It is accepted that humans born and raised under the Imperium generally do not get along well with xeno races, Tau included. On top of the physical differences, there are the mental and cultural differences. Only in dire circumstances do the two put aside those often insurmountable squabbles and work to fight a common enemy. Nonetheless, Gunther, Miguel and Diamoto were all in agreement with the certainty that the voice they heard was that of pure evil.
"Foolish, insignificant insects! Lemmings who so blindly follow your hormone induced whims! You dare call the conduit of my avatar something base and insignificant!"
"I think you made it mad, Mig'el." Gunther sputtered, eyes wide with fear.
"Quiet, Gunther!" the guardsman hissed.
"You have seen my handiwork written in blood along the floors and walls of this insignificant dump you call a fortress and you dare think you can defeat me?" the voice thundered in their ears.
"Identify yourself." Diamoto thundered. Miguel looked at him in bafflement. It just didn't seem like a good idea to ask a daemon its name.
A humanoid form took shape in the dark mist, rising from the rest of the dark cloud that seemed to hang in the air. Towering above them, wraith like and devilish, a horned "face" bent down to look at them.
"I am the forgotten scion of the warp. I am the god that rails against all." The silence that hung in the air was suffocating until it was finally ruptured by that thing's chocking name. "I am Malal."
The three mortals stood in stupefied silence as the dark mist practically merged with the darkness in the half light cast as the entity seemed to shut off half the fixtures that were already struggling to illuminate the room.
"I've never heard of this one." Miguel muttered furtively to Diamoto. The alien nodded in silent acknowledgment.
"Oh, you haven't?" Malal spat venomously. Gunther shuddered in the presence of the ghostly dark, unnerved by the uncanny humanoid shapes that faded, formed and evaporated again and again.
"Those vicious, self serving, fools! Those upstarts! They overthrew me and then worked together to erase my memory and my presence!" The horned wraith, his voice thick with long nursed fury, loomed down to glare at the intruders, taking particular interest in Miguel.
"Remember my voice, Miguel? I was the one in your head. Thus far you've served your purpose as a looking glass but now I tire of you."
"You were under this thing's influence?" Diamoto interjected, posturing threateningly.
"I didn't know!" Miguel snapped back in panic.
"Didn't know but didn't tell. Trapped in panic, in fear. How I relish it." Malal hissed with a chilling breath. Diamoto and Miguel stared at the avatar's eerie form. Gunther was too busy panicking at the ghastly, horrific faces that were leering at him in the gloom, too petrified to move.
"Oh I have many tools to turn my fellow chaos entities against each other. Very hard to act against them directly anymore. Ever since I was hamstrung." Malal admitted. "Ambition at the expense of others, fueled by unbridled pride. Grudge is more of Khorne's thing but it takes an art to turn rage against him. But fear is the easiest. Turn allies against each other over a misunderstanding brought out of proportion. Make needless enemies where they normally wouldn't be any through false pretenses and half truths. Keep enemies fighting for fear one may come out for the better over the other. It's an easy game for you mortals, just as easy for the gods of chaos." The entity paused and then decided to speak plainly.
"Khorne is the god of war and bloodshed, Slaanesh of excess and pleasure. Nurgle is the god of disease, despair and rot and Tzeentch the lord of magic, schemes and change. I am the god of paradoxes, of chaos fighting itself. I am forgotten but not banished."
"We'll still resist you." Miguel choked out defiantly, an inexplicable wave of fear clutching around his rib cage.
"Oh?" Malal turned his gaze to the guardsman. Before Miguel could react, tendrils of the dark mist began to coil around him, binding his arms to his sides while the black wreath lifted him from the floor. The human may as well have been trying to resist an avalanche, a tsunami or any other force of nature. He felt fear drive his heart rate pounding in his ears, much too fast to be healthy while his fingers and extremities trembled with terror.
"Resist me? Can you resist breathing? Can you resist the will of Khorne, who demands war, by waging war on him? Can you resist the wiles of Slaanesh despite the lust that is rooted deep in the bosom of every human? Can you resist the ambition that lurks in every man, to hope against hope and so starve Tzeentch? Can you force yourself not to decay so to spite Nurgle? Can you resist your own nature, puny human?"
