THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET
PART 7 – Steel Sky Black Mud
Previously: The How Very Special
Themesong: The Sky Above, The Mud Below by Tom Russell
AN: Happy Halloween
As improbable as it may seem, hitting the command console of the former Righteous Path had somehow fixed enough of what was wrong with the ship that it could move… sluggishly… on its own. A few short jumps through the Warp and Ark Magna had arrived in her new home almost a week earlier than the plan had called for… which turned out to be a good thing, as, as soon as we arrived, we started picking up all sorts of troubling biosigns from in system. What in the name of Fug (Fug the Merciless, a 3 cm semi-metallic slug that Alex claimed was responsible for the weather) was going on?
At first I was certain that the Preemptive Retaliation had gone out of control and was… I dunno… randomly humping transports or whatever a pubescent living starship does… but no… what was going on was, if anything, stranger.
The larger of Paradise’s moons (which I’d had to resist the desire to name Bitor and had instead decided to call Hexen… her sister was named Vexen) had changed color and was busy vomiting… things into space. Both groundside and Haephestus had shuttles on scene and were monitoring, but there wasn’t really anything they could do besides watch as things unfolded. I left the not yet rechristened Path / soon to be Ark Magna and took my own shuttle in system as fast as we could, but the first reports from survey teams on the moon were already coming in by the time I got on location.
As best they could determine, a few hundred meters below the lunar regolith, there were countless gargantuan fibrous roots, all threaded together to form the rootmass of a collosal supraorganism that, at the very least, accounted for in excess of 6% of the lunar mass and could, in fact, be the moon entoto. But for whatever biological reason, it had bloomed and what had once been a grey ball of pretty much useless rock was now rapidly being covered by a still growing mass of pale red fungus. From the surface of Paradise, reports were streaming in as my people watched it creep slowly across the surface of Hexen and from where I was in lunar orbit I could see the massive fungal spires surging up, up, up, growing hundreds of meters every hour.
I was trying very hard to resist the urge (spurred by literally tens of thousands of hours of playing Starcraft… it had been on my computer when I’d been taken from my homeworld and I’d had a lot of free time over the last few millenia…) to Exterminatus the bioform before masses of zerg, vord, tyrannids, or orks boiled out of it… but I wasn’t going to be that person… not until something hostile actually happened, and I had all my war ships well back… just in case. Then again, I wasn’t in the habit of giving command to triggerhappy morons.
Each spire had a definite maximum size and as each reached that limit, they began firing off spore packets deep into space, something the oldest spires had been doing since we’d arrived in system.
I had my ships pick up samples and they were quickly analyzed. Despite my expectation that they’d be full of Mindworms or some other fungal parasite designed to destroy entire worlds, thus requiring the sterilization of the moon… and probably every other body in the system… nothing of the kind was found. Rather, initial assessment was the at the bloom was utterly harmless… and had (almost certainly) resulted in the fungal covering of Paradise itself sometime in the distant past. In fact, thanks to one brave and rather foolish ex-Redeemer lab assistant who mistook one of the samples for lunch, it turned out that the substance was extremely tasty.
Further analysis revealed that it was nutritious, filling, and seemed like it would last for centuries before spoiling… if not longer. It was clearly an interstellar lifeform designed to spread like the vord… but harmless… and potentially sellable. There was far far more of it than my people would need over the next few centuries and, unless I missed my guess, I could maintain the superfungus’s bloomcycle indefinitely just by making sure it didn’t run out of water.
It must have bloomed every time an ice comet or asteroid crashed into the moon, and thanks to the processing plant I’d established near Hexen to break up the massive space ice into smaller loads, enough water had been falling moonward to trigger a bloom. So there were potentially hundreds of thousands of tons of harvest bloom left from this batch alone.
A few days later, things had mostly quieted down and the first Hexen Mushroom Miners were settling into their new digs at Harvester Base One… when I received news that, in a billions to one chance, one of the earliest spores had struck something. That something turned out to be an Imperial Transport ship that had just happened to drop out of the Warp in Paradise’s system… and promptly blasted to smithereens by pure accident. Only the bridge remained… a bridge with enough documentation for my dataminers to work out that the transport, named Virtuous Vendor, had been carrying a food shipment to sell at an Imperial Hiveworld in Segmentum Solar.
Virtuous Vendor’s sadly deceased Captain’s Log indicated that there was a major trademeet happening there soon and he had been expecting to sell his cargo of low quality food bars for an exorbitant price. Huh… I had a ship… I had a source of surplus food… I had the location of a market… and I even had documentation proving that I had the legal right to move cargo from one to the other. I didn’t even need to think up a plan… it all seemed to fall into place… convenient that.
In fact… almost everything this decade had been like that. I’d been burning luck like mad… and yet every time I figured my luck had to run out… it got better instead. If I was one who believed in Karma I’d be wondering when I’d been this good in a previous life. Instead… I loaded the Faustian Bargain up with spore cakes and headed for the most notorious Hiveworld in the Imperium. Necromunda baby!
Even with all the things I’ve seen in my very long life, I don’t think I’ll ever forget (unless I get the power to delete my memory back and choose to I mean) the first sight of an Imperial Hive. The mobile mini-hives of Zayth were one thing, but the real thing? Imagine a spire that reaches quite literally into space. It was a man-made mountain that was big enough to lose Mount Everest inside it and still have room for half a dozen other giant mountains. It was a testament to the miracles worked during the High Dark Age of Technology and the fact that so many of them still remained from so long in the past when the tech to make them was almost lost was both impressive and saddening.
Necromunda was possibly the second most populous Hive World in the Imperium, second only to Holy Terra itself. Covered with several thousand mountain sized hives (of which Hive Primus, or The Palatine was only the largest, at 10 miles tall and a reported 3 miles beneath the ground)… the smallest of which was home to more than a billion people. That those mountains appeared like islands punching through the clouds of horrific pollution that blanketed the once lush world testified to how huge the population could have been had this been a true ecumenopolis like Terra. My ship’s cogitator counted nearly a thousand hive clusters, each ranging from three to thirteen or so individual hives… which put the planetary population well into the low triple digit trillions… a far cry from the quadrillions who lived on Terra, but still a metric fukton of people.
To make it soo much worse, Necromunda has only one spaceport. The planet cannot support itself and has to import food… the ships arrive by their hundreds every hour of every day at that port and the transports continuously pour out of Hive Primus in a never ending loop to take that food, largely neutri-paste and recycled protein bars, to the far distant hives. In exchange, they load up the manufactured production of a world of factories to ship elsewhere. Oddly enough, this was (though I doubt anyone realized it) slowly turning the world more biological, not less. Still Real Food was at a premium here where everything was recycled almost endlessly.
