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I've written my first little piece of fiction since my entry in the recent contest here on LO. I'm not quite happy with a few things about the story, and I've tweaked it here and there over the past week. I realise that I could probably go on tweaking it forever, so I thought I'd just put it up and let people see what they think of it and get some honest feedback:
Trask turned to face a slender figure, a hood covered the man's face. The man had caught Trask unawares, which was not something that Trask had thought possible. Though he did not know the man behind the mask, he had no doubt who he represented.
"So you have found me, what do you plan to do now?" asked Trask.
"My plan is for you to return to your Temple." came the reply.
"That won't happen" replied Trask "I can't go back. You know what will happen to me."
"I imagine that some sort of trial would occur." replied the hooded figure.
Trask allowed himself a wily smile. "Your presence here, after so long, gives me the impression that the outcome of such a trial is already decided."
The figure responded quietly "Perhaps it has, I know not. I am not here to judge you, just to see that you return. I actually know little of what you did before your disappearance. That has intrigued me all these years, perhaps you would share the story before we *ahem* decide if you will go back."
Trask walked into the Master's office. Like Trask, the Master was Callidus, the most secretive of all the branches of the Officio Assassinorum. Trask walked into the room and approached the table where a figure was seated. He stopped and bowed his head and spoke.
"Master, you sent for me."
"Yes," replied the figure, "I wished to speak to you about your upcoming job. You have no doubt familiarised yourself with your next assignment?"
"I have, Master." replied Trask.
"As you have guessed, this will be a long job. I do not like using my assassins for jobs such as this, but this is a noteable exception. The auguries from the Emperor's Tarot pointed to a grave occurence some years ago. A child was born, with a special destiny. But the Tarot is vague, and the effect of the child is in the balance. But she has the potential to cause a great deal of harm to the Imperium. The initial feeling was to just kill her, but on further examining the Tarot it is felt that it is the act of her NOT doing something which will adversely affect the Imperium. So she lives...."
Trask remained quiet, this was one of the most dangerous men in the Imperium. One did not interupt him....
The Master continued "A decision has been reached. The High Council cannot interfere directly, as this could change the course of her fate. However, her family has a large staff and there she has a guard assigned to her at all times. We will arrange an incident for him, and you will take his place. You are to protect her, keep her from harm. But you are not to influence her choices. This assignment may take many years, but I have faith in you. Good luck...."
"Hmmmm, tough assignment." noted the hooded figure sarcastically, "babysitting a little girl indefinitely. Not the kind of assignment an assassin would hope for. What happened?"
Time passed. The girl was called Astasia and was a spoiled ten year old brat when Trask became her guardian. As the years passed, Astasia remained spoiled and could be quite nasty. Trask often wondered what fate could possibly have in store for someone like this. As Astasia grew up, she disliked Trask's constantness at her side, and often tried to escape him to be on her own. But one does not escape a Callidus easily, and Trask was ever at her side, even if she did not realise it herself.
When Astasia was sixteen, an incident occured that changed things forever. Astasia had "escaped" again and went to party with some upper-hive boys. After they were intoxicated, the boys decided that Astasia should entertain them in a way she did not want to. Trask had intervened and four drunken boys were certainly no match for him, he knocked each out with non-fatal blows and took Astasia home.
The incident was the making of Astasia. From then on, she never complained about Trask's presence and her whole attitude on life changed. She developed into a beautiful and well educated woman. Despite the age difference, she fell in love with her guardian and constant companion. In Trask's own way, he fell in love with her too, though his loyalty to his Temple meant that he never acted on his feelings for the girl.
The hooded man interrupted, "Are we going to hear her life story?"
Trask sighed, "I merely wish to establish the basis of why I did what I did. It was not a choice I made without reason."
"You fell in love with someone you were assigned to protect. Is that what you're trying to tell me?"
"No!" exclaimed Trask. Then more softly "At least, never physically. My loyalty was ever to the Temple."
"Then, please continue...."
Years passed. All the while, Trask kept up his training in his free time. Every week, sending another report back to the Temple. His orders were always the same, keep doing what you're doing.
