Let not the pain alludes you from the path. Let not the threats of violence make you lose heart. Let not the lied blind you from true faith.

The creed of Vadire is a travesty. His words as poisonous as from a serpent. Where he comes, the shackles of slavery and iniquity followed.

Rise, people of Marinesh. Rise up and vanquish this foe. Let him fear our wrath, our bravery, and most of all, our freedom.

Saint Victoria.

Life is such a travesty.

That was the thought of Shas'vre Shao'yin as she strode through the hallway of the place known by the Imperial Gue'la as the "church", still fully clad in her battle-scarred XV25 Stealthsuit. The previous battles had been nothing short of brutal. So many of her comrades perished, so many friends lost, so much potential wasted. Their deaths were brave and heroic, but lost and gone all the same. She still remembered Pi'lia using her own body to block an axe blow from a Greenskin as it struck at Oi'laru who swiftly exacted vengeance, Derai detonating a grenade in his death throe and obliterating half a dozen Chaos Gue'la in the process and Co'rea standing defiantly to the last breath against an onslaught from the Imperials, allowing his teammates to escape.

And what was their sacrifice for?




Some crappy footnotes?!

The campaign was falling apart. Originally planned by the Tau as a quick victory over the Orks that occupied the town known as Lorraine by the Gue'la, the fight took a huge turning point when Imperial forces and then the servants of Chaos unexpectedly joined the fray. Losses on all sides were astronomical but unlike other armies, the Tau did not possess inexhaustible resource or easily replaceable troops for a prolonged conflict. There was no chance of reinforcement. Any casualty they received would become a permanent gap.

Apart from what could not have been predicted, there were tactical mistakes that helped to contribute to their dire situation right now. Her commander, the Shas'el, was performing below his average. The death of the Ethereal might have made him more impulsive, but that was no excuse for sending brave warriors to their doom. The commander was in favor of Mont'ka, relying on swift decisive strikes and technical superiority to win many battles at once before the enemy could respond in force. It proved successful at first, but turned out poorly as soon as a prolonged battle was inevitable. More than often, when coming up with the next course of action, the Shas'el would explain in detail what was general and skim through what was really important. Any good commander would have realized by now that something had gone awry with the deployments and strategies and start making amendments to that, but still this one refused to abandon his mindset and persisted that something ought to turn up, as though a meteor would just fall down and annihilate the enemy. For such imbecile stubbornness, Shao'yin would have relieved him from command herself, sent him back for more training, and kicked him in the ass had it not been for the fact he was her brother.

Shao'yin opened the door leading to the main hall without knocking. The stealth armor was bulky, but she preferred to be as battle-ready as possible. The room was huge and vastly ornamented. The windows were paintings of saints and gods worshipped by the Gue'la. A giant chandelier was hung on the ceiling, next six hovering drones that illuminated the chamber with dim light. This place in peacetime would be where the gue'la spent their unproductive time praying and whispering wishes to what they had faith to be the Almighty. The Tau did not believe for such nonsense.

"Honored sister," announced Shao'yang, Shas'el of the 5th Kavaal, Por'vada Shan'al. Unlike Shao'yin, he was dressed in deep blue ceremonial uniform with the sigil of the Fire Caste on the left arm and the back. "You have returned safely from your previous mission. I have read the report. It was a resounding success. The Orks shall no longer be threatening our northern flank as we press on to eradicate their headquarter."

"Three of my men did not make it back," said Shao'yin blankly. She was in no mood to celebrate such hollow victory. "That's eleven of my squad who will never see the light again."

"They have served the Greater Good honorably," the Shas'el replied sympathetically. "Their heroism will be forever remembered in the heart of the people of Por'vada, as will the rest of the fallen."

"Yes," Shao'yin nodded dourly. The same old speech from her brother every time a comrade died was becoming unpleasant to hear. Normally, she would not be so upset about the losses, but without proper reinforcement, her stealth cadre was in tatter and real danger of being wiped out. "They will be."

