THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET
PART 3 – A Grand Tour
Previously: Land of the Sky Mother
Themesong: Nobody’s Side from Chess
AN: Thank you to my readers for all your wonderful comments.
It was the third anniversary of my arrival in this strange and horrifying world and I was, as I often did, watching the recording of The Light slowly, painfully docking with Hephaestus, the ancient automated repair and resupply station upon which I now sat. There was something mesmerizing, something awe inspiring about the sight of that ancient crippled ship inching her way into the space-dock, venting atmosphere and biological debris from the countless gashes in her armored hull. The fact that she was there at all was testament to the human drive to survive and thrive, even in the most inhospitable of environs. I leaned close to watch as the station’s titanic servo arms, monstrous kilometer long crane-things, swung into position to begin the long, arduous process of restoring the behemoth to her former glory, then leaned back as the equally gargantuan blast doors slid shut, blocking the sight of my ship from view.
Leaning back, I turned to face the reinforced plasteel window that formed the back wall of my office, then looked out over Paradise. My world. Mine. I had claimed it, claimed it for all those who followed me, claimed it for my children, and (potentially) their children’s children. And slowly, it was becoming mine in truth.
Before being trapped within the warp for all those long, uncounted millennia, The Light of Terra carried her own Imperial Guard regiment, and the supplies and equipment that would have allowed those men and women to take control of a hostile world had been locked securely within her holds. Hundreds of shuttles, megatons of prefab construction materials, earth movers, and more tools than the mind could safely encompass; all were waiting to be put to use. As the ship had been repaired, more and more of those ancient goods had become available, and so my city had flourished… thanks in no small part to the fact that Imperial Guardsmen gear had been designed to be just as useful to a half-feral barbarian as it was to a Hive World Technician.
As the terminator swept inexorably across Paradise’s mottled surface, I could see the pinpricks of light that marked new settlements, defensive installations, or resource nodes springing to life. Some of them were Human, others the dog-lizard Tarellians who had learned it was better to join me than oppose me. I sighed with pleasure… then considered all the paperwork I still had to go through and sighed with something a little less pleasurable. I rubbed my eyes, clenching them tight… and then the world lurched around me.
Even before I opened my eyes, I knew something strange was going on. Part of that might have been because I could see things without opening my eyes… and not the normal riot of ever-shifting geometric and fractal patterns, but an obscene, impossible light that seemed to shine down on me, something that defied description, a color that could not possibly exist in real-space. I felt like clasping my hands over my still tightly shut eyes, but knew somehow that it would do nothing to block out that nightmarish hue.
I could feel it, pressing down upon me, eroding my edges, scouring away bits and pieces of who and what I was, the sheer pressure of all that unrestrained possibility seeking to crush me, to obliterate my psyche… and then something was draped across my face and the pressure retreated. With a hand that I struggled to keep steady, I reached up to feel the object.
It was a blindfold, a simple blindfold and nothing more… but somehow, it was enough to shield me from the almost soul-crushing madness of wherever I was.
“Perhaps, rather than shielding you from the overwhelming effects of my home, it simply conceals the distractions and allows you to see things as they truly are?” A voice said. The speaker sounded absolutely massive and incredibly terrifying… and could apparently read my mind… or at least my surface thoughts.
Experimentally, I looked around, eyes still shut tight behind the blindfold, testing the limits of what might be hidden and what might lie behind those illusions to be revealed by my sightless gaze. I quickly came to realize that this place, wherever it was, was so thick with enchantment that I could actually pick out the shapes of buildings, the flows of arcane power worked into the stones themselves. I also came to realize that I could see those magical flows once again, so powerful were they in this place.
I glanced up… and moaned softly.
Above that city of magic, instead of a sky, there was… ah… that would explain the entire sanity unravelling, psyche destroying pressure. This was the Warp. Not the ‘someone got really pissed off and accidentally summoned a Bloodthirster of Khorne’ warp (though that is exactly as bad as it sounds). This was the place causality went to die. It was, actually, a fairly disappointing greeny purple.
“Charpuce… cute,” I muttered under my breath.
Still, it said something about the man? being? entity behind me that staring into the Warp itself seemed the safer course than turning around. Apparently, he realized that, since he started to move, and I could feel the impact of each footfall as he casually sauntered into my field of view. It… he… was close to twenty feet tall, with skin a deep crimson and a mass of burnished copper hair more akin to a mane than anything else, and was wreathed in so much sheer power that the mystical energy twisting around him was actively blinding, to the point where I almost considered tearing away the blindfold shielding me from seeing the warp in all its horror. Even worse, his armor was an abomination against fashion… it had nipple horns.
“Ah. Hello Magnus,” I said, feeling relieved. If all the beings I could have run into in the Warp, this was arguably the best possible result. This one was unlikely to murder me for lols.
“You know who I am?”
“Magnus the Red. Primarch of the Thousand Sons, Patsy, Ka-Mai, Fool of Fate, Dupe of Destiny, Accomplice to Patricide, Reluctant Traitor, the second most powerful psyker in the history of the human race, Daemon Prince of Tzeentch, Magnus Wolfsbane, Magnus One-Eye, Lord of murdered Prospero… sorry about that. That was a raw deal.” My voice had started out declarative, but slowly shifted towards empathy.
His anger and confusion, made manifest in the ripples of the Warp around me, shifted at that last into shivers and tremors of memory, memory that quickly flared back to rage. “Don’t you dare feel pity for me! I am a Prince of Chaos.”
“You’re a little boy whose father never loved him enough,” I said. It was not an accusation.
“You dare?! I could wipe you from reality with no more effort than you would take blowing your nose!” He roared
“Hey, my nose is dainty and adorable. And you could, but you won’t.” I looked around at the place… the books had not done it justice. It really was lovely in a strange kind of way.
“You seem dreadfully certain of yourself, mortal.”
“I am only mortal in the same rough sense that you are, child.”
“I… yes… you… hmmm…”
“It’s okay to admit you aren’t all knowing. You have no idea what I’m talking about but you can sense I’m being sincere. Here. I’ll make it simple for you. You have as much chance of understanding me as I do of understanding Tzeentch. I am utterly unlike anything you have ever experienced before. I am older than any human besides your father and have raised up civilizations to rival his at its height… and never had my children fall to chaos… though not for lack of trying. And the reason I’m so certain you won’t destroy me is that you brought me here for a reason. I suspect that means you want something from me or I’d already be in hideous agony as you tried to rip my soul out or performed something unpleasantly like a spiritual version of a vivisection on me.”
The pause was as long as an ice age… maybe two, before the 20 foot tall cyclops spoke again. “I had expected you to be taller… No matter… Welcome to my realm… and yes… I am Magnus, and you… you will be of some use to me.”
The conversation was short and mostly to the point, ignoring several lengthy diatribes about wretched, yiffing wolf-scum. Magnus was, to not put too fine a point on it, trapped within the warp. As a Daemon Prince, he simply couldn’t leave under his own power and had to be summoned… under most circumstances. I, as it turns out, represented a virtually unique opportunity, however. I didn’t belong here. Not in realspace, not in the warp… not in this reality. For most people, that would mean nothing. For the most powerful Sorcerer in this universe, it was a chance to break the rules.
All it would take was a simple ritual to twist the skeins of fate around the two of us, tricking the fabric of spacetime into believing we were one being… and, while Magnus would temporarily lose a not insignificant amount of power, he would be free of any and all restrictions, at least until the universe noticed. He already had plans and was willing to reward me very well indeed for my assistance. I, intrigued, agreed.
He also has a tale to tell, which he did as we crossed the void between worlds. “The story began some two and a half millennia ago, during a time known as as The Great Angevin Crusade, and features a follower of the man who would come to be known as Saint Drusus. Those idiots who worship my father,” Magnus couldn’t help sneering the word ‘father’, “were sweeping across what is now known as the Calixis Sector, pushing the enemies of that ridiculous state religion of theirs before them and ‘bringing light’ to worlds who’d forgotten all about Terra centuries ago.” He paused his narrative to go into a rant about fanaticism and pots calling kettles black, but eventually got back to his story.
“Amongst the followers of Drusus, was the Warlord Lorcanus Ryn, a free trader and captain of the Grand Cruiser known as ‘The Righteous Path’. In the course of Drusus’s crusade… and by crusade I mean unwarranted and merciless slaughter… Lorcanus scourged a dozen worlds or more, carving a bloody path across the sector… until he reached the world of Krystallian, which history records as the 73rd world to be brought to the light of the God-Emperor by that psychotic madman Drusus and his Khorne-blessed Crusade.”
I nodded to show I was listening as my eyes slowly adjusted to the searing madness of the warp before us. We were flying across the Immaterium without aid of a ship, propelled by Magnus’s raw psychic might and I found the place alien, but beautiful, like a four-dimensional Mandelbrot set. “You don’t have to convince me that the followers of the Ecclesiarchy are horrific monsters, Magnus. But you aren’t going to convince me that any of the forces of Chaos aren’t worse by orders of magnitude, and if you actually believe they are, you’re deluding yourself. But please, continue… you were speaking of Krystallian.”
“Err… yes. Krystallian. It was, so the story goes, an ancient colony of man, one which had long ago fallen to the so-called ‘heretical worship of false gods’ under the ‘treacherous’ caste of prophets known as the Talisar. Covered in glittering cloud temples that had been raised by the Talisar to the glory of ‘The Myriad of Faces’, it was a world of immense wealth and, to those savages of the Inquisition, blasphemous grandeur. It was also no match of the forces of Captain Lorcanus Ryn. He descended upon that world, filled with a fanatic’s zeal and, convinced his Emperor was behind him, swept away thousands of years of civilization in three days of fire and blood.”
“Of course he did,” I sighed. “I hate people sometimes. Let me guess… then came the looting?”
He seemed momentarily taken aback by dealing with someone as prosaic as I can be, but he grunted and continued. “Very much so. When the killing was finished and the corpse counters began tallying up the spoils, Lorcanus is said to have marvelled at the riches he had won, caring nothing for the blood soaked into every gaudy trinket. Never before had he seen such naked wealth, temples packed high with artifacts both rare and wondrous, statues of gold and gems, and shadowed vaults filled to the roof with ancient and forbidden archeotech.”
“Why do you call it that? Was it archeotech for him? Because you’re 11,000 years old, give or take, considering how screwed up time can be in the Warp. Did this stuff predate you?”
“You do realize that there were 30,000 years of human history before I was born, don’t you?”
“Actually, there were nearly 42,000 years, if you want to go back to the dawn of civilization to around the time your father was created,” I said dryly.
“Created?! Wait, you know how father came to be?!” He nearly steered us into a giant spinning pustule that must have been the size of Saturn, surprise suffusing his very being.
“Oh. Sure. I know all about you and your brothers and your father. Even how Tzeentch manipulated you into screwing over your father and brothers. I know about your childhood on Prospero, and Lorgar and his fanaticism, and Angron’s anger and Horus’s stupidity. I even know how Ahriman fucked up and turned so many of your Sons into empty husks.”
He flinched at that, but I continued. “I know many things. Many and many. As for your father… The Emperor of Mankind, and boy howdy did he have to be a jerk and a half to claim that title, was born when all the human psykers… the shamans of the prehistoric, pre-civilization days, merged themselves together into a single psychic entity… in the process stripping humanity of about 99% of its latent psychic potential since they failed to pass on their genes. Who knows if that was good or bad, considering that one of the reasons they were doing it was to protect humanity from the growing corruption of the Immaterium, thanks to the war between the Necrons and the Old Ones, and all the FUCKING ELVES! being fucking elves… and don’t get me started on the Orks. I hate this universe… it’s like a textbook in how to build a fucked up setting.”
“Not to sound like I doubt your words, but… how do you know all this?”
“Dude. I have seen some shit. I come from another universe entirely, one where a cult of beings known as Neckbeards spend all their time and energy arguing back and forth about which faction in your universe will win battles. They make faithful recreations of your battlefields and armies, then wage simulations of your battles across them. They make presentations in audio-visual format to educate the public about the minutiae of this entire world and to praise or mock each of the various dramatis personae of this universe… and thousands of others.”
“That… can’t be right! How would they know all these things?”
“My culture is one that… in order to entertain itself… spies into other realities and times to see the events that occur there.”
“And they have seen the events of our… my… this universe?”
“Indeed. Of several parallel versions of your universe, some more likely than others,” I kept myself from smiling. I might have lost the guarantee of the Occlumency perk, but I’d been a GM around telepaths for longer than ol One-Eye had been alive. And, to be honest, I wasn’t lying. Just bending the truth.
“So you know what happened? Everything?!” He sounded a little panicked by the idea.
“Not everything. I don’t know why your father ordered wolf-boy to kill your two missing siblings. I don’t know if Alpharius lives, or if he and Omegon were really traitors or secretly double agents. I don’t know of Robot Girlyman-”
He snorted so hard he nearly dropped me, “Did you just call my brother Roboute…”
“Oh. Sure. Either that or Rowboat. Frikkin Ultrasmurfs.”
“I do not know what smurfs are, but I sense you don’t like them,” the Daemon Prince commented dryly.
“You know how much you hate wolf-boy’s psychotic children? Well, there’s a group in my homeworld’s history called the Nazi’s. Smurfs were fictional characters designed by a wannabe nazi to teach children Nazi ideology. That ideology featured a deep and abiding hatred of my people, the Jews. What the Wolves did to Prospero, the Nazis did to my people. So… yeah… I don’t like smurfs.”
