The Jump Chain

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 wander. 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 come 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 Arlessa 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.

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 7

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

PART 7 – Steel Sky Black Mud

Previously: The How Very Special

Themesong: The Sky Above, The Mud Below by Tom Russell

AN: Happy Halloween

As improbable as it may seem, hitting the command console of the former Righteous Path had somehow fixed enough of what was wrong with the ship that it could move… sluggishly… on its own. A few short jumps through the Warp and Ark Magna had arrived in her new home almost a week earlier than the plan had called for… which turned out to be a good thing, as, as soon as we arrived, we started picking up all sorts of troubling biosigns from in system. What in the name of Fug (Fug the Merciless, a 3 cm semi-metallic slug that Alex claimed was responsible for the weather) was going on?

At first I was certain that the Preemptive Retaliation had gone out of control and was… I dunno… randomly humping transports or whatever a pubescent living starship does… but no… what was going on was, if anything, stranger.

The larger of Paradise’s moons (which I’d had to resist the desire to name Bitor and had instead decided to call Hexen… her sister was named Vexen) had changed color and was busy vomiting… things into space. Both groundside and Haephestus had shuttles on scene and were monitoring, but there wasn’t really anything they could do besides watch as things unfolded. I left the not yet rechristened Path / soon to be Ark Magna and took my own shuttle in system as fast as we could, but the first reports from survey teams on the moon were already coming in by the time I got on location.

As best they could determine, a few hundred meters below the lunar regolith, there were countless gargantuan fibrous roots, all threaded together to form the rootmass of a collosal supraorganism that, at the very least, accounted for in excess of 6% of the lunar mass and could, in fact, be the moon entoto. But for whatever biological reason, it had bloomed and what had once been a grey ball of pretty much useless rock was now rapidly being covered by a still growing mass of pale red fungus. From the surface of Paradise, reports were streaming in as my people watched it creep slowly across the surface of Hexen and from where I was in lunar orbit I could see the massive fungal spires surging up, up, up, growing hundreds of meters every hour.

I was trying very hard to resist the urge (spurred by literally tens of thousands of hours of playing Starcraft… it had been on my computer when I’d been taken from my homeworld and I’d had a lot of free time over the last few millenia…) to Exterminatus the bioform before masses of zerg, vord, tyrannids, or orks boiled out of it… but I wasn’t going to be that person… not until something hostile actually happened, and I had all my war ships well back… just in case. Then again, I wasn’t in the habit of giving command to triggerhappy morons.

Each spire had a definite maximum size and as each reached that limit, they began firing off spore packets deep into space, something the oldest spires had been doing since we’d arrived in system.

I had my ships pick up samples and they were quickly analyzed. Despite my expectation that they’d be full of Mindworms or some other fungal parasite designed to destroy entire worlds, thus requiring the sterilization of the moon… and probably every other body in the system… nothing of the kind was found. Rather, initial assessment was the at the bloom was utterly harmless… and had (almost certainly) resulted in the fungal covering of Paradise itself sometime in the distant past. In fact, thanks to one brave and rather foolish ex-Redeemer lab assistant who mistook one of the samples for lunch, it turned out that the substance was extremely tasty.

Further analysis revealed that it was nutritious, filling, and seemed like it would last for centuries before spoiling… if not longer. It was clearly an interstellar lifeform designed to spread like the vord… but harmless… and potentially sellable. There was far far more of it than my people would need over the next few centuries and, unless I missed my guess, I could maintain the superfungus’s bloomcycle indefinitely just by making sure it didn’t run out of water.

It must have bloomed every time an ice comet or asteroid crashed into the moon, and thanks to the processing plant I’d established near Hexen to break up the massive space ice into smaller loads, enough water had been falling moonward to trigger a bloom. So there were potentially hundreds of thousands of tons of harvest bloom left from this batch alone.

A few days later, things had mostly quieted down and the first Hexen Mushroom Miners were settling into their new digs at Harvester Base One… when I received news that, in a billions to one chance, one of the earliest spores had struck something. That something turned out to be an Imperial Transport ship that had just happened to drop out of the Warp in Paradise’s system… and promptly blasted to smithereens by pure accident. Only the bridge remained… a bridge with enough documentation for my dataminers to work out that the transport, named Virtuous Vendor, had been carrying a food shipment to sell at an Imperial Hiveworld in Segmentum Solar.

Virtuous Vendor’s sadly deceased Captain’s Log indicated that there was a major trademeet happening there soon and he had been expecting to sell his cargo of low quality food bars for an exorbitant price. Huh… I had a ship… I had a source of surplus food… I had the location of a market… and I even had documentation proving that I had the legal right to move cargo from one to the other. I didn’t even need to think up a plan… it all seemed to fall into place… convenient that.

In fact… almost everything this decade had been like that. I’d been burning luck like mad… and yet every time I figured my luck had to run out… it got better instead. If I was one who believed in Karma I’d be wondering when I’d been this good in a previous life. Instead… I loaded the Faustian Bargain up with spore cakes and headed for the most notorious Hiveworld in the Imperium. Necromunda baby!

Even with all the things I’ve seen in my very long life, I don’t think I’ll ever forget (unless I get the power to delete my memory back and choose to I mean) the first sight of an Imperial Hive. The mobile mini-hives of Zayth were one thing, but the real thing? Imagine a spire that reaches quite literally into space. It was a man-made mountain that was big enough to lose Mount Everest inside it and still have room for half a dozen other giant mountains. It was a testament to the miracles worked during the High Dark Age of Technology and the fact that so many of them still remained from so long in the past when the tech to make them was almost lost was both impressive and saddening.

Necromunda was possibly the second most populous Hive World in the Imperium, second only to Holy Terra itself. Covered with several thousand mountain sized hives (of which Hive Primus, or The Palatine was only the largest, at 10 miles tall and a reported 3 miles beneath the ground)… the smallest of which was home to more than a billion people. That those mountains appeared like islands punching through the clouds of horrific pollution that blanketed the once lush world testified to how huge the population could have been had this been a true ecumenopolis like Terra. My ship’s cogitator counted nearly a thousand hive clusters, each ranging from three to thirteen or so individual hives… which put the planetary population well into the low triple digit trillions… a far cry from the quadrillions who lived on Terra, but still a metric fukton of people.

To make it soo much worse, Necromunda has only one spaceport. The planet cannot support itself and has to import food… the ships arrive by their hundreds every hour of every day at that port and the transports continuously pour out of Hive Primus in a never ending loop to take that food, largely neutri-paste and recycled protein bars, to the far distant hives. In exchange, they load up the manufactured production of a world of factories to ship elsewhere. Oddly enough, this was (though I doubt anyone realized it) slowly turning the world more biological, not less. Still Real Food was at a premium here where everything was recycled almost endlessly.

The docking fees were quite reasonable and no one would dare question the right of a Lathimon to trade in the Emperor’s (or Primarch Magnus’s) Name. Still, the Customs Officials were clearly overworked, because it took a quarter hour for them to clear me for entry to the Hive. I busied myself with looking at the various fliers and notices posted for passing Captains to review. Most of them consisted of ancient and contradictory shipping legislation that I would blithely ignore as a Rogue Trader, but one poster did catch my eye… for three very glaring reasons. I’ll reproduce the text and you can judge for yourself why before I comment further.

The Zombie Plague is one of the many foul contagions spread by the followers of Nurgle. It is a combination of a Chaos infection and a physical malaise. The plague degenerates those it infects, although a portion of the victim’s life essence is retained by the body even after physical death has occurred. The disease is a spiritual contagion as much as physical one – afflicting those lacking in utter faith. Plague zombies act like archetypal zombies – mindless, shambling and cannibalistic; they are hard to kill and generally require a traumatic blow to the head to kill them. It has been observed that some Psykers appear to be able to control the actions of the zombie hordes.

Do you see it? I know! This was just… weird. A piece of public information that somehow mentioned CHAOS? That mentioned a CHAOS GOD BY NAME? In the imperium? And this Hive hadn’t been eradicated by orbital fire? I took it down and folded it it up. That it mentioned ‘Archetypal Zombies’ was just… weird. Fiction was not common in the Imperium (many people were illiterate and those that aren’t are more likely to watch propaganda than fiction.) and Zombie Fiction wouldn’t make it past Imperial Censors in a millennia of sundays. No… There was no logical explanation for this poster… except that it had been placed here specifically to warn me. Which meant a powerful psyker had done so… and it had to be one that a) knew about Chaos, b) knew about Nurgle, c) knew about me, and d) knew I was a Psyker…

~Thanks for the heads up.~

~Oh, Tzeentch! You again? You know I’m busy being all EVIL and stuff, right? I have Fenris to destroy, Robot’s return to plan for, and you keep interrupting my scheming!~

~Yup. But thanks. I appreciate the warning.~

~I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU”RE TALKING ABOUT! STOP CALLING ME ON MY PRIVATE MINDSCAPE!~

Ah friends… the people you annoy the most. And speaking of…

“Hey, Carwyn.”

“What?”

“You know what a Warlock is for?”

“Yes, for defending the Eldar against their enemies.”

“Nope. It’s a device for securing large scale conflict.”

“What?”

“War… Lock.”

“I loathe you so much right now.”

“Yay!”

My clearance was granted at that point, some low ranked clerk named Lars spent longer apologizing for the wait than I’d actually spent waiting and I was allowed into the city. A few inquiries later and it became apparent that, while I could sell my cargo to the nobles of the upper city (those who lived in the part of the Hive that started at about five miles above ground level and went up through the stratosphere, I would need to parcel it out bit by bit. For a quick, major sale, I’d need to move down into the Hive City, the vastly larger bulk of the Hive where food was scarce and quality would sell at an incredible mark up. The Hive City ran from ground level up to the massive adamantine plate known as The Wall which separated the billions of Guilders and Gangers from those above. Beneath the Hive City was the Undercity, a lawless region far from the eyes of the planetary enforcers and where the Houses Major of the Hive City fought their endless wars for power and resources.

I was told that, in no uncertain terms, that if I wanted a quick sale and a ready market, I would need to ally myself with one of the Houses Major, of which there were officially six, but in practice there were eight… not that I’d ally myself with one of those, since the Scavvies were freaking cannibalistic mutants and the Ratskins were extremely primitive. Then again, the Ratskins were a degenerate branch of humanity that filled the Skaven-shaped hole in the Warhammer Sci-Fi Verse (The Skaven are ratmen from the Warhammer Fantasy Verse)… though at least they civilized… in fact they were more civilized than most of the Hive Guilders…hell, they were pacifists in a universe like this…  I almost considered siding with them, but they weren’t exactly wealthy or connected or technologically savvy, and I was not here to reform Necromunda from the bottom up. I had enough trouble just dealing with Paradise.

My choices then were limited to the six recognized Houses… and you shouldn’t think of these as noble houses. No… think of these as rival mafia families… in hell. They were Houses Orlock, Goliath, Escher, Van Saar, Delaque, and Cawdor. Of them, I immediately discounted Houses Goliath and Escher, who maintained their power entirely on the strength of their reputation as merciless combatants. It wasn’t that all the houses weren’t skilled fighters. I mean, these were large collectives of gangers allied with one or more central hereditary pseudo-noble families. But Houses Goliath and Escher produced nothing of substance besides pain. Even though house Escher was almost entirely peopled by women (a hereditary defect made their menfolk shriveled and imbecilic apparently) it didn’t make them better than Goliath’s largely masculine attitude and personnel. Goliath were brutes who ran the Fighting Pits and the Feast of Flesh… I didn’t ask. Escher were more finessed than their rivals… but still vicious cunts for all that… and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they actually did for money… then again, I wasn’t trying very hard. All of the houses manufactured something… but aside from misery, I couldn’t actually pin down what Escher produced.

House Delaque had a rep as being underhanded and sneaky, secretive in the extreme, and of either working for the Imperial House of Helmawr (the rulers of the entire planet and actual nobility… if not particularly noble) or of secretly controlling entire Noble Houses (there were at least seven real noble families on the planet.) There too I had trouble finding out what they produced exactly, but they did run supplies up to the upper city, so they per probably producing something. That all indicated they were discrete and could keep secrets… Unfortunately, they also had a rep as being swindlers and that counted them out.

Out too was House Cawdor, the House of Redemption. They were rigid adherents of the doomsday Cult of the Redemption… which not only sanctioned proscribed crusades… but believed that the only way for humanity to be save humanity was to cleanse it of all sin by fire and blade. Every sin had to be purged… along with the sinner. That I was both a psyker and a heretic (though they couldn’t know either of those things) meant that, as far as I was concerned, they could suck exhaust and if I could spare the manpower I’d have invaded Necromunda just to obliterate them… unfortunately, the Imperial Fists chapter of the Adeptus Astartes (Spez Murheens! Hoy!) had a fortress inside the hive itself and might take the invasion personally.

Which left Orlock, the House of Iron, masters of the deep ferrous slag pits, miners who recycle the debris of ages past… and House Van Saar, The House of No Fun… Wealthy, disciplined, structured… known for the quality and precision of their work. Most of their gangers are ex-Imperial Guard. It really wasn’t a contest.

House Van Saar was renowned for the quality of its technical products, precise in its manufacturing and a name in highest quality finished materials that sold at a premium. If anyone could afford my Mushroom Cakes (Rebranded as “Paradisian Manna”) it was them… and if anyone had stuff I might actually want myself… it was them. Sure, they were serious and humorless, but they had a deeply ingrained sense of order and practicality. They also had the Hiver equivalent of Fremen Stillsuits, which was just cool.

The tight fitting body suit was designed to protect and sustain the wearer in the hostile hive environment. Semi-permeable membranes in those suits reduced the loss of body moisture whilst various spots on the material changed color to warn the wearer of airborne toxins and reduced oxygen levels. I decided to include the design specs in my bargaining. A little tinkering with those suits and we might be able to use them on Paradise… We had something similar, but it was bulkier and hadn’t had a few thousand years of testing. I had no doubt we could improve the Van Saar design… but first we had to have it.

Dealing with the Van Saars had another benefit… a twofer in fact. Quality Goods and Prices to match. The negotiations went on for several days… and to be honest, more than once any progress we made was clawed back a few hours later by those obnoxious sticklers… though I suspect that they would have said as much about us. Still though, the sheer length of negotiations turned things in my favor when, at long last, their exhausted chief negotiator signed the trade agreement that I was, finally, happy with. As for the Van Saar Negotiator? A few seconds after I left the suite, I head a single gunshot ring out. Ah well, some people can’t take stress.

I was loving all the components I’d seen the plans for. Beautiful things, all built with several redundant systems, all fit for the finest of fighting vehicles. With them installed, the Light and Ark Magna would be able to continue to fight at virtually one hundred percent effectiveness regardless of any but the worst damage, making the ships next to impossible to knock out and incredibly easy to repair, even in the middle of combat. If it wouldn’t have been beneath my dignity, I’d have skipped… as it was, I was so happy that Carwyn slapped me upside the head.

“Stop that. You’re broadcasting!”

“I’m happy!”

“I can tell… so can the mindblind MonKeigh. There are insane cultists around here, don’t forget.”

I sighed. This universe SUUUUUCKS!

Still, now that negotiations were finished, I was kinda expecting a few days of peace and quiet. Not quite what happened, of course. As far as everyone else was concerned, I was a Rogue Trader who’d just walked into town and started throwing around a truly epic amount of credits. Before I’d even reached my hotel above the plate, a string of runners had located me to politely inform me that I had been, in order, been upgraded to a better room, upgraded to a better suite, given ownership of the hotel, upgraded to a better hotel, and finally loaned a manor compound by one of the heads of the Merchant Guilders’ Council. Not bad for someone who just came to get rid of some extra mushrooms.

I arrived at my temporary home to find that the Choirs had secured it and swept for bugs, chaos, and (according to Lina) pixies. That Lethe was nodding and not sneering at the suggestion of pixies worried me slightly. But not as much as the fact that all 9 of them were a) working together and b) here! I’d left them behind on Paradise… at which point they’d teamed up with not only each other but the rest of Carwyn’s bodyguard (Which we’d also left behind) to seize control of the Preemptive Retaliation and follow us. During the long summit with House Van Saar, they’d apparently caught up and steadfastly refused to leave. Apparently it had been Maggy’s idea.

She and her siblings were jumping on the bed in the simply ridiculously vast main bedroom when we arrived, throwing the piles of invitations up into the air and trying to decide which sounded the most fun… clearly I’d neglected their education… social functions among planetary nobility are not fun… they are warfare.

After chastizing them for running away from home and commending them for taking over a hundred psychopathical loyal and terrifyingly competent bodyguards with them, I gathered up the invites to discover that I had been asked to join the Necromunda Glitterati at a dozen balls, eight dances, and fifteen soirees… as well as been moved formally onto the Guilders’ Preffered Customer List. They were offering a collection of rare and unique artifacts and had one of the same education systems that I’d found aboard the Path, some kind of ancient information dissemination system that could be used to upload “schemas” (skills and abilities coded as mental engrams) into a person’s mind. They also knew how the machines worked and had hundreds of Schemas, ranging from banal (sump-pump operation) to insane (how to fall any distances up to six stories without getting hurt). Really interesting stuff, though most of it was combat related and not suff I personally was willing to let anyone fuck around with my brain to plug into my head. I had hardcoded combat skills and could augment them with biological upgrades at need.

What I did find odd as I examined the list of available Schema was that, while the last update stamp on most of them was decades or centuries old, one appeared to have been added to the list for the first time approximately the same time I arrived… not in system or on planet… but in the Guilders Hall… it had, obviously, never been updated. It was called ‘Dive’ and the colofon said simply ‘Something you might find useful’ and then a list of details that amounted to a massive mental archive of information on guerilla warfare in deep urban chem-wastes… like the kind that apparently filled the very very bottom levels of hives like Hive Primus. Why would someone…

~Thanks.~

~I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!~

~Okay.~

~You know, most beings are scared of me.~

~Meh. It’s the nipple horns.~

~Most psykers are sane enough not to contact me on a whim. That includes most THOUSAND SON LIBRARIANS!~

~Yeah. But that’s because they think you’ll destroy them for bugging them.~

~What makes you think I won’t destroy you?~

~Me? I’m the closest thing you have to a friend besides Ahriman and I’m pretty sure you’re still pissed at him over the whole Rubrik thing.~

~You just keep poking and poking and poking, don’t you.~

~You know he didn’t mean to fuck up cataclysmically.~

~Your metaphor is not as subtle as you think it is.~

~I’m not being subtle. I’m being a friend. Oh. Gotta go.~

~You don’t get to hang up on-~

“Who were you talking to?” Carwyn asked.

“An old… really really old… friend,” I commented, chuckling as I considered if I trusted the Schema and its source… something that was confusing the hell out of the Guilder Schemasmiths… I was going to have to hire a few dozen of these guys to run my set up back home… I wonder if Lorcanus had hired his from here. Ah, what the hell. If you can’t trust a Traitor Primarch and Daemon Prince of Tzeentch, who can you trust? “I’ll take the Dive Schema,” I told the desk guard, “And the Interior Decorating one too.”

I have no idea what the normal procedure was like, for normal people. None. I’d told Carwyn to stand by to make sure nothing was added or removed from my brainmeats that I didn’t want in there… when the archeotech that had replaced my brainstem interfaced with the Schema Inductor and downloaded the information from their system… all of it. Granted, the vast majority of it wasn’t useful, none of it was installed in the proper place in my head so it was little more than information, but the two schema I’d actually wanted had been largely informational in the first place and so I found that I suddenly had clue one as to why gold and skulls where goddamn everywhere… not that I agreed with the logic, but at least I got the jist. These people were fucking crazy, that’s why. That was 1,000 credits well spent.

If the Guilders offered mental upgrades, they also offered physical ones… you know, for those people oddly unwilling to allow ancient, poorly understood machines of dubious maintenance to fuck around with the insides of their skulls. Instead, those people could get ancient machines of dubious maintenance to install other machines into their bodies. Hurray for cybernetics!

Most of it was weird or pointless or, in at least one case insane… ceramic sheathing that made bones unbreakable… and did bugger all to the flesh around them… kinetic energy had to go somewhere. Even if I couldn’t repair my own bones with but a thought I wouldn’t touch that one with a ten foot pollock. Nor would I take the arm mounted Rock Drill, Buzz Saw, or Magnetic Catapult. I would also not be taking the Synthacardiums on offer. Artificial hearts were for people who still had one… I had eleven distributed all over my body, and a circulatory system that pumped blood all on its own through micro-contractions in the arterial walls… the hearts just kept the whole system pressurized.

I was about to pass on all the offerings in the Cybershop… when Nerve Wiring caught my eye. “Thousands of times faster than ordinary human nerve tissue?” I asked, barely able to process that. Human nervous conduction velocity maxed out at around 120 meters per second. Thousands of times faster was… obscene… that was moving into (admittedly) very low fractions of the speed of light.

“Yes Lady Trader. Between three thousand for the slowest nerves and fifteen thousand for the greater ones… but the process is quite time consuming… and… err…”

“I believe the term you are looking for is excruciating?”

“Ah. Yes… we have to remove the entire nervous system…”

“And numbing the nerves wouldn’t do much. Right… in fact, the sensory overload is going to be a problem at the beginning… Right… fuck it. I’ll take it.”

~Are you sure?~ Carwyn asked, sounding concerned.

~Yeah. I mean, yeah, it’s a risk, but I should be able to repair any damage the conversion does and if I don’t like it I can grow back my original nervous system… plus having a secondary cybernetic system… a synthetic one… might not be a bad thing.~ I reassured her.

~But the pain…~

~I’m a biopath. Pain is only a problem if I choose to allow it to be.~

In the end, it was more a curiosity than a horrible experience. They mapped my nervous system, then replaced it bit by bit with a synthetic fiber that functioned very much like a low bandwidth electronic relay of the same general power output as human nervous fiber, but with a greater throughput for the same size… It was also better shielded from nerve induction technology. The pain I set my mind to all but ignore. Acknowledge but don’t respond.

After the four day procedure, I had to learn how to move slower. I did so by having the kids throw things at me and trying not to hit myself in the face with my own arms as my sensory inputs hit my brain and sent out the responses at speeds that were no longer needed. It wasn’t conscious, of course. Conscious thought took comparative ages (as I’d been aware of since having to return to flesh and blood computation instead of optronic ice computation) but reflexes happened at the speed of perception with lag, a lag that began with the fact that every synapse in the perception-decision-reaction chain added about two milliseconds to the reaction time.  My lag was now, for all intents and purposes, nil when dealing with prepared reactions. I responded as soon as I perceived something that triggered an automatic response

At first the flesh protested… but my flesh adapted, the fast twitch muscles getting faster as they got used to the strain. I increased the speed of my blinking to counter the flutter caused by increased optic nerve speed, and tweaked my gene-code to bring back the nictitating membrane hidden deep within… really, the genome is fascinating when you know what each and every length of code does.

Still, the flesh was… limited. My reaction speeds were now superhuman… but not magical. I could casually flick a fly out of the air, adjusting my motions to its reactions to the turbulence my hand caused as it moved. I couldn’t, however, dodge a laser blast… if I didn’t see the gun being aimed my way. If I did, and you weren’t a precog better than me, you weren’t going to be able to shoot me.

Oh… yeah, I did mention that, right? I’d been getting lessons in Precog from Carwyn. It was the one major area of Psy power I wasn’t really familiar with from pre-Warhammer stuff. My primary psychic specialization before this had been blocking precogs… now, if I wanted to do that, I’d have to out Xanatos them at their own game.

Carwyn, being a Farseer, was skilled in this kind of nonsense, so I had asked the expert and while I wouldn’t be an Alpha Precog like Eldrad, I should be Beta Plus like I was pretty sure I was in everything that wasn’t my specialization. Alphas weren’t bad in any area… they were just better in one way. If I could get Three Pounds of Dreams, the thing that had allowed my psychic powers to grow without limit, back… I’d be able rival even Eldrad or Magnus… or the Emperor… in time. Of course, if I had it back, chances were I’d also have all my willpower perks… and all my other psi-powers… like PK Games, my Ultimate Psychokinetic attack.

So I was a precog with preternatural luck and preternatural reflexes… so why did I feel like someone was aiming a Jovian Pattern Nova Cannon at my back? I shook off the feeling and went back to practice.

The deal was done, the paperwork carefully filed, and the glacial slowness of Imperial bureaucracy engaged. So why was I still here? I had to stay for the celebratory dinner the Guilders were throwing me, didn’t I? They were pulling out all the stops. And I might need these people in the future. Plus, something big was coming… I could feel it… plus Magnus would not have left those clues for me if there wasn’t something in the works. I had to see this through, if only for the story I’d be able to tell when I got back.

All told, the meal was pretty incredible, even if I did have to spend most of the time between courses alternating between being introduced to a string of nubile (marriageable) young men (and women) or older ladies and gentlemen who’d taken full advantage of the rejuve and body sculpting technologies available to only the richest of the Imperium’s citizens. Both groups kept dropping hints about me paying them a social call for the evening. I could feel Carwyn, Fia, and Lethe all trying to incinerate the newest flirt with the unfettered power of their gaze… actually, come to think of it, at least two of them were showing remarkable restraint since none of those flirts did actually spontaneously combust. Fun with tsundere psykers, right? Wooo!

Of course, like everything else in my life over the last few years, things couldn’t just stay calm and reasonable… thank god. I was being very awkwardly flirted with by one Captain Carkadus Geno of the Imperial Fists… and if you think that wasn’t uncomfortable you are not under 5 feet tall and very petite while being loomed over by someone whose arm alone outmasses you by a factor of two… five in that armor… when the party was interrupted by the arrival of a messenger. I was across the crowded and lively ballroom, but I still managed to pick out the words “Him”, “Valois”, “Zombie”, and “Plague”. As Gru from… Mission Impossible?… No… hmmm… I seem to have forgotten what movie… uh… the thing with the little yellow dudes… they were yellow, right? Fuck… The Lorax? No, that was Dr. Spock… umm… it’ll come to me in a bit if I stop thinking about it. Not fucking Pac-man you stupid cybernetic implant… too much had been lost between my arrival and my upgrade… I was always having moments like… damn, almost had it… anyway, he did this thing where he said “Lightbulb!” no, wait… that was when he had an idea… shit, this has really gotten away from me. Shoulda gone with Archimedes and Eureka.

While I was trying and unsuccessfully trying to remember Despicable Me, the Arch Arbite of the Adeptus Arbites had been apprised of the situation and had taken to the podium on a balcony overlooking the crowd. “Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen of The Palatine and Guests, please, forgive this interruption, but there is a situation developing. It seems that Karloth Valois has returned. Already his hordes are attacking the walls of Girder Falls and Slag Gultch. Please return to your compounds and ready yourselves. We’ll rally our forces and prepare a line of defense. Captain Geno, if your forces will assist us?”

I ignored the Space Marine Captain’s response. It seemed the party was over, time for me to get the hell off the planet… heh. As if. Karloth Valois must be a Psyker who had control over a Horde of Plague Zombies… and apparently he’d attacked before… and, unless I was missing my guess completely, he was somewhere in the Underhive, sending his legions against the city.  Which probably meant that he was either with that horde (if he was stupid) or busy raising more forces far far below.

I left the hall at a run, motioning for my companions to follow me.

“Where are we going?” Fia asked, catching up first of the trio who’d been inside with me.

“To get the others and gear up… then we’re going down… all the way down. And someone find someone who can tell me about who the hellfire Karloth Valois is!” I snapped, accepting my weapons from Cierra as I left the hall.

“I believe I can help you with that, young lady,” came a voice that made me want to claw my ears out. It had the tang of fanaticism and that undefinable tang found only in the most dedicated priests of really disastrously awful religions. I looked over and found myself face to face with Arch Cultist Providence Incendio (I hoped to the Emperor he hadn’t been born with that name), leader of the Cult of the Redemption. Yes, this was the Pope of Blood and Fire and he looked even creepier than he sounded. “I take it you’re prepared to assist us in finding the abomination and… … … … (yes the pause was that long, as if he was savoring every passing second) purging the sinner?”

I smiled a smile that was surpassed in falseness only by its bloodthirsty relish and chuckled dryly. “I do not like tainted, nor those who would send the ravening hordes against the Emperor’s faithful.” Nothing I said was untrue… but it was carefully worded to include this jackass as well as Karloth Valois. If the Arch Cultist noticed, he didn’t comment.

Instead, he launched into a narrative as Lethe and Fia ran off to get their sisters and Carwyn summoned her strikeforce with a thought, “Originally a denizen of the Hive-City, Karloth was one of those cursed by the forces of darkness and heresy with unclean mental powers, no doubt thanks to mutation on the part of his parents.” Every word was laced with hate and bile, but powers and mutation were especially vicious. “Rather than submit himself to the Black Fleets of the Imperium and serve in the blessed Astronomican, he chose to flee down into the Underhive and even deeper to the hive bottom, driven on by what he described as nightmarish prophetic visions. Ever seeking to distance himself from those who would judge him if they learned he was spying upon their thoughts, he ended up in the Badlands of the hive bottom, where he nearly died many times.”

“While scavenging for whatever meagre supplies can be found in such a desolate place he was set upon by a pack of Plague Zombies. They chased him through the abandoned tunnels and vents until his exhausted muscles gave way and, collapsing in the filth, he succumbed to death… but it was not to be. As the Zombies began to consume his wasted flesh, something awoke inside him. He suddenly sensed the tiny fragments of a mind that remained to the Plague Zombies, the insatiable unclean hunger that drove them, the base instincts that governed their actions. Above all this he recognised he could control them, make him serve them as their dark overlord.”

“No offense, but how do you know all this?” I asked, honestly curious.

“He told this story to the gangers that he allied with… but I’m getting ahead of my story,” el Priest con Creepy said. “Using his unholy powers and the last of his dark strength he succeeded in quelling the Zombies’ hunger and forced them to stand back and leave him alone. He lay alone in the impenetrable gloom of the hive bottom, surrounded by the Plague Zombies as the virus spread through his body and into his brain… and then he discovered another terrible gift. The virus that should have killed him instead allowed him to draw the tiny slivers of life-force still within the Zombies into himself and use them to ward off the death that is natural to those of less than pure flesh.”

“Great. Lovely. So he sustains himself by draining the living? Can he do that to anyone or just Plague Zombies?”

“He can drain the life-force from any living thing and absorb it into himself, but that this is his only form of sustenance. He is forced by this dark hunger to prey on the living in order to survive, and survive he must, for he has seen the damnation eternal, the fires of the Emperor’s holy wrath, that lie beyond the boundaries of this life, sensed the unimaginable torment that lies in store for him, and vowed that he would never let death take him.”

“And he can control Plague Zombies?”

“Indeed! Somehow the neurone plague had altered Karloth’s powers and those abilities he had first used to save his life he could now use to a much greater extent. He could control the minds of Plague Zombies within a distance, heightening or lessening their hunger, even focussing what little sense of self they still possessed in order to make them more efficient and lethal killers.”

“You said something about allies?” I asked, checking on my people and sensing they were at least five minutes out, which gave me time to listen to Herr Exposition some more.

“Karloth took to a wandering existence, travelling the wastelands of the Underhive, preying on the living when he could and using his packs of Plague Zombies to force others to give him what he needed when he had too. In time his reputation grew, to the extent that Gangs would make terrible pacts with him in order to secure his assistance. And all the while Karloth’s power was growing, as was his horde of undead, until it inevitably drew the attention those who would do something about it.”

“That’s when your Cult enters the picture?” I sat back on the foot of a statue and checked my guns as I watched the old guy’s face with my other eye.

“Yes! The ranks of the Redemption in the Underhive grew and even more began to flock down from the Hive City to join their brothers and sisters in order to oppose the man who was now called Soul-Thief and Life Taker. Rumours spread that he had made a pact with the Dark Gods and we Redemptionists marched in an all out crusade to bring his reign of terror to a halt!” The fervor in his voice redoubled, even as his voice cracked with age. “The Gangers were unwilling to face our cleansing fire and Karloth found that he was suddenly left alone, with no allies to turn to. Everywhere he went he was turned away, people’s fear of what he had become and what the Redemption might do to them outweighing anything they might hope to gain by helping him! He retreated into the poisoned lakes and sumps of the Underhive inhabited by the Scavvies and the Mutants but the Redemption pursued him there also! We pursued Karloth all of the way to the edge of the Abyss where… with his back to the fathomless emptiness… he finally turned to face us! His horde of Zombies charged into the flamers of the Redemption, dried burning flesh raining down to be swallowed by the darkness of the pit below. Karloth drained the life out of my brothers as his Zombies tore into their flesh but we stood against him, our red-robes soaked in the bile of that dark place and were not swayed!” He was yelling now, eyed burning with fanatical fire, and his mind was back in that place, no longer in this guilded hall.

“We pressed on inexorably. In the end, Karloth escaped the flames and his inevitable fait as  a Heretic by turning and diving into the bottomless darkness below, crying out in defiance of death to the end! We searched the Abyss for weeks looking for any evidence of Karloth’s remains but found nothing. But, as every Underhiver knows, nothing can be found in the Abyss which does not wish to be found,” his voice softened as he returned to the present.

“Now it seems, the Zombie Lord has returned. For vengance?” I asked, hoping for more insight but not counting on it.

“Perhaps it is a hunger for the life essence of others? We may never be know what dread desire fuels his continued existence. What is certain is that hordes of Plague Zombies already threaten to overrun two major settlements within the Underhive, and doubtless more will come under attack in short order.” He favored me with a conspiratorial grin, then whispered “The bounty on Valois head was never claimed, and while his attention is elsewhere, a small team may be able to fight their way down into the Sump, following the tracks of the Zombie Horde all the way back to the Life Stealer himself…”

I nodded, “That was my thought as well… well, pretty much. But if I do this, your Cult will match the official bounty, won’t it?”

He eyed me, then slowly nodded, “We will. For those brothers who gave their lives to bring down the Soul-Thief the first time, we will pay your blood money, trader.”

“Excellent. May the Emperor Judge you as you deserve, for this.”

“I’m certain he will,” He turned and slid into the darkness as my armored aircars arrived.

The further down the hive one goes, the worse things get. Just below the Titanic Adamantine wall the separates ground level Hive City from the Underhive proper, the area is merely ghastly. But below that, after the first mile and a half, it becomes all but uninhabitable… but things get rapidly worse and below the Underhive is the Sump, a nightmare of ruins and toxic effluvia that have seeped down from far far above for countless thousands of years… go deep enough into the Sump and not even the Scavvies and Raskins can survive… that, then, is the Abyss. Light there is a myth and everything will kill you if it can.

At first it was just… unspeakably awful as we followed the Zombies’ backtrail. Everything, every surface, every wall, every floor, every half-rotten doorway, was covered in a thin, slippery green coating. It was some horrible slime mould that had colonized everywhere and it wasn’t just slick… it was a god damned organic super-lubricant. Anything but the slowest movements would see me and mine sliding face first into walls at best, into jagged metal shards covered in ages of filth or off walkways to plunge onto said jagged metal shards at worst. Worst of all, the gods-be-damned Plague Zombies exuded something that made the Slime move away from them, clearly out of their path.

For a few long minutes, this was (barely) acceptable. But the first time the PZ’s attacked and it was us not them doing the shambling, I roared “FUCK THIS NOISE” and plunged my hand into the slime, grabbed a mouthful, and ate it, studying its biostructure… and then moments later I bent over double, vomiting a swarm of blue-black flies… No, it wasn’t the slime… I’d engineered the flies to eat the slime. They were ravenous, insatiable, and would replicate with horrifying speed… they also could only feed off that slime and would die in less than an hour without it, their metabolism burning out their limited energy reserves like wildfire.

As Lina and Verena commented “Sooo coool,” while Carwyn looked a little ill, I grumbled “We’ll wait twenty minutes to give the flies time to… do their thing… maybe thirty.” We were attacked fifteen more times in that period, but by then we’d also had time to rig climbing spikes to our boots (okay, in my case they were closer to teeth, fangs to be precise… I really regretted not being able to levitate everyone, but that would have burned through too much of my (admittedly vast) reserves just before what was promising to be a major battle. Same reason I wasn’t asking the Eldar to do it. Also, some of the areas we were moving through were tight enough as it was without the flying. It was amazing we were getting Verena through them, but she’s pretty slick when she wants to be…and yes, that’s as gross as it sounds. Ex-Nurglite. The slime hadn’t even phased her.

As if the Slime wasn’t horrible enough, we soon ran into something so much worse as we headed deeper, something I couldn’t just generate a phage for… well, I might have been able to… but it would have taken a lot more of them and orders of magnitude more time. It was a thick layer of cloying chemical slime that spread as far as our light could spread, knee deep and fairly viscus, I didn’t have to be precog to know that it would hide dozens of pitfalls that would swallow a person in seconds. I looked out over it and growled.

“Helmets on. Sisters? Light it up. I want to know if this shit burns before we step into it.” Thankfully, it wasn’t flammable, which meant that we’d have to brave it… and the PZ’s no doubt trapped in it, waiting to strike. Thankfully, I had an Eldar Farseer and a Chaos Sorceress. “Carwyn? Lethe? Map a path, if you will. Sisters… shoot anything that looks like it might be thinking of moving. Decima, Verena, watch our backs.”

And the PZ’s came, came like a wave of black slime-horrors, thrashing through the mire and roaring their hollow groans into the emptiness of the Sump… and, seeing as how I was flanked by Sisters and Ex-Sisters, all armed with the finest Flamers money could buy… we (to quote Trogdor) burninated them. The goo might not have ignighted, but it still burned… everything burns if you get it hot enough, and we got them hot enough that by the time a path was found we could almost have walked across the floating bodies… I probably could have if I’d taken off my armor and left my weapons behind… but that would have been uccky… even more ucky than wading through that goo must have been for everyone else. I rode on Decima’s shoulder. I would have ridden Verena, but the ceiling was too low.

After more than an hour of that… ugh… and of me doing my best overwatch, we passed through the open area of the sea of goo and moved into an ancient factorium… where the goo was still knee deep and there was still slime on most exposed surface, but something had stirred the ancient machines of the underunderhive back to life. Cogitators deranged by centuries of neglect flashed awake as we passed and spun up half-rotted machinery to continue work on half remembered tasks given to them by men turned to dust five millennia ago or more. The area rapidly became a hell of industrial madness, colossal devices working at random, smashing into each other as they struggled to complete tasks that were as impossible now as they were meaningless. It was like one of those horrible industrial levels in a video game… only made so much worse as we had to wade through crap to clear it.

We made it through that area thanks largely to my precious Space Marine Meltagun, which worked just fine to destroy any piece of machinery that got too close to one of my companions or blocked the path ahead. THere, the horrid sludge helped immensely by smothering the flaming hunks of metal that exploded off of whatever I’d just shot. Even Decima seemed impressed… and the best thing about that endless traverse was the fact that any PZ who entered that zone was dead and smashed and diced and fried long before it reached us. Well, good for everyone besides Alicia, who was convinced that she could get a headshot if the damned Zombies would stop dodging at the last moment. Why she wouldn’t accept a cybernetic eye when I’d offered upstairs I do not know.

Moving beyond the manufacturing sector, we found ourselves in a vast shaft that plunged down, down, down, down, at least a football field across and at least 1200 feet deep. It was flanked by metal stairways that spiraled down its sides and and crisscrossed by metal catwalks at a hundred different levels and heights. Or at least it had been. Now rust and disuse and zombies had taken their toll and many of those were all but impassible. Still, the Zombies were getting up from below, so there had to be a way down… if there would be a way back up was anyone’s guess… But I had a good feeling about it.

We pressed on… and nearly lost our lives for it. Not from the rust or rot or zombies… but from lightning. I felt the shift a moment before the lightning filled the shaft and launched myself one way and my companions back into the hallway as a bolt lanced through the structure of the pit. Hives like those of Necromunda have to be well protected from external weather conditions. Lightning poses a major threat as raging storms that can last for weeks circle the upper levels of the Hive’s largely metallic structure. To that end, huge metal pylons syphon the energy into batteries and power traps… at the higher levels. Unfortunately, if a bolt strikes down to a lower level, it is less controlled, and more likely to strike deep into the substructure. A storm had, of course, been raging when we’d left. It had been a dark and stormy night… and down here it was always night.

We used jump packs to rappel down the shaft rather than trust to the stairs and catwalks, grateful we’d decided to bring them and relying on our armor and reflexes to keep us far enough from the arching electricity that wanted very much to destroy us. As a group, we suffered more than a few burns and had to downcheck Sabine’s jump pack halfway down… Which meant leaving her with Alicia and telling them not to get killed before we got back. Alicia was not happy to be left behind… but then, neither was Sabine. I had to force them to promise not to walk off and try to rejoin us since then we’d have no fucking clue where to find them and I was very much not looking forward to playing hide and seek down here if I could at all help it.

It was just as we reached the bottom of the shaft that the dragon appeared. Of course, it wasn’t really a dragon. In fact, according to my new ‘Dive’ Schema (which had been spectacularly if sporadically helpful in this ruin of a lost age) a Deep Crow… and a truly ancient one at that. It was a breath-stealing horror out of some abyssal nightmares. It looked like all the worst parts of a rabid panther, a carrion gorged crow, and a demon-eyed spider. Its oily wings covered in feathers as black as a sinner’s heart and not half as friendly. Its maw was in four parts, a combination insectile mandibles and avian beak, a dragon in all but name, a creature born of equal parts dread and madness and ancient unforgivable neglect. It was an abomination and in the face of abomination, there is only one proper response.

As the permacrete shriek’d and tore to ribbons ‘neath the claws of that cyclopean shadow come to terrible terrifying life, four battle cries challenged the monstrosity’s roar. From a dozen Eldar throats and minds came the cry “For Altansar!” (the Craftworld that was home to the Phoenix Lord Maugan Ra, founder of the Dark Reapers and father of Carwyn). From the Choir of Righteous Fury came the familiar “For the Emperor!” and from their lost counterparts the call of “For Necoho!”… and from my lone throat came the call “FOR GREAT JUSTICE!”… and we opened fire with everything we had, bullets and flames and blasts of sorcery struck at the creature, sending bits of ichor and fur and feathers flying but it came on, relentless as time and thrice as ugly.

With a roar, Decima lept forward, chainaxes roaring to life as she sought to distract i, but it swatted her aside with contemptuous ease, sending the berserker skidding into the shattered wreckage at the bottom of the shaft, the scene lit by the actinic light of a lightning blast as twelve anti-material weapons punched huge holes through the creature as the Eldar braced themselves against the permacrete walls and I braced myself against  the universe as a whole. And still it came.

Arlessa burned into the air, dual wielding her holy heavy bolters, the kickback slamming her into a catwalk that bent under the force of impact and yet she kept firing. Lethe’s sorceress fire lashed the Deep Crow again and again as Verena stepped forward in her massive armor to oppose the rush, skidding backwards as it hit her head on. The remaining sisters flanked left, pumping fire at the Crow’s legs as the Ex-Nurglite grabbed its head in two massive fists and began to squeeze.

For a moment, I thought it would be enough, and then a vision ripped through my mind, a scene from seconds in the future, one where Verena’s armor failed and she was bisected by that maw and then a second later where Cierra, Lina, and Fia fell to those terrible claws… and then the Eldar went down one one by one as they tried in vain to fight the creature in melee.

