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Cynical Cat

In Memoria

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A squad of Naval Security stormtroopers carried her prize out of the ruined building behind her. Astropaths would be here soon to help secure the dangerous, but mangled psyker. Every part of Kyra's body ached. But they had one.

The streets of Lowport were filled with rubble and wrecked machines. Dead bodies lay scattered like discarded dolls around the Chanai Stacks. The heavy drone of gunship engines came from overhead and the barrels of crew served weapons could by seen poking out of the broken windows of adjacent buildings. Arbites vehicles controlled the streets. Heavily armed teams in battle armour and field medical kits combed the area. The intent was clear: none of the infected would be permitted to escape. This whole planet would soon be the site of a scouring.

Her escort was polite, but refused to obey her. They loaded her into a flier. She could see the huge pillars of black smoke rising up from the craters that used to be the PDF barracks and the Imperial Commander's palace. Maladar had arrived and taken control with his customary use of decisive and brutal action. And now it was her turn.

The flyer touched down on a roof pad of the Astra Telepathicus Guildhouse. It was more of an armoured tower than a stack and possessed its own shield generators. And most of its personnel came from off world. An odd choice for Maladar, but not an unreasonable one. The troops marched her down stairs and out into a corridor. Her heart skipped a beat. The brawny form of Hethor D'eckor stood there.

He was wearing full battle dress, but the heavy stubber he had been using for the last mission was replaced with an Arbites battle shotgun. He motioned her forward. "You boys are done. Go back to your unit." The head of the stormtroopers hesitated. "You heard me. You have your orders. Go." They turned and left. The door slid open.

The office was broad and spacious. A huge armourplast window looked out over the savaged city. A mammoth desk of shiny black teak was almost as long as the window. A gold and ebony cogitator screen nearly a meter long was off in one corner. Three hides of a large native mammal were spread out over the carpet in front of the desk. Maladar was nowhere to be seen. Sitting in the chair was Jolan Gix.

She stepped forward hesitantly. Hethor came through right behind her. The door slid shut. Even if she tried, there was no use fighting. Her reflexes were superior, but she would have to turn to kill Hethor while he only had to pull a trigger. A good precaution. Her students did not dissappoint. "Where is Maladar?"

"Still in the warp," Gix replied. Kyra's mind raced. Gix must have ordered the orbital bombardments. So her student did have it in him to do what must be done. She relaxed.

"I'm infected."

"I know. The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of it."

"Do your duty inquisitor."

"I am," Gix replied. "You're well past the age where you can reproduce so there is no danger of you passing on contaminated genes to the next generation. And you have already proven resistant to brood telepathic bond. An examination by astropaths will be held, to confirm this. The risk is low. Chemical dispenser implants and the correction of your gene runes by the Magi Biologis should reverse most of the damage. Your value to the Imperium is high and you are well worth the attempt. Logic dictates this is the proper course."

"That's why you had me taken here. So the Arbites-"

"And their snoops would not no what is going on. It is the Inquisition's business."

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The assault carrier fell through the atmosphere towards Low Port, escorted by six Lightning Fighters. In a compartment designed to hold a platoon of crack stormtroopers, fourteen beings were strapped in. Seven of them were men, the other seven were combat servitors with glittering chassis of ebony and chrome. Six of the men fell in ignorance of the outside world. The servitors did not have enough identity to care. The seventh was swimming through data.

The autosenses of his power armour relaid com signals, flight paths, and tactic maps to Maladar. In the vast galaxy spanning Imperium, technology varied greatly from the tech citadels of Forge World and the Chapter Houses of the Adeptus Astartes at one end to those of neolithic savages who populated feral worlds at the other. Of the higher technologies most were constructed along the rigid lines of standard patterns dictated by the surviving Standard Template Construction plans and the formulae of the Adpetus Mechanicus. Not all patterns were created equal and not all factories and artisans were up to the most difficult tasks. In all the Imperium, few suits of power armour other than those of the superhuman Astartes could match that worn by Inquisitor Maladar.

The assault boat began to decelerate, a punishing process to those who rode inside. Maladar's troops bore it without complaint and the servitors were incapable of caring. Soon the boat would touch down and their work would begin.

Maladar made a final review of the data. This world would have to be purged, concentrating primarily on the urban areas but with attention also given to remote rural enclaves were the genestealers could hide. The live capture of the cult magus was a coup as such individuals were almost never taken alive. It would be difficult, but once he was broken they could find out how far and wide the genestealer pestilence had spread.

The boat shook as it touched down. Maladar detached the safety harness and motioned his troops forward. The two heavily armoured assault servitors went first. Then the rest of his troops. Then the black armoured bulk of Inquisitor Maladar, last survivor of the line of Meridu Kings.

He strode across the roof pad towards four waiting figures. His entourage of killers followed. Two were Arbites judges, the third was a massive warrior as big as Maladar who was armed to the teeth. The fourth was Jolan Gix.

The young inquisitor was cool, Maladar would give him that. "Inquisitor Maladar, I'm glad you are here to join us. I'm sorry about your delay. We could have used your assistance earlier."

"An unexpected tide in the warp," Maladar replied. "You seem to have matters well in hand."

"Thank you," replied Gix.

"And Inquisitor Neven?"

"That is something we need to discuss. Alone."

Maladar removed his helmet and placed it on the huge desk of Jolan Gix's appropriated office. Gix looked into Maladar's ravaged face, the skin attached to his skull by gold sutures in several places, without flinching. Cosmetic improvements could have been made to Maladar's face, but he had cultivated this appearance to inspire horror and it usually succeeded. Gix didn't flinch, but an inquisitor's job was to unflinchingly confront horror.

"She was captured," Maladar said bluntly. "The odds are overwhelmingly-"

"Are irrelevant. She has been infected."

"Unfortunate. I didn't receive any report of her death," he said. He was fairly sure why. Gix couldn't bring himself to shoot his mentor. Unfortunate. That weakness meant that he had to go now, before his soft nature caused another disaster that Maladar wasn't around to take care of. Two more casualties for this campaign. Another two inquisitors on Maladar's total, bringing up to seven the number he had killed.

"That's because it was not necessary to kill her," Gix replied calmly.

Fool, Maladar thought. He's rationalized his decision. Before he could act, Gix spoke again. "Why is it necessary to exterminate infected individuals?" he said in the voice of a schola instructor.

"Brood bond and passing on genestealer taint," replied Maladar.

"Kyra is past child bearing age, so the 'stealer taint will just result in an increased sex drive. And as for the brood bond, she was able to turn on the magus and the Patriarch. Clearly, the combination of her lack of hybrid offspring, her willpower, and that psi blocker in her skull allows her to commit the ultimate defiance of the brood bond. Drug implants and correction to the damage of her gene runes should correct most or all of the damage. So where is the necessity of her death?"

Maladar hesitated. Gix's arguments sounded convincing. "You have verified this?"

"In case the Patriarch's death was just a trick? Yes. Deep probe confirms it." He passed a flimsy across his desk.

Maladar studied the flimsy for a moment. It confirmed Gix's statements. "What would you have done if this had not been convincing?"

"Nothing," replied Jolan Gix "But that wall over there has a niche covered by a holofield and some other stealth tech devices. Anjun Chou was rather disappointed by the extreme durability of the genestealers so I took the liberty of digging up a weapon from Kyra's secret stash. Not even your armour can shrug off a close range strike from an inferno pistol." Gix smiled. "Fortunately, it didn't come to that."

Maladar gazed a the young inquisitor. He had been outplayed, which was not a bad thing because this time Jolan Gix had been right. He nodded slightly to Gix. That one would either climb high in the annals of the Inquisition or die young. Maladar intended to see that it was the former. Acting to strengthen and preserve the Inquistion involved more than just culling the unworthy. Maladar turned away from his future superior and back towards his retinue. He had killing to do.

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Naval security troopers marched down the corridors of the ancient station. They wore full battle armour and their gloved hands clenched close assault autoguns with low velocity, high calibre ammunition. Ideal for shredding flesh without puncturing walls. A man and a woman lead the formation.

She was blond, a bit on the tall side, and powerfully built. She was strong rather than heavy and athletic rather than graceful. She wore a Naval Officer's coat with the insignia of full lieutenant. Her eyes were as hard and as merciless as targeting scanners. They missed nothing and they spared less.

Beside her was a slim man who was just a hair taller and quite a bit darker. A shallow scar marked his clean shaven face. He wore a leather stormcoat over an armoured body glove. Several weapons were holstered on his belt. An even more powerful one, an inquisitorial rosette, hung from his neck.

An armsman stood by the door, but had enough sense to yield without question. The door was secured, of course, by Severa had obtained the code some time ago. A skeleton key card released the lock and the door slid open.

The room was large and opulently furnished. Severa could have told Jolan the world where each and every luxury good in it came from. He didn't care. High ranking military commanders were often hereditary nobles as well as enjoying the perks and status that came with their positions. Mere wealth wasn't damning.

Sounds came from a side room. Male grunting and female gasps. Severa smiled, a wolf's grin that she had picked up in the last few days from Inquisitor Gix. With a touch, the door slid open.

The huge bedchamber was in disarray. Captain Parlin's revolting girth dominated the mammoth bed with its fur coverlet and its layers of silks. Beneath him writhed a petite, pale skinned brunette while a lithe chocolate skinned blonde stroked him. The blonde started when the door slid open. Parlin continued thrusting for a few moments before realizing that something had happened.

He turned his head, his jowls shaking in anger. "Captain Parlin," Severa said coolly, her lips twisted in a smile. "You're under arrest."

Parlin's face turned an ugly shade of red. "You don't have the authority! I'll have your balls for this Valin. When I'm done with you, you'll be a mind scrubbed involuntary in a field brothel in the ass end of the galaxy!"

"I think not," she replied. It was all she could do to keep from breaking out into laughter. She extended her hand. "Have you met Inquisitor Gix?"

Parlin's eyes went wide and his mouth worked for a moment, but nothing came out. Severa's mocking laughter rang through the room as two troopers strode forward towards what was once the most powerful man on the station.

Severa walked into Parlan's office. Jolan Gix was perched on Parlan's chair, connecting data cables to the cogitator. He looked up as she entered. "Ah, Lieutenant Valin. Thank you for coming."

"My pleasure inquisitor."

Gix stopped fiddling with the cogitator and leaned back in Parlan's chair. "I came here expecting to dig around to find the evidence that would point me in the right direction. And what happens? There's a mountain of evidence that practically falls into my lap. You've been a tremendous help."

