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post #11 of 48 (permalink) Old 09-20-15, 05:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Brother Emund View Post
Thanks for the kind words Adrian. There is much more to come including Sisters of Battle and two renegade Space Marine characters.

Any idea who Stroms is yet?


.
I've been wracking it over in my mind and am wondering if he is Commissar Ciaphas Cain? I know i am wrong but that is my best guess.

A good reputation take a long time to build, but only a moment to destroy. Wow, that's deep! Check out the H.O.E.S. short story competition.
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post #12 of 48 (permalink) Old 11-09-15, 02:52 PM Thread Starter
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The middle door at the far end of the hanger slid slowly open and several figures marched in. They looked like military, probably ex-Guard and now mercenaries working for the highest bidder. Stroms touched each of their minds and found the usual mixture of ‘muscle’ bravado, confidence and over-hyped superiority complexes.

Far too much stimms and testosterone-enhancers
No obvious threats amongst them
Interesting


One of the approaching figures was a woman and apart from the rest. She bore the marks of authority, and lead the group who dropped back into step behind her.
Ó Báire quickly closed the box and straightened up. He brought his Lasgun to high port and eyed the visitors with suspicion.

The female walked with a quiet confidence. Stroms had never come across her before in his dealings with the cartel.
She had a dark, almost ebon complexion and had shaved her head. She was dressed in a black body glove that shimmered with a hidden power grid. High diamond-encrusted stilettos finished her off to perfection. She stared at Stroms and his companions through black onyx eyes, the only augments that he could detect.

High class socialite, Stroms thought. A hint of rejuve’s and some minor body work but otherwise untouched. Forty-five standard Terran years old if he was a good judge of the female anatomy.

When she saw Dombi’s brooding presence she stepped back, visibly shaken.
“What is this?” she whispered before regaining her composure and straightening up.
Though he was resplendent in an expensive black silk, three-piece suit, and wearing his finest patent leather shoes, Dombi tended to take people’s breath away on first contact.
Ogryns often had that effect on the unwary.

Stroms inwardly chuckled to himself.
“Ah,” he began. “This is Dombi. Dombi, meet…”

“Welcome Morthen Stroms,” she cut in with a deep accented voice, and then added as an awkward after thought. “Welcome… Dombi.”

Ó Báire stepped forward and offered her his large hand.
“I’m Deaglán. May I say it’s a pleasure.”
If her reaction to the muscle-bulked giant was distain and momentary shock, to Ó Báire it was disgust and horror.

People had died for less.

She viewed his powerful hand with what looked like genuine revulsion, as if the delightful rogue was offering her a plate of grox dung. You could almost hear her screaming inside to be removed from this place and be allowed to return to the comforts of her extensive apartments in the uppermost level of the Hive.

And that was of course the point and Ó Báire knew it.
He was not one who took lightly to authority or those who looked down on him. He believed that it was his role in life to level them all by whatever means necessary, physically or mentally.

She refrained from taking Ó Báire’s offered hand, ignored Dombi’s obvious affection, and composed herself, subconsciously wiping away non-existent creases from her body glove.

“We hope you are not offended by our initial hostility Morthen Stroms, but my Master has many enemies.”
“Enemies?” Stroms smiled back, though he made it obvious that it was false. “I have known your… Master, for many years and we have a long and established trading partnership. He knows that I am not his enemy, so why all the show of strength? Perhaps your ‘Master’ is not who I should be dealing with. Perhaps we should take our business elsewhere?”

The female lowered her head slightly and stared deep into him.
“Apologies. That will not be necessary. We are aware of your long-standing business relationship, but we have to be sure you are who you say you are. There are rumours abound…”
She was wired up and Stroms heard a tinny voice in her ear. She quickly straightened and opened her arms wide.
“Please follow me.”

That was interesting?
Quiet Juliana. Watch the signs


Stroms took Ó Báire, Dombi, the brooding Mubarak and two of Sergeant Garcha’s men with him. He left Garcha with the box and two more of his group to guard the Valkyrie.
Stroms skimmed the females mind again.

Her name was Pásztor Dea. She was a professional hostess and the cartel General’s concubine, though, and she knew it, he had other lovers scattered amongst his various residences.
She smelt of arrogance and contempt and interestingly, she had many hidden secrets that she struggled to hide. She delighted in watching violence, an almost sexual obsession. She would often stand in on interrogations, torture and executions.
Stroms laughed inwardly when he discovered that she was also having an affair with one of the Generals trusted Lieutenants, an animal called La Hoja Pricipal – The Master Blade.
Nice.
He stored that delightful ditty away for further use.

“So Pásztor,” he began slowly. “Sorry, may I call you by your first name?”
The female stopped and looked at him with the hint of a sneer on her face.
“You may not.”
“Miss Dea perhaps?”
She cocked her head.
Stroms loved these games. It always put people on the back foot when they realised that he could see right through them.
“Leave your psyker mind-tricks to the fools Mister Stroms. You do not impress me.”
Stroms smiled a beaming smile.
“But you have such a beautiful name.”

Master Hoc?

On board Stroms ship The Alabama, orbiting several miles above the planet's surface, a small wizened man suddenly woke up from a deep slumber. Bien Hoc was an accomplished psyker, but at two hundred standard years old, he was more at home resting than reading minds or altering matter.
He coughed and then sat up from his rack.

I was dreaming
Something nice I hope?
About ice cream actually
Ice cream?
Yes, specifically from that last planet we went to. What was it called?


Stroms remembered their last spell of rest and revival after a particularly long period of running. A place where his whole group had hidden without fear for three months before moving on.

Never mind your stomach old man. I need you on the ball.
Query. On the ball?
Old Terran saying… I need you fully functioning.
I am with you.
There is another psyker in the complex with us. He is not major League… I mean that he is not a high level operative, but I want you to hunt him down and study his abilities. I do not want any interference whilst I am skimming around.
Understood
There is also a brooding presence here that smells of treachery. I cannot quite put my finger on it. I have a feeling. I am not sure what it is, but it is a niggling doubt.
I shall watch your back.


* * *

Money. Power. Respect.

Lar Orosius, Capo Crimini of the Vardaro cartel had all of these and more. He also had the ear and lined the pockets of the Planetary Governor. What he did not know about Rophus and its workings was not worth knowing about. Orosius had his fingers in every pot including the Imperial Court, the Administratum, the Ecclesiarchy and even agents within the Arbites and justice system.

In Gord Hive itself, nothing moved without his authority. If anything slipped through, and the Cartel found out about it, the consequences were always dire.
Orosius was the true leader here in the city and probably the planet, Orosius was, heretical as it would seem to some... God.

But his absolute power came at a price. He had many enemies.

At present there were forty-eight contracts out on his head, from the sublimely ridiculous low-level gangers to Supplicium orders from off-world Barons and Administratum oligarchs. Orosius had survived eighteen separate assassination attempts in this year alone.

As Stroms and his small band were lead through the warehouse and into the more acceptable and upmarket areas of the complex, they entered a long corridor.

+ The freak show +

Ó Báire rolled his eyes. He had walked this way many times and it was meant to impress, no, perhaps impress was not the right word, it was to warn the unwary.

The walls of the corridor were lined with the finest Fragua velvet, entwined with gold lace making intricate patterns. The floor was black Neskara onyx covered with Chenzira rugs of the finest quality. Expensive marble busts of famous figures from antiquity watched from golden plinths. Subtle lighting pleased the eye and the sound of distant seas soothed the senses.

Two hundred and sixteen heads floating in suspender fields, lined the way. One hundred and eight of Lar Orosius’s enemies on each side of the corridor.

As the group neared the far end, there were four glass booths. Inside were four naked males, wired up and suspended above the floor as if floating in clear water. Their eyes had been sutured closed and their ears and tongues removed. As the group passed, the men twitched and spasammed and their faces contorted with pain.
Soundless screams escaped their wide mouths.

+ Pain amplifiers +
+ Courtesy of the Inquisition I suppose +
+ Barbarians +
+ We should waste this lot +
+ Quiet, all of you. Comms discipline from now on. Thoughts only and only on the job itself.
They have a mind-reader here somewhere. I will block him but not all the time. Deaglán, Sergeant Garcha, I have put a block around you so they will not find out what is in the box +

The burly bodyguard laughed.

+ We would not want that now, would we? +
+ Thoughts only +

Got it

Stroms knew that Bien Hoc was tracking down Orosius’s psyker. But at the moment it was quiet. He kept his own powers skimming the surface. He could not be detected himself, but an accomplished psyker would know that something was amiss if he got close enough. Stroms probed the surroundings.

+ Keep your thoughts on the job in hand. Non-confrontational and professional. +

Is that clear Deaglán?
Of course Boss. Nice thoughts only. I will concentrate on Juliana in that nice warm cockpit, wearing that incredible…
Deaglán!


The disturbing show ended when a door at the far end glided open.

Weapon sniffers on either side. Deaglán, this door is blast proof
Got it
Mubarak to the rear


+ Dombi behind me please +
+ Yes Boss +

There was a large Conference Room at the far end with pale yellow drapes covering the walls. Long flouro lights were positioned in a checkerboard pattern across the ceiling. At the end of the room was a long nalwood table with antique-style high-backed chairs, which looked decidedly out of place in such a sterile environment.
A vox screen dominated the far wall.

Vox thieves and… a hidden door in the right wall.

Ó Báire noticed the bar area over to the left and immediately made his way towards it. Mubarak went to stop him but thought better of it. He busied himself scanning all the corners and watching for any signs of trouble.

Deaglán. Do you have to?
Boss, it’s been a long trip


An impeccably suited female barkeep cleaned a glass with a bored expression on her face. When she saw the approaching rouge she straightened up and eyed him up with undisguised distain.
Ó Báire rubbed his hands together in anticipation, noticeably licking his lips.

“Your attack dog is thirsty.” Said Dea, breaking the long and awkward silence. Her face gave away nothing but Stroms could feel her desire to be free of them all and away from what she believed to be a job for another menial. She was uncomfortable in Stroms presence. He tapped her a little more.

He could feel fear and anticipation, loathing and disgust.

She was clearly punching well above her weight and knew it. She was one step above the gutter trash and only the protection of the Cartel kept her to this level of sophistication. Her obvious charms and experience as a hostess were the only things that kept her in Orosius inner circle.

Stroms smiled.
“We have been away from civilisation for some time. Ó Báire,” he paused, “My attack dog, has need of refreshment. He’s soaked up all our grog on board ship and now wants to recharge his batteries.”
“Grog?”, the woman enquired and stopped walking. She frowned. “Lar told me that your speech was unusual and that you like to use,” she paused. “Some ancient tongues. He also told me that you like to reminisce, tell old stories and use odd phrases.”

Stroms smiled back, an open beaming smile.
“Grog was a drink,” he explained. “That ancient mariners used to be issued when out at sea. It was a mixture of beer and water.
Mister Orosius was right about that. I do like to tell stories and I often think about the old days as you would call them. I have many fond memories from the past. I like the past, I like history. Life was so much easier then.”
The woman scoffed.
“You sound like you have trodden its paths, though I think you no more than fifty Terran?”
Stroms smiled again.
“Fifty perhaps, or then again I might be much older. Who knows?” He turned as the vox screen flickered into life and then watched as the hidden door to the right opened revealing six more ‘heavies’ and a smaller, slender figure wearing the crimson robes of the Mechanicum.

Ó Báire walked over to Stroms and positioned himself to his right and slightly to the rear. He was holding a tall glass of amber liquid. He had a beaming smile on his face as if he was privy to the greatest joke in the world.
Dombi eyed the drink with anticipation.

It’s not bad
Concentrate


“It’s very nice Dombi. It tastes like apples but it will make your head go funny.”
The Ogryn grunted.
“Dombi no like apples.”

* * *

The face on the Vox screen was not that of a monster. Stroms had seen tyrants and murderers up close and had studied them over the years and this man did not fit the profile.

Academics state that some of the signs of a psychopath are glibness, superficial charm, a grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, a lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy. Someone who permeates boredom, and a leads a parasitic lifestyle.

