World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 3

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.”

“PK? Pyrokinesis?”

“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?”

He hmmmed?

“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?~

~Show off.~

~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?”

“Uh. No.”

“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.”

“He failed.”

“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!”

“WHAT?”

“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 it?”

“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!”

“What?”

“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…

“And Genma?”

“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?”

“Why does anyone forgive anyone? Have you ever considered apologizing to your father?”

“He’s dead.”

“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.”

“Why?”

“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?”

“Father?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“A Monster?”

“A Human.”

“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

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon. And thank you to my Patrons for suggesting some of the NPC names found in this chapter.

Resources: BuildDocument

Author’s Notes

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.

Advertisements

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 2

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

Part 2 – Land of the Sky Mother

Previously: Barque of the Forsaken

Themesong: Will the Circle Be Unbroken by a Choir from Bioshock Infinite

AN: Once again, a nod to my Patreon Patrons. Your support means the world to me. It’s excellent validation. To everyone else, thank you too for choosing my work to read. If you comment, I’ll try and respond within a day or two, and love reading your feedback and questions. You all are wonderful people. If you’ve got a blog you want me to link to, send me a message and I’ll pop it in my sidebar so people can find your writing too. Oh, and stick around after the chapter ends to read my build notes and some pointless stuff about math that was too wordy to go in the narrative, but I think is really interesting. I’m a nerd.

What can I say about the planet I’d pre-emptively (and largely unwittingly) named ‘Paradise’? I hadn’t even known that the repair base was orbiting a planet at all, and hadn’t really meant to have the planet or base be encompassed in any way when I’d promised to lead the Aquil Lejens, Kin of Iron, and surviving members of the Wargars, Redeemers, Voidwalkers, and Pale Sons to ‘Paradise beyond the Steel Caves’ (their collective name for the half-ruined hulk of the Light of Terra. I had largely meant it as a rhetorical ‘Better place than this crumbling hell of a starship.’ Instead, what I got was… Paradise. Good thing my followers had such abysmal standards. My companions were less than thrilled.

To start with, the atmosphere was, at most, breathable… what little there was. It was as thin as the summit of Everest, though (for the most part) not freezing cold. In fact, with a little effort, and a few decades, it would be possible to increase the atmosphere to something thicker and more comfortable, both by a process of hydro-cracking (splitting oxygen off of water) and by using plants to free much of the trapped nitrogen and oxygen in the soil.

And there was lots and lots and lots of it fixed there, since the planet’s ecosystem was dominated not by plants but by foul looking, stinking fungi. Giant carpets of molds and towering mushroom-trees covered vast swaths of the world, spewing poisonous spores into the atmosphere… something that made the breathing masks required for going outside all the more important. At least there the Void Walkers who’d been presented with the old “Convert or Die” quandary would be prepared… which was good, because I wasn’t trusting them inside the secure perimeter until they’d proven themselves.

The planet was a swampy muckball, where dry land was at a premium, and between the humidity, the rot, and the insects, worms, and other invertebrates, it wasn’t looking to be the vacation spot of the sector any time in the near future. Still, the incredible wealth of biological diversity would be invaluable, and many of the species present looked absolutely fascinating… and simply huuuge. Megafauna were everywhere. The fact that, once we got ourselves dug in, digging us out with anything short of an Ork Waaagh or a Tyranid Hive Fleet wasn’t going to be an easy prospect, and even Orks might have problems with some of the carnivores our scans were picking up. Invasion through swamps against swamp natives does not go well… just ask the Posleen in the Darien Gap… ouch. Swamps are hell on Morale and Material alike.

Of course, we had to invade first, and, unfortunately, there were natives we’d have to contend with… which thankfully Grigobritz had knowledge of. The reptilians were commonly known as Tarellian Dog-Soldiers (thanks to their snouted faces and habit of working as mercenaries). They were narrow-waisted, broad shouldered aliens, standing slightly shorter than most humans, and extremely aggressive. During the Great Crusade at the beginning of the 30th millennium, the Imperium had virus bombed most of the Tarellian homeworlds, driving the species to the brink of extinction and most of the survivors back to barbarism… And they haaated humanity… for cause. Thankfully, the global population wasn’t high, a few million scattered in penny packets across the entire globe (all three smaller continents and the planet’s version of Asia which dominated the northern hemisphere almost completely… it was the size of the Pacific Ocean and completely covered the pole), but there was no place that we could set up a base where they wouldn’t object… and Hephaestus needed a metric mega-fuck-ton of raw materials to repair the Light of Heaven (Grigobritz wasn’t thrilled I called her that, but to the tribesmen, it was easier to do so, since they had no distinction between Heaven and Terra, both being the perfect realm where the most holy dwelt.)

So, since I and mine weren’t going anywhere, and the Tarellians weren’t likely to just let us take what we needed and leave us in peace, I decided to settle for the lesser evil of simply driving any of them in an area we needed out. I wouldn’t kill them if I could avoid it… but I wasn’t risking allies to protect enemies of my native race, warranted in their hatred or not. And the space station simply could not supply food and living space for nearly 12,000 humans and near humans.

Some of my companions were of mixed opinion on that count, of course. Gaius, Kohina, Mini, Franky, and Toph had all faced the dire threat of invaders destroying their civilization (The Vord, Gastraea, Neuroi, and Fire Nation respectively) and disapproved for good reason. So too – to various degrees – had Kagetane (the Gastraea), Meetra (the Mandalorians and Sith), Uriel (Daedra), Bao (Rival Chinese States), and Bart (Reavers)… thought they each understood their enemies or at the least didn’t blame them for what they’d tried to do… and in several cases had succeeded in doing. The Mons, of course, had no qualms about the strong driving out the weak, while Ryoga, Yoiko, Beth, and Lizzy (yes, those two, agreeing on something. Scary.) regretted the necessity but understood it all too well. Cirno, as expected, couldn’t care less about the fate of ugly and stupid and mean kappas. The monster squad (Reggy, Tokimi, Yuzuha, and Caine) honestly had no problem and felt, by and large, I was worrying about nothing and being far too soft… well… I think that was Yuzuha’s point. She was still pouting about being trapped in a fleshbag. Invidius and Gaius Scipio thought I was thinking too hard and should just drop space-rocks on them. The Bookers spent all their time debating the issue until they were locked in a closet. And the Luteces were too fascinated by the technology to weigh in. Alex and Maggie didn’t get a vote.

Of AJ and Francine, Amelia and Anne, Zane and Kendra, Joy and Ahab, Velma and Petra, Raven and Brigid, Ziggy and Soffi… there was no sign. And Mini and Franky were more than a little freaked out to be removed from the comforting womb of the Warehouse and thrust into the decidedly unhygienic and… speaking of my companions… around the same time I’d arrived on the Light, they’d arrived on Haephestus, lacking powers or memories of where we’d gone after Treasure Planet… only to find the station essentially mothballed, running on stationkeeping drives and in maintenance mode. It had taken them practically as long to get the ancient system up and running as it had taken my crew to fix the ship… down to, as near as we could tell, the minute. Of course, they hadn’t had any opposition to deal with… external opposition that is.

Without powers or my leadership, they’d very quickly factionalized into 4 rough groups. Tokimi had led the Inhuman Faction (comprised of most of the non-humans… Yuzuha, Cirno, Dyna, and Rayray) and The Luteces, Lizzy, and the Bookers grouped with Franky and Mini (and two four year olds who were most upset that all their toys and pets had vanished) and Ryoga & Yoiko in what was being called the Seraglio, while the two Emperors had split the rest of the group, with Gaius & Reggy holding court over the Hardliners (Invidius, Scipio, Kohina, Kagetane, Meetra, and Bart), and Uriel & Bao holding court over the Schemers (Beth, Toph, and Caine). Of the animals or machines… We had no clue. Whatever had brought us here hadn’t included anyone who wasn’t, strictly speaking, a Companion. I assumed that Atura (still in Egg Form), totally lacking a physical form and bound to my very soul, was wherever Soul of Ice and Silent Judge were, sealed away by whatever force was making us all into mere mortals.  

But there were mere mortals and then there were mere mortals. Pretty close to all of my companions were exceptional in one or more ways. They represented millennia of training, practice, scheming, plotting, practice, and leadership. They had fought wars, led armies, studied the arts, sciences, and medicine. They might have been shaken, but they were stalwart, strong, and skilled to a fair-thee-well. It was strange to think that, even with all my hard work aboard The Light, all of it would have been for naught if my long lost companions hadn’t landed on the station itself and managed to bring it back to life. And I was, and would be, eternally grateful to them for that. They represented something to me, something I desperately needed in this dark time.

It wasn’t Hope. Carwyn had been my hope, the thing that had allowed me to cling to a chance that I could survive, the nail upon which I had hung my thread of life. But she was a new friend. These others… they had been with me for so long. They were my rock. They represented my past, a continuity with who I had been, and a foundation upon which I could build the future. If only there weren’t so many missing. But still, they were, to me, progress… and, with that in mind, I divided them up according to their factions and their skills.

The Mons got control over the scouting and invasion force, the population that would be doing the brunt of the fighting and beachheading. They’d been born and bred for combat and so had the Wargars and, to a lesser extent the less civilized members of the other tribes… even now being reorganized into Clans and Septs… whether they wanted to or not. Their old power structures would not be tolerated and their family units were being divided among the 6 Clans I’d transformed the Kin and Aquil into.

The Hardliners got control of the military, the Aquil and Void Walkers and Redeemers and even some Pale Sons who either seemed trustworthy or young enough to be malleable. Their job was to create a modern military society as soon as possible and, hopefully, to establish an esprit de corps. As the army grew, it would, hopefully, absorb the irregulars slowly at first, but faster and faster as our initial expansion turned to civic infrastructure and defense.

The Schemers would have control over the “civilian” government, though it would be anything but a democracy. A council of elders, three from each Clan, would be chosen to bring issues to the Viceroys, but they’d be purely advisory outside of their own 2,000 odd Clansmen.

Which left the Seraglio… and me. I’d claimed Hephaestus as my own, to be the seat of my administration and rule. Damned if I would live in the swamp, and be damned to any who forced me to descend from on high. I would come down on my own schedule, for my presence had to be one of greatest remove. I was the saviour, or breaker, depending upon which side of the war you’d been on. I was more than mortal, and I knew enough about primitives to know that the less time a leader spent among them, the better. My apostles, those who had seen me in action… they’d spread the word far better than I could. Indeed, my companions were already getting the most insane and awestruck queries. The less time I spent directly in contact with the clansmen, the less chance I’d have to embarrass myself.

As for Carwyn… it seems she’d abandoned me once we’d reached the station, for the hoped for introduction of this strange (and often deeply annoying) creature to my friends, all of which would have been exceptionally strange to the telepathic Eldar, failed to materialize… as she vanished the moment we arrived at Haephestus. I was disappointed, to be sure, but also a little hurt she hadn’t even said goodbye… but perhaps that wasn’t the Eldar way. I had no idea. Perhaps, for a race of nigh immortals, the concept of permanent parting didn’t really register. Surely, they might reason, they’d run into the other… eventually. But I had more important, more pressing matters to attend to, most notably resettling my new followers on a hostile planet.

Our initial landing point was a forgone conclusion as it turned out. It was a not particularly high mesa on the macro-continent, just a few hundred meters above the swamp, and almost 900 kilometers inland, and it had four important features. It was, first of all, dry, and a naturally defensible location, second. Third, it had what, at first blush, had appeared to be a city, a massive and remarkably intact and very very technologically advanced series of structures. The Cogitator (a Virtual Intelligence) aboard Hephaestus identified it as “The Vandean Coast” (despite the sea having, apparently, withdrawn long ago), an ancient imperial manufacturing complex, long silent oh these dark millennia, but in pretty much perfect mothball, just waiting for someone… i.e. us… to turn her on and provide power, raw materials, and direction. It wasn’t an automated facility, but it was, like almost everything built according to the long lost Standard Template Constructs of the Pre-Heresy times, usable by almost anyone of any tech level… If only I had the plans for some Leman Russ Battle Tanks… but we’d work something out.

The fourth reason, and not only the most important, but clearly the reason the Vandean Coast had been built where it was, was the absolutely gigantic hole right in the center of the complex. I’d gaped when I’d seen it, for, outside of the screens of a game called Alpha Centauri, I’d never actually known any culture to be insane enough to build one of these things. It was a Geotap, although the Cogitator called it a Geocore, a deep core borehole mine designed to allow harvesting of the material wealth of the planetary mantle. While the mining implements were long gone, the reason it was called a Geotap was because it had been converted from a mine into a titanic geothermal power plant. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, a nearly limitless source of electrical power… which would allow us to power up the Coast with relative ease, of course… but, and I had to laugh because, whoever had repurposed the borehole into a Geotap had clearly been inspired… or mad… or both… as it was crowned by an ancient, and utterly glorious, fixed plasma artillery cannon. And not just any fixed plasma artillery cannon.

Hephaestus called it “The Hammer of He Who Rules On High Terra”… I called it the Judah… the Hammer of God. Assuming it worked right… with that much power to draw on, any ship attempting to move into the half of the world that contained the titanic cannon would, in short order, no longer be able to be identified as a ship. It was, essentially, Starkiller Base, but defensive… and a bit smaller. Still, it was a cannon visible from orbit… what more does one want?

The landing site wasn’t particularly far, maybe half a day’s travel, from the edge of what appeared to be the only honest to me forest on the planet. It wasn’t terribly massive, but it was unique… partly because it was growing up the side of a mountain range that would help blunt the cold winds of the polar cap from reaching us at our base… but also because, if the Cogitator’s readings were correct, it was incredibly dense in refined metals… which was just… it was weird. According to the Cogitator’s memory banks, the pre-heresy ancestor of the Inquisition had long ago determined that the area, called the Aceria Forest, had been tainted by Chaos… though if it had been in that distant past, I saw no signs of it from orbit. Clearly investigation would be in order.

It was as if providence had provided this terrible world as a gift to me and mine. It would (assuming it didn’t break us) bind my forces together in defiance of the world’s challenges, hardening its people as Salusa Secundus and Arakis had done to the Sardaukar and Fremen respectively… or, since this was Warhammer 40k, perhaps I should have said Fenris… though I think Paradise was actively worse than the Space Wolves homeworld… perhaps I’d visit some day and compare. If the world was a disaster, it also provided all that we needed to thrive… as long as we were willing to put in the effort.

Even the food situation was readily solvable. Deep in the bowls of Hephaestus’s storehouses was a device from the deep recesses of that period of history known as “The Dark Age of Technology” called a Corpsegrinder. It wasn’t a great name, and certainly not one I’d share with anyone outside of the inner circle, but the 20,000 year old machine was nothing more or less than an ancient recycling system designed to quickly and efficiently convert any organic material into food bars… any organic material. They didn’t actually taste that bad. In fact, they were pretty darn tasty, if a little repetitive. Still, food was food, and once we got established we’d have biomass to burn.

Hephaestus had an even dozen attached landers, massive lift vehicles designed to land on a planet’s surface and then lift off again loaded down with megatons of refined metal, bioplastics, ferrocrete, and the thousand of other materials needed to repair a damaged starship. They also doubled as troop transports in a pinch.