The docking fees were quite reasonable and no one would dare question the right of a Lathimon to trade in the Emperor’s (or Primarch Magnus’s) Name. Still, the Customs Officials were clearly overworked, because it took a quarter hour for them to clear me for entry to the Hive. I busied myself with looking at the various fliers and notices posted for passing Captains to review. Most of them consisted of ancient and contradictory shipping legislation that I would blithely ignore as a Rogue Trader, but one poster did catch my eye… for three very glaring reasons. I’ll reproduce the text and you can judge for yourself why before I comment further.
The Zombie Plague is one of the many foul contagions spread by the followers of Nurgle. It is a combination of a Chaos infection and a physical malaise. The plague degenerates those it infects, although a portion of the victim’s life essence is retained by the body even after physical death has occurred. The disease is a spiritual contagion as much as physical one – afflicting those lacking in utter faith. Plague zombies act like archetypal zombies – mindless, shambling and cannibalistic; they are hard to kill and generally require a traumatic blow to the head to kill them. It has been observed that some Psykers appear to be able to control the actions of the zombie hordes.
Do you see it? I know! This was just… weird. A piece of public information that somehow mentioned CHAOS? That mentioned a CHAOS GOD BY NAME? In the imperium? And this Hive hadn’t been eradicated by orbital fire? I took it down and folded it it up. That it mentioned ‘Archetypal Zombies’ was just… weird. Fiction was not common in the Imperium (many people were illiterate and those that aren’t are more likely to watch propaganda than fiction.) and Zombie Fiction wouldn’t make it past Imperial Censors in a millennia of sundays. No… There was no logical explanation for this poster… except that it had been placed here specifically to warn me. Which meant a powerful psyker had done so… and it had to be one that a) knew about Chaos, b) knew about Nurgle, c) knew about me, and d) knew I was a Psyker…
~Thanks for the heads up.~
~Oh, Tzeentch! You again? You know I’m busy being all EVIL and stuff, right? I have Fenris to destroy, Robot’s return to plan for, and you keep interrupting my scheming!~
~Yup. But thanks. I appreciate the warning.~
~I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU”RE TALKING ABOUT! STOP CALLING ME ON MY PRIVATE MINDSCAPE!~
Ah friends… the people you annoy the most. And speaking of…
“You know what a Warlock is for?”
“Yes, for defending the Eldar against their enemies.”
“Nope. It’s a device for securing large scale conflict.”
“I loathe you so much right now.”
My clearance was granted at that point, some low ranked clerk named Lars spent longer apologizing for the wait than I’d actually spent waiting and I was allowed into the city. A few inquiries later and it became apparent that, while I could sell my cargo to the nobles of the upper city (those who lived in the part of the Hive that started at about five miles above ground level and went up through the stratosphere, I would need to parcel it out bit by bit. For a quick, major sale, I’d need to move down into the Hive City, the vastly larger bulk of the Hive where food was scarce and quality would sell at an incredible mark up. The Hive City ran from ground level up to the massive adamantine plate known as The Wall which separated the billions of Guilders and Gangers from those above. Beneath the Hive City was the Undercity, a lawless region far from the eyes of the planetary enforcers and where the Houses Major of the Hive City fought their endless wars for power and resources.
I was told that, in no uncertain terms, that if I wanted a quick sale and a ready market, I would need to ally myself with one of the Houses Major, of which there were officially six, but in practice there were eight… not that I’d ally myself with one of those, since the Scavvies were freaking cannibalistic mutants and the Ratskins were extremely primitive. Then again, the Ratskins were a degenerate branch of humanity that filled the Skaven-shaped hole in the Warhammer Sci-Fi Verse (The Skaven are ratmen from the Warhammer Fantasy Verse)… though at least they civilized… in fact they were more civilized than most of the Hive Guilders…hell, they were pacifists in a universe like this… I almost considered siding with them, but they weren’t exactly wealthy or connected or technologically savvy, and I was not here to reform Necromunda from the bottom up. I had enough trouble just dealing with Paradise.
My choices then were limited to the six recognized Houses… and you shouldn’t think of these as noble houses. No… think of these as rival mafia families… in hell. They were Houses Orlock, Goliath, Escher, Van Saar, Delaque, and Cawdor. Of them, I immediately discounted Houses Goliath and Escher, who maintained their power entirely on the strength of their reputation as merciless combatants. It wasn’t that all the houses weren’t skilled fighters. I mean, these were large collectives of gangers allied with one or more central hereditary pseudo-noble families. But Houses Goliath and Escher produced nothing of substance besides pain. Even though house Escher was almost entirely peopled by women (a hereditary defect made their menfolk shriveled and imbecilic apparently) it didn’t make them better than Goliath’s largely masculine attitude and personnel. Goliath were brutes who ran the Fighting Pits and the Feast of Flesh… I didn’t ask. Escher were more finessed than their rivals… but still vicious cunts for all that… and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they actually did for money… then again, I wasn’t trying very hard. All of the houses manufactured something… but aside from misery, I couldn’t actually pin down what Escher produced.
House Delaque had a rep as being underhanded and sneaky, secretive in the extreme, and of either working for the Imperial House of Helmawr (the rulers of the entire planet and actual nobility… if not particularly noble) or of secretly controlling entire Noble Houses (there were at least seven real noble families on the planet.) There too I had trouble finding out what they produced exactly, but they did run supplies up to the upper city, so they per probably producing something. That all indicated they were discrete and could keep secrets… Unfortunately, they also had a rep as being swindlers and that counted them out.
Out too was House Cawdor, the House of Redemption. They were rigid adherents of the doomsday Cult of the Redemption… which not only sanctioned proscribed crusades… but believed that the only way for humanity to be save humanity was to cleanse it of all sin by fire and blade. Every sin had to be purged… along with the sinner. That I was both a psyker and a heretic (though they couldn’t know either of those things) meant that, as far as I was concerned, they could suck exhaust and if I could spare the manpower I’d have invaded Necromunda just to obliterate them… unfortunately, the Imperial Fists chapter of the Adeptus Astartes (Spez Murheens! Hoy!) had a fortress inside the hive itself and might take the invasion personally.
Which left Orlock, the House of Iron, masters of the deep ferrous slag pits, miners who recycle the debris of ages past… and House Van Saar, The House of No Fun… Wealthy, disciplined, structured… known for the quality and precision of their work. Most of their gangers are ex-Imperial Guard. It really wasn’t a contest.
