Gunfire. Las and solid projectile alike ripped down the corridor, stray rounds punching holes through the wooden walls, showering us in pouts of exploding dust, which engulfed much of the hallway in a thick, white haze. Forcing my colleagues and me into cover. Two of whom, Jarvus and Callague, never made it. A Las round burned through the side of Jarvus’ skull as the ex-guardsman desperately dived. Callague was dead before he could even move, the poor bastard almost cut apart by the intense fire.
Cursing, I blindly fired my auto gun from the corner, Into the dust obscured corridor. “Spray and pray” is the technical term and wondered for the hundredth time why I had joined this line of work. No way in hell could I get a clean shot; my only hope was to pin the assailants.
With a quick-fire signal to Garrakson behind me. I slipped back, and the ex-guardsman took my position.
“Fire in the hole!” he sang out in his oddly melodic voice, and with a grunt, the middle-aged man hefted a tube-charge down the hall.
The explosion’s deafening roar preceded by the hefty clatter of falling debris.
Without hesitation, Elandria and I slid into the corridor. Side by side we sprinted through the dust and debris, firing our auto guns from the hip. Two unfortunate gangers buckled and collapsed under our withering fire. A pair of darkened figures stunned by the grenade’s force.
At the last moment, we dropped our weapons and fell upon our enemies. Elandria drawing twin monomolecular enhanced blades from the sheaths on her back. I drew my mono-sword from its hip scabbard. Elandria let out a spine-chilling cackle and dodged a ganger’s clumsy blow then countered with a deft slice, relieving him of his head.
Not in such humour. I parried a ganger’s stabbing knife and kicked my boot’s knife into his shin. The man’s agonised scream became gurgling as I stabbed through his chest and I kicked the convulsing idiot off my blade. Immediately, I was forced to duck the next Hammer’s wild swing of the butt of his Las gun. My blade arced into his left hip and through to his right shoulder. The man gurgled blood then fell onto his back.
Beside me, Elandria also finished her last attacker, disembowelling the ganger with a quick slice of Setsukia then decapitated him with Katrina.
She and I worked well together, but our combat styles could not have been more different. I was taught the way of the combat pragmatist: to do anything and everything to win, to fight with quick, brutal and practical techniques.
She fought like a gymnast, with acrobatic and fanciful techniques I found at first contemptuous. But I could not deny that she was skilled, very skilled.
She had yet to reveal what school of assassins she was taught in, but I could hazard a guess.
Elandria enjoyed killing. To such heights, it disturbed me and her obsession with decapitating her victims, unnatural. Hence why she wielded twin blades: Setsukia, for blocking and wounding. Katrina, specifically to decapitate. She fought while amped on combat drugs, which I was taught to do too, but detested. If you relied on enhancements, what good would you be without them? I supposed that was why her fanciful style was so effective.
I do not enjoy killing; I do it because needs must, in a professional manner and pride in my work. I am Attelus Xanthis Kaltos, I am a mercenary, and that is that.
Despite her ruthless, bloodthirsty nature, Elandria was an attractive young woman. At times her beauty held me in awe. Her skin, deathly pale and her straight brunette hair, jaw length. But I was wise enough to know a girl like her was only to be looked at, not chased being so indoctrinated by her cult, all she would ever know was the mindless urge to kill. It was quite depressing really.
The four that fell to our blades were the last; another three had taken the brunt of the blast.
‘Good work you two’ said Garrakson, his heavy boots crunching on the debris as he approached our backs.
Elandria and I turned to our colleague. Elandria was tense, shaking and as she spun she almost toppled over. Fortunately, Garrakson was smart enough to stand out of range of Elandria’s blades; she was hugely unpredictable when in such a state.
I shrugged. “All in a day’s work,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. “We must be getting back before the local Magistratum arrive.”
Garrakson grimaced slightly, “or the damnable Arbites.”
“C-cut the chit chat s-shall we?” said Elandria her voice was painful, needy. “Our master will be wanting, to hear of our exploits.′ She was twitching madly now, another reason I kept off stimms; the withdrawal was intense.
