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post #31 of 48 (permalink) Old 07-15-18, 06:55 PM Thread Starter
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Planet Thapus
The Drainus System

GORD HIVE WAS burning and Osery Hive was at the point of being overrun. Four more of the planets great cities were in danger of falling.
A catastrophe was looming.

For six days and six nights battles had raged through the city’s streets, subways, transportation levels and habitation blocks. Entire suburbs were shrouded in smoke and violence and had been lost to the rule of the mob. In Gord, the magnificent Sicuro Di Fulvio shopping District which was famous for its boutiques and exotic eateries, the thousand-year old Metro station and the cathedral to the Blessed Saint Flekie (may his vision inspire us all), were a looted, desolate wilderness.
The District seven Arbites Precinct house was a smouldering ruin with its armouries and underground vehicle parks stripped of anything that could be utilised.
All but two of Gords great spires, which dominated the landscape for miles around, were shrouded in smoke.

The authorities called it a catastrophe. The citizenry called it a reckoning.

The local government agencies had brought it upon themselves. There had been months of simmering tensions between the various gangs, the cartels and the all-round no good, which had not been helped with increased Arbite activity and an unwelcome rise in taxes on basic food substances. These factors, along with an uncharacteristically long and hot Summertide, had caused an eruption of violence not seen for many years.

Unruliness and anarchy ruled and law and order were breaking down. People were being murdered for a slice of mouldy bread and buildings were being put to the flame for not paying their dues to the gangs that now ruled the streets.
But there was worse yet to come. The real battle was yet to be fought.

For Morthen Stroms and his team, this was a perfect time to slip into Gord Hive unnoticed.

MORTHEN STROMS. Outcast. Fugitive. Heretic.


He was the leader of a group of very hard and capable individuals who travelled by his side looking for sanctuary and peace. They did not abide by Imperial Laws, nor did they recognise The Imperial Truth.

To follow such a man as Stroms came at a price and they were now classed as Columbaries... criminals and outlaws like him.

They would receive no quarter from any agent hunting them. Nor was it expected or likely to be returned.

But Stroms and his crew were not on Thapus to meet any representatives of the Imperium, they were there to carry out business.

. . .

THE VALKYRIE SKY Talon bearing the colours and insignia of the 22nd Thapus PDF Auxiliary Squadron slipped down through the thick grey upper atmospheric smog, and into a meandering pattern between the towers and hab blocks below.

Stroms was understandably pleased with himself and was happy with this latest endeavour of his. It had taken some hard negotiations with representatives of the criminal underworld, and some devious manipulation of a few local officials to set up this meeting, but the small cost in credits and platinum would pay mighty dividends later on.
They were nearly there now and he hoped it was all worth it. Now all they had to do was avoid the fighter patrols and ground fire.

Below them was a vast grey and brown wave of humanity that flowed between the buildings towards the outer wall and the relative safety of the plains beyond.

The citizens of Gord were leaving the slaughter and death and destruction behind them. The authorities had forsaken them so they would rather take their chances beyond the walls than face uncertainty if they stayed.
Some, those that were unable to continue the long walk, dropped where they could and here and there, small communities of tents and shelters began sprouting up like patches of multi-coloured fungus in a sea of moving drabness.

The Sky Talon dipped and waved above them, releasing chaff at intervals to confuse surface-to-air missiles.
Its female pilot wore a regulation flying helmet and regulation flying gear, but when she flicked up the visor on her helmet and shook her head, she did so with ultramarine blue eyes below delicately-manicured, and strictly unmilitary eyebrows. Her brilliant red lipstick would have turned a drill instructor apoplectic with rage.

“This looks really bad...”, she whispered into the com, tapping her gunner on the shoulder with the toe of her boot.
“It is most perplexing.” He replied, shaking his hooded head slowly.

A standard Imperial Sky Talon is designed to carry small vehicles, troops and supplies into a warzone. It usually has a single, bubble cockpit where the pilot flies the aircraft but was also responsible for the weapons systems aboard.

This Sky Talon was non-standard.

This craft had two cockpits, one above the other. The pilot sat in the cockpit above the gunner, which meant that they could both concentrate on their perspective roles. It was an edge that had got them out of many tight fixes.
The gunner was an Ex-Mechanicum artisan called Eadfrid. He was a diminutive figure who was swamped by the controls around him. It was Eadfrid’s abilities to build just about anything, who had rebuilt the aircraft including an array of non-standard weapons systems and counter-measures.

Eadfrid hummed a nonsensical tune as he readied all the systems for landing.