“Land right on top of them,” I ordered as I rode the first lander of 8, recently christened “Ponyard”, down towards one of the Terellian towns flanking the mesa. They’d already attacked the initial scouts we’d sent down to secure the Coast… which they hadn’t been willing to touch, either viewing it as haunted or sacrosanct, I had no idea which… but they clearly objected to our presence. “Not near them Scipio, right on top of them. Aim for the largest group and drop us on them.” I commed the other landers, ‘Dagger’, ‘Knife’, ‘Dirk’, ‘Swordbreaker’, ‘Tanto’, ‘Katar’, and ‘Kriss’. “Take stations around the town, covering all the paths out. Open up and keep to cover. Don’t shoot anyone who are not raising weapons to attack.”

As Ponyard hit dirt, scattering the Tarellians and their light weapons out of its path and crisping several of the slower among them… and crushing the side of building… I popped the hatch from the five stories up cockpit and eyed the crowd threatening the giant steel ship with small arms fire. I shot one at random. “Any of you bastards speak Human?”

Of course they didn’t. Hell, none of them spoke the Terellian language the Hephaestus Cogitator had on file either, or if they did, they weren’t responding to it, preferring to shoot at me… so I shot back. Seemed like the polite thing to do.

“This is an act of War!” Toph shouted over the sound of machine gun she was spraying the ground with.

“No! This is an Act of Warhammer!” I yelled back. The rules of survival were more pressing than compassion. Sure, it was gallows humor, and I was well aware I hadn’t tried very hard to see if a reproachment could be reached with the Tarellians, but I couldn’t lose people out of a desire not to be a monster to a race which would gleefully murder and, probably, eat us. It was probably just me making justifications, but I was one of the humans who’d end up dead or worse if things went bad. “Eviscerators, forward under shields, I want these buildings burning asap.” Six of the eight transports carried 80 former Wargars with melee weapons and shields, 2 former Redeemers, and 20 former Void Walkers with crossbows. Behind them were 40 Lejens with bolters and much heavier armor and shields, though it was all still pretty mismatched. They weren’t there for the Tarellians. Any human who turned in the face of the enemy would be shot. It was as simple as that. The necessity made me feel… tainted. The other two transports were empty, waiting for prisoners.

The village fell, and give the Tarellians credit, they fought to the last. Not a damned one of the bastards even tried to flee and we only managed to capture about a hundred and fifty of the adults, all of them wounded, out of what looked to be a population of roughly 1,800. We had over 400 juveniles and infants as well.

“Gather the dead.” I ordered the Wargars, all of whom looked a bit odd in their high altitude breathmasks. They hadn’t been happy I’d ordered a blanket ban on facial or scalp hair, as the Wargars had been very proud of their long braided beards and hair, but it was their tradition to cut the hair off of defeated enemies and I’d ordered them all to shave and then had every last one of them tattooed with their new status symbol on their foreheads. “And have the prisoners transported to Southland Major. Drop them near a large settlement with 20 tons of rations,” I told the security crews of the two remaining shuttles.

There were 6 new Clans (named for the missing… Kendrazane, Velpetra, Anamelia, Joyhab, Zigsoffi, and Franjay) each divided thusly. There were seven Septs in each Clan (with names drawn from the pantheon of fiction I found relevant to the situation), and at the apex of each Sept were the Elders, a trio that always included a Kin Technic, a Lejens Senior Sarjant, and a Wise Woman who had born at least 3 children who’d lived to adulthood, drawn from among all the Families of that Sept, which were (obviously) variable in number. I’d selected all the Wise Women by interview, but had allowed the Lejens and Kin to select their own leadership. After that, the Elders had picked Freemen from the pool of Lejens and Kin adults, getting entire family units… which made the process a little difficult to balance, but I wasn’t aiming for perfect symmetry, just close. Younger orphans and widows (or in a couple cases, widowers), and what few elderly tribesmen had been kept around for their knowledge, were divided to family groups to even out the numbers as best as possible.

All Freemen were granted tattoos on the backs of their right hands, marking their membership in their new Clan (the outline or halo) & Sept (the internal symbol), with families whose members had earned particular honor being granted special bonus motifs, such as the right to surround the Clan symbol with a flourish such as flames, or chains, or blood. Each had to be unique within the Clan, and every member of the family gained it. Someone who married into a new Clan would receive the new clan’s symbol on the back of their left hand. Those who lacked one or the other hand got their tattoos on the sides of their neck.

Beneath the Freemen were the Awaiting, mostly consisting of juveniles or non-warriors. They had unfilled outlines of their clan Halo. The Awaiting could become Freemen by service… and everyone had to serve. It might have been possible to get by with a volunteer military, assuming they were dedicated enough, but considering how hostile Paradise was, and how hostile the Warhammer Universe was in general, it wouldn’t have been wise. I’d had the Bookers and Beth conduct a carefully census and had Gaius and Bao draft the basic plans for a militia, complete with compulsory military training. While they weren’t going to be my elite forces, the militia would drastically increase the manpower I had available… and would, if the Roman legions were any indication, help in the development of civic infrastructure like roads and dams.

Beneath the Awaiting were those who had actively raised arms against us, the Fallen. Those of the shaven heads and tattooed foreheads, marking their status (an empty Hexagon that slowly gained the lines of a hexagram). They were the unworthy who had risen against the Will of Heaven, dishonoring themselves, and so they would have to work to become Freeman and earn a place in a Clan. Six years, or six acts of distinguished valor or service above and beyond would cleanse the stain… or the acclamation of 6 members of a single Clan, or 4 of different Clans. It was incredibly sexist, but each child born to a woman was worth 2 such acts, with the hope that her children’s’ welfare would bind her more fully to the society. There were many ways to succeed, and many rewards for it as well.

Freemen had the right to marry and raise their own children. Freemen got better quarters and the right to dress those quarters as they saw fit. Freemen could have alcohol or hallucinogens when not on duty (or pregnant). Better weapons and armor, better training, the right to higher education. There wasn’t any money, since there wouldn’t be any commerce, not for the foreseeable future, but there would be Merit, a stand-in earned by service to the community and exchangeable for goods produced by the community.

If there were ways to succeed and reasons to strive, there were also punishments for failure and going against the society. A Fallen could not break the rules, as doing so would cost the Fallen either a year’s further service or 40 lashes, to be administered by their own comrades. Of course, desertion, cowardice, or betrayal carried the harshest penalties.

If a warrior deserted, or rather attempted to, as there wasn’t really anywhere to go, his family would be stripped of honor, even if they were an Elder… unless they brought the deserter back for punishment themselves… at which point the price was the same as for cowardice… being beaten to death by your own comrades. If a unit retreated without orders to do so, or ran from combat, they’d face decimation. Betrayal, i.e. turning on any member of your clan or upon the hierarchy, sabotage, gross or willful negligence… each of these could not be tolerated. This was, for all intents and purposes a stone age culture. They understood life and death and very little else. I had to shape them into a modern and cohesive society… which meant inventing a culture for them to embrace.

The Clans were part of it. I’d stripped them of their old identities, but given them new units, new symbols to embrace. And that was only the start of it. Paradise’s year was 471.09 local days long (each was 21.779 Terran Hours long (1,306.74 minutes), but with a conqueror’s casual disdain for the past, I proclaimed that it was 6 watches long (217.79 minutes), each containing 6 arcs (36.3 minutes) and each arc containing 6 sweeps (6 Minutes)… each of which contained 216 ticks (1.68 seconds)… and since I had the time pieces, I made the rules). I then divided the year into 36 13-day vigils, in groups of 6 called Months, and dedicated the three days that were left over as High Holy Days. The first two were called Penance (which would mark the day of my arrival and the freeing of the Light from the Warp) and then 61 days later (it had actually been 62, but close enough) Ignition, which would mark the day we’d fired up the Warp drive. The third was reserved for Founding (date TBD), which would come once we actually got the first building up at our new city.

The city I’d decided to call ‘Argos’ (place of the ship, related to a long and often dangerous voyage… and my first city under the Magi had been ‘Logos’) would be at a spot not too far outside the Vandean Coast, up on the plateau, where I’d picked a location that lay on a river that flowed near, but not through the Aceria Forest and close to the coast. It wasn’t the cleanest river… nothing on this world was clean, but it would make transporting metals out of the mountains and to the city to be and the nearby factory far simpler. The factory complex was nice… but no place to raise a family. Argos’s site, though in a slight saddle of the highlands, had a nice granite outcropping where we could build a redoubt and a tiered hill to give us height advantage.

With the liturgical calendar established, now all I had to do was create a liturgy. It had to be simple enough to be remembered, because none of these people were literate besides the Kin, and even then they weren’t thaaat literate. That would change, of course, but first I had to actually create a written language that was simple yet flexible, supple and easy to use, yet robust enough to stand up to comparison with Gothic. And, as always, religion, or rather cultural reverence would be a valuable tool to that end.

Language lessons would focus on records and signs at first, but legends and articles of faith would be the bread and butter of the mandatory education everyone would be required to gain. For Freemen, it would be their duty. For Awaiting, a requirement to become Freemen. For Fallen, a right they’d have to earn. Nothing makes people more desperate to learn than being told that their worthiness to do so was in question. Yes, there would be those who fell by the wayside, and I’d regret that, but building a new society was my goal. I literally could not tend directly to each individual. All I could do was shape a society that hopefully would. If nothing else, increased literacy and focus on innovation would, if I were lucky, counter the general Imperial attitude of stagnation, though I was not planning on staying for the centuries or millennia needed to counter the trend of humanity’s decline if I could at all help it. But better to be prepared than not. I was in uncharted ground here.

But on the subject of culture, I made the 13th day of each Vigil into a day of rest, a day for culture and contemplation… and drugs. This was the lynchpin of my plan to keep the culture I was making safe as possible from Chaos without making them soul-less automatons. I made the symbols of my nascent faith the wards and abjurements I’d learned from Grigobritz, the articles of faith and liturgy included techniques designed specifically to reinforce even normal minds against psychic tampering, witchcraft, and daemonic possession, and tattoos of achievement (and warding) were universal, for the “Flesh should bear the markings of accomplishment.” was one of my doctrines.

The drugs were part of that, and the reason was fourfold. First, they created a shared sense of euphoria since they were allowed only on Vigil and made the Vigil ceremonies faar less dull. Second, they made people really look forward to Vigil, and even if they initially were only coming for the drugs, the drugs made them more receptive to what was, let’s face it, indoctrination. I was knowingly creating a cult. Bad me. But what is society besides a cult that lasts long enough to flourish. The third reason was that the Fallen, who were forbidden alcohol all the time, were only permitted to attend the ecstatic rites if they’d been particularly good over the past 12 days, making attendance to religious ceremonies a reward in and of itself.

The last reason was, if anything, even creepier than the first three combined… I was deliberately nurturing a tau, not in the alien sense, but in the Fremen sense. A community of shared experience… shared thought… and deep consciousness programming. I needed my people to be resistant to Chaos, not on the conscious level, but on the subconscious, the reflexive layer where even a nascent psyker would form their thoughts into a protective bubble. I was programming the wards and meditations into my people’s very psyches.

All of this was in service of a single goal. I needed my followers to have faith in me, faith in each other, faith that we could overcome all adversity. They had to want to learn to read, had to want to follow me, had to want to become the seed of a new culture… a culture that embraced the same ideals I did. Duty, responsibility to others, acknowledgement of one’s own limits, and cooperation to overcome them.

Without such things, modernization of the military would be impossible, establishing a civilian infrastructure and transportation network would be impossible, universal healthcare would be impossible. With such things, it was my hope that I’d be able to get my followers up to the standard of at least the Imperial Guard within a few years, and possibly beyond that in a few more. It was my hope to build a city that had all the things a city might need… courthouses, sewers, public maintenance and public records… they might seem pointless, but they are the backbone of development. Effective transportation was just as important… and keeping everyone healthy was just… a sick worker cannot work, a sick soldier cannot fight, and a sick child destroys morale. This Universe was not kind to the unprepared. I would not be that.

I ordered the construction of roads, canals, landing zones for air and space vehicles… as well as hospitals and clinics, and even descended from on high to personally instruct my fledgeling medical teams and first responders, while issuing all manner of religious decrees that were secretly health and safety instructions. “Every Morning, upon rising, thou shalt do 200 jumping jacks in praise of the Sky Mother who dwells on High Hephaestus.”

This wasn’t to say that I foresaw everything. I’d run a galaxy spanning mega-empire. I was familiar with a lot of this stuff… but not infallible. In the early days, as we were just getting the Vandean Coast up and running, I failed to take into account slag storage issues… and my oversight cost three men their lives and could have been much worse had the slag-alanche been worse. That kept me up for several nights, before I decided what we needed was a comprehensive and yet failsafe set of disaster response guidelines. Emergency supply caches were added to fire suppression and first aid points, and crisis presponse teams were created to not only do spot inspections on a regular basis but to also be ready to provide relief whenever the need arose… up to and including hostile action and sabotage.

I also instituted periodic retesting of all certification holders. Laxness would not be tolerated or encouraged. People would understand what they were doing and why, or I’d know the reasons and punish the guilty.

The incident also showed me that I needed a way of reducing pollution, and that meant going green… or rather purplish-grey. It meant taking a small hit in productivity, but by recycling, refining, and distilling as much of the effluvia as possible, we were actually stretching our resources further than we otherwise would have.

And speaking of resources… what was, perhaps, weirdest of all was that forest I mentioned earlier, Aceria. Somehow the plants of the area had been changed by the long ago exposure to Chaos, transforming them into hundreds of useful forms found nowhere else. Rare fungi that processed nitrogen a hundred times better than normal mushrooms. Plants that had sap that could easily be converted into kerosine. Berries whose seeds were just like pop-rocks. Leaves that were made of an Aramid Fiber that made Kevlar look like tissue paper… But of all of these, Steelstalk Bushes were the prize of prizes. It was a plant with metallic leaves that could drain metals from the ground and exude them as readily smeltable rods, and it made mining easier than I’d ever dreamed possible.

So that was my life now. Overseeing the repairs to a massive starship, teaching classes (medicine, governance, social theory, hand to hand) to those who would teach classes to others in turn, and trying to entertain three four year olds whose toys and yummy snacks and snuggle pets had vanished… oh… did I say three… yes, I meant three. Apparently Cirno, the idiot fairy, had gotten with… whatever fairies get with, at some point and then hidden said child from me cause she was convinced I’d be angry… and I was. 4 years… 4 YEARS… dumb ass fairy had this poor kid convinced that papa was a ogre… yes, Cirno told the kid (whose name was Amaryllis) I was an actual ogre who breathed frost and boomed like thunder. Half the time she just hid from me. She also hid from her somewhat older siblings, as she was convinced they’d make fun of her for being a fairy instead of a real person.

If it wouldn’t have wouldn’t have reinforced Cirno’s teachings, I’d have screamed and raged at the idiotic fairy… but instead I just sighed and banged my head against a bulkhead. Great. I was an Ogre to a child and a Saviour to a bunch of childlike adults. I don’t know which bothered me more. But both were duties I had to tend to.

The first was deeply frustrating, since even the kindest word could send Amaryllis scampering for safety, and sometimes she’d start to cry for no reason… and then others, she’d demand snuggles as if to prove to herself that I wasn’t going to eat her… or something. I wasn’t good at reading children, and she was weird even for a child. Alex was hyperactive and loved physical activity. Maggie was calmer than her-half brother, and more interested in mechanical things. Amaryllis was quiet and emotional. And once all three were together, I think they could have given the Ruinous Powers a run for their money.

