WH40K: Rogue Trader: S2: E30: Where The Emperor Fears To Tread.
The Saint Drusus is in a period of mourning, the fallen hero of the empire remembered by all upon her. This mourning does not extend so far as to halt the looting “The Light Of Terra”. Many spectacular rarities and artefacts are distributed amongst the upper echelons of command from her hull.
Confusion is rife amongst the rumours that have spread across the ship. That Lord Captain Xanatov has been identified as the return of Saint Drusus, that they shall head to Terra, that a new Crusade has been declared. The factions attached to each rumour spring up quickly, and they are little willing to hear the heresy of a claim counter to their own. In these days Xanatov and Victrix conspire to bring a new stability to the ship as Pandareos stalks the corridors attempting vainly to find some truth amongst the wild stores of the ship. Worried for the Lord Captains mental health the Tech Priest Aviner sends a polite message hoping for a meeting between the two old companions. Lucius meanwhile keeps his head down, these are dark times.
In her astropathic chambers Victrix summons Colonel Stern and Father Kaustic to meet her. With such witches abode as their meeting place Stern finds himself uncharacteristically late and even the pure of faith Kaustic looks around with superstitious unease, aquillas and rosaries festooning his person. His bare feet nigh cut to pieces and claw like marks still across his face Kaustic walks across the hoarfrost of the chamber that marks the psychic activity that has taken place hear. Spitting upon the ground he greets “You summoned me here witch?”. Victrix requests a moments grace to allow Stern to arrive. “Very well” Kaustic replies “Have you got somewhere I can pray then witch?”. As Victrix indicates an area, Kaustic kneels and starts flaying his own back raw, weeping with ecstasy at the act.
Shortly after, Stern arrives, his eyes raw red and tired in contrast to his smart full dress uniform. With the three together Victrix starts ”I appreciate you coming here. I know the discomfort some of you find here, but we needed absolute privacy”. With that she hands each of them a document “Given events of recent times, the lord captain has decided to insure against falling like the previous lord captain. The documents you have in your hand are standing orders to essentially bestow upon you the authority to strip the Lord Captain of his title and deed if he falls to heresy”. Shocked Stern says ““You mean that the lord captain would give up his warrant for fear of heresy? He’s not a heretic”. “I am aware, but this is just in case something happens to him that leaves him open to such things.” Victrix states in calm tones as she opens her document “This is an addendum to the warrant of trade, saying that if he turns against the Imperium we are granted the authority discussed before” Kaustic speaks in a hushed tone ”It’s an act of piety is what it is, that nothing will alter the way of the crusade. He would make a sacrifice of himself to see alien worlds burn” Stern smiles “Aye, he’s a canny bastard that one. He’s guaranteeing nothing new. He would do it anyway, but has made it sound like something new for those back home.” With this done Victrix confirms that she will send notice of this to those back in the empires reaches and thus the deed is set.
Meanwhile Pandareos and his crew are on a search for truth and booze. Possibly even in that order. Onna walks quietly by on side, grimy and matted hair covering her face and the madness sin her eyes, blades hidden along her arms. Alala in her black bodyglove and double breasted greatcoat strikes an unusually professional air for the group, an optical sight hanging over her eye and a long las on her back. Finally the familiar sight of the Player strumming his guitar, long brimmed hat on his head and a pick in between his teeth and the brightly attired voidmaster Pandareos, a laughing mix of red, yellow and gunsteel adorning him. At first sight it is hard to imagine this is the group that left three chaos vessels as burning hulks mere days before
“eh, so ese, you say you were coming over here for some more booze” The Player asks. “Aye” Pandareos replies “But if the lord captain finds out we’re taking it we will have to leave at a run. Work first”. Alala looks disapprovingly ”You do know my honoured employer, in stealing from the Lord Captain you are stealing from god emperor himself and you know the punishment is for that” she pats her gun as she finishes talking. Pandareos laughs “It’s not stealing if he expects me to do it. Its like a game, he knows I’m going to try and take the booze and he’s going to try and stop me”. “You have great skill at sophistry in your justifications” Alala says. Pandareos looks confused for a moment “I don’t know what that means, but yes I am very skilled. Now everyone, don’t forget we need to be subtle here, so if any of you work out what that is please tell me”
