyan blood.
The Aun'Ui turned to the fallen surgeon, but was confonted with a fierce, phegm-filled bark when he tried to help. "I'm infec-" Vre'Ty wretched again, "-quarantine! Init... init-"
The Aun nodded, and pressed his ear-mic, "this is Aun'Ui Bentu'Ro! Base is now under quarantine! Repeat, quarantine! Lock down and activate warning signal beacon!"
No reply came.
"This is Ui'Bentu'Ro! Respond!"
More silence, save for the vomiting of Vre'Ty. The Fio'La who had been assisting was missing, though he wasn't hard to find; he was passed out halfway down the hall, blood leaking from his head where a Drone had smashed into his skull, it's proximity sensors unable to register anything around it. The striken surgery-bot was impaled upside down on the floor nearby, oily smoke leaking from its vent-plate.
Panic rose within him. The Aun'Ui ran from the room, desperate to get to the Panic Room, and activate Quarantine protocols. As he ran, he became aware of a smell, a stench, an overpowering aura of decay. He rounded a corner, and his hooves squelched as they struck squirming maggots. He slipped, his skull cracking hard on the puss-slick floor. Flies were everywhere, and he fought the urge to vomit. Staggering to his feet, he pressed on, feeling a fever rising within him.
He was ten paces from the door when his legs failed him, and was dead before his body hit the ground.
The death of Tel'Oshi had bought the Tau some time, but not nearly enough. Talk was rife of having to abandon the entire Tel'Oshi Cluster, and Imperial Support was running out as word from their own colonies brought fresh reports of Tyranid contacts. Kraken, it seemed, was still alive and kicking.
O'Sun'yi was sorry to see Mathias leave. He had been a comfort, a source of strength, and of faith, when everything she had ever believed burned and died around her.
Now she had been dispatched to Run'ya, a small colony out of the way of the Tyranid attack, where there had been a series of strange occurances. One of the monitoring stations on the outer planet had ceased all transmissions, and the survey-drones had failed, their data-streams cut off abruptly after planetfall. The Run'ya Cadre-barracks were preparing a party to send in, anticipating the possiblity of Genestealer infiltration, or Lictor-vanguard. However, the Run'ya Shas'Ar'Tol agreed to allow The Shas'O to lead the Cadre, and to inspect them.
It also gave her a chance to see the twins.
Ui'Ma gave a formal nod to O'Sun'yi as she entered the briefing room, empty save for the two Shas'Ui, her offspring. Ui'Qia, having never been one for formality, leapt to her feet and hugged O'Sun'yi tightly.
"Mother, it's good to see you," she smiled warmly, identical to her mother in almost every way. O'Sun'yi always felt as if she was staring into a mirror when looking at her daughter, and seeing a reflection from twenty-tau'cyr past.
"We heard about Tel'Oshi," Ui'Ma said quietly, stroking his bare chest, tracing the Tel'Oshi sept symbol, carved into his flesh by La'Mont'ka after their first, disasterous Trial by Fire. Of the sixteen Shas'Saal, only three; Ma, Qia and Mont'ka, survived.
O'Sun'yi noticed her son's wandering fingers. "How is La'Mont'ka? He would be a Shas'Ui now, wouldn't he?"
Qia sighed, "where he still with us."
"He was taken by Nanont'au. We can only assume he is dead."
O'Sun'yi broke from her daughter, and settled herself into one of the dark blue chairs. "Ma... Qia..." she looked at each in turn, "...I want you to be careful."
The two looked at each other, unsure of what their mother meant, "I've... I've struggled lately," she continued, "struggled to stay focussed, to hold true to the cause of the Tau'va. I... I forgot what I fight for, and right now I fight for you, for all my children..."
Ui'Ma nodded, "we understand."
"Are you sure you want to go to the front?" Ui'Qia rested a hand on O'Sun'yi's knee, "you are long overdue promotion, and I'm sure if you asked, the Shas'Ar'Tol would take you-"
"No," O'Sun'yi silenced her daughter, "I have to fight. I don't want to rot away in some command chamber. I belong on the front, always have, always will."
Ui'Ma smiled at the reply, "glad to see you're not totally crushed."
O'Sun'yi chuckled, "we launch at dawn. Best get some rest before then."
"Before that..." Ui'Qia smiled, her eyes filled with mischief, "we thought we should comemorate our home."
Ui'Ma produced three glasses, and a bottle of dark red liquid, filling each glass. It smelt of death. "Is this poison?" O'Sun'yi asked, and was answered with a laugh.
"It's a drink we acquired from the Gue'vesa. They call it 'Bloodwater'..." Ui'Ma looked at the drink, "and I'm pretty sure there's blood in it..."
Ui'Qia laughed, and raised her glass, "I don't care if there's kroot-vomit in it, it's the only decent drink on the planet!"
"Well, it's good you don't mind kroot-vomit, because-"
"To Tel'Oshi!" Ui'Qia said forcefully, and Ui'Ma and O'Sun'yi raised their glasses with her.
"To the memory of our world."
"May the fallen find peace."
The three downed their drinks, and quickly regretted it.
"Shtlk!" O'Sun'yi spat, "did you pick up a bottle of battery acid by mistake, Qia!?"
"T'auk'cka Gue'vesa! How the hell do they drink this!?"
Ui'Qia wiped her eyes, "I'm good for another."
Ui'Ma paused from his cursing, "Co'sav Mont'au'era!" he grinned at Ui'Qia, "the Mont'au will have us before you outdrink me!"
O'Sun'yi didn't remember much about that night. All she remembered was waking up with a hangover, feeling violently sick, and the warm feeling that it had been the happiest day she'd had in Tau'cyr. Whatever happened, whatever she had to face, she had her blood-kin with her, and she would not fail.
For their sake.

