Silence is Golden
With eyes watering and burning from the lazy clouds of smoke that drifted past from burning censors that had been mounted periodically to the white stone that the tunnel had been carved from. She'd lost sense of how far she'd walked within a few minutes of entering the mine and Dar Wilmes found herself struggling to make sense of what she'd found as she crept through what should have been a small shack like building in the ring of slums that squatted next to the immense hive city wall. Instead she found a hollow skeleton sitting atop what looked to be an illegal mine, likely dug before the Valtrix VIII's star had become a red giant and devoured half the solar system and the one thriving hive planet nearly four millennia ago. Now this hidden mine appeared to be of only a few not crushed under thousands of tonnes of water, though from what she was currently seeing she wished it was. The rest were worked by miners in pressure suits who lived in special habs below the surface. Even in crisis the tithe of precious metal could not be slowed, the Arbites had ensured of that despite the massive riots that had occurred at the time.
The air was filled with wisps of an obnoxiously sweet smelling purple smoke that caused the stomach to turn at it's oppressive sweetness while at the same time biting at the eyes. She'd only gotten a whiff of it as she had lowered her black carapace clad form into the mineshaft, but that was enough to convince her to don her protective mask as the stench overpowered the usual briny bite of the air above, the smell only further enhanced in the slums by the smell of rotting fish that were being picked over by the indigenous crab species of the planet, a small briney creature that fed on anything small enough to be it's prey or happened to be dead. Even the rats that were so prevalent around the landing ports on the spire couldn't dissuade the spiny creatures from their position as chief pest. Though there was always talk of them being used in the protein paste made from the local sealife their real culinary contribution was a slum creation that involved boiling them into a stew.
She stopped and cleared her mind for a moment, drumming back up the pertinent case information instead of allowing her mind to be pulled so easily off course. It was clear now that the smoke was some sort of drug and it was toying with her mind but she wouldn't disgrace her position as Detective-Arbitor that easily, even if such a title held little significance on the flooded remains of the hive world. Instead of respect and honor it carried with it the shame of a career derailed by a few too many drinks and an overly flirtatious planetary governor's wife at the state ball she'd been forced to attend. The incident of her and the other woman sneaking out of the party hadn't gone unnoticed by the governor himself and when the full matter was drug out into light by his untimely appearance in his wife's bedroom it had spelt the end of her career. And while he couldn't target her directly he had pulled enough strings to get her next assignment far away from the Calixis Sector, through a 'promotion' to being put in charge of what few Arbitors still manned the Fortress Precinct on Valtrix VIII ensuring her career would rot away like the fish guts in a bait chum bucket. Since then age and the salty air had taken it's toll on her, hardening and aging her skin much like the sea miners and fishermen. As wrinkles crept across her face and her hair whitened she eventually became the only Arbite left. She'd requested a transfer once after that had happened, but the reply of her being too important to move from the planet had told her everything she needed to know. That drunken slip into temptation had ensured that this would be her last assignment. No retirement, no chance of promotion, just an eventual death at her desk of old age with a half-completed report in her hands.
As she continued to stalk forward through the clouds of smoke she considered what need for a mine would lead to the rather graphic murder of a scribe adept, much less one who had been illegally copying Munititorium records regarding the meager Planetary Defense Force. If it was simply to silence a conspirator there was no need to display him in his hab with his pasty skin carefully flayed open and staked out like an animal being dissected by a biologis. The stakes had been equally unusual being made of a dark silver and the heads forming a moon shape. But if it wasn't simply to silence a conspirator to a possibly greater heresy than the theft of official records, what was it that had in his death? She'd considered the possibilities as she spent time retracing the man's steps to try and find a link to his crimes and his murder. The only thing that kept coming back to mind was a mutant cult that had sprung up on one of the Hive Worlds in the Calixis Sector back when she was still fresh from training. The cult had practiced a very ritualistic method of murder that involved eating the heart of their victim, apparently in an attempt to gain some kind of healing from their mutations from some dark force. The systematic destruction of that cult had taken over a year, her role in it allowing her to become a detective, as well as get invited to what turned out to be an ill-fated party. Even if the governor's wife's efforts in private had almost made the whole event worth it. Almost.