Morthern Stroms was sitting with the rest of the crew below and behind them in the cargo compartment. He nodded in agreement with Juliana’s comment. The intelligence they were receiving indicated that the troubles in the city and outer districts, was far worse than they had imagined. The mob had seized control of most of the major facilities and the authorities were nowhere to be seen. Ahead of them and standing above a layer of black smoke was a stack of three small towers.

Take us over there Juliana

Although she was separated from Stroms, Juliana guided the Sky Talon towards the towers he was looking at.

Stroms was good at doing things like that. He was, after all, an alpha-level Psyker.

Juliana sensed, rather than saw, the three buildings that he had shown her and immediately turned the aircraft in that direction, easing the ship into a tight curve that caused the superstructure to shudder.

The main Auspex had not picked anything up in its sweeps, but that did not mean that something or someone was not out there. Despite Garxan Mansmay’s excellent skills and natural abilities, even he, the ex-Martian Magos who had worked alongside the best minds in the Imperium, was not a miracle worker. The Valkyrie was over two hundred years old, and before the team requisitioned it, it had seen some heavy-duty combat over a period of many decades. Some of the electrical systems were verging on antique and hardly reliable.

“Juliana, my dearest friend,” Mansmay would often say in his monotone, metallic voice, “One cannot seal a black hole with an adhesive bandage.”

“He’s a plucky one this…” said Stroms. “Juliana, we have company.”

A crackling drawl filled the cockpit.

+ Call sign designation Niner-Nine-Four-Alpha. Be aware, you are entering a hostile environment. Martial Law has been imposed below and flying has been restricted. Ground units have surface-to-air capability so it’s not safe. This airspace is now out of bounds to all military traffic until ground forces have restored order. Change course to two-one-six-five and await further instructions +

Stroms sensed the interceptor before he saw it settle in off their starboard wing. It was a Mark Seven Mohapi-class Lightning, which was more accustomed to ship to ship battles than escorting heavy lifters.

Stroms had to give the fighter pilot some credit, he was on them so quickly that they never saw him coming. He looked up and raised an eyebrow towards one of his companions.

“Do you think he’ll notice the changes on this thing?”

Not now

Juliana coughed before switching to internal comms.
“Do your thing Boss, we haven't got much time. If he realises what we are…”

We are camouflaged to him, do not worry

The fighter had reduced its speed to match the Sky Talon and Stroms could see the Lightning pilot staring back at them through a tinted visor. He was pointing left with a gauntleted finger.

Stroms shook his head.

“Do the correct thing first Eadfrid. Let’s try and do this the proper way before I try anything else.”
The Adept straightened up and a second later a long, thin tendril appeared from his sleeve and plugged into the secondary dashboard controls in front of him.

“Two-one-five. We are a Medicae vessel delivering urgent supplies to the…” he paused, “Red-One sector. We carry the personal authority of Colonel Aare Peetre himself.” He shrugged then added, with a touch of desperation, “There are men dying down there.”

The Lightning pilot was quiet for what seemed like an eternity before replying.

+ Listen, pal, I have my orders. Nothing is to go through until they have cleared the streets down there. Please don’t make it difficult for me. Just turn around and go back, I am sure they will be fine without you. It’s only gang vermin and the usual Hive scum. Nothing that cannot be sorted out soon I am sure, Over +

The pilot sounded desperate and felt like a plea rather than an order. Stroms almost felt sorry for him… almost.

The temperature in the cargo compartment of the Valkyrie suddenly dropped and hoarfrost began forming on the internal panels around them.

They heard Juliana gasp.
+ It’s suddenly gone cold. Are you doing your thing now? +

Stroms had closed his eyes and released a small tendril of his hidden power.

A second or two later, the Lightning suddenly veered left and a second after that its afterburners exploded into life, hurtling it up and out of sight into the clouds above them.

+ I love it when you do that+ Juliana teased, +What did you plant into his mind this time? +

Stroms grinned and leant back into his seat, placing his hands behind his head.

“Juliana, I must remind you that I must only use my gifts sparingly and not for your personal amusement.” He studied the cockpit instruments in front of him and then bowed forward and flipped a switch.

+ Never mind that + Juliana pressed + What did you do? +

“It was boring really. The pilot was so starchy, so… straight-laced and trouble. I needed to put the fear of death into him…”

+ And…? +

“I merely placed two Necron Doom Scythe fighters on his tail.”

“Doom Scythes?” Eadfrid, the Adept spluttered in his high-pitched voice, frowning at Stroms from beneath his hood. “What in the Omnissiah’s name are they?”

“Nasty,” Stroms replied, lowering his voice almost to a whisper. “Horrible entities with even more abominable attack craft. I despise them above all things.”

