Shadows of the Mont'ka Tau Fiction - Arc Finished!

Started by GreaterGoodIreland, July 8, 2010, 05:34:31 PM

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QuoteThe Manta is a flying titan that pukes flying dreadnoughts, if you can imagine such a thing. When you see them in the sky, you know you're in for a world of hurt. Except more often than not, they come out of the clouds right on top of you, so you have no time to think about it, you just have to shoot. - Former Gunnery-Sergeant Hadrian, 37th Lyenna Air Defence Regiment, Lyenna PDF

Talan, Roxana and Aelian were packed onto a Devilfish soon after their encounter with the quietly arrogant Ethereal and their mutual acquaintance. Along with a squad of human auxiliaries, a different set than on the way up, they were sealed in as before, and swayed as the tank moved about before it settled.

"What in the name of Terra is going on?" Aelian asked, "These things can't operate in space, can they?"

"They can operate in a vacuum," Talan said, turning his head as he thought, "But they're not exactly great at the job of space travel."
"So we're not transferring to another ship." said Roxana, "We can't land in this thing from orbit, so what's their game?"

A terrifying thought occurred to Talan, but before he could vocalise it, it was confirmed. A light hum began, followed by a brief burst of acceleration that the inertial system didn't entirely suppress. The direction of the force then abruptly changed direction, continuing for several minutes before slipping away.

"We're going back to the planet," Roxana said, "Good."
"Perhaps we're not doomed after all," said Aelian with a smile.
"I am less confident," Talan said, "There are very few reasons why we should be brought back to the ground, and the one I think most likely makes me sick to my stomach."

"So, what do we do?" Aelian asked, shaking his cuffs in front of him.

A voice in Tau began droning, and a blue alarm light flashed through the compartment. The heretic troopers began to straighten their own restraints.

"What the hell is that?" Roxana asked, copying her captors' actions, grabbing at the belts with her cuffed hands with every sign of urgency. "Alert, suborbital drop commencing in one minute," Talan translated, "Prepare for heightened gravitational forces."

"Oh frak," Aelian said loudly, hurrying to follow Roxana's lead on making sure he wouldn't fall out of the chair and be thrown to the wall.

"My thoughts exactly," said Talan, who immediately recalled his own jump into occupied territory, "And to answer your previous question, we do what we can."

Talan nodded to Roxana, and said "Sherbrooke". She got his meaning immediately.

QuoteI have followed the myriad potential futures of the Tau with great interest. Though barely even striplings compared to us, I feel a strange protectiveness towards them. In time I believe they will exceed even our greatest feats and master the darkness within their souls. - Eldrad Ulthran, Farseer of Ulthwé Craftworld

Mesme waded amongst the elite of her unit clad in her Crisis suit in the main hanger of the Manta, moving to the front of the group, just in front of the rear doors of the two Devilfish that were to be deployed ahead. The alarm lights continued to flash, their glare reduced by the artificial filtering built into her suit's sensory equipment, and the warning command began a countdown from a rai'kor. She jumped around a little, appearing to be checking her suit's systems but in fact trying to contain the excitement of yet another high altitude jump and make sure she was intact enough to actually fight when she landed.

"You seem happy," her bodyguard said via vox on a private channel, "You're practically skipping."
"It is good to be back where I belong, Kai," Mesme said, turning to look, "Sitting in a medical bay is torture."
"Just make sure you're not overdoing it," Kaishi replied, "We can't afford to lose you at this point."
"I have every confidence in Fio'O'Karra's scientific expertise," said Mesme in a commanding tone, "As well as in my own capabilities, Shas'vre."
"As you say, Shas'O," the fire warrior replied quickly, before standing to attention in his suit, "Looks like we're going."

The doors of the bay opened, and a wave of air shook everything inside.

"Cadre, commence suborbital drop!" Mesme commanded.

The pair of Devilfish screamed out of their positions and dived immediately towards the planet. The commander and her bodyguard were right behind them, running in their suits and jumping off. Behind them, another four squads of Crisis suits followed.

