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Secret War: Upon Blood Sands

By Ben Agar

Action / Scifi

Chapter 1

"This is accurate?" asked Attelus Kaltos as he looked up from the data slate, his hazel eyes wide with surprise.

"As much as it can be," said Interrogator Arlathan Karkin who reclined back in his seat, smiling.

They sat in Arlathan's office on the Audacious Edge, the room was large, a good fifteen by thirty metres. The walls made of shining adamantium and Arlathan's desk was inbuilt with an advanced cogitator. A very long Nalwood cabinet sat against the right side wall, keeping Arlathan's large collection of Amasec and other alcohols. Behind the Interrogator was a window taking up the entire width of the office, allowing a good view of Scintilla, the sector's capital world below. The smog covered hive world reminded Attelus unnervingly of Omnartus.

Shit, it'd been three years, three frigging years since the destruction of Omnartus. So much had happened since then and yet so little, Arlathan's promotion as Inquisitor Enandra's Interrogator, the death of the Space Marine chapter responsible, The Destruction Inculpators and Attelus' own ascension to master assassin by Glaitis' old cult.

It'd taken Vex six months to decipher the data downloaded from Taryst's personal cogitator and Attelus had travelled far and wide, investigating into the leads it gave. Adelana working with him as his apprentice. But all of it had been for nothing, no true clue of Etuarq's whereabouts.

Until now, perhaps.

"And it'd been seven months since it'd occurred?" Attelus asked, trying to keep the anger from his tone.

Arlathan shrugged, looking at Attelus with weary eyes. Much had changed, Arlathan now sported an impressively thick neatly kept beard and his once pitch black hair now speckled with bits of grey. His pale skin was marked with scars, two crossed on his right cheek and one from his brow onto his left cheek. Scars said given to him by the traitor Inquisitor, Devan Torathe on the bridge of the Imperial Crusher, so long ago.

What had gone on there, Attelus still didn't know. Arlathan and Inquisitor Enandra seemed determined to never talk about it. Something which he didn't like, but had to respect.

At the thought of scars, Attelus absently touched the huge, ugly black scar just under his left eye. The scar he still refused to have covered by false flesh unless the job needed it, instead electing to hide it underneath a thick fringe of brown hair.

"You know more than anyone how slow information in the Imperium of Mankind can move," said Arlathan. "This occurred in the Gothic Sector, way to the galactic south-east, we're bloody lucky we received it this soon."

"Of course we were," Attelus sighed, placing a palm over his face.

"Let me have a look," said Karmen Kons as she got up from one of the couches and approached.

Attelus smiled and handed it to her. Karmen's attractive features didn't smile back. She wore a black bodyglove, her shoulder length blond hair dead straight and parted in the middle. She was truly attractive, beautiful, perhaps. Her face heart shaped and high cheek boned. Without a word she took the data slate and began scrolling through it.

"Taryst's records indicated a tenuous at best connection," said Attelus.

Arlathan raised an eyebrow, "to general Tathe? Yes, I know you're unwilling to pursuit this thread. They are from your homeworld, they were your heroes as a child, Estella's too."

He furrowed his brow and looked pointedly at Karmen, she ignored him continuing to read the data slate.

"You've been avoiding it," said Arlathan. "But now you can't afford to any longer. A world was put to the sword at general Tathe's behest, Attelus."

"The information is lacking," stated Karmen. "Doesn't even say the world's name, nor even where it is."

Arlathan sighed, "that was beyond our accessibility, that information is classified. Vermillion level."

"But it did happen?" said Attelus.

"Do not know, the information was taken from the Gothic sector's Inquisitorial data banks by one of our long range operatives, but it still seems worth investigating" said Arlathan. "The Elbyran contingent is taking part in a campaign subduing worlds still held by the archenemy in the Orar subsector since Abaddon the Despoiler's 12th Black Crusade. With the sector highly weakened by Abaddon's forces they've been importing Imperial Guard regiments from other sectors to help."