I blinked, then roared “This SHALL NOT BE!” and i popped every seam on my armor as I grew. Bigger, bigger, muscles rippling with eldritch might, eyes blazing with warp fire, six feet, eight feet, ten… twenty, and as I grew, my skin hardening to something like terminator armor, I  stepped forward and, with my now massive hands, I grabbed the Deep Crow’s wings and, with a roar that shook catwalks loose a thousand feet above, lifted it away from my friends and hefted it over my head, then back further as I fell, suplexing the abomination and driving my elbow against its throat with the combined force of our fall, its wings crunching under my back in a distinctly unpleasant way.

With the beast pinned, its claws could only lash randomly and its roar was a thing of helpless rage as its murderers closed to finish off the task. It was anything but clean… as was I. Shrinking hurt worse than I can express, and I’d be paying off the energy cost for weeks… and it took Lethe half an hour to seal the rent I’d ripped in the fabric of spacetime. Thankfully, the only daemons who’d looked through had seen a battle squad of sisters of battle, ex-sisters of battle, a chaos sorceress, several irate eldar, and me trying to put my armor back together as Decima refused (loudly) to be vomited on or to let Lina patch her up, which meant she would continue to bleed heavily from the half dozen injuries she was suffering. I refused to heal her because she was being silly. In the end, after cauterizing the smallest of the wounds with the superheated barrel of a melta, she decided that Lina’s way was less… grotty.

Big babies, the lot of them… I was naked here at the bottom of the world! Didn’t see me complaining this much. Unless you were telepathic I guess.

By comparison, our confrontation of Karloth Valois was almost anticlimactic… at least that’s what I’m saying here. To hear the others tell the tail, it will no doubt become a much loved and much told tale throughout Hive Primus with great rapidity. I don’t remember much of it, it was that hectic. Even an embellished tale will probably fall short of the truth.

It was fought in almost pitch darkness lit only by blasts of life stealing or incendiary warp fire (depending on which of us was attacking) it was a frantic skirmish on a platform surrounded by a horde of flesh hundred dead held at bay by eighteen stalwart souls as Lethe worked to keep the out of control Necromancer from drawing power from the horde.

The sudden silence as I struck down Valois was almost deafening, the horde falling still as he staggered back, the center of his chest burning outward from the massive hole my last attack had punched clean through him. He made a strangled sound and then, to the sound of his staff falling to the floor like a monstrous, unearthly bell, he went up in a pillar of eldritch fire, burning green in the blackness.

As my companions regarded the remaining horde and checked their exposed skin for bites or scratches that might serve as plague vectors, I found myself fixated on the fallen staff. It would make an excellent trophy… and if the horde attacked, I might not have a chance to grab it. The idea of it being lost here, trapped under a drift of slain Zombies or knocked into one of the chasms or sludge pits was a touch too unsettling.

My hand was wrapped around the Staff before I realized I’d moved.

After that? I don’t even remember passing out. When I woke up, staff still clutched in my hand, surrounded by the unconscious bodies of my companions, the horde was gone. Completely gone… and so was the pile of ash that was all that remained of the Life Stealer… fuck. Ah well. Chances were good that I’d be long gone before he decided to bother Necromunda again… and I had his staff.

It was seven feet of coiled black metal topped with an elaborate and highly decorative set of metal bat wings, exactly like one would expect of a Necromancer. Somehow I knew that it was called the Wyrd Staff and that he wasn’t the first owner. Not by a long chalk. He’d found it in a labyrinth he’d stumbled upon in his travels, long before his first defeat, a labyrinth he’d never been able to find again… and I could feel strength flowing from it into me, my muscles filling with power drawn from… elsewhere. And it wasn’t just my body.

The Staff held the power of the Wyrds, those blessed with psychic power who weren’t quite psykers. It could, I knew now, be used to distort or even nullify the psychic powers… though I also sensed that it had allowed itself to fall from Karloth’s grasp when he’d come up against a superior psyker… namely me. And in claiming it as my own, it had granted me access to the powers of a Wyrd… I could even name the powers as they unfolded inside my mind.

Beastmastery, giving me command of lesser creatures without a thought. Pyromania, as rare among Wyrds as Wyrds were among the common populace, it was the ability to project flame as intense as a melta gun from finger times or to throw fireballs, or even going full human torch. Of course, Telepathy and Telekinesis were old friends. To a normal Wyrd, these powers would manifest as one or two tricks, but I understood them far better. I wasn’t limited to a single application and instead I absorbed the limited flow of the Wyrds into the much more powerful source that was my Magnus Awakened Gift… and then, I reached out, finding Alicia and Sabine, wrapping them, and myself, and all the others in a blanket of light… and, raising the staff high, I brought it banging down upon the platform.

A moment or an eternity later, we were no longer in the deeps, but rather at the edge of where we’d entered the Sump. I was so tired.  And the others were more than a little confused as they woke up… although not quite as confused as I was as three massive… I mean bear-sized… rats blinked from the darkness and, squeaking, ran over to nuzzle me like I was their momma. What, the ever living… oh god they smelled so baaaad. And I could feel them in a small part of my mind.

“Rats. Why did it have to be…” I thought of all the ghastly creatures that the Dive Schema said lived down there, and shrugged. “Rats… Could be worse.” I only wondered what Amaryllis was going to name them… and how easy it was going to be to give them baths… and what it was going to take to get the stink out… bet the Guilders had something for that… as well as my Emperor be damned MONEY! I wasn’t doing this for candy, no sir.

Next: Light of Terra, Part 8

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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Author’s Notes

Well, first off, thanks for reading this. I know it wasn’t long since my last one of these… probably the fastest I’ve written 10,000 words. Literally 13 hours. I wanted to write this yesterday, sunday, but I got roped into family stuff and then was too migrained out to write last night. So I cancelled all my plans today (monday, Halloween) to write it… it had to come out today… it’s the Zombie Episode!

So, details. Well, first, House Van Saar. I explain exactly why I went with them… well, not quite. See, originally I had a lot more Schemas and cybernetics in my build… but as I went I decided more and more that they just weren’t things that Essjay would take, so I scrapped them and that made Van Saar just more about thematics. It was the house I’d side with among them all… maybe the Ratskins… but I doubt I’d have ever found them really. They’re isolationists. So Van Saar it was.

As for what I decided to keep… well, originally I wasn’t going to by Dive. It’s pointless after the jump… but the thematics and survival bonuses for this section just made sense to get it. Honestly, it was for story reasons more than anything. And I had to do some mental gymnastics to do that. I the author know these things are safe from tampering and chaos… but Essjay doesn’t and had to take them on faith… and faith is hard in Warhammer, 40K or Fantasy. Making Magnus the source honestly makes it more trustworthy, because if anyone doesn’t need the trick, it’s him.

As for the Nerve Wiring… I honestly don’t know if it was a good move or not, and if Essjay really needed it, what with Biomancy, or if it’ll be useful after this jump (probably not). But honestly, I had so many points and felt I had to buy something. It’s a good story beat. Really, I could have walked out of this section with 2000 CP and was tempted to… but I just don’t need that many points for part 3 of the main jump.

As for the dive itself… originally I was going to do three complications… but after I thought about it, I decided to do 5… just because it worked better. I did alter the order I rolled them so that the biggest threats came last, because it made rising drama and gave a serious boss fight. Seriously, Valois is a little anti-climactic after the Deep Crow, but it’s a better fight and I have more control over it (the Valois fight is preordained to a degree… I could have changed it… but the point of this exercise is to show how much flex there is in the story while still allowing the scripted elements to play out as much as possible… plus, I hadn’t had a giant monster kill yet.)

As for the rewards… I got super lucky. Seriously. My rolls were 61 (Pick Primary Power… I picked Beastmastery), 63 (Roll four times, pick one. I got 51 (roll 1d6 Wyrd Powers… I got a 3, which would be #43 Cause Pain, #23 Spider Man, and #64 Pick 1 minor power) then 66 (Pick 2 Primary Powers), then 55 (Warp Shootist), then 24 (Zen Shootist). Of course I picked the 66.)… and my third roll was 21 for the Pyromaniac Primary Power. So I had two prepicked Primary Powers and two unpicked Primary Powers… and there are only 4 Primary Power groups. Now, sure, each of them are (as I later learned when I actually looked up the game rules, 6 random powers in each of Telepathy, Telekinesis, and Pyromaniac, and random creatures under Beastmastery)… but I’m an Alpha Fucking Psyker. I figured that having access to all 4 Wyrd Primary Powers pretty much means that I’m upgrading to Alpha Plus. That’s my wank, if you’re wondering. Normally, a Wyrd is a way lower rank than an Alpha and would just be swallowed up in that… but CP is a weird mistress.

Anyway, next time, SQUATS!

 

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 6

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

PART 6 – The How Very Special

Previously: The Pagan Path

Themesong: This is Halloween from Nightmare Before Christmas

AN: This was not the part I originally planned to write… but sometimes needs must when the devil dances. Also, it made me laugh.

“Bah. That creature does not look so tough,” the bald, red-skinned, battle-scarred woman was insisting, glowering at the hand-drawn image in her hand. “My Biggles would clearly win! He is an unstoppable engine of death and slaughter!”

“Nuh huh,” said the tiny girl sitting on the back of said unstoppable engine of death and slaughter, wearing a hybrid red-ridinghood-bo-peep outfit, complete with staff. “Ziggy may look harmless, clueless, and fluffy… but he can destroy a city in minutes if he gets too rambunctious,” she insisted, defending her drawing, which showed Biggles and Ziggy frollicing through a forest of towering mushrooms (or so she claimed… it was typical artwork for a 10 year old)

“Ziggy is a stupid name for a daemon,” Decima grumbled, kicking a rock that had offended the berserker’s sensibilities by daring to share the same road with her. The rock, being the tip of a much bigger boulder, didn’t move at all. The massive flock of speeps trailing behind the trio didn’t comment, but clustered around Biggle’s ankles for protection. The gigantic hellbrass daemon, a Juggernaut Engine, gave a sound halfway between a roar and a low of confusion, clearly unable to cope with things that were not afraid of it and were, instead, seeking protection in its lee. It stepped daintily, though the speeps were, at least, sensible enough to avoid being where those massive clawed feet landed.

“Ziggy isn’t a daemon… he’s a Fuzz Monster and Kaiju!” Amaryllis announced sagely in her piping voice, muffled only slightly by the filter mask, not much thicker than a bandana, covering her mouth and nose. It had an oxy feed integrated and was far less cumbersome than the original masks.

Then again, the planetary oxygen levels had tripled over the last seven years. They should have… I had a fleet of 8 atmo-tankers which did nothing besides make runs back and forth between the two oxygen refineries I had running in one of the system’s gas giants… the refineries also pulled in H3, argon, and other useful gases as well, which we were bunkering or selling as opportunity arose.

In addition, the enviro-dome covering the city did triple duty. It was, essentially, the same kind of forcefield that ships used to keep atmo in their launching bays, but far larger. It kept the atmospheric pressure (roughly equal with Denver, Colorado) inside the dome constant, that was one. It kept the local wildlife out (kaiju and spores alike)… that was two… and it would, at need, stop an orbital bombardment cold. Every city on the planet… I had four now, ranging from the 120,000 strong outpost of Trackmead (Alex got to name that one) to my capital at Argos, which had a population of over a million… was covered in not one by three such domes, and ringed with enough firepower to Exterminatus anything less than an Imperial Battle Fleet. Give me another century, and I’d make Paradise strong enough to rival the defenses of McCragge or Terra. I had the tech edge, after all… and no idea if this exile would ever end.

I was, at that moment, sitting at one of the cafes which ringed the large park I’d left in the center of Argos. On one end was the Tabernacle (seat of government), on the other end the Civic Health Center (hospital, training camp, and stadium rolled into one), and running along its sides were the ritziest properties on the planet, shops and apartments for senior members of the Septs. No one who wasn’t pledged to one of the Clans (we had resident aliens now) was allowed to live in the city center. Most of them weren’t even allowed into the city center at all, in fact. I was at a table by myself, trying not to twitch as the berserker took her pet and Amaryllis took her pets… yes, three hundred plus speeps were officially her pets… she could, somehow tell every last one of them apart… for walkies.

It wasn’t that I was nervous about Decima being around the kids. Honestly, she was like a momma bear around the little ones, perfectly willing to utterly brutalize anything that even thought about getting close to them with ill intent… or an unhealthy snack… or was the girl’s mother. Decima and Cirno haaaaaated each other. If there was such a thing as soul-mates of hate, they were that. But Amaryllis thought Decima was awesome. Then again, Amaryllis thought everyone was awesome.

And so, while I was, in fact, at my table, alone… my entourage was taking up all the rest of the tables at the cafe… and I could feel their eyes boring into my back… when the various table-occupants weren’t glaring at each other. I say my entourage… and I don’t mean my bodyguards… I didn’t have any of those in this place. There wasn’t a need and, in theory, I wanted my people to feel free to come up to me to talk about whatever problems they might be having. Bodyguards would have spoiled that.

Of course, it was spoiled anyway, and by two simple facts. The first was, my people were treating me, despite my best efforts, like I was, well… sacrosanct. I had the sneaking suspicion that this was what the Emperor had had to deal with from Lorgar, but I’d intended to be the remote saviour to avoid screwing things up initially… but it had grown from reverence into something very much like awe. It was bad enough that I was forced to generate a low grade calming field around myself whenever I was out in public, just to keep people from kowtowing. Not bowing… kowtowing… i.e. full prostration and banging their heads against the floor. I have no idea who taught them that, but if I found out…

The second fact was, well… I pretty much couldn’t go anywhere without being followed by not one, not two, not three, but five… FIVE!… contingents of very scary people. Ever since my return from the Court of the Heathen Star with the twin Choirs, the powers that be (Frankie & Mini, Carwyn, and Tokimi & Yuzuha) had decided that I was not to be left alone… or I might bring back more. Somehow, the Choirs had seen this as a challenge, and so, in addition to Alicia and her friends and Arlessa and her acolytes, I was followed by Carwyn and her Exodites (four of whom had turned out to be female and all of whom were beginning to modify their armor in subtle ways… the color scheme was looking decidedly more green and silver than black and blue… though still far darker of hue than my own armor.), as well as representatives of both the Seraglio (my official lovers or their spies) and the Fiancee Squad (Tokimi & Yuzuha… plus Cirno for some reason… or their spies). And each of these groups was growing. They were forming power bloqs, gaining hangers-on of their own, people… usually the most fanatical and attractive of my people… who were willing to model themselves on whatever central ideology they believed each faction represented.

I was sitting alone because to be sitting with someone would have been seen as favoring one side over another and I really… really… was not equipped to be the center of what was rapidly becoming the most hideously unbalanced love polyhedron ever. It hadn’t started out overly complex. Five of the six members of what an outsider might term my Harem, two associate members in that I’d never slept with either though there was an emotional connection, Carwyn, my… girlfriend? I guess… and nine soldier fanatics. Almost all the lines had initially radiated inward… making me feel like some kind of attraction singularity, being squished in by the force of others’ regard… but such a system is unstable…

And so, other lines began to grow. Some were pre-existing, such as Mini & Frankie being together or Yoiko and her brother… yes, yes, ewww incest… grow up, they’re waaay past the consenting adult stage. Others were based around origin. The two choirs were not keen on sharing… especially not the members of the Choir of Lost Voices, all of whom were prone to jealousy and envy… but if they weren’t willing to share with each other, they double-triple nonono weren’t willing to share with anyone else… especially not Arlessa and company. So competition had fueled internal closeness, deepening friendships and, strangely, some personality pairings across alliances… if only I could push those into friendships or more, it would lighten things on me… hopefully… maybe… at this point I wasn’t certain it could hurt.

But, if the mutual internal alliances were stressful to deal with, they were nothing on the growing rivalries that linked individual members of each faction… such as the situation with Decima and Cirno… or Ryoga and Carwyn… or Alicia, Arlessa, and Carwyn… or Yoiko and the 12 foot tall Verena, or Yuzuha and Lina, or Sabine and modesty… it was all way more than I was willing to deal with… but a glare from me was enough to make (almost) everyone back off and retreat to their separate corners. Only Lethe, Lina, Cirno, and Tokimi were unphased by my glare… Lethe because she didn’t really have eyes as far as I could tell, Cirno because she was an idiot, Lina because she clearly didn’t understand glares as a challenge, and Tokimi because when I did that she would usually bite me. I don’t know why.

I’d tried to head this off… I really had. On the way back from the Court, after neither group of Sisters had indicated their willingness to leave me alone… especially not with THEM!… I’d tried making other arrangements.

~Magnus? You in?~

~Who? Wait, how are you… What do you want?!~

~I need a favor.~

~We are not on social terms. We are not friends nor are we collegues! It was a one time arrangement!~

~Uh huh. Right. So, I need a favor.~

~How are you even doing this?~

~Dude… you did almost exactly this trying to reach your father right before you smashed the psychic defenses of Holy Terra.~

~Yes, but… I’m me!~

~Right, right. Gotcha. So, the favor?~

~I’m me and you’re you! You should not be able to do this!~

~You live on a planet of psychic energy in the Warp. The Warp does not confuse or confound me. Your defenses are not even close to those your father erected, since he was trying to, among other things, keep your boss from getting to him and you specifically are not trying to keep Big T Monkey from contacting you. Plus, I’ve been to the Planet of the Sorcerers… lovely decor. Really. Been to your private library too. I never forgot things. SO, favor?~

~Oh for the love of Tzeentch, whaaaat?~

~So, I found these five ex-chaos sisters of battle. They’ve decided to follow Necoho-~

~NECOHO?! Necoho doesn’t exist!~

~Course he doesn’t. It’s just your dad faffing about to annoy your boss and his cronies.~

~What?!~

~Emperor… Massive Atheist, hates the Chaos Gods… Necoho… Massive Atheist, hates the Chaos Gods. Emperor, massive psychic presence in the Warp, worshipped by quadrillions… Necoho, if he did exist, would be a massive psychic presence in the Warp.~

~Oh… fuck me…~

~Size differential.~

~What? No! I wasn’t offering. But yes… that would be… get thee behind me Slaanesh. So, you found some crazy bints who used to work for my father and then tossed him aside to work for one of the real gods… only to start worshipping what is either not a real god, is a god of hating itself, or is my father trolling the gods?~

~Pretty sure you don’t want Slaanesh behind you, dude… But… l… right… there are five of them. Their leader used to be all ‘Yay! Chaos Undivided!’ while the other four include a former Nurglite Terminatrix, a Sorceress of Tzeentch, a Khornate Berserker, and a Slaanesh Noise Marine who is allergic to clothing.~

~And you want me to do what? Show up and scare them back into the arms of righteousness? Turn them into iguanas? Be best man at your five way wedding of damnation?~

~I was hoping you might take them off my hands, actually.~

The laughing went on for far too long. It was very hurtful.

****

Meanwhile, someplace that may or may not exist, in a scene SJ has no way of knowing is happening… if it is indeed happening…

“Don’t exist! Hmpph. I’ll show them doesn’t exist. Am I not the great and powerful… wait… I might not exist… hmmm… So maybe… But she called me The Emperor! That’s just insulting! I have a mind to… or am I the Emperor? I could be? Couldn’t I be? But if I was the Emperor I’d definitely exist… wouldn’t I? Yes I would. Maybe… I’m confused. But I’m also angry!”

“Whyz you talkin’ to youzelf?”

“Shut up Gork, you don’t exist!”

“Dats hoitful, dat iz! I’z Mork.”

“Well then, shut up Mork, you don’t exist!”

“Youz don’t exist neiver Necoho, yet youz be talkin’ to youzelf.”

“I’m the only one of us who does exist… maybe… I’m not sure. Shut up. I’m looking for something.”

“Whatcha lookin’ fo’?”

“If I existed, then there is someone… something… Ah… here it is.”

“Waz dat den?”

“It’s a favor!”

“A favo? From who den?”

“The Council of Benefactors!”

“Whatcha gon’ do wif dat den? Gonna Benfact somat?”

“No! I’m going to… Yes… Yes I’m going to benefactor someone. Someone who thinks she’s soooo damned smart. Let’s see how she handles the Wrath of NECOHO!”

“Who’z Necoho?”

“Shut up Mork. Wait, it’s ringing… yes, hello? Is this the Council of Benefactors? It is? Excellent. I’d like to… oh… you know already. You’re watching… yes… I see… Well then… what are my options? No… Medical Drama? Really? I don’t… Cooking Show? Umm… not really… Do you have anything that’s full of despair and hopelessness and just endless humiliations where people point at my victim and laugh and laugh and laugh? You do? Excellent, I’ll take that! Wait, what do you mean allow four to six months for shipping and handling!? Hello? Hello?”

“Dey hung up on youz, huh?”

“No, they hung up on me! ME! Necoho! I’ll show them, I’ll show them all! Soon, Soon these two shall know my wrath and then-”

“De Univerz?”

“No, don’t be stupid Mork who does not exist. The UNIVERSE!”

“Oh, Dat’s different den.”

“Where are you going?”

“To get de popcorn… an Gork… He’ll be roit chuffed if ‘e misses dis.”

*****

And so, there I was, trying not to listen to the whispering behind me, half my attention running through the progress reports on the Righteous Path… we’d finally begun moving her thanks to the inertialess drives mounted around her icy tomb, and she was nearing the edge of the system she was in and would be ready for warp to Paradise when I arrived to helm her back in a week’s time. I glanced at my chrono… still about 7 hours until the Preemptive was done with her checkup… she was completely converted now and molting, but the techpriests assured me she’d be ready in time for departure. The other half of my attention was on my children, frollicing in the park.  Well, Alex was frollicing, playing death commando with Fia, Frankie, and Yuzuha. Maggy was fiercely debating sorcery with Lethe and Mini. She did everything fiercely. Great kid. They all were.

That’s when the vending machine plummeted out of the clear pinkish sky and, totally ignoring my shields, thunked into the pavement a meter and a half from where I was sitting, the impact knocking most of the tables over and startling Biggles so badly that… well… let’s just say that a couple of Amaryllis’s Speeps were going to need a bath or six.

I blinked… then tried to dive out of the way as the screen flared and a beam of light shot out of it. It was, in every way, like one of those TV shows or movies where the Arcade Cabinet shoots out a beam of light and sucks in some hapless rube… except, in this case… I was said Hapless one.

“Welcome, Player One! You have been recruited by the Starleague for a full ride scholarship to the Grid! Please Select your Starting Ship!” a disembodied voice said. It sounded vaguely like Wil Wheaton doing a Darth Vader impression. A series of four panels appeared before my eyes, but what they contained definately wasn’t starships. Instead, it was a picture of Anonymous from 4chan, a picture of Frasier Crane from Cheers and Frasier, a picture of Joey Tribbiani from FRIENDS and Joey, and a picture of Kramer from Seinfeld… I certainly hoped there wasn’t a Kramer show. Above them were the respective legends ‘Drop-In’, ‘Smart-Guy’, ‘Charmer’, and ‘Oddball’.

What. The. Every. Living. Fuuuuuck? Someone had sent me a VMoD? Here? In the middle of Warhammer Space? In the middle of this Fiasco? Was this the Banker trying to reach out? Was this my rescue? Was it Mensarius trying to fuck with me? I looked around but the rest of the space was formless.

After who knows how long, a timer counting down from 10 appeared beneath the four images that said “Random Pick in 10… 9… 8…”

Shit. If this was the Banker, it wasn’t his style… if it was Mensarius, it could be a bluff… I wasn’t going to give whoever the satisfaction of accepting their CP willingly, even though at the moment I had no defenses as far as I could tell against such things as being forced to take on CP corruption, if that was a thing. ‘7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…”

The anonymous symbol flipped around to a ‘?’ and then started spinning faster and faster until it was a blur. After a long moment, it settled on Charmer. A text box appeared, telling me that I was now Sexually Attractive and Romantically Experienced… but not necessarily good at anything else… and then new memories began popping up in my head. Memories of realizing the… power… I tended to have on members of the opposite sex, as well as some members of my own… and of learning to use that to get what I wanted… a long and illustrious love-life (with a few comical mishaps along the way… I felt a little… queasy. I was what’s her name from the L Word… the hot one… well, not her specifically… but…

“Starting Zone Selected, loading LA and The L Word onto the Grid.”

Oh, fuck… the grid wasn’t Tron’s grid… it was  a TV programming grid… I was going to a world populated by Sitcoms… not just some of them… potentially all of them. I think I’d rather go back to Gorkamorka and become a full time racer. Where was the cancel button!?

“WELCOME JUMPER! Your Drawbacks have been Randomized at the behest of your Sponsor. You have been credited +100 CP since we are unable to load your previous CP Pattern due to some form of interference. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Four Line Items appeared next to me, three valued at +100 and one at +300; The previously mentioned ‘Interference Pattern’, plus ‘Do the Catchphrase’ and ‘Very Special Episode’… both of which sounded absolutely cringeworthy… and the utterly horrifying sounding ‘The Urkel’. I very gingerly tapped them in order, hoping they weren’t as… icky… as they sounded. I was wrong… they were worse.

Interference Pattern said “Due to circumstances beyond central broadcasting’s control, all abilities and items from any reality other than your home reality are currently disabled or unavailable. We do apologize. Enjoy this complimentary bag of Planters Honey Roasted Peanuts, on us.” There was a thunk and a can of, yes, Planters nuts landed at my feet. It wasn’t Honey Roasted, and it was Mixed Nuts… I had a feeling this entire experience could be summed up in those differences.

‘Do the Catchphrase’ was, of course, worse. I mean, yes, being cut off from my abilities was bad, but I’d just had that happen for 7 years and could cope… Sitcoms weren’t known for EXTERMINATUS. But they were known for inane catchphrases… and apparently I was well known for mine… a thing I despised saying… I didn’t know what it was yet, but I was guaranteed to be asked by virtually everyone I met to do it for them… and even my closest friends wouldn’t be able to resist asking from time to time. I had to remember that shooting people was bad and wrong… so was having Decima have words with them. I did get another product placement. This was a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat! It was all Beef and Chicken Flavors… i.e. that one with carrots and that one that is so fucking bland that white rice sued. Yaaay. At least they got the product name right. Apparently ‘year’s supply’ meant 365 boxes. Who eats the same thing every damned day?

‘Very Special Episode’ was, of course, a mawkish trainwreck waiting to happen… waiting between 2 and 7 days, because it was guaranteed to come up at least once a week and sometimes several in one week. Occasionally, I’d wake up and have a ‘Very Special Day’… a day with few laughs to be had and where I’d have to tackle serious, real-life issues like racism and drug use… a day in which I’ll be generally angsty and or overly sentimental. Exterminatus was sounding extra good right now. Several times a week? For +100? Several times a year would barely be worth this kind of emotional manipulation. Fuuuuuuuuu… oh, and another paid product. Kotex brand Tampons… yay? I needed a wall to bang my head against… a concussion would make this go away, right?

I could feel the info box on ‘The Urkel’ lurking there… but really, I already knew what it would say. Some insanely annoying character… no… person… they were real people and there wasn’t a screen between me and them to keep them away from me… would be pretty much wherever I went in this world of laugh tracks and very special episodes and stunning bouts of illogic… They’d get more and more popular as time passed and have some idiotic catchphrase… I tapped it… it was worse than I’d thought in almost every conceivable way. Everything I’d assumed would be there was there… but they’d get more popular with everybody except me and be followed by vast legions of manic fans who would spout said catchphrase wherever I went. I would be unable to hurt them and any attempt to hinder them in any way would backfire horribly… and just to add insult to injury… this Drawback was sponsored by Diet Pepsi… DIET… PEPSI! DO I EVEN NEED TO EXPLAIN? I resolved to drink nothing but Coke for a decade.

“As a Charmer, you have been granted several Perks. Perks are Skills, Abilities, and Powers. They are guaranteed to work in this reality and in any future reality you may choose to visit,” the system informed me, as if I hadn’t done this loads of times… but then, maybe the system was defaulting since it couldn’t read me? I was more and more convinced that this was neither the Banker nor Mensarius. It had said that the Drawbacks were randomized at the behest of a Sponsor… I doubted PepsiCo, Planters, Rice-A-Roni, or Kotex could sponsor a jump… As far as I knew, only Benefactors could… Benefact… but could a subscriber, I don’t know, pay the Benefactors to send someone like me to a specific location… could I pay the Benefactors to send me to a specific setting?

“HELLO?” I yelled. There was no response. “CAN YOU HEAR ME?” No response. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE BANKER?” No response. “YOUR MOTHERS WEAR ARMY BOOTS!”

“As a Charmer, you have been granted several Perks. You may review them here,” A window popped up, surrounded by a frame that looked like the one from FRIENDS. “You have 850 unspent CP remaining.”

“Wait… What?” I asked, startled. What had happened to my 1600? I grumbled, not expecting any response, and none came. I tapped the window and saw that I’d been granted ‘Humorous (by Snickers, obviously)’, ‘Laughter Track (by Orville Redenbacher Popcorn)’, ‘One of the Gang (by Verizon)’, ‘Looker (by Maybelline)’, & ‘Loadout (by Century 21)’ for [Free], and because I’d both selected my Identity, apparently the system had defaulted to buying me everything in the Charmer Line, which included the previously mentioned ‘Looker’ as freebie, plus ‘Eyyy! (by Maytag)’ (which I’m pretty sure is a reference to Fonzie from Happy Days, the guy what jumped the shark on a jet-ski or water-skis or something… I’ve never seen an episode except the one where Mork first showed up… from Mork & Mindy. Robin Williams is awesome.), ‘How You Doin’? (by Este Lauder)’ (which is definitely a reference to Joey Tribbiani from FRIENDS), and ‘Loveable Rogue (by Playboy)’. Those had cost 600 total… the other 150 had gone into F.R.I.E.N.D.S. (If it was an acronym, I have no idea what it stood for). I could deselect none of them… apparently they were all Sponsored and the Sponsors might get upset. Lovely.

Fiiiine. I’d read what they were. Perks can’t be bad things, right? Just… sub-optimal… Right? Freebies.  Free is Good. Free can’t be bad. I’d be safe if I started with the Free, since I clearly wasn’t being given a damned choice about almost anything. I was going to find this Sponsor and kick their ever-living ass once I figured out how. If I chose ‘Go Home’ at the end of this… would I go back to Earth? Or Paradise? And which did this jump think was my home reality? I guess I’d find out if I still was a psyker in La-La Land.

I tapped the Freebies one by one. ‘Humorous’ made me naturally funny, capable of sizing up a room and know what would make people laugh… great… I could be a comedienne. Yay. ‘Laughter Track’ provided my life with a toggle for canned or live studio laughter… and allowed me to decide who could hear the laughter… that was frankly horrifying. Sure, seems harmless… but how many horror movies do you know where sourceless laughter is used to great effect. I could subject my enemies to said laughter which they’d have no idea how to cope with, and make sure I never had to hear it. I know some Sitcoms are torture to watch… but that was just evil.

‘One of the Gang’ meant that I’d be an established member of a group of friends or a family from a real sitcom and have memories of and close bonds with those people?  Wait… what? Oh, for the love of… I was now remembering my childhood… I was the daughter of Charles Emerson Winchester… The THIRD! Wait… how was that possible. Winchester was in his 30s in the 1950s… The L Word took place in the 2000s… I was, apparently, in my 20s… that would make dad in his 60s when I was born… I mean, it’s doable… but he didn’t look like he was 80-90 in my memories… I wracked my memories… Papa graduated from Harvard College (lettering in Crew and Polo) in 1943, and Harvard Medical in 1948, then worked at Boston General, where (prior to being drafted) he was on track to become Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery. The Korean War ran from June of 1950 to July of 1953, or just over 3 years. That meant he was 32 years old when the war ended. It was now 2004. He was 83 years old. I was 24. And a serious disappointment.

The system pinged and 200 CP vanished from my total. Okay, well, that was weird. Apparently I was no longer a serious disappointment… just a little bit of one. I remembered my childhood, full of music lessons thanks to dad’s passion for classical music… and I was good at them, surprisingly. Violin, Cello, Viola, Piano, even Harp and Harpsichord, and, though dad disapproved, guitar (I don’t know why people don’t think of guitars as classical instruments; they predate the violin by centuries.). Part of me had loved the praise, part of me had hated that it seemed like dad loved the music more than me… wow, maudlin… and now here I was living across the country from my aged father, being inexplicably well paid to play music for a living and flirt with my fans for fun.

I was currently cello soloist with the LA philharmonic which brought in attractive older women and wanna be artiste-girls, as well as the guitarist in an experimental punk-rock band called Mad Monarchs fronted by Drummer / Singer Phyllis Waverly… which brought in all the cute young things who wore so ridiculously little that they would embarrass the streetwalkers, but that was okay because reenacting Pretty Woman with barely legal teenagers who thought pretending to be a hooker was ‘cute’ was one of my favorite activities. Wow… I was a lothario… lotharia? And this was just strange.

I was not used to elements appearing in my memory piecemeal. I was used to coming up with a way things fit together and having the entire history flower inside my awareness in a single moment of satori. Memories did not normally change… and since I had a perfect memory, I wasn’t used to things in my memory disappearing and being replaced wholesale… but then again, I didn’t have the protections I once had had. Most frustrating. Shit. I did not want to have to start this process all over again.

If nothing else, breaking in a new Benefactor would be a pain. Fuck.

I sighed, then looked around to see what had triggered that change in my personal history, and saw that the line item ‘Professional (by Prada)’ had been added for 200. I tapped it, wondering at the fundamental conflict between a loose-living playboy and a professional mindset. The new perk gave me a job that I was ‘damn good at’, good enough to make a very good living, good enough that I was considered a real expert in the field… and it made things a little easier to learn things related to my field. Well, that’s nice. Not sure I’d have picked music… but I guess it was a good fallback. It also had a footnote stating ‘Professional greatly improves your Loadout.” Huh. Cool? I don’t know what a Loadout is, but cool

Of course, I still didn’t know what any of the perks Charmer had given me did at all, so I checked. ‘Looker’ made me unusually attractive. I hoped that was a good thing. Unusually was a strange word to use. Was I attractive in an unusual way? Or just more attractive than those who were just normally attractive. ‘Eyyy!’ was even weirder, especially since it was split into two distinct halves, one much more impressive (and strange) than the other. The lesser half was a downright ridiculous degree of skill on a jet-ski (I guess Fonzi used a Jet-ski), while the greater half was the ability to bang malfunctioning machinery to repair it. Errr? Yayyy? Certainly not something I’d normally buy, but whatever.

‘How You Doin’?’ was even more extreme, and even more questionable. It made me so good at seducing people that I could do so with little more than a few stock phrases or gestures… and gave me the well-practiced lovers skills that came with so much… hands on training as it were. Great. I’m sure that my harem would be just ever so thrilled with all the strange I was getting slash had gotten. I was going to be mercilessly killed. I was doomed. Yup.

Then I read the last perk, the Charmer Capstone and flinched. It was practically immoral… or more a license to be a scoundrel… then again, it was called ‘Lovable Rogue’. Apparently, I got around, people knew it, and simply didn’t care. They’d find my unfaithfulness slash multiple partners amusing rather than heart-breaking… and when my relationships did end they’d tend to do so with humor instead of tragedy. It came with a less than iron-clad guarantee that, in matters romantic or prurient, things would be always less work and a great deal more relaxed, with everyone’s feelings less likely to get seriously hurt… Well, it was a sitcom kind of thing… but I don’t know if I could bring myself to use… oh, who am I kidding… it was the kind of corruptive power that would siren’s song me into using it.

I was already a flirt and prone to sleeping around… Being able to get away with it was going to make not jumping at every opportunity so much harder. Bad, bad me. More than half of me was looking forward to the buffet that southern California presented. Mmm… Yum.

The other 2/5ths of me decided to tap ‘F.R.I.E.N.D.S.’, hoping it was a Companion import so that some of my people could try and keep my libido under some kind of control. As it turns out… the number of my people following me would be 24, three purchases of the 50 CP item that granted each companion an Identity, a Loadout, a body at my discretion, and all perks that would be free for them. And the reason for 24? That appeared to be everyone who’d been at the cafe with me… oh good. Sitcoms with the Sisters of Battle… and Carwyn… and her four nutters… and my kids and their mothers. Good… fun for the whole family with kids that did not grow up. It was like living in Springfield or South Park… I wondered if I could visit cartoon sitcoms.

The system pinged. “There are two remaining 50 CP items. Since you have refused to commit to spending any points through positive action, you will be presented with both options and asked to remove one. If you fail to select within 10 seconds, one will be randomly assigned.” I flicked off the darkness. Apparently that was a mistake. “Guest Stars deselected. Unrealistic Living Arrangements by Fierro Rocher is assigned by default. You have 600 CP remaining. Personality analysis indicates you to be rely on brains more than luck or subterfuge. Plotter by Apple has been selected. Zero CP remaining. 10 minutes to Insertion. Thank you for your participation, and enjoy your Sojourn.” The ‘Bitch’ was unstated.

“Well, that was pleasant,” I said to the darkness, then looked at what the system had saddled me with. ‘Loadout’ turned out to be my living situation and belongings, upgraded by Professional of course, which meant I had a large, artistically distressed apartment with an even larger bedroom, a chaise lounge (for some reason) and an enormous and immensely comfortable bed… and a well stocked liquor cabinet. Also lots of money, an extremely expensive motorbike and a couple of cars that were worth more than most people made in their lifetimes. Holy fuck… how much was I making as… oh… that was a lot. Damn. Triple Diamond Certification… It had been a while since I’d been on Earth… or payed attention to the music scene… but I think that means 30,000,000 copies of an album sold. Pretty sure that was unlikely for Punk-rock.

And that left ‘Plotter’… which made my diabolically skilled in the art of planning and predicition, particularly when such predictions were based on the actions of other people. My plans would nearly always go off without a hitch despite seeming to have massive holes or relying on people to act in extremely specific ways. Well… that was just… What plots was I going to get up to in Sitcom-landia? Seriously. A cunning plan to… a cunning… could I visit Blackadder? Oh… I must do that. Verily.

I noticed a 4×6 grid with my ‘Companions’ names on them. “Who are Caitlyn, Caerdwyn, Caytrin, and Tess?” I wondered… then realized they must be the actual names of the four Exarchs. I know it was bad, but I’d never bothered to learn their given names, since they honestly were virtually indistinguishable from each other. I just yelled “Exarch!” and one of them would come over… or more likely, would stare at me until I had Carwyn relay the information I needed relayed… only that hadn’t actually been the case over the last year or so… the four female Exarchs were more likely to look away and or blush when I talked to them than ignore me… Huh… my new Sitcom persona was interpreting that in an entirely different context than my Warhammer one had. Warhammer me had thought those blushes were flushes of anger… maybe they weren’t… or maybe I had four psycho elves with Tsundere… I hoped it was Tsun or Kuu and not Yan… personalities… and great, now I was imagining a menage a six (cease… not six) with Carwyn and company… I needed a cold show…

OOOH fuck fuck fuck coooold! I was standing in a very cold shower. Damnit, that was cold… fuck… I think I’d managed to miss my window to modify any of the Companions. Had the system picked or had they picked. I guessed I’d… the tiles of my shower shifted to a 4×6 grid as the water warmed back up. I tapped one at random.

Mini’s face popped up above the grid, taking up the same amount of space. There were six buttons, three to each side, framing her face; Randomize, Identity, Customize, Companion’s Choice, Scan & Plan, and Confirm. I hit ‘Scan & Plan’.

“Our system shows that Smart Guy is the best persona fit for this individual, and that she is your lover. She has a basic body mod package which suits the setting, though her default age is listed as ‘unacceptable to conventional society’ for a relationship with someone of your current age. We recommend making her a med-school student who lives in your guest bedroom. We further show that she is in a long term relationship with the companion ‘Francesca’, who also has a body mod acceptable to the setting and fits the persona of Charmer. We recommend that she be a police officer who also shares your abode. The scans further note that the three of you collectively have two children, Alexander and Margaret, who were also included in the collection field. Alexander fits the profile of a Charmer and Margaret a Smart Guy. We recommend they be placed as school children.”

“Further, since they register the child ‘Amaryllis’ as their sister, and you register Amaryllis’s mother, Cirno, as your servant, we recommend Cirno be added to your household as your maid. She fits the profile of an Oddball,” I had to laugh at that. “All three children lack body mods, but an approximation can be made. Cirno’s hair color is non-standard and will be edited to be what is referred to as ‘a dye-job’.” A list of all these details popped up on screen and I quickly flipped through just to verify I didn’t have any problems with any of the forms they’d been assigned by the system, then hit confirm. Those 6 squares went dark, though they glowed with the names Cirno Bergerac, Amaryllis Bergerac-Winchester, Francesca Striker, Margaret Striker-Winchester, Minerva Wiseman, and Alexander Wiseman-Winchester.

And so it went. Yuzuha Jones (Drop-In) became my Chauffeur, Tokimi Stevens (Smart Guy) became my Nanny, Yoiko and Ryoga Hess (Oddballs) became my Chef and Butler respectively. My apartment was getting larger, but (thankfully) it stopped there.

Alicia Dee (Charmer), Decima Rais (Smart Guy), Verena Blavatsky (Oddball), Lethe Crowley (Smart Guy), and Sabine Cagliostro (Oddball) became my more dedicated (psycho) fans from my Punk work. Arlessa Saint-Homme (Smart Guy), Fia (Drop-In), Cierra (Charmer), and Lina (Oddball) became a mother and her three daughters who were my more dedicated classical fans… Arlessa was married to a very rich older man who was never in town. As for Carwyn Elder (a Charmer), she was my next door neighbor, therapist, and lover. She lived with her sisters, the triplet Drop-Ins (Caitlin, Caytrin, and Caerdwyn), and the Oddball, Tess.

I finished all that reveiw just as a pair of hands reached past my head and a not insubstantial bosom pressed against the back of my head as a soft, sultry voice asked “Why are you poking the wall? Wouldn’t you rather be poking me instead?” I ran through my new memory’s mental catalogue of the voices of all those it would be even vaguely appropriate for me to be naked in the shower with… not a single one of them matched. Unfortunately, Tess’s voice did. Tess, who was 18 this week. Tess, who had come over to use my Jacuzzi. Tess, the reason I’d apparently been taking a shower at 2:30 in the after-noon.

Great. I was not only sleeping with most of the Help, and my therapist, I was cheating on my two live in girlfriends with my therapist’s baby sister. This me had the sexual morals of… Hawkeye Pierce, MD. Oh good lord. No wonder my father disagreed with my lifestyle. And now she was nibbling my ear.

Look, I try to be a good person, really I do. I defend the weak, uplift the downtrodden, destroy the evil. I’m a good leader, a great provider, and I love my kids, pets, and families. I have two major vices… three if you count an obsession with games, but that’s not a real vice so it doesn’t count. The first is that I love food. Really, really love it. Good food is like… it’s better than almost everything else besides ferrets and my kids.

The other thing I like is sex. This me just liked it a great deal more than usual for me. It was her central motivating want. And here was me, without my layed willpower and hundreds of personas to defend myself against my own desires.