The ground filled Mesme's vision as she fell, as well as drop overlays provided by the computers. It was night now, but the blacksun filters had kicked in immediately, and the city below appeared to be an ants' nest of white points. No sound but rushing air could she hear, as she manoeuvred with quick bursts from her suit's jets into position to the rear of the armoured transports. Her heart pumping faster, she felt the rush of the drop gather almost around her as the formation fell.

Just as she began to enjoy herself, a burst of flak exploded to her right. The enemy had made the formation, but seemed to be aiming poorly.

"Begin deceleration," said Mesme, turning her suit into landing position as she did so.
The suit kicked as she fired the jets to slow her descent, as the Devilfish did the same and activated their anti-grav system.

"Watch your target zones," she said as the flak got closer, "There are a lot of obstacles."
"We'll try not to smash into any light-posts," Kai said, straining comic relief at this point as another burst of flak flowered just above him.

The cadre continued to slow towards the ground, and the flak stopped suddenly. "Their commander is no fool, he understands that the flak artillery should concentrate on the Mantas," Mesme said, "Combat landings, tau'fann, they'll try to swarm our position."

Individual buildings were now distinguishable, and Mesme redirected her fall onto the top of a large terraced building. The lead Devilfish appeared to be doing the same, and the commander didn't want to let it out of her sight.

The landing was light, as Mesme had plenty of time to decelerate properly. The Devilfish had already landed, but wasn't moving.

The back door opened, and out stepped the Inquisitor, now seemingly armed with a pulse carbine. His followers did so as well, though they raised their weapons towards her suit.

"Inquisitor, how pleasant of you to join us," Mesme said as the sounds of battle grew around them, "I'm sure you're wondering why I brought you back here."

The human looked like he was thinking about it, and then signalled to the others to lower their weapons.

"Good that you have sense to talk," she continued, "It wouldn't have ended well for you."
Mesme laughed, and pointed towards the front of the gravtank. The humans soon caught sight of Kaishi's battlesuit pointing a flamer at them from beside the engines, as he walked towards them to get a better shot.

"Well, that's just not crickball," said the Inquistor, swinging the pulse carbine over his shoulder by the strap.

"All units, use the buildings and keep the enemy busy," Mesme said into her vox, to insure they wouldn't be interrupted.

"Why are we here?" asked the female human in Gothic, still holding her weapon to fire, though a little lower than at first.

"To see a display of force," said Mesme, "To make you accept the Aun's offer."
"I've seen all of this before," Talan said, his voice raised with anger, "I'm not giving you this world and I told your master on the ship the same thing!"

"This isn't the display," Mesme said, and pointed to the horizon, "Watch."
The humans looked to one another, but didn't comply.

"Mesme, third la'rua is under pressure," said Kaishi, "We need to go."
"Very well," she replied, and activated her jets.

The battlesuits bounced away, and the Devilfish followed, leaving the humans alone on the rooftop.

As she landed on the next building, the kor'vre who commanded her manta chimed in.

"Shas'O, the Dal'yth coalition's orbital bombardment of the enemy capital has begun."
Flashes of light filled the sky, as the commander made her way towards the target.


QuoteA good soldier obeys without question. A good officer commands without doubt. - Tactica Imperium

The enemy's bombardment seemed to pause time as great beams of light lashed down from the sky, clearly visible even from a distance of dozens of miles, striking the capital city of Sallem repeatedly. Even the Tau seemed to be entranced, as their lightning fast skirmishing halted on all fronts. Soon, bubbles of white light unfolded on the edge of the horizon, fusion bombings having been added to the ion cannon barrage.

Mieza sat in the turret of her tank, out of the cupola, watching the scene in astonishment. The plaza where her platoon was stationed was filled with flashing light. The Inquisitor had insisted that the Tau didn't tend to use this sort of tactic except against the Tyranids, as their strategic thinking required the taking of "garden worlds" without significant damage to infrastructure or ecology. He had clearly been wrong in this case, and fears swole up in the colonel's throat that she and her troops would be obliterated from orbit, unable to fire a single shot in retaliation.

She quickly suppressed this, consciously making herself ignore the possibility. The Tau wouldn't dare fire at her regiment with their own forces so close at hand, and at any rate, the fate of a trooper of the Imperial Guard was to die standing.

"Situation report!" she said into her vox, bringing her amplivisor to her eyes to search for the enemy dreadnoughts that had been advancing before the fireworks show.

