Secret War: Upon Blood Sands

 

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Chapter 1

"This is accurate?" asked Attelus Kaltos as he looked up from the data slate, his hazel eyes wide with surprise.

"As much as it can be," said Interrogator Arlathan Karkin who reclined back in his seat, smiling.

They sat in Arlathan's office on the Audacious Edge, the room was large, a good fifteen by thirty metres. The walls made of shining adamantium and Arlathan's desk was inbuilt with an advanced cogitator. A very long Nalwood cabinet sat against the right side wall, keeping Arlathan's large collection of Amasec and other alcohols. Behind the Interrogator was a window taking up the entire width of the office, allowing a good view of Scintilla, the sector's capital world below. The smog covered hive world reminded Attelus unnervingly of Omnartus.

Shit, it'd been three years, three frigging years since the destruction of Omnartus. So much had happened since then and yet so little, Arlathan's promotion as Inquisitor Enandra's Interrogator, the death of the Space Marine chapter responsible, The Destruction Inculpators and Attelus' own ascension to master assassin by Glaitis' old cult.

It'd taken Vex six months to decipher the data downloaded from Taryst's personal cogitator and Attelus had travelled far and wide, investigating into the leads it gave. Adelana working with him as his apprentice. But all of it had been for nothing, no true clue of Etuarq's whereabouts.

Until now, perhaps.

"And it'd been seven months since it'd occurred?" Attelus asked, trying to keep the anger from his tone.

Arlathan shrugged, looking at Attelus with weary eyes. Much had changed, Arlathan now sported an impressively thick neatly kept beard and his once pitch black hair now speckled with bits of grey. His pale skin was marked with scars, two crossed on his right cheek and one from his brow onto his left cheek. Scars said given to him by the traitor Inquisitor, Devan Torathe on the bridge of the Imperial Crusher, so long ago.

What had gone on there, Attelus still didn't know. Arlathan and Inquisitor Enandra seemed determined to never talk about it. Something which he didn't like, but had to respect.

At the thought of scars, Attelus absently touched the huge, ugly black scar just under his left eye. The scar he still refused to have covered by false flesh unless the job needed it, instead electing to hide it underneath a thick fringe of brown hair.

"You know more than anyone how slow information in the Imperium of Mankind can move," said Arlathan. "This occurred in the Gothic Sector, way to the galactic south-east, we're bloody lucky we received it this soon."

"Of course we were," Attelus sighed, placing a palm over his face.

"Let me have a look," said Karmen Kons as she got up from one of the couches and approached.

Attelus smiled and handed it to her. Karmen's attractive features didn't smile back. She wore a black bodyglove, her shoulder length blond hair dead straight and parted in the middle. She was truly attractive, beautiful, perhaps. Her face heart shaped and high cheek boned. Without a word she took the data slate and began scrolling through it.

"Taryst's records indicated a tenuous at best connection," said Attelus.

Arlathan raised an eyebrow, "to general Tathe? Yes, I know you're unwilling to pursuit this thread. They are from your homeworld, they were your heroes as a child, Estella's too."

He furrowed his brow and looked pointedly at Karmen, she ignored him continuing to read the data slate.

"You've been avoiding it," said Arlathan. "But now you can't afford to any longer. A world was put to the sword at general Tathe's behest, Attelus."

"The information is lacking," stated Karmen. "Doesn't even say the world's name, nor even where it is."

Arlathan sighed, "that was beyond our accessibility, that information is classified. Vermillion level."

"But it did happen?" said Attelus.

"Do not know, the information was taken from the Gothic sector's Inquisitorial data banks by one of our long range operatives, but it still seems worth investigating" said Arlathan. "The Elbyran contingent is taking part in a campaign subduing worlds still held by the archenemy in the Orar subsector since Abaddon the Despoiler's 12th Black Crusade. With the sector highly weakened by Abaddon's forces they've been importing Imperial Guard regiments from other sectors to help."

"Where are they now?" Attelus asked.

"The last we heard, the Munitorum had sent them to retake the mining world of Carkeath, in the Savath system" said Arlathan. "That was a month ago, but there were problems."

"And what are they?" asked Karmen, looking up from her dataslate.

"A day after they were scheduled to arrive, the system was cut off by a freak warpstorm," said Arlathan. "We know that the Orar astropaths received a message from the invasion force just before the system went dark…"

"And let me guess," Interrupted Attelus. "The contents of that message too, was Vermillion level."

Arlathan nodded.

"Isn't that a little strange," said Karmen. "Only bits and pieces of that information being classified."

"All of it is classified," said Arlathan. "Our agent isn't high enough on the totem pole to be able to access just the Vermillion level encoded information."

"And fair enough too," agreed Attelus with a shrug. "But Karmen's right. It is strange. Why not all of it being Vermillion?"

Arlathan smiled, "does this stink as much to you as it does me?" he said.

Attelus smiled and raised his eyebrows, which said, 'of course I frigging do.'

"How does it feel?" said Attelus.

"How does what feel?" asked Arlathan, his eyes narrowing.

"Since being made Interrogator you've become quite the uhh, exposition teller," he said.

"Exposition...teller?" said Arlathan, with a bemused furrowed brow.

"Never mind," said Attelus quickly, shaking his head. "What does the Inquisitor want us to do?"

Arlathan tapped his desk with the tip of his fingernail as a guilty expression crossed his face, "she wants you to travel to Carkeath to investigate the Velrosian 1st and general Tathe. Find out the why and how the Exterminatus happened and if it's connected to Etuarq. Also to find out the fate of the Elbyran contingent."

He took out another two data slates from under his desk.

"We've got a team lined up for you and a ship readied to take you to the Gothic Sector," said Arlathan.

"Yeah, that's all well and good and all," said Attelus leaning back in his seat, folding his arms across his chest. "But that's going to be hard, because, y'know it's cut off due to a warp storm and it's also so frigging far away."

"Yeah," sighed Arlathan. "But she also said that, that isn't her problem. That if you have to wait on Orar for the warp storm to clear, then you'll wait on Orar for the warp storm to clear."

"What!" both Karmen and Attelus exclaimed at once.

"That could take frigging centuries!" cried Karmen, the showing the most amount of emotion Attelus had heard from her in a long time.

"The Inquisitor also said that's what rejuvenant treatments are for," said Arlathan. "She also said during that time you could set up a better spy network for our organisation in the Gothic Sector."

Attelus frowned and looked at his data slate, scrolling through the list of agents, he really liked what he saw but…

"Yeah and how can we do that with a squad of ten people?" said Karmen sullenly, verbalising the question Attelus wanted to ask too. "Including us."

Arlathan shrugged, "she said you'll also be well funded. You can hire your own agents once there."

"Of course she did," Attelus said as he shook his head with a smile. "What else did mamzel Enandra say?"

"She also said that Attelus would say 'of course she did,' a few times and would be quite happy with at least one member of the squad," said Arlathan, then he looked at Karmen. "She also said that Karmen wouldn't be…"

Karmen's narrowing eyes made Arlathan quickly shut up.

Arlathan cleared his throat and straightened, "all the rest of the information you need is in your data slates. She also said that it's up to you to brief your squad members."

"Of course…," Attelus started to say, but smiled and stopped himself. "We're done?"

Arlathan nodded, "the mamzel wishes for you to be gone in as soon as two days. She'd also like you to give us a call over the vox when you're ready to leave. So we can see you off."

Attelus got off his seat with a sigh and they turned and started toward the door.

"Attelus," said Arlathan causing Attelus to stop in his tracks. "About Adelana…"

"You've already said enough on her," Attelus snapped. "I don't want to hear anymore now! Okay?"

Arlathan expression was one of sadness before he nodded and lowered his gaze to the cogitator in his desk.

