Valdane's Chronicles

The Gathering Storm - Part 2
Arrival on Cel. Thorsholt. Into the House of Echoes.

The journey to Cel takes only a week, as the favourable tides of the Processional push along the Rogue Trader’s vessel at a blistering pace. Along the way, the acolytes get acquainted with their temporary home – exploring the vessel’s few markets and conversing with the ship’s crew.

They learn that Cel is an agri-world with a standard level of technology. Although Cel’s main tithe production is focused on refined grain, it also holds meager promethium reserves. The planetary capital is a coastal city named Lordsholm – home to Cel’s only means off-world, the Avalos Spaceport.

For most of the journey, the acolytes keep a relatively low profile aboard the ship. However, realizing that other merchants making stops on Cel may potentially spread the Genestealers further throughout the sub-sector – or beyond – the acolytes decide to use Valdane’s inquisitorial authority to gain an audience with the Rogue Trader.

The acolytes explain that Cel is now under inquisitorial quarantine, preventing him from landing goods or personnel or from picking up any new cargo. The captain is adequately convinced, even agreeing to inform other passing vessels of Cel’s status.

Emerging from the Warp, the acolytes are told to expect a few more hours before they reach their destination. They spend the little time remaining to store their gear aboard their Cutter and to make their final preparations. Corvath runs through his final checklists before they depart.

The journey down through Cel’s atmosphere is relatively painless, but as the acolytes breach the cloud cover and fly over Lordsholm, it’s clear that there is something afoot within the city. Pillars of smoke reach up into the sky like outstretched talons. Small fires dot the cityscape.

The acolytes also see how the crisscrossing canals of the city divide Lordsholm into four main districts.

First, to the southeast sits Portica – a hub of roads, mag-rails, and docks where Cel’s goods enter the city on route to the factories or leave the planet through the Avalos Spaceport. Close to the sea and lost in the cold and damp fog, the acolytes can barely make out much else. However, the large, walled Planetary Defence Force base remains visible, silently defending Lordsholm’s numerous rail yards and massive storage facilities.

The second district, Calistria, makes up the bulk of the western reaches of the city, spilling out across Lordsholm’s canals and onto Cel’s mainland – having the appearance of a hive spread outwards rather than upwards. Approaching the city closer now, the acolytes see that Calistria’s twisting streets, hab blocks, and large open air markets are rife with small riots and fires raging unchecked.

On the northern side of Calistria is the Fabrica district, sitting deep in the centre of Lordsholm. Hidden by a pall of smoke and ringed by dozens of foul smelling canals, Fabrica is filled with various factories, mills, and manufactorums. Fabrica is the grinding, hammering heart of Lordsholm’s industry, connected to the rest of the city by a handful of arteria bridges.

Lastly, the Magistria district sits at the northern reaches of Lordsholm, atop the cliffs overlooking the bay. Sectioned off from the city by wide canals and high walls, Magistria is the home of Cel’s noble houses. Even from a great height, the acolytes make out its main landmark – Thorsholt Manor, a sprawling mansion compound surrounded by numerous outbuildings, parks and gardens. Near the outer gardens of the manor is the House of Echoes – the Astropathica – a gothic tower hanging precariously over the edge of the cliffs. It is here that the acolytes believe that they will find Cel’s Astropath Ascendant, Elsharna.

Believing that the unrest seen in Calistria below may be a symptom of the Genestealers’ presence, the acolytes direct Corvath down to land as close as possible to Magistria and the House of Echoes. The Cutter swoops low over Calistria and into Portica, finally finding a suitable landing area among the storage yards outside of the PDF base. Across the canals from Portica’s rail junctions and storage yards, the acolytes glimpse the fires burning in Calistria and hear the occasional rattling pops of gunfire.

Immediately, the Cutter is surrounded by a platoon of Lordsholm PDF. The acolytes quickly explain their business and request transportation and a vox line to the House of Echoes. The young officer in charge is skeptical, but ultimately concedes, looking not to obstruct the authority of the Inquisition.

Furthermore, the acolytes question him regarding what they had seen while passing overhead. The officer is hesitant to reply, but ultimately explains that the unrest is merely a series of small demonstration by Lordsholm’s workers. Unsatisfied with the soldier’s answer, Ishamael reaches into the man’s mind. Prying the answers free, he learns that most of the PDF believes that the unrest is much worse then they’ve been told. For some reason, they have been instructed to downplay the violence, although they are anxious regarding the current situation.

The acolytes vox ahead to the House of Echoes and reach the tower’s head of security. The officer is a monotone, emotionless man, speaking in a bizarre manner. Although difficult to understand or converse with, the acolytes determine that the House of Echoes is under lockdown, accessible only with permission from the planetary governor, Lord Governor Perian Thorsholt.

Further complicating matters, Thorsholt is currently hosting a grand celebration in honor of his third niece’s marriage on Desoleum. As such, he is presently entertaining Lordsholm’s nobility at a banquet and ball within Thorsholt Manor.

With no time to waste, the acolytes decide to head to the banquet and to question the Lord Governor. Thankfully, they convince the PDF to issue them with a vehicle and driver.

Corvath, Felpox, and Arkady wait with the Cutter while the others depart to Magistria.

Following Portica’s winding roads and bridges, the acolytes eventually reach level with Magistria’s cliff top home. Passing through the district’s gates, Thorsholt manor is in sight, a sprawling, stately home located at the highest part of the sea cliffs and looking down across the entire city. The Manor is massive, stretching off in hundreds of metres in either direction – a mass of soapstone-coloured buildings and atriums surrounded by a number of assorted outbuildings. Enclosed by white marble walls, the manor’s wide-open gardens and lawns cover several acres. At the main entrance, many autocarriages are in the process of unloading groups of finely dressed passengers.

At the edge of the Thorsholt Manor grounds, the acolytes find the House of Echoes – the tallest structure in all of Lordsholm.

Exiting their vehicle at the manor’s cobblestone forecourt, the acolytes are greeted by additional members of the Lordsholm PDF. The acolytes learn that the Lord Governor is currently in a private banquet upstairs with his court. However, the troopers assure them that the Lord Governor will be down later kick off the evening’s other planned festivities.

Regardless, the acolytes convince one of the PDF troopers to lead them into the main gala.

Inside, the acolytes find the manor’s numerous ballrooms and chambers packed to the brim with various nobles and distinguished guests. The manor is the very definition of decadence, with paintings, tapestries, sculptures, and other works of art covering every surface. Even finely gilded servitors walk past carrying trays of refreshment. The assembled crowds give the clearly under-dressed acolytes many bemused glances.

Ignoring the onlookers, the acolytes head up to the Lord Governor’s feast, finding the banquet chambers guarded by two members of the Lordsholm PDF – young officers clad in their finest dress uniforms. Ishamael reaches into the soldiers’ minds, convincing them that the acolytes have been assigned to relieve them. The officers seem thankful and head off to enjoy the festivities.

Hoping to maintain some degree of subtlety, Ishamael heads inside while the others wait in the hall.

The huge banquet room is just as opulent as the rest of the manse – with gargantuan chandeliers hanging from the rafters high above. The centerpiece of the room is an exquisite wooden table seating upwards of fifty guests. To the side of the chamber, a group of servitor musicians play sweet and soft compositions. Small servo cherubs flutter around ceilings.

The Lord Governor, a rather rotund man, notices Ishamael arrive and pleads for him to take a seat with his other guests. Immediately, servants start to arrange a new place setting at the far end of the table while a few of the guests mock his clothing.

Ishamael expresses the need to privately discuss some urgent matters, but Thorsholt refuses to leave the party. Knowing that time is of the essence, Ishamael sends a barrage of telepathic imagery into the governor’s mind. Thorsholt is shaken, excusing himself to a private conversation at the side of the room.

Ishamael demands for a place to speak privately, explaining that he and his colleagues are representatives of the Inquisition. The Lord Governor directs him to his private study beyond the banquet hall. Ishamael voxes his comrades to join him.

Immediately, they attempt to warn the Governor of the potential true nature of the unrest.

Thorsholt is dismissive, continuously blaming the agitation a few “rabble rousers” from the working classes that are unhappy over new economic agreements. He states that it’s nothing more than a few “uppity peasants” and some infighting in the slums. Furthermore, Thorsholt states that the PDF will have the situation under control in a few days time.