House Van Saar was renowned for the quality of its technical products, precise in its manufacturing and a name in highest quality finished materials that sold at a premium. If anyone could afford my Mushroom Cakes (Rebranded as “Paradisian Manna”) it was them… and if anyone had stuff I might actually want myself… it was them. Sure, they were serious and humorless, but they had a deeply ingrained sense of order and practicality. They also had the Hiver equivalent of Fremen Stillsuits, which was just cool.
The tight fitting body suit was designed to protect and sustain the wearer in the hostile hive environment. Semi-permeable membranes in those suits reduced the loss of body moisture whilst various spots on the material changed color to warn the wearer of airborne toxins and reduced oxygen levels. I decided to include the design specs in my bargaining. A little tinkering with those suits and we might be able to use them on Paradise… We had something similar, but it was bulkier and hadn’t had a few thousand years of testing. I had no doubt we could improve the Van Saar design… but first we had to have it.
Dealing with the Van Saars had another benefit… a twofer in fact. Quality Goods and Prices to match. The negotiations went on for several days… and to be honest, more than once any progress we made was clawed back a few hours later by those obnoxious sticklers… though I suspect that they would have said as much about us. Still though, the sheer length of negotiations turned things in my favor when, at long last, their exhausted chief negotiator signed the trade agreement that I was, finally, happy with. As for the Van Saar Negotiator? A few seconds after I left the suite, I head a single gunshot ring out. Ah well, some people can’t take stress.
I was loving all the components I’d seen the plans for. Beautiful things, all built with several redundant systems, all fit for the finest of fighting vehicles. With them installed, the Light and Ark Magna would be able to continue to fight at virtually one hundred percent effectiveness regardless of any but the worst damage, making the ships next to impossible to knock out and incredibly easy to repair, even in the middle of combat. If it wouldn’t have been beneath my dignity, I’d have skipped… as it was, I was so happy that Carwyn slapped me upside the head.
“Stop that. You’re broadcasting!”
“I can tell… so can the mindblind MonKeigh. There are insane cultists around here, don’t forget.”
I sighed. This universe SUUUUUCKS!
Still, now that negotiations were finished, I was kinda expecting a few days of peace and quiet. Not quite what happened, of course. As far as everyone else was concerned, I was a Rogue Trader who’d just walked into town and started throwing around a truly epic amount of credits. Before I’d even reached my hotel above the plate, a string of runners had located me to politely inform me that I had been, in order, been upgraded to a better room, upgraded to a better suite, given ownership of the hotel, upgraded to a better hotel, and finally loaned a manor compound by one of the heads of the Merchant Guilders’ Council. Not bad for someone who just came to get rid of some extra mushrooms.
I arrived at my temporary home to find that the Choirs had secured it and swept for bugs, chaos, and (according to Luna) pixies. That Lilith was nodding and not sneering at the suggestion of pixies worried me slightly. But not as much as the fact that all 9 of them were a) working together and b) here! I’d left them behind on Paradise… at which point they’d teamed up with not only each other but the rest of Carwyn’s bodyguard (Which we’d also left behind) to seize control of the Preemptive Retaliation and follow us. During the long summit with House Van Saar, they’d apparently caught up and steadfastly refused to leave. Apparently it had been Maggy’s idea.
She and her siblings were jumping on the bed in the simply ridiculously vast main bedroom when we arrived, throwing the piles of invitations up into the air and trying to decide which sounded the most fun… clearly I’d neglected their education… social functions among planetary nobility are not fun… they are warfare.
After chastizing them for running away from home and commending them for taking over a hundred psychopathical loyal and terrifyingly competent bodyguards with them, I gathered up the invites to discover that I had been asked to join the Necromunda Glitterati at a dozen balls, eight dances, and fifteen soirees… as well as been moved formally onto the Guilders’ Preffered Customer List. They were offering a collection of rare and unique artifacts and had one of the same education systems that I’d found aboard the Path, some kind of ancient information dissemination system that could be used to upload “schemas” (skills and abilities coded as mental engrams) into a person’s mind. They also knew how the machines worked and had hundreds of Schemas, ranging from banal (sump-pump operation) to insane (how to fall any distances up to six stories without getting hurt). Really interesting stuff, though most of it was combat related and not suff I personally was willing to let anyone fuck around with my brain to plug into my head. I had hardcoded combat skills and could augment them with biological upgrades at need.
What I did find odd as I examined the list of available Schema was that, while the last update stamp on most of them was decades or centuries old, one appeared to have been added to the list for the first time approximately the same time I arrived… not in system or on planet… but in the Guilders Hall… it had, obviously, never been updated. It was called ‘Dive’ and the colofon said simply ‘Something you might find useful’ and then a list of details that amounted to a massive mental archive of information on guerilla warfare in deep urban chem-wastes… like the kind that apparently filled the very very bottom levels of hives like Hive Primus. Why would someone…
~I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!~
~You know, most beings are scared of me.~
~Meh. It’s the nipple horns.~
~Most psykers are sane enough not to contact me on a whim. That includes most THOUSAND SON LIBRARIANS!~
~Yeah. But that’s because they think you’ll destroy them for bugging them.~
~What makes you think I won’t destroy you?~
~Me? I’m the closest thing you have to a friend besides Ahriman and I’m pretty sure you’re still pissed at him over the whole Rubrik thing.~
~You just keep poking and poking and poking, don’t you.~
~You know he didn’t mean to fuck up cataclysmically.~
~Your metaphor is not as subtle as you think it is.~
~I’m not being subtle. I’m being a friend. Oh. Gotta go.~
~You don’t get to hang up on-~
“Who were you talking to?” Carwyn asked.
“An old… really really old… friend,” I commented, chuckling as I considered if I trusted the Schema and its source… something that was confusing the hell out of the Guilder Schemasmiths… I was going to have to hire a few dozen of these guys to run my set up back home… I wonder if Lorcanus had hired his from here. Ah, what the hell. If you can’t trust a Traitor Primarch and Daemon Prince of Tzeentch, who can you trust? “I’ll take the Dive Schema,” I told the desk guard, “And the Interior Decorating one too.”
I have no idea what the normal procedure was like, for normal people. None. I’d told Carwyn to stand by to make sure nothing was added or removed from my brainmeats that I didn’t want in there… when the archeotech that had replaced my brainstem interfaced with the Schema Inductor and downloaded the information from their system… all of it. Granted, the vast majority of it wasn’t useful, none of it was installed in the proper place in my head so it was little more than information, but the two schema I’d actually wanted had been largely informational in the first place and so I found that I suddenly had clue one as to why gold and skulls where goddamn everywhere… not that I agreed with the logic, but at least I got the jist. These people were fucking crazy, that’s why. That was 1,000 credits well spent.