Chapter IX

Hate. If there was one word he would use to describe himself, it was Hate.
He Hated everything. He Hated his life, he Hated the Aun, he Hated the Chaos scum whom he had battled all his life... he Hated his world, he Hated his people, he Hated the galaxy, he Hated everything. He was Hate.
Right now, he Hated his Xar'vesa as well.
Shas'O Sha'Mont'au Yr'Mont'ka leapt from his suit a moment before is was blasted into searing oblivion. Drawing his pistol and knife as he rolled, he came up firing, his weapon blasting apart the Tau before him. He saw what they were, festering, decrepid things... tainted and consumed by the Rot-God. He plunged into them, their sickened flesh tearing at the touch of his knife, limbs and heads flying away in spurts of pussy-blood. His pistol left burnt holes in their flesh.
He found himself alone, as he had done many times before. The red mist began to fade, and he was left only with the bloody corpses of the dead. He lived for this moment, this sweet point of extacy between the killing and the return of the world. In this limbo, he was free.
He heard a sound, a rhythmic pok... pok... pok... he turned, and saw it was caused by heavy plasteel gauntlets clapping together. He raised his weapons once more; one of the Champions of Chaos had come for him.
"Shas'O, please... I am not your enemy..."
Yr'Mont'ka spat, "Silence your tongue!" He rose his gun, only to give a yelp of pain as his body froze, paralysed, locked tight by arcane binds.
"Shas'O," the Chaos warrior whispered, "as you can see, I have the power to kill you with a mere thought... yet that would not serve my purpose..."
"Shtlk to your purpose!" Yr'Mont'ka roared, "kill me, or free me so I can have your head!"
The sorceror took a step back, as if offended, "my friend, I am here to help you..."
"I am no fr-"
"You hate them, don't you? The Aun? You hate their lies, their deceit... you hate how they blindly lead the fools of your race, how they bind the great and powerful Shas, keep them leashed and muzzled at their heel like flea-ridden hounds..."
Yr'Mont'ka stared into the eye-slits of the Sorceror's helmet. "...How do you know that?"
"I want to help you, Shas'O. My name is Tzanoth, and I want the same as you... for the Tau to be strong. I can offer you the means to make your people strong, Shas'O. I can help you rise to glory, to unite your people under your rule, under your great leadership!"
The Sorceror strode forwards, oozing calm, quiet confidence like a sickness, "will you except my aid?"
The Shas'O snarled, "you're words are sickness, Sorceror."
"Then become infected!" Tzanoth snapped, "You know that victory goes to the warrior who makes the hard choices! You've known that all your life! You've never been afraid to do what had to be done! The innocent must suffer, the weak must die, the strong cannot be tethered and bound by those too feeble to fight! You know this to be true!" The Sorceror looked into Yr'Mont'ka's eyes, and saw in there the flicker of corruption. He had him. "I ask again, will you accept my aid?"
Yr'Mont'ka was silent for a long moment, "...yes," he whispered.
"You wish me to aid you? To guide you?"
"Will you do what must be done? Will you fight for the true glory of your race."
"Will you embrace my powers?"
"Will you sell your soul to Khorne!?"
Tzanoth smiled, "So be it."