Lar Orosius, Capo Crimini of the Vardaro cartel had none of these traits, except perhaps a lack of remorse, for he cared nothing of those who crossed him, and he always accepted responsibility for his actions; he was after all, the head of a large and violent crime syndicate.
Boredom… seldom, parasitic… only on the weak-willed and desperate.

The face that stared back was that of a kindly figure, a grandfather… a Magister teacher. Grey eyes looked back through thick-rimmed glasses above a hooked nose and long pointed face. There was a hint of a smile at the corners of his small mouth.

“Morthen, my friend. It is good to see you.”

The close, cloying tension inside the room immediately dissipated as an invisible wand washed it away.
The robed figure motioned to the men behind him with a quick nod and the main door was flung open. Even more men arrived, this time pushing or pulling large trolleys piled up with boxes and containers.

+ Sergeant Garcha. Bring in the delivery +

“Mister Orosius,” Stroms began with a beaming smile and his arms spread wide. “I sense unease. Is all well with you?”
The teachers face swept from side to side as he watched his cohorts carefully. The robed figure directed the unloading of the trolleys. Pásztor Dea moved behind the bar and helped herself to a drink. Ó Báire followed her with his eyes. Ever the optimist, ever the dreamer.

Ummm, high-class, nice
Deaglán, watch the perimeter. Orosius is a wily fox
Fox?
Red-coloured hound
You do make me laugh!


“Ah,” the teacher began. “The famous Deaglán Ó Báire.” He smiled a deaths head smile. “Help yourself to anything at the bar.”

Ó Báire raised his glass.
“Already have, thanks.”
The teachers smile disappeared in an instant.
“Enjoy my hospitality.”

Deaglán, please, not now
He started it boss


The rogue raised his glass and surveyed the muscle that was gathered. One of them stood out from the rest, a taller, broader, stimm-enhanced enforcer with a face like a butchers chopping board of scars and cuts. Ó Báire’s face broke into an even wider grin. He turned back to the screen.

“How is your man after our last visit?”
The enforcer stepped forward, pushing aside two of his companions. Ó Báire placed his glass town on the table and stepped past Stroms. He slung his Lasgun over his shoulder and casually rolled up his sleeves.
Stroms stood between them and held up his hands in supplication, whilst Dombi placed a heavy hand on Ó Báire’s shoulder.

“Mister Orosius. I suggest we begin business?”

Stroms was exasperated. Ó Báire had a bee in his bonnet about something. (Note: Old Terran Saying, Circa M1. A person obsessed with something so as to be agitated, like having an insect {a bee} under ones’ hat). He was belligerent and being very difficult.

He skimmed his friend.

Just testing the ground Boss. Something is amiss here. If you cannot see it, I can. It smells like an Ork ambush

Mister Hoc. Have you anything for me?


Silence.

The old Psyker was not answering. Stroms did not have time for this. He could reach out and find the Psyker and the cartels man, he could reach out far beyond the planet if he wished… if the need arose, but he had to remain here.
He too was aware of something that was not quite right.

I Let’s push these murderers Boss. Let them show their hands
Not yet my impatient pugilist. Things will reveal themselves in good time


Years before, on their last visit, Juliana had been part of the negotiating party. Ó Báire was hopelessly infatuated with her even then. He was like a small child… on heat, and followed her everywhere and watched her every move. Despite Juliana’s obvious marshal prowess, Ó Báire decided that it was his role to be her protector against all.

When Orosius’s enforcer tried to engage Juliana in friendly conversation, Ó Báire took it as a direct attempt at usurping his affections and a direct attack on his honour. The wily pugilist then went about systematically destroying the enforcers face and body.

The explosion of primeval violence had cost Stroms half of his cargo in repayment for damage caused.
Ó Báire was assigned to the ships brig.

Juliana was mildly impressed.

“Morthen. We have known each other for many years and business has been good…”
Stroms sensed anxiety. The cartel leader was hiding something. He noticed the bottom lip, a slight quiver, a subtle twitch.
“Indeed it has.”

A question?

“There have been rumours circulating.” He now looked directly at Stroms. “You are a wanted man.”
Stroms smiled.
Hardly the news of the Millennia. That fact was well known.

“Yes, I have people who wish me out of the business. You know how it is with the competition. I deal in… how do you say, exotic goods that the average trader cannot acquire… or afford.”
“I am talking about the authorities, the Planetary authorities.” Orosius interrupted. You know who I am talking about.”
Stroms cocked his head.

From your lips

“Now who might that be?”
If the lights seemed to dim and the temperature drop, it was all but in the mind. But Stroms felt the tension building up again.

“The Inquisition,” he hissed. “The Emperor-loving Inquisition. What on Rolphus have you been up to, to attract that mobs attention?”
Stroms shrugged his shoulders feigning ignorance. He pointed a thumb back at his own cargo.
“My goods are not exactly standard Imperial now are they?”
Orosius paused.
“Do you know of the Ordos?”
“Of course.” Stroms knew them well.
“The Ordo Hereticus?”
“I have heard of them.”
“What do the witch-hunters and those butched-up man-hating Sisters want with you… Stroms?”. His name was almost a hiss, and Orosius had dropped the first name.
Stroms shrugged his shoulders again, raising his eyebrows for effect.
“I would not know. Perhaps you might be able to tell me. You are remarkably well-informed.”
“I have my sources,” Orosius replied almost casually and then looked back at Stroms over his glasses. “Should I be worried?”

Mubarak slammed a long crate down onto the nalwood table and looked up at the screen.

“You are not in danger Mister Orosius. I have a very good team by my side and access to some excellent resources.”
“Ah yes,” the cartel leader smiled. “I noticed your new toy in the hanger. Where in the Emperors name did you get hold of a Valkyrie Sky Talon? That is some serious military hardware.”

And you would like to have it?

Stroms nodded for the other crates he had brought to be opened.
“You know how it is Mister Orosius, I am very good at what I do.”
“Care to sell it?”
“Not today,” he smiled, false of course. “I’ll never leave this planet in one piece, what with this war going on and all that.”
“And all that,” Orosius agreed. “The Tau exterminator thing you have then? I will pay top price.”

Does he mean that made up box with all the flashing lights?
Deaglán!
Sell it to him Boss, I can always make another
I might want to come back here
You know that will never happen. After what he knows about us now


Mubarak opened the first crate.

Bien Hoc. Stop dreaming of deserts. I need your report… anything that might help.

“Shall we begin?” Stroms was gambling that Orosius would be more interested in what he had in the boxes and his curiosity would get the better of him.
Stroms placed a large red-jewelled ring over the crate reader and the lid flipped open.
The Cartel leader seemed to lean forward from the screen.

The first crate was packed with various coloured gems and stones.

“Precious emeralds and rubies from the mountains of Plomia.”
“Spices from the ultramarine fields of Tesparth.”
“Elea silk.”
“Wine from the vineyards on Vaynus Twelve.”
Orosius was interested. He would get an excellent price for all those items.
Stroms waved one of Orosius’s men forward.
“May I?”
“Feel free.” Orosius replied. Stroms opened a plastik box containing a brown mass.
“I think you might find this interesting.” He held up some strange-looking fungi.
“From the mountain slopes of Stoneholt, a medicinal root used by the natives.”
He offered a small piece to Orosius’s man.
“Chew and then swallow the juice.”
The ‘heavy’ was unsure and turned to the screen.
“Do it.”

Reluctantly the man did as he was told. The result was instantaneous.
A wide smile crossed his face and he made a loud ‘whooping’ sound before erupting into a series of dance moves to hidden music.
The rest of his men began laughing as the man then began clucking and braying like various farm animals before trying to copulate with the bar, quickly followed by the barkeep.
Even Orosius was chuckling and egging him on before Dea stepped in and knocked him onto his backside with a well-placed palm strike.

Orosius ordered two of his men to take the paralytic wreck away.

Stroms unwrapped a material cover and laid the item on the polished wooden surface.
Xenos manufactured. A projectile weapon of some kind. Stroms held it up horizontally.

“Ah, that is Tau!” quipped Orosius and he clapped his hands gleefully.
“Your knowledge of weapons is correct.” Stroms knew how to flatter those who could not be flattered.
“A Tau pulse rifle. I have ten of these, plus twenty power cells and each power cell is capable of thirty-six shots.”
Mubarak picked the weapon up and handed it to the robed figure.
“It’s light and robust and can disable an Arbite Rhino.” He smiled at Orosius and raised his eyebrows expectedly.
“Morthern, please give me credit. That is not my style.” A faint smile. Stroms had him hooked.

Another box was opened and Stroms laid out a row of small metal objects.
“Standard Imperial Guard snare mines.”
“Interesting.”
“Two Eviscreators, courtecy of the Adeptus Ministorum.”
“They will be pleased.”
“A couple of military-grade Surveyors,” he looked up at Orosius. “To track your enemies.”
“Useful.”
“Finally, a few combat knives… ten, no eleven of those and half a dozen, that is six, Laspistols with two charge packs each.”
“Well worth your visit.”

Stroms waved at the other crates.
“There are Guard flak vests and a few vox-sets in the other boxes and I think a few gas masks. There are even a few copies of The Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer in there for a little light reading.”
“I look forward to it.” Stroms raised a finger. “Ah! Almost forgot.”
He lifted up a lone box and placed it on the table.

“My man Ó Báire over there thought you might like this little ditty. He got it at a sale on some outer rim planet. He says it reminds him of your display cabinet.”

Stroms opened the box to reveal a clear plasglass dome. Inside was an Orks head suspended by a field. The Orks eyes were open and as soon as it saw Stroms its huge fanged jaw began rapidly opening and shutting.
“It’s a Warboss apparently. At the point of death, but not quite if you know my meaning. It is technically alive and kept this way by nutrients.” Stroms studied a panel at its base. “If you press a button, you can hear its last words if you like.” The Orks deep, gravelly voice then boomed across the room.
A few of the ‘heavies’ brought hidden side arms to bear, thinking there was an attack. The guttural stream of obscenities was enough for only a few seconds worth and Stroms switched it off.
Orosius laughed a hearty laugh.
“Fantastic!”. He turned to Ó Báire. “I thank you.”

The rogue raised his glass in return.

The bored barkeep was suddenly at their side with a tray of flutes. Stroms and Ó Báire readily accepted the expensive wine as protocol insisted. Mubarak gave a curt shake of his head and stepped to one side whilst Dombi moved back as if the drinks were some sort of explosive device.
“Such riches Morthen. Should I ask where you got them from?”
Stroms raised his glass.
“From people who care little of our ways or devices.” He sipped slowly and then raised his glass in salute. “And may they ever be ignorant and free of the clutches and hypocrisy of the Imperium.”

“Here, Here!”, added Orosius.
The robed figure clicked a hidden finger and the exchange began.
“Medical supplies, vaccines and plasma as requested. Oh and the specials,” he sighed. “I have to confess that I struggled with the armaments. However, three thousand bolter rounds as requested.” He paused. “How are your pet Astartes anyway?”

Stroms spared Ó Báire a glance and they both placed their flutes down.
“Intolerable as always.”

Morthen! Morthen!
Bien. Where have you been?
Get out of there, most expeditiously. Get out now!

Juliana!
Fire her up


“We are leaving… Now!”

* * *


.

"Death occurs when a lethal projectile comes together in time and space with a suitable target, in the absence of appropriate armour or protection”


Check out my 40K 'Epic' about the Hunted verses the Inquisition: https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...98#post2184698

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post #13 of 48 (permalink) Old 12-11-15, 09:09 AM Thread Starter
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The Present


STEADY AS SHE goes Commodore Hsueh. I admire your eagerness to begin the hunt, but we have waited this long; we can afford to wait a little while longer.”

Standing to the right of the Captain’s throne like a bronze statue from antiquity, Martinez did not physically control the vessel, but he was very much in charge of it.

He was after all, Ferrand de san Martinez, a Lord Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus, the Witch Finder General of the Uranus Circulum Planetarum, The Malleus Haereticus.

He was called The Hammer of the Heretic, and his reputation was justified. Hundreds of planets had been purged of the taint of the unbeliever, and countless thousands of misguided souls had either repented before him, or lay broken and burnt in his wake.

He rarely smiled.

This was partly through choice, but mainly because bio-acid from a Tyranid abomination had dissolved half his facial muscles, and made the biggest smile look like a deaths-head grimace.

