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[40K] Rise of the Tau (parts 2, 3 and 4)

10/11/2014 in Warhammer 40K

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A Warhammer 40,000 epic by Revenant

Reposted from www.warseer.com

PART TWO.

Displacement.

‘This is distasteful.’ Berolinus snarled.
Codian had to agree. He glanced at the others and he could tell they were of the same mind.
‘We sully ourselves while ever we remain in the alien’s presence.’ Berolinus continued. ‘I say we kill it and take the ship as our own.’
‘And can you pilot such a ship?’
‘Perhaps Laenar could.’
All eyes turned to the Techmarine. The warrior shook his head slowly.
‘As far as I am able to tell, this is a Demiurg Stronghold ship. We may be the first humans ever to set foot on such a vessel. Demiurg technology has always been a mystery to the Adeptus Mechanicus. I am not even sure how he manages to pilot this vessel alone.’

Codian turned his attention away from the stars beyond the viewport and moved to join the others, sensing their collective discomfort.
‘Brothers, this is a necessary evil. It is our duty to return to the Imperium in its hour of need, and the only way we can do that is to allow this creature to carry us to the Imperial borders. We are Astartes and it is our duty to aid the Imperium we all swore an oath to serve. Duty must take precedence above all else.’
The others agreed bitterly.

‘Hmm. I’m not deaf.’
Grungi turned away from the vast control banks of the bridge, his augmetic eye twinkling. His mouth was curled into lopsided grin.
‘Your engineer is correct about the Grudgebearer. She’s a Stronghold class, the best in the galaxy. The ships of the Mont’ka Kor’vattra have hunted her for years without success. As for taking her as your own, there are quicker and more effective ways of committing suicide.’

Berolinus’s face flushed red with anger, the Demiurg’s challenge producing the desired effect. Codian sighed heavily and swept his cloak aside, striding across the grilled deck to join the unapologetic Grungi. He slowed as he approached, his eyes finding the vastness of the stars beyond the huge viewport for a moment.
‘You said that you would take us to Imperial territory, Demiurg.’
‘And I will, in time.’

Grungi continued to work the controls before him feverishly, and within moments the huge ship lurched as it began to slow. Several of the panels before him began to pulse and flash, suddenly alive with activity.
He depressed several runes and the bridge became bathed in a deep crimson glow, the thick bulkhead around them resonating with power.
‘What is happening?’
‘We are cloaked. The ship is now blind to Tau sensors.’

The Demiurg stepped back and turned to face the others, raising his hand toward the huge screen before him.
‘Come. See how your enemy hunt. If I have calculated our position correctly then we should have a fine view.’

There was a blinding emerald flash and the entire ship shook as something lit the stars beyond. Codian raised his hand and turned slowly as something impossibly huge and dark enveloped the screen, descending over the ship from above.
The huge horizontal crescent stretched across the stars as far as any of them could see, a shape so vast that he found himself unable to comprehend its dimensions. A multitude of lights blinked across its underside, illuminating the many inverted spires and needles encrusting its ancient surface.
‘Emperor’s oath! What is it?’

Laenar joined him by the screen, his scarred face slackening.
‘Omnissiah.’ He breathed. ‘A Necron vessel!’
‘A Cairn class Tombship, the biggest there is.’ Grungi announced, a malicious smile creeping across his face.
‘And she’s running for her life.’

Codian strode forward and pressed his hands against the thick glass, feeling the material shudder beneath the influence of the protective field. The immense vessel filled the vista beyond as far as he could see. It passed by overhead so close that the entire ship shook, the many illuminators above their heads winking and dimming.

Scores of smaller ships began to slide into view, flanking the mighty vessel like a swarm of insects. Some were ablaze, others listing or veering away, explosions tearing across their silver-grey flanks.
Sickly emerald lightning poured from the massed ships and out across the void behind them, a vast carpet of pulsating power.

The transfixed Chaplain visibly flinched as something cold and sharp passed through his head, a silent, resonating scream that seemed to scrape at the edges of his consciousness. A low murmur of displeasure passed through the group behind him as they too felt it, if only for a fleeting second.
‘The Nicassar.’ He heard Grungi snarl from somewhere behind him. ‘Damn it! We may have to leave here sooner than I had anticipated.’