"Thank you inquisitor. It was my pleasure."

"I imagine it was. Your performance was exemplary."

"I doubt the Navy will see it that way. It does not tend to forgive junior officers who betray their superiors or who help give the Navy a public black eye. I'm sure they can find some suitably unpleasant posting for me to spend the rest of my career." She had a wry smile on her face.

"I'm sorry about," Gix replied.

"I've dreamed of commanding a starship since I was a child, but a Valin does not need to be told to do her duty. My honor is intact."

"Yes it is," he said softly. "There is another option. Your record, before this posting, is excellent. Your technical and investigative skills are without question. I could use your talents and you can serve the Imperium far more effectively than in some dead end assignment. And the Inquisition has ships of its own."

Hope flickered in her eyes. "A Valin does not have to be told to do her duty."

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Serel squinted as he stepped out of the cool shade of the bar and into the hot sunlight. He plucked his sunshields off of his harness and put them on. Much better. There were many advantages to working for the Starborn and he intended to get all of them. His eyes drifted east to the plateau.

The Starborn had come nearly one hundred summers ago, in the time of his great-great grandfather. They had descended from sky and made their home on the Pillar of Heaven. Some of the tribes had thought they were the gods. Some had thought they were demons. When the Starborn had descended from the cloud shrouded heights, they had proclaimed that they had come at the behest of the Skyfather. The explained they had come to lead the people into a new Golden Age. Most of the tribes correctly interpreted this as a demand for submission. They had responded with war.

It had been over quickly. The Starborn had weapons worthy of gods. None could stand against them. The Brothers of Trees, Serel's ancestors, had fortunately been half a continent away and uninvolved in the Landfall War, as the Starborn called it. The victors always named the wars.

The plains folk had become the serfs of the Starborn, but they had also reaped some of the benefits. Treatment and learning from Starborn healers, protection from their warriors, plumbing, and metal. Serel smiled. The Starborn truly possessed the knowledge of the Skyfather and serving them had made him rich. He had two wives and a large house with running water. Starborn trained healers had attended to the birth of his children. All of his weapons were steel and he had a weapon better than that of any chief: a breech loading rifle.

A medallion on his harness beeped. He had served the Starborn well as a guide, well enough that one of the treasures that they had given him was an amulet they called a vox. With it, they could summon him if they needed him and he could call for their assistance. He picked the vox off his harness and touched a button. "Yes?" he said in Gothic.

"Serel Two Feathers, of the Brothers of Trees?" asked a familiar voice. It was Captain Resarc, of the Commander's Guard.

"Yes," Serel replied. "It is good to speak to you again captain."

"Uh yes, yes it is. The Imperium has need of your services." The Starborn called their tribe the Imperium.

"I would be delighted to assist you, honoured captain. Great is my sorrow that I have already accepted a commission to guide those among the Starborn." Some among the Starborn had wanted to travel to the Sun's Anvil, the savanna to the south. They had offered much wealth for an experienced guide and their were none better than Serel Two Feathers.

"The Imperium commands otherwise," said Resarc. "Your other commissions will wait. How soon can you reach The Tower?"

Serel bristled. He was not of the Starborn and he knew that he did not think of him as equal. But never before had they upended his life. For a moment he considered defiance, but it would be folly. Resistance was punished by death and all his wealth came from them. He consulted his chronometer. "Thirty minutes," he said. The actual number was ten, but his pride demanded at least a little defiance.

"Then be there."

The Tower was a great cylinder of metal that stretched into the sky. A bridge connected its top to the City of the Gods. Two huge platforms worked its length, transferring people and cargo from the City of Gods to the Platter. A squad of Starborn warriors stood guard at the base, their faces obscured by mirror shields and their bodies covered in armoured temperature controlled bodygloves. Long steel knives hung at their waists and autoguns were slung on their backs. As Serel approached, one who bore the stripes of a sergeant approached. He flipped up the visor. Serel grinned.

"Two Feathers."

"Narson. How fair you?"

"Well. Your wives and children?"

"They prosper. My oldest son attends the school."

"My congratulations. Many believe the graduates will become Starborn and that pleases me." That rumour was common and Serel believed it. It was the their knowledge that made the Starborn so powerful. They possessed the secrets of the Technos, the magic that produced all their mighty talismans. But they were few in number.

"I have been summoned here by Captain Resarc," Serel explained although he had permission to use the elevators.

"Ahh. You are the reason she is here?"

"She?" The Starborn had women among their numbers, but they did not often intrude upon the business of men.

"Yes," he said, jerking his thumb behind him. "Her." The woman in question wore an armoured bodysuit like a warrior of the Starborn, not the unarmoured version that the rest of the Starborn wore when they descended from the City of the Gods. The Starborn didn't like the heat.

She was a blond, which while rare even among them, was more common among the Starborn. Broad shouldered and strong, she was much more powerfully built than the People. A lot of Starborn were. A single edged sword with a short, heavy blade hung from her belt. On the opposite side was a holstered pistol. Two skulls encrusted with strange talismans floated beside her.

She walked forward, her skull-talisman's trailing behind her. One of skulls had gun barrels protruding from its eye sockets. Serel had never seen its like. She was two or three centimeters taller than Serel. "I'm told you speak Gothic."

"Yes, my lady."

"Severa will do," she replied. "I am told you are the best guide to western jungles, specifically the area beyond the Poisoned Vale." That area was accursed. Serel had been near their, had dealt with some of the tribes, and spoke their dialect.

"The best you will find," he replied proudly.

"Good. Then you will assist us."

"The place you wish to go is dangerous. Many witches are to be found at the Poisoned Vale. No place for a man, let alone a woman."

"So I've heard," she said. Her voice turned hard and her eyes flashed. "But I am not a woman, but a servant of the Inquisition, a ghost of flesh and bone." The Starborn shrank away at those words while Serel's mouth dropped in awe. "Whatever the Inquisitor commands will be done. He is the storm and none shall withstand him."

Serel bowed low. He did not know what the Inquisition was but it awed even the Starborn and power rode on her words. "My lady, I obey."

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Serel rode the elevator to the top of the tower. The woman rode with him. The Starborn were different, but she was not like any Starborn he had met before. It wasn't the arrogance, but the deference she commanded even from them. They looked at her like the People regarded the Starborn.

She smiled as the elevator rose through the tower into the clouds. Finally, it reached the top and the heavy gates swung open. A bridge of grey metal stretched from the tower to the top of the mountain and the the City of the Gods.

From the Field of Starfall, to the great apartment complexes, the arsenals of the manufactoriums, and the palace of the Imperial Commander, the City of the Gods was greater than any structure of the People. Great gleaming white buildings, wide smooth roads, sprawling garden-parks, and giant factories were all infinitely greater than the buildings of the people. The occult secrets of plumbing, sewers, and electricity were wonders that the People could only regard with awe.

A sleek black limousine awaited the ghost-woman. "Come on," she said as she sauntered over to it. The elevators of the tower were huge so they transport the warm machines of the Starborn to the ground, although they could also use the winding road. Serel had seen the limousines before, but only the greatest of the Starborn road in them. He followed.

The interior was dark and cool and the leather seats seemed to adhere to his flesh. The car took them through the streets, past the houses of the highest castes and the buildings of the Adminstratium and through the gates of the Commander's palace. The car stopped and the ghost-woman got out.

A giant greeted the ghost-woman. He was bald, which the People regarding as a sign of weakness, but did not seem weak at all. His skin was the same colour as that of the People and the sign of the holy aquila was tattooed on his forehead. "He's waiting," the giant said in Gothic.

She nodded. "This is Serel. He's going to be our guide. Let's go introduce him to the man," she said with a smile on her lips.

The giant laughed. "Sure." He lead them inside the building and through its interior until they reached a lounge. Several Starborn were there, sitting in chairs and talking, as well as two strangers. The Starborn were all Rangers, the Commander's elite troops. The strangers were . . . .odd.

One was wearing flashy colours like a warrior of the People. He wore a brilliant red jacket and a vibrant blue shirt of some kind of silk. He wore trousers of a dark material and the gold rings and bracelets of a blooded warrior. He even had the look of a southerner.

The other looked like a hero. Tall, well built, with a lordly manner and shiny black hair (even if it was cut to short); he seemed every inch a leader of men. His left cheek was marked with a scar. He gazed a Serel. "You are the guide?"

"Yes lord," Serel replied.

"Good. The Rangers have high praise for your skills. You are familiar with the Poisoned Vale?"

"Yes lord. I know the tribes of the region and speak their tongue."

The lord smiled. "I am Jolan Gix and it is the will of the Emperor that I deal with menace there. You will assist us in this endeavour and you will be richly rewarded if we succeed."

"If I refuse?" Serel asked. The answer would tell him what kind of man he was dealing with.

"The danger I am here to deal with threatens, the People, the Starborn, and your own family. I would do my best to persuade you otherwise. If that was not effective, I would escalate to unpleasant threats. If that failed, I would make an example out of you and everything you love that would cause even hardened warriors to blanch. The next guide would accept."

Brutal, direct, honest. And the threats were not his first choice. "Lord, I am your man." What other choice did Serel have?

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Lord Gix promised a king's ransom in gold should he return alive from this mission and a pension should none of them return. He was given time to compose a message to his wives and children, explaining his absence to them. A Starborn scribe transcribed his words onto paper that a messenger would then repeat.

He advised the Starborn on what equipment to pack, but the Rangers did not need his help. There were six of them there and he knew them all. They were blooded warriors, men of note who had travelled far from the City of the Gods without their brothers around to support them. They always won and came back with trophies. Each Ranger was marked with a tattoo for every victory. Their bare arms were lists of triumphs.

The hauled bags of goods towards a landing field. A great flying machine called a Valkyrie waited. Inside it had room for many warriors and their weapons. The Rangers began securing their packs inside.

The giant assisted them in loading. They gave him great deference. The respect, and fear, was clear in their body language. As the Starborn tending to be taller and broader than the People, so he was taller and broader than the Starborn. The woman was hauling gear as well. The southern looking one was nowhere to be seen.

His possessions were fewer than that of the Starborn. Just a pack with dried food, some ammunition, a change of clothes, and a few tools. Surviving in the Poisoned Vale was more a matter of knowing what not to eat and not getting offending the tribes of the region. In his heart, he feared the inquisitor intended to bring war to those tribes. The weapons and machines of the Imperium were mighty, but they would need more men to bring the tribes to heel. To go attempt such with so few men was to invite death.

