The following is a journal of my Dark Heresy campaign. 'The Vermilion Codex' is the name of a volume of forbidden lore that lies at the heart of many of the Acolytes adventures. This introductory scenario, which sets down the premise, is titled:
THE FENKSWORLD CONSPIRACY
DH assumes that the player characters start out as currently employed agents of an Inquisitor. However, as a fan of 'caper' movies, I've always liked the part where the team of specialists is initially recruited, so I thought it would be fun to try something similar in DH- starting the campaign with the player character's first meeting with their prospective patron. This was fairly risky- there was always a possibility that the recruitment mission would be a failure, or the PCs simply wouldn't come together at the right time to form a party. I tried to allow for enough failsafes to channel things in the right direction if the scenario went off the rails, but you can't allow for every possibility. Still, being a glutton for punishment, I blundered forward...
I didn't assign dates to the events depicted here until after the party had officially formed; I had to keep the timing flexible to ensure that everyone ended up at the right place at the right time...
The PCs names are bolded the first time they appear. Text in [brackets] contain information relevant to the storyline that was unknown to the PCs at the time.
301.815.M41. The Inquisitorial Black Ship Nicodemus arrives in orbit of the grimy hive-dominated industrial planet of Fenksworld, to take custody of their current batch of identified psykers, in accordance with Imperial law. The capital hive-city of Nova Castillian is abuzz about the ominous visitor which has arrived nearly a month ahead of schedule.
302.815.M41. [Inquisitor Aurellius Montag of the Ordo Hereticus, travelling on board the Nicodemus fulfilling some bureaucratic obligations to his Ordo, has dinner with his old friend Provost Severis, head of the Nova Castillian Arbites precinct. After dinner, Severus asks Montag for his opinions about a possible Conspiracy that his Arbites have uncovered...]
303.815.M41. Venris, a young noble-born cleric in the service of Nova Castillian's Crown District Cathedral, encounters his down-and-out cousin Pietro after his daily services. When Venris inquires about his disheveled appearance, Peitro tells him that he has fallen in with a very dangerous crowd and become addicted to the drug Obscura. His new 'friends' were using him to make contacts with members of Fenksworld's upper class society, but his drug addiction got out of hand and, now that he is of no more use to them, Pietro is convinced that they will try to 'eliminate' him. Venris agrees to help his cousin and takes him in.
Kaarl, a disciple of the Machine God, begins a gruelling 72-hour workshift deep in the Bowels, the lowest functioning district of Nova Castillian, bordering the abandoned Underhive.
304.815.M41. [While Venris is away at services, Pietro breaks under his withdrawal symptoms and disappears.]
In the Adminisratum Annex of Nova Castillion, an adept named Denathor, newly promoted to Munitorium Quastor, spots a discrepancy on a weapon shipment invoice; being naturally paranoid, he investigates, dragging the signatory of the invoice, Sub-Quastor Akton, to the hanger where the shipment is staged. Denathor checks several of the cases of lasguns, and finds nothing amis. When he begins to pry the lid off of the case with the anomalous tracking number, however, he discovers that the case is filled with scrap metal. In a panic, Akton draws a concealed laspistol. This leads to a near-fatal shoot-out, in which Akton reveals that he is stealing lasguns on behalf of parties unknown; Denathor barely survives, while Akton is killed by a mysterious cloaked figure who promptly disappears- apparently after checking the contents of the case himself.
Arbites Trooper Alaric, on patrol in the Administratum Annex, receives a call about a disturbance at a Munitoruim shipping hanger. Upon arriving at the scene of the firefight, he arrests Denathor; he finds no sign of a 'cloaked figure'. Alaric takes Denathor to his Pricinct and, after Denathor recieves some medical attention, he is brought to an interrogation room. While interrogating Denathor, Alaric's investigation is abruptly taken over by Captain Clovix, an Arbites officer who would normally have no jurisdiction over this particular crime.
Capt. Clovix subjects Denathor to a long and repetitve interrogation; not getting the information he was looking for, Clovix sends Denathor to a holding cell to try again the next day.
Later, back at his desk, Alaric receives a secret communication, apparently from an Inquisitor, ordering him to release Denathor and enter a judgement of 'self-defense' -Clovix having not submitted the paperwork necessary to formally take over the investigation.
Returning to his small hab-unit, Denathor is contacted by the cloaked figure- Inquisition Interrogator Sebastian Rao- who enlists his aid in investigating the missing lasguns.
Down in the rough Hive-Bowels neighborhood of Z-Town, streetwise scummer Varn, fallen on hard times, swallows his pride and seeks employment with local crimelord Grim Largo at his public headquarters, a dive bar called The Spigot, so named for the huge industrial spiggot used as a makeshift buttress on the sagging front wall. Varn uses his drinking buddies within the Hammerjacks gang- who frequently work as hired muscle for Largo- as references.
305.815.M41. After services, Venris is contacted by some low-hive Enforcers, who ask him to identify the body of a murder victim who they believe to be his cousin Pietro.
Capt. Clovix, discovering that 'his' prisoner has been released, chews out Alaric, but can take no official action against him since Clovix never filed the necessary paperwork.
Denathor, recuperating form the previous days' injuries at his hab-unit, receives a servitor-delivered batch of Munitorium shipment logs, courtesy of Interrogator Rao. He settles in for a long day of searching for discrepancies similar to the one that alerted him to the missing lasguns.
When his references check out, Varn is hired by Grim Largo as a secondary driver on a mysterious shipment down into the Lower Bowels, a mission led by Largo's tech-savvy second-in-command, Dullos. After a long drive down to a dark and disused section of the Bowels boardering the Underhive, it is revealed that stolen lasguns are being traded to some offworld smugglers for a supply of the illegal narcotic Obscura. However, since the smugglers know that this will be the last in a series of exchanges, and having heard that Largo is understaffed due to a gang war between the Hammerjacks and the Screaming Skulls, the smugglers decide to betray Grim Largo; they try to kill his men and take the lasguns. Most of Largo's men are wiped out, but Dullos dives into a vehicle and flees; Varn manages to jump into the back. As they narrowly escape from the ambush [unaware that a tracking device has been attached to the vehicle by a hidden figure], shotgun blasts ring out followed by the [apparent] war-cry of the Screaming Skulls. The smugglers flee with most of the lasguns.
Kaarl, investigating a strange power fluctuation [caused by Dullos overriding a security program to facilitate the rendezvous], comes upon the shoot-out between the smugglers and Largo's men. He is surprised by a hulking 'jungle fighter'-type Guard veteran who identifies himself as Sgt. Thrane, an agent of an Inquisitor [it was he who imitated the Screaming Skulls war-cry to scare off the smugglers]. Kaarl tries to close a hatchway to trap the smugglers, but the hatch closes too slowly and the smugglers get away. After staging the crime scene to look like a Screaming Skulls gang clash [Thrane had a 'run-in' with some Skulls on the way to the rendezvous], and hiding the few remaining lasguns, he takes down Kaarl's cognomen information and tells him that his boss will be in touch.
Venris arrives at the seedy Bowels-level Enforcer precinct house [at the entrance to Z-Town] to identify his cousin's body and arrange for it to be sent uphive. The enforcers have clearly done little by way of investigating Pietro's death. When he leaves the precinct house, Venris doesn't notice that his servitor-cab is being followed by a battered old limousine; on a deserted stretch of the Arteria, the limousine forces the servitor-cab off the road. Two hulking heavies with guns get out and haul Venris into the limousine. After a short drive, he is dragged into a seedy pub with an enormous industrial spigot buttressing the front wall. Inside, he is taken to an overweight man [Largo] at a private table who asks him why he is snooping after a junkie. Venris says that "he confessed some very disturbing things to me...". Largo is surprised by his honesty and orders his men to take Venris out and 'dispose' of him.
Quintilla, a void-born woman who apprenticed in the art of assassination with a zealous Death Cult, but was expelled from their ranks, wanders the hive Bowels semi-lost, looking for sinners to punish in the name of the Emperor but finding few 'worthy' of her attention. She comes upon some likely candidates roughly dragging a man in the robes of a Ministorium cleric out of a seedy tavern. After a short but heated battle, she and Venris dispatch the thugs, then wipe out Largo's bodyguards inside The Spigot. Largo flees in panic out the back door from what he assumes to be a deliberate assassination attempt. Venris and Quintilla poke around the Spigot trying (unsuccessfully) to get some information, when the Enforcers arrive on the scene. Quintilla is nearly killed, but Venris repays her rescue buy convincing the Enforcers that they are innocent victims who acted in self-defense; confused and scared, the rookie Enforcer shoos them out the back door.
Dullos, driving like a madman, with Varn holding on for dear life, arrives at The Spigot; rounding the corner to the back alley, he slams head-on into Largo's fleeing limousine, sending Varn flying. Dullos jumps into Largo's vehicle and they flee, leaving the injured Varn behind.
Venris and Quintilla, walking down the alley from The Spigot, come upon Varn. Assuming that he may know something useful about the people responsible for his cousin's death, Venris offers to help Varn out. He flags down a servitor-cab and puts Varn and Quintilla up in a rented mid-hive hab unit for the night, then returns to his quarters in the Cathedral.
[As a squad of Enforcers try to make sense of the shootout at The Spigot, a shadowy figure, having tracked Dullos' vehicle to the alleyway, contacts a distant ally via encrypted microbead. He tells him to search servitor-cab records for three people matching the description of the suspects seen fleeing The Spigot; upon finding the address of the cab's destination he orders the information deleted before anyone else finds it...]
The Emperor Protects
THE FENKSWORLD CONSPIRACY
306.815.M41. Interrogator Rao, wearing a disguise, contacts Denathor about what he has found in the Munitorium logs; Denathor tells him that there is a pattern of anomalous tracking numbers going back several months.
After services at the Cathedral, Venris takes a servitor-cab down to the hab-unit occupied by Varn and Quintilla [unaware that the unit is under electronic surveillance]. Over lunch, Venris questions Varn about what happened the night before. Varn tells him everything he knows about Grim Largo and his criminal activities, focusing on his strange rise to power over the last year, from a common leg-breaker working for a minor loan shark, to the undisputed head of the local criminal underworld with a seemingly endless supply of cash at his disposal.
After they have been talking and eating for about an hour, the 'locked' door opens and a flash grenade rolls into the room; in the resulting confusion a cloaked figure with a bolt pistol steps inside. "Who are you working for?" the figure barks. When no answer is forthcoming, the figure clutches the temporarily blinded Varn's head and preforms a psychic mind scan. Realising that this group has only stumbled upon the Conspiracy and are not members of it themselves, Inquisitor Montag reveals himself and asks if they would be interested in doing the work of the Emperor. They agree- Venris and Quintilla eagerly and Varn reluctantly- and Montag leaves, saying that his operatives will be in touch.
Venris returns to his quarters in the Cathedral.
Later that day, a woman in a hooded cloak calls upon Quintilla and Varn. She reveals herself to be Sister Octavia, an agent of Inquisitor Montag with Medicae skill, sent to tend to their injuries from the night before.
Inquisitor Montag and Interrogator Rao return to the Nicodemus. Montag orders the revival of a mind-wiped sanctioned psyker, held in stasis aboard the Black Ship. When the psyker awakens, Montag explains that he was once a valued servant of the Emperor, and he can be again. Agreeing to do the Inquisitor's bidding, the psyker is given a list of individuals in hive Nova Castillian to contact, with the message of a meeting at an out-of-the-way address at 2200 hours that night. The psyker is named 'Nicodemus' by Montag and outfitted as if he is a generic technician. He is taken to the hive in a shuttle filled with other technicians who have been performing maintenance work on the Black Ship; over the next few hours he makes the rounds, contacting Denathor, Venris, Kaarl, Quintilla and Varn about the secret meeting.
[That night, at his personal manor near the Arbites Tower, Provost Severus holds a farewell dinner for his friend Inquisitor Montag and his entourage, since the Nicodemus is scheduled to leave at midnight.]
Alaric is one of the half-dozen Arbites 'randomly' selected to provide security for the Provost's formal dinner.
As 2200 approaches, the prospective Acolytes arrive one by one at the address provided by Nicodemus, which turns out to be a large garage in an isolated section of the Middle Hive, with an Arbite standing guard at the door. The guard checks each of their IDs against a list before letting them inside. There is a spread of food on a table in the garage; Nicodemus eats like he has never tasted food before, but the others mostly just eye each other suspiciously...
After dinner, at about 2200, Severus offers to show Montag and his entourage an ancient legal document, the centerpiece of his personal antique collection. Severus leads them away from the other guests, taking Alaric along for 'security', and leads them into a high-security room, locking the door behind them. Dropping the charade, Severus opens a secret door and leads the group down a narrow, winding staircase that leads past a small personal armoury and eventually to the garage where the newly recruited potential Acolytes are waiting.
After making introductions all around, Inquisitor Montag explains the situation:
"I arrived on Fenksworld nearly a week ago, fulfilling some tedious bureaucratic obligations by co-signing the transfer of newly-identified psykers to the Black Ship now in orbit. I had worked with Provost Severus here several years ago; when he heard that I was in town, he invited me to dinner.
"After dinner, he revealed that his Arbites have discovered what he thinks is a wide-spread financial conspiracy involving hiding wealth from the Imperial Tithe via an elaborate 'pyramid scheme', but under harsh interrogation those arrested all claimed to be working alone- this despite the fact that nearly a dozen participants have been caught so far.
"As a favor to my old friend, I agreed to have Mister Sarn, a powerful psyker in my entourage, try to get at the truth. He wasn't able to get a different answer out of any of the arrestees, but he did discover evidence of a powerful psychic implant apparently triggered by being arrested, an implant that causes a memory cascade which completely over-rides the person's existing memories and replaced them with an artificial belief that they were 'working alone' in their criminal endeavors. This evidence- that the Conspiracy is employing a powerful unlicensed psyker- turned the 'favor' into an official matter for the Ordo Herecticus.
"The first thing I did was to have Thaddius, my technical expert and all-around genius-in-residence, conduct a scan of the vox frequencies used within the hive in hopes of locating the Conspiracy's communications. He found that they use a complex series of rotating frequencies that can only be predicted with a special 'key' program; thus, we were only able to intercept a few seconds of their communications at a time. That was enough to reveal that their leader had gone into hiding upon the unexpected arrival of the Black Ship in orbit, and that an elaborate network of spies and surveillance devices were secretly tracking my group's every movement since we arrived here. That put quite a crimp in our ability to conduct a proper investigation without alerting the Conspirators of our intent!
"We ran the voices we recorded from their communications through the Arbites voice recognition records, but most were either not on record or were using some kind of concealment apparatus. We did get one hit- a bureaucrat named Akton, working in the Departmento Munitorium. Since we could only evade the Conspirator's surveillance singly and for an hour or so at a time without raising their suspicion, we had to settle for putting Akton under automated surveillance. When Denathor here dragged Akton to the shipping hangers clearly against his will, we were hoping this might lead to Akton's true masters, so Sebastian took off in stealthy pursuit. After Sebastian rescued Denathor and discovered the missing lasguns- an activity of the Conspiracy to which the Arbites were as yet unaware- he contacted Thaddius and had him monitor Akton's bank account, on the assumption that the Conspirators would plant evidence that Akton was acting alone in the theft of the lasguns. Sure enough, a large back-dated deposit was made to Akton's bank account shortly after his death was officially reported. Despite some impressive security measures taken by the Conspirators, Thaddius was able to track the transfer back to a cogitator system in the Josian Pathways Shipping Company in the hive's Mercantillium District- another piece of the puzzle, it would seem.
"Knowing that the Conspiracy was trafficking in stolen lasguns, we ran covert background checks of all of the vessels currently in orbit, hoping to find evidence of suspicious activity. Our most likely candidate was a vessel from the Ixaniad Sector, delivering a cargo that seemed unlikely to justify the expense of the run to Fenksworld by itself. The captain of this ship and several of his men were still hanging around planetside, despite offloading their cargo several days earlier. This seemed like our best bet to be smugglers associated with the Conspiracy, so we attached a tracking device to their cargo hauler and waited. We didn't have to wait long- the hauler started on a trip deep into the Bowels of the hive, so we dispatched Sgt. Thrane to track them. We all know how that episode turned out, but at least we learned that the Conspirators were using a local crime boss named Grim Largo to handle a percentage of their illegal activities. And, ultimately, it led me to each of you.
"You've all come into contact with this Conspiracy at various levels, and have demonstrated an impressive degree of resourcefulness in dealing with it. My ship leaves orbit tonight, and I cannot continue this investigation without alerting the Conspirators to my intentions. Given the obsession with security that the leader of the Conspiracy has so far demonstrated, I'm afraid that he would flee the planet (with his pet psyker in tow) if he knew that the Inquisition was alert to his activities on Fenksworld; and Provost Severus suspects that his Arbites precinct has been infiltrated- a suspicion backed up by Capt. Clovix' strange behaviour after Denathor's arrest- so we risk the same result by leaving the investigation up to the local authorities. Although I employ a large network of operatives, few of them are based in the Josian Reach and none on Fenksworld. Therefor, I'm hoping to recruit you into the service of the Emperor's Holy Inquisition. I want you to continue this investigation, to locate and identify the leader of the Conspiracy and his unlicensed psyker, and, if possible, discover their motives. Don't attempt to apprehend them yourselves: wait until I contact you- I need them alive to learn the command for overriding the psychic implant they use on their members to prevent betrayal.
"If you succeed in this endeavor, I will offer you permanent positions as Acolytes in my employ. You will live a life unlike any you have ever imagined, with a degree of autonomy unthinkable to the average Imperial citizen. Although you will face constant danger, you will have the satisfaction of implementing the Emperor's will directly, and know that you are protecting the Imperium of Man with your own sweat and blood and force of will! So, what do you say?"
"How much does it pay?" asks Varn.
"A pittance, Mr. Varn! I'm looking for loyal followers, not hired mercenaries!"
The newly formed party consents, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
"Excellent! Sebastian here will give you each some items that should be helpful in your investigation- a dataslate with complete transit maps of hive Nova Castillian, a credit wand loaded with 25 Thrones, and a microbead with a special scrambled frequency. I will be contacting you on that frequency in three days to find out what you have learned. Keep in mind that, given how much money the leader of this Conspiracy has spent on security precautions, it seems evident that profit is not his ultimate goal, but rather the means to some end. Also, since we know that the stolen lasguns were to be the last shipment, it would seem that some sort of deadline is approaching- hopefully, that fact my lead to them getting desperate and thus sloppy."
As Rao passes out the equipment, Montag looks over the group approvingly. "What do you think, Sebastian? Has the Emperor Himself placed these brave souls in our path?"
"I think that you collect strays like an old woman" says Rao, much to Sgt. Thrane's amusement.
After asking if there are any questions, Montag says "Well, I need to be getting back to the party upstairs before the Conspiracy's spies become suspicious. May the Emperor guide you in this quest."
[As they return up the stairs, Severus says to Montag- out of earshot of the newly formed party- "I'm not comfortable leaving this investigation up to a group of untrained civilians! What if they are captured by the Conspirators?"
"I fully expect at least one of them will be captured" says Montag. "That's why I gave them credit wands with powerful tracking devices concealed inside. They'll lead us to the Conspirators- one way or another."
Severus shakes his head. "You can be a cold bastard when you want to be, Aurelius."
"When I need to be, old friend. I try not to let what I want enter into it."]
[Shortly after returning to the dinner party, Inquisitor Montag and his entourage take their leave, catching a shuttle back to the Nicodemus, under the watchful eyes of the Conspiracy's spies.]
After checking to see if Dullos' vehicle is still in the alley behind The Spigot (it's not) and asking if anyone has seen Grim Largo (they haven't), the newly-formed party breaks up for the night, planning to meet in Z-Town early the next day.
Taking a servitor-cab back to his quarters in the Cathedral, Venris spots two Enforcers in a patrol vehicle staking out his room. Acting quickly, he changes the destination address, cruising past the Enforcers unnoticed, and spending the night in a friend's room.
[The Nicodemus breaks orbit at midnight, traveling a safe distance from Fenksworld before transitioning into the Warp.]
[The Conspirators, believing that they have avoided detection by the Inquisition, heave a collective sigh of relief.]
The Emperor Protects
THE FENKSWORLD CONSPIRACY
307.815.M41. Upon awakening, Venris walks to his quarters and finds the two Enforcers still watching his door. Deciding that they may just have information about his cousin's death, he approaches the officers- who promptly arrest him. After a hasty search, they put him in the back of their vehicle and start heading Downhive.
Realizing that he is in deep trouble, Venris pulls a grenade that the Enforcers missed, causing the Enforcers to crash [in the prestigious Highmarket District]. After a brief shoot-out, Venris narrowly escapes into a shop, were he buys a cloak to cover his distinctive robes and exits out the back [Editorial note: Our gaming group has a tradition of combining rollplaying and mircobrews; Venris' player was more drunk than normal during this incident and I was fairly buzzed, so I decided to err on the side of leniency during Verris' escape attempt].
[Enforcers from the Highmarket Precinct arrive on the scene and confront their Downhive counterparts about the disturbance.]
