Secret War: Upon Blood Sands

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Secret War: Upon Blood Sands

#1 Post by Adrassil »


Three years after Secret War. Attelus and the other survivors are sent to investigate the war-torn world of Sarkeath. With Attelus' hallowed heroes, the men of the Velrosian 1st fighting on the surface, it's personal. Especially when their leader, General Tathe, had ordered a successful Exterminatus months before. Is this yet another scheme of their shadowy foe? Or a dead end?

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51
Chapter 52
Chapter 53
Chapter 54
Last edited by Adrassil on Thu Sep 07, 2023 5:44 am, edited 56 times in total.
My short story Of An Asur living in the land of Bretonnia:


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Posts: 174
Joined: Fri May 06, 2011 11:34 pm
Location: New Zealand

Chapter 1

#2 Post by Adrassil »

"This is accurate?" asked Attelus Kaltos as he looked up from the data slate, his hazel eyes wide with surprise.

"As much as it can be," said Interrogator Arlathan Karkin, who reclined back in his seat, smiling.

They sat in Arlathan's office on the Audacious Edge; the room was large, a good fifteen by thirty metres. The walls of shining adamantium and Arlathan's desk were built with an advanced cogitator. A very long Nalwood cabinet sat against the right side wall, keeping Arlathan's large collection of Amasec and other alcohols. Behind the Interrogator was a window taking up the office's entire width, allowing a good view of Scintilla, the sector's capital world below. The smog covered hive world reminded Attelus unnervingly of Omnartus.

Shit, it'd been three years, three frigging years since the destruction of Omnartus. So much had happened since then and yet so little, Arlathan's promotion as Inquisitor Enandra's Interrogator, the death of the Space Marine chapter responsible, The Destruction Inculpators and Attelus' ascension to master assassin by Glaitis' old cult.

It'd taken Vex six months to decipher the data downloaded from Taryst's cogitator, and Attelus had travelled far and wide, investigating into the leads it gave. Adelana was working with him as his apprentice. But all of it had been for nothing, no true clue of Etuarq's whereabouts.

Until now, perhaps.

"And it'd been seven months since it'd occurred?" Attelus asked, trying to keep the anger from his tone.

Arlathan shrugged, looking at Attelus with weary eyes. Much had changed; Arlathan now sported an impressively thick, neatly kept beard and his once pitch-black hair now speckled with bits of grey. His pale skin, marked with scars, two crossed on his right cheek, and one ran from his brow onto his left cheek. Scars said given to him by the traitor Inquisitor, Devan Torathe, on the bridge of the Imperial Crusher, so long ago.

What had gone on there, Attelus still didn't know. Arlathan and Inquisitor Enandra seemed determined to never talk about it. Something which he didn't like but had to respect.

Attelus absently touched the huge, ugly black scar just under his left eye at the thought of scars. The scar he still refused to have covered by false flesh unless the job needed it, instead electing to hide it underneath a thick fringe of brown hair.

"You know more than anyone how slow information in the Imperium of Mankind can move," said Arlathan. "This occurred in the Gothic Sector, way to the galactic south-east; we're bloody lucky we received it this soon."

"Of course we were," Attelus sighed, placing a palm over his face.

"Let me have a look," said Karmen Kons as she got up from one of the couches and approached.

Attelus smiled and handed it to her. Karmen's attractive features didn't smile back. She wore a black bodyglove, her shoulder-length blond hair dead straight and parted in the middle. She was lovely, beautiful, perhaps. Her face was heart-shaped and high cheekboned. Without a word, she took the data slate and began scrolling through it.

"Taryst's records indicated a tenuous at best connection," said Attelus.

Arlathan raised an eyebrow. "To general Tathe? Yes, I know you're unwilling to pursue this thread. They are from your homeworld; they were your heroes as a child, Estella's too."

He furrowed his brow and looked pointedly at Karmen; she ignored him, continuing to read the data slate.

"You've been avoiding it," said Arlathan. "But now you can't afford to any longer. A world was put to the sword at general Tathe's behest, Attelus."

"The information is lacking," stated Karmen. "Doesn't even say the world's name, nor even where it is."

Arlathan sighed. "That was beyond our accessibility; that information is classified. Vermillion level."

"But it did happen?" said Attelus.

"Do not know, the information was taken from the Gothic sector's Inquisitorial data banks by one of our long-range operatives, but it still seems worth investigating," said Arlathan. "The Elbyran contingent is taking part in a campaign subduing worlds still held by the archenemy in the Orar subsector since Abaddon the Despoiler's 12th Black Crusade. With the sector highly weakened by Abaddon's forces, they've been importing Imperial Guard regiments from other sectors to help."

"Where are they now?" Attelus asked.

"The last we heard, the Munitorum had sent them to retake the mining world of Carkeath, in the Savath system," said Arlathan. "That was a month ago, but there were problems."

"And what are they?" asked Karmen, looking up from her dataslate.

"A day after they were scheduled to arrive, the system was cut off by a freak warpstorm," said Arlathan. "We know that the Orar astropaths received a message from the invasion force just before the system went dark..."

"And let me guess," Interrupted Attelus. "The contents of that message too was Vermillion level."

Arlathan nodded.

"Isn't that a little strange," said Karmen. "Only bits and pieces of that information being classified."

"All of it is classified," said Arlathan. "Our agent isn't high enough on the totem pole to be able to access just the Vermillion level encoded information."

"And fair enough too," agreed Attelus with a shrug. "But Karmen's right. It is strange. Why not all of it being Vermillion?"

Arlathan smiled. "Does this stink as much to you as it does me?" he said.

Attelus smiled and raised his eyebrows, which said, 'of course I frigging do.'

"How does it feel?" said Attelus.

"How does what feel?" asked Arlathan, his eyes narrowing.

"Since being made Interrogator, you've become quite the uhh, exposition teller," he said.

"Exposition...teller?" said Arlathan, with a bemused furrowed brow.

"Never mind," said Attelus quickly, shaking his head. "What does the Inquisitor want us to do?"

Arlathan tapped his desk with the tip of his fingernail as a guilty expression crossed his face, "she wants you to travel to Sarkeath to investigate the Velrosian 1st and general Tathe. Find out the why and how the Exterminatus happened and if it's connected to Etuarq. Also, to find out the fate of the Elbyran contingent."

He took out another two data slates from under his desk.

"We've got a team lined up for you, and a ship readied to take you to the Gothic Sector," said Arlathan.

"Yeah, that's all well and good and all," said Attelus leaning back in his seat, folding his arms across his chest. "But that's going to be hard because, y'know, it's cut off due to a warp storm and, it's also so frigging far away."

"Yeah," sighed Arlathan. "But she also said that isn't her problem. That if you have to wait on Orar for the warp storm to clear, then you'll wait on Orar for the warp storm to clear."

"What!" both Karmen and Attelus exclaimed at once.

"That could take frigging centuries!" cried Karmen, showing the most amount of emotion Attelus had heard from her in a long time.

"The Inquisitor also said that's what rejuvenant treatments are for," said Arlathan. "She also said during that time you could set up a better spy network for our organisation in the Gothic Sector."

Attelus frowned and looked at his data slate, scrolling through the list of agents; he really liked what he saw, but...

"Yeah, and how can we do that with a squad of ten people?" said Karmen sullenly, verbalising the question Attelus wanted to ask too. "Including us."

Arlathan shrugged. "She said you'll also be well funded. You can hire your own agents once there."

"Of course she did," Attelus said as he shook his head with a smile. "What else did mamzel Enandra say?"

"She also said that Attelus would say 'of course she did,' a few times and would be quite happy with at least one member of the squad," said Arlathan, then he looked at Karmen. "She also said that Karmen wouldn't be..."

Karmen's narrowing eyes made Arlathan quickly shut up.

Arlathan cleared his throat and straightened. "All the rest of the information you need is in your data slates. She also said that it's up to you to brief your squad members."

"Of course...," Attelus started to say but smiled and stopped himself. "We're done?"

Arlathan nodded. "The mamzel wishes for you to be gone in as soon as two days. She'd also like you to give us a call over the vox when you're ready to leave. So we can see you off."

Attelus got off his seat with a sigh and, they turned and started toward the door.

"Attelus," said Arlathan causing Attelus to stop in his tracks. "About Adelana..."

"You've already said enough on her," Attelus snapped. "I don't want to hear anymore! Okay?"

Arlathan expression creased with sadness before he nodded and lowered his gaze to the cogitator in his desk.

The door slid closed behind Attelus as he stepped into the corridor. Karmen stood, her arms folded over her ample chest, her full lips pouting in annoyance. There was no sign of the horrid, self-inflicted scars on her face anymore; the false flesh that covered them was grafted perfectly by Inquisitor Enandra's best surgeons.

Attelus met her gaze for a few seconds before he turned right and continued down the corridor, studying the data slate, his feet silent as they walked over the steel grating.

Karmen fell in step with him, her footfalls clanging in contrast to Attelus' complete silence.

"What do you think?" she said.

Attelus sighed, stopped and lowered his data slate, turning to Karmen.

"That this assignment is a right royal pain in the arse," he sighed before continuing again.

He'd only made a few metres more before Karmen's voice said in his mind, +can your other benefactor help us in this?+

Attelus shrugged; I'll ask her, see what she has to say. It wouldn't be the first time Farseer Faleaseen had provided them with a literal shortcut in their endeavours. Only Adelana and Karmen knew of his connection to the Eldar, but it seemed that was changing.

Temporarily, perhaps.

Karmen nodded. "We have better get the others together," she said, reaching for her vox bead, but she stopped as Attelus raised his hand.

"No," he said, "Inquisitor Enandra seems to know everything about everyone. Let's see if we do. We'll try to find them."

"Sounds like a complete waste of time to me," said Karmen, folding her arms again.

Attelus grinned. "Come on, Karmen, just humour me here, please."

She rolled her eyes but was smiling as she groaned and said, "fine! Have it your way! I swear you're like a child sometimes. If we're delayed because of it, it's on you, alright?"

"Don't you worry, we won't," he said.

"Where to first?" she asked.

Attelus smiled. "The training area, of course."

Attelus had lied, of course. Along the way, he just had to stop at the kitchen to get himself a cup of caffeine.

They walked side by side, Attelus with one hand in his black flak jacket pocket while sipping from his cup with the other.

Karmen couldn't help but smile. She remembered the little, stick-thin but deadly teenager she'd found in the ruins of Varander ten years ago. Now Attelus was an exceptionally handsome and accomplished young man. He was thin but svelte. His skin was pale white, and his lips deep red. His sharp-featured, elfin face was quite feminine, made even more so by his shoulder-length brown hair. Karmen always felt he'd look even better if he had his hair cut short; she'd suggested it once or twice but was promptly ignored. Attelus was far older than he looked, being twenty-seven, but looking perhaps, eighteen, nineteen how he managed to look so youthful after everything was quite beyond her. Karmen knew more of Attelus Kaltos than she'd cared to admit; she knew how hard a life he'd had and couldn't help marvel at how well he'd pulled through it all.

He'd had help, Karmen supposed; Inquisitor Enandra and the little bitch had given him much in the way of moral support over the last three years.

Attelus quickly noticed Karmen looking at him; his five senses were always as sharp as Karmen's sixth and smiled at her.

Karmen forced away her own smile and looked away; she hadn't forgiven him; she would never forgive him.

He frowned sadly and fixed his attention forwards; he'd seemed to have got the idea of their relationship a long time ago. There was to be no friendship, they were acquaintances, professionals, and that was that.

It was his own damned fault, as he would say, in all honesty.

They turned and walked through the doorway leading into the training facility.

All around, dozens upon dozens of elite soldiers under Enandra's command were practising hand to hand drills, bayonet techniques and disarming and wrestling style fighting on blue soft mats.

Almost everyone was a large bastard, as muscular as Attelus was thin. Their every technique was brilliant and practised almost to perfection. She tried not to stare; many men were stripped to the waste, their sweat-slicked torsos corded with muscle. Some were women, but only a few.

In the corner of her eye, Karmen saw Attelus looking on with a small measure of an amused, half-smile, his brow furrowed arrogantly.

None of them could even come close to taking him and, he knew it. Attelus was one of the most dangerous individuals Karmen had ever met and, that was saying a lot. His arrogance was almost justified, almost. He must never forget that there was always someone, somewhere better.

Karmen looked over the Stormtroopers training but saw no sign of anyone on their list.

"Try the sparring cages," Attelus said, scratching the back of his head before slipping his hand back into its pocket and taking another sip of caffeine.

They moved through the thoroughfare; many a soldier noticed them and stopped to salute or make the sign of the Aquila.

Attelus and Karmen nodded or saluted back politely.

They eventually came to the five large sparring cages set at the huge hall's end. In the first one, the figure was a complete blur of speed and skill, fighting off five close combat servitors with blunted blades at once, so much so Karmen couldn't even make out who it was.

"Hey, Darrance!" Attelus yelled quickly as they stopped to watch. "A frig head says what?"

It was Darrance; how the hell Attelus was capable of telling that was anyone's guess.

Darrance didn't deign to reply; he just continued his battle.

"Hmm, was worth a try," said Attelus with a smile and a shrug, looking sidelong at Karmen

Karmen was about to reply when abruptly, there was a loud buzz and, a servitor's flat toned voice said, "horizontal slash to sternum a fatal blow, end of session."

Darrance let out a frustrated growl as he spun away, flourishing his long, two-handed sword to whip off the imaginary blood and stalked toward them. Darrance was very pretty as well, but his features were grimmer, much more gaunt and haughty. His white hair was once long, but now he wore it close-cropped and short. He was also thin and long-limbed but was much taller than Attelus being just under two metres. Darrance was obviously highborn; Karmen had been a lord's daughter back on Velrosia; she had to have many dealings with the upper class as a child, so she knew his type well.

Spoilt and totally up himself, but he wasn't without his merits; he was a swordsman of equal skill to Attelus and was also an extensively talented pilot and held much in the way wisdom and intellect usually more correct than not in his statements and assumptions. He and Attelus were once mercenaries working under the same assassin sect; they still did but were permanently outsourced under Enandra's command.

But, Karmen was sure both of them were truly loyal to Enandra.

"I hope you are aware..." Darrance gasped but stopped himself and frowned; he was obviously going to call Attelus 'apprentice' but, that title didn't fit him any more. "Attelus, you made me frig up then."

Attelus grinned as if it was the greatest achievement of his entire existence; it proved infectious and, Karmen couldn't help smile along with him. After Omnartus' destruction, it'd taken a long time for Attelus to be able to smile again, a very long time. He had a nice smile and, she'd missed it greatly.

Darrance smirked, shook his head, turned away and barked, "training simulation! Level ten, start!"

Attelus took another sip of caffeine and, they walked on, idly gazing into the sparring cages. In the next were two more assassins from the cult, Delathasi and Kerlia, were sparring. Delathasi was wielding dual short blades while Kerlia fought with a two-handed axe.

Both were a blur but not quite as quick or skilled as Darrance. They were young, seventeen so inexperienced. Delathasi was apprenticed to Darrance, and Kerlia was under Hayden Tresch. However, Hayden was nowhere to be seen. Kerlia was like Hayden, more of a sniper, but she still seemed intent on practising with close combat weaponry.

Attelus and Karmen stopped, watching them. Karmen, a long time ago, before she had focused on her gift, was quite the swordswoman, and she could see Delathasi was holding back.

"Hmm, pretty good," said Attelus, his words tinged with melancholy and Karmen knew why they both reminded him of Elandria.

In the third, they found two of the people they were looking for, Adelana and Helma, were locked in combat. They wielded blunted practise long swords, and Karmen couldn't help but be impressed by their skill. Both had only started to learn the blade three years ago, and both had learned under Attelus.

Attelus smiled like a proud father and drunk back the rest of his caffeine in one long gulp.

"Still got a long way to go, though," said Attelus absently. "To catch up with Delthasi and Kerlia."

"And those two will just keep on improving as well," said Karmen. "I don't think they'll ever catch up; Delathsi and Kerlia have been training since they were really young."

Attelus grimaced and shrugged, quickly seeing her point.

Karmen felt a very familiar presence, a very familiar feeling, this despite her trying to suppress her gift, and she turned to see two women in black singlets and combat pants walking toward their way. Karmen recognised them as trainees on the mats and quickly remembered their names, troopers Salantha and Olianthis. Both were drenched in sweat and looking at Attelus as they walked past. The emotion which radiated from them like a blindingly powerful lamp pack was attraction, but Karmen didn't need to be a telepath to tell that. It was a regular occurrence, and Karmen fought back her annoyance; women were just as bad as men at objectification, if not even worse. With her gift no longer so suppressed, she started to sense at least twenty of the men around in the room were attracted to her, looking at her. Their thoughts ranged from disgusting to moderately respectful; some were even somewhat nice.

Hissing through clenched teeth, she pushed away the thoughts whirling through her mind, then gave the two women a withering glare that caused them to look away and continue quickly onward.

Karmen looked back into the cage, and she glanced sidelong at Attelus. He was so entrenched in watching he hadn't even noticed them checking him out, which was uncharacteristic. Karmen knew why; he was really looking at Adelana, who was also only in a sweat-slicked singlet and combat pants. Adelana was a pretty thing, beautiful in fact, her face diamond-shaped, with a long nose and full, lusciously red lips. Her skin was pale and covered in freckles; she tied back hair red with brilliant blonde streaks.

As Attelus has said, Adelana was truly beautiful, but in an understated way, like many bird species back on Velrosia. They were coloured with dark greens and blues, unlike the birds of the Elbyran continent of Aluthisa, where they were bright, overly ostentatious. Velrosian birds were no less pretty but in a different way. As Attelus was popular with the women, she was just as popular with the men and, there were many competing for her affection in the organisation.

Karmen frowned and folded her arms; they didn't have time for this.

+Helma! Adelana!+ she sent, with a bit more force than necessary, causing them to stop and flinch in pain. +Get out here; we've got a mission!+

Both Helma and Adelana glared at her, but quickly Helma opened the door, and they stepped out.

"A mission?" growled Helma; she was a short, plain-faced woman with ruddy brown skin and a large, ugly scar on her left cheek. Her blonde hair was close-cropped short, and her build more muscular than many men. She was a soldier, hard-edged and unsentimental, a leader. She'd been a captain in the 51st Fenksworld regiment, and so was a captain in Taryst's mercenary forces, which was modelled on the Imperial guard. Over the past three years, she'd proven a masterful military tactician and a dependent, ruthlessly effective long-range fighter but lacked a true talent for undercover work.

"Yes," said Karmen and looked to Adelana; she was the exact opposite to Helma. While she, too, was an excellent shot and only average close combatant. Adelana seemed to have a natural affinity for undercover and stealth work. Only after three years of training she was already one of their best. Karmen had to admit she and Attelus made for an excellent team, both having skill sets that complimented and contrasted each other well.

"It's a pretty big one, too," said Attelus.

"We finally have a lead on Etuarq?" asked Adelana, sounding excited and looking at Attelus intently.

He shrugged and met her gaze. Adelana was one of the very few native Omnartisians left and, so was one of the most eager to bring the rogue Inquisitor to justice.

"Perhaps," he breathed; Karmen knew out of all of Adelana's features, Attelus appreciated her large sea-blue eyes the most. "But there's no guarantee."

Adelana pursed her lips and nodded in disappointment but continued to look at Attelus.

"Anyone knows if anyone else on the list is here?" said she, and Karmen read from the dataslate the list of squad members assigned to the mission.

"No," said Helma bluntly, and she furrowed her brow. "Why do you ask? Why not call them over the comms?"

Karmen smiled and waved a thumb at Attelus. "Mr weirdo here wishes to waste time tracking all of you down. I thought I'd humour him."

"I'm right here, you know," said Attelus but still grinned.

"Says it's a test," said Karmen. "See how well we know the people who are to work with us."

"And I was right," said Attelus proudly. "I knew they would be here."

Karmen raised an eyebrow. "It hardly takes a genius to think that someone might be at the training room, Attelus."

Attelus raised his hands, the empty cup hanging from his index finger. "Alright! Alright! Is it annual take the piss out of Attelus day, is it?"

"Every day is take the piss out of Attelus day," Adelana laughed.

"Story of my life," said Attelus with a good-humoured sigh.

"We may as well come with you," said Helma, "try to speed up this farce a bit."

Attelus pursed his lips and tore his attention away from Adelana to Helma, trying to see if the ex-guardswoman was joking or not and frowned as he quickly saw she wasn't.

He sighed, slipped his free hand into its pocket, turned on the balls of his feet and started back.

"Alright, alright," he said. "Can't waste any more time; we've better head on then."

"Where to first?" said Adelana as they started after him.

"I'm taking a wild guess," said Karmen. " And saying...the shooting range."

Attelus, with his back to them, muttered something indignantly.

"Yeah," said Karmen, smiling. "We're going to the shooting range."

Much to no one's surprise, the shooting range was, indeed, their next destination.

Attelus was the first through the door and, they approached the desk of the range's custodian, a grumpy middle-aged and going to seed ex-guardsman named Gorres. Gorres sat back casually in his worn leather chair, reading a data slate. Karmen knew how much of a sleaze the old bastard was and had no wish to know what he was looking at.

"Yo," said Attelus as they approached, and he held up his cup. "Mind if I give you this?"

Gorres sat up and glared Attelus up and down as though he'd just asked if he could lay with his daughter. (Calestia Gorres was a pretty little trainee just starting in the Stormtrooper corps)

"Please," said Attelus, grinning and shaking the cup.

"Ahh, give here!" growled Gorres and snatched it from Attelus with impressive speed. "You may be a big mighty Throne Agent now, but I've been workin' in this organisation before you were even in ya daddy's sack! I ain't ya bloody servitor, got it?"

"Fair enough," said Attelus, raising his hands in diplomatic supplication. "Never would've even considered you were, not for a second. Thank you, by the way."

"Yeah," growled Gorres. "If ya gonna go into the range, don't forget to wear your damn ear protectors."

"Of course," said Attelus as he approached the wall, the ear protectors hung off and, he began to take them down and started to hand them to the others.

They walked through the thick glass steel doors and into the range, and even with the ear protectors on, the discharge of weapons fire was horrid. Causing Karmen to wince involuntarily.

The firing range was huge, easily as large as the practice area. Still, despite this, it wasn't large enough, as they passed by a long line of soldiers waiting to take their turn at the range—most of them gazing appreciatively at Adelana and Karmen while they walked.

They were halfway through when they found another assigned to their team, and Karmen wasn't surprised at all to find him here. Trooper Jelket stood, las gun braced as he took shot after shot at the target. He wore his Stormtrooper carapace but went without a helmet. Jelket was an average looking man of average height and average build. His skin was tanned, and his black hair curly, scruffy. He'd lost his right arm from an Astartes bolter round back on Omnartus; now, it was replaced by an advanced augmetic. That seemed almost normal at first glance. But at a closer look, one could see the joints in the fingers.

Karmen liked Jelket; he was an intelligent, forward-thinking, observant character but also strangely dumb in other circumstances. He was awkward but always pleasant, kind, but more than a little bit paranoid. A real conspiracy theorist, in fact, he was one of the first people who'd figured out about Taryst's secret before anyone else.

Most of his other theories were a bit beyond reality, even for Attelus's taste, who was paranoid beyond belief.

Jelket paused in his shots and turned to them as they approached, grinning widely.

"Hey! What are you guys doing here?" he said.

"You caught up to Hayden yet?" asked Attelus.

Jelket shook his head; he was one of the best shots in the organisation, but Hayden Tresch was the best and, the two had a friendly rivalry. Karmen had never felt any bitterness from Jelket for being second best (in fact, he held that position with at least three others, depending, as it would change constantly, but Jelket was always at least fifth, there was fierce competition for second place)

"You guys here to support me?" asked Jelket, sounding legitimately hopeful. "Cheer me on?"

"No," stated Helma, folding her arms across her chest; her tone implied she thought such a thing would be the biggest waste of time in the galaxy.

Jelket pursed his lips and grimaced, looking highly disappointed.

"We're here because we need you for another mission," said Karmen, trying to abate the young ex-guardsman's frown.

"Oh? Really?" he said. "Something about that shit-head Etuarq?"

"Perhaps," said Attelus. "Can't guarantee anything yet."

"You know I suggested we look into Marius Hax, right?" said Jelket. "He must be involved being the lord..."

Attelus raised a hand, causing Jelket to cut his sentence short, "yes," he sighed. "You've said that on numerous occasions now, but there is no true evidence that he's involved; there was no mention at all of him in Taryst's records. Anyway, Omnartus was a hub world; its production of minerals was huge and served the sub-sector and even the entire Calixis sector well. It'd even supplied some excellent Imperial Guard regiments, many still in service now, I really doubt, even if he is a traitor he was involved at all."

"But that's what he wants you to think!" insisted Jelket.

Attelus sighed and rolled his eyes, then checked his wrist chron, "and how do you propose we find that out? Burst into his office, put a laspistol to his head and get him to spill his secrets? We maybe Inquisition now, but we haven't the right without sufficient evidence, and even if we did, every Amalathian from here to Thracian Primaris would be on our arses faster than you can say, 'you idiot.'"

Attelus sighed. "Just please meet us at briefing quarters 56a at 1600, got that?"

"Yes, sir!" said Jelket with a salute.

They pushed past Jelket, who continued with his practice.

"You and I are both aware that we have, as we speak, spies investigating into Marius Hax and his underlings on Scintilla," Karmen whispered in his ear.

"Of course," said Attelus with a small smile. "But I wouldn't admit that to him, would you?"

Karmen smiled, seeing his point.

"Besides," said Attelus, while stretching his long arms over his head and intertwining his fingers together. Karmen was sure that he didn't even know he was doing it, the instinct so entrenched in his psyche. "It's just a necessity; we're doing it with pretty much all the rulers across the sector, or at least trying to. You know, just in case."

They only had to walk a few metres more to find another squad member. Torris was waiting in the line; shotgun slung over his shoulder, his arms folded over his chest.

Torris was a large, muscular man with very dark brown skin. He was once one of Taryst's most capable employees and a member of the Adeptus Arbites on Malfi before that. With his law enforcement background, he was incredible at reading people, so much so Karmen couldn't help suspect he might have some latent psychic ability. He had, after the Omnartus incident, in respect to his murdered friend, Jeurat Garrakson, taken up training for heavy weapons and, due to his size and strength, proved a natural.

He'd once been a charismatic, cheery caring person, but after Omnartus, he turned grim and ruthless. Torris still blamed Attelus for the death of their friend and would never forgive him for it, which Karmen couldn't help feel was a true tragedy. If Adelana could forgive Attelus for his role in her homeworld's death, why couldn't Torris forgive him for what Garrakson did? What also made it sadder was Karmen was sure it wasn't really Attelus' fault. They'd been good friends, and Attelus had needed that friendship over the last three years. Karmen had attempted to talk with Torris in private once or twice about it, but the ex-arbitrator wouldn't hear of it.

Despite this, Torris was pragmatic enough to put aside this for the mission. He still respected Attelus somewhat for his skill as a spy and an assassin, but that was that.

"Marcel," said Karmen as they approached.

Torris sniffed and looked them over. "We got a mission?" he asked.

Karmen nodded.

"Good, about frigging time," he growled and looked at Attelus from under a hooded brow. "And you're the leader, I assume?"

Attelus frowned and said, "I am."

Torris nodded but showed no emotion.

Adelana stepped past Karmen, her hands balled into fists.

"We're to meet at briefing room 56a at 1600," she growled through gritted teeth. "Alright?"

Karmen pursed her lips; it was generally well known that Adelana really disliked Torris. For obvious reasons.

Torris grimaced slightly, looking down at Adelana and folding his thick arms across his wide chest.

Karmen didn't have to be a telepath to tell it meant; what right do you have to order me around, little girl?

Karmen cleared her throat, causing Torris to look her way.

"We're looking for Verenth, Hayden, Vark and Halsin," she said, ignoring Attelus' glare and pouty look. "You know where any of them are?"

Torris shrugged. "Where Hayden is, is anyone's guess, could be with the Tech-Priests, could be in the armoury, could be at the frigging library. Verenth's probably in his quarters; he isn't here, so he's most likely there. Vark's probably in the Ecclesiarch. Halsin, well, he's most definitely..."

"Here," a voice interrupted him, and Torris turned to reveal Halsin, who approached them. A laspistol held confidentially in his left hand.

With his bulging thyroid eyes beneath his thick-framed glasses, he always looked like he was in a constant state of surprise.

Halsin was once a tall, scrawny, awkward junior medicae under Taryst's employ, but he'd grown over the past three years. Volunteering as a front line medicae, he had served on many assignments since they were taken under Inquisitor Enandra's wing. This, as well as countless hours of training with the Stormtrooper Corps, had hardened him, giving him some confidence. He wasn't as good as any of the elite soldiers but could still hold his own in a fight. Unless it was close combat, he was still gangly but only a little less now. But his supreme skill with a scalpel, bandaging and ability to keep calm under pressure more than made up for that.

"Halsin!" said Attelus. "Good to see you."

Halsin was one for few words; he simply grimly nodded in reply.

"Been practising at the range?" Attelus said. "What's your percentile now?"

Halsin grimaced in distaste and answered hesitantly, "seventy-nine."

Attelus shrugged. "Still better than me."

"Well, even a cross-eyed Grox could shoot better than you!" said Adelana, but with a playful grin causing both Torris and Helma to chuckle with amusement. Karmen couldn't help roll her eyes. She hated their flirty, playful banter.

Attelus furrowed his brow and pursed his lips before a wide smile crossed his face. "I do get seventy to seventy-three; I doubt a cross-eyed Grox could do quite that well. We all can't be good at everything unless you're a freak called Hayden Tresch."

"The only freak around here is you," said Helma making mostly everyone, even Karmen, chuckle.

"I am presuming we have an assignment," said Halsin, as humourless as ever.

"You presume correctly," said Torris. "You seen Verenth, Tresch or Vark?"

"Verenth and Hayden, I wouldn't have a clue," he said. "But I saw Verenth not long ago when I was leaving the medicae. As I understand it, he's getting a tattoo."

"What? Yet another tattoo?" exclaimed Adelana.

"Yes, another tattoo," said Halsin, sharing none of Adelana's astonishment.

"Well!" said Attelus. "Next stop, the medicae."

"Or you could, you know, call them," said Helma. "Because that's what Vox links are for."

Attelus shrugged and sighed, "alright, we'll go get Verenth, then call the other two."

"That's not what I meant," muttered Helma; although Helma had been a captain and older than Attelus, she'd never begrudged his more senior status. Still, she had little patience for his eccentricities.

"You guys wanna come with?" said Attelus, ignoring her.

Halsin and Torris exchanged a look.

Torris shrugged. "Yeah, I'll come, don't want Attelus having his own bloody harem, do we?"

"What? You jealous, Torris?" said Attelus with a wide grin.

"Correction," said Torris. "Don't want him thinking he's got his own harem."

"I think; therefore, I am," said Attelus.

Torris pursed his lips and shrugged, conceding defeat. "You make that up now, or get it from somewhere?"

Attelus shrugged back, not rising to the bait.

"I guess I will come too," said Halsin. "Will need to retrieve some equipment from there anyway."

"Alrighty," said Attelus. "Let's get going, then."

It didn't take long for them to find Verenth in the large medicae; they just had to follow the loud buzzing sound to its source. Verenth sat stripped to the waist as surgeon Solvik applied the ink to his bicep.

If Adelana could describe her fellow Omnatisian in one word, it would be, 'snake.' She'd never actually seen a snake, not first hand, but she'd read about them and seen illustrations. Verenth was a tall, skinny and long-limbed young man, but that wasn't what was most snake-like about him. That was his eyes. Stark, pitiless and coloured a strange, light green. His plain, gaunt, almost chinless face was hard, perpetually frowning. His head was shaven, allowing everyone to see the numerous tattoos covering his skull.

Adelana was never sure how to act around the passionate, intense ex-hammer; he too was one of the few remaining survivors of Omnartus, which made any and all interaction out of assignments very awkward. Not just that, but he scared her, constantly it felt he was going to explode into a rage in any second, especially when around Attelus. Adelana had once thought it was because of the part Attelus had played in the destruction of their homeworld. But she'd learned from Attelus that it wasn't just that, but the assassin had also killed Verenth's brother; Verenth had even witnessed it. Unlike Torris, he had an excellent reason to hate Attelus, but the ex-hammer still worked under the ex-mercenary despite this. Like Torris, he was pragmatic and saw the big picture enough to know more at stake.

"Hey Verenth," said Attelus with a small wave as they approached, causing the ex-hammer's attention to snap at him, his perpetually frowning face somehow frowned even more.

"What is it?" he growled, eyeing them from under his hooded brow.

"We've been assigned a mission," said Attelus, still sounding cheery despite Verenth's demeanour. Verenth never seemed to intimidate Attelus, or Attelus never showed the intimidation he felt. Out of everyone in their group, besides, maybe, Tresch. Verenth had the highest chance of killing the superhuman. He was a gunslinger, his hands faster on the draw with his autopistol and Stubbrevolver than thought, inhumanly fast in fact. He was also one of the five top contestants for the organisation's second-best shot. If he could somehow catch Attelus off guard...

Adelana glanced at Karmen, who stood next to her; the psyker's expression was unreadable, her arms folded across her ample chest. No, Adelana corrected herself; if anyone here could kill Attelus, it was Karmen Kons. Adelana knew she didn't like her, hated her in fact, and she knew why. This, despite Adelana never intending to ever have any kind of relationship with him, in spite of...

Adelana should've been utterly terrified by the psyker's enmity, knowing what Karmen Kons was capable of, but she wasn't. The Psyker was not petty; in fact, she was one of the most reliable people on the team; she'd saved Adelana's life on countless occasions over the past three years. In fact, if it weren't for her, Adelana would've died with Omnartus.

"If you haven't guessed yet," said Attelus knocking Adelana from her train of thought.

Verenth sighed, shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I guessed, boss. I was just hoping it wasn't, that somehow not saying it would make it untrue."

Attelus smiled, apparently ignoring Verenth's sarcasm when he said 'boss.'

"Fair enough," said Attelus, he never seemed to begrudge Verenth of his immense dislike toward him. He understood it and was genuinely regretful for the injustice he'd perpetrated. "And as much as I respect anyone who fights fate, the frigging bastard. I'm sorry to say it's won this day."

Verenth groaned. "Alright, just let Solvik finish my tattoo."

"Can he do it in..." Attelus checked his wrist chron. "Fifteen minutes? We've got briefing room 56a booked at 1600."

Verenth scowled and looked pointedly at the tattoo on his left bicep. Adelana was no expert, but it seemed far from finished. From what was done, it looked like the starting of a winged, green-robed, faceless figure holding a sword to its chest, tip downward.

"Hmm," said Attelus, stroking his thin chin. "Dark Angels, right?"

Verenth stiffened visibly.

"They saved my homeworld from invasion," said Attelus. "They've interested me ever since."

"Funny," growled Verenth. "Space Marines saved your world but destroyed mine."

Attelus frowned. "That's why I find it ironic that you would-"

"Last time I checked," said Verenth. "It wasn't the Dark Angels who did it; it was the Destruction Inculpators or The Desolation Inculpators, whatever, they're gone now, faced justice. Just because they did it doesn't mean all Space Marine chapters are the same."

"Besides," said Verenth. "I think it just looks frigging cool."

Attelus nodded. "Sorry to interrupt your tattoo, but if it's any consolation, this mission may or may not involve our enemy."

Verenth's snake-like eyes widened briefly. "You mean the enemy?"

Attelus shook his head, and he turned to walk away. "Perhaps an emphasis on perhaps," he said with another brief wave. "See you soon."

"I'll be there," said Verenth as Attelus lead them away. "I'll frigging be there."

Adelana could see Attelus was smiling slightly and Torris, glaring at him in disapproval. That was another reason why Torris didn't like him; he could be so very manipulative.

If anyone scared Adelana, truly scared her, it was Attelus Xanthis Kaltos. She knew he'd been through hell and couldn't help admire that he didn't come out of it worse off, but she knew he was constantly teetering on a precipice between sanity and insanity. That in any second, he could fall permanently into the metaphorical darkness, into his murderous, manipulative mentality. It was the only sheer force of will that prevented it. That was one of the many reasons she didn't want more, to be more than just colleagues; she knew he dearly wanted that, but...

"I'll get Hayden and Vark over the vox," said Helma interrupting Adelana's thought process, and she reached for her microbead.

"Yes," said Attelus. "You do that."

After Halsin collected his equipment, they left the medicae.

It took them about five minutes to walk through the thin, gunmetal grey corridors, and Adelana's mind wandered. She'd been through much in the past three years, fought alongside Space Marines on two separate occasions. The first time was with the Space Wolves, second, the Death Watch when she and Attelus had allied with the Ordo Xenos Inquisitor, Lorris, to stop a Genestealer cult on Sinophia. She'd even travelled all the way to Segmentum Ultima via Attelus' 'connections,' and back. She'd faced down mutants, heretics and even daemons. But most of all, she'd killed, she'd killed a lot of people, more than she could've imagined. The first time it'd been traumatic, on the flagship of traitor Inquisitor, Torathe. During the initial boarding action, she'd taken the top off a Stormtrooper's skull with one well-placed shot. She hadn't felt anything at the time due to the adrenaline, but after the fight, when recovering from her injuries, she'd wept.

Attelus had helped her through it; he was unusually open with his emotions and told her he'd felt the same the first time he'd killed too. A chaos cultist invader during the invasion of his homeworld when he was fifteen.

Despite never enjoying the killing, she felt right; she had a purpose and a truly worthy one at that. A far greater one than if she'd wound up working in the Magistratum as she'd initially intended. She just wished that it didn't need to start with the death of her homeworld.

She'd never get over that, not truly. Not even after they hunt down that bastard Etuarq and bring him to justice

Adelana eyed Attelus as he walked ahead of her, in his usual pose, hands in the pockets of his black flak jacket. She'd forgiven him for the part he unwittingly played in Omnartus' fate; it'd been frigging hard, though and taken her awhile. He'd saved her mostly due to selfish reasons, all just because she'd been nice to her.

It was pretty damn pathetic, pitiful, almost. In fact, it'd taken her longer to forgive him of that than the role he'd played in Omnartus.

She'd learned a lot from the now master assassin over the past three years, and despite some initial hiccups, he'd proven a pretty damn good teacher. Eventually.

Adelana had often wondered why the Inquisitor had promoted Arlathan to Interrogator over Attelus or Karmen Kons or the many other more senior candidates. But so far, Inquisitor Enandra had led them exceedingly well; she'd made very few mistakes. She'd helped Adelana through the depression after the death of Omnartus; Enandra must know what she was doing.

She'd worked exclusively with Attelus for so long she'd never actually seen Arlathan (who worked exclusively with the Inquisitor), So she didn't exactly have the best knowledge of his abilities, but surely they paled in comparison to the superhuman Attelus or the extraordinary psychic abilities of Karmen Kons?

Adelana had never approached Karmen on the matter, but she had once asked Attelus. He'd just shrugged and said.

"Arlathan knows his shit; he used to be a selfish arsehole but has changed for the better. I respect him, and I really don't envy him the responsibility. Besides, I think it's also more uhh personal if you catch my drift."

Adelana did 'catch his drift' (a saying she'd never heard before, must be native to his homeworld) Arlathan was a very handsome man, even with the beard. It was well known that Arlathan and Sergeant Kollath, the leader of Enandra's personal bodyguard, were in constant competition for the attractive Inquisitor's affections. Still, Adelana had hoped it was more than that. Attelus seemed to believe it, so maybe it was, but it wouldn't be the first time he was wrong, and it definitely wouldn't be the last.

In silence, they turned the corner headed toward 56a, their footfalls clanging on the metal grating. Everyone's beside Attelus' and Adelana's.

Three men stood waiting at the entrance Jelket, Vark and Hayden Tresch.

Vark was dressed in his Stormtrooper carapace and took up most of the corridor's width with his bulk. Vark had been designated as Karmen Kons' bodyguard long ago, accompanying her on missions to watch over Karmen when she'd leave her body in her incorporeal form. An effective soldier of all-around ability, he'd once served in Taryst's elite Stormtrooper corp. A deeply religious man (a rarity amongst mercenaries, even before he became a former mercenary), Adelana, who'd never been terribly religious and recognised the organisation's more secular nature, found it disconcerting. He could proselytise often, and it got on her nerves. He and Karmen were both quite religious, and that, Adelana guessed, was one reason they worked together. Vark's was plain of face, his skin a ruddy brown and his small beady eyes light blue. His closed cropped hair blond. Vark's most unique feature was his large cleft chin; it was hard for Adelana to keep her attention away from it when in conversation with him.

Unlike Vark, Tresch didn't need to wear Stormtrooper carapace to dominate the corridor. Broad-shouldered, long-limbed. The large, two-metre tall sniper wore a grey bodyglove and leaned against the wall, arms folded across his wide chest. He was perhaps one of the most talented individuals she'd ever met. As Attelus had once said, Hayden was 'a jack of all trades and a master of quite a few too.' (Attelus was always fond of his rhymes) Tresch was an excellent sniper, an explosives expert, a hacker; they were only a few among many skills under his name. A former Adeptus Arbite, he was a grim man, one of few words. Many women in the organisation described Tresch as a 'grey fox' or 'tall, dark and handsome' due to his once brown hair mostly overtaken by grey. Adelana didn't understand this sentiment; she'd never found him particularly attractive; she preferred her men younger.

She could help look briefly at Attelus, and well, more pretty.

Tresch was at least in his late forties. His square-jawed face lined and weathered. Attelus had once said both his eyes were augmetics, but they looked so normal she'd never have guessed it. She'd always thought it was a bit of a cheat; surely they'd aide him in his inhuman accuracy?

"Hayden, Vark, Jelket," said Karmen. "Good to see you are here already."

Vark shrugged. "Mamzel Helma said this may involve that bastard Etuarq so I got here as quick as I could. We may finally end him, God-Emperor willing."

"Emperor willing," echoed Karmen, making the sign of the Aquila. "We just have to wait for Verenth; then we'll start the briefing."

"Let's head in, shall we?" said Torris.

In silence, they started to file through the door, Attelus in the lead, but he stopped and straightened briefly, seeing two more in the briefing room.

"You," said Attelus sternly and stepped aside, allowing Adelana a clear view.

It was Darrance and his apprentice, Delathasi.

"What are you doing here?" said Karmen perplexed. "We have this room booked."

Darrance grimaced and exchanged a look with Delathasi, "when I saw you walking through the training facility. I thought something was up, so I gave Arlathan a vox and guess what? There was, he said that it might involve that shit stain Etuarq, so there's no way in hell Delathasi and I are not taking part."

"You are aware that I'm going to be in charge, right?" said Attelus.

"I am," said Darrance. "But I'm willing to swallow my pride and follow your lead this time."

Adelana could've sworn she heard Helma mutter something along the lines of, "I bet that's not the only thing you'll swallow."

Darrance obviously overheard her as he treated Helma with a dark look.

"I'll be your new designated pilot," said Darrance smoothly. "Delathasi can help you on the ground. I am sure you don't want to be the only close quarters specialist, do you, Attelus?"

"Who was going to be our pilot?" said Vark. "Originally."

"Ulysses," said Darrance, "but Interrogator Arlathan superseded it."

"He must've owed you one hell of a favour," said Torris. "For him to do that, what did you do? Give him a blow job? Must've been good; I'm sure you've had a hell of a lot of practice."

Everyone, even Delathasi laughed, Darrance's face darkened, but it didn't last long before he just shrugged.

Adelana realised that Delathasi was looking appreciatively, almost gapingly at Attelus. This caused Adelana to smile and shake her head in amusement.

Delathasi would've been pretty if it wasn't for the very present acne on her tanned skin and boxer's nose. She was shy and kept to herself constantly, but she was a force to be reckoned with her dual monomolecular blades when in battle. Tall and lanky, she had plenty of power in her limbs.

The door behind them abruptly slid open, and Adelana turned to see Verenth step into the room. His piercing gaze silently travelled over them before finally sitting down on the nearest desk.

"Well!" said Attelus rubbing his hands together excitedly. "Now everyone's present and accounted for, let's get this party started."
My short story Of An Asur living in the land of Bretonnia:


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Chapter 2

#3 Post by Adrassil »

"I think she's on to us," said Attelus as he paced across the sand, hands clasped behind his back. "I think she has an idea, at least."

Faleaseen's large, almond-shaped eyes narrowed as she towered over him. The Farseer, like most of her race, was very tall, inhumanly thin, and long-limbed. Her features were deceptively soft, beautiful, and benign, but her gaze was filled with melancholic wisdom earned through great toil and burden. Showing her surely ancient age. A long time ago, Attelus had noticed there were what seemed to be shimmering green crystals crawling up the nape of her. He hadn't managed to gain the courage to ask why.

For this dream meeting, the Eldar had conjured up a beach Attelus had lived near to in his youth in northern Velrosia. Salteera bay was replicated in almost insane detail, the beautiful, rocky tree-covered coastline, the clear blue water, the island that jutted out in the small harbour. All of it was exactly how he remembered it. Salteera bay was just one of the countless beaches that littered the huge Vandeeran river's coast. It was a river that cut through the continent until it met with the Lake of Varander. A river which at points could be as wide as five kilometres and the source of thousands of runoff rivers that provided the continent with much needed, life-giving water.

Velrosia was set almost right in the continent's epicentre but may well have been an island nation, riddled with numerous lakes and set where the Vandeeran river was at its widest. Seafood was a huge export for the country, along with timber and livestock.

"I am sure she does have an idea, Attelus Kaltos," said Faleassen; her attention wandered with the pacing Attelus as she stood deathly still in her esoteric, form-fitting armour.

"We've completed missions far faster than initially thought," said Attelus. "Reaching the planets faster than warp travel would normally allow."

"Yes," said Faleaseen patiently. "You have only done so on four separate occasions, but I can see why that would arouse suspicion from the Inquisitor."

"She gave me this mission because she knew this," said Attelus. "She also knows that we can bypass the warp storm."

"Many of her kind would have you executed even for the suspicion," said Faleaseen.

Attelus sniggered and paused in his pacing. "Well, that won't stop me for long, would it? Do you think she knows of the webway's existence?"

Faleaseen shook her head with what seemed almost wry amusement. "I doubt that, not many Mon..."

She trailed off in her sentence as she noticed Attelus' glare. "Humans know of the webway."

"I wouldn't underestimate Inquisitor Enandra," said Attelus. "If anyone knows, it's her, and she isn't even Ordo Xenos."

"So," said Faleaseen, scratching her sharp, slender chin with a thumb, an oddly human gesture. "We are at an impasse; if you do use the webway, it will impose more suspicion upon you. If you do not, you will miss out on another lead to stop Etuarq, assuming this is not yet another trap."

"It has to be another trap," said Attelus.

"I do not know," said Faleaseen. "I do not understand why Etuarq would lay such a trap. He has a plan for you; that much is certain."

"He knows I'm perpetual, that I'll come back from whatever he throws at me; perhaps he wants to kill my allies? My friends?" said Attelus while continuing with his pacing. "Perhaps they are interfering with whatever fate he has in store for me?"

Faleaseen nodded. "That does seem a logical assumption."

"Perhaps," said Attelus but trailed off.

"Perhaps what?" said Faleaseen, although Attelus' suspected she already knew.

"Perhaps I could come clean, tell Jelcine of our alliance?"

Faleaseen pouted her full, ruby red lips and looked to the sky in thought.

"Or you know, you could, you know, zap it from her mind like you did back on the Audacious Edge three years ago," said Attelus.

Faleaseen sighed. "Neither course of action is wise, Attelus Kaltos. I have already performed mind manipulation once on her from this long-range; I would not risk it again, too imprecise. I may cause her irreparable damage, especially because of her strong mind block. Confessing could lead to your termination, and while I will bring you back, you will be separated by the allies and power of being in her employment. I would rather you complete this important mission than confess when confronted. Either way, it would set us back considerably, but one more than the other."

Attelus sighed. "So what will we do, then?"

"You will take the webway to this Sarkeath and investigate," said Faleaseen. "You must know once you have entered that system, I will not be able to assist you. I have already attempted to see the planet, but the warp storm is too powerful for me to pass through."

"Of course it is," Attelus sighed, stopping and stamping his foot into the sand like a petulant child. "Does Scintilla have access into the Webway?"

"Yes, it does," said Faleaseen. "But would that not arouse more suspicion? You, leaving for Scintilla and just disappearing from there? I have an idea; there is a small planet to galactic east which you can use, and naturally, you will require a guide once you enter."

Attelus fought back a frown and nodded; the last few times, they'd been forced to ride in Eldar spacecraft through the webway, piloted by Eldar Rangers or outcasts. Each time it'd been awkward, to say the least; all of their Eldar hosts were aloof, contemptuous toward them. Attelus and Adelana were forced to live off dry rations for the weeks of transit because the Eldar wouldn't share their food. But what had to be done had to be done.

"Alright!" Attelus sighed, rapidly scratching the back of his skull. "Alright, Just give me the name and coordinates."

Faleaseens smiled a rare smile and tilted her head, her insanely long red hair tied into a top knot flowing gracefully with the movement.

"This time, it will be different," she said. "I am sending someone special to meet you, someone, who has wished to meet you for quite a while now."

Attelus pouted and tilted his head. Well, that didn't sound ominous at all.

Not ominous at all.

Faleaseen, still smiling, said, "the planet is what you humans call, Iocanthos."