Onna breaks her silence muttering ” Blood death, knife under the guts its beautiful”. “Ok, if that is what subtle means we are very good at it” Pandareos says. Alala speaks again “The lord captain, is it true that he his fated to walk amongst the chosen, that he has an aquilla that shines eternally upon his forehead?” “Not that I’ve seen, course he may just have hidden it, but I doubt it” Pandareos replies. “I find your faith lack disturbing” Alala says. ” Hey, just cos I have known him so long that I don’t think anquilla shines out his arse doesn’t mean I don’t have faith” Pandareos says with a smirk. ”I didn’t say it shined out of his… Anyway, is it true he fought alongside the emperors angels, the astartes?” Alala asks. “Oh aye, I tell ya, I’ve fought daemons, killed heretics and defied death, but when I met a space marine…. Heck, even if he couldn’t have snapped me like a twig with one hand I wouldn’t have got in his way” Panadreos says “Listen, ya like the lord captain, I’ll try and introduce ya to him some time”. Alala nods, a glimmer of faith burning in her eyes “I shall go to a shrine to pray then” “Good plan, check if there’s still bolter damage from when they tried to jump me in there”. Onna mutters again “Blood in orbit,. Screaming, burning crafts spilling apart” .” Ya know girl, ya scare me” Pandareos says. “I’m not scary I’m nice” Onna objects “Yeah, lets not shake on that aye? Lets find us some booze, then find out if we are going to war, terra, war on the way to Terra or what. Heck I hope he doesn’t turn out to be an actual saint and I’ve pissed him off”
Far away on the craft, Xanatov is aware of the exchange, watching and listening through vox and pic feeds. With sigh at the void masters predictable vices he messages Aviner indicating he is finally free to meet him.
Lucius is watching Estiban as he works away, muttering to himself. The remaining locations of hints as to the dread pearls whereabouts hover in front of him. realising he is being watched, he turns the screen away and greets Lucius, a pale and drawn expression on his haggard face ”ah Lucius my boy it is good to see you again, how are you”. Lucius shrugs “Pretty good considering what is going on around”. Estiban still seems to be distracted answering “How could have seen it that we found the Light of Terra here, there is a greater hand guiding us than even the Xenos. The god emperor is steering us. But I can’t believe that the emperor wants us to go there” sweat forms on his brow, neither need to discuss which ”there” he is talking about, the final location which they have told no one of, not even the lord captain. “We must go to Dross or Vaporis, once that is done then we can be free”. Seeing the worry in his friends face Lucius says “Vaporis was always my choice”. This cannot stop the stream of consciousness that is babbling fearfully forth as Estiban continues ” “Did you ever hear the tale of Wrath Umbolt? He’s still out there somewhere, propping up a bar. He was a Rogue Trader and found something out here, beyond the emperors light, he found what is called the processional of the damned and this final waypoint, I fear it lies there”. Gesturing at the star chart, at an absence that mars its heart he adds “It is said in his travels he washed up in a shore of a star as black and cold as hell itself, it was not a natural star, it was cursed. It was said ships go there to die. I pray Vaporis is where we go, for otherwise death is a mercy compared to that place. Umbolt left, he survived, but no one else came back. That is why he drinks himself to death, there is something that does not belong to the universe there”. With barely a glance at the chart Estiban winces in pain then turns away once more, his flesh shaking. Keeping his tone calm, trying to bring his friend back to the shores of sanity Lucius speaks “We do not need to go there, we have alternatives”. Estiban however is not calmed “As soon as it came up in the star chart, in the tarot I had a vision of our doom and I fear it will be the end of me. I am a faithful man but I would do anything to avoid my fear, that it will take me and never let me go. I dream of it nightly, our screaming, the emperor deserting us.” He grabs Lucius, his eyes wide “We must not go there. Impress on the Lord Captain that we must go to Vaporis or Dross and quickly”. Long hours go before finally Lucius can leave his friend be, and still his words haunt the night.
