Sheriff Kolmar had never seen something so disturbing in his long career in the Magistratum.
He sat at his desk in the smoky, dingy old office. Absently sifting through the gruesome picts and trying to fight the bile rising in his throat.
What in the God-Emperor’s name could have done this? What in-
The door opened and Constable Fennington stepped in, knocking Kolmar from his thoughts.
“I told ya not to disturb me!” growled Kolmar.
“Sorry, sheriff,” said the young chinless constable, wincing at the sheriff’s tone. “But it’s the back up ya called for.”
Kolmar sighed and swivelled in his rickety, wooden chair. “Better late than never, suppose. They Adeptus Arbites? Provincial Magistratum?”
Fennington gaped. “I don’t know, boss,” he stammered. “Didn’t say.”
“And ya just let 'em in?” Kolmar growled.
Fennington fell into dumb stammering.
Kolmar sighed again, he needed an amasec, or two, or fifty. He couldn’t blame poor Fennington for the mistake.
Kolmar was a thirty year veteran and he just stomached it. For all his greenness- Fennington had weathered it remarkably well.
“Alright, let ‘em in,” said Kolmar.
“Yes sir,” said Fennington and he shuffled out the door.
About half a minute later the constable returned with two people in tow, and Kolmar watched them approach through the window. The first thing he saw was they were far too young and far too pretty.
One Kolmar was vaguely sure was male, vaguely.
His brown hair was long, down to his shoulders and parted on the right so the left side of his face was hidden beneath.
He was sharp featured, high cheek boned. He must’ve been quite the hit with the ladies or men, if they liked men who looked like girls. Most definitely was an off worlder his skin, too pale. His hazel eyes hard, determined despite his apparent youth. Indicating either he was either older than he looked or his short life had been exceptionally hard. This contrasted an almost content, light smile on his freakishly red lips.
He wasn’t Provincial Magistratum and he certainly wasn’t Arbites. He wore a grey bodyglove with black pants and a black flak jacket. His hands in its pockets like many languid youth. He walked with an innate, smooth graceful confidence that only the most dangerous were capable of.
The girl accompanying him was beautiful, no ifs or buts about it. Her long, red with gold streaks hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Her extensively full, red lips: smiling but her brow furrowed slightly. Kolmar could tell a hard to read character when he saw one and she most certainly someone who could be utterly unreadable if she wished to be. Her features were extensively elfin. Her white skin coated in freckles. She didn’t wear much make up but that just made her all the more attractive. But by far her most unique feature were her beautiful, stark, sea blue eyes. She too walked with a confident swagger and she too wore a grey bodyglove but without the jacket and pants of her companion, showing an exceedingly toned, slender body.
Kolmar’s initial misgivings was quickly replaced by cold clammy fear. They were the hardcore of the hardcore, what the hell had they stumbled on for these two involve themselves? No wonder Fennington had let them through with no questions asked.
They walked into Kolmar’s office, Fennington stayed near the door while the newcomers stood in front of his desk and although they were quite short (no more than around 1.65 metres or so) They still seemed to tower over him.
Kolmar swallowed and made the sign of the aquila across his large, fat chest.
“Greetings. I’m sheriff Kolmar and I’m gonna presume you’re the backup I called for.”
A grin spread across the young man’s insufferably pretty face: it was an easy grin, a charming grin. One that would make many a lady’s undergarments wet.
“Not exactly,” he said, his voice soft but deep and seemed to reverberate the room with its strength. “And there’s no need to introduce yourself, sheriff. Besides the plaque on your desk. We’ve done our research.”
Kolmar frowned. “So you know me then, but the problem is, I don’t know you.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, shuffling awkwardly, which Kolmar found odd to say the least. “I’m Throne Agent Kaltos and this is my...partner, Throne Agent Helgen, of the Ordo Hereticus.”
Kolmar couldn’t help note this Kaltos hesitance at introducing his partner.
“Throne Agent? Ordo Hereticus?” said Kolmar, he’d never heard those terms before but he had a bad feeling where they were leading.