“Well I have seen most things in this universe but have never heard of these… Necrons, whatever they are? I am sure as damn that he has no clue what they are either.”

“Probably not,” said Stroms. “But I implanted a pretty nasty image of what one looks like into his mind and to face one is to face a living nightmare.”

Juliana could be heard to sigh over the comm.
+ I don’t really know you, do I? +

“Nope.”

“Morthern,” Eadfrid interrupted. “We are here.”

. . .

.

"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 #32 of 48 (permalink) Old 07-15-18, 07:28 PM Thread Starter
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~DRAMATIS PERSONAE~
Introducing
Juliana Zadian
(Present designation - unconfirmed)


++ 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
.


Of course, she was drunk again, but now this was her usual state of being. Drink helped her cope, drink 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 my girl, you sure outdid yourself this time

She gingerly placed a palm to her forehead. It was pounding like the pistons in a Titans leg, and her mouth tasted like… well, like an Ork’s armpit.

Oh Crap

It had been two days this time; a mammoth bender of epic proportions that had gone well beyond her usual limits. Now she was up and would pay the price for her overindulgence.

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 drunk tank.”

Juliana knew that whoever was behind the voice was not going to go away. It was the law and the law was always unforgiving and uncompromising. She knew that her brief 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 life’s degenerates and inebriates. She would rather face a roll around with a Grox than that.

“Go away’ she spluttered through dry lips, “Why don’t you find someone else to hassle”.
There was the tap again but 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, 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 grey sky above. 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?

Despite her logical mind and her legendary self-control and professionalism (apparent), Juliana felt anger welling up inside her. She knew that this was irrational, but damn it, how dare this lowly street plodder interfere with her wellbeing and enter her life at this point in time? How dare he?

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

The illogical switch in Juliana’s head suddenly 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 decided on 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 thud and Juliana made sure he stayed down with a hard blow between his shoulder blades.
She was allowed a momentary pause of satisfaction before her world 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 hesitantly 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 and if she thought her life before was bad, it was surely about to get much worse. Her malevolence towards authority had now cost her dearly. Assault on a law enforcement officer carried the death sentence on many worlds.
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. Her analytical mind went into action as she planned the next stage of her life.

She was in a small room with a door behind her. There was a small, barred window straight ahead with dirty glass beyond that.

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.
To the left of her was another 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. He looked like a typical career officer, 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 concealed weapon, maybe 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 in a bored voice.
Juliana placed her hands behind her head, shrugging her shoulders. She gazed at the off-white 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. She realised then that 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. She stared back, deep into his soul.
Smart, very smart

The room was now deadly silent. Even the background noise of a busy Precinct House seemed to have gone. The rotating fan seemed to have stopped.

Julian leaned forward. On the desk was a small metallic disc. She tapped it with her right 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 began to pool 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. There was a satisfied smile at the corners of his mouth.

“You are wanted in three different sub-systems.”

Juliana wiped the blood from her eyes and shook her head to clear the onset of passing out. “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 question caught her by surprise. It was the last thing she expected. She gave her forearm a quick glance.
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. 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 which struck 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 calmly. ‘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 you are not a native here, you are classified as 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 slowly 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.
“Funny. It’s not like I am going anywhere anyway.”

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? Would the chair go or would they tip her backwards again?

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 reckoning. 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, black hair and a face criss-crossed with scars. He had a strong chin with a hint of shadow. She could not discern his age, but 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…”
Juliana detected an accent there, but she could not quite place where it was from.

Where have I heard that before?

Then she realised. Many years ago, she had been chewed out by an aristocratic officer from some nameless regiment on some nameless battlefield. He had come from… Terra. Throne, this guy was from the Throne world itself.

“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 any 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 back. “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 inside her head.

“Who the Fug is in my head?” She turned on the Adept but realised that it was not him 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 to talk 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 Emperor’s agents 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 an 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, come 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.

“My name is 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.”



* * *

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The Cartel


JULIANA BROUGHT THEM in onto what at first glance appeared to be a disused sports pitch or a recreation plaza on the North-East edge of the Hive, though no games had been played here for some time and any thought of sitting down and relaxing was a distant memory as the very earth was toxic and deadly. The strip was far enough away from any of the trouble spots within the Hive so they would not receive any unwarranted attention. Tucked in amongst blocks of pre-fabs and Mechanicum Factories, the small landing site was naturally hidden by the overhangs and paraphernalia of an overbuilt, overcrowded tenement area.
It was wonderfully camouflaged and ideal for contraband smuggling and moving around unseen.

Juliana cut the engines and the cockpit went silent.
She quickly removed her helmet and un-ceremonially tossed it to one side, she then retrieved a pair of sunglasses from a pocket in her flight jacket and put them on.
Stroms met her at the bottom of the ladder.

