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Cynical Cat

In Memoria

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Jolan sat down cross-legged next to the slaughter scene. Melissandra was nervously laying down cards from the Imperial Tarot down on the deck. She was fidgeting. She didn't read the Tarot, but arranging the cards helped settle her for her visions. She rubbed her hands together and sat down, looking everywhere but at the slaughter across the room.

Power began to spill from the psyker as she tapped into the warp. Jolan extended his perceptions and slipped into the stream with Melissandra. Time did not flow the same way in the warp and traces of events remained imprinted their for those who could find them.

Violent currents buffeted the psyker's souls as Melissandra swam back through the currents towards the past. A pulsing core awaited them, undoubtedly the event itself. Melissandra hesitated at the periphery of the dark event. A massive current suddenly pushed out, washing over both psykers.

They saw a bloody crewman chasing a wounded man into the room. The attacker was caked in gore, his hands twisted into talons. He fell on the wounded man, tearing and ripping at him. The wounded man struck at him with his fists and feet, but the other seemed insensitive to the blows. Other gore streaked crewmen followed in. They surrounded the wounded man and tore him apart with their bare hands.

Then they turned on each other. They bit and clawed and chewed, fighting like wild beasts. They fought on after being mortally wounded, falling only their hearts stopped beating the last bit of blood out their bodies. The winner lasted only moments longer than his last victim. As he fell, a shiny glass marble fell out of his pocket and rolled into a pool of gore. It dissolved, as did the vision.

Jolan blinked and looked around. Melissandra had gotten up. Her fingers curled like cat's claws and madness blazed in her eyes.

The psyker lunged, hands outstretched. Jolan instinctively lashed out with a telekinetic blast. Blue light flashed as he batted Melissandra to the floor. Jolan sprang to his feet as Melissandra flipped back onto her feet. He struck again, but she deflected the blast in a flash of power. Tarot cards fluttered into the air in the aftermath of the clash.

Jolan struck her hard in the solar plexus. She should've dropped. Melissandra was unfazed and gripped his upper arms. Jolan broke her grasp before she tore chunks of flesh out of his arms. He fell back, fending off a rake aimed at his eyes and twisting to avoid a groin strike.

Recket smashed her in the back of the head with his las carbine. The psyker staggered and turned on the Guard veteran. He butt stroked her in the midriff and she folded momentarily. And then she straightened and tore at his groin. Recket back peddled frantically and reversed his grip on his weapon.

Jolan put a las pulse into her left shoulder and another into her right lung. She coughed up blood, but kept coming, her left arm still striking forward to grip the barrel of Yvarine's carbine. Her other hand crawled at his visor. Jolan shot her point blank at the base of the spine and her legs collapsed under her.

Yvarine kneed her in the face, knocking her back freeing himself from her grip. The enforcer backed away and raised his weapon. Jolan raised his hand as he took a step back. Green fire erupted around Melissandra. She did not burn. A blue glue outlined her body as waves of heat emanated from her blazing body.

Then the glow faded in a flash. Her body was reduced to a blackened mannequin in an instant. She fell to the ground, dead.

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Calidan dropped a strongbox on the desk and backed away. "I guess these are the culprits. They don't seem to be active at the moment."

Jolan approached the box. "They are psychoactive. A soul, like yours," he said looking at Calidan, "provides the spark that activates it. It then acts as a conductor to a warp entity. It exposes the user to being influenced and eventual possession. It probably begins with projecting feelings of power, confidence, or ecstasy. The warp entity gains more power over the user as he uses the bauble more and more."

"The one that was used must have been connected to a daemon of Khorne, or something similar. It was almost able to manifest fully. When Melissandra and I chased it's trail back, it was able to take her. She wasn't strong enough to resist."

Kyra nodded. "Excellent work, interrogator. It stands to reason that these were to be sold as luxury items to the wealthy and powerful. Someone got greedy and tried one, with the results we see here. Disposal of these will be easy. The real question is where did these come from?"

"The Eye," muttered Calidan.

"Probably," said Kyra. "But how do they get into the hands of these free traders? And how many more of them are out there?"

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Calidan Vils sprayed autopistol fire into the room and ducked back behind the doorway. "Proximus," he yelled in Cryptia, the secret language of Inquisitor Nevan as he bounced a grenade back into the room. Two seconds latter it exploded, sending shrapnel through the doorway. Jolan Gix, crouching on the other side of the doorway, went low. He snapped las bolts into the room.

Vils went high, going for suppression fire. Two dead men lay on the floor as Vils put rounds into the opposite doorway. "Via!" yelled Gix as he fired into the doorway. Vils leaped to Gix's side and they both ran down the corridor.

There was trouble ahead. The men at the bar had heard the gunfire of the deal going sour in the back room. The huge barkeep, a heavy g worlder just small enough not be classified as an Ogryn, whipped a combat shotgun out from beneath the bar. The big weapon looked like a child's toy in his hands. A bouncer at the door had drawn a handgun and another had ducked into a booth on the opposite side. Something metallic glinted in his hands.

Vils didn't hesitate. He placed a burst in the bartender's head. The hollow points blew out the back of his skull. The bounty hunter was moving even as the bartender fell. Rounds cracked around him, but failed to connect.

Gix charged ahead, firing at the shooter in the booth. Las bolts drove the shooter back into cover as Vils fired at the bouncer in the door. The bounty hunter missed and dived into a booth to reload as wild return fire struck around him.

Gix burned open the man in the booth's skull at point blank range. He turned and raised the stubber in his left hand and fired at back the way he had came to discourage pursuit. Ragged return fire answered him. A slug took him in the chest and he hissed in pain as it impacted on his armour.

The bouncer at the door fired on him. Several bullets missed, one took him in the shoulder. Gix pulsed las bolts back and advanced as he fired blindly at their pursuers with his off hand. One bolt struck the bouncer on his right forearm, burning through to the bone and blasting it open as the water in his tissues exploded into steam. The bouncer screamed and dropped the gun. Gix shot him twice in the torso and then in the head as he advanced on the door. The stubber in his other hand clicked noisily as the interrogator pulled the trigger on an empty magazine.

Bullets flew back at the interrogator. One struck him in the chest, causing him to grunt. One took him in the right thigh and Gix nearly fell as blood streamed from the wound. He fired las bolts back as Calidan Vil chucked another grenade at their attackers and hosed the area with autofire. The bounty hunter darted across the room and towards the exit.

Gix covered him. Calidan hurtled another grenade and reloaded. Then he saw Jolan's wound. "Emperor's Teeth," he swore. "Can you run?"

Jolan grimaced. "No, but I won't have to. Give me a grenade." The bounty hunter tossed him one. The psyker activated it and it zipped like a hornet straight towards their attackers and detonated. "Another." Jolan ordered. Vils complied. It went the same place as the first one. "I think I can make it now."

"Yeah, but lets try to make good time," said the bounty hunter. "And for the record, you were right about the passwords. I think they might have been wrong.'

"You think you might have been wrong?"

"Well, they were criminals. The passwords could have been right and they just decided it would be easier to kill us and take the money."

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Articulated arms closed around the crime lord. Some scanned him, others injected drugs. Others burned, or bored, or manipulated nerves. He screamed. He screamed and screamed and screamed. Answers spewed from his lips, a froth of truths, half-truths, lies, and speculations. Cogitators in the room relayed those answers and matched them against other information. Matches were made, lies detected, paths of inquiry noted. The machine projected the data directly into the interrogator's brain using an display based on power armour autosenses.

The interrogator continued. Lies were punished with even more agony. Drug levels were adjusted. Question were reasked. New ones were whispered. New tool arms curled into position. New torments applied. Flesh was rent and senses distorted. The interrogator pressed on.

The victim was trapped in a timeless hell. His own sense of identity was lost as it was peeled from him with the ruthlessness of a spider. The interrogator pressed on, the cogitators recorded and processed new answers. Finally, the body failed under the stress. He was revived and left hanging for another session. He would need to recover some of his strength. Jolan Gix left the room.

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The interrogator slid curled his toes on the fur carpet. He wore a heavy brocade robe lined with mink and his skin was still wet from the shower. It felt good to be removed from the claustrophobic nightmare of the interrogation cell. Across the room, Kyra waited. She was wearing a loose maroon robe. A regicide board sat on the table before her. "Join me," she said.

Jolan sat down opposite of her. "A hard session," she continued. "How did it go?"

"It was productive. We have a good list to begin. A lot of points match up."

"Good," she said as she made her opening move. "It's also good that you switched methods of investigation when your first one wasn't working."

Jolan shrugged and made his move. "You don't like torture much, do you?" she asked.

"I'm good at it," he responded. "It doesn't matter if I like it. It matters if I do it when it's appropriate and if it gets results."

Kyra smiled. "True." She made another move. "It's been . . . .what about a year?"

"Thirteen months," Jolan replied. "As you well know." He studied the board.

"You've shown your mettle in that time. You've made mistakes, but those are important to make. The real test is how you react to those mistakes. Some think they need to become tougher, more ruthless."

"I'm ruthless enough," he replied. He moved a piece forward. It wasn't a traditional counter. Kyra eyed the board carefully.

"Yes, you are. You didn't respond to challenges with bravado, but with cunning. You didn't try to become tougher, but better." She moved a different piece.

He looked at her. She looked her student straight in the eye. "Do you know who does this job well, Jolan Gix? Do you know who should do this job?"

"You seem to have the answer."

"So do you. I want to hear yours."

"No one is good enough at this job."

Kyra smiled. "That's right. No one is good enough. Not even the Emperor is good enough. You've seen the real histories. You've seen all the warnings that there was something wrong with the Primarchs. And did he act well? If he was an inquisitor and not the Emperor would you say he handled the situation well?"

Jolan's jaw worked. He was silent. "No," he finally replied.

"Yes. We do an impossible job. A job that must be done. We err. We fail. We flail around blindly way out of our depth. And hope we do the job well enough that it makes the difference. To truly be an inquisitor, one must understand how inadequate you are to the task. But the task must be done and if an inquisitor is inadequate, how much worse will anyone else be? So we must do it."

Jolan's jaw clenched. "The implications-"

"Yes," she replied. "It takes a while for most inquisitors to figure this out, let alone to be ready for this, but you are. The highest duty of an inquisitor is to purge the unworthy from our ranks. The brutal thugs that think all problems are nails and that the solution to everything is a hammer. Those who lose sight of the goal in search of the means to accomplish it. Those who are rigidly doctrinaire and who will not bend, not matter how much will be accomplished. The spiritual deviates who have bent too far and are loyaler to esoteric philosophies and strange plans than the Imperium itself. Those who have been corrupted by power so that they believe what is good for them is good for the Imperium. These are among the most serious threats the Imperium faces. And thus you know the Inquisition's most carefully kept secret. We war against ourselves."

"I suspected as much. Not that it was this bad, but in Schola the expected answer was always the right answer. Sometimes that meant being rigidly doctrinaire, sometimes that meant being flexible. And you had to know when to be which."

"Yes. The war happens at all levels, although few understand it to actually be a war. Most don't perceive enough of it to really see it as anything other than a series of philosophical debates that occasionally lead to heresy. But you do, Jolan."

"Why tell me now?"

"Because I have seen you are ready to hear it. I've trained seventeen interrogators of which eleven have become inquisitors. I've had this talk with six of them. You'll make seven. Including yourself, four live."

"You're part of a faction."

"In a way," she replied. "And you have been a part of a faction since you came to Schola. But the question remains, are you an ignorant pawn or a regent?"

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The giant strode through the vast hall, impervious to the sights before him. Although he was not Astartes, he could easily be mistaken for one such was his stature. A burgundy robe pocked with burn holes shrouded oil slick black powered armour. The armour was not that on the Astartes, but marked with the gold seals of the Inquisition.

The grand hall was strewn with bodies. Some shredded by bolter fire, others crushed, blasted open, incinerated, or blasted open by las fire. There were hundreds of them. Many had died at the inquisitor's hand.

The black armoured storm troopers that stood at the gilded door let two humans enter. Kyra Neven and Jolan Gix entered, long coats swirling over armoured body gloves. The stench of day old corpses did not appear to faze Inquisitor Neven. Interrogator Gix seemed to slip from olive coloured to green.

The massive inquisitor removed his helmet, revealing the horror that was his face. Both inquisitors started at the sight. Ravaged, cicatrice covered skin was stretched over his skull. Gold sutures held seams together. Cold, unfeeling eyes peered from the mask of his face.

"Kyra, it is a pleasure to see you again," the inquisitor said in a smooth baritone.

"Maladar, this is my new interrogator Jolan Gix." She gestured at the room. "Heavy handed as always."