Shao'yang cringed his eyes. "You seem perturbed somehow, honored sister. Is something the matter?" Shao'yin wanted so badly to shout out loud how big of an incompetent asshole her brother was, to spit into his face and tell him to go back to academy.

She couldn't. Family issue aside, there were political reasons not to piss off a superior officer.

"Nothing," she said after a while. Shao'yin cleared her throat before continuing. "Anyway, I heard that we have lost Freiheit Square to the Imperials just moments ago."

Shao'yang sighed sadly, "It was a tragedy for our Sept. Shas'vre Bo'rei has not only failed his duty but also lost his live and that of three hundreds brave men and women. They overextended themselves under false hope the enemy would break easily. But the Ores'la returned in force and severed them from the main force. Bo'rei had a last stand against not only the vile Greenskins, but also both forces of Gue'la. He made a mistake of utilizing static defense against a mobile and well-armed with artillery foe and paid the ultimate price for it. His loss is much regretted, but his faults are…undeniable."

Shao'yin was more depressed now. Everything was falling apart. Everything was turning against the Tau. Nothing remarkable was being accomplished, no matter how many enemies they felled.

A mere seven hundred troops were left, less than half of what they had started with, stretched thinly and close to running out of supply. Morale was all-time low. Defeat seemed inevitable.

"But fear not," Shao'yang assured her. "We can yet pull this out, but it's going to be a gamble. Should we capture the most important structure in the city, the plaza known is Gue'la tongue as Endsieg, the day shall be ours."

"Do you really think we are capable of such?" asked Shao'yin ludicrously. It was abnormal of her to doubt the military prowess of Tau, but her experience so far under his leadership had been abysmal. Yet, she still had hope in this venture. Either that or she did not want to believe her brother was unsuitable for command and that they were destined to be doomed.

"Bo'rei's death has not been for naught," Shao'yang explained, "His sacrifice had made the Gue'la expose their weakness. Skyray squadron of Shas'ui Ore'lia had reported crushing victory over the Imperial humans' crude mobile rocket launchers which have been causing us more trouble than anything else," With artillery support them, plus long-ranged direct fire from our Broadsides and the fists of might Crisis suits, we can do this. By the Greater Good, I have faith in this, just as I have faith in you, honored sister."

Shao'yang felt jumpy like a juvenile back in the academy before an exam. Fate was going to be decided soon. Death or victory. This had better work. Otherwise, they were all done for.

Shao'yang tried to brighten up. "When do we start?" she asked impatiently.

"Soon enough," the Shas'el promised. "Very soon."

The meeting room inside Faraudio Opera House, located at the back of the theatre where unauthorized entry was forbidden in time of peace and war alike, had been refitted into a war room. Or at least, they attempted to make it look like one. The room barely accommodated the necessary equipment, and that was with all decorations removed. The air was hot. The conditioner was not working, not that it was broken. Electricity was a scarce resource and there were other places where it could be used more productively, such as in the newly reclaimed hospitals. Two thirds of the lights were off, the remaining illuminating brightly on a table set at middle of the room where tactical displays were put on.

"I hope you all have a good explanation for this," demanded Colonel Leopold, eyes gazing seriously at his subordinates. An old man with a bear-belly, he served as Lieutenant of the Volkssturm in the days where terrorism from Spartacists was the main headline on newspapers. Before he knew it, the Oberkommando promoted him to Colonel and "kindly" asked him to repel some Orks with a mixed bunch of militias in hand. "The men holding out at Grendel Street have sent complaints about the sudden withdrawal of our artillery. I have not been informed of any change in the situation or any change in the plan, but our Panzerwerfers have been silent for longer than I am comfortable with. Tell me, what has happened?"

There was a long paused. The others sitting near the table wore an anxious face. There were five of them. Most other high ranking officers took the field alongside their troops. No representative from Jaeger Kompanie was present for the time being.

"They have all been destroyed, sir," said a fat man with large mustache. He was Major Abtslang, commander of Festung Kompanie. He was an easy-going, happy-go-lucky commander who always supplemented his troops with what they needed, from warm bedrolls to warm hugs. Despite his lack of combat experience and infield actions, his inspiration was undeniably welcomed by the common troops. The men gave him lots of love.