He gently took her by the wrist.
“I need you to remain here with the engine warm and ready.” He said, handing her a Laspistol. She tucked it into a holster on her hip. She cocked her head to one side.

“Eadfrid can fly this thing just as well as me,” she began and then paused. “Well not quite as good, but he has done combat retrievals.”

“I know, but that crazy Adept is too Codex-compliant.”
Juliana raised an eyebrow.

“Eadfrid is too by the book.” Stroms continued. “You are instinctive so I need you here. Eadfrid will be in the cargo compartment watching traffic.”
“But these vermin cannot be trusted Morthen.”
“I’ll be fine. Trust me.”

Always
“They are here.”


A tracked vehicle moved slowly towards them, creeping out of the shadows like a bulbous beetle. It’s servitor driver looked like a stuffed patchwork doll that had seen better days. It struggled with its control wheels for what seemed like an eternity until it eventually attached its hook to the front landing gear of the Valkyrie. With a loud shrieking of gears followed by a large plume of black smoke, the tracked vehicle began to slowly tow the aircraft towards a large hangar-like building nearby.
Once inside, the two-storey corrugated Plasteel blast doors closed slowly behind them.

Stroms stepped down onto the greasy floor of the hanger and quickly assessed the situation.
They were in some sort of maintenance bay, and the blast doors were of military-grade manufacture. The space inside was easily large enough to house ten Valkyrie’s, but it was empty now save a few storage containers and stacks of unassuming crates. Ahead of them were a series of doors and a wall lined with reflective windows.

Nice and quiet and a nice place for an ambush.

Stroms used his preternatural powers to look through the windows and into the rooms beyond. He could see ground crew and civilians that were employed by the cartel, going about their normal duties. Most of them had been indentured into service by none too friendly means.

He felt fear... and anticipation.

Stroms smiled inwardly as he moved around the rooms like a ghost and nobody was aware of his presence.
Now he found the foot soldiers, the hired muscle. The first line of defence was six stim-bulked ‘clanners’ carrying a variety of ‘Stubbers’ and blades. One casually played with a Krak grenade, which was Imperial Guard-issue, another was wearing a high-grade ballistic vest.
Further to the rear were more of them… a lot of them, including what were obviously Mercs and some ex-military types. Stroms knew that there were too many of them for his crew to handle, but he also knew that numbers were never an issue when you had the edge.

Stroms was always prepared.

He suddenly felt the faint aura of a Psyker somewhere deep within the complex. The Psyker was not active yet and Stroms was tempted to seek him out and challenge him. The presence of this individual was not unexpected, as most criminal organisations employed them. It was totally illegal of course, but this was the underworld after all.

He came back and held up a warning hand.

“Alright, listen in team. There are Six to ten shooters beyond the wall and there are at least a dozen more further on inside. Most of them are hired guns and are tooled up for trouble. They are not just muscle, some of them are assault specialists. There is also a Psyker in there somewhere. I am not sure how good he or she is yet, but I will keep searching.”

The cargo pod on the Valkyrie had been lowered and the rest of his party joined him on the hanger deck. They immediately fanned out into a defensive line.
Stroms nodded towards a wooden crate marked ‘INDUSTRIAL CLEANING FLUID’.

The crate contains a Sentry gun. It’s cold and not powered up

Stroms had dealt with this cartel many times before, but more specifically, its leader. This cartel was at the top of the food chain in this sector and had no natural enemies that actually counted for anything. However, something was different today. Stroms detected that there was an aura of uncertainty and confusion here. Many of the soldiers were very nervous and there was a lot of fingers on triggers. Their minds were full of half questions and vagaries.

The whole set up felt like a trap to Stroms but he was not at all surprised.
There were too many ‘heavies’ for a simple cargo exchange, not to mention the non-standard and very expensive Tarantula Sentry Gun guarding the approaches. This spoke of clients with troubles and serious trust issues.

“Juliana. I smell a rat. Keep the engines hot. I have a feeling that we might have to leave in a hurry.”

+ Yes, Boss +

“Dombi can join us now. Richart can stay with you and Eadfrid. Dombi’s presence during the negotiations will make this mob even more nervous and when someone is nervous they make mistakes. Tell him... very carefully, that he is to bring no heavy weaponry with him as I have already made arrangements for later. He can bring pistols and light stuff, but that is all.”

+ Affirmative Boss. Dombi is on his way. He’s very excited +

The hanger boomed into activity as dozens of overhead lights were switched on, illuminating the area with a harsh explosion of white light. There was a crackling sound as an old-fashioned vox system rasped into life.