As to tending to the second, once every thirteen days I’d descend from upon high, both to swap out which group of Elders I was instructing, and to inspect everything that had been done in the last 10 days. That took two days, and then I conducted religious services for the community. Mostly in a modified form of liturgical hebrew, both for the power of the language and for the whole mystery cult aspect.

Choosing hebrew, a language dead over 30 millenia, for prayer, both felt right and served to push the idea of a new common tongue. Most of my followers had fairly limited vocabulary, so creating a ‘new’ language to unify them all made sense. That technical stuff was written in one language and secret stuff of the divine was in another wasn’t an issue… since I simply stole all the important technical terms from High Gothic, but changed the pronunciation to fit hebrew. 10,000 years of linguistic drift had left even the Kin with a pretty poor pronunciation guide. I did cheat however. I stole the Japanese version of hash marks to give everyone a counting system that had decimal… okay, heximal (yes, it was a base 6 number system, for reasons that will make all kinds of sense if you think about it.)… value.  Hebrew numerics used the letters themselves, and while that made for all kind of nested meaning, it was annoying and less useful than just being able to do columnar maths.

Math and Language, Medicine and Religion, Unity and their own (almost infinitely vast… at least to those who’d always lived in places bounded on all sides) world… these were my gifts to the people of the Light. The were the pillars of my society, though couched in the terms Philosophy, Ideology, Vitality, Community, Unity, & Society.

To the Tarellians who we continually warred with, my gifts were a continued string of overtures of peace and offers to trade. We never attacked them as long as they didn’t cross into our areas in force, and left all but those initial communities in peace. Slowly, trade with them was becoming more than just a pipe dream, though we never sold them high tech weapons, as the attacks were much more common than traders… at least initially.

The city rose with impressive speed, a speed I’d have expected out of Starfleet, not primitives with guns… but the Lejen and Kin had each known their shit and (to be honest) being outside made them feel exposed. Within a month, we had enough barracks for everyone dirtside and everyone was off the Light. Within three, we had industry up and running, pumping out raw materials and tools, as well as defensive plating by the metric ton (before that our defenses had mostly been the landers.

By the end of the first year, we had a fully functional city, and while a full half of the Vandean Coast’s massive output was being diverted to Hephaestus, the rest was pouring out into a ring of defensive emplacements which would have given Space Marines pause… not a lot of it, but some. And more were coming online as fast as we could install them. Part of it was the fact that the city was laid out not for the people we had, but to be the capital of an entire planet.

All the architecture was designed to look as un-Imperial as possible. Few Aquilae, no gargoyles, no useless flared buttresses or spires. Lots of hebraic capitals, lots of moorish minarets (often containing gun-nests), lots of flared roof edges in the asian tradition, lots of Gaudi-style colonnades and galleries. Symbols replaced gargoyles, hexagrams replaced skulls, green and white replaced black and gold. And utility was the watchword everywhere.

Mixed use districts were designed in such a way that the city was full of interlocking support zones, with public spaces and fixed hard points salted in with killing zones that doubled as avenues or shopping arcades. Supply depots were decentralized, aid stations were always a minimal distance away, and everywhere was a 10 minute walk to a park… even if finding things to fill those parks with wasn’t the easiest thing… mostly it was crop plants… but a few of the local flora-fungi were safe for this kind of thing.

And at the center of the city was the massive fortified bastion that was The Tabernacle. It was part courthouse, part mausoleum, part city hall… and all castle. Every part of its (very not Gothic) exterior was designed for holding off a siege, while the interior was mostly a giant empty space that could be filled with pews or gun-turrets at need. The sublevels sank deep into the bedrock and the entire thing was riddled with secret passages and defensive hardpoints and weapons lockers. It was a redoubt, covered in layers of interlocked weaponry and symbols of power… with anti-siege and anti-air capacity. That it was also where the Corpsegrinder was stored (Soylent Purple is PEOPLE!) which meant that, as long as the subterranean power feeds from the Geocore weren’t cut, the food would last pretty much forever… biomass is biomass.

Keeping out the Tarellians and the local Mega-Fauna was enough to keep my people always on the defensive, and every work crew always had guards nearby. It did double duty, keeping the potentially rebellious element watched… and making them grateful for it. Harvesting in the Aceria was the hardest zone, but we were transplanting as much of the useful plantstuff as we could, rather than plowing them under.

Every species in the Forest was studied for three qualities; utility, safety, and danger to others. If it had any of those three, we were interested. Barbed wire plants, exploding tree-fruit, glowing seed pods that hummed lightly… all had their uses. There was even weird fauna mixed in with the unnatural plants. A thing that looked like a sheep (though it was actually closer to a spider), that grew an aramid fiber that looked like wool but was thrice as soft, yet could be treated and processed to make fireproof, lightweight, and very strong fabric. A beaver-analog whose teeth were diamondoid hard and could be easily turned to all sorts of cutting tasks. A pill-bug like creature that was an excellent source of gelatine… what? Jell-o is important stuff!

I had a burgeoning city full of kids (good lord was our birthrate high… over 90% of the women got pregnant that first season.) The adults had never eaten this well in their lives, nor had such good health care, and all the physical effort needed was keeping everyone lean and in excellent condition. Even the Pale Sons, Redeemers, and Void Walkers were looking better. It’s amazing what vitamins and radiation therapy can do.

There were so many kids, in fact, that the Tabernacle also became the defacto daycare 12 days of the cycle. Which was, in many ways, a good thing, since it had the best internal atmosphere. Building every building with an airlock was a pain in the neck, and leak sensors were a definite priority. But I had a plan for that too… well… three of them.

Paradise needed a thicker atmosphere, and quick. That meant Nitrogen and Oxygen and (if I could get it) Argon. Thankfully, I had a lot of transport ships designed to bring huge cargos from one place to another. So I sent them harvesting. Space Ice can be found in all manner of places, from comets to the rings of gas giants to ice moons.  And I tasked every lander that wasn’t full of people to try and bring in as much ice as possible.

See, Ice is largely Oxygen and Hydrogen, and if you’ve got power, splitting them is dead simple. And we had power to burn. It also gave us a huge amount of hydrogen for fuel cells, and even if we didn’t convert even half the ice, that was water for all sorts of things… including atmospheric water vapor. Earth’s atmosphere is 77% Nitrogen, 20% Oxygen, 2% Water vapor, and 1% Argon. With other trace elements for good or bad.

If Paradise were a cold world, pumping greenhouse gases would be optimal, but it wasn’t (don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t warm… it just wasn’t frozen). Still, loads of water vapor would be good. And spreading Terran Crops which would use all that fixed nitrogen was excellent. So excellent, that I was pushing a full range study of what crops would do it fastest without our intervention… and then dumping their seeds all over the place.

And the third method was to just dump all the oxygen and nitrogen we could pull out of the ground into the air as fast as we could.

All of which would take decades… but who knew how long we’d be here for… and boy did I miss Velma’s scientific mind. Tokimi was brilliant too, of course, but also a bit lazy and bossy.  I put her in charge of the kids. Not my kids, the rest of the colony’s kids. Someone had to do it and she looked mostly harmless but was vicious when she needed to be and extremely good at dealing with them on an emotional level. I had to wonder if that’s because she thought of almost everyone as childlike compared to her… but then again, Washu and Tsunami also acted fairly childlike a lot of the time.

As for my own children… How best to explain? I’ll give you a glimpse of what that was like. At around the second year mark… I found my personal quarters (planetside) full of Speeps (spider-sheep). About twenty of them. Some of them clinging to the ceiling fixtures. Speeps are essentially harmless. They scrape moss off of rocks and trees for food, and are bad at it. Like… giant pandas bad at breeding bad at it. They were easily domesticable because all it takes to make one like you was shaving moss for them. Feed them and they clustered round you in large fluffy masses. The largest source danger they represented was that of being smothered by them, but even that wasn’t likely. They had no natural predators thanks to the density of their wool, which promised anyone who tried to take a bite a mouthful of fluff. And their carapaces were hard enough to keep out anything small enough to bypass the wool. The only thing that killed them in the wild was fungal infection, so domestic Speeps were routinely treated with an antifungal agent. They were also stupid… which means that they hadn’t found their way into my quarters on their own.

A hundred eyes moved to me as I opened my door (it’s not as impressive once I tell you that Speeps have 4 eyes each… two large black gemlike visible light eyes and two small yellow IR eyes.). Six of those eyes, however, did not belong to Speeps, but rather to human children, human children who were very slowly trying to sink down into the Speeps as if hoping that I hadn’t noticed them. Amaryllis’s eyes were wide with terror, and she squeaked “It was Alex’s idea!” when I looked at her.

Alex muttered “fink” but Maggie bopped him with a plastic sword and he glowered at her.

“She’s not a fink… it was your idea, Alexander,” the tiny dark haired girl announced gravely.

“Yeah, well… papa didn’t need to know that,” the brat of the group muttered darkly.

“Papa knows everything,” Amaryllis squeaked from under the Speep that had just fallen off the lighting fixture on top of her. It was okay; they only weigh about 12 kilos and are covered in twenty to thirty centimeters of padding.

“If Papa knew everything, you wouldn’t have to tell her things,” Maggie pointed out, rolling the Speep off her sister.

“Papa is standing right here… and wondering why there are four hands of Speeps in my quarters?” (Four hands… 4×6… 24… see note on Magi Fingercounting below) “and why you thought it was a good idea to… never mind… never mind… you three have your own rooms… and are supposed to be in them… on Hephaestus.”

“We were gonna smuggle Speeps up to the station!” Alex announced, and his sisters nodded enthusiastically.

“Why?”

“Because they’re soft!” Amaryllis declared happily, then blushed.

“We wanted to make you a present,” Maggie said, not sounding like she was sucking up, but also not sounding completely certain what they could have made with Speep Fluff that would actually require having the entire Speep now that she’d thought about it.

“I thought it would be funny to train them to stalk Auntie Tokimi and Lady Regina!” the brat added, helpfully not helping.

“Speeps don’t stalk anyone,” I pointed out. “They’re almost completely useless.”

“We could get Shroomzoomers,” Alex said, referring to the small, vicious, lizardlike creatures that lived in some of the dense mushroom forests.

“Those are poisonous!” Amaryllis squeaked in horror.

“Venomous, dumb dumb,” Maggie said.

“Don’t call your sister dumb-dumb, Mags,” I chided.

“What’s the difference between Poisonous and Venomous?” Amaryllis asked.

“If bites you and you die, it’s venomous. If you bite it and you die, it’s poisonous,” Maggie pedantically explained.

“What if it bites me and it dies?” Alex asked, lifting a Speep to find where he’d dropped his fungus-wood shield. The kid was pretty strong.

“That mean’s you’re poisonous,” Maggie said, not quite adding ‘as if we didn’t know that already.’

He paused to consider his next question, then smiled and asked, “What if it bites itself and I die?” Little smart ass.

Amaryllis waved her hand, “Ooo… oo! I know! That means it’s magic!”

“What if it bites me and someone else dies?” Alex asked, sounding smug.

“That’s correlation not causation,” Maggie said, showing off how smart she was… great kid, I was totally that way as a child… shut up.

“What if we bite each other and neither of us die?” Amaryllis asked, sounding worried.

“That sounds like tuesday,” I sighed. “Now you three are going to help clean up this mess and put the Speeps back in their pens, right?”

The trio looked at me, horror on their tiny faces, and (as one), asked the question that was as old as time, “DO WE GOTTA?”

I regarded the trio, raising an eyebrow. “Did you make the mess?” They looked around and Alex opened his mouth to claim it was the Speeps who made the mess technically, but Amaryllis, fundamentally good kid that she is, beat him to the punch.

“Yes papa,” she sighed, scuffing the floor with one of her slippers.

“If you make a mess, you should try and clean it, not expect others to do it for you. You’re getting big, so that’s something you should try and remember. And if your mess causes other people problems, you should tell them you’re sorry. Unless you meant to cause them problems. Then you should laugh at them and point out that they’re stupid. But only do that to people who really deserve it.” What? Stop looking at me like that! I’m a parent, not a saint. Also a fairly warlike and often vindictive and occasionally supervillainous parent.

Getting the trio back to the station required a special trip and meant I’d be grumpy at services the next day, but the relief on Frankie’s and Mini’s faces was worth the trip and lack of sleep. Cirno, who’d apparently been convinced she and Amaryllis were playing Hide & Seek, blamed me for spoiling the game. Can’t win everything.

Next: Light of Terra, Part 3

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon.

Resources: BuildDocument

On Magi Handcounting

Hold your right hand, palm facing you, thumb along the palm, fingers folded in. Strike that with your left hand closed in the same fashion, but with the length of the thumb parallel with the right wrist. This is Zero, or a new number.

  • 1. extend your right index finger and tap the front of it with the front of your left fist.
  • 2. as 1 but extend your left index finger and use it to tap your right index finger, front to front
  • 3. as 2 but extending both left index and middle fingers.
  • 4. as 2 but extending your left index, middle, and ring fingers.
  • 5. as 2 but extending all four  lefthand fingers.
  • 6. as 2 but spreading your left hand wide.
  • 7-12. repeat 1-6 but with right index and middle fingers extended and being tapped.
  • 13-18. repeat 1-6 but with right index, middle, and ring fingers extended and being tapped.
  • 19-24. repeat 1-6 but with all four righthand fingers extended and being tapped.
  • 25-48. repeat 1-24 but with your right thumb raised.
  • 49-96. repeat 1-48, but have your left hand reversed so both palms face you.
  • 97-192. repeat 1-96, but touch your right arm’s inner wrist instead of the hand.
  • 193-288. repeat 1-96, but touch your right arm’s inner arm just below the elbow instead of the hand.
  • 289-576. repeat 1-288, but touching your left hand to the outside of your right hand/arm instead of the inside.
  • 577-1152. repeat as 1-576 with the hands switched.

Negative numbers can be generated by inverting your catching hand (right for 1-576, left for 577-1152). Multiple numbers can be generated incredibly rapidly in this way over the battlefield or in the marketplace. Larger numbers can be generated by striking the catching hand when it is closed with the throwing hand displaying various fingers. This is often used as a shorthand for orders of magnitude in heximal.

  • x6. palm to palm, left index raised. this is essentially adding a zero to the end of the following number.
  • x36. palm to palm, left index & middle raised. this is essentially adding two zeroes to the end of the following number
  • x216. palm to palm, left index, middle, & ring finger raised.
  • x1,296. palm to palm, all left fingers raised.
  • x7,776. palm to palm. left hand spread.
  • x46,656. both palms facing the counter, both fists clenched. doing this twice in a row is an insulting gesture, calling someone fat.
  • x279,936. as 46,656 but with left index finger raised.
  • x1,679,616. as 46,656 but with left index & middle finger raised.
  • x10,077,696. as 46,656 but with left index, middle, and ring finger raised.
  • x60,466,176. as 46,656 but with all left fingers raised.
  • x362,797,056. as 46,656 but with left but with left hand spread.

Next comes the hands back to back (the inverse of zero, that being back of left fist striking back of right fist, being 6^12… it is important to remember that in heximal, writing in arabic numerals, 6 would be written as 10, 36 as 100, and 216 as 1000. Thus, the space below 6 is 0), which generates up to 6^24, then the left hand striking the back of the right hand to go up to 6^48… then the entire process repeats with the left hand catching and the right hand throwing to go all the way up to 6^96… though numbers this high are only practiced as children’s games wherein one person will throw out a rapid series of handsigns and the children will try and either repeat them or write them down in a list correctly. There are also operand signs for subtraction, division, fractions, exponents, square roots, pi and tau, and many others, but those are even more obscure. Few of my people are mathematical geniuses… yet.