"It works. But I encountered something interesting. I need your expertise."

"You've peaked my curiosity."

"I've left the scene undisturbed so not to taint your inquiry."

"Other than the massacre and the rotting."

Massive shoulders shrugged. "Just because you prefer to sneak around first and massacre second, doesn't mean I have to do it that way." The huge man strode to a single body. He pulled the cowl away. A tattoo was revealed. "Recognize this?"

Kyra knelt. "Yes, that's it. After all these years, he was here."

"I thought so. How do you wish to proceed?"

"You always made a good beater. I'll be waiting when you flush the game."

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"There is history between you and this cult magos," said Jolan.

Kyra was silent for a moment. "There is a kind of fear you do not know. It is the fear of blunt confronted by a psyker strong enough to discard you like a toy. He killed my team and tossed me down a lift shaft. It took two years and the best augmentics from Mars for me to recover from the damage. His cult has popped up on several far scattered worlds, always found after he has left and the damage has been done. Since that day I have always carried Hexagrammic wards and made sure that I have a powerful psyker on my staff. You're my insurance against that ever happening again."

"And Maladar?"

"My chief student before you. And my psychic shield and sword before you. His appearance, that is something new but his brutality and directness are the same old Maladar."

"And where does he fall on your list?"

"One who is an asset. He realizes there are other valid methods. He just sticks with the ones he likes."

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The troopers hit the room firing. The ragged band of cultists took cover behind the gallery's pillars and returned fire with sluggers and autoguns. Imperial fire teams leapfrogged forward, firing as they came. Cultists fell, spilling blood on the floor as their bodies were blown open. Behind the soldiers of the Imperium came Kyra Neven and her retinue.

Yvarine Recket wielded a heavy caliber, drum fed autogun. He sprayed pillars with heavy fire, blasting chunks out of them and covering the Imperial advance. Vils stalked near him, pulsing las bolts across the long hall. To exit the hall and reach the starport pad beyond, the cultists would have to break cover. And then they would be Vils's meat.

A pulsing mist coalesced in the center of the room. It was a mix of softly glowing lime and cyan clouds. It drifted towards the Imperials. It enveloped one man and he stood blinking, oblivious to his surroundings. A burst of gun fire tore open his face and he fell.

The cloud shimmered and halted. Swirling bands of cobalt light surrounded the cloud, binding it in place. Jolan Gix bared his teeth. "I can't hold this for ever!"

Kyra ran up the side of the gallery with the speed of a championship sprinter, her coat trailing behind her. Recket followed behind her, autogun barking. Bullets flew around them, one splattering itself on her ceramite breastplate.

The long barrelled bolt pistol in her hand blew open the chest of a cultist and drove two others back into cover. A cultist partially emerged from behind the pillar and a burst from her bolt pistol severed his right arm just below the shoulder. He fell screaming. She could see Keranor before her, shrouded by a haze of pastel colours.

She ejected the clip and reached for one of the clips of psyk out rounds. A huge bearded man lunged at her from the behind a nearby pillar, knocking the bolter out of her hand and carrying her to the floor. He had forty centimeters and at least fifty kilos on her and was on top to boot.

She threw him off and sprung to her feet. She didn't bother reaching for her powerblade. The giant was regaining his feet. She shattered his jaw with her fist, crushed his sternum with a second blow, and stove in the left side of his chest with a finishing kick before he hit the ground.

She scooped up her bolter and caught a bright flash out of the corner of her eye. She straightened to see Kerandar surrounded by jade flames. The swirling pastel haze contracted under the pressure of the the hellish flames. She fired. The psyk out rounds blew open the magos' chest in a spray of blood, bone, and viscera. A split second latter and he was burning. It seemed that Jolan Gix could do more than hold.

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Maladar walked past through the perimeter of armed guards around the courthouse. They acknowledged his authority and let him through the edifice of Imperial law and authority. A junior Arbites showed him down long, dark staircases illuminated by holo torches. In these ancient and inaccessible precincts, he found Kyra Neven.

The inquisitor turned and smiled. "Maladar, good to see you."

Maladar nodded. "I heard you got him."

Kyra smiled. "Yes. He was-" she was interrupted by a door sliding open. Jolan Gix walked through, his coat splattered with blood. His posture was firm, resolute. Kyra continued, "barely able to hold off interrogator Gix. I can't say if he would have won the fight, because I shot him before it was over."

Maladar's gaze drifted over the interrogator. He had seemed unspectacular when he had first seen him, without the power and presence that Maladar always found with inquisitors and those interrogators who made the cut. But to fight Kerandar was no easy task and here he stood, a meek and obedient subordinate. With blood all over him.

"Jolan?" Kyra asked.

"He won't give anything up under pain so far. I think he's been conditioned. So I've got the machine dosing him. With some suggestibility drugs in his system, he might give something up after being sufficiently disorientated and confused. And if that doesn't work, we can take him apart in full view of the other prisoner. We do it messy and slow enough, his own fears might break him."

"Good," replied Kyra.

"Pity about Kerandar," Jolan said. "I would have liked to plumb his secrets. But at least he is no longer a problem."

A watcher. One who gathers information before striking. Maladar had mistaken Jolan's ability to fade into the background as docility. This one preferred to strike from shadows, the cunning plan to the direct assault. But he did not shirk from a fight, according to Calidan Vils.

Maladar turned his awful gaze upon the young interrogator. Gix's posture signaled submission, a signal that was unmistakable to a trained inquisitor. But his gaze was firm. No coward here. Let us see what time makes of Jolan Gix.

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Jolan arced through the air, twisting and turning for ten meters, before he hit the water. He shot down through the pools depths, kicking towards the surface. A few powerful strokes took him to the side of the pool. He pulled himself out with a single surge.

"Nice," said Calidan Vils. He tossed the interrogator a towel. The bounty hunter was lounging on a chair, with bottles of three different kinds of alcohol beside him. The sunlight coming through the armoured glass made the pool house oppressively warm, but Jolan liked the heat. Sometimes he felt that he had spent most of his life being cold. The cells under the governor's palace, the Black Ship, and the Schola had been cool at best and frozen at worst.

Jolan shrugged. "Lots of gymnastic training. I didn't have a bruiser's build, so my training emphasized speed and agility." And a lot of intense weight training, because the instructors had no use for scrawny weaklings of any kind. Life and death struggle was a given for an inquisitor's life and the Schola had done its best to prepare its student for that reality. "I have to say-"

A beeping interrupted him. It was the com sitting by his chair. Jolan strode over to it and picked it up. Kyra's voice came through. "Iron Lady covets Pupil."

He hadn't mastered Cryptia yet. Kyra used it a lot to as a means of encouragement. "Pupil via Iron Lady. Time suspended, the holding of breath."

He walked out of the pool house down the long carpeted corridors to his quarters. He changed out of his swimming trunks and into heavy weave trousers and tunic. He slipped on a pair of comfortable shoes and headed towards the stairs to the sanctum.

His hand print and a secondary code opened the armoured door to him. The series of secret rooms contain Kyra's most secure secrets. The holo table in front of him displayed a vast network of stars floating in mid air. Glowing red and green lines formed tangled paths of connections.

"You've been working on the pattern," he said. Kyra looked up. She wore on her usual armoured body gloves. She would be willing to wear the most revealing fashions or the grubbiest coveralls if necessary, but her preference was for business like functional garb. Jolan followed her lead in such matters.

She looked up at him and said nothing. Jolan switched to Cryptia. "Iron Lady stalks the web." She nodded. And pointed to a star. Then she spoke in High Gothic. "An intersection of routes. Not only our ship, but that of another. And the trail of a chaos cult exterminated by Maladar last year."

"A recently reclaimed world," said Jolan consulting the data displayed on the tables matte finish. "Wasn't it cleansed?"

"Yes, but the inquisitor assigned to the planet died in the taking of its capital. Arbites and Guard gave the capital a thorough screening and their have been no additional incidents."

"That we know of."

"Yes, and the Inquisition has been busy with real problems in this sector."

"Too much work, too few men. So we caught it. I take it we are going to investigate."

"Yes. And one other matter. You are no longer Pupil. You have established yourself as something besides a student. It should have been done earlier, Infernas, but it is done now. We will burn out the Emperor's foes together."

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Jolan Gix walked down the long halls of the Administerium building. It was a huge edifice of ferrocrete and ceramite, less than two decades old. Holopicts of saints and heroes, particularly the heroes of the last crusade, glowed along its walls. The floor was a checkerboard of polished marble and the ceiling was twenty meters above him. Along the sides legions of clerks and minor functionaries processed data and went about the varied tasks of bureaucracy.

Jolan walked up to the appropriate line (having been redirected twice) and waited twenty minutes for the robed acolyte to get to him. Jolan stood, straightened his uniform, and presented his data slate and papers to the clerk. "I am Major Gareth of the Imperial Guard. I have a schedule Seven-six-B form and an Gamma-three form here, as per standard protocol."

The clerk looked over the forms. "This is a most unusual request. We don't usually get requests from the Guard about retired soldiers."

Jolan smiled blandly. "Yes, it is. But my request is in order."

"Yes, it is. But why-"

"Need to know. You'll have to file the appropriate papers with the Guard."

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Hethor pointed on the schematics. "It was right about here." Kyra looked closely at it.

"How sure are you?"

"I'm sure." The big veteran was acutely conscious of the junior officer watching his back. Well, Hethor had dealt with a long line of lieutenants and junior captains in his career. Some of them were almost as bad as Commissars.

The pretty boy tapped the edge of the map. "If you suspect the Imperial Commander has been compromised, he's not just going to let us search the palace without doing something to interfere."

"You think he'll defy the lawful authority of the Inquisition?" Kyra asked innocently.

"Knock it off. We both know 'accidents' happen. And criminals and heretics might come out of the wood work and suddenly decide to kill us. Or we could simply be delayed while something happens to the site. Or he could have his guard gun us down and then bury the incident."

Well, the pretty boy was smarter than most lieutenants.

Kyra smiled. "You suggestion, Interrogator Gix?"

"We sneak in. Just like you are planning to do." He smiled back. It was a predator's grin.

"The Grand Palace of Illiza is quite a massive structure. All sorts of people have legitimate business being there." Her grin answered his.

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The four Adeptus walked down the long corridor. It had been painstakingly restored to pre-war status with its marble statues of saints and heroes, huge stained glass windows, and immaculately polished checkerboard floors. One could not tell that the Grand Promenade had ever taken any damage.

But people still felt there was something wrong. Maybe it was haunted by some of those who fell fighting here, maybe the taint of Chaos had never entirely removed, or maybe it was the minds of men playing tricks. Whatever the cause, the Grand Promenade was deserted at night.

Holo torches on the wall provided some illumination as they marched down the corridor. One of them abruptly stopped in front of a niche.. "Here," said Hethor D'eckor. "Different statue, but this is the place.

"There isn't any room here," Yvarine said in disgust. "Unless it's hidden."

"Wasn't hidden when we took it," Hethor grunted. "Maybe they walled over it."

"No," said Jolan Gix. "There is something here. A psychic residue." He touched the engraving around the wall of the niche. "This one," he said touching an skull that was slightly shinier than it's neighbors. He twisted it. The other side of the niche opened.

"****, that's slick," Yvarine said. "I didn't see it at all."

Hethor withdrew the shotcannon he was packing under his robes. "I'm ready."

A smile touched Kyra's lips. "By all means, let us proceed."

The door silently swung open. Inside was as black as a dark eldar's heart. Jolan flashed a beam inside, revealing a large room. He cautiously advanced, Hethor behind him.

The interrogator touched a control inside, causing lights to flicker on overhead. The room was blackened and scorched, the grim testament to the efforts of the cleanse and burn team. Other than a set of shelves with a few strange lumps the room as an unremarkable square. Kyra followed her pupil in. Yvarine remained outside to cover their rear.

"I was expecting something a little more impressive," Kyra mused. "Jolan, if you would?"

"With pleasure madam," said Gix. He pulled out a particularly arcane auspex and touched several runes. The device hummed and projected several glowing glyphs.

Hethor prowled the room. This place made him uneasy. There was something deeply wrong here, he could feel it. "There's a false floor," Jolan said. "The floor is made of a composite to try to fool scans into thinking its solid underneath."

"Clever," said Kyra. "Now we have to find our way in." Jolan frowned and began examining to floor.

"I don't see it," said the interrogator. "Didn't spare any effort on this one."

"Like the door," said Kyra. "Keep looking. Put those fiendish instruments of yours to good use."

Jolan consulted his devices. He ran another scan. And then another, inches from the floor. "Emperor's Teeth! I can find the joins, but no sign of how to open this thrice-cursed thing up."

