Dawn of the Expanse

Pyx/Chiv Z-01x
Entrusted to Magos Technologis Annarette

May the Omnissiah favor you this day, Magos.

It has come to our attention that your vessel, the Vengeful Hammer of Dawn will be embarking soon for the Koronus Expanse and that you are seeking information relevant to the area of the Expanse commonly designated “Crystal Cayes.”

Navigator reports indicate that the Immaterium is highly turbulent in the vicinity.

Multiple reports indicate some sort of warp disturbance, echoing something much like the Imperial Prayer for Salvation, but originating from vessels never known to be in the Expanse.

Naval reports indicate a statistically higher incidence of piracy within a twenty light-year sphere, concentrating near known warp routes.

Thulian Explorator Vessels have returned data on several star systems in the vicinity. While in the area, we ask that House Martellus survey a particularly promising example – see attachments for further information on the system. In particular, we require gas spectrometry of the Gas Giant designated Secondus, and mineral surveys of the terrestrial planet designated Primus. The Adeptus Mechanicus claims mining rights to these two bodies, Further claims on the system are at your dispensation.

attachment: Warp routes to Pyx/Chiv Z-01x
attachment: Unnamed System z01x

Thought for the Day: Knowledge is Power

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The Most Lavish Party Ever

I am never more in my element than when I am at my throne aboard the Dawn but I am a child of the nobility and feel only slightly less at ease with the upcoming reception that Ludwig Ryn has promised to throw us in honor of the return of his ancestor’s power armor. I only hope that I will not find the host or guests too insufferable.
Strange. I never thought of myself as the adventurous sort before. How many hundreds of parties have I been to in my lifetime? And yet they now do not hold the fascination they once did. Now all I can think of is returning to the Void and pursuing profit.

“Smut!” Killean blurted out as the Command Staff was mulling over its options on how to turn a profit while returning the ancient power armor.

“Come again?” Sabastion replied.

“Listen, all these military-types have one thing on their mind the entire time they’re on duty; what will I do when I’m off duty. I say we get them smut. Or booze. Or both.” The pilot replied

It made sense; not only was it legal, though of base caliber, it was profitable.

“And we can throw in some other items, like personal protection or other entertaining items.” Jezz interjected thoughtfully “maximize our market while diversifying our product offerings.”

It was settled then. On Scintillus, in the days before the ‘Most Lavish Party Ever,’ the crew would be looking to find a producer of pornography, alcohol, and some light personal weaponry to sell to the military crew stationed on Port Wander – they were, after all, the only ones with reliable income and a frustratingly boring job to whet the appetite for adventure.

Killean was keen to arm the crew with shotguns as well; given the three incursions by Demons on the trip to Scintillus, it was understandable. Perhaps out of boredom and perhaps partly to assess how his House could establish a mercantile presence on the Capital world of the Calixis Sector, Sabastion accompanied the pilot and Jezzebel to the weaponry manufactorum.

Perfunctory background checks led to a rather quick reception by a Factor of the manufactorum; it seemed word of the recent influx of wealth to the House coffers had already begun to trickle into the Calixis Sector as well. The agent, a man of refined tastes and seamless prosthetics, spoke at length with Jezz and Killean about the kinds of weapons offered by the various manufacturers.

“you do not make the weapons yourself?” Sabastion asked casually

“No, my Lord Martellus. We are a wholesaler who contracts with various producers of fine implements of destruction. We can supply you with anything you might need, as far as personal armament would go.” The Factor, Victor, replied.

“Really?” Sabastion mused “How about some personal defense whilst at ‘The Most Lavish Party Ever’?”

“Of course, My Lord. We have a variety of single-shot bolt-canes. Might I show you one of our finest?” victor replied, motioning to a pict-caster which projected a variety of styles of canes. In the negotiations that ensued, the cane and a matching targeting monocle were ‘gifts’ in gratitude for such a lucrative relationship with the House Martellus’ finest ship, the Vengeful Hammer of Dawn .

