‘Tell me how. I want to know it all, from the beginning. How are the Eldar responsible for creating the biggest threat our Imperium has ever faced?’
‘Very well, Chaplain, but I must warn you. It is likely that most of what I reveal may be beyond your understanding. You may deem many of the facts heretical, and so be unwilling to hear them. Still, you wish to learn the whole truth. So be it, Astarte. Here it is.
The Tau were…an experiment. They were created as a weapon.’
‘By the Eldar?’
‘By the Eldar, yes. A weapon against Chaos, the Great Enemy. A last, great hope. You see, we may have been fighting the forces of the Ruinous Powers for many thousands of years, but the Eldar? They have been fighting the war much, much longer. They hold a great racial shame, Codian, a shame they may never overcome. A shame that eclipses all others, even that of the traitor Horus and his damned followers.’
Codian felt his soul churn at the very mention of the traitor Primarch’s name, and Kryptman saw this.
‘Ah yes. As an Astarte, the hatred you feel burning in your breast at the very mention of that most foul name is nonetheless but a dim, stuttering fraction of the palpable hatred that all Eldar feel, every single moment of their lives. The memory of what they caused is ingrained upon their souls. It is their curse, their eternal burden.’
‘Why, Inquisitor? What did they do that was so terrible?’
‘They destroyed themselves, Codian. They gave birth to something so utterly horrific that its delivery eclipsed their homeworlds, effectively destroying the Eldar empire. They condemned themselves to a lingering, inescapable death. The Eldar race has been gasping its dying breaths since before we even took to the stars.’
‘Gave birth to what, Kryptman?’
‘To answer that, look to the Eye. The largest ever warp-realspace breach. We both know that the Eldar are a highly potent race with regards to psychic ability. The decadence of the ancestral Eldar created a schism so powerful that it tore a hole in the universe, Chaplain. Its birth swallowed their homeworlds and created the Ocularis Terribus, the Eye of Terror. The Eldar, in essence, gave birth to a facet of Chaos itself, and in doing so they condemned their entire race. Little wonder then that, at some point, they would conspire to atone for their sins. How little they had learned.’
Codian shook his head slowly and fell still, his glowing eyes burning in Kryptman’s direction.
‘You claim that the Eldar created the Eye? Do you realise how monumentally absurd such a claim sounds?’
‘Of course I do. That aside, does it really surprise you to learn such a thing? Chaos was abroad long before it almost tore apart our Imperium during the Heresy, Chaplain. There were races and creatures that warred for supremacy amongst these stars long before the human race even existed. Our race is young, Codian, younger than most.’
‘Back to the Eldar and the Tau.’ Codian said, stepping closer to the glowing dais. ‘What of their connection?’
‘I am already explaining that to you, Chaplain. You see, the Eldar are driven by this shame to seek a way of ending the threat of Chaos for all time. However, their biggest failing, like that of all the other enemies of Chaos, is their very self. The vulnerability of the body and soul. The Eldar, it seems, are a perfect effort, at the pinnacle of their development. They are immune to genetic change, unable to evolve. This is why they so stringently expose themselves to such rigorous meditations and disciplines. Like an immune system unable to evolve in order to counter a deadly virus, the Eldar’s tenuous existence teeters in the face of Chaos. They simply have no hope of countering it. That is their one great flaw, Codian. They were designed to withstand evolution’s progress. They are genetically locked.’
Codian issued a long, audible sigh and looked away, frustration clawing at him.
‘You asked for the truth, Chaplain.’
‘The Eldar were ‘designed’? What do you mean by that, Inquisitor?’
‘Designed, as we all were. Open your eyes, Codian. The clues to our origins have been among us since the dawn of our existence.’
‘You are raving!’ Codian shouted, brandishing his fist. ‘You have lost your mind, Kryptman. I will hear no more of this idiocy!’
At that the Chaplain swept around and marched toward the chamber door, shouldering past the towering Praetorians.
