There was a knock on my office door.
"Come in," I said.
Ferrus Danth walked in, taking a seat across from me. "Have you come up with a way to resolve the situation on Hurn?" he asked.
I sighed. "No, not really. It's a pretty complex situation."
"And getting more so all the time," Ferrus said, his voice little more than a whisper.
"How so?" I asked.
"Traitor Astartes have landed on the world. They number less than a hundred, but it does present a problem."
"I frowned. "That's a pretty major development. Why hadn't I heard before now?"
Ferrus titled his head back and closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. "There are some things that are never told, and some that are not told until the time is right."
I felt a shiver pass through me. "Any ideas yourself?"
Ferrus smiled lopsidedly. "Actually, yes. Because of the threat of Daemon summoning, I've been allowed to requisition a squad of Grey Knights, should the need arise."
I narrowed my eyes and looked at him. "But those can only be used if you're on the mission."
"When exactly was this decided?" I asked.
Ferrus glanced down at his chrono. "Oh, about thirty minutes ago. Mandius agreed to come as well."
I threw my arms up in the air and turned my chair away from Ferrus, toward the window. The sunlight streaming in was filtered slightly by the window's automatic tilting. "Just great. When were you going to ask me?"
"Ask you?" Ferrus said. "Who said anything about asking you?"
I spun the chair around back at him and slapped my hands down on my desk. "So, what? We're all three going to Hurn?"
"All the better to depose a tyrant."
"Yeah, well, three Inquisitors an army does not make."
"There's the five or ten Grey Knights I can summon."
I exhaled noisily and shook my head. "Not enough to fight a company of Traitor Marines and an army of rebel Guardsmen and PeeDeeEff troops."
"Haven't you heard? There's a loyal army on Hurn, made up of loyal troops, the Lok'teth, and any civilians that could help."
"Actually, I've sort of been kept out of the loop," I said.
"There are... certain reasons for that. Involving your confessed feelings about someone o the planet."
My mind flashed back to thoughts of Shannon. "Yes. But what has she got to do with anything?"
Ferrus looked down for a minute. "We don't know where she is, or what happened to her. The official records list her as missing, presumed dead."
It felt like someone had just hit my chest with a sledgehammer. I slouched back in my chair, my arms falling to my side. I knew my mouth was hanging open, but I was too stunned to do anything about it.
"There's a possibility she's still alive, maybe hiding with the loyalists," Ferrus said. "We haven't been able to contact them since the report of the Chaos forces landing."
I shook off my shock and put my head down in my hands. "Is there anything we can do to find out what might have happened to her?" I asked, my voice coming out muffled through my hands.
"Yes. We're going to go to the loyalist camp as soon as we land, and talk to them. Or find them, if they've left."
I looked up at Ferrus. "Alright. So when do we leave?"
Ferrus glanced at his chrono again. "Right now, if possible. Get your gear and your shuttle. Be at the hangar in forty five minutes."
And with that, Ferrus left the office.
Forty five minutes later, I was at the hangar, my gear and that of Ferrus' and Mandius' stowed in the storage compartment of the shuttle.
"Nice little ship you have here, Tal," Ferrus said, while getting into the passenger seat behind my pilot's chair. Mandius took the copilot's seat.
"GeeEssSee, this shuttle Broadsword, requesting clearance for takeoff," I said into the comm.
"Broadsword, Ghevin Starport Control here. You are cleared for takeoff and ascent into space. Have a safe trip, and Emperor bless you on your mission."
"Thanks, GhevSpace. Broadsword out."
I slowly lifted the shuttle from the hangar deck and maneuvered it to the hangar exit, then out. A few buttons pushed and levers pulled, and the ship turned toward the sky and blasted off into space, leaving behind Ghevin.
Mere hours after leaving Ghevin, through the miracle of warp travel, we were at Hurn. The shuttle was brought down in a small clearing in the woods around Trenton, the landing a bit rough but doing little more than disturbing a few tree branches.
Ferrus led the way down the boarding ramp, his gear slung over his shoulder. "Nice landing you had there, Tal."
Mandius was next. "Yeah. Good thing I didn't eat anything just before we left."
I tossed my sack of gear out on the ground. "Either of you a better pilot?" I asked, mock anger in my voice.
Ferrus and Mandius looked at each other, then back at me. "No," they said in unison.
"That's what I thought," I said, hopping off the ramp and picking up my sack. I walked back to the side of the ship and pressed the key to close the ramp, then entered my private code to arm the security system.
Together, the three of us headed northeast, the direction Ferrus assured me the loyalist camp was set up. We marked the location of the shuttle on our map, so that, as Mandius put it, we could "remember where we parked."
It took a few hours, and miles of walking, but we finally arrived at the "camp".
I dropped my sack in surprise. The "camp" was really a fully functioning base put together from the abandoned buildings which I'd been held captive at during my first trip to Hurn.
The apartments now seemed to be barracks, the warehouses and storage depots turned into weapons and equipment storage and vehicle lots. A large warehouse had been turned into a hangar for what appeared to be two Lightning strike fighters. There were even targeting ranges, heavy load lifters, and many other key components of a standard Imperial base.
"This is amazing," I said, watching as soldiers marched back and forth, trained, moved equipment, or otherwise worked in some manner. People in civilian dress moved about as well, either aiding the soldiers or doing their own duties. All had a look of purpose present upon their faces.
"It certainly is," Ferrus said. "Come on. Let's go find Semtin and Graf." He walked by me, as did Mandius, who also seemed to be admiring the work done by the loyal troops. I quickly followed them.
After a few minutes of walking around the base, we managed to find Semtin and Graf, supervising a shipment of weapons that seemed to have just been brought in.