If the Guilders offered mental upgrades, they also offered physical ones… you know, for those people oddly unwilling to allow ancient, poorly understood machines of dubious maintenance to fuck around with the insides of their skulls. Instead, those people could get ancient machines of dubious maintenance to install other machines into their bodies. Hurray for cybernetics!
Most of it was weird or pointless or, in at least one case insane… ceramic sheathing that made bones unbreakable… and did bugger all to the flesh around them… kinetic energy had to go somewhere. Even if I couldn’t repair my own bones with but a thought I wouldn’t touch that one with a ten foot pollock. Nor would I take the arm mounted Rock Drill, Buzz Saw, or Magnetic Catapult. I would also not be taking the Synthacardiums on offer. Artificial hearts were for people who still had one… I had eleven distributed all over my body, and a circulatory system that pumped blood all on its own through micro-contractions in the arterial walls… the hearts just kept the whole system pressurized.
I was about to pass on all the offerings in the Cybershop… when Nerve Wiring caught my eye. “Thousands of times faster than ordinary human nerve tissue?” I asked, barely able to process that. Human nervous conduction velocity maxed out at around 120 meters per second. Thousands of times faster was… obscene… that was moving into (admittedly) very low fractions of the speed of light.
“Yes Lady Trader. Between three thousand for the slowest nerves and fifteen thousand for the greater ones… but the process is quite time consuming… and… err…”
“I believe the term you are looking for is excruciating?”
“Ah. Yes… we have to remove the entire nervous system…”
“And numbing the nerves wouldn’t do much. Right… in fact, the sensory overload is going to be a problem at the beginning… Right… fuck it. I’ll take it.”
~Are you sure?~ Carwyn asked, sounding concerned.
~Yeah. I mean, yeah, it’s a risk, but I should be able to repair any damage the conversion does and if I don’t like it I can grow back my original nervous system… plus having a secondary cybernetic system… a synthetic one… might not be a bad thing.~ I reassured her.
~But the pain…~
~I’m a biopath. Pain is only a problem if I choose to allow it to be.~
In the end, it was more a curiosity than a horrible experience. They mapped my nervous system, then replaced it bit by bit with a synthetic fiber that functioned very much like a low bandwidth electronic relay of the same general power output as human nervous fiber, but with a greater throughput for the same size… It was also better shielded from nerve induction technology. The pain I set my mind to all but ignore. Acknowledge but don’t respond.
After the four day procedure, I had to learn how to move slower. I did so by having the kids throw things at me and trying not to hit myself in the face with my own arms as my sensory inputs hit my brain and sent out the responses at speeds that were no longer needed. It wasn’t conscious, of course. Conscious thought took comparative ages (as I’d been aware of since having to return to flesh and blood computation instead of optronic ice computation) but reflexes happened at the speed of perception with lag, a lag that began with the fact that every synapse in the perception-decision-reaction chain added about two milliseconds to the reaction time. My lag was now, for all intents and purposes, nil when dealing with prepared reactions. I responded as soon as I perceived something that triggered an automatic response
At first the flesh protested… but my flesh adapted, the fast twitch muscles getting faster as they got used to the strain. I increased the speed of my blinking to counter the flutter caused by increased optic nerve speed, and tweaked my gene-code to bring back the nictitating membrane hidden deep within… really, the genome is fascinating when you know what each and every length of code does.
Still, the flesh was… limited. My reaction speeds were now superhuman… but not magical. I could casually flick a fly out of the air, adjusting my motions to its reactions to the turbulence my hand caused as it moved. I couldn’t, however, dodge a laser blast… if I didn’t see the gun being aimed my way. If I did, and you weren’t a precog better than me, you weren’t going to be able to shoot me.
Oh… yeah, I did mention that, right? I’d been getting lessons in Precog from Carwyn. It was the one major area of Psy power I wasn’t really familiar with from pre-Warhammer stuff. My primary psychic specialization before this had been blocking precogs… now, if I wanted to do that, I’d have to out Xanatos them at their own game.
Carwyn, being a Farseer, was skilled in this kind of nonsense, so I had asked the expert and while I wouldn’t be an Alpha Precog like Eldrad, I should be Beta Plus like I was pretty sure I was in everything that wasn’t my specialization. Alphas weren’t bad in any area… they were just better in one way. If I could get Three Pounds of Dreams, the thing that had allowed my psychic powers to grow without limit, back… I’d be able rival even Eldrad or Magnus… or the Emperor… in time. Of course, if I had it back, chances were I’d also have all my willpower perks… and all my other psi-powers… like PK Games, my Ultimate Psychokinetic attack.
So I was a precog with preternatural luck and preternatural reflexes… so why did I feel like someone was aiming a Jovian Pattern Nova Cannon at my back? I shook off the feeling and went back to practice.
The deal was done, the paperwork carefully filed, and the glacial slowness of Imperial bureaucracy engaged. So why was I still here? I had to stay for the celebratory dinner the Guilders were throwing me, didn’t I? They were pulling out all the stops. And I might need these people in the future. Plus, something big was coming… I could feel it… plus Magnus would not have left those clues for me if there wasn’t something in the works. I had to see this through, if only for the story I’d be able to tell when I got back.
All told, the meal was pretty incredible, even if I did have to spend most of the time between courses alternating between being introduced to a string of nubile (marriageable) young men (and women) or older ladies and gentlemen who’d taken full advantage of the rejuve and body sculpting technologies available to only the richest of the Imperium’s citizens. Both groups kept dropping hints about me paying them a social call for the evening. I could feel Carwyn, Fredrika, and Lilith all trying to incinerate the newest flirt with the unfettered power of their gaze… actually, come to think of it, at least two of them were showing remarkable restraint since none of those flirts did actually spontaneously combust. Fun with tsundere psykers, right? Wooo!
Of course, like everything else in my life over the last few years, things couldn’t just stay calm and reasonable… thank god. I was being very awkwardly flirted with by one Captain Carkadus Geno of the Imperial Fists… and if you think that wasn’t uncomfortable you are not under 5 feet tall and very petite while being loomed over by someone whose arm alone outmasses you by a factor of two… five in that armor… when the party was interrupted by the arrival of a messenger. I was across the crowded and lively ballroom, but I still managed to pick out the words “Him”, “Valois”, “Zombie”, and “Plague”. As Gru from… Mission Impossible?… No… hmmm… I seem to have forgotten what movie… uh… the thing with the little yellow dudes… they were yellow, right? Fuck… The Lorax? No, that was Dr. Spock… umm… it’ll come to me in a bit if I stop thinking about it. Not fucking Pac-man you stupid cybernetic implant… too much had been lost between my arrival and my upgrade… I was always having moments like… damn, almost had it… anyway, he did this thing where he said “Lightbulb!” no, wait… that was when he had an idea… shit, this has really gotten away from me. Shoulda gone with Archimedes and Eureka.
