Tau' Va Harsh Reality
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Part IFour-hundred Line-warriors stood to attention, arranged on the launch deck of the Lar'shi, forming two waiting columns. Behind them sat the boxy Orcas, and large, sleek Morays. Dotted along the line were the towering xar'vesa, and smaller xar'erra, their stealth fields inactive. Finally, the Gue'vesa, fifty-strong, formed the final segment of the parade, kor'vesa hovering behind.
The corridor echoed to a rhythmic thud of hooves as a party of Shas came to a halt just outside of the deck, hidden by the wall. The party was an Honour-Guard, wearing bone-white Shas-armour forged of the experimental Iridium-alloy. The guards on their left-shoulders were stylised to match Yhe'sin skull-ridges, and coloured a deep purple. Attached to the same arms were three long retractable talon-blades. Their helmets were also sharper and more pronounced in shape, resembling the beasts of the Devourer. Every one of them was physically perfect; a terrifying specimen of the Caste. Each and every one of them had been through hell in order to achieve this honoured role, faced enemies that would have driven most Shas insane with fear.
They were Lakor'Yhe, the Messengers of Death; Tel'Oshi Honour Guard.
Their escort sat upon a hover-throne, a device designed to ease her travels. She seemed tired, and age rested heavy on her shoulders. It was only within the confines of her xar'vesa, when flesh and machine became one, that she truly seemed alive. Indeed, the Fio doctors had insisted she remain hooked up to a life-support unit constantly; an insistence she had out-right refused.
The Kor'El accompanying the entourage gave her a polite nod. Beside her, a Por'Ui coughed politely, glancing at her.
"Shas'Ar'O, much as I admire your devotion, are you sure you wish to do this."
The Por'Ui stood back, and watched the Shas'Ar'O dismount. She staggered, briefly, but composed herself again. Standing tall, she smiled at the head of the Honour-Guard. "How do I look, Ma?"
"Like a hero," Shas-Monat Tel'Oshi Sun'Ma replied, his helmet hiding the pride-filled smile upon his face. Becoming Captain of the Honour-Guard was the greatest honour of his life. His mother's strength never ceased to amaze him.
O'Sun'yi nodded, and began to walk. Instantly, the Lakor'Yhe formed on her; four on each side, with Sun'Ma ahead.
As they entered, there was a sigh, a gentle inward-whisper as every Shas in the room, every Tau in the room, took a breath. Shas'Ar'O Tel'Oshi Arva'Shi Li'Sun'yi, a legend amongst the Fire Caste, entered the deck. They marched together, slowly due to Li'Sun'yi, into the centre of the chamber. Once there, Sun'Ma with drew slightly, and the others formed a circle around the Shas'Ar'O, facing outwards, kneeling with heads bowed as a sign of respect; they would not distract from her as she spoke.
"My name, is O'Sun'yi."
Her words came slowly. O'Sun'yi was lethargic without her support-systems.
"You all know my name... you all know my history... there is nothing I need to say to you that has not already been said about that... I stand before you, here, now, so you may bear witness to the oaths by brothers and sisters in arms now take..."
At those words, the Lakor'Yhe rose as one, turning to face the Shas'Ar'O. In unison, they removed their right gauntlets, placing them on the ground. Their helmets followed.
As they rose, O'Sun'yi removed an old and battered blade, her Ta'lissera knife. This blade had been used to mark her bond with her team a lifetime ago. Now, it would mark a new bond.
She held the knife up, blade pointing downwards. The first of the Lakor'Yhe gripped the blade with their bare hand, palm against the edge. Slicing his palm open, the Tau uttered the words "Hy'vesa T'hy'yhe." The next Tau repeated the process, then the next, and the next, until all had slit their palms open upon the knife. The droplets of their blood seeped down the blade, perfect droplets falling to the deck, exploding in a cyan crown.
The ritual complete, O'Sun'yi rose the blade high, "brave warriors, our enemies await... let us learn the colour of their blood!"
Part IIPor'la Ky'taal Ruera was outwardly normal. He worked dutifully in his role, assisting with trade arrangements in the bustling merchant-town he called home. He smiled politely and made small talk with Gue'Tais Corsairs who sought to sell their stolen goods, and convinced Makir commerce-princes that the Tau energy nodes were worth their weight in Absonite.
His work was profitable for the Empire, and it was not surprising he was chosen to be elevated to Por'ui. The position would be made official in just a few Rotaa. That meant a new home in the north side of town, so he could easily meet with the Gue'La traders he was assigned to. He'd requested the Trader himself.
Because of the merchandise he sold.
The Por'la stood nervously in the middle of the darkly-coloured ship interior, suddenly frightened at this meeting. Hundreds of thoughts crossed his mind... would the Shas'vre betray him? Would the Gue'la take him prisoner, torture him for information on the Empire? A cold sweat covered his body.
The door hissed open, and Vre'Mont'ka entered. "Sorry about the wait..." he said, standing beside the Por and slapping his shoulder in an encouraging manner, "trust me, this guy is everything you want..."
"I don't know w-what you mean," La'Ruera replied with a stammer, the scent of fear rising from him, "I'm here on legit-"
The door silenced him. Rogue Trader Graos entered, holding a stoppered test-tube of sticky white liquid. He handed it to the Shas.
