Hidden 10 days ago 9 days ago Post by POOHEAD189
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"My delectable partner is countess and adept of the Administratum Emmaline von Morganstern, and I am the humble Jovian Elite and Rear Admiral Blasius Deckard," I introduced myself with pride and surety, raising my head to look down on the man. "From Jupiter of the Sol System."

Needless to say we were accommodated quite admirably. I think the proclamation and the badge of rank I revealed was surprising even to Emmaline, though she held it together well. Some might say I was aiming a bit high in my cover, but it made sense once one thought of it. Firstly, I was actually somewhat familiar with the most holy Sol System. Saturn is the headquarters for the Ordo Malleus, and I had visited one of the colonies of Jupiter on an earlier trip with Inquisitor Kronus. The moons were incredibly rich in resources and manufacture, and the orbital colonies were unfathomably wealthy and extravagant. Some even said they rivaled Terra and the colonies of Venus in profligacy, and anyone born upon a planet in the system of humanity's birthplace was given high respect. Jupiter and the Jovian Clans were responsible for the creation of much of the Imperial Fleet along with the forges of mars, Jupiter in particular specializing in the warp drives and gellar fields in all imperial ships. Any son of the clan that was not an administrator of manufacturing was to be an officer in the navy that rose quickly with little merit. I wanted the clout and the reputation to be the talk of the relatively minor planet of Moldar, and Emmaline would be my noble-born liaison and date, and an adept of the administratum. This would have the caveat of people being wary around us, though we would always have that problem being newcomers, but it would also open many doors without my having to show my Inquisitorial seal. The rest I could wring out of someone if I saw the need arise.

In the midst of the Superior Duke Hostas's hurrying, his manservants aiding him in collecting all manner of apparel and finery, Emmaline drew me aside behind one of the curtains. She seemed perturbed about something and glanced over her shoulder before she gave me a very firm tone of voice.

"Why in Emperor's balls did you tell them my real name?" She demanded. A reasonable question. We had only known one another for a short time, even if we were swiftly growing closer, which unnerved me more than I cared to admit. But this was the first time she had come to near scolding in my direction, as she was likely still a bit wary of my Inquisitorial rank, as all sensible people should be. Perhaps she felt I had done it because I considered her expendable? It would explain the ire but she read me wrong if she felt that the case. I looked at her squarely in the eyes.

"There is a slim but very real chance that the men I am chasing know an Inquisitor has followed them, and there is a secondary chance of them knowing it is Hadrian Drakos. If I were to use my true name, we would get nowhere or worse. You, on the other hand, are unknown to them. And in the event of my cover being blown, they will logically assume..."

"...that Emmaline Von Morganstern is an alias as well..." She reasoned, catching on quickly. The blonde woman nodded after a moment, satisfied with the answer. I did not say it, but it also served so there would be no confusion in the heat of the moment. I had prepared the role of Blasius Deckard for over a year for just such an occasion. Emmaline, though resourceful, was new to this life. Best not to take chances so early on. She regarded me steadily. "You still should have told me, beforehand."

"I hadn't expected the question, but true, I should have. I simply did not want you to worry on it until necessary. You seemed to have a lot of fun when we were out and about."

"I did," she conceded, twirling a bit of her golden hair with a finger as she glanced out of the curtains. I watched her as she considered her next question. "So tell me, Blasius Deckard of Jupiter, what exactly are we attending this party for? I thought Inquisitors skulk and raid and burn with flame."

I smirked for a brief moment. It was a sardonic expression, as I knew the reputation of my peers, and it was certainly warranted.

"We have three tiers of objectives on this planet. The first tier is finding Bahometus and his cabal, and finding out who, what, and where Balal Ignatius is, as well as finding the tomb of Xenos our artifact unlocks, or if it's even on Moldar. The second tier of objectives will aid in that, which this gathering is for. Tonight we must either get invited to the Council Meeting of Gralinmakke, which should be easy enough with our stations established. Or, we must get invited to one of the Councilor's estates, Ignatius preferably, but any will help in our investigations. And at this particular gathering, we need to socialize and garner any intelligence we couldn't gain from a datasheet."

"And the third tier of objectives?"

"Skulk and raid and burn with flames." I said grimly. Before she could respond with her trademark witticisms, the curtains opened. We both turned to the good Duke Hostas, who clapped his hands together and looked apprehensive.

"My apologies, but some of our threads and more extravagant accessories are in our sister store a few kilometers away. What time will the party be?" He asked, worried for his reputation. I smiled easily in response.

"Two hours, no rush."

"And where is it held?"

"Nothing very special. It's in the Grand Banquet Lounge for the annual Kaldorae Ascension celebration."

The Superior Duke's jaw dropped so far, I thought he would stub his toe. Swiftly, he ushered us both into the room and made tactical decisions a general of the battlefleet would be jealous of. Clothes flew and men scattered, and before both Emmaline and I knew it, we were momentarily separated. On the Superior Duke's dime, Emmaline was granted a private groundcar and veritably shoved to the other location, as the clothing that was needed was for her outfit. I was accommodated at the current location, measured, weighed, and outfitted expertly. In less than an hour, I was dressed and sent to the Grand Banquet Lounge just south of the Capital's central government building. It looked like a miniature palace, with elaborate fountains of figures that, if I were to hazard a guess, were semi-mythical renditions of the primarchs spitting water out in a stone effigy of a battle between one another. Every few moments a different area of the fountain behind the scultures flowed with water that flew in a cascade of shapes. The sun had risen low, but the lights of the city put starlight to shame. Great Stone figures of a native Moldarian beast called a Sarcinex framed the twenty steps from the grand walkway to the Banquet Hall itself. Ground cars and aircars pulled up by the dozens, and hundreds if not thousands of onlookers stood behind the line of the fountains and took pictures or gazed the party's way as they meandered down the road.

Stepping out of my groundcar, I fixed my suit and stood tall. The outfit was superficially martial in nature, accentuating my strong shoulders and showing off my admittedly fake medals on my left pectoral. A banner of red and black clasped my form from my left shoulder to the right waist. My belt was brass and well tanned leather with imperial designs inlaid with gold thread. My boots were black and polished, and my outfit was a dark navy, befitting the naval colors, and draped across my upper torso, reaching my upper arms and trailing behind me was a cape of crimson. In my back, holstered behind my cape was my auto-gun. At my hip was my power sword, and in my hands was my force staff. The auto-gun hidden, the power sword looking very much like an antique sword of rank, and my force staff merely a fashionable walking stick for this occasion. No one here would recognize any of them, save traitors, and when they did I would see it.

I have been called dashing on several occasions, when I attempted to be. An old associate of mine had even called me such when I was my usual stern self. It served me well when I needed it to, and tonight I would utilize it for all it was worth.

As I made my way up the stairs, admiring the artistry in the stonework of the vaguely reptilian-canid Sarcinex's, I got a glimpse of the party through the vast open doors. Men and women of high birth mingled under warm, brilliant light as servants moved with practiced certainty and grace to bring them what manner of drink and food they desired. I took a deep breath, but before I continued, I heard a familiar voice.

"Not going in without me, are you?"

I turned and beheld Emmaline, striding up the stairs in a way that accentuated the movement of her hips. I am not ashamed to admit my jaw dropped further than Hostas's ever could. Her thick hair bound into a silky ponytail, held in place with a tiara of bronze with a ruby at its center, she wore a sparkling black dress so dark it put deep space to shame. It hugged her body with gusto, moderately cut to show enough of her bosom to distract but not so far as to be considered a floozy by any of the more prudish in the crowd. Her wrists and earrings were golden hoops, and hanging from her neck was a necklace of gold thread with a sapphire sign of terra at its precipice, hanging just beyond the cusp of her considerable chest.

"Wouldn't think of it," I said, reining myself in. Now wasn't the time for staring. I offered her my arm to take. "We'll go in together. But if we ever get separated and can't find one another, meet me at the northern balcony."

"Nervous?" She asked jokingly.

"Do I look, ok?" I responded, as if the question could only mean my attire.
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I regarded him out of the corner of my eye. He looked the very picture of Imperial marshall virtue. I had to admit he was a handsome devil. I hadn’t ever thought much about what an Inquisitor might look like but he certainly would have done a navy recruiting poster proud.