“Smiles are a luxury of the content and the oblivious without worry. A smile is the face worn by the simpleton.”

Martinez would only risk a smile when his work was finally finished, and when his duty and debt to the Emperor had been realised.

Serviamus illi usque ad mortem. I serve him unto death.

Today he allowed himself a brief nod of satisfaction… in private of course.

The signs were unusually good.

After weeks of quiet meditation, he was finally free from his personal Locus Tranquillum and back among the hustle and bustle of the command deck.
The latest excursion through the warp had been long and hazardous, and he for one was glad to be back in real space.
The next phase of the hunt could now begin.

Though this class of ship was deemed obsolete and assigned to the reserve, Martinez had had her recommissioned for front-line service. He had seen her sitting in dry-dock, wasted and forlorn. He immediately saw her potential. He liked her brute lines, her scars and her awesome presence. He had also seen her battle record and knew that this was a ship that was almost built for an Inquisitor like himself.
The command deck of the Wrath of the Emperor was built in the old style before the bureaucrats and Adminsitratum meddlers standardised Imperial ship designs. Dark wood panels and brass fittings were the norm and pictures and portraits of stern-looking commanders and heroes lined the walls. An ancient ships wheel, obsolete and impractical, stood in the centre of the command deck, as a symbol of a long, martial past … practica et naturalis.

The throne area was built in the shape of a horseshoe with the ends pointing towards a hundred-metre-high arched window in the old Renen style. Tall arched alcoves lined either side reminding him more of a cathederal than the command deck of a battle ship.
Martinez stared out into the void with a mixture of pride and awe. The ships brute, rugged super structure reached out in front of him like a seven-thousand-metre-long dagger aimed at the area of the glittering swathe of space called the Draianus System.
With a ship like this at his command, he could destroy continents and bring populations to their knees.
Aye, with this power, he could bring his hammer down on the heretic and bring them all Absolution.

The Sword of Tizona and The Anima Nobiscum sat to either beam like protective children, silent and foreboding. A swarm of fighters glittered and flashed far ahead as they zig-zagged in their bow waves like flying fish of the old oceans. Visiting vessels of all classes and designs cruised by in quiet reverence to the old vessel and its most esteemed passenger. Welcomes and acquiescent protocol messages began flooding in as various captains vied for the Inquisitors attention.

Martinez ignored them all.

Toady’s, sycophants and arse-wipes.

He washed them from his mind.

He studied the crew as they went about their normal duties. For most, they ignored his presence or turned an eye. Some offered a respectful nod, some offered a formal salute or a bow. None of them stood in his path or dared brush by or get in the way.

The Inquisitor tended to have that effect on people.

They operated with a quiet professionalism that came from years of combat and trials.
He was moderately impressed.
For months they had operated without question and always at optimal efficacy, but when their new orders came through to begin preparations for immediate planetary assault, he noticed a new spring in their step, and he saw smiles and camaraderie that he had not seen for a long time.


The crew are like caged beasts. I feel their anticipation. The tension is almost physical.


He stood silent and still beside the captain, Huan Hsueh, as she went about her business as if he did not exist. She had been given the temporary rank of Commodore whilst her ship was the flag and for as long as the Inquisitor retained her ship and the other two vessels. She was honoured and full of pride in the promotion and new assignment. It beat the daily drudgery of perimeter defence and Reaver patrols and the endless dinners and dances in the various officer’s clubs of the fleet. With luck, and with Martinez’s endorsement, it would also bring her back into full front-line duties after a long, enforced period of absence and boredom.

Two small figures moved up from behind the Inquisitor and positioned themselves on either side of him. They were robed and hooded in white and their faces were hidden inside the folds. They were either squats or some small breed of servitor that had been requisitioned by the Inquisitor. No one could get close enough to study their anatomy.

Another of Martinez’s secrets.

One of them held a magnificent, artificer-crafted Warhammer out in front of him, the other a large opened tome festooned with golden chains and small charms.

Martinez raised a gauntleted hand and spread his fingers.

A signal.

A pale-skinned female glided up to his right side and lowered her head in what appeared to be a sign of submission. There was a flicker of an eyelid in return.

The inquisitor searched the crew for any sign, any thoughts, but they all knew better to even spare her a glance.
Felícia Cortes was his indentured scribe and was there to record everything the Inquisitor had to say for prosperity.
But that did not stop the rumours that they were lovers.
With her elfin features and slender frame, they could all be forgiven. The fact that under the golden wraparound dress, were the reproductive organs of both a male and a female would only inflame the rumours more.

Martinez had neither the time or inclination to dabble in the pleasures of the body.

He brushed some imaginary dust off his left vambrace and then turned his attention to the numerous viewing screens before him.

His exquisitely-carved power armour hummed with hidden power and gave off a faint glow. It had been sculptured by The Fabricator General of Mars himself, in a bygone age when the Inquisition was but young. Martinez had cut it from the cooling body of its previous owner, a brother Inquisitor who had been seduced by the forces of those who shall not be named.

Martinez had judged him and had found him wanting.

Now, he thought, could it be here today?


His prey had eluded him so many times before, and he had been bested. He had tasted failure and it was a bitter, vile taste.

Perhaps today, Emperor willing, he would finally bring the Arch-Veneficus Morthen Stroms to heel, and then…?

He glanced towards a solemn-looking man wearing a long, black leather trench coat and gave an almost inconsequential nod.
With his handsome, sharp features and long dark hair, Ingfred Wolf looked more like a singer than an Interrogator, more used to being at the centre of attention at an Iterator gathering than at the ratchets of the rack.

If we get Stroms, I might let the Wolf work on him for a while.

There was a fluttering in the base of his stomach.

What pleasures we will have. What pain and torment Stroms would suffer.

The bridge of The Wrath of the Emperor was now heavy with silence and anticipation. Even the ship itself, an Avenger Class Grand Cruiser, whose sole purpose was to take the fight to an enemy at short range, with its numerous weapons batteries and planet destroying lances… seemed restless.
Its engines growled a little louder and its body throbbed with hidden power. Built during the dark times of The Great Betrayal, the vessel almost seemed to be a sentient being in its own right, a living beast struggling at the leash.

The normal background noise of voices and the constant chatter and hum of the machines had faded away to be replaced by heavy breathing and the hiss and sighs of body mechanics and augments. The bright lighting, the strobes, and the flashing warning lights all seemed to have been subdued and replaced by an eerie green hue.
The bridge itself was full of crew members from every department and every office. The Captain would normally have demanded it cleared of all non-essential personnel. Today she uncharacteristically relented.

Today was special.

It had been six months since their last confirmed contact with the traitor vessel, and now they had them almost in their grasp.
Even though half her body had been replaced by Mechanicum implants, which included non-essential sensory areas of her brain, she still felt an odd tingling of excitement.

“Come about two points to starboard, full and by” she said in her accented low Gothic.
“Aye Captain, coming about two points starboard”
“Auspex?”
“Six vessels Captain, possibly a convoy. It is heading into the Draianus System” replied the ensign studying long range sensors. “But there are an unusually large number of other vessels already in orbit around several of the planets. They carry Navy designations.”

Martinez glanced over to the entrance to the command deck and then back to the captain. He raised an eyebrow, which begged an answer.
Commodore Hsueh glanced at her deep space navigational control. Six plugged-in servitors and a single Adept manned the controls.

“There are four planets in this system, one Alpha, two Gamma and a Delta-Tau planet. The fourth is a merger-stage planet, devoid of any life characteristics.” Rasped the Mechanism representative.
“I need a long-range communication with at least one of those Navy vessels.” Said the captain, “Sooner rather than later. I don’t want us stumbling into some war or uprising that we do not know about.”
“Have any of the vessels come through the rings of Otravis Secunda?” Martinez interrupted, glancing sideways at Arch-Magos Flavius Cutov as he glided onto the bridge.
“One vessel, my Lord’ replied the ensign, ‘a freighter, designation…”
“The Peligo Oculto perhaps?” the Inquisitor interrupted.
The ensign turned around to face him.
“Yes my Lord.”

Martinez grinned. For a split second he almost felt a kind of respect for his prey… but only for a second.

What balls. The warlock has no shame.


“Where are Zorich and his ships?” queried Martinez, though he already knew the answer. His orders had been very specific. Anyone who misinterpreted the orders of an Inquisitor, knew their life was forfeit.
“They are in position my Lord” said Arch-Magos Flavius Cutov. “However, the representative of the Praxis Gatania Outer-Rim Flotilla has not been entirely forthcoming with information that,” the Arch-Magos paused “will have a significant comportment on what we do from now.”

* * *


.

"Death occurs when a lethal projectile comes together in time and space with a suitable target, in the absence of appropriate armour or protection”


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Sorores Argentum Gladio


THE SILENT WATCHER had rarely seen as much excitement on board the ship as there was today.
Palatine Talanova Alisa Stepanovna of the Order of the Silver Sword, stood to the rear of the command Sanctum and watched in undisguised irritation as the ship’s crew around her got more and more excited over the upcoming mission. The otherwise quiet and subdued command area was now alive with babble and general clamour as more and more crew came and went. She had noticed that the command section had almost doubled in size as officers and communication staff prepared the ship for the imminent ground insertion.

She tipped her head and another Sister stepped out of the shadows. Human speech was forbidden in their Order so the complicated hand language used by the Adepta Sororitas was the preferred method of communication. It was also virtually untranslatable to the uninitiated which suited their way of life.

+ Sister. Seek Lord. Inform. We stand ready for deployment +
Her companion nodded.
+ I serve. Question? +

The Palatine turned slowly. It was not protocol to ask anything of a senior, but, as she often reminded herself, Casandra Balakhnova was not known for adhering to the strict rules and regulations of the Order.
She was, after all a Nunciate Advance, and considered to be a highly capable Sister when it came to negotiations between her Order and the other human, and non-humans. Her record spoke for itself. Balakhnova was an accomplished warrior with an exemplary record. She also appeared to have a close relationship with the Lord Inquisitor which also helped things to run smoother.
It was legend that Lord Inquisitor Martinez was not known for his patience and diplomatic skills.

+ Speak +
+ Revenge. Palatine. Target at location. Not decoy. Hunt and Destroy +

Stepanovna knew that the young Sister still felt guilty for not protecting her predecessor, after her unlikely, and untimely death at the hands of the Arch-Heretic. The young Nunciate blamed herself for the Leaders fall, when they were ambushed two years before.
The Arch-Heretic who went by the name of Stroms, was on the planet below, and she wanted vengeance for her death and the genuine shame she felt.

The Palatine gave a rare smile.

+ We exterminate with extreme method +

Balakhnova smiled back and gave a curt bow.
The Palatine placed her hand on her sister’s pauldron.

+ Report. Remain in Station. Observe. Report +
Sister Balakhnova smiled and gave the Sign of the Aquila.

+ Intelligence gathering mission. Confirmed +

* * *

"Death occurs when a lethal projectile comes together in time and space with a suitable target, in the absence of appropriate armour or protection”


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It just keeps getting better. I'm looking forward to when everyone comes together!

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“WHAT DO YOU mean it might not be safe for us down on the surface?”, Martinez snarled.
He suddenly stood up like a predator about to strike. He punched one gauntleted fist into the palm of the other and the sound it made was like the crack of lightning. As if in anticipation of immediate violence, the small figure carrying his Warhammer stepped forward, lowered its head and offered it to him in reverence.

There was a long, uncomfortable silence before the Arch-Magos decided to intervene.
“There is civil discontent in all but two of the planets main cities, and there are countless other outbreaks of flagrant lawlessness across the surface.”
“Why?”
The question was direct and unambiguous, which was always the Inquisitors way. Heads shook and shoulders curled, but no one dared an answer. They simply did not have the facts in front of them.
It was a simple question. Why was an otherwise compliant planet racked with civil unrest?
No one had the wit or confidence to reply.

Martinez slowly turned his head and looked through dark eyes at the throng gathered around him. He saw genuine confusion and worry etched on their features but cared little about their discomfort. They all knew that if the painful pause did not end soon, they could expect one of the Inquisitors infamous eruptions, where heads would roll and careers would end.

