World 60: Tortall, Part 2

KEEP ON BURNING

Previously: Unto Us is Given (Tortall, Part 1) & The Laughter of Dark Gods (LoT, Part 10)

Themesong: I’m Alive by Sia

AN: Warning, incoming strangeness

This… was strange. I hadn’t been Sheanna of Blackmoon, daughter of Aalis and Varish, sister of Aiton and Beyor, for twenty years… but I was her again, and as I stepped from the Chamber of the Ordeal, the decades I’d spent as Sigismonda Lathimon III and Sarah Darling Winchester fell away, receding into my memories like dreams upon waking. I had so many questions… but first, I had my shield to receive and this life to get back into.

I shall not bore you with the details of the knighting ceremony. They differ little from world to world and are, for those not involved, somewhat uninteresting. Sheanna was, of course, faintly buzzing and those who wished her well were pleased as punch for her. Varish, Aiton, Beyor, and Aalis had travelled all the way from Scanra, leaving a regent who could be trusted not to act like a total arse behind. This was, of course, made possible by the end of the war and the fall of King Maggot. The High Council of Scanra was struggling to reassert its haphazard dominance over the lands of Scanra and several of the border jarls were considering if they might be better as vassals of the Conte line than the series of half-moronic tyrants that passed for High Kings in Scanra. That they were having a hard time figuring this out is testament to the high intellectual standards of the Jarls of Scanra.

Also present were my former Knight Master, the Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan and some of my friends… including three youngsters who had been barely more than toddlers the day before, at least as this world measured time. That they were, in theory, 24 years old, had no bearing on this. They would barely have passed for 7 (the older pair) and 6 in the case of their younger sister. Simon and Buji were a big older, biologically speaking, at 7 and 8, but neither of them had come to Sitcomtopia and spent a decade failing to grow much older, and neither were part Asgardian.

Their presence, along with their parents, had helped calm me down some, but not only was Zane still missing, but now Yoiko and Ryoga were as well, and as for the friends and allies I’d made in the land of Warhammer, there was no evidence, nor could I get my marketplace to connect to that world at all. It was most frustrating. Still, everyone who’d been there remembered it well enough.

Also frustrating was dealing with the sudden tension between the now 13 year old  Ceibhfhionn (Velma) and her erstwhile partner in shenanigans Cirno, who was acting as if she was in charge in their decidedly unequal partnership. I would have liked to brush the issue off and either told the two to act their ages or ignored it all and let things settle out on their own, but the force of Feminist Narrative and my drawback enforced sense of Knightly Duty refused to let me do that. They were my responsibility, especially since one of the two was my ward and the other was my servant… somewhat. Like all things Jumper… it’s complicated.

And so I solved the matter by turning Cirno into a puppy. This did not please the fairy one bit, but since Ceibhfhionn was a dog-focused Wildmage, it pleased her and reestablished their former pecking order. It might not be fair to Cirno, but she hadn’t been asserting herself because she wanted things to be more equal. She was doing it because she perceived a power vacuum and thought that just because she was now twenty years older (a meaningless distinction for a fairy) than she had been the last time they’d been together and Ceibhfhionn was only four years older. Still, Cirno was my sworn bondswoman, and this would (to a certain extent) keep her out of trouble.

Also present were the feral duo of Wolf and Squirrel, as well as my collection of pets (well, most of them. I found myself missing Zeddy, Freddy, and Teddy… though not nearly as much as Amaryllis was missing her Speeps and Aunties… why could I not get rid of those insane Sisters of Battle?! Why?! Were they a punishment from on high? A Karmic reminder of somekind? A cruel joke by some unknownable actor? Aaaaagh!). Still, it felt (somewhat annoyingly) extremely good to see Wolf again… at least as far as Sheanna was concerned. Stupid teenage libido… seriously, down girl. Anyone can forget to wear a shirt… though few males looked quite as… tempting when they did.

Scampers-Swiftly on the other hand, was the only native who seemed to think I’d been gone for any time at all. “It was aaaaaaages!” she whined as I poured her out a small pile of peanuts. To be fair, she also complained about how long I’d been gone when I went to the bathroom… if she didn’t follow me. I swear, it was almost as if she was convinced I was a total incompetent who would wander off if she didn’t keep a tiny liquid eye on me at all times. She also slept on my pillow and pouted whenever someone larger, be it Soffi or Ziggy or someone sexy forced her to vacate it, though she was smart enough not to chitter angrily at any of them… except for Alex and Maggy. In fact, the only person she didn’t mind being displaced by was Amaryllis… but that’s probably because Amaryllis gave good tummy rubs.

Over the winter following my investiture, I considered my options as a knight. I had a duty to fulfill, and no war to prosecute… but to serve Tortall alone would be denying my father’s heritage and peoples… and I still had a Goddess to serve to some extent. And so it was that, come spring, I begged the King’s leave and set forth in company for the north with Keladry who had, for her services, been made Baronness of Haven, the territory of around the fortified camp of New Hope and the ruins of the original Haven… to which I requested permission to utilize.

“Utilize? In what way?” Kel asked, curiosity piqued.

“I’m going to build a shipyard there,” I responded, making her chuckle… until she saw that I wasn’t kidding.

“I know the Greenwood is a fast river, but it’s not exactly… I don’t know the term… sail worthy?”

“That’s okay. I’m going to be some major modifications to the river.”

“You’re going to modify… the river?”

“Current’s a little too fast and it’s deeper than I need it to be. So I’m going to widen it  and remove some of the rapids. Pretty much the same way Numair used Stone Dance to bring the rocks to make the lower walls of Haven and New Hope… it’ll make the river more navigable… and I need her to be about 40 feet wide, instead of the twenty she is now.”

“But… if she’s shallower… don’t sailboats need…” she looked flummoxed.

“Not a sailboat. A steam boat. The Greenwood isn’t wide enough for me to build a double wheeler, so I’ll build a outboard…” I saw her expression, then laughed “I’ll set up a demonstration. Give me twenty minutes.”

Half an hour later, Kel was looking at the handful of small wooden riverboat mockups paddling their way around the horse trough. Her destrier, Peachblossom, looked most distressed by the small clockwork machines skidding about on his drink, but I reassured the grumpy beast that they were harmless… and stopped Scampers-Swiftly from trying to ride one. They were only 5 inches long and fairly fragile.

“And you make the wheels move with magic?” Kel asked.

“Oh… no… Steam. These chimneys are for the steam boilers. They’re called Stacks.”

“Oh… umm… Not… not like…” she bit her lip, not wanting to accuse me of using Necromancy, but I laughed and waved her worries away.

“No. No. Not like the Killing Machines. Those were abominations. I’ve set up another demonstration, but this one is in the kitchen.” I took her in to where the potbellied stove I’d introduced was doing its best to keep the still chilly early spring weather as bearable as possible. I’d modified a couple of kettles to serve as my testbeds. “This is called an aeropile…” I said, pointing to where a small sphere with two spouts was suspended on a tripod of legs. Unlike Heron of Alexandria’s model, mine was designed to spin horizontally.

I opened the top and showed Kel that it was empty inside. “One simply adds water,” I did so, “and places it over the heat.” And I did that too. “But while that’s heating, let me show you the process better with this kettle instead.” I pointed to one merrily steaming already, the cap off to show that the water was boiling slowly. There was a small, multi-bladed paddle-wheel attached to the spout by four stiff wires. “To show you that no magic is involved, if you would put the lid on that kettle?”

Quirking an eye, she did, then gasped as the steam, no longer able to escape the wide open top came pouring out of the spout under pressure… and the wheel began to clack-clack-clack rapidly. “What’s moving it?”

“Steam. It’s like blowing on a leaf to move it. My plan-” At that moment, the aeropile began to slowly spin up as the water inside boiled, the two small spouts making it spin on its rest faster and faster. “My plan is to make a couple of ships to ply the length of the Greenwood and Vassa… once the rapids are cleared there too… It will open up trade all along the rivers… all the way to the sea. And once I get River Steamboats operational, I can move on to Seaworthy ones. Neither river is really wide enough for a double-wheel design, but the outboard wheel designs should work… but to build them, I need to make a foundry to cast the boilers and sheetmetal for the pipes. And I’ll be running through a lot of charcoal… which I figured your people could make… the industry would be good… and with the war over, a lot of smiths will be needing work.”

“How will you pay for all this? I know your father is wealthy and the war mostly spared Blackmoon, but you’re talking about a lot of money.”

“I’ll manage,” I said, then handed Kel a sack of gold, “Remember, my artisan smiths have been making stoves and selling them all over the kingdom for a couple years now.” And it was true. Between my various (ridiculously low tech) inventions, the tech level enforced by the “Respect the setting”, and the mining I’d done to occupy my winters (wars just weren’t fought in winter in the north), I had the wealth I needed to fund the project and, with my friends and local magical might, I had the power needed to reshape the rivers… though it would take me time and effort.

Still, within six months, I had the first cargo riverboat plying the Greenwood, though I had not been personally involved besides the funding, designing, and hydroforming stages as I’d been spending my time hunting bandits and monsters as a good little knight.

By the end of my sixth year, there were five riverboats running the Greenwood, Vassa, and Brown Rivers between Forts Steadfast, Mastiff, and the rebuilt Giantkiller as well as Fiefs Anak’s Eyrie and Tirrsmont and a half dozen towns, including New Hope, Bearsford, Riversedge, and Goatstrack. It was only a matter of time before we reached the sea… and, of course, the bandits and smugglers were getting bolder, as I’d known they would.

Which is why I’d built not five riverboats, but six. The sixth was not an outboard… nor was she a doublewheeler. Instead, she was a three wheeler, two narrow ones on the sides and one central one located inside the main hull, all running on the same axis. The ship was essentially two hulls, one fore, one aft, joined by the castle and three tiers of walkways (though the lowest one was more a crawlway.) She was 18 feet wide, 80 feet long, 6 feet of draft, and had the same steel that plate armor was made of covering most of her. She was an ironclad and mounted four ballista and could level up to sixty crossbowmen against anyone stupid enough to try and take her on. I named her, of course, Proud Mary, and she became the mobile base of operations for counter Banditry operations all along the rivers. She was also broad enough that she could serve as a bridge across the Vassa and her boilers were strong enough to hold against the rapid flow of the river without too much effort.

She was also what finally allowed me to find out where Joy was. The answer was, of course, hiding under my nose the entire damned time. Bethari ha Niko, one of the Queen’s Riders who’d been my friend for years, came riding north to Blackmoon (where the double ended river clearing project was finally having its golden spike moment) with the Conte Monarchs to see my Fabulous Riverboats (the first of which had been named ‘Farmer’s Joy’ in honor of the novelist… and the fact that she carried grain) and, upon seeing the Proud Mary had actually slipped up enough to mutter ‘Holy shit’… in English. Granted, she’d thought I was out of range… and I was… but Buji is a surprisingly stealthy little boy and he reported back to me.

The presence of English meant that this was either Joy or Zane, and given Bethari’s personality, it didn’t seem likely this was the missing Zane. I had loads of suspicions about who Zane might have been or where, but frankly, he could have been anywhere in Tortall’s past, present, or future. At first I’d thought maybe he was Aiton… but Aiton just blinked at me when I asked if the name Zane meant anything to him. Ditto Sheanna’s father and little brother. I’d also asked Scampers, Wolf… and really, everyone else I could think to ask if the name meant anything, but those who had known a Zane always knew a local with that name.

So that’s why, when I confronted Bethari, I snarked, “Hello, Joy.”

“Damn. One of those kids was one of your spies, weren’t they?”

“Why the subterfuge?” I asked, neither confirming or denying my source.

“I’m a spy! It was fun! I still can’t believe you didn’t guess before this! I thought for sure when you asked me if the name Zane meant anything to me you were on to me, but…” she shrugged. “So, your mental powers really are nerfed?”

“Yeah. pretty much. I get the worst headaches when I try to do much with them, and it is totally against the knightly code to read people’s minds without their permission. Also, you’re a stinker! I’ve been worried about you!”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. And it’s been a bear to be separated from everyone… but sometimes a little distance is good. I’ve been enjoying being Bethari. I kinda recommend the whole dropping into a role and making new friends for an experience.” She shrugged, leaning back.

“We’ve been worried about you,” I growled.

“I’m a big girl. We all are. And sometimes it gets a little… close in there. I think more of us should get out, stretch our legs a bit. You like to pretend we’re all one big happy… but sometimes we’re not. Sometimes…” she shrugged again, not finishing.

“If you’re not happy-” I began, feeling a little heart-sick.

“Nothing like that, Jumper-girl. I’m happy enough. Been doing this my whole life, even before you came into the picture. I was a troubleshooter, a wanderer. No home, no roots. But what’s that line?”

I knew instantly what she meant. We thought a lot alike at times. “If you love something, set it free?”

She nodded. “If it comes back…” she gave a third shrug. “If it doesn’t, it wasn’t yours to begin with.”

“Or it’s trapped someplace horrible, waiting for rescue,” I growled.

“Yeah. Maybe. But I didn’t say don’t check up on it. Trust, but verify, you know?”

I nodded. “Still… you could have left a note saying ‘Hey, this is Joy, I’m fine, just taking a little me time.’” I threw a plumstone at her. “Ahab was worried about you!”

“Denys? Oh, sweetie… He’s known who I was since that first trip north!” Her mocking grin made me want to throttle her… and Ahab.

I growled, “That… lying… no good… I’m going to… oooh… just see if I don’t!” I stomped off, then stomped back, and, in a fairly unknightly moment, punched my friend… and not gently.

She offed and waved at me as I turned to go. “Temper temper.”

“Shut up. I’m mad at… what was that sound?”

The sound turned out to be Wolf howling and running back into camp, a couple of arrows sticking out of his lupine form. I rushed to my friend’s side and was about to ask who’d done this, when he gasped out a pained, “Bandits… in the trees.”

I blinked, then a lifetimes of training came to the fore. There was barely time for me to call out “To Arms!” and send a surge of healing magic into Wolf… the arrows could be cut out later, but if he died before I could treat him, it wouldn’t matter if he had arrows in him or not.

I was still drawing my swords when the bandits boiled out of the night as a catapult lobbed flaming pitch at my riverboat. I rushed forward towards the enemy, as behind me Naimon (AJ) ordered my men-at-arms to respond with crossbow fire and the fire doused with powdered talc and soda laid in specifically for that purpose even as the King’s Own formed up to protect the monarch and papa’s guards grabbed up their weapons. Our sentries were either down or had been bribed, and they’d gotten close enough to the newly constructed riverboat port to bring a catapult in range… but to do so, they’d had to muffle themselves pretty well, which meant no metal armor.

Still, we were in the light, and they were coming at us out of the darkness, and counting on us being nightblind. But I had the sight, and enough power to counter their attempt. With a release of will, I sent a pulse of magical energy across the budding battlefield, cloaking each of the bandits in purple and silver fairy fire. It didn’t burn them… but it did terrify the highly superstitious Scanrans, and as I gasped from the effort, the first of them began to go down as the Tortallan and Blackmoon archer and my crossbowmen began picking them off.

There hadn’t been a huge number of Bandits… some five hundred or so, but they’d been relying on surprise and darkness to even the odds against the less than half that number of knights and men at arms. Still, five hundred bandits and three catapults were not easily put together… nor were the three Scanran hedgewizards who’d cloaked the small army’s approach.

We caught all three of them trying desperately to escape and, after some interrogations that I was not part of, they revealed that they’d been paid out of the treasury of one of the Jarls upriver from Blackmoon who’d hoped to seize the King and Father and thus gain control of the mouth of the Vassa.

King Johnathan was a good man, and Tortall was still coming off a war footing, and the kingdom had never had the resources needed to push the war too far into Scanra, which was why the war had dragged on so long, with Tortall almost entirely on the defensive… but Papa was Scanran and this insult could not be borne, nor could this act of war go unanswered, and so, that was the start of the Scanran Civil War as the High Council ripped itself apart and Tortall supplied Papa and his allies with weapons and supplies.

Even though it was five coastal and river jarls against a coalition of nearly twenty (the numbers kept fluctuating) the result was never in doubt. With the rich lands of Tortall supplying food and high quality arms and armor (and the occasional man-at-arms and those Knights who were willing), the hinterland Jarls who lacked access to sea routes or river routes were hard pressed to field large forces, especially after having been drained by the recent war with Tortall itself. The war was over before the end of my ninth year in Tortall and Scanra no longer existed as a functioning nation (not that it was much of one to begin with).

Galla to the east absorbed those parts of the country which had refused to bend the knee to Tortall and father was Duke Blackmoon in his new capital at Hemrkeng, the former capital. Aiton became the heir to the duchy, and I became Lady of Blackmoon itself, which was already growing into a major sea port. Scanra would, no doubt, become the Scottland to Tortall’s England within a few generations, supplying oil, coal, iron, fish, and ridiculous accents and bizarre fashion.

Since I know you’re worried about him, Wolf recovered with his typical goofy grin, and, to appease Sheanna’s mother and secure Fief Blackmoon’s succession (if it really needed it)… and because, while opportunity may only knock once, temptation hammers the door down… Sheanna ended up marrying the all too handsome and occasionally shirt wearing rogue. Something in me already knew that I’d be leaving this world behind for good… if I returned it would not be as Sheanna. I didn’t know how I knew that, but while she’d always be part of me, she’d become a ‘who I was’ once the moment the decade ended, a spin-off as it were. I would not hold this world and its strange Chamber still in time… If I even could.

I looked out upon the land of childhood dreams and noble knights as Sheanna said her wedding vows, feeling a bit remote from it all. I was looking forward to the future, to an era defined by this woman and her children… but, like the Magi King-Priests, she had her own life to live and the part of me that was the Jumper Manifest was already feeling the draw of stranger infinities. I had been a part of Sheanna, but the disruption and disjunction between she and I was greater than most of my… manifestations.

“Beloved friends,” she said, looking out on the gathered crowd of wellwishers, every inch a warrior queen. She raised a goblet and, with a laugh, toasted them all. “May you never forget what is worth remembering, and never remember what is best forgotten.”

The crowd cheered. It was a good day.

