That white light slowly began to melt away, revealing the white marble ceiling overhead. It took me a second or so to realise I was moving, that I was being carried by two of Taryst’s mercs on a stretcher, through the fortress-mansion.
I groaned as the pain in my limbs and exhaustion suddenly returned. The sharp sting from the cuts that covered me came after, making me hiss through clenched teeth.
I lingered in my thoughts, trying to take my mind off the pain. So I was immortal, or as the Farseer had termed it, a ‘perpetual.’ I wasn’t sure in all honesty what to make of that; it was something many over millennia had coveted, quested for, sacrificed for, yet here I was, just given it. Well...perhaps not ‘just given it,’ the tortures, the dreams that were something I’d never want to go through again.
I wished Faleaseen had told me more, like how did that shielding work? Would I be stuck like this, practically catatonic after each use? Did it drain my soul as I’d thought? So me being a ‘perpetual’ would it re-generate? I hoped so.
Next time I sit in that backyard, I swore I’d ask more pointed questions about, well, everything. Even knowing of my supposed immortality, I’d still do my frigging best not to die, this for a few good reasons, first being it’d probably be frigging painful, depending on the how or why of course. The second, I wouldn’t want to spend any time within the warp, no way in hell. Knowing what little I knew of that hell and knowing our souls were destined to go there when we die, terrified me beyond measure. Even knowing that I’d have no consciousness, or at least I hoped I wouldn’t, perhaps being a ‘perpetual’ would change that. The last reason was the thought of being brought back from the warp and how it could affect me, how it could change me physically and mentally. Could I even come back a daemon?
Hell, now knowing this I swore I’d fight harder to stay alive than ever before.
Again, I sighed and tried to ignore the pain, tried to move and despite my best efforts and much grunting, found I still couldn’t.
Then a thought hit me, which made me hiss through clenched teeth and sent a cold shiver up my spine. What had Edracian, I mean, Etuarq said before? Of the irony of my earlier speech about my death?
Did he know? Did he know of my status as a perpetual? But wouldn’t that have made all his plan void? He knew I’d survive the explosion; he knew I’d escape the destruction of Omnartus, but still told us of his plan. Why? I couldn’t understand, I couldn’t comprehend. He did all of this knowing I’d come back from the dead.
The only explanation I could think of was that it was a lie, a bald-faced lie. But why not just stay silent, just let the reveal of Edracian’s being a corpse be enough?
Wesley, Emperor rest him, was right, this was getting frigging stranger and stranger and stranger.
Did Etuarq have plans for me even beyond the destruction of Omnartus? And by trying to bring him to justice would I be just falling into that plan? The cruel, cruel shit he’d said was that to make me hate him, inspire me to stop him. But again, why?
Perhaps it was to dissuade me from hunting him? No, that couldn’t be it, it seemed so strange, so illogical. But he did look quite insane, and the insane weren’t known for their logical thinking yet, as much as I hated to admit it, his plan thus far had been brilliant, bloody brilliant.
Perhaps my first idea was right; perhaps if I tried to track him down, I’d be falling into whatever plan he had for me. Perhaps the best thing I could do was avoid it entirely? Runaway and live a solitary life back on Elbyra? I couldn’t do that, I swore I’d bring him to justice, and after all the shit I’d been through I was sure I couldn’t live a normal life. If I tried that, people, innocent people might start mysteriously disappearing after I’d moved in.
I shuddered at the thought.
No, I couldn’t avoid it, I had to hunt Etuarq, no matter what, I’d just have to be careful. Anyway, even if I did hideaway, I’m sure he’d just engineer something to bring me back into the fold.
“You alright?” asked the merc carrying the end of the stretcher.
I groaned and looked at the merc, recognising him from somewhere but couldn’t recall his name.
“I’ll take that as a no,” said the merc. “Fair enough.”
“Uh huh,” I sighed, I could barely speak, my throat felt like someone had torn it out and replaced it with rolled up sandpaper, “where are we going?”
“Outta the mansion,” came the answer, but not from the last merc, it instead was said by the one carrying the front of the stretcher. I recognised the voice but again couldn’t recall who it belonged.
“Back to the base, your part and ours by extension is over in this farce,” he said. “Thank the Emperor.”
My eyes widened at his choice of “farce” in that sentence, what a fitting word to describe this whole situation.