"Enemy has eliminated the entire PDF garrison positions at the capital," reported Captain Klingberg, "Almost the entire city has been levelled, except for the administrative quarter."

"Xenos bastards probably don't want to blow up the records," said Girad, cutting in, "The jump infantry fighting on all sectors have broken off and are now headed in the direction of headquarters."

"All except one group," Major Kasky corrected, "They seem to be headed straight for you, Colonel."

Mieza's mind raced. The battle until now had been one of distraction and manoeuvre, but now the xenos were on the attack. One push towards the nerve centre of the regiment and another towards its leader could mean only one thing.

"They're trying to cut the head off the snake," Mieza said, "Kasky, get your troops in the air, and split them between Girad in HQ and my position. They're going to try very hard to decapitate our leadership. And make sure you aren't with the group that comes to me."

"Yes, ma'am," the major replied.

"Mechanised company, get in the way of the enemy forces and collapse the buildings," said Mieza as she cocked the pintle-mounted heavy stubber beside her, "We need time."

"Understood," came the reply from Captain Machel.

The light from the bombardment stopped suddenly, and the streetlights also dimmed to nothing as well. The searchlights of the tanks fired up soon after, but their commanders were spooked, and began requesting information via vox. Mieza peered into the punctuated gloom in front of her.

"The frakkers are already here," she said, "All of you look sharp, and Kasky, get those troops here now."

As if to answer the order, a series of hunter-killer missiles screamed over the rooftops and slammed into the sides of two tanks directly ahead of the colonel's position. They impacted with dull metallic thuds before exploding inside, the wrecks of the tanks acting as torches now. Mieza turned her attention past these, and sure enough, the barely discernable silhouettes of a dozen or so battlesuits could be made out, their jet black paint scheme making it very difficult to pick them out. Alongside them were a brace of drones hovering, evidently of the spotter variety.

"Contact front!" Mieza said into her vox, "Far end of the plaza, in between the buildings to the west. All units advance to reliable visual range and engage with all weapons!"

The tanks roared into life, as they moved in a great wave along the kilometre and a half long strip of tiled concrete. Mieza took hold of the stubber, and looked down the sights, searching for a target with the attached spotlight.

She didn't have to wait long. The line of tanks soon opened up with lascannons and heavy bolters, as the darting forms of the battlesuits became more and more visible. They had begun their standard  fire and movement.

Mieza put the nearest into her sights and triggered the weapon, which rattled the rounds off with satisfactory vigour. The bullets seemed to bounce off the target however, and it soon repositioned.

"Enemy has shielding," reported Sergeant Reynolds in the lead tank, "Getting closer."
"All tanks, continue advance," Mieza replied, pausing her fire to do so before opening up, "Keep shooting, we need to keep them suppressed."

Another round of missiles boomed past, striking the rear tanks and disabling them. Mieza barely registered their existence, as Greta triggered the dual lascannons, catching a xeno dreadnought dead on. The flying thing fell to the ground as a shell, smoking and fizzing. The aliens took notice and began to retreat.

"They're running, the cowards!" said Reynolds, "Following them in."
Mieza began to suspect it was a ruse, but if she retreated, the column would be hit again with the seeker missile attacks that had already crippled a third of the platoon.

"Advance cautiously," she said finally, "Kasky, I need those Valkyries."
"We're loaded up and en route now, ma'am," the Major said, the engines of his vehicle clearly audible through the vox feed, "What are we dealing with?"
"Crisis suits," Mieza replied, as she riddled the back of a battlesuit with a burst from her stubber, striking it in the back and causing it to fall hard. It started to get back up, but Greta put any idea of that to rest with the main guns soon after.

"Got the frakker, ma'am," the gunner said cheerily, swinging the turret right to fire at another enemy skulking behind a derelict groundcar.

"Three minutes out," Kasky reported.

The tanks halted near the edge of the plaza, unwilling to get into the narrow streets in front of them to get to knife fight distances with the Tau but still close enough to see a decent distance into them. The battlesuits were beginning to disappear around corners though, and the instinct to call for a retreat was getting very strong indeed. Mieza continued to resist though, knowing that the reinforcements were only minutes away. Or so she thought.

