In the Imperium of Mankind, there is only war. And sometimes war is waged far from the front lines; within the shadows of society which exists to feed the wars which wage all over the milky way.
Wars which in turn are waged for the survival of the Imperium, which in turn is for the survival of the entire human race.
Attelus Kaltos, a small time mercenary, is about to be thrown into that secret war...
Gun fire. Las and solid projectile alike ripped down the corridor, stray rounds punching holes through the wooden walls, showering us in pouts of exploding dust, which engulfed much of the corridor in a thick, white haze. Taken off guard, my colleagues and I were forced into cover. Two of whom, Jarvus and Callague, never made it. A Las round burned through the side of Jarvus' skull as the ex-guardsman desperately dived. Callague was dead before he could even move, the poor bastard almost cut apart by the intense fire.
Cursing, I blindly fired my auto gun from the corner, Into the dust obscured corridor. "Spray and pray" being the technical term and wondered for the hundredth time why I had joined this line of work. No way in hell could I get a clean shot, my only hope was to pin the assailants.
With a quick fire signal to Garrakson behind me. I slipped back and the ex-guardsman took my position.
"Fire in the hole!" he sang out in his oddly melodic voice and with a grunt the middle-aged man hefted a tube-charge down the hall.
The explosion's deafening roar was preceded by the hefty clatter of falling debris.
Without hesitation, Elandria and I slid into the corridor. Side by side we sprinted through the dust and debris, firing our auto guns from the hip. Two unfortunate gangers buckled and collapsed under our withering fire. A pair of darkened figures stunned by the grenade's force.
At the last moment we dropped our weapons and fell upon our enemies. Elandria drawing twin monomolecular enhanced blades from the sheaths on her back. I drew my mono sword from its hip scabbard. Elandria let out a spine chilling cackle and dodged a ganger's clumsy blow then countered with a deft slice, relieving him of his head.
Not in such humour. I parried a ganger's stabbing knife and kicked my boot's knife into his shin. The man's agonised scream was cut short as I stabbed through his chest and I kicked the convulsing idiot off my blade. Immediately, I was forced to duck the next Hammer's wild swing of the butt of his Las gun. My blade arced into his left hip and through to his right shoulder. The man gurgled blood then fell onto his back.
Beside me, Elandria also finished her last attacker, disemboweling the ganger with a quick slice of Setsukia then decapitated him with Katrina.
She and I worked well together but our combat styles could not have been more different. I was taught the way of the combat pragmatist: to do anything and everything to win, to fight with quick, brutal and practical techniques.
She fought like a gymnast, with acrobatic and fanciful techniques I found at first contemptuous. But I could not deny that she was skilled, very skilled.
She had yet to reveal what school of assassins she was taught in, but I could hazard a guess.
Elandria enjoyed killing. To such heights it disturbed me and her obsession with decapitating her victims, unnatural. Hence why she wielded twin blades: Setsukia, for blocking and wounding. Katrina, specifically to decapitate. She fought while amped on combat drugs, which I was taught to do too, but detested. If you relied on enhancements, what good would you be without them? I supposed that was why her fanciful style was so effective.
I do not enjoy killing; I do it because needs must, in a professional manner and pride in my work. I am Attelus Xanthis Kaltos, I am a mercenary and that is that.
Despite her ruthless, bloodthirsty nature, Elandria was an attractive young woman. At times her beauty held me in awe. Her skin, deathly pale and her straight brunette hair, jaw length. But I was wise enough to know a girl like her was only to be looked at, not chased. She was so indoctrinated by her cult, all she would ever know was the mindless urge to kill. It was quite depressing really.
The four that fell to our blades were the last; another three had taken the brunt of the blast.
'Good work you two' said Garrakson, his heavy boots crunching on the debris as he approached our backs.
Elandria and I turned to our colleague. Elandria was tense, shaking and as she span she almost toppled over. Fortunately, Garrakson was smart enough to stand out of range of Elandria's blades; she was hugely unpredictable when in such a state.
I shrugged. "All in a day's work," I said, trying to sound nonchalant. "We must be getting back before the local Magistratum arrive."
Garrakson grimaced slightly, "or the damnable Arbites."
"C-cut the chit chat s-shall we?" said Elandria her voice was painful, needy. "Our master will be wanting, to hear of our exploits.' She was twitching madly now, another reason I kept off stimms; the withdrawal was intense.
"What?" said Garrakson. "Our exploits being that we lost even more good men chasing yet another dead end?"
I sighed, Garrakson's words rang true. I had been part of Taryst's personal army for half a year now and so far this had to be the most horrible, thankless job I've ever had.
Taryst, a famous Rogue trader, well known throughout the Calixis sector as a master of trade and business. Who, for an unknown reason, was waging war against the gangs of this Hive world: Omnartus. In fact, so secret this struggle was, any mercenary who joined had their mind blocked from psyker intrusion. That was over two thousand men and women. Emperor only knows how even he could afford it.
"What are we to do about Callague and Jarvus?" I said; starting down the corridor and past Garrakson, although already knowing the answer.
Garrakson sniffed causing his scarred, square jawed face to contort. "Do what we always do," he said, shaking his head. "Leave 'em; we don't have the time, kid."
"Just for a change huh?" I sighed. "Poor bastards. I hope that the Magistratum treat them well."
"Why does it matter?" asked Elandria, despite a drug induced withdrawal approached she with such feline grace she seemed to float. "The dead are dead, it does not matter how well you treat them."
I sighed again. No matter how many times I explained it she still didn't understand.
Garrakson sniffed again but this time he hawked up a wad of phlegm he unceremoniously spat to the floor. "Okay kiddies, we split up," he said, "Elandria go south west-"
"Yeah, yeah," I interrupted. "We know the drill: I go southeast and you go south, meet at the base at eighteen hundred, we know."
Garrakson shook his head with a bemused smile, "how long has it been now?"
"One hellish half of one hellish year," I answered, though I was not sure either.
"Hellish? Hellish?" said Garrakson. "Now that's the damned understatement of the damned century. Alright then, just move out now, if you know the bloody drill so frigging well."
And we did it, yet again.
I ran out of the building and into the polluted, darkened streets. My black flak jacket whipping and snapping in my wake.
I did not need to check my wrist chronometre's compass to know I ran south-east. Ever since I was a child I had an innate sense of direction. I could find my way through the thickest of bush on my home world, Elbyra with only my wits.
As I silently moved, my thoughts wandered. Half a year ago our squad numbered ten, but with the losses of Callague and Jarvus we were reduced to four.
The fourth was Torris, an ex-Arbitrator. He was wounded in our last incursion; the poor bastard lost an eye then got knifed in the guts. His condition was still uncertain. I was not into praying but I was tempted to for Torris.