Lord Gix arrived with the southron in tow. They slung their bags and hopped in. They belted in with a considerable degree of familiarity. The southron was wearing an armoured bodyglove like the rest now. The Valkyrie's engines whined as the pilot brought them on line and then they were lifting into the air.

The trip took nearly an hour before they reached their destination, a large clearing somewhere deep inside the mist shrouded jungle. As the Valkyrie neared the ground, the Rangers dropped out and formed a perimeter. Bags were then unloaded and claimed by their owners.

Lord Gix raised his hand and consulted glowing lights that appeared on his skin. He turned to Serel. "You've had friendly dealings with the L'rex before?" The tribe was one of the fiercer ones and even for the people of this region, known to possess many witches among its numbers.

"Yes lord. Two years past."

"They should be that way," he said pointing to the west. "Let's get moving."

Jolan consulted the repeater screen on the back of his arm. Nav coordinates said they were close now. It had been a three hours hard march through the jungle, making slower progress than he had expected. Maybe he was getting soft and maybe it was just that spending the last two years in urban environments and space had thrown him off a little.

The heat and humidity would have been brutal without the environmental bodygloves. Not that Two Feathers seemed to be bothered. Chou was as uncomfortable as hell, always fidgeting and not used to trekking along with a pack over his shoulder. The inquisitor drifted back in line and matched the smaller man's pace. "How are you holding up?" he asked.

Sweat ran down Chou's face. "It ain't what I would be like to be doing boss, but I'll hold up." He was carrying less gear than the rest of them. Gix looked at him closely, nodded, and then headed for the front of the line. The Rangers didn't like him moving around. Everyone had their own spot in the line, their own job. The Inquisition imposed its own priorities, including having the commander move around and check up on people.

Strange birds cawed above them. Their calls sounded like tom cats fighting over right of way on top of a fence. The canopy was too thick to see them properly. "Jolan," came Severa's voice from ahead. She had moved her hand to call a halt. Everyone was grabbing the nearest cover. He lengthened his stride and joined her behind a tree.

"Human bio readings. Ahead, less than fifty meters." She had her Necromundia pattern unslung and ready for action.

"Keep calm," Jolan ordered. "We want to make peaceful contact with these people. But if they attack, take them all out." He peered ahead. Severa's auspexes said their should be something there, but he couldn't see them.

"Hethor?" Jolan asked.

The big soldier pointed. "There and there. They're good at this." He had done his share of jungle fighting, although this mist shrouded piss pit was worse than what he served. Well, maybe not. No commissars here and the officer was a hell of a lot better.

Gix looked. "I don't-, now I see them. Clever." He stood up and made a move to step out. Severa had a vice grip on his arm.

"Someone else" she hissed. She nodded. Hethor got up and stepped out. The veteran slung his Triplex pattern las across his back as he stepped forward.

Hethor bellowed. "Serel, get you butt up here."

The scout moved forward. "Tell them that we've come to help them," Gix said.

The scout repeated it in the local dialect. Then white painted warriors emerged from behind trees and fern like bushes. Their forms were indistinct and easily lost in the fog that shrouded them. One of them shouted back. The scout turned back to Gix. "They will take us to their hetman."

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The village of the Mist Walkers was composed of long houses built on stilts. Wooden walkways connected the houses in a semi-circle of human habitation. Women and children went about the tasks of daily living. They were unpainted and resembled the rest of the inhabitants of the planet. Slim and short, although a lighter shade of brown than most. The first part would eventually change, of course. The planet's gravity was slightly lower than average, but much of their diet was composed of local foods of limited nutritional value. As the Imperium spread, so would crops and livestock that were fully compatible with human biology.

The warriors lead them into the largest long house. Mats and weapons hung from the walls and a dirt and stone lined hearth was in the center of the floor. Three score men, mostly young, were ranged around the cold hearth, waiting for them. Weapons were by their sides, mostly stone headed spears and man killing clubs. The men in the center were older and wore more spectacular plumage. Several of them were armed with steal machetes. The senior warriors, lodge leaders, and shamans of the community.

Jolan extended his warp senses. A grey haired wrinkled man flickered with mostly constrained power. He had either been missed by the Schola Psychia sweep or they had died before reaching this village. Probably epsilon, high delta at the most. He wore gorgeous turquoise and jade feathers.

The old man might be a torch, but the white painted boy marked with black streaks was a bonfire. He looked at Gix with soulless eyes, measuring. Ice creeped down his spine as he looked closer. Not soulless, scarred. He's seen too much, even at this tender age. He had seen the insanity and monstrosities of the warp, and perhaps more. So be it. Gix had not been innocent at his age either. The Black Ships and the dungeons had disabused him of any childish illusions he had harboured.

A man wearing a cloak of cyan and scarlet feathers spoke. Gix turned to Serel. "He invites us to sit and speak with him in council."

"Tell him we accept," said Gix. He sat, crossing his legs tailor fashion. Hethor and Severa knelt. The Rangers remained standing.

The chief spoke again. Serel translated. "He says there has been much change in the last few years. That many strangers have come to the People. And there have been changes among the People. He does not approve."

Women came around with bowls of an earthy smelling substance. Severa tapped an instruction and then nodded. Her auspexes had cleared it. Gix took a sip. It tasted a little like potatoes, perhaps spiced with paprika. He slurped noisily as was the custom and put the bowl down.

"Tell him we have come because we have heard of a great evil that may soon oppress his people and ours."

Serel nodded and exchanged more words with the chief. The shaman and the boy continued to look a Gix suspiciously. "He doesn't believe us. He says the ones who came before made that claim, but took his spirit talkers as slaves. He says why should he choose between the Sky Men and the Death Walker?"

Gix's eyes narrowed. The witch-king had been a rumour, but these people seemed to know him. Good. "Tell him that speaking with spirits is dangerous and that we have lore that will protect them." Half true. "Tell us of the Death Walker."

Serel nodded. He exchanged more words. The chief wasn't happy. "He asks us what we will give him for compensation for the insult."

Throne! Gix silently cursed. "Ask this fool what he wants," he growled. The Schola party had been large enough that it had been able to take what they wanted. Now the chief thought he could extract some concessions. There was only so far Gix was prepared to go.

Serel turned back to Gix. "He wants a rifle. And Severa."

Jolan said softly. "Drop everyone but the chief. Don't finish the wounded."

Gix struck without warning. The boy was enveloped in column of blue-white fire that incinerated the men next to him. The boy screamed, but that was probably just the air being blasted out of his lungs. The Rangers opened up with the thunder of their autoguns.

Warriors were mowed down before they could stand. Bullets smashed through the front of skulls, splattering the area with blood and brains. Torsos were punctures, limbs shredded, and organs ruptured as the high velocity soft metal slugs dumped their energy into human bodies in a most destructive fashion.

Severa blew the head off of the shaman with her naval pistol and then put two large calibre rounds in the chest of another warrior. Within ten seconds, everyone was dead or dying but the chief.

He had sat stunned for a moment and then charged with his machete. Hethor had battered the weapon aside with his armoured forearm and threw him the ground.

Gix uncrossed his legs and took a red case out of his backpack. He walked back over to the hetman. "Now, let us discuss the Death Walker again."

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A short burst of autogun fire echoed came from ahead. Another short burst followed. "Clear," a voice rang out. Serel moved ahead. The corpse of a sabre fanged tredont was twitching on the ground, it's torso and skull punctured by the Ranger's bullets. The rest of the group gave the carnivore a large berth.

Serel walked over to Gix. "You desire to seek out this Death Walker?"

Gix replied. "Yes."

"He must by a mighty witch to make these people afraid of him."

Gix shrugged. "Probably. I'm more concerned about the Schola Psychia sweepers that disappeared. They were going to investigate this witch-king, whatever he has taken to calling himself. They didn't come back."

"You think the Death Walker killed them?"

"Probably. And we will kill him. In any case, the idea that a renegade psyker can resist Imperial authority is unacceptable. He is going down regardless."

Serel hesitated. "By this you mean you will kill him?"

"Yes," Gix replied.

"But you suspect he has overcome Imperials who were ready for him? A large party?"

"Yes."

"And you have gathered a war party of less than a dozen men to kill him?"

"No. They-" Gix swept his hand to indicate to the people around him, "are here to kill his minions. I will kill him."

"You alone?"

Gix shrugged. "Yes. Why not? It is what I do."

Serel eyed him. "So the talismans you possess will allow you to overcome the Death Walker."

"Possibly," Gix replied. "But I don't think I'll need them. In the end, everything burns."

-

"Right there," the Ranger whispered. Gix followed the Ranger's finger.

"Well camouflaged, but around our good friend the hetman said they would be." Jolan crawled back through the underbrush. "Sev, get your auspexes to work."

"Already on it," she whispered back. "There's nearly a thousand adult humans in the vicinity. If a third of them are males of fighting age, that's over three hundred enemy combatants."

"Inquisitor, we are with you," Captain Leran began, "but the odds are fifty to one against and we know they have psykers."

"Yes," answered Gix. "We cannot allow any part of this planet to successfully defy Imperial authority."

"With all do respect a gunship attack-"

"Will either be destroyed with a psychic counter attack or kill a few and scatter the rest. No, we will attack and finish the job ourselves. Just not yet."

He pulled an amulet on a plastic string out of his pocket. He handed it to Serel. "Put it on."

The scout obeyed. "What is it?"

"Psi-blocker. It will help protect you from psychic assault. Heth, set up a watch schedule. Everyone else, catch whatever sleep you can. We hit them at two hours past local midnight."

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Under the canopy of trees, neither the moons nor the stars could be seen. The Imperials crawled forward through the underbrush with nightvision goggles on. Their enemies were easily visible through the green murk and Severa's auspexes sent data to the repeater on Jolan's sleeve.

There were sentries posted, of course. And dogs as well. Behind was Serel Two Feathers, with a pair of goggles courtesy of Hethor's bag. D'eckor himself used his targeter eyepiece for nightvision and benefited from the superior Necromundian technology.

Jolan slid around the perimeter. Some of the dogs were beginning to stir.
It was earlier than he would have preferred as everyone wasn't in position yet. So be it.

Grenades flew from his harness and into the windows and doorway of the largest house. Although the huts were hung with branches and built next to the trunks of great trees for concealment, they were essentially the same design of those of the Mist Walkers. Most of them detonated with noisy cracks as they filled the air with shrapnel Several detonated with duller thumps.

