All is Dust
The late day suns cast pallid light through the airborne haze of alien spores. Even the brief breeze that lingered only long enough to haunt the senses did little but stir up dust from the dying world. Amid the ruins of a gue'la city chattered distant sounds of lasgun fire, screams, and the occasional thud of explosives. Such a place was a nightmare born of a madman's mind given birth through the monstrosities that claimed the planet.
Shas’Vre Jun'Yin paused only momentarily to check the faint icons of his team members on his helmet's display. Silently he thanked the Fio who invented this particular piece of tech. Without the team's suits being linked they would never have been able to find each other in this muck. The smell of recycled air coming from his suit's scrubbers was stale, and the sound of his own breath made him feel as if he were in a void. A necessary discomfort. Y'he spores of this density are lethal to all but the most resilient beasts.
"Steady, keep your spacing, right under their eyes Shas'Ui."
Jun'Yin moved down the street as silently as possible, pulse rifle half raised out of habit drilled into him during his training so long ago. Much like the rest of his team's vitals, the Shas'Vre was showing signs of stress he had long since attributed to the thrill of the hunt. Pausing in a doorway again born of habit, Jun'Yin monitored the progress of his team. A manta could stretch wing tip to wing tip between him and his nearest Shas'Ui, and he did not like it. Again a necessity. They had blocks to cover and very little time to do so. The Orca overhead could not go undetected forever.
As he moved down the street, Jun'Yin stepped carefully over slowly digesting corpses of gue'la civilians and soldiers alike. The humans had fought valiantly across the entire planet, and here it seems had been their last stand. The chatter of lasgun fire that would erupt time and again was just the final dying gasp of whatever survivors still holed up in these ruins. Doomed to the last, but resilient and stubborn these gue'la. He mentally thanked their defiance. Every monstrosity they took with them was one less beast in the swarm.
Suddenly his display lit up red highlighting a massive beast not a pulse rifle's distant from him. Jun'Yin froze in place, the vitals readout not helping his nerve as he watched his own pulse quicken. The beast was a thing of nightmare, crafted of shadow and talon. Soulless eyes searched the murk where it no doubt felt the disturbance of the passing Shas'Vre. Shuddering huffs betrayed it's intake of breath as it tasted the air as it's eyes failed it. Prayers to the Aun raced through the Shas'Vre's mind as he slowly raised his rifle and backed carefully from the gargantuan beast.
"Shas'Vre, I have the target in sight, relaying data and visuals to you now."
The quiet voice of his Shas'Ui made Jun'Yin pause in his retreat and kneel slowly. The influx of information over the neural link helped bring the Shas'Vre back into focus. With a slow glance at the beast that sat in the alley feeding on corpses, he took a moment to go over his suit's systems just to be safe. The Empire may have phased out these old XV-15 suits, but they were a life saver in his line of work.
"Converge on the target Shas'Ui, I want rails elevated, and photon grenades ready."
Jun'Yin picked his way through corpses and smaller Y'he creatures that moved among them. The stealth fields kept them from sight, and the sealed suits masked their smell... but one wrong move and a touch could give them away. With all the speed he could muster and still maintain silence, he moved toward his closest team member. Shas'Ui Endr'Sa was a brilliant communications specialist and a mean shot with a pulse rifle, but she was also the most timid of their team. Best he meet with her quickly to boost her confidence, though by keeping her nerve this long she had already proven to be one of the most courageous Shas in the Enclave.
A blast of heat and light made Jun'Yin stumble and slide to a stop in the street. A Y'he creature hisses and scuttled with it's remaining two legs toward the ruin from which a second more successful shot burned a clean hole through it's head. An eery wail rose up around the city and Jun'Yin could feel the city uncoiling around him. Fear borne anger flashed his gaze up to the gue'la that stumbled from the ruin ahead of him. Cysts swelled around the man's eyes, and one hand pressed a rebreather to his face. The markings on the carapace armor he wore identified him as a sergeant of whatever defense force had failed to hold in this blighted city. The still hot laspistol wavered at the darkness as he made stumbling steps toward the nearest sound of gunfire.
The tau operative cursed under his breath as his display lit up with nearly a dozen bio-signatures closing around them. The gue'la was not his concern. Jun'Yin moved quickly to press against an alcove trying to make himself as small as possible as small bladed beasts scuttled by. The man yelled, the hand holding his rebreather faltering even as his laspistol erupted again in destructive luminescence. One beast was ruined by the lucky shot, but two others skirted around and surrounded the man in the blink of an eye. The Shas'Vre looked away and considered his tactical readouts to busy his mind... and block out the screams.
Pressure on his shoulder however drew his attention back and once again he froze. Perched on the wall, one talon resting on the Shas'Vre's armor, was another of the smaller beasts. Breath did not come as the tau held it and remained as still as death.
"Shas'Vre we are in position, is there delay?"
The chirp of his comms nearly made Jun'Yin startle but disciplined nerve held him in place.
The concerned voice of Endr'Sa flared the anger first borne from the gue'la's mistake. Silently he passed the visuals from his helmet over the link to his members. The comms chatter went silent. Jun'Yin blinked as a drop of sweat stung his eye, but still he remained composed. After what seemed like an eternity, the Y'he slithered down the wall and across the street apparently unaware of the difference between gue'la architecture and Tau armor.