Most of the other party members assemble at the predetermined bar in Z-Town; Alaric bows out, saying he wants to keep a discrete eye on Capt. Clovix at the Arbites Tower [Editorial note: Alaric's player only made it to a single game session, so from this point on the character was down-graded to 'friendly npc' status). They plan to track down Grim Largo, and use him to lead them to the leader of the Conspiracy. When the party realizes that Venris is a no-show and they can't raise him on their new microbeads, they contact Alaric, who does a quick scan of the hive's emergency frequencies. He gets back to them with a report of a disturbance in the Highmarket District involving a suspect dressed in cleric's robes. Assuming that it is Venris, the party heads Uphive to help; Varn stays behind to try to find an old drinking buddy, Red Eli, a lieutenant in the Hammerjacks gang who would likely know where Largo's secret hideout is.
A crowd has gathered around the site of the crashed Enforcer vehicle- Venris decides to try to blend in and see what transpires. An officer from the High Market precinct is chewing out the two downhive Enforcers- apparently they do not have any official authorization to apprehend a prisoner and transport him back to their precinct. One of the downhive Enforcers spots Venris in the crowd and alerts his partner, but doesn't tell the Highmarket Enforcers. Thinking that he can get the Highmarket Enforcers on his side, Venris approaches them and states that the two downhive Enforcers tried to kidnap him [kidnapping Upper Hive citizens for ransom is not unknown in the crime-ridden hive]. One of the Enforcers panics and flees, followed by several of the Highmarket Enforcers. The officer orders Venris and the other downhive Enforcer placed under arrest and taken to the precinct for questioning. On the way there, it is announced over the vehicle's vox system that the fleeing Enforcer has been killed. Being arrested triggers the rogue Enforcer's psychic implant, causing him to confess to whatever he is accused of and claim that he was acting alone. He is summarily charged with kidnapping and sent along the path of Imperial justice.
Most of the party holes up in the Midhive hab unit that Venris rented, while Alaric, monitoring the Enforcer's vox frequency, keeps them informed of what is transpiring.
After making multiple official statements and signing numerous forms, Venris' equipment is returned and he is released after several grueling hours in the Highmarket Enforcer Precinct. He contacts the others and sets out to meet them at the hab unit.
Meanwhile, Varn has found a member of the Hammerjacks- a juve who tells a story of narrowly escaping a Screaming Skulls ambush, leaving Red Eli and a few others in their Underhive headquarters under siege by a small army of Screaming Skulls. Varn contacts the others and tells them they need to meet up in Z-Town as soon as possible, and to come armed to the teeth.
After Venris arrives at the hab unit, most of the party set off for Z-Town to meet up with Varn. Kaarl and Quintilla go on a side jaunt to collect the lasguns hidden by Kaarl and Sgt. Thrane two days earlier. They find that the scene of the ambush has been disturbed- the heads have been taken from the bodies and the truck used by Dullos and Co. has been crashed into a wall [someone without Drive skill tried to steal it but couldn't get it out of Reverse]. The keys are still in it, so Kaarl and Quintilla decide to take it. They don't get very far before it sputters out and dies in a seldom-travelled section of The Bowels [the attempted theft used much of it's fuel]. Lugging armfuls of lasguns,they manage to hike to a Mechanicus service tunnel and take a magtrack cart to Z-Town.
Eventually everyone meets up at The Spigot and Varn explains the situation- his friend in the Hammerjacks, who most likely knows where to find Grim Largo's secret hideout, is currently trapped by several Screaming Skulls. If they want his help they will have to effect a rescue.
As they are planning, a staffer at The Spigot recognizes Qunitilla and Venris from the shoot-out two nights earlier and runs out the back to summon the Enforcers. The party sees this, and Quintilla takes off after him. Unable to catch up, Quintilla tries to shoot him, but due to the crowd on the street she misses, hitting a bystander instead. This triggers a panic as frightened citizens scream form the Enforcers. Quintilla returns the The Spigot and informs the party that they need to leave. They spend a little too much time divvying up the lasguns, however, and are intercepted by a pair of Enforcers as they leave The Spigot. Unable to evade them, they engage in combat and, with some difficulty, kill the Enforcers. Hearing sirens approaching, they make for the Mechanicus access tunnel and flee Z-Town.
The Hammerjacks juve leads the group on a winding trudge down into the Underhive, telling them everything he knows about the situation: he was part of a group on their way to take over guard duty at the Hammerjacks' headquarters, relieving Red Eli and a small group that had been on duty for two days. Just before they reached the headquarters, a large band of Screaming Skulls ambushed them and killed most of the group; only the juve and another badly wounded ganger escaped with their lives. The wounded ganger sent the juve ahead to get help at Z-Town, leaving the Hammerjacks headquarters under siege by a large number of Screaming Skulls.
Eventually the juve takes the party into a tunnel, where they find the body of the wounded gang member, who has bled to death from injuries sustained in the ambush. The party takes all the weapons and valuables from the body, then continues down the tunnel, which eventually opens into a large chamber cluttered with debris. Just outside the tunnel are four more bodies wearing the Hammerjack's gang colors- the victims of the ambush; the party searches these bodies too, but they have already been looted.
The far wall has a series of huge alcoves with large blocks of machinery centered within them. One of these alcoves still has a functioning lighting system; occasional gunshots emanate from this alcove, obviously the site of the Hammerjack's besieged headquarters. Stealthily approaching, the party catches the Screaming Skulls by surprise. During the furious battle, the party, despite being outnumbered three to one, are able to use the advantages of surprise and terrain- and an occasional overwatch sniper shot from the few surviving Hammerjacks in the besieged headquarters- to kill most of the Screaming Skulls and route the few survivors. Varn then meets with Red Eli, who is very grateful for the unexpected rescue. Varn asks Eli to repay the party by showing them where Grim Largo's secret hideout is- explaining (semi-honestly) that Largo owes him money. Eli agrees, on the condition that they promise that they are not planning to kill Largo, but first the Hammerjacks need to move their stockpile of ammunition out of the compromised headquarters and into a secure location. Eli agrees to meet the party at a Z-Town bar early the next day and take them to Grim Largo's hideout. The juve leads the party back toward Z-Town.
In a random bit of Lowhive violence, the party is ambushed at the entrance to Z-Town by some gangers looking to make a name for themselves; the party make short work of the inexperienced punks. After looting the bodies, they break up for the night.
The Emperor Protects
THE FENKSWORLD CONSPIRACY
308.815.M41. The party meets at a Z-Town bar suggested by Red Eli.
Kaarl decides that the best use of his time is retrieving the truck he was forced to abandon the day before. Purchasing some fuel, he spends a few hours tracking down the truck and getting it running. He then makes a quick shopping trip, buying a hooded cloak to conceal his distinctive red Mechanicus robes. [Editorial note: Kaarl's player missed this session, so, since he had previously stated that he wanted to return to claim the abandoned truck, I used that as an excuse to keep his character out of trouble.]
Red Eli shows up a bit late, accompanied by two fellow gangers. He then leads the party to a large bank of massive waterpipes and pump machinery bordering the Z-Town neighborhood. There is a small access road through the 'forest' of pipes [just wide enough for a limousine...] to a huge automated pump station. Eli pounds on one section of the corrugated steel wall, which he then slides open, revealing a long-disused garage overlooked by an elevated office. A familiar battered limousine is parked under the office, and two armed guards cover the new arrivals. They recognize Red Eli, who says that some friends of his have business with Grim Largo. The two gangers who came with Eli start visiting with the two guards as Eli leads the party up the stairs to the office. Another guard inside the office says that only two of the strangers can come in, so Varn and Nicodemus follow Eli inside while the rest wait with the guards and gangers outside. Inside the office are Grim Largo, Dullos, and their limousine driver; from the amount of food wrappers cluttering the office it is obvious that they have been holed up here since fleeing the shootout at The Spigot. Nicodemus spots an old technical manual among the clutter- one of many in the office- lying open on a desk with copious hand-written notes- apparently directions- filling one margin, and the word "ULANIC" carefully written in block letters on the bottom of the page. Largo recognizes Varn and pays him what they had previously agreed for the driving job three days earlier. Nicodemus then tries to convince Largo that they should go into business together, revealing that he knows about some of Largo's other criminal activities. Largo is surprised, and interrupts Nicodemus' pitch, saying that he has an important meeting that afternoon and can't be bothered with distractions right now- he tells Nicodemus and Varn to meet him there later that night [disturbed that they clearly know about his connections with The Conspiracy, he is actually planning on ambushing and killing the party]. Varn and Nicodemus rejoin the others outside. Varn makes an excuse to check out the limousine, and covertly plants a tracking device (previously purchased by the well-to-do Venris) on the vehicle. The group then leaves, the Hammerjacks heading to their new hide-out in the Underhive and the party returning to the Z-Town bar.
The party contacts Alaric and asks him to run the word "Ulanic" through the Arbite's cogitator records; after a moderate wait, he calls back, saying that there are about 4000 citizens in the hive with that name. It is also the name of a general who served with Lord Solar Macharius during his famous crusade thousands of years ago. Several planets were named after him- mostly in Segmentum Pacificus. It is also the name of a major shipping company based in the Ultima Segmentum. The only connection Alaric can find to any location or institution in the Calaxis Sector is a prestigious college- on the other side of the Sector. Frustrated that the name appears to be a dead end, the party settles in for a long wait, carefully watching for movement from the tracking device.
After about an hour, Kaarl shows up at the bar with the commandeered truck.
About an hour after that, Alaric calls and says that Capt. Clovix and two of his men, wearing riot armour under stormcoats, just requisitioned an Arbites Flyer and took off without explanation. Fifteen minutes later, the tracking device planted on Largo's limousine begins to move. Jumping into their new transport, the party starts following the blip into the Underhive. Having difficulty tracking the limousine through the three-dimensional maze of the Underhive, the party takes a wrong turn and has to back-track. Upon regaining their previous position, they spot what appear to be headlights far behind them. Staying alert for an ambush, they manage to gain on the tracking blip. They also notice signs of this route having been recently cleared- piles of rubble pushed out of the way showing fresh scrape-marks. As the route grows darker and more cluttered, the party once again makes a wrong turn. When they get back on the right track, the headlights that were behind them are now much closer, so they decide to hide down a side street and wait. The vehicle- an upscale, highly polished heavy groundcar- blows past without noticing them. Letting it get out of sight, the party then gets back on the path- only to see more headlights approaching from behind. Deciding to 'act casual', they hold their course, and another fancy groundcar passes them, quickly followed by a flyer bearing Arbites markings. Another pair of headlights are visible far behind them. The party realises that Largo's 'meeting' is likely a large-scale get-together of the Conspiracists. Not bothering to try to follow the tracking device 'blip', the party blends in to the caravan of vehicles traveling deep into the Underhive- passing, at one point, a slow-moving servitor-cab. [Editorial note: In plotting out this episode, I had planned to have the 'caravan' of Conspirators pass through the territory of the Screaming Skulls, who have been previously established as the largest and most dangerous of the Underhive gangs. The players were going to come upon a Conspirator vehicle that was under attack by the Skulls, presenting them with a few options: help the Conspirators in hopes of ingratiating themselves; 'rescue' the Conspirators only to interrogate and kill them; or simply try to blow past the conflict. Since it was getting late, and I had intended for the 'big reveal' of what the Conspiracy is up to to occur a session or two earlier, I dropped this encounter in the interest of time; in hindsight I kind of regret doing so.]
Eventually their vehicle emerges into a massive chamber composed of an octagonal chasm ringed by a two-lane street. Towers of varying size rise from the chasm, some connected to the street by ornate bridges. From the rusting decorative elements, it is obvious that this area was once a prosperous and fashionable neighborhood, but it has clearly been abandoned by even gangers and dregs for centuries- likely due to the total lack of operating power sources. The only light in the chamber is a platform topping one of the towers: numerous floodlights illuminate this feature, and a large generator can be heard humming somewhere out of sight. The platform boasts a small, dome-topped building and a large parking lot- now crowded with over thirty vehicles. A flier deck protrudes from the back of the platform, and at least two fliers are resting there. As the party gets closer, a group of armed guards- one with an RPG- can be seen waiving a vehicle past, across the platform's dilapidated bridge and into the parking lot.
The party drives toward the lighted platform. As a precaution, Quintilla hops out of the truck and runs half-way down a bridge with a good view of the lighted platform, setting up a sniper post in case things turn ugly. [Editorial note: Quintialla's player missed this session, so I thought that this would provide a good way to keep her out of trouble- there's nothing worse than other players getting your character killed when you are not around...]
The party tries to look natural as they approach the guards and stop. One of them looks over their battered truck disapprovingly. "What- are you trying to blend in down here or something?" He shakes his head. "What's the password?"
Nicodemus- heart in his throat- tries the word he glimpsed on the book in Largo's hideout. "Ulanic".
The guard nods. "Park in there. You can keep your pistols, but any weapon larger than that has to stay in your vehicle. Rautha will be speaking shortly".
The party drives in- noting that a section of the bridge has long ago collapsed, and the gap covered by a large blast door- likely towed down here by the industrial vehicle parked just inside the platform. The party finds a parking space near a very familiar battered limousine...
Entering the domed building past yet more armed guards, the party finds themselves inside an auditorium, with a small 'in-the-round' stage surrounded on all sides by banks of formerly-plush but now badly-aging seats. Scallop-shaped balconies ring the walls; most are completely dark, but a few host guards armed with sniper rifles. Scattered throughout the seats are about seventy individuals. Some are gaudily-dressed in expensive cloths, others seem to be trying to look inconspicuous. Some wear face masks, and nearly a third of those present are clearly professional bodyguards. Denathor recognizes Capt. Clovix sitting in the front row, flanked by two dangerous-looking men in stormcoats. The party take up seats a few rows behind a fat, fidgeting form that can only be Grim Largo. People are talking in whispers and there is a general feeling of tension in the air.
About ten minutes after the last 'guest' has taken a seat, four figures emerge from a stairway on one edge of the stage. First comes a massive brute, his enormous muscles covered in scars- some of them likely self-inflicted. A chainsword rests in a scabbard on his back. Next comes a nondescript man of about thirty standard years, dressed in the bland accouterments of a bureaucrat or accountant. Skipping along behind him is what at first glance appears to be a young girl. Closer inspection reveals that she is in fact in her late teens, but dressed in a schoolgirl uniform and carrying a rag doll, and affecting the mannerisms of a child. Last to emerge is a hunchbacked figure swathed in long robes, his face completely concealed under a hood. The burly brute paces the outer edge of the stage like a hungry predator, while the nondescript man makes his way to the center of the stage. The 'girl' sits cross-legged at his feet and plays with her doll, while the robed hunchback stands motionless. "My friends," says the nondescript man, the acoustic design of the theatre carrying his words to everyone present, "it pleases me to see that so many of you answered my summons." The crowd erupts in calls of Where have you been, Rautha? and What is happening with our money? The man- Rautha- lets the crowd vent for a few seconds before continuing. "I understand your concerns. No doubt many of you have started to suspect that the 'investment opportunity' that I enticed you with may in fact be merely an elaborate pyramid scheme. Well, let me assure you, your suspicions are quite correct." At this the crowd explodes in rage, most screaming Give me my money back! and some reaching for weapons- it is obvious that the presence of so many armed guards is the only thing preventing overt violence. Rautha smiles slightly as the crowd roars with anger, then: "Hear me. Hear me! I did not ask you to join me here to return your money- quite the opposite, I'm going to ask you for yet more!" Even more furious yelling fills the theatre. "You see, my friends" the man yells above the noise, "while I have not been entirely honest with you, there is a grain of truth to what I have told you in the past. I have been investing the payments you have given me- just not in the creation of mere monetary wealth. Rather, I have been investing in the acquisition of power. You see, my friends... I'm buying a book." The audience is stunned into silence; then, their anger flares worse than ever, and the guards are forced to fire a few shots into the air to get the crowd under control. "Not just any book, mind you- this priceless volume is the key to power beyond your wildest dreams. Tell me, have any of you ever heard of the Vermilion Codex? No? I'm not surprised. It was written ages ago on the planet Kao Li- a planet with the dubious honour of being the first in the Calaxis Sector to have a declaration of 'Exterminatus' pronounced against it. You see, this book contains formulae for commanding the the greatest source of power known to man: the Warp." Other than a few gasps, the crowd is silent. "You may be wondering why I chose this group to hear my true motives, out of the thousands who have been brought into my scheme at various levels. You see, when my associate Zuriel", here gesturing to the robed figure, "planted the 'security precaution' in each of your minds, he couldn't help but notice that you and I share something in common: you are not motivated by greed alone. No, you all share with me a deep-seated resentment of the Imperium and all of it's restrictions upon your freedoms. You all hold a belief that you could achieve greatness, if only the boot of Terra were lifted from your neck. You've never dared give voice to this belief for fear of the retribution it would surely bring, but deep down you all feel that you have a greater destiny that is being thwarted daily by the blind dogmatics who follow meaningless dictates that may or may not have been spoken on a distant planet that none of you have ever seen, ten thousand years ago! My friends, the Vermilion Codex holds the key to throwing off the chains of the Imperium and realizing your true potential!" Stunned silence follows. Upon hearing this overt heresy, Venris starts working his way down closer to the stage. The rest of the party, realizing that a confrontation under these conditions would be suicide, try to control him. Then, someone in the crowd breaks the silence.
"This is madness!" bellows a thick-necked man in the clothes of a minor Adeptus official.
"By all means, Mr. Rankin," says Rautha, "let's hear your objection. Here, come down to the stage and take advantage of these marvelous acoustics". The man looks around nervously, then steels himself and makes his way to the stage. Rautha stands calmly and the 'girl' sitting at his feet makes faces at Rankin as he takes the stage.
"Look, I'm not naive, I knew perfectly well that this financial scheme of yours was blatantly illegal, and I entered into it with my eyes open. And, yes, I do resent the strictures that are forced on me by the Adeptus Terra. But this talk of... of magic books and commanding the Warp...! You are obviously insane, Rautha, and I'll not play along to your preposterous delusions any longer! I may not be able to get my initial investment back, but I'll be damned if I give a madman like yourself another Throne!" Most of the crowd mutters in agreement.
"Your concerns are perfectly understandable, Mr. Rankin," says Rautha. "All I can say is that I believe that my direction of this massive endeavor up 'til now has amply demonstrated my considerable intelligence, and given you no reason to suspect that I am prone to flights of fancy. Of course, that is hardly proof that I can achieve what I am proposing- but this is." At this, Rautha pulls a piece of very old paper, folded into quarters, from his jacket pocket. He carefully unfolds it, revealing that it is covered in writing consisting of strange characters in an unfamiliar language. He presents it to Rankin for inspection; Rankin looks it over quizzically and hands it back. "When I began making payments on the Codex, I demanded it's current owner provide proof of the volume's alleged power. I was given a single page. Allow me to demonstrate the power of which I speak- mind you, I'm no psyker; if I were I wouldn't have incurred the considerable expense of hiring our friend Zuriel, here. No, the only special ability I'm bringing to bear here is that I've spent the last year learning how to speak the dead language of the Kao-Li." After clearing his throat, Rautha reads a few lines from the page in a strange tongue-twisting language. When he is finished, Rautha smiles slightly and looks at Rankin expectantly. Rankin looks bewildered, then bursts into laughter at Rautha's 'display'. His laughter grows stronger, taking on a manic quality. Tears stream from Rankin's eyes as he throws his cackling head back in a spasmodic jerk. The crazed laughter becomes an anguished scream as Rankin's body starts to turn inside out, peeling back from his gaping mouth and forming a fleshy column, which continues to scream. The squirming column takes on a pulpy, fungal texture, and toothy mouths tear open along it's throbbing sides. Some of these mouths, as well as the gaping orifice atop the column, begin to spew sparking, multicolored flame. With startling speed, the daemonic abomination charges a group of horrified audience members in the front row. One is ripped apart by the daemon's many mouths; a gout of multicolored flame washed over some others, setting them ablaze. The audience is gripped in panic, screaming in terror and fleeing for the exit, only to have their path blocked by the guards. Even the battle-hardened Acolytes have their sanity shaken by this display of Warp-spawned horror. The hulking bodyguard has his chainsword out, thumb poised above the activation stud, but Rautha gestures him to hold. The 'girl' claps in delight at the carnage being wrought by the daemon, while the hunchbacked psyker stands motionless. With a jerk, the vile daemon seems to become aware of Rautha's presence for the first time. Dropping it's mangled victim, it charges Rautha, who holds his ground. When the daemon is only a few meters away, the Conspiracy mastermind speaks another word from the ancient page- and the daemon freezes in it's tracks, quivering in anticipation. Rautha fearlessly pets it like a faithful hound. "Do you see?" he says. His words are nearly drowned out by the screams of two audience members still ablaze from the daemon's attack. Perturbed, Rautha says "Will someone please shut them up?" A nearby attendee looks around in confusion, then pulls out a laspistol and fires several shots into the unfortunate victims until they fall silent. "Thank you," says Rautha. "One page! This is the power I can command with but one page of ninety-nine! Can you even begin to imagine the forces I can invoke when I have the rest? With the Vermilion Codex I will be able to carve out a kingdom of my own here on the very edge of the Imperium, where the grip of Tera is at it's weakest! Nothing the Calaxis Sector can field will be able to stop me, with the very power of the Warp itself at my command! -And those of you who help me in this time of need will rule by my side as my brothers! You will know a realm where your every whim is the only law, where no desire is denied, where you will be able to live the life of total freedom that you have always dreamed of, but have never dared to so much as put into words! We will live as gods, without fear of some shrivelled corpse on far-away Terra, the Imperium be damned! Those of you who choose not to help me acquire the Codex... well, I can pronounce no more damning curse upon you than to simply say that you will be plagued for the rest of your days with thoughts of what might have been..." Here Rautha speaks another word from the page in his hand, and the daemon becomes consumed with its own flames, quickly burning down to a small pile of ash and charred bones- bones which, despite being twisted into unnatural shapes, are clearly human. "I have been making payment in installments to the current holder of the Codex, and the final payment is now due. Unfortunately, a Black Ship arrived at Fenksworld unexpectedly; I'm not willing to risk detection by the Inquisition at this stage of my plans, so I suspended most of my activities until they departed. That, combined with certain... other incidents" -here Rautha casts a withering glance at Grim Largo, who visibly flinches- "have left me short of the necessary amount for the final payment. The bank account to which you have been making transfers to our 'endeavor' is still open; those of you who make generous donations to my cause will be rewarded; those who don't will be allowed to return to your sad lives of unfulfilled dreams. Thank you and goodnight." Rautha turns on his heel and heads for the stairs, followed by his entourage- Zuriel pausing to examine the bones left in the wake of the daemonic possession. As people in the audience rise and begin to file out, Capt. Clovix and his men stand up and follow Rautha backstage; Clovix points to Largo and indicates that he is to do likewise. Venris, thinking quickly, takes a desperate chance: he calls to Largo and tells him that he can get the money Largo owes Rautha. As Largo walks past, Venris hands his microbead to him; confused, Largo puts it in his ear before heading backstage. The party tells him over the microbead that they learned about Rautha's activities and want in, and they are willing to cover Largo's missing payment. A minute later the party can just make out Rautha's voice over the microbead talking to Largo: Ah, Mister Largo. I had such high hopes for your roll in this little endeavor, but you've proven to be quite a disappointment. "It wasn't my fault! How could I know the smugglers were going to double-cross us?" Captain... "Wait! I can get the money!" When I found you, you were working as a collector for a loan shark; how many times did the people you were collecting from say exactly that? And how often was it true? "No, listen to me! I know these people, they know all about our operation and they want in! They say they have lots of money-" So you've been discussing my business with outsiders? My disappointment grows... "No, wait, I...!" The sound of a gunshot comes across the microbead, then voices too muffled to understand. Disappointed with the failure of their gambit, the party stands and follows the departing audience. Most of the witnesses to Rautha's 'demonstration' are pale and shaking, but about one in ten has a wild-eyed look of barely-contained excitement. As they file out of the theatre, one of the guards leads Largo's driver past them to the backstage area, apparently to meet with the same fate as his boss. Most of the Acolytes get into their truck, but Kaarl and Nicodemus decide to steal Largo's limousine. It takes a few tense attempts for Kaarl to 'hotwire' the limousine, but he manages to get it to turn over just before attracting the attention of the guards milling about the parking lot. Kaarl finds the written directions to the opera house in the glove compartment; since they can now find their way out of the Underhive without following the departing crowd, Nicodemus hops out of the limousine as it passes Quintilla's hiding place, then Kaarl drives on, parking the limousine out of sight of the Conspirators meeting place. Nicodemus updates Quintilla on what happened inside the opera house, and the two of them watch what transpires on the platform. [Editorial note: I had maps of the opera house and the platform drawn up in case things turned ugly; luckily I didn't have to use them- I doubt any of the players had enough Fate to burn to make it out alive if their cover was blown...]
