E arlier this year, I put together a novel proposal for the Black Library’s open submission period. Per their requirements, I siphoned off a piece of my soul planning the entire story and writing the first three chapters. It was a fantastic first date. I wrapped my submission up and sent it off knowing this relationship was going to be ‘The One’. Unfortunately, just like any one-sided relationship, I possessed a completely different idea of what was going on between us since they never called me back. Therefore, I shall unleash my shame upon the entire Internet!
Behold! Chapter 1 of a rejected Tau Empire novel:
Vindicated – A Tau Empire Novel
Pangeus stood in the galaxy’s eastern fringe as a testament to the Imperium’s great reach. Named for its single, massive supercontinent, it was a veritable paradise hidden away from the scourging touch of Imperial industry. A lush jungle spanned nearly the entire length of the supercontinent along the equator. Diversified wildlife thrived underneath the canopy of its gigantic bio-trees.
The bio-trees could be seen by the naked eye when orbiting the planet. Barely ten meters in diameter, they stretched up impossibly high, pairing off and curving around each other in double helix formations. An invisible force enabled their breath-taking ascent, bootstrapping and preventing them from bending back down to the surface. Their bark was smooth like glass and undisturbed by any branches. During the day, they were a monotone yellow, but at night they bled into the night sky, transforming the faint drops of starlight into dancing beams.
The rest of the continent was a series of plains, mountains, and forests that desperately held on to their connection to the jungle by the winding rivers flowing to it. The fertile plains supported the majority of the planet’s population while the mountains sustained a few pockets of more adventurous communities. Without the advantage of proper reshaping equipment, settlements cropped up around major terrain features.
Colonized and brought into service of the Emperor millennia ago, the resident population barely remembered they were a part of a greater whole. Living in stale cities, they were content to exist within the safety of their own meaningless obscurity. Their sight had drifted away from the Imperium and onto the paradise it had won them. They had completely forgotten just how far they were from the watchful eye of Terra, until the beasts came.
Descending upon the planet in grotesque hues of reds and oranges, the beasts took root in the jungle. A race of enormous insectoids, they needed to consume biomass in order to grow a siege army. Launching out from this foothold, they began overtaking everything. Cities went dark as reports of their swarms spread throughout the rest of the planet. All nearby Imperial Guard forces had been brought in to join with the local planetary defense force, but they could not hold back the growing hordes.
The surviving population cried out to their Emperor to save them as they repented for their prior lack of fervor. Terra gave no answer to their pleas, leaving them to cower in fear with prayers on their lips. The beasts drove them back into a single remaining city that sat on a plain not far from the jungle. As if for some nefarious purpose, they had saved this morsel until the end.
The city’s original name had been forgotten in the scrambling influx of survivors. They latched onto it as a final bastion of hope and began calling it Zion after memories of ancient lore began spreading. The beasts attacked them relentlessly from the jungle only to be crushed beneath the remaining fortified weapons of the Imperial Guard. They continued, however, until the city began to slowly wear down under the constant assault. Eventually, it would fall.
A lone tower projected upward from the crumbling city rising high above the remaining buildings. Dagon looked out from its apex trying to survey the horizon in the dusk. He knew the moment the sun retreated, they would meet the beasts in what was to become their last stand. He would not die without releasing the lifetime of fury he carried.
Overlayed with a utility harness, his black outfit hugged his toned frame. Various grenades, knives, and magazines were clasped down each side of the harness from his shoulders to his waist. His belt held other assortments of utensils needed to bring down his enemies. Grey hair crept down to his shoulders. His aging face was locked in stone as his black, enhanced eyes sought targets along the edge of twilight. He felt the air slowly begin to shift and knew the city did not have long to live.
When he saw the red clouds taint the sky weeks ago, he knew their doom had come. Already at a low point for the normal shuttle cycle, no outbound shuttles were to be found. The entire population was trapped on the surface. Of course, the beasts spread so rapidly that their social fabric had broken down too far to even attempt a proper evacuation.
The arrival of the Imperial Guard changed nothing. They were too focused on waging a campaign with their limited resources to pay attention to the needs of civilians. The Lord Commander leading the force completely ignored the planet’s administration. Even if they could have released their ships for shuttle use, they could not have converted them in time. The beasts were too quick. At that point, only Terra could save them.
Thoughts of his wife Kara hiding below the city ran through his mind. It seemed like ages ago that he first arrived on Pangeus and met her. Like most of the residents she was a native, a descendant of the first colonizing population. Her wavy, black hair flowed down along her back like untamed rivers. Green eyes reflected a source of unending youth from her smooth face. Years of living under Pangeus’ golden sun had cultivated her skin into a dark olive.
The spark of romance between them shocked him. He came here to live out his final days in peace, but their past decade together had brought new meaning to his life. Much younger than him, she rekindled his adventurous spirit and had engaged him in an ambitious quest to unveil all Pangeus’ beauty. Its various landscapes were all the more captivating when seen through her eyes. Living an entire lifetime’s worth of experiences in the past decade was equal parts adventure and exhaustion.