Again, the acolytes express the concerns of both the PDF as well as Cel’s Astropath Ascendant, Elsharna.

Thorsholt mocks their worries, blaming the disruption of astropathic communication to Myros Kappa on a recent flare in the Pandaemonium. Regardless, he gives the acolytes access to the House of Echoes in order to unburden himself from their company.

Realizing that Thorsholt may be less competent than he attempts to appear, the acolytes leave, seeking proper answers from Elsharna.

The acolytes find the House of Echoes more heavily guarded than the rest of the Magistria. The troops here are well equipped and well-armoured, but clad in long, layered robes. They offer no emotion upon the acolytes’ arrival, merely looking in their direction with lifeless faces. One of the PDF escorts informs the acolytes that these soldiers are The Hollow Guard, the House of Echoes’ mind-cleansed honour guard.

With Thorsholt having sent orders ahead, the acolytes easily gain access to the tower. The interior is strikingly similar to the astropathic choir chambers on Juno – with comparable art and motifs decorating the walls.

As the acolytes enter, Elsharna is already waiting in the atrium. Heading to a sitting room, she explains that the unrest is unlike any she has seen before – claiming that many of the debauched have been preaching blasphemous gospel in praise to the “Sky Father” and the “Lord of Blood and Darkness”. Although Elsharna does not understand their words, she believes that some dark force is guiding their actions. Furthermore, every day, more join their cause – including even some members of the PDF.

Ultimately, Elsharna is glad that the acolytes have arrived, but fears that it is still not enough to stem the quickly growing violence. She expresses the need to get out a real distress call, in order to fully inform the Imperium and the Inquisition that Cel is at oblivion’s edge.

Suddenly, a massive explosion in the courtyard outside rocks the House of Echoes. The blast is followed soon after by automatic weapons fire.

The acolytes run to the closest window to find that a piece of the manor’s walls have been destroyed and that an attacking force is pouring through the breach. The enemy combatants are well armed and organized, crushing the few ceremonially-clad PDF responders.

Eventually, more PDF close in to slow the assault, but it’s clear that a vanguard force has already made it through the perimeter.

Elsharna believes that these rebels have attacked in force knowing that the Inquisition is present. Again, she states the need for a distress call, lest the manor compound – and Lordsholm itself – be overrun completely. The acolytes agree.

Knowing that Elsharna will need time to prepare a message powerful enough to push through any Warp disruption, the acolytes and remaining Hollow Guard prepare a defense. Calidus heads upstairs for a better vantage point of the breached walls, while Taeric, Ishamael, and Caradoc prepare for the vanguard’s assault.

The gunfire outside gets closer and closer while the acolytes take position. However, before they truly ready themselves, the House of Echoes’ heavy wooden doors buckle inwards.

A cursing, screaming horde pours into the building.

View
The Gathering Storm - Part 1
The Conclave of Juno. Discussions with Grax.

The acolytes’ Cutter departs the Reliant Dawn’s hectic and noisy flight bay.

After a quick journey through Juno’s upper atmosphere, the sprawling metropolis of the capital Vesuna Regis looms below. Vesuna Regis is an assemblage of impossibly ancient battle-scared constructions, littered with statues weathered to vague outlines.

New structures have been thrown up around those that have come crashing down due to the weight of age and the ravages of war, but with each generation, the refined forms and masterful techniques of the past have been lost – replaced by pale imitations of the originals. Many of the structures resemble mighty bastions, from which ragged banners sway in the breeze.

Almost all of the greatest edifices of Juno are riddled with craters and fractures many thousands of years old. All is dilapidated grandeur. Despite the
damage, the world still
retains a palpable air of age and power that
few can deny.

High among the spires, Corvath chooses a landing pad almost scraping the edge of the atmosphere. The acolytes notice that the small outcropping is far more ornate than that of a standard void port.

As the shuttle descends, the acolytes catch a glimpse of many other groups arriving and entering the spire. Some of these groups are Valdane’s other cells, but most are absolute strangers – complete with bizarre modes of dress and sporting unfathomable weaponry.

As Corvath sets the shuttle down and the rear ramp descends, Murco stands waiting, cowl and cape billowing in the stinging winds.

“Hurry,” he yells over the roaring wind and sounds of shuttle thrusters, “they’ve started already. It doesn’t look good.”

Although still unsure of watch is transpiring, the acolytes proceed inside. They make their way through the massive spire doors and down an ornate main hallway. At the end of the corridor, the hallway spreads out, leading to numerous entrances to a large central amphitheater. The acolytes push their way through the onlookers spilling out into the halls.

The amphitheater is carved from what appears to be a single piece of marble and is complete with numerous viewing galleries and massed seating, packed to the brim. Many others stand among the various archways and entrances, hushed, trying to hear the debates in the lower bowl below.

A massive round oak table sits at the centre of the room, around which only the most senior members of the inquisition are sitting. The table is an incomplete ring, allowing members to walk into the middle and speak in plain view of everyone present. Some chairs around the table are occupied not by people, but rather muted green holograms, flickering up from ancient devices.

Servo skulls record the ongoing proceedings in a number of different audio and visual formats.

Valdane walks throughout the lower pit, his booming voice echoing around the massed gathering.

“My brothers,” he bellows, “the Great Devourer is at our doorstep. This may be the most dire situation this sector has faced in two millennia!”

Murmurs and hushed whispers are heard around the crowd. Commotion forms in pockets here and there.

“Even with all the might we have assembled here, this threat poses the gravest of dangers. I call you to action. We must combat this threat in force.”

Another senior Inquisitor slams his fist on the heavy wooden table. Some of the holograms flicker.

“Nonsense Valdane!,” he says, “You hold no sway here. Not after the debacle on Thaur. The loss of an entire shrine world! And now the loss of Praxos! Do you know what the Combine asks as recompense?”

Jeers and cries permeate the room. Many of the acolytes glance among themselves. It’s clear that many are missing the ten-year-old context of the Thaurian Incident.

Suddenly, another Inquisitor yells.

“You’re not even from this sector, you Calixan scum! We take no orders from you.”

“And if they arrive in force?,” Valdane responds, “An entire hive fleet? What then? What say you then?”

A very rotund Inquisitor chuckles. His laugh resonates about the chamber.

“You see one filthy xenos and you call for a Conclave.”

A few other laughs break out, echoing around the marble amphitheater.

“The Beast of Praxos,” he continues, “Bah! Like with Thaur, you’ve managed to destroy any actual evidence!”

Yet again, more laughter rings out.

Valdane continues, almost pleading to his supposed colleagues.

“You all have read the reports! Every day more and more astropaths claim to have seen the shadow in the warp!”

Now commotion, whispers, and murmurs join the laughter.

While Valdane continues his pleas, dead silence ripples outward from a passageway in the lower bowl. Clad in ancient Terminator Armour, a white-haired figure approaches. The weight of his boots pound loudly across the ornate floors. Whispers make their way around the viewing galleries as the huge figure sits at the head of the table.

“What say you Glastus!?,” a voice rings out from the balconies.

Commotion fills the chamber again with incomprehensible yelling and shouting sounding from about the room.

The figure, Glastus, raises one of his massive gauntlets and silence falls again.

An ancient, deep voice sounds from his amplified vox grille.

“I have seen worlds of the Jericho Reach burn… For the sake of the future, we will not allow Valdane’s past actions to cloud our judgement present. The Vaxi Atrocity has separated us, and the incident at Thaur has further divided our Ordos. Although I do not foresee this task mending Hark’s wounds, it would be foolish to dismiss these claims outright. Should Valdane err, he shall fall further from grace. Should this be a fruitless attempt to court favour from this Conclave, his crimes shall be addressed. However… should he be the herald he claims to be… Well, we shall then all be thankful.”

Murmurs from around the galleries indicate a divided opinion of the Lord Inquisitor’s words.

“I must also bring you news from the fringe,” Glastus continues, “Juno’s great astropathic choirs have lost contact with Myros Kappa.”

Commotion breaks out. Glastus raises his gauntlet again to restore order.

“The Lords of the Deathwatch have been informed. The Watch Fortress stands vigilant. But for now, I see no reason to muster our forces. This silence could be nothing more than a flare in the Pandaemonium. For now, we wait. Our agents will search out the truth. So I have spoken. So it shall be.”

