The Tau are a force of Order. Though young and ignorant of the darkness that plagues this universe, they are still beings driven by logic and emotion, not primal instinct. It almost saddens me that they have to be our foe in the upcoming battle, but I will not shirk from this. The aliens have encroached upon our holy soil, just as they had during the Fourth Sphere. If we don't stop them right here and right now, there is no other occasion where the odds are in out favor like today.

Brothers. On this very place we shall deny what they have come for. On this very place we show them that they cannot just come and take whatever they want. On this very place, the Fifth Sphere into Imperial space comes to an end.

For the memory of Caliban and for the Lion!

Company Master Ragna, 5th Company, Dark Angel.

My first journey to Biel-tan didn't have a great start.

The arrival of the recruitment ship made my heart pounding so hard with exuberance that my chest could explode any moment. I felt like a spoiled child drooling at the sight of his mother returning with a bagful of gifts.

That didn't go well with Sakura, my sister, unfortunately. I remembered watching her cry for hours on end until her eyes were as dry as dust, begging me to stay. She didn't understand, and she wouldn't, no matter how hard I explained, no matter how true the facts I brought up. It almost drove my off the handle, and I tried my best not to get angry on her. Her pleas swayed me not, for I was determined, my goal as clear as crystal. I could not stand sitting idling any longer while the rest of my entire race was struggling in this war for restoration. A new Eldar Empire rising from the ash was, as foretold, imminent, although much efforts and sacrifice would be called for. In the meantime, however, there was clear elation at the return of hope, something lost ever since the fall.

I went, in the end. There weren't much in my house for packing, and I doubt anything I had here would be useful, so I only took a picture of Sakura and myself, just in case the feeling of homesick hit me. There was no farewell. She spent the whole day locking herself up in her room, sobbing. I left without a word, not wanting to bother her. We had been together for all our life. Well, all her life at least; I was 6 when she was born. Both our parents passed away during an Orkish invasion. My mother was given a proper burial, but my father was scattered in a copious number of pieces, with some forever remaining in Ork's stomach that reclaiming all would be all but impossible. I was 16 and she was 10 when it happened. I shed to tears that day, not wanting to look weak in front of my sister. After their death, all we had was each other.

The nice people in our community took cared of us. They brought us up, fed us, trained us to hunt game, and teach us the importance of traditions. For all this time, it was the love we received from others as well as from one another that made us strong. Things would be hard for Sakura once I was gone, but I was sure she would get over soon or later. After all, she was a tough woman. Maybe, one day, she would realize her destiny, and follow my footstep. Who knows?

Only nine others joined the conscription. They didn't have any family or relatives to leave behind, so their departures were much easier. One by one, we filled out our names, personal information, and specialties. The representatives from the Craftworld promised us a spot in the auxiliary division as Dragon Raiders, but that was not what I want. I didn't go so far just to be back in the old way. I yearned for more than that, a privileged position, an admirable rank, a respectable stand to serve the Eldar people.

Aspect Warrior.

Of course, my proposal was responded by jeers and dismissals, as though I had worn clown's shoes straight into a wedding party. I didn't feel bad about that; I never thought convincing them would be a mean feat. The whole concept was absurd. How could someone from an Exodite colony even think of becoming an Aspect Warrior? As a matter of fact, they were unfit to travel any path at all.

As before, I was not deterred by their comments. I reminded myself of Autarch Windsong who stood alone against a horde of the Great Devourers even when a whole company of Space Marine failed to stop them. Despite all the comments about him losing his mind, he went ahead heedlessly and single-handedly triumphed. And I wasn't going to let mere words prevent me from going where my heart desired. But the arrogant of those Aspect Warriors here really put me off. I gritted my teeth and clenched my fist. These guys were real jerks who I wished for nothing more than to wipe the smirk off their faces.

"What is the commotion here?" came a voice with an unmistakably ancient tone. All the eyes turned on an Eldar walking down from the ramp of the transport. He wore emerald robe with Wraithbone armor underneath and a helmet, all of which heavily adorned with runes and sigils. I assumed he was one of their Warlocks, judging from the odd-looking Witchblade he wielded in one hand.