“I can’t speak for all the young ladies at the ball, but you are certainly quickening my pulse,” I admitted. The doors opened and there was a blast of marshall music that might have been the Imperial Naval March and then we linked arms and sauntered in.

“Rear Admiral Blasius Deckard and the Lady Adept Emmaline Von Morganstern of the Administratum,” a liveried servant boomed in quite the deepest voice I had ever heard. They didn’t mention Sol but by the sudden hush that fell over the crowd the word had already been spread. It seemed likely that the Superior Duke had spread the word, boasting of his ‘great friend’ Blasius Deckard without mentioning that their ‘friendship’ was only hours old. I had by that time seen my fair share of Imperial nobility. I was pretty familiar with the level of social engineering and scheming that went on, sometimes I wonder that the Imperium dosen’t collapse in on itself.

The dance floor began to move again as the band transitioned back into a spritely waltz. That was quite the feat moving from the marshal beats of the Navy hymn. I looked over at the band to see how it had been accomplished and saw that the band was composed of servitors, each was a beautiful vat grown specimen with their instruments grafted to their limbs. Such extravagance.

“Well I guess we should dance,” I said.

“Just so long as you don’t do the same dance you did for the crew. Have you seen the mural down in the berthing area?” Hadrian muttered. I turned my head in shock.

“Mural?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about it,” he replied, taking my hand as the waltz ended and a spritely sarabande began. We whirled onto the dancefloor with the other couples, the vast majority of which appeared in early middle years, though in many cases this was the result of extensive juvenat work. It was a glittering gathering, quite literally as nearly everyone was bedecked with jewelry that would have begarred a baron. We shared several dances together before an intermission was called and servants in livery entered carrying trays of fresh drinks and entrees which they set on a series of marble benches which ran along the sides of dancefloor. Both Hadrian and I were immediately mobbed by the assembled company. The press of young, and in some cases not so young, ladies around Hadrian threatened to be literally breath taking. It certainly would be a coup for any young women to dance with a dashing naval officer from Sol. I was of course not without my own share of attention. Before I could reach the amasec I was accosted by dozens of elegantly dressed young men all but shouting at me for dances and two marriage proposals which was almost a record for one night.

“Gentlemen, please, I am faint from dancing and need a drink,” I told them. It was the wrong thing to say, as I was nearly stampeded by those same young men all trying to get me a drink. It was like a wave rushing out but as they rushed back in they all froze hanging back several feet. I frowned and turned to find myself face to face with a handsome man with chisled features made all the more severe by a pointed goatee. He was dressed in an expensive silk suit cut along vaguely military lines. It was offset by a gorgeous sash of some kind of fabric which was lit by the shimmering luminescence of an internal power pack. He had a presence about him, perhaps excentuated by the fact that he had chosen to interupt his againg with juvenant at a mature fifty rather than as a smooth skinned twenty something. I made a mental note to see what the Inquisition could do for me in that regard. He handed me a snifter of amasec and I noticed he was holding a second for himself.

“I am Julius Mercutio Ignatius,” he introduced himself in a rich cultured voice, lifting his snifter in formal salute.

“Emmaline Von Morgenstern,” I replied lifting my own glass. No surprise that the amasec was excellent, maybe the best I had ever had.

“From my own cellars,” Ignatius said with a smile. At the last moment I remembered that I was from Sol. I sipped the incredible amasec and forced myself to make an indifferent nod.

“I am told that you are an Adept of the Administratum,” Ignatius replied. I nodded and tried not to glance around looking for Hadrian.

“May I ask what it is you do for our Holy Administratum?” he asked with an air of genuine curiosity. “I don’t see any ink spots.” I gave a superior smile and a number of piece of information that had been bouncing around my brain seemed to click into place.

“I am a Magus of Xenoarchaeology,” I told him, effecting the superior tone of all academics when dumbing down their specialty for the uneducated. It was so slight that if I hadn’t been looking for it I might have missed it. Ignatius had been begining to smile and there was a sudden pause. Just for an instant but it was there, the briefest flicker of… something. Then he was back to his jovial self.

“Xenoarchaeology, really? A fascinating subject. Where have you worked?” he asked. I made a tosh sound.

“I’m sure you don’t want to hear about dusty tombs and glowing glyphs,” I breezed. This time he didn’t react beyond a slight tightening of his grip on his glass.

“We are at a party afterall,” I continued. Ignatius nodded, the smooth veneer returning as though it had never been disrupted. He tossed off the rest of his drink.

“Well in that case I just have one further question,” he said. I arched an eyebrow in what I imagined was proper Terran disinterest.

“Oh?” I asked. He extended a gloved hand to me.

“May I have this dance?”
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I felt somewhat emboldened by Emmaline's compliment. I was no outcast to subterfuge and high class gatherings, but they always irked me unless I felt they were worth it. If this didn't yield positive results, I would likely be in a sour mood. However, Emmaline brightened my outlook. Perhaps this needn't be such a dull affair after all, and we stepped in and were greeted with the fanfare I had come to suspect. We danced for a small amount of time, admittedly to show off a bit whilst simultaneously trying to dissuade the proposals either of us were likely to receive. I was bitterly disappointed in that estimation, and my face went blank for a moment as we were mobbed.

Before I knew it, the bodacious psyker and I had been separated and barraged with suitors and mistresses. Some of the fair women that flocked to me were very obviously married and looking for better prospects, whilst others were attempting to appear as untarnished virgins ready to be claimed. I had never been to Fenris, but talk spoke of a ferocious beast there called the 'kraken' with dozens of limbs that tore you to pieces. So for the first time in my life, I could say the sentence "I feel like a wolf brother initiate on a raft." At least twenty hands tugged at me or waved in my direction. I swear I was pinched thrice, and someone had the audacity to smack my bottom. I had to make sure no one accidentally grabbed at my power sword, and I had to keep myself from using it on the mob.

I leaped out of there at the soonest sign of a weak breach in the wall of dresses, hopping back and landing beside three gentlemen in mercantile livery, the closest one sported a mutton chop beard I could never hope to achieve in my lifetime. Holding my hands out as the pursuers followed my wake, they stopped and watched me like terran deer.

"Only a few at a time, ladies. I am but one man, after all," I assured them in my best sycophantic tone, the timber of my voice smoothing out to a princely hum that would have caused my skin to crawl if I heard it from any other mouth. They filtered in hurriedly but with a tad more control, fanning themselves and fluttering their lashes, a few of them squeezing their chests together in casual ways for my eye to catch. My smile was wide and silky, but my eyes were watching the exits and the outliers of the party. To the north, a keen-eyed man stood alone and watched as two officers spoke at a table meters away. To the east, two servants traded a slip of paper for some unknown purpose. At my right were three men who did not know what to do as they stood beside me, watching with interest or jealously, it was hard to tell. They spoke politely enough. The mutton-chop man had no chance to introduce himself, but I had overheard he was Haldemir, and I recalled the name in the logs in my dossier. Haldemir, a house that transported fuel across Moldar and to its two satellite moons. Their wealth having risen two centuries ago to great merit.

As the women approached and spoke to me, I gave them varying degrees of greeting and unctuous compliments of their virtue and beauty. It allowed Emmaline to get what information she could while I distracted any jealous women that might take umbrage with her presence. As the time passed, however, I grew bored of the affair, though I did my best to hide it. Twirling a goblet of dammassine red in my hand, I muddled through the trenches of small talk with less and less fervor.

"What is a fine man like you doing at such a humble planet?" A raven haired woman of middling years inquired, her ball gown blue and squeezing out the best she had to offer.

"The food, my dear."

"Tonight, my husband goes on a business trip to Tildarmae. Would you deign to escort me back on this lonely night?" A redhead with green eyes to match her envy asked of me. She fluttered her lashes with enthusiasm.

"I can call you a groundcar, my lady."

"We haven't been properly introduced. I am Vidalia of Galmieux. Let's dance, and we can grant one another a massage in my private lounge after." A smokey voiced vixen offered as if she were granting me an honorable home of office.