"White Sky... be careful, Mont Car," the trader was silenced by a wave of the Shas'vre's hand.
"I know, I know... dilute, then distribute..." he examined the phial, "but that doesn't mean I'm not going to nab a few shots for myself."
The Por'la was mute with shock. The pair had so casually traded illegal narcotics in front of him...
Graos smiled at him, "Now for you... I think I know what you want..."
La'Ruera took a few steps back, looking from Graos to Vre'Mont'ka, worried about what they had planned.
The Shas'vre chuckled, "trained or untrained?"
La'Ruera blinked, "what!?"
"I've got three slaves in the hold. One Shas, six years old, trained, and two untrained Por, seven and eight respectively. All female, naturally."
The Por'la was silent.
Vre'Mont'ka picked up from Graos faultlessly, "don't worry about keeping her hidden. I know the Fio who furnished the place, he's in with us to... bit of a xenophile. Your new home with have everything you need to keep the little pet secure. I'm in charge of security, so no-one will ever come looking for her in your place, and scans won't find her either."
Graos smiled, "You don't even need to worry about food. You'll be trading foodstuffs with me, so whatever extra she eats can be slipped out of that. We've even made sure no-one will notice any extra waste she makes..."
The Por couldn't believe what he'd been told. It was unthinkable. The level of detail these people had gone into, so much effort had been put into selling off a young female off as a sex-toy...
...it was everything he'd ever wanted.
"How much?" he asked, already thinking of new ways to enjoy his toy...
The pair grinned, "We'll arrange that," Graos replied, leading the Por'la down to the pens where his purchase awaited...
Part IIIThey were primitves, primitives with plasma cannons.
The Hammerhead was blown inside out by the first hit, its flaming wreak tumbling to the ground and scattering shrapnel over a wide area. Squad Mal'caor was torn to pieces as the Chosi warriors opened fire with their needle-guns. The Firewarriors spasmed and shrieked, their bodies cooked from the inside out by electric surges as the darts punctured their flesh.
Shas'El Vior'La Shi'nan mentally activated the ejection system moments before his Xar'vesa was reduced to smoking ruin. He hit the ground hard, rolled, and scrabbled on all fours for cover. He found himself beside Aun'Ui Kay'la, who was panting hard, her fringe of deep brown hair stained cyan from the cuts on her face.
"I'm pretty sure this wasn't meant to happen," she muttered, wincing as a concussion-cannon hit nearby. Screams and the sound of splintering bone filled the air.
"Aun'Ui," El'Shi'nan panted, "how could this happen? They are primitives... savages..."
The Aun sighed, "yes... and we treated them as such. Perhaps this is a lession not to take people at face value..."
The world went white.
* * *
"The Chosi are an aggressive, if technologically simplistic people. they have small, equinal bodies, though they possess a tauian torso, complete with a set of dextrous arms and hands... I suppose the 'saggitars' of Gue'la legend are the closest approximation."
El'Shi'nan stifled a yawn, noticing the less-than-approving look it was welcomed by from the Aun, and the "I know the feeling" grin from the Shas'Ar'O.
"With the greatest respect, Por'La, we Shas are not biologists. Why are we here?"
The young Por male nodded hastily, "please, Shas'Ar'O, I understand your impatience..." he shirked, flicking through his data-pad, clearly unsettled by O'Sun'yi's show of impatience. "Ah, here we are... the Chosi as a society are very militaristic. We felt that a show of our might would be the best method... show them that we are warriors as they are. It would give us equal footing to work from. Indeed, given our superior military, it may just cull their aggression and self-righteousness enough for our diplomats to work."
The Aun'Ui nodded slightly, as if to confirm the Por's theory, "and we believe they could be of value to the Empire."
"As target practice or sport?"
"That, Shas'El, was uncalled for."
"But accurate, Aun," O'Sun'yi answered quickly, coming to the aid of the Shas'El, "we don't need barbarians. The Kroot, at least, have some sentient knowledge of technology..."
A slight cough broke the verbal conflict, coming from Fio'vre Vaal, "We have studied some of their creations. Their weapons appear to be of very high quality, showing considerable skill in smelting and metalwork... and they have developed some very fine fabrics."
The Shas'El shrugged, "So they look pretty... even O'res'la can build a gun. These 'Chosi' do not impress me. I cannot see the value in them."
"But I can," the Aun'Ui answered in a tone that made it clear the conversation was over, "and we will proceed as planned."
The four Tau nodded, answering in unison, "Your will be done, Aun."
When the chamber had cleared, Aun'Ui Kay'la wandered back to her quarters, and poured herself a large shot of Qu'prot, throwing the burning liquid down her throat. It was getting hard... there were too few Aun here... she needed help, but she could not afford to stall the expansion just for one transport from T'au.
She sighed, praying that she could maintain discipline here...
* * *
Reality returned, and it wasn't to kind about it.
The Shas'El groaned, blood dripping down his chest, and struggled into a sitting position. He couldn't hear anything, the sheer force of the blast had burst his eardrums. He'd been thrown well clear of the cover, leaving the Aun alone. He saw the Chosi, leaping over the rocks at full canter, turning to haul the young female off her hooves, and firing a stun-dart into her neck.