+ No weapons. Place your weapons onto the ground +

Stroms held up a hand as his companions brought their Lasguns, rifles, plasma pistols and Needle guns up to their shoulders, scanning for the source of the voice. Stroms knew that his crew were good, but now was not the time for a fire-fight.

“Steady. All is good.” He said quietly, signalling for them to lower their weapons.

One of their group, a tall stocky man wearing a mixed bag of combat clothing and equipment stepped forward and waved the barrel of his Lasgun from left to right.

“Ain’t no way we are going in there without weapons”, he clipped back in a deep, accented drawl. “We need guarantees.”

There was a long pause before the voice cracked out again.

+ No weapons. Leave your weapons behind and step forward and away from the Valkyrie +

Stroms sighed and visibly dropped his shoulders.
Games. It was all just a power game, a game that he had played out a thousand times.

“Get Fuc…..” The stocky man shouted out, but slightly louder this time.

Cease now!

A few members of his group chuckled and exchanged knowing glances. The man was a doughty ex-Guardsman called Deaglán O’Blaire. He was never cowed and always spoke his mind… unfortunately.

Stroms growled and spared him a blood-freezing stare.

“Eadfrid . Arm the Hellstrike missiles and crank up the Heavy Bolter. Let’s see if these clowns are serious.”

+ Affirmative +

The Valkyrie’s twin engines hummed back into life, and just to make a point, Juliana opened up the throttle, increasing the engines pitch so it became uncomfortable to the ears.
In an instant the sides on the crate containing the sentry gun collapsed and the docile Tarantula clicked and clanked into operation, its twin lascannons shifting left and right trying to acquire its target.

Stroms stepped in front of O’Blaire after placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. He remained impassive, folding his arms across his chest and cocking his head slightly to the right. Dombi now joined him, settling behind his left shoulder. He held an enormous spiked club in his massive hands.
He grinned at Stroms.

The Tarantula’s weapons stopped their search and then the system shut down. The Lascannons noticeably dropped, pointing at the flight deck.

+ Nicely done +

Deaglán, no more confrontation please


O’Blaire stepped forward and placed a large box on the ground in front of them. He then lifted the lid and flicked on a switch inside. A pulsating yellow strobe came from within.
Stroms coughed.

“Now we can play these games all day if you like,” he paused, “Or, my friend Deaglán here will arm the Tau Aedificium Exterminatore device and level this building and all the surrounding streets.”
O’Blaire knelt down and placed a thumb over a large red button.

Don’t overdo it
Boss, it’s me you're talking to.
I know. That is why I am nervous.


* * *


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~DRAMATIS PERSONAE~
Introducing
Deaglán Ó Blaire


Columnarius, Proditor Interfectorem, In circuitu malum ovum (all-round bad egg), Ex-Sergeant Pindaris 44th Heavy Infantry Regiment, Awarded the Medallion Crimson for conspicuous action - despite wounds [very, very bad, almost mortal], during the Medrilles Insurrection, Hero of the Imperium [Honorifica Imperialis - awaits (unconfirmed)], The Triple Skull Medal - Storia Pacification, Regimental heavyweight Boxing champion [3 years running], Guerrilla fighter, Mercenary, Assassin, Ork-killa, general dogsbody, Connoisseur of fine Amsec’s and Vittles’

~Lover Extraordinaire~

+ Scribes NB: Descriptive added by Deaglán Ó Báire (Read only) +

++ Personal Reminiscences 71/7172 - Morthen Stroms. ++


It was ten, no, eleven years ago in an eatery… no, a Tavern on… the name of the planet's name has always escaped me.

I was sitting alone at a table near the bar with a bottle and a half-empty glass. I had just finished a job nearby which had gone particularly well. I wanted to unwind before I moved on.

The bar was dark and discreet and away from the main thoroughfares and roving eyes. Its clientele were rig operators from the nearby spaceport and loners who just wanted to be… alone.

Two Commissarial Provost’s had entered the main drinking area and walked right up to Ó Báire who was sitting on one of those revolving bar seats at the bar itself. Ó Báire was not in any form of uniform that I could remember, not like he does now, but his bearing told me that he was military. If this was the case then the Provost's certainly had jurisdiction over him, on or off duty.

The senior Provost had demanded Ó Báires identity papers and just to emphasise the point, the other had drawn a shock-maul and held it menacingly in front of him.


We, that is Deaglán and I, have often spoken about the incident, and it always brings a smile to my face as Ó Báires version often changes depending on the quantity of Amsec he has consumed or if impressionable ladies are present.

“You see’ drawled Ó Báire, “It was the way they asked me for my papers.”

