Chapter 7: Spirits of the Wasteland
Dark clouds lingered in the windswept sky over a bitterly cold morning in the Dussala Precinct on Kaurava I, an ever present dark omen for the battle yet to be fought. Karr lead her specialist squad, composed of two elite XV25 Stealth Teams, through the thick morning fog to the base of the target structure laying at the edge of the Imperials Outer Defences surrounding their main Command. The target was the building supporting the Imperial Enhanced Basilisk Artillery installation, the weapons immense barrel peeking over the lip of the building to cast a dark shadow over the concealed Tau soldiers. By special order Karrs armour had been modified to accommodate a jump pack to mimic her stealth units, allowing her to follow her squad as they leapt onto the rooftop undetected and concealed themselves against the debris lining scattered across the open rooftop.
Karr and her Stealth units remained hidden from the Imperial Guardsmen, elite Kasikrin guards and Sentinel fast attack walkers. Their patrols across the wide rooftop lead them in crude patterns derived from months of endless patrolling of the same structure. Waiting for a gap in their patrols Karr lead her first squad into a position as the second squad advanced towards the base of the Basilisk weapon itself. As long as their stealth fields remained operational their presence would remain a secret to the Imperials patrols.
"Stealth Team Two are you in position?" Karr requested over the COM link, her weapon trained on the closest Imperial soldier as he idly walked past their position, remaining oblivious to the looming alien threat.
"Affirmative, Shas'El" the Stealth Team leader responded. "We are planting the explosives on the weapon now"
"Excellent work" so far the mission appeared to be going to plan. "It appears so far that the Imperials remain unaware of-"
"Shas'El" one of the Stealth Team members interrupted. "I am detecting interference with our stealth field. I fear the Imperials-"
Karr suddenly felt the burst of electrical energy coursing through her body; she knew what was to come. "Stealth Teams take cover, the Imperials have-"Karrs warning was in vain however as suddenly the Stealth Teams infiltration fields dispelled in a blink of an eye, revealing the Tau soldiers to the outside universe.
The response of the Imperial soldiers, allow a sluggish due to a combination of fatigue and surprise, still cost the lives of several Tau soldiers who found themselves exposed to the sudden intense barrage of gunfire. Karr and her squad quickly threw themselves towards whatever cover was within reach and returned fire on the Imperials, the pulsing shards of their burst cannons crossing Imperial lasfire as both sides threw themselves into the fray. The Imperial Kasikrin and Guardsmen formed behind the cover of sandbags and emplaced guns supported by fast attack Sentinels which quickly marched into position to bolster their attack.
While Karrs team fought to keep the Imperials at bay she tried to discern the fate of Stealth Team Two through the building clouds of smoke and dust, but all she could see were the piercing red optics of Imperial Sentinels combined with the intricate display of light dancing across the battlefield as each side exchanged fire. "Stealth Team Two what is your status?"
"Shas'El, we have planted the explosives on the target structure" the leader of the second Stealth Team responded. "We are beginning to fall-" the transmission ended with a painful gurgling cry, Karrs heart froze in her chest.
"Stealth Team Two, status" she cried, praying for a response.
"Shas'El" another voice emerged through the communication link. "The Shas'Vre has been injured. He has taken a wound to the chest; the shot pierced his armour and appears to have damaged his suits jump pack. His vitals are dropping, we must evacuate immediately"
A burning flame suddenly ignited within her, in that moment she knew where her duty lay. Bursting from cover she charged out beneath the covering fire of her own squad into the open rooftop. She moved with graceful elegance and speed, her feet barely caressing the ground beneath her as she moved towards the base of the Imperial cannon. Then she saw it, and it froze her in her step. Across the rooftop, concealed amongst the smoke and fog, an Imperial Heavy Weapons Team manoeuvred the barrel of their emplaced gun in her direction, the weapon loaded, primed, and ready to fire.
From within the dense fog a single bolt of lightning blue plasma soared across the battlefield to strike the centre of the Imperial soldier's helmet, his lifeless corpse collapsing limp across the body of his weapon. Karr turned to see a squad of Fire Warriors emerging onto the rooftop across the street from them, the sudden unexpected support drawing much of the Imperials fire away from the suppressed Stealth squad.
"Advance Shas'El" the Shas'Vre leading the Fire Team emerged on the COM link. "We shall cover you from afar"
Karr silently acknowledged their support and swiftly charged forward towards her objective, throwing herself into the shadow of the platform supporting the artillery which dominated the rooftop. She found her second Stealth Team pinned amongst the rubble and debris which formed a shield from the Imperial gunfire, the Stealth leader lay braced against the weapon for support while the remaining member of his squad fought to keep the Imperials at a distance. It was clear he would not survive much longer, they had to act immediately.
"All teams" Karr activated her communication link, broadcasting on the squads open channel. "The charges are about to detonate. Abandon your positions"
The engine of an Imperial vehicle roared over the hum of battle, a Leman Russ tank rolling up onto the open rooftop, its heavy cannon turning to face the Tau formation. From across the rooftop the Tau Fire Team fired their Pulse Rifles into the armoured chassis of the human vehicle; the plasma rounds causing little more than mere cosmetic damage against the tanks armoured hull. The tanks main gun continued to rotate until it faced the Fire Warrior team, prepared to strike back against the ones who had dared to resist them.