"Where are they now?" Attelus asked.

"The last we heard, the Munitorum had sent them to retake the mining world of Carkeath, in the Savath system" said Arlathan. "That was a month ago, but there were problems."

"And what are they?" asked Karmen, looking up from her dataslate.

"A day after they were scheduled to arrive, the system was cut off by a freak warpstorm," said Arlathan. "We know that the Orar astropaths received a message from the invasion force just before the system went dark…"

"And let me guess," Interrupted Attelus. "The contents of that message too, was Vermillion level."

Arlathan nodded.

"Isn't that a little strange," said Karmen. "Only bits and pieces of that information being classified."

"All of it is classified," said Arlathan. "Our agent isn't high enough on the totem pole to be able to access just the Vermillion level encoded information."

"And fair enough too," agreed Attelus with a shrug. "But Karmen's right. It is strange. Why not all of it being Vermillion?"

Arlathan smiled, "does this stink as much to you as it does me?" he said.

Attelus smiled and raised his eyebrows, which said, 'of course I frigging do.'

"How does it feel?" said Attelus.

"How does what feel?" asked Arlathan, his eyes narrowing.

"Since being made Interrogator you've become quite the uhh, exposition teller," he said.

"Exposition...teller?" said Arlathan, with a bemused furrowed brow.

"Never mind," said Attelus quickly, shaking his head. "What does the Inquisitor want us to do?"

Arlathan tapped his desk with the tip of his fingernail as a guilty expression crossed his face, "she wants you to travel to Carkeath to investigate the Velrosian 1st and general Tathe. Find out the why and how the Exterminatus happened and if it's connected to Etuarq. Also to find out the fate of the Elbyran contingent."

He took out another two data slates from under his desk.

"We've got a team lined up for you and a ship readied to take you to the Gothic Sector," said Arlathan.

"Yeah, that's all well and good and all," said Attelus leaning back in his seat, folding his arms across his chest. "But that's going to be hard, because, y'know it's cut off due to a warp storm and it's also so frigging far away."

"Yeah," sighed Arlathan. "But she also said that, that isn't her problem. That if you have to wait on Orar for the warp storm to clear, then you'll wait on Orar for the warp storm to clear."

"What!" both Karmen and Attelus exclaimed at once.

"That could take frigging centuries!" cried Karmen, the showing the most amount of emotion Attelus had heard from her in a long time.

"The Inquisitor also said that's what rejuvenant treatments are for," said Arlathan. "She also said during that time you could set up a better spy network for our organisation in the Gothic Sector."

Attelus frowned and looked at his data slate, scrolling through the list of agents, he really liked what he saw but…

"Yeah and how can we do that with a squad of ten people?" said Karmen sullenly, verbalising the question Attelus wanted to ask too. "Including us."

Arlathan shrugged, "she said you'll also be well funded. You can hire your own agents once there."

"Of course she did," Attelus said as he shook his head with a smile. "What else did mamzel Enandra say?"

"She also said that Attelus would say 'of course she did,' a few times and would be quite happy with at least one member of the squad," said Arlathan, then he looked at Karmen. "She also said that Karmen wouldn't be…"

Karmen's narrowing eyes made Arlathan quickly shut up.

Arlathan cleared his throat and straightened, "all the rest of the information you need is in your data slates. She also said that it's up to you to brief your squad members."

"Of course…," Attelus started to say, but smiled and stopped himself. "We're done?"

Arlathan nodded, "the mamzel wishes for you to be gone in as soon as two days. She'd also like you to give us a call over the vox when you're ready to leave. So we can see you off."

Attelus got off his seat with a sigh and they turned and started toward the door.

"Attelus," said Arlathan causing Attelus to stop in his tracks. "About Adelana…"

"You've already said enough on her," Attelus snapped. "I don't want to hear anymore now! Okay?"

Arlathan expression was one of sadness before he nodded and lowered his gaze to the cogitator in his desk.

