I looked back up to Olinthre my eyes wide, and I could imagine my face being even paler than usual.
“Have you actually seen Taryst over the past few months?” I asked, “has he been even more recluse than normal.”
“That’s the thing,” said Olinthre, “While he still never leaves his quarters he still talks openly to the investigation squads and me, his mannerisms are the same nothing has changed except for his decisions.
Clenching my teeth I shook my head, “you are aware, that while we are having this highly confidential conversation, this Karmen Kons could easily be listening in that Taryst could have feigned her disappearance to draw out anyone conspiring against him…Like us.”
Olinthre shrugged, “I know, but I don’t care, if she truly knew, something would have happened right after I talked to Vex earlier, for all I know she could be dead.”
The corner of my mouth twitched in contempt, how typical of a soldier to think so simplistically.
Of course, Edracian had claimed earlier that this Karmen Kons had been injured by my colleagues during the Twilight bar incident, but it would be wise to take everything that deranged Inquisitor claims with a grain of salt.
I sighed and shrugged, placing the paper on a nearby cogitator, “for all our sakes I hope you’re right, frig it.”
I could easily see where this was leading. With this development perhaps I could “encourage” good Olinthre to go up to “Taryst’s” condo and confront the rogue trader, the major taking me with him of course. From there I could get access to this mysterious door.
Finally, for the first time in a long time, it seemed luck was on my side for a change.
At least I hoped it was luck, this seemed to smack of something that Glaitis had cooked up behind the scenes, and perhaps she knew of my kidnapping and deal with Edracian, but she hadn’t tried to stop me yet.
“So,” I said, attempting to push the conversation where I wanted it to go, “what are we going to do now?”
Olinthre’s square jaw set in determination, “we’re going up there, and we’re going to ask Taryst what the hell is going on.”
I barely held back a smile; everything was all according to plan, yess.
“What, now?” asked Vex perplexed, “b-but don’t we need a plan first?”
“You don’t need to worry Vex,” said Olinthre, “because you are staying right here, I can’t have your death on my conscience if anything should happen.”
“And make no mistake, something, will happen,” I said with complete certainty.
Olinthre gave me a sidelong glare, a look which seemed to show his complete disbelief that someone so young could be so cynical.
He can think it’s cynicism; I prefer to call it pragmatism.
Vex shook his head a slight smile on his face, “no I didn’t expect that you would want me to come with you, I would very much get in the way.”
“In fact,” said Olinthre his attention still on me, “I am leaving my men here to protect you Vex.”
My eyes widened in disbelief as did Vex’s and the two so far silent Stormtroopers glanced at one another.
“No Attelus,” interrupted Olinthre then he turned to the Stormtroopers, “Aithyre, Geron, Daveth, Rayle they have been good soldiers, no great soldiers I will not put their lives on the line for this crap, I won’t, I just won’t.”
I opened my mouth to argue to say that if we went up there and if anything happened that Taryst would surely find out about their involvement and kill them anyway, that it was idiotic that we could use all the help we could get.
But I could tell that to argue was pointless Olinthre had that determined look again he would brook no argument.
Olinthre turned to me, “sorry Attelus it’s just you and me I’m afraid.”
My jaw clenched, “let’s get this over and damn well done with then,” I growled.
The major smiled down at me, “lets,” and he began to walk to the door, but I stood still my attention to the floor, shoulders hunched and shaking as I started to work up the courage.
“Attelus?” Olinthre asked.
“I’m sorry!” I finally blurted out, “I’m sorry about what I did Vex, I had no right, I was a jerk and a complete frig head I’m sorry, I truly am.”
Vex didn’t reply for a while, I was already sweating the small space profusely with so many Cogitators stuffed in it made the place as hot as a furnace, but I was somehow sweating even worse now, my body glove’s internal heat dampeners didn’t seem to help at all.
“You were a jerk,” agreed the young hacker and I let out a long sigh of relief, not realising that I had held my breath the whole time, “and no I don’t forgive you.”
My attention snapped straight to Vex, as much as it sucked to hear those words I knew that he had every right not to.
“I-I understand,” I stammered and turned to leave.
“But!” exclaimed Vex causing me to stop in my tracks, “but I will forgive you on one condition.”
I could not help sigh in relief and turn back to the hacker, “name it.”
“Only if you let me punch you in the face as hard as I can.”
My eyes widened, that was it? That was all? It was then I was reminded how young Vex was. Only someone of such youth would think that was enough retribution for such treatment.