As the Colonel ordered blind fire into the buildings to collapse them, two huge shadows flew overhead. The Mantas hummed past quickly, seemingly ignoring the battle below them.

"Major, you've got two big ones heading for you," Mieza said, making the connection, "Break off immediately and divert to the headquarters, the AA there should discourage them."

"What about you?" said Kasky, realising that he was being ordered to abandon them, "They'll swing your way when they realise they can't punch through the defences easily."

"We'll deal with it," Mieza said loudly over her stubber's barking, "You have your orders."
"Yes, ma'am," came the answer.

The buildings in front were in a bad way now, but the enemy had completely disappeared and so the firing trickled to a stop as the searchlights swept through the rubbled streets for targets. The tank commanders sounded off that none of them had anything to shoot at, and requested orders.

"Circle the wagons," Mieza said as she ducked into the turret and closed the hatch, "They're going to assault us directly."

The tanks on the edge of the formation began to reverse and swing in behind those in the middle, but the Tau seemed to have been waiting for this moment, and the battlesuits cleared the buildings entirely and landed amongst the flanks of the platoon. Most were too close for the tanks to swing their turrets low enough to fire.

The tanks and suits mingled now in utter chaos. Xeno melta weapons triggered, turning weapons, tracks and hulls to slag as the neighbouring tanks sprayed bolt rounds into the suits attacking them. Some of the xenos were even using their power-armoured gauntlets to batter down the thinner armour on the rear of the tanks.

The alien who assaulted Mieza's tank was not so lucky however. Landing directly in front of Greta's aiming reticle, its shield didn't protect against the power of twin lascannons at close range. The middle of the suit practically disintegrated, and the thing fell on its rear sharply.

"Yeah!" said Greta, once again swinging the turret around to hit another target.

"Another one!" Mieza shouted, as an orange and gold headed battlesuit landed uncomfortable close to the left side of the tank, "Alica, left!" The tank lurched as the driver span the vehicle in place, smacking into the battlesuit as the turret swung the same direction to get an angle on the target. Mieza then did the unthinkable, and began to clamber up onto the heavy stubber, fearing that the gun wouldn't move fast enough to catch the bastard.

The enemy reacted first however, and fired its melta into the tracks of the metal beast before it. The tracks melted off the guide wheels, which screeched onto the concrete. Mieza brought her stubber to bear on the assailant in retaliation, and fired. Most of the rounds impacted the shields, and the rest off the hardened armour of the suit causing deep scars in the plates, but the xeno reacted strangely. Instead of opening up with its own array of weapons, it jumped to the other side of the tank.

"It's on the right!" Mieza said, hoping Greta would reverse the turret's direction while she swung the stubber, but the main guns fired at another target that was bearing down on a neighbouring tank.

The alien triggered their melta again, and the second set of tracks were gone along with a sizeable portion of the engine compartment.

"We're on approach Colonel," said Captain Machel, as Mieza again got a bead on the enemy just as it jumped away.

"Hurry!" she replied, turning her attention to the other targets now, reaping a respectable toll on them at last. Sergeant Reynolds tank swung in beside them, heavy bolter chattering loudly as it reversed into a xeno with a crack. It appeared all the other tanks had been tracked or immobilised by engine damage.

"Reynolds, Machel's Chimeras are nearby, get their attention," said Mieza, her voice rising in pitch from the effort of dissuading a suit from aiming a missile pod at her with another burst of rounds, "Don't care how."

The order was redundant, as the surviving aliens jumped away with the precision of professional dancers, and back behind the buildings. Firing stopped once again, and now the sound of approaching tanks could be heard. Captain Machel had arrived with her mechanised company, and Chimeras began to spill troops into the streets.

"Excellent timing Captain," Mieza said, sighing with relief, "It was a shambles there for a moment."

"Very happy to assist, ma'am," Machel replied, "Our troops are conducting sweeps as we speak."
A squad of troopers ran up to the tank platoon, checking corners and pulling crew out of the disabled vehicles.

"Casualties seem remarkably light," said Reynolds, exaggerating somewhat but not by much, as the tank crews sounded off on damage and crew condition, "I wonder why."