Miguel wanted to shout more verbal abuse and tokens of defiance, it was all he had left but somehow even his own tongue began to quake. Only his will was left to fight against this horrendous god and even that was wilting. What was Diamoto doing? Why was he just standing there? His questions were answered when the suit collapsed to its knees and whatever lights that emitted from it were snuffed out. Malal's dark machinations were working on the Tau within.
"And what do you fear, little upstart? You've grown old in years and long in the fang, and fought enough of the humans to realize that you see a little of your own race in them, not that you would admit that, not even to yourself. And what troubles you is that you see their very faults in you and yours. Is the glorious Tau Empire no better than the Imperium it is encroaching on? Are your Ethereals no better than their human parodies? Can you even expect to defeat the Imperium? You know it is folly. Your Empire is but a speck to the vastness of their own. Simple mathematics show the futility of it."
Diamoto was as disheartened as his battlesuit reflected. This fiend, whatever it was, was resorting to a crushing truth rather than a half lie. He did not understand the things of the Warp but he knew humans. Over and over defiant Gue'la repeated the same line before execution. "Crawl back into your hole, xeno, for if the Imperium turns its gaze upon you again, it will mean total annihilation for you and your race." And deep, deep down Diamoto knew they were right.
But what was this section of space this twisted thing was showing him? It was a space forbidden by the Ethereals, deemed not important to invade, at least not now. Why was it arbitrarily cordoned off despite being a stone's throw from the Empire?
"Have you ever wondered if maybe your leaders, the untouchable Ethereals, were less than perfect? If they were lying to you? I know, blasphemous thoughts to your mind, but you're not the only Tau that has harbored those thoughts. Go through that forbidden zone and you will see one of your own, banished, sacrificed by the Ethereals in the name of your so called 'Greater Good.' Provided it isn't destroyed soon by the machinations of my hated fellows."
Miguel was paralyzed by fear. Diamoto struck down by doubt. Gunther was wallowing in his own frightful imaginations. Malal smiled. So easy it was, to manipulate the mortals and render them impotent. So easy it was, to exploit their weaknesses, for they were many. He could do this over and over for countless years and they would never know his game. Too stupid, too divided, too weak and swayed by their emotions. It was so easy for them to hide and think only for themselves. It was what came naturally to them. And his rival gods? Not much better. Despite being gods they could be spiteful and he was not much better, spurned as he was by them.
Gunther was still wallowing in the waves of terrifying faces. Some told him he was too weak, others said he was too stupid. The worst told him that the Emperor would never smile upon him. He had failed in his duty after all, hadn't he? Scampering about, that was when he saw the broken xeno, unable to move in his metal covering. That wasn't surprising, xenos were weak when it really came down to it but it was still disappointing. That xeno had proved a little useful after all and...well, hadn't it helped save his life? And then Miguel, poor Miguel was caught in the clutches of this evil thing. It made the Ogryn mad. Anger was an emotion that the commissars directed in the abhumans. It could be destructive but sometimes mindless, unflinching destruction was needed.
He could still hear Commissar Dalhiem's words to never give up, to fight the heretic, the xeno and the mutant and to conquer the forces of chaos. Even if it meant his very own life. Blinking, Gunther asked himself what was he doing? Victory was just within reach. For once he ignored the lying faces, clutched his club and started running towards the stone.
"What are you doing, fool?" Malal demanded. The Ogryn kept running, single mindedly, dumbly, faithfully. A flood of those twisted, grinning faces rose up to hound the stupid behemoth. Gunther simply flattened them under his bulk.
"Stop! You stupid man! Do you not fear death?" the demon screamed. Gunther was nearly upon the large rock and in one motion, he raised his club over head.
"You will invite your doom! Destroy my conduit and I will destroy you!"
Gunther was never good with words so he only grinned and slammed his cudgel down with a roar.
Time stopped and then the stone shattered and exploded. Dark turned to light, the restraints were thrown and Diamoto and Miguel were sent tumbling to the floor. Malal's roar echoed through the chamber, threatening to rupture their ears before being extinguished. Dropped on the floor, Miguel sat up, brushing the dust off of him. Nearby, Diamoto's suit rebooted and was struggling to get on its feet. For all their raw power, battlesuits were clumsy once toppled over.
"Gunther?" Miguel barked. The ogryn was nowhere to be seen.