“What?” said Garrakson. “Our exploits being that we lost even more good men chasing yet another dead end?”
I sighed, Garrakson’s words rang true. I had been part of Taryst’s personal army for half a year now, and so far this had to be the most horrible, thankless job I’ve ever had.
Taryst, a famous Rogue trader, well known throughout the Calixis sector as a master of trade and business. Who, for an unknown reason, was waging war against the gangs of this Hive world: Omnartus. So secret this struggle was any mercenary who joined had their mind blocked from psyker intrusion. That was over two thousand men and women. Emperor only knows how even he could afford it.
“What are we to do about Callague and Jarvus?” I said; starting down the corridor and past Garrakson, although already knowing the answer.
Garrakson sniffed causing his scarred, square-jawed face to contort. “Do what we always do,” he said, shaking his head. “Leave ’em; we don’t have the time, kid.”
“Just for a change huh?” I sighed. “Poor bastards. I hope that the Magistratum treat them well.”
“Why does it matter?” asked Elandria, despite a drug-induced withdrawal approached she with such feline grace she seemed to float. “The dead are dead; it does not matter how well you treat them.”
I sighed again. No matter how many times I explained it, she still didn’t understand.
Garrakson sniffed again but this time he hawked up a wad of phlegm he unceremoniously spat to the floor. “Okay kiddies, we split up,” he said, “Elandria go south-west-”
“Yeah, yeah,” I interrupted. “We know the drill: I go southeast, and you go south, meet at the base at eighteen hundred, we know.”
Garrakson shook his head with a bemused smile, “how long has it been now?”
“One hellish half of one hellish year,” I answered, though I was not sure either.
“Hellish? Hellish?” said Garrakson. “Now that’s the damned understatement of the damned century. Alright then, just move out now, if you know the bloody drill so frigging well.”
And we did it, yet again.
I ran out of the building and into the polluted, darkened streets. My black flak jacket is whipping and snapping in my wake.
I did not need to check my wrist chronometre’s compass to know I ran south-east. Ever since I was a child, I had an innate sense of direction. I could find my way through the thickest of bush on my homeworld, Elbyra with only my wits.
As I silently moved, my thoughts wandered. Half a year ago our squad numbered ten, but with the losses of Callague and Jarvus, now we’re reduced to four.
The fourth was Torris, an ex-Arbitrator. He was wounded in our last incursion; the poor bastard lost an eye then got knifed in the guts. His condition was still uncertain. I was not into praying, but I was tempted to for Torris.
It was quite depressing really; seeing your colleagues killed off, one by one. Was it like this to serve in the Imperial Guard? Perhaps I should ask Garrakson one day if I ever remember to.
Better do it sooner rather than later, Garrakson maybe the next. Or perhaps me.
I shook away the morbid thought. The morale of Taryst’s personal army was on an all-time low. We maybe mercenaries, throne gelts were a good incentive for us. But Taryst expected us to give up our lives without ever telling us why.
We were human as well if we had a cause, a meaning! It could make us fight all the harder.
Anger started to well, my jaw clenched. What was the point of implanting us with psychic blocks if you don’t give us any of any information to protect?
But I was no stranger to secrets and sabotage. Everyone has an ulterior motive. I had learnt my of lesson “trust” from my dear old dad, my dear old frigging father.
I sighed, too many memories suddenly flooded back. I shook it away, now was not the time for sentiment.
There was never any time for sentiment.
I turned a sharp corner, out of the alleyways and into the main streets.
We were meant to meet at the base at 1800 hours, but I intended to get there sooner. I felt I needed to speak with the employer; a mother-figure to us and was more of a mother than my own ever was. Her name was Glaitis; she saved me after my first, futile, assassination attempt. Glaitis taught me the way of the assassin in more detail than my father ever would. And she knew my father, my real father.
My brow furrowed and I sped up my already fast pace.
She never looked up, and she never seemed to need to as I entered her office.
“Ah! Attelus Xanthis Kaltos. What is it that brings you to my humble abode, my apprentice?” said Glaitis. She was a tall, harshly beautiful woman and I couldn’t help my gaze gliding over her. Glaitis sat at her desk, long legs crossed. Her cold blue eyes studied a data slate intently.