Glastus rises slowly from his massive chair. In the quiet room, the whines of his armour’s ancient servos are clearly audible.

“Be unwavering in your duties,” he says, “The Emperor protects.”

The crowd, although divided, almost in unison replies, “The Emperor protects.”

As Glastus walks to leave the pit, he clasps a firm gauntlet on Valdane’s shoulder and then continues walking past.

Valdane looks frustrated, almost defeated – a sight the acolytes had never thought possible.

A figure in the crimson robes of the Mechanicus priesthood rises to Valdane’s side. With masterfully crafted bionic limbs, he hands over all kinds of dataslates and spools of information.

The acolytes file out through the crowds, heading to Valdane’s chambers. Murco leads them down busy side hallways where numerous other cells are busy attending to their own masters.

Reaching Valdane’s chambers, the door to his office is open. He sits with his back to the entrance, atop a small throne. Looking out to Juno’s surrounding wastelands, the Inquisitor is deep in thought. A violent lightning storm rages far off in the distance, obscuring the horizon.

After a long pause, Valdane informs the acolytes of their new mission. They are to gather all the information they can regarding Myros Kappa’s silence and to determine its fate. In order to gather more details, Valdane tells them to seek out Graxon Pol – the Inquisition’s watcher over Juno’s astropathic choirs. Perhaps he knows why communications have ceased.

Before Valdane has a chance to speak again, a vassal enters and whispers to him that The Lord Captain Anzaforr has arrived.

Valdane nods and dismisses his acolytes.

Juno’s astropathic chambers are located in another of the capital’s few remaining hive spires. Here, private landing pads jut out into the sky to receive the rare few visitors to Juno’s Adeptus Astra Telepathica. The short flight over gives the acolytes another excellent view of the crumbling city.

Landing, the acolytes see that the level of security at the Astropathica is high. Unlike most hives’ security, the details here are Imperial Guardsmen – members of the Grand Army of the Processional – rather than just Planetary Defence Force troopers or Juno’s planetary enforcers.

Eventually, the acolytes make their way inside. The Astra Telephatica’s spire is filled with vast chambers of hushed silence. Like the landing pads, here too has a high level of security. Adepts move about with dataslates in silence. Separate armoured Astra Telepathica watchers keep a close eye on the astropaths coming and going through the halls. Astropaths, although common throughout the Imperium, are often mysterious and solitary figures. Now, up close, the acolytes see that many of the psykers are without eyes, or that they keep their eyes shielded from reality by ornate blindfolds or metal banding.

Located somewhere here, is Graxon Pol.

As the central chambers are off limits to visitors, the acolytes convince a young adept to retrieve Pol for them.

Eventually, emerging from the chambers’ massive entryway is an ancient looking man – his true age is betrayed by the burden of his psychic duties and the excess of scar tissue covering the small amounts of skin visible under his robes. With an odd gait, he slowly approaches, balancing himself on a walking cane. He introduces himself as Graxon Pol, servant of the Holy Ordos Askelline.

The acolytes question him at length about Myros Kappa and the other worlds of the Stygies Cluster. Pol explains that over the last month, Juno’s astropaths have seen Myros Kappa fade away slowly like a memory. Now, they only hear silence – complete nothingness.

First, there were reports of deaths among Myros Kappa’s astropaths – sudden and violent. The Astra Telepathica attributed them to a waxing of the Pandaemonium, but Grax was not so sure. Then the messages of those who remained on Myros Kappa became more and more erratic, like at the edge of sanity. Their messages turned to nothing but flashes of darkness and shadows in the Warp. Then, panic – followed by silence.

Now, Grax explains, similar reports have started to flow in from Myros Kappa’s neighbouring world, Cel, and that communications have only just started to become scarce. Cel’s chief Astropath Ascendant, Elsharna has expressed serious concerns regarding the phenomena and has explained that there is unrest among Cel’s population.

Grax informs the acolytes that Elsharna is the best bet to get the answers that they seek. The acolytes thank him and depart the spire.

Climbing aboard their Cutter, they determine their next steps.

In the meantime, Ishamael journeys to the Basilica Regis, the largest cathedral on Juno. Finding a solitary corner, he gazes out into the Warp. After some time, he sees flashes of his future – empty space, a planet stripped of life, and shadows moving across the void. Shaken, he returns to his comrades and informs them of what he has seen.

The acolytes decide that their best bet is to journey to Cel to retrieve conclusive evidence of the Tyranid menace. Perhaps if they can gather enough information to convince the other members of the Conclave to act, it may not be too late to save the agri-world and restore Valdane’s reputation.

The acolytes find passage to Cel aboard a Rogue Trader vessel – purchasing room for their Cutter within the ship’s cargo bays. They soon depart Vesuna Regis and Juno, beginning another journey to the edge of Askellon.

View
Shadows Over Praxos - Part 11
The death of Praxos.

Standing again among a sea of bodies, the acolytes catch their breaths.

Felpox rushes to the aid of Calidus. He is alive, but far from stable. The shaman does what he can to preserve the young acolyte’s life – bandaging his shattered rib cage and back.

Meanwhile, the others search the bodies for more ammunition and supplies. Located up on the scaffolding, the acolytes find the Heretek’s arm and the Magus’ corpse. They quickly gather up their weapons as well as various flesh and tissue samples for further study.

Up the newly-blasted breach into Midstone, the acolytes can hear the distant sounds of gunfire and explosions. Praxos is being overwhelmed by the tide of hybrids.

Along with the surviving Arbites, the acolytes decide to depart as quickly as possible in order to either reassess the situation from afar, or to allow the Reliant Dawn to bombard the station into oblivion.

Dragging Calidus, the party makes its way back up the mine’s main tunnel, walking past their burned out Repressor and the piles of hybrid corpses. Reaching Foundation, they find that the situation has become even direr than before.

Now, full-scale riots and looting have enveloped the districts. Near the Midstone lift, running gun battles are being fought against the Combine enforcers trying to maintain the Arbites’ lockdown. Fires rampage out of control as panic grips the slums.

Thankfully, the acolytes manage to skirt around any major resistance and make it back to the hybrids’ burnt out smuggling tunnels. Reaching the airlock, the acolytes don their void suits and exit back out to their awaiting Cutter.

Aboard, their pilot tells them that the vox network is a nightmare, filled with flurries of traffic. Additionally, someone has been continuously broadcasting to the vessel on encrypted channels, seeking information regarding the warband’s current situation. Unable to respond without proper clearance cyphers, the pilot has been panicking.

Ishamael reaches out to the man’s crumbling mind, convincing him that everything is fine. The pilot immediately calms and prepares for departure.

The acolytes key in the appropriate cyphers and reach Krieger.

Krieger explains that Praxos has fallen. Currently, handfuls of Combine enforcers and the surviving inquisitorial Storm Troopers are in a frantic defence of the docks – buying time so that the Reliant Dawn can make its way through the asteroid field and get into a proper firing solution to destroy Praxos.

Overwhelmed, Krieger explains that thousands of people – civilians and hybrids alike – are swarming the docks, attempting to get passage off-station. As the situation is growing worse every moment, Krieger advises that the acolytes return to the Reliant Dawn as soon as possible.

The acolytes order their pilot to depart with haste. The Cutter screams around the Understone, eventually emerging from the darkness beneath Praxos. Breaking out into Diomedea Stella’s harsh cyanic light, the acolytes witness the chaos of the ongoing bombardments.

In the distance, the Reliant Dawn has stationed itself between a few large asteroids. Its broadside guns fire relentlessly, hammering the multitude of vessels attempting to escape. The void around Praxos has turned into a nightmare minefield of explosions and burning hulls.

More and more vessels pour from Praxos’ docks. Some are destroyed instantly after leaving the station’s void gates. Others make it slightly further afield before being blasted apart into the harsh vacuum of space.

Psychically induced to calm, the acolytes’ pilot manoeuvres around the wrecks. They quickly close the distance to the Reliant Dawn. The acolytes broadcast appropriate clearances in order to make it past the Dawn’s skillful gunners.

It seems like Krieger too has made it off Praxos, narrowly being destroyed by an incoming barrage.