The Fire Team began to scramble to safety just as the main gun discharged. The explosive shell struck the side of the building, opening several floors of the building interior to the outside. The buildings weakened support, combined with the intensity of the blast, ensured the roof could no longer maintain itself beneath its own weight. The Fire Warriors leapt to safety, landing on the unbroken section of the roof. The final member of the Fire Team stumbled, the rooftop slipping out from beneath his hoofed feet he grabbed onto the broken lip of the rooftop for life as the surface disappeared beneath him. Two members of his squad reached out to clasp his arms and pulled him up onto the rooftop, the Tau team scrambling to safety before a second volley could be fired.
Karr took advantage of the momentary distraction to snake her arm around the waist of the injured Stealth Team Leader, with the help of his subordinate bringing him towards the cusp of the rooftop. "All teams abandon your positions. I repeat-" the last of her transmission fell into silence as the explosive charges planted on the casing of the Enhanced Basilisk detonated in a plume of fire.
In perfect synchronisation the remaining members of the Stealth Teams broke off from their firefight against the Imperials and rose into the sky on wings of blue flame. Karr however remained firmly on the rooftop when the structure finally gave way beneath her feet, the combined weight of her and the Stealth Team leader were sent painfully rolling down the sloped roof as the outer wall of the building collapsed beneath the weight and pressure of the explosion.
Just as the two of them rolled off over the edge of the fallen rooftop and entered free flight towards the ground Karrs jump pack finally engaged. Although unable to support the combined weight of both Karr and the Stealth Leader her pack maintained sufficient thrust to allow the two of them to glide clear of the debris raining down from above.
Karr struck the ground first, her grip around the Stealth Leaders waist released, the injured Tau soldier rolling to a painful stop across a patch of grass scorched in the flames of the battle. Karr finally dared to look upwards, tiny fragments of dust and flickering embers fell all around her like twisted parodies of snowflakes, the shattered remains of the Imperial Artillery piece hanging precariously over the edge of the destroyed building. Karr quickly rose to her feet, scrambling to check whether the person she had risked so much to save yet lived, or if he had perished despite her best efforts. She rolled him over onto his back and unclasped his helmet, his eyes were closed and his lips were still. Karr began to check his suits vital signatures in search of any lingering signs of life. The injured mans eyes snapped open, his gauntleted hand snapped from his side to clasp her forearm tightly, freezing her in place. "Thank you, Shas'El" the words wafted past his muted lips.
Like a flight of angels descending from above the remaining Stealth Team members landed in a circle around their leader, half of them moving into defensive stances while the rest came to their assistance. Karr simply stepped aside and allowed her soldiers to tend to their injured leader. Activating her COM link Karr took one final look up at the wreckage of the mighty weapon which had once held the Tau offensive by the throat. "Shas'O, the Enhanced Basilisk Artillery is destroyed. You may begin your attack. For the Greater Good"
When the Tau attack fell upon Imperial Central Command at the heart of Dussala Precinct it was swift and deadly. Without their artillery to hold back the tide and their Baneblades to decimate any who opposed them the demoralised Imperial Guardsmen companies were quickly cut down by the advancing Tau forces.
A flight of Tau Barracuda attack craft strafed overhead the battlefield, descending to an altitude as low as the pilots dared to fly; following the shattered remains of the city's central highway directly towards the heart of the main Imperial compound. They remained undeterred even as Imperial fire peppered their hulls. With their targets in sight the Barracudas released a volley of plasma rounds and rockets towards the Mars Pattern buildings waiting at the end of their run. Anticipating the coming threat the Imperial guards attempted to close the main bay doors, expecting that the buildings reinforced armoured shell would be capable of withstanding the impact. The fast-moving projectiles slipped through just as the heavy metal bulkheads sealed shut, igniting the vast stores of ammunition and unstable materials within the bunker was blown outwards in a plume of smoke and flame as the Barracudas soared overhead, rising back to a safe altitude for their next run.
Imperial Guard General Vance Stubbs could only watch from the rooftop of his headquarters as the last bastion of Imperial rule in Kaurava burned before him. "All I've fought for... all my work" the General growled, allowing the poisonous anger to seep into his voice. "Crushed" he whispered the final word through gritted teeth. "All the good men who gave their lives for this cursed, this blasted system" the General lowered his gaze in silent contemplation. He finally dared to look up, a burn of fire in his eyes. "Though my army lies in ruins I am not done fighting, and I will remember who my enemies are"
With his defiant claim made the General turned and made his way towards the idling Valkyrie waiting to take him from the system, he was ready to leave this cursed place. Although he had been defeated this day he would not let it end here, one day he would return with an army and see his revenge taken.
Karr lead the charge down the main highway directly towards the central Imperial complex. Or'es'Ka had already lead the main Tau force towards the Imperial installation after the way had been opened, breaking through the enemy lines the Tau troops were now rampaging through the base. Karr now followed close behind with reinforcements to solidify the Tau's hold over the last bastion of the Imperial Guard and ensure their victory.