Kyra sighed. "Ah well. So much for subtlety." Her voice changed, becoming harsh. "Crack it."

"Everyone stand back," Jolan commanded. After everyone had retreated to the edge of the floor the interrogator extended his hands and pointed at the center of the floor.

The floor exploded silently upwards. The fragments drifted slowly back down to the room beneath like leaves in autumn. The debris settled on the floor. The room had a single set of stairs leading about two and a half meters down. It was bare, except for a complex design now covered by the rubble and a heavy chest.

"Throne," Hethor swore softly.

"Hmm," said Kyra. "A treasure chest. I wonder-" the half buried symbol began to glow. Things began to coalesce beneath them. They were vaguely humanoid, with rough golden skin like a crocodile. Their heads were circled by a crown of horns and their hands were tipped with vicious talons.

Jolan raised his las pistol and shot the closest one to the stairs three times in the chest. The bright white beam burned through its hide and deep into its chest. It didn't faze it. It leaped up the stairs.

Kyra blew it apart with a burst from her psycannon. The pieces began to dissolve into ectoplasmic mist even before they hit the rubble. The death of the first one did not deter the pack. The next two were already on their way up.

Kyra's blew off the arm of the next one at the shoulder before it crashed into her. The inquisitor fell back against the wall as the daemon grappled with her. It butted her in the head with its crown of horns and reached towards her throat with its remaining claw.

The third daemon rushed towards Gix. Thunder roared in the confined space as Hethor opened up with the shotcannon. The daemon's hip and thigh were blow open, flesh was torn apart and bone shattered. The next burst blew its head to pulp. The fourth leaped up at Hethor.

A blazing lance of cyan psychic force intercepted it. The daemon was smashed to floor and blown to ash. Jolan turned towards Kyra.

The inquisitor's rebuilt skull and neck withstood the headbutt. With her right hand she caught the daemon's arm at the wrist. With her other she pulled a power blade from under her robe. She stabbed the daemon in the abdomen and yanked up. The blade went through the daemon's chest, opened up daemon's throat, and up into the skull.

Kyra pushed the dissolving corpse to the floor. Bubbling goo covered her robe. She ignored it and strode forward. "Jolan, any psi residue on the chest?" Her voice gave no sign that she had a cut on her forehead and that she had just been in hand to hand combat with a creature of the warp.

"Yes, but it isn't the chest. It's something inside."

She turned off the power blade and handed the ornate dagger to the interrogator. "Crack it."

Jolan thumbed the blade on and stabbed the lock. Gix twisted. Metal screamed as it was torn. With a jerk, Jolan threw the lid open. Inside, hundreds of crystal spheres glittered with a familiar light.

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The front facade of the Grand Palace exploded, showering the front courtyard with marble fragments. Black armoured Arbites shock troops rushed forward as fighting vehicles raked the palace with autocannon and heavy stubber fire. Jolan Gix turned away from the display. "So, the governor was in on it."

"Probably," replied Kyra. "Either that or his chosen retainers were easily corrupted. Either way its a death sentence." She handed a data slate over to Jolan. "Nice work."

"Thank you. Just a matter of matching data. More trails to check. Interrogation will reveal more avenues of investigation."

She smiled. "You're coming along nicely. What do you think of Sergeant D'eckor?"

"He's good in a fight. Steady, even when those daemons appeared. Uneducated, but not stupid. A lot of valuable battlefield experience. We can use him."

"I agree. And it is preferable to shooting him for knowing too much."

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The fat man reclined in his chair. He handed the flimsy back to Gix. The seal of the Guilder Bank was displayed prominently in the corner. "Your credit is impeccable Maistre. I am sure we will be able to do business."

"Wonderful," said Gix, drawing out the syllables of the word. The wore a loose fitting crimson robe over a tunic, pants, and shirt. A gold band constrained his hair. The room was boiling hot, but the custom was against climate control in most places. Instead the wealthy wore extra layers of clothes and carried personal cooling units in a display of conspicuous consumption. "I am most interested in the exotics produced by your interests," he continued languidly. "They should sell very well."

A bronzed servant in a long kilt and sleeveless tunic came by with a silver platter. "Some refreshment?" his host asked.

"Delighted." Balancing the platter in one hand, the servant poured with the other, filling two glasses with an amber liquid. He then put the pitcher down on the platter and placed the glasses in front of his betters.

Gix sipped the cool cider made from the pericha fruit. Delicious. A side door opened. A short, tubby man wearing a simple white robe entered. Gix could see the power around him. Apriggo Vanx spoke again. "Maistre Glinn, may I present an associate of mine, Dominus Vain? He is very skilled in these particular-"

Gix wasn't paying attention to his words. Vain wasn't a registered psyker and for that alone he was the Inquisition's prey. He saw Vain's power despite his attempts to conceal it. And Vain knew he had been seen. Vain knew also that cells his own cult had distant relationships with had vanished. And he also knew that he did not face a foppish young noble, but a psyker skilled enough to spot him. Jolan only had a few seconds before he reacted.

Throne! I wish I had been able to dig deeper. His hand was already diving for a pistol a he slammed a bolt of telekinetic force at the chaos cultist. Vain staggered, but did not fall. Jolan triggered his vox. "Infernas, the heavens burning," he cried out in Cryptia. A powerful had gripped his wrist before he could bring his pistol to bear.

Outside Hethor D'eckor reacted. He whipped out his stubber and put two rounds into the face of the guard in front of him, splattering blood and brains over the polished marble floor of the great hall. The other had his gun half drawn when Hethor put two in his chest, dropping him. Another two went into his face as Hethor charged the door. He could hear footsteps echoing behind him. Two bullets past, too close for comfort.

The servant grabbed Jolan by the neck with his other hand and hauled him up. Jolan's cooling suit was armoured against lases, cutting weapons, and projectiles, but wasn't much use against have his throat crushed. A spear of telepathic force tried to break his mind and scatter his thoughts. It shattered on his shields.

He didn't bother striking the bodyguard-servant. He outweighed Jolan almost two to one and the interrogator didn't have much space to strike. Instead he telekinetically juggled the hellpistol to his other hand. The free one. He blew a hole in the servant's chest, in the general vicinity of his heart. His grip slackened and Jolan freed himself from the dead weight.

Hethor crashed into the room, stubber in his hand. He fired on Vain, but the bullets ricocheted away. A telepathic blast dropped him like steer in a slaughterhouse.

Vain was strong, probably stronger than Gix. But not as well trained, not as disciplined. And Gix's strongest powers had yet to be fielded. The interrogator's eyes glowed with and eldritch light. A volley of hellish green bolts of witch fire leaped from his eyes. Vain stepped back, on the defensive. His defences held as he took a moment to gather strength for a brutal telepathic counter attack designed to burn out the young psyker's mind.

Too late. Gix had hit Vain hard enough to keep him off balance, so Gix could truly bring his full might to bear. Beams of blue-white flame poured from eyes. Vain's shields, already battered but holding, failed for a moment. If Vain hadn't been diverting some of his power and attention for a counter attack, they probably would have held. But he did and Gix only needed a moment.

Vain was blasted to ash. The wall behind him blackened. Jolan fell to one knee as the exertion caught up with him. He turned he head towards the door way, where he could hear more guards coming.

Apriggo Vanx struck. He was not strong, swift, or skilled. But he had been forgotten. He struck Jolan in the side of the head with the crystal pitcher, which shattered on impact. Gix hit the floor, blood pouring from lacerations on his cheek and scalp. Then holes were blown open in Vanx's chest and he fell.

Hethor dropped the empty stubber and rolled into the doorway, las pistol in hand. The guards were much closer now. Two fired as they came. Several rounds came close as the veteran rapidly and methodically placed his shots. He killed three and they broke to the side. Hethor dropped a fourth before they left Hethor's field of vision.

He rolled up and out of the way. His head hurt like he had been on the receiving end of an ork boot. No matter. He just had to hold out until help came. Jolan crawled up, getting to hand and knees. He was stripping off the bulky, bloodstained robe. Half of his face was covered in blood. Gix barred his teeth in a wolf's grin and gripped his pistol. Hethor smiled back. A lot of people were going to have a very bad day.

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Jolan ran his thumb along the scar on his cheek. The surgeon had done a good job of repair, but he would carry this mark to his grave. "It was a bust," he said with disgust.

"Not totally," said Kyra as she placed a glass in front of him. "Drink up. We cleaned out a nest of heretics. Still a win."

"We didn't crack the network," said said with disgust. "They'll continue to move around and go to ground. We lost an opportunity."

"We haven't given up yet," Kyra said. "And we have far much information of their past activities. A lot of leads to run down. Some of them will bear fruit. Patience, Jolan. You aren't even thirty yet. We're tearing up cults that have been in operation for decades. In this little war at least, we're winning. Now drink up."

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Alexos watched his guests drink and debauch themselves. The vaulted chambered was packed, as befitted one of his parties. Three groups of dancers, bathed in multicoloured lights, moved in through various sexual positions. Richly dressed nobles sucked on hookahs, snorted powders, or drank intoxicants of one kind or another. Some were engaging in sexual acts with their paramours or peers.

Alexos accepted greetings and congratulations from his guests. Hands patted him, lips touched. He smiled and moved on. His master would be very pleased and soon Alexos would be promoted to the next circle. Already he had been marked, although not in a way most would notice. It was a most useful sign of favor and it would-

Well, well, well. What was this? The beautiful gutter morsel Anjun Chou was here, which wasn't unusual. But the gorgeous stranger with him was. He was a dark haired, handsome man wearing crimson and ebony silks. His skin was unusually dark for a hive dweller. Chou put his hand on the stranger's shoulder and whispered something into his ear.

Alexos walked toward them, swatting away a hand that groped at his crotch. The stranger smiled. He had a scar on his left cheek. "Alexos!" Anjun called out.

"Who is this tasty dish?" Alexos asked.

"This is Jeslen. He's from off world. He's interested in a good time and of course I thought of you."

Jeslen extended his hand. "Nice party," he said.

"Thank you. Where are you from?"

"Zrenka. My family is the second largest stake holder in the Straker Combine. Nearly a third of our beasts end up on the tables on this world."

"How fascinating," Alexos lied.

"Peasant work. It's as dull as all hell. But the money comes in useful when one is looking for amusement."

"Well, you've come to the right place," replied Alexos. It would take him two nights tops to get this tasty treat into his bed. He gave Chou a covert signal. Chou was taken aback for a moment and replied. Between his charms, the aphrodisiac musk that his perfume helped conceal, and drugs from Chou he would get Jeslen into his bed whether he was willing or not.

"I can see I have," replied Jolan Gix.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Don't drink anymore," Chou hissed in Jolan's ear. The interrogator smiled at the next party goer and nodded.

"Why not?" he replied.

"Alexos is going to try to drug you if you play hard to get," Chou hissed back. He didn't much like the inquisitor or her lackey, but he had a very good idea of what would happen to Anjun Chou's one and only arse if anything happened to Jolan Gix. The thug Hethor had given him a quick tour of the autorack and that had been enough to give him nightmares. Inquisitors didn't have a reputation for being forgiving.

Jolan smiled and waved. He put an arm around Chou's shoulder and dragged him to a darkened corner. "How unpleasant of him," he replied. Jolan through himself down on a mound of cushions and dragged Chou down with him. "I suppose I can stall him by claiming voyeurism is my thing, but not for very long. How soon until he introduces me to his friends?"

"A lot of them are here. As for the rest, I don't know. I've been to a few of his secret parties and they do these weird ritual things, but I don't see anything really heretical."

"You know names?"

"No. Everyone wears masks and these strange robes that expose half of your chest. Not that those stay on too long."

"Do the masks come off as well."

"A few times. I recognized a few people, Alexos's close friends." He saw the look on Jolan Gix's face. He was smiling like a shark. "What is it?"

"I'm going to give Alexos what he wants."

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The young noble screamed as the arms of the autorack closed around him. Jolan Gix smiled and turned to Kyra. "I don't think this is what he had in mind when I suggest we go to my lodgings."

The inquisitor smiled. "Hmm. You may be right about that." She touched several runes. Nerve inductors around his toes sent the sensation of his flesh being seared off into his central nervous system. "Torture is often ineffective against Slaaneshi."

"Only the most deeply warped are that resistant. This one might be corrupt, his pain threshold is certainly high, but he certainly isn't screaming in pleasure. No, we'll break him soon. Alternating stimuli combined with drugs and rest intervals will make him pliable."

Anjun Chou leaned in the corner, wanting to vomit. Alexos hadn't really been a friend, but he had betrayed him to torture easily enough. What the inquisitor was doing was unspeakable. No one deserved this.

