If Emperor be for us, who can be against us?

In fact, the answer was a lot. But what was the point of having a divine protector if the ones in question are not brave or strong enough to safeguard themselves? Simple faith was not the way of the Imperium in this galaxy of war. It had never been, not in Great Crusade, not the years before the Great Fall, and definitely not in this Age of Rebuild. The Emperor did not teach humanity such platitude. No one lived on and nothing could be archived through faith alone.

Blind faith driven by righteous fury and incorruptible rage, on the other hand, did the trick nicely.

And nothing demonstrated that better than crushing the enemy in His name.

With that in mind, Cullen Reikus of House Terryn drove his Knight forward, heading straight for the Tau's battle line. The battle was reaching its climax. Both sides were stretching to their limits and stood at the breaking point. The day could go to either side. In this desperate, intense fight, anyone and everyone mattered. Any single act of heroism or cowardice could be momentous and mean the difference between victory and defeat. Yet, of course, chances were the difference made by someone riding a forty-feet tall super-heavy walker armed with the most effective killing tools known to men was more noticeable than someone not, and that was precisely what Cullen decided to prove.

He cared not why the Tau were on this planet which the Imperium laid claim to nor whether this war against them was meaningful in anyway. All that crossed his mind was they were on the opposite side of him, and that meant if he did not kill them, he would become their victim. In this fight for glory, for wealth, and most of all, for ultimate survival, only the finest could come out on top. And none was a better candidate than an Imperial Knight.

The machine strolled forward, making graceful leaps across the terrain littered with burned out corpses and wreckages. The smoke was blinding to normal eyes, but thanks to his Auspex and heat-tracking vision enhancer, Cullen saw the ebb and flow of the battle as clear as crystal as he made his advance. The enemy formation in this area had been smashed, their troops scattered and disoriented. Now it was time for the clean up.

One of the alien skimmer battle tanks with a massive Railgun mounted on top crossed his sight. It wandered blindly, guns blazing in all directions, probably lost and confused. Cullen brought up the Battle Cannon and fired twice. The first shot knocked the Hammerhead to the side and the second detonated its weakly armored belly, splitting it in half. Whichever crew inside had next to zero chance of making through that.

"Another victory for House Terryn," Cullen spoke to himself. Already, his tally for the number of vehicles destroyed in this campaign alone had reached fifty seven, and still, there were many more to kill.

"Sir Reikus, come in. Do you read?" came the voice from the vox.

"Loud and clear," the Knight pilot replied.

"The Tau are pulling back on the left flank. They are mounting a defensive position on Hill 492. The 2nd Terlioc Regiment is on the way as we speak, but they are getting hammered by Stealthsuit teams at point 205. We need you to support them."

Cullen watched from his pict-captor as the massed Tau infantry and vehicles regrouping on Hill 492, about six hundred meters away. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of them. Despite being routed, they showed no sign of panicking and maintained an orderly withdrawal that would make any Imperial commander green with envy. Atop the hill came a formation of skimmers larger than any Cullen had seen so far. As they slew to a halt, he could make out ordnance mounted on their upended tails.

"Humpbacks," Cullen exclaimed, remembering from the dataslate. If anything, the defeat at Mu'gulath Bay had taught the Imperials a valuable lesson never to underestimate the technical prowess of the Tau Empire. During that disastrous incident, a number of experimental weapons capable of mass, efficient destruction were successfully tested by the enemy, the Humpback being one of them. "The bastards have a whole company of them. These long-range artilleries are troublesome as hell. We need to eliminate them; otherwise our boys won't stand a chance. Call in Manticore strikes at their location."

"Can't do that right now," said the vox. "Our sensors are being jammed here, and we cannot pinpoint their location. We need forward spotter to do that, but there is no way of getting close to them without being blown to smithereens. Our flying boys are also snowed under. They can't spare anyone."