"I'm sure you have an ointment for that."

As the mistresses were quelled, the queue was mercifully disrupted at its halfway point, though by an unlikely savior. A younger man, perhaps my age, perhaps a year or two my junior, approached me with a withering glare. I could not imagine what I had done beyond speaking amicably to the women and the portly gentlemen beside me who chuckled and traded jokes as they slowly got drunk. The party was also quite large, the women around me likely a fifth of the crop of ladies that still danced and gallivanted about.

"Let it be known I mark this insult sir," the mustachioed young man announced, standing over most of the women by a head.

"To what insult are you referring to, old boy?" I queried honestly, chuckling as if he had given me a rousing good rib at the bellboy's expense. He held me in his gaze and waded through the gaggle of women, squaring up to my position. He pointed at the crowd.

"That was my sister you just rebuked, sir." He said, and for the life of me I blinked and did my best to not truly laugh with incredulity. I succeeded, thank the Emperor, but truthfully this was a queer man. I dare not ask the prudent question of 'which one' so I tried a different approach.

"My apologies. She is a lovely woman, but I am only on Maldor for business and short term pleasure. I am certain your sister deserves a man of commitment and faith befitting that of your noble house." I commented, and the barest flicker of my eye to the right caught Emmaline speaking to a tall, ominous fellow. Noted. When I looked back a micro-second later, the man seemed undecided on something, ascertaining whether my apology was in good faith or just plain good enough.

"Perhaps she intimidated you," He said at long last. "But you are correct, sir. A fellow such as yourself should stick to quick women like the bint you walked in-."

I backhanded the man. Hard. He staggered back and nearly knocked a short, perfumed woman over, and once he straightened he seemed as surprised as I felt. Inquisitor Kronus had always taught me to value the honor and well-being of those of my team, and even in cover it was hard of me to let go of those teachings. There was something else in me that felt particularly vindicated of the slap when I realized the acid comment was directed to Emmaline, but I didn't explore that bit. Rather, we both looked at one another. I let some of my anger show so as not to give off the cool reserve of my office.

"You go too far, sir." I warned tempestuously. "Speaking of the Lady Von Morganstern in such a disagreeable manner is unbecoming of a gentleman. Perhaps my comment on your house was unwarranted. On Jupiter, this would not inherit."

"How dare you, you insufferable popinjay!" He accused angrily. I wondered if he had ever looked into a mirror. The mark of my hand-print was now growing bright red on his cheek. With a quick movement, he reached for the elaborately hilted sword at his belt. Women squealed and the men beside me backed away, save for stout-hearted Haldemir, who watched with rapt interest. The man held the point less than a foot from my neck, but I did not flinch. "You are a knave sir, Sol system or no. I challenge you to a duel of honor."

"Here? Now?" I asked curiously.

"How very bohemian," My portly companion of circumstance huffed.

"I concur, my good Haldemir." I said. This young man must have been spurned recently. Only an idiot or someone who had something desperate to prove would cause such a fiasco in public, particularly with a man from the Jovian clans. I looked at him flippantly. "I have nothing to gain from this. I did not dishonor you nor your sister, sir. You dishonored the lady Von Morganstern and I merely responded in a fashion honor demanded. Is this the manner of Moldar? To jump on any slight?"

A few of the older men with grey streaks in their beards and wizened faces nodded in agreement to my assertion. The young fop knew I was right, but he had a choice. Back down and apologize, or go with his pride and win the duel. Losing was not an option to him, for if he did so he would be both dishonored and emasculated in front of every suitable woman (and male) peer he knew. I saw a gleam in his eye, and I knew he would choose the stupid decision.

"Nothing to gain? Well if honor is not enough for you, sir. Then ask of what you wish for, sir, and I will grant it."

"I haven't a sword," I confessed, and at his look to my belt, I shook my head. "This is an ornamental weapon," I lied. "I would not dare mar its blade."

"Fetch us a sword!" The fellow cried to his servants, who rushed out to fulfill the task, pushing aside other servants and apologizing profusely to the dancers. He grinned at my direction. "Now you will name your price. It will not matter, as you will not win against the swordplay of Jacoby Bowlingcock."

I burst out laughing. This time I did break character, but it was so unexpected I did not truly prepare myself for such a challenge. Perhaps it did my cover well. An experienced Inquisitor would have given the name due diligence, but I felt Bowlingcock was the epitome of poor names. Hell, I still do to this day. He, however, did not feel the same way. His entire face grew red, causing my mark to disappear as the rest of his profile matched.

"I-I apologi-" I began half-heartedly.

"Save it!" He cried, waving the sword menacingly. "If I am to win this duel, I will speak of your adept however I like."

"No," I said, sobering up. "That I cannot allow. But if you win, my date and I will leave this planet tonight without a fuss and pay a sum equal to the food of this party to you and your family for honor tarnished."

"Very good, and if you win?"

"You will grant me a title of land here on Moldar, in the capital of Gralinmakke." I demanded icily.

That surprised everyone in our vicinity, who now watched in fascination. Jocoby blinked, clearly thinking it odd. It was, admittedly. But for my investigation I could either garner a favor from one of the lords on the council, or use the right of nobility in the capital to join the council. If this idiot was going to keep me from doing the former, I'll get it with the ladder. He asked me varying questions such as 'Jupiter not good enough for you' but I ignored him. Instead, I focused on the sword that was presented to me by the servant that brought it. A cursory glance showed me it was a fine weapon. A pallasch cut-and-thrust sword, straight bladed and double fullered. The hilt was of the basket style, but not covered in leather or restrictive, rather all of the bars flow into the knucklebow and converge on one point at the butt of the sword to give the hand breathing room to maneuver. If I had to guess, the blade itself was thirty five inches in length.

I could not tell if this was an unusual affair or not. Half the party continued on as if nothing was happening, and the music even kept playing. Some people were so into their drinks that they did not look my way, and Emmaline had begun dancing with the villainous looking man to the right. I admired her dedication. I hopped my antics were not harming her information gathering. At the southern end of the Grand Banquet Hall, a place was cordoned off for the two of us and the half of the party that was there chattered and whispered and gathered around in a wall of flesh. I unbuckled my belt, and handed my power sword, force staff, and jacket and cloak with my auto-gun to Lord Haldemir. It was a good gamble, as after the duel he gave them all back in pristine condition.

"First blood drawn from the torso," Jacoby called. "And we have an agreement. Your payment and departure, or your land!"

"Good man," I said, and could not hide a smile. Jacoby seemed confident, but Inquisitor Kronus had shown me various style of blade fighting, and I had practiced with him thrice weekly for ten years. Power Swords were like any blade, just more effective on the modern battlefield. They required the same training and care.

"Sister, tell us when to begin," Jacoby called, and I saw a woman step out of the crowd. I was fairly certain she was one of the ones who had pinched me. Her hair was blonde, but it hadn't quite the rich luster of my companion, and truth be told I don't even remember speaking to her. She raised a hand, gave her brother a knowing look, and then a disapproving one my way, and counted to four before dropping her hand and shouting "Begin!"

Time seemed to slow.

I am sure you know this, but sword duels are not like what you hear in the stories. They are quick, bloody, and unceremonious. Skill is not the only factor in a duel. It has to do with your health, your strength, your mood, even what you last ate. And a bit of luck on the side. However, if you keep your wits about you, skill can decide a match swiftly.

Jocoby swiped at my blade, and I blocked with the strong of my sword and riposted with a perfect thrust. He leaped back and swiped at me, a blur of steel crossed my vision as I pressed the attack, cutting the shoulder of his undershirt and ruining it. He hacked at my center, blades clashing loudly. To his credit, he regrouped quickly and stabbed at me quicker than I would have thought. With a deft movement of my blade and sacrificing the cuffs on my left wrist, I knocked the blade aside and cut him across the torso with a slash that was less shallow than I had anticipated. With a quick gesture, I knocked the sword out of his hand with the flat of my blade and let him sink to his knees, defeated. He idly gestured around the bleeding wound, breathing in heavy disbelief.