The answer came quickly. A flight of Mantas bore down on the plaza from the east, their wings filling the sky above the buildings, coming to a halt above Mieza's original position where the platoon was initially attacked.

The spacecrafts' main weapons opened up, targeting the now-empty Chimeras, which responded as best they could with heavy bolters and autocannons. The infantry scattered into the buildings, as they were targeted by the rotary cannons bristling all over the surface of the enemy ships.

"Disperse!" Mieza said, before hopping out of the cupola to the ground as her crew bailed out for the second time of the campaign, "Concentrate fire on the nearest target!"

The troops did as she commanded, and the nearest ship began to take real damage. The cannons on its left side were crippled by an autocannon barrage, and it flew off quickly to avoid further damage.

The remaining ships however were scything through the tanks, and with the AA still defending the headquarters and unable to get line of sight from there, there wasn't a hope of stopping them.

Mieza banged her fist against the side of her crippled tank, and gave the order.
"Retreat," she said, unfolding her lascarbine, "Split into squads and get into the streets."

The troops and tank crews began to comply, fleeing the carnage with enthusiasm. Not all of the groups made it, as they were targeted by ion cannons and pulse weaponry. By the time most of the survivors made it to the buildings, the battlesuits had made a reappearance, attempting to hunt the groups down.

Mieza and her crew ran to the nearest building and hunkered down.
"Major, get an astropath," she ordered, "We need..."

The Mantas interrupted the order by ceasing their fire. The battlesuits also disengaged, hopping effortlessly from building to building in the direction of their hovering protectors.

"Wait one," Mieza said into her vox piece, "Enemy retreating."
"Colonel, you'll want to hear this," Girad said in response from headquarters, "Switch to the commissarial frequency."

The vox crackled as Mieza changed channels, but soon a clear voice could be heard.

"This is Inquisitor Talan, to all Imperial forces. By order of the Holy Inquisition, combat operations against the Tau and their native allies are to cease, pending negotiations on the status of the Falasten system. A formal truce is now declared."


Quote"If you defend everything, you defend nothing." - Commander Puretide

Talan threw the vox piece to the floor of the lounge forcibly, returning to a standing position. Dust swirled around the room as he did so, causing a round of coughs as the three agents cleared their throats. The poor bastard carrying the equipment didn't help the atmosphere, having apparently caught a bolter round edgeways, his corpse slumped forward against what would have been a very tasteful couch before the top of the hotel had been reduced to cinders.

The Inquisitor patted the dead young man on the helmet, and slouched into a position beside the body, opening his flask.

"So, it's over," Aelian said, almost to himself.
"For now," said Roxana, with some possibly fake conviction, "Thing about the Tau is that they can take a planet but abandon it the next month."

"Somehow, I don't think they'll be letting us take this place back without a fight," said Talan, sipping water, "That warp-damned alien is here for something, and now we know both why the Orks redirected here and that there is something important to the Tau here."

"It seemed rather standard stuff to me," said Roxana, "They wanted a decently productive planet so they took it."

"You weren't there when I met her," Talan replied, standing up again, "The xeno, I mean. She is ... unusual."

"I'm personally very glad I wasn't there," said Aelian, "Warpcraft and fallen Astartes are not what I signed up to deal with."

"Nor I," said Talan, with a pat on the shoulder, "But the evidence is mounting that it is what these aliens are interested in."
"You think there are warp-frakking heretics here?" Roxana said, palming her pulsecarbine slightly as she did so.

"All I know is that this planet has been a royal pain in the arse of every agent in the Emperor's service since it was brought back into Terra's control. To the point that no one but the Eccleisarchy were interested in touching it with anything other than an orbital obliteration. The Administratum let them have it, as uneasy tithes are better than no tithes. Unusual for a world as productive as this. It isn't genestealers, as they would have called down a hive fleet long before now. The only subversions I can think of that would work in this way are Tau infiltrators or a certain kind of Chaotic subversion."

"Yet there's no evidence of any cults," Aelian said.
"Except the assassins at the governor's reception," said Roxana, "But we'll never know the whole story of that now. The Arbites and the local justicars are probably all dead."