Captain Lucas Grevenslag, an ex-Cadian officer with a string of hard-fought campaigns behind him, and one of only a handful of Guard officers on board, stood to the fore. He was a rough -bitten fighter and brawler with an exemplary record, he was cowed by no man, not even one such as Martinez. As the Inquisitors head of intelligence, he knew it was his job to find the answer… as such.

“My Lord, Preliminary reports suggest that systematic corruption…”
“At what level?”, Martinez interrupted.
“At the highest levels, my Lord,” he paused. “High taxes, over-officialdom, bad harvests, solar storms,” he shrugged his shoulders. “Are but a few of the causes.”
“Does it warrant our intervention?”
“There is a suggestion of outside influences, my Lord.”
Stroms?

With a flick of a command wand, he brought up a secondary screen which revealed a darkened command deck on a standard Imperial cruiser. A mid-aged officer, resplendent in a crimson red dress uniform looked back at him.. and the blood drained from his face. He was too slow to make his introduction. The Inquisitor saved him the formalities.

“Captain Zorich.” It was a statement of fact, not a question.
“My Lord…” he spluttered a reply. Martinez held up a hand. He did not require anything further from this man.
“Captain Zorich. Hand in your epaulettes, and march yourself to the brig. Your ineptitude astounds me.”
“I must protest…”, his pitiable stand was brave but futile. Martinez angled his head to the Arch-Magos, who glided up to his side.
“Donát, my Lord.”
“Commander Donát?”.
A thick-necked, bull of a man stepped onto the screen. His face bore a long duelling scar and a copper-coloured augmentic eye cover.

This man has stood in the shadows for too long.

“Commander Donát. Consider yourself promoted…”
“Thank….”, Martinez raised his hand again.
“Captain, I am sending you the schematics of a vessel I am searching for in this system. Locate this vessel and inform me immediately you find it.”
“Yes…”
“Do not engage under any circumstances, and do not fail me.”
The newly-promoted captain was promptly forgotten.

“Sister Balakhnova?”. Martinez sat back down in his throne, his armour sighing as internal systems adjusted to his movement.
Ah, Sister Balakhnova…

Though he had forsaken all worldly pleasures in the pursuit of purity and above all his duty, Martinez had still not lost his predator instincts or his male drive. Testosterone flowed freely through his veins and battle stimms clarified his mind.
The Battle sister was a fine-looking woman and very pleasing on the eye. He could but wonder…

Such a waste.

“I shall mortify my flesh..”, he whispered a little too loudly.

Wearing the black power armour and red cloak of the Order of the Silver Sword, Advanced Nunciate Balakhnova struck an imposing figure. She stood silently with her hand resting on the pommel of her power sword, her face neutral but noble. Her bleached white hair, cut in the normal style of the Adepta Sororitas bore a red streak on one side. In her Order, this was the sign of a veteran, though, Martinez surmised, she was no more than twenty-five standard Terran years old.

Her natural authority meant that everyone gave way to her, and she stood alone on part of the command dais that jutted out over the banks of cogitators and auspex monitors below.
She cocked her head towards Martinez then gave a subtle bow.

“I trust your Palatine is well?”. Martinez was almost paternal. There was an uncomfortable pause, before Martinez added. “You may speak freely.”

As a diplomat, Balakhnova was commissioned to use normal speech where necessary. When she did, it was always in High Gothic.
“She is at prayer, my Lord.” Speech did not come easily to Balakhnova and she struggled at first as her vocal cords got used to their reanimation.
Martinez tried to smile but it was ugly and twisted.
“We should all give prayer to our fortune. Are your sisters ready?”
Balakhnova raised an eyebrow. The question made no sense to her.
“We are always ready, my Lord.”

Martinez suddenly sprang to his feet and an audible gasp went up from those that were gathered.
“My contact on the surface has Stroms,” he balled a fist into the other. “Captain Gustloff, assemble my Stormtrooper’s,” he turned to Balakhnova. “Sister, you may release the Order!”

* * *

STROMS NOTICED THAT the room was now ominously quiet. Garcha’s men had already left with the anti-grav trolleys and were probably navigating the Freak Show by now. Only the brooding Mubarak, Dombi, Ó Báire and himself remained. Eight cartel foot soldiers, Pásztor Dea and the female barkeep faced them like a scene from a gunfight from old antiquity.

Stroms had already taken the liberty of scanning them for concealed weapons. He was not too disappointed. The cartel men had the usual hodgepodge mix of hand-stubbers and heavier stubguns in harnesses underneath their jackets. They all carried secondary weapons such as knuckledusters and blades.
Their minds were focussed on Stroms and his companions. They were trying to size him and his crew up, looking for the easiest and hardest targets. They were all preparing themselves for immediate violence.

Pásztor Dea appeared to be unarmed, but Stroms knew, almost to his cost, that his subtle mind powers were not infallible. If she was an operative of The Officio Assassinorum, she would be a master of the art of guile and deceit, and he would not know until the last possible moment. The positive signs were that she was clearly agitated, scared even. Her heart-rate was off the scale and her breathing was rapid and deep. Her mind was a cloud of contradictions. She was trying desperately to focus on a single point, in this case an idyllic scene from a place she once knew, but her thoughts kept jumping back to Orosius’s face and the face of someone hidden in the background. It appeared to be an earlier conversation they had had, though the time frame could not be verified. Dea had received some form of rudimentary mind-block training, that was evident. She had the skill to block out low-level psykers, but it was not enough to hold back Stroms.

My dear Pásztor, what is it you are trying to hide from me?

He placed a small sliver of pain into her frontal lobe, nothing too damaging, but enough to give her stress.
As if on cue she creased her forehead and her hand came up to her temple.

Tension was heavy in the air. He knew that the next few seconds would be critical.

“I clearly underestimated you Orosius.” Stroms began. “You really would sell your soul to the highest bidder.”

The be-speckled teacher smiled back and then tapped the bridge of his glasses to straighten them. It seemed an almost pitiful gesture from a man who ran the notorious Vardaro cartel, a mini-army of thousands, with enough firepower to start his own war.
“Very important people are looking for you Morthern. Very important people who will pay the highest price for you.”

Stroms laughed and then shook his head. Petty criminals like Orosius were all the same. He had seen them come and he had seen them go. They were all hollow, greedy and without honour.

But most of all, they were all predictable.

Stroms once knew of a notorious gang leader (they were called gangsters in those days) who thought he was very clever and above the law. He had bribed the Arbites and the Judges and members of the Administratum and they were all in his pocket. A special task force was set up to bring him down. He was finally brought to justice, not for any of the heinous murders he had ordered or carried out himself, no; he was caught because he failed to keep his tithe records in order, and they incarcerated him for tithe avoidance.

His weakness was his narcissism.
Orosius? Well he just thought he was better than anyone else…

“What was it they offered you Orosius, protection? Riches?”
“No,” Orosius was quick to reply. “They offered me total immunity and absolution for all my… crimes. I think the price was well worth it.”

Stroms laughed, but it sounded like a cough.
“How little you know them, you fool. You have signed your own death warrant.”
Orosius grinned. “I have friends in high places. You have no idea…”
Stroms hated this little, meaningless lackey. He was stalling.
“You betrayed me, as I knew you would.” Said Stroms.
There was a tiny flicker in Orosius’s left eye.
“It is business Morthen, nothing more. It is not personal. I like you, I really do.”
“You have been playing me for time all along.”
“Of course.” Orosius smirked back.

Deaglán?
I have it Boss


Stroms opened his arms wide, smiling, but this show was a big, open, genuine smile.
“As have I, as have I.”

It was a barely noticeable rumble at first, a dull sound that penetrated the subconscious. It was like a low frequency hum that you only hear when you lay on the pillow at night.

“And here they come, exactly on time.” Said Stroms.
Orosius beamed back, unknowing, unaware…

“It will not be long now Morthern, my friend…”
Stroms clasped his fingers together in front of him and then looked directly into Orosius. He could not read him from where he was but it was not necessary anyway. Everything was done, everything was in place.
The cartel leader was a dead man, he just did not know it yet.

Oh so predictable.

All around the room the cartel soldiers were fidgeting and muttering to each other. They were obviously in contact with their boss who was feeding them instructions through hidden ear-vox.
Their anticipation, their excitement and their fear was almost a physical thing to Stroms. He could read every movement, see every sign.

Juliana?
I am here


“Mister Orosius,” Stroms had reverted back to his formal manner, but with an almost matter-of-fact tone. “No, Lar, may I call you Lar?” He spared Dea an almost mischievous grin.
“Do go on… for goodness sake.” The cartel leader raised an irritated eyebrow. “This is not a game you know.”

“My dear Lar. This is a game, a game that I have been playing for a very long time,” he nodded at Dea again, “a very long time indeed.” He turned his back on the screen and the cartel foot soldiers and stared long and hard at Mubarak.
Words did not need to be said.

“Do not turn your back on me Stroms.” Orosius growled, the veneer of friendliness suddenly gone.
“Can you hear it?”, Stroms whispered. He turned to face the screen again. The school teacher glowered back, his face creased with distain and hate.
Stroms noticed the beads of sweat on the man’s forehead and the way his eyes were darting to the left and the right.

“What?”, said Orosius.
“I asked if you can hear it. Can you hear it Orosius?”

The deep rumble was now clearly audible and the walls and floor began to vibrate.
Orosius gave a knowing nod and appeared to talk to someone off screen before turning to Stroms.

“They have assured me that you will not be hurt,” then he added, almost as a sign of compassion. “If that is any conciliation?”
“Oh, I have no doubts about my well-being Orosius, but as for yours, well, your friends will have no such consideration. In fact, I know they will be extremely un-sympathetic when they realise what has happened.”

Orosius shook his head slowly. From his fortress at the top of the tallest spire in the Hive, the cartel leader was master of all. He would enjoy seeing the know-it-all, mental defective Morthen Stroms, finally fall, and fall he would; he had made sure of it.

“Dombi.”
“Is it time to play boss?”
“This is not a game Stroms.” Orosius snapped.
“I know Lars… you pimp!”
“Pimp!”

Ó Báire pumped two swift las-rounds into the female barkeep, one to the forehead and the second to her sternum. She was hurled backwards into a pile of stacked chairs, releasing the loaded shotgun that she had in her hands. At the same instant, Dombi brought up his club and swung it in a wide arc, striking the nearest ‘clanner’ across the face before imbedding its spikes into the chest of a second.
Stroms had wondered why Pásztor Dea needed a hidden power field. Now he knew. As well as Orosius’s concubine she was also his bodyguard.

He sensed the needle pistol before he saw it and turned just in time. The deadly dart glanced off the mesh armour beneath his coat imbedded itself into the wall.
She was good, very good.

Dea was on him a split second later, bringing up a stiletto blade which was aimed for his groin area and certain death.

He twisted to one side and the blade went wide. Dea gave out a surprised yelp and brought the blade quickly back towards his face. Her other hand was gripping the front of his coat and pulling him towards her.
Stroms did not want to kill the girl, despite her obvious desire to do him harm, she was an amiable creature and he did actually like her. He blocked the returning blade with his vembrace before shrugging off her other hand.

She was suddenly knocked sideways from the right and disappeared in a blur of black and silver. He saw the familiar shape of Ó Báire, his shoulder low like a charging Grox.
“Get your head out of your arse!”, Ó Báire snarled. “By the Emperor, did he not send me here to look after you.”

Dea lay on her back amongst the detritus of the conference room. She was gasping for breath and cupping her broken nose. Blood flowed freely down the front of her body glove. She stared at Stroms with a mixture of anger and desperation.

Dombi stamped down on her head and killed her instantly.

“Not nice lady.” He growled.

Mubarak had slid a long box across the table to Dombi, and then opened fire with his two Laspistols. He bracketed the entrance. Another ‘clanner’ fell, then a second who was the big, hard-faced thug who Ó Báire had un-ceremonially pummelled years before.
Stroms realised that Dombi now had his revered Ripper gun in his hands and that the next few seconds would be a world of noise and fire. With obvious glee, and with a beaming smile on his brutal face, the huge Ogryn let rip a long burst of exploding rounds, pulverising the remaining cartel soldiers.

They had not fired a single shot in return.

Stroms now stood motionless, separate from the rest, his eyes penetrating deep into Orosius’s soul.