The breeze again stirred the mire that choked the streets of this forsaken city. This did nothing but swirl the shadows. The late sergeant now was nothing but cyst and blood turned toward dust by the hunger of the Y'he. The beast fed, coiled around what had once been a jewel of the Imperium. Best he gather his team and leave with their prize before they too became nothing but dust.
In Their Genes
The echo of wind howled mournfully down the staircase leading to the roof, and the flickering overhead lights somehow left running did not add to the tau's comfort. In the streets, the Shas'Vre had the option, however foolish, to ignite his jump pack and soar from the clutches of Y'he beasts if only for a moment. In the flickering vertical tunnel ringed in corroding metal stairs monsters real or imagined could wait to drag him to his death at every landing.
The near silent scuff of his hooves on stair seemed to echo like drum beats to his own ear. In such a place the mind plays more tricks than the dangers in the dark. Every shadow contained a more horrific beast than the last. Every creek was a claw in the dark. His rifle led the way up the stair, and with each step the roof seemed to crawl further and further beyond his reach. When finally he made the roof he paused a moment. The red highlights in his display counted at least six of small winged beasts nested on the rooftop, along with a pair of the smaller bladed type. After giving his HUD time to fully uplink with the data being fed from the orca on over watch, he moved more confidently into the slowly gathering wind.
Although the howl of wind gave further menace to the alien infested city, it was working to thin out the spores that had clouded his team's progress for the past couple decs. The vitals on all of his team members looked good and the blue icons hung dutifully in place over their locations surrounding the ruined, cyst covered plaza.
"T'au'va Shas'Vre, it is good to see you."
For the first time in a rotaa all six members of his team could make visual confirmation of each other's existence. Though the technology of the Fio had linked them the entire time, nothing brought settling nerves than your bond mates within sight.
"T'au'va Shas'Ui, is all ready?"
Stepping carefully to the building edge mindful not to disturb the nesting beasts, Jun'Yin scans the plaza to see for himself the situation. It was as the uplink had informed him, and nothing seemed out of place nor surprising. The neural link in their suits was normally without flaw, but first hand experience always means more in the field. Red icons and highlights sprang up all over his display, there were dozens of the beasts coiled about the huge lump of alien biomass. Records showed that these, pods, so to speak were one of the primary methods of the Y'he's landing upon prey worlds. The gue'la traders called them mycetic spores. No matter how many times the Shas'Vre would see the Y'he, always was he awed and repulsed by their nature.
"Waiting only on you Shas'Vre."
The smartass remark was as expected from the lips of Shas'Ui Ka'Yaden. His jovial nature often earned him reproach from the Shas'O, but usually it helped keep the team loose.
"Well I would hate to keep you waiting on me Ka'Yaden. I would imagine then the rail is hot?"
"Hot on the trigger Shas'Vre. On your mark as usual, if it will ever come."
Jun'Yin shook his head, a gesture he had picked up from the rogue traders he worked with so often. With but a thought he magnified the image in his helmet's display focusing on the target. Coiled in the center of the mass was a bloated Y'he with quivering spines that as he watched shuddered with internal strain. Though it did not carry over the howl of the wind that ruffled the leathery wing not a tor'lek away from him, the sound was all too familiar in his mind's ear. A slurping biological sound, that made him quesy just imagining it, announced the birth of a small brood of smaller Y'he creatures from the monsters abdomen. These beasts could birth whole broods in a dec if left unchecked.
Setting the display back to nominal the tau looks across to his teammates on other rooftops, then down to the two members unlucky enough to be the new guys. Crossing slowly through the plaza two of his team approached the beast that played mother to this ghastly horde.
"Steady Del'Ru, watch your left Fia'Shin."
This was the trickiest part of the entire operation. The Fio back home needed fresh specimens according to the Shas'O. The plasma burned corpses they had brought back from war zones apparently had yielded only marginal success thus far. Whatever the cause or need of such beasts was, the Shas'O never would say. All the cryptic old tau would ever says was;
"Fio'sorral Shas'Vre, Fio'sorral."
Where the Shas'O or the Fio found any art in these beasts was beyond the veteran Shas' comprehension. For him it would be enough to be aboard the orca burning for the skies with his team beside him once more. Drawn from his reverie Jun'Yin once again counted the red overlays. There was nearly a hundred bio signatures in the plaza, more than the last time, and that was not counting the small non-combat creatures swarming the place. Even so the two new Shas'Ui of the team had reached side of the bloated beast. As he watched the ghost image of Fia'Shin, projected by the display over where the stealth field hid her, produced a small device supplied by the Fio for the operation. The training had been short and sweet, use it to collect an active sample of the beast's embrionic tissue, and return to the Enclave with it intact.
"On my mark Ka'Yaden..."
The timing must be perfect, or the two Shas'Ui on the ground would share the same fate as the digesting gue'la sergeant a few tor'kan back. As he watched the beast shivered once more, spines pulsed along it's flanks and squirming offspring pushed and clawed at each other.
The spike in vitals was to be expected. The entire team acted at once, like a spring held to tension. From the barrels of carbines launched a pair of blinding photon grenades into the darkened recesses of the alley ways on the far side of the plaza. The pulsing hum of Ka'Yaden's rail rifle was timed perfectly to match the detonations masking it's location. The round tore the beast's flank open spilling ruined offspring and the fluids contained within in a gout of bile. The micro-vacuum device held by Fia'Shin did it's job perfectly as did all of the Fio's gifts, and even as the beast thrashed over in rage and hissing howls broke the relative quiet that had been the Y'he's world the two Shas'Ui set their thrusters to full burn launching them clear of the plaza square and toward Jun'Yin.
