Dawn of the Expanse

The Prime Path

671.M41; 1.1:

He’s here – Fel,t hat is – I can tell it. I’m certain that all too soon he’ll show his hand, perhaps even his toady Lady Ash, will make an appearance. I can’t stop thinking about her ordering the ambush of us in the Court of the Dead , the rounds and that damnable bird. I will have my vengeance on her but especially on her master. Nobody crossed the Martellus family and gets away with it. Nobody tries to kill me without reprisal. But, first thing’s first. With the Emperor’s good graces, we believe we’ve located an alien ruin or two that may point to where the Righteous Path may be hiding. The fortunes of that treasure ship would help expand my influence, and my family’s, even further – perhaps even reclaim some of our faded glory.

With augur arrays fine tuned and the standing silent running order, it took days of searching the system to suss out the little surprises the system held for the crew of the Righteous Hammer of Dawn . The burnt-out cinder of a planet dubbed ‘minor’ was a crimson, fractured orb, tidally locked to the pulsar star. One side baked in the regular onslaught of radiation and heat from the Pulsar, while the other side remained relatively shaded. There was no possibility of life on the surface, yet the Dawn’s augur arrays detected a small, metallic structure on the surface. Though too small for a ship and too large for a lander, Sabastion ordered Anarette and Killean to accompany his for a closer look just to ensure no nasty surprises awaited the Dawn . As the Aquila lander approached the wreckage, the mystery deepened; a millennia-old lander had crashed near a pre-fab hab module; clearly someone from the Empire had intended to observe this system. The lander’s insignia and paint scheme, still visible after untold centuries exposed to the Void, identified the craft as belonging to the Order of Mars. Animated by the possibility of finding a forgotten wreck and outpost of her Order, Anarette moved to perform the unlocking ritual upon the lander door. More collapsing under its own weight than opening, the lander’s hatch revealed the mechanical remains of a pair of Explorators, curiously bereft of flesh in the Void. Extracting the lander’s datavault, the trio depart for the nearby observation module. A tiny affair, barely 20 meters a side, the hab module was even more a mystery. The hatch easily gave way to Anarette’s entry ceremony, but inside was naught but a few cogitators, ancient furniture and a thick coating of planetary dust.

“There should have been at least six more corpses here.” Anarette worried aloud, her synth-vox voice carried by the micro-bead into Killean and Sabastion’s ears.

“Perhaps they evacuated. “ Sabastion shrugged

“I’ll check the cogitators” Anarette replied as she moved forward to draw a little life out of the machine spirit. Finding none, she used some of the energy stored in her potential coil to coax a spark of life into the dead cogitators. A feeling of unease spread through Killean and Sabastion’s heart as the machines flickered weakly to life and the hab module returned to semi-life.

“The spirit is odd…reluctant.” Anarette’s synth-vox voice seemed puzzled

“Whatever. Let’s find out what happened quickly and get out of here; there’s a treasure ship waiting for us somewhere and I aim to grab it.” Sabastion replied brusquely, but despite his bravado he sounded unnerved.

Killean wandered towards the door, eager to be gone from this eerie place while Anarette tried to prod the machine spirit once more. “It is stubborn, Emperor curse it”
No sooner had Anarette’s words been transmitted when the oppressive feeling became stronger. A pair of automated turrets began to descend from the ceiling. Snatching Anarette with his left hand, Sabastion drew his pistol and fired a molten-hot round into the nearest turret while heading for the door.

The turrets, having been fired upon, locked immediately upon Sabastion and fired two las blasts into his rapidly-retreating back, puncturing his armor and scoring a painful, though not fatal, hit. With the planetoid’s smaller atmosphere, Sabastion was easily able to clear the doorway, Anarette in tow, before the turrets could get another clear shot. Killean had already retreated to the lander and fired up the engines, so there was little reason, or need, to tarry. Throwing Anarette into the lander and leaping after her, Sabastion barked an order to Killean.

“Get us out of here now!”

Upon return to the Dawn , Anarette was able to retrieve some data from the crashed lander’s datavault while Sabastion allowed the medicae bay’s technicians to patch the cauterized las wounds to his back.

“You are lucky, Lord Captain, a few centimeters more and you’d need prosthetics to walk again” One tech chided respectfully. The Lord Captain ignored the tech and swept from the room, eager to find what information the wounds had bought.