All this is in service of explaining that what followed was not even close to PG rated and I’m not going to go into any details… but I’m also not going to apologize… well, not to you. Not to any of the others… well… maybe Carwyn. She hadn’t had to put up with my… less than exclusive ways for nearly as long. All the others knew I wasn’t exclusive nor did I demand they be. If Carwyn hadn’t figured that out from contact with Cirno, Yoiko, Ryoga, Mini, and Frankie yet… well then… still… her sister/bodyguard? Yeah… I was baaaad. I grinned… maybe she’d spank me.

Wow… apparently this me was kinky as well.

After a shower that in no way was responsible, Tess and I headed out into the larger bedroom, one I recognized as being in the lush apartment of Carwyn Elder… and specifically the Master Bedroom which belonged to Carwyn and not the live-in maid’s quarters that Tess occupied since she was essentially freeloading off her older siblings. The triplets occupied the smaller guest/family bedrooms… Carwyn’s place only had 6 bedrooms total (one of which was used as Carwyn’s meditation room.  My place had 8, counting the maid’s and master… Maggy, Alex, and Amy had their own rooms, Cirno lived in the maid’s room. Yoiko & Ryoga shared a room, as did Tokimi & Yuzuha, and the last bedroom was for guests… two guesses where Mini & Frankie slept. It was a crowded apartment… which did not explain why I’d decided to shower at Carwyn’s place after watching Tess get out of my Jacuzzi.  

I searched my memory… and froze. My master shower was broken. This me had called the building’s maintenance engineer, and he’d come right up. He was tall, handsome in an odd way, and quick with a joke and a smile. Pretty much what you’d expect from a token male in a lesbian themed sitcom… competent too. Everything checked out there… except for one thing… his name was Frank Necoho. I’d left what was probably a Chaos God in my apartment with my kids and family while I had a fling. I barely grabbed my clothes before rushing out of Carwyn’s room, leaving Tess to dry her long red hair.

“I’ll kill him,” I muttered, wondering if he was at full power in this universe.

I skidded to a stop as a male voice asked, “Kill Who?” I looked around. I was in Carwyn’s Lesser Kitchen (the one attached to the family living room) and not the main kitchen designed for bigger meals in the Dining room… did I mention that, were this not a sitcom, this apartment would cost about 3 million dollars. Mine made hers look small.

In the kitchenette (one standard sized cooktop, one fridge, a counter / bar island, 1 sink, no dishwasher or oven.) stood Frank, pulling together the contents of a respectably large (but not quite comicly large) sandwhich. Without thinking I breathed “Oh… Necoho.”… and the audience cheered. Seriously… that was my Catchphrase? That? I was going to kill… oh.. Oh no… sweet merciless Emperor of Mankind… Necoho was the URKEL! THis was going to be a decade of torment.

“Heya Miss W. Got your shower fixed. Turns out it was clogged with wool. You been bathing sheep?” he laughed. I wanted to punch him in the face.

Instead, I just smiled. “Must have been Amy, you know how kids are.”

“Hey, do I!”

“I don’t know… do you?”

“No. No kids. But yours seem nice. Maybe they’d like a father?”

“Necoho… you flirt with me again, I’ll smoosh that sandwich into your face and punt you off my balacony so hard you end up in Anaheim.”

“Oooph. No offense, Miss W. Still don’t know how you managed to get three kids without, you know, wedding tackle.”

“Special proceedure. Converts an ovum into a sperm. My dad’s connected in the medical world. Why are you here?”

“To tell you I fixed your shower.”

“Why are you eating here, I mean.”

“Oh, cause Miss Elder’s got the best pastrami in town. Flown in from New York, it is!”

“Doesn’t she mind you eating it?”

“Prolly, but she ain’t here right now, and you won’t tell her cause you was fuckin’ her sister in her bedroom.”

“Oh, Necoho…” I growled. “I wouldn’t be too certain about that.”

That’s how things went with him. I got him fired, he won the lotto and moved into the building… then lost all his money and begged to be hired back. Things simmered for a while, then he got drunk and we had a very special episode about sexual assault and he ended up in jail… but then it was revealed he’d been drugged by someone and it wasn’t his fault and he got hired back. I got him fired again, he ended up inheriting the building. I got invited to his wedding, which was in England… ended up in Coupling.

Coupling… great show… got to debate sexuality with Patrick… he offered to show me his collection… then offered to let me be in a video. I pointed out that he was in love with Sally and I wasn’t interested in him… ah… good times. Might have slept with Jane… we were pretty hammered.

While we were in England (trying to avoid Necoho and his new bride “Svetlana”) we took a tour of historical london and ended up in Blackadder 2… or rather Carwyn and I did. Somehow Frankie and Mini and the kids ended up in Eastenders and Yoiko, Cirno, and Tokimi ended up in Blackadder 3. The way these sitcoms interlinked is just… weird.

Necoho showed up as a friend of Edmund Blackadder in my time… but it wasn’t the same Necoho… no, this was Frederico Necoho y Necoho, a famous Spanish Explorer who was trying to get Eddy to invest in his scheme to find a northern route to China. Thankfully, Edmund was too busy trying to turn lead into gold at the time and was fresh out of cash.

I picked up a really nice set of Elizabethan clothing while there, plus a period lute and Carwyn decked Baldric for grabbing her ass and then claiming it reminded him of a potato. Then there were hijinx as we tried to get the group back together… somehow we ended up in France where we ended up spending a very strange month among the inhabitants of Hélène et les Garçons / Salut les Muscles… I also got into a fight with Simon from My Worst Buddies over a statue.

That saw us fleeing to Denmark with Elodie Bradford hot on our tails believing we’d stolen said statue… where we ended up taking refuge in Christianshavn with the Clausens until the heat blew over.

From there we jumped from country to country, crossing through Poland, Estonia, Russia, Khazakstan, Mongolia, China, Korea (ending up as part of Frank Necoho Sr’s Travelling Wartime Circus to entertain the folks at M*A*S*H 4077… Thankfully it was durring Frank Burns’s stint so I didn’t have to bump into Dad…) but I tell you, I had no idea what the shows I was crossing into were at all at this point.

It got sooo much worse as we crossed into Japan… every block seemed to be another insane sitcom, some animated, others live action… my entire cadre got scattered across tokyo and we kept running into fans of Necoho in all his incarnations… and fans of me, demanding I “Say eeet!”

I like the Japanese. Really… but I really, really wanted to murder a few thousand otaku by the point I finally got everyone together… except Amaryllis… who’d been kidnapped by the Masked Hoho and was being held at Tokyo Tower. The ransom was that I perform a concert for him and his fans while wearing Gothic Lolita Fashion.

I was not happy… but I agreed. If I could have hurt Necoho, I wouldn’t be taking this lying down… but that wasn’t on the table. I tell you, nothing like having your daughter being held hostage by a Chaos God cum Comedy Foil to make you play your best… and that’s sarcasm, in case you didn’t know. Having him join you on stage midshow to metaphorically twirl his moustache and leer salaciously… not helping.

But that’s when my fans attacked his fans with firehoses. Never let it be said that fanatics are bad. Fanatics are only bad when they’re inconvenient for your plans… no matter whose side they’re on. The tide surged back and forth, prim and proper and punk clashing with visual kei and faux edwardian. And that’s when The Idiot Prince embraced the villain ball completely and pulled Amaryllis out from inside a fake amp and threatened her if I didn’t call off my fans.

“Oh, Necoho… you shouldn’t have done that,” I growled, eyes flashing as I forgot I couldn’t hurt him… and drove the base of my electric guitar into his face as hard as I could, muscles hardened by thousands of hours of exercise. I grabbed my daughter from his hand before he could drop her and the masked moron moaned in pain as he clutched his shattered teeth.

“OOo urt eeee! Ooo thuden be abu tuh urt eeee! Urgul theed ooo ooden be abu to urt eee!”

“Awww… so sad,” I sneered, hugging Amaryllis to my chest and glowering at him. “Touch my kids again and I’ll fucking smash your face to paste. Understand?” He nodded jerkily and I kicked him in the nuts and stomped off stage.

“That was fun!” my daughter piped. “I liked the music… can I be kidnapped again next week?”

I groaned. Children… still, how the hell had I managed to… I brought up the text… read it… then laaaughed. “Wow. Bad English for the win!”

Amaryllis looked up at me, “My english is perfectly good papa.”

“Not yours. Tell me what is wrong with this passage,” I instructed, then repeated the text verbatim. “There is an insanely annoying person that you despise and will be pretty much wherever you go. Worse still, they will get more popular every day with everybody except yourself until they have vast legions of manic fans all spouting out their inane catchphrases wherever you go. You cannot hurt them and any attempt to hinder them in any way backfires horribly.”

“Ummm,” She bit her lip, then said ‘Well… the first sentence is wonky, and should have a ‘which’ or ‘who’ between ‘and’ and ‘will’ so that the clauses are balanced. But I think you mean the object confusion in the third sentence. Since it follows the second, which contains two subjects… does the third sentence mean the annoying person cannot be hurt or the manic fans cannot be hurt… or both?”

“That’s a very good question. As it turns out… it means the manic fans.”

“Oh. Is that why Uncle Necoho ran away so fast?”

“Yes, and don’t call him Uncle.”

“What should I call him?”

“If you see a Necoho, run away and find one of us. Don’t talk to him. If you get kidnapped by him again, remind him that he doesn’t exist and that you don’t believe in him. And that Malal can kick his non-existent ass.”

“I’m not supposed to say ass.”

“You can in this circumstance.”

“Can I have ice cream?”

“Yes.”

“Can I be a sheep that says #44 on it’s side for Halloween?”

“Why #44?”

“Because that’s as high as I ever manage to count before I fall asleep.”

“Ah. Then yes, yes you can.”

All in all, it was a mostly relaxing stay in Sitcom Land. The Very Special Episodes grated on my nerves, and most of them were just… shmaltz. A few were genuinely awful. Cancer Episode, Sexual Harrasment Episode, Racism, Sexism… the one about not letting spying on your neighbors was fun… and then followed immediately by one where a neighbor commited suicide because no one cared about them. Yeah…great. Don’t spy on your neighbors unless they’re terrorists or suicidally depressed. That’s a great metric.

Halloween did come that year… Often in fact. Pretty sure we had (in the grand old MASH tradition) at least 16 Christmases and more than 20 halloweens. I have a perfect memory and even I can’t tell you how many. I can, however, tell you what everyone wore the year Amaryllis dressed as a Sleep Sheep. Her mother went as a Teddy Bear. Her brother? Jesse James. Her sister? A NASCAR DRIVER. Auntie Mini? Athena. Auntie Frankie? Amelia Earhart. Uncle Ryoga? A shirtless Bruce Lee. Auntie Yoiko? A Geisha. Tokimi and Yuzuha went as a Hamster and Dracula respectively. Carwin, Caitlin, Caytrin, and Caerdwyn went as Isis (daughter of Ra, badumbum), Set, Nepthys, and Osiris respectively. Tess went as a Pumpkin… she was extra sexy. The Legion of Superfans, setting aside their pack of eternal snark for one evening every… 6 months? Seriously, how many damned Octobers were there in the year?… even came in costume to the party… despite not having been invited.

Arlessa was Horatio Nelson (Eyepatch costumes that aren’t pirates are hard to find). Cierra was Joan of Arc and looked very nice in her costume armor. Fia was Princess Leia… her gown was nearly transparent it was so sheer. And Lina was Tinkerbell… and clearly high on something stronger than Pixie Dust. Alicia came as Judge “I AM THE LAW” Dredd. Lethe as ‘A Witch… doesn’t matter which Witch’… it was very meta. Sabine came as a Sexy Clown… but that wasn’t much of a stretch from normal… just slightly more facepaint and a novelty g-string. Verena came as the Jolly Green Giant… obviously. And Decima came as ‘I’m BATMAN’… not just Batman, but specifically ‘I’m Batman’. I dunno why, but she nailed Christian Bale’s voice cold.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until my 8th year in Sitcomtopia that I managed, finally, to make it to New York. It was part of a four city tour (Chicago, DC, New York, and Boston) with the Philharmonic and I dropped by Central Perk to flirt with Ross until Rachael’s eyes bugged out of her head, then poured a glass of water down Joey Tribbiani’s pants. Coooold water. Very odd that, since I’d run into the older Joey on his own show in LA years earlier. Time… wow… so weird here.

After that, I swung by CSC’s headquarters, using my celebrity to get a tour of Sports Night… now in it’s 7th season. Maggy wanted Natalie’s Autograph. Alex wanted to know why they didn’t cover more shooting sports. Amaryllis wanted to appear on camera doing a remote live from the Central Park Duck Pond. She got her way, as usual. Won an Emmy for best guest Anchor on a Network News broadcast… I wasn’t aware that was a category. She dressed the statue in a hoody cause it looked ‘Chilly’.

On that tour we also met Punky Brewster, now 16 and a big fan, and Murphy Brown… now well into her 50s and worried about who her son was taking to prom… I did mention that time clearly was broken in this world, right?

At the end of the trip, of course, was old home week and Dad got to meet the kids and the not quite wives (still wasn’t legal in the vast majority of the US… was in Massachessets though) and I could tell Dad was flipflopping between wanting at least one legitimate grandchild and being outraged that I had two partners who were clearly into each other as well. Still, he was most excellent to the kids and they told him all about their adventures… and then Necoho tried to spoil everything with a bomb threat… Amy kicked him in the knee as he was pulling the pin on a grenade and he accidentally swallowed it and choked to death while we watched.

“Oh… Necoho…” I said, shaking my head sadly. We gave him a Bostonia Funeral… which is like a viking funeral… except we dump you into the sewer system after lighting your gasoline soaked corpse on fire. Didn’t stop a different Necoho from showing up a month later… but what can you, recurring characters gonna recur.

And then, one day… poof, we were sitting back in the park at Argos. The VMoD vanished, a piece of paper fluttered down onto my table which was not overturned, and (as the rest of my group did a collective double or triple take) I read the note. “Thank you for participating in Jumpchain. Your limited sponsorship has expired. If you’d like to continue your jumping, please contact your local ROB at necoho@nowhere.warp. And remember, with the Council of Benefactors, Adventure is Transitory, CP is Forever.”

I shook my head in bewilderment, then stood up and announced that it was time to return to the station and to head out to retrieve the Path of Righteousness… I was soo going to have to change that name. Lorcanus Ryn had permanently stained it.

It took almost a week to get between Paradise and the resting place of the Path, a week I spent contemplating the meaning behind the note and its explicit acknowledgement of the existence of a Council of Benefactors… If only there was a way to contact them directly, I could find out what was going on with the Banker and Mensarius. Unfortunately, the only contact information was for Necoho… and I couldn’t and wouldn’t use that if my life depended on it.

I sighed. I’d figure something out, I guess.

The Path was still largely encased in ice when we arrived. The ice was, in many places, holding the ship together and chipping it off would have made the whole process so much harder… it would also have been noticeable to anyone watching. Instead, we’d taken the whole thing. Because who notices a drifting chunk of ice in a system of billions of drifting chunks of ice.

Still, we’d installed another Cobra Destroyer on the outside to control the Necrontyr inertia drives… But, on a whim, I decided to take one last look around inside the frozen hulk. She really had been a pretty ship, and in a way she’d become an ark for her people, bringing them from their homeworld to Paradise… though I can’t imagine it was an improvement.

I stood on the bridge, running my hand along the command console and gave a meloncholy sigh. “Ark Magna” I said.

“What?” Carwyn asked.

“Ark Magna. Her new name. In honor of the people she carried and the one who was responsible for her recovery.”

“Are you certain you want to name her in honor of… him?”

“We all make mistakes, Carwyn. His just… were a few orders of Magnitude worse than most.”

“That was a terrible pun,” she said, favoring me with an ill look.

I shrugged, then hammered on the command console. “Let’s get the show on the road!”… and that’s when the entire ship, dead for centuries, shuddered to life all around us.

“How did you…”

I shrugged “Ehhhhey?”

Next: Light of Terra, Part 7

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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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 Notes: So, what can I say about this part. It was largely unplanned and developed out of the writing. Originally, it was to be the Necromunda DLC, but I wanted a scene with me trying to ditch the Choir of Lost Voices, and that turned out so silly that one of my pre-readers asked if this was Warhammer or a Sitcom… and that led to the Sitcom jump’s insertion as a jump within a jump within a jump… for extra weees. It also solved a problem, since I really wanted to have a Holloween dress up event, and doing that in Warhammer would be… suboptimal.  

As for how the build came about? That’s a bit of a compromise between truely random and workable. I decided to randomly pick one of the four origins (unweighted) and take everything on that list. It seemed the most reasonable choice. My preference was for Smart Guy, and my worst option was Oddball… but Charmer works almost too well. Ah well.

As for Drawbacks, I didn’t completely choose randomly. Instead, I compromised. I eliminated Axed (which replaces all the sitcoms I know with cheap knockoffs), Back to Normal (weekly continuity reset), Foreign Language Version (everyone speaks a language I don’t and can’t speak), Reruns (events repeat and repeat), and Lowest Common Denominator (everyone is dumb). Those were nixed for story reasons, because they make writing a narrative, even one as disjointed as this, impossible… at least for me.  I also tanked Ratings and Off-Screen Death, both of which are chain-fails waiting to happen. Including them for a lark would be idiocy of the highest order.

That left a 300, a 200, and three 100s. Those I randomized. I also gave myself 100 CP since I’m cut off from my Warehouse (even stuff from 40K) and powers still (but not the stuff from 40K). That’s me deciding that Ricky Ricardo’s shtick would get old fast and wouldn’t fit the story I wanted to tell.

That left Companions, and yes, I know that normally the two choirs count as a single import each, and Carwyn’s group of bodyguards are more an NPC bodyguard squad than companions, but I counted up everyone I’d included in the scene besides Biggles and the Speeps and discovered it to be 24 exactly. It worked too well not to run with it.

I looked for what perks would fill out the remaining points the fastest and decided on a 600 and 200 and 50. Professional and Plotter fit the background I was developing, so they went in. That was pretty much it. I flipped a coin for the last 50 CP.  

 

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 5

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

PART 5 – The Pagan Path

Previously: A Night at the Opera

Themesong: First of the Year by Skrillex

AN: Welcome loyal readers. I’m so glad you’ve returned. Brace yourself, it’s a wild ride.

“Sweetie?”

“Nnngg?” I asked coming awake slowly. It had been a very long series of days, after having had to negotiate a treaty with seven local planetary governors of the Calixis Sector who’d taken exception to the way I was running roughshod over their unalienable rights to be total douchecanoes. To whit, they’d to try taxing me for using their space. I had no real problems with paying reasonable excise on goods I was buying or selling on their individual worlds… but I was not going to pay duty on the contents of my holds when those holds were merely passing through these idiots zones of control. I had insane wealth… but that didn’t mean I was stupid.

The negotiations had gone on, and on, and on for six weeks, made all the more difficult because I flat out refused to allow any outsiders to know where my home system was. Only my navigators knew where Paradise was and that’s how it was going to remain, even as I built a larger defensive fleet… moving the wreck of the Path would take a huge amount of towing power… but until that time I wanted my planet and the pre-heresy tech there protected by everything I could get my hands on.

None of the Navigators or senior officers could possibly tell anyone where the system was… it was biologically impossible for them to do so… a regrettable step, but the memories were contained in memory designed to be dumped if they were questioned with more than moderate intensity and that memory was as telepath proof as I could make it.

Thankfully, my colony on Paradise was thriving and we’d just hit 250,000 thanks to the birthrate and immigration from Angelis and Krystallian. Not bad for six years. But I’d been working endless weeks and sleeping on when I had to… and I’d had to.

Now I was being woken by Mini and I had to remind myself that it wasn’t her fault I was so tired.

“Whazup?” I asked, rubbing my eyes as I lifted my head off the body morphing chair I’d scavenged from the Path… Pre-Heresy Ergonomic Chairs… you can barely imagine the comfort… She looked worried.

“Maggy and Alex are 10 now… and I’m… concerned.”

“Nnnn? Don’t worry… won’t hit… ummm… puberty for… umm… while….”

“What?! What did you do?”

“N? Nothing. They’re Asgardians… it’ll take about a century for them to hit puberty.”

“I was worried and you… ooooo… you should have told us! We were worried they were small for their ages!”

“Min…” I rubbed my eyes, “They’re the size of six year olds and have been for 2 years. Mental maturity of them too. It’ll slow down even more. You just noticed, didn’t you?”

“Well… umm… I was… I was looking at how fast the other children were growing and it hit me.”

I pulled her into my lap and kissed her nose. “They’re fine. Healthy as horses. Whatever took our abilities hasn’t harmed them that I can tell. They’re biologically fine… exemplars of their species. Amaryllis is half-Fairy… I’ve no idea how long it’ll take for her to mature… Cirno still hasn’t.”

Mini stuck her tongue out at me and rested back against me. “This sucks. I miss the others… and the warehouse. This universe tastes icky.”

“Universes don’t have a flavour. It tastes fine. YOu’re just grumpy.”

“I’m allowed to be grumpy… I’m stuck in the body of a 16 year old. I haven’t aged either… none of us have.”

“None of you age except when we’re in jumps. And you reset to 15 when we’re out of a Jump. This is no different.”

“16.”

“Nooo… Luccini is 16. You’re 15. You’re 10 months younger than she is.”

“Why does she get to be 16 for all eternity and I’m stuck at 14?”

“The universe is unfair. Toph is 13. I have no idea what determines your warehouse default form’s age. And it’s not like I can ask. None of us are older than 30. Reggy’s 12 or so. Gaius and Caine are in their mid 20s. Most of the others are closer to the 18 to 24 bracket.”

“Maybe it’s because you look so young.”

“Baby, I’ve looked the same since I was 14 the first time. Well… I’m in better physical condition. But… anyway… don’t worry. Did you share your concerns with the others?”

“N… no. I came to you first. I was just worried because the twins aged faster!”

“They were born Jurian. And they’ve been 15 for centuries now. They didn’t even age when they were imported. Didn’t you notice?”

“Oh… no… I didn’t. Weird. Why?”

“Yuzuha is a First Generation Jurian Tree. She can sustain pretty much unlimited numbers of people at optimal youth. I don’t know why that’s 15 instead of 25 or so… but for those two? Who knows. Maybe she just feels like it? Maybe that’s how they choose to look.” I stroked her hair and leaned back, planning to get a bit more sleep… and then Sound Four-Seven (Clan Joyhab, Sept Blackadder) a scanner tech paged me (yes, I know, two in a row, but I get like 15 of these pages a month, so not that unusual).

What was unusual was the content. The signal was weak and broken by the Warp. It had been barely coherent when it reached one of my listening posts, a string of electronic pops and hisses, the crackle of static reminding me of a wounded lion snarling in stiffled rage. I was about to ask Sound why she’d summoned me, but then, abruptly, the static cleared and a voice rang out… or rather at least a dozen voices… or rather, one voice, but a dozen different times, all layered atop one another… and as we separated them apart, it became clear they could not possibly all be from the same timeline unless this woman was mad as a hatter.

For the next few hours I listened to the message, hearing her voice somber with sadness as she calls for a ship to bring her home after a fruitless quest, hearing her voice utterly euphoric as she speaks of ancient reliquaries and artifacts recovered, hearing her screaming for rescue that will never even be dispatched as things out of the dark cut her down. Finally the signal ended and all the recordings blinked once… and the data bases emptied themselves as if the sound had never played.

I ordered Sound to replay the recording, just in case.  I was expecting nothing… but instead what I got was a string of co-ordinates… and nothing more. Just the quiet background hum of the universe.

I looked to Mini and sighed, “It’s a trap, of course.”

She nodded. “You’ll take at least three ships, right?”

“I will. And I’ll be careful.” I kissed her and asked “Sound, have Lapsed Pacifist, Preemptive Retaliation, and Faustian Bargain readied. We leave in 12.” He nodded and got on the Vox-caster, informing the captains of those ships that leave was cancelled.

The Carrack Class Faustian Bargain was a 2 kilometer long hauler and armed with macro-cannons and (finally) had a complete crew of nearly 19,000. It’s guns were almost purely defensive. The Lapsed Pacifist, a Conquest Class Star Galleon, was more than twice as long, but it’s ancient design (the class was first laid down Pre-heresy) meant that it was crew intensive (the 31,000 people I had aboard was less than half her establishment of 65,000), and she was slow and somewhat fragile. Although big for a freighter, that’s what she was, and not the warship she resembled. But she was longer ranged and capable of planetary bombardment if needed.

However, the Cobra Class Preemptive Retaliation was none of those things. While designed to be an escort (and so also mostly purely defensive in fleet engagements), it was almost four times as fast as the Star Galleon (2.1 gravities vs 7.6 gravities), and a third the Star Galleon’s 5.1 kilometer length at 1.5. Equipped with a pair of torpedo tubes in its armored prow, and a single Macro-laser battery on each side and in front… its greatest strength was its sensor suite, useful in targeting and controlling the very long-legged Torpedos from beyond the energy range of enemy ships… and often from beyond the enemy’s own scanner range.

Normally, the more powerful ships would be my flagship, but I decided to go aboard the escort for several reasons. It’s sensors and speed meant I would be in a better position to flee if the need arose (caution, not cowardice) and the presence of bigger ships with more guns meant that the Retaliation would be a less likely primary target. Unfortunately, this also meant that I was in relatively uncomfortable quarters, since the PR was not designed to have a high ranked officer aboard. Even a squadron of six of them would seldom see someone higher ranked than a Captain as the squadron’s flag officer. The Cobra was an independent warship… but only barely. It was, in fact, the smallest non-carrier based ship in the Imperial Fleet.

It took almost seven days to arrive at the co-ordinates provided by the cryptic message… which would, from time to time, play without warning, fragments of it blasting out of nearby speakers and Vox-Casters seemingly at random. Thanks to my machine memory, I recorded each of the messages… and, out of boredom more than anything else, I began to compare them. Either she had a time machine or she was repeating several different variations on the same general events, with each version playing out differently as she and her companions attempted to sift through the ruins at what she refers to as the Court of the Heathen Star. Sometimes she managed to obtain incredible treasures… sometimes… well… sometimes i would be snapped out of my revery by the sounds of flesh being torn from bone.

It was like living through a nightmare… someone else’s nightmare at that. The terror and confusion mixed uneasily with the boredom of travel and, the closer I got to the mysterious coordinates, the stronger my sense of deja-vu became… had this happened before? I couldn’t tell, but my nerves were beginning to jangle and I was regretting not bringing Carwyn along, but she and her Reapers were on maneuvers pacifying some of the local kaiju who were damaging a mining encampment.

Finally, finally, finally… We reached the spot. Nothing. A vast, empty expanse of space. What the hell? We fired a few thousand laser blasts through the area, but they hit nothing.

“One more day, then I’m buggering off ho-” I began grumping, when like a bubble bursting, reality was torn asunder as something… something horrific pushed through the thin fabric of time and space and what could only be the Court of the Heathen Star was revealed to me in all its obscene glory… a star system sealed away beyond what appeared to be the Gateway of the Damned. The sun was in the middle of collapse, of folding in on itself to degenerated into a collapsar or maybe a black hole… but something had… frozen it there… the surface of the dark-light sphere twisted and roiled… but it did not shrink or grow… it just… died… eternally.

And around it swirled what could only be described as a limitless flotilla of ancient, desiccated vessels and ruined, mouldering worlds, each drawn across the eons by some slumbering and monstrous evil. A million-million vessels danced in the swollen gravity of the Heathen Star… a million-million and more. There was a sea of xenotech and archeotech and who knew what else beyond that glaring rift.

“How long will that rift remain stable?” I snapped at my sensor-techs.

“I… mm… I think several weeks? But it’s impossible to tell for certain. It could destabilize at any moment, Lady Lathimon.”

I considered, then nodded. “Take us through. I want to at least have a look. Drop a sensor buoy near the gate… two of them. One inside, one out… I want to ping them every 15 minutes. In case something changes.”

“Yes Lady.”

We moved into the gravity well of the massive black star, taking in the vast belts of shattered hulks, the tangled remains of great and terrible fleets left gutted and broken by one or more of history’s innumerable battles. The rings were so distant that they all but blended seamlessly together into a series of rust red rings that slowly spiraled around the horror at the center of this terrible space. It was a slow, almost stately waltz, a passing of countless billions of tons of ruined and shattered dreams spinning in a dance of destruction around the lord of this domain, collision after collision reducing the once glorious ships to dust to be blown outward, scouring other ships and planets alike.

The deja-vu was growing stronger… as if drawing me towards a certain spot. I could practically hear the deep, droning hum of… of something… stellar winds? Destiny? A coming doom? Something… I could feel it in my bones

A tiny pinprick of light caught my attention… a flicker of bright crimson against the dull browns and rust reds of the belts… that spurred me to action. I directed the Retaliation inwards, her sleek prow knocking away the smaller chunks of debris as we wove through the sparse and stationary hulks of the outermost belts towards what seemed like the sole spot of color in this hell.

A few minutes later, a ship came into view, a retrofitted transport ship bearing the markings of one of the orders of the Adeptus Sororitas… the Emperor’s Brides… better known as the Sisters of Battle… things… things were crawling across her hull… things that, under magnification, turned out to be humanoid figures swarming across the Sister Ship, but massive, larger than even a space marine. They were wearing armour that appeared to have been patched together from wreckage and they moved through space by use of what had to be horrifically unsafe makeshift thrustpacks.

They weren’t so much attacking the ship as dismantling it, peeling away the superstructure bit by bit by bit. Then, almost as one… they noticed the Retaliation and, like evil ants, they launched themselves into the void, thrust-rockets flaring as they moved to rip apart my ship.

“Security! Scramble! Prepare to repel boarders from the Hull! I want all teams, repeat all teams, on the hull asap. Don’t forget your packs and thrusters, and bring your bolters. Repair teams, you too. Secure all airlocks and hold fast!” I ran from the bridge, pulling on my helmet and checking my guns. I was packing a fair amount of spare ammo this time.

Of course, I was among the first on the hull. When I’m out and about, I wear my clothing over my eldar armor, so it’s little more than grabbing my helmet and I’m out the door. The things were big, each unique, but strangely homogenous regardless. Each had maneuvering gear, a massive hydraulic cutting claw on one arm and a short ranged fusion beamer on the other. They were massively armored, even if that armor was mostly scrap plates welded to each other.

Unfortunately, they were clearly experts at fighting in zero-G and in space… something my people, even those who had been Void Walkers, weren’t the best at. There hadn’t exactly been a lot for them to fight in the void around the Light except each other. The distances are all fucked up in space and you can see a lot further than you think, since there isn’t any atmosphere to attenuate your vision. If the attackers were bigger, I’d have targeted them with the ship’s weapons, but they’d been designed to deal with attack craft, not invaders.

I leveled my bolter at the first attacked and began shooting them one by one, aiming not for their heavily armored forms but for the more lightly armored fuel tanks and hydraulic linkages. I saved the Shuriken Catapult for killshots as they got closer, punching the blades into their heads whenever I could get a good judge of distance. The bolter hit harder, but didn’t penetrate as deeply, so it was a trade off.

Soon enough, the hull of my ‘little’ ship was bristling with weapons squads, the airlocks spewing out heavy weapons teams who clamped anti-tank weapons to the outside of the ship and began to seriously repel boarders. Soon enough, we’d cleared them from the hull of the Retaliation, then the space around her and, with my crew still on the hull, we moved to assist the Sisters of Battle.

Flinging myself across that void between ships was a thousand times better than skydiving, plunging through the several kilometers between hulls with reckless abandon. I slowed myself by aiming my bolter between my legs and, holding it in both hands, firing a steady stream of armor-piercing rounds as I slammed into the center of a cluster of… whatever they were. Ah, the joy of battle, the mad fire of war. Nothing like it to make you feel alive… nothing like it to make you want to hide as well.

I jerked at the sound of the voice. It asked “Well aware as I am that I shall not like the answer, I will still ask. Why is she so… sticky?”

It was a good question and it took me a moment to realize it was being asked of me… but rather about me. Why was I sticky? Where was I? What happened? I groaned… oh… one of those… things had been swinging a chunk of ferrocrete on a post at me… I’d thought I’d ducked in time… but, if the throbbing in my head was anything to go by, I got clipped pretty hard. I decided to just lie there and be sticky until I had the faintest clue what was going on… and until my head hurt less… I was going to need a new helmet I suspected… I focused on repairing the worst of the damage as a second voice responded.

“I wanted to verify that our saviour was uninjured,” voice two said, sounding less than hinged honestly.

“And that explains the stickiness?” voice one asked archly. I knew that voice… it was the voice from the recordings… oh… this was less than good.

“I rubbed the sacred ointment all of her body while she slept,” less than sain girl responded. Yes, female… I recognized female voices. Both were female. Wait, did she say “All over.” riight… I was naked and sticky and…

It was probably better to be awake now. I opened my eyes to discover two women staring down at me. The first was a towering dark-haired woman in jet black power armor who, it must be said, did a fine job of radiating authority, while the second was a massive copper-haired younger woman… no… wait… not massive… just very very close to me. Waaay inside my personal space and with an expression that was not comforting. It and Smile were technically cousins, but if Smile was the cousin you invited over to all the family functions… this was the one you had a restraining order against.

I was reasonably certain she hadn’t blinked once since I’d opened my eyes, but I was disinclined to make eye contact long enough to verify… her grin grew larger as she realized I was awake and she said ‘Hiiiiiiiiiii!’ in a way that was both somehow off and very worrying. “Areyoualright? Doyou neeeeed moreointment? Foryour booodeeee?” Very off… it was like she didn’t know where words ended… or what personal space was… and why was this ointment sticky? She leaned in even closer and whispered “it rubs the ointment on its skin.”

“Okay, thanks for your help, but get her away from me now,” I growled, palming crazy lady in the face and pushing her back as I sat up. My system was telling me that the ointment wasn’t actively harmful, but it wasn’t good for my system in the slightest and so I changed it’s biochemistry as my skin soaked it up, leaving the glisten but losing the… tackiness.

The other woman took a step neared and put a hand on redhair’s shoulder and pulled her back to something more reasonable with a firm, no nonsense gesture. I sighed with relieve a bit and glanced around the room, looking for my armor and weapons.

“Please, excuse the behaviour of Initiate Lina. While she will, one day, make an exceptional Sister… possibly in one of the Orders Hospitaler, her zeal and drive to… heal… the faithful does sometimes get the better of her.” She took a breath, and a moment to clean her monacle, perhaps thinking about what to say next, perhaps just drawing attention to the fact that she could actually pull off wearing a monocle. It was a good look for her and matched well with the scar that crossed her other eye, clearly blinding her on that side. “I am, of course, Celestian Arlissa Val’Rayan of the Order of the Obsidian Rose. These are my initiates,” she gestured to each of the others in the small chamber. “Initiate Lina, our Scholar Medica.” Lina waved cheerfully with a smile that was just a bit too big. She needed drugs, and not in a good way.

“Initiate Fia, our expedition’s record keeper,” she motioned to another young woman, one with green hair, who was seated quietly in a corner and radiating an aura that said ‘pay no attention to me’. She was also reading a copy of ‘Archdeacon Malovich: The Collected Sermons’ and was (apparently) deeply enraptured… except that, from where I was laying, I could make out the bottom of a second (smaller) book tucked inside the tome. The Celestian noticed as well, because her voice took on the merest hint of annoyance as she continued, “Who one day hopes to be accepted into one of the Orders Dialogous.”

The Celestian sighed. “And, rounding out the last of our merry little quartet is Initiate Cierra, who, should she ever deign to spend time actually studying the holy scripture, instead of cooking!…” Arlissa’s nose flared as the door opened and what must be Cierra entered, holding a covered tray… “Will doubtless prove to be an exceptionally capable member of the Order Famulous.”

I blinked. I didn’t remember that one. “Which are they?”

The newcomer smiled a soft smile, “The diplomatic corps of the Adeptus Sororitas.” She was blonde, round faced, and smiling. An honest, even, balanced, calming smile. I liked her… also, she had the food.

As I tucked into said repast, the Celestian explained. “It occurs to me, friend Rogue Trader… I assume you are a Rogue Trader since you are wearing custom fitted Eldar armor and have a Cobra Class Destroyer as your personal transport?” I nodded, not saying anything.  The food was excellent. She nodded and continued, “It occurs to me that we may be of some use to each other here.”

“By ‘use’ you mean you would like a ride out of here?” I asked between bites.

She nodded gravely. “Our transport lacked the weapons and personnel needed to fight off the Hollow Men and there are only four of us, as you can see. Most of the crew perished before you rescued us. I propose an exchange of services.”

“I’m amenable… though I do have to wonder where my people are and why they haven’t come for me.”

Cierra smiled warmly, “Oh. We explained that you’d been injured and we were treating your wounds and would return you shortly. There are a thousand of your people on the hull of both ships and we’re currently not being attacked.”

“Ah. Very well then… while I get dressed… I assume my clothing is around somewhere?”

Fia pointed at a shelf next to her with a thumb and, hopping up from the bunk, I found my armor in the bin on the shelf. It had been oiled and apparently sanctified to remove the Xeno-cooties or something. I glanced over at Fia’s inner book and mmm’d. “Can Love Bloom in the Battlefield? Any good?” I whispered.

The green-haired sister blushed deeply and stammered. “I… umm… you can borrow it… later… if… if you like?” I shrugged.

“Sure,” I responded, wondering who ‘LIIVI’ was and why she was thinking about him/her so… passionately. I looked to Arlissa. “So, how do you believe you can assist me?” I didn’t mention that I’d be more than happy to help get these four out of this place without need for recompense. Charity is all well and good, but if someone is offering to pay and can afford to, it is often better for their self-esteem to allow them to do so. Also, the wise course of action was to determine if, indeed, they could be of assistance.

“We may not have funds, but we do have what little information we were able to find out about this place.”

“You came to investigate the ruins and in some timelines you returned in triumph, others in disappointment… and in more than I care to remember, you died horrifically,” I said. The others gasped and the Celestian blinked her single eye.

“What do you mean?” she asked coldly, reaching for the sidearm attached to her power armor’s hip.

“I was drawn here by well over a hundred vox-caster messages… all in your voice, all relating various reports you… or versions of you… would have sent out. It was clear that either you were a time traveller or the reports were from different potential timelines. Most of them ended badly.”

She bit her lip but released it immediately as she realized the others might see her expression, but only Cierra seemed at all worried. Fia was too wrapped up in her book… and Lina… was taking something… apparently, she already was on the drugs… maybe all of them. She still hadn’t blinked. Finally Arlissa cleared her throat. “Well then, I guess we own you additional thanks. And so, this is what we know of this place; This is the Court of the Heathen Star. Legends say that it is the largest ship graveyard ever to exist, and that it appears from out of the fog of time seemingly at random, persists for a few days or weeks… then vanishes again only to appear someplace else years or centuries later. It is always accompanied by such messages as you recieved, but I have never heard of anyone actually knowing who sent those messages… or having so completely analyzed them.”

“I remember everything I experience,” I commented dryly. “But please, continue. And include exactly what you were seeking here in this… tortured realm.”

She nodded, cleaning her monocle again as Lina packed up her med-kit and the others began to prepare to leave. My helmet was, indeed, dented, but had begun self-repairing… wrathbone is like memory metal I guess. “There are three worlds trapped in the ambent of the Heathen Star; Blight, Decay, and Oblivion. Blight is the outermost, and neither the largest nor smallest of them. It is a dead, desiccated place, hollowed out like an apple devoured by worms, a honeycomb of ship-sized tunnels and caverns, some clogged by the shattered remains of vessels drawn in by the planet’s weak gravity. The local pirates, who call themselves Wrath’s Carrion, seem to frequent it for recruits and parts for their vessels. We had a few brushes with them but managed to fight them off or escape… until a lucky shot disabled our engines and the Hollow Men attacked.”

“Yes… they seem… unplesant. I take it they’re called that because those suits are empty?”

Fia spoke up, “We don’t know… but they don’t communicate with us or anyone and seem utterly indifferent to the crews they murder as they cut ships apart. They’re ghouls.”

Arlissa continued, “Yes… well… Ghouls they might be… but we have no proof of that. They seem to make their home on the smallest of the worlds, the stygian Decay. If they have a repository of treasures they have harvested over the eons, it would be there. And then there is the innermost world, bigger than either of the others, it is cloaked in boiling grey clouds, so say the records of those who have gone in so deep.  All three worlds lie in what is called ‘The Outer Sea’, the vast bulk of the system, thick with the ruined remains of vessels of every manufacture, race, and function, all drawn from the galaxy outside… or even torn from the greedy claws of the Warp… such is the scale of the sea that to look upon it is enough to drive most explorers to despair… I’m sorry… you probably know all that.”

“Yeah… pretty much. An explorer could spend a hundred lifetimes here and barely touch a tithe of a tithe of a tithe of all there is to see. If this is the Outer Sea… what lies beneath?”

“The Carrion Depths,” Fia said darkly. “Beyond Oblivion the sea thins out to almost nothing, it is said, and the thick fields of wrecks and debris give way to scattered space hulks and broken, blasted fragments… rumors say that there, beneath the very gaze of the Heathen Star, the greatest vessels are drawn to bathe in the twisted light of that turblent and necrotic star.”

“No known explorer has ever ventured that deep and returned to tell the tail, however,” the Celestian commented dryly.

“All very interesting… but why are you here?”

“We were searching for a… a rumor. A mystery,” The older woman seemed to blush softly. “A thousand years ago, a member of our order set forth a prophecy that ‘The Choir of Righteous Fury’ would ‘Journey to the Court of the Heathen Star’ and there they… we… would learn the fate of The Light of Terra.” She blinked her solitary eye at me as I laughed softly. “Such prophecies are no laughing matter,” she scolded sternly.

“Oh. No doubt. No doubt. So, the Light of Terra… Gloriana Class Super Battleship? Commanded by Lord Captain Drakken Grigobritz?”

She blinked. “You know of it?”

“Oh. Sure. I own it.”

You should have seen her jaw. Really. Almost cartoonlike in the drop. “Own… it?”

“Yes. I’ve been rebuilding her for the last 6 years. She was in pretty terrible condition, I’m afraid.”

“You possess the facilities to refit… a Gloriana?”

“Indeed. A pre-heresy automated repair and refit facility. Big enough to completely engulf the Light. Now, tell me… is there any particular thing aboard the Light that you were seeking?”

She narrowed her eyes, as if judging if I was mocking her, then considered it unlikely. “The Light of Terra was the flagship of the Eleventh Legion, before whatever happened to it. We were hoping to learn something about that lost legion and maybe discover the world that was home to its Primarch.”

“Ah. Well, I’ve found no such information aboard her. She was in Imperial service for a long time after Leman Russ took out the Primarch of that Legion, I’m afraid.” Her eyes (even the blind one) were bugging out and I blinked. “What?”

“Leman Russ? The Space Wolves’ Primarch? He…”

“Oh, yes. He was the Emperor’s Executioner. He took out both the Second and Eleventh Primarchs, or at least was assigned to by…” I barely refrained from profaining the Great Golden Git, “His Imperial Majesty.”

“How do you know this? Such is not included in the Imperial Truth.”