Autoguns opened up on the sentries and dogs. Flesh was torn open and bones shattered by the small calibre, high velocity rounds. Severa's skulls floated through the darkness, the hunter taking up position above the center of the village and the gun-skull gliding towards the largest lodge. Jolan unslung his Necromundia pattern lasgun and began to shoot the warriors as the exited their lodges.

Bright beams pierced the night and flesh exploded as the water in their tissues flash boiled. Bodies jerked and fell as the killing hail continued. As the Rangers, Jolan, and Severa concentrated on killing the Death Walker's men as they emerged, Hethor closed the distance.

Matted to his Tripex pattern las was an underbarrel grenade launcher. He pumped grenades into the doorways and windows of lodges. They exploded the dull thumps. Heth smiled under his breathing mask. These poor bastards had no defences against poison gas, which Jolan's plan took ruthless advantage of.

Hethor burned down two men and a screaming woman before Severa's warning caused him to turn to the left and put two beams in the chest of a charging adolescent. His ribcage blew open, spraying blood, tissue, and bone into the air. Heth put another grenade into a window.

Severa fed data to the Rangers, warning them of warriors moving along their flanks as she picked her targets and burned them down. The indicator marking Gix was advancing. Behind her she heard the sound of Serel's rifle and another blip stopped.

"Jolan, what in the Emperor's Name are you doing?!" she screamed over the channel. Keeping that **** inquisitor alive was a full time job.

"They're about to mob Hethor!" he snarled back. His las burned a brilliant bar across the night as he fired it rapidly. The loud cracks of detonating frag grenades followed it.

Hethor burned through the last shot in his power cell as the screaming band approached. He had gotten cocky. They didn't have enough firepower to bottle up all the houses. The body count had been terrible, but not enough to deter them. He dropped the Tripex and drew his pistols.

Two gun shooting was usually stupid. There are exceptions. Charging mobs are one of them. He alternated kills, putting high calibre slugs in bodies with his left hand and burning las holes with the right. Men and women fell with gruesome injuries as the swarm closed.

Then loud cracks ripped through the mob as frag grenades detonated among them. Chunks of arms and legs flew through the air in a bloody spray. A full auto las tore through the survivors. Hethor added his own las to the carnage. In a few more moments their was only the moaning of the wounded and the cries of the dying.

From behind came alternating bursts as the Rangers killed. Jolan and Hethor methodically reloaded. Hethor had just picked up his Tripex when Jolan suddenly twisted his head.

A humanoid figure drifted out of the door of one of the smaller lodges. It was naked, with skin was pierced with bone needles and ivory amulets. A crown of of small horns covered its head and a thorny member dangled to its knees. Hellish blue light shone from its eyes.

"A good plan," it gloated. "Kill the psykers while they sleep and then mop up the rest. Frag grenades and poison gas will kill just about anyone if they are unprepared. But they won't kill me, Jolan Gix. And now I will kill you."

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"Perhaps not," replied Jolan. The air shimmered as a blast of telekinetic energy knocked the daemonhost back into the lodge. Gix slung his las and pulled out his force rod. His other hand removed palmed a small object from a pouch. Plans and contingencies, such was the content of the mind of Jolan Gix.

Hethor broke to the side and rammed the Triplex to its highest power setting while feeding more grenades into the launcher. The daemonhost screamed and floated out the doorway, illuminated by a poisonous green light. Bullets struck it, but failed to penetrate. Hethor stitched three bloody holes craters across it's chest and ducked to the side. Claw-like strokes of blue light tore up the side of the lodge he had been hiding behind.

The daemon snarled and then screamed. A blue-white lance of psychic flame struck it. The lodge behind it burst into flames from the heat. It's skin blackened and curled. "Nice try, Jolan Gix. You can hurt me, but you can't-"

The roar of the impacting fireball drowned out it's reply. The impact spun the daemonhost in the air and knocked it back into the burning building. It's exit was preceded by four curved claw-like strands of light that lashed out and closed on Gix. Light flashed from their impacts and the inquisitor staggered.

The daemon floated forward. "You're strong and you would have gotten stronger, Gix. But your career ends now, as your agony begins." The daemon's words were punctuated with a thump. It turned towards the sound as the krak grenade impacted on its arm.

The explosion flayed the limb, shattering the bone and sending muscle tissue flying. It cursed and swore in a language that Hethor did not speak as the veteran took cover. The daemon unleashed a flesh flurry of light-talons that shredded the lodge. "You are doomed, you pathetic mortals! Nothing can change that! You can only buy yourselves more pain!"

Wrong on two counts, thought Jolan Gix as he triggered the injector and sent another fireball into the daemonhost's side. The ball of green witchfire detonated in a brilliant flash. Jolan was already running for cover. He could already feel the spook beginning to take effect.

The daemon turned back towards Gix as he vanished behind several trees. Its skin, what little remained, was blackened and cracked. The flesh underneath was red and seared. It tore a two meter wide tree apart with a flurry of its light talons and shredded the underbrush behind it. The great tree fell on its jagged stump, slipped, and began to topple. No sign of Jolan Gix.

Gix's voice rang out, loud and mocking. "Did you really think I wasn't prepared for you, little daemon slave? That I wouldn't consider the possibility of a daemonhost? Come on, oh lordly one. Slay me, if you can!" The inquisitor walked out into the open.

The daemon raged and struck with its light talons. Light flashed, as bright as a lightning strike. Gix was unmoved. Power was coursing through his veins. Spook made even blunts psykers, for a while. Psykers like Gix, it made even more powerful and sometimes it unlocked hidden talents. It was potentially dangerous and quite illegal, like many of the tools of the Inquisition. He raised his force rod.

The blue-white lance burned through the daemon's abdomen. It screamed, fire erupting from its mouth. Terrible talons grew on it fingers, claws charged with deadly warp energies. It flew at Jolan Gix like a falling star.

And was held, three meters from the Inquisitor. The daemon host snarled. "You can't hold me forever Gix. Soon your strength will drain away. You can't strike me down while pinning me here, you need all your power for that. You. Still. Lose."

"Wrong," said a woman's voice behind it. Severa's power blade severed its right arm and then it's left in a pair of strikes that took less than a second. Her power cutlass bisected its head quartered its torso in a flurry of horizontal strikes. Jolan dropped the quivering mass to the ground and gestured for Hethor and Severa to retreat.

"Burn," he said and a pillar of flame lit the night.

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Jolan reached over for the decanter and poured more juice into his glass. There was something wrong with the building's blowers and the sticky heat of the outside had crept in and settled. He poured another glass for Severa and handed it to her.

"Thanks," she said. "What now?"

"A sweep and purge. The survivors of the region will be examined and assigned to whatever tasks the Imperium needs manpower for or disposed of."

Anjun looked up. "So everyone gets enslaved or killed."

Jolan took a sip. He didn't mind the heat as much as the others and couldn't bear to spend another unnecessary moment in his body glove. He was wearing loose fitting slacks and button down shirt of vibrant red silk. "Yes. It's unfortunate, but we aren't merely talking about renegade psykers but a full blown chaos cult in the region. Cleansing isn't enough. They must be scoured."

"And the innocent?" asked Chou.

"As always, they suffer. But it ends with this, hopefully for a long time. There will be no more witches rising to power without restraint and dominating tribes for generations. It was more difficult than I expected. Their witch-king managed to bind a daemon host and not a mere lesser daemon but a daemon prince. Fortunately, it was neither strong nor lightly bound."

Severa looked at him. "It wasn't lightly bound?"

"However a daemonhost is formed, whether by deliberate summoning or possession, it is a body possessed by part of a daemon. Several things affect how powerful the daemonhost is. The strength of the host, as a powerful daemon will quickly consume a weak host and fall back to the warp. The strength of the daemon, of course, and the strength of the binding. Stronger bindings mean greater control over the daemon but limit its power."

"It was close enough for my taste," Chou said. He had merely sniped from the edges during the fight. By the time he had gotten close enough to use the inferno pistol, others had been in the way. Not that anyone could complain about Severa's results.

"I still had a trick or two left," replied Gix. "But pinning it for Severa was by far the best choice at that point."

'I hate this place," said Chou. "When do we leave?"

"Leave? Someone has to supervise the purge. We're going to be here another four months, at least." Chou groaned. Gix smiled. Before they left, they should check out some beaches. Maybe get a little fishing in.

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A little bit of background here:  this story started a few background pieces on the character I was playing in a forum game back in 2005.  It grew from there.


This next section is a summary on what went down in the 147 pages worth of game thread which ties into future In Memoria entries. You can see it here if you want to read it: http://bbs.stardestroyer.net/viewtopic.php?t=57445

Here's handy summary if you don't want to wade through all that.

-

953. M41

To: Lord Calistin Rall, Ordo Malleus, Nova Sector, Ultima Segmentum

From: Inquisitor Jolan Gix

Subject: Adraxian Incident

Greetings, my lord. As one of the first inquisitors on hand for the start and through the duration of what is now being called "The Cyrian Incident", It falls upon me to make a full report. The name itself is misleading. The incident did not start at Cyrus Gamma, but on Adraxia.

We (see attachment A2 for full list of all personnel involved) were initially summoned to Adraxia by Lord Vonrilyental of the Ordo Hereticus to deal with a renegade sect of Adeptus Mechanicus who had attacked members of the blessed Adeptus Astartes. Our attack and cleanse operation revealed that they had been acting in paranoid defence of an archeotech stash, latter fully catelogued by members of the Inquisition and orthodox members of the Adeptus Mechanicus (see attachment C1).

That was a lie, of course. Most of the archaeotech had been secreted away. There he had fallen in with Lord Vonrilyental and joined a cabal dedicated to bringing the true science of technology back to the Imperium. But the initial struggle had not been without cost. Anjun Chou's skull had been smashed by the intelligent war machines known as the Men of Iron who acted as custodians of the archeotech.  Heretical machines with minds, but not souls, machines who claimed they were pledged to serve mankind and willing to share a treasure trove of lost technology.  

Almost immediately, we were beset by uprisings of the followers of Tzeentch and then by raiders from the traitorous Black Legion. During these incidents, evidence emerged to suggest that Commodore Lena Novdalorin enjoyed the favor of the Emperor and might be a living saint. By the time both those crisis had been quelled, we faced a subsector wide emergency. Interrogator Pater Novum was promoted to inquisitor following the death of his master (See attachment A5).

