Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tales of the Rancid Blade: Part Six: Cutting

A completely circular door with a seamless metallic white finish. A round orange device in the center of the door activated it and once activated the two semicircular halves of the door slid apart to reveal the small Nestle Chamber beyond. This was his personal space. His sanctum of reflection. Ari’Arshi had lived in this small room for over eighty years. His Tau eyes had watched as his people had continued to bring The Great Solace to the universe. Once he had felt comfort that so many had come to be welcomed by the Tau Empire and he had been a part of it. The chamber was only a dozen feet across and not much taller than himself. He needed no more room than this. The curved walls revealed an alcove for him to sleep in and his few possessions were stored in yet another smaller alcove. A light seemed to come form the center of the room as if projected from mid space.

He had recently come from the Chamber of the Ethereals. A place where they gathered to meet, plan, and reflect. The Etherials had met around a completely circular table. Each sat on his Hani mat on the floor with the low meeting table before them. Holographic projections would arrive describing various strategies and plans. Images were beamed to them from the field giving detailed information to their council. When Ari’Arshi had first returned to the council chamber after his absence some of his peers had been unquiet. He had disgraced himself in their eyes. His warriors had been butchered and many taken as captives. Yet he had found a way to escape. Many thought he should be cast down. The council had agreed to give him preference simply because he had held such prestige in the past. The chair of the council had commented that to cast down such honor, so dearly earned, because of one blemish was foolish and not for the greater good. Many had still looked at him out of the sides of their eyes. He saw them looking. He knew their hatred. He felt it in his head.

After several weeks of rehabilitation he had returned to his duties. Often as they reviewed the trade domination routes or the macro sector conflicts his mind seemed to focus on other things. His usually calm thoughts were conflicted with dark shapes and shadows. Grim faces or the tortured images of his massacred Fire Warriors seemed to arrive in his thoughts. Often he had to chant the Sava’shus in his head to expel the horrid images.

At a recent meeting the council had discussed a string of lost transport ships. The Council struggled with apparent miscommunication messages that the ships had received. The signals from the local Caste World directed the ships into unstable warp space or a gas giant and they were lost. As the Etherials had discussed how the computers could possibly have misdirected so many transport ships Ari’Arshi's mind became racked with the screams of his dead charges. He saw their flesh boiling off in horrible pits of oil. He saw parts of his old brethren sewn together with other creatures in twisted abominations. His mind seemed not his own and as he slowly chanted the Sava’shus in his head the council came to no conclusion about the reason for the lost ships.

Nights would pass and in his mind the images would return. When asleep he could not dispel them. Often it would feel as though he were looking through someone else’s eyes. He would see the grim and nightmarish things that those outside the Great Solace do. Dark passageways would confront him. Tall winding stairways ran with the dark blood of the Tau. The dreadful eldar pirates would appear in his mind, sometimes speaking to him, and other times he would see them terrorizing his captured warriors. One night he woke with a start. A dull klaxon sounded in the halls outside his chamber. As he awoke the faces and horrors retreated from his head. He later learned that somehow Eldar Raiders had been able to override the control codes on the proximity detectors of the Haf'nusu Frontier and attack local Tau Colonies. Soon in his dreams he came to see those very colonists being brutalized by the Eldar.

He relaxed on the edge of his rest alcove. His mind was tired. He had just returned from another long examination of the lost ships. Two more transports had been misdirected in the last week. No system errors had occurred. It was almost as though someone were sending the ships faulty commands. Ari’Arshi had barely been able to keep is mind on the conversation. The images were in his mind. A Dark Eldar pirate vixen queen had stood behind a kneeling Tau warrior. She had pulled his head back. Her hand firmly gripped on his top knot. The young warrior was looking up at her with his throat exposed. She slowly drew a long blade across his throat and let the arterial blood spray out. It hit her splattering wide on her stomach, chest, and chin. The sickly red splattering against her skin and dress. She grinned with blood stained teeth. Ari’Arshi felt she was looking directly at him. Her laughter haunted him.

He pulled his robe back from his leg. His grey flesh exposed. Long cut scars could be seen. They were not as the normal Tau tattoos but clumsy infected wounds. This was the only way he knew solace now. The pain he caused himself rivaled the images in his head much better than his almost forgotten chants. When the blade bit into him he felt the terrible images leave him alone. He felt that the pain satisfied them. He took a small blade from an adjacent alcove. It was a ceremonial weapon with carefully made etching and symbols. He placed it to an unharmed part of his skin and slowly drew it across his flesh. Crimson blood seemed to bubble from the new wound. He breathed out a slow sigh of relief.

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