“I like you… you have a lot of hatred in you. Have you considered serving Tzeentch? Why are you laughing?”
“One of my companions is smarter and a better planner than Tzeentch… and I make her look stupid. You know how you’re massively reduced to be out of the warp? Same deal for me to be in this universe, it seems. But yeah. I don’t know the deep details of anything really, but I know a little bit about a lot of things in your reality. Like the fact that I’m pretty sure Rogal Dorn is hiding inside the Imperial Palace and Rowboat is slowly regenerating in stasis. It is entirely possible that, at this moment, the Captain-General of the Custodes is installing a vocoder in the Golden Throne so the Emperor can once again speak… or maybe that’s total fanfiction. Never can tell with this Universe. We who are not of the Neckbeard faith often call it ‘Grimderp’.”
“What is derp?”
“You know how you felt when you realized Tzeentch had tricked you into knocking a hole in your father’s defenses surrounding Terra? That, my young friend, is derp.”
“Oh… right… Derp. I… yes. I understand.”
“Cool. For future reference, I was born in the closing years of the 2nd millennia, maybe a scant handful of centuries after Khorne was born,” I patted his hand, “So when I say I’ve seen some shit… I’ve seen some shit. Good and bad. And done a lot of things I’m not particularly proud of. I’m made my share of Derp too. So I’m not feeling pity. I’m understanding your pain and guilt.”
“I do not feel guilt,” He muttered.
“Fine. Your embarrassment. Now, go back to telling me about the wealth of Krystallian.”
I think he was grateful for the change of topic, as he didn’t protest. “What happened next varies from report to report. Some say the wealth of Krystallian was more than mere rare metals and precious stones; that its people were also a prize, bred from a stock of genetically pure material and spared millennia of warp-taint. That Lorcanus sealed the cream of the crop in stasis coffins to be taken away to be trained as elite warriors or high class servants. Others report that the world was settled during the Dark Age of Technology and still harboured devices from that time within its cities and temples, secrets from that long forgotten era worth more than the mineral wealth of a hundred worlds,” he shrugged, bringing us down towards a vast spider-web cracked plain and a waiting atmospheric craft.
“Whatever the form of Krystallian’s wealth, Lorcanus was not content to merely sample it, nor did he trust his fellow crusaders to carry it away. He filled Righteous Path from stem to stern, tearing out gun decks and launch bays, marooning tens of thousands of his crew and filling the ship ‘til she was fair to bursting with plunder. Then he vanished, both into the warp and from the pages of history.”
“I take it you have some reason to believe that something specific came into his hands, something that might still be within one of the holds of the Righteous Path?”
He chuckled, nodding as we landed next to the grey bulk of a Thunderhawk Gunship. “Oh yes. Yes indeed.”
“And you believe your… scrying has located the ship?”
He paused, then sighed, shaking his shaggy head. “I believe I have located a place where we may begin the hunt.” He scooched his way into the Gunship and looked at the controls. “Do you happen to know how to pilot this thing?” he asked.
I looked up at the controls. “This is like a giant and a pixie trying to operate a craft sized for humans, isn’t it?” Clearly, this ship was sized for normal space marines, because Magnus was just too damned big to fit into the cockpit… and I’d have to stand on one of the seats just to see the controls. “Normally I’d ask if you couldn’t just TK the thing, but you’d have to remote presence into the cockpit, then TK, and even then, you’d have to maintain awareness… that’s it. Use Intellectus to take over the entire gunship.”
He blinked his solitary eye at me, “You seem to know a great deal about psychic powers for someone without them.”
“Normally, I’m one of the most powerful psykers around. You have no idea how frustrating it is not to be able to use my TK, PK, or TP.”
“Psychokinesis. Telekinesis is typically defined as mind over matter. Psychokinesis is usually mind over energy. Pyrokinesis is one flavor of PK. Normally, I’m a… the most powerful Cryokinetic you could conceive of.”
“I can conceive of a great many things, mortal.”
“Don’t call me that. That’s your knee-jerk desire to pigeonhole me as something you can conceptualize. I’m far closer to being one of your Chaos Gods than I am to being a mortal. When I say I’m a powerful CK, I mean it. I can freeze time and get colder than absolute zero. I have transcended the physics of cold and entered the conceptual realm,” I said it all in a level tone as I scrambled up into one of the massive chairs meant for massive dude-bros in massive power armor. They were exactly as comfortable as you might expect… i.e. not even vaguely. I also felt faintly sick. It’s hard getting the right level of braggadocio into your voice when you’ve lost fantastic cosmic powers and don’t know if they’ll ever return. “Anyway, Tall, Red, and Sexy, are we getting off the ground any time soon, or are you just going to…” I fell back into the oversized seat as the Thunderhawk lurched off the ground.
“Do not mock me!” El Cyclopes Rojas snarled, face contorting with the effort of being the transport as the Warp rippled and we dropped into real space.
“You really are tetchy, aren’t you?” I asked, looking at the doorway he couldn’t quite squeeze through. “Nothing I just said is untrue, or mockery. You are tall, you are red, and you are sexy. Kinda to be expected. Your dad was in prime condition for a human being, all 21 of you Primarchs were designed off his genome. You could use a haircut and a shave, but you’ve got all the right elements.”
“I. Am. A Daemon. Prince!” He roared, but I think he was blushing too.
“Well, sure. But some girls like power. Me? I like brains… er… smarts. And muscles. Not that I’m flirting with you. The size difference would make that a bit impractical… though I’d have to assume that, since you’re not associated with Slaanesh or Nurgle, you probably haven’t gotten laid in… actually, have you ever gotten laid? Hell, have any of your siblings ever gotten laid… except maybe Fulgrim. He’s Slaanesh’s favorite toy I’ll wager.”
“Do you always talk this much?” the fallen Primarch grumbled.
“You got anything else to do while we travel? Cause I don’t. You grabbed me from my world without so much as a data pad on which to play Angry Tau. I’m bored. What world are we going to?”
“Can’t you meditate or something?”
“Could. Don’t wanna.”
“Oh, for the… I don’t know what took your normal psychic powers but-” I felt a sharp sting deep in my brain and my senses exploded outward as Magnus focused his cyclopean gaze upon me. It was like waking up… or sobering up. I could feel the flow and pulse of… not just psychic power, but what must be the Warp itself flowing all around us, and I could feel mental facilities within myself waking as well, things I had known how to do, but which had been silenced somehow. My power was still much condensed, like one’s ability to think with a concussion, but I could feel my very synapses firing into eldritch light as the raw psychic… presence, not just of Magnus… but of this entire galaxy… began to filter into my perception. The galaxy itself was… alive. Insane, deeply deeply wounded, and undoubtedly dying, but alive.
I turned my inner eye back towards the place where Magnus had touched me and studied what he’d done, understanding it almost instinctively. I’d never done such a thing before, but as I studied it, I came to understand more and more. This was Biokinesis, or was it Biopathy? I couldn’t tell, but I could feel my control over it growing, expanding, burgeoning as I looked within myself, examining the flowering of pathways. I would be able to replicate this process.
I turned my gaze, both psychic and physical, to Magnus and said “Duuuuude. That was awesome!”
“Oh, sweet Tzeentch, you’re broadcasting. How are you doing this? I just awakened you! You should not be able to broadcast this quickly!”
“I am a Veteran of the Psychic Wars, buddy boy. I have been around the block a time or three. But thanks for the most excellent kick in the psychic pants. So… Jerazol? That’s the planet we’re heading to?”
“Did… did you just… That shouldn’t be possible,” One-Eye stared at me, flabbergasted, “I should not have dropped my defenses around you. And now I see that you’ve been keeping me out of your deeper thoughts as well. That’s an interesting trick. How’d… Veteran of the Psychic Wars?”
“Well, yeah. Plus, my first friend in your lovely galaxy was an Eldar Warlock. Keeping her out of my head was a full time occupation. But enough psychic dick measuring. You’re fifteen feet taller than me and I’m female. You’re going to win… really?” I looked at his confused face. “You’ve never heard the term dick measuring?”
“I am aware it is possible… but to what end?”
“Wow. Prospero must have been a weird place. Okay, when guys… you know… human males?” He nodded vaguely, having no idea where I was going with this. “Right… okay… this is really complex. Open your mind, I’m going to shunt you some knowledges.”
Looking distrustful, but then clearly slapping himself for thinking a mere slip of a psyker like me could do much against his might, he relaxed his defenses slightly, opening a conduit… which was an interesting idea that I’d have to remember. Through it, I slipped my entire knowledge base of human social interaction across hundreds of cultures… and a few memetic thoughts, just to see if they’d catch in big boy’s brain meats.
“So… this is a metaphorical measuring of penises, and not an actual quantitative survey of their lengths?” He asked after a few moments.
“That’s correct,” I said. “A contest to determine dominance between males based on the perception that size of genitalia has anything to do with… well, anything. It’s like assuming that a large nose somehow makes one qualified for leadership, or that the ability to put people to sleep by talking to them qualifies one to be a teacher.”
“You’re very sarcastic for one so small,” he commented.
I nodded. “Now, if you’re done trying to prove you can squish me like a bug, which at our current relative power levels is almost certainly true, can you please tell me about Jerazol. All I caught from your surface thoughts was the name.”
“Like Krystallian, it is a world with a tragic past, one also caused by the greed of man.” He began, his voice sonorous and almost sweet. “It was a verdant world, fertile and rich in natural wonders, and home to a primitive human culture that had slipped far from the technological might of those who had settled it once upon an age. That world and all its people were murdered for greed and spite.” He told the tale in soft words as we zoomed through the rippling void, approaching the murdered world.
Discovered by a Rogue Trader whose name did not survive the years, it was an ancient world, and one covered in ruins at the time of its discovery. This trader, a pious man and not as fanatical as most, was determined to bring the population back into the light and dominion of that gold-loving corpse, and began a process of civilizing the primitives while purging them of any trace of deviancy or corruption, real or imagined.
However, while this Trader was the first to discover Jerazol, he was not the last, for other explorers came to that doomed world, ones who believed that the primitives were hiding wonders of lost technology in warrens beneath the surface, warrens built by those long forgotten ancestors who had first come from across the stars. The explorers claimed that those machines were worth any price in blood and death, and when the nameless Rogue stood against them, they destroyed his ships, letting the wrecks fall from the sky like the burning tears of god. With the surface already in flames from the debris, those inhuman bastards then proceeded to bombard Jerazol, burning its surface to ash and choking the air with smoke and death.
“Did they find what they were looking for?” I asked, feeling the pressure of the giant’s rage as he remembered a similar act on his homeworld. He really needed to work on shielding his thoughts… and controlling his emotions.
“The tales do not agree. Some say they unearthed such wonders that they rose to the highest tiers of power within the imperium. Others say that they found only ash and bone and mud, and cursed the dreams that that brought them through void and madness to murder an entire world for naught. Regardless of the truth, the world of Jerazol stands in mute testimony to the price some men will pay in search of riches.” He pointed out the viewscreen ahead of me and I looked, and there I beheld Murdered Jerazol.
It was dead, as dead as he had implied, and I wondered at that, even as I said, “There is no crime so terrible, no act so monstrous that man cannot justify it through greed or faith… but shouldn’t it have grown back by now?”
“What do you mean?”
“Ash. Mud. Bone. Blood. Something, some life should have survived the burning, even if it was just bacteria. Ash and Mud make an excellent growth medium. Have you ever seen a forest burn?”
“Many of them,” Magnus growled.
“Yeah? I’ll bet,” I said dryly, “But have you ever watched what happened afterwards?”
“Afterwards? After the forest burns there is nothing but death and ashes.”
“Wow… you’re rather spectacularly clueless there.” I shook my head. “And Don’t growl at me. I’m serious. Death begets life. Almost always. Life, as you should know, even if you’re not a follower of Nurgle, is extremely resilient. Forests burn all the time. They’re made of wood and exhale oxygen. That’s practically asking for a fire. All it takes is a spark… like lightning, and a dry forest will burn and burn. And then the forest will flourish again. Forest fires burn all that yummy forest mast, the detritus, the leaves and twigs and fallen branches… burns all that up… and the undergrowth too. Kills some trees, cooks some animals. And then life comes rushing back in. That ash is fertilizer. The sunlight streams down through all those now open spaces and the seeds within the ground, stimulated by the heat, burst forth to grow and grow and grow. This world,” I motioned with my hand as we descended through the atmosphere, “Should have sprung back by now. This was hundreds of years ago, right?”
Magnus hrmed, then nodded, “At least 600.”
I nodded too, “This ash? It’s fresh. I think this planet has active volcanoes. That’s the only thing that’s keeping the planet from recovering. It’s in a volcanic cycle. Now, that could have been caused by bombardment… but it seems unlikely that a bombardment from 600 years ago would have destabilized the planet’s geotechnics enough to keep volcanoes spewing toxic ash into the atmosphere for this long. THis level of tectonic instability is usually caused by a large gravity source… What are we looking for here?”
“A cogitator from one of the Rogue Trader’s ships. It is said he had a lead on finding the Righteous Path.”
“This is from one of the ships that went down?” I asked and he nodded as he flew the ship through a pyrotechnic cloud. “Any chance its transponder is still working?”
“Emergency Beacon? Crashed ships tend to have them. They trigger automatically if the vessel crashes, sending out a Search and Recovery signal.”
“Oh. Huh… maybe?”
