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 3 of a rejected Tau Empire novel:
Art by Luftwaffles
Vindicated – A Tau Empire Novel
Lord Commander Galvin Icross had commandeered the headquarters, or what passed for it, from Pangeus’ Planetary Defense Force. It was a single building inside the heart of the city. A utilitarian design, it housed a single war room with a few ancillary rooms to stage basic war operations should the need arise.
Outside, rays of light shot over the horizon, bringing warmth to the city. Galvin leaned against the building with Dagon at his side waiting on the arrival of the Tau military commander. Two guards from the Planetary Defense Force stood at either side of the entrance. They all turned their attention toward the approaching crunch of footsteps.
Shas O’Thul, the Tau commander, turned the corner escorted by two fully armored fire warriors. He wore a green tunic fastened at his waist by a black belt. Large boots were strapped up along his calves and contoured to his hooved feet. A short braid of black hair jutted out from the back of his head and stretched down to his right shoulder. His face bore many scars of battle and was highlighted by a large scar running from the inside corner of his right eye across the top of his bald skull.
Two unarmored Tau walked on either side of him and stayed a few paces behind. One was dressed similarly to him. The other was dressed in solid black with a black band wrapped around his head. They all carried a curious assortment of equipment hanging off their belts.
From the impressive martial display they had shown last night, Galvin expected them to be taller. As it were, O’Thul was the tallest among them at a few centimeters shorter than him. Dagon, however, towered over everyone. Galvin scrupulously analyzed the escort detail. O’Thul did the same. Once satisfied, Galvin offered a salute which was returned by O’Thul bowing his head while bringing his fist into his chest.
“Welcome to my base of operations, Commander O’Thul,” said Galvin.
“I welcome your addition to our hunt,” replied O’Thul, devoid of enthusiasm. “I have brought vital intelligence regarding the Gor’vie hiding within your jungle.”
Galvin turned around quickly and led the way inside. The two fire warriors remained outside by the door while their commander entered the building. They stood at attention next to the guards who passed a quick look at each other before resuming their posture.
Inside the war room several tables were pushed together and held a mixture of maps with military counters placed across them. The walls were covered in battle reports from their current campaign. The entire far wall was a battlefield simulator that had been hastily retrofitted when Galvin had commandeered the building. A hologram showing a birds-eye view of the city and surrounding plains floated a few centimeters out from it. Various blinking markers and colored lines were drawn across it.
The entire room seemed to shake with the flurry of activity that ran through it. A handful of strategic advisers and field commanders pored over their original battle plan trying to fit in the arrival of the xenos. They scrambled from the tables to the simulator hurriedly inputting data and checking its results against their hand calculations. They all snapped to attention when Galvin stepped into the room. He saluted.
“As you were,” he said while everyone regarded the xenos behind him. “I present Commander Shas’O’Thul from the Tau fleet.”
“I will be brief as we are short of time,” O’Thul said abruptly. “This is Shas’vre Liku Jul,” he motioned to the warrior beside him dressed as he was. “He is my closest adviser and carries our assessment of your planet.”
Galvin stepped aside to allow Liku Jul the floor. Everyone nervously shuffled around while giving him their attention. The Tau in black shot a curious glance at Dagon before turning back to Liku Jul.
Liku Jul grabbed a round instrument off his belt roughly the size of his palm and set it in the middle of the central table. He tapped a few key on its surface until it began to emit a slight whirring sound. A beam of green light pulsed up from it and created a hologram of Pangeus. The hologram slowly faded from solid green to a full color representation of the planet. The complete Tau fleet was visible as well as the remaining vessels in Galvin’s fleet.
“This is a real-time depiction of Pangeus,” Liku Jul said while pulling an ellipsoid off of his belt.
He swept his thumb across it and a control panel filled with alien symbols appeared in front of him. He moved his hands across a few of the virtual keys and the hologram began zooming in on the planet and stopped at an aerial view of the city and its surrounding plains that resembled the one on the far wall. The image stopped at the front edge of the jungle and floated about ten centimeters below eye level.
