2. Kashatu Stand
Shas’o Ka’kaushi had kept most of the green-skinned menace busy with infighting and misdirection, cutting down their numbers with cunning ambushes and deceit. The commander was here for the invasion by chance, the remote colony of one city known as Ka’shatu and a scattering of mining outposts was serving as a way station while he awaited the next transport fleet to carry him on.
Shas’vre Vior’la E’taro was not here by chance. She had served honorably among the fire warriors of Tau since birth as all of her caste do. She had been a Pathfinder, an advanced scout unit known for their reconnaissance and marksmanship abilities. Despite her years of service to the Tau’va, the philosophy of the “greater good”, her commanders were wary the firie record of her youth. To show displeasure at their quiet judgement would only reinforce their assessment of her. She progressed, with deliberate and tempered service, until she had earned the rank of Shas’vre, taking the junior officer command over the infantry at a small defensive outpost.
It was this command she still held when Shas’o Ka’kaushi had arrived, followed a few weeks later by the sudden landfall of Orks.
Her command was part of a larger contingent of defence forces, the rest of the of her comrades - more mobile with their tanks, transports, and battle suits - were out assisting Shas’o Ka’kaushi in his maneuvers. She was given a simple if seemingly impossible mission: prevent the Orks from reaching the city if they should make it past his forces distracting them abroad.
And they did make it past – at the first crack of light the howling fungal creatures came over the horizon to the west, using this sun’s bright morning glow in an attempt to overwhelm eyes and sensors. Drones from short-range recon patrols first spotted the enemy, but the long-range patrols had somehow missed the entire horde. Their line bobbed up and down over the long shallow pale-blue hills stretching into the distance.
Her warriors were into their defensive positions in moments – a single line of long trenches parallel to the city walls, steep in the front and gradual behind to provide a speedy exit.
The tidewalls of the city itself would provide a sturdy defense to fall back to, but they had to cut down as many foes as possible at range. The Ork forces massively overwhelmed them in number, and the Tau would rely heavily on their superior fire power to even the odds.
Fourteen heavy rail rifles were mounted upon high tower emplacements. They opened up on the approaching enemy from extreme range with their distinctive thunderous crackling. The few remaining squadrons of fighters and bombers buzzed overhead, their numbers having been cut severely short by weeks of strikes against Ork positions.
First to approach her lines were the fast, typically single-rider machines the Orks no doubt hoped could score a preemptive strike against their entrenched positions. The legendary accuracy of the heavy rail rifles lived today and she observed the primitive vehicles shredding to pieces in the distance. Each loud crack of the immense magnetic weapons found itself another machine to tear open.
There was nowhere for the Tau to fall back to. The placement of the city near the jutting red iron mountains stretching west to the north and south gave only one clear path for attack – and made travel by ground difficult if not outright dangerous in any other direction. The low rolling hills that covered the rest of the planet would provide even less cover and organization than the city. The other castes would be easy picking for the war band anywhere other than here - there were not enough vehicles to move the population swiftly, and they would abandon no one. Her troops, against Tau battle doctrine, must hold this position until relief or evacuation arrived.
There were precious few surprises she could bring against the enemy from this position, but she would make every one of them count.
The untold hordes before her came into unaided view. The roaring “WAAAGH” of their attackers could be heard clearly now. She would not falter. Her troops knew what was expected of them. There was no time for inspirational speeches now as she relayed final preparation orders to her warriors.
“Make every shot count. Rail towers switch to sumunitions, thin out the horde as deep as you can strike it. Air wing, stay to the peripheral forces, avoid their heavy fire where possible. Observation tower, continue broadcasting our situation to the other detachments. Let me know the moment you have a response.” Their communications had been severely limited by some unknown interference by their opponent. The earth caste had not yet been able to derive its source, and no Ork warband had been known to utilize such a technology.
Behind her commands came another voice, broadcast wide across the battlefield. It was the unmistakable voice of an ethereal. She looked up and to her right – there, at the center of the line and several feet above the ground hovered the ethereal leader that had come with Shas’o Ka’kaushi, Aun’sahe, facing the enemy and speaking reassuring words to all gathered in defense of the city.
“… we will not falter here. Our brotherhood will not be broken by this primitive screaming menace. We are stronger, because we are together. For the Tau! For the Tau’va! Steel yourselves!”