As the decade came to an end, I was unsure what, exactly, was going to happen. The Arcade, the chamber in which I met with the Banker and Mensarius had been repaired by my loyal army of machines, but it showed no more life than a blank tv screen. An occasional flicker of static made me hopeful, but nothing seemed to come of it.

In the end, I was merely hoping that there was some built in automation in the process that would allow me to keep moving. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Tortall. If I had to be stranded in a Verse, there were worse places to be stranded than the one that contained Tortall (and, I suspect, Emelan & The Inner Sea from Tamora Pierce’s other setting, the Circle of Magic… they certainly weren’t on the same planet that I’d been able to find… but I hadn’t explored the local cosmology much… which would change if I was indeed trapped here)… but there were also better places too. Someplace a little more Earth-like? Someplace a little more… expansive? Someplace a little further from Warhammer 40K? I wondered how such things would be measured.

As the days dragged on, I began to try and figure out what connections the two Bankers, The Chamber/Malal, and beings like Necoho and The Outsider might have… and were there other entities of similar scale. It was clear that Necoho and the Outsider weren’t even vaguely in the same power bracket as the Bankers… and I suspect the Chamber (whether or not it was also Malal / Malice) was also lower on the trans-cosmic totem-pole… but they all had one thing in common… a connection to primordial Chaos. Not the Chaos of 40K, but the sea of unending possibilities that was, almost invariably, at the root of every system of mythology and not a few systems of science.

Some of those agents of Chaos were arguably not evil, striving to increase variety and promote change. Others were… varying  degrees of less good / more crazy… striving to either increase their own power at best or return everything to the primordial undifferentiated ooze, the nothingness before creation. So far, the only ones of that ilk I’d encountered were the Demons of Dresden’s Verse… and they weren’t even close to being on the same order of power that the other entities were. I suspected that the more inimical to the Omniversal Structure such a being was, the more its power was focused on destruction… either that, or the stubborn refusal to admit the rest of the Universe had a right to exist meant that more of their energy was focused on maintaining their own spiteful existence than in messing around with the membranes between Realities.

Or, I could be blowing smoke out of my ass. Could I, the ant, really hope to understand one of these entities? Who knows. Would understanding ultimately make me one of them? Or something that surpassed them? Was there anything that surpassed them? Was there a one true Brahman / Hashem / Adam Kadmon that possessed true omniscience and omnipotence? Was there a Ne Plus Ultra Dei?

We parked the Proud Mary on a riverbank with a nice beach and waited for the world to pause. I looked around at my friends and children frollicing in the waining sunlight and wondered what was next.  At the moment of truth, nothing seemed to happen… and then I realized I was freaking out and had frozen the Universe. The Drawbacks had, apparently, been automated to fall off at exactly the end of the decade. I breathed out, relaxing my hold on the fabric of time… and for a second, nothing still persisted in happen. A full damned second! Do you know how agonizingly long a second is when you can process discreet sensations at the microsecond range? Uuuuugh. Maybe increasing my computational speed had not been a good idea.

Ages passed… at least 230,000,000 nanoseconds… that’s 10 years worth of seconds, FYI… before the first measurable change to the fabric of reality occurred. One of the Pillars of Time rose, achingly slowly, even to the part of my mind that was designed to process time at a normal flow rate’s perception. The Pillar was on an angle and looked damaged. The other two were missing entirely.

I swore as time juddered, slowly, to a stop, everyone around me flickering and twitching as a stray second got past the pause effect. Then I, leaving Sheanna’s body standing there behind me (and wasn’t that a strange experience) strode over to the Pillar and gave it a good, hard kick, aiming to straighten it out a little. The pain of that contact was like nothing that can be described in concepts that the mortal mind can conceive. It hurt exactly as much as the color of Thursday raised to the ninety-third power plus or minus the squeaking noise cabbage makes when it is fried in lard cut from the idea of reversing the polarity in a frying pan made of the shattered and pulverized dreams of alcoholic void gnomes. Since I could no more conceptualize what any of that might mean than you can, suffice it to say my entire computational network went into scram mode and Blue Screened like a mother fucker.

There is absolutely no way to measure how long it took me to reboot. None. In one aspect, 2 hours 13 minutes 41.0193084947 seconds had passed in fits and starts for the local universe as best as I could approximate… but those flickers of time passing could have been separated by days or centuries and no one but me in my totally non-functioning capacity was there to experience it. Does time pass if there isn’t anything to experience it? I’ve no idea. I certainly didn’t feel older… but who knows if I even had a physical form while I was rebooting. My physicality was just as frozen as the rest of this universe.

This time, I was more careful. I brushed a hair against the pillar. It didn’t vaporize or otherwise seem harmed. I pressed a fingertip lightly against the surface as if trying to find some dust. The pressure was intensely uncomfortable, but bearable. I tried pushing against the pillar and, slowly, ever so slowly, it moved into a more upright position, but the process was incredibly taxing and being in close contact with the damaged pillar was not doing wonders for my state of mind.

After several days and nights of effort, I managed, barely, to get the pillar from about 62 degrees to perfectly vertical. That, at least, stopped the flickering. Yaaaay! I was all alone outside of time. I could enter the warehouse and it too was stuck, frozen in time. Shit. There was an automated system and it was borked. I needed technical support, and in a bad way… but not only did I not have a number to dial… I was pretty certain I didn’t have a phone to dial it on.

Thankfully, all my abilities seemed to be working just fine, so I covered the distance to the capital at mach yes and entered the hall where The Chamber stood. Placing my hand upon the door, I asked “You’re outside of local time, right? You should still be active or reactive or whatever.”

The Voice of the Chamber was utterly unlike the Thoughts of the Chamber. Those had been a roiling, barely contained storm. This was almost a tinkling of bells. “I am. This is most alarming. It has not happened any of the other six thousand one hundred and two times a traveller has ventured into this realm… nor any of the several tens of million times this realm has been passively experienced.”

“You can tell how many times people have read the books?”

“Ah. Is that what you call it? Then… yes?”

“Wonderful. Any chance you know how to contact whoever or whatever… I’m not sure how to put this… It is clear that the Banker and Mensarius… the ones who linked to this world… they are of a specific class of entities… and they clearly maintain some kind of support structure of other entities who shape the experience of travelers like me… presumably because they can then make some kind of profit off of what can only be described as syndication to other beings?”

“Benefactors. Creators. Subscribers. Yes.”

“Is there a way for you to contact the other Benefactors on my behalf to enquire what the hell is going on?”

“Yes.”

“Lovely. You’re being literal. Could you please do so?”

“No.”

“Any particular reason why not?”

“If I do not allow you move on, this world will remain paused, neither being reactivated by your eventual completion of your travels nor being erased by your eventual extermination.”

“I had planned to disconnect my Sheanna-Self from my primary self and allow her to live out her life as she deemed proper… wait… This universe remaining paused is, by you, a good thing?”

“I am conscious of all existing variations of this reality, from their moment of genesis to their eventual termination. The only times I cannot see past are those created when a Traveller arrives, as their eventual fate does not lie within the timeframe of this reality. Neither does their genesis, so I can only tell a new traveller is about to arrive when a new variation comes into being.”

“And?”

“The one you call ‘Banker’ is always to blame, disrupting the balance without a care.”

“So you’re punishing me because the Banker gives you a headache?”

“The analogy is sound. Yes.”

“And you don’t mind because the other variations are still moving?”

“No. as long as you are here, no time passes on the world of your origin. That world is the source of almost all those who experience this reality in one form or another.”

“So… your reality will not be observed or interfered with-”

“The two are the same. Even a passive experience causes an unacceptable number of changes. People look different. People speak differently. People’s motivations are altered. It is most frustrating.”

“You are soo Malal. Even if you’re not. You’re actively complaining that different readers imagine things differently?”

“When I am tasked with maintaining the order of this world?! Of course!”

“Chamber. Pay close attention.” The universe shook.

“What are you doing?”

“I possess the ability to experience anything as if it were the first time. I also possess the ability to read a book instantly. I also, also, have more than 200 selves… all of which can experience things independently of each other. I just had each of my 200 selves experience my mental copy of the entire Alanna and Kel cycle… independently of each other… 1,000 times in a row… each time having read a different other book just prior. If you don’t give me back my friends and family and let me move on… I will start generating so much fanfiction set in Tortall and Emelan and constantly experiencing it, remixing it, forgetting it, and repeating the process until I conclusively drive either you or me or both completely insane. It will take me less than one day to completely eclipse the previous number of experiencers of this entire reality. Your call.”

“I shall be pleased to pass on your complaint to … what?”

“What what?”

“I have been assigned as your… interim Benefactor. Why are you laughing?”

“Of course you have! You interfered with the Chain with your little 40K stunt and since the Banker was… damaged, took advantage of his Matrix somehow. Now, don’t let me worry you… but how do you think he’ll feel if and when he gets better… if you’ve let the ratings slip?”

“Are you always this horrid?”

“Yes. Get used to it.”

“You should be more grateful I’m willing to help you at all.”

“You’re helping yourself by getting me out of your reality… and if you could have turned down the gig as interim Benefactor, you would have. Someone pulled rank on you, didn’t they?”

“There was a bit of give and take.”

I snorted. “Yeah, they gave you marching orders and you took them like one of those Knights you’ve assigned special duties to.”

“You were more polite when you were a Knight.”

“That was because a) I was bound to the knightly code of honor and b) because that persona was dominant at the time. While she is me, I am not her.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Wow. You are new at this. Okay, picture a beach. Got it?”

“I do.” The chamber sounded… uncertain.

“Dunes form on that beach, yes? Shaped by wind and wave, right?”

“From one way of looking at it.”

“Those Dunes are an expression of the beach, but they are not the beach. They come and go, but compared to the beach, they are transitory. I know you’re going to say that the beach is transitory too… but all things ultimately are… even the timeless.”

“While not stipulating that you are correct, let me simply agree that I understand your analogy. Now, how does this work?”

“Assuming you’ve been granted access to the Banker’s CP Matrix, You will need to determine where I am going next, then decouple the Warehouse from this reality and recouple it to the destination reality. And bring all the stuff I have purchased or tagged with CP, as well as my companions, my children, my companion’s children… etc, with us. And don’t forget Carwyn.”

“The Light of Terra and her escort fleet will not fit in the Warehouse or the Dock you have attached to it.”

I blinked. I got to keep the Light of Terra? And her escort fleet? Right, then… “Merge Hephestus with the Space Dock, then place the Light of Terra and her fleet at docking points around Hephestus. The Space Dock always appears someplace out of the way, so just make the fleet likewise.”

“When you say your children, do you mean to include those you have left in other realities, because I don’t think I can access those.”

“No. Just the ones who are currently… I’ll go tag them. Some will need to have local copies left behind, like Sheanna herself. Do you need me to construct a stone chamber like this one inside the Warehouse so you can function?”

“Err… Yes. yes that would be… useful. I shall meet you there. Also, a water feature would be nice. It’s very gloomy in here.”

“Sheesh. For a being beyond time, you sure are picky.” I strode out and flew off to a local stone quarry. It was the work of less than an hour to find suitable stone and carve it into an ornate stone chamber and fountain thanks to my supply of ice-nanites (picocites are really bad for carving). I got it all installed and running, then went and tagged everything with little SJ stickers (two versions, ones for things to bring and ones for things that Sheanna would need local copies of). I was careful to tag the person and not their clothes… I wasn’t counting on the extremely literally minded Chamber not to get confused. I considered tagging the Proud Mary, then decided against it… I didn’t really need a river boat, no matter how fabulous. Also, I had no place to put her, since I didn’t want her ending up floating in space or in the middle of downtown warehouseville.

Finally, I was certain I was finished, having tagged everyone I could find… so, pretty much everyone besides Zane (I still had no idea where Mensarius had transported the dumb-ass.)… but not Wolf. He was Sheanna’s love interest, not mine. I had enough complexity in my existence, especially if Carwyn actually did show up. And this wouldn’t be the first time my selves had had love-lives that had been outside of my affections… the Magi King-Priests had (by and large) been married and had children and grandchildren and who knew how many great-to-the-nth-grandchildren. Sheanna loved him… Essjay just liked the feel of his chest. Good lord do I have disassociation issues sometimes.

I suspect that, had I not ended up in Warhammer for 20 years in the middle of Sheanna’s run, I would have fallen for Wolf as well, but the loss of Ryoga and Yoiko and Carwyn… and even Tess… combined with the much higher emotional demands of running a burgeoning empire, had disrupted my core persona’s infatuation process and thrown the normal force of narrative out of whack… but the narrative demanded that the female lead get everything she wanted. Kel’s narrative had ended before that point, but it was clear she’d get her man eventually. Alanna and Alianne had definitely gotten theirs.

I went into the Warehouse and tapped on the Chamber Door. “You Hooo! JumpChan! You in here?”

“Why did you call me that?”

“Eh. Why not? Chamber… Cham… Chan.  Seems to work. You’re not funding this jaunt… you’re simply managing the variables, as I understand it.”

“Yes. It is most… worrying. What will happen to Tortall if my attention is divided?”

“You are timeless, you dumb ass. You know everything that will ever and has ever happened there. You can link to any time at will as I understand it.”

“Right… um… what now?”

“See if you can activate the other two Pillars of Time… there’s one of them on the Beach.”

“Ah… yes… okay, the control system for this seems workable… I just do this…”

The Universe lurched several feet sideways and the gravitational axis tilted a few degrees off true. “Would you like me to have a go?” I asked, sounding a little snider than I’d intended. Ziggy ran in, winding around my feet and looking a little panicked. At least time was flowing for my companions again.

“No. No. I… hmmm… ah… there. All three are up. Ah… recall all CP items… Restore all CP items… that doesn’t seem to be working… it looks like you’ll have to physically move anything you need back into the Warehouse… and I can’t repair or replace anything that gets damaged…”

“Wonderful. Manual loading. Tell me you can maintain the Warehouse’s structural integrity?”

“I can maintain the Warehouse’s Structural Integrity.”

“Are you telling me you can or can you actually do it?”

“I have no physical abilities at all.”

“So… you can’t. Great. Wonderful.”

“Yes. It appears that I cannot maintain the Warehouse in a position between two realities. The moment I remove it from my native reality it will have to snap into position on the next. Also, I have no conception of what units of time actually mean, so it would probably be best if you don’t delay this process.”

“So, you don’t know how long a week or  month… or ten years is.”

“I perceive all of time as a single unit.”

“Then how did you know to keep me in Warhammer for a decade?”

“I didn’t. It was pure luck the events of that covered what time they took. Rather, I suspect they actually encompassed more time than you’re aware of, thanks to the events of your time with Magnus and in the Warp.”

“Right. Right. Fair enough. So… do you have any idea where you’re linking me to now?”

“No.”

“No idea?”

“I have a name and a list of values I do not understand.”

“What name?”

“KanColle. The Capitalization is strange.”

“You don’t understand time but you do understand Capital Letters?”

“I can understand all mortal languages.”

“Great. I have no idea what that is. Look, let’s get this separation accomplished and, if you’re a good Chamber, I’ll help you figure it out once we do. Sound good?”

“No. This is a recipe for disaster. But anything to get you out of my Universe. Disconnect in 3, 2, 1…”

Next: KanColle?

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too.

Resources: BuildDocument

AN: The build for Light of Terra is up now. Oh, my god. just collating that thing and entering it took me several days worth of free time. But next time, a new jump, a new Benefactor. Booyah! Things are a changin’! And I promise, resolution of the whole Zane thing.

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World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 10

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

Part 10 – The Laughter of Dark Gods

Previously: Part 9, Am I Being Railroaded?

Themesong: Look What you Made Me Do by Taylor Swift (Nightcore)

Time moved on. It does that. The wreckage of the invasion was cleared, monuments erected, the survivors mended and integrated into the burgeoning Awakened population. My world was fully self-sufficient now, industry churning away… and my word was not just law… it was doctrine. I was not going to make the Emperor’s mistake. I’d make my own. If my people needed a god, I’d be that god. I’d make my wants, my demands clear and direct them in their worship… but I wouldn’t chastise them for it.

People were pouring in, eager to escape the coming storm outside of my system, eager to find a chance at a better life on my worlds. All the sleepers had, at last awakened, been integrated… and my ships were, at long last, all but whole.

The last of the stragglers had been rounded up, and I routinely had dinner with my political prisoners. The captain was… interesting to talk to, especially since she was one of the few on the planet who treated me like a person and not like a deity… or an object of desire… or a parent.

“This peace is strangely seductive,” She commented on day, close to the end of the 9th year.

“It won’t last. It can’t. Something of… something is stirring out there. I can feel it. Some great game is afoot. Maybe another Black Crusade… maybe Guilliman or Lion are finally waking from their long slumber… maybe… I don’t know.”

She regarded me with closed expression, judging if I was mad or not. The executions had done nothing to convince her I wasn’t a megalomanical psyker bent on galactic domination, but all my talk of the Primarchs as if I knew them of old had her bouncing between thinking of me as a lunatic and thinking of me as a prophet… then again, the line between the two was ever blurred.

“Why are you so big today?” she finally asked.

“I don’t know. I’m feeling too big for my skin I guess. It’s been harder and harder for me to maintain my smaller size since your friends invaded my world. Plus, it seems to make the people happy. Must be a function of this reality, that having leaders that loom over you makes you feel more protected. Also, it’s a new experience, being 8 foot 3 inches tall.”

“How close is your flagship to completion?” she asked, changing the subject.

“10 months tops,” I responded, looking at where the constant stream of lifters was rising in the distance. They rose from the processing facilities every 30 seconds, day in and day out, each carrying tons of processed materials up to the waiting fleet. The ammo for Ark Magna and Light alone weighed more than some of my smaller voidships. “I just hope it’s soon enough. Something is coming. An end is fast approaching.”

“Are you really going to install that Xenos equipment on the Light?” she said, looking out at the field where the Eldar had begun assembling several “gifts’ from Eldrad.

“Of course I am. I’d be a fool not to. I’ve already got a main lance that’s a Warp Relic, Engines designed by the Necrontyr, and a living spaceship that likes to curl up on the fin of the Light and hiss at things.” It had been a bitch and a half reinforcing the great rudder-like fin of the Light of Heaven so that it didn’t buckle under the massive weight of the Preemptive Retaliation… but if the ship wanted to roost there, I wasn’t going to tell it not to. It was too damned big to scold effectively… and I didn’t feel like it would be a good use of resources to invest in a 2 kilometer long spray bottle.