"This one here thinks he can become Aspect Warrior," said of the recruiters in mockingly. I ignored him. I had one chance, one chance only, so I went for it and told the Warlock my story as genuinely as possible, about my parent's heroic death, my reputation amongst the clans, and the books I read.

There was long pause. Then, my heart skipped a beat as I sensed a smile running across his face. "Looks like today is your lucky day," said the Warlock. "Always glad to see youngsters taking up the mantle of heroes. In all my long life, you are exactly what I've been looking for. By the bloody hand of Khaine, I shall promise you a position in the Aspect Warrior, what do you say?"

I was never happier my entire life, my dream finally fulfilled. I cried. Yes, I really did cry in front of everybody. Tears of joy just came out uncontrollably. After this day, my life would never be the same, whether good or ill only time could tell.

"Huh," a recruiter scoffed at the sight. "And you call yourself a warrior."

"Tears are not a sign of weakness," I replied, as calmly as I could, which was hard because both my eyes felt like burning. I tried to remember what Chapter Master Zelius of the Mighty Eagle had said when mourning the death of Captain Fredio. "Not a sign of surrender. At the right time, and the right place, they define our character. They show us as whom we are, not what we pretend to be."

"Truer words were never spoken," said the Warlock, satisfied. "I didn't catch your name earlier. What was it again?"

"Hitome," I told him tearfully. "Suzako Hitome."

Gialia felt so helpless. The battle against the Orks had been hard-fought, rendering him physically and emotionally exhausted. For a moment, he was in relief the fight was finally won; he was wrong. In this great big universe, there existed a number of two things that could never be mixed together, things that were better off left at a distance from the other. How did he not know that Eldar and Kroot were amongst them? Sure, he counted them both as allies, but alliance between his allies was something that didn't happen before Apocalypse.

The Shas'ui watched as the Kroot swarmed over the lone Eldar, who stood defiantly against the odds just as he had in the face of Greenskins. Bullets snap fired on his armor but were easily shaken off. As Gialia discovered, the Striking Scorpion armor was just as resilience as an Astartes Armor, yet much more agile and compact.

Gialia was in depression, partly because of seeing his comrades turning on one another, partly because he didn't know what to do. What could he possible do to make things better anyway? He was just a Fire Warrior, a plain Fire Warrior. Getting in between the outraged Eldar and the disgruntled Kroot might just get him murdered outright. Orks were much easier.

"Stop this at once," he shouted, vaingloriously trying to catch their attention. "We are all on the same side here. This is not helping at all." Their ignorance was reminiscent to the rebel Gialia had faced before. And that time, Hitome slew them without a word.

"Back off, Gialia," said Hitome, sparing him a brief glance. "I can handle this. I will protect you." The Eldar was obviously turning a deaf ear on what Gialia just said, much to his dismay. For the very least, he didn't use a weapon; otherwise there would be unnecessary casualties.

The brawl eventually came to an end with the arrival of a Fire Warrior squad clad in red and green coming out from the building complex. Shas'la Ty'loc from earlier hastily joined them.

"Back off," bawled a Fire Warrior Shas'ui. Gialia was able to discern that thanks to the dark red color of his helmet, whereas the rest of his squad members had purple. He was pointing his Pulse rifle randomly at the Kroot to give a posture of authority rather than threat. "Back to your barrack."

Gialia wondered if he should spill out the truth about Hitome stirring the fight. He chose not to. They probably had figured it out.

The Shaper passed out some orders for its underlings. One of them expressed dissidence, but was quickly suppressed by a thunderous roar from the leader.

"NOW!" the Shas'ui spat. Begrudgingly, the Kroot pulled back slowly, dragging a couple of Ork corpses with them; one of them was still alive and twitching. The Shas'ui and his squad members remained vigilant until they disappeared into one of the hidden entrances used by the staff. Gialia assumed that they weren't allowed in the same living space as the Tau, at least most of them weren't.