"Good day, gentlemen!" called out a man who I assumed was Semtin, his rough face beaming with a smile that seemed rather warm and opening. His short dark hair was combed back neatly, and he wore what appeared to be civilian clothing, but it somehow had an air of military about it.
"Ferrus Danth," Ferrus said, introducing himself. He swept hi arm out toward me, then Mandius. "These are my colleagues, Tallonius Zhent and Mandius Narel." We both greeted Semtin.
"You are here to help us take down the governor, who has declared himself emperor?" Semtin asked.
"Yes," Ferrus answered.
Just then Graf noticed us and walked over. "Hello," he said. "I'm Colonel Graf. I lead the soldiers present."
"Well," Ferrus said, "we have much to discuss. But first we need a place to rest."
"There are three rooms set up for you in the barracks," Graf said. "You'll be shown to them by Jeffrey."
"Thank you," Ferrus said.
"Wait," I said, raising a hand. "I have a question."
"Yes?" Graf asked.
"How did you put this all together? Not just the base, the whole operation?"
Graf smiled. "Both I and Semtin are, well, 'former' Imperial Guard officers. We know a lot about organizing troops and bases, and fighting a war."
Ferrus looked over at Semtin. "I don't recall hearing of a Semtin in the Guard records for this world."
Semtin frowned. "That's because I'm from Sudin." My heart both rose and fell with that statement - maybe Semtin knew something about my father, but just as likely he knew nothing. Semtin continued. "On Sudin, I went by my full name, Semil Tinlar."
I saw a brief flash of recognition in Ferrus' eyes, then a quick frown, which he hid in an instant.
"Thanks for answering," I said.
Semtin and Graf thanked us for coming to Hurn, then turned and went back to their duties, leaving us to wait for Jeffrey and me to wonder what Ferrus might know about Semil Tinlar.
A half hour later we had our rooms and our stuff had been unpacked and set up. I decided to take a stroll and get a better examination of the base.
I was wandering about, admiring the work done by these people, and also engaged by the beauty of the surrounding forest, when I heard someone call out behind me, "Tal!"
I turned to find the source of the shout, and barely had time to see it coming before a woman barreled into me and wrapped me tightly in her arms. I felt her soft, curled red hair bush up against my chin as she pressed the side of her face into my chest.
I stood back, breaking off from her embrace. I took her shoulders and pushed her back, looking into her eyes through the hair that had fallen in front of her face. "Ma'am, ma'am, please," I said. "I don't even know you."
"Really?" she asked, her voice sounding beautiful and somehow familiar. She stepped forward and placed her hands on my upper arms. "Don't you even recognize the young woman you left behind just a month ago?"
"Shannon?" I said, my surprise coming through clearly in my voice. "You look... different."
She laughed. "Yes, it's me, Tal. But I changed my identity, and my name. I now go by the name Kim Dunne."
"Oh," I said. "Well, you know what they say. 'What's in a name?' You're still as beautiful as yea were last time I saw you."
"Flatterer," she said, slapping my arm lightly. Shannon... or, rather, Kim, turned around and swept her right arm outward. "So, you like it?"
"Great setup," I said. "But what are you doing here?"
"You haven't heard?" Kim said, her face showing a hint of surprise. "You and I are the most wanted terrorists on this planet, right behind Semtin."
"I was sort of caught up in the governor's whole scheme when he thought I was a member of the Lok'teth..."
"Are you?" I asked.
"No, not really. Anyway, I was minding my own business, taking a relaxing hot bath, when these soldiers burst into my apartment and order me to come with them. Next thing you know, there I am, a gun pointed at me and my arms in the air. I couldn't even cover myself..."
"Wait. They caught you in the middle of a bath?"
"Yes, resplendent in my wonderful birthday suit." I gave her an incredulous look. "Don't worry," she said, leaning close and whispering, "I'll make it up to you."
"I'll look forward to that. So what happened?"
Kim smiled. "I tricked them into leaving the room for a minute. Female persuasion and all that. They agreed, I jumped in some clothes, and hopped out the window. Then I ran as far as I could, and was found by one of the loyal troops you see around you."
I walked over to a bench and sat down. Kim followed and sat beside me. "What have you been doing this past month?" I asked.
"Training, mostly," she answered. "I've done a few jobs for Semtin and Graf. Helped blow the mayor's office and all that."
"That slag pile is your doing?"
"Well, someone else made the bomb. I just set it in place and armed it."
"That doesn't really sound like the Shannon I knew, though admittedly I only knew you for a day."
She sighed and looked away for a moment. "That's because I've changed, Tal. I chose to stick with the name Kim because the person I used to be, Shannon Noritake, is gone. It's like I was sleepwalking before, I didn't know that all this evil existed right under my nose. And I thought I could stop it all with some kind thoughts or something. But I was wrong. I woke up from my slumber and saw the galaxy for what it is. There's too much evil running loose, and it'll stay that way until someone stands up to fight it."
I was too much in awe to say anything. This certainly was a change in her.
Kim turned back toward me. "If you don't like the new me, though, I'll understand."
I shook my head. "No, no. Welcome to reality, Sha... Kim. This is my everyday life."
"Are you really an Inquisitor?"
The question, simple as it was, surprised me. "Yes. How did you find out?"
"Just a little rumour going around."
"I'm an Inquisitor, yes. It's my duty to go around doing what I can to keep the Imperium at peace and stop anyone who might try to destroy it. That's why I came here. We heard there was an anti-Imperial cult. I thought it was the Lok'teth, but now I know I was wrong. I made a mistake, and that's caused this world to fall apart. Thousands of lives were stolen because of the mistake I made. I have to live with that guilt. But that's the kind of weight we take upon ourselves in order to save so many more people."
"I... think I understand," Kim said.
"That's why I left you behind. I was afraid of what might happen to you."
