Rogue Trader: S2: EP 34: Who left *that* just lying around?
Though the war has raged in the processional of the damned, the smaller moments have not stilled. Aviner tends to the fallen Victrix with a maddened fervour. Weak flesh replaced with hard steel. A seed of mutiny has been placed amongst the crew. With nearly half dead on the Vengeance of Saint Drusus they listened eagerly to Krawkins rumours, and his offer of a place on his ship, “The Chains Of Dusk”. Warp whispers echo across crackling vox and nothing seems to still their demoralizing whispers Purgation squads headed by Father Kaustic feed the hungry flame with those who would praise the acts of the Xenos of fought by their side just moments before.
This is the 41st Millennium.
The scans have come back from the planets. There is an alternative it seems to trusting Krawkin Feckward. The Eldar structure they need to find the Dread Pearl seems to be still intact on the planet Erebus. The scans however also register a large quantity of atomic emissions. Lord Captain Xanatov turns to Stern “I need five men you won’t miss, they have a special mission”. Stern smiles evilly “I have just the men you need”. “What did they do?” Xanatov asks. “Looked at me funny” Stern says with no hint of humour. Opening the vox Xanatov says “Aviner. I need messages indicating that the most senior guard is going planet side. Let’s see if this is a trap”
The crew descend, and a trap it turns out to be. However the result is unexpected. The Eldar structure had been located and an atomic set to detonate on their arrival has been secured and defused. “Seems you have underestimated some of the dregs of your outfit” Xanatov says to Stern. “I was going to have them shot as thieves and deserters, but I guess that plans done” Stern answers.
Over on the Sword of Scintilla Pandareos and Lucius rush to the Fury Interceptor to go planet side and take the needed readings. Leaping into the cockpit Pandareos shouts over the vox “Hey tin….person, we need tech on this ship get your arse here”. “Lets face it” he thinks” “If this is going to be a suicide mission might as well take along the tech priest who talked back”. As the ship rises ready to take to the void the vox crackles to life “I lost them. I lost them all. I can’t believe the lord captain was mad. I had to take command of ship. The astropath is dead. Aviner I need to get to Aviner. I was never meant for command”. Recognising Xanatov voice Pandareos mutters “What, they got Victrix? What the throne?” As the line goes dead he forces a connection back to the Saint Drusus to confirm the message. Xanatov pales as he hears of his message from years gone by, returned here in this nightmare land “I sent no such message” Xanatov says” It’s just this place playing tricks on you” “I should have know” Pandareos says “You would have never said you were not a suitable captain.
Free once more to fly the void, Pandareos can feel eyes upon him. The ships graveyards has a million ghosts that watch the living with envy, or perhaps pity. In the dark beyond the view shields a body floats, head ruined. Frag, long dead, stares back at Pandareos and through the void an impossible voice whispers “The dark”. With a start Pandareos jinks the craft to one side “THRONE”. All eyes turn to him. With a returned calm born of having stared where no man should Pandareos smiles “Just dropped my lodestick”. Lucius is not so easily fooled as most. He can see the anti light that corrodes the vessels here, that turns them to rusted hulks and drags the broken closer to it. Knife blades of pain riddle his back as he sees with his third eye the tangle of fate that brought the Eldar here “There a malevolence here. I don’t know what it is but I can sense it” He warns. He can see them, the civilisations holocausts, rites that pulled a world from its blue sun, dragged it here to perish. The guardsmen below can not see it, but feel it. Triggers are loose, as are the rounds from their weapons. Voices speak to them, ghosts of the still living tell of the strips of flesh taken from their screaming faces.
There is but one point of calm on the planet, the Eldar structure. It is here the Fury Interceptor finishes its journey, hovering above the billowing dust storms its arrival caused. Leaping down Pandareos greets the worried troops “Don’t worry, the madman’s here, and this place can’t do any worse that what I can”. He is laugher is greeted by the babbling of a guardsman who collapses to his knees as his sanity shatters “Game over man, game over.”. They must work fast or all will face the same fate.
Xanatov meanwhile tends to the issues of morale and rebellion upon his ship. The pain that wracks him momentarily held at bay by serial stim injections. The rebellions brews within the ships hold. A smile twitches across Xanatov’s lips as he remembers what else lives down there. From within his zero G throne chamber Xanatov opens vox to the Xenos.
A small green face, all teeth and smile answers “Who is this? What do you want umie?”. “This is the biggest boss. I have a job for Wartsnagger. He likes making people scared of him doesn’t he?” Xanatov says. The grot sniggers “Ere boss, its the strange umie that runs this place” “WHAT DOES HE WANT? WHO I CLOBBERING?” booms from out of sight. The grot works as an interpreter for Xanatov’s demands “Ere, boss, he says that he too ‘ard to deal with this ‘imself so e wants you to do it. Guess eh wants to see if you are good enough to be in ‘is retinue, maybe even a nob” Turning to Xanatvo the grot hisses “You owe me umie” The large greenskin stomp off, then somewhere in the darkness a ball of teeth and anger bounds out. “Oh ZOG. BOSS! BOSS” the grot shouts, running after it’s master as the squig bounds after it with hunger on its mind.