Codian turned away from the screen and watched as the Demiurg became tense and agitated, his attention once more turned to the vast control banks of the ship.
‘What is it? I thought you said we were shielded from detection.’
‘Hnn. Not from the Nicassar, we aren’t. No one is. We have to leave now or they’ll bring the Mont’ka Kor’vattra down on our heads. Hold on.’

Codian and the others felt the huge ship list as it began to turn, the flare of its neoplasma warp core quaking the deck. The Chaplain glanced back through the screen, watching as the massive Tombship itself began to slow and turn, vast glowing particle energies flaring from its crescent prow.
That was the moment that would stay etched in his memory for the rest of his life.
That was the moment he caught his first glimpse of the Tau.

Something so incredibly vast that it cast a shadow over the ancient Tombship blotted out the light of the stars themselves as it moved into sight. The ship was easily twice the size of the Necron vessel; so huge it was impossible to even attempt to gauge its size. Immense lances of glowing white energy stabbed from her prow and speared the Tombship, punching holes through the shifting metal as it were made of the flimsiest paper.
More and more of the energy beams began to illuminate the scene, cutting swathes through the outclassed vessel and dissecting it with each blast. The stricken Tombship began to come apart before his eyes, huge sections of the gunmetal hull spinning away into the void, the cauterised segments glowing white-hot where the beams had parted them.
As the Demiurg ship began to turn out of sight of the battle he watched as glittering debris began to pour from the dying vessel and he realised at once what he was seeing.
Necrons. Necrons were spilling from the ship like rain.

Another piercing psychic scream shook his head and he cried out, his teeth bared. The others fell to their knees as the sound shook the ship, unable to withstand the searing pain of the assault. Only Grungi seemed fairly unshaken by the sudden and debilitating attack, and even then it was clear that he too was not immune to its effects.

Codian hauled himself to his feet and watched as a score of small, elegant ships seemed to materialise as if from nowhere, forming a growing, shimmering line as they appeared one after another. A second later the stars behind them seemed to stretch and blur…
And they were gone.

#

PART THREE.

Rogue Trader.

He left the escape boat behind him, tilting his head as he passed through the hatch. The others had decided to stay within the confines of the Imperial craft for the rest of the journey, the abundance of xenos technology surrounding them too much to bear.
As he left the haunting empty spaces of the vast cargo hangar he could still hear their sonorous voices, joined together in prayer. He felt guilt at his absence, for as the Chaplain it was his duty to be there above anyone else. On this occasion however, the welfare of his brothers had to take precedence.
Their hearts were heavy with regret. While they had slumbered the centuries away the Imperium had fallen to a tide of xenos filth.
They should have been there. They should have fought alongside their lost brethren.

The events of the past few hours still lay heavy in his mind and try as he might, he could not shake the feeling of disorientation. The things he had seen and experienced since his awakening were more than any loyal servant of the Imperium should ever have to bear. Demiurg, Necrons, Tau and Nicassar. The xenos races seemed to dominate this galaxy, an observation that positively filled him with dread. He could scarcely imagine no greater crime.

He passed into the wide bridge, the hiss of the opening door announcing his arrival, and stopped dead.
Two faces turned to greet him. Two pairs of eyes watched as he stalled in his advance, his head drawing back in surprise.
The Demiurg was not alone. Standing beside him was a man, a human male, tall and slender next to the alien’s squat form.
Most of the man’s long blonde hair was drawn back and tied behind his head, leaving the rest to drape over his shoulders either loose or in braids. He wore a flight suit of deep blue velvet, his thigh-length boots and oversized cuffs finished in dusted silver. A thick leather waistcoat hung from his shoulders, partially hiding the many straps and bandoliers that criss-crossed his chest. An ornate sabre hung from one hip, a curious golden firearm from the other.
‘Ah! Gammet’s moon, I still can’t believe it! Grungi, you old dog! Living Space Marines, vintage ones no less! What a find!’

‘Codian. You seem troubled.’ Grungi announced, his hands filthy with oil and unguents. He placed the strange tools he had been working with down on the floor and moved to meet with the Marine, wiping his hands down his bare chest as he did so. The man followed, his face a picture of awe and amusement.
‘I am. We all are. I need to know where you intend to take us, Demiurg. I need to know now.’
‘Hmm. I told you. We are heading for Imperial space. Do you doubt my word?’
‘Should we?’
Grungi snarled and headed back to the control banks once more, his fingers probing the multitude of indistinguishable levers and runes encrusting the many panels.