“Tau’va! Tau’va!” The entirety of the gun line chanted in unison, ten thousand pulse rifles aimed true and unflinching towards the rushing mob.
He was supposed to be safely hidden in the city. She felt a faint annoyance at having their leader exposed on the battlefield, but she could not deny the greater part of herself felt his inspiration wash over her. She activated her helmet interface and made the necessary eye gestures to add his symbol to her readout.
The first fast bikes broke over the first low ridge ahead of them. It crested at her rifles’ maximum range – the very reason the trenches were placed here. Given their disparate numbers and spread formations, the heavy rail rifles had been doing their job. The enemy’s firing was hasty and undisciplined, and the few shots that came near were easily deflected with shielding at this range.
“Fire!” she ordered. Through their unified salvos they devastated the few bikes who had made it this far. The flaming pieces of their wreckage scattered into the shallow valley below. Her gun line was silent once more. Focused. Ready.
Still the green menace covered the hills as far as she could see.
“Ma’am, Shas’o Ka’kaushi reports his units are evading the attack and moving immediately to assist in defending the city.”
“Inform him ‘Naga searches for the beast.’ Continue trying for the other the other detachments. Order them to draw away what forces they can from this fray.”
They broke the ridge at once: across the entire horizon in front of her brutish Orks sprang up, unrelenting in their charge. “Fire!” she ordered for the second time. This time the firing did not cease. Thousands of Tau rifles found their marks time and time again.
Month after month of training exercises made her warriors fantastic marksmen. Every shot connected, and even at this range most of those shots were fatal.
The Orks smashed through their fallen brethren without care or hesitation. Slowly still their front line drew closer, creeping down the hill in front of them. Enraged Orks fired massive volleys of primitive projectiles wildly towards her lines. Most found their resting place in the rocky earth between the Orks and their prey – the rest uselessly pinged the Tau line of shield drones hovering just barely above the ground.
Aun’sahe had not moved. He stood unwavering as a beacon, holding his equalizers, ready to fight. The stalwart warriors here would not dare to show cowardice with their beloved leader so determined against the enemy. Their volleys of fire never ceased. The superior Tau weaponry drummed into the enemy charge with unrelenting power.
The greenskins were sending the chaff out ahead of their main force to absorb the firepower. It was a tactic she knew they would employ, but one that could only be defeated now through utter annihilation.
As their numbers began reaching the bottom of the valley, larger and better armed Orks could be found among the charging forces. These larger weapons were far more dangerous, and some of them found their marks. Symbols on her helmet began fading from gold to silver, their changing colors indicating the losses to her units. They must hold this line a little longer.
Much of the incoming fire started heading in the direction of Aun’sahe. Hovering mid-air and well shielded by his personal drones, few shots found their mark and none made it to their intended target. His presence was keeping her warriors safe, and she was both glad for it and concerned for his safety all at once.
As the range decreased her warriors found their marks quicker, slowing the progress of the horde but never stopping it.
As ineffective as the Ork weapons were at a distance she could not hope to hold against them should they reach her lines. Still, they must cut down as many foes as they could muster before giving ground. On and on her rifles sang out into the enemy charge. One of the symbols flashed red - a entire unit was nearly destroyed. Only a few of the symbols were still gold, one of them the head of a serpent.
Naga had still not engaged. She was certain the beast would join this battle and they must wait for him to show himself. The biggest Orks were not as dumb, and they would know by now their opponent had the advantage in ranged combat.
Half way back up the hill the front of their line came. Such severe carnage had been inflicted upon them, and yet they came forth. Where some might see bravery she knew too well it was their savage thirst for combat that drove them forward. She let loose a final pulse blast into an oncoming Ork. “Fire warriors, withdraw! Phase two!”
At once her lines cut and ran, dashing back towards the city. She looked to her left. Aun waited only a moment before his drone descended and joined their retreat, being careful not to outpace the fire warriors. Further past him to the north she saw the great single line of warriors move. Nearby she saw warriors carrying a wounded comrade. Looking back to her right, a dark crater where an Ork explosive had found its way into the trench. There were two fire warriors, both severely injured and one missing both of her legs. They stayed fixed on the line, never ceasing their fire. They would soon be overrun and torn to pieces by the greenskins, destined to die with their broken fire team. There was nothing she could do for them now.