The mutiny doesn’t last long. The first few ringleaders are left as ruined examples by Wartsnaggers brutal antics. The others just vanish. Oddly a surprisingly contended and full squig returns to its quarters later that night. Soon the whispers travel the ship, a curse is on any who would oppose the lord captain.
Back on planet fall Pandareos watches over Lucius as he takes the readings from the Xenos structure, his jacket billowing up from the Fury Interceptors jet. The atomic has been safely stored and all they need is the final co-ordinate. Lucius’ mind is elsewhere, in imagery of a star twisted inside out to create a rip in space time. Of a ring of Eldar Farseers remoulding fate. A gem like planet hanging in space. The star charts become crystal clear He has it. Lucius knows where the dread pearl, the planet the Eldar call Fionaddha, is. The co-ordinates are quickly sent over to Estiban. Estibans voice returns as if a high pitches sine wave with terror in his voice. Another voice intrudes “Wake up. Wake up damn it we haven’t finished yet. Where’s Xanatov damn him, where is he. Fetch me another boy. Damn his eyes they will worship me, they will know I am their god.” Only Estiban recognises the voice, that of the previous lord captain Sigmund, but he does not say, he only weeps down the vox “Help me. The hooks, the hooks”. Lucius shouts at Pandareos “Get us out of here, now” then to Xanatov voxes “We need a security team in the navigator spire immediately”
On The “Vengeance of Saint Drusus” Xanatov waves his hand and a team is dispatched. Vox reports come back quickly with sick tales. The room is empty but for a flayed cadaver. Organs and flesh spattered upon the floor. Whoever did this now gone. As the last word of the situation is heard the guard collapses gibbering. Madness has taken the team, the horror of the area too much for them. The team sent to pure the area with flames is not enough. In the end the entire area has to be opened to the void to purge the stain on the rooms soul. The clean up team reports back “I fear we are not alone here. Something is working to weaken the crew. We have had to execute many to restore control, what? I just heard something”. Sigmund’s laughing voice is heard once more “You there. Have you brought me that boy? Where is my seneschal, I fell the urge to castigate him. Bring him to me, squealing like a woman’s sobbing”.
Xanatov cuts the vox and shouts “Lock down entrance to that spire and surround it with the imperial guard. No one goes in there. We need to leave this area now.” Opening coms to the Fury Interceptor he says Pandareos, hurry up”. “aight, cos I want to stay here longer that necessary of course. Maybe work on my tan or summat” comes Pandareos’ sarcastic reply. It does not take long for them to return and Lucius joins Xanatov at the helm of the bridge.
That done Xanatov sits back upon his command throne as the tech priests attend to his wounds. No anaesthetic though, he needs to be sharp with Sigmund upon the craft. As he orders to depart to the incoming location of the dread pearl he spots a reflection upon the bridge’s vista panel. With great pain he lifts himself to look. In the reflection hovers a bloated corpulent figure, silken robes floating around him as if underwater. Spinning round Xanatov sees the Bishop Of Xothos floating above his command throne.
Lucius’ feels a stabbing pain in his chest and looks to the command throne, seeing nothing but a hazy coil of smoke above the throne. To Xanatov the bishop speaks “Xanatov my boy, it’s been so long. Come to me my dear. Come to me” he pulls open his robes to show numerous mewling faces that entreaty from his sagging flesh. A purple rune is carved in the midst, a rune that causes Xanatovs mind to recoil with nausea. The bishop’s eyes turn jet black as he extends his arm. “We were waiting for you Xanatov”. Then the bishop is gone.
Finally pushed past the limits of his endurance Xanatov collapses unconscious to the ground. As tech priest swarm around the fallen lord captain Lucius sees the tendrils of energy extend throughout the ship and crew. Taking command Lucius says ”Take us to the warp gate, this place will be the end of us if we stay. Get moving. Now!”
The three ships move in response to the command, but Feckwards ship stands between them and the gate. As they approach a voice speaks over the vox “Guard your souls. Think of the emperor, he watches over us all. You will get through this and you will take the pearl. Beware the statues that walk. Beware ”as the message fades it is replaced by the voice of Krawkin Feckward as he greets them “Ah have behold his glory and he rides a pale horse. His name is vengeance and his sword is justice. I will honour my side of the bargain. Will you honour yours?” Xanatov drags himself once more to his feet to find Krakin has sent over the locations as promised, and surprisingly they match those they have taken themselves. It seems Krawkin has not lied to them this time. Unmollified Xanatov messages “Cross me and I shall destroy you and all related to you”. Seeing open pic feed Xanatovs ruined condition Krawkin smiles “Every wound you have my brother is a blessing from him on terra. He has send you trial and tribulation but you have not have not failed. The dread pearl will bend your knee, or it will crush you utterly, but you will know him”. Fed up with Krawkin’s words Xanatov gives the ultimatum “Leave. Before I blow you from the stars”. Krawkin answers” I am his messenger, do not turn from his words. My mission is to spread his glory across the galaxy. Join me and I will deliver his mercy” Any further message is lost to the void as Xanatov cuts the link.