If it seems overly complex, that is the intention. While the ability to generate almost any common number with minimal ambiguity has its own utility, the games possible with this form of handcounting are the primary purpose and were introduced in order to each barely math literate savages (and children) counting and mathematical concepts in such a way that they would want to learn. Games make everything fun. If one needs proof of that, simply look at all the train and logistics based games out there.

It is important to maintain the orientation of hands so that the throwing hand is vertical and the catching hand is horizontal, otherwise ambiguity can crop up. All other handsigns in the extensive magi handsign language are generated with the hands either separate or crossed diagonally, so that numbers are clearly differentiated from words and concepts.

If one is wondering why such an extensive handsign system is needed at all… the atmosphere outside is barely breathable and speaking through respirators is problematic. Of course, there is a simplified single hand lingo for when you have a tool in one hand, including a simplified handcounting system, wherein one touches the thumb and a finger together in a specific way to generate a number between 1 and 24. in each group, the thumb touches the fingers from pinkie inward, then repeats that order in the next group.

  • 1-4 are generated by tapping the base the finger with the thumb tip… though in practice it is usual to tap the middle of the finger instead of the actual base due to the thickness of gloves. One lives and learns.
  • 5-8 are generated by pressing the pads of the finger to the pad of the thumb.
  • 9-12 are generated by touching the tip of the thumb to the pad of the finger.
  • 13-16 are the reverse, touching the pad of the thumb to the tip of the finger.
  • 17-20 are generated by touching the thumb to the flat of the nail of the finger.
  • 21-24 are the reverse, touching the pad of the finger to the flat of the thumbnail.

Larger numbers must be generated via combinatorics.

If this seems outrageous, the English Monk / Historian Bede (c. 725.ME01) had a system called Tractatus de computo, vel loquela per gestum digitorum (an essay on computation via gestures of the fingers) through which it was possible to count up to 9,999 on two hands which was used throughout Europe in the middle ages. The arabic mathematician Abu’l-wafa al-Buzajani gave rules for performing complex operations (including approximating the square root) and there were even pedagogical poems dealing with fingercounting across Eurasia.

Author’s Notes

Again, the design of the (quite frankly epic) Light of Terra Jump (which is spread across no less than 8 parts) implies that the jumper isn’t making conscious choices, or at least that’s my take on it. As such, it’s more about doing what I’d do naturally and expending CP accordingly. What makes the second section all the trickier is that it has two different build sections; Terraforming and Skills & Abilities. The Terraforming section utilizes Terraforming Points (TP) while the Skills section uses the more standard Character Points (CP). It is important to note that, in Light of Terra, CP is only required to balance across all parts of the Jump (7/8ths of them use CP) so individual sections will not balance. This is also why I’m not posting the complete build on my build page until the entire thing is finished.

Actually, I lied. There are four sections. One deals with the companion gained in the first part, while the other is a mandatory complication that will arise much later on in the decade. Since neither of these sections become important (or even come up) in this chapter, I’ll save the details for later, so as to not spoil any surprises.

Build Notes

Terraforming Options: Strictly speaking, this section says “There is a cache of pre-heresy terraforming equipment aboard Hephaestus Orbital Repair Platform, technology not seen for close to ten thousand years. This may very well be the last of its kind in existence, and you get to use it to customise the world you will call your own.” So, yes, I could have detailed my choices that way… except that most of the choices possible don’t really make sense as something anyone would pick, or are clearly pre-existing structures. With that in mind, I decided to go with the the choices as already spent and SJ having no real input in the long since completed process. This also works as it isn’t actually possible to build a nice world using the TP system, because one starts with Zero TP and must finish at Zero or Above.

Atmosphere: There is no break-even option here. Gaia Class costs 3 TP, Standard costs 2, and Terraformable (the option I went with) costs 1. Toxic and Hellworld get you 2 or 3 back respectively, but are spectacularly not worth it. A poor but breathable atmosphere that can be improved with hard work is doable. Anything better is a waste of points. Anything worse is just asking to fail.

Terrain: Here there are not one but three zero-cost options; Jungle, Iceball, and Swampy. Iceball had some nice chemical elements, but would have made colonization of the surface a problem. Jungle was good for beasts of burden, but not much else. Swampy was excellent for biodiversity and extremely good for defense. Picking it was a no brainer. I certainly wasn’t going to take Barren, which made the world lifeless, no matter how many points it was worth (3). On the flipside, Perfect was again a waste of points (3) and while Mountainous was good for resources and defenses, the effort in having to dig in was prohibitive… as was the 1 TP cost.

Flora and Fauna: In the third category is where I paid for things. Perhaps intentionally, perhaps accidentally, the author of the jump does not state that only one option can be taken in each category. Some options are clearly contradictory, but it could be argued that a Barren Iceball would be a valid combination, as would, say, a Swampy Jungle. And it could be argued that I probably have described Paradise as more a Swampy Jungle than a pure Swampy… but as both are zero-cost, that matters little. There are two options in the F&F section that cost TP; Garden of Eden (3 TP) and Terran (1 TP)… and both would be wonderful for a planet that wasn’t meant to be the basis for a mining operation in the Warhammer 40K universe. This is not a pleasure planet or a shrine world. This is a Death World. To quote Frank Herbert “God Created Arrakis to Train the Faithful!” and that’s what I’m aiming for. To that end, I selected two of the four bad options; Land of the Giants (+2 TP) and Unpleasant (+2 TP)… which is a bit of a cheat to be honest. Land of the Giant explicitly makes all the flora tiny and insanely fast growing, while making the fauna all megafauna (carnivores included)… while Unpleasant replaces the majority of all plants with foul looking and stinking fungus, including giant mushrooms spreading poison spores and playing host to large worms and other annelids. It’s gross, but (combined with a Terraformable atmosphere that already requires breathing gear outside, and the already morale sapping swamps, it means any invader besides Tyranids will have a problem or three). Of the other two, Bad Batch File wasn’t worth it and couldn’t be taken with Swampy, Jungle, or Iceball (and covered the world in algae), and while I might have taken Deathworld from the name… the fact that (+3 TP or not) it meant the world was home to feral Tyranids made it decidedly a no go choice.

Native Life: This is described as the ‘Optional Section’, which means you don’t have to take anything from it, and two of the options are either useless (the zero cost and very weird Thyrrus who consider war a performance art) or cost prohibitive and immoral (the 3 TP Zoats who are a slave race). However, taking the +3 TP Tarellians (who hate humans and are incredibly hostile) provides both potential converts… I can be persuasive… and a constant enemy to be watchful of. For a return in TP. This is called a Win-Win.

Special Resources: For some reason not considered Optional, this is what the lion’s share of those hoarded TP are for. I went into this section with 6 TP and almost considered taking Deathworld anyway just to get 3 TP more. Among the items I didn’t pick up were an automated factory designed to churn out an endless string of Leman Russ pattern Battletanks (these things can run on anything that burns and are fairly awesome. I didn’t pick them because they’re better on offence than defense and I don’t plan on invading any planets besides this one), an archeotech hoard of 200 plasma weapons (not even vaguely worth it), a world wide ancient war machine graveyard (tempting, as it is an excellent source of scrap metal and potential salvage), and a planet scale teleportation grid. What I did get was the Geocore (unlimited energy supply), the Vandean Coast (a massive imperial manufacturing center that isn’t automated, but should be far more useful than the Battletank plant), The Corpse Grinder (I have waaay too much biomass around here. Using it to make unlimited food is a good thing!) , and the Aceria Forest… which is awesome from both a resource standpoint and a writing standpoint. Still, even without the three extra points, I’m decently happy with how Paradise turned out.

Skills and Abilities: Thankfully, this section comes with a 1000 CP stipend, otherwise I’d have had to find more drawbacks… and there really aren’t that many in the whole LoT MegaJump. As it was, from a powergaming standpoint, I clearly spent way too many points in this section, buying 1900 of the 2500 CP worth of options… pretty much none of which will be useful outside of building the colony on this world. Everything in this section could be easily handwaved away as being a ‘No Duh’ thing to do if you’re founding a civilization… and as the former head of a galaxy spanning culture, I could easily have just said ‘Oh, of course I do that! I don’t need to spend the CP on it… except I wanted to do this straight and the guarantees that came with each thing would easily help make survival, not just for my Jumpself but for the colonists a much more feasible task. The Magi didn’t have to rise to power on a Hell World.

I didn’t bother with Aggressive Actions or Defensive Tactics. Both of those I was comfortable handwaving. I know strategy and I’m not an idiot. Military Modernization and universal Literacy Program were the most expensive things I took, each costing 300 CP. The first ensured that I’d be able to equip my entire colony to the standards of the Imperial Guard, something that was not at all a guarantee without it and not something to be scoffed at, while the second all but allows my colony to overcome the technological stagnation of the rest of the Warhammer 40K universe and (in theory and with much time) to rebuild to Dark Age of Technology levels.

Among the many 200 CP options I took were Pollution Standards (increased resource utility for a slight hit in productivity), Universal Draft (improved civilian infrastructure and available manpower… with the implicit bonus that the people accept such a draft unconditionally), Universal Healthcare (a fiat guarantee of overall health levels rising and illness rates dropping spectacularly… helps offset the climate), and Catastrophe Recovery (a guarantee that any sort of emergency can and will be dealt with quickly and easily… including hostile action). But the most useful was ‘Cultural Monopolization’, which means that those who follow me (including mixed species groups) will be merged into a single collective culture that works. Where there should be conflict, unity. Where there should be disharmony, order… and my values will quickly come to be the dominant ones among my followers. It was a no brained.

Also a no brainer was the 100 CP ‘Unwavering Belief’ which turned me into a figure of veneration and doubled down on the whole “believe what I believe” thing. Tossing in the Civilian Infrastructure (everything works perfectly) and Transport Networks (things just get a bit easier) might have been much, since they don’t really do anything that couldn’t be waved away… but it’s good faith that they do something, so I’ll assume they do. Good storytelling too. I’d have them, I should pay for them, right? Who knows. It’s 200 CP. I’ll cope with the loss.

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 1

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

PART 1: The Barque of the Forsaken

Previously: Unto Us is Given

Themesong: The Sound of Silence by Disturbed

AN: A special shout out to my Patreon Patrons. You rock. And to all my loyal readers. I’d do this anyway, but knowing you’re out there reading makes it all the sweeter. Your feedback is appreciated, and I live for comments. So, thank you.

I awaken in darkness. The air… tastes… bitter… stale… too thin… coppery… hard to breath… tastes like blood. The lights flicker on… but they’re dim, unsteady… barely enough to show me the metal walls and floor, both caked with dust and brittle with rust, they crackle under my hands… my head pounds… I’m in my default form… no idea where I am… my memory palace has been reduced to a mnemonic trick, nothing like its normal grandeur… all my senses seem dulled. Can’t open the way to the Warehouse… can’t contact my companions… I don’t think… nothing’s working. No magic… no telekinesis… it’s cold… oh god, I can feel the cold… and the gravity feels off. Where am I? I’m not back on Earth. This is… nothing is making sense. I’m… why… no… not the time.

I try to find an exit. It’s all I can do for now. No explanation… not enough air to do more than stumble… and then, between one stumbling sliding step in the silvery sand and the next, my ears pop and there’s a flicker of reality. A vending machine is there for a moment, static like an old black and white TV coursing down its surface, words I can’t quite make out on the screen… too garbled… too far. Then reality flickers again and the machine is gone.

I just stare for a long, long time, then reach for the wall… but I’ve slid down the strangely angled floor… picking up speed… what was that? Felt like a soap bubble… oh god… I’m in vacuum… Fuuck… I’m going to die. Not like this! Not like-

There’s a flash across my vision… a… a sense of possibilities, of… of something unfolding… and I stop… I just… stop… standing on nothing, surrounded by nothing. For a moment I have no idea how or why… then something brushes my mind… a fleeting contact with something other… I know this sensation… it’s telepathy… and the source is… smug… so very very smug. An overpowering sense of self, of confidence in its own competence, and a thought not my own forms inside my mind.

~Why does a sudden awareness of your ignorance surprise you, Mon’Keigh?~

Oh… good… god. I know where I am. I’m in hell… no… sorry, that’s not right. I’m in Warhammer 40K… hell would be nicer. There aren’t innocents in hell. I have no idea how I got here, or what’s going on, but somehow, somehow, I know that somewhere, a being known as Malice or Malal is watching. He is the God of Chaos Eating Itself… and somehow, somehow… this is all his fault. Everything is always his fault… But before I can formulate that opinion as more than vague supposition… my thoughts move so slow… my brain is flesh and blood again, electrical impulses sliding through a chemical stew instead of… of… quantum packets gliding along hyperfractal ice matrices… before I can begin to clear my head to think actual thoughts, he… she… my rescuer… an Eldar… because only 40K Eldar call humans “MonKeigh”… insufferable gits… stands in front of me.

He… she… is glorious… perfectly formed, eternal and unchanging and more beautiful than Tolkien could have pictured… no… it’s not real… this is artifice. I know psi powers… this is presence, psychic manipulation… she… he… is messing with my head. Like a Ventrue using presence… there have to be… what… fifteen ways to circumvent it… just… just have to concentrate… so… hard… still can’t breathe…

And then the contact breaks, the effect ends… oh, sweet Moses… he really is that good looking… and that is the smuggest smile I’ve ever seen. She… I’m going to go with She.. is holding a suit of armor draped over one arm. Looks like a cross between chainmail and lizard scales, but even shinier. There’s a… wall… an endless wall behind her and we’re moving closer to it, the edges of this bubble of air barely visible as they distort light.

~My name, MonKeigh, is Carwyn. I am an Eldar Warlock. I have decided to save you from your impending fate. Consider yourself blessed.~

At least this I know how to respond to. ~Thank you, Carwyn. Where the hell are we?~

~The wreckage of MonKeigh vessel of vast size.~

~AH… excellent.~

~You sound pleased. Why?~ And then the sensation of someone rifling through my mind and memories… and then the sound of Carwyn actively choking. The sphere flickers, then firms back up as we pass back through the shattered hull section. The armor is hundreds of meters thick, but the rent in it is like a chasm between two skyscrapers.

~Yeah… you shouldn’t try reading my memories… I don’t think your mind can easily handle everything that’s in there… I can’t either right now.~

~How can a MonKeigh have so much information… so many memories?~

~I’ve lived for nearly 14,000 years and read literally tens of millions of books. I have experienced the collected literature of dozens of races, the histories and philosophy of thousands of cultures. I… am much reduced from what I was a few hours ago.~

~Then you are doubly lucky to have me to protect you. You’re a mystery… and you owe me a ship.~

~I do? How so?~

~Your arrival fuzed all the systems in my scout craft… I assume it was your arrival. There was a brilliant flash and a vast rent in the fabric of the Warp opened and gouged the hull of the ship. I was pulled through from my place to this place.~

~In a ship that no longer works.~

~Indeed. But never fear! I had a premonition I’d be acquiring a new pet today, so I brought you a-~

~You did not just call me a pet.~ My mindvoice was as cold as it was possible for me to project, despite the fact that I wasn’t actually broadcasting.