The door slid closed behind Attelus as he stepped into the corridor. Karmen stood, her arms folded over her ample chest, her full lips pouting in annoyance. There was no sign of the horrid, self inflicted scars on her face anymore, the false flesh that covered them was grafted perfectly by Inquisitor Enandra's best surgeons.

Attelus met her gaze for a few seconds before he turned right and continued down the corridor, studying the data slate, his feet silent as they walked over the steel grating.

Karmen fell in step with him, her footfalls clanging in contrast to Attelus' complete silence.

"What do you think?" she said.

Attelus sighed, stopped and lowered his data slate, turning to Karmen.

"That this assignment is a right royal pain in the arse," he sighed, before continuing on again.

He'd only made a few metres more, before Karmen's voice said in his mind, +can your other benefactor help us in this?+

Attelus shrugged, I'll ask her, she what she has to say. It wouldn't be the first time Farseer Faleaseen had provided them a literal shortcut in their endeavours. Only Adelana and Karmen knew of his connection to the Eldar, but it seemed that was going to change.

Temporarily, perhaps.

Karmen nodded, "we have better get the others together," she said, reaching for her vox bead, but she stopped as Attelus raised his hand.

"No," he said, "Inquisitor Enandra seems to know everything about everyone. Let's see if we do. We'll try to find them."

"Sounds like a complete waste of time to me," said Karmen, folding her arms again.

Attelus grinned, "come on Karmen, just humour me here, please."

She rolled her eyes, but was smiling as she groaned and said, "fine! Have it your way! I swear you're like a child sometimes. If we're delayed because of it, it's on you, alright?"

"Don't you worry, we won't," he said.

"Where to first?" she asked.

Attelus smiled, "the training area, of course."

Attelus had lied, of course. Along the way he just had to stop at the kitchen to get himself a cup of caffeine.

They walked side by side, Attelus with one hand in the pocket of his black flak jacket, while sipping from his cup with the other.

Karmen couldn't help but smile. She remembered the little, stick thin but deadly teenager she'd found in the ruins of Varander ten years ago. Now Attelus was an exceptionally handsome and accomplished young man. He was thin but svelte. His skin pale white and his lips deep red. His sharp featured, eflin face was quite feminine made even more so by his shoulder length brown hair. Karmen always felt he'd look even better if he had his hair cut short, she'd suggested it once or twice, but was promptly ignored. Attelus was far older than he looked, being twenty seven, but looking perhaps, eighteen, nineteen. How he managed to look so youthful after everything was quite beyond her. Karmen knew more of Attelus Kaltos than she'd cared to admit, she knew how hard a life he'd had and couldn't help marvel at how well he'd pulled through it all.

He'd had help, Karmen supposed, Inquisitor Enandra and the little bitch had given him much in the way of moral support over the last three years.

Attelus quickly noticed Karmen looking at him, his five senses were always as sharp as Karmen's sixth and gave her a smile.

Karmen forced away her own smile and looked away, she hadn't forgiven him, she would never forgive him.

He frowned sadly and fixed his attention forwards, he'd seemed to have got the idea of their relationship a long time ago. There was to be no friendship, they were be acquaintances, professionals and that was that.

It was his own damned fault, and as he would say, in all honesty.

They turned and walked through the doorway leading into the training facility

All around dozens upon dozens of elite soldiers under Enandra's command were practising hand to hand drills, bayonet techniques and disarming and wrestling style fighting on blue soft mats

Almost everyone was a large bastard, as muscular as Attelus was thin. Their every technique was brilliant and practised almost to perfection. She tried not to stare, many men were stripped to the waste, their sweat slicked torsos corded with muscle. Some were women, but only a few.

In the corner of her eye, Karmen saw Attelus looking on with a small measure of an amused, half smile, his brow furrowed arrogantly.

None of them could even come close to taking him and he knew it. Attelus was one of the most dangerous individuals Karmen had ever met and that was saying a lot. His arrogance was almost justified, almost. He must never forget, that there was always someone, somewhere better.