“It...it isn’t a farce that so many have died, taking this place, Roldar,” said the other.
Roldar sighed, “yeah, that isn’t a farce, sorry, Jelket. Poor choice of words.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that.
Roldar and Jelket, I remembered them, they were two of the mercs sent by “Olinthre” earlier to escort me from my hab block. Funny that these two just happened to be my stretcher bearers.
“I’d say being downgraded from your being your guard to your literal carrier would be well, shit, Attelus,” said Roldar. “But if it gives me an excuse to get outta this place and away from being shot at, it isn’t quite as shit.”
I cleared my throat, “not ‘literal’ as you’re actually ‘literally’ carrying a stretcher, that just so happens to have me on it. Now if you were carrying me on your back, then you’d literally be my carrier. But otherwise, you’re using ‘literal’ in the wrong context.”
Roldar took a good few seconds before he said anything, “anyone ever told you, that you’re a smart arse?”
“And you say that like it’s something to be proud of?” snapped Roldar.
I frowned and furrowed my brow; it was just a joke, lighten up.
For a long time, I laid in silence, just watching the marble ceiling pass above.
Finally, I heard Roldar sigh and say, “sorry, didn’t mean to jump down your throat like that, mate. Just tired of this shit is all.”
“It’s all good,” I croaked. “I know exactly how you feel.”
“I can’t believe it,” said Jelket. “Both the major and sergeant Garrakson, dead. That Brutis Bones fellow seems to be taking charge. But wheres Taryst? Shouldn’t he take over? He is our leader.”
“Either him or the colonel. Maybe Taryst will call him back from recruitment duties,” said Roldar. “Although I’d rather not have that frug head back, especially now.”
The corner of my mouth twitched, great one Glaitis your idiotic quest for vengeance has now left the organisation effectively rudderless. How were we going to stop the Exterminatus now? I guessed this was all according to Etuarq’s plan too. I also couldn’t help wonder what happened to the mercs Hayden had left to guard Glaitis back at our tower. It must’ve been a bloodbath there I was pretty sure.
There were a few who could take over from Olinthre, though. There were two or three captains who worked under the major, although I’d hardly had any interaction with any of them and had forgotten their names entirely.
I hoped one would step up and take charge, but with everyone believing both Taryst and Barhurst being still alive, I doubted it. What a brilliantly convoluted mess we’ve got ourselves in yet again.
Brutis Bones was taking charge, though. I just hoped the three disparate organisations could work under him. He was once an enemy, and not many knew of the convoluted events which transpired into the creation of our desperate alliance.
I sure as hell didn’t envy him.
“How long have I been out for?” I said, thinking that should’ve been my first question.
“That pretty boy, what’s his name, Darrance?” said Roldar. “Had said you’d been out for a good five minutes before we’d arrived and we’ve been carting your sorry arse for about two minutes since then. So not long, why were you unconscious anyway? It didn’t look like you’d hit your noggin’ on anything or anything.”
I fought an urge to frown that I’d ‘fainted due to severe panic attack’ wasn’t something to go around telling, especially to hard arse military types like Roldar.
“Blood loss,” I said. “A cut in my side given to me when I’d fought off two Death Cult assassins.”
“Yeah we heard about that fight,” said Jelket. “Falone said you’d saved their arses back there.”
I sighed again, “yeah, and I only made it through because my arse was saved in turn.”
“Yeah well, still, good work,” said Jelket. “You guys also took out their boss, so again, good work.”
“Yeah but that ain’t stopping the enemy remnants fighting to the last,” said Roldar. “Frigging insane if you ask me. That also begs the question was this boss, this Edracian that was killed, actually their boss? I know a merc when I see a merc and these guys are mercs, they should’ve given up already with their employer dead.”
“Professional pride, perhaps?” I suggested but thought it more likely mind control.
“I doubt that,” said Roldar with a sniff.
“Wheres everyone else?” I asked, wanting to change the subject.
“The rest of them are going to help fight the enemy remnant,” said Jelket. “Including that Brutis Bones fellow, I saw his injuries. Being still able to fight with them that takes balls of steel.”
“Or insanity,” said Roldar. “Wasn’t he our enemy only a few days ago? Weren’t Attelus here and the rest cutting a bloody swathe through the Moody Hammers he’d brought under him? And now he’s our ally against this frigging Edracian guy? I don’t get this shit; I don’t get this shit.”