Having reached a safe distance, the acolytes see the end of Praxos. From the side of the Reliant Dawn, a massive cyclonic torpedo slides silently into the void. Its plasma engines ignite, hurling it towards the besieged Combine station.

The torpedo plunges into the side of Praxos, hammering deep into the dense, brown-grey stone. Moments later, massive explosions ripple out into the void. Parts of the station begin catastrophically separating away, venting the interior atmosphere. Secondary plasma explosions blow outwards as the station’s many generatoriums and refineries are destroyed.

Within an instant, electrical energies begin crackling around the disintegrating station. A massive gravitational well opens deep inside Praxos and the compromised asteroid stats to collapse in upon itself. Soon, other nearby asteroids and wrecked vessels are pulled into the vortex.

Over the vox, the acolytes hear the piercing screams of trapped or crippled crews before they are silenced forever.

The gravitational cyclone continues to devour the station, destroying any matter in the silently swirling storm. The chaotic mass reaches a fever pitch, discharging copious amounts of electromagnetic energy before imploding. The ensuing burst leaves behind only echoes.

With the Reliant Dawn’s guns finally silent, the acolytes are given clearance to dock. Aboard, a few other vessels disgorge battle-weary Storm Troopers and handfuls of Combine troops. Krieger and Murco drag a few of their wounded out of their damaged shuttle, handing them off to handfuls of waiting adepts.

Minutes later, the Reliant Dawn’s departure from Port Aquila is marked by the metallic voice of a servitor over the ship’s vox. The acolytes feel the familiar gut-wrenching shuddering as their vessel drags itself into the Warp.

Like after Tertia-12, the acolytes undergo a biologis quarantine and various debriefings by Valdane’s senior agents. Additionally, Calidus and Caradoc are sent to the shipboard medicae facilities to treat their injuries. After a few days, all parties are released back into the general population.

Emerging from isolation, the acolytes notice uneasy glances and whispers shared among the other acolytes and crew. Word of Praxos has spread, and obviously, there has been some major developments.

Eavesdropping on two ship stewards, the acolytes determine that the Reliant Dawn is headed to the sector capital Juno, where Valdane has called a Conclave.

The acolytes are unsure of the exact details, but they learn from Krieger that a Conclave involves a gathering of Inquisitors. It is rumoured that this is the first such event in almost a century.

The acolytes settle back into their quarters, getting some much needed rest. In the following days, they rearm and refit, making a few trips to the ship’s outfitter and armouries.

Furthermore, Arkady sets to work, gaining access to some of the Reliant Dawn’s research facilities. Here, he begins developing a stable pattern for the wide-scale manufacture of servo-skulls capable of detecting Genestealer genetic material. Using his prototype, he makes quick progress, ensuring that the Inquisition will not be so easily caught off-guard again.

After aiding in the recovery of his comrades, Felpox also sets to work. Using the Magus’ recovered head and tissue samples, he attempts to determine if the Genestealers and hybrids have a method of communicating non-verbally. Unused to the sterile, clinical environments of chymistry and medicae laboratories, his progress is slow – eventually stalling completely.

Overall, following a series of winding tributaries as well as the main Processional – the largest of Askellon’s stable warp routes – the acolytes’ journey to Juno takes slightly more than a month.

A few hours after the Reliant Dawn translates out of the Warp, the low, rattling voice of a servitor asks for acolytes to report to their crews in the flight bays.

The acolytes grab their gear and head down. Reaching the flight bay, the acolytes find numerous other warbands in the process of preparing for departure.

Corvath greets the party, showing them aboard their new Cutter. Refitted after Praxos, the Cutter has replaced Corvath’s Arvus Lighter. The vessel has been repurposed from its original geological role and has been repainted a plain gunmetal grey. Although currently unarmed, the Cutter features quarters for up to six and a forward cargo bay that can fit up to thirty – or equivalent cargo. Should the acolytes so desire, the forward cargo bay can also transport a small autocarriage-sized vehicle and/or cycles.

The acolytes store their gear and prepare for planetfall.

View
Shadows Over Praxos - Part 10
Culling the hordes. The Heretek's escape.

More and more of the wretched hybrids slam into the sides of the Repressor, trying to claw their way inside. The cacophony is deafening within the cramped interior, as claws and teeth try to pry the armoured transport open. Using repurposed mining equipment, the mob begins to do structural damage to the vehicle’s reinforced hull.

Taeric is the first to grab an autogun, shooting wildly through the vehicle’s firing slits. The full-auto blast rips into the tightly packed horde and the other acolytes follow suit. Two of the Arbites add their combat shotguns to the frantic defence.

Arkady, clasping his jury-rigged chemical sprayer, jams the weapon through one of the firing ports. Squeezing the trigger, a hissing cloud of fluids showers the mob. The reactive chemicals oxidize rapidly, burning through flesh and bone before they catch alight – immolating scores of the abominations. The unlucky hybrids scream as they begin to die slow, agonizing deaths.

The acolytes pour more and more automatic fire and chemical bursts from their vehicle. Finally, the encroaching mob begins to thin. Still, the beasts rip at the hull.

Over the din of their raging gunfire, the acolytes hear a heavy thump land on the Repressor’s armour plating above. More disconcerting still is that the noise moves about the vehicle, clawing and ripping at the transport. The Repressor’s ceramite and plasteel layers protest as the unseen beast begins to tear through the hull.

Although he tries, the turret gunner can’t get an angle on the creature above.

Going through magazine after magazine of autogun rounds, the acolytes continue their staunch defence, eventually finishing off the remnants of the frenzied mob.

Still, they dare not venture out while the creature above continues dismantling their transport. Taeric and Ishamael wait by the entry points and hatches, ready for whatever may come.

To get a better look at their foe, Felpox depresses the necessary access runes and lowers the Repressor’s rear assault ramp. Peeking around the side of the hull, he locks eyes with the beast. The creature’s impossibly alien, jet-black eyes pierce through the shaman’s soul, bringing the nightmare of Tertia-12’s cramped maintenance tunnels back to the surface. Felpox retreats back from the doorway.

The acolytes wait, not sure of where the beast will attack from.

After a moment of dread silence, the Repressor’s gun turret is ripped away in a hail of sparks. As the attacking creature’s powerful rending claws tear through the armoured cupola, the gunner is rent in half – spilling his innards onto the passengers below. The Storm Bolter’s ammo hopper is also caught in the assault, creating a powerful explosion that rips past the acolytes. From the blast, the Repressor’s pressurized hydraulic fluids burst into flames, spraying fire throughout the cramped compartment. The flames spread quickly, leaping from surface to surface.

Caught in the deluge of fire, one of the Arbites is instantly immolated, his charred flesh being forcefully blown from his body by the pressurized hoses. The Repressor’s driver, trapped in his forward compartment begins to slowly burn alive. Even over his screams and the raging flames, the acolytes hear the popping and crackling of the Arbite’s skin as he becomes fused to his control dais.

Reacting as quickly as possible after the surprising blast, Ishamael reaches out to extinguish the fires. The psyker taps into the veil beyond reality, bending the all-consuming flames to his will. In an instant, a psychic microburst rips through the crew compartment. The acolytes shudder, as an unholy wind extinguishes the raging inferno around them.

Gasping for air, the acolytes wait by the Repressor’s entrances, now vulnerable on two fronts. Again, Ishamael and Taeric are ready. Calidus prepares himself and his inhaler, readying powerful combat narcotics.

Arkady steps forward and fires his sprayer through the gaping turret-hole, hoping to immolate whatever creature responsible for the damage. The jets of hissing fluids blow upward, igniting in mid air.

Terrified, Felpox sprints from the vehicle and down the mine’s dark main tunnel. Calidus follows, attempting to distance himself from his potential tomb and to get a better vantage point of their foe.

Caradoc steps out carefully, checking his corners, hunting for the beast. Clinging to the side of the vehicle, the genestealer locks eyes. Immediately, Caradoc raises his weapon, firing a volley from his hellgun. With all six limbs, the powerful creature pushes itself away from the hull, leaping clear of the incoming rounds.

In a lightning-fast motion, the genestealer attacks. Its four razor-tipped claws are a blur, rending deep gouges through Caradoc’s heavy armour and taking one of his arms. Caradoc drops to the ground as blood begins to pour from his ragged stump. Quickly, his autosanguinators desperately work to stem the flow.