It was quite depressing really; seeing your colleagues being killed off, one by one. Was it like this to serve in the Imperial Guard? Perhaps I should ask Garrakson one day, if I ever remember to.
Better do it sooner rather than later, Garrakson maybe the next. Or perhaps me.
I shook away the morbid thought. The morale of Taryst's personal army was on an all time low. We maybe mercenaries, throne gelts were a good incentive for us. But Taryst expected us to give up our lives without ever telling us why.
We were human as well, if we had a cause, a meaning! It could make us fight all the harder.
Anger started to well, my jaw clenched. What was the point of implanting us with psychic blocks if you don't give us any of any information to protect?
But I was no stranger to secrets and sabotage. Everyone has an ulterior motive. I had learnt my of lesson "trust" from my dear old dad, my dear old frigging father.
I sighed, too many memories suddenly flooded back. I shook it away, now was not time for sentiment.
There was never any time for sentiment.
I turned a sharp corner, out of the alleyways and into the main streets.
We were meant to meet at the base at 1800 hours, but I intended to get there sooner. I felt I needed to speak with the employer; a mother-figure to us and was more of a mother than my own ever was. Her name was Glaitis, she saved me after my first, futile, assassination attempt. Glaitis taught me the way of the assassin in more detail than my father ever would. And she knew my father, my real father.
My brow furrowed and I sped up my already fast pace.
She never looked up as I entered her office, she never seemed to need to.
"Ah! Attelus Xanthis Kaltos. What is it that brings you to my humble abode, my apprentice?" said Glaitis. She was a tall, harshly beautiful woman and I couldn't help my gaze gliding over her. Glaitis sat at her desk, long legs crossed. Her cold blue eyes studied a data slate intently.
My jaw clenched. I hated it when she used my last name and she was well aware of it. It was part of her constant testing which drove me nuts. It was to anger me so I could learn to control my anger- I almost always failed.
I swallowed the anger and it was replaced by nervousness. A nervousness that overtook me when in her presence.
'I-I am here to advise you of-.'
The sharp snap of the data slate suddenly shutting interrupted me and she fixed me with her piercing gaze.
"No stuttering young one, unless it is an act! You are to be confident! Precise in your words and your demeanor and stand up straight! Your posture is utterly horrendous!"
I did as told, holding back an annoyed sigh.
"Now, Young Attelus, you may start again."
"I am here to advise you that we have lost two more members of our squad."
"And who were they?" she said, her gaze falling to her data slate, uninterested.
'Callague and Javus.'
'They are of Taryst's ilk,' she stated..
I nodded, already knowing what she was about to say.
"If they are not part of our own organisation. I do not care, you know this as well as I. come out with it then. I know you, child, tell me the actual reason you are here."
I let out a heavy sigh, hoping that it didn't sound too fake, right now I was testing myself to see if I could hide the true reason why I was here, 'the men are losing morale-'
"I am well aware of the state of the morale, my apprentice," she interrupted. "You are just here to seek guidance for you own melancholy. Am I correct in my assumption?"
I hissed air through clenched teeth. Hesitating my response. Damn it! Out witted yet again!
She smiled, a steady and starkly rare expression.
"At least you have learnt from my teachings the value of deception young Attelus but yet not the proper technique, apparently. As I told you when we first begun your training your father had taught you well in the basics; close quarters combat, swordsmanship, ranged weaponry. But he had neglected the more subtle arts of an assassin's trade."
My jaw set at the mention of my father.
"Do not do that!' she hissed. "That is one of your many tells young one. You do when you are annoyed or angered. Remember, I have taught you time and time again: 'give nothing to your enemies or your allies.' That proverb was handed down to me by my master and now I hand it down to you. Do you understand what it means, child?"
"Yes." I barely said rather than sighed. I started regretting coming here.
"Good!" she sat back in her chair. "Now, tell me. What troubles you young Attelus."
Her voice softened; she seemed legitimately interested. That had always taken me aback, how she could change from harsh, berating teacher, to tender and kind hearted motherly figure in the blink of an eye.
My heart skipped and suddenly found words hard to form. When she changed like that it would always give me a strange tightness in my chest. I had no idea why.
"I- I hate this!" I managed to blurt. "We have been here for six months and we have nothing! Nothing! Just more corpses and questions! It's hard every frigging day is the same! A new lead we are sent to track down and- and! We are only to find a new dead end!"
"I know," she said softly. "I know it is hard."
"But you know what else?" I snarled. "I get the suspicion that frigger Taryst knows more than he lets on! That he could give us information that would allow us to do our jobs but for some, idiotic, selfish reason he holds it back! I don't know why but I have my ideas!"
Glaitis placed her elbow on her desk and cupped her jaw in her smooth, tender hand. A slight smile played over her full purple lips. "Really, young one?' she cooed. "And pray tell, what are these 'ideas'?"
I stiffened, I said more than I should have. But I did not stutter. I looked her straight in the eye and said: "That the information would damn him. That he is desperate to keep it secret so much, that if it was even slightly leaked out, his life would be jeopardized. That he could be branded as a heretic and a traitor." I sighed. "That's why."
My attention dropped to the carpet and waited for her response.
After what seemed an eternity, she finally said: "I have to say my young one, I am impressed."
"What?" I said, looking back up. Of all the responses that was the last I had guessed.
"Yes, that you would have at least a little tact to figure out makes me believe that finally my lessons seem to be getting through to you. I, myself, had come to suspect Taryst for quite some time but for you to figure it out all alone," she laughed.
I stood, seemingly frozen to the floor. Never had she complimented me like that before.
"That, young one. Is the true key to survival in our...line of work," she said. "The first rule, 'know your enemy'. It is a very simple and obvious statement but you have learnt it's true meaning."
I winced with a curse, finally realising...
"You have it, child."
Her smile turned cruel.
"Everyone is your enemy."
Leaning on the wall of the dirty, smoggy alleyway I smoked a lho stick. My colleagues were yet to arrive but I did not mind. I was early and it allowed me time to do what I do best; think.
It was frigging typical of Glaitis to retract a compliment. After her words filtered through my numbed mind, pride started to well within me. My posture straightened, so straight, I stood taller than ever before but then she said.
"But do not let it go to your head young Attelus, Xanthis Kaltos. For though I am not sure when you began to suspect Taryst. In all likelihood, it would be far too late."
"What?" and I was back to being hunched again.
She stood and approached me from around her desk; I could not help my eyes running up her lithe, full figured body.
Glaitis shook her head, she knew, she always frigging knew, "by now Attelus if you were alone, working out in the field and it took you this long to suspect your employer? You would be dead, you did well young one in this endeavor but next time…"
"Frig!," I snarled and sighed: "Try doing it a little quicker.".
"Indeed, and remember this piece of advice, young one and remember it well: 'trust nothing, suspect everything.'"
I nodded, wide eyed.
"I will," was all I could manage.