‘I think you’ve upset him.’ The man whispered, a smile creeping across his face. ‘He does tend to take insult very easily. I you had been anything other than an Astarte he may well have pulled your intestines out through your back passage.’

Codian lowered his face slowly towards that of the man, his massive armoured form casting a shadow over the wiry figure before him.
‘And who are you?’ He growled.
‘Morten Andrasi, Rogue Trader. Loyal servant of the Alliance Imperialis Solar. For the right price, of course.’
‘I see. You address a Chaplain of the Ultramarines, boy.’ He announced with a low, ominous voice. ‘I find your tone overly familiar, and I too take insult very easily.’
The smile faded and the colour drained from his face. He stepped back and bowed his head sharply as Codian straightened his shoulders once again, his expression never once altering.

Seconds later the air before them shimmered and distorted and a huge vertical stellar map thrummed into view, the hazy spiral of the galaxy instantly recognisable to the Ultramarine.

‘We are here.’ Andrasi announced, pointing towards the western end of the galactic hub. The western reaches of the former Ultima Segmentum.
We will round the Maelstrom to the north and slip through the Tau blockades north east of Catachan. We should make it through to the Segmentum Solar without too much trouble.’

Codian strode forward to stand before the holo-display. He raised his finger and stabbed it into the shimmering light, the image rippling and distorting where he touched it.
‘You say we are here. I understand that we are closer to Terra, but is it not possible to journey south east to Ultramar? We are Ultramarines and we have a duty to defend our realm. We wish to rejoin our Chapter.’

Andrasi and Grungi glanced at one another without exchanging a word, the looks on their faces alone enough to cause concern.
‘What is it?’
Grungi simply shook his head and turned his attention back to the repairs at hand. Andrasi stepped forward hesitantly, his hands clasped together.
‘Ah, that would not be a good idea. Grungi explained your ‘situation’ to me, though he is a creature of few words. It’s clear he hasn’t gone into the finer details on exactly what kind of state the Imperium is in now or you wouldn’t even be asking that.’

He glanced back towards the Demiurg who in turn was now lost amongst the inner workings of the controls, muttering softly to himself. He sighed and turned to face the Chaplain once more, his manner now clearly more respectful.
‘Good sir, the galaxy has always been a dangerous place. These days it is lethal. Grungi told me what happened with the Necrontyr Tombship so I know that you have seen for yourself first-hand just how powerful the Tau are.
The ships of the Mont’ka Kor’vattra are the largest and most powerful in the galaxy. The extinction fleets are able to scour entire systems upon passing. No single force in this galaxy stands a chance of facing them and finding victory.’
‘Ultramar, boy. All I want to know is what has happened to Ultramar.’

Andrasi sighed and lowered his gaze.
‘Please, brother Codian, walk with me to my ship. I have much to explain to you, none of it good.’

+++

Codian ascended the ramp of the cutter and entered the hold, the cold illuminators shining upon his smooth black armour.
Andrasi followed him and then moved off towards a small recess, taking a bottle of violet liquid in one hand and a delicate crystal flute glass in the other.
‘I assume you don’t consume alcohol?’ He asked, pouring himself a large measure.
Codian shook his head.
The Rogue Trader tipped his head and then moved to sit down, offering the chaplain a seat opposite him.
Codian frowned and then took the seat, the frame beneath groaning under his weight.
‘Answers, Rogue Trader.’

Andrasi nodded and leaned back against the rest, exhaling deeply. It was clear that he was reluctant to chance the Marine’s wrath. Codian could sense that he was not going to be pleased by what he was about to hear.
‘The Hellrunner may be small but she’s old, Chaplain. She was my father’s and his father before him. She has been out amongst these stars for a very long time.’

He took a long sip of the intoxicating beverage and then gestured towards the surrounding hold, an attempt to draw Codian’s attention to the many artefacts scattered about the space.
‘Like my father and my grandfather, I’ve always been somewhat of a historian. The past fascinates me. That is why I was so looking forward to meeting with you, honoured warrior. The glorious days of the Imperium are but a distant and captivating dream to me, a time when mankind ruled the stars unopposed. A time I can only imagine with fondness.’