Karmen looked over the Stormtroopers training but saw no sign of any one on their list.

"Try the sparring cages," Attelus said, scratching the back of his head before slipping his hand back into its pocket and taking another sip of caffeine.

They moved through the thoroughfare, many a soldier noticed them and stopped to salute or make the sign of the Aquila.

Attelus and Karmen nodded or saluted back politely.

They eventually came to the five large sparring cages set at the end of the huge hall. In the first one figure was a complete blur of speed and skill, fighting off five close combat servitors with blunted blades at once, so much so Karmen couldn't even make out who it was.

"Hey Darrance!" Attelus yelled quickly as they stopped to watch. "A frig head says what?"

It was Darrance, how the hell Attelus was capable of telling that was anyone's guess

Darrance didn't deign to reply he just continued his battle.

"Hmm, was worth a try," said Attelus with a smile and a shrug, looking sidelong at Karmen

Karmen was about to reply when abruptly there was a loud buzz and a servitor's flat toned voice said, "horizontal slash to sternum a fatal blow, end of session."

Darrance let out a frustrated growl as he spun away flourishing his long, two handed sword to whip off the imaginary blood and stalked toward them. Darrance was very pretty as well, but his features were grimmer, much more gaunt and haughty. His white hair was once long but now he wore it close cropped and short. He was also thin and long limbed but was much taller than Attelus being just under two metres. Darrance was obviously highborn, Karmen had been a lord's daughter back on Velrosia, she had to have many dealings with the upper class as a child so she knew his type well.

Spoilt and totally up himself but he wasn't without his merits, he was a swordsman of equal skill to Attelus but was also an extensively talented pilot and held much in the way wisdom and intellect, he was usually more correct than not in his statements and assumptions. He and Attelus were once mercenaries working under the same assassin sect, they still did but were permanently outsourced under Enandra's command.

But, Karmen was sure both of them were truly loyal to Enandra.

"I hope you are aware…" Darrance gasped but stopped himself and frowned, he was obviously going to call Attelus 'apprentice' but that title didn't fit him any more. "Attelus, you made me frig up then."

Attelus grinned as if it was the greatest achievement of his entire existence, it proved infectious and Karmen couldn't help smile along with him. After Omnartus' destruction, it'd taken a long time for Attelus to be able to smile again, a very long time. He had a nice smile and she'd missed it greatly.

Darrance smirked, shook his head, turned away and barked, "training simulation! Level ten, start!"

Attelus took another sip of caffeine and they walked on, idly gazing into the sparring cages. In the next were two more assassins from the cult, Delathasi and Kerlia were sparring. Delathasi was wielding dual short blades while Kerlia, she fought with a two handed axe.

Both were a blur, but not quite as quick or skilled as Darrance. They were young, seventeen so inexperienced. Delathasi was apprenticed to Darrance and Kerlia was under Hayden Tresch. Although Hayden was no where to be seen. Kerlia was like Hayden more of a sniper, but she still seemed intent on practising with close combat weaponry.

Attelus and Karmen stopped, watching them. Karmen, a long time ago, before she had focused on her gift, was quite the swordswoman and she could see Delathasi was holding back.

"Hmm, pretty good," said Attelus, his words tinged with melancholy and Karmen knew why, they both reminded him of Elandria.

It was in the third they found two of the people they were looking for, Adelana and Helma were locked in combat. They wielded blunted practise long swords and Karmen couldn't help but be impressed by their skill. Both had only started to learn the blade three years ago and both had learned under Attelus.

Attelus smiled like a proud father and drunk back the rest of his caffeine in one long gulp.

"Still got a long way to go, though," said Attelus absently. "To catch up with Delthasi and Kerlia."

"And those two will just keep on improving as well," said Karmen. "I don't think they'll ever catch up, Delathsi and Kerlia have been training since they were really young."

