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+++ Local Time: 21:15, 17th Day, 12th Month of the Year 788 M41 +++
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+++ Retrieving data on “Inquisitor Crique – Vital Statistics” +++
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+++ Name: Antony Macharius Crique +++
+++ Birth Date: 16th Day, 12th Month of the Year 706 M41 +++
+++ Height: 190cm +++
+++ Weight: 72 kilos +++
+++ Hair colour: White [Genetic defect Ref 1937ALB] +++
+++ Eye Colour: Red [Genetic defect Ref 1937ALB] +++
+++ Skin: White [Genetic defect Ref 1937ALB] +++
+++ Augmetic enhancements: Replaced left knee 749/M41, replaced right eye 764/M41, replaced lower four vertebrae and left hand 780/M41 +++
+++ Current Location: Unknown. +++
+++ Last known location: Lystan Majoris, 1st Month of the Year 788 M41 +++
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+++ Retrieving data on “Inquisitorial Intervention – Lystan Majoris – Year 740/M41 – Inquisitor Crique” +++
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+++ Accessing classified log entries... +++
I duck as a hail of Inferno shells hammer into the wall behind me, leaving guttering fires to consume the ragged and worn paint that covered the ruined Hab-block. They simply add more charred scars to an already desolate landscape of trashed ground cars and derelict buildings that had been left behind when the ore ran out from the nearby mine and trade had shifted six hundred kilometres west, to the Strensaall Peninsula. I reflect that this would be one of the more ignominious ways to end my career as a newly minted Inquisitor, so to that end, I resolve not to die here; but the cynical part of my mind tells me that most people probably make similar resolutions just before they walk into a projectile travelling at high speed in an opposite direction.
Banishing such thoughts from my mind I mentally review the shots my opponent has expended in the last two minutes. Assuming that they have not had their clips extended, it should be two shots more from the Auto and three from the Laspistol and his guns would be…
“Empty”, “Mad Grox” Modan thinks, but at least the damn stranger had stopped shooting back at him. He has no idea why the man was chasing him all through the neighbourhood, but he didn’t seem to remember that the first rule of survival in the wastes was to keep the initiative. Despite the fact that Modan had been retreating continuously since the albino freak had shouted for him to halt, he was the one who had been leading the dance so far. As a result, the last time he dived for cover, he had ended up behind a rusty and vandalised ground car that he had long ago stashed some basic kit under – in case one of the numerous gangs had ever found his real hideout. For “Mad Grox” Modan, “basic kit” always included at least three weapons. Looking up just in time to see the man break cover and sprint for the corner of the street, he brought his battered shotgun up to the waist and racked shot after shot at the running figure.
Glancing back at my target, I hesitate in my sprint as he stands up with a shotgun nestled in his arms which he appears to have conjured from thin air. I frantically try to alter my straight out run into a zigzag pattern but it’s too late. I grunt and fall into a clumsy shoulder roll as several of the pellets find their mark in my body. Burning pain ignites as I try to get up and instead go sprawling in the dirt – my left leg is refusing to take my weight. Rolling over onto my front, with my breath raising up clouds of choking dust that almost blind me, I begin to crawl one handed towards the cover of the street corner as my shoulder mounted, neurologically linked Lasgun set to Defence/Auto spits bursts of fire at my assailant, causing him to drop behind one of the numerous wrecked cars in the street. Blue-white bolts of laser energy flash around, over, and - in some places - through the thin metal chassis, leaving trickles of molten metal to run down like silver blood from an entry wound in a dirty, unwashed body.
Making the corner and sitting up, I hastily give myself a shot of painkillers and wrap an auto-compress around my thigh to minimise blood loss, occasionally poking my bolt pistol round the corner and letting off a round or two to keep Modan’s head down. The chest armour is probably a write off, I reflect, but at least it had saved my torso from anything worse than bruises. Blood loss from my leg was a problem in the long term, but I planned to finish my work here long before that became a worry. As the painkillers take effect, I try standing again. The leg takes my weight, but running is no longer an option.