Chapter X

The Warp-Voice was a great altar of flesh, a mind-twisting creation of pain and blasphemy. It served a purpose, one far more practical than the unending suffering of the thirteen slaves bound into the edifice; it allowed the Sorceror to channel his mind.
This time, there was a mind already waiting.
Tzanoth knelt within the Runic Circle, and the unclean markings flared into life, shining blue, white and gold. He felt the powers of Tzeench within him, projecting his likeness into the Empyrean, to the waiting figure a galaxy away.
"...Lord Corax..."
A figure appeared in the obsidian screen of the Warp-Voice, a handsome young warrior in armour of gold and bronze. Tzanoth knew better than to be subdued by his child-like face, for his mind was more powerful and more terrible than many... stronger perhaps even than his own.
"I hear you, Sorceror, and I see you."
"Lord Corax, I-"
"You are failing me, Sorceror," Corax spat, "You have had years to prepare! I have put much effort into fuelling your search, sent many agents across the void to spy and steal in the name of furthering your machinations... and yet you have nothing to show for it!"
Tzanoth bowed his head slightly, "My Lord, I have reason for the delay..." even with a million worlds between himself and his patron-lord, Tzanoth felt uneasy, "I-"
"I know of your failings," Corax interrupted, "You let the Eldar steal away the Liber Chronomicon! You promised me that the pirate Erija would support us, yet of him there is no sign! I have dispatched one of my Chosen, and now word reaches me he is dead!"
Tzanoth wondered who could be feeding Corax this information, "I am aware of that, my Lord, but there were... unexpected complications..."
Corax hissed, his arms folding slowly over his chest, "Explain," he commanded.
"The Key was nowhere to be found. Your Chosen himself aided me in searching Arthas Moloch, where your sources said it would rest..." Tzanoth chose his words carefully, ensuring that any blame would not rest on him, "Plegn went in search of one who may possess the Key... a Tau named O'Shovah. However, I have been unable to find him since. As you know, his... gift... makes him invisible to psychic scry."
"I know that," Corax barked, "You had best have found another way..."
Tzanoth nodded sagely, "But of course, Lord Corax," his voice filled with confidence once more, "I have been weaving a complex scheme, a myriad of plots and paths that the fools of this race shall walk down. I have placed upon the world of Tel'Oshi a Glyph of Blood... an artifact that shall grow in power with every death. The Imperials shall destroy the world any day now, I am certain, and when they do, the Lock will be broken open. With that done, we need only the Liber Chronomicon. The Huntsmen shall bring it to me soon..."
Corax nodded, though seemed unconvinced, "What of forces? We will need an army of our own, as your blundering has set the release of Him in motion before we were ready."
Tzanoth sighed, "That has been considered. I have begun creating a Focus... Two Shas'O have been tainted, one to Nurgle, one to Khorne. I already have plans for a third... one I can seduce with the power of Slaneesh... then I shall embrace Tzeench's energies, and form the final piece of the Focus myself. The resulting powers shall seal this damned Empire in to the Warp, and the Daemons of the Gods shall feast upon their flesh!"
Corax was silent for a long time, staring into the eyes of Tzanoth. Finally, after an age, he said simply, "do not fail."
The Warp-Voice fell silent, it's image went dark. Tzanoth rose, and smiled to himself. When this was over, he would need never bow to Corax again...
The shadow-ship drifted through the darkness of space, an invisible shadow in the endless night of space. It hovered, waiting, hidden from prying sensor-eyes by its Nightshield. The Tau did not see it's approach into the Run'ya sept, nor detect its presence as it took up station in the shadow of the outpost-world's southern pole.
Tzanoth admired his following. Co'Ru'Fio dominated the room, his titanic Xar'Vesa suit a living hive of Warp-spawned contagion. The rotting beast nodded to the Sorceror as eye met sensor-eye. The Shas'O was eager to see the colony, to see first hand how his loving gifts had been received.
Yr'Mont'ka's eyes shone. His body was covered in a cyan sheen, and a hundred fresh scars littered his body where he had carved the Mark of Khorne into his flesh over and over again. Tzanoth could taste his bloodlust. Yr'Mont'ka barely registered Tzanoth, save perhaps as something to kill when all was over.
Finally, came the Huntsman. He was bedecked in chains and hooks, his stone-grey Power Armour so decorated with his tools there was hardly any bare-ceramite to be found. A filthy, wretched thing was strung by the wrists from his back-pack, a verminous animal that may once have been a Tarellian Dog-Soldier. Leashed at his side were a pair of Warp-Wolves, snarling and biting at everything around them. The Huntsman stroked their heads, "Hush, my pets, we shall enjoy the Hunt soon enough..." his eyes met Tzanoth, "remember my agreement."
"Of course," Tzanoth replied, turning to approach the waiting Deathclaw Pod. "My friends... my brothers... it is time! The last member of our Focus awaits us below!" he gripped the Liber Chronomicon tightly, "and with her, our destiny."
The Deathclaw screamed down to the planet below, Tzanoth dreaming of the power that would soon be his.
"...it is almost time... do not dissapoint me, O'Sun'yi..."

