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Sarpedon’s command Rhino roared over the dunes. From his position in the cupola next to the driver he could just make out the trio of landspeeders screening him, their red armour blending into the dusty red sands of Beltagor. From beyond the next bluff several columns of black smoke were pouring up into the thin air. The landspeeders ran the lip of the ridge, hull down to minimize their exposure.

Their report came over the comm., “Red Leader, this is Red Three , all clear ahead, over.”

“Copy, over.” Said on of the operators below.

“Take us in,” Sarpedon said.

The driver complied, and they climbed the bluff, a rooster tail of fine red dust kicked up by the tracks flying up behind them. The driver instructively put them behind a large boulder at the top, exposing as little of the vehicle as possible. Sarpedon raised his binoculars and surveyed the battleground below. The cable attached to them fed the images below, and one of the operators said, “Holy Emperor, that’s a nice bit of work.”

Sarpedon nodded, but said nothing. The ground around the Eldar command bunker was littered with craters and a dozen of their skimmers and walkers were the source of the columns of smoke, flames still licking forth from the wrecks. Several fresh craters showed where the Virtue’s Demolisher cannon had done its work, and he could make out his brother’s power armoured figures moving on the red plains below. Another squadron of landspeeders covered the perimiter and all the armour he had committed to the operation was hull down, their guns covering the approaches to the Eldar base. It was indeed a nice bit of work, but he wondered what the cost had been. “Make our signal and take us in brothers” he said, and put the binoculars down.

The rhino moved forward without the slightest lurch, the driver’s hands steady on the controls as always. As they were waved into the perimeter by the sentries Sarpedon could make out Prior Quintius standing by the Courage. The chaplain’s black armour stood out starkly against the Land Raider’s red paint, his memento mori a grim visage as he directed the sergeants gathered around him.

Sarpedon climbed free of the cupola and leapt to the ground next to the chaplain. Quintius doffed his helm, and his lined face looked tired. “How many?” Sarpedon asked.

“Three, and twelve wounded.” A ghost of a smile appeared for a second, then quickly vanished.

Sarpedon could say nothing, merely looking at the scope of the carnage they had wrought. “The Emperor favours us.”

Quintius said, “I pray he favours brother Glaucas so,” and looked skyward. Sarpedon looked up and prayed as well.

Glaucas held the flimsy in his hand and read it carefully.

From: Glaucas, Centurio Cohors Sixtus Miles Rufus Astartes To: Inquisitor Null, Beltagor’s Deep, Commanding Subject: Tau Renegades Code Scheme: Delta Sigma Prime Alt B

Inquisitor

While our initial drop revealed that the Tau renegades abandoned their forward positions and fallen back, we pressed on to engage their trailing elements and prevent them from digging in to new positions. This succeeded admirably, but each contact was met by further retreat on their part. I began to suspect that they would flee till the ends of the Earth, and was preparing to halt our advance while we could still be supported by the other elements on this front.

It was at this time that the Tau turned and fought. Perhaps they hoped to catch us strung out or ill prepared, but my brothers were pleased to disabuse them of this notion. In a stiffly fought action we turned their flank and routed them from the field, and my scouts report that they are running still.

I deeply regret that three of my brothers will be returning to Igneous Moon for internment in the ossuary there as a result of the action, but we are prepared for further action.

Message Ends

He handed the flimsy to Brother Hays, nodding, “good, send it now.” He turned away and surveyed their position. A rough camp was springing up all around, alive with activity. From the perimiter he could hear Brother Karn, their techmarine, chanting the activation codes into a battery of sentry guns. Nearby black armoured brothers of the seventh company attending to their damaged vehicles, praying, fixing, and painting them. Soon they would look new from the forge once again, hiding the millennia of service they had given the chapter. The perimeter was already embanked, and behind them brothers were preparing firing positions.

Their red armour was strangely muted against the red soil, much like the report was a muted version of events. It couldn’t tell how his hearts had raced like turbines as he and his brothers tore down the Tau’s right flank, hacking down stealth suits, firewarriors, and battlesuits. It didn’t tell how by the end there was only a single razorback able to pursue their fleeing foes, but even it would not serve, its guns torn away by a round from a broadside. Nor would it tell the tell of the vast shadow of the Tau gunship roaring overhead, hammering rounds into the brothers behind him. But especially it did not reveal the strange prize they had wrested from the Tau.

But he thought his message to the Tau Aun might have a taste of blood in it. Turning back into the command tent, and considered the renegade Ethereal’s head. The influence of Chaos was upon it, a fringe of tentacles growing up from the back of the skull. The mouth hung open, and the eyes were glazed. Taking the fringe he lifted it up to take a closer look at the eyes, eyes that not so long ago had been wide with what could only be terror.

Glaucas smiled briefly at the thought. He would never understand fear, but he savoured it in his foes. “Brother,” he said to Hays, “See that this is sent with my compliments to the Shas Ar Tol Beltagor.”

Korvus 15:18, 9 February 2008 (UTC) Nicholas Cioran

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