"Kau'da, this is T’n'cha, an evac point would be most appreciated!"
Even as he finished calling the dropship his pulse rifle lifted and cut the three winged beasts off the ledge beside him, and burned clean holes through the chitin of the bladed pair near the stairs. Behind him the two Shas'Ui landed heavily on the rooftop. Below and all around them the eery screech and scrape of numberless claws swelled as if the entire structure would be pulled down by their sheer number. The sound of gue'la metals twisting echoed up to meet the three operatives from the flickering stair well. On his display a yellow icon drew his attention to the highest building on the plaza. Highlighted was a spire well above the reach of the larger beasts, there was where the orca would be. Beside the icon was the calculated ETA cycling down as the vessel approached.
"Shas'Ui! Fifty rai'kan until dust off! Get to the orca!"
The door to the stair well burst open even as the words still died on his tongue and beasts poured out. Their soulless eyes darted across the rooftop failing to pin the location of the tau operatives, their huffing breaths straining to detect their scent. Not a moment's hesitation separated the lift of his rifle and the death of the lead creature. Fia'Shin fired her own jets and sailed clear of the rooftop heading for Ka'Yaden's position.
A storm of fire followed as Del'Ru let loose the furry of his burst cannon into the growling mass in the stair well. The pressure of his blood trying to escape to his hooves was always a thrilling feeling to the Shas'Vre. The jets on the XV-15 were not nearly as advanced as the new XV-25's but the sheer thrill of flight in almost nothing but a pressure suit could not be beat. Excepting perhaps the thrill of hurdling through the air being chased by bladed monsters of all manner. Landing on a nearby rooftop with a shock, Jun'Yin stood and quickly assessed his team's progress. Del'Ru was already in the air on his way to meet the Shas'Vre, and The other four were making good time to the pick up point. The errant flashes of photon grenades coupled with the jumping stealth fields has for the time being disoriented their pursuers. The Y'he were always quick to adapt however, and even now his display counted dozens of creatures scaling all of the surrounding buildings. They might not know exactly where the offending tau were, but soon every rooftop around the plaza and beyond would be covered in bristling masses.
A screech announced the winged beast as it landed and launched barbed spines at Jun'Yin. The projectiles went wide as the beast could not see him clearly, but the fact that he had been spotted at all was deadly dangerous. A torrent of fire shredded the creature as Del'Ru landed beside him.
"Shas'Vre, we need to ke-"
The words never finished as the Shas'Ui was ripped from his feet. Bulbous was the head of the beasts that now uncoiled from the murk of the growing night and thickening spores. Teeth and claw were it's only feature. The eyes bore into the Shas'Vre and he couldn't look away. Three of the beasts slid out of the night like shadows given life. On the rooftop his Shas'Ui struggled with the creature that had pounced upon him, but the Shas'Vre could not even move. The thing before him drifted closer, claw caressing the smooth curve of his helmet's faceplate. Red warnings in his display reminded him dutifully of the danger but despite the screaming of his own mind... it all seemed a silly waste of effort. As the beast slipped claws around his shoulders Jun'Yin realized this was naught but his dearest friend...
The Shas'Vre startled out of whatever had held him as the beast before him burst in a gout of hot bile. Stumbling backward Jun'Yin flicked his rifle up and planted two rounds into the back of the creature assaulting Del'Ru.
"That's four now you owe me Shas'Vre?"
Came the smug voice of Ka'Yaden.
"Get to the pickup Shas'Ui!"
His anger was misplaced he knew, yet he was rattled and his vitals showed it. Quickly he threw out a hand to help Del'Ru to his feet and looked over his armor with a quick scan of his helmet's targeting sensors.
"Your stealth field is fried Del'Ru, we have to move fast!"
Turning from his partner Jun'Yin burned two more holes in one of the beasts that was still implacably pulling itself closer with one intact limb. Again the slam of his jet pack sent the Shas'Vre rocketing across the street to an adjacent rooftop. On the street below he could see countless bodies flowing after him over the overturned and abandoned gue'la vehicles. Dread for the first time touch his heart. His pulse rifle hummed twice more as he landed heavily clearing another winged thing from the rooftop. Del'Ru was quick behind, though he brought with him a small flight of angry beasts. Barbs struck the Shas'Ui twice in the back, but he turned and shredded two from their wings.
The entire plaza was suddenly lit by a blue haze as the drop ship came in low and fast. The twin burst cannons traced lines across the mire filled skies as it sought to clear some of the gathering gargoyles. Shadows raced across the rooftops and the Shas'Vre thanked the Aun for the first time for bringing the Shas and the Fio together. The filters on his helmet's display stripped the shadows of most of their menace and as soon as Del'Ru had regained his standing they fired their thrusters once more.
Only a few more tor'leks and they would be clear to jump to the other four tau who were burning the sky trying to keep the way clear for the Shas'Vre and his partner. The architecture of the gue'la was a gothic thing with alcoves and gargoyles to spare, and this stretch of rooftop seemed particularly so. Sprinting toward the rooftop edge, he kept his rifle up as best he could as he glanced back after Del'Ru. To the Shas'Ui's credit he was following at a backwards jog letting his burst cannon buy them both more time.
