‘Lot seven hundred and thirty one;’ said the auctioneer, ‘a rare carnosaur from the galactic edge worlds. Shall we start the bidding at three thousand?’
The relentless wind rushed over and around the auction pit, carrying a fine red dust that settled across the assembled buyers. Finery and armour alike were reduced to the same dull shade like the patina of rust over an abandoned crawler. The air, bone dry, stole moisture from eyes and throats causing russet tears and hacking coughs.
The captured beast was tethered to a platform in the arena. A biped, it was bound about its powerful ankles and at the wrists of its short forelimbs. A muzzle held its jaws in check and blinkers covered its reptilian eyes. It breathed deep and slow, its massive head twitching from side to side as it caught the hushed chatter of the audience.
‘Come now ladies and gentlemen, this is a fine specimen indeed. Can I at least hear two thousand?’ Said the auctioneer.
A wand was raised on the second tier, its dust shrouded owner clearing its throat for attention or maybe just through necessity.
‘Excellent! Do we have two thousand five hundred?’ Said the auctioneer.
Bidding continued slowly for the next few minutes, the price edging higher. Rycas Velominus watched from the sellers circle, carefully masking his interest. The unscheduled stop in the unmapped system had cost him a shuttle, seventeen crew, and very nearly his life. The flora and fauna he’d collected would hopefully go some way to make up for those loses. He was sanguine about it, life as a rogue trader could be dangerous but you had to take opportunity where it presented itself. That benighted jungle had presented danger and opportunity in equal measure.
The bidding was slowing and Rycas stirred from his reverie to observe the closing stages and get a look at the winner.
‘…sixteen thousand three hundred. Going once, going twice, sold to the lady in the third row. Please present your ident to the usher and we will arrange transfer of funds and goods.’ Said the auctioneer.
The wind continued to howl as it had done unceasingly for millennia. It powered around the cliffs surrounding the illicit auction site, carving the soft red sandstone grain by grain, revealing harder deposits of pale rock whose strange curved edges caught the wan starlight. Giving the lie of fluidity to immobile rock like an archeologist revealing a lost alien city.
Porters moved into the pit to retrieve the carnosaur, vat grown muscle and shock prods ready to subdue any sudden movement. A shadow detached itself from the wall on the upper tier and dropped from the balcony to the floor of the arena with feline grace. The cloaked figure moved towards the captured reptile, the geometry of its frame subtly wrong.
The porters moved to intercept, flexing vast muscles and charging their weapons. The newcomer stepped lightly past a clumsy haymaker and sliced a hand across the throat of the first porter dropping him gurgling face down in the sand. The second porter took the opening and thrust his shock prod at the newcomers back. The cloaked figure arched its back to an impossible degree and performed a handspring over the dumbstruck porters head, deftly disarming him as it went. The porter had a moment of mute bewilderment before his own shock prod was discharged into his neck.
The newcomer stepped past the prone porters and approached the tethered carnosaur that was thrashing in its restraints alarmed by the sudden sounds of combat. Leaning close they whispered to it and it immediately began to calm.
‘By the Throne what do you think you’re doing?’ Yelled the auctioneer having finally recovered his wits.
The newcomer ignored him and slipped the blinkers from the beasts eyes and unfastened the muzzle, dropping it to the ground. The creature made a low growl as the newcomer laid a hand gently upon its neck and reached under its cloak for a blade.
Rycas leaped to his feet, dust flowing from his robes in an ashen waterfall.
‘Stop at once!’ He shouted.
The newcomer cut the fetters around the beasts legs and forelimbs and it clambered to its feet snorting and snarling. The crowd, held in rapt attention by the assault now realised their peril and began to rush towards the exits. Small scuffles broke out as they tripped over each other in their haste.
‘You can’t do this!’ Said Rycas. ‘That beast is mine to sell.’
The newcomer turned, finally dropping their hood. The face revealed was pale and sharp featured. High cheekbones and arched eyebrows framing almond eyes of deepest brown. Auburn hair was drawn up into a high ponytail and chased with beads. It was quite the most beautiful visage Rycas had ever seen.
‘No,’ Said the Aeldari in lilting gothic, vaulting onto the carnosaurs back. ‘She was never yours to steal.’
Rycas made a grab for the ornate laspistol holstered at his waist. The Aeldari flicked her arm in a perfect arc and the blade left her grip and buried itself in Rycas’s chest to the hilt.
As Rycas fell back into his seat the Aeldari spurred her mount and together they leapt from the arena into the desert night.
A few moments later there was a flash of pale light like moonrise on a clear winters night and, for the first time in millennia, for a fleeting moment, the desert air smelled of rain.
‘Lot seven hundred and thirty two, a xenos blade of unparalleled sharpness and beauty. Do I hear five thousand?’