El'Shi'nan rose, roaring with rage. He never heard the second Chosi gallop up behind him, drawing its straight-edged blade, and swinging for the kill-strike. The sword hit the back of his head and sliced down, cleaving through his skull, neck and spine. His body fell, twitching, and was pounded into the mud by the heavy Chosi hooves.
Part IVThe Por'La camera-operator knelt in the thin, waxy grass, training his device on the resplendent form of O'Sun'yi. The ash-white sky behind her was criss-crossed with vapour-trails from the morning's dogfights. Smoke was rising from a crushed Draqui war-machine, which had been obliterated by a Swordfish just minutes before. The Por'Hui had carefully removed the dead and injured Shas, whilst placing a few un-mutilated Draqui dead into shot.
The Por'Ui organising the shot gave the Shas'O an encouraging smile, and signalled for her to begin.
O'Sun'yi looked into the camera. "What do we do when we are faced with a foe who cannot be reasoned with? We use force!" As if on cue, a Hammerhead opened fire on a distant target, the crack of the weapon filling the aud-imputs for a moment.
"What do we do when our foe proves strong? We fight a mobile war."
The camera pulled back, showing the Lakor'yhe, some standing, some kneeling, surrounding the Shas'o.
"What do we do when our foe matches us in this field? I shall tell you..."
A Draqui fin-ship raced through the shot, two Barracudas hot on her vapour-trails. Just off-shot, Sun'Ma looked upwards, past the Por'La filming, and sniffed. There was something in the air, something more than blood and bile and gunsmoke...
"...we fight on. We show them we are not weak of will, that we do not bow down and cower against a strong and determined foe. We stand true, we stand strong, and we will stand vict-"
Sun'Ma dove into shot, weapon roaring. The Por'La cameraman screamed as three sharp bangs echoed beside his head. He dropped the camera, letting it fall to the ground. As it landed, a shimmering form fell through the shot, purple ichor spewing from a trio of wounds.
"Sun'Ma, what the hell!?"
"The smell! They're attacking from upwind! Can't you smell them!?"
"...shtlk! You're right! Find them, find-"
Gunshots filled the world. The heavy crack of weaponry was accompanied by harsh flashes of weapon shot, and streaking, screaming missiles. The battle ended in mere seconds, leaving seven Firewarriors dead. Three Draqui Gilax lay in bloody ruin on the ground.
The Por'La picked up his camera, hands shaking, and focussed on O'Sun'yi.
"...seems these guys don't know much about hunting... Get the Fio biologists up here, I have a feeling they'll want to study their anatomy..." she looked to the camera and snarled, "what the hell are you still doing here!? Turn off the camera and get to cover, this area's a live combat ground!"
Gunshots answered, and the Por'La ran for his life, leaving the Shas to do what they do best.
Part VAun'Ui Kay'la awoke slowly, head spinning. She reached up and felt a scabby mass of dried blood on the back of her skull. Not a good start.
Wherever she was, it was dark. There was virtually no light, the meagre illumination that existed came from a hanging glow-stone. Even that did little, simply acting as a point of reference in the black rather than providing visibility, an ominous glowing point of green shrouded by shadows.
The Aun felt out into the black, exploring slowly and carefully around herself. She was lying on a hard mattress, with a wall to her left. The wall was smooth and cold to the touch. It felt metallic. She rose with care, her hooves clopping against the metal floor. She rose, and cracked her skull on the ceiling, falling to the ground with a bang, and passed out again.
When she awoke, head spinning and stomach churning, she struggled onto her knees, feeling upwards carefully. The ceiling was low, very low. She had to crouch to avoid hitting it, though it proved uncomfortable, so she settled for the somewhat undignified position of crawling on her hands and knees. With nowhere else to go, she headed for the light.
The light revealed two bowls. One was filled with some form of floury paste, the other with ice-cold water. There was also a door, a solid sheet of metal with a small recess that could, presumably, be slid back by someone outside to view whoever was inside. A prison cell. Not a very comfortable one either.
Ui'Kay'la shivered, her breath frosting in the air. She wasfreezing in here. A brief fumbling in the darkness brought her to the mattress again, and she settled back onto it. The mattress was warmer than the floor, if only because it absorbed her body heat. Right now, she was glad of any warmth she could find.
"Be calm," she whispered to herself, "they will find me, they will rescue me. Be calm..."
The shadows mocked her with silence.
* * *
The Gilax trooper blew Vre'Tsu'am's head off as he jumped from cover.
The two surviving Xar'erra turned, Burst Cannons roaring, their stealth fields rendered useless by the fury of their advance. There was no point in stealth now anyway; the Draqui had spent the morning proving they could spot the Tau, Stealth-field or no.
A Barricuda roared overhead, exploding into shrapnel as a Draqui Nighthawk loosed a tracker-missile into her rear. Ui'Kais watched the craft die, and cursed the Draqui with all the spite he could muster.
"Kor'Ar'Tol, they've got Cross-guards in the air!" The Shas'Ui watched as two dome-fronted fighters streaked over the rock-line to the north, "Two! Two Cross-guards sector 334-509! There's at least one Nighthawk up here as well!"
Cross-guards and Nighthawks. They were the bane of the Kor, and anything else the Draqui wanted to shoot. The Cross-guards had no weapons of their own, but they were fast,really fast. They were also covered in sensors, scanners... and Markerlights. The Draqui had been quick to analyse and retro-engineer the Markerlight technology. They loved it.