The Shas'ui turned to face Gialia, who was feeling ill at ease seeing himself the only person in azure and gold armor surrounded by a green and purple forest. "Sorry about that," he said. "I am Shas'ui Cor'lia of the Red Moon Battlegroup. And you must be the Gialia we've spoken to earlier."

"I am Gialia alright," Gialia responded. "The two of us are all we've got."

"So this is the army you were talking about," Cor'lia continued, taking off his helmet. His skin color was a lighter shade of grey, meaning he was raised from another planet, somewhere with more trees, better air and less sunlight. The Red Moon battlegroup was relatively new, drawing most of their recruits from the Sa'pora Sector. "Well, we are going to need all the help we can get. Good to have you here. You and your friends have been great. We are forever in your debt."

Gialia blushed at the comment. "Always happy to serve the Greater Good. The credit goes to my comrade, too."

"Of course," Cor'lia replied. He then turned to address Hitome, "Sorry about that. Won't happen again. Somebody will have to put those guys in line. I promise they will bother you no more." What he said was completely biased towards the Eldar. The Kroot didn't evoke the violence, he did. The only reason he got away was that they thought he was some sort of hero. And why not?

Hitome removed his helmet with some difficulty, punched himself hard in the face and inhaling deeply to quench the savage thirst for blood and killing. He panted heavily, spitting and drooling. Cor'lia approached him with a worried look, but Gialia stopped him.

It was the first time Gialia had ever been with an Eldar in person, but he knew plenty about them thanks to archives. In order to control their emotions, Aspect Warriors must wear a helmet so that they could direct all of their hatred towards the enemy, and when the dust settles, take them off to allow their peaceful nature to reign. Hitome said he was new to the Path of the Warrior, or at least this was the first occasion in his life where he killed not for food, so it came as no surprise how strenuous it was for him to remove the helmet right after such bloody battle.

"It fills me with displeasure seeing that the Tau would subjugate other races and force them to fight like that," Hitome said finally. "Subjugate" sounded a bit of overkill, but Gialia admitted he had no idea what his superiors were up to. Perhaps that was what Farsight thought about the Ethereals. "Let alone such barbaric beast."

"Life is like a box of chocolate," explained Cor'lia blandly. "You can never know which piece you're going to get. We chose to ally ourselves with them not because we like it, but because we are meant to, in accordance with Greater Good. You may not like them, but they've covered our asses dozens time. A sharp knife is a useful tool; you just have to be careful not to cut yourselves."

Hitome nodded. He looked convinced, for the first time. "Your reasoning is sensible. But I shall not change my attitude. Sorry, but it's just not me to do so. Anyway," he viewed the battlefield with watchful eyes. Even before the invasion Ash'an Da'lioa was far from its glorious days due to economic and resource crises caused by rebels, but this was way much worse. The streets were littered with bodies and debris. Most buildings were down or damaged. The pungent smell of blood and death was thick in the air. "We need to dispose of the Orks, lest we allow your descendants to suffer the same we do."

"There are supplies from the battlewagon," Gialia added, pointing to the vehicle which he had used to break the line. It was remarkable intact. "We salvaged them from an oasis."

"My men will take care of it," Cor'lia assured. "Shas'vre Il'laui is eager to meet you." He said to his men, "Alright, you know what to do, so let's do it. That includes you too, Ty'loc. Two days of duty for incompetence. Two more for cowardice. And another two for negligence of the Grater Good. That's six in total." For the Eldar, someone who made it back from a massacre was a hero, but for the Tau, lone survival in the face of shameless defeat spoke of the lowest of the low. If Ty'loc had been killed back there, he would pass away unnoticed like the rest of his squad, but he lived whereas they didn't, and for that he must be punished. Honestly, Gialia thought he got off easily.

Cor'lia led Gialia and Hitome inside the building, using a security card to open the front door which was on lockdown. The air inside was cooler, which meant the air conditioner units were still operational, which in turn meant there was still power. From the look of it, Gialia saw he had underestimated the defenders here. Several walls had been knocked down by force, while barricades made from tables and fallen bricks had been erected along the main hall. They were manned squads consist of one Fire Warrior and a knot of civilians from Water and Earth Caste. Due to the lack of pulse weapons, a lot of them armed themselves with whatever firearm they could find, including Shootas, Big Sluggas, Deff Gunz and a number of weapons Gialia could not name. On the balconies of second and third floor, Gialia could see soldiers propping with their guns. Even if the Orks could penetrate the entrance, they would have one hell of a time fighting through. There was genuine elation on the battered faces of the defenders as they looked up to Gialia and Hitome.