So few words for so much bloodshed. The arrogant cultist who called himself the Psy King and the nearly invincible Black Legion raiders still haunted Gix's dreams. And then there was Lena and poor doomed Nathan, an inquisitor lost in the warp for ten millenia. A man who had met the Emperor himself.

A naval expedition put an end to the threat of renegade cruisers (see attachment B4), which cleared the way to take out the center of the insurgency on the hive world of Cyrus Gamma. The expedition fought a successful space battle against Black Legion forces, including the destruction of a heretic battle barge (See attachment B5). While a team was dispatched to attract the renegades attention and reinforce the holdouts, a detachment under my command assassinated the daemon prince Tendao, commander of the Chaos forces on Cyrus Gamma (see attachments D1 &D2).

Such dry words for nightmarish campaigns. Massive battles in ruined hive cities and an assault on a deadly fortress only to find its commander was a daemon prince in a warped human host body. Every erg of his strength had not been enough. But Hethor had tipped the balance.

Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that the remaining heretics attempted a major summoning. Lord Vonrilyental lead and expeditionary force to stop them. Despite heavy losses, the summoning was interrupted. The daemon manifest anyway, albeit in a weakened form. Inquisitors Talstrem and Vonrilyental perished in the resulting combat and the daemon was eventually dispatched with lance fire from orbit (See attachment E1).


This left out the continuation of the conspiracy by Novum and himself. It left out the recruitment of Colonel-Commissar Prius Ristani as their agent and their plans to approach Inquisitor Varian. It left out the Men of Iron and the archeotech weapons entirely. It did mark one thing: Jolan's Gix's progress from pawn to knight in the Inquisition Wars.

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Jolan raised his hand, hesitated, and then knocked on the cabin door. A moment latter it slid open. Severa smiled at him. She was wearing her full naval officer's get up, but with Inquisition patches. She was a broad shouldered woman of not insignificant height and it added to her air of authority. She smiled. "Jolan, come in." She stepped aside.

The quarters assigned to her were fairly spacious. The frantic fighting on this star fort had been won by the Inquisition and its agents and she was the one the navy brass dealt with on a day to day level. They hadn't stinted her on quarters as a result. She had been firm but professional with them, making sure that Gix's will was executed while not damaging their pride.

He quarters consisted of sitting room and a bed room, both furnished with silks, furs, and woven cloths from worlds throughout the subsector. Most interstellar commerce went through navy hulls and it kept a share for itself. "Business or pleasure?" she smiled.

Somewhere along the line they had slipped from being friends into something more. How much the fear and chaos of battle had played into it was hard to tell. Time together was one thing they had had little of. And now if he cared about her he was going to have to give her up.

"I talked with the commodore," he said.

"About what?"

"About being your returning to naval service. Here, away from your enemies. With Lena as your patron. She said yes." Severa's eyes lit up like suns.

"Oh Jolan!" She swept him off his feet and swung him around laughing. And then it hit her. She lowered him down. "And that means . . ."

"Yes. If you take it, we aren't going to be together. Don't get me wrong, I want you in my life. I want you with me. But this is your choice. And I know how much this means to you."

She squeezed him hard. He hugged her back. "****! It's not fair!"

He gently disentangled himself. "We both know life isn't fair. And I saw that look in your eyes. You'll take it."

She nodded. She was silent for a moment. And then she looked up a fierce blaze in her eyes. "Jolan, I will never forget you. Friends, always."

"Yes," he replied, "friends, always." The words seemed so inadequate to what truly lay between them.

"You'll be here for a while right? Cleaning up? And they'll be awhile coming up with an assignment for me and when they do the first one will probably be here. We have some time at least."

"Yes, we do," he agreed as he gently pulled her face towards him.

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"My lord inquisitor," said the young Arbites officer. He gulped nervously. "We weren't expecting to arrive so quickly." He couldn't be older than early twenties, at the most.

"I was passing through on another matter when I got the message," Jolan replied. Under his customary stormcoat the inquisitor was wearing a carapace breastplate over a long tunic and breeches of black armor cloth woven through with gold. The heavily armed bulk of Hethor D'eckor followed behind.

The young Arbites officer nodded. "Please follow me, my lord." He headed into the courthouse. The heavily armed troopers waved them past the checkpoints and through the scan net. The men manning the gun emplacements looked down on them curiously, but the barrels of their autocannons stayed covering the entrance.

"Fill me in."

"Yes, my lord. We received an emergency transmission from one of the DeCora's estates. They are local nobility, one of the Two Hundred Families. We sent to reaction units and a pair of escort gunships to their lodge and found a massacre. The monitoring system had been completely wiped. Everyone was dead. Except for this guy."

The judge took them down a side corridor decorated with gorgeous holopicts of saints and primarchs. "We thought he was another deader at first, he was in real bad shape. But he was alive. No indication of who he was. We stuffed him into trauma case and carried him here. We didn't think he would make it, but he pulled through. When he regained consciousness he said, 'the Inquisition' and then passed out. So the senior judges sent word. He regained consciousness yesterday, but we haven't asked anything else."

Gix stopped. "No other questions?"

The young judge nodded. "We know better than to step into Inquisition business uninvited."

"Wise. Continue."

"Yes, sir. Well, we had employed forensic tech adepts and medicae in our investigation. We completed our testing and stored our data to present to the Inquisition when it arrived. Ah, here we are."

"Lead me to him."

"Yes, my lord." The young judge lead them through the hospital wing. It was small, but equipped with some of the best technology of the Imperium. The judge lead them through to a private room guarded by two Arbites in full combat gear.

They passed through into a room where a single patient lay shrouded in bandages and attached to a half dozen arcane machines. Gix stopped and examined the monitors. The young judge failed to conceal his awe of a man who could interpret the arcane glyphs on display. Gix turned to the patient.

"I am Inquisitor Jolan Gix. I know you are conscious. Respond."

The voice that answered was little more than a hiss. "Yess."

"Who are you?"

"Danell Keys, Master Assassin of House DeCora."

"The catalogue of enhancements and weaponry present on your person tends to confirm this. What happened."

"Lord Veldinar had a meeting. He had it in the lodge . . . . for ssecressy. Five men, sshrouded. Two carried a case. My lord and his ssage met with them. They opened the case. The ssage verified what it wass. Some device of technosorcery. Then the leader said he had more . . . . much more. My lord wass happy. And then the leader removed his face shield."

The wounded man stopped to sip water from a tube. "My lord recognized him. His face was ordinary. He cried out. Too late. We had scanned the with a psi detector and gotten . . . nothing, but somehow they had . . .fooled the machines. They other four . . . were psykers. The were . . . already striking. I hit the wall. Then . . . nothing."

"Why did you ask for the Inquisition? You must know that your house will be investigated, perhaps even destroyed."

"My lord is dead. Others. . . . may live . . . may not. But this one will destroy them. And more. Saw . . . .his eyes. His power . . . . great. He killed my lord this way face to face. . . .because he wanted him to know. He will crush the rest . . . to be complete. And he will not stop there."

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"Get us moving," Gix shouted to the pilot.

"Where to, lord?" He was a professional and had piloted the sleek black flier in missions both covert and overt.

"The main DeCora estate, whatever it is called."

"Vancin House, my lord. Should I signal our escort?' The Vulture gunships were heavily armed, but lacked the stealth modifications.

"Yes," replied Gix as the strapped himself in behind the pilot. Hethor hung onto a ceiling strap on the opposite side of the inquisitor.

"You think someone knows something," Hethor stated.

"Odds are the conspirators either left people in the know behind or weren't as successful at keeping secrets as they thought they were. Someone in that house should know something."

"Crime scene latter?"

"Psychometrists and forensics already went over it. I doubt we will get anything new. Better to correlate their data with the answers we get from the DeCoras and see if we find some interesting matches."

Hethor grunted in affirmation. The stealthed gunship flew on.

"We're coming up on them now lord. We're giving them Arbites pass codes and they are confirming. Air defences are not tracking us."

The fields and forests rolled away to reveal a maze of lush garden hedges that radiated forth from a sprawling complex of manor houses. They were long, rectangular buildings of white marble with fabulous Revival Era columns. Ariel walkways connected the manors to each other and beautiful courtyards had been crafted to fill the spaces between them.

There was a blinding flash. The polarized cockpit window saved their vision and a moment latter a shock wave buffeted the craft. Warning glyphs flashed and alarms howled as the pilot fought to keep the flyer airborne. In front of them, a mushroom cloud climbed high into the sky.

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"You were fortunate Inquisitor Gix. A little closer and a craft with inferior shielding and you would have gotten a serious dose of rads."

"Thank you chief medicae. But I'm alright?" Gix sat up on the table.

"You should be. A marginal increase in the chance of developing cancer. Avoid anything like a rad source for a while, if possible. I can't overestimate-"

"How lucky I was. Yes, I know." Gix stripped off the gown and began putting on his clothes. "However, a bunch of potential witnesses got vaporized or blasted to ash. I'm not feeling particularly lucky."

The elderly medicae shrugged. "I'm sorry for your loss inquisitor. I wish you good hunting."

"Thank you," said Gix on his way out. Hethor waited outside, leaning against the wall.

"He's a bad one boss."

"How did you get finished first?"

"Inquisitor's get more thorough look overs than grunt troopers. Privileges of rank and all that." Jolan nodded. Hethor continued. "We'll need someone local to help us nav this mess."

"Yes. Got any ideas?"

"Cop. Not an enforcer or Arbites. Someone who digs up bodies, not cracks heretics kneecaps."

"The Arbites have people like that."

"They're still politicos. And they're already workin'."

"Point. Interesting choice to nuke the main house with a baby bomb and not the lodge."

"Clean swept the lodge, 'cept fot the 'ssassin. But there must have been someone or somethin' really worth wasting in the big house."

"Yes. I've had the Arbites round up any survivors, those out of the house and so forth. Maybe we'll get lucky."

Hethor grunted.

"Yeah, I don't think so either. You go see if you can find a local that fits our needs."

"Sure. And you boss?"

"I'm going to talk with our assassin friend."

"It makes . . . . no sense," hissed Keys. "Everyone who knew . . . was there."

"Are you sure?" pressed Gix.

"Can't be . . . . one hundred percent . . . . sure," responded Keys. "Nature . . . of . . . . the . . . . . beast."

Jolan began to pace. The killers had taken the payment, slaughtered everyone, and then smuggled in a baby nuke to the estate. An expensive operation just to seize a case full of sapphires.