"And Attelus, as much as I try to encourage you to try...think a little less. Do think on my words now," her face turned dark. "Think on them long and hard, now leave;. I have much work to do."
I took the Lho stick with index finger and thumb.
"Trust nothing, suspect everything," I said. The irony was Glaitis meant herself too.
Is this what it meant to be an Assassin? Being some paranoid, psychotic, schizophrenic? Trusting no one; not even yourself?
I sighed out smoke, it reminded me of my father. How he would act when some slightly suspicious stranger walked past our home. How he reacted when anyone but me came close. For the first time in a long time; I felt something other than anger at my father. I felt sorry for Serghar Kaltos.
Was he the product of this 'training'? No, I was beginning to think it brainwashing. Was this why my father neglected to teach me the 'subtle arts?' He did not want me to be a lonesome monster like him?
I took the Lho stick and eyed it; I used to be a chain smoker. They helped me in my darker days. At Galitis' instruction I had quit (which seemed hypocritical as she encouraged the use of potentially deadly combat drugs) but since we came under Taryst's employ I drifted back to the dirty habit. Coping mechanism indeed.
Was the life of an Assassin what I truly wanted?
I tapped ash off the Lho stick and put it back in my mouth.
I really didn't know what I wanted anymore.
I inhaled the sweet smoke, took the dying smoke between index finger and thumb. Exhaled and flicked the stub onto the rockcrete ground.
I kept leaning against the wall, not moving to step it out. Elandria did it as she emerged from the shadows.
"Lost in your little world once more, eh?" she said.
"Not lost enough to miss your clumsy approach."
I could not see the expression on her face behind that cold, featureless mask but I could hazard a guess.
Elandria was many things but socially intelligent was not one of them.
She stood for a few seconds; trying to make a coherent comeback and the best she came up with was: "why is the son of Serghar Kaltos smoking Lho? Does he think himself too good for the rules?"
My jaw set. I tried to keep my father's identity a secret, but Glaitis had to go and tell Elandria. Perhaps it was yet another "test" but what that bloody woman wanted to test exactly was a mystery; was it my patience? Or my skill at combat when I lost my patience?
I sighed contemptuously and that really riled her up.
"What does that mean?".
"It means what it means," my tone insultingly melancholic.
"Yeah!" she snarled. "Well let us see what it truly "means" when I separate your head from your shoulders!"
And she reached for her blades
I grinned then in a blink, slid into a combat stance and drew my sword.
Then Garrakson suddenly seemed to appear between us.
Elandria and I yelped in fright and leaped back.
"That's enough kiddies," he said. "I think that we've had enough violence for today."
Then he turned to me, "and kid if you want to sheath your blade in her may I suggest using your "other" blade instead."
I felt my face go hot.
"What?" demanded Elandria, her wide, beautiful green eyes switching back and forth between Garrakson and I. "What is this 'other blade' you speak of, Garrakson? Attelus Kaltos only wields one. Is-is it the knife in his boot?"
"Try a little higher missy," said Garrakson and I blushed even worse.
But she still didn't get it.
Garrackson sighed, "alright let's get moving, kiddies. We've got exploits to report."
My face still seeming on fire and Elandria still confused. We slipped south, toward the "back way." The entrance designated to us dirty dogs of war. We were not good enough for the public entrance.
Elandria and I walked on Garrakson's flanks; into the dirty, barely six metre wide alley way. We were aware of the cameras watching us. Thirteen of them, perched about five metres up on the grim, grey walls. I reminded myself of them every time; just in case.
We came to the entrance, a well hidden set of double doors. Garrakson tugged open the panel hiding the keypad, and typed the access code.
Elandria and I kept watch. Which was fine with me. My back was to the gorgeous assassin. In my immature embarrassment, I could barely at look her and counted myself lucky. Her indoctrination had given her a naiveté of such personal matters.
Actually, on second thought, I was not lucky at all. Luck had abandoned me long ago.
I hissed a curse. Then could not help grin and shake my head.
Abruptly, I was brought into reality by the slight hissing of the opening doors and we silently slipped in.
We walked into what was once a maintenance entrance, now was a highly secure, fortified maintenance entrance.
If there was a literal embodiment of Taryst's paranoia: this was it. Mercenaries crawled throughout the ten metre wide, hundred metre long walkway. At every three metres: were waist high rockcrete walls. The walkway was on a sharp incline so each wall overlooked the last and twelve small balconies jutted from the walls: ten metres overhead. A sniper crouched in each; their Long Las rifles tracked us as we walked.
I hated the place. I would always try to find some way to sneak or fight through without getting evaporated by billions of las, solid projectile and high velocity hot shot rounds; besides stealing a uniform or complete camouflage. I came up nil; it was as close to impregnable as I knew. It would take hundreds, perhaps thousands of Imperial Guardsmen to storm it and their casualties would be horrendous but it would work...eventually. That or an entire company of Space Marines but even they would suffer: a high yield hot shot round punches through power armour with ease.
Elandria and I silently walked through the crowd of highly armed and armoured mercenaries. But Garrakson seemed to greet each frigger in frigging turn. He knew them by name and stopped for idiotic small talk with them. I was almost glad at Callague's and Jarvus' demise, the walk would have been even longer with them.
After twenty long minutes, we arrived at the end. Here two servitors both with an autocannon for arms stood constant vigil at the doors.
They slid open and Colonel Barhurst walked out. The grizzled old bastard approached with a warm grin and outstretched arms. But was contradicted by the ten grim, faceless Storm Troopers escorting him.
"Ahh! Garrakson my good friend!" Barhurst exclaimed. He was well into his two hundreds but the use of extensive and expensive rejuvenate treatments kept him looking in his mid thirties. Though a heavily scarred and beaten man in his mid thirties. According to my research he was one of Taryst's longest serving allies. He abandoned his duties as colonel in the Tamarsk 30th to join the rogue trader; so was wanted by the commissariat and the Inquisition for dereliction of duty. But thanks to Taryst's good will and huge influence he eluded justice so far.
I never liked Barhurst, the man was sycophancy incarnate. Taryst was the true commander, all Barhurst did was carry on the Rogue Trader's commands and when asked to do anything himself, he would pass it onto others. He was charismatic, friendly, but it was an obvious facade. How Taryst couldn't see the incompetency of his second was quite beyond me.
"How goes the hunt?"
"Another dead end," said Garrakson, the contempt in our squad leader's voice was well hidden, but not from me. "And we lost Callague and Jarvus."
Barhurst made an exaggerated frown, it was like an alien making a sick parody of human emotion. 'Sorry to hear my friend. Master Taryst is up in his grotto waiting for you."
Then Barhurst turned to Elandria and I, smiling smugly, "and you two know the drill."
I sighed, yes I frigging know, do you need to remind me every single time? I thought and my teeth clenched.
