Audio Version by A Vox in the Void
It is the forty-first millennium. Lately, the Imperium of Man has seen its dominion over the stars be challenged far to the galactic east in Segmentum Ultima. An upstart Xenos species known as the Tau have risen quickly in but few millennia from prehistoric barbarity to undreamed of heights of technological supremacy and scientific mastery. In many ways, the young Tau Empire mirrors the early stages of Humanity's own Dark Age of Technology, with their deep understanding and grasp of the material arts, their strong optimism and drive to expand, and their growing reliance on Abominable Intelligence.
The Tau Empire is positioned far, far away from Holy Terra, and their Warp travel is still only rudimentary and incapable of long-distance voyages, confined to skimming the surface layers of the Empyrean as opposed to diving deep through the mystic hellscape as Imperial vessels routinely do. By a pure chance of astrogeography, the Tau realm is situated amidst a tight cluster of stars, enabling a rapid regional expansion and colonization even at such an early stage of their Warp-breaking starship development. In short order, the energetic Tau have settled numerous worlds and incorporated a range of sentient species as vassals of the Greater Good.
Tau cultural subversion and commercial influence in Imperial systems on the Eastern Fringe has grown steadily worse in but a few centuries of contact with Human colonies. For the first time in unknown eons, the hope for a brighter and better future has been sparked among Human worlds, and vast swathes of planetary populations on the Eastern Fringe now look to an Xenos intruder to save them from the crushing tyranny of the Imperium. Resistance movements, underground propaganda cells, Xenophile smuggler rings, passive insurgency groups and terrorist cadres have formed on dozens of Imperial worlds, thereby threatening sacred Terran dominance and importing the goods and ideology of the aggressively expanding Tau Empire to Human colonies.
Naturally, Imperial response to these brewing rebellions have been brutal, resulting in scenes of mass murder, auto-da-fés of public torture displays, the filling of labour camps with prisoners on starvation rations, and much more besides. For the most part, these stark methods have been counter-productive, since they stand as cruel reminders of what the Imperium has in store for its subjects, thereby rendering the Tau Empire into an all the more appealing alternative for many by contrast. Populations have been split into hostile camps of Imperial loyalists and Tauisers, and brother has turned upon brother while sister detest sister with vehemence. Neighbours have come to shun each other, and teach their children to hate the opposite side, and thus a painful rift of strife and kinslaying has been rent open on worlds sworn to obey the God-Emperor alone.
During the Third Sphere Expansion in 997-999.M41, Tau forces overran multiple Imperial systems in a brilliant dash of high mobility, combined arms warfare and superior usage of sophisticated technology (especially plasma weaponry and markerlight targeting systems). As the conquering hosts of the Greater Good fought their way across Imperial planets, a mass fury of societal struggle engulfed the beleaguered Human colonies. Loyalists and Xenophiles struck each other without mercy in the towns, cities and even villages, settling old scores in an orgy of arsony, street battles, torture, massacres and outrage. As one side gained the upper hand in a settlement, the victors would muster a haphazardly equipped militia and march on neighbouring settlements, falling upon hostile kinsfolk in a murderous frenzy amidst the full confusion of civil war.
Bloodlust and hatred gripped the Human populace of many Imperial worlds, and Planetary Defence Forces as well as offworlder Imperial armies shipped in to defend His Divine Majesty's frontier domains executed large numbers of deserters, spies and suspected traitors on the flimsiest of pretexts. Examples were made of shirkers and suspects to strike fear into the hearts of soldiers and keep any doubters in line, and thus a state of terror rattled the Imperial military and civilian society alike.
While the Human infighting aided Tau conquest of many worlds, the Tau Fire Caste and its commanders in the field did not appreciate the havoc unleashed by these future members of the Greater Good. The ingrained Tau sense of supreme order and harmony was deeply disturbed by such wanton displays of Human mass kinslaying and savagery, and moreover military operations against Imperial defense formations were often disturbed by the unpredictable course of raging civil war. Still, the local interruptions to the short-lived burst of Third Sphere Expansion were usually dealt with quickly by the overwhelming firepower and excellent coordination of forces which the Fire Warriors and Air Caste pilots always strove to bring into combat.
One of the many harrowing sights which met advancing teams of Fire Warriors in burning Imperial city streets, were the thousands upon thousands of hanged Imperial soldiers, dangling lifeless from street lumens, gargoyles and rafters; hanged with rope, wire and cables. Yet again, the optimistic Tau upstarts were confronted with a glimpse of the sheer unrelenting horror reigning over mortals of the Milky Way galaxy from end to end: For the pious servants of the Divine Emperor on Terra are utterly blind to reason and deaf to mercy.
And they will stop at nothing to slaughter the alien, the heretic and the traitor. They will spare no one, and they will kill their own kin to keep the rest in line. Such is the ruthlessness that lurks in the heart of our species, a cruelty set to devour the Human soul in an age of terror. In an epoch without compassion. In a time without hope.
For in the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.
- - -
Yet another tribute to the highly atmospheric video game Warhammer 40'000: Fire Warrior (2003). Strong in its narrative simplicity, this game showcased the dark future of the 41st millenium brilliantly by having the protagonist be a Tau. This optimistic and technologically advanced upstart species contrasted with the dark, regressed, cruel and fanatic Imperium of Man in a fantastic way. The dive into dark horror continued to yet more hellish depths as the Fire Warrior Kais encountered Chaos, an otherworldly force twisted beyond sanity... The atmosphere of Fire Warrior was nigh perfect, supported by good sound effects and evocative music. And gorgeous voice acting.