“What have you done?”. Orosius hissed back.
“Good Luck Lars.” Stroms gave a mock salute and then he turned to his friends.
“Down! Hit the floor!”

The screen suddenly exploded in a cloud of light and sparkling plasglass and part of the far wall ballooned inwards. Rubble, plaster, metal fittings and thousands of other bits of debris funnelled towards them in an ever-expanding fire ball.
What light there was, was immediately extinguished, plunging the room into darkness. The noise was like a hundred heavy weights crashing down onto a metal roof.
Internal alarm systems began sounding followed by loud klaxons and wailing sirens. A dull, monotone voice gave instructions on where to exit or where to escape to.

Mubarak was the first to react. He came up onto one knee and emptied his Laspistols into the gap. He then mag-locked them to his belt and swung a combat shotgun around. He pumped round after round of the lethal shot at anything that might be following.

Ó Báire leapt forward and scooped up a small cylindrical object that came bouncing in amongst the cloud of debris. He threw it back into the hole and gave a grim smile as the choke grenade popped the other side of the wall.

Juliana
I am Here


+ Plan B now Juliana. I fear that our guests have got here a little quicker than I anticipated +

The rest of his group were now moving back towards the way they had come in., their movements fluid and professional. It felt like an eternity, but only a couple of seconds had passed.

Dombi began firing again as more and more grenades began flying in through the gap. They were a mixture of Stun and Choke grenades, designed to incapacitate and not kill. Clearly Stroms and his crew were to be taken alive. That meant that the attackers would be cautious.
That gave Stroms the edge. He had no such restrictions.

There was no immediate follow up. The attackers were either all dead or being held back. Either way, it was to Stroms advantage.
The brief fire fight had caused a dull haze in the air that reminded Stroms of an early morning rendezvous in graveyards with shadowy agents. It was quite surreal. All but one of the overhead lights had been destroyed, which added to the gloom.

Dombi stood rigidly by Stroms side, his weapon cradled in his huge arms.

+ Are the supplies stored? +
+ Affirmative +
+ Deaglán and I will form the rear guard. Mubarak and Dombi will join you shortly +
+ Affirmative +
+ We will meet you in two days’ time at the rendezvous site. Understood? +
+ Got it Boss, but… +

Juliana, trust me. All will be fine.
But…
See you soon


+ Prepare for a hot take off. Your guests are outside. The usual drill. No unnecessary casualties. They are… +
+ Misguided souls that do not know the truth. Yes Boss, I will try +
+ Safe journey +
+ Good luck +

Stroms turned to the others who had gathered up what useful items they could find I and amongst the detritus. He placed a reassuring hand on Dombi’s chest.

“You must go with Mubarak Dombi. Go back to the fun ship and help Juliana the flying lady. There are lots of bad men trying to hurt her. Me and Deaglán will wait here a while. Do you understand?”
“Dombi stay here with you.”
Stroms smiled and patted his shoulder. He loved the simple, child-like nature of this giant. Like all Ogryn’s he had adhered to Stroms natural leadership abilities. That is what made them such efficient soldiers in the Imperial Guard. They were loyal, tough, brave soldiers who would never let you down.
“Go and help the others. Make sure they get out alright.”
The big Ogryn’s face twisted in thought and then he nodded.
“Yes Boss. Dombi will help flying lady. He will see you later.”

* * *

A STANDARD Navy Valkyrie Sky Talon is used to carry light vehicles or troops onto the battlefield.
But this one was non-standard…

Unfettered by the rigid doctrine of The Adeptus Mechanicus, and free from the mistrust, secrecy and ridiculous dogma that has held it back for Millennia, Stroms’s dedicated team of Transmechanic’s were given free-range to do whatever they wanted. They were not restrained by the hierarchal rank structure of the Mechanicus and free-thinking was encouraged. Ably guided by Garxan Mansmay, an ex-Mechanicum Adept, their skills had surpassed even the worldly-wise of Mars.

They had adapted the Sky Talon to life on the run.

The single cockpit had been replaced by a two-seater bubble. The pilot, usually Juliana, could concentrate on flying the machine, whilst her companion took care of the weapons.

Like Stroms own ship, hidden amongst the clutter of space above, this Sky Talon packed a punch which was well-above her weight.
The nose-mounted heavy-bolter was still in place, though its swivel mount was faster and smoother than the standard Imperial package. Four Hellstrike missiles hung from its stubby wings alongside a single rocket pod. What was unusual and completely heretical, was the Eldar Firestorm scatter laser attached to the other wing.
This was Strom’s guarantee against Navy fighters or tightly-bunched enemy targets. He had acquired it many years before and despite some of his crew’s protestations against using xenos technology, he had kept the weapon for its solid reliability.

Sergeant Garcha gave Juliana the thumbs up as the last box was secure in the hold. He then replaced one of his men on the rotary cannon on the back of the ramp. The standard drop-pod had also been adapted to carry both cargo and passengers and the hard-slug weapon was assurance against counter-attacks or discouragement to the brave.

Juliana gave the far doors a forlorn look before she brought the engines up to taxi-speed. She turned the nose of the vessel a fraction to the right and saw them.

At first it was just shadows, moving, hazy shapes in the bright light outside. Then the shadows became solid and then an ominous blunt shape slid forward into view. There was no doubting the shape. It was a Rhino armoured vehicle surrounded by a sea of bobbing helmets and the barrels of weapons.

“Throne. We are truly fracked!”, Juliana exclaimed to any and all who could hear.

+ Eadfrid. Weapons free… but try to keep the damage to minimum +
She realised what she was saying was frankly ridiculous, but she knew Stroms, and if Stroms found out that they were more than liberal with their firepower, he would not be best pleased.
+ How in the Omnissiah am I supposed to do that? + Eadfrid replied, a hint of exasperation in his voice.

Juliana pulled on the stick and the Sky Talon lifted up into a hover position a metre or so above the ground.
The armed figures at the entrance were now fanning out and taking up firing positions. The pintle-mounted heavy-bolter on the Rhino was now pointing directly towards them.

+ It gets better. Eadfrid, to the left of the Rhino +
+ Which one? +
There were now two of the armoured vehicles and they had moved in to block the exit.
“Oh frack it!”
+ Say again +
+ Just clear us away through them Eadfrid… but try to be careful +

* * *


.

"Death occurs when a lethal projectile comes together in time and space with a suitable target, in the absence of appropriate armour or protection”


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If I didn't have classwork getting in the way, would have read this a couple of days ago, but I promise to read this during the weekend. If it's anything like your H.O.E.S. entries, I'm sure I'll be impressed !

“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
-Glen Cook, The Black Company


Tales of Heroism and Bravery, in the 41st Millennium and the Old World. Perhaps some Realm Gate Wars in the future .

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Myen'Tal View Post
If I didn't have classwork getting in the way, would have read this a couple of days ago, but I promise to read this during the weekend. If it's anything like your H.O.E.S. entries, I'm sure I'll be impressed !
Kind words as usual buddy... thanx again

.

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Finished reading it, and as predicted, I am impressed. I am convinced that Morten Stroms is one of the children of the Emperor, I can't remember the official term for them, but I know they are also being hunted by the Inquisition so it kind of makes sense. I have to say, you really did well on your characters, I found myself liking them all, each of them have their own little quirks and personalities that really emphasize who they are. I think Inquisitor Martinez and Stroms are my favorites so far.

You didn't take too long to get your plot kick-started either, which, I confess, is sometimes a pitfall of mine. When the characters are introduced, their stakes in the story are already made clear and it meshes together into an interesting, and, so-far, interesting and suspenseful plot.

Really like what you're doing here, Brother Edmund, keep it up!

“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
-Glen Cook, The Black Company


Tales of Heroism and Bravery, in the 41st Millennium and the Old World. Perhaps some Realm Gate Wars in the future .

Gods' Hall (Completed)
https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...d.php?t=161618

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~DRAMATIS PERSONAE~
Introducing
Juliana Zadian


++ Personal Notes 71/7173 - Morthen Stroms. ++

By way of a note: Alcohol… Lexicon Categorization: A colourless unstable flammable liquid which is produced by the natural fermentation of sugars and is the intoxicating constituent of Amsec, beer, spirits, and other drinks, and is also used as an industrial solvent and as fuel.

ALL GOOD THINGS come to those who wait.
To Juliana Zadian the good times were few and far between, and the bad times were…well, interminable. If the good times were indeed coming, then they had better come quickly. She felt like she was on the edge of a deep precipice, and one slight roll would mean total oblivion.

She was drunk again, but nowadays she was always drunk. It helped her cope, it helped her forget, and it kept her sane.
Clad in her ubiquitous combat boots, combat trousers and tight-fitting black t-shirt, she lay on a louse-infested mattress in a filthy wet back alley staring up at the stars above.

Well, Juliana, you sure out did yourself this time.

Her head was pounding like the pistons in a Titans leg, and her mouth tasted like… well, like an Ork’s armpit.

Crap

It had been two days this time; a mammoth bender of epic proportion that had gone well beyond her usual limits. Now she was finally sobering up and now she would pay the price for her over indulgence.

Damn that Rogue Trader, damn the man. What was his name? Yeah, damn Ewatochi, that slippery amphibian, damn his luck. The cards…

“On your feet citizen and let’s see some identity.” The voice was barely audible and muffled by a face covering, or a visor. There was authority there, a hidden menace, but Juliana ignored it anyway. She turned over onto her left shoulder and brought her knees up into her chest.

She felt the tap on her shoulder and tensed up.

“You cannot sleep here citizen, this is a restricted zone and you have just earned a night in Precinct.”
Juliana knew that whoever was behind the voice was not going to go away. It was the law and the law was unforgiving and uncompromising. She knew that her respite was now over and the full after-effects of her binge would soon kick in. One thing was for sure however, she was not going to be sobering up in the drunk tank with lifes degenerates and inebriates. She would rather face a roll around with a Grox than that.

“Go away’ she spluttered, though she did not know why, “Why don’t you find someone else to hassle”.
The tap again, this time a little harder and with a determined hand.
“You have ten seconds to get to your feet and show me your papers, or you are going down town with me, and that could involve an element of pain compliance”.
Juliana rolled over onto her back and looked up into the bright beam of a flashlight. Her nemesis was clearly silhouetted against the background. She could make out the shape of a helmet and a set of studded shoulder pads belonging to a local Enforcer. She could also make out the long outline of a power maul.

Emperor-damned, why me?

Juliana suddenly felt brave and totally irrational. She somehow decided that this street plodder appeared to be on his own and his body language signalled that he was on edge and nervous.

A novice perhaps?

“Why don’t you go and bother someone else, I’m not doing anything wrong.”
The tap again and the buzz of the power maul being activated. A second tap, harder this time.
“Get to your feet citizen, while you still have the use of your legs.”

The irrational switch in Juliana’s head clicked into attack mode before the rational side of her alcohol-befuddled brain could do anything to countermand it. The possibility of her walking away with a reprimand and a frisk down was beginning to look very remote. It was now the classic fight or flight scenario and there was no going back. She was either going to run for it, or she would be squandering the rest of the day in a holding cell and the possibility of some form of serious injury.

She preferred the first option...

In a blink of an eye she flipped onto her knees and delivered a haymaker into the Enforcement officer’s groin, buckling him in two, his lungs exploding with expelled air. She then brought her hand down on the power maul, knocking it downwards and out of the way.
The Enforcer’s helmet hit the hard road with a sickening pop and Juliana made sure he stayed down with a hard blow between his shoulder blades.
She allowed herself a momentary pause of satisfaction.

Then the world about him exploded in pain and light.

Damn it, he was not alone…

One hour and twenty-two minutes later she woke up slumped in a chair with the coppery taste of blood in her mouth, and acid bile on her tongue. Pain ravaged her body, and as she moved her hand gingerly to her face, she realised that she had a large cut bisecting her right eyebrow.

Nice touch boys.

Juliana knew that she was now in a whole world of trouble. Her malevolence towards authority had now cost her dearly. Now She had to somehow get out of this place, wherever that might be, before the locals looked too deeply into her past. If they found out who she was then trouble was sure to follow. She shook her head.

Crap.