Flippantly, I wiped the sweat from my brow and walked over to the Lord Haldemir, who handed me my coat. As I was bleeding from my left arm and apparently from a small cut under my eye, I wasn't going to put my coat back on. But I strapped my belt and power sword onto my hip and collected my things, making idle talk with Haldemir.

"Have you been to Venus, sir Deckard?" Haldemir asked quizzically.

"Ah! The finest parties on Venus. The wine is to die for." I replied. "You might find good business there."

"Truly?"

After another few minutes and with assurances from Jacoby's father they would honor the agreement, I made my way to the northern balcony and leaned on the balustrade, awaiting Emmaline.
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"Your friend...," Ignatius said to me as we watched Jocoby being carted away. A quartet of servants carried him on a sette for want of a stretcher. I had no idea where the nearest medicae might be, but given that the youth was calling for wine even as he bled onto the couch suggested that he would proably make it.

"You know how Jovian naval officers are," I told him. I had no idea how they were of course. Ignatius nodded as though this explained everything.

"I thought him... well I didn't expect such skill with the blade," the councilor admitted.

"Several boarding actions I believe," I lied, figuring that it was worth a little effort to rehabilitate his popinjay image. I could alway play dumb if he asked any follow up questions, a particularly easy feat when it came to imaginary millitary adventures. I was fairly certain we were too far from Terra for anyone to verify the story. Worst case it was just boasting to a lover.

"Can I impose on you for another dance?" Ignatius asked as the party began to return to something resembling normality. I shook my head sadly. There were already a bevy of young men moving towards me with hopeful expressions.

"I think there has been enough violence tonight without inciting a riot," I told him but I let my hand linger on his bicep for a moment.

"Perhaps we may speak to each other more some other time," I didn't bother to tell him that I was at the Hotel Imperial. If I knew my aristos, and I did, he would have his people find out everything they could about me before the night was over. That wasn't going to be very much. Even with astropaths it would take weeks or months to get a message to Sol and I doubted they would give out any information. Ignatius might be a big fish here, but this was a rain drop compared to the levels of Imperial society centered around Terra.

"Perhaps we will madmoselle," he said, offering me a formal bow before turning away.

It took me almost another hour to get away from the collected high society of Moldar. Eventually I was able to escape the dance requests during one of the intermissions and slip out to the balcony. As promised Hadrian was already waiting for me. Fortunately it seemed that the balcony was designed for private conversations and I was able to close the folding screens of stained glass to seperate us from the crowd. Given the degree to which the sound from inside disipated I was certain there was some techno-sorcery involved. It probably wasn't safe to speak, any device that could suppress sound might be able to record it. Instead of speaking I lay my hand on Hadrian's wrist.

Well that went well, I thought/spoke in his mind.
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The gardens below cascaded in various smaller fountains, the hedges carved into varying geometric shapes and designs between walls of foliage that guarded the perimeter before reaching the wall of the outer Banquet Hall's designated area. I had found a few napkins and wiped what blood I could from my cuts, swabbing a bit of alcohol and pressing them to the wounds with a mere grunt. Once I was done, I looked a bit more disheveled but still confident and ready to work. I replayed the earlier scene over in my head, wondering if I had let anything slip or if I had not yet considered something.

Emmaline's hand on my wrist brought me back to reality. At her comment, I replied in a like manner.

Not in the way I had imagined, but it served its purpose, I agreed. Did you garner any leads or information?

I think if I asked it, we could be invited to the Ignatius estate.

I smiled at that, glad of a job well done on both of our ends. Motioning for her to remain here, I walked back into the Banquet hall and procured two glasses of red dammassine and brought them back to my partner in seconds, handing it to her gently. She took it, but her fingers brushed my cut and I winced.

Don't worry about it. I've gotten worse than this. I told her, and held my glass out to her so she could toast with me. I hoped she was not reading my mind at that point. All of the excitement of the evening and our jobs relatively maintained, I could focus on other things like how radiant she looked in the moonlight.
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It was somewhat ironic that I had been beset by hordes of handsome young men all night and none of them held a candle to the Inquisitor who had brought me to the party. I found my mind wandering, though my pshycic control didn't waver.

I'm glad you are ok and I'm glad you didn't kill that fool. I think it might have soured our social debut if you killed him.

I didn't bother to add any concern that Hadrian himself might have been seriously hurt. I was fairly certain from the work outs and sword drills I had seen on the ship that he could have cut down a dozen of these puffed up fools without too much effort.

I have more to tell you, but I think maybe we should have one last dance and leave. Best not to overdo it on our first appeaance.

Having spent a considerable amount of time in the company of the nobility I knew that if we vanished now it would only heighten our mystique. That would be a resource we could call upon later.

"In that case I just have one question," Hadrian said with a grin. I cocked an eyebrow at him and he extended his hand.

"May I have this dance?"
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When she accepted, I didn't quite know where it would lead. But the Amalthians believe the Emperor works in mysterious ways, and perhaps he does at that. Had we left then and there, my life would perhaps be far different. But I do not think in idle 'what-ifs' so I will continue.

She took my hand, and we began a slow dance routine we had performed in front of the others before the servitors inside began to play a different tune. It was a weird juxtaposition of both festive and romantic, with a slow albeit energetic beat accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a guest singer that sang in a language I can't quite remember. But our dancing inevitably changed, the two of us stepping apart in unison and giving extravagant bows, before we did a step by step dance that had us shaking ourselves and moving side to side, the movements keeping a smile on our faces. I had learned the dance before under cover, but where Emmaline had become a practitioner that rivaled me, I could not know.

I found I wanted to find out.

Minutes passed, and she gyrated herself and then spun. It gave a silhouette look to her sparkling black dress, her ponytail whipping me in the face as if she were trying to playfully throw me off, her jewelry bouncing and clinking together. I caught her raised hand and had my other on her lower back, at the ready. She stepped back and I forward, and I felt much like a schoolboy as she gave a laugh like angelic clinging bells. A few more passes, and finally she spun one last time and fell back into my arms, and the music slowed to a stop as we looked to one another beside the balustrade there on Moldar, under the light of the moon.

We had only known one another, what? A fortnight? Dammit, I didn't care.

My heart thudding in my ears, I leaned in and kissed her.
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My head was swimming and for once not because of the amasec. I was... well alot of things. Excited? Infatuated? Maybe. Part of me tried to tell myself that it was the cover. Maybe Hadrian was that good an actor, but I certainly wasn't. I melted against him, returning his kiss with a fervor I doubted any Adept of the Administratum was likely to employ. I held to him for a long moment, enjoying the feel of muscular arms cradling my body, enjoying the scent of leather, soft cologne and the slightest frisson of psy which I didn't really smell so much as... well if you aren't a psyker you wouldn't understand. By the time he broke the kiss my heart was pounding and a flush had crept into my cheeks that had nothing to do with theatrics. There were a number of people watching us through the glass but a bunch of nobles on a planet I didn't much care about didn't loom very large in my mind.

"I think we should probably make our exit," I said, a little embarassed to hear my voice a trifle breathless.

"I think you are probably right," he agreed, lifting me gently upright. I smoothed my dress and cleared my throat and then touched the door. It gimbled open and the sound of the ochestra swelled back to full volume. Numerous faces looked back at us, only to be snapped back to their own bussiness by a brief swipe of Hadrian's eyes.

"I am afraid..." he began.
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I stopped and froze, something piquing my psy-empathy. I wasn't what one might call an 'Empath,' but you learn a technique or two under the tutelage of the Inquisition. Old Terrans would call it 'intuition' or something vague like a 'feeling,' but I knew what it was. Beyond that, I could see it with my eyes. There were many nobles glancing our way, but a few on the waiter's staff either looked at us directly or made certain not to look in a way that seemed too suspicious. It brought a chill down my spine.

"One more dance?" I asked Emmaline with liquid cadence to my voice, pulling her back out onto the balcony, gently.

"What?" She asked breathlessly, eyes widening. The sound of her voice made my heart tremble. Emperor but that was a good kiss. I could tell the prospect wasn't wholly unwanted in her eyes, but it warred with confusion on the sudden turn of events. I closed the door and pulled her close to it so we weren't as easily spied on.

"Something's wrong." I warned her. "Something..."