“I know many things that are not common knowledge in the realms of the Imperium. Such as the line ‘I don’t have time to die! I’m too busy!’ being the last thing Goge Vandire said before Saint Alicia cut him down. Goge Vandire… seriously… is there a more evil sounding name ever?” I smiled, then pulled on my helmet. “We should leave and figure out what we’re going to do next. I believe we have limited time, and if I want to get to the Carrion-” At that moment, just as I was stepping out of the bunkroom, there was a moment of unnatural cold and the shadow beside the door darkened by a tenth of an umbra (think candle, but of darkness).

I know unnatural cold. I do. And if I was feeling that cold through my armor (which is an enviro-suit too), it was damned cold. In a time less than it takes to blink, I launched myself away from the darkness and, before I hit the deck, I’d already drawn my Shuriken Catapult with one hand, my bolter with the other, and, as I landed, seeing a black shape emerging from the shadow, fired seven times, six with the catapult and once with the bolter.

The figure stumbled, hands dropping the knife and flying to its throat, gacking, choking… and then it fell face first onto the ground, twitching violently. I stood, eyes locking on the figure expiring on the floor, and held up a hand in commanding fashion to the Sisters to stop them from asking anything. Kicking away the knife, I watched as the four armed (yes, four) figure jerked, and stopped moving.. The top of its head was missing completely.

“Mandrake!” the Celestian hissed as I leaned over it and tried to flip it face up.  My grasp didn’t do that… instead, the figure’s skin peeled free of the body with disturbing ease and I could see that the body within was already liquifying. Within moments, I was left with a strange mandrake skin and a pool of what had once been an assassin.

“What, in the name of Terra, is a Mandrake?” I asked.

“Dark Eldar Assassin,” Fia explained. “Founded by Kheradruakh the Decapitator, they’re shadow-walkers. They make murder into an artform… and you… you just… how?”

“Unnatural Cold. I know it better than… anyone. This skin… radiates it. It’s almost mind numbing… Hmm… weird… it seems almost like suede. Anyone know how to sew?”

Lina raised her hand, still not blinking, and the Celestian frowned. “You cannot be thinking of…”

I grinned though she couldn’t see it. “The weapon of my enemy shall become my weapon. They will fear me as the coming of change, even those who have never known fear before. Celestian, I am older than the oldest Primarch. I have walked the sands of Terra back before there was a Millennium One and dined with the Emperor when he was no more than a Man.” And it was true. He was, for some reason, hanging out on the Civilization Earth. No idea why.

They looked at me with a combination of awe and wonder, and even the Celestian wasn’t crying ‘Heresy!’ and trying to shoot me. Which was good. Instead, Fia asked, “What was he like?”

“Tall. Charismatic. Focused. A little foolish at times, but well meaning. A little distrustful of the common man, but still willing to do almost anything to protect them. Hated religion with a burning passion. Really, really did not approve of Lorgar’s belief that he was a god.”

The Celestian narrowed her eyes, “Are you saying the Emperor is not a god?”

I laughed, then, pretending to lower my guard as I handed Lina the skin, “He would be offended at the suggestion that he is one… but with quadrillions of worshippers, if he wasn’t a god back then, he’s one now. Being a God isn’t something you get to say no to. I’ve been a god in my time too. My empire was vast too. But the Magi are long gone in this time.”

Fia blinked. “Magi? I’ve… heard of them… one of the great star… they hmmm… It’s all rumors and legends from the Dark Ages of Humanity.”

I nodded, unsurprised. “No worries. It was long ago. They call me many things. I have had many, many names… but in this time and place, I am called Sigismonda Lathimon the third, and I am the dynast of the House of Lathimon, master of the Light of Terra and the Righteous Path, Governor of Paradise, and Manifest of the Magi Reborn. Now, let’s get you ladies and any of your surviving crew over to the Preemptive Retaliation and head inward. I want to see these Carrion Depths for myself.”

It became rapidly clear that the Celestian (despite being technically married to the Corpse Emperor) was… infatuated with me. Very strange. Very. But she was incredibly calm in her deeply focused way, hanging on my every word in a way that bordered on veneration. She also insisted, in our second skirmish with the Hollow Men, that she was a good shot… she wasn’t. Not only did she have no depth perception, she refused to adjust her aim for that fact. One eyed people can be good marksmen… she wasn’t. She was, however, death in close combat.

Lina, in her own goofy, slightly crazy way, was fun to be around… and I suspected she’d be even more fun during some of my people’s religious ceremonies… but she really, really needed to learn what ‘Personal Space’ meant. And could maybe use a nap. That much stay awake drugs couldn’t be good for anyone. She once asked me if the rag she was holding smelled of cloroform. I woke up sticky again after that. Sigh. Then I modified myself to not react that way to knockout gas.

Fia, it turned out, liked absolutely terrible romance novels… but they were amusing enough and it wasn’t like I had an over abundance of things to do as my crews moved us deeper and deeper… barring looking at scans of some obscenely large lifeform that Fia ID’d as a Void Kraken… and a young one at that. We kept a constant scan lock on the bastard, which was several times larger than the Retaliation, and kept moving through the cloud of debris. Fia had been blessed with a nearly perfect memory, which was nice, because it meant we could argue minutae of the books she shared with me, and she was deeply logical about everything that wasn’t romance novels.

She was also the group’s quartermaster and oversaw the other two in their physical fitness regimins… which I joined in (and not only because it was nice to see all that sweaty bare flesh… they were very attractive in their own ways) because I usually did my excersizes with others back on the station and hadn’t brought anyone along for this trip. Lina was the slender one of the group, long of leg and arm, and smooth of skin (thanks to the ointment no doubt), but she was the least muscular of the trio. Fia was… extremely fit. Muscular and corded, she approached physical fitness the same way a fitness instructor would. And then there was Cierra…

Cierra was, don’t get me wrong, incredibly buff. She was a Sister of Battle, after all. She was also very curvy… almost rubenesque over the muscles and she didn’t have the clear definition of Fia or the svelt slenderness of Lina… and the other two mocked her for it until I told them to knock it off and read them the riot act for bodyshaming. Cierra wasn’t unhealthy… far from it… and was clearly embarassed by their comments, even though she didn’t let them dent her relentless cheer.

She was also incredibly good at reading people… like sixth sense good… and she soon had many members of my crew wrapped around her finger… which she used to supplant my butler and personal chef. Good lord could she cook.  Especially desserts. Good thing I burned through fucktons of calories each day.

All four of them were welcomed by my crew, and in the next six days… and 8 battles between us and the Hollow Men or the Pirates of Wrath’s Carrion (all of which we won, duh), they began to factionalize my crew into fan clubs… and shippers. Apparently, there was debate among my crew about which of the four would be the first to be inducted into the Lady’s Harem first. I also began to find that my fleet’s data net was carrying a heavier load than normal… which turned out to be because my crew was getting into a shipping war… art and stories included.

There was also rampant claims that such was Heresy and that I (and my love life) was sacrosanct. That I put a stop to immediately by explaining that I was not infallible, that under no circumstances was anyone to be called Heretic or anything like it in an attempt to defend my person. If I was offended, I personally would explain why and deal with the offender… like the one crew member who found himself breathing vacuum for writing snuff-porn featuring yours truly doing rather unspeakable things. His works were erased and I, after spending a little time in his head, ended up giving him my own mercy. Then I spent a bit more time wishing, in vain, for brain bleach. Unfortunately, my cybernetic hindbrain didn’t have a delete switch. I’d have to fix that at some point. Gaaah.

As we were passing Oblivion’s orbit, though about a fifth of the way round the massive solar abomination, we received a distress signal… one with a carrier signal that Fia recognized. It was a Sister’s of Battle Basilica Ship called ‘The Last Martyr’ and she was, according to the garbled report, under attack by… someone. Seven imploring eyes made me sigh, then direct the transports to keep moving inward as stealthily as they could (which was not very), while I took the Retaliation towards the distress signal.

“The Last Martyr has been lost for almost six centuries,” Fia supplied. “It disappeared in the Obergard Expanse, under the command of Canoness Alicia Dominica. She was a converted merchantman…” I continued listening to Fia’s breakdown, but mostly I was studying the scanner readings, tracking my other ships and the distant Kraken (It was moving about a fair amount, but was currently 8 AUs away), all the while searching for the slightest sign that we were sailing into a trap.

What I found was a burning hulk, scarred and cracked open, venting atmosphere as figures tore at her outer hull, flares of light from fusion beamers leaving dancing lights flickering in front of my eyes. Hollow Men were cannibalizing the ship. Most of her crew had to be dead already, but I had a bit of a hate on for the faceless murderers at this point, so I ordered my people out to save whatever could be saved.

By this point, I’d pretty much figured out how the Hollow Men functioned and they never seemed to really vary their strategies too much… but then again, those I’d met really didn’t have much of a chance to tell the others about the experience. It was a damned good thing I’d packed a lot of ammo, because I was burning through it with the kind of reckless abandon of a profligate. Slow and bulky and cumbersome, the Hollow Men were still heavily armored, but squad weaponry was something they were no match for, and we mowed them down like wheat before a scythe.

Still, the damage they’d inflicted upon the Last Martyr was not making our rescue mission easy. The ship was collapsing in on itself in various places, massive emergency bulkheads falling free of their moorings to shear through decks like colossal razorblades, the air thick with toxic smoke. Visibility was almost non-existent.

Ahead of us as my party moved deeper, one of the Hollow Men stumbled out of the smoke, burning in a bizarre blue-purple flame, the hulking figure collapsing almost at my feet, the remains in turn collapsing in on themselves as the eldritch flames consumed it utterly. There had been not a sound.

We headed in that direction, discovering more and more signs of battle and soon enough we found the first corpses of slain Sisters of battle as well, littering hastily made and smashed apart barricades. More and more, it became apparent that whatever killed the bulk of the Sisters came from behind them, from within the Ship and the area they sought to fortify. The Hollowmen, it seemed, had only managed to bring down a handful of the warrior-nuns.

Up ahead, I picked up a new sound, one different from the tortured sound of shifting metal as the weight of the ship tore itself apart. It was the sound of combat. We pushed on, almost at a run now, expecting the worst. We found it.

Bursting into the Basilica itself, we found that the central shrine to the emperor had been desecrated and filled with the insignia of Chaos… And that had, in turn, been defaced.

Standing in the center of the madness were five women, back to back and fighting hard as they cut down the last of the Sisters… sisters it was now clear, thanks to lack of smoke obscuring things, that had fallen to the forces of Chaos.

So too had the five… though in a way that boggled the mind. All five bore the marks of the Ruinous Powers… or at least they had. On the ornate armor four of them wore (and the heavy shoulder-pads that were all the fifth was wearing) were scarred patches where the insignia  of Khorne, Slaanesh, Tzeentch, Nurgle, and Chaos Undivided had been gouged away.

My four Sisters were stunned momentarily, as were the five ahead of us, and I shot the last half dozen corrupted sisters in the back, then held up a hand to the ladies at my back. “Don’t attack. I would know what, in the name of Terra is going on here.”

The other group turned to regard us for a moment, then one stepped forward, her moments that of a predatory creature, one utterly, completely confident in its prowess, well aware that the world contains terribly dangerous things… and that she was one of them.

“Well, well, well… what do we have here?” Her voice was supernaturally charismatic and I threw up telepathic shields and wards at once. Her skin was also the black of obsidian and she was breathtakingly lovely. She was clearly the leader and had once served Chaos Undivided if her armor’s symbology was any indication. “I do hope you haven’t travelled all this way to worship here in this place of imaginary sky-monsters.”

“I prefer to think of them as Psychic Tumors on the face of the Immaterium, and no… we have come to answer the distress signal… So, you’ve turned your backs on Chaos?”

“We have pledged our allegiance to Necoho The Doubter.”

“Uhh… He doesn’t exist,” I said.

“We know that,” the obsidian woman snapped.

“Who is Necoho?” Cierra asked.

“Chaos God of Atheism… Quite likely he’s the Emperor fucking with the Ruinous Powers.”

“WHAT?” Both groups snapped at me. I shrugged.

“Think about it. The Emperor has an incredibly strong presence in the Warp, thanks to the Astronomican, and Big E was dedicated to destroying… oh… right… you guys never met Emps… look. The Emperor of Mankind was not a fan of religion. Haaated it. Called it baseless superstition. Despised it and all its trappings. After he emerged to unify Terra, he and his Thunder Warriors burned every single church, temple, basilica… every single shrine to any of the gods of mankind… and there were a lot of them. Probably burned a few dedicated to me too… if anyone remembered me… what?”

The nine were just staring at me. All of them (at least the former Tzeentchian Sorceress who I was having trouble reading the mind of) were very close to BSOD at the logical conflict.

“Right… Look. The entire Imperial Truth? The state religion? That was started by Lorgar. I told you gals about that… I told them about it… Lorgar was convinced Emps was a God and needed to be worshipped.  When Emps told him to knock it the fuck off, Lorgar went all sulky and decided to find some beings who would let him worship them like gods… that’s pretty much it. That’s why the Ecclesiarchy exists. And why half the fucking Primarchs fell to Chaos… well, why 7 of the 9 did. Magnus fell because he was too embarrassed at being a fuck-up and who the hell knows why Alpharius-Omegon did anything… The twins were weird. And you’re looking at me like I’ve grown two heads again.”

They really were. Lina giggled and patting me on both shoulders and, after a long moment of not blinking said “no, still only one.” That made the 12 foot tall ex-Nurglite laugh… which was just… weird. She was wearing Terminator armor and was green-skinned… great… two crazy green ladies.

“Right… so… why were you slaughtering all these…” I motioned around. “I take it they objected to your… change of allegiance?”

“They… they spend all their lives blindly devoted to some higher power,” the ex-Khornite began, eyes blazing under an utterly bald pate, the massive hellbrass daemon that I’d taken for a statue shifting uneasily behind her. “Pledging allegiance to a god who isn’t a god, then… then… then we… they… discover new gods, gods who seem like gods, and we… they… pledge allegiance to that… only… only to discover they don’t actually exist at all… and then, when we tried to have a civilized… CIVILIZED CONVERSATION! About it, they attacked-”

“Lady Lathimon, we’re under attack.”

“While this is all very fascinating… and I’m sure I’d love to discuss the various ways in which we’re all heretics and deserve a right good spanking… apparently we are currently under attack. Ladies of the Emperor and Ladies of Necoho who might be the Emperor having a larf… may I suggest we get the fuck out of the dying ship and-” The dying ship jerked as something hit it very hard and a statue of Slaanesh toppled forward towards the five.

Without thinking, I grabbed all five with my mind and shoved them out of the way. My technique wasn’t subtle or refined, but moving people across a room I could once more manage. The statue smashed down with a massive crash, the head snapping off and bouncing straight towards us. The Khornite wailed “BIGGGLES!” as Arlissa grabbed me and tossed me sideways into Cierra’s arms as the massive head smashed through the space where the Celestian was standing, her armor screaming as she tried to keep the thing from crushing her.

The ship rocked again and I stumbled as Cierra set me down. “Lina, see to the Celestian. Fia, figure a way out of here. Cierra, help Lina.” I turned to the others. The Khornite was going utterly berserk, hacking at the statue with a pair of chainaxes and scream-sobbing for someone called Biggles. The others were picking themselves up from where I’d flung them. The Sorceress looked over to me, eyes very wide.

“How?” She asked, sounding a little breathless at my narrow rescue. She’d felt what I’d done, but sensed nothing about my having the kind of power needed.

“Alpha Psyker. Who the hell is Biggles?” I explained and asked in a single breath, fumbling at my belt for a caltube.

“Her Juggernaut,” she explained.

“It’s hellbrass, right?”

She nodded.

“Great, help me with this, my TK isn’t as good as my other powers at the moment.”

Together we lifted the statue off the heavily injured damon, and the Khornate Berserker went from psychotic battle machine to simpering in a heartbeat, snapping out of her rage in an zero point zero seconds and began cooing… cooing! at the massive and clearly insane engine of destruction and death. The Nurglite burped once, then vomited all over the beast… I flinched… then blinked in surprise as, somehow… it seemed to be being healed by the disgusting bile.

“Well, that was… umm… let’s get out of here?” I suggested, turning… and nearly tripping over the biggest damned pistol I’ve ever seen. Seriously… I mean, I’ve seen Adeptus Astartes (Space Marine) artwork, so I’ve seen how ridiculously big their meltaguns are… but they’re being held by people that have mostly the same build as a human (in power armor) so the guns just look big… but that belies the fact that Space Marines are 10-12 feet tall and have massive frames even for that size. The gun was fucking huge!.. It was also very pretty. I snagged it and slapped it onto my back. I’d no idea how it had gotten there, but maybe it would be helpful. Meltaguns are like plasma-powered flamethrowers… kinda.

Okay, not really. The Meltagun was a handheld fusion gun. Powerful, short-ranged, anti-armor, they carried an ammunition canister which contained highly pressurised gases in an unstable sub-molecular state that, when the trigger was pulled, unleashed a highly energetic beam of almost pure heat… heat like the surface of a star hot, and capable of melting through almost anything.  Just don’t use them at too close of range or you’d learn the meaning of ‘backblast’ right quick.

“Ladies… if you want to live to serve your non-existent god another day, I recommend we run. Helmets on… it’s fucking nasty out… does she have any clothing?” I asked the Sorceress, looking over at the nearly naked… and amazingly well tattooed and pierced… amazon warrior slash punk bitch that had clearly once served… and likely serviced… Slaanesh.

“Sabine? Naw. She’s gonna need help.”

I bit my lip, not meeting the Sorceress’s eyes (which were two columns of purple-blue warpfire.) Unfortunately, that meant I was staring at her breasts, which were barely contained in the skin-tight blue bodysuit that reminded me of Samus’s Zero Suit… though the ex-Tzeentchian wasn’t as tall or buxom… still stunning though. She noticed… and preened a little.

“Right. Escape now. Argue about who needs help later… I have a friend you five should meet. You especially.” We ran for it, Cierra and Lina supporting the heavily injured Arlissa. I was hesitant to take time to heal her now, or to ask vomit lady to do her trick on her. Chaos was still Chaos, no matter how much they might not like the Chaos Gods.

Getting out of the ship took much less time than getting in… because we ran out of ship. One moment, we were pounding down a corridor full of smoke… and the next we were out of the ship and into the void between. The whole area was lit by the hellfire of ship to ship weapons as the Retaliation took on several smaller attack craft, each marked with a stylized skull and crossbones.

I wrapped my TK field around my four Sisters and checked that the Sorceress had her compatriots (and Biggles) in tow as well. I sent a telepath burst of information to her explaining what I was thinking, and she nodded and we crossed the several kilometers separating us from the nearest attack craft in moments.

The battle against the pirates of Wrath’s Carrion was not pretty. The competition between the two groups of Sisters was palpable, and while Lina, Fia, and Cierra were nowhere near the match in battle of the Lost Sisters, they tried damned hard.

The Lost Sisters consisted of Canoness Alicia Dominica (yes, the one time captain of the Last Martyr and now living Obsidian Statue and violently militant atheist), Lethe Catena (former devotee of Tzeentch and violent atheist (and newest member of the quartet)), Sabine San Leor (former Noise Marine of Slaanesh, naked, drugged up, and violent atheist with her dial turned permanently up to 11), Verena Armenii (ex-Nurglite Terminatrix, snuggler, green oni (complete with forehead horn) and, surprisingly, not a violent atheist… armed with a Bilethrower and 12 feet tall… a Bilethrower is a freaking disease version of a flamethrower… this is my Plague Werfer… it Werfs Plague.), and Decima (Still a berserker, just no longer a Khornate one, and just plain violent. All the time. With her mount Biggles… who was an ickle cutey according to crazy mcpsycho. Also an atheist.)

The pirates really didn’t stand a chance between the 10 of us. They did however fight to the last, refusing all quarter. We cleared the first ship in twenty minutes of hard fighting, snagged a breaching pod and launched ourselves towards the third (the second had been taken out by one of the Retaliation’s torpedoes), and in fifteen minutes, we’d slashed our way to the bridge of the 800 meter long sub-warp ship.

“Who, the zog, are you freaks?” screamed the pirate captain as I used my brand new toy to rip through the bulkhead protecting his bridge as if it were tissue paper… I wasn’t certain, having never used a meltagun before… but I was relatively certain they weren’t supposed to be able to just… chew through reinforced metal that easily. The recoil was amazing though… oww…

“I am she who encompasses your fukken doom. Your little game hurt my friends!” The captain, whose name had been Raslor Harfinch, barely had time to scream as the blood in his body literally boiled, his eyes exploding, smoke pouring out of his ears as the high fat material between his ears combusted… and then he was a pillar of fire that rapidly turned into ash. The nine looked from the smear on the deck, back to me, then almost as one, flinched away. I breathed out slowly, “Lets get out of here.”

I sent teams over to vacuum the computers of the two pirate vessels and we were able to find their base… and cleanse the universe of the murderous scum. As we returned the favor and looted their possessions, Decima commented, “I don’t expect you to understand, since you have not lived it… but there is no such thing as ‘enough violence’. One can have violence, more violence, and… on a good day… you might even get a lot of violence, but never in a million years will there be enough violence. It’s a fundamental impossibility. But today… today was a good day.”

I laughed. “Decima… I’ve lived it. Would you like to see some of the days I’ve lived, violence wise?”

She shrugged. I’d come to realize that, as insane as she was, she was also by far the most intelligent of her cadre, but heavily focused and utterly dedicated to battle.

So, I showed her. I showed her the battles I’d fought, the extermination of a million cybernetic super-soldiers, the hordes of nazi-zombies that filled streets like a tide, the fire nation war, the battles against Hollows and Shinigami and Quincy, against abominations, witches, and food critics. In the end, she nodded.

“Looks like fun.” Ah well, to each their own.

From the pirate base, we scavenged a suite of Counterfire Defenses, a system that had, once upon a pre-heresy time been a common ground based support system, designed to deal with charging Orks. The CFD suit incorporated predictive logic circuits to ensure that assaulting enemies were met with a withering wall of hyper-accurate fire.  This CFD system had been retrofitted to serve as a base’s point defence system. It wouldn’t be hard to integrate it into the Light in the same role, and combined with the Microlaser Defense Grid, should make getting close to the Light a very very bad idea.

We also pulled the base’s central power core… it was a monstrous thing that they’d clearly stolen from some serious techbase. It was labeled (according to the equally stolen tech manuals) an Ashen IV Reactor and the output was just… it made the old core look half-asleep. Apparently Ashens World was a renegade forgeworld in the Kronus Expanse and the reactor was powered by dark matter. The output was, in fact, so high, that it was potentially dangerously overwhelming to the ship’s systems… But better too much power than too little. Maybe we’d have to leave all the lights on.

Once we were back on the Retaliation, the strange harem comedy dynamic of the sisters began to reach weird levels. Decima was a Tsundere (and a violent one of course), Cierra and Verena seemed to be competing with each other to be nicer to me, Lina was creepy, Sabine was fucking nuts (as in she found some powder in the pirate based marked with a skull and crossbones and asked if I wanted to snort it off her breasts crazy) and had as much concept of Personal Space as Lina did… and Lethe, Alicia, and Arlessa were all, clearly, maneuvering against each other. Both leaders were managing to keep their respective groups together… but it was like… watching harem comedies is one thing. Being fully aware that you’ve somehow ended up as the lesbian protagonist of one… faintly terrifying. Especially when surrounded by militant fanatics armed with incredibly dangerous weapons and or psychic powers.

More than once I’d been forced to stop fights caused because two different Sisters were both trying to sneak into my quarters for a little bit of… let’s call it holding hands. Yes… that’s a good thing to call it. It eventually got to the point where I just decided to stop sleeping until I could find some place to be safe from those attempts. Exactly two (Arlessa and Lethe) of them knew what the word consent means… or at least cared in the slightest about it. Okay, okay… that’s not fair of me. Only two (Lina and Sabine) actually didn’t care at all.

Fia understood it… but, having based all her knowledge of relationships off of trashy quasi-porn, had no frame of reference towards lack of consent being a bad thing. Decima knew what consent was… and thought worrying about it was for wimps… and was completely willing to debate it with you… or punch you in the face. Alicia was perfectly willing to use her charisma to get what she wanted. Ditto Cierra and her emotional blackmail… I mean intuitive skills. And Verena just hugged… a lot. All the damned time. That (out of armor) she was built like a very curvy bunker made the hugs not unpleasant… and she honestly was a great listener… and she smelled like a garden, which was just… odd.

But all of them were some degree of nucking futz!  Gaaaah.

Still, they’d been useful, each in their own ways… like Fia finding out that the Meltagun I’d found was a Doom Legion (loyalist Space Marines) relic that was, somehow, extra effective against things like vehicles, buildings, and starship components that are supposed to be resistant to being shot. It had a kill-record so long it was kept in a vault on Watch Fortress Erioch and was named ‘Death of Steel’. I secretly called it Boob-Crusher… oww… owww…

Finally, we reached the Carrion Deeps and began scanning for large, interesting wrecks… and got very lucky. Thrice. The first was time was in a derelict warship from the Pre-Imperial period, an Automated Repair System that was capable of generating a swarm of tiny maintenance drones that could surge through a vessel, repairing it in real time, even in the heart of battle, and with a cogitator that could be instructed with the pattern of the ship it was attached to and linked into CNC to govern which systems it prioritized. I didn’t want to think of my ship getting damaged… but reality said it was likely, and better to be prepared for it. Maybe the system could speed up the refit.

That warship also provided a Gravity Wave Projector, a system that could generate a spherical (or semi-spherical) pulse of high powered gravitons around the ship it was mounted on. Not only could this graviton wave repulse nearby enemies, it would slow their advance to a crawl… or halt them altogether. Combined with the microlaser defense grid and counterfire system, attack craft and enemy torpedos would be sitting ducks.

Our second piece of luck was found in the shattered remnants of a xenohulk, a ship that looked more like the corpse of a long dead metallic whale than anything recognizable as belonging to any of the local factions. Deep in the heart of this strange ship, we found several organelles which contained a prize both weird and worrying. The organelles were, from what I could intuit, analogous to the ship’s lymph nodes and the substance they contained was infected with a virus that could transform metal into metallic flesh. It could, in a word, bring a ship to life, allowing it to evolve and heal as if it were a living thing. It was clear it wasn’t particularly contagious, but any ship those organelles were transplanted into would become a void-dwelling being… I had no idea if it would be a dumb beast or a genius… but the research potential was fascinating.

We salvaged as many of the semi-truck sized glands as possible and stored them aboard the Faustian Bargain… all except one, which I had installed along the spine of the Retaliation. It was the smallest of my ships and, ultimately, the most easily replaceable if everything went wrong. It was also the best place for me to monitor the progress personally. Verena seemed just as fascinated… and, oddly, so did Decima. I hoped Biggles wouldn’t get jealous.

But if all of those were finds worth almost any price, they paled in comparison to the ultimate prize of the expedition, and the one which the claiming of nearly cost me everything. Deep inside the Heathen Star’s gravity well and perilously close to the Void Kraken’s hunting ground, was a chunk of what could only be a Necrontyr Void Fortress. It was, even in its fragmentary state, titanic, easily the size of Asia, and it drifted in a fixed spot, utterly ignoring such things as inertia and gravity. I sent the other ships back to the safe edges of the Deeps (if there could be said to be anything safe about the deeps… we’d been struggling just to keep the ships from getting sucked into the star and the grav-tides were getting worse… and the horrors we’d had to fight off in those shattered wrecks were things of nightmares… thankfully, so was I.) and took the Retaliation in close to the fortress… and then into its passages, easily large enough to swallow a ship the size of Retaliation as if she was a fly in a ventilation duct.

On one side of my bridge, the Sisters of Battle were clustered around the sensors, looking for anything threatening. On the other side, the Lost Sisters were monitoring the grav-scanner, trying to localize whatever was keeping the fortress in place. I was in the middle, trying not to be distracted by their whispered conversation.

“Why does the Trader/Lady put up with them?” Fia and Lethe whined in almost exactly the same tone at nearly the exact same time.

“They are likely allies of convenience,” Alicia and Arlessa both responded in turn, same laconic tone, with a hidden edge of frustration and placation. “Surely someone was wise/noble, as the Lady/Trader can see that they will turn on her the moment they are free to act.”

“I don’t know…” Verena and Lina sighed in unison. “Maybe they’re not so bad… a few hugs/massages and they might come around to our way of thinking. We/They were once like them/us. Perhaps they can be convinced to see the light/error of their ways.”

“But… they’re Heretics/True Believers!” Cierra and Sabine complained.

Something was very strange in that. How could these two groups be that in sync with each other… and yet so diametrically opposed. It was like two different timelines had produced two nearly identical groups, counterparts to each other… and only the abhorrent nature of this place, this place that warped time and timelines, had brought them together. Had there been a timeline where I’d only met one of these groups? Or neither? Or was I, outside the nature of this place entirely, as much an anomaly as the Heathen Star itself? I had no way of knowing.

I spoke up then, “Personally, I think Heretics get a bad rap. Clearly they’re just cold.” It took both several long moments to realize I was making a very bad joke… after all… the Inquisition’s battle cry might as well have been “BURN THE HERETICS!”

We drifted deeper, deeper, into the faux egyptian tomb-bays of this ship, occasionally blasting a Necrontyr Sentry pod driven insane by the warping of space and the destruction of central control… and then, far from the unlight of the solar horror, we found what was keeping the place in place… a Necrontyr Inertialess Drive system… in perfect working order, even after perhaps millions of years trapped in this hell. With all due caution, we slowly extricated the nodes of the system, pulling them out one by one and very carefully monitoring the stability of the station-chunk.

Unfortunately, our careful monitoring of the chunk meant that we might have lost track of the Kraken, and since the the chunk began to plummet into the star as we yanked more and more of that which was keeping it from doing exactly that… we were in a bit of a hurry to get out of the now doomed ruin before it could pull us in with it.  

Note to self, it is a bad idea to just strap alien technologies to the outside of your spaceship and hope they work. Of course, it wasn’t like we had much choice. Each of the Drive-Nodes was a tenth the size of the Retaliation and there were 8 of them. We had had to scavenge brackets from the chunk itself just to moor them in place to the bottom (6) and stern (2) of the smaller ship… running power relays had been a job and a half as well… it was not a system that was designed for longevity… but it worked long enough.

It’s amazing what you can do when you can just flat out ignore inertia. The struts we were using to hold the two drives we’d actually rigged to the Retaliation’s Power Core should not have held… but lacking inertia, the struts did little more than keep the drives aligned correctly and we zipped through the tumbling chunk’s corridors like the kilometer long craft was a Harrier Jump Jet… and very nearly flew right into the waiting maw of the Kraken.

What followed was three days of terrified flight as we, barely, stayed just out of reach of the Kraken. Our ships all seemed to respond ever more sluggishly as we struggled to reach the portal back to real space, even more than the holds full of resources, equipment, and treasure would have explained and only by actually flipping the Retaliation like she was a Star Fury and, coasting backward for a precious few minutes, unloading every remaining torpedo straight into the face of the Kraken were we able to slow it enough to get away from it… and doing so cost me the entire prow of the Retaliation, as one of those flailing tentacles smashed it clean off.

Somehow, as our flight continued, the crippled Retaliation slowly gaining on her sisters, I came to realize that the Heathen Star was, even now, struggling to keep what it had claimed long ago. It was a futile attempt, as, finally, we moved through the Gateway of the Damned and back into the somehow brighter darkness of the void… and the portal snapped closed just as the Kraken too had slithered through, a roar of energy sending shockwaves rippling through the fabric of the warp strong enough to make both Lethe and me stagger. Seems like the Heathen Star is something of a sore loser.

The Kraken considered my fleet for a moment, then the universe around it… and squirmed off into the endless black. Apparently we weren’t worth the trouble.

“So, Ladies… can I drop you anywhere?” The looks that simple question elicited  filled me with a disquiet that, were Cthulhu himself in my shoes, he’d have decided that going back into deathless sleep was preferable. This… was not good.

Next: Light of Terra, Part 6

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Analysis and Commentary

I love this part. It’s a lot of fun. And the choices and challenges it includes are great… except one. But I’ll get to that in a bit. First off, the visuals of the place itself and the menace of the Hollow Men is very cool, and the dynamic of the Choirs, whichever group you end up with, is amusing, and frankly terrifying… but I’ll get to that in a bit too.

First, as you no doubt realize, I adjusted the timing of when I got the two transports I used in this part to within the other DLCs that I did before this. The Retaliation I kept here, and went with the Cobra because it has the best scanners, something ideal for dealing with treasure hunts and pirates and void krakens.

This part grants a stipend of 400 CP, and while that’s nice… it comes (essentially), in the form of two mandatory drawbacks. For 400, you have to fight off the Hollow Men to save whichever Choir you should encounter (Righteous Fury for those who don’t break the Dead Light, Lost Voices for those who did)… and for 0 (yes, zero, fuuuuck… its why I didn’t feel bad doing something I did) you have to survive an assassination attempt by Kheradruakh the Decapitator.

I thought for sure this guy would end me. Honestly. I gave myself a 1% chance of victory and rolled a d1000. Any triple number would mean I’d managed to kill him, with the lower numbers indicating an easier fight. I got triple 3. Chump got pwn’d. It was as if the Luck of the Damned perk was actually reaching out into the real world to touch my dice… the same also occurred in DLCs 4 and 5, as you’ll see later, though not to the same insane level. As I said, you get zero CP for having to deal with him, but you do get a Shadow-Step Cloak out of it… which is nice. I also used him as an excuse to bend the rules, because narrative trumps… whatever.

I took another 1200 CP worth of Drawbacks to pay for everything I wanted… and was still 600 CP over. This was an expensive section… though Death of Steel I really didn’t need. I just like it. Included in those were another 300 CP for having to deal with the Hollow Men more, 200 CP for having to deal with the Pirates, and 500 CP for the Void Kraken. The last 200 were for going to the most dangerous part of the system to hunt treasure… but I had to brave it to get the Necrontyr Drive. The choice of any one ship upgrade from any faction other than your chosen one was just too big a reward to pass up. Also, the Drive makes our eventual escape from going that deep reasonable, especially on a ship as fast as the Cobra already. (three times the accel of a transport)

I also calculated odds for dealing with the various threats. The Kraken got a 50% to escape, and worse odds to avoid or defeat it. It nearly destroyed the PR. The Pirates got a 80% to defeat, a 20% to subvert… I ended up having to kill them all. The hollow Men were a bit more of a threat, but not much of one as long as we kept moving and shot to kill. It was a good challenge, all told.

The biggest challenge for me was, ultimately (aside from deciding which components to buy), figuring out what to do with the Choir… or rather Choirs. See, the Lost Voices are a fascinating group and, yes, terrifying, but I felt it was almost worth breaking the Deadlight to get to interact with them… but then I’d have to deal with Cultist Chan, and she’s not worth it. I don’t like Bacon that much.

Also, the chance to have the two Choirs interacting with each other was, to my mind, too good to pass up… so I ignored the unwritten rule that said a jumper couldn’t pick both. The relevant text is contained in these two statements: 1. The Companion introduction you read is determined by if you destroyed the Deadlight artifact or not. 2. Should either of the Choirs survive the adventure intact, you may take them with you as a companion. Each group counts as one companion.

The first indicates strongly that you can only have one of the two… but the second says that should either survive and that each group counts as a single companion. If it were not possible to get both, it should read “Should your Choir survive the adventure intact, you may take them with you as a companion. The entire Choir counts as a single companion.” I am aware it’s a flimsy argument… but I had to fight Kheradruakh for zero CP. I took both groups. They amuse me… and since they’re all obsessed with me, I reasoned they’re too focused on me to piss me off by fighting each other. Think of them as two heavily armed rival fan clubs… where none of them wants to share, but neither group wants to see the others win. Thankfully, none of them are actually Yandere. Narrative trumps hard and fast rules.

Also, future shenanigans.

It was also important to me to wrap up the central mystery of the voice on the transmission, which the document itself promptly forgets as if it has no other purpose than to bring you there. I wanted to resolve it, but also to play on the concept that the Court of the Heathen Star was more than just merely a pocket of space. I wanted to explore to some extent the idea that multiple timelines could exist within the space until actively observed, a Schrodinger’s Graveyard as it were.

Now, as for what I bought, that was a mixture of totally practical (Counterfire Defenses, Ashens IV Reactor, Grav-Wave Projector, Automated Repair), Rool of Cule (Death of Steel), and Too interesting to pass up (Fleshmetal). I pretty much cover the practical points of the first four in the text above and the utility is pretty obvious. The Death of Steel just amuses me… and no, I have no idea how 4’10” me is using a handcannon designed for someone twice that tall and wearing power armor too boot. I assume by tucking it under one arm and treating it as a huge fucking shotgun? No clue. Rule of Cool.

The Flesh Metal is pricey as fuck… but unlike all the other systems, it can easily be expanded to any number of ships or vehicles. It is also probably not the smartest thing to really take in a setting like 40K… since nothing guarantees this new lifeform’s loyalty… and since it’s a virus, unless you rule like I did that it’s not contagious unless you install the organelles, it should realistically infect every machine that comes in contact with it. That seemed extreme to me, so I limited it… but since it is quasi-biological, I can, in theory, infect all my ships with it. Narrative trumps cost.

DLC1 – THE Heathen Trail

The Litany of Litanies Litany

The Lapsed Pacifist

Pre-Emptive Retaliation (cobra)

Choir of Righteous Fury, all four survived, but the cannoness was injured badly

Skirmish with the Hollow Men [+400/400]

The Carrion Deeps [+200/600] and Necrontyr Inertialess Drives: Masters of science, the ancient Necrontyr mastered the construction of inertialess drive systems before humanity even existed. These drives allow virtually incomprehensible acceleration and maneuverability as the laws of physics are essentially ignored by the vessel.

Kheradruakh the Decapitator +0… I know unnatural cold when I feel it. And I’m lucky as sin. 1% chance of victory, degree of ease 3/10. Chump got pwn’d.

Void Kraken [+500/1100], use sensors to keep track of and cobra torpedos to kill if needed. Can’t avoid it. Can’t defeat it, barely escaped it but it damaged the Pre-emptive Retaliation (246 out of 500)

Wrath’s Carrion [+200/1300], shoot to kill. 80% chance, 768/1000 degree of difficulty. Hard fought, they go down with their ship.

Hollow Men [+300/1600], shoot to kill, 50% chance, 226/1000 degree of difficulty.

Counterfire Defenses [300/1300/1600] (yellow, consider replacing with Gwave, same price point)The Counterfire Defence System was a reasonably common type of Support System before the Horus Heresy. These AI sensor suites, first designed for ground based weapon emplacements to counter the threat of charging Orks, incorporate predictive logic circuits to ensure that assaulting enemies are met with a withering wall of accurate fire. It was only a matter of time before they were adapted for use on naval assets as point defence systems where they excel.

Ashens IV Reactor [300/1000/1600] (green): The IV Reactor is a new and experimental energy system developed by a renegade forgeworld in the Kronus Expanse. Powered by dark matter, the IV Reactor allows steady production of potentially dangerously overwhelming amounts of energy to the ships systems.

Death of Steel [300/700/1600]: Death of Steel is an Astartes meltagun originally belonging to the Doom Legion that is especially effective against vehicles and buildings. The kill-record of this marvelously-crafted meltagun is kept in a vault on Watch Fortress Erioch, and lists on it innumerable armoured vehicles and monstrous beasts, felled in blazes of atomic fire. It is also credited with the destruction of the heretek-crafted battleship Impious Judgement – an honour achieved by allowing a Deathwatch Kill-team to pierce the vessel’s heart when their supply of explosive charges was insufficient.

Automated Repair System (blue) [400/300/1600]: Another once standard feature of Pre-Imperial shipping, when activated, tiny maintenance drones swarm over the damaged vehicle systems and repair them in the midst of battle.

Gravity Wave Projector [300/0/1600]: This Projector emits a high-powered graviton wave that repulses nearby enemies, slowing their advance to a crawl or halting them altogether. Most effective against attack craft, this can also be used to hold torpedos at bay until they explode harmlessly.

Fleshmetal [600/-600/1600]: An extremely unusual ship upgrade, the origins of the Fleshmetal virus have never been successfully discovered, though more than one Imperial Inquisitor who has observed the effect has postulated it to be the result of a brief alliance between Khorne and Nurgle. If so, it represents a very worrying development indeed. Machines infected with the virus slowly mutate, metal transforming into metal flesh, veins carrying plasma and molten metals worming their way through the newly developed tissue, vital systems transforming into living organs of bizarre yet clearly alive technology. Eventually, the ship itself will awaken as a living, void dwelling creature, one capable of learning, growing, and adapting to new situations.

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 4

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

PART 4 – A Night at the Opera

Previously: A Grand Tour

Themesong: The Race by Yello

AN: Thank you so much for your friendship, readership, and support. It means so much more than you know. If I could give you all CP, I totally would.

As it turned out, the year was to get even better. I’d gone out for a third regularly scheduled shopping trip (I bought a Cobra Class Destroyer called the Preemptive Retaliation, and a Conquest Class Star Galleon… think combination destroyer / transport designed to conquer entire ‘primitive’ worlds from orbit… called the Lapsed Pacifist… the names amused me enough to keep them) and, once again, loaded them and the Bargain with more metric fucktons of wealth and another 150,000 people-popsicles. Upon my return, I found another pleasant surprise waiting for me.

“Carwyn! I thought you’d gone!” I almost squealed, leaping down to the spacestation’s dock to where the Eldar was waiting outside a large Eldar shuttlecraft, several dozen of my more trusted followers (mostly from Clan Velpetra’s McClintock Sept and Clan Anamelia’s Hornblower Sept) pointing their guns vaguely at her, while several more (these from Clan Zigsoffi’s Mothra Sept) were manning the docking bay’s heavy weapons turrets and focused on the craft. I appreciated their vigilance, and could almost taste the Eldar’s annoyance and amused patience on the air as I approached her. None of my people dared try and stop me, and many of them were Lejens who’d been with us back in those first frantic weeks, but they weren’t taking any chances.

I flung my arms around Carwyn and hugged her, relieved to see her more than I cared to admit. I’d missed her and worried about her in equal measure. “Where have you been? And why did you run off as soon as we arrived?! I wanted to introduce you to my friends and… why are you looking at me like that.”

She wasn’t wearing her helmet and her smirk had transformed into a moue of disappointment and confusion. “I… how are you keeping me out of your mind?”

I grinned hugely up at her, and chirped, “Oh. Just something I picked up. Cool huh?”

“Errr… yes.” She was definitely flustered, but trying to play it cool and collected. “As you say… Very nice.” She hated the expression ‘cool’… or really, most of my slang, which did not translate well in the Eldar language. “I… guess… It is not as if I enjoyed messing around inside your mind or anything.”

I laughed into her chest plating. “Nooo… of course not! I would never assume that!” I glanced up at her face, still trying to come to grips were her emotional state. “Anyway. I’m glad you’re back!”

She waved it away with one hand, trying to pry me off her with the other. “Oh. Well… I wasn’t doing anything important this decade. Decided to-” she succeeded in pushing me back and I noticed something different about her.