While I was trying and unsuccessfully trying to remember Despicable Me, the Arch Arbite of the Adeptus Arbites had been apprised of the situation and had taken to the podium on a balcony overlooking the crowd. “Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen of The Palatine and Guests, please, forgive this interruption, but there is a situation developing. It seems that Karloth Valois has returned. Already his hordes are attacking the walls of Girder Falls and Slag Gultch. Please return to your compounds and ready yourselves. We’ll rally our forces and prepare a line of defense. Captain Geno, if your forces will assist us?”
I ignored the Space Marine Captain’s response. It seemed the party was over, time for me to get the hell off the planet… heh. As if. Karloth Valois must be a Psyker who had control over a Horde of Plague Zombies… and apparently he’d attacked before… and, unless I was missing my guess completely, he was somewhere in the Underhive, sending his legions against the city. Which probably meant that he was either with that horde (if he was stupid) or busy raising more forces far far below.
I left the hall at a run, motioning for my companions to follow me.
“Where are we going?” Fredrika asked, catching up first of the trio who’d been inside with me.
“To get the others and gear up… then we’re going down… all the way down. And someone find someone who can tell me about who the hellfire Karloth Valois is!” I snapped, accepting my weapons from Sierra as I left the hall.
“I believe I can help you with that, young lady,” came a voice that made me want to claw my ears out. It had the tang of fanaticism and that undefinable tang found only in the most dedicated priests of really disastrously awful religions. I looked over and found myself face to face with Arch Cultist Providence Incendio (I hoped to the Emperor he hadn’t been born with that name), leader of the Cult of the Redemption. Yes, this was the Pope of Blood and Fire and he looked even creepier than he sounded. “I take it you’re prepared to assist us in finding the abomination and… … … … (yes the pause was that long, as if he was savoring every passing second) purging the sinner?”
I smiled a smile that was surpassed in falseness only by its bloodthirsty relish and chuckled dryly. “I do not like tainted, nor those who would send the ravening hordes against the Emperor’s faithful.” Nothing I said was untrue… but it was carefully worded to include this jackass as well as Karloth Valois. If the Arch Cultist noticed, he didn’t comment.
Instead, he launched into a narrative as Lilith and Fredrika ran off to get their sisters and Carwyn summoned her strikeforce with a thought, “Originally a denizen of the Hive-City, Karloth was one of those cursed by the forces of darkness and heresy with unclean mental powers, no doubt thanks to mutation on the part of his parents.” Every word was laced with hate and bile, but powers and mutation were especially vicious. “Rather than submit himself to the Black Fleets of the Imperium and serve in the blessed Astronomican, he chose to flee down into the Underhive and even deeper to the hive bottom, driven on by what he described as nightmarish prophetic visions. Ever seeking to distance himself from those who would judge him if they learned he was spying upon their thoughts, he ended up in the Badlands of the hive bottom, where he nearly died many times.”
“While scavenging for whatever meagre supplies can be found in such a desolate place he was set upon by a pack of Plague Zombies. They chased him through the abandoned tunnels and vents until his exhausted muscles gave way and, collapsing in the filth, he succumbed to death… but it was not to be. As the Zombies began to consume his wasted flesh, something awoke inside him. He suddenly sensed the tiny fragments of a mind that remained to the Plague Zombies, the insatiable unclean hunger that drove them, the base instincts that governed their actions. Above all this he recognised he could control them, make him serve them as their dark overlord.”
“No offense, but how do you know all this?” I asked, honestly curious.
“He told this story to the gangers that he allied with… but I’m getting ahead of my story,” el Priest con Creepy said. “Using his unholy powers and the last of his dark strength he succeeded in quelling the Zombies’ hunger and forced them to stand back and leave him alone. He lay alone in the impenetrable gloom of the hive bottom, surrounded by the Plague Zombies as the virus spread through his body and into his brain… and then he discovered another terrible gift. The virus that should have killed him instead allowed him to draw the tiny slivers of life-force still within the Zombies into himself and use them to ward off the death that is natural to those of less than pure flesh.”
“Great. Lovely. So he sustains himself by draining the living? Can he do that to anyone or just Plague Zombies?”
“He can drain the life-force from any living thing and absorb it into himself, but that this is his only form of sustenance. He is forced by this dark hunger to prey on the living in order to survive, and survive he must, for he has seen the damnation eternal, the fires of the Emperor’s holy wrath, that lie beyond the boundaries of this life, sensed the unimaginable torment that lies in store for him, and vowed that he would never let death take him.”
“And he can control Plague Zombies?”
“Indeed! Somehow the neurone plague had altered Karloth’s powers and those abilities he had first used to save his life he could now use to a much greater extent. He could control the minds of Plague Zombies within a distance, heightening or lessening their hunger, even focussing what little sense of self they still possessed in order to make them more efficient and lethal killers.”
“You said something about allies?” I asked, checking on my people and sensing they were at least five minutes out, which gave me time to listen to Herr Exposition some more.
“Karloth took to a wandering existence, travelling the wastelands of the Underhive, preying on the living when he could and using his packs of Plague Zombies to force others to give him what he needed when he had too. In time his reputation grew, to the extent that Gangs would make terrible pacts with him in order to secure his assistance. And all the while Karloth’s power was growing, as was his horde of undead, until it inevitably drew the attention those who would do something about it.”
“That’s when your Cult enters the picture?” I sat back on the foot of a statue and checked my guns as I watched the old guy’s face with my other eye.
“Yes! The ranks of the Redemption in the Underhive grew and even more began to flock down from the Hive City to join their brothers and sisters in order to oppose the man who was now called Soul-Thief and Life Taker. Rumours spread that he had made a pact with the Dark Gods and we Redemptionists marched in an all out crusade to bring his reign of terror to a halt!” The fervor in his voice redoubled, even as his voice cracked with age. “The Gangers were unwilling to face our cleansing fire and Karloth found that he was suddenly left alone, with no allies to turn to. Everywhere he went he was turned away, people’s fear of what he had become and what the Redemption might do to them outweighing anything they might hope to gain by helping him! He retreated into the poisoned lakes and sumps of the Underhive inhabited by the Scavvies and the Mutants but the Redemption pursued him there also! We pursued Karloth all of the way to the edge of the Abyss where… with his back to the fathomless emptiness… he finally turned to face us! His horde of Zombies charged into the flamers of the Redemption, dried burning flesh raining down to be swallowed by the darkness of the pit below. Karloth drained the life out of my brothers as his Zombies tore into their flesh but we stood against him, our red-robes soaked in the bile of that dark place and were not swayed!” He was yelling now, eyed burning with fanatical fire, and his mind was back in that place, no longer in this guilded hall.