Even as Jun'Yin looked forward a chitin covered claw snapped from an alcove snaring the end of his pulse rifle. With on motion the Shas'Vre let the rifle go and drew his sidearm giving the offending creature a quick double tap to the chest and stepped wide of it's dying claws. At the end of the roof he could not help but look down, and all he was greeted by were hundreds of soulless faces as they climbed the ferrocrete walls of the gue'la cathedral.
The Shas'Ui had unlinked his burst cannon from his suit and discarded it, sprinting to catch up to the Shas'Vre, pistol clutched close. The thrust of their jetpacks cleared them both of the clawing creatures and they landed heavily atop the cathedral's spire. Fia'Shin quickly helped them both to their feet as the orca rotated to present it's rear hatch to the tau operatives.
The Shas'Ui took far too much pleasure in removing the heads from his targets, and even as the rest prepared to jump to the orca still he took aim.
Only as his hooves hit the familiar surface of the orca's troop deck did the feeling of dread subside. The flight crew quickly sealed the hatch as the last of Jun'Yin's team landed within, jump nozzles still hot. None had time to settle before they were thrown back against the hatch as the pilot burned away from that hellish plaza. The Y'he would be hard pressed to pursue, as the orca pushed past groups of lesser winged beasts it fired a scatter of dozens of illum flares and shimmered into the protective cover of it's own stealth field.
The air of the hanger was one of frenzied claustrophobia as Jun'Yin stepped down the ramp of the orca. All around the sleek tau lander were dozens of angular gue'la vessels, and like rats on a drowning ship the humans scurried around, over, and under everything. The swirling preparation confused the tau a moment and he snagged the nearest gue'la deck crew by the collar as he hurried past.
"What is this gue'la? Why are you preparing these vessels for launch?"
The human tugged clear of the tau's grip with a grimace the Shas'Vre had learned illustrated irritation.
"The Space Marines pulled out, declared tha whole planet done fer!"
Without much further explanation he hurried off leaving the tau operative bewildered. Such a declaration was obvious and clear for any having been on the surface not long before. What confused the tau was the gue'la preparing surface vessels as if for a landing. Such an idea was ludicrous, and if the 'angels of death' were abandoning the planet surely none of these renegades turned rogue traders would dare make for the Y'he choked planet. He glanced around noticing a few other xeno races amid the mealstrom of gue'la, none looked particularly pleased either. Most xenos this far into Imperium space were keeping a low profile with the traders, not looking to mount a landing on a doomed planet. Moving through the hanger nearly as carefully as he had on the infested streets below, Jun'Yin approached one of the deck sergeants. As he did so the engines of a nearby valkyrie screamed to life and the tau could not help but wince. Such unrefined technology was appalling, barbarians. Raising his voice over the din, to the deck sergeant he tried again.
"What is going on Gue'Ui!?"
The sergeant nodded to another human in the hanger, then thankfully turned his attention to the tau. He likewise raised his voice nearly yelling to be heard over a second valkyrie who had joined the first in firing up it's engines.
"Captain wants all the birds heated mate! Damn Marines are leaving the evacuees behind and calling the Inquisition to clean up the mess!"
"What does this mean to us Gue'Ui?!"
"The boys are going dirt side! There is more than enough room for those blokes left below! Can't just leave em to the bugs!"
Jun'Yin shook his head with a grunt of incredibility. These humans were more foolish than he even imagined. What's worse, this was not part of the deal brokered between the trader captain and the Enclave. Leaving the sergeant to his duties the Shas'Vre stalked angrily through the hanger toward the lifts. As he passed the orca he shot a look to the team who sat performing post mission maintenance on their gear. They traded looks as he passed but did not rise to follow. The lift opened without much delay and the Shas'Vre stepped into it. Two gue'la turned away as the power armor of his suit would have made the ride less than comfortable, or perhaps it was merely because he was alien to them. Let them wait, he had more important matters at hand.
The hum of the lift did little to calm his nerves, though as the din of the hanger fell away he took a moment to shake loose and ease his tension. The anger would not be quick to subside, but at least he would maintain his composure. As the lift came to a stop several decks later, the tau stepped into the dismal corridors that passed as star ship interiors among the gue'la. Quickly he moved down the hallway skirting to one side only to allow a pair of soldiers to hurry past toward the lift. They did not even know what they rushed to, they had not seen. Blind loyalty drove them now. Admirable but foolish.
The door complained with a slow hiss as it slid open, and Jun'Yin stepped into the rear of the ship's bridge. Standing before the central holo projector was the captain and the bearer of the trade warrant. Mr. Hawkes he called himself though his crew referred to him merely as Captain.
"Ah, Mr. Yin to what do I owe this pleasure?"
The grin on the human's face drove the Shas'Vre's anger higher, though luck would have it an officer stepped up to murmur something to the captain, thus delaying the tau's sharp response.
"Your men burn the engines of your aircraft below. Some claim you mean to land on the planet."
The captain paused and turned back to the holo projector bringing up a crude display of, what seemed to the tau, a battle in progress.
"They have not lead your mind astray Mr. Yin, we intend to effect an evacuation of a sort. Our 'brothers' of the Imperium are swift to write off the lives of their citizens even when their warriors die to buy them every precious second."
"Your... Angels of Death... as you call them, make the wisest move left to them Gue'O, the planet is beyond lost."
"The lives of these civilians and their valiant defenders yet remain Mr. Yin."
"There are Y'he beasts you call... genestealers... all over that city. Your people were lost before the hive ships even arrived."
To the captain's credit this news gave him pause. To those well educated in the horrors of the galaxy, this news opened many implications that could alter the man's decision.