"I can get close enough to send you the coordinate," suggested Cullen, the prospect of an important target furthered his zeal. This was his intention all along, to get in the thick of the enemies quickly and snatched any glory up for grasp. Hill 492 was where his moment would come, either his finest, or his last, or both.

"Negative," the vox droned. "It's too dangerous out there. Get to position 205 and assist the 2nd Terlioc Regiment."

"What is it?" asked Cullen, feinting.

Any normal person in the vox would question his integrity at this point, considering he could still hear Cullen fine. But instead, it repeated, "The rendezvous point is position 205. Your objective is to get their immediately."

"All I have is static. Damn those xenos and their trickeries."

"I repeat, do not engage. I repeat, do not…"

"Can't hear you."

"Do not…"

Cullen shut down the comm. As a child, he was always pampered and spoiled by his parents who allowed him to do whatever he wanted. It was only recently that he realized how shielded from the real world he was all those times. Though Cullen was determined to repay them for their kindness through joining the Imperial Army and defending humanity, following orders from men he deemed lesser, men who went to war inside inferior vehicles, was the last thing that crossed his mind.

The Knight pilot switched his channel to the 45th Voystrian, the regiment that fought alongside him. "General Letzinski, are you still there?"

"Right here," came the coarse replied.

"Good," said Cullen as he powered his Knight facing towards the objective. "Now get your men on the move. We are heading towards Hill 492. The Tau are having a really big party up there. It's time we crashed it, Imperial style."

There was a long pause.

"I am afraid that is not possible," said Letzinski finally, his voice betraying a hint of sadness. "We got hammered by the Shaz pretty bad here. Our strength is almost depleted. Many good men died in this battle, too many for me to think about. I have made up my mind; I shall not risk the annihilation of my regiment and the end of its glorious history that dated back to the Age of Apostasy."

"You are not deserting, aren't you?" asked Cullen filled with indignity. It was the duty of all Guardsmen, from the lowly conscript to the proud Lord Militants, to give their lives for the Emperor when the time called. This was the time, their time, his time, the moment of truth. How dare they turn tail now?

"The last time I check, if someone is in a super-heavy war machine, that person does not necessarily outrank you," replied Letzinski calmly. "On what ground are you accusing me and my men?"

"There is no greater honor than to give up your lives for the Imperium," Cullen insisted, gritting his teeth. "No reason for any of you to abandon field just to evade some danger. I can now see why your people are condemned to this sentence when you failed to fulfill your duty in Horus's rebellion."

"Are we really giving up our lives for the Imperium?" asked the Voystrian general evenly. "Or are we dying for the sake of your ego? And don't you dare bring up the lesson of history to frighten us. Our ancestors were wrong and we paid the price for that."

Cullen was speechless. Despite his anger, he could not help but feel the man had some point when saying so. The regiment had been following through thick and thin and everything in between, and had suffered dearly because of that. Cullen wondered if he had developed a nonchalant attitude towards others as a result of his spoiled childhood.

"Whatever the case, my men will be pulling back and rendezvous with other regiments at point 205," said Letzinski, not waiting for the Knight to respond. "If you want to take them on all by yourself, then I will not stop you."

"That is exactly what I will do," said Cullen with a long sigh.

As he made his way through the smoke, the column of Imperial tanks retreating came to view. They were battered, in pitiful state, some pulling their wounded companions with chains. There were more than three hundreds of them when the battle began; Cullen could count no more than five dozens making their way out. It occurred to Cullen there might be too few of them to make a difference, but then again, being the guy riding inside an Imperial Knight, he did not necessarily share the point of view with the people in more ordinary war vehicles.

"The Emperor protects," said the Lord General.

"As he always," Cullen replied with a deep breath.

The vox link went dead. With renewed fury and thirst for glory, Cullen drove forward at full speed. With or without the help from the Voystrian, the Tau's position on Hill 492 must be eliminated, lest there be no chance of victory for the Imperial force. The high stake only made victory even sweeter, assuming he lived to see it.