The last vehicle in the 'convoy' leaving the meeting of Conspirators, the Acolytes in the truck allow the line of vehicles to become widely spaced, then they speed up and run the last vehicle, a small servitor-cab with a single occupant, off the road. Venris interrogates the terrified individual, who identifies himself as an employee of the Josian Pathways Shipping Company [the source of the fake payment planted in Sub-Quastor Akton's bank account] recruited into the Conspiracy by his supervisor. Getting little more information out of him, Venris shoots him- but the unlucky shot is only a flesh-wound and the Conspirator is able to flee into the shadows of the Underhive, where his death is almost certain. Venris takes the dataslate that contained the directions that were guiding the servitor-cab, and the party waits for Kaarl, Nicodemus, and Quintilla to meet up with them.
About a half hour after the last 'guest' has left, there is a flurry of activity on the platform: Capt. Clovix' flier departs, then a group of guards gets into the industrial vehicle parked just inside the bridge; they drive over the blast door covering the gap in the bridge, then turn around and use the vehicle's dozer blade to push the blast door onto the pit, leaving the opera house platform cut off from the rest of the chamber. An industrial flyer parked on the back of the platform lifts off, flying over and landing by the guards assembling around the ground vehicle. A group of them get out and do something with an electronic device of some kind. A muffled explosion is heard as a demolition charge set on the platform's support column is detonated. Since the explosion is not heard over the microbead that was given to Grim Largo, Nicodemus guesses [correctly] that it was taken by the Conspirators and their communications are compromised. Seconds later the sound of groaning metal fills the chamber and the whole platform collapses into the chasm. Some of the guards climb into the ground vehicle and drive off; the rest board the industrial flyer, which then lifts off. Nicodemus manages to read the registration number off of the vehicle's dust-coated side before it disappears across the dark chasm. Calling back Kaarl, Nicodemus and Quintilla get into the limousine and, reversing their written directions, head out of the Underhive, meeting up with their teammates in the truck along the way. [Editorial note: I screwed up here- it didn't occur to me that the Conspirators in the industrial vehicle would pass this location well before the limo crew- oops.]
Rather than return to their individual quarters, the party decides to seize Largo's hide-out. They kill the guards and attempt to interrogate Dullos. When they realize that he has nothing useful to tell them, they messily execute him, then settle in for the night. During the night, a couple of Largo's men show up bearing receipts and payments from one of Largo's numbers rackets; these are dispatched as well.
The Emperor Protects
THE FENKSWORLD CONSPIRACY
309.815.M41. The next morning, the party plans what they will tell Inquisitor Montag, who's call they are expecting any time now. Their only remaining lead is the registration number from the industrial flyer that left the meeting of Conspirators the night before. Nicodemus calls Alaric on the microbead and tells him that the vox frequency they are using may be compromised; they covertly arrange to switch to a civilian frequency- but not before Alaric mentions "the Inquisitor". Nicodemus asks Alaric to run the number through the Arbites cogitator system. Alaric replies that it is registered to a chemical refinery platform in the heavily-polluted ocean outside the hive. This seems like a likely hiding place for the leader of the Conspiracy, so the party settles in and waits to be contacted by the Inquisitor.
A few party members take Largo's limousine into Z-Town to buy a take-out breakfast, and discover that there is a commotion sweeping through the neighborhood: apparently a group of men in stormcoats armed with shotguns walked into the Enforcers precinct at the entrance of Z-Town and killed several Enforcers, then fled in a big, black groundcar. Since Enforcers in this precinct were known to be working for Grim Largo, the party suspects that this may be a sign of the Conspiracy eliminating their 'loose ends'.
After breakfast, the party gets a frantic call from Alaric, saying that he is on the run from Capt. Clovix and his men [bringing up the chemical refinery on the Arbites cogitator system alerted the Conspirators inside the Arbites precinct]. He asks for the party to pick him up at a Transit Tube station.
The party picks up Alaric and heads for Largo's hideout. On the Arteria back to Z-Town, the party sees a wrecked groundcar- similar to one they saw at the meeting of the Conspirators- ablaze in the opposite lanes; an Arbites patrol vehicle is parked nearby with lights flashing. As the party draws nearer, they see an Enforcer on a motorcycle drive up and call to the Arbites, who turn to leave. When the confused Enforcer tries to stop one of the Arbites, the Arbite spins around and shoots the Enforcer in the head. The Arbites then get in their vehicle and speed away. The party speculates that this is more of the Conspirators covering their tracks, and Alaric tells them that a few hours ago, there was a massive explosion in the Mercantile District, destroying several levels. The explosion seemed to originate from the Josian Pathways Shipping Company...
Just before noon, a familiar voice is heard over the party's microbeads. "What news?" Upon being informed that the frequency may be compromised, Inquisitor Montag tells the party to meet him in the location where they first gathered. Taking both the truck and Largo's limousine, the party heads Uphive to Provost Severus' secret garage.
Upon arriving, the location seems deserted, but a few members of the party spot a lone figure hiding in the shadows. As they prepare for an ambush, the figure reveals himself to be Interrogator Rao. He climbs into the limousine and directs the party to a hanger in the Naval District of the Administratum Annex. Two guards stand before the closed hanger: one in the uniform of a Naval Junior Officer, the other in a flight suit. Upon seeing Rao, they open the hanger; the door grinds slowly up into the ceiling, revealing an Aquilla shuttle docked inside, Inquisitor Montag standing in front of it; the other members of his retinue mill about the hanger. The party piles out of their commandeered vehicles and greet the Inquisitor, quickly filling him in on their investigation and telling him about the trail leading to the chemical refinery outside the hive. As Montag tells the Aquilla pilot to plot a course to the refinery, the two guards at the hanger entrance see something approaching- then the stutter of a heavy stubber causes them to jerk in a spasmodic dance of death. An enormous Arbites Rhino troop carrier roars into the hanger entrance, crushing the party's vehicles in its path. As the pintle-mounted heavy stubber takes aim, a second Rhino thunders into the hanger entrance. The hanger door, having reached its zenith and begun to close, hits the roofs of the two Rhinos and grinds to a stop. Arbites in full riot armour pile out of the transports and ready combat shotguns. Capt. Clovix emerges from the second Rhino and yells "Kill them all!" One of the Arbites- a lieutenant- says "But sir- an Inquisitor?!" Clovix roars "We can cover up a missing shuttle- but if Rautha is captured all our efforts are for naught!" Montag activates a refractor field and tells the newly-recruited Acolytes "Get in the shuttle!" Shotgun blasts flare off his forcefield as the veteran members of the Inquisitor's retinue counter-attack. Montag calls to Rao: "Cover our launch- and may the Emperor be with you!" Rao nods grimly and leaps into melee with the corrupt Arbites, his chainsword reaping a bloody toll. [Editorial note: Yes, this is a lot of exposition just to justify the Inquisitor's veteran retinue being unable to take part in the final confrontation with the Conspirators; however, most of the published modules that I have read feature similar events where the PCs have no input on key developments, so I didn't feel too bad about it...] Montag turns and runs for the shuttle ramp. Seeing this, Clovix calls out: "Krak grenades! Destroy the shuttle!" The Aquilla barely makes it out of the hanger, thanks to the heroic efforts of Monta's retinue. Realizing the danger he has been forced to leave his friends in, Montag mutters under his breath "The Emperor protects..." then calls Provost Severus on his microbead, telling him to help his beleaguered retinue at the hanger. As the shuttle roars across the polluted ocean, Montag discusses in detail what the party has learned. When mention is made of Rautha's efforts to purchase a book called 'The Vermilion Codex', Montag looks startled. "Damnation... All of you, know this: I've seen first-hand what a skilled Warp-dabbler can do with that accursed book, and I'll sacrifice the lives of everyone here- including my own- to prevent that from happening again! If you can't accept that, then stay in the shuttle- you are of no use to me."
After about ten minutes, the pilot's voice comes over the shuttle's intercom system: The refinery is coming into visual range. "Put it on screen" says Montag, and the monitor in the passenger compartment comes alive with an image of a large platform surmounted by two towers in opposite corners, a building in the center, and a cluster of machinery along one edge. The industrial flyer from the Conspirator's Underhive meeting is also present atop the platform. The pilot says over the intercom Sir, I've got something on the auspex- it looks like a Lighter approaching from orbit. "Damn- Rautha is trying to flee the planet!" Montag says. "No time for subtlety. Pilot- prepare for a combat insertion on the platform." When the pilot replies that he has never preformed a combat insertion, Montag responds "Don't worry, son, it's just like the simulators- except if you screw up, we all die."
As the shuttle decelerates, one of the traitors standing watch atop one of the towers fires a krak grenade from an RPG launcher at the Aquilla; the shuttle is struck but its armour holds, and it begins to descend on the platform. On the monitor screen in the passenger compartment, Rautha can be seen ordering guards up from a hatchway to the lower levels; he then ducks inside the hatchway and locks the door. "Rautha's mine," says Montag. "Do any of you have any special training in live capture?" When Alaric says he does, Montag replies "You're with me; the rest of you, secure this deck at any cost!" [Editorial note: I felt it would be a good idea to keep Montag's exact abilities a mystery to the party, and not let them see him in action if I can prevent it; hence, this solo action.] The shuttle settles on the refinery platform; Montag tells the pilot "As soon as we're clear, chase off that lighter!' The pilot protests that his gunner was killed by the Arbites back at the hanger. "They don't know that!" barks Montag. He lowers the ramp, but holds as if waiting for something. Another grenade- a frag this time- strikes the shuttle. Montag was waiting for this, and he calls out "Let's go!" and makes a run for the hatchway where Rautha disappeared, followed closely by Alaric. The rest of the party deboards and find themselves in the crosshairs of a dozen of Rautha's men. Most head for cover at the base of a tower under heavy fire; Kaarl runs for the central building. As the shuttle lifts off, Montag struggles to over-ride the locking mechanism of the hatchway, drawing a grenade attack which is thwarted by his refractor field. Quintilla and Denathor start to climb the tower to deal with the RPG-armed guard, while the rest of the party hug cover. Montag finally gets the hatchway open and disappears inside, followed by Alaric. The party members at the base of the tower return fire at the guards who are keeping them pinned down. Kaarl's plans are disrupted by the appearance of Miri, Rautha's girlish follower, who drops from an upper floor of the building, landing directly behind the techpriest and drawing two autopistols. The rest of the party see a horrible sight: Raga, the hulking bodyguard from the meeting of the Conspirators, emerges from a hatchway on the other side of the platform, draws his chainsword, and starts running at the party members clustered at the base of the tower. Things look grim for the Acolytes, but they keep their heads and struggle back: Venris hits Raga with a firebomb, setting the brute ablaze before he can close to melee range; Miri inexplicably misses Kaarl at point-blank range- the Machine God is clearly on his side- then fails to dodge Kaarl's return fire; Quintilla and Denathor kill the guard with the RPG and seize the tower. As Raga burns away, unable to put out the flames, and Kaarl pursues Miri through the central building, the rest of the party- aided by Nicodemus' psychic intervention- concentrate their fire, picking off the numerous guards one by one. Kaarl looses Miri amongst the machinery inside the building, and narrowly survives her stealthy ambush with the firebomb hidden inside her rag-doll. Raga eventually expires without spilling a single of Acolyte blood, Kaarl finishes off Miri, and the party eventually chews through the last of the traitorous guards. They spread out across the platform and wait for word from Montag. [Editorial note: if the combat went too easily for the PCs, I was going to have Rautha, Zuriel, and the remaining guards pop up from the hatchway where Raga emerged and make a run for the industrial flyer, with Montag calling over the microbead to stop them without killing Rautha; seeing as how they are a trigger-happy bunch, I was a little relieved that it didn't come to that...]
After a few minutes Montag says over the microbead "I'm coming up." He emerges from the hatchway with a manacled Rautha and Zuriel- the latter's hood pulled back to reveal a hideous tumor-covered face and an explosive collar- followed by an injured Aleric. In a few minutes the Aquilla returns, and Montag takes the prisoners aboard, then sends the Acolytes to sweep the lower level. They dispatch a few stragglers and find some clues as to Rautha's plans; upon returning to the top deck, these are handed over to Montag, although Nicodemus is a little reluctant to give up some Warpcraft implements found in Zuriel's quarters...
Montag calls Provost Severus and tells him to send a forensics team to process the crime scene, then the group returns to Nova Castellian with their prisoners. The traitorous Arbites have all been killed or captured; Sister Octavia and Sgt. Thrane are badly injured, but an application of Nicodemus' psychic healing pulls them back from the brink. Montag arranges quarters and medical care for the Acolytes, then hauls Rautha and the renegade psyker off for a detailed interrogation.
310-311.815.M41 Over the next few days, the party sees little of the Inquisitor. From the brief bits of information they hear, they find out that Rautha is 'co-operating', providing the command word to override the Conspirator's psychic implant and thus allowing Severus' Arbites to begin rooting out the recidivists. A brutal psychic interrogation by Mr. Sarn leaves Zuriel a mental vegetable; since it is revealed that he was a simple mercenary with no real loyalty to Rautha or faith in his endeavor, he is summarily executed. Rautha tells Montag that he has made arrangements to make the final payment on the Vermilion Codex and take possession of it on the lawless orbital station of 41 Pry, roughly three months' Warp travel from Fenksworld. Montag has commandeered an Imperial Navy destroyer- the Gladius- and he intends to meet with the seller personally...
312.815.M41 On their last night on Fenksworld, the party are invited to a banquet held by the Planetary Governor in their honour [actually Inquisitor Montag turned him down]. They are given gaudy medals and a few tokens of the Governor's gratitude; after the dinner they are brought to Montag's quarters. He asks the party if they are still interested in becoming agents in his service. They all consent, except for Alaric, who says that he has been offered a promotion by Provost Severus and would prefer the stability of his new position over the uncertainty of life as an Acolyte. Montag says he understands and, with a handshake, dismisses the Arbite. He then tells the rest to be ready to leave the planet at dawn...
Conclusion: Overall, I'm pretty happy with the way this scenario played out. My main complaint is that it took longer than I had hoped to reveal that the leader of the 'pyramid scheme' was in league with Chaos. The players were getting a little antsy investigating what seemed to be a commonplace financial scheme, but I thought it was important for the characters to be recruited for what seemed to be a mundane mission- it would be preposterous for Montag to turn the investigation over to the green recruits if he knew what was truly at stake.
And, yes, this is not the last we have heard of the Vermilion Codex...
The Emperor Protects
Nice adventure; I might 'borrow", some ideas..for the Emperor, of course.
My Dark Heresy Game
Thanks- and have at it!
The Emperor Protects
ON TO SCINTILLA
313.815.M41 The day begins with a flurry of activity, as Inquisitor Montag and his followers- old and new- prepare to leave Fenksworld. Montag tells the would-be Acolytes to meet him in his quarters when they get settled in aboard ship, then he and his retinue take the first shuttle up to the Gladius. The party follows in a second shuttle, strapping into their seats and bracing themselves to endure the G-forces of escape velocity. After a short but but bone-rattling ride, the shuttle settles into a docking bay on the Naval destroyer. Upon debarking, the Acolytes are met by a young and eager-to-please ship's purser, who ushers them to a waiting cart and drives them to their quarters: a series of small suites lining a hallway that leads to the much larger Diplomat's Quarters, currently occupied by Inquisitor Montag.
After stowing their gear, the party head to Montag's room. They are let in by old Thaddeus, who escorts them to the main living area, past a meeting room where the Inquisitor and Interrogator Rao are discussing something with a group of three men. One of these men is thin and elderly, dressed in an elaborate uniform trimmed with gold braid. Another is clad entirely in dark robes and leans on a staff topped with a stylized eye symbol. The third is clearly a young junior officer. Based on the navigational charts displayed as glowing wireframes hovering in the air above a table-mounted holo-projector, they are apparently conferring on the ship's route. As the party walk past, Montag is saying "So you don't foresee any problems? It's imperative that we reach 41 Pry before the deadline."
The elderly man man says "Yes, well, I'm sure my seven decades of service in the Emperor's Navy have sufficiently prepared me to serve as your personal chauffeur!" He then turns on his heel and storms out, followed by the robed figure and the very startled-looking junior officer.
After they have left his quarters, Montag calls the party and his retinue into the meeting room. "It would appear that Captain Hadrian is not happy about having his vessel commandeered. I don't blame him, but the seriousness of the situation leaves me no room for consideration of his ego. We have to intercept the Vermilion Codex before the current owner can seek out a new buyer."
Rao says "About that- I've never heard of this 'Vermilion Codex' before- just how dangerous is it?"
Montag heaves a sigh, then says "Yes, you all deserve to hear the full story. There is a decanter of amasec and some glasses in the next room. Will someone please fetch them while I activate the cabin's security fields?" He types in some codes into the cogitator terminal mounted on the table, and a faint hum fills the air, as circuits hidden inside the walls activate, thwarting any electronic surveillance that may be present. Montag then types some commands into the holo-projector, which displays a map of the the Calaxis Sector. He zooms in on the area known as the Josian Reach, and enters a security code. Two previously hidden planets appear; he zooms in on one, designated by hovering holographic letters as 'KAO-LI: Access Forbidden by Inquisitorial Mandate'. When everyone has a drink, the Inquisitor settles back in his chair and begins.
"This is Kao-Li, a planet with the grim distinction of being the first in the Calaxis Sector to have a pronouncement of Exterminatus made against it. It was originally settled tens of thousands of years ago, during the great human diaspora that spread the sons of Terra across the galaxy. Like most human colonies, it lost it's technological base when space travel collapsed, and slid toward barbarism, eventually stabilizing at what archaeo-adepts dub an 'Iron Age' level of development. The people of Kao-Li apparently had a rich culture, with a penchant for philosophy and a curious devotion to astronomy- possibly a remnant of the knowledge passed down from their near-legendary space-faring ancestors.
"Had they continued on that path, they would undoubtedly have made worthy additions to the Imperium of Man, but Fate had other plans. At some point, thousands of years ago, one of their most learned philosophers had an inspiration: he would meditate upon the great red cloud that dominated their night sky like an infected wound in the universe, in hopes of deciphering why it so disturbed the dreams of his people. He fasted and meditated for several days, and, unfortunately for the people of Kao-Li, something eventually answered.
