670.M41; 12.4‘My ship, I named her Vengeful Hammer of Dawn, is like no other I’ve laid eyes upon and my senior officers are doubtless the finest in the Imperium; an Emperor-sent match if ever there was one. I disembark today at the infamous Port Wander, that border between the Imperium and the unknown – Emperor save us – and begin my own trek into the unknown like so many Martellus have done in the past.’
~Sabastion Martellus, Lord Captain, Vengeful Hammer of Dawn
The portal to the airlock opened and the sweet smell of the Dawn’s air was washed away in an instant by the humid, dense musk of Port Wander’s ancient and over-taxed air life sustainer. Passing quickly through the customary greetings of Rogue Traders great and small, returning greetings and well wishes according to rank and reputation, Sabastion Martellus, captain of the Vengeful Hammer of Dawn, led his close and trusted allies through the docking area, pausing briefly to be admonished by the Adeptus Arbites representatives to keep violence to a minimum. Sweeping through the halls of the port, on their way to the Martellus holdings, Sabastion addressed his officers.
“Be sure to drill the crew constantly. Reward excellence and punish failure. I will not have this crew going ‘abo’ on us. ‘Tis discipline which we’ll need in the vast reaches of the unknown, and I’ll be damned if some half-civilized tribal will get me killed.”
The officers’ reactions were as varied as their careers. Killian the master helmsman smirked as at a private joke. Jez the seneschal and Master of Ordinance nodded seriously. Bosun ‘Bruce,’ so used to military campaigns and hailing from a death world, merely grunted happily. The inscrutable Machine Seer Prime and Explorator Anarette’s only response was the blip of a green light near her left eye; the only acknowledgement she ever really gave anyway.
“Prepare them to meet any challenge; ship-board fires and Orks, battle repairs and Kroot; I want them not to panic, buckle or run. And be sure they know that any of the lot planning mutiny or sedition will be used to line the Plasma Drive’s core, if they’re lucky.”
Turning in to the compound and checking the vox messages left for him, only one catches the captain’s attention. A message from Orbest Dre, an obscure servant of House Martellus, claiming possession of a message and gift from great grandfather Carollus Martellus, awaited the captain’s pleasure in a dive bar in the Court of the Dead marketplace.
“Ya know wha tha place is loike. Oi recon we’ll be in fer a bit a trouble down theah.” Bruce’s drawly death world accent was hard to get used to, but his warnings always came through loud and clear; one does not live to twenty on a death world without learning to recognize trouble a mile away and a week early.
Wary, the crew waded through the sea of humanity to the pre-arranged meeting pub; some no-name affair more tent than room with cheap, noxious drinks and small, noxious denizens. Bruce nodded at a table and while making their way to it, his body language let the crew know trouble was definitely circling them, waiting for the moment to pounce.
A ragged, gaunt man in ragged, dirty clothes approached the table. His eyes haunted as if he had seen things that would shatter most men’s minds. “My lord Martellus?” the creaky old man asked in a voice barely above a whisper while flashing the seal of House Martellus “I’m Orbest Dre. I served with Captain Vos Karlorn aboard the Emperor’s Testament.”
The name rang a bell, but not as a captain of a single ship, but of a house commodore – admiral , really – of the house’s main battlefleet. The seal was genuine as well, if of an older design. Sabastion nodded for the old man to continue. His tale was fantastic, if it was even half true and not the ravings of a lunatic; on an expedition to the Koronus Expanse, the _Testament_’s astropaths received a signal of distress in an ancient imperial code. Following the signal, the chip found nothing, but the ancient echo might have been a signal from the infamous Righteous Path.
Drawing a crèche-sized cylinder from beneath his robes, Dre continued his story, telling Sabastion that only his genomic code could open the lock of this stasis canister. At the very moment the canister was brought into the open, Bruce tensed and his eyes flickered over a female figure near the tent entrance of the bar; trouble had definitely found the crew.
“Let’s leave this place.” Sabastion murmured to the crew – all knew what he meant and all loosened their weapons in their sheaths as they moved toward the door.