There was the sound of movement and the click of a door being opened. She looked up, her eyes slowly adjusting to the harsh light from a bank of spots in the ceiling. She was in a small room with a door behind her. A standard mirror window was to her right, and she instinctively knew that she was being watched. She leant back in the chair and then grinned and winked at the window.
To the left of her was a barred rectangular window and a wired off rotating fan.
Despite her condition, she was already formulating an escape plan.

The door opened again, but this time someone entered. Juliana heard low voices and the scrape of wood against metal. An Enforcer pushed past her, dragging a table and a chair behind him. He placed them both in front of her and without even a glance, left the room.
“Am I under arrest?” She asked quietly. The question was pitiable, but what else could she say in the circumstances.

A thick-set investigator sat down in front of her, a typical career man, all sweat and starch with a large midriff that spoke of fast food and convenience. He wore a standard-issue investigators grey suit and a thick red neck tie. Juliana sensed that he was also carrying.
A thirty-four-twenty. Standard Arbites-issue snub-las, and probably a secondary in his sock.
The investigator flipped open a data-slate and grunted. Juliana watched him scan the contents before pushing the slate forward. The man placed a lho-stick in his mouth and lit its end with expert ease. He sneered at her.
“Name?” he asked matter-of-factly.
Juliana placed her hands behind her head, shrugging her shoulders. She gazed at the stained ceiling above. There was a small dark stain near its centre.

Is that blood?


“Name?” The Investigator repeated.
Juliana heard the sound of rubber on plasteel. The Enforcer had not left the room, he was behind her and very close to her shoulder. She leant forward and sniffed the air.
“Is that roll-up legal?”
“Name. What is your name?” repeated the Investigator.
“I wish to exercise my right to silence under the Articles…”
“Name?”, the investigator interrupted with hidden menace in the tone.
There was a pause and the Investigator stared long at hard at her.
“Let me see.” The investigator passed his palm over the reader.
“Petra Eceolaza… narcotics, prostitution. Jerta Cona, three years for larceny, assault and battery, narcotics,” the investigator looked up. “Again… Aneesa binti Taaha, weapons offences, flying without a licence. Ah, here it is… Vittoria Girgenti. It says here… narcotics, resisting arrest, assault on a law-enforcer, plus your little mess around today, which means times two. Oh, and finally, just a minor offence that must have slipped my mind… murder.”

Juliana never moved a muscle, not even a twitch.

The room was now deadly silent. Even the background noise of a busy Precinct House seemed to have gone.
Julian leaned forward. On the desk was a small metallic disc. She tapped it with her index finger and looked up at the investigator.
“This is a vox-thief right?”. The Investigator rolled his eyes. “Hello, hello?” she tapped the disc again. “To everyone out there, and so you are all very clear. I exercise my right to silence under the Articles…”

The blow hit her in the right temple knocking her sideways onto the cold hard floor of the interview room. She was not quick enough to prevent the collision with the ground. Her head impacted against hard plasteel, and pain shot through her like a plasma wave. She gasped, more with surprise than pain. She refused to cry out, even when her scalp opened up like a ripe fruit and blood pooled around her.

“Answer the fuggin’ questions you stupid bitch”, came a brutal voice. Juliana knew instinctively that it was the street-plodder she had dealt with earlier; still sore and itching for some payback. Rough hands pulled her back up onto the chair, and her face was pushed in the direction of the investigator. Juliana opened and closed her eyes. The eyebrow had opened up again and blood was flowing freely from the cut.
The investigator sat slowly back in his chair, arching his fingers in front of him.
“You are wanted in three different sub-systems.”
Juliana wiped the blood from her eyes and shook her head. “I guess I am a might bit popular.” She cocked her head. “Is this standard procedure for Arbites on this dung-hole of a planet?”
“Is that a Guard tattoo?”

Damn it.

The skull and crossed scythes of the Lifeguards. She had always meant to get it removed but just never got around to it. The damn mark had got her into a lot of trouble before, now it could get terminal for her.
Juliana pulled down her sleeve. It was such an obvious move, but she was caught momentarily off-guard.

“I’ve no idea what you are talking about”. The investigator nodded towards her right arm.
“That’s a Guard tattoo, I’ve seen enough of them in my time, so what unit were you with?”
Juliana sat back in the chair and then stretched her legs out in front of her. She contemptuously folded her arms across her chest.
“I have no idea what you are talking about’, she hesitated, ‘Just charge me with whatever it is you are going to charge me with, or let me go.”
There was an imperceptible nod from the detective and the street-plodder pulled Julian into a rough headlock.
“Shall I add deserter to your ever growing list of charges?’ said the investigator.
Juliana chuckled “It’s all fabricated, I am not who you say I am. I am just a lowly distillery worker… from K-District… Shiteville”. Another punch came, a vicious little jab this time, striking her temple. A stabbing pain shot through her head, bringing tears to her eyes. She threw the street-plodder a killing look and spat out a globule of blood.
“How are your nuts, you poxed pussy. I eat babies like you for breakfast”. She was suddenly pushed backwards this time, and this time it was the back of her head that hit the hard floor.
She blacked out.

“My real concern here,’ the investigator said. ‘Is not whether you are a deserter or not, it is who you really are, and where you actually come from.”
Juliana took a deep breath and looked up at the bull-neck. The man was staring at her, sweat trickling down his brow. He wore a bored expression on his pale, sickly face.
“That was actually a question”. He added.
Juliana’s head throbbed and blood was everywhere. She was hurting, but she had endured worse… much worse.
“I have the right to legal advice. Get me a Consuasor, or let me go”. It was worth a try she thought. Then she reflected that she could not remember what planet she was actually on and whether her requests were binding here or not.
The investigator smiled “Only citizens are entitled to legal advice on this… planet… but we don’t know who you actually are and according to our records you do not exist, you are an unknown’, he paused and tilted his head to one side ‘and off-worlders do not have the same rights as indigenes.”

The door opened again and another Enforcer entered the room. He bent down beside the investigator and whispered in his ear, nodding towards Juliana as he did so. Words were exchanged and the Enforcer shook his head. The investigator stood up. He placed the data-slate inside his jacket, pointing at Juliana with the other hand.
“You wait here; we are not finished with you yet”.
She spat blood and cracked her face into a smile.
“Like I am going anywhere.”

Endorphin rush: a feeling of exhilaration brought on by pain.

Wait here. What else was she going to do? She gave a pained laugh which was a last-ditch attempt at bravado.

Well, I am well and truly in trouble this time.

A minute later the door opened again. Juliana braced herself for the next attack that was sure to come. She tensed up her muscles and closed her eyes. Would the blow come from the right or the left? She had already decided that her interrogators had had enough play time for the day. She was in a bad place and was in for a bad time so what the hell. This time she would attack first before they did, she would hurt them before they finished her. She would go down fighting this time regardless of the consequences.
First, she decided, it would be the street-plodder, he would get his comeuppance. Then, if she could, she would take out the greasy investigator, maybe with his own piece. What happened after that was another matter, but she would not go down passively.

Momentary confusion.

The be-speckled investigator did not appear this time. In his place was a robed Adept, with its hood pulled down low over its face. The Adept took up position to the left of the table with its arms crossed across its chest. Juliana hesitated.
What in the Emperor’s name was going on now?

Another man sat down. He was powerfully-built with cropped, dark brown hair and a face criss-crossed with scars. He had a strong chin with a hint of shadow. She could not discern his age, he was probably fifty standard years, perhaps slightly more? His eyes were hidden behind gloss-black eye protectors. He wore a long black trench coat over a body suit of an unknown matt material and what looked like a combat harness of military manufacture.
Juliana could not detect any visible weapons but She noticed that he had a Vox receiver in his left ear.

The new arrival sighed, and then cracked his heavy fingers. He leaned slightly forward and removed his eye-protectors.

What is this?

He had the most dazzling blue eyes she had ever seen. They were piercing but with a warmth behind them. There was wisdom and care there.

Concentrate.

The man smiled.
“Juliana Zadian?”
“Sorry?”
“Juliana Zadian, aged,” he coughed and made an attempt to cover his mouth. He then grinned, revealing a row of immaculate white teeth ‘Native of E’lafpur 7, but spent most of your childhood on Orage Septimus. Father killed in combat, mother killed during an Ork raid, no living relatives…”
“Who the Fug are you?”
The man nodded and the Adept stepped forward unfolding his arms. He placed a large paper file on the table in front of them.
The dark-haired man continued. “Adopted by The Daughters of the Navy, placed in a military Fraternity before becoming a Noviate at the prestigious Muneris Palaestra Schola. Joined the Elite Orage Lifeguards as a pilot, rated top of her class. Ten years unblemished record ‘the man paused and sat back in his chair, rocking slightly. He stared at Juliana through eyes that now looked like dark blue crystals.
‘And there is the conundrum. The last line on the document states’, he studied the data-slate with renewed vigour. ‘It states that you were killed in action.”

Juliana sprang to her feet and then crouched low into an attack stance. Before she could take a further step, there was a grunt and then a pair of heavy hands lifted her up and then pushed her firmly back into her chair. Muscles of iron then held her there, pinning her down as effective as detention irons. The dark-haired man did not even flinch, but a smile broke across his face again. He looked up at whoever was holding her down.
Juliana tried to shrug the heavy hands away, but was pushed down even harder.

“I asked you a question,’ growled Juliana playing for time. ‘Who the hell are you… people?”
“Relax Juliana, relax. We are all friends here.” The man’s voice had a slight accent and was low and… soothing.
She finally managed to lean forward and stared at the man facing her behind the desk.
“Let’s get one thing straight. We are not friends. Never, in all my life, can I ever recall us sharing a drink together, or hanging out swapping war stories”. She leant back, satisfied.
The other man smiled “Sarcasm does no become you, Juliana. But I like sarcasm, I am skilled in its use. Now shall we get down to business?”
“Where is my Consuasor?” She attacked. “I have rights. Get me some legal in here right away.” The other man spread his fingers out flat on the table. She noticed a golden ring band on his right forefinger which bore a dark red ruby. She sensed it was very old.

Calm. Concentrate.

“What the…?”. There was an icy sensation in her forehead
“Who the Fug is in my head?” She turned on the Adept but realised that it was not it but the man across from her who was skimming her mind. “Get yourself out of my head…”
“Juliana.”
We will not harm you
“I said…”
“You prefer me like this?”
“Yes.”
“Fine.” The man smiled. To her surprise, Juliana felt a heavy weight lift from her shoulders. Not the physical weight that was holding her down, but a physiological weight, and the stress of her incarceration seemed to slowly fade away.
She looked directly into the man’s eyes.
What she saw back was a kindly face, a trusting face. She was being illogical.

“You are not a citizen here on this planet, like the Investigating sergeant said.” The man began. “Off-worlders have no rights here. You are not entitled to a Consuasor or any form of legal assistance come to that. Your future looks very bleak. Assaulting an Enforcer on this planet means five years in a penal colony. That’s five years digging up Thallium to make heat sensors or, bleeding to death in the shower after the sisters get hold of you and use you as a plaything. But you won’t last five years in the colony’s, you’ll last three at the most, before your skin peels away and cancerous growths turn you into…” he coughed. “A puss boil. But more than that, there is the other small matter of the alleged murder on your rap sheet.”
“Fabricated.”
“Maybe so, but you will burn for it anyway.”
The man’s face was that of genuine concern. Juliana looked nervously at the Adept and then tried to turn around again. When she failed for the fourth time, she relaxed her shoulders and tried to smile.
“Are you a Psyker?”
“No I am not. I am far more than that” he said. “Far more than you can imagine.”
“You guys are not the law are you?’ she paused ‘No you are not, and you are not locals either. I smell military all over you.”