The guardsman felt a sickening grimness take his throat and pool in his stomach. Just as the battlesuit finally righted itself, he inspected the spot where the stone once stood. A large blast mark was all that was left, that and Gunther's soot covered crudgel.
"I killed him. That thing...killed him." Miguel admitted, a brokenness coming to his voice. Gunther the Ogryn was not the brightest lasgun in the armory, certainly not the best looking, or smelling either and yet for all his faults, Miguel was starting to realize just how much he had been his friend. He could only stand there and stare at the lonely club. It took awhile for him to realize that Diamoto had been standing at attention, a clenched fist held over his heart in the Tau salute.
"What is that for?" Miguel demanded harshly.
"I know noble sacrifice when I see it. Gue'vesa Gunther will be honored, I will make sure of it."
Miguel didn't feel like doing much of anything anymore. The voice in his head was gone, that was a relief but the loss of his friend turned everything bitter. However, they were going to have to return and it was going to be a long journey back. Diamoto lowered his salute, ready to begin. The guardsman knelt down and placed a hand on the club.
"Goodbye, old friend."
The Pathfinder Shas'ui stood on one side of the doorway, nervously clutching his pulse carbine as bolter rounds flew past. It had been a long night. His Shas'O was still down there, the sub-commander had ordered them back inside and he had been placed in command of securing the building and locating the lost Shas'O. Unfortunately, they had hit a roadblock in the form of a band of ruthlessly stubborn Sisters of Battle. The bodies of a few fire warriors and a handful of Kroot were a testament to that. Despite repeated assaults, even blasts from the Tau photon grenades, the warrior women refused to budge.
The Shas'ui motioned to the Kroot leader in command of his fellow avian hunters, standing on the opposite side of the Pathfinder. Right now the problem was that neither were feeling bold enough to sacrifice more of their men. The Shas'ui motioned for another assault. The Kroot staunchly shook his head. A shield drone was called up to act as a fire magnet. Its shields promptly collapsed under a fusillade of bolter fire before it took an explosive round to it's optical lens and was sent spinning off to the side with a mechanical screech, joints twitching in robotic agony. The look the Kroot gave the Shas'ui would have wilted a daemonette.
Sister Nymia took position behind a sturdy crate, reloading her bolter as her sisters continued to pour rounds into the narrow hallway where the Tau and their heathen allies were attacking from. Her gaze fell on the headless corpse of Durnis, slumped where it fell on the computer consoles. The man had begun to scream mindlessly moments after they watched a dark shadow form in the room containing the relic. The feeds cut out right after that but the poor man had simply lost his wits. Fearing some sort of possession, Nymia was forced to give the man the Emperor's Mercy. She was certain that within a few minutes, all of them would be at the Emperor's side soon enough.
Without warning, the sealed door on the opposite side of the room slid open and in stepped the xeno battle walker, a very exhausted and dispirited looking Miguel right behind it. Nymia knew to grab an opportunity when it was given to her.
"Sisters, hold your fire! Hold your fire!" the Sororitas quickly turned on the battlesuit. "Order your fellow filth to stand down!" Diamoto seemed to stare down at her curiously before looking down the hallway.
"Shas'Ui Quickstride, is that you?"
"It is I, Shas'O. What are your orders?" the squad leader replied after a tense moment.
"Stand down and await my orders."
Sister Nymia cast a questioning eye at Miguel for a moment who returned her gaze with an empty, stony look.
"Was the relic destroyed?" the Sororitas demanded.
"Yes." Miguel cut in before Diamoto could respond.
Nymia nodded and let her grip on the bolter she held loosen ever so slightly.
"Then we have no more business here." she declared.
"I will not have you slaughtering your way through my troops and I doubt you will agree to a surrender." Diamoto stated. Nymia shook her head defiantly.
"And damn our souls like him?" with a wave of her rifle in Miguel's direction. The guardsman kept his glare on her.
"Then I will allow you to evacuate safely, so long as you agree not to open fire on my men." Diamoto declared. Sister Nymia seemed uncertain, as if the deal still seemed lacking. The battlesuit raised a finger to show the commander had another condition.
"It will allow you to have your revenge upon me later rather than dying here."