“You did not have any.” I always corrected.

“No, well no I didn’t,” he smiled. “But that is not the point. It was the way they said it. Something like - ‘you there. Papers now, or it’s the Apothecary for you… or something like that.”

“They were only doing their job Deaglán, that was what they were paid to do.”

“Yes, I know all that. The point was, and I only have my Ma to blame for this, making me all respectful and polite and such... they never said please.”

“Please?”

“Please.”

Now the next part of the story changes often in Ó Báires versions, but this is what actually happened.

At almost supernatural speed, Ó Báire had launched himself at the two Provost’s, taking them completely by surprise. He punched the shock-maul into the first provosts face, knocking him backwards and over a small table. He then ducked low and delivered a steamroller punch into the second man’s solar plexus, doubling him over, before punching upwards and shattering the man’s lower jaw. Ó Báire then leapt forward and delivered a sharp kick to the first Provost’s temple, knocking him out cold.

“I hate fuggin’ Provost’s.” growled Ó Báire and I remembered him winking at me with a mischievous grin on his face.

The room had quickly cleared, and only a few semi-conscious patrons still huddled at the bar, oblivious to what had just happened or kept their heads down and not seeing a thing. The barkeep had disappeared along with his door staff and enforcers.
With the provost’s unconscious and spread-eagled on the filthy floor, I suddenly found myself alone and at a table opposite the tough old fighter. I had almost a full bottle of Amsec in my hand and nothing else, in particular, to do at that particular moment.

Without thinking why, though I am always fond of the rough and ready of the underworld, I picked up the bottle and two glasses and walked up to Ó Báire and joined him at the bar.
The man looked at me with conspiratorial eyes and then gazed longingly at the precious liquor I held in front of me.

“You hold a rare cargo there my friend.” He nodded. I remember looking down at the label and shrugging or something like that. I could not for the love of trying, remember where I had got it.

“Would you care to share it with a poor, lonely Ex-Guardsman like myself?” Ó Báire had added, unconsciously licking his lips in anticipation.

It was at that point, after I had gazed into Ó Báires soul, that I realised that there was a man that I could spend time with. A man of honour and a man who only needed someone like me to follow.
I then found myself pulling up a stool and joining him. I filled the two glasses and slid one across to the burly brawler.


“I think,’ I smiled, ‘that you are going to need this… friend.”
The rough Ex-Guardsman smiled back and then held out a strong hand.

“Deaglán Ó Báires the name, and I think that I am about to enter a whole world of shite.”



* * *

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THE MIDDLE DOOR at the far end of the hanger slowly slid 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 in this lot

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 the 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 ebony 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.

A 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 deeply accented voice and then added as an awkward afterthought.

“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 disdain 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 this 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 Deaglán. Watch for the signs

Stroms took the wiry ex-Guardsman, Dombi, the brooding Mubarak and one of Sergeant Garcha’s men with him. The fourth man in their group was a mercenary was called Bodnár Levente, a native of the feral world Croerus. His face was covered in ritual scaring and his black hair was tied up into a top knot on top of his head. He always had a scowl on his face so people tended to avoid him. He rarely spoke, but when he did, no one could understand what he was saying anyway. He was a solid, dependable man to have during a crisis. Stroms valued the man’s skill with his curved hunting knife.

He left Sergeant Garcha with O’Blaire’s box and two more of his group with 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 Principal – 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, which was 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 or she is not major League… I mean that it is not a high level operative, but I want you to hunt it down and study its 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


.

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MONEY. POWER. RESPECT.

Bartollt Júter, Capo Crimini of the Vardaro cartel had all of these and more. He also had the ear and lined Thapus and of the Planetary Governor. What he did not know about Thapus and its workings was not worth knowing about. Júter’s 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.

Júter was the true leader here in the city and probably on the planet, Júter 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. Júter 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.

“Here we go again.” Growled Ó Báire.

+ You have come to the freak show I guess? +

Ó Báire rolled his eyes. He had walked this route many times before 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 Bartollt Júter’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 contorted 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.

Ó Báire laughed.
+ We would not want that now, would we? +

Thoughts only
Got it


Stroms knew that Bien Hoc was tracking down Júter ’s Psyker. But at the moment it was all 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 viewing 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 decided to busy 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 she 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 Júter‘s 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. “Bartollt 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 Júter 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 Viewing 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 leads a parasitic lifestyle.

Bartollt Júter, 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 if an invisible wand had 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 Júter,” Stroms replied, using the formal address. He opened up with a beaming smile and his arms spread wide. “Is there anything wrong. 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. Júter is a wily fox who can never be trusted
Fox?
Red-coloured hound
You crack me up!