I almost felt guilty, while I knew that a thin person could be just as powerful and robust fighter as much as someone twice their size, Vex was not at all trained, and I have been punched in the face many times in my life, I could not help suspect that Vex’s would barely even hurt at all.
Swallowing I said, “h-how about three punches to the face Vex perhaps that would suffice more?”
Vex grinned, and I knew that grin well, it was one which I had also worn on many occasions it was when someone knew that they were being underestimated, “nope I think one’ll do.”
I frowned and nodded, scratching the back of my head “hmm, okay, fire away but do you mind if I close my eyes?”
Vex’s grin widened, “why, are you scared?”
My reply was a brief nod, hell yes I was scared. Scared that if my were eyes open when Vex tried to punch, my self-defence instincts would take over and the poor kid would end up with a broken arm, or worse
Vex shrugged, “sure I don’t see why not.”
Closing my eyes I lent forward, giving Vex a clear shot. Then the punch came, with no fanfare or ceremony and he hit me right in my cheekbone with surprising strength. Sharp pain abruptly flared through my face, and I was sent sprawling to the floor so fast that I was barely able to stop myself from smashing my nose into the hard rockcrete.
He somehow had hit me harder than Edracian’s mook did earlier.
Still, on the floor I turned back to Vex, my eyes wide with shock and clutching my face, that was going to leave one hell of a bruise.
But it indeed was the least I deserved.
Vex was smirking triumphantly down at me as one of Olinthre’s men approached and abruptly pulled me back to my feet. Woozy I clung to the Stormtrooper.
Was I woozy? Woozy! How the hell could this kid hit so damned hard!
Vex grinned, “apology accepted Attelus Kaltos,”
I nodded still holding my face, “th-thanks.”
“I bet you are wondering why it hurt so much, right?”
Yes, I thought but said nothing.
“Garrakson had taught me how to punch while you were in a coma,” said Vex, “that was nice of him, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, real nice of him,” I said sarcastically.
Both Olinthre and I exited Vex’s office, only pausing briefly for the Major to order the Stormtroopers to stay put and tell some other, supposedly inspiring hold the line crap.
We walked on through the cavern of cogitators, me sulking silently while still holding my cheek and Olinthre studying Vex’s print out intently.
As we entered the corridors and out of the deafening crashes of the serfs Olinthre said to me absently; “you really shouldn’t keep touching your face like that Attelus, it won’t help you at all.”
My sidelong glare was the only reply which Olinthre got.
The major smiled, seemingly quite enjoying my suffering.
“Fine be that way, but I have to warn you Attelus if you were in the Imperial Guard and acted that way-”
“What would happen?”
Olinthre grinned, “well you would just have to sign up to find out wouldn’t you?”
The corner of my mouth twitched then I turned my attention back forward.
“So Attelus how long have you worked as an Assassin for?” asked Olinthre out of the blue.
“Why?” I growled, quickly realising that this sounded allot like small talk.
“Why? Because I’m just interested that’s all.”
I Looked at him, trying to detect a reason behind this but came up with nil that was what it exactly seemed to be, small talk.
With a shrug I answered, “just made seven years now, how long have you worked for Taryst?”
Olinthre frowned he was still studying that sheet, “around ten years, hmmm.”
“What is it?”
Olinthre suddenly stopped in his tracks and looked straight at me, “frig,” he said, “that is one hell of a bruise you’ve got there Attelus.”
I raised an eyebrow, “What?”
“Yeah, man, the kid got you good, yeah. It’s all big and blue; we better see medicae Feuilt.”
That was an act that much was blatant but why would he want to see Feuilt? And if we did this, it would just use up even more of my precious time.
I sighed, “yeah okay, maybe he’ll bandage it or something.”
The major smiled and we moved on.
“So what is your home planet?” asked Olinthre after a few moments of silence.
My brow furrowed, wondering where the hell this line of questioning was going, it was strange I don’t think that anyone has ever actually asked where I came from before.
“E-Elbyra,” I answered hesitantly, thinking that maybe I should not be giving out this information so freely.
Olinthre’s eyes widened, “Ah! Elbyra! The small Agri world I know it actually.”
My eyebrows raised in surprise, “really, have you been there?”
The major shook his head, “no, no actually I should re-phrase, I know of Elbyra, the way I found about the planet was because I once served alongside the Velrosian first regiment during my time in the guard.”
