Mikal Camron stuck his head through door and into the planning room. "I have the latest reports."
Jolan Gix looked up from the table. The inquisitor was no longer wearing powered armour everywhere he went. The harness for his conversion field that he wore over his armoured bodyglove was concealed under his storm coat. He, Hethor D'eckor, and Danell Keys were standing over a cluster of maps and photographs marked with circles and cryptic runic notation. "Come in Lieutenant."
The young man stepped in. He held a rather large folder under his arm. He extended it to Gix. "The latest reports," he said slightly sheepishly.
"Thank you," said Gix as he accepted them. "Your opinions lieutenant?"
"It's nice to sleep in the same bed twice in a row. Really nice that its a bed, not a cot."
"That it is," said Jolan amiably, "but that wasn't what I was asking."
"Sorry sir. I think they're going to ground. They know they are being hunted, they know their people are being caught and broken, and they know our offensive is driving them back. Fewer reinforcements and fewer supplies are getting through. They're boned sir, and being cowardly heretics, they're keeping their heads down and trying to survive."
"Hethor?" Gix asked calmly.
"Grox shit. These men aren't cowards. I killed enough of them to know. The enemy isn't as tough as us, but they have balls and their specials are their best. No, they're bein' practical. Bad odds. They're waitin' 'til it gets better."
"So, essentially you concur with our young lieutenant, except with regards to the quality of the opposition."
"Yeah, I guess so," the big veteran rumbled.
"Lieutenant, you're familiar with all the relevant material. Imagine you had all the authority of an inquisitor at your disposal. Come up with a plan to flush out or track down the last of these 'special' units. Deliver it to me when you are done. Sooner is better than later."
"Yes sir!" Mikal saluted and left.
Hethor snorted. "That boy needs some seasoning."
"I know. Guess who gets to lead his men into battle."
Hethor smiled. "Slick."
"Everyone who decides when to send a soldier into a meat grinder should have some idea of what its like. And we should make an effort to trim the terminally stupid out of the staff ranks before they get too many good Guardsmen killed."
Nofield entered the room. "Sir. Another inquisitor has arrived."
Jolan's gaze shot up. "Who?"
"Huge bastard, powered armour, scar collection, no manners?"
"Uh, yes sir. He's got a platoon worth of Inquisitorial troops with him and a bunch of combat servitors. He wants this area cleared. Private Inquisition business."
"Obey," was Gix's reply. "And send him in. Then leave."
"Yes sir." She saluted and left.
"You better go Hethor."
"Alright." The big man left. It was not long before Jolan heard the heavy steps of a man in powered armour. Maladar walked through the door. The huge inquisitor hadn't changed much. Gold stitches held his nightmarishly scarred flesh to his skull. Digital weapons studded the fingers of his ebony armour and a bolt pistol was strapped at his side. No melee weapon was visible, but Jolan noted grooves in his gauntlets. Retractable lightning claws.
"Maladar," he said as he inclined his head. "I wasn't expecting you. I'm afraid you've arrived a little late. I'm mostly wrapping things up here."
"The assassin?" the big man asked..
"I shouldn't be surprised. There have been developments." There was something in his voice Jolan couldn't place. Maybe if he spent more time with Maladar, he would have been able to place it."
"The situation has changed."
Gix's eyes narrowed as he processed the tone of his voice and his choice of words. This was bad. Very bad. "How?" he asked. He could sense a cloud of violence hovering over them like a storm. Nothing short of an Astartes with similar armament had much of a chance against Maladar hand to hand. Certainly not Jolan Gix. Maladar's reaction speed was damn fast, his weapons and armour superior. And psychically, well the gap had narrowed if Jolan's guess was correct, but that still left Maladar with the edge.
"Nevan has been sent to the outer reaches. Corell is dead. As is Gaskar. Trakus has been promoted. And Venderyl has a whole pack of tough young proteges. And then there is you."
"The balance has shifted," said Gix. "Drastically or you wouldn't be here. Trakus must be really shafting our side."