Lots of love, Leopold thought. But never any respect. In a war where everything was at stake, his bet would be on the respectable bastard rather than the loveable fool.

"The Tau outmaneuvered us as we displaced," Abtslang continued. "They knew we were heading to northwest Glaria Street and bombarded on it as we arrived. We were…caught off-guarded."

"How big is the loss?" Leopold cut him off. He had no love for excuses. "What impact will it have on the campaign now that they are no longer at our disposals?"

"Significant, sir," Abtslang admitted. "Out of thirty three, sixteen were destroyed outright, while eleven more were rendered out of service. The remaining will not be able to lend us the punishment to smash the Orks' defense as we had hoped. There are some mortars left, but they are unreliable."

"In other words, the final assault will once again be a burden on the back of Faust Kompanie," said Captain Avon, clearly outraged. He was a young fellow, the delegated representative of Faust Kompanie whose supreme commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Austerlitz, was busy out there leading the charge. With the fact that his men always took the hard end of things, there was no reason why he should not be upset. "If we get toasted, it will be thanks to your incompetence. The Panzerwerfers are not meant to be used as dueling artillery against the enemy's counterparts. They don't possess the thick armor of Skyray, nor missiles that can track targets. The main concept, the fucking main concept of using them is to hit-and-run, firing volleys at a predetermined position and then moving out to avoid retaliation."

"If your men had driven the Tau from Perutz Street earlier, they would not have a clear shot at our batteries," Abtslang retorted. Leopold had not seen him so angry for a while. "From there, they had a clear shot at where we were at. How the heck was I supposed to know they were expecting us in the first place?"

"Of course they were," said Avon impatiently. "Your batteries were moving in the same route over and over again. They would eventually figure it out. The Tau are no fools, you should know this by now."

"Enough!" Leopold slammed his hand on the table, catching everyone's attention. "Have you all heard of the story about the two goats crossing the bridge together but from different directions? The bridge was narrow, and they both wanted to get passed before the other. Neither would relent, so they quarreled over the bridge. Do you all know the ending where they both fell into the river and drowned?"

The officers were speechless.

"This senseless argument will not benefit us in anyway," Leopold went on. "We are in a dark time, gentlemen. Unity and trust are more vital than ever. There are sunny days which we all love, but there is no telling whether it will rain tomorrow. I will not nag anyone over this failure, at least not for now. Answer me this," he asked seriously. "Are we still in the lead? Are we still going to win this?"

Nobody replied, not immediately for the next minute. The sound of knocking on the door broke the eerie silence.

"Come in," said Leopold.

The door opened and in came the Eldar Warlock. He was dressed in white armor with a green cloak, which contrasted vividly with the Marinesh's grey and black officer uniform. His hair and eyes were of the same color azure. At first glance, he looked too informal, almost like a character walking out from a Sunday cartoon, to be serious, but the Leopold knew Eldar were not to be underestimated under any circumstance, even if you outnumbered them ten to one and had weapons while they did not. Had it not been for Major Kalimgor's introduction of the xenos earlier, Leopold would have definitely pulled out a fire arm at the sight.

"Guten abend, gentlemen," said the Eldar in broken Marinesh dialect. His alien melodic accent made the language sounded funny.

"Cerka," replied Captain Maxim, a bold man in his thirties. He was a scholar who specialized on xenology, one of a kind on Marinesh. Leopold reckoned he was quite eminent, but hardly recognized by any institution due to the impractical, if not heretical, nature of his research. With the invasion underway, he might be the best thing that happened to the kamfgruppe. To facilitate his studies, a makeshift lab had been constructed where bodies of Orks and Tau were sent in to be dissected and examined. Maxim hit the ceiling when his precious Chaos Space Marine cadaver was ceremoniously disposed before he had a chance to put his hand on. He also asked the Eldar to give him consent to use their dead for scientific purpose. Leopold expected the xenos to turn down the offer promptly, but one actually accepted, either extremely sure that he would survive or extremely displeased with the way he looked. "Iam are taluc Auel."