Gix turned his head. "Chou, he won't be missed right?"

Anjun's throat felt dry and raspy. He swallowed. "Yeah. They'll assume he's on a long bender. His servants know he left with you. But if he's not back in a couple of days . . . ."

"He'll be broken by then. On the off chance he isn't, we'll make something up."

Chou swallowed. The inquisitor and her protege went back to discussing torture methods. Anjun wanted to get out of this hell. The trick would be how to do it. He had a feeling the moment he wasn't useful, the inquisitor was going to put a bullet into the back of his skull and consider another loose end tied up.

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Anjun was working his through a decanter of amnasec under the cold gaze of Calidan Vils when Jolan Gix burst into the room. He wore an equipment harness over his blood streaked body glove. He face was twisted in barely controlled fury. Anjun shrank back.

"Why didn't you mention him before?!" Gix yelled. Chou backed up over the couch in terror. An invisible force slammed him against the wall and pinned him like a bug. Gix strode over to him. The interrogator was walking through the air, his feet thirty centimeters off the floor. Jolan's merciless glare was inches from face. "Is it true?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Anjun babbled. "I don't know what you think I did!"

"Karl Vallec," growled Jolan.

"He came to some of the parties," Chou blurted. "Lots of up stack people go."

"Alexos said that Vallec was the one who brought him in."

"I don't know anything about that. I didn't see him at that cult thing. Please!"

Gix stared at him intently a moment. Then the force let go and Chou slumped to the floor.

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"Karl Vallec?" Kyra asked. "As in-"

"Yes. Eldest son and heir of Imperial Commander Azlan Vallec. According to Vils and Chou, the rumor mill has it that Karl kidnaps, *****, and kills with impunity."

"If this comes out, the Vallecs can kiss their position good bye, if any of them manage to survive. So we can forget about local cooperation."

"What about the Arbites?" Jolan asked.

Kyra shook her head. "They might act, but the PDF outnumbers them and the commander's palace is a fortress. We can't important substantial forces from off world with any kind of secrecy in the time frame we have and if we can get local commanders to come on board, the attack plan will probably leak. Civil war on a subsector capital and industrialized system. The cost in lives and material will be immense, but better by far than letting this world fall to the Arch-Enemy."

Jolan taped the holo table. "I'm beginning to have an idea. There might be another way."

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Jolan Gix walked down the long halls of the Administerium building. It was a huge edifice of ferrocrete and ceramite, less than two decades old. Holopicts of saints and heroes, particularly the heroes of the last crusade, glowed along its walls. The floor was a checkerboard of polished marble and the ceiling was twenty meters above him. Along the sides legions of clerks and minor functionaries processed data and went about the varied tasks of bureaucracy.

Jolan walked up to the appropriate line (having been redirected twice) and waited twenty minutes for the robed acolyte to get to him. Jolan stood, straightened his uniform, and presented his data slate and papers to the clerk. "I am Major Gareth of the Imperial Guard. I have a schedule Seven-six-B form and an Gamma-three form here, as per standard protocol."

The clerk looked over the forms. "This is a most unusual request. We don't usually get requests from the Guard about retired soldiers."

Jolan smiled blandly. "Yes, it is. But my request is in order."

"Yes, it is. But why-"

"Need to know. You'll have to file the appropriate papers with the Guard."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hethor pointed on the schematics. "It was right about here." Kyra looked closely at it.

"How sure are you?"

"I'm sure." The big veteran was acutely conscious of the junior officer watching his back. Well, Hethor had dealt with a long line of lieutenants and junior captains in his career. Some of them were almost as bad as Commissars.

The pretty boy tapped the edge of the map. "If you suspect the Imperial Commander has been compromised, he's not just going to let us search the palace without doing something to interfere."

"You think he'll defy the lawful authority of the Inquisition?" Kyra asked innocently.

"Knock it off. We both know 'accidents' happen. And criminals and heretics might come out of the wood work and suddenly decide to kill us. Or we could simply be delayed while something happens to the site. Or he could have his guard gun us down and then bury the incident."

Well, the pretty boy was smarter than most lieutenants.

Kyra smiled. "You suggestion, Interrogator Gix?"

"We sneak in. Just like you are planning to do." He smiled back. It was a predator's grin.

"The Grand Palace of Illiza is quite a massive structure. All sorts of people have legitimate business being there." Her grin answered his.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The four Adeptus walked down the long corridor. It had been painstakingly restored to pre-war status with its marble statues of saints and heroes, huge stained glass windows, and immaculately polished checkerboard floors. One could not tell that the Grand Promenade had ever taken any damage.

But people still felt there was something wrong. Maybe it was haunted by some of those who fell fighting here, maybe the taint of Chaos had never entirely removed, or maybe it was the minds of men playing tricks. Whatever the cause, the Grand Promenade was deserted at night.

Holo torches on the wall provided some illumination as they marched down the corridor. One of them abruptly stopped in front of a niche. "Here," said Hethor D'eckor. "Different statue, but this is the place.

"There isn't any room here," Yvarine said in disgust. "Unless it's hidden."

"Wasn't hidden when we took it," Hethor grunted. "Maybe they walled over it."

"No," said Jolan Gix. "There is something here. A psychic residue." He touched the engraving around the wall of the niche. "This one," he said touching an skull that was slightly shinier than it's neighbors. He twisted it. The other side of the niche opened.

"****, that's slick," Yvarine said. "I didn't see it at all."

Hethor withdrew the shotcannon he was packing under his robes. "I'm ready."

A smile touched Kyra's lips. "By all means, let us proceed."

The door silently swung open. Inside was as black as a dark eldar's heart. Jolan flashed a beam inside, revealing a large room. He cautiously advanced, Hethor behind him.

The interrogator touched a control inside, causing lights to flicker on overhead. The room was blackened and scorched, the grim testament to the efforts of the cleanse and burn team. Other than a set of shelves with a few strange lumps the room as an unremarkable square. Kyra followed her pupil in. Yvarine remained outside to cover their rear.

"I was expecting something a little more impressive," Kyra mused. "Jolan, if you would?"

"With pleasure madam," said Gix. He pulled out a compact auspex and touched several runes. The device hummed and projected several glowing glyphs.

Hethor prowled the room. This place made him uneasy. There was something deeply wrong here, he could feel it. "There's a false floor," Jolan said. "The floor is made of a composite to try to fool scans into thinking its solid underneath."

"Clever," said Kyra. "Now we have to find our way in." Jolan frowned and began examining to floor.

"I don't see it," said the interrogator. "Didn't spare any effort on this one."

"Like the door," said Kyra. "Keep looking. Put those fiendish instruments of yours to good use."

Jolan consulted his devices. He ran another scan. And then another, inches from the floor. "Emperor's Teeth! I can find the joins, but no sign of how to open this thrice-cursed thing up."

Kyra sighed. "Ah well. So much for subtlety." Her voice changed, becoming harsh. "Crack it."

"Everyone stand back," Jolan commanded. After everyone had retreated to the edge of the floor the interrogator extended his hands and pointed at the center of the floor.

The floor exploded silently upwards. The fragments drifted slowly back down to the room beneath like leaves in autumn. The debris settled on the floor. The room had a single set of stairs leading about two and a half meters down. It was bare, except for a complex design now covered by the rubble and a heavy chest.

"Throne," Hethor swore softly.

"Hmm," said Kyra. "A treasure chest. I wonder-" the half buried symbol began to glow. Things began to coalesce beneath them. They were vaguely humanoid, with rough golden skin like a crocodile. Their heads were circled by a crown of horns and their hands were tipped with vicious talons.

Jolan raised his las pistol and shot the closest one to the stairs three times in the chest. The bright white beam burned through its hide and deep into its chest. It didn't faze it. It leaped up the stairs.

Kyra blew it apart with a burst from her psycannon. The pieces began to dissolve into ectoplasmic mist even before they hit the rubble. The death of the first one did not deter the pack. The next two were already on their way up.

Kyra's blew off the arm of the next one at the shoulder before it crashed into her. The inquisitor fell back against the wall as the daemon grappled with her. It butted her in the head with its crown of horns and reached towards her throat with its remaining claw.

The third daemon rushed towards Gix. Thunder roared in the confined space as Hethor opened up with the shotcannon. The daemon's hip and thigh were blow open, flesh was torn apart and bone shattered. The next burst blew its head to pulp. The fourth leaped up at Hethor.

A blazing lance of cyan psychic force intercepted it. The daemon was smashed to floor and blown to ash. Jolan turned towards Kyra.

The inquisitor's rebuilt skull and neck withstood the headbutt. With her right hand she caught the daemon's arm at the wrist. With her other she pulled a power blade from under her robe. She stabbed the daemon in the abdomen and yanked up. The blade went through the daemon's chest, opened up daemon's throat, and up into the skull.

Kyra pushed the dissolving corpse to the floor. Bubbling goo covered her robe. She ignored it and strode forward. "Jolan, any psi residue on the chest?" Her voice gave no sign that she had a cut on her forehead and that she had just been in hand to hand combat with a creature of the warp.

"Yes, but it isn't the chest. It's something inside."

She turned off the power blade and handed the ornate dagger to the interrogator. "Crack it."

Jolan thumbed the blade on and stabbed the lock. Gix twisted. Metal screamed as it was torn. With a jerk, Jolan threw the lid open. Inside, hundreds of crystal spheres glittered with a familiar light.

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If this bloody forum software allowed editing I might be able to correct that accidental repost.  Unfortunately it does not so I'll have to leave it there and move on.  My apologies.

 

"You recognize this ring, right?" said Anjun Chou with more than a little exasperation in his voice. "Prince Vallec will want to see me. Let him or his valet know. It's urgent."

The bored guard recognized the ring. The Serentens were prominent and the crest seemed authentic. The man wore flash clothes, but the one behind him wore a lifetime's worth of wages in his outer layers. The odds were good that they had juice. And if he made their lives difficult, they could send it back ten times worse. Screw it. It was the valet's job to make these kinds of decisions. He keyed the com.

"What is it?" snarled Grasso Lymk.

"A man requesting audience with the prince. He has a Serenten seal."

"Put him on screen, dolt." The guard gestured Anjun Chou forward.

Chou held up the ring. "Alexos Serenten sent me. It's urgent."

"What is it?" growled Lymk.

"Nothing your master wants discussed openly."

"All right," grouched Lymk. "Let them in."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

They strode down a long floor of polished marble. Gilded gargoyles looked down on them as they entered a brass lift cage. Suspensor motors in the cage floor lifted them up while holo projectors created illusion of forests that had been dead for five millenia. Chou fidgeted. Jolan Gix was outwardly calm.

Chou had surrendered his gun at the entrance, along with his knives. He had been surprised that Gix had let him bring them, until he gave them up. The weapon scanners had only found the slim barrelled las that Gix had surrendered. Chou wondered why the interrogator was willing to go into the enemy's layer unarmed. Unless he had something really slick, so slick the sensors couldn't find it.

The lift came to a stop. Jolan and Chou were lead down a carpeted hall by a silver bodies servitor that had been cast in the shape of an ancient hag. The servitor lead them down a junction a took a side corridor. Anjun's jaw dropped. He stopped and stared.

The corridor's wall were transparent vitria. Outside dark clouds swirled in a murky green half light. Hell red lightning flashed between them as they clashed against one another. Below them was the dark, turreted mass of the hive. It was a diseased, cancerous mass piled higher and higher. Anjun's knees felt weak.

Jolan pushed him forward. At the other end of this enclosed bridge lay Karl Vallec's spire. The young prince had thousands of lives as his personal playthings and bodyguards sufficiently callous that they could serve such a monstrous master. Here Jolan's power as an agent of the Inquisition was nothing and a slave of darkness was ruler of his own private hell. Two guards were ahead, faceless in their rebreather masked helms. A great ceramite slab carved with hideous faces slid open and Jolan Gix stepped in.

A guard wearing a bronze groin guard, heavy boots and gloves, and a leather harness lead the two men down the corridor. It was uncomfortably warm here and the carpet was a thick shag. Holos of dominant men triumphant over reclining women or defeated beasts lined the walls. Two rouged, naked girls past them going the other way. They wore control collars around their necks with drug injectors. The guard touched a keypad on the wall. "They are here, lord."

"Send them in," came the reply.

Jolan Gix walked in and Anjun Chou trailed behind him. The valet's office was a marked contrast to the hedonistic display of the rest of the spire. It was simple and comfortable. The valet, a dark haired, sallow man who's hair was just slightly frosted with white, sat in a chair in front of a chrome cogitator screen. "You said it was important," he said.