The night behind her was dimly lit, as it was opposite from the Banquet Hall's main drag. There were many buildings, yes. But beyond the large botanical garden were smaller streets and three to ten story buildings ubiquitously scattered along the landscape until they congregated with the larger structures of the main city. There were many lights, but not entirely bright. I saw another light turn on for the briefest of moments, and my mind yelled at my body as I realized it had not been a light, but a glint of something in the rays of the moon. I knew what it was in my body before I could conceptualize it in my head.

"Down!" I ordered, but Emmaline needn't have heard me as I took the liberty of pulling her below the vine-enshrouded balustrade. Just at that critical moment, a las-shot cauterized the stone where our heads had been. It was eerie, seeing it and not hearing a thing, or even being unable to see the source as it was fired. It was shot by a longlas, equipped with a suppressor that hid the location of its shooter by nullifying the flash and severely reducing the noise. Standard procedure for any sniper in the Astra Militarum was to find a new location after every shot, and most civilian assassins utilized kinetic sniper rifles. Still, we couldn't trust whoever attempted to kill us to go by the handbook.

Vaguely, I realized Emmaline was on top of me. Were it a different circumstance I would have liked the experience, but as it were we had a situation.

"Are you ok?" I asked her just the very moment she asked me, our voices mingling in the suspiciously quiet night air.

"I am," I said just as she gave a shaken 'Yes, I'm...'

"We need to go through the gardens." I told her, gently moving her to lay to the side, my back guarding her body from any shots, though I hoped we were still out of their visual. I took her hand in mine and gave her a nod. We had to move quickly. She returned the nod, resolve in her eyes. It made me smile. I had chosen my teammate well. "Hold on to me."

She did as she was bid, and with a quick movement, I hoisted her up and leaped off the balcony. We had two stories to drop, and I used my admittedly mediocre psychic powers to slow our descent on the second half of the drop. My feet hit the ground a bit harder than I would have liked, but nothing was broken and no further shots had been fired. She got to her feet and was about to make a quip, but the tall hedges began to shudder from some movement beyond what we could see.

"Six of them," She whispered, her eyes very far away.

"Together?" I asked, retrieving my pistol and pulling back the hammer. Damn, I did not want to lose my cover with gunshots ringing out.

"No, two man teams." She reported, and at my insistence we both backed up and fled into a different corridor of green, hurrying as quickly as we could manage in our current dress. Perhaps we made it twenty meters before the brush quaked and shook, and two men leaped out to bar our way. We pulled up short as the foes watched us in the gloom, ominously watching us as if trying to ascertain if we were the correct prey. One man had his left eye replaced by a set of bionics Lazarus could appreciate. The other looked like a short Ogryn, brutish and large, but undeniably a standard big man rather than an abhuman. Both wore carapace armor and stun batons, as if they had relieved a few adeptus arbites of their equipment. Briefly, I felt Emmaline's hand touching my own.

Are they after Hadrian Drakos or Blasius Deckard?

A prudent question. But one we did not have the luxury of finding out.

I'm not sure, but they have unfortunately found Inquisitor Drakos of the Ordo Malleus.

I put my gun back in its holster, and the two watched with a dark chuckle. They carried their stun batons as if they had used plenty of bludgeoning weapons before, moving with a confident swagger. I was not certain if Emmaline knew much of that particular armament, but a stun baton's name gives a misconception of its viciousness. They could certainly stun, but I had bore witness to an arbites use one at maximum power on rioter's arm. The limb was hopelessly damaged beyond repair. One hit in the head or anywhere vital and we could very well be dead.

"You giving up, eh? Smart." The balding man with the eye snickered. His thin nose and nibbling mouth made me think of a city rat.

I turned from them and handed Emmaline my force staff, who blinked when she caught the haft of the thing in her hands.

"Be extremely mindful with that," I informed her carefully. Her psychic powers far outstripped my own. "In my hands, it's a formidable weapon. In yours, well, there might be extensive collateral damage if you're not entirely in control."

Once I had hammered it home to her, I turn to the approaching thugs and, with a gesture of my shoulder to move my cloak aside, I reached for my sword. I could hear their chuckling as I retrieved my 'antique sword,' but as I pulled it out, their laughter died on their lips as they noticed the embossed skull on the hilt and the broad blade of what was undeniably a power sword in my strong hand. I activated the weapon, the blade bursting into life with a dim light, sparks racing across the length of it. My slug thrower might not be entirely effective against carapace armor, but my power sword, well...

It could cut into the armor plating of a Chimera.
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In my defense I had never used a force staff before. I've learned a considerable amount about such tools since of course, the annals of the Inquisition have a number of treatises on the subject and there are other... less conventional resources. When Hadrian handed me the weapon I had no idea what it was, other than it was some manner of psychic focus. I was about to try to intervene against Hadrian's attackers when two more men in carapace and shock batons came around the corner of one of the geometric fountains, from the low frequency buzz, clearly coordinating with their fellows via vox. Both of them surged forward towards me. Instinctively I lifted the staff and used my will. What I MEANT to do was to convince one man to protect me from the other, but what I actually did was just hurl the words 'protect me' out into the warp. My will surged down the force staff and exploded from the point. The intention to aim at men was less binding than the idea of protection and a force staff is, first and foremost, a way to project force. Over a hundred marble stones, each perfectly cut to form the wall of the fountain, answered the call. They ripped themself free in an explosion of motar and quick lime, pummeling both men into bloody pulp a second before the thousands of liters of water they had been holding crashed over the bloody bodies and dislodged stones like the tide coming in, hammering both through a decorative hedge which was half ripped from the ground by the force. The tip of the force staff sizzled and popped with incandescent force. For an instant there was complete silence, save for the sloshing of water rushing back after impacting the walls and garden beds. I wasn't looking in their direction but I got the impression Hadrian and his attackers were standing stunned by what I had so accidentally wrought. The water glugged towards me like the last wavlet of a closing tide. My eyes widened in shock.

"Up!" I yelled, and leaped up onto the edge of one of the other fountains. I turned to see the final two attackers coming into the courtyard. One drew an autopistol from his belt. The other stepped into the water and was thrown back by an arching flash. The two charged stun batons I had drowned shorted their powerpacks and he jittered back like a stop motion animation from hell, eye sockets smoking and blue white electricity snapping around the metal of his armor and the fillings in his teeth. His companion lifted his auto pistol and aimed at me, now that I had so conveniently elevated myself to provide a target. I lifted the staff again, not wanting to use it but lacking other options. He fired right at me. Pop pop pop. Marble dust exploded between us like a dropped sack of flower as the ensorcelled stones, still apparently obedient to the need to protect me, threw themselves infront of the bullets like human shields. Gravel pattered down in the water infront of me and the gunman stared at me in abject disbelief. That seemed a reasonable reaction under the circumstances. I sneezed violently, my black dress covered in marble dust and my hair crusted with hoarfrost.
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I should have known better, but it was a fortunate mistake.

What men were left that skulked through the brush had been dealt with except for the dumbfounded man, standing before Emmaline. The two brutes beside me were equally baffled, and it gave me some hope they had not expected to find a psyker, much less an Inquisitor. Perhaps this was some ill-fated attempt at trying to kill a Jovian-Clan representative. Then again, they were going to great lengths for such a simple matter. It didn't make sense. Due to my training, I compartmentalized that thought for later and moved before they had their wits about them.

I turned and used a diestro-style cut at the bigger man, the fellow only having enough time to flinch as my power sword cut him from collarbone to waist in an arc that stained the eye with its light. A horrific steam made by the blood in his body boiling from the high temperature blade wafted into the air, and he fell in a heap of two pieces. I strode forward in time to meet the second man's attack, his face congealed into a mask of rage. The stun baton and the power sword met in a clash of sparks, but the power sword was by far the better weapon. I needn't have riposted, the stun baton's power coupling shattered and its integrity broken, but with a flick of my wrist I amputated the weapon arm. He was too shocked to even cry out, and I kicked him in the chest. Swiftly, feet on the ground, I turned and smoothly unholstered my autogun. I fired two bullets at the confused man who had just about made up his mind to continue his assault on Emmaline, blood spouting from his neck in spurts.