"As always the Tau offer wise council. I will inform my officers of the danger, and we will quarantine the hanger until we can verify the health of the evacuees."
"You risk the lives of your crew, what's worse you risk the lives of my tau!"
Mr. Hawkes turned to him and paused a moment.
"You risked the lives of your team only minutes removed by going of your own free will to the surface. Whatever you are here for Mr. Yin must be worth a lot. I did not hear such pause when you asked me to take my ship into low orbit. We are already violating Imperial decree and harboring enemies of Terra. Best for both of us if this drop goes smoothly. I would imagine your first hand experience and that of your team could prove invaluable to my men on the ground."
The arrogance of the gue'la made Jun'Yin's blood boil with rage. He could not help clench a fist and turn in annoyance from the trader captain. He had little choice in the matter and the human knew it. This deep into Imperium space his team was reliant on these gue'la and their crude star ship. The Shas'O would have had this man shot had he been present. Perhaps in time it would come to pass. For now the mission must be his focus. Jun'Yin recited the sio't for patience in his head and turned back to the captain.
"What is your plan Gue'O?"
The man's smirk threatened to up turn the inner balance the Shas'Vre had just composed. The human brought up his crude hologram of the entrenched positions that the final human survivors had fallen back to. Apparently the Space Marines had planned in advance, and the refugee camp had been assembled at the space port. Now maybe a hundred women and children remained alive upon one of the imperial landing pads, ringed in the standard gue'la troops Jun'Yin had encountered countless times before.
"The evacuees are entrenched on the northernmost landing pad here. What's left of the planetary defense forces have succeeded in erecting defense lines around it's base, but they are being pushed back and ground down by the bugs on all sides. It's a simple mission, burn our way to the pad, load the carriers as quickly as possible, and return to the ship. We don't know when the Inquisition will arrive, but from the looks of it it isn't going to matter to us. Those refugees will be dead in less than half an hour."
The Shas'Vre frowned. Simple strategy against a cunning beast. There were little options either way.
"There were winged creatures nesting all over the city when my Shas were down there. Can your aircraft handle the Y'he for the landing and the evacuation?"
"Enough of them should make it to the surface. The larger hive and drone creatures are chasing the marine strike cruisers, so far we have met with little interest. This should be a strait forward operation."
"Very well Gue'O, the firecaste will aid you in this. I warn you however. You will make good on the bargain you brokered."
"Not to worry Mr. Yin, the return trip is already plotted. With your aid, we will soon be back on your enclave."
Night had fallen, and with it all hope had fled for the gue'la below. The dim red overheads of the orca did nothing to enliven the tau's spirits either. With his display linked to the drop ship's camera the Shas'Vre examined the landing zone. Constant spattering of light along the southern rim of the entrenchments was the only sign of life from this far up, though it bode well for the mission at hand.
"The gue'la fight on below. Looks like they are making fighting withdraws from outer defense lines inward. Whoever is leading the defenses down there knows how to spend his men's lives to best effect."
The comment was not a compliment from the veteran warrior, though the gue'la men packed into the drop ship with his team smirked as if it were. Barbarians these beings. So little they valued the lives of their people, even themselves. The Shas'Vre paused in his own thoughts. Perhaps that is not entirely true as they were even now descending into a nightmare to rescue doomed souls. The human mind was one that would forever remain a mystery to the tau operative.
He dropped the uplink to the external cameras and brought his attention back to the interior of his vessel. Magna-clamped to the overhead suit rails was an archaic looking machine the Gue'O had so much faith in. Apparently a renegade scientist had built it based on some stolen Astartes equipment. How exactly such a thing could hold back the Y'he, Jun'Yin did not know. His task was to deliver it to the landing zone and that is what he would do.
"When we are planet side spread out and defend the orca. Let the gue'la deal with their contraption and their own people. I want full envelopment is that understood Shas'Ui."
He nodded, and then immediately berated himself for the human gesture. His stomach churned slightly as the orca rocked. Apparently they had run into the jet stream carrying that Aun forsaken wind across the dead world. Imagine, an elite tau operative with drop sickness. Again he berated himself for his weakness.
"Shas'Vre, we are on approach."
The calm voice of the pilot soothed his stomach slightly at the prospect of solid ground. The thought of solid ground however strained his mind as it lead to thoughts of the bladed legions he was about to face down yet again. This time however there was no creeping behind veils of light. The Y'he knew where they were, and were coming in mass, and he was about to put his team on display like bait in the Kau'yon.
"Open a vox corporal, let em boys know we are comin. Wouldn't sit right to be shot down by friendlies would it?"
The Gue'Ui sitting across from him grinned as he spoke, and his men gave tense chuckles. Jun'Yin looked to the other tau and their silence spoke volumes. Del'Ru sat with a dark look upon his eyes that agreed with the Shas'Vre's own heart. It was like they were dropping into a hostile landing zone with Shas'la not yet past their first trial, yet worse because these gue'la were not even tau.
"Oi, Sergeant, vox for you sah, says ees a colonel."
Jun'Yin pushed the gue'la conversation out of his mind and leaned in toward his own tau. The eyes of his shas'ui turned to him, except of course those of Kato'Lyn who busied herself checking over her fusion weapon meticulously as she always did during drops. Jun'Yin knew he had all of their attention regardless.
"Already we overstep the bounds of our bargain with the trader. Once the gue'la are off the drop ship they are not to re-board. They will return on one of the Gue'O's vessels."