The other man grinned. “Very astute Juliana, but we are not soldiers… we are, how do you say, an independent organisation.’ he paused and then shrugged his shoulders. He had evidently made a decision and from this point on, there would be no going back. He sighed.
‘We operate outside the law, and I mean right outside it. So far outside it in fact, that we are technically not Imperium. We avoid the agents of the Imperium whenever and wherever we can, in fact, we avoid everyone. We are, I like to think, a family and we look after our own. I heard about you through my sources. I could do with a pilot like you. You have a rare talent.”
The skin on the back of Juliana’s neck began to tingle, and the temperature dropped a degree. The Adept leant forward and spoke to the dark-haired man across the table. He nodded.
“Juliana. We have not got long,’ he turned to the Adept. ‘Exactly how long have we got Eadfrid?”
The Adepts voice was curiously high-pitched and heavy with accent, “Seven minutes, twenty seconds Boss”
“You have six minutes to make up your mind. Stay here and it’s the Thallium mines on Den-Leb 10, or the electric chair down here. Come with me, with us, and at least you may have some say in how you… eventually die. I will give you anonymity, a new identity even, and you can be whoever you want to be and without any recrimination and without being judged.”

“Five minutes Boss”

The hands on Juliana’s shoulder’s relaxed, and that was all the opportunity that she needed. She was quickly on her feet again.
She had managed to break off a long shard of metal from the base of her chair during her conversation with the man across from her. Now she held it low like a dagger. She turned to take out the guard who had held her down. She would plunge the metal joint into the guard’s throat and take him out quickly. She would then try and take out the dark-haired man across the table. The Adept…

She never stood a chance.

A large fist completely enclosed her hand; and the other grabbed her by the scruff and lifted her high into the air.
“Emperor’s blood!” she gasped through clenched teeth.
“Juliana meet Dombi, Dombi meet Juliana.”
A huge man faced her, but not a man as such, his dimensions were all wrong. He was a brute-looking giant with a fantastic muscle structure squeezed into a formal black suit that strained over his frame. A wide grin crossed his face.
“A bloody Ogryn.”
“And one of my personal bodyguards and my friend.’ The dark-haired man was now next to her, standing a good head taller and twice as wide. He placed a reassuring hand on the Ogryn’s chest. “Put the lady down Dombi, she is one of us now”.
Juliana shrugged her shoulders and then looked at the other man’s offered hand.

“Three minutes Boss.” Warned the Adept.

“I am Morthen Stroms”. Juliana looked at the hand and then studied the Adept and Ogryn once more. She frowned.
“How the hell in the Emperor’s name did you all get in here without being discovered? Where are the Enforcers?”
“Two minutes Boss.”
“They are two minutes away Juliana. Would you like to accept my offer?”
“I guess.”
“Good. You have no idea what adventures await you.”
Juliana hesitated for a few seconds, pouring over the last few minutes. She did not relish spending the rest of her days in the mines and a slow death, or frying her brains in the electric chair. If this was a way out, albeit temporary, then she would take it. This crew seemed to know their stuff and this Stroms person was obviously a professional.

I suppose I can try to escape another time, once I’m out of this fix.
Stroms cocked his head.

She smiled and then took Stroms hand and shook it vigorously.
“Sure, I’m in. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say. Now, if you can get in here, you can get out…. Right?”
Stroms smiled.
“Absolutely.”

* * *

Chapter Two
Escape/Corruption/Realisation

ORDERS BE DAMNED, thought Juliana. The situation was critical and there was no time for niceties. Incoming fire would not be diverted by just faith alone.

Juliana knew that Stroms orders were explicit; no unnecessary casualties and no excessive destruction of property. To him, the agents of the Imperium, the soldiers and the law, were not enemies, just the misinformed and the ignorant. To him, everyone could be saved and brought back into the light once they knew the truth. All of them could be released from their shackles and blissful dogma.
Juliana knew that she would have to face Stroms and explain her actions later.
Now her co-pilot would have to test his marksmanship skills.

Eadfrid opened fire with everything they had.

The heavy-bolter and the Eldar weapon were very impressive, but the Hellstrikes were the key to their escape. They opened up one of the hanger walls like a sledgehammer against a pane of glass.
A trillion pieces of exploding metal and rockcrete brought everyone’s attention to that one single point, and all heads turned.
The cataclysmic noise, the ever-growing fireball and the thick, dense wall of smoke immediately concentrated the senses. It was just the kind of diversion that Juliana needed to get out.
With engines screaming well over their tolerance levels, Juliana pulled back on the throttle levers and the predatory craft accelerated through the gap they had just formed.
Their hunters were caught completely by surprise.
The over-bearing momentum of the craft and the burning engines caused them to dive for cover and scatter.

Just as the craft cleared the hanger, Eadfrid fired off two anti-missile flares which caused even more pandemonium as they ricocheted off the walls and vehicles and caused numerous fires and small explosions.
The Sky Talon roared out of the hanger like a carnivorous raptor floating on a tail of fire and smoke. With a thunderclap of sound, they shot out and across the open wasteland beyond. Juliana had already turned it into a nearby street before a hasty defence could even be mounted. The vessels 75mm armour was easily a match for the spattering of las-fire that did come up at them.

+ Good flying +
+ Good firing +
+ Casualties… zero +

This part of the Hive was made up of block upon dreary block of light industrial complexes, Manufactorums and furnaces. At various intervals, bulbous chimneys and moisture dissipater’s sprouted up like smoking abscesses. They ejected clouds of dirty gas into the air, adding to the layer of smog and pollution that hung above the Hive in a brown stain. Bland workers habs surrounded the area like parasites feeding off algae with roads and highways cutting through them in a seemingly random pattern. Nearer to the massive Hive spires were tall Tsiolkovsky towers growing out of the ground like spindly limbs. They reached up into the clouds above, feeding small shuttles and supply craft that fluttered around their length like small fussing insects. Their endless dance did not seem to be effected by the fighting that was going on in the streets below.

Spirals of smoke drifted up into the sky which appeared to mark out the front lines. Juliana noticed that more and more of them were sprouting up all around her as time progressed. Small flocks of military carriers floated above the Hive, moving backwards and forwards as if engaged in some hidden dance. A great billowing fireball snaked up from a street only one block away from the Sky Talon and a second later it was rocked by the pressure wave from exploding munitions.
This was not the usual sign of civil un-rest, this was much, much more. There was a plan here and a conscious mind behind it all. If the higher authorities could see it, they seemed either powerless to intervene or actually chose not to.
Juliana knew that Stroms would not have brought them here if he had the slightest suspicion that the planet would be in turmoil. He would never knowingly put them in danger as the risks were too high.

Unless, she thought?
Unless, he had something else in mind that he had not shared with any of them.
Juliana was aware that there were Navy fighters flying high in the clouds high above them, circling like carrion birds and waiting to dive down for a kill. She also knew that if she stuck her nose up too high she was sure to be seen.
She kept the craft low, skimming the road surface like a hover board. The streets were mainly clear of vehicular traffic and people so she could afford to increase her speed a little more.

This is not good. Where is everyone?

When she was sure she was well away from the hanger she opened the internal vox. Something was niggling her. Something did not seem right.
She trusted her instincts.

“Did anyone see the markings on those vehicles back there?”
Juliana had spent a life of crime; she was a professional lawbreaker. She had brushed shoulders with the authorities all her life and knew them well.
+ PDF + said Garcha in his deep distinctive voice, quickly adding + A strange colour scheme though +
+ Definitely Arbites + Mubarak corrected. He had probably been the closest to the arriving vehicles and knew the difference between military markings and those of the law enforcers.
+ Yeah Arbites. I saw meat wagons and crowd pacifiers +
Juliana felt somewhat reassured as she thought of Stroms and Ó Báire, alone out there in the Hive. The military might have been a problem to them, but local law was no match for their resourcefulness. In any environment, they were more than capable of handling themselves.
+ That settles it then. We get to our RV and wait for them to come to us +

* * *

THE REST OF Orosius’s men entered the meeting room at least a minute later. Stroms and Ó Báire had already left.
“You exasperate me!”, sighed Stroms as he watched Ó Báire set up another booby-trap behind them. “We have no time for this.”

The intrepid ex-Guardsman was giggling to himself like a small child. He was actually enjoying himself despite the predicament they were in. He was an expert in explosives and he relished the opportunity to show off his skills whenever the occasion presented itself.
Two of his devices had already gone off killing or maiming many of their pursuers. His latest trap consisted of anti-personnel mine in the overhead venting system which would activate the moment anyone entered this section of corridor.
“I am a master at what I do.” Ó Báire bragged.

They had cleared the Freak Show, which was now a blazing inferno due in part to Ó Báire’s pyrotechnics and partly because of fighting that was evidently going on elsewhere. They had then taken a side door which lead into what appeared to be a service bay. Each side of the room was stacked high with lubricants and volatile liquids. Rickety shelving housed dubious items of contraband and dust-covered tools and equipment. Vehicle parts and stripped down machines stood like dead automatons, relics of a bygone age.

A single servitor shuffled up and down cleaning spillages with a large suction hose that snaked out of its chest like some grotesque parasite.

As soon as Stroms saw the lost soul he stopped and raised a hopeful eyebrow at his companion. Ó Báire lifted his hands in placation and vigorously shook his head.
“No Boss, No! We have not got time for this.”
Stroms knew he was right, but he still had to try. Their puruers would be cautious and would take their time to clear the corridoors. They would be in no hurry to put themselves in unessessary danger, despite being in the pay of Orosius.
“I must Deaglán my old friend. I am a sucker for people that are down on their luck.”
Ó Báire gripped his elbow. It was a tight grip and he meant business. Stroms easily shrugged him off.
“Those thugs will soon be on us,” said Ó Báire. “We have no time for this. Please Morthen, let this one go.”
“I must try,” hissed Stroms and he added as an afterthought. “You go on. I will catch up.”
Ó Báire was about to turn around then hesitated. He tilted his head slightly.
“Do you hear that Boss?”

There was a long ripping sound followed by a series of small explosions then two, louder distinct cracks that caused the ground to quake.
“Juliana?”
“Yes, it is Juliana.” Stroms sighed. “But she is fine.”

Stroms now stood directly in the path of the servitor and blocked its monotonous journey. By normal standards this model was old and had probably been sweeping this area for over a century. It used to be a male Caucasian, but it was difficult to tell through the layers of grime and filth. Stroms noticed the shapes of faded blue tattoos beneath the dirt, which could have meant the servitor was an ex-hive-ganger or convict. Stroms wondered about the man’s history and his previous life, but he knew from bitter experience that one should never delve too deeply into the mind of a pressed servitor.
Some had pasts that were best left alone.

The servitor stood motionless, staring at Stroms through dull, rheumy grey eyes. Stroms placed a hand on the servitor’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

Designation: Cleaner servitor 24-A-17. Sector 2-0. Property of Rolphus Municipal Parks.

Wake up my friend. Wake up.

The wait was excruciating, but Ó Báire knew it was pointless trying to move Stroms on once he had set his mind on trying to wake one of them up. It took time to bring the unfortunates, as Stroms called them, back to the real world; back to the living.

Ó Báire had seen it done a hundred times before with varying results. Some of them came back and were released to leave a normal life, others remained in their perpetual obsequious state and beyond his means. Occasionally the transition was too much and the servitor died.

Your days in the dark are over my friend. Come to me, join me.

This was proving difficult. The servitor’s code was encrypted and layered in broken, decayed binary. It was indeed old and stuck in a perpetual command loop.
There were beads of sweat on Stroms forehead which was unusually creased with effort. This servitor was proving difficult to recover.

Ó Báire remembered the first time he saw Stroms carry out this procedure and it amazed him so much that he truly became a believer in Stroms and his cause.
A few years before, Stroms had brought back a battle-servitor, a huge half-man, half-machine, with weapon mounts and killing blades. The man/machine had tried to kill Stroms but it was no match for an opponent who had been trained by the best masters from antiquity. Stroms had overwhelmed it with a series of lightning movements and precision attacks. The servitor was disabled and its fighting days were over. Ó Báire saw the servitor return to the man he used to be and was forever indebted to the man he had tried to kill.
The effect was almost instantaneous and the man, Ó Báire knew him only as Robert, became a valuable member of their crew and lived out his remaining life in peace and happiness.
They all did, the unfortunates. Most of the crew of The Alabama were recovered servitors or the lost and dispossessed.

They revered Stroms as their savoir and now devoted their lives to him and the rest of their friends and colleagues.
There were no pressed men on Strom’s ship.

Finally, Stroms gave up. He was breathing heavily and his face was red with effort. The exertion of recovering this servitor was clearly too much for him. He shook his head and looked forlornly at Ó Báire.
“This one will not come back to us, he is too badly corrupted.”