He tried to push the thoughts of her far from his mind. The sun fell further in the sky leaving only a few rays of their last day and he needed all of his faculties available to him. He snatched up his sniper rifle and loaded a new round into its chamber. He had specially designed the round to chew through the thick hide of the insectoid beasts and release an acid that would liquidate the internal organs in seconds.
Darkness fell over the city. He could now see the horizon springing to life with hordes of beasts running out from the jungle at full speed. The smallest ones ran in front, acting as a shield for the monstrous creatures following behind. The ground shook under the weight of their advance. He wondered if the city would even hold together until they reached its outskirts. He looked down into the streets below watching the IG forces prepare to begin launching artillery shells.
Lord Commander Galvin Icross stood with the remnants of his personal guard on the second level of a demolished building. The entire front wall of the building had been blown out in a previous fight. Conveniently, it afforded him the best vantage point to issue orders to the forces that still protected the city. They had all consigned themselves to death and fought with added tenacity.
A young commander, Galvin, had been performing routine drills around this galactic sector when he was alerted to the threat facing Pangeus. Rushing in as the official Imperial response, this would be his first and last conflict as a Lord Commander. Throughout his career he had been able to rise quickly through the ranks while retaining his jet-black hair. Fire burned in his eyes and he intended to expend all the remaining youth he possessed in repelling their enemies.
His remaining soldiers dug into the front edge of the city, preparing for the attack. They positioned themselves in ruined buildings, makeshift battlements, or behind any other object they could use for cover. They were supported by various tanks and heavy weapons teams similarly fortified. The massive cannons of Basilisks pointed upward, ready to deliver their deadly rounds of artillery.
The rumblings of the ground below him would determine when to release a volley of artillery fire. The beasts may have thought attacking at night would afford them an advantage, but their brute force gave away their position far more accurately than a visual cue. They were nearly in range. He glanced back at the sniper tower.
Vox silence had been enacted, but Dagon knew Galvin was waiting on him to fire the first shot. He leaned into the scope on his rifle. It filtered the darkness, showing him the massive swarm approaching the city. He pushed out with what little psyker ability he possessed and targeted a huge creature hulking in the background.
Its chitinous, segmented body sprouted an assortment of appendages that formed into claws and bio-cannons. It stumbled forward and hunched over onto its front claws for support. Its head was a massive maw of razor teeth that salivated as it stepped closer to its prey. Dagon could feel the psychic control it wielded over its smaller cousins that ran before it. He breathed deeply as he lined up the killing shot.
The beast seemed to smirk at him through his scope. He returned a cold stare as he squeezed the trigger. A loud crack reverberated throughout the city as the bullet entered the beast’s maw and delivered its poison. Suddenly blinding, white light engulfed it, unmaking it as it struggled onward.
Dagon shielded his eyes as the light intensified. He looked down into the city to see Galvin halting the firing of the first wave of artillery fire. The light bathed the city in a glow resembling the early hours of dawn. As it gradually died down, they all looked up to see a large group of the smaller beasts beginning to scatter as their masters were disintegrated into ash and released their psychic grip.
The scream of dropship engines pierced the night air. The entire city looked up into the heavens to see their saviors. Terra had finally answered their desperate cries. Hope rekindled in Dagon’s heart. He welcomed the sight of a Thunderhawk racing to the surface. Several dropships lowered below the clouds, following a vertical, downward line.
Their lines of descent did not follow conventional Imperial tactics. He squinted up into the sky now full of dropships creating a perimeter around the front of city. They were equally as large as a Thunderhawk, but condensed into a flat, wide design. Four engines attached to their corners pushed against the gravity of Pangeus. Each ship came to rest about 20 meters off the ground as their engines quieted to a pale yellow.
The symbol of a circle inlaid with a rectangle holding up a smaller circle adorned their hulls. Dagon reloaded his rifle as they opened up to release their payloads. Several tanks and transports dropped down to hover above the ground, each bearing the same uniform symbol as the dropships. They all followed a symmetrical, wedge-shaped design that narrowed into a definitive nose. A pair of engines were mounted on either side of the rear while winged platforms stretched out from either side of the nose.
A group of the tanks began strafing the beasts. Each was equipped with a pair of gatling guns in their forward platforms and a flat, top-mounted cannon running nearly its entire length. Their front guns spun to life, tearing into the small beasts as they ran around chaotically. Their large cannons began targeting some of the remaining monstrous beasts that turned toward them.
The larger beasts sought to bring control back to their horde. Dagon guessed about ten of them remained. Another group of tanks outfitted with sensory equipment in their forward platforms and a top-mounted missile rack moved to support the first tank group. Pale beams of light shone out from their sensors onto the larger beasts. Dagon was certain he was the only one with vision acute enough to see the red beams.
What he assumed were transports moved away in the opposite direction of the two tank groups to fortify against the edge of the city. They formed a long line, angling their light weaponry towards the beasts. A lone gatling gun was mounted underneath each transport’s nose. Disc-shaped gun mounts with an antenna sprouting from the top sat cradled in their forward platforms. Twin guns hung from each mount.