I stayed silent, not wanting to draw any questions my way.
“You know, don’t you?” said Roldar. “You know everything don’t you, Attelus?”
“No, no I don’t,” I said, I didn’t know everything like the future or how our galaxy became into being, so I was telling the truth. Again, it was the best way to lie.
“Don’t lie,” said Roldar.
“I’m not,” I said with conviction. “I’m not lying, that I swear.”
I paused as I realised something, “well, I am ‘lying’ on a stretcher, but I’m not ‘lying’ to you.”
Abruptly Jelket and Roldar stopped.
“You really should’ve worded your question better, Roldar,” said a deep voice that I instantly recognised and the realisation made my eyes widen, and I hissed through clenched teeth. “As he is telling you the truth, he doesn’t know ‘everything’ about everything, but he does know everything of the why and the how we are here.”
“Torris,” said Jelket. “What are you doing here?”
“Waiting for you, naturally,” said Torris. “Don’t underestimate young Attelus, here. He’s as canny as they get, or if one isn’t generous in their words, as manipulative as they get.”
“Torris,” said Roldar warningly. “I don’t like your tone, mate, now, please. Step aside.”
“I just wish to exchange a few words with my good friend, here, sergeant Roldar,” said Torris. “Is there something wrong with that?”
“Torris, step aside,” repeated Roldar, his voice like iron.
“Alright! Alright!” sighed Torris. “Just let me walk along with you, I’ll escort you. Brutis Bones was pretty silly not sending you back with a guard.”
“He didn’t,” said a fourth voice, another I recognised instantly, and Arlathan Karkin emerged from the shadows. His left arm in a sling, his right holding a raised Las pistol. “Now step aside.”
“There’s no need for that, detective,” said Torris. “Lower your gun.”
“That’s the thing, I may be a lowly Magistratum detective, and you were a high and mighty Arbite, but I’ve seen that look on your face, I can recognise your tone of voice, that’s rage, white rage,” said Arlathan. “You have no intention on guarding anyone, now step aside and let us through.”
“I understand, Torris,” interrupted Arlathan. “You’ve lost a friend, a good friend and you’re angry about it. You want to put all the blame of his death onto Attelus, here. You want to take out your anger and grief on him.”
“It’s basic stuff, Torris,” said on Arlathan. “Taught to us in the academy, the stages of grief, remember? Surely the Arbitrators of Malfi would learn it too?”
“Of course I did.”
Arlathan nodded, “so now you know you’re not thinking straight, right? You know you’ve thrown reason out the window right now. What you’d said earlier of Attelus manipulating Jeurat Garrakson into sacrificing himself, may have some merit. I don’t believe it to be true, I saw what happened, I saw all of it and it sure as hell didn’t look like he’d been manipulated to me. It looked like he knew exactly what he was doing, that he was fully prepared to sacrifice himself to save us. To avenge the one he loved and his comrade.”
Arlathan clenched his teeth and braced his pistol, “now please Marcel Torris, step aside. You seem like a good person, Torris. Are you a good person, Torris?”
“I...I try to be,” said Torris.
Arlathan smiled, “well, then you’re a better man than me. I am starting to try now, too, though. But no matter how many years I live from now on I believe I’ll never be half the man you are. Show us, Marcel, show us just how good you are, by stepping aside and not letting your thirst for revenge, whether it’s justified or not, consume you, so please, step aside.”
“I...I...You’re good at this,” said Torris, sounding just as impressed as I was.
“I didn’t make this rank for nothing, believe it or not,” said Arlathan.
“Yeah, yeah I see that, alright, I’m sorry,” said Torris.
“Thank you, Torris,” said Arlathan as Jelket and Roldar began to move again. “There’s nothing for you to be sorry for, I’m just glad that you didn’t do anything that did.”
Arlathan fell in step beside my stretcher, and I saw Torris as we walked past him, the poor man looked at me with wide tearful eyes that made my heart sink.
“I’m sorry,” I hissed. “I’m so, so sorry.”
Then we left him behind, and his cry of anguish echoed down the corridor.
“Will he be alright?” asked Jelket.
“Yeah,” said Arlathan. “He’ll be alright, just give him time.”
“Did you mean that?” I said. “Did you mean what you just said?”
Arlathan sighed, “yeah, yeah I did. Do you think that Torris would’ve stood down if I didn’t?”