Though quite outside his remit, at Astasia's request Trask had started giving her some combat training. Astasia was a keen student and learned quickly. Trask always held back, as few in the Imperium had the range of combat skills that he did. But Trask did feel that Astasia would have little problem handling herself in a crisis. He also gifted her something that many in the Imperium would kill to possess - a tiny weapon of alien design. It was a ring, but it held a suprise. For this ring was of Jokaero design, and he told her it contained a deadly poisoned dart. Trask instructed Astasia of it's operation, but warned that it was one use only and should only be used in an extreme emergency.
Eventually, Astasia's father died. Even though she had an older brother, he had enlisted in the Imperial Guard long before. So she inherited the spot as the head of the household. She also took over her father's posting as Senator for the planet. While she was not a terribly good public official, she honestly did care for the people in her charge which was a rare trait in Imperium governance. Life continued, with Trask ever at Astasia's side. In all the time, Astasia never took a suitor, though she had no lack of choices. Her love for Trask continued, unrequited....
"A touching story, thus far." said the hooded man, "Can I assume that we will arrive at the incident at some time?".
"Yes" replied Trask, "you will have the information of what happened...."
It was around this time that the Karkason Crusade was being waged. Solar Lord Thormand had personally lead his fleet across the nearby sector. Fifty worlds had turned their back on the Emperor, and it was fifty worlds that he personally brought back into the fold, installing his own governors on each planet. At the end, the leader of the whole uprising was killed by none other than Astasia's brother Calen. But Calen had been killed himself in the battle. The Solar Lord had decreed Calen a hero and would posthumously award his family the Imperial medal of valour.
The city was abuzz for the ceremony, and the day was declared a holiday. The Weather Teraformers worked on overdrive to ensure that the day would be sunny for the ceremony. While this would, no doubt, mean severe climatic imbalances for the next decade, it was decided that this day was more important.
The ceremony went well, and Astasia accepted the posthumous honour in the name of her family. There was a lot of smiling, and waving, and fanfares. Trask had never been a fan of big ceremonies and this was no exception. Security at an event like this was a nightmare, with everyone seeming to bring their own retinues of bodyguards. Everyone in security suspected everyone else and it seemed like violence between the various bodyguards could erupt at any second. Through it all, Trask maintained his vigil on Astasia whom he was glad to see was enjoying the event immensely.
After the ceremony, Trask accompanied Astasia into their waiting limo for the procession through the city to the governor's mansion. Crowds lined both sides of the streets and the Arbites were out in force. As a special honour to Astasia, her vehicle followed that of the Solar Lord himself. Security was in abundance, including many Imperial Guard regiments, but Trask thought it seemed relatively unco-ordinated. Though this was certainly a loyal world, Trask felt a certain unease with the situation. Trask had, long ago, learned to trust his judgement and instincts and he started examining the crowd closer to see if he could figure out what was causing him to feel as he did.
As he scrutinised the crowds, he could pick out things that were wrong. There were groups of workmen in construction sites, grouped together quietly, even though it was a holiday. People, here and there, in the crowd wearing hoods even though the sky was clear and bright (which was a rare occurence with the weather regulators on the planet!). There wasn't enough to act upon, anyone else would probably call it sheer paranoia. But Trask felt uneasy and was on his guard.
As they approached the Memorial bridge, the whole procession slowed down. And that's when it happened. Out of nowhere, a series of rockets crashed into the troop carrier in front of Trask's vehicle. It exploded in a huge fireball. Trask loooked round to see that a similar fate had befell other troop carriers around them. Behind them, the vehicle of the Solar Lord had been hit. It's defenses were extensive, but it was obviously incapacitated.
"Get out, and get down!" yelled Trask, and the occupants of the vehicle started piling out. The three guards stepped out and drew their las pistols and started round for any sign of assailants. A series of small spinning disks answered their enquiring looks. As the last one fell, Astasia and Trask exited the vehicle. Trask immediately pushed Astasia face first into the tarmac and stayed low above her.
"Stay down, don't move until I tell you." whispered Trask.
Trask looked around from his prone position. He couldn't actually see any enemies on the streets, though he could make out some snipers on the rooftops. The crowds were panicking and running in any direction they could, but they had packed the streets and their pushing was causing more problems than anything. Where the crowds had been, he could make out many dead and wounded. Most likely ran over by the crowd, thought Trask.
