The moaning had stopped.

A deathly veil of silence reigned the battlefield. Inside an old bar, Ranger Aveneth of Craftworld Alaitoc sighed. The last of the dying must have finally died; took them long enough. That or they just ran out of energy to moan. Either way, it mattered little whether they had found peace or not, his ears finally did, and that was all he gave a damn care about. The last couple of hours had been next to torturous with all the agonized whining. Aveneth supposed he could have ended them sooner, but he was reluctant to waste precious ammo on enemies that were already down. Furthermore, he did not want to give away his position.

The first beam of sunlight shone from afar. A new day was coming. Viewing from the window on the second floor, Aveneth spied on the street nearby. A significant battle was fought there. Many had met their untimely end in this place, humans, Orks and Tau. The street was now littered with fresh corpses and written-off war machines, so great their number that it was impossible to tell apart one from another at some places. Not a single building was intact. Many had crumpled completely, their tender architecture unable to withstand the overwhelming force applied by the soldiers and war machines, while another two were on fire. Aveneth was no stranger to scenes of carnage, the Path of the Warrior steeling his resolve before wanderlust got the better of him, but what he could not tolerate was the wastefulness in which his human allies handled their resource. That they had the amount to do so did not give them the right to use in such lavish manner.

But who was he blaming anyway? They were, in the end, just humans.

However, the human's gross waste of resource was nothing compared to their enemies. In a graceless maneuver last night, the Tau's Battlesuit cadre descended on the Marinesh's defense line, hoping to catch their foe off-guarded and frighten them off. Unfortunately for them, the area was meticulously (despite himself, Aveneth had to give the humans some credit for this one) mined and four had their legs blown off upon landing. Like grasshoppers landing on top of an anthill, they were quickly swarmed by enraged Imperial soldiers, pilots dragged from the encasement before swiftly executed. The ones able to control their descent fared no better as they were shot to pieces by quad-AA guns even as they soared away from peril. That defeat alone should have raised at least a red flag or two about the danger involved in tackling the soldiers of Marinesh in a ground that was more advantageous to them, and yet, the Blueskins decided to go on regardless.

The battle was bloody, pitting advanced technology against proficient combat skills, iron-cold discipline against red-hot zealotry, but in the end, the war of attrition turned in favor of the humans with the arrival of further reinforcement. Not willing to needlessly waste more lives to this meat grinder, the Tau made a withdrawal from this section of the town, though Colonel Kalimgor was certain these opportunistic aliens would be back as soon as the Imperials took their eyes off.

Aveneth had volunteered to stay behind and patrol the area. His decision was based on the need to get away from those loud-mouthed humans as well as those meddling Biel-tanese, especially their Warlock who kept probing on his mind. He was a Ranger, marksman, lone wolf. The fewer people around him distracting his aim, blowing his cover, making him lose his focus, the better the results he would get. On top of that, there was a personal reason why he stayed.

A very important personal reason.

There was the sound of footstep on the lower floor. It was very soft, but distinct, nevertheless. Fleshy feet on dust-covered ceramic floor. Quick was their pace but short the distance of each step. Aveneth did not tense, as years of wandering across the galaxy had given him an edge in detecting the presence of others and judging by the normal pace, there was no threat accompanied. Probably someone sent to check up on him. Aveneth specifically insisted on working alone. It would seem the humans did not have much faith in him.

The door to the room opened and in walked a slender figure. The human was female, as Aveneth was quick to recognize, their sexual characteristics uncannily resembling those of the Eldar. She looked older than Caroline, but if Aveneth were to guess, she would be the same age as Aya had Aya been a human with the same appearance minus the pointy years and jewelry fetish. Her brown hair was long and tidy with a bow on top. She did not wear uniform of militia but instead an oversized jacket with blue dress and no shoes. Though her jacket bore the emblem of Faust Kompanie, Aveneth doubted she was a combatant.

In all respect, she looked pretty.

"Uhm… hallo," the human girl stuttered in front of Aveneth. She seemed unsure of herself, which was understandable given the lack of close encounters of the third kind most humans experienced. She had probably never seen an Eldar before and clung on to whatever she was taught about them which was not much and contained mostly prevarication. "You are an Eldar, right?"

"What kind of other species I could belong to then?" Aveneth lowered his brows.

"But…you don't look too different from us. Except for the..." She sheepishly put a hand on her ear. Aveneth scoffed.

"Does the Imperial Creed tell you we have six limps and purple skin? Or does it teach how we live on trees and lay eggs?"

"No, I…uhm" the girl stammered.

"Cut to the chase, little human," Aveneth continued impatiently. "Explain the meaning of your presence here."