Attelus grimaced and shrugged, quickly seeing her point.

Karmen felt a very familiar presence, a very familiar feeling, this despite her trying to suppress her gift and she turned to see two women in black singlets and combat pants walking toward their way. Karmen recognised them as trainees on the matts and quickly remembered their names, troopers Salantha and Olianthis. Both were drenched in sweat and looking at Attelus as they walked past. The emotion which radiated from them like a blindingly powerful lamp pack, was attraction, but Karmen didn't need to be a telepath to tell that. It was a regular occurrence and Karmen fought back her annoyance, women were just as bad as men at objectification, if not even worse. With her gift no longer so suppressed she started to sense at least twenty of the men around in the room were attracted to her, looking at her. Their thoughts ranged from disgusting to moderately respectful, some were even somewhat nice.

Hissing through clenched teeth, she pushed away the thoughts whirling through her mind, then gave the two woman a withering glare which caused them to look away and continue quickly onward.

Karmen looked back into the cage, and she glanced sidelong at Attelus. He was so entrenched in watching he hadn't even noticed them checking him out, which was uncharacteristic. Karmen knew why, he was really looking at Adelana, who was also only in a sweat slicked singlet and combat pants. Adelana was a pretty thing, beautiful in fact, her face diamond shaped, with a long nose and full, lusciously red lips. Her skin was very pale and covered in freckles, her tied back hair red with brilliant blonde streaks.

As Attelus has said, Adelana was truly beautiful, but in an understated way, like many of the bird species back on Velrosia. They were coloured with dark greens and blues unlike the birds of the Elbyran continent of Aluthisa where they were bright, overly ostentatious. Velrosian birds were no less pretty but in a different way. As Attelus was popular with the women, she was just as popular with the men and there were many competing for her affection in the organisation.

Karmen frowned and folded her arms, they didn't have time for this.

+Helma! Adelana!+ she sent, with a bit more force than necessary, causing them to stop and flinch in pain. +Get out here, we've got a mission!+

Both Helma and Adelana, glared at her but quickly Helma opened the door and they stepped out.

"A mission?" growled Helma, she was a short, plain faced woman with ruddy brown skin and a large, ugly scar on her left cheek. Her blonde hair was close cropped short and her build more muscular than many men. She was a soldier, hard edged and unsentimental, a leader. She'd been a captain in the 51st Fenksworld regiment and so was a captain in Taryst's mercenary forces which was modelled on the Imperial guard. Over the past three years she'd proven a masterful military tactician, and a dependent, ruthlessly effective long range fighter, but lacked true talent for undercover work.

"Yes," said Karmen and looked to Adelana, she was the exact opposite to Helma. While she too was an excellent shot and only average close combatant. Adelana seemed to have a natural affinity for undercover and stealth work. Only after three years of training she was already one of their best. Karmen had to admit her and Attelus made for an excellent team, both having skill sets that complemented and contrasted each other well.

"It's a pretty big one too," said Attelus.

"We finally have a lead on Etuarq?" asked Adelana sounding excited and looking at Attelus intently.

He shrugged and met her gaze. Adelana was one of the very few native Omnartisians left and so was one of the most eager to bring the rogue Inquisitor to justice.

"Perhaps," he breathed, Karmen knew out of all of Adelana's features, Attelus appreciated her large sea-blue eyes the most. "But there's no guarantee."

Adelana pursed her lips and nodded in disappointment, but continued to look at Attelus.

"Anyone know if anyone else on the list is here?" said Karmen and she read from the dataslate the list of squad members assigned to the mission.

"No," said Helma bluntly and she furrowed her brow. "Why do you ask? Why not call them over the comms?"

Karmen smiled and waved a thumb at Attelus, "mr weirdo here wishes to waste time tracking all of you down. I thought I'd humour him."

"I'm right here, you know," said Attelus, but still grinned from almost ear to ear.

"Says it's a test," said Karmen. "See how well we know the people who are to work with us."