I nodded, Elbyra was only recently taken in by the Imperium it would be just over three hundred years ago, as I could recall from school. We Elbyrans attempted to resist at first, in particular, the country of Maranger who have always been warlike but we were still a little primitive we where indeed a feudal world then and so it didn’t take long before we where under the fold. It wasn’t until twenty years ago that the entirety of Elbyra raised their first regiments of Imperial Guard, one drawn from each country on the large continent; Velrosia, Maranger, Galak Heim, Despasia, Terluin, Haellestein and Amarin.
“It was in my last year in the guard,” said on Olinthre, “my regiment was fighting Orks on the planet Belfost, and the Velrosians were sent in to help us, the famous “first amongst equals” at first we all scoffed at the arrogance of the title but quickly I saw it was justified. They were good, one of the best regiments I have ever worked with actually, well disciplined, reliable and their general he was a hard bastard. Tathe was his name, and he had a son working inside the regiment as a commissar. His father forced him into the schola progenium when he was young, Delan Tathe he was an arrogant little punk, but very skilled with a blade, you remind me of him actually.”
My jaw set slightly, “thanks,” I said, it was kind of funny at how such a large galaxy could feel so small at times.
I smiled and said, “The Velrosian 1st have made a name for themselves over the last twenty years, my country seems to breed natural warriors. Around thousand years ago Olinthre, Velrosia fought the far larger and numerically advantageous invading Maranger to a standstill, a war which lasted over four decades before Velrosia was finally overwhelmed. But it was barely after a year of occupation when the Velrosian rebels led by the young and now legendary prince, Royd Antares they ousted Maranger and Royd slaying the corrupt Maranger king Voltarin in single combat.”
“Although that great act of heroism would lead to events that no one could ever have foreseen. The legend of King Royd of Velrosia was a sad tale which ended in utter tragedy, but that still doesn’t stop all Velrosian children wanting to be him growing up, myself included, of course, my love for sword mastery and hand to hand combat was in part, because of that legend.”
And my father made me learn of course.
The corner of my mouth twitched slightly, wondering why I had just suddenly said all that information. It has been a long time since I talked about my homeworld.
Olinthre smiled and nodded as we walked out of the corridors and into the elevator lobby.
“And where are you from major?” I asked.
“Cadia,” answered Olinthre simply.
My eyebrows raised in surprise, I knew of Cadia of course, the mighty fortress world which guards the only navigational route too and from the Eye of Terror. The Cadian Imperial Guard regiments were amongst the most well known and lauded in the whole of the Imperium so that Olinthre would know of and praise the Velrosian 1st so highly was indeed something to be proud of.
That’s if the major was telling the truth of course.
Olinthre pushed the elevator call button and turned back to me.
“I served in the 266th regiment for a good ten years with Garrakson under my command as a sergeant.”
That surprised me also; I had no idea that both Garrakson and Olinthre were from the same planet, let alone the very same regiment.
Olinthre shook his head, “that was the best decade of my life, don’t get me wrong we all went through hell that’s for sure but the brotherhood we shared, the friendships we developed Attelus war is a terrible, terrible thing but nothing else could ever bind comrades together so well.”
“There is only war,” I could not help intone under my breath.
Olinthre sighed sadly, “yes I can’t disagree with you on that.”
“It was hard to see your comrades slowly whittle away Attelus, to die off, sometimes one by one, sometimes even by the dozens. You must have an idea by now; your squad was much larger when you first started fighting in this complete and utter farce.”
The major’s face suddenly contorted in horrible rage while his eyes watered with barely contained tears, “but to have your entire regiment, the friends! The comrades who you have fought side by side for years on countless battlefields! To have them all slaughtered right in front of your eyes like they were cattle, you can’t imagine what that is like!”
His sudden outburst made me flinch in fright, and I could only stand around like an idiot, not knowing what to say.
Olinthre sighed again, “I-I’m sorry for that Attelus, I didn’t mean to-”
Olinthre was interrupted by the arrival of the elevator, and we slipped inside.
We went up a few floors before Olinthre finally said, “Taryst saved us from that hell hole Attelus, he saved Garrakson and me from being slaughtered just like the rest of our regiment and for that I truly respect him, and for that, I owe him everything. I was always prepared to die for the Emperor but not in that way, but not that way.”
“And for that, I will always be ashamed; I am a coward Attelus I should have died in duty along with my comrades but yet here I am. Working as a soulless mercenary for an ugly and backstabbing corporation that really shouldn’t exist, but now it’s time to face up as you did with Vex, it’s time to finally, truly face up to my mistakes.”