“Lord Captain” Anarette began as she caught up with him in the hallway outside the medicae bay. “The datavault revealed that the team was returning to the observation module with information regarding a Xenos telescope located on Prime. They believed that at the very least, the telescope might have important stellar navigation information, perhaps even more detailed than the Empire’s best astrographic charts.”

It wasn’t what he hoped for, but it was a start. All the signs pointed to Prime, which made Sabastion suspicious, but it seemed it was the Emperor’s will that the Dawn’s crew set foot on Prime.

“Set course for Prime, Master Killean. Full augur sweeps, Master Dray.” Sabastion ordered as he swept onto the bridge. In hours, the vast, desolate world loomed large on the augur arrays and the Holotank display. Massive duststorms blanketed the planet, threatening to shred any unprotected craft to nothingness in minutes. Situated in the center of a massive eye in the planet-wide storms was the alien obelisk, topped with its massive crystal. The energy pulses from Secundus reverberated in the milky-purple crystalline capstone, like a perverse heartbeat. The hive-like maze surrounding the obelisk was constantly shifting in heretical angles and blasphemous patterns. The structure made Sabastion feel ill and uneasy in the deep recesses of his mind, like a child afraid of the dark. His imagination horrified yet fueled by the hive-maze, Sabastion struggled against a strange, cold dread creeping into his heart.

“Lord Captain” Dray’s voice broke into Sabastion’s nightmarish musings “I detect several impact sites, possibly Ork Crooza or Rok sites. Also, I detect a landing craft, probably a Gun-cutter, near the base of the central tower. Definitely NOT of Ork design.”

The Gun-cutter was interesting, and a tell-tale sign of Fel’s presence, or at least his lackeys’ presence, upon the surface. Unease gave ‘way to warm anger at the thought of catching up to the ones who dared attack him back on Port Wander. It was enough to completely banish the child-like fears as if they had never existed.

“Oh, yes, you will be mine” Killean purred at the image of the Gun-cutter, as if lusting after a lover.

“She will indeed, Master Killean. Assemble the rest of the command staff, and bring an apprentice with you.” Sabastion ordered as he headed to the ready room.

The plan was pretty simple; Killean would land an Aquila lander near the Gun-cutter’s rear, between it and the obelisk-structure. Sabastion, Bruce, Anarette, Jezz and a Murderservitor would assault the shuttle, removing any resistance. Once secured, the apprentice would pilot the Gun-cutter back to the Dawn with the Murderservitor aboard, and Killean would join the party to see if they could beat Fel’s minions to this telescope.

As the Aquila lander neared the Gun-cutter, Killean reported four life signs in the enemy vessel. Leaping the meter from the hovering lander to the ground, the rest of the party prepared to breach the Gun-cutter’s defenses. Anarette coaxed the enemy’s machine spirit to open by performing the Ritual of Opening. No sooner did the hold open then a blast of bolts from Jezz’s bolt gun rent the air with its vicious report. Her shots riddled one of the four stunned armsmen with explosive slugs, shattered his chest in a spray of blood and gore and wounded a second armsman in the process.

Bruce followed Jezz’s lead, fired semi-automatic bursts from his pistols. Though the one in his left hand jammed, the pistol in his right struck home; super-sonic rounds caught an armsman in the forehead, shattering his helmet and head like an over-ripe melon. Anarette’s fully-automatic burst joined in the chorus of murder as a third defender is reduced to a fine, red mist by her explosive shells which also cooked off the ammunition in the armsman’s bolt gun. The fourth armsman, right as the thought to surrender entered his head, was incinerated by twin blasts from Sabastion’s plasma pistol, reducing him to a pile of quicky-cooling ash. In a mere moment of blistering firepower, the poor defenders of Fel’s gun-cutter were mere stains on the metal floor of the lander.

As the apprentice pilot and Murderservitor took off in the newly-captured gun-cutter, Killean mumbled “better not scratch my new baby.” Bruce sidled up the the Lord Captain and informed him that there was probably 30 armsmen all told, judging from the empty weapon racks on the gun-cutter. Sabastion noted and signaled for the group to move out, plunging into the tunnel-like web of heretical stone corridors. Though pale white and chalky in appearance, the walls were smooth to the touch and luminesced with an oily sheen, providing ample light but also deadening sound. Worse, the angles were unnatural and the corners tickled the dark recesses of madness within all the party’s minds.