She ran over the open space as fast as her hooves would carry her. She could hear the WAAAGH behind her still, and the faint pinging on the shield drones covering their sprint back to the wall. The rail munitions came low over their heads now, doing everything they could to slow the enemy advance. The air wing made close strafing runs at the front line. A hundred gun drones disengaged from the wall and rushed forward, ready to blunt any Orks that had gained ground on them.
Just a little further before… The ground erupted in front of her in a gray-blue cloud of dust. The force threw her back. She instinctively jumped to her feet again, keenly aware that there were still Orks charging up behind her. She saw Aun’sahe knocked from his drone and tumble into the cloud nearby.
There were also suddenly Orks in front of her, appearing as if from nowhere out of the dust. These huge beasts were beyond anything that had yet come in the charge now behind them. They were followed by more of their disposable minions pouring out from great holes in the earth.
She fired her rifle into their numbers. Other pulse fire joined hers. She stole a quick glance in both directions – there were several such breaches along the field. So that’s how they got past the patrols.
The new line of Orks was between her and the relative safety of the city wall. Some of her fire warriors had made it past this point and turned to fire, being joined by the onrushing gun drones meant to cover their retreat. They had only moments to spare lest they be overrun by the greenskin horde still rushing in behind them.
She advanced towards the new participants, unloading fire as she continued into their lines. “Fight back to the wall! Do not hold this position!” her training narrowly keeping the signs of distress from her voice.
Shot after shot found Ork flesh. She was too close for her rifle in seconds. Her weapon dropped to its sling, her pistol readied in her hand. A shot found an Ork head, turning the front half into a crater. Two more shots into the chest of the next small Ork. The nearest fire team had joined her, spitting small volleys into every Ork who turned their way. In their hasty charge from under the ground the dumb Orks were left momentarily searching for their targets – precious moments they took advantage of to mow them down before the Orks could overrun them.
Through the haze she spotted Aun’sahe again, still further north along the battlefield. His equalizers danced as he tore apart charging Orks. He was a sight to behold.
“Protect the ethereal!” she relayed to those nearest. They needed no further encouragement. They tore a swath forward through their emerging foes as they charged headlong through the battle lines.
Towards them from his far side came the largest Ork at this gathering. She knew him instantly. “Naga!” she barked into the open channel “the beast is upon me! Move!” It fired wildly at their leader, his shield drones taking the brunt of it as they desperately deflected the incoming fire. She rushed forward as quickly as she could, felling enemies in desperation.
The War Boss reached Aun’sahe first. The Ethereal deflected the mighty beast’s first swing with an equalizer, and rolled under its second. The beast brought a massive foot up under the Ethereal as he dodged and sent him sprawling a great distance through the air.
She had her rifle back in her hands now, putting hot pulse fire into the huge beast. It cratered his armor and ripped into his flesh, but the mighty Ork seemed only annoyed and enraged. Some of the warriors with her did the same, others brought down disparate foes coming seemingly from all directions.
She finally reached Aun’sahe’s unmoving body, the War Boss reinitiating its charge. Somehow it knew its prize lay in the otherwise unseeming ethereal.
Back to her pistol. Firing as fast as it would let her, her hits found their mark. The War Boss turned its full attention to her. She adjusted her path slightly to keep the giant Ork away from her leader. A scream came forth from its snarled mouth. She went low, sliding clear under the creature as it swung a giant mechanical claw.
A quick twist to her left brought her back around just as a deafening shot rang out. Her ears were battered even through the dampening of her helmet and she could only hear a faint ringing now. The creature’s massive primitive weapon liquefied a trio of fire warriors. She poured shots out again as his claw caught another warrior, cleaving him into several pieces.
The heavy rails and gun drones desperately shredded at the charging Ork lines still coming up to the ridge. There was not long before they would catch her fire warriors pinned in this furious fray.
Blast after blast of pulse energy had precious little effect on this monster. She pulled a grenade from her belt and initiated its blast sequence without breaking her firing. The beast turned back to her in time for her to toss her photon grenade directly into its face while she rolled away to her left and shielded her viewport. The blast knocked the creature down and back, swinging wildly. A few steps and she was back next to Aun’sahe, who was still unmoving.
She grabbed his remaining equalizer from his hand and resumed her assault on the War Boss, who had rolled itself onto its arms and knees. The shots from her pistol never failed her as she charged into this monumental creature once again.