He paused then, taking another long sip from the ornate glass, bearing his teeth as the burning liquid slid down his throat.
‘My alliance with Grungi goes back years, decades even. He is a good and honourable soul, alien or not. He saved me from the Tau…however, that is a story for another time. I know you seek answers, honoured warrior. I would consider it an honour to enlighten you.’
‘Then do so.’ Codian answered abruptly.
‘Tell me what you want to know.’ Andasi continued, spreading his fingers.
‘Everything.’ Came Codian’s reply, as abrupt and certain as any could be.
Andrasi sighed again.

‘There is a legend.’ He began, shifting his weight uncomfortably. ‘Of a time when the Tau were young. Some say they were naïve, that they wished to expand their borders through diplomacy and unity. I can’t imagine that.
It was a time when other, far older races fought over the domination of the galaxy. The empire of man stretched across the stars, unrivalled in power. A time of the ancient Eldar and the green-skinned Ork, when the vast swarms of the Tyranid consumed whole worlds and the foul servants of the Warp Gods spilled from the Eye.’

Codian listened in silence, his armoured hands clasped together. It was strange to listen to someone speak of the galaxy he knew this way. He was still coming to terms with the fact that it was all gone. He could not bring himself to imagine it any other way, yet he had seen with his own eyes just how powerful the Tau had become.

‘Somewhere along the line all that changed. No one knows for sure when and why it happened, but there are rumours.
The legend tells of a Fire warrior commander called O’Shovah and a dead world called Arthas-Moloch. Something he found there changed him. He did what no other Tau had ever done; he broke away from the influence of the Ethereals and founded his own enclave.’
‘I know of this ‘Farsight’.’ Codian interrupted, his lip curling with distaste. ‘The Ultramarines fought against him many times.’

Andrasi paused for a moment, a look of near-reverence passing over his face. He smiled and shook his head, clearly in awe of the ancient warrior.
‘To think you were alive when my great grandfather owned this ship. A free captain, he was known to trade with the Tau of the Farsight enclaves and he did so for many years.
One day, all trading ceased. Ships were turned away from Tau space without reason or explanation. It was rumoured by some that a great force of Tau led by the Ethereals of a planet named N’dras were moving to face the renegade commander, to call him to account for his dissidence.
Somewhere along the way, they found Arthas-Moloch. That’s where it all began.’
‘So what happened on Arthas-Moloch?’

Andrasi shrugged his shoulders, his eyes fixed upon the gleaming crystal in his hand.
‘No one knows. The Tau have never spoken of what they found there, and no free captain has ever dared investigate the planet.
All that is known is that whatever O’Shovah found there changed him. What it had to do with the rest of the Tau empire, and whether or not it was in part responsible for what happened to them, no one knows.
The Eldar were the first to figure out that something was wrong. They must have known how bad things were going to get because they didn’t even try to stop it. They just…left.’

Codian frowned and shifted his considerable weight, the seat beneath him protesting audibly once again. Andrasi saw this and smiled again, then closed his eyes for a fleeting moment.
‘The Eldar. The ancient and magnificent craftworlds of the Eldar haunt my dreams. They must have been a sight to behold. I remember my grandfather…’
The Chaplain’s stern gaze brought that particular story arc to a very abrupt end.

‘Anyway, they got out while they could. They headed out towards the Great Void and no one has ever heard of them since.
It was at this point that the Imperium sat up and began to take notice. New species began to emerge one after another, all flying the banner of the Tau empire. The Kroot, the Demiurg, the Nissacar and the Vespid were joined…’

Andrasi’s explanatory drone was cut suddenly and unceremoniously short as Codian’s fist came smashing down on the table, the blow shattering the antique wood into shards. The crystal decanter and glass both disappeared, consumed by the sudden explosion of fine timber.
The Rogue Trader brought his knees up to his face and sank into the crimson leather, emitting a short and somewhat pathetic yelp of surprise.

The Chaplain rose to his feet and blotted out the lights of the hold, his eyes glowing with unrestrained anger.
‘Enough!’ He roared, a brace of armoured fists the size of Andrasi’s head hovering maliciously close. ‘This is unacceptable! I have neither the time nor the luxury to sit here and listen as you drone incessantly on! I have no interest as to how the damned Tau came to conquer this galaxy! I want simple answers!’