"The Governor too," said Talan, "And in the midst of this near constant unrest, these xenos show up."
"The real authority seems to be the other one," said Aelian, "And he was very displeased at being turned down by you."

Talan paused.
"I may have cost many people their lives with that decision, unnecessarily."

"Hold on, there was no way you could have said yes until now," said Roxana, "We would have been hauled off for interrogations, or purged by our own. You did the right thing and the only thing you could have done."

Talan straightened up at this.
"Thank you," he said, "No doubt I still have an interrogation and a reprimand waiting when we get out of here, but we'll probably escape the firing squad."

"The real problem is aliens frakking around with the warp," said Aelian, "Who knows what they'll call out of the abyss if that's the real reason they're here."

"We'll have to stop them," Talan agreed.

Roxana smiled, putting her hand on her hip.
"We're coming back here, aren't we?"

"I know a few friends who'll be eager to help," said Talan, the smile contagiously spreading to him, "And it makes me feel better knowing we'll try."

The roar of jet engines began and grew progressively louder. An Aquila lander was approaching.
"Let's get off this rock," said Aelian.

The three left the building, leaving its remaining occupant to his fate.

Quote"There is nothing here but war, where the murdering cannons roar, and I wish I was at home in dear old Berdam." - From "A Guardsman's Lament", mourning song of Berdamian units.

"We lost, it is that simple," said Talan, as he stared out of the armourcrys window which was filled by the planet below, "They played the game better, and we weren't in a position to win from the start."

Colonel Mieza stood beside him, having endured her first real defeat in battle, shifting her weight from side to side and fiddling with her chainsword's pommel. Her entire regiment was in the process of being shuttled up to the Inquisitor's ship. Their vehicles had to be scuttled, though the techpriests insisted on taking just enough equipment from them to make the space available to the troops uncomfortable. Casualties had not been so heavy as to worry the Administratum, but probably would require reinfocements to be dispatched from Berdam. The regiment's morale was low, and the commissars as well as Talan's crew had to deal with some incidents, particularly involving alcohol. Thankfully, no one had been shot yet.

"We can't just let the Tau take a world of the Emperor!" said Mieza, turning to Talan from the window, "It makes me physically ill to see this."

"Your death wouldn't save this world, and it isn't even worth this world," Talan said, not returning her gaze, "Or the deaths of your troops, for that matter. The Tau practically cleansed it of loyalists from orbit. There's barely anyone left to defend, and those who are still alive will be evacuated."

"Except when we return to Coronus, I'll more than likely be courtmartialed as a formality," Mieza continued, "No one will be found guilty, but I'll still be disgraced for not standing our ground."

"No such thing will happen while I draw breath," said Talan, turning to her, "Besides, if you think that is bad, I will need to have a Lord Inquisitor's personal spook go through my head to make sure I didn't make this decision under the influence of the Tau leaders. They have ways of frakking with people's minds, so it's the only way to be sure. That is a lot less pleasant than a dressing down by a general, let me assure you."

Mieza turned back to the window, unsure of what to say to the notion of her mind being searched forcibly by a psyker.

"If it's any consolation, I have no intention of letting the matter rest," Talan said, putting his hand on her shoulder, "Why that commander and her unit were there is a matter of great interest, and more than that, I'm just as unhappy about this as you are."

"It's just easy to feel better about it when I can call Astartes in to frak the Tau over later," he added a moment later.

Mieza smiled at that, grabbing his hand.
"When you come back, I want to be there," she said, "Honour demands we get revenge for our dead, and I want to kill as many of them as possible for the insult."

"You have my word," Talan said, "Though it will be years from now, and I can't exactly requisition your regiment until then. I have to call in quite a number of favours, normally I'd just call for an Exterminatus but I can't with the Tau fleet skulking around." And so many questions in need of answers, he thought.

"I'll just have to get myself promoted then," said Mieza, visibly cheering up, "That way, you won't have to."

Talan burst out laughing, remembering exactly what attracted him to the woman in the first place.
"We should drink to that, Artemis," he said.

"I'd like that." she said.

Quote"What, there's no such thing as daemons!" - Por'el Bork'an T'jo, shortly before being carved in half by a minor daemon of Khorne.