The Warlock scowled. His deep eyes shifted around the room quizzically until they affixed at last on the human captain who just greeted him. "Auta miqula orqu," he hissed venomously.

"Been doing that all morning," Maxim smiled wryly. "The bastards don't taste like cherries. I am going to need a new lipstick."

"You are fifteen minutes late, Warlock," Leopold started. Maxim was serious, though admittedly a bit absentminded sometimes. This was what happened when officers were picked from civilians instead of people who actually attended military academies. "The meeting has already started. I thought you Eldar are supposed to be tardiness free."

"My coming here late is none of your business, human," said the Warlock dismissively. "Fifteen minutes is but a small fraction in your precious lifespan. I hope I did not waste it two badly."

All humans in the room stared at him hatefully. As officers in the army, they were loathed to be outclassed by another man, much less an alien.

"What could I possibly do in fifteen minutes?" asked Leopold sarcastically. "Review another ten reports? Redeploy troops on the left flanks twenty times? Issue sixty orders? Or kick one sorry assed Eldar who doesn't follow regulations out of this room?"

The Warlock resigned, quickly realizing this was not a place to be haughty. Leopold hoped this would set precedence for any xeno dealing with him.

"Pardon me for my ineptitude." The Eldar cleared his throat. "There was some personal businesses I must take care of. They were imperative and require my attention at that point. If possible, I would like to keep them confidential."

"It has better be good," Maxim said.

"Best fifteen minutes of my life," the Eldar responded a-matter-of-fact. Leopold knew that expression. It was similar to the first time he went on bed with his wife who was still young and beautiful back then. Now, he would require the solace from a painkiller to do so for she weighted like an elephant.

"This is going to damn my soul forever, isn't it?" said Leopold cynically. "Major Kalimgor spoke highly of the Eldar, how they were able to make a breakthrough while dozens of his men could not or hold a bridge on their own against a horde of incoming Orks that even an Astartes might have second thought. Having long ears and crazy colored hair doesn't qualify you as one of them. Prove it."

"I will," the alien nodded. "Soon enough."

"He also mentioned your good taste in music and art," said Maxim. "I would love to experience those at some point."

"I do hope you will enjoy them," said the Eldar. "I will pass my thanks to Major Kalimgor for his kind words when I have the time, given his thread has not been cut by the Banshee Queen by then."

"Back to the situation," said Leopold. "The losses of our Panzerwerfers aside, I was reported that our troops have managed to penetrate into Freiheit Square. They are at the enemies' backdoor as we speak. Now, I cannot verify this is true or not, but…"

"Three of my people fought there," the Eldar interrupted. "It was brutal melee against the servants of the Dark Gods, but they emerged victorious in the end and the square is now in our hand."

"This will definitely give us the edge we need," said Abtslang. "A second spear into the enemy's flank that can bypass the tough shield. If we can deliver a preempted attack on at least one of our opponents, there will be..."

"Hold your horses, Avon," said Avon incredulously. "From what I have heard, the Greenskins have set up barricades between the two places, as a result of the Tau's miscalculation about the strength they were facing. As much as these barricades are flimsy in good, Orky fashion, it will still provide a speed bump. I suppose they will pull back to Freiheit Square when the battle begins, but it is unlikely that our troops who had penetrated the enemy's line would do any good until then."

"No need to fear, my human ally," the Warlock assured him. "I have already looked into the future. The path is clear. The Orks' blockade will not be a nuisance as Captain Avon had said. The enemy will not know what hit them when our sword thrusts from the shadow. Which enemy, though, is yet to be determined."

There was some more silence.

"For your question earlier," the Eldar continued, a flicker of a smile on his face. "We are in the ascendency. Our enemies remain strong but they are on the brink of desperation as we speak. I oversaw the battles and felt it. I deplore the loss of the Panzer-veffa… whatever you call it, but there are still other resources which we have not utilized to the greatest effect. We have the numbers, the guns, the morale and most of all, righteousness on our side. Our strength is like the sea, each blow a tidal wave that will wash away all that is foul and tainted."