She brought the activated equalizer in hard on the creatures left arm. With a sickening crack it severed just above the massive claw. The beast howled and spun itself to its feet, catching her with its massive gun and throwing her wildly backwards. Pain seared through her torso as she lie on her back, the blow certainly breaking bone even through her armor. It staggered to bring its gun around to her. She kept firing her pistol. Pull. Pull. Pull.
The creature’s gun fell off, the arm above it simply no longer there. Another gaping hole appeared through its torso. Then another. Then half its head disappeared. The morning light shone eerily through it. She scrambled backwards as the tattered remains of the creature fell forward. The war band’s leader lie dead.
To her feet again, no time to stop. No time to think. Only to keep moving, keep fighting.
The first surprise was told, though she had expected it to be the second. Fire team Naga had completed their mission, the pathfinders brandishing their crackling, glowing rail rifles. They knew better than to celebrate their victory now. They joined in firing on every target they could acquire, and there were plenty to choose from. The approaching horde was seconds away. The loss of their commander slowed them not in their bloodlust.
She tucked the equalizer into her belt and grabbed Aun’sahe by one arm. A fire warrior grabbed the other arm immediately, both firing as they could as they hoisted the unconscious ethereal onto Naga’s waiting transport.
“Get him out of here” she ordered as Naga re-embarked.
“Retreat! To the wall! Make haste!” she ordered through the open channel “initiate savior protocols.” She looked towards the city walls, judging the distance. She took off in their direction once again, her shots finding their mark on any Ork who wasn’t behind her. “Charges in twenty seconds, no exceptions. That’s an order.”
Gun drones charged headlong into the approaching Orks, staying high enough to avoid being smashed by the horde, but at that range many were going to fall to their massed fire. They were a precious resource she hated to lose, but she would save every fire warrior she could. Every one of her remaining warriors sprinted back toward the wall with every ounce of energy they had left.
She could hear the crackling of shields again as the ringing subsided, the few remaining shield drones following what was left of the gun lines back to the city. She counted down the seconds in her head as she ran. She dared not look back to see where the charging Ork lines were.
She reached the wall and jumped it.
She laid behind its cover on her back, pistol pointed readily towards the pale blue sky if any Orks were to follow her over.
Right on time, as ordered, there was a deafening clap of thunder that seemed unceasing in its intensity. Her second surprise for the Orks today - the charges buried in their forward trenches - erupted at once.
She came to her knees, facing back towards the battlefield, her rifle drawn once again. A confused Ork a short distance away had turned back to witness the massive fireball consuming the horizon. She fell it with a duo of shots to the torso.
Their explosives not only incinerated the Orks who had flooded through their trenches in their charge, but their placement was carefully calculated to send the stony shards of the terrain directly into the oncoming enemy lines through the last valley before the city.
There was no counting how many thousands of Orks were obliterated, but it was a short reprieve. Orks trapped between the cloud of dust and the low wall were joined by more of their kind still pouring out of their holes. Their charge towards the city resumed shortly.
The ground between shook with the beating of the heavy rail munitions. Neither army would be able to target accurately through the wall of dust, so her rail towers picked their targets among the piles of Orks trapped in the open. Her fire warriors unloaded their rifles from behind the wall. So many fewer warriors remained than she had hoped for at this stage.
Naga was there, taking their positions near the main road into the city, the only gap in the low wall. Their transport was nowhere to be seen, making its way into the city to deliver their broken leader to the city medical complex. She hoped they had not lost him.
The enemy came within fifty paces of the wall.
“Auxiliaries, open fire!”
From above and behind her a myriad of pulse fire rang out. Every spare weapon in the city had been brought to this line. Some of it was hastily converted from mining equipment the Earth caste had rigged for this purpose. Some of it was the side arms of pilots, graciously left behind while they were out on their own missions. Each of them found themselves in the hands of any available Tau that knew which end to hold, positioned in windows and along rooftops across the near edge of the city.
Their firing was wild and untrained, but Tau weapons were still Tau weapons. The fire warriors on the line carefully picked off the foremost foes that made it through the hail of firepower from above. The tunnels she could see brought no more Orks pouring forth, and she figured their sources were collapsed in the massive explosion. The War Boss had been crafty in coming in underneath her troops, but hasty and overconfident in making a personal appearance so early in the attack.