Hesitantly, I unstrapped my sheathed sword, placed it on the nearby table and slipped off my wrist mounted throwing knife compartments. Took my auto pistol from my shoulder holster then lastly and most hesitantly: my right boot which contained the hidden knife.
Elandria did it with even more aversion than I: letting go of her twin swords, her auto pistol and knife.
"Good!" said Barhurst. "You can head on up now."
And just to make sure, we had to file through a metal detector.
Every single damn day for six months we went through this shit. Saying it was quite depressing really was a frigging understatement.
I might have to start on Obscura just to get over this monotony.
I shook away the thought. I have seen the damage that drug can do. I have been through the damage it could do, and I will never go through that again.
In silence, we rode the elevator up the three hundred stories of Taryst's tower. On a hive world like Omnartus, buildings of such excessive calibre were almost a given. I was from an Agri world, though it was not without great cities of its own. Varander the capital of my home country: Velrosia was a bustling, beautiful metropolis. Varander sat on the north coast of lake Varander. A lake so large it could be classed as a sea. I spent the majority of my teenage years living there.
I missed Varander. The last I had seen the city, it was reduced to rubble.
Then there was Varanier, the capital of Elbyra's largest nation: Maranger. That was an amazing city, harsh and sparse. It was a metropolis of granite and grit; a true embodiment of its people.
Neither city were on terms with even the smallest of hives. Many packing ten times the population of Elbyra into an area the size of a Varanderian suburb.
Omnartus was dead. Millennia of intense colonisation, mining and pollution had destroyed its ecosystem. But when we rode this elevator, it would make my dreary days worth it. As we rose high enough to emerge from the pollution, I would glimpse the might of nature. That despite humanity's wanton destruction here still held a beauty of its own. The sun dominated and in the distance the peaks of Omnartus' many mountains broke through to the clear air; like icy white islands in a sea of black and brown. But despite everything each mountaintop contained life: a one in a million plant, had the sheer power and audacity to survive in below zero temperatures. That it thrived despite the odds, was a testament.
Of course, I kept this romanticism private; no self serving mercenary should be like this. Despite having seen so much death and grim darkness, I still held onto slight aspects of my sixteen year old self. The foolish, naive me before being forced to find out how horrible it is to live in this galaxy. That was why I was having second thoughts, I was beginning to doubt whether I could handle the damage this life could cause; physical and mental.
No, the damage it will cause.
I sighed, attention stapled to the world outside; hoping like hell my back facing to Elandria and Garrakson was enough to hide my emotions.
Then it happened, what I dreaded most: the end of the journey.
"300th story; Master Taryst's living quarters" said the elevator's pre-programmed, monotone voice as the ascent abruptly stopped. "Restricted access, retinal scan required."
My jaw clenched and I looked up, seeing the three cameras crowding the elevator with their damnable presence.
Surely Taryst was watching the feed? Surely over the dozens of times we have been up here, the rogue trader could discern who the hell we were?
I could tell Garrakson shared my teeth grinding frustration; the ex guardsman stood and waited for about half a minute. Then with a heavy sigh he pushed his face into the scanner.
"Employee 568; identified as Jeurat Garrakson" said the computer. "Access granted."
The doors slid open and we filed out.
We entered Taryst's lavish living quarters. Elandria in the middle; Garrakson and I on her flanks. Red dominated Taryst's little world; a deep, bloody crimson.
The windowless corridor was five metres wide and about fifteen in length. At the end was a thick crimson and gold curtain. I had never been through those curtains. Taryst would always meet us out here. I knew Garrakson had and I was sorely tempted to ask the ex-guardsman but could not pluck up the courage. Well him and Glaitis.
Two straight backed guards stood in front of the curtains. They were in golden, ostentatiously emblazoned carapace armour,. They held equally fancy hell guns. I had never seen their faces nor talked to them, but I could not help admire their discipline and stoicism.
Curiosity ate at me. What was beyond the curtains? It could be anything: a secret shrine dedicated to the Ruinous powers? Or perhaps a den of sin and hedonism? (That could be a shrine to one god, but I would rather keep from uttering its name)
But I was not sure if I truly wanted to know. No I wanted to see, but whether I should was an entirely different question.
I was finding Ignorance was very much be bliss, in this galaxy (which is ironically against Glaitis' teachings)
I sighed. It was far too late for that; I had long passed that event horizon. Short of having myself lobotomised, there was no going back.
Just like my dear old damnable dad.
"GREETINGS MY DEAR FRIENDS!" The deep voice abruptly boomed and the boss himself flourished out of the curtains.
I winced; not in fright but in contempt. Every time he would greet us this way. And it every single time it smacked of utterly forced, fake enthusiasm.
In all honesty, I had come to suspect Taryst of withholding secrets right from my first week of employment and how could I bloody not? Even if I had told Glaitis' then, it would have been too late in her lofty opinion.
"My friends!' he echoed as he approached us, "my friends!"
Taryst stood over two metres tall. Was big boned and corded with muscle; he cut an intimidating figure.
His strong jawed face was plain. His tanned skinned, complemented by a finely maintained black moustache and goatee. His smile glaringly bright and like his greeting, fake.
During the months, I noticed Taryst had aged; now there were bags under his eyes and a wrinkle here and there. Being utterly paranoid all the time would do that.
I wouldn't trust him as far as I could frigging throw him.
"Attelus, Jeurat!" Taryst cried as he came close, his two guards in tow. He paused at Elandria and with surprising dexterity eclipsed her hand in his, then lightly kissed the back it. "Mamzel Elandria, what news have you brought me today?"
My jaw set as I saw Elandria's pale skin blushing like mad.
Garrakson cleared his throat; he was the only one used to the Rogue Trader's over the top extroversion. "My lord, we have arrived at yet another dead."
Almost violently, Taryst let go of Elandria's hand. Stood and turned on his heels so his back faced us. "And Callague, Javus?"
"I am not sure sir."
Taryst spun on Garrakson, "and what does, 'I am not sure,' mean?"
Garrakson shrugged, "I don't know sir, meaning that they are either still lying in the pools of blood we left them in or in a Magistratum mortuary either/or."
His dead tone shocked me so much my jaw dropped.
Taryst grimaced slightly and for a second, looked his three hundred years.
"I-I am sorry to hear that."
Garrakson stayed stoic, kept his gaze locked to Taryst's.
Taryst flinched away, "and as well as no news on your target?"
"Ziltch," answered Garrakson. "No sign of this Brutis "Bones" yet sir he is quite the enigma."
Now that is the frigging understatement of the millennia, I thought.
"Then what exactly happened?"
Garrakson sniffed, "they went immediately hostile sir. Ambushing us as we entered their base of operations, even with our cover. We managed to fight our way to their cogitator bank but found the memory all wiped. I haven't seen such ferocity since I fought in the guard sir. From what I gathered if we captured and tried to interrogate one of the hammers we would be wasting our time. They were like cultists, sir. This Brutis "bones" must to be getting very influential in the local gangs if they will fight for him like that. The crazy bastards."