Seeing the genestealer standing over Caradoc’s body, Ishamael takes a single step out. Cloak flowing behind him, heat waves begin to ripple around his extending arm. With a blinding flash, he projects a ray of burning fury. The hissing xenos is caught in the beam, bursting into a snarling cloud of ash.

With the immediate threat terminated, Felpox regains his senses and rushes to aid his fallen comrade. With a variety of crude clamps and ties, he bundles Caradoc’s torn limb.

The acolytes drag their remaining gear from the Repressor’s burned-out hull and take stock of their remaining ammunition and manpower. Two Arbites are still standing, including the commander. The acolytes, wounded and isolated, decide to press on deeper into the mines. Even with their losses, they still hope to prevent the hybrids’ breach into Midstone.

Calidus scouts ahead while his comrades finish regrouping. Activating his stummer, he skulks off into the darkness. After only a few hundred metres, he feels it – massive tremors, rippling down the length of the mine, shaking the very core of Praxos itself. Moments later, a massive pressure wave blows past, confirming his fears – the breach into Midstone has happened. With renewed purpose, he continues his reconnaissance.

Now, roughly a kilometer from his warband, Calidus hears talking and murmurs. The corridor tightens and snakes its way ahead, shielding the origin of the noise. Catching a brief glimpse of dim light, he continues. Eventually, the tunnel opens to a massive, well-lit chamber. Huge digging and tunneling machinery sits silent around the room.

At the far end of the room, some kind of large plasteel platforms and scaffolding is bolted high to the rock wall. Beside, a massive hole tunnels up into Praxos. The breach is fresh, with mountains of debris and jagged boulders forming a makeshift ramp. From the breach, Calidus can hear the echoes of distant gunfire and explosions above, The fight for Praxos is already underway.

A large rearguard of miners and hybrids wait below, gathered in silence, looking up at their new path to salvation.

Atop the scaffolding, three figures pace back and forth, discussing some matter in detail. Calidus suspects that the first – clad in ornate layered purple garments – is the hybrid’s leader. The Magus’ bizarre staff – more of a polearm than walking stick – is bladed with a curved, organic-looking edge. The figure’s armoured collar obscures some of his features, but Calidus can see the wrongness of the man’s proportions.

The Magus is flanked by two others wearing the crimson robes of the Mechanicus. Even at this distance, Calidus knows that he’s found the acolytes’ target – the dreaded Heretek, Somnius Halbrel. Walking beside the Heretek, one of his misguided initiates keeps pace.

Calidus voxes back to his group, informing them of the situation. Slowly, the warband sneaks up the tunnel to join him.

They form a rough battle-line at the tunnel’s mouth, using the covering silence of Calidus’ stummer to prepare for a devastating ambush. Calidus and Caradoc take aim at the Heretek while the others prepare to repel the horde. The one-armed Caradoc braces his weapon against the rock face to get a stable shot.

In unison, Calidus and Caradoc fire. Calidus hits a microsecond earlier – his holy bolt rounds slam into the Heretek’s thigh, blowing a chunk from his mechanical frame. Calidus’s piercing burst slams into the blasphemer’s chest and shoulder. With a spray of sparks and unknown fluids, the Heretek’s arm is ripped from his body. He slumps back against the rock face as his mechanical body quickly reacts to repair itself.

Ishamael looks out to the hybrid leader, attempting to use wychfyre to burn the creature alive. The hybrid leader simply… resists.

The other acolytes hold fire, waiting for the hybrids to close in.

Locking eyes with his psychic assailant, the hybrid Magus reaches out into Ishamael’s mind. His psychic shadow looms over Ishamael, attempting to envelop him completely. The Magus claws and tears at the edge of Ishamael’s soul, but the psyker resists.

Meanwhile, the Heretek’s Initiate crouches down, rending aid to his master.

Knowing that the Initiate is working to repair the Heretek’s shattered body, Calidus targets him, messily blowing him apart with a chattering burst from his bolter.

The hybrids, now aware of their attackers, react in a disordered charge. Their bellowing screams echo throughout the mines as they quickly start to gain ground. The acolytes fire a savage volley, killing many of their monstrous attackers. Claws and faces are rendered to pulp.

Taeric braces himself, ready to take the brunt of the first wave.

Ishamael attempts to strike out at the Magus again. Distracted by the charging masses, his focus falters. The Warp protests, pushing at the thin barrier of reality. The chamber shakes violently. The acolytes fight to retain their footing, but Arkady is knocked to the ground. He stays prone, spraying a torrent from his manufactured weapon into the approaching beasts.

Incredibly, the Heretek stands, unfazed. He absorbs and dodges more of Caradoc and Calidus’s shots. Raising his remaining arm, the Heretek returns fire. His wrist glows white-hot as blue bolts ripple across the chamber. Calidus is hit in the chest and the burning plasma burns through his armour. He takes a knee, trying to collect himself.

The charging horde eventually makes it to the acolytes and Arbites, slamming into their thin defensive line. The combat turns into a swirling melee as heavy blows are exchanged on both sides. Righteous steel meets chitinous claws. Shotgun butts meet cursing faces.

The two Arbites manage to club a few of the monsters to death while Taeric slashes out with precise attacks. Arkady draws and fires his laspistol, pointblank into the mass.

Meanwhile, the unseen psychic war continues. Again, the distracted Ishamael becomes the Magus’ target. Again, the hybrid leader reaches out into the psyker’s mind. This time, the Magus’ shadow-claws wrap themselves firmly around his soul, dominating his very being and will. Ishamael, trapped in the prison of his own body, goes stiff. His eyes retreat to the back of his head, turning to alien, jet-black spheres.

Ishamael, within his puppet body, turns to his closest ally, Calidus. Forced to reach out, he can feel the Magus conjuring Warp magicks through him. The energies pull in and wrap around his arm. Still fighting for control, the heat burns the imprisoned psyker’s soul. The beam finally discharges, hammering into Calidus. Horribly burned, the young acolyte slams him into the rock wall behind him, rendering him unconscious.

Sensing an eventual defeat, the Heretek Halbrel begins to make his escape up into the Midstone breach. Caradoc braces his weapon and attempts to take one last shot. He misses just wide as the Heretek ducks and weaves before falling out of sight.

The ferocious fight continues, and again, the acolytes and Arbites finish off the remaining hybrids.

With only one target remaining, the acolytes take aim at the Magus, quickly blasting him apart. The hybrid’s elongated skull bursts open, soaking Praxos’ brown-grey stone with alien blood.

View
Shadows Over Praxos - Part 9
Explosive discoveries. The meat grinder.

Believing the Brotherhood’s breach of Midstone to be imminent, the acolytes scramble to preempt their now-alerted foes. First, they seek to track down the Heretek before he has a chance to escape the station.

They contact Krieger and Murco who, after some time, reveal that they have a solid lead.

Using Brenner’s information, Krieger had poured through more archival records, correlating the timeline of the Brotherhood’s arrival on Praxos to the dates of purchasing and rental agreements of warehouses and storage facilities in the dock district. Although a handful of results turned up, only one appeared to be for a building of decent size.

The acolytes decide to meet up in order to take the warehouse in force. They find the defunct, rundown storage facility buried among the more regal and well-kept guild holdings. It is a simple warehouse, slightly smaller than those surrounding it. Above the secured doors, a large, once-gilded crest rusts in Praxos’ recycled air.

Knowing the Heretek’s level of skill, the acolytes assume that the entrances have been trapped. As such, Calidus uses his grapnel to scale the side of the building to get a look inside through the warehouse’s small, dirty windows.

The main chamber is a cavernous room barely lit by pale blue and green light emitting from a series of bubbling stasis tubes and flickering cogitators lining the walls. In the middle of the room sits a small shuttle and promethium refueling station. It appears that the roof also has some kind of crude opening mechanism to allow a departure.

As a final precaution, Arkady uses his servo skull to scan the building. He finds a few trace energy signatures scattered about but no signs of life.

Although the facility is seemingly empty, the acolytes decide not to risk it – instead employing Ishamael to create a new entrance. Pulling in the hidden energies around him, his hands erupt with a blinding beam of sun-hot energy. The ray cleaves through the warehouse’s plasteel walls, melting a man-sized hole.