I nodded and let out a long relieved sigh, then quickly realised I could also move my fingers as well.
I hoped I’d be able to move soon. I had a bad feeling about the near future.
A really bad feeling.
In silence, we moved through the corridors, the only sound the footfalls of Arlathan, Jelket and Roldar. At times we stepped aside to allow groups of mercs as they trudged past going the other way.
Along the way to the elevator, after much effort, I was finally able to move my left arm and my right leg. I activated my vox link and listened to the chatter. A captain named Helma had taken over from “Olinthre” I could hear her yelling orders over the link and much to my surprise all three organisations were working well under her. They’d already taken the eighth floor, and the sixth was very near to falling.
All the elevators had been searched and activated now, and it turned out I was right, the only one trapped was the one we’d checked.
I couldn’t help roll my eyes at that.
We finally found the elevators, and after Roldar exchanged a few words with the leader of the guard, we got on and began our descent.
“Torris said you did know everything,” said Roldar. “Are you ever going to inform us of this shit?”
I swallowed, “it’s uhh complicated.”
“He’s dead isn’t he?” said Jelket. “Taryst is dead.”
Taken off guard, I couldn’t help but flinch and share a glance with Arlathan.
“That’s...Awfully presumptuous of you, Jelket,” said Arlathan.
Jelket sniggered cynically, “so it is true, so for how long? How? Why? Who did it?”
He sounded disparagingly uncaring as he asked his questions.
“It’s complicated,” I hissed.
“Yeah I bet,” said Roldar bitterly, “and what makes you so damn special that you get to know all this shit? I’ve been in this organisation for twelve frigging years! Why do you get told this and not us?”
“I only know this ‘shit’ as you keep insisting on calling it, because I went through ‘shit’ to find it out,” I snapped. “I lost the girl I loved, I got the ever-loving shit kicked out of me I...I.”
I exhaled, trying to calm myself, “I earned it, believe me, I frigging well earned it.”
“You’ll have to tell us how sometime in the future,” growled Jelket.
“I’ll make sure to write it into my memoirs,” I said sarcastically. “Give you free copies when it’s done. I’ll make sure to write it in graphic detail, every kick and punch and splatter of blood because I’ll surely remember it all in such detail.”
“Why?” demanded Roldar. “Why did you keep it a secret? Why did you lie?”
I sighed, “because in the situation I was in I had no choice, Roldar. I didn’t want to keep this shit a secret, but under the circumstances, it was the best way to go. We had to; there was a mission we needed to complete.”
“What? Taking down this Edracian, right?” said Roldar. “Didn’t Brutis say he was an Inquisitor?”
“Him being an Inquisitor, doesn’t that give you a clue that there’s heavy shit at stake?” I hissed. “That Brutis Bones is also one too, doesn’t that also add to it? You’re a soldier; I understand that you don’t think so much in the grey as I. But sometimes secrets need to be kept. If Taryst had bothered being truthful with you from the outset, then perhaps none of this complicated matter would’ve come to pass, and I wouldn’t have been forced to lie. I apologise for it but do not regret it.”
Roldar was about to open his mouth in reply when the elevator found the ground floor and with a ding, the doors slid open.
Roldar and Jelket picked up my stretcher then moved into the foyer. Arlathan following just behind.
“Alright,” sighed Roldar after a few long seconds of silence. “I guess I kind of understand. But you will tell us eventually, right?”
“Yeah,” I said and meant it. “I will when the time is right.”
Roldar briefly looked over his shoulder, and he clenched his jaw, which said, why not now?
I just pursed my lips and shook my head.
For a good ten minutes, we again carried on in silence, as I continued to fight to get my limbs moving and listened to the vox traffic. We were doing well, the sixth floor was just taken, and only the seventh remained.
It was Jelket who broke the silence, “so, Attelus, where are you from?”
I sighed, small talk, really? But still answered, “Elbyra a small agri world bordering the Halo stars, you?”
“Archaos,” said Jelket. “Was in the Archaosian 39th as a heavy weapons trooper before joining up with Taryst.”
“How’d you get out?” I asked, thinking that talking about this might help with any reservations the Mercenary might have about me, also hoping his backstory wasn’t as tragic as Olinthre’s and Garrakson’s.
“Saved up my pay and bought my way out,” said Jelket. “Took me a good twelve years but got there eventually.”
