3. Trial by Fire
The wide eyed stare of children surrounded her as far as she could see in every direction. She could feel their wanting, their childish need for guidance and they waited for her to bring it to them. She was no more than a child herself, but she sat upon an alabaster pedestal at the center of this endless crowd. This moment was important to them all. A dark cloud came to consume them, their eyes becoming heavy and blurred. She must take them away from this storm. They must grow before it can reach them again.
There were only two children now. They appeared as sillouhettes against the verdant hills but she knew their faces well. A hand reached for hers, she looked down as she took it. It was familiar and warm. She did not know whose hand it was.
The symbol of Tau dominated her mind. It opened into a great eye, and a great flame grew around it. “Where is he?” the eye demanded. She felt a terrible pain tearing at her very being. “Where does he hide?” The two sillouhettes came again. The flame retreated from them, the eye shuddering. Panic flowed from the eye as the pain subsided in her mind. It closed again with a great scream. The cicle of the Tau reappearing in its place. It looked no different but she was unable to see it in the same way.
She awoke suddenly, as unaware of her surroundings as a new cadet woken mid-sleep for drills. She began to get her bearings immediately, her training cutting through the haze to find that she was on a recovery table surrounded by medical equipment. The table was tilted up further than she found comfortable to sleep, and she immediately noted her battered armor neatly arrayed on a table at the far side of the room.
She was not in danger, though she still felt the anticipation as though she were lining up her troops for combat.
The events of the battle came to her in pieces. She found now that she had not expected to survive the conflict and so the realization of victory seemed foreign, like happening upon an old friend on a distant world.
She took stock of herself. She had been cleaned and redressed since the battle, the fresh white under-slacks of a warrior’s clothes adorned her lower half, while her torso was dressed only in tight bandaging.
There was a recovery sphere near her, the only other equipment of note in the room. She wondered how long she had been in there. Looking down she found two dark blue nano-recovery devices rested in her skin below the bandages, contrasting her pale blue skin.
Two? she thought it certainly doesn’t feel like an injury that needs two.
She moved to stand up from the table. Suddenly she understood why there were two devices – the cold stabbing pain across the entirety of her chest returned. She moved again, more slowly this time and careful not to bend her back. The pain was manageable. She saw no doctors nearby or through the open door, though she expected her wakening to summon at least one.
Perhaps they are busy with the wounded.
Recalling the carnage she witnessed she desperately wanted to check on her warriors. She got on her feet and moved slowly towards the door, but she could not shake the feeling of impending combat. Looking at her armor she decided to take her belt, strapping it around her waist. Her pistol still had charge and the equalizer she took during her fight with the monstrous Ork still rested in an elastic loop.
She had the thought she should find Aun’sahe and return it. Aun’sahe. I do not know if he survived. She recalled him dancing in the midst of battle, his strong form the rival of that of her own warriors. She admired his graceful skill in combat against the brutes as he smashed one after another. And the blow he took from that creature.
Through the door she found a room lined with rows of recovery tables, used for lighter injuries. She was surprised not to find it packed with wounded from the battle.
She heard voices from a room at the far end. She made her way to the far door, through it she found another recovery room like the one she awoke from. Shas’o Ka’kaushi stood with his back to her next to a Fio doctor.
She came to attention, her bare hoof clacking on the hard floor. The pair looked in her direction.
“Come in Shas’vre” her commander said. The Fio turned her attention back to the patient. She saw now it was Aun’sahe they stood over, encased in his own recovery sphere.
“He will live” he said “I am eager to hear your report Shas’vre.” Using her rank again was unnecessary and awkward in his words, and with the emphasis it caught her up. She had carelessly issued orders to her superiors in the heat of battle, a headstrong mistake she had not made since her academy days. If he had reviewed her record or surmised the events behind her naming then he knew it was not the first time.