There had been Imperial Guard regiments in the procession, but most of them seemed to be running away too. What lunacy was this?? The Arbites members that were here for crowd control were also running. This he could understand, as they had only been equipped with crowd control stun rods. It's not easy to face a sniper with a hand weapon.
A unit of Imperial Guard had taken up position around the Solar Lord's downed vehicle. Two units of yellow armored warriors moved out of a nearby building and started exchanging fire with the Guard units. Trask had seen such warriors before, and knew them to be Eldar. Casualties mounted on both sides, but the sniper support the Eldar possessed gave them the upper hand. More soldiers of the Guard were arriving on the scene and took up defensive positions around the downed car. Trask had seem Guard deployments before and smiled. It would not be long until they swarmed this area. On a world like this, with an Imperial fleet in orbit, the amount of Imperial Guard available would be limitless.
Perhaps the Eldar realised this too. Trask looked up toward the sun, thinking he had seen something. As the figures grew larger, Trask thought they looked like winged Angels. But they were Angels with a deadly payload for the Guard units. Before they touched down, there were a series of explosions, as the grenades they dropped exploded. Catching the Guard units completely by suprise, they went to work with their deadly close combat weapons, slaughtering many of the Guard before they even knew they were there.
As another unit of Imperial Guard came in from the side, Trask could make out beams of light as small groups of Eldar materialised behind them. These warriors fired, decimating half of the Guard unit, and disappeared again before the Guard members even fired a shot.
The close combat around the Solar Lord's vehicle was intense now, and Trask could make out that Lord Thormand himself was now out of his vehicle and leading the fightback against the Eldar. He was armed with a huge force axe, that sizzled with energy as it connected. His bodyguards had also joined the battle, and these were no pushover for the Eldar as the undiscipled Guard units had been. The winged Eldar were suffering many casualties.
Trask wondered what he should do. The Solar Lord was none of his concern, protecting Astasia was everything. So far, both sides seemed to not notice him and Astasia, and Trask saw no reason to change that. Especially when Trask saw the Eldar running towards the Solar Lord. Twenty armoured warriors followed by four Eldar in cloaks and masks, carrying swords. In the midst of them was a taller figure. Wearing robes and carrying a staff, without a mask. His long hair fluttered as he ran and his sharp features spoke of a noble bearing. Trask had studied Eldar before, and guessed that this particular Eldar was either a senior Warlock or perhaps even a Farseer. Though he had never fought against them, he knew that Warlocks and Farseers were among the most dangerous units that an Eldar force could deploy.
Astasia had maneuvered herself around a little, as Trask was not paying attention to keeping her pinned. So she too had witnessed the more recent parts of the battle.
"We have to help Lord Thormand" stated Astasia.
Trask replied, "We have to do nothing of the sort, the Guard will do it."
"But it is our duty, as Imperial citizens!" stated Astasia, as forcefully as she could.
Trask gave a dismissive "tsk" noise. After all, he was an Imperial assassin. His function was always concerning a single subject, not widespread warfare. "I am here to keep you safe, not Lord Thormand. The Imperial Guard and his bodyguards will be sufficient for the task." Trask considered the discussion done, and went back to watching the battle.
Several Imperial units had came into view, but were being kept from the Solar Lord's position by the snipers in the area. "Where are the Imperial snipers?" thought Trask. He had no idea how many Eldar were in the area, but it could certainly not compare to the limitless resources the Guard should be able to obtain. With typical Imperial contempt for Guard soldiers, they were predictably being charged down the streets in teams. And the precision fire of the Eldar cut these units down to a man.
While Trask was concentrating on the battle, Astasia had been slowly wiggling herself into a position that afforded her more movement. Trask had taught her well about pressure points and the best way to disable an opponent. When she had enough room, she sharly raised her elbow straight into Trask's groin. With a pained "ooof", he released the pressure on her enough so that she could escape his clutches and ran towards the battle, las-pistol in her hand.
"Astasia, stop!" shouted Trask as loudly as he could, which was not very loud given the pain he was currently in. He could only mutter "Damn!" under his breath before he lifted himself up and chased after her.