“This is what will be the last battlefield for the Gor’vie. Without proper cover, they have not been able to penetrate your city until they gathered enough strength. We believe they have been forced into a frontal assault due to the hardened bedrock that this plain sits on. They are not able to tunnel underneath you, and your guns have kept them out of the air.”
The image expanded its depth to show the bedrock he referenced. Massive, crystallized rock formations grew down from the bottom of the image.
“Last night they had finished growing the force they thought would break your last haven. However, they had not factored in our arrival. Take this as temporary security. We have known this particular strain to evolve quickly when it is backed into a corner.”
His fingers continued to fly across his control panel and the image zoomed out to show the supercontinent in its entirety. A yellow triangle indicated the placement of the city while the jungle was highlighted in bright-green and outlined in black. Other forests around the super-continent were also outlined in black and were highlighted in varying degrees of dark green to black.
“The highlighted portions show the infestation levels of the Gor’vie. Green represents vegetation strength and black represents devoured sections. In the time they have been on your planet, they should have consumed everything and left it devoid of life. Something is slowing their growth rates. Pangeus is indeed unique.”
The image zoomed in and showed the jungle as a whole. A few points were marked with red triangles while the area around them was traced out in yellow.
Liku Jul continued,”From our orbital scans, we have tracked them down to a small area of operation within this barrier. If we can get a positive mark on a specific target, we can destroy it from orbit. We had hoped to be able to pinpoint their exact location from orbit, but it seems your jungle is causing interference with our equipment.”
“Why haven’t you already bombarded this entire area?” asked Dagon, motioning to the encircled portion of the map.
“The recharge rate of our orbital guns will not allow us to cut down this entire area before they changed position. This must be a precise shot at the heart of the beast dealt with all the fury of the Mon’ka, the killing blow,” Liku Jul answered.
“We have tried assaulting the jungle. The borders are deceptively well-defended,” brought up one of the strategists.
“These beasts respond too quickly to brute force, as that is what they have used against you. Conversely, they cannot defend against what they cannot see,” Dagon instantly recognized the voice as belonging to the xeno that had surprised him in the alleyway.
“Shas’vre Sai’Kul speaks of our proposed strategy,” said Liku Jul motioning at the Tau dressed in black. “The targets marked in red are the highest probability of where Gor’vie have taken root. As we have alluded to, something is slowing them, so we must cut out their heart before they find a way through whatever barrier is holding them back and crush us all.
“We propose sending a combined stealth team to gather recon on these points and mark the correct target for orbital bombardment. Shas’vre Sai’Kul is the leader of our stealth detachment and has been chosen to join with your chosen warrior in seeking out this target. We do not know the land and must rely on your guidance on the ground.”
Silence fell on the room as everyone processed the information presented to them. Galvin looked intently into the detailed hologram before him and compared it to the simplistic battlefield generator across the room. Liku Jul’s overnight assessment had converged on the same conclusion that had taken them weeks to work out. He wondered whether or not they had been observing Pangeus before last night.
“I agree with your proposal. The Hammer of the Emperor may not have the force itself to smash the Tyranids, but sending in the scalpel will certainly pierce their skin,” Galvin said while looking at Dagon.
“Sir, with the combined weight of the Tau, we could break through in a frontal assault,” the same strategist said, challenging popular opinion. “I am forced to ask you, Liku Jul, why not attack with overwhelming force?”
Shas O’Thul looked at him with an impassive stare,”we are all here far from our homelands without the promise of reinforcements. A great loss of life will simultaneously result in a loss of the war. We bring a fresh perspective and caution against continuing along your failed path.”
“I will lead our part of the combined team,” said Dagon. He looked back at Sai’Kul and nodded.
The Por’Erai cut through the thickening clouds of Pangeus on its way to the surface. Its wings stretched out wide, covered in golden runes that shimmered off its green hull. Unlike the Imperial surface transports, it gracefully drifted downward, careful to not upset its civilian passengers. The noise from its engines was surprisingly quiet for a transport its size as it settled down gently on the city’s landing pad.
Ari’Tai unstrapped herself from her seat and headed toward the front exit. Following her was a full entourage of Tau that served a diverse array of functions she would need to win the minds of the people. She could see Acario waiting for her at the edge of the landing pad through the view panel above the exit port.
