The ambush in the market has put me on edge; someone knows what we seek – the ‘Righteous Path’ – and believes us to be a threat. Though it was not a surprise (I always think everything is a trap), it was enough to anger me. I will find who is behind the attacks and make them pay. But for now, we seek the Path and its legendary treasure, so we will head to Battlefleet command to update our charts and find what our next step will be.
For the second time in the same day, Sabastion and his command crew stepped out the airlock of the Vengeful Hammer of Dawn into the musty air of Port Wander. A nervous sergeant of the Adeptus Arbites shuffled his feet as he addressed the Lord Captain.
“Milord, I am Sergeant Targos and have a message for you. The Arbites respectfully requests that you keep violence to a minimum while on station. About the incident in the Court of the Dead, should you wish to make a repor…”
Sabastion brushed past the stammering functionary, ignoring him completely as he led his officers, this time with Navigator Gaius in tow, toward the Battlefleet’s command offices. Wary from the earlier attack, Bruce’s keen eyes raked the crowd with barely-concealed malevolence and Anarette’s servitor surreptitiously scanned the crowds, ready to provide that split-second warning between life and death in an ambush. The crowds were interlaced with the occasional band of thugs, though many took one look at the glowering, hair-triggered crew and seek softer targets. Shortly after arriving at the outer security layers of the Battlefleet’s headquarters, Martellus and his officers found themselves in the presence of Lieutenant Abezo; a thin, proper Naval officer with an odd mixture of proper military bearing, warm smile, and calculating eyes.
“Lord Captain Martellus” Abezo greets the entourage “I understand you need to update your charts, is that correct?”
“That is correct, Lieutenant” Jezebel answers for the Captain “we seek to update our star charts before heading into the Expanse. Also, we are looking for some information about a specific area of the Expanse.”
“Of course, if you would step into my office…”
The Lieutenant’s ‘office’ was a small closet-like affair with small hatch doors at the tops of the walls through which servitors of various types could enter or exit. After a few moments, one of the floating cybernetic skulls glided in with a dataslate. Abezo took the slate casually as the servitor whisked from the room through a different hatch.
“I believe the Battlefleet Officers’ Ball is coming up soon…” the Lieutenant intoned as if praying to the God-Emperor. In a matter of moments, enough Thrones to purchase a small estate on a fairly nice planet flowed into the Lieutenant’s account. Coincidentally, the very same moment the Dawn ’s astronomical charts were updated with the most recent military surveys. Such is the way of the Imperium; prayers answered with coincidental occurrences, lubricated by the movement of Thrones.
“And we seek information about a certain section of Winterscale’s Realm…we seek something between Burnscour and the Egerian Dominion and would much like not to spend centuries in finding it.” Sabastion added as the small miracles of Thrones and information occurred.
“Ah, for that, I have no information, Lord Captain.” Abezo began but hastened to add “But I do know a gentleman who may have what you seek. Magnate Scrivener Journ makes it his business to collect charts of out-of-the-way places. I shall summon a driver to take you to his offices in the Gilt Processionals”
The Lieutenant guided the group to a small waiting military car, typically reserved for moderately-important guests. Anarettte’s servitor hovered behind the car as it sped onward down the wide promenades toward the Gilt Processionals. Anarette’s servitor tried to keep an eye out for potential ambush, yet interference prevented it from focusing on anything more than the car itself; a flicker of what might possibly be annoyance crossed the human part of the Explorator’s face, surprising the rest of the crew with its unexpected humanity.
Soon enough, the car arrived at an ornate building, replete with stained glass facade, depicting an expanse of space illuminated by the God-Emperor’s light. Stepping into the offices of Magnate Scriviner Journ, the party was met by a minor lackey whose smile was as oily as his hair.
“Welcome to Magnate Scrivener Journ’s office. How may I help you?” He mewed sycophantically
“We are here to see the magnate on recommendation of Lieutenant Abezo” Jezebel answered imperiously.
“If I might inquire as to the nature of the business?” the mewling functionary replied
Having barely tolerated the minimally-formal offices of the Battlefleet and now facing the prospect of spending more time in an even more formal battle of words between the ship’s Senechal and the Magnate’s lickspittle, Bruce barks out “Astromancy! Astromancy is our business!”