The door slid closed behind Attelus as he stepped into the corridor. Karmen stood, her arms folded over her ample chest, her full lips pouting in annoyance. There was no sign of the horrid, self inflicted scars on her face anymore, the false flesh that covered them was grafted perfectly by Inquisitor Enandra's best surgeons.

Attelus met her gaze for a few seconds before he turned right and continued down the corridor, studying the data slate, his feet silent as they walked over the steel grating.

Karmen fell in step with him, her footfalls clanging in contrast to Attelus' complete silence.

"What do you think?" she said.

Attelus sighed, stopped and lowered his data slate, turning to Karmen.

"That this assignment is a right royal pain in the arse," he sighed, before continuing on again.

He'd only made a few metres more, before Karmen's voice said in his mind, +can your other benefactor help us in this?+

Attelus shrugged, I'll ask her, she what she has to say. It wouldn't be the first time Farseer Faleaseen had provided them a literal shortcut in their endeavours. Only Adelana and Karmen knew of his connection to the Eldar, but it seemed that was going to change.

Temporarily, perhaps.

Karmen nodded, "we have better get the others together," she said, reaching for her vox bead, but she stopped as Attelus raised his hand.

"No," he said, "Inquisitor Enandra seems to know everything about everyone. Let's see if we do. We'll try to find them."

"Sounds like a complete waste of time to me," said Karmen, folding her arms again.

Attelus grinned, "come on Karmen, just humour me here, please."

She rolled her eyes, but was smiling as she groaned and said, "fine! Have it your way! I swear you're like a child sometimes. If we're delayed because of it, it's on you, alright?"

"Don't you worry, we won't," he said.

"Where to first?" she asked.

Attelus smiled, "the training area, of course."

 

 

Attelus had lied, of course. Along the way he just had to stop at the kitchen to get himself a cup of caffeine.

They walked side by side, Attelus with one hand in the pocket of his black flak jacket, while sipping from his cup with the other.

Karmen couldn't help but smile. She remembered the little, stick thin but deadly teenager she'd found in the ruins of Varander ten years ago. Now Attelus was an exceptionally handsome and accomplished young man. He was thin but svelte. His skin pale white and his lips deep red. His sharp featured, eflin face was quite feminine made even more so by his shoulder length brown hair. Karmen always felt he'd look even better if he had his hair cut short, she'd suggested it once or twice, but was promptly ignored. Attelus was far older than he looked, being twenty seven, but looking perhaps, eighteen, nineteen. How he managed to look so youthful after everything was quite beyond her. Karmen knew more of Attelus Kaltos than she'd cared to admit, she knew how hard a life he'd had and couldn't help marvel at how well he'd pulled through it all.

He'd had help, Karmen supposed, Inquisitor Enandra and the little bitch had given him much in the way of moral support over the last three years.

Attelus quickly noticed Karmen looking at him, his five senses were always as sharp as Karmen's sixth and gave her a smile.

Karmen forced away her own smile and looked away, she hadn't forgiven him, she would never forgive him.

He frowned sadly and fixed his attention forwards, he'd seemed to have got the idea of their relationship a long time ago. There was to be no friendship, they were be acquaintances, professionals and that was that.

It was his own damned fault, and as he would say, in all honesty.

They turned and walked through the doorway leading into the training facility

All around dozens upon dozens of elite soldiers under Enandra's command were practising hand to hand drills, bayonet techniques and disarming and wrestling style fighting on blue soft mats

Almost everyone was a large bastard, as muscular as Attelus was thin. Their every technique was brilliant and practised almost to perfection. She tried not to stare, many men were stripped to the waste, their sweat slicked torsos corded with muscle. Some were women, but only a few.

In the corner of her eye, Karmen saw Attelus looking on with a small measure of an amused, half smile, his brow furrowed arrogantly.

None of them could even come close to taking him and he knew it. Attelus was one of the most dangerous individuals Karmen had ever met and that was saying a lot. His arrogance was almost justified, almost. He must never forget, that there was always someone, somewhere better.

Karmen looked over the Stormtroopers training but saw no sign of any one on their list.

"Try the sparring cages," Attelus said, scratching the back of his head before slipping his hand back into its pocket and taking another sip of caffeine.

They moved through the thoroughfare, many a soldier noticed them and stopped to salute or make the sign of the Aquila.

Attelus and Karmen nodded or saluted back politely.

They eventually came to the five large sparring cages set at the end of the huge hall. In the first one figure was a complete blur of speed and skill, fighting off five close combat servitors with blunted blades at once, so much so Karmen couldn't even make out who it was.

"Hey Darrance!" Attelus yelled quickly as they stopped to watch. "A frig head says what?"

It was Darrance, how the hell Attelus was capable of telling that was anyone's guess

Darrance didn't deign to reply he just continued his battle.

"Hmm, was worth a try," said Attelus with a smile and a shrug, looking sidelong at Karmen

Karmen was about to reply when abruptly there was a loud buzz and a servitor's flat toned voice said, "horizontal slash to sternum a fatal blow, end of session."

Darrance let out a frustrated growl as he spun away flourishing his long, two handed sword to whip off the imaginary blood and stalked toward them. Darrance was very pretty as well, but his features were grimmer, much more gaunt and haughty. His white hair was once long but now he wore it close cropped and short. He was also thin and long limbed but was much taller than Attelus being just under two metres. Darrance was obviously highborn, Karmen had been a lord's daughter back on Velrosia, she had to have many dealings with the upper class as a child so she knew his type well.

Spoilt and totally up himself but he wasn't without his merits, he was a swordsman of equal skill to Attelus but was also an extensively talented pilot and held much in the way wisdom and intellect, he was usually more correct than not in his statements and assumptions. He and Attelus were once mercenaries working under the same assassin sect, they still did but were permanently outsourced under Enandra's command.

But, Karmen was sure both of them were truly loyal to Enandra.

"I hope you are aware…" Darrance gasped but stopped himself and frowned, he was obviously going to call Attelus 'apprentice' but that title didn't fit him any more. "Attelus, you made me frig up then."

Attelus grinned as if it was the greatest achievement of his entire existence, it proved infectious and Karmen couldn't help smile along with him. After Omnartus' destruction, it'd taken a long time for Attelus to be able to smile again, a very long time. He had a nice smile and she'd missed it greatly.

Darrance smirked, shook his head, turned away and barked, "training simulation! Level ten, start!"

Attelus took another sip of caffeine and they walked on, idly gazing into the sparring cages. In the next were two more assassins from the cult, Delathasi and Kerlia were sparring. Delathasi was wielding dual short blades while Kerlia, she fought with a two handed axe.

Both were a blur, but not quite as quick or skilled as Darrance. They were young, seventeen so inexperienced. Delathasi was apprenticed to Darrance and Kerlia was under Hayden Tresch. Although Hayden was no where to be seen. Kerlia was like Hayden more of a sniper, but she still seemed intent on practising with close combat weaponry.

Attelus and Karmen stopped, watching them. Karmen, a long time ago, before she had focused on her gift, was quite the swordswoman and she could see Delathasi was holding back.

"Hmm, pretty good," said Attelus, his words tinged with melancholy and Karmen knew why, they both reminded him of Elandria.

It was in the third they found two of the people they were looking for, Adelana and Helma were locked in combat. They wielded blunted practise long swords and Karmen couldn't help but be impressed by their skill. Both had only started to learn the blade three years ago and both had learned under Attelus.

Attelus smiled like a proud father and drunk back the rest of his caffeine in one long gulp.

"Still got a long way to go, though," said Attelus absently. "To catch up with Delthasi and Kerlia."

"And those two will just keep on improving as well," said Karmen. "I don't think they'll ever catch up, Delathsi and Kerlia have been training since they were really young."