"Kim leaned over and wrapped her arms around me placing her head on my shoulders. "I don't care about what you are, Tal. I know who you are, inside."
I slowly wrapped my arms around her. "Thank you. But..."
"No more, Tal. No arguing." Her voice was low. "I love you. Nothing else matters."
I said no more, and just sat there, holding her in my arms. I began to feel a bit of moisture on my shoulder, and realized she was crying.
I knew exactly how she felt.
I returned to the barracks with Kim. Ferrus and Mandius were both sitting in the old restaurant, now a mess hall of sorts. I took a seat across from them in a small booth that was mostly hidden by shadows.
"Nice of you to join us," Ferrus said. "But you're a few minutes late."
"I took a stroll, and found an old friend," I replied.
Tal nodded in Kim's direction. "The lady here?"
Ferrus turned toward Kim and gave her one of his most rakish smiles. "Pleased to meet you, Ms....?"
"Dunne. Kim Dunne." Kim offered him her hand.
And with predictable charm, Ferrus took her hand and kissed it. Kim smiled, and for a second I felt a flash of something, which may or may not have been jealousy.
"I am Ferrus Danth, and the man to my left is Mandius Narel."
"Pleased," Mandius said, repeating Ferrus' greeting with noticeably less charm.
Kim looked at both of them and then at me. "So, you work with Tal here?"
Ferrus smiled. "Sort of."
"Does that mean you're all three Inquisitors?"
Ferrus' suggestion flashed from stunned to something dangerous and suspicious and was then back to its usual cheer in a half-instant. "Why do you think that?"
Ferrus' smile was even broader than normal. "You have indeed guessed correctly. Though I must say, you have our relationship a bit off. Tal and Mandius work for me... as well as with me, of course."
Kim frowned and looked around at the three of us. "You're their boss? You seem a bit..."
"Young?" Ferrus said. "Well, yes, I do look it, don't I? But I assure you, I am not as young as I look."
I cleared my throat. "Gentleman? If we could please get back to the matter at hand?"
Ferrus' cheer turned into mock disappointment. "Oh. Right. Cleaning up this mess you caused."
I looked at him in amusement. Mandius chuckled. "As I recall," I said, "it was you who told me the Lok'teth were evil, bad people who needed to be stopped."
"Well, that was just a little misinformation. Not like I was on the scene."
"Not like I was prepped."
"Boys, boys!" Kim shouted. "Don't you have some work to do here?"
I felt my cheeks burning at the reprimand. "Um, yeah. So, have you guys figured out a way to save this place?"
Mandius leaned forward on the table. "Well, there's always the usual way. Call in a company of Marines and take it back."
Ferrus frowned at him. "As I recall, that didn't exactly work on Sudin."
I leaned back. "Exterminatus is definitely out of the question."
Kim looked at me. "What's that?"
"Don't ask." I leaned back and rubbed at my chin with my hand. "We could try a feint at the traitor Marines and launch an attack on the governor's palace at the same time."
Ferrus leaned back, putting his hands behind his head and resting his right foot on the table. "Who does the feint, and who attacks the palace?"
"The loyalists can tackle the Marines while the three of us go after the governor."
Mandius looked between us. "We need more than three people for the governor. What about Semtin?"
I nodded. "He'll work. Anyone else?"
I felt a light slap on my shoulder. I looked over to see Kim glaring at me.
"Oh, no," I said. "I still remember the last time I saw you in 'action'."
"A lot has happened since then," Kim said. "I've changed, and not just in name."
Mandius looked at me, raising his eyebrows. "If what I've heard is right, she certainly can handle herself."
I looked over at Kim. "Something you aren't telling me?"
She looked to the side, then back. "I'll tell you later."
"Well, looks like it's settled," Ferrus said. "Five commandos, on a merry hopeless mission to depose a tyrant while we send a few hundred men to tie up a twisted parody of the Emperor's finest."
"Will you stop making it sound so pointless?" Mandius snapped.
"Sorry. Six dozen years in this galaxy tends to make a man pessimistic."
Mandius stood up. "Well, I think we should get prepared. Maybe get a change of clothes and find some recruits to pad out the army we send to fight the Marines. I'll go find something to wear."
"I think I'll do the same," I said, sliding out of the booth.
Kim slid out after me and laughed.
"Remember the last time you wore 'inconspicuous clothing'?" she asked.
"Don't remind me."
"For my part," Ferrus said, leaning his head against the wall and closing his eyes, "I'll stay here and get some rest."
Mandius reached over and slapped at Ferrus' leg, knocking it off the table. "You're getting into something that doesn't make you look like a back street killer and coming with us."
Ferrus looked up and spread his hands. "Hey, what happened to my rank? Seniority?"
Mandius gave an indignant snort. "Doesn't count."
Ferrus sighed. "Alright. I'm coming."
Ferrus and Mandius departed from the mess, leaving me and Kim standing together by the booth. She looked over at me.
"You guys are the bright shining beacon of the Imperium's hope?" she asked.
"That's us, rescuing the galaxy from itself."
Her face seemed to drain of all hope as she threw her arms up in the air. "We're doomed."
I returned to my room with Kim. I closed the door behind us and sat down heavily on my bed. Kim sat down beside me.
"I'm sorry I got your world into this mess, Kim," I said.
"Don't say that. You had no more idea than anyone else that the governor was going to turn from the Imperium."
I let my head hang down and closed my eyes. "I don't know. I just feel like I should have been able to do something to keep this from happening."
Kim put her arm around my shoulders and leaned against me. "Stop. You're not omniscient."
"But I'm supposed to save people."
"You are. You made a mistake, Tal. That's not exactly something new to mankind."
I rubbed at my eyes with my hand and felt moisture gathering there. "That doesn't make it any easier to live with."