It would be a week's warp travel to Iocanthos, and they'd decided on a day of prep before leaving Darrance didn't seem too impressed (along with everyone else, he was just the most vocal about it) that they might have to transfer to the Gothic sector permanently.

Adelana didn't mind, though. There was pretty much nothing here left for her in the Calixis Sector, and the mission sounded important. Also, she knew of the 'shortcut' Attelus had access to that the others didn't. She wasn't sure what the others would make of this revelation; she knew the Imperium's attitude toward Xenos and humans who work with them.

Incredible importance.

Adelana sat in the large, brightly lit, white-walled mess hall, poking absently at her food with a fork. She was so lost in her thoughts; she almost missed her friend's approach.

"Adelana?" said a familiar, friendly voice and Adelana turned to her friend; well, there was one thing.

Seleen Gorret was another survivor of the Omnartus but not a native; in fact, she was from the same world as Attelus Kaltos, Elbyra.

'Unattractive' would be a word to describe her if one was polite, very polite. But Seleen was one of the kindest, sweetest people Adelana had ever met. She'd helped her more than anyone else during the dark days. They'd once worked together in the mail delivery room in Taryst's tower and had for two years before the incident. During that time, they'd become friends as well as colleagues. After Adelana had lost her parents, she'd been like a surrogate mother to her.

Seleen was once quite fat but had lost a lot of weight over the past three years, and due to some rejuvenant treatment, she looked younger. But even at her peak Adelana doubted men would look at her often.

"You wanted to talk?" said Seleen as she sat at the table across from Adelana, placing her food in front of her.

Adelana nodded. "How're things going at the library?"

Seleen smiled and shuffled in her seat, "same old boring same. My job isn't quite so exciting and interesting as yours. The place is stuffy, cramped and my colleagues old, boring once-administratum clerks and all male. I really miss you when you leave with him on your many...excursions."

Seleen emphasised 'him' and 'excursions' pointedly, causing Adelana to frown; she knew where this conversation would go, so she quickly, deftly changed the subject.

"Speaking of my 'excursions', I have bad news..."

"You're on yet another, right?" said Seleen as she stuffed a fork full of food into her mouth. "How long will you be away for this time?"

Adelana pursed her lips and swallowed, glancing at the ceiling. "I don't know," she croaked. "It could be months; it could be..."

"Years?" said Seleen after Adelana trailed off, her eyes wide.

Adelana bit her lip, or centuries.

"Oh honey," said Seleen looking at Adelana with tears in her eyes. "I'm guessing you can't tell me where you're going?"

"Nope," said Adelana with a shake of her head, causing her ponytail to weave with the movement. "I'm sorry."

It was Seleen's turn to shake her head, "no need to apologise, honey. It's all part of the job, isn't it? You're in the service of...No, the highest service to the Emperor if I were younger."

She paused and smiled. "And even a little bit physically capable, I'd be there with you, fighting mankind's enemies. I must say I do envy you at times, Adelana."

Adelana bit her lip as she fought to contain the anger suddenly flaring through her.

"You know one other reason why I envy you," said on Seleen.

"Don't start this again," said Adelana, shaking her head.

Seleen shrugged. "He obviously likes you, and you like him, so I don't understand..."

"We're colleagues, Seleen," Adelana sighed. "Besides, he's my master..."

"But he respects you enough to insist you never call him that, and he never calls you apprentice," Seleen interrupted. "Most men would kill to have a woman call them master constantly."

"Maybe it's because he isn't that much older than me," said Adelana with a shrug. "Besides, if we become more, it might get in the way of our work and..."

"Oh, don't give me that!" snapped Seleen, but with good humour and a dismissive wave. "It won't make a lick of difference; you two have feelings for each other whether or not you get together. It's going to get in the way, anyway. In fact, I think it'll help and not to mention bring you and him much needed happiness."

"But the other girls..."

"Who cares what the other girls will do," said Seleen. "Besides, you and he are leaving for years, aren't you?"

"Yeah, but..."

"Yeah, but what?" said Seleen.

"He scares me, Seleen," said Adelana; this was the first time she'd told anyone this, and it felt like she was getting a weight off her chest. "He really freaks me out; he's got a dark side. I've fought with him for years, and when he fights, I see his dark side. He enjoys it; he enjoys it way too much. He has issues, Seleen and I fear with one push..."

Seleen nodded but didn't say anything.

"I think I want to," Adelana paused and shook her head. "I think I need to ask for a transfer and..."

"And if you start up a relationship with him, you fear it will be too hard," Seleen finished.

"And also, Karmen..."

Seleen nodded yet again. "I understand; what are you going to do?"

"After this mission, I'll talk to with him," said Adelana.

"That might be the 'push' you had mentioned," warned Seleen.

"I have to," said Adelana.

Seleen sighed and leaned back in her chair. "It has been three years. Weirdly, he hasn't made a move yet."

"And thank the Emperor he hasn't," said Adelana. "It'd be awkward. I think he has issues with women; he's very, quite shy about that sort of thing. Maybe he knows deep down that he'll be rejected."

"I still think you should reconsider," said Seleen, but Adelana silenced her with an outreached hand.

"Seleen, can we please talk about something else?" she said. "I might never see you ever again. I've only got one day before we're scheduled to leave."

"Don't say that," said Seleen. "Just have faith in the God-Emperor, and he will see you through."

Adelana bit her lip. "Yes, of course."

Seleen smiled. "Alright, let's talk about something else. We could talk about yet another of your many suitors. How about Jharn Omis, the crewman? He's quite handsome..."

Adelana's furrowed brow and pursed lips caused Seleen to trail off in her sentence. Then a huge grin split the older woman's face.

"I'm joking! Joking! God-Emperor, if looks could kill, not even the Emperor himself could have saved me then!"

Adelana couldn't help but laugh, laugh the hardest and longest she'd laughed in a long time.

"How's the sword training going?" asked Seleen. "How's Helma? You two getting on?"

The door swished open, causing Arlathan Karkin to look up from the reports sent from their acolyte cells on Solomon.

It was one of the Stormtroopers standing guard at his door; Arlathan had forgotten his name. They all looked the same to him.

"Interrogator," he said. "Karmen Kons wishes to speak with you."

Arlathan groaned and rubbed his forehead.

"Send her in," he sighed with a weary wave. What, in the Emperor's name, does she want?

With her usual confident swagger, Karmen walked in.

"I gather you and Attelus have gathered your squad and briefed them," said Arlathan.

"We have," said Karmen, and there was something in her tone he instantly didn't like.

He sighed again and gave her his full attention. "Is there something wrong?"

"Frig, yes," she growled. "I would like to know the real reason why you've sent us on this fool's errand."

Arlathan raised a scarred brow. "It doesn't seem a fool's errand to me."

"You know it is!" Karmen snapped. "Now tell me why before I tear through that mindlock of yours and find out myself!"

Arlathan frowned and steepled his fingers, elbows placed on his desk. "I don't know, Karmen. If there's any other reason for it, only mamzel Enandra knows and hasn't shared it with me. By the Emperor, I swear Attelus was meant to be the paranoid one. Shouldn't he be here and not you?"

Karmen grimaced and straightened slightly, seeing that Arlathan was telling the truth. Then her eyes narrowed.

"Tell me what you think, maybe other reasons why we may have been sent on this fool's errand."

Arlathan sighed yet again. "Karmen, this is far from being a 'fool's errand' I understand you're angry. I would be too if in your uhh boots too. We've got to chase any and all clues of Etuarq, and you, Attelus and the others are the most qualified..."

He trailed off as he saw she still looked down at him, narrowed eyed, arms folded.

"Alright," he said. "Do you really want to know?"

"Would I ask if I didn't?"

Arlathan smiled and shrugged. "It's a test. A test for Attelus, mostly. We've noticed how he and Adelana, over the past three years, have used a 'shortcut.' Despite some subtle looks into their minds by Helva, what that shortcut is, is still a mystery. I think Enandra believes he will use that shortcut, that, once you return, we might be able to find how they're managing it. Also, because of that shortcut, I think Enandra believes Attelus will find a way not just to get there faster than anyone else but also to bypass the warpstorm. Somehow."

Arlathan studied Karmen carefully as he expressed this but saw not even the slightest change in her expression or anything. If anyone else knew the truth of the matter, it was her.

"Why do you figure that?" she asked.

"Figure what, exactly?" said Arlathan.

"That he will be able to bypass the warpstorm?" said Karmen.

Arlathan shrugged. "That I don't know. Everything I've just told you is conjecture, pure and simple."

Karmen didn't say anything, and Arlathan smiled.

"But I'm sure you've already come to such conjecture yourself," he said, swivelling in his chair. "As Attelus has too, I'm sure."

Karmen frowned, and her attention fell to the floor. "What might happen to him if he's found..."

"To be keeping secrets?" finished Arlathan. "Depends on the secrets, Estella."

"Don't call me that," she breathed.

Arlathan smiled. "He still thinks I found out your real identity by researching into your past, doesn't he?"

"Arlathan! Shut it!" she hissed. "It was one time, okay? I was upset and...Besides, according to the gossip engine, you and the Inquisitor have something going on. I wouldn't want to see her get jealous and y'know, kill you."

Arlathan couldn't help but grimace behind his beard, he would very much like that, but that bastard, Kollath, was constantly in the way.

"Or not," said Karmen as she approached the large leather couch and planted herself on it. "I'm surprised you and Kollath haven't killed each other yet."

"Why does it have to be so complicated?" sighed Arlathan.

"It's as they say," said Karmen. "Don't mix work and love together; keep them as separate as Heretics and loyalists."

"Well, if we had any kind of life out of work, that would be possible," said Arlathan.

"She likes beards, doesn't she?"

Arlathan absently stroked his beard. "I was growing it before...before..."

Karmen laughed though it held no humour and laid on the couch. "Here we are, the both of us. Rejects, homeless, hopeless and have no life besides our jobs."

"Hey," said Arlathan. "At least we aren't indirectly responsible for the death of an entire world and billions of lives with it."

Karmen sighed. "Yeah, at least we're not that."

For a good half a minute, they were silent.

"Do you think she'll kill him?" Karmen asked, breaking the silence.

"I most certainly hope not," said Arlathan. "I'll try to talk on his behalf, Karmen. That I swear."

"What makes you think I care?" Karmen growled, but it lacked any real ire.

"You do," said Arlathan with a smile. "I don't need to be a mind reader to know that."

Again, they were silent and again, it was Karmen who broke the silence.

"As much as I hate to admit it, I'll miss you," she said.

"Purely in a platonic way?" asked Arlathan with a smile.

"Yes," said Karmen, without hesitation, but it brought Arlathan no pain. He understood what their relationship was going to be a long time ago. They were friends, friends who were attracted to one another and had once eloped, but that was that, nothing more. Both of them had stronger feelings for someone else, who then, in turn, had stronger feelings for someone else.

"I'll miss you because you can put things in perspective," said Karmen. "And, well, it's not complicated, y'know?"

"Yeah, I know," said Arlathan. "I'll miss you as well, Estella Erith."

She raised her head and met his gaze, smiling. "And despite everything, you aren't as burdened by cynicism and pragmatism like so many others here."

"You really think that?" said Arlathan, finding it very hard to believe.

Karmen climbed off the couch and stretched a nice sight while wearing that black bodyglove.

"I do," said Karmen as she made for the door. "See you when I see you."

"There could be another reason why Inquisitor Enandra has sent you and Attelus to the Gothic sector," said Arlathan, causing Karmen to stop and turn to him, their eyes locking.

"She actually believes you are good enough to be able to start an entirely new network there and good enough to perform such a feat well," said Arlathan. "It is a huge, huge endeavour. It shows more respect and honour to you and him. I think Enandra admires you, all of you. No, I know she does, even if one or two of you are keeping secrets. Perhaps that might be one of the reasons. That they were able to keep it hidden for so long, that takes skill. Who knows?"

Karmen smiled. "You're almost there, Arlathan," she said, then turned and started again. "Almost."

With Arlathan and Kollath at her flanks. Inquisitor Jelcine Enandra stood in the large, bustling hangar bay. They were waiting at the base of the boarding ramp of Attelus and company's assigned Guncutter. It was a Salvani class VIII Guncutter, the very same Salvani class VIII Guncutter they'd escaped Omnartus three years ago. It'd proven a reliable and capable void-class ship over the years.

Arlathan, on her left, eyed the inquisitor side-long; she wore her master worked, black lined with gold power armour, and she just seemed to radiate authority and charisma with such strength it was almost palpable. Her piercing blue eyes fixed forwards, her attractive features unreadable.

Jelcine's healthy, chocolate brown skin shown in the bright light and her very long, thin white hair was tied up in a top knot and a pointed, wide-brimmed hat customary for the Ordo Hereticus tucked into her armpit.

To say the symbolism was obvious would've been the biggest understatement of the millennia, as Attelus would say.

Kollath stood on her right; his helmet was held under his arm, revealing his ridiculous to the point of being cartoonish, masculine, handsome features, the tip of his ceremonial power sword on the floor.

Arlathan grimaced slightly and turned to young Vex Carpompter.

The slightly built young hacker stood straight as an arrow, trying his hardest to look tough and failing miserably.

"Relax, kid," said Arlathan, and he couldn't help but smile, "you look like someone's stuck a Lascannon up your proverbial rectum."

After Jeurat Garrakson had died on Omnartus, Arlathan had taken up teaching Vex how to fight; in the sporadic times, they could both get the time. Arlathan, over the past three years, had grown to think of Vex as a little brother of sorts. He reminded Arlathan of himself when he was young, arrogant, talented and about as coordinated as a drunken Grox.

Arlathan had worked through that and became the top hand to hand combatant in his Magistratum precinct. It'd taken him a few years of constant training, but he got there; Vex still had a while yet, even after so long.

Or maybe Arlathan was just a terrible teacher? He quickly dismissed the thought, as a low life Marshall, he'd taught his fair share of recruits, and they'd all done pretty well.

Vex visibly relaxed. "S-sorry," the kid stammered.

Arlathan smiled and shook his head.

"What are you doing here, anyway?" asked Kollath gruffly. "Shouldn't you be at your little Cogitator typing away, with your skinny, girly little fingers? That's where you belong, isn't it?"

Arlathan glared at the Stormtrooper sergeant. "Shut it, Kollath," he growled.

"Or you'll what, pube face?" said Kollath. "Shoot me? My arse has a better beard than you, by the way."

"I outrank you, remember, sergeant," said Arlathan. "So shut up."

"Well, I outrank the both of you," said Enandra; her voice was soft but cut over the din like a powered blade cutting through paper. "So both of you shut up. Oh, and Kollath. Vex has every right to be here, he might not be seeing his friends for a long time, so of course, he'll see them off."

Kollath grimaced and muttered, "he even has friends? News to me."

This elicited another glare from Arlathan, and he wondered for the thousandth time what Inquisitor saw in him.

Jelcine placed the wide-brimmed hat on her head and asked, "Arlathan, how do I look?"

Arlathan opened his mouth to answer but quickly stopped himself, knowing he'd just gush. To Enandra, it'd just come off as arse kissing, and if the Inquisitor truly hated anything, it was sycophants. Them and Amalathians and the Ecclesiarchy and Chaos and mindless fanatics, the list was long.

"You look like the embodiment of all the Ordo Hereticus stands for, ma'am," said Arlathan, after some thought, and it was the truth.

A small smile slowly crossed her full lips, "I hope you are aware of the irony of your words, Arlathan."

"I am," said Arlathan. "But it doesn't make it any less true, ma'am."

It was then that Attelus and his team walked into the hanger.

In the lead was the young man himself; he walked with his usual confident, casual, graceful gait, indicative of his status as an extremely skilled swordsman and martial artist. This despite carrying three big, bulky equipment bags. One on his back and one in each hand. It was easy to forget just how strong Attelus was due to his slight height and slender build. He was the only one smiling.

Next was Adelana and Halsin. The young, lovely red head's face was as unreadable as always. She wore a grey syn-skin bodyglove and a pack on her back almost as large as one of the three Attelus carried. Slung on her left shoulder was her signature weapon, a silenced bolter with a wire stock attachment; she too was far stronger than she looked, being of similar height and build to Attelus. The irony wasn't lost on Arlathan that an agent with a more subtle skill set would use such an unsubtle weapon.

Halsin looked not quite as calm; he carried not just one pack but many pouches of medical equipment that hung awkwardly from his webbing. They would've added a lot more weight on the poor young man's thin frame, this on top of an auto gun. Even many hardened Imperial guard veterans would suffer under such weight, which made the young medicae's physical fitness level all the more impressive.

After them was Karmen Kons and Vark, Karmen carried just as much as Attelus and just as easily, but this was because she was wearing power armour of similar form-fitting design to the Inquisitor. It was coloured a dull grey and withheld much of the more fanciful decoration of the Inquisitor's, but that didn't detract from the aura of power and intimidation the armour gave off. A psychic hood hung over her head. Karmen Kons was easily the most powerful and skilled psyker the organisation possessed. There was a rivalry between her and Enandra's personal psyker, Helva, but it was mostly one-sided. She'd been gifted the power armour because of that extreme power and strength; it would also protect her during the many times Karmen would leave her body in her incorporeal form.

Vark was in full Stormtrooper carapace; his rebreather mask hung from his helmet. He carried his Hell gun with the casual calm only the truly professional was capable of, his small blue eyes darting anywhere and everywhere, soaking every detail. Despite still being on a ship full of friendlies, he was already in full-on bodyguard mode. As much as Arlathan had his misgivings of the ex-mercenary's personality and beliefs, he couldn't deny he was skilled and experienced beyond belief.

Following was Hayden and Jelket. The reason why Jelket had been assigned as Hayden's guard and spotter instead of the sniper's apprentice was that their cult had called Serlia back. At Hayden's and Enandra's recommendation, she had been deemed good enough to have finished her apprenticeship. Once she'd completed her trials, she would be re-assigned under Enandra again.

That was if she completed the trials; apparently, they were as hard as hell. Just after the destruction of Omnartus, Attelus had to take them too, and even he had struggled to pass. However, he'd never supplied Arlathan with any detailed summary.

Hayden was weighed down even more than Attelus and Karmen, although he struggled noticeably. The huge man wore a black bodyglove, equipment bristled off his webbing, and he carried two bags in each hand and had his Long-las and a knapsack slung on his broad back.

Jelket, like Vark, wore his full Stormtrooper carapace but carried a Long Las, yet on top of that, he also carried a Hellgun and charge pack. To anyone else carrying both weapons without power, armour would've been awkward, to say the least, but the ex-guardsman somehow could manage it, easily in fact, being able to change from one weapon to the other in the blink of an eye. It made him a very adaptable soldier, perhaps even more so than Hayden. But this also made him incapable of carrying much else. (hence why Hayden was carrying five bags)

Just after was Torris and Verenth. Torris had stubbornly refused to wear Inquisitorial carapace, foregoing it for the lighter but not as strong, dark blue Arbites carapace. He carried his Melta gun and slung his shotgun under his left arm. On his back was surely the largest backpack of all one that contained the igniter fluid drums for the high powered tank-killing weapon he carried. As usual, Torris looked angry, his brow furrowed, brown eyes fixed forward. His lantern jaw so strong that he rivalled Kollath in manliness.

Verenth was a complete contrast to Torris, both had opposite backgrounds, and he wore no armour at all. Still electing to wear his gang's leathers back on Omnartus, the insignia on his back. The tall, lanky young man was also laden with equipment, her face a mask of intense concentration.

Last it was Delathasi and Helma.

Delathasi wore a black bodyglove, like Hayden. Her twin mono-blades sheathed on her back. The tall, long-limbed apprentice walked with an easy grace belying her lankiness despite carrying another large bag and struggling to keep it from dragging on the floor. Delathasi's attention was set downward, her soft features contorted with strain. It was a shame to Arlathan; she would've been beautiful if it wasn't for her pugilist's nose and very noticeable acne.

Arlathan glanced at Vex, who stood entranced by the girl with that thought. Arlathan didn't know if the young assassin felt the same, but he couldn't help feel sorry for Vex.

Again, Helma wore full Stormtrooper carapace and walked with so much confidence it almost became haughtiness. She easily carried two huge bags and had her Hell gun slung casually over her left shoulder. She was strong, easily one of the strongest women in the organisation; Arlathan had decided a long time ago to never mess with her.

Following them were seven servitors carrying the bulk of their equipment.

The crewmen and other servitors moving throughout the hanger stopped and stepped aside, allowing them a way through. Such was the respect they commanded.

Attelus approached and stopped, not even having to drop his huge bags to bring his hands together and make the sign of the Aquila at his chest. Everyone else halted behind him, and there was a collective sigh as Delathasi, Halsin, Verenth, and Jelket dropped their bags.

"Mamzel Enandra, Interrogator Arlathan, Sergeant Kollath, Vex," he said. "It's good to see you."

Enandra smiled. "You do know we have more Servitors to carry your equipment, right, Attelus?

Attelus shrugged. "A bit of strength training has never hurt anyone," he said.

"Yes, it has," said Helma.

Attelus just pouted and furrowed his brow.

"Well," said Enandra. "This will be your first mission leading such a large team; you nervous?"

He shrugged. "Well, if you hadn't assigned me so many people who hated me, I'd be a bit less nervous."

"That's understandable," said Enandra. "Just don't let that nervousness overtake you, and you'll do fine. I have great faith in you, Attelus. I wouldn't have made you mission leader if I did not."

"I won't," he said with admirable conviction. "There's too much at stake here, mamzel, and thank you."

"Good," said Enandra with a nod. "Good to hear that."

She pulled her gaze away from the assassin and looked over his compatriots, meeting each pair of eyes in turn. Arlathan followed her gaze, as did Attelus.

What she saw caused Enandra to sigh. "I can see that many of you are not happy to be assigned this mission, and I'll be honest, I sympathise. There are surely varying reasons why you feel like this, and again, I'm sure they are good reasons."

She paused and began to pace; Arlathan watched her, enraptured; her skill as an orator wasn't rivalled. Well, except for one, Inquisitor Brutis Bones, also of the Ordo Hereticus, was almost as good.

"Some might feel that I am exiling you, getting rid of you; that is not true," she said, her armour joints whirring with every step. "Some of you might feel that I send you away because I think you incompetent or expendable; that as well is not true. In fact, that is the complete opposite reason."

Enandra paused again, meeting the eyes of everyone once more. "I send you because all of you, bar none, have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are among the best. Not just the best in my organisation, but amongst the best of the Ordo Calixis. Time and time again, you have proven your skill and ability and reliability and excelled in your field of expertise."

She stopped her pacing. "Individually, all of you have made great achievements. Attelus! You have killed Space Marines! Not just one, not just two, but three! Three! Or four, depending on who you ask. I couldn't even claim such a feat! Adelana! You managed to infiltrate a Slaaneshi cult and kill their leader and slip away hours before the cultists even had a clue what happened! Verenth! You have headshot an enemy from two hundred metres on the draw! Torris! You managed to single-handedly hold off dozens and dozens of attacking cultists for hours, allowing for Imperial Guard reinforcements to drop in and finish it!"

Enandra trailed off and smiled. "If I stood here and listed all of your achievements, I would be here for hours, but I think you get my point. If you could perform such feats alone, imagine how many you could achieve together. I believe, no, I know that you will take down Etuarq and do much much, much more!"

"Maybe even conquer a world?" she said eventually, and many laughed at such an absurdity.

She shrugged. "You never know. Now I will not hold you up any longer. I wish all of you the best of luck, and may the Emperor be with you."

With that, she stepped aside, and they began to file into the Guncutter, saying their farewells as they went.

"Thank you for that," said Attelus as he too allowed the others to pass. "Amazing, awe-inspiring speeches like that aren't exactly my forte, in all honesty."

"Everyone has their own style of leadership," said Enandra. "You'll find yours sooner rather than later. I know it."

Attelus smiled and held out his hand, which Enandra took and shook. "Well, I hope we'll see you again, and sooner rather than later."

Then he started up the ramp after the others.

"Oh! And Attelus!" she called, causing him to stop and look over his shoulder at her.

"Remember, anything and everything to win, right?"

Attelus stared at her blankly before saying, "as you wish."

Then he started up the ramp again, muttering, "as you wish, indeed," with an unseen smile.

Part 2: Iocanthos

The week of warp travel to Iocanthos was uneventful.

Enandra had organised them a ride on the trading frigate The Calamandastron. Needless to say, the shipmaster, a haughty, aristocratic character named Durpount (who also had a moustache very much worthy of his name), Was not happy they wanted to stop off at Iocanthos. The initial plan was to travel all the way to his destination, the hive world of Canopus, where they would organise another ride to, hopefully, straight to the Ixaniad sector.

Having to transition out and back into warp space at Iocanthos would delay him by an extra four days.

It'd taken Karmen and Attelus a good hour of negotiation with the very irate Durpount to come up with a solution (which meant their funds took a bit of a hit)

As much as Attelus dreaded having to travel with Eldar again and the potentially far-reaching consequences, he was frigging glad they didn't have to exit and enter the warp over and over and to negotiate with shipmaster after shipmaster for transport for months on end.

Luckily, Karmen was a seasoned negotiator (even when not using her mind control powers, which Attelus insisted she didn't)

As they came closer to Iocanthos, the cold, clammy feeling of anxiety in Attelus' chest became all the stronger.

How the hell was he going to explain them travelling with the Eldar? He'd asked Faleaseen in one of their dream conversations, and she wasn't very helpful at all.

"I am afraid that you will have to figure out the answer to this conundrum yourself, Attelus Kaltos," she'd said. "I cannot hold your hand for everything."

Attelus had frowned at that; she'd helped him over the years without a doubt, but he'd managed to achieve much by himself, and out of all the times, he could've truly used her help. It would've been now.

He'd wiled away the hours training with the others in team-building exercises he'd researched on the cogitators back on The Audacious Edge. They were doing well, not as well as he hoped but not as bad as he'd expected. The one who'd proven the most stubborn toward it was Hayden. He was old, the oldest of the group, but how old exactly Attelus didn't know, he looked in his late forties, but that didn't mean much in the Imperium of man, with rejuvanent treatments and such. He'd worked alone or in pairs for so long now he was set in his ways; he seemed to passive-aggressively resist it at every turn, much to Attelus choler.

Two days before they were scheduled to transition into real space, Attelus, Karmen, and Adelana met in the Guncutter's common room to discuss how to handle having to travel with the Eldar.

Strangely it'd been Adelana who'd suggested that Karmen use her powers to influence their minds, hide it from them.

Karmen was quick to shoot that down, citing that it would be impractical. Due to the length of the voyage, the complicated nature of such manipulation on so many minds and the psychic blocks protecting them had been made Helva, complicating it even further.

In the end, they'd decided there was no choice; they had to come clean. Then Adelana and Karmen agreed it was Attelus who was to do it.

"Why me?" Attelus had whined, despite already knowing the answer.

Karmen smiled. "You are our fearless leader, aren't you? Besides, it's because of your connection with the Eldar that we're doing this, is it not?"

Attelus had glared at her and clenched his jaw, remembering that Karmen had a 'connection' to the Eldar as well but chose to keep that quiet.

"They won't like this," Attelus had said. "They've got enough to be pissed off about, and Verenth and Torris have enough reason to hate me already. And now they're going to learn I'm collaborating with Xenos?"

"I don't know if Verenth and Torris should be the people you worry about, Attelus," Adelana said. "Vark's a true believer in the Imperial Creed; he'll probably take the News the worst."

"The Emperor hates me, doesn't he?" Attelus had sighed.

"Well," said Adelana. "If he does, who could blame him? Really?"

Even Karmen laughed at that, and Attelus couldn't help but smile.

So here he was, a day later, standing in the Guncutter's common room, every one of his squad (and Darrance) scattered around and staring at him intently.

He took a long inhale before starting, "thank you for coming."

Attelus paused and scratched the back of his head vigorously; public speaking had never been his forte. He couldn't help remember back at his scholam at twelve years old, having to perform a speech in front of the class and how terrified he'd been. It was funny; the bullies had long ago learnt not to mess with the quiet, pale, skinny little freak in class 11/5. He'd never been scared to face down five children twice his size and intent on beating the shit out of him, but having to tell the past of his idol, the legendary prince Royd Antares of Velrosia, to an audience of twenty-four or more. It almost made him shit his pants.

Now, obviously, he'd long got over such fear, but in a situation like this, not so much. A brief image popped in his head of Verenth just abruptly drawing his auto pistol and blowing his brains out the moment he finished. He imagined Vark screaming and shouting so strongly spittle sprayed all over him like torrential rain. Attelus always had an overly active imagination, which had proven to be a curse after he'd decided to join this line of work.

He looked over his audience and saw them watching on with a mixture of bemusement, impatience and annoyance. Eventually, he met the gaze of Adelana, who gave him a small smile and a slight nod of encouragement.

That was all he needed.

"The reason why I have called you here today is," he paused again, trying to figure out exactly how to carry on. "This mission comes with another twist."

There were some mumbles and glances of bemusement exchanged.

"I have arranged a shortcut," he said. "A faster way to travel to Sarkeath."

"Alright," said Helma. "That is...certainly a twist."

Torris' eyes narrowed sceptically. "I don't understand," he said.

Attelus sniggered and shrugged. "I don't quite understand, either. In all honesty."

He stopped again, expecting some sort of ridicule, but they just looked at him with almost enraptured interest.

"As all of you know, now, we're making a stop off at the agri world..." he trailed off, even calling Iocanthos an agri world was a bit of a stretch as its first and only export was Ghost Fire pollen, the main ingredient for a combat enhancement used by the penal legions of the Imperial Guard. "Of Iocanthos, and there is a very good reason for that."

"And that reason being?" said Darrance with a raised eyebrow.

"That is where we'll be meeting...them," said Attelus.

"Them, who?" asked Torris when Attelus didn't continue.

"Them," he stopped and shuffled nervously, may as well just tell. "Them meaning, the Eldar."

There was a very long pause as everyone stared at Attelus blankly.

"The...what?" said Vark.

"The Eldar," Attelus said, straightening and placing his hands behind his back; there, the secret was finally out, and it actually felt good. "They are our allies in this endeavour, and they are going to help us reach Sarkeath far faster than normal."

"But, I don't understand," said Jelket. "When I was in the guard, I fought against the Eldar once; they were psychotic, cruel and used horrific weapons, that caused...that caused...Oh, God-Emperor!"

He trailed off as a slow look of dawning horror crossed his ruddy face.

Attelus sighed. "Please calm down; it's not that kind of Eldar, Jelket. These are a different kind. Those are known as the Dark Eldar; we are being helped by the Craftworld Eldar. There's a difference."

"Which means?" said Helma. "That they're just going to kill us?"

"Which means we won't suffer horrific, horrific torment at their hands," he sighed yet again. "and no, they're not going to kill us. I hope all you have heard the saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend?' Right?"

There were a few hesitant nods.

"Well, this to the empth degree, they want to stop Etuarq almost as much as we do," Attelus said. "They have something they call the Webway; it's like a sub-dimension between the material universe and the warp. It allows for faster and safer travel than the Immaterium."

"I've never heard of this, webway, before," said Darrance.

"Of course you haven't; not many humans have," said Attelus.

"Except you," said Vark, darkly, and Attelus had to fight back the urge to flinch as the cold anxiety in his chest abruptly got worse.

"Well, I," he stammered, losing his bluster; that was when Adelana got to her feet and walked to his right.

"I know as well," she said. I've known for a long time now."

"As have I," said Estella, then she too stood up and walked to stand on his left.

Attelus had to fight back a smile.

"So you two are Xenos collaborators as well?" growled Vark.

"We are," said Estella. "You are aware of the circumstances, aren't you, Vark?"

Vark said nothing, just sneered. It was an ugly expression.

"How?" said Hayden, his deep voice reverberating through the silence and seemingly the entire ship.

"That!" said Attelus. "Is a long and sordid story, Hayden. One which I cannot and will not tell you."

A collective bellow of anger and frustration caused Attelus to flinch with fright.

"I'm not telling you, and that is that!" Attelus roared so strongly it caused the others to fall into silence. "I have my reasons, and you will respect that!"

"We deserve to know!" snarled Vark. "This is heresy! Against all that the God-Emperor teaches! Collaboration with Xenos is an affront to mankind."

"Yes," said Attelus. "Perhaps it is."

There was a weighted moment of silence.

"If only this galaxy was actually in reality as black and white as you seem to believe, Vark," Attelus growled.

Vark was suddenly on his feet and face to face with Attelus. "And what the hell does that mean?"

Attelus smiled. "It means, Vark, that your belief, your whole worldview doesn't coincide with reality."

"Oh? And what? Your's does? What the hell makes you so qualified, huh?" Vark demanded.

"I'd say I'm more qualified than you," Attelus said without a hint of hesitation. "I never let myself be brainwashed by Imperial dogma, and a whole world is dead because of my actions. If that doesn't lend perspective, I don't know what does. And that's why I'm in charge of this mission, not you. So stand down before I put you down."

Vark didn't move. "is that why you can do all that shit you can do? Is it the Xenos who made you like that?"

Attelus didn't say anything, just clenched his jaw.

Vark turned away. "You hear that? He all but admits his guilt! He isn't just collaborating with the Xenos! He is one of them! How can we trust him knowing they are influencing him? Corrupting the rest of us with his role as our leader? He is their pawn-"

"I was once meant to be their pawn," Attelus interrupted. "But after everything, I earned their respect and trust; I earned her respect and trust. I'd hoped I'd earned yours as well."

"You did!" Vark snapped. "But after learning this..."

"After learning this, you now know just how far I'm willing to go to stop Etuarq!" Attelus said. "I know this is hard for you to swallow, hard for all of you to swallow, but please, just hear me out."

Everyone was silent, even Vark and all attention, back on Attelus.

"I am, a student of Imperial history and throughout the millennia there are countless times that humanity has corroborated with Xenos breeds, there are as we speak Rogue Traders today that are trading with Xenos on their homeworlds for important materials..."

"But that's different," said Vark.

"Yes, it is," said Attelus quickly. "I'm not denying that it is different, Vark; you're right. But, how many times have the Ultramarines, supposedly the exemplar of all the Imperium of Mankind and the Astartes in general stand for, corroborated with the Tau against the Tyranid menace? How many times have the Eldar and humanity fought together to defeat the forces of the Ruinous Powers? It is pragmatism, simple pragmatism. What I have learned over the years is the Eldar aren't that much different to us. Sure, they live a hell of a lot longer, but they live and love and fight for their existence just like us. They aren't interested in destroying us; they don't want to corrupt us, they just want to be left alone and survive, and Etuarq is a threat to that. He is their enemy as much as ours, and thanks to them, we have a way to reach Sarkeath early enough to maybe make a difference!"

Attelus paused, close to being overwhelmed with emotion; he briefly shut his eyes and took a long breath before continuing, "in the end, all it comes down to is this, I ask you, all of you. Do you want to have to stand by and have to watch another world burn?"

There was no answer, and he didn't expect one.

"Do you want to stand by and watch it with the knowledge you could've prevented it? That you let your prejudice get in the way of saving billions more innocent souls," said Attelus. "Because that's what will happen if you abandon me now. I can't do this alone; I need you! All of you!"

"If that's true, why don't you just work with the Xenos, then?" snarked Vark.

"Believe it or not, Vark, I'm still human," said Attelus with a smile. "And In all honesty, I'd rather the twelve of you watching my back than a thousand Eldar! Once we reach Iocanthos, you may leave. I will find go to Sarkeath by my myself. But once I fail, which I surely will. I'll be the only one with a clear conscience because I was the only one who at least tried, so are you with me? If you are, please raise your hand!"

Adelana and Karmen both raised their hands without a second's hesitation.

For what must've been less than half a minute, but to Attelus felt like a lifetime when the third person finally raised their hand. That person was Hayden Tresch; a few seconds later, Darrance followed quickly by Helma, Delathasi, then Jelket, Halsin, Torris, and eventually, Verenth.

Attelus had to fight back the tears welling in his eyes.

When Vark saw all of this, he let out a growl of frustration, and he too reluctantly raised his hand.

"Alright! You win frig you!" he snarled. "But once we get back, I'm telling the Inquisitor everything; you got that?"

"I wouldn't expect anything less," said Attelus. "And thank you, thank you...All of you."

He sniffed and rubbed his eyes with a forearm.

"Are you crying, Attelus?" said Helma.

"No," he whined. "It's just the recycled oxygen getting in my eyes, is all."

There were a few laughs at the feeble lie.

"And thank you for already agreeing to come because I'm sorry to say it only gets worse. I'm sorry."

Then he told them the rest.
My short story Of An Asur living in the land of Bretonnia:


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Chapter 3

#4 Post by Adrassil »

Needless to say, the others weren't happy to learn they would have to travel in a Xenos' vessel for a fortnight.

"Stay in the Guncutter, then," Attelus had sighed. "No, I order all of you to stay in the Guncutter. The alliance is tenuous enough already; I don't want any of you causing any trouble."

"I'm guessing the psyker and your girlfriend are exempt from this?" Darrance had sneered.

Attelus didn't say anything, he'd smiled, and his face turned red with embarrassment.

"Yes, you are correct," Karmen had said in Attelus' stead. "Does that upset you, aristocrat?"

Darrance didn't reply, just sneered again and folded his arms across his chest.

"Is that everything, Attelus?" growled Helma. "Or have you got even more 'twists' for us?"

Attelus frowned and shook his head. His eyes fell to the floor, and he shuffled uncomfortably.

"Good," said Vark. "And dismissed, we're dismissed, right?"

Attelus managed a nod.

"Good," growled Vark. "'Cause we're done."

Then everyone but Adelana and Karmen started to file out.

"You'll still help me, right?" Attelus stammered desperately.

It was Torris who turned and answered, "yeah, only because you'd manipulated us into promising before telling us this. You'll never change, will you?"

"Nice work, apprentice," said Darrance.

"I'm not an apprentice anymore; I'm a master now. Remember?" Attelus sighed.

Darrance turned on him, "do you seriously think that I'll ever call you master? On second thought, do you want me to call you 'master'?"

There was a long, weighted pause before Attelus said, "no. No, I do not."

The next day, The Calamandastron entered real space, and an hour later, the Guncutter flew out of the hangar bay. Into the void.

Attelus had confined himself to his quarters, as had Karmen and Adelana theirs. He gave any instruction over vox and only if asked. The others barely talked to him. He hoped this wouldn't last long.

This was a mistake he was determined to learn from. He remembered three years ago how he lectured Brutis Bones and the others on the importance of telling the truth.

How much of a hypocrite Attelus was.

At the thought of Brutis Bones, Attelus wondered what happened to the Inquisitor. Had he escaped the destruction of Omnartus? Attelus doubted that it would be him if anyone managed to escape. Had Brutis gone all the way back home to Segmentum Pacificus? Attelus envied the Inquisitor's natural charisma and leadership ability and wondered, what would he do now?

The answer quickly came to the Throne Agent. Brutis Bones wouldn't have gotten in this predicament in the first frigging place.

The beep of the vox caused Attelus to jump from his introspection.

"We're approaching the coordinates you gave," said Darrance. "You and your girlfriends better get ready."

"Got you," Attelus said as he stood and retrieved his sheathed power sword in an instant. "Anything on the scanners?"

"No," said Darrance as though it was the stupidest question in existence. "If there is anything, I will call you."

"Forget that," said Attelus. "I'm going up there."

"Sure," said Darrance, uncaring. "You do whatever you want to do; you are the master. After all.'

Attelus winced while stepping out the door.

Attelus was walking onto the small bridge when the Eldar vessel seemed to shimmer into existence. It was only two hundred kilometres away and dominated the view.

Attelus gaped; he expected another moderately large explanatory craft. But this was a warship it was large, perhaps two kilometres in length and bristled with the esoteric weapons from length to width.

"Not what you were expecting?" said Verenth, who sat at the hull-mounted weapon controls.

"No," said Attelus. "Not even close."

"Well," said Vark. "Just shows what you know."

Attelus' attention snapped to the smirking Stormtrooper who sat at the scanner. "Unlike you, who knows everything."

Vark shrugged.

+Mon'keigh,+ a soft male voice suddenly echoed through Attelus' mind, causing him to flinch. It was heavily accented, a stark contrast to Faleaseen's easy to understand words. +I am Warlock Klrith of Dalorsia; this is the Kaltoria, the flagship of master autarch Raloth Arlyandor. I will psychically guide your pilot to what you term "the docking bay." I will not try to warn you what will happen if you do or even think of anything out of place. Even you Mon'keigh have the mental capacity to understand that, I hope.+

"Charming," said Darrance. "What a positively charming Xenos. Maybe I'll share a recaff and cookies with this 'Warlock' and share war stories. That will be fun, sure as sure."

The corner of Attelus' mouth twitched, and he had to clench his teeth to keep from pointing out the pilot's hypocrisy.

Then Darrance looked over his shoulder at Attelus. "Are you sure this is the right way?"

"Yes," said Attelus without hesitation. Then he turned and left, saying: "Excuse me, I have a meeting to attend to."

Attelus wanted a smoke of Lho. He'd given up a few years ago, but the cravings still came when he was at his most nervous. Karmen and Adelana walked into the white, brightly lit, huge hanger bay. Their footfalls echoed on the wraithbone floor, and Attelus was uncomfortably reminded that his bones were made from the same stuff.

Twenty Eldar stood in disciplined ranks, watching their approach through impassive red slits in their high helms. Everyone was at least two metres tall and inhumanly slender. Their shuriken catapults held in confident grasps.

They were guardians, the militia of the Eldar. In the now-familiar colours of craftworld Dalorsia.

"What do we do?" Adelana whispered in Attelus' ear, causing a shiver to go down his neck.

"Stop there, that is what you do," said a voice that didn't just echo but boomed. It wasn't shouted but projected with such power and clarity all three of them couldn't help freeze but in their tracks. It was the voice of a true commander, one of incomparable experience and charisma.

Abruptly, the lines of guardians snapped simultaneously aside, making an opening in their ranks and two figures approached through. One was shorter than the others but no less slender, and he radiated an aura of such strength it was almost impossible not to stare. His armour was more ornate, and two flags flowed from the top of his backpack. In one hand, he held a shuriken catapult; the other held a beautiful single-edged power sword with a glowing red gem in its hilt. He lacked a helmet, and his long, brown hair was pulled up in a top knot and his almond-shaped eyes, fierce as he glared from under a hooded brow.

The other wore robes covered in glowing, eldritch runes and whose elaborate helm stared at Attelus with indifference in stark contrast to the other.

As they came close, Attelus had to fight the urge to flinch back. Neither Adelana nor Karmen managed it, though

While he was short for an Eldar, the helmetless Eldar still loomed over Attelus, almost literally looking down his nose at the Throne agents.

Then much to Attelus' surprise, the short Eldar suddenly sighed and facepalmed.

"I cannot believe that I am losing out to you," he muttered, like Faleaseen; his voice lacked a strong accent indicating he'd spent some time mastering Low-Gothic.

"Excuse me?" said Attelus, his eyes widening.

"Never mind," said the Eldar, quickly finding his poise. "It is nothing to concern yourself with. As you may have guessed, I am master autarch Raloth Arlyandor, formally of Dalorsia, which is warlock Klrith. I welcome you aboard the Kaltoria; you are Attelus Xanthis Kaltos, I assume..."

The autarch's eyes narrowed as he paused, "I have heard much about you."

Attelus couldn't help but straighten and smile brightly. "Really?"

"Yes, really," sighed Raloth Arlyandor. "And who are your companions?"

"This is my...Apprentice Adelana Helgen and my sanctioned psyker, Karmen Kons."

"Is this all of you?" said the warlock, his real voice even heavier accented in person. "As I understood, there were meant to be at least ten."

"The rest of them are staying in the ship," said Attelus through clenched teeth.

"Ah! I see," said Klrith. "Dissension in the ranks, how typically Mon'keigh of you."

Raloth sighed again. "Klrith..."

"And I do not understand that term 'sanctioned psyker," said the warlock quickly.

"It means I am sanctioned by the Imperium of Mankind to practice the psychic arts in the Emperor's name," said Karmen.

"That, sometimes I forget," said Klrith. "Most of your kind are blind to the skein, and the rest of you fear it out of ignorance."

"Well," said Attelus. "Who can really blame us fearing it when you can blow up frigging buildings with a thought."

"I will not have smart mouthing from you, little Mon'keigh," said Klrith. "Even if you are the leader of your little band of thugs. Well, supposedly the leader, not a very good one if you ask me."

Attelus frowned, and his gaze fell to the floor. "Well, I have a lot to learn."

"And that is one of the reasons you are here," said Raloth. "I am here to teach you much of what I know."

A long, weighted silence and Klrith's impassive mask swivelled slowly to Raloth.

"The Farseer did not-"

"She did not tell you because she knew you would whine about it," interrupted Raloth, rolling his eyes. "How do you think I feel about this, Klrith? How?"

Klrith's head tilted in what seemed amusement. "I do not know if this path is wise-"

"It is the farseer's order, Klrith," said Raloth. "You do not have the right to question, for you lack even half the tact and wisdom she does."

"Of course you would say that you will do anything she tells you to-"

"Dismissed, Klrith. Back to your quarters, that is an order."

Klrith bristled, looked at Attelus, Karmen and Adelana witheringly. Then turned and stormed off.

"My apologies for Klrith," said Raloth. "Believe it or not, we are all not like him. He is an excellent warlock, his talents make him one of the best under my command, but he can be rather...opinionated."

"You're training me," said Attelus; he stood stiffly, barely processing this new revelation. Unable to even point out the autarch's massive understatement.

"I am, and we haven't much time, only two of your weeks, so we will start in three of your hours, and in one, we will be entering the webway, understand?"


"Good, I will meet you here, then. Be ready, but it must be you and you alone, okay?"

Attelus hesitated but nodded, gave an awkward salute, then turned on the balls of his feet, and he, Karmen and Adelana started back to the Guncutter.

"What, a twist," said Adelana.

"Yes," said Karmen, then glanced conspiratorially over her shoulder. "But at least we know they aren't a whole race of Darrances, now."

Their combined laughter echoed.

In silence, Raloth led Attelus through the corridors of his ship. It was like all the others Attelus had travelled in over the last three years. Quiet, there was no hum of engines. No smell of recycled oxygen purification chemicals. It was like he was back on Elbyra again, walking languidly through the Velrosian plains.

The hustle and bustle of activity guardians ran back and around in training exercises throughout it. Attelus even managed to see a squad of five Eldar warriors in dark blue armour and white helmets. Multicoloured plumage of red, yellow and black rippled from the top of their helms. They wielded longer shuriken catapults than the guardians but what really set them apart was the fierce, almost palpable aura they emitted. Theirs was different than Raloth's, though. It was a war. Attelus had never truly fought in a large scale battle before, but he knew it when he felt it. One of them, a woman whose plumage was taller than the others, she wielded a powerspear and set on her arm was a strangely shaped, copper coloured device similar to that Raloth had on his left arm. Her aura was stronger than the others, it made Attelus nauseous, and he had to fight to keep himself from slowing. He was already struggling to keep with Raloth's long strides.

"Raloth," said Attelus once the warriors passed and he regained his composure.

"Refrain from calling me Raloth," said the autarch. "From henceforth, you will call me by my title; autarch will do. I do not put precedence on the 'master' I may command the armies of Dalrosia as a whole, but there are other autarchs who surpass me in other ways. If I truly earned the title of Master, I would have to complete all the aspect warrior paths."

"Yes, autarch," Attelus stammered. "I'm sorry, but may I ask, who were the warriors in blue armour?"

Raloth kept his back to Attelus as he let out an amused snigger. "You asked to ask, then asked anyway. Is that not a contradiction? Yes, you may they; Attelus Kaltos are aspect warriors. Dire Avengers of the temple of Graceful Wrath. I had once trained under their Exarch, the one who wields the spear and the force shield. Haliazel Kelzein many, many cycles ago. Of course, she was not known as Haliazel Kelzein then. Her father had inhabited the exarch armour in those days."

Attelus flinched as a thought hit him. "Autarch, why are you telling me this?"

Raloth laughed. "That is an excellent question and one I did not expect from you. I believe farseer Faleaseen placed an incredibly elaborate, powerful block on your thoughts, did she not? So I believe that you would not be able to share this information even if you wanted to. And no one short of Eldrad Utlhran could pry it from your memory."

"Falea...The farseer has mentioned this Eldrad Ulthran on a few occasions now. Who is he? Or she?"

"Questions, questions, you are truly a hub of questions, are you not?" laughed Raloth. "I am sorry, but I do not believe you need to know about the famous Eldrad Ulthran, not as of yet. Anyway, here we are."

Raloth suddenly turned off the corridor and through a pair of hissing doors into a small cylindrical room. It was simple, unadorned but was obviously a training area.

"This is my training quarters," said Raloth. "Usually, I would be training with my warriors, but over the next two weeks, we will be in here when you are not with your people on your ship."

"Ah! I see!"

"You see what?"

"You train with your warriors to boost morale, am I right?"

"You are, correct," said Raloth. "But it does not take incredible mental capacity to figure that out. Now, Attelus, before we start. I have a question for you."

His eyes narrowed. "And you must answer truthfully. I am no seer, but I will know if you lie."

Attelus nodded.

"What do you want?" said the autarch.

The question took Attelus off guard, but only for a second. "I want to hunt down Etuarq. I want to bring him to justice and avenge the countless people he has killed."

Raloth looked at Attelus for a few, weighted seconds.

"No," said the autarch eventually.

"What? What do you mean, no?" Attelus exclaimed.

