Monday, February 17, 2014
Eir'tal'mont'yr watched the battle unfold below her. It went well. The Terrans fought amongst themselves, obviously doing battle over petty differences between them. Eir'tal never much understood, nor cared to understand, the differences between the Terran factions. They were all the same to her. So strange that such an ancient society could be so backward. Of all the sentient races she'd encountered, it was the Terrans who perplexed her the most.
She leaned back in her seat on the ship's bridge and stared through the transparent portal on the ceiling. There, in space, hung the huge gas giant which the Terrans called "Xorn Four". Eir'tal was a warrior, but she was keen enough to know that this system was a treasure. The planet held in its grasp many moons, four of which were ripe with resources. It was far easier to exploit and defend the resources of a planetary system than an entire solar system. Eir'tal called up another screen and reviewed the other planets in the system. Xorn I was a small, dead nothing of a planet. Xorn II was a common dead gas giant... so close to the sun that its gasses had all been blown away millions of years ago. All that was left was a solid, hot core. Very dangerous for anyone not prepared to escape its immense gravity or intense heat. Xorn III was a deathtrap. Naught but sulfuric acid rain and unremarkable ores. Xorn V and VI were both ice giants worthy of exploitation in their own right, but did not yet possess facilities. Nor were they near enough the sun to have a glowing, blue gem of life for a moon.
Such was Xorn IV's second major moon. It was crawling with Terrans, but was still largely unsullied by their presence. This world made all the difference. It was no small wonder the Terrans fought over it.
In the end, however, none of this mattered. Using her heads-up display, Eir'tal activated the shipwide public announcement system.
"Good morning, honored crew of the Gal'o'ta. Our little vessel has seen its share of strife. We are trapped out here beyond the reach of our people and their assistance. Fortunately for us, the presence of the Fire Caste was strong on this ship. We have met every adversity head-on and won. Every time. We have new scars and added many new names. Our vessel has its own scars. It has seen us through the worst ordeals. I know that some in the Fire Caste see me as a bit whimsical for their tastes. Keep wondering because the Gal'o'ta has earned the right to bear new names. Henceforth, this vessel shall be named Gal'o'ta'run'al'mont'yr."
The bridge crew mumbled around her. She smiled.
"Furthermore," she said with gravitas. The mumbling stopped. "We have finally arrived at the world we've been seeking. The one ancient legends among spacefaring species in the Tau empire have whispered about around campfires for centuries. The legends of the Kindstone."
There was no mumbling this time. Just silent shock. Eir'tal was pretty sure she heard their Etheral, Krov'va, lament to himself, "She's mad."
"It's down there. I know it is. And we're going to get it. Krov'va is about to ask me how we intend to do such a thing with so many enemies below us fighting over the same world. The answer to that question arrived in the system several minutes ago, though the enemy remains blissfully unaware of our ally's presence because they're far too busy fighting each other to notice."
"Ah," she said. "Within visual range." With a wave of her hand through her HUD, the main viewscreen wavered and the image was replaced with magnified image of the gas giant's northern pole. The curvature of the planet was barely noticeable at that magnification. A swarm of red specks hovered in the space above. The specks drew closer and closer until their outline became unmistakable.
"You," said Krov'va, "have absolutely lost all grip on reality. You must put a Fire Caste back in charge of this mission. Water Caste was not meant to lead a...."
She silenced him with a glare. Good. It was good to know that he still remembered who'd kept them alive for the past four years.
"Valiant crew of the Gal'tyr, meet your new allies. An entire fleet of Ork vessels under the command of the ruthless Captain Grimfist. We cannot lose."
Admiral Tsiang watched helplessly as another Escort broke apart, doomed to orbit in cooling chunks for decades to come. His command ship still listed hopelessly above the little, blue moon-world of Flayrah which dominated the viewer. He ordered the ship's anti-fighter turrets to give aid where they could, but, in reality, they were useless without their engines or cannon.
He'd ordered the rest of the fleet to give chase and force the enemy to fight them at high speeds in the world's upper atmosphere where. The more sturdy Imperial ships should have the advantage there. Orange streaks burned across the surface of the planet, sometimes disturbed by perpendicular spurts of weapons fire. Sadly, some of the Escort commanders had disobeyed his orders and, instead, stayed behind to defend the Admiral's ship. Only two remained.
The Chaos cruiser which had stayed behind didn't make a move to engage the Escorts or Tisang's Battlecruiser, the Indomitable Loyalty. Instead, hundreds of blue-colored Chaos Fighters, Bombers, and Heldrakes, had been left behind by their motherships and these little mites pecked away at the Escorts. It was sad to watch these stately, old ships torn apart piece by piece.