"You're supposed to be one of humanity's secret saviours. I'm not as savvy as some people when it comes to Inquisitors, but I'm sure you're all still normal people, who sometimes mess up."
"And kill the wrong people?"
"Don't you know anyone else who has done that? You're in a war for mankind's survival, after all."
I looked up and over at her. My mind suddenly flashed through memories of learning from Mandius what had happened with my father. "Yes. I do know someone."
"See? It's not that uncommon, especially when the stakes are so high. How did he take it?"
"Not well." I looked away from Kim. "The man he killed was my father."
I heard Kim gasp. "I'm... I'm sorry, Tal. I didn't know."
"I know. I shouldn't feel so bad. The people I killed weren't my best friends, nor did I have to face the memory of what I'd done for long years afterward by raising their kids."
Kim reached up and took my chin in her hand, turning my face toward her. "Do you love me, Tal?"
"Well, yes, of course." I was puzzled by the question.
"Do you trust me?"
"Then will you trust me when I say this mess isn't your fault?"
I nodded, too weary to say any more. I simply closed my eyes, trying to take in her words, open myself up to the truth of them.
I felt Kim pull me closer to her, her arms wrapping around my torso. I put my arms around her, and seconds later felt her lips pressed against mine. I offered no resistance to her kiss.
All the tension began to flow out in that moment.
A knock on the door caused me to jump. Startled, I lost my balance and fell off the bed, Kim falling down on top of me.
"If you two lovebirds are done in there, we've got a bloody job to do!" I recognized the voice as Ferrus'.
Kim stood up, pulling me up by my arm. "He has a point, you know."
I sighed and rolled my eyes. "Yes, I know." I started toward my closet, then hesitated. I turned and looked back at Kim, who was sitting on the end of the bed.
"What?" she asked. "Aren't you going to get changed?"
"With you sitting there?" I replied, raising my right eyebrow.
"Is there a problem?"
"You're serious, right?"
She gave me a very seductive smile. "If it helps, I'll let you stay in my room while I change."
"One more promise I'll have to hold you to," I said, walking to my closet.
When we met up with Ferrus and Mandius again, I was wearing a grey t-shirt and black denim pants. Kim had changed into a loose-fitting red shirt and blue denims. Mandius was now wearing what appeared to be a grey jogging outfit, and Ferrus was wearing a black t-shirt, black slacks, and a black trenchcoat.
Mandius and I both glared at him.
"What?" he asked. "Don't I fit in?"
"Yeah," I said. "With the criminal underground."
"And," Mandius added, "the killer that I was hoping you wouldn't look like."
"Excuse me for having some fashion sense," Ferrus said. "We are looking for criminals, scum, and other lowlifes who can help us bolster our army, right?"
"Blast it," I said.
Mandius looked over at me questioningly.
"He has a point," I told him.
"As well," Ferrus said, "I can carry something more than a pistol." He drew back his trenchcoat, revealing a long heavy lasrifle.
"Let's just hope you don't have to use it," I said.
He never did. None of us had to draw our weapons. In the space of hours, we had managed to get the word out to hundreds of people who fit the profile for likely fill-in soldiers. The word would also pass on to others, perhaps reaching thousands in just a few days.
A request went out on the black market for weapons. Lasguns, autoguns, bolt guns, anything.
Within a week, over five thousand citizens had joined out army, and we had enough weapons for them all. Through the hard work of the loyal Guardsmen, we also had room to house them all.
Another week's worth of training, and they were ready and even eager to fight in battle. Not quite the level of training preferred before fighting such a skilled, well-equipped foe, but the best we would get.
With everything set, plans were made with Colonel Graf, who would lead the army into battle. Ferrus, Mandius, Semtin, Kim and I were all ready to put together out own plans, in which Governor Selz would be brought to justice once and for all.
Beautiful. The world outside was beautiful.
And just as ugly.
A knock on my door saved me from any further thought along the lines of this world's problems, and gladly I said aloud, "Come in."
Mandius entered, closing the door behind him.
"Any news?" I asked.
"Ferrus is prepping Graf for his duties while we get our stuff together and get ready for what we have to do," Mandius said, tossing a black duster off his head and onto my bed.
"I don't envy the soldiers their jobs. But I fear we have the harder task ahead of us."
"You may well be right, Tal." Mandius sat down in a chair beside my desk.
I walked over to my bed and sat down on the end of it, my left leg drawn up. "This is a horrible mess we've gotten into."
""Agreed," Mandius said. "?"If I just had listened to Kevyn more, maybe calm him don..."
"Stop. Don't blame yourself for this."
"I killed the one man who knew what was going on, Tal. I killed your father, and all he was doing was trying to warn us."
I looked to the side. "You didn't know. Neither did I, and that's why I ended up killing the leader of the Lok'teth and several of their members. I could have listened too. But we did our jobs the way we were taught, and the wrong people died. Now we have a chance to make those mistakes right."
Mandius looked down, his eyes seeing nothing in particular but rather seeming to remember something. "I may be able to make this right for others, Tal. But it can't help me feel better about what I did."
I stood up quickly, nearly jumping off the bed. "It wasn't your fault, Mandius! Stop beating yourself up over it!"
He looked up at me, his eyes half closed and filled with sadness. "And you, Tal? Have you stopped punishing yourself over your failures?"
I quickly looked away, hoping he wouldn't see the look of pain that question brought to my face. "I've had some help with it," I said. I looked back at him. "I can help you too, Mandius."
He sighed heavily. "Maybe so, Tal. But every time I look at you I see your father's face."
"Maybe I can help you focus on some of your better memories with him. Hey the bad ones moved out of the front."
"Maybe so. But it may take a long time." He stood up, putting his duster back on and walking toward the door. "I have to get ready for the mission. I suggest you get some rest before we head out."
"Will you be alright?"