“What are they, anyway?”

“The crystal stuff is a Craftworld Dome of the Crystal Seer… it’s effectively going to turn the Light of Heaven into an Eldar Craftworld… anyone who dies aboard her, and anyone linked to her will essentially find Heaven and eternal… life… inside the Infinity Circuit of the ship.  That, and the Warp Spiders of the Dome will keep Daemonic and sorcerous activity from threatening the ship. It should be useful.” I stretched, then shrugged.

“That network of plates you can see is a holofield generator… it’s a stealth field for the ship.”

“You can’t stealth a voidship! There’s no place to hide in space.”

“Thinking like a human again, Captain? Tisk tisk. It creates a hologram around the ship that mimics the surrounding area when the ship is moving slowly or in one place. When it’s moving faster, the ship’s imagine becomes a kaleidoscopic explosion of multi-colored fragments that appear to fly apart at random. Makes it hard to hit the ship at all… let alone target any individual system.”

“What about non-visual target?”

“Works against even the most advanced sensor suites, from what I understand. No defense is perfect, but I’ve got void and force shields under that Holofield. Plus, the Light should be far more maneuverable than any ship a tenth her size.”

She muttered about the unfairness of Xenos tech and how I was a cheating heretic. I moved my rook and she glowered at me. “I wasn’t talking about the game… but rooks can’t move diagonally.”

“I figured I’d live up to your expectations of me. It’s your move.”

“Fine,” she moved her queen in a teleporting motion that was definitely against the rules. “Checkmate.”

“Ah, but my King has actually be replaced with a Genestealer.”

“My Queen is an Ordo Xenos Inquisitor.”

“Oh… well, you win then.” I grinned. “And the last one is a Void Spinner… It’s a bit of Eldar Terraforming technology.”

“You’re hiding something from me.”

“Of course I am.”

“It’s a super-weapon too, isn’t it?”

“Well, anything that can reformat an entire world usually is. Yes.”

She shuddered.

Eight Months Later… I woke from a sleep I hadn’t realized I’d fallen into to a humming noise in the darkness. My children lay around me, sleeping the sleep of those who know they are safe from the boogeymen that lurk in the outer dark, and the only sound should have been their breathing and the soft shifting noise of Speeps rubbing against each other. Instead, there was a humming… a low, sinister sound just on the edge of perception. I looked up to the ceiling where I’d hung the Deadlight, and saw shapes moving slowly across it’s ancient surface.

“Ah, dread beast. Your hour’s come round at last? Do you, even now, slouch towards Bethlehem?” I set Amaryllis down on a pillow and lifted off the ground, rising to scoop up the artifact that bound me away from all I was before, and regarded it balefully. “You are so obviously a trap it isn’t funny.” I commented, then slid the thing into a pouch I’d grown in my abdomen. I didn’t trust anyone with the Deadlight when I had to go travelling… not that anyone but me ever seemed to notice the damned thing. I’d checked.

I left my quarters and made my way to operations.

“What’s happening?” I asked as I entered the room, a dozen astropaths and three times that number of technicians all looking to me in surprise. They’d clearly been debating sending someone to wake me, and the air of tension was palpable.

“Long range scanners are registering vast hosts of starships moving into the area,” one tech reported.

“Some are only a few light months away!” another added nervously.

“We’re picking up Space Marine and Imperial signal traffic,” a third added.

“Reports of Ork hulks,” a fourth began, but was cut off by a fifth who added “Tomb ships. Necron Tomb ships.”

A sixth said “one world that had been under attack by Dark Eldar Corsairs had them all lift at nearly the same time and now they’re clashing with Eldar ships in the Rokair Nebula.”

“I think we’re seeing Tau and an Adeptus Mechanicus Leviathan task-force fighting near Scintilla,” one of the Astropaths commented.

“And there’s a shadow on the warp to the galactic south. The kind you warned us about. It swallowed a Chaos task-group out of the Eye just an hour ago.”

“So all the players are here,” I nodded. Then looked up to the sky… or at least the ceiling. “Ready the fleet. I want the Light ready to go as fast as we can get her lifted.”

That was easier said than done, and it took almost another month before the last meter thick panel of Ceramite was placed and the chemwelders could seal the metal sheets together, fusing them as if they’d always been a single vast expanse of featureless alloy. And the crew was coming. Oh were they coming.

Fleets of lighters that had once carried metal ore and deck plating now lifted from the planet in a vast swarm as my people, the best of my best, my hand-picked myriads led their fellows in an exodus from the planet we’d made our own back onto the ark that had brought us here in the first place. The Light of Heaven lived again and I was taking half the population of my world out onto what could very well be a suicide run. All the remaining ships would stand guard over Paradise while I was gone. I would not leave the world I had made undefended… but I could wait no longer. It was time to end whatever this was.

Chaos was rising. I could feel the Warp thrumming, pulsing, reacting to something, drawing in around this region of space, ancient ships, ancient things that had turned traitor almost 12 thousand years ago slipping out of the Eye of Terror, joining freshly constructed nightmares fresh from the Daemonforges and even mighty Daemons were tearing themselves free of the Immaterium to struggle towards some dark nexus.  Something was drawing them into realspace, at terrible cost to both realities, and the fabric between was growing weak and thin.

Something was drawing me in… and in doing so, it was dragging everything else, all the conflicting forces, in with me. Four paths flowered open in my awareness of the void and subconsciously I charted each one, for each was clearly bound to one of the Four Great Ruinous Powers. I flinched back from the Terminus Est, the great plague ship of Nurgle, rejected the chance to fight the nameless flagship of Slaanesh, and dismissed the no doubt heavily reinforced Iron Blood, the flagship of Khorne. If I was going to strike a blow against Chaos, it would be against Tzeentch or no one. Khorne and Nurgle were what they were. Primal and Rough. There was no challenge in defeating either besides the application of brute force, and to throw myself and my ship against that kind of battle when I didn’t need to would be folly.

To fight Slaanesh? That would just be madness, for Slaanesh was mad.

The Schemer however? The Sorcerer God? That was a challenge that could be met, and so I traced the lines of fate as Carwyn had taught me and found the Furious Abyss as I’d known I would. Three Abyss-class battleships had been built, greater even than the Gloriana, and designed with treachery in mind. And the Furious… well, she’d been the worst.

The wheels of bureaucracy turn very slowly indeed, and so it was that, as we moved deeper into the vortex of destiny, the IFF system aboard The Light picked up a signal that had been lost during the age of the Horus Heresy so long ago, for the Furious Abyss had met her doom in orbit around MaCragge and had fallen, burning, onto one of the Ultramarine’s homeworld’s moons during the worst of the fighting in those dark days.

Not that that stopped the ship from being here all the same. She was still wreathed in the flames that had consumed her in that long ago past, flames that had died 120 centuries ago… flames that formed two colossal wings. The Changer of Ways had, by dint of sorcery most foul, willed the dead ship back into existence… or maybe not.

The entire ship flickered as it moved, vanishing from existence as the universe remembered her demise… only for it to forget a few moments later as the hull, dancing with the ghost of eternal flames, shimmered back into existence.

“All weapons, open fire.” I snapped as the ship moved closer, a giant warpfire tail appearing, then another, and claws and a head emerged from the half-wrecked ship. She was a phoenix reborn… but so was my Light, and I was willing to test her restored strength against the shattered ruin of the Abyss.

We danced about each other, two ships more maneuverable than they had any right to be, but it was alway a forgone conclusion. Both ships were nigh impossible to hit, but my ship had range, while all the Abyss had was claws and a gouting warpfire breath weapon…. That my shields sent harmlessly into the warp. Between Carwyn and I, we always knew when the attacks were coming.

A few good hits were all it took for the Light to banish the Abyss, sending the Teller of False Lies’ ship back into history and we sailed onward, deeper into madness and destruction.

My people were quite. No celebration yet. This was not resolved. Just because we’d shattered the ruins of the Flagship of Tzeentch and sent its flaming ruin smashing into the atmosphere of a hot jupiter did not mean this nightmare was over. I stood at my helm, eyes fixed on the distance, and knew, knew without knowing how or why, where I had to go next.

As the ship began to move, I realized I hadn’t uttered a command. Apparently, even my crew knew where the ship needed to be. If some force had used me to reconstruct the Light… well… I had plans for that. I would not be used… but until that time, I was willing to see how this would all play out.

We soon came across the first wreck, a light cruiser daubed with the runes of Chaos… then another and another and more. Even with the Necron drive, maneuvering through the growing graveyard was straining the Light to her limits as entire clouds of ruin drifted through space, fleets of Chaos shattered, space hulks shattered and smashed beyond repair, a vast three-dimensional maze that contained more ships than I could have imagined Chaos had possessed… and each of them had been destroyed within the last few hours.

After several light-minutes travel, we emerged from the maze to bear witness to the still battling remnants of this once overwhelming warfleet… and still fleets of nothing but battleships swarmed about… all attacking a single object… and losing.

I gaped. It was a titanic Necron Dyson Sphere, reflections of fire and explosions dancing across the surface of the solar system sized object, runes larger than planets crawling in green fire across the inky black surface, the words of a civilization that had died before mankind had been but a dream.Those words of green fire were vile, terrible, horrific to behold and the things they did to the ships of Chaos as they lanced outward drove me to my knees with their sheer wrongness. I heard the sounds of my officers being sick… though it did console me. Whoever controlled that abomination had no need of the Light…. Even with the upgrades I’d made…

And then something turned its focus upon me. SOmething so vast as to be essentially immeasurable, an entity of such colossal scale that I could not even comprehend the merest facet I was exposed to. I could barely breathe and fell, gasping, to the deck as it spoke across the space between it and me and I heard. I would have heard even if humanity had never dreamed of the concept of sound.

“Finally… you have arrived. Arrived too late, but you have, at last, arrived! Come!” The Light, as if pulled in by those words alone, began to move, gliding forward under some invisible power, ships of Chaos swooping in to attack only to be vaporized like bad dreams upon waking. “Come. I owe you much and it is fitting that someone like you be there to bear witness to my ascension!”

The Light docked with the Dyson Sphere, not even the tiniest of bumps shaking the gargantuan vessel as it locked tight to a strut within the improbable construct… nor was there even the tiniest sensation of movement as I was drawn through the very hull of the Light and brought forth to confront the one who had apparently marked himself as not just my nemesis by the nemesis of all life within the Galaxy.

I found myself standing on a vast, floating platform, one hovering motionless before the shrunken remnants of what had once been a star, the once glorious orb of fire not a withered repulsive, sickly green orb, one that emitted sullen, lethargic flares that drifted slowly before they dissipated.  Around the platform’s rim stood a number of mighty engines, ebon things so vast that, even with the incredible distance between us, they loomed over me like mountains.

They were twenty-four titanic monoliths, each quartered and within each quarter was bound something so terrible, so incomprehensible, so mind twistingly awful that my mind shied away from it, my consciousness rejecting it… leaving only the frail, dim image of a quasi-humanoid figure thrashing amidst a riot of eldritch energies, struggling in futile rage to free itself. I groaned… they were CTan, the Necron gods… 96 C’Tan Shards, imprisoned by the Necron in revenge for their betrayal an age of ages ago, each sealed within what was known as a Tesseract Vault.

“Impressive, no?” came that terrible voice. “And rather fitting as well. They who condemned us to these wretched shells condemned to it in turn.”

As the voice hammered into my awareness, I growled, gritting my teeth, and surged to me feet. I would not fall, I silently resolved. Not here. Not now. Not to a voice. I would confront this unseen enemy. I’d look it in the face, and, if nothing else, I’d spit in its eye in one last fit of spite. Turning around was, perhaps, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do… but I did it.

I looked upon the face of my enemy… it was, of course, a Necron, one with a single cyclopean eye in the center of its almost featureless face and I could all but feel the incredible age radiating off of him.

“Wh…o… the fuck…. Are you?” I managed to get out through clenched teeth.

“I am Orikan the Diviner,” he said, turning away from, dozens of ghost images flickering around him, other courses he might have taken, other actions he might have chosen… time itself was cracking, fracturing, breaking down around the Necron.

“Amongst the infinite futures that could be, the fall of the Eldar I saw. I looked and beheld, some sixty million years before they came to be. The rise and fall of the Empire of man I saw. Your coming I saw! All these things did I engineer!”

He raised his wasted metallic arms and green lightning arched from them.

“The fall of the Eldar spawned Slaanesh, who in turn trapped the Light of Terra and her cargo within the Warp until you could arrive and, driven by foolish, wretched, mortal fear, you have destroyed the one last thing standing in the way of my rise to true godhood. Thanks to you, I shall reign supreme!” he laughed the laugh of the truly mad as I looked around, trying to understand what I was seeing.

“The Great Work you stand within was constructed when we were still slaves to the C’Tan, before we broke free and in turn broke them. In numbers uncountable, we labored for ages undreamed by the pitiful children of evolution as they bred their way across our galaxy! We harnessed this star here, and clad it in unbreakable Necrodermis! We forged the machines that would allow our so-called ‘masters’ to separate physical space from the warp once and for all time to come! All this I foresaw!”

He was rising into the air now, lightning arcing away towards those distant mountains and his voice grew louder, shaking me apart at the seams. “We rose against them. It took years beyond even our counting to marshal what tattered scraps of self we had remaining, to remember what had been stolen from us, but in time we rose and the instrument that would have been their triumph became their prison! This too did I foresee!”

“We would have ended them utterly… if we could have. But they were not without cunning. How could they be? They had tricked us into becoming their slaves, becoming as we are now. Utterly vulnerable even as they are, there is not one of us who could raise a hand to finish them once and for all. The least effort would unmake them utterly, and yet we cannot, for it was a limitation coded deep within each of these accursed metal shells. So too are we unable to act against the Great Work that you stand within and gaze upon in uncomprehending wonder, you pathetic, pitiful mammal!” He glared his single glowing eye at me, and asked “DO YOU UNDERSTAND YET?”

He swooped out of the air to peer into my gaze and I could not have flinched away even had I wanted to. “Have you come to realize what you have done? What you did when, in a moment of blind greed and wanton cowardice you shattered the artifact you call The Deadlight?”

Rising back into the air, glided away from me, back towards the center of the platform, and sent another wave of emerald lightning arcing towards the monoliths and cried, “When you did what I could not? When you shattered the Warp Alignment Core of the Greatest Technological Wonder to have have existed?” He cackled with mad glee and his staff slammed into the necrodermis floor.

A pillar rose, smooth and silent, festooned with the glyphs of the Ancient Necron tongue, and he began tapping in some kind of command sequence. He glanced back at me and that look was ever so sly. “Just so. With the Warp Alignment Core destroyed, I can alter the outcome of the activation of the Great Work. Where once it would have sealed away the war for eternity, now it shall fuel my rise to something beyond what even the C’Tan themselves would call a god!”

He shifted his gaze from mine and looked out at the star. “Soon… soon I shall obliterate Chaos once and for all! I shall claim victory, and you… you alone shall bear witness as I bring Warp and Real Space together! Can and Cannot will collide and in that instant… In that moment of glorious realization, All that is will be unmade in fire! I shall strip away the very fabric of this multiverse and consume every last scrap of life and death… I shall claim my Spark and I shall rise as a PLANESWALKER!!!!”

My eyes opened wide and I shuddered in sudden revelation… he wasn’t a Necron… he was a JUMPER! Oh…. fuck… he was a Jumper fulfilling an Endjump… there was a Spark to claim in the Warhammer Universe and he was trying to get it… and he’d used me to… no… he’d tried to use me.

I didn’t know if i wanted to laugh or dance… or just stare at his back in outright confusion. Was it really this easy? Had Jumper von Necron really just made such a basic mistake? He’d turned away from me after an utterly Bond Villain moment, so supremely confident that he’d won… I don’t know if he even noticed me as I staggered forward towards the control column of the Great Work.

I could imagine what had happened. He’d used precog of some kind… and filtered it through his own perceptions, his own preconceptions. He could not belief that any sentient being, let alone a Jumper, would be able to resist shattering the Deadlight. He’d arranged for me to be here, cut me off from my power because he thought he knew what a Jumper would do. It had clearly never occurred to him that I might not break the artifact, and so he hadn’t even looked into that timeline

He was floating above me, glowing gently as I reached the column, and I could see the eldritch fire of the C’Tan Shards flowing into him as he drank it in. Already the dying corpse star was starting to swell, the great machine beginning to struggle against the collapse of space-time outside it.

I reached into my abdomen, into the pouch I’d made, feeling the smooth sphere, a comfortable fit in the palm of my hand as I withdrew it. I was glad I’d decided to keep it with me. I had no idea what to do with it… and so, lacking anything better to try, I pressed it against the Necrometal of the Column.

It made not a sound as it slid within, sinking into the smooth black surface like a pebble into a pond. It made not a sound, but the tonal quality of the air changed in an instant as the Great Work Reset itself with a cosmic shudder. I looked up, and for a brief moment in time, caught Orikan’s gaze. “Chain Fail, bitch.” I said, and, for the first time in longer than humanity has existed, the Jumper behind that cyclopean gaze knew fear.

A second later, her felt nothing at all as Real Space and Warp realigned and the Necron trapped between them was simply ground from existence.

The feeling of my powers flowing back into me was a little like a full body cramp… or rather stretching to relieve one. The tingle left me grinning. That grin lasted a moment as something surged up from the floor and clamped down around me.

One of the massive Tesseract Vaults, the prisons designed to hold those ancient C’Tan Star Vampires had apparently decided that I was close enough to the being it held to actually be an escaped fragment of that nightmarish soul eating abomination… Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Get my powers back, save the universe… and now i was trapped in this stupid prison cell with the last tortured fragments of a being as old as time itself, something that had existed since the first few seconds after the big bang.

Eyeless it looked at me. Silently I looked back. A mind truly alien brushed against mine and, in that instant, just as Orikan has learned that not everyone was as genre blind as he was, the C’Tan fragment learned something from me. It learned how to die.

Without a sound on any plane, it silently glided into me, through me… away from me… away from everything. To that place that the spark of life goes when death comes, as it inevitably does. I think it left something of itself behind… but I was too busy to worry about that now.