Chapter XI

The building was a charnal house of rotting flesh and buzzing flies. The stinking horror of it radiated from its maismic walls, the smell was stomach-turning.
They had spent almost two Decs searching every last part of the station, and now O'Sun'yi was longing for a bath. She felt as though the stink had soaked through her suit, and into her flesh. Her legs ached, an old memory of her time spent paralysed, and her skin itched.
What's more, this place seemed to kill comm-traffic, and deaden sound. She had stood outside an observation room, the door open, whilst three Fio'La took samples from the dead... and she couldn't hear them. Not a hoofbeat, not a word, not a cough, nor sound of their tools at work... the whole building was as silent as a grave.
Now, at last, she was free of the damned place. She checked with the other patrol teams, and all confirmed what she had found; massive viral infection killed the station crew, and somehow corrupted the machinery. No sign of active contagion. No sign of delivery method. No hostiles.
After a dec of tedious reports, O'Sun'yi retired to the wash-house. Whilst the Shas had searched, the Fio had set up a small outpost of pre-fab buildings, and had just finished installing the sanitation unit and water-tanks. She discarded her armour, glad to be free of the sticky uniform, and relaxed in the hot water. By the sound of things, someone else had decided to join her. She turned and saw movement, a vague shadow behind the privacy-screen.
"Who's out there?" she asked, hand moving towards the Pulse Pistol she always kept with her. After having her bedroom invaded by a Genestealer, she never did anything anymore without a weapon.
"It's La'Ria, Shas'O."
O'Sun'yi relaxed, "You're the Fio'La from before, right? Any luck so far?"
"None, Shas'O..." the door hissed open again. It seemed that the three wash-cubicals wouldn't be enough.
The Shas'O dove out into the changing space, pistol rising fast. Without thinking, she pulled the trigger, and blew apart the head of the Por'Ui advancing towards her. The Fio'La grabbed her in panic, his eyes wide with horror.
"He was dead! I saw him on the Autopsy table!"
O'Sun'yi looked up at the sound of gunfire. Two more corpses staggered into the building, and were met by a storm of pulse-shots. The first lost his arm at the elbow, then half his skull. The other took three rounds to the chest, and collapsed. When he tried to rise again, La'Ria wet himself in horror, and O'Sun'yi decapitated it with a neck-shot.
The Shas'O growled, "this is not right... come on, we need to get to the command bunker, it sounds like all hell's breaking loose out there!"
La'Ria nodded, then looked at O'Sun'yi, blushing slightly. "Perhaps you should get dressed first..."
The Outpost was indeed in chaos. Bloated corpses staggered around blindly, lunging toward the living, clawing and biting. O'Sun'yi dropped two with perfect head-shots, then turned and blew the face of a third that had lunged at La'Ria from around the corner. For dead bodies, they could really move.
The Shas'O grabbed the Fio'La by the wrist. "Come on!" she cried, dragging him towards the centre of the outpost. A missile streaked overhead, striking the underside of a jumping Xar'Vesa, and blowing it to pieces. O'Sun'yi roared with anger, unable to see where the enemy was, unable to see anything except panic, mayhem, and the living dead.
A Mantrap flew out of nowhere, imapcting into La'Ria's face and pulping his skull, Cyan blood splattering out in all directions. O'Sun'yi turned, and was contronted by a giant in stone-armour. A gauntlet gripped her shoulder, and she felt micro-needles pierce her skin, and collapsed into the grip, limp and helpless.
"Fear not, little Tau," the Huntsman purred, "we don't want you to die yet..."
Limp, helpless, and unable to speak, O'Sun'yi could not resist as she was hauled away from the camp, watching in blank-faced horror as her companions vanished from sight, and all hope of rescue died.