My jaw clenched. I hated it when Glaitis used my last name, and she was well aware of it. It was part of her constant testing which drove me nuts. It was to anger me so I could learn to control my anger- I almost always failed.
I swallowed the anger, and nervousness replaced it. A nervousness that overtook me when in her presence.
‘I-I am here to advise you of-.’
The sharp snap of the data slate suddenly shutting interrupted me and she fixed me with her piercing gaze.
“No stuttering young one, unless it is an act! You are to be confident! Precise in your words and your demeanour and stand up straight! Your posture is utterly horrendous!”
I did as told, holding back an annoyed sigh.
“Now, Young Attelus, you may start again.”
“I am here to advise you that we have lost two more members of our squad.”
“And who were they?” she said, her gaze falling to her data slate, uninterested.
‘Callague and Javus.’
‘They are of Taryst’s ilk,’ she stated.
I nodded, already knowing what she was about to say.
“If they are not part of our own organisation. I do not care, and you know this as well as I. come out with it then. I know you, child, tell me the actual reason you are here.”
I let out a heavy sigh, hoping that it didn’t sound too fake, right now I was testing myself to see if I could hide the exact reason why I was here, ‘the men are losing morale-’
“I am well aware of the state of the morale, my apprentice,” she interrupted. “You are just here to seek guidance for your own melancholy. Am I correct in my assumption?”
I hissed air through clenched teeth, hesitating my response. Damn it, outwitted yet again!
She smiled a steady and starkly rare expression.
“At least you have learnt from my teachings the value of deception young Attelus but yet not the proper technique. As I told you when we first began your training your father had taught you well in the basics; close quarters combat, swordsmanship, ranged weaponry. But he had neglected the more subtle arts of an assassin’s trade.”
My jaw set at the mention of my father.
“Do not do that!′ she hissed. “That is one of your many tells young one. You do when you are annoyed or angered. Remember, I have taught you time and time again: ‘give nothing to your enemies or your allies.’ That proverb was handed down to me by my master, and now I hand it down to you. Do you understand what it means, child?”
“Yes.” I barely said rather than sighed. I started regretting coming here.
“Good!” she sat back in her chair. “Now, tell me. What troubles you young Attelus.”
Her voice softened; she seemed legitimately interested. That had always taken me back, how she could change from harsh, berating teacher, to tender and kind-hearted motherly figure in the blink of an eye.
My heart skipped and suddenly found words hard to form; when she changed like that, it would always give me a strange tightness in my chest. I had no idea why.
“I- I hate this!” I managed to blurt. “We have been here for six months, and we have nothing! Nothing! Just more corpses and questions! It’s hard every frigging day is the same! A new lead we are sent to track down and- and! We are only to find a new dead end!”
“I know,” she said softly. “I know it is hard.”
“But you know what else?” I snarled. “I get the suspicion that frigger Taryst knows more than he lets on! That he could give us information that would allow us to do our jobs but for some, idiotic, selfish reason, he holds it back! I don’t know why but I have my ideas!”
Glaitis placed her elbow on her desk and cupped her jaw in her smooth, tender hand. A slight smile played over her full purple lips. “Really, young one?′ she cooed. “And pray tell, what are these ‘ideas’?”
I stiffened, I said more than I should have. But I did not stutter. I looked her straight in the eye and said: “That the information would damn him, that he is desperate to keep it secret so much, that if it was even slightly leaked out, his life would be jeopardised. That he could be branded as a heretic and a traitor.” I sighed. “That’s why.”
My attention dropped to the carpet and waited for her response.
After what seemed an eternity, she finally said: “I have to say my young one, I am impressed.”
“What?” I said, looking back up. Of all the responses that were the last, I had guessed.
“Yes, that you would have at least a little tact to figure out makes me believe that finally, my lessons seem to be getting through to you. I, myself, had come to suspect Taryst for quite some time but for you to figure it out all alone,” she laughed.
I stood, seemingly frozen to the floor. Never had Glaitis complimented me like that before.