As the fire that had been the C’Tan shard evaporated I laughed. I had my power back. My power. My… I was back. My body flowed, crystallized, expanded… not just physically, but in dimensions unknown to this universe. I stretched muscles that had lain dormant for almost a decade and cricked my psychic neck, then shattered the Tesseract Vault from within with a wave of Entropy that smashed through the Necrodermis as if it were the ghost of tissue paper. Ooo… that felt good. I checked my memories. If I was right, I had 16 hours and 31 minutes, 44 seconds before the decade ended. It wasn’t enough time to do everything… but enough to do a few things.

I reached out with my mind and found my first destination. I stepped across the universe to a place that was entirely other. “This place has potential,” I said aloud, then bellowed “HONEY! I’M HOME! MAGNUS, YOU GOT SOME SPLAININ’ TO DO!”

“What? How did you get in here?” Magnus asked, blinking his eye and beginning to throw up defenses.

“Chill, Big M. I owe you… more than I can say. Really. In fact, I owe you something I’m not sure I can ever repay. But I’m going to start right now. Take my hand.”

He hesitated. Well he should, I might have felt similar to the SJ he’d known, but I was a towering presence, a glowing creature of what Ice wants to be when it grows up, as tall as the Primarch, and the energies pouring off of me were doing all sorts of bad things to the fabric of the Warp as I bled entropy. “It’s you?”

“It’s me, baby! I’m baaack!” I spun around, then held out my hand. “Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe… probably. I won’t hurt you. Well, I will, but not too much.”

He looked at me as if I was insane, then growled as I thought ~Aww, is the big boy a chicken?~ at him. He took my hand.

“Hold on tight,” I said, and teleported us to Holy Terra itself. Well, okay, Mare Tranquillitatis. On the Moon. “Gha. It’s even more hideous than I thought it would be.” I commented, looking at Earth and what it had become.

“I… I’m out of the Warp? I’m at Terra? Bwahahaaa why aren’t my powers working?”

“Oh… I drained them… just temporarily. I didn’t bring you here so you could invade. I did it to show you I could. Now look up… and wave.” I pointed.

He looked where I was pointing.

“That’s the Eye of Terror,” he said, not comprehending.

“IT IS! You’re such a clever boy,” I patronized. “Watch closely.” And I punched my fist out as if hitting the Eye of Terror.

“That’s it? That’s what you wanted me to watch? You doing a pantomime of… did the Eye of Terror just… blink?”

“I think it flinched,” I said.

“You… just… punched…”

“I punched the immaterium in the eye. Eye–yes. I am the best.”

“You…”

“I told you that you couldn’t comprehend what I was. Now watch this.” I extended my consciousness into the vastness of space and yelled “NECOHO FELATES TZEENTCH WHILE KHORNE WATCHES! AND SLAANESH IS A BAD FUCK!” Mere words cannot properly express why this was hilarious… because there was a reason I’d come to Terra or close enough… I was tapping into the most powerful psychic beacon in this Universe, the Astronomican, powered by the Emperor himself and fueled by the lives of thousands of human psykers every week… and I used it to insult all four of the major Chaos Gods (and Necoho) all at once… and it had been heard across the entire galaxy, on both sides of the Materium-Immaterium divide. If you don’t understand how I insulted Nurgle… well, I didn’t mention him.

“You’re insane? They’ll rip the universe apart trying to… you’re deliberately goading the Ruinous Powers? Why are you putting on that mask?”

“I am the Shark of the Earth… and you ain’t seen nothing yet.” and then, just as the Eye of Terror was surging with the collective rage of four very angry Chaos Deities (and Necoho)… I suplexed the Warp. “REALM OF MYTH BABY!” I yelled as the entire universe shook slightly, whipping off the mask and planting a kiss on Magnus’s stunned mug. “Booyah!” And then, there on the lunar landscape, I laaaaughed…

Until the mist of the Chamber of the Ordeal rose around me and I found myself once more on Tortall… had it really been only a few… no… that… that hadn’t been a vision… that had been… it hadn’t been a jump… not exactly… something different… as if another power was funding it… like when Mensarius had hijacked the Banker’s Jump Matrix… or when Necoho had wrangled that trip to Sitcom Word… Mensarius hadn’t been able to grant me CP directly, but rather had needed to use drawbacks to get the CP I’d spend in Firefly’s Verse and Necoho had gotten a third-party to do so, possibly made possible because I was weakened at the time. Somehow, The Chamber… or Malal… or maybe they were one and the same? Or had I simply replaced The Chamber with Malal as I’d lost all memory of having been in Tortall… why had that happened… I shook my head, opened my mouth… then remembered where I was and what the rules were.

~You sent me to another place.~ I commented. ~I don’t suppose you’re willing to tell me how you did that? Or why you erased my memory of this world… though not all of it. I still remembered Steinmun and Blayce…~

~You are not of this world, and you are not a typical supplicant,~ The Voice of the Chamber responded. ~Testing you with experiences and hardships you have faced before would have been meaningless. But allowing you to remember what the testing entailed would have defeated the purpose of the test.~

~How did you do it though? Even the one who sent me here lacked the power to see inside my head without my permission.~

~You granted me permission in asking for an evaluation of your worth. That was all the invitation I needed, so long as I took no hostile action against you in doing so.~

~It was through your agency that I suffered the loss of my friends, the loss my abilities… my children were put at risk. No hostile action?~

~Emotional harm is transitory and does not count. I took no hostile action against you directly. I merely put you into a position where you would be able to judge, for yourself, if you were worthy.~

~Ah. So, it’s symptomatic of beings like you to fail to understand mortals.~

~Even you, who were once mortal, have trouble with it. I who was never part of time and never have been nor never will be mortal… How could I possibly understand. Can you understand the experience of being an ant?~

~Then how are you qualified to judge?~

~I do not judge. I show those who come to me what they could have been, what could be. If they break, it is because they know themselves to be unworthy.~

~You sent Kel against Blayce. You judged him.~

~He was disrupting the pattern of nature.~ The Chamber’s voice did not change, no hint of emotion at my accusation.

~And me? Aren’t I capable of doing much more than he could even dream of?~

~You could. And I could not stop you. Even collectively, the Gods of this World would be hard pressed to do so. But you would not.~ Again, no hint of judgement or condemnation within that utterly calm voice. Was it without emotion, or was it simply suppressing them?

~Have you encountered others like me?~ I asked.

The response came immediately, no hesitation. ~I am outside of the time of this world.~

I thought about that for a time, then thought, ~So you’re saying that any time a… traveller like me comes to Tortall…~

~I have seen many things. Yes.~

Now that… that was intriguing. ~Have you seen into the Warhammer Universe?~

~Simply because a thing has a name in one reality, doesn’t mean it cannot have other names in other realities.~  Again, no trace of hesitation, no attempt to hedge… but what did it mean?

~How?~

~All things arise from primordial Chaos. In this world, we are all the children of Usoei.~

Ah. Of course. ~And she is Chaos… ~

~As are you.~

~Hey!~ I glowered at the featureless walls.

~It is true. You should know that better than anyone. A story once told is set in stone.~

~And yet I have the power to change it. Fair enough.~ I paused, then considered. It was being too glib, too dismissive. There was something deeper. ~I suspect you’re changing the subject.~

~Hard Answers are not in my nature. You will know when it is time for you to know.~

~And what of my experiences in the other place? Will only I remember they happened?~

~That is not for me to determine. The others who joined you were sent by another, as they were all beyond my reach. Those who did not join you were those bound to this world. You will have to speak to that other. They are not speaking to me.~

Before I could ask any more questions, the door swung open then and the presence faded. I had, it appears, passed the Ordeal. But what did it mean? Had I really been to the Universe of Warhammer? I… didn’t know. Right now, all I had were my memories of the place. I’d have to speak to the others… Would I have to return to claim what had been mine… and would they be there when I came for them? I would be most irate were they not. I had grown attached to some of them… and enjoyed annoying some of the others.

Next: Return to Tortall

Previous Tortall Chapter: Unto Us is Given

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too.

Resources: BuildDocument

Author’s Note

Next, of course, comes consolidating all these builds for the Jumpstuff, and won’t that be fun. But before that is the final tally to see how many points I’ve got left over for Part 5. Then spending those points. Honestly, I have a little too much left, but I spent it all somehow.

  • Part 1: 0
  • Part 2: [-300/-300]
  • DLC 1: [-600/-900]
  • DLC 2: n/a
  • DLC 3: [-100/-1000]
  • DLC 4: [+900/-100]
  • DLC 5: [+1500/1400]
  • Balance going into Part 5 [1400]
  • Part 3: [+2800/4200]

That… is a lot of points… for an already blinged out ship. And of course, I get to add the Necrontyr Inertialess Drive and all the rest from DLC 1, The Gitfinda from DLC2, the Pentalich Lance and all the rest from DLC 3, the parts of the Land Train from DLC 4, and the Redundant Systems from DLC 5… and that’s all before we get to the three Eldar Ship Upgrades for putting up with Carwyn.

I really won’t go into why I didn’t buy the others. I picked the three I did pick, the Dome of the Crystal Sphere (Ship Heaven), the Harlequin Holofield, and the Void Spinner, because they were the most interesting to me.

As for the other choices… Terminus Est is fucking Icky, also a fucking beast. Anguish of the Murderhobos doesn’t fucking exist unless you pick this idiotic choice that can cut your ship to ribbons. I’m not adding an extra Chaos Flagship to the forces of Chaos, even to then take it down. Thanks. Also, icky. The Iron Blood is just… bonkers. It’s a tank in space. Sounds like a slugfest and no fun. The Furious Abyss however just needs really really accurate attacks to hit and is a glass cannon. Also, she uses Eldritch Fire and I have a weapon that can summon magic water to wash away damage. She has great maneuverability and thanks to the Necron Drive, so do I. She has to get in close to do damage.

On the subject of prizes? Moulder of Worlds would make things too easy, Trans-D thunderbolts sound nice and all, an attack that bypasses defenses, Transliminal Stride… the ability to simply step to any point within a 1km radius sphere in the blink of time? While the capacity isn’t limitless, fighting someone who can be… anywhere… might be tricky.

ARMAMENTS 

  • Prow – Nova Cannon, +1 Lance Battery (Pentalich), Gryphonne IV Pattern Void Shield / Holo-Field, Belacane Pattern Void Shield.
  • Port – 2 Macrocannon Batteries, 1 Torpedo Launcher, 2 Lance Batteries, Void Shield / Holo-Field
  • Starboard – 2 Macrocannon Batteries, 1 Torpedo Launcher, 2 Lance Batteries, Void Shield / Holo-Field
  • Aft – 1 Macrocannon Battery, 2 Torpedo Launchers, 1 Lance Battery, Void Shield / Holo-Field
  • Superstructure – 1 Macrocannon Battery,3 Lance Batteries, Void Shield / Holo-Field
  • Hull – 4 Torpedo Launchers, Void Shield / Holo-Field

Final Ship Build

  • 6xMark VI Mars Pattern Macrocannon upgrades [1200/3000/4200]
  • 6xBelacane Pattern Void Shield upgrades [1200/1800/4200]
  • Prow Shield purchase of a Gryphonne IV Pattern [400/1400/4200]
  • Shipwide Gryphonne IV Pattern Shield [400/1000/4200]
  • Mars Pattern Nova Cannon [500/500/4200]
  • Godsbane Lances x2 [400/100/4200]
  • Durandal Warp Engine [100/0/4200]

 

 

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 9

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

Part 9 – Am I Being Railroaded?

Previously: Visitations & Awakening

Themesong: C’Mon Ride (The Train) by Quad City DJ’s

AN: I’ll try to do my best with this one, it’s by far the most on Rails of the sections… but it’s fun and free CP! So, bonus! Also, it has a random encounter table and SPACE DWARVES! What’s not to love?

I had never heard of the Stryxis before they showed up in my neck of the celestial woods. I asked around, but no one knew where the hell they came from any better than I did. Almost everyone I’d asked had one thing up on me… they’d heard of them. Yes, even the people of the notoriously xenophobic Imperium of Man had heard of them.

Apparently, ever since their first appearance, the Mysterious aliens have earned something of a reputation as wanderers, traders, merchants, and keepers of secrets. Their scattered nomadic tribes roam as loose fleets that ply their way and their wares across the galaxy, trading with all they encounter. They also had something of a reputation as flimflam artists and purveyors of crap… but, as untrustworthy as they were, the holds of their salvaged ships and converted asteroids were apparently always crammed with rare and exotic items, ancient archeotech, and all the other junk that might turn a credit to the right buyer. The Stryxis were also notoriously incomprehensible, with stories about them trading priceless artifacts for shards of broken glass, scraps of fur, or even used tissue paper being far from uncommon.

Knowing all that, (and desperately needing a vacation from the pressures of being a living god) I was more than happy to load a transport with everything I could spare and set out on what might very well be a wild goose chase at the first hint of a rumor that a Stryxis trade fleet had moved into the orbit of a reasonably nearby world. Carwyn was not happy with this, as the Eldar and Stryxis have something of a enmity, and so I’d left her behind (which also made her unhappy) and took Tokimi and Cirno as both seemed to be going a little stir crazy. As my luck would have it, they were still in system when I arrived… and just as grotesque as the rumors had hinted at.

They looked like a human-sized dog embryo… that had been ritually flayed, then adorned with mummy rags and trinkets. They also stank to high heaven.  But as I moved the Faustian Bargain into orbit, they were quick to bombard me with messages that at the very least sounded friendly, inviting me to pursue their goods.

99.99% of it was crap. Some of the rest of it was slaves which I bought for a pittance and promised to see they got home or someplace safeish. Much of it was contraband, such as illegal weapon modifications or stolen military technology that I didn’t need. There were Xenos artifacts that I had no idea what I might do with, human relics I didn’t want, and upgrade kits that I could have bought on Necromunda or Scintilla for a tithe of the cost the little bastards were asking. Still, I bought some of the more amusing things, and offloaded a boatload of junk in exchange.

There were also foodstuffs, such as two-dozen bottles of seven thousand year old wine that had been kept in cryo-stasis and a crate of what were labeled ‘Squat-Thrust Brand POWER BARS’ that, when I checked my data slat, had an entry so curious I had to buy them. The entry said “Forged by the greatest breadsmiths of the Squat race in a secret hold and baked in a forge fired by the harnessed fires of the warp itself, these food bars are truly a miracle of the culinary arts… and in dire circumstances, you can put one in a sock and thereby obtain a weapon capable of killing a Greater Daemon.” I was amused… and curious… Now, where could I find a sock and a Greater Daemon to test this absurd theory on?

And all that was just the first ship! There were at least fifteen more, all constantly pinging my ship’s Auspex with increasingly demanding messages that I visit them and buy something. It was hard to judge how many ships there were since most of them were barely void-worthy. But they all promised actual value and good quality… and all for a low, low price!… and then there weren’t any ships at all.

Without giving the faintest indication of why, the Stryxis trade convoy simply scattered to the myriad winds of space, each ship engaging a different drive system. Some of them slid into the warp, one opened a portal and drifted inside, a few of them shimmered into invisibility… and the last simply slide away at a speed that my ship’s cogitator reported as simply being impossible… not improbable… impossible. And then, the reason for that sudden departure became apparent.

A section of nearby space, easily dwarfing the large moon that orbited the nearby planet, simply tore asunder… and something started to emerge. The sight of that… thing protruding into realspace is not something I will ever forget… maybe not even if I get my memory editing ability back, no matter how hard I try. It was an amorphous, bloody mass, a bleeding tumor studded with jagged spurs of bone larger than the Bargain, a nightmarish thing that blotted out the stars… I could only be thankful I could not hear whatever terrible sound that thing was making as it was birthed into the materium from whatever Cthulhian nightmare it first reached its unholy semblance of life in.

I didn’t even need to give the order to move the ship to the opposite side of the planet… my crew was already doing exactly that, eager to put a few quadrillion tons of rock and metal between them and that… abomination.

“What, in the name of Ziggy, is that?” I asked, not expecting an answer as my out-system sensor buoys relayed the grotesque imagery from the far side of the planet. It was moving into its own orbit, geosynchronous above one of the two major fortress cities that dominated the planet’s mountainous surface and, as we watched, it began vomiting thousands of tons of effluvia into the upper atmosphere.

Clouds of blood and gore, hectometer-long fragments of jagged, splintered, razor-sharp bone, titanic organs (still living but hideously mutilated), and worse obscenities still rained down from the cancerous tumor. Within hours, a crimson stain had covered a large part of the world, a stain deep enough to be seen from space and growing hideously apace, a stain with that fortress city at the center… and from that city, Iron Hold, came reports of almost non-stop assaults by what could only be described as things… things that turned any living thing that came in contact with them inside out and against their former allies.  

“Should we make a break for it?” Cirno asked, but Tokimi shook her head, looking a little pale.

“No. Look,” she demanded, then pointed to where one of the local ships was trying to make a break for it. The mother tumor was taking notice and seemed… displeased.

“Ouch…” Cirno muttered.

“Yeah… there may be worse ways to die… but offhand?” I shuddered

“I can’t think of any,” Tokimi said, looking a little green.

“Let’s hold position here for the time being. Maybe it’ll vent its spleen on the planet and bugger off eventually? Or get weak enough we can deal with it.” I leaned back, studying the monstrosity and wondering if I dared to try and contact that squirming pulsing mass with my Biopathy.

“We’re getting a message,” Tokimi said as the communication’s array next to her crackled unsteadily to life.

“From the tumor?” Cirno asked.

“It’s not a tumaah…” I began, then sighed. “I assume it’s from the planet?” Tokimi looked, then nodded her little head. Never understood why Chosin liked being tiny and cute when not in their gigantic godforms. Ah well. No matter. “Put it on.

The holoprojector flared to life as she toggled the switches and an image of a short humanoid who appeared to be more facial hair than man appeared before me. I could make out a few inches of skin between the truly epic beard and a pair of eyebrows so thick that I thought at first that he was wearing a particularly large and unkempt ferret on his forehead… possibly two. The skin was deeply tanned… or maybe baked was more accurate, and showed the marks of centuries spent frowning in concentration… or maybe just spent frowning. It was an intensely grumpy face and one that made the immature part of me want to giggle and yell “SPEZ DORF!”