He hesitated at the door. "As fine as I have been for the past twenty years." And without another word, he opened the door and walked out, letting it shut behind behind him.
I dropped backward onto my bed, bouncing once on the springs before coming to rest with my legs dangling off the end.
This was not going to be an easy mission. But even harder would be the task of getting Mandius to forgive himself.
My room;s door opened and I looked up, expecting to see Mandius returning. Instead I saw Kim walking in.
"Tough day?" she asked.
"Very," I said, dropping my head back onto the bed.
I heard bags rusting as Kim put them down. Then the distinctive sound of her light footsteps padded across the room toward the bed.
She dropped down beside me, looking into my eyes. "Something you want to talk bout?"
I shook my head. "Not really."
"Bad thoughts? Memories? Sad news?"
"The first two combined, and then magnified."
"Well," Kim said, "Ill have to see what I can do about that." I heard her shoes drop lightly to the floor.
I looked over and saw her smiling. I knew that smile. I cleared my throat. "Um, Kim, this may not be the best time to mention this, but I was instructed to get some sleep before tomorrow. You, too."
She paused for a second from unbuttoning her blouse to reach up and turn off the lamp. "We'll make sure we leave time for that," she said.
"Well, as long as you put it that way..."
I stifled a yawn as I walked up to Ferrus, Mandius, and Semtin. "Have we got things together for the mission?"
"Yes," Mandius said. "All our gear, plus some transportation."
Ferrus looked at me. "I thought I told you to get some sleep?"
He laughed. "I'll bet."
We began loading our gear into a light transport vehicle. All around the compound, soldiers and others forced into duty fighting the governor's forces and Traitor allies were running about, gathering their own gear, making last minute preparations, and assembling with their leaders.
While we were doing our own preparation, Kim walked up. Without turning, I said, "A bit late, eh?"
She tossed her pack into the back of the transport. "I had my reason. As I recall, it had a lot to do with you."
Semtin walked around to the back of the transport and slapped both of us on the back. "Come on, you two lovebirds. We've got a job to do. Get in."
Ferrus and Mandius both laughed while getting into the transport. I glared at Semtin in mock anger at his comment, while he jumped into the driver's seat.
Kim pulled me gently toward the transport's rear passenger doors. I opened the door, allowing her to get in first, then followed.
Soon we were gone from the "base", traveling through the forest in a long loop around Trenton and toward Tenem, the capital. Following paths that had been secretly cleared in the past six weeks, it wouldn't take us too long to travel.
During the first hour of the trip, Ferrus looked back from the front passenger seat at both Mandius and me. "Did you both remember your armour?"
Mandius nodded. I gave Ferrus a lopsided smile. "Yes, I remembered it. Hard to forget, tempting as it is. I'm going to have to talk to our engineers about making it more comfortable."
"Good idea," Ferrus said. "That armour is your best friend. My armour's saved my life so many times I ended up losing count."
"Were you ever counting to begin with?"
"Well, no. It's just a figure of speech."
A third of the way through the trip, Ferrus took Semtin's position at the driver's seat, around midday. As the afternoon hours began passing away and dusk approached, Mandius took the wheel. The rest of us got what rest we could before we arrived at Tenem.
I was awakened by a soft tug on my arm. Lazily, I lifted my head, blinking to help my eyes adjust to the dark and focus. I looked over and saw Kim, looking at me with a bit of sadness in her eyes.
"Is something wrong?" I asked, keeping my voice down to a whisper.
"I just wanted to ask... well... Do you think we'll make it through this?"
"Yes, of course. The governor's likely to have his best troops defending him, but we'll be doing what we can to minimize a confrontation with them, and, not to toot our own horns here, I'm certain we're far better at our jobs than they are."
"What about me?"
I frowned, then shot a quick look at the other men in the truck. "We're all going to be sticking together. If you feel in danger, just stick to us a little more."
"I'm still worried. But not about me now. I believe you'll do your best to protect me. But, Tal, I just can't shake the image of something happening to you."
Those words, for whatever reason, made me feel cold and uncertain for a moment. But I pushed those feelings aside. "Look, I've got my armour and field to protect me."
"Will they be enough?"
"They always have been. I have no reason to believe they won't now."
"Well," Kim said, leaning her head against my shoulder, "I guess I shouldn't be worried if you aren't."
I didn't feel like telling her as she fell back asleep that I really was worried.
Hours later, in the middle of the night, we arrived at the Tenem sewer entrance. We parked the transport to the side, covering it with a camo blanket after retrieving our gear. Slinging our packs over our shoulders, and placing our weapons where we could easily reach them, we entered the sewer.
Ferrus lit a torch, and in its light we could see the path that lay before us.
We entered the sewers carefully, Ferrus leading the way, our weapons drawn and held at the ready. I brought up the rear, with Kim, Semtin and Mandius between me and Ferrus.
We walked forward slowly but quickly, trying not to bring to us the attentions of anyone in the sewers with us, while still maintaining a pace that would allow us to attack the governor and his personal guards at about the same time that the two armies would be fighting.
Most of the trek through the sewers was uneventful, save for a few times that rats or some other small animal ran close to us and forced us to be momentarily on guard. However, it wasn't going to be a totally easy cakewalk. It never was.
We were almost to the exit that allowed us to enter the palace when a heavy noise sounded behind us. Ferrus quietly instructed us to keep moving forward, faster now more than ever.
We began jogging toward the exit, and reached it just as the sound of heavy footsteps reached me. Ferrus was pressing keys on the sewer hatch's lock, trying to unlock it.
I looked back down the hall and finally saw them.
Chaos Marines. Traitor Astartes, coming for us.
Finally Ferrus cursed and brought out his sword, a long and elegant double-edged blade that was etched with runes of some kind. He swung the sword at the lock once, smashing it in a shower of sparks.
