Na'deem was pushed out of the outpost by one of Ga'rah's pilots and into a snow drift. Ga'rah was leading the way to a de-cloaked transport who's nacelles were already glowing as it prepared an emergency launch. Nel was behind them, clutching Bra'ka's lead who, clearly, did not want to go toward the transport.*
"Up, Kel'shani!" The XV-15 pilot pointed at the transport. Na'deem rose, brushing off the snow and wincing as his many wounds flared with pain.
The Fo'tan had been forced to watch as the Sslyth and Gue'la had cut through their allies camp, using brutal close quarters weapons that Na'deem knew all to well. Ga'rah had shouted to the Shas'Nel and had watched him bleed to death. Together, the room had witnessed the Gue'la war-leader walk pick up the recorder and look into it with all black alien eyes that protruded out from a ventilating face mask.
"Now... diiiieeee" Was all it had said in a horrid, broken, Tau'sia before crushing the recorder.
Ga'rah had responded instantly and with the voice of command. Half of the XV-15's had disappeared behind cloaking fields while Ga'rah, Na'deem and Nel with two remaining pilots headed to the transport.
It dusted off, lurching at a near 90* degree angle into the sky.
Na'deem had been strapped into an empty seat, Ga'rah having disappeared toward the cockpit. He looked over at Nel who was trying to calm Bra'ka.
"The Shas'El's plan failed." He said to Nel once they had leveled off. "She meant to lure the Gue'la into a trap."
"Yes." Nel responded with a whisper. "Mind your tongue." She gestured; caution then pointed to the two pilots. They had mag-locked their hooves to the deck at the other end of the transport, their free gauntlets cradling the burst cannon mounts on their arms.
Na'deem dropped his voice to match her whisper, "What has happened? The Shas'El, she could have warned the First Covenant-"
"Yes." Nel's brow furrowed. the beads in her many braids clacked as she shook her head. "I don't want to talk about it now. We're likely headed into a combat zone."
Na'deem massaged his forehead. He was a warrior, war was life, but intelligently entering a combat zone was as much a part of his training as the operation of a pulse rifle. "Nel." He used her prime name for the first time without any title. She looked at him, surprised. He said it again, "Nel, I know you Fo'tani want independence. But... I am witness to the Shas'El watch as Tau died. I believe that she is guilty of mon'kau'shi."
One of the XV-15 pilots spun on his heel and marched across the transport deck and grab Na'deem by the collar of his breastplate so hard it scratched the lacquer off. "How dare you!" He slammed Na'deem into his seat.
"Stop it, brother!" Nel shouted. Bra'ka growled but the XV-15 pilot didn't let go.
"The Shas'El is the finest warrior I have ever seen and you dare to accuse her of avarice? We do not merely seek victory and honors, Shas'La, we strive for independence for meddling Sept's like yours and you will not sully the name of our Commander by-"
There was a whoosh of air and the scream of torn alloy as a finger sized fragment shot through the transport. It caught the XV-15 pilot holding Na'deem in the gut, passing through his jumpack, before lodging itself into the far compartment. The pilot's grip slackened as he fell away, blood and suit fluids gushing out from his armor. The transport began to corkscrew, warning klaxons blaring. The cockpit's hatch opened, revealing Ga'rah, filling the entire opening in her bulbous armor. In her free hand she was holding the mutilated corpse of the transport pilot.
"You are a pilot are you not, First of Horizon?" She gingerly let the dead Tau on the transport deck.
Na'deem nodded, unstrapping himself and walking quickly into the cockpit.
There was blood everywhere and he could see where the same shrapnel had burst through, the holes instantly filling with nano-foam. Some of the instruments were dead so he quickly rerouted them as he eased into the chair.
"Ground forces with anti-aircraft weapons." Ga'rah said over the transport's comms.
Na'deem fed more power into the nacelles, bringing them higher into the atmosphere. "I could have told you that, Shas'El. I was shot down by the Gue'la only yesterday."