The Sororitas finally gave in and motioned to her surviving sisters to lower their weapoons and to assemble in marching order. "Sisters! We are evacuating. Do not open fire on the xenos...we will return one day!" she declared as Diamoto silently relayed to his cadre both to hold their fire and allow the humans to pass through unmolested. Nymia cast one last look at Miguel.
"At least the Ogryn found redemption." she remarked.
"Gunther showed valor and faithfulness that proved him a true follower of the Emperor!" Miguel snapped fiercely. "Which is more than I can say about you."
Nymia's aghast look showed just how deep the guardsman's barb stung before she caught herself and motioned for her sisters to march out. Diamoto and Miguel followed up behind them before being greeted with triumphal cheers by the surrounding Tau.
"I'm surprised you talked them into leaving." Miguel admitted.
"You're race- my apologies, let me correct that, certain elements of your race, are easy to manipulate." Diamoto chuckled before turning serious. "You are an honored Gue'vesa now. I would like your advice on how to handle this facility."
"Blow it up." Miguel grumbled.
"I'm glad you said that. I would have done so no matter what."
Outside, the Tau cleared a path as the Sisters of Battle piled into a nearby abandoned chimera transport and left with all haste to meet up with the retreating human lines. Comm chatter showed that the Tau were allowing all humans who wished to evacuate. Better to let the stubborn flee than to create mass graves. Meanwhile, Miguel walked off to better enjoy the rising sun. It felt terrible to feel some relief after all that had happened. Gunther was dead. His comrades were gone. His planet had fallen and he was still a traitor. Defeating chaos suddenly seemed to become more and more of a consolation prize than an actual victory.
"I have ordered the Water caste to construct a monument here in Gunther's memory, Gue'vesa Miguel." Diamoto declared, his battlesuit scarred, scorched and clearly in desperate need of repair. Miguel shook his head sadly.
"I need to be executed." he said firmly. Diamoto glared down at him.
"I heard the voices of chaos. I have been touched by the warp. Better to execute me in safety than to run the risk of me corrupting others. It's what the commissars would do." the guardsman shrugged. By now, Por'la Sha'ra, the water caste diplomat he had met earlier that night, walked up to them, curious as to what was unfolding.
"Do you feel corrupted?" Diamoto demanded. Miguel shook his head.
"No, not particularly. But you never know. Chaos is insidious."
The battlesuit knelt down and the hatch swung open. The real Diamoto stepped out and walked up to the human, looking up at the man from the short height he stood. Scarred, tired and despite his alien features, visibly old, the Tau regarded the man. Without the battlesuit's software, Diamoto could not speak fluent gothic and so motioned to Sha'ra to translate for him. The diplomat's voice was gentle water flowing down like rain compared to the flinty voice of Diamoto.
"Very well, human. I will give you an honorable death." Sha'ra said for the commander. Miguel took a deep breath as the Tau raised his pulse pistol, leveling so that it was aimed at his heart. He wanted to keep his eyes opened but settled for closing them. He felt some peace. All in all, this wasn't so bad.
He felt something hard smack him right on the nose.
He looked down to see that Diamoto had whacked him with the butt of his pistol and was scolding him with a pointed finger. Recovering from the shock, Sha'ra began translating again.
"The commander strongly informs you that-"
Diamoto snapped at her with an equally clipped bark. Sha'ra sighed and started again.
"I have been rebuked for not directly translating for him. This is what the Shas'O has said. 'You idiot. Have you learned nothing from this night?'"
Miguel rubbed his nose, grumpily looking down at the alien as Diamoto continued to growl at him and Sha'ra kept translating.
"You would let your fear give the daemons one more victory? I saw and heard that another daemon rift will open. Tau are shakey on these things but you humans, for all your faults, understand these better. I will need your help and if you are turly possessed, then I will end you myself but not a moment before."
"I won't serve you, xeno. I'm still a loyal servant of the Emperor." Miguel retorted.
"Then don't serve me for the sake of the Greater Good. This isn't about the Tau'va or your Emperor. Work with me to stop the greatest threat to all of us, my race and yours."
The guardsman let those words sink in, purposefully avoiding the glare that Diamoto was boring into him from under his chin. He didn't like it. It didn't make any sense at all really but then again, nothing made sense about this night.
"Fine, but I won't like it."