The Cross-guards banked together, green marker-beams tracking for targets. One settled on a Hammerhead gunship, and Ui'Kais watched as the Nighthawk closed for the kill.
The Nighthawk was built for speed. It dipped up from behind the rocks like a leaping salmon, and fired off a missile. The weapon arced, swinging around and slamming through the Hammerhead's turret, blowing it to pieces. Ui'Kais had grown used to seeing Seeker Missiles take out tanks, but seeing the technology turned on his own side sent a chill down his spine.
The Cross-guard swung around again. Ui'Kais raised his weapon, flooding the sky with fire. By some miracle, his shots found a weakspot, blowing out the port engine. The seeker-fighter jolted, falling downwards beyond the treeline. A loud explosion followed soon after.
"Not so tough after all," Ui'Kais muttered smugly, before jumping forwards to rejoin the infantry line. He focussed in on one of the leading figures, a warrior in ornate battle-dress. Ui'Kais had seen these warriors before... they were K'tulus, the duellist-elite. This one was a commander of the K'tulus, carrying a sono-sword. Firing the jets, Ui'Kais vaulted over, weapon raking the low-born cannon fodder who rushed him. A Shas-team gave him cover fire, and it wasn't long before the distinctive buzzing of Vespid could be heard over the screams and gunfire.
Ui'Kais levelled his weapon at the enemy commander. Pulling out a photon-grenade, he hurled it, smiling as the flash caused the Draqui to stagger. With one well-aimed punch, the warrior was down.
"Shas'Ui!" one of the Firewarriors called, "enemy forces inbound! Get the prisoner out of here!"
Ui'Kais nodded, picking up the unconcious Draqui and bolted. Right now, they needed information, and this prisoner had cost them enough already...
Part VIWhite light lay ahead of him, a pure brightness that warmed his flesh and made his heart race. His skin tingled, blissfull shivers running up and down his spine as he floated through the golden swirls of sparkle. He was rising, or perhaps the world was falling, either way something drew closer; a soft-green glow that grew outwards, pushing back the white.
The chronometer bleeped softly in his ears as his mind returned to his body. The world returned, the orgasmic pulses fading from his system. His sheets were caked with sweat, and despite the irritating sound of the bleeping timer at his bedside, he couldn't bring himself to move yet. The White Sky had been much stronger than anticipated, and he made a mental note to double the dilution.
Finally able to sit up, Vre'Mont'ka silenced the alarm and swung himself from the bed, stretching and shaking some life back into his limbs. He'd been catatonic for the best part of three hours, and the world around him seemed so dark, so monocrome, so vile... the temptation to return to the White was strong, but he knew better than to give in. No sense in becoming a drooling vegetable in the name of a high. Overusing it would lessen the pleasure anyway.
Hearing a harsh klaxon, he turned back to the clock angrily, but noted it was silenced. Looking around, he saw the sound eminated from the intercom, and pressed the answer-button with a yawn. Graos' face filled the vid-screen.
"Where the hell have you been!?"
"Enjoying the view," Vre'Mont'ka replied with a sneer, "what do you want?"
"The Draqui whore is here, and she's mad as hell."
Despite himself, the Shas'vre felt a twinge of fear, "shtlk! I'll be right there!"
Four minutes later, the Shas'vre was stood beside the Rogue Trader, watching the shadowed figure pace back and forth before them.
"I would like some answers, gentlemen," the Draqui spoke in a harsh, snapping voice. If swords could speak, they'd speak like it did. Neither could tell whether the xeno was male or female, nor tell which would be worse. They all dressed the same; long black gloves up to the elbow, and strange taut jackets that just covered the armpits and shoulder-blades. Aside from those, and the tabards they loved so much, they were bare. This didn't help either; The Shas'Vre could tell that it was all taut muscle beneath that albino flesh.
After what seemed an eternity, the Draqui hissed irritably, "Perhaps I am not clear as to the question. I am vehement in my disdain for your incompitent negligence with regard to the sabotaging of the military machinations of your commanders..." the creature advanced as it spoke, until it was stood right up against Vre'Mont'ka. It was almost double his height.
The alien leaned down, gripping the Shas'vre by the collar and hauling him onto his hooftips so they were face to face.
"In other words... why are there Tau fighting on our staging-world!?"
Vre'Mont'ka tried to remain composed, despite his obvious helplessness, "It's beyond my power. Your mercenaries captured an Aun, they were bound-"
The Draqui hissed, and hurled the Shas across the room. He impacted against the wall with a crack.
"Damn you all then!" Graos winced as he became the target of the rising malice, "You need me, you need me far more than I need you! I have what I want, and as you cannot keep to your end of the bargain-"
"-wait!" Both Graos and the Draqui turned at the Shas'vre's cry, "We'll deal with it, we'll find a way..."
A cruel rasping filled the chamber. It took the pair a moment to realise the Draqui was laughing, "Better," it said at last, dropping its voice to the usual low hiss, "I warn you both, that Aun is valuable to us. If we lose her, I will terminate our business contract... and your lives."
"Verminous whore!" Graos spat, though not until the Draqui was safely out of the room.
* * *
The assembled commanders waited impatiantly for Shas'Monat Sun'Ma to emerge from the interrogation chamber. When he did, he seemed grim, but there was a defiant sparkle to his eyes.