Mesme arrived in the reception hall, still in her combat jumpsuit, picking through the floor covered with glass shards and ragged banners that had fallen or been torn from the walls to reach her subordinates. The now smashed ceiling was supported by huge columns of rusting metal, and from the detritus lying around, it was clear the space was used for social gatherings primarily. The orbital bombardment had destroyed most of the city, but this section had been deliberately avoided by request. As soon as word that the Imperials had left the system came, the Water caste contingent of her coalition insisted on making their way to this place immediately.

Por'el Vral stood in the middle of the ballroom floor, making notes quietly to himself as his underlings mobbed the place, tearing up floorboards and recording everything. Beside him, Karra stood munching something as usual and waving a scanner around while El'Ka shifted on the spot looking bored, while two fire warriors stood to attention beside him. Kaishi was also there, but looked less bored now that his commander had arrived.

Mesme approached the group, and the Fire caste contingent saluted.

"So, we have the prize," said Mesme, "Was it worth it?"
"Yet to be determined," Karra replied, flicking her attention between the equipment and a bar of synthetic protein more normally found in human combat rations, "The main complex is below and we haven't found the entrance yet."

"Our experts are more confident," Vral said, exuding the supposed confidence he mentioned, "The layout above ground that we have surveyed so far is very promising. Particularly the columns."

"Well, we best move what we can off-planet soon," El'Ka said, "Aun'el Ru'na is displeased at our continued presence."
"I'm afraid that will be impossible," Vral stated firmly, "The structures are too large to move, and doing so would be noticed by many."
"The Por'el is right," said Karra, "We'll need to set up permanent facilities at all the sites, including the one on the other continent."
"Which is currently swarming with Orks," Kai chimed in, "We still have work to do there."
"Nothing you cannot handle," Vral said, passing his data to an aide.

"Spoken with the conviction of a tau who has never had the close company of an ork before," said Mesme, "But not an inaccurate assessment."

"So can we presume that the Aun'el will cooperate in the construction of these permanent facilities?" El'Ka asked, before Vral could open his mouth on the subject of his studies of the Ork.

"He will cooperate," Mesme said, "After all, he knows the threat exists."

"So, the temples will be requisitioned by our coalition as well as the land around them," said Karra, "Their examination is crucial to our further understanding of subspace and the aliens from that dimension."

"Particularly this one," Vral continued, "This seems to be the main cathedral of the nine shrines, and we've been finding symbols related to the alien deity named Tzeentch behind some of the floorboards already."

"I suggest keeping the gue'la as far away as possible," El'Ka said, "Given their tendency to go insane when exposed to this sort of thing."

"Every joined species seems vulnerable on some level," Vral said, "But gue'la in particular, yes."
"We've taken precautions, the facilities will be Tau-only and personnel will be rotated and screened regularly by some Aun'vre that T'au is sending," Karra added, "And security will be drone based."

"A win for the tau'va then," Kai said as he saluted, before walking away evidently to look for something to eat. Karra's snacking had gotten to him.

"With any luck," Mesme thought aloud.

"We also found some bodies when we were making a sweep of the building," said El'Ka, "Looked like adminstration workers, other government officials, a couple of sanitary staff. Killed by gue'la bolts and fusion weapons. The places they fell were marked with tape."

"Unusual, any idea why?" Mesme asked.
"None as to why they were killed, but it's clear the natives thought it was worth investigating, we have their reports and one or two of their water caste equivalents alive," replied El'Ka, "The bodies been disposed of appropriately."

"And the reports?"

"A lot of talk about fringe religious groups operating in various places, looks like they were killed after they started a terrorist action during a social gathering. Could be related to our work, so we handed the reports and our guests to Vral's agents."

"Have you found anything interesting?" Mesme asked Vral.

"Well, it seems to have been the Inquisitor and his agents who shot them. The physical description matches as well as his known choice of weapon." Vral said, wincing at the thought, as he glanced at large burnt section of flooring with an accompanying bloodstain that was too close for comfort.

Mesme froze immediately, her mind racing. Did the human know?

"Ru'na insisted that the gue'la be allowed to leave and I agreed on principle," said Mesme, as her two watchers entered the hall, their adorned robes making them stand out clearly for what they were.

"That was a mistake."

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