"Venderyl's lot is worse. Medricore is proving to be practically unkillable. Nothing seems to do more than slow him down."
Realization dawned on Gix. "You're here to cut your loses."
"Yes. A number of our supporters were reluctant to make the big step. And now we are losing. They're eager to jump ship. So we've lost."
"And now the breach has to be healed. They win. But it needs to be settled."
"I knew you would understand."
"To bury the conflict, the instigator has to go. Which means me. And it has to be my side that does it, as a peace offering to bind the broken fabric back together and as a gesture of sincerity. So they sent you, for reasons that are obvious."
"Yes. I want you to know Jolan, that even though I underestimated you at first, you have my respect. You would have made a worthy Lord Inquisitor and Master of Our Order." Maladar's hand drifted down to the butt of his bolt pistol. Probably loaded with psykout rounds. Maladar had done an excellent job of stacking the deck in his favor, arriving with surprise, and controlling the scene. Well, Gix had helped teach him that particular trick.
He was trapped in a room with the deadliest man he had ever met. One who had decided to kill him and could outfight him in any mode of combat he tried to employ. "Do you have a message for Kyra or anyone else before I kill you?" Maladar asked.
An icy calm descended on Jolan. He looked up. "Why this way?"
"What?" responded Maladar.
"Why did you choose to come here and kill me face to face?"
The inquisitor drew his bolt pistol. "Because as unlikable as I am, I like you Gix. You deserved better."
"You said you respect me. You know how tricky I can be, how capable my agents are. Even with things arranged the way you have done, you're still taking a risk. You can kill me and still not walk out of here. Coming here is a bad risk. Unnecessary. You may have orders to kill me, but you don't want me dead."
"That's true," said Maladar as he raised the pistol.
"You want me to tell you the others are wrong. That I have secret plans in the works that will turn things around, a winning card up my sleeve, loaded dice in play. You came here to confront me, not kill me. You want me to talk you out of it."
"I do have a compelling reason for you not to shoot me, but I don't have a plan," replied Jolan, "yet. But I can come up with one."
"I don't doubt it. Something involving an inferno pistol or plasma gun."
"You still haven't pulled the trigger."
"You said you have a reason that I shouldn't."
"We aren't boys being herded onto the Black Ships like cattle any more. We aren't students labouring under the watchful eyes of our teachers. We aren't interrogators trying to prove ourselves to our masters. We are inquisitors Maladar. Our destiny maybe influenced by our past and by the actions of others, but we have the knowledge and power to choose our fate. If we have the will."
"Are you calling me weak Gix?" Maladar snarled.
"Why are you doing what you don't want to do? You are Maladar. I have struck down a daemon prince and sent him shrieking into the warp. I have burned the bodies and souls of witches and daemons and my power is less than yours. Who can stand against you Maladar? Not even Jolan Gix. You crush your enemies and trample their bones into the dust. And yet your are meekly coming to the peace table and being compelled to do what you do not wish? Are they really that powerful?"
The gun wavered. "Are they powerful enough to stand against Jolan Gix and Maladar together when they have the advantage of surprise? What do you want Maladar?"
"I . . . . I want . . ."
"Prince. Slave. Imperial servant. You don't even know what you need, although every bone in your body yearns for it. You want power, but that hasn't given you what you want. You destroy those who stand against you and it merely slakes your thirst. You want to serve on your own terms. You want the choice. No longer to be the agent of the Inquisition, sent to kill here or investigate there, but a full Inquisitor in fact as well as title. To be like me. To shape the future as you see fit. To be not the servant of the Imperium, but to escape the cage and be your own man. To make your own choices and shape your own destiny."
Maladar's eyes blazed. He lowered the gun. "I said that one day you would make a great Master of the Ordo, if you lived. Everyone else, maybe not Kyra, said you were too soft."