"A Warp entity 'spoke' to the philosopher, and impressed upon his mind certain formulae by which the Warp could be manipulated. These formulae involved sorcerous rituals that energize invisible lines of power created by complex astrological patterns, patterns which weakens the boundary between our universe and the Immaterium and allow... things to pass through.
"The miraculous feats the philosopher was able to perform with this Warp-spawned knowledge upended the whole of the society of Kao-Li. You can imagine the reaction of atheistic realists upon being confronted with what can only be true magic. The people became obsessed with the heretofore unimagined power of the warp. The philosopher penned the formulae into book form, producing nine copies he before expired, literally consumed by the unspeakable powers that had touched his very soul. These nine books became the "holiest" of artifacts to the Kao-Li people. In their tongue the title translates as "The Hidden Truth". Obviously too blasphemous for agents of the Imperium to use, it would eventually be given the Imperial designation "Vermillion Codex", in reference to it's bright red cover.
"Hidden among the vile rituals for invoking Warp phenomena and summoning minor daemons was the true purpose of the revelations made to the philosopher: the books contained a special ritual which, when performed during a rare astrological alignment that occurred on Kao-Li once every two-and-a-half centuries, conjured forth a daemon-prince, a warp-being of staggering power, one of the thousand sons of the Changer of Ways. A daemon-prince named Rhazuulithrax.
"It was undoubtedly this nightmare-being that originally spoke from the Eye of Terror and revealed the astrological formulae for rending the barrier between universes to the philosopher in the first place. And to the people of Kao-Li, he became their god. They lived in awe of the miracles and horrors he would perform upon being summoned, and they gladly supplied Rhazuulithrax with innumerable human sacrifices to win his beneficence. And Rhazuulithrax, for his part, seems to have enjoyed their worship. Although the unorthodox summoning ritual was undoubtedly very painful- even temporarily debilitating- for a being of Rhazuulithrax' power, he appears to have responded readily to summonings to Kao-Li, and maintained his material body on that world for as long as possible before the inevitable Warp instability caused him to discoroprate. And when that happened, the Kao-Li resigned themselves to keeping his memory alive until the stars were aligned again, and their descendants could bask in the wonder and horror of their god incarnate.
"That was the situation discovered by the Imperial Explorator Corps when they first mapped Kao-Li two thousand years ago. They dispatched Echesiarchial missionaries to try to save Kao-Li, but the people were too committed to their terrible daemon-god to be brought into the Emperor's light. Eventually, the Inquisition was summoned, and Exterminatus declared.
"Apparently, one of their Warp-seers had prophesied the fiery doom that was to be unleashed on Kao-Li; somehow, he contacted a space-pirate, and gave him eight of the copies of their blasphemous 'holy books' to smuggle off-world. Kao-Li died by fire, but Vermilion Codicies were scattered throughout the Segmentum.
"This was all well before my time. I first hear of the Vermilion Codex forty-four years ago. I was a young Interrogator then, one of four with the honour of serving Inquisitor-Lord Nevel Oberonicus." Montag looks at the new recruits. "I assume you've heard of him?" Those with knowledge of Calaxis Sector history certainly have; the others choose not to reveal their ignorance. "He was the greatest man I've ever known- the only one worthy of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the legendary heroes of the Imperium they teach you about in Schola Progeniums.
"Forty-four years ago we were hunting an arch-heretic named Githarqus. We had crossed paths with him many times, and he had proven himself to be one of the most dangerous men we had ever encountered. He combined a genius intellect with an extensive knowledge of Warp-craft; suffice it to say his skills were such that he always managed to wriggle out of our grasp despite our best efforts to bring him to justice. When we came upon a rumor that Githarqus had acquired a heretical artifact that would allow him to bring his twisted dreams of power to fruition, we took it very seriously. It turned out that he had gotten his hands on a copy of the Vermilion Codex, and deciphered it's complex formulae. In fact, he improved upon them: he realized that, unlike the people of Kao-Li, he did not have to wait centuries for the stars to align in order to summon Rhazuulithrax. Rather, he could calculate a point in the Calaxis Sector where the the necessary alignment was currently taking place, and travel there via spacecraft to perform the complex ritual. But then, having a daemon-prince standing incarnate before one does not guarantee any degree of control over the Warp-fiend, and even if it did, it would only be able to maintain a physical form for a few days at most before warp instability forced it back to the warp- not long enough to enact Githarqus' schemes for power. But, like I said, Githarqus was skilled in many blasphemous warp-rituals, including the most horrible one of all: the creation of daemon-hosts- daemonic entities bound inside a human body and thus immune to Warp-instability! The thought of a power-mad heretic like Githarqus commanding a bound daemon-prince would be a disaster of inconceivable magnitude, and we spared no effort trying to thwart him.
"We tracked Githarqus to an unnamed planet on the edge of the Hazeroth Nebula and descended to the surface with two full companies of Storm Troopers in tow. By this time Githarqus had acquired Thousands of followers, and they fought like madman to keep us away from the place of summoning. We killed them by the scores as we advanced on Githarqus' location, desperate to interrupt the summoning ritual. Covered in the blood of countless cult fanatics, we eventually broke through to the summoning area- seconds too late. Before us stood Rhazuulithrax.
"The Storm Troopers panicked and fled- frankly, I didn't blame them. Githarqus fell upon Lord Oberonicus like a berserker. The rest of us froze at the sight of the daemon-prince. I wouldn't describe it to you, even if I could. It was hard to look directly at it- like starring into a sun, only the pain was not to your eyes, but to your very soul. Such was it's aura of corruption that the stone floor it stood upon began to sprout writhing tentacles in protest to it's unnatural presence.
"Interrogator Kylaine was the first to recover he wits- she was always the best of our group. Everyone knew that she had the skills necessary to become a full Inquisitor in her own right- it was only her loyalty to the Old Man that kept her from seeking a promotion. Kylaine realised that the summoning ritual had left Rhazuulithrax weakened, and if we were to have any chance of banishing him, we would have to strike now.
"She threw herself at the daemon with abandon. It took a few seconds for Barbosa, Nimean and myself to steel ourselves and follow suit. But by then, Kylaine had inflicted enough damage to attract the daemon's full attention. Even in it's weakened state, there was no standing up to the damage it could deal for long. Kylaine was... ripped in half.
"The rest of us just kept hacking at Rhazuulithrax, all the while chanting prayers to the Emperor like frightened schoolboys. It divided it's attacks amongst the three of us- the only reason why I'm alive to tell the tale. We all suffered grievous injuries- I lost an eye, Barbosa had several broken bones, and Nimean... Nimean bled to death before medicae treatment was possible. But, by the grace of the Emperor, we succeeded. We think that it was Barbosa who struck the final blow, damaging Rhazuulithrax' unholy avatar to the point that it triggered discorporation. He didn't go easily back to the Warp: his death-howl of pure psychic energy was like nothing we had ever encountered before. Barbosa got off lucky: not being a psyker, he only experienced a fraction of it's power. He was knocked unconscious for a full day. I took the full brunt of the psychic onslaught; it put me in a coma for nearly a month.
"I heard about the aftermath second-hand: Githarqus threw everything he had at Lord Oberonicus, drawing on every bit of accursed knowledge in his repertoire to try to kill his hated nemesis, but the Old Man was equal to the challenge, and he was able to send the arch-heretic to his Final Judgement. Lord Oberonicus wasn't able to rest, however. He couldn't risk the possibility that Rhazuulithrax had merely gone into hiding. He rallied the Storm Troopers and directed them to round up all of the surviving cultists, then he set about exorcising the place of summoning- one meter at a time. Between that and conducting detailed examinations of the captured cultists, Lord Oberonicus worked for four days straight without rest, determined to prove that Rhazuulithrax was truly banished. Emperor! I can only imagine the strain that would put on a young man- and Lord Oberonicus was well over three hundred by that time.
"Alas, he didn't emerge unscathed. I don't know if it was the strain of performing the repeated exorcisms, or the grief of loosing Kyaline, who was like a daughter to him, but... Lord Oberonicus' health began to fail shortly after the clash with Githarqus and Rhazuulithrax. He began to show his age, and the finest medicae treatments available were unable to halt his deterioration. Within six months, he was forced to resign his position within the Inquisition and take up residence at an assisted living facility. Barbosa and I visited him a few months after that- by that point he didn't recognize either of us. A week later he was dead."
Montag is silent for a few seconds, obviously pained by the memories of his lost friends.
"They built a statue to honour Lord Oberonicus on his home world of Tephaine.. Polished marble, nearly a kilometer tall. If you ask me, it's not quite big enough...
"Ahem. When the dust had settled, Barbosa and I were fast-tracked to become full Inquisitors. Barbosa was persuaded to join the Ordo Maleus, while I followed in Lord Oberonicus' footsteps in the Ordo Hereticus. Barbosa and I cross paths from time to time. In the intervening decades, he has banished more daemons than a man can easily count, and yet he tells me that he has never seen anything to compare to Rhazuulithrax. I take some comfort in that...
"And now, all these years later, another copy of the Vermilion Codex has turned up, pursued by heretics with dreams of conquest. You can see why I have made it's capture such a priority.
"After his initial resistance, the traitor Rautha has begun to cooperate. Apparently he has convinced himself that helping me serves some higher destiny. Normally I would say this smells like a trap, but but harsh interrogation and mind-scans by Mister Sarn indicate that he is telling the truth. With the information he has provided, we should be able to intercept the Codex at the lawless space-station 41 Pry. Worst case scenario, I'll have the Gladeus quarantine the station while we tear it apart one deck at a time..."
Montag turns to the new recruits. "But that is not your concern. I want you to get to Scintilla as quickly as possible, in order to go through the screening process and be made official Acolytes of the Inquisition. We will make a slight detour to the planet Iocanthos, where you will transfer to another ship to proceed on to Scintilla ahead of us. In the meantime, Sebastian, Thadeus and Sister Octavia will give you a compressed training course on your official duties. I expect you will find this a rather long and grueling voyage."
It takes a few hours for the Gladeus to reach a safe distance from Fenksworld. The dull roar of the plasma engines is replaced by the faint, high-pitched whine of the warp-drives and, with a groan of straining metal that runs the length of the ship, the Gladeus slips into the Warp.
The Emperor Protects
Nice work on the campaign, seems like an excellent setup, lively NPCs and PCs and a intricate plot.
I would suggest though that when you post the summaries make sure every paragraph is slightly seperate from the next. A few times reading those updates was just a wall of text which is hard to read.
Im looking forward to the next updates.
Free Agent 005
(Vedros Anima est mea!)
I'm trying to keep the text grouped into "scenes". This can result in large blocks of text during dialog scenes, but I prefer that to implying that significant time has passed between mere sentences. Sorry if that can make it a little hard to read...
ON TO SCINTILLA
314.815.M41- 028.816.M41 Sidereal. Over the next few weeks, life aboard the Gladeus falls into a routine for the new recruits. Interrogator Roa, Thaddeus, and Sister Octavia present them with long daily lectures on their responsibilities as agents of the Inquisition, and teach them the tale-tale signs of heresy and corruption. They are also made privy to the vile names and symbols of the Ruinous Powers. [Editorial note: This training is just enough to justify the PCs knowing the basic background information available in the core rulebook, and not enough to confer any Lore skills.]
After he has had some time to cool down, Capt. Hadrian invites Inquisitor Montag and his followers to dine at the Captain's Table. Interrogator Rao takes the role of master of ceremonies, keeping the conversation going and dropping clever witticisms when appropriate. Over the course of several dinners, the players begin to put together a picture of the back-stories of Montag's retinue:
Inquisitor Montag clearly doesn't like to talk about himself, but Rao manages to coax some details out of him. He was born on the planet Cadia to a distinguished family of military officers. When he tested positive as a psyker while in primary school, he was immediately disavowed by his family, who considered having a psyker in their ranks a grave dishonour. Taken by Black Ship to Holy Terra, he found that his disciplined upbringing prepared him well for the training necessary to control his unwanted gift. He was determined pursue a military career and try to win back his family's respect, becoming a sanctioned pskyer assigned to an Imperial Guard Battalion. Having proven his combat skill in the heat of battle, he was attached to an elite unit of Storm Troopers, who garnered quite a reputation for their daring strikes into enemy territory. Eventually, these Storm Troopers were drafted into the Inquisition, where Montag caught the eye of Inquisitor-Lord Oberonicus, who offered him a position in his retinue and, eventually, promoted him to the rank of Interrogator.
Capt. Hadrian warms to Inquisitor Montag over their dinners together, sharing as they do a military background marred by thwarted ambitions. Hadrian reveals that, as a young officer, he had quite a distinguished career serving with Battlefleet Gothic, but his advancement potential was limited by his lack of political clout or family connections; he sees his transfer to the Calaxis Sector twelve years ago as being 'put out to pasture'- hence his resentment at the further indignity of having his vessel commandeered by the Inquisitor. But, being a creature of duty, he has put aside his resentment, and, over the course of the voyage, he and Montag become fast friends.
After a few days, Sgt. Thrane has recovered from his injuries sufficiently to supplement the party's training with weapon drills, including basic training with a wide variety of weapons. While not sufficient to produce true mastery of any of the weapons, it makes for a welcome break in the monotony of a long voyage otherwise enlivened only by a few days of Warp turbulence. [Editorial note: these training sessions were included to provide some backstory for how the PCs pick up new weapon training Talents in the near future.]
029.816.M41 The Gladeus transitions from the Warp to Real Space in the system of the planet Iocanthos. As the ship moves into an orbital trajectory, the new recruits pack up their gear. They are also allowed to draw their wages for the last three months from the ship's Quartermaster.
Assembling in one of the Gladeus' hanger bays, they are met by Inquisitor Montag and Thaddeus, who presents each of them with an itinerary. This includes their boarding pass and ticket for the Misericord, due at Iocanthos in about a week, and arrangements for quarters and a meal allowance at the Adeptus-run hostelry in Iocanthos' only major city, the grimly named Port Suffering. Montag gives the party a few words of advice: "Don't lose your itineraries, don't miss the Misericord, and stay out of trouble. I've been to Port Suffering before- you'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy- you must be cautious. And remember, you have no actual authority until you receive your authorization as full agents on Scintilla." With that, the group boards an Aquilla shuttle (Montag has obviously pulled some strings with Capt. Hadrian, as the shuttle is piloted by the same man who flew their mission on Fenksworld). A stomach-churning decent later, and the party is exiting the shuttle into the noon-day heat of Iocanthos.
As the shuttle lifts off from the scorched landing pad, a rather disreputable-looking man driving a battered flatbed truck pulls up in a cloud of dust. He introduces himself as Meklin and says he has been sent to take the party to the Hostelry. After a small boy clad in rags and covered with dust loads their luggage onto the flatbed and the party take seats, Meklin speeds off on a zig-zagging trip through the streets of Port Suffering, eventually arriving at the Hostelry in the Adeptus-run area known as The Refectories (only Nicodemus notices that Mekilin made the route needlessly complicated, and they are in fact only a short distance from the spaceport). As the boy struggles with their luggage, Meklin unsubtly seeks a tip form the offworlders.
After they have settled into their rooms, and taken a meal at the Adeptus Cafeteria (where the other members of the Adeptus present stare at them in awe- obviously word has gotten around the small community that the party works for the Inquisition), Nicodemus asks the director of the hostelry to summon the driver to run him on a few errands in town; Quintilla tags along. Meklin serves as a useful guide to the buisnesses of the shanty neighborhood known as The Pits; Nicodemus tips him well for his help, earning what passes for loyalty from the driver. Varn decides to check out the local street scene [Editorial Note: Varn's player was absent for this episode, so it seemed reasonable to just let his Scummer character go off and engage in the types of activities that justify the randomized aspect of his income level...]; everyone else stays at the Hostel.
The Emperor Protects
ON TO SCINTILLA
030.816.M41 After eating lunch at the Adeptus Cafeteria, Nicodemus and Quintilla again summon the driver Meklin to take them to The Pits, this time accompanied by Venris and Kaarl. On the way to pick up a special-order item Nicodemus contracted the day before, the group pass an interesting sight: a group of burly, dangerous-looking men are attempting to load a large, horned quadruped- an albino spinox- onto a cargo lighter. A crowd has gathered to watch the spectacle, and the group decides to join them. Quintilla starts a conversation with one of the men and discovers that they work for an organization known as the Beast House, and they have been contracted to procure animals for arena sport. After experiencing some unnamed trouble at their previous destination, they were forced to take a relatively low-value assignment capturing some hexalids here on Iocanthos. While they were in the wastes outside Port Suffering laying their traps, they spotted a herd of spinox, one of which was an albino. Rare color variants like this bring good money at the arenas, so, with some difficulty, they captured the beast. The would-be Acolytes also learn that the hunters are planning to celebrate their good fortune tonight at a bar known as The Vat. The leader of the hunters- a very intimidating Beast Slaver named Culliver Gath- barks at his talkative compatriot to "quit jawing and get back to work!" As the party make their way through the crowd back to the flatbed, they notice that the native Ashleen in the crowd seem to be particularly fascinated by the sight of the albino spinox, many of them chanting tribal verses under their breath.
After Nicodemus picks up his item, the party head back to the Hostel, where a message is waiting for them: they are invited to join one of Port Suffering's most prominent citizens, a representative of a merchant cartel named Pontius Degaurl, for dinner that night at the inn where he makes his residence. All except Varn, who hasn't been seen since their arrival, decide to attend; when the hour rolls around, they don their formal wear from the award ceremony on Fenksworld and make their way to the nearby inn. The dining area is empty except for one table, where sits a fat man dressed entirely in white, being fanned by a dilapidated servitor [Editorial note: yes, this character is patterned after 1940s character actor Sydney Greenstreet! The significance of this meeting will be covered in the conclusion to this chapter]. After introductions, he strikes up a conversation, clearly starved for news from beyond Iocanthos. It is revealed that he bids on excess Ghost Fire pollen not used for the planet's Imperial Tithe, on behalf of a large merchant concern specializing in pharmaceuticals- a position he has held for six tedious years. He seems to know almost everything that goes on around Port Suffering, so the party tries to make a favourable impression. At one point the party asks Degaurl if he has heard of an organization known as 'The Beast House'. He has heard that they are a large organization of poachers, and that there have been rumors of their involvement in criminal- possibly even heretical- activities for years, but as far as he knows none of these rumors have been proven. Degaurl is clearly thrilled to have new people to talk to, and after dinner the party departs on good terms.
After changing back into their standard clothes and armour, the party head for The Vat on the other side of town, to see what the Beast House trappers are up to. On the way there they pass the spaceport, and see that a huge crowd of Ashleen, some mounted on dustdogs and wearing warpaint, has surrounded the Beast House lighter, all chanting tribal verses. Two guards have taken up a position on top of the lighter, automatic weapons at the ready.
The Vat turns out to be mostly underground, with only the entryway and parking lot, and some steam vents from the in-house brewery that gives the bar its name, visible at street-level. The trappers' distinctive vehicle is parked in the lot, and a couple of dust dogs are tied to a hitching post near the entryway.
The party descends the stairs into the main section of The Vat and find that the dimly lit bar is the coolest area they have yet encountered in the desert-set port city, making it quite popular with offworlders who have not acclimated to Port Suffering's oppressive heat. Despite the crowd, they quickly spot the Beast House crew, sitting at a table laughing loudly and carrying on, frequently gesturing wildly with one of their many weapons. Anxious for action, the party look for a table with a good view of the rowdy trappers, but the one with the best view is already occupied, but a lone figure in a duster, face hidden by the shadow from a wide-brimmed hat, a combat shotgun laying on the table next to an untouched beer...
Nicodemus makes his way to the bar. While waiting to order, he notices a couple of Ashleen warriors, both wearing warpaint, standing at the bar watching the trappers. He approaches them and asks why they are interested in the offworlders. Initially wary, a nudge from Nicodemus' psychic powers gets them to open up: albino animals- 'cloud beasts'- are considered sacred to the primitive Ashleen tribes, and word has quickly spread amongst the Ashleen community around Port Suffering that offworlders have captured such a sacred animal. Come moonrise, the Ashleen plan on charging the 'sky-truck' which holds the beast and freeing it from captivity. The two warriors are keeping an eye on the trappers; if they try to leave before the attack is launched, the Ashleen warriors will try to 'delay' them.
Meanwhile, Quintilla approaches the trapper that she had the brief conversation with earlier in the day. He invites her to join them, and she does her best to keep up with their obnoxious braggadocio, as they show off their weapons and boast of their most spectacular kills. The leader, Culliver Gath, is particularly proud of the ork choppa that he took of an ork freebooter that he killed "-with one shot!"- a few months earlier.
As Quintilla tries to work her way into the confidence to the loudmouthed louts, Kaarl feigns drunkenness, staggering up to the shadowy figure watching the trappers, in hopes of getting a look under the hat brim. The figure easily sees through his charade, and orders him- with a female voice- to take a seat before his bad acting draws unnecessary attention. She demands to know who he is and why he and his friends are so interested in the Beast House trappers. Kaarl explains that they are on their way to Scintilla to become Inquisitorial agents, and they have heard that the Beast House is rumored to frequently engage in criminal activities. The woman says that her name is Scythia Rohm, and she is a bounty hunter from Scintilla. She has a warrant to capture Culliver Gath and return him to Scintilla for trail- apparently, his band was making a delivery of exotic beasts to the private menagerie of a wealthy citizen when said citizen's drunken son made a comment about Gath's body odor. Gath promptly snapped the youth's neck, forcing the group to flee Scintilla just ahead of the local enforcers. She thinks she can take down Gath, but not when he is surrounded by his heavily-armed colleagues. If Kaarl and his friends can keep the others busy while she tackles Gath, she says, she will be happy to cut the party in on the bounty once she has delivered Gath to the authorities on Scintilla.