From afar, Cullen could see the Tau setting up defensive formation with teams of Broadsides taking up positions on high ground, backed up by looming figures of Riptides and covered forward by rows of Fire Warriors at the front. Something here was off, but Cullen could not put his finger on it. As the Knight moved closer, the Tau continued their fortification with no sense of alert whatsoever, as though none of them had spotted the hulking 1000 tons of death heading their way. It was almost as though all of a sudden, all the Tau had sun in their eyes.

"Doesn't matter," Cullen straightened himself. If the Tau were as blind as his faith, then he would make them open their eyes the hard way.

Tapping the trigger runes rapidly, Cullen let loose the main battle cannon upon the foe. One shell after another exploded amongst the Tau, sending bodies and body pieces flying in all directions. Numerous hits were scored against the xenos' vehicles. A dozen light and medium skimmers were reduced to wreckages in mere seconds. A Devilfish was hurled sideway by a proximate blast, careening into another before both of them were grounded and immobilized. The enemy tank formation shuddered under the impact, many of their number blown apart spectacularly. To Cullen's unspeakable surprise, the enemy did not seem to react to his presence at all.

Truth to be told, the Tau now were alerted to the fact they had come under attack, but instead of mounting a disciplined retaliation like they normally did, the xenos scattered and regrouped their defenses. Many of the guns barked, but in different directions and none of the shots found its mark. The Knight was right under their nose, or more likely right above it. From the pict-captor, Cullen could see panic and apprehensive in them, as though they had been hit by an enemy they could not see. Having fought the Tau on several occasions, he could not believe what he was seeing.

Something else was at work here, Cullen told himself for a second. Letting go of his doubt, the Knight plunged himself into the Tau defense. There was little or no resistance before that. Reaper Chainsword in hand, Cullen sliced a wedge through the foe while his massive feet spelled doom for scores who were unfortunate enough to find themselves in his way. Hammerheads and Riptides fell in droves, cut apart by the gigantic weapon. Heavy stubbers joined in the cacophony of destruction, scything down for left and right.

Some of the Tau were breaking, but, to their credit, most of them held their ground despite the absence of a commissar pointing a gun at the back or their neck. Returning fire came at last as teams of Broadsides and Crisis Suits gathered their wits and turned to face the Knight. Still, much of it went wild and only scored hits by chance. Those that did hit were stopped by the Ion Shield, and though Cullen set the shield to protect his rear, other sections of the Knight took far less damage than we would have expected.

"For house Terryn and for the Emperor!" shouting his warcry, Cullen tapped on the trigger, throwing ordnance shells towards the nearest Broadside unit. These heavy battlesuits were equipped with heavy armor the equivalent to that of the Imperial Artificer Armor. Though many of them were not destroyed entirely by the blast, much unlike everything else, the shockwave received killed or incapacitated their pilots, thus rendering the suits useless.

A unit of Crisis Suit moved to his right, hoping to find and exploit a weakness. Apparently, they had no clue the target was an Imperial Knight. There was nothing to be seen but death for them. Cullen turned the Knight around with astounding agility and, with a single swing of his Reaper Chainsword, sent all of them into oblivion.

The Tau were in a hopeless plight, but they stubbornly held. Cullen could see why: they were sacrificing themselves to make sure the Humpback, their precious high-tech weapon got away safely. The heavy artillery units were pulling back. Some of those Fire Warriors fleeing returned to the fight, even if that was merely some futile attempt to put more meat between Cullen and his prize.

Cullen throttled forward, ignoring all the fire coming at him from different sources; most of which were pulse carbine, but a couple of Railgun had join in as well. They were too many to picked out and too small, too insignificant to worth his attention. Most of them missed, anyway. Cullen's focus was on the reason why he had performed such daring, outrageous maneuver. The Humpbacks were moving out, but they were in his range now. Before Cullen could bring his weapon to bear, two things happened.