Taryst looked desperately at Elandria and I.
"And you two agree?"
Elandria nodded and blushed to the floor. My jaw set again and said simply: "yes."
I could not bother with a more detail; I just wanted to get away from Taryst.
Taryst grimaced disapprovingly.
"Alright another dead end it is then!" he exclaimed with forced humour. "And quite literally too!"
The only one laughing was Elandria, both Garrakson and I, not so amused.
"Okay then and I thank you all for the update and I apologise for Callague and Jarvus, they were good men." Then he turned away and began back to his curtains. "Dismissed, all."
"Oh and young Attelus," he said, suddenly stopping in his tracks, making me stop in mine. "Come! I very much wish to speak to you!"
That was the last thing I wanted to hear.
I sighed while watching Taryst disappear between the curtains. I needed a drag of Lho almost as much as I did not want to follow that literal embodiment of psychotic paranoia.
I slipped out my ceramic box of Lho sticks from my flak jacket pocket and eyed the two guards while slowly beginning to open it.
They just stood there silent, deathly still.
I carried on, attention fixed on the guards, more interested as what they would do than the smoking itself. I opened the case, tugged out one lho: put it in my mouth then pulled out my igniter.
I hesitated half way through the movement, expecting the guards to do something.
No, still motionless.
I shrugged and lit the Lho.
I inhaled the smoke and sighed it out, gladdened my stupidity did not cause my torso to be bisected by Laser fire and that, perhaps paranoia had not entirely taken Taryst's mind...Yet.
I did not understand why Taryst had those two standing there. I had only seen such ostentatious bodyguards accompany planetary Governors or Lord Generals, perhaps he wanted to state that he too was deserving of such charges as those great and mighty servants of the Imperium? Being a great and almighty Rogue Trader and all.
Well actually, perhaps so. At least unlike many Lord Generals and Lord Governors out there (and especially the latter) Taryst had earned this power, this prestige. This was according to the research I had garnered, but I would not put it past Taryst to have that doctored.
I took another inhale and blew out the sweet smoke. Why do you want to talk to me, Taryst? So many reasons flew through my thoughts then, each more obvious that the last and even more dodgy than the one before.
I pulled out the Lho in between index finger and thumb, eyeing those still guards once more and found I envied them. Life for those two idiots seemed so simple, you stand and guard. Did they have to worry about political intrigue? No. Did they have to worry about their master's constant berating at even the slightest of mistakes? Somehow I doubted it.
Alright, enough loitering, I thought putting the Lho back between clenched teeth. let's get this over and damn well done with.
I walked toward the curtains, slowly, casually. Hands in the pockets of my flak jacket and the lit Lho hanging out the corner of my mouth.
I was almost there when a large, golden gloved paw was suddenly held right in my face, making me stop.
"Excuse me sir," said the left side guard with forced politeness, the voice vox enhanced. "Would you be so kind to dispose of the contraband?"
My brow furrowed heavily and I sighed, annoyed but unsurprised. I took the Lho stick by thumb and index finger and handed it to the guard.
"And the container as well, sir?"
Barely containing a groan, I snapped it out of my pocket, the movement so swift, so smooth that the guard took a few seconds to notice it was right in his face.
And why don't you chop off my balls while you're at it, huh? I thought sorely.
"I-I thank you sir, now you may pass through, you will have your Lhos returned when you leave."
I glared up at the much taller guard. I frigging well better, I thought as I passed through the curtains. or you may be waking up a eunuch.
That is, if you are not already, a eunuch.
I emerged into the living quarters and quickly took in my surroundings. It was a much smaller area than I at first thought, ten metres in width, fifteen in length. The crimson red walls lined with gold. Placed nicely in the room's epicentre was a tasteful beautiful, white (with gold lining) marble water fountain with three wide, red couches around it. A small side table was set at each arm rest, all covered in expensive liquor bottles. The couches were arranged three metres away from the fountain but otherwise the room was completely and strangely, empty.
Most prominent was the door at the opposite end of the room. The adamantium, door was a contrast to the rest of the decor it was hard not to note. It was quite interesting that Taryst did not seem to even bother hiding it, a fake door perhaps? Or perhaps I was looking into it a bit too much.
"My friend!" yelled out Taryst as he leaned back on one of the couches, "come! Take a seat I have amasec of the highest quality and cigars! Relax, we have much to discuss!"
I didn't move an inch, "no. But I would castrate someone for a smoke of Lho."
"Sorry?" Taryst's eyes widened.
The corner of my mouth twitched, idiot!
"Hmm, sorry do you have any Lho to smoke?" I rephrased as smoothly as possible.
Taryst's look of shock disappeared, "Yes young Attelus come, sit I have plenty."
I sighed and hunched in defeat, beginning to approach. I really didn't want to move an inch but saw little choice in the matter, Taryst's over friendliness was getting on my nerves.
Taryst leaned over his couch, opened one of the draws on his table and took out a rather fanciful box.
"Here, take as many as you want young Attelus," he said, sliding the box open and holding it out to me.
My jaw set. Why did he have to continually call me 'young Attelus'? Attelus would just do, I knew that I was young, I did not need to be constantly reminded by someone else besides Glaitis. She still called me "child," a rather dated title seen as though I was twenty three frigging years old.
Keeping my annoyance again silent. I nodded thanks and drew out two, meanwhile pulling out the igniter.
I smiled, finding it funny that the guards outside would make me give up my lhos but forget my igniter which I could potentially do more damage. I was skilled in that aspect, my father had taught me how to turn anything into a potentially lethal weapon, even lighters, especially lighters, he was an equally avid smoker of Lho as well.
"You still stand young Attelus, come and sit."
"Thank you sir, but I would rather stand." I said, trying for the softly forceful tone that Glaitis had taught me.
Taryst shrugged, "if you wish it rather."
I slid one of the Lhos into my mouth and lit it, drawing the smoke deep, "yes, thanks, but now might I ask why you called me here?"
"Ahh yes my young friend," said Taryst as he suddenly got off of his seat and moved to another table, opening a draw. "I have been studying into your records, your curriculum vitae."
My eyes turned into suspicious slits, 'and how exactly did you get your hands on my "curriculum vitae"?'
"I had a young friend of yours look into it for me; you know the one, the young friend under my employ, the young friend who you had secretly hired to look into my past for you."
I winced, "Vex-"
'Vex Carpompter' confirmed Taryst as he pulled out a data slate from the table's draw, "the young ingenious hacker. How very audacious of you young Attelus to try such a trick under my very nose. You would have gotten away with it as well, but for-."
My jaw set yet again, "reasons you will not divulge?" I finished.