Kaarl calls the other members of the party over to Scythia's table and explains her proposal. Hungry for some action, the group is eager to help- all but Venris, who says that they were ordered to stay out of trouble by Inquisitor Montag. Unwilling to be swayed by his companions, Venris heads back to the Hostel. The remainder of the party try to come up with a plan to separate Gath from his fellow trappers. After several increasingly ridiculess plans, half of which start with Scythia seducing the Beast House members- a stratagem the bounty hunter is quick to veto- they decide to ambush them outside. Nicodemus reveals what he learned from the Ashleen warriors, so they know that the trappers will be getting a call from the crew of their lighter come 'moonrise', whenever that is. They decide to steal the trapper's vehicle and park it on the side of the street mid-way between The Vat and the spaceport- somewhere they will be certain to see it as they head on foot to their besieged lighter. When their attention focused on their vehicle- apparently stolen by mere 'joyriders'- the party will attack from hiding. Scythia is sceptical of the plan, but, with few other options, she agrees, saying she will stay and watch the trappers while the party plants the vehicle, then shadow them to the ambush.
Kaarl manages to 'hotwire' the vehicle and the party take it to a promising ambush site along the main route to the spaceport, then they settle into hiding places and await moonrise.
[Come moonrise, the chanting horde of Ashleen surrounding the Beast House lighter charge en masse. The guards- nerves already frayed- begin firing wildly into the crowd and voxing for help from Gath. In the confusion, a small boy- Meklin's young 'assistant', actually an orphaned Ashleen- sneaks onto the lighter and manages to open the cage containing the spinox. The enraged beast charges out of the cargo hold of the lighter and goes on a rampage through the town; a group of Ashleen warriors on dustdogs try to herd the sacred beast out through the main city gate.]
About an hour after leaving The Vat, the party hear a commotion and automatic gunfire coming from the spaceport. A few minutes later they see Culliver Gath and company double-timing it down the street toward the spaceport. The trappers spot their missing vehicle on the side of the road and head toward it. Just as the Beast House crew are entering the kill zone, however, Gath spots Quintilla in her hiding place atop a low roof; he fires while barking a warning to his companions. Luckily for Quintilla, the rockrete ledge she is hiding behind stops the devastating shot from Gath's high-calibre 'grox rifle'. Quintilla returns fire, wounding the Beast Slaver, and his companions scattered into the side streets- dangerously close to the hiding places of Denathor and Nicodemus. Nicodemus kills one with a full-auto burst from his autopistol, while concerted fire from the rest of the group drops another. Kaarl and Scythia (who shadowed the trappers from The Vat) charge Culliver Gath, but are unable to take him down. The morale of the two remaining trappers breaks and they flee, leaving their not-well-loved leader to his fate. Nicodemus- more interested in looting the bodies than in collecting a bounty- takes careful aim for another full-auto burst, but before he can fire Quintilla surprises everyone and charges Gath, dropping the Beast Slaver with one well-placed blow from her rifle butt. Scythia slaps manacles on the unconscious fugitive, and lets the party loot as they please while she voxes the local enforcers.
A pair of harried enforcers arrive on the scene a few minutes later, angry at being pulled away from the 'Ashleen riot' going on at the spaceport. Scythia is clearly experienced in using the authority of her warrant to boss around the local law, and she soon has the two enforcers dragging the unconscious Beast Slaver off to the local jail. After thanking the party, she follows along to keep an eye on her bounty.
The party are elated when they return to the Hostel, and can't resist waking up Venris to regale him with the full story of their heroic victory. In return, Venris favors them with a lecture on the importance of following orders...
This 'lay-over' on Iocanthos was intended to allow the players to 'let off steam' after the tight deadline of The Fenksword Conspiracy. In our previous D&D campaigns, these players jumped at every opportunity to get into trouble outside the parameters of the current module. I made up a handful of NPC stats and generic maps so I could improvise as needed; however, the players surprised me by showing little intitative for looking for excitement this time around. I prepared a few pre-planned incidents in case things started to drag- good thing! They players jumped at the chance to butt heads with the Beast House trappers. Another adventure option involved Pontius Degaurl: he is actually an agent of Lord Sector Hax, stationed on Iocanthos to keep the Ghost Fire pollen flowing by quietly arranging the assassination of anyone who my be a threat to production. His dinner invitation to the PCs was to 'feel them out' about the possibility of carrying out one such assassination. Ultimately, the bounty hunting episode proved satisfying enough that I didn't feel the need to draw out the stay on Iocanthos any longer...
The Emperor Protects
Sorry for the long delay-
ON TO SCINTILLA
031.816.M41 In the aftermath of the spaceport riot, Port Suffering's Ashleen population go into hiding; even the omnipresent beggars and drunks with Ashleen blood know better than to tempt the wrath of the locals, and they disappear into the wastes outside the city walls.
The Beast House crew are shaken by the capture of Culliver Gath and the loss of two of their colleagues. Some want to tear the city apart looking for their leader, but the second-in-command decides to take the opportunity to seize a leadership position for himself. He takes the Beast House lighter up to their orbiting vessel and orders the ship on to it's next port-of-call, leaving Gath to his fate. [Editorial Note: I had originally intended to draw out the conflict with the Beast House; however, I had set a (fairly arbitrary) deadline of getting the PCs sworn in as official Inquisitorial Acolytes- the normal starting point of the game!- before they hit fourth level. It seemed likely that the deadline would be blown out of the water if I went with the attempted jailbreak/ vengeance route that I had originally planned. So, I used Chaotic Evil logic (thank you D&D!) and ruled that the Beast House trappers would see Gath's capture as an opportunity for everyone else to advance in rank...]
Once the Beast House lighter has left the planet, Scythia drops her tough-as-nails persona and is in the mood to celebrate. She buys several rounds of drinks for the party and carries on long onto the night. Nicodemus turns on the charm and attempts a romantic conquest- and is successful, thanks to a nudge from his psychic Trusting Aura...
032.816.M41 In the cold light of morning (and with Nicodemus' aura down), Scythia is less than impressed with her tryst form the previous night. Chalking it up to 'beer goggles', she tries to avoid Nicodemus for the rest of the day.
Come midday, the Misericord, riding favorable Warp currents, arrives at Iocanthos a few days early. Although it will depart on schedule, boarding can begin immediately. Scythia (back in her 'on-the-clock' mode) and two Port Suffering enforcers escort a manacled Culliver Gath onto the first transport; wielding the full authority of her arrest warrant, she has the transport vox the Misericord to have guards standing by to escort her prisoner to the ship's brig.
The party becomes increasingly paranoid that they are being followed by agents of the Beast House. Rather than board the ship immediately, they decide to acquire a copy of the Misericord's passenger manifest. Their initial attempts to bribe or steal one meet with failure. They put their heads together and try to brainstorm a solution; most of their ideas are wildly unrealistic, but eventually Nicodemus suggests seeing if their new 'friend' Pontius Degaurl, who clearly has his fingers in all of the goings on in Port Suffering, can get his hands on a copy of the manifest. Eager for a break from boredom, Degaurl gladly undertakes the challenge and, a few hours later, presents the party with a copy of the manifest- which, they then realize, is of absolutely no use to them as they don't know the names of any members of the Beast House beyond the few that they met two days earlier... [Editorial Note: I could have had a lot of fun manipulating the player's paranoia, but like I said earlier, I thought it was more important to get the party sworn in as actual Acolytes, so I resisted the urge to mess with their heads...]
033.816.M41 Still jumping at shadows, the party decides to head up to the Misericord.
After settling into their appointed quarters, they begin to explore the ancient chartist vessel. The so-called Gallery of Sin in particular catches their interest...
036.816.M41 Loaded with Ghost Fire Pollen, the Misericord departs Iocanthos, bound for the Sector capitol.
036-062.816.M41 (Sidereal) Nicodemus decides to try to earn some extra income by working as a storyteller, staking out a good location in the Gallery of Sin and making a few Thrones from the other passengers, mainly representatives of the royal families of Sepheris Secundus, and their retinues. Also, after attempting to practice with the choppa he took off of Culliver Gath, Nicodemus realizes that the weapon is weighted specifically for the elongated arm and curved spine of an ork, and is too exotic for him to wield effectively. Knowing that selling xeno weapons is highly illegal, he makes some careful inquiries amongst the merchants operating storefronts along the Gallery of Sin, eventually finding one willing to take the choppa off his hands.
Kaarl strikes up a friendship with the cadre of Techpriests stationed aboard. They are clearly ashamed of the many violations of proper Omnisian design that define the heavily hybridized vessel, but they are duty-bound by centuries-old contracts to maintain the Misericord as best they can.
063.816.M41 Still backed by favorable Warp currents, the Misericord arrives early at Scintilla. The transition from the Warp to Realspace is a jarring affair, comparable to a terrestrial earthquake- a side-effect of the Misericord's multiple fused hulls, and a great source of shame among the ship's Techpriests.
It is several hours before the party's passenger section is called up for debarking. When their shuttle settles onto a landing pad at the main spaceport in hive Sibellius- the capitol of Scintilla- and the party emerges, they spot holographic letters spelling out "MONTAG'S PARTY" hovering in the air in the distance. Making their way toward the sign, they discover it is being projected by a cyberskull. When they approach, it changes the holographic message to "PRESENT IDENTIFICATION" in much smaller letters. After scanning each cognomen, the cyberskull projects the word "FOLLOW" and flies off.
The party has to double-time it to keep up, as the cyberskull leads them into a parking garage, then to a waiting limousine. Leaning against the limousine is a tall, thin woman wearing a gaudy coat over a very worn, heavily patched bodyglove, once black but now faded to a charcoal gray. Her hair is shorn to stubble and her face is criss-crossed with several scars. She is shuffling a deck of cards with one hand as the cyberskull flies up to the limousine and settles into a socket at the front of the vehicle, immediately starting it's engine. "You the new meat?" says the woman. "My name's Jezarine- Aurellius sent me an astropathic message and told me to take you to the Tricorn Palace and get you started going through the screening process. So, who's who?" She pulls a handful of visitor passes from her pocket- one for each party member- and distributes them among the group, before ushering them into the limousine.
It is an hour-and-a-half drive to the Tricorn, during which Jezarine- a Throne Agent in Inquisitor Montag's service- tells them they will want to rest up. "Sleep deprivation is one of the tools used in the screening process- you're in for a grueling few days" she says.
When the limousine parks in a garage in the Tricorn Palace, Jezarine leads the group through a maze of corridors, their every movement tracked by wall-mounted weapons. Eventually, they arrive at the screening chambers, and Jezarine hands the party off to a man who introduces himself as Medicae-Interrogator Sand, who will be overseeing their screening. "Have fun," says Jezarine sarcastically, as she takes her leave...
064-066.816.M41 Jezarine's warnings don't do justice to the horrendous screenings the party are put through to determine their worth to the Emperor's Holy Inquisition. They are subjected to brutal psychic mindscans, injected with psychotropic compounds, and put through numerous badgering verbal interrogations, all while Medicae-Interrogator Sand hovers at the periphery, scanning their every reaction with a bioauspex. Just when it seems they will go mad from the ordeal, the party are informed that they have passed the screenings, and are qualified to become Acolytes- all but Varn, who is detained for some additional tests [Editorial note: Varn's player missed this session...]. They are allowed to rest before the formal swearing in as agents of the Inquisition.
067.816.M41 Early the next day, the well-rested group are brought before a triumvirate of Senior Inquisitors of the Calaxian Conclave, where they are sworn in as Inquisitorial Acolytes. The gallery is half-filled with onlookers, most waiting to view other scheduled proceedings. Jezarine is in the audience, as is Medicae-Interrogator Sand. After the swearing in, Sand stands up and invokes a rarely-used bureaucratic procedure to place the new Acolytes under his authority until the arrival of Inquisitor Montag. This move surprises everyone present, but the council of Inquisitors grant Sand temporary jurisdiction. The Acolytes, Jezarine, and Sand all file out of the chamber and meet in the hallway. "Your screenings revealed that you have a definite predilection for bold action and a dislike of waiting around. An incident has come to my attention that may require intervention from the Holy Odros. I have no operatives myself, and you are stuck waiting for Inquisitor Montag's arrival. It seems to me that this situation can be turned to our mutual benefit. Would you be interested in conducting a covert investigation?" The party is a bit hesitant, but they agree to Sand's proposal. "Excellent! I'll send a vehicle to pick you up later today." After he leaves, Jezarine says "Don't let his 'nice guy' act fool you- until Aurellius arrives, Sand now has the authority to have you all executed on a whim, if he so chooses..." This revelation casts a pall over the group as they follow Jezarine to the series of small suites Montag maintains in the Tricorn for his personal use.
Once their gear is stowed, Jezarine introduces the new Acolytes to the other members of her team, also staying in Montag's suites as they await new orders upon the Inquisitor's return.
After dinner, a servitor-driven vehicle arrives at the suites to pick up the newly-minted Acolytes. An hour's drive later, the vehicle delivers the party to the Templum Mori, where they meet with Medicae-Interrogator Sand, who asks them to investigate a very unusual corpse...
Yes, this is the module Edge of Darkness. To adapt it to a 3rd-level party, I doubled the number of "grunt" adversaries, and re-stated the "brains" behind the events into a full-on video-game-style "boss monster". To summarize without giving away the plot to anyone who hasn't played EoD yet: The investigation started off well, with Venris and Nicodemus meeting with the deceased's sister and getting some useful information. Afterwards, the party decided to hit the local watering hole. There, they called so much attention to themselves with their ham-handed attempts to "look natural" that I decided it would be appropriate to move up the Bad Guys' response to later that same night. Ambushed on the way back to their rooms, they manage to triumph against their opponents. They then decided to go back to the bar and confront the local gang boss. This triggered the "Deal With The Devil" option from the module- which I hadn't originally intended to use, but it seemed the most reasonable response to the situation. During the attack on the secret headquarters, Venris is nearly killed, but the party wins out in the end, and calls up Sand. He is quite surprised that the new Acolytes have gotten to the bottom of what is going on in a single night, and he puts together a forensic team and heads for the Coscarla subdivision in a Rhino transport. Meanwhile, the "locals" loyal to the Bad Guys investigate the disturbance caused by the PCs actions. The party dispatches a few of them, which eventually triggers a full-scale siege of the HQ- broken by the timely arrival of Sand's team (he had to override the lock-down of the main entrance- no problem for an Interrogator of his skill) in the Rhino, stormbolter blazing. Sand is impressed with the party's work and thanks them whole-heartedly. He arranges their transportation back to the Tricorn and, after they have collected their illicit reward, they leave the Coscarla subdivision to it's fate...
The Emperor Protects
ON TO SCINTILLA
068.816.M41 The new Acolytes sleep late after their trying experiences the night before in the Coscarla Subdivision. When they finally wake, they find a message waiting for them: it is their share of the bounty from the capture of Beastslaver Culliver Gath, provided by Scythia Rohm as promised. She also leaves instructions for contacting her at a Gunmetal City bar, if they have need of a good bounty hunter in the future.
The party spends the rest of the day wiling away the time as best they can as they await Inquisitor Montag's return.
069.816.M41 Come midday, Chamberlain- the servitor that manages Montag's set of personal suites- approaches the party with welcome news: their master has returned. He is currently descending to planetside via shuttle, and he wants them to meet him on the Tricorn's rooftop landing pad. Chamberlain has helpfully summoned an autocart to take them up to the roof.
Soon, the Acolytes are standing on the edge of the landing pad, watching an Aquilla shuttle descend out of the clear sky. A unit of Inquisitorial Stormtroopers has assembled nearby; the reason for this quickly becomes apparent. Inquisitor Montag emerges from the shuttle leading the traitor Rautha, mastermind of the Fenksworld Conspiracy. Although manacled and rather haggard-looking, he seems none the worse for wear. As Montag hands the prisoner off to the Sergeant of the Stormtroopers, Rautha catches sight of the party, and favors those responsible for his downfall with a wan smile. He is then roughly dragged away. As the other members of Montag's retinue step from the Aquilla, the Inquisitor walks toward the party- only then do they notice that he is carrying a large, rectangular object swathed in velvet. "With me," says Montag as he climbs into the party's autocart.
The Inquisitor is silent as the autocart traverses the numerous levels of the Hereticus Tower of the Tricorn Palace. Deeper and deeper they descend, through areas of such high security that it is clearly only Montag’s prominently-displayed Inquisitorial Rosette that stays the many machine spirit-guided weapon systems from unleashing certain death upon them. They descend into the dim catacombs that stretch deep into the bedrock beneath the building.
Eventually the narrow corridor they are following dead-ends at the brink of a large pit, the depth of which is impossible to determine. Rising up through the center of the pit is a narrow tower, with a door, heavily warded with numerous security devices, facing the corridor, with no obvious way to bridge the gap between. Three regularly mind-wiped Stormtroopers stand guard, while a pair of cyberskulls monitor the scene. Montag presents his Rosette, which is plugged into a cogitator system to verify his identity. The Acolytes cognomen are checked as well, and each is fitted with an explosive collar- lights on which blink in time with flashing lights protruding from the craniums of the cyberskulls. Only when these ‘last resort’ security devices are in place does one of the Stormtroopers take out a very distinctive-looking key. Montag produces a similar key and the two are inserted into slots on opposite sides of the corridor. When they are turned in unison, a bridge extends across the gap to the subterranean tower. Montag leads the party across, their every move scrutinized by the cyberskulls. The Inquisitor inserts his Rosette into the locking mechanism of the door, activation an auspex array which scans him down to his very DNA. Machine spirits, satisfied with their auguries, let slip their wards and open the door.
Beyond the portal is a small room, its walls covered with glowing runes: energized circuits forming hexagramatic wards. In the center of the room is a pedestal, surmounted by a hemisphere of blackest black- only the Techpriest Kaarl recognizes a voidshield in effect. Montag types an elaborate code into a cogitator mounted into the pedestal, and the hemispherical shield crackles and dissolves, revealing a large book with a bright red cover. “Behold the cause of untold woes,” says Montag, “the Vermilion Codex.” He pulls the velvet wrapping from the object he is carrying and displays the twin of the volume on the pedestal. He thumbs through it, letting the party see pages covered with strange characters in an unfamiliar language. One page, previously torn out and folded into quarters, has been carefully reinserted into its proper place. “There were nine copies originally penned. One, we know, was destroyed in the fires of Exterminatus that razed Kao-Li, over a thousand years ago. This,” he gestures to the book on the pedestal, “is the copy my old master captured 45 years ago. Lord Oberonicus was deeply concerned about its potential power, and one of his final acts before being forced to resign from the Ordos was to petition an Omega-level audit of all Adeptus holdings within the Segmentum Obscurus. This was a monumental undertaking, with a literal army of Adepts scouring thousands of archives, searching for the item in question. It speaks volumes about the respect with which Lord Oberonicus was held that his petition was carried out without question. Untold millions of man-hours went into the search and, ultimately, a single book matching the description was discovered. It was found in a library of forbidden tomes seized by the Inquisition in the notorious Mandragora Sector some two centuries ago. They had been unable to identify the volume themselves, but it matched the description of the Vermilion Codex perfectly, so it was placed on a fast vessel- the Demiurge- under guard and dispatched to the Calaxis Sector. Unfortunately the ship ran head-long into The Millennium Storm, the largest warp storm recorded in the Sector in a thousand years. Over sixty vessels were lost in the year-long tempest, the Demiurge among them. And this,” Montag holds up the recently acquired volume, “makes a fourth volume accounted for. That means there are five copies still out there…” Montag sets the Codex onto the pedestal and re-activates the void shield. Listen and listen well: if, in the course of one of your future missions, you should come across a rumor, a clue, even a hint about the possible location of one of the remaining volume, following up on this lead is to take precedent over the mission unless I personally state otherwise- and I expect to be appraised of your findings immediately.” The Acolytes are taken aback by the severity of Montag’s tone.
Filing out of the chamber and locking the door behind them, the party crosses the bridge and-much to their relief- have the explosive collars removed. After retracting the bridge, Inquisitor Montag and the Acolytes get into the autocart and begin the long climb back up into the heights of the tower. “The copy of the Codex our ‘friend’ Rautha was trying to purchase was in the possession of a Rogue Trader named Argus Haveloche. Apparently he had fallen on very hard times financially, and had his vessel seized by his creditors. When he began liquidating some of his personal effects he came across an old book that he had, supposedly, won in a card game a dozen years earlier. I’m not sure how he found out that the book was both priceless and forbidden, but he wasted little time in putting out the word among the Sector’s underworld that he would be auctioning it off in hopes of making enough to reclaim his vessel- which is how Rautha found out about it. He outbid the competition, but the amount was so staggering that he had to arrange to make a series of payments over the course of several months. Thanks to your efforts on Fenksworld in exposing Ruatha’s activities, I was able to take his place at the exchange. Unfortunately, Captain Haveloche, confronted by agents of the Inquisition, chose to put a pistol in his mouth rather than be captured. Although I was able to seize the Codex, Haveloche’s suicide prevented me from conducting a thorough interrogation. This is especially frustrating, since Rautha made me aware of a potential loose thread involving the Codex- but more on that later. Speaking of Rautha, he is scheduled to be executed tonight. You are all invited to attend- you should all witness the course of Imperial justice that stems from your efforts in the service of the Holy Ordos.”
