The main drag was an utter mess. People cleaned their shop windows with buckets and mops soaked in cleaning solvents. Servitors, blessedly unable to smell the filth they were in, skittered about the broken septic lines fixing, cleaning, welding and sealing. The smell was overpowering. Sørian gagged and pulled his scarf tight over his mouth. By the gods but that stank, even through the perfumed oils and opiates he'd soaked the soft wool in it stank. Then again, he always though the lower levels stank of the filth that lived in them, "low breed scum, all of them."
The wool of his cloak itched on skin more accustomed to the more refined smoothness of silk. Silk would have drawn attention to him though. A man in silk and velvet did not walk through murk and mire lest he had dire pressing need. It was unlikely anyone would question that need today but any efforts he could make to go unnoticed would better serve his purposes. Keep out of the eyes of security and the crew alike, "Wouldn't want them thinking too hard about where I'm going now would I?"
He blinked briefly then remembered his bondservant was not with him to laugh at his jokes. The servant had been left behind to oversee the repairs of Sørian's quarters. With luck there would be a hot bath and some warm honeyed wine waiting for him when he returned to his apartments. He'd need a bath to be sure; it would not be fitting to pray while still caught in the stink of this place. His patron did so tend to be fickle about such things. The Prince of Excess was truly magnificent but his moods swung fast as any of the gods, well any of the gods save that blithering ruler of fools Khorne. It was just as well that prayers to his god proved as enjoyable as they were, the less subtle sacrifices asked by the other patrons would have been noticed even in the Endless Bounty's state of disarray. A pity he'd have to put off finding a partner at the moment but the Amon Sui waited for no man.
He held his breath as security walked by. They'd have no cause to stop him. By all rights he should be down in the drag surveying the damages but it could prove indelicate were they able to draw a pattern between his strolls and certain misfortunes to overcome the Endless Bounty. He watched the bright uniforms of the officers, crisp even in the current state of the Drag, round the corner before he raised his head. He walked at a brisk pace, taking care not to seem that he was in too much of a hurry or too interested in heading anywhere in particular, till he reached the door of marked with a painting of a green hand. The hand itself was unremarkable on the Endless Bounty. The green fist of Amon was still a common household sigil. The scent of almonds and vinegar was unmistakable, the implanted nerve cluster picked up the pheromones clear as day.
He pushed the door open and had to bite back the urge to scream as a lithe figure wrapped in black synthaskin and blue silks yanked him through the door and put a serrated knife to his throat. He knew from experience the knife was poisoned with a pain-inducing paralytic. He stared into the eyeless porcelain mask of the woman and spoke in slow measured tones, "For the glory of the hand that grasps I come, for the glory of the hand that holds I come, for the glory of the hand that gives I come, for the glory of the hand I come."
He briefly wondered it she would accidentally knick him with the blade just to watch him twitch in pain. Their patron would appreciate that certainly. It wouldn't be the first time either. He'd never been able to figure out how the cultist knew that they shared the same dark patron. These meetings of the Amon Sui never exchanged names or showed faces without masks but he had instantly been recognized by the cultist as one of the Prince's flock. She delighted in testing his faith to their prince and patron. His more subtle excesses of drink and vice never sat well with her more violent excesses of rage and passion. Her body relaxed and she rubbed up against Sørian exquisitely as she rose from the ground, Sørian swallowed as he felt her shifting weight lift off him. He tried to ignore the way the synthaskin body sleeve conformed to every curve of her body, "Must we go through this every damned time I attend a meeting you pretentious bitch."
She spun her knife in her hand, leaned against the wall, and arched her back. She really did have curves. She giggled and spoke in husky tones, "The prince enjoys all excesses. Pain and pleasure, suffering and decadence, they're all the same to him. We must all be willing to bring our own ends to further his."
"Piss off you harridan of a woman," the curt tones of Adric Alan cut in. Sørian was not supposed to recognize Alan. None of the agents were supposed to recognize each other, that way if they were captured none of them could be traced back to each other. In fact only Phoneutria, the head of their organization, was supposed to know the true names of all members of the order. He knew that Adric recognized him as well but proprieties sake they referred to each other by their code names. Sørian was no more "Latrodectus" than Adric was "Atrax" or the cultist was "Hexathelidae" but needs were musts. There was a circle of some thirty or so men and women with similarly fake names and negotiable allegiances. A wide circle of bodyguards and attendants stood around them, silent and masked. They were prepared for the first signs of trouble. They were not all devotees of the dark gods, though he suspected many were. The Amon Sui were willing to turn a blind eye to such things. Orders were usually given privately, either through dead drops or coded messages, but once a week the group met just so that Phoneutria could issue more pressing orders to the group.
In the center of room was girl strapped to a pole. She sobbed quietly. Her tears stained her already mussed dress. Sørian though she was familiar though he could not place from where. She must be a noble's daughter for him to remember the face. He wouldn't have bothered to memorize a common crewman's no matter how pretty. It would have been beneath him. The girls cries and whimpers were mildly interesting but the holo-projector next to him showing the narrow, proud form of Phoneutria was what really caught his attention. The man's image shimmered as it paced backwards and forwards around the circle, eyeing ever man in the circle with contempt. Phoneutria was the only one who never bothered to wear a mask. Sørian had never seen the man, though he had often glimpsed around the great hall hoping to see him and to know him for whom he really was.