First, a high-pitched cry startled him. It was humanoid, as in more humanoid than what the Tau could manage, but some part of it was inexplicably alien. There was also no telling whether it was male or female, for the accent was unrecognizable. Whichever it was, it spoke of a great deal of pain being suffered, like a bird struck by lightning. Cullen felt like a rusted dagger had been driven into his soul. For a few seconds, his heart stopped beating.

Second, the Tau, who were disorganized before, suddenly regained vigor. The aliens' shots were more accurate now, much more so, and their tactics more effective.

Teams of Crisis suits circled around Cullen, laying down volley after volley of fusion blaster as they went. The remaining two Riptides took up position and opened fire at him from two different directions, using their jet packs to displace themselves constantly. For the first time since this battle, Cullen felt the impact of being hit multiple times. The shoulder plate was melted away while his heraldry-bearing shield on the left side of the chest received a hole at the middle.

"Not nice, Shaz," said Cullen inside the cockpit. The damage received was light, but growing. The Humpback must not escape. Though Cullen would love to take all the glory for himself, there was no other way. He turned on the vox which was never compromised by any Tau techno-heresy.

"HQ come in. HQ," he said.

"This is HQ here," came the voice. "Sir Reikus, where in the name of the Emperor are…"

"No time," Cullen interrupted. His Knight completed a swing of the Reaper Chainsword that atomized two more Crisis Suits. Killing these bastards were no different from swatting flies. The Riptides were annoyingly dangerous, but they were both outside his reach. "I am in the middle of it here. Look, I have laser guide on the enemy Humpback division. Use Manticore strike to take them out."

"How are you able to communicate us? I thought you said the vox wasn't working because the Tau were jamming it?"

"That is besides the point," Cullen urged. "Do as I said."

There was a slight, intense pause.

"Will do."

Aiming the laser at the retreating Humpbacks, Cullen fought for his life against the Crisis Suits and Riptides. The main battle cannon was next to useless against the thick armor and heavy shielding of the Riptides, so he focused all fire power at the Crisis Suits who swarmed him like flies on a fresh juicy corpse instead. He killed a bunch, but nowhere enough to deter them. They were smart now, too, evading his shots while constantly going for the side which lacked the protection of the Ion Shield. A stream of fusion blasts hit Cullen from the right, severing the right arm where the Reaper Chainsword was embedded in. Without that potent weapon, Cullen had no means of taking down the Riptides.

More shots came in. The Ion Shield collapsed. Never before had Cullen felt so utterly helpless inside a war machine that was supposed to be invincible on all battlefields. Whatever luck, or blessing, or both, he received at the onset of the battle had kept him going thus far. Now, it was over.

The heaven seemed to unleash its wrath as blazing fists in the form of Manticore missiles rained from the sky. Guided by laser beam which Cullen continued to activate even in the direst moment, they found their target spectacularly. Every missile scored a hit and every hit spelled doom for a Humpback. Within seconds, all seventeen of them were destroyed. The sight of soulless alien machines reduced to molten slag was uplifting to behold and Cullen relished the obvious dismay expressed by the Battlesuits who realized they had failed their mission.

The Battlesuits renewed their effort, out of vengeance against something that had caused them so much misery and trouble more than anything. The Knight buckled under heavy fire. Inside it, things were also beginning to fall apart. The wires that connected the pilot to the walker malfunctioned and now instead filled body of the pilot with electric currents. Jagged in pain, Cullen frantically tore them off, despite the warnings in his training against doing so. What was the point of following the instruction at this point? He was going to die here, and the less sensory punishment he had to experience before that, the better.

All the screens were either black or beaming with red lights. Klaxons were wailing a cacophony and for a second, Cullen thought he could hear the Machine Spirit cry out in agony. Frustrated, Cullen slammed his fist into the nearest console, smashing it with his bare hand. The noise did not stop, torturing his ears without end.

"Damn you all!" he cursed.

The walker felt to its knees, all weapons offline. The Crisis Suits and Riptides moved closer for the kill.