Lazarus and I were of different minds on many things, but I had been told more than once that my dedication to my field gave me a mechanical ability to solve problems with little thought to anything else. I simply viewed it as pragmatic, but swift killing did have a certain coldness to it. On the ground, the one eyed and now one armed man grabbed at his stump of a shoulder and tried to catch his breath. Apparently his enhancements were truly just above the neck.

"Emmaline!" I called brusquely, time being of the essence. She hopped off the fountain ledge and approached. I held out my hand for the staff, and she gave it to me with a look that made me regret ordering her over so harshly. I'm not sure if she was felt guilty over some view of breaking my trust or complicating the mission. We would speak of it, later. With my staff in my left and my power sword in my right, I confronted the man on the ground. The blood was finally starting to seep out of his wound, if gingerly.

"Who sent you?" I asked him. At his spitting in my face, I used my will. "Who sent you?"

"Balal Ignatius!" He said without restraint, marveling at his own words.

"Who is Balal Ignatius?"

"Of the Ignatius Family."

"Who of the Ignatius family?"

"Of the Ignatius family!"

"What was your mission?"

"To kill a Jovian Elite and his Adeptus Bitch."

I took a full second to absorb the information and find a conclusion. It seemed we would have to take up Emmaline's offer to their estate, after all. With a look of contempt, I stabbed into the man's heart without a second thought. He bucked and attempted to breath, but was dead within seconds. The blood was purged from the blade as it thrummed with energy, the air steaming lightly around the sword. I deactivated it and sheathed the blade.

"Let's go," I told my companion. We made our way through the maze of shrubbery as calls and questions began flying up into the night air. It seems our mystique was growing, if nothing else. I would need to come up with an explanation on what happened to myself and my date by the morning, but as it were, I could not trust any pursuers to not be assassins themselves. Two minutes later, we made it to the street. Ground cars were parked along the road, likely owned by people spending the night at a local dive. I walked over to a compact but aesthetically pleasing one, likely an expensive model. Using the force staff to concentrate, the locking mechanism lifted and I opened the door, tossing in my weapons save my autogun. Kneeling down, I hotwired the vehicle, sparks flying from between my fingers.

"Where did you learn that?" Emmaline inquired with a catch to her voice. I could not tell if she was impressed or not.

"Can you drive?" I asked Emmaline, checking my gun's magazine.

"Now, if I said no..." She started. I looked at her and saw her smile. I looked away, hiding my own.
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I had driven ground cars before as it happened. The aristocracy of the Imperium was decadant and their pleasures were diverse. On Trajan Prime there had been a fad for driving expensive ground cars. I had never mastered the skill but the young men of the court there had been enthusiastic about giving lessons. I settled into the drivers seat and tried to make sense of the controls.

"Any chance you can get this thing moving," Hadrian demanded. I could see dark figures moving through the gardens. Whether they were more assassins or secruity for the noble houses I couldn't say. I lay my hands on the controls and felt a jolt as the last few jolts of psycic energy drained from my hands.

"Not as helpful as you would think," I responded. The glass in the rear panel exploded inward in a glittering shower.

"How about that?" Hadrian asked sardonically. I grabbed the ignition lever and yanked it downwards. The engine purred to life and the car jolted forward just in time to collide with another carapace armored thug as he emerged for the hedgerow. He rebounded from the fender with a thump and crashed back through the hedge. Fortunately the vehicle was as sturdy as it was expensive. I slammed the accelerator to the floor and the car leaped forward with a squeal of smoke and burning rubber. We fish tailed wildy as we rocketed out of the alley. The car was exceedingly responsive and I somehow managed to turn over correction after over correction into something like a straight line.

"Watch it! Watch it!" Hadrian shouted and I wrenched the wheel sideways, narrowly avoiding a sleek looking limosouine that was so bedecked in pennants and wood panneling it looked like a sailing ship.

"Where am I going?" I demanded as I pushed the throttle down to the floor. Ironically it seemed easier to control as I picked up speed, heading down the paved roadway at something like sixty miles per hour. The elaborate wrought iron lamp posts flicked past at a blur as we headed down hive as quick as I could.

"I think we lost them," I managed glancing over my shoulder. I turned back just in time to see a cargo 8 squeal out of a side street, it slid across the stones in a scream of tires. I slammed the brakes on and realised that I didn't have time to put a harness on about the time the steering yoke hit me in the chest, driving the air from my lungs. I bounced back against my seat, gasping for air and yanking the yoke sideways just in time to avoid rear ending the breaking cargo 8.

"Go! Go! Go!," Hadrian shouted, guesturing up. Four gunmen were struggling to their feet in the steakbed. One of them, faster than the others, unshipped a las carbine and opened fire. I shoved the throttle open and we zipped past as las bolts blew flaming chunks from the pyrocrete. Hadrian cranked the window down and levered himself up half out of the window.

"What are you..." conversation became impossible as his auto gun roared. Bullet impact sparked off the coming of the engine like fireflies. The windshield crazed and flew appart as the truck swerved wildly, lifting onto two wheels for just a moment. The front driver side wheel exploded in a spray of rubber and reinforcing wire and the big vehicle slewed sideways and turned turtle. It seemed to hang in the air for a second and then be sucked backwards as our accelration carried us clear. Debris and at least two bodies were flung into the air as it rolled over, collected a streetlight and than slammed into a ferocreet wall in an avalance of dust and flying rock chips.

"Pretty slick," I complimented, my eyes wide at the ruin he had wrought. He pulled himself back into the cab and produced a fresh magazine from the Emperor knew where, fitting the boxy mag into place with a baffling series of clicks.

"Lets not celebrate just yet," Hadrian replied, hooking a thumb behind him. Two more sets of headlights were closing rapidly from behind. Fast cars rather than trucks certainly.

"I need to know where we are going," I told him, turning hard onto one of the artieral roads. We were moving out of the true noble canton now and the roads were lined with expensive shops. Luckily at this hour they were closed and the parked groundcars were very few.
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"We need to go west," I informed her, turning to glance behind us. The odd lasbolt flew our way from the cars behind us, but they were around 20 meters to our back, attempting to blind us with their brights. I poked my upper torso out of the window once more, controlling my breathing much like I do when I use my psychic power. Extending my arm, I gently squeezed until I felt the 'lock sliding in place' as it were. I fired three shots into the leading car, and I swore I hit the driver. My suspicion was vindicated when the car swerved, threatening to hit the other vehicle but instead flying off into a corner store, crashing through a large window. The shattering glass audible even at this distance.

"I need something more specific than that," Emmaline said as I slipped back into my seat. The last vehicle in pursuit was playing it a bit more safely, for now. I glanced at her and gave a brief nod, though she wouldn't see it. I tried to review the direction we had taken from the Banquet Hall and picture the brief time I had looked at a map of the city when on the Caledonia. I was certain she was about to ask again when I spoke, the information dawning on me as if from a dream.

"We're heading north, so turn left."

She did so immediately. My head would have hit the window if it was rolled up, but instead my shoulder hit the door and my hair was pummeled by the wind. She made the first street left that she could see, which had been about five meters ahead of us. At least our pursuer's might be taken off guard, I thought fascetiously.

"Sorry!" Emmaline said guiltily, and I could tell she meant it.

"No harm done. I believe this street will end in a couple of miles. Once it does, don't stop." I informed her. A plan forming in my head. She raised an eyebrow and glanced at me. Lights flitted across the dash and illuminated our faces every moment as we barreled down the street. A few drunkards and a young couple languidly walking down the walkway were startled by the vehicle flying past them. I had been in worse situations, but every time one stepped into danger, it could be the last time. My mind worked double-time, fact checking what I had seen the previous hour. "Once we get back to the Hotel Imperial, we'll need to go over our cover-story and you can contact the Ignatius fellow you danced with."

The men had been after Blasius Deckard, but such backup warranted an attack on a competent Inquisitor and his retinue. Which meant whoever hired them knew of my true identity, but had not deigned to tell the assassins. He must have informed them to remain cautious and given someone high commission on the bounty. Well, at least if I reveal myself at anytime, they'll realize they were set up.