Victrix’s mind as one and many. Her apprentices merging with her, feeling the warp and the whispers of alien empires. Through the darkness bright flares of light burn, messages from beyond. There is Dross, a planet of gas and burning acid winds. A small lander craft buffeted as the massive ship above it is torn by the buffeting acid wind Charabella and Garret are upon the planet. A vision from inside a persons eyes, blood drips down over their view as cataclysmic explosion rock the craft, pushing it into the gravity wells embrace. A voice speaks out “Ya came to take what is mine, and now I take your ships. Say goodbye to your lord and lady. Turn all guns on the eldar ruins, and do not stop firing until I can see the mushroom cloud from orbit” Krawkin Feckwood has taken a coordinate and their allies.
A second image, Xathe, an armada in orbit above it. Blitz, Sun Lee and Basteel. Scourge is nowhere to be found however. Titanic detonations and weapons fire loose from the ground, the landships are ready for them. Thee ships are cut in half in short order, then a full third of Basteels forces destroyed throughout the day. Pre warned the landships have formed a coalition to repel the invaders. Sun Lee attempts to recover the situation, assassinating the core of the alliance formed through a marriage, this does little but fuel the fire of their resistance and shortly Sun Lee must concede fleeing from the land. Blitz joins her in flight before the atomic detonations that near ruin his ship. Only Basteel stays claiming the victory, but at the cost of half his fleet in all. He is now a haunted man, the Dread Pearl his only thought, that and to curse the names of Xanatov, Pandareos, Victrix , Aviner and all who walk the “Vengeance of Saint Drusus’” corridors.
Having made sure that the alcohol Pandareos intends to steal has been replaced with recaf, Xanatov walks forwards to greet Aviner, a newfound zeal burning through.. Concern showing on what remains of his humanoid features Aviner says . “I am not sure of the correct protocol but I think I should offer what would be considered sympathy for the loss of the man you considered a hero” Xanatov thanks him “I know how difficult it is for you to say that my old friend, I appreciate the sentiment”. Aviner adds ”I hear that we may be going to war, a new crusade. I fear that I would not be of use to you in such a time. I have already become more proficient than I ever wished in such dealings, and I do not know if the man nor machine that returns would be the same “. “You have had enough of the bloodshed” says Xanatov, succinctly summing up the issue. “Your dynasty is now vast, do you think if it came to it, there would be a place for me to be, to still search out the hidden lore. If it came to it, if you needed me, I would not desert the man who I would most closely associate with what people seem to mean when they say friend, but I could not sooth the machine spirits with clear and logical mind for such a war”. Xanatov understanding, speaks that nothing is set in stone yet. “One last thing” Aviner says “I have become aware, that if I were to become lost, no longer be myself. That Sente would not be able to bring an end to me, as I could not to her. You have the skill, the technology and the will. If I have become not me, can I trust you to do what is needed?” “You can” Xanatov says. That done Xanatov says “Colonel Stern Father Kaustic, Victrix , Lucius Estiban and Gabriel, we need them in the meeting chamber, Pandareos I will bring there myself.”
