The north had been lost. He had known the tau attack was coming, and he had positioned his forces accordingly. He had the support of four companies of astartes. In the far north his imperial guard units had been supported by the Mantis Warriors, and in the city of Hammerton the Red Angels, Blood Angels and Blood Martyrs had come together to defend the city. Further south Denham had ordered a push north by his Librian units, to link up with the imperial forces in Hammerton. The plan had been sound, and his forces sufficient, so he thought, to turn the tide against the alien invaders and start winning the war.
Now, just a week later, North Vale and North Landing had been lost, and his army in Hammerton destroyed, its guardsman killed or captured, and the equipment lost. The Corellians and Librians further south had barely managed to get across the Jute Strait with the tau snapping at their heels. Further west, the enemy had been stopped at Weybridge crossing, but now the tau had a bridgehead on Wendrick, just a few hundred kilometres from the capital itself. How had it gone so wrong?
Commander Shadowstrike had been instrumental in the planning of operation Ulysses, the plan to rid the northern continent of imperial forces, and begin the next phase of the conquest of the imperial agri-world. Shadowstrike was keen to break the imperial armies, and the operation focussed on the seige of Hammerton. Shadowstrike was well aware that the imperium would try to defend the city, forcing the tau to accept a war of attrition in the streets of the settlement, probably intending to use their genetically engineered elite forces to massacre the tau in the streets. Commanders Windgather and Whitefire were summoned to add their forces to the attack on Hammerton and Shadowstrike devised an assault to cancel out their enemies' superiority in city fighting.
Rather than expend lives attacking the city walls Shadowstrike instead opted to bypass them completely as suits and grav tanks were deployed by mantas directly into the city after bombarding the walls, driving the defenders back into shelter of the city. In the run up to the attack the area around Hammerton was covered by heavy snow and blizzards. This time ground forces are accompanied by sky rays (although deployed in very limited numbers) to guard against air attack, however on d-day snow was fairly light and barracudas are able to fly.
The imperial forces in Hammerton now unleashed their astarted forces, believing the Tau's position in the city to still be tenuous. Space Marines of the Blood Angels and Dark Angels chapter launched an immediate all out counter attack but found themselves caught in deadly crossfire. For the first time the imperial forces on Tyranteous faced the deployment of multiple XV104 'Riptide' battlesuits, the first major deployment of such suits within the Aleph subsector. The effect was devastating, as the suits, backed up by the smaller 'crisis' variants and broadsides, prove to be highly effective in the dense city terrain, and everywhere the counter attacking imperial forces find themselves lit up by markerlights, targetted by missiles from unseen enemies and ambushed as suits and grav tanks appear from behind buildings and on roofs. Light skimmers strike from the maze of alleyways, and despite a spiritied attack from the Blood Martyrs on the right flank, the imperial forces suffer massive casualties.
As the fighting wore on into the second day, the survivors of the Dark Angels and Blood Angels are forced to quit the city, while all counter attackers are slaughtered or forced to pull back. Only a few indomitable space marines make it to the Tau lines and bitter back and forth fighting erupts around strategically important buildings. Left isolated, they are eventually surrounded and gunned down. The battle ended as tau forces moved in on central cathedral with Shadowstrike himself jetting up the approach, flanked by his personal bodyguard and surrounded by multiple Riptides. A few marines of the Red Angels fought bravely on to the last, but Hammerton was lost, well before the imperial attack from the south got anywhere near their objectives.
The southern thrust soon found itself in difficulty, ambushed on all sides in the rolling terrain of North Landing, and taken apart from the sky by barracudas. The retreat began, while in the far north, another battle was taking place.
Shadowstrike had been content to leave the imperial forces bottled up in the north, but the tau received an unexpected offer of aid from the eldar. If the tau agreed to assault Denham's forces in North Vale, the eldar would assist, so long as the tau would not get in the way of their own mission. Shadowstrike accepted the offer as it allowed him to secure his flanks with a relatively low commitment of troops.
The imperium had gathered a large force in the north, comprising of local PDF units, a praetorian regiment, units of the 405th Orbital defence force, supported by a strike force from the Mantis Warriors chapter. They had been planning their own advance on the orders of Lord General Denham, and initially they made good progress, finding tau resistance weak. As usual the tau were only to willing to sacrifice land of low strategic importance for time, and this they did with skill, harrying the attackers but allowing them to advance, spread out, and fall into the carefully prepared eldar trap.
The imperial forces met the allied eldar/tau force in a wide valley in the northern continent. Here they found themselves confronted by a large force and immediately dug in, errecting a vast line of Aegis defences, near to an ancient alien ruin and a vast stretch of woodland known as the wraith forest. This region was in fact the reason for the eldar visit, as the farseers had identified an opportunity to seal the warp gate still active on the planet.
Commander Moonshine had been left in no doubt that the eldar were on their own mission and not to interfere. Instead the tau commander concentrated on the destruction of the imperial forces while the eldar advanced on the monument. At first it was feared the imperium would get to the sacred eldar site first, but the imperial guard commanders along with the space marines had decided on a cautious approach, one which was to prove costly. Once the wraithguard of the Rillietan took up positions in the giant monument's ruins it proved impossible to shift them, and harrying attacks from the tau severely mauled the imperial forces.
In the wraith forest, the ghosts of the eldar past saw some of their kin succumb to their own ancient nightmares, several warriors simply wandering off and disappearing after hearing their ancestors' eerie calls, but the imperial forces were unable to capitalise on this, their own forces being just as loathe to enter the strange woodlands. On the imperial left flank their forces did advance, but too late. The eldar were able to disable the warp gate then turn to the annihilation of the enemy forces. Along with commander Moonface's hunter cadres, the imperial advance was checked, then thrown into retreat as the alliance surged forward. The retreat soon became a rout, as the Mantis Warriors abandonned the imperial guard to their fate. The PDF units and the Orbital Defence Force fled for their lives, while the Praetorians vainly tried to hold the line. General Denham tried to order an evacuation, but Shadowstrike made sure any airborne rescue was turned back by waves of tau interceptors launched from the fleet above the planet. There would be no escape this time.
By 0706.013M42 the last defenders in the north had been mopped up, and the eldar forces simply melted away, leaving the tau in command of North Vale. Further south the Corellians and Zadocians had managed to set up a defensive line south of Lanwick Crossing, and the tau impetus had spent itself. Shadowstrike was more than content with the success of operation Ulysses, while the imperium were once again reeling from a defeat to the tau empire. Meanwhile on Zadoc the lack of food was becoming more critical, with riots and famines now sweeping several of the hives. Food had to get to the imperial capital of the subsecto before it fell into anarchy. Imperial rule in the Zadoc subsector was more tenuous than ever.