It didn't make any sense, he'd always done everything as it was ordered to be done: how things were supposed to be done, in the proper way, with the correct protocols and seals and edicts and instruction and prayer. Always. To the very letter. He prided himself on dotting his i's and crossing his t's and always having his reports filed on time - no, not on time, always early. Slightly early: mustn't appear to keen. Presented to Magister Carmine within time, a few hours early. And always correct. Always.
To the grunts that toiled the land he probably seemed petty, sniveling. Mother's boy. What did they know? They had no idea of the complex intricacies of the allocation of pesticide chemicals and their effects upon crop yield. They probably didn't even know what crop yield was. Plough then rut, drink then pray - hypocrites all of them. Ignorant dung heaps! (may He forgive me).
He shouldn't be so cruel (he would say a penance later) - he pitied them really. And if they did think ill of him they had never dared voiced their opposition. They may think him officious, wet, a bit dull even, but his slight form and lack of physical prowess had meant that he had been blessed with the gift of knowledge at the Scholum Bethesda - indeed he was the only one from his sector to be sent to the Scholum Bethesda. And such as it should be: Mother had also been when she was a girl and it had been her duty all her life to ensure that the workers had cloths suitable enough so that the gases from the hydroponics didn't rot their lungs... I bet they didn't even know what lungs were... And father, he too had been to the Scholum Bethesda and it was his job, before his... before his... his accident... before...
Anyway, he was lucky, the gift of knowledge had meant that he was able to read the quarterly telegram straight from Governor Gwyllm himself, shipped to each sector all the way from the very capital of Hwyl y Gwynt. First it would go to the overseers then to the Magister then to the Adepts Senoris then to the Adepts Midoris and then to the Adepts Minoris then to the Mission then to the Mother Superior and then to the sector elders who would each pas it to everyone involved in ensuring that the sector made it's vegetable tithes for the war effort. Along it's passing each would add their own addendums in margins or in between lines of the text or sometimes even over the text itself. The latter would make his blood boil, it was improper to write over a superior's edicts even if they were supplemental edicts and even if sometimes they did seem to make sense. Still, it was improper to undermine the authority of seniors like that, and more than once he had felt moved to point that out, if only to Mother.
Must stop rambling... focus and try and makes sense of events... Mother!, would he ever see Mother again?!..
The vehicle lurched as it careered at speed around a sharp bend, throwing the petrified young man out of his thoughts and out of his narrow seat in the rear hull, gravity delivering him, sprawling, to the feet of the grizzled, dark-skinned man sat opposite in his Arbites carapace, the low lights of the candles on the internal command mechanism flickering off the man's scarred face. It was a wretched face and the Adept despised it. A face of true villainy and evil - it smirked at him, and brushed him away with his foot. Clambering backwards, reaching for his seat, the Adept pulled himself back, seething with rage and re-sat, this time fastening his seat belt.
Glancing down at the floor, averting the rage-inducing smirk, he noticed his data-slate sliding around in the gloom, the contents of his sack were spilling on to the floor of the fast moving vehicle. He sighed inwardly and tried to reach it with his foot, not risking another fall out of his seat. Giving up his futile attempts and trying to ignore the villain's sniggers, he closed his eyes and tried to collect his thoughts. Beginning to focus inwardly, he started to take a deep breath but was forced to exhale sharply as he felt a thump in his chest. Bringing his hands up to protect his face, he half-opened his eyes with a whimper. His data-slate lay in his lap, and the dark-skinned rogue grinned:
'Looks like you might need that, farm boy. Looks as if we're going to have an adventure. Glad I brought your money with me.' The scarred man laughed, his white teeth, sharpened to points, glowing in the candle light as he patted his pocket with a rattle of coins.
They had 'met' three days earlier: the Adept was hurrying homewards, slightly after dark, his skirts hitched in the rain to prevent them becoming too filthy in the muddied streets, the old cobbles now half buried in the soil, his prized possession of the new quarterly telegram tucked under his arm. He knew he shouldn't have taken the short-cut through the poor area of town back from the Cathedral, but he was late for Mother and didn't want to risk a scolding. He hadn't seen the man stumble around the corner of a shack behind him, but he certainly felt his fist as it punched the back of his head, throwing him to the floor, covering his robes in mud. Turning over on the wet floor, the young man yelped as a scarred face pushed it's way into his, one knee resting on his chest, he could smell amasec on his breath:
'Make another sound and I cut out your tongue. Now hand over your money and I let you live.'