Chapter XII

How long she had been left here, bound in a tent that seemed to be made of Gue'la flesh, she did not know. Thick rope was wrapped around her neck, attached to a steel bar that rested on the base of her skull. Her wrists were tightly bound to the same bar. Her ankles were chained to a heavy metal ground-spike, denying her any hope of escape. Her weapon, uniform and clothes were taken, leaving her helpless, vulnerable, and fighting the urge to vomit as the after-shock of the paralysis drug kicked in.
She was not alone, however. At least a dozen others, mostly Tau, were bound or caged within the morbid tent. All were silent, most asleep or unconcious. She blearily remembered someone entering, untying a Shas'vre in torn and bloodied armour, and dragging him outside. There was barking, then screams, screams that went on for far too long.
Sleep took her, though she did not know if it was day or night. Despite her hunger, her thirst, and the constant aching pain of being bound in such an uncomfortable position, she had passed out. When she awoke, another of the Shas was missing, as was the Kroot Hound that had been muzzled in a small mesh-cage by the door.
Footsteps outside indicated the approach of their captor, and those who were concious tensed, or whimpered in fear. The Huntsman entered, locking eyes with O'Sun'yi immediately. He gripped her restraint-bar, and hauled her off her feet, causing her to cry as the chains on her ankles pulled painfully tight.
"How are we feeling this morning?" the Huntsman growled, and O'Sun'yi spat in his face by way of reply.
He wiped the spittle from his cheek, "excellent."
O'Sun'yi was dropped to the ground, cursing at the impact, and the Huntsman released her legs, grabbing her by one hoof and dragging her out into the cold morning air. With a harsh throw, she was hurled across the clearing, landing hard and rolling to the feet of another Power-Armoured figure, landing face-down in the dirt.
"Good morning, Shas'O," Tzanoth said, helping her to her hooves, "I thought you and I should have a quiet talk..."
Ui'Ma jetted upwards once more, sensor-eyes scanning the tree-line.
"Anything, Ma?"
"Not a thing, Qia", he replied with a sigh, landing hard amidst loose scree that chittered and shifted at the impact.
"...I think she's gone, Ma..."
Ui'Ma didn't reply. The pain he felt at losing O'Sun'yi, losing his mother, was terrible. He had never felt pain like it, save when his Bond-Brother had been killed.
"Ma, El'taal wants us to report back to base. We have to give up the search..."
Ui'Ma stared into nothing. He knew what had to be done, he knew that they had to give up the search... Co'Ru'Fio was out there, and they could ill-afford to waste units searching for one Tau... even if it was Shas'O Tel'Oshi Li'Sun'yi... yet, for the first time in his life, Ui'Ma believed that the Tau'va was wrong. He knew what had to be done, for the good of the mission, and he ignored it.
"Ui'Ma!? Where are you going!?"
Ui'Ma jetted onwards, heading south, guided by instinct alone.
"I'm going to find our mother."
"Are you mad!? What do you think will happen when they find you've done this!?"
Ui'Ma grinned, "They'll have to find a word for mutiny," he chuckled, slipping into Gue'La tongue.
"Ma... please be careful... I love you to much to lose you..."
Ui'Ma jetted onwards again. There was woodland ahead, and plenty of places to hide. Instinct told him to start there...
Tzanoth had said little so far, he chose to speak with actions instead.
He had given her a dress-uniform, a silken outfit that bore the Tel'Oshi sept-markings. She had no idea how he'd obtained it. He'd released her binds, and offered her food and drink... and such food! Such drink! It was a meal fit for an Emperor! Exotic fruits, spiced fish, honey-like syrups that filled the mouth with orgasmic delight... and the wines were exquisite, perfectly chosen to compliment not only the food, but her racial palette. Her initial hesitation had been weakened by her gnawing hunger, and crushed completely by the wonder of the meal.
He had finished the offering with a massage, his hands finding the aches in her arms, neck and shoulders, and freeing them from her body. She was lost in extacy, caring little of the fear and mysery she had faced just decs before; she had not known such joy in Tau'cyr.
"I trust you have enjoyed yourself, Shas'O..." Tzanoth's words were as sweet as the treacles he had prepared, "I can imagine that you have seen little of delight in your lifetime..."
O'Sun'yi nodded, "I... mmm... am afraid so..." she gave a lazy smile, the warm comfort of sleep was inviting her now as too much food and alcohol worked their wonders.
Tzanoth gazed at her curiously, "You know, of course, that this moment will pass... this happiness will end, and your sorrow and pain shall return... if not by my hand, then someone elses."
O'Sun'yi opened her eyes a little, his words sobering her mind, "what do you mean?"
"Life has never been kind, Shas'O... no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, there is always someone there to hurt you, to bring you pain... I can stop that."
O'Sun'yi leant forwards, curious as to what Tzanoth was offering.
"I can show you joy, Shas'O. I can show you heights of pleasure and wonder that you cannot imagine. You will know nothing but the endless bliss of the world, take pleasure from every sensation, fill every moment with rapture..."
The Shas'O gave a curt laugh, "you speak of such things, but life can never be that way..." she took another sip of wine.
Tzanoth gave her a side-long glance, "not life within the Tau'va. However, there are other ways... and you could share your joy." Tzanoth rose, "you could spread your new-found splendour with your people! You can show them they need not live cold, monochrome lives, enslaved to Caste and cause! The Tau can be free! Free from pain! Free from fear! Free to experience all the galaxy can offer!"
O'Sun'yi stared at her wine-glass for a long moment, "...is what you say true?"
Tzanoth smiled, "Of course, Shas'O... you need only accept my help..."
Another long silence, "I don't know..."
"You do, Shas'O. You know this is what you wan't. Don't listen to the lies, to the miserable fears that have been bored into you by an uncaring Empire! Listen to your heart! Listen to the inner voice! It knows what I say is true, it knows the answer you must give! Say it!"
"...yes..." O'Sun'yi whispered.
"You know what I offer you?"
"You accept my aid, my guidance, my counsil?"
"You wish to bring this Empire to the heights of splendour, of greatness..."
"...of indulgence, of depravity, of all the dark and forbidden wonders of the world?"
"...Yes," O'Sun'yi nodded, "...I do."
Tzanoth smiled, "Will you give your soul to the Dark Prince? Will you submit forever to Slaneesh?"
O'Sun'yi looked into Tzanoth's eyes, and answered.