"Come on!" Ferrus shouted. "We can't fight the Marines." He hung off the hatch while Kim, Semtin, and then Mandius were ushered up it. I stopped for a moment and looked to the side. Something had caught my eye.
"Tal, what are you waiting for?" Ferrus yelled. "Get up here!"
"Gas line," I said, pointing to the large pipe labeled as such. I grinned at Ferrus. His face showed confusion for a moment, then he realized what I was suggesting and grinned back.
Hurriedly, I turned the wheel on the pipe, allowing gallons of gasoline to begin pouring into the sewer. The Marines were almost upon, their eyes full of hatred and their weapons being raised to fire. Quickly I pushed Ferrus up through the hatch, then leapt through it myself. I took the torch from Ferrus and grabbed the hatch with my other hand. I dropped the torch through the hatch and then slammed it closed, quickly jumping away from it.
A sound like thunder echoed through the palace and the hatch blew off the sewer. Flames roared out of the sewer, threatening to set alight anything nearby. The screams of the twisted Marines, and the smell of their burning flesh, was absolutely horrible.
Ferrus, Mandius, Semtin, and Kim seemed to have already recovered enough to stand after a few seconds, not having been as close to the blast as I was. Ferrus turned as if he was going to walk over and help me up, but as he did so a half squad of guards rushed into the room. He spun around quickly, bringing up his bolt pistol and dispatching two of the guards. Mandius also killed one, and the last two were taken out by surprisingly good head shots from Kim's laspistol.
Out of danger for the moment, We all came together in the middle of the room to discuss our plans for the rest of the palace.
"So we go up, fighting our way from level to level?" I asked.
Ferrus nodded. "The palace should be pretty much devoid of any serious problems, such as Marines. And the guards it has will be scattered. It won't be too hard to move up."
Mandius looked at the stairs, then back. "What do we do about the governor."
"We split up and one of us goes after him," Ferrus replied. "I think that someone should be Tallonius."
"Wouldn't that be putting him in a lot of danger?" Kim asked.
Ferrus shook his head. "Not really. Something tells me he was meant to face the governor anyway."
I glanced over at Semtin. "Something to do with a prophecy?"
Ferrus smiled. "Well, actually, yes."
Semtin smiled and pushed his rifle back on his should. "We seem to have a plan. Are we ready to do it?"
Ferrus looked at each of us for a brief moment, then nodded. "Yes. Let's do it."
He led the way out of the room, toward the stairs. Semtin followed behind him. I began to follow, but Mandius stopped me and pulled me to his side. I began to ask him why and he silently pointed to the side of the room. Kim stood there, over one of the men she shot, her face showing much distress.
"Do you think she'll be alright?" Mandius asked.
I looked at her for a long moment, then back at Mandius. "I think so. I'll make sure of it."
"Okay," he replied. "Catch up with us when you can."
He turned and followed the other two, while I walked to Kim's side.
"You alright?" I asked.
I heard a quick, soft sniffle. "Yeah."
"You don't like killing others, do you?"
"I'm not a killer, Tal."
"I know that," I said, putting an arm around her shoulders. "But sometimes we're forced to do things we don't want to."
She wiped her eyes with he hand and then looked up at me. "Sounds like you've heard and recited that speech before."
"Much too often," I said, my voice not even a whisper.
Kim looked back down, then up again at me. "Come on. We've got a governor to overthrow. So no one else has to become what they aren't."
We both hurried to catch Ferrus, Mandius, and Semtin.
We walked up the first couple of flights of stairs with no problem. But then we had to move through part of the building to reach the stairs we needed to go further up. And that meant going through more guards.
We encountered the first guards right after we opened the stairwell door. A handful of guards, stunned, began to bring up their weapons. We all jumped in separate directions, firing at the guards as we leapt. Within seconds they were down, only two of them getting off shots, both of which missed.
We began to get up when I noticed a worker in another room. Through the window, I could see him pulling a pistol out of his desk.
Without a word, I ran up to the door, kicked it open, and fired two shots into his chest. The man fell off his chair, his eyes still open, his face still holding a look of surprise.
Ferrus quickly moved to my side, holding his bolt pistol at the ready. "Any more?"
"No, this seems to be it."
"Good. let's keep moving." And with that he jogged toward the hall that would lead us to the stairs.
We managed to fight our way up to the fifth level without much of a problem. However, there were many more guards there than expected, and they were ready for us. Semtin, Ferrus and I took direct hits. Ferrus' armour and mine stopped the shots from doing any harm, but Semtin had no such luck. His right leg was badly burned by a pair of lasgun shots.
Mandius quickly slapped a sealing clamp around the wound to stop it from bleeding. But the damage to Semtin's muscles and nerves was too much to allow him to keep going on with us.
A look of regret in his eyes, he looked up and said, "It seems I can't continue."
Ferrus kneeled beside him. "No problem, friend." Then he leaned closed to Semtin and whispered something. I thought I heard the word pardon in their somewhere, but couldn't be sure. Semtin nodded, and Ferrus stood up.
"We're going to have to leave Semtin here," Ferrus announced. "But he'll have his lasgun, so it should be okay."
"Don't waste your time worrying about me," Semtin said, pointing toward the stairs with his bolt pistol. "Go on and get the governor."
And so we kept continuing upward. We began to encounter more and more resistance, until finally we reached the floor underneath the governor's chamber. The stairs above us were blockaded. The guards were waiting for us on the stairs themselves, not in the hall outside.
A vicious amount of fire began to come down around us, sometimes blowing pits in the wall, sometimes missing even the stairs, and other times hitting our armour. I jumped to cover us Kim, who was wearing no armour.
Ferrus suddenly stood up. "Look away," he hissed at us. Then he drew his arm back. I realized what he was about to do and turned away, making sure Kim did the same.