‘So be it.’ Kryptman called after him, his broadcast voice reverberating around the dusty space. ‘Run from the truth, Chaplain. But be warned, you were the one who demanded answers. I knew that you would be unable to accept the truth, and yet I revealed it to you nonetheless. Before you leave, let me ask you but one question.’
Codian slowed at the doorway, one hand finding the frame. He turned his head slightly.
‘Speak, and then be done.’ He growled.
‘Were we the first?’ Came the reply.
‘What manner of question is that? The first?’
‘The first, Chaplain. The primal race. You know that we were not. You know that there were other creatures abroad amongst these stars long before the human race even existed. They were the creators, the primogenitors. The fathers of the ancient Eldar, the fathers of us all.’
Codian’s imposing form froze in the light of the doorway.
The single word echoed through the chamber, low and quiet and filled with menace.
‘Your disbelief be damned, Chaplain. It doesn’t matter how hard it is for you to accept. You, like all of us, are a creation. Whether through purpose or accident, it matters not. Life and sentience, they are no accident, no simple culmination of random astronomical events.’
The Chaplain pivoted sharply and the air within the chamber thundered. Several bright flashes strobed across the walls and the gathered xenoarcana as his bolt pistol roared, sending a hail of bolt shots out into the glowing field.
Shimmering ripples spread across the iridescent wall as the bolts exploded, plumes of fire bursting at the demise of each projectile.
Kryptman raised a hand and the guardian servitors came alive, shuddering as they activated. Each one stomped forward and surrounded the Chaplain, so swiftly and suddenly that he had no time to react. Within seconds he was fast, his pistol torn from his grasp. Steel claws wrapped around his arms, holding him rigid. Try as he might, he could not break free.
‘You will hear the truth, damn you!’ Kryptman shouted, his voice filling the chamber, so loud it caused the brass-ringed speakers to crackle and shudder.
‘Know your place in the greater scheme of things, Astarte. Step down from your pedestal and accept your status. We are children, all of us. Mere children struggling to emulate the greatness of those whose footsteps we follow across the stars. Wars were fought for this galaxy long before we existed. Powerful, ancient races waged those apocalyptic wars, races that were so powerful they could have eclipsed our Imperium without thought.
‘You yourself must have seen their legacy on hundreds of worlds across the Imperium, stood beneath their ancient monoliths and pondered upon the archaic technologies they left behind. Cadia, the Sentinel Worlds, Naogeddon. Arthas Moloch. These worlds and hundreds more hold the clues to their legacy.’
Codian did not answer. His rage was clear, his glowing eyes burning into Kryptman. The ancient Eldar, in their boundless arrogance, attempted to emulate their creators. Their all-consuming hatred of Chaos drove them on to do so. So it was that they discovered one of these legacies on a world close to the Eastern Fringe, one of the last surviving worlds of their creators, the First or Old Ones.
‘On the world of Arthas Moloch they uncovered an ancient gene-temple of the Old Ones, and beyond that, traces of their final efforts, a small system, a ‘stellar nursery’, if you will. It was here that they discovered the final legacy of their long-lost creators. Every lifeform within the infant system was unique in that, biologically, they were resistant to the insidious corruption of Chaos. It was there that they found the Tau, their last great hope. Their weapon against the Great Enemy. Am I right in assuming I have your full, undivided attention now?’
Again, Codian remained silent, though he seemed to have ceased struggling.
‘I will take your silence as a positive response. I know how hard it is for your kind to accept change, Chaplain, to strive to learn beyond the confines of your dogma. The Tau are change given flesh. They were designed to adapt, to learn and advance.
Using the ancient technology they discovered, the Eldar bio-engineered the ultimate creature. They trawled the lifepool of this galaxy in search of the most powerful genetic traits and they stole them in order to create a ‘super race’.