On thousands of worlds of the Imperium a valet was just a personal servant, but Lymk was obviously more than that. After all, someone had to manage Karl Vallec's personal affairs while he was busy ****** minor nobles or hunting people for sport.

"Private business with your master," Jolan Gix replied. Lymk's eyes narrowed. Jolan raised his hand and triggered his electoo. An image apeared to writhe and twist on his palm. It was a tangled mass of naked bodies, each one a different colour so that the debauched acts that were taking place could more easily be recognized. The interrogator closed his fist. "Do you understand?"

"Ahh, yes. He is . . . busy at the moment," Lymk replied. "He will not like to be disturbed. I can, of course, offer the hospitality of his servants." He rubbed his hands together and displayed an oily smile "Would you like a girl or boy? Perhaps both?"

Gix wet his lips and then pouted. "You mean he would object to us joining him?"

"His highness is very particular about his pleasures and it is his business who he invites to share them with."

"Pity," replied Gix. "There are a few items I wish to show the noble prince. They are, hmmmm, exotic. Yes, exotic. Regular inspection might be, hmmmm, troublesome."

"I believe I can help you with that," replied Lymk with a broad smile. "His highness is always interested in new diversions.

"Excellent,' replied Jolan Gix as he shot him with the digital needler. Lymk convulsed and froze as the interrogator walked forward. The psyker unceremoniously pushed the valet out of his chair and examined the cogitator. Smiling, he sat down and began to type.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He sent an message authorizing the landing of several lifter barges that would shortly be en route and then tapped into the palace's comm traffic to give the innocuous sounding go signal. Everything was going fairly smoothly. He searched the valet's desk and found a slim barrelled las with ivory grips. The barrel was embossed with gold leaf in the form of clinging thorns. He pocketed the gun and administered the counter agent to the valet after searching him. And then he injected him with another drug, one to enhance suggestibility.

"You are in it deep," Jolan Gix said. "I represent the Inquisition and your master is a member of a prescribed cult. And you've been helping him. The minimum sentence is death, unless the Inquisition can find a better use for you."

The valet's eyes narrowed and he slowly moved to a sitting position. "You run your master's household, which is part of the governor's palace," Gix said. "I want the codes to the palace security system."

"You're just going to kill me anyway," Lymk responded.

"You are a dead man unless you start climbing your way out of the pit you've dug," Gix replied. "Start making this easier on both of us."

"All right," Lymk said, shoulder's slumped. "Beta - seven - gamma - nine - six - six - kappa allows command of the security system. The prince, the commander, and the senaschal all possess override codes though."

Jolan examined the man carefully. Lymk had displayed strong cues from his body language and he saw no treachery now, only resigned defeat. He turned back to the cogitator and began typing.

 

 

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Jask Vacka watched the lifter descend. The series of shipments had arrived without prior notice and that was very irksome. He was going to be stuck sorting through this mess at least half an hour past the end of his shift, if he was lucky. He keyed up his data plaque as the vessel touched down with a loud clang.

He had already wrapped his poncho tighter around himself against the rush of cold air from outside. The Ten Thousand Times Cursed uppers never registered things in time and it was men like himself who paid the price. He gestured to two guards. They followed after him. It was procedure, pointless procedure, but his failure to do so would be noticed by whoever checked the pict logs.

A cargo door on the side slid open. Jask's eyes went wide. Black armoured Arbites with mirror finished visors and the Imperial Aquila prominently displayed on their armour looked back. His jaw dropped.

Gunfire roared from the lifter as Hethor D'eckor let loose with the heavy stubber. The targeter mount on the end fed data to the helmet clipped optic piece. Heavy calibre armour piercers ripped the guards and the cargo master open. They spun and fell back, spraying blood and twitching.

Hethor raised his weapon and fired on the control booth. The armoured glass withstood the first few rounds. An Arbites krak grenade shattered it. Choke grenades were fired after it.

Behind them a second lander descended. A cargo door slid open and Sororitas warriors in full armour leaped the three meters to the deck. They and the Arbites had only been told of the exact nature of their targets while en route to maintain surprise.

Hethor turned back to the first unit of Arbites as more landers arrived. "You, with me! Move out!" He lead them at a fast jog. Inquisitor Neven had told him to reinforce Interrogator Gix and the Emperor have pity on those who got in his way, because Hethor D'eckor would have none.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Gix turned back to Lymk. "It appears you were honest with me. The attack has begun and the palace's security system in nicely offline."

Lymk glowered back. "That won't last long. Someone will figure it out and override it soon enough."

"True," replied Jolan. "But it has already given us surprise." Gix tossed a pair of plastic flex cuffs to Chou. "Tie him up."

"You got it boss," Chou replied. Lymk didn't resist. "What now?"

"We secure Karl Vallec."

"We? Uh boss, does that include me?"

"I can either take you with me or shoot you. Which would you prefer?"

"Uh, take me with you," replied Chou hopefully. "Does that mean I get a gun?"

"No," responded Gix as he opened the door. The guards turned and Gix shot both of them in the face with Lymk's las before they could react. A servant half way down the corridor froze and dropped the platter he was carrying. Jolan shot him in the chest and he toppled. Unfair, but nothing about Inquisitional work was fair.

He picked up the guard's lases. They were unremarkable in most respects, standard guard issue pistol in this subsector. Not surprising since the factories on this world supplied most of the arms to every planet within fifty light years.. He stuck the beautiful but low capacity pistol of Lymk's into his pocket and armed himself with a las in each hand. "Let's go," he said to Chou.

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Brass flew as Hethor's heavy stubber roared. Palace guards dived for cover as the hard nosed slugs sprayed the corridor. One was too slow and took a half dozen rounds through the chest. The slugs punched through the lightly armoured uniform and exited out the unfortunate's back. As Hethor suppressed the guards the Arbites with him fired choke and frag grenades from rapid fire, drum magazine launchers. Two Arbites unleashed executioner rounds that twisted in the air to seek the heat of living flesh and detonate within.

"Move up," Hethor ordered. Two Arbites with suppression shields and bolt pistols advanced towards the rooms formerly held by the guards. Their bolt pistols barked as they finished the wounded. Hethor was only a few steps behind them. A guard moaned feebly, his left arm a shredded piece bleeding meat and half of his face a bloody mess. Hethor put a burst into his head that blew his skull apart in an explosion of blood and grey matter.

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Jolan Gix ducked behind a pillar and fired back at the harem guards with his left hand las. A sizzling green bolt took one guard in his left shoulder and a second shot punched a hole in this breast. Return fire chewed chunks out of the marble column and scorched the walls around him. One shot clipped him in the right arm, its energy mostly dissipated by Jolan's psychic shield.

He fire back, hitting the shooter in the eye and flash charring his brain. The survivor crouched down behind an obscene golden statuette mounted on a marble pedestal and fired back. Jolan discarded the empty pistol in his right hand and reached out with the power. Several hundred kilos of golden perversion smashed into the hapless guard. He fell, his body pinned beneath the instrument of his death.

Jolan walked forward and tossed nearly empty las in his left hand forward. The weapons clenched in the dead guards' hands leaped into the interrogator's hands. It was unfortunate that guards didn't carry extra ammo packs, but the forty shot power cells in each pistol did last a while.

Before him were the ivory white doubled doors embossed in gold that lead to Karl Vallec's rooms. Jolan could faintly hear music being played within. The doors swung open before him, propelled by a telekinetic shove.

Jolan's eyes watered from the cloud of musky smelling incense that circulated through the room. Or the musky smell could be from the sex. The dark chamber was half lit by deep red lights and dominated by a raised bed large enough for a whole family of very large people to sleep in. It was not unoccupied. Several individuals of both genders were sliding around on top of it like a coiled mass of serpents. Jolan couldn't quite tell because he had better things to do than count them.

In each corner of the half lit room stood a man. They were nude except for an obscene groin guard in the form of a gargoyle's face with an exaggerated phallus thrusting out of its mouth. Their heads were plated in chromed steel and their perfect musculature was crisscrossed with surgical scars. Their hands hand been replaced by terrible steel claws that could shred flesh and carve through bone. They were grotesque mockeries of arcoflagellants, surgically altered and conditioned to kill on command. And they were not the worst thing in the room.

She held Jolan Gix's attention as she slithered off the bed. Her eyes were luminous greed saucers and a crest of pink hair protruded from her bald head. A single line of three breasts marked the left side of her torso. Her hands ended in great pinchers and she walked on a raptor's claws. Her spine ended in a terrible scorpion tail which arched over her head. Jolan watched her slide forward, momentarily mesmerized in horror as voices whispered to him and promised unspeakable caresses.

A blast of telekinetic force blasted her over the bed and through its canopy. The rich velvets and silks tore free as she smashed into the wall. From the writhing mass on the bed came a clear voice instead of insane gibbering. "Rend!" it shouted.

The servitors leaped forward as the pacifier helms switched them into attack mode and pumps sent drugs surging through their systems. Jolan shot one in the face. Twice. It toppled over and thrashed. The other three closed the distance.

A shockwave of force erupted from the interrogator which sent the altered killers tumbling like nine pins. A rush of force carried Gix back a dozen yards out of the room, making space. The chamber guards leaped to their feet and charged.

Gix shot one in the chest three times. It didn't even slow down. Implanted armour covered and reinforced all the areas that were instant kills and anything less wouldn't stop them. A telekinetic hammer blow knocked one down. The other two kept coming.

Gix shot the one closest to him twice in the leg. The hits blew open its left thigh and shattered the bone. It still staggered forward, impervious to pain, destroying its own leg in the process. Jolan's third shot took out its knee and it toppled. The fourth servitor hit the ground hard as an intense chartreuse beam flickered into its neck. Twice. It's head bounced on the floor a second later.

The daemonette leaped through the door as the last servitor fell. Jolan caught her and slammed her into the wall before his telekinetic grip unravelled. The second servitor got up. Several las shots hit it in the torso. It charged the shooter, ignoring Jolan Gix. The third servitor tried to stand and fell.

The daemonette rushed forward. Jolan Gix's eyes were wells of light, furnaces of green-yellow flame. She reached out, claws outstretched. There was an intense flash. The corridor was blackened along its length to the door. The third servitor twitched, it's skin burned off. In front of the interrogator a swirling column of ash slowly drifted to the ground.

Gix shot the third servitor in the back four times and twice in the head. It twitched, but stopped moving forward. He turned around behind him. Anjun Chou was shaking like a leaf, the remaining servitor dead a scant two meters in front of him. One of the dead guard's laspistols was clutched in the criminal's hands. In a flash Anjun Chou raised his weapon and fired.

Gix was too slow. Anyone short of an Eldar would have been too slow. But the beam went wide. A body toppled behind him. Chou lowered the gun. Gix turned. One of Vallec's paramours was a few meters behind him, a knife with too many spikey projections gripped in his hand. Jolan strode back into the bed chamber. "Keep close," Jolan ordered. "And keep the gun."

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Bullets and las beams slammed into the wall around him as Hethor D'eckor retreated back into the side corridor. It took just a few moment to clear the jam and reinsert the ammo feed. The weapon needed to cool down anyway.

The palace guards had finally figured out that they were under attack and had at last mobilized a fighting force to stop them. They held the upper and lower levels of the gallery and had even mustered a few support weapons. Hethor and his Arbites had been stopped cold, although they had managed to give better than they had taken. He hoped Yvraine and Calidan were having better luck. The palace guard were proving to be a stubborn bunch of motherless bastards.

Heavy boots on the palace floor behind him drew his attention. Ten massive figures, their builds impossibly bulky due to their power armour, trotted forward. The Sororitas were smaller than Astartes, but not by much. Their weapons were a different pattern than those of the Dark Angels, but looked just as deadly.

"Two dozen of the fuckers, half on the balcony, half on the floor. Lases, autoguns, a flamer, and two big stubbers."

The leader of the sisters turned toward him. Her helmet resembled an armoured mask peering from a cowl. A metallic voice came from her helmet. It did not sound the least bit feminine. "Is that all?"

"Yah," Hethor replied. He was almost eye level with her and Hethor was not a small man.

"We'll take care of it." She made a few gestures. The Sororitas sprung out, bolters firing. Bullets bounced off their armour. Las beams scored it. They ignored the incoming fire and continued to pour it on. They opened up with a pair of flamers, one sending a plume of flame high into the air, the other scourging the ground level. They advanced. The only weapons fire that could be heard now belonged to the Sororitas.

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One of the women screamed and gibbered. Jolan shot her with the digital needler and fired needles into the rest of the degenerates to make sure. The paralytic should keep them out action. A wall panel had slid open and Karl Vallec was no where to be seen. He must have bolted while Jolan was busy. The interrogator slipped through.