A second later I heard a crack as the grenade hit the floor above. Ferrus slammed into the ground beside us, his face looking down.
A small explosion above was following by a light that seemed as if it could outshine a sun. Searing heat followed in the wake of the light. Screams of men who were caught too close and burned alive mingled with the screams of those who had just been blinded.
The photon flash grenade did its job perfectly.
We all got up and ran up the stairs, quickly dispatching the surviving guards, who had no chance of fighting back. They fell to the ground, some of them tumbling down the stairs. The smell of charred flesh was horrible.
Before we opened the door to the top level, Kim called attention to herself. I went to her side and noticed that her arm had been half-grazed, half-hit by a las-bolt. Fumbling in my medi-pack, I brought out a small gauze pad and some burn cream, then applied them to her arm.
"Will that help?" she asked.
"It'll keep it protected," I said. I leaned forward and kissed her cheek, then turned around and signaled that we were ready to go.
Ferrus kicked opened the door and moved to the side. All four of us, laid down a crossfire of bolt shells and laspistol shots. Several guards were struck.
We moved into the room, running to grab some cover. Ferrus, Mandius, and Kim all ran to the right. I ended up going left.
Which put me in a good position, since the guards didn't really notice me.
A hail of fire began to come from the guards, directed on my companions' position. Occasionally, one of them would pop up and return fire, nailing a guard. It was a perfect distraction for me.
I began to slowly edge my way around the side of the room, moving toward the door to the governor's chamber, a large and baroque looking door that seemed to foreshadow something evil hiding within. I remained low, dashing between bits of cover, until I was finally able to make a dash toward the door. Finally I stood and ran for the door, taking shots at a couple of guards as I did so.
I got to the door and managed to pull it open while some lasgun shots began to hit the walls near me. The fire directed at me seemed to go down a lot in volume as bolt pistols joined the weapons firing, which I assumed meant Ferrus, Mandius, and Kim were firing at the now distracted guards and drawing their attention back away from me. I quickly moved through the door and slammed it closed behind me.
Catching my breath, I heard a voice from behind me, a leathery voice that seemed to speak with the weight of ages.
"Congratulations, Tallonius Zhent. You have reached my throne room. And you will go no farther."
I turned around slowly, trying to locate the source of the voice I'd just heard. It wasn't easy. The chamber, already appearing to have a dark nature with its high walls, gargoyle statues, and brass gothic columns, was lit by nothing more than two large candles setting atop pedestals that flanked the governor's throne. It was there, in the throne, that the source of the voice sat.
Governor Selz, looking much older than he actually was, sat in the throne, his head hung low. He wore heavy dark robes, purple in colour, with brass clasps on his shoulders and a brass connector holding a leather belt in place around his waste. His hair, most grey, fell behind his back in long ragged strands.
He lifted his head. "You have come here to slay me for your False Emperor, no?"
I remained where I stood. "You are a danger to the Imperium."
He raised his arms. "A frail old man like me? Your Imperium must not be very powerful."
"You are not that old. Your dabbling in dark magics has affected you."
Selz smiled. "Ah, so you do have some knowledge of the Dark Powers. Good. Then you also know how powerful they've made me."
I began to say something, but was startled as Selz stood up from the throne, his head held high. His eyes blazing with anger, he raised his left arm and pointed it toward me. Some talisman was draped across his hand and forearm. A bolt of red light flashed from that talisman and across the room, lighting it for one brief moment for it impacted on my chest and threw me against the chamber door.
I slid to the ground, the wind knocked out of me. There was a pain in my side; it must have been a cracked rib. I raised my hands to fire my laspistols at the governor, but found that they had been knocked from my grasp when I was hit.
I stood up, pulling out my sword. "Yes, governor. I do believe I know your power. I've also heard much about your vaunted sword skills. Do you care to try them on me?"
The governor smiled, and what confidence I'd had began to melt at the sight of his grin. "Yes. Let us... dance." With that, he pulled a sword from a sheath on his left side. The sword was long and appeared to be an ancient power weapon. Its hilt, wrapped in ivory and trimmed with bronze, would have combined with the bluish blade to make a beautiful sword under other circumstances.
I slowly walked toward the governor, holding my own sword at my side. He stood still, watching me move ever closer. Once I was in range of my blade, I swung my sword up in a swift arc that would have caught him in the side.
But Selz was quicker than I'd thought, and I should have realized that. His sword flashed up to knock mine away. A splash of sparks lit the room for a moment.
I backed off quickly, trying to get a chance to reevaluate my strategy. But Selz followed me, sword at his side. It came up quickly, a swing that should have torn me in half. I managed to block with my sword, but the governor's strength was more than I'd bargained for. His sword slashed across the front of my chest and battered my own sword into a column, which it tore through with ease.
Now that I was most definitely on the defensive, I began to move around, looking for some way to catch the governor unexpectedly. There wasn't really much of anything in the room to aid me in my fight. So I kept moving around, hoping for an opening in Selz's own defense.
His sword came up again, this time going for my head. I managed to knock it away with my sword, but this time it was very easy to parry his sword. Too easy, in fact, and I found myself stumbling forward.
That left an opening, which the governor took in an instant. The flat end of his sword came crashing down on my back. I felt more than heard the breaking of a half dozen ribs and what was likely a small part of my spine. I fell to the ground, pain flaring across my chest where it had been cut open and was bleeding severely.
I felt a heavy blow on my right wrist, and realized as I looked over that the governor had just slammed his foot down against it, breaking the bones in a painful manner. I stifle the scream, but had no way to fight the pain.
The governor circled me for a moment. "It appears your Emperor has left you, Inquisitor. Where is he when you need him? The Dark Gods are with me even now. They will not abandon me as your supposed god has."