"And I was right," said Attelus proudly. "I knew they would be here."

Karmen raised an eyebrow, "it hardly takes a genius to think that someone might be at the training room, Attelus."

Attelus raised his hands, the empty cup hanging from his index finger, "alright! Alright! Is it annual take the piss out of Attelus day, is it?"

"Everyday is take the piss out of Attelus day," Adelana laughed.

"Story of my life," said Attelus with a good humoured sigh.

"We may as well come with you," said Helma, "try to speed up this farce a bit."

Attelus pursed his lips and tore his attention away from Adelana to Helma, trying to see if the ex-guardswoman was joking or not and frowned as he quickly saw she wasn't.

He sighed, slipped his free hand into it's pocket, turned on the balls of his feet and started back.

"Alright, alright," he said. "Can't waste any more time, we've better head on then."

"Where to first?" said Adelana as they started after him.

"I'm taking a wild guess," said Karmen. " And saying...the shooting range."

Attelus, with his back to them, muttered something indignantly.

"Yeah," said Karmen, smiling. "We're going to the shooting range."

Much to no one's surprise the shooting range indeed their next destination.

Attelus was the first through the door and they approached the desk of the range's custodian, a grumpy middle aged and going to seed ex-guardsman named Gorres. Gorres sat back casually in his worn leather chair, reading a data slate. Karmen knew how much of a sleaze the old bastard was and had no wish to know what he was looking at.

"Yo," said Attelus as they approached and he held up his cup. "Mind if I give you this?"

Gorres sat up and glared Attelus up and down as though he'd just asked if he could lay with his daughter. (Calestia Gorres was a pretty little trainee just starting in the Stormtrooper corps)

"Please," said Attelus, grinning and shaking the cup.

"Ahh give here!" growled Gorres and snatched the cup from Attelus with impressive speed. "You maybe a big mighty Throne agent now, but I've been workin' in this organisation before you were even in ya daddy's sack! I ain't ya bloody servitor, got it?"

"Fair enough," said Attelus, raising his hands in diplomatic supplication. "Never would've even considered you were, not for a second. Thank you by the way."

"Yeah," growled Gorres. "If ya gonna go into the range, don't forget to wear your damn ear protectors."

"Of course," said Attelus as he approached the wall the ear protectors hung off and he began to take them down and started to hand them to the others.

They walked through the thick glass steel doors and into the range and even with the ear protectors on, the discharge of weapons fire was horrid. Causing Karmen to involuntarily wince.

The firing range was huge, easily as large as the practise area, but despite this it wasn't large enough, as they past by a long line of soldiers waiting to take their turn at the range. Most of them gazing appreciatively at Adelana and Karmen while they walked.

They were half way through when they found another assigned to their team and Karmen wasn't surprised at all to find him here. Trooper Jelket, stood, las gun braced as he took shot after shot at the target. He wore his Stormtrooper carapace but was helmetless. Jelket was an average looking man of average height and average build. His skin was tanned and his black hair curly, scruffy. He'd lost his right arm from an Astartes bolter round back on Omnartus, now it was replaced by an advanced augmetic. That seemed almost normal at first glance. But at closer look one could see the joints in the fingers.

Karmen liked Jelket, he was an intelligent, forward thinking, observant character, but also strangely dumb in other circumstances. He was awkward but always pleasant, kind but more than a little bit paranoid. A real conspiracy theorist, in fact he was one of the first people who'd figured out about Taryst's secret before anyone else.

Most of his other theories were a bit beyond reality, even for Attelus' taste who too was paranoid beyond belief.

Jelket paused in his shots and turned to them as they approached, grinning widely.

"Hey! What are you guys doing here?" he said.

"You caught up to Hayden yet?" asked Attelus.

Jelket shook his head, he was one of the best shots in the organisation, but Hayden Tresch was the best and the two had a friendly rivalry. Karmen had never felt any bitterness from Jelket for being second best (in fact he held that position with at least three others, depending, as it would change constantly, but Jelket was always at least fifth, there was fierce competition for second place)

"You guys here to support me?" asked Jelket, sounding legitimately hopeful. "Cheer me on?"