The killers had left no data trail to the lodge. Private transport or public could have gotten them out there, but so far they had avoided doing anything that made them stand out. Everyone known to be in the region at the time was being checked, but Gix had little faith in the effort.

To do this much damage for so little gain had to make it not about profit. Only revenge made sense. Lure of the Lord of the DeCoras, kill him, and then annihilate the family. Gix stopped. He turned back towards Keys.

"Tell me all about your lords obsessions, those who were his personal enemies, and about the enemies of the DeCoras."

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Keys limped into the room. Gix sat at the his desk in a sparsely furnished room. Hethor was reassembling a broken down rifle that lay on table of to the side. His eyes flickered up and then back to his weapon.

Three different data streams were floating in the air as Gix reclined in his chair and contemplated the numbers. The virtual slabs of cyan glyphs rotated slowly in the air. "Hello Danell."

"Lord," the assassin said. He was like Gix, a wiry, dark haired man of average height. But while the inquisitor was a medium brown colour, the assassin was pale with green eyes. But with skin dye and coloured contacts, they could pass as brothers.

"Anything new?" Jolan asked. The assassin had been quite helpful over the course of the investigation. He had provided an exhaustive list of enemies, rivals, and petty jealousies. In the process of investigation they had burned out a Slaaneshi cult, two embezzling rings, and an illegal blood pit. They had also solved two murders and seven ***** unconnected to the other crimes.

But they had gotten nowhere on the original crime. Somewhere out there a mastermind with access to rogue psykers, exotic tech, and baby nukes had evaded Jolan Gix and the might of the Inquisition.

"No lord," the assassin replied. "Nothing."

"Told you," said Hethor. "We've gotten' nothin'."

Gix nodded. "They've either buried themselves or left the planet. It's been more two months since the bombing and we have nothing." He clenched his jaw.

"Easy boss," Hethor rumbled. "This guy is good. We got to think how to beat 'em."

"And we have nothing to go on to track him. Vanished, leaving no traces at all." The inquisitor stood. "The trail has gone cold," he said decisively. "Whatever clues there are, the have eluded me. Time to move on. The planetary office will take over the case. We'll move to Drexia."

"Okay," said Hethor. The big man shifted his bulk as he slung the now reassembled las.

"Lord," said Keys, "may I make a request?"

"Yes," replied Jolan.

"You believe that the killer has gone off world."

"I think the possibility is rather high that he has left, yes."

"Despite the screening of outgoing passengers."

"Yes."

"Take me with you. Allow me to avenge my master and House DeCora."

Jolan looked at Danell for a moment. "The mandate of the Inquisition supersedes vengeance."

"I understand. But I can be useful to you lord."

"Yes," said Gix, "you can. Consider your request accepted."

The rumpled figure hefted his travel bag. "Well, I should get going."

Gix nodded back. He was dressed like a laborer. "Be safe. You've got the access and contact codes?"

The former detective nodded. "Yeah. I'll got everything. Always wanted to travel."

"Be careful," said Gix. "They won't show you any mercy at all if you slip up."

"I wonder how long it will take them to figure it out? They must be tearing their hair out in frustration?"

"I really can't say."

"Don't be so modest. Let them run around for a while and then we'll put in the next stage into motion."

"This one, Gix, he is a less than optimum choice. I've read his file."

A raised eyebrow. "Really? How enterprising of you? And what does his secret Inquisition file reveal?"

"What you know already. He's smart and mentally flexible. His record is quite impressive. He won't forget this and he'll look in directions that might lead him to us."

A shrug. "Unlikely. And if he does, we are ready for him."

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The rain sizzled and popped above Danell's head. The shield awning flickered on and off, producing a flickering emerald glow. Keys sat unmoving in the shadow on the crumbling balcony. Generations ago the inhabitants of this tower had possessed money and status. Now they clung to what was left and they did so ferociously. Pathetic tech toys and booby traps were the hallmarks of the remainder, who guarded themselves against criminal gangs, rogue skavs, and cannibal covens.

It was a thirty meter to the alley below. It was eight meters to the next tower. Keys had been here for three hours without moving. His camofibre made him blend in. The malfunctioning awning helped shield him from auspexes. He waited. Patience was essential for an assassin.

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

"Do you have what I asked for or not?" said Jolan Gix, letting a dangerous edge slip into his voice. He wore a broad brimmed hat over a slick rain cape and discreetly armoured body glove. A long knife hung on his left hip, his bolt pistol on the right. He packed no other weapons or defences. They were even rarer and harder to obtain than what he was supposedly buying. That would generate questions.

The small man on the other side of the room smiled. He was pale immaculately groomed. In this case that meant he wore the natural fibres, silk and wool, of the moneyed elite. A dark overcoat over a shirt coat over shirt of shining white silk. Comfortable trousers, a platinum buckled belt, and a refractor field of local origin completed the ensemble.

He had a shooter in every corner of the room. Two big men, one averaged sized man, one woman. They didn't bother with rain capes in doors, but had the rubberized bodygloves of professional muscle. They had big bore stubber carbines, just like the one Hethor was packing.

"Why so brusque, Mister Zred?" said the small man "There is no need for such suspicion."

"You're not the one in someone else's turf surrounded by his shooters," Gix replied.

"My business is based on delivering results and I have done so for nearly a hundred years," said Riccos Malza. "You, on the other hand, are a player from off world who I know far too little about."

"Is that a problem?"

"The items you want come with considerable heat attached. Not just local, but Arbites."

Gix shrugged. "Point taken. Do we have a problem?"

"No," said Malza, "but I do need some verification." He touched his platinum chronometer. A young woman, twenty tops, in a tight rubberized body glove that made her seem almost naked walked in. She was blond and delicate looking. Gix could feel the turbulent emotions she projected. Resentment, resignation, and mounting excitement. A rogue psyker.

"A witch," said Gix and spat on the carpet. He looked up. Three people had been broken to learn that this was the room that Malza liked to hold his clandestine meeting in. It was swept and shielded against com traffic. None of them mentioned psykers, but none of them had posed as shadowy off worlders of unknown extraction.

One side of the room was a window of polarized armour glass. Ten meters down and ten meters across lurked Danell Keys. Gix triggered his electoo, lying dormant an invisible in his palm. There was a faint and very specific transmission. Too weak to be registered as anything but electronic noise by most equipment, but specifically attuned to the tiny relay unit attached just outside the window.

"Now now," soothed Malza. "Your clients desire the- ehm, product, and I desire verification. This way we both win."

"If the Arbites suspected you, they would just swoop in and grab you." Gix had considered this too, but there were too many problems. The locals were clumsy, shot through with corruption, and Malza's network was too strong. It was too likely than even a small strike force would be noticed or that Malza would be tipped off and go to ground. Using his authority to grab men and resources was likely to also cause him to go to ground. Malza's men used look outs and auspex sweeps constantly. So Jolan had decided to go undercover.

The blond came closer. Gix sneered at her. "Okay, let's get this business over with."

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

Keys received the signal. He raised the grapple gun and fired it. The disc coated hyper adhesive struck next to the window. Keys tightened his grip and triggered the reel. The reel spun and pulled Keys across the gap.

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

The witch furled her brow.  He was hard to read, it was almost as if he was a psyker. Maybe he-

Gix spoke three words in Cryptia. "Miles sentry silence."

Hethor raised his stubber in one smooth motion and fired. His bullets were tungsten tipped and gel slicked. They tore through the shooter's light armour, blew off his left arm halfway through his upper arm, and punched huge holes in his torso.

It would take most telepaths a few seconds to seriously damage his mental defences. As he drew his bolt pistol he lashed out with his own powers. Gix ignored the psyker and extended the palm of his left hand towards the window. With a pop if leaped from its frame and fell into space. Hethor touched Gix's shoulder. Bullets flew towards them as Malza dived behind his couch.

Slugs bounced telekinetic shell surrounding Gix and D'eckor. He smiled fiercely. The blond smiled back. Hethor groaned and fell to his knees, despite his conditioning and being covered by Gix's defences.

Keys pulled himself into the room with a single swift motion and tossed a bruiser twice his size after the window pane. The muscle screamed as he fell. The psyker turned towards him. A small blade was already spinning through the air towards her as he somersaulted forward into the room.

The blade stopped centimeters from the psyker's nose. She turned back towards Gix. Too late. Light blazed through the room as the witch was transformed to a blackened stick figure in the heart of a column of green witchfire.

Keys shot the closet shooter with his laspistol as he came out of the roll. A blue-white beam from the compact weapon struck him in the face and hell fell. Keys's moves had placed Gix's shimmering cocoon between him and the other two thugs. Loud thumps sounded as Gix's pistol sounded out and blew open the chest of the woman shooter.

Another burst of bolter fire finished the other. Hethor was getting back to his feet, blood trickling from his ears and nose. "**** it!" Gix cursed.

Keys came around the couch. A trap door was clearly visible. Gix spun as the door to the room exploded inward.

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Gods, I hate this forum software.  It's eating my scene divider lines (although they show up just fine when I cut and paste them) and when I noticed them it was too late to edit them.  *Plots cruel and terrible revenge*

A telekinetic shield abated the explosion, stopping the door fragments a meter from the Gix's people. Smoke gushed into the room. Hethor fired the rest of his clip blind into the doorway. Key's sprung to the side. Three grenades bounced in.

Hethor laughed as he switched magazines. It echoed throughout the room as the grenades flew back into the new room and detonated with dull cracks. Keys charged after them.

Two men were down on their knees, bleeding out from multiple shrapnel wounds. Two others were bringing their guns to bear. Keys shot one twice in the chest with his las and jammed a blade into the other's forehead and twisted. Hethor slipped into the room behind him.

"Boss," shouted Hethor as he covered the doorway with his stubber, "we need a plan. He's got a few floors full of his shooters and he'll be bolting."

"He leaves, the auspexes will pick him up. They're in active mode now." Gix strode into the room. He telekinetically stripped the autocannon from the dying thug. "Nice door killer. The floor around the trap door is probably a death trap but a couple of rooms over-" The gun followed Gix into the next room.

A hail of slugs bounced off his shields. This was getting tiring fast. Two shooters were firing autopistols at him from the doorway of the barren room. Gix blew off the right arm at the shoulder of one of them in a spray of blood. The other dodged back behind the wall. Gix raised his free hand. A cloud of crimson flames swirled in the general area of his target. An anguished scream came from the flames and trailed off. The flames faded away as Gix stopped feeding the warp fire.