The fellow’s pallid complexion paled even more as he noticed the Death World Arch-Militant’s barely-concealed rage. “O-o-of c-course. R-r-right away.” He managed to stammer before rushing off to inform his master of the new guests.
After a short while of sipping tea and eating little sandwiches, the Dawn ’s command crew were ushered into the presence of the Magnate himself. Magnate Scrivener Journ was a massive, corpulent creature with a cybernetic hand equipped with autoquills, dataslate interfacers, and ancient text turners rather than fingers. His very being oozed forbidden knowledge, ill-gotten wealth, and corruption but his information was second to none and guaranteed to be accurate.
“Ah, Lord Captain Martellus. I do apologize for the delay, but I am a very busy man. I am told you come recommended by Lieutenant Abezo, so I must assume you are looking for information which is… off the beaten path, shall we say.” The crisp and clear voice of Journ at odds with the jowly, flabby face and wet lips.
“Indeed, we seek a location in the Winterscale’s Domain between Burnscour and the Egerian Dominion.” Sabastion replied “Perhaps you can help us refine our search a bit? I do not relish the idea of spending centuries looking for one particular star.”
“Let me see what you have.” Journ answered with a small gleam of interest in his eye. Navigator Gaius handed over the dataslate and Journ plugged one of his ‘fingers’ into it. His eyes glazed over as he interfaced with the information, emerging a few moments later with a satisfied grin. “I believe I know this pulsar. I will impart its location to you, and waive my fee, if you do but one thing for me Captain.”
“Only a fool would enter into a contract blindly; what is this favor you want?”
“Merely that you deliver some religious books to an associate of mine on Footfall.” The corpulent Journ evaded half-heartedly.
“I see. And these books are…special and ‘delicate’ in nature, I assume.” Sabastion replied slowly
“You could say that.” Journ blandly remarked
“Done, then. As long as you understand that I would not appreciate anything…untoward happening to me, my ship, or my crew because of these…religious books.”
Journ nodded and smiled “Of course, my Lord Captain.”
Preparations for the expedition were almost complete when the ‘books’ were delivered. No sooner had they arrived when a minor bridge officer, Ensign Nohname, reported that Fel Hand , a light cruiser, had left the station and made for the Maw at an alarming rate, barely waiting the customary distance before making the jump into the Warp. The small hairs on the back of Sabastion’s neck rose, and no sooner did he glance at Killean than the pilot reply.
“I’m on it.” He said simply, and his hands flicked over a variety of communication arrays as he began to call in favors and make contacts.
The Fel Hand belonged to the Fel Dynasty, a family of Rogue Traders. Interestingly enough, the Fels had once worked with House Martellus on several occasions, but the last time was decades ago. On top of that, the description of the assailant who ambushed them in the Court of the Dead was none other than Lady Ash, a known assistant to Lord Captain Fel. Anger seethed in Sabastion’s head, but reason tempered it and banked that hatred like coals in a Forgeworlder’s furnace so that it could be used later when it counted the most.
Orbest Dray, fresh from the medicae bay, ambled up to the captain a short while later. “Reporting for duty, sir.” He saluted smartly in an old fashioned way.
“Take to the arrays, mister Dray.”
No sooner had the old man been dismissed than Sabastion turned to Anarette, asking the Explorator to engage the machine spirit in their latest endeavor. The green light at her left eye flickered briefly before she turned to the holy interfaces to commune with the ancient-yet-spritely machine spirit that was the soul of the Dawn. In a few moments, the eyes of the massive statue behind the Captain’s Throne opened. The crew, whether officer or pressganger, regardless of location on the ship, felt the presence of eyes upon their every move.
“Augur arrays online” Anarette’s synth-vox voice reported “and the machine spirit is eager for the Expanse.”
Leaving the dock, the Dawn made way for the edge of the system, toward the Maw. To jump anywhere before there was considered bad form as Demons often materialized when the transition from Void to Warp was made and though the Demons would be handily dealt with in the void near Port Wander, it was blasphemy to bring them into being so close to inhabited stations. The fact that Fel Hand had not waited the full system distance before executing the transition would have been noted by the authorities and the Lord Captain would find himself with many questions to answer…if he lived to return to the station.