"No," stated Helma, folding her arms across her chest, her tone implied she thought such a thing would be the biggest waste of time in the galaxy.

Jelket pursed his lips and grimaced, looking highly disappointed.

"We're here because we need you for another mission," said Karmen, trying to a bait the young ex-guardsman's frown.

"Oh? Really?" he said. "Something about that shit-head Etuarq?"

"Perhaps," said Attelus. "Can't guarantee anything yet."

"You know I suggested we look into Marius Hax, right?" said Jelket. "He must be involved being the lord…"

Attelus raised a hand, causing Jelket to cut his sentence short, "yes," he sighed. "You've said that on numerous occasions now, but there is no true evidence that he's involved, there was no mention at all of him in Taryst's records. Anyway, Omnartus was a hub world, it's production of minerals was huge and served the sub-sector and even the entire Calixis sector well. It'd even supplied some excellent Imperial Guard regiments, many still in service now, I really doubt, even if he is a traitor he was involved at all."

"But that's what he wants you to think!" insisted Jelket.

Attelus sighed and rolled his eyes, then checked his wrist chron, "and how do you propose we find that out? Burst into his office, put a las pistol to his head and get him to spill his secrets? We maybe Inquisition now but we haven't the right without sufficient evidence and even if we did every Amalathian from here to Thracian Primaris would be on our arses faster than you can say, 'you idiot.'"

Attelus sighed, "just please meet us at briefing quarters 56a at 1600, got that?"

"Yes sir!" said Jelket with a salute.

They pushed past Jelket who continued on with his practise.

"You and I are both aware that we have, as we speak, spies investigating into Marius Hax and his underlings on Scintilla," Karmen whispered in his ear.

"Of course," said Attelus with a small smile. "But I wouldn't admit that to him, would you?"

Karmen smiled, seeing his point.

"Besides," said Attelus, while stretching his long arms over his head and intertwining his fingers together. Karmen was sure that he didn't even know he was doing it, the instinct so entrenched in his psyche. "It's just a necessity, we're doing it with pretty much all the rulers across the sector, or at least trying to. You know, just in case."

They only had to walk a few metres more to find another member of their squad. Torris was waiting in the line, shotgun slung over his shoulder his arms folded over his chest.

Torris was a large, muscular man with very dark brown skin. He was once one of Taryst's most capable employees and before that a member of the Adeptus Arbites on Malfi. With his background of law enforcement he was incredible at reading people, so much so Karmen couldn't help suspect he might have some latent psychic ability. He had after the Omnartus incident, in respect to his murdered friend, Jeurat Garrakson taken up training for heavy weapons and due to his size and strength proved a natural.

He'd once been a charismatic, cheery caring person, but after Omnartus he turned grim and ruthless. Torris still blamed Attelus for the death of their friend and would never forgive him for it, which Karmen couldn't help feel was a true tragedy. If Adelana could forgive Attelus for his role in the death of her homeworld, why couldn't Torris forgive him for what Garrakson did? What also made it sadder was Karmen was sure it wasn't really Attelus' fault. They'd been good friends, and Attelus had needed that friendship over the last three years. Karmen had attempted to talk with Torris in private once or twice about it but the ex-arbitrator wouldn't hear of it.

Despite this, Torris was pragmatic enough to to put aside this for the mission. He still respected Attelus somewhat for his skill as a spy and an assassin, but that was that.

"Marcel," said Karmen as they approached.

Torris sniffed and looked them over, "we got a mission?" he asked.

Karmen nodded.

"Good, about frigging time," he growled and looked at Attelus from under a hooded brow. "And you're the leader, I assume?"

Attelus frowned and said, "I am."

Torris nodded but showed no emotion.

Adelana stepped past Karmen, her hands balled into fists.