I looked around for a communications receiver, and found it high on the dashboard. With a leap, I jumped up there and, careful not to step on anything, I reached it and switched it on. Over the last three years I’ve become generally familiar with the local technology, which (thankfully) is highly standardized. It took a bit of tuning, but I managed to locate the general distress band and, there, faintly, was a centuries old distress beacon. A bit of triangulation later, and I was able to trace it to the source.
We landed outside a large cave entrance. “You’re sure it’s in there?” Magnus asked.
“Dude. It is basic geometry. We took a bearing, flew 100 klicks, took another bearing, and boom, where they cross is where the thing is. It’s about 3 klicks down and your own psychic powers say this is the only way to get down there without digging. So, let’s go. Want me to hold your hand?”
He glowered at me, then rolled his eye, and lifted me onto his head. “Hold on to one of my horns.” His hair smelled a bit, and I sneezed, but grabbed the horn
“You need to shampoo more often!” I yelled.
“What is shampoo?”
“Do you ever take that armor off?”
“It’s part of me.”
“How do you keep clean under it?”
“It is self cleaning,” He said, but he sounded a little doubtful.
“You totally should take it off and soak in a nice tub of hot water for a while. Let your skin breath. I can’t believe I’m giving a Primarch hygiene lessons. Are all you Space Marines this dense?”
“We don’t need to-”
“Need ain’t got nothing to do with it. You do it because you can. Bathing feels good. Humans were not meant to be sealed in tin-cans for years at a time. Duck!” He ducked as a large stalactite that had been on his blind side nearly smashed me off his head. “Being 20 feet tall can’t be easy.”
“Normally I spend all my time in the Immaterium where I can just change how tall I am by thinking about it.”
“Can’t you do that here?”
“Haven’t tried. Not like I’m trying to hide what I am.”
“Uh… you are explicitly trying to hide what you are… from the Universe!”
“True. But the Universe isn’t going to be fooled if I make myself shorter.”
“Fair enough… I have a question.”
“This is going to annoy me, isn’t it?”
“Probably,” I shrugged. “Have you ever, you know, tried not being Evil?”
“Evil and Good are relative. I do not consider myself to be evil.”
“Yeah. Yeah. But you certainly don’t think of yourself as Good, do you? You do realize that the Ruinous Powers are cosmic horrors that would see humanity twisted, warped, consumed, or eradicated, right?”
“What is Humanity to me? I was never truly human, was I?”
I blinked at that, then sighed, “We’re all human. Even the Eldar and Tau. Human is more than being a member of homo sapiens. It’s about caring what happens to others, looking out for each other, and… uh… big guy, is it just me or does this path seem remarkably free of ash and mud and… you know… the debris of six centuries?”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s a fair amount of wind out there, right?” He nodded and I swayed on my perch, “Well it should have blown all sorts of crap down here… and the ground slopes downward pretty steadily. So there should be several centimeters of garbage all along this path… like there is over there,” I pointed a psychic searchlight over one of the sides of the cavern, then panned it to the other edge, “And there.” Both fringes of the cavern were at least seven cm deep in all sorts of junk… but the path down the center, a path about 5 meters wide, was smooth rock.
“Someone’s been here,” He muttered.
“Someone’s been here a lot,” I agreed.
“And recently,” he grunted, sniffing the air.
I tried doing the same, then realized I was wearing my Eldar Helmet… then wondered how I’d been able to smell Magnus in the first place. Must have been a psychic smell.
“Can you send your senses down to explore?”
“Not as limited as I am right now,” he said, then thought to me ~Perhaps we should attempt to be more silent?~ It was a dig, but it was also a good suggestion.
~Right. I’ll shut up now… but you do realize that you set off every seismic sensor around every time you take a step right?~
He began to float with an aura of smugness, not far off the ground, but enough so that he wasn’t stomping any more. ~Better?~
~If you’ve got it, flaunt it,~ He replied, and I smirked. That had been one of my memes, and one the giant git was unlikely to use on his own. I’d have to see if the others had stuck.
It took less than an hour to make our way down to where the beacon was slowly pinging away, but we found that what had cleared the way was poised between us and our prize. It was a vast underground laboratorium, one surrounded by hulking, nearly motionless figures. They were nearly the size of a space marine, and comprised of dead flesh and cybernetics, and I was glad I still had my helmet on.
“Gholams,” Magnus grunted, and I shuddered.
~These things aren’t naturally occurring. Someone has to be making them,~ I pointed out, and he nodded, indicating the central part of the subterranean complex, where a kind of hutment was set up, a cloud of noxious vapor oozing out of its various structures.
~I believe our Cogitator is inside, along with whoever is making these things,~ Big Boy pointed out, only a little needlessly.
~Great… So… here’s my idea. You provide a distraction, I’ll sneak in and grab the thing. Hopefully we won’t run into Blayce or Steinmun…~ My head suddenly throbbed with pain and I missed what Magnus said next. ~WHat?~
~I thought ‘Who are Blayce and Stienmun?’ but you seemed to be suffering a minor warp seizure. Are you alright?~
~I… don’t know. I mean… I know I know the names…. But I don’t know where I know them from… I think something is blocking my memory of the last place I went to before this. Some of my companions are missing and… never mind. Can you lead these monsters on a merry chase while I work my mojo inside?~
He just regarded me with that baleful eye and grunted, his phoenix-like wings rustling in the silence. Then he handed me a small knife… almost toothpick small for him, but an almost comically large shortsword in my smaller grip. Thankfully, my hand fit around the handle and it wasn’t too heavy. ~Careful. It’s very sharp.~
~Okay, fine. I’ll meet you back at the ship in two hours. And I’ll send up a yelp if I run into trouble.~ I dropped lightly from his shoulder, patting my Scorpion to make sure it was still there, then, hugging the edge of the master cavern, I made my way along the back of the hutment, looking for a point of entry where I wouldn’t be observed.
At some point, a rock from the ceiling of the cavern had impacted the back of the largest hut, caving in a small section of the otherwise snugly butted plates that covered it. Using the knife I pried at the edge slowly… and discovered just how sharp it was as it sheared through a plasteel bolt like a vibro-fork through jello (I have kids and somewhat insane companions with technical skills). Well… that could be useful.
Carefully, I cut my way into the hut, low down to the ground, and found myself crawling into a kind of store room. It was all automated, and the shelves were loaded with components both biological and mechanical… It was like being in a combination junkyard and morgue… and I can’t imagine it smelled nice. Thankfully, my armor was environmentally sealed. I watched as a robotic arm sailed overhead, plucked a jar of eyes off a shelf without so much as a pause, then zipped back out of the room. I low crawled, keeping to the shadows, towards the exit the arm had taken.
Beyond that portal, I beheld the workshop of a madman. The lunatic in question looked like a heavily augmented tech-priest, robed in a black monk’s robe that had seen better years, and surrounded by a veritable cloud of black-iron and brass mechanical tentacles… I think they’re called mechadendrites in the lore… each holding some surgical or engineering tool, be it a scalpel, callipers, sparkwelder, or dremel grinder. What little flesh I could see was necrotic gray and laced with wires, and his? face was covered by a silver skull mask. In several places, bone was showing through the rents in his robe, and for a moment I considered unloading my entire magazine on the abomination… I had the sneaking suspicion that the lore would have called him something like a Heretech (heretic + tech?)… Games Workshop was lame like that.
He was building yet another of the gholam-things, and muttering to himself as he did so… when there was a massive explosion outside that shook the cavern and a psychically painful roar of rage pulsed through my ears and mind. Oh… good lord… somehow I knew that lunatic primarch had summoned something… and dollars to donuts, it was a Bloodthirster of Khorne… because when you need shit destroyed, and serve Tzeentch… you might as well call up a Bloodthirster of Khorne. Fucking psycho. Bloodthirsters were the fucking Generals of Khorne, Chaos God of Battle and Slaughter since the time of the Catholic Reformation! Then again… it was one of them against several hundred cyborg-frankenstein… maybe big red knew what he was doing?
The crazy man-machine looked up at the roar and hustled to the front of his lab, crying “I don’t have time for this! Minions! Deal with the… oh my… that’s very large. Minions! Subdue the mutant! I must have samples!”
I pulled out the tracker and, making certain the sound was off (though how anyone would be able to hear over the screaming of metal and rock and the roar of… I wasn’t certain it was Bloodthirster… it could have been something else… but I wasn’t going to have a look… I had to find the Cogitator before the battle caused the entire cave complex to come crashing down. At that thought, a rock the size of my torso came smashing through the roof and crushed the doorway I’d been standing in a moment before. The impact knocked a stack of documents on one of the tables over and a folded piece of parchment which looked quite ancient slid across the floor and bumped into my foot.
Out of idle curiosity, I scooped it up and stuck it in a hip pouch, but then the tracker blinked to life and indicated that the Cogitator was down about five meters and in the next room over. Finding the door wasn’t a problem, and (thanks to Magnus’s knife) getting through it wasn’t much of a problem either. Inside, I found a large hole in the floor, and what looked like an emergency reactor from a starship’s bridge assembly (I’d seen a lot of schematics in the last three years), with an orb about the size of a bowling ball in the center of one wall.
Hoping the armor was at least partly radiation resistant, I skirted the edge of the pit and, using various computer bits as handholds, pried the Cogitator core out of the wall unit. At once, of course, the entire reactor went into scram mode and an alarm went up. Swearing, I scrambled back up the wall to the door and was through it in 3 seconds flat… where upon, I ran right into Dr. Fuckedinstein.
“Well. Well… Well. A tiny Eldar… thief. Trying. To. Steal from me. Most… inconsiderate. Give. Me. The Core. and. Your death-”
He didn’t get any further as I tossed it as his face. While the mechadendrites were blocking his vision trying to snag it, I pulled the Scorpion out and, pointing it center mass, unloaded 320 hypervelocity monomolecular disks at him. The range was minimal and the disks hadn’t even begun to drop before they were ripping through him and his tentacles.
I caught the core and jinked left, slashing at robodoc’s leg with Magnus’s blade as I passed. If, somehow, he wasn’t dead, hopefully he’d have a harder time catching up to me on one leg. “Can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man,” I snarked as I rushed passed him, heading out the front and hoping there wasn’t a titanic and extremely angry Daemon right outside. I couldn’t go the way I’d come, as that way was blocked.
Exiting the door, the sound of freak-boy’s mechanical arms scrabbling at the floor giving way to the roars of rage and battle, I found the towering rage monster half-swarmed by the gholams as it cried “Blood for the Blood God! Skulls for the Skull-” And then was cut off as a Gholam flung itself headfirst into the beast’s mouth, choking the collective foe without care for its own survival.
I didn’t stay to watch the festivities as the tide of implacable unliving abominations swarmed up the ten meter daemon’s scaled hide, digging at it with crushing claws and power axes. I ran for it, using my newly awakened sense of my own physiology to pump my system faster, pushing my heart rate up and increasing the rate at which my lungs were processing oxygen. It wasn’t anything major, but I could tell it was having an effect, though I was burning calories at a prodigious rate… and good thing too, as I could hear and feel the heavy thud-thud-thud of at least a score of Gholams pounding after me.
Bursting out of the cave, I staggered under the first shiver of fatigue, but kept running beneath the hellish skyscape of this world, killed by people or geology, who could say, but the cautionary tale was the better one, so I’d let it stand. I pulled out the tracker and, clicking it into transmit mode, announced “Redbird, Redbird, coming in hot. You better be ready to lift off. I have the egg.”
A moment after I released the transmit button, Magnus’s voice replied, “What? Who is Redbird, why are you hot, and what egg?” I groaned. At least he’d known what lift off meant, right?
“You are Redbird, coming in hot means I’m being pursued, and the egg is what we came here for so have the engines ready to get us out of here because there are at least twenty mother fucking undead cyborgs chasing me and I think they’re gaining.”
“Gaining what? And I don’t think undead cyborgs have sex… or mothers,” Captain Oblivious said.
“YOU’RE NOT AN IDIOT! STOP ACTING LIKE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT AN EXPLETIVE IS!” I roared into the com… okay, squeaked. I’m not really big enough to roar and I was pretty out of breath.
“If you say so,” he sounded smug now. “And don’t call me Redbird. My name is-”
I jammed the transmit button, wiping out what he was saying and holding it down until I saw the Thunderhawk ahead of me. The hatch, thankfully, was open, and I dived in, yelling, “GET US AIRBORNE!” and muttering, “Dolt.”
Once we were well away from Jerazol and back into the ‘safety’ of the Warp, I motioned for Magnus to lean down and then punched him in the nose as hard as I could. “We. Are. Trying. Not. To. Be. Noticed. You. Great. Feathery. Dumb-ASS!” He growled and I growled back. “Don’t use your real name! Names have power! Didn’t Tzeentch tell you that?!”
“I’m too powerful to be controlled by my name! Well, except maybe by those who already know it,” he allowed after a faint pause.
“That’s on a normal day, you numb-skull. You left most of your power inside that ritual circle in your lab. And what were you doing summoning a Greater Daemon… of a God you don’t work for!?”
“It was funny, wasn’t it. I believe this is what is called a ‘win-win’?” He sounded smug again.
“Maybe. But aren’t you afraid Khorne will figure out… never mind… Khorne… figure things out… ha… Got another question for you.”
“You never do shut up. Is this typical of people from where you come from, or are you just spectacularly annoying on purpose?”
“Little of both. But, honestly, how could you side with them after all they did to you?”
“Tzeentch showed me the truth, Father lied to me. Tzeentch gave me a home. Father destroyed mine. Tzeentch gave me freedom to study and learn and embraced my talent and power. Father wanted only obedience and hated and feared my power and knowledge.”