The girl stood herself upright, took a deep breath and then spoke, "Sorry for disturbing you. I was sent here to assist you. If you need anything, please…"

"I do have something to ask of you," the Eldar Ranger replied curtly. Great, now they gave him a pet to take care of. Bloody Khain-tastic. "And that is get the hell away from here before I flay you alive and rip out your heart with my bare hands."

Any other human would have flinched at the hostility, but the girl started giggling. Aveneth was not sure whether he had mispronounced something, or she was indeed chronically brain dead.

The Eldar grimaced, "What is there that is laughter-worthy about?"

"You are so funny," said the human. "Is that a trait of your people? I sure did not learn that."

"The Eldar possess more traits than your tiny brain could ever comprehend," said Aveneth grimly. "Being funny is NOT one of them. And don't start about Harlequins. They are annoying."

"I am Amana Rosette, by the way," the girl went on, seemingly oblivious to the threat from the Eldar. "Please call me Amana."

"I did not ask for how you would like me to call you," said Aveneth. What an bummer. He might as well shoot her in the face right now and get this over with. "That is not for you to decide. You are sent here to be my pet, and I will refer you whichever way I see fit." Much to his frustration, the girl did not seem to have the slightest inkling as to what he just said.

"I brought you some food," said Amana absentmindedly as she brought out some sandwiches wrapped in paper. "You want some?"

The Eldar shifted uncomfortably. He had not been eating anything since yesterday breakfast, and even then, he did not have much. His stomach had been growling ever since he got to this town. He would love to accept, but not do so in a way the girl would think she were a live-saver or something; that would be awful for his reputation.

"You appear a loyal pet," said Aveneth as he took the sandwich from her. "Perhaps the human race is not a complete waste of space in the galaxy after all."

"Thanks," the girl replied, smiling despite the unmasked derision in the message. At that point, Aveneth came to conclusion that her brain was, indeed, as dead as anyone beneath the feet of a Squiggoth.

Aveneth tried eating as slowly and as Eldar-ishly as he could. He was a Ranger, outcast and traveler, and, thus, Craftworld etiquette had little meaning to him. Normally, he would chomp down like a shark to quench his hunger as quickly as possible, but not in front of a human. Especially not THIS one. The girl sat down, arms circling around her knees. She was still smiling her cute (even by Eldar standards) smile.

It tasted good. Aveneth stuck to his gun: humans might be smelly and ugly and dumb, but they had good taste when it came to culinary.

Except for fast food. That was abominable.

Aveneth swallowed the content in his mouth, "Your feet, are they not cold?" The night was almost freezing. Even right now, the Eldar could feel the chill brushing against his long, pointed ears.

The girl looked down to her exposed feet now blistered in the cold. "It's nothing. Really, I'm fine." Aveneth was sure she was lying. Her muscles of her legs were tensing and her dirt-caked toes fidgeting nervously.

Was this how the humans treat their future generation?

"You are not a soldier," Aveneth tilted his head, his gaping eyes scrutinizing the human girl. If anything, his travelling the galaxy had taught Aveneth the importance of close observation events and objects so tiny under the eyes of the majority onlookers they did not or could not exist. "When I look into your eye, I see no anger, no hatred, no sense of fear or of loss. You have never killed anyone, deliberately or not, and you have no wish to. Your hands are clumsy, not fit to wield a gun. Your body is frail, easily broken by the slightest of brutal force. Why are you here, then?"

"I have already told you," Amana said, looking nervous all of a sudden. "I came to assist you should you need any-…"

"What I asked is why you came to the militia in the first place," Aveneth explained. "You were not recruited, were you?"

"Oh, that." Amana stared at the floor for a moment. Then, she looked up, saying, "I was not taken in because they deem me in any way helpful, but out of sympathy."

"So you were displaced by the Greenskin invasion as well?" the Ranger asked.

"No really," said the girl. "My father is a farmer. He is kind and hard-working, but also loves to gamble. He believes he could change his life quickly as a wink. In the end, he did so, by accumulating too much debt not even the entirety of our family wealth could pay off. To get the money, he arranged a marriage for me and the son of the local noble. I was against it."

"As you should," said Aveneth firmly. Many families on the Craftworlds, especially Biel-tan and Iyanden, had started going to the Seers and receiving prediction who the best future fiancé for their scions would be upon their children's birth. This method was to ensure sustained population growth, but the sense of artificiality and the loss of freewill gave rise to much criticism from traditionalists. Aveneth personally was disgusted by it.

"Thank you for saying that," Amana continued. "It didn't help. I felt like an object no more no less at the hand of the man whom I do not love. I cried a lot, and my husband would beat me up until I stopped." She slipped the collar of her jacket to reveal bruises on her shoulder and back. For such a frail body, Aveneth could feel great pain and suffering. "Then, the Orks came. They slaughtered everyone. My husband abandoned me. I would have died had the people of Faust Kompanie not save me. My father still lives, but I could not go back to the man who sold me anymore. I don't have the courage to face him. And so,..."