I frowned, twelve years? How old was he anyway? Signing age was eighteen (on most worlds anyway) he must’ve been at least thirty but seemed much younger. He could’ve lied about his age, though.
“Colonel Barhurst recruited me only a few months after I left,” Jelket said on. “Been with the organisation for a year, now.”
I nodded absently, barely listening being still on the vox.
“Yep! Working for Taryst was a pretty sweet gig,” said Jelket. “Good pay, mixed with pretty easy going work. Not getting shot at was pretty good, until now of course where I’ve been shot at more times in the past six hours than I have in an entire year.”
“Uh huh,” I muttered while changing my link’s channel, to hear what squad twenty-three were up to, they were on the forefront of the fight, battling with a group of Brutis’ Bones Hammers in a large recreation room.
“I’ve also killed more times in the last six hours than in six months!” he said. “Lost count after seven, even managed a few good headshots. With not much time fighting, I’ve been putting a lot of hours at the shooting range and…”
Anger suddenly overtook me then, and I snarled, “yeah! Thanks for reminding me how much of a sweet time you’ve had doing nothing while I was busy fighting and constantly killing over the past few months, and by the Emperor, you can blabber on, can’t you?”
Jelket flinched, “yeah sorry, I’m just not good with long silences.”
Roldar snorted, “tell me something I don’t know, try working guard duty with this frugger,” he said in good humour. “Running his mouth off seems to be one of his only talents.”
“Hey!” said Jelket with feigned hurt, “I resent that statement, I’ve got tenth highest accuracy rate at the range!”
Roldar sighed, “yeah I know, I know you’ve only told me that two hundred times now.”
“What’s your accuracy rate, Roldar?” I asked, finding all of this very amusing.
“Fifty-sixth, last time I checked,” Roldar replied hesitantly. “I’m more of a close quarters guy myself, give me a las gun on full auto at medium to short range, and I’ll fry ’em before they can think.”
Not me, though, I thought with a smirk.
“What’s Attelus’ rate?” asked Arlathan, causing me to crane my neck up to glare at him witheringly and he just smirked back.
Jelket shrugged, “I don’t think Mr swordsman here’s been at the range enough to get one.”
“I only logically need to go once to get an average, Jelket,” I sighed. “It’s based on averages, right?”
“Well, I’ve never seen you on the record,” said Jelket. “And I’ve looked way, way back.”
“How far back?” asked Arlathan.
“Past the three hundred mark,” said Jelket.
“Ooooh, not even close,” said Arlathan as he inhaled sharply. “That’s gotta hurt.”
“And what’s yours?” I snapped. “Surely the Magistratum keep records for their practice range?”
Arlathan grinned and shook his head, “sorry about this, kid, but I’m seventh at the range and first at hand to hand.”
Roldar let out a long whistle, “nice! How’d you manage that?”
“Yeah well, I can dodge bullets,” I stated before Arlathan could reply.
There was a long moment of silence.
“Bullshit,” said Roldar.
I opened my mouth to argue but abruptly shut it, thinking better of making them believe it.
“Yeah, sorry, just wanted to win this pissing contest,” I said.
“And that is exactly what it is,” said Arlathan.
“Can you move now?” asked Roldar. “We’d appreciate if you could, I’m getting a bit tired of carrying, your stretcher around.”
“Stop,” I said. “Let me try to get up.”
Roldar and Jelket did as told.
Slowly, shakily I sat up and slipped off the stretcher. It took me a good few minutes, and when I was finally on my feet, I almost lost balance entirely. It was only because Arlathan stopped me that kept me from falling on my face.
“You alright?” asked Arlathan and I replied with a nod.
“I just frigging hope this doesn’t happen every time she uses that shield,” I muttered through clenched teeth as Arlathan stepped back and I began slowly walking on, struggling for every step.
“What?” said Jelket.
“Nothing,” I sighed. “Don’t worry; I said nothing.”
“Well, you said something,” said Roldar.
I just grimaced, shrugged and placed my forearm against the wall for support as I walked.
“Let’s just move,” I growled. “Anyway, Roldar where’s the rest of your squad?”
Roldar shrugged as he fell in step with me, showing remarkable patience at my slow pace.
“Our squad were ordered to guard the elevator controls along with some of the moody Hammers, but we got a call for help, so me and Jelket went to help,” said Roldar. “left Halick in charge. Shit! If I’d known we’d have to haul your sorry arse back, I’d have sent him and Jelket instead.”