The Tau looked satisfied with that answer. Sha'ra didn't even need to translate the chuckled "Gue'la" that passed from his lips. He blinked in the bright sun, finding that he much preferred the confines of his battlesuit. Maybe after retirement he could appreciate the beauty of planetside with his own senses. Noticing a drone making a quick patch repair on his suit's optics, he dismissed Sha'ra and made his way back into the comfortable command chair. He was just in time for the rest of the cadre to find him, including one robed figure slowly approaching.
"We held the position, Shas'O." El'Vira chirped breathlessly, bowing to show herself the subordinate. "Our casualties-"
"I will take your report later, sub-commander." Diamoto cut her off tiredly. "I don't need it to know you have down well." Secretly behind her suit, El'Vira let out a relieved sigh and a smile.
"Shas'O, I must speak with you. It is urgent." the robed ethereal declared, only just then making himself known. Immediately, Diamoto, El'Vira and the other Tau present bent their knee to him. The battlesuits further lowered their heads out of reverence.
"Aun'vre Kivang. We welcome your presence." Diamoto declared respectfully. "We hear and obey."
"Shas'O Diamoto, it disheartens me to inform you that your cadre is being withdrawn from our Third Sphere expansion. Aun'Vre Img would like a review of your tactics and record. You all must return to Sa'cea for censure." Kivang explained. He was still peeved at his pissy fellow ethereal for going behind his back and contacting higher ups back at the core worlds.
"Aun'vre, our enemies are still numerous and I have reason to believe there will be a warp incursion...somewhere near our Empire." Diamoto replied carefully. Something was wrong. He usually felt a sense of reverence near these ethereals. That feeling was gone. What did that demon do to him?
"I understand your concern, Shas'O but Commander Shadowsun is capable in her leadership. She will properly direct our forces despite your absence."
"Has she been notified of this decision?" Diamoto pressed. Kivang raised an eyebrow. He appreciated Diamoto's thoroughness but it was...odd, to hear this much misgiving in a fire caste soldier, much less a commander.
"Yes. Shas'O Diamoto. You are to depart immediately." Kivang ordered, gently but firmly. Diamoto nodded.
"I have always respected you, Aun'vre Kivang." Diamoto replied cryptically. With a bark, Diamoto ordered the rest of his cadre to make their way for the landing zone. Orca dropships would be arriving soon to take them to their ships and spirit them away. He also ordered the site bombarded from orbit. No questions were asked. Letting the others walk past them, Miguel stood beside the commander, not even understanding the exchange all the Tau had around him as none of them gave him the privilege of talking in Gothic. However, he sensed something was wrong. It wasn't until all were out of earshot that he started to follow alongside the battlesuit's strides.
"What was that about?" Miguel asked.
"There is something you and I will have in common, Gue'vesa Miguel." Diamoto replied calmly and quietly.
"What is that?"
"Very soon, you and I will both be traitors."
"Join the club, xeno."
Sister Nymia and her squad were able to evacuate Diemos III as the Tau slowly began to consolidate their world. Despite fulfilling their orders, the Ecclesiarchy found her performance sub-par. As penance, she and her sisters now fight on the expanding front of the Tau's advance. Only with the death of the xeno named "Diamoto" will the stain on her honor be erased.
The site of Building 83 is now a crater where it once was a hill. Following the commander's final instructions, there are no Tau words upon the small monument that stands at the rim of the crater. Written in gothic so that Tau visitors must have a translator, the plaque commemorates a humble Ogryn named Gunther who stands as an example for all.
The Imperial Inquisition are still curious of the incident at Building 83. Sister Nymia was not able to give a name for the entity but enough of a description was given for them to work with as they trawl the countless buildings of misplaced and dusty scrolls. The horrible fact of Malal must still remain a secret but it is a fact that many within the Inquisition are determined to sleuth out.
Enroute to Sa'Cea, the Shadow Lance Cadre went dark and disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
On the fringe of the forbidden zone, spy drones have picked up a new band of Tau wearing black and blue camouflage. On their armor, in place of the symbol of the Tau empire, they now wear the sigil of the Farsight Enclaves
Special thanks to Agent94 for his editorial work.
To the Guest who pointed out Gunther's literal phantom limb; good catch. Whoops.
Thanks to those of you who have been patiently following, lending your support, critique and leaving reviews. They are all appreciated.