The aforementioned Pandareos stares at a bubbling thing that spills corrosive vile bile like liquid across the floor. The promised amsec, or even the unexpected replacement recaf completely missing. Onna’s head snaps up and she drops into a defensive three point stance at some unseen assailant. Moments later she scuttles into the darkness, two knives in hand where a horrible shriek emerges. She steps out of the darkness, a green feral snarling thing dragged behind her. “Right Xenos Filth” Pandareos says “Now be polite and I won’t have to put a bolter shell in your skull, who are you?”. “Your mothers best friend” spits the grot. With a shrug Pandareos answers “So you’re into necrophilia, what else is new. Now tell me why I shouldn’t kill you. For example, where the throne is my amsec?” The grot taps a previously concealed knife against Pandareos trouser bulge “Ere, you umies are attached to these things., How about I cut them off”. “Great, ok, I’ll put the bolt pistol away, you put that away, then we talk about the throaning amsec”. The grot is not fooled. “No chance umie,. Why don’t you talk to the boss?”. With a sigh Pandareos says “Aight, take me to yer boss, but when I get my amsec , you’re dead Xenos”. “Try it umie, I’ll cut your face off when you’re sleeping”
Xanatov steps from the darkness, a mixture of amusement and resignation on his face “Don’t explain, I already know what you were doing, looking for alcohol again Pandareos?”. “Aight, so what if we were, me and my crew took out three throaning chaos vessels, we deserve some alcohol”. “Then why didn’t you just ask for it?” Xanatov says. There is a moment of silence as Pandareos finally realises the somewhat overlooked option he could have used” Aight, can I have some amsec?” Xanatov tosses a metal flask over. Pandareos turns to leave then pauses, remembering a promise made just a moment before. Pulling his bolt pistol loose he smashes it into the grots face butt first. The grot crumples before the impact, landing a dead smear on the ground. “You know I could tell the ork about that” Xanatov says in a taunting tone. “So tell it, it would probably kill me but when have I backed down just cos of that?. It was a Xenos I killed it, what’s the problem”. “Oh the noble battle, they shall sing hymns of this mighty conflict” Xanatov taunts. ”Listen, if I saw an Eldar with it’s trousers down round its ankles facing the wrong way Id put a bullet in its head. Kill the Xenos remember?”. “Oh Pandareos, things are so much more complex that your simple ideas” Xanatov says. Turning to leave once more, Pandareos asks” By the way, you don’t have an invisible ever shining aquilla on you’re forehead do ya?”. Maybe I do” comes the answer” Maybe I do”
Eventually everyone is gathered for the meeting in the great hall. As Alala sees Xanatov she drops down to her knees, bowing deeply. Shocked Xanatov says ”Please that’s quite enough prostrating, you may stand up”. Alala speaks ” “I’m Alala. I have been trained from birth to kill the emperor’s enemies and I will not rest. I will murder the apostates. I am a crusader, I am the destroyer, and I am the emperor’s wrath made flesh.” “Admirable zeal indeed” Xanatov says “reminds me of a young me before I lost my eyes”. Turning to the vast crowd Xanatov laughs as he apologises for a distinct lack of chairs.
The opening pleasantries done Xanatov continues, going over what has happened in the quest to find the Dread Pear, and to take it or deny it to their enemies. “ That will continue no matter what. There are two courses of action of what we will do afterwards however. The first is to execute a crusade in the name of the saint druses and the emperor, the second to return to holy terra and to return Roth to its hallowed lands. Nothing has been decided yet, our mission is the dread pearl. I do not want division on this ship” A roar of agreement had gone up to each suggestion. Kautic interjects “It is evident that you have been chosen. Whatever is chosen by you then is the emperors choice.”
With that the lower ranking crew are dismissed to leave. Pandareos stands still visibly shaking at the mention of holy Terra “Lord Captain, If I get to see Terra with my own eyes, then I would take the expanse, storm the eye of terror alone if that is what it took.” Xanatov answers “We have not decided yet, but it is an option” .“Maybe you are the little drusus” Pandareos mutters before reverting to his usual bantering tone “So, since she seems to be a fan of yours, any chance you can put in a good word will Alala for me would ya, ya know mention a reputation about me being great in bed or summat” Xanatov smiles “why just tell her, I could show her the pic recordings from the ship” Pandareos fixes Xanatov with a hard stare as Xanatov continues “Myself and Godwin have access to them, surely .the pic footage would be better than my word” Out manoeuvred Pandareos spits “aight lord captain, have it your way, but when you use what you learnt on those tapes, remember who ya learnt it from , and see if ya can keep it up afterwards”