"Uh boss," Anjun said. "Is this a . . . . oh **** it." The slim man followed Gix into the secret passage. The lighting was dim and it was narrow enough that a fat man would have problems using it. The passage twisted to the side, probably following the contours of other rooms and rose up at a steep incline. Gix was going full tilt ahead.

Jolan had a very good idea where this went. A bolt hole with some kind of escape craft. If Karl Vallec managed to escape now, they might never find him. That wasn't going to happen.

It took him about a minute to reach the end. They must have climbed two or three levels in the process. The door in front of him was closed. He reached for the control and then froze. A prickly sensation told him not to. There were alternative methods to open the panel.

The door blew across the room in a blast of telekinetic force. The room was a small hanger. The bay door had already been opened and a bitterly cold wind whipped in. A sleek aircar was in the center of the room. It was oil slick black with a smooth black body. Four engine pods protruded from its body and a loud whine indicated they were powering up. A mirrored canopy concealed the driver, but Jolan Gix had no doubt it was Karl Vallec.

Gix fired at the engine pod closest to him. Flakes of armour blew off, but his shots failed to penetrate the high tech composite and damage the working within. The air car rose of the ground and one of the engines twisted to angle at Gix. The immense thrust that could send the air car hurtling through the atmosphere at great speed could also crush a man to jelly.

The column of air rebounded off of an invisible shield a meter in front of the psyker. Gix continued firing. Chou added in a few shots of his own. The air car's armour was cratered all along its left side from their shots, but the las pistols didn't have enough punch. The angle of the engine pods changed and the air car surged out of the hanger.

Gix reached out towards the left rear pylon and held with all the force he could muster. The air car twisted to the side as the pylon twisted and tore. The pilot tried to adjust the other engines to balance it out, but it didn't work. The air car spun out of control, beginning a spiraling death dive. It smashed into the barren salt flats almost a kilometer outside the hive and began to burn.

Gix touched a control and the hanger bay descended, blocking out the bitterly cold wind. Chou was shivering at the mouth of the escape tunnel. "I guess he didn't get away," said Chou. "That's a good thing, right?"

"Yes, but not as good as capturing him alive."

"And I helped you out, right? So that means I'm good, right?"

"Yes, you did help. But no, you're not good. Your life, as you know it, is over."

"So what now?"

"The Inquisition either keeps you or kills you."

"I vote for the former."

"You don't get a vote, but your opinion is noted."

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Jolan stared out the window at the Imperial Commander's Palace. It was ablaze with light as patrol ships seconded to the Adeptus Arbites swarmed around its kilometer high spires. Inside kill teams and investigators swept through, searching for clues and wiping out resistance. He heard feet softly crossing the carpet behind him. "I didn't get him," he said.

"It happens," Inquisitor Neven replied. "He's dead, but we got his valet. He seems to have known most of his business. A good haul, all told."

"I suppose so," Jolan replied. "What about Chou?"

"He's slick, I'll give him that. You think he's useful?"

"I dislike having to kill people who save my life."

She smiled and put a hand on his shoulder. "That's not a good answer," she said softly.

"I know. What I want has nothing to do with it. But he did save my life and he was good at the undercover work."

"Then spare him. If it doesn't work out you can always let him go. He doesn't know enough of any real importance. And killing him is always an option."

"What's next?" he said changing the subject.

"We finish cleaning up here and then head to Leved."

"The subsector capital? Why?"

"You'll find out."

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Gix looked up at the line of holopics for the third time. He hated waiting, but like everything else he had been trained to endure it. He wore a robe of white silk with the Inquisition's insignia marked out in gold as befitted his station. The great doors swung open and Jolan rose to his feet. An interrogator wearing a similar robe, a woman so petite that the top of her head barely reached Jolan's chin, came forward. "They are ready for you."

Jolan straightened and walked inside. Holoprojectors provided the illusion of light streaming through stained glass window and banks of lit candles. In front of him was a long U-shaped ebony table with a beautiful lacquered finish. Seven men and women sat at the table. Six wore the red formal robes of a full inquisitor. The seventh man wore the black of the Master of the Ordo Malleus for this subsector. Lord Hedrigan Morregan, the Nightmare of Belentine.

The fearsome old man stood. His eyes were shiny black augments, artifacts of the highest technology. Most of the bones of his face were sculpted alloy rods. The skin of his face was transplanted graft tissue. A pattern of implanted rubies obscured the most grievous scars. The surgeons had done a good job. He looked almost normal.

"Jolan Gix," Lord Morregan began, "we have deliberated amongst ourselves and listened to the words of yours sponsor and considered your answers to our questions. It is the unanimous opinion of this august body that you have demonstrated the courage, ingenuity, dedication, judgment, and strength of character that is expected in a member of the Holy Inquisition." He opened a velvet box. Inside rested a rosette. Gix's rosette. "Congratulations, Jolan Gix. You are welcome among our numbers." Tears began to run from Jolan Gix's eyes.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A hand tapped him on the shoulder. He turned an saw Kyra there smiling. She shouted to be heard over the loud music. "Come with me," and pulled him gently away.

They left the whirling party that had been thrown in his honour. It was several hours into it and no one really needed him around or a reason to celebrate. She lead him into her study and closed the door. The door slid closed behind him, blocking out the party outside.

"Are you enjoying the moment? she asked impishly as she slid behind her desk and dropped down into her chair.

Jolan smiled. "Yes," he said. His eyes drifted to the armoured cases of books that surrounded them. He treasured the moments he had been allowed among them.

"Good," she said. "Your burdens only get heavier from now on in. But you know that. I could have put your name in earlier, but I wanted to be sure you were ready."

"I don't have any illusions that this is going to get easier," he replied. "And I'm grateful that you held on to me as long as you did. I've learned, even when you weren't testing me."

She smiled. "You are one of my best. I would like you to stay around and finish up this smuggling business with me. The valet had a few good leads for us and somehow I think you want to tie up all those loose ends personally."

He smiled back. "With a comment like that, you would think you knew me pretty well."

"I have a few talents," she said. "On a more serious note, I have something for you." She opened a desk drawer and drew out a long black case. "For you. A graduation present, at my request but from the Inquisition."

"Thank you," said Jolan as he opened the box. Inside lay a black rod of unfamiliar material. It was smooth and would fit easily into his hand. It was forty-five centimeters and one end was gilded. A band of golden skulls with eyes of jet crystals encircled the tip. Jolan Gix gently picked it up. "A force rod."

"Yes," she replied. Gix examined the prize closely. The eyes were psychoactive crystals and the gold plating and decorative skulls probably hid a grid of psychic circuitry. "I had it commissioned by Tech Magos Valdeen. She's one of the few Mechanicus that know how to make these things. She was happy enough to test her art to her limits and you deserve a weapon worthy on an inquisitor."

The weapon seemed to grow warm in Gix's hand. "I think it will do nicely."

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Anjun raised the laspistol and fire quick bursts at the target. Down range flash burn holes erupted in the center of the silhouette's chest and then in its head. Chou put the gun down as he heard foot steps behind him.

"All in the kill zone. Impressive," said Jolan Gix.

"Thanks boss. Yvraine's been giving me some pointers."

"Good."

"So what now?" Chou asked, fumbling while reloading his pistol.

"We're heading to Scyrax Major," replied Jolan. "Maladar's been doing some digging of his own. While comparing his data with our own, I've come up with some interesting correlations. We're going to catch ourselves a big fish."

"Great."

"And I think you will be very helpful."

Chou's hands trembled for a second. "Really?" he said, trying to keep the hope out of his voice.

"Really."

"Thanks boss, that's good to hear." Relief flooded through his body. The powers that be hadn't decided to crush him. Yet.

"You're welcome. The Inquisition's mandate is hard, very hard. It is far better to be over zealous than soft. Mercy can have disastrous consequences. It breeds a certain amount of callousness and ruthless calculation, if only to preserve sanity."

"I get it boss," Chou said quickly. Actually, he didn't give a flying **** on how Jolan rationalized crushing people underfoot. The powers that be always said they were doing things for the greatest good when they stepped on the little people and took the largest piece for themselves.

Jolan's head snapped up. Chou had spoken too quickly and his body language was all wrong. The gutter rat was a natural born liar. Jolan spoke mildly. "You don't believe in the Imperium, do you?

Throne! Anjun was in it deep. "No, no boss I do." He resisted the temptation to go for the gun. He had seen Gix kill. Anjun Chou was fast, but not that fast.

"Liar," said Gix. "You know better than to say you don't, but you don't give a **** about the Imperium. There is no one here but the two of us and this room isn't monitored. Tell me why."

Anjun Chou was white and shaking. "Please . . . ." he said. Jolan's face was smooth and pleasant, as if they were discussing pastries. "Please . . "

"Just tell me."

It came out in a rush. "I . . . never saw the Imperium do nothing but take. They took from my momma and made her a ***** for scraps. The Adeptus took from all of us and called it taxes and left or they killed people. The constables just took. The press gangs and recruiters take. No difference between the Imperium and a gang but size." He had said it. He was a dead man now, if Gix wanted to kill him. Not that it mattered. Gix could have killed him any time he wanted to.

"The Imperium came for me when I was about five," Gix said flatly. "I spent the next three years cold and afraid. The next two years I learned a lot, but still hated the Imperium that took me from my parents. Then I began to really learn what the Imperium was like."

"Your complaints are valid. The Imperium doesn't give a **** about you. There are a million worlds in the Imperium and all of them are under threat. The High Lords of Terra, the Inquisition, and the Arbites are prepared to tolerate corruption, nepotism, incompetence, venality, greed, hereditary passage of office, stupidity, obstinance, and worse as long as certain minimum standards are met. When we have the opportunity we try to encourage some kind of progress, but we are usually to busy bailing out this sinking ship of the Imperium."

"There are countless threats. Xenos, heretics, rogue psykers, cults, chaos renegades, rebellions, natural disasters, plague, warp storms, warp beasts, enslavers, and internal factionalism to name most of them. We need all of the resources of the Imperium and we lack the apparatus with which to do better. So we eliminate the unacceptable bad and accept the mediocre as long as they give us resources to help handle the most urgent crisis on our list. It isn't this way because this is the way things should be, it is this way because this is best we can do. And the Inquisition's job is to make the Imperium the best we can."

"And home wasn't too bad?" Anjun said cynically.

"No, it was bad. A lot of people are going to die because they helped make it that way. The best of a new lot will get the job of running things and trying to make things better. And we'll go to the next stop and try to make things better or keep them from getting worse."

"So all we do is shovel ****."

"Maybe. But some poor bastards are drowning in it and they could really use a bunch of guys with shovels."

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Scyrax was a strange world. It fit into Imperial classifications as a Civilized World, which could also be catchall category for worlds that defied easy classifications. It had been a backwards, half settled agriworld of no significance at all until a ferocious warpstorm that swept through the subsector in M38. It had lasted six years and devastated the subsector's economy. The capital, Levitus, had undergone starvation and catastrophic social collapse that caused it to from a population of twenty-two billion to a mere forty million survivors.

The Scourging, as the warpstorm was known locally, had another effect as well. It had left the local warp routes changed in its wake. Scyrax had been locally self sufficient, but had been unable to import off world tech and manufactured goods. It had begun to industrialize in the interim between the resumption of trade, during which it was realized that the best routes now lead through Scyrax.

So the Navy had built a base around one of its moons and established a cruiser squadron to operate from that base. The Ecclesiarchy had also decided to use Scyrax as a base to attack the heresy that had sprung up during the Scourging. And the Administratum had needed a new subsector capital.

Several great cities grew up on Scyrax even as the agribusiness that was the traditional background of its economy continued to prosper and the magnates who possessed vast wealth, political power, and armed retainers looked on suspiciously. So the city sprawl grew, but in a controlled fashion. Pollution was strictly regulated. And great hive cities clustered the face of an otherwise green and beautiful world.

Anjun Chou had learned all of this on the trip, but it was another thing altogether to see it. Neven's ship flew over towering forests, crystal blue lakes, and seemingly endless rolling fields. Ahead to them were the kilometer high stacks of Lowport, the trading capital of Scyrax. A spider web sprawl of transport tubes fed the city and connected the spaceport to the hive city proper.

"It's beautiful," Anjun Chou said softly.

A voice came from behind him. "True, but I've seen better." Anjun turned to look at Jolan Gix who had a half smile on his face. "Wait to you see a sunrise or a sunset over water. I don't have the words to do it justice."

"So what's the plan?" Anjun asked.

"Save this place and all the billions who live on it," said Jolan Gix. "Specifically, we're going to dig up dirt on the Chanai Trade Consortium."