“Well… yeah. But it’s not an either-or statement. You don’t have to serve Tzeentch merely because you refuse to serve your father.”
“Oh, yes? Where, exactly, would you recommend I go for protection from Father’s insane, murderous, fanatical, howling death-commandos?”
I had to admit, I didn’t have an answer for that one. “Huh. Good point. So, where next? And is there anything to eat around here? I’m starving!”
He looked at me and blinked his one eye, “Have you been… bioboosting yourself?”
“I was running from gholams. They took down that Bloodthirster, by the way. I don’t know how many of them it took, at least a hundred, but they just swarmed the thing like ants.” He smirked and I waved a hand in front of his face. “So yes, I was bioboosting or whatever. I had to run fast and I don’t exactly have any body fat to burn for reserve calories, so I probably did some damage.”
He considered me, then hrmed, “Very well… we will stop and get some… food.” He said the word food with the kind of disdain only a being who hadn’t eaten in 11,000 millenia could impart.
“Excellent,” I tossed him the Cogitator, then flopped back on one of the acceleration couches in the main cabin, then mmd? as something crinkled. Oh, right, the parchment. Extracting it, I unfolded it and read the ancient spidery text. “Hoi… Magnaboots. Who’s Rathbor Lathimon?”
“Is this a trick question?”
“I have no idea. Why?”
“Cause you signed this Warrant of Trade for him.”
“I did?” He looked up from the Cogitator and the document floated out of my hand. “Oh. Wow. This is old.”
“Yeah. I got that from the date. That’s what, about 23 years before the shit hit the fan?”
“If you mean the Horus Heresy… yes. More or less. 23 years before Istvan IV.”
“The Dropsite Massacre… started the whole thing, more or less, right?”
“So history would have it.”
“So, who is Rathbor and what the hell is a Warrant of Trade? Is that like permission to-”
He cut me off. I mean, I was rambling a bit, but still. Men. Humph. “Rogue Traders had, perhaps still have, authority from the Emperor himself… or one of the Primarchs… to conduct business on behalf of the Empire out beyond the boundaries of the Empire. I don’t know if things have changed. I don’t exactly pay attention to such things.”
“That piece of parchment is 11,000 years old… maybe it’s worth a few credits.”
“Maybe. You can ask when we get to Scintilla,” He agreed.
“What’s Scintilla?” I asked, feeling the need for sleep washing over me… I wondered if I could do something about that, but yawned so hard my jaw popped and I forgot.
“Capital of the Calixis Sector… that’s where we are. It’s a Hive World. They should have food there.”
“Don’t Hive worlds…” yawn, “Import all their…” yawn, “food from Agri- oh… right… imported food… have food. Good call… aren’t you a giant and I’m dressed like a midget…” yawn, “eldar?”
“No one will notice a thing. Trust me,” he reassured me, but I was already asleep (my memory implant doesn’t stop recording everything my senses pick up, just because I’m unconscious.) As it turns out… he was right.
Later on, as we were sitting at a small restaurant for the very wealthy on one of Scintilla’s orbital space stations, I looked over the hologuide to the Calixis sector and the Kronus Expanse that I’d ‘bought’ from a shop. I hadn’t actually paid for it, but making the man behind the counter believe I had was bone simple
“Purity Lathimon is the Explorer and Rogue Trader who opened the way to the Kronus Expanse, which lies outside the reach of the Astronomicon,” I read, ignoring Magnus’s flinch at the mention of the giant psychic navigation beacon his father was generating even though he’d been dead or mostly dead for 11,000 years. It was powered by burning out the souls of 1,000 psykers every day of every one of those years and was essentially the longest and loudest death scream in history. “The last known member of the Lathimon dynasty was Jerazo Lathimon, who disappeared… oh, for fuck’s sake.”
“What?” Magnus asked, sipping the hot cocoa I’d ordered for him and badgered him into trying. He was on his fifteenth cup… good thing we weren’t actually paying for this… that stuff cost 300 credits a cup.
“Jerazol. You said the planet had been defended by a Rogue Trader whose name had been lost to records, right?” He nodded doubtfully. “Jerazo Lathimon. Jerazo L. Jerazol. These people are fucking idiots.”
“Oh. Yes. Well… they are only human.”
“Your father was only human,” I snapped, petulantly… then paused. “Hey. Have you ever considered that your father was, in fact, only human?”
“What’s your point?”
“Human beings make mistakes. Errors in judgement. Poor choices. Sure, he’s like the third worst parent ever, but still… he was trying to do the right thing.”
“You were trying to do the right thing and warn him,” I pointed out softly.
“I failed. Change the subject,” He growled, then looked at the small stack of dishes I’d plowed my way through. “Is that a normal amount of food for a person of your size to eat?”
“No. This is about 7 large meals worth. I’m stockpiling and restoring expended nutrients. And we’ll need to buy… pick up, rather… supplies for at least a month. Plus, I want to find out if this thing’s worth anything.” I tapped the heavy duty slipcase I’d picked up for the ancient document.
“Why would it be? Rathbor is long dead. So are Purity and Jerazo.”
“Because this thing,” I tapped the hologuide this time, “indicates that Rogue Trader Warrants are handed down through family lines. If Jerazo was the last Lathimon, it’s possible his heir might be entitled to use his Warrant.”
“In my experience, bureaucracy does not move fast enough to make that worthwhile. You can look into it later. We need to get moving,” He grumbled.
“Fiiiine. Have you figured out where the ship is?”
“Not yet,” He snarled. “This thing’s records are damaged. I’m only getting part of the map,” He squinted at the small screen. “Who or what is Grace?”
“Well then, I’m going to the Hall of Records while you tinker with that Cogitator,” I said, rising. “Maybe they’ll know who Grace is there.” I didn’t leave a tip… but then again, I didn’t pay either. The waiter wouldn’t remember serving us anyway.
Inside the Hall, I took a number and wandered around the large and imposing lobby while Magnus pretended to be human sized and futzed with the device, trying to pry its secrets from half-rotted circuits. On one wall was a collection of wanted posters, and I drifted over to have a look… and froze. There, in black and white… well, green and black 3-D hologram, was Frankendweeb… Arch Heretek (told youuuuu!) Magos Vathek, renegade member of the Adeptus Mechanicus, serial killer, spree killer, wanted dead or very dead on half a dozen worlds and by the Inquisition and the Adeptus Mechanicus. That was a very large reward… shame I hadn’t thought to collect his head. I was still studying the image when my number was called.
“Yeth? Hello?” the man behind the high desk (his deskplate ID’d him as Augustus Zhang) said, voice supercilious. He looked down over the edge of the desk. “Can I help you child?” he asked as he focused rheumy eyes on mine.
“I have a document you might help me with, and my guardian wanted to know if you know of a planet named Grace?”
I slid the Trade Warrant across as the old git turned and yelled over his shoulder “Lebrin! Ith there a planet named Grathe? No. Yeth. With a Thee. Hold on, Lebrin ith thecking the recordth.” His lisp was the kind of annoying affectation that many people in minor positions of authority adopt for no good reason. While Lebrin did so, my man Agustus here carefully extracted the age brittle warrant and unfolded it… then went very very pale.
“Ah. That is… Lady Trader… I… Lathimon? You?” He had totally forgotten his lisp, “But it’s been centuries!”
I smile and shrugged, “Engine Trouble. What can I say. Old Man Jerazo ran into a spot of bother.”
“Ahem… yes… I… it might take a few… years?” He tugged his collar nervously, looking around and focusing on the glowering, towering figure of Magnus (who was down to merely 9 feet of solid grumpy, complete with horned helmet, giant red mane, and eyepatch.), swallowed hard before continuing, “to get your family’s assets out of probate. Th… there’s procedure… Lebrin! Get the forms for a returning Dynast!”
“Returning Dynast, man! Are you deef?! The Lathimons are back!” Mr Zhang bellowed, making me cringe at the sound.
The sound of a crate falling and cracking outside could clearly be heard and I rolled my eyes… well, I gave it 20 minutes before the gossip would be known halfway across the sector and the hyenas would be gathering… shit. And now they’d know we were heading for Grace… assuming it was a planet.
A man who must be Lebrin hustled forward, holding a stack of papers and a starchart. He looked nervous and it didn’t take a telepath to know he’d already transmitted the information about Lathimon and Grace to an information broker. I was having a harder time with telepathy than I was with biopathy for some reason… and I still couldn’t manage more than a dozen grams or so with TK… but even so, I could tell he was looking for more details to share and thinking about how many drinks he could get out of the information. Thankfully, the psychic disguise Magnus was generating would make his reports somewhat unreliable.
I handed the starchart to Magnus and filled out the paperwork, signing my name as ‘Sigismonda Lathimon III’. It was an outright lie and for some reason I felt a little bad about that, but I pushed the minor treachery aside. Survival in this harsh universe held a higher demand than honesty. I had people relying upon me and my duty to them was clear. And anyway, I could be Sigismonda Lathimon III… I had no other native name.
Taking my Warrant back, I nodded and Magnus made them convinced I’d paid the proper fees and given them a hefty bribe too… then we were out onto the street. “We should get a better transport than that Thunderhawk,” I said.
“Why? We don’t need a Warp Engine or Gellar field. My presence allows us to move through the warp with ease.”
“Are you planning on transporting me back to my world with my share of the loot?”
“Oh. Yes. We should get you a transport… something with very small controls.”
I kicked him in the shin. Still, within the day we were on our way towards Grace, me standing on the command deck of a five kilometer long Conquest class Star Galleon that Magnus claimed had been lost in the Warp a couple thousand years ago and would not be missed. The enormous and somewhat shabby ship showed some clear evidence of having been recently scrubbed clean of… something. My suspicions that I was helping the devil find something truly dangerous grew.
Not only was Magnus willing to go out of his way and put himself at risk for this prize, but the forces of Chaos had clearly seized this ship for some nefarious purpose… but then again, maybe he was trying to butter me up? Who knows. Still, Magnus already knew where Paradise was, clearly, and he had to be certain that I’d have this ship searched from one end to the other for traces of Chaos or sabotage. Where I’d get the crew needed to run this thing as more than just a skeleton crew, I’d have to worry about later, but my warrant and a little… pushing from Magnus had got me enough crew to keep the ship functional, but 500 crewmen was a very very long way short of the 65,000 plus I’d need.
Still, I was now a Rogue Trader, Captain Lady Sigismonda Lathimon III, commander of the Transport ‘Faustian Bargain’ (originally named The Litany of Litanies-Litany… a horrifically bad name if ever there was one). If it was bad luck to rename a ship, it was a price I’d pay. If she needed some hefty maintenance… well, that was another price that would have to be paid.
“So, Grace? Any idea what we’re getting into here?”
“Apparently, this was an outpost of the Rogue Trader Aspyce Chorda… and not a nice one. The world Grace is a storm-world, constantly wracked with hurricanes and covered only in simple fungal life, though it must be hardy fungus to survive the constant lightning and freezing hail. The planet is also extremely mountainous from all reports.”
“That’s all there is the official reports,” the cyclopes said.
“And your… sorcery? What has it revealed?”
“Ah. Yes,” he smiled, “There the tale gets interesting. Grace was a colony world, founded not for the expansion of my father’s dominion, but rather to serve the greed and arrogance of Aspyce Chorda. The planet was home to extremely wealthy exiles from the Imperial nobility and any number of extremely successful criminals… the distinction between the two classes being slim indeed.” He and I shared a smirk. He might be… evilish, but of all the Traitor Primarchs, Magnus was also the smartest and most sarcastic. If his mere presence wouldn’t eventually damn me to mutation and madness, we might have been friends. Ah well.
“The planet was their sanctuary from bloody wars, vengeful rivals, and the iron fist of Imperial Justice. It was, for a time, a paradise of the wicked… But that was decades ago. Aspyce swelled her coffers accepting fugitives to Grace and giving them leave to build armoured palaces there. And, at further ruinous cost, she provided her exiles with illegal slaves, the finest foods, and allowed their spies and agents to pass to and from Imperial space in the holds of her ships. But Grace was a pleasurable and beautiful refuge. Like a Hive World, it had no capacity to produce its own food.”
I shuddered. “Warp Storm?” I asked, referring to the periodic and unpredictable navigational hazards that, from time to time, isolated systems or even entire sectors from outside contact. The worst Warp Storm in history, that one attendant with the birth of Slaanesh and the death of the Eldar Empire (and nearly the extinction of the Eldar as a race) had caused the Dark Age of Technology that had seen isolated so many human worlds all across the galaxy between the 20th and 30th millennia and necessitated the Emperor’s Grand Crusade to reunite humanity’s scattered tribes.
“Exactly. A storm destroyed the supply vessels and sealed passage to Grace. It was as if Father had passed judgement upon the world. For a time, the exiles and criminals contented themselves with the false hope that supplies would come…”
“And when they did not, they turned on one another, right? Sent their vassals to loot and burn each others’ palaces, strip them of supplies and food?”
“Precisely. In time, only a few of the once numerous palaces were left, and they had been transformed into stark fortresses against each other. When even raiding could not feed those who remained…”
“They started eating each other. First the dead, then those who still lived.” I felt sickened.
“You’ve heard this story before?”
“More than once. Yes. So we have to go into crumbling palaces filled with degenerate cannibals armed to the teeth and hardened by decades of constant brutal fights for survival?”
“You forgot to mention that those degenerates are equipped with heirloom weapons and armor forged by the greatest and most skilled techpriests of the Imperium,” he grinned hugely.
“Oh. Did I? Silly me. Do we have any idea which of these fortresses holds the cogitator we need?”