“That, young one. Is the true key to survival in our...line of work,” she said. “The first rule, ‘know your enemy’. It is a very simple and obvious statement, but you have learnt it’s true meaning.”
I winced with a curse, finally realising...
“You have it, child.”
Her smile turned cruel.
“Everyone is your enemy.”
I Leant on the wall of the dirty, smoggy alleyway and smoked a lho stick. My colleagues were yet to arrive, but I did not mind. I was early, and it allowed me time to do what I do best; think.
It was frigging typical of Glaitis to retract a compliment. After her words filtered through my numbed mind, pride started to well within me. My posture straightened, so straight, I stood taller than ever before, but then she said.
“But do not let it go to your head young Attelus, Xanthis Kaltos. For though I am not sure when you began to suspect Taryst. In all likelihood, it would be far too late.”
“What?” and I was back to being hunched again.
She stood and approached me from around her desk; I could not help my eyes running up her lithe, full figured body.
Glaitis shook her head, she knew, she always frigging knew, “by now Attelus if you were alone, working out in the field and it took you this long to suspect your employer? You would be dead; you did well young one in this endeavour but next time...”
“Frig!,” I snarled and sighed: “Try doing it a little quicker.“.
“Indeed, and remember this piece of advice, young one and remember it well: ‘trust nothing, suspect everything.’”
I nodded, wide-eyed.
“I will,” was all I could manage.
“And Attelus, as much as I try to encourage you to try...think a little less. Do think on my words now,” her face turned dark. “Think on them long and hard, now leave. I have much work to do.”
I took the Lho stick with index finger and thumb.
“Trust nothing, suspect everything,” I said. The irony was Glaitis meant herself too.
Is this what it meant to be an Assassin? Being some paranoid, psychotic, schizophrenic, trusting no one; not even yourself?
I sighed out smoke; it reminded me of my father. How he would act when some slightly suspicious stranger walked past our home. How he reacted when anyone but me came close. For the first time in a long time; I felt something other than anger at my father. I felt sorry for Serghar Kaltos.
Was he the product of this ‘training’? No, I was beginning to think it was brainwashing. Was this why my father neglected to teach me the ‘subtle arts?’ He did not want me to be a lonesome monster like him?
I took the Lho stick and eyed it; I used to be a chain smoker. They helped me in my darker days. At Galitis’ instruction I had quit (which seemed hypocritical as she encouraged the use of potentially deadly combat drugs) but since we came under Taryst’s employ, I drifted back to the dirty habit, a coping mechanism indeed.
Was the life of an Assassin what I truly wanted?
I tapped ash off the Lho stick and put it back in my mouth.
I didn’t know what I wanted anymore.
I inhaled the sweet smoke, took the dying smoke between index finger and thumb. Exhaled and flicked the stub onto the rockcrete ground.
I kept leaning against the wall, not moving to step it out. Elandria did it as she emerged from the shadows.
“Lost in your little world once more, eh?” she said.
“Not lost enough to miss your clumsy approach.”
I could not see the expression on her face behind that cold, featureless mask but I could hazard a guess.
Elandria was many things, but socially intelligent was not one of them.
She stood for a few seconds; trying to make a coherent comeback and the best she came up with was: “why is the son of Serghar Kaltos smoking Lho? Does he think himself too good for the rules?”
My jaw set. I tried to keep my father’s identity a secret, but Glaitis had to go and tell Elandria. Perhaps it was yet another “test” but what that bloody woman wanted to test exactly was a mystery; was it my patience? Or my skill at combat when I lost my patience?
I sighed contemptuously, and that riled her up.
“What does that mean?“.
“It means what it means,” my tone insultingly melancholic.
“Yeah!” she snarled. “Well let us see what it truly “means” when I separate your head from your shoulders!”
And she reached for her blades.
I grinned then in a blink, slid into a combat stance and drew my sword.
Then Garrakson suddenly seemed to appear between us.
Elandria and I yelped in fright and leapt back.
“That’s enough kiddies,” he said. “I think that we’ve had enough violence for today.”