Somewhere behind the deafening roar of combat the sharp clap of railguns could be heard in the distance. The patrol detachments were returning.
A new voice cut through on her direct channel “Shas’el of detachment Dak’e’shi here to assist. Drawing the enemy as ordered” A lot of her superiors were taking her orders today. She had no time to question it – the battle raged. She knew Dak’e’shi had several heavy armor pieces accompanied by multiple squads of Crisis battle suits.
“Enemy troops moving subterranean. Seek and destroy tunnels if possible. Utilize Kauyon to your advantage. War Boss has fallen. Relay information to other detachments if you can make contact.”
“Acknowledged. Be advised enemy heavy armor spotted coming in behind that dust cloud.”
As if heralded by the Shas’el heavy rounds began flying through the cloud before them. The dust was taking long to settle and with their heavy weapons moving in it became a bigger boon to the Orks than to her gun line.
The shells rained down, some on their own troops, some near her position. The shields could not be directed to block all of the shells and some found a target. A missile struck a building behind her. Small debris pelted her from behind and she could hear the screams as the auxiliaries began taking losses, but she could not afford to stop firing at the rushing Orks.
Fortunately for her the Orks were not bright enough to capitalize on their smokescreen advantage. Their tanks came rolling into view, focusing their fire now on the rail towers as the rail towers began targeting their armor columns.
Many of the tanks were hit almost immediately. Their explosive munitions gave the added benefit of clearing out a ring of Orks when struck. More explosions sounded out behind her as well. Still she shot downrange, no time to look back.
“Report” she asked, the watchers perched atop the administrative building deep in the city returning her call.
“Towers 4 and 7 have gone dark. Tower 5 is jammed in place and cannot retarget. Enemy forces have nearly reached the wall on the north end. Several buildings have collapsed.”
“Naga, move to the north and assist.” This line had to hold longer. The third phase of the city’s defense was desperate and would not hold for long.
She saw trails from a rail tower make their way through the slowly dissipating cloud. A gunner had the bright idea to follow back along the path of the approaching tanks and a bright explosion through the dust showed his gamble paid off as a tank was destroyed just out of sight.
Down the wall in both directions her fire warriors continued to find their marks. The auxiliary units behind her had not ceased their firing though it was obvious the volume had decreased with the casualties they were taking. In front of her the gap in the Ork lines from their explosive trap had closed and they were once again facing a wall of green that cared not for losses or danger.
She wished then she had another surprise to throw at the Orks, but her resources were spent. She noticed someone new immediately to her left – a Fio, badly burned stumbled and fell to his knees at the wall. Likely he had survived one of the explosions she heard behind her. He bore a piece of equipment now not so unlike a pulse blaster. Leaning on the wall in front of him he pointed the makeshift weapon down range and fired shot after shot at the enemy. Those that stood here today of every caste were all fire warriors worthy of Tallisera.
Against hundreds of trained warriors and thousands of auxiliary guns the line of green still drew closer second by second. Heavy shells still found their way through the cloud of dust. Two more rail towers were reported destroyed. She could fall back into the city, draw the Orks into a hundred tiny ambushes, but she knew in those close quarters they would lose most of what advantage they had left.
“No one breaks! Continue firing to your last!” Not a single warrior would leave their post. It was the honor-bound duty of every fire warrior to protect the Tau’va with their very lives. They would buy every precious second they could for the civilians in the city behind them.
The dust before her had cleared enough to peer hazily through to the horizon beyond. The ground was still green as far as she could see, but she could not determine how much of that was corpses and how much was still the charging horde.
Suddenly a new sound to the south, and she hazarded a glance to her left. Shas’o Ka’kaushi had returned with his contingent of crisis suits, the sounds of their burst cannons and frag mortars distinct even from this distance. He found a way through the mountains with his mobile suits, come to bolster the city’s line of defense. Their complement of shield drones soaked up much of the Ork’s firepower.
“The enemy charge is strongest to the north. Bolster the ranks on the far wall” she ordered her commander without hesitation. For a moment she thought she had overstepped her rank, but he acknowledged her order and the team of towering mechanical warriors glided on their jetpacks towards the north, strafing the enemy lines as they went along. The ten mobile weapons platforms were ideal for tearing apart enemy infantry, and it showed. The pile of corpses retreated wherever their firepower found targets.