Before the final hammer could land, one of the Riptides went off in a fire ball. Detached from the rest of the body, its upper half was flung thirty meters away while the two legs kept standing oddly despite the lack of any nervous control. Cullen gazed at the pict-captor and was amazed to see the sight of Leman Russ battle tanks bearing the iconography of the 45th Voystrian. Incoming fire knocked down a further three Crisis Suits while infantry units spread out in search of enemy survivors. Unable to respond effectively and unable to find any sense of value in their current objective, the alien broke and ran like cowards they were. The arrival of reinforcement quickly forced the Tau into full flight.

"Letzinski," cried Cullen into the vox as soon as the last of the alien disappeared from sight. The corpses of hundreds of infantry and scores of tanks loomed the battlefield. The blow to the Tau empire was great here, probably enough to tip the scale of balance in favor of Impierial forces. "I am so glad you are here. Could have been much uglier if you had not shown up. House Terryn thanks you for your assistance."

"The pleasure is all mine," the Lord General cheered.

Cullen composed himself. His Knight had taken significant damage, but not too fatally so. It would be sent back to the nearest Forge World for repair, while another would be transfer to him, soon. In no time at all, Cullen would be resupplied and ready for battle again.

"I thought you were going to abandon me."

"I was going to. Until that…how do I say this, that voice coming from my head, urging me to return to assist you. Did not know what it means at first, but as soon as we see what you did here, there's no way me and my boys won't be any piece of this action."

Cullen was taken aback by the respond. Surely, this was the weirdest, if not also the most glorious, battle he had seen. "I noticed something strange as well. When I charged into them, something was shrouding me from their sight."

"What do you make of it, then?"

"I don't know," said Cullen, trying to remember the sudden cry he heard. Some unworldly force must have influenced the outcome of the battle in favor of the Imperials. No explanation seemed reasonable at this point, which meant there was only one way to clarify it. "But I am sure that the Emperor watches over us today, or perhaps one of his angels."

"As he always," replied Letzinski firmly.

Five miles away, Farseer Sultan Alvios Windsong of Craftworld Craddol limped. The Railgun shot had penetrated his lower torso and hacked off his left wing, though the damage to the wing was negligible due to its being an extension of his psychic might rather than a part of his material body. One of his kidneys was gone now. He had tried to stem the bleeding, or at least to cauterize the wound, but with little success. Though he was slowly but surely regenerating, nothing could shield him from the pain at this point. His power was all but spent while trying to protect the Knight.

He was severely battered, but he was also victorious.

The prophecy was clear. Cullen would finally meet his end on the surface of Topriaz, but not before being responsible for the destruction of no less than five Gargants, among a hundred other Ork vehicles. It would be his finest hour, and also his last. Through his sacrifice, more lives would gain the chance to come to be, and the galaxy would be a better place. Any aberration from that result was deemed undesirable, such as the termination of his thread right here and now as he impetuously attacked the Tau in a fight he could not hope to win, prompting the Craftworld's intervention. Cullen might think it was the Emperor who willed his continued survival, but, in truth, he was nothing more than a pawn in the great game between Light and Darkness, a game where the Eldar controlled and manipulated the force of Light.

By the time he arrived on this planet and found the two armies that were supposedly allies killing one another in mutual destruction, the Farseer had also made his objective to prevent further war, by allowing one faction to achieve victory in totality so that the other would be too demoralized as to renew their effort any time soon. Despite a noble cause, to gather more resources to enrich their empire and people, the means they resorted to were unfathomably abominable. The Tau's defeat was deplorable, but necessary. Following the battle of Topriaz, the Ork's foothold in the entire sector would collapse, and the Tau would share the victory as well. Though Alvios's action led to hundreds of Tau being slain at the hand of the Imperials directly, and thousands more indirectly as they were harried down upon retreat like a dying animal harassed by a flock of vultures, tens of thousands, if not millions, more would be spared in the upcoming fight against the Greenskin horde.