“In my estimation, we need only to search where the resistance is strongest.”
“Well, that’s simple, isn’t it?” I said, rolling my eyes.
Three and a half days later, we dropped out of the Warp near the planet, only to discover a number of ships in orbit. Some of them were clearly derelict, having been lured in by a distress beacon (one we quickly determined was not being generated by the Cogitator we were searching for). The rest, however, constituted a small fleet of transport vessels gathered together for mutual defense in the northern latitudes.
Parking the Faustian Bargain behind Grace’s smaller moon, Magnus and I took the Thunderhawk down to the surface, plunging through the cloud layer on an oblique course that would bring us towards where Magnus claimed he could sense some kind of daemonic presence. It was as good a lead as any.
What we found was that one of the palace compounds had been rebuilt and was now playing host to some kind of insane hunting party, a fact we managed to ascertain by sneaking near the perimeter and snatching up one of the sentries.
The sentry, whose name was Bombastus Vaugh, had been a small time thug and paid killer on one of the sector’s Hive Worlds before this, but had somehow ended up in the employ of one Myrchella Sinderfell, who paid him well to make sure that none of the freaks outside the compound managed to sneak in, and none of the freaks inside the compound managed to sneak out. His description of her ‘court’ included chaos cultists, known pirates, heretics and hereteks, xenos, mutants, abominations, Dark Eldar, psykers, torturers, sadists, murderers, and all manner of wicked and evil beings. Apparently, they’d come to Grace for a spot of that oldest of human depravity, hunting their fellow men, figuring that the insane cannibals of Grace would make for good sport, and the rich treasures of the world’s many palaces might help pay for the endless debauched parties. As for the Cogitator, Mr. Vaugh knew nothing.
He had, however, been exceedly pleased at being allowed to engage in his psychopathic tendencies in the Sinderfell employ, relishing every ounce of pain he got to inflict and, even more, the praise she gave him when he did a particularly good job of it. Even the cannibalistic madmen of Grace hadn’t (quite) deserved the tortures that Myrchella’s court had put them through after their capture.
For his crimes, I granted Bombastus the Emperor’s Mercy, and we proceeded to infiltrate the palace of Myrchella Sinderfell… I will not relate the… horrors we saw within, but let us just say that De Sade would have been proud and Slaanesh impressed. The wealth of the palace was beyond luxurious, delving deep into the realm of debauched, and the sheer aura of pain and suffering was an assault on my psychic senses.
~We didn’t bring enough high explosives,~ I muttered mentally.
~We didn’t bring any high explosives. But we could try pyrokinesis… well I could.~ He smirked at me, making me frown, as the last time I’d tried it, I’d singed off my eyebrows. Still, while my reawakened psychic powers were developing at a rate that astounded Magnus, it was clear that somehow my specializations had changed. I could generate minor PK effects if I tried, and had decent TP and TK for the average psyker, but my biological control, something I’d never used before this jump, was maturing almost as fast as I could think of new uses for it. I was already faster, stronger, and stealthier than I had any business being… and I was able to sense the life signs of anyone nearby… and that radius was growing.
I could also compel truth-serum-like honesty from those I touched. Which was coming in quite handy… as was the ability to enervate targets simply by looking at them. I could also do the Sith Choke thing, which was way too much fun… and that was an issue. My nascent empathy was picking up the insanity and bloodlust of this house of horrors as we moved deeper and deeper, killing everyone we crossed the path of like it was one of the old stealth games I used to play. Not only would leaving anyone we encountered alive be a terrible idea, but absolutely none of them deserved mercy aside from a swift death… at least according to Magnus. I let him do the head peeking while I tried to keep their wretched thoughts out of my own mind.
After about four hours we succeeded in finding the Cogitator. It had been tossed, along with a great deal of other random mechanical junk, into half a hundred odd cargo pods. There were ancient weapons, archeotech, bits and pieces of cybernetics, datapads, comm units, and much much more. Part of me wanted to load it all up and sell it for profit, but that wasn’t my current commission, so I just snagged a grenade belt and a heavy bolt pistol that looked like a work of art and strapped it to my back. The grenades… those I used to booby trap our backtrail as we made our way out of the palace.
As we moved, the howls of alarms began to go up and Magnus and I shared a look that said, “Busted?” But before we could panic, a cool, cruel voice came through the Palace’s PA system.
“Hello, my lovelies! It’s another wonderful night and time for some sport… though from the number of corpses my guards have found, I’d say some of you have gotten an early start,” she chuckled dryly. “But please, my sweets, join me in the gallery for refreshments before we begin our nightly entertainment. And, if it’s guests who’ve come to join in the fun, why, of course, you’re invited too.”
Magnus frowned. ~Does she know we’re here or not?~
~I don’t know. These people are so fucked in the head that they might honestly be confused as to whether or not some of their number are killing the others or not. But I don’t think we should take her up on her-~
There was an explosion as one of my triplines was disturbed.
Magnus said, not thought, said, “We should go.” and with that we began running for the exit… which turned out to have been barred and was guarded by a dozen heavily armed and armored pirates.
As Magnus grew larger and plunged towards the three on the left, I drew my bolter and, despite the incredible recoil, began firing it into the three on the right. It staggered one of them, killed a second outright as it ripped her head clean off, and I was about to level it at the third when someone grabbed me from behind… someone with four arms and a psychic stench that made me want to retch.
I felt my armor compress as the thing began to squeeze me and, without thinking, I grabbed one of those arms with my left hand… and purple lightning arced from my hand into the creature, blasting the flesh from its bones as the bioelectrical discharge superheated the water inside my assailant to instant vapor. It dropped me with a howl and I landed, catlike, then spun and put a bolt center mass. I needed more rounds for my scorpion, but without Carwyn, I had no idea where to get more. Maybe I should find some Eldar.
As if summoned by the thought, two Dark Eldar lept down from above, their wraithbone armor glistening as they danced with that particularly deadly grace that typified the truly ancient master. I pointed a finger at one of them, and whispered “BURN.” and he convulsed, grabbing his head and screaming as blood erupted from his eyes and ears… and then… he was consumed from within as fire flashed from inside.
I staggered at the hits to my energy reserves… and then again as I felt several psychic presences pushing in on me. That nearly was it for me, as the remaining Dark Eldar took the opening and lunged in for a strike, but I’d been in an awful lot of fights in my time, and even staggered, I was still supernaturally fast. I smashed the palm of my gun hand into the D’Eldar’s chin, the bolter falling towards the ground, but it never hit as my offhand caught it by the barrel then snapped the butt left and right in quick succession, smashing out both of the space elf’s knees with hammer blows.
He gaped, blood on his lips, as I reversed his sword and plunged it into his throat.
“For Lothlorien, bitch,” I snarled, then looked over to Magnus. “Well? Get that door open!”
“I’m trying! It’s got a magnetic seal!”
“Then smash the wall open, dumbass!” I roared, firing bolts at the figures down both hallways leading to the entryway as I backed towards him, TKing both Dark Eldar’s pistols towards me as the Bolter clicked empty.
“Oh. Good thought,” the Primarch said, and punched out the wall with one titanic blow. “Door’s open!” he said.
A cruel laugh followed us into the night and several fighters tried to catch us as we disappeared into the storm, but visibility was bad and we were moving quickly. We got back to the Faustian Bargain… only to find a smaller Jerico Class Transport sliding up next to it.
~Friends of yours?~ Magnus asked.
“No. and why are those idiots on the Bargain letting someone get so close? I thought you said we could trust that jackass we left in charge, Prachet… damn!”
“They’ve got an IFF signal that identifies them as Lathimon Vessel.”
“Ah. Prachet probably believes these are new crewmen,” Magnus opined. He was probably right. Jerichos were much smaller than Conquests and often used as Pilgrim Vessels. They could hold many many thousands of people… and, of course, I didn’t have one in my fleet. In fact, I had exactly one working warp-capable ship in my fleet… and the watch stander was an idiot who I was going to space… no… calm…
I commed the Bargain. “Mr Brooks,” I began (his name was Prachet Brooks, which I found humorous for reasons I couldn’t quite remember) “Why is that ship moving to dock with the Bargain?”
“C… Captain? They said they was-”
“Move away from them immediately… they’re launching boarders, you moron!” I could see out the cockpit window that humanoid figures were floating free of the Jericho, at least a hundred of them, pushing off towards the hull of my transport. I motioned for Magnus to fly through them, smashing any he could with the Thunderhawk’s prow and shooting any he could with the onboard weapons.
There was a series of sharp thuds and crunches as he did so, and then we were swooping in to land in one of the Bargain’s boatbays. Getting out, I found two partly dismembered Gholam dropping off the gunship and crawling / hopping towards me. Another burst of bio-lightning blew the two of them to flaming sparking ruin, but I sagged, my reserves spent. “Fatigue is such bullshit!” I commented as Magnus scooped me up and we headed towards the bridge.
“Any idea how Magos found us?” He asked.
“Gossip. He knew the name on the Warrant. Heard we’d headed to Grace. Simple addition. And he’s got a ship. Tell me the information on those two Cogitators is enough,” I groaned, laying on the command couch and stuffing bonbons into my mouth as fast as I could manage to chew and swallow. Sugar, fat, chocolate… good for psychic exhaustion. Professor Lupin says so.
Magnus rumbled in agreement. “That’s two of the sector’s most wanted on two planets.”
“Three if you count Magos twice. I think we pissed him off… Probably pissed Myrchella off too… or who knows, maybe she was amused. She sounds sick enough to get off on slaughtering people.”
“I have a brother she’d like,” muttered Magnus.
“Magnus… even the best of your brothers has slaughtered more innocent people than a thousand Myrchella Sinderfells. I’ve killed more people who weren’t trying to harm me of their own free will than she has. So have you. I know that was a dig at Leman, and I know you have reason to hate him,” I assured as he clenched up at that hated name. “But he only wanted your father’s approval. Sound like anyone else you know?”
“Lorgar,” He nodded, thinking he was agreeing with me.
“No, you dolt,” I threw a bonbon at his big fat head. “You! Well, okay, Lorgar too. Lorgar especially. But also you. And Horus, and Sanguinius, and… well… most of your idiot brothers besides Angron, Corax, and Konrad. Still… you idiot boys mostly wanted daddy’s approval… even though he is a terrible terrible father.”
“You’ve said that before. Isn’t that heresy?”
“I don’t worship him, he didn’t believe in religion, and statements of fact can’t be heresy.”
“If you say so. You called him the third worst parent of all time. Who are one and two?”
“Gendo Ikari and Genma Saotome,” I said, barely pausing to think. “There are parents who’ve tortured their kids to death who aren’t as bad.”
“Really? That’s impressive… or depressing. I’m not sure which. What did they do?”
“Gendo psychologically tortured his son Shinji, including sticking the kid into a psychic link pod connected to a giant half-biological half-technological warmachine powered by the insane and suffering soul of the boy’s own mother. Shinji went on to cause the extinction of all human life on Terra… or not. The timeline is jumbled.” I sat up and looked around for more food. Mmmm neutripaste. Yumm…
“Where to start? Kidnapped his 3 year old son after tricking the toddler into signing a suicide pact contingent on the boy failing to live up to the impossible standard of ‘becoming a man among men’. Repeatedly traded said child away for food, then stole the child back, racking up a truly insane number of potential finances for his son. At five years old, he wrapped the child in fish sausages and threw him repeatedly into a pit filled with starving cats. Genma is inept, callow, a coward, a bully, a womanizer, and a thief. His son Ranma has been cursed, attacked, traumatized as badly as some of your brothers, and more. Granted, he’s a human being who, without psychic powers can probably go toe to to with a Space Marine and win… but still… fucked up childhood. Any normal kid would have died.”
“When were these events?”
“Late second millennium for Ranma, around 200.ME3 for Shinji… I think. I wasn’t around for that one.”
“Did either one get what was coming to them?”
“Gendo? He died with the rest of humanity, I think. Genma? Repeatedly, but ultimately, Ranma forgave him.”
“Why does anyone forgive anyone? Have you ever considered apologizing to your father?”
“Well, sure… but his psychic presence lingers in the Warp and you both live in the Warp and are a powerful Psychic yourself. I’m sure you could figure something out.”
“I am not apologizing to an insane corpse. He should apologize to me. He had Russ burn my home!”
“Yeah. Russ is a dick. But, You do realize that Horus is the one who got Russ to burn Prospero in order to piss you off. The Emperor only sent Russ to arrest you.” Magnus was beginning to vibrate with barely contained rage, so I changed the subject slightly. “And honestly… how many worlds did you burn on the Great Crusade, Magnus?”
He blinked, derailed from his anger by shame, “That’s…”
“Different? How? Because those weren’t your homeworld?” He opened his mouth, then shut it again. “Yeah. Sucks huh? How many worlds have died because of your Master and your Master’s colleges? Too many to count?”
He shut up and didn’t speak for a very long time. Finally he snarled and went to examine the Cogitator’s data…. And snarled again. “They’re pointing us to a system, but the data’s still too corrupted. Apparently, both Cogitators got their information in a download from a planetary installation on a planet called Zayth.”
“Is it in the chart?”
“Yes. It’s listed as a War World, says that there are twenty some mobile hive-cities that constantly move about on the surface of the planet’s single macrocontinent…. All at war with each other.”
“Records don’t say. I’ve no idea,” He stood, then set a course for Zayth.