“Mad Grox” grins; sure that he has disabled the Imperial agent with a well placed armour-piercing shot or two. None of the local muscle had anything like the fancy shoulder rig this guy was sporting, which meant he was either a top-class bounty hunter or an Imperial, maybe a local Magistratum specialist. As far as he knew, he hadn’t pissed anyone off nearly as much as it would take to hire bounty hunter muscle, which only left one option. There was no way Modan was going to leave him to crawl away and hide somewhere, maybe come back with some buddies... Working his way out of the bolter’s line of fire, he quietly steps closer to the corner, holding his shotgun tight into his shoulder. He rounds the building and stops abruptly. The agent is nowhere to be seen. Modan looks down an empty street with only the wind for company.
Behind him, a manhole slides silently open, a gauntleted hand depositing a cylinder before withdrawing. The manhole slides shut.
Modan spins around, wondering if this is a trick. There’s no cover for a good forty meters, and no way up the building wall. Glancing down, a blinking shape on the ground catches his attention... Frag Grenade! He immediately kicks it across the street and is rewarded with the sight of it demolishing the front of a dilapidated bookstore. Then the shockwave hits him, blasting him down and out.
Shaking his head and looking up, “Mad Grox” Modan notices two things. First, the Imperial has his power sword out and it is humming with suppressed energy an inch from his throat. The smell of burning hair drifts into his sinuses, but he doesn’t dare cough in case the psycho takes it the wrong way. Second, the man is saying something.
“I am Inquisitor Crique, of the Ordo Hereticus. In the name of the Emperor, and by his divine will; I hereby bind you to my service. Your employment will last for a period of six months, beginning now, to be paid the sum of eight thousand crowns upon completion. Also, if you survive, a full pardon for any and all crimes you have committed against the Imperium in the past... Alternatively, you can spend the rest of your life wishing you had accepted my offer. I feel I must point out that you won’t be wishing for very long.”
I see it clock over in his eyes, but I have him cold and he knows it. Trust is going to be difficult to earn and just as hard to keep, but I had gone after the “Mad Grox” because he has a reputation for smarts as well as muscle, and I had seen enough of both today to convince me that he would be useful. With any luck, I could rely on him not to stab me in the back out of wounded pride – besides, not many (relatively) innocent men are willing to try murdering an Inquisitor. Eight thousand crowns is also a lot of money, which I am sure helps him make his decision speedily.
I limp and Modan stumbles (I hate to imagine what a close range frag grenade does to your head) to where I left my personal carrier. Modan notices the blood stains on his new employers clothing and the holes in my armour as I stretch to remove my psy-linked shoulder gun.
“I nearly got you, you know.” He says.
I lower myself into the transport, and wince as I am briefly forced to put my weight on my bad leg.
“The Emperor protects.” I reply.
“I don’t suppose the six millimetres of folded steel breastplate and impact cushioning underlay helped at all then?”
It’s a long journey to get out of the wastes, and I spend most of it filling him in on the work I am performing on his planet. The world of Lystan has been targeted by a cult that has spread across several worlds in this system; The Church of Divine Illumination. To a cursory examination, or even a thorough and in-depth one, the Church appears to be one of thousands of sub-sects of the Ecclesiarchy that are spread across the Imperium, all bent to worship the God-Emperor in His Divine Majesty. What my old master had uncovered years ago, however, was an extremely well concealed and subtle cult devoted to one of the Ruinous Powers.
I refrain from telling Modan the specifics – most humans barely know anything about the primordial darkness we call Chaos apart from what they learn in the scholams and the sermons of their local preacher. The finer points of a cult of Slaanesh do not bear explaining to anyone not directly in the Emperors Service. I also do not tell him that this cult is different to most others we can compare it to. The usual mixture of sexual depravity and gluttony has been mixed with a level of violence and sadism that is uncommon in such cults. Some of the rituals that had been witnessed involved such copious bloodletting that, if I had not known otherwise, I would have insisted were perpetrated in the name of the Blood God, rather than the Prince of Pleasure.