“You took advantage of him a bit, Jezz.” Sabastion noted to his Seneschal.

“Of course I did. He would have done the same to us, had I let him.” Jezz remarked off-handedly

“He had it coming.” Killean interjected. “Cursed weasel had tried to pawn off those cheap knock-offs instead of the auto-loaders we need.”

“Indeed. We should not let anyone ever think they can fool house Martellus or the crew of the Dawn . I was just remarking that Jezz seemed to take it easy on him.” Sabastion quipped

Jezz made a disgusted grunt “I’d like to see you do better. Either of you.”

Sabastion only smiled as the crew made their way back to the Dawn .

The day of the party, the crew of the Dawn received packages – gifts from the Lord Captain – containing matching sapphire-blue uniforms with House Martellus insignias upon the breast; A hammer crossed with a las-pistol over an eight-pointed star burst background. Each uniform would be functional as well; grav belts and conversion field generators were designed to look like part of the uniform. It never hurt to be careful at these parties; suddenly-discharged hidden weapons or a short bump from a ten kilometer high high-rise to the hive ground below were both common party ‘accidents.’

The party was simultaneously everything Sabastion had remembered elite gatherings to be, and yet the nothing at all like the ones he grew up with. Instead of foppish dilettantes and their vapid consorts, this party was filled with military men – mostly Calixis Battlefleet officers and industrialists of the highest reputation. Ludwig Ryn himself had the bearing and demeanor of a former military man; rigid, handsome, and more than capable of commanding respect in any room let alone at his own party. Sabastion instantly admired him.

The dueling speeches – one presenting the armor, the other accepting – were well-thought and respectful yet not overburdened with florid prose or cloying false sentiment. Sabastion was barely settling into the evening, chatting with Ludwig Ryn when a crash from across the room heralded his worst fears; Bruce at a party.

he had taken a shine to one particular canape that was being served and made it his mission to eat every one coming out of the kitchens. So when a new tray happened to come out of an unexpected door, Bruce had virtually charged toward the poor waiter, knocking over a tray full of glasses en route to his prize. The Australius IV native hardly seemed to notice, only stopping to proffer a half-eaten snack to a horrified female guest.

Despite Bruce’s multiple faux pas , the evening went surprisingly well. Ludwig Ryn turned out to be an honorable man as well as a gracious host. Sabastion and he traded stories of their families throughout the night; Ludwig even accepted the idea of a deeper relationship between House Ryn and House Martellus fairly well – time would tell how this relationship would grow, but at least the seeds had been planted.

When he wasn’t monopolizing the host’s time, Sabastion made the rounds of the military officers at the gathering, particularly a craggy Vice Admiral by the name of Itsaac Bator. Admiral Bator, it turned out, remembered seeing Sabastion’s father over fifteen years before – he believed the elder Martellus was hunting pirates in the Crystal Cayes. Pirates, it seems, were notorious in their use of the Cayes’ native warp storms to hide from Passagewatch in the Expanse and private pirate hunters like the elder Martellus filled a vital role in curtailing their activities, thus freeing the fleet to secure more of the sector.

Killean was also having quite a night as well, though with a different goal in mind; finding more treasures from ages gone by. Luckily, his role as pilot made him military enough that the junior officers – at least the young ones with more bravado than brains – accept him as one of their own. Throughout the night, he collected a series of rumors, scuttlebutt, and information to piece together a tantalizing clue to another possible hidden treasure trove. And as luck would have it, it was rumored to be lost somewhere in the Crystal Cayes. Certainly the Omnissiah had been smiling on the crew that night. Even Bruce’s bull in a china shop reputation had a silver lining; he seemed to have caught the eye of a woman who was bent on upsetting her father in the most embarrassing and public way possible and decided to seduce Bruce in the coat-check room. At least it kept him from nearly assaulting any more hapless servants.