"Remember, title! I am your teacher, Attelus Kaltos! This is a rare honour for a human such as you! And you will show me the respect I deserve! And yes: no. It is not the answer I am looking for. Now answer the question again and answer correctly this time. What do you want?"

Attelus let out an animated sigh and stood struggling to think up another answer.

"I...I don't know," he said. "Adelana? I want to be with Adelana; does that suffice?"

Raloth shook his head, sighed and stroked his thin nose. "Yet again, you are incorrect."

Attelus let out a loud groan and hunched forward.

"Okay!" said the autarch. "Perhaps I am going about this the wrong way. You are human, and while the Farseer has gifted you immortality, you are unaccustomed to the thought of living so long and so...Why are you smiling?"

"You said okay," said Attelus. "Autarch."

"Yes? So?"

"It is a term commonly used on my homeworld. My country, Velrosia to be exact, autarch."

Raloth stared at Attelus briefly before flinching suddenly.

"Forget about that!" Raloth snapped. "It is immaterial! Now, Attelus. When I asked you what you want, I meant uh, I forget that word. It means in a long time. I mean, what do you want after you manage to defeat the Etuarq mon'keigh. What do you want in the...In the-"

"Long term?"

Raloth pointed at Attelus with an animated movement. "That is it! You mon'keigh and your low-Gothic! I have spent many cycles trying to master the language but have yet to achieve it."

"Well, nobodies perfect," said Attelus with a shrug, and he had to fight the urge to shuffle impatiently.

"Wise words, I must confess," said Raloth. "Not even my kind, no matter how much many of us proclaim so. So, Attelus Kaltos, now you understand what I mean, please answer the question. Take your time if you must."

Attelus smiled and thought, but it didn't take long for him to find the answer. The memory of sitting in that aircraft, flying to Taryst's tower three years ago, suddenly sprung into his mind.

"I want to travel the galaxy," he said. "I want to teach what I've learned in my long life to later generations. Teach them the mistakes their forefathers made, so they may never repeat them again."

Raloth smiled. "That is a noble cause, Attelus. But I fear it is one doomed for failure. As I understand it, your Emperor tried the same, and he failed. Spectacularly. What makes you think you can succeed? And what may or may not be mistakes could be up to interpretation."

"I don't know, autarch," said Attelus. "But by the throne, I'll try. And I'll try to keep it simple. Don't build nuclear weapons, don't worship the chaos gods, etcetera, etcetera."

The autarch nodded with what might've been respect. "That is a sign of wisdom, Attelus Kaltos. Being able to admit that you 'don't know' when you do not know. I am steadily seeing what Faleaseen sees in you."

Attelus couldn't help be taken aback by the melancholy tingeing the autarch's tone.

"D-did I answer correctly?"

"You did," said Raloth as, with blinding speed, he drew his power sword, and it blazed into life. "Your training begins in earnest!"

Then with a snarl, he charged.

For seemingly the fiftieth time, Attelus was thrown onto his arse. Power sword flying from his grasp.

"You have skill," said Raloth as he lightly paced. "And your speed and reflexes are far beyond normal humans, perhaps even rivalling some of the dark kin. But you have yet to reach your true potential."

"I thought you were going to teach me how to be a leader," said Attelus. "Not kicking the ever-loving crap out of me."

Raloth barked out a laugh. "Your speed, it even outdoes mine, but I have something you do not."


"Experience. I have been an autarch for over five hundred of your years. I have fought against the dark kin; many were more skilled than I. I have killed Space Marines who have given their souls to the four and have received their blessings. I have even fought and defeated the elite of the elite, the assassins of your Imperium who were far more skilled than I, but yet I am here while they are not. Why do you think that is?"

"Hmm," Attelus mused as he climbed to his feet, searching for the answer, but it alluded him. "Sorry. Don't know why?"

"Patience, thinking ahead," said Raloth as though it was the most obvious answer in the galaxy. "Fighting and the Path of Command are the same things. As I understand it, you humans have a game called Regicide, am I correct?"

"I suck at Regicide," Attelus sighed.

"Well, get better; you must learn to think not five or six moves ahead but dozens, even hundreds if needs be. There is always someone stronger, faster and more skilled than you, so do not just trust in your skill and speed but in your mind as well. You have trained, so your body moves on its own accord, I can see. Your mind is clear, so use it."

Attelus nodded; his father had never said that. Serghar Kaltos had always emphasized going in for the kill. Plan for the initial strike, but whatever happened after was fair game, but Serghar wasn't a commander; he was an assassin, pure and simple.

"I see."

"You must think the same way of those who you command," said Raloth. "You must know the strength, weaknesses and personalities of your men. What they will do and how they will do it, ten, twenty moves ahead."

"Just like one must know how and why all the units in Regicide move," said Attelus, his eyes widening in realisation.

"Precisely, but do not think of them as mere units on the board. They have hopes, dreams and wants and needs just the same as you. Tell me, Attelus Kaltos, what is the true meaning of being a commander?"

Attelus pouted and shrugged. "Command?"

Raloth laughed and shook his head. "Yes, but no. The true meaning of being a commander is to serve. You serve those which you command; you serve them so they can be the best they can be. You direct them while you consider the big picture while they consider the small."

"I'm the mind; they're the body one and same, yet separate. I serve them, so they serve me. Is that right?"

"That is correct. But yet again, it does not take much intellect to figure that out. Do not be too happy with your achievements; there is always, always, more to learn. Now, I think that is enough for today. Go back to your companions, and we will start discussing the why and how your group has fallen out tomorrow."

Attelus nodded and started for the door but paused and looked back to Raloth.

"If you know so much about those under your command, why did you only let Klrith know now you were training me?" Attelus said. "You must've known he would react so negatively."

"I did," said Raloth.

Attelus waited, expecting elaboration, but the Eldar said nothing more.

Verenth sat at the table in the common room. He paused in the midst of reassembling his auto pistol. He must've done it dozens of times now. His trigger finger twitched. He wished he could do target practice, but the Guncutter was too confined, and he wouldn't have left into the Eldar hangar bay even he wanted to.

Verenth had watched through the bolter turret's window as Attelus, Karmen, and Adelana had met them. He had never seen an Eldar before, but they were as alien as he imagined.

That was until he saw the one without a helmet on and...

It seemed human, nothing like he'd imagined.

"I don't get you," said a voice that knocked Verenth from his thoughts, and Vark approached, pulled out a chair and sat across from him. "After you joined the Inquisition, you could've wielded Hell guns or bolters or so much more, but you still insist on using that dinky old autopistol; why?"

"My brother gave me it," said Verenth.

"The brother that Attelus killed, right?" said Vark.

Verenth furrowed his brow.

"No, I get it," said Vark. "You're very sentimental; that's kind of your thing, right? But you know what I really don't get-"

"How I can work with the man who killed my brother?" Verenth said.


"Vark, we've fought together on a few occasions, and you've saved my arse, and I've saved yours. But as far as I'm concerned, we're colleagues. No more, no less. I'm never going to ever tell you that. Got it?"

Vark exhaled through his nose and leaned back in his chair.

"I understand, fair enough," said Vark, raising his hands in deference. "But I have another question for you."

Verenth grimaced; he didn't like the Stormtrooper's smile.

"You are a pious man, aren't you?"

Verenth looked at Vark but said nothing.

"You and I attend church regularly, but have you ever wondered why so many of us don't? Least of all the senior staff. I have never seen Arlathan, Attelus or even the inquisitor herself. Have you?"

No, thought Verenth.

"That's because she, like Arlathan and Attelus, believe that it is better to serve the Emperor through action rather than prayer," said Helma as she approached from the stairs Delathasi following her. "I am the same. What are you trying to do, Vark?"

"I'm just having a conversation with my good colleague here," said Vark. "And I would say that both prayer and service would be better."

"Yes, well, you don't have quite the same responsibility they do," said Helma. "I was a captain in the Imperial guard, remember?"

"Yeah! And now you're subordinate to some lying little Xenos lover, how about that?"

Helma sighed. "We are in the Inquisition now, Vark. It's a whole new mentality, a mindset I don't have. I don't mind being demoted at all; you and I are soldiers, Vark. Not Throne Agents."

Verenth couldn't help snigger. "I agree, Helma. Vark, your manipulation skill is about a subtle as a bolt round."

Vark grimaced.

"I just think something is wrong," said Vark. "First, we must work with Xenos, so what next? Heretics?"

Vark was answered with silence, so kept on, "and if Attelus has been keeping this under wraps, who knows what else he's keeping. Who knows what else the Inquisitor is keeping."

"We all have secrets, Vark," said Delthasi. "You respected Verenth's choice to keep his, didn't you?"

Vark gaped. "That-that's different if it's important to the mission-"

"I would say Attelus has already shared the information that was important to the mission," said Delathasi. "I am angry; you are angry all of us are, and rightfully so, but there is more at stake here than our anger."

"Like bringing down the bastard responsible for destroying my homeworld," said Verenth as he began to reassemble his autopistol again. "And stopping him from doing it again."

Vark glared at Verenth.

"Wise words, Delathasi," said Attelus as he abruptly appeared at the head of the left side staircase. "Thanks for sticking up for me."

Despite her dark skin, Delathasi's blush was hard to miss.

"How was your time with your Xenos friends?" said Vark accusingly.

Verenth guessed not very well by Attelus' beaten, ragged appearance.

"Could've been better, could've been worse, in all honesty," Attelus shrugged. "They're surprisingly accommodating, actually."

"You're not dead, so colour us surprised," said Helma.

"Not dead yet," corrected Vark.

Attelus sighed, walked past them and into the kitchen. "If they wanted us dead, we would already be dead," he said while sliding out a ready-made ration meal from the food chiller.

"But what if we already are dead, and this is one of their witches playing tricks with our minds?" said Vark.

"And people call me paranoid!" said Attelus.

"Just saying we shouldn't trust 'em is all," said Vark.

"And what do you think we should do, Vark?" said Attelus. "Fly out of their hanger bay, into the webway with no idea where to go? What to do?"

Vark shrugged.

Attelus abruptly angrily tossed the meal into the micro oven, folded his arms and brooded, back against the bench.

Verenth raised an eyebrow; as much as he disliked the kid, he had a point.

The micro oven beeped, and Attelus opened it, took out the meal and stormed out.

"Excuse me, just had the crap kicked out of me for the last three hours," he said. "Really need some sleep."

A thought occurred to Verenth, and he quickly picked up his pistol then followed Attelus down the stairs.

"You know you and me have a lot in common," said Verenth once they stepped off the stairs and started toward the living quarters.

Attelus stopped and turned to Verenth; eyebrow raised, "are you hitting on me? Because despite what many people seem to believe, I don't swing that way."

"I wouldn't hold it against you if you did," said Verenth.

"You already have enough more than enough to hold against me, Verenth."

"We both were the scum of the 'verse not long ago," said Verenth. "So we both know that not much is black and white."


"So don't blame Vark too much. He's just doing what he thinks is right, and a lot of what he just said is what you said three years ago."

Attelus nodded, visibly taken aback. "Thanks."

Verenth nodded back, turned and left.

Attelus barely managed to back-step Raloth's horizontal slash, then weaved aside a stab.

"So this Vark character," said the autarch as he parried Attelus' counter. "He sounds like the model Imperial citizen."

"He is!" Attelus gasped as his diagonal downward cut was sidestepped. "And he's a right royal pain in the arse!"

"But this Verenth character who has more reason to hate you than anyone else seems on your side."

"Yes!" said Attelus as he danced away from a thrust. "I can say I never saw that coming!"

"People will always surprise you," said Raloth. "No matter what you know."

"Or think you know!" said Attelus, cutting horizontally at Raloth's neck, which the autarch leaned back from.

"Indeed!" said Raloth as his uppercut connected with Attelus' side and sent him sprawling to the ground. "Although I knew you left yourself wide open there."

Raloth approached Attelus and offered his hand. "I am surprised you didn't kill this Vark."

"What? Why?" said Attelus as Raloth pulled him to his feet, and he tried to ignore the pain in his ribs.

"He is a threat, a threat to your leadership and to your mission. Many of your kind would have killed him as an example."

Attelus shook his head and wiped the sweat from his forehead. "Vark is a veteran of the Omnartus incident, and there are few enough survivors of that as it is, and we have worked together on a few occasions-"

"You are letting sentiment cloud your judgement, Attelus Kaltos."

"Would you have killed him?"

"No," said Raloth. "I would not have."

"But you said that sentiment was clouding my judgement!"

"Yes, I did, and yes, you were. You did the right thing but for the wrong reason."

"Why wouldn't you have killed him then, autarch?"

"There are a few reasons. First and foremost is it will make you look like a bully and a tyrant. One who leads by fear, and you have already established you do not want to be that kind of leader, so killing him will contradict this. In my long experience, it is better to lead by example. To earn loyalty through word and action. The tyrant's way is the way of the dark kin, and many of the leaders of your Imperium and more likely will lead you to be murdered in your sleep or abandoned when at your direst hour."

"It's also the way of the liar and manipulator," said Attelus, remembering with disturbing clarity his former master, Glaitis, shrieking in agony. A knife lodged in her spine. Attelus hoped he had learned from Glaitis' and Taryst's mistakes but seemingly not.

"Indeed," said Raloth; he said nothing more, just stared down at Attelus.

The Throne Agent shook his head. "I've tried to reason with the idiot. He just won't see sense. What...what do you think I should do?"

Raloth sighed. "I will be honest with you, Attelus Kaltos. He has a right to be angry; they all have a right to be angry. I only have one suggestion, but I do not think you will like it."


The autarch told him, and he was right; Attelus didn't like it. Not at all.
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Chapter 4

#5 Post by Adrassil »

Adelana was shocked, shocked into silence since Attelus stormed into the Guncutter and ordered another meeting. Shocked since Attelus stood before everyone and told them they were meeting the Eldar.

She had never seen Attelus so driven. She had never seen him so commanding. It seemed he was only her master in name in their three years working together. While he would constantly teach her, he always treated Adelana as an equal. He'd politely ask her to do tasks instead of ordering. But then he'd seemed like a master—a leader.

Vark and Torris had tried to argue, but Attelus would brook nothing. He shot them down with a cold, calm rationale. I got to the point where Vark was almost yelling in his face, but Attelus never raised his voice, never showed anger, but he didn't back down. His lessons with the autarch were already making a difference.

And Adelana liked it.

She walked alongside him as they led the others down the ramp of the guncutter and into the Eldar hangar bay.

Twelve Eldar stood waiting a few metres away. They wore elaborate, finely made robes. In her travels with the eldar, Adelana had seen a few wearing such beautiful garments, even the males. Despite their bright colours and designs, they never seemed gaudy. If a human attempted to wear such clothing, they would, but the eldar had such refined style and grace they could get away with it. None of them was alike; it was such a contrast to their incredibly uniform armour.

Adelana was never much into fashion, but secretly she liked to try on those robes just once. But she didn't think they would have any clothing in her size, and again she'd make it look ugly.

The eldar regarded them with impassive expressions.

Attelus stopped, and so did everyone else. He looked relaxed with his hands in the pocket of his flak jacket but radiated purpose and strength,

Then the eldar silently parted, and Raloth Arlyandor stepped forward. Unlike the others, he was only what looked like an advanced, black bodyglove. His long brown hair wasn't in a top knot and flowed around his strong shoulders. Despite this, his force of presence wasn't negated; in fact, his more it seemed to enhance it. He was quite a sight.

The autarch regarded all of them one by one. His large eyes lingered on everyone for a good time. He seemed to see into Adelana's very soul, but this didn't make her uncomfortable. Adelana almost felt privileged that such a great leader would bother giving her his attention.

"Greetings," he said. "I am autarch Raloth Arlyandor, and I apologise. I am no seer, but I can see the vast, vast majority of you do not want to be here."

He paused. "So again, I apologise. I apologise to all of you."

Then he did something that shocked Adelana; he looked at everyone again and, in turn, said their names.

"If there is anyone you should be mad at, it is me," said Raloth. "It was partly my decision that led you to be here. Yes, Attelus here hid it from you until the last minute, and that was a foolish thing to do, isn't it, Attelus Kaltos?"

"Yes," murmured Attelus through clenched teeth.

"But yet, can you blame him? Really?" said Raloth. "Our races have had a long, chequered history. You hate us, do not trust us, and much of us look down on you, deem you a lesser species. We have used you and manipulated you for our own ends for millennia. So I, for one, think your hatred and mistrust is well-founded."

Raloth paused again, letting his words sink in, "so when you know this, can you blame Attelus here for being scared? For being hesitant in telling you of our alliance? I do not think so. In fact, I know so. I am here; we are here to put that behind us. We are here because of a common cause. Believe it or not, we are not here to manipulate or use you; we are here on equal footing. As allies."

"Because it does not matter who is better or who is lesser. In the essence of all things, we are equal. We are nothing but ants in the vast cosmos. Our existences mere eye blinks in this universe. I think we eldar who stand before you here believe that we have done things the wrong way. We believe that if our races are to survive in this grim, dark universe, we will do so by co-operating-"

"So will you be there with us?" interrupted Vark, whose voice boomed from the back. "You and your people will be fighting with us on Sarkeath?"

Adelana expected anger from the autarch at the interruption, but Raloth sighed, and his gaze fell to the floor, "we are not, I am afraid."

"Well, you go on about co-operation but won't even help us in a fight?" said Vark. "Typical Xenos!"

"Believe me, Vark," said Raloth. "I want to be there fighting almost as much as you. But we can't, and for good reason."

"Yeah! And I'm guessing you're not gonna tell us!" said Vark. "Everyone has their frigging secrets!"

"No, actually, I am going to tell you," said Raloth. "You deserve to know. As you know, the reason why our enemy is destroying your worlds is to collect souls. We eldar, without exceptions, are what you call 'psykers', so our souls have more power than the normal human. What our leader, farseer Faleaseen, fears is any eldar dying will fuel whatever scheme Etuarq has, bringing it into fruition faster."

Vark grimaced and shuffled his foot, muttering something Adelana couldn't hear.

"If it means anything, I agree with you, Vark," said Raloth. "I believe the farseer is being too cautious, and one day, no matter what, we will have to show our hand and fight. That will be sooner, not later, I am sure."

"I would like to know," said Torris. "Why you are talking to us and not this 'farseer? Who is your actual leader.'"

"Excuse me, autarch Arlyandor," said one the eldar, a female whose blonde hair was cut short to her thin jawline and whose robes shimmered with shades of purple. "May I answer that question?"

"Of course, Coulyte," said Raloth, stepping back with a slight smile.

"Thank you, autarch," said Coulyte. "I am now upon the path of the weaver, but only a few cycles ago, I walked the path of the seer. Our enemy is powerful; we do not know for certain, but we are sure that this Etuarq uses those souls to power himself. We do not know how. The farseer and the seer council must stay in the main ship. There they are near the infinity circuit, so there they are at their strongest. They attempt to break into the skein, to catch glimpses of the future to guide us. This Etuarq has somehow blocked our vision."

"I thought the eldar were meant to all high and mighty," said Vark.

Coulyte frowned, "we thought that too. Our enemy has humbled us somewhat."

"Now I bet that's the understatement of the millennia," snorted Torris.

"All this exposition is good and all," said Vark. "But why are we here exactly? There must be some other reason."

"There is no other reason, Vark," said Raloth. "We are here to talk. If we are going to be successful, I believe this bridge must be gapped and believe it will start here."

Vark raised an eyebrow. "Just by talking?"

"Yes," said Raloth. "It must happen and must start somewhere. So here we are. So talk."

"About what?" said Vark. "We haven't got anything in common. You're not like us."

"Oh, I disagree," said Raloth. "I think you will be surprised just how much we have in common."

The eldar Coulyte approached Adelana, smiling.

"I noticed you seem interested in our garments," she said. "My name is Coulyte. What is yours?"

"Adelana," said Adelana hesitantly.

"Pleased to meet you, Adelana. As I mentioned earlier, I walk the path of the seamstress. I am only here now as a guardian assigned to the Kaltoria on a temporary vocation. I have brought some material with me if you would like me to make something..."

Attelus watched in shock. They were talking, actually talking. The only one standing separate was Vark; he leaned against the wall, arms folded and grimacing in disgust. Attelus didn't expect the ex-guardsman would. But he didn't expect all the others would. There was Torris, hesitantly conversing with a female eldar in green and orange robes. And Delathasi talking to a male in blue. Karmen was engaged in conversation with two, both male. Attelus could tell they were talking about their powers.

"Do not look so shocked," said Raloth he approached. "Such a display of emotion is unbecoming of a commander."

"I-I can't believe it."

"Another saying you humans have, seeing, is believing. Which I think is a foolish saying as your mind and eyes can lie and be deceived, but in this case, I think it is true."

"When do you think a fight will break out?" said Attelus, finally regaining himself.

Raloth sighed. "So cynical-perhaps-in fifteen minutes? I will concede. It is possible."

Attelus' didn't answer; his attention was busy being fixated by Adelana as she talked to the eldar in purple.

Adelana caught him and gave him a smile with a wave.

He couldn't help smile widely and wave back. His heart was all aflutter.

"Can I ask you a favour?" said Attelus.

"You wish for the Adelana girl to join in our training sessions?" said Raloth.


"For someone who has supposedly been trained from an early age to be an assassin, you are truly terrible at hiding your intentions."

"Well, can she?"

Raloth smiled. "Yes, of course, she can."

Attelus couldn't help jump for joy.
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Chapter 5

#6 Post by Adrassil »

Despite Attelus prediction, a fight didn't break out, but it didn't take long for Vark to storm into the guncutter when one of the eldar tried to start a conversation with him. No one tried to stop him.

They did this for half an hour before the eldar leader ordered the other Xenos to their duties, and the team walked back into the guncutter in silence.

Torris' mind whirled; that was, without doubt, the strangest thing he'd ever gone through in his life. The eldar he talked to was named Faldreth, and he was very interested in law enforcement of the Imperium once Torris said he was once an Arbite. Faldreth bombarded Torris with questions, most of which Torris was hesitant to answer.

But he did for a few reasons; the first and foremost was the eldar seemed to ask them with an almost child-like elation born from curiosity than anything sinister.

They only were in the small hanger-storage area, which held their armoured all-terrain vehicle five bikes; their feet clanged across the metallic floor when Attelus stopped and turned back to the group. Smiling.

"I'd like to thank you, all of you," Attelus said. "You have truly amazed me today, and I am forever in your debt."

Torris frowned, and no one said anything. He wasn't sure if this was Attelus being manipulative or not.

"From now on, every three days, we will be having gatherings with the eldar, just like this one," said Attelus. "These will be strictly voluntary, but I strongly request you come."

He turned and started on. "Adelana, can we talk, please?" he said, and the pretty redhead nodded and followed. A slight smile on her full lips.

The rest of the group didn't move an inch; they stood silent for a good minute.

Uncharacteristically, it was Halsin who broke the silence.

"I do not have a clue what to make of this," said the young medicae.

"Neither," said Helma gruffly. "You guys think if the Inquisitor finds out about this, she'll kill us?"

"No," said Torris without hesitation. "I remember she said to Attelus as we left, 'anything and everything to win,' it's one of Attelus' little, pragmatic philosophies. I think she knew this was going to happen, or at least had an idea. It's official; we work for a radical inquisitor, everyone."

"Figured that out a long time ago," said Karmen.

"Yeah, well, we don't have quite as much seniority as you," said Torris. "I'm pretty sure we all suspected it, but now it's confirmed, without any doubt."

Karmen shrugged and pursed her lips. "It depends really on whether she kills us when we get back; until then, it's not really confirmed at all. It's conjecture, Marcel."

"You say that even though you said you'd already figured it out," said Jelket. "I think Marcel's right. Inquisitor Enandra is a radical. I've been saying it for years."

"Of course you have," said Karmen. "But you say a lot of things, Jelket."

"Well," said Delathasi. "It all depends if Vark rats us out."

Vark emerged from the stairway, frowning with his arms folded. "I heard you, then, girl," he growled.

Delathasi smiled. "I knew you would and knew you were up there."

"Are you? Are you going to 'rat us out?'" Verenth said.

"I'd already promised I'd tell the inquisitor everything once we get back," said Vark. "I'm a man of my word. Anyway, does it matter? That psyker bitch of Enandra's will just pluck it from our memories."

Vark smirked at Karmen pointedly. "Or this psyker will pluck it from our memory."

Torris couldn't help stiffen as Karmen's face darkened and her jaw tightened.

"That's if you get back, Vark," Karmen growled.

Vark's expression turned murderous. "Is that a threat, Karmen?"

Karmen's face lightened. "No, it is just a mere statement of fact, Vark. We have no idea who will make it back. If anyone will at all. You and I must work together, so I would never threaten. You are just pushing it, is all I'm saying."

"You attend the ecclesiarcal services, too," said Vark. "I do not understand how you can be so casual to our leader's radical tendencies."

Karmen sniggered. "Vark, she hired me. I was a rogue, mercenary psyker. Of course, she's a frigging radical, and of course, I don't mind she is one. I believe the God-Emperor is above all things but also believe that his rules he made during the birth of this Imperium of man were more suited to a different time. I believe that he now understands that much must be done for the continued survival of our species that ten thousand years ago would be deemed wrong."

"Like mind-controlling a thousand mercenary soldiers to be slaughtered as a distraction for our escape," said Darrance.

"I hope, Darrance," said Karmen. "I truly hope."

"Or you pray," said Darrance contemptuously.

There was a long, weighted silence. The only sounds were the slight hum of the engine and shuffling feet. Again it was Halsin who broke it.

"Is anyone going to meet the eldar next time?"

"I will," said Verenth. "I think we could learn much from them."

Vark sneered.

"Much we can use against them if needs be," elaborated Verenth.

"I will too," said Hayden. "I think we will need them as allies in the future, and the one I spoke to mentioned he was once a Ranger. I have heard they are brilliant snipers, and he might teach me how to improve my shooting."

"I wouldn't have thought that to be even possible," said Helma playfully.

Hayden smiled.

"As will I," said Delathasi. "I talked to one who said she was once a 'Howling Banshee,' she said she would be interested in teaching me a few sword techniques."

Karmen laughed. "I have a lot in common with their kind, them being psykers and all. So I will be seeing them again."

Eventually, everyone but Vark and Torris admitted they were interested.

Torris, in truth, was going to meet the eldar again too. But for a different reason. He wanted to know how they ticked—their exact thought processes. So far, he could only view them from a human eye, so he had no choice but to project his own human mentality onto them, so what little he and the others had learned from this bizarre encounter had little merit. The ones they spoke to seemed like outliers. A very liberal minority that didn't look down on humanity, hence why this 'autarch Raloth Arlyandor' chose them as ambassadors. If Torris truly wanted to learn more, he had to talk to at least one of the majority.

That warlock Klrith would be perfect. If only Torris could find a way to interact with the arrogant, prejudiced creature, somehow.

He could only think of one way, and it depressed him more than he could say.

"Marcel?" said Karmen, knocking Torris from his thoughts. "We're getting something to eat; you want to come?"

Torris nodded and started up the staircase after the others, cursing quietly under his breath.

"You want to do, what?" said Attelus; he sat on his padded chair behind the small black office desk in his quarters—looking at Torris with a raised eyebrow. Like all of the Guncutter's interior, it was luxurious, with dark red carpet and walls wallpapered a lush white. Gold abrasions lined the walls and floor. It was once Taryst's ship, and everyone in the organisation knew of the rogue trader's more flamboyant tastes and his obsession with crimson, gold and white. Sometimes when Torris walked through the ship, it would take him to the old days. Back to simpler times.

"I said-"

"I heard what you said. I'm sorry, just reminiscing. This place takes me back."

Attelus nodded. "Yeah, I guess it would. Do you seriously want to talk to that arsehole?"

"I don't want to talk to him," said Torris. "I just feel if we want to get the whole picture, we need to talk to those not so...not so..."


Torris nodded. "You are connected. As far as I know, this Raloth could just be putting up a front. Can you try to arrange this meeting?"

Attelus frowned. "If he was putting up a front, I don't think Klrith would've been the one to guide or landing."

Torris shrugged. "Maybe. But by talking to him, I might be able to figure out why he hates us, why they really look down on us, and that might help us in our future diplomatic endeavours. Who knows? Maybe I could put him wrong."

Attelus sniggered and leaned back in his chair, "yeah, good luck with that."

"Look, just ask the autarch. Okay?"

Attelus thought on it for a few seconds before shrugging and saying, "yeah, I don't see why not. But whether the warlock will agree is another story, entirely. It's funny; first, you were all against meeting the eldar, but now you're all for it."

"What is that saying of yours? Know your enemy?"

Attelus sighed. "They aren't our enemy, Torris."

"Yeah, these aren't. But what about the others out there?"

"All right, point taken," Attelus said.

"Did you tell her?" said Torris.

"Tell who, what?"

"You and Adelana had a private talk. Did you finally tell her how you feel?"

"No, that was about something else. Why?"

"It just seemed you finally got some balls, kid."

Attelus shrugged. "I will tell her soon."

"Yeah, well, we're running on borrowed time in our line of work. We're lucky we're all still alive after these three years. So do it soon."

"I'm not."

"You're not, what?"

"Running on borrowed time."

Torris frowned and furrowed his brow at Attelus' arrogance, then turned for the door.

"Why do you hate me, Torris?"

Torris looked back; it seemed like the boy finally got some balls after all.

"I don't hate you," Torris said.

"Okay," said Attelus, leaning back his chair and pursing his lips in bemusement. "Then...what?"

"Unlike the others, I know exactly who and what you are, and what you could potentially become. I saw it when you manipulated Jeurat. I saw it when that Rodyille character tried to rape Adelana. You've got evil in you, you are capable of great evil, and I don't like it."

Attelus sighed and swivelled in his chair. "Don't you think I know that? Why do you think I haven't told Adelana my feelings yet? I'm sure she'll say no because she knows that too. I'm trying to be a good person, Torris. I'm really trying as much as I can to be a good person when I'm a murderous, manipulative bastard. Isn't that enough to earn your respect? After all the shit I've been through?"

It was Torris' turn to sigh. "I do respect you. I respect your abilities, believe it or not. But that doesn't mean I have to like you. I'm sorry, that's just how this cosmos works."

"Whatever," Attelus growled.

Torris took that as his cue to leave and turned away.

"Marcel," said Attelus, causing Torris to stop and clench his fists. "You're a good person. You and Jeurat."

Torris said nothing.

"I'm not a good person. So tell me, what means more, Marcel? Someone who's inherently good, doing good? Or someone who's inherently evil doing good, despite their ingrained nature?"

Torris stood, struggling for a response. But he couldn't think of anything, so he said instead.

"Even still, you need to tell her," said Torris.

"I will, one day."

"For someone who supposedly has a shit ton of willpower, you're still a frigging huge coward."

Attelus furrowed his brow and frowned.

"Yeah," said Torris. "As Elandria used to say, 'whatever.'"

The following days passed by. Attelus and Adelana trained under Raloth. He taught Attelus the way of the commander while teaching Adelana swordplay, and much to Attelus annoyance- Adelana made more progress with the sword in that week than she had in months under him. On the fourth day, Raloth made them meditate. Neither Attelus and Adelana had done it before, and they struggled. Adelana grasped it quicker than Attelus, of course. Attelus mind was always a chatter. Telling him to clear his thoughts was the equivalent of asking him to stop breathing.

The following meetings with the eldar went well. Every one of the group took part in each. Even Vark, who still kept in the background but whose expression slowly changed from furrowing anger to one of genuine interest as he unashamedly listened in to the conversations. Adelana received her robes from Coulyte on the third meeting. She put them on later after some convincing.

They were made of patterns of shining gold and red. Matching her hair and every man's jaw dropped when she emerged into the common room, blushing like hell. Adelana thought she looked terrible, and no amount of words would convince her otherwise.

On the second to last day, at the end of the training session, Attelus asked Raloth about Torris' meeting Klrith.

A flash of anger crossed the autarch's sharp features.

"And why would Torris want to talk to Klrith?" said Raloth.

Attelus straightened, seeing he'd hit a nerve. "He wishes to understand why Klrith looks down on us humans. He hopes it'll allow us to understand why much of your race does."

Raloth sighed and scratched his nose. Adelana and Attelus were coated head to toe in sweat, but the eldar had one slight bead running down his patrician forehead.

"He sees through this," said Attelus, seizing the initiative. "Torris knows that the eldar we talk to are in the minority. He wishes to see the other side. Not just the side you want us to see."

Raloth shook his head. "Yet again, I find I have underestimated you, humans. Okay, I will ask Klrith, but I truly doubt he will acquiesce. He has been sulking in his quarters ever since your arrival."

Attelus rolled his eyes.

Three hours later, Raloth and Klrith marched into the Guncutter's storage area.

Verenth and Helma were there, sparring in hand to hand combat while Adelana was in the midst of practising her cameleoline cloak technique and Jelket, bench pressing weights with Hayden as his spotter. All froze in abstract shock, even Jelket. No eldar had set foot in the guncutter yet.

"I wish to speak with this Torris, mon-keigh!" Klrith snapped.

With Karmen Attelus and Adelana. Torris was led into the Kaltoria by Raloth and Klrith. An escort of ten eldar soldiers in their strange armour surrounded them.

Torris had never been so far into their ship before, so he couldn't help staring in wonder. He caught Klrith looking at him once. Torris couldn't read the Eldar's expression behind his helmet, but the contempt Klrith radiated was almost palpable.

Eventually, a door slid open for them, and they walked into what seemed like a large dining room. A long, white table sat in the centre and was covered in lush food, beautiful meats, vibrant fruits and what might have been vegetables. The smell made Torris' stomach rumble and mouth water despite none resembling any food he'd ever seen before. Over the past weeks, they'd been living on dry, tasteless rations. This was like heaven.

Raloth indicated their seats, and Torris sat across from Klirth. Attelus sat beside Torris; then it was Adelana and Karmen. Raloth was next to Klrith. Humans were on the right side of the table, eldar on the left.

"Here we are," said Raloth. "Torris, Attelus, Adelana, Karmen Kons, you are our honoured guests. Please help yourselves to food."

"Are they going to give thanks to the corpse they so foolishly worship?" said Klrith. "At least we have the intellect to stop worshipping our worthless gods and admit they are dead."

"I know many an eldar who still pray," said Raloth.

"That is just foolish sentiment," said Klrith.

Raloth's gaze wandered over the humans who sat in awkward, shuffling silence.

"Please, do not be afraid," said Raloth. "Eat if you so wish."

Hesitantly, Attelus and Adelana began to take food and place it onto their plates. But Torris and Karmen didn't move.

"What is it you wish to discuss?" said Klrith. "Do not waste any more of my time."

Torris grimaced and decided to get straight to the point. "Why do you hate us?"

He fought the urge to flinch as he remembered Attelus asking him that very question days before.

Klrith made what may have been a snort, "hate? I do not hate your kind. You are not worthy of my hatred. You are mere ants. Not even in billions of years could you mon-keigh live up to half of what we have achieved!"

"Why?" said Torris.


"Why do you think that?"

Klrith paused, seemingly taken aback by the question.

"Because it is truth! And I do not think it, I know it!"

"So, you can see into the future?"

"Do not ask me such foolish questions."

Torris frowned and leaned back in his chair, it was exceedingly comfortable, but it was made for an eldar, so his feet swung in the air. It made Torris feel like a child again, back in his Schola Progenium on Malfi.

"My apologies," said Torris. "But you claim not to hate us, and I am no expert on your people's psychology, but how you act, it seems indicative to hatred."

"No, you mon keigh cannot be experts on anything. Your lives are too pathetically short, so spare me your foolish beliefs."

Torris' eyes widened as the realisation hit him; this Klrith, he had suffered from some horrific trauma. One enacted by humans.

"Tell me, Klrith," said Torris. "Why do you always wear your helmet?"

Raloth straightened as Klrith flinched, and Torris knew he'd hit a nerve.

"That is my business and mine alone!" snarled Klrith and was suddenly up and leaving.

Raloth was on his feet almost at the same time and grabbed Klrith by the shoulder. Klrith turned on Raloth, and they launched into an argument in their language.

For a good five minutes, they roared back and forth with such intensity it took Torris' breath away. It was becoming more and more obvious the eldar were like humans in many ways but felt emotion on a far, far greater level.

Finally, Klrith seemed to acquiesce, and things calmed down. Raloth sat back down, but Klrith still stood, seeming to stare into space. Suddenly he tore off his helmet.

The visage beneath made everyone but Raloth flinch in horror. Klrith's face was a mass of burnt tissue and scars. His eyes were barely visible, but it was obvious they watered with tears.

"If you truly must know, this is why I wear my helm," said Klrith. "Does this make you happy, mon-keigh?"

Klrith didn't wait for a reply, but Torris wouldn't have been able to anyway.

"Your kind did this to me! When you invaded our craftworld many cycles ago! Mon-keigh in the millions who had given their souls to She Who Thirsts, led by Space Marines of the Emperor's Children! I lost my family! My friends! My lover, she was a Dire Avenger, and I was forced to watch her die! We fought, and we fought, culled you by the thousands, but still, you came. But then the Harlequins came, they came telling our seers of a prophecy. ."

He paused, his hands balling into fists. "They told us if we did not abandon our craftworld if we continued to fight that it would not just lead to our extinction but the extinction of the entire eldar race!"

Klrith laughed; its bitterness resounded through the room. "At first, out seers ignored the harlequins. Surely they would know better than them? Surely they would have foreseen such a dire future? We could win! We knew we could! It would cost most of us our lives. But we would win! But as we culled and culled, more and more of us fell, and soon many of the seers saw that even if we were victorious, the price would not be worth it and began to argue amongst themselves."

Klrith shook his head. "That was until the then warlock Faleaseen managed to penetrate the skein and despite not being a full Farseer. She saw it, she saw this future, and so approached the council. And She revealed this vision. Instantly they made the decision to abandon the craftworld. So we took what we could of the infinity circuit and gave the Harlequins the soul stones of our dead. Then we, in mass, left. Fled into the webway with the little ships we had. This happened to me when I was fighting in the rearguard when a mon-keigh tank exploded in my face! So I swore I would never get it healed. That I would keep my face like this so I would never forget!"

As Klrith said, this Torris noticed Attelus flinch and touch the horrible scar on his left cheek.

"That is why I hate you and your kind! That is why it sickens me that we are to co-operate with you!"

With that, Klrith retrieved his helmet and walked out. This time Raloth didn't try to stop him.

For a long time, they sat in silence.

"I had no idea," managed Torris.

Raloth sighed. "No, and I do not blame you for not knowing. You mistook his prejudice for being driven by the same arrogance inherent in much of my people. I was like him many cycles ago. But I have moved on. I know that you, Torris and the others had nothing to do with that atrocity. I wish he would have his face healed so that one day, he might too."

There was another long, weighted silence.

"That is another reason why farseer Faleaseen hesitates to order us to fight," said Raloth. "We have already lost many Dalorsians already. Those mon-keigh still live in our craftworld, even today. I do not know how they survive, but they do, and that just adds to the insult."

"God-Emperor," breathed Karmen.

"I hope this truly establishes our dedication to this cause," said Raloth. "That we were willing to abandon our home. That we are willing to co-operate with the same race which was responsible for the tragedy."

"It seems we have more in common than I could ever imagine," said Karmen. "All of us are orphans, and many of us are marked with facial scars from our individual traumas."

She looked at Attelus. "And some of us will not allow those scars to heal."

"I am sorry," said Torris, fighting back the tears in his eyes. "I did not mean for this to happen."

"It's not your fault," said Raloth. "It is mine for underestimating you yet again. But you need not feel guilt, what is done is done, and the war for Dalorsia was generations ago for your kind. Now we must look to the future. I just hope, beyond hope, that something good will come out of this for poor Klrith. For now, please, eat."

No one touched any food after that, and it wasn't long before the humans took their leave.No one touched the food after that, and it wasn't long before the humans took their leave.
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Chapter 6

#7 Post by Adrassil »

With their guardian escort around them, they walked back to the guncutter in silence.

Adelana couldn't help stealing glances at Torris the entire way. The ex-arbitrator's face was a mask of rage, his hands opening and closing.

She fought her fear, Torris seemed on the verge of violence, and he was frigging scary at the best of times.

Attelus and Karmen seemed not to notice Torris and his inner conflict or ignore it.

Adelana couldn't help wonder if Torris saw some of himself in Klrith. That Klirth's hatred was horrifying to behold, but unlike Torris, it was far more justified. Also, that Raloth, despite going through the same trauma and similar turbulent emotional state, was able to overcome it.

After three years, Torris maybe saw that he needed to let his grudge go. Torris was a brilliant, observant character. But maybe that was the problem. Torris was so busy analysing others; he never bothered to look inward. To analyse himself.

Even some of the most educated, good people can lack self-awareness.

Adelana looked at Attelus as he walked ahead of her. That was one things Attelus had, self-awareness. Even though Adelana wished he had it more, she wished he could see just how self-centred and manipulative he could be, but no one was perfect. Least of all him.

Or her. Adelana couldn't help wonder- was she like Torris too? She shook away the thought if she was, she wouldn't have forgiven Attelus.

After what seemed hours, they emerged into the hangar bay and to the comforting sight of the guncutter that Adelana had become so well acquainted with over the past three years. It was beautifully silver and sleek but still boxy and primitive compared to the eldar fighters and transports around it.

Their guardian escort stepped away as they were about halfway through the hangar bay and as they started up the ramp. Vark was waiting for them.

"How did it go, Marcel?" he said. "They're grox shitting us, right? They're not to be trusted?"

Then Torris punched him in the face knocking Vark off his, and carried on into the guncutter.

Attelus stopped and offered Vark his hand.

Vark glared at Attelus.

Attelus stood without saying a word, his face neutral.

Vark eventually accepted it, and Attelus pulled him to his feet. Vark nodded begrudgingly, then turned and walked into the ship, wiping his bloody lip.

It seemed things were okay; Adelana hoped it'd stay that way.

She doubted it.

"Well, Adelana," said Attelus, smiling as she approached. "That went well, don't you think?"

Adelana frowned.

The next day, they exited the webway and immediately, the tangy smell of nervous, adrenaline-filled sweat sprang into the air as everyone began prepping.

They were a well-oiled machine- Attelus didn't need to say a word.

Vark, Hayden and Torris, with two servitors, made final checks on their vehicles. Halsin collected and collated his medical equipment. Hayden then gathered the explosives: grenades, tube charges and separated them for each person as per their expertise. Verenth, Jelket and a servitor took the ammunition, counted it and recorded the numbers. Delathasi, Adelana and three servitors sorted the survival equipment: nutrient packs, water, liquid recyclers, re-breathers, glare-masks, portable solar re-chargers and various things.

When Attelus wasn't training with Raloth and Adelana, he was researching the information that'd been uploaded into the Guncutter's cogitator. Then with Darrance, Helma and Karmen went over his plans. This was all theoretical and subject to change once they reached orbit.

Attelus had planned much himself and was getting a final critique. It was a test he had set himself, and he'd passed, almost. There was a misunderstanding over the angle for the Guncutter's landing, so they had to adjust the landing three hundred and sixty-five metres east of the initial spot. Darrance had taken no small joy in pointing that out. Attelus also hadn't taken into count how Torris and his heavy weapon'd slow them once they were forced to move on foot, as pointed out by Helma. As well, Attelus had planned for Karmen to stay in the guncutter, in orbit with Darrance and Vark. But Karmen argued she wouldn't be able to unleash her full power and could be easier detected and blocked by any enemy psykers, not just that she would be slower to react due to the range. It might have worked for their usual infiltration or undercover operations, but in a warzone, not so much. Also, it was damned obvious Attelus just wanted Vark out of his hair.

Otherwise, the plan was sound.

It was an hour before they were due to leave when Attelus called everyone into the cargo bay. They didn't have to wait long for Raloth and the eldar they'd talked to over the last two weeks to arrive. Adelana was wearing her robes and gave Coulyte an enthusiastic wave, who smiled and waved back.

Following them was Klrith, who still wore his helmet, arms folded. Attelus couldn't help be surprised to see him there.

"Well, this is it," said Raloth. "I have organised an outcast vessel which will be arriving in the system in three weeks to retrieve you."

There were a few frowns but no verbal complaint.

"I'm assuming the warpstorm hasn't a baited?" said Attelus.

Raloth shook his head, "you are correct in that assumption, but I am afraid the news gets worse, Klrith?"

The warlock stepped forward, his impassive gaze wandering over each human in turn.

"We have been trying to look upon the world since we have arrived," said Klrith. "We cannot; there is a fog surrounding it which hides it from us."

"Like a fog of psychic energy?" said Adelana, eliciting a glare from the warlock.

"No," said Klrith. "It is anti-psychic, not psychic."

Attelus furrowed his brow and pursed his lips in confusion as the hushed conversation began, but it was silenced when Attelus raised his hand.

"It has the stench of the god of blood and slaughter strong upon it," said Klrith. "Khorne has infected the planet like a virus. This Sarkeath is not what it once was."

There was a weighted silence as they struggled to take this in.

"Will I be able to use my power on the surface?" said Karmen.

"We think so," said Klrith. "But you will be severely limited. I..."

He trailed off. "I must implore you to turn back; you will find no answers upon its surface. You will find nothing but madness and corruption and death. That I assure you."

Attelus raised an eyebrow, surprised that Klrith would care.

"We've come too far to turn back now," said Torris.

"I thought that you would say that," said Klrith, then he took off his helmet.

To Attelus' shock, Klrith's face was no longer a mass of scars and burned tissue. It was sharp, handsome, even more so than Raloth. Restored.

"I have learned recently that some scars must be put behind or else it will consume you," said Klrith. "I see that most of you have been scarred by your defeat three years ago. It is driving you, and if you go down there, it will consume you. Destroy you."

"We must try," said Verenth. "We have the God-Emperor on our side, and He will help us. We must try!"

Klrith smiled sadly.

"Screw the God-Emperor!" snapped Darrance. "We will get through this by our own strength, our own will. You underestimate us!"

"Perhaps I do," conceded Klrith. "We have seemed to have underestimated you at every turn thus far. So maybe, I am wrong yet again. I wish all of you luck, and may your faith in the god-emperor or your own willpower protect you on the coming days."

With that, he turned and left.

There was a long, sombre silence that followed.

It was Halsin who broke it.

"We will get through this; there is too much riding on us. We have to."

Raloth nodded, and soon the eldar and humans gathered to say their farewells.

"I am proud of you, Attelus," said Raloth. "You have made much progress in so short a time."

Attelus frowned and shrugged. "I wish there was more time. I still have a lot to learn."

"As I have said, there is always more to learn," said Raloth. "I have lived for a thousand of your years, and even still, I know so little. Never has this been made so abundantly clear since the past two weeks. I wish you luck and hope we will meet again one day."

With that, they shook hands.

As the eldar were leaving, Raloth paused and turned back.

"If you wish it, Attelus," he said. "I could have one of my healers heal your scar."

Attelus absently touched it.

"No, thank you, but no," Attelus said. "This scar is there to remind me of what selfishness and cowardice can lead to. I will keep this; I must."

Raloth nodded and left.

For a few seconds, they stood in silence until Attelus clapped his hands.

"Alright! We've still got a crap ton to do, people! Let's get on with it!"
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Chapter 7

#8 Post by Adrassil »


When they'd seen it out the cockpit window, they thought it some sort of mass mirage. That their eyes, or worse, their minds, were playing a trick on them. It was Attelus who said that it couldn't be either (yes, he was aware of the irony) that seeing was believing.

The sand, it was blood.

As far as the eye could see, the sand had transformed into a deep crimson, reflecting the sunlight almost to a blinding degree. The sun hung in an eerily, beautiful, clear blue sky. That was the most unsettling; the contrast of the brilliant blue and the blood-red, it frayed their nerves, made their minds reel at the impossibility. When they'd gazed on the world from orbit, it'd seemed the brown-beige of a regular desert world.

When Attelus had said it was real, he was only saying what everyone knew. It was blood, the blood of billions, no trillions.

When Attelus had seen it, it'd almost driven him over the edge. But he hid his fear, his recognition. He'd forgotten the disturbing vision Faleaseen had shown him three years ago, of a ruined city bathed in sands of blood and a blue sky. It'd rushed all back. It was sheer willpower that prevented him from falling into a panic attack.

All of them knew, no matter how much they didn't want to accept it, that the entire planet was made of blood sands.

No one was willing to leave the ship, least of all Attelus. Despite this, he was the first to step upon the blood sands.

His breathing into his re-breather was almost deafening. When his boot had landed, he'd expected it would be wet; it wasn't; it felt normal. That just made it more disturbing.

Attelus could feel the eyes on his back of the others watching him from the cargo bay.

"How does it feel?" Karmen's voice erupted over the vox, almost making Attelus jump out of his skin.

"Like, sand, normal sand," Attelus said as he stomped his foot, trying to make it look comical. "There's nothing wrong here!"

Karmen didn't reply, and Attelus turned back to them. Everyone, including Darrance, was there and in full gear. Syn skin bodygloves and cameleoline cloaks. Their faces hid behind re-breathers and inbuilt glarevisors. Only Karmen stood out in her form-fitting gold and white power armour.

No one wanted to breathe the air of Sarkeath, but the Adeptus Mechanicus recently invented their re-breathers. Instead of working like normal re-breathers, with the canisters having to be replaced after a few hours, they recycled carbon dioxide into oxygen; they could continuously use them for two weeks before the filters need replacing, more if used sparingly.