Trask looked to his left as he ran. The Eldar warlock group was currently engaged in close combat with around twice as many Guard soldiers, but was cutting them down easily. The Warlocks seemed to dance as they fought, and moved at an impossible speed. Trask wondered if even his own skills would compare to such a fighter.
Astasia was almost at the Solar Lord's vehicle. Thormand's bodyguard and Guard soldiers had finished off the remains of the flying Angel warriors, but had taken heavy casualties. An Eldar warrior was ahead of her, shooting into the Guard unit around the Solar Lord. Lifting her pistol, she fired repeatedly at the target. She only hit once, and the shot bounced off the Eldar's armor, alerting him to her presence. As he turned and raised his weapon towards Astasia, Trask took aim with his own pistol. Trask's aim was true, and hit the Eldar directly in the head, killing him instantly. Astasia glanced back and gave Trask a huge smile, before running on into the Guard position.
Trask could see from above that the Eldar had sent another group of flying Angel warriors towards the Imperial position. But this time, they knew what to expect and sent a flurry of firepower at the dropping warriors. Fully half of the warriors dropped from the sky, dead. But there were many that survived and these warriors took heavy revenge with their swords on the Guard soldiers.
Astasia was still running towards the Solar Lord who was now battling with the one of the Warlocks. Lord Thormand was taking hits from the Eldar's sword, but he seemed to have some kind of energy shield which was saving him from harm. The Eldar was faster, but Thormand was stronger, and Thormands force axe seemed to sizzle with power as the Eldar parried multiple strikes with his sword.
Trask caught up with Astasia, and pulled her backwards. As she turned around, he could see the determination in her eyes. She had no intention of leaving this fight. Trask could see no way of dissuading her, so he merely stated "Stay with me, stick behind me." as he drew his trademark weapon, the C'tan phase blade. Astasia had never seen this weapon in all these years. Indeed, few people in the Imperium had. In one fluent movement, Trask decapitated two of the winged Eldar warriors that had came towards them. So quick was the movement that Astasia could not recall actually seeing either killing blow!
The leader of the Warlocks had seen Trask and was running his way, flanked by four Eldar warriors. Maneuvering to keep Astasia covered, he backed away until the Warlock was close enough to strike. Parrying the initial blows, he spun to the side to flick his sword out at an Eldar who was aiming at Astasia. The sword went cleanly through the Eldar's arm, severing it at the elbow. Before the Eldar had even time to howl in pain, Trask had rejoined combat with the Warlock.
The Warlock was every bit as good as Trask thought he would be, possessed of a strength that did not seem right given his slender form and moving with a speed that Trask struggled to keep up with just looking at him. Instinct coupled with years of training were Trask's defense, as he parried attacks that came so quickly that he had little time to think. Astasia had shot one of the Eldar warriors in the chest, and he lay in a crumpled heap. The other two were trying to flank his position and Trask was struggling to keep Astasia covered while defending himself from the Warlock.
In the corner of his eye, he could see Lord Thormand coming towards him. The Warlock he fought, along with almost a score of Eldar warriors, were dead. Thormand seemed possessed with the strength of the Emperor himself as a blow from his force axe took down another Eldar, cleaving him in two. As he came towards Trask, the staff bearing Eldar spun around and parried a blow from Thormand's axe. The return blow from his staff sizzling as it met the power of Thormand's energy shield.
Trask turned back to the two Eldar warriors trying to flank him. They had drawn some sort of swords and were approaching him. They were certainly fast and skilled with their blades but, even together, they were no match for one of the Imperium's finest. Trask feinted left, drawing the attack of both Eldar before darting to the right and striking the first Eldar in the side with his C'tan blade. The Eldar's armor was no match for the alien blade, and he went down heavily. With only one opponent left, it was a matter of moments before only Trask stood alone.