The Trade Union Building proved to be the perfect place for a die hard. It had tons supplies inside that would feed and keep warm the entire army for weeks, if not months. The complex was divided into four sections, designated Alpha, Beta, Omega and Zeta, which were linked to one another by bridges, giving Ash'an Da'lioa its nickname. There were other bridges which connected the complex with other places to relieve congestion at the entrance, something that happened occasionally on sales day and always on Ethereal sales day. These were demolished to deny the Orks from using as a flank route.

Cor'lia led the two from section Omega to section Alpha where the command post was. Treading through the site where a makeshift first aid infirmary had been set up, Gialia felt a hard rock in his stomach. The wounded from this morning's battle were being brought in in the dozen. On homemade stretchers, in wheelbarrows, on carts, slung across shoulders and clenched tight in arms. Bleeding, no limps, shocked, unconscious. Tau doctors ran desperately in every direction. A trolley was being pulled through, and Gialia caught the gut-churning sight of body pieces floating on blood like a macabre bowl of soup. The whines and moans were the worst part, people on the brink of extinction, calling out to receive the Ethereal's benediction, getting nothing in return. Gialia had expected it to be bad; he didn't expect THIS bad.

Hitome scowled, saying, "Tears of Isha. This is some bad stuff you are having here."

"We do the best we can to keep things going," responded Cor'lia, impervious to his surroundings. "The whole existence of this universe is an equivalent exchange. Without sacrifice, there is no victory. Every single one of us is willing to give our lives for the Greater Good, just like you guys are so zealous in defending the Craftwrolds."

Hitome looked quite impressed. For the very least, Shas'vre Il'laui sure knew how to choose the right man for a diplomat.

The Eldar walked forward to a Tau lying on a stretcher. It was a female, her skin light blue just like the rest of the Red Moon battlegroup. She was panting heavily, blood-soaked bandages covering where her right arm ended at the elbow. Hitome took a bow. Gialia noticed he put his head lower than when he said hello, indicating a different expression. Gratitude.

"You saved my life," he said simply. "I owe you." Gialia immediately realized she was the sniper who rescued Hitome from the crazed Ork Nob earlier. From the amount of blood gushed out, he thought she was dead.

"That…was nothing," the female replied with some difficulty. "Never thought…I would hear that…from someone with…point ears."

"Shas'ui De'poi is one of our best sharpshooters…," explained Cor'lia.

"If…not…the best," De'poi giggled between breathes.

"Yes," Cor'lia went on. "A lucky shot hit her as you can see. Don't worry. She'll be as good as new once we have installed for her a robotic arm."

"Lucky shot…be ####," sputtered De'poi, irritated. "A…sniper."

"What does #### mean?" asked Hitome curiously. He took out a small notebook and wrote it down. From the day they met, Gialia realized the Eldar had no problem at all speaking an alien language. In fact, if his weird tone could be ignored, no one could tell him apart from a native speaker. He demonstrated excellent vocabulary and strong word production under every circumstance. Every circumstance except swearing, no doubt his trainers omitted vulgarism from his study. During their trip together, Gialia used some bad language himself, something he now regretted deeply because Hitome would jot down every time hearing a word he didn't understand. Unintentionally, Gialia was contaminating his own ally.

Cor'lia chuckled. "Sniper! Orks! Are you sure you're not balmy? Did they somehow hit you in the head as well?"

"A sniper all right," said Gialia with a plain voice. These comrades were so immature compared to him. "I confronted him. And killed him. Under the sewer."

"I…," Cor'lia stuttered in defeat. De'poi was the one laughing now. "My apologies." He decided to change the subject. "Anyway, let us proceed."