The autocart finally arrives at Montag’s set of personal suites, where the Inquisitor is warmly greeted by Jezarine and her team of Throne Agents. Chamberlain arranges a large dinner, and friends old and new crowd the table for a rowdy and thoroughly enjoyable meal.
Eventually, Montag stands and says to Interrogator Rao “I have some business to attend to before the execution tonight. In an hour, bring the new recruits to the Chamber of Final Justice.” He then takes his leave.
At the appointed time, Rao has Chamberlain summon an autocart, and he takes the Acolytes to a very imposing chamber within the Tricorn. Seemingly made entirely from obsidian, the Chamber of Final Justice consists of galleries on either side of a long floor, with an elaborate raised dais at one end and large double doors at the other. The flickering light of a multitude of candles placed on ledges and alcoves throughout the chamber create a flickering light that gives a suggestion of life to the many sculptures of Imperial martyrs that decorate numerous surfaces. The somber atmosphere of the place is nigh-overwhelming.
Rao spots Montag at the far end of the gallery, talking with three other people, and he leads the Acolytes in that direction. As they approach, they can see that the other three individuals- a bald, sallow-skinned man, a woman in a diaphanous black gown and veil, and a very tall, gaunt fellow, are all wearing Inquisitorial rosettes. The bald man seems to be arguing with Montag, while the other two try to play peace-makers.
When they are within earshot, the Acolytes hear the bald Inquisitor saying “Power is meant to be wielded, Montag! You are a fool if you can’t see that!” Only restraining hands from the other two Inquisitors prevent Montag from throwing himself at the bald man, who turns and storms out of the chamber.
“Lady Xersha is gracing us with her presence,” says Rao under his breath to the Acolytes. “Don’t embarrass me!”
Rao clears his throat, and the group of Inquisitors turn to face the new arrivals. At first glance, the woman in the gown appears to be wearing a realistic skull-mask under her veil. However, when Rao bows and kisses her hand, a closer look reveals to the Acolytes that her face has actually been surgically removed, down to polished bone. As Rao makes introductions, most of the Acolytes are able to hide their reactions to this startling sight, but a couple involuntarily gasp, drawing stern glares from Rao. Although she has no expression to read, Lady Xersha seems to be amused by the reaction she elicits. The group take seats and await the commencement of the implementation of the Emperor’s Justice.
Eventually a door behind the dais opens and a very distinguished-looking man in a powdered wig is born into the chamber on a palanquin carried by servitors, followed by a large retinue of followers. Everyone present rises in respect as the palanquin is set onto the dais overlooking the floor.
“Lord Caidin himself is presiding over the execution?” says Montag. “Well, I’m glad to see that he took my report of the importance of this case seriously.”
A cyber cherub holding a voxcaster takes up a position hovering above the Lord of the Calaxian Conclave, who declares “This proceeding will now come to order! We are gathered here today to witness the implementation of the Emperor’s Justice in a case involving grievous crimes. Bring in the prisoner!”
The door at the far end of the chamber opens, and a squad of Stormtroopers march onto the floor, leading Rautha. After they have chained the heretical mastermind to a ring set into the obsidian floor, the Stormtroopers take up a position directly below the dais occupied by the Lord Inquisitor. They form into two ranks and salute Lord Caidin, then wheel about and face the bound prisoner.
“Elias Gustavus Akira Rautha, you stand here today accused of multiple counts of heresy in both of thought and deed, utterance of blasphemies against the God-Emperor of Mankind, willful promotion of sedition, practice of the forbidden rites of sorcery ,consorting with Warp-entities, wanton murder of Imperial citizens, theft and destruction of Imperial property, and conspiring to deny proper collection of the Imperial Tithe- any of which carry the penalty of death. You have confessed your crimes in the presence of a rightful agent of Imperial justice: Inquisitor Aurellius Montag of the Ordo Hereticus; said confessions having been transcribed and entered into the official archives of the Calaxian Conclave of the Holy Ordos of the Inquisition. Do you refute any of these facts?”
“Oh, I’m thoroughly guilty of all those charges, plus a few more you don’t even suspect…” says Rautha.
Lord Caidin is perturbed by Rautha’s glibness, but he carries on. “Because you have confessed your crimes and confirmed your guilt, you will be extended the greatest mercy this court can offer: you will be allowed to repent your past sins and beg the Emperor for forgiveness, that your soul may be saved even as your mortal form is doomed. Elias Rautha, will you renounce your sins in the Name of the God-Emperor?”
Rautha sighs, a far-away look coming over his face. “All my life,” he says, “I’ve felt that invisible cogs- the machinery of Fate- were turning to propel me toward some greater destiny…”
“Silence!” bellows Lord Caidin. “This court will hear none of your blasphemy!”
“-But now I realize that I was but one more cog in that very machine, fulfilling a minor role in a grand scheme set into motion millennia ago…”
“Execution Squad- attention!” At Lord Caidin’s command, the Stormtroopers snap to.
“A scheme that turns, not around me-“
“Execution Squad, stand ready!”
“-but around you!” cries Rautha as he shoots a wild-eyed look at Inquisitor Montag in the gallery.
“Execution Squad, take aim!”
“Remember, Montag, there are no coincidences! What weak human minds interpret as coincidences are in fact fingerprints of The Architect of Fate!”
“The Architect of Fate, Montag! And Rhazuulithrax is his son-!”
Ten Hellguns blaze simultaneously, briefly lighting up the Chamber as bright as day. Rautha collapses to the floor in a pile of irregular hunks of charred meat.
From the door at the end of the Chamber a man in priestly robes enters, swinging a censer of incense, followed by an Ecclesiarcal servitor, one of its hands replaced with a smoldering brazier. As the priest solemnly intones the Rite of Exorcism, the servitor lowers the brazier, spraying a gout of blue-white flames, playing them over the corpse of Rautha, slowly reducing it to ash. When the priest completes his incantation, a thin man in dark robes, leaning on a staff topped with a stylized eye symbol- a representative of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica- steps forward. Standing over the pile of ashes, he concentrates intensely for several seconds, then turns to Lord Caidin and shakes his head, then turns and leaves. A Magus of the Adeptus Mechanicus enters behind him, leading two hulking servitors who bear a heavy safe between them. The Magus carries a foot-square puzzle box to Rautha’s ashes, placing it on the floor and working its elaborate mechanism until it opens. He unfolds it flat and stands back as the brazier-armed servitor sweeps the ashes onto the puzzle box. When it is finished, the Magus re-folds the box into its cube shape; then he takes a large key from his belt and inserts it into the safe, making a complex series of clockwise/ counterclockwise turns at various depths until the thick door opens. The Ministorium priest steps forward, waving his censer in the hexigramitic ward-inscribed interior of the safe while intoning a blessing. When finished, the Magus places the puzzle box containing Ruatha’s ashes inside the safe and closes the door, reversing the series of key turns to lock the safe, before extracting the key. He approaches the dais and, with a bow, presents the key to the Lord Inquisitor. Lord Caidin takes it and hands it to one of his retainers, who places it on a large ring with over a hundred similar keys. The servitors then turn and carry the safe out of the hall. Lord Caidin stands and says “By the power vested in me by the High Lords of Terra, I declare the Emperor’s Justice to be concluded in this matter.” He makes the sign of the Aquilla over his chest, and everyone else in the Chamber follows suit. “The Emperor protects,” he says, and the servitors raise his palanquin and begin to carry it out of the room. As he leaves, Lord Caidin casts a quizzical glance at Inquisitor Montag. The audience stands and begins to file out of the Chamber. “That was… disconcerting,” says Montag.
Inquisitor Montag is silent as he leads the Acolytes and Interrogator Rao back to his suites. When they arrive, he curtly states “New mission briefings tomorrow,” then disappears into his quarters for the rest of the night…
The Emperor Protects
MARK OF THE BEAST
070.816.M41. After breakfast, Inquisitor Montag calls the Acolytes into his library for their new mission briefing; Interrogator Rao and Thaddeus are also present. Montag begins: “During our voyage between Fenksworld and 41 Pry aboard the Gladeus, the heretic Rautha relayed a great deal of information about the copy of Vermilion Codex he was trying to acquire, and its then-owner, a fallen Rogue Trader named Argus Haveloche. Rautha, ever the schemer, tried to wrest as much information out of Capt. Haveloche as he could, in hopes of detecting some weakness in Haveloche’s security precautions that would allow him to steal the Codex and not have to pay the exorbitant sum that he had committed to. Fortunately- for us- Haveloche was an extremely paranoid man whose precautions proved foolproof. But Rautha kept at it, using his considerable verbal skills to try to trick Haveloche into revealing something that he could exploit. During one meeting, Rautha asked Haveloche if he had ever considered trying to use the sorcerous power of the Codex himself- to get his ship back if nothing else. In the only unguarded moment in all of their interactions, Haveloche muttered ‘I tried to translate it once, but something went wrong…’ When Rautha pressed him on the point, Haveloche refocused and refused to say any more. I have no doubt that Rautha’s account is accurate- you saw how committed he was to the belief that helping me was serving some kind of ‘higher purpose’- so I was quite intent on interrogating Capt. Haveloche to find out what exactly ‘went wrong’. Unfortunately, his suicide deprived me of that opportunity. This is a thread I’d rather not leave dangling. Among Haveloche’s personal effects, we found false identification with the name ‘Noor Mallear’. Thaddeus has tracked down transport records for a Noor Mallear, travelling to 41 Pry from Pallinurus Rhys, a frontier world in the Josian Reach subsector. Why would a Rogue Trader desperate for cash to reclaim his confiscated vessel take time out for a ‘vacation’ on a minor backwater? My guess is that he was looking for privacy- if one is going to attempt to translate a forbidden volume of sorcerous lore, one would do well to keep the risk of discovery to a minimum. I want you to travel to Pallinurus Rhys and backtrack the movements of ‘Noor Mallear’. Find out who he talked to, where he stayed. Look for signs of corruption in the path of the Codex: heretical beliefs, warp phenomena, mutation, daemonic incursion. If you find evidence of warp-taint, root it out and destroy it before it can spread. Thaddeus has reviewed all of the recent official records from Pallinurus Rhys, and he can find no tell-tale indications of recitivism. He has a… special genius for identifying patterns in massed data, and if he says he can find nothing suspicious about the planetary government, that’s the same thing as proof to me. Whatever ‘went wrong’, it must have been localized. It may turn out to be nothing- Haveloche may have inadvertently triggered some warp-whispers or something. Just enough to terrify a novice warp-dabbler, but no real threat; but when it comes to the Vermilion Codex, I want every ‘I’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed. Who knows- this may turn out to be a nice ‘working vacation’ for you. From what I’ve read, Pallinurus Rhys sounds… enticing. Temperate climate, abundant wilderness, good hunting…” Montag’s attention drifts for a few seconds. “Ahem. I wish I could join you, but I’m going to be petitioning Lord Caidin to form a special task force to track down the remaining copies of the Vermilion Codex. I’m not optimistic about my chances of success, with the damned Tyrantine Cabal bleeding away most of the Conclave’s resources, but I have to try. Unfortunately that means that I’ll be stuck here on Scintilla for the foreseeable future. We’ve arranged transport for you aboard a freighter- a warp-jumper called the Vodanyoi. It wasn’t scheduled to ship out for a few weeks yet, but I was able to ‘persuade’ them to move up their departure time to tomorrow. That gives you the rest of the day to prepare. Sebastian will arrange your authorization to requisition equipment from the Tricorn’s stores. Any questions?” There are none. Inquisitor Montag adds an unwelcome postscript: “Your comrade Varn will not be joining you on this mission- he has been sent on a long-term infiltration assignment, and may or may not be rejoining your team at some point in the future.” [Editorial Note: Sadly, a change in work schedule forced Varn’s player to drop out of the campaign. I chose this excuse for writing out his character, as it left open the possibility of his rejoining the group if another schedule change allows. Fingers crossed...]
That afternoon, the party makes its way to the Tricorn’s equipment stores. They have to present their identifications to verify that they are authorized to make requisitions; an ancient-looking factotum instructs them on the procedure for requesting a particular piece of equipment. They spend a few hours browsing through the racks of samples, debating the pros and cons of various pieces of equipment and putting together a lean ‘wish list’. [Editorial note: I used a simplified version of the Acquisition/Requisition rules from RT and DW- assigning a flat percentage chance of any particular piece of equipment being in stock, based on its frequency. I always hated the way the old Top Secret rpg featured Government agents sent on missions to save the world, yet they were expected to buy vital equipment out of their own pockets (!), and I wanted to make it clear that the Acolytes were being supported by their masters in the Inquisition, but without giving them carte blanche. My players surprised me by putting together a very modest list of requests. I had a whole speech- from Interrogator Rao- ready to go if they got carried away: “Power armour all around, eh? Ten krak grenades each? Three meltaguns- well, sure, you might lose one or two… So, you are operating under the assumption that the Archenemy has a whole tank column hiding in the woods? Request denied!”] Later in the day they find out that nearly all of their requested equipment is in stock. Interrogator Rao, uncertain of the transportation situation on Pallinurus Rhys, also authorizes an Outrider scout vehicle for the Acolytes. Their requisitioned equipment is soon delivered to their quarters, along with a dataslate loaded with the most current information on the frontier world of Pallinurus Rhys, along with picts of the Rogue Trader they are to backtrack.
With both the Acolytes and Jezarine’s party of Throne Agents shipping out on missions the next day, Chamberlain arranges a farewell feast for that evening.
071.816.M41. After driving their new, equipment-laden Outrider to the spaceport, the party spends a fair bit of time looking for the shuttle bound for the Vodanyoi. Eventually they find it: a dilapidated cargo lighter that looks as if it has been carved from a single massive block of rust. The slovenly crew standing nearby inspires little confidence in the Acolytes, and it is with some trepidation that they turn over their Outrider to be stowed on board…
The trip into orbit is nerve-rattling but uneventful. Upon debarking into the cargo hanger of the Vodanyoi, the Acolytes are met by Captain Liev Constantin, a stocky man with a thick beard and thicker accent. “Is pleased to meet! I show you now to cabins!” The talkative captain leads the party on foot through the labyrinthine length of the freighter. The grime-crusted corridors reek of boiled cabbage and sweat. The crew- a disreputable-looking lot- speaks a language unknown to the party; most smoke heavily, and some are visibly drunk. An occasional stray dog wanders the hallways… “Glad we aren’t paying for our tickets out of our own pockets,” mutters Nicodemus.
Everyone is winded by the time they reach their small cabins. Capt. Constantin invites the ‘representatives of most honoured Inquisition” to join him and his first officer for dinner, then he scurries off to the bridge to get the voyage under way.
072-121.816.M41 (Sidereal). Even with the temporal distortion caused by warp travel, the voyage seems to be taking forever. The Acolytes find that wandering the Vodanyoi’s poorly-maintained corridors is hardly less depressing than staying cooped up in their cramped cabins. The only significant distractions are their sporadic dinners with Capt. Constantin and his first officer- who also happens to be his wife. She’s a decent cook, but every dinner degenerates into a screaming argument between the spouses, from which the party must awkwardly extricate themselves…
They also familiarize themselves with the information about their destination contained on their dataslate. Colonization of Pallinurus Rhys began in earnest three hundred years ago, with an eye toward turning the fertile planet into a new agriworld, thus taking some of the burden off of the overextended agriworlds of Tsade I and II. With the ascent of Marius Hax as Lord Governor of the Calaxis Sector, however, that ambition stalled: Hax, notorious for his brutal pragmatism, felt that the large-scale development of Pallinurus Rhys was not worth the massive investment of Sector resources required (as the population of the Josian Reach had stagnated in recent centuries, and those resources would be better spent developing worlds in the booming Malfian Subsector). The people of Pallinurus Rhys are trying to adapt to the severely reduced off-world aid; the current planetary governor, Rache Kestyr, has undertaken a program of repurposing the planet as a pleasure world, luring offworld tourists- and their coin- to the underdeveloped planet to enjoy its unspoiled wilderness. He has had some success in this endeavor, the greatest triumph so far being a pledge by Governor Vaahkon of Fenksworld to build a vacation house there next year. Self-sufficient in all things except manufactured goods, Pallinurus Rhys pays its Minima Tithe Grade in Grox meat, grain, and lumber. Of note is the large percentage of the population who are veterans of the Imperial Guard: the Sector government has encouraged settlement of the frontier world by offering land grants to Guardsmen who have successfully complete their tour of duty, in place of the traditional- and tiny- pension. The only systemic crime on this world would appear to be bandit activity, no doubt caused by some of those former guardsmen, who come to realize that farming is much harder than they thought...
As a warp-jumper, the Vodanyoi must compensate for its lack of a psychic Navigator by making a series of short ‘hops’ through the Immaterium. This puts an enormous strain on the aged vessel’s reactors, necessitating periodic stops to refill its coolant tanks. The party quickly learns the sequence of sounds that accompany the refueling procedure: the long rumble of the plasma drives as the ship approaches an orbital refueling station, followed by the brief bark of braking thrusters; the clangs and bangs of huge docking clamps being connected and fuel lines attached; the groans of expanding metal as pipelines throughout the vessel carry coolant to massive storage tanks; then the sounds are repeated in reverse order, and the Vodanyoi eventually slips back into the warp.
122.816.M41. The Vodanyoi drops out of the Immaterium for one of its refuelings. After braking thrusters have fired, the party brace themselves for the ear-ringing racket of the docking clamps- but the thunderous clatter doesn’t come. Twenty minutes pass, fourty-five. Nearly an hour of silence is finally interrupted by a call from Capt. Constantin over their cabin’s vox system: “Would good passengers from most honourable Inquisition come please to bridge!” They have never been shown the location of the bridge, and, true to form, the good captain provides no escort. Few of the crew speak Low Gothic, so no reliable direction are forthcoming…
It takes just over half an hour of wandering and occasional backtracking for the Acolytes to find the bridge. It perfectly matches their expectations: cobwebs clot alcoves, empty bottles litter the floor, and about half the glowglobes illuminating the bridge flicker fitfully. Capt. Constantin sits on the command throne, red-faced with anger as he bellows at the static-plagued image of a woman occupying the bridge’s forward pictscreen. Upon noticing the Acolytes, he says to the screen triumphantly “Now you in trouble! You see these peoples? They work for Inquisition! In-qwi-zish’n! You refuel wessel or they make big problems for you!” When they ask what’s going on, the captain explains that the crew of this refueling station are refusing to allow the Vodanyoi to dock. “Now you use authorities, make them big scared!”
The Acolytes turn to the woman on the pictscreen- although rather haggard-looking and obviously on edge, she exudes a distinct air of authority. “I’m Director Nikara Atellius of Orbital Station 28477Gamma9. I regret to inform you that this station is currently under lock-down due to a dangerous infestation in our pump decks, possibly xeno in nature. Even if there was no immediate danger- and I assure you that there is- we would still be unable to refuel your vessel, as Imperial law is clear in its prohibition of all potential contact with xenos. We are expecting an Imperial Navy ship to make a bi-monthly check-in here in about two weeks; they will clear the infestation at that time, and then we can tend to your vessel. Until then I’m afraid my hands are tied.”
Captain Constantin launches into a tirade in the language of his homeland (wherever that is), but the Acolytes- desperate for a break in the monotony of their long voyage- can barely suppress grins. “As sanctioned agents of the Emperor’s Holy Inquisition,” says Nicodemus, “we would be happy to purge your ‘infestation’ ourselves.”
“Ah, well I- uh… yes, I suppose that would be acceptable,” says Director Atellius.
Capt. Constantin seems confused. “You fix bug problem?”
“That’s the plan,” says Quintilla.
The captain jumps from his command throne and launches into an impromptu folk dance, all the while barking orders to get a shuttle ready for the ‘honoured guests.’
The Inquisitorial Agents make their way to one of the Vodanyoi’s hanger decks, where a small shuttle is being prepped for launch. The pilot oversees these preparations between pulls off of a flask. When all is ready he gestures the party to follow him aboard.
As the shuttle approaches 28477Gamma9 the Acolytes get their first look at the refueling station, framed against the mustard-yellow gas giant which it orbits. The basic shape is an elongated rectangle. A titanic lozenge-shaped storage tank is attached to each of its four long sides. One end is capped by a hab-dome that serves as the living quarters of the station’s small crew. From the other end, a nanofiber pipeline thousands of kilometers long trails down into the upper atmosphere of the nameless planet, drawing up gasses from which the station refines various chemicals used by Imperial starships. The shuttle pilot heads for the hab-dome. It takes him a few attempts to get the shuttle’s hatch lined up with the dome’s airlock, but eventually they are clamped into place. “Stay here- we may need to leave in a hurry,” says Kaarl to the pilot as the Acolytes unlock their flight harnesses. He doesn’t understand much Low Gothic, but the white-knuckled grip in which the pilot holds his Aquila necklace makes it clear that the superstitious man has no intention of following them out of the shuttle.
After passing through the airlock, the Acolytes are met by the five remaining members of the station’s crew. “Welcome aboard the ‘Gamma9- ” begins Director Atellios, only to be interrupted by an agitated crewmember.
“Is your shuttle big enough to carry all of us out of here, in case, you know, you can’t kill the… the thing?” Atellios gives the man a stern look.
“Perhaps you should tell us exactly what is going on here…?” says Nicodemus.