"Why? I mean, you're sure they are guilty, right? Why bother? Just scoop them up."

"To get everybody. This conspiracy spans worlds and we've been lucky. We've been just fast enough to get to it before it becomes a disaster. We can't be lucky forever. We can't keep hacking at the weed, we've got to pull it out by the roots." Chou looked at him blankly. The view out the window had been the first green growing things he had ever seen in his life that hadn't been mold. "Never mind. The point is, if they keep on being able to shoot, sooner or later they are going to hit."

"Right," said Anjun.

"So how do you want to do this?" Jolan asked.

Kyra was looking out the window at the vast expanse of glittering green ocean. "You don't already know?" she responded. They had taken this a series of apartments with an ocean view, typical of herdbarons in the big city with cash burning holes in their pockets.

Jolan leaned back in the richly upholstered chair. A carafe of the local white and two silver platters of appetizers lay on the table in front of him. "This seems to be more a hammer's kind of job."

She turned back towards him. She was wearing a gown made of three layers of different silks. Vents in the outer layers gave glimpses of contrasting colours. The bottom layer was armour silk. "That's what I would expect Maladar to say and he isn't here yet."

"He's right this time. They can't have not noticed that some of their co-conspirators have been rolled up over the last few years. They'll be suspicious. The risk is too high."

"For you perhaps," she said. "They'll probably check for psykers. But I'm blunt."

"You can't be serious. The risk-"

"Is manageable. The potential rewards of getting someone inside to secure data before they know there is an attack out weighs the risks."

"I disagree. Strongly. We on them like 'roid impact. Hit them hard before they know we are there and take prisoners. We'll scoop them up or ice them. Less risk, better chance of reward."

"I think otherwise," she said. "Besides, if they have managed to infiltrate the local apparatus with any degree of success, we'll just tip them off by grabbing the local muscle. They are old and established players in this sector. No, my way is better."

"Emperor's Teeth, the risk is too high."

"I'll have you waiting to backing me up. And Maladar too when he gets here. It's worth the risk and I'm going. That's that."

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"Lady, I don't like this."

"Noted," Kyra responded. She was in full aristocrat mode. Her dress was composed of layers of dark blue silk, each of a slightly different cut so the under layers were exposed. "Any particular reason?"

Yvraine wore a uniform of reinforced leathers, amaranth for the jacket and cream with an crimson stripe for the pants. A high capacity slug thrower was holstered on his belt opposite of a metal truncheon. He trailed a half step behind his mistress. "Gix was right. The risk is too high."

"I have done this before," Kyra said. "And I have taken precautions." The palanquin passed out from the shadow of a giant stack. Lowport was composed of a series of thick cylinders that stretched from the shore to to deep in the sea. The smallest were only a few stories, the tallest stretched for a hundred meters below the water and nearly a kilometer above.

Kyra's vox beeped. She taped it on as the bearers beat several slow pedestrians out of the way with their staves. "Yes," she said.

"Milady," came Anjun Chou's voice, "I have secured an appointment with the Overmaster of the Chanai Trade Consortium on Lowport. He had a cancellation earlier today can fit you in."

"Excellent," she purred. "Any difficulties?"

"None worth mentioning, milady. And how do you fair?"

"Well, thank you. The palanquin has a nice canopy and cooler units, so I am managing to do quite well. Poor Yvraine is wearing leathers and enjoys neither of the palanquin's benefits."

"Duty is a harsh master, unlike you kind mistress. I await on your pleasure."

"That pleases me," she responded and killed the vox. She drew down the chrome vox phone that dangled above her head to her lips. "Change of destination," she said to the bearers. They wore earplug speakers linked so they could clearly hear their master over the roar of the street. "Take us to the Chanai stacks."

-

The Overmaster was a slight man, barely taller than Anjun Chou. In the voluminous silks of his station and the heavy gold medallion of office with its thick links, he looked like a child wearing his father's clothes. Behind him, a great curved window overlooked the blue green sea. "So, milady, what brings you to our consortium?"

Kyra rose languidly to a somewhat upright position in the vast chair she was reclining in. "Profit," she drawled. "Why else does one venture between worlds?"

"Indeed," the Overmaster replied. "What can Scyrax or the the Chanai Trade Consortium provide you that will be reap a profit on-" he paused checked his pic screen, "Laner's Fall?"

"Industrial goods. Specifically, agricultural machinery. Our industrial base is rather under developed, but that is changing. Mechanizing our agricultural industries on a large scale can now be supported by existing local industry. The potential profits are, um, considerable."

"I see. We are interested of course, Just a moment." He touched a control on his desk. "Send Vanek in." He turned back to Kyra. "He's my aide."

The door slid open and tall man strode in. He wore a black bodyglove emblazoned with marks of scarlet and gold. He wore a ribbed stormcoat over it. Predatory eyes blazed out from his hairless skull. He seemed more like an assassin or enforcer than an adviser.

Chou continued to stand stiffly at attention, but discretely tapped a vox control to send a warning to Yvraine in the lobby. He didn't like this at all. Venak looked at Chou and grinned, showing sharp teeth. "The Chanai Trade Consortium doesn't do any business on Laner's Fall," Vanek began, "but our brothers in Malorn Industrial do."

Kyra twitched. Malorn Industrial didn't do any business with the Chanai Trade Consortium. He stomach fell through the floor. Vanek continued. "They say you don't exist."

Chou exploded into motion, or at least tried to. He couldn't move, as if his limbs had been transmuted into unresponsive lead. "I don't think you will be doing any of that," Vanek said.

"Who are they?" the Overmaster asked.

"I don't know," said Vanek. "Their minds are disciplined. But we will soon know, one way or the other." He took a syringe out of his coat pocket.

"Mightiness, there was another retainer with her. A guard. He's in the foyer."

"Kill him."

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Kyra raised her hand and clenched her fingers. The magus's eyes widened as he saw her move. She was supposed to be paralyzed, but Kyra Neven had taken precautions to prevent this kind of thing from ever happening to her again. Even if she hadn't been wearing her wards, the psi blocker that had been implanted in her rebuilt skull would have given her a measure of protection from his powers.

Three Jokaero digital lasers flashed scarlet beams of killing light into the magus's face, flash vaporizing fluids and causing the front of his skull to explode in a mix of steam, blood, bone, and grey matter. The Overmaster's mouth gaped open. He touched something on his desk. Kyra shot him in the chest with a digital needler.

The Overmaster swatted at it, swayed, and fell over. Anjun Chou was beginning to move again. There was the sound of shots and heavy blows struck Kyra in the back. The inquisitor fell to ground and rolled to the side.

The door had not closed when the magus had walked in. Two guards were advancing, stubbers out. Anjun Chou popped into the doorway, quick as a flash, exposing only his head and gun arm.

Chou was packing a compact autopistol that fired soft bodied slugs with a diamanite tip and core. The diamantine penetrators would tear through body armour while the soft lead bodies would deform and spread in wounds. His first burst caught one of the guards in the stomach, causing him to fold up. The second burst ruined the other shooter's face and blew out the back of his skull in a bloody spray of bone chips and grey matter. Chou fired a long burst into the chest of the first guard and let the gun walk his fire up into the guard's neck. Blood oozed from the chest wounds, but geysered form the shredded carotid artery. The guard fell to his knees and then face first on the floor.

"Secure the door!" Kyra shouted, wincing as she stood. An inner layer of soft armour had saved her from the worst of being shot, but she was still hurt. Anjun triggered the switch and then the lock function.

"What's the plan, boss?"

"This is bad. Some kind of alarm was tripped. I can't reach anyone on the vox. Some kind of jamming."

"Okay, not good. But most of these guys aren't cultists, right? Just ordinary traders and hired muscle. They can't be that tough. With Yvraine, we should-"

"They're not cultists."

-

Yvraine got the signal. Trouble was expected. He casually looked around the waiting room. Next to him was a pretty receptionist at her desk, doors leading off in T with two near the receptionist and one at the far end of the corridor. Nice comfortable chairs were near the desk for important clients to wait in. Two security guards with stubbers, wearing the blue-stripped white uniform of Chanai muscle, waited by the far door. They were hard looking guys, no doubt about that. But not as hard as he was.

One suddenly went for his gun. He was almost as fast as Anjun Chou and certainly faster than Yvraine. The armsman dived behind the receptionist's desk. Bullets clipped him in the arm and the leg and slammed into the desk. Fortunately, he was wearing armour. He chucked a grenade blindly over the desk and heard it bounce. Yvraine poked his head above the desk.

He hadn't armed the grenade, but the shooters hadn't known that and had stopped shooting and moved towards cover. He put three rounds into the chest of the one on the right and then ducked down. Like Chou, Yvraine favored a slug thrower. Unlike Chou, he favored a big bore pistol with a large magazine. Such weapons had served him well in the Imperial Guard and later on in his career as a cartel enforcer.

The receptionist grabbed his gun arm and tried to wrestle with him. He punched her in the stomach, solar plexus, and face in rapid succession. She let go and he shot her twice, plowing chunks of her lungs out of her back. She folded up like a rag doll as he rolled to the side.

He got a look a lefty's legs and fired four shots in rapid succession. Two missed. One clipped him in the calf of his right leg and the other smashed through his thigh bone, dropping him. Yvraine rolled back behind the desk and changed magazines. He then popped over the top. Righty had gotten up. Evidently he had been wearing armour that had provided some protection.

Yvraine shot him a half dozen times in the chest. The last hits were accompanied by blood spray and righty folded. Lefty fired back, rounds whipping by Yvraine's head, one notching an ear. The enforcer ducked down and popped out on the right side. He put two rounds in Lefty's left thigh. The guard howled in pain. Yvraine switched to the other side and burned the rest of the magazine into Lefty's torso. The body was twitching when he stopped.

Yvraine reloaded. Best to make sure of them and try to get the **** out of here. The whole op was burned. Gix had been right. The door on his right was flung open. Yvraine turned to face it. The monster that had sprung out was moving fast, very fast. Yvraine fired two shots.

One bullet missed, the other scored a glancing hit and deflected off of its carapace. A three lobed claw struck him in the chest, punched through Yvraine's armour, and the tips exited through his back. The claw yanked back, tearing out his heart and most of his chest cavity through the front of his ribs in an eruption of blood and gore. Yvraine's last sensations were of agonizing, incomprehensible pain as darkness took him.

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Anjun smashed the door control with his pistol butt. "I don't think they'll be getting in."

"Step away from the door," Kyra said as she rifled through the overmaster's desk. "Throne! No override on the lockdown. And the vox is still jammed."

Anjun turned away from the door and went through the dead psyker's pockets. He let a whistle. "Nice las," he said as he picked up the matte black weapon embossed with gold fittings. "I wonder how much kick it has?"

"A lot, probably," said Kyra as she pulled out a chromed laspistol from the overmaster's desk. "Shoot for the head. The carapace is thick, it will repel slug throwers and las blasts. They're extremely tough as well, Ork tough. Spine or brain shots preferred."

"Cogs and smelters. What in the name of the warp are we facing?"

"Xenos. They are engineered infiltration and killing machines. They are taking part in the network to spread their contamination to other worlds, to gather wealth, and undermine the Imperium."

"So these guys are working with xenos?"

"No, they are xenos. See if you can find a way out of this death trap. They'll-"

A terrible screeching sound interrupted her. Two three lobed claws punched through the top of the door and raked down. Steel tore like metal foil, revealing a hexapedal xenos monstrosity.

It wasn't that much larger than a man. It stood crouched on its hind limbs, with another set of dual purpose limbs at the shoulders, and the pair of clawed killing limbs raised overhead. It's jaw was filled with needle pointed fangs. It lunged forward, impossibly fast.

If Anjun had been closer to the door, he would have been dead. But he had stepped away as Kyra had told him and the inquisitor had a clear shot. A pair of las blasts struck it in the throat, blowing out chunks of flesh in a spray of amber fluid. The creature dropped, it's spine severed. The one behind it pounced.

It hurled right at Kyra. She caught an extended talon arm and twisted to the side, redirecting the deadly xenos towards the armoured window. The genestealer's impact rattled the toughened glass, but it wasn't so much as stunned. It swiftly regained it's footing and turned to kill.

Anjun Chou put three brilliant jade las beams into its upper back that burned through its carapace, but did little else. Kyra triggered one of her rings. A thin blast of flames shot forth, enveloping the alien's head. It let out an unearthly scream and thrashed, its claws tearing through the armoured transparaplast as the flames cooked its brain. It attempted to lunge at Kyra, who stepped easily away from the dying alien's strikes.

"More will be coming," she said coolly. Any ideas for escape would be useful now."