A group of Tau separated Hitome from the two. They said the Eldar would have to run a few tests before he could be treated normally. That included medical check to see if he had been diagnosed with a local disease or the other way around, brought alien virus to Fio'la. Hitome didn't seem too pleased about that, but agreed anyway. He admonished them he would not answer anything, and they promised no questions would be asked before the introduction.

Gialia went ahead and entered the conference room where share-holders of a food company by the name Po'leur used to hold meetings and discussions. At one end of the table sat a large, bulky Tau with decorated armor that could be none other than Shas'vre Il'laui. At the opposite was a Tau in a complete white silk rope with a red diamond affixed on his forehead, an Ethereal. Other representatives filled out the seats, seven Shas'ui on one side and eight delegates of the Water and Earth Caste on the other. No one from the Air Caste was present, as expected. Bowing their heads courteously in front of their superiors, Gialia and Cor'lia promptly took their seats amongst the sub officers.

"An honor to have you with us, Shas'ui Gialia," Il'laui began with a booming voice. "Your deeds today shall not go unnoticed. And your friend's too, I will make sure of it. Now, we have some questions to ask regarding your…sudden appearance."

Gialia had nothing to hide. He kicked off the protocol by self-introduction, including his scores from the academy, his conscription and past service against Orks and Imperial Gue'la, the merits he earned before resigning back to his homeworld, only to find it coming under invasion. When Il'laui asked his sexual relationship, Gialia shut his mouth tactfully. That was uncalled for; the Shas'vre was only teasing him.

"We are glad to make you part of our army," said Il'laui, "so don't be shy if you need anything. That goes for your friend to, if he agrees."

Gialia felt nervous at his offer. The Red Moon battlegroup was relatively new to the family, and while lacking in tradition, it had a reputation of rigid discipline. Back in Morning Star, a veteran Shas'ui could be given command up to fifty troops at the same time. Here, the maximum number was only fifteen. Furthermore, Gialia missed the time when it was just him and Hitome. It didn't last, but nonetheless memorable, where they could roam the desert unchecked with the sky above and a crap ton food behind, ambush an isolated Ork convoy, slaughter them, bask in glory, and congratulate each other on picking off another leaf on an evergreen tree. Here, things were different, and responsibility and obedience must come first. In other word, no fun.

"I am honor to serve the Red Moon battlegroup," said Gialia eventually, lying a bit. "Hitome wouldn't mind." The later part was no lie.

"Hitome?" Il'laui echoed. "That's his name, the Eldar?"

There was some knocks on the door.

"Come in," said Il'laui, as though knowing who it was. "We've been expecting you."

The person that walked into the room was Hitome alright. Stripped of Aspect Armor. Carrying no weapon. Dressed in simple white robe, devoid of decorations. His bare skin, however, spoke the opposite, vastly tattooed and painted with runes and sigils. Some of them carried ominous messages only an Eldar would understand, while others, like the one on the middle of his chest, depicted heroic battles and victories against vile foe.

Hitome could barely control his movement in that robe. He trudged and tramped. Leaning left and right. And eventually, fell. Right on his face. Away from war and bloodlust, he was as clumsy as always. Two Water Caste members helped him up. They looked the same, and had exactly similar gems on their hair braid, so Gialia assumed they were twin.

"I need a manual for this type of clothe," said Hitome, his voice cruder without the vox on his helmet. He seemed dead to all sense of shame.

The two Por'la looked at each other, confused. "Ahhh, right. Will be done."

"Please, take a seat," said Il'laui, pointing to the empty one right next to him. Hitome approached, grabbed the chair, walked right next to Gialia, put it down, and sat. This made Gialia want to shoot himself in the head out of embarrassment. The others' expressions at the most blatant violation of protocol ever ranged from grinning to scoffing. But they all were dumbfounded, not wanting to comment, afraid to or could not be bothered. The Water Caste duo retreated out of the room.

"I didn't put this on by choice," Hitome went on. "Back in the science room, they stripped me of my outfit to collect my blood sample, skin sample, hair sample, drool sample, urine sample and my... spermatozoon sample. Anyway, my armor will start self-repairing once taken off, so I'll be picking it up soon, provided your men had not tempted it by dry-washing. In the meantime, I hope my toleration proves my loyalty."