But was such a cult now here? The idea of mutants was enough to cause the bile to rise in her throat again, but the idea that they could both be in the city and practicing some dark religion in such a poorly defended world made her blood cold. It was all she could hope that her investigation didn't find such nightmares.
Ahead of her she saw a flicker of movement as shadows danced across the wall, and her hands instinctively went to her weapons, the thin and almost sword like lathe pattern maul she still carried, one of the only remnants of her old post she still owned after twenty years on the drowned hive world and a Arbites Bolt Pistol, the weapon far smaller than the ones she knew saw service with the Astartes but packing a similar punch, though with a much smaller magazine. The power maul settled in the gloved palm of her right hand as her left gripped the pistol. She waited but the shadows didn't approach closer, so she continued her cautious pace towards the corner, her body never completely straightening. It was moments like this that she wished she had the manpower at her disposal to come in with a team of Arbites and clear the place in a matter of minutes but only the local Enforcers were truly available for such tasks but she had long ago stopped using them for the more sensitive work. Their brutal methods were fine for bar brawls and dock worker strikes but completely useless when trying to clear a potential scum hideout without damaging or looting anything important to the case. She'd tried to negotiate the use of the PDF once in the past but outside of a full scale riot such demands were unheeded. In truth she could force the matter at gunpoint but being just one lone Arbite on a world mostly drowned did not give her the standing she needed to make sure such a move wouldn't come back to stab her in the back.
So instead she was forced to investigate alone, trusting that her subordinates would be able to pick up from her last reported position if she ever fell out of contact for too long. With an arcing movement she rounded the corner, traversing with her pistol acting as her pivot as she confirmed that the way was indeed clear. The shadows she'd seen were not of people but of hanging banners of deep, shimmering purple with silver symbols in the center of them, though these were a different than the stakes she'd seen, being a an almost crab like claw that formed a crescent moon shape. The cloth fluttered in a non-existent breeze that made her skin crawl as her eyes tried to make sense of the rapidly shifting purple hues of the material. Was this just another side effect of the drugged smoke, or was there something about the cloth that allowed it to do that? She forced it out of her mind and continued on down this new hall, the white stone now more smoothly cut, the material covered in symbols she couldn't make sense of but seemed to squirm under her vision. Again she turned her focus ahead of her instead, not giving herself a chance to become lost in thought again. Now it was getting harder to keep her focus, the smoke still managing to permeate the filters of her mask. She considered removing it for a moment but instead chose to keep it on, in some small hope that the effects of the smoke could be at least blunted. The symbols continued to swim at the edges of her vision as she continued on but she forced herself to ignore them after making the mistake of briefly glancing at them and being struck by a sense of vertigo.
After what could have been minutes or hours of walking she paused. Noticing a slight flickering of prismatic lights in the air as if there was some invisible field snuffing out small insects from air. Mag locking the maul to her right thigh she pulled out a single lho stick and tossed it towards the space the lights seemed to border. It lazily spun through the air before skidding to a stop on the ground past where she taught the possible field may be unharmed. Secure in the knowledge that it was potentially safe she stepped forward once more, her heavy armored boots carrying her through the shimmering curtain.
Once inside she wasn't sure of what had changed. At least not at first. It wasn't until she noticed the tendrils of fog on the inside of her mirrored visor that she realized that she hadn't been holding her breath, but instead been breathing normally for some time, it just had lost it's slight echo in her helmet covered ears. Reaching out with her free hand she tried knocking on the wall next to her, feeling the hard contact of the stone through her gloves against her knuckles but there was nothing. Puzzled she stepped back and inadvertently passed through the shimmering curtain once more, and almost immediately collapsed to her knees. She could clearly hear every creak of her joints now, every thump of her heart and the movement of her own blood and it was overpowering for a moment. Even the simple act of breathing sounded in her ears with the force of a capital ship's thrust. Whatever foul trick the field had didn't simply make her deaf but instead appeared to eliminate all sound all together, something that was now punishing her as her ears tried to readjust to the sound of her own body, a collection of noises that they would usually ignore.