"He held out for a long time... but I broke him. Grid Co-ordinates 042-335, there's a bunker hidden in the shallow-slopes just before the ravines."
Kor'El Y'eldi Kais'an scratched his head, studying the co-ordinates mentioned. "Strange," he muttered, "Why not build in the valley proper?"
"Because it's deep, maze-like, easy to defend and bloody obvious," O'Sun'yi replied calmly, "They could lead our whole army on a merry dance through that place and by the time we realised the deception they'd have the real base evacuated."
Sun'Ma nodded in agreement, "We can't waste time on this. They are no-doubt aware we've taken a prisoner, and they'll want to relocate quickly. I request permission to lead the strike team."
"Granted," O'Sun'yi replied, "Kor'El, ready your squadrons, we'll need air-cover on this one. Find their aerodromes and blast them to rubble. Keep everything that isn't ours on the ground to prevent their escape. I want this over, here and now!"
* * *
"Izk V, Kktkz ytu nvxkuuinq."
"Qqrl zny kv. Orii skzyz nvvi vkl qkq."
Ui'Kayla blinked, the strange, razor-tongue unfamiliar to her. She was in a different room, moved while she was asleep or unconcious. There were strange sounds, distant bangs and rumbles, a battle was being fought somewhere close.
"Ah, you're awake..."
The Aun looked up at the speaker, and tried to rise from her seated position, only to find herself restrained. It was a Draqui, all four eyes glinting with evil intent.
"Such spirit," it hissed, "I like that. I am... Mistress White, for want of a better name. You would not be able to pronounce it anyway..."
Ui'Kayla fought the throbbing in her skull, keeping herself composed as she had been trained to do in times of stress and danger. "To what do I owe this pleasure?" she asked, jumping with fright when the Draqui darted forward, gripping her skull. The alien pressed her fingers against the Aun's bone-ridge, rubbing it softly.
"This," she answered as a distant detonation rocked the room. Mistress White turned and snapped a series of sharp orders in her native tongue, and four guards departed from the darkened, icy chamber to the corridor beyond.
The Aun'Ui smiled, sensing the female's discomfort. "A student of anatomy?"
"In a manner of speaking... I want to know why the Eldar would go to so much trouble to give you this..." her fingers traced the bone-ridge, making Ui'Kayla's forehead tingle uncomfortably.
"The Gue'Tais? What do they-"
A heartbeat later, the Draqui was dead. The door was blown off, two Tau lay slaughtered by her pistols, a third was clutching an arm wound, and a fourth had put a Rail-rifle slug into her collar and blown the xeno's head from the shoulders. Sun'Ma pushed his way forward, extending his honour-blades and slicing the Aun free.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, Ui'Kayla shaking her head in reply.
"The Eldar, the Draqui said something about the Eldar... I think they're up to something, something about trying to manipulate the Aun..." she could not see the faces of anyone but Sun'Ma, but she could feel the aprehension, "I need a medical examination, I need to be sure nothing was done to me."
Sun'Ma nodded, "of course, but first we leave. There's an Orca waiting. It's over, Aun, it's over."
Part VIIWhat followed was a three hour running battle. The evacuation was chaotic, and almost a total failure. Barracudas dueled with enemy fighters to allow the Orcas safe passage to the waiting fleet. Even then, there was difficulty. The Draqui ships engaged from extreme-range, sniping into the fleet. Whilst the shields of the capital ships absorbed the worst of the barrage, the Escorts suffered heavy casualties. One of the Lar'Shi suffered catastrophic deflector-failure, and her shields fell. She was blasted from the sky, her burning remains screaming down to the planet below, her funeral detonation blasting a continent into nuclear winter.
On the bridge of the flagship, urgent orders were yelled back and forth. With enemies on every vector, the choice was made to push straight for home by the shortest route, running the gauntlet.
As they approached the outer rim of the system, all resistance faded. For nine hours the ships held to their course, sensors scanning the heavens over and over again. Every sweep came back blank; there was nothing to find.
Fifteen minutes from the jump point, they found the Eldar.
* * *
O'Sun'yi was amongst the first to meet the Corsair and his entourage. The Eldar wore long robes of white, blue and emerald beneath their ornate wraithbone armour. The leader's name was Malakai. O'Sun'yi had studied him; a friendly, yet dangerous piratical raider who would take anything he wished, and kill anyone who stopped him. In more recent times he favoured legal trading, but still he and his men were believed responsible for dozens, if not hundreds of attacks.
At his instance, Malakai and his men were taken to the Aun, who was resting after a long and testing series of examinations.
"Aun," Malakai said with a nod, acknowledging the Ethereal before turning to the Fio doctors, "I take it by your look there is something amis."
"There is," The Fio'El replied calmly, "we found something in the Aun's blood, some unknown chemical we cannot identify. Since you are here-"
"I will happily assist," Malakai answered, steeping forward to view the monitors. He was silent for a long while, his facial expression flickering briefly from interest to confusion, then anger.
"Do you know what it is or not?" the Fio said, growing impatient.
Malakai hissed, "Yes, though I know not how these Draqui obtained it... it is our work, and Eldar bio-agent that we used long, long ago. It is largely useless; specifically programmed for a specific target. To my knowledge, only two races can be affected, and one is on the other side of the galaxy..."