The jump consisted of three stages, each stop was a chance for the navigator to get his bearings as he navigated the Maw – three safe spots amongst permanent Warp cyclones that could destroy a ship or her crew’s minds in a matter of moments. The Temple, The Battlefield, and The Hermitage were the three most common and of them, The Battlefield was the most likely to harbor an ambush. Battlefield was literally millions of ancient space hulks floating in the Void, any one of which could hide a raider or worse. With that in mind, Sabastion ordered the crew to stand by at yellow alert as they neared each stop through the Maw.
No sooner had the Dawn materialized from the Warp at the second waypoint, Battlefield, than Ensign Nohname again reported something on the augur array; an automated distress beacon with a Ministorium prefix had been detected a little ways into the field of hulks.
“Killean, give me two good paths through that field. When they spring this trap, I want a backdoor escape route.” Sabastion ordered the pilot.
The field of moving debris, some larger than the Dawn by three or more fold, presented a challenge to the normally-cocky pilot and so it was five hours later that the second plot path was finally calculated and input to the cogitators. Meanwhile, Sabastion had consulted with Adept Sadiq and his Astropathic Choir, hammering out how the telepaths would help give the Dawn an edge in the fight to come.
As the Dawn came closer to the distress beacon, Sabastion ordered silent running. Orbest Dray, overworked and out-of-practice at the augur array, was sweating profusely as he sorted the hulks and tried to spy any sign of impending ambush. His old, bent back straightened suddenly about 20 VUs from the disabled ship.
“Captain, we have two heat signatures on the far side of the disabled ship.”
“On the holotank, mister Dray.” Sabastion barked.
Two traces, small but visible behind the carcass of what was once a battlebarge, looked to be pirate Raiders. Sabastion ordered the Astropathic Choir to blind the arrays of the enemy ship and motioned to the spots on the holotank. “Can you get us closer, Master Killean?”
Killean smirked confidently “How about close enough to knock on the portholes and ask if anybody’s home?”
“Sounds good, but let’s hull them first.” Sabastion replied as he turned to the rest of the crew. Anarette turned to the machine spirit and coaxed a little more sensitivity from the augurs while Bruce manned the macrocannon controls, aiming at the lurking pirate vessels’ hiding spot and Jezebel worked the firing solutions, feverishly interpreting the data coming from the augurs and cogitators. The pirates were 30 VU out and as long as the Dawn was running silent, even a pilot as skilled as Killean would take hours to get within extreme range of the macrocannons. Tension mounted on the bridge as the first real combat of the new ship was fast approaching. VUs and hours creeped by.
One of the Raiders, perhaps sensing something was amiss with their augurs, began drifting out of cover for an active sweep of the area around the disabled ship. The God-Emperor must have smiled upon the Dawn for the Raider noticed nothing; the interference of the Telepaths obfuscated the minimal silent running signature of the Dawn. The Raider drifted under another hulk and came into long range of the Macrocannons.
“Full speed, Master Killean. Target their engines, Master Jezebel. Fire when ready, Master Bruce. Let’s give them Hell!” Sabastion barked at the crew as the Raider, now merely 12 VUs away hove into view. With that, the Lord Captain made for the Teleportarium with a cadre of Murderservitors in tow, their cold corpse bodies laden with cybernetics and heavy weapons.
The Dawn flared like a bright star on the Raider’s augurs and closed the distance between the two, swinging hard to starboard so that Bruce’s macrocannon fire would be maximized. Screaming a Australius IV warsong, Bruce opened fire with a massive broadside. Thunderous reverberations throughout the ship heralded the blistering fire of both the Mars Pattern and Pyros macrocannons; a hail of molten death spewed at the poleaxed Raider. A massive blast ripped through the Raider’s hull, piercing it like so much tissue paper and blinding the ship as the augur array fins boiled off into vapor. The boarding party teleported into the engine room of the enemy vessel, slaughtered the crew and disabled the engines with frightening precision, and teleported back to the Dawn to ready for the next strike.
