I started seeing red after I lost my eye. Not because of the bionic but because of my hatred for the Tau and their traitors. To be a worshiper of Chaos, to switch one’s belief to a new god, that’s one thing, but the Tau are not gods and their traitors desert on ideological basis instead of religious grounds. These people are not zealous fanatics, but principled manipulators and dogmatic activists who will force the so-called “Greater Good” onto an unsuspecting population.
Often this will be more the fault of a lazy Administorium official who has forgotten about a population and left them disillusioned with the Imperium, or perhaps a corrupt planetary governor who has taken much for himself and left his flock to starve. The angry mob, mistakenly seeing their immediate government as representative of Imperial rule, turn their back on us and graciously accept the Tau as their new masters.
Race-traitor Sirius Wellend was one of the greatest convertors, a skilled orator who had been personally recruited by the Tau water caste and trained in their vile brand of negotiations and manipulation. For the seven years I hunted him, I knew him to be a despicable betrayer, but it was not till I lost half my face that the injury came home.
The Pale Bridge, by Inquisitor Lucifer Thade
The Valkyrie assault carriers flew in low towards the battlefield, just a scene of flashing lights and low smoke clouds at that distance. Two armies wedged into a wide canyon of red cliffs and stunted trees with little in the way of cover except for a besieged city at the opposite end. The place was a shooting gallery as the exposed Imperial troops advanced, their tanks turning into wrecked husks as the high-velocity shells tore through them. Tallarn guardsmen were cut down a dozen at a time in the blinding flashes of pulse rounds.
“Two minutes!” the pilot shouted over the comm.
Despite the carnage ahead of them, Thade smiled. He knew they were close, could feel the muscles in his chest tightening and flexing. He slowed his breathing, trying to calm his excitement, but it wasn’t helping. Seven years! Over half a decade he had hunted Wellend, or Sirius the Proud as he had become known. And now he was closing in on the traitor. Thade could feel it.
Sirius Wellend was no heretic: Thade knew this, had even written about it. A heresy was about belief or religion, a change of faith. It was something the inquisitor was more than happy to punish, had in fact made it his life’s work to seek out and destroy. But Wellend was no heretic. The man believed in the God-Emperor and the Golden Throne, but he believed that humanity should adhere to the Tau’s philosophy of the Greater Good. He believed that worship of the former could coincide with the latter, was willing to kill and send others to die for it in fact.
Today Wellend would die for his convictions, Thade vowed.
He could see the battle proper now. The Imperial troops were entering the first outskirts of the city, a partial V of Leman Russ tanks leading the vanguard. Tau Fire Warriors were falling back through the streets as Crisis Battlesuits took flight and covered the retreat from the air, blasting at the Imperials with rapid cannon fire. And there, caught in the middle, were the Tau’s human auxiliaries, conscripts recruited to fight and die for the alien Greater Good. Thade licked his lips. That’s where he’d find Welland, the proud bastard leading his own kind to their deaths.
The Valkyrie touched down and they disembarked into the red dust: Thade with his small entourage plus a squad of Tallarn veterans. The inquisitor checked his las carbine and waved the team forward.
He felt slow. Most of his work was of a subtler nature: long research hours, conspiratorial meetings, undercover urgings. But this was different; they were entering a full-scale battlezone and he was dressed accordingly in red and gold inquisitorial carapace armour. One doesn’t enter a warzone clothed in nothing but a coat and a prayer.
Entering the city, the imperial advance had slowed to a crawl. Tau forces had fallen back, but the human auxiliaries had gone to ground, springing ambushes and pinning guardsmen with sniper fire. Thade’s team was moving in the wake of the main force but they stayed cautious, ready for a surprise attack.
At least they thought they were ready.
A Tallarn shoved Thade to the dirt as pulse fire cut into the squad. Human auxiliaries were shooting from the upper windows across the street. Thade rolled into cover as his squad began to return fire, las rounds filling the air in front of them. Next to the inquisitor, Squaris, an inquisitorial sanctioned psyker he had requisitioned, lifted his staff and sent arcing bolts of lightning through the air. The squad’s weapon specialist lined up his launcher and whooped out grenades. The opposite building’s facade came down as the frag munitions exploded off the front.
The Imperial fire slackened off: the auxiliaries had gone quiet. “Stand ready,” the Tallarn sergeant called out. “They’ll be back.”
Thade peeped out from his cover. Everything seemed still. He could hear the sounds of battle, muffled by distance and the surrounding buildings, but there was nothing of the sort on their street.
Squaris grabbed his arm, pulling him back into cover and spinning him around. “Sir, they’re coming, I can sense them!”
The inquisitor looked through the inner shadows of the building behind them. One of them shifted.
“Ambush!” It was all he could shout before the shadow hurled a demolition charge.
* * *
His ears were ringing. Thade opened his eyes and saw Squaris lying next to him. The psyker’s eyes were cloudy and blood was leaking from his mouth.
“Grab him,” a voice said. Thade recognized it but couldn’t place it. Then rough hands seized him and began to drag him through the rubble. He blacked out.
* * *
When Thade came to, Wellend was bent over him and leering.
“Don’t try to speak,” Wellend said. “You took a nasty fall during the blast. Even that fancy armour didn’t save you.”
Thade opened his mouth, but only spittle came out.
“Not the end you envisioned, I’m sure. A courageous individual like yourself, I bet you were hoping for a glorious sword fight. But that’s not going to happen.” He turned away. Thade’s vision was coming back. Wellend was encased in modified alien armour, carrying a pulse rifle loosely in his right hand. “You know what I like about the Tau? Their efficiency. They don’t care about glory like you or I, they won’t engage an enemy on terms just for the purpose of winning a grand story. No, their actions are measured, calculated. Whatever is best for the Greater Good.
“And don’t be mistaken, Thade, I do seek glory,” he continued, “I will be the man who brings humanity into the light. I will unite mankind in a way the Emperor never could.”
“You’re wrong...” Thade whispered.
“Am I?” Welland said, without turning.
“My armour did save me.”
He spun, Thade’s down stroke glancing off his chest-plate. The chainsword roared as Thade tried to reverse the direction, but he was still slightly dazed and made slower by his heavy armour. Wellend danced back, lazily blocking the next strike with the haft of his rifle. Dodging away from the next attack, he brought his gun up to shoulder level and fired.
Thade’s world exploded with pain. He fell to his knees, his head low and his vision turning red. No, that was the blood pouring from his face, pooling around his feet. Gritting his teeth, but without molars...they weren’t there. One eye stared at the blood, the other eye stared at the first. He was...was...
“...a tough bastard, I’ll give you that, inquisitor.” Welland stood over him, rifle aimed at the back of Thade’s head. The inquisitor could see his fallen daemon sword in front of him, the blade inching towards the blood of its master.
“Goodbye,” Welland said.
Thade threw his head back, knocking Welland’s barrel aside. The pulse rifle fired anyways, the round scorching the ground behind the inquisitor. Gnar’laxx was in his hand, and he spun around, rising to his feet. With his remaining strength behind the blow, the sword cut into Welland’s side.
Welland staggered away as Thade lost his grip on the blade. The sword stuck fast in Welland’s side. He grasped it with armoured gauntlets, but black warpflame erupted on his hands and danced up his forearms. He cried out, dark smoke now steaming from the abdomen wound.
Thade lost his balance and fell back to his knees, watching his nemesis burn.