The thunderous roar of vehicle engines split the sky as an Imperial Valkyrie strafed past; Karr caught a glimpse of the crest of an Imperial General emblazed across the nose of the fast moving craft as it passed overhead. "We need to intercept that transport" Karr turned to face her Shas'Vre. "Where are the Barracudas?"
"They have returned to base to refuel, Shas'El" the Shas'Vre admitted.
Karr could only watch the trail of exhaust left in the wake of the retreating craft, several overeager Shas'la's of her platoon firing uncoordinated volleys of plasma rounds into the sky in a vain attempt to bring down the craft. The loss of a single Imperial General was a small mark on an otherwise flawless victory for the Tau Empire. Even if the Imperial leader managed to escape the system his masters would have little mercy for his failures when he dared return to them.
"We have made great strides in the campaign so far Shas'El" Shas'O Or'es'Ka stood across the holographic projector from her. "But our battle is still far from over"
"Agreed Shas'O" Karr responded. "Now that the path is clear I believe we should utilize our momentum and strike at the Imperial Sisters of Battle and remove the Imperium from Kaurava forever"
"I am afraid that repeated strikes have demonstrated their defensive line is proving difficult for our forces to overcome" Or'es'Ka returned his attention to the display. "Utilizing our preoccupation with the Imperial Guard forces the Sisters of Battle have pressed their advantage and strengthened their hold over the remaining urban population centres across Kaurava I, effectively securing a defensive ring across the populated city precincts surrounding their citadel in Sama District. However they have been content to abandon the sparsely populated swamplands surrounding the city, and their Imperial defenders, to their fate" the holographic display demonstrated this finding, showing the major urban centres to the west and north of Kaurava I covered in the golden glow of the Sisterhood.
The southern hemisphere of Kaurava I however was awash with a collection of dull brown islands of lingering Imperial Guard control slowly being consumed by a tidal wave of Tau orange. "This means that once more we find ourselves bound in a stalemate with the Imperium watching from their urban fortress while their civilians are left to the whims of the galaxy. This battle shall not be won quickly or simply" Or'es'Ka returned his attention to the display. "However in the meantime we must address developments on Kaurava III. The Eldar are beginning to gain the upper hand against the Necrons. Normally we would leave the two factions to fight amongst themselves but it seems that in gaining an advantage against the Necrons the Eldar are beginning to turn their attention towards the Webway Portal in Monse on Kaurava II as their next target of opportunity, their lightning speed and stealth allowing them to operate across multiple fronts. If the Eldar were to overtake our perimeter defences they would have a clear route to Nan Yanoi"
"What of the Ar'Ka cannon?" Karr asked. "Surely the weapon alone would be sufficient to hold our enemies at bay?"
"Only once the weapon fully operational" Or'es'Ka admitted. "Until then, as demonstrated by the Dark Eldar raid, it is still a very real possibility for an enemy to secure a foothold on the moon's surface. We cannot dare to take that risk; we must stop the Eldar advance. The Eldar are cunning, quick and stealthy, it is almost as though we were fighting ourselves. Though their intentions seem pure their methods are dangerous, I have maintained that if they were to embrace the Greater Good they could become powerful allies. Until then we must treat them as enemies. I shall continue to contend with the Sisters of Battle from our main position in the Shakun Coast but I must ask that you travel to Kaurava III and neutralize the Eldar threat"
"As you wish Shas'O" Karrs voice burned with fiery determination at the prospect of another battle to come. "I will gather my forces and bring the touch of the Greater Good to Kaurava III"
Tau ground forces touched down onto the barren surface of Kaurava III. With fire in their hearts and surrounded by their element the Fire Warriors and Kroot Packs cut like a blade through the barren desert towards the first Eldar encampment. When the bulk of the Tau army finally stormed into the position marked by the advance Pathfinders as an Eldar outpost all they found were the soft imprints already slowly being consumed by the sand. It was too late they realised that the phantoms of deceit were looming all around them, ready to descend like wraiths to tear the advancing Tau force apart in the blink of an eye. Despite the looming threat of ambush Tau forces continued to advance deeper into the desert wasteland towards the main Eldar stronghold in the Upper Wastes of Kaurava III.
The elite Fire Warrior and Stealth Team units surveyed the Eldar encampment lying bare before them at the foot of the sandbank. While the base was bustling with patrols and Eldar Bonesingers forming structures by playing to the tune of the Wraithbone the most interesting target of opportunity remained the Eldar Farseer who was idly sauntering through the base escorted by her honour guard of Guardians and Banshees.
"It seems they remain unaware of our presence, Shas'El" the lead Pathfinder whispered through the teams shared communication link. Karr continued to observe as the Farseer strode across the base with all the regal bearing of a regent before their people, seemingly oblivious to the surrounding danger. "We should come down on them quickly before they spot us" to Karr something about the situation did not feel right. She felt her eyes being drawn towards the Eldar Farseer. It was something about the way she moved, even as the up wash of sand flowed over her light robes and all around her subjects continued at their frantic work their mistress moved with such slow elegance and grace that it was as though time itself bent to her will.