I didn’t of course, because I am all sorts of mature and diplomatic, but I did smile… until he? she? started talking and I realized that I could not understand a blessed word, even though I was pretty sure the Squat (what else could it be but a Squat?) was speaking High Gothic. The accent wasn’t just thick… it was battleship armor grade impenetrable.

“Did you just call me ‘Laddy?” I asked after about a minute, interrupting the tirade.

“Aye, ach deed,” came the grumpy voice.

“Are you an idiot or just blind?” I asked, forgetting to be diplomatic.

“Wa?”

“I am female, you overbearded twerp. Add to that, but I’m also the one with the Void Ship and the Rogue Trader licence and the capacity to level your entire city from orbit. So be at least as polite as if you were talking to your mother. In fact, go get your mother so she can talk to me… I assume she knows enough not to be rude to guests? Hopefully she also knows how to speak High Gothic so that people who don’t have hair in their ears can understand.”

The dark look got darker and darker and I was wondering if he was going to hang up on me or start yelling. Neither happened. Instead, he grunted, then nodded, and started speaking slower and clearer.

“Ye tae being a fighting sort, sure enough. And thas wa we be needin, ye ken? Nae, we have twa ways faer the connerversation tae goe. First, we hae us a wee chat about all tha thae owe tae uus in fees faer tae contents o’ thae holds. Tis’ aur sovrehn spez an ahl, bread and butter tae us, but ye ken, tis thae other ones that’ll eat yea alive, bit by bit. Ah course, we can discuss something else, tae wit, you putting all those guns and suchlike to use down here while I forget about these fees.”

I snorted. “Do you really think you’re in any position to claim fees even if I was inclined to pay them? Now, if you want help, you can bloody well ask faer it ye wee stumpy git.”

He glowered at me. I glowered back. The Squats (Homo sapiens rotundus) were an ancient and hardy people. Of all the Abhuman types in Imperium, they most closely resembled baseline humans. Short, stocky and physically hardy, they were Abhumans who were adapted to the heavy gravity conditions that predominated on the worlds they had settled near the galactic core, worlds that were some of the oldest in the galaxy, formed when the accretion disk had not yet been fully stabilized. Worlds that were high-gee and mineral-rich.

The Squats’ ancestors were human colonists who reached the galactic core during the time of the initial expansion of humanity beyond Earth’s own Solar System during the Dark Age of Technology, many millennia before the emergence of the Emperor of Mankind and the dawn of the Age of the Imperium. The colonisation came at the right time, as Old Earth’s own mineral wealth had been largely depleted. The worlds at the galactic core were rich in rare and unique strategic minerals, but barren of life and unsuitable for human colonization. Not only were they highly irradiated by the intense light of the coreward stars, any atmospheres they had had once upon a time had long since been swept clean by the galactic winds.

Still, the human need for resources would not be denied and so a devil’s bargain was made. Sealed subterranean colonies were seeded, humans modified to cope with gravity two or three or four times that of Terra, and hydroponics technology pushed to its limits to make the colonies as self-sufficient as possible… which had turned out to be the salvation of the Squat race. During the long isolation of Mankind produced by the Warp Storms of the Age of Strife, the Squats adapted more and more to their new homes, evolving or genetically engineering themselves to better suit their environment, becoming far tougher, more resilient and physically shorter with a denser skeletomuscular system than was found in the baseline human genome. The Squats had had some of the best scientists and engineers in history, men and women who had explored the frontiers of human science and technology without the constraints of religion and ritual, in contrast with the dogma-bound humans of the Adeptus Mechanicus who followed a very different path on Mars during the same period, and even now they remained fiercely independent and technologically advanced by comparison to the rest of the galaxy. They were also largely isolationistic and, as a rule, extremely grouchy, touchy, and pedantic. The really hated being called Dwarves.

In war, the Squats used squads of motorcycles supported by massive artillery barrages from outlandishly large super-heavy tracked vehicles such as the Land Train Colossus, Leviathan, and Cyclops variants. And that was, apparently, what Grunthor Zutik of Hammer Hold wanted to talk to me about.

Apparently, Hammer Hold wanted to send a relief column via Land Train halfway round the planet through the growing stain to Iron Hold… but the three clans that ran Hammer Hold couldn’t agree on which of them was to go… or rather none of them were willing to risk their own hides to command the train… and so they’d agreed to ask the only convenient outsider to do it.

“What’s in it for me… and don’t say you’ll wave the fees you think I owe you. I could buy your planet with petty cash.” He glowered, then grumbled “We’ll ge yeh a fancy dohicky fer yer ship?”

I grinned. “Send up your offerings and I’ll take a look!”

The list was six items long and it included a truly impressive collection of bonkers weapons systems, a defensive system called the ‘Ulumeathi Plasma Siphon’ and an interesting sensor suite called the Omnispex. I almost went with that, since it was listed as being particularly good at picking out weak points on enemy structures, ships, and fortifications… but it took an extended period of time during which the Omnispex had to be kept focussed. That would limit the maneuverability of whatever ship it was installed in, even though the thing had an extremely long range. The Plasma Siphon was less interesting, since it didn’t cover a very large area and, while it did cause plasma and energy weapon fire to veer wildly away from that area, it did nothing against physical rounds. To little protection, over too small an area.

The weapons systems were another matter entirely. The Plasma Calivers were tempting… they were short-legged plasma weapon arrays that could absolutely saturate the space in front of the guns with volley upon volley upon volley of continuous and rapid plasma bolts… which sounded nice, but the guns were volatile enough to risk damaging major sections of whatever ship they were mounted on.

The Mindscrambler Grenade Launcher were terrifying… since each grenade harbored the meters-wide egg-sacs of a Cthellan electrogenesis squid… which were awesome against anything with electronic circuitry or a neural network… but not so great against starships. If I was bombing a planet, maybe….

More tempting was the Mega Cannon known as ‘Wrath of Grungi’ was a Heavy Cruiser’s main weapon, a huge, six-barreled, directed-energy weapon that could level an entire army from orbit in a single cataclysmic salvo. It was a Hellstorm Cannon modified to fire round after round in quick succession… and Hellstorm Cannons were already considered the most dangerous weapon a cruiser could mount. The Wrath of Grungi looked so powerful that it could strip the Void Shields from a Battleship in a single Volley. That was tempting…

But so was the Ironhammer Array, twin linked Icarus Autocannons with skyscryer lenses paired with a Daedalus Missile Launcher. An Icarus was a gatling rocket launcher that pumped out flak missiles at an astounding rate and the Daedalus fired a dedicated armor-piercing missile… together the Ironhammer’s combined firepower could shred an entire squadron of enemy fighters or absolutely brutalize an enemy escort in moments.

It ultimately came down to whether I wanted an anti-capital ship / orbital bombardment weapon or an anti-escort / anti-attack craft weapon. I already had a Nova Cannon… but it was slow cycling… and I already had point defense… so… I called back.

“I’ll take the Mega Cannon… oh, and I’ll be down in 40 minutes to sign some contracts. You guys like contracts right? I looooove contracts.” I broke the connection and then said looked to my companions “Road TRIP!”

“Uhh… why is she drooling at the word ‘Contract?’” Cirno asked Tokimi.

“Only people who like legality more than Squats are Jews, apparently,” the not-currently a goddess commented, then looked down at the planet. “SJ… where we’re going… there are no Roads.”

“Sokay. We don’t need um.”

There was a thirty-page contract just to indemnify the Squats against any repetitive strain injuries that might be caused by signing the main contract. Amateurs. My contract included an indemnification against all kinds of psychological, metaphysical, or spiritual strain or damage that might come from even reading mine.

They thought they’d intimidate me with a five foot tall stack of papers. My contract was only two feet tall… but was contained on datapads. Fifty hours later, we had a signed contract and lawyers from both sides were pouring over the contract to see just how screwed each side had been. I decided to take a nap.

Their legal advisor woke me three days later to go over what I’d signed and to make sure I understood what I’d agreed to. Put simply, I was going to be given control of a Land-Train and I was REQUIRED to use the Land-Train to deliver supply wagons from Hammer Hold to Iron Hold… or otherwise it would be a massive waste of money and I would not only forfeit any sort of reward, but also owe every Squat in existence the Galaxy’s weight in their choice of rare materials… and if I pointed out the impossibility of paying that penalty I would further incur another penalty and I really should have read the contract more carefully.

I yawned, stretched, and sat up, grinning at the lawyer. “Tokimi. Tell this idiot what he missed.” I got up and headed over for the recaf while my primary legal advisor and the most pedantic woman in several realities pointed out that the morons had been so keen on imposing penalties that they’d forgotten to include a clause that stipulated that the supply wagons I’d been contracted to supply to the far hold actually had to actually contain supplies… oh, and complaining about that or refusing to actually give us supplies to transport would be considered breach of contract and I’d own the planet, the holds, and all the Squats contained within, and their children, for the next ten generations.

I think the Squat Lawyer’s brain nearly turned to steam… but I took pity on him. “Don’t worry. I have a reputation to uphold. I’ll get your supplies through. But let this be a lesson to you. Never try and Screw a Lathimon. Am I clear?”

He gulped and nodded slowly. ‘Good. Now let me speak to Grunthor or whoever is in charge of getting me my train.” I snapped, pulling on my weapon’s harness and scooping up my helmet. Cirno squeaked and pouted “But the coffeeeeee.”

“Bring it with. We’ve wasted three days already and I’m pretty sure Iron Hold would like its supplies sooner or later.”

It turned out that before I could even get at the Train, I had to pick one of the three big clans (Zutik, Makurtu Gabe, and Macsweeny) to supply the crew. Macsweeny was the oldest and most respect of the clans, with access to mining and refining technology that had been considered cutting edge during the Dark Age of Technology. As such, they had easily maintained a level of wealth and affluence none of the other clans could match. Quite happy to trade, they had contracts with the Imperium, the Eldar, other Clans… and even a few of the more stable Ork bands. If I had to pick one to be trading partners, I’d have gone with Macsweeny every damned time… and in fact I might come back later to get some of their mining equipment and perhaps even some of their experts. But in the triad, they went with Expensive and Exceptional every time and time was of utmost importance.

Clan Makurtu Gabe was a closed society that kept to the old ways of isolationism and living entirely underground. Since they staunchly defended their territory from all comers (Orks, Chaos, and even Tyranid splinter fleets, they were thus well trained and experienced, and their Trains were extremely heavily armored… but they were also slower than those of other clans.

Clan Zutik on the other hand had allied themselves with the local surface abhumans that inhabited most of the hill regions of this world, the Ratlings (SPEZ HALFLINGS!)… and had cultivated a fair amount of them into their special forces, the only clan to do so. Ratlings might have made terrible melee combatants, which was of course HERESY in the Dark Grimness of the Grim Future… but they were excellent snipers… and the Zutik Trains were suited for hillcountry. Also, I kinda liked Grunthor. His beard reminded me of my dad. Oh, and Ratlings made excellent cooks, so there was that.

That decided, it was now time to outfit the DOOM TRAIN!… seriously. DOOM TRAIN! And the first thing I had to do was decide which of the three trains they were sending out I would captain… apparently, they trusted me… but not enough to make my Train the only Train. Each train consisted of a cab and a dozen trailers and could be partially customized to my specifications.

The cab was the driving force for the Land-Train and it was where I’d be headquartered to command the titanic vehicle from. I was shown to Hammer Hold’s Depot and told to choose from the collection of almost a hundred of the obscenely phallic land-train cabs. Of the dozen or so designs, only three caught my attention. The hugely armed and armoured Colossus (which came with a scout Gyrocopter and carried the most balanced amount of crew and ordinance…), the titan-killer Cyclopes (which had a huge main gun called the Hellfury Cannon, a Melta Cannon, and a Battlecannon… as well as heavy bolters and Doomstorm Missiles… but a tiny crew)… and the mobile regimental HQ… which could carry two or three times the crew of the others and two and a half supply wagons worth of supplies… but which also had the weakest weapons and defenses.

I made a show of examining each of the options, but I’d already made my mind up by the time the explanations from the drivers had ended. A huge crew would be a liability if I couldn’t protect them, and the SLT Hideously Overcompensating had all the guns… but any loss of crew would render some of those guns silent. The Colossus had scouting capability, and combined with range from the snipers, that would hopefully spell success. After all, an ounce of prevention and all that. Oh, and the Titan Class Barrage Guns of the Colossus could be used in direct fire and artillery modes… which neither of the others could say about their weapons… if Land-Trains could talk… heh… Thomas the Land-Train.

Of the 12 trailers, the contract stipulated that at least 6 of them had to be supply wagons, each of which could hold 40 tons of supplies (not that they needed to actually contain those supplies when I arrived… but I’d do my best… good will and all that). I also needed to bring a power supply, which came in the form of a Deus Vult Singularity Engine… a magnetically contained pinpoint blackhole that could provide power for the massive train and its trailers… and make popcorn… although I was specifically warned not to.

I was also advised that it would be unwise to leave the hold without a Void Shield Trailer, which could provide an energy field that would shunt incoming attacks into the Warp… and of course I needed Crew Quarters. Apparently having the crew sleep on the cargo would be mean or something. Feh. Still, the Crew Quarters had the kitchen and restrooms… and armory.

That was nine of the twelve the cab could pull while maintaining optimal speed. That left three wagons I could pick and choose from those available, a collection of defensive and offensive choices… or I could take more supply wagons… ahahaha… No!

On the Offensive side, there were missile launchers, artillery platforms both antipersonnel and anti-emplacement, and even robot drones… but for an extra weapon, I outfitted Thomas with the Hearthlord Plasma Beam which could (at a slight chance of overheating and exploding) maintain a continuous burn which seemed like it might come in very handy if something big refused to take the hint and die right away.

On the Defensive side, there was a comms array for calling in resupply (feh), an observation balloon (I had my buddy the gyrocopter), and a secondary Void Shield array that could be maintained at higher than normal power level since I really didn’t have to worry if it burned out since I had the primary to fall back on. I took that.

And in the category of a little from Column A, a little from Column B, I picked up a VTOL Aircraft Tender platform that came with the crew and machinery to keep the included Iron Eagle Gunship operational. I love death from above. I really do. Never give your enemy a fair chance. In battle, if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying. Of course, if your enemy is worthy of the name, they’re probably cheating too.

And that was that. I had a Land-Train, a joke the Squats didn’t get, and a mission ahead of me. The best estimate was that the trip would take four weeks… minimum. Well, best begun… at dawn.

We had a quiet dinner that night… thankfully the Ratlings did the cooking, and I looked over my crew. Sixty Eight stout and doughty little bastards, plus Cirno and Tokimi and little old me. Seventy one against the world… and the spawn of the Cancer Mother as they’d started calling it. I guess it was a tumah.

AN: 240 Tons of Supplies, 68 Crew Members

The land around Hammer Hold was relatively safe and we made good progress for the first eight days. In fact, we managed to locate an armored facility along one of the passes that had been hastily (and incompletely) abandoned by the Squats.  In fact, as far as I could tell it was a Waystation that had been scheduled for demolition prior to the invasion, plans that had been put on hold until planetary chemo could be administered. Still, there were a fair amount of supplies that had been left in the rush to get to someplace a little more secure from the rain of flesh gobbits and we picked up enough to cover what we’d used already and then some.

AN: 280 Tons of Supplies, 68 Crew Members

On the eighth day, however, we ran into the first setback as a swarm of Steelhawk attack copters came screaming over the horizon. At first we figured they were running from something… but a then we got a better look at them. They were damaged and streaked with gore, the pilots (and more than likely the Copters themselves) had clearly been corrupted by the Cancer Mother. If they were able to distinguish reality from nightmare, they certainly weren’t able to tell friend from foe and I lost eight of my crew putting them out of their misery. It was a somber couple of days that followed and there were whisperings amongst the crew that the world was doomed and that the elders were seriously considering busting out the Phosphex and burninating the entire surface. Phosphex was nasty shit… like all the worst parts of White Phosphorous and Napalm and had been used more than once in an Exterminatus operation.

AN: 270 Tons of Supplies, 60 Crew Members

I tried to keep morale up… but Squats are, save when drunk, almost impossible to cheer up. Thankfully, on the eleventh day, we came across a small area dotted with many small farms and steadings, and my Snipers gleefully reported that we’d entered a Ratling Shire… just in time for one of the many, many festivals and celebrations of the Ratling callender… and no, why would they cancel the feasting just because the world might be ending? That would just be silly.

In fact, the local Ratlings were more than happy for me and my crew to join in, insisting that we partake our fill and maybe I’d like someone special to snuggle with… I was a tall one… but not too tall… did I know that hairy feet indicated a passionate lover? My crew was also invited to join in… and in fact, the celebrations got even more enthusiastic once the local Ratlings discovered my crew included a fair number of honest to lunchtime Special Military Ratlings! In uniforms no less!

I woke the next morning to discover that my crew numbers had expanded as there had been a couple overnight marriages… and wedding gifts to load into the rapidly overflowing Land Train. Seriously, by this point we were seriously carrying more than we’d started with. I was some kind of Foraging Queen! I never said that, don’t call me that. If you do I will find you and make you suffer.

AN: 310 Tons of Supplies, 62 Crew Members.

Never listen to Ratlings when you ask for directions… Well, okay, do ask… apparently they where all the best parties are… or all the hot chicks/dudes are… or something. Regardless, I was a little hungover the next morning, not badly, pleasantly, and I commented that I’d enjoyed the party… and one of my Ratlings, this lovely chap named Pastry… I dunno… Pastry said “If you enjoyed that, you really should see the Potatomass Festivities at Porkshire.”

“I thought we’d just seen the Potatomass Festivities?” I asked, blinking owlishly.

“Nawww. That was the Potatomass Eve Festivities! Those are much more solemn and serious. Also Puddingshire’s like a quarter the size of Porkshire.” He seemed earnest, and I chuckled.

“And how far away is Porkshire?”

“Cross the river Hasty, down a bit… if we drive fast, we should be there by suppertime… dinner at the latest.”

I shrugged, then tapped the driver on the shoulder “Full speed for Porkshire. Get us there by tea and you get a double ration of Thunderbrau… get us there by luncheon and I’ll triple it.” We were there by Elevensies. I think the driver was last seen making out with a lamp post.