There was a long pause. Il'laui's booming voice cut through the silence like a dagger cut throat, "Good to have you here, Striking Scorpion Hitome of Craftworld Biel'tan. We have no doubt you are a warrior of the Greater Good, a hero of our people. Good job back then."

"It was part of my job," Hitome replied.

"And what is that job, specifically?" asked Il'laui.

"Slaying Orks," the Eldar responded plainly, which explained quite a lot. Gialia never felt the need to ask this kind of question during their travel. Forcing out the ugly truth might cost him an ally, or even his life should Hitome lost faith in him.

"These Orks?" demanded Il'laui, a suspicious tone hanging on his voice. "Dakastinz's boys? They are nowhere near a world of yours. Why would you risk lives and resource to battle a threat that is so remote? I am not being rude here, but the nature of the Eldar race is known to all. Orks infest a good portion of galaxy. Why this one? I want the truth."

Hitome took a deep sigh. He closed his eyes for a moment to meditate, and then spoke, "Where should I begin? We all hate the Orks for various reasons; they being essentially a huge green wrecking ball in the galaxy, and any world they infest soon becomes a permanent foothold for their empire. For many millennia, we have tried to combat them, and failed. Why? Simple, we lacked both manpower and the leadership. Thanks to Craddol, a thousand praise on His name, our mistakes were realized, and we ameliorated our much obsolete point of view. Changes were made, alterations put in place, and alliance formed. It was only a matter of time before our well-deserved reward came to be, the Orogami War."

"Orogami?" asked Il'laui.

"It is the Vos'yark sector to the Tau,' explained one of the Water Caste representatives. "The Ork Empire there was confirmed destroyed six years ago."

"I know about that," said Il'laui. "So, WAAAARRGGHH Dakastinz is but a part of the empire you spoke?" He directed the question at Hitome, who nodded.

"The Orogami Ork Empire may mean little to you," said the Eldar. "But to us, they are a real hazard. For five millennia, we fought a stalemate war against them, and then crushing victory came overnight. Never before have we seen so many warriors fighting for a common cause. A massive force of Eldar from six Craftworlds, Space Marine from three chapters, Imperial Guards and countless mercenaries. We slew tens of billions of them, and let tens of billions more died to in-fighting. We overturned worlds, and laid waste to entire star systems. We smashed their wretched empire into a million pieces. Out of that, our losses were very minimal."

"As I heard, there were Tyranids on your side, weren't there?" interrupted Il'laui. "And they were doing most of the work."

"Yes," Hitome admitted, "such alliance was imperative to counter the Orks and Necron allies, and we had no intention of furthering it beyond a few battle, as it should be. Of course, they did their job, beautifully, no less, as statistics said which I am sure you have read. As soon as the entire sector was cleansed of Ork filth, we left the Necron and the Tyranid consuming one another, but our job was far from over."

"Dakastinz," said Il'laui with distaste.

Hitome nodded. "He was an obscured Warboss, not even on the list of dangers at the beginning of the campaign. As the fragments of their empire plunged themselves into a self-engineered extermination, he somehow found a way out. Against our expectation, his army grew and grew like cancer cells, from less than a millions, to many billion boys, enough for a new WAAARRGGHH!. Our Farseer had a horrid vision regarding this particular Ork Warlord, the details of which I am not in the know of, but it's not pretty, that's for sure. As a result, we must act. Things didn't work out, however, and for reasons I could not disclose to you without losing my status as Aspect Warrior, or possibly even as Craftworld citizen, we came here with a very meager force. We will help you, but not in the frontline with tens of thousands warrior as if this is our war. It is not. And so, for the most part, the Tau Empire will have to fend for themselves."

Wild murmurs and whisperings echoed throughout the room. The air was thick with tension and there was obvious trepidation on the face of several delegates. If the Eldar were so concerned about this, it had got to be big. There was also discontent, though; they knew about the dire strait better than anyone, and yet remained skimpy and only sent a handful to help out. Reports had shown that the majority of the Eldar reserve force, the so-called Brave Phoenix Operation, were engaged with the Orks within Imperial territories, no doubt under pressure from those lazy Gue'la.