What I could tell him, however, was that I needed him for an operation to take place at some point in the near future. A meeting of the cult leaders on this world was due to take place shortly, and this meeting would be attended by an unknown party from offworld. Not only that, but other worlds where the cult had taken root were going to have a similar meeting at exactly the same time. Our goal was to execute the leaders at this meeting, and capture the offworlder, before rooting out as much of the cult on this world as we could find. Other Inquisitors would be tasked with the same objectives on their respective planets, we would then rendezvous on Imet Ellipse to compare notes and present our findings to the Lord Inquisitor himself. I do not mention that this is my first assignment as an autonomous agent, and that he is only the first of several agents I will recruit to my cause.
Modan takes this all in without much trouble, asking pertinent questions and listening with a negligible amount of fidgeting while I run through the plan.
“So this is basically a smash and grab, right?”
I look at him.
“Not that I’ve ever, um... smashed anything or grabbed someone... um. Ever.” He trails off and then rallies: “But it sounds like some of the jobs I heard some local muscle talking about doing in the bar... this one time...”
“Yes.” I reply. “Fundamentally this is exactly the same as a bank robbery, with one difference.”
“This one has so much more paperwork to fill in afterwards.”
“I don’t have to do any of it, though, right?”
“No, you won’t. Which brings us onto my next topic; we need to make a few stops on our way back to the Capital...”
Walking into the lobby of the Grand Imperial Hotel proved to be a fairly significant mistake. The security had obviously been beefed up due to the presence of the “conference” on the top floor. I was expecting the hotel security guards, even the privately hired bodyguard muscle. The Adeptus Arbites though, they weren’t part of the plan. Someone seriously high up in local government had to be attending this meeting in order to warrant this kind of setup. It was just as well that I hadn’t announced my presence in advance or asked for Arbites assistance – I could well have blown the entire operation across several worlds and been chased off the planet or disappeared, never to be seen again; hardly a magnificent start to my career. Someone has badly fumbled the ball with regards to gathering intel on who the expected parties are, and it is going to cost a lot of good Imperial men their lives who are just doing their jobs. It will be something I remember when we come to rendezvous on Imet, and there will be a reckoning. I do not kill true servants of the Throne lightly.
I stride through the golden revolving doors, and take my time walking up to the black marble reception desk over the plush jade green carpet, using the opportunity to examine the area; the dining area on my left, the stairs and elevators to my right. Straight ahead is the desk and receptionist, with a staircase behind it leading to the staffroom.
“Welcome to the Grand Imperial, Mr…” says the steward behind the counter.
“Jackson. William Jackson.” I reply, this has all been arranged previously, a room booking on the third to top floor – the closest I could get to the meeting which was just about to start.
“Your key sir, and the elevators are over there,” he simpers, pointing. “Please co-operate with the security detail, and you can avoid any unnecessary delays.”
“Thank you.” With that, I turn and walk towards the stairs.
I can see the four Arbites on duty look at each other when I approach. The one who loses the staring competition stands up straighter and moves to intercept me. This is not about to go according to the meticulous plan that I had made up involving a fake security scam outside – which depended on the guards being privately hired, and therefore ignorant of the proper protocol for that situation. I curse whoever the cultist is who can demand security this high.
“Excuse me sir, could…”
He doesn’t get any further, because my silenced autopistol is already sweeping out of the recesses of my jacket and pointed at his head. There is a sound like a muffled cough, and he is suddenly flying backwards, the hollowpoint round making a mess of everything above his neck. The others spend half a second gaping at his tumbling body before grabbing their own weapons. For two of them, that’s half a second too long. My pistol spits twice more, and they are sliding down the wall, leaving ruby red smears on the polished replica marble. By the time the last has cleared his gun, I am already diving low and to my right; his hastily triggered shot flying straight through where I was standing moments before to shatter an ornate mirror on the far wall. Of course he tries to re-adjust his aim, but he is far too late. I pull the trigger once, twice and he goes down with blood spraying from his leg and neck.
The entire encounter has taken less than five seconds, and people are staring, frozen and with dropped jaws. So I stand up and shoot the receptionist, certain in the knowledge that all the staff have been replaced with cultists. He collapses behind his desk. I shift my aim and blow out two of the panes of glass that made up the front of the hotel. That starts the alarms ringing. The score or so of people in the lobby start screaming and bid a hasty exit through the doors. I leave them alone; I am not interested in hapless bystanders, and the more people who get out alive the better. Anyone who knew what was happening and still didn’t run was fair game. Ejecting and replacing the clip from my auto, I pick up a fallen solid slug revolver and move towards the elevators. Moments later, more hotel guards pour through the staffroom door behind reception, and thunder down the stairs. The elevator, still open, gives me enough cover as I lean round the corner and rhythmically pump shot after shot into the armed men spewing into the lobby. As the survivors dive for cover, the hammers click on empty chambers in my pistols. I drop them, and press the button to the top floor. I have no illusions I’d make it that far. The guards were no doubt in vox contact with their confederates throughout the building.