He paused and fixed Ka'Yaden with a gaze.
"You are serious Shas'Ui?"
The other tau looks between the other members, then back to his Shas'Vre. Jun'Yin motions to the rail rifle across his lap.
"You never know Shas'Vre, we might need it."
"Not likely, you would be better served with a carbine. The Y'he will be in the compound and you are going to want the weight of fire."
"Precision is weight of fire Shas'Vre. My Rail is the Mont'Ka incarnate."
Jun'Yin sighs and waves the matter aside. He trusted his Shas'Ui and their instincts. After all, he did owe the young Shas'Ui a few favors.
"Endr'Sa, how goes the transmission?"
"I have finished encoding it Shas'Vre, ready for broadcast."
"Do it Shas'Ui, Aun knows having the Shas'O waiting for us would be a break we are long due."
On his left a gue'la punched his armor. A gesture of comraderie the tau found most annoying.
"Mr. Yin! The Colonel on tha surface claims he won't give leave for an evacuation! He's a madman! He is spouting Imperial mandates over tha vox orderin us ta land 'n reinforce the line."
The tau's patience was done with.
"Let me have your communicator!"
The gue'la held up the crude communication device and the Shas'Vre snatched it from him.
"This is Shas'Vre Ka'Sera Jun'Yin of the 1st Anuk'Myr. Who do I speaking to?!"
The crackle of the vox was dead for a moment, but then came to life with the sound of screams and the chatter of weapons fire, followed by the shrill voice of what he assumed was the gue'la commander on the ground. Jun'Yin looked to the human, and the fellow shrugged his shoulders. The scrapes and dings in the carapace of the gue'la equipment spoke volumes of the care and maintenance they put into that which could save their lives.
"This is Commisar-Colonel Kelkromph of the 23rd Hintavian Armored Regiment! By order of Terra you are to land and reinforce this position immediately!"
"That is suicide! You want me to waste-"
The Shas'Vre was interrupted by the gue'la carrying the vox.
"Pardon me Mr. Yin, ya need to press tha button on the side just there ta broadcast."
That was quite enough. The tau slammed the vox back into the human's hand and rose to his feet. The gue'la glanced back to his sergeant and they both shrugged and drew worn magazines from their belts and began arming their battered rifles. One hand on the overhead grips Jun'Yin growled to Ka'Yaden.
"Bring your rail Shas'Ui, I have found a use for it."
After snapping down his helmet to mask his words from the ears of the gue'la on board. He spoke alone with his team and his flight crew.
"Change of plans Shas. Pilot I want you to circle the landing zone once."
He looks back to the gue'la vox operator who had the vox hand mic tucked between his shoulder and his ear while at the same time yanking on his rifle to unjam the magazine that sat half cocked in it's well.
"Gue'la! Keep talking to the Commisar. Ask him where he needs us most."
The human's face went ashy and the vox fell from it's perch to swing momentarily on it's attached wire. Apparently he didn't like the prospect of dropping onto the front line in a fool's errand either. Switching back to his link Jun'Yin finalized the order.
"We are twice removed from all of this stupidity. Ka'Yaden, burn the Gue'O on the ground, he will be the one in a long coat yelling over their vox."
The team exchanged looks of concern, all except Ka'Yaden who moved to the rear hatch of the orca. Jun'Yin gave a signal to flight crew and they popped the door. It was risky, as the open hatch damaged the integrity of the stealth field, but it was safer then landing with the fool below in command.
"Mr. Yin! The Commisar-Colonel says it's our duty ta hold them bugs here for exterminatus! He doesn't sound like he is gunna change his mind!"
The shout came from the gue'la behind him over the buffeting wind created by the open hatch, and was immediately followed by the whine of a rail rifle shot. The flight crew re-sealed the hatch and the Shas'Vre and Ka'Yaden returned to their seats. The tau operative gave a hearty slap on the maroon colored shoulder pad of the gue'la communications soldier.
"I am pretty sure his mind just changed gue'la."
The first thing that sprung to the operative's mind as the orca's ramp descended, was the screams. Gue'la shouted, screamed, and wept all around him as he stepped down the ramp followed by his team and the trader's soldiers. Chaos reigned in the evacuation point turned fortress. Soldiers and civilians ran in random directions with winged Y'he sweeping down among them to drag hapless victims away to their dooms. Lasguns chattered like a chorus as the rag tag defenders attempted to keep the enveloping swarm at bay. The city was rising like a coiled serpent around them and soon the full weight of the beast would crash upon the island of resistance like a typhoon upon the shore. Time is what Jun'Yin did not have.
His display was overloading with targets both friendly and enemy. With a slight strain of thought he altered the filters on his heads up display to show only the dutiful icons that represented his fellow tau as they spread out around the drop ship. From inside the lander strained ten gue'la in battered maroon carapace as they moved swiftly to deploy their archaic device.
The Shas'Vre snapped his pulse rifle up and burned a winged beast from the sky as it made it's way to the drop ship.
"Keep it tight Shas'Ui! Leave the gue'la to their fates, the dropship and the trader's device is our only priority!"
The bustling press of terrified bodies and raised voices of panicked people made even their suit links difficult to hear. Mainly because one could barely hear oneself think at all. Jun'Yin placed one finger to the control device on his wrist and it chirped cheerfully despite the dire situation. The murk of the spore choked night was lanced through in periodic spacing by gue'la generators and flood lights, but they were slowly winking out as the winged beasts crashed through the compound. The falling darkness did nothing to calm the humans, and the Shas'Vre had to side-step a ragged civilian who stumbled past, lasgun clutched to his chest. Apparently whoever was now in charge felt ever able body needed a weapon. Or perhaps there were more rifles than men to carry them.