~Yes!~ Carwyn seemed insufferably pleased with herself… himself?… no… better to be consistent than right. A foolish consistency is… I forget the rest… ~I have decided that you shall be my pet and I shall call you-~

I crossed the intervening space between us without a thought, acting on generations of training and muscle memory and grabbed the pistol from Carwyn’s belt. I spoke for the first time “You. Don’t. Get. To. Name. Me.” I panted from the effort, the weapon was strangely the right size for my small hands, not for Carwyn’s much larger hands. I was back down to 4’10”, while the Eldar was over six feet, though only ever so slightly less slender than myself for all the difference. “I… am… SJ. and I could crush you with a thought if… if…~

~Yes… well… ~ She tapped the barrel of the strange sidearm away from herself and handed over the armor ~We can do that later. It sounds fascinating. But first you should put this on so we can get moving… it has an independent air supply and will keep you warm… and from getting punctured.~

“I… don’t… think… your… clothes… will… fit… me~ The thought, which had started out spoken, had transitioned to pure thought as I ran completely out of air. I took the suit and studied it… then struggled out of the jeans and running shoes I was wearing and that I don’t remember owning… was this what I had been wearing before… before… where had I been right before this? Couldn’t remember… too many holes forming in my memories… too much… best not to think… thoughts… It was strange getting undressed in front of this creepy ass Elf as she smirked at me, but there wasn’t any way I could pull the suit on over my clothing. I was about to pull the sweatshirt I was wearing over my head when I felt a tug and my panties tore off my hips and floated into Carwyn’s hand. She sniffed them, eyes twinkling, then tucked them into a hip pouch, mentally laughing at my outrage.

I glowered, which only made her smirk more, but pulled on the skin tight suit… realizing as I did so that I knew what it was called. It was Guardian Mesh Armour, perfectly sized for me, formed from tens of thousands of individual pieces of thermoplas interwoven to produce a dense material something like chainmail, but much more advanced. When hit, Mesh armor becomes momentarily rigid, spreading the force of the blow across a larger area, thereby reducing the damage. It also had excellent heat dispersal qualities, making it decently protective against energy weapons. It was a psycho-sensitive material as well, flowing with me as I moved, reacting, giving and slipping in just the right way to maintain a glove-tight fit no matter what. It was like… being groped everywhere at once, snug, silky smooth inside, and impossible to ignore. It showed every single curve to maximum effect. Fucking elves. The helmet went on last… air has never tasted as sweet… and the inner lenses let me see the shapes of things far better as they enhanced the edges of everything and pushed back the darkness. Faint heat signs were visible and Carwyn was in much more vivid color, clearly an indication of her relative heat to the surrounding environment.

I also realized I knew just how to holster the sidearm… a Tuelean, a standard Eldar weapon, firing razor-sharp monomolecular discs capable of slicing through flesh and penetrating a consider thickness of plasteel… MonKeigh… no… humans… sometimes called them star slingers, slingers, sling guns… or more formally Shuriken Catapults. I decided to name it “The Scorpion”.

“You’re implanting knowledge in my head.” I stated.

“OOOh. Very good! Such a smart Mon-” I kicked her in the shin. “Owww! Why did you do that?”

“Don’t be insulting, you great creepy knife ear. You don’t insult me, I don’t bruise your shins. How about we treat each other as if we actually believe the other is our equal and worthy of respect?”

“That’s not any fun! How can anyone be my equal?”

“I know. I’d have to lower my standards.”

“How rude!”

“Yeah… that’s me. Rude, crude, and mostly immortal. Now… two things. First, ask if it’s okay before you go putting thoughts and memories into my head. I don’t need you overwriting something I might need.”

“Fiiiiiine. I’ll try and remember. It’s just sooo hard to-”

“Great.” Clearly, letting Carwyn actually finish her long-winded complaints wasn’t going to get us anywhere. “Second. Why don’t you give me all the technical knowledge and skill needed to get the most out of gear you just happened to have in my exact size. You can over-write…” I focused on lighting up the section of my memory where I kept my knowledge of literary criticism. “Is that enough space?”

“It… should be. This is a very ordered mind you have here… Are you sure I can’t redecorate? It seems a little… chilly.”

“Yes. I’m sure. And don’t touch the Egg.”

“Awww… what’s in it?”

“The future.”

“Spoilsport.”

“If you’re not a dick I’ll maybe show you some day… and speaking of dicks… are you male or female?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes. I’m not fucking playing the Pat game. Which gender do you consider yourself to be?”

“Sooo binary.” There was laughter in that.

“Yeah yeah. Bite me. How would you prefer to be referred to?”

“As Carwyn.”

“Great. I’m going to assume you have a vagina and not a penis unless you demonstrate otherwise… and why is my armor formfitting while yours isn’t?”

“Because Momma Carwyn likes eye candy!” And she slapped my ass with TK. Fuuuucking elves.

I pulled my sweatshirt back on over my armor, feeling a little less like a space stripper, but my jeans were too tight and the shoes wouldn’t fit… and both were covered liberally in silver space dust… which was more than a little radioactive, so I just left them where they were. “Where to, oh she of the resting bitch-face?”

“You’re the MonKeigh, you lead.”

I rolled my eyes, then headed towards the nearest visible hatch. There were at least three in this vast compartment, which was, or had been, big enough to hold a soccer pitch when it had been whole. We began moving deeper into the ship, away from the ragged, decaying outer layers near the hull… away from the flickering lights and the barely there atmospheric shielding that had nearly cost me my life… and my chain, I had no doubt.

The passages were veritable vaults, the ship a rusted, pitted, and once absolutely glorious example of the Imperium of Man’s gothic architecture. It was everything one would expect from the artwork of those long forgotten but exquisite models and woefully balanced games designed to sell exquisite models with obscene price tags. And not all was lost just yet… distant whirrs of machinery, still functional after who knew how long echoed through the halls, sometimes drowned out by the thrum and roar of motors struggling against the detritus of ages. Massive meter thick bulkheads slid open at our approach and ground shut with the screech of tortured metal as we passed.

“We’re being shepherded… led somewhere…” I muttered.

“Yes. A path is being provided for us.”

“Are we guest… or are we prey?”

“That will be determined once we reach our destination.”

“You sound calm.”

“I am no easy prey, MonKeigh.”

“Call me SJ.”

“Don’t want to.”

Siiigh.

Hours passed… slowly… and our surroundings began to change, from rough, massive, oppressively industrial to more comfortable, better appointed… to outright luxury, the metal walls replaced with exquisitely carved… and probably petrified by now… wood paneling, and the remains of silken tapestries. And always we were heading upward, upward… until finally we reached what had to be the Command Deck… not the least because it had signs that read “Command Deck” (well, the messed up fake latin version of Command Deck) along the walls as we approached the final bulkhead. It slid open slowly, revealing, yes, a massive command deck, ranks upon ranks of view screens and command stations arrayed around a massive central throne-like chair. It was facing away from us… though as we stepped through the bulkhead, it rotated slowly, revealing a corpse mummified in countless tubes and devices.

Lights blinked across the panoply and I realized that the throne’s occupant wasn’t dead… just… ancient beyond belief, sustained by the machines that bound his once proud frame to the chair. His shrunken features were abhorrent, but I could see how he’d once been a commanding figure… his eyes flickered open and his head lifted ever so slightly “Aaaah… fellow travellers of… the voooid.” he inhaled slowly on the word void, desiccated lips cracking, then, after a timeless eternity, finished “You have… come….to set… me… free….”

It was the slowest conversation since Zootopia’s DMV scene, made all the worse because Carwyn could easily have mediated the exchange of information at the speed of thought, but instead, the Warlock simply wandered the multi-tiered command bridge, intrigued by who knows what, as I put together the half mumbled explanation.

The ship was called ‘The Light of Heaven’, and it was a Gloriana Class Battleship, the second largest of all the Imperium’s ships, almost 36 kilometers long, and barely smaller than the two Abyss class ships that had been built during the Heresy of Horus. The Captain remembered it, he claimed, as if it were yesteryear, though he’d been a child during the decade-long campaign of treachery and fratricide that had shaped the Imperium and condemned the Emperor of Man to 11,000 years trapped, half dead, on a throne of psychic torment… I nodded at that, having a faint idea what that was like.

The ship had been lost, trapped in a warp storm frozen in time for a hundred centuries, cast adrift after retrieving a strange relic from a long forgotten world. The crew of the titanic ship had gone slowly mad over the ages and Lord-Captain Draken Grigobretz had isolated himself in his life support chair, dreaming that his ship would once again sail the deeps of space. He promised all his help, access to his treasures and trophies and even his Chirurgeon… a pre-heresy autodoc capable of implanting many a very useful augment or two… It had to be good… after all… it had kept the Captain ticking for long past his expiration date.

He’d watched over his crew as they’d degenerated into near feral tribes, fretting the whole time that the ship would be lost forever. “B… but now… you’re here… you… you will… you will do… the impossible. With… with your help… now that your arrival has shattered the storm… re… releasing us into realspace once more… you will rally one or more of… of the tribes… rally them, and with their help… you will bring us… home.”

“To Terra?”

“E… eventually… but… but first… there is a pre-heresy repair yard… an automated one… it still responds to my signals… it is less than a light month from here. We… we will get there and then the Light of Heaven will be reborn.”

His ancient rheumy eyes shone with the light of fanaticism, of a dying man with only one dream left. I nodded. He’d pinned all his hopes on me. I had to hope that I could make it through… for I did not relish the idea of spending my remaining days trapped in this decaying hulk. And there were worse fates than captaining a ship the size of a city… there were even universes worse than Warhammer 40K to be marooned in.

I just had to hope that my exile would be ended eventually. I had no idea what, exactly had happened, but it seemed likely from my insight that Malal had reached out from his state of non-existence (often referred to as the Retcanon, that place where things went when they were officially no longer canon, despite having once been exactly that) across the Omniverse and, somehow, pulled me away from my proper place… and if Malice wanted me for something… I shuddered at the thought… that meant going up against the Accursed Powers, for Malal hated the other Gods of Chaos more than anything else in all creation. That he was a God of Chaos himself was, of course, the point. But what had that flash of a vending machine meant… and why did I remember a grey stone chamber?

“Go… look through… my… collection… ch… chose for yourself… some… some… of them might… might… still work… We… we have a little time… enough for you… you to make your decision if… if you will help me… d… do w… what must be………” he breathed heavily for several long minutes, then sighed long and low. “What must be done,” he said all at once, in what for him was a rush.

I did as the old man asked. He had a commanding presence, a power about him that made it hard not to respect him… but I had many things to consider. Could I, with or without the aid of the insufferable Elf… oh for the… she’s smirking at me and licking her lips… shudder. Fucking mind reading elves… I shook my head. Did I, a tiny slip of a girl, ages of knowledge I could already feel fraying at the edges, have it in me to unite one or more savage barbarous tribes and convince them to follow me, to guide them in repairing the ship and battling the other tribes into either submission or non-existence? And how much time would it take to get the ship the three quarters of a trillion kilometers between its current resting place and the dock? Without Warp travel, it could take years to cross that gulf… possible centuries… and that was only if the ship could be made to move at all.

But… on the other hand, what did I have to lose by trying? I had the confidence, or would have to have the confidence, of one who had no other alternatives than to succeed doubt would accomplish nothing. And I had two… allies, at least, each with vast stores of local knowledge and at least one of which who had powers none of the tribesmen was likely to be able to match. If there was a powerful psyker among them, he’d no doubt been eaten by daemons long ago. Now… if only I had a way to keep myself from… an unglow distracted me from my visual perusal of all the wondrously crafted weapons and artifacts of Grigobretz’s long and decorated career… not that I’d dare use any of those gorgeous weapons. They’d be frail and irreplaceable after so long no doubt… also, few were sized for anyone even near my size.

I looked at the source of the disturbing quasi-glow… and found a small, free floating black sphere pulsing with a string of glowing green hieroglyphs that I recognized as Necrontyr script, even though I had no idea how to read them. I ran my hand over the surface of it and flinched… this was the thing that was keeping me from all my powers, but the touch of it made my skin crawl… no… it wasn’t that… something else was doing so. There were two warring forces gliding across the surface of the sphere, two different destinies… Power balanced against Purpose. The Ruinous Powers had sensed Malice’s machinations… not fully, but enough to know that this fragile looking object was the crux. They wanted me to destroy it, end the threat that Malal (was it Malal? A room? A force of order out of time… a box? Couldn’t remember) was leveling against them… or maybe I was imagining it. Maybe destroying the sphere would free me from this prison and I’d be able to return home… or maybe destroying the sphere would doom me. Either way, shattering the… hmmm… the Deadlight… the name fit it somehow… shattering it would be the expedient choice… but I doubted the ancient Necrontyr of at least 11,000 years ago, and quite probably 100 times that or more, had known of my coming and designed this thing to stymie me. It had another purpose, and destroying it would cut off the possibly that that purpose could serve my ends. No… better to leave it alone.

I traced the runes on its surface, my thumb sliding over the golf ball sized sphere. There were twenty two symbols, though they flowed and shifted around the surface whenever my thumb wasn’t holding one still. Each whispered of power, and of cost.

One seemed to promise control over the vagaries of the Warp… another to offer protection from the vicissitudes of ill fortune… the prices it asked seemed to be the promise of hunger, of animosity, of fear, of opposition, and of slow suffocation. I balanced those choices, focusing my mind on fear and hunger. I could combat those things… and I’d already come too close to suffocation as it was. The other powers… many of them combat skills or physical augments if I was interpreting the vague impressions aright… were not worth the potential price. Without even thinking about it, I slid the sphere into my sweatshirt pocket and zipped the pouch closed.

Still thinking, I looked at the auto-doc. “Hello machine.”

“Greetings. The captain has authorized for you to select your choice of cybernetic upgrades… unfortunately, this unit has a limited amount of anesthetic. Only one procedure is recommended. Any more might be… contraindicated.”

“How painful are we talking?”

“Your autonomic nervous system would shut down from shock long before any of the procedures were complete.”

“Riiiight… you wouldn’t happen to have a memory implant, would you?”

“I do. The Flesh is fallible, and, unlike the perfection of the Omnissiah, it is prone to mistakes and errors. While they cannot all be prevented, at least some of your organic weaknesses can be… excised.”

“Well… that sounds… lovely. What’s involved?”

“The back of your skull and part of your brainstem will be replaced with an archeotech storage device allowing perfect memory and recollection… never again will you forget… anything.”

“Oh… well. That sounds perfect. Let’s do that.”

“Brace yourself… you will feel a slight… punch.”

“Don’t you mean pinch?”

“No.”

SLIGHT MY ASS!

Oh… the floor was sooo comfortable. Which was good, since I could only lay there as the storage device scanned and scanned and scaaaanned my memory. It was like having spiders in my brain, the inside of my skull itched like crazy and because there was sooo much information, the device couldn’t spare cycles to actually let me move my body… but I was still getting sensation from it… which let me know that the floor was quite firm and hard… but cool, which was good, because I was running a pretty high temperature from the energy requirements… oooh… and the back of my neck and skull was not nearly numb enough. Also… the armor was still groping me

I looked up with the eye that wasn’t pressed to the floor as a shadow loomed over me. Carwyn smirked down at me like a smirking smug smirk bastard.

“Fffkknnnn lllvvvs,” I managed to get out as she knelt, the crotch plate of her own armor looming centimeters from my face.