Before she could find the words to respond a new commotion arose somewhere behind her. Dull thuds echoed from some distant corridor. Both warriors spun immediately, the sounds of Tau screaming followed shortly by the distinctive “WAAAGH!” growing louder. She reflexively drew her sidearm.
She went to open her mouth, then thought twice as she glanced at the Shas’o. He looked back at her but did not speak. She took control of the silence. “Move Aun’sahe to the roof and summon a transport. If they are here they have the city - get him into the mountains and evade until the fleet arrives.”
“Very well” he answered. They moved to unlatch the pod-like chamber and engaged its built-in grav lift. Out the door and away from the approaching noise her two brethren pushed the sphere, with her following close behind. She could hear heavy footsteps now as they entered a narrow corridor, trusting the Fio knew the way to the building’s grav lift.
She tread quickly backwards, covering their rear. An Ork rounded the corner in front of her and she placed her shot directly into its face. It collapsed without ceremony, and was replaced by another.
She fired again, another headshot. Another collapsed Ork. Yet another replaced it as she backed down the corridor.
Another shot. A miss, barely, as her distance down the hall increased. She fired two more shots center-mass, felling the creature with a dull gasp as it fell.
They began piling in faster. She unloaded her weapon quickly but they kept coming, screaming their charge.
She knew her party had reached the grav lift when she heard the door open behind her. “Lock the door behind you. I will buy you time. GO!”
Her shots continued to find their marks, but each was closer to her than the last. The door snapped shut and the hard security bolts clicked as they engaged. She backed further past the lift door, trying to give herself more space and hoping the greenskins would not realize she was guarding an escape.
Her back came against a wall. There were no other doors, no other corridors here. Her enemies continued their screaming barreling charge as the corridor was lined with their compatriot’s corpses.
She dropped her left hand to her belt and found there the equalizer, initiating its power in her hand while never ceasing her firing with her other.
She let out a great roar to match the oncoming WAAAGH and charged forward, unarmored and outnumbered. She would not go quietly against her foe.
The first to reach her swung down with a great blade in its right hand. She slid its left, bringing the equalizer up against its blow. The force multiplying properties of the weapon devasted her attacker. In one smooth motion she put a pair of shots point blank into its side.
Somewhere she knew she was is pain, but the pain did not matter. Pain was for learning, and today she would be the master, not the student.
The next attacker came up from under with a pair of long spikes. She recoiled, putting her back to the corridor wall. She drew her legs up and planted both hooves directly in its chest, knocking it backwards. Unarmored she was much more nimble. It hit the far wall and she hit it with a pair of shots as she came to her feet again.
She spun to her right, getting uncomfortably close to the next green beast, placing herself between its arms and against its chest to avoid its axes while thrusting the equalizer into its face. The front of its head caved in and blasted material out the back, knocking the entire creature up and back with the amplified force.
She raised her pistol as it cleared her view, firing a shot towards the next foe. It predicted her shot and she barely grazed its face. Seeing what her small weapon had done to its predecessor it used care to avoid challenging it directly, instead moving to parry with its gauntleted right hand.
Both of her attacks unsuccessful, she moved left to dodge its downward blade strike. The maneuver was desperate and the beast brought its left knee quickly up and around, smashing her already broken chest to the wall and screaming in her face while tearing her arm from her body with its free hand.
She managed to put a shot into its left arm, causing the beast to drop its weapon and rear back, releasing her. She brought her remaining weapon forward and loosed more shots, destroying another attacker.
She could feel the blood flowing out of her and still they came. The next was upon her and she shot it down frantically, the beast falling at her hooves. She tried to withdraw her legs and found she was no longer able to move them, her victim’s blade splitting her right leg.
Still she fired, her accuracy faltering as the life flowed out her gaping wounds. A graze enraged the next Ork as it thrust its spear-like weapon through her chest. She placed a point-blank shot in its chest and it collapsed on top of her, pinning her remaining arm to her.
Unable to move against the next attacker it grasped her head in its great hand and tore it from her shoulders.