The stage was full to the brim with the garish twirling of the performers, the guests dressed in the finest robes at the height of fashion. Paper lanterns rose far into the sky, millions of them, some trailed by long, elegantly flowing streamers in colors bright and dull. Hearty chuckles rose from the strained lungs of the nobles, some so hedonistic their weight could not be supported on mere human legs, powerful Mechanicus replacements taking hold.
The ball was a celebration, hosted in the grand homes of those with coffers ample enough to afford it. In this case, Jaquor Kintiss the IV. It was a tradition that had long since lost its meaning and become the grandest pissing match on all of Axun II. The nobles dressed their finest, many in the billow robes made from an exotic lighter-than-air material, billowing up around them in a show of their regality. They brought with them a gallery of their wealth, using their influence to herd in exotic creatures and important guests. Tech-priests and Commissars, exquisitely disguised assassins and Ecclesiarchy priests. The whole of the Imperium was represented by its gluttonous representatives, gorging themselves on the finer aspects of life.
All the while, miles and miles below, the Ninth Circle wallowed in filth and heresy, mutation rampant and anything that could wreck their minds enough to offer an escape a prized artifact.
Castor looked to the Chaplain. He was no better than the arrogant nobles around him. Jewels adorned his exquisitely tailored clothing, his long formal coat a plethora of colors, each seamlessly blending with the next in a pattern so designed that he could be dressed in a thousand different colors depending on which angle you saw him. He went into the crowd, delivering his concocted lines, enticing people into his web until they were left helpless under the confusion of his words and the wine he slyly convinced them to drink.
Castor had kept himself to a dark bodyglove, protective against most small-arms fire, hidden under the dull grey robes of the Administratum, a hood kept low, a compact las-pistol with a 15-shot clip in a shoulder holster, and on the sides of his torso, two small blades hidden in the pockets of the bodyglove. While the Chaplain began his own investigation into the heresies they hid deep within, Castor slipped into the shadows, easily overlooked by those too caught up with their own imagined self-worth to care about a lowly Scribe skulking through their midst.
Jaquor Kintiss was a man of clean conscience and sound mind, with an unmarked reputation and a heart of pure gold. That was the common belief, at least. Those influential enough to be in the loop and those who had dug too far into a case knew otherwise. Nothing solid could ever be put on him, and he would always slip through the cracks just as easily as he slipped the thrones into the local Arbites’ palms. With his benevolent smile and care-free attitude, he was the last to be suspected.
Numerous instances forged tenuous links between him and the cult of Axun II, however. Otherwise pointless shipments of wargear too easily “seized by outside forces”,
eyewitnesses seeing him at the attacks of the cult, looking on. Random trips to the lower levels.
And so they came here, where his friends and business partners were all gathered.
Someone would know something. And if they didn’t…
Castor slipped through a doorway, into the darkness of another room. Reaching under the thick hood, a pair of goggles fell over his eyes, tactical displays cast on the lenses atop the image being displayed on the phosphor screens. The room was cast in green, each detail picked out in the artificial light. A low thrum came from the common room as the guests chortled and crooned over themselves.
Slowly moving across the room to the stairway, moving up the oddly-shaped boards of polished wood. Each was unique, never the same measurement, some only a few centimeters out. It was disorienting- not to mention annoying. Stretching his legs to reach the next step, he struggled to step lightly enough to stay silent. It was a futile effort, and he drew his las-pistol just in case.
Reaching the top of the steps, he crouched down, moving against the wall. He examined the long hallway, checking over his shoulder once before standing slightly, keeping his knees bent a bit as he stole his way through the house. Reaching the end of the hallway, the tall ceramite doors, deceptively covered in planks of wood, gave a foreboding presence to the entryway.
He reached to one of the small pouches on his waist, popping a tab open and reaching in with clumsy gloved fingertips. He pulled out a multi-key, advanced in its design and the best that could be mass-produced for Redemptionist use. He had to admit, being part of the institution certainly had its perks. He’d be damned if he would ever complain if he had a fraction of the basic equipment of the Ordos, though.