"Exactly!" he grinned. "You are smart young Attelus, too smart for your own good it seems, using the very person who inspects the system to check the information."
I was not sure what to do, was Taryst going to kill me?
Vex, he even had almost unlimited access to the cogitator systems of Taryst's whole corporation. Actually, I had completely forgotten about my under the table agreement with the infamous hacker. It had seemed like such a small request and seemed even smaller after the pathetic results.
"No young Attelus I am not going to kill you if that is what you are thinking," then his eyes turned into evil slits. "I was tempted to before, though. Very tempted."
My brow furrowed, I was beginning to really dislike were the hell this was going, "you were tempted to until you saw into my files, right?"
"Answer me this young Attelus," said Taryst, "did you act on the volition of your teacher, or your own?"
I hissed through my gritted teeth. I hesitated in my reply, seeing that my very life may be depending on my next sentence and so I chose my words very carefully and told the truth.
"No, Glaitis did not ask me to do it, not directly anyway, I was acting under her teachings."
"And does she know of your attempt at espionage?"
"Again, no, not that I know of anyway."
Taryst smiled and fiddled his data slate with a large thumb, "I see young Attelus, your answers confirm what your records state. I can see that you are nothing like your ally, young Elandria, she is a blunt instrument, she knows very little besides how to kill people in a very gory, all be it, very pretty fashion. You on the other hand are a far more subtle instrument, infiltration, espionage, assassination in your very, very short career you have done it all have you not?"
All I have done very well. I shrugged, trying very hard to sound nonchalant and keep the welling pride from my tone. "Yes and no, I have been on many missions but mostly the more menial stuff. I have done some infiltration but most of what I know Glaitis has taught in the theoretical, not the practical."
"She doesn't believe you ready yet?"
"Yes," I answered, knowing I should not be divulging such information, but my instinct for self preservation was overwhelming my instinct for keeping secrets. Also Taryst probably knew this already. "I did not start my training of the "finer arts" of the Assassin's trade until my employ into mamzel Glaitis' mercenaries."
"I see, how about a test young Attelus, the ultimate test to see if you are finally ready. I would like to employ you."
I raised an eye brow, this I actually saw coming, "tch! You want me to spy on Glaitis you?"
Taryst raised his own eyebrow, "you seem surprised despite your forward guessing."
I'm surprised that you're so damn predictable, I wisely refrained from saying.
"Young Attelus, do you truly want the life of an assassin? One living always in the shadows? One of death and thanklessness? Or would you rather a life of meaning, a life of profit, a life of happiness? I can get you that, a way to escape, a way to get away."
I glared up at Taryst. Was this coincidence? Just as I am beginning to have doubts, Taryst here comes to me with this request and giving me such incentive.
I did not believe in coincidence.
Also, I could not help remember my conversation with Glaitis' before, "trust nothing, suspect everything."
Did she guess that Taryst would pull such a stunt? Or did she already know that he would?
If either was the truth there would be no way in hell I could hope to keep it a secret.
Was it again, potentially a coincidence?
I genuinely hoped that it was.
Taryst looked at me with an expression that was almost sympathetic, "I know what it was like to be your age, to not know who or what you are. It's hard young Attelus, take your time in your decision, but I have to ask that you make up your mind before you leave. Though my indecisiveness was of a completely different subject, the struggle is the same."
I sighed, could I betray her? The woman, who had saved my life, took me in, cared for me and taught me everything she knew. Potentially destroying six years of hard work and struggle?
It was for freedom. Which I was not sure would be worth it, this was a harsh universe. I was beginning to believe that the term "freedom" was a word that could only be used with irony, that it ever being literal of use, was forever lost.
"Excuse me?" asked Taryst, seeming almost bemused.
"No I can't do it, I-I just can't."
"Why?" carried on Taryst, beginning to sound forceful.
"I have my reasons," I said, sounding more timid that intended, not expecting such a change in Taryst he sounded almost childish, almost sulky.
"No! I know why!" he snarled. "I have heard of how you act around her, like some little, pathetic, love struck puppy! Can't you see that she is using you like some mindless pawn! Like a slave!"
"You have two ears and are smart. Apparently, you know exactly what I said."
"You- you think I am in love with her?"
He just glared at me.
I scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous! She's three times my age! And Like a mother to me, that -that's disgusting."
He grinned. "To be honest I don't blame you young Attelus, I would be head over heels for her as well. If she was my type of course, beautiful, intelligent, confident, deadly"
"Sh- shut up!" I meant to snarl, but rather whined and I felt my face flush.
He shook his head, "so can't you see this is unhealthy? That it is all the more reason to do what I ask?"
I swallowed, "I-I can't I just can't Taryst, do you know what you exactly ask? What the consequences will be if I'm found?"
Taryst nodded, "I do, I did research into your employer before I hired her services and your death would be...Very painful indeed, but if you succeeded, the reward would be worth it!"
"I would make you rich! And you could go back to your home planet, live an easy life of luxury and wealth. A life of freedom and meaning."
I gritted my teeth. 'Trust nothing, suspect everything' the meaning of that motto was double jointed to say the frigging least, Glaitis I knew meant herself as well, she could in all truth never be trusted, ever.
I knew why Taryst would ask me to spy on her. He was a paranoid, psychotic but from time to time I could not help suspect that Glaitis had some hidden agenda that was far, far bigger than me, bigger than even Taryst's corporation.
I could only hazard a guess how large that goal truly was. I was only some pawn in that plan, yet every time a strange, strong feeling in me had made me deny it, some feeling that was foreign and strange to me.
Was that feeling...love?
"Take your time young Attelus," said Taryst, "it is hard favour to ask, I understand completely."
"No!" I stepped forward, "I have made up my mind!"
And I answered without hesitation and with truth. It felt good to be real, to be genuine for the first time, in a damn long time.
I left Taryst's quarters, trying hard to mask my haste. On the way out I had almost forgot to retrieve my Lhos. Lucky for the guard I didn't.
I caught the elevator and twitched in impatience the whole ride down, tapping the tip of my boot on the floor.
I had told Taryst, no.
The rogue trader had taken the answer in due course and did not try to convince me otherwise again. Perhaps he had known that he could not change my mind, or he didn't care. The look in his eyes almost exclaimed the former, seemingly accusing me of foolishness and cowardice all at once.
Perhaps I was a coward and a fool. But I was not about to risk my life for what could easily be a lie. There was no guarantee that Taryst would keep his end of the bargain, the odds would not at all be in my favour.
Afterwards, I had tried to levy some information of Vex's fate from the rogue trader, but to no avail. Taryst was too smart to be coerced into slipping on his words.
As much as I hated to admit it I liked the little nerd, I did not wish to see him dead over such a trivial matter.