Throne Agent Kaltos sighed and slouched wearily, animatedly, then pulled something from a pocket inside his jacket and held it for Kolmar to see clearly.
It was only through sheer willpower that the sheriff kept himself from shitting his pants.
It was an “I”, red except for black around the edges, but otherwise it was simple, unadorned, yet that just made it all the more terrifying.
“Inquisition,” Kolmar gasped.
“We’re just here to help, sheriff,” said Attelus Kaltos. “Please, just keep calm.”
Sheriff Kolmar was back on his feet now- pacing the room, seeming of the verge of having a panic attack. The young constable had the opposite reaction, he’d just frozen in place with stark terror.
Adelana Helgen had to hold back a frown, they’d only been working under Inquisitor Enandra for two years but were already tired of this. Unless they accounted for such a reaction, of course.
“First this shit!” Kolmar yelled, “and now we’ve got the Inquisition on our arses. God-Emperor! Sometimes I wonder if he even exists.”
Adelana and Attelus couldn’t help but exchange wide eyed glances at the exclamation.
The sheriff shrank back as he quickly realised. “I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I didn’t mean that. I swear.”
“Look,” said Adelana, taking a step toward him and raising a placating hand- she couldn't help fearing the fat sheriff might have a heart attack. “If you’d said that in front of other agents of the Inquisition they would’ve just killed you outright, but my partner and I are more than used to this and understand that sentiment more than you would think. So please calm down, take a deep breath and relax.”
The sheriff’s, bright red, fatty face wobbled with his rapid nod.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” he gasped. “Can you tell me, can you tell if the rumours are true?”
“Yes,” said Attelus without a hint of hesitation. “They are true, all of them, but which rumour is true for each inquisitor, really depends on the inquisitor in question. If you catch my drift.”
Kolmar frowned in confusion, but whether he was confused at Attelus’ statement or his strange turn of phrase, Adelana didn’t know.
The sheriff cleared his throat, and took his seat again.
“So, what is it you want?” he said and Adelana found she was already beginning to like the old sheriff, he was blunt and to the point- she wished others could be more like that.
She couldn’t help look sidelong at Attelus as she thought that.
“To help you, of course,” said Attelus. “Look at the files pertaining to the case and every file of every case you’ve investigated for the last two years and to see the bodies of the victims, of course.”
Kolmar’s eyes widened with bemusement. “Really? Two years?”
“Really, really,” said Attelus. “Anything and everything could help with the case and you know, just in case.”
Kolmar nodded again. “Anything else?”
Attelus grinned, “and to see the crime scene, of course.”
Kolmar cleared his throat again, “we’ve already got the…”
He trailed off, “we’ve already got the...bodies on ice and we’ve already searched the scene inch by frigged up inch-”
“We are sure you have, sheriff,” said Adelana smoothly. “We’re not questioning the ability of you or your men, we just want to see it for ourselves and we have access to more advanced equipment and hold more uhh...esoteric knowledge.”
Kolmar swallowed. “Alright, alright don’t know what you hope to find, but alright. Fennington and his partner, Duval are on it- they’ll take you out there. It’s twenty kilometres east of here through-”
“We know,” Attelus interrupted. “We’ve done our research.”
He slipped his hands from their pockets and approached Kolmar, causing the sheriff to lean back in his chair.
“Now, I don’t want to scare you again, sheriff,” he said. “But I need to ask you another favour, okay?”
“Yeah, go ahead,” said Kolmar.
“I would really like for you to not tell your superiors of our involvement, here. Not the Magistratum chief, not the Adeptus Arbites not any one, understand?”
“I-I think I do,” Kolmar managed. “But can I ask why?”
“Of course you can,” said Attelus. “But I’m sorry to say, I reserve the right not to answer you. It’s strictly on a need to know basis, it’s complicated. Do you catch my drift?”
“I do,” said the sheriff hurriedly. “I do and while you travel out there we’ll get the files ready for you.”
“I did mention the files first, or at least I think I did,” said Attelus and he turned to Adelanaa. “Did I agent, Helgen?”
“I think you did, agent Kaltos,” said Adelana, fighting the urge to roll her eyes.