"The Eldar are masters of deceit and sleight of hand" Karr spoke to her soldiers. "But they are also stealthy and can disappear from existence at will only to emerge once again where we least expect them. I hold no illusions that this is not a trap or at the very least they have already been made aware of our presence, but this is an opportunity we cannot afford to cast aside" Karr rose to her feet and clasped her Pulse Rifle tightly to her chest. "Let the battle begin, for the Greater Good!"
The Tau team stormed down the sandbank towards the Eldar encampment. The Eldar defenders quickly moved to oppose the approaching enemy force, Guardians, Reapers and Banshees supported by Vyper fast attack vehicles. Even as her troops engaged the advancing Tau force the Eldar Farseer simply turned on her heel and continued to walk idly through the base, her honour guard of Banshees reflecting the incoming barrage of plasma rounds with the polished surface of their dual blades.
Karrs team drove deeper into the Eldar base, Kroot packs cutting through the scattered lines of Eldar troops supported at range by Fire Warriors. But just as it seemed as though they were on the cusp of victory the battle lines suddenly shifted. Throughout the entire engagement the Eldar were more concerned with keeping the Tau forces at a distance than dispatching the threat entirely. As if on some silent command the Eldar soldiers broke away from the clash and moved with ordered urgency towards the centre of the base. Any attempt for the Tau to pursue their enemies further proved futile as the Eldar Farseer and her soldiers blinked from existence into the Webway in a flash of light. Karr stood in stunned silence as she watched her target slip from her grasp. Through the haze of light Karr could discern the outline of a creature moving through the dust, the piercing red eyes of an Eldar Ranger mask stared back at her before disappearing into the Webway Portal. The looming roar of explosions reminded Karr that there was still a battle to be fought before she returned herself to the fray.
"Shas'O" Karr stood in the centre of the Warroom. "We have secured the initial landing zone and are establishing a forward base in the Upper Wastes"
"Excellent, Shas'El" Or'es'Ka's holographic form loomed over the projector. "Were you successful in eliminating the Eldar Farseer?"
Karr lowered her gaze in defeat. "I am afraid that the Eldar Farseer has evaded pursuit, Shas'O. I believe that the Eldar were expecting our arrival, what we anticipated to be a fast strike has emerged to be a gruelling Kroot Hound chase"
"That is grim news, Shas'El" Or'es'Ka said. "I wish that I had better information to report but the situation on Kaurava I fares little better. The Sisters of Battle are putting up a determined resistance and may be able to resist our efforts indefinitely. Report back soon with your progress, Or'es'Ka out"
The holographic display slowly dissipated, leaving Karr staring down at the control panel before her. "We must eliminate the Eldar quickly in order to return to support Commander Or'es'Ka's position on Kaurava I"
"Shas'El, the Eldar are concealing their primary base beneath a cloaking device" Karrs lead Pathfinder stood across the tactical display from her. "So far our scans have been unable to pinpoint their location amongst the high sand dunes. I am afraid that if we ever hope to establish any reliable intelligence it must be discerned ourselves" the Pathfinder activated the projector to display a holographic representation of the desert wasteland which encompassing them. "I suggest that we deploy Pathfinders across the wasteland to scan each sector and reveal a clearer reflection of the location of the main Eldar position"
Karr considered the layout of the wastes before them. "We will dispatch three squads" Karr trailed her finger across the simulated dunes. "I shall lead the first team around this ridge to the northwest. The other two teams will fan out to the east and west and will rendezvous on the far edge of the wastes and return to base"
"We must tread carefully, Shas'El" the Pathfinders foreboding words slipped through his lips. "The terrain is scattered and rocky, difficult to traverse and open to the threat of ambush. We have detected a sandstorm on long range radar; it will fall upon our position within a few hours. I would advise delaying your patrol until it has subsided-"
"The Greater Good does not wait for any danger to pass; we must remove the threat of the Eldar as soon as possible. We must remove them as a threat so that we may move to support Shas'O Or'es'Ka on Kaurava I against the Sisters of Battle. We cannot risk them overrunning his position while we are trapped fighting ghosts amongst the sand"
"Very well Shas'El" the Pathfinder conceded "But be aware that once you have left visual range of the base your long range communication and navigation equipment may not function in the storm. You must exercise extreme caution. Never forget, the Eldar are masters of misdirection deceit; do not trust anything you encounter"
"We shall tread with light feet and strike with steady hands. Once we have discerned the location of the Eldar base we shall call down the wrath of the entire Cadre down upon them. Once they have been exposed none of their treachery and witchcraft shall spare them from the right hand of the Greater Good"
Karr glided elegantly down the steep sand dune, breaking into a swift run as soon as she reached the curved base as she trotted to a stop beside her squad.
"Shas'Vre" Karr called out to her secondary team leader. "Is there any Intel from the Cadre Headquarters?"
"Negative Shas'El, communications are non-functional" her team leader responded.
The harsh sandstorm had descended far quicker than they had anticipated, the growing storm effectively silencing long range communications while reducing visibility to within half a kilometre. Combined they made navigation almost an impossibility. "Keep trying, Shas'Vre"
"This is my first engagement against the Eldar" a Shas'la muttered beneath hushed breath to the other Shas'la maintaining the rear guard beside him.
"I have heard they may appear at will from anywhere and disappear like ghosts into the shadows" the Shas'la responded.