A section of the hull folded out away from her and let the dry air of Pangeus sweep across her face. A ramp extended from the deck running onto the black landing pad. She lead her entourage down and onto the world they intended to win for the Greater Good.
“The air is much drier than it should be,” remarked Fio’ Horgol, the senior Earth Caste member following closely behind her. His squat frame filled out his simple, rust-colored robes. A wide-brimmed, metallic hood adorned his head, shading him from the morning sunlight. “The Gor’vie are not far from taking this world.”
“That is why we are here,” replied Ari’Tai, looking down at him. They continued across the landing pad to where Acario stood with a small welcome party. As promised, he also included an escort of soldiers.
“Welcome to Pangeus,” said Acario while looking at the group following her. When hunched over onto his staff, they were almost the same height. “I trust we will discover common ground in the next few weeks.”
“That is my desire, Acario,” she replied.
“May I introduce Gabe Poliz and Cali Jardus. Gabe represents the civilian population. If you have any questions as to our culture, governmental structure, or societal organization, there is no one more qualified on Pangeus,” he said while turning to regard the tall man on his right.
“I will be glad to facilitate any diplomatic requests you may have,” added Gabe.
“And Cali represents our agricultural sector. Once these Tyranids have been purged, she will have her hands full with bringing growth back to our world,” said Acario, motioning to his other side.
Cali forced a smile and nodded at them. She grabbed at the sides of her wind-torn pants until the leather from her gloves stretched out taught over her fists. Her frizzled, brown hair danced around her shoulders in the wind.
“Thank you for allowing us this opportunity to share your world,” replied Ari’Tai, looking in to her eyes. “I assure you, we have solely come to provide assistance in your time of need.”
Lord Commander Icross sat across from Dagon in the commander’s office of the PDF headquarters. He reclined back in his chair, anchoring his feet upon the wooden desk in front of him. Papers and leaflets filled the walls with old news from the beginning of their struggle with the Tyranids. He twirled his laspistol around in his hand. Its magazine sat on top of his desk.
He began talking while staring into the ceiling,” I may not be as experienced as you, Dagon, but I know enough to share a portion of your concern about these xenos. I will not enter into any alliance with them blindly, regardless of what the council has to say. Besides, ultimately, I don’t even answer to them. It was only when I discovered I was going to die with them that I even began to care for their plight.
“After all my time at war, some shred of humanity still lives inside of me, and while that shred empathizes with them, it foremost remains devoted to the Emperor. We cannot win here without the Tau, but we must remain vigilant. Fortunately for Pangeus, there is no greater servant of the Emperor than yourself.”
“A life of servitude to him has shown me there is no other way for men to live than within his light. I have seen the darkness this galaxy has to offer and the destruction it causes. That is why I am wary of every xeno, especially one who purports to be my friend,” Dagon replied.
“We are agreed then,” Galvin said while a smile crept onto his face, “Your paranoia keeps us safe. This mission will require you to have more direct interaction with one of their key military units than anyone else in the Imperial force stationed here. You will be our primary intelligence line.”
“A role I am practiced in.”
“The Tau unit you will be joining operates much like what you are used to in war situations. They are given an incredible amount of flexibility from their commander to accomplish their mission objective. In truth, we don’t know exactly what they are after, so it will be up to you and your team to find this out without endangering the mission.
“Finding the main Tyranid root is your primary objective as it is central to our continued survival. Gaining intel into the Tau military is secondary, but still valuable. Shas’vre Sai’kul should be assembling his team as we speak. Get close to him and find out what he knows.”
“Done. And when this is over, I expect you to never tell anyone I was here.”
Galvin looked into his eyes. “You are paranoid, but not of these xenos.”
Sai’kul waited alone in the Tau base on the outskirts of the city facing the jungle. Rising up practically over night, temporary buildings extended from the city’s edge and housed the entire Tau military deployed to the ground. The center of the base was an open, grassy area perfect for dropships to continue deploying additional resources to the surface.
