“There is an ancient Terran myth that the secret to killing a deadly serpent is to cut off its head. That seems tactically sound. So, we shall go to Sandeep, where we have reason to believe a Tau Ethereal can be found. If we strike down their great leader, the blow to Tau morale will be profound.“—Brother-Chaplain Ortan Cassius of the Ultramarines
The Tau invasion of the agri-moon of Dar Sai has been waging for five years. In hopes of breaking the deadlock between Imperial and xeno forces, a kill team of Deathwatch veterans has been deployed.
Its mission: To seek out the senior commanders of the invaders and annihilate them—to “cut off the head of the snake.”
To that end, the Deathwatch commander, an Ultramarine chaplain named Ortan Cassius, has been focusing on the whereabouts of the most important Tau on the moon: an Ethereal called Aun’qa’dira.
It is Cassius’ hope that the death of this xeno leader will undermine the morale of Tau military forces and disrupt the strategic planning of the invading force. If captured, a far more desirable result, the Ethereal could prove a source of useful military intelligence.
For more than a year, Cassius has launched a series of raids on Tau command centers, always seeking information about the Ethereal that leads the invading force. He has learned the leader is well guarded, but the Ethereal has worried his senior military leaders with spontaneous visits to the front lines.
Such visits bolster the morale of the troops but puts the Tau leader at risk.
Thus Cassius keeps a close ear to Tau communications. Despite the high security of their transmissions, the Tau occasionally make mistakes, and it was such a mistake that allowed the Ultramarine to discern that Aun’qa’dira would visit Tau troops near the Imperial provincial city of Sandeep.
On the morning of 6 976 739.M41, Deathwatch Kill Team Cassius, with the support of a squad of Inquisition Stormtroopers, set out to remove the “head of the snake.”
Brother Chaplain Cassius
Deathwatch Veterans x 9
Inquisition Stormtrooper Sergeant
Stormtroopers x 5
Tau Ethereal on Hover Throne
Honor Guard x 2
Fire Warriors with Pulse Rifles x 8
Fire Warrios with Pulse Carbines x 4
Pathfinders with Pulse Carbines x 4
Stealth Suit with Burst Cannon
Kroot Hounds x 3
Fire Blade with Marker Light
Fire Warrior with Pulse Rifle
Fire Warrior with Ion Rifle
Using advanced stealth technology available only to the Ordo Xenos, a Corvus Blackstar carried Brother Chaplain Cassius and his Kill Team to within a kilometer of the Ethereal’s position. Through the good use of cover, the Deathwatch approached, on foot, to within 80 meters of their target before being spotted by Tau sentries.
When the first Tau pulse beam flashed through the air, one Deathwatch Veteran—a Dark Angel equipped with twin lightning claws—triggered his jetpack and flew across the desert sand to slam into a Fire Warrior and crush him beneath his armored boots.
Tau ranged fire proved shockingly accurate in the early minutes of the battle. Three Inquisition stormtroopers were shot down, despite their careful use of cover, and the Kill Team’s Librarian was taken down before he could use his psychic powers to good effect.
On one flank, a White Scar Space Marine raced across the desert astride his warbike and plowed into a group of Tau. Despite his momentum, the Astartes found the Fire Warriors a formidable foe. Rather than be run down by the warbike, the Tau flung themselves at the Deathwatch Veteran and brought him to a stop. The hand-to-hand combat that followed would stymie the Deathwatch advance for some minutes.
Unexpected casualties and strong resistance—not entirely unexpected given the Tau’s reverence for their leaders—was threatening Cassius’ mission. Behind enemy lines, the Kill Team had only minutes to seize the Ethereal—or reinforcements would arrive to swamp the tiny Imperial force.
Undaunted, the Deathwatch fought all the harder. The White Scar, his warbike unable to break through the throng of Fire Warrirors surrounding him, fought as if a man possessed, swinging his power sword as he simultaneously fired his bolt pistol at the xenos.
Although ultimately reinforced by stormtroopers on foot, the Astartes’ skill and strength were no match against the numbers of his foe. Still, while ultimately brought down by his wounds, he took a heavy toll on the Tau line, and the stormtroopers were able to break through and race to the battle-scarred building where they believed they would find the Tau leader.
Meanwhile, other Deathwatch veterans advanced merely 30 meters away, drawing intense xeno fire but shrugging off the pulse beams that darkened and melted the Ceramite shells of their power armor.
As it advanced, the Deathwatch’s constant and accurate fire began to take a heavy toll on the more lightly armored xenos, and as their casualties rose, the intensity of Tau fire decreased. This advance also distracted the Tau from a flank maneuver by a handful of Astartes working their way through the ruins of bombed-out buildings and behind Tau lines.
Although time was running out for the Deathwatch, Tau reinforcements had yet to arrive, and there was no choice but for the Ethereal to seek his escape. (He had been meeting with human collaborators in a nearby building to review plans for the Tau occupation of Sandeep once it fell.)
The xeno leader fled with his bodyguard, the last of his Fire Warrior escorts attempting to form a semi-circle around him and slow down the Imperial attack.
It was not to be. As he sought to escape the closing trap, a Blood Angel soared down from a nearby building on his jetpack. Landing amidst the Tau bodyguards, he cut one in half with his chainsword and engulfed the other with burning promethium from his flamer.
The startled Fire Warriors would have given their lives without a second thought, but the Deathwatch Veteran grabbed the Ethereal and put his power sword to its neck. The message was clear: Surrender or see their leader killed.
To prevent unnecessary deaths, the Ethereal raised a hand and signaled his Fire Warriors to drop their weapons. The fight was over. Kill Team Cassius had been successful yet again.
TheGM: With the capture of the Ethereal, the entire Tau invasion force on Dar Sai has suffered a severe blow to its morale. All Tau offensive operations on the agri-moon have temporarily ceased, as the xeno military commander, known as Swiftstrike, focuses on helping his Fire Warriors come to terms with their grievous loss.
The Kill Team’s successful mission does not mean the end of the war. Horror and doubt among the Tau will be replaced with outrage, and it is possible that they will redouble their efforts to punish the Imperials.
Still, the result of this Shorehammer convention game—the final one to be chronicled—is that the Imperial defenders of Dar Sai have a short respite to regroup and refresh their troops.
Of course, it is imperative that a new Ethereal be brought to Dar Sai to oversee military operations. So, we can logically assume an attempt by the Tau Navy to break the Imperial blockade over Dar Sai. I think a Battlefield Gothic battle will soon follow!
The Corvus Cluster is a Warhammer 40K blog documenting our gaming adventures in the fantastical sci-fi universe of Games Workship.