“Poor MonKeigh.” And she lifted my head just enough to slide a surprisingly cool and plush pillow under it. “Us adults will be having tea and playing some ancient MonKeigh strategy game called Gathering Magic once you decide to stop lazing about. Do come join us then… oh… dear… you peed.” She smirked once more, then vanished.

“Gathrng Mgk?” I muttered into the pillow… then flinched as my new memory device reminded me of the existence of a collectable card game from the late 20th century. Great. Of all humanity’s games… that was the one that had survived the ages. I wondered vaguely just how many expansions there’d been as I, at long and mercifully last, slipped into unconsciousness.

The next few days were mostly spent on recovery… and restocking my depleted energy reserves… good god, I had so little stamina and strength in this form. But at least I had flawless skin, right me of 14,000 years ago? That’s what was important. Stupid me, not realizing that I could be stripped back to basics without warning. This would teach me not to fail to predict the unpredictable…. Did that make sense? I dunno.

Between putting up with Carwyn treating me like a lapdog and feeding me by hand and petting me and generally being utterly insufferable just because I was having to relearn how to move my limbs while the swelling went down (drugs have a shelf-life… oh yes they do precious) The Captain regaled me and the occasionally interested Carwyn with the long and and often overly detailed details of the various tribes… interspersed with long digressions into the machinations of “the daemon and the witch”, telling us all about his adventures. I actually paid attention for two reasons… one, the only other diversion was paying attention to how Carwyn was brushing my hair or petting me, or just holding me close as if afraid I’d run off yapping and growling at the postman (not that there was one)… but the other reason was because Grigobretz was surprisingly precise in explaining all the rites he’d developed, learned from various tomes, or was taught by other members of what would one day grow into the Inquisition’s Ordo Malleus or just creepy old loons on obscure moons. These included words, signs, and even auto-hypnotic mental states that would allow even a non-psyker to exercise their mental energies against creatures of the warp… and with my newly reinvigorated memory I was memorizing the details as fast as the old man could talk… though he was getting better… it was as if he’d forgotten what speech was after so very very long.

I was also making plans. There were six major factions within the hull of the Light, each one having descended from various survivors of the improbably large ship’s crew… as well as into mysticism, barbarism, and in many cases depravity.

Most ordered and militaristic of the lot were the ‘Aquil Lejens’, the descendants of the Light’s Imperial Legion complement, they were led by their Comsar (a corruption of the long forgotten concept of a Commissar, one of the Legion’s political officers who held the power of life and death over the legionnaires in their care.). They valued camaraderie, teamwork, and strict adherence to discipline, and every member of the tribe was divided into a five man team with a hereditary Sarjant (another corrupted word) overseeing them. So far, the tight knit Aquil had managed to more than hold their own in combat against the other tribes, four of which were much larger than them.

Next most civilized, if that term even applied here, were the Kin of Iron, who held to half-remembered lore of mysterious metal men that once tended to the workings of the Steel Caves (their term for the Light, since they had no knowledge of what its true nature was). These metal men had had, according to the legends, minds of wire and hearts of iron and knew the world like none before or since. The Iron Kin strove to maintain what few teachings they’d been handed down, keeping the flames of memory alive, if barely, and draping their bodies with scrap metal and painting their faces with iron dust. They lived, not by war, but by trading their wisdom to the others in the workings of the vast ship. They would be invaluable and I resolved to recruit them immediately… though I’d need a military force as well, which was problematic and no easy question. The reason I’d need a military force? Ah… that brings us to the Pale Sons.

What can be said about the Pale Sons? Every society has its outcasts and its dregs… On The Light, those outcasts were known as the Pale Sons, an all-but-forgotten tribe existing in the cracks between the territories of the other tribes or deep in the lower decks and the dreaded shadow holds (the vast empty spaces where light had long since fled as the big ship died by inches.) Many of them were mutants, that being the reason they’d been cast out in the first place, and they lived close to toxic or radioactive regions of the ship where only their already damaged physiology allowed them to survive. Even the Captain had no idea how many there were of them, but the tribesmen feared there were tens of thousands of them and indeed, Grigobritz was very much convinced that, with the return to realspace, the day was coming soon when the Pale Sons would rise up from the dark depths to destroy all the others who dwelt in the Light in a final convulsive apocalypse.

If the Pale Sons were the largest “tribe” (though in reality more a loose confederation of roving bands) the Redeemers were the smallest… which didn’t stop them from being the most feared. They followed a strict and deeply disturbing creed, preaching that all the outsiders (everyone not a Redeemer), was a Heretical Blasphemer against “The Golden Lord”… and as such, they must be purged… purged in fire and under the spear… before the Redeemers would be freed from this dark hell and allowed to join their master in “Paradise”. As if the growing genocidal crusade wasn’t bad enough, the Redeemers tiny population base had resulted in hideous inbreeding… which had resulted in slowly transforming them into hulking, Ogre-like brutes. Brutes who still maintained enough technical ability to process fuel for their favored weapon, the terrifying Eviscerators, a hybrid of a two-handed chainsaw with an underslung flamethrower. Clearly, I was going to have to turn the Pale Sons against the Redeemers, because I wanted neither group of crazed freaks on my side.

Most tempting of the clans was the Voidwalkers, who lived in the cold and broken chambers along the Light of Terra’s hull, they… existed, living on the razor’s edge between the steel caves of the world and the great nothing beyond and were a nomadic tribe, constantly seeking air and heat as much as they sought water and food. Scarred by vacuum burns and repeated decompression, they were as hardy a group as could be found on the Light, with unique knowledge of the void, which they used to their advantage in every way possible. I was a huge Dune fan, and the nomadic walkers were very much like the Fremen… but I was wary of seeking their help. Repairing the battleship wasn’t going to be about maneuvering in the void… unless the engine compartments were open to space. And even then, the Walkers were scavengers, not techs. Would they be helpful in the tight confines deep in the ship? I couldn’t say, but I wasn’t going to waste time or resources trying to get them on my side

The last option for a militant ally was the tribe known as the Wargars, the descendants of the Light’s gun crews, who dwelled mostly in the great ammo stores, carving huts from the enormous Macro Cannon shell casings and burning the propellant flash powder to fill their halls with the smell of war. The Wargars were aggressive and dangerous, living to fight with the other tribes for no other reason than to spill blood and prove their strength. If I didn’t seek them out as an ally, I’d have to face them in battle, that was clear enough… but even if they were my ally, I wasn’t certain I could keep them in line. They’d attack others, provoking fights I didn’t need at times that were inconvenient.

By the end of the second week I was back on my feet, fully in control of my muscles and nervous system once again, and had a plan, a plan drawn from knowledge of tens of thousands of close quarter battles, thousands of political theory texts, countless speeches… and relying highly on Carwyn’s ability to find those with doubts and… sooth those doubts if possible, or push them into doing something disastrous to their own plans if not. I needed no traitors or doubters in my ranks, if I could at all help it.

I’d decided to seek out the Aquil and turn them into my allies first, then move in strength to meet with the Kin and offer them an alliance… and hopefully together, we could reclaim the Light for Civilization… at least long enough to get her to the repair facility.

Since both groups held a respect of the past, I played on that, approaching the Aquil camp wearing the full regalia of a Legion General (if only slightly reduced in size to deal with my slight frame. The fact that I was wearing the jacket and pants over Eldar armor was unimportant… even my helmet had been repainted (Carwyn was very good with her hands in more ways than one.) to look as imperial as possible.

Of course, they laughed. Wouldn’t you? Big warrior men and women, proud of their might, proud of their skill. I took a chance. It had to be done. “Since you won’t respect me without it, send out your best fighter, let me show you why should obey me… oh… and your best shooter too.”

Bemused, the Comsar nodded and a bulky middle-aged Sarjant stepped forward, already stripping off his tunic. “Don’t worry, I won’t hurtcha… much.” I sized him up. He had strength, reach, and endurance on me. I couldn’t rely on the difference in our agilities to let me win. So instead I relied on pressure points. The fight took 7 seconds… though it took him a further 10 seconds to finally hit the ground. “That wasn’t witchcraft, and he’ll be fine in a couple of minutes,” I told the stunned crowd. “It was simple anatomy. An enemy, no matter how big, no matter how strong, is always vulnerable to those who know the secret of war.”

“What is this secret?” asked the Comsar, leaning forward in his aquiline throne.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” I said, quoting Sun Tzu, hoping it sounded as profound to these simpletons as it had to generations of their ancestors. It was simple logic. Know your capabilities. Know your enemy’s capabilities. The one with the best information wins. The crowd nodded as if I was a sage, then shifted their gaze to look at the tribe’s chosen shooter.

“Will you allow me to inspect your weapon?” I asked and, after a moment, she handed over the bolter… stone age societies with futuristic ranged weapons. It was overly large and ancient, but these things were designed to last, literally, for ages. Hell, the Leman Russ tanks could burn practically anything as fuel. “Good weapon.” I handed it back. “Shall we pick a target?”

She picked a good one, aimed and shot, hitting it clean. I borrowed her weapon, then said “I will fire three shots. The first two to learn the nature of the weapon. The third will hit.” They all chuckled… then gaped as I moved further away and fired the first two shots not at the target at all, but at a clear patch of bulkhead three times further than the target was from me. “Very good weapon. Accurate.” Then I closed my eyes and fired. The faint ‘ping!’ as the bolt struck home was clearly audible in the silence. I think even Carwyn was impressed.

~How did you do that?~ She asked, mind voice striving for complete calm, but not quite achieving it. ~I was all ready to adjust your shot, but I didn’t need to.~

~I have lost much of what I am… but I have fired literally millions of shots from thousands of weapons. I have made shots that would make that one look impossible. I have drilled a wasp with a hipshot from 3 thousand meters… with a ball musket. Hitting a coin sized washer at 300 paces with my eyes closed? Child’s play.~

~While I am uncertain I believe these claims of yours, it was… competently done. I could have done better, of course.~

~Of course.~ I hadn’t quite mastered the mental drawl. I mean, I could do it when broadcasting, but it’s hard to be that smug when someone else is plundering your psyche. I wasn’t lying either about the shooting. I’d picked up Savant in my very first jump, which had given me heightened awareness, a flawless memory, and aim that was scraping superhuman… and I hadn’t rested on my laurels and relied on the perk alone. I’d read the Guardians of the Flame series long, long, long ago, more than a decade before I’d jumped for the first time and one thing had always stood out in that series while the rest faded into the mash of general disinterest.

The series was about a group of roleplayers from Earth, using a system called Rune Quest (though it’s never named as such in the books) and they’d ended up in a fantasy world… as their characters. While those characters were extremely skilled, the Warrior had always worried that he actually had no idea how to get better, because he had no memory of getting as good as he was. He’d been granted a fiat level of skill, and while that skill was monstrously high, it wasn’t getting any better.

I’d been given preternatural shooting skill… and used it as a baseline. I’d studied everything I could about the shooting arts, sent often thousands or tens of thousands of rounds down range in a single day, day after day, week after week, year after decade after century. I’d fired guns of all kinds, bows, atlatls, blow darts, cannons, and stranger things. I’d worked my aim in every way I could conceive of, in storm conditions, in the dark, in variable gravity, in free fall. And so had the Manifest, the Magi Kingpriests who formed, still, the overwhelming majority of my memories. It had been a sacred rite for them, as it had for all Magi, to be accurate and familiar with weapons both melee and ranged. And they’d only had access to the majority of my perks and talents when they called upon my power. For the other 95% of their lives, they’d been relatively normal members of their society, though exalted above all others from birth (the Magi held that the soul entered the body at the moment it first drew breath, and the new incarnation of my mortal self had always been born within moments of the last me’s death). I knew ballistics like I knew breathing… even without my perks to guarantee the abilities.

I let Carwyn lift me onto the Comsar’s dias and looked out at the gathered Lejens. “An eternity ago, your ancestors came to this place, the great ship of Heaven called The Light of Terra. They were soldiers in the service of the Emperor of Mankind. They were brave, honest, hard working, and they never ran from battle. They flew between worlds on wings of fire and slew the monsters that dared raise fang or claw or mutant hand against their kin. Yet a doom came upon the Light of Heaven and stilled it’s wings, trapping it outside of time and space, and trapping all aboard her in her slowly decaying hull!”

There were mutterings, but all eyes were fixed on me.

“But now I have come. I have shattered the Doom, freeing the Light of Terra, and come to lead those who are loyal to the promised land, to glory, and to freedom from the darkness. It will not be easy, for nothing of worth is. Many will fall, but if you follow me, most of them will be your enemies. We will purge this ship of the Pale Ones and the Mad Ones and the Redeemers. Those who will not join us will be driven out, driven into the void… and the Light of Terra will be reborn, reborn as the Light of Heaven… and that Light will shine once more!”

As I’d spoken my voice had risen in intensity, driving their focused attention higher, urging them forward, as I’d leaned slowly forward, bringing them towards me in response and with my final words, they roared their approval and hoisted their guns and swords into the air. I turned to the Comsar.

“Well? Commissar… Voice of the People, that is what the first of your line was called, long long ago, what say you?”

“Can you really do this thing? Lead us to a place where we no longer have to scavenge parts from our dying tomb? Can you lead us to a place where the lights work and the heat is strong and the food is plentiful?”

“If I cannot, no one can. You need me… and I need you. My knowledge and skill is insufficient by itself to secure victory against all the odds that are stacked against me… just as your skill is enough to hold off the others, but not to truly end their threat. Together, we will be stronger. Together we have a chance, and, if it is the Will of Heaven, we will succeed. As the first bearer of the Aquila, the Eagle, said back before the dawn of history “Let us toss the dice.” I extended my hand “They call me The Supreme Jeneral. You may call me EsJay.”

He took it, his grip much stronger than mine “I am Comsar… Com-eh-sar?” he looked and I nodded “Commissar Logos. And, for now, we will help you.”

I grinned “Excellent.tell your people to gather everything of any worth. We’re moving out in two days time.”

“Out? Out where? This is our home!”

“The Command Decks.”

“No one can access them. They’re sealed against all our attempts to enter.”

“Yes, which is why they remain in better condition and are more secure. More comfortable. We need to get all your non-combatants out of the combat zone.”

“And then, we strike against the others?”

I laughed softly, not to insult Logos. “Oh, no. First we go to the Iron Kin and offer them an alliance.”

He looked at me with narrowed eyes, then nodded, understanding. If the Lejens wanted freedom, the Iron Kin would be ecstatic at the idea of repairing the ship to its former glory. “They are wise, but not great warriors,” he warned softly.

“No. But they will get the Warp Drive working again, while together, we shall keep them safe. Now quickly, I don’t know how long it will take, but we need to get your people secure, get the Kin onboard, get their people safely to the engines, and set up defenses as quickly as possible. Ready yourselves. I’ll return in two days time. Tell your people to pack wisely. We’ll need to move quickly and securely.” He nodded once more, then I asked “May I take the two I fought with me… as an honor guard.

He considered, but agreed. It would do them proud to serve in that position. In fact, I got 12 of them, two teams. One led by Sarjant Jons and the other, led by Logos’s grandson, Logos (I love families like this… ‘Logos!’ “Which one?’), was a scout team that included Bagger, the one I’d outshot. I chuckled to her “Someday, We’ve got to get you a rifle.”

“Whaza Riful?”

“Long Gun. Designed to hit things at distances longer than the length of any chamber.”

“Can’t see that far. What’s the point?”