The only thing that set them apart was their builds, what weapons they wielded, and their initials painted on their mask's foreheads. Attelus wore his trademark black flak jacket, so he stood out; he had to, as the leader, he needed to be easily identifiable.

That meant easily identifiable to the enemy, of course, but Attelus didn't mind this. He, unlike his allies, was immortal.

"Poor choice of words," said Adelana as she shuffled her foot. "Something is very wrong here."

Attelus frowned. Now that was the understatement of the millennia, he wanted to say, but kept his mouth shut.

It wasn't long before everyone followed Attelus' lead and first stepped on Sarkeath's surface. For a few minutes, they awkwardly wandered around the ship.

It was Halsin who broke the silence.

"Maybe, maybe we'll acclimatise to it," stammered the medicae.

"And that is exactly what I'm afraid of," said Vark.

Attelus frowned; he couldn't help agree with the Storm Trooper.

"That eldar was right, wasn't he?" said Jelket. "We're going to die or lose our minds, aren't we?"

"Or both," said Helma.

Helma's words sent a sudden wave of anger and determination through Attelus. It quashed his fear and trepidation like a boot crushing an ant.

"No, we're not," said Attelus as he turned and started back to the guncutter. "We've got a mission we're going to complete, and nothing will stop us! We're throne agents! The elite of the elite! Not daemons, not blood sands or even Khorne himself can stand in our way! We've wasted enough time. Now move!"

Attelus' determination seemed infectious as the others were knocked from their stupor and started moving. Only Adelana stayed still, her expressionless attention fixed on him.

"What are you staring at me for?" Attelus said.

Adelana said nothing. She flinched and fell in step with him.

Time to get this over and damn well done with, thought Attelus.

Jelket sat strapped in his seat, fighting the bile rising in his throat and the sickness welling in his guts as the all-terrain vehicle bounded across the blood dunes.

'The blood dunes,' a term coined by Verenth. 'Blood sands,' 'blood dunes' Jelket wasn't sure what term was worse. Verenth sat across from Jelket, his head bounding about and silent. The silence seemed to dominate everything. Trepidation and was thick in the air despite them wearing re-breathers.

Jelket gazed past Verenth, out the small window behind him. He saw one of the bikers, driving beside them, although he couldn't make out who. The bike disturbingly kicked up red dust in its wake.

Attelus, Adelana, Hayden, Delathasi and Helma rode them. While Vark drove the ATV and Torris was at the pintle-mounted storm bolter. Karmen sat in her trance, he couldn't see her face, but every so often, she would twitch and writhe. Obvious even in her power armour.

Jelket frowned. He'd worked with Karmen many times, and on countless occasions, she'd leave her body, but he'd never seen her so stressed and strained before.

He'd grown fond of Karmen, despite her ability and her penchant for extreme pragmatism. Jelket hoped this mission wouldn't cost her.

At times like this, Jelket missed the good old days under Taryst's employ. Back when all he had to was patrol corridors and practised at the rifle range. His thoughts wandered back, back to his old squad. All of them had died along with Omnartus, although none he'd seen die first hand. Jelket smiled and looked down at his prosthetic hand as he opened and closed it repeatedly. He'd lost his arm and lost consciousness a split second before his sergeant and best friend, Roldar, had lost his head. Jelket closed his eyes and exhaled heavily out his nose. He supposed he was lucky. Lucky it was him and Roldar who had carried Attelus back instead of another. Lucky that his arm had exploded instead of his skull. Jelket frowned and looked out the window at the outrider, who he thought might be Attelus. Or was he? Roldar had been ranting and raving at Attelus for keeping secrets, but now Jelket knew; he wasn't sure if he wanted to. Despite his search for truth in other fields. Maybe Roldar was the lucky one. He'd died a quick, honourable death. A death not many soldiers of the Imperium would.

Jelket had left the guard because he couldn't handle the constant battles and death, yet here he was, at it again. The others could go on about having purpose and all that crap, but Jelket was here because he had to be. He wasn't inhumanly skilled and fast like Attelus or as vastly talented as Hayden Tresch. He was a damn good shot, but in essence, he was just normal, a know-nothing ex-guardsman who lived in the shadows of the best of the best.

At least he wasn't responsible for the death of an entire world.

Karmen suddenly jolted upright in her seat, causing Jelket to flinch back into reality.

The vox crackled awake.

"Attelus!" Karmen said. "I have finished my sweep of Kelitia."

Kelitia was Sarkeath's capital city and main hub. Containing its largest spaceport and the head base for its administratum. That naturally made it their first target to investigate.

"Yes, go ahead," Attelus said.

"I..." Karmen paused. "I could not go far...I..."

"It's okay, Karmen," said Attelus. "We understand-"

"No, you don't. It is like the world itself resists me. The air is like sandpaper, constantly scratching on my ethereal form, and something just keeps trying to pull me into my body. I have never experienced it before. Every second I'm out is painful."

"I'm sorry, Karmen. Did you find anything?"

Karmen sighed. "Honestly, no, Attelus. I could only see as far as the outskirts; there were no life signs. Nothing. But the entire city is incomplete ruination."

"Like it was bombed?" said Halsin.

"No, that is where it gets strange. I have seen cities destroyed by bombardment. But the ruins of Kelitia seem different-"

"What do you mean, different?" growled Vark.

"They...I am no expert on these things, but it seems that it was crumbling. It seems to have aged for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. It's like nothing I have ever seen."

There was a long, weighted pause.

"This is just getting weirder and weirder," said Halsin.

"Now that an under..."

Attelus wandered off in one of his catchphrases.

"Halt!" he cried. "Everyone, stop! Now!"

Instantly Vark stopped the ATV.

"What? What's wrong?" demanded Karmen, her voice shrill.

"Figures at our twelve o'clock," said Attelus.

"I never saw anyone!" said Karmen.

"Karmen, please calm down," said Attelus. "We know your abilities are being repressed, don't beat yourself up."

"Have they spotted us?" said Verenth.

"No, the Emperor!" Attelus breathed.

"What's wrong, now?" said Vark.

"Don't worry, they're enemy; I don't doubt it. Fifty or sixty, about a kilometre away," said Attelus. "Delathasi, Adelana, Verenth with me on point. Hayden, cover us. The rest of you guard the ATV. We're going to-"

"I want to go," said Jelket on a whim.

Attelus sighed. "Jelket, we're just scouting and-"

"Please, boss."

Attelus sighed again. "All right, if you must. Just hurry it up! They might see us soon!"

As the others threw the cameleoline tarpaulin over the ATV and took up their positions. Attelus, Adelana, Delathasi, Hayden and Jelket advanced. Hunched and silent, invisible beneath their cameleoline cloaks. Jelket could barely keep up and didn't feel invisible. He was sweating despite having his bodyglove's fans on full power.

Jelket had yet to see these enemies. Soon after Attelus had reported their presence, they descended into the bottom of a dune.

Attelus had described them as 'Khornate cultists.' Jelket had fought their kind many times during his years in the guard. But despite this, when they converged on the dune's peak, lain prone, and Jelket watched them through his scope. Jelket reeled and barely contained a gasp, understanding why Attelus had cursed earlier.

Never had Jelket seen such brutish freaks. Their skin brown and bronzed from the sun; they were covered in rough scars, scars that almost seemed to cover every inch of their freakishly bulging musculatures. Many scars carved into patterns and sigils on their sun-beaten skin made Jelket's stomach turn. Sigils announcing their allegiance to their horrific god.

They didn't wear armour, just robes. Robes that were once white but now stained all over with blood. It differentiated from cultist to cultist how stained the robes were. It was obvious that those with less staining stormed at the back of the large, unruly mob. They were unhealthy, their eyes bloodshot and psychotic. The weapons they carried varied as well; many had chainswords or long bayonet swords, or massive two-handed axes. The ones with less bloodied robes carried auto guns or las guns, all in terrible condition.

All of this Jelket had expected what caught him off guard was their teeth. To a man, if they could be called 'men' anymore, their teeth were sharpened into jagged, disgusting, brown incisors, like the teeth of feral predatory animals.

"By the Emperor," Jelket breathed.

They were moving quickly, almost with purpose. Kelitia was still fifty kilometres away; if they'd come from there, they must've been walking for a while. Did the enemy know of their presence already? Send out this party to intercept them?

Jelket doubted it, but as Attelus would say, 'there's no such thing as coincidence.' And it seemed like one hell of a coincidence that this cultist mob just happened to be heading their way at this time.

Jelket's microbead beeped.

"Fall back," said Attelus. "I'd like to ambush them here, but it'll only be a few minutes before they're here. So we'll fall back, fifty metres. Adelana, myself, Helma, Verenth and Torris will set up twenty-five metres north. Delathasi, Jelket, Vark and Hayden twenty-five metres south. Karmen, Halsin reveal the ATV. Draw them in with the pintle mount; we'll hit them from the flanks. Throw frag grenades, then catch them in a crossfire. Any questions?"

There was a chorus of confirmations.

"There's frigging seventy of the bastards!" said Jelket.

"We can do this, Jelket! Fall back, now! We haven't much time!

Jelket barely kept back a curse and did as ordered. Was Attelus losing his mind or lost it already?

"Take any survivors for interrogation?" said Adelana.

Attelus barked a laugh. "Adelana, we've got more chance interrogating intel from a rockcrete wall than getting anything from these zealots. Kill them all!"

Attelus hated waiting, but as much as he hated it, over time, he'd learned to cope with it. Well, 'cope' was a strong word, in all honesty. A long time ago, he'd decided he didn't have what it takes to be a soldier. Waiting, standing still, was a large part of soldiering. Ironically, he was commanding an infiltration squad into a warzone, a job that would usually be the realm of soldiers.

"Hostiles sited," said Halsin over the vox in his almost enviously cool, calm manner. "Opening fire."

The heavy chatter sound of storm bolter fire erupted.

There was a psychotic, blood-curdling roar that shook Attelus to his core, and he had to fight the urge to cover his ears and writhe.

Perhaps he'd overstepped the mark; perhaps Jelket was right.

Attelus repressed the thought; if the others thought the same way, they'd have said so.

"Seventy metres," announced Halsin.

"Prep grenades," Attelus hissed into his link as he pulled the pin of his, applying pressure on the stub.

"Sixty metres."

Attelus clenched his teeth and gripped the handle of his autopistol harder. He wanted to check the clip of dumm dumm rounds for the hundredth time but fought the urge; even the slightest movement could give him away. They might be blood-crazed khornate cultists, but he wasn't going to underestimate them.


The scarred bare feet came into view, stampeding past so hard it seemed to shake the very world.

He waited for as many pairs as he dared before giving the order.

"Grenades! Now!" Attelus snarled and threw his.

The explosions ripped through the horde, sending many screaming and sprawling in every possible direction.

"Open fire!" Attelus snarled, throwing off his cloak, his silenced autopistol spitting, sending reeling a reeling cultist writing off his feet.

The others opened up a second after, Adelana's booming bolter fired a metre from Attelus' left. Attelus saw half a stunned cultist's torso explode into a red haze. Another cultist's head was vaporised as he raised his lasgun to fire Hayden's work. Helma's hell gun blurted flurries, slicing through cultists with almost innate accuracy. Torris's shotgun barked over and over. Erupting messy holes through the cultist's ranks.

Attelus cut down cultists left and right. There was no cover, so he and the others focused their fire on the enemies with ranged weapons. His dumm dumm rounds were hollow point, designed to expand on impact against soft tissue. Low on penetration, but high on stopping power. Unlike the others, he didn't wield a rifle due to his close-range specialisation and desire to travel light.

About forty of the enemy lay dead or dying in the initial few seconds of combat. But despite this, the cultists gathered themselves with impressive speed and charged. Six came at Attelus, screaming out their devotion and rage. They were, even more terrifying up close, their savagery breathtaking in its intensity. Spit flew from their razor-sharp, brown maws. Their bloodshot eyes wide and chainswords and blades raised with unskilled wild abandon.

Attelus knew their horrific appearance, and the psychotic way wasn't just for their god. It was calculated and used to inspire fear and demoralise their enemy. He fought the fear thundering through him, hiding it under a cool, calm exterior.

He killed two with the last three rounds in his clip, blowing out the back of the skull of the first, then put two through the second's chest. Even with his quick hands, Attelus didn't have time to reload, so he dropped his pistol and drew his powersword, activating its edge in a blaze of blue.

The third cultist was on him, swinging his whirring chainsword at Attelus' skull. With ease, Attelus ducked and disembowelled him with a horizontal slice.

The fourth cut down wildly. Attelus slid out the way then beside the cultist and slashed through the cultist's ribs and heart.

The fifth and sixth came at him almost at once. One thrust his long blade at Attelus' guts, the other chopped around his chainsword. They were quick, deceptively skilled, but to Attelus, they seemed to move in slow motion. Their attacks were ridiculously telegraphed. Attelus darted aside of the long blade, and his powerblade decapitated the cultist. The one with the chainsword was still in mid-swing as Attelus lunged and plunged the tip of his sword through the side of his chest.

He pulled out his sword and glanced about. Only a few cultists were left. Adelana, with her monomolecular sword, engaged one. Adelana was struggling. Losing. This while Delathasi was fighting three at once, another two lay dead near her. Delathasi was skill was impressive as she dodged and weaved and parried. But she wouldn't last much longer.

Attelus didn't hesitate. In a split second, he crossed the distance and cut down Adelana's attacker as he was preparing the final blow.

The gasping Adelana nodded her thanks, and Attelus nodded back before charging at one of Delathasi's enemies and severed his spine with a slash. Another turned to this new enemy, but it opened him up for Delathasi to open his throat with one of her mono blades. She weaved beneath the third cultist's chainsword, then half his torso exploded, sending his limp corpse smashing to the sand. Attelus turned and saw Adelana knelt, her bolter raised and smoking. She gave him another nod.

The fight lasted a few seconds more, as the last seven cultists were cut down by Jelket, Verenth, Helma and Hayden in a vicious crossfire.

Attelus forced his breathing to slow; adrenaline pumped through him painfully. Blood sprayed over him.

Delathasi approached. "Is that it?" she said.

Attelus nodded dumbly, and with a shaking hand, he looked around. No one was down; no one had suffered an injury.

Attelus knew they could've avoided the cultist mob; he knew it was a huge risk. This engagement It'd used precious munitions they may need later. But they needed this. They needed a morale boost.

That was why he'd risked this; that's why he'd risked everything.

He just thanked his luck that it worked.

Attelus activated his vox link.

"Everyone, regroup!" he ordered.
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Chapter 8

#9 Post by Adrassil »


Hayden Tresch paused as he stood and started to approach the others. He looked east, furrowed his brow, then descended the hill with Jelket, Verenth and Vark.

Attelus was finishing the injured enemies with Delathasi and Adelana as Hayden approached.

"We are being watched," said Hayden.

"What?" said Attelus as he tore out his sword from a cultist's heart and turned to Hayden. Eyebrow raised.

"Two kilometres east," said Hayden. "Movement."

Attelus nodded. "Enemy?"

Hayden shrugged. "Maybe? The Velrosian 1st have reconnaissance specialists. Their elite. It could be them. Maybe following the cultists?"

"Hmm, makes sense. You saw them a while ago, didn't you?"

Hayden frowned. "I saw something following their mob. Wasn't sure it meant anything."

"Nice work," said Attelus.

"I can't believe it!" said Jelket. "Seventy of the bastards!"

"Well, seeing is believing," said Adelana.

"Or kicking is believing," said Vark, as he kicked one of the corpses. "Heretic scum!"

Adelana looked at Attelus.

"You don't think that these cultists just so having to come this way is a coincidence, do you?"

Before Attelus could answer, Jelket stepped forward.

"Of course it isn't! Somehow, they know we're here!"

Attelus stroked the chin of his mask. "Perhaps. Perhaps someone could've seen us land, somehow. Or Darrance taking off."

"It was their blasphemous god," said Jelket. "It told them. Kelitia is still fifty kilometres away! They must've been walking for ages! They must've known where we'd be before we even arrived!"

Attelus shrugged and frowned, looking like he wanted to argue, but Jelket's logic seemed sound.

While they talked, Hayden kept glancing at the source of the movement. He saw nothing more. He could only assume that movement was them turning back to fall back. If they were still moving, there was no sign. They were good, very good.

Attelus had briefed them on the Velrosian 1st and the rest of the Elbyran contingent. The young assassin master's description had been glowing, full of pride. Hayden had thought, due to his bias, Attelus had exaggerated their abilities. That the propaganda had fooled him, but now Hayden was re-evaluating that assessment.

If Attelus found out Hayden even considered that, he would explode.

"Or maybe the psyker gave us away?" Vark.

"The 'psyker' could be the reason," said Karmen, her voice hard as she approached, her power armour boots sinking into the sand. "It's always 'the psyker,' isn't it? But we don't have all day to stand around making guesses. We've better start moving."

"Agreed," said Attelus as they turned back to the ATV and the bikes still hidden beneath their cameleoline tarpaulins. "Although I beg to differ, we do have all day. Sarkeathan days last forty-eight hours."

Hayden glanced over his shoulder again, across the rolling blood dunes. He just hoped they were this famous Velrosian 1st. But even if it was, it didn't mean they were the same Velrosian 1st Attelus once knew.

Hayden looked around. With the world turned into this hell, he doubted it.

There was an old saying, 'never meet your heroes.' A saying Hayden was afraid will soon be proven true.

It was only a few minutes later before they were moving again. Attelus' bike bounced and bounded over the dunes. He smiled behind his re-breather as he listened to the comm chatter of his squadmates. His gamble had paid off; spirits were high. Jelket was awestruck at their achievement, Vark was enamoured that they'd killed the 'heretics,' Helma was in a state of grim determination, unsurprised and unmoved by their achievement. Still, her usual state of negative snarking had almost disappeared. Halsin passive-aggressively bragged about being the one with the biggest kill count so far and how successful his distraction was. Verenth was his typical 'man of few words' self, but what he contributed to the conversation was positive; he too seemed to enjoy 'slaughtering heretics.'

All of this Attelus had predicted would happen; what he hadn't predicted was when they'd stopped and searched where Hayden had seen the movement that there was nothing. No footprints in the sand, no trace of prone figures. Attelus trusted Hayden's senses, perhaps even over his own; if he saw movement, he saw movement, there was movement. Attelus smile fell into a frown. As much as he admired them, the scouts of the Velrosian 1st weren't that good. Amongst his many talents, Hayden was also a supremely skilled tracker. Attelus, too, held some skill in tracking, and no matter how hard he tried, he also found nothing. Karmen also didn't sense any trace of life.

Attelus sighed. But in all honesty, she wasn't all that reliable, now. The only one who hadn't perked up was her.

He activated her private vox line, and it took a few seconds for her to answer.

"Are you all right?" he said.

"No, do I seem all right to you?"

Attelus didn't answer.

Karmen sighed. "I'm sorry, Attelus. I didn't mean to jump down your throat like that."

"Karmen...Estella. I've never seen you like this before-"

"Yes, you have."

Attelus' gaped. Yes he had.

"You know you aren't useless; you don't have to prove anything to anyone."

"Attelus! I can barely use even the most basic psychic techniques! I am useless."

"Remember, nine years ago, when we first met and how well you did? You killed how many of the elite Blood Pact single-handed? You didn't need your powers back then-"

"Since then, I've specialised in my gift! I'm no way near the shot or swordswoman I was then!"

"Even if that's true, you'd still be better than most!"

"Stop grox shitting me! You're just trying to make me feel better, Attelus. You're just afraid I'll become a liability."

"I'm not grox shitting you, Estella! You've still got your armour and weapon; you can still fight!"

"Yes, but you forget this is a stealth mission! I've lost most of my skill at stealth, and power armour isn't the best to wear and-"

Rage welled in Attelus, and he fought the urge to cut the link.

"Well, Karmen! Will you become a liability? Because the way you talk now, it certainly makes me think that way. Of all the people in the squad, I would've thought you the least likely! Vark, Torris, Verenth but not you."

Karmen sighed. "I think I already am."

"No, you're not! Estella! If you let this negativity get the better of you, you will!"

She laughed.

"This is familiar, isn't it? Back when you begged me not to scout the enemy base knowing in my pride and effort to prove myself, I'd get myself killed. Whoever said that history never repeats is beyond stupid. But now you aren't begging me; you're pretty much ordering me. Back when you loved me."

Attelus bit his lip, fighting the urge to splutter out, 'but that hasn't changed.' He loved both Estella Erith and Adelana. He'd hoped his feelings for Karmen would've withered over the years, but it hadn't, and he suspected they never would. Despite everything she's done, despite how she tried to brainwash him.

It was messed up.


"Stop calling me that! Please!"

"Karmen, don't give in to depression. We need you...I need you, please."

"I'll...I'll try," she said, then cut the link.

Attelus sighed. Why did everything have to be so damned complicated? Why couldn't they be Space Marines? The warriors of the Adeptus Astartes never fell in love, never felt attraction for another. They just had their duty and brotherly bonds. Or as far as he knew, anyway.

He revved his bike and sped up, shaking away the thought. He couldn't help wonder if Jelket was right. There was no way in hell that those cultists showing up then was a coincidence, but he doubted their god had a hand in it. Attelus suspected Etuarq. He also doubted the movement Hayden had seen were the Velrosian scouts.

It was Etuarq's agents.

Attelus remembered his encounter with Rodyille three years ago how the psychotic bastard seemed to be able to just mould into the shadows. That he'd almost killed Attelus if his faint movement hadn't caught the corner of his eye.

They had to be here; they had to have contributed to this.

And if that were true, perhaps that'd mean he'd finally see Elandria again.

The thought caused Attelus to clench his jaw, and he sped his bike more.
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Chapter 9

#10 Post by Adrassil »

About twenty kilometres away, they got their first view of Kelitia as it loomed in the horizon ominously. It was set lower than the surrounding dunes, so only the tallest buildings were visible.

With Karmen's power practically out of commission. Attelus was forced to re-evaluate their approach. Needless to say, Karmen wasn't happy about this, and while he hid it, Attelus was far from happy either. Her being so handicapped was turning into a massive pain in the arse; now, they had to waste valuable time.

Four kilometres from Kelitia, they stopped inside the shadows of a small outcrop and hid the vehicles underneath their cameleoline tarpaulins. Then Hayden, Attelus, Adelana and Delathasi scouted forward on foot.

They walked for about half a kilometre when they got their first proper view of Kelitia, and they stopped there. From the apex of the man-made ledge hill, which sloped down for two kilometres. Attelus couldn't see the expressions of his comrades beneath their masks, but he imagined them gaping, just like him.

Kelitia was once a huge, bustling city. About forty million people had lived in its depths, mostly miners who'd toiled underground, night and day. Sarkeath was once the biggest exporter of minerals in the sub-sector and had been for nigh five hundred years. According to reports, the planet wouldn't last another century before being mined out.

But now, that was the least of the planet's problems. Karmen was right; the grey ruins of Kelitia were hollowed out, crumbling apart. Attelus had seen first hand the destruction wrought by bombardment. His home city, Varander, had been flattened from orbit when he was a teenager. Flattened to such an extent that only a few walls were left standing.

Not just that, but Kelitia was drowned in blood sands; Attelus calculated the lower five stories were utterly engulfed, just like in Faleaseen's vision.

"This is going to be hell," said Adelana, as the vox came to life, causing Attelus to flinch. "What in the Emperor's name happened here?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," said Attelus, trying to sound optimistic. "And that's one of the reasons we're here, to find out."

"I think I would rather stay ignorant," said Delathasi. "Adelana is correct. This place is hell."

Attelus frowned and started on. "No, it's not; hell is the warp. The sea of souls, we're still on the material plane. Now, we've gotta move! We can't waste any more time! We've still got to scout out a safe place to make our base. Move it!"

The others hesitantly followed, and Hayden said, "we're in the material plane, as far as you know."

Attelus clenched his jaw. "Shut it, Hayden. You're starting to sound like Darrance."

"Just saying what we're all thinking," said Hayden with a shrug.

"Speak for yourself!" said Adelana. "Never for a second did I think we're in the warp!"

"Thank you, Adelana," said Attelus.

"No," she said. "I think we are somewhere even worse."

The night was falling as they approached the ruined city, and more than she could ever care to admit, Adelana was relieved. She was relieved that there was still a day and night cycle on this Emperor forsaken planet. At least some of the laws of the physical universe still applied here.

But when they found the sand that had taken over Sarkeath sloped up almost fifty-five degrees, Attelus' curses echoed over the vox link. Their All-Terrain Vehicle couldn't ascend such a steep incline even with the hook shot on its nose, especially because the sand here was softer.

So they started north in the hope to find a lighter incline. Hayden had suggested they split up him and Delathasi, south Attelus and Adelana north. But Attelus shot him down, saying they'd be safer if they stuck together, that they didn't know what they might encounter.

Adelana would usually dismiss this as Attelus' atypical paranoia. But here, here, it was wisdom. As they walked, Adelana's attention was fixated on the city, so much so she'd almost tripped a few times. For some reason, the east-facing side of every building was devoid of exterior walls. Allowing Adelana a good view into the cracked and hollowed out rooms and corridors, almost like a hololithic schemata. Inside them were scattered remains of tables, chairs, beds in varying states of decay and disrepair. And shadows which revealed nothing no matter how hard or long Adelana looked into them, even with her low light contacts activated, but something in her was dead sure there was something in them—watching them through the still night.

Still, everything was so still. Like it'd been locked in time.

The thought sent a shiver up Adelana's spine, and she wondered if the others had noticed this.

Adelana hoped they hadn't, and she swore she would never mention it.

Although, knowing Attelus, he already noticed.

It was after half an hour of walking when they found an incline shallow enough for the ATV to ascend. Attelus voxed this back to the others, and hesitantly they climbed. At the top was an old hab block, sixteen stories high, one of the tallest around.

Attelus looked at Hayden, who nodded.

"Secure it!" Attelus said as he vaulted onto the fire escape as quick as a cat, never making a sound despite it being metal.

"Split up?" said Delathasi.

Attelus turned to her, his expression hidden behind his re-breather but his hesitation, obvious.

"Okay," he said as he drew his power sword. "Adelana with me! Hayden, Delathasi, search the north side! Search from the top floor!"

Delathasi and Hayden nodded and started off.

Adelana climbed onto the deck as Attelus cut through the lock.

"Are you sure we should split?" she said. "You were adamant not to before."

"I don't want to, Adelana," he said, drawing his silenced auto pistol, and carefully he opened the door. "But we can't waste time."

He slipped inside, and Adelana just after, bolter raised. She covered the left, Attelus covered the right.

They came into a thin corridor, and Adelana saw the passage carried through to the destroyed eastern wall and onto the blood dunes below. It turned right at the epicentre leading to Adelana, where guessed the doors to the hab unit doors were.

"Right's clear," whispered Attelus. "Corridor goes nowhere."

Adelana nodded, and in silence, they moved Adelana taking point. It took a few seconds to reach the T junction, and Adelana slipped out. The corridor was long, a dozen doors on each side, cramped close together. Reminded Adelana of her old hab block back on Omnartus. It stunk of rot, and every inch was cracked and damaged. It ended in another T junction. There were three elevators, but Adelana couldn't see any further left or right, but she suspected the stairs would be. The building seemed as if it'd been cut in half, the elevators and stairs in the centre. Adelana sighed. This was going to take a while.

"Come on," said Attelus. "Let's get this over and damn well done with."

Methodically, they checked the building, room by room. Each unit was single-roomed about three by four metres, containing wrecked furniture and very basic bathrooms and kitchens.

Three of them looked like they had housed families of at least four. Toys laid, scattered and shattered across the floor. It was a painful sight. Why had these people abandoned their homes? And when? In contrast to the decaying buildings, everything else seemed new, only a few months of rot and disrepair if that.

But what disturbed Adelana the most was the dark shade of red that seemed etched into everything: the walls, the carpet, every bit of scattered and shattered furniture. Even the rooms which weren't open to the outside.

Attelus once picked up a worn, cracked doll, and Adelana expected sand to fall off it, but it didn't; in fact, there was a disturbing lack of sand.

How the hell could the blood sands overtake the bottom five stories but not touch the upper levels?

The fear Attelus exuded seemed almost palpable. His pistol searched every nook and cranny and unnaturally dark shadow with overzealous abandon. After working with him for three years, Adelana could read him like a data slate. Ironically, it was his teaching that enabled her to. Attelus was always afraid, always paranoid, but now it was worse than ever. He could hide from the others under a visage of leadership and purpose. Adelana couldn't help admire that, but she couldn't help wonder, how close was he to snapping?

It didn't take them long to search the floor and move up the staircase to the next. They both almost leapt out of their skin when Hayden called to inform them that the top floor was clear and they were starting on the next.

It took them a good half an hour to check every room on every floor. The tension killed Adelana; it was to such an extent she wished they'd find something, anything! A survivor or even a cultist waiting in hiding, but her wish went unanswered.

When they eventually met with Delathasi and Hayden, everyone was shaken.

"I do not understand what happened here," said Delathasi. "Why are the buildings in such a weathered state, but everything else is not?"

"We will have to forget such thoughts," said Hayden. "If we focus on that...our sanity..."

He let it hang.

"Hayden's right," said Attelus. "We need to stay focused, Hayden, Adelana get up to the top floor and keep a lookout. Delathasi and I will check outside for a good place to hide the ATV."

Adelana decided not to point out the hypocrisy of Attelus telling others they 'need to stay focused', and she and Hayden started up the stairs.

Hayden was characteristically silent up the first few flights, but Adelana tuned her link to his private channel. She couldn't stand the silence for much longer.

"W-what do you make of this?" she said when he finally accepted the call.

"That it's going to get worse," he said. "That I wish there was something, anything I can get in my crosshairs."

"Couldn't agree more," said Adelana. They were walking up the east side stairs, so the blood dunes below were easy to see. If she were afraid at all of heights, Adelana would be freaking out now.

"Hmf," said Hayden.

"What does 'hmf,' mean?"

"I'm just surprised that you would wish for violence, Adelana. You do not seem the type."

"I don't. I just wish for end."

"I am a sniper, Adelana. Waiting is something that comes with the job, so if I am impatient, it is understandable you are too, but..."

"But what?"

"Nothing, do not worry. I-"

Hayden stopped in his sentence as Adelana stopped in her tracks, staring east.

"Something wrong?" said Hayden.

"I...I thought I saw someone, something standing out there," said Adelana, pointing. "It's gone, now. Looked like someone in black."

"I saw something after we ambushed the cultists," said Hayden. "Someone's watching us."

"Who?" said Adelana as they began up the stairs again.

Hayden shrugged his broad shoulders; he was ahead of her, and Adelana wished he wasn't wearing a cameleoline cloak so she could look at his butt.

"This legendary, amazing Velrosian 1st, maybe? I am not making assumptions."

"Hayden? What were you saying before?" said Adelana.

Hayden sighed, "I was hoping you would let that slide."

Adelana snorted, "I'm a girl, Hayden. It also sounded important."

"I beg to differ, Adelana. You are a woman. A strong, independent young woman. You may be Attelus' 'apprentice' in title, but you are his equal in many regards-"

"Do not try to flatter me to try dodge the question. You may be a 'jack of all trades and a master of a few too.' But your social skills are lacking."

Hayden let out a rare laugh. "I tried, I guess. And there you are, just emphasising 'my flattery.' All right, I was saying that when you agreed with me about hoping to encounter enemies, you sounded a bit too eager for my liking. Like him."

"Like Attelus?"


Adelana sighed. "He does have a bloodthirsty side, but I am not like him."

"Adelana, all that I am saying-"

"I am not like him! Now leave it!"

"Just please be careful, Adelana."

"Yes! Sure! Whatever! Now hurry it up! We've wasted enough time already!"

The second Attelus slipped off the balcony and back upon the blood sands; he knew something wasn't right.

"Delathasi!" he hissed as she landed a second after. "Do you feel that?"

"Feel what, master Kaltos?"

Attelus didn't answer; he started forward, glancing around, sword raised.

Then the sand beneath his feet disappeared, and with a yell, he fell. It happened so fast he never heard Delathasi.

For what felt like an eternity, he rolled and bounced and tumbled and hurled down a sharp, rough slope.

He came to and groggily found himself laying on the flat and took in his surroundings.

Attelus gasped. He was at a lower level of the city; the buildings towered over him. Piercing the sky. He was near the centre, there the city descended into the earth, but the buildings rose higher and higher. He recalled the highest was over one hundred stories tall. He must've fallen twenty kilometres westward, but that wasn't possible!

Attellus clambered to his feet, shaking away the dizziness and disorientation it; then he realised he no longer held his sword.

"What the hell?" he gasped.

"Hello," said a voice and Attelus turned.
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Chapter 10

#11 Post by Adrassil »

There was nothing there, and Attelus faltered. There was no sign of the hill he'd fallen down, just flat sand and buildings.

"What the? How?"

"I brought you here," said the voice. It was like nothing he'd ever heard; it seemed to snarl each syllable but still soft, almost soothing. What was strange didn't echo through his thoughts but seemed to reverberate from every surface, every wall, and every floor. Like the world, itself was speaking.

"Why? What are you?" he demanded, his heart thundered in his ears, and he felt the urge of panic.

"I wished to speak to you; you are not like the others. In fact, I have not seen anyone like you for many millennia."

"What? A perpetual?" Attelus blurted out and winced as he realised.

"Indeed. Ten thousand years ago, one like you came to this world. But unlike you, he was a powerful psyker. I could have communicated with him like I am with you, but I did not need to."

"What are you?"

"That, you did not need to know. But I am here to help you, little perpetual."


"Look west."

Attelus hesitantly did as told and found himself standing barely a kilometre away from the tallest tower of Kelitia. Then it blazed into a wildfire, causing Attelus to scream and cover his face.

"There, you will find the source of the taint chaos to this planet!" said the voice, but it was no longer soft; it roared like a rabid animal. With as much violence and intensity as the flames. "There, you will find that which those I cannot see, seek! There you must destroy it before they can find it!"

"What the frig is it? Where? What the hell is-"

Before he could finish, Attelus found himself back in the shadow of the sixteen story hab block in mid-stride. It caused his mind to whirl, to stumble.

"Master Kaltos? Is everything all right?" said Delathasi.

Attelus didn't answer as he tried to shake away the dizziness.

"Master Kaltos?"

"Yes! I'm fine!" he snapped, more forceful than intended. "Just stop calling me master Kaltos, okay?"

"Y-yes, sorry," said Delathasi.

Attelus sighed and turned to her. "Sorry I snapped, Delathasi. I'm not your master; we're all on the same level here. Understand?"

The young apprentice shrugged and frowned.

Attelus opened his mouth to elaborate but was interrupted by the vox link crackling into life.

"Movement west, half a kilometre down the left side street," Hayden hissed.

"Well, shit. We'll check it out, said Attelus as he and Delathasi disappeared. He was hoping to have time to consider this strange development, but of course not.

In silence, Attelus and Delathasi slipped from shadow to shadow, pistols drawn.

They were a few hundred metres down the street when they saw the figures moving slowly, methodically into sight from the corner of an old, cracked ten-story building—a large, old commercia complex. At first glance, Attelus knew they were guardsmen or were once.

Attelus and Delathasi darted behind a crumbling wall and took out their scopes.

They weren't like the cultists they'd ambushed earlier. They wore battle-damaged flak armour. Their uniforms, shredded beyond recognition. Both had wild, shaggy, long hair and beards. Like everything on this Emperor forsaken world, the crimson covered them from head to toe. Seemed etched into their skin and hair. They moved with admirable discipline and stealth. Their Las guns held with the confidence of seasoned veterans.

"Are they your people?" said Delathasi.

"Not sure," said Attelus. "We'll have to get closer to make any identification. But they're patrolling, guarding something."

"What do we do?"

"Hmm," Attelus mused and opened the link to Hayden and Adelana. "Hayden, Adelana, we've spotted possible hostiles. We're going in to have a closer look; watch our backs."

Hayden and Adelana chorused their confirmations.

Delathasi and Attelus waited for the pair to disappear around the next corner before they started to move.

They stopped.

"Shit!" said Attelus.

"Las fire!" said Delathasi.

Quickly, but carefully they converged on the building, and as they advanced, the sound of combat grew louder and louder. Clashing and snarling and the roar of chainswords. What disturbed Attelus was it already came from inside the commercia complex.

Attelus gritted his teeth so hard he feared they'd crack. He wanted, no needed to break into a sprint, and he had to fight every fibre of his being not to. They could be Elbyran! They could be being slaughtered!

Delathasi and Attelus climbed through a window and stepped onto a large balcony a good six metres wide. Stalls lined the north, south and western walls and to both their surprise, the blood sands weren't on the inside. They could see all five stories down to the ground and the flare of las and solid projectile fire through the darkness and the balconies below.

"Stairs!" Attelus hissed, and they started left and, when they turned the corner, found corpses. Half a dozen cultists lay, torn apart by las fire.

Without breaking stride, they ran over the sprawled corpses and down the rockcrete stairs.

They came upon a skirmish on the fourth floor. Two mobs of cultists, four on the west balcony, five on the east: exchanged fire with a holed up enemy they couldn't see. The cultists took cover with surprising skill behind the stalls, their backs to Attelus and Delathasi.

"Delathasi! You take west. I'll take east!" Attelus commanded and opened fire; the dumm dumm round exploded the skull of the nearest cultist.

He burst into a sprint and killed another, blowing out the base of his spine before the others noticed him and turned. One fired a flurry with his autogun, which Attelus ducked before he threw a knife into the brute's throat. The fourth attempted to swing the butt of his las rifle at Attelus' skull, which Attelus swayed underneath before drawing his sword and cut through his torso. The last, a brute even bigger than the others, dropped his autogun and drew his chainsword, roaring out his devotion to his god as he swung.

Attelus darted back, and his sword's power field burst to life. Despite this, his opponent didn't hesitate, charging forward with such speed it took Attelus off guard, and he barely stepped aside of the cultist's downward swing, and his pistol knocked from his grasp.

The cultist laughed and recovered into a wild horizontal cut Attelus ducked. Attelus' reposte was an upward diagonal cut, and he was shocked when the cultist back stepped it.

It allowed the cultist a split second to swing out, forcing Attelus to throw himself out of reach by such a small margin the onrush of air caused him to stumble. Attelus wanted to block, but even with his enhanced strength, he doubted he could.

The huge cultist laughed again. Attelus flicked his wrist and threw the knife at the cultist's face. Who tilted his head out of his path, the distraction allowed Attelus to dash in and thrust his sword. The cultist sidestepped, but Attelus predicted this, and his roundhouse kick hit the cultist in the side of the knee. The boot knife plunged through skin and bone, and the cultist's leg gave out. Attelus' front kick sent the cultist over the rail, and he plunged out of sight.

Attelus sheathed his sword, picked up one of the fallen lasguns, and then looked to the west balcony. Delathasi was locked in combat with two cultists. He raised his gun to fire but stopped, it was a good eighty metres away, and he didn't trust his long-range shooting skill at the best of times.

Attelus had underestimated the cultist. His god must've granted him speed and strength beyond normal human parameters. Attelus hoped they wouldn't encounter many others of his kind. If one of the others did... At least now he knew, and knowing was half the battle.

He looked down onto the next balcony, and seven more cultists were locked in a firefight with their still unseen enemy.

Attelus clenched his teeth and started to sprint to help Delathasi, but the sound of heavy footfalls made him stop and turn, gun raised.

Six bloody, beaten guardsmen ran his way, lasguns covering him.

Around twenty metres away, they slowed and started spreading out.

"Inquisition!" Attelus said. "Lower your weapons!"

They didn't. They were wild-eyed, as twitchy as Obscura addicts on withdrawal.

"I am a throne agent of the Ordo Hereticus! We're on the same side! Now, I'm just going to reach into my jacket for my badge! Don't shoot me."

The guardsmen didn't acknowledge, didn't even move.

With slow, deliberate movements, while constantly stealing glances at Delathasi, Attelus reached into his flak jacket and slipped out his rosette. The ones Inquisitor Enandra gave to her most senior agents. He held it out so they could see, trying to strike an authoritative, intimidating stance.

They stiffened.

Then opened fire.

Attelus sensed this just a microsecond before they fired. His shock was overwhelming. It was his body, his instincts, that made him sprint and vault over the handrail as laser rounds tore through his wake.

"Shit! Shit! Shit!" he roared as he fell, spun and grabbed the next handrail. Dropping his new las gun in the effort.

He hauled himself onto the balcony, and two cultists were on him in an instant.

Attelus ducked a swinging short sword and barely sidestepped the other's chain axe. His uppercut smashed into the jaw of the first, shattering it and sending him reeling. Attelus drew his sword and sliced through the chest of the other as he rose his chain axe. Attelus impaled the first with a snarl and kicked the corpse off the blade and against the wall.

He turned just in time to see three guardsmen, around thirty metres away, open fire. He darted, ducked and deflected as he dashed forward. Cursing and spitting the entire time.

His kick hit the chest of the far right one, sending him careening to the floor, head over heels. The next tried to turn, but Attelus' sword sliced his lasgun in two, then his back fist mashed in the trooper's face. Sending the guardsman's back smashing against the floor.

Attelus kicked in the last's knee and, as he fell, finished him with a round kick to the face.

A las round kissed Attelus' forearm. He cried out in pain, reeled and gaped as he saw everyone on the opposite balcony, cultist and guardsman alike were aiming their weapons his way, and he dropped behind the rockcrete railing just before they shot.

"What the hell is going on?" he screamed and activated his vox link. "Deltathasi?"

"Mas- Attelus?"

"Where are you?"

"I am still on the fifth level. I am pinned down. The Imperial Guardsmen have turned against me."

"Well, they seem to be working with the cultists, now!" said Attelus. "I'm pinned too! They were fighting each other a second ago! What the hell is going on here?"

"I am assuming that to be a rhetorical question."

Attelus clenched his jaw, as over the shooting, he heard heavy, running footsteps headed his way On the south side balcony. He had to assume they were advancing along the north as well, attempting to flank him.

"Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!" he said.

"I am assuming those insults are to yourself, not me."

Delathasi was right; they were at himself. He was the idiot for letting his idiotic sentimentality get them into this situation.

"Delathasi! We need to regroup! Get to the fourth floor ASAP!"

"Understood, Attelus."

He switched channels.

"Adelana! Hayden! We've run into trouble! We need backup! Now!"

He cut the link as they started to respond. A cultist came around the corner, and Attelus shot him through the skull. Then the Throne Agent took out a frag grenade, pulled the pin. Tossing it as two guardsmen and another cultist came into view. He dashed out of their line fire as the grenade exploded at their feet, sending them flailing, screaming and dropping heavily.

Attelus made it behind a shopping stall cover as the enemies flanking from the north opened fire. He caught a glimpse of them, and there were at least a dozen of the bastards!

His instincts screamed there were many more on the lower floors, and all of them were ascending their way, and his instincts were usually correct in these things.

Attelus cursed again and ejected his current clip of dumm dumms and replaced it with generic rounds- they'd do him no good against the guardsmen in flak armour.

He couldn't die! Not here, not now! Attelus knew with the warp storm it'd take Faleaseen weeks, perhaps months, to find his soul! That'd mean he couldn't do anything to help his friends stuck here!

"Delathasi!" he yelled as he cut down an advancing guardsman with a wild flurry of shots. "Hurry it up!"
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Chapter 11

#12 Post by Adrassil »

Jelket checked his chronometer for what must have been the hundredth time. He laid prone beneath his camo cloak. Watching east and wondered for what might have been the thousandth time, why hadn't he gone with Hayden and company? He was meant to be Hayden's spotter.

It made Jelket wonder why he'd been assigned to this mission in the first place. If Jelket was going, to be honest with himself, Hayden Treash was one of those few snipers who didn't need a spotter. While all the "elite" ones go forward to scout, he was stuck here and...

Jelket shook away such thoughts; what the hell was wrong with him? He should be worried, not being bitter. Hayden and the others had yet to report in...

He straightened as he saw it, movement amongst the blood dunes about half a kilometre away, and he reached to activate his microbead when one movement became two, then three, then five, then dozens. Dozens of cultists seemed to materialise from nowhere, and their number just seemed to keep growing and growing.

And they were headed this way.

"Oh shit!" Jelket managed.

Side by side, Adelana and Hayden burst into the commercia complex. Their guns swept left and right. They'd heard the combat from miles away, and now they finally saw it as they looked down to the fourth floor.

Attelus and Delathasi stood, back to back, battling dozens of enemies who'd encircled them. It was obvious even from here how beaten and battered and exhausted they were. Adelana knew not even they could last much longer. Her heart thundering, Adelana raised her bolter over the handrail but hesitated as she saw they weren't just battling cultists but guardsmen too.

"What the hell?" she said.

Hayden took out a krak grenade and yelled. "Attelus! Delathasi! Brace yourselves!"

And to Adelana's shock, he pulled the pin then threw it. Too Adelana, it seemed to spin through the air in slow motion. She couldn't help wonder, why a krak grenade and not a frag? Her question was answered as it hit the wall and exploded about seven or eight metres left. It blew a hole in the rockcrete, a hole that allowed for the sand outside to flood in. The avalanche smashed into cultists and guardsmen alike, sending them sliding off the balcony and four stories to their deaths.

"Delathasi! Attelus!" snarled Hayden. "We've got to get out of here! Now! Move! Move!"

Finally, Adelana understood Hayden's plan, so switched her bolter to fully automatic and opened fire, cutting down enemies to Attelus and Delathasi's right. Turning torsos and heads into a mist, Hayden switched out his hot shot round clip for a normal clip and shot with sporadic bursts into the enemy midst.

Attelus and Delathasi began moving, low and slow for the right side staircase- as enemies out of Adelana's line of sight fired from the west balcony. Adelana's and Hayden's cover fire cleared the way for them.

Meanwhile, the hole was growing, the wall cracking with horrific high pitched screeching and the whole play. Las fire erupted from the balconies below, forcing Adelana and Hayden into cover.

"Adelana!" said Hayden as he reloaded his long las. "Get to the east side! Cover Attelus and Delathasi from there!"

Adelana nodded; seeing Hayden's logic, she threw caution to the wind and began to run.

Meanwhile, the building's rumbling and crumbling got worse as more and more sand poured in, and the hole grew.

Somehow they knew, somehow the bastards knew they were there.

Jelket cursed and cursed as he killed cultist after cultist. Not even power armour could withstand the penetrative power of a Hell gun, so it melted through their robes and skin and bones with ease. One

On his left, Helma, the picture of calm fired through the mob. A just as stern Verenth was on Jelket's right. His auto pistol and stubb revolver dropping cultists with precise headshots.

Jelket couldn't help envy them. From a few metres up the hill behind him, Halsin fired the pintle mount storm bolter while Karmen's bolter barked again and again.

Further north, Torris and Vark knelt. Torris' shotgun exploded holes through torsos and limbs like nobodies business, and Vark's precision with his hell gun was enviable.

Between them, they'd culled countless cultists, but there were still many more, and they came, like a tidal wave.

Jelket clenched his teeth. The braying psychotic bastards weren't far away now. Soon they would be in close combat, and that thought didn't sit well with Jelket, with all the close combat specialists gone. That was why they called in the big...

His thoughts were interrupted by the roar of thrusters, and Jelket looked up to see their Guncutter fly into view.

"You called?" said Darrance over the vox, sounding somehow smugger than usual.

Jelket couldn't help but smile.

The Guncutter spun; its heavy bolter turrets and autocannons opened fire, tearing a bloody swath through the cultist mob.

Torris cheered, as did Vark, but Jelket continued to shoot. His smile disappeared as a shiver slid up his spine. Something wasn't right.

"Halsin! Get out!" Karmen's scream erupted through Jelket's ears, causing him to flinch and turn, just in time to see the missile hit the ATV. The deafening explosion gutted it. What fate Halsin and Karmen had suffered, Jelket didn't know. And it was thrown off its wheels, flinging and spinning down the hill with breathtaking violence. Straight toward Jelket and the others.
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Chapter 12

#13 Post by Adrassil »

The barking of Adelana's cover fire above was hard to hear over the deafening roaring and creaking and yawning of the cracking, breaking walls. The blood sands were spurting in with horrifying speed, eager to claim what had eluded it for so long.

Fighting to keep his feet, Attelus moved for the stairs, his sword held loosely at his side. Delathasi just behind. Pain echoed through him, from dozens of cuts and las burns that managed to penetrate his flak jacket.

Despite Adelana's cover fire, las and solid rounds still rained around them. Attelus wanted to scream at them to stop, not out of fear of being hit but because their shots surely made the place cave in quicker.

Typical idiot mooks! Too busy trying to kill them instead of escaping!

Finally, he turned into the stairwell and came face to face with a snarling cultist. He cried in fright, reeling, and on instinct, decapitated him.

The corpse collapsed, revealing more were ascending after.

Attelus fired his autopistol, point-blank into the face of the next.

"Delathasi!" Attelus yelled. "Keep going!"


"Go! Frig you!"

The young apprentice sprinted up the stairs without further complaint.

The next cultist bounded up with incredible speed.

Attelus pulled the pistol's trigger. It clicked dry.

The cultist was on him, swinging down his chainsword. In the blink of an eye, Attelus' powersword swung out, knocking the cut off course and sliced through it.

But the cultist didn't break his stride and lunged forward; it took Attelus off guard.

Then the cultist sank his teeth into Attelus' thigh.

His shriek echoed; it was so loud it managed to eclipse all other sounds.