I nodded, and that was all I was capable of.
I winced as Feuilt dabbed my sore cheek with a wet piece of cotton.
“Yeeep,” he said, “young man you are going to have one frig of a bruise.”
My jaw twitched, and I glared accusingly at the grinning Olinthre, really is that why we came up here so that Feuilt could state something, I already knew?
“Actually,” said on the medicae, “you are lucky that you didn’t break your zygomatic bone, that was one hell of a punch.”
“Well, the person who threw it has been practising at the art non-stop over the last month,” I growled and flinched again as more pain coursed through my face.
Feuilt’s eyes widened, “what just so they could do this to you? What did you do to warrant such retribution?”
I frowned and furrowed my brow, bemused at the medicae’s apparent ignorance.
“Well I guess it doesn’t matter,” sighed Feuilt, “just be careful, two injuries so quickly one after the other, just try, be, a, little, bit, less, clumsy next time.”
He dabbed between each pause, and I could not help bristle slightly at being called clumsy, I wasn’t clumsy, I was never clumsy.
“Alright,” said the medicae as he got up and turned to a nearby draw pulling out a bandage, pulled off the adhesive tape then planted onto my face.
“Just wear that for the next few days,” he said, “it will keep down the swelling and help prevent the bruising, I’ll give you a few more if this one ever falls off.”
“Thanks, doc,” I said, sounding more grudging than intended.
Feuilt shrugged, “yes young man, just make sure you don’t come back for any time soon, okay?”
I nodded and briefly played with the idea to tell Feuilt of the poison injected into my system but quickly declined the notion, Edracian could be watching me even now, and I didn’t know what kind of poison it was. There were a few kinds that I could name off the top of my that would kill a man in a few hours, but here I was dealing with an assassin from the Venenum temple and their knowledge of poisons was unrivalled throughout the Imperium, it was very likely that Feuilt would have no clue what it was at all.
Feuilt nodded back then turned to Olinthre, “so major now will you tell me why you are here as well?”
Olinthre was leaning against the wall with his arms folded over his chest and he pushed himself off.
“Yes I will Feuilt, something has come to my interest recently,” Olinthre said, and he held up the print off of the retinal scans to the medicae.
My eyes widened, what was he doing? Why was he telling this to Feuilt?
Feuilt’s brow furrowed in bemusement, “where are you getting at major?”
“This, my friend,” said Olinthre, “is a print off from the records of people who have used their retinal ID to access Taryst’s condo over the past month.”
The medicae frowned deeply, still confused he slipped on a pair of spectacles and took the sheet, studying it intently.
“Yes it is,” agreed Feuilt, “but what does this have to do with me?”
My eyes widened as it suddenly hit me, “because you’ve been going up there to treat Taryst’s injured psyker!” I blurted out without thinking.
Both Feuilt’s and Olinthre’s attention snapped at me; their expressions were both amazed and confused.
“H-how did you know that?” stammered Feuilt.
I winced, internally cursing my idiocy then my face went bright red, and I scratched the back of my head, “uhm a lucky guess, I guess.”
It was a terrible lie, I know.
But I barely held back a sigh of relief as Olinthre returned his suspicious gaze to the bemused medicae, “so you admit it then? As the records show, you have been visiting Taryst far more than normal over the last month.”
It was Feuilt’s turn to sigh, “yes, yes I do admit to it Olinthre as you know I go up once a week to give Taryst his weekly juvenant treatment, but…”
“But this time was different?” I asked and immediately regretted it as Olinthre’s attention briefly snapped straight at me again, damn it! Why the hell did I always feel so inclined to finish people’s sentences!
“But…Yes this was different, young man, Taryst took me through that large door in his quarters, in there he is keeping an extremely injured psyker, a woman by the name of Karmen Kons, he told me to treat her and to keep it a secret.”
Olinthre looked at the medicae with extreme incredulity and said, “but! But! How! Not even I’m allowed through that frigging door and why wasn’t I told what had happened to her!”
Feuilt raised his hands in a protective motion as it seemed for a second there that Olinthre would strike the medicae. “You must understand major, I was not informed of such information, but it does not end there.”
“And what the hell does ‘It does not end there,’ mean?” yelled Olinthre.
The medicae didn’t flinch facing down the angry ex-guardsman with admiral courage. “When I was first taken to her, she was unconscious due to head trauma, but I was ordered to keep her in a coma via a drug named Diporisan which needed to be injected every two days, that is why my retinal scan is logged in at every second day.”