Then he turned to me, “and kid if you want to sheath your blade in her may I suggest using your “other” blade instead.”
I felt my face go hot.
“What?” demanded Elandria, her wide, beautiful green eyes switching back and forth between Garrakson and I. “What is this ‘other blade’ you speak of, Garrakson? Attelus Kaltos only wields one. Is-is it the knife in his boot?”
“Try a little higher missy,” said Garrakson and I blushed even worse.
But she still didn’t get it.
Garrackson sighed, “alright let’s get moving, kiddies. We’ve got exploits to report.”
My face still seeming on fire and Elandria still confused. We slipped south, toward the “back way.” The entrance designated to us dirty dogs of war. We were not good enough for the public entry.
Elandria and I walked on Garrakson’s flanks; into the dirty, barely six-metre wide alleyway. We were aware of the cameras watching us. Thirteen of them, perched about five metres up on the grim, grey walls. I reminded myself of them every time; just in case.
We came to the entrance, a well-hidden set of double doors. Garrakson tugged open the panel hiding the keypad, and typed the access code.
Elandria and I kept watch. Which was fine with me. My back was to the gorgeous assassin. In my immature embarrassment, I could barely at look her and counted myself lucky. Her indoctrination had given her a naiveté of such personal matters.
Actually, on second thought, I was not lucky at all. Luck had abandoned me long ago.
I hissed a curse. Then could not help grin and shake my head.
Abruptly, I was brought into reality by the slight hissing of the opening doors and we silently slipped in.
We walked into what was once a maintenance entrance, now was a highly secure, fortified maintenance entrance.
If there was a literal embodiment of Taryst’s paranoia: this was it. Mercenaries crawled throughout the ten metre wide, hundred metre long walkway. At every three metres: were waist high rockcrete walls. It was on a sharp incline, so each wall overlooked the last and twelve small balconies jutted from the walls: ten metres overhead. A sniper crouched in each; their Long Las rifles tracked us as we walked.
I hated the place. I would always try to find some way to sneak or fight through without getting evaporated by billions of las, solid projectile and high-velocity hot shot rounds; besides stealing a uniform or complete camouflage. I came up nil; it was as close to impregnable as I knew. It would take hundreds, perhaps thousands of Imperial Guardsmen to storm it and their casualties would be horrendous but it would work...eventually. That or an entire company of Space Marines but even they would suffer: a high yield hotshot round punches through power armour with ease.
Elandria and I silently walked through the crowd of highly armed and armoured mercenaries. But Garrakson seemed to greet each frigger in frigging turn. He knew them by name and stopped for idiotic small talk with them. I was almost glad at Callague’s and Jarvus’ demise; the walk would have been even longer with them.
After twenty long minutes, we arrived at the end. Here two servitors both with an autocannon for arms stood constant vigil at the doors.
They slid open, and Colonel Barhurst walked out. The grizzled old bastard approached with a warm grin and outstretched arms. But he was contradicted by the ten grim, faceless Storm Troopers escorting him.
“Ahh! Garrakson my good friend!” Barhurst exclaimed. He was well into his two hundred but the use of extensive and expensive rejuvenate treatments kept him looking in his mid-thirties. Though a heavily scarred and beaten man in his mid-thirties. According to my research, he was one of Taryst’s longest-serving allies. He abandoned his duties as colonel in the Tamarsk 30th to join the rogue trader; so was wanted by the commissariat and the Inquisition for dereliction of duty. But thanks to Taryst’s goodwill and huge influence he eluded justice so far.
I never liked Barhurst, the man was sycophancy incarnate. Taryst was the true commander, all Barhurst did was carry on the Rogue Trader’s commands and when asked to do anything himself, he would pass it onto others. He was charismatic, friendly, but it was an obvious facade. How Taryst couldn’t see the incompetence of his second was quite beyond me.
“How goes the hunt?”
“Another dead end,” said Garrakson, the contempt in our squad leader’s voice was well hidden, but not from me. “And we lost Callague and Jarvus.”
Barhurst made an exaggerated frown; it was like an alien making a sick parody of human emotion. ’Sorry to hear my friend. Master Taryst is up in his grotto waiting for you.”