"Is there anything else?" asked Il'laui. "Any information you would like to share with us?"

"When I next discuss further about this, I will either have been consented by higher Eldar authority, or have been tortured to the point I could no longer bear. I am not the masochistic type," he admitted. At least one Shas'ui had suggested interrogating him using electric chair and hard-covered telephone directory, according to a very amused Cor'lia. "Now, is it too late for my conscription?"

"Never too late," said the Ethereal, who had been silent the whole time. Cor'lia told Gialia he was Aun'ui Be'vare, son of Aun'vre Sa'sasha, the political and spiritual leader of Ash'an Da'lioa. His father's precarious position, surrounded by Greenskins, trapped in his own office, had saddened him. He tried to bury grief in work, but in the end, grief buried him. "Hitome of Biel-tan, Hero of Ash'an Da'lioa, Savior of our people. Even though the wound from our last engagement with you is still hot with spilled blood, you are true testament of what magnificence could be achieved if the Tau Empire and the Eldar Craftworld unite for a greater cause. When it comes to service of the Greater Good, there is no limitation, no discrimination, no prejudice, and no deadline. Shas'vre Il'laui, see to this."

"Yes, Your Holiness," Il'laui replied. "My men are looking forward to this."

Be'vare turned to Gialia with a fainted trace of amusement. "There are titles for you, too, in case you feel jealous. Want me to speak them out loud?"

Gialia flushed. He was never the type who enjoys praises. "Perhaps my mind is purer without such things, Your Holiness."

The Ethereal gave a tired smile. "Today has been long. I need some rest. Consolidate our force for the next attack. I want to establish communication with other Tau forces in this city as soon as possible. Make sure the well-being of every person here is looked after. Do whatever you must, whatever you deem necessary, whatever you feel like, whatever you are asked to, whatever whatever. This meeting is dismissed."

Shortly after Be'vare adjourned the meeting, Il'laui immediately went ahead with the consolidation. What he did was account for the dead and the newly arrived reinforcement, reassigning personnel, redistributing weapons, reorganizing units, technically redoing everything he did yesterday. In the following day, more would die to the axe and the bullet of the enemy while others would recover from injuries and became fit for duty, and Il'laui would start the whole thing all over again. Fire Cadre code demanded maximum efficiency.

The 67 Fire Warriors who survived the previous battle, Gialia and local police forces included, were divided into seven squads of eight and two more consisting of five and six Pathfinders. Gialia was in squad 7. Hitome insisted on accompanying him, and so squad 7 had an extra member, much to the envy of other squads. There was also a group of nine XV27 Stealthsuits present, but they didn't belong to the defense, their battle role being reconnaissance, remaking communication with other Tau forces in the city, and providing the Orks with enough harassment to impede their advance. Gialia hadn't seen them since coming here. The same went to the Kroot who lurked in the basement of the building. No one went there to check on them. Their Shaper was intelligent enough to make use of vox and telephone, responding only when needed.

In addition, a number of more than 200 civilians had been armed to protect the grand plaza, deployed in groups of no uniform size comprised of members from the same Caste, each led by a self-nominated sub-commander. Originally they were designated Fire Soldier, but when Hitome referred to them as Guardians, Eldar militias raised to defend the Craftworlds in times of great need, everybody started using the word. Gialia found the name Fire Soldier pretty pathetic anyway. There was another irregular unit which contained nine recently released prisoners, some of whom still fresh in Gialia's memory of the Dark Days where a mass demonstration followed by a rebellion was swiftly stamped. Rumors had it that the agents of Farsight had something to do with that. Some of them knew Gialia well, and leered at him with hateful glares.

