Today, I’m continuing my look at the Dark Coil series of interrelated stories by Peter Fehevari. The first part of this can be read here, and I talk about his excellent Cult of the Spiral Dawn here. Without further ado, let’s get to it!
Out Caste is one of the micro-short stories that the Black Library put out for their advent calendars. It is a meditation by the Pathfinder J’kaara as she muses on former battles and, in particular, how she gained the scar down her face plate, ultimately taking on a new name, Jhi’kaara. She’s a character who recurs throughout a couple more of the Dark Coil stories, so it’s a nice bit of background for her.
The main event this time around is The Greater Evil. I’d been looking forward to reading this one for quite some time now, mainly because the “cover” had got me really excited. It’s difficult to talk about this story without giving too much away, but let’s try anyway! The story starts with the rediscovery of a Water Caste ambassador Fai’sahl who was thought to be lost, so a delegation is sent to the Yuxa system to extract him and check on his progress. He tells the Tau forces that he has succeeded in bringing the Greater Good to the region, though the Ethereal Kyuhai, a different type of Ethereal called a Seeker, decides that the delegation will be led by another Water Caste official, Adibh. Something is evidently not quite right. We also see the action through Voyle, one of the gue’vesa auxiliaries who has embraced Unity but is hearing strange voices in his sleep. Arriving at the skyhive in orbit above Scitalyss, they are met with Fai’sahl who speaks in raptures of his success, and is keen to lead the delegation to the leaders of the hive, although to do so they will need to pass through rebel districts. Things quickly disintegrate as it becomes clear that they have been led into an ambush – though what is exactly ambushing them? And what is the link between Voyle, the ambushers, and a previous mission when Voyle was part of the Imperial Guard?
I mean, I just can’t praise this short story enough. It’s a little longer than the usual shorts, though I’m not sure if it’s comparable with Fehevari’s Fire and Ice novella that I talked about last time. Perhaps because it is slightly more compact, the story really packs a punch. I must admit that I was initially getting confused by the various Tau honorifics, and a lot of characters have similar-ish names, which lost me occasionally, but I’m thinking that I might well read this again soon, where that side of things might not be too much of an issue. There are all the hallmarks of classic Fehevari in this story though, all wrapped up in that wonderfully pervasive sense of wrongness that he manages to write so well. While it’s a Tau story, I think the atmosphere of the decaying skyhive is captured beautifully, giving us more of an Imperium feel than the clean lines of the usual Tau stories. Of course, the Tau are centre-stage, and while the main characters might be Water Caste, we have the awesome set piece action scene of a Crisis battlesuit really going for it near the end, which is really quite stunning, and I suppose it’s how the unit should behave in combat.
I think this story is what has pushed me over the edge into building a Tau army once more, though having already read quite a few stories with Tau in there, I suppose it wasn’t a huge nudge that was required! I just can’t recommend it enough, it was seriously good!
A Sanctuary of Wyrms is a great little story set on the tainted jungle world of Phaedra. It is the memoir of Asharil, a member of the Water Caste who has come to the planet despite its reputation among the Tau for being something of a dumping ground, instead thinking it would be the perfect place from which to study humanity. Her superior assigns her to a deputation accompanying a cartographer, along with a Fire Warrior and her team of human auxiliaries. The Fire Warrior is none other than Jhi’kaara from Out Caste. They come across an Imperial bunker on an island deep in the jungle, an island seemingly infested in sentient trees – the “sanctuary of wyrms”. Burning these trees to the ground, one of the humans is stung by a dying sapling and dies. The bunker, which bears the seal of the Inquisition, is broken into and inside the Tau find horribly mutated creatures, along with a dead Magos Biologis and eight dead space marines from the Deathwatch. It all goes horribly wrong when the cartographer decides to take a closer look at a spore bomb deep in the heart of the bunker, though.
It was a really good little tale, I have to say – there is a wonderful sense of atmosphere created throughout the story as the team walks through the jungle, and especially as they explore the bunker. The ending, when the spore bomb explodes, is kinda shocking in a way, as the story seems to have built up quite slowly, until everything just explodes into action and it all goes to hell. I thought it was really interesting to see the relationship develop between Asharil and Jhi’kaara the Fire Warrior, as the water and fire castes managed to get along to some degree –following the mutual understanding that their strengths lie in different areas.
Three very Tau-centric stories, the latter two of which are real stand-outs, in my opinion. The Greater Evil might be the single most impressive story that I have read so far, though A Sanctuary of Wyrms is also pretty damn impressive, too. These two are really great examples of what the Dark Coil seems to be about, I suppose – especially with their sense of wrongness, their coil and spiral imagery, and the way the elements of the 40k universe are intertwined to create some truly wonderful tales. It just seems to get better and better!
Next, I’ll be reading Fehevari’s debut novel for the Black Library, Fire Caste, so stay tuned for that!