"Is it life threatening?" The doctor asked as Malakai retreated.
"No," Malakai answered, already out of the room and marching briskly back to the docking port. O'Sun'yi gave chase, calling angrily for him to stop.
Eventually, her words met with success, "Malakai, what the hell is going on!?"
The Eldar fixed her with a cold stare, "The creatures you call Gue'La have a saying; ask not the Eldar a question for they will give you three answers, each of which is true and terrible to know," His voice was low and menacing, "are you certain you wish to ask that question?"
Malakai nodded, "then let us retire somewhere we may talk."
* * *
The meeting room was empty, illuminated by calming lighting and decorated in relaxing colours. It was a cool, pleasant place, though the Eldar Captain striding back and forth in the centre spoiled the mood.
"In order for you to understand this chain of events, I must speak of your past... you may think what you like, but know this; every word I speak is the truth as I know it. If you are not going to accept it as such, leave now."
O'Sun'yi remained, and Malakai took a long, deep breath.
"It begins on the other side of the galaxy, almost six-thousand years ago. One of our ships patrolling this region of space came upon a world, an insignificant little planet inhabited by a war-torn race. They were unremarkable, save that they showed a strange and wonderous ability; they were neutral to the Warp. Living, gifted with the essence that, for want of a better term I shall call a soul, yet they did not draw the energies of the Warp to them."
O'Sun'yi watched the Eldar pace, "you speak of our race?"
Malakai nodded, "We sought to reason with this race, to make an ally of them as we once did with the Humans millennia ago. They still speak of this contact, in their oldest tales. 'Elves', I believe they called us. Your own history has similar mentions.
"But I digress. Your race was too primitive, too feral, too fuelled by selfish desires to heed our words, and yet we could not give up what we had found. It was then our thinkers and leaders gathered, discussing how best to proceed. One, who exactly I do not know, made mention of the Q'orl. Their queens control their subjects by pheromonal manipulation, and it was believed that the same could be done here. We took one of their queens from them, carried her across the galaxy, and returned to your world. We carried off entire settlements, and began our experimentations."
O'Sun'yi shivered, her mind filled with images of the pre-Aun Tau, running in fear as the Eldar descended from the heavens, mothers clutching crying children, men firing blackpowder rifles in a futile attempt to hold back their aggressors... Malakai's words filled her with fear, a cold dread that not even the beasts of Kraken had bestowed.
"What did you do to them?" she asked quietly.
"We created the Aun."
"We planeted them within your world. With the Demiurg's aid, we transported them down amidst two great powers, two armies poised on one last, apocalyptic battle. Had we delayed but one day more, your race would not have existed. Our plan hung in the balance... but it was a success. The Aun were hailed, worshipped even. The power the Q'orl implant granted them ensured the other Tau followed them with absolute obedience... and the rest, they say, is history."
O'Sun'yi could not answer. She looked up at Malakai in anger, not wanting to believe him, "You expect me to believe this?"
"I told you, O'Sun'yi, I speak only the truth..."
The Shas'O sneered, "And what more 'truth' do you have to tell?"
Malakai smiled, pacing a little more, "Let us move forward a little in time. Their part played, our Demiurg companions went on their way, largely ignorant or uncaring of our schemes. We lingered, watching your race grow. However, our time grew short. Not all of our kind were united in this plan, and as other tasks and paths of fate demanded our attentions, the numbers of those who would stand vigil faded. Some, like Ko'shanniah, dismissed the entire endevour as folly... and in the end it was decided we would play no further part. We would entrust the Aun to guide your race upon a path that suited us... perhaps that was folly.
One of our chief concerns was Warp Travel. How could a race with no power in the Warp, nor psychic gifts to guide them, ever hope to explore the stars? Ironically, the Mon-keigh who sought your extinction helped us there, leaving one of their primitive hulks crashed upon a moon within your system. This was, we felt, a sign that our plans would succeed, that it was right your race should grow alone."
"Enough," O'Sun'yi interrupted, physically shaking, "I have heard enough. This... it cannot be true, it cannot be real..."
Malakai laughed, "Oh can it not? Think well, Shas'O... how else do you explain your race's history? Do you think the Aun just magically popped into existence? Perhaps they grew from daisy seeds, or were dropped by Silver Birds that pull the moon through the sky?" he spoke in a mocking, sing-song voice, changing back to a serious tone as he continued.
"No, Shas'O, it was us. It was not the only time we intervened... where it not for the Demiurg alterting Ataloic of the dangers against you, the Orks would have purged your race. Where it not for the sacrifice of Iyanden," his voice cracked with a tearful pang, "where it not for them, then your race would be consumed by the Great Devourer, along with many others. Your race owes itself to us a hundred times over..."
The Shas'O threw herself to her feet, "youhelped us? You raid our ships, you destroy our colonies, you left us to battle the Sin'yhe alone... and you call thathelp?"
"I told you already," Malakai growled, "Not all of our race follows the plans set in motion all those years ago. There are many who see you as cattle, or worse... and as for your petty wars, what good is there to be done shielding you from reality? If you are to stand on your own, you must fight on your own. It is only now, when the stakes are beyond your ability to match, that we have come!"
"What do you mean?" O'Sun'yi asked quietly.