Their rear doors fell downward as orderly lines of soldiers poured out and jumped down. The soldiers wore bulky armor that gave weight to their small stature. Each carried a long rifle. They quickly lined up behind the transports and prepared to fire at the beasts under the hovering transports. The transports’ front guns began firing to split their enemies’ attention.
With all their payloads released, the dropships flew back up into the sky and rested over the city. The Imperial Guard soldiers within the city now saw the altered battlefield.
“By the Throne! We are saved!” A soldier’s jubilant cry broke the vox silence.
Lord Commander Galvin took this as an invitation to begin their artillery strikes.
“For the Imperium!” His stoic voice followed over the vox as he gave the signal to begin firing.
The plain lit up as artillery rounds launched out from the city into the night. Death rained down upon the beasts as the xeno tank companies let loose their weapons. Hyper-charged particles coupled with missile barrages hammered into the hulking monsters. The first wave reduced three of them to ash. The xeno tanks were surprisingly agile and kept increasing the distance between them.
Imperial Guard and xeno soldiers began firing their weapons at mutual enemies. Dagon looked on as the xenos tended to hit their targets more frequently than the Imperial soldiers. The beasts, still determined to chase down the tanks, pushed through the soldiers’ fire.
Dagon shook his head as he lined up another shot on the closest beast. It faced away from him, so he would have to slip the bullet between the chitinous plates on its back. He could barely hear his rifle’s discharge over the erupting battlefield below him. He slammed his fist onto the tower’s ledge as he saw his shot miss its mark and lodge itself in the creature’s massive back plates. Acid leaked out of the round, melting away a few layers of its armor, but doing nothing truly damaging.
Another combined volley from Galvin’s artillery and the xeno tanks cut down more of the enormous beasts. Dagon noticed his target was among the survivors. He slammed another round into the chamber and fired off a shot through the weak point his previous one had created. The beast shuddered before collapsing onto the ground as its internal organs liquefied and poured out from its massive carapace.
Only two of the monstrous beasts remained. They let loose a return volley of charged, green venom from their bio-cannons at the xeno tanks. Globs of the vicious venom began eating through the tanks’ thick frontal armor. The tanks did not give them another chance to fire before perforating them with the particles launched from their cannons in a stream of brilliant light. The beasts crashed into the ground fully spent.
Without their taskmasters, the smaller beasts became ravenous. Their front line lunged wildly at the tanks even though they were unable to pierce their hulls. The back line broke off and ran back toward the jungle. Others ran toward the city, directly into the gunfire from the soldiers fortified within.
Dagon watched as the xeno soldiers and tanks meticulously eradicated the frenzied swarms. It was not long until the entire horde laid strewn out before the city. The smell of stagnant water and seared flesh wafted into his nose. However repugnant, it was the smell of victory this night. They had survived their last stand. Hope had visited them at last.
He wondered about the futility of that hope as they had really only exchanged one xeno threat for another. Dagon was relieved that his wife was safe, but apprehension clutched at his heart. The beasts may have grown into a force powerful enough to crush Pangeus, but he refused to allow that to happen again. These new xenos would not take away what they had returned to him.
He sent a direct vox to Galvin, “What just happened here?”
“Can’t you just appreciate we are still alive?” Galvin replied with renewed vigor.
“I appreciate the xenos for returning my life. I am in their debt, but I will not become their slave.”
“I think they want something else in return for our lives.”
Dagon cut off the transmission and watched the xeno soldiers holster their rifles on their backpacks and walk into the city resplendent with pride. They already walk as if they have conquered us, he thought. Above him, one of the dropships opened up and a handful of xeno forms floated down into the city.
They were bipedal machines nearly as tall as a Space Marine Dreadnought, but not as bulky. Each carried a differing array of weapons and equipment mounted to their arms and shoulders. Jetpacks gracefully carried them down to the ground as they glided in a V pattern with the xeno Dagon took to be their military commander at its peak. The ones following the commander were painted in uniform colors of dark and light shades of green trimmed with tan. The commander stood out in black with angular green shapes crawling over him.
They came to rest in the middle of the street near the base of the building Galvin was climbing down from with his guard. Both command units hesitated before mutually approaching. The xenos’ faces were hidden, but Galvin wore a firm, cautious expression to mask his excitement. The xeno machines towered over the humans with even more superiority than Space Marines.
Galvin spoke first, “I am Lord Commander Galvin Icross of the Imperial Guard regiment stationed on Pangeus. Deploying military forces to an Imperial world without prior authorization is cause for immediate retaliation. Considering the circumstances, however,” Galvin gestured around at the city, “I offer negotiation instead.”
“We are skeptical of negotiation, ” the commander said through his impassive speakers. “The Imperium believes only in its own selfish manifest destiny, which renders your negotiations moot. I am not here to wrestle your world away from your emperor. We are here to offer assistance on behalf of the Greater Good. I am Commander Shas’O’Thul, embodying the Fire Caste of the Tau Empire.”