“Did you change your armor?” I asked, cutting her Tsuning off… or was it here Dereing? I speak fluent japanese (and about 15,000 other languages) and can’t keep the halves of Tsundere separate. Can not. The two halves in my head just… share a definition called ‘annoyingly girlish behaviour typical of someone too immature to be in touch with their emotions’… it was totally different from me. I was in touch with mine… I just found them to be a bit of a nuisance. I took in the new armor and the robes over them. “It looks nice! Different, but… fancier, I guess”

“I… yes,” she blushed deeply. “I’ve been elevated to Farseer.” She was adorkable when she was embarrassed! Excellent! Must do this more. I wondered if I’d ever get to show her my elfin forms and what she’d think of them.

“Congratulations!” I beamed at her. “That’s serious, right? Eldar Farseers are major mojo.” I was legit happy for her, though I was curious why it had happened now. Was the promotion a reward for passing some test that the Light of Terra episode had been for her… or was it just… No… this was Warhammer… nothing was happenstance. I was betting it had something to do with Eldrad. In my experience with Warhammer, there were six Keikaku Doori masters in the 40K universe; the Chaos God Tzeentch, The Emperor of Mankind (better known as the EMPRAH!), the Dark Eldar Capo de tutt’i Capi Asdrubael Vect, The Eldar Laughing God Cegorach, the C’tan known as The Deceiver… and the Eldar schemer named Eldrad Ulthran. If she’d been promoted right after meeting me… Hmmm… I’d have to think about that.

“Mojo?” she asked, unfamiliar with the english word.

“Power slash importance,” I explained, trying to focus on the here and now instead of the possible past-future. I didn’t currently have the brainpower to handle multiple high level computations simultaneously.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “Yes. It’s-”

It was then that I actually looked behind Carwyn and squeaked, “Holy shit! There’s a massive dino-thing behind you!”

“Yes,” she was smirking again. She has the most annoying smirk. “Yes there is. I… thought you might like it.”

I looked up at the three meter tall… raptor. It like something out of the Prince Roger Books (how appropriate my guards were McClintocks)… I bounced up and down. “It’s for me? Cool! What is it?”

“An Exodite Dragon.”

“It’s a riding beast?” I asked, noting the saddle and bridle. I’m observant… sometimes. “Is it sapient?”

“Not really. But yes, it’s for riding. Battle trained.”

“Awww! I didn’t even get you… oh… hold on.” I ran back inside my shuttle, returning a minute and a half later with an exquisitely made and heavily bejeweled cloak. “Here,” I said, handing it to her. “I know you know I didn’t get it for you, since I didn’t know if you were ever… but it was nice and I thought… I don’t know. I just thought of you when I saw it. I’m pretty sure the crystals are some kind of wraithbone. I think the main stone there in the clasp is the Spirit Stone of Omer’harath.”

‘I…” she blushed, examining the cloak that had cost me the price of a small Warp capable ship… I’d been rich before… but never really this rich… I hadn’t really conceptualized that it was possible to be this rich. Planetary economies have limits that galactic economies just… don’t. In Treasure Planet I’d gained similarly huge wealth… but I hadn’t been able to spend it. I’d been a billionaire before… but even with only four trips to the Righteous Path, I’d smashed clear into the quadrillionaire level and my wealth was still rising as I restored the fortunes of the Lathimon Dynasty and pushed into the truly ludicrous range. Even a single STC schematic in hard-copy was worth potentially billions… and I had thousands of hololithic, interactive schematics to trade, not to mention so much archeotech and portable wealth that I could choke Nurgle with it. I focused on what she was saying. “This is lovely… thank you!”

“Well, it’s the least I could do. I’d never have survived without you!” I bowed slightly, showing her deference in front of my people. “Now come on. I want you to meet my friends and family… especially the girls… and Ryoga.”

“Girls? Yo… you have lovers?!” She looked almost terrified. “And you want me to meet them?”

“Awww, is the big spooky Eldar Farseer nervous about meeting my family? That’s adorable!”

“I am not NERVOUS!”

“Uuuhuuuh. Surrrrrre,” I agreed sardonically.

“Don’t you smirk at me Mon’Keigh!”

“Make me.”

“That doesn’t make any sense!” She actually stomped one foot.

“Yeah, well, I’m just preparing you to meet my children. They don’t make much sense either. Now come along… are we being watched?”

She looked at the 200 strong guard force standing around us with guns no longer pointed at the Eldar and quirked an eyebrow.

“Not by them, you pointy-eared git. Someone… you’ve got friends in your ship?”

She rolled her eyes. “They’re not friends. They’re my bodyguards. I didn’t ask for them.” She was sulking. SULKING! This was awesome! “And how did you know they were there?! How are you keeping me out of your mind!” She stamped her foot again and the Exodite Dragon mimicked her, looking a little like a giant bipedal scaled akita.

I couldn’t help laughing, but I turned to face the ship and waved, then broadcast ~Yooohooo! Elllldaaaar! Aspect Warrrriors! Come out to plaaayy!~ I was reasonably certain I was the only person in this entire reality who got that joke. Ah, well.

Carwyn gaped at me. “You…” she trailed off, at least on the sonic level. ~TELEPATHY? How… you… but… before… do you have the other powers you claim you lost back too?~

I glanced back at her, then shook my head a fraction of a millimeter so slight that no-one who wasn’t an elf would have been able to catch that it was more than involuntary twitching. Did you know Elves (and Eldar) don’t do that? No involuntary motions at all, except when young or very very old. Elves are absolutely motionless when they stand still. It’s eerie.

~New powers. Alpha or Alpha Plus Psyker on the Imperium’s scale. Don’t know how that compares to you Eldar outside of my speciality… What?~ She was staring at me as if I’d grown two additional heads.

~ALPHA? That… that’s not… that’s not possible!~

~It’s good?~

~No one just… becomes an Alpha psyker in three years!~

~Oh. No, Sweetie… about 40 days.~

Her eyes nearly bugged out. ~I… in the imperium’s scale I’d be a Gamma or… maybe a Delta. It’s taken me thousands of your years to… 40 days?~ I nodded. ~That… I… You cheated! Somehow you cheated! You cheating cheater! How can you be an Alpha!? ELDRAD is an Alpha!~

Aha! So she knew Eldrad… or maybe she just knew of him… he was probably pretty famous among the Eldar. If only I could remember which Craftworld he was with… stupid holes in my stupid memory. I waved the paranoia away. Not only was it never helpful, it could be damaging to the psyche. ~Yeah, it was enough to startle Magnus too…~

She just stared at me in dawning horror. ~Magnus? MAGNUS? Thousand Sons Primarch MAGNUS?~

I shrugged. ~Interesting guy. Very shaggy. Very Red. He didn’t believe me either when I told him that I knew how to be a telepath and telekinetic already. Still getting used to what little PK I have. And I’m still pushing the limits of my primary psyker specialization in this reality. Never been a Biomancer before. Very very useful. The Clans are even more convinced I’m the Messiah ever since I began healing their mutations and regrowing lost limbs or eyes.~

~But why would a champion of the Ruinous Powers help you? Di…. did he…~ She trailed off, looking worried now.

~I helped him with something, he helped me find some of my mojo. Don’t worry. No Chaos Corruption here.~ I tapped my head. ~My willpower’s pretty solid and I know all those tricks and more that Grigobritz taught us.~

~You just happened to run into Magnus the Red and he was all… Foolish Mortal! I will now awaken your psychic powers!?~

~Naw. He needed the fact that I’m not from this reality to hide from Tzeentch for a while. We went on a treasure hunt. I’ll tell you all about it… once you introduce me to your bodyguard like a big girl and I can sense when you’re changing or avoiding the subject.~

She glowered, then glanced to the ship and the front hatch slowly lowered, revealing 60 Eldar in black and white armor. I recognized them from one of Carwyn’s many Eldar Data Dumps. They were Dark Reaper Aspect Warriors… the most sinister of them, in fact. And 5 of them were Exarchs.

How to explain Eldar Aspect Warriors… I guess it all begins with the Bloody Handed Eldar God of War and Fire, Khaela Mensha Khaine… who would be Khaine to his friends, only he had exactly none of those, being pretty much rage incarnate. One of the Old Ones who created most sentient life in the galaxy besides the Humans and Necrontyr, Khaine is one of three Eldar Gods to survive the near extinction of the Eldar at the birth of Slaanesh (Cegorach the Laughing God and Isha the… nature goddess… kinda… I mean, she survived… but she’s now Nurgle’s plaything… ewww… being the other two). Except Khaine didn’t really survive either… it’s complicated.

When Slaanesh was born, killing trillions of Eldar as part of the birth process, it really pissed off the Chaos God Khorne (second oldest of the major quartet and a deity not know for keeping his cool at the best of time). So, being a being of rage and hate and violence, Khorne beat the everliving crap out of Slaanesh… accidentally knocking Khaine (who was trying to fight off Slaanesh at the time) out of the Immaterium so hard that the Bloody Handed God became the Bloody Shattered God. Those shards are what make summoning an Avatar of Khaine possible… and the shrines those shards are stored in are home to the Phoenix Lords.

Yes! More Terms! Embrace the fuckery! So, Phoenix Lords are the founders of the various orders of Aspect Warriors and they were (when they were alive alive, rather than having their spirits merged into their armor alive so that whoever puts on the armor gets overwritten by the original Phoenix Lord’s personality / memories… hence Phoenix… alive) the purest expression of their Aspect.

There are at least a dozen such aspects, and Aspect Warriors are like Eldar Battle Monks. They practice a kind of mental segregation whereby they hone their martial abilities via psychic means, creating a deliberate split in their persona. This new persona is called a War Mask and it protects the Eldar’s Mind against the horrors of endless combat, making them immune to things like PTSD, the Yips, Battle Fatigue, Hesitation… and Mercy. Seriously. Under the War Mask, Eldar (even fresh out of the box never seen combat before newbs) are stone killers. And then, after the battle is over… the War Mask would be put away and the Eldar would be their normal workaday self once again… Unless…

Unless they went too far down the Path of the Warrior and… forgot how to come back. Those were the Exarchs… people who’d subsumed themselves into the War Mask so far that their original persona had largely faded away. Exarchs, like the Phoenix Lord, were bound spiritually to the Spirit Stone in their armor, and if killed their Stone would be shared with other Exarchs to pass on knowledge and skills. It sucked, but since the fate of any Eldar not bound to a Soul Stone after death was to be consumed by Slaanesh? Eh, there were worse fates than being sealed in crystal. And that Phoenix Lord rebirth thing? Yeah… that usually happened to an Exarch, so it wasn’t like what was being overwritten had much of an identity to speak of.

And then there were Warlocks. Warlocks were Aspect Warriors who’d left the Path of the Warrior to follow the Path of the Seer, the Eldar who focused more on psychic combat than physical… though Warlocks were more focused on blowing shit up with their minds than the pure divination of the Farseers who had been on the Path of the Seer their entire lives. Farseers, in turn, were to the Path of the Seer what Exarchs were to the Path of the Warrior… except they didn’t lose their personality… but their mobility, as the older they got, and the more intune with their craftworld (Eldar, having lost all their homeworlds, now lived mostly on enormous arks called Craftworlds… except the Exodites who lived on Maiden Worlds and eschewed psychic powers and much technology… and the Dark Eldar, who lived in the Eldar Webway’s ruins and were fucking crazy psycho assholes…) the more they slowly turned entirely to crystal and shed their bodies completely to merge with their Craftworld’s Infinity Circuit (think artificial afterlife to keep their souls from becoming Slaanesh Snacks.)

And of course, now I had a Warlock cum Farseer and her retinue of Dark Reapers… who were dedicated to Khain in his aspect as ‘The Destroyer’… Eldar Sniper Assassins… Anti-Tank Snipers… 60 of them. Yeah, that would make anyone a bit nervous… of course, if you could see a Dark Reaper, you probably weren’t in much danger. They were like Ninjas that way… except slower. Their guns were extremely large, so large that they required stabilizers and clamps on the lower legs and boots of their powered armor to deal with the recoil and keep them in a steady firing position… and their helmets were covered with specialized sensor vanes and mind-link gear to connect them to their weapon. Sure, it meant they almost never missed, even against a moving target, but it also meant they were considerably less maneuverable than others and they were definitely not geared for close combat in any way. Which was fine, if they had allies or kept well back… I could probably take all of them if I hit them hard and fast enough… maybe. But that might piss of Carwyn, and I only liked doing that when it was funny. Oh, and the Phoenix Lord of the Dark Reapers, Maugan Ra, the Reaper of Souls… was still alive alive… and a scary BAMF from all reports… as in defeated an entire Tyranid swarm by himself BAMF.

“I thought you were a Dire Avenger before becoming a Warlock?” I asked, referencing the most common form of Aspect Warrior, and the ones most likely to deal with Exodites… also the ones typically equipped with Shuriken Catapults. Dire Avengers were Khaine in his Noble Warrior Aspect.

“I am… was,” she blushed a little, seeming embarrassed by the psycho deathsquad behind her who were still wearing their helmets.

“Then… why?”

“Mfthrismgnr,” she muttered, voice so low I could barely hear it  even with my enhanced senses (Biopat… mancy… 10,001 uses!)

“What?” I asked, pretty sure that she hadn’t meant to call me a dyspeptic aardvark in gruhunguish.

She glared at me, then sighed and hissed, “My. Father…” she swallowed. “Is…. Mau…”

“No shit? Cool. So your dad told these guys to follow you around and look menacing?”

She nodded and palmed her forehead as one of the Exarchs thought something annoying at her, but I didn’t catch it… my Telepathy isn’t nearly as strong as my Biomancy.

“What did he  say… er think?”

“Nurgath said… thought, ‘HA! Told you we were intimidating!’,” she said with a sigh.

“Wow. An Exarch who is a geek. Right. Will remember that.” I looked to the Eldar and snapped, “Right, you lot, leave the giant shooty things in your shuttle and get those helmets off. You’re in my station and you’re not shooting anyone or embarrassing Carwyn.”

They looked back and forth, then at me, then to Carwyn’s back. None of them took off their helmets or set down the anti-materiel plasma weapons and anti-squad heavy weapons. I tried again, ~You are among friends… or at least not among enemies. You are also inside a space station that is irreplaceable and I will personally flay anyone who discharges an anti-tank weapon inside my station. You are, if you haven’t noticed, outnumbered and in close contact with no way to escape and no chance of winning. If we were planning something, you’d already be dead. So, act like adults and stow the battle kit. And if you need a further reason, you’re making your protectee look like she’s a coward. You have my word of honor, as long as you start nothing, no harm will come to you from me or mine. If any of my people start anything, they will be punished, by me. This is a promise, and a warning. Defend yourself and your protectee… but do not seek retribution against those who cross you. Many of my people are… skittish around outsiders… but only a few of them have your level of training… and your heavy weapons have no place in a brawl.~

“You talk too much,” Carwyn said, ruffling my hair.

“Yeah, yeah. Missed you too. Come on. Tell the idiots,” who still hadn’t put their weapons down, “that they can either follow you or keep the weapons and stay here. Their choice. Oh, and if that Exarch with the number 17 (actually 19 in base 10, Eldar use a base 12 numbering system) doesn’t stop smirking at me and thinking about trained animals, I will break his nose. Telepaths should understand that concrete thoughts are a provocation and constitute ‘starting something’.” With that, I turned towards the hab sector and started walking. Carwyn followed… and, one by one, her escort did too.

“Jons! Get the Eldar settled in sector 14. Carwyn, tell your followers that they can have one squad following you at a time. No more. I don’t need 60 of you traipsing around. 12 is fine for planetside, but otherwise, 6 is going to be overkill.”

She thought to the others and 57 of them peeled off to follow Jons to sector 14, which was relatively isolated and not near anything too sensitive. It was in the shaping and refining district of Hephaestus and had only one way in or out, which I had no doubt would be guarded from their side as much as mine. Integration would or would not happen in time, but I wasn’t counting on the Exarchs especially wanting to socialize much… lost to the path and all that.

Watching Carwyn interact with the others was an experience and a half. It’s a shame Velma was missing (still worried about that, about all the missing members of my crew and family)… but watching Mini & Franky studying the Eldar so intently that it made Carwyn uncomfortable amusing. Yoiko and Ryoga wanted to challenge her to a fight to establish dominance… and Cirno asked if Carwyn was a Genius… then loudly proclaimed that she (Cirno) was the smartest and best still and was going to go have cake. Tokimi glowered at the newcomer, Yuzuha asked her if she used to be evil, Rayray said she wasn’t green enough, and Dyna accused her of being a pod person.  

Carwyn clearly had no idea how to deal with any of them. And that was just my family! The Hardliners (Gaius, Reggy, Meetra, Bart, and Kagetane) were all against having an alien assault force aboard and wanted them moved planetside asap. The Schemers (Uriel, Bao, Caine, Toph, and Beth) of course immediately countered that they should be moved to the resource fleet. The Seraglio Guardians (Lizzy & The Bookers) all wanted them around to protect the kids.

And the kids… all 7 of them thought Carwyn was excellent. Yes, 7… no, the last four weren’t mine. Toph’s 11 month old Buji (fathered by Bart) and Beth’s 8 month old Simon (fathered by Caine) were the newest additions, but Gaius & Reggy had granted us a second set of twins in the form of Lucida and Placidia, who were almost 2 and the apples of their big brothers’ eyes. Amaryllis thought the babies were awesome… Alex and Maggie thought they were stupid and boring.

But Carwyn? The infants cooed at her, the toddlers tried climbing her, and the kids… were kids. Amaryllis was terribly shy but kept telling her things in the “Guess what, guess what, guess what…” style while Alex wanted to wear her helmet and shoot her gun and Maggie kept up a steady stream of questions on any and all topics that crossed her mind.

Eldar have fantastic patience… it took my family exactly 41 minutes and fifteen seconds to break Carwyn. She actually pulled the ‘Oh! Look at the time!’ thing and claimed to be tired after a long journey. She did it very well… it might have fooled… Cirno. Maybe Amaryllis. Okay, Ryoga and Yoiko too. Buji started crying. Carwyn flinched and practically fled.

When I managed to get my laughing under control, I went to look for her. “Not used to dealing with changes, are you?” I asked softly, finding her looking out at the planet from one of the lounges.

“How have you built so much so fast? Everything we Eldar do is so… deliberate. This seems recklessly swift.”

“Survival has a clock all its own. I had people to feed, to house… and a ship to repair.  And another ship after that, if I can get her here at all.”

“I…”

“I’m glad you came back. I did miss you…. Even if you are a giant pain in the rear end. Did Eldrad send you?”

“What? No! I… I came back on my own. I… I’ve met Eldrad… he and father know each other… but I… why do you ask?” she asked, eyes narrowing suspiciously.

I shrugged, radiating calm. “Carwyn… you met me and then, miraculously, within only a few years, you’re a Farseer with a cadre of deadly warriors at your back. I know you fought as a Warlock for many centuries… but, be honest… isn’t the timing suspicious?”

She creased her brow and considered, then sighed. “It might… maybe… you think this is one of his Schemes?”

“Magnus came to find me because I’m outside Tzeentch’s plotting. How likely is it that Eldrad might want someone outside of Slaanesh’s webs as a potential tool?”

She nodded, then sighed “Very. So… does this mean…”

“I think you earned and deserve to be a Farseer. I don’t think he’d have done anything like rush your ascension… no. I think he just forced the Council of Farseers to accelerate their timeline for doing something about it. You Elves do everything so slowly.”

“Deliberately. Not slow… What is an Elf?”

“Eldar are a type of Elf,” I explained, projecting images of thousands of other varieties of elves, some more fictional than others.

“So many!?” she gasped.

“It’s a big Omniverse out there, baby. Someday, maybe I’ll show it to you. Anyway, you said you were tired. I have a nice big bed…” I waggled my eyebrows at her. I didn’t tell her that the likelihood was we’d be awakened quite early by children jumping up and down on said bed and demanding I play with them. That was if nothing disastrous happened during the night. I gave that a 20% chance of happening… high I know… but the Galaxy never sleeps.

****

Things were going fairly well. The fifth Founding Day celebrations had been four days ago and it was reasonably quiet aboard SJSS Hephaestus…. Then again, it was not quite midday… the calm was already starting to worry me.

Thankfully, that was when Ledge Nine-Ninety (Clan Joyhab, Sept Harkness) burst into my office, panting and flushed. Ledge was one of the… sigh… Enginseers… what a stupid title… of the Kin of Iron and was responsible for monitoring the system’s network of early warning platforms. I had them strung in a sphere all the way out to the system’s Kuiper Belt and even scattered further out on random and slowly shifting trajectories. The entire inner system EWG was multiply redundant and dynamic… much like Ledge. He was yelling almost incoherently and waving a printout at me.

I calmed him down with a touch and took the page, trying to discover what had the man in such a tizzy. As it turned out, it was a mayday signal, one from an Adeptus Mechanicus survey ship… which had apparently collided with a space hulk (a massive derelict… and often Nid, Ork, or Chaos infested starship ruin drifting in space. The Light had been all but a hulk when I’d found her). The AdMech ship had, according to the message, crashed into the world they’d been surveying… a world not too far away.

I tapped Ledge’s nose and pointed at the readout’s Date of Transmission… The Signal was over six hundred years ago. I watched him visibly deflate as he realized that he wouldn’t be organizing a daring rescue that would make him the idol of all the female AdMechanics he’d clearly decided the ship was crewed by… maybe I should organize an intertribal cotillion to match up some of the unmarried settlers. And get some of my station techs breathing planetside air for a while…

The Clans had been maintaining a pretty steady 4.3% growth rate per month for the first three years… which had been staggering, don’t get me wrong. 13,000 children in 3 years out of an initial colony size of 12,000… pretty much every female had been pregnant at least twice in that time…. However, since I’d gotten my hands on the cargo of The Righteous Path, I’d been supplementing the tribal numbers with Krystallians… all of whom had been largely mindwiped by Ryn and reeducated according to his seriously fucked up priorities. The strong as laborers or gladiators, the pretty as maids and sextoys, and the children as docile and fearful. That had brought the tribal growth rate up to a staggering 12% per month, about the limit of what I could integrate without straining things to the breaking point. Thankfully, I had Ryn’s education machines to help temper the brainwashing and to impart actually useful skills… though I didn’t exactly have templates for much besides what Ryn had… unless I wanted to copy an existing person, and that seemed wrong. Ryn had apparently had techs skilled in custom editing templates… I didn’t. Still, what I did have was a colony of just over 100,000 humans.

And that didn’t count the Tarellians who’d joined me, who added another 41,000… and it wasn’t nearly enough. Crewing the Light and the Path along would take more than a million. Crewing the dozens of lesser ships I’d need to supply and escort them, a couple million more. And feeding and supplying them from Paradise? Millions and millions on top of that. 42 Septs was looking like it might not be nearly enough.

But still… population issues were taking care of themselves with time and good old biology. For now? An entire Space Hulk… right there… ripe for the plucking… maybe a third ship? Tempting.

A few days later, as I looked down from the bridge of the Faustian Bargain upon the world the signal had originated from, things were looking decidedly less tempting. The hulk had apparently crashed too and was visible from space… as was the massive Ork towns built into and around the ruined craft’s two major sections. There were bound to be plenty of resources down there, but obtaining them was another matter. I didn’t have nearly enough ammunition for a planetary bombardment against Orks… and then, as it turned out… I didn’t even get the chance to try, as… with a burst of ozone and a huge crackle of energy that shorted out no less than 18 consoles, I simply found myself elsewhere, no longer aboard my command deck, but instead inside a circle of still sparking, shuddering, and highly Orky ‘teknologee’… I use the term loosely, as Orky gear doesn’t operate by science, but rather because the race collectively warps reality and believes their shit should work. They also believed things that were red went faster… and so they did. This was to be important shortly.

Before I could react, a Mekboy charged in, roaring out “Boss! Boss! We’s firin’ dat Gitfinda now, Boss!” Yes, Orks talk like Cockney ruffians…. In English! No, there is no explanation of this. Yes, this is stupid. But Games Workshop’s gang of hacks and lunatics thinks it’s funny. I… found it vaguely insulting.  Not the accent… I wasn’t sure, but I suspected I was being called a ‘git’

The Mekboy (Ork what is good wif tekstuf, natch) saw me and stopped, scratched the back of his head, shrugged, and yelled “Boooooss! Boss! We’s found a git, Boss!” Now I was definitely insulted.

Just before I could commence hostilities and introduce Mekboy to Wallboy, something landed on my head. It was, apparently, a hand… though I could only justify that because the massive thing was attached to an equally massive arm. I looked up… and up… and up… It was an Ork… I think.  An ork wearing a perfectly tailored purple leopardskin suit, leaning on a telephone pole of a pimpcane tipped with what looked like a diamond bigger than my head, and (yes), with an enormous hat with a feather that was actually bigger than I was tucked into the brim. I was instantly envious… that was an awesome hat.

The Ork… Pimpboy… was that a thing?… opened its mouth and emitted sound that was so deep and resonant I could feel it in the longbones of my legs and it literally made my teeth ache and my eyes water. “We and I be Abak Manyfingaz, my fine lil ‘Umie, and you be gon’ win fer uz da Kannonball Run, now aintcha?”

Before I could protest, or ask what in the blazes the Kannonball Run was (aside from a movie about a coast to coast race across the USA released years before I was born back on Earth), I’d been handed a sack full of something that clunked and chattered and pushed out the door, with Abak’s voice echoing behind me as he helpfully suggested, “Find youself a crew lil ‘Umie, an’ best not be wastin’ time, da race startz t’morow, at dawn!”

I stumbled out into the bright, nearly blinding light of the two suns of this dry world with no real idea where to even start looking for a crew. I shifted my corneas to block out much of the glare, making my eyes look almost mirror shined, and lowered my internal temperature a bit to deal with the nearly weapons grade heat. Another batch of minor adjustments for the dry and dust, and then I looked around, stepping out of the main street and into a corner to catch my breath and figure out what the hell was going on… and what was in the bag. I looked into it and found… Teeth? TEETH? EWWW… What the fuck?

I heard the sound of lasguns humming up to ready and looked around in surprise. Another human… several, actually… all wearing what look vaguely like Imperial uniforms… and all pointing lasguns at me. That… I wasn’t expecting. I held up the bag of teeth and shook it. Jiggle Jiggle Jiggle… oh… god… that was a mistake. The sound of all those teeth grinding and clicking together was one of the most horrifically vile noises I’ve ever heard… And I’ve heard a Naagloshii howling.

However, it did make them lower their lasguns. One of them, a man who looked as if he was desperately trying to grow a goatee, watched me while the other three huddled up, talking low enough that I couldn’t hear what they were saying without boosting my hearing, and doing that in such a way so as to not also pick up the desert wind and the sounds of a town full of Orks would have been very… noticeable… growing rabbit ears usually is.

Still, I could just about hear some of it. Most of it revolved around shooting me and taking the ‘Teef’… but, eventually, and with a lot of swearing, one of them motioned me over, looked me up and down, sighed, and lit up the foulest smelling cigarillo I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter… seriously… it was like… like… an asshole full of burning feathers… I wonder why I thought of that? Finally, the old, grizzled gaffer smiled faintly, then nodded toward one of the others, a young woman,. “Fill ‘er in, Kid,” he ordered, then turned and led everyone else off.

I looked up at the woman, who fell into step next to me as I followed along after the others, wondering why there were humans on an Ork world. She looked back, then took a breath and said, all in a rush, “So, once upon a time a Space Hulk full of Orks crashed into the Admech ship our ancestors were on then both crashed into this lovely desert world of Angelis, and miraculously managed to not kill everyone in the process. Since Angelis is a barren wasteland empty of life, the ticked off Orks are dedicated to gathering up all the technological scrap they can from the wastes and building themselves a new machine in order to get them off of the planet and get back to the Waaagh! Due to certain little incidents, like the orkish inclination towards factionalism and a civil war that destroyed the first miracle machine since they couldn’t decide whether it looked like Gork or Mork, the Orks of Angelis are ruled by their Mekboyz, who are busy working on Gorkamorka – the aforementioned miracle machine mark two – and keeping the other Orks distracted by making them fight to gather the most scrap. Doing so is essential to get “tags”, which will assure the bearer of a place on Gorkamorka when it’s finally finished. Grots… those are the littlest Orks… don’t get tags, so they rebel, get slaughtered, run off and start a revolution. Meanwhile we’ve been stuck here trying to salvage enough parts from both ships to build a transmitter powerful enough to tell the rest of the Imperium where we are. We win the race, we walk away with a mass of scrap and hopefully a few useful parts. Easy Peasy, Puddin Pie. Also Hi! I’m Destraine!”

I blinked… wow… and people said I was chatty. As we walked, Destraine Symm told me about herself and her compatriots, collectively called the Dust Rats Imperial Remnant Racing Team…  She was the Navigator (apparently the race was quite long and not on a standard track… not that Orks knew what the word standard meant). Their commander, the grizzled old grot who looked like living jerky and smoked the foul chemsticks was Graf Renik, who she claimed was a Boss Boss. Their driver, oh he of the miserable excuse for a goatee, was Valten Shoehern, who was also their mechanic, but one who prefered working in a garage… “He’s a little particular,” she said, by which I assumed she meant fastidious and prissy. And last was the Gunner, Soloman Sykes, a gun fanatic and ‘dependable at long distances… not so good when they get closer’. Excellent. A Navigator who was a scatterbrained flibbertigibbet, a farsighted gunner, a commander who might die at any moment, and a mechanic-driver who didn’t like repairing stuff in the field. Still… it could be worse… they could be Orks!

Not long after, we reached their garage… and I took in the sight of the SSV. It was not what I’d have picked for a race. The AdMech had, in its wisdom, outfitted their explorer ship with a large fleet of Support and Salvage Vehicles, anticipating that those worthies might have an opportunity or three to strip out a massive amount of xenotech / archeotech / salvage for study / recovery / recycling. That never happened, thanks to the crash, but almost the entire fleet had been still sealed in deep storage and were unharmed by the rough landing.

After the survivors’ first few encounters with the Orks, it became apparent that something heavier than light scouting vehicles were required, and so extra armor had been added to the SSV, cargo compartments reengineered, small but comfortable crew quarters installed, engines tuned up… and soon Ork Trukks were up against something they couldn’t just roll over.

By comparison, and as way of explanation, a Wartrukk is an Ork vehicle primarily used for the transportation of Orks across the battlefield at breakneck speeds. Because Orks don’t really have much of a concept of personal space, Wartrukks are often piled with as many Orks as won’t fall off, if not more. Sometimes they even came equipped with runners mounted on the sides so more green-skinned idiots could cling to the sides and get stuck in faster. Sometimes those idiots even remembered to wait for the Trukk to slow down before jumping off of the runners. Wartrukks were usually outfitted with a massive gun (Big Shoota) on the front, as well as rather spiky bullbars or a cowcatcher so the driver wouldn’t miss out on the thrill of combat. Because of Orky ‘inventiveness’ no two Wartrukks ever looked quite the same.

On the other hand… the SSV was probably the most advanced vehicle available, featuring such luxuries as an actual suspension! A windshield! And actual gears for the driver to shift between… possibly at will! The SSV was almost as tall as the average Ork Trukk (according to Destraine) and about twice as long (according to Graf). Designed for long range salvage patrols, it carried a surprising amount of food and water, and mounted a heavy bolter, a lascannon, and not one but three multilasers, which was, according to Soloman, the most feared anti-infantry and light vehicle weapon on Gorkamorka / Angelis. However, being that it was a couple dozen tonnes of steering resistant reinforced metal, it was, according to Valten… a bitch to control at speed, a proposition made no easier by all the extra weaponry and equipment bolted onto the behemoth.

Not the least of which was the massive Servo Mounted Electromagnet, a titanic magnet mounted on an equally titanic robotic arm. Designed to allow the SSV to lift tons of scrap at a time, it could, I realized, serve a more intimidating purpose in what I was rapidly coming to realize was an Orky version of a Death Race… light vehicles could be picked up and disposed of and even larger vehicles could be locked onto or even flipped completely.

Once they’d shown me all this, they looked at me expectantly.

“What?”

“Well… you see…” Graf began. “We need a sponsor.”

“Aaaah. And you figure, since I’m a human carrying a big bag of… er… Teef…”

“Exactly.”

“As it turns out, you are, indeed, in luck. I was looking for a team to take me to victory. I am the Trader Sigismonda Lathimon the third… and, if you nice folks win the race for me… I’ve got a ship in orbit and am very much willing to evacuate you and your families off this planet.”

They looked at me with frank disbelief and I shrugged, “Believe me or don’t. I have you a sponsor, and I’ll bet I can get a second mechanic-”

“Why would we need a second mechanic?” Valten asked, sounding aggrieved.

“Four reasons,” I said, fixing him with a cold stare. “First, you’re the driver, and can’t be spared to fix guns or light vehicles in the middle of the race. Second, you’re clearly more comfortable with a machine shop than jury-rigging in the middle of the desert. Third, two mechanics are better than one. And Fourth, you’re not an Ork and we’re going to be racing other Orks. We need someone who thinks like they do.”

“You want to bring Orks onto our-” Graff began, but I glared at him next

“You want to win? Because I see 5 of us and 5 guns on the SSV. I also see two light dune bikes over there,” I pointed, “And that’s, what? A light recon vehicle under that tarp?” They blinked at me. “Yeah. Thought so. So we need at least 6 more people. 8 if I can get them. Meanwhile… you guys need to do some upgrading. Reinforce the cargo area, I’m going to get you three big fuel tanks… and find a way to make the docking bay for those bikes and the recce a bit bigger. I want to stick an Ork Warbuggy in there too, if I can find one small enough.”

“How’d you know there was a docking bay?” Destraine asked me.

“I assumed you brought them with you and were taking them out of the SSV to lighten the load. Wrong move. Unless I miss my guess, this is an endurance race. We need every advantage. I’m going to go talk to my partner and you’re going to get me a list of everything you’ve got… do we have enough supplies and water?”

“For us… you too I guess… but not for six or eight orks,” Solomon said, looking annoyed.

“Yeah. I figured. I’ll pick up some. Do you have spare weapons?”

“Yes? Why?”

“Well, if you mount your spare multi-laser on the boom for your magnet, it can get good range on enemies from above… make sure you can depress the angle. And mount your spare Lascannon on the Recce’s front, so the driver can fire at things right ahead. The multilaser on the roof is great for anti-personnel, but not so hot against vehicles. And if you have a spare heavy bolter as well, rig it on the rear in a small armored turret, just in case. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to find some more Dakka and some Boyz.” I strolled out again…

And bumped into Carwyn.

“There you are!” she said, looking annoyed.

“Here I am. How’s the bridge?”

“A mess, I took a shuttle down and landed over there behind that ridge. My guards are watching the shuttle. Come, if we hurry you can be decontaminated by… where are you going.”

“To find my employer, I need to talk about the rules of this race with him,” I was already walking back towards Abak’s place.

“What race? What employer? Where are you going!” She stomped her foot and then hurried after me.

“The people who managed to pull me off the bridge did so with a teleporter that managed to target me specifically and pull me out of a ship in orbit. I want that tech, or at least a good look at it. And they offered me a job… well… told me I was going to win the Kannonball Run for him… and it sounds like it might be fun. Anyway, there’s a colony of humans on this planet that are descendants of the AdMech explorators. I promised them that, if we won, I’d help them get off the planet. I want these techs for my fleet.”

“You don’t need to win to help them get off the planet! We can just do that anyway! You’re being…. Ooooh… you’re being so… so…”

“Human?” I asked brightly, then pulled open the door to Abak’s. “Honey! I’m hoooome.”

“You’z betta have a good reasun fer bein’ bak ‘ere, my fine lil ‘Umie,” the deep voice growled.

“Oh. Sure, Sure. Buncha. Found a crew with a vehicle. Humies like me. Hope that ain’t a problem?” He grunted, so I continued. “Want to borrow your Mekboy for my crew too. Need him to install some upgrades, and show me where the shopping is.” Another grunt, one that sounded slightly doubtful. “That way everyone will know it was Orky knowhow that really won the race, not Umie smarts and trickery.”

He grunted what might have been laughter, then called his Mekboy into the room and muttered to ‘him’ (Orks are neither male nor female. They grow from spores given off by adult Orks almost continuously over their lives, or in large numbers when they die.). The Mekboy looked annoyed, but finally agreed after being cuffed soundly upside the head by the much bigger Ork. Orky social hierarchy is largely based on bullying.

“Anyfing else?”

“Yes. What are the rules?”

“Rulz? What Rulz? You’z startz when dey wavez da banna, and stopz when you croz da finish line, ain’t it?”

“How far apart are the start and stop? What’s the course? How many other drivers? Are sub-vehicles allowed? Can we shoot other teams?”

“Oh! Doz Rulz! It’s from Mektown. Datz where we iz roight now, lil ‘Umie, down the Skid what the ‘Ulk left when it crashed, see? You go to where the Skid ends, at Skid Row, where the other chunk of the ‘Ulk is, now isn’t it? Den bak up here to Mektown, right quick. It’s a ways. 870 klicks each way… plus a bit round da row, right?” I nodded.

He went on to explain that there were usually about 120 teams or so, but a good 70% of them could be expected to take each other or themselves out of of the race at the traditional start of race brawl. Tampering with other vehicles or attacking other racers or their vehicles before the race was cheating, but totally fair once the flag dropped… there weren’t any rules besides having to reach the end of the Row and come back all in the same vehicle and flying wasn’t allowed or they’d shoot you down with Flakkadakka. And yes, sub-vehicles were fine… but didn’t count for the main vehicle which had your team’s number on it and had to be the one to cross the finish line.

He also indicated that there were a number of racers he would be be quite happy if I could make sure were well and truly out of the race… apparently, betting on survival or finishing at all was a big market here in Mektown. He gave me a list of the other teams, with checkmarks for which teams he’d bet against… and I stared at it in growing horror… this had to be a joke.

In addition to teams like The Grechin Revolutionary Committee, The Slagshifta Brothers, The Snakebit Boyz, Da Krusha, and Baus… all fairly reasonable names for Orks… there were Burt and Dom, Da Squig, Da Speedy Raca, Da Red Grot, and (worst of all) Snidely Squiglash… each of which I was relatively certain was an Earth Reference… namely Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLouise (the stars of the original Cannonball Run movie), The Stig (of Top Gear fame), Speed Racer (of anime and wachowski infamy), The Red Max (of Whacky Races), and Snidely Whiplash of Rocky Bullwinkle fame… He wanted me to make certain that Snidely, Speedy, Krusha, Baus, and Doomrider didn’t finish the race.

“What’s this symbol next to Team Toppa for?” I couldn’t tell if that was a reference to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann or not, but it could just be the Orky way of saying Topper.

“Dem is our boyz! Dem is da best! Deyz a buncha lovable idjits what makez der own zooma… sept, none of dem is a Mekboy, in’it?”

“You want me to take them out?”

“Nawww, See!  Jams ‘Kaptin Slow’ Mayday, Apocalypz Klarkson, and Da Hamsta… deyz my favorite! You still gotta win, see, but you gotta make fer certain dey don’t get demselves krumped, see? Dey gotta survive de race wit all der bits still attached, and dey can’t know youz helping dem, or it would break der hearts, reckin?”

I just stared. Oh god. The Top Gear Crew as Orks. Malal was laaaughing somewhere. “So, the others have to be taken out of the race for good. But not dead unless I have to… and the idiots have to survive. Gotcha.  I guess I’ll take Mekboy here and go shopping. See you when I win, I guess.

If Doc Teeftaka the Mekboy thought it was strange that the diminutive little humie had an Eldar friend waiting outside, he didn’t say. Instead, he started talking the minute we exited Abak’s den. “Mektown! Dere’s no uvver place like it on da planet! Come to fink of it, there IS no uvver place on the planet. Mektown is IT! It’s the oldest, biggest, most excitin’ an’ definitely the only settlement in the whole world. That is unless you count the Digga holes and the Pyramids, which is pushin’ it, plus wherever the Grots, Snots, an’ Muties hide. They all live under rocks and that’s hardly what you an’ me would call civilised, now is it?”

He had a map he unrolled, showing all of the area. Apparently the Pyramids were the Human encampment, a bunch of pyramid-shaped metal desert survival buildings. It was hard to talk in Mektown, thanks to the gouts of smoke and light and gruesome smells and thunderous chugging, banging, howling, shooting noises that flooded the ramshackle quasi-slum… but Doc Teeftaka compensated by yelling as loud as he could.

“Most like it ain’t Mektown youz findin first but Da Skid. Da Skidz a ded straight valley, steep sidez an ol, wif Mektown at da fat end. Find da Skid, ride long it and you’z come ta Mektown sure as teef is teef. Da Skid’z quite da place too. Is da best spot ta find quality wreckage. Most is ‘alf buried, but somez is just lyin’ about outside da Skid, hidden among da rocks. Dere’s plenty o’ wreckage waiting for themz as wants it. Course, dere’s all sorts o’ nasties wot livez in da Skid, ‘specially at da pointy end where dere’s a zoggin’ big, long chunk of da old wreck. We calls dis Skid Row and dat’s where lotz of bad Grots hangs out, a’long wif a buncha nasty types that is best avoided if you know wot’s good for you. Still, I’ve had many a bash in da Skid an’ carried me off some top tucker tek, as you can see by the size of me janglies. Ah it’s a good life an’ no mistake – Gork an Mork be praised.”

He did know where to get the best equipment… or Gubbinz, and we picked up three massive fuel tanks, each with enough fuel to run the SSV for 800 klicks (plus the 400 klicks its main tank could run. If we couldn’t make a 1800 klick run with 2800 klicks of fuel, we didn’t deserve to win. Also got enough fuel to fill up the tanks on the Recce (range about 600 klicks, on fuel that would move the SSV 100), the Bikes (range about 300 for 20 klicks of SSV fuel), and Warbuggy (Doc Teeftaka estimated a range of halfway to the Row on a full tank and the tank took about 45 klicks of SSV fuel). When I stopped to get armor plates fitted for the Fuel tanks, Doc Teeftaka blinked at me, then grinned tuskily. “Put some armer on da most explody bits of da trukk? Sometimes Humies do have good ideas!”

I also had him source a set of 12 oversized tires that would fit the SSV, and got the front four spiked, then the middle four chained, and left the last four alone. The SSV was a 10 axle vehicle, with a pair of single tire axles in the front, a pair of double tire axles in the center, and four double tire axles on the back end. By putting the spikes on the first and second axles, the chains on the third axle, and the last quartet on the very end, it would help spread the weight of the vehicle across the sand, and with the floating independent suspension built into the SSV, it would easily adjust to the difference in wheel heights.

We also picked up a Dozer Blade… obstacles are much simpler to deal with when you can go through them. As my dad used to say, “Any Restaurant can be a drive-thru with sufficient armor plating.”

And, of course, we picked up some red paint. Carwyn was confused. ~Why are we painting the SSV red?~

~So it will go faster.~

~Color does not affect speed.~

~Ork tech works on belief, not physics. Red will go faster than other colors because the crowd thinks it will.~

~That is insane!~

~Welcome to Gorkamorka.~ I agreed.

“Doc Teeftaka, we need a really big shoota,” I said outloud.

“What kinda Shoota, gov?”