“Pay the walls no attention; we shall not witness heresy!” Lord Captain Sabastion barked, harsher than usual. “Jezz, scout ahead but keep in contact. No jumping the gun if we find our foes, or trouble. Wait for us to catch up.”

Nodding, Jezz activated her camo-cloak, blending into the background with a ripple of light, like a heatwave. Over the course of hours, the crew encountered about a dozen or so bodies, mutilated by Orks, but no signs of Ork remains. The sinful, ruinous maze heightened the tensions of the crew, as did the unnatural quiet, but their discipline held and they made good progress. As if a door had opened, the sudden sound of gun fire and battle drew Jezz’s attention. Peeking around a bend in the maze, she glimpsed a familiar figure and four or five armsmen holding the high ground of a black metallic gantry; Lady Ash, calmly shooting Ork after Ork while slowly retreating up the walkway to a tapered crystal suspended a few meters above the ‘floor.’

“Lord Captain, our favorite sneak found some of the locals.” Jezz smirked into the micro-bead.

“Acknowledged, we’ll be there in a minute. Hold fast” Sabastion’s command came back.

“Aye, Captain” Jezz acknowledged, taking aim at lady Ash’s face from the quiet cover afforded her by the cloak and the battle raging beyond her.

Less than a minute later, the rest of the crew had arrived and made ready to silence the treacherous Ash once and for all. Ash gestured toward the group of Orks, causing a small handful of them to scream and begin firing indiscriminately into their kin. At that very moment, Bruce’s pistols ring out in a quartet of blasts, reducing Ash’s once-powerful brain to a greyish-red mist as his shots struck home with phenomenal accuracy. Fragments of Ash’s skull and cybernetic implants lodged into the nearest armsman, lacerating his face and causing him to panic. He dropped his weapon, screamed, and ran into the waiting mass of green flesh below. His bloody body hacked to paste by the Ork Choppas in a millisecond. Jezz opened fire with a blistering assault, striking the mass of Orks with a fully-automatic burst of explosive shells. One Ork’s chest splattered outward as the shells struck home and a second Ork’s head vaporized in a blast of fire, smoke and unnatural green gore.

Killean, ever the pragmatist, lobbed a grenade into the confused mass of Ork flesh, but the explosion did little more than capture the attention of the Ork horde. “Oh crap” he muttered as he drew his pistol and sword, his conversion field shimmered as it activated.

Drawing his sword as well, Sabastion fired two shots into the horde of Orks, setting one of the gibbering mass aflame with the white-hot flame of his plasma pistol’s rounds. To his left Anarette’s bolt gun chattered in a hellish cacophony of rounds, neatly slicing an Ork in half and causing the rounds in the creature’s Shoota to cook off, wounding its comrades.

Shaken out of their surprise, the throng of Orks bellowed a blood-curdling “Waaaaauuuuughhhh!” which reverberated strangely off the malevolently-angled walls. The remaining clump of Orks charged the intervening 30 or so meters toward the crew of the Dawn with frightening speed, like a slavering, green avalanche.

Bruce matched their mindless scream with an almost-gutteral Australius IV warcry, charging the mass of chaotic, churning green flesh. Though enthusiastic, his running and the disorientating hive-maze fouled his aim, sending his pistol shots wide of the mark. As if his misfortune were contagious, Killean and Jezz’s shots also miss their targets, harmlessly exploding upon the deviant walls of the hive-maze.

“God-Emperor burn your vile hides!” Sabastion barked defiantly at the Orks as his plasma shots break the temporary curse to incinerate another Ork. Anarette’s bolt gun chattered a mere split second before the Ork mass broke upon the crew’s position like a living tsunami.

“Wauuuuggh!” screamed an Ork as he brought his Choppa down on Killean’s head. The Dawn’s pilot would have been a dead man for certain had not his conversion field not kicked in, deflecting the blow in an overload of energy and blinding light. Instantly, the preysense goggles of the party darkened, blocking out the worst of the searing white light of the discharged field.
It was certainly a strange twist of Emperor-blessed luck that reduced the fearsome dozen or so of Orks to a helpless gaggle of easily-slaughtered green flesh. What followed was more akin to clearing underbrush on a jungle world than a real fight. Upon the black metal gantry, the three remaining armsmen of Lady Ash surrendered and pledged their loyalty to their seemingly blessed saviors. With the armsmen in tow, the crew of the Dawn entered the telescope room.