"Get ready," Gix called.

"Ready," said Keys. He pointed the autocannon at the floor ahead of and pressed the trigger. The explosive shells remaining the gun blew a hole in the floor. Blind grenades preceded the assassin down the hole.

The room below was a shabbily finished living room furnished with a pair of chairs of recycled plastic and metal. There was no one else here. A stroke of luck. Keys moved forward. They had studied the blue prints of this ancient structure. Malza would be moving towards exits. The lift or the stairs were where he would head. The sound had attracted attention.

A compact woman with short read hair stuck her head in. Same rubberized body glove as usual, but a long barrelled autopistol in her hand. Keys shot her in the face. He could hear Hethor fall behind him, landing in the blind cloud.

They needed to be fast if they were going to catch Malza. "You take right, I'll take left." Hethor nodded as Gix landed. Keys triggered his locally made refractor field and dived into the central hallway, facing left.

The force field hummed softly around him, outlining him in a green glow. Two goons covering the opposite end. His laspistol hummed and the bolts cracked in the air. He caught the dark one in the head and the gigantic pale one in the chest with a double tap. Slugs began to slam around him. He grunted as one impacted on his shoulder, but fortunately the refractor field robbed it of most of its energy. It didn't penetrate his sneak suit, but it still hurt.

Hethor leaned out the door just in time to see the lift doors close on Malza and two gunmen and and fired. He was an old hand at gunning down armed men. He drove one gunman back into a room and tore through the chests of the two standing sentinel at the lift and firing on Keys. They fell with through and through wounds. "He's in the lift," he said changing clips.

Keys was up like a shot and sprinted full tilt forward. He rolled past the door with the surviving shooter and dived for the lift door. The doors popped open, courtesy of the inquisitor, and Keys was into the shaft and falling.

Hethor was a few steps behind Danell. He came through the gunman's door as he was was angling in the other direction for a shot at Keys. A pull of the trigger and the thug's chest blew open.

The lift was only just picking up speed and so the fall was a mere five meters. Keys landed easily, flicked on his power knife, and punched it in through the roof. A stun grenade followed. He waited two seconds for detonation, sliced out a chunk of roof with four quick cuts, and shot all three men with anesthetic slivers from his needler pistol. He tripped his vox. "Jewels encased."

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"My lord, Malza has been taken."

An eyebrow twitched. "Really? By whom?"

"Jolan Gix."

He moved a piece across the regicide board. "Results?"

"Network collapsed and purged. Hundreds of arrests. Decline of theft and increase in efficiency in a number of industries. For a while, a more active and attentive police force. A number of heretical cults found and expunged. The cannibal clans have been decimated. And Gix now knows it could have been Malza who supplied the nukes, scan blockers, and rogue psykers."

"Ahh, but he doesn't know to whom or why."

"My lord, he has another piece."

"To no one. To no plan. To no location. And he has succeeded at the task set for him. We'll be leaving this sector soon."

"Lord?"

"We've accomplished our mission. Whatever Jolan Gix finds, it will be useless. We'll soon vanish out of his reach and all knowledge, to begin again."

"Why?"

"Because we have won. There is no point is staying, unless you want Jolan Gix to have a chance of catching us."

 

 

 

"Your mightiness, we got something!" came Elzan's whoop. Herican smiled and loped over to where the scholar was crouched over some extremely expensive and powerful scanning equipment.

The small man looked up as Herican approached. The scholar was short and wide, barely able to fit into the enviro bodyglove. He had an uneven beard and glare goggle perched on the top of his bald head. "Look at this Herican!"

Herican stooped down to examine the screen. The heretic was tall and bird like, with a big head, lean body, and long neck. He was also incredibly fast. His eyes remained blank as he examined the screen. "Is that them?"

"They have to be," Elzan explained. "Take a look at the readings! We've done it! We've found them!"

A smile touched Herican's face. "Good." He looked up at the auspex. When it had finally been assembled it had formed a pyramid four meters tall and almost as wide. Antennas and horns projected at various angles. It had been extraordinarily hard to obtain and he had ended up paying Malza a small fortune for it.

And now it was worth it. Every bent decithrone. The Neghan had once had a civilization that spread to a dozen worlds, but that was no longer the case. Sometime in the Age of Strife someone had tried to exterminate them and came close to succeeding. The Neghan had fallen to chaos at some point in their history and that taint remained with them. They survived on only two worlds as vicious bands of mutant raiders that were being pushed back towards the edge of extinction by human colonists.

Incatrix II was the third world. It was outside the area catalogued as formerly being part of Neghan space. The savages had a superstitious dread of the artifacts of their former civilization, which meant the large number of guards that Herican had brought mostly served to keep the diggers in line.

The few artifacts that the Neghan had left behind indicated that they possessed a warp tapping technology which utilized specific crystals. With those in his possession Herican's power and influence would increase by an order of magnitude. He would surely attract the attention of the Eye of God and ascend.

Herican looked around. Test and excavation pits scattered the plain, along with the tents for his guards and laborers. His guards lounged on duty and his involuntary contract laborers that he had purchased on Nictar trudged away. They didn't know that this trip had been a one way ticket. He would sacrifice them all to Tzeentch before he left in his ship Wings of Glory, which was at the far side of the camp.

He yawned and looked around. The cellar was right ahead. It had been a promising find, a pit that lead to intact chambers. There had been scan interference and so they had methodically excavated the whole thing to find only crystal fragments in dense alloy vaults. But Elzan's new readings were far more promising. Soon-

Elzan's head exploded. Herican immediately dropped and rolled down at the base of the scan tower. Blue-white bolts were raining down on his guards from the hills. Several of them were already down. The others were returning fire or taking cover in the excavation pits.

Five combat servitors came down one of the hills in an arrowhead formation. The lead unit was two and a half meters tall with a thick body. Fire poured from its heavy bolter arm. The flanking units had rapid fire heavy stubbers and hellgun/grenade launcher combinations.

The servitors were hit several times but kept coming. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a howling flier dispersing a squad of men by the Wings. The troopers wore black carapace armour and quickly stormed on board.

Time to change the odds. Herican gathered the warp around him, weaving a shell of eldritch energies. He stood up to get a better view. Two demi-squads of stormtroopers were charging down from the hill tops, firing from the hip as they came. Frag grenades were bursting all over the camp. Herican assumed a stance and spoke an incantation.

A gate of blue mist appeared in the sky above one of the demi-squads. Fleshy tentacles of warp matter armed with terrible barbs that were as hard as steel and as sharp as broken glass rolled out from the hole and grabbed the stormtroopers.

Arms and legs were ripped asunder. Heads were pulled off. Armour was breached and bellies were opened. Blood and viscera rained down. Herican laughed. The victorious had become the victims, the living changed to the dead.

A lance of blue-white fire struck his warp tentacles and they withered and vanished. Herican snarled. The other squad and the servitors had reached the camp and were killing everything that moved. Most of his gunmen were already down. Their was an intense blue-white flash and his ogryn bodyguard Kreel fell, minus his head.

Herican howled and sent whips of fire at the stormtroopers. Dust exploded into the air where they touched ground. One trooper was caught full on and a strand of pink fire burst through the front of his helmet while a tendril of blue flame burrowed into his chest. The plasma gunner was only nicked and the tendril was repelled by the blue glow of an active refractor field.

A lance of blue-white fire smashed into Herican's shields. He turned to confront his attacker. A dark skinned man wearing a storm coat over carapace armour. He had used the servitors as cover for his own advance. A gold and ebony rod glinted in his hand. Herican snarled. He would show this insolent puppy what true power was.

He thrust out his hands. A wave of force knocked the servitors to the ground. The psyker dodged and blasted him again with the force rod. Herican diffused most of the energy. This one was strong. Not strong enough.

He sent a splinter of pure malice at the other's mind. It was imprinted warp energy and would burrow through the psychic defences and then shred his mind. As an after though he mind blasted the stormtroopers near him. A bolt round exploded off his defensive shell.

The psyker didn't try to defend against his splinter. Instead, he had simply unwoven it, reducing it to fragments of stray energies. Nice. A very hard trick requiring considerable mastery of daemonology to accomplish. Herican began to syphon away the psyker's energies. In a few moments, he would be nothing.

The psyker didn't counter. Instead, he telekinetically leapt across the intervening distance. The Imperial would be powerless in a few more moments. The hand with the force rod swung as the psyker landed. Herican's shell collapsed momentarily and his skull exploded. Jolan Gix was splattered with the blood and brains of his enemy.

 

The stormtroopers saluted the inquisitor. "The ship is secured as you ordered."

"Thank you," replied Jolan Gix. Hethor and Danell followed him, the latter with his custom sniping rifle slung over his back. "Anything notable?"

"Heretical apparatus and idols. Books in the captain's cabin."

Gix nodded in acknowledgment. "Heth, let the Invidious know that they can come out of hiding behind the second moon. The area is secure."

"Will do boss."

"Danell, do a sweep. Make sure that no one escaped."

"Your will, inquisitor."

As his companions receded, Gix strode into the ship. It was a good one, solidly designed. If it could be purified he intended to keep it and have it refitted at the archeotech yards in Adraxis. He hesitated for a moment in front of the captain's cabin and then touched the control. The door slid open.

It was a surprisingly simple room. A luxurious bed, a desk and cogitator, trophy case, and secured bookshelf. He examined the books carefully. All non-proscribed works. He opened a few at random and looked inside. They were what they were supposed to be. He examined the bookshelf again.

The back was surprisingly thick. He looked closer and found a hidden catch. Three thin folios were revealed.  Gix removed them and examined them.

They were thin, but tall and wide. They were bound in red-dyed human skin. The paper was metallic and covered in tiny print. Gix put them down on the desk and began to read.

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Trelin watched as the flier touched down at the top of the hill. It happened several times a year now as the Imperial presence got stronger and stronger. More and more equipment was mustered for more recent purge missions against the orks of the far islands. The orks kept coming back, but they were fewer and weaker every time. Of course, the Imperials weren't always passing through to fight orks. Sometimes they delivered medicine and sometimes their purposes were far more sinister.

Trelin headed up the hill past the log cabins of his people. They were sturdy buildings, much better than their predecessors. A glass maker had emigrated to Longshore Isle five years back and glass windows had become an affordable improvement instead of a foreign luxury. Running water had been a nice improvement as well.