Attelus grimaced and shrugged, quickly seeing her point.

Karmen felt a very familiar presence, a very familiar feeling, this despite her trying to suppress her gift and she turned to see two women in black singlets and combat pants walking toward their way. Karmen recognised them as trainees on the matts and quickly remembered their names, troopers Salantha and Olianthis. Both were drenched in sweat and looking at Attelus as they walked past. The emotion which radiated from them like a blindingly powerful lamp pack, was attraction, but Karmen didn't need to be a telepath to tell that. It was a regular occurrence and Karmen fought back her annoyance, women were just as bad as men at objectification, if not even worse. With her gift no longer so suppressed she started to sense at least twenty of the men around in the room were attracted to her, looking at her. Their thoughts ranged from disgusting to moderately respectful, some were even somewhat nice.

Hissing through clenched teeth, she pushed away the thoughts whirling through her mind, then gave the two woman a withering glare which caused them to look away and continue quickly onward.

Karmen looked back into the cage, and she glanced sidelong at Attelus. He was so entrenched in watching he hadn't even noticed them checking him out, which was uncharacteristic. Karmen knew why, he was really looking at Adelana, who was also only in a sweat slicked singlet and combat pants. Adelana was a pretty thing, beautiful in fact, her face diamond shaped, with a long nose and full, lusciously red lips. Her skin was very pale and covered in freckles, her tied back hair red with brilliant blonde streaks.

As Attelus has said, Adelana was truly beautiful, but in an understated way, like many of the bird species back on Velrosia. They were coloured with dark greens and blues unlike the birds of the Elbyran continent of Aluthisa where they were bright, overly ostentatious. Velrosian birds were no less pretty but in a different way. As Attelus was popular with the women, she was just as popular with the men and there were many competing for her affection in the organisation.

Karmen frowned and folded her arms, they didn't have time for this.

+Helma! Adelana!+ she sent, with a bit more force than necessary, causing them to stop and flinch in pain. +Get out here, we've got a mission!+

Both Helma and Adelana, glared at her but quickly Helma opened the door and they stepped out.

"A mission?" growled Helma, she was a short, plain faced woman with ruddy brown skin and a large, ugly scar on her left cheek. Her blonde hair was close cropped short and her build more muscular than many men. She was a soldier, hard edged and unsentimental, a leader. She'd been a captain in the 51st Fenksworld regiment and so was a captain in Taryst's mercenary forces which was modelled on the Imperial guard. Over the past three years she'd proven a masterful military tactician, and a dependent, ruthlessly effective long range fighter, but lacked true talent for undercover work.

"Yes," said Karmen and looked to Adelana, she was the exact opposite to Helma. While she too was an excellent shot and only average close combatant. Adelana seemed to have a natural affinity for undercover and stealth work. Only after three years of training she was already one of their best. Karmen had to admit her and Attelus made for an excellent team, both having skill sets that complemented and contrasted each other well.

"It's a pretty big one too," said Attelus.

"We finally have a lead on Etuarq?" asked Adelana sounding excited and looking at Attelus intently.

He shrugged and met her gaze. Adelana was one of the very few native Omnartisians left and so was one of the most eager to bring the rogue Inquisitor to justice.

"Perhaps," he breathed, Karmen knew out of all of Adelana's features, Attelus appreciated her large sea-blue eyes the most. "But there's no guarantee."

Adelana pursed her lips and nodded in disappointment, but continued to look at Attelus.

"Anyone know if anyone else on the list is here?" said Karmen and she read from the dataslate the list of squad members assigned to the mission.

"No," said Helma bluntly and she furrowed her brow. "Why do you ask? Why not call them over the comms?"

Karmen smiled and waved a thumb at Attelus, "mr weirdo here wishes to waste time tracking all of you down. I thought I'd humour him."

"I'm right here, you know," said Attelus, but still grinned from almost ear to ear.

"Says it's a test," said Karmen. "See how well we know the people who are to work with us."

"And I was right," said Attelus proudly. "I knew they would be here."

Karmen raised an eyebrow, "it hardly takes a genius to think that someone might be at the training room, Attelus."

Attelus raised his hands, the empty cup hanging from his index finger, "alright! Alright! Is it annual take the piss out of Attelus day, is it?"

"Everyday is take the piss out of Attelus day," Adelana laughed.

"Story of my life," said Attelus with a good humoured sigh.

"We may as well come with you," said Helma, "try to speed up this farce a bit."

Attelus pursed his lips and tore his attention away from Adelana to Helma, trying to see if the ex-guardswoman was joking or not and frowned as he quickly saw she wasn't.

He sighed, slipped his free hand into it's pocket, turned on the balls of his feet and started back.

"Alright, alright," he said. "Can't waste any more time, we've better head on then."

"Where to first?" said Adelana as they started after him.

"I'm taking a wild guess," said Karmen. " And saying...the shooting range."

Attelus, with his back to them, muttered something indignantly.

"Yeah," said Karmen, smiling. "We're going to the shooting range."

 

 

Much to no one's surprise the shooting range indeed their next destination.

Attelus was the first through the door and they approached the desk of the range's custodian, a grumpy middle aged and going to seed ex-guardsman named Gorres. Gorres sat back casually in his worn leather chair, reading a data slate. Karmen knew how much of a sleaze the old bastard was and had no wish to know what he was looking at.

"Yo," said Attelus as they approached and he held up his cup. "Mind if I give you this?"

Gorres sat up and glared Attelus up and down as though he'd just asked if he could lay with his daughter. (Calestia Gorres was a pretty little trainee just starting in the Stormtrooper corps)

"Please," said Attelus, grinning and shaking the cup.

"Ahh give here!" growled Gorres and snatched the cup from Attelus with impressive speed. "You maybe a big mighty Throne agent now, but I've been workin' in this organisation before you were even in ya daddy's sack! I ain't ya bloody servitor, got it?"

"Fair enough," said Attelus, raising his hands in diplomatic supplication. "Never would've even considered you were, not for a second. Thank you by the way."

"Yeah," growled Gorres. "If ya gonna go into the range, don't forget to wear your damn ear protectors."

"Of course," said Attelus as he approached the wall the ear protectors hung off and he began to take them down and started to hand them to the others.

They walked through the thick glass steel doors and into the range and even with the ear protectors on, the discharge of weapons fire was horrid. Causing Karmen to involuntarily wince.

The firing range was huge, easily as large as the practise area, but despite this it wasn't large enough, as they past by a long line of soldiers waiting to take their turn at the range. Most of them gazing appreciatively at Adelana and Karmen while they walked.

They were half way through when they found another assigned to their team and Karmen wasn't surprised at all to find him here. Trooper Jelket, stood, las gun braced as he took shot after shot at the target. He wore his Stormtrooper carapace but was helmetless. Jelket was an average looking man of average height and average build. His skin was tanned and his black hair curly, scruffy. He'd lost his right arm from an Astartes bolter round back on Omnartus, now it was replaced by an advanced augmetic. That seemed almost normal at first glance. But at closer look one could see the joints in the fingers.

Karmen liked Jelket, he was an intelligent, forward thinking, observant character, but also strangely dumb in other circumstances. He was awkward but always pleasant, kind but more than a little bit paranoid. A real conspiracy theorist, in fact he was one of the first people who'd figured out about Taryst's secret before anyone else.

Most of his other theories were a bit beyond reality, even for Attelus' taste who too was paranoid beyond belief.

Jelket paused in his shots and turned to them as they approached, grinning widely.

"Hey! What are you guys doing here?" he said.

"You caught up to Hayden yet?" asked Attelus.