Unlike the walls of the hive-maze below it, this chamber’s walls fluoresced in a strange, sickly purple. The crystal’s white skin sheened vaguely lilac in their light, unmarred in its perfection, except for two perfectly black portals at ground level. Looking up, the crystal swirled with energy the entire length of its thirty or forty meter length, keeping the flesh-eating storm at bay. The portals themselves seemed to absorb light; a hand passed through disappeared entirely as if submerged into tar. The nature of the portals also prevented Anarette’s servoskull from returning any information once it passed into the plane of the portal’s edge. Bruce’s blasé attitude toward life and death provided another piece of the puzzle; having grabbed a hapless armsman by the collar, Bruce latched a length of cord to the man and tossed him bodily into the portal. Almost immediately, Bruce pulled him out of the hole, but the man had already been reduced to a ravening, gibbering heap. His screams of “Too many! Too many!” were silenced by a merciful shot from Bruce’s pistol.

Whether due to bravado or folly, Killean strode purposefully toward the portal. Bruce stopped him a moment before breaking the plane of the portal to secure the cord to Killean. Instead of inside a room, Killean found himself standing above the Pulsar’s solar system, like a gigantic godlike being. He barely had time to grasp the enormity of the situation before Bruce’s powerful pull tugged him back out into the chamber.

“What are you doing? I was in there for a few seconds!” Killean objected

“well, ‘e ain’t insaine, Oi recon.” Bruce reported to Sabastion.

Killean, having weathered the test of the chamber, was allowed to return to it a second time. A few moments of orientation and Killean began to realize that he was able to control the image, zooming in, zooming out, and even rewinding the vision as if it were in the Holotank aboard the Dawn . Killean recorded what he sees with his vox-recorder, narrating the arrival of the order of Mars and the explosion of the sun into a pulsar nearly three thousand years ago. Moving forward in time, he noted the arrival of the Orks and their crashing Roks as they seeded their presence into the solar system. He noted the Righteous Path’s entry into the system and the asteroid it crashed into. Forwarding through the record, Killean noted the current resting place of the treasure ship, making special note of the constellations and other navigational marks needed to find the hidden trove. In a stroke of brilliance, he rewound the recording just a little and noted the arrival, and hiding place, of the Fel Hand .

Intoxicated with the power at his fingertips, Killean rewound the recording once again, moving further and further into the past. The pulsar absorbed its radiation pulse and pulls the planets back into their original orbit; even the asteroid belt reformed into two new planets. Prime’s dust storms disappeared and bodies of water sprouted on the surface as did growing mass of plant life. Yet the hive-maze remained unchanged, its eerie obelisk pulsed for millenia with aberrant energy. Hungry for knowledge no human should have, Killean moved further into the past, noted the quick disassembly of the hive-maze; with a sudden pang of self-preservation, Killean stoped the playback, being careful not to look closely at the aliens as they seemed to pop into existence or the methods they used to create this structure.

Met with the suspicious glares, and loaded barrels of Sabastion and Bruce’s guns, Killean smiled deviously. “I know where it is. And I found the Fel Hand to boot.”
“Right, let’s get the hell out of here before the greenskins find us.” Sabastion grunted as he holstered his gun.

Over the next few days of silent running, the crew drilled on repelling boarders and extinguishing fires. Bruce and Sabastion filled the endless hours of the days planning how best to subdue the larger Fel Hand while minimizing the threat to the Dawn . Snaking their way through the dangerous asteroids and gigantic shards of ice that comprised the asteroid field, closing in on the hiding Hand , the _Dawn swept out with augur arrays. Though running as silently as possible and trying to hide amongst the asteroids as much as possible, the Hand detected the Dawn while the smaller ship was still 20 VU away. The larger vessel hoved into range, its broadsides aiming at the Dawn, and opened fire. Massive macrocannon rounds slammed into the asteroid Killean had just slipped behind, preventing damage to the Dawn . Closing to 12 AU, the Mars Pattern macrocannons, aimed by Jezz and unleashed by Bruce, raked the Hand with a blistering salvo, breached her hull and tossed scores of hapless pressgangers into the Void. A second blast from the Hand ’s macrocannon broadside shattered an intervening asteroid, pulverizing it into fine powder. A second blast of the Dawn ’s Mars Pattern macrocannons overwhelm the Hand ’s void shields and opened the vicious rent on her side further.

