Cal’yon sighed and shifted his rifle, peering through the downpour. His armour had been compromised by a lucky plasma shot; he had discarded his helmet some time ago. The HUD had been reduced to uselessness in this storm. Where did they go? The rain trickled down under the back plate of his armour. Around him, all he could hear was the sound of the rain and thunder. Somewhere nearby, the rest of his squadron was waiting. The Gue’la would not win this fight; they would not take a revered Aun from his people, no matter how hard they would try.
He heard the rustle of Aun’el N’lis’ cloak and didn’t bother to turn. “There is no sign of them as of yet, Aun.”
“Good.” He didn’t start when the Aun placed a hand on his shoulder, though his side burned like fire where the shot had gotten through. “How are you faring?”
“Fine, Aun.” We both know that is a lie, but what choice do I have. He must be protected, and who will do that if I fall? My bondmates will try, but I am still the leader of the squadron. A wet strand of dark hair fell into his eyes.
“Good. Keep me apprised.” The Aun turned and left, the gold breads in his braids glinting dully in the heavy rain.
They waited. The Gue’la were out there somewhere, the entirety of their small band of 10 knew that beyond a doubt. If it was quiet long enough for one to begin to think the way was clear, a las-shot would come from the trees, singing the unfortunate Tau who happened to be in the open. Shas’vre Cal’yon knew that the Gue’la squadron had taken losses against their small band, but it was not enough.
He barely noticed when the ration bars got handed around, passed slowly from hand to hand in the dimming light. The sun was setting, the rain had not let up. Cal’yon shivered. It had gotten colder.
“How’re you managing, Cal’yon?” His squadmate and bondmate, Shas’ui Kor’sa, whispered in the dimness. Her metal-grey hair hung over her face, a few errant strands brushed the dark purple of her shoulder plates. She pressed a ration bar into his free hand. Like him, her helmet was gone, there was scorch marks over her left leg, the armour plate was melted. But she didn’t wince as she crawled towards him, making almost no sound in the underbrush.
He smiled at her. Her eyes were a dark green, an unusual colour for a Tau. Her skin was pale, and beads of water had formed on her now-lank grey hair.
“I need more of an answer for you then that. Lemme see that side.” She undid one of the fasteners on her boot and pulled her pant leg free. She ripped two strips of fabric from the inside lining of her pants and crawled closer. The outer layer of the armour rustled a little as she worked.
He nodded. She worked quickly, binding his side with the fabric torn from the underlining of her armour. He nodded his thanks and gave her a quick smile. Her green eyes flicked to the ration bar, and he nodded as well. She took his position in the underbrush, bracing her own rifle against her good knee. He pulled the wrapper off the ration bar and considered the unappetizing grey block inside for a while before taking a bite. Shas’el Nai’sha joked that a ration bar was simply leftover concrete made edible. He had his own theories.
The ration bar vanished quickly, but his tension and unease remained. He put a hand on Kor’sa’s shoulder and nodded towards Aun’el N’lis. She blinked, nodded, and crept towards the Aun.
Cal’yon reclaimed his place. He noted the way his rifle quivered in his grip. Shameful. He thought. I am bodyguard to an Aun, I should have more skill then this. He braced the rifle against his knee as he knelt. The rain still pounded down, plastering his hair to his scalp. His side didn’t hurt quite as much. The mud that had seeped into his armour made his arms itch, and his feet felt like ice from the water that had crept into his boots. The rifle was unmoving now, his finger ready on the trigger. The other hand was wrapped around the disk-shape of a photon grenade, ready if he should need it. Without his helmet, the grenade would hinder him and his opponent equally, but it would be an undeniable signal to his squadron of the trouble they would be in. The photon grenade was a multi-spectrum flash and sonic burst that would blind and deafen all but the most alien of enemies.
The night passed on. Sometime late in the night, Cal’yon was relieved by his squadmates, but sleep did not come easily. His training taught him to sleep when and where he could, so the rain, cold, and mud did not hinder him. No, it was the dreams. Dreams of. . . of what he could not say, but they were frightening. It was something far bigger then he, something he was powerless to fight. It was something that was coming for his charge, for the revered Aun, and one foolish and small Shas’vre would do nothing to deter it.
Kor’sa was the one who woke him. It only took a touch on his shoulder to wake him, he sat upright and had his pistol in hand before he realised where he was or who she was. He winced as his side flared with pain. She simply smiled and offered him a flask. He took it with a curious look. She simply gave him a tired smile. He sniffed it – it smelt good, nutty. She re-bandaged his side while he tasted it. Whatever it was, it was warm, and that was something he was grateful; the morning was cold. The cold from the half-frozen ground seemed to have seeped into his very core. It tasted good too, the warmth helping a little to ease his cold. She smiled at him again and nodded to the Aun. He was wrapped in his cloak, the gold and silver metal work on his honour blade covered with blood and mud. He was wiping off the blade.
“What happened?” Cal’yon asked quietly, leaning his forehead to Kor’sa’s. She blinked and looked up at him, worriedly, her eyes were puzzled.
Cal’yon nodded to Aun’el N’lis, who looked up from his work and nodded at the young Shas’vre. Cal’yon nodded back in respect.
“He’s just cleaning the blade – it gives him something to do.” Kor’sa shrugged. “We’re all a little jumpy, even the Aun. We’ve been penned up here for 2 days now. C’mon, Cal’yon, what’s gotten into you?”
“Bad dream.” He said simply. “Lets go.”