He turned to look for Astasia, but she was no longer behind him. Looking around, he saw that she had ran over towards the Solar Lord. Lord Thormand was still in combat with the Eldar, as heavy blows were parried by both. Astasia ran towards Thormand, shooting into a distant group of Eldar. As she ran behind the Solar Lord, he pushed the Eldar back with a heavy blow and turned his attention on Astasia, assuming her to be an enemy. Time seemed to slow for Trask as he saw Thormand lift his force axe and swing it in Astasia's direction. Trask found himself screaming as he tried to move towards Astasia, to protect her. But he was too far away and the axe descended on Astasia, hitting her just above the shoulder. Thormand pulled out the axe in a deft motion, Astasia's body crumpling on the ground, before renewing his battle with the Eldar leader.
Trask sprinted over to Astasia's body. Lifting her into his arms he found that she was already dead. This woman that had loved him and who he, in his own way, had loved back, was gone. Trask could feel the tears on his face as he looked down on her. But these were tears of rage, not of sorrow. Trask took Astasia's hand and saw the ring he had gifted her all those years ago. Trembling, Trask took the ring off her finger and placed it on his own. Kissing her hand to say goodbye, he turned and faced the battle in front of him.
The Eldar was in trouble. He was bleeding from multiple wounds, and Lord Thormand was pressing home his advantage. Trask could see the look of fear in the Eldar's face as he saw Trask moving towards him. But he should not have feared, for the Eldar was not the target of Trask's rage. Trask had studied personal energy fields before, and had even been gifted a Rosarius once. He knew that they had their weaknesses. And so he lifted the hand holding the Jokaero digital ring, took aim at the back of Lord Thormand's leg and fired. He could hear a tiny *ping*, the trademark sound of the discharge of a Jokaero digital weapon, as the tiny dart made it's way towards the Solar Lord. As Trask had predicted, the energy field gave no protection to the area he aimed for and the dart hit, depositing it's lethal payload.
Looking behind him, he saw that many of the Eldar were now dead. Imperium units were starting to get close to the area. Looking round to the Eldar Warlock, he saw that he had backed off from the Solar Lord. Lord Thormand was staggering around, as if drugged. Trasks' heightened perceptions could make out the small dart, in the back of his leg, where he had shot him. While Trask had told Astasia that the dart contained poison, it was something far more deadly than that. It held a dose of Polymorphine. This was what Callidus used to morph into any shape they desired. While it was useful to someone like Trask, who had years of training, it was absolutely deadly to anyone who did not. And so it turned out in the case of Lord Thormand. As he fell to the ground, he let out an unearthly scream, that chilled Trask to his very soul, until his body started to lose cohesion. Trask viewed the scene, though he had seen it before in training. Thormand's body continued to morph, but without the training to control the change, his body just lost cohesion and morphed into a featureless blob.
Trask looked up at the Eldar Warlock, who looked back at him. The Eldar nodded at him, before turning away and running towards the buildings, with what remained of the Eldar fighting a withdrawl behind him.
"And so you disappeared into the night?" asked the hooded man.
"You know the Imperium. Once an Inquisitor came in, he'd see the evidence of Polymorphine. Add to that, Astasia's death. My fate would have been sealed. It was easy to escape the soldiers who approached the area, and I have been evading the Imperium ever since."
"It's been seven years, did you never think of going back?"
Trask smiled. "After my mission went so wrong? The person I was assigned to protect, died. Solar Lord Thormand, died. The Eldar Warlock, escaped. I don't think the Temple would be kind enough to even just execute me."
"Farseer." corrected the hooded man.
"Excuse me?" replied Trask.
"It was not a Warlock, it was a Farseer."
Trask responded by looking at the hooded man with a puzzled expression.
The hooded figure continued "The Imperial augury that led you to that scene, also led the Eldar there. They fight the Imperium, but the goals of the two races are not as diverse as many believe. Did you ever hear the official reports of that battle?"
Trask replied "Yes, it was reported that Lord Thormand was assassinated by the Eldar."
"A convenient cover, the Imperium maintains it's fervour against the anything Xenos." replied the man, "But do you know of the results of the investigation?"
Trask shook his head. He had always hated politics, so had not bothered to keep up with events.
"With the Solar Lord's death, an investigation was instigated by Inquisitor Balac to tidy up the loose ends. Of course it was known to the Inquisition that it was the weapon of an assasin that killed the Solar Lord, not the Eldar. The Rosarius he possessed was of an ancient design and incredibly powerful, it's unlikely the Eldar could have harmed him at all...."