Jolan smiled. "Everyone but Kyra saw you as her, or the Ordo's, attack dog. I always knew that the chain of duty would one day snap and you would do as you see fit as opposed to what you were ordered. On Scyrax I may have held violence in reserve, but I appealed first to your reason." He picked up a bottle of brandy. "I'm glad it was today as opposed to tomorrow. Shall we drink to being underestimated and to the victory of Kyran Neven's favored students?"
Maladar nodded. Gix poured to glasses. "A beast and a weakling is what we have been called behind our backs. The think poorly of us and of our mentor. We shall illuminate the truth for them a moment before their deaths."
"That's worth drinking to," replied Maladar and downed the glass in a single gulp. "Pour me another. I'll go cool out our boys. Would hate for someone to get shot now." He smiled at Jolan. It was a terrible thing to behold. Jolan smiled back. They were much the same.
The cutter coasted over to the Inquisition ship, Blinding Light. A huge door on the great ship's flank slid open, a power field acting to confine the atmosphere. The cutter coasted in, thrusters firing to make minute course corrections as the ship drifted into the cavernous landing bay.
The doors ground close as the slim and angular cutter set down on stubby legs. Steam hissed as the ship settled and its ramp was extended. An honour guard of faceless troopers wearing Inquisition black waited silently. Eventually, the door opened and men descended from the cutter.
Two men lead the delegation. They wore black cloaks over masked helmets and mesh armour. Hellguns were slung over their backs and carapace armour protected their chests. Behind them came Maladar, clad in power armour but without his helmet. The Inquisition troopers did not so much as flinch upon seeing his gruesome visage. Behind him came his trophy.
Four more cloaked soldiers walked alongside a three meter long casket. Humming suspensor modules kept the container hovering at waist level to the soldiers who were pushing it forward. A man in a white robe with the insignia of the Inquisition emblazoned in gold upon it stood at the front of the soldiers. "Inquisitor Maladar, I bring you the greetings of my master, Inquisitor Venderyl."
"I care nothing for his greetings. Where is he? Let's get this business over with."
"Is that . . . the remains-"
"Yes. Venderyl. Now. Or he'll be down one interrogator."
"Yes, my lord. Please follow me." The robed man turned and walked down a gap between the blocks of soldiers that lead to an corridor. "My master assumed that you might want to rest after your journey."
"If you master assumed that I would kill Jolan Gix, he is correct. If he assumed I would desire to spend one unnecessary moment in his presence, he's a fool." The rest of the journey was spent in silence.
The interrogator finally stopped at a door. "Your soldiers will have to relinquish their arms here."
"No. I'm on Fisk's bloody ship. He's got an army. My insurance is if things go wrong is that I have the chance to take him with me."
"Let me consult with my master."
The interrogator stepped through the door. A minute passed. Then another. Then the door slid open again. "My master bids you and your servants welcome."
The interrogator lead Maladar into a gallery, one wall of which was lined with massive transplast windows. Armoured men shrouded in heavy robes were at each corner of the room. Each of the three doors had a pair of Inquisitional troopers armed with shotcannons standing guard. Maladar walked towards the table.
Inquisitor Venderyl sat at one side. He was a lanky, blond man armoured in gilded ceramite plate. His disciples attended him. One was a tall, pale woman with short, dark hair. Another was a dark skinned, red bearded giant; slightly smaller than Maladar. The third man of ordinary height and build reclining with his feet on the table. On the opposite side a silvery haired man whose face was crisscrossed with faint scars sat next to a heavily built woman. Both wore black mesh armour.
Sitting at the head of the table was Randor Fisk. His brown skin was leather and scarred, his hair and beard iron-grey. His left eye was augmentic. A burgundy robe shrouded his body. "Maladar."
Maladar shook his head. "Four untouchables? Four untouchables in one room?" He spat on the floor.
Fisk made no move. "You psychic abilities are formidable. You might be able to burn down an untouchable or even two of them in a lightning attack. Four? No. And relieving you of your weapons wasn't going to happen. This way we can be assured that you will be . . . . . manageable."
"Gix thought I was manageable and he is dead."