With the conflict in Kaurava drawing on ever longer and with seasoned Fire Caste veterans spread thin across the system the war effort required the support of younger and greener Shas'las to support the frontlines against growing enemy resistance. Many of the recruits had yet to experience true combat outside of simulations and security duties.
"Fear not" his comrade replied. "We are fighting in service to the Greater Good"
"But the Eldar are masters of deception, they are hidden amongst the sand, they could be anywhere" the Shas'la said. "How can we fight an enemy we cannot see?"
"Fear is their greatest weapon" Karr spoke to reassure the wayward youth. "Once their lies and deception are exposed they will not seem so almighty. Remain faithful and the Greater Good shall-"
The squad COM link erupted in a flurry of static. "Shas'El Karr, Cadre Headquarters. We have a critical situation. We have lost contact with Pathfinder Tea..., we fear that… they hav… captured… Eldar"
"Cadre Headquarters, we are losing your transmission" Karr replied.
"I repeat. Pathfinder Team… gone dark, we suspect… an Eldar attack. The enemy may… weapons and armour… disguise… sow deception and panic. You must exercise extreme caution, do not trust… I repeat, do not… anyone... in the wastes" the communicator fell silent.
"Shas'El" the lead Pathfinder approached Karr, drawing her attention away from the silent communicator which had fallen silent. "We've identified another squad approaching our position, they appear to be Tau"
Karr followed her Pathfinder to the peak of one of the high sand dunes, from atop the high crest they could observe the vast open wasteland stretched bare before them. "We can see the targets moving up ahead, range half a kilometre" in the hazy darkness of the building sandstorm they could make out the glint of burning red optics. Accompanying the deep red glow Karr could make out rough forms and shadows moving in the dust, slowly resolving into the smooth contours and sandy red tint of Tau Fire Warrior armour They appeared to remain unaware of their presence. "Their markings indentify them as members of Fire Team Three"
"Impossible. Their zone was on the other side of the wastes; they should not be this far out" the looming truth was inescapable. The only Tau forces operating beyond the outer perimeter of the base should be the three Pathfinder teams dispatched far away. "They're probably Eldar" the young Shas'la spoke with poison on his lips.
"What do you mean?" another Shas'la inquired. "They're wearing Fire Warrior armour, they are Tau"
"Did you not hear the transmission from Cadre Headquarters?" the first Shas'la stressed. "Team three was killed by the Eldar, maybe captured"
"But we can see them out there in the wastes-" the Shas'la pleaded.
"It could be an Eldar disguise or deception; such abilities are not beyond the reach of Eldar witchcraft. We should neutralize the threat before they become aware of our presence" despite the physiological differences between the two races it would not require a stretch of the imagination to think that the Eldar could wear the armour of a Fire Warrior such that they would remain indistinguishable at such range.
Karr stepped forward, ahead of her squad to the very precipice of the dune, staring down at the field of sand beyond, she began broadcasting on the Tau military open frequency. "Though we travel far from the sands of T'au" she offered the challenge, and waited for their answer. No response was offered.
"Say the castes" the young Shas'la muttered beneath his breath hoping that their worst nightmare would not come to pass. "For the Greater Good, say it!" Karr prepared to repeat the challenge.
"Why are we exposing ourselves, we should eliminate them while we have the chance" the Shas'la responded.
"They are our comrades, they are of our cadre" the other Shas'la pleaded. "Surely they would not-" the warriors words were silenced by a sudden barrage of pulse rounds striking the sand dune at their feet, forcing the Fire Warriors to fall to their stomachs in the sand before returning fire. The thick sandstorm clouded their sight and forced many of the young Shas'las to fire wildly into the haze in the vague hope of striking their targets. A flurry of blue plasma bolts darted between the lines of soldiers, most falling short to strike into the desert sands, the occasional fortuitous shot striking another soldier to the ground. The concentrated barrage of Tau pulse rounds destroyed the soft sand at the very peak of the dune, her support whipped out from beneath her feet Karr was sent painfully rolling down the side of the dune. Karrs squad continued to but could not risk abandoning their superior position to save a single soldier.
The mystery squad suddenly bolted from their position and began to fade into the surrounding sandstorm. Karrs squad slid down sand dune, the first of their number stopping to assist their commander to her feet before continuing their pursuit across the sand, leaving her to trail after her team at her own pace. Karr ran to keep pace with the tail end of her team. The battle did not feel right in her mind; even in supposed victory something unsettled her. Even as she defended herself against the aggressors she felt as if she were committed some terrible sin. Soon, her worst fears would be realized.
Karr passed by the body of a fallen soldier, slowing to a halt as something caught her eyes. The blood red markings emblazed across their armour identified them as a member of Fire Team Three, but beneath the fresh wound of a plasma-round Karr could see the unmistakable tint of blue grey skin beneath. Karr knelt down over the fresh kill, passing her finger tips across the armoured chest plate of the fallen soldier, feeling the gentle curve of the finely crafted armour. When her fingers brushed against the underside of the warriors helmet the piece of armour came loose and rolled onto the ground beside the body. Their eyes were open, piercing blue eyes that seemed to cut straight through her, Tau eyes.