Then Barhurst turned to Elandria and I, smiling smugly, “and you two know the drill.”
I sighed, yes I frigging know, do you need to remind me every single time? I thought and my teeth clenched.
Hesitantly, I unstrapped my sheathed sword, placed it on the nearby table and slipped off my wrist mounted throwing knife compartments. Took my auto pistol from my shoulder holster then lastly and most hesitantly: my right boot which contained the hidden knife.
Elandria did it with even more aversion than I: letting go of her twin swords, her auto pistol and knife.
“Good!” said Barhurst. “You can head on up now.”
And just to make sure, we had to file through a metal detector.
Every single damn day for six months we went through this shit. Saying it was quite depressing was a frigging understatement.
I might have to start on Obscura just to get over this monotony.
I shook away the thought. I have seen the damage that the drug can do. I have been through the damage it could do, and I will never go through that again.
In silence, we rode the up elevator the three hundred stories of Taryst’s tower. On a hive world like Omnartus, buildings of such excessive calibre were almost a given. I was from an Agri world, though it was not without great cities of its own. Varander the capital of my home country: Velrosia was a bustling, beautiful metropolis. Varander sat on the north coast of lake Varander. A lake was so large it could be classed as a sea. I spent the majority of my teenage years living there.
I missed Varander. The last I had seen the city, it was reduced to rubble.
Then there was Varanier, the capital of Elbyra’s largest nation: Maranger. That was a fantastic city, harsh and sparse. It was a metropolis of granite and grit an embodiment of its people.
Neither city was on terms with even the smallest of hives. Many packing ten times the population of Elbyra into an area the size of a Varanderian suburb.
Omnartus was dead. Millennia of intense colonisation, mining and pollution had destroyed its ecosystem. But when we rode this elevator, it would make my dreary days worth it. As we rose high enough to emerge from the pollution, I would glimpse the might of nature. That despite humanity’s wanton destruction here still held a beauty of its own. The sun dominated and in the distance, the peaks of Omnartus’ many mountains broke through to the clear air; like icy white islands in a sea of black and brown. But despite everything each mountaintop contained life: a one in a million plant, had the sheer power and audacity to survive in below zero temperatures. That it thrived despite the odds, was a testament.
Of course, I kept this romanticism private; no self-serving mercenary should be like this. Despite having seen so much death and grim darkness, I still held onto slight aspects of my sixteen-year-old self. The foolish, naive me before being forced to find out how horrible it is to live in this galaxy. That was why I was having second thoughts; I was beginning to doubt whether I could handle the damage this life could cause; physical and mental.
No, the damage it will cause.
I sighed, attention stapled to the world outside; hoping like hell my back facing to Elandria and Garrakson was enough to hide my emotions.
Then it happened, what I dreaded most: the end of the journey.
“300th story; Master Taryst’s living quarters,” said the elevator’s pre-programmed, monotone voice as the ascent abruptly stopped. “Restricted access, retinal scan required.”
My jaw clenched, and I looked up, seeing the three cameras crowding the elevator with their damnable presence.
Surely Taryst was watching the feed? Surely over the dozens of times, we have been up here, the rogue trader could discern who the hell we were?
I could tell Garrakson shared my teeth grinding frustration; the ex-guardsman stood and waited for about half a minute. Then with a heavy sigh, he pushed his face into the scanner.
“Employee 568; identified as Jeurat Garrakson,” said the computer. “Access granted.”
The doors slid open, and we filed out.
We entered Taryst’s lavish living quarters. Elandria in the middle; Garrakson and I on her flanks. Red dominated Taryst’s little world a deep, bloody crimson.
The windowless corridor was five metres wide and about fifteen in length. At the end was a thick crimson and gold curtain. I had never been through those curtains. Taryst would always meet us out here. I knew Garrakson had and I was sorely tempted to ask the ex-guardsman but could not pluck up the courage. Well him and Glaitis.
Two straight-backed guards stood in front of the curtains. They were in golden, ostentatiously emblazoned carapace armour,. They held equally fancy hell guns. I had never seen their faces nor talked to them, but I could not help admire their discipline and stoicism.