He watched the bloom of a dropship’s engines brighten as it descended toward him. Dust brushed across his face from the downward force it exerted. The rest of the base crawled with activity as the Tau army warmed up to full capacity. He remained fixed on the ship delivering his chosen team. The dropship floated down with its landing gear kicked out until it came to rest on the ground. Its wide, loading door folded open.
A Kroot Shaper bearing the name Farrack jumped out immediately and landed on the ground with his rucksack dangling from his shoulders. He stood up to his full height of nearly two and a half meters and stretched out his arms, flexing his sinewy muscles. His narrow head was anchored by a massive jaw of hardened bone that formed the bottom of his beak. A set of long, slightly curving spines decorated with a myriad of talismans protruded out from the back of his head.
He wore a tattered loincloth for basic presentation and proudly displayed the remainder of his body. Leather straps were wound tightly around his head with two slits cut out for his eyes to take in his initial sight of Pangeus. Two Kroot hounds followed down after him, spastically surveying Pangeus. They shoved their long, beaked snouts into the dirt as they acclimated to their new environment. Their dark brown hide matched Farack’s. Spines jutted out from their shoulders and were adorned with talismans similar to the ones Farrack wore.
The Tau warrior, Shas’ui Valai, worked his way down the loading ramp next wearing a black tunic. He had a control manacle clasped around his wrist leading a pair of lifter drones carrying a large equipment rack filled mostly with inactive sniper drones behind him. Two more warriors dressed in the same tunic, Shas’ui Mok’hikon and Shas’ui Silai, followed him down to present themselves to Sai’kul. Farrack and his hounds joined them.
Sai’kul unsheathed the sword from his back and held it out before him. Dried blood was caked along its blade. Mok’hikon and Silai each peeled back their tunics to reveal a scar running across their torso from their left shoulder to the opposite thigh. He slowly pulled back his tunic, revealing a similar scar. After a moment of silence, he sheathed his sword as they all refitted their tunics.
“My brothers, my blood warms to join you again on the battlefield. They have summoned the lone warriors for a specialized task to further the Greater Good,” he said solmenly before turning to include Farrack and Valai. “I have extended my team as this task requires your added talents.”
“I gladly accept your command, Shas’vre,” replied Valai while bringing his fist into his chest.
Farrack looked down upon the grouped warriors and cocked his head. “I bring my strength to add to your pool. My hounds are quite anxious to sink their claws into living flesh.”
“Shas’O’Thul has commanded us to join with one Dagon from the Imperium to seek out the root of the Gor’vie and mark it for eradication,” spoke Sai’kul. “We have minimal preparation time remaining as the Gor’vie are likely to attack again at nightfall. With our primary force distracting them, we will easily be able to slip into the jungle using the cover of darkness. Our most recent reports tell us that their numbers are severely diminished after their losses last night. We know this strain to evolve quickly when challenged, but we hope they have not exceeded our predictions.”
Four men sat with Dagon on top of a building overlooking the city. The streets flowed with citizens trying to reclaim their lives and begin rebuilding. Kara was among them and it was for her that he met with these men. He wanted to scale down the side of the building to find her, but the Imperium required another task of him.
“Ten years ago, you all heard the rumors about me and latched on to them as truth. Somewhere along the way one of you even convinced me to train all of you in my trade. Apparently the Planetary Defense Force of Pangeus was not excitement enough for you,” began Dagon garnering a few chuckles. “Reluctantly, I took you in as a set of inductees figuring I could weed you out, but none of you ever quit. And here we are…
“You have a chance to prove yourselves to the Imperium and see your planet through its darkest hour. Keep your faith resolute in the Emperor and you will succeed. After this is over, Lord Commander Icross can open the doors for those of you who wish to venture out into the darker portions of the galaxy.”
The men nodded in silent agreement. Directly across from him sat two brothers, Alexander and Xavier Kevscott. Alexander was the elder and lorded his massive frame over his younger brother. He had cropped black hair that sat atop his dark, chiseled face. Xavier was rail thin, but extremely agile. His grey eyes were set deep into his skull and his slightly longer hair spiked out from his head.
Koranth Erubel sat to Dagon’s right with sunlight shining off his golden hair. He played with a knife in his left hand and was the only one who still wore the standard green PDF battle uniform. Not much for change, he preferred to stay with the familiar. A simple, pale-blue stone attached to a silver chain hung around his neck.