Yep, it's based on late WW2 German and Soviet hangings of suspected traitors. Gruesome stuff. In the Soviet example, they would publicly hang several people at once, film it and show on cinemas all across the country.
Well, tau just dont understand the reality of Warhammer universe. They were sheltered in their part of space by their own low-range warp-drives and by Imperium who basically was "around" them but far enough to not bother them.
Fighting on several fronts like humanity does, being a "prized target" for four Chaos Gods who seem to just love to throw wrench after wrench at humanity, to face a largest civil war in the Galaxy... Its just a LOT. Lot more then one crusade that was recalled because of Hivelfeet Behemoth invasion and some sporadic back and forths with local Imperial forces.
And when they faced some offshoot of Deathguard traitors they basically crapped their pants and some Tau captains literally went mad even before demons started eating their brains with rusty spoons from sheer fucked-up-effect of what Chaos actually IS.
As for Imperium... it may seem weird but i think it may be getting a biiit better. Or at least not as keen on shooting itself in the kneecaps. Perhaps it also correlates with what Emperor says in recent books - Chaos gods just pushed too far. Basically not just putting humanity on a brink but pushing it over. Upsetting the balance so utterly with their fuckery (rest in peace Cadia) that now it swings back. With Guilliman, with Emperor himself (he really acts a lot recently, like, actually ACTS.) with humans either finding some measure of "common sense or death" or with humans getting desperate enough to act up and claw, bite and fight desperately to survive...
Basically if left alone Imperium rots, it stagnates endlessly. When poked, provoked, beaten - it still slumbers, mostly, swinging clumsily at the irritation. But when it is plunged into a death spiral, sped up and "helped" down the road then human's vicious nature turns for a moment to their advantage.
Not to mention that vision of the Emperor gave Mortarion creeps all over his rotten ass and he genuinely asked Guilliman if he wouldnt join Nurgle because plague at least bad but not AS bad as whatever Emps looks like when he goes full "god mode" and starts switching personalities endlessly as his shards combine.
Thank you most kindly! Based on Soviet and National Socialist German practices against their own in the Second World War. In the Soviet case, there were mass hangings attended by crowds, where suspected traitors was stood upon flakbeds of trucks and then hanged from large gallows, all filmed and distributed around the USSR. As to Germany in that same demented conflict, Ferdinand Schörner stands out. Bonkers stuff, and 40k draws upon the most depraved aspects of human history, so it's a fit!
Oooh, I'd love to see the scenery you may come up with! Please share if you do, sir.
This one is based on WW2 Soviet public hangings of percieved traitors to the Motherland (filmed and shown in cinemas all across the USSR) and WW2 National Socialist German hangings of percieved traitors to the Fatherland. So inspired by the historical originals and not the fictive derivative in this case.
I wish we saw more of this stuff from the Imperium nowadays. I feel like Games Workshop is trying to hard to make the Imperium the good guys, especially how it's supposed to see billions of casualities as an acceptable loss yet every named character cares about human life and is pretty decent all things considered.
That is very much part of 40k's charm: The Imperium may have doomed mankind in the long term with its inept regression, yet it is also the sole strong shield of humanity, its only guardian. Yet it also became so by obliterating all alternatives during the Great Crusade.
Likewise the Emperor is mankind's saviour and greatest hope, yet He is also a power-hungry mass murderer. There must always be ambivalence and room for doubt. 40k does nuance better and more meaningfully than most other settings.
Indeed! All of 40k is about making the evil empire the protagonist, in a galaxy full with horrors. The concept is brilliant, and becomes even better when contrasted with contemporary Tau or the Humans'own ancestors in the Dark Age of Technology. An endless source of inspiration.
If the tau survive, which is unlikely, the galaxy will slowly turn them into something similar
GW have always been good at crafting settings of ambiguity that invites to discussion and varied interpretations. The Tau are clearly meant to be young, naïve upstarts. Aggressively expanding, shady, mindcontrolling newcomers, but still soft and well meaning compared to the larger forces of the galaxy. They are also clearly meant to go through massive trauma that will turn them bitter and hateful in the long term, e.g. mirroring mankind's growing dependence on A.I during the Dark Age of Technology (might lead to a machine revolt in the distant future) and becoming suspicious of other sentient species during their psychic awakening encounter.
However, the Imperium of Man have always been meant to be this horrible, unnecessarily evil and counter-productively tyrannical empire. Not a necessary evil, but a dead end, a regressive trap for mankind's development, a stagnated colossus on feet of clay, a mass-murdering behemoth blinded by fanaticism, madness, stupidity, senility, confusion and infighting.
After all, it wouldn't be the darkest of futures, if the Imperium was the best alternative for humanity (there are no good alternatives, not Tau, not Imperial) and if all the suffering was toward a greater end. Instead, it is much more grimdark if all the suffering, misery and slaughter is mostly for nothing, just an ongoing orgy of hardship and bloodshed without end and without reason.
GW's stroke of genius was making us view the 40k galaxy through the evil empire's demented propaganda lense. It is very satirical and heavily laced with irony and dark humour. A bonkers comedy wrapped in a tragedy.
For a more thorough explanation, please read the description for this drawing:
God jul! Merry Christmas!
Still xenocidal, still a brutal totalitarian feudal dictatorship, but stripped of much of the bullshit and without all the accumulated regression in all institutions.
Its clear that while the great crusade imperium was decidedly not the worst place to live in it was still a regulated and strict life