Anjun Chou looked around and saw nothing of use. Then he looked out the window. "I think I have something."

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"There's a service ladder-rail thingy about five meters to the side," Anjun said.

"Well that's a distance," Kyra replied as autogun fire poured from the doorway. She stuck her hand out and fired a half dozen return shots blindly.

"Give me your knife," Chou shouted back as he threw a frag grenade out the door. He had angled the shot and it bounced off the wall and further down the corridor before detonating.

Kyra reached into her skirts and unfastened the blade attached to her thigh. She tossed it in Chou's general direction. The slim man caught it by the hilt and thumbed on the control. The thirty-five centimeter blade hummed softly as a faint blue shimmer surrounded it. He sliced out a chunk of armour glass at the edge of the window and kicked. The six centimeter thick slab tumbled down into the sea. Chou hopped onto the window sill. It was a long way down. Maybe three hundred meters. He gulped.

He turned to the wall and gouged out a slice. The power blade cut through the 'crete like a hot knife through soy. He quickly gashed out a toe hold. Easy. He grabbed the first indentation and held on. A few strokes and he had made another. It was working. "Hey boss," he yelled back. "I've got us an exit."

"Cut faster!" she yelled back. Anjun hurried along, gouging his way to the rail. Rungs for a ladder ran parallel to it. Chou didn't know what they were for and didn't care.

"Got it boss!" he yelled back."

"Go!" screamed. She rolled her remaining grenades down the corridor. A blind, two frags, and a pair of chokes. They would detonate in seconds. Drug injectors implanted in her body pumped adrenaline and combat accelerants into her system. She flashed to the window and twisted around, seizing one of Chou's handholds. She was going to have to tell Jolan he made the right call when they got out of this mess.

A claw closed around her ankle and she was yanked back in with inhuman force. She lashed out with her other leg in a kick that would have crushed a human skull. The genestealer was momentarily stunned and dropped her. She brought her las to bear on and it's killing claw closed on the gun, shredding it. It's manipulator-claws closed on her wrists, pinning her. It brought it's awful muzzle close and it's tongue slid along her cheek.
 

-

Anjun saw Kyra get yanked back into the office. It was too far away for him to help, not that he really wanted to. Those xenos scared the **** out of him. He pulled himself up the rungs as fast as he could. He heard scraping on the 'crete behind him. He continued climbing, but couldn't resist slowing to look behind him.

A genestealer had clawed its way across the 'crete to the ladder. It was using all six of its limbs to propel itself upward. It was too **** fast Anjun stopped and drew his gun.

The first burst glanced off the 'stealer's carapace. The second threw up a burst of fluid from the stealer's right claw shoulder joint. It barely slowed. It's feral eyes looked right at Chou. He could feel a heavy weight descend on him. He fired again, one last time.

The bullets struck the xeno right between the eyes. Amber fluid and flecks of grey matter mixed with bone chips sprayed in the air. The alien's body convulsed and released. It was a long way down to the ocean. At that height hitting water wasn't much different than hitting 'crete.

Chou hustled. He was not a big man and he carried little in the way of extra weight. He was in the best shape of his life and he had been climbing walls and buildings as a child. He tore up the side of the stack. He could see the top. He was almost there.

He raised his hand to the last rung. He pulled himself up and found himself looking into the muzzle of two autoguns. A third man waited behind the mirror visored security troops. Like Vanek he was a tall bald man wearing a heavy coat. A pistol was in the bald man's hand. "Come on up," he said. "Slowly."

No way in the real and the warp could Anjun outdraw two men who already had guns trained on him. He would have to make an opportunity. He slowly pulled himself over the side and onto the roof of the stack. ****, it was big.

"Two fingers, left hand. Your gun. Slowly," said the bald man. There was something hypnotic about his voice. Anjun obeyed, dropping his autopistol at the guard's feet.

A flash of light and the left side of the left hand guard's helmet disintegrated in spray of of blood, bone, and brains. He sagged and dropped. Righty began to move as a blue-white beam struck him in the neck, decapitating him in a geyser of blood. Another shot turned baldy's heart into cooked meat.

Nearly a kilometer away Calidan Vil watched the fourth generation hybrid fall. He swept the roof top with his scope. "Chou's on the roof. He's alone." He said into the vox. "It must have really hit the fan."

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"I can't reach Chou," Vil shouted into his vox. "There's a hell of a lot of jamming." Enough that static was eating most of his transmission.

"-ot it," came Gix's reply. "cov- Chou. H'ethor . . . . .way."

He better ******* be, thought Calidan. They had people down there and a eleven hells worth of trouble.

Anjun Chou retrieved his pistol and picked up a guard's autogun. Full load. Nice. Not that those six legged bastards seemed very cooperative about dying when you shot them, besides being armoured and faster than a caffed up flash head with a full load on.

He tried his vox again and stopped immediately as he got an ear piercing squeal. So much for that plan. This really, really, sucked reprocessed Grox dung. "Hurry up and rescue my tender light brown ass," Chou muttered. "I'll perform depraved sex acts, banned by the Inquisition, no questions asked. Even if you are ugly." That's when the roof door swung open.

The thing at the door was a horrific mutant. And then Chou realized he wasn't. Genestealer. It was a hybrid of human and genestealer traits. It had three arms, two human ones and a genestealer claw. Its skull was distorted and its jaw was full of fangs. It wore an ill-fitting coverall that did not conceal its carapace. It gripped an autogun.

Anjun fired first. He poured a storm of bullets at the monstrous hybrid. The creature's torso erupted in a spray of red blood. Chou kept firing. It fell, spasming. Chou fired a burst into the doorway and looked around for some cover. A vent box was the only thing worthwhile and nearby. "Hurry the **** up," he muttered. Bullets zipped by him. He emptied the autogun into the doorway and switched to his pistol. This was not good.

"Chou's in a gun fight!" Vil yelled. "I don't have angle on the door. He needs help now!" He glared down on the roof from his scope. If he got a shot, he would take it. Chou was pumping rounds at his attackers, but there was a limit-Throne! What in the warp was that. Six legged, purple and fast, whatever it was.

Chou was down to the fancy las when the 'stealer rushed out of the doorway. He missed, clipped a leg (doing nothing to slow it down as far as he could tell), grazed its carapace, and then got a real good look at its jaws. Then it collapsed in a heap as a blue-white beam hit its back and severed its spine. His angel had come through again, although he suspected that it had a name and that name was Calidan Vil.

He heard a whoosh and then an explosion off to his left. He turned and saw a smoke contrail leading to a nearby stack and a smoking hole in its upper levels. Then whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, as three more rockets fired from the lower in the Chanai stacks to strike in the area around the first strike. The area where the shots had come from.

He turned towards the doorway. A half dozen genestealers poured out, running at him. "Throne," he said softly. Reflex caused him to raise his pistol.

The 'stealers exploded in a spray of blood, bone, and purple flesh. Chuncks of the roof came with them. A loud hammering noise came from behind him as the storm of fire continued, chewing the 'stealers to pieces. Chou turned and looked. A Valkyrie assault flyer with Arbites markings hovered behind him. The side door was open and it descended. Hethor D'eckor was standing in the doorway with a targeting scope over his eye and a heavy stubber in an assault sling. "Get your ass in!" Hethor yelled. Anjun Chou had never heard anything so good in his life.

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Kyra groaned as she regained consciousness. Her clothes had been sliced off and she was strapped to a table. She craned her head an immediately regretted it. She was looking into the eyes of a genestealer that was the size of an ogryn. Another smooth headed human stood beside the massive stealer. A Fourth generation hybrid. The magus, the public commander of the hive. Which meant the purestrain beside him was the Patriarch.

She could hear the drone of com equipment behind her. The magus smiled. "I see you have recovered consciousness. Don't bother trying to hide anything from me. Your wards have been removed, as you can see. If I need to, I can tear your mind apart. Not that you will want to resist us."

Which left the implanted blocker in her skull, against the power of the most powerful psyker in cult. She didn't like her odds. "You seem preoccupied," she hissed.

"*****!" The magus slapped her. Hard. He snarled in pain and shook his hand. She smiled. Steel reinforced bones came in handy. "Who is in charge of this attack?"

She smiled back. "I can only guess. Things going poorly? Don't bother to try and hide anything from me," she mocked.

"Do you think they will spare you? You're one of us now. We've injected you with geneplasm. They will burn you too. Soon you will be part of us in every way. You want to live, you will help us." She could feel the truth of his claim in her bones. If wasn't for her psi blocker, she would probably already be feeling the brood bond.

She snarled. "I don't even know what's happening. How can I help you?"
The magus gestured and the table swiveled. She saw the screens displaying numerous locations throughout the city. The PDF barracks had been utterly annihilated. Orbital lance strikes was her guess. The Imperial Commander's Palace was similarly devestated. Arbites flyers strafed the shattered stacks of the Chanai Trade Consortium. Vulture gunships with Navy markings lined up for an attack run.

"You've lost," she said. "One of the other inquisitors ordered this. There is no way we can survive. Preemptive strikes at the palace and the PDF because you have probably corrupted them. He will burn and purge us. We can't-" she stopped.

"You are still an inquisitor," the magus replied. "You can still arrange the redirection of certain resources. Enough to allow some of us to be preserved."

"Not from here. Not like this. They will know I've been taken. Compromised."

"Not the average soldier on the street. You will still have your authority. Enough to save the Patriarch. Your Patriarch. Smuggle a small core off the planet, including yourself."

"Yes," she said. "You're right. Get me out of this so I can get to work."

The magus looked at her for a moment and then nodded.

"Get my things," said Kyra.  "And an overcoat."  Brood brother minions hastily complied.  Kyra pulled on the remnants of her armour silk gown, put on her digital weapons, and donned an oversized stormcoat.. She picked up her las pistol and under the watchful eyes of the cult guards. She watched the displays on the remaining cameras. A horde of naval stormtrooper and Arbites were pouring into the building. She turned away from the screens to address the magus.

"You're going to have to follow closely. So will a body of troops. When we encounter the lead elements, I will direct them away from you and the Patriarch and towards the troops. I will continue to direct the enemy away from you to reinforce the lead elements. Then I will find us some kind of transport and get us off world before the other inquisitors are on to us."

The Patriarch growled. She could feel its words in her brain. Simply tell them to stop.

She replied. "They won't obey. And the other inquisitors must suspect that I am compromised and if I give that order they will know I am compromised. No, no big moves. Speed, stealth, and judicious use of my authority is what is needed."

The Patriarch growled again, but did not object. The magus pointed at the troops around them, a half dozen cult soldiers. "Come with us."

They marched out of the bunker-like room down a corridor towards a stairwell. The troops preceded them up six levels. "The fighting is close."

"Where is a place nearby I can stash the Patriarch? Some where out of the firing line."

"There are several rooms ahead," said the magus. "If you stand in the doorway and direct the troopers elsewhere it may work."

"Yes. Preferably rooms with lockable adjoining rooms or a closet. I can order them sealed off, bring a transport nearby and take you out." They have to be truly desperate to agree to this scheme.

The magus grinned. "I can make them see nothing. As long as there are only a few at a time."

Throne! She had forgotten about that. "Good. Let's move."

The jogged down the corridor. The snarling sounds of lases and the boom of shotguns was answered by the chattering of autofire. The fighting was close. The Patriarch and magus scuttled into a room out of the doors line of sight, behind a file cabinet and the desk. It was rather surprising how small the Patriarch could make his body.

The gun fire died down, only a few hissing lases. The Imperials were advancing. She yelled out. "Imperial Inquisitor! The enemy is down the corridor!"

A faceless head appeared momentarily and then mirror visored naval stormtroopers leap frogged down the corridor. She stood in the doorway. "Somebody get me a vox."

One of the troopers said something under his breath. "On the way, my lady. A special detachment is coming for you."

"Good. The enemy is right down there. Engage and destroy them."

"Your will, inquisitor." The stormtroops trotted past. She turned back to the room. Gix was going to have her checked out. She had no delusions about this "special detachment" and what it would do if she didn't cooperate. She closed the door.

"We have a few moments. It's working." The Patriarch and the magus relaxed slightly. And then she moved.

Charged blades, crackling with deadly power, extended from her right hand. The Patriarch's head exploded in to bloody ruin. The magus should have killed her right there, but her augmentics and the combat drugs that they dispensed made her faster off the draw than he was. He left fist connected with his solar plexus less than half a second after she killed the Patriarch.

She shattered his jaw before he folded and then struck nerve clusters in a rapid sequence before smashing his head against wall. Fourth generation hybrid. Almost identical to a human in all but genes. Her digital needler fired a paralytic into his blood stream and she hit him again and again until she was confident that he would give her no problems.

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