The concern about supply was minimal. Even without the stuff Gialia brought back from that artificial oasis, the defenders here would still have food, water, and medic stuff enough for months of siege, assuming they lived that long anyway. Weapons and ammunition however, raised an issue. Even with every single gun and plasma battery taken from Fire Command, Security Center and Police Department as well as a meager number from individuals who had been illegally conserving for an uprising, a lot of the Guardians Gialia saw were issued with Orkish firearms. These primitive items were as dangerous to the target as much as it was to their owner. Hitome also had a sidearm, a peculiar looking shuriken pistol specialized to the Striking Scorpion Aspect which exchanged compactness for greater firepower. He had two racks of bullets in his pocket. Gialia regretted not confiscating any weapon from slain renegade, otherwise the Tau would have more to spare.

Two more days passed, and quite a whole lot happened. A dozen skirmishes, mostly easy wins, two of which more remarkable then the rest. The first one was the afternoon of the second day since Gialia's arrival. A mob of five hundred Orks with Killa Kan support almost broke through the defense line. Despite taking heavy losses with Hitome scoring two vehicle kills with his Tankbusta launcher, they reach the main plaza by pulling down two sections of the wall. Again, many times, the Eldar's appearance proved to be the difference between a squad of soldiers cut down to a man in melee and a squad of soldiers surviving at full strength. In the end, all the invaders were purge, and the entrance was sealed once more. Hitome had the highest kill count, but Gialia was only a hair's breadth behind, gunning down three dozens including a Shoota Nob. Minimal casualties were sustained by the Tau.

The next attack was more brazen. Four hundred infantry on foot and on trukks struck the main gate like a storm, only to find groups of Kroot and Fire Warriors eagerly waiting. As though responding to an instinctive feral calling, the Greenskins charged forward, heedless of their ranks getting thinner and thinner as discipline volleys of fire ripped into them. Thanks to the precise execution of Kauyon, Shas'vre Il'laui repelled the onslaught with few losses.

Morale had been lousy, despite these victories. There was no prospect of reinforcement, and the Orks were coming in waves. Most of them went and left, but some, mostly stragglers and those without a means of transport, stayed and bolstered their presence within the city. They were ready for a prolonged siege, one that would render the Tau exhausted eventually.

No communication from main stronghold was another minus. With two more Stealthsuits lost in vain, Shas'ui Sevo'la, head of reconaissence party, decided to keep them back and gave up any attempt to regain contact. Rumors began to spread, bad ones, that the main stronghold which Il'laui claimed to be unbreakable and impenetrable had not lived up to its name. In response, the Shas'vre bombarded thos who started with the best of outrageous humors and the worst of what the beautiful Tau language could offer. That made everyone, Gialia included, tremble in shock. If anything, Hitome learn a lot of new words that day.

Afternoon on the third day, escalation began as a local enforcer, also from the Fire Caste, stabbed Hitome with the Brotherhood sword. The Eldar did not die. The sword broke in half upon impact with Wraithbone armor. A Fire Warrior tried to detain him, and the crazy stabbed him, too. The Fire Warrior died quickly. His furious comrades shot without further word, killing the miserable bastard.

As it turned out, the enforcer served on the frontline before being relieved. He fought against the Eldar on Po'vylsava where all of his friends were killed. Hitome didn't bother about the killing. Nevertheless, what happened there seemed to have kicked some senses into him that he could no longer afford to be nonchalant and let the Tau comrades be.

Morning on the fourth day, Hitome arranged a meeting to discuss a plan he recently came up with.

Insane, but practical.

Suicidal, yet very VERY positive.

Unorthodox and absolutely weird.

Better than what Shas'ui O'leras suggested, which was to dig tunnels and get the heck out of the city. Everybody had booed at him: there was no way to dig through layers of sand.

But still, the lack of confirmation was deterring. The Eldar might have thought this up on a whim.

Everyone at the table was roundly astounded. All were speechless. All but one.

"We'll buy it," said Shas'vre Il'laui. "It's the best chance we've got right now. For the Greater Good, if I go down, I would rather it be a heroic assault than a die hard. Alright, men, the time to strike back has come. We know their weakness, and we know how to exploit it. Many lives will be lost as a result of the operation, but those that are saved will fight another day. It's time to drive the filthy Orks out of the city once and for all."

And from that moment, Operation Windsong was in effect.