"Julius Mercutio Ignatius," She said, reciting the name from memory. "And I am a Magus of Xenoarchaeology."

"Did you tell him you are also a good kisser?" I asked. I certainly had brevity at times. The fires of youth and my own personal lack of discipline were difficult to dim. I could see my companion smile.

"It did not come up." She cooed, and we shared a look of significance that was hard to describe. If I had to put it succinctly, it was one part hesitation, one part excitement, and two parts yearning. Once again, the God Emperor saved us at that moment. Before the window, a light flashed. We both looked to see a lazy bronto vehicle pulling out from a side street. Emmaline squealed and I cursed, and she turned the steering wheel. Abruptly the vehicle tipped, I swear we nearly flipped, but instead of turning into a disaster, the groundcar swerved into an alley that Inquisitor Kronus would have called 'devilishly convenient.' Steel scraped on stone, and it was difficult to tell if we stampeded over a drunkard or not. Trash lay scattered and a few bits were tossed into the air as the car skidded to a halt.

We stayed there, still and quiet, and less than ten heartbeats passed before the vehicle tailing us sailed passed our position. It looked like I needn't go with my previous plan, after all. We waited five minutes in a silence I could only describe as loud, before we decided we could pull out and make it back to the hotel. A mile from the place, we ditched the car in a lot.



An hour later...

Lazarus had been busy while we were gone. He had moved the couch in the central quarters and made a place to install his cogitator, tapping into the public servers and records to be utilized at a moment's notice. With him was a man from Urien's crew, the Captain having already gone back up with the shuttle for now. Bolskad I remembered his name was. One of the younger members of the crew. He did what he was told and was slightly more savvy to normal Imperial ways than his more eccentric elders aboard the Caledonia. As we walked in, Lazarus was busy on the computer as Bolskad was moving a chair and hooking up various plugs with one another, color coded for his convenience. Had I been Blasius Deckard, I would have been appalled at the partial butchering of the expensive room.

The suite was suitable for five guests, with a luxury bathroom decked with various appliances and a vast tub to lounge in, connected between two rooms. The other two rooms had smaller, more personal bathrooms connected via their interior. I had taken up residence in the northeastern room, setting up a desk there and placing my personal effects and dossiers on its wooden top. The bed was kingsized, but I had not used it as of yet. I hardly slept when planet-side and on the job. The central chamber we found ourselves in had a step down den and a kitchen and dining area above, the chairs embroidered with a haute couture flair. On the walls were large air conditioning vents and local paintings that would likely fetch a pretty penny.

"Whoa, er... hchello sir," Bolskad began. I was not certain if he was admiring Emmaline or seeing the debris we had accumulated on ourselves. Granted, the wind from the car window helped.

"What happened?" The tech-priest inquired ponderously.

"Report," I ordered.

"All on your dataslate." Lazarus informed me. "We are connected to the Gralinmakke network and I am uploading the database to find central government access. Just in time, it seems."

"Don't get comfortable. I now own a moderately successful apartment building downtown." I informed them. Lazarus swiveled to look at me, his cold, penetrating eyes trying to see if I were joking or not. Bolskad just looked tired. My smile betrayed my half-lie. "I'm not lying, but I won't move you. If people are looking for me, they'll likely to search there. I won it in a public bet, after all."

"Unsurprising. Your blood pre-"

"I don't need a medical exam, Laz."

"You need a neurological exam."

I was a bit too flustered from the dancing and the fighting for our lives to humor him anymore. I turned my back on him and looked at Emmaline, my jacket flung across my shoulder. "Go wash up. I'll get us something to eat and we can talk about...everything." I told her.
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The suite at hotel Imperial was predictably palatial. The range of high ranking Imperial travelers was vast, ranging from buying agents for the big commercial guilds, to ships captains, to the wanderlust afflicted nobility. I had guested with them a time or two, usually as the companion to one paramour or another. I suppose that wasn’t too different from what I was doing now. I suspected Hadrian would be angry with me for the clumsy way I had misused his force staff, but there wasn’t much to be done about that now. I crossed to my room and stripped out of my dust stained finery and wiped myself off with the luxuriously soft towels that they seemed to supply as though they expected a regiment of bathers rather than one, toasting the wet ones into the laundry hamper. The sound of conversation, muffled through the door told me that I had a few minutes so once I was clean I combed out my hair and braided it in a style that I felt was sufficiently different from my previous hairstyle to avoid instant recognition but severe enough that it could be something worn by an adept of the Administratum. Given the length and luster of my hair it probably wouldn’t help much, but it seemed like a reasonable way to get it under control.

With my hair dealt with and my jewelry removed I changed into a white leather bodyglove with embroidered gold panels around the waist and bust. Needless to say, my clothing purchases from what I now realized was the previous day had been delivered with all the punctuality money could buy. I added a pair of knee length boots of a soft gray leather that had been buffed to a near sheen and sealed with a series of military style buckles in gold, the bright metal tying the boots to the embroidery nicely. I wasn’t going to bother to add any jewelery, my supply of it was fairly limited as our shopping had focused on clothing and the few pieces I would need for the party, but an idea struck me and I took a sapphire ring with an elaborate wire casing in gold and electrum and slipped it on my finger. I will admit that the ensemble was a bit more than strictly casual, but being dressed nicely was rarely a disadvantage, particularly if a man might be angry at you.
When I came back into the parlor I found hadrian and his tech priest friend in deep conversation, the crewman having apparently left or been sent on some errand. Both of them fell silent as I entered. Hadrian sucked in his breath and Lazarus emitted a low hissing sound which i woul slater come to understand as the sacred binary language of his bult. I crossed the room and took a seat on one of the couches. The adrenaline of the chase was wearing off and I could have used a cup of recaf, but this didn’t seem to be a good time to call room service.

“I told councilor Ignatius we were staying here,” I began, unsure if that was the most pertinent point. Hadrian nodded his head.

“I’ve rented several rooms including the penthouse,” he explained. The cost of that was staggering to me, but it did mean that anyone trying to find us in what amounted to a small hive stack would have a lot of ground to cover. The Hotel Imperial also had excellent security, a necessity given its clientele, and it would be tough to conduct any kind of a search while evading geneseed sniffers and servitor skulls. That meant we were probably as safe here as we were anywhere on the planet.

“He definitely reacted when I mentioned xenoarchaeology, more than someone surprised at a strange specialty. I tried bringing up glowing runes but that may or may not have narrowed it down any,” I told them. “I think by that point he had recovered enough to be more guarded.” Lazarus emitted another burst of binary nonsense.

“There is a footman in his livery delivering a card now,” Lazarus informed us. We wouldn’t know until we checked with the front desk, but I felt confident it was the invitation we needed.

“Do you think the assassins were his?” I asked Hadrian. He shrugged his shoulders laconically.

“Its possible it was the local nobility, but they were in place quickly and were well equipped. The sniper long las worries me a little,” he admitted. I arched an eyebrow.

“A little??” I demanded. He shrugged again.

“The long las isn’t a common choice outside the guard, its an oddity and that makes me uneasy.” What significance that had still escaped me.

“The real question is was this an attempt to kill an Inquisitor, or just an attempt to snuff out an uppity aristocrat?” he posed. I considered it. On the one hand it seemed like alot of force to kill one popinjay socialite, on the other it seemd like too little to take out what might have been the spear of an Inquisitorial warband. An idea occurred to me.

“What if the thugs were never meant as assassins?” I asked. Lazarus and Hadrian both looked at me in incomprehension.

“What would have happened after the sniper killed you?” I asked. Shadrian smirked slightly.

“I’d have made my accounts to the Golden Throne I hope,” he japed. Lazarus issued another burst of binary that might have been laughter. I rolled my eyes.

“I mean what happens after that?” I pressed. Hadrian considered it for a long moment and then his eyes brightened.

“Someone would have called the arbities!” he exclaimed. I nodded remembering the arbities gear the thugs had been wearing. It wouldn’t have fooled an actual law enforcement officer, but it probably would have been enough to get past panicked partygoers.

“Right so then our friends would have swooped in, taken your body, probably taken me and possibly others in for questioning,” I agreed. That hung in the air for a while.