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Putting Things Right

671.M41; 2.1:

The bounty from the Righteous Path was more than I had imagined. My House’s contacts will make sure we maximize the profit from this haul, but there are two items of concern, for me at least. The suit of power armor we found is emblazoned with the insignia of House Ryn – an influential House in the military and elsewhere – and is obviously the personal armor of Lorcus Ryn, a Lord Commander it seems, judging by the insignias and decorations. I have determined that I will personally return this armor to the highest-ranking member of the Ryn family that I can locate. Emperor-willing, we’ll at least begin building a business relationship though I hope for more, given the importance of this armor. Also, I must confess that were this armor from my -family, I would want it returned and would take umbrage at anyone outside the family parading around in it. Pride, I suppose, is what really compels me to return this armor, and not some vague hope for more thrones in the House’s coffers._

The other is the power pack which no longer has a charge. It is emblazoned with an insignia from the Adeptus Astarte – more specifically, from the famous Storm Wardens. Space Marines are a notoriously insular lot, unfriendly to outsiders to say the least. If, however, we can return a relic – even one completely depleted of energy after thousands of years in the Void – we may at least be able to ingratiate ourselves with the mightiest fighting force in the Koronus Expanse. I hold no illusions here, either; this will be but a minor step on the road to building a relationship. I only hope the hoops we must dive through to contact these particular Space marines will not involve too many entanglements.

The Dawn ‘s return to the wretched hive known as Footfall was a welcome relief. The patches used to shore up the punctured hull were no replacement for actual service by the Adeptus Mechanicus. But first thing was first; offloading the Xenos artifacts plundered from the Righteous Path ‘s long-dead corpse. Over the course of the next four weeks, while the necessary repairs are being conducted, House Martellus’ factor, a deferential woman named Ariadne, shifted literally tons of treasure off the Dawn and the proceeds into the coffers of the Family. It was a mighty haul indeed, allowing the House to begin to recover from its most recent misfortunes with startling suddenness; a few more plunders like this and the House will surpass its pinnacle and make the Lord Captain the darling of the House, if not the de facto head.

But if the treasure were a thing to celebrate, Lord Captain Martellus seemed to take no notice. He had been rather dour and taciturn on the passage back to Footfall, even missing out on the regular nightly carousing Bruce had instituted amongst the command crew; to “keep ourselves sharp-like and ready to foight off a Death Koala withou’ flinchin’” he had said, though everyone knew the Arch-Militant was merely looking for an excuse to become inebriated. Instead, Sabastion spent much time looking over the old Power Armor as if assessing a new ship or trying to get the suit to tell its story of the three-thousand years between its last owner and its current.

“I could wear it, you know. It’d help me pilot better.” Killean’s voice interrupted his reverie.

“That would be a sight, I’m sure. You ripping out the controls with your augmented strength.” Sabastion deadpanned.

“Well, not all the time. Just during planet-side visits. Especially Ork-infested planets” Killean’s voice trailed off as the recent brush with death flooded his mind’s eye. The Ork Choppa coming down on his head…

“We’re giving it back.” Sabastion retorted in a heavy voice, as if a part of him dreaded the prospect.

“Oh, that will be fun.” Killean replied sardonically

“It gets better.” Sabastion sighed “We’re returning the Power Pack to the Storm Wardens. Its seals and insignias are pretty compelling…and it’s dead weight with no charge.”
Killean shrugged “Whatever we can do to get on their good side.” With that he sauntered off to the Command Crew galley for Bruce’s all-night “fortitude training.”

Sabastion raised an eyebrow, always surprised at the inscrutable pilot’s attitudes. Shrugging to himself, he decided he’d been moping about long enough and headed to his cabin. On the vox-caster there was a recorded message from the House Factor regarding the possibility of a job or two now that the fame of the Dawn ‘s haul had gotten out. It seemed that there was a thirst for the blasphemous among certain well-heeled elites. Sabastion contacted Ariadne directly to tell her to keep tabs on the offers and to add another burden to her to-do dataslate.

“Find information about the whereabouts of my Father, Aurelius” Sabastion ordered when the Factor showed up at the Dawn a hour later.