He stumbled, mind whirling but even still, he managed to flick his wrist for a throwing knife and plunge it into the side of the cultist's neck. The cultist let go, and Attelus stumbled, cursing and screaming before he fell onto his arse.

"Emperor damn it, Faleaseen!" he screamed. "I could really use your healing right now!"

Attelus writhed, he knew that due to his heightened metabolism, the bleeding would soon stop, but by frig, it hurt like hell!

The next cultist emerged from the stairs, smiling and aiming a lasgun at him.

Gasping, with shaking hands, he reached for another clip to reload his pistol he still somehow kept hold of, but he wasn't going to be quick enough.

The autopistol round punched through the top of the cultist's skull, and he dropped. Delathasi ran down the stairs to Attelus' side.

To her credit, she said nothing detrimental, although he deserved it and fired down the stairwell.

Adelana emerged into view, and for a second, Attelus forgot his pain as his heart fluttered.

"Attelus!" she cried, ran down to him, and picked up by his arm, then slipped it across her shoulders. Hauling him to his feet.

"I frigged up again, Adelana," he slurred.

"Yeah, we all do from time to time, Attelus," she said. "Just don't get too...bitten up about."

She laughed as they started up the stairs; Attelus didn't.

Meanwhile, the building continued to crumble.

Delathasi followed.

"Shit!" she snarled as her auto pistol spat again and again. "We've got hostiles coming from the south stairs!

Adelana paused, turned and gave Delathasi her bolter.

"Cover us! Have you used a bolter before?" said Adelana.

"N-No. I-"

"Just aim down the sight and pull the trigger! It's got a hell of a kickback, so be prepared!"

Delathasi nodded.

The bark of a bolter firing followed, then a round of curses from the young apprentice.

"Adelana," said Attelus. "Reload my autopistol for me, please! I can still be of some help!"

"Yeah, got you!" said Adelana as she took it, reloaded it then handed it back before drawing her own laspistol sidearm.

The vox crackled to life.

"Hurry it up," said Hayden. "They're almost on the sixth floor, and my long las isn't the best at crowd control."

"Sorry! Attelus is injured! We're moving as fast as we can!"

The trek up the stairs was slow, every step causing Attelus to hiss in pain.

Over the years, Attelus has had worse injuries, but this was just humiliating, and it was going to get infected.

After what seemed an age, they reached the fifth floor. Adelana and Attelus approached the exit with the utmost caution.

Adelana slipped Attelus off her shoulders and looked around the corner. Attelus watched her, his teeth on edge, his imagination flashing him a vision of a las round burning through her skull. Adelana was greeted by las fire nothing hit her before she slipped back and turned to him.

"Twelve, Attelus," she said. "All guardsmen! Seven left, five right! About fifteen meters!"

Delathasi joined them.

"Almost out of ammo!" Delathasi announced. "Can I have another clip?"

Adelana handed her two.

"Cover us, Delathasi!" said Attelus.

Delathasi nodded, leaned out and fired flurries as Adelana helped Attelus up. They walked from cover as quickly as they could. Shooting their pistols with Delathasi suppression fire. Attelus didn't hit anything, but Adelana managed to get a guardsman in the neck and clip another's arm. They made it, and at the corner, Adelana continued to fire her laspistol while Attelus watched the stairs leading up. Delathasi moved to join them, firing from the hip.

Once she was there, they began up the stairs.

The cracking and rending were getting worse. They stopped, stumbling as the entire building moved and rumbled, tilting violently.

"Shit!" snarled Attelus as the agony in his leg flared. His heart sinking into his stomach.

Then, the lower staircase wall tore open like a chainsword wound, and blood sands burst through.

A second after, two guardsmen appeared in the entrance. One's torso disappeared in a bloody haze as Delathasi opened fire; the other managed a blurt of las, one clipping Adelana's shoulder before Delathasi could kill him.

Adelana cried out, and she and Attelus fell onto the stairs in a flailing jumble of limbs.

He managed to stop his head from hitting with quick hands, but Adelana wasn't so lucky as Attelus heard a crack!

Attelus turned to see Adelana laid, facing him, a large bloody gash on the side of her skull. Her eyes fluttered, barely conscious.

"Adelana!" he cried as he began to climb to his feet. "Adelana!"

Panic almost overtook him; he suppressed it with sheer willpower. Then, despite the pain it caused, he got up and picked up Adelana. Slipping her limp arm across his shoulders.

He roared out as the added weight caused more pain to course through his leg. But he ignored it and started up the stairs.

Delathasi continued to shoot, covering their back.

Every step was agonising; every step made him scream. His teeth were clenched so hard he was afraid they'd burst from his mouth. His brow furrowed so badly it'd hurt for hours later.

The vox crackled, and he could hear Hayden's voice but couldn't make out what the sniper said. His vision was hazy, boarded by white.

It felt like an age, every step was a war to take, and the entire time, Delathasi fired Adelana's bolter. He wanted to swap positions with the apprentice but knew even a slight pause might allow the enemy an opening.

He made it, and it was perhaps one the hardest things he'd ever done. Harder than running through the lower hive with daemons in pursuit. Harder than the subsequent fight with Feuilt.

Once at the top, he limped on and almost overlooked Hayden approach.

The sniper took Adelana off him, picking her up into his arms with ease. It caused Attelus to almost collapse, but Delathasi stopped him, and they started toward the windows. Now the walls were almost in complete collapse. Behind them, the balcony began to break down and fall.

They dived out a window a millisecond before the building finally fell. Attelus even felt the wall brush down his feet.

Attelus hit the sands and rolled with the forward momentum, but it didn't cause him any pain. His leg now numb.

Gasping, aching all over, but despite this, Attelus clambered up, looking for Adelana.

"Adelana! Adelana!" he roared. "Adel..."

He wandered off in his exclamation as he saw guardsmen, a good two dozen more. Lined out on the street, their lasguns covering them. Like the ones in the building, they were ragtag, beaten and battered. Wearing a mixture of uniforms unfamiliar to him.

"Well, shit!" said Attelus, expecting to be cut down in a hail of las.

But they didn't shoot.

"On your knees," said a commanding voice and a man in brown and grey carapace armour walked into view, hands behind his back. His patrician features scarred and craggy. His accent and annunciation as haughty as his gait. "Hands behind your heads."

Attelus glanced about and found Hayden and Adelana. Both had complied with the officer's order; poor Adelana was still clinging to consciousness, blood coated the side of her face and matted her hair. He started toward her, concern overriding his sense of self-preservation.

"On your knees now, young man! Fingers intertwined behind your head!" said the officer. "Or do you have a death wish?"

Attelus stopped, his hands balled into fists. His jaw clenched but did as told—Delathasi following suit.

"Check them!" said the officer, and eight troopers advanced, one to cover them, the other to pat them down.

"We aren't your enemy," said Attelus. "We're Inquisition."

The officer grimaced.

"I could believe that, actually," he said. "But in my experience, that does not mean you are not an enemy."

Attelus shrugged, unable to argue with such logic.

"Sir!" said the trooper, patting Attelus down as he found Attelus' rosette, turned and handed it to the officer.

He studied it, holding it high, with one eye closed.

"Hmm, seems legitimate," he said.

"Sir!" repeated the trooper as he drew Attelus' power sword from its sheath and handed it to the officer, handle first.

The officer eyed it, eyebrow raised, then took it.

"It does not look like much, but..."

Then the officer began to slash, slice, cut and parry. To Attelus, he seemed to move in slow motion, but his skill was quite impressive. Almost on par with Delathasi.

"This is one hell of a sword," he said. "The balance is perfect! If I didn't believe you were Inquisition, I do now."

"Well... besides the rosette," said Attelus, clenching his teeth against the pain. "Look! My name is Attelus Kaltos; we're of the Ordo Hereticus. Now, please state your name, rank and regiment."

The officer gazed at the sword, almost entranced by it.

"I am captain Sevrik Dantian of the Sovrithan 81st rifles," he said after a few seconds.

"Sovrithan 81st? Weren't you deployed to Kalivith?" said Hayden before Attelus could.

"Indeed," said Dantian, cutting Attelus' sword a few more times. "This is an amazing sword, a marvel of workmanship. Take them! Well, take them back to the commander!"

The two guardsmen hauled Attelus and others to their feet, and the barrel of a lasgun in his back prompted Attelus forwards as the others closed in around them in escort formation.

"I like this sword," said Dantian. "Think I might keep it."

Many of the guardsmen laughed sycophantically, and Attelus clenched his jaw. It took all of his willpower to keep himself from killing the captain. He sighed, slouched and looked to Adelana. She was stumbling, clinging to consciousness.

"My...My colleague, she needs medical attention," Attelus said. "She has a head injury-"

"Yes...I am aware of that, Throne Agent Attelus Kaltos..."

Dantian wandered off in his sentence, and Attelus waited, thinking the captain would say more, but he stayed silent.

Attelus sighed and ignored his captors as he limped to her side and slipped her arm over his shoulders. It caused pain to flare in his leg, but he didn't let it get to him.

"Colleague, huh?" said one of the guardsmen.

Attelus didn't take notice, and he couldn't help wonder: Kalivith was over three hundred kilometres south, so why the hell was a detachment of the Sovrithan 81st rifles doing all the way here? What were they going to do to them when they were taken to their commander?

Was Attelus' leg going to have to be amputated due to infection because of lacking medical supplies? Good luck trying to cut through the bone with anything less than a power blade, though,

Where were the rest of Attelus' squad?

What the hell was going on?

Why were guardsmen and cultists killing each other in one second then joining forces to kill them in the next? Was Adelana going to be okay? Attelus hoped so.

What the hell was behind that vision he had? What was waiting in the tallest tower?

So many frigging questions, but the most important of all was: how was he going to get his damned sword back?
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Chapter 13

#14 Post by Adrassil »

For what felt like hours but according to his wrist chron, was fifteen minutes. They moved slowly, carefully through the night endowed streets. The Sovrithan troopers were professional, not on par with any one of Attelus' squad but still skilled.

Attelus couldn't help be impressed, making him feel a little better about being captured. They'd been thorough in their pat-down- taking everything bar his boot knife. Despite this, Attelus knew he could escape; they should've bound his hands. His thigh had already mostly healed. Although he still pretended to limp. But he couldn't escape with the others, especially poor injured Adelana. And if he did, Attelus didn't know what their fates would be.

Attelus hoped they'd found allies that this 'commander' will provide them with much-needed answers. But he doubted it, despite the outward sanity of their captors, Attelus' instincts screamed they'd leapt from the proverbial frying pan and into the fire.

Adelana, if she could read his mind and wasn't half-conscious, she would accuse him of being paranoid, but he'd learned long ago that they were usually right.


Attelus sighed as they turned another corner, and the Sovrithan base of operations came into view.

They were camped out in what once was a huge plaza. On the west sat a huge ecclesiarchy cathedral jutted from the blood sands, a good seventeen stories tall. It was typically gaudy and Gothic. Attelus didn't have to be a genius to guess there were statues hidden beneath the sand. The plaza of the God-Emperor's Justice. Attelus recalled it was the fifth largest cathedral in the city.

There were hundreds of beige tents, and Attelus couldn't help pause. There must've been at least a thousand men of the Sovrithan 81st rifles encamped here. Why so many?

As they approached, they were met by the squad guarding the perimeter. Dantian exchanged words with the officer, and soon they were moving again.

Dantian led them into a supply tent, and there they were forced onto their knees again. Hands bound behind their backs with rope.

"Are you going to take her to your medicae?" Attelus said, on the verge of panic.

Dantian laughed, "do I look like I care about her?"

Attelus glared up at the captain. "I understand your suspicion; I do. But you hold my rosette. You know who and what I am and what authority I serve. So you should know, it's in your best interest to help her, captain. Believe me."

Dantian laughed again. "Are you threatening me, throne agent Attelus Kaltos?"

"No," said Attelus. "Just stating a fact is all."

"It's not enough," said Dantian. "She may be pretty, but it means nothing to me."

Attelus sighed. "Okay, then. I swear to you if you don't get her help. I'll kill you, and it'll be slow. With my bare hands, first, I'll tear out your stomach and show it to you. Then your left lung and show that to you too. Then your kidney, then your right lung. Then I'll let you live for a while, writhing in all your deserved agony. And lastly, I'll tear out your throat. Do you understand?"

Dantian smiled. "I..."

"Now I am threatening you! Do you understand!"

The captain shook his head and licked his thin, dry lips. "You are lucky that the commander wants to talk to you, or I would kill you right now for that. With your own sword."

Attelus smiled. "Believe me; you'd need all the luck in the galaxy to manage that. Now, are you going to help her, or not?

Dantian slipped off his leather gloves, staring at Attelus for a good half a minute.

"Take her!" said the captain. "...Take her to the medicae."

"Sir?" stammered one of the troopers.

"Do it now," said Dantian.

Two troopers approached Adelana and, between them, carried her limp form outside.

"A wise decision," said Attelus.

Dantian grimaced. "Take him!" he snapped as he turned and started out. "We have a meeting with the commander!"

Attelus and Dantian, with seven soldiers in escort, moved through the camp's hustle and bustle. Now Dantian walked behind Attelus, and the troopers didn't seem to dare push or prod him. Attelus had to fight from smiling and almost forgot to keep pretending to limp.

Dantian might've been an arse, but he wasn't stupid. Attelus couldn't help wonder, why had they dubbed their leader 'the commander?' That was more an Astartes title, rarely used by the Imperial Guard, but perhaps the Sovrithans did? Attelus hadn't bothered researching into them due to their deployment.

He doubted it. Something seemed off.

No, something was off.

They approached a large command tent set at the camp's centre. There the moving bodies were concentrated further. Attelus fought back an abrupt wave of rage; already, he'd forgotten Autarch Arlyandor's teachings. This planet, this world was getting to him; it was hard to think straight. It was getting to the others too. Karmen's low self-esteem and Jelket's inferiority complex were bubbling to the surface. It was the influence of chaos; it brought out all their flaws, exacerbating them.

The two troopers standing guard at the entrance snapped to attention as they saw Dantian. The captain ignored them. The Inside, it stank of stale sweat, and a dozen or so cogitators were set on the tarpaulin floor, a junior officer at each. Attelus again couldn't help be surprised at their organisation and how well they'd deployed. It was almost the equivalent of a general's command centre in terms of equipment. Who could pull so much influence for all of this?

This was answered as they slipped through another set of flaps and another pair of guards into the commander's quarters. It caused Attelus to stop dead, his eyes to widen with fear and awe.

"Here he is," said captain Dantian. "As you ordered, commander."

A man sat at a large desk. He was clad in beaten black with white shoulder pads, power armour of ancient design. He had no helmet, and his head was shaven bald, hard features scowling at Attelus.

He was a man but far from human.

He was a Space Marine.

Hayden frowned, eyeing the guards that'd been left behind. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't find a way to escape. Hayden doubted that these guardsmen had honourable intentions, and he doubted they'd taken Adelana to a medicae.

Or they'd taken her to a medicae to be treated.

The thought made Hayden struggle in his bonds.

"Keep still!" snapped one of the troopers, emphasising his words with a gesture of his lasgun.

Hayden did as ordered and looked to Delathasi. She looked unperturbed, attention fixed forward. Hayden wished Karmen was here, wished that her power wasn't in flux. She was a negotiator of merit; if anyone could talk them out of this, it was her.

But Hayden doubted that too.

Years ago, he remembered working with Glaitis one of her sayings, one which Attelus should've adhered to the second he stepped on this miserable planet.

Everyone is your enemy.

They were in this situation because of him if Attelus hadn't split them up if he hadn't wandered into that trap.

Attelus should not have threatened that captain.

Attelus should not have been put in charge of this expedition in the first place.

Hayden should have.

A slight smile curled on the Space Marine's scarred, craggy face. His eyes were almond-shaped bulging black. Skin as pale as Attelus' own.

Dantian approached the Marine and handed him Attelus' rosette.

"Captain, leave," said the Space Marine, studying the rosette.

Dantian nodded and, with a brief bow, turned and left his men in tow.

"Is it truly so frightening to see an Astartes? One commanding imperial guardsmen?" Said the Space Marine after a good half a minute of silence.

"Yes," said Attelus, eyeing the Space Marine wearily.

"So you are a throne agent?" said the Space Marine. "You are a member of the Holy Ordos?"

Attelus didn't like the way he said 'holy ordos.'

"Are you the leader?" said the Space Marine. "Where is your inquisitor? If you are the leader, you don't look like much."

"I don't know if I should tell you," Attelus clenched his jaw; he hated being underestimated even though it could be used to his advantage and had on many occasions. But a Space Marine would think that way about every mortal, anyway.

The Space Marine laughed, low and rumbling. It was devoid of humour, threatening.

"You should, throne agent Attelus Kaltos," he said. "If you know what's good for you."

Attelus was fighting the fear welling within his guts but still had to hold back a smile. Could the Marine have used a more cliché line? He'd fought and killed Space Marines before; he remembered one, in particular, a year ago. A chaos Marine named Erdaku'd lead a cult uprising on the world of Lathia Prime. Attelus hadn't killed the self-titled, 'ever chosen of chaos' that'd been Hayden, but he'd fought the freak for long enough to allow Hayden to get into position. So he may as well have. But then he had his sword, and his hands weren't tied behind his back. Although Attelus could snap the rope in a split second against an Astartes, that spilt second might not be enough.

"I am the leader. My Inquisitor, she's worlds away."

The Space Marine snorted. "I will take that literally. Typical Inquisitor, sending lackeys instead of doing it themselves."

Attelus frowned.

"As one of her agents, I wield all her authority," said Attelus, trying to sound commanding and not sure if he'd managed it. "State your name and rank, please."

"You wield no authority over me, little girl," sneered the Space Marine, and Attelus frowned again. Erdaku called him that too. In fact, almost every Space Marine he'd met had. "But if you must know, I am veteran-sergeant Kalakor. Third company, Raven Guard."

"I wasn't aware-"

"We were not in the deployment manifest because that is how we work. In secret, separate."


"Because that is how we serve the Emperor, throne agent," said Kalakor.

"No, why have you taken command of Imperial Guard?"

Kalakor sighed. "We were but a squad. A squad that I led for a century. All of them but I were killed. Killed at the hand a greater daemon of Khorne in the initial battle, but we sent it back whence it came. I am the only survivor, I am afraid."

"I-I'm sorry."

Kalakor sneered and waved a gauntleted hand in dismissal. "I do not need your condolences. They died with honour."

"Yes! Sorry!" said Attelus.

"You are strange," said Kalakor.

Attelus waited; such a statement wasn't new to him. He thought the Raven Guard would elaborate, but he stayed silent.

"I am glad that you are here," said Kalakor.

Attelus raised an eyebrow.

"The guardsmen I have led here are not numerous enough nor skilled enough to advance into the city further."

"So, you'll tell me what's going on here?" said Attelus.

Kalakor smiled at Attelus. He had no idea what he was smiling about; Space Marines were notoriously hard to read.

"Of course I will, as much as I can," said Kalakor. "We are here because we had lost contact with the Elbyran contingent two weeks ago. We had only arrived three days ago; we still fight against the cultists in the south; it was not until now that a detachment could be spared to investigate."

Kalakor paused and, from behind the desk, picked up a vox unit and placed it on the top.

"Before all communication was lost, we received this..."

Kalakor turned it on with a flick of his armoured finger.

There was static, and Attelus waited with bated breath, knowing what he was to hear wasn't going to be pleasant.

Then came a voice erupted from the speaker.

"He has taken over!" the voice, chocked by static, said. "The general has taken the tallest tower! father has lost his mind! Most of us follow him! They execute the civilians! We cannot stop them! We cannot-!"

The voice disappeared into static again.

Attelus knew who it was.

"Commissar Tathe!" he breathed.

Commissar Delan Tathe was a hero, one of Attelus Kaltos heroes. He was a famous swordmaster, a leader of note. Interestingly, he was the son of general Tathe, where usually Commissars were recruited from the orphans of the schola progenium. It was said that in Delan's youth, general Tathe had made Delan live in the Varanderian with the orphans. To become a commissar.

And he'd become one hell of a commissar. But one thing Delan Tathe was famous for was his ruthlessness. Why he would protect civilians, especially those of a corrupted world, Attelus couldn't understand.

"General Tathe has gone rogue?" said Attelus.

"If you believe what this transmission said, yes," Kalakor.

Attelus nodded, and a thought occurred. Then why are you so quick to trust me?

"We have attempted to scout ahead on a few occasions," said Kalakor. "This city is unlike the others. Here enemy in garbs of both cultist and Guardsmen seem to materialise into reality. Fighting each other but then turn against us if we get close. We have lost over a third of our number since our arrival due to this. I have scouted ahead myself but have found nothing beside these skirmishes, and this is a large city, and I am but one Space Marine."

"I am assuming you want the help of mine and my own?" said Attelus. "Also, I must know. These blood sands were they like this when you first arrived?"

Kalakor smiled. "I am not sure. You managed to get captured; your skill cannot be that great. And indeed they were; this world was corrupted before we came."

Attelus sighed. "We were captured because that was my fault. I let my sentimentality get the best of me. I am Velrosian. Ever since I was young, I looked up to them. I needed to see them to help them! But they turned against us, and we barely escaped! We are Throne Agents. We are the best of the best. Now I have learned this the hard way; we won't make the same mistake again."

Kalakor tilted his head. "You won't make the same mistake again?"

Attelus shrugged. "I won't. I take full responsibility."

The Raven Guard nodded in what may've been respect.

"You admit that you are at fault; that is what a leader must do. A true leader, indeed. But you claim to be the best of the best. There is an ancient Terran saying that you might be aware of. 'Show. Do not tell.'"

Attelus shrugged again and clenched his jaw; his attention fell to the floor.

"How can I show you my skill with my hands tied like this?" said Attelus.

Kalakor's smile grew into a grin. "Oh, I have an idea."

"Get them up!" snapped a sergeant as he burst into the tent. "Take them to the gathering ground."

"What? Why sir?" said one trooper.

"Commander's order, wants them to see this. For some reason, now hurry it up!"

Two guardsmen approached Delathasi and Hayden, pulled them to their feet and shoved them through the flaps. Out into the night.

Hayden and Delathasi shared bemused looks.

For a few minutes, they were forced through the sea of tents and bustling bodies. It wasn't long before Hayden saw a large crowd of guardsmen had encircled something. There was an almost palpable aura of excitement from them.

Hayden sighed. What have you done now, Attelus?

He and Delathasi couldn't help stop dead as they glimpsed another figure standing behind the crowd. It was nearly two metres tall and almost as wide. It wore pitch-black armour with white shoulder pads. It was a frigging Space Marine!

Hayden was forced on again by a lasgun barrel prodding his back.

When they approached the mob, the sergeant shouted, "clear a space! Clear a fugging space!"

The guardsmen stepped aside, allowing Hayden and Delathasi to see the middle of the circle. Attelus stood to the left, holding a wooden practise sword at his side. On the right, the captain, Dantian, paced back and forth like a caged lion, also holding a practice sword. The captain looked amused; Attelus' expression was unreadable.

Once Hayden, Delathasi and the sergeant made it to the front, the guardsmen closed the circle again. Attelus looked at Hayden and Delathasi, giving them an encouraging nod and slight smile.

Hayden wasn't encouraged.

"Here they are!" bellowed the Space Marine. "The honoured guests!"

Hayden looked at the Astartes, not sure what to think of its presence.

"So!" said Attelus to Dantian. "Care to make a wager?"

The captain grimaced. "I am assuming you want to make one about your sword? You win, you get it back? I win, I keep it?"

Attelus nodded.

A smirk crossed Dantian's face. "Are you really so sure you'll win?"

Attelus shrugged.

"I will take your bet," said Dantian, his smirk falling into a frown which said: 'under the circumstances, you gave me little choice, you little worm.'

Attelus grinned and slipped off his flak jacket, tossing it away in a dramatic fashion. His grey syn skin bodyglove was short-sleeved, revealing svelte—lean frame.

"Are both combatants ready?" said the Space Marine. His voice was so deep, so resonant that Hayden's organs seemed to rumble with each syllable.

"I am," said Attelus and Dantian.

"As stated, this will be to whoever lands what could be deemed a fatal blow," said the Marine; he paused for a few weighted seconds. "Begin!"

Both of them fell into combat stances. Then faster than Hayden could think, Attelus dashed the distance, and Dantian flew onto his back. Hayden couldn't even see Attelus' attack.

"We done?" said Attelus, and every jaw except for Hayden's and Delathasi's hung open in abstract shock. Even the Space Marine's.

"Oh! Right!" said Attelus, then pretended to cut his practise sword across the barely conscious captain's throat. "That better?"

Hayden couldn't help facepalm; he was afraid this would happen. Could he had just toyed with the captain for a while? Or did Attelus just have to show off?

The Space Marine pushed his way through the guardsmen and into the circle.

"I have not seen a mortal able to move that fast!" it snarled. "What are you?"

"The Adeptus Mechanicus enhanced me," said Attelus, a little too lightly to Hayden's liking. "Gene splicing, muscle and bone augmentation. You know how it goes."

The Marine said nothing, just glared down at Attelus.

"Can I have my sword back, now?" said Attelus.

The Space Marine turned and picked up Dantian's fallen sword.

"Not yet," he said. "First, I would like to test my own skill..."

Attelus straightened in fearful understanding as the marine spun back to him with grace, belying his bulk. Holding out the blunt blade in a huge fist.

"...Against your own," said the Marine.

Attelus swallowed. "Well, shit," he said.
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Chapter 14

#15 Post by Adrassil »

The guardsmen didn't need any prompting to spread out a further three metres as Attelus and Kalakor circled each other. Attelus knew he, a short, long-limbed Throne Agent was ludicrously tiny compared to the huge Marine. Yet here he was forced to fight this monster.

Attelus sighed. "We're on the same side, right? So you won't kill me, okay?"

Kalakor sneered. "Are you admitting defeat already?"

Attelus shrugged.

"Of course he is!" yelled one of the guardsmen. "He's nothing but a fugging little fairy boy! He doesn't stand a chance!"

The rest burst out in laughter, and Attelus couldn't help roll his eyes. Deciding to neglect to say how easily he'd defeated their captain, who was being carried to their medicae tent. Attelus would've been angry, if at all insecure.

Kalakor didn't spare the guardsman a glance; attention fixated on Attelus.

"We fight until the first blow deemed fatal is landed," said Kalakor.

Attelus clenched his jaw; he wasn't an expert on Astartes physiology, but he knew enough to know such a feat was harder for him than Kalakor. Even without his frigging power armour.

"Are you ready?" said Kalakor.

Swallowing back his fear, Attelus gave the Marine a nod.

The next second, Kalakor was on him, slashing down vertically. Attelus slid aside and cut at the Marine's exposed side. Lightning-fast the Marine turned and parried. His riposte, a horizontal blow that forced Attelus to lunge back.

The Marine stabbed, and Attelus weaved beneath it darted onto the Marine's side, but Kalakor turned in his wake, cutting. Attelus ducked and slashed upward at Kalakor's chin. The Marine stopped it dead with the blade of his practise sword and almost sent it from Attelus' grasp with a snap of his wrist. But he'd underestimated the Throne Agent's strength as Attelus kept hold of the sword and let himself be flung away into a controlled roll and out of reach of a follow-through.

Attelus spun, just in time to sidestep the Marine's diagonal slash. Attelus knew Kalakor was holding back. The Space Marine withheld his true strength so it wouldn't kill. But it didn't affect his speed; this spoke of remarkable skill, even for an Astartes. If Attelus wielded his powersword, he would've cut into Kalakor's wrists, but that wasn't a fatal blow, so that it wouldn't help him now.

Kalakor carried on his cut, turning it into a horizontal slash; Attelus leapt over it, then back-stepped as Kalakor reversed the blow.

Attelus clenched his teeth. Their reach difference was ridiculous. He exhaled as Raloth's words filtered through his thoughts.

And he smiled.

For a full seventeen minutes, they fought their mock fight, two blurs of inhuman speed and skill. Attelus dodged and darted and cut, in and out, in and out. Kalakor parried, blocked and countered.

All those watching stood in awed, gaping silence—even Hayden and Delathasi.

Attelus, already weary from the earlier fight against the cultists, was on the cusp of collapsing; every inch of him ached, but he had to wait this long.

It was when he got the opening he needed.

Kalakor cut down vertically.

Attelus had dodged and weaved all of the Marine's attacks. Kalakor was used to it, expected it, so when the Throne Agent parried, it caught him off guard. Attelus slipped aside and, with all his strength, bashed his blade into the back Kalakor's, augmenting its power for a split second and into the sand. Attelus had clenched his teeth to keep from crying out as pain erupted up his arms as impact tremors tore through his musculature.

The Throne Agent dashed in, slashing horizontally at Kalakor's neck. The Marine even still managed to bring his sword up to block. But Attelus had predicted this and, in the last millisecond, reversed the slash into a vertical, downward cut toward Kalakor's skull.

The crack as the training blade snapping echoed through the crowd, and the broken half flew into the air, spinning and spinning until it fell and stuck fast in the blood sand.

Attelus sighed through his gasping. Somehow the Marine had twisted, so the sword hit his over large pauldron instead of his forehead.

"Frig!" Attelus snarled before Kalakor tapped him on the ribs with the flat of his sword, sending the small throne agent off his feet and smashing to the sand.

Dazed, hurting like hell, it was by hearing the Space Marine's heavy footfall Attelus knew he approached. Through hazy vision, he saw Kalakor towering over him and with a slight smile, the Raven Guard offered his hand.

"You almost had me there, throne agent Attelus Kaltos," said Kalakor. "A good attempt."

Attelus took it, and the Marine hauled him to his feet with such strength it almost pulled Attelus' arm from its socket.

Kalakor raised his hand into the air. "This! This Throne Agent Attelus Kaltos has earned my respect! For a human to last so long in a fight against a Space Marine. None of you can claim such a feat! So he should yours! All of you! Even if he is a fugging little fairy boy!"

The guardsmen laughed, but it wasn't with malice.

Attelus wasn't smiling. He'd planned every step, every slash, in minute detail. He should've had Kalakor cold. He should've won. While Kalakor was right, it still didn't feel right. Something just wasn't right. Or was that him just being a sore loser?

He was knocked from his sulking by the faint, sudden sound of thrusters to the south. Attelus and Kalakor were both the first to hear, and as one, they looked.

"No!" said Attelus. "Shit! Shit shit shit!

"Do you know that ship?" said Kalakor. Everyone had heard it now and watched its lights land on top of a building about two kilometres southeast.

"Yes," Attelus breathed. "That's my Guncutter! What the hell are those idiots doing? I need my powersword! We need our weapons. We need to get there now! Before they bring every frigging cultist in the city on their idiotic arse!"

He started toward Hayden and Delathasi but stopped as guardsmen stepped in his way. Las guns raised.

"I uhh," said Attelus, turning back to Kalakor.

The Raven Guard frowned down at Attelus.

"Can you please help us?" Attelus said through clenched teeth and trying to keep the urgency from his voice

"Just because you have earned my respect does not mean you can order us around," said Kalakor. "And still, I cannot trust you."

Kalakor smiled. "After learning of your considerable ability. I know that you are a danger. We will go to your foolish allies, and you will be coming with us."

Kalakor motioned, then four guardsmen approached, and with rough hands, they pulled Attelus' arms behind his back and tied his wrists together. Attelus was too exhausted to fight back, even if there was one.

"Your three companions are to stay here," said Kalakor. "They will be insurance in case you try anything...Untoward."

"Will...Will I ever get my powersword back?"

Kalakor's smile turned smug. "Dantian is beholden to give it back to you. But I am not."

Attelus sighed through his gasps as he moved, jogging through the darkened streets. His escort, a ten-man squad, surrounded him, lasguns panning left and right with admiral discipline.

What caused him to sigh was a thought, a cliché that filtered through his thoughts. 'Hindsight was twenty-twenty,' or something along those lines.

As ridiculous as it sounded, he should've let the Marine win and quickly at that. Kalakor and the guardsmen knew his capabilities now. He might've got his sword back if he hadn't wanted to prove himself. Defeat the Raven Guard in a foolish sparring match. To last even five minutes would've sufficed to gain their respect.

He wanted to test himself, his skill. But in all honesty, it was to make up for his idiocy in letting that cultist bite his leg.

Attelus clenched his jaw.

Three squads had headed south with Kalakor. One advancing through the westward streets, the other, the east. Kalakor had moulded into the shadows a few seconds after they left. Attelus had to fight from showing his shock; he'd read of the Raven Guard's skill at stealth but never imagined they were that good. Even in power armour.

No one spoke as they moved. The squad's sergeant, a grizzled, dark-skinned giant wielding a laspistol and chainsword, gave orders via hand gestures.

They were no more than five hundred metres away when Attelus heard the gunfire echoing through the city. Intense and He wanted to try to call them over the vox, but his hands were tied, and if vox communication were possible, he would've heard from them hours ago.

He had to clench his teeth to fight from running onward to help his friends, and he wondered, why the hell had they arrived like this? What happened to their ATV?

Whatever happened, it couldn't have been good.

Kalakor seemed to materialise from a hab block's shadows a few metres ahead. Making us stop in our advance.

"Your allies have holed up in a hab block and are fighting a force of three hundred cultists, and traitor guardsmen and more are converging on their position as we speak. They will be overwhelmed soon."

Attelus cursed. "We have to help them!"

Kalakor stared down at Attelus. Seeming to decide whether Attelus was worthy of his help or not. Something else in that stare set Attelus's teeth on edge, something calculating. It unnerved Attelus more than he could describe.

The Space Marine must've stood there for a few seconds, but for Attelus, it felt an eternity. Despite this, Attelus didn't break eye contact with Kalakor.

The sergeant gave a small nod before reaching to the vox bead in his ear.

"Sergeant Droscoth, Salrian, Koltik, Fertik. We need reinforcement—enemy contact. We will advance and engage first. Converge on our position ASAP. Understood?"

Attelus could hear the slight whispers with his enhanced hearing.

"Thank you," Attelus said, trying and failing to keep desperate, pathetic platitude from his voice.

Kalakor smiled. "Just remember, Throne agent, you owe me for this. You owe us."

With that, the Marine turned away, motioning them to follow.

"Let us move," he said.

"Give me a weapon!" said Attelus causing Kalakor to stop. "I can help! Let me fight and help my friends! A knife, a pistol! Anything!"

The Raven Guard looked over his shoulder at Attelus.

Then he laughed. A low and throaty and mocking sound. Attelus clenched his jaw.

"How about no," he said and carried on, activating the vox again. "Sergeant Sallorith, sergeant Bertrat. I will scout on ahead. We are engaging. I will keep you updated once I am in position."

The sergeant nodded before fazing into the darkness again.

Attelus sighed before being ushered on by a light shove from a trooper.

"Hurry it up, fairy boy," said one.

Attelus sighed again. It looked like that nickname was going to stick, so much for 'earning their respect.'

They made it another thirty metres down the street before the grenade cascaded from a third-story window and amidst the squad.

"Grenade!" Attelus yelled, but it was too late. The Photon flash grenade erupted into life, causing the guardsmen around to cry out and reel, clutching at their eyes. Attelus was unaffected; his photo contacts were the best quality created by the Adeptus Mechanicus, making him immune to their effects. He didn't hesitate, snapped his bonds and snatched a lasgun from the grasp of a guardsman.

Two figures slipped into the street. One male, one female. Both wore black synskin bodygloves; both were slender, athletically built. The male wielded a thin, curved power sword and the woman, two power blades, and they blazed into life as they started to slaughter through the hapless guardsmen toward Attelus. Their features hidden beneath snarling masks.

Attelus sensed the presence behind, and he spun, firing a blurt with his stolen gun.

Another male, this one far taller than the others, dodged and deflected the fire with a power blade. Moving inhumanly fast, he dashed at Attelus, smashing a fist at the throne agent's skull.

Smiling. Attelus side stepped and kicked the attacker in the chest with his boot knife. The man let out a muffled cry and stumbled back. Attelus would've smashed the butt of the lasgun into the attacker's face but was forced back by the female as she flew at him into a hook kick, which Attelus just managed to back-step.

Attelus weaved underneath her following front kick, and she slipped away from his swinging rifle. Attelus fired a flurry at the curved sword male. He dodged and deflected through it, then tried to cut the lasgun in twain. Attelus slid back, snatching his rifle. The woman had sheathed her power blades and lunged, grabbing the gun with both hands.

Attelus' low side kick collapsed her knee; then he kneed her in the ribs. It connected with a satisfying crack! She didn't cry out, only stumbled and let go to her credit.

The male with the short sword had recovered but was kept at bay with another blurt of las fire. The curved swordsman was almost on him. But Attelus did something unexpected; he threw his lasgun at him. Taken off guard, the man still managed to tilt his head aside, but this allowed Attelus to dash forward to grab the man's sword arm. Attelus elbowed him in the armpit, then backfisted him in the face.

The man cried out and let go, allowing Attelus to snatch away his sword. He would've decapitated the stumbling, stunned enemy if the short swordsman hadn't blocked the blow.

Attelus weaved beneath the counter slash and parried the man's thrust before he threw himself back from the female as she darted at his flank. Swords flashing.

"Obviously, you want me alive for some reason," said Attelus through his gasps as he shuffled back to make room. "Now it seems you're trying to kill me! Seems a bit counterproductive, doesn't it? You thought I'd be too exhausted from my fight with the Astartes to put up much of a fight. Well! You were wrong."

They didn't reply. Their masks were impassive, but their anger and frustration, almost palpable.

"You're his, aren't you?" said Attelus. "You're Etuarq's agents. Sent here to capture me for whatever plan he has for me. Well! I said, screw you to fate. So I say the same to you..."

Attelus trailed off in his sentence as he heard the running footfalls, converging from both the north and south.

He glanced north first, thinking it was the reinforcements Kalakor had called for. But they weren't.

A dozen guardsmen approached; they wore battered, bloody deep blue with white trim flak armour and cameleoline cloaks, which whipped and kicked in their wake. Their lasguns aimed at him. He froze; they were, without doubt, men of the Velrosian 1st.

About four metres away, they slid to a stop.

"Well, well!" said a voice to the south. "This is the one you wanted to capture? He doesn't look like much."

Attelus looked to see a man of average height approaching, but his bearing made him seem much taller. He wore a black storm coat and peaked cap of a commissar. His weathered, beaten skin was tanned brown, and his handsome, smirking features, scared. Two crisscrossed his left cheek, and another ran from his forehead to his right cheek. He carried an ornate single-edged power sword in the grasp of an advanced augmetic hand.

Attelus knew him; well, he didn't know him. He knew of him. Hell, everyone in Velrosia knew him from countless propaganda holovids and picts.

"Commissar Delan Tathe!" Attelus breathed.
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Chapter 15

#16 Post by Adrassil »

Tathe raised an eyebrow as more Velrosian troopers approached after him, covering Attelus.

"I do not know how you know me, young man," said Tathe. "But please drop the sword; we have you surrounded."

Attelus frowned as first he thought, young man? When Attelus was a child, Tathe was a commissar cadet and young himself when he'd heard the stories. But that'd been twelve, fifteen years ago, so Tathe must now be in his thirties. He looked every one of those years and more.

Attelus gaped as; secondly, shock overtook him. How did he know him? How could he not know him? Tathe was a master swordsman, unrivalled in the Elbyran contingent; he'd killed Space Marines! Defeated daemons! After Attelus had studied the actual records of the Elbyran contingent, his awe and respect had only grown and grown. The propaganda had neglected the battles against daemonic entities, the Imperium of Mankind guarding their existence away from the mindless masses.

Tathe and his teams must've taken out the Sovrithan squads advancing north and southward.

Attelus started to back up the Velrosians enclosing him in, almost surrounding him. The three agents were approaching too. The one Attelus disarmed had drawn a knife.

"I said," said Tathe. "You are surrounded! Drop the sword! Now!"

Attelus had to fight the urge to do as ordered. Tathe's voice was full of power and authority; it reminded him of Inquisitor Enandra. It reminded him of Raloth.

"I'm sorry," said Attelus. "But I can't let myself get captured, again."

Attelus spun and sprinted north. His inhuman speed caught the guardsmen by surprise. A few opened fire, their las bolts tore through Attelus' wake, and there were cries as a few managed to hit a Velrosian in the crossfire. Attelus couldn't help curse.

"Hold your fire!" Tathe bellowed, and Attelus sensed the agents running after him.

Two troopers managed to step in Attelus way. He clenched his teeth and shouldered one with such momentum the soldier was sent off his feet and bashing against the wall. The other tried to grasp his flak jacket with calloused, thick fingers. Attelus knocked away his hand with a forearm, then man's elbow broke, causing him to cry out. Attelus' stolen sword blazed into life, and he sliced a widow, causing the glass to shatter inward. He lunged into what seemed an old office block. The cogitators were rusted almost beyond recognition, and the desks turned over or broken apart. Junk covered almost every inch of the vast, cavernous room.

The agents burst in a second after. He heard their light footfalls on the rockcrete floor. Attelus weaved and vaulted through the shattered, smashed interior. He wanted to turn and fight his pursuers; he wanted to test his skill against them; he wanted to kill them. He wanted their blood too...

Attelus shook away the thought and growled through clenched teeth. He couldn't give in to the bloodthirst; he had to get away. But if he managed to get away, where would he go? South to help Karmen and company? Or north to Adelana, Hayden and Delathasi?

The thought caused pain to course through his chest; it almost made him slow.

"Shit!" he snarled, snatched up a chair and hurled it at his pursuers with all his strength.

Attelus didn't hear a cry, just the shatter of it hitting something. He was disappointed but unsurprised and glanced back.

All three were only a few metres behind. Keeping pace. It'd been a long time since someone was able to keep up with him. This just reinforced his belief they were agents of Etuarq.

He weaved aside a turned over table, then leapfrogged over a still standing dividing wall. He got his first sight of the wall.

It was without windows, just featureless rockcrete and Attelus cursed again.

He activated his stolen sword's power field. He wouldn't be able to cut a hole quick enough to pass through before they'd be on him.

Attelus launched himself over another desk and slid to a stop before spinning into a sidekick smashing it into the air and hurtling at his pursuers.

They scattered and slowed as it crashed and spun and smashed apart.

Attelus ran to the wall and plunged the sword into it. Beginning to cut upward.

He was halfway through when the woman was on him. Kicking at his face. Attelus leaned his head aside and threw an elbow at her side that she spun away from.

Both the men charged him at the same time. Attelus sidestepped the tall one's kick and parried the other's punch with a palm.

He clutched the sword still in the wall, activated it and kicked at the tall one's shin with his boot knife. It was back stepped, and Attelus managed to cut up before being forced to let go by the other's roundhouse kick.

The woman was on him again, and she leapt into a hook kick that Attelus ducked. His left hook cracked against her back, sending her sprawling to the floor.

The tall man's front kick made Attelus stumble back, and with a desperate hand, he grabbed the sword slicing a little more before the shorter one's fist crashed against his back.

Attelus let out a cry before turning into a sidekick, which made the man retreat. He ducked the tall one's punch and was forced to block his knee with his crossed forearms. Attelus kicked the man's leg from under him, sending him smashing on his face. Then the woman was on his flank. She punched him in the side of his neck, then his ribs. Bang! Bang! Bellowing out, Attelus turned on her, but someone slipped his arms under Attelus' armpits in an expert hold.

The woman's fist smashed into Attelus' open solar plexus, then her uppercut connected with his jaw, causing him to see stars and pain erupt through his face...The tall man was moving for the sword in the wall. Waiting for the last microsecond as the woman threw another punch Attelus' head-butted the man holding him hard in the nose with a crunch. The man's grasp weakened, allowing Attelus to slip free and out of the path of the woman's punch. It connected with the stunned attackers chest throwing the off-balance man off his feet and to the floor.

Attelus' front kick smashed into the woman's side and sent her smashing against the rockcrete.

With a snarl, Attelus lunged at the tall man with a back-fist.

The man managed to block the blow and sent a short, vicious punch into Attelus' stomach.

Attelus bent double forward; the air knocked out of him.

The man's kick connected with Attelus' hip, causing him to reel back. Attelus kept his footing despite his exhaustion threatening to overwhelm and the pain thundering through him.

Attelus slipped at the agent again with another back-fist. The man knowing Attelus' tired state, went to catch the slow attack. It was a feint; it opened his right side so Attelus could pivot into a leopard fist which smashed into the man's armpit. The agent cried out as Attelus clutched his right wrist and elbow, forcing his arm into hyperextension.

Attelus then kicked his boot knife into his armpit.

The man's cry turned into a piercing, agonised shriek. Then Attelus spun and flung him into the other man and woman as they ran his way. They crashed down in a cacophony of cries and flailing limbs.

It was then he heard the shuffling of feet and turned to see the Velrosian troopers were approaching through the broken furnishings.

Attelus turned away. He opened a man-sized hole in the wall and shoulder barged through into the street with two quick slashes.

Attelus slipped left and pushed his back against the wall in the small street, struggling to slow his haggard breathing and struggling even harder to make a decision.

North? Or south? He needed to choose fast; the agents would be here soon and the troopers with them.

North or south? North or south? North? Or South? A Space Marine and dozens of guardsmen were moving to help Karmen and the others, and they had air support! Delathasi and Hayden were captives, hostages, and he needed to see...He needed to see her; he needed to make sure she was okay.


Without further hesitation, he turned and started sprinting north.

That was when the shadows themselves seemed to move, and two figures materialised. Blocking Attelus' path.

Attelus froze, recognising them.

Scout trooper Dellenger and scout sergeant Adreen, their rifles covering him

Scout trooper Dellenger was legendary for his skill at stealth and close combat back on Velrosia. A master at the unarmed form of Valisuth. Children at Attelus' scholam would bicker about who would win in a fight, Dellenger or Delan Tathe. The true record emphasised this further.

Scout sergeant Adreen was second only in skill to Dellenger, but she was more known for her skill as a leader and tactical acumen.

Their expressions were cold, stern and determined. Adreen was known for her beauty as well as her competence, but she too had aged beyond her years. Her skin was tanned brown and wrinkled; scars covered her features. Attelus couldn't help believe she liked her face this way. To buck her attractive connotations.

"Drop the frigging sword," Adreen said.

"Oh frig in hell," said Attelus and turned south, only to find another two scouts ghosting from the shadows a few metres away. He then glimpsed the corpses of the Sovrithan squad scattered behind them.

"Drop it now!" Adreen repeated.

Then the three agents and commissar Tathe emerged from the hole, followed by the other guardsmen.

Attelus hissed through clenched teeth his shoulders, rising and falling in rage.

He had to find Adelana! He had to help his friends!

With a roar, Attelus charged at one of the scouts. But a strong hand grabbed him by the cloak and yanked, taking him off his feet and smashing against blood sand.

Commissar Tathe towered over him and placed the edge of his powersword on his throat.

"I have had it up to here with you," said Tathe, his face grim. "Surrender! Whoever the hell you are. Now let go of the bloody sword!"

Attelus sighed and did as demanded.

The agent retrieved his sword and leaned over Attelus.

"We would like to thank you, Attelus Kaltos," the agent said in a deep, inhuman, unidentifiable tone. A voice modulator.

"Well, that's good, hopefully then you'll forgive me for being so cliché," gasped Attelus.

The agent tilted his head, and Attelus spat him in the face.

Attelus expected a punch or something in return, but instead, the agent laughed.

"Hah!" said the agent; even with the modulation Attelus, could hear the smug smile in his tone. "Get him up! We're heading north!"

Attelus walked with a dozen lasgun barrels around him. His wrists bound together at his front. Bastard agents of Etuarq had provided them with steel manacles. Steel manacles he couldn't break, no matter how hard he tried. The four scouts had dematerialised into the dark to scout ahead.

They'd been moving for about ten minutes now; the Velrosians advanced with such skill and discipline Attelus couldn't help watch with awe.

Over the past three years, he'd worked at improving himself. He could remember people's names and gave up the lhos. He was better at hiding and controlling his emotions. But even if Kalakor hadn't taken his rebreather, Attelus couldn't have hidden his shame. His attention plastered to the ground.

It'd been one frig up after another. First idiotically splitting his team up, then falling for that trap, then getting bitten on the thigh, then getting captured, then getting lured into revealing his skill to Kalakor, then getting captured again! Speaking of Kalakor, where the hell was the Space Marine? He should've heard the ambush; he should've come back to help.

Attelus hurt and ached all over. But it was nothing compared to the pain of his beaten pride; he'd failed. He'd failed as a fighter; he'd failed as a leader and-

"Why did you forget to tell me he was like you?" a voice demanded; it caused Attelus to break from his self-pity and look to see Commissar Tathe talking with the two male agents a few metres ahead. He caught two female troopers looking at him in the process, causing them to snap their attention away.

"It was our responsibility to capture him," said the shorter male with the curved sword. "You did not need to know."

"I think we did," said Tathe. "I am sure we did! We were lucky he didn't kill any of my men! We have to hold him; what if this freak escaped and we weren't prepared?"

Attelus couldn't help flinching when his childhood hero called him a 'freak.'

"First commissar," said the taller agent; his voice was modulated as well. "Your men are Imperial Guard; they are destined to die if we agents of the inquisition deem it so. Second, he would not have escaped, for we would make sure you had the equipment to make it impossible for him, and third, if we deemed that you did not need to know information, then you do not need to know it. Understood, Commissar?"

The commissar's jaw set, his eyes wide with rage. "I will be talking to your leader about this."

"And fourth," said the female agent as she pushed up to them. "It is idiotic to speak of this in front of the prisoner, now shut it and keep moving!"