“Yes, yes of course you did,” said Kolmar. “Our clerk will be able to help you sort through it all.”
“Thank you, sheriff,” said Attelus and he turned to leave but stopped after Kolmar said.
“I’d like to ask a favour of you as well.”
Attelus turned back to the sheriff, eyebrow raised, “why?”
“I want to know the faces of people I work with,” said Kolmar, showing admirable courage.
Attelus continued looking bemused and shared a glance with Adelana again.
“Are you sure?”
“I am,” said Kolmar.
Attelus shrugged and pulled his fringe behind his ear, it caused Kolmar to flinch and pale.
“That’s...that’s one hell of a scar you’ve got there,” the sheriff managed.
“There are worse things in this life than scars,” said Attelus as he turned and made for the door.
“Well, the physical scars, at least.”
“It’s the middle of nowhere of the middle of nowhere,” said constable Duval as he struggled with the wheel of the dirty, beaten old Magistratum Jeep. “The shit hole of this shit hole of a planet.”
As he sat in the passenger seat, Attelus nodded absently, watching the dank, thick grey-green bush go by outside. It reminded him somewhat of his homeworld, but deader and more depressing. He understood Duval’s sentiment more than the constable could know.
“I’ve seen worse,” said Attelus and he had, during his years as a Throne Agent and before that his years as a mercenary, he’d travelled the length and breadth of the Calixis sector and beyond: he’d seen war worlds, dead worlds and the worst of all, worlds locked under the yoke of the ruinous powers.
“I’m sure you have,” said Duval. “When we were waiting for you and her to collate the files Fennington had told me that you were Inquisition.”
Attelus looked sidelong at Fennington, his eyebrow raised, “and you’re not at all scared?”
“Nope,” said Duval. “If I had anything to be scared about I’d already be dead.”
Attelus couldn’t help but laugh and even Adelana let a little chuckle from the back-seat.
“Believe me, we’re not mind readers,” said Attelus. “Or not all of us, at least.”
“So it’s true,” stated Duval. “You do use witch-minds, then?”
“We do,” said Attelus. “Some of the most effective Throne Agents and even Inquisitors are psykers. The Imperium of Mankind need them easily just as much as we hate them and despise them. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for a psyker friend of mine saving my sorry arse on countless occasions.”
After that declaration a weighted silence followed which Attelus in all honesty didn’t mind at all and he found himself retreating into his thoughts.
Had he been a bit too obvious with the Sheriff? Vex Carpompter had earlier hacked in the vox networks up to and including interpersonal microbeads: so if any one sent word of their arrival, they’d know.
There’s a conspiracy here, Attelus was sure. When they’d first arrived a week ago, Vex had tried to hack into the main cogitator network of Koliath’s capital city, Allantar. But had found it was encrypted. Very encrypted, so much so it was going to take the young genius a good two weeks to crack the code. There was no way in hell that such a backwater world could afford such advanced data security.
Then they’d accidentally intercepted sheriff Kolmar’s call for aid. What he’d described sounded evil, sounded occult. But not like any cult Attelus had ever encountered in all his research or first hand.
They’d come here initially because Taryst had a hand in setting up this world. Three hundred years ago the first settlers had been transported here in the Rogue Trader’s ships and since then he’d invested hundreds of thousands of throne gelts on Koliath’s fledging mining industry: which started out strong but didn’t take long to die out. The planet’s economy had broken down completely after Taryst’s death two years ago and since then the planet had fallen on hard times.
But with these deaths...
Attelus doubted they’d be connected to the supposed conspiracy, let alone it having something to do with Taryst or their shadowy enemy. But something didn’t feel right.
Something felt very, very wrong.
“We’re here,” said Duval as the dull, green, grey, grim bush abruptly melted away and the bumpy rough road became somewhat smoother. “The arse end of arse ends.”
Attelus had seen the picts but they didn’t do the poverty and ruin of the village justice and he couldn’t help but agree with the pessimistic constable.