"I agree with the Eldar here," Abtslang voiced. He probably did so in order to get away from the responsibility of such pitiful defeat and horrendous waste of advanced weapons. "Our heavy PAK can take out an enemy panzer from half a mile away. Our troops are well-equipped with machine lasguns and panzerschreck. There is no opponent we lack an answer to. This battle is ours to lose."

Leopold did not concur with their optimism. The Eldar was being simple-minded when it came to how the Imperium waged wars. He could hardly be blamed. He was only simple-minded because his race had always considered the ways of the humans to be simple-minded. His optimism was not entirely misplaced, though. Surely, the Marinesh had the most superior army, most vehicles and probably the highest morale, but Leopold did not believe that was tantamount to an auto win.

Nothing was ever tantamount to an auto win, except when Emperor himself told you so.

"Is that the plan we all agree with?" asked Leopold with a deep sigh. "I will repeat the course of action for the very last time. The main kampfgruppe will pressure the enemy from Himmel and Rotteberg Streets, while a small strike force will deliver the blow from behind their lines. Thanks to the losses sustained earlier, there will be little artillery covering our asses. The main thrust will be comprised of infantry, supporting kampfwagon, assault guns and tank destroyers. Our main battle tanks will be pulled back to the second front at Hemsburg Bridge where the Orks might be mounting a counterattack. This is going to be one hell of a bloody fight. If none objects, I will have Lieutenant-Colonel Austerlitz leading the assault, Major Kalimgor second and Captain Maxim third in command. Any question?"

"Wait, you are going to the front now, Maxim?" asked Abtslang with a disbelieved look. "Don't tell me you are drunk from 2 glasses of Brandy."

The captain chuckled. "Three and a half," he said. "That's my new standard now. And I am not having a hangover. My mind is as clear as crystal. This is all for science. You can see, I am quite fascinated by the Orks. There might be more about them than just the head-banging and skull-splitting we commonly associate them with, a lot more, in fact. I wish to study more about them, especially on their behaviors, both individually and within groups of varying sizes, what we merely describe as 'mob rule'. I wish to use my knowledge for the great cause of defending the Fatherland. To do that, I need on field observation."

"Glad to see somebody ready to lay down himself in the name of science," said Avon. "As long as it does not get in the way of killing those green swine, I don't have a problem with."

"Contrary to that," said Maxim confidently. "It will help us kill them quicker and better."

"Any further enquiry?" Leopold repeated.

"No, sir," said Abtslang.

"Not really," said the Eldar. "I will see you on the battlefield, Captain Massim."

"It's Maxim," said the human captain. "Glubosten Maxim. Get in right. That's an 'x' for you."

"Any back-up plan in case this one screws up?" Avon asked sardonically.

"Yes," said Leopold, his voice stern. "Beat the living shit out of anyone who comes back alive with a telephone directory. Then send them all to summary execution. No exclusion."

"Fair enough," Avon nodded.

"Very well then," Leopold announced, standing up and raised his hand forward. "This discussion is hereby terminated. Operation Black Dragon will be carried out in one hour. Get ready. May the Kaiser be with you all."

Akashi stormed through the hallway of the theater. There were many humans in his way, yet he passed them without losing speed like water through a blanket. He made his way into the stage at the heart of the building, a massive room with oval-shaped ceiling designed to maximized sound effect. This was where the soldiers of Marinesh were making their last-minute preparation for the upcoming battles. Knives were sharpened. Firearms were lock stock and barrel checked and grenades were distributed. Helmets and uniforms were being put on. Some soldiers were exchanging banters with their comrades when they had the chance, while others expressed their true feelings. Akashi spotted more than one kissing couple in the rabble.

The Eldar Warlock walked straight to where his lover, Shizuka Miyamoto, was. She was in full battle dress and armed with her Fusion gun now. The last time he saw her, she was wearing but a white dress with long sleeves and there were visible burn marks on her soles.