Attelus smiled. He couldn't let his self-pity overtake him; he needed to concentrate, he needed to listen. He needed to start manipulating this to his own ends.

Then in the north, las fire came into life followed by explosion after explosion—the familiar sound of battle.

Attelus' heart sank as he realised where it was coming from.

The Sovrithan camp.
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Chapter 16

#17 Post by Adrassil »

The battle in the north escalated and escalated, and it wasn't just because they were getting closer—blood-curdling screams.

Attelus heard chainswords and psychotic roars; he realised what was going on and why the curved swordsman had thanked him earlier.

"Clever bastards," he hissed beneath his breath.

The female's attention snapped to him. The mask hid her face, but Attelus knew she was smiling.

He also knew who she was, who they all were. It wasn't just their weapons that gave them away but the way they fought, the two males had been taught by his father. The female wielded her twin blades like Delathasi, like Glaitis. Like Elandria. Although devoid of a lot of fancies.

If they were who he thought they were, none of them had improved their skill, unlike him.

Attelus studied Commissar Tathe. The war hero was adept at hiding his emotions, but not to a trained throne agent. Tathe didn't like this; he didn't like the agents. Didn't trust them, but they're something Attelus would never have imagined. Tathe would be capable of fear. The Commissar was scared of them. Tathe also kept stealing glances at Attelus. Studying, wondering. Attelus could only guess what Tathe was thinking. Perhaps he wondered why Attelus hadn't killed any of his men? Perhaps he'd realised Attelus had a Velrosian accent? He wouldn't put it past Tathe. Or perhaps Attelus was just overthinking it.

Naively hoping that his childhood hero would prove an ally.

He sighed. Jelcine Enandra was wrong to appoint him the leader of the assignment; he had no doubt. He was biased, sentimental. But it was too late for her to take that back; he just had to get over it and keep his head. Lead in a way that'd make Raloth proud.

Another larger explosion caused Attelus to flinch and brought him back to reality. He clenched his jaw, hoping beyond hope that Adelana was alive in the horrific carnage.

They turned another corner onto a main boulevard, and he saw the corpses, dozens of them scattered about in the uniform of the Sovrithan guardsmen. Standing or sitting around were more Velrosian troopers. Some smoked Lhos, all seemed relaxed, almost ill-disciplined. But Attelus knew they were alert, ready to react in a split second. Only the best had such casual confidence.

Attelus had to fight the sudden urge to sprint as he caught a glimpse of Hayden, Delathasi and Adelana. They sat in the middle of the soldiers all tied up; Adelana's head was wrapped in bandages. Attelus' relief was all-encompassing, and he had to stop himself from jumping for joy.

A soldier in the uniform of a sergeant approached.

"Commissar!" he saluted. "We have taken their prisoners as you ordered!"

"Good work, Ultrith," said Tathe.

"Yes, good work," said the curved swordsman, sounding as condescending as hell.

Ultrith ignored him, and Attelus furrowed his brow. Were they trying to make the Velrosian guardsmen hate them on purpose?

"We have attacked the Sovrithan and set off the planted charges. drawing out the Resurrected on the Sovrithans," said Ultrith. "They should be distracted for another hour. The distraction allowed us to infiltrate and take the prisoners."

The Resurrected? What the hell did he mean by that?

Where the hell was Kalakor?

"The mission was a success, then?" said the tall agent.

Ultrith looked into the man's mask with admirable courage.

"Y-yes, sir," he said.

"Take the prisoners," said the female agent. "We need to get back to headquarters."

"Yes mamzel," said Tathe. "Ultrith!"

"Yes, commissar!"

When Adelana and the others were picked up and ushered into the middle with Attelus, Attelus couldn't help a smile. His relief washing away his disgust at the Velrosians. Adelana met his eyes, and he felt his heart flutter as she smiled back.

He wanted to kiss her more now than ever before, and he knew she was the same.

They were so involved in staring at each other that it took a few shoves from their captives to make them move.

"Move it, lover boy," growled one of the troopers.

As they started, Attelus stole a glance at the female agent, catching her watching. Her body language subtly showing anger.

He fought back a smile, and as Attelus looked away, he glimpsed Hayden. It was for a split second, but there was no denying the anger in his face. It took Attelus aback; what the hell was the sniper pissed so off about?

Or on second thought, what wasn't the sniper pissed off about?

"Adelana! Hayden, Delathasi," said Attelus. "I...I am so happy to see you're okay."

"Yes," snapped Hayden. "No thanks to you."

Attelus frowned, more hurt than he should've been.

"And not for much longer, I think," said Delathasi.

"I just hope the others will be okay," said Adelana.

"The prisoners will be silent!" snarled the female agent. "Or the consequence will not be enjoyable!"

The curved swordsman laughed; it was unnerving through his voice modulator.

"It wouldn't be enjoyable for them," he said. "But it would for me."

They walked east for a good hour in careful, complete silence.

During that time, the sun rose, and Attelus couldn't help watch it whenever allowed a view through the streets. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Made of golds, yellows and reds echoed through the cloudless sky. Waving outward almost like a northern Borealia, Attelus had never seen one, but he'd read about it as a child.

A few times, Attelus couldn't help but slow, so he shoved onward.

After about half an hour, the blood sands began to fall and rise in hills of varying angles. But the sand never rose higher than five stories.

Attelus heard gunfire echoing from far off skirmishes. Six times either Dellenger, Adreen or another scout would materialise to talk to Tathe. They spoke in hushed tones, but Attelus could hear their every word, warning the commissar of potential fights ahead. They'd soon turn off course, giving the battles wide birth.

Also, Attelus couldn't help keep looking at Adelana. Many times she met his look and smiled.

He realised that he was wrong; he shouldn't have gone north earlier.

Even though he was forced into this, he didn't know the condition of Karmen and company. But he at least had an idea of Adelana, Delathasi and Hayden. Karmen and the others were engaged, indirect danger even with the support of the Guncutter, they would've needed his help, and if they'd defeated the cultists, they could've headed north together to rescue Adelana and the others- his chest ached at this ignorance.

Why had they come in the Guncutter? Why had they risked themselves so? And the Guncutter?

The thought caused a shock of fear to course through Attelus.

If the Guncutter were destroyed, they'd be stranded on this Emperor forsaken world.

On second thought, Attelus wouldn't be. He could escape by blowing his own brains out. But that would mean abandoning his comrades, and Attelus didn't know that he could.

He wanted to talk to Hayden, who just glared forward the entire time. Ask the sniper what was wrong. Attelus was afraid Hayden might tear into him, but he needed the critique no matter how harsh it may be. Delathasi glanced about, her eyes drinking in every inch of their surroundings.

She was more professional than Attelus at her age and perhaps even now.

They found a huge, twenty lane wide overpass on the northern outskirts- which emerged from the blood sands like a huge whale breaching the sea. It rose a good seven stories. Attelus knew it was the beginning of a large motorway that led straight to the city of Deveroa and the small towns littering the north.

They approached from the west, emerging from a street about eighty metres away- allowing Attelus to see a good part of the overpass was hidden behind a tall, ramshackle wall made from bits of tanks and rockcrete. He couldn't help be even more impressed by the Elbyran contingent. It must've taken weeks to build such a fortification. It was most likely the Marangerian 1st regiment who'd built it, being heavy shock troops skilled in siege warfare.

Maranger was the eastern neighbour of Velrosia, the largest country on Elbyra in terms of size. Many times over the past two thousand five hundred years, Velrosia and Maranger had been at war; Velrosia had once been a part of the Marangerian Empire but had separated after a bloody revolution. Maranger had invaded almost right away, but the Velrosian revolutionaries beat them back in a gruelling guerilla war. It was then the scouts were founded, and they've been the elite of the Velrosian military since. Their skill at stealth and infiltration bypassed the Marangerian soldiers' skill at defending their walls if they ever took a Velrosian fortress or city.

Since the coming of the Imperium, Velrosia and Maranger had put aside the past then developed into excellent trading partners and their regiments worked well together.

Just as they began to ascend the freeway, the Velrosian scouts melted from the shadows. There were ten, and Attelus couldn't help again be amazed they managed to fool his enhanced senses yet again, and they fell in step with Tathe and the others.

Tathe voxed ahead their approach, and soon they turned onto the freeway. Lines of chest-high sandbag walls led up the road, scattered seemingly chaotically, but it was tactical; every wall covered the other and would force any attacker into choke points in their advance. Behind the wall were dozens of Guardsmen, mostly in the dark red carapace armour of the Marangerians, a few in the orange of the Despasian 1st heavy weapon regiment and the grey of the Galak Heim 1st rifles. The set up for the Elbyran contingent was unorthodox, to say the least. That was general Tathe's idea, declaring that each nation would keep its identity and military speciality yet be one. The same would invite a healthy, friendly rivalry between the regiments.

It had so far been proven true as each regiment had excelled, especially when working together.

The guardsmen watched them as they walked through, respectfully nodding or saluting Tathe and the Velrosians. Many gazed at the 'Throne Agents' with obvious fear and, to Attelus' surprise, sometimes hatred.

He shouldn't have been surprised, in all honesty.

When they came to the large, primitive gate, they were greeted by a big, broad-shouldered brute Marangerian captain and a squad of ten Marangerians. On the entrance sides were two heavy bolters on tripods, each with a two-man Despasian team.

"Took your damned time!" said the captain in a heavy Marangerian accent, a gritty, gruff nasally drawl.

Tathe grinned. "There is such a thing as being methodical and professional. You do know that, right? If you did, you certainly had me fooled, Valketh."

Valketh grinned back and shrugged. "Ah, haha! As sharp-tongued as always, commissar! Good to see you made it back!"

"It's good to be back, captain," said Tathe, and they clapped each other on the shoulder. "Our mission a success, as well."

Valketh leaned to look over Tathe's shoulder at Attelus and company.

"Hmm," he said. "What do they want from them?"

"'They?'" said the female agent. "We are here, captain. Do not talk of us as if we are not! Hurry it up and open the gate; we do not have more time to waste!"

Valketh's expression turned murderous, but he reached to his microbead and said.

"It's them! Open it up!" He bashed the door with a large fist.

It slowly opened inward on what was once wheels for tank treads, pulled by six guardsmen with a rope with a loud screech.

Without further word, they started into the makeshift fortress. Valketh watched the agents, his face still riddled with anger.

They ignored him and inside, was a camp not dissimilar to the Sovrithan's. Dozens of guardsmen watched them with undisguised interest. They sat or stood scattered about or around metal barrels containing fires.

Attelus' heart sank with empathy. He didn't know how or why they were here like this, but Attelus could imagine it was hell.

Attelus wondered what horrors awaited them in the depths of the city.

"Sergeant," said the curved swordsman without looking at Adreen. "Take the two females and the taller male to the prisoner tent. We will take Attelus Kaltos to our master for interrogation, understood?"

Adreen's scarred features were neutral as she nodded and, with quick hands, ordered her men to take Hayden, Adelana and Delathasi and with them, the scouts peeled off into the camp. Adelana's eyes met his as she was shoved away, her beautiful blue eyes wide. It took all of Attelus' will power to tear his gaze from hers.

Attelus sighed, which elicited a glare from the female agent. Yet again, he was to be separated from his friends...And Adelana.

For another minute, they walked, approaching a tent at least three times the size of the others. During that time, Attelus lost himself in thought. He'd lost forgot the reason why they'd come to Sarkeath. The Exterminatus that general Tathe had requested, they needed to find out more about that. Question the Velrosian about it, but with the agents of Etuarq so close, that'd prove impossible for now.

He needed to find general Tathe.

Despite all his failures so far, it was somewhat sobering knowing his enemy had brought him right where he needed to be. He also had a feeling that Kalakor hadn't attacked so he could tail them, that the Space Marine near, watching. Perhaps even waiting to rescue them. Attelus doubted the Marine would help them, though.

Two large brutes in beetle black carapace armour stood in stoic guard at the entrance flaps, holding hot shot las guns.

The three agents stopped and turned back to Tathe and the others.

"That is all," said the tall one. "Leave; we have no need of you now."

"Yes, thank you," said Tathe through clenched teeth, then he and the Velrosian troopers turned and stomped off into the camp.

"Move!" snarled the female as she hooked her hand under his arm and pulled him onward.

Attelus frowned and slipped into the tent.

A man stood in the middle of the tent; he was slender, long-limbed, and of average height. He wore a brown flak jacket over a black bodyglove, and at his throat was an Inquisitorial rosette of the Ordo Xenos. His brown hair was slicked back, and his eyes a stark blue. His features were sharp, his skin weathered and red. His scowling face unreadable as he looked at Attelus underneath a hooded brow.

"All of you, out," he said, his voice soft but full of authority. "I wish to speak with the prisoner alone."

"Yes, master," said the agents in unison and did as ordered; Attelus didn't bother looking at them; his attention fixated on their leader.

"Attelus Xanthis Kaltos," he said.

"Father," said Attelus.
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Chapter 17

#18 Post by Adrassil »

Delan Tathe stormed into his tent, tossed away his hat and sat on his cot. He sighed, hunched and palmed his eyes. For two days, he hadn't slept; it'd taken all that time to plan and organise the Sovrithan camp's ambush and the capture of that freak of a pretty boy. All at the behest of that damned Inquisitor.

Inquisitor Tolbik had claimed the Sovrithans were traitors. Lost like the Resurrected in heresy, but what the scouts had reported during their surveillance seemed to show otherwise.

Tathe had wanted to bring this to the Inquisitor, tell him he doubted the legitimacy of his claims, but he found he couldn't. The Inquisitor and his people scared him. They had fought at the fore many times in their skirmishes against the Resurrected. Their speed and reflexes rivalled the Dark Eldar. Their skill was incredible. Tathe was a swordsman of great talent. Countless upon countless enemies had fallen to his blade. Everything ranging from Chaos Space Marines to Tyranids, but even he couldn't help baulk at their ability.

He wasn't afraid to die. He was afraid at what death they would wreak through his guardsmen if they stood up to the Inquisitor. Not even Dellenger could stand up to one of them. The scout's martial arts skill in unarmed Valisuth was incredible, but he was no swordsman, and the throne agent's stealth abilities almost rivalled his.

But then he'd seen that young man, this Attelus Kaltos, manage to fight off all three single-handed. His reflexes rivalled theirs, exceeded theirs. The young man's reaction to seeing Tathe was like that of a fan, like many a raw recruit shipped from Elbyra over the years, that'd bought into the propaganda. It was also the boy's accent; it sounded Velrosian. Very Velrosian.

But what got to Tathe the most was his attempted escape. The boy seemed to try his hardest to avoid causing casualties to Tathe's men despite seeming more than capable of it. If he'd fought, gone for the throat, he could've escaped; tathe was sure of it.

"Excuse me, commissar," said a voice that he knew belonged to trooper Vannir. "But Scout sergeant Adreen and scout trooper Dellenger are here to see you."

Tathe sighed and rubbed his eyes. "Send them in."

As silent as always, the two scouts slipped through the flaps.

"What do you think?" said Tathe.

Adreen smiled. "That that the boy is really in love with that pretty young redhead."

Tathe smiled back.

"Huh?" said Dellenger. "Really?"

There was no sarcasm in the scout's tone, and it caused Tathe to shake his head.

"I am thinking what you are, sir," said Adreen.

Tathe nodded, knowing they would need no more words on the matter. He and Adreen had a complicated relationship. They'd been...on and off many times over the years. They were on an off-time now, but they'd never let it get in the way of their profession. Sometimes he swore she could read his mind, and he could read hers. He smiled to himself as he recalled the terror of women he had in his youth. That had long ago gone, that along with his ruthless disciplinarian attitude and brash nature. He was too old now, too wearied by war and its horrific nature. But he knew nothing else.

There was only war; war was what ruled this galaxy. War was the import and export of the Imperium of Mankind in the 41st millennium, and war and killing was Tathe's bread and butter.

He just never suspected that he would have to make war against his father.

Tathe sighed. "All right, get some rest, you two. You need it almost as much as me. I'll get you when Sergeant Deltor returns with his squad."

Dellenger looked sidelong at Tathe. "Do you think it wise to go behind the Inquisitor's back like that?"

"No," said Tathe. "It's not even the smart thing to do, Dellenger. But it's the right thing to do."

Tathe's microbead crackled into life. "Sir?" It was Valketh. "Deltor and his boys have arrived. Do ya want us ta let 'em in?"

"No," said Tathe as he stood. "We will meet them out there; thank you, Valketh."

Tathe looked at Adreen and Dellenger. "You two want to come?"

Adreen grinned. "Wouldn't miss it for the 'verse, Delan."

They met Deltor at the base of the freeway. Deltor was Velrosian, his blue flak armour near to ruin as was the same as his squad. A squad that had started with twenty men on deployment but was now reduced to nine. Deltor was a tall, slender, plain-faced man in his late twenties. He was one of the more recent influx not long after the war for Elbyra ten years ago. But had proven himself as one of the most reliable sergeants in the regiment, his squad had taken after his example. Becoming excellent veterans each, rivalling many of the more senior squads in the Velrosian 1st.

"Sir!" said Deltor saluting.

"At ease, Deltor," said Tathe with a wave. "Tell me, did you find anything?"

Deltor nodded. "When you sent us to search the Sovritian camp, during the attack, I didn't have a clue why you did and why you wanted to keep it a secret from-"

Deltor paused and nodded at the encampment. "His highness, but now I know."

Nodding, Tathe kept his expression neutral, he didn't have any real reason to send Deltor and his squad in beside his general suspicions, but he wasn't going to admit that.

"Trooper Gail?" said she, and Deltor stepped forward, holding out what seemed a sheathed long sword to Tathe.

Tathe took it with a nod and drew it. It was a powersword of masterful make and perfect balance, yet it was simple of design, lacking any ostentation.

"An amazing weapon," said Tathe. "One of the most brilliant swords I have ever seen rivals my own, I would say. Where did you find it?"

"It was among the weapons the Sovirthians had taken from the captives we were taking," said Gail, and the young trooper looked at Deltor, who gave her a nod. "Uhh, I recognised it, sir."


"I am from northern Velrosia, sir," said Gail. "I lived in the city of Quarenburg, grew up there as a child."

"Okay," said Tathe, uncertain where this was going.

"I was in the PDF when the chaos invasion started," said Gail. "But I'd been stationed in the south when the bombing started."

"Yes, I have read your file, trooper," said Tathe, his patience waning. "Get to your point, please."

Gail withered from his intensity. "I-I am about to get to that, sir! Uhh, this was the sword of the Erith house. The family who ruled over my province, sir. I last heard it'd been found in the rubble and placed into a museum in Varander. The whole Erith line having died in the war."

Tathe froze. "What? Are you sure?"

"Y-yes, I am sure, sir. My family and I used to watch lord Erith taking part in the Valisuth duels with it. Without the power field on, of course."

Tathe spent a few more seconds studying the magnificent sword, then sheathed it faster than the others could blink.

"Interesting," he said.

Attelus stared at Serghar as countless emotions roiled through him, each vying for control. But Attelus didn't show Serghar anything of his inner turmoil.

In silence, Serghar Kaltos studied Attelus through narrowed eyes. It felt like forever as they just stood.

It was Serghar who broke the silence, and Attelus had to fight from flinching.

"You do not seem surprised to see me," he said.

Attelus couldn't help feel his eyes widen; that was one of the few emotions he hadn't felt. "No, I'm more surprised that you would think I would be surprised to see you, father. I knew you were involved in this a long time ago. In fact, I'm more surprised that we haven't run into each other sooner. Since those things attacked me, I knew they were yours and your master's sycophants. That meant that it was likely you would be here."

Serghar shrugged. "Always so logical, one of the few traits you inherited from me."

"It's called deductive reasoning, father. I didn't inherit it from you. I learned it."

Serghar's scowl deepened, and there was another long silence.

"Why?" said Attelus, despite all his effort to keep from saying it.

"Why what?"

"Why did you leave me back on Elbyra? Why are you helping Etuarq? Why the hell would you set me up to be responsible for the destruction of Omnartus? To make your son have to live with the deaths of billions on his conscience? Why? What could I have possibly done to deserve this?"

"I deem that you do not need to know any of that," said Serghar. "I am your father, Attelus Xanthis Kaltos, so you must accept what I say as truth."

"What? Just because you are my father, I must believe everything, you say?"

"Yes, you owe me, Attelus. You owe me everything. If it weren't for me, you wouldn't exist; you wouldn't be standing here whining like a little bitch. So you must accept that I can do whatever I like with you, put you through whatever I please. In fact, you should be happy. Happy that you were born for a purpose. That fate itself was manipulated for your existence. You are privileged, my son. You must see this."

Attelus gaped, lost for words.

Serghar pulled out a bottle of Amasec from his desk, poured a measure into a battered tin cup, and sighed. "You could argue that the same could be said about your mother, that she too had an equal say in your fate, well, no. She was just a woman, a nobody. Destined for nothing. Fate dictated she would just die on Elbyra like millions of others in that war-"

"Don't you dare!" Attelus snarled. "Don't you dare talk like that about my mother!"

Anger glazed Serghar's eyes, but he kept calm. "I may 'dare' talk however I like about whomever I wish, boy. Your feelings do not matter; what you believe does not matter. And you have no right to tell me to do anything. Your mother was meaningless; that is a statement of fact. You have no right even to consider otherwise."

"Why? Just because you're my father!"

"That alone merits it, yes. But even further is that I am your better. I had garnered ten times the achievements than you have by your age. You are a disappointment. The only achievement I can be somewhat proud of was how well you danced on our strings toward the destruction of Omnartus. You are still influenced by the foolish notions of sentiment and love and all that other shit that has no meaning in this galaxy. I had hoped Glaitis would have beaten that out of you, but she proved as useless as she was worthless. Just yet another pussy for me to frig."

Serghar sculled back his amasec. "Just like your frigging useless mother."

Rage overtook Attelus, and before he knew it, he was lunging at Serghar. Fingers clawing for his throat.

Faster than thought, Serghar punched him in the face. Agony exploded through Attelus' cheek, and he careened onto the floor.

In a split second, Serghar's foot was between Attelus shoulder blades, pinning him down. Then more pain lanced through the back of Attelus' skull.

Serghar gripped Attelus by the hair and pulled his head back. "You really are such a disappointment, my son. Allowing your anger control you like that."

A fist smashed into the side of Attelus' head, and he blacked out for a second.

"You have no right to be angry at me. I am your father!"

Serghar's foot let off, then it stomped Attelus in the ribs forcing Attelus' onto his back.

"You know, I never had the privilege of ever knowing my father," snarled Serghar as he back fisted Attelus across the jaw. "I never knew of the great and glorious fate that was meant for me. I give you these things. I give you a future. I give you the privilege of knowing me. Yet you still question me, attack me. You are lucky that we need you, or else I would send your soul screaming into the warp, here and now. You are still a useful investment, despite your idiocy."

Attelus fought back the tears and the agony. He didn't remember his father ever being like this. Serghar had always been cold and distant but still caring and kind in his own way. What the hell happen? Was it all just an act?

"Get up," said Serghar, and he kicked Attelus again. "Get up. What good is all that training I gave you, huh? All those hours I invested in you. The enhancement that Eldar bitch gave you? Get up, or I will have one of your 'friends' killed. Which one first? The tall girl? The one who was once one of Glaitis' sycophants? Or the pretty redhead you seem so fond of?"

Attelus did as told with horrific slowness, and he turned to Serghar. To find his father's fist crunch into his face, and Attelus was sent writhing to the floor again.

"It sickens me that I have to threaten my own son to co-operate with me," said Serghar. "I shouldn't have to; I really shouldn't."

"Well," said Attelus as he began to climb to his feet again. "Think of it as a screw you, and in this galaxy, you don't always get it the way you want."

Serghar laughed much to Attelus' surprise. "Perhaps. If that weren't true, the chaos gods would be dead, along with all the Xenos races."

Attelus couldn't help frown, wasn't Etuarq aligned with the gods of chaos? Or at least one of them.

"So that's why I'm here," said Attelus, meeting Serghar's impassive gaze. "That's why you lured us here because you need me to do something for you. I knew you and Etuarq-"

Serghar's kick smashed into Attelus' side and again to the ground.

"That is Inquisitor Etuarq to you, boy," said Serghar as he pushed Attelus' face into the floor. "Show him the respect he deserves."

Attelus fought the urge to point out that Etuarq was no longer an Inquisitor.

Serghar ground Attelus' face against the rockcrete for several seconds, but it felt like forever as the pain tore through him. When his father stepped off, Attelus began to slow, arduous climb yet again.

"Did...Was the report of general Tathe requesting the Exterminatus true? Or just a false message to lure us in?"

"It was true," said Serghar. "Yet another successful Exterminatus for our cause. Why do you think he's turned, traitor? He let the guilt of his act overtake him. The weak, pitiful fool. Our mission is to put him down as well as retrieve the blade."


Serghar smiled. It was more than just unsettling. "Yes, my son and fate has dictated that both are in the same place. The tower."
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Chapter 18

#19 Post by Adrassil »

Adelana knelt in a tent with Hayden and Delthasi. Two troopers stood over them while another two were at the entrance. She sighed; it seemed like the same shit, different day now.

"This is ridiculous," said Delathasi, the first words uttered in hours.

"I know," sighed Hayden. "We're meant to be professionals, and yet here we are."

"We're, we're just down on our luck, is all," said Adelana, trying her best to sound optimistic.

Hayden snorted. "Luck hasn't anything to do with it, Adelana. We're here because fate had been manipulated for us to be here. So the enemy can use us as hostages so Attelus will co-operate with them."

"You don't know that," said Adelana.

"No," said Hayden. "I don't, but call it a really, really educated guess. Everything seems to revolve around him, Adelana. Everything. Coming here was a huge mistake. I see that now. I should've seen that the moment we stepped on this Emperor forsaken planet. If it weren't for him, we wouldn't be here. If it weren't for him, your world would still be alive. If it weren't for his sentimentality toward his Velrosian heroes, we wouldn't have been captured."


"Adelana, I know you're in love with him, and he's in love with you. But please stop defending him. You know I'm right."

Adelana flinched, feeling her face flush. "I'm not- he's not!"

Hayden locked her with a grim stare.

"All right," said Adelana. "You're right. So what do you think we should do? Huh?"

"I think all of you need to just shut it," said a deep voice, and the female agent swaggered into the tent. She still wore her mask, but Adelana could feel the contempt in her stare.

"Hm," said Hayden. "I thought that you would be happy to hear us bickering and plotting."

The agent shrugged. "It also means you might be plotting to escape. Do not even think about it."

"Thinking and talking aren't the same thing," said Adelana.

The agent's attention snapped to Adelana; then, she knelt in front of her with such inhuman swiftness that Adelana couldn't help flinching.

She studied Adelana for what seemed an age.

"You really are as pretty as they say," she said and placed her hand on Adelana's cheek as though to pull her into a kiss. "And a smart arse too. Just like him."

"Don't touch her!" Hayden snarled.

The agent's attention snapped to him. "Or what? You foolish old sniper? Do you think I am afraid of you? Or death? I have faced worse than what you could ever imagine. I do not fear you, nor anyone."

The agent stood and turned as the tent flaps burst open, and the two other agents entered, carrying Attelus between them.

"Attelus!" Adelana couldn't help crying when she saw just how badly beaten he was.

The two agents froze as they saw the female.

"Agent 2k-3," said the one with the curved sword. "What are you doing here?"

The female flinched. "I am here to make sure the prisoners do not think of escaping."

The male with the short sword tilted his head. "That implies you believe they are capable of escaping when they are obviously not. The master said so, so that implies you are questioning the master."

"No!" cried the female with surprising fear. "I am not! I just-"

"Leave. Go Back to your duties, agent 2k-3," said the curved swordsman. "Or do you wish us to inform the master of-"

"No, I will leave immediately," she said, then started outside, setting Adelana what seemed like a glare the entire way.

Once she was gone, the two males threw Attelus on the ground and, without any word, left.

"Attelus," Adelana said. She realised that his feet were chained together. "Are you okay?"

She said it just a second before realising how stupid the question was.

"Yeah, I'm okay, Adelana," he said. "I've had worse."

"Did you fall downstairs again?" said Hayden.

Attelus barked out a laugh. "No, not this time, Hayden. My father, it was my father who did this to me."

There was a long, weighted pause.

"Your father?" said Delthasi in hushed awe. "Serghar Kaltos? He is here? On Sarkeath?"

"Yes," said Attelus. "Or perhaps, he isn't. He isn't the Serghar Kaltos, I knew."

Adelana wanted more than anything to give him embrace him there and then.

"He's like Glaitis now, Hayden," he said. "But worse, far, far worse."

"So Serghar Kaltos is the master of these agents, then," said Hayden. "No wonder the female seemed to fear him so much."

"They're all afraid of him," said Attelus. "Even commissar Tathe, and I doubt he even knows of my father's legacy."

Adelana swallowed. Attelus had taught her of his father that he was said to be the greatest assassin of the Calixis sector and one of their enemy's senior lieutenants.

"What do they want?" said Hayden.

Attelus groaned as he rolled onto his side to face them. "They need a sword. A blade whose origin that my father won't or can't tell me about: it's called the Blade of Kalncerak, a daemon blade, I'm assuming. It can apparently..."

He paused, and his gaze met Adelana's. "Rip out souls. Consume them completely."

Adelana raised an eyebrow, unsure why he'd looked at her like that as if he thought she knew some great secret.

"Uh-huh," said Hayden. "Why do they need us to get it? And why do they need it?"

Attelus sighed. "I'm going, to be honest with you, all of you. They need me to retrieve it."

"Why do they need you to retrieve it?" said Hayden. "And there I'm right. Didn't I say that this was about him, Delathasi? Adelana?"

Adelana and Delthasi didn't respond. Adelana just dropped her gaze to the floor.

"They need me to retrieve it because I'm not exactly human, Hayden."

"Yeah, we got that, Attelus," said Hayden sarcastically.

"Well, you yourself aren't exactly human anymore," said Attelus. "Your eyes are frigging augmetics. That's one of the reasons you can shoot so well!"

"Yes, well-"

"Yes, well, nothing!" Attelus said. "It goes deeper than just my abilities. And like you, I never asked for this. This is yet another secret I've been keeping, not just from you, Hayden and the other. But even from Adelana and Karmen. It's about time, you know. I think you need to know to understand what's happening."

He paused. "I never asked to be immortal."

Jelket turned from the window he was watching from, his attention drawn by Karmen's loud gasp as she returned to her body.

"Karmen," said Vark as he knelt next to her. "Mamzel? Are you all right?"

"Yes," said Karmen, but her weak voice told otherwise. "I'm fine, thank you, Vark."

Vark took out a flask and handed it to her. Karmen took it and had a long drink.

"I am assuming that you didn't find them?" said Vark.

"No," sighed Karmen. "No sign."

Jelket tore his gaze away and back into the street below. He had to fight to keep his eyes open. The exhaustion threatened to take over at any second, and the pain throughout his body, overwhelming. They'd taken shelter on the twentieth floor of a large hab block; it wasn't as run down as the other buildings but still felt like it was minutes away from collapsing.

"Jelket?" said a voice, and he spun, Hell gun raised to find himself aiming it right in Verenth's face.

Before Jelket could blink, Verenth had drawn his stubb revolver and pointed it between Jelket's eyes.

For a few seconds, they stood in silence before Jelket lowered his Hell gun.

"I'm sorry," he sighed. "I'm just a little jumpy."

Verenth nodded and holstered his pistol. "Understandable. After what we just lived through. I'm here to take overwatch, Jelket. You really need some rest, mate. You look as though you've taken a walk into the immaterium and back."

Jelket nodded and blinked back the fatigue. "Yeah, you're right, Verenth. Thanks."

He walked past Verenth further into the building.

"Jelket," said Karmen, causing him to stop and turn to her. She looked up at him, her stark blue eyes intense despite her obvious pain and exhaustion. "We'll get through this. We will find a way."

Jelket frowned. "Yeah, maybe. Only if you don't mind control all of us into sacrificing ourselves, again."

Karmen flinched, and her gaze fell to the floor. It caused a jolt of guilt to course through Jelket; he was tried, unable to hold it back.

"I will never live that down, will I?" she said. "I wouldn't do that again. Even if I could, Jelket. I'm sorry. They were your friends and allies. You have every right to hate me. I won't even try to ask your forgiveness."

Jelket found himself unable to say anything, and he turned, then started down the corridor. He shouldn't have snapped like that, Karmen was just trying to be encouraging, and here he was, jumping down her throat.

The walls, the floor here, like everywhere, were etched with dark crimson. He'd gotten over his initial paranoia of breathing the air and taken off his rebreather, as did the others. This world was corrupted; it wouldn't make any difference whether they breathed the air or not.

They were going to be corrupted; it wasn't a matter of if, but when. It wasn't a subject they'd broached upon. Attelus was, although his self confessed cynicism, was too idealistic even to consider it. Or he assumed everyone had been through hell like him and had the same level of inhuman willpower.

Karmen did, but Jelket wasn't sure about the rest but was sure he would fall. Jelket had fought chaos; he knew that even the most puritan and dedicated could fall. At times the most puritan was the first; this was due to their arrogance and ignorance. Believing themselves immune to the taint. Due to their black and white views and lack of self-awareness, they can be manipulated. That was what made Jelket worry the most about Vark.

The thought caused Jelket to look over his shoulder at the Storm Trooper to see he was helping Karmen to her feet. It displayed impressive strength as she wore her power armour.

Jelket paused at the next door. He knew what was in there, but no matter how much he needed sleep, he had to check, and he stepped inside.

Once a large hab unit, the kind only a high-level administratum official or an advisor for the planetary government. All the remains of the once opulent furniture were dumped in a corner. A huge window looked out onto the eternal blood desert—such a pointless view for such an expensive place.

On two cots laid the injured. Medicae Halsin All of them had suffered injuries in their escape, but poor Torris and Helma were the worst. Their writhing caused their cots to squeak and creak in sympathy.

Torris and her had been the rear guard.

The boom of Torris' shotgun eclipsed the fire of Jelket's, Helma's and Vark's Hellguns, as well as Verenth's pistols. They ran down the street as a horde of cultists and guardsmen stormed after them. In the spans of seconds, Jelket must've cut down dozens of the bastards. As did everyone else, but still, they kept coming. They bellowed and howled like beasts. Brandishing their bloody blades and chainswords.

Despite the pain it caused her, Karmen had protected them with brief kine shields from the guardsmen's las fire.

"I can't hold it up for much longer!" Karmen said. "Darrance!"

A second later, the roar of the Guncutter filled Jelket's ears, and it appeared above the left buildings.

"Got you," said Darrance over the vox, and the Guncutter rained heavy bolter fire into the horde.

It was enough to thin the crowd, but still, they surged on, undeterred by the slaughter through their midst. It just seemed to enrage them more, and they charged into Torris and Helma.

Helma drew her mono molecular short sword while Torris bashed in the skull of a cultist with the butt of his shotgun. Verenth, Vark and Jelket moved to their aid, attaching. Jelket and Vark knives to their bayonet lugs. But it happened too fast. Torris took down another seven; using his shotgun like a club, he dodged and parried enemy attacks with grace and agility, belying his bulk. One cultist managed to bypass his defence and stab him through the hip. Torris didn't make a sound as he fell, blood pouring from his wound, but he still managed to punch the cultist in the throat as he collapsed.

Jelket was no swordsman, but even he could appreciate Helma's skill. She cut down enemy after enemy but lasted less than a second more than Torris before an enemy plunged a knife into the soft gap of her elbow.

It might have seemed Jelket watched this while standing by. But it happened so fast; all of this occurred while he, Verenth and Vark ran a few metres. All the while shooting from the hip.

Jelket and Verenth cut down the cultists nearest to Helma and Torris. Jelket grabbed Torris and Verenth took up Helma while Vark gave them cover fire. The bark of Karmen's bolter joined the cacophony. The enemy was so packed in it was impossible to miss.

Jelket growled through clenched teeth as he hauled Torris over his shoulder and started to run. Turning his back on the horde despite his every instinct screaming not to. He placed his faith in his friends.

"Shit!" Darrance said. "We've got enemy guardsmen on the roofs! They have anti-air weaponry!"

Jelket managed a look back, just in time to see the Guncutter weave through streams of rocket fire. It turned and fired on the roof.

"There's too many! If even one hits me!"

Darrance let it hang.

"Yes! Go!" said Karmen.

"I am sorry," said Darrance and flew off.

"Are you all right there?" said a voice, knocking Jelket from his flashback. Halsin looked at him with a bemused expression.

"I'm fine, sorry. I'm just thinking," said Jelket.

Halsin nodded. "Understandable, considering the circumstances."

"Why?" said Jelket.

"Well, that was a rather intense battle. One we were lucky to escape, let alone survive-"

"No," said Jelket. "Why did Attelus send us that message?"

Halsin tilted his head. "I do not know, Jelket."

Jelket nodded. After they lost the ATV and fought off the cultists, they boarded the Guncutter then flew into orbit. They had tried to call Attelus but didn't get a reply. So they waited for Attelus to send a communication on their status. After a few hours of fitful waiting, they did.

"I need you down here, now!" Attelus had said. He hadn't reacted well to the loss of the ATV. He gave them the coordinates and cut the link with a snarl.

"It had to be a trap," said Torris. "It wasn't Attelus who called us."

Jelket nodded. It was obvious, so obvious he wondered how he hadn't thought of it.

"You look tired, Jelket," said Halsin. "Get some rest."

He frowned. Jelket never understood how Halsin could be so immune to fatigue.

"Yeah," said Jelket, and he turned out the door. Shuffling down the corridor.

They'd set up in the northeast corner of the top floor. There was one corridor, so they needed a single person to watch the street while Vark and Karmen watched the corridor. It meant they didn't have anywhere to retreat, but with them being so few and Torris and Helma being injured, they had little choice.

As he turned into the door of the sleeping room, a brief movement caught the corner of his eye.

"I'm fine, Halsin," he said, turning, and he froze as a terror overtook him.

A Space Marine in black and white power armour towered over him. How it'd just appear like that was beyond Jelket.

"Oh, God-Emperor!" Jelket gasped, fumbling for his Hellgun

The Space Marine smiled or something that may have been a smile and, with surprising gentleness, grabbed Jelket's wrist.

"I hate to tell you this, mortal," he said. "But the Emperor is not a god."
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Chapter 19

#20 Post by Adrassil »

"You're what?" said Hayden.

He'd talked after such a long pause; Adelana couldn't help flinch in fright.

"Immortal," said Attelus. "I can still die, though, but it's only...Temporary."

"Temporary?" said Adelana. "Do you know how ridiculous you sound? I was wrong; you're not on the verge of losing your mind. You're way beyond the verge and fallen all the way into the plant's core, Attelus!"

There was another weighted pause as if Attelus thought Adelana might take it back or apologise. But she kept her mouth shut; she meant it.

Attelus sighed. "That's harsh, Adelana. But fair enough. I'm not entirely sure, either. I haven't died yet so-"

"What the hell are you on about?" said one of the Velrosian troopers. Adelana's attention snapped to him. She'd somehow forgot they were there. "This is insane! This is-"

"Heresy?" said Attelus. "What's your name?"

"Trooper Kiltin."

"Well, I'm Inquisition, Kiltin. So I think I have a better idea of what's heresy and what isn't more than you. And claiming to be immortal isn't heresy."

Attelus snorted. "And if it is. What are you going to do? Shoot me? And what if I really am immortal and track you down in revenge? I'm not an Interrogator and not well that well versed in interrogation, but it-"

"We can find that out now, can't we?" said Kiltin, motioning his lasgun.

"Attelus!" said Adelana as rage overtook her. "Shut up! Your hands and ankles are bound! He can kill you! Stop pissing him off!"

Attelus sighed. "He won't kill me, Adelana. My father needs me, and they're too shit scared of him actually to do it. But thank you for showing me you still care, despite thinking me insane."

Adelana let out a growl. "Throne, Attelus! You're infuriatingly arrogant sometimes!"

"I...I'm not sure how that statement translates into arrogance, but okay, Adelana. Yes, I can be arrogant at times; you are technically correct."

Adelana growled again as anger was overtaken by frustration. "You really are a smart arse!"

"Wait," said Delathasi. "If you are immortal, why does your father care if you die?"

"That...That is a very good question there, Delathasi. It's a long, sordid story and-"

"Well, we aren't going anywhere, are we?" said Hayden. "Look! Here it is again! Attelus, the special little snowflake who has to be so special, he has to be immortal too! This is beyond ridiculous!"

"Snow...flake? I haven't heard that term used in that context before," said Attelus. "It sounds like it is a mocking way of saying someone is unique. I don't understand what that has to do with a snowflake. Interesting, yes."

"Insane!" said Hayden. "You. Are. Insane. I knew it was a mistake coming to this Emperor damned planet! I knew Inquisitor Enandra made a mistake appointing you, our leader! It should've been someone! Anyone! Else."

There was another long silence.

Attelus sighed. "If it's any consolation, Hayden. I have come to the same conclusion. You're right. Completely right."

"So? What are you going to do about it? Immortal?"

"The actual term is perpetual," said Attelus. "I am perpetual, and I'm not the first, and I believe I am not the last. Not any more."

"Wait!" said Delathasi. "You said that this sword could eat souls. Does that mean..."

She trailed off, and Adelana had no idea where she was going with it.

"You...You once again impress me, Delathasi," said Attelus, and Adelana couldn't help feel a stab of jealousy. "Darrance has taught you well. It can kill me."

There was a weighted pause.

"Why does your father need you to get it?" said Adelana.

"Because, apparently, only a perpetual can retrieve the sword. For some reason, its defences are designed that only a perpetual can get to it."

"So yet again, you were manipulated by Etuarq and your father," said Hayden.

"Well!" said Delthasi. "That's simple enough! When we escape..."

She trailed off as she noticed the looks of the troopers guarding them.

"Don't be stupid," said Hayden. "Of course, we're going to escape. It goes without saying."

"We just need to not get it," said Delathasi. "Hideout, wait for the-"

"No," said Attelus, much to Adelana's and everyone else's surprise.

"What do you mean, no?" said Hayden. "It's a frigging good idea!"

Attelus sighed yet again. "I said a few seconds ago that I believe that I'm not the last perpetual anymore. Well? What do you think that Etuarq might have done with all those souls? This sword might be the only way we can stop him."

"If that's the case, why didn't he come here and get it?" said Adelana.

"I don't know, Adelana," said Attelus. "I'm sure they have some convoluted reason why, but it doesn't matter. Even if there's an even slight chance he's like me, we've got to use it. If he isn't a perpetual, he dies; if he is, he dies. Hopefully. Nothing is certain."

"And I'm betting that you got this idea in your head when you were talking to your father," said Hayden. "I bet they are counting on that. You are being manipulated, yet again."

"I know that," said Attelus. "I know that, but even still."

"How do you know if there is even a sword?" said Adelana. "What if it's something else or a trap or...or-"

"I don't, but I'm pretty sure my father wasn't lying. Please believe in me in this, Adelana. I know you think I'm insane-"

"No, I know you're insane, Attelus Kaltos."

Attelus smiled. "Fair enough. But please, Adelana. Please, have faith in me. Have I let you down yet?"

Adelana gave him a glare he flinched from.

"Okay! Okay! Have I let you down until now?" he said, giving what Adelana knew he thought was his most charming grin.

Their gazes met, and after a few seconds, Adelana couldn't help feel a smile spread, and she gave him one curt nod.

Hayden let out what may have been a gagging sound. "You didn't answer my question, perpetual. What are you going to do about your realisation that you shouldn't be the leader?"

"I am still the leader, Hayden," said Attelus. "And as much as I've messed up. I'm not going to step down. I'm going to use what I've learned and not make the same mistakes again. This, I swear."

"Of course you do," said Hayden, and Adelana found herself not liking his smirk.

"You still haven't explained how your immortality works," said Delathasi.

"Do you know what I would like explained," said a voice, and the commissar stepped into the tent, holding something behind his back. The troopers snapped to attention, but he waved for them to relaxed. The two scouts slipped in after him, all of them moving in silence.

"All of you out," said the commissar. "I wish to talk to the prisoners alone."

"Are you sure, sir?" said one of the troopers. "You should hear the shit they've been talking about; it's completely nuts. They might try to kill you or something. They're off the planet."

"Out, Dovik," said the commissar and with shrugs and bemused glances, they filled out.

"Turn him to face us, please, Dellenger," said the commissar.

The scout frowned and hesitated before grabbing Attelus by the ankles then spun him around.

"Emperor. Who beat the crap out of you?" said the commissar.

"You know who," said Attelus.

The commissar nodded. "We can't stay for too long; those freaks could be here in any second."

He showed what he held behind his back, and it was Attelus' sword.

"How did you get that?" said Attelus.

"So this is yours?" said the commissar. "I will answer your question, but you will have to answer mine first. How did you get it?"

Adelana frowned. What was the big deal about Attelus' sword? Even she could tell it was beautifully crafted, but why the commissar was interested, she didn't have a clue.

"I didn't steal it if that's what you think," said Attelus.

"That's what someone who stole it might say," said the female scout sergeant.

"Just tell me! Now!" said the commissar.

Attelus sighed. "Estella Erith herself gave it to me."

"The Erith line is dead," said the commissar.

"No, she survived the war. She is in my squad."

Adelana frowned. She didn't know any Estella Erith in their group.

"I was shown a pict of her," said Tathe. "Neither of these young women looks anything like her, and both are too young to be her."

"She isn't here. I don't know where she is right now."

Tathe folded his arms and studied Attelus. "There's more of you?"

"Yes! How I got that sword doesn't matter, commissar. What you need to know is that Inquisitor is an imposter. He is lying to you, using you. You have to kill them."

Tathe knelt before Attelus. "And why should I believe you? You own a sword that was a treasured relic of my world. You claim that a dead woman gave it to you. Your accent isn't strong, but I can tell you are Velrosian. How do I know that you didn't steal it?"

"Did you ever see the body?"

Tathe's eyes narrowed. "What?"

"Did you ever see Estella Erith's body? Or any of the bodies of the Eriths?"

Tathe grimaced. "No."

"Then how do you know she's dead?" said Attelus. "Look! I don't know how she got the sword. I know it was in a museum so that it could've been stolen. But I didn't steal it."

"Why would she need to steal it if she's an Erith?" said the scout sergeant, and Adelana couldn't help agree.

"It's complicated," sighed Attelus. "This isn't what we need to talk about. We aren't your enemy! Those 'freaks', as you call them, are the real enemy; they are responsible for the deaths of billions of innocent Imperial citizens. You have to turn against them, now. Before it's too late."

"Billions of lives?" said the male scout. "Dovik was right; these people are insane."

The corner of Tathe's mouth twitch, and he stood.

"I have an Inquisition badge," said Attelus.

"Yes, I have seen it," said Tathe. "But so did they, so it doesn't mean anything. I'm sorry. If you are not going to tell me the truth on how you got this sword, I see very little point in continuing this talk. Goodbye."

Tathe turned and started outside.

"You're scared, commissar Tathe," said Attelus causing Tathe to stop. "I see it. I understand it. That Inquisitor, whatever name he gave you, isn't his name. His real name is Serghar Kaltos, and he is my father, and in all honesty, if he scares you, he terrifies me. I truly know what he is capable of, what he has done and what he and his sycophants will do to you and your men once you have outlived your usefulness. Please, at least think on my words."

Tathe didn't reply; he left.

"Yet another damned secret," said Hayden. "Who is this, Estella Erith?"

Attelus didn't answer; his attention fixated on the tent's exit.


The answer hit Adelana. "She's Karmen Kons."

"What?" said Delathasi.

"Her name? A psyker just so having such a perfect name for her craft? It has to be fake. Karmen Kons is Estella Erith! I'm sure. Numerous times over the years, I have got the hint that Attelus and her have some past together. Hence why she gave him that sword."

"Is she right?" said Hayden. "She's right, isn't she?"

"Damn you, Adelana," sighed Attelus.
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Chapter 20

#21 Post by Adrassil »

Tathe stormed toward Inquisitor Tolbik's tent. His fear had mixed with anger. They coagulated into an emotion he couldn't begin to describe. The mixture of fear and hatred was a familiar friend to him. But never fear and anger. Tathe could feel Adreen studying him as they walked; she always knew what he was thinking and feeling. He knew what she was too. Adreen was certain that that smug young man was telling the truth. That his words had just proven the misgivings that everyone in the regiment felt toward the agents.

He had wanted to kill that smug young man for saying he was scared. No one had spoken so boldly to him since he was a cadet. But he was right, and now was the time for Tathe to face that fear.

Two of the Inquisitor's agents stood guard, the tall one and the male with the curved sword.

"What are you doing here?" said the tall one. "The master did not summon you."

"I need to talk to your master," said Tathe.

"He is...indisposed," said the shorter one and as if on cue, Tathe heard a crack! And a cry of pain erupted from the tent.

Tathe clenched his teeth. "What in the Emperor's name is going on in there?"

"That is none of your concern," said the curved swordsman. "Leave."

"No. Tathe steeled himself. Let me in now."

The agents shared a glance, and Tathe had to fight from wincing as another scream came from the tent.

The one with the curved sword tilted his head. "You have spoken to the prisoners."

Tathe frowned.

"Nobody said you could talk to them," said the tall one.

"No one said I couldn't," said Tathe through clenched teeth.

"We assumed that you would not be so foolish to risk our ire and our working relationship," said the tall one. "That you were logical enough to see it was not a good idea."