Curiosity ate at me. What was beyond the curtains? It could be anything: a secret shrine dedicated to the Ruinous Powers? Or perhaps a den of sin and hedonism? (That could be a shrine to one god, but I would rather keep from uttering its name)
But I was not sure if I wanted to know. No, I wanted to see, but whether I should was an entirely different question.
I was finding Ignorance was very much bliss, in this galaxy (which is ironically against Glaitis’ teachings)
I sighed. It was far too late for that; I had long passed that event horizon. Short of having myself lobotomised, there was no going back.
Just like my dear old damnable dad.
“GREETINGS MY DEAR FRIENDS!” The deep voice abruptly boomed, and the boss himself flourished out of the curtains.
I winced; not in fright but contempt. Every time he would greet us this way. And it every single time it smacked of utterly forced, fake enthusiasm.
In all honesty, I had come to suspect Taryst of withholding secrets right from my first week of employment and how could I bloody not? Even if I had told Glaitis’ then, it would have been too late in her lofty opinion.
“My friends!′ he echoed as he approached us, “my friends!”
Taryst stood over two metres tall. Was big boned and corded with muscle; he cut an intimidating figure.
His strong-jawed face was plain. His tanned skinned, complemented by a finely maintained black moustache and goatee. His smile glaringly bright and like his greeting, fake.
During the months, I noticed Taryst had aged; now there were bags under his eyes and a wrinkle here and there. Being utterly paranoid all the time would do that.
I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could frigging throw him.
“Attelus, Jeurat!” Taryst cried as he came close, his two guards in tow. He paused at Elandria and with surprising dexterity eclipsed her hand in his, then lightly kissed the back it. “Mamzel Elandria, what news have you brought me today?”
My jaw set as I saw Elandria’s pale skin blushing like mad.
Garrakson cleared his throat; he was the only one used to the Rogue Traders over the top extroversion. “My lord, we have arrived at yet another dead end.”
Almost violently, Taryst let go of Elandria’s hand. Stood and turned on his heels, so his back faced us. “And Callague, Javus?”
“I am not sure sir.”
Taryst spun on Garrakson, “and what does, ‘I am not sure,’ mean?”
Garrakson shrugged, “I don’t know sir, meaning that they are either still lying in the pools of blood we left them in or in a Magistratum mortuary either/or.”
His dead tone shocked me so much my jaw dropped.
Taryst grimaced slightly and for a second, looked his three hundred years.
“I-I am sorry to hear that.”
Garrakson stayed stoic, kept his gaze locked to Taryst’s.
Taryst flinched away, “and as well as no news on your target?”
“Zilch,” answered Garrakson. “No sign of this Brutis “Bones” yet sir he is quite the enigma.”
Now that is the frigging understatement of the millennia, I thought.
“Then what exactly happened?”
Garrakson sniffed, “they went immediately hostile sir. Ambushing us as we entered their base of operations, even with our cover. We managed to fight our way to their cogitator bank but found the memory all wiped. I haven’t seen such ferocity since I fought in the guard sir. From what I gathered if we captured and tried to interrogate one of the hammers we would be wasting our time. They were like cultists, sir. This Brutis “bones” must be getting very influential in the local gangs if they will fight for him like that. The crazy bastards.”
Taryst looked desperately at Elandria and I.
“And you two agree?”
Elandria nodded and blushed to the floor. My jaw set again and said simply: “yes.”
I could not bother with more detail; I just wanted to get away from Taryst.
Taryst grimaced disapprovingly.
“Alright another dead end it is then!” he exclaimed with forced humour. “And quite literally too!”
The only one laughing was Elandria, both Garrakson and I, not so amused.
“Okay then and I thank you all for the update, and I apologise for Callague and Jarvus, they were good men.” Then he turned away and began back to his curtains. “Dismissed, all.”
“Oh, and young Attelus,” he said, suddenly stopping his tracks and making me halt in mine. “Come! I very much wish to speak to you!”
That was the last thing I wanted to hear.