"What is the meaning of this?" he had asked furiously as his hands grasped hers. "Are you cosplaying? Blood of Asuryan, you are injured, not a good omen on the eve of war. They look recent. This is not the battle rite of the Fire Dragons. Is this the humans' doing?"

"It is not," she had denied, shaking her head vehemently. "What happened to me was my intent and purpose only. And don't overreact like that. My combat effectiveness will not diminish due to this."

Akashi had told Shizuka to sit down and examined her feet. With deep sorrow, he had laid a kiss on the perfectly-shaped toes, sucking on them slightly. "What is you intent and purpose, exactly?"

"Morale issue," Shizuka had responded, pulling back her foot. "The preacher asked me to play the role of Saint Victoria during her pilgrimage to Marinesh. It was an important event for the people on this planet, salvation, liberation, the return of hope in the darkest days of the Age of Apostasy. Just like what we are doing now," she added with a forced smile.

"We are not saviors, not liberators, and what we do here whether it rekindles hope for these humans or not is none of our concern," he had responded with a deep sigh. "Need I remind you that our duty is to the Craftworld and its people. That is our first and foremost priority. Allies from Craddol and Fenix are secondary. Anything else can be blasted to the warp for all I care."

"Come on," she had cooed. "Even you cannot be that unsympathetic. Look at these people. Look at how much they have suffered from this war. And Lileath knows when it will end. If they were Eldar instead of humans, you would not feel like that." Akashi could still remember her determined look when she said, "I will not stop until there is a prospect for a better life for these men, women and children. Even if the flame of my Aspect has to burn down mountains and evaporate seas, I will fight till the end. I wish…I just wish all of these would be all over so that Caroline could smile freely again."

Akashi hated when she said so. All these feelings for the humans were unbecoming of an Eldar. Fewer ideas were better than more. There was no way he saw the friendship here would progress into a permanent alliance between the Imperium and the Eldar. The people of Marinesh may accept them easily because they were easy-going if not gullible and desperate, but on other less better-off worlds where the new faith had yet to reach or too stubborn to embrace it, reports had come in indicating hostility and violence against Eldar strike force on various occasions. No "friendly-fire" so far, but a number of emergency evacuations had been made. Akashi only heard of this a moment ago from a one-way message through the Warp.

The air in the main theater hall was filled with intoxications, fleshly baked breads and two-weeks-no-bath body odor camouflaged by cheap perfume.

Akashi moved towards Shizuka. The Fire Dragon looked up, saying, "The call of Khaine is upon us. Our group is due to join the fray in ten minutes. The first assault from Faust is already on its way. Blood flows on the battlefield as we speak."

"I am aware," he replied dryly.

"They sent for us some bodyguards, check them out."

Akashi raised his brow. "Bodyguards? I did not…."

"Ooooh!" came a young, mirthful voice. "So you are the Eldar we are supposed to keep an eye on. I heard stories about you as a child. Never thought I would see one in person."

A human girl less than twenty approached the two Eldar. She wore officer uniform bearing the twin-gun icon of Jaeger Kompanie, an assault las rifle with spotting scope slung on her back and many grenades amongst other combat items on her belt. Her hair was brown and so were her eyes. A group of eleven Jaeger commandos in grim-looking gasmask followed her. She picked Akashi by the cheek, making him blush inconveniently, "Emperor's teeth, you are soft to touch. Is that your natural hair color? And those eyes, they look like sapphire."

"Let go of me," Akashi slapped her hand away. How she was able to escape his notice during his stay with Jaeger Kompanie was beyond comprehension. "Such barbaric manner. Is that how you humans greet someone you never met before? Snatching him in the face like that?"

"Maybe not," the human girl said as she put a finger on her lip. Her distracted look and youthful appearance made Akashi questioned how desperate these humans were to employ such annoying brat as assault officer. "Anyway, I am Lieutenant Emilia Oldhammer of Jaeger Kompanie, but please call me Emilia. Oldhammer sounds...kinda old. Sorry for not introducing earlier. I was afraid, but Captain Wolfgang inspired me to do so. Congratulation, you have just become our most important asset. We are here to keep you both safe under all circumstances, through thick and thin and everything in between, except food poisoning. You can count on us."