The acolytes wait for the molten metal to cool before illuminating their stablights and heading inside.

Getting a better look from up close, they find that the stasis tubes contain a series of the grotesque hybrid creatures suspended at various stages of their foul lifecycles. At the end of the row, the final stasis pod contains a beast very much like the one encountered on Tertia-12.

Although the foul-smelling tanks and numerous cogitators account for most of the energy signals detected by Arkady, one remains in the far corner of the chamber. The acolytes track it down, finding a seemingly deactivated combat servitor.

Setting out to completely dismantle the potential threat, Caradoc attempts to remove some of the servitor’s weaponry systems. Immediately, it whines to life, thrashing about and bringing its heavy stubber to bear.

The acolytes immediately pump volleys of close-range fire into the bezerking machine – ripping it apart with numerous stub, shotgun, and las rounds. Caradoc’s hot-shot volleys catch the servitor’s ammo hoppers, triggering a chain explosion of flesh and shrapnel.

A few of the acolytes leap clear while Arkady takes the bulk of the blast. The adept is tossed across the chamber, smashing into one of the stasis tubes. The foul-smelling contents spill out across the floor, mixing with Arkady’s own blood.

Thankfully, Felpox is unharmed. He quickly patches up his comrades.

Knowing now that the warehouse is clear, the acolytes begin a full investigation of their surroundings.

Caradoc sets off to examine the Heretek’s large cogitators. He manages to bypass the sophisticated security, gaining access to the machine spirit and contents beyond. The machine overwhelms Caradoc with corrupted binaric screams and heretical cant. Barely holding onto his sanity, Caradoc manages to exfiltrate some of the data.

The bulk of the information is research documentation on the genestealer and hybrid lifecycles, but even with dozens of datasavants and lexmechanics, Arkady realizes that the material would require months to sift through.

Furthermore, the acolytes gain access to shipping ledgers for all across the spinward worlds of the Stygies Cluster Sub Sector. Most of the ledgers note large and heavy shipments of “cogitator assembly parts”.

Within other files, the acolytes find budgets and running tallies of gear and resources that the Heretek has managed to acquire while on Praxos. It appears that the Brotherhood has funded him extremely well.

Finally, Calidus checks out the small one-man shuttle docked in the center of the room. He unlatches the cockpit and reaches inside to awaken the vessel’s machine spirit and auto-navigator. Activating the shuttle’s power grid, he unwittingly triggers a massive explosive trap, sending him spiraling across the warehouse. The interior of the shuttle and any corresponding evidence is instantly annihilated. Thankfully, the majority of the blast is contained by the hull and directed straight up.

Charred and battered, Calidus looks up and sees just how close the warband has come to oblivion. Teetering over the shuttle’s charred structure, the nearby promethium pump is badly damaged and structurally compromised. Had the explosion been a little stronger, the group would have been completely and utterly obliterated.

Once again, Felpox medicaes his comrades.

Having had enough of the Heretek’s subterfuge, the acolytes decide to leave the remaining equipment to be seized by the inbound Inquisitorial kill-teams that had been summoned after Krieger’s broadcast.

Now, the acolytes can only assume that the Heretek is still preparing the imminent breach with the Brotherhood in the mines. Hoping to prevent disaster, the acolytes decide to regroup with the Arbites.

Because Praxos’ transit networks remain at a standstill due to the Arbites’ lockdown, the acolytes seize a shuttle in order to rapidly reach Foundation from the understone.

The acolytes manage to relocate the hybrids’ exterior hatch previously found during their search for the prospector Desun. Entering the smuggling tunnel, they find it structurally sound although badly smoke damaged and without lighting. Emerging out into Foundation, they also find the hybrid’s hovel a burnt-out mess.

Foundation itself fares little better, as the slums’ many workers and citizens have entered a state of panic and unrest. Many roads and passageways are deserted while others are packed densely with those attempting to gain access to the massive Midstone lift. The acolytes make haste traversing the beleaguered districts, hoping not to get caught by the quickly forming mobs.

Crackles of broken Arbite vox traffic relay scatterings of information regarding overwhelming numbers and punishing fire – whether regarding citizen riots or the hybrids emerging from the mines, the acolytes cannot tell.

Quickly bypassing the few crowds and riots erupting throughout the hab districts, the acolytes eventually reach the refineries and storage yards servicing the mines. With a careful approach, the stealthy warband gains a good look at their target destination.

Near the threshold of the mine’s large entryway, the Arbites’ Repressor sits smoking among a crowd of bodies. Splayed out in front of the vehicle’s main storm bolter armament, dozens of Brotherhood members and hybrids lay dead, armed with a variety of weapons – autoguns, shotguns, mining picks, rock axes, clubs, and even vestigial talons and claws.

Arkady’s servo skull pings endlessly, continuously registering the blasphemous xenos abominations piled up along the dirt roads descending down through the mine’s gaping maw.

Although damaged, the Repressor thrums idly.

The acolytes approach the vehicle, cautiously crossing the open staging grounds. It’s clear that that the Arbites have been through a hell of a fight. Hundreds of spend bolt shells and shotgun cartridges litter the ground, crunching underfoot.

With a grinding pop, the Repressor’s top hatch flips open and the Chief Arbitrator climbs out. Although bloody and battered, the Chief Arbitrator is clearly relieved that reinforcements have arrived. He explains that after being posted at the entrance, they were quickly swarmed by waves of Brotherhood members and hybrids. Although at first the enemy was merely probing the Arbites’ strength, they soon began to approach in force, and well armed.

Regretfully, the acolytes inform him that they need to be head deeper into the mines – into the very heart of the enemy’s forces.

Calidus and Caradoc help the Arbites effect some quick repairs before the group begins its slow journey downward.

Shortly after entering the main tunnel, lighting becomes sporadic and the tunnel begins to split off in a myriad of directions. The acolytes maintain their course, following the main shaft down deeper into the labyrinthine nightmare world.

The interior of the cramped Repressor is lit dimly by red emergency lighting and the occasional chemtorch flickering past the vehicle’s small firing slits. Soon, the tunnel narrows slightly and becomes absolutely pitch black, illuminated only by the transport’s meager forward-facing headlamps.

After a few anxious minutes, the Chief Arbritator calls halt, squinting out of his vis-port. Calidus squeezes up into the driver’s compartment and to get a good look out into the darkness. Far ahead in the darkness, a sea of flickering orbs reflect the vehicle’s weak lighting.

Looking up to the cupola gunner, the Arbite commander calls to illuminate the rooftop spotlight and bathes the length of the tunnel in piercing yellow light.

The flickering dots become a wave of bodies, each pressing forward and scampering around each other in their mad rush to the Repressor. The mass is crudely dressed in a mess of workers garbs, Brotherhood robes, and natural chitinous plating.

The Repressor driver slams the vehicle into reverse, tossing around his passengers. The turret gunner unleashes devastating volleys from his storm bolter. Within the vehicle, the chattering weapon is a deafening roar, drowning out the hybrids’ screams.

The acolytes and Arbites brace for impact, knowing that their damaged transport has no hope to outrun the massive crowd.

The vehicle is jostled as the first bodies slam against the hull. Snarling faces press up against the side firing ports and claws slash and fight to gain purchase at those trapped inside.

The Repressor rocks back and forth as the tracks jam with the overwhelming volume of pulped flesh and bone.

View
Shadows Over Praxos - Part 8
Requisition. The Brotherhood. Krieger's broadcast.

As the smoke slowly clears over Brenner’s charred corpse, the acolytes form a plan.

Krieger, Murco, and Ishamael will search for signs of the Heretek while the others prepare to infiltrate or strike at the Brotherhood of Praxos’ headquarters in Foundation. Additionally, the group hopes to use the Adeptus Arbites to simultaneously secure the mine’s main entrance – potentially containing any Brotherhood reinforcements.

The Arbites Commander offers his four remaining troopers and the use of their Repressor – an armoured riot-suppression vehicle. More of a mobile bunker than a transport, the Repressor is a force all its own. Furthermore, he initiates a lockdown of Praxos’ arteria transportation networks, limiting travel to those without adequate Imperial clearances.

As Krieger, Murco, and Ishamael depart to track down the Heretek or his supposed warehouse among the docks, the others return to the Arbites’ precinct house with their wounded trooper.