"Your tone, Shas'La." Ga'rah said. Na'deem did not respond. He was saving the life of an officer he was sure had let his people die for her own gains. Such crimes were rare amongst the Empire, but,
Glancing at the scanners, Na'deem highlighted the threat. "The enemy matches the enemy that shot down the Horizon transport, I will attempt to evade."
"And you will fail." Ga'rah said matter of factly.
Nel held onto Bra'ka. He was pawing the deck, terrified. She looked at the Shas'El who was merely standing, as if in contemplation, as the wind howled through the fist sized hole.
"I have done all this for Fo'tan, Pioneer." Ga'rah said through her helmet's speakers. "Yet, I was foolish to invite such such a threat to our world."
"I do not understand, Commander."
Ga'rah chuckled, pained, "The Shas'O was a great warrior. He understood the politics of the Empire more than any and yet when we found him... poisoned as he was. We believed that we could no longer rely on Ke'lshan or Au'taal for our safety."
"The Shas'O was poisoned?" Ga'rah turned her battlesuit's frame at Nel.
"There is too much to understand, too many lies and secrets that endanger us, Nel. How I dream to be a Pioneer again, free, astride Yua'to." She gestured and the rear hatch slowly opened with a scream of escaping atmosphere and a rush of wind. She walked past Nel, passing her a data stick that extended from a panel in her gauntlet. "All citizens were already evacuated by caravans heading into the wilderness, just in case fallout from the city-ship endangered the population centers. But the caravans are large and slow. Shas'Vre Dra'mu will be in command of the retreat, bring him this."
Nel took it, turning over the black piece of reactive crystal before putting it in her sleeve. "I obey, Commander."
With that, Ga'rah picked up speed and leapt out of the rear of the transport, her remaining pilot following her out.
The Gargoyle anchored above the Tau colony, dwarfed the city with its own vastness, blocking out the sun. Dozens of haulers peeled out of the main dorsal hangar bay, spilling out Dynasty troopers by the legion into the streets.
They found little save automated defenses. Squadrons of gun drones surprised the vanguard units, mowing them down in splintering fields of pulse fire, but soon the Dynasty army adapted and, without Tau handlers, the drones were quickly out maneuvered and destroyed.
The Tau leader had been smart, Captain Zadu reflected as he toured the center building of the colony. There were trinkets and memorabilia of the decadent species. His personal bodyguard, three giant ogroids from the Dynasty's mines on Kethel V, smashed everything in his wake.
"This is a holy place of their theocrats." The gravely voice of Valax crept up from the shadows ahead of Zadu. The captain watched as the muscled, three armed warrior seemed to materialize out of the darkness. A giant sword was strapped to his back that was as tall as one of the ogroids. One of them stepped forward now, slabshield pointed at Valax.
The Dynasty was not without its intrigues and vying families would sometimes spill a little blood to ween out those deemed weak. Valax was a part of no family but from the untold billions of slaves the Dynasty used for cheap labor in the Underhives.
Valax didn't seem to even notice the ogroid and instead studied the towering sculpture that stood between them. "Expression through all forms shows their devotion to their leaders. I have often thought it a pity we do not do the same for the Primogenitor." Valax's voice was muffled through the life feeding mask he wore. Zadu touched the trigger of the detonator on his belt, comforting him that he could lay the mighty warrior low should he ever need to.
He sidestepped the ogroid but kept his finger on the detonator, just in case.
"What of the totems? And the standards of our legions?"
Valax touched the string of crudely shaped iron ingots, each of them a curving serpent in the visage of the Silent King. "These are an expression of faith... This," he gestured to another art piece, some kind of sand sculpture suspended in a gravity field depicting a cloying bird, "This is the expression of culture by the artist. We have no artists."
"You skirt heresy, Valax..." Zadu said, smiling.
Valax turned his all black eyes to regard Zadu's pink stained ones. In a blue or motion his sword was out, slashing the statue to his left and obliterating the gravity well generator in the sand sculpture to his right in a shower of sparks.
