Por’la Euf’ea was beginning to wonder if the plan to convert this particular colony of humans to the noble cause of the greater good was ever going to succeed. Her retinue had been kept waiting in the spaceport for weeks, confined to a wing that was certainly spacious yet felt like a gilded cage.
In the end, the summons, when it came, was not even delivered personally. A servant wearing a black suit left a note with her afternoon meal informing her that the following day, Governer Vogler would see her. That “governor” had been misspelled on the note escaped her notice, but would have been but one of many slight misgivings she had about this supposed Imperial colony. For one, she had read in her briefing notes that the Imperials worshipped an eagle-god whose icon was to be found everywhere – yet she had not seen one since landing. Secondly, she had been met by two of the heavily armoured soldiers called Space Marines, but they had not had the usual devotionary engravings on their armour, and their weapons had been in great disrepair. Thirdly, there was a pervasive smell of rust even in the luxury suites that she was sure the Imperials would not have tolerated.
“Report. Twentieth day of confinement. Have finally received invitation to dine with human governor. Eu’fea Vir’ana out.”
The daily status reports had become perfunctory out of boredom.
The actual meeting with Vogler came in time, and Eu’fea walked into the dining-room with a confident heart that quickly sank. She had identified the planet’s ruler as one of the humans’ engineers, which meant he was likely insane and disinclined to simple logic. As metallic cutlery chimed against metal limbs and digits, and motorised teeth ground dry slabs of food to dust, she found she had neither appetite or words.
“I understand your kind enjoy unquestioning loyalty. We are prepared to consider a different kind of agreement.”
“Tau do not accept compromises and agreements? Very well, consider this a contract. An offer of employment, at the conclusion of which this conversation will be once again held.”
“Some pests bother us. Assist in their destruction. Prove your Greater Good is worth following. If it helps, assume that we are your vassals in this situation requesting military aid.”
Thus it was that a small detachment of the Vir’ana personal guard accompanied the Mykene Legion to war.
“This is the greatest of outrages! The vilest of calumnies! The basest of treacheries! The enemy, the archenemy, imitate us! They have installed themselves in our holiest of shrines, they profane our sacred factories and workplaces, they preach nothing but their heresies to the people!” From his lectern, Chaplain Plinius screamed with his trademark apoplexy at his congregation. “And so I say no more! Not one day more will these heretics and traitors and magpies defile what should be a jewel in our crown! We march against them! Space Marines, Battle Brothers, today the enemy shall know fear! It is they who will die! Those who would call our noble Imperium false, who would consort with the alien and the demon! We will descend upon them and they will not be able to stand in our path!”
They had picked a battlefield, a densely forested swathe of rolling rocky hills, and lined up as if in a challenge to the enemy.
“Enemy spotted! As I knew, they consort with the alien! Look, Tau machines! Destroy them all!”
And so the Space Marines waited in the gloom of the night for the enemy to close in.
It may have been dark for the weaklings outside, but for Shas’o Ru’luc Se Vir’ana it may as well have been a cloudless summer day. Picked out in flickering red outlines across the monitors of his personal battle-suit, the XV9x Cin’kiro, was an inelegant human tank and standing operational orders were to destroy all Imperial forces.
Two of his comrades lit the vehicle up with handheld markerlights, highlighting firing lines unobscured by trees or rocks, and with a simple movement of one of the two control handles in the cockpit, he brought the XV9x’s arm up. With a gesture, he selected one of the Ryu’ou cannon’s firing modes and watched as the bolt of black-on-red energy punched through both sides of the tank, detonating its ammunition and sending it spiralling out of control, ploughing into two of the infantry escorting it.
As the elegant black-and-gold armour fired its beautiful weapon, the inelegant, lurching form of Garuda XVI, one of Vogler’s Mechanical Beasts, also fired, sputtering shards of white-hot rock scoring deep gouges in a Dreadnought’s carapace barely visible in the darkness.
The Veterans of the Sixth Company had waited for the right moment, the point where all would be clear and the enemy’s disposition known. Now was that time; they fell like meteors towards the Chaos forces and opened fire. Two died before even drawing weapons, and with expert grace the veterans took combat stances ready to follow up the attack. Across the main Ultramarine line, fire erupted on the advancing machines; Ru’luc saw missiles burst around his cadre and when the debris settled one of his spotters was dead.
As if it were consciously pursuing them, the great steel dragon plunged down following the contrails of the Veterans; its initial dive ripped four of them apart. As they turned to recover, Dabura the great clawed, impassive giant pressed the advantage, cutting all but two of the Space Marines down as their weapons proved useless against hell-forged armour.
Ru’luc selected a different ammunition type, oblivious to the melee behind him, and fired. A glistening prism suspended in an energy field arced upwards above a cluster of enemy infantry, and hung for a moment in the sky.
Then a needle-like red beam hit the prism and exploded into dozens of small lasers scraping the ground and erasing the enemy where they touched them. His cadre joined in with wildly looping missile salvos that danced around the targets before exploding in bright purplish domes. That barrage seemed to check the enemy’s fire and Ru’luc ordered his team back to regroup and prepare to fire again.
The Dreadnought Sulpicius fired missiles and cannon-rounds at the approaching flying machine but it was too far away to hit. Its orders were to protect the artillery vehicle it was stationed near, and as a result it did not move too far from its station.
The artillery itself was firing for full effect, raining missiles down on the elusive alien machines, yet each shot was absorbed by some kind of an energy field before it struck, the blast directed harmlessly upwards.
It should have seemed obvious to an observer that the Marines were spread too thinly now, that the barrage from the Tau had worn them down. The Veterans had been unable to pull back and escape the Mechanical Beasts, and all that remained were a few scattered tactical marines holding their ground at the initial position.
The dragon finished off the far squad lurking in the forest, considering them almost an afterthought in its unstoppable progress towards the artillery vehicle. Its Mechanical Beast brethren joined in the cacophany of fire, blasting plates of armour from the enemy Dreadnought and tearing the last Veteran apart, while across the line Ru’luc fired at the ungainly missile carrier that seemed to be trying his patience, tearing its turret off.
All was going according to plan.
Leading by example, the Chaplain led an arguably futile charge at Ru’luc’s cadre, driven back almost immediately by missile and plasma fire. Their barrage did not cease until the Space Marine was nothing more than a scar on the ground surrounded by craters. Ru’luc fired again at the artillery-piece to stop it from ever moving again as to his right the Garuda-type beast finished off the Dreadnought. Not one Space Marine from Plinius’ Crusade survived; the firepower of Vogler’s new allies had proved too much for them.
“Your warriors performed admirably, Ambassador.” It was another of Vogler’s suffocating dinners, punctuated by his dry voice and mechanical, skeletal grinding. “I promised I would consider the Greater Good.”
“Here is my conclusion. You will serve us.”
“I am glad to see you are wearing my gift, Ambassador.” Vogler had offered Eu’fea a new brooch just before the meal. “It is time to see if it is fit for purpose. I, Vogler, command you to kill all enemies of the Great General.”
The brooch glowed with a blood-red light and Eu’fea’s eyes dimmed. “Kill all enemies of the Great General. That is the way to the Greater Good.”
The following day, a message was sent to all forces who would listen. A young Tau ambassador, apparently the usual propaganda from the upstart empire.
“Well met everybody. I am Eu’fea Vir’ana, representative of the Mykene Legion. I would quite like it if you would all die, and if you will not do it yourself the Fire Caste will assist as needed. Blood for the Blood God.”
Across Imperial ships sector-wide, there was utter confusion. The Tau were supposed to be resistant to the corrupting effect of the warp.
Only Vogler knew how it had happened.