Gritting my teeth to fight the pain, I looked up. "He is with me, scum. If it takes me to my death, I will make you see that."
"Strong words for one who is already lying on a floor and getting closer and closer to death. Tell me, if your Emperor is so powerful, why is he allowing you to die?"
The mocking tone in Selz's voice made me angry. I snarled at him, "The Emperor has blessed me, and in his name I will do his works. If it is his will that I shall die, so be it. It's not the place of wretched traitors like you to question the Emperor."
"Oh, it's not?" Selz asked, his voice sarcastic. "Well, then. I shall just sit upon my throne and wait for your Emperor to come to your aid, Zhent."
He walked back over to his throne, which I could barely see from my position on the floor, and sat down. Laying his sword to his side, he sat back, arms rested on the throne's sides.
The look on his face and the venom in his voice carried his contempt for me as he said his next words. "Make no mistake, Zhent. You are going to die here tonight, broken by the Dark Gods, a testament to their power. You never had a chance to destroy me, and neither did your father."
Those last words uttered by the governor stung at my conscious, drove down into my heart, and filled me at once with despair and anger.
I looked back at the throne. The governor's head was now rested on his right hand, which was stroking his chin as if he was in contemplation over something.
My sword was inches from my right hand. But my wrist was smashed, so I had no chance to get it with that hand.
Slowly and painfully I brought myself up onto my knees, using only my left hand for leverage. I grabbed my sword with that hand, then struggled onto my feet, pain flaring through my body.
Selz's hand dropped back to his side. His eyes showed surprise.
With a purpose in my mind, completing the mission and getting revenge for what happened to my father, I stalked toward the throne. Pain flared in my back with each step, but I ignored it. It wasn't as important as what I had to do.
I was almost to Selz when I noticed his eyes widen with fear. He was looking around me, and I looked back toward the door to see what it was that he was looking at.
Ferrus stood there, blood drenching his cloak and spattered across his armour, his sword and pistol held in his arms.
"Rahama'tesh!" I heard Selz hiss. The sound of metal scraping on metal caught my ear.
Quickly I spun around and shot my arm forward, spearing his chest and pinning him to the throne with my sword. His own sword dropped from his hand, rattling as it landed back on the pedestal on which it had been laying.
Selz's eyes began to glow red. An orange tint coloured his skin. His head snapped back and he screamed out loud, his voice a scratchy sound. "Yurl! I need you!"
A voice that seemed to emanate from the walls answered. "No, Selz, I cannot help. You have killed us both, you fool!"
A red mist began to form around Selz's feet, reaching up his legs and beginning to coalesce around the rest of his body.
"You have been the death of me, Yurl'tesh." The words came from Selz's body, but it was the same voice that had earlier answered him. "But know this," he said, his head beginning to be shrouded with mist, "you have also marked yourself for death."
A wail, like that of a man being consumed, came from the red mist formed around the throne. It rose to a crescendo, the sound reverberating in my ears and driving me back like a physical force. A bright flash of red, and a release of energy that threw me onto my back.
I looked up and over to where Ferrus was standing. "Rahama'tesh?" I asked.
Before he could answer, though, everything went dark.
I woke up in a hospital room, lines attached to my arms and bandages wrapped around my torso. A cast held my right wrist in place.
Kim was sitting by my side. "He's awake," she said. I looked past her and saw Ferrus and Semtin standing near the door.
Ferrus approached me. "You got yourself pretty beat up back there."
"Yeah," I replied. "Hurts like you wouldn't believe."
He laughed. "Trust me, I'd believe it." He nodded his head toward Semtin. "Semtin here's got some good news for us."
I looked over toward Semtin. "Well?"
He smiled. "I've decided to re-enlist with the Imperial Guard, taking the other members of the Lok'teth with me. The prophecy's been fulfilled. This world needs some bodies to fill up its Guard regiments. My people know how to fight, so we're in."
"Great news," I said, leaning back.
Ferrus' expression turned serious. "Semtin, Kim, would you mind leaving us alone for a moment?"
They both replied in the affirmative, and left the room. Then Ferrus came and sat down beside me.
His voice dropped to a whisper. "You were asking me about the name Rahama'tesh?"
"Yes," I said. "I was wondering why Selz called you that."
Ferrus looked a bit uncomfortable. "I wouldn't be telling you this normally, but it's something you should probably know now." He leaned back. "Rahama was the name of a Tzeentchian daemon that terrorized the world Turmen I was given the task of ridding the world of him, as I was a member of the Ordo Malleus. I was successful, and killed Rahama, who called me Rahama'tesh at his death."
"So what does that mean, and why did Selz call you that?" I asked.
"I'm getting there," Ferrus replied. "I hadn't heard of someone being called such a thing before. So I asked Inquisitor Marinus about it. He informed me that sometimes when a daemon is killed, the man who killed him is given a title, consisting of the name of the daemon and then 'tesh'. It basically means 'Death or Killer of' the daemon whose name comes before it. Apparently other daemons learn of some of these individuals, as the dying daemon psychically sends out a message warning them. The daemon possessing Selz, Yurl, had apparently heard of me from other daemons, and knew who I was."
"So me being called Yurl'tesh was because the daemon possessing Selz was named Yurl?"
I looked to the side, then back at Ferrus. "So I guess that prophecy really was meant for me."
We were both silent for a moment. I began to think of my father, and what happened to him. The way he died.
Ferrus seemed to catch the look in my face. "Look, Tal, I'm sorry about your father. I know what happened to him was saddening for all of us. But we all know the risks, and we take on these missions and their horrible consequences. Yet, we do what we do, for the Emperor."
I looked out the window of the room, at the buildings and trees outside. I sighed, and then repeated those last three words, my voice thick with sorrow.
"For the Emperor..."