“Gee, thanks,” said Jelket sarcastically.
I smiled, “I appreciate the help, I do. If you want to, you can head back to rejoin your squad now. We can carry on from here.”
Roldar shook his head, “Nope, sorry, we’re staying. We’ve got our orders, and despite you being a snarky, paranoid little shit, you’re not too bad.”
I didn’t reply to that, just furrowed my brow at the backhanded compliment and carried on.
It took us almost half an hour to reach the exit. In that time I listened to the comm chatter as Jelket and Roldar constantly talked, their dialogue mostly consisting of good-natured teasing. I couldn’t help be impressed by their wit, trading barbs back and forth with surprising speed and regularity. Jelket was exceptionally quick and witty, this despite Roldar being his senior, it made me smile. It was obvious they were true comrades and good friends, it made me want to laugh, it made me want to cry again.
A thought had occurred to me as we walked and I’d turned to Arlathan.
“Shouldn’t you be with your men?” I asked.
Arlathan shook his head, “I’ve left my second, Delyth in charge. He knows what he’s doing; they’ll do fine without me.”
I’d frowned, his tone implied he believed they’d do better without him. It was obvious his confidence had taken a hit since the daemon attack, but perhaps even worse than I’d first thought. I almost felt sorry for him, but it seemed he was re-thinking his attitude, perhaps it was for the better.
We’d just walked through the guards at the west exit and were headed toward Arlathan’s Magistratum command truck waiting for us in the courtyard when I heard the call over the vox, the last of the hostiles were reported killed. Funnily enough, it was Verenth who had the honour, despite his injury.
We were in the truck when we got the call over the vox, all of our commlinks beeped and showed a call on channel fifty-six. We shared silent glances and quickly tuned in.
“What’s this about?” growled Roldar.
“It’s probably Brutis Bones going to make some uplifting, awe-inspiring speech about our victory,” I said cynically. “If you can call it that.”
Jelket frowned, “then what else would you call it?”
For a few seconds, I thought on that, with the buzzing of the active vox in my ears as I taped my index finger on my sharp chin absently.
“A single small step,” I said. “A single, minute step on a road as long as this galaxy’s length, one which I’ll continue on walking, even if it eventually kills me.”
I wanted to say, ‘even if kills me a thousand times,’ but wisely refrained.
Roldar and Jelket shared glances.
“That was awfully poetic of you, Attelus,” said Jelket. “Do you think you’ll make it to the end of that figurative road?”
“Yes,” I said with a smile.
Roldar furrowed his brow and opened his mouth to respond but stopped as Brutis Bone’s voice abruptly burst into our ears.
“This is Inquisitor Brutis Tybalt of the Ordo Hereticus, and I address all of you today with a truth, a truth all of you need to hear.”
Hearing this made me hiss through clenched teeth, I wanted to say something, stop him, but the link was one way.
“I come to you with a few truths; the first and foremost is this, the employer of many of you, the rogue trader named Taryst, is dead.”
I looked at Jelket and Roldar with wide watery eyes. I could only imagine the reactions of the many mercs hearing this and hoped Brutis wasn’t going to mention my organisation’s involvement in Taryst’s murder.
“Those that were, directly and indirectly, involved in Taryst’s death, have been brought to justice, they are dead, along with him,” said on Brutis, “as well, the rumour of Major Olinthre’s demise is true.”
Brutis sighed, “I have also received news that Colonel Barhurst is dead also. Only a few days ago this news would’ve brought me joy, but then we were enemies. Now we are unlikely allies; we are now allied because we have a greater enemy, an enemy which has manipulated both of us into this war, this enemy as many of you have already guessed was Inquisitor Nonin Edracian, he is responsible for the deaths of billions of innocent, Imperial citizens. For decades he has manipulated the Imperium against itself, just as he has manipulated us. In storming this fortress, in defeating him and his army, you have done the Emperor’s work. You have performed a great service that will allow your souls to one day be at Emperor’s side. That I promise you.”
“I, as an Inquisitor of the Holy Ordos take command, it doesn’t matter if you are a Magistratum Marshal or a Mercenary once under Taryst you now answer to me, this isn’t over I’m afraid. Soon ships of the Imperial Navy will emerge from the warp, and they will attempt to destroy Omnartus and the billions of people living on its surface on fire. Exterminatus has been ordered on this world, and it is up to us, along with the Planetary Defence Force to stop it.”