"Jolan Gix had survived situations that should have killed him before. I will believe it when I see him dead with my own eyes."
"That's why I brought the body." He gestured the casket forward.
The red bearded man got up and approached the casket. "Stasis field."
"Yes." The man touched a rune on the side, deactivating the stasis field and then another. The face of the casket slid open. "There's no face."
"That's because I blew the front part of his head apart with a psyk out rounds. Do you think he was easy to kill?"
"No," said Fisk. "Ydranko, take a gene sample." The bearded interrogator removed a device from his belt and pressed it to the flesh of the corpse.
"Done." He walked back to the table and pressed the metal cylinder against it. "Ironic. The archeotech Gix supplied us with now confirms his death. Match."
Venderyl smiled. "So much for the late, formerly great, Jolan Gix."
"He was worth two of you," Maladar sneered. "Even dead he's worth two of you."
"A soft spot," Venderyl said smiling. "Your reputation doesn't suggest that you have those."
"My reputation is that I respect drive and intelligence. Gix had those in abundance."
"Yes," said Fisk, "he did. Too much. He accomplished great things but he wanted to go too far, too fast and so he had to be put down for the good of the Imperium. And now let us close this sad chapter in the history of our secret fellowship. Our war is over, our path is set. Let us rejoice in that it is over and mourn the dead who all sought to serve the Emperor in the best way they knew how."
"You'll forgive me if I don't stay around and socialize," Maladar said.
"Of course," replied Fisk. The inquisitor turned away from his former comrades and toward the door through which he had entered.
Maladar stopped just before the door and turned. "Yes?" said Fisk in a bored voice. Then he caught it. The fluttering capes on two of Maladar's armsmen as they drew pistols, several of the others closing on the door guards. Fisk began to lunge out of his chair, hand snaking toward the activation control on his refractor field.
The first gunman raised an inferno pistol and fired at the Untouchable closest to him. The blast from the gun was almost blinding as the pariah was reduced to char. On the other side of Maladar another gunman had raised a plasma pistol and fired. An eye-searing violet beam incinerated the Untouchable's chest. Maladar's side of the room was no longer under the blanket of psi suppression.
The digital weapons on Maladar's gloves fired. The white robed interrogator took las beams in the face and chest. He toppled. Four of Maladar's armsmen had rushed the two door guards with mono edged blades. Blood spurted over the deck as they drove their blades through armour and flesh. The two remaining armsmen were drawing their hellguns.
Grenades flew from the cloak of the inferno pistolier, bouncing on the table and near the feet of the guards by the side door as they were unlimbering their shotcannons. He brought the pistol in his other hand to bear on the Untouchable across the room from him. The other gunman's plasma weapon emitted a violet beam and blasted through a pariah's armour, incinerating flesh and bone.
The inferno wielder fired the las in his other hand at the heavily built woman. He hit her in the shoulder and burned a hole in the chair as she dived under the table for cover. The other inquisitors and interrogators were also scrambling for cover as Maladar raked the table with digital lasers. They were short ranged and only had a few shots, but they were more than adequate to this task. Their armour saved them from the worst effects of Maladar's weapons. Then the grenades went off.
Clouds of flesh searing plasma cut the room in two. The two guards barely had time to scream as the plasma cooked their flesh. The blade work had finished. Maladar's armsmen had their hellguns out and raked the room with las busts as the fiery clouds dissipated.
In the docking bay of the Blinding Light, a soft shimmer enshrouded Maladar's cutter. Panels slid open as a pop up turret slid out the top another sprouted on either side. An internal security turret mounted on the ceiling opened up with dual autocannons. Explosions erupted along the edge of the power field.
The cutter's top turret was armed with a missile rack. Smoke and fire streaked from it and the hanger gun exploded in blossom of fire. The other two turrets were armed with triple barreled autocannon clusters. They began to rake the assembled soldiers. Blood and body parts were strewn about as they filled the hanger bay with thunderous detonations.