The girl stopped. There were unshed tears in her eyes. Aveneth could understand the rest. Faust Kompanie had become her new family. However, that did not go well as the company specialized in frontline shock assault and close combat, which she could not follow and even if she could, she would be nothing but deadweight. As a result, they sent her here to be his pet instead. The more he looked at her, the more Aveneth could see how badly she was wanting to please him.

Finishing his sandwich, the Ranger spoke, "To be perfectly honest, I do have a task for you, are you up for it?"

"What is it?" asked the girl eagerly.

"Have a look," Aveneth pointed out the window. Amana followed his gaze upon the battlefield. "How much do you know about the Tau, apart from they are blue-skinned and Greater Good obsessed?"

"Not much, why?"

"The Tau society is divided into 4 castes," Aveneth elaborated. Like a master to his pet, he thought. "I do not have time to discuss them all, but the Fire Caste is responsible for conducting war. In order to keep harmony amongst members of the caste and ensure they co-operate most efficiently, representatives are delegated. For the Fire Caste, the rank, outside traditional ones, is called Fireblade."

The girl listened carefully, not making a sound as he spoke. Good, Aveneth thought to himself. He now had her full attention.

"One of the Fireblade was slain by me during the last battle." The Eldar pointed at a specific corpse afar in azure armor. Under the hazy morning light, he stood out quite obvious. His body armor was more adorned, and unlike most other Tau, he did not wear a helmet. There was a clearly large hole on his skull, vaporizing most of the cranium. "Headshot. Good kill. The Tau displayed their ranks through the decoration of their hair. I would like you to go out there and take his hair braid back to me so that I can hang it as a trophy for my accomplishment."

Aveneth gave her a knife at this point. Not his, of course, for he would not let any lowly human touch that sacred artifact. He bestowed her an item he took from a Gretchin instead.

"You want me to go out there and grab it?" Amana asked, giggling like an imbecile. "What is in it for me, though?"

"You will be promoted from being my pet to my second-class slave."

"Deal," said the girl briskly.

And out she went. As soon as the human departed, Aveneth took up his position at the window, rifle ready. From his vantage point, he could see Amana clambering through the battlefield like a street rat. Surprisingly fast on her bare feet and impervious to grief-inducing sights, she ran through the piles of dead without hesitation. It did not take long for her to reach where the battle had been the fiercest.

Suddenly, a ray of blue light flashed across the open air. It missed Amana and impacted on the wreckage of a halftrack. There was a deafening noise as the metal was blown apart by hyper-velocity projectile. The already deceased body in the cockpit was pulverized, limbs flying in different directions. Amana stopped for a moment, heads down and scanning the empty battlefield. Someone had just taken a Railgun shot at her.

Amana looked baffled, if not a bit frightened, for a moment. What she had just witnessed was the wonder of techno-heresy employed by the Tau, powerful, deadly, precise and utterly soulless. But, considering how brain dead she was to begin with, Aveneth doubted all of it had any meaning to her.

"Come on," the Ranger tensed. "Come on."

Amana carried on, placing her steps gingerly so as to avoid stepping on any of the dead bodies, as well as any sharp object that littered the ground. She did not make it more than ten more meters when a second shot whizzed by, this time missing her by an inch and causing her hair to flutter. There was still no sign of the assailant.

"Khaine smites you, cowardly bastard," Aveneth muttered a curse. He did not like how this was going.

Amana jumped behind the barricade for cover. Her feet burned and bled. Broken glass laid beneath her, glistening in crimson blood. The little girl let out a whimper of pain as she pulled out fragments from her dirtied soles, tears streaming from her eyes. Aveneth watched and sighed out of disappointment. She must be exhausted and disheartened by now. Perhaps it was a bad idea after all to put her into this. That she even tried in the first place was enough and for now, he just wanted her to head back and bury her head into his chest crying. And then he would pull her ears jokingly and "scold" her for her "shameful failure".

But not so fast. The human girl continued despite her injury. Though her movements were pain-filled and onerous, they lacked not the same determination and purpose. For such a young age, she showed incredible tenacity. That or she was brain dead to the point she could feel no pain anymore.

She made it to the objective. Aveneth was on the verge of shouting in admiration when he saw he reaching the target and cutting the braid off from the dead Caste Fireblade with the Gretchin knife he handed to her. The process did not take long, anything the Greenskin possessed sharp and killy by its very nature, and she headed back with the prize in hand. From his scope, Aveneth could see a visible smile on her face, knowing she had succeeded in the task he had given her.

The fainted smile quickly faded as a Railgun round hit her from behind, puncturing her body at the torso. Such was the force of the impact that she was flung twenty meters forward, landing face-first and crashing into the corpse of a headless Ork.