Director Atellios takes a deep breath. “It began eight days ago. One of our crew members- Hastus- was on a routine work shift down in the lower pump decks. He never returned. When we noticed he was missing, we tried to raise him over the station’s vox system, but got no answer. Thinking he may have had an accident, the rest of us paired up and began searching the pump decks. Eisen and Quint-“ here she gestures to the man who made the outburst- “were searching deck 6. I’ll let him describe what happened.”
Quint shakily takes a seat before telling his story. “Eisen and I had split up to look for Hastus. I heard Eisen scream, and I ran toward him. I turned a corner and saw this… thing standing over Eisen’s body. It was big, powerful. Pale. Hideous. It looked at me with beady black eyes and snarled, then it grabbed Eisen’s body and ran off. I ran the other way, and I didn’t stop until I was in the hab-dome.” He shudders at the memory.
Atellios continues. “Once we realized we were dealing with a hostile biomorph- possibly xeno in nature- we put all of the station’s non-vital systems on stand-by and sealed ourselves inside the hab-dome. We have no idea what this thing is. Our best guess is that it got aboard by crawling through the insulation cuff of a fuel line when we were docked with another vessel. Over the last week we would occasionally hear it clawing at the hatches of the hab-dome, but so far it hasn’t been able to find a way in.”
“So far?” Blurts out Quint. “So far?!”
“Keep it together, man!” barks Atellios. “We have six servitors that perform maintenance duties throughout the pump decks; we can monitor them from the Ops Chamber here in the hab-dome. They went about their work as if nothing was wrong, up until two days ago. Then one of them suddenly registered massive mechanical failure and shut down. Whatever this thing is, it obviously prefers humans for food, but if none are available it will settle for servitors.” Quint and the other crewmen squirm at this blunt observation. “We’ve been biding our time until the arrival of the next Naval ship.”
Quintilla says “Well, if there’s only one of them, we shouldn’t have any trouble ‘disposing’ of it for you.” She opens one of the cases she is carrying and begins to assemble here preferred weapon, a high-powered ‘grox rifle’.
“Oh no- no no no! You can’t use that thing here!” exclaims Quint. The assassin glares at the nervous crewman, but Atellios explains:
“High velocity weapons might penetrate the hull. Believe me, a hull breach would be far more dangerous than the creature.”
Agreeing with this logic, Quintilla reluctantly switches to her back-up weapon- a longlas- as Nicodemus replaces the ‘manstopper’ rounds in his autopistols with standard ammunition. Kaarl briefly considers touting the benefits of his trusty lasgun, but resists the urge. [Editorial Note: I didn’t want the game to get too bogged down in tracking stray shots to see if they caused a hull breach, rolling damage for each and comparing it to an armour value for the outer hull as per the standard rules; heck, using that method, there would be virtually no chance of a breach, even though multiple sources say that Naval armsmen use shotguns specifically to avoid hull breaches. So, to keep things quick and easy but still dangerous, I went with a nice, simple house rule: any missed shot on the space station has a 1% chance per point of AP of causing a hull breach.]
“A couple of us should stay here and coordinate the search from the Ops Chamber,” says Venris. The cleric whispers to Nicodemus “-And keep an eye on the crew.”
“Good idea,” says the psyker. “You and Denathor stay here. We’ll keep in contact via microbead.” [Editorial Note: Both Venris’s and Denathor’s players missed this session- which is actually what led to this self-contained diversion from the main mission (see the Afterword of this chapter).]
When everyone is in place, Atellios unlocks the door to an access tunnel, and Nicodemus, Quintilla, and Kaarl climb down the ladder into the pump decks. When the last Acolyte has disappeared into the depths, the director of the station closes and locks the door behind them.
The pump decks are dimly lit, the air cold and filled with the noise of automated machinery. A large elevator, now deactivated, runs through the center of the station, connecting all eight pump decks with the hab-dome. Two vertical access tunnels with ladders are located in opposite corners, while small emergency airlocks occupy the other two. Narrow corridors and a jumble of small rooms are laid out in a maze-like jumble in between, their placement dictated by the location of the refinery and pump equipment that span the levels of the pump decks. The Acolytes search cautiously, sending their cyberskull (which they requisitioned for their mission on Pallinurus Rhys) scouting ahead. On the second deck, the cyberskull reports a contact, and the party swoops in- nearly firing on a maintenance servitor which is carrying out its duties, oblivious to the danger it is in. Nicodemus has an idea, and calls up to the Ops Chamber: “Can you direct this servitor to stand at the entrance to the access tube and report anything that tries to get past? I’d rather not have this thing doubling back behind us.”
The search follows this pattern: methodical sweeps interspersed with false scares and redirected servitors. Then, on the fifth level, the scouting cyberskull chirps over their micro beads, “CONTACT—UNKNOWN/BIOLOGICAL.” Quickly followed by “CONTACT HOSTILE”. The three-man team double-times it to the cyberskull’s location, and find themselves face-to-face with the grotesque creature. It is clearly related to humanity, but mutated into a degenerate mockery of the human form. Pale, leathery skin stretches over the powerful muscles of a predator, and what should be fingers are replaced with razor-sharp claws. Its face, although horribly bestial, shows a glimmer of intelligence. Intelligence, and hate. The thing charges Quintilla, who narrowly dodges what would surely have been a crippling attack. The party fires on the creature, wounding it and sending it fleeing around a bend in the corridor, howling in pain. Cautiously following, the three Acolytes discover that the door to the deactivated elevator has been wrenched open. Focusing his psynicience, Nicodemus determines that the mutant is climbing down the elevator shaft. The party peruses it down to the seventh level, where the creature is waiting in ambush. Again it attacks, again it is wounded, again it flees, and yet again the Acolytes peruse.
On the eighth- and lowest- level of the pump decks, the party takes up a defensive position and sends the cyberskull to perform a methodical sweep. It finds nothing, leading them to wonder if the creature is smart enough to open and close doors… None of them notice the tell-tale drops of blood on the grated deck plates [Editorial Note: Rather than asking for specific rolls when the PCs might spot something or notice an odd mannerism from an NPC, and thus tipping the players off to the presence of a clue even if they fail their rolls, I periodically have my players make several percentage rolls at once; I jot down the results in a notebook. Then, when I need to know if they spot or notice something, I secretly use the next number on their lists as their Awareness or Scrutiny check, informing them only if they pass.], leaving it to Nicodemus’ psychic senses to locate the creature. He eventually detects a life-form hiding behind the door of a small airlock- apparently the creature’s adopted ‘den’, where it has retreated to lick its wounds. Quintilla and Nicodemus take up firing positions before the door, and begin to argue over which of them most deserves the ‘glory of the kill’. Kaarl, unimpressed with their logic, simply pushes a few buttons on the airlock’s control panel, opening the outer door and blasting the mutant out into the void.
After psychically determining that there is now nothing on the pump decks larger than a rat, the three Acolytes rejoin their comrades in the hab-dome and proudly announce that the station’s ‘infestation’ has been cleansed. Soon the Inquisitorial agents are back aboard the Vodanyoi, which before long is under way to the frontier world of Pallinurus Rhys.
I came up with the idea for this ‘mini-scenario’ as soon as I read the description of the Hullghast in Creatures Anathema. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a good point to work it in until after the characters had grown powerful enough that a Hullghast would be little threat to all five of the PCs. Then, when this session rolled around, two of the players had two bow out. Normally we cancel games if more than one of the ‘regulars’ can’t make it, but in this case I thought that the reduced party size would be a good excuse to use this adventure before it was too late, and I would only be able to run it using a more predictable Genestealer as the foil (thus really, really making this a blatant rip-off of Alien!). I used a friend’s Space Hulk tiles for the space station. I was originally going to use different floor plans for each level, but damn, those tiles take a long time to set up; so, I just went with one floor plan for all levels. Unfortunately, the Hullghast underperformed, failing every Bestial roll it was required to make and spending most of the game on the run rather than stalking the PCs. Despite that, this turned out to be a fun little ‘time-killer’, certainly preferable to canceling the session over two absent players. And, it provides some foreshadowing as to what awaits the Acolytes on Pallinurus Rhys…
The Emperor Protects
MARK OF THE BEAST
165.816.M41. The Vodanyoi translates into Realspace on the edge of the Pallinurus Rhys planetary system. As the plasma engines rumble, beginning the ship’s several hour journey from the system’s edge to the frontier planet, the Acolytes report to the freighter’s truly horrific medicae facilities to undergo the Rites of Inoculation required before embarking upon a new planet.
Hours later, groggy and sore from the multiple injections they have to endure, the party is told to report to Hanger 17 when they are ready to depart. Since the Chief Medicae is one of the few crewmen to speak Low Gothic, they ask him for directions. The unshaven, chain-smoking man provides them with detailed instructions- which turn out to be utterly wrong. The group spends nearly an hour running back and forth through the Vodanyoi’s aft decks before finally locating Hanger 17. By then, the ship is settling into planetary orbit, and their Outrider has been stowed inside a large cargo lighter which is also loaded with farming equipment (the initial reason for the freighter’s run to Pallinurus Rhys). The lighter has no dedicated passenger compartment, but there are auxiliary fold-down seats lining its cargo bay, and the Acolytes are soon strapped in, facing their requisitioned vehicle. The pilot initiates the launch sequence, and the lighter’s rear ramp slowly closes…
When the cargo vessel hits the planet’s upper atmosphere, it begins to buck violently, causing the Outrider to lurch back and forth, straining against the worn canvas straps holding it in place by its axels. Only now does it occur to the Acolytes that one of them should probably have double-checked the fastenings to make sure the vehicle is secure. If it were to break loose now, the party would be crushed into pulp by the time the void-to-surface shuttle lands…
…But the lighter touches down without incident, settling onto a landing pad in Pallinurus Rhys’ only spaceport. The party eagerly unstrap themselves as the lighter’s rear ramp slowly opens, and they emerge from the dank cargo hold into crisp autumn air. The spaceport is in the middle of the city of Myrvorn, the planetary capitol. As the Acolytes stretch and take in the view, and a pair of crewmen emerges from the shuttle’s cockpit to begin unstowing the cargo, a short, tubby man wearing pince-nez glasses and carrying a clipboard scurries up. “Welcome to Pallinurus Rhys! I’m Portmaster Ageerus; please have your identification ready. I’ll need to log the purpose of your visit and expected length of stay.” The Acolytes, seeing no immediate benefit to maintaining a false cover, present their Inquisitorial Cognomen. “We’re here on official business,” says Nicodemus. Portmaster Ageerus nearly drops his clipboard. Nicodemus continues: “You have records of all planetary arrivals and departures? Good, we will need to check your records.”
While the party talks to the bureaucrat, a crowd of townspeople assemble around the lighter- off world visitors are obviously something of a novelty on this planet. Several of the townspeople are carrying vendor trays or wheeling carts loaded with local delicacies, and they eagerly begin to hawk their wares to the new arrivals with calls of “Noleberry pies!”, “Jerked caelstag!”, “Fresh-roasted craynuts!”, “Pickled judfruit!”, and other bewildering offerings. The shuttle crewmen seem eager to sample from the local larder, but Kaarl says “I’ll stay here and make sure the Outrider gets unstowed properly while the rest of you check the records.” The techpriest stands between the crewmen and the vendors and folds his arms resolutely; the crewmen reluctantly turn away from the enticing food offerings and set about their work.
Portmaster Ageerus’ office is attached to the spaceport’s Control Tower. The party is barely able to fit into the small space. “The records we are looking for pertain to a man named…” Nicodemus checks the dataslate containing their mission briefing- “Noor Mallear. He visited your world about two years ago.” The Portmaster rummages through file cabinets of hardcopy records. “Mallear, Mallear… ah, here it is! Arrived 224.814 aboard the warp jumper Light of Piety. Say- I remember this fellow now! He stated that he intended to stay on planet for six months; then, three months later, he came pounding on my door demanding to know when the next ship was scheduled to leave the planet- he didn’t even care about the destination! As I recall he was quite rude. He purchased passage on a freighter bound for the space station 41 Pry- paid cash, as I recall. I heard that he took a room at the nearest inn and didn’t set foot out until the freighter made its boarding call two weeks later.” This information certainly seems to confirm Inquisitor Montag’s theory that Pallinurus Rhys was were ‘something went wrong’ during the Rogue Trader’s attempted translation of the Vermilion Codex. The party asks Ageerus where the best accommodations in town are to be had. “Well, it’s out of my price range, but I’ve heard that The Forest King can’t be beat!” The Acolytes thank the Portmaster for his help and take their leave.
Returning to the cargo lighter, the group find Kaarl waiting behind the wheel of their idling Outrider; the crewmen sit on the lowered cargo ramp eagerly devouring handfuls of local delicacies. As the Acolytes pile into the vehicle, they discuss their next move, quickly deciding to check with the local law enforcement to see if the activities of ‘Noor Mallear’ attracted any official attention. Two tall buildings tower over the one- and two-story structures that make up the bulk of Myrvorn. One of the tall buildings is clearly an Ecclesiarcal temple; assuming that the other must be the seat of the local government, the Acolytes set off in the Outrider.
The buildings that surround the spaceport are all squat, prefabricated structures similar to the ones the party saw previously in Port Suffering on Iocanthos. As they leave the spaceport behind, however, the character of the city immediately changes: most of the buildings are made from indigenous materials, primarily lumber. Not optimal for replicating proper Gothic architecture, the populace has adopted more pragmatic building designs, typically peaked-roof structures with post-and-beam construction, their plank walls covered in thick plaster. The rockrete streets near the spaceport give way to cobblestone paving. Most surprising to the hive-accustomed party, though, is the preponderance of beasts. Promethium-powered vehicles seem to be quite scarce, with most transportation being accomplished with the use of large domesticated quadrupeds- “Horses!” says Denathor, ever eager to show off his Schola Progenium education- either ridden as mounts or used to pull wheeled carts. The visitors are moderately horrified to see that these ‘horses’ are allowed to defecate wherever they please… Dogs wander about, and drovers move various types of livestock through the streets and squares. Small shapes flit through the air; at first these are mistaken for servitors, but closer looks reveal that they are native avians, presumably wild and inexplicably given the run of the area! It quickly becomes apparent that the Acolytes are a long way from a proper hive…
It only takes a few minutes to reach the large structure- an imposing building made from metal and black stone in the proper Gothic style. Inside they approach the reception desk, presenting their identification and asking to see the head of the planet’s law enforcement. The receptionist is clearly surprised to be confronted by representatives of the nigh-legendary Inquisition, and she confers with her superiors via microbead, shortly giving the group directions to the office of someone named Prefect Leyland.
The Prefect’s office is as spare and humorless as its occupant. Leyland introduces himself and immediately asks what interest the Inquisition could possibly have in a sleepy backwater world like Pallinurus Rhys. Nicodemus says “We aren’t at liberty to share the details of our mission; suffice it to say that we are looking into the activities of a man who visited your world two years ago.” He presents the dataslate displaying Argus Haveloche’s false ‘Noor Mallear’ identification. “Do you have any record of this man?”
Prefect Leyland scrutinizes the dataslate. “He doesn’t look familiar. Let me check our records.” He enters the Rogue Trader’s (false) information into his desk-mounted cogitator unit. “Nothing. If he was here, he didn’t get into any legal trouble.”
Venris asks “Have there been any… unusual events reported in the last year or two?”
“No,” says Leyland, “nothing out of the ordinary. The only significant crime we experience here is minor bandit activity- surely that’s not the sort of thing you are interested in?”
“Well, if you think of anything else that may be of interest to us, please let us know,” says Nicodemus, and gives Leyland their contact microbead frequency. The group thanks the Prefect and takes their leave. When they are out of earshot, Venris says “He’s hiding something- I’m sure of it.” The party quickly confers as to their next step. Checking a directory, they see that the local county’s chief law-enforcement officer - Sheriff Wallis- has his office on the first floor of the Administratum building. They make their way there, Nicodemus activating his psychic Trusting Aura en route. He decides to get the maximum use out of the Aura by stopping and asking the attractive receptionist on a date later that night…
Sheriff Wallis is present in his office. He is initially surprised to see representatives of the Inquisition on Pallinurus Rhys, but between Nicodemus’ psychic powers and Venris’ silver tongue, the party quickly gains the confidence the no-nonsense lawman. He doesn’t know of any unusual occurrences coinciding with the visit by Noor Mallear within his county. Kaarl notices a desktop cogitator in the Sheriff’s office. “May we check the records from that timeframe?” he asks. “Help yourself,” says the Sheriff, “I hardly ever use this damned thing.” He keys in his access code and hands the cogitator off to Kaarl. The Techpriest navigates through the local Administratum records, eventually finding the cases from other counties that are filed with the office of the Prefect. Most of these are of no real interest, consisting of common bandit activity and minor disputes, but something eventually catches the Acolytes attention. There is a report filed by a Sheriff Rann in the northernmost county- Neris- that the population of a small townlet established in the unincorporated land just outside the county boarder had disappeared. The townlet, named Crymwell, was established a few years earlier to survey the surrounding area in hopes of exploiting some nearby hot springs. When the Sheriff made one of his semi-regular visits to the area (shortly after Mallear’s departure, as it turns out) he found the town deserted; all 22 residents were missing, but their clothes and other personal effects were still in their residences. There were no obvious signs of violence, but something was clearly wrong, so Sheriff Rann contacted the Prefect’s office in Myrvorn to request assistance with a search of the surrounding wilderness. Prefect Leyland brought a group of his Bailiffs to assist with the search, but their superficial efforts turned up nothing, so the Prefect entered a judgment of Abandonment of Imperial Responsibilities against the missing townspeople- assuming that they had simply relocated to an inaccessible part of the wilderness to live off the land and thus avoid paying their Imperial Tithe. Leyland then had his men gather up the townspeople’s valuables to be held until claimed by family members. Sheriff Rann protested this judgment, saying that he knew most of the residents of Crymwell personally and that they would never abandon their plans to develop the hot springs; but Leyland insisted that the badly underfunded planetary government simply didn’t have the resources to peruse the matter further. Four months later, Sheriff Rann discovered that the occupants of three small farms, midway between the townlet of Crymwell and the county boarder, had also disappeared. His search of the area revealed that the buildings of the former townlet had been partially burned. Again he contacted Prefect Leyland, and again his judgment was one of simple abandonment; the burning of Crymwell was attributed to teen-aged vandals. Once again, Sheriff Rann protested, but his words seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Deciding that the timing of the strange disappearances is unlikely to be mere coincidence, the Acolytes resolve to travel to County Neris first thing in the morning. They thank Sheriff Wallis for his help and depart on good terms.
After leaving the Sheriff’s office, Nicodemus decides to confront Prefect Leyland about why he didn’t tell them about the missing townlet. He storms into the Prefect’s office over the protests of his secretary and demands to know why Leyland didn’t mention the disappearance of the population of Crymwell. The Prefect is flustered, but he regains his composure and says “It’s all too common for citizens on frontier worlds to abandon their obligations to the Imperium and choose to live off the land- ‘going native’, it’s called. Every newly-founded world has to deal with this problem to one degree or another. But Pallinurus Rhys has the additional hardship of having our funding from the sector government cut to the very bone. If word were to reach the powers that be on Scintilla that whole villages were in effect seceding from the Imperium, that fact would likely be used as justification for further cuts. So, no, I don’t broadcast our local problems to representatives of the Adeptus.” Unsure if the Prefect is telling the truth, Nicodemus warns him against any further deception. “I’ll fulfill the obligations of my position,” says Leyland, “-I trust you’ll not overstep the limits of yours.” The confrontation ends in an uneasy stalemate.
The party follows Portmaster Ageerus’ recommendation and seeks out the inn known as The Forest King. Although it caters specifically to well-to-do offworlders, the establishment still seems quite primitive by the Acolyte’s standards, being made entirely of wood and decorated with the mounted antlers of native wildlife. The inn doesn’t hesitate to charge premium prices, however, prompting all but Venris and Nicodemus to seek cheaper accommodations elsewhere. While the cleric and the psyker settle into their quarters, the rest of the party search for cheaper room-and-board, eventually settling on a rowdy inn frequented by drovers and ranch hands. They ask around at the inn’s bar if any of the locals have heard of anything unusual occurring within the last two years- buying a few rounds of drinks to get tongues wagging- but no one has heard of anything more interesting than bandit activity…
Dinner time rolls around, and Nicodemus meets his date at the Forest King’s dining room, where Venris is also taking his meal (in his full Ecclesiarcial vestments). The food, though simply prepared, is startlingly fresh and high-quality- truly impressive to Acolytes accustomed to the stale gruel that makes up a typical Imperial diet.