“We pressed on inexorably. In the end, Karloth escaped the flames and his inevitable fait as a Heretic by turning and diving into the bottomless darkness below, crying out in defiance of death to the end! We searched the Abyss for weeks looking for any evidence of Karloth’s remains but found nothing. But, as every Underhiver knows, nothing can be found in the Abyss which does not wish to be found,” his voice softened as he returned to the present.
“Now it seems, the Zombie Lord has returned. For vengance?” I asked, hoping for more insight but not counting on it.
“Perhaps it is a hunger for the life essence of others? We may never be know what dread desire fuels his continued existence. What is certain is that hordes of Plague Zombies already threaten to overrun two major settlements within the Underhive, and doubtless more will come under attack in short order.” He favored me with a conspiratorial grin, then whispered “The bounty on Valois head was never claimed, and while his attention is elsewhere, a small team may be able to fight their way down into the Sump, following the tracks of the Zombie Horde all the way back to the Life Stealer himself…”
I nodded, “That was my thought as well… well, pretty much. But if I do this, your Cult will match the official bounty, won’t it?”
He eyed me, then slowly nodded, “We will. For those brothers who gave their lives to bring down the Soul-Thief the first time, we will pay your blood money, trader.”
“Excellent. May the Emperor Judge you as you deserve, for this.”
“I’m certain he will,” He turned and slid into the darkness as my armored aircars arrived.
The further down the hive one goes, the worse things get. Just below the Titanic Adamantine wall the separates ground level Hive City from the Underhive proper, the area is merely ghastly. But below that, after the first mile and a half, it becomes all but uninhabitable… but things get rapidly worse and below the Underhive is the Sump, a nightmare of ruins and toxic effluvia that have seeped down from far far above for countless thousands of years… go deep enough into the Sump and not even the Scavvies and Raskins can survive… that, then, is the Abyss. Light there is a myth and everything will kill you if it can.
At first it was just… unspeakably awful as we followed the Zombies’ backtrail. Everything, every surface, every wall, every floor, every half-rotten doorway, was covered in a thin, slippery green coating. It was some horrible slime mould that had colonized everywhere and it wasn’t just slick… it was a god damned organic super-lubricant. Anything but the slowest movements would see me and mine sliding face first into walls at best, into jagged metal shards covered in ages of filth or off walkways to plunge onto said jagged metal shards at worst. Worst of all, the gods-be-damned Plague Zombies exuded something that made the Slime move away from them, clearly out of their path.
For a few long minutes, this was (barely) acceptable. But the first time the PZ’s attacked and it was us not them doing the shambling, I roared “FUCK THIS NOISE” and plunged my hand into the slime, grabbed a mouthful, and ate it, studying its biostructure… and then moments later I bent over double, vomiting a swarm of blue-black flies… No, it wasn’t the slime… I’d engineered the flies to eat the slime. They were ravenous, insatiable, and would replicate with horrifying speed… they also could only feed off that slime and would die in less than an hour without it, their metabolism burning out their limited energy reserves like wildfire.
As Luna and Verona commented “Sooo coool,” while Carwyn looked a little ill, I grumbled “We’ll wait twenty minutes to give the flies time to… do their thing… maybe thirty.” We were attacked fifteen more times in that period, but by then we’d also had time to rig climbing spikes to our boots (okay, in my case they were closer to teeth, fangs to be precise… I really regretted not being able to levitate everyone, but that would have burned through too much of my (admittedly vast) reserves just before what was promising to be a major battle. Same reason I wasn’t asking the Eldar to do it. Also, some of the areas we were moving through were tight enough as it was without the flying. It was amazing we were getting Verona through them, but she’s pretty slick when she wants to be…and yes, that’s as gross as it sounds. Ex-Nurglite. The slime hadn’t even phased her.
As if the Slime wasn’t horrible enough, we soon ran into something so much worse as we headed deeper, something I couldn’t just generate a phage for… well, I might have been able to… but it would have taken a lot more of them and orders of magnitude more time. It was a thick layer of cloying chemical slime that spread as far as our light could spread, knee deep and fairly viscus, I didn’t have to be precog to know that it would hide dozens of pitfalls that would swallow a person in seconds. I looked out over it and growled.
“Helmets on. Sisters? Light it up. I want to know if this shit burns before we step into it.” Thankfully, it wasn’t flammable, which meant that we’d have to brave it… and the PZ’s no doubt trapped in it, waiting to strike. Thankfully, I had an Eldar Farseer and a Chaos Sorceress. “Carwyn? Lilith? Map a path, if you will. Sisters… shoot anything that looks like it might be thinking of moving. Decima, Verona, watch our backs.”
And the PZ’s came, came like a wave of black slime-horrors, thrashing through the mire and roaring their hollow groans into the emptiness of the Sump… and, seeing as how I was flanked by Sisters and Ex-Sisters, all armed with the finest Flamers money could buy… we (to quote Trogdor) burninated them. The goo might not have ignighted, but it still burned… everything burns if you get it hot enough, and we got them hot enough that by the time a path was found we could almost have walked across the floating bodies… I probably could have if I’d taken off my armor and left my weapons behind… but that would have been uccky… even more ucky than wading through that goo must have been for everyone else. I rode on Decima’s shoulder. I would have ridden Verona, but the ceiling was too low.
After more than an hour of that… ugh… and of me doing my best overwatch, we passed through the open area of the sea of goo and moved into an ancient factorium… where the goo was still knee deep and there was still slime on most exposed surface, but something had stirred the ancient machines of the underunderhive back to life. Cogitators deranged by centuries of neglect flashed awake as we passed and spun up half-rotted machinery to continue work on half remembered tasks given to them by men turned to dust five millennia ago or more. The area rapidly became a hell of industrial madness, colossal devices working at random, smashing into each other as they struggled to complete tasks that were as impossible now as they were meaningless. It was like one of those horrible industrial levels in a video game… only made so much worse as we had to wade through crap to clear it.
We made it through that area thanks largely to my precious Space Marine Meltagun, which worked just fine to destroy any piece of machinery that got too close to one of my companions or blocked the path ahead. THere, the horrid sludge helped immensely by smothering the flaming hunks of metal that exploded off of whatever I’d just shot. Even Decima seemed impressed… and the best thing about that endless traverse was the fact that any PZ who entered that zone was dead and smashed and diced and fried long before it reached us. Well, good for everyone besides Alicia, who was convinced that she could get a headshot if the damned Zombies would stop dodging at the last moment. Why she wouldn’t accept a cybernetic eye when I’d offered upstairs I do not know.