Serious once more Xanatov asks “Where do we go next”. Lucius says “In my mind the next move would be Vaporius. Its there or Dross and we know what Dross holds, though that may change on latest reports from Victrix.” Victrix interjects explaining about the vision of the battle for dross”. Aviner muses a moment “Am I right in thinking that Vaporis is the only remaining site and therefore all rogue traders will be descending on it”. “Yes “ Lucius replies, avoiding mention of the forbidden warp coordinates that only he and Estiban were aware of. “Hmm, what chance do we have of getting there first and fast enough that there is no conflict” Aviner asks. ”Good odds, if we move quickly then we should be able to get in and out before they get the jump on us” Lucius says. From his throne Xanatov says” Then it is decided. Aviner prepare the medicae bays for potential casualties and make sure the Gellar fields are up to a warp jump. Have everyone ready their last will and testament, this may get bloody”. Shaking his head Lucius mutters “I cant believe I am saying this but it may be safer going planet side with Pandareos”. With a smile Pandareos clasps one arm around Lucius shoulder ”So, ya buying me drinks later then”. Shaking off Pandareos arm Lucius suggest attracting the ork to the teleportarium and keeping it on standby. Pandareos adds “aye, and tell him whoever we are teleporting ‘im over to just killed his grot. Lord Captain, mind if I take the Scintilla in first, if we find any trouble there they can’t kill what they cant hit”. Xanatov nods” Just what I was about to say, and take some crates of amsec with you”
The representative from the Penance of Iocansus looks worried “My lord. I must confess I am nervous about this talk of violence. We are traders. I must act as my mistresses’ good conscience and avoid violence. May we act in a support role in some way instead” “Absolutely” says Xanatov “I am not expecting you to be the vanguard. How quick could you convert the bays to medicae bays to tend to our wounded?” Aviner says “ It should be done in a sufficient long warp transit.”. “Xanatov says ”Then the Penance of Ioncansus is our medical ship, have the tech priests attend to the wounded there
The planning done, it is time to put it to action. Once more the ship prepares itself for a journey through the warp, a journey that proves mercifully short. Encased in a cocoon like pod Lucius watches the world of the warp as it flits through his third eye in symbolism and dreamscapes. To him the warp he walks through is seen as giant blast doors into an underhive, nestling with predators and mutants. Through these dreamscapes he navigates, dragging the craft way from burning green fires that spring out from broken piping, as the ship responds in kind avoiding the warp storms that plague the journey. Finally eight days later the craft bursts back once more into real space.
As real space coalesces Victrix and Lucius are overcome by a vision. A desert world below them, scarred only by crystal copper cities and tattooed with azure blue seas. This is Vaporis, its two suns beating down. The ground shakes, life purged with catastrophic weapons fire. A ship floats in orbit above. That was weeks, no, months ago.
The ships are in real space, looking over the ruined planet of Vaporis. Someone has beaten them here. It is too late. The ecclesiarch outpost is gone, and the eldar waypoint with it There are no more co-ordinates. Cursing Pandaroes voxes “Guess we have to hunt down whoever did it and bring their navigator to you. Break the knowledge from their brain. Its board and burn time again”. Xanatov contemplates for a moment and says “looks like its your way Pandareos, can we get a trail on them?”
The conversation is interrupted as the bridge doors swing open and a sweating, terrified figure staggers in. Supported by Lucius at his side, a trembling Estiban speaks ”My lord captain, there is another way, there is another waypoint”. Xanatov looks disbelieving but hopeful “Really?”. “Yes my lord”. Estibans skin hangs loosely from his face, his sleep deprived eyes flickering with haunted visions. Finally he speaks once more, the words tumbling loose as if never to stop lest he never speak once more. “If Feckwood has done this, then he is already well on his way, and may have already discovered the pearl. Or he may have realised, not far from here is an artefact, we sensed it on the way in, a warp gate possibly crafted by Eldar, or some other Xenos species. The gate leads to a place I would give anything to the god emperor to never have to see. If it means finding the pearl first though, then I have no choice but to confront my doom. The risk that faces us, you must understand, this is like nothing we have seen before. It is not bloodshed or lives that we risk, it is the matter of our souls. We have been protected by faith and geller fields, but at this last point we have no such protection. There are no guns, no faith no prayers, no weapons that can protect us from it. You go to this point and you risk everything. You must be prepared to have your crew exposed to madness, to xenos gods, to cannibalism. To lose yourself to it and all you hold dear. If I reveal this place I fear it will damn you and all of us.”