Actually, why I was still alive was a wonder in itself. Taryst had more than enough reason for shooting me, just on the grounds of trying to infiltrate his systems and even more for flat out refusing his request. Letting me live would make sense if I found Vex dead, it would send the message: "do not cross me again young Attelus, or this will be your fate."
It would certainly, I would not be crossing him ever again.
Despite myself I could not help smile my evil smile, the sentence went through my thoughts as a perfect recording of Taryst's voice, everything from tone to demeanor.
When the elevator reached my intended level, I slipped out the sliding double doors and ran down the corridor, heading to the northern side of the building that was where Vex's office was. Nimbly I dodged and weaved my way through the many of Taryst's employees on the way.
It took me only five minutes to reach the cogitator workers section. I had earlier learnt the layout of the lower floors (the ones I had access to anyway) The quickest way to get here or there, just in case.
I fast walked through the lines upon lines of cogitator banks, each having a thin, decrepit serf sitting, typing madly. The clicking sound turned into a crashing as thousands upon thousands of fingers pressed keys. The noise enveloped the entire two hundred by three hundred metre cavern in its near deafening cacophony.
I fought the need to cover my ears and started to approach the entrance to Vex's office.
I paused near the door. I was cool, calm my face set in determination, if Vex was dead in there, it would make little difference, just another death and one more did not really matter in a galaxy this vast. It was not my fault, Vex had accepted the bribe, it was his own fault for going through with it. If he was truly as smart as he claimed he was he would have told me to shove it.
But maybe it was my fault, how old was Vex? Fourteen? And if so, perhaps it was his youthful ignorance that had made him take the job, and then it would truly be my fault.
I sighed and reached for the door, but again hesitated as I realised something that made my guts churn. I wasn't armed! Who was not to say that someone wasn't standing over poor Vex's corpse, a silenced gun trained at the door way, waiting for me to enter? I glanced about. They would not need to silence the weapon; I doubted that even the roar of a bolter could be heard over that racket.
"Oh this is depressing, really!" I exclaimed in frustration, so loud that even a few of the nearer serfs looked up from their work and glared at me in disapproval.
I grinned as an idea hit me.
"Hey everybody! You know who is a damnable frig wipe!" I yelled even louder and was met with even more looks of anger. "Oh come on! Can nobody can guess!"
"Shut up!" said one as he got off his stool.
"Shut up, huh?" I grinned at the man. "Huh! Shut up really? He must be a really big frig wipe if he beats Taryst!"
Now that got more attention and that was exactly what I was looking for.
Then I stepped through the door and found.
Vex standing alone, utterly unharmed, inspecting one of his many Cogitator units with an intense expression. His attention snapped to me as I intruded space and his eyes widened with surprise.
"Hey Attelus I didn't- Gak!"
The "Gak!" was him getting cut off mid sentence by me, grabbing him by the collar of his tunic and the "bang!", me slamming his back against the wall.
"Wh-what did I do?" he whined in his pitiful tone, well as whiny and as pitiful as one could be when being suffocated. But Vex achieved it better than most would.
"You little bastard! You frigging little bastard!" I snarled, accompanied by another violent slam. "You told them!"
"I don't know what you are talking about," he gurgled back. "Told them, what?"
My anger turned in on itself as I pulled him from the wall, spun him about and smashed him hard against the nearest Cogitator.
"Were you born an idiot or did you lose the brain cells along the damn way!" I snarled. "Our agreement, remember? The one where I paid you one thousand throne gelts and you would check the systems to look into Taryst's past, remember? Remember!"
Each 'remember' was accompanied by a violent shake, which threw around Vex's head like whiplash.
Vex could only gurgle back, his face almost turning blue.
I let off a little pressure, a little.
"I don't know!" he hoarsely managed and then tears started to well in his eyes. "An agreement that I look into the system? I don't remember it by the Emperor I swear! I swear!"
Then the tears started to flow freely down his face, "I swear!"
It was then when the realisation hit me. Then guilt followed and I let go of Vex's collar. Still crying the young hacker slumped onto the floor and curled up in a fetal ball, whimpering pitifully.
I stumbled back; Vex's mind had been messed with! His memories of the whole incident erased by some warp touched freak! I should have realised it, damn it! Taryst had psykers place the blocks on our minds! Of course he would have them for other uses!
And I had just strangled an innocent person who had no knowledge of why. Even if Vex had remembered our agreement it would have been plucked from his memories without any knowledge.
I cursed, this was all my idiocy, my fault. I should have remembered that Taryst had psykers, how stupid was I to forget-
I cut myself short as my eyes widened in epiphany. But one reason why I had done it was because of the blocks! Vex had told me that they had done it to him as well! I was no expert on those warp touched. Perhaps, with their knowledge of how they had placed the block knew they could have bypassed it. That is, assuming Vex had even been blocked at all.
I looked down at the whimpering and shuddering form. My brow furrowed heavily. I started to feel a strong and almost intoxicating mix of contempt and rage begin to well at the pit of my gut. How pathetic! I felt the powerful urge to kick the kid while he was down.
Teach him to toughen the hell up.
Don't make this any worse than it is, if Glaitis finds out... I thought, forcing down the rage, the contempt.
Then I turned and stormed out the door, leaving the pathetic foetal form of Vex to writhe in its self pity.
It would also explain how Taryst knew I was having second thoughts.
I was right, the damnable Rogue Trader had left me a warning and through Vex also! An even worse one than if I found him dead. I winced as the words echoed through my thoughts, "do not cross me again young Attelus, or that will be your fate."
But this time the ominously similar sounding voice of Taryst laughed.
I sighed. I stood in my shower, the high pressured water crashing against my thin, pale but solid body.
My usually rigorous, daily training lasted five hours with a fifteen minute break between each hour. It was disciplined and harsh like my father had taught me. It seemed my daily regime was the only thing I kept consistently disciplined on.
The schedule was this; the first two hours were dedicated to swordsmanship, the next two on unarmed combat and if I had the time I went over to Taryst's shooting range, spending the last hour practicing firing drills, both Garrakson and Torris would almost always be there and so I would go for the company as well.
That was before poor Torris got maimed of course.
I winced as I remembered. Yet again I had forgotten to visit my comrade in arms at the medicae! That would be, what, the fifth day in a row? I couldn't even recall that either.
Throne did my limbs ache! Today was certainly not the first, but hopefully the last were I would neglect my regime, not saying I didn't train, I did, but way too hard, and had neglected to stretch before too. After I had retreated from my crime scene, I had retrieved my weapons from security and went straight home to my hab block. Immediately, my sword was out and I was slashing the air in a blind and rusty rage. My years of training and discipline thrown out the window. I barely lasted half an hour before I was gasping for breath and weak from exertion.
But my anger was all but spent.
I was an idiot, a complete and utter idiot! I had no excuse to beat up on Vex, even if he had willingly told, I should have seen his treachery coming and planned for it in advance. 'Trust nothing, suspect everything" those words could not ring any truer right now!