"We're to meet at briefing room 56a at 1600," she growled through gritted teeth. "Alright?"

Karmen pursed her lips, it was generally well known that Adelana really disliked Torris. For obvious reasons.

Torris grimaced slightly, looking down at Adelana and folding his thick arms across his wide chest.

Karmen didn't have to be a telepath to tell it meant; what right do you have to order me around, little girl?

Karmen cleared her throat, causing Torris to look her way.

"We're looking for Verenth, Hayden, Vark and Halsin," she said, ignoring Attelus' glare and pouty look. "You know where any of them are?"

Torris shrugged, "where Hayden is, is anyone's guess, could be with the Tech Priests, could be in the armory, could be at the frigging library. Verenth's probably in his quarters, he isn't here so he's most likely there. Vark's probably in the Ecclesiarch. Halsin, well he's most definitely…"

"Here," a voice interrupted him and Torris turned to reveal Halsin who approached them. A laspistol held confidentially in his left hand.

With his bulging thyroid eyes, beneath his thick framed glasses, he always looked like he was in a constant state of surprise.

Halsin was once a tall, scrawny, awkward medicae under Taryst's employ but over the past three years he'd grown. Volunteering as a front line medicae he had served on many assignments since they were taken under Inquisitor Enandra's wing. This as well as countless hours of training with the Stormtrooper corps had hardened him, giving him some confidence. He wasn't as good as any of the elite soldiers, but could still hold his own in a fight. Unless it was close combat, he was still gangly but only a little less now. But his supreme skill with a scalpel, bandaging and ability to keep calm under pressure more than made up for that.

"Halsin!" said Attelus. "Good to see you."

Halsin was one for few words, he simply grimly nodded in reply.

"Been practising at the range?" Attelus said. "What's your percentile now?"

Halsin grimaced in distaste and answered hesitantly, "seventy nine."

Attelus shrugged, "still better than me."

"Well, even a cross eyed Grox could shoot better than you!" said Adelana, but with a playful grin causing both Torris and Helma to chuckle with amusment. Karmen couldn't help roll her eyes. She hated their flirty, playful banter.

Attelus furrowed his brow and pursed his lips, before a wide smile crossed his face, "I do get seventy to seventy three, I doubt a cross eyed Grox could do quite that well. We all can't be good at everything, unless you're a freak called Hayden Tresch."

"The only freak around here is you," said Helma making mostly everyone, even Karmen chuckle.

"I am presuming we have an assignment," said Halsin, as humourless as ever.

"You presume correctly," said Torris. "You seen Verenth, Tresch or Vark?"

"Verenth and Hayden I wouldn't have a clue," he said. "But I saw Verenth not long ago, when I was leaving the medicae. As I understand it, he's getting a tattoo."

"What? Yet another tattoo?" exclaimed Adelana.

"Yes, another tattoo," said Halsin, sharing none of Adelana's astonishment.

"Well!" said Attelus. "Next stop, the medicae."

"Or you could, you know, call them," said Helma. "Because that's what Vox links are for."

Attelus shrugged and sighed, "alright, we'll go get Verenth, then call the other two."

"That's not what I meant," muttered Helma, although Helma had been a captain and was older than Attelus, she'd never begrudged his more senior status, but she had little patience for his eccentricities.

"You guys wanna come with?" said Attelus, ignoring her.

Halsin and Torris exchanged a look.

Torris shrugged, "yeah I'll come, don't want Attelus having his own bloody harem, do we?"

"What? You jealous, Torris?" said Attelus with a wide grin.

"Correction," said Torris. "Don't want him thinking he's got his own harem."

"I think, therefore I am," said Attelus.

Torris pursed his lips and shrugged, conceding defeat, "you make that up now, or get it from somewhere?"

Attelus shrugged back, not rising to the bait.

"I guess I will come too," said Halsin. "Will need to retrieve some equipment from there anyway."

"Alrighty," said Attelus. "Let's get going, then."

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