“Ti’she.” He swore softly and kicked the dead body away from his feet as he got up. He had crept forward a little and been jumped on by a Gue’la. The soldier lay dead – Cal’yon could draw a pistol faster then many warriors. But his side burned like fire, the warmth given by Kor’sa’s gift was long gone. It didn’t seem like his opponent had managed to call in, but there was no guarantee. He turned and headed back to the group, knowing that the dead body would be hard to find in this downpour; finding it would also mean getting a lot closer to the Tau firing line – as small as it was – then most Gue’la would want to.
There was a rustle in the bushes behind him. He turned, the rifle tracking as he did so. There’s nothing there. . . His eyes, trained for many years on Tau technology, caught a shimmer to his right. Cloaking field! He shot – and the brilliant bolts of energy passed right through the cloaked figure, crackling into a tree behind. It can’t be! But. . . Gue’la don’t have cloaking technology, do they? They’ve got the cameoline but even that wouldn’t let a shot go –through-. . . He had to move, his shot had given away his position. He backed up, closer to the group, but the shimmer didn’t move, it simply faded. He couldn’t shake the feeling he was still being watched.
Kor’sa crept up to him and spoke in handsign. The use of the comms was hit-and-miss due to the interference from the storm, and they didn’t want to risk communications being intercepted.
*I heard weapons fire. What is it?*
*Nothing. I’ll report back at base.* It might have just been a figure of his over-tired imagination. Cameoline could make the person disappear if they stopped moving completely. The only other Gue'la that had demonstrated anything like this were the Grey Knights, and they were not part of the force that his squadron was fighting. At least, not that anyone had been able to determine. And even if that were the case, no cloaking field could allow a pulse rifle shot to pass –through- something. He followed her as they crept back, his back to hers.
Her scream was the first warning. He felt her collapse, felt the blood hit his back and side. He whirled, rifle in hand – his rifle was knocked away, the strap cutting into his shoulder even through the padding of his armour.
Aun protect me, that is no Gue’la! A gasp came from his mouth as he saw the creature that threatened him. It was a monster, standing higher then even the Vespid Queen. It dwarfed the small Shas’vre, who pulled his rifle back into position. It was a huge monstrosity, all fangs and fur, with burning red eyes. Cal’yon could feel the heat from its body from here. It was warm, so warm. . .
The blood on his face belonged to Kor’sa. Kor’sa, whom he’d never thanked for her help, who had always been so kind to him. He raised the rifle and shot. The creature roared as its fir was singed, and brought a huge clawed hand down towards the poor Shas’vre.
He might have screamed, its hand felt like an icy claw clamping down on him. It wouldn’t let go, the claws were digging into him. . . holding him in place. . .
“Come on Shas’vre!” The creature roared at him, the elegant words of the T’au language distorted by its alien voice.
He didn’t respond, but grabbed a photon grenade. It would blind him, but if it hurt this –thing- . . .
“Find the Aun!” The creature ordered, snarling and snapping. Its golden main was sodden in the rain– wait, hadn’t it been black fur before? And who –or what – was it giving orders to?
There were more pounding hooves around him. The creature pushed Cal’yon onto the ground . . . Kor’sa, where was Kor’sa? Even her body should be here, was this deamon so vile that even a body would not be left?
“Shas’vre, stop!” The creature ordered, and the voice was not quite so alien. How can such a creature not debase the Tau languge? It speaks with perfect clarity. . .
“I don’t think he understands. He’s really out of it.” A second figure emerged from the first figure, dark fir merging from golden fir. It was smaller, but still powerful.
“No!” He threw himself upwards, trying to get at the smaller creature. Perhaps he could harm the smaller one.
“Shas’ui? Sedate him.” His knees hit the ground as he collapsed, and a comforting pair of hands caught him before he lost consciousness.
“How is he?” Shas’ui Kor’sa sighed and looked down at the blanket-wrapped form of her C.O. Even in the dim morning night, he looked pale and drawn out. Beside her, Aun’el N’lis sat crosslegged, the honour blade spread out across his lap.
Shas’el M’yen smiled at her. “He’ll be ok. He just needs some time to recover.” She toyed with the end of her dark braid. “His fever finally broke early this morning.”
“See, M’yen?” Shas’el Nai’sha came over, a lilting, teasing note in her voice that did not completely disguise her worry. “It’s ok now.” She put an arm around the junior Shas’el’s small shoulders.
“So you should get some sleep.” Shas’el Nai’sha said with a smile, looking pointedly at both Shas’el M’yen and Kor’sa.
“Shas’el?” Aun’el N’lis spoke as Kor’sa turned to leave. She paused.
“Y-yes Aun?” Shas’el M’yen stammered, looking worried.
“Thank you for taking care of him. He needs it sometimes.” The Aun sighed and brushed Shas’vre Cal’yon’s hair back from his pale face. “He is not the toughest one of us, but he tries so very much. Thank you.”
The Shas’el merely blinked. “Y-yes Aun.” The Shas’els turned and left with a bow.
“Aun?” Kor’sa asked quietly.
“He is trouble, isn’t he?” She smiled briefly.
“Yes, yes he is. But at least he is well-meaning trouble.” Aun’el N’lis smiled slightly. “You are dismissed, Shas’ui.” His tone made it less an order and more a kind dismissal; she could go knowing her bondmate and squadmate was in good hands.
“Thank you.” She bowed and left. ’Well-meaning trouble, indeed,’she thought with a smile. Yep, that’s Cal’yon alright. Wouldn’t know trouble if it bit him on the behind, but always seems to find it or make it anyway. She shook her head. Time to wash away the mud from that last encounter.
"Well Meaning Trouble"
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