Moving beyond the manufacturing sector, we found ourselves in a vast shaft that plunged down, down, down, down, at least a football field across and at least 1200 feet deep. It was flanked by metal stairways that spiraled down its sides and and crisscrossed by metal catwalks at a hundred different levels and heights. Or at least it had been. Now rust and disuse and zombies had taken their toll and many of those were all but impassible. Still, the Zombies were getting up from below, so there had to be a way down… if there would be a way back up was anyone’s guess… But I had a good feeling about it.
We pressed on… and nearly lost our lives for it. Not from the rust or rot or zombies… but from lightning. I felt the shift a moment before the lightning filled the shaft and launched myself one way and my companions back into the hallway as a bolt lanced through the structure of the pit. Hives like those of Necromunda have to be well protected from external weather conditions. Lightning poses a major threat as raging storms that can last for weeks circle the upper levels of the Hive’s largely metallic structure. To that end, huge metal pylons syphon the energy into batteries and power traps… at the higher levels. Unfortunately, if a bolt strikes down to a lower level, it is less controlled, and more likely to strike deep into the substructure. A storm had, of course, been raging when we’d left. It had been a dark and stormy night… and down here it was always night.
We used jump packs to rappel down the shaft rather than trust to the stairs and catwalks, grateful we’d decided to bring them and relying on our armor and reflexes to keep us far enough from the arching electricity that wanted very much to destroy us. As a group, we suffered more than a few burns and had to downcheck Sabine’s jump pack halfway down… Which meant leaving her with Alicia and telling them not to get killed before we got back. Alicia was not happy to be left behind… but then, neither was Sabine. I had to force them to promise not to walk off and try to rejoin us since then we’d have no fucking clue where to find them and I was very much not looking forward to playing hide and seek down here if I could at all help it.
It was just as we reached the bottom of the shaft that the dragon appeared. Of course, it wasn’t really a dragon. In fact, according to my new ‘Dive’ Schema (which had been spectacularly if sporadically helpful in this ruin of a lost age) a Deep Crow… and a truly ancient one at that. It was a breath-stealing horror out of some abyssal nightmares. It looked like all the worst parts of a rabid panther, a carrion gorged crow, and a demon-eyed spider. Its oily wings covered in feathers as black as a sinner’s heart and not half as friendly. Its maw was in four parts, a combination insectile mandibles and avian beak, a dragon in all but name, a creature born of equal parts dread and madness and ancient unforgivable neglect. It was an abomination and in the face of abomination, there is only one proper response.
As the permacrete shriek’d and tore to ribbons ‘neath the claws of that cyclopean shadow come to terrible terrifying life, four battle cries challenged the monstrosity’s roar. From a dozen Eldar throats and minds came the cry “For Altansar!” (the Craftworld that was home to the Phoenix Lord Maugan Ra, founder of the Dark Reapers and father of Carwyn). From the Choir of Righteous Fury came the familiar “For the Emperor!” and from their lost counterparts the call of “For Necoho!”… and from my lone throat came the call “FOR GREAT JUSTICE!”… and we opened fire with everything we had, bullets and flames and blasts of sorcery struck at the creature, sending bits of ichor and fur and feathers flying but it came on, relentless as time and thrice as ugly.
With a roar, Decima lept forward, chainaxes roaring to life as she sought to distract i, but it swatted her aside with contemptuous ease, sending the berserker skidding into the shattered wreckage at the bottom of the shaft, the scene lit by the actinic light of a lightning blast as twelve anti-material weapons punched huge holes through the creature as the Eldar braced themselves against the permacrete walls and I braced myself against the universe as a whole. And still it came.
Alessa burned into the air, dual wielding her holy heavy bolters, the kickback slamming her into a catwalk that bent under the force of impact and yet she kept firing. Lilith’s sorceress fire lashed the Deep Crow again and again as Verona stepped forward in her massive armor to oppose the rush, skidding backwards as it hit her head on. The remaining sisters flanked left, pumping fire at the Crow’s legs as the Ex-Nurglite grabbed its head in two massive fists and began to squeeze.
For a moment, I thought it would be enough, and then a vision ripped through my mind, a scene from seconds in the future, one where Verona’s armor failed and she was bisected by that maw and then a second later where Sierra, Luna, and Fredika fell to those terrible claws… and then the Eldar went down one one by one as they tried in vain to fight the creature in melee.
I blinked, then roared “This SHALL NOT BE!” and i popped every seam on my armor as I grew. Bigger, bigger, muscles rippling with eldritch might, eyes blazing with warp fire, six feet, eight feet, ten… twenty, and as I grew, my skin hardening to something like terminator armor, I stepped forward and, with my now massive hands, I grabbed the Deep Crow’s wings and, with a roar that shook catwalks loose a thousand feet above, lifted it away from my friends and hefted it over my head, then back further as I fell, suplexing the abomination and driving my elbow against its throat with the combined force of our fall, its wings crunching under my back in a distinctly unpleasant way.
With the beast pinned, its claws could only lash randomly and its roar was a thing of helpless rage as its murderers closed to finish off the task. It was anything but clean… as was I. Shrinking hurt worse than I can express, and I’d be paying off the energy cost for weeks… and it took Lilith half an hour to seal the rent I’d ripped in the fabric of spacetime. Thankfully, the only daemons who’d looked through had seen a battle squad of sisters of battle, ex-sisters of battle, a chaos sorceress, several irate eldar, and me trying to put my armor back together as Decima refused (loudly) to be vomited on or to let Luna patch her up, which meant she would continue to bleed heavily from the half dozen injuries she was suffering. I refused to heal her because she was being silly. In the end, after cauterizing the smallest of the wounds with the superheated barrel of a melta, she decided that Luna’s way was less… grotty.
Big babies, the lot of them… I was naked here at the bottom of the world! Didn’t see me complaining this much. Unless you were telepathic I guess.
By comparison, our confrontation of Karloth Valois was almost anticlimactic… at least that’s what I’m saying here. To hear the others tell the tail, it will no doubt become a much loved and much told tale throughout Hive Primus with great rapidity. I don’t remember much of it, it was that hectic. Even an embellished tale will probably fall short of the truth.
It was fought in almost pitch darkness lit only by blasts of life stealing or incendiary warp fire (depending on which of us was attacking) it was a frantic skirmish on a platform surrounded by a horde of flesh hundred dead held at bay by eighteen stalwart souls as Lilith worked to keep the out of control Necromancer from drawing power from the horde.