This knowledge did nothing to help Trask's mood. He had got by, these many years, by telling himself that the Eldar would have killed the Solar Lord anyway, even if Astasia had killed the Warlock, nay Farseer, instead of Lord Thormand.
"... and so they investigated his personal effects which turned up anomolies. As the Inquisitor delved further, it became clear that Lord Thormand was beholden to forces not at all friendly to the Emperor. With each success, he built up more and more star systems who would follow his call. And he was nearing the point of moving against the Imperium. Have you ever heard of a creature called a C'thlak?"
Trask's puzzled look indicated that he had no idea.
The hooded man continued "A C'thlak is an amazing creature. Very hostile and strong. You can do just about anything to it's body, and it will still attack. Cut of it's tail, a leg, stab it's body, anything. It will keep coming, strong as ever. The trick is to cut off it's head, then the body will wither."
Trask thought for a second before replying "I don't understand."
The hooded man replied "There is much you do not understand. This little uprising was the same as a C'thlak. When the Inquisition learned the truth of the Solar Lord, they were ruthless in pursuing all the other parts of his scheme. Finding the people he had put into key areas around the Imperium. It would have been almost impossible to do without removing the head first, which was the Solar Lord."
This was all too much for Trask. "Who the hell are you?" he asked.
The man lifted his hands and grabbed his hood, pulling it back. Trask's eyes widened as he saw the alien features of the man, before realising that it was the Eldar he had watched battle the Solar Lord.
"It's ... you!" gasped Trask.
The Eldar smiled "Yes. I am Farseer Shu'ikar, but please call me Shu'ikar. My craftworld has much to thank you for. My divinations were vague but I believe that I should have died in that battle. Yet it was vital that we made the attempt, for the alternative was far worse than you could imagine. It was your intervention that saved me and also foiled the agent of Chaos."
"Well, what do you still want with me?" asked Trask.
"You gave up your life by executing the Solar Lord, in doing so you saved mine. I owe you a debt that I might never be able to repay fully. Perhaps this will be a small instalment on that repayment." replied Shu'ikar as he tossed a small databox case over to Trask.
Trask caught it easily, "What is this?" he asked.
The Eldar replied "It is your life back. I vouched for you to a contact I have in the Imperium, who reports directly to the High Lords, that you must have known of the contamination of the Solar Lord and eliminated him. When your Master at the Temple was contacted, he was placed in a most fortuitous position. He declared that your mission was, in fact, to eliminate the Solar Lord and that you were not personally available for contact as you were on *ahem* another mission already."
Trask considered this before posing the question "Why would a member of the Inquisition discuss anything with a Xenos like yourself? No offense intended."
Shu'ikar chuckled before replying "None taken. Relationships between our races are not always black and white. Did you not notice that the initial response of the Imperial Guard that day was lacklustre, at best?"
Trask nodded to indicate his agreement. "It seemed strange to me that you had the advantage of rooftop snipers, and that certain units ran at the start."
Shu'ikar replied "The Imperium could not strike against Lord Thormand itself. Steps were taken to ensure the units nearest him were given non-functional las-rifles. Of course they ran! The Imperium is one of our greatest foes, ironically it is also our greatest hope for survivial. Strangely enough, you know how the Imperium works and they would never have found you. You did well, eluding me all these years, but you have no idea how to hide from someone like me. In any case, I must take my leave of you. You may act on the information in the datacube in any way you see fit."
The Eldar replaced his hood and turned to walk away. Trask opened the case and activated the databox. It's authorisations were Omega level, which was one level below an order from the Emperor himself! It merely said:
"With regards to Solar Lord Thormand, the bearer has done what has been done."
Trask stared in silence at this. It was a carte-blanche to do anything. This completely absolved him from any wrongdoing. With this, he could return to the Temple and he wouldn't even have to explain anything about his long absence to anyone. He could have his life back!
He looked round to see the Eldar walking off into the darkness. He called after him "Thank you, thank you so much! If there's ever anything I can do to thank you for this, just let me know."
The Eldar gave allowed himself a smile before muttering to himself "I may just do that, young assassin" as he walked off into the darkness.....