“Its a lot of resources to put in place with less than twelve hours notice,” Hadrian pointed out. That was true, no one had even known we were going to the party until a few hours before. No one except Superior Duke Hostas. Hadrian and I shared a look.

“We need more information, and for that we will need to preserve our covers. Luckily most of the witnesses are dead, electrocuted or otherwise unable to report what happened. But the fact that two rather impressive fountains were destroyed is going to be a little hard to square without socialite covers,” Hadrian began he didn’t seem angry but I forestalled him anyway, holding up the sapphire ring.

“Devastating fashion sense?” he asked, cocking an amused eyebrow.

“In a sense, I used my digi-weapon when I was threatened,” I explained, wiggling the ring threateningly.

“I sense no machine components,” Lazarus said flatly. I slipped my make believe weapon onto my finger.

“Well lets keep that to ourselves shall we?”

Further discussion was interrupted as the doorbell played a blast of the March of the Primarchs.

"Room service," a haughty voice called through the expensive armored paneling.
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It was a crustacean roll with bacon, served atop a soft house-made brioche bun. Along with the various sauces arrayed upon the plates, there was a bowl of fruits and some amasec along with glasses of water. My stomach threatened to growl, and I thanked the man after scrutinizing him and ascertaining there was no taint or ulterior motive. He did not get the chance to look around the room, as I greeted him at the door and rolled the car in myself.

"Do let us know if you require anything else, lord Deckard."

"I will, my good man," I said with my posh cadence and closed the door. Rolling the food in, I set it before Emmaline. "Dig in, I'll be right back."

Walking into my makeshift study, I changed clothes. Nothing fancy, and I was not so close to the debris as Emmaline, so once I stripped myself and donned a handsome pair of dark trousers and a white top that hugged my robust upper body, I washed my face in the sink of blood and what dirt there was, and fixed my hair, making it a bit more presentable with no hint of gravel or leaves in it. Satisfied, I stepped out of the restroom and into the living area where I found Emmaline in the midst of chewing a mouthful of the dish. When she looked at me, she placed a hand to her mouth and shifted in her seat in a strange way, only flitting her eyes at me twice as I walked over and sat beside her.

"A few hiccups aside, tonight went well," I deduced as she washed the food down with her drink. Idly, I popped a cheese roll in my mouth. It was very good and still quite warm. I swallowed as she placed the drink down. "Perhaps we went a bit overboard once or twice, but we have a trail and some workable theories on where this leads. We merely need to keep it up and improvise when we have to."

"There was the incident with the staff you handed me..." She said, wording it so I could view it as a shared blame. I smirked at her.

"The full fault is mine. Considering what could have happened, we got off easy. You did what you could." I admitted, and looked at her squarely. I made sure just to meet her eyes and not drink in the snug bodysuit. "In fact, I'm impressed. I've had a few aids make worse mistakes and even die on their first outing. I made damn certain that wouldn't happen here, but still. You went above and beyond, and your point of view was refreshing. I get too bogged down in my work. I also apologize for any discomfort I might have caused."

I took a drink of amasec myself at that, letting her think on it for a moment before placed my drink down. "Do you have any inquiries or things you would like to air out?"
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I picked up a ploin and turned it over in my hands, it was so perfect I could make out my face in its shiny dark purple skin. I wasn’t entirely sure how to proceed. My mind still thought of the Inquisition in a certain way. Surely I had done something wrong by misusing the force staff. Surely I was in trouble. I bit into it with a soft crunch that filled my mouth with rich tart juice.

“I ah… well I had a good time,” I began, swallowing my mouthful and reaching out for a golbet of wine. I decided against drinking, a sure sign that all was not right with the universe. It seemed kind of silly to be thinking about a kiss when I had nearly been killed a half dozen times in the past few hours.

“You were uh… very convincing before, back on the balcony,” I managed.
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I looked at her, blinking. I was going to admit I had a good time as well, which if I had heard that out of any other Imperial citizen's mouth I would have deemed them unfit in the head. Perhaps Lazarus's neurological exam was not entirely unwarranted. And yet, I would mean it.

"No, I..." I started. There were no exits on the road I was going, so I needed to word it carefully. My intention was to have a professional meeting with my newest aide, but I found that was close to an impossibility without broaching the subject. The fact that there was something potentially romantic at the end had nothing to do with it, I am sure.

"Emmaline, that was why I apologized earlier. I..." I sighed, taking a deep breath and appearing as focused and clear as I could be. "I understand that you are my subordinate, you are new, and we were in a dangerous situation. I hold all the power between us in our current situation, and I kissed you without asking beforehand. If you would like to complain or cast doubt on my authority, you have free leave to do so. But..."

I felt like a young interogator again. For some reason my collar was a bit hot and my heart picked up speed. I thanked the Emperor Lazarus was not here to point it out. I usually had more control than this, I marveled. When I had met her I nearly killled her, it took me days to think of her as a person, and now I felt she could crush me more thoroughly than any khornate bloodcrusher.

"Emmaline, that wasn't a cover. When I kissed you, I wasn't Blasius Deckard. I was myself... Emmaline?"
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I regarded the ploin with intense scruitiny, noting the way my teeth had carved their way through the soft flesh. There is a feeling of guilt in my heart that I'm not familiar with. I'm not used to feeling raw emotions in situations like this. Most of the time its just a performance for the sake of securing myself a comfortable living.

"Well I kissed you as Emmaline, not as Emmaline," I told him. Hadrian blinked in confusion.

"That dosen't exactly clear anything up," he said.

"Well, whose fault is it that my alias is my alias?" I teased. Hadrian didn't laugh and I sighed.

"As myself," I told him. I felt like I was dangling over the edge of an abyss. Hadrian might well be over a deeper one. If we started any kind of relationship his masters in the Inquisiton might notice. If they did they might note that he had taken up with a psyker with a skill in mental manipulation within days of meeting her. That was the kind of question that interested the Inquisition.
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My heart lifted, and I felt more alive at that moment than the entire evening, save perhaps the kiss. After you get through varying degrees of deadly experiences, you tend to see them as a part of the job, despite them never quite losing their luster of exhilaration entirely. I figured I knew what she was thinking, because I had similar thoughts. I was, as far as most in the Ordo could tell, a rising star and a promising adept of the Ordo Malleus. I had served over half my life at this point, and as a full Inquisitor the last five years, but compared to many I was as green as the forests of old terra. This could potentially be a stumbling block on my theoretical long and storied career. I don't know what Inquisitor Kronus would say, had he been here, but I knew many above me would scold me for such a lack of discipline.

I nearly pulled away and grew stone-faced again. I could feel myself closing up with a will and telling her it was unprofessional of us and we needn't speak of it again. It would be awkward and even hurt for awhile, but we would keep our integrity in the eyes of the community and there would be no hiccups. But at that moment I realized something I hadn't considered before. It was so simple but astonishing that I could tell she could see it on my face. She now seemed more confused than conflicted, if only but.

"What I care about is the mission," I said slowly, meeting her gaze. "And my own personal integrity. I will do nothing to hinder what I perceive to be my life's calling."

I admit, it did not sound promising to us, until I said: "And I don't see us as a threat to that. And to that effect..." He held a hand out for her to take, a smile that threatened to turn into a grin forming. "Care to dance? If you'd have an Inquisitor that is. I hear we're quite dangerous."
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I laughed and set the ploin down on the table. Well it wasn't as though we were playing things safe as it was. I stood up and crossed to whre Hadrian stood, taking his offered hand.

"I know I'm not... you know, whatever you dangerous Inquisition types are used to," I told him. It wasn't as though I had ever done anything heretical but I didn't doubt that some of the psi-picting I had done for various clients perhaps pushed the limits. Ironically the most depraved of clients tended to the the Eclesiarchy itself, some of those private chapel rooms were really something.

"And I don't pretend to understand your mission," I told him, of course I understood the general mission of the Inquisition, or at least I thought I did at the time, lessons on that were in my future, but the exact nature of his investigation here was still a mystery to me. He laid his hand on my waist and I took up my position and began the steps of the dance to an imagined orchestra.

"But I promise I will do nothing to risk it, or risk you."
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