Chapter XIII

Tzanoth cursed, and unleashed a blast of warp-lightning that sent the Shas'O tumbling backwards, screaming in pain. Tzanoth grabbed her twitching form, and restrained her once more, hauling her screaming, swearing, fighting form to the waiting Huntsman.
"She's all yours," Tzanoth spat, hurling her back into the dirt, and storming away.
O'Sun'yi stayed on the ground, listening to Tzanoth depart. The Huntsman stood over her fallen form, and laughed.
"Well, it seems you've made a friend..."
He pulled her to her hooves, and O'Sun'yi's eyes met the sneering, mocking gaze of Yr'Mont'ka. He made a gutteral chuckle, stalking to the bound and muddied Shas.
"Oh, how the mighty have fallen..." he spat in her face, "stinking vermin."
O'Sun'yi threw herself forward, connecting with a headbutt that burst the Khornate Tau's slit-capilaries. His grey-skinned face took on a purple tinge, and he landed flat on his back, much to the amusement of the Huntsman.
Yr'Mont'ka rose, a look of murder in his eyes. He lunged forwards, blades drawn, and met with the fist of the Huntsman, who put him back on the ground with broken ribs.
"I've told you before," The Huntsman's eyes burned with malice, "Touch my pets, and I will kill you."
Yr'Mont'ka spat a string of violent curses, rising to his feet and staring the Huntsman, despite being three feet shorter.
"One day, Huntsman, I shall bathe in your blood..."
The giant growled, "not before I feed you to my Wolves."
As Yr'Mont'ka left, the Huntsman turned back to his new prize, "I'm starting to like you, Shas... let's just hope you do not misplace this energy, or we'll see how well you curse with your jaw removed."
O'Sun'yi was dragged back to the Huntsman's prey-tent, and locked into one of the cages. The horror of her situation, of what had just happened to her, and the fate that awaited, all flooded into her mind with one merciless assault, and she broke into mournful sobbing. Tzanoth had been right; the pain always returned.
The forest was silent, save for the chirrup of a distress-signal. An audial call, on all standard wavelengths, was being transmitted.
"This is Ui'Ma to all available forces. Xar'Vesa damaged. In need of assistance. Please respond... Ui'Qia... anyone... please respond!"
Tzanoth approached the suit, fuming over the failure. He had been so close! He could taste her lust! He almost had her! Why had she resisted? Why had he failed!?
He calmed himself. He needed to take his mind off things... he needed to kill.
The suit was still calling for help. It had plunged through a canopy, and seemingly smashed into a tree. Tzanoth smiled, eager for a chance to kill. He approached cautiously, arcane energies crackling from his hands. He could see the front hatch of the suit now, swinging open...
...pilot missing.
A pulse-shot slammed through his throat, and dropped Tzanoth to his knees. A second blasted into his right eye, and splattered his brains across the inside of his helmet.
Ui'Ma looked down at the fallen warrior, and smiled. His instincts had been right... and now they told him to press on.
Pistol ready, he advanced deeper into the woodland.