In other words, this debacle was meant to be beneficial for the Tau whether they liked it or not.

The pain was unbearable. For a moment, the Farseer thought about surrendering himself to the forces of the Imperium who would no doubt have the medical facility to aid him. He quickly dismissed that. For Cullen Reikus to perform such feat on Topriaz, ignorance and rash bravery were imperative and the knowledge of the Eldar's assistance might compromise that. The matter was sensitive, much like anything that involved looking into the future, and allowed little margin of error. As it stood right now, in the best case scenario, the humans would continue towards the path Alvios Windsong had laid for them, and at worst, they might start getting superstitious and construct a statue which would undoubtedly depict him as a female saint with ridiculously large breast. Besides, he was busy with so many things to do, and resting was not high on the list. A daemonic incursion was on its way on Iventina. A detachment of Grey Knights was on the way there. The might required assistance. Necron forces were heading to Safehold in hope of scavenging from the long-dead star-killer. Though their journey would prove futile, the tomb belonged to the noble Astral Knight would be despoiled, and the Blood Angels must be warned of this. Traitors from Alaitoc made ready for an unprovoked attack against the Imperial colony of Dassius to recover a lost soulstone without any diplomatic attempt or formal declaration of war, a bold and abhorrently unacceptable move.

Many more disasters could be prevented.

Many vile and dangerous enemies needed to be put down.

Many events that would shift the balance of power between Order and Disorder.

So few people and so little time to utilize. If not the Eldar of Craftworld Craddol, who else could be trusted?

Unable to move on, Alvios let loose of his body and dropped to the ground, only to find himself in a field of lush green. The war had not corrupted nature in its entirety and even if it did, nature would always find a way back. Taking off the helmet, the Eldar Farseer felt grass fluttering in the gentle wind tickling his cheek. The smoke of war was clearing in the sky and the sun was shining once more, bathing Alvios in its lovable light. The air was cool. He saw kites flying at the distance. Somewhere, the laughter of children could be heard. The war and all its horror had not affected these people. Such was the resilience of the humans that they never give up hope and always bounce back even in the darkest moment. It was clear that they and not the Eldar, no matter what other deluded Craftworlds might have to say, were the deserved master of the galaxy.

Despite unbearable agony, Alvios Windsong decided it was a nice day today.

His eyes became heavier. His body went numb. His kidney…well, not much left of it.

With the last ounce of his strength, the Farseer folded the unbroken wing on his body to make a blanket. The feathers were soft and warm. It would be a nap, just a simple, quick nap. Once he awoke, he would have fully regenerated. Like a phoenix rising from ashes, stronger and more ready for the grimdark universe. And the daemons of Iventina would meet their demise.

With that in mind, Farseer Sultan Alvios Windsong of Craftworld Craddol fell asleep, lying in the middle of the beautiful field.

Author's note: I wrote this story for two reasons. First is an experiment on the Imperial Knights which are becoming very popular on the tabletop. Second is to respond to the monstrosity that written by Gav Thorpe, author of the excellent Purging of Kadilus and The Last Chancers, about the Eldar. Yes, the Path of the Eldar, 3 books with paper-thin characters, rushed plot, no literal value, annoying cliches, terrible bolter-porn actions and a lot of wasted potential. What kills me is that the Eldar are described as a straightforward army, going to places and kill everything in their path, a complete re-skin of the Space Marines. The stories also feature Space Marines as main antagonists which is fucking dumb because I was looking for a story where the Imperium plays a minimum role.

In this story, I want to explore the mysterious agenda pursued by the Eldar. Neither humans nor Tau can understand it and will see it as an impossibility or a paradox, but the Eldar see the future and know what best to do. And that is why they are interesting. Don't check the Wiki for the "Humpback". I made that up because the story takes place in the 42nd millenium and I don't like people using the same weapon for so long.

Can anyone guess which psychic power is used to protect the Knight?

Thanks for reading. Cheers.