“I am afraid, though, that I must take my leave of Omnartus, my mission here is complete and as a good friend of mine had suggested, this knowledge I must take to the Calixian Ordos so to prevent Edracian and his allies causing any more destruction.”
That I knew to be a lie or at least I hoped it to be, we really couldn’t trust the Ordos anymore, who knew how many within it were allied with, or even under Etuarq’s influence? Even so, I felt Brutis had made the right decision.
“As my first order to you I order this building to be evacuated then destroyed,” said Brutis. “My second is also my last, once that is completed captain Helma will be in charge of Taryst’s forces, she has proven herself an excellent commander, you will follow her like she was Olinthre, hell, like she was Taryst himself. You must co-operate fight together like you have just now or else all will be lost. Do you understand?”
There was a long pause, and I wondered what the others listening were doing during that time.
“Thank you!” said Brutis at whatever response was given and I guessed it was positive, somehow. “Now go! Do the Emperor’s work!”
Then the connection was cut.
For a second or so we sat in grim silence, it was only interrupted by the beep of Arlathan’s vox link making Arlathan and me flinch in fright.
“Detective Karkin here,” he said, and I watched as he listened to whatever was said down the line, then his already remarkably pale face whitened even worse.
“Yeah, got you,” he stammered and cut the link.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, although I already had a good idea.
He just treated me with a wide-eyed fearful look, then immediately tuned his vox.
“Inquisitor?” he said. “I’m sorry, but we’ve got to talk, now. Can you meet us outside the western exit, ASAP? I just got a call from my boss, the Astropaths have detected the enemy fleet, it is in the warp and scheduled to enter the system in about an hour.”
There was a pause before Arlathan answered, “yes, thank you, sir. Will meet you soon.”
“Shit!” snapped Roldar.
“‘Shit,’ doesn’t even begin to describe it,” I sighed.
“No,” said Arlathan, his voice in soft contemplation as he stroked his stubbly chin with a thumb. “No, it doesn’t.”
We didn’t have to wait long, only about fifteen minutes before Brutis Bones arrived, he was now out of his Power Armour and while he was still large he was distinctly smaller without it. He wore an armoured black body glove, and his wounds thickly bandaged. He somehow managed to carry his bolter with as much ease when he was armoured, though.
Accompanying him was captain Helma, she was a plain-featured, grim-looking woman in her late thirties whose blonde hair was cropped short. She wore aged, but well-maintained Storm Trooper carapace and carried a Hellgun. Like me, she had a large, ugly scar on the left cheek, but unlike me, she didn’t hide it beneath long hair.
Also with him were Selg, Verenth, Darrance and Hayden and much to my surprise, a still sullen Torris.
“Alright,” said Brutis as he approached us, straight to business as usual. “I thought we’d have more time.”
Arlathan shook his head and licked his dry lips, he’d been silently pondering the whole time we’d waited, “I’m afraid not, Inquisitor,” said Arlathan. “It was only a small rift in the warp, that was why it wasn’t sensed hours ago. According to the head Astropath, a rift that small would be made by only five or six ships…”
Arlathan trailed off in his sentence as he, along with the rest of us saw the look of horror cross Brutis’ face.
“Only five or six ships?” said Helma, her voice deep, commanding and gravely. “You only need that amount for an Exterminatus?”
“Yes,” said Brutis. “Damn it! Why didn’t Wesley tell me?”
“Why didn’t Jeksen tell you what, boss?” said Verenth.
“Why didn’t he tell us that Torathe had so much pull!” Brutis snarled. “I was hoping he’d bring Inquisitorial ships and an Imperial navy escort! Not this. Anything but this.”
“Anything but what, Inquisitor?” said Helma, her jaw clenching in impatience.
My eyes widened with the dawning realisation, and I quickly understood Brutis’ apprehension and just when I thought it couldn’t get any frigging worse.
“Space Marines,” I said, “Inquisitor Torathe has brought frigging Space Marines.”
Brutis nodded with watery eyes, and he pointed at me, “you better pray to the God-Emperor, detective, that it’s just a Rogue Trader group or pilgrims or anything else or this will change everything. Everything.”
Then I swore I heard Arlathan mutter softly under his breath; “I’m not gonna waste my breath.”