“Oh… you’d be surprised how far one can see on a planet in daylight.

“What’s day?”

“When the lights are full up for a long time.”

“Oh.” She shook her head at the idea “Sounds nice… what’s a planet?”

Moving through the flickering gloom between the holding of the Lejens and the Kin, we encountered several dozen Pale Sons. The solitary ones either attacked in berzerk or feral rage… or ran into the dark, howling for others. I let them run, then began picking them off one by one as they began popping up out of the vents and crawl spaces or rounding corners holding spears or knives or makeshift axes. I was… actually scoring shots I couldn’t have possibly made if I’d tried to make them. Shots that removed one enemy’s arm only to have that enemy’s axe take out a second Son while the Scorpion’s shot continued on and buried itself in a third enemy’s eye socket, ejecting a welter of gore. Once… once that would have been astounding… but in 4 skirmishes, it or something like it happened three times, three perfect cascades of cause and effect.

I looked to Carwyn and she just shrugged and tripped a charging freak into the path of one of his comrades’ swings as if to say “I too can cause friendly fire.” Bitch.

What I hadn’t really counted on was the fact that the heat sensors in our elvish armor were so much better than human eyeball mark one, especially in the flickering lights of the passageways. That, combined with the fact that I snapped out orders, orders that used the names of people I’d met mere hours earlier and never got wrong, orders that matched their self-perceived strengths (I had spoken to both Sarjants about each of their men as we prepared to head out) meant that, by the time we reached the ‘land’ of the Iron Kin, the 12 Lejens were already treating me as a veritable warrior goddess.

With the Lejens, I’d appealed to their sense of martial superiority, with the Kin I appealed to their technical know how. I’d read all the basic technical manuals at the Captain’s disposal as if my life depended on it, and while I certainly hadn’t mastered all the thousands of systems, I knew enough about life support and warp drive and gellar fields to speak about them with passing familiarity. I did have lifetimes of scientific knowledge to fall back on, even if I was no longer a brilliantly inspired tech genius who could speak to the machine spirits. With promises of access to the tech of their glorious ancestors… and in no small part because I was demonstrably part machine already, the Kin were soon on board.

I’d like to say things went smoothly, but they very very much didn’t. Between my two tribes, I had approximately 1600 warriors, 1280 of them from the Lejens. Add to that another 4,600 dependants, 3,800 of them from the Kin, and two thirds of them mechanics or technically inclined, I had a lot of mouths to feed and a lot of backs to watch. Getting the Kin to abandon their safe spaces in the life support works wasn’t easy, but we had to move them in force to present too big a target to attack… and I was growing increasingly worried about the main bulkhead doors that cut the sections of the ship off from each other. They were getting slower and slower to open, even if only noticeable because my new machine hindbrain actually timed the process to the 100th of a second and insisted on comparing the results to all other incidents, both of that particular bulkhead door and across all such doors… and the lights were getting worse.

The Pale Sons, of course, attacked on the way back to the Lejens camp, in larger numbers, as if drawn out by so many potential victims, but luck was with us as we passed within three decks of a Wargar encampment, but either they didn’t hear us or were busy and we made it back to the mobilized and packed Lejens camp on time. The ship is big, but the distance between the two camps was only about 10km and the way not extremely hazardous. Together, we made our way towards the command decks… only to run into the Redeemers along the way.

Thankfully, it wasn’t the entire tribe, but there were 40 of the hulking brutes, and they’d set up a camp right in front of the main bulkhead leading to the Command Decks and were trying to hammer it open. They hadn’t noticed our approach, small mercy, because my scout group was waaay out in front, but that raised the question of how to deal with this. Carwyn’s mental probes said that there was no way they’d let us pass unmolested and I couldn’t just reroute around them, partly because that would involve shifting 3,100 people laden with gear, children, and elders several kilometers out of the way through secondary corridors which would string us out and many of which were already permanently dark and some of which were, apparently, flooded or overgrown… oh yes, there was a fair amount of “greyery” thriving in the ship as fungi and some less light intensive plants had managed to, not exactly thrive, but they certainly weren’t dying.

Also, backing down from this fight wouldn’t be the greatest start to my alliance with the two tribes. I considered all this, then sighed softly and pulled my squad back to the limits of the Scorpion’s range and, standing braced in the center of the corridor, I breathed out slowly, calming my heartbeat, steadying my jangling nerves and raised my weapon. “Hail Heavenly Father. Grant your daughter the gift of swift aim, sure eye, and grant my enemies the gift of a swift and painless death.” And then I sent a thought through the pistol, as it was fired not with a trigger but a mental command… and, swift as wind and with a crack like a whip, 320 molecule thick plasticrystal discs exploded forward from the barrel of the Eldar weapon, shattering the speed of sound like it was a suggestion. The hypersonic disks arrived practically as a single unit, the minute flicks of my wrist to bring each target into perfect alignment, aided by the variable flight geometry the weapon’s telempathic matrix had imparted to the disks at my will, meant that 16 of the giant mutants were hit in the first storm of blades, each of them receiving between one and, in one case, 11, of the blades… despite me only aiming 4 of them at him. No idea how that happened.

As they turned, looking around in confusion, I kept firing, knowing that as brutal as the blows from the armor piercing shurikens were, there was a fair chance that the insane fanatics might be able to fight through the pain and attack. Another 15 received wounds that would, eventually, be fatal, before they figured out who was shooting them and, with a roar that shook the very walls, they charged my position.

I kept firing, running through all thousand rounds in a matter of 20 seconds, then, with the lead element 25 meters from me and building speed at a tremendous rate, popped the ammunition core. A wide receiver can cross 40 meters in a little over 4.5 seconds. The effective range of a flamethrower is about 15 meters, meaning 3 seconds before I was toast, give or take. No pressure. I wasn’t panicking. I was cool, collected, in the zone. I slapped the new core into the pistol and raised it back to level… one second. I breathed just a little and dropped the barrel 30 degrees and sent a storm on medium spread down range. Two seconds. The Redeemer’s knees vanished and he hit the ground, the flamethrower bouncing out of his grip and flipping wildly, a spiral of fire launching out of its muzzle as the whirring blade added torque to the system.

In the hellish red glare, I saw the next fanatic behind the first and removed his head as he lept over his fallen brother, his body landing hard just in time for the Eviscerator to sink blade-first into his chest, bathing the makeshift barricade in flames. I pulled off my helmet, trying not to breathe in the stench of charring flesh and sighted through the flames and pulled the mental trigger again. 4 Redeemers. And again. 1 Redeemer. And again. No Redeemers.

I turned to Carwyn and nodded, well aware that it was through her mental manipulation that I’d remained as calm as I had. She nodded back, a perfectly sculpted eyebrow raised ever so slightly. “Finished?” she asked aloud, thought she did send me the thought ~Are you even better when you’re… the rest of you?~

“Yes. Logos! Get your squad to clear the corridor, we have people coming through. Spangler, if any of the beasts are moving, grant them my mercy.” I pulled the helmet back on and, skirting the burning pile by doing a bit of wall running, made my way to the front to see how much damage they’d done to the bulkhead. One of them was, miraculously, mostly intact, though with one arm blown to hell, he wasn’t picking up his Eviscerator any time in the foreseeable future. I turned my vaguely insectile helmet to face him.

“You. Can you walk?”

“Caaan.” the voice was surprisingly high and full of pain.

“Good. Return to your people. Tell them that The Golden Lord’s Supreme General is come to judge the unworthy. All who come to me on bended knee may serve me. As long as they do as I command, I shall show them mercy. All who stand before me…” I gestured to the others. “Tell your leaders that I did this. I alone. Already the Lejens and the Iron Kin follow me. Come against us, and perish. Come in supplication and live. Or hide in your holes and when we arrive at Paradise, you shall be free to leave my ship and never return.” My voice, soft and level through all that, turned hard as I snapped “Now go.” and I shot the deck 20 centimeters from his foot. “Before my mercy fades.”

By the time we had everyone settled into their new quarters and pulling rations that had been laid in for officers and their families a hundred centuries ago that were, surprisingly, still good… and better than any of them had ever had… though the automated hydroponics designed to provide fresh fruits and vegetables had to have an armed guard who I’d had to explain to that if they damaged the machines or let anyone overharvest we’d all starve to death… by that time, the story had already spread through the clans and mutated to claim that I had slain a hundred of them with my bare hands. I did not disabuse them of this.

A week later, we’d built a camp around the great warp drive, building layered defenses around our position… just as the lights failed. Everywhere, all at once, but in the great engineering spaces, it was somehow worst. And something began moving in the dark. It took several of our men as they moved in the darkness. Carwyn’s frown as we studied the bodies, surrounded by a squad of torchbearers, worried me. ~What is it?~

~A thing of warp and shadow… it has no name, no flesh… merely an absence of light.~

~So what killed these men?~ I asked, dreading the answer.

~Fear.~ came the cool reply.

~Ah. Well then… how do we kill it?~

~Like any other creature of the warp… with knowledge.~

~You mean magic.~ I snarked, feeling the weight of her smugness pressing against me.

~There is no magic.~

~Hahaha. Yeah. sure. Psychic powers then… written in runes.~

~Yes.~

~Good. You do that. I need to get the engineers back to work and… Man the Battlestations!!!” I switched seamlessly from mental communication to spoken, yelled word as I heard the unmistakable sound of Eviscerators in the distance. I was already racing for the front as I shouted. I may be tiny, but I’m swift enough when I need to be, especially since I’m light as well.

By the Captain’s best estimate, there were only about 900 Redeemers of all ages, which meant I’d killed about a twentieth of them. That day, that bloody, twisted, nightmarish day, lit only by the muzzle flash of bolters and the gouts of flame from the Eviscerators, cost them the lion’s share of their remaining forces. The entire tribe came against us as one, howling and calling and bellowing, charging out of the darkness, claiming we’d killed the lights and sent the darkness to engulf them. They were berserk with fear and righteous wrath.

The Lejens were braced, prepared, hidden behind their metallic shields, and they took the brunt of the initial charge from behind the barricades we’d built for just this, firing their weapons at the onrushing giants, then falling back to the second defensive bulwark in good order as the giants reached the first, setting the whole thing alight. The time it took the brutes to hack through the first barricade, that mass of twisted metal and burning matter was enough to allow me to reach the abattoir-to-be. I looked to Carwyn and smirked ~Well, at least the fire will keep the shadow thing at bay.~

~Indeed.~

The Redeemers, whatever their faults, were brave… or insane. They would have made good Teutonics, screaming “GOTT MIT UNS”… but bravery matters much less than skill in battle and in a battle of guns, muscle matters very little. Eviscerators are terror weapons… but an Eldar Shuriken Catapult is a Terror Weapon with muuuuch greater range and accuracy. Had we had even a dozen of the things (and the users to fire them) the massed ranks of Redeemers would have mattered very little. As it was, with the way we’d shaped the battle ground and my superior vantage point (I’d made a shooter’s nest of nets and hung it from the vaulted ceiling of the main approach) and heat vision, I could headshot the barbs at my leisure as my men held them off. I had two thirds of the Lejen’s men-at-arms beneath me, and they were adding to the fight, and Carwyn was with them, emboldening and calming them, keeping them together, focused, jovial even.

We took 62 casualties that day, 11 of them from accidents, and only 19 fatalities. They lost… I really have no idea. At least 800, but beyond that it wasn’t really possible to count, as the Pale Sons had already begun scavenging the corpses before the battle was even over. We did some scavenging of our own, claiming the Eviscerators and the spare fuel cells to use as torches. “Logos. Bring your squad and four more. Prime Two, get your men back to work. We need the Warp Drive back up. Carwyn… find the shadow and… bind it or something.”

~Where are you going?!~ I think she was worried about me, but she scoffed ~I just don’t trust you out of my sight.

~We’re going to head out and see if we can find the Redeemers camp. If they brought everyone with them, there might be resources to plunder. Though they probably left a guard behind.~

~I’ll come with you.~

~I need the engineers working, and safe.~

~They’ve got lights~ She almost whined.

~Carwyn. Please. I won’t take any chances.~

~Fiiine. Not like I care where you go or how you risk your stupid MonKeigh life.~

~Yeah yeah. Containment first. Protect the others. Worry about catching or killing it second. If we can rig up a generator with lights, maybe we can trap it?~

~Maybe.~

~Good, work on that. Back soon.~

There were 59 remaining Redeemers at the camp… including stumpy. After the guards tried to stop me, there were 57. “You. You remember me?”

“Yess. General.”

“Right. Get your people together. You’re coming with me. Bring all the fuel and food you can carry. No weapons. None. Not even a knife.”

“Whhy?”

“Because the rest of your people are dead. They came against me and I killed them all. Which makes you my responsibility. Come now, or I leave you in the dark to perish alone. Tell your people that they will serve and be fed and protected as long as they raise no hand against us.”

We got back to Engineering with our new ‘Friends”… just in time for the Captain’s voice to reach me via communicator. “Bulkheads are sealing all over the ship. The power core’s cogitator is cutting power to reroute it to the engines as you begin powering them up. I had to choose between the bulkheads and the atmospherics. You’re cut off.”

“Crap. Thanks. Keep everyone in the command decks calm. Let them know we’re still here, still working. We’ll try and make our way through to the food stores in this section.” I looked over at my people and growled, “We have food for roughly 140 shifts, if we stretch it. Short rations now. But don’t let anyone starve.. Not even the giants. We need scouting parties to move in the light to secure what supplies we can. Prime Two! Get your people working on generators. Burning the Eviscerator fuel straight is a waste. We can burn it for electricity. Everyone else, work as best you can, burn anything that can burn to keep fires going and stay in the fire light. We need these engines running, but we need you alive for that.”

“Jeneral… we need to secure a power run to the Blazing God. The Ancients… in their writing, they said they Cut the Power from the Heart of the God so the Wings of Fire would not continue to burn uselessly in the great Storm. They were afeared of the beasts that would be drawn to the wings and so they performed a manual decoupling.”

“Great. Pick 10 of your best and get ready to come with me.” ~Carwyn, how’s the trap coming?~

~It should work… though we only have battery power. And nothing to lure it in with.~

~Oh, yes we do. We’ve got me.~

~You can’t…!~

~Yes, I can. You’re going to set it up the trap, then you’re going to make me terrified to just below the edge of panic.~

~This is a terrible idea.~

~You have a better one? It must feed off of fear, or it wouldn’t be causing it. Unless it’s just sadistic… which is feeding a different way. Come.~ We headed into the dark, the Eldar trying to dissuade me, but I wasn’t going to risk my reputation by relying on some underling for this. They needed to view me as the next best thing to a god. Faith, and the knowledge that I’d risk myself was part of it… but I wasn’t certain that Carwyn would care as much about the fate of one of the others. Me… I at least intrigued the ancient pervert.

~I heard that.~

~Yes. I know. You can hear everything I think. And you can tweak my thoughts too if you’re subtle enough, though not my memories, thanks to the machine backup… but you haven’t tried dissuading me from thinking of you as a pervert, which means you’re comfortable with being called one.~

~You’re awfully smug for a MonKeigh.~

~Takes a smug bitch to know a smug bitch.~

~Well then, I’ll take it as a complement. Are you sure you wish to do this?~

~Don’t use that word. I don’t wish anything. But I’m going to do this and you’re going to help. I’m trusting you not to let me fall.~ I stepped into the prepared alcove and took a couple deep breaths. The walls had freshly been painted with metallic paint, giving them, in theory, a mirror-like shine, which Carwyn had augmented with Psychic Runes and shards of wraithbone, a crystallized form of psychic energy.