Jelket shook his head, he was one of the best shots in the organisation, but Hayden Tresch was the best and the two had a friendly rivalry. Karmen had never felt any bitterness from Jelket for being second best (in fact he held that position with at least three others, depending, as it would change constantly, but Jelket was always at least fifth, there was fierce competition for second place)

"You guys here to support me?" asked Jelket, sounding legitimately hopeful. "Cheer me on?"

"No," stated Helma, folding her arms across her chest, her tone implied she thought such a thing would be the biggest waste of time in the galaxy.

Jelket pursed his lips and grimaced, looking highly disappointed.

"We're here because we need you for another mission," said Karmen, trying to a bait the young ex-guardsman's frown.

"Oh? Really?" he said. "Something about that shit-head Etuarq?"

"Perhaps," said Attelus. "Can't guarantee anything yet."

"You know I suggested we look into Marius Hax, right?" said Jelket. "He must be involved being the lord…"

Attelus raised a hand, causing Jelket to cut his sentence short, "yes," he sighed. "You've said that on numerous occasions now, but there is no true evidence that he's involved, there was no mention at all of him in Taryst's records. Anyway, Omnartus was a hub world, it's production of minerals was huge and served the sub-sector and even the entire Calixis sector well. It'd even supplied some excellent Imperial Guard regiments, many still in service now, I really doubt, even if he is a traitor he was involved at all."

"But that's what he wants you to think!" insisted Jelket.

Attelus sighed and rolled his eyes, then checked his wrist chron, "and how do you propose we find that out? Burst into his office, put a las pistol to his head and get him to spill his secrets? We maybe Inquisition now but we haven't the right without sufficient evidence and even if we did every Amalathian from here to Thracian Primaris would be on our arses faster than you can say, 'you idiot.'"

Attelus sighed, "just please meet us at briefing quarters 56a at 1600, got that?"

"Yes sir!" said Jelket with a salute.

They pushed past Jelket who continued on with his practise.

"You and I are both aware that we have, as we speak, spies investigating into Marius Hax and his underlings on Scintilla," Karmen whispered in his ear.

"Of course," said Attelus with a small smile. "But I wouldn't admit that to him, would you?"

Karmen smiled, seeing his point.

"Besides," said Attelus, while stretching his long arms over his head and intertwining his fingers together. Karmen was sure that he didn't even know he was doing it, the instinct so entrenched in his psyche. "It's just a necessity, we're doing it with pretty much all the rulers across the sector, or at least trying to. You know, just in case."

They only had to walk a few metres more to find another member of their squad. Torris was waiting in the line, shotgun slung over his shoulder his arms folded over his chest.

Torris was a large, muscular man with very dark brown skin. He was once one of Taryst's most capable employees and before that a member of the Adeptus Arbites on Malfi. With his background of law enforcement he was incredible at reading people, so much so Karmen couldn't help suspect he might have some latent psychic ability. He had after the Omnartus incident, in respect to his murdered friend, Jeurat Garrakson taken up training for heavy weapons and due to his size and strength proved a natural.

He'd once been a charismatic, cheery caring person, but after Omnartus he turned grim and ruthless. Torris still blamed Attelus for the death of their friend and would never forgive him for it, which Karmen couldn't help feel was a true tragedy. If Adelana could forgive Attelus for his role in the death of her homeworld, why couldn't Torris forgive him for what Garrakson did? What also made it sadder was Karmen was sure it wasn't really Attelus' fault. They'd been good friends, and Attelus had needed that friendship over the last three years. Karmen had attempted to talk with Torris in private once or twice about it but the ex-arbitrator wouldn't hear of it.

Despite this, Torris was pragmatic enough to to put aside this for the mission. He still respected Attelus somewhat for his skill as a spy and an assassin, but that was that.

"Marcel," said Karmen as they approached.

Torris sniffed and looked them over, "we got a mission?" he asked.

Karmen nodded.

"Good, about frigging time," he growled and looked at Attelus from under a hooded brow. "And you're the leader, I assume?"

Attelus frowned and said, "I am."

Torris nodded but showed no emotion.

Adelana stepped past Karmen, her hands balled into fists.

"We're to meet at briefing room 56a at 1600," she growled through gritted teeth. "Alright?"

Karmen pursed her lips, it was generally well known that Adelana really disliked Torris. For obvious reasons.

Torris grimaced slightly, looking down at Adelana and folding his thick arms across his wide chest.

Karmen didn't have to be a telepath to tell it meant; what right do you have to order me around, little girl?

Karmen cleared her throat, causing Torris to look her way.

"We're looking for Verenth, Hayden, Vark and Halsin," she said, ignoring Attelus' glare and pouty look. "You know where any of them are?"

Torris shrugged, "where Hayden is, is anyone's guess, could be with the Tech Priests, could be in the armory, could be at the frigging library. Verenth's probably in his quarters, he isn't here so he's most likely there. Vark's probably in the Ecclesiarch. Halsin, well he's most definitely…"

"Here," a voice interrupted him and Torris turned to reveal Halsin who approached them. A laspistol held confidentially in his left hand.

With his bulging thyroid eyes, beneath his thick framed glasses, he always looked like he was in a constant state of surprise.

Halsin was once a tall, scrawny, awkward medicae under Taryst's employ but over the past three years he'd grown. Volunteering as a front line medicae he had served on many assignments since they were taken under Inquisitor Enandra's wing. This as well as countless hours of training with the Stormtrooper corps had hardened him, giving him some confidence. He wasn't as good as any of the elite soldiers, but could still hold his own in a fight. Unless it was close combat, he was still gangly but only a little less now. But his supreme skill with a scalpel, bandaging and ability to keep calm under pressure more than made up for that.

"Halsin!" said Attelus. "Good to see you."

Halsin was one for few words, he simply grimly nodded in reply.

"Been practising at the range?" Attelus said. "What's your percentile now?"

Halsin grimaced in distaste and answered hesitantly, "seventy nine."

Attelus shrugged, "still better than me."

"Well, even a cross eyed Grox could shoot better than you!" said Adelana, but with a playful grin causing both Torris and Helma to chuckle with amusment. Karmen couldn't help roll her eyes. She hated their flirty, playful banter.

Attelus furrowed his brow and pursed his lips, before a wide smile crossed his face, "I do get seventy to seventy three, I doubt a cross eyed Grox could do quite that well. We all can't be good at everything, unless you're a freak called Hayden Tresch."

"The only freak around here is you," said Helma making mostly everyone, even Karmen chuckle.

"I am presuming we have an assignment," said Halsin, as humourless as ever.

"You presume correctly," said Torris. "You seen Verenth, Tresch or Vark?"

"Verenth and Hayden I wouldn't have a clue," he said. "But I saw Verenth not long ago, when I was leaving the medicae. As I understand it, he's getting a tattoo."

"What? Yet another tattoo?" exclaimed Adelana.

"Yes, another tattoo," said Halsin, sharing none of Adelana's astonishment.

"Well!" said Attelus. "Next stop, the medicae."

"Or you could, you know, call them," said Helma. "Because that's what Vox links are for."

Attelus shrugged and sighed, "alright, we'll go get Verenth, then call the other two."

"That's not what I meant," muttered Helma, although Helma had been a captain and was older than Attelus, she'd never begrudged his more senior status, but she had little patience for his eccentricities.

"You guys wanna come with?" said Attelus, ignoring her.

Halsin and Torris exchanged a look.

Torris shrugged, "yeah I'll come, don't want Attelus having his own bloody harem, do we?"

"What? You jealous, Torris?" said Attelus with a wide grin.

"Correction," said Torris. "Don't want him thinking he's got his own harem."

"I think, therefore I am," said Attelus.

Torris pursed his lips and shrugged, conceding defeat, "you make that up now, or get it from somewhere?"