What can I say about Zayth? It is profoundly ugly. The surface has been ground to mush over the multi-thousand year war and there are strip mines and ruined hives all over the place. The air and ground are poisoned by radiation and toxins and unexploded shells… and yet the war rages on, none of the clans knowing why. And there isn’t a way to stop it, as the massive city fortresses each have enough firepower to casually swat an Imperial Battleship like the Light out of orbit… and things only got worse from there… even before Magos and Myrchella showed up.
First, the ground installation we were looking for had been obliterated by an alpha strike… along with the entire mountain range it was housed in… centuries ago. Magnus’s divination pinged each of the cities when we tried to figure out where the information might be… so that meant sneaking into a paranoid war camp… that kept moving around a radwaste.
We left the Bargain hidden in the outer system and came in on the Thunderhawk for that purpose… which proved easier than we thought it would be, as we claimed to be traders offering off world rations for ore. It was even true, since the only thing we’d been able to afford to stock up on at Scintilla was rations. Crates and crates and crates of the things… and they came nowhere near filling the massive empty vault of the Bargain’s hold… but the Thunderhawk was packed to the rafters with them.
That’s where we ran into problem two. This took the form of a budding populist rebellion led by an imperial Missionary named Coriolanus Vestra… and discovered problem three. While our escort, a young soldier named Aenes Aquila (her parents were imperial cultists), was more than willing to help us… the part of the hive-vehicle that the divination was leading us to was in the hands of the populists. Still, they were rabble and getting through them was easy enough, though we were ambushed 11 times crossing 7 hive levels to the machine shrine in the heart of the city… and that shrine was problem number four.
Some lunatic machine priest had incorporated part of the data we needed as decoration in the shrine’s walls. I looked at Magnus and groaned, he looked back at me and grinned.
“What’s the problem? Female trouble?”
“That,” I pointed. “Is a fragment of a starchart.” My perfect memory had overlaid what I’d seen from the cogitators with the designs on the walls. “We’re going to have to visit some or all of the other cities, find their shrines, and collect enough of the data to recreate the missing map.”
“Oh. That might take a while. Yes. Very annoying.”
How right he was. We were there for 11 weeks, hopping from city to city, sneaking into some, being welcomed as guests in others, each time having to return to the Bargain for resupply… and halfway through week eight… boom, there was Magos’s Jericho and Myrchella’s fleet… and they clearly had some idea of what we were looking for, since they weren’t trying to stop me or catch me (okay, Magos was, but Magnus’s Thunderhawk was way faster than the Jericho and we could go ballistic… or into the Warp for micro-jumps with relative ease.)
There were dozens of fights, but we managed to make our way through the complex social and military and cultural issues of Zayth’s eternal war (thanks in no small part to the help of Aenes, who, notwithstanding being a yokel, was keen to prove herself useful… turns out she was hoping the Nice Rogue Trader might take pity on her and get her off this rock.) After having to heal her for the fifth time of an otherwise mortal wound (yes, Biopathy… useful for healing too… who’da thunk it) I finally agreed, just because it might get her to stop flinging herself into the path of attacks meant for me that would never have hurt me through hardened skin and Eldar armor.
I was never so glad to leave as I was once we headed out… oh, and we managed to get lucky. We only had to visit 17 of the cities before we had enough information to find our next destination… the planet Burnscour… doesn’t that sound pleasant?
The gazetteer for Burnscour was… horrifying. It was a Death World (you knew that from the name, right?) where the corrosive rain ate metal and impregnated exposed flesh with strange flesh-eating fungus, where the sap from the plants was either lethally toxic or actively infectious, and the beasts were both monstrous and a major commodity. Yes, that’s why Rogue Traders and smugglers both came to Burnscour… to stock the ever-hungry fighting pits of the Calixis Sector with saurian leapers, gargantipedes, and other horrors of fang and maw. Hunter retinues clad in bulky suits of vulcanised rubber stalked the jungles of this hell in search of exotic xeno-predators for gladiatorial games, ever watchful for creatures that would make the most lethal attractions on the far-off Hive Worlds of the Imperium.
There were no permanent structures on the surface of Burnscour… only the slowly dissolving metal carcasses of landing craft brought down by the planet’s storms and the melted ruins of structures built by fools. Covering the entire planet was a nightmare jungle, full of trees with dark waxen leaves and trunks covered in barbs that wept thick sap the color of bile, blooms of fungus as pale as milk, thick creepers, delicate flowers that looked like livid bruises on silken flesh which would open at a touch to expose waving fronds and fill the air with a heady, soporific scent… and the fauna was worse. Beetles that gnawed through flesh or bark to feed on blood or sap, nearly silent and invisible six-legged stalkers of the middle canopy, venomous gnats, and murderous horrors that could swallow a grown man whole. Almost all of them could kill a human dead in minutes.
Magnus looked at the gazetteer, then up to me. “You’re going to demand we go back to Scintilla for supplies, aren’t you?”
“Hell no! We’ve got those psychos on our tail. I want this over and done with.”
“Then why do we have a hold laden with megatons of ore?”
“Reasons. Now, get us to Burnscour!”
“You’re almost as bossy as Father,” He grumped.
“Have you ever considered forgiving him?”
“Why should I?”
“Why do we ever forgive anyone?”
“You said that same thing before, and never answered! I DON’T KNOW!”
I patted his hand. “Magnus, I’m a Jew. It’s a faith that practically lives on Guilt. We don’t have sin. We have guilt. The entire religion is based upon a list of 613 Mitzvot. Good Acts. Do you know what we call someone who violates every single one of those Mitzvot?”
“I don’t understand,” He sounded plaintive and confused.
“Failing to do good isn’t always the same as doing evil. Sometimes, it’s just not doing good. Sure, some of those Mitzvot command you not to commit murder, or to refrain from stealing, or demand you honor your father and mother… But others… others say ‘Don’t covet what your friends have’ or ‘don’t sleep with your neighbor’s wife’ or ‘be nice to livestock and don’t make them suffer’ or ‘don’t wear clothing of mixed fibers’… these were guidelines for leading a good life. The expectation was that you’d fail some of them. Every year, we Jews have a holiday called Yom Kippur… the Day of Atonement. In preparation, each year, we try and ask those we might have wronged to forgive us.”
“And if they refuse?”
“We ask again, assuming we’re sincere.”
“And if they refuse again?”
“We ask a third time. The third time’s the charm,” I said, smiling softly.
“And they have to forgive you then?” He sounded almost hopeful.
“They don’t have to do anything. But if you were sincere… if you truly repented… it is said that God will forgive if you have been rebuffed three times. Since your father is, in some ways, God… maybe he’ll forgive you.”
“Now you’re back to telling me I should ask for forgiveness!” He snarled, punching a wall hard enough to dent the heavy plasteel.
“Your father is dead, Magnus. He can’t ask forgiveness. And he’s an asshole and an idiot… but holding on to your anger… what good does it do? You forgive him for your own sake, not his.”
“You’re insane, you know that?”
“So I have often been… are we here already?”
“Yes. I want to get this over with, your questions are driving me spare and I don’t know how much longer this ritual will last. Also, being in the Materium so long is making me itch.”
“That’s because you never bathe,” I snarked and he growled at me.
Burnscour was sooo much worse than we’d been promised… not the least because of the floating fatman. No, not Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. No, this was Tobias Belasco… who had come to Burnscour for three reasons. The first was to eat the local wildlife… see hugely fat. The second and third were because, somehow, he’d managed to figure out that was where I was heading and why I was heading there… I’ve no idea how… and he was just as keen to find the Righteous Path… and its treasures as Magnus was. For reasons two and three.
See, two was because he believed that there was something called a Halo Device on the ship, something which would allow the quite old and spectacularly unhealthy psychopath to return himself to health and vigor… while three was because he believed the story that the holds were full of perfect human specimens… and he wanted to eat them… or sell them to other gourmands in exchange for wealth, power, and other things to eat.
Now, I know you’re wondering how I know all this? How do I know what Tobi had in mind? Well… you see, the cogitator that held the final resting place of the Path was deep underground in a massive three-dimensional labyrinthine Gargantipede hive… and Tobias had managed to get to the center of it with his entire heavily armed retinue a dozen minutes before Magnus and I had… thanks in no small part to our having to deal with, in rapid succession, several thousand of Vestra’s lunatic followers, three different kill squads in the employ of Sinderfell, and a dozen Gholam… the last of which (who had Bombastus’s head… eww…) we’d managed to get eaten by Gargantipede larva.
So there’s us, Magnus and I, on one side of this transparent EM-Barrier, and Tobias on the other, gloating, telling us all about what he’s got planned, amid pauses to catch his breath or cough up phlegm, his fat jowls waggling… and I can feel more deranged cultists come up from one way and more kill squads up another, and though I couldn’t sense them, there had to be more Gholams. I looked up to Magnus. “You teleported me from my home to the Planet of the Sorcerers… tell me you still have the power to teleport us to the ship?”
He looked down, then nodded. “Not the Thunderhawk?”
“Fuck the Thunderhawk,” I growled, and (thrusting my arm through the EM barrier, ignoring the agony that poured through my sizzling flesh) launched a scathing, withering storm of bio-electric lighting through Belasco and his men, grimacing as the EM Barrier’s generator surged… then exploded… along with the heads and torsos of everyone on the other side. The gore was… everywhere… and my hand was a blackened mass, my armor seriously damaged… and melted rubber was everywhere. I TK’d the Cogitator sphere into my still functional hand and nodded to Magnus. “In the immortal words of everyone ever, Let’s get out of here.”
He grabbed me and a moment later, we were back on the bridge of the Faustian Bargain. I handed over the Cogitator, then grabbed the ship’s comm and yelled “This is the Captain… on my signal, dump the cargo bay.”
Prachet’s voice came back, sounding strangled, “The whole thing?”
“Every last Ore container and all the spare parts… in five, four,” I was moving the ship from her orbit towards where I’d dropped my personal comm unit, which was still signalling, doing the reentry math in my head… “three, two, one… NOW!” I roared, and pulled up the dorsal camera feed… watching as megatons of solid refined metal in giant plasteel canisters fell like snowflakes onto the planet below.
“What are you doing?” Magnus asked as I watched the planet, rotating the viewer to keep it fixed on the surface as the boxes, one by one, began to glow, brighter and brighter.
“Rods from god, my friend. Rods from God…. just… as… planned…” I chuckled as the first impacted the jungle over the labyrinth. Each canister weighed twenty tons and hit at very close to the speed of sound. There was absolutely no chance in hell any of my pursuers were getting out of there alive. If Vestra, Myrchella, or Magos were in that maze… they’d been obliterated.
“Get us out of the system, Astroboy… random direction. And keep us jumping at random for five jumps. I don’t want anyone besides you and me knowing where the hell we are or where we’re going… then figure out where we are and where we’re going… I have to go regrow my fucking arm.” I limped off the bridge… my left leg had been nearly bitten off by one of those larva from earlier.
Days later, we arrived in the Magoros system, home of the glittering crown known as the Shard Halo. It was a massive, shining solar ring, billions of kilometers across, orbiting the slowly dying mass of Magoros. It was an dead solar system, filled with nothing but three dead planets and a trillion barren icy meteors and moonlettes strung around the star like a jeweled belt. And it was the final resting place of The Righteous Path.
It was ironic, really. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the Calixis Sector, it drew hundreds of ships full of wealthy sightseers every year… and there, right in the middle of all that… the largest meteor was secretly the most sought after ghost ship of the last five thousand years… entombed in ice as it drifted lifeless in space. It was even surrounded by a few dozen smaller ships, also entombed in their own icy shrouds.
Magnus looked down on me as we pulled up alongside her, guided by scanners that had located her main resupply docking port. “Well… this is it. Thank you… you’ve been… interesting.”
“Thank you. For everything. This has been fun. And the…” I tapped my temple. “That’ll be useful. I can’t say I’ll miss the crazy… but… this has been an adventure. But I’ll be glad to get home. I think I understand how to navigate…”
“You’ll do fine,” He assured.
“And your half off the deal?”
“It’ll be waiting for you… with a little surprise… a pleasant one, trust me.” He offered me a salute and turned towards the passageway linking the two ships.
“Magnus…” I reached for his back, then let my newly restored hand fall away… “Have you ever considered forgiving yourself?”
He stiffened… but then shook his head and muttered, “never shuts up,” without turning back… he walked into the treasure ship.
Twenty minutes later, I followed him, Aenes by my side. I still had no idea what had brought him here… but I knew what had brought me. Wealth beyond belief… and there was… so… very… very much of it. My crew could barely believe it themselves.
It took us days to load the ship and I could tell some of the crew were considering mutiny to claim it for themselves, but all it took was me pointing to the leader of that group and saying, “Stick with me and you’ll be wealthy beyond belief. Betray me, and you’ll never find your way home. I’m the only navigator on board, and the Comms are locked to my voice print.” I’d done that before we left the second of our roundabout Warp Jumps. I’m no idiot.
I wanted The Righteous Path right where she was. It was going to take a fleet of transports to get her treasures… and even more important… I wanted her. She was a Imperial Vengeance Class Grand Battlecruiser! And I had a repair dock that could fix her right up… eventually.
Even filling practically every hold and chamber with wealth… there was more. So much more. I could barely get everything I had to have out of her… but what I got… beyond value. In addition to more than fifty thousand stasis coffins… there were at least another two million aboard the Path, but my planet couldn’t absorb that many that fast… and gold and jewels and precious works… there was a fortune in archeotech… and the greatest prize of all… a Standard Template Construct Template Library. Thousands of templates telling even the most primitive of cultures how to build any number of lost technologies, technologies that had allowed humankind to spread across the entire galaxy in a mere twenty thousand years, terraforming world after world and making devices that still worked after millennia of disuse.