"Sounds great, doesn't it, Tesuko?" Shizuka seemed glad. "The humans do care about us and not just use us as tools to advance their needs."

"Captain Wolfgang also told me you own him a new uniform shirt," Emilia addressed the Fire Dragon. "Bean soup is a tough opponent for any washing soap. He said you owed him a washing."

Shizuka's face reddened and she swiftly turned away, pretending not to hear. If even Shizuka could be shut down by this girl, than she was formidable indeed, thought Akashi.

"So, aren't you happy to have us covering your butts?" Emilia asked, her face resembling Aya in front of a delicious cake. Or more likely she was the predator and Akashi the prey. He now saw why Oberkommando chose her in the first place. "So filled with joy that you are speechless?"

"I am speechlessly unimpressed," Akashi responded impassively. "Just make sure you get out of my way when I cast some spell and I will be forever in your debt. I hate seeing bloody gooey piles of anything that starts with the letter E on my boot."

Emilia's face shifted from Aya in front of a delicious cake to Aya in front of a cake made by Uishi. She pouted, "If you don't want me, that's fine. You are not getting my chocolate for Saint Valentine's Day."

And she left.

Akashi closed his eye and psychically checked up on the others. This was a vital moment, and anything wrong could lead to dire consequence. Of the nine runic pieces he pulled out, each representing a member of the strike force, one was shining much less brilliantly. It was Natashi. She was in a comma, heavily injured. Another was beeping rapidly like a beacon. This one belonged to Aya. The way it reacted violently to his touch was also peculiar. The closest emotion he had seen was from some human women after being sexually abused by the Dark Eldar. Akashi had spent his time wandering through the minds of the humans he fought with and so far, none of them had showed any lewd desire towards the Eldar.

+Uishi,+ transmitted Akashi. +Natashi is being pulled back. She is…+

+I know,+ the Guardian replied. +She is in the hospital now. Isha's mercy, wound is not deep but messy and caused a lot of blood loss, consistent with chain weapons. We have stabilized her and stopped the bleeding. Nothing too serious. No organs damaged. No bones broken. No permanent disabilities. We can have her back within a month.+

+We?+ Akashi asked.

+I had some humans helping me,+ Uishi admitted. +My hands are full. But don't worry, the tasks I asked of them even beings one tenth of our intelligent could perform.+

+What about Aya?+

Uishi sighed. +She is well now. Physical recovery one or two days. Mental recovery….I am not a specialist in this Path, I am afraid, but not any time soon. I feel bad for the baby, though.+

Akashi raised his brow. +Why? Not like you to be sorry.+

+Have you checked out those breasts?+ said Uishi. +So flat I swear even Vaul would mistake for his anvil. Given Aya's age, two years from now on wouldn't make a difference. There won't be much to milk from this cow.+

Uishi as always, Akashi thought wearily. +I am sorry you have to stay at the back in this battle.+

+No problem,+ said Uishi. +A philosopher once said "Our good deeds, no matter how humble, no matter how looked down by others, constitutes to the overall greatness. From the warriors at the front to the workers at home, from high leaders to low litter pickers, all play a role in the restoration of the Eldar", and I live by that. The men need me here. Aya and Natashi need me here. As long as my skills are proved useful, I couldn't complain. I heard the final assault is about to begin. Good luck, and may Lileath's light forever shine upon you.+

+I will count on it.+

Akashi let go of the piece and wandered his eye to the remaining six. Nothing to worry about his or Shizuka's, so he passed them without much of a glance. Kishinuma's rune was glowing brilliantly, its light reaching ethereal state, then got darkened and the process repeated. The behavior indicated strong pressure. There was also the smell of intoxication coming from it. The Dark Reaper was head of a large cooperation and the leading figure of a prestigious family, both of which tension and conflicts were common. On the battlefield, these were amplified. Akashi decided against checking up on him; there are woes so personal not even the Seers could fully understand. Besides, he hated schooling someone who was clearly older and more experienced.