The terrified free captain seemed to sink into his seat, his trembling hands raised up to his face.
‘Please, whatever you want to know I will tell you! Don’t kill me!’
‘Ultramar!’ Codian roared, punching his fist through the thick bulkhead above him. ‘Tell me what fate has befallen Ultramar or I will tear this ship apart with my hands!’
‘Ultramar has fallen!’ Andrasi all but squealed, leaping from the seat and out of harm’s way. ‘Warmaster Calgar defended the Ultima Segmentum for almost four hundred years before he was forced back to the Segmentum Solar! The region is lost!’

Codian withdrew his fist and lowered his gaze once more. His armoured chest heaved with each colossal breath, yet the almost bestial rage that burned within his eyes seemed to dull.
He stood and stared at the rogue trader for what seemed an age. Finally, he spoke again.
‘Fallen. Even Macragge?’
Andrasi nodded, too terrified to speak.
‘And the Ultramarines?’
‘I…I know little of the Astartes factions, honoured warrior. All I know is that the Warmaster holds sway over them all, no matter their former allegiance.
The Tau hunt them without mercy or hesitation because they fear them. They fear the Space Marines more than any other force in this galaxy. For four centuries they have led a determined campaign of extermination against the Astartes, cleansing homeworlds and hunting battle fleets wherever they could find them. All surviving Marines now fight under a single banner, the banner of Calgar, the banner of the Alliance Imperialis Solar.’
‘And what of Terra?’
‘The last bastion of the Imperium, lord. Every last remaining loyalist fights even as we speak to keep the Tau from taking the Segmentum Solar. The extinction fleets have encroached as far as the defences of Saturn. Some say it is a matter of months before Titan and her sisters are overrun.
Mars is already gone; she was lost almost a hundred years ago when the Great Unity first moved against the Segmentum Solar. They sent almost ten thousand Kroot Warspheres through the warp in an abortive attempt to capture her. The Priests of the Forge detonated her core rather than allow the Unity to capture her secrets.’

Codian backed away, his teeth still bared in anger despite his subtle change in mood.
‘Impossible.’ He growled, unable to take on board the man’s preposterous claims. ‘How can any race rise to such power in such a short space of time, especially the Tau.
The Tau are weak, they always have been. Their technology is all that has kept them alive this long. They barter and bargain, they entreat and reason. They conquer systems and races through promises of protection and equality. They do not have the stomach for all-out aggression.’
‘And yet all I tell you is true.’ Andrasi continued, shifting forward hesitantly.

The Rogue Trader took a deep, lingering breath and swept his long braids over his face, composing himself as best he could.
‘The Tau you knew are long gone, Marine. They have changed beyond all recognition into an empire of monsters and murderers, driven by an insatiable desire to conquer and enslave or else exterminate every living creature in this galaxy.’

He paused then, lowering his eyes for a moment as if contemplating his own words. Finally he found the Chaplain’s gaze once more.
‘Sound familiar?’

Codian sneered and turned away, unwilling to allow the Rogue Trader to see his reaction. He knew exactly what Andrasi was getting at by that remark. What troubled him was, for the first time since he could remember, he did not have an answer.
‘So, where are we headed to.’ He uttered, changing the subject as tactfully as a charging carnodon.
Andrasi smiled as he slumped down onto the faded leather of his captain’s chair and removed his gloves. He issued a short, sharp series of commands and the bridge crew about him began to set about their individual allotted tasks as one. Satisfied, he turned his attention back to the waiting Astarte.
‘Why, to the place we take all our Imperial salvage. Andrasi answered. ‘To the last bastion of the Mechanicus.’
He opened his hands before him as he spoke the last word, almost as if the Chaplain would already know the answer.
‘Ryza.’

#

PART FOUR.

A journey to Ryza, the Ork and the Demiurg.

‘Ryza.’ Laenar uttered, nodding his head slowly. ‘At long last, we may be getting somewhere.’
The others simply glanced his way and then turned away. It was clear than they failed to share the same enthusiasm for the infamous Forge World.

Codian didn’t particularly care whether or not their destination was a Mechanicus world. All he cared about was that they were soon to reach Imperial-held territory. All that mattered now was that they be re-established with the Imperium, and Ryza would provide this link.