Karr ran with all the speed she could muster, forcing her feet to find purchase in the loose sand as she gave chase. "Stop, all Fire Warriors stop firing!" she screamed into the squad COM link, gaining no answer in response. "We're shooting at our own soldiers!" Karr clasped her helmet in her hands; pulling off her helmet she cast it aside into the dust. "We're Tau!" she screamed as loud as she could over the chorus of the battle. "We are all Tau!" she tasted sand on her lips, forcing her to spit into the thick dust before she could yell again. "We're Tau!"
Karr passed the battle line her squad had cut into the dirt, running out into the open battlefield between the groups. Charging into the firing line the intense barrage began to falter as soon she as she emerged into range of the second line of Fire Warriors. Karr leapt from her feet and tackled the closest Fire Warrior to the sand, ripping the soldiers helmet from his head she discarded into the sand. The fear in the eyes of the Tau soldier was clear, even as she dragged him to his feet and held him before her like a shield he could not resist. "See, we are all Tau" Karr lead her captive towards the centre of the battlefield, leaving a line of stunned soldiers in her wake. "Take off your helmets; show them you are not the enemy!" the Tau soldiers followed the orders of their leader and cast their helmets aside. "Take off your helmets, show them you are not the enemy" Karr yelled again and again. Upon seeing her appear from the dust, upon seeing the face of a Tau Fire Warrior advancing towards them, they could do naught but let their weapons fall slack in their arms. "Show them who you truly are"
Karrs squad followed her orders, casting their helmets aside they rose up from their entrenched positions to meet their leader. The two squads stood across from each other, each a tragic mirror image of the other. Karr released her grip on her captive, allowing him to fall to his knees before her. What had they done?
"Farseer, it appears your facade to ensnare the young upstarts has been shattered" a voice whispered through the storm "It seems their leader is more wilful than we anticipated"
"That is unfortunate" the Farseer responded.
"I am on a superior footing Farseer" the Eldar Ranger stood atop the ridge overlooking the dying embers of the battle. "I may eliminate what remains of their force; though I may lay down my life I surrender myself in your name"
"No, stay your hand" the Farseer ordered. "They have suffered losses in this attack but it will not be long before they resume the hunt with renewed vigour. Eliminate their leader and return to base, we will need to be prepared when they return to the hunt"
"My hand is yours Farseer, it shall be done" the Ranger readied their weapon and took aim.
"I cannot believe what has just transpired" the Shas'Vre appointed to lead the other Fire Team paced back and forth before Karr. "The scale of sin we just committed"
"It is not your fault, Shas'Vre" Karr responded. "This wasteland is tainted with the touch of Eldar witchcraft, the air itself capable of turning men mad. But how did you come to arrive here?"
"We were dispatched as part of your scouting mission to identify the main Eldar encampment before we were consumed by the storm, our communications and navigation equipment failed quickly after" the Shas'Vre explained. "The last transmission we received warned that one of our scout teams had been captured by the Eldar. When we saw your squad atop the ridge the younger Shas'las reacted purely on instinct, this tragedy is the aftermath"
"It is not your fault Shas'Vre. Now we must steel ourselves against despair and continue our operation to scan the region for the main Eldar encampment"
The Eldar Ranger held the rifle steady in their hands, lining up the shot with the deadly precision born of time spent wandering amongst the darkest horrors of the universe. The crosshairs were centred onto the exposed head of the Tau squad leader who had dared to alter the fate of the universe, compensating for wind and distance the shot would impact directly into the centre of the targets skull, a clean and silent death.
The Rangers' finger hovered over the trigger of their Splinter Rifle. They felt the rush of the Webway calling out to them, their mind momentarily overtaken. The rifle fired.
"...if you have completed scans of sectors nine and ten then we must advance north and resume-" Karrs words were silenced as the unmistakable report of a gunshot carried on the wind. The round emerged out of the sandstorm, shot past Karrs head to strike the rock formation beside her, mere centimetres off from what would have been a clean kill shot.
"Sniper, take cover!" someone yelled, the squad quickly scrambling for what meagre cover the desert sands offered. The Tau soldiers returned fire towards where the shot had first originated, the thick sandstorm blanketing the wasteland making it impossible to accurately identify the already elusive Eldar.
"Anybody have a visual on the enemy?" Karr called out to her squad.
One of the Pathfinders dared to expose his head from cover to the scan the ridge ahead for any sign of the enemy. "Negative, the sandstorm is too thi-" another shot silenced the soldiers report.
Karr knew the Eldar Rangers were the true marksmen of the Eldar military, despite their prowess in ranged combat the Tau Fire Warriors could not retaliate against an enemy they could either see or hear. This would require a bold change in strategy.
"They must have a full squad up there. How can we eliminate them if we cannot advance on them?"
"Take heart Fire Warriors, know that such a disadvantage applies to the enemy as it does to us. Using a sandstorm to advance on an entrenched enemy is an appropriate strategy as set by the texts of the Cadre Academy" Karr indicated the edge of the ridge which allowed a gentler ascent to the peak as well as some small cover against the Eldar. "Continue to draw the enemy fire and I shall strike from behind their cover, embrace the Greater Good and we shall prevail"
Karr slipped away beneath the cover of the sandstorm, she began to advance on the Eldar on their blindside. While her soldiers faced the full fury of the Eldar barrage of splinter bullets Karr began to ascend the edge of the ridge.