“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 a glass.
“Already have, thanks.” He replied cheerily.
The teachers smile disappeared in an instant.
“Enjoy my hospitality.”

Deaglán, please, not now
He started it boss


The rogue raised his glass again casually surveying the muscle that was gathered around the room. One of them stood out from the rest. This one was much taller and broader than the rest. His face looked like a butcher’s chopping board of scars and cuts. Ó Báire’s face broke into an even wider grin when he noticed him standing there with thunder in his eyes. Ó Báire’ turned back to the screen.

“How did your man over by there, fare after our last visit?”

The large brute 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 moved quickly, standing between them and holding his hands up in mock supplication. Dombi placed a heavy hand on Ó Báire’s shoulder.

“Mister Júter. May I suggest that 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.

Stroms 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.

For some reason the old Psyker was not answering. This in itself was unusual. 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 and now.
He thought about Ó Báire’s concerns and if there was one thing he had learnt about the old campaigner, it was to trust his instincts.

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

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 Júter’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 fighter 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 between us has always been honest and good…”
The cartel chief continued, but Stroms sensed anxiety in every word. The cartel leader was indeed hiding something. He noticed the bottom lip, a slight quiver, a subtle twitch.
“Yes it has.”

You have confirmed what I have known all along my devious friend

“However, 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.

“We are all wanted men here, but 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.” Júter interrupted. You know who I am talking about.”
Stroms cocked his head.

From your lips

“I am wanted on many worlds. I am not sure that I follow you… authorities?”
If the lights seemed to dim and the temperature drop, it was all in the mind. But Stroms felt the tension building up again.

“The Inquisition,” Júter hissed. “The Emperor-loving Inquisition is who I am talking about. What on Thapus have you been up to, to attract that mob’s 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?”

Júter 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?”. He almost hissed Stroms’s last name, and Stroms noted that he 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,” Júter replied almost casually and then looked back at Stroms over his glasses. “Listen Morthern,” he reverted back to a more familiar tone. “Should I be worried that those dogs want to speak to you?”

Mubarak slammed a long crate down onto the nalwood table and looked up at the screen.
“Everyone is after me, it comes with my job. I must reassure you that You are not in danger Mister Júter. 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 no doubt?

Stroms nodded for the other crates he had brought over to be opened.

“You know how it is Mister Júter, I am very good at what I do.”
“Would you like to sell it, I will give you a good price?”
“Not today,” Stroms 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,” the Capo agreed. “The Tau exterminator thing you have then? I will pay you the 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 and the fact that he is a devious ass...
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 Júter would be more interested in what he had in the boxes than his history. He gambled that the Capo’s 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.”
The Capo appeared to be hooked. Gaudy stones and cheap cloth would have done just as well. The Capo was feigning interest and Stroms knew it.

Time. Time was now the key to what happened from now on.

Stroms waved one of Júter’s men forward. He glanced up at the capo.
“May I?”
“Feel free.” Júter 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 Júter’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 Bartollt Júter was chuckling and egging him on before Dea stepped in and knocked him onto his backside with a well-placed palm strike.
The Capo ordered two of his men to take the paralytic wreck away.

“Very good Stroms.”

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 Júter 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 Júter 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, courtesy of the Adeptus Ministorum.”
“They will be pleased.”
“A couple of military-grade Surveyors,” he looked up at the Capo. “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 in a suspender field. The Orks eyes were open and as soon as it saw Stroms its huge fanged jaw began rapidly opening and shutting.

“Apparently it’s a Warboss. It is 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.

The Capo 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 Júter.

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, two thousand Astartes-issue bolter rounds as requested.” He paused. “How are your hidden guests? I thought they might have joined you on this outing?”
Stroms spared Ó Báire a glance and they both placed their flutes down.
“They would draw far too much attention. You know how it is.”

Morthen! Morthen!

Bien. Where have you been?

Get out of there, most expeditiously. Get out now!

Juliana! Fire her up


“We are leaving… Now!”


* * *

.

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CHAPTER 2

The Hunt is on/ Sorores Argentum Gladio/ Escape


Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.
Sun 2 - Ancient Terran Warmaster

The Hunt is on


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, 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 wore gloss black power armour that was trimmed with gold. Bisecting the Imperial Aqullia on his chest plate was the large, glowing red stylised ‘I’ of the Inquisition. He stood with his arms crossed, a picture of invincibility.

He rarely smiled.

This was partly through choice, but mainly because bio-acid from a Tyranid abomination had dissolved half the facial muscles down the right side of his face. Even the biggest smile looked like a deaths-head grimace.
He now wore the teeth of the xenos beast on a golden chain around his neck.