The ogroids moaned and stepped forward but Zadu raised his gift-hand, the claws extended and they stopped in their tracks.
"I do not merely wish to see the death of the xenos, Captain of the Gargoyle, I wish to see their absolute destruction and replaced with the visage of the Primogenitor, his children to pave the way for the Gods. To bring forth the wonders of the Silent King unto the Galaxy until the Maw devours us all. Do not question my musing for heresy again or I will leave you on a spit for the children to gnaw upon."
Zadu let the warrior's words echo out into the empty tower before offering a little, mocking, bow. "Noted, Valax. Then let us go about discussing such goals in detail."
Valax followed Zadu as he exited the tower.
The horizon was burning now as the Dynasty soldiers first set fire then pulverized the very stone of the Tau city. A squad of Tau warriors were being lead, hands raised in defeat, by a squad of heavy stormtroopers who prodded them with bayonets. The xenos wore light armor and reactive cloth that shimmered as it matched the white dust of the doomed cityscape.
They stopped before Zadu and Valax, the unit's leader a fourth generation neophyte pushed one of the Tau forward and forced it to its knees.
"I want to see its face." Zadu said lazily, putting his blessed hand on his sword hilt.
The neophyte yanked the helmet off the Tau's face, revealing a face without nose and dark blue skin Zadu found instantly repulsive.
"I was told the city; abandoned." Zadu said to the neophyte.
The stormtrooper leader, his head to bulbous to fit a helmet, craned his neck in open supplication and respect for Zadu before speaking. "These we found in the hamlet across the river. I believe them to be observers or a rear guard for the population as we saw many trails leading away from the city. They fought until surrounded."
Cowards, Zadu thought. Humanity alone had been the dominant species in the Galaxy for tens of thousands of years and while Zadu hated the weakness of those genes within him, there was a measure of pride to that pedigree. After all, had not the Silent King chosen the human world of Phaesolob to begin the slow conquest of the Imperial sector? To see such upstarts as the Tau even resist the Dynasty's manifest destiny was almost enough to cause him to gag.
He looked at the Tau, "Where is it?"
The alien warrior looked at him, then the neophyte, brow wrinkled and head cocked in apparent confusion.
"Cut off its hand."
The neophyte responded instantly, a curved dagger appearing in a heavy gauntlet. He stooped and grabbed the Tau's arm. There was a scream of pain and satisfying anguish, a spurt of blue blood that pooled on the dusty ground.
Zadu bent over the hunched form of the Tau as it cradled its stump. "I know you speak our language. I've killed hundreds of your kind, you can form our words."
The Tau whimpered in the dust, "Ye-es."
Zadu smiled, looked at Valax. "You see? Deception as contrived as a child's play, we do not need to understand them more than the pain that forces truth." He looked back at the Tau. "Now, where is it?"
"This-one does not understand-what you-speak." The Tau pushed itself off the ground, cradling its mutilated arm to its breastplate. The 'Y' nasal slit had a clear fluid running from it. It looked into Zadu's eyes, unflinching.
"The Holy. Where is it? Your kind stole it from the Macharia, I would know where it is on this benighted world." Zadu insisted, getting impatient.
The Tau shook its head, "This-one does not understand-what you-speak." It repeated.
Zadu rolled his eyes and lurched forward, using the claws in his blessed hands to hook deep into the exposed flesh of the Tau warrior and yank out a handful of arteries that spilled lifeblood all over his boots.
He whirled on Valax, "It is on this planet, Valax, I can feel it!"
"We all can, Zadu."
"Hunt down where the city's population went, capture them, and I will force the truth from their leader's mouths even if I have to kill every last filthy xenos on this planet with my own hands!"
"I will need more than my infiltration forces and the Sslyth mercenaries."
"Take whomever you will to get the job done. There are more of them out there," He pointed into the sky, "I will not abandon this place until the Holy is returned to its rightful place aboard my ship!"
"For the Dynasty." Valax barely offered a bow before turning and disappearing into the still burning city.