Karr snuck within their enemies blind spot, remaining concealed from the Eldar so long as they continued to focus their attention on the squad position, hoping to strike unseen while their attention was consumed by the Tau squad at the foot of the ridge. As soon as she crept to where she anticipated her target to be Karr froze in her step. She saw her target, blending almost seamlessly into the surrounding dust and sand, a single Eldar Ranger laying prone at the edge of the ridge. There loomed the everlasting doubt that there were more of them lying in wait to ambush her as soon as she dared expose herself, but it was a danger she would have to embrace. Karr brought the sight of her Pulse Rifle up to her eye, ready to deliver a single shot to end the Eldar threat.
The Ranger suddenly rolled onto their back to face Karr, firing their Splinter Rifle it was only Karrs quick reflexes which allowed the Splinter round to pass over her head as she fell flat into the sand. As Karr rolled back onto her back to face her opponent the Ranger descended towards her, the curved blade of a duelling sword glinting in the light as it swooped in a graceful arc towards Karrs exposed neck. Karr brought the blade of her gauntlet up to intercept the blow, the Ranger shifted stance at a moment's notice, instead of meeting resistance Karrs blade continued forward in an arc. Utilizing the unexpected momentum she rolled her entire body over and brought herself to her feet in a single fluid motion, turning once again to face her opponent on even ground.
But when Karr turned to confront her enemy none dared to appear to confront them, the Ranger had simply vanished from the dune. Karr entertained the illusion for only a moment, all the time that was necessary for the Ranger to emerge to strike from behind. The Rangers blade struck her armour, cutting into the outer skin whilst lacking the necessary force to penetrate further. Karr swung her bladed gauntlet around in the hopes of striking back against the Eldar. But the Ranger swiftly dodged, wrenching the blade free from Karrs armour and ducking beneath the wild swing with graceful ease.
Karr readied her stance, her body preparing to receive another unseen blow from ten directions. Another strike cut into the side of Karrs armour, Karr turned to face the source of the attack only to be struck once again when her back was turned. She soon realized that if she could not strike a target she could not find she would have to change her tactic.
Karr closed her eyes, listening to the howl of the wind around her anticipating where the next blow would appear from. She reacted purely on instinct, lashing out in one direction she felt the blade of her gauntlet skimming across another sharp surface, heard the harsh clash as metal impacted metal. Karr turned around and brought her foot upwards as hard as she could, her kick met resistance as she struck her attacker. The unexpected blow forced the Ranger onto the back foot, leaving them vulnerable to Karrs next blow which swept them from their feet and threw them to the desert sand. Karr leapt onto her enemy, pinning the Ranger with the blade of her gauntlet pressed to their throat, the piercing red eyes of their death mask staring up at her.
"All teams" Karr spoke through the communication link. "The Eldar position has been neutralized, the feint of a single Eldar Ranger. All Fire Warriors fall in on my position" No response returned. "Fire Warriors, respond!" but still her communicator remained deafly silent. As she listened to the breeze she realized that she could no longer hear the sound of Tau pulse rounds cutting the air, the rhythmic crunch of the sand beneath their warriors' feet, a sharp pang of fear shot through her. Abandoning her prey Karr charged up onto the peak of the dune, staring out across the vast wasteland before her. Through the building storm she could discern no sign of her soldiers or their fate. No bodies remained to indicate they had fallen to an ambush, no lingering tracks to say they had departed into the wasteland, they had simply vanished.
"You will not find your soldiers here" a voice spoke to her. Karr reluctantly turned to be met by the Eldar Ranger she had once held by the throat, the Ranger had removed their Death Mask, their deep blue lips parting as they spoke. " The storm will continue to hide all from your sight, no matter how hard you dare to look you will never find them" the Ranger reached up to hold the hem of their emerald green hood in their hands, drawing it back to reveal a wash of red hair cascading down the back of her silky smooth neck to pool in the cup of her hood. "The wastes take all that they want"
With the sandstorm continuing to build in expanse and ferocity Karr quickly realized that it was becoming ever more difficult and dangerous to even attempt to return to the Cadre Headquarters. Instead, following advice from her once adversary, they had both sought shelter in a nearby cavern in the hopes of weathering the looming sandstorm. It seemed once again that fate had forced her to lay down political differences in favour of their shared survival.
"May I ask you a question?" Karr asked, standing at the mouth of the open cave, her Pulse Rifle cradled in her arms, her question shattering the looming silence interrupted only by the gentle howl of the raging storm continuing to blow outside.
The query roused the Eldar from her silent meditations, sitting cross legged deeper against the wall of the shelter, her eyes shut but her mind open to the galaxy around her. "You may ask"
Karr turned to step deeper into the cave, standing across from the Ranger still meditating quietly. "Why are you here?"
"The same reason you are" she replied. "The storm that has trapped us within this cave"
"I mean why have your warriors come here?" Karr responded. "Why have the Eldar come to Kaurava?"