Blind and crippled, the Raider fired ineffectually into the Void, but the Dawn had already moved on to the next target.
If the second Raider knew there was trouble, it did not seem to matter. As it accelerated toward its crippled mate, the Dawn barreled down upon it like the Emperor’s own fury. Again the banks of macrocannons howled as hits scored the side of the ship, sending gouts of flame spreading through the Raider. One after another, systems aboard the pirate vessel caught fire or flared out as the petulant machine spirit withdrew its support for a fight which was so painful. The dead ship drifted in a lazy summersault toward the edge of the debris field; if not rescued and righted soon, it would smash into a hulk and become part of the debris field itself.
“Mine!” Orbest Dray suddenly yelled
“Hard to port!” Sabastion barked at Killean as the pilot swerved the massive ship out of the way of the deadly boobytrap. The mine wobbled in its path as it skimmed the edge of the voidshields and exploded harmlessly as the defensive turrets peppered it with laser blasts and shell rounds.
The Dawn turned back to the first Raider, boarding her via Teleportarium again, and planted a rigged macrocannon round in the plasma drive room. The Captain, Bruce and the Murderservitors stormed the bridge of the Raider and forced the command crew to stand down. The so-called ‘captain,’ a man named Brandon Hallowel, offered his crew’s services to the House and his own personal fealty to Sabastion if the Dawn would not turn him in to the Battlefleet.
“Got a roight tasty bounty on ya, poirate.” Bruce chuckled, handing the dataslate to Sabastion.
With a nod, the Murserservitors grabbed the squirming, screaming pirate and hauled him away to be confined aboard the Dawn. Without another word, the Lord Captain swept out of the bridge of the crippled Raider to see to the vessel that lured the Dawn to this would-be ambush.
The tiny transport, christened the Penitent Traveler, had been crippled thoroughly and left for bait by the pirates. Her bridge was a crater and where the engines should have been was a gaping wound, naked to the Void. Jezebel and Anarette boarded a Aquila lander, a handful of Murderservitors in tow for security, and sped toward the Traveler in order to search for survivors and secure any salvage.
Pastor Hallman, the most senior surviving leader of this hapless gaggle of pilgrims, greeted the away team at the airlock. Awed by Jezebel’s Relic of St. Drusus, as well as by the fact that the Dawn had neatly stitched up their assailants and delivered the pilgrims from the doom of a slow, suffocating, freezing death, the pilgrims pledged all their mortal possessions and more to the Dawn in exchange for passage to Footfall. By the time the ‘negotiations’ for passage were over, Jezebel had also managed to secure the promise of a church being named in her honor, and all the tithes would flow into her account, as well. Considering the fate that would have befallen the pilgrims, it was considered a modest fee by all involved.
After securing the three vessels for reclamation by House Martellus techs, the Dawn made the two more jumps to Footfall in relative calm. Bruce’s occasional intimidation and menacing of the pilgrims was fodder for much laughing at the Captain’s Table for the next few weeks, each tale even more outrageous than the last. Luckily for the pilgrims’ sanity, the Dawn arrived in Footfall not a moment too soon.
Offloading the pilgrims was the first order of business and was done with little more ceremony than jettisoning garbage; Pastor Hallman began to lead the pilgrims in a sing-song hymn of thanks and benediction but was cut off mid-warble by the slamming of the airlock doors. Bruce seemed a bit melancholy for the loss of the pilgrims, but brightened considerably when a crewman’s punishment request came across his dataslate. He ambled off to the lower decks, whistling a Australius IV fighting tune.
With the passengers gone, Killean tuned the communicator arrays to the Vox channel Journ had given the crew and soon was coordinating the offload of those ‘religious texts’ Journ wanted delivered. Journ’s contact, a man named Leopold, was as unremarkable as they came – perfect for a smuggler, spy or other clandestine profession. Sabastion would later swear he could not recall a single trait about the man other than his archaic name. Leopold efficiently coordinated the offload of the ‘books’ to a discreet cargo bay chained to the macrostatue of the Emperor, and departed without a further word.