Ó Báire was sympathetic but also secretly frustrated at his friend. Stroms could not save every waif and stray he came in contact with, no matter how hard he tried. The Imperium of Man was so corrupt and decedent, so dark and vast. Trillions of its people lived meaningless existences serving the system, without truly knowing what life was all about and what it meant to really live. Stroms had survived many lifetimes but still lived life to the full, instilling hope and energy into everyone he met. His spirit was contagious, and that is why they, the establishment relentlessly pursued him.

He was a revolutionary, a true leader and someone who could threaten the very survival of the Imperium
That is why they wanted him dead. That is why a Lord Inquisitor hunted him.

And that was why Ó Báire loved him. This rugged man with dark stubble and a tough face with its piercing blue eyes. The grey man, the inconspicuous man, in his ubiquitous long coat and ludicrously pointed boots. A man that was pure of heart and without vices. There was no one quite like him, and that was why Deaglán Ó Báire, the wiry ex-Guardsman who spurned authority and never served any man, would gladly lay down his life for him, and willingly follow him to the ends of the universe and back.
“Let’s go Morthen,” Ó Báire reverted to the less formal title rather than Boss. “We must disappear into the Hive and let our pursuers battle it out amongst themselves.”
Stroms stretched his shoulders back, kneading out some knotted muscles before finally nodding his head. They would move on, always moved on.

Never stop for too long, never tarry, keep going.

Ó Báire dispatched the lone ‘clanner’ who was guarding the small side exit to the outside world. As usual, and Stroms was very impressed, the ex-Guardsman did it with expert precision brought about by years of training. The thug was caught off-guard as he relieved himself out of the open door and into the alleyway beyond.
Ó Báire walked up behind him and bludgeoned him to death with a fire dampener that he had removed from the wall. It was quick, brutal and typical of Ó Báire’s way of fighting. He was a street fighter and a brawler who did not adhere to any of the laws of combat.

As the ‘clanner’ lay cooling face down in a puddle of his own urine, Stroms considered the notion that Ó Báire sometimes took too much satisfaction from killing his enemies.
As if he could almost hear Stroms thoughts he turned and shrugged his shoulders.
“What did I do?”
Stroms picked up the stubber that the man had no more use for.
“You could have…”
“Stunned him? knocked him out? Made him lay down and give up his arms?”
Ó Báire was already on the move, trotting down the alley, his head bobbing left and right looking for targets, checking the angles.

Insufferable
I know


They crossed a wide expanse of rockcrete that was pocked with small shrubs and weeds, and then into the tangled remains of rotten warehouses that looked like they had been neglected for eons. They passed over roads that were pitted and worn and covered in litter and burnt out vehicles. The passed through alleyways and tunnels that were musty and damp.
They had seen rudimentary roadblocks that had been set up at road junctions. They were hasty affairs made up of stacks of furniture, old tyres and anything else that was heavy or would prove to be difficult to cross.
An Arbites Rhino would not even have faltered for a second as it went through them at speed.
There was evidence of fighting everyway; spent cartridges, blast marks and the odd discarded bit of military equipment.

Ó Báire found the first body and suddenly it was all very real.
He was military, the PDF uniform marked him out as such. They thought it was a ‘he’ but it was hard to tell as the body was burnt beyond all recognition. A military flamer does that to you.

“What do you think?”, Ó Báire asked matter-of-factly, as he tapped the cadaver with his boot.
Stroms knelt down and lowered his face almost to its chest. He closed his eyes and probed it with his mind.
“I think things have suddenly turned serious.” He murmured sarcastically. “This man is not what he seems.”
Ó Báire grimaced and turned away. He made an act of scanning their rear for any follow up but Stroms knew it was just for show.
Quite uncharacteristically, Ó Báire appeared to be spooked and his mind a sea of condradictions.

The Ex-Guardsman used the Mag-scope on his Lasgun to look deep into the shadows, especially those at the base of the surrounding buildings. There did not appear to be anyone following them, either the authorities or Orosius’s men. Stroms mused to himself that the cartel leader had a greater enemy to deal with now, an impeccable enemy that would utterly destroy his all-powerful empire. Stroms and his group of misfits and vagabonds were not an immediate priority. They were now on their own.

They crossed a wasteland that was stained yellow from industrial effluent, before reaching the tenement blocks beyond. These were standard ten-story, self-contained, workers habs designed and built by The Mechanicum for their workers who trudged day and night to the Manufactrums nearby. They were drab grey buildings with row upon row of small windows and doors. They were all uniform and without any character. Graffiti and fire damage covered their walls.
Piles of refuge, burnt-out vehicles and the detritus of a hundred years of neglect lined the streets and carpeted the open areas. It was a scene of utter abandonment. Clearly the well-being of its citizens was not high on the local Administratum’s list of responsibilities

The habs were empty and had been hastily abandoned. Wherever the tenants were, they were not in these blocks or the surrounding area.
A palpable feeling of anticipation filled the air. It felt like the silent and still coolness before a heavy rain storm. Stroms and Ó Báire quickened their pace.
They cautiously entered the nearest one and immediately arrived in a kilometre-long corridor lined with non-descript doors. Each one had the occupiers name stamped on the front in bold automated font. Most of the doors were locked, but the odd few were open.
Ó Báire took a cursory look into each one.

“All empty. Some were cleared in a hurry.”
“From what I wonder.” Said Stroms, almost to himself, though he thought he already knew the answer. The citizens had left leaving everything behind them. If they had left with time on their hands they would have taken personal items and items of value. If they were in a hurry they would have taken essential items that would help their flight. These people left everything behind. They had left very quickly.
“This is a mystery. They have left behind valuables and anything of any use. What is going on boss?”
Stroms shook his head.
“A storm is coming and we need to get well away from here.”

As they moved through the dull, monotonous throughways and rooms, they began to hear the sound of distant fighting. There were dull crumps at first, then long rattles of heavy weapons. Soon they could hear the clatter of vehicle tracks and a background hum of voices, shouts and commands.
Stroms and Ó Báire kept low and to the shadows and even though Stroms put a screen of concealment around them, they took no chances.
Get down!

Ó Báire hit the dirty, rubble-strewn floor and brought his Lasgun up into his shoulder. Stroms was a little less dramatic and remained on one knee.
They could hear an engine throbbing from just the other side of the wall. It did not matter whether they were PDF or dissidents, it made no difference, both sides were potential enemies now. Ó Báire shuffled up to Stroms and then dared a look around the doorframe. When he looked back he rolled his eyes.
“A road block. Two armoured personnel carriers with a fuggin’ Hellhound to the rear. Lots of troops milling around. They are wearing PDF uniforms.” He shrugged. “That is all I could see.”
Stroms sat back against the wall and closed his eyes.
“Cover me.” He whispered.

* * *

STROMS LET his mind lift and leave his body. He passed through the wall and across to the vehicle barrier.
He knew straight away that something was not right. This scene was a lie.

The soldiers looked like PDF and moved like PDF but something was out of cinque. Their movements were awkward and seemed almost pained. Stroms could feel an inner turmoil brewing just below the surface but all around him. There was unrest that was slowly being released and bringing a tiny fragment of relief to those it effected.
He found the officer, or at least the one wearing officer’s epaulettes, and prodded his mind.
He immediately regretted the intrusion.
What should have been an analytical mind, a mind full of duty and honour to his men and the Emperor, was now filled with hate, violence and a darkness.

Deaglán?
Boss?
This is worse than I thought.


He drew back from the officer and back into his own body.
“Time to go.”
“Boss?”
“This is not a local insurrection; this is a war!”

* * *

THEY RAN AS fast as they could away from the road block, away from the hab area, and away from this new threat.
They ran until Ó Báire pulled at his elbow and begged them to stop.
“We have not got the time Deaglán.” Stroms gasped. “The clock is ticking and we must get to the pick up as soon as we can.”
“Enough of your… riddles…” Ó Báire hissed between deep gulps of air. He pulled up fast and then bent over at the waist, his body heaving with the effort. “I have seen you… agitated, but this… is ridiculous.” Stroms stopped running and walked back. He had forgotten that the air on Rolphus was thinner than they were used to. He could run all day and not feel the effects, but his companion was not getting any younger.
“Here,” he said in a soothing tone that made Ó Báire look up. Stroms held out a small, silver hip flask. “It will make you feel better.”
With a beaming smile etched on his face, Ó Báire happily accepted his friends offering and helped himself to a long pull on the liquid it contained.

The results were instantaneous.

“Gunearth Ale?”. Stroms nodded.
“Where in the Emperor’s name did you find this?”. The rogue studied the flask with renewed interest. Gunearth Ale was renowned for its rejuvenation properties. It was a rare tipple that Ó Báire had not tasted for many years.
“I always carry some… for emergencies.”
Ó Báire sat down.
They were in an ornamental garden hidden on all sides by tall moss-covered walls. The flowers and shrubs were in full bloom, but despite it being mid-summer, they seemed sickly and withered. Some of the hardy shrubs had died and were now plagued by small swarms of flies.
A musty smell permeated everything.
Stroms noticed that there were no insects or birds around where they should have been present in large numbers. A small water fountain bubbled oily water into a green sink hole. The sound seemed sad and melancholy.
Stroms relented. They would rest a while.

“Mutants.” He said almost casually. Ó Báire looked up, an eyebrow raised. “This city,” said Stroms, “Maybe even this whole planet is corrupted.”
“Chaos?”, Ó Báire suggested.
Stroms shook his head.
“No, thankfully not. But this planet is so dirty, and so polluted, that its citizens are naturally changing. It is almost as if Mother Nature has decided that she should adapt the people to this new world of filth and pestilence...”
“Mother Nature?” Ó Báire quizzed. Stroms smiled almost paternally.
“Evolution. Natural development. Advancement? That is what I mean by that. It is an old time saying.” He raised his eyebrows to confirm that his friend understood. “That patrol, and a good deal of the populace we have seen are mutants. It is subtle but it is there beneath the surface.”
“Why the rush,” Ó Báire asked. “Are they a threat to us?”
Stroms shook his head.
“No, not really. In fact, this could positively aid us, but once Martinez discovers what is going on here, he will not tolerate it for an instant. He is duty bound to act. He has no choice but to stop his pursuit of us and deal with this new crisis. He will neutralise this aberration with all the subtlety we associate with the Great Hammer of the Inquisition. He will be forced to cleanse the population before he comes back for us.”
“And by that time we will be long gone.”
“Absolutely.”
“What is our future?” Ó Báire tentatively asked. Stroms cocked his head and then leant over and squeezed his friends forearm.
“Positively rosy, Deaglán my old friend, but looking into the future is not a precise art and not always certain. There are an infinite number of paths in front of us depending on what we or those around us do. At the moment I know that we will be fine, but who knows?”

There was a long pause whilst each of them was caught up in their own thoughts.

Ó Báire looked up at his friend.
“When were your doubts about Orosius confirmed?”
Stroms was studying an Auspex in the palm of his hand. He never looked up but replied matter-of-factly.
“He confirmed it when he mentioned our two brothers-in-arms.”
Ó Báire grinned.
“The hammer and the anvil.”
“Yes, subtlety put. But never in all my dealings with him or the cartel, have I ever mentioned them or their existence. Their mere presence here on this planet or anywhere else in fact, would cause its own particular problems”
“Intolerable.” They both said together and then smiled. Their thoughts were with two of their friends up there in orbit on The Alabama. Ó Báire subconsciously looked up to the sky as if he was looking for their reassuring faces.
“We could sure do with them now.” Ó Báire considered.
“They would sort this sorry mess out to be sure.” Stroms agreed. “But I fear we will need their skills later when we extract from here and move on.”
“Two days.” Ó Báire added.
“Yes. We have two days while the planet comes down around our ears.” He paused. “I would love to see Martinez’s face when he sees what we have done.”
Ó Báire smiled back, a cheeky almost child-like smile.
“Oh yes, he is going to be incensed.”

* * *

.

"Death occurs when a lethal projectile comes together in time and space with a suitable target, in the absence of appropriate armour or protection”


Check out my 40K 'Epic' about the Hunted verses the Inquisition: https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...98#post2184698

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