‘We have been travelling for two days now. I am ready to tear this damned xenos ship apart with my bare hands.’ Berolinus snarled, glancing around him.
‘Actually, seeing as you are currently onboard the Hellrunner, this is a human ship.’ Andrasi interrupted, somewhat cautiously.
‘My ship, actually. I would be very grateful if you and your brethren would cease to threaten her structural integrity.’
The Ultramarine simply glared at Andrasi as though he were about to shove his head down into his bowel for even daring to address him.

The Rogue Trader swallowed hard and cleared his throat.
‘As I was saying, our best chance of slipping through the Tau blockade is to take my ship. The Grudgebearer is incredibly powerful but she’s about as subtle as a warp storm. The Hellrunner is small but she’s fast, faster than anything that’s chased her yet. Even if they manage to detect us they’ll never catch us.’
‘She’d better be fast, pirate.’ Berolinus growled. ‘This damned journey seems to be taking forever.’
‘Oh, she is. I told you, she’s a human vessel. She’s fully warp-capable and I have my own Navigator. We won’t be ‘skimming’ like the Grudgebearer. We will slip by the shift-nets once we reach the edges of the defences and then make the short jump to Ryza. It should be pretty painless.’

Codian watched as the Rogue Trader turned and began to head towards the door of the hold.
‘How long, Andrasi?’
The man slowed, their eyes meeting for a moment.
‘How long before we reach these defences?’
‘Did you not feel the bulkheads shift minutes ago, Chaplain? It would seem that we are already here.’

+++

The domed structures stretched across the twinkling void as far as the naked eye could see. Above and below them the countless automated detection drones hung suspended and in their millions, the silent sentries of the Segmentum Solar blockade.

The sleek black ship slid into the vacuum like a dart into water, giving off a single flare of thrust before shimmering briefly and sliding beneath the stars themselves.
Behind it, the hulking and desolate Stronghold ship bore witness to its departure, invisible to the sensors of the alien cordon, its captain no longer aboard.

‘Prandium’s ruin, look at that!’
Umbras pushed his hands against the cool glass of the viewport and stared out at the inconceivable spectacle. The others couldn’t help but share his reaction. The sheer volume and size of the massed Tau defences were nothing short of overwhelming.
‘Ah, don’t let any of that put you off.’ Andrasi smiled, leaning on the padded arm of his rather flamboyant captain’s chair.
‘These blockades were erected to stop battle fleets, not lone cutters. It’s how the Tau think, power is all, size matters and all that. They don’t even consider a ship this size to be worth acknowledging.
Their mistake.’

The Marines looked on through the deep red glow in silence as the Rogue Trader turned and nodded to his Astropath, the hunched figure swathed in dark brown robes by his side.
The psyker bowed his head and began to whisper beneath his breath, the low, incomprehensible words seeming to charge the air of the bridge with a cold, ozone tang.
‘We just have to make sure the Nicasscar aren’t lurking out there.’ Andrasi explained. ‘If they are and they catch our scent then we’re screwed. It’s just precaution.’

‘The Nicassar, why are they so feared?’ Umbras asked, turning away from the porthole. ‘The Nicassar were barely known to us in our time and yet you seem to fear them even more than the Tau.’
‘Trust me, the Nicassar are bad. They can boil your blood and drag your intestines out through your nose with a thought. Every single one of them is a near Alpha-level psyker. The Tau use them mainly to hunt down the renegade fleets still at large in the galaxy. No one can hide from the Nicassar.’

Codian sighed as he watched the seemingly endless structures speeding by, merging into one continuous ivory blur.
So much had changed since they had last looked upon these stars. Almost everyone he had known as a brother was gone, lost to the sands of time. He found himself unable to imagine Tau’s rise to power without feeling the anger well within his breast.
Every time he closed his eyes he could see his warrior brethren fighting to halt the xenogen tide. He could see the brave Ultramarines as they were told that they would have to abandon Ultramar, feel the despair in their hearts.
Warriors he should have fought alongside. Warriors that it had been his life’s duty to give spiritual guidance to.
He had failed.