“The kind what blows up enemy tanks, reckin?”

“Ayup! Youz wantin’ a Killkannon, Aintcha!”

“Sounds like. And a Boy what knows howta Krump armer, aye?”

“Aye Gov. I gotcha. I knowz a Tankbusta whats got his own Killkannon. If we mounts it and buys the shells, he’ll blow the gob right offa the other racers and no mistake,” Doc Teeftaka said, eyeing a street vendor selling fried squig on a skewer.

“Looks tasty,” I commented, then bought five for 3 teef. I handed two over to Doc Teeftaka and offered one to Carwyn, who looked as if she’d rather chew her own arm off. I shrugged and chowed down. Very tasty indeed, like portobella mushrooms, but with more texture and a little more pungent. I could pretty much eat anything, so I wasn’t worried about making myself sick… but they were decent even without that. Not high cuisine or anything, but as street food went, edible.

While we walked, Carwyn kept up a steady stream of incredibly racist commentary, but to be fair… Orks were a race without the faintest concept of diplomacy. I’m not certain it was possible to insult them with racial slurs. The Doc mostly nodded and said ‘ayup’, each time Carwyn insulted his species.

In the end, we recruited one Krumpa McGirk the Tankbusta and his Killkannon ‘Big Smokey’. And Doc managed to scrounge up 11 shells for the huge weapon that was often mounted on the heaviest of Ork vehicles. Like all Ork weapons, it would make a deafening amount of noise, and hopefully very large holes in other racers and their rides.

I explained what I was looking for in extra personnel as we picked up supplies for 10, just in case. “For the Buggy, I want veterans who know how to handle themselves… someone who can drive and someone who can shoot… and if both can do both, even better. For the Bikes, I want small fast orks who know how to shoot one handed and drive with the other… or throw wrenches one handed.”

“Oh! Youz wantin Lootas for da bikes. Deyz havin’ Deef Cannons!” I asked, and discovered that Lootas were Ork thieves, often equipped with shoulder mounted cannons that they could fire without needing to put a hand to the weapon at all. We picked up two of them, Toof-Snatcha (yes, Taka and Snatcha… wonderful… no relation) and Muffin da Destroya (I got nothing), and two Skarboys (Veterans of the Ork Wars) named FISTMASHA BOB (yelled at full volume or not at all) and Buzzsaw Da Buzzkilla (kinda a downer, but on our side)… and even a quartet of Homing Squigs.

What, I’m sure you’re asking, is a Homing Squig? Imagine a two legged porcine ball with a gaping maw and almost no brain. And no interest in politics. That’s a Squig. There are thousands of varieties. A Homing Squig is one of those breeds of squig that is very fast… and has a very large bomb strapped to its back.  Toss a homing scent that smelled like Squiggy’s mom on a rival driver’s vehicle and…. booooom.

Once we’d spent all the Teef Akab had given me, we headed back to the Dust Rat’s lair and unloaded, making introductions and getting everyone stowed and ready for the race. The Lootas took the bikes on a short ride to get used to them and the Warbuggy was… shaved a bit to fit in the bay… not the launch bay, the Magnet’s bay. We’d have to use the magnet to bring the buggy back on board or deploy it. Veltren and Doc Teeftaka spent most of the night arguing until I told both to sack out and get ready for the dawn.

And so, as the light of day began to creep over the horizon, I got a look at the other teams and the start of the race. It was, of course, a madhouse. I also did a little pre-race preparation.

Team Toppa got sent a case of Greenskin beer that had been liberally spiked with something guaranteed to make their reaction times much better for about 20 minutes before knocking them out for at least 8 hours after that. They’d end up stalled in the desert when the engine fell out of their ramshackle car.

Snidely (Who was busy sabotaging The Mystery Racer’s ride) and Baus (an Orky prettyboy who looked like a green but otherwise extremely handsome human male) got their vehicles scent marked… and Doomrider… who, it turns out was the Slaaneshi version of Ghostrider (does cocain, head is on fire, was a daemon)… I traced a ward circle into the ground ahead of his vehicle, scent marked it, sent him 3 kilos of hallucinogenic fungal powder, and traced a small warp glyph on his engine which would eventually get hot enough to glow in a pattern that should, in theory, summon a Khornian Bloodletter (smaller and less totally bugfuck psycho than a Bloodthirster).

As for Da Krusha… I didn’t do anything to him. He was going to be even slower than we were. I’d figure something out when we were on the way back and he was approaching the other way.

That left Speedy. He would have to deal with our Lootas and guns.

The crowd at the starting line was insane.  Then again, so were the drivers… myself included, I’d hazard a guess. Madness incarnate, that was Orks for you. I honestly had no idea how good the SSV was or how good a driver Veltren was or, in fact, how good of a driver/shooter/whatever any of the others were. I assumed that Speedy and Da Squig were top notch, because somehow they’d gotten names that were linked to Earth figures known for their racing prowess. But who could say?

As the sun began to rise over the desert landscape, the banner waver waved and the race began… in theory. In actuality, the brawl began. Guns, cannons, axes, and garbage cans loaded with crazed squigs were levelled against the other teams as those in front lept to an early lead (and put giant targets on their backs), while the rest either hung back like sane individuals, had engine trouble like people who’d been sabotaged, or tried to kill each other and the audience like normal Orks. Fucking madhouse.

My plan was to skirt the melee entirely, so we’d been parked along the viewing area, a tarp covering our number until the flag fell, at which point we bulldozed the retaining wall and smashed into the course, ramming Speedy into the far wall so hard his vehicle split in half. If he was alive, he wasn’t going to get back into the race… but to make sure, I unloaded several rounds from the multi-laser into the underside of his car. “Not so speedy now, eh, Green Boy!?” I yelled, then winced as the massive Killkannon krumped and smoke enveloped us.

A moment later, bits and pieces of Da Krusha’s warmachine came poinging and spanging down from the sky and the flaming ruin rolled passed us as we managed to slew turn onto the course proper and begin accelerating toward the distant end of the skid. Ahead of us, Team Toppa’s ludicrous machine was burping along the track, barely under control as its rocket engine flamed… and died, the craft sputtering and veering out into the desert.

The Doomrider was a flaming ball of nightmares as he rolled forward, the wards eating away at his demonic craft even as he flamed through team after team, the blaze growing brighter and brighter as he picked up speed, rocketing past us and howling in insane words of power.

The massive bulk of the Slagshifta, a huge heavy-lift vehicle, swerved out of the way of the Doomrider’s hellride and plowed, head first, into a rock the size of the whitehouse at better than 40 kph. The Doomrider didn’t even notice. Instead, it continued to rocket down the stretch, bearing down on the Gretchen Revolutionary Committee’s wind-powered racer… I waited for the explosion… but when it came, it wasn’t because the GRC’s sailbarge had been hit, but rather because Burt & Dom had plowed head first into the Doomrider, apparently having lost control.

Ahead of us, Da Squig was pulling further and further ahead, as were Snidely, Baus, and The Mystery Racer. Behind us, the Snake Bit Boyz, an incredibly ugly Ork Nob called Shagnasty, and even the Slagshifta (dented but not daunted by the rock) were pulling ahead of the rest of the crowd.

I lay on the roof and sighted for the gunners, calling distances and windage as we gained speed, moving faster and faster. I was mostly worried about taking out the trio behind us before they could catch up… though I’d tried sniping Da Squig three times and missed disabling his beastly machine… probably because I could only vaguely guess what was powering it.

“Unleash the Squigs!” I commanded as Snidely and Mystery closed on each other and Baus slowed to make it through a sandbog up ahead. The squealing was… appalling. The explosions were gratifying… but when the dust cleared, somehow Mr Squiglash was still racing, while the Mystery Racer was a smoldering crater. Of Baus… we saw a wheel bouncing downfield as we plowed the flaming wreckage of his race-mobile into the bog.

Next I ordered out the Boys to cut Snidely’s fuel supply free, and watched, grimfaced, as we pumped laser blast after laser blast at the giant Squiggoth (think fungal elephant-pig) being used by team Snake Bite instead of a race-car… but the thing’s hide was dense enough that all we were managing was to confuse the poor thing. When I saw Snidely’s black racer stalled and smoking behind us, I smirked. The Lootas had done their job and were racing back towards us.

I frowned then as another black vehicle, this one a flatbed hauler, zoomed onto the course and, using a magnet that was the twin of the one on the SSV, scooped up Snidely’s disabled car and started rolling after us… I saw Mechboyz swarming across it and understood. No rulez… moving repair station. Not as fast as the racer, but he’d lose less ground this way.

I turned back to the front. I’d worry about Squiglash when he showed up again… and I saw, somehow, Team Toppa had caught up with us, their rockets flaming with hellish white-blue light. “Carwyn! We’re going out! Get in the Recce!”

“I’m already in the Recce… why are we…” she questioned as I lept into the back and had the smaller vehicle launched.

“We’re going to convince some Orks that they don’t want to continue racing today. I’m going to steer and you’re going to use your runestones to figure out what part of their vehicle we have to disable to get them out of the race!”

“This seems silly! Can’t we just shoot them?”

“No! We’re trying… I’m being paid to keep them alive, so I’m going to keep them alive as long as they’re not actively a threat to me or you.”

We utterly failed to figure out how to disable the Toppa Raca… I guess we weren’t orky enough.  Or weird enough. Or something. In the end, Carwyn projected an audiovisual illusion that convinced the idiots that they were having an argument and they managed to crash their rocket-car into a dune as they fought over the controls. Idiot orks.

And, of course, by the time we got back to the SSV, Snidely was back in the race, bearing down on us. I snarled as he tried to sideswipe our smaller vehicle… the one that had me and Carwyn in it to keep us from hooking back up with the main vehicle. I’d had enough of cheater boy. He was no Professor Fate and I was no Magnificent Lesley to let him live. I blasted his car with Bioelectricity and ended up in Carwyn’s lap as the Squiglash 2000 went up in a small atomic fireball. Woooooo My earsss. Carwyn has nice boobies when I’m concussed.

The explosion was enough to completely stun the Snake Bit Boyz’s Squiggoth, so it burrowed into the ground and refused to come out again. The blast also sent the Slagshifta off course, into another massive rock, but this impact was enough to cause several wheels and axles to snap free of the giant ore-hauler and it was pretty much out.

Now it was just the vehicles ahead of us…. Or So I thought. There was a whoomp and Speedy Racer’s white and red Mock Foive just… appeared on the track behind us, blazing and swirling with eldritch fire… and it took me a moment to realize that, somehow, Speedy’s car and Doomrider had merged. The car was not doing well, as it had a massive and very angry Khornate Daemon on it ripping it apart, but it was burning down the track at an alarming speed. I just stared for a very long moment, then yelled “FISTMASHA! BUZZKILLA! Sic’m!” and hammered the arm to launch the warbuggy.

I left the terror behind us to the Scarboys and looked ahead to where we were finally gaining on the Gretchen Revolutionary Committee’s windpowered and ramshackle craft. I felt sorry for the little bastards, I really did… but I suspected that if they actually won, they’d be stomped. Orks are not big on social reform. I considered sending out the Lootas to take care of them, but instead I just had the laz-gun opened to maximum dispersal and burned off their sails. Berift of power, they slowed, shuddered to a stop… and fell over with a crashing crunching sound.

That left Da Squig ahead, Shagnasty and the Abomination behind… or so I thought.  At that moment, the SSV’s engine coughed, the massive vehicle shuddered from end to end… and we skidded sideways into the wall as we too lost power to the wheels.

“Veltren! Doc! Get us moving!” I yelled, then swore.  Fuck. Fuckity fucking fuck. “Come on C… we need to get out and… stall.”

“I thought we had already stalled?”

“Har. Har… no… you need to figure out where I need to shoot Da Squig’s car so it takes him out of the damned race.”

“Don’t we need to catch up with him in order for… why are we walking?”

“See that rock?” I pointed at a massive regolith about the height of a 15 story building.

“It’s hard to miss,” she snarked.

“Vantage Point. I figure from the top of that thing, I should be able to see the entire width of the Skid.”

“And?”

“Da Squig has to come back this way. We aren’t catching up with him before he rounds the Row. We’re fifty klicks from the Row ourselves. The Squig hasn’t lapped us yet… but it can’t be long.”

“Oh… makes sense… wait…” She yelped as I grabbed her with one arm and told her to hold onto my back as I transformed my hands and feet into large claws… then I scrambled up the basalt pillar, toting Eldar and Heavy Bolter along. Grrr.. I are ripped!

Atop the lookout rock, I was able to survey a fair distance in all directions, and by focusing my eyes I could make out pretty much everything worth seeing. We’d been passed by Shagnasty and the Abomination Mobile now, and of the other teams, I could see nothing but roiling dust. I had no way of knowing what teams remained, but as far as I knew, only three teams were ahead of us for the time being.

I pulled out the coms and hissed “How’re the repairs coming?”

Veltren yelled back “We blew the main power transfer coil! We should be able to get it fixed in two hours?”

“Doc? Help Veltren. You’ve got 30 minutes!” I looked to Carwyn “Well? How’s it coming?”

She was huddled over her runes, studying them very closely. “You… you’ll have to shoot him. The Car won’t stop.”

“Great. Wonderful. I really don’t want to murder him just because he’s beating us in a race. Seems… unsporting.”

“You don’t have to kill him. Just… shoot him in the shoulder as he crosses…” She looked around, then pointed at another rock, this one a chipped alabaster about the size of a size bus… it looked like m e like a sleeping frog… a very big sleeping frog at that.

“Good! Good! Give me two more shots. This guy’s been lucky as… what is that noise?”

I looked up and realized that the dust behind was growing thicker and, leading the dust, was a vehicle from the very back of the pack.  The Dirt Booma, driving by Groga Grotmasha and Kraga Skullcracka… with their gunner Dakka Dakkadakka. The Dirt Booma was a rocketsled and it was charging down the field at an alarming rate… headed straight for the TKO’d SSV. And then I heard the sound of the Squig’s engine… fuck. Two targets, enough time to get in position for one… “Carwyn… where do your runes say to hit him for maximum effect?”

She threw as I lined up on the white rock and adjusted my grip on the rock with my toes. I was counting down as the Squig roared onward and the Dirt Booma hammered the same into microquakes with the force of its passage. 10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5…

“Shoot his luck token!” 2… 1… I breathed out as the bolt left the gun, cracking the air, punching through the windscreen, exploding the pair of white fuzzy dice that were hanging from his roof. The cockpit of his race was filled with a flurry of fluff and he jerked sideways, clipping the white rock and send shards of alabaster flying into the air to bounce almost high enough to hit us.

His vehicle spun, drunkenly, bucked, skewed across the Skid… and slammed, point first, into the Dirt Booma, driving the rocketsled into the wall two hundred yards up-skid from where the SSV rested. There was a scream of pain over the radio.

“What happened?”

“Yer Umie Weird Boy caught ona ‘is wormy bitz inna wrench, in’it?” Doc said, dryly.

“Great. Wonderful. GET THE ZOGGIN SSV MOVING YOU GROTS OR I’LL SMASH YER HEADS in For Ta Make Soup fer my Sprogs, RECKIN?!!”

“Koor… no need ta swear, missus. We gotcha.”

Carwyn and I scrambled down to the SSV just as the engine coughed twice, then belched and roared back to life. Veltren was nursing his hand… it looked as if he’d broken his finger and Destraine was wrapping it.

“Didums huwt u’ms widdle finger?” I teased.

“It really hurts!” Veltren complained as Destraine laughed at him.

“Great. Don’t care. We need to be moving, and since you’re the driver, get driving!”

“I-”

“Veltren, look me in the eye and ask yourself if I look like I give a festering rat’s carcass if your finger hurts. We have a race to win and by all the Ruinous Powers and the Emperor Combined, I will, if you make us lose because of your boo-boo… build a giant robot out of spacemarines and use it to kick your ass from here back to Holy Terra. AM I CLEAR!”

He blanched, gulped, then scrambled into the driver’s seat. A moment later, the massive vehicle began moving, lumbering back up to speed with the slow ponderous grace of a blue-whale on roller-skates.

As we neared the end of the Skid, we saw a brawl between the Bloodthirster and Doomrider, the flaming remains of Speedy Racer’s car burning around them. Veltren gulped and looked like he was about to stear around the duo, but I just put my hand on the wheel. “We don’t swerve for Chaos.” A moment later, the two were a smear on the sand behind us as the 40 tonne truck flattened both into so much oozing gore. Krumpa finished them off with a round from his Killcanon and we began the long turn round the Row, only one racer remaining between us and victory.

As we came on strong, burning the remaining fuel as fast as we dared, we began meeting the remaining racers come head on at us. Our guns blazed, blowing away the other teams before they could try and stop us and I, at last, understood completely the terrible beauty of the ork race. Civilized it wasn’t… but a brutal winnowing for the Waugh… very much so. Thankfully, they were slowing Shagnasty down more than they were slowing us and by the time we crossed the 3/4ths mark we were back in sight of the Nob and his killcruiser.

I took the arm to full extension, getting as much height as I could and aiming the lazer down at the beast, trying to target as I swayed back and forth at the end of my jouncing bouncing pillar. Finally, I just closed my eyes and, praying to the universe in general… unleashed a full power barrage at the wall above where I thought he’d be in 20 seconds time. The massive energy blasts tore the compressed bedrock apart, sheering stones the size of cars off and dropping them in front of Shaggy’s path.

He slowed and swerved. It was much, but it was enough. Within moments, we were alongside. I thought we’d made it, but sparks were coming off the arm and it took me a moment to realize it was rapid bolter fire, ripping away at the heavy machinery. I grabbed my com and yelled “Toof-Snatcha… Come pick me uuuuup!” as the arm gave way and I plummeted towards the sand and rock far below, my skin hardening and expanding as I inhaled to make an improvised air cushion around my internal organs. I relaxed my entire body, falling back first. Cats could land on their feet, but the safest landing position is back first, especially if your back is armored.

I bounced, rolling into a ball in the air, flipping over, still going close to 70kph, then landed, indeed, on my hands and feet, my legs already having transitioned to running mode as I took off after Shagnasty and the SSV, burning calories like mad until the bike-riding Toofsnatcha circled around and scooped me up.

“Wotcha Boz? Back ta da Race, figur?”

“Bugger that. Get me close ta da nob what dropped me. We’z gon have wordseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…” I gasped as the Dust Rat bike roared off to catch up with the Killcruisa, my claws growing longer, legs growing stronger… and as we pulled even with Shagnasty’s vehicle I leaped. I pulled my Shuriken Catapult off my hip and, pressing it against the back of the chugging smoking engineblock… unloaded then entire clip into it on spreadfire. The killcruisa bucked, slewed… and, as I leapt clear once more… flipped sideways and smashed, roof / head first, into the skid at 72kph… I swear that that section will probably be renamed the Smear.

From there, it was smooth and easy sailing. No one was left in our way and we cruised up to the finishline looking dusty and crusty and grinning tusk to tooth. Abak was waiting, looking utterly pimptastic and was just so thrilled he almost was coherent.  It was nice.

I took my leave of the ork, who was nice enough to give a handheld link device that Doc says will ‘tellyport’ me back to Mektown and its markets at will, wherever I may be. They weren’t exactly convinced that the Tellyporta Array would be survivable for non-orks… so instead I took the Gitfinda targetting system instead… The massive weirdtech would probably quadruple the range and double the effectiveness of the targeting matrix of Light’s sensors… if only I could replicate the madness… ah well.

After that… Carwyn and I were hosted to a victory celebration at the local AdMech pyramid and I extended my welcome and offered to send a ship to pick up all 40,000 survivors and to integrate those willing to serve into my fleet and to resettle those who preferred to work planetside.

The fact that they’d all have to go through decontamination and a complete medical… that didn’t even slow them in their rush to sign up. It really was a miserable world… but it was a fine day at the races, I’ll tell you that.

Next: Light of Terra, Part 5

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 Notes

Once again, the design required a creative approach, but this time for a completely ridiculous reason. Nothing on offer in this section is particularly awesome… but it’s a load of fun and so I designed the build to reflect that. I actually gamed out the race, and gave every team stats and rolled for them. Of course, this being an Ork Race, I cheated outrageously.

There isn’t a drawback section for this DLC, but rather a ‘Rival Drivers’ section. Each other team is worth a few more Teef, and I took 1550 Teef worth of them, over and above the starting 3000… that said, it really doesn’t make much sense to standardize Teef prices with Orks so I didn’t do any such thing in the writing. I mixed in stuff the team I already had with stuff I could scrounge or that Doc Teeftaka could finagle for me. I came very close to losing. The Squig made every damned roll until the very very last one.

I won’t go into detail on what I bought. THere isn’t much point. But I will comment on who I decided to race. Team Toppa I took because I love Top Gear. Simple as that. Da Krusha and Baus I took because I could easily defeat them. Ditto Bert & Dom. Da Speedy Race, Doomrider, and Snidely because they each provided a unique challenge. I added in Shagnasty as an homage to Dresden, but also because I wanted a better tough-guy ugly-guy enemy than the Cyberjunky that was Da Krusha.

Thanks to my peeps at SB for providing the Ork Names. I’m terrible at naming them.

Omake: The 42 Septs of Paradise

Clan Kendrazane

  • Sept McClintock
  • Sept McClaine
  • Sept McCloud
  • Sept McAlister
  • Sept McDougal
  • Sept McVoltron
  • Sept McKean

Clan Velpetra

  • Sept Wiggin
  • Sept Sherlock
  • Sept Atreides
  • Sept Hawatt
  • Sept Poirot
  • Sept Marple
  • Sept Fletcher

Clan Anamelia

  • Sept Harrington
  • Sept Hornblower
  • Sept Leery
  • Sept Nelson
  • Sept Aubrey
  • Sept Janeway
  • Sept Vorkosigan

Clan Joyhab

  • Sept Connan
  • Sept Tarzan
  • Sept Bond
  • Sept Flint
  • Sept Harkness
  • Sept Carter
  • Sept Blackadder

Clan Zigsoffi

  • Sept Rodan
  • Sept Gamera
  • Sept Gojira
  • Sept Ghidorah
  • Sept Mothra
  • Sept Gigantor
  • Sept Megalon

Clan Franjay

  • Sept Tiamat
  • Sept Baphomet
  • Sept Zizz
  • Sept Jormungandr
  • Sept Typhon
  • Sept Bahamut
  • Sept Jasconius

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 3

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

PART 3 – A Grand Tour

Previously: Land of the Sky Mother

Themesong: Nobody’s Side from Chess

AN: Thank you to my readers for all your wonderful comments.

It was the third anniversary of my arrival in this strange and horrifying world and I was, as I often did, watching the recording of The Light slowly, painfully docking with Hephaestus, the ancient automated repair and resupply station upon which I now sat. There was something mesmerizing, something awe inspiring about the sight of that ancient crippled ship inching her way into the space-dock, venting atmosphere and biological debris from the countless gashes in her armored hull. The fact that she was there at all was testament to the human drive to survive and thrive, even in the most inhospitable of environs. I leaned close to watch as the station’s titanic servo arms, monstrous kilometer long crane-things, swung into position to begin the long, arduous process of restoring the behemoth to her former glory, then leaned back as the equally gargantuan blast doors slid shut, blocking the sight of my ship from view.

Leaning back, I turned to face the reinforced plasteel window that formed the back wall of my office, then looked out over Paradise. My world. Mine. I had claimed it, claimed it for all those who followed me, claimed it for my children, and (potentially) their children’s children. And slowly, it was becoming mine in truth.

Before being trapped within the warp for all those long, uncounted millennia, The Light of Terra carried her own Imperial Guard regiment, and the supplies and equipment that would have allowed those men and women to take control of a hostile world had been locked securely within her holds. Hundreds of shuttles, megatons of prefab construction materials, earth movers, and more tools than the mind could safely encompass; all were waiting to be put to use.  As the ship had been repaired, more and more of those ancient goods had become available, and so my city had flourished… thanks in no small part to the fact that Imperial Guardsmen gear had been designed to be just as useful to a half-feral barbarian as it was to a Hive World Technician.

As the terminator swept inexorably across Paradise’s mottled surface, I could see the pinpricks of light that marked new settlements, defensive installations, or resource nodes springing to life. Some of them were Human, others the dog-lizard Tarellians who had learned it was better to join me than oppose me. I sighed with pleasure… then considered all the paperwork I still had to go through and sighed with something a little less pleasurable. I rubbed my eyes, clenching them tight… and then the world lurched around me.

Even before I opened my eyes, I knew something strange was going on. Part of that might have been because I could see things without opening my eyes… and not the normal riot of ever-shifting geometric and fractal patterns, but an obscene, impossible light that seemed to shine down on me, something that defied description, a color that could not possibly exist in real-space. I felt like clasping my hands over my still tightly shut eyes, but knew somehow that it would do nothing to block out that nightmarish hue.

I could feel it, pressing down upon me, eroding my edges, scouring away bits and pieces of who and what I was, the sheer pressure of all that unrestrained possibility seeking to crush me, to obliterate my psyche… and then something was draped across my face and the pressure retreated. With a hand that I struggled to keep steady, I reached up to feel the object.

It was a blindfold, a simple blindfold and nothing more… but somehow, it was enough to shield me from the almost soul-crushing madness of wherever I was.

“Perhaps, rather than shielding you from the overwhelming effects of my home, it simply conceals the distractions and allows you to see things as they truly are?” A voice said. The speaker sounded absolutely massive and incredibly terrifying… and could apparently read my mind… or at least my surface thoughts.

Experimentally, I looked around, eyes still shut tight behind the blindfold, testing the limits of what might be hidden and what might lie behind those illusions to be revealed by my sightless gaze. I quickly came to realize that this place, wherever it was, was so thick with enchantment that I could actually pick out the shapes of buildings, the flows of arcane power worked into the stones themselves. I also came to realize that I could see those magical flows once again, so powerful were they in this place.

I glanced up… and moaned softly.

Above that city of magic, instead of a sky, there was… ah… that would explain the entire sanity unravelling, psyche destroying pressure. This was the Warp. Not the ‘someone got really pissed off and accidentally summoned a Bloodthirster of Khorne’ warp (though that is exactly as bad as it sounds). This was the place causality went to die.  It was, actually, a fairly disappointing greeny purple.

“Charpuce… cute,” I muttered under my breath.

Still, it said something about the man? being? entity behind me that staring into the Warp itself seemed the safer course than turning around. Apparently, he realized that, since he started to move, and I could feel the impact of each footfall as he casually sauntered into my field of view. It… he… was close to twenty feet tall, with skin a deep crimson and a mass of burnished copper hair more akin to a mane than anything else, and was wreathed in so much sheer power that the mystical energy twisting around him was actively blinding, to the point where I almost considered tearing away the blindfold shielding me from seeing the warp in all its horror. Even worse, his armor was an abomination against fashion… it had nipple horns.

“Ah. Hello Magnus,” I said, feeling relieved. If all the beings I could have run into in the Warp, this was arguably the best possible result. This one was unlikely to murder me for lols.

“You know who I am?”

“Magnus the Red. Primarch of the Thousand Sons, Patsy, Ka-Mai, Fool of Fate, Dupe of Destiny, Accomplice to Patricide, Reluctant Traitor, the second most powerful psyker in the history of the human race, Daemon Prince of Tzeentch, Magnus Wolfsbane, Magnus One-Eye, Lord of murdered Prospero… sorry about that. That was a raw deal.” My voice had started out declarative, but slowly shifted towards empathy.

His anger and confusion, made manifest in the ripples of the Warp around me, shifted at that last into shivers and tremors of memory, memory that quickly flared back to rage. “Don’t you dare feel pity for me! I am a Prince of Chaos.”

“You’re a little boy whose father never loved him enough,” I said. It was not an accusation.

“You dare?! I could wipe you from reality with no more effort than you would take blowing your nose!” He roared

“Hey, my nose is dainty and adorable. And you could, but you won’t.” I looked around at the place… the books had not done it justice. It really was lovely in a strange kind of way.

“You seem dreadfully certain of yourself, mortal.”

“I am only mortal in the same rough sense that you are, child.”

“I… yes… you… hmmm…”

“It’s okay to admit you aren’t all knowing. You have no idea what I’m talking about but you can sense I’m being sincere. Here. I’ll make it simple for you. You have as much chance of understanding me as I do of understanding Tzeentch. I am utterly unlike anything you have ever experienced before. I am older than any human besides your father and have raised up civilizations to rival his at its height… and never had my children fall to chaos… though not for lack of trying. And the reason I’m so certain you won’t destroy me is that you brought me here for a reason. I suspect that means you want something from me or I’d already be in hideous agony as you tried to rip my soul out or performed something unpleasantly like a spiritual version of a vivisection on me.”

The pause was as long as an ice age… maybe two, before the 20 foot tall cyclops spoke again. “I had expected you to be taller… No matter… Welcome to my realm… and yes… I am Magnus, and you… you will be of some use to me.”

The conversation was short and mostly to the point, ignoring several lengthy diatribes about wretched, yiffing wolf-scum. Magnus was, to not put too fine a point on it, trapped within the warp. As a Daemon Prince, he simply couldn’t leave under his own power and had to be summoned… under most circumstances. I, as it turns out, represented a virtually unique opportunity, however. I didn’t belong here. Not in realspace, not in the warp… not in this reality. For most people, that would mean nothing. For the most powerful Sorcerer in this universe, it was a chance to break the rules.

All it would take was a simple ritual to twist the skeins of fate around the two of us, tricking the fabric of spacetime into believing we were one being… and, while Magnus would temporarily lose a not insignificant amount of power, he would be free of any and all restrictions, at least until the universe noticed. He already had plans and was willing to reward me very well indeed for my assistance. I, intrigued, agreed.

He also has a tale to tell, which he did as we crossed the void between worlds. “The story began some two and a half millennia ago, during a time known as as The Great Angevin Crusade, and features a follower of the man who would come to be known as Saint Drusus. Those idiots who worship my father,” Magnus couldn’t help sneering the word ‘father’, “were sweeping across what is now known as the Calixis Sector, pushing the enemies of that ridiculous state religion of theirs before them and ‘bringing light’ to worlds who’d forgotten all about Terra centuries ago.” He paused his narrative to go into a rant about fanaticism and pots calling kettles black, but eventually got back to his story.

“Amongst the followers of Drusus, was the Warlord Lorcanus Ryn, a free trader and captain of the Grand Cruiser known as ‘The Righteous Path’. In the course of Drusus’s crusade… and by crusade I mean unwarranted and merciless slaughter… Lorcanus scourged a dozen worlds or more, carving a bloody path across the sector… until he reached the world of Krystallian, which history records as the 73rd world to be brought to the light of the God-Emperor by that psychotic madman Drusus and his Khorne-blessed Crusade.”

I nodded to show I was listening as my eyes slowly adjusted to the searing madness of the warp before us. We were flying across the Immaterium without aid of a ship, propelled by Magnus’s raw psychic might and I found the place alien, but beautiful, like a four-dimensional Mandelbrot set. “You don’t have to convince me that the followers of the Ecclesiarchy are horrific monsters, Magnus. But you aren’t going to convince me that any of the forces of Chaos aren’t worse by orders of magnitude, and if you actually believe they are, you’re deluding yourself. But please, continue… you were speaking of Krystallian.”

“Err… yes. Krystallian. It was, so the story goes, an ancient colony of man, one which had long ago fallen to the so-called ‘heretical worship of false gods’ under the ‘treacherous’ caste of prophets known as the Talisar. Covered in glittering cloud temples that had been raised by the Talisar to the glory of ‘The Myriad of Faces’, it was a world of immense wealth and, to those savages of the Inquisition, blasphemous grandeur. It was also no match of the forces of Captain Lorcanus Ryn. He descended upon that world, filled with a fanatic’s zeal and, convinced his Emperor was behind him, swept away thousands of years of civilization in three days of fire and blood.”

“Of course he did,” I sighed. “I hate people sometimes. Let me guess… then came the looting?”

He seemed momentarily taken aback by dealing with someone as prosaic as I can be, but he grunted and continued. “Very much so. When the killing was finished and the corpse counters began tallying up the spoils, Lorcanus is said to have marvelled at the riches he had won, caring nothing for the blood soaked into every gaudy trinket. Never before had he seen such naked wealth, temples packed high with artifacts both rare and wondrous, statues of gold and gems, and shadowed vaults filled to the roof with ancient and forbidden archeotech.”

“Why do you call it that? Was it archeotech for him? Because you’re 11,000 years old, give or take, considering how screwed up time can be in the Warp. Did this stuff predate you?”

“You do realize that there were 30,000 years of human history before I was born, don’t you?”

“Actually, there were nearly 42,000 years, if you want to go back to the dawn of civilization to around the time your father was created,” I said dryly.

“Created?! Wait, you know how father came to be?!” He nearly steered us into a giant spinning pustule that must have been the size of Saturn, surprise suffusing his very being.

“Oh. Sure. I know all about you and your brothers and your father. Even how Tzeentch manipulated you into screwing over your father and brothers. I know about your childhood on Prospero, and Lorgar and his fanaticism, and Angron’s anger and Horus’s stupidity. I even know how Ahriman fucked up and turned so many of your Sons into empty husks.”

He flinched at that, but I continued. “I know many things. Many and many. As for your father… The Emperor of Mankind, and boy howdy did he have to be a jerk and a half to claim that title, was born when all the human psykers… the shamans of the prehistoric, pre-civilization days, merged themselves together into a single psychic entity… in the process stripping humanity of about 99% of its latent psychic potential since they failed to pass on their genes. Who knows if that was good or bad, considering that one of the reasons they were doing it was to protect humanity from the growing corruption of the Immaterium, thanks to the war between the Necrons and the Old Ones, and all the FUCKING ELVES! being fucking elves… and don’t get me started on the Orks. I hate this universe… it’s like a textbook in how to build a fucked up setting.”

“Not to sound like I doubt your words, but… how do you know all this?”

“Dude. I have seen some shit. I come from another universe entirely, one where a cult of beings known as Neckbeards spend all their time and energy arguing back and forth about which faction in your universe will win battles. They make faithful recreations of your battlefields and armies, then wage simulations of your battles across them. They make presentations in audio-visual format to educate the public about the minutiae of this entire world and to praise or mock each of the various dramatis personae of this universe… and thousands of others.”

“That… can’t be right! How would they know all these things?”

“My culture is one that… in order to entertain itself… spies into other realities and times to see the events that occur there.”

“And they have seen the events of our… my… this universe?”

“Indeed. Of several parallel versions of your universe, some more likely than others,” I kept myself from smiling. I might have lost the guarantee of the Occlumency perk, but I’d been a GM around telepaths for longer than ol One-Eye had been alive. And, to be honest, I wasn’t lying. Just bending the truth.

“So you know what happened? Everything?!” He sounded a little panicked by the idea.

“Not everything. I don’t know why your father ordered wolf-boy to kill your two missing siblings. I don’t know if Alpharius lives, or if he and Omegon were really traitors or secretly double agents. I don’t know of Robot Girlyman-”

He snorted so hard he nearly dropped me, “Did you just call my brother Roboute…”

“Oh. Sure. Either that or Rowboat. Frikkin Ultrasmurfs.”

“I do not know what smurfs are, but I sense you don’t like them,” the Daemon Prince commented dryly.

“You know how much you hate wolf-boy’s psychotic children? Well, there’s a group in my homeworld’s history called the Nazi’s. Smurfs were fictional characters designed by a wannabe nazi to teach children Nazi ideology. That ideology featured a deep and abiding hatred of my people, the Jews. What the Wolves did to Prospero, the Nazis did to my people. So… yeah… I don’t like smurfs.”

“I like you… you have a lot of hatred in you. Have you considered serving Tzeentch? Why are you laughing?”

“One of my companions is smarter and a better planner than Tzeentch… and I make her look stupid. You know how you’re massively reduced to be out of the warp? Same deal for me to be in this universe, it seems. But yeah. I don’t know the deep details of anything really, but I know a little bit about a lot of things in your reality. Like the fact that I’m pretty sure Rogal Dorn is hiding inside the Imperial Palace and Rowboat is slowly regenerating in stasis. It is entirely possible that, at this moment, the Captain-General of the Custodes is installing a vocoder in the Golden Throne so the Emperor can once again speak… or maybe that’s total fanfiction. Never can tell with this Universe. We who are not of the Neckbeard faith often call it ‘Grimderp’.”

“What is derp?”

“You know how you felt when you realized Tzeentch had tricked you into knocking a hole in your father’s defenses surrounding Terra? That, my young friend, is derp.”

“Oh… right… Derp. I… yes. I understand.”

“Cool. For future reference, I was born in the closing years of the 2nd millennia, maybe a scant handful of centuries after Khorne was born,” I patted his hand, “So when I say I’ve seen some shit… I’ve seen some shit. Good and bad. And done a lot of things I’m not particularly proud of. I’m made my share of Derp too. So I’m not feeling pity. I’m understanding your pain and guilt.”

“I do not feel guilt,” He muttered.

“Fine. Your embarrassment. Now, go back to telling me about the wealth of Krystallian.”

I think he was grateful for the change of topic, as he didn’t protest. “What happened next varies from report to report. Some say the wealth of Krystallian was more than mere rare metals and precious stones; that its people were also a prize, bred from a stock of genetically pure material and spared millennia of warp-taint. That Lorcanus sealed the cream of the crop in stasis coffins to be taken away to be trained as elite warriors or high class servants. Others report that the world was settled during the Dark Age of Technology and still harboured devices from that time within its cities and temples, secrets from that long forgotten era worth more than the mineral wealth of a hundred worlds,” he shrugged, bringing us down towards a vast spider-web cracked plain and a waiting atmospheric craft.

“Whatever the form of Krystallian’s wealth, Lorcanus was not content to merely sample it, nor did he trust his fellow crusaders to carry it away. He filled Righteous Path from stem to stern, tearing out gun decks and launch bays, marooning tens of thousands of his crew and filling the ship ‘til she was fair to bursting with plunder. Then he vanished, both into the warp and from the pages of history.”

“I take it you have some reason to believe that something specific came into his hands, something that might still be within one of the holds of the Righteous Path?”

He chuckled, nodding as we landed next to the grey bulk of a Thunderhawk Gunship. “Oh yes. Yes indeed.”

“And you believe your… scrying has located the ship?”

He paused, then sighed, shaking his shaggy head. “I believe I have located a place where we may begin the hunt.” He scooched his way into the Gunship and looked at the controls. “Do you happen to know how to pilot this thing?” he asked.

I looked up at the controls. “This is like a giant and a pixie trying to operate a craft sized for humans, isn’t it?” Clearly, this ship was sized for normal space marines, because Magnus was just too damned big to fit into the cockpit… and I’d have to stand on one of the seats just to see the controls. “Normally I’d ask if you couldn’t just TK the thing, but you’d have to remote presence into the cockpit, then TK, and even then, you’d have to maintain awareness… that’s it.  Use Intellectus to take over the entire gunship.”

He blinked his solitary eye at me, “You seem to know a great deal about psychic powers for someone without them.”

“Normally, I’m one of the most powerful psykers around. You have no idea how frustrating it is not to be able to use my TK, PK, or TP.”

“PK? Pyrokinesis?”

“Psychokinesis. Telekinesis is typically defined as mind over matter. Psychokinesis is usually mind over energy. Pyrokinesis is one flavor of PK. Normally, I’m a… the most powerful Cryokinetic you could conceive of.”

“I can conceive of a great many things, mortal.”

“Don’t call me that. That’s your knee-jerk desire to pigeonhole me as something you can conceptualize. I’m far closer to being one of your Chaos Gods than I am to being a mortal. When I say I’m a powerful CK, I mean it. I can freeze time and get colder than absolute zero. I have transcended the physics of cold and entered the conceptual realm,” I said it all in a level tone as I scrambled up into one of the massive chairs meant for massive dude-bros in massive power armor. They were exactly as comfortable as you might expect… i.e. not even vaguely. I also felt faintly sick. It’s hard getting the right level of braggadocio into your voice when you’ve lost fantastic cosmic powers and don’t know if they’ll ever return. “Anyway, Tall, Red, and Sexy, are we getting off the ground any time soon, or are you just going to…” I fell back into the oversized seat as the Thunderhawk lurched off the ground.

“Do not mock me!” El Cyclopes Rojas snarled, face contorting with the effort of being the transport as the Warp rippled and we dropped into real space.

“You really are tetchy, aren’t you?” I asked, looking at the doorway he couldn’t quite squeeze through. “Nothing I just said is untrue, or mockery. You are tall, you are red, and you are sexy. Kinda to be expected. Your dad was in prime condition for a human being, all 21 of you Primarchs were designed off his genome. You could use a haircut and a shave, but you’ve got all the right elements.”

“I. Am. A Daemon. Prince!” He roared, but I think he was blushing too.

“Well, sure. But some girls like power. Me? I like brains… er… smarts. And muscles. Not that I’m flirting with you. The size difference would make that a bit impractical… though I’d have to assume that, since you’re not associated with Slaanesh or Nurgle, you probably haven’t gotten laid in… actually, have you ever gotten laid? Hell, have any of your siblings ever gotten laid… except maybe Fulgrim. He’s Slaanesh’s favorite toy I’ll wager.”

“Do you always talk this much?” the fallen Primarch grumbled.

“You got anything else to do while we travel? Cause I don’t. You grabbed me from my world without so much as a data pad on which to play Angry Tau. I’m bored. What world are we going to?”

“Can’t you meditate or something?”

“Could. Don’t wanna.”

“Oh, for the… I don’t know what took your normal psychic powers but-” I felt a sharp sting deep in my brain and my senses exploded outward as Magnus focused his cyclopean gaze upon me. It was like waking up… or sobering up. I could feel the flow and pulse of… not just psychic power, but what must be the Warp itself flowing all around us, and I could feel mental facilities within myself waking as well, things I had known how to do, but which had been silenced somehow. My power was still much condensed, like one’s ability to think with a concussion, but I could feel my very synapses firing into eldritch light as the raw psychic… presence, not just of Magnus… but of this entire galaxy… began to filter into my perception. The galaxy itself was… alive. Insane, deeply deeply wounded, and undoubtedly dying, but alive.

I turned my inner eye back towards the place where Magnus had touched me and studied what he’d done, understanding it almost instinctively. I’d never done such a thing before, but as I studied it, I came to understand more and more. This was Biokinesis, or was it Biopathy? I couldn’t tell, but I could feel my control over it growing, expanding, burgeoning as I looked within myself, examining the flowering of pathways. I would be able to replicate this process.

I turned my gaze, both psychic and physical, to Magnus and said “Duuuuude. That was awesome!”

“Oh, sweet Tzeentch, you’re broadcasting. How are you doing this? I just awakened you! You should not be able to broadcast this quickly!”

“I am a Veteran of the Psychic Wars, buddy boy. I have been around the block a time or three. But thanks for the most excellent kick in the psychic pants. So… Jerazol? That’s the planet we’re heading to?”

“Did… did you just… That shouldn’t be possible,” One-Eye stared at me, flabbergasted, “I should not have dropped my defenses around you. And now I see that you’ve been keeping me out of your deeper thoughts as well. That’s an interesting trick. How’d… Veteran of the Psychic Wars?”