In an instant, Sabastion’s senses became infinitely aware, as if time slowed down to a crawl and all the wrong things in the bar suddenly came to light. The crowd had disappeared, leaving only 8 people and a bar tender or two, the latter two already ducking for cover. The female figure was tensing to gesture to her lackeys; seven of them at most. She needed to die and it needed to happen before the situation got out of hand.
“Bruce” Sabastion barked and a moment later the Arch-Militant’s pistols were in hand, he aimed, and fired a single shot. It was the perfect shot. Or should have been. With preternatural luck the female turned just so to avoid a crippling shot aimed at her right arm at the shoulder. Then it all went to hell.
The female yelled “Get them!” and burnt a hole into the tent side to make her escape. At that very moment a mechanical raptor flew in through the tent roof, tearing at the stasis canister in Sabastion’s hands, ripping it from his grasp momentarily until his instinctual swipe with his powersword toppled the canister to the floor. Diving upon it, he drew his plasma pistol and a shot of super-heated ruin barked at the bird. The shot went wide, melting part of the bulkhead 30 meters above, raining red-hot half-formed droplets onto one of the assailants. Jez’s bolt gun clicked uselessly as the belt jammed, failing to feed properly.
Anarette’s gun and servitor proved far more effective, however. In a burst of hellish fire, two shells exploded onto the back of the fleeing mystery woman, toppling her to the ground. Kill her she thought to her servitor as a wrenching explosion caught the party and the assailants alike by surprise; the mechanical raptor had detonated with surprising force. Nevertheless, the skull-machine hybrid zoomed toward the prone figure of the female, firing a single laspistol shot into the back of her head.
Killian upended the heavy table and fired a short burst of rounds at the group of assailants, ducking behind cover to avoid their return fire. Shrapnel from the bird had penetrated his conversion field and armor, pissing him off more than anything. Sabastion grabbed the now-unconscious body of Dre and dragged it back behind cover.
The brutes attacking the crew had also upended tables in a bid for cover, but Bruce was not about to let them feel safe for even a moment. Running and leaping over the table, Bruce put a round through one of the brute’s forehead, dropping him like a sack of pudding but thudded inelegantly behind the enemy barrier. Almost immediately, he felt the painful arc of a shock gauntlet on his back as the nearest brute punched him.
Jez threw her bolt gun down with a vile epithet, drawing and firing her pistols at the enemy barricade; the smell of vaporized metal filled the room as holes appeared in the once-solid tables. Some of the brutes began to run as a strange ‘whomp’ sound was recorded by Anarette’s servitor. Recalling it from the futile task of finding and killing the now-disappeared female leader, Anarette fired off more shots, killing another assailant.
“To bloody hell with this” Sabastion grunted as he activated the ship’s teleportarium. Almost immediately, the strange pulling sensation manifested in every crewman’s gut as the process of teleportation back to the Dawn began. Bruce barely had time to slaughter his assailant and a nearby thug with two well-placed shots before the whole crew found themselves pulled – very temporarily – through the Warp to the _Dawn_’s teleportarium.
After his sight returned and he no longer felt the need to vomit, Sabastion ordered Dre taken to the Medicae Bay while he left to his personal quarters to open the canister. Only once in the calm and controlled environs of his personal rooms did he notice the mechanical bird had come very close indeed to snatching this canister away; deep claw marks had penetrated the canister. Cursing the unknown assailant, mechanical birds, hired thugs, and even dirty pubs in scum-filled alleyways, he opened the canister.
Inside, the smooth gray rock seemed unremarkable, except for the unnatural chill it sent through his body. Knowing he was out of his depth, Sabastion summoned the command staff to examine the artifact. None, however, could suss out its meaning or message though all but Anarette, the Explorator who was more machine than human, could feel the preternatural chill of the thing. Summoning Adept Sadiq, the house’s resident Astropath, proved more fruitful, revealing the general location of the lost Righteous Path somewhere in the Winterscale Realm. Consulting Master Navigator Gaius allowed the Lord Captain and his companions to narrow down the location to between Burnscour and the Egerian Dominion – somewhere in this treacherous region may be the final resting place of the lost ship they sought.