His haughtiness and slurred speech marked him as one of upper Amon stock, though where an upper Amon might be hiding on the bounty was a mystery to Sørian. Few were allowed to say other than those who bowed and bent to the whims of the Inquisitor. His stomach churned to think of the once proud Amon bowing and bending and preening around the Inquisitor. Phoneutria was certainly not one of them. His ranting would have been difficult to forget.
"I expect an explanation for your lateness Latrodectus," he slurred out. The hologram stared slightly beyond Sørian giving the distinct impression that Phoneutria was blind, "You were expected on the hour. It is already half past."
Sørian thought of the pain inducers at the cultist's belt. Phoneutria was fond of public examples, "There were difficulties in acquiring discreet passage. I would not risk your safety."
"Of course you wouldn't," Phoneutria gave no impression that he believed a word of it but allowed him to enter the circle with the others, "Arrive late twice and I might start considering Hexathelidae's proposals with a more liberal eye."
He wasn't joking. Phoneutria had no sense of humor to speak of. Sørian managed to say composed in spite of Hexathelidae's insufferably pleased expression. He would have to show up early for the next year to avoid ending up as part of Hexathelidae's prayers to her patron, "If you so wish it. I will obey without hesitation."
"Your willingness is irrelevant only your obedience matters to me or to us," He clicked his tongue off his teeth and turned to the center of the circle, "And it seems that we've had a rash of disobedience lately. I give simple orders. When I give one I expect it to be obeyed, for the glory of the hand and the might of the Amon Sui," his holographic hand brushed the face of the sobbing girl, "When we do not obey punishment must be met."
He tossed his arms wide and resumed his frenzied pacing, "We are in the center of the wilderness lost to the Empire. Think of it! Virgin stars, untamed lands, everything the guild could dream to have. We risk of losing it all if Faust decides not to return and share the means by which he achieved it. We promised to bring this ship to its knees before we reached Belzafest. In that we failed," he shot a murderous look at the girl, "We promised to kill the Inquisitor when he made planet fall. Our agents never even saw him set foot on the ground of the planet. And why," he looked to the girl, "Inaction. We have lacked proper motivation. Hexathelidae darling would you please come over here. You too Latrodectus."
The two jumped into action nearly running to the center of the circle. Hexathelidae was staring at the girl with barely controlled anticipation behind the porcelain covering all but her eyes. The knives seemed ready to pop out from the webbing about her shoulders and corset and into her hands at a moment's notice. Sørian suspected he had a similar expression on his face. Phoneutria rarely provided treats such as this.
Phoneutria pretended not to notice, "You all know of my punishments as theory as ideals. None of you know of them as realities. It is time that changed. Hexathelidae and Latrodectus are going to show you what happens to those who do not finish their planned duties in a timely fashion." He leaned in and whispered, "Consider this a girl. Pretty little thing isn't she. Her father was tasked with delaying the efforts of Magos Kerrigan. Not a true believer some have accused, just a fool with a love of gold and a lack of understanding for his proper duty. The explosives were never detonated and the inquisitor lives. Worse still he nearly failed to complete his part of the prophet's revival. A simple task of insurmountable importance he blunders so blindly that we are forced to dispose of members of the Mago's retinue in secret," his lip curled as though saying the name brought him great pain, "He failed and so he must give penance to our cause to prove his loyalty. This girl is my price."
The circle of men and women stood silent and impassive, none wishing to show recognition or fear. A short, knobby-legged man squeaked and shifted his shoulders as though about to say something. Phoneutria shifted his eyes to the man, "A hefty price for you. Flesh and blood for failure, her life to save yours. That was my price."
The man's voice cracked as he replied, "A price willingly paid in service of the hand," he voice grew squeaky as the girl screamed though her gag, "I have other daughters after all, an she's only a bastard."
"Indeed," Phoneutria smiled, "Then she means nothing to you? Nothing at all."
"I part with her willingly," the man's voice evened as he felt more secure in his safety. His shoulders did not relax but he ceased drumming his hand on his left leg, "I am a supplicant to the whims of the hand."
Phoneutria snapped his fingers and the two large bodyguards behind the knobby legged man grabbed his arms and dragged him forwards. Sørian noted the slightly fearful looks in all the Amon Sui agent's eyes. The man struggled against the two meaty fists holding him in place, "I'm your master bondsman. Unhand me."
"No sir," the man's gravely voice replied, "I am in contracted in your service through the Amon Sui. It to them that I belong or have you forgotten?"
The man kicked and yelled in panic and dawning comprehension, "Sir! Phoneutria! I gave you what you asked for. I served you loyally."
Phoneutria laughed, "Foolish man, a sacrifice has no meaning if it holds no value to you. I take what you offer and more for your arrogance. Hexathelidae, Latrodectus, I believe that it is high time since your crafts have been honed," Sørian and Hexathelidae bowed in deference before following the strong-arm guards forcing the knobby legged man and his daughter into the back room. A room Sørian knew to be soundproof from experience, a room where he gained boons from his god. As the door slowly closed the voice of Phoneutria rang clear. "Oh and Latrodectus do remember to not be late again. I should be very cross if you were to be late again."