“Well, yeah. Plus, my first friend in your lovely galaxy was an Eldar Warlock. Keeping her out of my head was a full time occupation. But enough psychic dick measuring. You’re fifteen feet taller than me and I’m female. You’re going to win… really?” I looked at his confused face. “You’ve never heard the term dick measuring?”

“I am aware it is possible… but to what end?”

“Wow. Prospero must have been a weird place. Okay, when guys… you know… human males?” He nodded vaguely, having no idea where I was going with this. “Right… okay… this is really complex. Open your mind, I’m going to shunt you some knowledges.”

Looking distrustful, but then clearly slapping himself for thinking a mere slip of a psyker like me could do much against his might, he relaxed his defenses slightly, opening a conduit… which was an interesting idea that I’d have to remember. Through it, I slipped my entire knowledge base of human social interaction across hundreds of cultures… and a few memetic thoughts, just to see if they’d catch in big boy’s brain meats.

“So… this is a metaphorical measuring of penises, and not an actual quantitative survey of their lengths?” He asked after a few moments.

“That’s correct,” I said. “A contest to determine dominance between males based on the perception that size of genitalia has anything to do with… well, anything. It’s like assuming that a large nose somehow makes one qualified for leadership, or that the ability to put people to sleep by talking to them qualifies one to be a teacher.”

“You’re very sarcastic for one so small,” he commented.

I nodded. “Now, if you’re done trying to prove you can squish me like a bug, which at our current relative power levels is almost certainly true, can you please tell me about Jerazol. All I caught from your surface thoughts was the name.”

“Like Krystallian, it is a world with a tragic past, one also caused by the greed of man.” He began, his voice sonorous and almost sweet. “It was a verdant world, fertile and rich in natural wonders, and home to a primitive human culture that had slipped far from the technological might of those who had settled it once upon an age. That world and all its people were murdered for greed and spite.” He told the tale in soft words as we zoomed through the rippling void, approaching the murdered world.

Discovered by a Rogue Trader whose name did not survive the years, it was an ancient world, and one covered in ruins at the time of its discovery. This trader, a pious man and not as fanatical as most, was determined to bring the population back into the light and dominion of that gold-loving corpse, and began a process of civilizing the primitives while purging them of any trace of deviancy or corruption, real or imagined.

However, while this Trader was the first to discover Jerazol, he was not the last, for other explorers came to that doomed world, ones who believed that the primitives were hiding wonders of lost technology in warrens beneath the surface, warrens built by those long forgotten ancestors who had first come from across the stars. The explorers claimed that those machines were worth any price in blood and death, and when the nameless Rogue stood against them, they destroyed his ships, letting the wrecks fall from the sky like the burning tears of god. With the surface already in flames from the debris, those inhuman bastards then proceeded to bombard Jerazol, burning its surface to ash and choking the air with smoke and death.

“Did they find what they were looking for?” I asked, feeling the pressure of the giant’s rage as he remembered a similar act on his homeworld. He really needed to work on shielding his thoughts… and controlling his emotions.

“The tales do not agree. Some say they unearthed such wonders that they rose to the highest tiers of power within the imperium. Others say that they found only ash and bone and mud, and cursed the dreams that that brought them through void and madness to murder an entire world for naught. Regardless of the truth, the world of Jerazol stands in mute testimony to the price some men will pay in search of riches.” He pointed out the viewscreen ahead of me and I looked, and there I beheld Murdered Jerazol.

It was dead, as dead as he had implied, and I wondered at that, even as I said, “There is no crime so terrible, no act so monstrous that man cannot justify it through greed or faith… but shouldn’t it have grown back by now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Ash. Mud. Bone. Blood. Something, some life should have survived the burning, even if it was just bacteria. Ash and Mud make an excellent growth medium. Have you ever seen a forest burn?”

“Many of them,” Magnus growled.

“Yeah? I’ll bet,” I said dryly, “But have you ever watched what happened afterwards?”

“Afterwards? After the forest burns there is nothing but death and ashes.”

“Wow… you’re rather spectacularly clueless there.” I shook my head. “And Don’t growl at me. I’m serious. Death begets life. Almost always. Life, as you should know, even if you’re not a follower of Nurgle, is extremely resilient. Forests burn all the time. They’re made of wood and exhale oxygen. That’s practically asking for a fire. All it takes is a spark… like lightning, and a dry forest will burn and burn. And then the forest will flourish again. Forest fires burn all that yummy forest mast, the detritus, the leaves and twigs and fallen branches… burns all that up… and the undergrowth too. Kills some trees, cooks some animals. And then life comes rushing back in. That ash is fertilizer. The sunlight streams down through all those now open spaces and the seeds within the ground, stimulated by the heat, burst forth to grow and grow and grow. This world,” I motioned with my hand as we descended through the atmosphere, “Should have sprung back by now. This was hundreds of years ago, right?”

Magnus hrmed, then nodded, “At least 600.”

I nodded too, “This ash? It’s fresh. I think this planet has active volcanoes. That’s the only thing that’s keeping the planet from recovering. It’s in a volcanic cycle. Now, that could have been caused by bombardment… but it seems unlikely that a bombardment from 600 years ago would have destabilized the planet’s geotechnics enough to keep volcanoes spewing toxic ash into the atmosphere for this long. THis level of tectonic instability is usually caused by a large gravity source… What are we looking for here?”

“A cogitator from one of the Rogue Trader’s ships. It is said he had a lead on finding the Righteous Path.”

“This is from one of the ships that went down?” I asked and he nodded as he flew the ship through a pyrotechnic cloud. “Any chance its transponder is still working?”

He hmmmed?

“Emergency Beacon? Crashed ships tend to have them. They trigger automatically if the vessel crashes, sending out a Search and Recovery signal.”

“Oh. Huh… maybe?”

I looked around for a communications receiver, and found it high on the dashboard. With a leap, I jumped up there and, careful not to step on anything, I reached it and switched it on. Over the last three years I’ve become generally familiar with the local technology, which (thankfully) is highly standardized. It took a bit of tuning, but I managed to locate the general distress band and, there, faintly, was a centuries old distress beacon. A bit of triangulation later, and I was able to trace it to the source.

We landed outside a large cave entrance. “You’re sure it’s in there?” Magnus asked.

“Dude. It is basic geometry. We took a bearing, flew 100 klicks, took another bearing, and boom, where they cross is where the thing is. It’s about 3 klicks down and your own psychic powers say this is the only way to get down there without digging. So, let’s go. Want me to hold your hand?”

He glowered at me, then rolled his eye, and lifted me onto his head. “Hold on to one of my horns.” His hair smelled a bit, and I sneezed, but grabbed the horn

“You need to shampoo more often!” I yelled.

“What is shampoo?”

“Do you ever take that armor off?”

“It’s part of me.”

“How do you keep clean under it?”

“It is self cleaning,” He said, but he sounded a little doubtful.

“You totally should take it off and soak in a nice tub of hot water for a while. Let your skin breath. I can’t believe I’m giving a Primarch hygiene lessons. Are all you Space Marines this dense?”

“We don’t need to-”

“Need ain’t got nothing to do with it. You do it because you can. Bathing feels good. Humans were not meant to be sealed in tin-cans for years at a time. Duck!” He ducked as a large stalactite that had been on his blind side nearly smashed me off his head. “Being 20 feet tall can’t be easy.”

“Normally I spend all my time in the Immaterium where I can just change how tall I am by thinking about it.”

“Can’t you do that here?”

“Haven’t tried. Not like I’m trying to hide what I am.”

“Uh… you are explicitly trying to hide what you are… from the Universe!”

“True. But the Universe isn’t going to be fooled if I make myself shorter.”

“Fair enough… I have a question.”

“This is going to annoy me, isn’t it?”

“Probably,” I shrugged. “Have you ever, you know, tried not being Evil?”

“Evil and Good are relative. I do not consider myself to be evil.”

“Yeah. Yeah. But you certainly don’t think of yourself as Good, do you? You do realize that the Ruinous Powers are cosmic horrors that would see humanity twisted, warped, consumed, or eradicated, right?”

“What is Humanity to me? I was never truly human, was I?”

I blinked at that, then sighed, “We’re all human. Even the Eldar and Tau. Human is more than being a member of homo sapiens. It’s about caring what happens to others, looking out for each other, and… uh… big guy, is it just me or does this path seem remarkably free of ash and mud and… you know… the debris of six centuries?”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s a fair amount of wind out there, right?” He nodded and I swayed on my perch, “Well it should have blown all sorts of crap down here… and the ground slopes downward pretty steadily. So there should be several centimeters of garbage all along this path… like there is over there,” I pointed a psychic searchlight over one of the sides of the cavern, then panned it to the other edge, “And there.” Both fringes of the cavern were at least seven cm deep in all sorts of junk… but the path down the center, a path about 5 meters wide, was smooth rock.

“Someone’s been here,” He muttered.

“Someone’s been here a lot,” I agreed.

“And recently,” he grunted, sniffing the air.

I tried doing the same, then realized I was wearing my Eldar Helmet… then wondered how I’d been able to smell Magnus in the first place. Must have been a psychic smell.

“Can you send your senses down to explore?”

“Not as limited as I am right now,” he said, then thought to me ~Perhaps we should attempt to be more silent?~ It was a dig, but it was also a good suggestion.

~Right. I’ll shut up now… but you do realize that you set off every seismic sensor around every time you take a step right?~

He began to float with an aura of smugness, not far off the ground, but enough so that he wasn’t stomping any more. ~Better?~

~Show off.~

~If you’ve got it, flaunt it,~ He replied, and I smirked. That had been one of my memes, and one the giant git was unlikely to use on his own. I’d have to see if the others had stuck.

It took less than an hour to make our way down to where the beacon was slowly pinging away, but we found that what had cleared the way was poised between us and our prize. It was a vast underground laboratorium, one surrounded by hulking, nearly motionless figures. They were nearly the size of a space marine, and comprised of dead flesh and cybernetics, and I was glad I still had my helmet on.

“Gholams,” Magnus grunted, and I shuddered.

~These things aren’t naturally occurring. Someone has to be making them,~ I pointed out, and he nodded, indicating the central part of the subterranean complex, where a kind of hutment was set up, a cloud of noxious vapor oozing out of its various structures.

~I believe our Cogitator is inside, along with whoever is making these things,~ Big Boy pointed out, only a little needlessly.

~Great… So… here’s my idea. You provide a distraction, I’ll sneak in and grab the thing. Hopefully we won’t run into Blayce or Steinmun…~ My head suddenly throbbed with pain and I missed what Magnus said next. ~WHat?~

~I thought ‘Who are Blayce and Stienmun?’ but you seemed to be suffering a minor warp seizure. Are you alright?~

~I… don’t know. I mean… I know I know the names…. But I don’t know where I know them from… I think something is blocking my memory of the last place I went to before this. Some of my companions are missing and… never mind. Can you lead these monsters on a merry chase while I work my mojo inside?~

He just regarded me with that baleful eye and grunted, his phoenix-like wings rustling in the silence. Then he handed me a small knife… almost toothpick small for him, but an almost comically large shortsword in my smaller grip. Thankfully, my hand fit around the handle and it wasn’t too heavy. ~Careful. It’s very sharp.~

~Okay, fine. I’ll meet you back at the ship in two hours. And I’ll send up a yelp if I run into trouble.~ I dropped lightly from his shoulder, patting my Scorpion to make sure it was still there, then, hugging the edge of the master cavern, I made my way along the back of the hutment, looking for a point of entry where I wouldn’t be observed.

At some point, a rock from the ceiling of the cavern had impacted the back of the largest hut, caving in a small section of the otherwise snugly butted plates that covered it. Using the knife I pried at the edge slowly… and discovered just how sharp it was as it sheared through a plasteel bolt like a vibro-fork through jello (I have kids and somewhat insane companions with technical skills). Well… that could be useful.

Carefully, I cut my way into the hut, low down to the ground, and found myself crawling into a kind of store room. It was all automated, and the shelves were loaded with components both biological and mechanical… It was like being in a combination junkyard and morgue… and I can’t imagine it smelled nice. Thankfully, my armor was environmentally sealed.  I watched as a robotic arm sailed overhead, plucked a jar of eyes off a shelf without so much as a pause, then zipped back out of the room. I low crawled, keeping to the shadows, towards the exit the arm had taken.

Beyond that portal, I beheld the workshop of a madman. The lunatic in question looked like a heavily augmented tech-priest, robed in a black monk’s robe that had seen better years, and surrounded by a veritable cloud of black-iron and brass mechanical tentacles… I think they’re called mechadendrites in the lore… each holding some surgical or engineering tool, be it a scalpel, callipers, sparkwelder, or dremel grinder. What little flesh I could see was necrotic gray and laced with wires, and his? face was covered by a silver skull mask. In several places, bone was showing through the rents in his robe, and for a moment I considered unloading my entire magazine on the abomination… I had the sneaking suspicion that the lore would have called him something like a Heretech (heretic + tech?)… Games Workshop was lame like that.

He was building yet another of the gholam-things, and muttering to himself as he did so… when there was a massive explosion outside that shook the cavern and a psychically painful roar of rage pulsed through my ears and mind. Oh… good lord… somehow I knew that lunatic primarch had summoned something… and dollars to donuts, it was a Bloodthirster of Khorne… because when you need shit destroyed, and serve Tzeentch… you might as well call up a Bloodthirster of Khorne. Fucking psycho. Bloodthirsters were the fucking Generals of Khorne, Chaos God of Battle and Slaughter since the time of the Catholic Reformation! Then again… it was one of them against several hundred cyborg-frankenstein… maybe big red knew what he was doing?

The crazy man-machine looked up at the roar and hustled to the front of his lab, crying “I don’t have time for this! Minions! Deal with the… oh my… that’s very large. Minions! Subdue the mutant! I must have samples!”

I pulled out the tracker and, making certain the sound was off (though how anyone would be able to hear over the screaming of metal and rock and the roar of… I wasn’t certain it was Bloodthirster… it could have been something else… but I wasn’t going to have a look… I had to find the Cogitator before the battle caused the entire cave complex to come crashing down. At that thought, a rock the size of my torso came smashing through the roof and crushed the doorway I’d been standing in a moment before. The impact knocked a stack of documents on one of the tables over and a folded piece of parchment which looked quite ancient slid across the floor and bumped into my foot.

Out of idle curiosity, I scooped it up and stuck it in a hip pouch, but then the tracker blinked to life and indicated that the Cogitator was down about five meters and in the next room over. Finding the door wasn’t a problem, and (thanks to Magnus’s knife) getting through it wasn’t much of a problem either. Inside, I found a large hole in the floor, and what looked like an emergency reactor from a starship’s bridge assembly (I’d seen a lot of schematics in the last three years), with an orb about the size of a bowling ball in the center of one wall.

Hoping the armor was at least partly radiation resistant, I skirted the edge of the pit and, using various computer bits as handholds, pried the Cogitator core out of the wall unit. At once, of course, the entire reactor went into scram mode and an alarm went up. Swearing, I scrambled back up the wall to the door and was through it in 3 seconds flat… where upon, I ran right into Dr. Fuckedinstein.

“Well. Well… Well. A tiny Eldar… thief. Trying. To. Steal from me. Most… inconsiderate. Give. Me. The Core. and. Your death-”

He didn’t get any further as I tossed it as his face.  While the mechadendrites were blocking his vision trying to snag it, I pulled the Scorpion out and, pointing it center mass, unloaded 320 hypervelocity monomolecular disks at him. The range was minimal and the disks hadn’t even begun to drop before they were ripping through him and his tentacles.

I caught the core and jinked left, slashing at robodoc’s leg with Magnus’s blade as I passed. If, somehow, he wasn’t dead, hopefully he’d have a harder time catching up to me on one leg. “Can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man,” I snarked as I rushed passed him, heading out the front and hoping there wasn’t a titanic and extremely angry Daemon right outside. I couldn’t go the way I’d come, as that way was blocked.

Exiting the door, the sound of freak-boy’s mechanical arms scrabbling at the floor giving way to the roars of rage and battle, I found the towering rage monster half-swarmed by the gholams as it cried “Blood for the Blood God! Skulls for the Skull-” And then was cut off as a Gholam flung itself headfirst into the beast’s mouth, choking the collective foe without care for its own survival.

I didn’t stay to watch the festivities as the tide of implacable unliving abominations swarmed up the ten meter daemon’s scaled hide, digging at it with crushing claws and power axes. I ran for it, using my newly awakened sense of my own physiology to pump my system faster, pushing my heart rate up and increasing the rate at which my lungs were processing oxygen. It wasn’t anything major, but I could tell it was having an effect, though I was burning calories at a prodigious rate… and good thing too, as I could hear and feel the heavy thud-thud-thud of at least a score of Gholams pounding after me.

Bursting out of the cave, I staggered under the first shiver of fatigue, but kept running beneath the hellish skyscape of this world, killed by people or geology, who could say, but the cautionary tale was the better one, so I’d let it stand. I pulled out the tracker and, clicking it into transmit mode, announced “Redbird, Redbird, coming in hot. You better be ready to lift off. I have the egg.”

A moment after I released the transmit button, Magnus’s voice replied, “What? Who is Redbird, why are you hot, and what egg?” I groaned. At least he’d known what lift off meant, right?

“You are Redbird, coming in hot means I’m being pursued, and the egg is what we came here for so have the engines ready to get us out of here because there are at least twenty mother fucking undead cyborgs chasing me and I think they’re gaining.”

“Gaining what? And I don’t think undead cyborgs have sex… or mothers,” Captain Oblivious said.

“YOU’RE NOT AN IDIOT! STOP ACTING LIKE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT AN EXPLETIVE IS!” I roared into the com… okay, squeaked. I’m not really big enough to roar and I was pretty out of breath.

“If you say so,” he sounded smug now. “And don’t call me Redbird. My name is-”

I jammed the transmit button, wiping out what he was saying and holding it down until I saw the Thunderhawk ahead of me. The hatch, thankfully, was open, and I dived in, yelling, “GET US AIRBORNE!” and muttering, “Dolt.”

Once we were well away from Jerazol and back into the ‘safety’ of the Warp, I motioned for Magnus to lean down and then punched him in the nose as hard as I could. “We. Are. Trying. Not. To. Be. Noticed. You. Great. Feathery. Dumb-ASS!” He growled and I growled back. “Don’t use your real name! Names have power! Didn’t Tzeentch tell you that?!”

“I’m too powerful to be controlled by my name! Well, except maybe by those who already know it,” he allowed after a faint pause.

“That’s on a normal day, you numb-skull. You left most of your power inside that ritual circle in your lab. And what were you doing summoning a Greater Daemon… of a God you don’t work for!?”

“It was funny, wasn’t it. I believe this is what is called a ‘win-win’?” He sounded smug again.

“Maybe. But aren’t you afraid Khorne will figure out… never mind… Khorne… figure things out… ha… Got another question for you.”

“You never do shut up. Is this typical of people from where you come from, or are you just spectacularly annoying on purpose?”

“Little of both. But, honestly, how could you side with them after all they did to you?”

“Tzeentch showed me the truth, Father lied to me. Tzeentch gave me a home. Father destroyed mine. Tzeentch gave me freedom to study and learn and embraced my talent and power. Father wanted only obedience and hated and feared my power and knowledge.”

“Well… yeah. But it’s not an either-or statement. You don’t have to serve Tzeentch merely because you refuse to serve your father.”

“Oh, yes? Where, exactly, would you recommend I go for protection from Father’s insane, murderous, fanatical, howling death-commandos?”

I had to admit, I didn’t have an answer for that one. “Huh. Good point. So, where next? And is there anything to eat around here? I’m starving!”

He looked at me and blinked his one eye, “Have you been… bioboosting yourself?”

“I was running from gholams. They took down that Bloodthirster, by the way. I don’t know how many of them it took, at least a hundred, but they just swarmed the thing like ants.” He smirked and I waved a hand in front of his face. “So yes, I was bioboosting or whatever. I had to run fast and I don’t exactly have any body fat to burn for reserve calories, so I probably did some damage.”

He considered me, then hrmed, “Very well… we will stop and get some… food.” He said the word food with the kind of disdain only a being who hadn’t eaten in 11,000 millenia could impart.

“Excellent,” I tossed him the Cogitator, then flopped back on one of the acceleration couches in the main cabin, then mmd? as something crinkled. Oh, right, the parchment. Extracting it, I unfolded it and read the ancient spidery text. “Hoi… Magnaboots. Who’s Rathbor Lathimon?”

“Is this a trick question?”

“Uh. No.”

“I have no idea. Why?”

“Cause you signed this Warrant of Trade for him.”

“I did?” He looked up from the Cogitator and the document floated out of my hand. “Oh. Wow. This is old.”

“Yeah. I got that from the date. That’s what, about 23 years before the shit hit the fan?”

“If you mean the Horus Heresy… yes. More or less. 23 years before Istvan IV.”

“The Dropsite Massacre… started the whole thing, more or less, right?”

“So history would have it.”

“So, who is Rathbor and what the hell is a Warrant of Trade? Is that like permission to-”

He cut me off. I mean, I was rambling a bit, but still. Men. Humph. “Rogue Traders had, perhaps still have, authority from the Emperor himself… or one of the Primarchs… to conduct business on behalf of the Empire out beyond the boundaries of the Empire. I don’t know if things have changed. I don’t exactly pay attention to such things.”

“That piece of parchment is 11,000 years old… maybe it’s worth a few credits.”

“Maybe. You can ask when we get to Scintilla,” He agreed.

“What’s Scintilla?” I asked, feeling the need for sleep washing over me… I wondered if I could do something about that, but yawned so hard my jaw popped and I forgot.

“Capital of the Calixis Sector… that’s where we are. It’s a Hive World. They should have food there.”

“Don’t Hive worlds…” yawn, “Import all their…” yawn, “food from Agri- oh… right… imported food… have food. Good call… aren’t you a giant and I’m dressed like a midget…” yawn, “eldar?”

“No one will notice a thing. Trust me,” he reassured me, but I was already asleep (my memory implant doesn’t stop recording everything my senses pick up, just because I’m unconscious.) As it turns out… he was right.

Later on, as we were sitting at a small restaurant for the very wealthy on one of Scintilla’s orbital space stations, I looked over the hologuide to the Calixis sector and the Kronus Expanse that I’d ‘bought’ from a shop. I hadn’t actually paid for it, but making the man behind the counter believe I had was bone simple

“Purity Lathimon is the Explorer and Rogue Trader who opened the way to the Kronus Expanse, which lies outside the reach of the Astronomicon,” I read, ignoring Magnus’s flinch at the mention of the giant psychic navigation beacon his father was generating even though he’d been dead or mostly dead for 11,000 years. It was powered by burning out the souls of 1,000 psykers every day of every one of those years and was essentially the longest and loudest death scream in history. “The last known member of the Lathimon dynasty was Jerazo Lathimon, who disappeared… oh, for fuck’s sake.”

“What?” Magnus asked, sipping the hot cocoa I’d ordered for him and badgered him into trying. He was on his fifteenth cup… good thing we weren’t actually paying for this… that stuff cost 300 credits a cup.

“Jerazol. You said the planet had been defended by a Rogue Trader whose name had been lost to records, right?” He nodded doubtfully. “Jerazo Lathimon. Jerazo L. Jerazol. These people are fucking idiots.”

“Oh. Yes. Well… they are only human.”

“Your father was only human,” I snapped, petulantly… then paused. “Hey. Have you ever considered that your father was, in fact, only human?”

“What’s your point?”

“Human beings make mistakes. Errors in judgement. Poor choices. Sure, he’s like the third worst parent ever, but still… he was trying to do the right thing.”

“He failed.”

“You were trying to do the right thing and warn him,” I pointed out softly.

“I failed. Change the subject,” He growled, then looked at the small stack of dishes I’d plowed my way through. “Is that a normal amount of food for a person of your size to eat?”

“No. This is about 7 large meals worth. I’m stockpiling and restoring expended nutrients. And we’ll need to buy… pick up, rather… supplies for at least a month. Plus, I want to find out if this thing’s worth anything.” I tapped the heavy duty slipcase I’d picked up for the ancient document.

“Why would it be? Rathbor is long dead. So are Purity and Jerazo.”

“Because this thing,” I tapped the hologuide this time, “indicates that Rogue Trader Warrants are handed down through family lines. If Jerazo was the last Lathimon, it’s possible his heir might be entitled to use his Warrant.”

“In my experience, bureaucracy does not move fast enough to make that worthwhile. You can look into it later. We need to get moving,” He grumbled.

“Fiiiine. Have you figured out where the ship is?”

“Not yet,” He snarled. “This thing’s records are damaged. I’m only getting part of the map,” He squinted at the small screen. “Who or what is Grace?”

“Well then, I’m going to the Hall of Records while you tinker with that Cogitator,” I said, rising. “Maybe they’ll know who Grace is there.” I didn’t leave a tip… but then again, I didn’t pay either. The waiter wouldn’t remember serving us anyway.

Inside the Hall, I took a number and wandered around the large and imposing lobby while Magnus pretended to be human sized and futzed with the device, trying to pry its secrets from half-rotted circuits. On one wall was a collection of wanted posters, and I drifted over to have a look… and froze. There, in black and white… well, green and black 3-D hologram, was Frankendweeb… Arch Heretek (told youuuuu!) Magos Vathek, renegade member of the Adeptus Mechanicus, serial killer, spree killer, wanted dead or very dead on half a dozen worlds and by the Inquisition and the Adeptus Mechanicus. That was a very large reward… shame I hadn’t thought to collect his head. I was still studying the image when my number was called.

“Yeth? Hello?” the man behind the high desk (his deskplate ID’d him as Augustus Zhang) said, voice supercilious. He looked down over the edge of the desk. “Can I help you child?” he asked as he focused rheumy eyes on mine.

“I have a document you might help me with, and my guardian wanted to know if you know of a planet named Grace?”

I slid the Trade Warrant across as the old git turned and yelled over his shoulder “Lebrin! Ith there a planet named Grathe? No. Yeth. With a Thee. Hold on, Lebrin ith thecking the recordth.” His lisp was the kind of annoying affectation that many people in minor positions of authority adopt for no good reason. While Lebrin did so, my man Agustus here carefully extracted the age brittle warrant and unfolded it… then went very very pale.

“Ah. That is… Lady Trader… I… Lathimon? You?” He had totally forgotten his lisp, “But it’s been centuries!”

I smile and shrugged, “Engine Trouble. What can I say. Old Man Jerazo ran into a spot of bother.”

“Ahem… yes… I… it might take a few… years?” He tugged his collar nervously, looking around and focusing on the glowering, towering figure of Magnus (who was down to merely 9 feet of solid grumpy, complete with horned helmet, giant red mane, and eyepatch.), swallowed hard before continuing, “to get your family’s assets out of probate. Th… there’s procedure… Lebrin! Get the forms for a returning Dynast!”

“WHAT?”

“Returning Dynast, man! Are you deef?! The Lathimons are back!” Mr Zhang bellowed, making me cringe at the sound.

The sound of a crate falling and cracking outside could clearly be heard and I rolled my eyes… well, I gave it 20 minutes before the gossip would be known halfway across the sector and the hyenas would be gathering… shit. And now they’d know we were heading for Grace… assuming it was a planet.

A man who must be Lebrin hustled forward, holding a stack of papers and a starchart. He looked nervous and it didn’t take a telepath to know he’d already transmitted the information about Lathimon and Grace to an information broker. I was having a harder time with telepathy than I was with biopathy for some reason… and I still couldn’t manage more than a dozen grams or so with TK… but even so, I could tell he was looking for more details to share and thinking about how many drinks he could get out of the information. Thankfully, the psychic disguise Magnus was generating would make his reports somewhat unreliable.

I handed the starchart to Magnus and filled out the paperwork, signing my name as ‘Sigismonda Lathimon III’. It was an outright lie and for some reason I felt a little bad about that, but I pushed the minor treachery aside. Survival in this harsh universe held a higher demand than honesty. I had people relying upon me and my duty to them was clear. And anyway, I could be Sigismonda Lathimon III… I had no other native name.

Taking my Warrant back, I nodded and Magnus made them convinced I’d paid the proper fees and given them a hefty bribe too… then we were out onto the street. “We should get a better transport than that Thunderhawk,” I said.

“Why? We don’t need a Warp Engine or Gellar field. My presence allows us to move through the warp with ease.”

“Are you planning on transporting me back to my world with my share of the loot?”

“Oh. Yes. We should get you a transport… something with very small controls.”

I kicked him in the shin. Still, within the day we were on our way towards Grace, me standing on the command deck of a two kilometer long Carrack class Transport that Magnus claimed had been lost in the Warp a couple hundred years ago and would not be missed. The enormous and somewhat shabby ship showed some clear evidence of having been recently scrubbed clean of… something. My suspicions that I was helping the devil find something truly dangerous grew.

Not only was Magnus willing to go out of his way and put himself at risk for this prize, but the forces of Chaos had clearly seized this ship for some nefarious purpose… but then again, maybe he was trying to butter me up? Who knows. Still, Magnus already knew where Paradise was, clearly, and he had to be certain that I’d have this ship searched from one end to the other for traces of Chaos or sabotage. Where I’d get the crew needed to run this thing as more than just a skeleton crew, I’d have to worry about later, but my warrant and a little… pushing from Magnus had got me enough crew to keep the ship functional, but 500 crewmen was a very very long way short of the 19,000 plus I’d need.

Still, I was now a Rogue Trader, Captain Lady Sigismonda Lathimon III, commander of the Transport ‘Faustian Bargain’ (originally named The Litany of Litanies-Litany… a horrifically bad name if ever there was one). If it was bad luck to rename a ship, it was a price I’d pay. If she needed some hefty maintenance… well, that was another price that would have to be paid.

“So, Grace? Any idea what we’re getting into here?”

“Apparently, this was an outpost of the Rogue Trader Aspyce Chorda… and not a nice one. The world Grace is a storm-world, constantly wracked with hurricanes and covered only in simple fungal life, though it must be hardy fungus to survive the constant lightning and freezing hail. The planet is also extremely mountainous from all reports.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s all there is the official reports,” the cyclopes said.

“And your… sorcery? What has it revealed?”

“Ah. Yes,” he smiled, “There the tale gets interesting. Grace was a colony world, founded not for the expansion of my father’s dominion, but rather to serve the greed and arrogance of Aspyce Chorda. The planet was home to extremely wealthy exiles from the Imperial nobility and any number of extremely successful criminals… the distinction between the two classes being slim indeed.” He and I shared a smirk. He might be… evilish, but of all the Traitor Primarchs, Magnus was also the smartest and most sarcastic. If his mere presence wouldn’t eventually damn me to mutation and madness, we might have been friends. Ah well.

“The planet was their sanctuary from bloody wars, vengeful rivals, and the iron fist of Imperial Justice. It was, for a time, a paradise of the wicked… But that was decades ago. Aspyce swelled her coffers accepting fugitives to Grace and giving them leave to build armoured palaces there. And, at further ruinous cost, she provided her exiles with illegal slaves, the finest foods, and allowed their spies and agents to pass to and from Imperial space in the holds of her ships. But Grace was a pleasurable and beautiful refuge. Like a Hive World, it had no capacity to produce its own food.”

I shuddered. “Warp Storm?” I asked, referring to the periodic and unpredictable navigational hazards that, from time to time, isolated systems or even entire sectors from outside contact. The worst Warp Storm in history, that one attendant with the birth of Slaanesh and the death of the Eldar Empire (and nearly the extinction of the Eldar as a race) had caused the Dark Age of Technology that had seen isolated so many human worlds all across the galaxy between the 20th and 30th millennia and necessitated the Emperor’s Grand Crusade to reunite humanity’s scattered tribes.

“Exactly. A storm destroyed the supply vessels and sealed passage to Grace. It was as if Father had passed judgement upon the world. For a time, the exiles and criminals contented themselves with the false hope that supplies would come…”

“And when they did not, they turned on one another, right? Sent their vassals to loot and burn each others’ palaces, strip them of supplies and food?”

“Precisely. In time, only a few of the once numerous palaces were left, and they had been transformed into stark fortresses against each other. When even raiding could not feed those who remained…”

“They started eating each other. First the dead, then those who still lived.” I felt sickened.

“You’ve heard this story before?”

“More than once. Yes. So we have to go into crumbling palaces filled with degenerate cannibals armed to the teeth and hardened by decades of constant brutal fights for survival?”

“You forgot to mention that those degenerates are equipped with heirloom weapons and armor forged by the greatest and most skilled techpriests of the Imperium,” he grinned hugely.

“Oh. Did I? Silly me. Do we have any idea which of these fortresses holds the cogitator we need?”

“In my estimation, we need only to search where the resistance is strongest.”

“Well, that’s simple, isn’t it?” I said, rolling my eyes.

Three and a half days later, we dropped out of the Warp near the planet, only to discover a number of ships in orbit. Some of them were clearly derelict, having been lured in by a distress beacon (one we quickly determined was not being generated by the Cogitator we were searching for). The rest, however, constituted a small fleet of transport vessels gathered together for mutual defense in the northern latitudes.

Parking the Faustian Bargain behind Grace’s smaller moon, Magnus and I took the Thunderhawk down to the surface, plunging through the cloud layer on an oblique course that would bring us towards where Magnus claimed he could sense some kind of daemonic presence. It was as good a lead as any.

What we found was that one of the palace compounds had been rebuilt and was now playing host to some kind of insane hunting party, a fact we managed to ascertain by sneaking near the perimeter and snatching up one of the sentries.

The sentry, whose name was Bombastus Vaugh, had been a small time thug and paid killer on one of the sector’s Hive Worlds before this, but had somehow ended up in the employ of one Myrchella Sinderfell, who paid him well to make sure that none of the freaks outside the compound managed to sneak in, and none of the freaks inside the compound managed to sneak out. His description of her ‘court’ included chaos cultists, known pirates, heretics and hereteks, xenos, mutants, abominations, Dark Eldar, psykers, torturers, sadists, murderers, and all manner of wicked and evil beings. Apparently, they’d come to Grace for a spot of that oldest of human depravity, hunting their fellow men, figuring that the insane cannibals of Grace would make for good sport, and the rich treasures of the world’s many palaces might help pay for the endless debauched parties. As for the Cogitator, Mr. Vaugh knew nothing.

He had, however, been exceedly pleased at being allowed to engage in his psychopathic tendencies in the Sinderfell employ, relishing every ounce of pain he got to inflict and, even more, the praise she gave him when he did a particularly good job of it. Even the cannibalistic madmen of Grace hadn’t (quite) deserved the tortures that Myrchella’s court had put them through after their capture.

For his crimes, I granted Bombastus the Emperor’s Mercy, and we proceeded to infiltrate the palace of Myrchella Sinderfell… I will not relate the… horrors we saw within, but let us just say that De Sade would have been proud and Slaanesh impressed. The wealth of the palace was beyond luxurious, delving deep into the realm of debauched, and the sheer aura of pain and suffering was an assault on my psychic senses.

~We didn’t bring enough high explosives,~ I muttered mentally.

~We didn’t bring any high explosives. But we could try pyrokinesis… well I could.~ He smirked at me, making me frown, as the last time I’d tried it, I’d singed off my eyebrows. Still, while my reawakened psychic powers were developing at a rate that astounded Magnus, it was clear that somehow my specializations had changed. I could generate minor PK effects if I tried, and had decent TP and TK for the average psyker, but my biological control, something I’d never used before this jump, was maturing almost as fast as I could think of new uses for it. I was already faster, stronger, and stealthier than I had any business being… and I was able to sense the life signs of anyone nearby… and that radius was growing.

I could also compel truth-serum-like honesty from those I touched. Which was coming in quite handy… as was the ability to enervate targets simply by looking at them. I could also do the Sith Choke thing, which was way too much fun… and that was an issue. My nascent empathy was picking up the insanity and bloodlust of this house of horrors as we moved deeper and deeper, killing everyone we crossed the path of like it was one of the old stealth games  I used to play. Not only would leaving anyone we encountered alive be a terrible idea, but absolutely none of them deserved mercy aside from a swift death… at least according to Magnus. I let him do the head peeking while I tried to keep their wretched thoughts out of my own mind.

After about four hours we succeeded in finding the Cogitator. It had been tossed, along with a great deal of other random mechanical junk, into half a hundred odd cargo pods. There were ancient weapons, archeotech, bits and pieces of cybernetics, datapads, comm units, and much much more. Part of me wanted to load it all up and sell it for profit, but that wasn’t my current commission, so I just snagged a grenade belt and a heavy bolt pistol that looked like a work of art and strapped it to my back. The grenades… those I used to booby trap our backtrail as we made our way out of the palace.

As we moved, the howls of alarms began to go up and Magnus and I shared a look that said, “Busted?” But before we could panic, a cool, cruel voice came through the Palace’s PA system.

“Hello, my lovelies! It’s another wonderful night and time for some sport… though from the number of corpses my guards have found, I’d say some of you have gotten an early start,” she chuckled dryly. “But please, my sweets, join me in the gallery for refreshments before we begin our nightly entertainment. And, if it’s guests who’ve come to join in the fun, why, of course, you’re invited too.”

Magnus frowned. ~Does she know we’re here or not?~

~I don’t know. These people are so fucked in the head that they might honestly be confused as to whether or not some of their number are killing the others or not. But I don’t think we should take her up on her-~

There was an explosion as one of my triplines was disturbed.

Magnus said, not thought, said, “We should go.” and with that we began running for the exit… which turned out to have been barred and was guarded by a dozen heavily armed and armored pirates.

As Magnus grew larger and plunged towards the three on the left, I drew my bolter and, despite the incredible recoil, began firing it into the three on the right. It staggered one of them, killed a second outright as it ripped her head clean off, and I was about to level it at the third when someone grabbed me from behind… someone with four arms and a psychic stench that made me want to retch.

I felt my armor compress as the thing began to squeeze me and, without thinking, I grabbed one of those arms with my left hand… and purple lightning arced from my hand into the creature, blasting the flesh from its bones as the bioelectrical discharge superheated the water inside my assailant to instant vapor. It dropped me with a howl and I landed, catlike, then spun and put a bolt center mass. I needed more rounds for my scorpion, but without Carwyn, I had no idea where to get more. Maybe I should find some Eldar.

As if summoned by the thought, two Dark Eldar lept down from above, their wraithbone armor glistening as they danced with that particularly deadly grace that typified the truly ancient master. I pointed a finger at one of them, and whispered “BURN.” and he convulsed, grabbing his head and screaming as blood erupted from his eyes and ears… and then… he was consumed from within as fire flashed from inside.

I staggered at the hits to my energy reserves… and then again as I felt several psychic presences pushing in on me. That nearly was it for me, as the remaining Dark Eldar took the opening and lunged in for a strike, but I’d been in an awful lot of fights in my time, and even staggered, I was still supernaturally fast. I smashed the palm of my gun hand into the D’Eldar’s chin, the bolter falling towards the ground, but it never hit as my offhand caught it by the barrel then snapped the butt left and right in quick succession, smashing out both of the space elf’s knees with hammer blows.

He gaped, blood on his lips, as I reversed his sword and plunged it into his throat.

“For Lothlorien, bitch,” I snarled, then looked over to Magnus. “Well? Get that door open!”

“I’m trying! It’s got a magnetic seal!”

“Then smash the wall open, dumbass!” I roared, firing bolts at the figures down both hallways leading to the entryway as I backed towards him, TKing both Dark Eldar’s pistols towards me as the Bolter clicked empty.

“Oh. Good thought,” the Primarch said, and punched out the wall with one titanic blow. “Door’s open!” he said.

A cruel laugh followed us into the night and several fighters tried to catch us as we disappeared into the storm, but visibility was bad and we were moving quickly. We got back to the Faustian Bargain… only to find a smaller Jerico Class Transport sliding up next to it.

~Friends of yours?~ Magnus asked.

“No. and why are those idiots on the Bargain letting someone get so close? I thought you said we could trust that jackass we left in charge, Prachet… damn!”

“What?”

“They’ve got an IFF signal that identifies them as Lathimon Vessel.”

“Ah. Prachet probably believes these are new crewmen,” Magnus opined. He was probably right. Jerichos were much smaller than Carracks and often used as Pilgrim Vessels. They could hold many many thousands of people… and, of course, I didn’t have one in my fleet. In fact, I had exactly one working warp-capable ship in my fleet… and the watch stander was an idiot who I was going to space… no… calm…

I commed the Bargain. “Mr Brooks,” I began (his name was Prachet Brooks, which I found humorous for reasons I couldn’t quite remember) “Why is that ship moving to dock with the Bargain?”

“C… Captain? They said they was-”

“Move away from them immediately… they’re launching boarders, you moron!” I could see out the cockpit window that humanoid figures were floating free of the Jericho, at least a hundred of them, pushing off towards the hull of my transport. I motioned for Magnus to fly through them, smashing any he could with the Thunderhawk’s prow and shooting any he could with the onboard weapons.

There was a series of sharp thuds and crunches as he did so, and then we were swooping in to land in one of the Bargain’s boatbays. Getting out, I found two partly dismembered Gholam dropping off the gunship and crawling / hopping towards me. Another burst of bio-lightning blew the two of them to flaming sparking ruin, but I sagged, my reserves spent. “Fatigue is such bullshit!” I commented as Magnus scooped me up and we headed towards the bridge.

“Any idea how Magos found us?” He asked.

“Gossip. He knew the name on the Warrant. Heard we’d headed to Grace. Simple addition.  And he’s got a ship. Tell me the information on those two Cogitators is enough,” I groaned, laying on the command couch and stuffing bonbons into my mouth as fast as I could manage to chew and swallow. Sugar, fat, chocolate… good for psychic exhaustion. Professor Lupin says so.

Magnus rumbled in agreement. “That’s two of the sector’s most wanted on two planets.”

“Three if you count Magos twice. I think we pissed him off… Probably pissed Myrchella off too… or who knows, maybe she was amused. She sounds sick enough to get off on slaughtering people.”

“I have a brother she’d like,” muttered Magnus.

“Magnus… even the best of your brothers has slaughtered more innocent people than a thousand Myrchella Sinderfells. I’ve killed more people who weren’t trying to harm me of their own free will than she has. So have you. I know that was a dig at Leman, and I know you have reason to hate him,” I assured as he clenched up at that hated name. “But he only wanted your father’s approval. Sound like anyone else you know?”

“Lorgar,” He nodded, thinking he was agreeing with me.

“No, you dolt,” I threw a bonbon at his big fat head. “You! Well, okay, Lorgar too. Lorgar especially. But also you. And Horus, and Sanguinius, and… well… most of your idiot brothers besides Angron, Corax, and Konrad. Still… you idiot boys mostly wanted daddy’s approval… even though he is a terrible terrible father.”

“You’ve said that before. Isn’t that heresy?”

“I don’t worship him, he didn’t believe in religion, and statements of fact can’t be heresy.”

“If you say so. You called him the third worst parent of all time. Who are one and two?”

“Gendo Ikari and Genma Saotome,” I said, barely pausing to think. “There are parents who’ve tortured their kids to death who aren’t as bad.”

“Really? That’s impressive… or depressing. I’m not sure which. What did they do?”