Attelus shrugged back, not rising to the bait.

"I guess I will come too," said Halsin. "Will need to retrieve some equipment from there anyway."

"Alrighty," said Attelus. "Let's get going, then."

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Chapter 2

It didn't take long for them to find Verenth in the large medicae, they just had to follow the loud buzzing sound to it's source. Verenth sat stripped to the waist as surgeon Solvik applied the ink to his bicep.

If Adelana could describe her fellow Omnatisian in one word it would be, 'snake.' She'd never actually seen a snake, not first hand, but she'd read about them and seen illustrations. Verenth was a tall, very thin and long limbed young man, but that wasn't what was most snake like about him. That was his eyes. Stark, pitiless and coloured a strange, light green. His plain, gaunt almost chinless face was hard, perpetually frowning. His head shaven, allowing everyone to see the numerous tattoos covering his skull.

Adelana was never sure how to act around the passionate, intense ex-hammer, he too was one of the few remaining survivors of Omnartus, that made any and all interaction out of assignments very awkward. Not just that but he scared her, constantly it felt he was going to explode into rage in any second, especially when around Attelus. Adelana had once thought it was because of the part Attelus had played in the destruction of their homeworld. But she'd learned from Attelus that it wasn't just that, but the assassin had also killed Verenth's brother, Verenth had even witnessed it first hand. Unlike Torris he had a very good reason to hate Attelus but despite this the ex-hammer still worked under the ex-mercenary. Like Torris he was pragmatic and saw the big picture enough to know there was more at stake.

"Hey Verenth," said Attelus with a small wave as they approached, causing the ex-hammer's attention to snap at him, his perpetually frowning face somehow frowned even more.

"What is it?" he growled, eyeing them from under his hooded brow.

"We've been assigned a mission," said Attelus, still sounding cheery despite Verenth's demeanor. Verenth never seemed to intimidate Attelus or Attelus never showed the intimidation he felt. Out of everyone in their group, besides, maybe, Tresch. Verenth had the highest chance of killing the super human. He was a gunslinger, his hands faster on the draw with his auto pistol and stubb revolver than thought, inhumanly fast in fact. He was also one of the five top contestants for second best shot in the organisation. If he could somehow catch Attelus off guard…

Adelana glanced at Karmen who stood next to her, the psyker's expression was unreadable her arms folded across her ample chest. No, Adelana corrected herself, if any one here could kill Attelus it was Karmen Kons. Adelana knew she didn't like her, hated her in fact and she knew why. This despite Adelana never intending to ever have any kind of relationship with him, inspite of…

Adelana should've been utterly terrified by the psyker's enmity, knowing what Karmen Kons was capable of, but she wasn't. The Psyker was not petty, in fact she was one of the most reliable people on the team, she'd saved Adelana's life on countless occasions over the past three years. In fact if it wasn't for her Adelana would've died with Omnartus.

"If you haven't guessed yet," said Attelus knocking Adelana from her train of thought.

Verenth sighed, shook his head and rolled his eyes, "yeah, I guessed, boss. I was just hoping it wasn't, that somehow not saying it would make it untrue."

Attelus smiled, apparently ignoring Verenth's sarcasm when he said 'boss.'

"Fair enough," said Attelus, he never seemed to begrudge Verenth of his immense dislike toward him. He understood it and was genuinely regretful for the injustice he'd perpetrated. "And as much as I respect anyone who fights fate, the frigging bastard. I'm sorry to say it's won this day."

Verenth groaned, "alright, just let Solvik finish my tattoo."

"Can he do it in..." Attelus checked his wrist chron. "Fifteen minutes? We've got briefing room 56a booked at 1600."

Verenth scowled and looked pointedly at the tattoo on his left bicep. Adelana was no expert but it seemed far from finished. From what was done it looked like the starting of a winged, green robed, faceless figure holding a sword to it's chest, tip downward.

"Hmm," said Attelus, stroking his thin chin. "Dark Angels, right?"

Verenth stiffened visibly.

"They saved my homeworld from invasion," said Attelus. "They've interested me ever since."

"Funny," growled Verenth. "Space Marines saved your world but destroyed mine."

Attelus frowned, "that's why I find it ironic that you would…"

"Last time I checked," interrupted Verenth. "It wasn't the Dark Angels who did it, it was the Destruction Inculpators or The Desolation Inculpators, whatever, they're gone now, faced justice. Just because they did it doesn't mean all Space Marine chapters are the same."

"Besides," said Verenth. "I think it just looks frigging cool."

Attelus nodded, "sorry to interrupt your tattoo but if it's any consolation this mission may or may not involve our enemy."

Verenth's snake-like eyes widened briefly, "you mean the enemy?"

Attelus shook his head and he turned to walk away, "perhaps and emphasis on perhaps," he said with another brief wave. "See you soon."

"I'll be there," said Verenth as Attelus lead them away. "I'll frigging be there."

Adelana could see Attelus was smiling slightly and Torris, glaring at him in disapproval. That was another reason why Torris didn't like him, he could be so very manipulative.

If any one scared Adelana, truly scared her it was Attelus Xanthis Kaltos. She knew he'd been through hell, and couldn't help admire that he didn't come out of it worse off, but she knew he was constantly teetering on a precipice between sanity and insanity. That in any second he could fall permanently into the metaphorical darkness, into his murderous, manipulative mentality. It was only sheer force of will that prevented it. That was one the many reasons she didn't want more, to be more that just colleagues, she knew he dearly wanted that but…

"I'll get Hayden and Vark over the vox," said Helma interrupting Adelana's thought process and she reached for her microbead.

"Yes," said Attelus. "You do that."

 

 

 

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Chapter 3

With Arlathan and Kollath at her flanks. Inquisitor Jelcine Enandra stood in the large, bustling hangar bay. Waiting at the base of the boarding ramp of Attelus and company's assigned Guncutter. It was a Salvani class VIII Guncutter, in fact the very same Salvani class VIII Guncutter they'd escaped Omnartus three years ago. It'd proven a reliable and capable void-class ship over the years.

Arlathan, on her left, eyed the inquisitor side-long, she wore her master worked, black lined with gold power armour and she just seemed to radiate authority and charisma with such strength it was almost palpable. Her piercing blue eyes fixed forwards, her attractive features, unreadable.

Jelcine's healthy, chocolate brown skin shown in the bright light and her very long, thin white hair was tied up in a top knot and a pointed, wide brimmed hat customary for the Ordo Hereticus, tucked into her armpit.

To say the symbolism was obvious would've been the biggest understatement of the millennia, as Attelus would say.

Kollath stood on her right, his helmet was held under his arm, revealing his ridiculous to the point of being cartoonish, masculine, handsome features, the tip of his ceremonial power sword on the floor

Arlathan grimaced slightly and turned to young Vex Carpompter.

The slightly built young hacker stood straight as an arrow, trying his hardest to look tough and failing miserably.

"Relax, kid," said Arlathan and he couldn't help but smile, "you look like someone's stuck a Lascannon up your proverbial rectum."

After Jeurat Garrakson had died on Omnartus, Arlathan had taken up teaching Vex how to fight, in the very rare times they could both get the time. Arlathan over the past three years, had grown to think of Vex as a little brother of sorts. He reminded Arlathan of himself when he was young, arrogant, talented and about as coordinated as a drunken Grox.

Arlathan, though had worked through that and became the top hand to hand combatant in his Magistratum precinct. It'd taken him a few years of constant training but he got there, Vex still had a while yet, even after so long.

Or maybe Arlathan was just a terrible teacher? He quickly dismissed the thought, as a low life Marshall he'd taught his fair share of recruits and they'd all done pretty well.