Three men exited the flier. One was a big man, dark enough to be an islander, but built like a bull ork. He was wearing a temp controlled body glove and had the aquila tattooed on his forehead. Another man, slimmer and short, also wore a bodyglove as well as a long coat. A pale man with dark hair wore sand coloured long sleeved baggy tunic and pants. His flesh gleamed with sunshade oil.

The big man had some kind of rifle slung over his shoulder. Both of the darker skinned men had weapons on their belts. Not soldiers, at least not any more, and mercifully were too few to be witch hunters. He had lost a brother and a sister to them and at nights feared they would come for his own children. He did not know how his parents were able to bear such their loss with such dignity.

The one in the coat stepped towards him and extended his arm, with his hand and forearm extended up, islander fashion. Trelin grasped it. The foreigner was about his size, with fine bones and a firm grip. His eyes were a smokey grey and his black hair was cut short. A faint scar marked his left cheek. "Welcome to our village," Trelin said.

"Thank you," said the stranger. "I'm looking for Venor and Selina Gix."

Trelin's eyes widened fractionally. "Why?"

"They are well?" the stranger pressed.

"Yes. Who are they to you?"

"My parents."

Trelin looked at the man, really looked. His age was right and the face was that of his father's as well. Jolan Gix gasped as his brother embraced him.

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

His mother had wept when she saw him. His father had not, but had embraced him with the fierceness that belied his age. The news spread like wildfire, of course, and the village wasn't particularly big. Soon everyone was stopping buy to provide a piece of food for a welcome feast.

They talked around the table as his mother prepared the food in the adjacent kitchen. A rotating gaggle of girls and women came in to help and eavesdrop.

"So my son, you have become a great lord in the Imperium?"

Jolan smiled. "Yes. An inquisitor. I search for problems and I solve them."

"Like a sheriff."

"Yes, except I don't deal with murders or stolen catches but revolutions and treason."

His father beamed. "That sounds important."

"Of course it is," his mother said back.

"Yes, it is," Gix replied. "My duties took me past this world, so I decided to stop in and make sure everything was alright. And to visit you."

"You do not know what a burden you take from the hearts of your mother and I," said Venor.

"I am glad I was able to," Jolan said.

"Are you married?" his father asked.

"Of course he is," his mother replied. "He's a lord and past thirty. How could he not be married."

Jolan smiled. "Actually I'm not. Things are a little different up there and my duties keep me busy. There is a woman who is very special to me." Actually, more than one, but he wasn't likely to end up married to either Kyra or Severa. But the full truth of an inquisitor's life was not something they needed to here. Sometimes lies were best.

"And your sister?" his father asked. "Do you know of her?"

Jolan's face clouded for a moment. "She died honourably, using her gifts in the service of the Imperium." There was moment of awkward silence. That was true as far as it went. Jolan had looked up the younger sister he had never known in the logic engines of Schola Psychia. Her gifts had been strong, but her control of them had been weak. She had burned herself out in a month maintaining the Astronomican.

"Let us speak of other things, my son. It is good to know that you prosper. How long can you stay?"

"Only a few days."

"Then we shall make them memorable," his mother replied.

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Gard's mechadendrites shifted. He looked up. A matte black flier was descending from the night sky. A little early. A smile split his dark skin, revealing pearly white teeth. He touched a control. The automated weapons continued tracking the ship but did not fire. The lighter touched down with a thud.

Steam blasted out from vents and the cargo door descended. A slim man wearing a dandified officer's uniform and a bruiser wearing a rating's coveralls came forward. Gard gestured to several of his muscle. The wearily advanced with their master, their autoguns ready in their hands.

Violence was an unfortunate adjunct of this business. It was necessary to achieve some proficiency with weapons and employ those who made their living by violence. There was no helping it. Under his robes, Gard wore mesh armour that covered his sleek form. A dark eldar splinter pistol was also holstered, ready to use.

The slim man was as pale as Gard was dark. "You Doctor Vikal?"

"Yes, I am," Gard replied. "Do you have the goods?"

"Straight from Tau space. They have some nice toys. You have the payment?"

"Yes, I have the agreed upon payment. Sapphires and rubies."

The officer smiled. "I was hoping you would say that." He turned and gestured to his cargo servitors. They picked up two crates and began to carry them down the ramp.

One of his servo skull's beeped. The readout was displayed on the stacked crystal lens of his contacts. Psi reading surge. Gard opened his mouth to shout and the chaos erupted.

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

One of the crates exploded and both gun platforms were upended by telekinetic blasts. As Jolan Gix emerged, Danell stabbed Gard Vikal in the face with a small needle. He slapped the splinter pistol away and used him as a living shield. In a few seconds the paralytic would take hold.

The muscle hesitated, which cost them time they didn't have. Hethor's refractor field had been activated by the trigger they had rigged in his mouth. His empty hands dipped into the bulky pockets of his overalls and came out full. There was an incandescent flare as one shooter was blown in half by a plasma burst. Another was torn open from navel to breast bone by the bolt pistol in Hethor's other hand.

Keys speared another man with a las pistol shot to the forehead. He flicked on his refractor field, which screamed target, but he was out in the open with a valuable commodity in his hands. He dropped Vikal's body and ran forward. Several autogun slugs slammed into him but the field and the woven armour ate up most the bullets' impacts.

Men exploded into pyres of green fire and charred flesh as Gix struck. Servitors blackened and toppled. Hethor gunned down another and Keys claimed two as Gix strode across the clearing. There was nothing left to oppose him. He swept the area with a hand held auspex and then turned to his men. "Well done."

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

Vikal recovered consciousness soon enough. He looked around. He naked on surgical bed, covered by a sheet. Three men were there. The officer, now wearing simple black; the rating, now wearing a weapon harness; and a brown skinned man wearing dark tunic, breaches, and a ribbed leather coat. "I don't appear to be restrained," Vikal remarked. His throat was dry. A squeeze bottle of water was nearby. How thoughtful. He took a sip. That was better.

"No, you aren't," replied Jolan Gix. "Your history is quite interesting, Doctor Vikal. A practitioner medicae who clashed twice with the Adeptus Mechanicus over trying to obtain augmentation secrets. You then gave up your practice and disappeared. Well, not quite."

"Over the next one hundred years you've been over half the galaxy. You've repeatedly engaged in illegal clandestine trade and have probably been involved in three raids against the Adeptus Mechanicus. I think the number is higher. How many times have you plundered xenos for their tech?"

"Fifty-seven times inquisitor." He could only be an inquisitor. Nothing else made sense. "I prefer to trade, when possible."

"Impressive. I don't have a problem with you Vikal. In fact, I have a use for a man of your talents."

"I'm a scientist inquisitor. I don't know what use I can be to you."

"I have a use for scientists, even those who stray into forbidden xenos lore and the domains of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Especially those areas. And there is something else I want from you."

"Yes?"

"Your clients. Most of all, I want your clients."

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Lord Carrel rose. "Jolan Gix, please come in."

"Thank you," Gix replied. The Lord Inquisitor's office was homey as opposed to palatial. A cogitator was perched on the desk and the two side walls were lined with three meter tall bookshelves. The carpet was a thick, rich red, but one that any artisan family could have afforded. A big window, armoured by necessity, allowed a view into the city behind the inquisitor.

"My congratulations on your recent successes," said Carrel. He was an unprepossessing man who wore a simple black robe and his rosette. He was taller and heavy than Gix, with a short but thick beard. He looked like someone's friendly uncle.

"As opposed to my recent failures."

Carrel waved his hand away. "Your performance in the Adraxian affair will become legend in the sector, among inquisitors at least. As for the DeCora Incident, the planetary office also came up blank on the perpetrators. Although you found just about everything else there was to find on three planets in the process. There is no shame in that many successes. Every inquisitor has failures on their record."

"It galls," said Gix.

"Of course it does," Carrel replied. He motioned for Jolan to sit and he did so. "Getting thrown down that elevator shaft enraged your mentor Kyra Neven and she never forgot. The great Eisenhorn suffered defeats and setbacks. They overcame them and triumphed. In fact, you were there when Neven's nemesis fell. Patience inquisitor. We cannot save the Imperium single handily."

"Thank you for the words, Lord Inquisitor. They are wise and I will remember them."

"Good, good. Now, I am sure you did not come here to listen to an old warhorse speak. How can I help you inquisitor?"

"I wish to transfer from the Ordo Malleus to the Ordo Hereticus."

"Ahh. The DeCora incident?"

"In part," said Jolan. "To be blunt, I've been doing more of this kind of work for various reasons in the last few years. I have a better feel for it than for Malleus work." That was partly true. The other part of the truth was that as a member of the Ordo Hereticus who could better spread the occult art of science.

"Ahh. You have found your true calling. That is a different matter. Well, to be blunt, you do good work and changing Ordos will not affect that. I am proud to sponsor your application to our Ordo."

"Thank you, Lord Carrel."

"Good hunting, Jolan Gix."

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

"He's quite good."

"For an outsider?" Jolan Gix asked.

"No, by our standards," the Shrine Master responded. He was wiry brown man of medium height. "Considering that he wasn't trained until he was what . . . . ten?"

"Twelve," Gix replied. He looked down through the window at the the assassin's sparing below.

"Yes, pity that. He has a lot of native talent and high quality augmentics. His trainers were quite good. Trade combine?"

"Noble house."

"Ahh. In any event, he's quite good. He lacks the specialized skills, training, and equipment of a member of our Officio, but he is a capable agent nonetheless. A lot of native talent, honed to a razor edge by experience. He can't compete with a shrine in their area of specialty, but he is otherwise quite capable by our standards."

"You can help him?"

"Indeed. A few new techniques, some additional equipment and training, a few augments."

"Thank you Shrine Master."

"It is pity he did not come to us as a child. He could have been spectacular. But it is always a pleasure to assist Inquisition."

"Thank you. I have a gift for you."

The Shrine Master turned. Gix handed him a thin stack of flimsies. "Both the Inquisition and the Officio know that the Adeptus Mechanicus guard their secrets with a greater ferocity than is good for the Imperium. And both are institutions need the best technology. You should find these helpful."

The Shrine Master looked through them. "These are in High Gothic!"

"Yes, I had an agent of mine transcribe them into a format you would find more useful. These plans won't allow you to produce C'tan Phase Swords, but they should allow you to increase you stocks of Dark Age era equipment."

The Shrine Master looked up. "If the Officio can be of any assistance to you in the future inquisitor, know that you have friends here."

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