On Dagon’s left was Normas Holith who sat leaning over with his forearms resting on his knees. He wore a black tank-top with dark-green pants. The harsh features of his face were mitigated by his weathered, bald head. The oldest member of the group, save for Dagon, he graciously assumed the role of second-in-command. He was the first to hear of Dagon and was the one who sought him out and presented the idea of the group to him.
Normas looked around the group before speaking, “Last night I was ready to sacrifice myself for the Imperium. Unfortunately I was not able to fulfill that pledge. I took that to be a gift and don’t want to misuse it. Be honest, Dagon. How will allying with the xenos benefit us if we fall to their cunning words? I would rather die than see Pangeus be taken from the Imperium.”
“We have been requested to perform a task from the Lord Commander and I intend to complete that task as a servant to the Emperor. We are the silent death; once released, we kill without mercy. That is our only creed. It is not for us to question our assignments, only obey,” Dagon replied.
“If the xenos remain after our alliance has been dissolved, I will see to it personally that they do not take our world,” added Alexander. “My family does not deserve to live under xeno rule.”
“True. I also find it strange that we ally with one group of xenos to save us from another,” said Xavier. “I have also heard that the council has re-formed and is opening diplomacy with them. Politics should have no place in war. We need to have a clear path laid before us to accomplish our task. After that they can argue amongst themselves over the spoils.”
“I have no love for politics myself,” said Dagon. “It has been my experience that politicians indulge themselves in their own illusion of self-importance instead of following the example of the Emperor. But again, that is not our place, for at the end of the war we do not answer to them. We will go on this mission at the request of the Lord Commander alone and nothing else. Remember that.”
Normas looked into Dagon’s eyes before asking,”In the light of our potentially fatal mission, may I ask the question that has been on all of our minds?”
Dagon narrowed his gaze in a twinge of sadness,”If you must.”
“Do you fear you have not fully escaped the Officio Assassinorum?” he asked in a whisper.
Dagon paused before answering,”More than any foe I have ever felled.”
Kara milled through the populated streets alone in the afternoon sun. She had already consumed her allotted food rations and had no particular place to be. This city was not her home and the thought of her true home destroyed by the beasts tempered the hope that ran through the city. Everywhere, she could tell people were grateful to be alive. None of them seemed to question whether or not Pangues will ever regain its prior splendor.
She was alone. Dagon was the only reason she had survived the initial attacks. Her parents and two younger sisters had all been killed weeks ago. Without him she would be completely lost, unable to rebuild her life. She could not think about losing him. He had already made incredible sacrifices in the campaign against the beasts.
She stepped off the street into an alleyway and sat down with tears slowly traveling down her cheeks. She pulled herself into a ball grabbing handfuls of her hair. Deep sobbing echoed through the alleyway. Her unbalanced emotions tore through her mind. A slight burst of wind moved her hair, followed by a pair of strong arms wrapping around her.
A wave of calm soothed her virulent heart. She lifted her head up and buried it against Dagon’s chest. “I can’t believe they are gone.”
“It’s okay. We are still alive and carry their legacy forward. This nightmare will soon be over.”
“Please tell me Galvin does not need you anymore. If you never come back I will live in a perpetual nightmare.”
“You are stronger than you know and I need you to tap into that strength now,” he said softly while gently shuffling around to look into her eyes. “You have let fear ravage you. Fear is anathema to the Emperor. Trust in his guidance and you will be free of it.”
She cycled through a few deep breaths before replying,”What more do you have to do?”
“I have to save us. Galvin has assigned me to a combined unit alongside the xenos. Together we intend to destroy the heart of the beasts and rid us of them forever. Soon, we will revisit the jungle without fear and enjoy Pangeus once again.”
“None of that will matter if you do not return.” Her hair had transformed into a tangled mess. She tried to smooth it out.
“The greatest gift you will ever receive is having your homeworld back. And right now, I am the only one who can secure that for you. I am doing this for the Emperor and for you. You need me here in this moment to carry this mission out.”
She forced herself to smile,”Then go. Save our future.”