As I said, I’d have to return to get the lion’s share of my prize… and to pick up the various components I’d seen in my travels, components that had clearly been part of The Righteous Path before their captain had ripped them out.
There had been a complete Pharmacia in that cave on Jerazol, a component that could synthesize any drug for which it had a known pattern… and if I was right it was big enough to synthesize enough of any substance to dose the entire massive 700,000 person crew complement… and several entire Guardsmen Legions if needed… every day.
On Scintilla, I’d seen an Auto-Temple… a fully staffed Imperial Creed temple that could be mounted inside a ship… and, in addition to tending to the needs of the crew, it could be dropped to a planet’s surface from orbit… yes… it was a dropship temple… it might take a day or two to pack up onto lifters to return it to the ship… and I’d have to redecorate… but… I had to have it… and it had been part of the Path at one point… it said so on the commemorative plaque.
On Grace, in Myrchella’s palace, I’d seen the massive crystal clusters of an Eldar Runecaster (among a whole shitload of other crap)… something I’d only known what I was looking at because of Carwyn… Magnus had explained how it worked. When housed in a large, specially prepared chamber, the crystalline runestones would float above a crystal lens. When used properly, these crystals would allow a navigator a kind of prescience, allowing one to plot a course that would somehow evade almost all problems and encounters with hostiles. I didn’t know if it had come from one of the worlds that Lorcanus had pillaged, but it too had had a plaque.
Finally, on Zayth, I’d found not one but two components that had once belonged to me… er… Lorcanus… In the city of Karnatka, I’d seen an Auto-Stabilized Logis Targeting Unit… more than a simple targeting array, the Logis was an ancient device that utilized near-heretical cogitator circuitry from the Dark Age of Technology to ensure incredibly accurate Weapons Fire…. And in the city of Decepcion, I’d seen a Micro-laser Defense Grid… which was a vastly larger version of the digital laser weapons used by nobility and other imperial worthies… a massive interlinked network of hundreds of miniature laser turrets that could be arrayed across a vessel’s hull. While individually not particularly powerful, when linked in concert, they could easily bring down incoming missiles and attack craft. I could get either one for a song… or a massive influx of wealth… and I would.
With the engine redlining, and every freespace loaded with loot, I’d barely made a dent in what The Path held… and it was time to go. With one last look at the miniature moon, I released the clamps and drifted away from her on maneuvering jets, minimizing the chance that anyone would notice one large chunk of ice drifting away from another (covering the hull of the Bargain with ice hadn’t been particularly hard… there was plenty in the system.)
Magnus had been as good as his word, as it turned out… on four counts. The first was that I had very little trouble guiding the Bargain back to Paradise. The second, though I wasn’t to know it for many months yet, was that the ship was free of Chaos’s taint. The third… well, when I arrived home, I was astounded to discover that, according to everyone, I’d been gone a single day… and yet I’d returned with a new ship, new colonists, and vast wealth… and an Imperial Trade Warrant.
As for the last… well, as promised, my payment was resting in a cave on one of the mountains on the northern range. It was a Lance… not a human lance, but a starship’s main weapon… well… what would have been the main weapon of anything that didn’t have a freaking planet buster cannon as a spinal mount… but this Lance was the Pentalich Lance, a powerful elemental artifact. Rather than mere thermal energy that other lances projected, the Pentalich could be attuned to one of five elements. Fire, Thunder, Wind, Water, or Earth. In fire mode, it could unleash pillars of fire that were capable of consuming hullmetal as though it was paper. In thunder, it would generate thunderbolts that could reduce sensitive electronics to so much useless, melted sla. In wind it could unleash unavoidable concussive forceblasts. In water, it could literally wash away damage from allied vessels… and in earth it could shroud my ship in a cloud of diamond-hard micrometeorites. I had to cackle.
Unfortunately, cackling made Amaryllis, currently playing under my desk, squeak and try to hide from me, which necessitated a stern tickling. It had been a grand day out indeed.
Next: Light of Terra, Part 4
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A Grand Day Out is the third DLC or optional side quest / jump included in the Light of Terra MegaJump. Thankfully, they can be done in any order and doing A Grand Day Out first both simplifies all the others and fills in several plotholes that would otherwise bother me. From a writing standpoint, the fact that Magnus (or Ahriman if you broke the Deadlight) brings you to him / has you fetched, means that not having a Warp Capable ship is solved… the other DLCs all assume you gained them in DLC1 (The Heathen Trail)… but that one simply says you have two warp capable transports and a escort vessel… that’s three multi-kilometer long ships that the jumper just… has… no explanation of how. By doing the jump that has nearly limitless wealth (and a galavanting quest around the sector) it solves the problem of ships… as well as crews for those ships. Each ship has a pretty massive crew (like I said, a Conquest needs nearly 65,000 souls to crew it) and even the smaller Carrack needs nearly 20,000.
Taking A Grand Day Out first also provides a navigator (me) thanks to spending a simply obscene amount of CP (the DLC has a budget of nothing, but you get 400 CP for each planet you visit… Scintilla doesn’t count, I tossed it in, and Magoros isn’t a planet… so 1600… of which Psychic Awakening, Veteran of the Psychic Wars – Biomancy Specialization, and Psychic Supremacy cost a collective 900 CP.)… but it also allows me access to some supernatural power base and makes later victories much more likely. Also, it’s a fun little treasure hunt.
Normally, for each planet (dangerous in their own right) you also select an enemy to deal with, and there is a certain temptation to pair easy with easy and kill them as they show up. Instead, I decided I’d do 4 worlds and rolled 4d5 in order to figure out where I was going and in what order. That done, I rolled 4d7 for enemies… but this time I decided which enemy to encounter based on the nature of the world.
As for psychic powers, Psychic Supremacy makes one an Alpha Level Psyker… or planetary threat level. While I did pick Biomancy (which I call Biopathy because it’s not magic) an Alpha Psyker has most of the rest of the powers at a lower level, but is obscenely powerful in their speciality. I picked Bio because it’s the most interesting… and not something I’m already good at. Also, it makes the most sense given how it was awakened.
I completely ignored the Items and Equipment section. It’s pointless and over priced in my opinion. However, I didn’t ignore the Ship Upgrades Section… which had many useful things… as I listed above, and the utterly hilarious and fairly useless Auto-Temple. I had to have it, even though taking it means I spend 1700 CP out of my budget of 1600. Oh well… I’ll make it up later.
Overall, I like this section because it presents a number of story telling options and allows you to go bonkers with them. I did grab three things that aren’t on offer in the DLC (the wreck of The Righteous Path, the Population of Krystallian (hinted they could be there, but not outright allowed) and the Warrant of Trade… but it’s a piece of paper and only useful here in this universe.) but Jumpers are magpies. Whatcha gonna do? As for The Litany of Litanies-Litany (which I renamed Faustian Bargain)… that’s one of the two transports that feature in DLC 1 and it will show up again.
At the end, you can pick one Ship Upgrade as your payment from Magnus/Ahriman, and there are some nice choices… but I went with the most insane. Perhaps I should have gone defensive… but… eh. The Pentalich is cool and has the best story hooks and most awesome utility.
Planets & Enemies
Burnscour: “Death dripping down in the rain, blood and the scream of beasts: that is all I recall of that place.” -Mesenicus Var, mercenary captain of the entourage of Rogue Trader Hiram Sult. Burnscour is a Death World of roaring storms, jungles, and strange beasts. It is no place for men, as the steaming rain alone eats at metal and breeds strange fungus on exposed flesh, and the sap dripping from plants is lethal or viciously toxic. Yet the beast trade has found a foothold upon Burnscour, carried there at exorbitant rates by Rogue Trader vessels and illegal, unsanctioned merchant craft. They come to Burnscour to stock the ever-hungry fighting pits of the distant Calixis Sector with saurian leapers, gargantipedes, and other horrors of fang and maw. Hunter retinues clad in bulky suits of vulcanised rubber stalk the jungles in search of exotic xeno predators for the fighting pits, ever watchful for creatures that will make the most lethal attractions on far-off Hive Worlds of the Imperium. There are no permanent structures on the surface of Burnscour — only the slowly dissolving metal carcasses of landing craft brought down by the planet’s storms, the few melted ruins of structures built by fools, and the swaying jungles ever growing beneath the caustic rain. From the uppermost leaves of its canopy to the ground, the jungles of Burnscour are a choking mass of countless plants: trees with dark waxen leaves and trunks covered in barbs that weep thick sap the colour of bile, blooms of fungus as pale as milk, thick creepers from the branches of trees, delicate flowers the colour of livid bruises on pale flesh, which open at the touch to expose waving fronds that fill the air with a heady scent that dulls the mind — all these and thousands more species swarm and choke the surface of Burnscour. Beasts stalk through the nightmare jungles of Burnscour. Things of every sizes, all perfectly adapted to the hellish environment, live here in vast numbers, from beetle-like creatures who gnaw through flesh or bark to feed on blood or sap, to the strange six-legged stalkers the size of three grown men but scuttle silent and invisible though the branches of the middle canopy. Almost all are capable of killing any human that steps onto the surface of Burnscour. The lethal nature of Burnscour’s native creatures is both the planet’s curse on any who might wish to establish surface habitation on there, but are also the prize that draws many to it. When men come to Burnscour, they come for the beasts. So little does the jungle and rain tolerate the presence of man that beast-hunting parties are usually dropped onto the surface of the planet and remain for as little time as possible before hailing their waiting drop craft with a homing beacon. These hunters and their ferocious harvest are often hauled off the surface into hovering dropships that never touch the surface. Others defoliate the jungle with anti-plant bombs and Heavy Flamers to create brief landing clearings—which are swallowed again by the jungle within days. Dangerous it might be, but the price commanded by hunters for living beasts of Burnscour is enough to blot out the tales of hunting parties vanishing, never to be seen again, or the whispers of the things that stalk unseen beneath the dark leaves and hissing rain. While the beasts here are certainly terrible and deadly beyond almost anything you have encountered before, the atmosphere is the greatest threat, toxic, corrosive and insidious, a soup of chemicals that will corrode any protective gear you may wear within hours, at best. Speed is of the essence here, and the fact that the cogitator core holding part of the map to the Righteous Path is entombed within a gigantic, labyrinthine hive only complicates matters.
The Murdered World of Jerazol: “There is no crime too terrible, nor act so monstrous that man will not commit given a sufficiency of conviction and self interest.” -ancient Terran proverb. Jerazol is a desolate world of ash and charred bone. It is a world, tales say, murdered for greed and spite. Discovered by a pious Rogue Trader whose name does not survive in Imperial records, Jerazol was verdant, fertile, and supported a population of humans whose culture had regressed to the level of a primitive tribalism. The unnamed Rogue Trader was determined to bring the population back into the light and dominion of the God-Emperor. He began the process of tutoring and civilising the population, while purging it of any trace of deviancy or corruption. Not long after Jerazol was discovered, it was also found by other explorers, who believed that the primitive humans where hiding wonders of lost technology in warrens beneath the earth, built by their forgotten ancestors who first came to the world from across the stars. These machines, they said, were worth any price in blood and death, and when the nameless Rogue Trader stood against them, they destroyed his vessels, letting their wrecks fall to the surface of Jerazol like the burning tears of a god. Then, it is said the murderers bombarded the world, burning its surface to ash and choking its atmosphere with smoke. The tales do not agree as to whether the despoilers found the technological treasures they sought. Some say they unearthed such wonders that they rose to the highest tiers of power within the Imperium, others say that they only found ash, bone, and mud and that they cursed the dreams that had brought them through void and madness to murder a world for naught. No matter the truth of the tales, the burned and Dead World of Jerazol exists as testimony to the price that can be paid in search for riches. There is nothing here save ruins and dust, and a single bunker, buried kilometers underground, a cogitator holding part of the map to the Righteous Path and a transmitter sending out a centuries too late distress call.