Once steady on her feet she stepped forward again, this time prepared for the effect, and hoping that her theory that it killed all sound was true. The new question was, if it did operate as such and didn't just rob her of a key sense what was the reason for such a thing? With a bit of grim amusement she realized that even the sound of her own internal monologue seemed affected by it, seemingly far away inside of her own head as she tried to piece together the dozens of questions this case had asked her so far. The effect of sounding like she was so far away from herself was almost novel, if it wasn't for the fact that it had occurred not because of some small party trick but rather some device or act of heresy she didn't understand and was sure she didn't want to. Instead her mood only darkened further than it had already dipped to from the realization she'd allowed herself to be drugged so easily. There was something deeply wrong here and even if it proved unrelated to the murder of a seditious scribe-adept she was still going to tear it out by the root and ensure the holy justice of the God-Emperor himself would be cast upon it.
Shadows seemed to dart and move around the corners of her eyes and Dar wasn't sure if they were phantoms of the drugged smoke, or perhaps from stress and a lack of sleep or something far darker. Instead of dwelling on the cause she continued on through the opulent gloom, her body still in a low crouch, her faint thoughts still not trusting that no one could hear her movements, and instead coaxing her into being even more cautious, using her body's feedback to traverse the strangely empty corridor.
A nagging threat of a possible trap hung overhead and while she couldn't be sure that she wasn't being watched from somewhere she had to trust in her training and her instincts for now. Part of her took comfort in the notion that if she did die at least it'd be standing and with a gun in her hand instead of slumped over her desk. Through the haze of smoke her visor found the distinct outline of a doorway flanked by a pair of heavy wooden doors that looked out of place in the mine, appearing to be more at home in a noble's manor than buried underground. Steeling herself she moved in with the pistol leveled, expecting resistance but instead she found a lone figure amidst a room of deep purple cushions and draped silk cloths that hung from the room's ceiling.
The figure was naked from the waist up, his legs covered by deep purple fabric that had been layered like a Ministorum priests robes. His pale alabaster skin was flawless and lean, the skin showing only the slightest hint of musculature under its smooth surface. In one hand he appeared to be holding something that looked like the silver stakes she'd seen used to pin open the flesh of the murdered scribe while the other gripped a tall staff that was topped by a ring with eight points that formed tight patterns of peaks and valleys, much like the swells of the nearly endless ocean that covered almost all of the planet. If it wasn't for the figure's slight shift of posture and the heat radiating from him on her visor's display she'd almost had considered him a statue. The man's head was bare, any sign of hair missing from it as a pair of onyx colored orbs peered out at her, but they weren't the most striking part of his visage, that was the unbroken skin on the lower half of his face. The man was completely devoid of a mouth, and for a moment the dread of him being a mutant cultist rubbed against her mind.
+Do not insult the gifts of the Dark Prince by comparing them to some paltry mutant.+
The psychic voice slammed into her nearly silent mind with the force of a tank shell. She could feel blood trickling from her nose and ears as blood vessels broke under the sudden force of the blow.
+My silent visage is not for you to taint with such limited thinking Arbite. No, the Prince has gifted this to me for my efforts in bringing this noisy world into perfect silence. A silence not even your corpse lord can break.+
The force of the voice brought her to a knee, and she could feel the cold starting to bite at her throat as she breathed, the psyker efforts starting to chill the room.
+Now I know much of you Arbite. Of how you came to be abandoned here due to seeking pleasure in the arms of another. Of how you wither and waste away day after day alone. Yes, word of you has reached here as those of the Cult of Blessed Silence has spread deeper into your decaying Imperium, many lured to me or others with an invitation of sorts. And like the others before you I offer a choice: bow to me in allegiance to the Prince or die like the enthroned corpse you worship.+
Dar's jaw clenched as the pressure of the psyker invasive speech died away with a tantalizing brush against her mind, an almost gentle caress that seemed to promise his words. There was only one answer she could give.