Vex visibly relaxed, "sorry," the kid stammered.

Arlathan smiled and shook his head.

"What are you doing here, anyway?" asked Kollath gruffly. "Shouldn't you be at your little Cogitator typing away, with your skinny, girly little fingers? That's where you belong, isn't it?"

Arlathan glared at the Stormtrooper sergeant, "shut it, Kollath," he growled.

"Or you'll what, pube face?" said Kollath. "Shoot me? My arse has a better beard than you by the way."

"I outrank you, remember, sergeant," said Arlathan. "So shut up."

"Well, I outrank the both of you," said Enandra, her voice was soft but cut over the din like a powered blade through paper. "So both of you shut up. Oh, and Kollath. Vex has every right to be here, he might not be seeing his friends for a long time, so of course he'll see them off."

Kollath grimaced and muttered, "he even has friends? News to me."

This elicited another glare from Arlathan and he wondered for the thousandth time what Inquisitor saw in him.

Jelcine placed the wide brimmed hat on her head and asked, "Arlathan, how do I look?"

Arlathan opened his mouth to answer, but quickly stopped himself, knowing he'd just gush. To Enandra it'd just come off as arse kissing and if the Inquisitor truly hated anything it was sycophants. Them and Amalathians and the Ecclesiarchy and Chaos and mindless fanatics, the list was long.

"You look like the embodiment of all the Ordo Hereticus stands for, ma'am" said Arlathan, after some thought, and it was the truth.

A small smile slowly crossed her full lips, "I hope you are aware of the irony of your words, Arlathan."

"I am," said Arlathan. "But it doesn't make it any less true, ma'am."

It was then that Attelus and his team walked into the hanger

In the lead was the young man himself, he walked with his usual confident, casual graceful gait, indicative of his status as an extremely skilled swordsman and martial artist. This despite carrying three big, bulky equipment bags. One on his back and one in each hand. It was very easy to forget just how strong Attelus was due to his slight height and slender build. He was the only one smiling.

Next was Adelana and Halsin. The young, very attractive red head's face was as unreadable as always. She wore a grey syn skin bodyglove, and a pack on her back almost as large as one of the three Attelus carried. Slung on her left shoulder was her signature weapon, a silenced bolter with a wire stock attachment, she too was far stronger than she looked being of similar height and build to Attelus. The irony wasn't lost on Arlathan that an agent with a more subtle skill set would use such an unsubtle weapon.

Halsin looked not quite as calm, he carried not just one pack but many pouches of medical equipment that hung awkwardly from his webbing. They would've added a lot more weight on the poor young man's thin frame, this on top of an auto gun. Even many hardened Imperial guard veterans would suffer under such weight, which made the young medicae's level of physical fitness all the more impressive.

After them was Karmen Kons and Vark. Karmen carried just as much as Attelus and just as easily, but this was because she was wearing power armour of similar form fitting design to the Inquisitor. It was coloured a dull grey and withheld much of the more fanciful decoration of the Inquisitor's but that didn't detract from the aura of power and intimidation the armour gave off. A psychic hood hung over her head. Karmen Kons was easily the most powerful and skilled psyker the organisation possessed. There was a rivalry between her and Enandra's personal psyker, Helva but it was mostly one sided. She'd been gifted the power armour because of that extreme power and strength, it would also to protect her during the many times Karmen would leave her body in her incorporeal form.

Vark was in full Stormtrooper carapace, his rebreather mask hung from his helmet, He carried his Hell gun with the casual calm only the truly professional was capable of, his small blue eyes darting anywhere and everywhere, soaking every detail. He was already in full on bodyguard mode despite still being on a ship full of friendlies. As much as Arlathan had his misgivings of the ex-mercenary's personality and beliefs he couldn't deny he was skilled and experienced beyond belief.

Following was Hayden and Jelket. The reason why Jelket had been assigned as Hayden's guard and spotter instead of the sniper's apprentice was because Serlia had been called back by their cult. She had been deemed, at Hayden's and Enandra's recommendation, good enough to have finished her apprenticeship. Once she'd completed her trials she would be re-assigned under Enandra again.

That was if she completed the trials, apparently they were as hard as hell. Just after the destruction of Omnartus, Attelus had to take them too and even he had struggled to pass. Although he'd never supplied Arlathan with any detailed summary.

Hayden was weighed down even more than Attelus and Karmen, although he was struggling noticeably. The huge man wore a black bodyglove, equipment bristled off his webbing and he carried two bags in each hand and had his Long las and a knapsack slung on his broad back.

Jelket, like Vark wore his full Stormtrooper carapace but carried a Long Las,yet on top of that he also carried a Hell gun and charge pack. To anyone else carrying both weapons without power armour would've been awkward to say the least, but the ex-guardsman somehow could manage it, easily infact, being able to change from one weapon to the other in the blink of an eye. It made him a very adaptable soldier, perhaps even more so than Hayden. But this also made him incapable of carrying much else. (hence why Hayden was carrying five bags)

Just after was Torris and Verenth. Torris had stubbornly refused to wear Inquisitorial carapace, foregoing it for the lighter but not as strong, dark blue Arbites carapace. He carried his Melta gun and had his shotgun slung under his left arm. On his back was surely the largest backpack of all one that contained the drums of igniter fluid for the high powered tank killing weapon he carried. Torris as usual looked angry, his brow furrowed, brown eyes fixed forward. His lantern jaw so strong that that he rivaled Kollath in manliness.

Verenth was a complete contrast to Torris, both had opposite backgrounds and he wore no armour at all. Still electing to wear the leathers of his gang back on Omnartus, the insignia on his back. The tall, lanky young man was also laden with equipment, her face a mask of intense concentration.

Last it was Delathasi and Helma.

Delathasi wore a black bodyglove, like Hayden. Her twin mono-blades sheathed on her back. The tall, long limbed apprentice walked with an easy grace belying her lankiness despite carrying another large bag and struggling to keep it from dragging on the floor. Delathasi's attention was set downward, her soft features contorted with strain. It was a shame to Arlathan, she would've been truly attractive if it wasn't for her pugilist's nose and very noticeable acne.

With that thought Arlathan glanced at Vex, who stood entranced by the girl. Arlathan didn't know if the young assassin felt the same but he couldn't help feel sorry for Vex.

Helma, again, wore full Stormtrooper carapace and walked with so much confidence it almost became haughtiness, she easily carried two very large bags and had her Hell gun slung casually over her left shoulder. She was strong, easily one of the strongest women in the organisation, Arlathan had decided a long time ago to never mess with her.

Following them were seven servitors, carrying the bulk of their equipment.

The crewmen and other servitors moving throughout the hanger stopped and stepped aside, allowing them a way through. Such was the respect they commanded.

Attelus approached and stopped, not even having to drop his huge bags to bring his hands together and make the sign of the Aquila at his chest. Behind him everyone else halted and there was a collective sigh as Delathasi, Halsin, Verenth and Jelket dropped their bags.

"Mamzel Enandra, Interrogator Arlathan, Sergeant Kollath, Vex," he said. "It's good to see you."

Enandra smiled, "you do know we have more Servitors to carry your equipment right, Attelus?

Attelus shrugged, "a bit of strength training has never hurt anyone," he said.

"Yes it has," said Helma.

Attelus just pouted and furrowed his brow.

"Well," said Enandra. "This will be your first mission leading such a large team, you nervous?"

He shrugged, "well, if you hadn't assigned me so many people who hated me, I'd be a bit less nervous."

"That's understandable," said Enandra. "Just don't let that nervousness overtake you and you'll do fine. I have great faith in you, Attelus. I wouldn't have made you mission leader if I did not."

"I won't," he said with admirable conviction. "There's too much as stake here, mamzel, and thank you."