Chapter XIV

O'Sun'yi heard gunfire outside... Pulse Fire. Somewhere a fight was going on... a rescue party had come to find her.
The Huntsman entered the tent, and hauled her from the cage. "Time to leave, pet." he growled, attaching a chain around O'Sun'yi's neck and dragging her from the tent. The stink of death hit her immediately; more of the shambling bodies she'd seen before were advancing towards the trees, only to be gunned down by Pulse-fire. She didn't get a chance to see the shooter, as she was pulled towards the Huntsman's waiting Thunderhawk.
Ui'Ma charged forwards, vaulting over the smoking corpses of the zombies. He ran for the tent, able to smell the terror of the slaves within from here. He pulled open the flap, and growled in frustration. O'Sun'yi wasn't there.
Hoofbeats behind made him turn. He saw a Tau covered in strange scars running towards him, two knives raised. Raising his pistol, Ui'Ma paused, twitching his head at a sound on the edge of hearing. He dove to the floor just before the Mantrap could smash the back of his skull. The jaw-like device flew on, slamming into Yr'Mont'ka and tearing his throat out. The Khornate Tau stumbled to the floor, thrashing as his blood jetted out, and finally lay still.
Ui'Ma rose, weapon cracking three shots off at the retreating figure, but he hit nothing but air. The assailant was gone from sight, obscured by a rockcrete bunker. He ran forwards, screaming his mother's name.
Jets coughed and spluttered above him, and Ui'Ma dove once more as acidic shot-vomit burned the ground. Co'Ru'Fio landed, blocking his path.
"Ah... you poor misguided fool... you would seek to destroy us? We seek only to help you..."
Ui'Ma fought the urge to vomit. He scrambled into the nearest building, tripping in the dark over a storage crate, the contents landing on top of him.
"Shas'Ui... accept the love of Father Nurgle..."
"Mont'au!" Ui'Ma snapped, "I will never join you!" He fumbled with the device pinning him, and his eyes lit up when he realised what it was.
"It is the only way, Shas'Ui... There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, nowhere for you to go..."
"You're right... but I know where you're going, Mont'au..." he raised the rocket launcher. "TO HELL!"
Co'Ru'Fio was obliterated by the impact. The explosion had enough force to tear the door off.
Ui'Ma staggered to his feet, his body aching. He grabbed a fallen Lasgun, and charged on, his path no longer blocked by the corrupted Shas'O, or his rotting minions. He found the landing field, arriving in time to watch the Thunderhawk's after-burners kick in, and the machine fight for altitude.
He fell to his knees, "O'Sun'yi! I'll come for you! I promise!"
The distant roar of engines was all that replied.

Chapter XV

Eight Tau'cyr...
It was eight Tau'cyr since I left the Empire, eight Tau'cyr since I through away my entire life. Eight Tau'cyr since I turned my back on everything and everyone I ever cared about...
...but I did it for a reason. I did it for her.
* * *
He ran through the snow, panting hard and panicked. He had a name once, though what it was he no longer knew. He was a wasted, scrawny thing, a shattered shell that had once been human.
Now, for the first time in three years, he was free of that damned cage... unfortunately, it also meant he was running for his life.
A Mantrap flew out of nowhere, and snapped into his leg. He felt his tendon rip, and sharp blade-teeth puncture bone. With a scream he fell, sprawled onto the white ground, wailing in agony. A second Mantrap flew at him, aimed to silence his cries forever.
A Lasround blew it out of the air.
The prey fell silent, mute at the shock of still being amongst the living. The Huntsman emerged to his right, and another figure to his left.
The stranger was a Tau, dressed in matt green flak with brown and grey patch-camo. A smoking Lascarbine was in his hands, and a pair of shortswords hung at his waist. He carried a Pulse Pistol, one that had seen better days, in a hip-holster. He had a look in his eyes, a look that reminded the Prey all too much of his uncaring master.
 The Huntsman sniffed deeply, "I know your scent..." he growled, "I remember you."
"I have come for O'Sun'yi."
The Huntsman laughed, "still hunting her?"
"A hunter does not give up his prize."
The giant nodded, "indeed," he turned to the whimpering human on the ground, "don't go anywhere," his attention returned to the Tau, "I assume you have something to offer?"
"An Umbra. Alive, and unharmed."
The Marine's eyes lit up, "An Umbra..." he grinned like a wolf, "you have a deal, my friend. Come, let us return to my ship..." he hauled his wounded target off the ground, and dragged him back through the snow, the Tau Mercenary following calmly.
The Hunstman's ship contained many captives, victims gathered from across the galaxy. The cage-room stank of fear, blood and excrement, but it was the silence that was so chilling. The Mercenary had expected screams of fear, pleadings for mercy, sobbing from those whose despair was too much to take... none of that existed. The room was silent, and it was horrifying.
The Huntsman led his guest to one of the cages, and guestured to the scrawny thing within.
She was a mess, covered in so much blood and filth that there was little of her skin visible. She was thin, starved and malnourished. Where it not for the occasional twitch as the slumbered, an observer would believe her dead.
"She is of no use to me now anyway," the Huntsman said with a shrug, "she cannot bear young, and her spirit died long ago. She's only good for Wolf-feed..." he glanced at the Tau, who was staring at the fallen Shas'O. "Why do you want her? Is there a reward for her return... or are you just looking for some company? Must have been a long time since you last had a female your own species..."
The Mercenary shot his host a cold, predator-stare. "My name is Monat Sun'Ma. O'Sun'yi is my mother. Eight Tau'cyr ago, I risked everything to try and save her..."
"...and you failed, I remember." The Huntsman nodded, "so you have sought a way to rescue her, all this time?"
Sun'Ma nodded, "The Umbra is held in Skyclaw. Third Storage Unit. Encryption Code AAVB#7."
The Huntsman opened the cage, and hauled the ragged Shas'O out. She gave a quiet croak, her hollow stare not seeing her captor, or her rescuer. "All yours."
Sun'Ma took her up in his arms, shocked at how light she was, and turned to depart. He paused at the doorway, and glanced back over his shoulder.
"Huntsman. We have made a deal here, and by my word I must adhere to it. I trust you to do the same."
"Of course," he replied, "I am nothing if not honourable."
"I have taken it on trust you have not deceived me..."
"As have I."
"...if I learn you have lied to me, that this is not O'Sun'yi as you claim, then I shall kill you."
The Huntsman laughed, "You? Kill me? You simple little thing... what makes you think you can kill the greatest hunter in the galaxy?"
Sun'Ma shorted, "I caught the Umbra. You did not. Goodbye, Huntsman... and never darken the Tau Empire with your presence again."
Sun'Ma left, leaving the Huntsman alone with his pets, and a look of jealous anger on his face.