‘From the Ork they took the ability of racial memory and genetic malleability. From the Q’orl, the power of hierarchical pheromone control, racial unity and caste mentality. The Kroot provided evolutionary control and manipulation and the Jokaero, the ability to construct and design unconsciously any aspect of technology needed to counter or solve any given situation.
‘Even we were harvested, Codian. They took from us our sense of inquisitiveness, our thirst for conquest and exploration, our need to expand. So many traits were stolen and it would take an age to list them all. The Eldar reaped their genetic harvest and forged it into the Tau, instilling their own ingrained hatred of the forces of Chaos. Then they conjured up a great and powerful tempest around the system in order to isolate their progeny and preserve them, to allow them to grow. And so the Tau were born.’
Kryptman nodded and the Praetorians released the Chaplain before stepping back into the shadows in silence. Codian stooped low to retrieve his pistol, hesitated for a lingering moment, and then placed it back in its holster.
‘So the Tau are the ultimate creation then? As interesting as all this is, it fails to answer one fundamental question.’
‘What happened?’ Kryptman answered, speaking each word slowly and purposely. Beyond the field, his eyes widened.
‘Why did they go so wrong? In short, no one knows the answer, not even the Eldar. All we do know is that, sometime during the Tau’s growth, something happened to them. They encountered a foe or obstacle so utterly inimitable to them that it caused a great and unforeseen schism. Some Eldar suspect the Tyranids were to blame, that perhaps the complex Tau genepool was compromised, mutated by Tryanid influence. Others claim that the emergence of the ancient Necrontyr triggered some inherent factor within the Tau, a product of their legacy. We just don’t know.
What we do know is that this event initiated an acceleration within each and every Tau. It effectively kick-started an evolutionary boost that continues to this day. You see, the Tau were not the perfect creation they were supposed to be, Chaplain. They are flawed, and that flaw is why we are where we are today.
‘Imagine it. Every one of the traits implanted into the species has been magnified beyond imagination. They are the masters of their own biology and are able to gain any knowledge they need in order to prosper, able to change both physically and mentally in order to deal with any situation. They exist to bring an end to Chaos, an urge so strong that they conquer and enslave and consume for one purpose, and that is to build an army capable of destroying Chaos. They learn from every conflict and adapt to every situation that arises without exception, all the while driven ever onwards by a will to dominate and succeed that mirrors our own. They cannot stop, Codian. They cannot yield. They were designed to win.’
‘So how do we beat them?’
‘We open their eyes.’
With that, Kryptman manipulated something set into the armrest of his chair and a small hololithic projection shimmered into being before him. Codian immediately recognised the figure it portrayed. It was the Tau ambassador they had captured on Vanphilos. He looked to be held in a small cell, and Codian guessed that it was one of the many onboard the Proscriptus.
‘Our captive.’ Kryptman confirmed. ‘He may yet hold the key to the downfall of the Unity.’
‘O’Shovah. The legendary rebel of the Tau. O’Shovah’s rebellion is proof that the Tau are able to break this cycle of conquest. O’Shovah’s expedition found the world of Arthas Moloch and they encountered the eternal guardians that the Eldar had left to stand sentinel there. It was there that he discovered the truth behind his origins, and it was also there that he discovered the true extent of the treachery of the Ethereal caste. When the Aun leading the expedition was killed, the all-consuming control was broken. He and his followers were free.’
The Inquisitor gestured towards the projection.
‘It is our hope, Chaplain, that we can somehow find a way to counter the Ethereals’ control. Your brother Laenar and myself think that we have found the key to do just that. If we are able to permanently divorce a Tau from his genetically-induced enslavement, we may be able to win this war.’
‘I see. And if you cannot achieve this?’
‘Then we will use the Caesus.’ Kryptman answered, his voice growing cold. ‘And we will see a war that will eclipse the stars.’
Unsurprisingly, Codian found himself utterly without a response.
‘Then we had better pray your plan works.’ He finally managed to answer.