There, they refit and rearm.

With access to the Arbites’ own armoury and evidence lockers, the acolytes put every last weapon and piece of gear to use.

Additionally, Arkady commandeers one of the Arbites’ standard-issue servo skulls. Together, Arkady and Caradoc program the machine spirit within to be able to detect any traces of the genestealer hybrids’ genetic codes. With it, the acolytes gain the ability to easily differentiate between humans and any potentially tainted or xenos infiltrators. The prototype is crude, but functional, correctly alerting the acolytes when testing against the seized hybrid remains.

The acolytes and Arbites load up in their respective vehicles and head to Midstone. The roads and transportation networks are at a standstill as confused travelers bumble their way around the unexplained security lockdown.

Reaching the Foundation lift, the small warband finds themselves the only passengers on the twenty-minute journey downwards.

With stern nods and unsure handshakes, the party splits. The Chief Arbitrator and his four healthy Arbites aboard the Repressor depart to the mines. The acolytes in their modified Hectin search out the Brotherhood’s compound.

Buried among Foundation’s numerous refineries, the Brotherhood’s officio appears as if two buildings have been cobbled together. One, a large prefabricated hangar-like edifice, stretches out across the street. The second, a larger stone building sits behind, reaching up to the low-hanging stone ceiling as if acting as some kind of mighty support pillar. Both buildings are adorned with only a handful of windows. The structures’ only doors appear to be on the front of the metal prefab.

As the other acolytes remain in their vehicle, Calidus takes a closer look, skulking around the rear of the buildings. Behind the structures, he finds a reinforced steel door. Knowing the futility of attempting to unlock the heavily-secured entrance, he attempts another method of entry.

Using Taeric’s grapnel, Calidus secures a line to Foundation’s stone ceiling, providing him with access to one of the tall building’s third-floor windows. Climbing safely unnoticed up to the view-port, he finds an office in absolutely pristine condition. The room features a desk and portable cogitator in the corner with two simple chairs laid in front. Calidus manages to defeat the window’s security latch and enters the room.

Upon examination of the room, everything but the cogitator appears to be untouched. The desk is completely empty except for a few pieces of parchment. The potable cogitator’s machine spirit is encrypted – hidden behind some kind of crude security mechanism. Calidus seizes the machine and puts it into his backpack.

Carefully, Calidus leaves the room and heads deeper into the heart of the building. Outside the office, he finds a small landing featuring another door and a set of stairs heading down to the second level. Quietly, he sneaks into the second chamber. In stark contrast to the untouched work-space, the second room appears to be some kind of simple bedchamber whose stone floor is littered haphazardly with a few dozen simple bedrolls. A portable promethium lantern sits between them, flickering softly and producing a reasonable amount of heat.

Heading back out to the landing, Calidus hears voices on the second level. With his mirco-bead, he contacts the others, asking for Arkady’s servo skull to join him at the staircase. Eventually, the small skull hovers in through the open exterior window and glides out into the hall. The skull reads numerous life signatures and detects that at least a few of them are tainted. Knowing he’s outnumbered, Calidus retreats from the edifice, making sure to leave little sign of his presence.

Rejoining the others, he provides Caradoc with the encrypted cogitator. Caradoc manages to bypass the cyphers, gaining access to a few correspondences and invoices contained within. Among these files, Caradoc finds a hidden sub-directory containing a lone message:

We are ready.

We have finally secured and departed enough hosts that the Father has been fulfilled.

The Heretek prepares the final tunnels and shafts. He has confirmed that the final detonations will gain us access directly to Midstone. Without the bottleneck of the Lift, our numbers shall pour forth.

His price has been grave, but I admit that he has been useful – as has that pathetic Brenner.

We will shape these fools into His image.

Our actions will take the Father to even greater victories.

Praise the Brotherhood. Praise the Sky Father.

We are legion.

The acolytes have finally found direct evidence liking the Brotherhood to Praxos’ disappearances and the wretched hybrids. They also realize that the hybrids have gathered in a large number in an attempt to breach and seize Midstone. With the Heretek’s aid, they have tunneled from the mines and up into Praxos’ heart. No longer needing to operate in the shadows, the Brotherhood intends to take the whole station for their blasphemous cause.

Hoping to buy the acolytes more time to operate with the element of surprise, Calidus quickly returns the cogitator, ensuring that it is placed back in its exact original location.

Then, leaving the Arbites to contain the hybrids in the mines, the acolytes return to the Administratum archives. With little time to waste, Arkady frantically pours through geological data, finding sites of intense seismic activity within the station. He locates one suspicious area bordering the mines below Midstone, far from the Foundation lifts. He determines that it is here where the hybrids will strike.

The acolytes inform Krieger of the Brotherhood communiqué and what is to come. Together, they must act quickly to prevent all-out disaster.

Krieger confirms that he has received the message and is on his way with Murco and Ishamael. He closes his vox-link.

Within moments, Praxos’ lights flicker as the electrical grid is strained.

Every vid-screen, data slate, and holo projector flickers to black.

Every vox-network, loudspeaker, and autohailer screeches to silence.

After a slight pause, the sigil of the Inquisition projects onto every screen aboard Praxos. These few seconds stretch into an eternity before the image is replaced by a close-up of the stern, stoic face of Interrogator Varl Krieger. His inquisitorial override broadcasts through every available frequency, channel, and medium.

As the station’s concerned populace turns to face the closest source of transmission, the Interrogator speaks. Krieger’s voice is a clear, concise monotone, aware of the imminent nightmare to come:

“Citizens of Praxos, a foul xenos taint has infiltrated your home.

By order of the Inquisitor Tyrion Valdane, Ordo Xenos, Cyclopean Sub, and the Council of the New Day, every man, woman, and child are to take up arms.

Defence assignments will be distributed by Combine representatives and the Adeptus Arbites.

Praxos is now in a state of alert.

May the Emperor have mercy upon your soul.”

With Krieger’s final words, the screens flicker back to black, again projecting the single, solitary image of the Inquisitorial seal. Every vox frequency broadcasts nothing but static, echoes, and the high-pitched whine of an uncertain future.

View
Shadows Over Praxos - Part 7
A heretic's end.

The panicking crowds eventually thin out as the acolytes reach the warehouse district.

In the streets lay numerous civilian bodies littered with bullets. In the middle of one intersection, a wounded Arbite, bleeding heavily, attempts to drag himself to cover. A blinding volley of automatic fire ripples down the avenue, punching into the injured trooper. His movements cease.

On the opposite side of the intersection, the acolytes see Krieger, Murco, and a handful of other Arbites hunkering behind a building’s corner.

Dressed in an ornate, molded red carapace, Krieger immediately motions for the acolytes to remain in cover. He commandeers the Arbite commander’s vox-hailer servo skull and orders it out into the open.

With silent obedience, the small skull glides forward on ancient grav suspensors.

“Dalsius Brenner,” Krieger bellows through the vox’s rattling grille, “by order of His Immortal Majesty’s Holy Inquisition, you are thrice convicted of heresy – by your deeds, by your beliefs, and by your associations. Your sentence is death.”

After a brief pause, chattering autogun fire rips the servo skull apart. Murco smiles and returns fire.

Ishamael reaches out into the dead Arbite’s fleeting mind in order to get a better picture of the foe they face. The psyker rifles through the last few moments of the man’s life and learns that further down the street, in a warehouse on the right side, four well-armed men protect a cloaked foe – most likely Brenner.

The party decides to split, hoping to approach the target building from multiple sides.

Under covering fire, two of the Arbites on the far side swiftly cross the deadly kill-zone. With reinforcements, the acolytes set out.

Using Taeric’s grapnel, Calidus gains purchase on the warehouse roofs, providing him with a decent unseen approach. Below, the other acolytes and their two Arbites circle around the rear. Krieger, Murco, and the other Arbites provide distracting, suppressing fire from the front.

Eventually reaching the unguarded rear entryway, the acolytes prepare for entry.

High above, Calidus lets off some diversionary shots at one of the figures firing from the target building’s third-story vantage points.

At the rear, the two Arbites breach the locked door. Immediately, a storm of lead pours out into the alley, striking the two troopers. One manages to dive for cover while the other is gravely wounded.