Malakai sighed, seating himself on one of the padded teak chairs, "The Great Enemy," the words made O'Sun'yi shiver, and Malakai saw it, "so sure of your abilities we were, so convinced of your mental resistance to the Warp that we did not think to watch for corruption..."
"Tzanoth," she whispered.
"Yes... amongst others. Chaos comes for your race..." he paused, raising an eyebrow, "Interesting, is it not? Your race has always feared Chaos... be it in the form of the Mont'au, the time without the Aun, or the deprived and corrupted minions who assail your empire with bullet, las and sword. You hate Chaos, in all its forms. The Nicassar, the Vespid, the Kroot... you would even have accepted the Orks if you could, but Chaos was always repelled, always despised. Instinctively you repel it, instinctively you abhor it. Your race was destined to resist them, to destroy them, it is in your nature..."
O'Sun'yi was silent. "I... I believe you. All of it," her voice was barely audiable, "Though I hate to think of it, I believe..." she looked up at him, "Do they know?"
"The Aun?" Malakai shrugged, "The first did, but now I am not sure. No, in fact I am sure. They do not know their origins. However, I would wager they know of their nature, of the power they hold over your people. I also believe they do not serve the Tau'va, but use its promise for their own machinations."
The silence hung in the air. At last, Malakai rose, "I have said my piece, and I will take my leave..."
"Wait," O'Sun'yi looked up at him, "You said there were three truths, but I count two... the first is that our race is a pawn, a tool, a weapon weilded by your race in some ancient war against Chaos."
Malakai nodded, "close enough."
"The second is the nature of the Tau'va ideal, that it is nothing but a method of manipulation, a way for the Aun to maintain control."
"What is the third?"
Malakai paused, "there are things... ancient, dormant, evil things... Ko'shanniah guards them, stands vigil on the worlds in which they sleep. O'Nan'cova is poised to release them, to awaken them from their slumber... and should that happen, the cost will be terrible. We have forseen the end of days, the annihilation of the living, and heard the laughter of uncaring Gods..."
"That's the truth? That our race will cause some great cataclysm for the Eldar?"
"Not for the Eldar," Malakai shook his head, "for all races. However, that is not the truth I speak of."
He sat down again, this time taking a seat beside hers, "The third truth is that your race has become tainted. Chaos has found a way inside your guard, and even now it eats at you like a cancer. This Third Truth, this harsh reality, is that unless you root out and crush the taint now, your race will be numbered amongst the Lost and the Damned."
Malakai sighed, brushing his long hair from his eyes, "So much has happened. Your fellow Shas'O rebel and seek independence, your people succumb to the promises of the Warp, and the Aun turn upon their creators, setting your Caste upon us like hunting dogs. Your race is coming apart at the seams, and unless action is taken now, its fire will burn out."
He stood up once more, "Please, Shas'O, bring calm and order to your people. O'Nan'cova must be stopped... the Aun must be stopped. If your race, if all races are to survive the coming storm, then your race must hold true to the Path we set you down on that fateful day."
With those words he left, leaving O'Sun'yi to silently listen to the sound of her world falling apart inside her head.
Part VIIISun'Ma pored over the Por'Hui data-feeds, reading with disinterest. They spoke of glory, of courage, of magnificant victories. They showed pictures of O'Sun'yi, giving a stirring speech to the listening Shas. There was a picture of a Xar'erra Shas'ui firing down an incline, his suit shimmering with the muzzle flash, and a dozen aliens falling away under the torrent of fire. Naturally, the picture had been digitally altered to spare the onlooker the true grizzly horror of what a Draqui looked like when exposed to a Burst Cannon on full auto.
He sighed, and turned off the console. Five minutes of reading, and he had no idea what campaign the Por were watching... not this one, that much was certain.
His pistol was raised and armed before the doors had time to open. Ui'Kayla stared in shock.
"Mother's briefed me already," he explained, holstering the pistol, "I have no wish to speak to you."
"Or listen to you."
He tapped at the console, locating a few files and tranferring them to the storage chip, which he prompty removed and handed to the flustered Aun. She looked into his eyes, bringing forth her inner calm, but Sun'Ma had a stare that spoke of hardship and horrors she couldn't begin to imagine. She gave in.
"This," he said calmly, "is everything I have obtained from my interrogations of Draqui prisoners. Take it from me, there's things I've found that, if true, are more disturbing than anything the Eldar told us." He handed it over, "make sure you review it, and I urge you to act upon it. Now."
Ui'Kayla nodded, "I shall give it my full attention."
Sun'Ma gave a unimpressed grunt, and headed for the door. Ui'Kayla didn't look to him, instead speaking to the room in general, "I too heard Malakai's tale..."
"I... I don't know what to make of it. I never... I've always known the power we Aun have, our gift, but never it's origins. I've never used my talents for anything but the service of the Tau'va."
More silence, broken only by Sun'Ma, "How can I believe that?" he asked, his voice quiet and heavy.
"You can't," the Aun'Ui conceeded, "not without faith."
"Faith?" Sun'Ma whispered, chuckling, "the Gue'la speak of faith. The things they believe..." he stopped, "...I was about to call them foolish, but with all I've seen, I'm not so sure."