Next morning I had 8 more crew members and even less free space. We were now stacking supplies in the cab and every berth had at least a couple crates in it. Good thing I’m narrow.

AN: 330 Tons of Supplies, 70 Crew Members

Our luck held for days… and then it didn’t. Almost as soon as we crossed into the contaminated hemisphere bad things began to happen. First we ran into a minefield that wouldn’t respond to our IFF and clearing it cost me several crew members and did a fair amount of damage to the Cab. I’d considered going around, but we were already in deep by the time we figured it out and backing up and going around would have added another week to the travel time. That pretty much meant that we had to clear a path with hand tools… and mines don’t like hand tools. Not one little bit.

AN: 320 Tons of Supplies, 60 Crew Members

Though that was the worst of it, our luck didn’t improve much, as within days of clearing the minefield, we ran into a spate of bad terrain which slowed us down considerably and forced us to use up some of our supplies building bridges to get the Land-Train through the patch of swamps, waterlogged fields, and marshes that stretched as far as the gyrocopter crew could see. It appeared the Cancer had shattered a major dam upstream, and the flood path had inundated a huge area. At least it had happened before we arrived or we might have been swept away. As it was, it too us an extra week to cross that mire and I had nightmares about the train sinking like Artax from Neverending Story.

AN: 290 Tons of Supplies, 60 Crew Members

As we finally cleared the muck, every habitable part of the Land Train reeking of rotting vegetation even if it was, technically, spotless inside (Squats are very good at cleaning… who knew?) we came under fire… but it was very very strange fire. I heard the crack of rifles and the spang of bullets on the hull of the Cab and wagons, and rushed to the plasteel armored dome to see what was going on… and saw that my snipers were trying to dial in the shooters… and then I saw one of them get hit. She flinched, jerked, dropped her rifle… then looked down at herself in utter confusion. I was pretty confused too… after all, I’d seen her take a round to the head with my own eyes… and yet she wasn’t dead. In fact… she seemed fine.

It took us hours to figure out what in the name of Gimli & Legolas’s secret lovechild was going on. We were under attack by Ghosts. Warp Ghosts to be specific… in fact, Ancient Squat Warp Ghosts who thought we were Greenskins and would not respond to our attempts to communicate. It was as if they were playing out a scene they’d ‘lived’ through hundreds or thousands or maybe millions of times… there are a lot of days in several millenia.

Still, they were ghosts, long dead and armed only with the ghosts of weapons. They could not harm us in any way. But the Squats refused to proceed any further until the problem was resolved. It would be bad luck they claimed, to leave the ghosts unlain to rest. And so, keeping a careful watch on the bloody sky, I (along with more than half my crew) hiked up into the hills, following the retreating ghosts until we found a jumble of bones and rubble in a valley about a mile and a half from the train.

After a hasty confab with the Squats, it was decided that we’d have to throw them a proper wake, which meant giving each corpse it’s own drink… for each toast. There were almost 250 corpses. Do you have any idea how long it takes to open nearly 64,000 thousand 20 ounce cans of Thunderbrau? That’s nearly 20 tons of beer… don’t ask me why Squats used Imperial. I think it had something to do with poetics. Fucking whackos. Took three days and I think the hangover might never completely fade. 250 god damned toasts. I had blood in my Thunderbrau stream. Even having a sip for each toast, the fumes from pouring out all those beers would have gotten a booze elemental drunk! I have not been that drunk since Elder Scrolls.

AN: 260 Tons of Supplies, 60 Crew Members

But apparently, that was enough to turn our luck around because, aside from seeing some feral human nomads off in the distance, nothing happened for the next few days and then we were crossing the final pass between us and Iron Hold… when the Train’s Auspex (sensors) picked up a faint signal, a message so old, so archaic that none of the Squats aboard could understand more than few words. It took time and effort to track down the source of the signal, but when we did, it quickly became apparent that it had been time well spent, as we discovered the remains of the first Holds settled on this charming planet.

Even given the incredible length of time it had to have been abandoned for, it wasn’t what you’d call a ruin. Indeed, the structure was (to my untrained eye) as solid as if it had been built less than a year ago and, venturing within, I found something truly spectacular… An STC plan for Galvanic Rounds. I very carefully snuck it into my luggage and didn’t tell a soul.

Galvanic Rounds are essentially robotic projectile rounds. Not only could they subtly manipulate their own trajectory, but each and every one contained a galvanic cell that, upon impact, converted all the potential energy of the round to be converted into a massive blast of electrical force. Ancient treaties / holy doctrine restricted Galvanic rounds to use by the AdMech and the Squats exclusively… and even then, they were only to be fired from a handful of officially sanctioned and ancient muzzle loading weapon designs. Of course, there wasn’t anything stopping the technology from being applied to a more modern weapon… but that would be Heresy. Oh… darn. Bad me.

AN: 250 Tons of Supplies, 60 Crew Members.

From the lost hold to Iron Hold was a swift trip as the hold, besieged as it was, still managed to clear that final run for us. The Squats were practically euphoric to discover that I’d managed to bring them hundreds of tons of food, medical supplies, and ammunition… and to say the Squat Enginseers were thrilled would be an understatement, as they practically tore into the supply wagons, rummaging through them as if they were seeking one particular thing.

As it turned out… that was exactly what they were doing. I watched, bemused, as they extracted a sizable but portable adamantine vault. Whatever was inside seemed to be drawing nearly as much attention as the fact that I, a (nominal) human, had commanded the train. They were also spectacularly impressed that I was carrying more supplies than I’d started with. I’m awesome like that.

So awesome am I that I found myself being escorted into the heart of the fortress, just in time to see the vault being opened, the odd looking throne it contained removed, cleaned, and installed with incredible speed, the Enginseers rushing through the rites of the Machine God with shocking haste (AdMech people worship the Omnissiah who is totally not a C’Tan known as the Void Dragon, no sir. Absolutely not. How dare you suggest such heresy!? Clearly the Omnissiah is just another name for the Emprah, right?).

Once the throne was ready, I was expecting the Living Ancestor (the eldest of the clan elders) to sit in it, but instead the old badger just grinned and motioned me towards the throne with something that might have been ‘gae along wee yae”… or it could have been utter nonsense… but either way, it was clearly some sort of message of encouragement.

I sat, and then, suddenly, I was deeply, intensely aware of something becoming aware of me at the same time. Something massive… massive and powerful… Above me, the roof began to retract, and I could see parts of the skyline moving, massive servos shifting titanic machines around… Oh… good lord… this was never a Squat Hold… it was… it is… “THIS IS AN IMPERATOR TITAN!” I wooped… then tried to relax.

I’d read about these things. I was aware on a conscious level that, within seconds, I’d be merging with the memory of an Imperial Saint, one of the greatest warriors in human history… a being who’d been merged mind and soul into a moving mountain of death, a walking fortress of weaponry and awesome. Imperator Titans were one of the greatest engines of war the Galaxy had ever seen… and I was going to get to pilot it… This was sooo much cooler than piloting a Jaeger!

As my conscious awareness faded into the gestalt of action, the last thing I remember thinking was “Is this thing wearing a mask?” Then I roared in anticipation and my roar was drowned out by the voice blasting from every last Vox-Unit installed in the fortress-sized mecha… but that didn’t matter… we were both screaming the same thing… in spanish, no less.

“¡He vuelto! ¡He vuelto! ¡Yo, el Tiburón de la Tierra, Rey del Círculo Cuadriculado, he regresado!”

When I recovered from the battle in which I’m pretty certain I wrestled the Cancer Mother out of the fucking sky and pounded into submission and then into mulch and then into a very large slick that covered much of the valley… I was being hailed as the Weasel Man… Honestly, at that point I was so fucking tired and giddy that I couldn’t even bring myself to complain.

They were so happy they gave me the damned Train… and loaned me technicians to convert it into ship components to be installed aboard the Light of Terra… free of charge! They also gave me the mask of the Shark of the Earth… Tiburon de la Tierra… an ancient and powerful relic so they claimed, once worn by one of the legendary warriors who had helped defend humanity before the Emperor saw fit to ascend and take his place as mack-daddy in chief.

Great… I could be a luchador. I tried it on and, consumed with the drive to defend the weak and helpless, I suplexed a 45 ton delivery truck that might have been about to splash muddy water on a Squatling… I still can’t tell which sex they are… not even the little ones. I carefully packed the mask away… this was clearly some major mojo… and also, it looked ridiculous.

Next: Light of Terra, Part 10

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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Author’s Note

Okay, this part is just silly. Really. Really really really. Also contains a minor error. And I will admit I cheated slightly. But I’ll get to that in a bit. First, the Stryxis… nothing they have for sale is worth anything. It’s all fucking junk… unless you wank something… and there are a couple of places you can wank pretty good. But ultimately, I bought the Power Bars because the text amused me. Yes, I wasted 100 CP because it amused me. Also setting something up for much later, but that’s for much later.

Picking Clans and Cabs is really just a matter of choice and how you feel your luck is running. Honestly, the way my luck ran, I could have taken then Leviathan which converts to palatial captain’s quarters when installed on the Light instead of the Colossus… but the Colossus has it’s own private launch bay… which is cool in its own way.

The minor error didn’t make a difference to me, but it might throw some people off. The intro text to the train section says that you get the Cab and a Dozen trailers. But then you are assigned 8 trailers (Engine, Shield, Crew Quarters, Supply Truck x5) and told you can pick 3 more. That’s 11. Since it said 12 above, I didn’t feel it was fair to add an addition free choice, so I just rolled it into the Supply Truck total. The reason it doesn’t matter is because the best result is 20+ Supplies and I finished with 25… and each Truck contains 4. So I’d still have finished with 21.

But SJ, you say… you said 250 Tons! Yes, because 25 units doesn’t mean anything and I felt that turning each unit into 10 tons made kinda sense. Maybe it was more, maybe less, who knows. I have no real idea how big Squat Land-trains are besides biiiig.

Now, I said I cheated a little, and I did. My 8th required result on the Random Encounter Table was Feral Nomads that Ignored me. That, to me, is a really boring result, but if it had come up earlier, I’d probably have rolled with it… but as the last stage in the trip, I wanted something cooler. So I took the chance and rolled again… I was actually hoping for a battle. I wanted a battle. A battle would have been bad from an IC perspective, but from a writing perspective, it would have been cool! Instead I got the meh Galvanic Bullets. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take them, but I’d rather have run into something I got to shoot. 5 weeks driving across a world under siege… and all I get to defeat are ghosts… and I used beer. Weee?

Still, great success! Sure, the Tiburon thing is just silly… but the best ending? It’s literally called “YOU ARE THE WEASEL MAN!” I had to win it! I mean, it was density or something!

Anyway. One last part and then… back into the Chamber? Maybe! We’ll see!

Oh, and if you want your name included in the battle roster on either the Imperial or Awakened side, let me know before I post the last part of Light of Terra. Limited window. Tick tick tick.

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 8

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

Part 8 – Visitations & Awakening

Previously: Steel Sky Black Mud

Themesong: The Last Stand by Sabaton

AN: Thanks for a great October, Welcome to November! I’ll try and wrap up the last couple parts of Light of Terra so we can get back to our regularly scheduled chain ASAP. Hopefully be finished by the middle of the month, if not sooner.

“Paapaa! Alex’s bear-rats are chasing Amy’s Speeps again,” Maggy called as she ran into my office. It had been eight long years since I’d arrived in this universe and the planetary population’s needs were taking progressively more and more of my time. I hadn’t managed to get off planet since the Necromunda affair, but the resources and people that were pouring in thanks to that almost trivially unimportant even had been a welcome addition to our resources and population… and education system. I stood from my desk and ruffled Maggy’s hair.

“Zed, Fred, and Ted won’t hurt the Speeps,” I assured her, stretching my tired body and then reaching out with my mind to feel the massive bear-sized Sump Rats I’d brought back with me from The Palatine Hive of Necromunda… after paying some poor Hivers who had experience cleaning the toxic stench of the Underhive off of things a small fortune to wash the shaggy beasts… then paying a succession of more qualified people to groom, medicate, and style the ever sleeker looking creatures. I’d named them Zeddy Bear, Freddy Bear, and Teddy Rat respectively. All three were males and I’d had to return to the deeps to track down two dozen still feral females. Those I’d just drawn to me and stunned them unconscious until they could be disinfected, descented, deloused, and crated for transport.

The three were playing with the Speeps while Alex laughed and Amaryllis squeaked in fright. I manifested a vision of my face above the park and said “Alex. What have I told you about picking on your sister?”

“She’s-”

“No clever word games, young man. What have I said is the single unbreakable rule?”

“No bullying,” he said, kicking the ground and not meeting my twenty foot tall visage’s gaze.”

“Right. No bullying. You might be having fun, but Amaryllis isn’t. This is not a game and you are using my rats to cause your sister and her pets emotional… what was that?” My visage turned as I turned. An early warning system was firing off a… no… not an early warning system… all of them. Two imperial Cruisers (a Dominator Heavy Cruiser and a Long Serpent Battle Cruiser) and fifty Whales (Cetaceus-Class Imperial Guard Transports are called Whales as they are big, fat, and full of smaller support and lander craft) had just dropped right on top of us! Fuuuuck.

“ALL SYSTEMS! CASE OMEGA!” I yelled, then pulled my psyche together and broadcast a psychic warning to my inner circle and then a second one to all the children on the planet, sending them to cover and projecting calm. I didn’t know who the hell was up there, but I wasn’t going to assume they were friendly. Friendly ships don’t drop out of warp in high orbit. They come in slow enough for systems to scan them.

As my entire planetary network, now a dozen cities strong and supplanted by growing rings of fortifications and outer works switched from daily life to total mobilization, and guns both automated and manned went into anti-invasion mode, I strode from my office, Maggy jogging after me like a tiny bodyguard as, outside, the Rats went into actual sheepdog mode, herding the Speeps into the main Tabernacle as Tess and Cierra carried the two children inside and the park transformed from pleasant to battle ground as a dozen anti-air pods opened and deployed their bunkers onto the manicured lawns.

I entered planetary HQ seven long strides later and snapped “Comms! Get me a line on these yahoos.” A grunt from the comms-grunt and a silent hand wave told me I had an open line. “Attention forces in orbit, this is Paradise Central Command, Rogue Trader and Planetary Governor Sigismonda Lathimon the third. Be aware, planetary defense grid is active and targeting. Please identify yourself and move to a more respectful orbit, or we shall be forced, however regretfully, to open fire.”

While I waited for a response, I checked on the status of my other ships. Most of the heavier stuff was out of system at the moment. Ark Magna was still being repaired, though she would be finished well ahead of the Light, but both of them were only at about 15% capacity at the moment if I had to mobilize them and crewing either would take weeks. Bargain and Retaliation were both on hand, but I had no illusions about a Star Galleon armed transport and a living metal destroyer fighting two cruisers, no matter how crap either of the two classes were… seriously, the Long Serpent is a BC with all the armor of an LC and the Dominator is a cruiser equipped with a Nova Cannon, which is excellent against bigger ships and planets, but not really useful against smaller ships and the Nova takes a lot of room… still, a single Dominator nearly took out the Death Guard flagship Terminus Est, one of the biggest ships in Warhammer Space.

A moment later, the comms grunt said “We’re getting a response.” I nodded for him put it on the screen and then I was facing a Lord General of the IG and a Lord Captain of the Imperial Navy. The Lord General looked… apoplectic was too kind. The Captain looked sanguine. The Lord General spoke first.

“I am Lord-General Ethelind Novak of the First Black Reach Colonial Guard! Who do you think you are to claim this world for your own?” he bellowed, spittle flying from his fat lips.

“I told you. I am a Rogue Trader of the Lathimon Dynasty, and the current Dynast of the Lathimon Dynasty. This world was uninhabited except by Xenos when I arrived and hadn’t seen an Imperial presence in nearly eleven thousand years. I own this world, Lord-General.”

“Under whose authority!”

“My warrant of Trade was signed by a Primarch, Lord-General and dates back to the Great Crusade.” Even as he got visibly angrier, I remained calm, trying to reach out to the ships above and feel for this fool, but he must have had a Null near him, or some piece of archeotech, for I couldn’t reach him.

“This planet is to become a Garrison World to support the Cadian Gate! I have been granted authority to establish a forward base in the wake of the 12th Black Crusade, by the authority of Lord Commander Zuehlke himself!”

I blinked… “Lord Commander Typhon Zuehlke?”

“Yessss. Now will you-”

“Lord Zuehlke was replaced by Marshall Amim Kargori during the Siege of Vraks… that was…” I thought for a second, “160 years ago. How long have you been in transit?”

The Lord-Captain blinked at that and held up her hand for the General to be silent. His eyes nearly bugged out of his head, but he stopped talking. “I am Lord-Captain Jaan Annushka of Battlefleet Ultramar. We left Black Reach in 522,” she said calmly.

“M41?” I asked.

“Yes. May I ask the current year?”

“It is 991 M41, Captain. And I’m sorry you’ve lost 400 years… but I suspect you’ve been written off long ago.  Now, you’re welcome to garrison your troops here if you like, but this world and its people are mine, and I will not be turning over authority to anyone, especially not someone appointed by an IG Lord Commander who was replaced in disgrace.”

I think the General nearly exploded at my words. He reared back as if slapped, then lunged forward, hands slamming down on the command console in front of him and bellowed, “I will give you 20 minutes to surrender the planet and all its facilities to me or I will level your cities and your pitiful ships cannot stop me, you fucking merchant scum!”

“Captain, I would recommend against you trying to assist this clearly illegal decision. If you move into position to attack any of my cities, I will be forced to destroy your ships. I have the planet-side firepower to crack a Grand Cruiser in half and my flagships are being crewed as I speak. I would rather not endanger either the Light of Terra or the Ark Magna before I can finish their repairs, but I have two ships which vastly out mass your entire fleet at my disposal, no matter how unfinished they might be and I will not hand them over nor while I allow you or anyone else to seize them without a fight.”

The Captain nodded. “My job is to provide escort, Lady Trader. I was to join… the Light of TERRA?” She gasped, eyes flickering to the bulk of Haephestus as it flowered open to reveal the Nova Cannon of the Light. She gulped. “General, she has a Gloriana.”