This was exactly what the Eldar was waiting for. The moment could not be truer than this. He now knew exactly where his rival was. He had but a split-second to do what he was meant to. Aveneth's heart skipped a beat as he channeled his thought through the psychic conduit of his rifle. He took a single shot. The beam from his rifle disappeared into the window of a bakery house three hundred meters away.

For a short while, time seemed to stop.

The top of his head gone, the Tau Pathfinder fell from the window and onto the ground, dead before he landed.

"Got you, son of a bitch," Aveneth whooped. Wasting no time, he took two more shots, finishing off the two sniper drones in the area in quick succession.

To his credit, the Tau had proven a worthy opponent. The first two shots were from the drones, which were painfully inaccurate due to the lack of a controller device attached to. They were meant to scare off Amana, as well as baiting Aveneth to reveal himself. Any lesser marksman would have made such mistake thinking the drones were the real threat, but Aveneth was experienced in dealing with this kind of situation; he was no fool.

When Amana cut off the hair braid from the Fireblade, an act of sacrilege and defilement against the Tau's most sacred code of honor, the Pathfinder finally lost it. Either that or he was just stupid enough to think the Eldar had departed. Whichever the case, Aveneth was quick to exploit this weakness. In this duel, he had been the more patient predator, and was awarded his deserved victory. A dirty win was a still a win. Aveneth would live to fight another day whereas his adversary would not.

Remembering his decoy, Aveneth looked for Amana from his scope. To his surprise, he could not find her anywhere. The only thing he saw was a trail of blood leading to…

The Ranger jumped down to the first floor. As fate had it, the girl was dragging herself through the smashed open door. Aveneth rushed to her and caught her as she fell. The girl was weak. Her breathing was laborious, her heart rate decreasing. Her torso was pulverized, her feet in tatter. She had lost much blood and received a fatal wound, beyond any mercy Isha could have given. She would not survive.

But why should he care? She was bait, nothing more. A meat shield, a tool for his success, a human whose ephemeral life would end long before his even if war had not claimed it first. She lived a worthless life as nobody, and in death, she was glorious.

He cared not the fact her father was despicable, or her husband was one who took pleasure in domestic violence.

He cared not her cold feet, or her bringing him sandwich.

He cared not if she was his pet or his second-class slave.

But now it was Aveneth who was being dishonest to himself. He had feelings he could not comprehend. New feelings, even for one who traveled across the stars and indulged in its wonders alongside its horrors. He had sacrificed so many in the past to advance his cause, but none of them ever came this close to him upon death. None had ever aroused his heart more than Amana right now.

"D-id I…urgh…do w-well?" she gargled, holding out the braid adorned with gems. Coated in blood and dirt and tears, her face was still pretty as ever. The human girl looked like a goddess, blemished and tainted my mortal force, but remaining unbowed all the way.

"You did beautifully," said Aveneth, the word bitter in his mouth. He was lying. The Hive Tyrant of Sloggrazz, the Ork Weirdboy on Corpular, the Champion of the Changer of Ways on Jezzeburg, known by the Eldar as Haraish-Salaram. All of them died under his gaze, but nothing from them had ever found its way into his belongings. Aveneth had never taken anything from anyone he slew, and was not about to take up that awful habit.

It was a good trade-off, was it not? A single girl with no combat capability for a Pathfinder sniper elite who dropped Ork Nobz and Marinesh officers like swatting flies. Aveneth reminded himself this was a galaxy at war, a galaxy where teeming billions of beings kill one another every second. All lives were expandable, every single human, Ork, Tau and even Eldar including himself. A single life mattered next to nothing; only collectively, the destruction or enslavement of the entire human population of a planet by Orks was deemed undesirable to the maintenance of order across the galaxy, prompting intervention from the Craftworlds.

But would it matter if that one single life had more attachment to him than any faceless Imperial commander who would die to the Tau sniper had the sacrifice not been made?

Would it matter if he, despite all the prejudice he had against her race, did have affection for her for everything she was, a human who deserved to live and be happy?

There was no right answer to those. It was all intuitive speaking.

"I…am glad," Amana spoke her last word. She died with a smile on her face. That imbecile, cute smile.

Author's note: Another one-shot, this one taking place between chapter 4 and 5 of The Melacholy of Shizuka Miyamoto. If you have read the story, you might reckon Aveneth saying he loves using humans as meat shield. He actually means it!

Don't mistake Tau Pathfinder for Eldar Pathfinder. The name originated from a USAF special unit whose role is to secure drop zones for paratroopers.

Anyway, I am sick and tired of the way the Eldar's arrogance is generally described. In this story, I want a more realistic and elegant version of it. All the traditional insults are here, but presented in a way that makes the character less unlikable.

Update: this story has been revised, based on reviews. Thanks a lot, all of you guys.