Chapter XVI

Fio'Ui Au'taal Kaisyr stood nervously outside the door, waiting for the Shasl'El to escort him inside. He never went to see his patient alone, for fear of what he might to.
"Ah, Fio'Ui."
Ui'Kaisyr turned, and smiled with relief at the Shas'El. "El'Qia, you are late."
"Duty kept me," she looked to the door, seemingly staring through it, "you're still scared of him?"
The Fio nodded, "I do not trust that Mont'au."
"Shas-Monat Sun'Ma is my brother, and I trust him implicitly," El'Qia replied calmly, "he had his reasons for turning from the Empire... he was, in his own mind, serving the Tau'va. I would appreciate it if you remember that."
Ui'Kaisyr cleared his throat, "and what part of serving the Tau'va, Shas'El, requires my patient to have an armed guard?"
El'Qia gave the Fio'Ui a heartless stare, "My mother has been tortured by a psychopath for an Au'Tau'cyr, and my brother has been forced to survive alone amongst cut-throats and murderers in order to save her. I think they both have the right to express a little paranoia."
The Fio doctor visible cringed, "My apologies, Shas'El. I meant no offence."
"Klkn you didn't," she clicked the door open, "let's go."
Sun'Ma was silent whilst the Fio'Ui worked, sitting beside O'Sun'yi, watching the doctor's every action like a hawk. El'Qia's attention was less hostile, but no less inquisitive. In order for them to follow, the Fio talked as he worked.
"Her muscles are in some kind of chemical shock," he ran a finger down the translucent data-screen, "some sort of drug I've never seen before. I think it was designed to increase her muscle output."
"No doubt to make her a more interesting prey," Sun'Ma spat.
Ui'Kaisyr ignored the interruption, "her reproductive organs show similar abuse. Her liver is very badly damaged, almost at the point of collapse..." the Fio'Ui gave a hiss, "some of these... I don't know how she could still be alive..."
El'Qia smiled, "Our mother doesn't die easy," there was pain in her voice that she almost succeeded in hiding.
"...what I don't understand," Ui'Kaisyr continued, "is how she's alive at all. Fifty-three Tau'cyr... even in her condition prior to this, I would not have expected her to live past forty-six. How is it she is still alive?"
"...he used drugs... to prolong my life..."
All three turned to look at O'Sun'yi, whose eyes had flickered open. A weak smile lined her face, as she rolled her head to look at Ma.
"...I dreamed you came to rescue me..."
Sun'Ma held her tight, relief flooding through him as he began to sob into her shoulder. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, he could let go of his pain. They both could.
* * *
The Shas'saal on the drill-yard ignored the three Tau on the viewing balcony, having long-since grown accustomed to having their training watched.
"Which one is Saal'Ukos?" O'Sun'yi asked, her voice strained and tired. Her body was truly starting to show its age now, and until her strength returned she had to use a hover-dias to move around.
El'Qia looked at the faces of the young Shas, and picked one out. "That's him."
O'Sun'yi smiled at the boy. "I remember holding him in my arms... I remember promising him he'd grow up in a world without the Sin'yhe."
"You'll keep your promise," Sun'Ma answered, causing his mother to look up in confusion.
"He's right," El'Qia replied happily.
"I read the reports whilst you were cleaning up with El'Qia. There have been no reports of Sin'yhe activity since the Final Hour."
O'Sun'yi looked from Ma to Qia, her eyes shining with hope that their words were true. "None? No Warp Shadow, no Vanguard Fleet... nothing?"
"Nothing," Sun'Ma confirmed.
O'Sun'yi wept. Her tears were not of pain, but of joy. For as long as she could remember, her life had been nothing but hardship. The horror of first encountering the Sin'yhe race, the Sun Campaign, the Genestealer Incursion, The Final Hour, her abduction... all that she had been through, all her pain, her fear, her suffering...
...it had been worth it. Just for this moment.

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