The numerous, scattered old wooden houses were in such disrepair it reminded Attelus of the dead, bombed out ruins of his home city: Varander. Windows were broken, verandahs were missing boards, some verandahs were sunken and angled upward, some were rotted away. There were holes, holes in walls, holes in terribly thatched roofs, some were large enough to walk through. One house had half caved in. Paint was flaking off some and the others had long ago lost the paint, now reduced to a rusty, rotten brown. Old, rusting vehicles and parts of vehicles as well as numerous other things that not even Attelus’ sharp eyes could begin to identify laid all through out the overgrown grass like toys dispatched by a petulant child.
Attelus didn't have to wonder how people could live in such a state of disrepair. He’d lived this, he’d survived this. No, he wondered how the hell the population of over two thousand souls could allow for it to perpetuate. It didn’t take him long for him to find an answer, this was all they knew, this was their normal and it was enough. Every day they’d go to their run down little church and pray to their God-Emperor for their crops to grow and their dozen or so children to behave. For generations people had lived and died this, not even knowing of the vast galaxy out there. Perhaps not even knowing about the city only one hundred kilometres north of them.
For all intents and purposes, this was their home and it was hard to leave your old life, hard to push on; to go somewhere where you can become someone.
Attelus knew this more than most.
He pitied them and his pity couldn’t help be edged with contempt, but in all honesty he also envied them: Attelus had found a long time ago that in this cosmos, ignorance was bliss.
Although, after these murders, perhaps they weren’t so ignorant now.
Or, perhaps, weren’t ignorant to begin with.
The thought made him shudder.
Mostly to his detriment, Attelus had a thirst for knowledge well beyond that of the average Imperial citizen and that was one of the many reasons why he was a Throne Agent and they weren’t.
As far as he was aware of, anyway.
It took ten minutes of driving through the sad, depressing village before Duval reached the turn off. The road was in even worse condition than the one headed here and despite being jostled by the horrid bouncing and struggling of the Jeep. Adelana tried to peruse the picts yet again, but her stomach quickly lurched sickeningly with the effort.
Sitting next to her, Fennington sat as stiff as a board. She could tell right from the very first second they’d met, he was attracted to her. He hadn’t said a word since they’d started the three hour drive through the hills and valleys here and that was fine with her. Adelana was used to used such treatment from men now and she couldn’t help wonder how he could’ve even been considered for Magistratum recruitment; but all she had to do was gaze out the window to get her answer.
The road, if one could call it that, began to ascend a steep hill and the bouncing and jarring somehow became even worse. Twice, Attelus and Fennington were to get out to push the jeep from being caught up in the sloppy, sticky mud.
“So, the woman who found the bodies lives just here, right?” said Attelus, pointing as they passed yet another run down, ruined house. It was set on a small plateau on the left, barely visible through the overgrown vegetation surrounding it. “I just can’t remember her name though, I’m sorry.”
“Mamzel Soul Kletchen,” answered Duval. “I’m guessing you’ll want to talk to her after examining the crime scene? Don’t know how much help she’ll be to you…”
Duval’s words hung, they all knew how badly the sight had effected the poor woman.
The poor, poor woman.
It was only a minute later they turned off the road.
“Here we are,” said, Duval, pulling on the hand break.
The ancient, worn down barn seemed to loom over them. The side houses had long ago collapsed into ruin and destroyed farm equipment littered the landscape. The branches of the black, ancient, gnarled, almost eldritch in aspect trees surrounding the barn, seemed to claw at its walls with desperate, painful fingers. For a good half a minute they sat in silence, just looking at it with horrid wonder and it took Adelana all of that time to realise that a light mist surrounded the place. A mist which was disturbingly absent everywhere else in the village and surrounding valley.
Adelana couldn’t help but bite her lip as the fear began to grow throughout her like cold tendrils.
No wonder the locals abhorred the place.
The first to get out was Fennington whose act of doing it, forced everyone back into reality.
“You want to see or not?” he said, looking at them intensely through the open door.