The Factor was thoughtful for a moment and replied “Lord Captain, I have actually taken the liberty to begin gathering some information along those lines. It seems a Voidsman named Matthias Dorn mentioned seeing your father, nigh unto twenty years ago, and might have at least some inkling as to his current whereabouts. Dorn was last seen heading to Port Wander to sign on with a ship heade to the Expanse.”

“Well done, Ariadne.” Sabastion replied, truly impressed, and made a mental note to find more interesting – and profitable – work for her as soon as possible.

The trip through the Maw was not nearly as eventful as the prior one. The ships were gone, presumably retrieved by the Warp Tugs and Reclamation crews and on their way to Port Wander themselves. Instead, the Dawn ‘s captain exchanged rumors with some other ships getting their bearings at The Battlefield. It seems there was a rather sizable bounty on any information leading to a navigable route through the Warp Storms around the Foundling Worlds. Better yet, there seemed to be increased pirate activity in the approaches to the region as well. Sabastion felt he could definitely sink his teeth – and the Dawn ‘s, into some pirate hunting, but wasn’t foolish or desperate enough to chart a path through Warp Storms. At least not yet.

Port Wander was the same as it ever was. While Jezz was off procuring more equipment for the crew and ship, Sabastion and Killean headed off to the repair yards to secure the necessary components for the captured raiders and cargo hauler. Though the ships had not yet arrived (which was not surprising given the plodding pace most Tugs set), Sabastion wanted the parts and components in place before they arrived. Through hard bargaining, he was able to secure everything but a commerce bridge for the hauler; the merchants must have smelled blood in the water after a while because the bargaining got increasingly difficult and the prices ludicrously high by the end of the meeting.

Afterward, the entire command crew paid a visit to Lieutenant Abezo again, this time seeking information about House Ryn representatives; it seemed a certain Vice Admiral Publius Ryn was on patrol in the Koronus Expanse, somewhere in the proximity of Passagewatch, but his exact whereabouts were unknown. He was on pirate-hunting patrols and was under the command of Lord Admiral Thorne and would probably not put into port for months yet. Then the crew turned their path toward the only Adeptus office that would be able to put them in contact with the Storm Wardens; the Inquisitor’s office.

Nobody normally sets foot in the Inquisition’s offices without good reason, but Sabastion was feeling brave and perhaps a little heady at the chance of finding a lead on his long-lost father’s whereabouts, so he pressed the blessings of the Omnissiah a bit further. The Inquisitor Thomason was an imposing, even intimidating, man even when he was being cordial. His one organic eye was hard and black, like frozen jet. He had a cybernetic eye that scanned the crew constantly and his cybernetic left hand was a stern gun metal gray; simple and functional.

“Inquisitor Thomason. On our exploration of the Koronus Expanse, near the Burnscale, we found a derelict ship with a suit of Power Armor and a power source on it. The power source has all the marking of the Adeptus Astarte…more specifically, the Storm Wardens. We would like to return heir long-lost property.” Sabastion motioned his hand and an image of the power source from his Pict-Caster sprung to life on the table in the conference room.

“Interesting. And those are most definitely the Storm Warden’s markings. How did you come by it again?” Thomason inquired casually

“On our explorations in the Burnscale. The God-Emperor smiled upon us and we found a wrecked hulk drifting in an asteroid field. When we boarded, we found this and a suit of Power Armor.” Sabastion replied, casually omitting the rest of the treasure.

“And the suit, what of it?” Thomason pressed

“Though powered by this source, it was a personal suit owned by Lorcus Ryn and adorned with his family crest. We intend to return it to the House as soon as possible.” Sabastion replied casually. Though this exchange was friendly, and the Dawn did not have a reputation for illicit activity, it was nonetheless a dangerous encounter and every move in this verbal exchange was as dangerous as the battle with the Fel Hand .