“I don’t understand,” I said interrupting anything that Olinthre was to say, “why didn’t you give Taryst some syringes so he could do it himself?”
But what I was really thinking was why Taryst would want to keep his little psyker in a coma, and the reason why I asked such a small question was that I wanted to take Olinthre’s thoughts away from it.
Perhaps the psyker had found something? Or did something wrong during the raid on the Twilight bar?
Feuilt shrugged, “I don’t know, but I am guessing that he suspected no one but himself would be able to see the records so my visitations would not arouse suspicion.”
That made my eyes widen, if this was such a secret then how did Edracian’s spy find out? The spy who seemingly worked for Glaitis or was there someone else in Taryst’s organisation?
“Well they have now,” growled Olinthre.
Feuilt turned back to Olinthre, “so I am curious, how is it then you got your hands on those records major?”
“That is none of your business, medicae.”
“Alright then,” sighed Feuilt, “I don’t know how you got your hands on that information but I can still tell Taryst that you have it, so do not intend to get angry at me again Olinthre!”
A wolfish, predatory grin spread across Olinthre’s face, “well it doesn’t matter if you do, medicae as the three of us are about to say a little hello to the good rogue trader right now, isn’t that right Attelus?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I agreed and I paused as I realised, “wait, what do you mean ‘us three’?” I asked.
“Because Attelus Kaltos, because good medicae Feuilt here will be accompanying us, isn’t that right Feuilt?”
Feuilt’s face grimaced in utter rage, but it was quickly gone, turning into a look of defeat, “yes, yes I will be accompanying you major.”
Olinthre grinned that grin again, “good!” he said brightly, “let’s go then, shall we?”
We silently rode the elevator up to Taryst’s penthouse me standing with both Olinthre and Feuilt on my flanks.
Earlier on our walk from the medicae, I asked Feuilt with as much casual interest I could feign. If he had seen anything behind that door, anything of any importance, but the only answer I got was that the door actually led to an elevator that went down into an underground bunker that he hadn’t been shown much of the shelter at all.
Perhaps he was lying, but I didn’t want to push the medicae for more information with Olinthre around, the ex-guardsman’s suspicion of me was high enough as it was already.
With the thought of the ex-guardsman, I could not help but steal a sidelong glance at Olinthre, my jaw twitching slightly.
Perhaps I should’ve pointed out the pure hypocrisy of Olinthre making poor Feuilt come with us, Feuilt who in all essence which had done nothing wrong he was just following orders.
But me being the complete coward I am my mouth kept shut not wishing to force any confrontation with Olinthre, I needed to stay on his right side him being my only real ally in this idiotic endeavour.
Well, how “true” Olinthre was as an ally has yet to be elaborated on I would be keeping an eye on the major after his tirade with poor Feuilt I was beginning to wonder about his mental health.
I then looked sidelong to the medicae who stood as emotionless as he was motionless, he hadn’t complained at all about the dangerous position he was in, but as I had said earlier life was unfair and I couldn’t help but respect the medicae for his apparent stoicism.
I sighed slightly and reached into the pocket of my flak jacket for a smoke while tapping the tip of my shoe against the floor, very much unlike the good medicae my nerves where really getting to me the entire ride I fidgeted in one way or another while wholly ignoring the annoyed looks from the Major and medicae.
The attempt at retrieving my Lhos was far harder than it should’ve been my shaking fingers fumbling to find the little ceramic case which caused me to curse a couple of times under my breath.
Finally, I managed to tug out the case and opened it with a flick of a thumb then began to search for my lighter.
“You aren’t going to smoke that are you?” growled suddenly Olinthre at my back which made me flinch in fright.
“And I hope that you are aware of the dangers to your health of smoking Lho,” said Feuilt, “or of the potential effects for both Olinthre and myself when you smoke in such close proximity to us in here-.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I interrupted while hurriedly slipping my away my Lho’s, really not wanting to hear much more of the medicae’s tirade.
“Are you a bit nervous Attelus?” asked Feuilt.
“Yeah just a little,” I said, “we are about to confront the leader of huge multi-planet business franchise who has a huge army at his beckon call and may or may not already want us dead and may or may not has lost his mind, so I am a little bit nervous, yes.”
Feuilt smiled, “I understand we all have our ways of dealing with our anxiety Attelus, you I see, deal by fidgeting and by displaying extreme sarcasm which is not uncommon for others your age and the smoking of Lho of course.”
I sighed again, “so are we a psychologist now as well?”