The adept obeyed without question, scrabbling for his purse on his belt, trembling he handed it over. The drunk thug lurched back of his chest and rose, rummaging through the velvet pocket:
'Thirteen thrones?! I need more than thirteen thrones to get off this shit-hole,' he bellowed, 'Fucking backwards fucking shit-fucks!'
And with that, he turned on his heel and disappeared, stumbling into the distance. The young adept watched as he rounded the corner and then scrabbled to his feet, and ran, not noticing his tears in the rain - or his forgotten telegram.
The guilt of lying to Mother was crushing him almost as much as his thumping head and his injured pride from not resisting the mugging the previous night. He had told her that he had the fever, and lay sniveling in his cot petrified by the idea of venturing outside - he was a worm and he loathed himself, not only was he feeble, and scared, and crying, he was now telling untruths.
After a few hours of lying and staring, cursing his own pathetic form, watching the slow progress of the light from the window moving through the gloom and across the ceiling, he reached an internal breaking point and threw himself out of the bed. Shuffling to the window, he looked out into the fields outside in the baking sunshine and the men and women tilling the soil in the mist from the hydroponics: the workers were fit and tanned, their moist, muscular bodies glinting in the sunlight, the outward picture of health, even if the noxious fumes were rotting their lungs. He watched them laugh and flirt and work the soil like beasts of burden - they even seemed to be enjoying their labour rather than simply enduring it. He found himself shaking with rage, distraught to the point of fitting. In anger he span in the room, kicking over his small wooden stool and throwing his few meagre, previously adored possessions from his desk, scattering to the floor with a crash in one manic sweep of his arm.
Making a dash for the door, he fled into the baking sunlight, panting as he ran through the fields, stumbling and kicking over small piles of vegetables awaiting transport to the troops in Wansea. Tears streamed his face as he crashed through the jovial workers ignorant of his mental trauma and he yelped a breathless, agitated noise at them in all their uneducated bliss. He ran for what felt like hours, his lungs straining to burst out of his chest.
Tripping over his skirts, he flew headlong into the yard of the Arbites precinct. A few of the enforcers looked over from their work of tending to their prone motorcycles, a tech-savant stood over them passing instruction and wafting a large brass incense burner over the machines splayed engines. Rising, one of the men approached, spanner in hand.
"What is it Yusuf? Why aren't you at work - you look in pain. Are you alright?"
"The man... the man with the teeth... his face..." spluttered the adept, breathlessly, "He hit me!"
"Who hit you, Yusuf? Calm down and tell me the meaning of this." The enforcer stepped forward, placing his hand on the young man's shoulder in a vain attempt to calm him, but the agitated scribe recoiled as if in shock, falling backwards on to the dusty floor.
"Yusuf, I'm not going to harm you. Now calm down and tell me what is wrong."
Yusuf winced as several more officers approached, drawn by the commotion in the yard; even the tech-savant was sufficiently intrigued enough to begin slowly wandering toward the floored man.
Inhaling deeply, the adept managed to suspend his sobbing just long enough to explain what had happened the previous night.
"And would you be able to recognise this man again, Yusuf." The officer asked, his face stern yet reassuring, like a kindly Uncle.
"Ye- Yessir." Nodded the young man.
Yusuf felt sick on the back of the motorcycle as it sped through the dust tracks between the fields towards the shanty he had made for his ill-fated shortcut the night before. The smell of the petrol engine, the fumes from the fields and the slowly dawning realisation of the confrontation that was approaching churned his stomach and he clung to the officer's leather and carapace clad torso with a white-knuckled intensity. Another motorcycle flanked them and the second arbiter glanced over, smirking at Yusuf's obvious terror. As they sped round the corner, the scarred-faced man stumbled out of the saloon, an empty bottle clutched in his hand, shouting drunken, slurred insults back into the inn.
"That's him!" Shouted the young man, gesturing wildly at the drunk.