"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 but 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 constructed 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 of old 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 cathedral 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 functioned 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.

If the Inquisitors presence was intimidating in itself, the figure directly behind him was even more of a colossus.
Brother Zoran Berezovsky was a Techmarine from the Adulators Chapter of Space marines. His dark blue power armour, with its white skull Chapter badge was daunting enough but with the extra arms, servos, drills, tools and extra assorted weapons he carried, he towered over Martinez and was truly terrifying to behold. With his bolter at port arms, he looked like a statue from old antiquity.

They both stood silent and still beside and behind the captain of the ship, Huan Hsueh, as she went about her business. She did not spare her visitors a second glance. The captain was not easily frightened.
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 for this notion. 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 heretics 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.”

. . .


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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 a 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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WHAT DO YOU mean it might not be entirely 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 Inquisitor's 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 Inquisitor's 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 Inquisitor's 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 when 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 uncomfortabl 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!”

. . .

.

"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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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, Bodnár Levente, 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 Júter ’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 some stress.
As if on cue she creased her forehead and her hand came up to her temple.

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

“So, it has come to this.” Stroms began.
“Morthern, what are you saying?”
“It was all a façade, all of this. Just to keep me here. I have clearly underestimated you Bartollt. After everything we have shared. You really would sell your soul to the highest bidder wouldn’t you?”
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.

“What can I say? I have a business to run and want to keep it running.” He paused as if he was contemplating what to say next.
“Very important people are looking for you Morthern Stroms. Very important people who will pay the highest price for your capture.”

Stroms laughed and then shook his head. Petty criminals like Bartollt Júter 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.
Bartollt Júter? Well he just thought he was better than anyone else…

“What was it they offered you Bartollt, protection? Riches?”
“No,” the Capo 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.”
Júter grinned back. “I think not, 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.” Stroms said.
There was a tiny flicker in Júter’s left eye.
“It is business Morthen, nothing more, nothing less. It is not personal. I like you, I really do.”
“You have been playing me for time all along haven’t you.”
“Of course,” Júter smirked back. “Time was what I needed.”
Deaglán?

I have it Boss

Stroms opened his arms wide, smiling, but this time it was a big, open, genuine smile.

“Mister Júter, Bartollt.” He sighed. “I have been playing this game for a very long time, a very long time indeed. I was dealing with people like you even before the Ordos came, way before them. Time. Yes, I have plenty of it. You think you have been playing me, no Mister Júter, I have been playing you.” He shook his head and chuckled. “All of you.”

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.
Júter beamed back at him, 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 Júters mind.

You smug, arrogant little man. 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-voxes.
Their anticipation, their excitement and their fear were almost a physical thing to Stroms. He could read every movement, see every sign.

Juliana?

I am here

“Mister Júter,” Stroms had reverted back to his formal manner, but with an almost matter-of-fact tone. “No, Bartollt, may I call you Bartollt?” He gave Dea an almost mischievous grin. Júter frowned back at him, his forehead creased, his manner agitated.

“Do go on… for goodness sake.” The cartel leader raised an irritated eyebrow. “This is not a game you know.”
“My dear Bartollt. This IS a game, a game.” He nodded at Dea again.”

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.” Júter 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 disdain and hate.
Stroms noticed the beads of sweat on the man’s forehead and the way his eyes were darting to the left and to the right.
“What?”, said Júter.
“I asked if you can hear it. Can you hear it Bartollt?”

The deep rumble was now clearly audible and the walls and floor began to vibrate.
The cartel leader gave a knowing nod and appeared to talk to someone off the 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 Bartollt, but as for yours, well, your friends will have no such consideration towards you. In fact, I know they will be extremely un-sympathetic when they realise what has happened.”

Júter 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.” Júter snapped.
“I know … you poxed-up 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 embedding 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 one of his bodyguards.

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 and embedded itself into the wall behind him.

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.
Levente, the fourth member of the party swivelled on his heal and rammed his two blades into the chest of the heavy behind him. The brute gave out a high-pitched squeal before falling heavily forward. The feral warrior from Croerus then pulled out a long-barrelled automatic and shot another clanner in the forehead.

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.

Júter’s men had not fired a single shot in return.

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

“What have you done?”. The cartel leader hissed back.
“Good Luck Bartollt.” 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.
Levente pulled a table in front of him and then emptied the rest of his magazine into the gap.

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 but 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, Levente 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 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.” Said the Ogryn with his face screwed up in confusion.
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 paused for a while and then he nodded.
“Yes, Boss. Dombi will help flying lady. He will see you later.”

. . .


.

"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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