"Keep at it," Hethor ordered the pilot. "Kill them all." He didn't wait for an acknowledgment and exited the cockpit.
"Ready sir," Nofield saluted. She and Camron stood at the head of a sixteen man strike team that had assembled near the ramp. Six combat servitors stood with them. They were wearing the same gear as their comrades on Maladar's detail, minus the cloaks. Nofield had retained her commissar's coat.
"Take the enginarium and the genatorium," Hethor repeated as if they hadn't discussed this a dozen times. "No mercy."
He touched his vox. "Status of the bay?"
"Just the dead and the dying," the pilot responded.
"Right. Move out."
Nofield lead her troops out into the bay. The nightmarish servitors clanked alongside them, armoured goliaths bearing heavy weapons and devoid of fear or restraint. The Blinding Light wasn't an Imperial Cruiser, but its crew was too damn big for even Nofield's team to kill them all, even with Gix's help.
"Okay Gard, crack open the case."
The scientist grimaced in distaste.
Gard sent a signal from his mechadendrites to the stasis box. The stasis field died and the lid slid open. The roof of Hethor's mouth went dry. He really didn't like this.
The plasma storm dissipated leaving half of the table glowing red hot and the chairs a ruin. The heavily built woman hadn't escape the plasma blast and the mesh hadn't saved her. She was a scorched ruin. The others had managed to survive. Fisk was no where to be seen.
One of the guards was dead, riddled by hellgun blasts. The other was crouched down by the table and firing. Unfortunately, shotcannons were not excellent weapons against well armoured targets on the other side of a gallery. One of Maladar's men staggered under the force of the impacts. Two others gunned Fisk's armsman down.
Keys raised his plasma pistol and fired at the pariah crouched in the corner. The beam reduced him to ash and blacked bone fragments mixed liberally with slag that used to be his armour. Maladar laughed, loud and mocking. With a gesture, the table lifted and was thrust aside. A potent psychic shield surrounded the psyker.
Hellguns blazed. Gix added a blast of his inferno pistol at the bearded giant and a blast of green warp fire that swept over the survivors. When it cleared only Venderyl and the silver haired man in mesh remained. They rose, a nimbus of power surrounding them.
Maladar struck. Lightning flashed from his hands, lashing at them. They exerted their wills and dissipated his attack. Hellgun bolts struck them and did nothing. The inquisitors unleashed their own strikes.
A terrible psychic weight seemed to fill the room, clouding the mind, sapping the will. Maladar's armsmen dropped their weapons and clutched their head moaning. At the same time, a terrible spike of mental energy was aimed at Jolan Gix.
Gix deflected the attack. He was far more puissant in psychic combat than they realized. Tendrils of energy appeared in the warp and lashed out at both psykers, drawing their power away from them and into Jolan Gix.
Maladar retaliated with a blast wave of telekinetic force. Both psykers kept their feet as they struggled against his powers. Inquisitor Vetch, the silver haired man, sliced apart Gix's syphons with razor edged warp fragments. Venderyl hit Maladar with a telekinetic hammer blow. Enough force got through to stagger to bigger man.
Gix raised his hand and unleashed his stolen energy and then some. A bolt of absolute darkness struck Vetch and consumed him in a blast of tainted warp energy. Smoke and ash were all that remained. Venderyl's eyes went wide. His concentration slipped. Maladar punched through his defences.
The inquisitor spasmed and blood poured out his gaping mouth as Maladar crushed his heart. He fell to the deck and his flesh began to burn instantly from contact with the hot metal. Maladar smiled. "So much for their precautions." He looked around. "Where's Fisk?"
"Probably through that door," Gix replied.
"Our people are on the move. How confident are you in your surprise?"
"You saw them yourself."
"I don't like it."
"I agreed to it. Let's finish the job."
I've read all of your texts in the last 4 days. It is very interesting and I hope very much that you continue them. By the way, you introduced you characters very well at the beginning, it was simple, strong and emotional. I'd like to read more!