“I DON’T CARE IF SHE HAS AN ENTIRE FUCKING SPACE MARINE CHAPTER! I HAVE TRAVELLED HALF-WAY ACROSS THE GALAXY TO BECOME PLANETARY GOVERNOR OF THIS…” He breathed, “THIS FESTERING MUDBALL FOR THE GLORY OF THE EMPEROR OF MANKIND AND, BY THE EMPEROR’S GLEAMING GOLDEN BOLLOCKS, I WILL HAVE THIS WORLD!” He cut the channel and, almost before I could comment on how rude he was, his Whales began to move.

I pressed a button on my command chair as I settled into it, letting Maggy sit on my lap. “Judah Control? This is central. If any of those transports clear the horizon, destroy it.” Maggy looked up at me, then at the main C&C holotank and tilted her head.

“They’re going to drop landers to isolate our cities, aren’t they?”

“They are.”

“Can I give the order?” she asked, and I nodded and pointed to the button that would allow her to do just that. “This is Paradise Command to all PDCs, you are guns free. I repeat, Guns Free. Let the Unrighteous know the penalty for daring to come to paradise uninvited.” I ruffled her hair. Cute kid.

As I watched, my people hacked into the enemy data net, isolating the command structure and the ships and throwing the information up. We couldn’t get into their command network to give false orders. Those cyphers were ever changing. But we could easily access their comms to hear what they were saying. Their version of the Imperial encryption schemes were centuries out of date. Very quickly, we got a picture of what we were facing.

On the Fleet Side, Lord-Captain Jaan Annushka of MaCragge commanded the Long Serpent Class BC ‘Pride of Ultramar’ and her second was Captain Horsfall Gerhild of Valhalla, commanding the Dominator Class AC ‘Resolute Avenger’. The 50 whales all had their own commanders, but Whales were not battleships but transports, and in a straight up fight, Preemptive Retaliation could eat them all without taking any damage. Frankly speaking, I was already considering what to do with that many Whales. They weren’t much good as freighters… or were they? Load them with cargo lighters, and I could supply an entire Hiveworld in record time. Okay, I sold me, I wanted them. But that was for later.

On the Guard Side, the First Black Reach Colonial was a mess of nepotism and rage issues. As usual, all the commissars had been brought in from other planets, and the entire collection, dozens of regiments strong, was drawn from the Hives of Black Reach… people by a group who had decidedly slavic ancestry. They were divided into three commands; Lord General Novak’s own Mechanized Strike Group, General Valeri Pavlov’s First Expeditionary Group (which I was willing to bet was almost entirely Light Infantry and Light Mechanized Infantry) and General Innokenty Federov’s Third Heavy Battle Group. Together, Signal Intelligence was estimating the three battle groups comprised upwards of 400,000 combatants plus organic support.

“Contact,” came the SigInt report as one of the Whales, labeled as ‘Oxford’ one of the two that were transporting the Black Reach 6th Siege (approximate strength 10,000. Commanded by Lazar Medved, Regimental Commissar Batron Chelle of Terra… I had very good SigInt), moved across the terminator. Three seconds later, the ‘Cambridge’ was the only transport carrying parts of the 6th. Cambridge tried to kill her forward acceleration, but she was a hair too slow. She survived for eight seconds, because that was the Judah’s cycle time when firing at such lightly armored ships.

The Commsgrunt signaled, “Message coming in.” He put it on screen as I nodded, standing again and shooting the hem of my uniform.

“This is HERESY! You DARE oppose the Imperial Guard! I’ll see you burn for this, you WITCH!”

“General. Go fuck yourself. You don’t speak for the Emperor and if you would see me burn, you’ve got to get down here in person.”

He hissed, actually hissed, then killed the circuit again.

SigInt began recording a massive shift in the configuration of the ships. They were dropping everything all at once, going for saturation. The Expeditionary Group was taking the lightly peopled and heavily overgrown sectors of the backside of planet and the lower latitudes that were dominated by the three smaller continents of Arrakis, Australis, and Salusa… no, the names were not accidental. I did mention that Paradise was very close to being a Deathworld, right?

The Heavy Battle Group was spreading out across the flanks of macro-continent which I’d named Moab. There were 65 Regiments of them, their landers pouring out of a semicircle of 26 Whales in low orbit just below the terminator. Their dropships and troop transports came in on ballistic courses, then swooped in low as they tested the defenses of a dozen fortress cities equipped with interlocking anti-orbital fire and anti-bombardment fields. My people did a very good job of convincing the enemy that we didn’t want them landing. I chuckled savagely as the began to land. They’d walked right into the trap.

The Heavy Battle Group would find no easy going and would bog down laying siege to the cities on my southern, western, and eastern flanks. The name Moab had been chosen for a very specific reason, aside from the fact that I have a soft spot for the biblical book of Ruth (a Moabite who was grandmother to King David, and to whom one of the best lines in the bible is attributed, the one that would have made her the patron saint of companions if Jews believed in saints. It goes ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your god my god. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.’ That is a damned good line.) No, Moab was called that because it was the Mother of all Battlegrounds, or would be. It was incomplete, but I had heeded well my Sun-Tzu and shaped the very ground of this world to my purposes and its people likewise.

I had set up a standard of courage for all to match. I had mystified my generals and forced them to learn to adapt to a battlefield which changed with their actions. I had taught my people the way of the snake, to strike with the tail when the foe attacks the head, and vis versa, and to strike with both ends if the enemy attacks to the middle. I had embraced a doctrine of assuming my enemy were smart enough to know of the nine grounds and know the proper disposition of troops for each. And I had made certain, above all, that my forces knew that there was no where we could retreat to if Paradise fell. They knew they were expected to die to the very last if it meant victory. Pyrrhic or not, no force would claim Paradise as long as one of mine stood. We would not be enslaved by anyone, not at any price.

Moab contained no ground that was not difficult. We had cut no highways through her foliage that were not mined. We had no supply dumps that were not fortifications and rigged to detonate if tampered with. We had no boltholes that were not redoubts. And we had no cities that were not fortresses and deathtraps. And our jungles were hellswamps of Kaiju and mold and wet. Sure, the atmosphere had become more breathable… but that also meant that it had become hotter, wetter, and all around more awful… and every city held the high ground.

Getting the Enemy to land was the first step. I didn’t want them in the air for three very good reasons. First, keeping them in the air meant they’d be spared the planet’s lovely decor. Second, the longer they stayed aloft, the more likely it was that they’d accidentally do something I wasn’t prepared to deal with, like kamikaze a city. And third, once they were on the ground, their landers became valuable salvage instead of scrap metal raining down in the jungle. I wanted prisoners. I wanted the siege. And I wanted those ships in orbit watching the ground. I wanted them watching and steaming. Because I had teams in orbit and I wanted those ships!

I also wanted Lord General Fuckface to land his forces… and I knew exactly where he was going to land them, since there wasn’t really any place he could unless he was looking for a secure landing zone to be cleared in the south. And that was the northern pole.

Moab’s main mass dominated the northern hemisphere of the planet and covered the entire pole. It was a vast icy desert, not hugely covered in glaciers since there wasn’t a titanic amount of water ice on the planet, but windswept and frigid and hilly. Argos wasn’t that far from the arctic circle, roughly the same distance as Glasgow, in fact, but it was separated from the polar desert by a massive mountain range that blunted the worst of the winter weather and Paradise didn’t have a huge axial tilt, so the temperature didn’t fluctuate too badly from summer to winter.

Still, that northern desert was empty. The planetary population hadn’t gotten big enough to bother expanding that direction and wouldn’t for centuries, even if our growth rate continued as it was for all that time, which it wouldn’t. And that made it a great place to land… but a bitch to attack from. It was also where Hephaestus hung, with all her defenses and enough Necrontyr Inertialess Drive Units to swing the Nova Cannon inside her main bay as if she was on a swivel mount. The question was, then, did Lord General Ethelind have the stones for it.

I took a look at the reports flooding in as the Imperial forces began moving in on my flanks, then announced “I’m going to the Tabernacle to pray. Command devolves to regional commanders. I leave Argos to your hands, First Lord.” Gaius nodded as I rose. Reggy and Meetra and Bao were already in their own command bunkers at the three satellite cities that ringed Argos, and Tokimi was in command upstairs. The Sisters and Eldar… they all had their own missions, as did the more combat oriented of my inner circle. My job was to make things… easier.

In the years since the gifts that Magnus had awakened within me had been strengthened by claiming the Wyrd Staff, I’d matured my biopathy to new and (to the small minded) no doubt terrifying heights. I had installed within each of my people an organelle which allowed them a sense of unity, of connection… and, if I acted as a bridge, it acted to allow me to boost and heal them… but there was a cost, a terrible cost… to me. Having my mind split across so many, across such a large area left my body comatose, inert… and required a lot of boosting. To that end, I’d, yes… stolen a page from the Emperor and built myself a big damned throne… mine was Platinum, because honestly? Fuck that guy. Also, mine didn’t have nearly as many skulls on it. Instead, it was inscribed with symbols and formulae. The only skulls were on the Staff which rested inside the back of the chair, and the twin ferrets which formed the arms… and those skulls were covered in a carving of flesh and fur, thank you very much.

The first step was to make sure those Whales didn’t escape, and I sent my mind soaring up to them and, touching lightly upon the minds of their command staffs, I implanted in them a powerful fear of leaving planetary orbit without my permission… crippling terror actually… but hey, they should be lucky I wasn’t having the Retaliation eat them, right?”

By the time I finished that, all my lesser cities were enveloped and the fighting had begun, the attackers outnumbered vastly and their mobility hampered by the flora and fauna. But they didn’t know how badly the odds were stacked against them until I started unifying entire squads of defenders into groups that functioned as a single organism, their timing linked to a supernatural degree, their shots suppressing with near perfect timing, their aim witch-like, their wounds sealing themselves up almost as fast as they could be inflicted… and their morale steadily rising as they felt the presence of She who Comes with them.

And that was just the groups of my people in the cities. My presence also extended to the outsiders I’d brought in, Deathworld specialists who excelled at asymmetric warfare… and that I’d had training the Tarellians who’d sworn loyalty to me. Combined with the squads of gangers from Necromunda, I had an entire army in the field before the IG had even begun landing… and they had already begun the act of claiming the IG’s LZs as their own, capturing as many of them as possible, along with their equipment. After all, it wasn’t the equipment’s fault it was being used by an idiot… ditto the Guardsmen, though they’d be a little harder to repurpose.

In fact, everything was going pretty damned well, and when the General’s forces did exactly as I’d expected and landed in the frozen north and began establishing a planetary HQ, I figured their leadership had done the logical thing and settled in for the long siege… But either the General was smarter than I expected or someone in his staff had actual balls.

I later learned that it was all of the 9th Mechanized under Colonel Abram Fyodorov, along with the 12th and 21st Armoured under Colonels Lavrenty Polzin and Matrona Matveev respectively, backed up by the 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd Drop under Colonels Teofilakt, Mstislav, and Karp Pasternak plus, Vikentiy Medved and Anastas Popov that were attacking, but all I knew then was that some 50,000 Imperial Guardsmen in heavy assault landers came screaming through the mountain passes at nape of the earth level and plowed into the northern edge of Argos’s defenses. Either by luck or poor planning, I’d somehow left the northern approach, by far the least likely to be hit in a lightning raid since it would have required balls of steel to even try it, as the weakest sector of Argos’s defenses, and that section of the city was largely industrial.

Still, the assault crumpled under what defenses were there, and every inch of the northern sector was gained by the enemy only at ruinous cost. Still, my people couldn’t break off the defense of the other sectors and the inner cities because elements of the Heavy that had been lying doggo at their LZs had lifted off and crashed into the defenses of the inner cities almost in perfect sync with the assault on Argos. They would be pushed back, of course… they were too extended in those positions, but it was a daring attempt and it put even more strain on my presence as I now had four more battles to oversee.

The battle raged for hours as the tanks and gunships of the strike squad pushed through the killzones and warehouses of the north quarter of Argos, and then they were at the City Center, their numbers winnowed cruelly, but they still outnumbered my 216 member elite guard 10 to one.

My guard were my most faithful, my most trustworthy, my most loyal, led by Ryoga and Yoiko and Jons the ex-Lejens and Storm-of-Heaven the ex-Redeemer I’d forced to surrender rather than destroy the last of her tribe. They were fanatics, but they were mine. I had sent everyone else away. After all, I hadn’t been expecting any attack to get this far… but it had. And now my precious ones would pay for my oversight.

At the head of the attacking force strode a Colonel and his Commissar. No leading from the back for these two and their forces surged forward as one, leaving their vehicles behind to charge into the citadel of the Heretic. The fighting was brutal beyond measure. For every one of my own that fell, they lost eight, but on they came. And the pressure on my other cities grew apace. It was as if something greater than them was pushing on them, on me.

These invaders pushed my bodyguards back, back, at hideous cost to both forces. And then something snapped. A message filtered into my consciousness as these would be usurpers of Paradise finally broke into my sanctum.

It was four words. “The Dragon has Fallen.” and I snapped awake as the pressure fell away. I snapped awake in that abattoir and as I woke, my eyes glowed and I floated up off my chair, bellowing like thunder, my voice coming from the mouths of all the living and dead members of my guard, as well as from the dead members of the Imperial Guard as well. I gazed upon the Colonel and the Commissar and knew their names… I knew them.

This was Colonel Abram Fyodorov of the 9th Mechanized, son-in-law to General fuckface who was now dead though the Colonel didn’t know it, and at his side was Regimental Commissar Sybella Duarte, late of Cadia itself. He’d begun the day with 12,000 of the finest men and women to come out of the Hives of Black Reach. He had waded through the blood of 10,000 of them to reach this spot. He would not take another step forward if I had anything to say about it.

“YOU DARE? I am She Who Comes! I have strode across time and space to be here, stood toe to toe with the Almighty and not flinched. I am not your equal to be laid low by ones such as you. I am the Most Holy, the Master of this place, the Lord of the Awakened, God and King of the Magi. And you have taken from me that which I treasured above all… my faithful companions. For that, I should destroy you utterly, scatter your bones across the firmament and your souls across eternity and beyond.” The hall echoed with my voice and the sounds of Imperial Guardsmen being sick as wounds healed upon my fallen defenders and they rose from the ground, glowing from within. “But I am merciful,” I almost whispered from a million throats, not just here, but everywhere across the planet, not just those of my faithful, but of the dead and the weakened as well.

“If you value your lives, your souls… KNEEL and I shall raise you up.” My voices rose in furious anger as I spoke. “Defy me one second more, and there will be none to remember you ever existed!”

In other times and places, I’d have been able to back that up with presence and aura and the actual weight of ages. Here, all I had was my wrath… but it was enough… barely. One by one, the remaining four hundred elite imperial guardsmen knelt before me, some of them weeping as if experiencing a religious epiphany, others consumed by awe in the most terrific and biblical sense. The last to kneel was the Colonel himself.

The Commissar looked from me to her men and flushed with rage “You dare! This is Heresy! HERESY! Heresy against the most holy Emperor.” She raised her las-pistol at me and fired. I raised a hand and absorbed the blast into it, my eyes glowing brighter as the heavily augmented cells of my body absorbed the kinetic force and heat. I floated down to the ground, the polished marble of my tabernacle, my holy of holies, covered with the blood of my faithful. The blood flowed around me, into me, empowering me, carrying with it the sacrifice of those who’d shed it. It was a benediction, a transubstantiation of the mortal to the immortal and I locked eyes with the Commissar, my voice barely a whisper.

“Heresy? You would raise up arms against the divine and call it Heresy? I am. I was. I will be. I am timeless and eternal. I have seen more sunsets than the hours of your life, walked more worlds than the years you have lived. My vision sees past the curve of time and my understanding knows no limits. I stood beside the Emperor at the founding of humanity and debated the meaning of life with him. You, little woman, are nothing. I could swat you from creation with a thought. You speak of Heresy. Those better than you lie all around you, slain by your blind devotion to a god you’ve never even seen, a god who would be appalled at your blind faith. You shame your Empire. You shame your Emperor. You shame yourself. You. Are. Nothing.”

The terror within the Commissar was a palpable thing. Her eyes were bleeding and her hand shaking violently as she fired again and again in growing panic as I kept walking forward. None of the shots hit me. I stood before her, now three times my former height, and said, in six hundred voices, “Serve me. Or Serve him. Serve the god you’ve never seen, or the god who stands before you now. Your choice.”

She gulped, then raised the pistol once more and, saying only “For the Emperor” blew her own brains out. Gotta hand it to her, her faith was impressive. I looked out at the kneeling crowd and said, “Rise.”

The Colonel stood, pale and blood spattered. “What… what now?”

“Now? You call your forces and tell them to surrender to mine, unconditionally. All who do so will be welcomed as brothers and sisters. All who resist will… not. As for her… we honor the dead.” I pointed to the fallen Commissar. “She will get a state funeral. We honor those of commitment, even when they’re wrong.”

Ryoga and Yoiko were dead. I’d have to take time to process that. I didn’t know if they’d be back. I wanted a drink… I wanted to rage against the heavens… but so many others were dead too. I’d lost almost 15,000 across my cities and armies. Of the 402,000 members of the Expeditionary Force, more than 83,000 had died in that first day, including everyone aboard Oxford and Cambridge… and that didn’t count the several thousand members of the crews of those two ships… or all those who’d died to my boarding parties aboard Resolute Avenger. Chaos Sisters of Battle are not known for mercy. Carwyn’s team aboard Pride of MaCragge had been much cleaner… but then again, the Pride had been pretty completely immobilized by the fact that Preemptive Retaliation (commanded by Alessa and company) had been crouched atop her, pointing torpedo tubes right against her command ship. Yes, I had a giant space ferret (okay, PR didn’t look that much like a ferret, but we’d installed arms and legs and it looked a little like a metallic luck dragon) literally sitting atop the enemy space ship.

Carwyn had boarded and arrested the IG command staff… and when she’d found the General literally sitting in a Khornian Chaos Shrine… had blown his brains all over the already bloodspattered chamber, then sent the message that had snapped me out of my trance. I don’t know what gifts Khorne had given the General, but it was clear his influence had been felt moving against me and mine. I was not happy about that. I did not feel like fighting Khorne.