There is nothing but silence as his monologue finally ends. Xanatov breaks the silence eventually. ”The price may be too high. It is better to give up the pearl than risk that. Pandareos, find me a trace of Feckwood ship. Estiban, you take that location to your grave”. The scans run for long hours, but nothing is found but the artefact, the warp gate mentioned. Xanatov commands “All ships go up to the artefact and set up perimeter around it. Be prepared to open fire”. As Pandareos moves the sword of Scintilla into position around hit the augers display readings of strange etheric energies from the wraithbone structure. More so that that signs small fleet passed through the gate several months ago. ” Good news, whoever’s fleet it was it went this way” Pandareos reports in.
Back on the Saint Drusus Estiban says “It will be Feckwoods ships, they have been through there already”. “Then they are lost to humanity” Xanatov says. Estiban “They made it through, they made it there and out once more for we say them after the auction. I cannot imagine what horrors he has allied with in that place”. Many who were at the auction remember the Chaos servants that struck at them there and know what alliances Feckwood has made. “Master of the guns, target that structure” Xanatov demands.
The gunners find they cannot lock upon the structure, some Xenos sorcery keeps it safe. Xanatov raises Aviner by vox ”Deploy a warning beacon for all emperor fearing citizens to keep away, by my authority and by all that is holy”. Aviner thinks then replies “Request to examine gate. If it is not examined there is a chance that the beacon would just alert heretics to it’s presence”. Ignoring this momentarily Xanatov turns to Estiban, desperate for any other chance to hold onto the quest for the dread pearl “ I want to examine Dross, to see if anyone survived there. Any clue we can find”. Etiban replies, locked in nihilistic futility “We have no choice Dross is lost. Searching for Feckwood would be a needle in a haystack. When I look into the immaterium I see this place. If we want the dread pearl there is no choice. If we do not then we must flee the quest for the pearl”. Shouting Xnatov says ”What would you want me do Estiban. Turn our souls away in service of our own greed?” Estiban replies “we could turn away. The machinations of the Eldar have lead to this moment. Can a man escape his fate.”
Again Aviner requests permission to examine the artefact “Let me use the teleprtarium. If there is danger I will face it alone, let no other pay for my folly. I must examine that device” Even through the clinical buzz of the Tech Priest voice a madness of obsession can be recognised. Xanatov asks “Estiban how dangerous is it to examine that?” Estiban shakes his head” He must be mad. Or maybe merely does not understand the risk”. Xanatov answers Aviner “Aviner, seems quite evident you will go even if I don’t want you to. You get caught I’m leaving you there, and the first sign of trouble I’m teleporting you out.“. “Very well” comes the reply. Cutting the vox Xanatov curses “Stubborn tech priest”.
Xanatov has just started giving the orders to take the vessels back to Demaris for repair when Pandareos voxes through “Hey, we leavin’? Whats going it?. They went through the gate, we have them!”. “We aren’t going through there. If we go we are doomed” Xanatov says. Pandareos muses a moment “Dead or damned? Heck, this thing scared ya, that aint normal. I don’t like giving up, how about I take the Scintilla, stick my head through. I die, you were right, I live then I get to be the Captain of this ship, I’ve grown to like the old girl”.
Muttering about the stubborn crew he has to face today Xanatov answers “Very well, Volunteer only, anyone else stays on the Penance Of Iocansus. Estiban you will join them on the Penance”. Estiban shakes his head weakly “I cannot avoid this”. Pandareos cuts in “Brave man, listen, yer going to stay alive. If I have to stand in front of a horde of Chaos Marines I’m going to drag you out of this”. Estiban laughs weakly “Is a river brave for following the mountain. No man can escape its fate”. “phh, I’ve ignored my fate many a time old man, you aint going to die”.
Xanatovs orders to Linara Cobalt for her to hold the Penance Of Iocansus back are ignored “This is my craft Lord Captain and I say I will go”. “Why is everyone so stubborn today” Xanatov asks. “Hey lord captain, ya know ya want to go, your like a timid lady, who needs to be wooed into doing what you wanted to do anyway” Pandareos says. Xanatov answers “Pandareos you have no idea what a lady is like. The women you know say whatever you pay them to say”. The tone is jocular but all knows that they soon will head into the darkness, and whatever returns may be them no longer. This may be their darkest hour.