No, I had to lose myself in my anger. I've had that problem ever since I was a child something would happen that would anger me and I would hurt people, badly.
'A blind rage' I heard it called once, I could not recall who had said it exactly
It was as if something had taken over me. I would lose control and all I would do is hurt the one who had done me wrong, no matter what.
My father had taught me how to control that side of myself, how to curb it if it occurred and he had taught me well. But with Vex I had slipped and fallen into that abyss, that was the first time in along time, going on six years now.
That I did remember and that I remembered well.
Poor Vex Carpompter, he did not deserve my wrath. All of my repressed anger from the last six months was almost taken out on the kid, he was lucky I didn't kill him.
No, I thought. I was lucky that I didn't kill him.
I shuddered at the thought and the soothing feeling of the constant stream of hot water disappeared entirely as a horrible sensation of sickening guilt welled in my guts.
Taryst was right! Sudden rage over took me and I punched the tiled wall. Blood intermingled with water and pain erupted through my hand.
I am a coward! A bully who takes out his anger on those weaker than him because he is too scared to take it out on those over him!
The very definition of cowardice.
Sighing, I turned off the faucet. I tried to ignore the agony of my left hand and my dull, aching limbs. But I could not ignore that both were entirely of my own volition, of my own idiocy.
It was quite depressing really.
I walked out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around my waist, my face foul.
I caught a glimpse of the form standing in my room and that was all I needed to see. In the blink of an eye, I snatched up a nearby knife, about to let it fly.
But stopped mid movement, and felt my face flush madly as I saw that the form was Elandria, who was also aiming an Auto pistol at me.
"Drop it," she said.
I immediately did as told.
"Now kick it over to me."
I looked at her with hooded eyes, I had bare feet damn it! But gingerly I kicked the knife to her, which bounced and rolled over the carpet.
"Mistress Glaitis wishes to speak to you," she informed in her emotionless voice. Her mask was off so I could see her just as emotionless, pale, attractive heart shaped face. The gun still pointed at me.
My embarrassment disappeared as my eyes widened in fear. My palms were suddenly wet with sweat. I had guessed that my teacher would want to talk to me but I was not at all prepared for it.
"J-just let me get changed," I stammered as I scrambled to gather some clothes from that of the many that lay about, and could not help be embarrassed at the messy state of my living quarters.
"You have three minutes," she stated.
"Okay, but, uhm, can I, uhm, have some privacy, please?"
I sighed, then the sudden and impatient twitch of the Auto pistol made me jump and search all the faster. She had me, hook line and sinker, or for want of better cliché, I was caught out in the cold. Never in my life had I felt so helpless and exposed, that was why Elandria was a true assassin and I was not, though she lacked my training of deception and espionage, she still knew bloody well how to catch those at their most vulnerable and she certainly had succeeded with me.
Though, I could not help but wonder what would happen if I had actually thrown the knife? In fact I may have got her, she had not reacted to me until a full second after I had stopped the throw.
If it was anyone else beside her and Glaitis I would have let it fly, without hesitation. Perhaps that was why Glaitis had sent Elandria, she knew I had a weakness for the fairer sex, a weakness that she could exploit, a weakness I needed to eliminate.
It took me two minutes to hurriedly slip on my clothes, a taken from the floor, smelling, day old tunic. I had tried hard to hide myself as I put it on and had succeeded with admirable grace.
I nodded to Elandria and walked out the door, but she followed me down the apartment building's corridor.
"Where are you going?" I asked over my shoulder.
My jaw set. "To escort me right?"
Barely, I kept the fear from my face, if Glaitis was having Elandria guard me, the master assassin was meaning business.
I swallowed, really meaning business.
It took us twenty long minutes to arrive back at Glaitis' base of operations and all the way I had Elandria holding her auto pistol in my back. Every single step made me dread more and more whatever Glaitis had in store for me. I struggled to hide the fear even with my back to her. The stress of suspense was almost overwhelming as my heart thudded in my chest. I had never bothered to try garner any information from Elandria knowing full well it was futile I doubted that Glaitis would have told her anything and everything I tried to say to Elandria was answered with mindless mono syllables. For her it was not entirely out of character but it was doing nothing to help my nerves.
We rode the elevator up to Glaitis' office. Taryst had given the master assassin the top floor of one of the rogue traders many separate buildings that surrounded his main tower. Naturally she being the leader of a very professional and well off company of mercenaries, she only got the best for her living quarters.
The elevator arrived and the doors slid open. Immediately I was prompted out with a shove of Elandria's pistol. My teeth on edge I hesitantly complied and we entered into the foyer beyond. It was no more than six metres wide, a corridor. At each side and lining the stark white walls were long, black leather couches and our boots echoed over the polished back marble tiles. The contrast between hers and Taryst's quarters could not have been much more obvious.
Glaitis never kept any guards, which showed her arrogance in her abilities, an arrogance that was quite justified. She having survived for this long and I also have seen her abilities first hand and they are quite, breath taking. I gritted my teeth as Taryst's words echoed through my thoughts. I was not in love with Glaitis! And he was a fool for ever thinking so.
A woman sat at the end of one of the couches, her smooth, long legs crossed together as she reclined back. Her high boned, youthful and attractive heart shaped face was on profile as her large eyes studied a data slate intently. Her long, violet coloured hair was pulled back into a pony tail and relief washed over me as I saw who she was.
Castella Lethe didn't look up as Elandria and I approached her, "tsk, tsk Attelus what have you done now?" she sighed with a smile as she bounced her crossed leg.
Despite my anxiety I could not help but grin. I liked Castella, she was always charismatic, always friendly and she had a fun, dry sense of humour I could appreciate. If any woman I would be accused of being in love with, I rather it her than Glaitis. She was also confirmed to be Glaitis' successor if ever the master fell and I agreed. Castella was an excellent choice she was extremely extroverted, confident and held almost everyone's respect in the company. Except Elandria who seemed to despise Castella for a reason that I could not, or cared not enough to comprehend.
"Completed yet another assignment, I see," I said, trying to slow my advance but Elandria was intent on not letting me.
Castella snorted, "of course Attelus, would I be here if I hadn't?"
I shrugged, "goes without doubt Castella. I was actually making sure that you were not some fear induced mirage."
"Wow, Attelus. If you really are that scared shall I say a little prayer for you?"
I frowned and furrowed my brow, "I was actually hoping for a more, proactive form of help."
She shrugged, pouting her full lips. "What could be any more proactive than the divine intervention of the Emperor mankind himself? Ohh wait you don't believe in that thing do you? Oh well, never mind you're screwed then. Bye!"
Before I could make a coherent reply, I was shoved through the glass double doors and I could not help wonder. Why the hell she was just sitting out there for?