He slid the multikey into the access slot on the small scanner next to the door, and stepped to the side of the doorway as it did its work, checking the pistol’s safety and watching the end of the corridor. Moments later, the multikey flashed a faint purple, a bright white spot in his vision. He pulled the device out and tucked it away as the doors slid open soundlessly, their faint groan belying the weight they suffered.
Sliding into the room, the doors slid back behind him, and he looked around the room. A small desk was tucked away in the corner, much of the office being taken up by the rows of shelves containing priceless treasures and ancient texts not seen anywhere else on this world. Tucking his laspistol away inside his robes, and went to the desk. Skimming the pages littered across its top, blinking constantly, the physical impulse initiating the pict-recorder.
As each page was captured, he frowned. There was nothing here but finance reports. Setting the pages down, he looked around the room, engaging the scanning equipment.
He turned through the room, examining each panel on the walls.
There! A small room, with what appeared to be some archaic form of cogitator. As he reached around the walls for any sort of hinge or handle, a loud cheer erupted from the nobles on the floor below.
Skraen smiled, a smile born of zeal and bloodlust. His voice joined the hundreds of others, for what good it did. The booming roar of the ivory-skinned noble beside him made his ears ring, and his chest throb with the relentless bass tone.
Blood splashed through the gilded bars of the massive cage as talons ripped strips of flesh from the warboar’s flank, the grox twisting as it landed from its leap, lashing out at its foe’s hind-legs.
As the roars died down, the noble turned to Skraen. “Damn good fighting! I haven’t seen anything this good since…hmm, well, since that bastard Kintiss’ last party!”
“Indeed, my friend. This is very entertaining. Now, what was it you were saying about the lower levels?” Skraen was getting impatient, the man’s foul breath and unceasing howls staining his mood.
“Lower level- ah, thas’ right. There’s been some fighting or something. Twists git’ killed. Commonplace enough. People down there are piss-poor, wretched cretins. “
“You don’t think it could be anything more sinister? Word is there’s been more lately.”
The man turned his head to each side, jowls slapping his face. He leaned in close, the liquid twisting his beard worth more than the whole of the Eighth Circle. “Well, don’t spread this around, but little birdies ‘ave been chirping that there’s some sort of Mechanicus folk getting up to something down there. Some people are getting worried, the shiftier ones collecting up their investments in the Circles. “
“Right, right. ‘S all hogwash anyway, nobles get more paranoid and more rich every year.”
The war boar had charged the grox and was goring it apart with its tusks. The noble turned, screaming and cursing the beast as he lost his bet.
Skraen backed away from the man, blending into the crowd. Cults in the lower levels, something about machines. It was the word alright, told to him by everyone he asked. The screeching of rusted wheels turning sounded as the cage was rolled away, and the nobles’ attention turned to the vox-speakers blasting from the stage.
“Welcome, my friends. On this momentous occasion, we celebrate once again the victory over the Eldar raids, some two hundred years past.”
Skraen turned towards the voice, a quiet yet confident melody, worming its way through his mind. He found himself intrigued in the man, his subtle aura of command enticing. Jaquor Kintiss. The drunken nobles roared their approval at his words, most too inebriated to know what they supported.
“We are not without our troubles- the trade routes are dwindling and the lower levels have become a hive of degenerates. The newly elected governor,” here he paused, a playful smile on his face as he let the people cheer “, the newly elected governor, has put a plan into action, a glorious Revival of the Circles, bringing in exotic and flourishing trade and making us the star of the system. As a supporter of his procedures, I invite you all to stake your claim now- before it’s too late.” A wry smirk played on his features, and he held himself high. Despite his happy demeanor, a strange silence fell over the crowd as they murmured of the killings.
“Enjoy yourselves, until dawn breaks over our shining city!”
Servitors whirred through the crowd, passing out fine liquors to the guests as more of the beasts were rolled into the pit. Kintiss left the stage, approached by two figures clad in the black of shadows. His expression darkened as they spoke, and the two figures began to race towards the stairs. Skraen looked up to the ceiling, placing his drink on a servitor’s tray before slipping away from the murderous horde, unnoticed as they delighted themselves in the gore of the beasts.