As dinner winds to a close and Nicodemus is wondering what line to use to coax his date up to his room, a group of rowdy toughs, clad in battered Imperial Guard flak armour and bristling with weapons, burst into the dining room. “Woo-wee! Which one of you sum-bitches owns that fancy set of wheels out front? Me and my boys would surely like to borrow it- just fer a quick spin, y’understand.” The other patrons scramble to pay their bills and clear out as the ruffians scan the room, easily identifying Nicodemus as an offworlder. “Well, that is some fancy store-bought armour you got there, fella,” says Deggan, the leader of the ruffians, his comrades chuckling at the implied insult. “Mine ain’t nearly so shiny, on account of I had to earn it, fightin’ greenskins in th’ Guard! So, what d’you say, stranger, c’n I borrow th’ keys to yer Outrider?” As the bullies are harassing Nicodemus, Venris contacts the rest of the party via microbead and tells them to come running. Not liking the odds, Nicodemus uses his psychic powers to plant a suggestion in Deggan’s mind: “You really don’t want to mess with me.” His willpower unequal to the task of resisting the psychic suggestion, Deggan sheepishly backs away from Nicodemus’ table and takes a seat at a recently abandoned one, helping himself to the remains of a meal left on the plates. The rest of his crew are surprised to see their ringleader backing down despite their numerical superiority, and they try to goad him into fighting the offworlder. At this point, Venris decides to try to take control of the situation. Using a combination of charm and intimidation, the cleric is able to verbally cow the rowdies into submission. By the time the rest of the Acolytes bust into the room, Venris has the situation firmly under control, and he begins to grill Deggan and his crew. They work as ‘regulators’ for the owner of the Colmsten Ranch, one of the county’s largest grox ranchers, scaring off rustlers and bandits. They are in town on their day off, looking to spend their pay and generally raise hell. When Venris quizzes them to see if they know anything that might be relevant to their mission, they are wholly ignorant of the disappearance of the townlet of Crymwell. However, one of the toughs briefly lived in County Neris, and was driven out (for activities similar to what he is up to tonight) by Sheriff Rann, a man he describes as a former Guard Lieutenant, a no-nonsense lawman well-liked by the locals. Although some of the other Acolytes are spoiling for a fight, Venris decides to send the toughs on their way- with a warning that they need to atone for their criminal intent with a healthy donation to the local Temple. Deggan mumbles his consent, and he and his crew clear out, without a drop of blood spilled [Editorial Note: -Which surprised the Hell out of me!]. After this display of testosterone, it takes little effort for Nicodemus to convince his date to spend the night…
The next day the Acolytes arise early and, after fueling up their Outrider- discovering that fuel prices are unpleasantly high on this frontier world- and consult the maps on their dataslate, then set out on the Nor’march Highway, heading North to check out the site of the missing townlet of Crymwell. As they approach the county border, they pass the sprawling Colmsten Ranch. Still steamed by the events of the previous night, Nicodemus makes careful note of the location, with an eye toward paying Deggan and his crew a ‘visit’ after the mission is complete…
Just past the county boarder, the Acolytes come upon a horse-drawn wagon along the side of the road near a copse of trees. Two men seem to be struggling with one of its wheels, while a third tries to wave them down. Suspecting trouble, Quintilla rises up through the Outrider’s top hatch and readies her ‘grox rifle’, as Kaarl slows to a stop. As soon as Venris emerges from the Outrider, a shot rings out from the trees, and the other men- clearly bandits- draw weapons. Alas, the bandits have never encountered anything like Inquisitorial agents, and the Acolytes dispatch them with ease. They loot the bodies and gather up the horses, tying their harnesses to the rear bumper of the Outrider and leading them- slowly- back to Myrvorn. They head to Sheriff Wallis’ office and report the incident. The Sheriff checks the brands of the horses and finds that two of them have been reported stolen. He takes custody of these, and tells the Acolytes that they can keep the others, giving them the name of a good horse trader if they want to sell them (which, of course, they do). After liquefying their loot, the party again heads North.
Come mid-day, the Acolytes are forced to stop yet again, this time by a heard of grox blocking the road, apparently having wandered out from a breach in the fence of a nearby ranch. Several men on horseback are trying to goad the beasts back onto the ranch with shock-prods. Trying to make the best use of the delay, the party quizzes on of the ranch-hands, but learns nothing of use, and, a half-hour later, are on their way.
Due to the delays, it is well after nightfall before the Acolytes reach the farming town of Balvain. With most of the inns now closed, they have to settle for seedy accommodations in one of the few establishments that is open all night.
166.816.M41. After awakening and refueling their vehicle, the group sets off to the North. Farms and ranches become much more sporadic, with forests beginning to replace the rolling plains of the continent’s ‘breadbasket’.
In late-afternoon, the Outrider spooks a huge herd of caelstag, the dominant herbivores of the continent: hulking quadrupeds with cloven hooves and long, flange-like antlers. Thinking this is a good opportunity to supplement their rations, they stop their vehicle and Quintilla uses her powerful rifle to drop one of the beasts with a single shot. Alas, none of the ‘city-folk’ have any skill in field-dressing game, and most of the caelstag goes to waste as the Acolytes settle for hacking off its rear haunches and over-cooking them over a fire. Even so, it’s better than most of the meals they have eaten prior to ariving on Pallinurus Rhys…
Even supplementing their fuel with jerry-cans of promethium, the Outrider is running on fumes by nightfall, and the group just makes it to the logging town of Ryconnoch. Much rowdier than any of the settlements they have thus far seen, Ryconnoch has numerous brothels and gambling dens catering to the rough-and-tumble men who make their living logging in the continent’s sprawling Northern forests.
After refueling their vehicle and locating lodging for the night, Nicodemus and Kaarl decide to try their hand at gambling. The odds are firmly stacked in favor of the house, and, having no particular skill at cards, the two Acolytes loose steadily early on. Fortunately they have deep enough pockets to keep playing until a quirk of probability favors them with a few winning hands, and they end the night with a modest profit.
The Emperor Protects
CORRECTION: The paragraph in the previous entry that begins “The next day the Acolytes arise early…” should have the date stamp 166.816.M41, while the one that begins with 166.816.M41 should be changed to 167.816.M41. The traitors responsible for these unconscionable errors being entered into the official records of the Holy Ordos have been properly scourged. Now, without further ado…
MARK OF THE BEAST
168.816.M41. The Acolytes wake and leave the town of Ryconnoch, heading east toward County Neris. This area is even less developed than to the South, with sprawling virgin forests and only the occasional sign of human settlement, usually in the form of small family farms.
It is late in the afternoon when the Outrider pulls into the town of Cullen, seat of County Neris. It takes only minutes to locate the sheriff’s office in the small town. Parking their vehicle, the Acolytes file into the little building, asking its lone occupant if he is Sheriff Rann. “Nope,” the man says, “I’m Deputy Breydn. The sheriff is out on a call. Something I can do for you?” The Acolytes present their Inquisitorial cognomen; the deputy initially thinks someone is playing a joke on him, but scrutiny of the party’s identification convinces him otherwise.
“We are looking into the disappearance of the population of a small town called Crymwell-“ says Venris- “do you know anything about that?” The deputy reveals that he was part of the search party Sheriff Rann organized to look for the missing settlers; they turned up no sign. “And where is the sheriff now?”
“He’s on a call out at the Colonel’s place.”
“Colonel Lucien Callidus the XII- he’s the largest land-owner in the county. Retired C.O. of the Dreath ‘Fighting 9th’- my old Guard unit. The sheriff’s, too. Y’see, here on Pallinurus Rhys, sheriffs are appointed by the land owners, so naturally the Colonel chose one of his former lieutenants to serve as sheriff.” His sounds suspicious to the agents, and they quiz the deputy about this ‘Colonel’. The deputy briefly considers lying, but thinks better of trying to deceive representatives of the Inquisition. “Erm… well, let’s just say, the Colonel inherited his rank rather than earned it, if you know what I mean. We lost a lot of good men on Gelmiro due to his glory-mongering…”
“I see. And the sheriff…?” says Venris.
“Oh, Lieutenant Rann, he was as fine an officer as you could want! He had a knack for following the letter of the Colonel’s unrealistic orders while subverting their spirit just enough to keep his men alive. I can’t tell you how many of us wouldn’t have survived Gelmiro if it wasn’t for the L.T.”
“Where is the sheriff now?”
“Answering a call out at the Colonel’s place. Seems one of his ranch hands went missing a couple days ago.”
“How do we get to the Colonel’s home?”
“Take the main road east out of town- his house is right on the county boarder, you can’t miss it. And he owns everything between here and there.”
“And what about the town of Crymwell?”
“Actually, it’s just a few clicks past the Colonel’s place, in the unincorporated land past the county boarder.” This increases the Acolytes suspicions, and they ask the deputy if he knows if the Colonel had any dealings with a man named ‘Noor Malear’. “Not that I know of. I can vox the sheriff and ask him-“
“No, that won’t be necessary” says Venris, not sure if he can trust either the Colonel or his hand-picked sheriff. The Acolytes thank the deputy for his cooperation and take their leave.
After another expensive refueling, the Acolytes take the eastbound road out of town. Most of the land is taken up by a sprawling grox ranch. They occasionally spot horse-mounted ranch hands carrying rifles, who eye them intently. A half-hour after setting out, they come upon a huge mansion, constructed in the Imperial Gothic style but made, disconcertingly, entirely from wood. As they get closer they see a group of men on the house’s huge front porch. “Do we want to stop here and speak with the Colonel?” asks Kaarl. After a quick confab the group decides that they would rather see the remains of Crymwell first, before alerting anyone else of their intent, and they drive past the ostentatious residence. The men on the porch watch them with interest; whether their curiosity is born of guilt, or is simply the normal reaction to seeing a promethium-driven vehicle on a road that normally sees only horses, is not apparent.
The land beyond the Colonel’s ranch is heavily forested and the road they are following becomes little more than a trail. After a few kilometers a clear-cut swath opens up beside the road; the group speculated that this is where the trees used to build the Colonel’s mansion were harvested- well out of sight of his property. At some point, a group of enterprising settlers decided to take advantage of the clearing and build three small farms. These farms appear to be abandoned now, with dilapidated homes and overgrown fields. These are clearly the homesteads of the farmers who Sheriff Rann reported missing several months after the population of Crymwell disappeared.
The clearing ends at an irrigation ditch; the road crosses it via a bridge consisting of a large section of rockrete pipe covered with dirt. Uncertain if it can support their vehicle, the Acolytes get out and examine the bridge. It has clearly not been maintained, and the dirt edges are crumbling away, leaving a span barely wide enough to accommodate their Outrider; a slight slip to either side, and they would likely find themselves ‘bottomed out’. Unwilling to jeopardize their transport, the group decides to split up, with Nicodemus, Venris, and Denathor proceeding on foot, taking their requisitioned cyberskull to record their findings, while Kaarl and Quintilla stay back to guard the vehicle.
The sun is low enough to virtually disappear amongst the trees that crowd beside the narrow dirt road leading to the mysterious townlet. As the three agents press forward, unfamiliar sounds confront them from all directions, and unseen shaped occasionally rustle in the undergrowth. A crowded, filthy, crime-riddled hive city is sounding very inviting right about now…
After a quarter-hour of walking, a few buildings become visible through the trees ahead. Nicodemus sends the cyberskull scouting ahead as they try to approach as stealthily as possible. A few minutes after disappearing from sight, the cyberskull reports “NO CONTACTS“ over their microbeads, and the Acolytes enter Crymwell proper.
The townlet consists of eight buildings arranged around a central square. The road leads directly into the square; a smaller trail runs out of town to the North, in the direction of the hot springs the town was being established to exploit. All of the buildings show fire damage. Being constructed primarily of wood, it’s a wonder that they weren’t completely destroyed- almost as if they were haphazardly set aflame by someone who was themself afraid of fire and didn’t want to stay nearby to make sure their handiwork took…
In the center of the square is a large well, where a startling sight confronts the men: a horse’s head is impaled on the finial that surmounts the well’s conical roof. The Acolytes examine the grisly discovery. It is swarming with insects and the blood splattered onto the well roof has dried, but maggots have not yet hatched; they estimate that it has been here less than two days. Venris comments that this resembles the kind sacrificial display made by very primitive Chaos cults…
After sending the cyberskull to patrol the perimeter of the abandoned settlement, the three Acolytes choose a random building and give it a quick search. It appears just as the sheriff reported: personal effects abandoned where they lay, now largely ruined by the encroaching elements. Next, they decide to search a multi-story building that plainly used to be an inn. The ground-floor tavern and the living quarters above look similar to the first building, but the top floor- a rental room- has only a few personal items, and these have been carefully arranged on a bureau. Looking through these items, they find a few articles of clothing, some toiletries, several loose papers covered in strange symbols and sloppy notes, and a book. Although the book is badly water-damaged, they are able to determine that it is a primer for translating the dead language of Kao-Li. The pages of notes appear to be attempts to translate a phrase from that accursed tongue. The most complete fragment bears the legend: When the Hunting Star circles the All-Seeing Eye shall the –illegible- and speak the Blessing of- Amagor? Amuthor?- on the Night of the Three Red Moons (?) whereby Man becomes Beast and Beast becomes Man. Disturbed by the implications of these findings, Nicodemus invokes his psyniscience, and is startled to find the room wreathed in wisps of wytch-fire invisible to the common eye- clearly a powerful wave of warp energy has surged through this space, leaving traces of its unholy passing. Venris wastes no time in deciding to purge the taint: first, he burns the pages of translations, then the cleric orders his comrades out of the inn, following behind and using his flamer to lay down an inferno in their wake.
As the inn burns, the Acolytes piece together the probable events which befell the people of Crymwell: fallen Rogue Trader Argus Haveloche, travelling under his alias Noor Malear, found that the port city of Myrvorn didn’t offer enough privacy for him to attempt to translate his copy of the forbidden Vermilion Codex. Hearing that Crymwell was the most isolated settlement on the planet that offered rental accommodations, he relocated here and set about his heretical work. Alas, his translations triggered… something- and the residents bore the brunt of the warp-curse unwittingly unleashed. Terrified by the results of his warp-dabbling, he hastily packed- missing several items- and fled back to Myrvorn, resolved to sell the Codex rather than try to wield it himself.
As the men debate their next move, they hear a strange, braying call from the dark woods- likely reacting to Venris’ impromptu bonfire lighting up the night. Nicodemus dispatches the cyberskull to investigate. A few minutes after it disappears into the darkness, the skull transmits a message: “CONTACT: UNKNOWN/BIOLOGICAL. CONTACT HOSTI-“ followed by a burst of static. Since he is on the hook financially for the cyberskull if it is not returned after the mission, Nicodemus plunges into the underbrush. He soon comes upon a shocking sight: a grotesque thing, with traits of both beast and man, squats in a small clearing, trying to crack open the disabled cyberskull, like a predator worrying the shell of a turtle. The thing has the torso and arms of a burly man, but the hairy, cloven-hooved legs and horned head of a goat-like animal. It seems as startled by Nicodemus as he is of it, but the beast-man recovers first, dropping the skull and charging Nicodemus with a stone axe. The primitive weapon is no match for Nicodemus’ flak armour, any more that the beast-man’s will is a match for the shock of being wounded by a shot from the psyker’s autopistol. The thing breaks away and, as it tries to run into the woods, braying in pain, Nicodemus cuts it down with a full-auto burst. The shots echo through the dark woods, and in the distance, Nicodemus hears a braying call in response. And another. And another. Frantically grabbing the cyberskull, he runs back toward the townlet.
Alas, Nicodemus is no speed daemon even under the best of circumstances, and by the time he rejoins his teammates, several bestial figures can be seen loping up the trail from the direction of the hot springs. Not liking their chances of outrunning the twisted creatures, the three call for back-up from Kaarl and Quintilla, and prepare to make a stand amongst the ruins. Nicodemus and Denathor take a position in the upper floor of a ruined building, while Venris boldly stands in the center of the square.
Within seconds of taking their positions, the beastmen are upon them. A blast from Venris’ flamer engulfs the lead creature- and the building behind it, setting it ablaze. The rest of the mutants, true to their bestial nature, give the fire a wide berth.
Back at the Outrider, Kaarl says a quick prayer to the Machine God and guns the engine- and gives silent thanks when the vehicle makes it safely over the narrow bridge.
The besieged Acolytes have dispatched a few more beastmen- one of which got close enough to charge Denathor- by the time the Outrider comes roaring up to the edge of the townlet. Quintilla hops out and climbs to the top of the tallest ruined structure, setting up a sniper’s post. Unfortunately, the glare from the burning buildings ruins the night vision provided by the assassin’s photovisor, leaving the underbrush pitch dark. Even without being able to see in the dark, it is clear that more of the hideous mutants have arrived and are lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike. A braying call emanates from the woods, and, trying to provoke a reaction, Quintilla tries- badly- to imitate the call. She is surprised to be answered by a guttural voice speaking in an approximation of Low Gothic: “Hew-man! Yoo cumm owt now!” “Why?” she replies. The creature can obviously not think of a good reply, instead launching into a barbaric chant. Meanwhile, Nicodemus emerges from his holdout and cautiously makes his way toward the Outrider. Before he reaches the idling vehicle, however, he is charged by one of the creatures from the direction of the chanting. This frenzied beastman is wild-eyed and foaming at the mouth- and seemingly immune to pain, as Nicodemus’ autopistol shots have little effect on it. From her sniper’s post, Quintilla brings her high-caliber ‘grox rifle’ to bear- but in the confusion of the swirling melee, she misses the mutant, instead hitting her ally. Nicodemus’ stream of profanity is cut short when another shot rings out- from the opposite direction. “We’ve got another shooter in the woods!” barks Nicodemus over his microbead, unsure if the missed shot was intended for him or his opponent. As bestial eyes study the conflict from the dark woods, another shot catches the frenzied beastman squarely. Between Nicodemus, Quintilla and the mysterious benefactor, the creature is finally slain. The leader of the mutants, surprised at the danger posed by these ‘hew-mans’, orders his followers to retreat with a braying call. The dark underbrush comes alive with rustling sounds, then all is silent.
With no sign of hostile activity for a good minute, the mystery shooter emerges from hiding: a rugged-looking man in a duster and a wide-brimmed hat, a hunting rifle cradled in one arm. He approaches Nicodemus, pulling back his lapel to reveal a starburst-shaped badge. “Name’s Rann, Sheriff Agustus Rann. I saw you drive past the Colonel’s place, and followed you here. Gotta say, I didn’t expect to come upon a scene like this. So, who the hell are you people?”
“Agents of the Holy Ordos of the Inquisition”, says Nicodemus, presenting his official cognomen. The rest of the Acolytes gather around.
“And what, in the name of the Emperor, is that?!” says the Sheriff as he toes to body of the fallen beastman.
“Creatures of Chaos” says Venris, “products of warp-corruption.”
“Emperor’s bones, what have you off-worlders brought to my planet…?” mutters the Sheriff. Then he says to the agents “So were these… things responsible for the disappearance of the people of Crymwell?”
Venris replies “We believe these creatures are the former residents of this town.” Sheriff Rann makes the Sign of the Aquila at this revelation. The Acolytes sensibly suggest that they continue the conversation in a safer location. Venris collects one finger from each of the beastman corpses to compare to the fingerprints to local records to confirm their theory that these are in fact the villagers, horribly mutated by the curse accidently unleashed by the renegade Rogue Trader. Then, some of the party tie one of the dead beastmen to the roof of their Outrider, while the rest are dragged into the fire to “purge their taint” from the Emperor’s domain. Meanwhile, Kaarl tries to repair the damaged cyberskull, but he is too distracted by sounds and dirt and ‘openness’ of nature to focus properly on the task. After the Sheriff has fetched his horse, the Acolytes pile into their vehicle and follow him back to the Colonel’s mansion- reinforcing the bridge over the irrigation ditch with planks taken from the ruins.
When they arrive, the sheriff orders the guards to get the Colonel. A gruff guard informs him that the Colonel has retired for the night and they will have to wait until morning. In reply, the sheriff lifts the head of the dead beastman for all to see and says “I guarantee that he’s gonna want to see this, a.s.a.p.!” The guards blanch at the sight, and one of them double-times it into the mansion.
Several minutes later he returns leading an elderly man with an enormous white moustache, clad in a dressing robe. “See here, lieutenant, what’s the meaning of this?”
Sheriff Rann gestures to the corpse tied to the roof of the Acolytes’ Outrider. “I think we found out what happened to your missing ranch hand.”
Colonel Callidus puts a monocle over one eye and studies the creature. “I say, what kind of beast is this?”
“It is a product of Chaos,” says Venris. “Do you have any idea how it came to be here?”
“What?! The Ruinous Powers? On my planet? Oh, no no no- I won’t have it! I absolutely forbid it! I- wait a moment- who are you people?”
“We, sir, are agents of the Inquisition, sent to investigate the seed of corruption that is trying to take root on this world,” says Venris.
“The Inqui- ah, fellow servants of the Emperor! No doubt you’re familiar with my military record! Well, I simply must insist that you root out this evil at once! I’ll not have these… things running about on my world-“
“We know our duty,” says Nicodemus. “We think these things were created by a man named Argus Haveloche- have you ever had any dealings with him? Possibly under his alias, Noor Malear?” The Acolytes study the Colonel carefully to gauge his reaction, but the former officer shows no familiarity with the names. Further questioning of the Colonel and his men shed no light on the events. Sheriff Rann asks the Colonel if he can put the group up for the night; the pompous old man is happy to accommodate the ‘fellow servants of the Emperor’ and tells his major domo to prepare rooms, then orders to number of guards patrolling the property to be doubled. The Acolytes ask the guards if they have seen anything like the beastman; none have, but a few say they have been hearing strange calls in the woods that don’t sound like any animal they are familiar with. After all of the guards have seen the mutant to prepare them for what may come calling in the night, the Acolytes burn the body.
Kaarl asks if there is a workshop on the premises that he can use; freed from the distractions of fresh air and lack of a ceiling, the techpriest soon has the cyberskull operating normally again.
After having a few stiff drinks in the Colonel’s drawing room, the agents follow the sheriff’s example and turn in for the night, enjoying the break from ‘roughing it’.
The Emperor Protects