Ui'Kayla turned to face him, "The Tau'va is more than an ideal, Shas-Monat. We must believe in the Tau'va, believe in ourselves, our race, our destiny. Have faith, and we shall overcome."
Now it was Sun'Ma who turned. He looked at the Aun and smiled, "No, Aun, we do not have faith. We have fact, we have knowledge, we have history and experience. We do not put our faith in false gods, or hopeless ideals... what use is faith, Aun, save for an empty craving of the ignorant. Our race grew out of gods and sprites and daemons long ago. Whatever the truth may be, we will face it with clear mind and sound reason..." he gave her a daemonic grin, "and if needs be, with rifle, flame and missile."
Aun'Ui sighed when he left, relaxing in the chair where he had sat. She felt elated, so sure that Sun'Ma would stray, descend into the madness of the Mont'au. She slipped in the chip and accessed it, musing to herself of what else was to be done. Sun'Ma was the key to winning O'Sun'yi back. Perhaps it was time she retired, clearly the strains of war-
Ui'Kayla froze. She read the report again, her mouth open. "To'Tau'va... this can't be true..."
It was then she remembered the look in Sun'Ma's eyes, and knew for certain what she read was real. She rose from her seat sharply, and headed straight for the bridge. All eyes turned as she stormed in, heading straight for the Relay Officer.
"I need a dive-signal, Ar'skether priority! Contact Aun'El Ky'taal Roshi, and send this," she handed over an encoded message chip, "and don't ask what's in it."
Still holding centre stage, she turned to the captain, "Make for Ky'taal immediately, and warn the Shas they'll be landing..." she fumbled for a moment, unfamiliar with Shas battle-cant, "in a potentially hostile situation. I can't explain, nor do I want to, just do it!"
The bridge hustled, none daring to question the Aun, especially when she was so gripped with anger-fuelled drive. Whatever awaited them at Ky'taal, it was bad, very bad.
Part IXThe events that unfolded on Ky'taal were difficult for all involved.
The Shas landed in strength, and began a building-by-building sweep of the area. Families stood and watched in terror as armed soldiers rummaged through every nook and cranny of their homes. Many protested, at first, until the search started turning up results.
Vre'Mont'ka fired, blowing the face off the first Shas that entered. His Khal-pistol, a weapon of the Draqui, punched through the Shas-armour like it was made of air. He killed two more before O'Sun'yi herself turned a missile pod on his home, blowing the front to pieces.
Inside, they found boxes of contraband weapons, illegal drugs, and a female Draqui slumped in the corner of one of the rooms. The Shas'vre had beaten her to death with a lamp.
Though the house's computer-terminal had been shot to pieces, data-retrieval units were set upon it, working quickly to retrieve what they could. Every name, every place, every mention of a possible link they followed ruthlessly.
The first was that of a Rogue Trader who had made an expedious retreat from the system some time earlier. After a lengthy debate, the Aun council decided it would be wrong to hunt the man down... after all, they had no proof Trader Graos had done anything illegal... they did, however, inform the nearest Imperial colony that Graos traded with the Tau Empire on a regular basis. He never returned.
By the time the Data-Retreival-Teams got to Por'Ui Ky'taal Ruera, he had been found dead in his home, hanged from a banister. O'Sun'yi arrived just in time to see the Shas leading out a young Por girl. The child's face spoke of horrors, horrors O'Sun'yi knew all too well...
And so it continued. More and more dark secrets were uncovered, and with every discovery O'Sun'yi felt her strength fade. She was losing belief by the moment. In all, a dozen had been rounded up, mostly Shas but with a few Por and Fio as well.
Nobody said it, but the Campaign was over. The troops were demoralised, and it would take a lot of time and effort to return them to fighting condition.
Shas'Ar'O Li'Sun'yi sat alone on a low park wall, toying with the pendant around her neck. Ui'Kayla approached cautiously, sitting on the corner of the wall and smiling encouragingly.
"What is that, if I may ask?"
O'Sun'yi shrugged, and flashed the silver pendant. It had a strange symbol on it.
"I've had it a while," Li'Sun'yi explained, "it belonged to... to some one else, someone who was a comfort to me when..." she looked at the floor, "It's not a pleasant memory."
Ui'Kayla nodded sympathetically, "I'd say something comforting, but I imagine you'd think my words hollow."
The Shas'Ar'O turned and grinned, "True, but it strikes me that what you just said was, in fact, a carefully planned responce in order to show you are sympathetic whilst subtly stroking my ego with suggestions that I know more than you do."
"Did it work."
The two laughed, briefly, then silence returned.
"Shas'Ar'O... perhaps it is time you retire. You deserve it, no-one can question that."
O'Sun'yi shook her head, "not yet. I appreciate the thought, but I still have my daemons... and they have to be purged. With missile and flame..." she formed claws with her hands, staring at them, "and with my bare hands if needs be. I have to fight, Aun, it's all that keeps me sane."
Ui'Kayla approached, and placed a hand on the shouler of the Shas' custom suit.
"Just make sure you're fighting for the right side."
O'Sun'yi nodded, "I will."
The Aun smiled again, and walked away. O'Sun'yi watched her go, then raised the pendant and chased it around her palm casually with a finger.
It wasn't long before someone was calling her again. She tucked the symbol of Slaneesh into a belt-pouch, and set off to rejoin the patrols.