No, thought Adelana, but even still, she opened her door and stepped out onto the slushy mud. The horrific heat and humidity hit her like a kick to the jaw, causing her to stagger slightly. She was followed by Attelus then Duval and their doors closed in order of their exiting, then slowly, hesitantly they began to approach the large, old barn.
As they stepped inside, to his own enhanced hearing, Attelus' footfalls were silent as he moved across the straw eclipsed floor. By contrast the two magistratum officers and even Adelana's crunching caused him to clench his teeth.
In reality, Adelana was one of the best stealth practitioners under Inquisitor Enandra's command, it was one of the things he felt he trained her well in, but still not good enough.
His hands in the pockets of his flak jacket he scanned the barn. It was huge, at least thirty by twenty metres, every inch of the wooden, wet rotting boards seemed covered in some sort of mould or fungus. Any walls which may have segregated the animals which would've been house here were long gone. The stench of decay was horrible. But lingering beneath it was another smell, a sweet, cloying smell which seemed to embed inside his throat and nose, causing him to fight the urge to gag. Sometimes he couldn’t help curse the enhanced senses farseer had given him. He knew that smell and he knew it well.
Attelus gave Adelana a pointed look which she returned, she knew the smell too. Although not as intimately as him.
It was the smell of the warp, of Chaos.
Attelus wondered if Duval and Fennington could smell it as well. Then couldn’t help wonder if they knew it too, if not actually, but subconsciously.
They halted about half way through the length of the barn, which Attelus recognised from the picts to be where the body was placed.
“It was right here,” said Duval.
Attelus nodded and knelt down then wiped away the ancient, wet, dirty moldy straw in a two metre radius.
No sign of blood, this wasn’t a surprise to him, the picts had indicated it but he’d hoped there would be blood or even traces of blood beneath the straw. It disturbed him more than he could say, no sign of blood indicated the killings had taken place somewhere else. He couldn’t quite remember the weight of the ‘body’ but it was heavy, truly heavy. Someone or something, must’ve carried it from Emperor only knew where and whether that was a few hundred metres or a dozen that indicated he, she or it was strong, unnaturally strong.
Another theory was that there was more than one cultist, but some instinct within Attelus seemed to scream this was the work of one...something. Something sick and twisted beyond imagining. Something which sent rending dread through Attelus’ chest just at the thought of having to potentially confront it.
Attelus stood, flicking the muck from his hands. He used the term ‘cultist’ because this thing, this body was ritualistic, very ritualistic.
He gave Adelana another glance and she gave him an expression which indicated she felt the same.
“How much did it weigh, again?” said Attelus.
“About three hundred kilograms,” said Fennington. “Took a crane to get the damn thing out of here.”
Attelus grimaced and looked up at the triangular, holy ceiling.
“Eighteen,” Attelus said to himself. Eighteen victims total made up that thing’s entirety. Only five of whom were identified, those five being disappearances scattered over the past nine months that’d been investigated by the local magistratum.
It wasn’t hard to identify them, their heads being clearly on display.
Attelus shuddered as the memories of the body in the chiller flashed through his thoughts.
“How far was your search perimeter?” said Attelus.
“Uhh, didn’t we already tell you that?” said Duval.
“Yeah, sorry, I forgot,” said Attelus.
“It was two kilometres, Attelus,” said Adelana.
“Would’ve been further,” said Fennington. “But we couldn’t get enough men out from the city.”
Attelus nodded, they’d found nothing, no sign of a dragged corpse, blood.
And that ‘corpse’ was one hell of a heavy thing to transport.
According to the locals they’d never seen or heard of any strange vehicles entering or leaving the village. To their credit sheriff Kolmar and his men had done a thorough as hell investigation, all the more impressive they managed it even after seeing that thing.
“What do you wanna do?” said Duval.
Attelus drew his power sword with such speed it took Duvan and Fennington a good second to flinch and step back in realisation.
“See if you can find some brooms sweep out all the old hay, we need to give every floor board a good look.” said Attelus,
Attelus activated his sword’s power field in a blaze of blue, rinsing the barn around in light and causing both magistratum constables to wince again. Both had likely never seen a powersword.
“Then we’re checking beneath them,” said Attelus.