‘Tell me of Ryza, Andrasi.’ Laenar asked, interrupting his silent lamentation. ‘How has she survived this war unscathed when this Great Unity you speak of has encroached so far into the Hallowed Segmentum?’
Upon hearing this the Rogue Trader smiled.
‘Ah, you are the student of the Machine God, my proud comrade. You tell me. Ryza has survived despite all else, though I wouldn’t exactly say unscathed.
As it was in the wars against the Orks, the call of war was once again answered by her sister worlds, Barac, Ulani and Dulma’lin. These worlds sacrificed themselves so as to provide Ryza with enough manpower to keep the Tau at bay.
Even now her hold is a precarious one. Without sufficient aid she will fall in time. A most…regrettable situation.’

As Laenar heard this he seemed to grow somewhat agitated, his mood darkening.
‘How precarious?’
Andrasi lifted his hand and tipped his head, the lights of the bridge shifting in hue again.
‘Let us continue this discussion in a moment. We are about to transfer.’

The lights shifted again as the entire ship seemed to blur around them for a second, a deep, resonating thrum accompanying the change. Every window surrounding the bridge became a blank grey wall as the warp shielding slid into place, completing the transition.
‘We’ve entered the warp.’ Andrasi announced, taking a deep breath. ‘We should reach Ryza soon. Dolos, send word of our arrival ahead.’

+++

Codian made to rise as he felt the ship shudder and change about him once again, tired of sitting and waiting for the journey to end. He had led the others in prayer for the last fourteen hours and now would normally be the time for honing his skills and his body in the Chapter training complex.
He still had centuries of atrophy to work off, despite the efforts of his own accelerated physique to recover from the long sleep. In truth, he found himself eager for war, his mind only too willing to goad his body on.

Andrasi glanced up from the readout display before him and saw his approach, his grim face illuminated by the glow of the screens before him.
‘You have finished your meditations, Chaplain?’
Codian nodded and moved to join him, his eyes finding the bank of screens spread out before him.
‘How long before we reach Ryza, captain?’

Andrasi seemed a little taken aback by this, and it was more than a few seconds before Codian realised why. He had actually addressed him as captain.
‘We are about to exit the warp.’ He answered matter-of-factly, his voice audibly strained.

The Chaplain nodded again and fell silent for a while, something clearly on his mind. It was as if the Rogue Trader’s suspicious mood had set him on edge.
‘You never answered Laenar’s question, Andrasi.’ He finally uttered. ‘Just how stable is the forge world?’

Andrasi shrugged his shoulders and turned away, his eyes narrowing.
‘Brother Chaplain, Ryza is a mighty world but she is stranded. The majority of the Tau fleets are amassed around Saturn, intent on breaking her defences.
After Mars the Tau seem understandably hesitant to aggressively attack Mechanicus worlds. They know only too well that when the Priests of the Forge decide that it’s time to cut their losses, they do so in spectacular fashion. They are unwilling to take the same risks that almost saw the Kroot driven to extinction by the loss of Mars.
Besides which, Ryza’s long-range orbital defences are legendary. The Tau are powerful but they are unwilling and can ill-afford to sacrifice their ships in the capture or destruction of a single world. The majority of the Great Unity’s naval might is currently engaged in pushing through to Terra and in truth, they simply can’t meet the expense of the inevitable losses they would sustain.
No, the only possible way to break Ryza would be with a massed infantry assault consisting of thousands of small, fast craft.’

Codian pondered this for a moment, considering the Rogue Trader’s words.
‘Is this possible? An invasion, I mean.’

Andrasi smiled weakly and swivelled in his chair, despressing a number of the small, glowing runes beside him.
‘Before I answer that, I must first ask you a question. Are you eager to face the enemies of your Imperium once more?’
Codian frowned as he heard this but tipped his head immediately, his immense chest seeming to expand even further.
‘I exist to destroy those who stand against the Emperor’s realm. It is the duty of each and every Space Marine to do so. Why do you ask?’

Andrasi rubbed his forehead and glanced at the others of his crew, the line of faces that met him equally as grim and anxious.
‘Such an invasion is more than possible. In fact, it would seem that it is already underway.’

Almost immediately following this statement the warp-shielding surrounding the bridge retracted to reveal the stars beyond.
It was only after several moments of silent, awe-struck observation that the gathered Marines realised they weren’t stars at all.
They were ships. Thousands upon thousands of ships. Ugly and angular, no two were the same.