Feuilt smiled wider, “why I’ve dabbled although I doubt it would take a genius to figure that out.”
“Of course you have,” I said, “and what is your way of dealing with anxiety medicae?”
“My faith,” he answered without hesitation.
My jaw set at the medicae’s response, first frigging Olinthre now Feuilt both being idiotic believers in “faith”, a smile spread across my face, and I looked up at the cameras looming over us and said;
“Whatever happens, happens.”
Before either Olinthre or Feuilt could respond the elevator had stopped its ascent and again the automated voice announced in its atypical monotone “300th story; Master Taryst’s living quarters restricted access retinal scan required.”
Wordlessly Olinthre unslung his las gun approached the retinal scanner and placed his face into the machine while I still watched the cameras with great interest wondering whether Taryst was watching us ascend to usurp him.
I drew my auto pistol from my chest holster, racked the slide and turned to Feuilt, “stay behind us Feuilt.”
The medicae’s exterior of apathy was gone, his nod of reply very nervous.
“Employee 106; identified as Toron Olinthre,” said the computer, “Access granted.”
We all quickly stepped into the sides of the elevator in case of any immediate retaliatory gunfire from Taryst’s bodyguards.
But there was nothing.
I glanced questionably at Olinthre who with a similar quizzical look nodded back and together with guns raised we slipped out of the elevator and into the corridor beyond.
What we saw as we stepped into that red, overly pretentious hallway made my jaw drop and Olinthre bark out in disbelief.
She stood at the end, kneeling over the corpses of both Taryst’s bodyguards seemingly studying them intently.
“You!” roared the ex-guardsman, “how in the Emperor’s name did you get up here?”
Elandria was suddenly on her feet, and she eyed each of us blankly, “I was allowed,” she answered.
Both Olinthre and I had here wholly covered, but I could not help but feel a little unnerved, what was she doing here? Was this Glaitis making her move?
“Did you kill those men?” demanded Olinthre his tone betraying his nervousness.
Slowly, Elandria looked over her shoulder at the two dead men behind her as though only just realising they were there, “no,” she answered, “they were both already dead when I arrived.”
Scarily without a shadow of a doubt, I knew she was telling the truth, and that made me all the more nervous.
Suddenly, seeming from nowhere Elandria grinned her evil grin and her attention snapped straight to me.
“This is it Attelus Kaltos,” she said.
“This is it for what El?” I asked.
“Finally we will see who is truly the better of us,” Elandria said as she slowly almost theatrically drew Setsukia and Katrina.
I kept my pistol firmly trained on her, “I don’t want to fight you Elandria.”
“Oh but you do,” she laughed darkly, “you are just as interested as I am in seeing who is the superior one, I know it.”
“Glaitis has ordered you to kill me hasn’t she?” I asked.
“That is mamzel Glaitis Attelus Kaltos, and yes the master did order your death so I will not be holding back.”
“Well I wouldn’t have it any other way,” I said and opened fire.
Almost faster than the eye could follow she dodged the bullet swaying sidewards and her somersault carried her lithe body out of the trajectory of both my next shots.
Olinthre had no time to react before she had crossed the distance between us and me in vain emptied my pistol at her acrobatic form.
She flew at me in a horrifically powerful butterfly kick which would have taken my head off if I hadn’t managed just to duck underneath.
My sword was suddenly drawn I slashed horizontally, attempting to catch the young woman in mid-flight but she dodged; twisting out of harm’s way with almost impossible grace.
She landed perfectly and followed on by pirouetting into a powerful hook kick which forced me into a back step, her heel barely missing my nose.
Elandria kept up her offence; thrusting forward Katrina at my guts, a thrust which I abruptly sidestepped and countered with a horizontal slash, an attack that she cartwheeled just out of range from but her dodge was also an attack as she attempted to shatter my jaw with her feet.
I swayed away and slid into a vertical slash which would have sliced her skull cleanly in two if she hadn’t parried with Setsukia then countered by cutting with Katrina.
My dodge was a desperate leap back while simultaneously ejecting a knife from my sleeve and throwing it straight at her face at point blank range.
Elandria knocked my projectile out of mid-air with almost contemptuous ease and lunged forward, quickly making the distance while spinning into a vertical blow which was far too powerful for me to parry, so I instead sidestepped, sliding nimbly around her while cutting at her back.
Elandria leaned low, just under the blow and swept her leg out in an attempt to take my feet out from underneath me but I danced over the kick and stomped down at her.