Sure enough, the elevator halts on the 10th floor, and a hail of gunfire hammers into the back wall. It is a shame then, that I have punched out the emergency top hatch and am sitting on the roof of the lift. As soon as the gunfire ceases, I swing my arm down through the opening and release the frag grenade I’d been holding. One explosion later and I am dropping through the hatch into the smoking hallway, twin machine-pistols blurting out short bursts into the few concussed survivors who still hold weapons. Security on all other levels must know my location from the explosion, and are doubtless on their way up and down the stairs. Walking over to the descending staircase, I see Arbites sprinting up the stairs, weapons in hand. I open fire with both machine-pistols, sending up clouds of dust and plaster when I hit the walls and floor, sending up crimson mist when I don’t. One man, running into a double stream of bullets, jerks and twitches before rolling back down the stairs and I grimace - I had only been trying to pin them down with non-fatal injuries.
Reassured that they are moving more cautiously now, I turn my attention to the steps leading up on the other side of the elevators. Ignoring the sporadic return fire from the floor below and dropping my machine-pistols, I liberate a shotgun from one of the more ambitious dead guards and the first mercenary down the stairs gets the stock flat in the stomach. The return swipe strikes his chin in an uppercut, and he goes down hard. The men behind him immediately open fire, but all they have seen is my arm, and they are stumbling over their fallen companion. I poke the barrel of the shotgun round the corner and pull the trigger. The recoil is enormous, and I let it swing the gun back and up towards me. The man who’d got in the way of the buckshot is screaming about his legs and definitely putting his companions off. Obviously I hadn’t aimed high enough. While they are slowed by this obstacle, I run back to the lift and hit the top floor button once more before throwing out a smoke grenade through the closing doors.
I ascend without further incident, with all the security streaming down towards the 10th floor, no-one notices an elevator quietly ascending to the 25th. Stepping out of the somewhat battered lift, I immediately press the emergency stop button on the control panel to stop it being summoned down. There are only two other shafts, and I go to these, pry open the doors and systematically drop a grenade down each. No pursuit is coming that way up. I am about to go to the staircase when I notice a figure clad in a skintight black bodyglove standing at the end of the hall. This occupies my attention quite fully, and I forget about the stairs. The figure is obviously female, but there is something wrong with her proportions – her legs are too long, her shoulders too slender, her eyes slanted behind the dark shadow makeup. I can tell already that she is far more dangerous than any number of hired muscle-men. I can smell something musky and she steps forward in a glide, moving so smoothly she almost seems to levitate across the floor. There is a sense of wrongness about her that I cannot pin down.
“Only one?” the woman asks in a smooth and polished accent, “Your Inquisition is either stupid or overconfident... probably both.”
“Really?” I counter lightly, “I’ve had no problems this far, and I doubt you’ll present more of an obstacle.”
“We’ll see, shall we?” With that, she brings her hands out in front of her, revealing a pair of humming hooked power blades on her wrists, which she raises in a guard style I am not familiar with.
The glorious organization of the Inquisition, serving the God-Emperor of Mankind in his divine protection of our race has several well known traditions, protocols and practices regarding combat with the Archenemy, as well as thousands more that are less well known. None of them involve fighting fair.