"Gue'Ui! How long until your device is ready!"
The tau stepped over to the machine and it's mottled crew.
"Bout ta start her up! All I nee-"
Both the tau and the sergeant ducked as the man working beside them was torn screaming from his feet and pulled into the darkness above them.
"All I need is a few more seconds!"
"Time is not a luxury we own Gue'Ui!"
Again the tau's rifle snapped to his shoulder and a winged things crashed ruined to the ground before it could snatch another maroon clad human. The sky flashed blue as Del'Ru opened fire with impunity on income flights of Y'he. All around the dropship his tau fired off controlled bursts into any beast that seemed to have a mind to approach. On his display six more icons lit up, and through the murk he could almost make out the disk shaped drones as they hummed clear of the orca's open aft hatch.
The chirp responded to Jun'Yin's neural orders and they formed a small dome over the work site before their own twin pulse carbines seared the darkness. Even so chitin wings still swooped and dragged another man screaming from the machine. Both disappeared before the Shas'Vre could even lift his rifle to respond. As he lowered his rifle three humans emerged from the murk and wind blown spores. One moved at an unsteady gate and his experience was made plain by the bionic leg that was partially visible under the long coat. The two men behind him discharged their rifles at the creatures that swooped near the man, and to their credit put the Y'he to ruin. The dark carapace and heavy looking lasweapons gave the tau pause. This then was the man in command, no one else would command the attention of two stormtroopers.
Though he carried a plasma weapon in a holster at his waist the man apparently realized the futility of it. He tore a headset from his ear as he arrived and shouted to the gue'ui.
"You must be Hawke's man! Welcome to hell!"
The two shook each others hands, an odd thing for men to do in such circumstance as far as Jun'Yin was concerned.
"The Commissar-Colonel is dead! Ripped clean to pieces! Damn these bugs! What have you got for us Sergeant!"
"A moment Lieutenant!"
Jun'Yin frowned behind his faceplate. Where did these gue'la think these 'moment's sprang? His pulse rifle lit three more times in quick succession burning two beasts from the air, and a third from where it fed on the corpse of a gue'la defender. His attention returned to his team. They were holding their positions well, stealth fields sparing them the majority of the Y'he attention. Only four of the six kor'vesa were still operating however, and as he watched another one was torn asunder by bladed wings. Fear gripped the tau, though he would not show it. Blood and terror surrounded him in a mire of darkness and spore. Leathery wings at times buffeted across his armor. He turned quickly to urge the gue'la to work faster, but froze mid turn. A gust of wind cleared the way for but a moment, his blacksun filter stripping the darkness all the way to the edge of the human perimeter. Sliding under one of the last flood lights came the living shadows once more. One clung to a ruined defense line eyes fixed on the tau. It was not possible for the creature to live, Ka'Yaden had blown it apart on the rooftop. Yet the black eyes from so far away gripped on the Shas'Vre's mind. He blinked and shook his head and looked back, but it was gone. The flood light had fallen and one of the bulbs shattered, leaving the other flickering in the murk. Terror spiked his vitals and he could feel the concern of his team. He stepped back and turned to the machine and it's operators just in time for the first pulse.
His display flickered slightly and his teeth felt as if he had been chewing on thin aluminium. Everywhere the gue'la paused as if struck, then lifted their weapons and continued firing. The Y'he however jerked violently as if stung and swirled away with eery cries. Like the darkness fleeing the light the beasts soared away from the final survivors and the humming machine. It was as if the coiled serpent that was the Y'he recoiled away from it's pray, stung by the effort.
"That's brilliant Sergeant! Get everyone back here to the machine! Clear a landing point!"
The gue'el marched away grabbing random defenders by the collars and shouting orders, his dark clad body guard following with rifles raised against possible threat. Though every soul waited for the continuation of hostilities all that greeted them was the swirling murk of spore infested night. Like defiant plants bursting for the sunlight the few remaining floodlights were rally points for the several dozen surviving gue'la.
"Shas'Ui! Prepare to leave! The gue'la device is running. We did our part!"
As if for no other reason than to prove the tau wrong, a shriek announced the arrival of a cloud of flying Y'he. From the shadows came a flood of bladed creatures, and they flowed over the outer defense line, and the men that stood there, as if they were shadows consuming the last rays of sunlight upon the dusk. Screams and las fire erupted again as abruptly as it had ended. The Y'he had been stung by the gue'la device it seemed, but not thwarted. His rifle lifted and sang it's lyrics of death in quick bursts at the wall of bladed chitin that stormed at him and his team. There was no stopping this many, and they were to fast to make it to the dropship. The Shas'Vre dropped the charge from his rifle and slammed a new cartridge home sweeping his fire against the approaching swarm. His team likewise collapsed around the machine and the rear of the orca, guns blazing in desperate abandon of all fire discipline. There was no escape this time, they could only set the price of their deaths in blood and plasma.