Tathe sighed. "Look, I don't know how old you are with your mask and voice modulator. You can be seventeen or a thousand for all I care, but what I have learned over the years is to follow my instincts, and I'm sure you can guess with all your logic what my gut screams at me. Why I saw this Attelus Kaltos and his allies and why I..."

Tathe showed the sword. "And why I had my men scout the Sovrithan camp during the distraction."

Both agents seemed taken off guard. "Where did you get that?" said the curved swordsman.

"I believe he answered that in his implication," said the tall one and the condescension in his tone was obvious even through the modulator.

"I need to talk to your leader," repeated Tathe.

The agents looked at each other, and Tathe heard the click of an activated vox link. Tathe, Dellenger and Adreen, waited for a few seconds before the curved swordsman turned to them and said, "you may see the master, but you and only you, commissar. Take the sword."

Tathe frowned and exchanged glances with Dellenger and Adreen, who both gave nods. He shouldn't have been surprised they would have such limitations.

"Okay," said Tathe as he steeled himself and pushed into the tent.

What caught Tathe attention was the young woman lying on the ground. He knew it was the girl of the trio, but her mask was off, revealing a pale face of remarkable beauty. A swollen, purple visage ruined beauty. Her brown hair cut to her jawline with remarkable symmetry.

"Put on your mask," said Tolbik, who stood over her, "and get up."

"Yes, master," said the young woman, her voice like silk and as beautiful as her. With impressive speed and grace for someone so beaten, she climbed to her feet, picked up her mask. She struggled to slip it back on due to the swelling.

"Get out," said Tolbik. "We will speak more of this later; your punishment is not finished, merely delayed."

"Yes, master," repeated the young woman, and Tathe's heart dropped. Saddened just as much by the modulator masking her voice as her face being hidden. But what hurt him most was the resounding sadness and pain in her large brown eyes.

Tathe shook himself into sanity as she passed him, then left the tent.

"What did she do?" said Tathe after a pause, despite knowing that's what Tolbik wanted him to ask.


Tathe fought back a sigh. "What did she do, Inquisitor?"

"She disobeyed me, commissar. For that, I had to punish her. I hear that you have gone behind my back too."

Tathe grimaced and showed Tolbik the sword. "This was in the prisoner's confiscated items at the Sovrithian camp. This-"

"I know what that sword is, commissar," said Tolbik. "I do not think it matters; you are being foolish. I should kill you for this insubordination. Snuff your worthless life out in a second. You know I am more than capable of it. Both physically and I am within my God-Emperor given rights."

"Yes," said Tathe. "But you won't."

Tolbik raised an eyebrow. "And how did you figure that out? Did that worthless boy somehow convince you he could defeat me?"

The Inquisitor laughed; it held no humour; it echoed with smug self-assuredness. "If you believe him in that regard, you are even more idiotic than I gave you credit for. You are a commissar who doesn't even kill his own men. That is the allotment you were given in life, and yet do not follow it. Instead, you mollycoddle them, treat them as equals. What a foolish thing to do."

"He never claimed that," said Tathe through clenched teeth. "You won't kill me or even punish me because you know that despite all your skill and all your influence, my men will not take that lying down, and they will kill you. Even after you and your agents kill dozens of us, they will keep coming and coming until you die. That's why."

Tolbik's eyes glazed with rage.

"That 'worthless boy' as you call him said he was your son," said Tathe, seizing the initiative. "That-"

The high pitched whine of a speaker's activation erupted through the air; it eclipsed all other sounds.

It caused Tathe and even Tolbik to wince. Tathe knew about the system of speakers that littered the entire city. Once used by the Ministorum or the city governor like countless cities across the Imperium of Mankind.

Tathe had thought them beyond repair, apparently not.

The incessant whining and screaming went on and on before it finally briefly turned into static and a voice all too familiar to Tathe echoed.

"This is the general," said Tathe's father. "This is your general, men and woman of Velrosia, Maranger, Galak Heim and Despasia."

Even still, the confidence in general Tathe's voice was beyond belief; the strength, the projection was that of a man who had spent decades as a war hero and leader. Delan Tathe had always envied that as did every other leader of the Elbyran contingent, even colonel Vonlet, the Velrosian regiment leader, a great leader and tactician of the ages himself, but still overshadowed by Tathe's father.

Vonlet, like most of the regiment's upper echelons, had been killed when most of the Elbyran contingent followed general Tathe in damnation and joined the ranks of the Resurrected. Why Tathe's father had turned traitor, Tathe had no idea, but for months before they came to Sarkeath, Tathe could see that something had been weighing on his father's mind. Something that had got to the implacable general.

"Many of you believe that I am a traitor and a heretic," said general Tathe. "That I have turned my back on the golden throne and the Imperium of Mankind."

There was a pause.

"This is somewhat true, I must admit," said general Tathe. "But-"

"What the hell is this about?" said Hayden, struggling in his bonds.

Attelus didn't answer, too busy listening to the broadcast.

"-But would you really call me a traitor and a heretic when the society I have, we have fought for and died for, for so long is so weak it cannot even defend itself.-"

"That's general Tathe!" said Adelana.

"Yeah, sure as hell sounds like him," said Attelus. "But never be so sure; it could be anyone with a voice modulator or someone who's excellent at mimicry."

Like the Mimic, Attelus reminded himself.

"-This society, this Imperium of Mankind is corrupt," said the general. "It is dying. It is upon the cusp of extinction I know this, I have seen this-"

"Heresy!" said one of the guards, a Marangerian male. "The Imperium of Mankind will last forever!"

Attelus frowned; he wanted to tell the guardsman that nothing lasts forever, that what the general claimed was actually true. The Imperium of Mankind was over the Millennia slowly but surely withering, dying. But wisely held his tongue.

"-The Emperor is nothing but a corpse, a shadow who was and never will be a god. He is a liar, and his power is nothing compared to that of the gods-"

"Here we go," said Karmen Kons as she gazed out the window. "The same old spiel of the heretic and traitor trying to qualify themselves, heard it all before."

No one replied as they stood in the makeshift medicae room; they'd been in the midst of talking with the Space Marine when the broadcast started. It'd taken them off guard, but Sergeant Kalakor had fallen into combat mode. He glanced about with such intensity Karmen couldn't help fear he might attack them.

"-The gods of the warp are our only hope! Our only hope for the survival of the human race is to embrace their power! Their strength will allow us to destroy the Xenos encroaching on us!-"

"Foolish words," said Verenth. "Devoting ourselves to the Ruinous Powers would lead to our destruction in only a few short decades."

Karmen nodded. Chaos was a cancer, and like a cancer, if it were allowed to consume the host, the host would die.

A thought hit Karmen. What would happen to the cancer if the host died? Would the cancer die too?

"-over generations, the Imperium has been brainwashing you! Lying about the dangers of Chaos. I have embraced their power. They have given me their gifts; I command those whom you call the Resurrected. A fitting title.-"

"The Resurrected?" said Helma as she sat up from her cot. "Are they the traitor guardsmen and the cultists we fought earlier?"

No one answered.

"-I am giving you that still claim to be loyal to the false Emperor, even my own traitorous son, the opportunity to join me. To join us in the light of the chaos gods, willingly-"

Tolbik and Tathe had stood in silence, listening to the general's rant.

"-you will be granted my favour. If you do not! I will send the Resurrected against you enforce. You will die at their hands; it is inevitable, and once you do, you will join us as one of the Resurrected! You will fight glorious battle after battle, dying, again and again, to strengthen you so you may one day leave this world and fight amongst the stars in the name of Khorne!"

The signal cut off.

Tathe couldn't help laughing.

"What is so damned funny, commissar?" snapped Tolbik.

"He didn't even bother to tell us how to do it," said Tathe.
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Chapter 21

#22 Post by Adrassil »

Once the general's speech finished, Attelus, Adelana, Hayden and Delathasi were silent. Attelus was too busy deep in thought to speak.

His mind was brought back to the vision. When the world seemed to speak to him, he could barely recall much, the fire raging from the tower. It'd warned him, warned him about something. Was it of his father? Or the tower? It mentioned something about people; it couldn't sense that they were looking for something in the tower. It must've been the sword. It also said it could only communicate with a perpetual.

Attelus frowned and stole a glance at Adelana. She saw him and smiled at him; he couldn't help smile back then flinch away as he felt his heart flutter. Perhaps, it wasn't the world that talked to him? Was it the sword? It seemed like a daemon blade; if it were, it'd then be sentient and apparently only able to be retrieved from the tower by a perpetual.

Why the tower? How the tower? How long had it been in there? Why could only a perpetual get it? How was it guarded? Was general Tathe there?

"You never answered my question," said Delathasi, bringing Attelus back to reality.


"You didn't answer my question, Attelus; if you are immortal, why does it matter if you die?"

Attelus sighed; he'd hoped she'd forgotten that. "It's hard to explain, Delathasi. Let's just say, in the situation we're in, if I die, I won't be able to be brought back on Sarkeath, and it may take months or even years for it to happen."

"Sounds pointless," said Hayden.

"It's complicated, with the warp storm and..." he trailed off, unsure if he'd given away too much.

They looked down at him, bemused.

It was times like this Attelus was reminded just how ignorant people were. Faleaseen had educated him over the years; she'd taught him much of the nature of the soul and the immaterium, a lot of which wouldn't be known by most veteran Inquisitors.

"How?" said Adelana.

"It's uhh were, uhh. The warp-"

"No," said Adelana. "How did you become immortal?"

Attelus first instinct was to tell the truth, that he was what Faleaseen deemed a 'synthetic' perpetual changed into one by her but stopped himself.

"I was born one," he said.

"If you haven't died yet," said Hayden. "So, how do you know?"

"I don't," said Attelus. "But my father needing me to take the sword is evidence enough. Maybe."

"So, how did you find out?" said Hayden. "Did your father just tell you now? Or have you known since the beginning and been hiding it?"

Yet again, Attelus sighed. He wanted to tell them to shut up, to stop asking questions. He fought the urge, remembering Raloth's words. That they were human, not mindless beings to just order around, that way was the way of the tyrant, something Attelus swore he'd never be. But now wasn't the best time, with the Imperial Guardsmen looming over them and all. So he mouthed, 'I'll tell you later. Can't now.'

Hayden's eyes narrowed. After studying him for a few seconds, Adelana nodded in understanding, and Delathasi's expression stayed neutral.

Attelus swore he'd tell the truth. It felt good to get it out in the open.

He just hoped he'd get an opportunity to tell it.

"We need to leave," said Tolbik.

"What?" said Tathe. "Why?"

"I shouldn't have to explain, commissar," said the inquisitor. "We must leave now. Get your men ready to move within the hour."

"I think with my father's threat, it would be better to stay here," said Tathe after spending a few seconds to gain his courage. "We're in a defensible position, and we have a way to fall back-"

"And into the desert?" said Tolbik. "Do not be absurd, and a defensible position would be better in the conventional sense if we could bleed our enemy dry. But we can't; they come back from the dead, remember? And every one of your precious men that die will join them in the assault. It's better that we start moving, get to the tower as soon as we can to cut this corruption at the head."

"How do you know that?" said Tathe.

Tolbik's face darkened. "I just do, commissar. Just get you men ready! Take it as an order from the Emperor himself. Now go!"

Tathe grimaced but turned and went for the tent's exit.

He paused. "You ask us to take a lot on faith, Inquisitor," said Tathe. "To risk our lives just on your words."

Tolbik sniffed. "As a commissar, thus one raised in the Schola Progenium, you should know that, 'blessed is the mind too small for doubt' and that 'faith is purest when it is unquestioning.' Do you still have faith in the emperor, Commissar? Because it seems that you do not. We have a word for that."

Tathe turned and left. He knew the word, and he knew it well.


Attelus was almost asleep when the hustle and bustle began. The sound of shouting and stomping boots echoed in his ears, and he sighed, glancing at the others. All of them were asleep, and he cursed himself for being such a light sleeper.

With a growl, he rolled himself over to face the two guards. One was a battle-scarred Velrosian woman, the other a tall, broad Despasian man. They both looked down at him with weary eyes. They were new, having changed the guard during Attelus' attempt at going to sleep.

"What's going on?" Attelus said, trying to inflict authority and confidence into his voice in the way Inquisitor Enandra taught him.

The way which Glaitis taught him.

The Despasian trooper shrugged. "I see no problem in telling. You will find out eventually. We are moving out."

"Where?" said Attelus, unsure what to make of this.

"Dunno," said the women. "The commissar didn't tell us, just his holiness; the inquisitor ordered it."

Attelus frowned. "You must know that we are not your enemy."

"Couldn't care less, boy," said the woman. "We're just here to guard you."

"Just following orders, huh?" Attelus sneered.

"Even if we were not," said the Despasian man. "We have not a reason to believe anything you say. You have appeared out of nowhere, and we know nothing about you, not even your name. Besides that, you claim you are immortal and frigged in the head."


"What?" said the woman.

"My name is Attelus Kaltos. There, now you know my name. What are yours?"

They exchanged a glance.

"Oh no, no way," said the woman. "I've been on this for long enough to know not to give my name. You might be some kind of daemon that can use my name for some sorcery shit."

Attelus flinched. Her words hurt him more than he could say. They didn't trust him; no one trusted him, not even Adelana and as much as he understood why it still hurt. He wished beyond wished that they would suddenly change their minds and free him. He'd dreamed of meeting the famous men and women of the Elbyran contingent on the voyage to Sarkeath, fighting side by side with his heroes Commissar Tathe, Dellenger. Saving them from their doom in the eleventh hour.

Never did he even consider he'd have his hands and ankles bound, lying on the ground as their helpless prisoner. Trying to warn them, to tell them the truth.

There was an ancient Terran legend Attelus had found during his many hours of study back in the Audacious Edge libraries. The Greeca legend of Cassanria, a prophet who could see the dangers in the future, was forever cursed that no one would believe her desperate warnings.

Attelus was starting to know how this Cassanria must've felt.

He had been a fool, a naive fool. He should've known that his father would be here, that he'd already have manipulated the Elbyran guardsmen against him.

Serghar frigging Kaltos. Attelus didn't hate his father, despite the claims of Etuarq three years ago, of how his father had let him be used, knew that his son would bear the burden of billions of deaths. Wanted it to happen, in the name of whatever agenda his cruel master had warped fate for. He'd thought Etuarq was lying, but now it seemed the bastard had told the truth.

It turned out Attelus had never known Serghar Kaltos, the real Serghar Kaltos.

His father was an unredeemable, abusive arsehole. Yet even after seeing this, Attelus couldn't bring himself to hate him. The Imperium of Mankind always preached hate, hate for the mutant, the heretic, the Xenos. Attelus had long ago preached against hate to Adelana, warned her of its destruction. After all his father had done and how he'd beat him, Attelus should hate him, it would make him a hypocrite, but by the Emperor, he'd be justified in his hypocrisy.

The abrupt bark caused Attelus to flinch in fright, as did the guards. Attelus heard the gasps as Hayden, Adelana, and Delathasi awoke. Another and another followed it in a horrific crescendo.

"What the hell?" said Hayden.

Attelus didn't reply; he knew where it was coming from, the south entrance of the fortress, and knew what it was.

Heavy bolter fire.

As Tathe stormed through the camp with Dellenger and Adreen struggling to keep up, his vox bead beeped, and he reached to activate it.

"Yes?" he growled. "What is it?"

"Sir!" Valketh's voice erupted. "We've got targets converging on us."

Tathe's heart sank, and he stopped.

"The Resurrected?"

"No! It's-"

He was interrupted by the sound of las fire and the roar of heavy bolters.


No reply.




Tathe burst into a sprint while tuning into the general line.

"Sergeant Kralt, sergeant Gotrus! Converge on the south! Reinforce Valketh!"

There was a chorus of confirmations.

If it wasn't the Resurrected, who was it?

"It's the Sovrithans," said Adreen. "They have found us. They want revenge. His Highness underestimated them; we underestimated them."

Tathe drew his laspistol and frowned. He couldn't help believe that they were more than justified in their want for revenge.

Valketh was dead. Their vox transmission hadn't been interfered with; the captain was interrupted by a las round to the face.

According to trooper Rolin, the shot was made at a good three hundred metres. It wasn't even a hotshot, or Valketh's corpse wouldn't have ahead. Tathe knew that someone or something that looked and acted like Valketh would soon be amongst the Resurrected, along with the dozens of dead Sovrithan guardsmen at the base of the freeway. He would've been disgusted by this, but it'd happened so often; it was just a reality now. He'd killed countless of his people over the months, many again and again. Valketh was a good man, an excellent commander who was never afraid to lead from the front. Ironic, Tathe had believed that was what would get him killed.

With a new, healthy respect for the Sovrithan's marksmanship. Tathe hugged the cover of the highest sandbag wall with Dellenger, Adreen and most of Valketh's squad. The Sovrithan las fire rained upon them as they advanced in disciplined ranks. There was no cover for the hundreds, but their constant shots had them almost pinned.

Dellenger let out a burst over the cover; he wasn't the best shot in the regiment but managed to send two to the ground, the first with a shot to the chest, the second by blowing out his knee. The other Sovrithans around stumbled or hunkered down, it caused their fire to flail, and Adreen and the others to pop up and cut down many more in a hail of las.

A las shot from Tathe's pistol sent one enemy sprawling, then flailing onto his back.

Tathe clenched his jaw, kneeling while the others kept firing. The screams of dying Sovrithan soldiers tore through his ears.

They should be fighting side by side! Not slaughtering each other en mass!

He spat, cursing Inquisitor Tolbik's name. Then cursed this 'Serghar Kaltos.'

The enemy las fire returned to its rate, forcing the others back into cover.

"Everything okay, Commissar?" said Dellenger, sounding a bit too enthusiastic for Tathe's liking.

Tathe didn't reply; he slipped past the scout and beside Adreen.

'Adreen! You're in charge!'

Adreen raised an eyebrow, but she saw Tathe's face; she nodded.

'Understood, sir, may the Emperor be with you.'

Tathe nodded back and hunched, turned and began toward the gate.

He was going to need the bloody Emperor with him.

The tent flaps burst open, and Serghar Kaltos stormed in, his three agents in his wake. Everyone but Attelus straightened in shock. Before the flaps shut, Attelus caught a glimpse of at least five Storm Troopers standing outside.

"Get them up," Serghar snarled at the Elbyran guards. 'We are leaving. Now.'

The guardsmen gaped.

"That is an order; get them up, now."

Like ducks frightened into flight, they moved. The large Despasian man undid the manacles around Attelus' ankles. He hauled him to his feet while the woman went to untie the rope tying the manacles of Adelana, Hayden and Delathasi to the tent pole. All the while, Serghar and his followers stood watch, all but Attelus' father held their swords ready.

'You two are to be their guards,' said Serghar. 'Keep an eye on them, as though your lives depended on it.'

"O-of course, sir," said the woman.

'Where are we going?' said Hayden as they were being herded toward the exit, las guns aimed at their backs.

"I am sure your incompetent leader has told you already," said Serghar. "Now shut up and just follow my lead."

Attelus stepped out and into the chaos of the camp. The ten-man Storm Trooper squad spread out in escort formation with the speed and skill they were known for. Attelus knew why his father had chosen now to slip away. Probably been planning it for months, and there wouldn't be any commissar Tathe to stop him.

"Inquisitor!" said a familiar voice which rang over the cacophony, and Attelus couldn't help smile as he turned to see Tathe approaching, his sword unsheathed and with at least forty men behind him.

Serghar Kaltos clenched his teeth.

"What are you doing?" said Tathe as he stopped.

"I am leaving," said Serghar. "And I am taking the prisoners with me."

Tathe sniggered. "And obviously, you were going to do it without consulting me."

"You must be aware by now that I care little for your consulting, commissar," said Serghar. "Now stand down before-"

"Before what? Inquisitor? Before you kill me? Kill me right in front of my men who surround you right now? Smart! And believe me, I figured out that you cared little for my consulting a long time ago."

Serghar sneered, and almost in tandem, the Stormtrooper raised their hell guns on the Elbyrans. Around. A split second later, at least two hundred las guns were aimed back.

Attelus couldn't help clenching his teeth; his heart thundered through his ears, he glanced over his shoulder at the two troopers, and both had fanned out, they too aiming at Serghar and his followers.

"Do not test me, commissar," said Serghar. "You have seen what I and my own are capable of; stand down. I am taking the prisoners. That is my will, and my will is that of the-"

"Oh, just shut the hell up! Even if that were true, the Emperor isn't here! This world is in the grasp of chaos! We are all in the grasp of chaos! Why do you think we're all in-fighting like this? Make your men lower their weapons before we make you!"

Serghar's face darkened. "You sound dangerously close to heresy, commissar."

Tathe laughed again. "Perhaps! But perhaps we are all close to heresy, Inquisitor!"

Attelus heard it then, and he smiled.

"Stand down!" repeated Serghar, and Attelus noted the hint of urgency in his father's tone. The first proper emotion Serghar had shown.

A second after, everyone heard the downwash of jet engines, and all attention rose to see the Guncutter hovering above the heavy bolter turrets sweeping their aims over the crowd.

"Here's a better idea!" Darrance's voice boomed from the speaker. "How about all of you stand down!"
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Chapter 22

#23 Post by Adrassil »

Attelus didn't hesitate to smash his heel into the back of the nearest stormtrooper, sending him sprawling onto his face. The next Stormtrooper spun around with incredible speed, but just in time for Attelus to use the chain of his manacles to send his aim off course. So the high yield las round burned through the back of the skull of another Stormtrooper instead. Attelus ignored the pain flaring through his shin as he kicked the Stormtrooper's legs out under him. That'd happened all in less than two seconds.

"Get down!" Attelus roared as he stomped on the prone Stormtrooper's head and threw himself to the rockcrete less than a second before the Elbyrans and the Stormtroopers opened fire. He could only hope Adelana and the others had managed it too.

Attelus didn't see the death but heard the storm of las shots and the screams. The screams of those nearest eclipsed those of the many dying Elbyrans around. Attelus looked up, the Stormtroopers were already dead, but Serghar and his three agents were running west; they slaughtered countless Elbyran guardsmen as they moved. In flawless concert, they protected and flowed around one another, dodging and deflecting incoming fire. The blue power fields of their blades vaporised blood and gore in such permanence it seemed as permanent as the fields themselves. The screams of the dying guardsmen were almost deafening.

Attelus clenched his jaw; he wanted to, needed to charge them. To try to stop their dances of death. But he fought the urge. Even if he were armed, he wouldn't stand a chance against all four. Attelus doubted he even stood a chance just against his father. They needed him, but he doubted they would try to take him alive when in such a desperate flight.

"Attelus!" cried Adelana, forcing him to turn to her. She knelt over him, her brow furrowed in annoyance. Delathasi moved past a scavenged knife in hand, which she plunged into the throat of the stormtrooper Attelus had kicked the legs under as he was getting back up.

"We have to go!" Adelana yelled and pointed up to the Guncutter; it hung over them in the midst of landing. Attelus had been too ingrained in watching his father and his agent's slaughter; he'd failed to hear its screaming engines.

The sound of running footfalls stopped Attelus' reply, and he turned to find it was Tathe. In Tathe's right hand was his activated power sword; in his left was Attelus' own sheathed sword.

Attelus leapt to his feet as Hayden stepped beside him, a stolen las pistol covering the commissar.

But before the sniper could fire, Attelus forced his aim to the ground.

Attelus raised his hands to his face, and Tathe cut. The power blade sliced through the manacle's chain, then he handed Attelus his sword.

The commissar's face was a mask of utter determination; his eyes met Attelus'.

Attelus nodded.

"Come on!" roared Hayden.

"No!" said Attelus as he burst into a charge, Tathe just behind him.

But they were too late. Serghar and the others had already climbed the wall and were leaping out of sight. Leaving a sea of cut-up injured and corpses in their wake.

With great hesitation, Karmen, Vark and Verenth descended the ramp of the guncutter, and Attelus couldn't help feel a wave of relief at the sight of them. Relief mixed with worry at the absence of the others—dozens of weapons trained on the trio. The echo of the battle with the Sovrithians still thundered in the south, along with the screaming, crying of the injured from Serghar's slaughter, were being carried and looked after by the medicaes.

Attelus, Adelana, Hayden and Delathasi stood amongst the Elbyrans. All of them had their manacles removed but still had guns covering their backs. Tathe stepped forward, sword at his side, but las pistol raised.

"Attelus Kaltos said he is your leader," said the commissar. "I am assuming that you have used the Sovrithans as a distraction for this rescue. Tell them to break off their attack, now."

Karmen had her helm off, and her beautiful blue eyes looked to Attelus.

Attelus gave her a nod which Karmen returned, and she reached to activate her vox link. "Captain Dantian, break off the attack, please."

She looked at Tathe, face unreadable. "Is that better, commissar?"

"Well, if they actually do as you ask," said Tathe. "Names?"

"I am Karmen Kons, sanctioned psyker of the Ordo Hereticus. This is Kamal Vark, my bodyguard, and this is Leng Verenth. We are here in peace."

Tathe nodded, then reached for his earbud. "Adreen? Yes, got you. Understood, thank you! Get yourself and Dellenger back here. The Sovrithans are retreating."

There was no reply from the surrounding guardsmen; such news was of little comfort. Their anger, almost palpable. They needed to unleash their vengeance after the deaths of so many of their comrades, and with the escape of Serghar and his agents, Karmen and the others were dangerously close to becoming the objects of the Elbyran's ire.

It spoke of remarkable discipline that they didn't.

"So, what now?" said Tathe. "You were planning to just fly in and rescue the boy and the others here. Now that plan has gone wrong..."

"We are to co-operate," said Attelus. "We need to co-operate."

Tathe turned to Attelus, eyebrows raised. "And I am assuming that you wish for us to work with the Sovrithians as well? After our earlier attack, I doubt they would, and I wouldn't blame them."

"They will," said Karmen. "Soon, the true enemy will be upon us, and they will have no choice in the matter."

Tathe barked a laugh. "Let's just hope that their pragmatism will outdo their righteous anger. With the influence of this world, I doubt it."

Karmen sighed and looked again to Attelus.

"They will," said Attelus. "We need to talk, commissar. If we are to co-operate, you will need to be briefed. There is more at stake here than you could imagine."

Tathe stroked his chin. To Attelus, the weariness seemed to flow from the commissar like heat waves, but he still kept a façade of casual confidence for his men and Karmen.

"You have already claimed that this inquisitor Tolbik or this Serghar Kaltos is responsible for the deaths of billions," said Tathe.

"And will cause many, many more," said Karmen, any surprise she felt at Serghar Kaltos being here was well hidden. "If we don't catch him, it would be a great service to the Emperor."

The commissar's eyes narrowed as he turned to Karmen. "Tolbik, I mean Serghar Kaltos, claimed the same thing, Karmen Kons. He claimed it with far more conviction and zealotry than you. Both I am sure were real-"

"He is...Was a high-level throne agent of the Holy Ordos," said Karmen. "He can lie about anything and-"

"Excuse me, mamzel," said Tathe through clenched teeth. "I am a commissar of the Imperial Guard; I have served for many years now. I can tell lies from truth, and he was telling the truth. Believe you me."

"Or what he believed was truth," said Adelana beneath her breath.

Attelus couldn't help smile at her words.

"Look!" said Karmen. "We have little time! Please release my...colleagues and allow us to speak in private."

Tathe shrugged as Dellenger and Adreen stepped onto his flanks.

"Okay," he said. "We will speak in my tent, Dellenger and Adreen with me. Just you and Attelus, understood?"

Karmen nodded. "Understood." Her full lips spread into a smile that caused Attelus' heart to flutter. "And thank you."

With guardsmen surrounding them, Karmen and Attelus followed Tathe to his tent. Karmen couldn't keep the smile from her face, even while pain coursed through her head as she injected her thoughts into Attelus'. It was slowly getting easier and easier for her to use her gift, but Karmen wasn't sure whether that was a good or bad thing.

+What has happened, Attelus?+

His sigh was internal. It's a long and sordid story, Karmen. Where's Torris? Helma? Halsin and Jelket? Are they okay?

+All of them are alive,+ said Karmen. +Although, poor Torris and Helma were injured. Halsin is tending to them in the guncutter as we speak. Attelus, you must tell me everything before we talk to the commissar. He said Serghar Kaltos was here? Is this true?+

Yes, it's true. And you're right. I'll tell you everything.

He told her his story; his word thoughts flooded and rushed. When he got to meet veteran sergeant Kalakor, she couldn't help interrupting.

+Veteran sergeant Kalakor already told us about that and everything he saw.+

You found Kalakor?

+Yes, or rather, he found us. He acted as an ambassador between us and the Sovrithan regiment.+

Do you know where he is?

Karmen couldn't help frown. "No, after we met with the captain and his men, the veteran-sergeant disappeared."

Attelus frowned. There's something off about him, Karmen. Something not quite right. I've never met a more manipulative Space Marine before.

+Neither have I. But I had yet to meet a Space Marine of the Raven Guard, and they are well known for their...more specialist tactics.+

Attelus pursed his lips and shrugged before carrying on his story.

Once he was done, Karmen said, +so that is why you are so beaten. You must get over your fear of your father, Attelus. It will just hold you back. If anyone is going to kill him, it is you. It has to be you.+

I know. I'd never hated him, Karmen. And even after truly learning how much of a monster he is. I still don't. But if that time comes, I won't hesitate. As much as we need answers, he can't be taken alive. He's too dangerous, and it won't be a matter of if, but when he'll escape.

+So, the world itself or something talked to you in a vision?+

Yes, although I can't recall much of it.

Karmen's smile widened. +And this sword, this Kalncerak is in the tower with, maybe, general Tathe.+

Yes, although I suspect this sword is what spoke to me, Karmen. A world doesn't have sentience, but a daemon blade does.

+How do you know that?+ sent Karmen, humour in her tone. +Have you been to every world in the universe?+

Attelus smiled, about to send a retort, but he straightened as though a realisation had hit him.

They don't know!

+They don't know what?+

They don't know about the Exterminatus! The Elbyrans!

+How do you figure that?+

I have mentioned on a few occasions that my father was responsible for the deaths of billions, Karmen! But Tathe showed no reaction to it at all! They don't know, or they don't remember. Either way, something is wrong.

Karmen allowed a sigh. +Something was always wrong, Attelus. But now it's just even more wrong than before.+
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Chapter 23

#24 Post by Adrassil »

Adelana's footfalls clanged as she ascended the ramp with Delathasi and Hayden. Verenth and Vark waited for them in the cargo bay.

"Why didn't you shoot?" Hayden bellowed, and Adelana couldn't help flinching. Never had she ever seen him so riled before.

Vark and Verenth exchanged glances. Verenth leaned against one of the bikes, arms folded, while Vark pressed the switch to close the ramp behind Adelana and the others.

"It's good to see you too, Hayden," said Verenth.

"You could have killed them!" said Hayden.

"What? Killed those friggers who were slaughtering through the Velrosians?" said Vark. "Darrance figured we might hit a few, losing any chance to make an alliance. Figured it'd give little Attelus a real hard-on, so he can, y'know."

Verenth sniggered, and Darrance's voice echoed through the ship: "I heard that!"

The assassin walked onto the balcony, frowning down at them.

"That...Was...Serghar...Kaltos and his...allies," said Hayden through clenched teeth. "Who frigging cares if you kill a few guardsmen when you can put down the most dangerous assassin in the Calixis sector!"

Again, Verenth and Vark exchanged glances.

"What?" said Darrance.

"Don't 'what' me, Saderth," said Hayden. "You heard me."

There was a long silence, and it took Adelana all that time to realise Hayden was addressing Darrance by his first name.

Hayden said. "If I was in charge-"

Darrance shrugged. "We do not know what would have been done, Hayden. I did not know it was them."

"Who did you think they could be?" Hayden snarled. "Attelus had briefed you on the agents of Etuarq!"

"Calm down," said Verenth. "This isn't like you, Hayden. It's too late now for anger. We were too busy trying to rescue you guys. Karmen was listening into your conversation as we landed, but she couldn't get any more information. If you still had your commlinks..."

The ex-ganger turned to and opened a large metal box at his feet.

"...We might have been able to co-operate," he said while tossing Hayden a vox bead which the sniper caught neatly.

Without a further word, Hayden walked up to the box and knelt before it.

"Thank the Emperor!" he exclaimed and reached in to take out his coveted long las.

"Yeah," said Vark. "We got all your stuff back from the Sovrithans."

Hayden stood and turned back, his gaze still hard. "If I were in charge, we would never have been separated," he said. "None of this farce would've happened."

Then he turned and stormed off.

"What happened to get him so riled up?" said Vark.

"Shit happened," said Delathasi.

Adelana swallowed. "This world happened," she said. "This place is getting to him, bringing out his flaws. Like it did to Attelus-"

"Like it's doing to all of us," said Verenth.

"We need to keep an eye on him," said Delathasi.

"Yeah, but who's going to keep an eye on the rest of us?" said Adelana.

"I think, more importantly," said Vark. "Who's going to keep an eye on the Sovrithans and the Velrosians? If this world is getting to even Hayden. And we've been here for such a short time; how about them?"

Adelana couldn't help admit he had a point. She recalled captain Dantian and his arrogance and deplorable manner. Then she remembered commissar Tathe; he seemed noble, strong, honourable, despite his eternal weariness. Maybe his corruption was more subtle than Dantian? But unlike Dantian, Tathe seemed to have a measure of self-awareness. She could see commissar Tathe deserved Attelus' and his men's respect. Delan Tathe was a good man, a great man, the kind that deserved even more recognition and remembrance than already.

She just hoped Tathe and his men were truly, actually on their side.

"That's...That is..." Tathe trailed off; his blank wide eyes stared into space as he sat back on his cot.

"Unbelievable?" said Attelus.

Tathe nodded a barely discernible nod.

Karmen shared a glance with Attelus. Both scout sergeant Adreen and Dellenger exhibited similar expressions, and she couldn't blame them. It'd taken her and Attelus five minutes to tell a rushed, abridged version of the why they were there. The how they decided to keep still secret. All the while, they would discuss what to tell and what not through thought-speak, despite the pain it caused her.

They told of the death of Omnartus that it was Serghar Kaltos and his master's agents who'd manipulated it and many other Exterminatus' in the past. That it was for as a yet unknown agenda. And they'd made it their life's goal to bring Inquisitor Etuarq to justice. They'd emphasised the need to fight their way to the Tower.

"But, you have that ship," Adreen had said. "Surely you can just fly there."

"Too risky," Karmen said. "We need that ship to leave this world, and we don't know what lies in wait further into the city. We cannot risk it."

"You have a ship capable of warp travel in orbit, then?" said Dellenger. "One that somehow managed to get through the storm?"

"Not yet," said Attelus, in a tone that exclaimed he wouldn't brook more questions on the subject.

The entire time, Karmen had yearned to delve into their minds, to try to locate the missing memories, but it was hard enough to just share secret the link with Attelus.

"But despite that," said Tathe. "And despite the fact I'm sure you haven't told us everything, I believe you. It is too strange not to be true."

The commissar shook with sudden rage. "I can't believe it! I can't believe that my men and I were so gullible! So easily manipulated!"

Attelus smiled. "Believe me, commissar. I know exactly how you feel. But don't blame yourself too much. They wielded an Inquisitorial rosette; you were duty-bound to follow their orders."

As he said this, he gave Karmen a meaningful look. It was the same with Attelus back on Omnartus. He didn't need to reaffirm that with her but understood why he felt he did.

"Do the Sovrithans know of this?" said Dellenger.

Karmen nodded, eliciting a glare from Attelus, and she cursed internally. She'd forgotten to inform him of that.

"Their leader, captain Dantian, does," she said. "And it might allow them to swallow their pride and co-operate with you."

Tathe nodded again, stroked his strong jawline, and then stood with such swiftness it caused Karmen to start. "Then we are with you!" he said, his eyes afire with determination. "The Elbyrans will fight! We will do what we must to get to the Tower and stop my father. And we will help you find Serghar Kaltos and his men in any way we can. Take them down and avenge the men they killed."

Attelus smiled while tapping the tip of his long nose with an index finger. "You needn't worry about them, not yet. Their goal lies in the tower, too. They will be headed there."

Tathe smiled. "I could tell you were a scheming little bastard the first second I met you."

Attelus shrugged, the action filled with uncertainty.

"We'll be ready to move in half an hour," said Tathe, his eyebrow raised at Attelus' strange reply.

Karmen frowned. She could only pray the Resurrected attack before then, trapping them.

"Dellenger! Adreen," Tathe said. "Gather your scouts and scout the perimeter! If the Resurrected come, I need to know the second they do!"

"Understood!" they said as one and both walked out of the tent.

Tathe turned to Attelus and Karmen. "I would like to thank you."

Karmen shared bemused looks.

"Thank us for what?" said Karmen.

"Thank you for finally giving us purpose, true purpose," said Tathe. "Now, do you have the codes for the vox channels of the Sovritans? I need to speak with their leader."

"First, that psyker woman told me to call off the attack! And now we are working with them now?" roared Dantian, his face red with rage.

Jelket didn't back down. They were in a makeshift command centre inside the offices of a mineral refinery. Small glow globes scattered across the countless desks imbued dim light into the windowless room. The surviving junior officers hustled about or sat at the few cogitators the Sovrithans had managed to rescue during their escape from the Resurrected.

"Yes," said Jelket, teeth clenched, his hands in fists. "I understand how you feel, captain. But if we are to succeed, we have to."

Frig you, Karmen, Jelket thought. Why did you have to leave me here as a liaison?

In truth, Jelket knew why. He was the closest they had to a guardsman; he understood soldiers more than most. It would've been Helma if she wasn't injured.

It should've been Helma; she would do a better job than he ever could, even in her condition. In fact, Jelket knew it. He also couldn't help feel that Karmen had given this assignment as a test. As a way for him to expand his skills beyond just being a killer. A realisation hit him; Karmen wouldn't have put him on this if she didn't believe he could do it. The thought caused Jelket to straighten as a wave of confidence moved through him.

"It was meant to be a rescue mission!" said Dantian. "For that leader of yours! That little fairy boy! We were not meant to join forces with the bastards!"

"I must remind you that 'fairy boy' bet you in a sparring match in less than a second. Knocked you out cold," said Jelket, and he felt a smile spread. Jelket didn't like Dantian; the man was haughty, arrogant. He couldn't help enjoy rubbing it in. "His name is Attelus Kaltos, and he is a senior throne agent of the Ordo Hereticus. He deserves your respect, captain."

Dantian grimaced. "Maybe so. But that will not happen a second time, that I assure you! Next time, I will be ready."

Jelket fought the urge to roll his eyes.

"Do you know how many men I lost to their attack?" snapped the captain. "Then how many I lost in that assault on their 'fortress?' Too many!"

"Do you want to lose countless more?" said Jelket. "Because if that general Tathe was truthful..."

Jelket let it hang, holding Dantian's gaze. The captain's face was twitching into enraged grimaces.

"Sir!" said the trooper sitting at the vox caster.

"What?" bellowed Dantian through gritted teeth.

"We've got a communication from the Velrosians. From a commissar Tathe. He wishes to speak with you, captain."

Dantian turned his glare on Jelket.

"If we are to survive this," said Jelket. "You have to take that. You know what is at stake. This is beyond you. Beyond your entire regiment. Beyond even this cursed world and-"

"Yes! Yes!" snapped Dantian. "I will do it. Just if it makes you shut up!"

And he turned and snatched up the vox horn. "Speak fug you!" Dantian said into it. "Speak now, and you'd better say it well!"

Tathe flinched as the words burst through his ears. He fought the urge to yell back, and the pain bulging in his brain and his exhaustion induced grumpiness.

"This is captain Dantian, I assume," he said with forced politeness.

"Of course it is. Who else do you think it is?"

Tathe's eye twitched, and he looked at Attelus and Karmen as they stood over him, watching on. Attelus smiled, and Karmen's expression was still unreadable. Outside the tent, the sound of moving, readying soldiers bellowed.

The commissar sighed and shook his head.

"Captain, you are angry, and I can understand your anger. But please, control yourself. There has been a misunderstanding. A severe misunderstanding that led us into fighting and killing each other."

Dantian snorted. "Killing each other? You have killed much, much more of us than we of you."

"I...and I will forever regret that, captain. It was by my order. I'm sorry."

"Your apology means nothing to me, commissar," said Dantian.

"That...That is understandable, captain Dantian. I did not expect it would. But you must understand we...I believed we were doing the Emperor's work. That you and your own were traitors, heretics. I foolishly believed what the enemy told me. We thought they were servants of the Inquisition. But they were imposters. They were the true heretics."

"Do you think that is a good enough excuse? Really?"

"No, captain. But it is the truth, and that is all I can say. Tell me, Dantian. Are you a servant of the Emperor?"

"I am. The God-Emperor's will guides me. Unlike you."

"For us to work together. To fight our way to the Tower and to stop them, that His will. You must see that."

Dantian laughed. "I argue that it is His will is for us to wipe you out!"

"You know as well as I that you couldn't. No matter how hard you tried," said Tathe.

"Are you sure about that?"

"I am," said Tathe without hesitation. "Almost as sure as I am that it is His will for us to fight together. That we need to fight together, Dantian. I have been told you know what is at stake. So you must, you have no other choice. Now, Dantian. We are running out of time! You must agree; you must tell me that you will put your understandable anger and hatred aside and do what's right!"

There was a long, weighted pause.

"Many of the men won't like this," said Dantian.

Tathe fought back a relieved sigh. "Then tell them why captain. Make sure they will understand that is your role as their leader, isn't it? We are all in this together."

"Y-yes, of course, commissar. I can't believe I'm doing this."

"May the God-Emperor be with you, captain."

"And you, commissar."

Then Dantian cut the link.

Tathe sighed again, rubbed his eyes and turned to Attelus and Karmen.

They both looked on, awestruck.

Tathe stood.

"This is it," said Tathe. "This is the time that we finally fight the fight which truly matters."
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Chapter 24

#25 Post by Adrassil »

Attelus, Delathasi, Adelana and Hayden left the fortress with the Velrosian scouts. The sun had started to creep into the cloudless, beautiful blue sky. It wasn't the ideal time to stealth ahead of the rest of the contingent. But still, they sunk from the deep, long shadows shed by the tall towers that loomed around.

Attelus, who carried an old, beaten but well-maintained lasgun given to him by the Velrosians, struggled to keep up with them. Attelus had always prided his skill at stealth. He wouldn't have survived in the ruins of Varander if he wasn't good. He was one of the best among Inquisitor Enandra's agents. Perhaps the best. Attelus sunk and slipped through the city like born spectres. But the Velrosians didn't seem there; they seemed...almost non-existent.

There were twenty of them, including the four Throne Agents. They moved in two pairs per street from the west. Attelus and Adelana were with Adreen and Dellenger on the northernmost street. One pair would advance, one scout along each side of the street, stop at a turn or a four-way junction while the others followed a few metres behind. They moved at a pseudo jog, low with their cameleoline cloaks covering them. The first pair's weapons covered the windows and doors. Left and right, up and down. Left and right, up and down. As the second scout's guns swept side to side while they watched the street ahead. The first would check the corner or corners at the end of each street, Signal the all-clear via three vox taps, then the next pair would take point, while the last covered their advance.

They communicated almost exclusively through vox taps. Although the throne agents wore their re-breathers, allowing them to speak without being heard at a flick of a switch.

Hayden also had his Auspex again, so he and Delathasi moved through the middle street.

About half a kilometre behind, the rest of the Elbyran contingent moved, and about a kilometre behind them were the Sovrithans in support.

Reconnaissance at the head of an army in a battle zone was different than moving alone, in a pair or a small group of infiltrators. It was a new experience for Attelus; it took a huge amount of concentration, patience and discipline. Every inch, everything needed to be checked and double-checked. The ache which echoed through his thighs was hard to ignore; it caused Attleus to grit his teeth. Adreen had given him and the others a quick briefing before they left, and Attelus found he and Adelana were taking to it quite quickly. But the pressure of such responsibility was intense. If Attelus, or anyone, missed even the slightest detail, the Elbyran contingent could walk right into an ambush.

The enemy, the Resurrected, weren't to be underestimated. Especially since Attelus learned they could seem to appear from out of nowhere.

Attelus flinched as his vox bead beeped; he growled through gritted teeth but still accepted it.

"Adelana! What do you want?"

"About Hayden."

Attelus sighed. "Adelana, I thought we went over this already."

"We did. But..."

"But what, Adelana?"

"You still seem to trust him, Attelus."

"I do trust him, Adelana."

There was a long pause, and Attelus fought the urge to cut the link.

"What if he does something...You know, Attelus?"

"He won't. He's angry, Adelana. But he won't allow himself to be controlled by it. And in all honesty, his anger is justified. I have made many mistakes since we've made planetfall. Hell, I made a lot even before then."

"I-I don't think you have," she said, and Attelus almost slipped to a stop in surprise. "I think you've done all right, considering the things that happened. One thing I think I...We forget is that despite your...abilities, you are still human. A human who's burdened with more than any of us could imagine...How?"

"How, what?"

"How...How do you manage to keep going?"

Attelus shrugged, even though Adelana couldn't see it. "I just do."

Another long pause.

"Hayden thinks he should've been leader in your place."

"I know."

"Do you think so?"

Attelus thought about that, but the answer didn't take long. "No. I think if anyone else should've been in charge, it should've been Karmen or Helma. Hayden isn't exactly a people person."

And neither am I, he thought.

"I don't think so," said Adelana. "I think no one but you should've been put in charge. If you weren't in charge, we'd still be in the warp, back in the Calixis Sector or Emperor knows where else."

"Yes, but that's what my father and Etuarq wanted," said Attelus. "I should've seen it. I should've known."

"Again, Attelus. You're only human-"

"But I am meant to be a master assassin, Adelana. I should've performed better. Please stop trying to make me feel better because, in all honesty, I'm fine. I made mistakes, and I'm owning them. That's what I have to do; I learned that a long time ago. Thank you, though, Adelana. I appreciate it. Now, stop this. We've got to concentrate."

"Understood, master," she said, then cut the link.

The urge to bring back the link exploded through him. He needed to tell her he loved her. But he fought it, fought it with every ounce of his strength. Even if he didn't believe she'd say no, now wasn't the time. Now would be the worst time.

It was the first time she'd ever called him 'master.'

And it was the last.

Tathe walked at the head of the advance. Power sword in his right, laspistol in his left, both held at his sides in exaggerated confidence. With him was his makeshift command squad made of most of the Inquisition agents. The ex-captain Helma. The gunslinger, Verenth. Vark the Stormtrooper who carried the long-range vox. The medicae, Halsin. And the sanctioned psyker: Karmen Kons. It'd been Attelus' idea. Most of the Elbyran command staff had either been killed or turned, and they'd figured it'd be better than transferring junior offices from their squads. Despite Torris and Helma still recovering from their injuries.

Tathe had barely any time to get to know them before they'd left, but Karmen Kons had explained their abilities and temperaments via mind-speak. If even half of what she claimed was true, each one was almost a frigging army by themselves.

The Elbyrans walked the same five streets the scouts had checked. Tensions were high. Lasguns covered every inch of everything. They'd left the base without bothering to pack their tents and no garrison to defend it. This was the end, this was where they would win, or they would die.

A realisation hit him. One which he should've seen a long time ago. This was how it was always going to end. He'd clung to the idea of rescue, that somehow Tolbik and his ilk would get him and his men off this cursed world.

How foolishly naive of him. Surely he was old enough and ugly enough not even to consider such a thought? Tathe smiled to himself. He was certainly ugly enough, to be sure, and he couldn't help steal a glance at Karmen Kons. She was not hard on the eye that was certain and familiar too.

She caught him in less than an instant, causing him to snap his attention forwards again.

+Eyes forward, commissar.+

The foreign words echoing through his thoughts cause him to shiver. But he couldn't help smile at the obvious playfulness in her tone.

You have dyed your hair.

Karmen smiled. +Attelus told you about me, I remember. I'm not surprised you figured it out.+

I may not be a super, elite Throne Agent, but I managed it, somehow. You being the only woman who somewhat resembles her, kind of gave it away.

+My my, commissar. Your powers of deduction would make Marcel Torris jealous!+

Tathe shrugged and looked to the tall, well built, dark-skinned man walking a few metres to his left. His shotgun raised and ready.

+You know, just before the invasion, I tried to join the scouts. Scout sergeant Adreen was a hero to me.+

Tathe nodded.

+I didn't get in, of course. I nearly did, but I wasn't good enough. I enlisted as a trooper, but my father pulled some strings and made me stay in the PDF.+

He was afraid you'd get killed?

Karmen's eyes narrowed; it wasn't the expression he expected. +I think so.+

Tathe frowned, about to reply.

But that was when the blood sands began to shake.

The scouts felt it a split second before Tathe, and almost as one, they stopped.

"I-I didn't know that Kelitia was on a fault line," said Adelana over the squad channel.

"It isn't," said Attelus.

Then the speakers screeched into ear-piercing life.

"Again!" bellowed general Tathe's voice. "This is your general! And I must say that I am disappointed! I offered you, all of you, a privileged position in the eyes of the true lords and masters, the true gods of this galaxy! But in your foolish ignorance! Your stupidity! Move against me instead? Don't even think I don't know what you are doing! So I will make you. You will join the Resurrected!"

Then like a brackish, black tide, the Resurrected appeared into view. Emerging from the decline of the blood sands.

"By the throne!" gasped one of the scouts.