The Dawn ’s luck, however, was short-lived as the Hand ’s prow weapon, a massive lance battery, came to bear against the Dawn , easily punching a hole in her side. Anarette screamed as the Dawn ’s machine spirit relayed the feeling of the piercing strike to her central nervous system. Killean maneuvered the Dawn toward the stern of the cruiser to avoid another punishing blast. In its zeal to bring the Dawn into range with another blast, the Hand plowed head-first into a battlebarge-sized asteroid, buckling the armor on the prow. Taking advantage of the Hand ’s miscalculation, Bruce unloaded a follow-up one-two blast with both the Mars and Pyros macrocannons. The rounds spewed molten death into the breached hull of the Hand , sending massive gouts of oxygen-fueled flames into the Void. Bruce cackled in maniacal glee as he noticed the fire aboard the enemy cruiser.

Abandoning the pursuit of the smaller, tenacious Dawn , the Hand turned toward open Void, blasted asteroids out of her way, and poured on the speed, accelerating to near twice what a cruiser should be able to move at. Simultaneously with her exit, the Hand hailed the Dawn .

“Follow them! Don’t let it get away, damn you all!” Sabastion roared in rage as his much-anticipated revenge sped out of his reach.

“There’s no way we can catch her, Sabastion. They must have burned out a couple of Explorators getting that beast to bolt like that.” Killean replied, his respect for the crew of the Hand obvious in his tone.

“Bloody….Fine! Answer that damn hail, then!” Sabastion barked, bile rising in his mouth.

“The Fel Hand recognizes the claim of House Martellus upon this system and all within it. Well played, sir.” Came the simple message.

“Signal acknowledgement of the message. Forward a recording of that to Port Wander.” Sabastion grunted as he slumped into his command throne, sulking.

The Dawn watched from a distance as the Hand put out her fires and repaired enough of the damage to make a jump to the Warp safe. The Dawn ’s repairs took considerably less time, being more akin to a puncture wound than a massive rent. After the Hand had left the system, the Dawn plotted a course for their prize.

The Righteous Path was little more than a broken metallic hulk fused with an asteroid. Her hold, however, was still powered – though minimally – after all these centuries. One inside the hold, the crew was stunned by the immense, alien treasure within. After the initial shock at the literal mountain of treasure and art wore off, Sabastion detailed crew to begin the long and tedious process of transferring the loot to the Dawn .

“Captain” Killean blurted while scrutinizing a handheld augur unit

“Yes? What is it?” Sabastion replied, distracted by the immense wealth of the wreck.

“There’s a little more, I think” Killean replied, a greedy glint in his eye.

Following the barest trace of energy fluctuations brought the command crew to what was once the Lord Admiral’s cabin and a stasis locker emblazoned with the seal of House Ryn. Anarette’s quick prayer was sufficient to coax the locker open, revealing a beautiful set of power armor with a Rod of Command in its hand, a gorgeous power sword, and a pair of exquisitely-crafter handguns. Though lacking its powersource, the armor itself was an exemplar of military-grade protection with a flashy exterior that fairly screamed wealth. With reverence, Sabastion grasped the sword which immediately sprung to life with a reddish, fiery energy. Smiling like a child with a piece of precious candy, Bruce holstered the gilded handguns and checked the unusual ammunition – it seemed that in addition to being vicious projectiles, the ammunition was also toxic to most living creatures. Giggling with glee, Killean snatched the Rod and scampered out of the cabin, grabbing Anarette yelling “Show me where the hanger is!”

“Emperor blesses me!” Killeans voice beamed over the micro-bead as he gazed upon the lone operating gun-cutter left in the landing bay. Though unused for thousands of years, the quality of the vessel shined through. “I need a moment alone” Killean snickered as the rest of the crew joined him in the hangar.

“Just be sure to clean up when you’re done” Sabastion quipped straight-faced as the ancient engines burst to life and Killean guided the gun-cutter to the Dawn .

Captain’s supplemental; We let the Inquisitors know that there are some Xenos they need to exterminate on Prime and Secundus of this system. We have also let the Order of mars know that there is a long-forgotten observation module on Minor, though I think it would be best if we don’t let them – or anyone else – know what we found there.

Though we didn’t capture the Hand, I think the humiliation we inflicted upon Fel and his ship will have to do. The treasure alone is going to go a long way toward restoring my family’s fortunes and making a name for myself. Discoverer of the Righteous Path is a reputation I can live with. Now I turn my attention to finding my father. He’s out here, somewhere, and I will find him. And woe unto whomever or whatever gets in my way.

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