I let out the air in my lungs, then cringed as I let the fear hit me. I wanted to scream, to run, to curl into a ball and sob hysterically. But I didn’t. Instead I knelt on the floor, seiza-style, and pushed the fear higher, feeding it all the terrors I’d been pushing away. Fear of dying in this horrible place. Fear of never seeing my friends again. Fear of becoming a pawn of the Ruinous powers. Fear of starvation, of suffocation, of loneliness, of weakness, of silence, of darkness, of failure. I let it blossom in my mind and in my heart, using and abusing the Captain’s advice on driving away the beings of the warp, drawing it to me.

I could feel its claws and teeth sinking into my psyche… at which point Carwyn flicked the lightswitch in the wall and the bank of high intensity LED’s, isolated from the ship’s mains and hooked to three parallel batteries so that one could be replaced without the lights even flickering, flared to life. I was immediately surrounded by swirling darkness, a darkness alive, trying to find a way out of the brilliant cage it was in, its panic tangible, cringing away from the light. It tried to plunge inside me, but the tattoos I’d carved into my skin, both local and otherwise, blazed bright, keeping it out of me… and I stepped through the lattice of light, leaving it trapped within the alcove. “And stay there.”

I stationed three guards on the alcove, “If the lights so much as flicker, check the battery power indicators.” and then had the specially prepared panel sealed over the gap. It too had metallic, rune, and wraithbone treatments, and once installed, it formed a coffin of light around the creature. “We don’t know if this will kill it, or if there are more of them… but we’re not going to take the chance. I told them.” Once we had full power restored, I’d pump the chamber with a million candles of light and fry the entity, but for now, it was, hopefully contained.

Which is when we ran into our next problem. The Void Walkers, having discovered that the ship’s bulkheads were sealed and all the lights gone… had claimed the reactor core and were trying to figure out, in their own fairly inept way, how to get the lights back up. To make matters worse, somehow they’d disabled the gravitics in the core chamber and my allies were less than useful in Zero-G. And it wasn’t a place I was comfortable shooting up with armor piercing weaponry. Thankfully, there weren’t a lot of them, as the Void Walkers, while a good sized tribe in total, were scattered in penny pockets all over the surface of the huge ship.

But, as good as they are in zero-g and in the dark of the void, they weren’t prepared for Carwyn and me, coming out of pitch blackness like wraiths, and capturing them one by one. It took a couple of hours to get them all, six family groups, ranging in size from four to fifteen and in membership from a just pubescent boy to an apparently elderly woman, though none of them, nor anyone aboard the Light had any idea how old they were, since concepts of days were vague at best, with years being a concept none of them had ever heard of. Even Carwyn had only the vaguest idea of how old she was, but she’d been born before the birth of Slaanesh, which was, if this was the 42nd or 43rd millennia as I vaguely supposed it was, that made her close to my own age. If it was earlier or later, then who knew. The Warp was capricious like that.

~You’re drifting again.~

~I know. This is boring.~

~The repairs are coming along fine.~

~Yes. I know. But we haven’t seen the Wargars yet, and there are still more Pale Sons and Void Walkers.~

~You think they’ll come against us?~

~Always assume the worst. When’s the worst time they could pick to come against us?~

~All at once? Right as we’re about to…~

~Exactly.~

~That’s the shift after next, if everything checks out.~

~It is.~

~How would they know?~

~The Force of Narrative?~

~I don’t buy that.~

~Call it intuition. Call it a sense of the ship gathering itself. They’ll come just as we flip the switch.~

~The bulkhead-~

~They’ll have found a way to get it to open. They’ll come through the conduits. They’ll come through long hidden access points. We have to hold the Core, the Warp Drive chamber, and the power runs between them.~

~Is there anything we can do to stop them?~

~Maybe. Can you teleport us through a bulkhead?~

~No.~

~Can you sense when they are coming?~

~Not through bulkheads.~

~Can you find us a way to the other side of the bulkhead between here and Wargar territory?~

~mmm… yes.~

~Great. Let’s go.~

~It requires using the path the Void Walkers used to enter the Core… then maneuvering around on the hull of the ship to reach a similar breach near the Wargars.~

~Oh… fucking wonderful. Well, let’s go.”

~There will be Void Walkers out there.~

~We have maybe 20 hours before they attack. I want to be behind the Wargars when they come through into our area. We know the route the Void Walkers will use and we’ve mined it. We’ve boobytrapped all the vents and ducts surrounding the vital areas. So, unless you can predict the future… why are you looking at me like that?~

~I… actually… can.~

~Accurately?~

~Fairly accurately.~

~And why haven’t you mentioned this before?~

~You didn’t ask.~

~Fucking… elves. WELLL?~

~Well what?~

~Are the Wargars, Void Walkers, and Pale Sons going to attack us when we begin to power up the warp engine?~

~Yes.~

~You already knew that.~ It wasn’t a question.

~Yes.~

~And if we go outside to ambush the Wargars, we’ll run into Void Walkers?~

~Yes.~

~Disastrously?~

~Quite likely, yes.~

~And if we let the attack proceed, how bad will it be.~

~They will overrun our position and kill the Kin and Lejens. We will survive, for a time, by running.~

~You sound resigned to this.~

~My predictions show that you will come up with a plan to save us.~

~But you don’t know what it is.~

~Not until you come up with it. No.~

~Wonderful.~

~If we look for another way through the bulkhead, will I succeed?~

She took out a bag of runestones and cast them into the air. They landed within a circle on the ground and she studied them for a long moment.

~No. We will become lost in the maze of tunnels.~

~If I flip the switch now, before we’re ready, will the Warp Drive work?~

She did it again, then shook her head ~No. We will blow up.~

I considered, then asked ~If we summon a Daemon-~

~Not going to happen.~

~If I release the shadow monster and funnel it into Wargars?~

~Disaster.~

~What happens if I pull power from gravitics?~

~Where?~

~Everywhere besides the command Decks.~

~I… When?~

~Just as they come through.~

~Yes… they will not be prepared for that. Good thought about anchoring our forces.~

~I didn’t think of anchoring our forces.~

~No. I did. That’s why it was a good thought.~

~I hate you.~

I won’t go into the details of the battle. It was unpleasantly like shooting fish in a barrel who are armed and shooting back. Thankfully, they had absolutely no idea how to function in zero G, and the Void Walkers, who did, were having trouble of their own, since we’d rigged electrified wires all along their entry route, as well as any number of decidedly unfun-booby traps. The Pale Sons we left largely to the Kin who weren’t actively overseeing the operations of the great machine. Power up took 6 hours, and with bated breath, I slid the cogitator core into the warp drive, barely daring to hope.

A single light changed from red to green. The ship shuddered and Carwyn shared a vision from a point outside the ship, a form of remote viewing. The mighty, pitted flanks of the once glorious vessel was illuminated, just as it must have been back in the days when the Emperor was a man of flesh and blood, its portholes aglow and running lights burning brightly against the black void. I had a vision of how she might look once restored to her former glory.

There was a flare, a halo of light as it was engulfed in light and entered the warp… and then the glow was gone and we were sliding smoothly back into realspace, 770 million million miles from where we’d been a moment before.

The ships comms crackled to life all around us as a message played “Welcome, Light of Terra, to Hephaestus Automated Repair and Resupply Station. Please prepare yourself for automated docking with repair bay one. Welcome home.” I nearly wept at that sound. Because it wasn’t the voice of a machine. No, not at all. It was the voice of Tokimi. Instead I laughed. Relief has never tasted so sweet.

Next: Light of Terra, Part 2

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon.

Resources: BuildDocument

Author’s Notes

This is the first Gauntlet or Gauntlet-like I’ve done, and thanks to the setup of the actual text, and the way I entered this setting, I had to do things differently than I normally would. This isn’t a complaint. I greatly enjoyed the challenge, and in retrospect, I think my Jumpself would view it all as quite the adventure. She has no idea what a Gauntlet is (it will be explained in due course to her and you, dear readers) and the staggered approach the Light of Terra takes to handling CP and purchases is unique (and, in my opinion, wonderful). It does mean that I can’t simply have her explain why she takes what she takes, so, like several jumps before, it’s more subconscious that truly aware. Somethings are merely the one probability strand that’s most likely to result in success… and success was by no means guaranteed in this. I set high standards for success and varying degrees of it… then rolled virtual dice for every point of failure. I got really lucky sometimes.

I should also say that, while I believe Light of Terra to be a Gauntlet, I was willing to risk my chain for it. The challenge it presents is… compelling. Big surprise, and a bit of spoiler here, I don’t die. So yay me. Much of that is down to smart choices and a lot of luck.

As for how I approached this… I made my initial choices as I read through this for the first time. I tried very hard to stick with those choices, or making things more challenging, as I reviewed the build, and tried not to let foreknowledge of coming sections influence me. I did decide to rearrange the order of the DLC, however, since by the rules you can take them in any order or not at all. This will be a long sequence, as it’s guaranteed to be at least 8 parts. AN: It turned out to be 10 Parts.

Build Notes

The first thing you must do in this jump is decide which of the factions you’ll side with. There is a companion for each and you can only take one… and must take one. All choices put you into the red, CP wise, since you start with nothing. And you also start without any powers, no access to your warehouse, and none of your companions. The text specifies that, while all perks are disabled, all skills (as long as they don’t rely on the specific physics of another universe) work fine once you get used to the differences.

Carwyn the Warlock [500/-500/0]: Selected for three reasons. 1) she’s the best foil for me, incredibly smug, ancient, and playful without actually being too grimderp. 2) the technology she brings with her is well suited to my style of combat. 3) her personal abilities are crucial to my idea of a winning strategy. The other companion options are all contraindicated in one or more ways. Toby the Hormagaunt is a Tyranid, which is a pretty decent reason not to take it in the first place, but the lack of sentient contact would drive me madder. Also, less conversation means harder writing. Shas’ui Ko’el is Tau, which means he’s even worse at physical combat than I am and… well… comes with Tau reinforcements later. I personally find the Tau annoying, and not in a good way. Interesting politics, but I wouldn’t want to spend time with them. Shauphezh Xi’Cokemeq is Dark Eldar… oh sweet fuck no. The Necron Tomb Spyder is arguably easy mode… but terrible for conversation and well… Necrons are creepy… also, I don’t want to become living metal. Hooligan Tuesday, the Imperial Guard, could have been fun. If I could have bought two companions, she’d be the second. Kinda bummed I couldn’t buy her… but she’s not nearly as much fun or as much use as Carwyn. Ardat Jones is an Ork. Full Stop. Whatever you were going to say is invalid. ORK. I’m not contaminating every world I come to with Ork Spores! Enginseer Brutus is fucking crazy, which utterly offsets any utility he might otherwise have. Force Commander Vanyl Isse is… a space marine slash fanatic slash silent. Bad for conversation, bad for leadership, bad for my plans. Plus, I’d have to giggle every time I said his name.

The Deadlight [Free]: Next, you must decide what to do with the Deadlight, a McGuffin that keeps your powers sealed away. If broken, it shifts you from whatever faction you were on, to the Chaos Faction… but also makes you a bit of a buttmunch… and saddles you with Cultist Chan as your companion. If you don’t know Cultist Chan… you’re better off. She’s humorous… in all the worst ways. Breaking the Deadlight is essentially a +1000 Drawback. I decided to use the mcguffin as my stand in for CP vending since it ties in with the plot but has no other use until the very end. Of course, I didn’t break it. That would be stupid. I made that choice long before I knew what breaking it would unleash. Never break the McGuffin.

Enemy Tribes [+800/300/800]: To pay for everything (assuming you didn’t break the Deadlight) you need to take enemy tribes. You have to take at least one of the six tribes as your ally, but each enemy tribe is worth +200 CP. Of the six tribes, four are of questionable utility. The Wargars are less skilled and less disciplined than the Lejens, so they were out from the start. Way too macho for me anyway. The Void Walkers are nomadic and I have a certain fondness for that concept (for obvious reasons) but the description of them says very little about their personality, and in 40K that often means batshit insane. Even if I assumed they were fairly normal, they’d be less useful than the Kin and once things moved beyond the void of space, they’d be even more out of their element. The Pale Sons are utterly useless in every sense of the word and exist only to be taken as a rival group. The Redeemers are for those who side with Chaos. Giant hulking brutes with no utility out of combat.

Allied Tribes [Free]: My reasons for taking the two tribes as allies that I did are fairly obvious. The Lejens are dedicated, regimented, and used to leadership and teamwork. The Kin of Iron are vital to any technic society. No brainers in either case.

Complications [+400/700/1200]: there are also up to four potential complications, each worth another +200 CP to help you pay for purchases. I shied away from Atmospherics because, honestly, suffocation terrifies me. It was probably doable, especially with the Power to open the bulkheads gone… but I didn’t feel it. The Xenos Horrificus was likewise a no than you, especially since it says it grows around the core, which I took to mean the central power core. Instead I took lights, which I had a plan to deal with, and Power which can be coped with.

Skills, Cybernetics, & Weaponry [700/0/1200]: the breakdown of assets into these three sections allowed me to divide the origins of them into three groups as well. I discarded the Weaponry, as I had the Shuriken Catapult from Carwyn, which left Cybernetics, Skills (things that could be reasonably taught), and Gifts of the Deadlight (things that are rather more inexplicable). I took the Total Recall Cybernetics because losing my perfect memories is problematical… but it also serves a secondary function. Many powerless drawbacks don’t exclude items, which means the TRC can cover when I’m without powers but do have equipment. Wards & Abjurements was also a given, given the state of the 40k universe, and it also allows me to recreate the Supernatural Tattoo with a reasonable explanation. This is picked up from the Captain according to the document, so it’s clearly a skill that can be taught… and passed on. That it allows non-psykers to harm daemons is most excellent. The last two advantages I picked up were my first Luck Perk “Luck of the Damned” because fuck it, I need it. This is about survival. Warp Tamer I also got, though that is more in the nature of hedging my bets. If I had to travel anywhere in this universe, I was going to need that guarantee of arrival.

Total Recall Cybernetics [150/550/700]: Flesh is fallible and unlike the perfection of the Omnissiah is prone to mistakes and errors. While they cannot all be prevented, at least some of your weaknesses can be exercised. The back of your skull and part of your brainstem are quickly and easily replaced with an ancient archeotech storage device allowing perfect memory and recollection. Never again will you forget.

Wards & Abjurements [200/350/700]: Grigobretz has spent decades working to ferret out the machinations of the daemon and the witch, and will happily spend hour upon hour regaling you with tales of his adventures, including detailed explanations of the rites he developed, learned or was taught. You know the correct words, signs and autohypnotic mental states that allow even a non-psyker to exercise their mental energies against creatures of the warp.

Luck of the Damned [200/150/700]: Pure random chance? or something else? Your luck is legendary. People won’t even consider playing games with you, but they will go to bizarre lengths to rub dice and cards against you just in case a little of that fortune will rub off.

Warp Tamer [150/0/700]: Like the legendary Sebastien Thor himself your very presence exudes such holiness that the warp becomes calm and placid in your passing, like a savage beast soothed by celestial music. Should you ever find yourself at the helm of the Light of Terra or indeed, any ship that travels the warp you will find your passage incredibly swift and easy, the currents of the warp that can twist ships through time and space banished by your presence.