She rolled out the way, across the carpet and into a feline-like crouch, her dead, drugged up eyes looking up at me under a furrowed brow.
“It looks as though your time in bed hasn’t affected your speed, ” she growled, getting back to her full height.
I grinned through my gasps that little skirmish would have lasted less than a second or two, but already it had worn me down a bit.
“Well that’s me,” I said, “the Autarch Speedyrificus.”
Elandria raised an eyebrow, “what?”
“Nothing!” I replied quickly, wondering what the hell I had said as well.
Then without hesitation, Elandria was lunging at me again.
I slipped from the path of the slicing Katrina then weaved underneath the stabbing Setsukia.
My counter was a quick short slash, slashing up toward her ribs
She spun sidewards out of the path of my attack. It was yet another fanciful dodge, but over the past six months, I’d like to think that I learnt a lot about Elandria’s fighting style. I knew that her spins, her flips, her cartwheels and such were usually far to fast for me to take advantage of the openings they create and I knew they weren’t just for show either. She used them to build momentum which added much more power to her strikes; it was a deadly mix of speed and power that made her such an exceedingly deadly enemy.
Elandria spun into a stroke with Setsukia, the blurring blade arcing in a decapitating cut that I kept clear of by backstepping. Against an offensive dual wielder with her speed I wasn’t ready to risk a parry I didn’t want to open myself to one of her next blows or even be potentially disarmed.
She flowed into a high front kick that I sidestepped; I would have loved to slice my sword straight into her leg then but again she proved to be far too quick.
Clenching my teeth I stepped into the offence, slashing out horizontally with my sword an attack which Elandria parried with Katrina and she flowed with the blow, turning her hips and augmenting my attack in an attempt push me off balance to impale myself on the tip of Setsukia.
I would have been surprised if not running on instinct, it was the type of defence I used, and so the appropriate counter had been drilled into me over and over again by my father a long time ago.
In the blink of an eye, I pulled my blade back reposting into a blindly fast overhead vertical slash that Elandria barely blocked with both her swords. A smile spread across my face at seeing the surprised look on her beautiful features; then I kicked out with my boot knife straight at her knee.
In hindsight it was foolish of me to think that she wouldn’t have anticipated the attack, I had gained much knowledge of her style and so should she of me. I found that out the hard way as she suddenly slipped sideways pulling her blades from the block and just managing to dodge my crippling kick. Luckily my skill had prevented me from putting to much pressure on my sword otherwise I would have been overbalanced and open to her counter cut so with a desperate defence I knocked aside Katrina a mere millimetre before the short sword sliced through my guts.
Elandria’s second attack was a thrust, the tip of Setsukia moving so fast straight at my face that the sword seemed to phase into reality and I leaned away. My dodge was quick enough to keep Setsukia from impaling my skull but not fast enough to prevent it from opening an ugly, gigantic gash across my cheek and tear off Feuilt’s bandage.
Crying out as the horrific pain spread I leapt back, away from any follow on that Elandria could muster then fell into a defensive stance.
Elandria stood, her swords held limply at her sides grinning at me with that sinister grin of hers.
“You are slowing down,” she stated.
I could barely respond with the lull in the combat my fatigue was back at full force, my heart was thudding through my chest at a mile a minute, and I couldn’t stop gasping for breath if only I were at full strength if only I could breathe properly.
Elandria shrugged, “well you are weakened, but even at your best Attelus Kaltos I am sure that I would win.”
“Dream, on,” I managed and glanced briefly over my shoulder to check on Feuilt and Olinthre, who both stood frozen still with expressions of utter awe.
“I don’t want to fight you Elandria,” I said, turning back to her.
“Really, why did you try to shoot me then?”
My jaw twitched slightly, so I don’t have to waste my frigging time fighting you, and I was aiming at your leg. Also, I thought but said nothing finding it hard to imagine of a convincing lie.
“So tell me El,” I said in an attempt to change the subject, “did I save all those people at the Twilight bar?”
“Not this again,” she growled.
My jaw set as sudden anger welled at the pit of my guts, “yes this again,” I growled, “did I or didn’t I? Now spit it out before I kill you.”
Her face turned grim, “I am not telling you so if you by some miracle actually kill me you will miss out on it.”
“There are no miracles, there is only men,” I said, suddenly recalling the quote although could not quite remember from where it came.
She grinned again, “well if that is true then you are positively screwed.”
I grinned back, “then I am positively screwed I guess, but really, I don’t mind that it would be you who screwed me.”