"Good," said Enandra with a nod, "good to hear that."

She pulled her gaze away from the assassin and looked over his compatriots, meeting each pair of eyes in turn. Arlathan followed her gaze as did Attelus.

What she saw caused Enandra to sigh, "I can see that many of you are not happy to be assigned this mission and I'll be honest, I sympathise. There are surely varying reasons why you feel like this, and again, I'm sure they are good reasons."

She paused and began to pace, Arlathan watched her, enraptured, her skill as an orator wasn't rivaled. Well, except for one, Inquisitor Brutis Bones, also of the Ordo Hereticus, was almost as good.

"Some might feel that I am exiling you, getting rid of you, that is not true," she said, her armour joints whirring with every step. "Some of you might feel that I send you away because I think you incompetent or expendable, that as well is not true. In fact that is the complete opposite reason."

Enandra paused again, meeting the eyes of everyone once more, "I send you because all of you, bar none have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are among the best. Not just the best in my organisation, but amongst the best of the Ordo Calixis. Time and time again you have proven your skill and ability and reliability and excelled in your field of expertise."

She stopped her pacing, "individually all of you have made great achievements. Attelus! You have killed Space Marines! Not just one, not just two but three! Three! I couldn't even claim such a feat! Adelana! You managed to infiltrate a Slaaneshi cult and kill their leader and slip away hours before the cultists even had a clue what happened! Verenth! You have head shot an enemy from two hundred metres on the draw! Torris! You managed to single handedly hold off dozens and dozens of attacking cultists for hours, allowing for Imperial Guard reinforcements to drop in and finish it!"

Enandra trailed off and smiled, "if I stood here and listed all of your achievements, I would be here for hours, but I think you get my point. If you could perform such feats alone, imagine how many you could achieve together. I believe, no I know that you will take down Etuarq and do much much much more!"

"Maybe even conquer a world?" she said eventually and many laughed at such an absurdity.

She shrugged, "you never know. Now I will not hold you up any longer. I wish all of you the best of luck and may the Emperor be with you."

With that she stepped aside and they began to file into the Guncutter saying their farewells as they went.

"Thank you for that," said Attelus as he too allowed the others to pass. "Amazing, awe inspiring speeches like that aren't exactly my forte, in all honesty."

"Everyone has their own style of leadership," said Enandra. "You'll find yours sooner rather than later. I know it."

Attelus smiled and held out his hand which Enandra took and shook, "well, I hope we'll see you again, and sooner rather than later."

Then he started up the ramp after the others.

"Oh! And Attelus!" she called, causing him to stop and look over his shoulder at her.

"Remember, anything and everything to win, right?"

Attelus stared at her blankly before saying, "as you wish."

Then he started up the ramp again, muttering, "as you wish, indeed," with an unseen smile.

 

 

Part 2: Iocanthos

The week of warp travel to Iocanthos was uneventful.

Enandra had organised them a ride on the trading frigate The Calamandastron and needless to say the ship master, a haughty, aristocratic character named Durpount (who also had a mustache very much worthy of his name) Was not happy they wanted to stop off at Iocanthos. The initial plan being they would travel all the way to his destination the hive world of Canopus where they would organise another ride to, hopefully, straight to the Ixaniad sector.

Having to transition out and back into warp space at Iocanthos would delay him by an extra four days.

It'd taken Karmen and Attelus a good hour of negotiation with the very irate Durpount to come up with a solution (which meant their funds took a bit of a hit)

As much as Attelus dreaded having to travel with Eldar again and the potential far reaching consequences, he was frigging glad they didn't have to exit and enter the warp over and over and negotiating with shipmaster after shipmaster for transport for months on end.

Luckily, Karmen was a seasoned negotiator (even when not using her mind control powers, which Attelus insisted she didn't)

As the came closer and closer to Iocanthos, the cold, clammy feeling of anxiety in Attelus' chest became all the stronger.

How the hell was he going to explain them travelling with the Eldar? He'd asked Faleaseen in one of their dream conversations and she wasn't very helpful at all.

"I am afraid that you will have to figure out the answer this conundrum yourself, Attelus Kaltos," she'd said. "I cannot hold your hand for everything."

Attelus had frowned at that, she'd helped him over the years without doubt but he'd managed to achieve much by himself and out of all the times he could've truly used her help. It would've been now.

With the others he'd wiled away the hours training, in team building exercises he'd researched on the cogitators back on The Audacious Edge. They were doing well, not as well as he hoped but not as badly as he'd expected. The one who'd proven the most stubborn toward it was Hayden. He was old, the oldest of the group but how old exactly Atteus didn't know, he looked in his late forties but that didn't mean much in the Imperium of man, with rejuvanent treatments and such. He'd worked alone or in pairs for so long now he was set in his ways, he seemed to passive-aggressively resist it at every turn, much to Attelus choler.

Two days before they were scheduled to transition into real space Attelus, Karmen and Adelana met in the Guncutter's common room to discuss how to handle having to travel with the Eldar.

Strangely it'd been Adelana who'd suggested that Karmen use her powers to influence their minds, hide it from them.

Karmen was quick to shoot that down, citing that it would be impractical, due to the length of the voyage, the complicated nature of such a manipulation on so many minds and the psychic blocks protecting them had been made by Helva which would complicate it even further.

In the end they'd decided there was no choice, they had to come clean. Then Adelana and Karmen agreed it was Attelus who was to do it.

"Why me?" Attelus had whined, despite already knowing the answer.

Karmen smiled, "you are our fearless leader, aren't you? Besides it's because of your connection with the Eldar that we're doing this, is it not?"

Attelus had glared at her and clenched his jaw, remembering that Karmen had a 'connection' to the Eldar as well, but chose to keep that quiet.

"They won't like this," Attelus had said. "They've got enough to be pissed off about and Verenth and Torris have enough reason to hate me already. And now they're going to learn I'm collaborating with Xenos?"

"I don't know if Verenth and Torris should be the people you worry about, Attelus," Adelana said. "Vark's a true believer in the Imperial Creed, he'll probably take the News the worst."

"The Emperor hates me, doesn't he?" Attelus had sighed.

"Well," said Adelana. "If he does, who could blame him? Really?"

Even Karmen laughed at that and Attelus couldn't help but smile.

So here he was, a day later, standing in the Guncutter's common room, everyone of his squad (and Darrance) scattered around and staring at him intently.

He took a long inhale before starting, "thank you for coming."

Attelus paused and scratched the back of his head vigorously, public speaking had never been his forte. He couldn't help remember back at his scholam at twelve years old, having to perform a speech in front of the class and how terrified he'd been. It was funny, the bullies had long ago learnt not to mess with the quiet, pale, skinny little freak in class 11/5. He'd never been scared to face down five children twice his size and intent on beating the shit out of him, but having to tell the past of his idol the legendary prince Royd Antares of Velrosia, to an audience of twenty four or more. Almost made him shit his pants.

Now, obviously he'd long got over such fear, but in a situation like this, not so much. A brief image popped in his head of Verenth just abruptly drawing his auto pistol and blowing his brains out the moment he finished. He imagined Vark screaming and shouting so strongly spittle sprayed all over him like a torrential rain. Attelus always had an overly active imagination, which had proven to be a curse after he'd decided to join this line of work.

He looked over his audience and saw them watching on with a mixture of bemusement, impatience and annoyance. Eventually, he met the gaze of Adelana who gave him a small smile and a slight nod of encouragement.

That was all he needed.

"The reason why I have called you here today, is," he paused again, trying to figure out exactly how to carry on. "This mission comes with another twist."

There was some mumbles and glances of bemusement exchanged.

"I have arranged a short cut," he said. "A faster way to travel to Sarkeath."