The next one belonged to Aveneth. It was dark. The Ranger was an autistic person whose operandi modus was against being in groups. The signal only transfer one way, meaning Akashi would only be able to send and receive from Aveneth should the Ranger wished so, no doubt one of the tricks to avoid being meddled he learned from his time as an Outcast. In the eve of war, Aveneth had not activated the link.

Finally, Akashi came to Godoka's piece. It glistened proudly as though reflecting the light of a hundred shooting stars. There was savagery in its radiance, presumably from the effect of the chainsword he was wielding. Akashi personally would never approve the use of Orkish weapon.

+Godoka,+ Akashi communicated. +Where are you? Can you answer me?+

+Deep down in the sewer here,+ came the reply. Akashi could feel an excited heart and some panting. +Me and the Jaegers are on an infiltration mission. According to the map recovered from the Orks, we should be arriving at Solaron Supermarket in five minutes. After that, with some blessings from Lileath, we are well within enemy territory without them knowing anything. Festung and faust Kompanies are taking the direct approach and will soon overrun the Orks' defense.+

+Any development in the situation over there?+

+We have found out target of opportunity. A Tau Broadside cadre is being deployed forward. They will be only two hundred meters from the supermarket. We will bring the swift deadly judgment of Khaela Mensha Khaine upon those technology-obsessed cowards before they even react.+

+Good to hear that,+ said Akashi. He thought for a moment before pressing on, +I have a question for you, if you don't mind.+

+Go ahead.+

+You seem capable of being a Sturm Guardian…+

+Sturm Officer now,+ Godoka corrected him. The Guardian clearly reveled being part of command hierarchy, no matter how small and insignificant that rank was. Akashi's experience had taught him the opposite. Eldar's council meeting usually ended up in a heated and uncompromising debate between the masters of Aspect Shrines and those with foresight ability, forcing the gravity of the decision making upon those who tread the Path of Command. As a Warlock, a Seer who was still affixed with the Path of the Warrior, Akashi could not take side even if he wanted to support his Farseer teachers. +I appreciate your pronouncing it right.+

+Whatever you call it,+ said Akashi dismissively. +You are adept with a blade, the way your swings are performed exceeds what a novice Strike Scorpion could do. You are a Guardian, a civilian taking up arms, and yet you fight like you were born to do so. What kind of background has brought you to this?+

+I understand perfectly fine. In fact, you are the seventh person who told me this. When I was a Dire Avenger, my Exarch would always scorn at me for my bravado. Even in death he still denied me. I donned his armor after the Tyranids laid him low on Sale'sathara and led my former classmates as not a teacher amongst students but a prefect amongst friends. But as soon as the Great Devourer was vanquished, I was rejected by the spirits that dwelled within the armor. They said I had an uncontrollable urge to commit suicide. I went back to being a civilian afterwards, even though my bloodthirst was never fully satisfied. Operation Brave Phoenix is my chance back to the game, my chance to once more prove the Eldar are capable of heroism and that our fate is for our hands to shape.+

+Well said,+ Akashi agreed, though his heart worried. +I will join you on the battlefield soon. Good luck on your part.+

+Lady Lileath is always on my side,+ said Godoka haughtily. +Those flat-faced blue-skinned nose-less fish-people don't worship gods, so they will never see why they constantly lose.+

The link went cold. Akashi snapped back from his meditation, just in time to hear the klaxons rang its blaring symphony.

"All units to battle station! I repeat, all units to battle station!"

"This is it," said Shizuka next to him. She leaned closer and they kissed each other one more time.

"Soon, our fate, and the fate of many will be decided."

Author's note: there are some reviewers who tell me my story is simply one battle right after another with little in between. Well, this chapter will deal with the tactical aspect of the war, as well as recapping on our characters for the last time before the big fight. Next time, expect blood and guts everywhere.