Elandria’s face immediately turned a stark red, evident in contrast to her deathly pale skin.
I stepped forward looking her straight in the eyes, her drugged dead but somehow still beautiful brown eyes, “I-I don’t want to fight you Elandria.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I don’t want to fight you!” I yelled.
“Why don’t you want to fight me?”
“Because I don’t want to kill you!”
“Why don’t you want to kill me?”
My reply caught in my throat why was she pushing this? Damn it! I turned my attention to the floor unable to keep eye contact with her any more.
“B-because I don’t want you to die, Elandria.”
“Why Attelus don’t you want me to die then?” she said softly.
I glanced at her. Why, because you are so damn beautiful, it hurts every time I look at you?
“Just because!” I snapped.
It was pathetic! But I couldn’t, I just couldn’t talk properly; my heart leapt like it wanted to burst out of my chest, my throat had a massive lump in it, it was hard so, so hard.
It was strange going from one second fighting her, to this, me struggling to confess, well I had no real idea what I wanted to admit exactly.
She tilted her head slightly her pale face a mask of utter bemusement.
“Why Attelus, why?”
“Because Elandria,” I sighed, “I don’t want you to die, it’s because I know what you have been through.”
I paused trying to swallow back the lump in my throat, “and I know that you never had any choice in the matter, any choice to be what you wanted to be, to do what you wanted to do. That-that any real choice in your life was stolen from you when you were so young a-and you didn’t deserve that Elandria, no one does, I-I want you to live so you could one day have your own life to escape this crap, too, too.”
My left hand clenched into a tight ball while the right gripped my sword’s hilt all the harder, “and that may be in your new life that I’d be able to be part of it, that I’d like to be by your side to help you through I-I.”
I dropped my sword and kicked it away.
“W-what are you doing?” she demanded, her voice now high pitched almost scared, her expression of grim determination disappearing entirely into one of extreme uncertainty.
“Giving you a choice Elandria,” I answered, feeling tears welling in my eyes, “you can kill me or let me pass, but either way I know now that you truly aren’t the monster that you claim to be, your uncertainty now is proof of that.”
Elandria was shacking in utter terror now, and I could even see tears in her own eyes she had utterly no clue what to do, “Attelus...”
I closed my eyes, “just make the choice Elandria; I won’t fight it either way.”
“What the hell are you doing!” I heard Olinthre roar, “don’t just give up you idiot!”
I ignored him and despite my eyes being closed the tears now flowed freely.
“I-I,” stammered Elandria, “I don’t understand, I-I just don’t, why can’t, why can’t I do it? Why can’t I kill you?”
Then I heard a clatter as she dropped her swords, “I-I can’t.”
My eyes opened, and I was greeted for the first time Elandria cry, and by the Emperor, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen as they weren’t tears of sadness they were tears of joy, utter joy.
In all honesty, I had expected her to kill me that her years of brainwashing would win so to see her Elandria somehow overcoming it was so astonishing I could not help stand in shock, and awe and it filled me with such unbelievable hope if she could do it then why couldn’t I?
Despite my self, I approached her, pulling her into an embrace she didn’t fight only tightly embracing me back and sobbed raggedly into my chest
I held her all the more, and it was then I truly realised that I loved her and she truly loved me too, and the joy it brought was beyond description.
The single gunshot roared, reverberating the very corridor to the core and Elandria suddenly gasped her eyes widening with shock, and she collapsed so fast that I had no time to catch her. I just saw with dawning utterly numbing horror the huge ragged hole in her back.
My shock was so intense I never saw Taryst slip back through the curtains at the end of the corridor, a smoking gun in his grasp neither did I hear Olinthre scream the rogue trader’s name and run after him nor Feuilt sprint up to try to help me with Elandria.
I fell to my knees and slowly pulled her into my arms, turning her limp form over so I could look into those big brown beautiful eyes, it seemed so unreal I couldn’t begin to comprehend.
She smiled weakly and whispered; “you’re so stupid.”
“H-how?” I managed.
“Th-that you didn’t believe Castella when she said you saved all those people,” her voice was barely a whisper now, “because you did save those people Attelus, you did.”
“Please don’t talk El,” I said wiping away my tears with a forearm, “t-try to save your strength.”
“Thank you Attelus Kaltos,” she said ignoring my plea, and she placed a soft hand against my cheek, “thank you for caring for me despite all I did, thank you for being the only one who-who.”
She never got to finish her sentence as her hand fell away and she gasped one last time then died still cradled in my arms.