The line was holding. There was still a significant amount of firepower coming back at them, but the line was holding here.
The dust was nearly dissipated now. She needed a better vantage point. She took another glance at the burnt Fio next to her, still firing into the enemy. “Do not give them an inch, warrior. We will hold this wall.” He answered with a barely perceptible nod. Their auxiliaries were as dedicated to their task as her own warriors.
She ran to a nearby building that was still holding. Inside she found the mag lift and made her way to the roof. She came to the forward ledge, the Tau arrayed there taking note of her appearance but never ceasing their firing.
She was down to seven rail towers still fully operational. With the dust clearing they were beginning to outrange the enemy armor. Keeping them out of firing range would severely cut her force’s losses, but the north line was barely holding despite the reinforcement. What remaining rail towers were not focused on the armored columns were blasting at the charging enemy at that end in a bid to keep them from overrunning the wall.
She pulled her enhancement viewer out from her belt and peered through them down the enemy lines. A few hundred feet back she spotted another hole overflowing with fresh Orks. One of their tunnels had survived the explosion.
“Tower two, adjust aim four degrees up and fire.”
She saw the impact from the tower’s next shot strike deep behind enemy lines. Close to her target.
“Tower two, one degree up and two degrees north, fire again.”
Another shot, nearer her target again.
“Tower two, a hair further to your right, fire again.”
The tower found the mark, blowing directly into the rush of Orks coming from the ground.
“Tower two, six more shots, solid munitions, adjust each by 0.2 degrees up.”
Her commands were followed. Half a dozen hypersonic armor-piercing shots struck the ground in quick succession. The enemy ceased pouring out of its tunnel.
“Tower two, resume firing at will.” It joined back in the pounding of the enemy in short order.
She surveyed now across the whole of the battlefield. There were still millions of Orks coming, she estimated their line to be nearly two thousand wide packing the corridor in front of her, but she could see the end of their number in the distance now. Their armor columns were nearly spent and none of them came close enough to fire effectively. She could see some of the horde had moved off to the north and south past where the space between the mountains widened in the distance. The other patrol detachments had been drawing some of the attackers off.
Without their War Boss to issue new orders, it appeared as if the massive ordered charge did not know it was now splashing all but helplessly against the Tau’s superior firepower. Still, even a few surviving Orks could turn into another mass of green beasts in short order.
“All detachments within broadcast range, report”
“Dak’e’shi reporting. Ambushing charging foes to your southwest. Unable to move in for seek and destroy on those tunnels through this unending horde.” She could spot some the Orks they were targeting, but not the detachment from here.
“R’myr reporting. Same to your northwest.”
“Var’Saum holding the line to the north.” Shas’o Ka’kaushi reported. He had to know she could see his forces clearly and thought his response may have been more sarcastic. It was still odd for him to follow her orders, but she had asked and he had responded.
That now accounted for most of the forces in the field. Her mind worked quickly to assess the entirety of the situation. The horde still grew closer to the line, even if their numbers were coming to an end. And there is no telling how many did not participate in this charge.
“Var’Saum, spread your team out evenly behind the wall and keep this charge back. Dak’e’shi and R’myr, close ranks to the west. The enemy line has thinned in their rear, send one Crisis team each around the enemy charge to seek and destroy those tunnels. Cut them off and we will drive their remaining forces into your lines.
“Kir’la” she addressed her own detachment now “hold this wall. When the greenskins’ lines break, see to the wounded but every able bodied Tau stays on this line until ordered otherwise.
“Naga, meet me with your transport at the front road.”
She took a moment to observe her orders being carried out. The burst cannons of the commander’s crisis team were spitting into the enemy line all across the front as they adjusted their positions.
Suddenly there was commotion in the midst of the Ork horde. They had sounded a retreat. She spotted a larger Ork in the middle of the line where the War Boss had been slain – they knew now that their leader was gone. This larger Ork assumed the command upon finding his dead master, his order to withdraw rippling through their forces.
The rail towers had noticed the change and come to the same conclusion. Their shots rained down on this new War Boss, eliminating his command as abruptly as it had started. Still, the damage had been done. The Ork forces were breaking.
The Devilfish transport returned to the line, having completed its task with Aun’sahe. Its guns joined in the firing at the gap in the wall where the main road passed through to the valleys.
The last of the Ork charge against the city was being shredded by the array of pulse weapons holding the line.