‘By the codex…’ Umbras gasped, facing the others.
‘It has finally happened. I don’t believe it.’ Andrasi uttered, shaking his head slowly. ‘We have been waiting for this moment with bated breath for the last seven years and dreading its arrival every single one of those days.
The inhabitants of Sulairn. The only race within the Unity powerful and insane enough to even attempt such an attack.’

Every Marine face turned to the Rogue Trader as one. He stared back, the trademark smirk that seemed to have been fixed to the corners of his mouth faded and gone.
‘The Orks.’

+++

The sleek cutter shook as her engines were gunned to maximum, the space about her bright and burning. The guns of Ryza were now answering the massed Ork advance with extreme prejudice, huge columns of solid blinding lance-energy piercing the cold void.
Ships broke apart or were simply vaporised in their hundreds as each huge blast speared through the endless armada, and yet the shifting mass bore on, closing upon the vast gunmetal-grey ball with the passing of each second.

Illuminated by the glow of the consoles before him, Andrasi’s face was a mask of silent fear.
‘I’ve sent the signal. I’ve sent the signal…’ Was all he could say, over and over again.
‘This is madness! We’ll never survive!’ Laenar hollered, his armoured fingers closed tight around the arms of the descent seat. ‘We haven’t a prayer of making it!’
‘Then we’ll die a glorious death!’ Grungi roared by his side, his single eye wide and wild with anticipation.
‘All I know is that I’ll swim through the bloody void myself and make landfall if I have to! There are Greyskins to be slayed and by Thor’s steel **** I’ll die beneath a pile of Ork corpses a thousand high or I’ll live forever!’

The cutter shuddered again, causing alarm systems to open up across the bridge. The pilot screamed curses as he wrenched the controls in all directions, fighting to keep the ship out of harm’s way.

Codian sat in silence, the cold eyes of his skull-helm reflecting each and every explosion and blast. His bolt pistol and his crozius sat in wait on his lap, ready to strike down the alien enemies of the Imperium.
His pulses were steady, his mind calm and clear. His senses were ultra-alert, his muscles tensing and relaxing automatically.
It was time and he was ready. He was ready for war.

Andrasi had explained the fall and assimilation of the Orks as thoroughly and fully as he was able considering their circumstances.
The Orks, the largest and most powerful race of creatures in the galaxy of his time, were now part of the Great Unity. The Tau had managed to do what no other force or empire had ever been able to. They had conquered them.
The Ethereals had discovered how the Ork reproduced and in doing so they uncovered the key to their downfall.
They began to trail the great Waaaghs! that swept through the galaxy and seek out the worlds devastated in their wake, worlds ripe with the seed of the Ork. They had realised centuries ago that the Ork could never be persuaded or reasoned with, and so it was that they conspired to bring down the race from within.
Not even Andrasi knew every detail of how this came about, only that the Tau began to alter the genetic structure of the developing Orkoid creatures, adding elements of their own DNA into the gestating alien life forms.
What emerged from the dark recesses and shaded crevices were unnatural monstrosities similar and yet as far removed from their green-skinned kin as could be, creatures with all the strength and resilience of their feral cousins and yet completely and utterly subservient to the influence of the Ethereals.
The Tau realised almost at once exactly how these creatures would be best used, and so it was that they orchestrated a long and aggressive campaign of civil war, Ork against Ork, using the grey-skinned hybrids to first thin and then finally exterminate their kin.

It was this event that had triggered the dissention of the Demiurg. The Tau had long known of the long-standing hatred the Demiurg had of the Orks, for it was this hatred that had first persuaded the hub-dwelling race to join the Tau empire.
The same hatred that would see the Grungi and his kind all but exterminated.

Realising that the Demiurg would never accept the Orks as allies the Tau turned on their former comrades and wiped the race from the face of the galaxy. To them, the Demiurg homeworlds were worth more to them than the race itself. The environmental conditions associated with the vast underground strongholds proved to be ideal breeding of Orks. Within a matter of years the Demiurg homeworlds were transformed into the largest collective of breeding worlds in the galaxy.
For Grungi, the ultimate insult.
Codian felt he now understood the depths of Grungi’s suicidal madness. In truth, he too could feel the same gnawing hatred beginning to darken the edges of his soul.

‘It is time.’ He uttered to himself, his fingers tightening around the weapons resting before him. ‘To show the enemies of the Emperor how to fear once again.’

End of part 4

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