From behind Xanatov there is the sound of racked shotguns. The security team have their weapons ready and raised as a bone tired pale and shaking Estiban steps onto the bridge. With barely a thought Xanatov draws his inferno pistol and adds it to the list of weapons aimed at the previously thought dead navigator. “I heard reports that you were not in one piece any more Estiban”. Confused Estiban asks ”I have endured much, why are your men pointing weapons at me. Interjecting Lucius demands they stand down “All is good. It was just another trick”. Putting away his pistol Xanatov says “Forgive our caution it has been a trying time”. Estiban nods shakily “Yes, I had another run in with mine and your predecessor on this vessel. An echo burnt upon the vessel, he was a monster. Why did you not kill him sooner? he was an abomination” Xanatov shakes his head “It I continued to second guess all my decisions from that time I would have gone insane”
The ships head in formation through the Eldar gate, on a journey back to the comparative safety of the expanse. As the light of real space returns Estiban sighs and slumps sideways without a sound, dead before the floor takes him. Looking at his once mentor Lucius sees the snag of destiny that has held him alive all this time. It was his time. The act of his friend Lucius kept him from dying in the Processional of the Damned, he died free of its curse. “Emperor take his soul and give him peace” Lucius mutters.
Celebration reign over the three ships, the madness has abated and they are still alive. Across the vox from the Sword of Scintilla comes “Aight, this is now Captain Pandareos speaking. How ye doin’ “This is not the time” comes Xanatovs terse reply and the vox is cut off.
The time has come to recover and plan. The Navigator spire cleared of bodies, Lucius returns to plot the journey to the Dread Pearl. Xanatov finally lets the medicae team knock him out to attend to his injuries. Soon the time comes to return to the warp. Lucius again takes the vision quest to lead them, stepping through the pock marked doors of the hive structure, coming in from the desert of the normal. Inside the virtual hive he hears the whooping and inhuman holing of ganger things on the hunt. Here the protective light of the god emperor seems so faint. So far way. His whispers of prayer are met by whispers from the darkness. His chest itches with sweat and something wafts near. Suddenly a second beacon fills his eyes, an Eldar rune shining so very bright. Something shifts behind it, but it is confused and lost before this new beacon. Grasping this Lucius feels the warp still. It is a bare five days more to go before they return to real space.
In those days Victrix awakes. Alive, but no longer fully human. Her time in Aviners maddened cares has found her something akin to a entreaty to the omnissiah. An empty feeling in her gut, Victrix sees her new self, more machine than flesh a mix of gunmetal grey and black composite.
Watching over her as she awakes is the haunting figure of Sente, not a stranger herself to Aviners experiments. Their minds match and Victrix can feel that Sente’s psychic powers in weakening, perhaps a gift considering their deamonic source. Around the two of them are jars holding the cut and bloodied scraps of what was once Victrix.
“You’re awake” Sente says “When he did this to me I thought I would kill him. I may still one day. He never asked me if I wanted this, but he didn’t have the balls to kill me. Maybe you will kill him for this, maybe I will stop you, maybe. I still love him. It makes you do odd things. I’ve always had things done against my will to me. So many I don’t even know what abuse is. But sometimes I think, when Aviner did this, that he abused me, and for that I want to crush him, kill him. You always hurt the one you love”
Pulling herself for the gurney Victrix looks down to see the gurney crushed beneath her hands. “Look at you” Sente says “Crawling from the cocoon, what will come of you now?”. Victrix’s smile is cold “I will continue doing what I did before. The same as always” ”That’s what I thought initially” Sente says “We aren’t the same when he is done with us. I think there’s a madness in him. He can’t stop until we are all like him, if we want it or not.” The other tech priests offer a choice. Not him. Not any more”.
“All I know is that I was going to die at the hands of the plague marine, and I wasn’t ready to. It wasn’t my time yet” Victrix says. Sente laughs harshly “He could have saved you in many other ways. Maybe you will hear what I hear. The machines singing in the night. The machines screaming. Maybe you will dream of the joy on his face as he butchers you with staplers and blades. As he takes your life away. Oh how I love him.” Victrix stumbles away from this, longing for the warm womb of her astropathic choir.
Finally the sips return to real space. Before them a green blue orb hands in space like a jewel. Their vision of it partially barred by the lethal energy of the warp storm that surrounds it. The Dread Pearl. Finally.
There is little time for celebration as the klaxons of warning sound. Other ships are leaving the warp. First Feckward in the “Chains of Dusk”, followed by the blunt block of steel that is Scourges craft. A small fleet indicates Admiral Basteel’s entrance. Then, Somehow impossibly alive Able Gerret and Madam Charabelle enter with their crafts. Somehow the time twisting acts of the Processional Of The Damned has spared their lives.
The craft face each other, waiting for the first metaphorical blink.
It does not come. Instead a final craft enters, a gilded monstrosity. Humming with broadband prayers. A promise that a new Terra will be found, if only you kiss his holy ring. The Bishop Of Xothos has come to claim his progeny once more.