“That’s interesting.” I deadpan, before racking the shotgun and pulling the trigger. I blink with the recoil and muzzle flash of the weapon, and consequently only have a split second to react when I see her step off the wall to my left and dive at me with both blades aimed at my chest. She moves so fast I don’t even register how she got out of the way of the shotgun blast or ran along the wall for a good six meters at a ninety degree angle, nor do I have time to do anything other than bring the gun across my chest to block. Suddenly I am on my back on the floor and watching her sail over me, and I swear she blows me a kiss. I roll to my feet and point the shotgun at her again. She frowns and shakes her head. I risk looking at my weapon to discover that it has two glowing holes punched through the clip and the barrel. I look further and notice two matching holes in my chestplate which are only now starting to bleed gently, and the trickles steam into sickly vapour as they run over the superheated metal. I don’t even feel any pain, and a sensation of unreality plays over me as I realise I have come closer to death at that moment than at any previous point in my life. Tearing my eyes away from the wounds in my chest, I look back at the inhumanly fast woman and notice that she is smiling. I drop the useless gun and my long coat, and draw my power sword, which is a good three feet of consecrated and blessed adamantium with an ornate grip and a weighted pommel. I flick the activation switch and the blue energy field crackles into life. Memories briefly play back through my mind of my master presenting me with it on the day I graduated as his Interrogator and became an Inquisitor in my own right before I am jarred back to reality by a movement in front of me.
She is charging at me then, arms weaving back and forwards across her body, the power blades describing a green arc as they spin and flash back and forth, making it impossible to guess where they will be when she gets to me. I don’t bother trying to find out. Waiting until she is scant metres away from me, I risk losing a leg to run two steps forward and drop kick her in the chest. Reeling from the impact, she staggers back and almost falls, all grace lost in that split second of surprise. I turn a neat somersault and land on my feet, poised and ready.
“Now who’s overconfident?” I ask with a sneer. In all honesty, I am surprised. That kick was hard enough to shatter the sternum of a grown man, but she’s not even winded; there must be some serious armour under that bodyglove. Growling inarticulately, she comes on in a more measured approach, keeping her footing steady and feinting to try and draw me out of position. I keep my sword across my body in a basic defensive stance, and I am content to let her dance round it for the time being, at least until I have the true measure of her speed. Adrenaline is pumping through my system and my hands are almost shaking, but my mind is so clear. I’ve never felt this way before, even in the most desperate combats. Suddenly she lunges high at my face, and I deflect her weapon, bringing my blade around in a circle that also picks off the low stab that I knew was on its way in. There are as many forms of combat as there are weapons in the galaxy, and I don’t think I exaggerate too much when I say I am familiar with most of them. The only way she could possibly hope to fight a sword user with short blades like her own was to draw my weapon out of line or to attack from two different directions, otherwise my extra reach and power would prove insurmountable. Even stupendous speed and skill does not defy the physical limitations of the weapons themselves.
Suddenly irritated as to how much time this was taking, conscious that more security was on its way, and confident that I have the measure of her speed now, I want to deal with this woman quickly. I step out of my defence and swing my sword in a series of infinity loops, forcing her to back off, and into a position to take best advantage of my longer reach. She ducks and weaves, avoiding all my strokes with a skill only a lifetime could teach, then suddenly she is in my face, the musky scent overpowering, and parries a downstroke with both blades crossed high. I hastily try to reverse direction but she is too quick, sending a knee into my sternum and driving out most of my breath. It is sheer reflex that sends me into a backwards roll, avoiding her slashing points by inches. Before I can reset my stance, she is lunging forwards, one blade extended and the other trailing behind her. Rather than try and get my sword into position, I sway sideways and let her lunging arm pass beneath my left armpit. Grabbing her wrist with my empty left hand, I lock her elbow with my sword hand then use this as leverage to reverse kick her in the face. She takes a step back and I instantly drop to one knee and send a backhanded slice droning towards her torso. Even reeling from a broken nose, she manages to spin out of the way to avoid the stroke which would otherwise have cut her in half... but she is not fast enough to dodge the lasbolt from my sleeve gun. I lower my left arm and the smoking barrel slightly protruding from the cuff as she collapses with a steaming cauterised hole in her chest.
I take a second to gather my wits and sheathe my sword, the adrenaline receding slightly, but I notice the blood trickling down my chest has accelerated in time with my heartbeat. I turn the woman’s body over, and I am struck again by the wrongness. Her fingers are too long, too slender, her features too fine. I brush back her thick black hair to check for a microbead when I find the answer, and curse myself for not working it out sooner – her ears are longer than any humans, and taper to a point.
She is Eldar.
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