Adelana couldn't contend a response for a few seconds; they stood and watched as they poured and poured in an unending wave and the shaking of the sands became stronger and stronger.

"So I have gathered them!" said general Tathe. "From all over the planet. It doesn't matter how hard or smart or well, you fight! You will soon die and die badly! Knowing how truly and utterly pointless it is to resist the gods. To resist me!"

"Holy Throne!" said a scout. "What do we do? There's too frigging many!"

"Calm down, Faykel," said Adreen. "Get on the vox. Tell the commissar."

"I-I don't think he needs telling, ma'am!" said Faykel.

"Do it anyway, Faykel. Kaltos? Do you have much explosives?"

It took Adelana a split second to realise that she was addressing Attelus.

"Yes, of course, sergeant, Hayden Tresch is an explosives expert. He has most of it. Why?"

"We're going to collapse some buildings, crushing and funnelling them in," said Adreen. "One to the south, the other north."

"With respect, ma'am-"

"Shut it, Faykel! We're doing this!"

"Then what?" said another scout.

"Prove the good general wrong," said Adreen.
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Chapter 25

#26 Post by Adrassil »

"The Elbyrans have visual of the enemy!" said the vox man. "They are converging from the east and south-east!"

Jelket listened without a word; he didn't have to ask 'how many' the shaking of the sands beneath his feet was answer enough already.

Too many.

He looked to Dantian, who walked alongside him, trying to read the captain's response, but his expression was blank.

"Get me a line to the commissar," said Dantian.

"Yes, sir!" said the voxman as he set to work.

"What are you going to do, Dantian?" said Jelket, unable to keep the frown from his face.

Dantian smiled. "We will go south, then turn north and attack the Resurrected on their flank."

Jelket frowned. "That's going to take a long frigging time for us to advance that far."

"I know," said Dantian. "But what are we going to do? Just advance onto their back and join the line?"

"But if they get surrounded-"

"Then we'll open up a way for them to reach the objective," said Dantian. "Tell me, Throne Agent, what rank were you in the guard?"

Jelket clenched his teeth. "Trooper."

Dantian spat on the blood sands. "So let me call the damn shots; I know my tactics. Believe it or not."

"Sir! I have a line to the commissar," said the vox trooper. "They have engaged."

"Good, give it," said Dantian as he snatched the horn from his grasp.


"Captain Dantian wishes to speak to you," said Vark, handing Tathe the Vox horn.

The Elbyrans were advancing, jogging to gain as much ground as possible before being forced into a slow, dogged city fight. Tathe hated city fights; most sane soldiers did.

"Yes, captain, what is it?"

Dantain's reply was washed out by static.

"Dantian!" he yelled. "I cannot read you! Repeat!"

Still more static.

Tathe spat a curse and fought the urge to throw it on the ground. He was tired, tired beyond ever before; it was making him short-fused. He rubbed his eyes.

"Dantian? Dantian?"

Dantian seemed to straighten before starting to explain his plan to Tathe.

"Yes, commissar, understood and thank you," said the captain; once done, then he motioned for the vox trooper to cut the link.

"I take it that he agreed, then?" said Jelket.

Dantian smiled. "Yes, yes, he did."

Attelus clenched his jaw while watching the street below. He hated waiting; he always hated waiting.

Impatience was one of his many flaws, But was it actually a flaw when he was aware of it? That despite it, he could still manage it?

One flaw was his in-experience in using explosives; that's why he was watching out for the enemy instead of setting them up.

Attelus' vox bead beeped, and in less than a split second, he activated it. "Yes, Adelana?"

"No sign of any enemy noticing us yet," she said. While Attelus watched the north side, she kept an eye on the south. "They seem too intent on attacking the Elbyrans to advance carefully."

Attelus grimaced. "Let's just hope our luck keeps it that way. But I wouldn't underestimate them; that freak general Tathe seems to know everything that's going on."

"I...I wasn't talking about them; I meant your father's group. They're still out there; how do we know they won't try to capture us again?"

Attelus frowned; why hadn't he considered that? "We don't keep an eye out and-"

He was interrupted by another vox call, so he switched channels.

"This is south building," said Dellenger. "The bombs have been planted."

"This is north building," said Hayden. "The explosives are ready."

"Good work," said Adreen.

Attelus was on his feet, turning, las gun raised, then aimed at Adreen, who stood only two metres away, her finger pressed to her microbead.

"By the Emperor, sergeant!" he cried.

Adreen sneered. "Start the timers, then get to the roof."

'Yes, ma'am!'s' echoed through the link.

That was the plan: to bomb the buildings then rendezvous with the rest of the contingent.

It didn't feel like years, but centuries, lifetimes ago.

"What are you doing?" Adreen snapped, smashing Attelus back into reality. "Stop standing around daydreaming. Get moving!"

"Y-yes, ma'am!" he said, and they started toward the stairs.

"When we get to the roof, I think you and your girlfriend should go east."

"What? Why?"

"Because our objective is the tower if you and her go alone, you might-"


They came to the staircase, and Adelana joined them in the descent.

"What do you mean, no?" said Adreen, her jaw twitching.

"Well, for a few reasons, ma'am. We don't know what may lurk in the city's depths, and my father and his agents might be waiting to ambush us; it'd be easier for them to capture me again if we go it alone, but most of all..."

"Most of all?"

"I won't abandon you; we won't abandon you. We'll fight with you to the last."

Adreen smiled and shrugged. "Okay, I see your point, young man. It seems like you aren't just a pretty face."

Adelana and Attelus stopped. Adelana gaped while Attelus fell into stammering idiocy.

The scout-sergeant laughed, leaving them behind. "Oh, thank you. I haven't laughed like that in years."

Attelus and Adelana turned to each other, then exchanged wide smiles.

"Hey, stop your mucking around!" said Adreen, over her shoulder. "There's a literal ticking time bomb in here, you know?"

It caused them to jump and start running after her.

"Don't let that go to your head, Attelus," said Adelana.

Attelus grinned. "It isn't anything I've heard countless times before, Adelana."

Adelana sighed but in amusement. "You're such an ass."

"Perhaps," he sighed. "But you're not arguing it, though."

She smiled.

Hunched beneath their cameleoline cloaks, they jogged back to the main force. The horde was still far behind them, but their hooting, roaring and jeering were clear in Adelana's ears.

It caused her ears to thud and her eyes to tingle in sympathy.

Cold pain clutched her heart. She'd never been in such a large scale battle before. It was going to be insane. Every small skirmish she'd fought were terrifying, chaotic. She was always scared; over the years, she'd hoped the fear would go away, but if anything, it'd just got worse. But Adelana had gotten better at fighting it, keeping it at bay.

No one knew about this, not even Attelus. She hid it; she'd always been good at hiding her emotions, even before receiving training in it.

Maybe she was failing at fighting it when it came to Attelus? That-

She shook away the thought.

The Elbyrans were getting closer and closer to Tathe and his 'command squad at their head. They were about ten metres away when Adreen ordered the scouts to drop their cloaks.

The scouts seemed to phase into reality, while Attelus, who walked alongside her, wasn't nearly as ghost-like. She'd always admired Attelus' skill at stealth, but every Velrosian scout seemed to make him look like an amateur.

"Good to have you back," said Tathe, smiling at Adreen. "We can all die together now."

"I wouldn't have it any other way," said Adreen.

Then the explosives went off, and despite knowing it was happening, both Attelus and Adelana couldn't help flinch and look over their shoulders. But Adreen and the other scouts didn't even blink.

Dozens of the Resurrected had advanced far enough to get caught in the explosions and the flying debris. Then followed the yawning, screaming of the buildings tipping as they fell on countless others.

Attelus and Adelana were so involved with watching the destruction: they would've walked into someone if the Elbyran's deafening, collective cheer hadn't forced their attentions forward to fall in step with Tathe and the others.

"What's wrong with you?" said Tathe, and his smile spread into a grin. "I thought cool guys don't look at explosions?"

Attelus and Adelana shared a glance.

"What?" said Attelus, and Adelana had never heard him so bewildered.

Tathe's grin disappeared. "What, what?"

"What did you just say?" said Attelus.

"I didn't say anything; I have no idea what you're on about," said Tathe, with confusing, almost eclipsing Attelus' and Adelana's own.

"Get your damn heads together," said Adreen. "The commissar didn't say anything. We're about to engage."

"Of course," said Attelus facing forward, las gun raised, and Adelana readied her bolter.

A second after the bellowing, screaming Resurrected emerged through the smoke and fire, over the debris. Bashing against the ground or anything near in obvious challenge. The intensity seemed to shake the very air as the entire horde which reached all the way to the city's centre did it?

Commissar Tathe raised his sword.

The Resurrected fell into a charge, their feet shaking the blood sands like never before.

A rather disturbing smile grew across the handsome commissar's face, with slow deliberateness.

"None of you ever stop damn advancing!" Tathe said with a slash. "For Elbyra! For the Emperor! Open fire!"

Adelana didn't hesitate, and neither did Attelus. A disciplined wave of las fire erupted from the Elbyrans front line slaughtering countless Resurrected; many vaporised from the hips upward, such was the intensity.

More burst from the south and north streets, pouring through like a wave.

They were cut down the same as the ones before. Adelana fired, but she wasn't sure who she killed.

Firing his laspistol, Tathe led the advance, with Adreen and Dellenger on his flanks as they shot their las guns from the hip. His sword still raised high like one of those heroes of legend throughout the long history of the Imperium of Mankind. Attelus was the history buff so that he could draw a comparison, but Adelana struggled, but Tathe's presence inspired her, drove her to follow, to fight harder.

Attelus seemed even more driven, his eyes ablaze with determination. It took all her will to tear her gaze from him, but even without looking, she could hit an enemy.

It was then that the Guardsmen of the Resurrected emerged into view, dozens of them, using the rubble as makeshift cover. Their fire cut a swathe through the Elbyrans. One shot passed less than a millimetre by Adelana's head and through the guardsman's chest behind her.

"I've got this!" said Attelus over the vox as he drew his power sword and activated it in a blaze of blue. "Cover me!"

Without waiting for a reply, he exploded into a charge. A few hapless cultists were in his path and tried to cut him down and were sliced into ribbons for their efforts.

In a few seconds, he crossed what must've been a good fifteen metres, slowed by dodging and deflecting the hail of las fire firing his way and killing any cultist that charged him.

He fell upon them and began slaughtering. Adelana didn't bother trying to follow it; she knew her vision could barely follow his movements.

They emerged into the cross junction, and the cultists emerging from the side streets finally managed to get into close combat.

Adelana was forced to throw herself from a swinging meat cleaver before someone behind her put a round through his skull. She switched her bolter to burst fire and exploded the skull of one, then the chest of another. One with a huge bayonet blade threw himself at her; she battered it aside with her bolter, then bashed the butt into his jaw, breaking it in a crack so loud it managed to eclipse the chaos around. She knelt, allowing for las fire from behind to send his corpse writhing and falling littered by las.

Beside Adelana, a Velrosian fell as a cultist impaled him through the hip. Another, a Marangerian took his place, killing the cultist with a point-blank shot in the face. At the same time, two guardsmen helped up their injured comrade.

"You're good, little girl," said the Marangerian while impaling another's throat in mid charge. "Wish I had one of those bolters!"

"Well," said Adelana as she cut down three with another burst of her bolter. "I did learn from the best."

She caught a glimpse of Attelus through the melee; his blade was a bloody blur as he killed his way back to the Elbyrans.

"Indeed!" said the Marangerian while stabbing a cultist through the chin. "Never see any human move like that besides those freaks under the Inquisitor!"

He cut down another cultist with a horizontal swing before blasting down an enemy guardsman.

Even with their front line locked in close combat with the servants of the blood god, the Elbyrans still gained ground. Adelana's admiration for them grew even more.

Adelana smiled as she exploded the head of another with a bolt round. Then she saw Tathe amongst it, and her jaw dropped slack.

As Adreen and Dellenger bashed and stabbed with their lasguns. Dellenger was almost effective as Tathe despite wielding a far inferior weapon as he spun, thrust and smashed it with incredible grace and skill. He wasn't nearly as quick as Attelus, but that made his ability all the more impressive as his power sword danced and darted, cutting down cultist after cultist with inhuman ease.

Just behind them was Delathasi, whose monomolecular blade was coated in gore and blood, bisecting enemies with such speed they were in mid-cut down midway through their cuts.

Torris' shotgun barked and barked, sending cultist after cultist writhing, flying. Helma's, Vark's and Jelket's Hell guns seemed to stream into the horde, cutting down more enemies than anyone else. Vark monitoring vox traffic at the same time.

Verenth's pistols shot again and again, through and over the close combat: killing enemy guardsmen trying to gain an angle on the Elbyrans or leave cover.

Meanwhile, Karmen's bolter detonated body part after body part as her kine shields sent enemy shots deflecting back into their midst. It seemed she no longer had trouble wielding her power, a fact for which Adelana was truly grateful.

Halsin was in the middle of the advance, riding inside a truck along with the remaining Elbyran medicaes, trying their best to attend to the injured.

All this time, Adelana had exploded enemy after enemy as the nameless Marangerian guardsman beside her embedded his bayonet in many too. He didn't have the proficiency of Dellenger, but he more than made up for it being bigger and brutal. All the Marangerian men seemed huge for some reason.

"What is your name, little girl?" he said, cracking the skull of a cultist with the butt of his rifle.

"Adelana," she said as her bolter clicked dry, so she allowed a Despasian to move past to reload. "Yours?"

"Trooper Falmak! Don't know how long your ammunition for that bolter will last, Adelana!"

Adelana pursed her lips as she slammed a fresh clip home. She still had fifteen clips left, and Darrance was waiting in orbit to re-supply them.

"A while yet," she said.

"Good! After this, you'll have to give ma a shell! Y'know! For good luck! And in exchange, I'll buy ya a drink! Or twenty."

Attelus emerged from the press of enemies and joined the front line between Falmak and the Despasian. Attelus treating trooper Falmak with a piercing glare as he did.

Adelana couldn't help but grin.

After what seemed an age, the cultists in close combat were pushed back. Freeing the front line from the melee allowing the Elbyrans to pick up their pace to a slightly faster crawl.

Attelus had sheathed his sword and unslung his lasgun and fired it from the hip alongside Adelana.

"Life signs!" bellowed Hayden over the vox. "In the buildings, the other side of the street, left and right."

Almost as if the enemy heard him, shots burst from the windows of the three-story and four-story hab blocks emerging from the blood sands, cutting into the Elbryan ranks or smashing off Karmen's shield.

"Missile launchers take care of that!" said Tathe.

Almost immediately, streams flew over Adelana's head and exploded into the buildings, collapsing rooms in deluges of rockcrete, and the shooting stopped.

The Elbyrans advanced through the cross junction, pushing the enemy back.

Adelana looked up from her shooting to the street before them, which spread for miles until it found the tower. It was full of Resurrected.

One block down, only a shit ton more to go. By the end, they'd be dry of ammunition and exhausted. That was the only guarantee; Adelana knew in any split second she could lose her life; that was what caused the thundering in her chest and her ears.

But by the Emperor, after seeing the people of Attelus' and Seleen's homeworld fight. Adelana knew they deserved the praise they got, and then some. They were going to reach the tower no matter what resistance they met or how long it took—no matter if and when they were reduced to using only their fists and bayonets.

Adelana just hoped she'd live long enough to see to the end of this road.
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Chapter 26

#27 Post by Adrassil »

Attelus had never, ever believed that war could be boring; he'd never fought in a fight of this scale before. He'd never had to take a city step by step for what seemed like days, but according to his wrist chronometer had only been a few hours.

Everything was a blur now, a blur made up of a constant chaotic morass of las fire. Attelus' world was made up of shoot, shoot, step, shoot, shoot, step. He'd started with twenty clips, given generously by the Velrosians now he was down to five.

He also didn't have to listen to the constant comm chatter to know they were surrounded. It wasn't just the explosions and fire he could hear even from here, but basic logic, too. Yet the rear guard still kept pace, despite the far more arduous task of backstepping and not having the support of specialist throne agents, such as Karmen Kons. If Attelus weren't embroiled in his battle, his admiration for the Elbyran's considerable discipline and skill would've locked him in awe.

Despite the fact that they out of said boredom, Attelus now advanced at the fore, his power sword flurried faster than mortal eyes could follow as he deflected enemy fire away from the Adelana and the guardsmen behind him. And killed any Resurrected who came too close.

His heart thundered through his skull as adrenaline-fuelled every inch of his weary, aching form.

The waves of enemy filled the horizon except for the ten or so metres of the Elbyran's kill zone. The number of corpses they had to step over every few metres was beyond counting.

Four of the Resurrected came at him, three guardsmen and one cultist.

They used Attelus as cover to advance.

"Clever bastards!" Attelus said.

The guardsmen fired from the hip at full auto as the cultist threw himself at Attelus, a roaring chainsword raised. Attelus was too busy smashing away the showering shots to gut the foolish cultist as he bashed vertically.

Alathis slipped out of its arc and threw a knife.

The cultist dodged it and lunged into a wild horizontal blow that Attelus barely ducked.

Attelus' riposte a diagonal, an upward cut going to the gut, somehow the bastard managed to back-step. And Attelus' follow on a: downward diagonal was backpedalled. Again it'd seemed he'd underestimated his enemy, this cultist's robes were utterly soaked by blood, which pertained to how high their rank was in this cult, but countless others with the same level of coating had fallen to his blade with just as much east.

He let out a growl as he was again forced into deflecting more fire, and another cultist slipped by the first. A huge chainaxe held in his meaty paw and swinging with inhuman speed.

Attelus ducked it and risked a side step of the first's chainsword as it slashed down.

He blocked and was shocked to see the blade bounce away instead of being sliced through.

Attelus' instinct overrode this shock as it made his body turn and force the enemy's weapon into the blood sands, then sent his foot out into a roundhouse kick which smashed into the cultist's hip with a satisfying crunch.

The cultist with a chain axe dashed onto Attelus' flank before the throne agent could land the finishing blow. His huge axe swinging down diagonally.

But Attelus was ready, and as he did with the last cultist, he smashed it aside, augmenting the blow to send the cultist off balance a step or so.

It opened his back, allowing Attelus' power sword to stab through his spine, then heart.

While the cultist writhed on his sword, Attelus spun and sent him smashing into two of the enemy guardsmen.

The chainsword cultist was on Attelus a split second after, cutting out.

Attelus dropped into a kneel under its arc, then sliced through both his knees with one slash.

The cultist didn't even scream as he dropped onto his back like a felled tree. Attelus then collapsed onto his stomach, allowing Adelana and the guardsmen a clear view to cut the guardsmen Resurrected in a withering hail.

Attelus leapt to his feet as Adelana and the others fell in step with him.

"Don't underestimate them," he said while deactivating his sword's power field, sheathing it, then un-slinging his lasgun doing it so fast he'd done it before finishing the 'don't'. "They're learning."

"Underestimate them?" said Adelana while pumping bolt round after bolt round into the horde. "Like you so clearly did?"

"Were...were you able to follow that fight?"

"No," she said. "Just an educated guess."

Attelus laughed as his flurry of fire cut down two guardsmen in the midst of raising their rifles.

"You know me too well."

"Why hasn't the commissar sent his up flamer troopers?" said Adelana. "They'd be useful right now."

Attelus stole a glance at Tathe. The commissar knelt, firing his laspistol with Adreen and Dellenger shooting from his flanks.

"We don't know what else we'll encounter further in the city," he said. "And the promethium supply is very, very finite. It's better to keep them in reserve, for now."

"Did the commissar tell you that?" said the Marangerian trooper who'd been hitting on Adelana before, the tone of his dislike for Attelus plain even through his heavy accent. "Or you figure that out on your own?"

"Tathe told me," said Attelus, and he licked his teeth, fighting the urge to burst forward into the melee again. On that same logic, he needed to stop expending his energy. Swinging a sword was far more exhausting than pulling a trigger. Avoid close combat as much as possible, no matter how good he was at it.

No matter how much he enjoyed it.

"We have signatures, two buildings down," said Hayden over the vox. "In the buildings on the left and right."

"Take care of it!" ordered Tathe with a sweep of his sword.

A second later, six trails of missiles flew overhead to send great gouts of flames exploding through the buildings, collapsing floors in deluges of dust and debris.

Attelus couldn't help wonder how long they keep doing that. Funnily enough, the city's state was working in their favour; the RPG's wouldn't be nearly as effective.

He snapped his attention forward and added his shots to the barrage. Always being distracted, always overthinking things. He was lucky he wasn't shot during his idiotic daydreaming.

Then his vox bead beeped into life.

"Attelus," crackled Vark's voice. "The southern advance is faltering; they've encountered an enemy champion leading a charge of dozens of cultists and are bogged in close combat. Can you help them?"

Attelus grinned. "Can and will, Vark!"

Then he noticed Adelana looking at him. It was only for a split second, but he couldn't deny the utter terror in her eyes. It caused a sting to course through his chest.

"I'll see you soon! The south advance needs help; keep safe, Adelana," he said, and before she could reply, he peeled rightward and began pushing his way through the crowd of advancing guardsmen.

He came to the grey wall of the building in his way, and his sword cut a door-sized hole, and he lunged into the darkness coated interior.

His photo contacts almost instantly bathed the interior in dank green, and he found it was another old office building, wrecked and ransacked with old cogitators lain all over or half to mostly buried in blood sand. The ceiling was only about half a metre above his head, and what else had made this office was must've been buried.

The room was large, taking up the next road's entire length and its width at least thirty metres. The doors leading to the corridors seemed to have disappeared from Sarkeath altogether.

Attelus fought the urge to sprint and began to walk, his footfalls silent on the sand.

He was about two-thirds of the way through when he stopped, an epiphany shivering through him.

Hadn't the enemy hacked their vox? Thus they'd decided to use the Elbyran line, which Hayden, Vark and the Elbyran specialists had purged from potential infiltration. Vark had sent that through their personal channel.

Attelus hissed a curse through clenched teeth, and he turned to see three lithe figures approaching.

"I was wondering when he'd realise," said the one with the short sword.

He spun to run but halted when he saw his father emerge from the shadows. His expression was unreadable as always. Seeing his father forced the horrific, familiar feeling of fear to thunder in Attelus' chest.

"My surety in your incompetence is yet again proven to be truth," he said.

Attelus fought away the fear and tried to show his most evil grin.

"And let me guess, you've blocked my vox bead, too? But you forgot one thing..."

Serghar rolled his eyes. "This time, you're armed?"

Attelus grimaced and exploded into a roaring charge.

Serghar's sword was suddenly in his hand, and while Attelus was in mid-swing, something faster than even Attelus' eyes could follow smashed against his chest, sending him hurtling like a comet.

He hit the sand too hard; it sent his head-bashing about, complete blinding agony eclipsed his world.

Attelus groaned and began to stand, but a foot landed on the back of his head pinned him onto his face.

"I must admit, you have come a long way in the past nine years," said Serghar. "I must admit you are far more skilled than I was at your age. But you are still no match for me. Now co-operate."

"I don't understand!" Attelus roared as tight grasps pulled his hands behind his back.

"What don't you understand?" said Serghar as he sheathed his sword, slipped his hands into his jacket pockets and began to approach. "You did not actually think that we would engage in some epic battle which would span one side of the Emperor forsaken city? That you are my equal? That you would be the one to put me down finally? Does your idiocy know any bounds?"

Sudden rage burst through Attelus, and with strength surprising even him, he threw all three of the agents off him then was on his feet, flying at Serghar. He'd lost his sword but didn't care.

"I won't be captured again!" Attelus roared, throwing a fist at his father's face.

Serghar sighed, closed his eyes and tilted his head from its path in the last possible millisecond.

Attelus followed that with a sidekick, but Serghar sidestepped that with ridiculous ease. Attelus swung a hook kick which Serghar slide away from with a growl of frustration, then a jab Serghar tapped away, which sent stinging pain coursing up Attelus' arm. Attelus sent out a front kick for his father's shin; Serghar back-stepped it, then shuffled slightly aside of Attelus second front kick with the same leg.

All of this with Serghar still had his eyes closed.

Then it took Attelus a full second to realise his father's hand was wrapped around his throat and lifted him off his feet.

Attelus gagged and chocked and kicked his heels, clutching at Serghar's arm.

"You still don't give up, do you?" said Serghar, then he threw Attelus down to the ground.

Again utter agony, all eclipsing agony thundered through Attelus every millimetre, and the wind was smashed from his lungs. But he still grabbed Serghar's ankle as his father placed his foot onto his chest and writhed like a butterfly.

"My son," said Serghar. "Co-operate. I really don't want to waste time by having to cut off your limbs and have to have my lackeys carry you. We would not have to do this if you did not fight on the front lines, risking your death."

"Don't care," Attelus gasped through clenched teeth.

Serghar sighed again and looked to the curved swordsman. "Give me your blade."

The curved swordsman hesitate. "But, s-"

"Do not question me, fool," said Serghar. "You are lucky as we haven't the time now, but you know the consequence for questioning me, but it will happen soon. I wish not to sully my blade with this wretch's blood. Now give me your sword."

Attelus managed to gurgle out blood in an attempt to laugh. "Is this how he treats you? Is this what you put up with? Seriously?"

What may have been Serghar's fist smashed into Attelus' face, causing his vision to blur and pain to sprout like tendrils through his head.

"I no longer have to pretend to care for you," said Serghar. "I do not have to put up with your shit; just because the master said for you to co-operate with this fate, you needed a father who seemed to love and care for you. Every second I had to pretend to care for you made me feel like I wanted to vomit. Why do you think I left the first time, huh? But no, I had to come back, frigging torture. I would hate you for putting me through that hell, but you aren't worthy of hate; you're just a shit stain."

The curved swordsman approached and handed Serghar his sword timidly, which Attelus' father snatched. He raised the blade above his head; then, a horrific, huge grin spread across his face—one that pinned Attelus in terror far more effectively than Serghar's foot.

"I'm going to enjoy this-"

"Put the sword down!" said a voice, a beautiful, familiar soft voice which sent equal amounts of joy and dread into Attelus.

But it somehow stopped Serghar's slash.

"Ohhh, you're his apprentice," said one of the agents, and even with the voice modulator, Attelus could tell the condescension laced in the words as clearly as the Sarkeathian sky. "Here to save her little boyfriend. Drop the bolter, girl. It's no use to you against even one of us."

"I talked to Vark," said Adelana, seeming to shout it for Attelus' benefit. "He said he never sent you that call."

"Run, Adelana!" said Attelus, blood now poured from the cuts in his face and into his eyes and mouth. "Just run, please."

Whether she heard him or not, Adelana gave no sign as she yelled. "Drop the swords!"

"Or you'll what, little girl?" said Serghar. "Only my incompetent son could train someone as foolish as you."

Then another horrific grin spread on Serghar's face. "Ahh, but you are just on time. Hold the little girl, make her watch this."

There was a cry, and Adelana's bolter fired twice, then Attelus heard it being flung onto the sand.

"By the God-Emperor, you three managed to actually do something. I would clap sarcastically for you, but you do not even deserve that. All of you are as incompetent as my foolish son."

Then the sword rose and started to fall.
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Chapter 27

#28 Post by Adrassil »

He heard Adelana scream his name. His mind and sight was a swirling haze, but the view of the descending sword was clear to him. It seemed to move in slow motion. He should've seen this coming; he should've known he was no match for his father. But through it, all six words broke into his mind.

Harden up. You've been through worse.

The words caused a new blast of determination that seemed to chase away the haze and replace it with a hyper-clarity devoid of anger. This was the state of mind that Raloth taught him.

In that split second, he knew what to do.

He drew the knife sheathed on his chest; his left wrist flicked for a throwing knife.

Serghar was less than a centimetre from Attelus' arm when Attelus plunged his knife to the hilt through his father's forearm. While at the same time, Attelus stabbed the throwing knife into the back of Serghar's knee.

Serghar didn't even scream, but his leg gave way, allowing Attelus to kick him in the back, sending Serghar flailing off him like a spooked bird; on the way, Attelus grabbed Serghar's sheathed sword and drew it.

Attelus leapt to his feet and spun on the sand to face Adelana and the agents. He flicked his wrist and threw three knives with inhuman speed.

The first impaled the female agent's hand, which held her blade to Adelana's throat. The second would've embedded in the short swordsman's neck if he hadn't leaned aside it for it to land in his shoulder instead. The third forced the one without a sword, stumbling away.

Attelus activated Serghar's sword and made the distance in a millisecond, just in time to smash away the female's sword as it stabbed for the side of Adelana's neck.

Attelus' roundhouse kick threw her feet from beneath her while in mid riposte.

"Get your bolter!" Attelus snarled as the short swordsman was on them, cutting for Attelus' skull.

Attelus ducked it, just barely and his counter, a horizontal slice for the agent's chest, sent him stumbling back. Attelus would've followed with a stab, but the female was already on her feet and stabbing for his ribs, forcing Attelus to smash it aside.

Her second sword slashed diagonally at his hip as her first thrust. Forcing Attelus into a back-peddle. Both she and the short-swordsman leapt at Attelus as one.

Attelus tilted his head from the female's stab path, ducked the male's slice, and then parried her upward diagonal slash.

He slipped aside her downward vertical cut and sent her away with a snake-like stab for her face.

The short swordsman was suddenly on Attelus' flank, cutting for Attelus' knee. Attelus danced out of its course and snapped out a front kick that smashed into his jaw.

With his boot knife.

The man let out an agonised, horrifically inhuman, muffled scream through his voice modulator. Then Attelus pivoted into a roundhouse kick, throwing the hapless fool off the blade in a spurt of blood and careening into the female.

Adelana's bolter boomed, and it sent back the third agent before he could stab Attelus' arm with a knife.

"Attelus! We've got to go!" She yelled while firing on the female agent, forcing her to dodge and weave the shots.

He wanted to ask why, but then his father was on him.

Attelus barely managed to block his father's thrust, then back-step his slash. For a second, Attelus' eyes met Serghar's and again, they were glazed, glazed with complete and utter anger. Anger so intense that Attelus found his breath locked inside his lungs.

Then his father's sword was flung from Attelus' grasp and sent spinning away. Then Serghar impaled Attelus through the guts.

Adelana's scream echoed through the room, and white-hot agony filled Attelus' every sense.

Attelus gaped like a landed fish; he couldn't move, he couldn't think, he couldn't even scream.

That horrific grin spread across Serghar's face again.

Then Serghar began to twist the blade.

"I would say that now you are unlucky," said Serghar. "Unlucky that we need you alive."

Attelus' mouth opened in a silent scream.

"This is what happens when you defy me," Serghar snarled. "This is the very least you deserve. You are my son. You are meant to be loyal to me to the end. This is your own fault. Yours alone. Time to-"

He was interrupted by Attelus' fist as it smashed into his face, with a throwing knife between his fingers.

Serghar screamed in pain and let go of the sword, allowing Attelus to collapse first to his knees, then on his side. The bloody blade still in him.

His vision began to blacken, the agony beyond belief.

Then a boot smashed against his face.

Adelana fired from the hip that sent Attelus' father fluttering away from kicking Attelus more.

She ran to Attelus and cupped his head in her hand.

"I thought you weren't supposed to kill him!" she cried.

"His enhanced healing factor will prevent his death," said Serghar as he towered over her, the knife still jutting from his face. "While it isn't nearly as effective as ours, it is still enough, just enough. Do you seriously think that I would be so stupid that I would inflict an injury that would kill him? You are even more foolish than I imagined. Although, now it seems like a curse more than a gift."

Adelana raised her bolter, but in a split second, it flew from her grasp. She drew her laspistol, but that was gone just as quickly.

"Stop being foolish," said Serghar. "You are not even a slight threat, my son is a shit stain, but you are worth even less."

Hands grasped Adelana's wrists and, with horrible strength, pulled her arms behind her back.

Serghar bent over, and with slow, sawing relish, he took his sword out of Attelus' stomach.

Blood spewed from the wound and out of Attelus' mouth, it melding into the sand as though it never existed.

Then Serghar kicked Attelus in the wound.

"Stop!" said Adelana. "He's already down! You don't need to do that."

Serghar glared at Adelana; then, he kicked Attelus again and again and again and again.

"You'll kill him," she cried.

"Shut up, little girl," he said. "You have no right to order me around, just like my son has no right to disobey me. He brought this upon himself, remember that."

Adelana bit her lip and tried to quell the sickness roiling in her, knowing if she complained anymore, it'd just encourage this sick, frigged up arsehole to hurt poor Attelus even more.

"Get her up," he said. "We are leaving."

Adelana's eyes widened. "You aren't going to kill me?"

"Of course not," said Serghar. "You are our insurance to make sure he co-operates. You are his girlfriend, after all. He had always been pathetic with the girls, but I must say that I am somewhat impressed you are gorgeous. He has done well."

"He's not my boyfriend," she snapped.

Serghar scoffed and began to turn away but stopped, his jaw-dropping.

Adelana smiled and managed to look over her shoulder.

Dozens of Resurrected were flooding through Attelus' makeshift entrance, their eclectic collection weapons raised.

"It's about time," said Adelana.
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Chapter 28

#29 Post by Adrassil »

The hands holding Adelana let go, allowing her to throw herself to the ground a split second before the darkness was dashed away by the Resurrected las fire.

Before Adelana could think, the three agents and Serghar stood in front of her, and their power swords were blurs as they smashed and deflected the rain of fire.

"I must admit you are clever, little girl," said Serghar through clenched teeth. "Smarter than my disappointing son, at least. Get out of here...We'll, we'll cover your escape. Just make sure the little frig gets to the tower."

Adelana smiled and picked up Attelus, grunting with the effort. Slipping his arm across her shoulders. She looked around and found Attelus' powersword lying amongst the sand only about a metre from the east-side wall. Lucky. Adelana moved as quickly as she could, she went to retrieve it. Keeping low as the fire blazed by and around her.

She scooped up his sword, activated it then plunged it deep into the wall, feeling it penetrate through to the next building. Adelana cut a quick, human-sized hole and, with a roar, kicked it.

Pain shuddered up her leg, and she cried out, bouncing away.

"Emperor damn it!" she yelled, stumbling to keep from falling. "Why do you make this look so easy?"

Attelus didn't answer; of course, he just swayed on her. His blood had begun to soak her cameleoline cloak and bodyglove.

She bit her lip and fought for her limbs to move again, she recognised it as concern, and it threatened to overtake her. Attelus would hate that; he would see it as pity. But it wasn't. She couldn't even begin to pity him.

With a snarl, she forced it away and kicked the wall again. Hoping beyond hope, there weren't any more Resurrected beyond.

With a groan, it fell in and smashed against the ground kicking up red sand.

To her relief, the small corridor beyond was empty, and she glanced back. Serghar and his three agents were locked in close combat. Or locked in slaughter, to be more accurate. She'd watched them massacre their way through the Elbyrans hours before. But this was even more impressive. The Resurrected all seemed to be sliced to bits the moment they charged in. Even though Adelana's eyes couldn't even follow their attacks, she saw the ferocity and desperation fuelling them. She couldn't help wonder how long their superhuman constitutions were going to last.

Adelana started onward, Attelus' powersword held ready, as much as she wanted to retrieve her prized bolter and las pistol, there wasn't enough time.

She had to get to the roof.

She couldn't help let another smile grow across her lips as she stepped into the unknown.

Adelana had no idea whether to go left or right, and she clenched her teeth.

In the back of her mind, the words 'the right way, was the right way' whittled in, and they made her turn rightward, although she couldn't recall who'd said it.

Sudden tears overtook her gaze as she remembered; it was her father.

Adelana swore he was the funniest and strangest father in the galaxy. He'd embarrassed her countless times over the years with his eccentricity and lame jokes. She'd inherited his red and gold hair and light green eyes. He'd died along with everyone else on Omnartus, and she missed him beyond human comprehension. He'd always been there for her even when he was weighed down with the stress of running his dying business-

She rubbed away the tears and thought, he may be dead, but at least he wasn't Serghar Kaltos.

Adelana gave Attelus a glance; he was still unconscious, his handsome face hidden behind an oily brown fringe which clung to his pale skin like the still drying glue her father used to paste separate layers of fabric together.

It seemed whenever anyone amongst those who knew of the destruction began to complain about something; they think at least they don't have it as bad as Attelus.

It was a good way to put things into perspective, to keep from being overtaken by grief, to wallow too much in, in Adelana's opinion anyway, in justified self-pity.

"Emperor, damn it, Attelus," she growled in a bid to try to negate the sound of fighting behind them. "Here I am, saving your butt yet again. I thought you'd learned your lesson about rushing in again? Before, it was your sentiment, wasn't it? But now it's your damned blood lust, wasn't it?"

Attelus' sudden gurgle caused Adelana to flinch and stop. Fear running through her like a near-freezing stream.


The gurgling kept going as blood gushed down his chin. It sounded

Anger overtook her fear, and she fought the urge to throw him on the ground when she saw his blood coated smile.

"What's so damned funny?" she said.

"Y-you just...know me too...well," he said, his hissing voice below a whisper.

Her anger flickered away as quickly as it came, and she started on again. "Sometimes, I wished you'd just die."

"Well," he said. "That' a pointless wish, Adelana. As it...wouldn't last long, apparently."

"You always have a damned comeback, don't you? Anyway, isn't it me who's to learn stuff?"

"D-don't you...Don't you remember what...Raloth s-said? We're...learning, all-all of us...all the time. Except, obviously."

Then he straightened, forcing Adelana to stop at the edge of the corner.

"What is it, Attelus?" she said, although the tightening through her stomach already told her.

"Just as I'd...I'd just learned we aren't alone in here," he said.

He slumped forwards, causing Adelana almost to lose her balance.

"I'm...sorry," he breathed before losing consciousness again.

Adelana wanted to let out a groan, but the light crunching footsteps around the corner caused it to die in her throat.

Something wasn't right, something she couldn't quite comprehend.

With powersword at the ready, she peered around the corner.

Tathe reloaded his laspistol for what seemed the millionth time, but what he knew to be his twelfth from the three remaining clips in his belt pouch and brought it to bear with a swish of his storm coat. He didn't need to aim as he opened up on the baying horde as they fought to fight at the front.

Meanwhile, enemy fire battered against Karmen Kon's kine shield and the Elbyran shots slaughtered. So far, casualties had been minimal, but even so, more and more familiar faces and coloured armour had joined. Most were men Tathe knew fought in the rear or on the north and south flanks. That was of little surprise.

Rage welled within him at the sight of everyone. They were men and women who'd fought with him for years. Who'd given their lives so they could take another step? It sickened Tathe; they were forced to fight after death. They deserved the peaceful release of oblivion after their honourable and admirable service to the Golden Throne.

He never hesitated in killing his former comrades, as every time they died, it allowed the Elbyrans one more step to hopefully, maybe end their purgatory, their enslavement.

Tathe would've shaken his head but kept his attention focused forward. He had to have faith, faith that his father was the key to this, that defeating him would permanently stop the Resurrected from coming back again and again.

He was a cynic; he wasn't faithful any more. But he wasn't really 'faithful' any more in his decades of fighting the Ruinous Powers; he'd seen time and again that something, somewhere was the key to bringing them out of the warp and destroying it was the key in sending them back.

The tower was the key; his father was the key.

All while he was thinking this, Tathe's laspistol seemed to have of its own sentience as it shot and shot.

It was when Tathe's mind came back from introspection into reality when the cultist he'd drawn a bead on exploded.

It only took a second for the cultist's body to bulge and warp, then coat the Resurrected around it in blood and gore.

What stood in the cultist's place sent painful icicles to spear into Tathe's heart. It made him halt as it did every guardsman and throne agent.

The daemon stood head and shoulders taller than any other being about, despite being hunched forward like the worst sort of hunchback. Its tongue snapped and writhed out its forever opened maw and teeth as long as Tathe's index finger coated the top of its mouth. Its scaly skin was such a bright, blood-red; it made Tathe's eyes water. Its eyes gazed gold, a gold so pure that Tathe swore it was the same gold that might have lived at the heart of stars. It was long-limbed and surprisingly slender compared to its height and broadness of shoulders, but its arms were still thicker than Tathe's torso. Its skull elongated to such a height it reminded Tathe of the helms worn by the eldar and to huge, course horns weaved from the sides of its head. It held a sword as long as it was tall, a huge blade meant for two hands, even for a Space Marine, but it held it with one hand as easily as Tathe would hold his laspistol. Its legs caved backwards at the knees and ended in sharp—cloven hooves.

More of the cultists in the crowd followed the first in exploding and transforming into daemons.

Into Bloodletters.

Despite this, Tathe was still smiling, and he activated his vox bead.

"Flame troopers, take point!" he said, slashing his sword down. He'd been expecting this, and almost immaculately and immediately, the flames were at the front.

The daemons began to charge and were met with a wall of flame which bathed them in cleansing fire.

"All units advance," said Tathe. "Cover the flamers with all we have."

It was then Tathe noticed the Guncutter fly overhead from the east, and he was forced to stop the down rush of air from blowing off his cap. It flew down the road and at the back of the Elbyran advance.

"What the hell's going on with that?" demanded Tathe.
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Chapter 29

#30 Post by Adrassil »

Adelana slipped back the split second she saw the Cultist around the corner.

It was about five metres away and moving toward her with a wary slowness uncharacteristic for its kind.

The Cultist hadn't seen her, or else he would be charging like a maniac.

Adelana hissed a curse through clenched teeth. Wishing beyond wishing she'd taken her bolter. She slipped Attelus off her shoulder then sat him against the wall. Attelus was murmuring something, and she willed him to shut the hell up.

She had her hand plastered across Attelus' mouth. She would have liked to shut him up another way, but it wasn't professional and ethically questionable when done to someone barely conscious. Even though she knew he'd like it, for someone apparently trained to hide his emotions and himself, he was about as subtle as a punch to the face in showing his affection for her.

Adelana shook away the thought and glanced around the corner again. The Cultist was still approaching in strange slowness. His tunic was covered in blood, announcing his seniority in his cult, and he carried a chainsword, its teeth coated in bloody bits of human meat, some still with parts of flak armour.

Adelana felt a shiver slide through her; that could mean it was champion. Far out of her league in close combat.

She pulled back and started to gather Attelus up again. She'd need to try the other way.

It was then she heard the jets of the Guncutter through the roof above. The sweeping roaring allowed her to visual Darrance, turning it over the street to aim the lascannons at the building still with Serghar and his agents inside.

Adelana smiled again.

Agent 2k-3 was the first to hear the screeching of the Guncutter's engines.

"Master," she yelled while decapitating yet another Resurrected cultist. "It is Attelus' ship. It is here."

"Yes," said Serghar. "It seems once again I have underestimated my son's little bitch of a girlfriend, again. She is too clever for her own good. Agent 2k-3 go after my son; we still need him to retrieve the sword, so he cannot die here, not yet."

"Yes, master," she said and disengaged with such grace she seemed like a feline on enhancement stimms.

"1k-3, 3k-3," said Serghar. "Cover me."

"Yes, master," said both agents in one voice as Serghar lunged back, and the pair began holding back the horde.

Serghar calculated he had six seconds before 1k-3 and 3k-3 were overwhelmed. That hardly mattered as, like all of Etuarq's servants, Serghar himself included, they were utterly expendable. But Serghar knew for this mission he still needed them. He just hoped they wouldn't look too much into his allowing them to escape with him.

Serghar reached for the small, unassuming knife secretly sheathed behind a pouch on his belt.

The lascannon barrage then started to slaughter the building above them.

Adelana had made it halfway toward the left side of the building when she heard the shout behind her, and she turned.

The Cultist had stepped around the corner, seeing her somehow through the dark with ease. He let out a snarl and burst into a charge, chainsword revving and raised.

She cursed and slipped Attelus off her shoulder, then readied his sword, trying to ignore her heart crashing through her.

The Cultist was on her so fast Adelana had barely any time to react; it moved like one of Serghar's agents; it moved like Attelus.

Adelana barely managed to throw herself back before being decapitated, but in her desperate haste, she slipped on the sand and fell on her back. The next split second, the Cultist was on her, his chainsword held over his head.

But he straightened and spun, and Adelana saw the shadow flitter behind him a split second after a clash echoed into her ears. Another followed that then another as the Cultist fought an assailant Adelana's eyes couldn't follow.

She shook herself back to sanity, stood then started to slip Attelus arm over her shoulder.

The Cultist and his attacker were blurs, gashes, and slashes that just seemed to materialise in the walls and floor.

"Adelana," said Attelus almost in her ear, causing her to flinch. "Give me my sword."


" my frigging...sword, now."

"You're injured."

"I know, frig you, give it, now."

His tone was that of a petulant child; he almost screamed it right in her ear, causing stinging agony to blast through her skull. She did, and he snatched it from her grasp so hard and fast she was almost flung from her feet. Then he was gone, rushing in a blur to join in the fight.

No one with a gut wound should've been able to move, let alone fight. It was easy to forget, even after witnessing him fighting countless times, how inhuman he was.

Attelus only lasted a few seconds before being flung like a rag doll and smashing onto his back at Adelana's feet.

He writhed and screamed so sharply, it caused a primal fear to crash through Adelana. Blood burst from his wound like a geyser.

"Emperor damn it," she yelled and knelt over him. "I told you-"

She was interrupted by the now-familiar slosh, sound of splattering blood and saw the Cultist had been decapitated, it fell to its knees, and Adelana straightened. It was the female agent, the Cultist's blood still evaporating off the powerfield of one of her blades.


"Get him up; we have to move," said the agent.

That was when the last building collapsed under the lascannon barrage in a crashing, deafening cacophony.

Adelana froze, feeling her teeth clench as she fixed her gaze on the agent. The agent didn't seem to care.

"I said, get him up, now."

Adelana did as told, doing as quickly as possible. Attelus grunted and groaned the whole way. How the hell he was still conscious was beyond her.

The agent slipped by them.

"I will lead the way," she said. "I am assuming that you are going to rendezvous with your ship on the roof of this building?"

Adelana fought the urge to ask her about her comrades. "Y-yes."

"Then let us go," she said and started on.

Adelana bit her lip and began to follow.

"Elandria," Attelus gasped.

The agent stopped but didn't turn, and second after

"I...I know it'"

"You can 'know' it all you like, Attelus. It does not mean it is true."

"Elandria?" said Adelana; she'd heard of this Elandria but didn't know much; in fact, she didn't want to know much.

"Oh, she was just his girlfriend, before you, I mean."

"She's not my girlfriend."

"He's not my boyfriend."

They said as one.

"Be quiet," hissed the agent. "And hurry it up."

It took what seemed an age to climb up the stairwell and onto the roof. All the while, Adelana could almost feel Darrance's impatience in her chest the entire agonising time.

Much to her surprise, they never ran into any other Resurrected the entire way, but this was just fuel to the fire of her paranoia. The sound of the Guncutter's engines should have drawn them like a Grox to feed. All this time, Attelus constantly fell in and out of consciousness, his head drooping back and forth, almost like a pendulum.

What surprised her the most was the absence of the roaring engines; when they emerged into the sunlight, Adelana was surprised to see that Darrance had landed on the roof.

Darrance stood on the ramp, glaring at them as Adalana had just drunk his recaf.

"What in the Emperor's name is she doing here?" he snarled, pointing his powersword at the agent.

"Be at peace; I am merely escorting Attelus Kaltos and his girlfriend to safety," said the agent as she stopped and raised her hands.

Adelana, still holding Attelus, fast-walked past the agent and started up the ramp.

"I don't understand," said Darrance. "What in the name of the Warp is going on here?"

Before she could react, Attelus spun to face the agent, Adelana barely managing to keep her feet and keep him up in the process.

"I...know it's you, Elandria," he stammered. "I...can tell by the way you fight...Stop lying."

The agent sighed, although it was distorted, almost beyond recognition. "I may possess her body, but she is long dead. She bled out three years ago, in your arms."

"Then...what are you...?" he gasped, slipping and sliding to keep his feet.

"Attelus," said Adelana. "You need to get to the medicae."

"The master does not possess the knowledge of how to create a perpetual," said the agent. "Hence why he needs you to take the sword. I am Elandria, but I am not; I am a gestalt of souls warped together to create one that reanimates her body, restores it, and enhances it beyond her original capability. I have her skills but nothing else; there is nothing left of her. She is gone, forever."

" your...mask."

The agent shrugged and did, revealing a beautiful, pale visage boarded by a bob cut. Attelus straightened, and Darrance's jaw dropped, and his power scimitar lowered.

"There," she said. "If it makes you happy. Do not look so shocked; you already knew. Now, I must go."

"What about my...father?" said Attelus. "I...he the...same?"

"That, I cannot tell you."

Then she started to turn.

"Why...did you just tell me all of that?" Attelus called, causing her to stop. "It's because she's still in there, somewhere...I wanted me to know...that. You still...have her mind...literally."

"D-don't be a fool, goodbye," said the agent, and her shoulders rose for a brief second before she slipped on her mask again and disappeared down the stairs.

"Elandria," said Attelus, as he slumped again, but so hard and fast that if Darrance hadn't grabbed Attelus' arm, Adelana and he would've fallen on their faces.

"Let's get him inside," Darrance said.

Together, they carried the half-conscious Attelus to the medicae and laid him on the gurney for the servitors; the entire way, he kept murmuring Elandria again and again.

Adelana had a thousand questions for Darrance, but he had to leave for the cockpit.

She could only stand and watch the surgery for a few minutes before Attelus' constant murmuring of that name drove her away and toward her quarters. Trying to blink away, the tears smearing her gaze.
My short story Of An Asur living in the land of Bretonnia:


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