Ni’loc came around in a miasma of competing senses, but sight wasn’t one of them. He could taste the coppery tang of blood in his mouth, hear the oppressive wail of an engine under strain and smell the stale sweat from whatever had been placed over his head. His hands were bound together and he was being held in place by some form of harness. “Prisoner secured. I hope he’s worth it”, yelled a metallic voice over the engines. “He was the target. Now, take your seat Fulgur. We’re in for a bumpy ride”, responded another. The craft they were in banked hard, throwing Ni’loc against the restraints. He winced as the pain of a strained shoulder took some of the force. The craft bucked again and was struck with a thunderous roar. His sightless world became a bedlam of extreme forces and frantic sounds. Klaxons screamed, voices barked harsh commands and the craft fell. Ni’loc was completely powerless. This craft was going to crash and there is nothing he could do.

As he tapped his finger into the trigger guard, the scope on Watana’s Rail Rifle kept sliding up into position and down again into the body of his gun. Dea’sin placed her hand on his shoulder. “We’re all nervous”, she whispered, “but if you don’t stop playing with that I’ll take it from you.” Watana stopped and managed a smile. He was nervous. It had been less than an hour since the bombardment began and their team had been recalled to barracks. They were just awaiting deployment to help repel these invaders. Shan’gu’ui strode in and paused momentarily to scan the room. He moved directly to where he and Dea’sin were standing, “Dea’sin’la, your father’s position was hit in the first assault. Reports are sketchy, but it appears the enemy snatched him. We think the craft they were taking him away in was brought down by one of our batteries. He’s alive, but the signal from his suit is weak”. Watana turned to Dea’sin and he could see the steely determination in her eyes. “He represents too much to Ur’veil. Show me where he is and my team will extract him”, she requested while already gathering her equipment. She turned to the team, “They hit Ni’loc’s position. We’re going to rescue him.” Watana had grown up surrounded by recruitment signals featuring Ni’loc as a symbol of integration and the power of the greater good. He shouldered his weapon, watching his comrades doing the same and said, “Ready sir”. He hoped to be using the rifle’s scope to be sighting enemies soon.

Fulgur had been thrown free of the Stormraven during the crash, its side torn away as it smashed and cartwheeled along a rubble-strewn street. He was still dazed from his collision with a wall and his body and armour had taken a severe beating. A strange invigoration rapidly pushed the daze and fuzziness away and he knew his Belisarian Furnace, an organ that excreted a hyper-cocktail of stimulants into his system, was kicking in. He pushed himself to his feet, quickly checked his combat gear and began to sprint towards the stricken aircraft. The orbital bombardment had just started and Fulgur’s Tacticus helm suppressed the noise and optically filtered through the dust clouds that were already swirling from the impacts. “Raphan… Raphan… anyone”, he called over the vox channel, but there was no response. Reaching the downed craft, the scene inside was a mess. Both pilots were clearly dead and the others were a tangle of limbs. Most hadn’t made it into their harnesses before the Stormraven was hit. He checked three of his brothers, but they were coming around. He was hopeful their enhanced physiology would go into overdrive to give them the boost needed to get moving. Despite the smoke rising from it, the Stormraven didn’t appear to be in immediate danger. Fulgur grabbed the munitions crates that were near to hand and dragged them from the craft as the two Intercessors and the Reiver he had just checked began to move. Returning to the Stormraven, he gave one final check inside. Scanning around he paused to look at the slumped prisoner still caught in his harness. He looked dead and Fulgur had more pressing concerns. The mission was now about survival. “Find the others,” he voxed to his recovering brothers, “we need to get out of here.”

The T’au advance had been anything but cautious since they were set down a few minutes ago. Ni’loc’s signal was close and the plume of black smoke ahead indicated his likely location. Dea’sin drove them hard, desperate to find her father. Watana covered three advancing warriors, awaiting his turn to play leap frog. He glanced furtively around and became aware of pict capture drones following their team. Now Shan’gu’ui assigning this task to them made sense… the mission was being captured for future broadcast. The enemy bombardment seemed to be concentrated just beyond the rising smoke and as the distance shortened the concussive vibrations caused glass to rattle in all of the buildings they advanced passed. “Contact”, yelled Dea’sin as she dispatched two Stealth Suits towards red-armoured warriors about five hundred metres from their position. “We’ll form a firebase in 300 metres to support the suits”, she called. Watana raised his Rail Rifle to his shoulder and the team advanced more slowly.

Shots began to whir past Fulgur as they found the last of the team thrown free by the crash. Fulgur barked at the others to lay down fire and knelt beside Raphan. The sergeant was still stunned. He had been hurled against a stone column, which now lay in ruin from the impact. “Can you stand brother?”, Fulgur asked. A slow nod was all the response Raphan could manage. Fulgur put an arm under his team lead’s left pauldron and pulled him to his feet. The shots became more intense as Fulgur tried to assess the situation. Purple clad enemies were moving quickly towards their position. “Form a defens…”, he began, but his words were cut short as aliens with some kind of jump suits landed in their midst. Intercessors turned and began firing, but this just freed up the advancing enemy to move faster. One of his brothers fell to heavy pulse shots and Fulgur determined to get the team moving. He ducked low and did his best to drag the stumbling Raphan. This was chaotic. One of his fellow Reivers rapidly climbed a nearby structure, but was instantly intercepted by a floating automaton of some form. He slashed at it, but it evaded his swipes. “We need to break out”, Fulgur yelled into the vox. “On me”, he intoned and several of the team closed in towards him, shots bouncing off armour and cover.

Watana maintained a rapid rate of fire. He wasn’t striving for accuracy, he was striving to suppress the enemy. Keeping them pinned down as the Stealth suits closed. He noticed the pict capture drones moving from position to position and imagined the inspiration he might give to a generation of warriors. He paused. Breathed in a controlled, easy breath. Down the scope he sighted a pair of red-clad enemies, one obviously helping an injured comrade. They had come to Ur’veil uninvited. This was his home. He held his breath and squeezed the trigger. His shot was true and both of the enemies collapsed to the ground.

Fulgur slumped over Raphan. A shot had caught the sergeant squarely in the chest. Even through his helmet Fulgur could make out the ragged breathing of the Intercessor. Four of his brothers gathered around, having fallen back on his command. “We’re punching out of here. You two”, pointing at the two Intercessors he had checked in the Stormraven, “carry Raphan.” Indicating to the other Reiver, “you’re with me on point. We’re going to push hard down the left flank.”

Part 2 coming soon…

Until next time,