With labored intensity as she fought her now aching muscles she snapped the bolt pistol up at the man, the deafening bark still absent as she fired making the muzzle flash seem far more anemic as the weapon shuddered with recoil. The round exploded not into the man she'd aimed at, but rather into his staff, a spray of prismatic purple liquid splashing over him as part of the ring was blown away, more of the fluid draining out of it like blood from a wound. She barely noticed his eyes twist in rage when the sound hit them both.
Having experienced it so recently Dar was the first to recover, pushing her body up to her feet as she charged at the man, pistol barking as she tried to tear into him, the shots instead lancing off of an invisible sphere that protected his writhing form as the man's own body assaulted him with sound. As she neared him her thumb activated the power maul, setting it to the maximum setting as she swung, intent on breaking either the man's skull or the witchery that he was protecting himself with.
+How dare you raise your hand in the face of perfection!+ The force of his mental voice was nowhere near as strong now that her heart was pounding in her ears but it still staggered her for just a moment as he exploded upward, the silver stake in his hand driving at her throat. +I offered you a chance to become something greater and you insult my offer with such filthy noise? I'll flay you open and use your body as a new offering to the Prince!+
With a practiced twist of her wrist the maul changed direction as she continued her swing, pushing the stake off course, the point jamming through the side of her breathing mask and tearing sensitive electronics inside. Tearing off the damaged equipment off of her head with her pistol hand she roared back as she swung, raining blows as fast as she could, the sword like shape of the maul both being used to bash and strike, alternating between the harsh blows of the Arbites training she'd mastered and an older sword art she'd been trained in as a child, the vestiges of her heritage from her mother a lifetime ago.
"You speak of offers while trying to coerce an Imperial servant into your twisted plots. I can only offer you the justice you deserve. As such I deem you guilty of heresy, witchcraft and treason against the God-Emperor of Man and his holy Imperium. The punishment is death."
Despite the fury of her attack and the assault of sounds that he was not accustomed to that kept the man from being able to focus enough to muster the psychic powers he still matched her blow for blow, the silver stake effortlessly turning the mace aside time and time again, as if she'd been aiming for the stake instead of trying to bring down the heretic. The only possibility she had was that he seemed able to focus enough to glimpse at what she was about to do and counter it.
+You tire Imperial dog. One mistake is all it'll take for my perfection to end your life beautifully.+
In the pit of her stomach she knew he was right and the realization brought a new desperation to her movements. A desperation that he seemed to be revelling in until he realized that she was planning something. He twisted in an effort to escape it but wasn't fast enough to avoid her plot completely.
With a deadly bark her bolt pistol fired once, twice and thrice before clicking dry, the explosive rounds striking the witch in his arm and shoulder as she continued to swing, the detonations tearing it off completely, causing him to falter, no longer able to prevent the maul from crashing into him, his body folding in two as it crushed his ribs and sent him skidding across the room into a pile of cushions.
Almost as if by cue more men seemed to almost fade into existence as they stepped from behind the draped cloths, seeming to appear from nothingness. Each was draped in deep purple uniforms with a matching cloth mask over their mouths and carried a autogun that was now turning towards her. It didn't take much convincing for her to change tactics, the bark of the autoguns being followed by the snapping of rounds passing her, a few clipping her armor while a few more slammed into her ceramite plate, threatening to tear her open as they cracked ribs and almost put her off balance. Slamming the pistol back into her hip harness she yanked one of the two only grenades she carried off her mag harness and thumbed the activation rune and threw it behind her, where it bursting into a plume of inky smoke that concealed her escape.
She barely remembered reaching the surface, only slowing as she realized that her attackers didn't seem to pursue her, apparently more focused on their injured comrade than actually killing her. It was only as the cold realization that they didn't need to chase her since they knew who she was that she understood why she'd been allowed to go free.
That confidence of theirs wouldn't last though, she would make sure of it. The silent promise burned in her as she activated her vox bead and began the trek back to the fortress she called home. "This is Detective-Arbite Dar. Connect me with your commander before I decide to show up in person."
Yes, she would make sure that when this was over the Imperium would just see them as a small footnote in its history, not even worth expanding on further.