The sudden silence as I struck down Valois was almost deafening, the horde falling still as he staggered back, the center of his chest burning outward from the massive hole my last attack had punched clean through him. He made a strangled sound and then, to the sound of his staff falling to the floor like a monstrous, unearthly bell, he went up in a pillar of eldritch fire, burning green in the blackness.
As my companions regarded the remaining horde and checked their exposed skin for bites or scratches that might serve as plague vectors, I found myself fixated on the fallen staff. It would make an excellent trophy… and if the horde attacked, I might not have a chance to grab it. The idea of it being lost here, trapped under a drift of slain Zombies or knocked into one of the chasms or sludge pits was a touch too unsettling.
My hand was wrapped around the Staff before I realized I’d moved.
After that? I don’t even remember passing out. When I woke up, staff still clutched in my hand, surrounded by the unconscious bodies of my companions, the horde was gone. Completely gone… and so was the pile of ash that was all that remained of the Life Stealer… fuck. Ah well. Chances were good that I’d be long gone before he decided to bother Necromunda again… and I had his staff.
It was seven feet of coiled black metal topped with an elaborate and highly decorative set of metal bat wings, exactly like one would expect of a Necromancer. Somehow I knew that it was called the Wyrd Staff and that he wasn’t the first owner. Not by a long chalk. He’d found it in a labyrinth he’d stumbled upon in his travels, long before his first defeat, a labyrinth he’d never been able to find again… and I could feel strength flowing from it into me, my muscles filling with power drawn from… elsewhere. And it wasn’t just my body.
The Staff held the power of the Wyrds, those blessed with psychic power who weren’t quite psykers. It could, I knew now, be used to distort or even nullify the psychic powers… though I also sensed that it had allowed itself to fall from Karloth’s grasp when he’d come up against a superior psyker… namely me. And in claiming it as my own, it had granted me access to the powers of a Wyrd… I could even name the powers as they unfolded inside my mind.
Beastmastery, giving me command of lesser creatures without a thought. Pyromania, as rare among Wyrds as Wyrds were among the common populace, it was the ability to project flame as intense as a melta gun from finger times or to throw fireballs, or even going full human torch. Of course, Telepathy and Telekinesis were old friends. To a normal Wyrd, these powers would manifest as one or two tricks, but I understood them far better. I wasn’t limited to a single application and instead I absorbed the limited flow of the Wyrds into the much more powerful source that was my Magnus Awakened Gift… and then, I reached out, finding Alicia and Sabine, wrapping them, and myself, and all the others in a blanket of light… and, raising the staff high, I brought it banging down upon the platform.
A moment or an eternity later, we were no longer in the deeps, but rather at the edge of where we’d entered the Sump. I was so tired. And the others were more than a little confused as they woke up… although not quite as confused as I was as three massive… I mean bear-sized… rats blinked from the darkness and, squeaking, ran over to nuzzle me like I was their momma. What, the ever living… oh god they smelled so baaaad. And I could feel them in a small part of my mind.
“Rats. Why did it have to be…” I thought of all the ghastly creatures that the Dive Schema said lived down there, and shrugged. “Rats… Could be worse.” I only wondered what Amaryllis was going to name them… and how easy it was going to be to give them baths… and what it was going to take to get the stink out… bet the Guilders had something for that… as well as my Emperor be damned MONEY! I wasn’t doing this for candy, no sir.
Next: Light of Terra, Part 8
OMAKE: Relationship Chart
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Well, first off, thanks for reading this. I know it wasn’t long since my last one of these… probably the fastest I’ve written 10,000 words. Literally 13 hours. I wanted to write this yesterday, sunday, but I got roped into family stuff and then was too migrained out to write last night. So I cancelled all my plans today (monday, Halloween) to write it… it had to come out today… it’s the Zombie Episode!
So, details. Well, first, House Van Saar. I explain exactly why I went with them… well, not quite. See, originally I had a lot more Schemas and cybernetics in my build… but as I went I decided more and more that they just weren’t things that Essjay would take, so I scrapped them and that made Van Saar just more about thematics. It was the house I’d side with among them all… maybe the Ratskins… but I doubt I’d have ever found them really. They’re isolationists. So Van Saar it was.
As for what I decided to keep… well, originally I wasn’t going to by Dive. It’s pointless after the jump… but the thematics and survival bonuses for this section just made sense to get it. Honestly, it was for story reasons more than anything. And I had to do some mental gymnastics to do that. I the author know these things are safe from tampering and chaos… but Essjay doesn’t and had to take them on faith… and faith is hard in Warhammer, 40K or Fantasy. Making Magnus the source honestly makes it more trustworthy, because if anyone doesn’t need the trick, it’s him.
As for the Nerve Wiring… I honestly don’t know if it was a good move or not, and if Essjay really needed it, what with Biomancy, or if it’ll be useful after this jump (probably not). But honestly, I had so many points and felt I had to buy something. It’s a good story beat. Really, I could have walked out of this section with 2000 CP and was tempted to… but I just don’t need that many points for part 3 of the main jump.
As for the dive itself… originally I was going to do three complications… but after I thought about it, I decided to do 5… just because it worked better. I did alter the order I rolled them so that the biggest threats came last, because it made rising drama and gave a serious boss fight. Seriously, Valois is a little anti-climactic after the Deep Crow, but it’s a better fight and I have more control over it (the Valois fight is preordained to a degree… I could have changed it… but the point of this exercise is to show how much flex there is in the story while still allowing the scripted elements to play out as much as possible… plus, I hadn’t had a giant monster kill yet.)
As for the rewards… I got super lucky. Seriously. My rolls were 61 (Pick Primary Power… I picked Beastmastery), 63 (Roll four times, pick one. I got 51 (roll 1d6 Wyrd Powers… I got a 3, which would be #43 Cause Pain, #23 Spider Man, and #64 Pick 1 minor power) then 66 (Pick 2 Primary Powers), then 55 (Warp Shootist), then 24 (Zen Shootist). Of course I picked the 66.)… and my third roll was 21 for the Pyromaniac Primary Power. So I had two prepicked Primary Powers and two unpicked Primary Powers… and there are only 4 Primary Power groups. Now, sure, each of them are (as I later learned when I actually looked up the game rules, 6 random powers in each of Telepathy, Telekinesis, and Pyromaniac, and random creatures under Beastmastery)… but I’m an Alpha Fucking Psyker. I figured that having access to all 4 Wyrd Primary Powers pretty much means that I’m upgrading to Alpha Plus. That’s my wank, if you’re wondering. Normally, a Wyrd is a way lower rank than an Alpha and would just be swallowed up in that… but CP is a weird mistress.
Anyway, next time, SQUATS!