The Enforcers pulled their bikes over and slung their legs over the metal beasts as they dismounted.
"Wait here," the Officer said, as Yusuf slid from the motorcycle and pressed his back against the tin shack they had pulled up alongside.
"Sir!" bellowed the officer as he paced towards the drunken man, who was still shouting abuse into the saloon, seemingly oblivious to the noise of the engines as they'd approached. "Sir. We've received a complaint about a man matching your description: would you mind coming with us to answer some questions?"
The thug span on his heel, turning to face the Enforcers:
"What the fuck is this? I dunno what you're talking about."
His eyes darted from left to right like a cornered animal, he caught sight of the scribe, now cowering behind the motorcycle.
"You! You, you little shit. You shitty little runt - you couldn't keep your nasty little mouth shut for a minute could you, you cunt?"
"Sir, that'll be enough of that!" shouted the lead officer, raising his right hand as he stepped towards the base of the wooden steps to the saloon. The thug raised his right leg, bending it at the knee and with all his might lunged his leather-booted heel into the nose of the approaching officer, bursting it open with a bloodied crack. The arbiter slumped to the knees clutching at his face with a low moan as blood streamed from his mangled nose. The second officer turned and sped back to his motorcycle, falling on to it, scrabbling to undo the clasp on the saddle-bag and free the arbites shotgun inside, stunned that such a visceral attack could occur in Hwyl y Gwynt.
With a crash of breaking glass, the thug smashed the bottle against the wall of the saloon and pelted towards the second officer, lunging at his exposed flank with the jagged glass teeth. The bottle embedded itself in the man's side and the officer yelped in agony as he span round, cracking the drunk on the side of the head with his elbow. Pulling the bottle from his side, the enforcer threw it to the floor, and stepped towards the assailer both hands raised like a boxer. The two men squared off and threw a few punches, both missing their targets. With a loud crack the first officer, on his feet after the initial shock of being kicked in the face, elbowed the distracted drunk in the back of the head, flooring him at the feet of his boxing partner. The thug rolled on to his back, his sharpened teeth bared like a wild dog as the two officers stood over him.
"Sir, by the authority invested in me by the High Lords of Terra, you are under arrest." spat the senior officer, wiping blood and dust from his mouth.
Yusuf shuffled over to the two officers and glared down at the floored thug. Suddenly, from behind the three men there came a rapid, loud clacking, like a hammer beating on a tin plate. Spinning in place, the men caught sight of a blur of silver as it leapt from the roof of the building behind and directly over their heads and the prone drunk. A figure landed in front of the assembled group, the lithe body close to the ground resting on two feet and one arm, the second arm pulled taught behind the figure's back, a long silvered staff with a crescent blade tip forming a right angle to the acrobatic form.
"What the - "started the officer with the bloodied nose, but the blur of silver sprang again, spinning the staff in a sharp upward thrust, it's crescent blade cutting into the officer's jugular, slicing the throat open and replacing the unfinished sentence with a spurt of deep red. With preternatural speed, the figure span the blade in a balletic arc and severed the second enforcer's head entirely from his body before the hapless form could move. The vision straightened and moved the savage and beautiful weapon to it's side - it was only then that Yusuf has chance to properly look at the assailant. She was tall, standing a full head and shoulders above the scribe, and exceptionally beautiful, her blonde hair was cut short in an Imperial parting and glistened in the sun, she wore an ornate suit of silver plate armour, shaped to her athletic form. Staggered by the unfolding events, Yusuf sank to his knees and started to weep, trembling in fear of the deadly and beautiful vision.
Turning, she gazed down at the at the two forms at her feet - the thug seemed as unnerved by the events as Yusuf.
"You. Get up." she commanded, staring at the sprawled drunk, "Following your path of destruction from system to system whilst you ruin people's lives has almost been more trouble than it's worth. Still, he seems to have need of you. You are to come with me. You are to travel under cover: put this arbitration armour on. "
The woman looked over to Yusuf, a look of disdain in her eyes at the sight of the blubbing adept, "I see no point in wasting any more lives, but you know too much to stay here. I'm sure we can find use of you. Get up and stop your whining. You are now both in the employ of the Imperial Inquisition and your lives are forfeit. For the God-Emperor of mankind."