Still, I felt bad about stealing the ships from their rightful commanders… well, I did about taking Jaan’s ship from her. The Valhallan Horsfall was a pederast and a murderer and I had him spaced… in a suit… in an escape orbit with 200 hours of air. In the end, I could only apologize to the Lord-Captain.

“I can’t let you leave. I mean, I could. I could wipe your memory and send you off, but I’d be doing you no favors to have you show up 400 years late without your ships or crew or the IG you were supposed to be escorting. And I really can’t do that for your entire crews. So I’m left with a quandary. I’m sorry. But I promise to make your stay here as comfortable as possible. You’ll have free run of the capital as long as I have your word you won’t conspire against my people or try to harm anyone. I’ll assign a bodyguard to you, but in your own quarters, you’ll be unobserved. It is my hope that this can be resolved at some point in the future, but unless you’re willing to pledge yourself to me, I don’t see as that’s likely.”

She regarded me stolidly, then asked “And my crew?”

“They will be given similar offers. Your command crew will be split up, your low grade crew men offered positions or added to the work force where they can be of benefit. They’ll be treated with the same rights as my own people… which is significantly better than the condition most of the citizens of your Imperium face.”

“You say ‘your imperium’, not ‘the imperium’… you consort with Xenos and… abominations. You’re a Heretic. I should have…”

“You would have died had your ship moved out of the planet shadow and neither ship is capable of Exterminatus without prolonged bombardment. And had you tried it, I would have burned your crews alive inside your ships.”

“You lie,” she said, gasping at my claim.

“Look out the window,” I said, motioning to the marshalling yard outside the outer fortress we stood in. There was a sanctified area in the middle of it. It was where executions were held and it was surrounded by many of my forces in quite rows. In the center were a collection of Commissars and Inquisitors and Ecclesiarchs. There were nearly two hundred of them, out of the several thousand that had been found in the Fleet and IG forces.

“What is this?” She asked, voice quiet.

“Those are the worst of the monsters you’ve been consorting with. Murderers, rapists, torturers, fanatics who have killed in the name of a false religion time and time again. I have personally interrogated each and every one of them. Here, my word is law and the word Heresy has an entirely different meaning.”

“What is that meaning?”

“To bring harm to the innocent without remorse. To accuse without cause. To rejoice in the suffering of others. To claim a mandate from a silent god. To speak words of hate without reason. To betray one’s oaths. To strike down one’s brothers or sisters in anger or fear. To condemn without compassion. These are heresy to my ears and to my heart. And they stand guilty. And for that, I grieve that this must happen.”

“You’re going to have your savages cut down members of the Holy Inquisition? Servants of the Emperor?”

“You mistake me, Captain. I would never command what I am unwilling to do myself.” I strode onto the balcony and, to the utter silence of the crowd, I asked “You stand accused and condemned. Would any of you speak? Speak and I’ll reveal your crimes. Be silent and you die with them unrevealed.” A few of the condemned raged against me, and I laid out all they had done. Others remained silent. A few wept, tears of rage or terror or apology I didn’t bother to determine.

When the last condemned fell silent, save for those who’d been gagged when they started bragging about the Heretics / Victims they’d saved / enjoyed, I raised my hand and said, “Hear me, oh Awakened of Paradise. Look upon these and relate to all your brothers and sisters the fate of those who embrace the path of inhumanity, of the fanatic, of the monster. Look upon these fallen with compassion, and know that, save for the grace of fellowship, they could be you.”

50,000 voices echoed “We hear and obey. We see and understand. So mote it be.”

“Heresy,” whispered the Lord-Captain… and then she winced as, with a wave of my hand, each of those 191 captives became a white hot pillar of fire. My people did not look away… the Captain did.

My voice was very calm as I said, “Heresy? Your entire Empire is Heresy. Your faith is Heresy. The Degradation of Humanity that is its stock and trade… that is Heresy. This was Justice. Consider my words. I’ll return tomorrow. I suspect there will be several more scenes like this. I’ve just begun the interviews.” And with that, I left her alone to see to my companions and the repairs.

It became clear in the first few days after the invasion that as much as Carwyn wanted to stay with me, the Farseer also wanted to be as far away as possible, somewhere she could pretend she didn’t care I existed. She’d practicality gone to pieces when she’d discovered how many of my guard had been killed and how close things had been and had nearly covered my face with kisses then slapped me several times until she broke her hand and then started crying and calling me a great many very mean things.

I was not quite sure how to fix the situation, and terribly busy besides, but by the end of the first week tensions were running high and the two of us could barely share more than a few words before it degenerated into a massive shouting match. And then… the situation was abruptly resolved, and in the most unexpected way possible.

In the still flattened mess that was the main park of Argos had stood a quite grove surrounded by actual trees that I’d had imported at not inconsiderable cost and a stream that rose from a spring under a titanic chunk of granite that had probably been dropped where it was by a glacier in some ages old ice-age. I had created the grove as a meditation spot, figuring that Carwyn or the other Eldar (or anyone who liked meditation) might like it. The rock looked suitably impressive, and would have been a nightmare to remove, so I’d left it as a decoration.

Well, early on the morning of the seventh day following the invasion, the rock simply faded away, revealing an Eldar hologram generator and a massive webway gate. Both devices were ancient, that much was obvious. They’d been placed there long, long before I arrived… and probably long before Carwyn even existed. And yet they were both completely operational.

In fact, by the time Carwyn and I arrived, the park was a fortified camp, bristling with Eldar… and not mine… er Carwyn’s guards. My own troops had arrived of course, several thousand of them pouring out of their homes and bristling for a fight…, but they weren’t doing much of anything. The sheer amount of psychic energy radiating from the figure in the center of the camp was more than enough to let everyone know starting a fight would not end well.

I slowed, not quite sure how to deal with the situation and trying to figure out what in the name of Gygax was going on… but Carwyn was having none of it. Taking the initiative, she grabbed my hand and almost dragged me straight into the center of the camp. Before I knew it I was face to face with one of the most powerful mystics amongst the entire Eldar race. It was, of course, Eldrad.

He gestured at the pair of us with almost contemptuous elan and turned to his companion, another Farseer. “See Macha? as I told you, Carwyn is unharmed and was not being held prisoner and forced to endure vile depravities, despite what your reports on humanity may otherwise indicate. Indeed, the valiant Farseer has begun the creation of an integrated Eldar and Mon-Keigh civilisation that may yet be the salvation of both our races in these dark times.”

I opened my mouth to tell the pointy-earred git not to call humans Mon-Keigh, but Carwyn elbowed me in the throat (I hate being short sometimes)… gah.

Eldrad didn’t even notice, simply turning back to us and giving a quick nod of greeting. Once more, he turned to his daughter (yes, Macha is Eldrad’s Daughter… and biggest pawn) and said, “Come Macha, we have Trespassed on the time of our host and ‘companion’ far too long already.”

I could almost hear the inverted commas slotting into place around the word companion… oh… hoo… Eldrad had learned of the Chain? That… was interesting. If he had… that probably meant Tzeentch and Cegorach… and maybe The Emperor and probably Vect knew. Beside me I could feel Carwyn blushing bright red.

And with that, Eldrad grabbed his daughter’s hand and dragged the stunned Farseer back through the webway gate, a wild ‘nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!’ filling the air as the pair vanished, the gate shimmering from existence as it followed them.

I blinked a few times, confused as to what had just happened… and had Eldrad just shown up to embarass Carwyn and Macha… I looked around… the Eldar warhost was still there, comprised almost entirely of Exodites (the planet dwelling Eldar who chose a more terrestrial existence than their Craftworld dwelling kin)… They too looked a little confused.

I thought it, but Carwyn was the one who actually put it into words. “What a dick.”

I nodded “Great. Just what we need, more mouths to feed. What the hell was I going to do with 200,000 Eldar?

Next: Light of Terra, Part 9

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Author’s Notes

Not much to say about build notes for this section. There’s only one choice in it, the mandatory complication from Part 2, and it wasn’t much of a choice for two reasons. The first is that, out of Tyranids, Orks, Dark Eldar, and Imperial Guard… this is, far and away, the best narrative seed, at least for me. The second reason is not what comes next…

Well, to be honest, the Imperial Invasion is far and away the simplest to game. A regiment can be as small as, say, 8 companies of 160 and I could have made it a newly raised Feudal world regiment riding horses (yes, that’s a thing). I literally could have thrown a group at my cities that the local fauna would have chewed up without me noticing. I could have had a single Whale (they can canonically carry an entire regiment) show up in orbit and then blasted it with the cannon from the Geocore. Hell, even if I’d made a single regiment as powerful as it has any right to be, even at 40,000, the pretty much maximum size for a Warhammer 40K Regiment (which is actually a Corps by modern military doctrine, or 2-4 divisions, each containing as many as 5 and as few as 2 regiments… things aren’t exactly standardized in modern militaries)… but normally a Regiment is 1-3 thousand fighting men… and my forces would have had zero problem obliterating 40,000 guardsmen.

But this fight was supposed to be 3/4ths the threat of a Tyranid Splinter Fleet… officially a handful of bioships… or exactly as strong as a raiding party of Dark Eldar or a budding Waaagh. Except that, quite frankly, any half competent leader should have a force that could easy swat the Eldar, Orks, or IG… even a skeleton crew for the Light of Terra is in the hundreds of thousands and with Universal Service and Military Modernization, I have the effective value of having every single one of those being IG level. Oh, and an Alpha Psyker is not going to have a problem with any group of Tyranids short of a whole Hive Fleet.

In fact, the only way I could figure out to make this a challenge worthy of the 600 points was to ramp this up from a Regimental force to a complete Expeditionary fleet. And it makes sense for one to be be sent here. Black Reach is a massive Hiveworld that is also classed as a Forgeworld in some listings, but it’s far from Cadia. Why is that important? Well, a Forgeworld pumps out tech, especially for a war effort and has lots of people what know how to machine. And a Hiveworld has a fukton of peoples what to fight shit. (Black Reach is also the scene of the 5th Edition’s base set. It was the first Warhammer 40K thing I owned, back before I learned that Warhammer 40K players were as likely to accept a girl playing with them as they were to accept that teh EMPRAH was not totally the most awesome and righteous and cool and that Ultramarines were not the bestest most awesome and special of all! I’m not bitter… really, probably saved me tens of thousands of dollars in minis and stress meds from all the bullshit changes of 6th, 7th, and now 8th edition.)

What that all means (aside from the aside) is that Black Reach has the machines and means to fund a huge military force… and Cadia is desperately in need… okay, was in desperate need… but this is before the fall of Cadia and the Dark Empire. How long before? Well, according to my timeline? This is the year 991.M41 (CE 41,999. Cadia will fall in 8 years and the forces of Chaos will pour out into the galaxy in the 13th Black Crusade.

For those who aren’t in the know (i.e. not raging WH40K fans/anti-fans) the Cadian Gate is a region of space surrounding the planet Cadia. It is the primary and only stable exit from the Eye of Terror (the massive and quasi-eternal Warp Rift that dominates about 1/8th of the entire galaxy and fills about half of the Segmentum Obscurus (the part of the galaxy to the north west of Terra). The Eye of Terror was created as part of the birth of Slaanesh, the 4th and last major Chaos God to be born, right before the dawn of the Empire of Man. Warmaster Abaddon (commonly called Failbaddon because he really sucks at his job) has led 12 massive Chaos Invasions of Cadia (Black Crusades). He has failed every time to overwhelm this single world and break his forces out of the the Eye and into the Galaxy at large. More than once he lost his arms trying. It is only because GW has finally decided to move the plotline forward that the 13th Black Crusade will succeed in 999.M41 / CE 40,999. Of course, this officially means that Warhammer 40K’s 8th edition should really be Warhammer 41K, but, eh.

The Rogue Trader game is set in the Calixis Sector and it is where the majority of the source material all of the Light of Terror stuff is drawn comes from. That meant placing Paradise in the Calixis Sector makes sense. The Calixis Sector lies next to the Eye of Terror. So setting up a forward marshalling base on Paradise makes sense. Anyway, that was my thinking.

So what was the second reason? Really, more of the same of the first. For me it was the best story… but it also has the most profound impact. Killing Nids has no weight at all. They’re bugs and it’s kill or be killed. There is no talking, no reasoning, nothing. Just a bug hunt. The Orks are only slightly better, in that there is talking, but killing them carries no weight because they’d kill themselves if you didn’t. An Ork life in WH40K has no value, not even to the Orks. No one will mourn a dead Ork unless it’s some human neckbeard fielding an army of them in a tourney. And honestly, if you’re fielding Orks, you should feel bad, just on general principles. Ditto those Edgelords of the Warhammer Verse, Dark Eldar. Killing Dark Eldar Corsairs isn’t just a no moral weight question… its a positive boon. They’re murderous, psychotic scum. Only the Human faction carries gravitas, and following up the humor of some of the parts, sometimes it’s important to remember that, no matter how Grimderp Warhammer is… it’s still human (and Eldar) lives we’re talking about being lost. Choices have value.

As for the size of the Eldar Host… how large would you think something needs to be to qualify as a Warhost? I dunno either, but it’s my story and big numbers are funneh. Honestly, I don’t need them for anything.

THE EXPEDITIONARY FORCE… Yes, I named all the Colonels & Generals and their Commissars. I don’t know why. If a planet of origin isn’t listed, that individual is from Black Reach. I don’t know why I decided that people from Black Reach are Slavs… I just did. Sevastopol always sounds to me like it means Black Water and the Black Sea is right there… I dunno. I just did. Too many Fake Roman names in Warhammer sometimes.

FLEET

  • Lord Captain Jaan Annushka (MaCragge) of the Long Serpent Class Battle Cruiser ‘Pride of Ultramar’
  • Captain Horsfall Gerhild (Valhalla) of the Dominator Class Heavy Cruiser ‘Resolute Avenger’ (Executed)

IMPERIAL GUARD, First Black Reach Colonial, Lord General Ethelind Novak Commanding

  • The Blackreach Expeditionary Mechanized Strike Group
    • Headquarters Group
      • Lord General Ethelind Novak in Direct Command (Executed)
      • Battle Group Commissar Sol Renate of Armageddon
    • The Black Reach 9th Mechanized
      • Colonel Abram Fyodorov (Member of The 400)
      • Regimental Commissar Sybella Duarte of Cadia (Honored Dead)
      • 12,000 Guardsmen (11,829 KIA)
      • 2 Whales
    • The Black Reach 12th Armoured
      • Colonel Lavrenty Polzin (KIA)
      • Regimental Commissar Herodias Sowards of Fenris  (Member of The 400)
      • 6,000 Guardsmen (5,999 KIA)
      • 1 Whales
    • The Black Reach 21st Armoured
      • Colonel Matrona Matveev (KIA)
      • Regimental Commissar Mabelle Farber of Mars (KIA)
      • 6,000 Guardsmen (6,000 KIA)
      • 1 Whales
    • The Black Reach 18th Drop
      • Colonel Teofilakt Pasternak (Member of The 400)
      • Regimental Commissar O Tuathail of Skye (KIA)
      • 5,000 Guardsmen (4,961 KIA/HdC)
      • 2 Whales
    • The Black Reach 19th Drop
      • Colonel Mstislav Pasternak (Member of The 400)
      • Regimental Commissar Scullious Partio of Apia (KIA)
      • 5,000 Guardsmen (4,949 KIA/HdC)
      • 2 Whales
    • The Black Reach 20th Drop
      • Colonel Karp Pasternak (Member of The 400)
      • Regimental Commissar Jorie Lagomar of Krieg (POW)
      • 5,000 Guardsmen (4,978 KIA/HdC)
      • 2 Whales
    • The Black Reach 21st Drop
      • Colonel Vikentiy Medved (KIA)
      • Regimental Commissar Kerry Sara of Harba (KIA)
      • 5,000 Guardsmen (4,687 KIA/HdC, 313 Fled)
      • 2 Whales
    • The Black Reach 22nd Drop
      • Colonel Anastas Popov (HdC, Executed for Heinous Acts)
      • Regimental Commissar Askin Swarna of Heimir’s World (KIA)
      • 5,000 Guardsmen (1,782 KIA/HdC, 3,107 Fled)
      • 2 Whales
    • The Black Reach 3rd Artillery
      • Colonel Prokopy Romanov
      • Regimental Commissar Hoemi Helena of Ionia
      • 3,000 Guardsmen
      • 1 Whales
    • The Black Reach 4th Siege
      • Colonel Aristarkh Nikolaev
      • Regimental Commissar Photina o’Donnchadha of Scintilla
      • 10,000 Guardsmen
      • 2 Whales
    • The Black Reach 5th Siege
      • Colonel Feydor Viktorov
      • Regimental Commissar Felicio Ruan of Ilse (Killed by own men)
      • 10,000 Guardsmen
      • 2 Whales
    • The Black Reach 6th Siege
      • Colonel Lazar Medved (Deceased)
      • Regimental Commissar Batron Chelle of Terra (Deceased)
      • 10,000 Guardsmen (Regiment Lost in Transport)
      • 2 Whales: Oxford & Cambridge (LWAH)
  • The Black Reach 3rd Heavy Infantry Battle Group
    • General Innokenty Fedorov (Executed)
    • Battle Group Commissar Noor Hue of Waat
    • 260,000 Guardsmen in 65 Regiments
    • 18 Whales
  • The Black Reach First Expeditionary Group
    • General Valeri Pavlov
      • Colonel Elisabet Skhistos (Detonated a Supply Dump)
    • Battle Group Commissar Segal Camella of Sabast (Executed)
      • Regimental Commissar Jack Ravinski of Korfu (Eaten by Kaiju)
      • Regimental Commissar Vetelius Bork (Trampled by Speeps)
    • 60,000 Guardsmen in 15 Regiments
    • 11 Whales
  • Total One Day Losses: 83,154 KIA; 101,293 WIA; 613,894 Captured
  • Note: As a special thanks for reading down this far, if you want your name added to either the 400 or the Honored Dead… or the list of Executed Scum… or you have a good name for one of the Whales or any one of the 80 Regimental Colonels or Commissars I didn’t bother to name, feel free to ask and I’ll toss you on the lists.