"Alright," said Helma. "That is...certainly a twist."

Torris' eyes narrowed skeptically, "I don't understand," he said.

Attelus sniggered and shrugged, "I don't quite understand, either. In all honesty."

He stopped again, expecting some sort of ridicule, but they just looked at him with almost enraptured interest.

"As all of you know, now, we're making a stop off at the agri world…" he trailed off, even calling Iocanthos an agri world was a bit of a stretch as it's first and only export was Ghost Fire pollen, a main ingredient for a combat enhancement used by the penal legions of the Imperial Guard. "Of Iocanthos, and there is a very good reason for that."

"And that reason being?" said Darrance with a raised eyebrow.

"That is where we'll be meeting...them," said Attelus.

"Them, who?" asked Torris when Attelus didn't continue.

"Them," he stopped and shuffled nervously, may as well just tell. "Them meaning, the Eldar."

There was a very long pause as everyone stared at Attelus blankly.

"The...what?" said Vark.

"The Eldar," Attelus said, straightening and placing his hands behind his back, there, the secret was finally out and it actually felt good. "They are our allies in this endeavour and they are going to help us reach Sarkeath far faster than normal."

"But, I don't understand," said Jelket. "When I was in the guard I fought against the Eldar once, they were psychotic, cruel and used horrific weapons, that caused…that caused…Oh God-Emperor!"

He trailed off as a slow look of dawning horror crossed his ruddy face.

Attelus sighed, "please calm down, it's not that kind of Eldar, Jelket. These are a different kind. Those ones are known as the Dark Eldar, we are being helped by the Craftworld Eldar. There's a difference."

"Which means?" said Helma. "That they're just going to kill us?"

"Which means, we won't suffer horrific, horrific torment at their hands," he sighed yet again. "and no, they're not going to kill us. I hope all you have heard the saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend?' Right?"

There were a few hesitant nods.

"Well this to the empth degree, they want to stop Etuarq almost as much as we do," Attelus said. "They have something they call the Webway, it's like a sub dimension between the material universe and the warp. It allows for faster and safer travel than the Immaterium."

"I've never heard of this, webway, before," said Darrance.

"Of course you haven't, not many humans have," said Attelus.

"Except you," said Vark, darkly and Attelus had to fight back the urge to flinch as the cold anxiety in his chest abruptly got worse.

"Well, I," he stammered, losing his bluster that was when Adelana got to her feet and walked to his right.

"I know as well," she said. I've known for a long time now."

"As have I," said Estella then she too stood up, and walked to stand on his left.

Attelus had to fight back a smile.

"So you two are Xenos collaborators as well?" growled Vark.

"We are," said Estella. "You are aware of the circumstances aren't you, Vark?"

Vark said nothing, just sneered. It was an ugly expression.

"How?" said Hayden, his deep voice reverberating through the silence and seemingly the entire ship.

"That!" said Attelus. "Is a long and sordid story, Hayden. One which I cannot and will not tell you."

There was a collective bellow of anger and frustration that caused Attelus to flinch with fright.

"I'm not telling you and that is that!" Attelus roared so strongly it caused the others to fall into silence. "I have my reasons and you will respect that!"

"We deserve to know!" snarled Vark. "This is heresy! Against all that the God-Emperor teaches! Collaboration with Xenos is affront to mankind."

"Yes," said Attelus. "Perhaps it is."

There was a weighted moment of silence.

"If only this galaxy was actually in reality as black and white as you seem to believe, Vark," Attelus growled.

Vark was suddenly on his feet and face to face with Attelus, "and what the hell does that mean?"

Attelus smiled, "it means, Vark that your belief, your whole world view doesn't coincide with reality."

"Oh? And what? Your's does? What the hell makes you so qualified, huh?" Vark demanded.

"I'd say I'm more qualified than you," Attelus said without a hint of hesitation. "I never let myself be brainwashed by Imperial dogma and a whole world is dead because of my actions. If that doesn't lend perspective, I don't know what does. And that's why I'm in charge of this mission, not you. So stand down before I put you down."

Vark didn't move, "is that why you can do all that shit you can do? Is it the Xenos who made you like that?"

Attelus didn't say anything, just clenched his jaw.

Vark turned away, "you hear that? He all but admits his guilt! He isn't just collaborating with the Xenos! He is one of them! How can we trust him knowing they are influencing him? Corrupting the rest of us with his role as our leader? He is their pawn…"

"I was once meant to be their pawn," Attelus interrupted. "But after everything I earned their respect and trust, I earned her respect and trust. I'd hoped I'd earned yours as well."

"You did!" Vark snapped. "But after learning this…"

"After learning this, you now know just how far I'm willing to go to stop Etuarq!" Attelus said. "I know this is hard for you to swallow, hard for all of you to swallow but please, just hear me out."

Everyone was silent, even Vark and all attention, back on Attelus.

"I am, a student of Imperial history and throughout the millennia there are countless times that humanity has corroborated with Xenos breeds, there are as we speak Rogue Traders today that are trading with Xenos on their homeworlds for important materials…"

"But that's different," said Vark.

"Yes it is," said Attelus quickly. "I'm not denying that it is different, Vark you're right. But, how many times have the Ultramarines, supposedly the exemplar of all the Imperium of Mankind and the Astartes in general stand for, corroborated with the Tau, against the Tyranid menace? How many times have the Eldar and humanity fought together to defeat the forces of the Ruinous powers? It is pragmatism, simple pragmatism. What I have learned over the years is the Eldar, aren't that much different to us. Sure, they live a hell of a lot longer but they live and love and fight for their existence just like us. They aren't interested in destroying us, they don't want to corrupt us, they just want to be left alone and survive and Etuarq is a threat to that. He is their enemy as much as ours and thanks to them, we have a way to reach Sarkeath early enough to maybe make a difference!"

Attelus paused, close to being overwhelmed with emotion, he briefly shut his his eyes and took a long breath before continuing on, "in the end, all it comes down to is this, I ask you, all of you. Do you want to have to stand by and have to watch another world burn?"

There was no answer and he didn't expect one.

"Do you want to stand by and watch it with the knowledge you could've prevented it? That you let your prejudice get in the way of saving billions more innocent souls," said Attelus. "Because that's what will happen if you abandon me now. I can't do this alone, I need you! All of you!"

"If that's true, why don't you just work with the Xenos, then?" snarked Vark.

"Believe it or not, Vark, I'm still human," said Attelus with a smile. "And In all honesty I'd rather the twelve of you watching my back than a thousand Eldar! Once we reach Iocanthos you may leave. I will find go to Sarkeath by my myself. But once I fail, which I surely will. I'll be the only one with a clear conscience because I was the only one who at least tried, so are you with me? If you are, please raise your hand!"

Adelena and Karmen both raised their hands without a second's hesitation.

For what must've been less than half a minute, but to Attelus felt like a lifetime when the third person finally raised their hand and that person was Hayden Tresch a few seconds later it was Darrance, followed quickly by Helma, Delathasi, then Jelket, Halsin, Torris and eventually, Verenth.

Attelus had to fight back the tears welling in his eyes.

When Vark saw all of this, he let out a growl of frustration and he too, reluctantly raised his hand.

"Alright! You win frig you!" he snarled. "But once we get back I'm telling the Inquisitor everything, you got that?"

"I wouldn't expect anything less," said Attelus. "And thank you, thank you...All of you."

He sniffed and rubbed his eyes with a forearm.

"Are you crying, Attelus?" said Helma.

"No," he whined. "It's just the recycled oxygen getting in my eyes, is all."

There was a few laughs at the feeble lie.

"And thank you for already agreeing to come because, I'm sorry to say it only gets worse, I'm sorry."

Then he told them the rest.

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