The female Eldar took longer to reply than she had previously. "My name is Aleria" she finally spoke. "Millennia ago, in a past age, my people came to Kaurava to fight the Necrons when they were a dark wave which swept through the galaxy, snuffing out any dim flicker of life they encountered" she reached forward to place her outstretched palm onto the sand before her. "My ancestors established their war operations from this place, Esset Ir-Talith, what the young races have simply named the Upper Wastes" Aleria glanced up to face Karr, opening her eyes. "Kaurava was one of the Necrons foundries of un-death, the launching point from which they waged their war of galactic genocide. The Eldar arrived to end this ceaseless slaughter and drove the Necrons back beneath the desert sands; we thought that victory would be their end. But as you know from the battles of Kronus the Necrons do not maintain their deathless slumber forever"
The memory of Kronus remained a fresh scar in the mind of every Tau soldier. Though she had not fought personally during the Dark Crusade Karr had read the reports. The initial Necron massacres which had drawn the quiet colony to the attention of the galaxy at large, the war which had torn the once pleasant planet asunder and the loss of a thriving Tau colony to the fanaticism of the Imperial Space Marines of the Blood Ravens Chapter.
"Kronus remains a dark memory in Tau history" the mere mention of the defeat a chilling reminder of its fate. "The loss of a successful colony to the lapdogs of the Imperium, the death of the Ethereal Aun'el Shi'ores alongside so many others tasked with reclaiming the planet"
"I can say with some degree of truth that I understand your feelings" Aleria said. "The Eldar of Craftworld Ulthwé were also present on Kronus during the conflict. They too were victims of the Blood Ravens purge; countless Eldar bodies still litter the planet's surface"
"The Eldar fought a war against the Necron Lord and his deathless legions, and won" Aleria continued her tale of the Eldar involvement in Kaurava. "Following the path of the Outcast I spent my life scouring the galaxy in search of answers only to return with more questions still unanswered. When the Farseer gave visions of the Necron return in Kaurava the defenders of the Craftworld returned to the system to face the threat of the Necrons once more, I too chose to answer the call. I had hoped to live to see another Eldar victory here as though we were actors reviving our past victories anew"
"But you have not succeeded in your task?" Karr asked. "There is still a chance to stop them, if not you then another"
"When you came here we expected to fight an enemy consumed with raw strength and power, strategies lacking art and cunning. And yet you saw through the veil of deception, dared to question it, and were awakened to what others were blind too"
"We have watched your progress across the system, Shas'El Karr of the Fire Caste" Karr knew that the Eldar were ancient masters of espionage and stealth, it came as no surprise that they would know her name. "You drove our tainted cousins from their moon on Lacunae, sending them scurrying back to their cursed world. While I hold no illusions that the Tau will claim victory here I only fear what will become of the galaxy should the Necrons break free of the system. I could not face departing the system without knowing that the Necrons of Kaurava who had re-emerged to purge the galaxy had not been returned to their tombs. However I realize now that my fate is not that of my ancestors, my duty lies elsewhere" Aleria stared out through the vast opening of the cave. "Our choices are gone; there lays only one path remaining"
Aleria turned to face her Tau counterpart sitting across from her, a warm smile forming across her deep blue lips. "It is rare to see a female of your species serving as a warrior"
"The Greater Good decrees that all are equal and so must serve that ideal with equal measure, so I serve my duty as a warrior of the Fire Caste"
"And you play your role with the same fiery determination and courage that forged you as you are" Aleria leant forwards, her lips brushing to Karrs. "A knight of the Fire Caste, especially one of such true beauty and status" the elusive Eldar touched her lips against Karrs, the smallest spark of energy crossing between the alien lips during their brief contact.
Aleria stared into the fiery red eyes of the Tau soldier, those flickering embers which looked ever more dazzling up close than through the optic of a splinter rifle. "You would look so beautiful without the weight of the galaxy resting upon your shoulders" Aleria softly placed her hands onto Karrs broad shoulders. Aleria leant forward to nuzzle her cheek against Karrs silky smooth hair, burying her nose into Karrs fiery red hair she smelt a delectable concoction of a well groomed military woman combined with the scent of the desert wasteland. "Please" she placed her lips to Alerias ear. "Allow me to relieve some of your burden, at least by removing some of your bulky armour"
Whilst her lips were buried in the nape of Karrs neck Alerias agile fingers gently caressed across the very edges of Karrs bulky Fire Warrior armour, feeling every mark or scar which each had its own story to tell of another near miss or absorbed impact in the course of her tireless duty to the cadre. Alerias lips lay a trail of delicate embraces across the nape of her exposed neck, the soft caresses sending shivers of pleasurable energy cascading down her spine.
Karr felt Aleria pressing her weight against her shoulder, the sudden imbalance causing the two of them to suddenly tip to the side onto the dust covered floor of the cave. The two soldiers began to roll effortlessly across the floor, a plume of unsettled sand and dust trailing behind them. The two of them finally stopped, Aleria emerging on top to stare down at her defeated opponent.
"I could throw you off of me" Karr whispered beneath her breath.
"Then why don't you?" Aleria asked.
Karr pondered the question. "Perhaps it is because I do not wish to"
Aleria smiled at Karr and she too smiled in kind. As the two lent forward to touch their lips together a sense of belonging and kinship passed between them which transcended the bounds laid out by their warring races as they lay among the sandy wastes of Kaurava.