Grace: “Hunger unwound what little hope was left and moved us to what humanity would not once have contemplated.” —Comdeus Canto, survivor of the expedition from the Inferno’s Child. The storm-ridden world of Grace is circled and shrouded by swirling clouds and hurricanes. Continual gales carry the spores of its simple fungal life far and wide amidst lightning and frozen hail. Beneath the storms, the peaks and valleys of Grace’s jagged surface form a stark, beautiful landscape that was once dotted with the proud structures of a colony founded under the authority of Rogue Trader Aspyce Chorda. From behind Void Shields and armoured crysta viewports the colonists, drawn from the wealthiest exiles of Imperial nobility and the most successful of criminals (a distinction between the two being not always easy to draw) gazed out on the beauty of the world that was their sanctuary from blood wars, vengeful rivals, and the iron fist of Imperial justice. The world of Grace is still just as beautiful, but the colony palaces lie in ruin and its pale-eyed people scuttle in the shadows, harbouring a terrible secret. Grace was an Imperial colony world founded not for the expansion of the domain of the God-Emperor, but to serve the greed and arrogance of Rogue Trader Aspyce Chorda. The colonial palaces built on Grace were palatial fortresses for Imperial exiles of wealth and means — those worthies secretively brought to the edge of the Imperium by the Cold Guild, stored in frozen vaults for their journey and returned to life in the depths of Port Wander. Rogue Trader Aspyce Chorda swelled her coffers accepting fugitives into the world she had claimed and giving them leave to build their armoured palaces on Grace. At further ruinous cost, she provided the exiles with illegal slaves from Footfall, provided them with the finest foods using the lesser voidships of her fleet, and allowed their spies and agents to pass to and from Imperial space in the holds of her ships. It was, for a time, a paradise of the wicked, but it did not last. It is said by the pious that in time no sin goes unknown or unpunished in the God-Emperor’s sight, and the punishment for Grace was terrible indeed. Vessels of Aspyce Chorda carrying supplies to Grace were destroyed by a Warp Storm that rose up, swallowing them whole and sealing passage to Grace. The world itself was a pleasurable and beautiful refuge and had no capacity to produce its own food. For a time the exiles and criminals contented themselves with the false hope that supplies would come, and then when they did not, they turned on one another, sending their vassals to loot and burn other palaces and strip them of supplies and food. In time only a few of the many colony palaces were left, and these had become ugly fortresses against the predatory raids of the few others that persisted. When even raiding could not feed those who remained, they turned to eating their dead — first those who had been slain, and then those who still lived. So it is that the few debased colony palaces harbour those who eat human flesh, and they are always hungry. Some have beacons that broadcast distress calls out into the void, seeking sustenance from unwary travellers. Crumbling palaces filled with treasures the degenerate inhabitants no longer care about, or brutal fortresses filled with cannibal raiders, the danger here is not what one would expect. Degenerate they may be, but the surviving cannibal bands are battle hardened to an unimaginable degree, and each of them holds weapons and armour scavenged from dozens of noble estates, and those estates were filled with heirloom weapons, armour and equipment forged by the greatest and most skilled techpriests of the Imperium, rendering each of the flesh hungry madmen an army of one, and finding the cogitator core that holds the partial location of the Righteous Path will not be quick or easy amidst the countless false distress signals…
Zayth: “Of what wars waged beyond the Emperor’s light we will never truly know and can only look at the wreck of the overgrown battlefield and wonder at what has passed.” —remark dictated by Rogue Trader Hiram Sult. Zayth is a War World scarred deeply by constant conflict. Enormous vehicles the size of cities churn the surface of Zayth’s single macrocontinent. Each is a fortress and weapon platform armed with fearsome devices of war and destruction. Within them dwell Zayth’s human population, protected from the radiation and toxins unleashed by long centuries of warfare. Zayth’s surface has been barren for millennia, ploughed and poisoned by shellfire, rapacious, urgent strip-mining, and the passage of hive-vehicles. Despite their weaponry and extraordinary vehicle cities the humans of Zayth have fallen far from the knowledge of their ancestors in all but war, and the knowledge of producing their hivevehicles is long vanished. Great generators and engine vaults are permanently sealed by copper doors or guarded by hereditary Engine Orders who guard the traditions and culture of each clan fortress. Discovering the location of the Cogitator core on Zayth will be difficult, simply due to the eternal war that rages, mobile cities the size of arcologies fighting a battle that has gone on so long none remember why it began. The Cogitator you seek was obliterated centuries ago in an alpha strike that wiped a mountain range from the map, but its data survives, albeit in fragmented form. Each of the twenty one surviving hive-vehicles has a fraction of it worked into decorations in the machine shrine at the core of the vast, mobile nation-warmachine. That these colossal engines are capable of swatting down even battleships in orbit like irksome flies may go some way to telling you how tricky this will be.
Myrchella Sinderfell: Lady Myrchella Sinderfell is one of the most elusive and destructive heretics active in the Calixis Sector. Intelligent, resourceful, and cruel, over the centuries Myrchella Sinderfell has sampled blasphemous pleasures, dallied with diverse heresies, and committed atrocities of the most vile nature for no other reason than her own gratification. Born into the high Sinderfell family of Scintilla, Myrchella Sinderfell was raised as part of a lineage whose wealth and holdings spanned the Calixis Sector. It is said that in her younger years she showed exceptional promises in all areas of education, with no sign of the madness to come in the first decades of her life. When she came of age, Myrchella used the Sinderfell wealth to assemble a vile court of sorcerers, xenophiles, flesh crafters, and corrupt savants in the seclusion of the Sinderfell manse on Quaddis, collecting them and their knowledge like a true dilettante of the vile. The corruption of Lady Sinderfell was finally betrayed to the Inquisition by one of her mistreated servants. The Holy Ordos razed the Sinderfell manse in a single night—it is said that the fury of the assault could be seen from the balconies of far Xacarph. Lady Sinderfell escaped the wrath of the Imperium to recreate her blood-soaked court of blasphemy over and over again. On Malfi she suborned the leadership of a sanguinary cult and bathed in blood every day for a year. On Kalf she and her entourage burned town after town, hunted the survivors through the night, and unleashed unclean spirits to plague any who remained. Myrchella Sinderfell is known to draw around her a court comprised of heretics. These heretics have included rogue psykers, warp dabblers, xenophiles, hereteks, dissolute nobles, corrupt Navigators, scholars of the proscribed, and dealers with daemons. These courts are rarely enduring and are often discarded in flight or destroyed for diversion by Lady Sinderfell herself. Sinderfell prefers to assume the identity of others and corrupt families, cults, and organisations to her own ends (usually including murder and wanton infliction of pain). She is known to favour numerous devices of forbidden technology, some of xenos design, to further her proclivities. Though reported as killed on board the Phoenix’s Ransom by Judge Uzzriah, and again in the Castigation of the Red Vaults of Luggnum, Lady Myrchella Sinderfell is still believed at large in the Calixis Sector. Myrchella Sinderfell’s avarice, spite, narcissism and sadism are obvious and reflected in every part of the heresies that have made her notorious. She has wallowed in gore, inflicted pain, and darkened her fractured soul not for an ideal but simply because it makes her “happy.” Myrchella’s forces are the most diverse, chaos cultists, rogues, pirates, hereteks, xenos, warp things, psykers, Dark Eldar torturers, no one member of the force is the same as another, and the skills, abilities and armour they bring to bear are terrifyingly diverse.
Magos Vathek: The facts of Magos Vathek’s career, before he was cast out from the Adeptus Mechanicus and became a hunted renegade are entirely unknown, and the tech-priest authorities have been singularly unforthcoming in this regard. It is thought that he was attached to the Explorator fleets of Archmagos Thule before some incident or event drove him mad, turning him into a renegade hunted equally by the Inquisition and the forces of the Machine Cult. Vathek is obsessed with acquiring and perfecting dark technological lore. In particular, he desires the technological means to restore full life to dead tissue, although he is also known to have created forbidden weaponry, crafted flesh gholams, and experimented with a variety of prohibited alchemical and energy systems. His forbidden experiments are already reckoned to have cost upwards of 3,000 lives, most notably in a mass casualty event known as the “Morningside Incident” on Solomon, and on a smaller scale during the “dockside ripper” murders on Dreah. At the end of the latter, Vathek slew a Mechanicus force sent to destroy him and escaped offworld. He is also known to have attacked a previously unknown resurrectionist cult on the cemetery world of Pilgrim’s Pause and left great slaughter in his wake, plundering the cult’s own dark secrets. Vathek’s current whereabouts and activities remain unknown. In appearance, Vathek looks to be a heavily augmented tech-priest, habitually robed in tattered black, surrounded by a multitude of black-iron and brass mechadendrites fitted with surgical tools, callipers, and energy coils. He is known to have incorporated the forbidden technology of a Sarkossan wave generator into his own carapace, and his face is covered by a silver skull mask grafted onto necrotic muscle and bone. He is believed to be no longer “alive” in any meaningful sense, but propelled by the power of his own dark technology. He has proven extremely difficult to slow or destroy with conventional weapons fire, and extreme measures are to be advised when confronting him. Aside from his drive for dark scientific lore, Vathek appears to have no known goals or plans. He also does not cooperate with or serve others, fashioning only unliving servitors as his needs arise. Some theorise that Vathak’s true obsession is somehow discovering a means to restore biological life to his own decaying flesh. The entirety of Vathek’s force is dead. Dead and still moving. The arch Heretek has formed an army of flesh Gholams, monstrous composites of dead flesh and cybernetic upgrades. These abominations are soulless terrors that can laugh off damage that would shatter a Leman Russ Tank, and they can be restored to combat readiness with horrifying ease. They will not stop, they will not slow, they are relentless.
Coriolanus Vestra: Brother Missionary Coriolanus Vestra was a loyal, even revered, Imperial Missionary who fought to bring the light of the Emperor to those who knew it not. His zeal was marked by his superiors—Cardinal Fortis noted on several occasions how Vestra undertook missions in totally uncharted regions of space, always returning to bring news of thousands of new followers of the Imperial Creed. The final mission undertaken by Coriolanus Vestra records that he ventured into the Halo Stars in search of human communities lost for millennia. He did not return and was presumed to have perished. What exactly occurred to Vestra on his journey into the Halo Stars is not known, but it can be easily inferred that something occurred that caused him to break his faith and turn him against the Imperium that he had so devoutly served. The fact that Vestra uses the phrase “bathed in the light of the black sun” in some of his blasphemous addresses, has been the focus of much analysis and may pertain to some dark revelation that turned Vestra into the arch-heretic he is today. Fifty years after his disappearance, Coriolanus Vestra secretly returned to Imperial space. He slipped onto the world of Lassiv in distant Hecuba, a dishevelled shadow among many. Two years of meticulous and brutal endeavour saw Vestra dedicating Lassiv and the souls of its people to the ruination of the Emperor’s realm from beneath a banner topped with the planetary governor’s severed head. It was not, however, until after ten more years, three befouled worlds, and countless acts of heresy that the true identity of this arch-corruptor was uncovered. The anger and shame of the Ecclesiarchy has not abated in the eight decades that have passed since that revelation. Coriolanus Vestra’s chief treachery is his association with a great number of cults and heretical organisations, including the Serrated Query, the Brotherhood of the Horned Darkness, the Pale Throng, and the Masqued of Malfi amongst many more. He is, however, only ever a peripheral figure and an intermediary who prefers to work alone as a freelance agent of sorts for the duration of a particular task or objective. He often incites rebellion through demagoguery and acts as a go between and facilitator for different heretical and malefic cults in order to create a larger force of disorder. Coriolanus Vestra’s spite and zeal in persecuting his personal war against the Imperium cannot be doubted. It is unknown if Vestra, beyond a desire to simply bring anarchy and destruction, has any discernable grand scheme. The revered brothers forces are not the most well trained or equipped. Indeed, the vast bulk of them are civilian fanatics equipped with crude clubs. The danger lies in sheer numbers, for quantity has a quality all of its own. Fanatics, they are all not just ready but willing and even eager to die, martyred for the cause.
Tobias Belasco: Tobias Belasco was born the third son to an impoverished wing of the powerful House Belasco on Malfi and is another example of the ability of certain noble lines to breed unpardonable monsters. Reportedly a sly and deceitful glutton from an early age, Tobias railed against the gentle poverty in which he was raised and the fallen status of his line. As he grew, he put his remarkable intellect and cunning to work and quickly displaced or murdered his way to control of his family’s line, restoring its fortunes in the process. He was quickly taken into the service of the Belasco Great House, where he acted as a dealer in rare antiquities and brokered many profitable deals for his clan. This elevation appears not to have been enough for him. Soon he took to seeking thrills by dalliances with petty cult groups, fellow epicures, and jaded wantons, living far beyond even his prodigious means. Rather than risk embezzling funds from his notorious clan, he took to blackmail, murder, and the Cold Trade to fund his notorious life of excesses, eventually leading him to dealing in slavery. However, as the years passed, not even this was enough to alleviate his boredom. By what means he finally descended into complete criminal insanity is unknown, although a lifetime of immorality and substance abuse no doubt played some part in it. Not satisfied with killing his enemies, he instead took to abducting them in secret and eating them slowly, one piece at a time. When these shocking crimes finally came to light, it proved too much for his infamous noble house to stand. Tobias fled Malfi via his Cold Trade connections with a portion of his wealth and his family’s assassin cadre at his heels. For more than 50 years he has been on the run, turning up on dozens of worlds and using many aliases to stay one step ahead of his former clan. He is also a fugitive of the Ordo Xenos, whose ire he provoked when he killed and ate several of Inquisitor Van Vuygens’ acolytes who were investigating a xenos-slavery ring that he had instigated on Snowden’s World. Torn between his desire to remain hidden and a desire to continue his opulent lifestyle through black marketeering, deception, and murder, Tobias has managed to remain one step ahead of his many hunters over the years thanks to his quick wits, formidable intelligence, and a thoroughly nasty imagination. Now in his late nineties, his past is catching up with him—his obscenely fat bulk must be held up by a suspensor chair and he is rapidly reaching the limits of how long his wrecked constitution can be kept alive through black market implants and chem treatments. Despite his debased and corpulent exterior, Tobias Belasco is a genius-level intellect who has a talent for deception, commerce, and murder that borders on the supernatural. He is marked for death not only by the Inquisition but also by his former family, and attempts to maintain a veil of secrecy at all times. Tobias Belasco’s only motivation is to continue his life of wickedness and feed his dread addictions. Rumors have reached the Inquisition that Tobias is searching for a more radical solution to his problems in the shape of a forbidden Halo Device. The former scion of Imperial Nobility has fewer resources than he once did, but they are still not something that can be dismissed. A cadre of specially trained warrior slaves stand at his beck and call, trained from birth and surgically implanted with explosives to ensure loyalty form the corpulent deviants bodyguard, and they are supported by packs of terrifying, feral xenos warbeasts dragged in chains from some of the most deadly worlds in the galaxy, crudely lobotomized and sent out to kill.