The pirate, Hallowel, however, was not so easy to offload. Though the Battlefleet was quite happy to hear that the nuisance of this minor pirate and scoundrel would end, it was Hallowel who became a source of niggling annoyance and occasional buffoonery. He tried desperately to win a last-minute reprieve from the fate that awaited him; bargaining and cajoling the crew, offering ludicrous bribes to the Lord Captain, and even attempting to break out of the cabin that was his ersatz holding cell. It was with a mix of eager satisfaction and relief that Lord Captain Martellus handed the man, now a pathetic mewling heap of flesh, over to the officers of the Emperor’s Vigilance , a Battlefleet cruiser on station near Footfall. Hallowel’s trial and execution took place in the span of half an hour, complete with the perfunctory appeals and objections. In the end, the hapless pirate was stood against a bulkhead and riddled with slugs and inferno rounds. Sabastion took commemorative Vox-video of the moment of Hallowel’s death to enshrine his first capture of a pirate in the Dawn ’s trophy room.
Resupply took a few hours, and in the time that Sabastion was reveling in the death of a pirate, Killean was busy working his contacts aboard the station. It seemed the Fel Hand had arrived, refitted, and left Footfall about ten hours before the Vengeful Hammer of Dawn’s arrival in the system. Their nemesis was still a bit ahead of them, but Killean was certain they would show their faces soon enough. Jezebel took the time to acquire some new equipment, including krak grenades and preysense goggles, to add to the armory. Bruce, however, was not so lucky as none aboard Footfall had ever heard of a power boomerang despite its widespread use on Australius IV.
Properly refitted and with at least most of the gear the crew needed, the Dawn turned away from Footfall toward Winterscale’s Realm and the location of the pulsar Journ had given them.
Though the trip was to take 10 days, the ineptitude of the journeyman navigators Lucius and Titus doubled that time. The rage the Lord Captain felt at such incompetence was only blunted by the fact that House Sebinius was vital to House Martellus’ continued prosperity. Master Navigator Gaius, however, assured the Lord Captain that “appropriate punishment” would be meted out upon the journeymen Navigators.
The pulsar’s occasional flare was enough to temporarily blind the Dawn as it popped into existence in the system from its too-long journey through the Warp. A minute or so later, the sensors were online again, but that minute could have been disastrous. In order to prevent any lasting damage to the augur arrays, Lord Captain Martellus ordered the arrays switched off a few seconds prior to the regular pulses, and switched back on a few seconds after. With this handicap, the Dawn surveyed the system.
Two planets, a dwarf planet, and a super dense icy belt of debris was all that was left of this once-habitable system. The sudden dimming of the system’s star into a pulsar has snap-frozen the two larger planets, and left the smaller orb tidally locked – half frozen and half charred cinder. Scanning the planet dubbed ‘Secundus’ the Dawn found a jungle world that was covered in feet of thick, dense ice. Still poking up through the mile-thick ice, the Dawn detected a still-working array of Xeno-tech structures across the face of the planet, interlinked like a web across the surface of the dead planet. These structures occasionally beamed energy toward the planet dubbed ‘Prime,’ though not all the arrays worked. In the southern hemisphere, a massive crater and the remnants of an asteroid heralded the telltale signs of an Ork infestation. The Orks had hurled a Rok, an impromptu missile/landing craft, at the planet a few years before the cataclysm that would freeze the planet solid. It was a revelation the crew did not welcome.
The Dawn then surveyed ‘Prime’ and found it clogged with electrically-charged storms of metallic ions. Almost the entire surface, except for one small area, was covered in a violent storm that would strip a lander bare in minutes as razor-sharp super-sonic shards of metal overwhelmed shields and armor in mere moments. The lone exception was a tower, miles high and topped with a massive crystal, which received the pulses sent from ‘Secundus.’ For a few miles around the tower, the destructive storm was kept at bay, leaving a veritable eye in the planet-wide maelstrom. The tower, like its cousins on ‘Secundus,’ was of Xenos architecture unlike any on the Dawn had ever seen before. The crystal at the top rested upon a tiered temple-like building which, in turn, rested atop a massive obelisk dozens of miles tall.
The Dawn may not have found the final resting place of the Righteous Path , but this discovery was no less enticing, and no less deadly.