“Gendo psychologically tortured his son Shinji, including sticking the kid into a psychic link pod connected to a giant half-biological half-technological warmachine powered by the insane and suffering soul of the boy’s own mother. Shinji went on to cause the extinction of all human life on Terra… or not. The timeline is jumbled.” I sat up and looked around for more food. Mmmm neutripaste. Yumm…

“And Genma?”

“Where to start? Kidnapped his 3 year old son after tricking the toddler into signing a suicide pact contingent on the boy failing to live up to the impossible standard of ‘becoming a man among men’. Repeatedly traded said child away for food, then stole the child back, racking up a truly insane number of potential finances for his son. At five years old, he wrapped the child in fish sausages and threw him repeatedly into a pit filled with starving cats. Genma is inept, callow, a coward, a bully, a womanizer, and a thief. His son Ranma has been cursed, attacked, traumatized as badly as some of your brothers, and more. Granted, he’s a human being who, without psychic powers can probably go toe to to with a Space Marine and win… but still… fucked up childhood. Any normal kid would have died.”

“When were these events?”

“Late second millennium for Ranma, around 200.ME3 for Shinji… I think. I wasn’t around for that one.”

“Did either one get what was coming to them?”

“Gendo? He died with the rest of humanity, I think. Genma? Repeatedly, but ultimately, Ranma forgave him.”

“Why?”

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

“He’s dead.”

“Well, sure… but his psychic presence lingers in the Warp and you both live in the Warp and are a powerful Psychic yourself. I’m sure you could figure something out.”

“I am not apologizing to an insane corpse. He should apologize to me. He had Russ burn my home!”

“Yeah. Russ is a dick. But, You do realize that Horus is the one who got Russ to burn Prospero in order to piss you off. The Emperor only sent Russ to arrest you.” Magnus was beginning to vibrate with barely contained rage, so I changed the subject slightly. “And honestly… how many worlds did you burn on the Great Crusade, Magnus?”

He blinked, derailed from his anger by shame, “That’s…”

“Different? How? Because those weren’t your homeworld?” He opened his mouth, then shut it again. “Yeah. Sucks huh? How many worlds have died because of your Master and your Master’s colleges? Too many to count?”

He shut up and didn’t speak for a very long time. Finally he snarled and went to examine the Cogitator’s data…. And snarled again. “They’re pointing us to a system, but the data’s still too corrupted. Apparently, both Cogitators got their information in a download from a planetary installation on a planet called Zayth.”

“Is it in the chart?”

“Yes. It’s listed as a War World, says that there are twenty some mobile hive-cities that constantly move about on the surface of the planet’s single macrocontinent…. All at war with each other.”

“Why?”

“Records don’t say. I’ve no idea,” He stood, then set a course for Zayth.

What can I say about Zayth? It is profoundly ugly. The surface has been ground to mush over the multi-thousand year war and there are strip mines and ruined hives all over the place. The air and ground are poisoned by radiation and toxins and unexploded shells… and yet the war rages on, none of the clans knowing why. And there isn’t a way to stop it, as the massive city fortresses each have enough firepower to casually swat an Imperial Battleship like the Light out of orbit… and things only got worse from there… even before Magos and Myrchella showed up.

First, the ground installation we were looking for had been obliterated by an alpha strike… along with the entire mountain range it was housed in… centuries ago. Magnus’s divination pinged each of the cities when we tried to figure out where the information might be… so that meant sneaking into a paranoid war camp… that kept moving around a radwaste.

We left the Bargain hidden in the outer system and came in on the Thunderhawk for that purpose… which proved easier than we thought it would be, as we claimed to be traders offering off world rations for ore. It was even true, since the only thing we’d been able to afford to stock up on at Scintilla was rations. Crates and crates and crates of the things… and they came nowhere near filling the massive empty vault of the Bargain’s hold… but the Thunderhawk was packed to the rafters with them.

That’s where we ran into problem two. This took the form of a budding populist rebellion led by an imperial Missionary named Coriolanus Vestra… and discovered problem three. While our escort, a young soldier named Aenes Aquila (her parents were imperial cultists), was more than willing to help us… the part of the hive-vehicle that the divination was leading us to was in the hands of the populists. Still, they were rabble and getting through them was easy enough, though we were ambushed 11 times crossing 7 hive levels to the machine shrine in the heart of the city… and that shrine was problem number four.

Some lunatic machine priest had incorporated part of the data we needed as decoration in the shrine’s walls. I looked at Magnus and groaned, he looked back at me and grinned.

“What’s the problem? Female trouble?”

“That,” I pointed. “Is a fragment of a starchart.” My perfect memory had overlaid what I’d seen from the cogitators with the designs on the walls.  “We’re going to have to visit some or all of the other cities, find their shrines, and collect enough of the data to recreate the missing map.”

“Oh. That might take a while. Yes. Very annoying.”

How right he was. We were there for 11 weeks, hopping from city to city, sneaking into some, being welcomed as guests in others, each time having to return to the Bargain for resupply… and halfway through week eight… boom, there was Magos’s Jericho and Myrchella’s fleet… and they clearly had some idea of what we were looking for, since they weren’t trying to stop me or catch me (okay, Magos was, but Magnus’s Thunderhawk was way faster than the Jericho and we could go ballistic… or into the Warp for micro-jumps with relative ease.)

There were dozens of fights, but we managed to make our way through the complex social and military and cultural issues of Zayth’s eternal war (thanks in no small part to the help of Aenes, who, notwithstanding being a yokel, was keen to prove herself useful… turns out she was hoping the Nice Rogue Trader might take pity on her and get her off this rock.) After having to heal her for the fifth time of an otherwise mortal wound (yes, Biopathy… useful for healing too… who’da thunk it) I finally agreed, just because it might get her to stop flinging herself into the path of attacks meant for me that would never have hurt me through hardened skin and Eldar armor.

I was never so glad to leave as I was once we headed out… oh, and we managed to get lucky. We only had to visit 17 of the cities before we had enough information to find our next destination… the planet Burnscour… doesn’t that sound pleasant?

The gazetteer for Burnscour was… horrifying. It was a Death World (you knew that from the name, right?) where the corrosive rain ate metal and impregnated exposed flesh with strange flesh-eating fungus, where the sap from the plants was either lethally toxic or actively infectious, and the beasts were both monstrous and a major commodity. Yes, that’s why Rogue Traders and smugglers both came to Burnscour… to stock the ever-hungry fighting pits of the Calixis Sector with saurian leapers, gargantipedes, and other horrors of fang and maw. Hunter retinues clad in bulky suits of vulcanised rubber stalked the jungles of this hell in search of exotic xeno-predators for gladiatorial games, ever watchful for creatures that would make the most lethal attractions on the far-off Hive Worlds of the Imperium.

There were no permanent structures on the surface of Burnscour… only the slowly dissolving metal carcasses of landing craft brought down by the planet’s storms and the melted ruins of structures built by fools. Covering the entire planet was a nightmare jungle, full of trees with dark waxen leaves and trunks covered in barbs that wept thick sap the color of bile, blooms of fungus as pale as milk, thick creepers, delicate flowers that looked like livid bruises on silken flesh which would open at a touch to expose waving fronds and fill the air with a heady, soporific scent… and the fauna was worse. Beetles that gnawed through flesh or bark to feed on blood or sap, nearly silent and invisible six-legged stalkers of the middle canopy, venomous gnats, and murderous horrors that could swallow a grown man whole. Almost all of them could kill a human dead in minutes.

Magnus looked at the gazetteer, then up to me. “You’re going to demand we go back to Scintilla for supplies, aren’t you?”

“Hell no! We’ve got those psychos on our tail. I want this over and done with.”

“Then why do we have a hold laden with megatons of ore?”

“Reasons. Now, get us to Burnscour!”

“You’re almost as bossy as Father,” He grumped.

“Have you ever considered forgiving him?”

“Father?”

“Yes.”

“Why should I?”

“Why do we ever forgive anyone?”

“You said that same thing before, and never answered! I DON’T KNOW!”

I patted his hand. “Magnus, I’m a Jew. It’s a faith that practically lives on Guilt. We don’t have sin. We have guilt. The entire religion is based upon a list of 613 Mitzvot. Good Acts. Do you know what we call someone who violates every single one of those Mitzvot?”

“A Monster?”

“A Human.”

“I don’t understand,” He sounded plaintive and confused.

“Failing to do good isn’t always the same as doing evil. Sometimes, it’s just not doing good. Sure, some of those Mitzvot command you not to commit murder, or to refrain from stealing, or demand you honor your father and mother… But others… others say ‘Don’t covet what your friends have’ or ‘don’t sleep with your neighbor’s wife’ or ‘be nice to livestock and don’t make them suffer’ or ‘don’t wear clothing of mixed fibers’… these were guidelines for leading a good life. The expectation was that you’d fail some of them. Every year, we Jews have a holiday called Yom Kippur… the Day of Atonement. In preparation, each year, we try and ask those we might have wronged to forgive us.”

“And if they refuse?”

“We ask again, assuming we’re sincere.”

“And if they refuse again?”

“We ask a third time. The third time’s the charm,” I said, smiling softly.

“And they have to forgive you then?” He sounded almost hopeful.

“They don’t have to do anything. But if you were sincere… if you truly repented… it is said that God will forgive if you have been rebuffed three times. Since your father is, in some ways, God… maybe he’ll forgive you.”

“Now you’re back to telling me I should ask for forgiveness!” He snarled, punching a wall hard enough to dent the heavy plasteel.

“Your father is dead, Magnus. He can’t ask forgiveness. And he’s an asshole and an idiot… but holding on to your anger… what good does it do? You forgive him for your own sake, not his.”

“You’re insane, you know that?”

“So I have often been… are we here already?”

“Yes. I want to get this over with, your questions are driving me spare and I don’t know how much longer this ritual will last.  Also, being in the Materium so long is making me itch.”

“That’s because you never bathe,” I snarked and he growled at me.

Burnscour was sooo much worse than we’d been promised… not the least because of the floating fatman. No, not Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. No, this was Tobias Belasco… who had come to Burnscour for three reasons. The first was to eat the local wildlife… see hugely fat. The second and third were because, somehow, he’d managed to figure out that was where I was heading and why I was heading there… I’ve no idea how… and he was just as keen to find the Righteous Path… and its treasures as Magnus was.  For reasons two and three.

See, two was because he believed that there was something called a Halo Device on the ship, something which would allow the quite old and spectacularly unhealthy psychopath to return himself to health and vigor… while three was because he believed the story that the holds were full of perfect human specimens… and he wanted to eat them… or sell them to other gourmands in exchange for wealth, power, and other things to eat.

Now, I know you’re wondering how I know all this? How do I know what Tobi had in mind? Well… you see, the cogitator that held the final resting place of the Path was deep underground in a massive three-dimensional labyrinthine Gargantipede hive… and Tobias had managed to get to the center of it with his entire heavily armed retinue a dozen minutes before Magnus and I had… thanks in no small part to our having to deal with, in rapid succession, several thousand of Vestra’s lunatic followers, three different kill squads in the employ of Sinderfell, and a dozen Gholam… the last of which (who had Bombastus’s head… eww…) we’d managed to get eaten by Gargantipede larva.

So there’s us, Magnus and I, on one side of this transparent EM-Barrier, and Tobias on the other, gloating, telling us all about what he’s got planned, amid pauses to catch his breath or cough up phlegm, his fat jowls waggling… and I can feel more deranged cultists come up from one way and more kill squads up another, and though I couldn’t sense them, there had to be more Gholams. I looked up to Magnus. “You teleported me from my home to the Planet of the Sorcerers… tell me you still have the power to teleport us to the ship?”

He looked down, then nodded. “Not the Thunderhawk?”

“Fuck the Thunderhawk,” I growled, and (thrusting my arm through the EM barrier, ignoring the agony that poured through my sizzling flesh) launched a scathing, withering storm of bio-electric lighting through Belasco and his men, grimacing as the EM Barrier’s generator surged… then exploded… along with the heads and torsos of everyone on the other side. The gore was… everywhere… and my hand was a blackened mass, my armor seriously damaged… and melted rubber was everywhere. I TK’d the Cogitator sphere into my still functional hand and nodded to Magnus. “In the immortal words of everyone ever, Let’s get out of here.”

He grabbed me and a moment later, we were back on the bridge of the Faustian Bargain. I handed over the Cogitator, then grabbed the ship’s comm and yelled “This is the Captain… on my signal, dump the cargo bay.”

Prachet’s voice came back, sounding strangled, “The whole thing?”

“Every last Ore container and all the spare parts… in five, four,” I was moving the ship from her orbit towards where I’d dropped my personal comm unit, which was still signalling, doing the reentry math in my head… “three, two, one… NOW!” I roared, and pulled up the dorsal camera feed… watching as megatons of solid refined metal in giant plasteel canisters fell like snowflakes onto the planet below.

“What are you doing?” Magnus asked as I watched the planet, rotating the viewer to keep it fixed on the surface as the boxes, one by one, began to glow, brighter and brighter.

“Rods from god, my friend. Rods from God…. just… as… planned…” I chuckled as the first impacted the jungle over the labyrinth. Each canister weighed twenty tons and hit at very close to the speed of sound. There was absolutely no chance in hell any of my pursuers were getting out of there alive. If Vestra, Myrchella, or Magos were in that maze… they’d been obliterated.

“Get us out of the system, Astroboy… random direction. And keep us jumping at random for five jumps. I don’t want anyone besides you and me knowing where the hell we are or where we’re going… then figure out where we are and where we’re going… I have to go regrow my fucking arm.” I limped off the bridge… my left leg had been nearly bitten off by one of those larva from earlier.

Days later, we arrived in the Magoros system, home of the glittering crown known as the Shard Halo. It was a massive, shining solar ring, billions of kilometers across, orbiting the slowly dying mass of Magoros. It was an dead solar system, filled with nothing but three dead planets and a trillion barren icy meteors and moonlettes strung around the star like a jeweled belt. And it was the final resting place of The Righteous Path.

It was ironic, really. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the Calixis Sector, it drew hundreds of ships full of wealthy sightseers every year… and there, right in the middle of all that… the largest meteor was secretly the most sought after ghost ship of the last five thousand years… entombed in ice as it drifted lifeless in space. It was even surrounded by a few dozen smaller ships, also entombed in their own icy shrouds.

Magnus looked down on me as we pulled up alongside her, guided by scanners that had located her main resupply docking port. “Well… this is it. Thank you… you’ve been… interesting.”

“Thank you. For everything. This has been fun. And the…” I tapped my temple. “That’ll be useful. I can’t say I’ll miss the crazy… but… this has been an adventure. But I’ll be glad to get home. I think I understand how to navigate…”

“You’ll do fine,” He assured.

“And your half off the deal?”

“It’ll be waiting for you… with a little surprise… a pleasant one, trust me.” He offered me a salute and turned towards the passageway linking the two ships.

“Magnus…” I reached for his back, then let my newly restored hand fall away… “Have you ever considered forgiving yourself?”

He stiffened… but then shook his head and muttered, “never shuts up,” without turning back… he walked into the treasure ship.

Twenty minutes later, I followed him, Aenes by my side. I still had no idea what had brought him here… but I knew what had brought me. Wealth beyond belief… and there was… so… very… very much of it. My crew could barely believe it themselves.

It took us days to load the ship and I could tell some of the crew were considering mutiny to claim it for themselves, but all it took was me pointing to the leader of that group and saying, “Stick with me and you’ll be wealthy beyond belief. Betray me, and you’ll never find your way home. I’m the only navigator on board, and the Comms are locked to my voice print.” I’d done that before we left the second of our roundabout Warp Jumps. I’m no idiot.

I wanted The Righteous Path right where she was. It was going to take a fleet of transports to get her treasures… and even more important… I wanted her. She was a Imperial Vengeance Class Grand Battlecruiser! And I had a repair dock that could fix her right up… eventually.

Even filling practically every hold and chamber with wealth… there was more. So much more. I could barely get everything I had to have out of her… but what I got… beyond value. In addition to more than fifty thousand stasis coffins… there were at least another two million aboard the Path, but my planet couldn’t absorb that many that fast… and gold and jewels and precious works… there was a fortune in archeotech… and the greatest prize of all… a Standard Template Construct Template Library. Thousands of templates telling even the most primitive of cultures how to build any number of lost technologies, technologies that had allowed humankind to spread across the entire galaxy in a mere twenty thousand years, terraforming world after world and making devices that still worked after millennia of disuse.

As I said, I’d have to return to get the lion’s share of my prize… and to pick up the various components I’d seen in my travels, components that had clearly been part of The Righteous Path before their captain had ripped them out.

There had been a complete Pharmacia in that cave on Jerazol, a component that could synthesize any drug for which it had a known pattern… and if I was right it was big enough to synthesize enough of any substance to dose the entire massive 700,000 person crew complement… and several entire Guardsmen Legions if needed… every day.

On Scintilla, I’d seen an Auto-Temple… a fully staffed Imperial Creed temple that could be mounted inside a ship… and, in addition to tending to the needs of the crew, it could be dropped to a planet’s surface from orbit… yes… it was a dropship temple… it might take a day or two to pack up onto lifters to return it to the ship… and I’d have to redecorate… but… I had to have it… and it had been part of the Path at one point… it said so on the commemorative plaque.

On Grace, in Myrchella’s palace, I’d seen the massive crystal clusters of an Eldar Runecaster (among a whole shitload of other crap)… something I’d only known what I was looking at because of Carwyn… Magnus had explained how it worked. When housed in a large, specially prepared chamber, the crystalline runestones would float above a crystal lens. When used properly, these crystals would allow a navigator a kind of prescience, allowing one to plot a course that would somehow evade almost all problems and encounters with hostiles. I didn’t know if it had come from one of the worlds that Lorcanus had pillaged, but it too had had a plaque.

Finally, on Zayth, I’d found not one but two components that had once belonged to me… er… Lorcanus… In the city of Karnatka, I’d seen an Auto-Stabilized Logis Targeting Unit… more than a simple targeting array, the Logis was an ancient device that utilized near-heretical cogitator circuitry from the Dark Age of Technology to ensure incredibly accurate Weapons Fire…. And in the city of Decepcion, I’d seen a Micro-laser Defense Grid… which was a vastly larger version of the digital laser weapons used by nobility and other imperial worthies… a massive interlinked network of hundreds of miniature laser turrets that could be arrayed across a vessel’s hull. While individually not particularly powerful, when linked in concert, they could easily bring down incoming missiles and attack craft. I could get either one for a song… or a massive influx of wealth… and I would.

With the engine redlining, and every freespace loaded with loot, I’d barely made a dent in what The Path held… and it was time to go. With one last look at the miniature moon, I released the clamps and drifted away from her on maneuvering jets, minimizing the chance that anyone would notice one large chunk of ice drifting away from another (covering the hull of the Bargain with ice hadn’t been particularly hard… there was plenty in the system.)

Magnus had been as good as his word, as it turned out… on four counts. The first was that I had very little trouble guiding the Bargain back to Paradise. The second, though I wasn’t to know it for many months yet, was that the ship was free of Chaos’s taint. The third… well, when I arrived home, I was astounded to discover that, according to everyone, I’d been gone a single day… and yet I’d returned with a new ship, new colonists, and vast wealth… and an Imperial Trade Warrant.

As for the last… well, as promised, my payment was resting in a cave on one of the mountains on the northern range.  It was a Lance… not a human lance, but a starship’s main weapon… well… what would have been the main weapon of anything that didn’t have a freaking planet buster cannon as a spinal mount… but this Lance was the Pentalich Lance, a powerful elemental artifact. Rather than mere thermal energy that other lances projected, the Pentalich could be attuned to one of five elements. Fire, Thunder, Wind, Water, or Earth. In fire mode, it could unleash pillars of fire that were capable of consuming hullmetal as though it was paper. In thunder, it would generate thunderbolts that could reduce sensitive electronics to so much useless, melted sla. In wind it could unleash unavoidable concussive forceblasts. In water, it could literally wash away damage from allied vessels… and in earth it could shroud my ship in a cloud of diamond-hard micrometeorites. I had to cackle.

Unfortunately, cackling made Amaryllis, currently playing under my desk, squeak and try to hide from me, which necessitated a stern tickling. It had been a grand day out indeed.

Next: Light of Terra, Part 4

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

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Author’s Notes

A Grand Day Out is the third DLC or optional side quest / jump included in the Light of Terra MegaJump. Thankfully, they can be done in any order and doing A Grand Day Out first both simplifies all the others and fills in several plotholes that would otherwise bother me. From a writing standpoint, the fact that Magnus (or Ahriman if you broke the Deadlight) brings you to him / has you fetched, means that not having a Warp Capable ship is solved… the other DLCs all assume you gained them in DLC1 (The Heathen Trail)… but that one simply says you have two warp capable transports and a escort vessel… that’s three multi-kilometer long ships that the jumper just… has… no explanation of how. By doing the jump that has nearly limitless wealth (and a galavanting quest around the sector) it solves the problem of ships… as well as crews for those ships. Each ship has a pretty massive crew (like I said, a Carrack needs nearly 20,000 souls to crew it).

Taking A Grand Day Out first also provides a navigator (me) thanks to spending a simply obscene amount of CP (the DLC has a budget of nothing, but you get 400 CP for each planet you visit… Scintilla doesn’t count, I tossed it in, and Magoros isn’t a planet… so 1600… of which Psychic Awakening, Veteran of the Psychic Wars – Biomancy Specialization, and Psychic Supremacy cost a collective 900 CP.)… but it also allows me access to some supernatural power base and makes later victories much more likely. Also, it’s a fun little treasure hunt.

Normally, for each planet (dangerous in their own right) you also select an enemy to deal with, and there is a certain temptation to pair easy with easy and kill them as they show up. Instead, I decided I’d do 4 worlds and rolled 4d5 in order to figure out where I was going and in what order. That done, I rolled 4d7 for enemies… but this time I decided which enemy to encounter based on the nature of the world.

As for psychic powers, Psychic Supremacy makes one an Alpha Level Psyker… or planetary threat level. While I did pick Biomancy (which I call Biopathy because it’s not magic) an Alpha Psyker has most of the rest of the powers at a lower level, but is obscenely powerful in their speciality. I picked Bio because it’s the most interesting… and not something I’m already good at. Also, it makes the most sense given how it was awakened.

I completely ignored the Items and Equipment section. It’s pointless and over priced in my opinion. However, I didn’t ignore the Ship Upgrades Section… which had many useful things… as I listed above, and the utterly hilarious and fairly useless Auto-Temple. I had to have it, even though taking it means I spend 1700 CP out of my budget of 1600. Oh well… I’ll make it up later.

Overall, I like this section because it presents a number of story telling options and allows you to go bonkers with them.  I did grab three things that aren’t on offer in the DLC (the wreck of The Righteous Path, the Population of Krystallian (hinted they could be there, but not outright allowed) and the Warrant of Trade… but it’s a piece of paper and only useful here in this universe.) but Jumpers are magpies. Whatcha gonna do? As for The Litany of Litanies-Litany (which I renamed Faustian Bargain)… that’s one of the two transports that feature in DLC 1 and it will show up again.

At the end, you can pick one Ship Upgrade as your payment from Magnus/Ahriman, and there are some nice choices… but I went with the most insane. Perhaps I should have gone defensive… but… eh. The Pentalich is cool and has the best story hooks and most awesome utility.

Planets & Enemies

Burnscour: “Death dripping down in the rain, blood and the scream of beasts: that is all I recall of that place.” -Mesenicus Var, mercenary captain of the entourage of Rogue Trader Hiram Sult. Burnscour is a Death World of roaring storms, jungles, and strange beasts. It is no place for men, as the steaming rain alone eats at metal and breeds strange fungus on exposed flesh, and the sap dripping from plants is lethal or viciously toxic. Yet the beast trade has found a foothold upon Burnscour, carried there at exorbitant rates by Rogue Trader vessels and illegal, unsanctioned merchant craft. They come to Burnscour to stock the ever-hungry fighting pits of the distant Calixis Sector with saurian leapers, gargantipedes, and other horrors of fang and maw. Hunter retinues clad in bulky suits of vulcanised rubber stalk the jungles in search of exotic xeno predators for the fighting pits, ever watchful for creatures that will make the most lethal attractions on far-off Hive Worlds of the Imperium. There are no permanent structures on the surface of Burnscour — only the slowly dissolving metal carcasses of landing craft brought down by the planet’s storms, the few melted ruins of structures built by fools, and the swaying jungles ever growing beneath the caustic rain. From the uppermost leaves of its canopy to the ground, the jungles of Burnscour are a choking mass of countless plants: trees with dark waxen leaves and trunks covered in barbs that weep thick sap the colour of bile, blooms of fungus as pale as milk, thick creepers from the branches of trees, delicate flowers the colour of livid bruises on pale flesh, which open at the touch to expose waving fronds that fill the air with a heady scent that dulls the mind — all these and thousands more species swarm and choke the surface of Burnscour. Beasts stalk through the nightmare jungles of Burnscour. Things of every sizes, all perfectly adapted to the hellish environment, live here in vast numbers, from beetle-like creatures who gnaw through flesh or bark to feed on blood or sap, to the strange six-legged stalkers the size of three grown men but scuttle silent and invisible though the branches of the middle canopy. Almost all are capable of killing any human that steps onto the surface of Burnscour. The lethal nature of Burnscour’s native creatures is both the planet’s curse on any who might wish to establish surface habitation on there, but are also the prize that draws many to it. When men come to Burnscour, they come for the beasts. So little does the jungle and rain tolerate the presence of man that beast-hunting parties are usually dropped onto the surface of the planet and remain for as little time as possible before hailing their waiting drop craft with a homing beacon. These hunters and their ferocious harvest are often hauled off the surface into hovering dropships that never touch the surface. Others defoliate the jungle with anti-plant bombs and Heavy Flamers to create brief landing clearings—which are swallowed again by the jungle within days. Dangerous it might be, but the price commanded by hunters for living beasts of Burnscour is enough to blot out the tales of hunting parties vanishing, never to be seen again, or the whispers of the things that stalk unseen beneath the dark leaves and hissing rain.  While the beasts here are certainly terrible and deadly beyond almost anything you have encountered before, the atmosphere is the greatest threat, toxic, corrosive and insidious, a soup of chemicals that will corrode any protective gear you may wear within hours, at best. Speed is of the essence here, and the fact that the cogitator core holding part of the map to the Righteous Path is entombed within a gigantic, labyrinthine hive only complicates matters.

The Murdered World of Jerazol: “There is no crime too terrible, nor act so monstrous that man will not commit given a sufficiency of conviction and self interest.” -ancient Terran proverb. Jerazol is a desolate world of ash and charred bone. It is a world, tales say, murdered for greed and spite. Discovered by a pious Rogue Trader whose name does not survive in Imperial records, Jerazol was verdant, fertile, and supported a population of humans whose culture had regressed to the level of a primitive tribalism. The unnamed Rogue Trader was determined to bring the population back into the light and dominion of the God-Emperor. He began the process of tutoring and civilising the population, while purging it of any trace of deviancy or corruption. Not long after Jerazol was discovered, it was also found by other explorers, who believed that the primitive humans where hiding wonders of lost technology in warrens beneath the earth, built by their forgotten ancestors who first came to the world from across the stars. These machines, they said, were worth any price in blood and death, and when the nameless Rogue Trader stood against them, they destroyed his vessels, letting their wrecks fall to the surface of Jerazol like the burning tears of a god. Then, it is said the murderers bombarded the world, burning its surface to ash and choking its atmosphere with smoke. The tales do not agree as to whether the despoilers found the technological treasures they sought. Some say they unearthed such wonders that they rose to the highest tiers of power within the Imperium, others say that they only found ash, bone, and mud and that they cursed the dreams that had brought them through void and madness to murder a world for naught. No matter the truth of the tales, the burned and Dead World of Jerazol exists as testimony to the price that can be paid in search for riches. There is nothing here save ruins and dust, and a single bunker, buried kilometers underground, a cogitator holding part of the map to the Righteous Path and a transmitter sending out a centuries too late distress call.

Grace: “Hunger unwound what little hope was left and moved us to what humanity would not once have contemplated.” —Comdeus Canto, survivor of the expedition from the Inferno’s Child. The storm-ridden world of Grace is circled and shrouded by swirling clouds and hurricanes. Continual gales carry the spores of its simple fungal life far and wide amidst lightning and frozen hail. Beneath the storms, the peaks and valleys of Grace’s jagged surface form a stark, beautiful landscape that was once dotted with the proud structures of a colony founded under the authority of Rogue Trader Aspyce Chorda. From behind Void Shields and armoured crysta viewports the colonists, drawn from the wealthiest exiles of Imperial nobility and the most successful of criminals (a distinction between the two being not always easy to draw) gazed out on the beauty of the world that was their sanctuary from blood wars, vengeful rivals, and the iron fist of Imperial justice. The world of Grace is still just as beautiful, but the colony palaces lie in ruin and its pale-eyed people scuttle in the shadows, harbouring a terrible secret. Grace was an Imperial colony world founded not for the expansion of the domain of the God-Emperor, but to serve the greed and arrogance of Rogue Trader Aspyce Chorda. The colonial palaces built on Grace were palatial fortresses for Imperial exiles of wealth and means — those worthies secretively brought to the edge of the Imperium by the Cold Guild, stored in frozen vaults for their journey and returned to life in the depths of Port Wander. Rogue Trader Aspyce Chorda swelled her coffers accepting fugitives into the world she had claimed and giving them leave to build their armoured palaces on Grace. At further ruinous cost, she provided the exiles with illegal slaves from Footfall, provided them with the finest foods using the lesser voidships of her fleet, and allowed their spies and agents to pass to and from Imperial space in the holds of her ships. It was, for a time, a paradise of the wicked, but it did not last. It is said by the pious that in time no sin goes unknown or unpunished in the God-Emperor’s sight, and the punishment for Grace was terrible indeed. Vessels of Aspyce Chorda carrying supplies to Grace were destroyed by a Warp Storm that rose up, swallowing them whole and sealing passage to Grace. The world itself was a pleasurable and beautiful refuge and had no capacity to produce its own food. For a time the exiles and criminals contented themselves with the false hope that supplies would come, and then when they did not, they turned on one another, sending their vassals to loot and burn other palaces and strip them of supplies and food. In time only a few of the many colony palaces were left, and these had become ugly fortresses against the predatory raids of the few others that persisted. When even raiding could not feed those who remained, they turned to eating their dead — first those who had been slain, and then those who still lived. So it is that the few debased colony palaces harbour those who eat human flesh, and they are always hungry. Some have beacons that broadcast distress calls out into the void, seeking sustenance from unwary travellers. Crumbling palaces filled with treasures the degenerate inhabitants no longer care about, or brutal fortresses filled with cannibal raiders, the danger here is not what one would expect. Degenerate they may be, but the surviving cannibal bands are battle hardened to an unimaginable degree, and each of them holds weapons and armour scavenged from dozens of noble estates, and those estates were filled with heirloom weapons, armour and equipment forged by the greatest and most skilled techpriests of the Imperium, rendering each of the flesh hungry madmen an army of one, and finding the cogitator core that holds the partial location of the Righteous Path will not be quick or easy amidst the countless false distress signals…

Zayth: “Of what wars waged beyond the Emperor’s light we will never truly know and can only look at the wreck of the overgrown battlefield and wonder at what has passed.” —remark dictated by Rogue Trader Hiram Sult. Zayth is a War World scarred deeply by constant conflict. Enormous vehicles the size of cities churn the surface of Zayth’s single macrocontinent. Each is a fortress and weapon platform armed with fearsome devices of war and destruction. Within them dwell Zayth’s human population, protected from the radiation and toxins unleashed by long centuries of warfare. Zayth’s surface has been barren for millennia, ploughed and poisoned by shellfire, rapacious, urgent strip-mining, and the passage of hive-vehicles. Despite their weaponry and extraordinary vehicle cities the humans of Zayth have fallen far from the knowledge of their ancestors in all but war, and the knowledge of producing their hivevehicles is long vanished. Great generators and engine vaults are permanently sealed by copper doors or guarded by hereditary Engine Orders who guard the traditions and culture of each clan fortress. Discovering the location of the Cogitator core on Zayth will be difficult, simply due to the eternal war that rages, mobile cities the size of arcologies fighting a battle that has gone on so long none remember why it began. The Cogitator you seek was obliterated centuries ago in an alpha strike that wiped a mountain range from the map, but its data survives, albeit in fragmented form. Each of the twenty one surviving hive-vehicles has a fraction of it worked into decorations in the machine shrine at the core of the vast, mobile nation-warmachine. That these colossal engines are capable of swatting down even battleships in orbit like irksome flies may go some way to telling you how tricky this will be.

Myrchella Sinderfell: Lady Myrchella Sinderfell is one of the most elusive and destructive heretics active in the Calixis Sector. Intelligent, resourceful, and cruel, over the centuries Myrchella Sinderfell has sampled blasphemous pleasures, dallied with diverse heresies, and committed atrocities of the most vile nature for no other reason than her own gratification. Born into the high Sinderfell family of Scintilla, Myrchella Sinderfell was raised as part of a lineage whose wealth and holdings spanned the Calixis Sector. It is said that in her younger years she showed exceptional promises in all areas of education, with no sign of the madness to come in the first decades of her life. When she came of age, Myrchella used the Sinderfell wealth to assemble a vile court of sorcerers, xenophiles, flesh crafters, and corrupt savants in the seclusion of the Sinderfell manse on Quaddis, collecting them and their knowledge like a true dilettante of the vile. The corruption of Lady Sinderfell was finally betrayed to the Inquisition by one of her mistreated servants. The Holy Ordos razed the Sinderfell manse in a single night—it is said that the fury of the assault could be seen from the balconies of far Xacarph. Lady Sinderfell escaped the wrath of the Imperium to recreate her blood-soaked court of blasphemy over and over again. On Malfi she suborned the leadership of a sanguinary cult and bathed in blood every day for a year. On Kalf she and her entourage burned town after town, hunted the survivors through the night, and unleashed unclean spirits to plague any who remained. Myrchella Sinderfell is known to draw around her a court comprised of heretics. These heretics have included rogue psykers, warp dabblers, xenophiles, hereteks, dissolute nobles, corrupt Navigators, scholars of the proscribed, and dealers with daemons. These courts are rarely enduring and are often discarded in flight or destroyed for diversion by Lady Sinderfell herself. Sinderfell prefers to assume the identity of others and corrupt families, cults, and organisations to her own ends (usually including murder and wanton infliction of pain). She is known to favour numerous devices of forbidden technology, some of xenos design, to further her proclivities. Though reported as killed on board the Phoenix’s Ransom by Judge Uzzriah, and again in the Castigation of the Red Vaults of Luggnum, Lady Myrchella Sinderfell is still believed at large in the Calixis Sector. Myrchella Sinderfell’s avarice, spite, narcissism and sadism are obvious and reflected in every part of the heresies that have made her notorious. She has wallowed in gore, inflicted pain, and darkened her fractured soul not for an ideal but simply because it makes her “happy.” Myrchella’s forces are the most diverse, chaos cultists, rogues, pirates, hereteks, xenos, warp things, psykers, Dark Eldar torturers, no one member of the force is the same as another, and the skills, abilities and armour they bring to bear are terrifyingly diverse.

Magos Vathek: The facts of Magos Vathek’s career, before he was cast out from the Adeptus Mechanicus and became a hunted renegade are entirely unknown, and the tech-priest authorities have been singularly unforthcoming in this regard. It is thought that he was attached to the Explorator fleets of Archmagos Thule before some incident or event drove him mad, turning him into a renegade hunted equally by the Inquisition and the forces of the Machine Cult. Vathek is obsessed with acquiring and perfecting dark technological lore. In particular, he desires the technological means to restore full life to dead tissue, although he is also known to have created forbidden weaponry, crafted flesh gholams, and experimented with a variety of prohibited alchemical and energy systems. His forbidden experiments are already reckoned to have cost upwards of 3,000 lives, most notably in a mass casualty event known as the “Morningside Incident” on Solomon, and on a smaller scale during the “dockside ripper” murders on Dreah. At the end of the latter, Vathek slew a Mechanicus force sent to destroy him and escaped offworld. He is also known to have attacked a previously unknown resurrectionist cult on the cemetery world of Pilgrim’s Pause and left great slaughter in his wake, plundering the cult’s own dark secrets. Vathek’s current whereabouts and activities remain unknown. In appearance, Vathek looks to be a heavily augmented tech-priest, habitually robed in tattered black, surrounded by a multitude of black-iron and brass mechadendrites fitted with surgical tools, callipers, and energy coils. He is known to have incorporated the forbidden technology of a Sarkossan wave generator into his own carapace, and his face is covered by a silver skull mask grafted onto necrotic muscle and bone. He is believed to be no longer “alive” in any meaningful sense, but propelled by the power of his own dark technology. He has proven extremely difficult to slow or destroy with conventional weapons fire, and extreme measures are to be advised when confronting him. Aside from his drive for dark scientific lore, Vathek appears to have no known goals or plans. He also does not cooperate with or serve others, fashioning only unliving servitors as his needs arise. Some theorise that Vathak’s true obsession is somehow discovering a means to restore biological life to his own decaying flesh. The entirety of Vathek’s force is dead. Dead and still moving. The arch Heretek has formed an army of flesh Gholams, monstrous composites of dead flesh and cybernetic upgrades. These abominations are soulless terrors that can laugh off damage that would shatter a Leman Russ Tank, and they can be restored to combat readiness with horrifying ease. They will not stop, they will not slow, they are relentless.

Coriolanus Vestra: Brother Missionary Coriolanus Vestra was a loyal, even revered, Imperial Missionary who fought to bring the light of the Emperor to those who knew it not. His zeal was marked by his superiors—Cardinal Fortis noted on several occasions how Vestra undertook missions in totally uncharted regions of space, always returning to bring news of thousands of new followers of the Imperial Creed. The final mission undertaken by Coriolanus Vestra records that he ventured into the Halo Stars in search of human communities lost for millennia. He did not return and was presumed to have perished. What exactly occurred to Vestra on his journey into the Halo Stars is not known, but it can be easily inferred that something occurred that caused him to break his faith and turn him against the Imperium that he had so devoutly served. The fact that Vestra uses the phrase “bathed in the light of the black sun” in some of his blasphemous addresses, has been the focus of much analysis and may pertain to some dark revelation that turned Vestra into the arch-heretic he is today. Fifty years after his disappearance, Coriolanus Vestra secretly returned to Imperial space. He slipped onto the world of Lassiv in distant Hecuba, a dishevelled shadow among many. Two years of meticulous and brutal endeavour saw Vestra dedicating Lassiv and the souls of its people to the ruination of the Emperor’s realm from beneath a banner topped with the planetary governor’s severed head. It was not, however, until after ten more years, three befouled worlds, and countless acts of heresy that the true identity of this arch-corruptor was uncovered. The anger and shame of the Ecclesiarchy has not abated in the eight decades that have passed since that revelation. Coriolanus Vestra’s chief treachery is his association with a great number of cults and heretical organisations, including the Serrated Query, the Brotherhood of the Horned Darkness, the Pale Throng, and the Masqued of Malfi amongst many more. He is, however, only ever a peripheral figure and an intermediary who prefers to work alone as a freelance agent of sorts for the duration of a particular task or objective. He often incites rebellion through demagoguery and acts as a go between and facilitator for different heretical and malefic cults in order to create a larger force of disorder. Coriolanus Vestra’s spite and zeal in persecuting his personal war against the Imperium cannot be doubted. It is unknown if Vestra, beyond a desire to simply bring anarchy and destruction, has any discernable grand scheme. The revered brothers forces are not the most well trained or equipped. Indeed, the vast bulk of them are civilian fanatics equipped with crude clubs. The danger lies in sheer numbers, for quantity has a quality all of its own. Fanatics, they are all not just ready but willing and even eager to die, martyred for the cause.

Tobias Belasco: Tobias Belasco was born the third son to an impoverished wing of the powerful House Belasco on Malfi and is another example of the ability of certain noble lines to breed unpardonable monsters. Reportedly a sly and deceitful glutton from an early age, Tobias railed against the gentle poverty in which he was raised and the fallen status of his line. As he grew, he put his remarkable intellect and cunning to work and quickly displaced or murdered his way to control of his family’s line, restoring its fortunes in the process. He was quickly taken into the service of the Belasco Great House, where he acted as a dealer in rare antiquities and brokered many profitable deals for his clan. This elevation appears not to have been enough for him. Soon he took to seeking thrills by dalliances with petty cult groups, fellow epicures, and jaded wantons, living far beyond even his prodigious means. Rather than risk embezzling funds from his notorious clan, he took to blackmail, murder, and the Cold Trade to fund his notorious life of excesses, eventually leading him to dealing in slavery. However, as the years passed, not even this was enough to alleviate his boredom. By what means he finally descended into complete criminal insanity is unknown, although a lifetime of immorality and substance abuse no doubt played some part in it. Not satisfied with killing his enemies, he instead took to abducting them in secret and eating them slowly, one piece at a time. When these shocking crimes finally came to light, it proved too much for his infamous noble house to stand. Tobias fled Malfi via his Cold Trade connections with a portion of his wealth and his family’s assassin cadre at his heels. For more than 50 years he has been on the run, turning up on dozens of worlds and using many aliases to stay one step ahead of his former clan. He is also a fugitive of the Ordo Xenos, whose ire he provoked when he killed and ate several of Inquisitor Van Vuygens’ acolytes who were investigating a xenos-slavery ring that he had instigated on Snowden’s World. Torn between his desire to remain hidden and a desire to continue his opulent lifestyle through black marketeering, deception, and murder, Tobias has managed to remain one step ahead of his many hunters over the years thanks to his quick wits, formidable intelligence, and a thoroughly nasty imagination. Now in his late nineties, his past is catching up with him—his obscenely fat bulk must be held up by a suspensor chair and he is rapidly reaching the limits of how long his wrecked constitution can be kept alive through black market implants and chem treatments. Despite his debased and corpulent exterior, Tobias Belasco is a genius-level intellect who has a talent for deception, commerce, and murder that borders on the supernatural. He is marked for death not only by the Inquisition but also by his former family, and attempts to maintain a veil of secrecy at all times. Tobias Belasco’s only motivation is to continue his life of wickedness and feed his dread addictions. Rumors have reached the Inquisition that Tobias is searching for a more radical solution to his problems in the shape of a forbidden Halo Device. The former scion of Imperial Nobility has fewer resources than he once did, but they are still not something that can be dismissed. A cadre of specially trained warrior slaves stand at his beck and call, trained from birth and surgically implanted with explosives to ensure loyalty form the corpulent deviants bodyguard, and they are supported by packs of terrifying, feral xenos warbeasts dragged in chains from some of the most deadly worlds in the galaxy, crudely lobotomized and sent out to kill.

World 61: The Light of Terra, Part 2

THE LIGHT OF TERRA, A WARHAMMER 40K GAUNTLET

Part 2 – Land of the Sky Mother

Previously: Barque of the Forsaken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Those are poisonous!” Amaryllis squeaked in horror.

“Venomous, dumb dumb,” Maggie said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Light of Terra, Part 3

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Resources: BuildDocument

On Magi Handcounting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larger numbers must be generated via combinatorics.

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

Author’s Notes

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

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

Build Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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