Tsiang considered sabotaging the Indomitable Loyalty. Overloading the Warp Engines would certainly destroy the other Chaos cruiser. Unfortunately, the possibility also existed that doing so might defile the moon below and kill its billions of inhabitants.
Then again, what was the point of saving those who were doomed to serve the forces of Chaos?
He glowered with malice at the cruiser, its ancient, yet run-down hull yawned with edifices adorned with defiled Imperial markings. He knew the vessel had been beautiful to behold once. Where now was tarnished, blood-smeared metal was once a symbol of the Imperium's superiority in both might and culture. The defilement disgusted him. He took a breath which was to give the order to destroy his own vessel.
A lance arced across the vid screen and carved into the forward hull of the ancient enemy cruiser, destroying all of its torpedo launchers in a single volley.
"Tactical," was all he had to say.
"Came out of nowhere, Admiral. Battle Barge."
"No. Two Battle Barges."
Thank the Emperor! "Communicate to them our situation."
"Comms are still down, Admiral."
"Use the running lights, you damned fool. We still have those, don't we?"
"Y-yes, Admiral. Right away."
Sunday, February 16, 2014
She yawned and opened a single eye. "You don't say." Her voice was a little slurred, probably due to whatever intravenous joy she'd partaken of that day.
"I do. I spoke to the Ecclesiarchy from Genoa earlier today. They have plans to fortify us with Sororitas. A small force at first, of course, but in time, my dear, Flayrah and all our other little worlds will be renowned for their safety and prosperity."
"That's nice, dear. But don't people already say that?"
"We were safe because of our obscurity and popularity with the fleet admirals in the region. We have not been independently safe. With the establishment of the 1st Xorn Regulars last year and now this deal with the Adepta Sororitas... I think we'll finally be able to relax."
"Don't get too excited, my love. We only have ten thousand pairs of boots in our Regiment. That's enough for garrison, but not to defend from a real threat. Not even if the Ecclesiarchy establishes an entire Order of their Sisters of Battle here. I'd not forget about the strings that come from dealings with the Ecclesiarchy. I hope you're prepared for that."
"That may be true... love... but what are the odds of something bad happening in the few months it will take to gather the numbers we need. Besides... the fleet will protect us."
"I do not think it is the fleet which protects us."
"Do not start your heresy with me again, Bethelsda."
"It is not heresy if it is true, Hakal. The Kindness protects us all. You've seen it."
"I've seen nothing of the sort. Trick of the light."
"The Kindness forgives you, my love. It shall protect your worlds."
Thunder growled across the landscape, which was odd as there was not a cloud in the sky. Before either of them could remark upon this curiosity, a shadow fell over them and continued across the cityscape. Another thunderclap. And another.
A burning hulk was falling through the atmosphere, explosions rocking its tortured hull as it did so. Massive chunks of burning wreckage had broken off and, while most of it traveled alongside the screaming wreck, sure to impact far to the east, some chunks began raining down on the city.
"No. No no. Not here."
Bethelsda laughed. "It appears as if the fleet is not as invincible as you would have me believe."
How could she laugh? He looked over at his voxcaster. No indication that he'd received a message.
"What? What could have happened?"
"What happened, you fool, is that you've led your worlds into a new era. An era of prosperity."
Rowyn started. Had her voice changed? "Beth?"
"Yes. And no," she laughed, "The Kindness is ready to be set free, it seems."
Tears welled up in his eyes as his beloved's form began to melt away before him. Her skin peeled away in flaps with the wind. When had she stood up? He didn't remember her standing up. He backed away from her. The her. A her. It was she, but not she. Her skin was scaled and iridescent with similarly iridescent plumage growing, before his very eyes, from her arms and legs.
"Oh, Beth, no..."
"Oh, Hakal. I'm sorry, but yes," she came for him, a mad gleam in her eyes. He had just enough sanity left within him to make a dash for the balcony railing and jump.
No! She caught him! As the hot wind of firey updrafts blew at his long, loose hair, her taloned hand dragged him back onto the balcony. "Monster! Witch!"
"Let me be the first to welcome you to the world of Forlorn. This world now belongs to Tzeench."
He moaned, unable to form words.
"Of course... you'll be kind enough not to tell the others in the armada I said that, won't you?" She laughed and laughed, "And, my little friend, in the future, you'll call me Ventrex. That is my name." Amidst his weeping, he finally, blissfully, lost consciousness.