She saw Naga approach hastily from where they had been to the North. She called up one of the remaining shield drones and stepped on top of it. She knelt as it struggled to keep her aloft, descending slowly towards the waiting transport, a useful trick she had learned from a mentor at academy.
“Dak’e’shi and R’myr, the enemy breaks. We must find those tunnels before the main of the force makes its escape. Var’Saum, follow the breaking line forward. Eliminate as many as you can in their retreat.” She would show no mercy for the hostile menace – every Ork would invariably return for the thrill of battle given time to regroup.
She boarded the transport with Naga and directed the pilot to keep pace with the advancing Crisis unit. She perched herself through the top hatch, with the side doors left open for a pair of pathfinders to pour out their continued death.
“Dak’e’shi here, the enemy is retreating from our position as well. Tightening the noose.”
“R’myr here, the enemy also retreats from our lines now. Crisis team reports one tunnel destroyed with minimal resistance. They believe there are more and continue the hunt.”
With the enemy routed and surrounded, the battle seemed too easy now. Given the heat of the battle they had just fought her senses were certain they would see another attack from their foes. None came. Some of the beasts would turn to fight when they realized they were being pursued, but their attacks were disparate at best. They were easily cut down.
“R’myr here, Crisis team reports they have completed their sweep and believe all tunnels to be destroyed.”
“Have them return to your lines and keep formation” she replied.
The rail rounds from the city’s towers ceased – they had pursued the enemy out of their range. In the distance she could now spot the weapons fire from the other two detachments.
“Give them space. They will soon realize they have no path to retreat and make their stand. Keep your lines tight and those tanks hitting at maximum range. They will pick a direction to charge – do not hold, perform Kauyon D’Vah’rua and we will pursue.”
All three of her superiors acknowledged her orders without question. She could now see the other Tau forces through her viewer, forming a complete if sparse line in a miles-long arc to the west between the mountain lines.
Var’Saum could not hold the charge if the Orks came back towards the east, and they would have to return quickly to the city if the enemy turned. She doubted they would try to flee into to the iron mountains – their sharp, rusted edges were dangerous even if you weren’t a mob of angry green creatures making a hasty retreat. Still, without clear leadership it was difficult to know how they would react.
A great commotion amongst the Orks once again as they retreating lines from three directions realized they were surrounded.
“Hold here.” she called out. The lines all around the Orks ceased movement at once. The horde was now out of range of their pulse weapons, but the rails of the far detachments continued to rain in on the mass of green.
Seconds passed. The great green horde started moving – straight west, desperate to be free of the trap they found themselves in.
She ordered Var’Saum forward towards their retreating enemy once more, catching up to the rear of their forces and firing into them indiscriminately.
Dak’e’shi and R’myr performed their maneuver flawlessly. Their mobile lines peeled back and out in front of the main charge, giving way to a great gap in front of the Orks. Once they had reached a wide berth the entirety of the columns began to move in parallel to the rushing horde. A few greenskins tried to make a charge against the new lines but were cut down before they could get close. Without their leaders’ coordination the mass moved frantically west between the two columns. In turn her warriors picked shots carefully so as not to be hit with their own crossfire, decimating the remaining enemy forces in short order.
Var’Saum followed the Orks to the mouth of the parallel lines. The three detachments formed an open box the Orks would never reach the far side of.
The guns went silent. There was no movement from the pile of corpses in front of her. There were tense moments of quiet among the troops arrayed there. She strained her senses, watching and listening in every direction. She expected another attack. No, she craved it – her blood pumping and her mind focused on the battle. But there was no more battle to be had.
A cry rang out across the open channel. Every warrior cheered at once for their victory today. She joined in their mighty roar.
Suddenly the pain struck her, like cold knives in her chest. She surveyed down herself, seeing her armor bent and cracked low in her torso where the War Boss had struck her. Her pauldron had a great gash from front to rear where she could see the burnt flesh underneath, but could not recall when she sustained the hit. Her strength began to waver and she could not hold herself in the transport’s turret any longer.
Naga’s Shas’ui caught her under one arm as she fell and helped her to a seat, removing her helmet. She could hear Shas’o Ka’kaushi issuing new orders to the detachments, and instinctively she went to respond but could not muster the sounds to do so. The cabin around her spun mercilessly and then went black.