Inquisitor Thomason pressed a few more questions, revisiting the location of the hulk, the nature of the find, and so on. Sabastion remained steadfastly on topic, refusing the bait to let something slip about the xenos artifacts. Eventually, perhaps deciding the exchange was not worth the effort to uncover possible wrongdoing, Inquisitor Thomason relented and agreed to have a representative of the Storm Wardens arrive at Port Wander in a few weeks. Sabastion thanked him and moved purposefully – though not quickly – for the door.

Back aboard the Dawn a pair of messages awaited Sabastion; it seemed that the recent buying spree to repair the captured ships had garnered the attention of the Adeptus Mechanicus – in exchange for the repairs, the Adeptus expected a favor in return to be specified at a later date. The Lord Captain agreed briefly, surprised it would only be one favor given the magnitude of the repairs involved. The second caught his attention – Matthias Dorn has asked to sign on as part of the crew. Since the Dawn was indeed replenishing its crew, the request was not unusual, but the God-Emperor must have smiled in order to have the very man Sabastion was looking for inquire about a job.

In the brief interview that followed, Sabastion found out several things. First, his father was last seen hunting pirates out by the Crystal Cays. Second, his father was sighted eighteen years ago, which was two years later than Sabastion expected. And third, when Dorn got evasive about the nature of the ship he was on when he encountered Aurelius’ Equum Malus , Sabastion instantly knew the man had been one of the crew of a pirate ship. Sabastion welcomed the man aboard and set him in charge of some non-essential duties with a mental note to have him watched, especially when they pull into a port.

Since the Dawn was already in the Calixis sector, and with Killean’s prodding, the Sabastion ordered a run to Scintillus Prime, the Calixis Sector’s capital planet. A mere day or so after the Vengeful Hammer of Dawn entered the Warp, everything went to hell…literally. There were no less than three demonic incursions, despite the Geller Field. The first, a group of Hellspawn appeared in one of the holds and needed to be wiped out. The second, a slavering platoon of gibbering demons literally manifested out of the walls and ate hundreds of crewmen before being put down. The final was a green, slimy, tentacle thing which manifested in a barracks, eating literally thousands of Aboriginal tribescrew before the Command Crew could finally corner it and burn its gelatinous hide.

It was with great relief that the crew gazed upon thecrystalline structures of the Hive world of Scintillus Prime. Sabastion ordered a rotation of shore leave for the next week, as well as more crew to replenish the thousands who had perished en route to the planet. After a few inquiries, Jezz located several manufacturers able to supply the Dawn with every weapon, piece of equipment, and any other sundry item the crew’s heart desired. She even secured some cargo for the return trip to Port Wander, aiming to supply the Battlefleet stationed there with any goods that were not standard issue. As if to ameliorate the horrors of the passage to Scintillus Prime, fate smiled upon Sabastion as some quick inquiries revealed that a scion of House Ryn was actually a noble on this planet and would be most happy to receive this House heirloom. Ludwig Ryn, it seemed, also wanted this to be an occasion to throw a lavish party. Sabastion got the feeling Ludwig was always looking for a reason to throw a party. With a sigh, he made for his cabin to get dressed for the occasion. He only hoped it would not be a boring affair full of sycophants and stuffed shirts.

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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.

View
Dawn at the Battlefield

670.M41; 12.4:
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.

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Part 2: It was a Wednesday

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.

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Part 1: The Beginning
In which the stage is set

You have all served with one another for the past several years as servants of the Martellus Dynasty, groomed to one day run your own ship, and make your own way in the galaxy for the glory and profit of the Dynasty. You’ve been trained hard, you’ve seen and done more than the average Imperial citizen ever dreams of.

Your day has come. You arrived at Port Wander several days ago, and your transport ferried you directly to the newest ship to enter service with the Martellus Dynasty. You’ve had several days to explore the ship, get to know the chiefs of the Anatolian clan, survey the arms, supplies and repair work done upon the ship, and get to know your way around. However, there’s only so long you can hide aboard ship before you have to shuttle to Port Wander and begin the business of the Dynasty that brought you here…

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