His mind was interrupted as his display flickered, and once more the discomfort in his teeth made him pause. The wall of chitin before him recoiled and shattered as Y'he creatures abandoned the assault and flung themselves away from the device and back into the mire. Even as he dropped the smoking muzzle of his rifle in confusion the roar of engines drowned out his thoughts and a hail of rocket fire turned the outer perimeter into a blazing hellstorm of fire and curled bone. Several gue'la were caught in the blasts and stumbled flaming to their final rest along with untold numbers of feasting Y'he. His display brought up the impossible to see outlines of Mr. Hawkes' gunships as it buzzed the landing zone. A defiant cry went up around him as the gue'la took heart in the aircraft's appearance. The several dozen had been reduced to a few handfuls of humans. No longer were children among them, and he only counted three gue'la females. All of the refugees were ashen faced and gripping lasguns with determination borne of desperation. Their skin bore cysts as the spores did deadly work on their exposed flesh, but either by foresight or luck these few bore the rebreathers the gue'la favored.
Of soldiers left standing he counted less than a dozen, though they moved quickly to clear space enough to accommodate a landing. Of the ten maroon clad soldiers that had accompanied the tau to the surface three still manned the device, one of which was the bloodied gue'ui.
"It pulses every ten seconds! We don't have much time, them bugs will learn quickly enough we need ta get out of here!"
The gue'ui was right. Already at the edges of the light and vision the dark and bladed shapes of the Y'he skirted and swirled in closer. Though pressing in once more, the beast that was the collective entity of the Y'he swarm probed more cautiously into the to compound. Apparently twice being stung by the archaic device had made them cautious. Jun'Yin lifted his pulse rifle and backed to the dropship.
"Shas'Ui, prepare to board, after the next pulse we are lea-"
His order was fragmented as the swirling mass of bladed bodies burst and a gargantuan beast gave a thunderous roar of challenge. Hundreds of creatures flowed out around it as if it had released the floodgates. Del'Ru stepped up beside Jun'Yin and set withering fire to the front of the horde, yet the bladed tyrant of a Y'he charged forward seemingly uneffected by the peppering of lasgun and pulse fire it received. Gue'la screamed as they were torn from their feet by smaller creatures, too focused on the massive monster that was bearing down on them. The hum of Ka'Yaden's rail sent gore flying from the beast's knee and it stumbled to the side knocking another flood light into the darkness. Just before it flickered out it remained on long enough to expose the moving carpet of chitin that was the city around them. Like the eye of a storm, the landing zone was a calm amid scraping horde.
The monster of a Y'he rose again from the rubble, it's other five bladed limbs more than enough to propel it forward as it raised a talon to strike down the offending tau. Ka'Yaden stood transfixed by the gore splattered blade as it rose up to strike him down. Jun'Yin lifted his rifle but knew there was nothing his weapon could do to stop the beast.
Perhaps the Aun favored Ka'Yaden, for the lithe Shas'Ui Kato'Lyn landed beside him, her thrusters still hot and knocked him aside. The blade descended like the sword of ancient gods, but did not strike true. The fusion cutter of the Shas'Ui clove it clean at the joint and a single searing burst. The second and third talon swept through clumsily at the female Shas'Ui, but she was already long since out of it's reach. Though dangerous she had slammed on her jump jet horizontally along the ferrocrete sending her slamming against the side of the dropship instead of being torn in two by the Y'he. Her vitals dropped in his display as she crumpled to the deck.
Bloodied but not perturbed the monstrous creature roared again only to have a spot light burst into existence in it's eyes.
Jun'Yin blinked away as well and held a hand to block the source even as a mechanical whirl drowned out the beast's hiss. With the teeth of a t'pel painted on it's nose, the gunship that hovered over the landing point was a beauty to behold, and rain of metal casings that fell on the survivors was like fresh water to parched castaways. The beast was torn apart by the concentrated hail of gue'la projectile weapons, and the gunship turned it's attentions to the surrounding swarm shredding the lead ranks like so much paper. It was however the third pulse with it's familiar aluminium taste that gave the tau a feeling of respite. With a shrill cry the Y'he wheeled away once more.
With a roar two more aircraft from the cruiser above came in low and alighted above the evacuation point. A dozen more maroon clad soldiers disembarked from the aircraft, weapons ready.
"Shas'Ui! Into the dropship now!"
A slight tinge of panic in the Shas'Vre's voice urged the team to speed. The controller chirped cheerfully as the last remaining drone responded to the call and hummed into the dropship.
Jun'Yin hurried to the side of the dropship where Fia'Shin had already disengaged the jump pack from the unconscious Kato'Lyn and hefted her across her own shoulders. With a steadying hand he helped them both to the ramp. The coughing burning rumble of the gue'la aircraft drew his gaze as his team hurried aboard the orca. Most of the gue'la had boarded the vessels, though standing alone not far from the Shas'Vre was the old gue'el. He knelt with one of his body guards in his lap, the blood of the man staining his tan long coat. The tau watched for only the briefest of moments before shaking himself from his reverie.
The tau flight crew hit the ramp control and it raised as the engines fired up.
The old Shas looked out into the gloom. His display stripped much of the murk from the night. Running across the landing zone was the battered gue'la sergeant who had setup the device. The trader's aircraft had already lifted away and the sergeant hurried to meet the tau dropship. The shriek of the Y'he announced their renewed assault, the device having become predictable to the coiled serpent.
"Mr. Yin wait!"
The Shas'Vre paused only a moment, long enough to check the vitals of Kato'Lyn.
"Go Shas. Get us out of here."
There was no reason to check the external cameras. He could see it in his mind's eye. The surrounding darkness sweeping in on the lone soldier under the last floodlight.
NOTE: The story of Jun'Yin and his team continues here.