Calidus continues to exchange fire with his target, sliding back and forth between the pipes and cooling towers providing him meager cover. The deadly exchange carries on back and forth as each shooter curses the tangles of cable, messes of plasteel, and machinery obscuring their respective foe.

Back below, Taeric leaps forward into the doorway, shielding the wounded Arbite. Felpox manages to drag the man to safety as numerous armour-piercing rounds rip through Taeric’s shield and punch into his armoured body. Ishamael too joins the fight, stepping behind his comrade’s living-cover and firing powerful wych-fire volleys at his foes.

Inside the darkened warehouse, two gunmen stand up on elevated walkways, firing out from the building’s upper floor windows. At ground level, another fires out from the building’s large sliding front entryway. The last gunman, crouched behind a series of crates, continues hammering the acolytes at the rear door with suppressing fire.

Having withstood enough punishment, Taeric draws his keen blade and charges into the fray. The closest target meets his challenge, drawing a chainsword and beginning a deadly, swirling melee of whirring teeth and blades. The red-haired man is a skilled fighter – the two exchange blows, blocking and ducking out of the path of the other, while counter attacking in turn. Eventually, Taeric strikes true.

Behind him, Ishamael and Felpox enter the room, each lending their fire – physical and psychic to the fray.

Pulling from hidden wells around him, Ishamael’s mental attacks strike one of the men on the upper walkways, catching him alight. Pausing briefly, the gunman manages to put himself out.

Felpox’s stub gun chugs away, connecting with the gunman at the front door.

The unwounded Arbite joins in as well, firing his shotgun at the walkways overhead, attempting to wound or kill the gunmen above. A few of his rounds connect, knocking Calidus’ target to his knees.

Calidus seizes the opportunity – using his grapnel to leap across the gap separating him from the target building. Carefully approaching the his now wounded foe, Calidus pushes the barrel of his shotgun through the window. With a point-blank shot, he blows apart one of his target’s legs. The man spins around, raking the wall with his autogun. The rounds tear through the metal wall as Calidus leaps wide. Jumping back to his feat, the acolyte pumps out another volley of deadly buckshot, obliterating the gunman.

Hidden among the shadows inside the warehouse, the thunderous report of a bolt pistol announces the presence of the fifth enemy fighter. The rounds slam into the exposed Arbite and the shells’ micro-detonations pulverize his shoulder – turning the man into chunks of unrecognizable meat.

Knowing that they must act fast, Felpox drops his pistol and pulls out his spear, charging the fighter engaged with Taeric. Felpox’s fine spear-point cleaves apart the foe, ripping muscle and sinew away, exposing the man’s ribcage. Using the distraction, Taeric slams his blade through the target’s hip and leg, spilling a river of gore across the dusty warehouse floor.

Believing the fifth man to be Brenner, Taeric charges after him into the darkness.

Meanwhile, Ishamael continue his psychic assault on the remaining gunman on the walkways above. Again, the target is lucky, ducking and dodging around many of the heat-waves arcing and rippling through the air towards him. Eventually, Ishamael’s bolts catch him. The man begins cooking alive, his flesh crackling and popping under the vicious balefire.

From beside the psyker, Felpox charges the front door gunman. Catching the foe unaware, Felpox knocks him to the ground. Panicking, the man tries to push aside Felpox’s wild blows. Felpox thrusts his blade through the man’s outstretched arm, shearing his hand from his wrist. The spear continues its plunge into the man’s shoulder, pinning him to the ground.

Now knowing that his target is indeed Brenner, Taeric continuously attempts to knock the man down. Brenner dodges many of Taeric’s swings and attempts to fire back with his ornate bolt pistol. Taeric parries the shots and eventually connects a solid blow to the heretic’s face, stunning him and knocking him to the ground.

Additionally, without any more suppressing fire erupting from the front of the building, Krieger, Murco, and the other Arbites are able to finally make their approach. Krieger strides forward toward Brenner while Murco finishes off Felpox’s pinned target. The point-blank shotgun blast obliterates the wounded fighter, spraying both acolytes with a shower of chunky gore.

Taeric calls for the Arbites’ manacles. He shackles and subdues Brenner completely.

The acolytes catch their breaths and regain their composure.

Three of the enemy gunmen and one of the Arbites lay dead.

Surprisingly, although gravely burned, one fighter remains alive. Armed and armored well, the acolytes are not sure what to make of him. Like his dead comrades, the man – once red-haired – is covered in numerous tattoos and markings.

Arkady recognizes their meaning.

The men are Vasarian Janissaries – an entire culture made of mercenaries septs. Although working for the heretic Brenner, the Vasarians are completely apolitical. They serve as nothing more but hired human weapons – concepts of life and death or right and wrong have little meaning to them. After a contract has been served, they are returned to their world like a gun put back into a case. Arkady explains that is unlikely the men knew or could even understand what Brenner had done.

Through broken conversation with the injured man, Ishamael learns that the group was hired by Brenner to escort and defend him during his journey to a neighbouring world. The mercenaries were not briefed regarding their ultimate destination, and were, like always, paid in advance. The man is filled with remorse for having failed in his oath – a grave dishonor for him and his people.

Ishamael offers the man the Emperor’s Mercy. The fighter, although grateful, explains that a true Vasarian death is to die in combat with a weapon in hand.

Taeric accepts the challenge.

The combat is brief – the badly burned and wounded Vasarian standing no real chance. The Vasarian thanks Taeric even as the acolyte’s blade slides deep into the mercenary’s chest, ending his life.

Now, Krieger and the acolytes turn their attention to Brenner, whimpering and sputtering in the corner.

Felpox removes his medicae kit and begins arranging his blades. Krieger pulls a crate forward as a makeshift chair. Then, he takes a single incendiary shell from Murco and unscrews the end. The Arbite commander forces out Brenner’s hands and Krieger pours out the contents onto the adept’s bare skin.

Reacting with the moisture in his flesh, the powder begins crackling and eating its way through Brenner’s hand meat. His flesh blisters and bursts as the reactive substance start tunneling through muscle and bone. Tendons snap and the warehouse begins to fill with a sickening smoke.

Brenner’s screams pierce the still air.

After a few minutes, the reaction slows. Kriger seizes a second shell from Murco and the real interrogation begins.

Primarily, the acolytes discover that those kidnapped aboard Praxos have been moved off-station to somewhere in the Stygies Cluster Sub-Sector. Although Brenner is unsure of specifics, he knows that the genestealers’ taint has spread much further than Praxos.

Furthermore, Brenner reveals that the Brotherhood is obviously not the fraternal labour union that they have made themselves out to be. Brenner knows that they’re monsters – both figuratively as well as literally and that their headquarters is not simply a soup kitchen. Furthermore, all of the Brotherhood’s recent contract acquisitions have lead Brenner to believe that something is transpiring in the mines. To date, he has been too afraid to see for himself.

Lastly, the acolytes learn that Brenner knows the Heretek that they have seen in the servitor vid-capture from Tertia-12. The creature’s name is Somnius Halbrel. As far as Brenner is aware, Halbrel was brought in months ago to help the Brotherhood with their work. Although Halbrel spends the majority of his time in Foundation, Brenner believes that he has some sort of warehouse somewhere among the docks.

Through the intense and lengthy questioning, the acolytes come to understand that Brenner is but a mere pawn in a much larger picture.

Eventually, having unraveled the adept’s secrets, Krieger and the others realize that Brenner has exhausted his usefulness. Ishamael sets out to render the Emperor’s Justice.

Brenner, terrified, whimpers and drools in the corner, cradling his mangled hands.

Krieger and the Arbites commander back away.

Rolling up his sleeves and undoing his armoured jacket, Ishamael braces himself. The air heats and ripples around his hands as the essence of an unseen world-that-should-not-be is pulled into reality.

The psyker’s eyes flare as he extends his arms, surrounding Brenner with a fiery, ethereal embrace. The inferno overwhelms the prisoner and once again his screams resonate throughout the edifice. Ishamael steps back, taking a breath and letting the heretic burn.

Eventually, the screams subside.

Murco strides forward, lighting an Iho stick off of the now immobile husk. He nudges Ishamael and chuckles.

For a while, Brenner’s charred form continues to sputter and crackle like a wet log. The darkened warehouse walls flicker with the light cast by the dancing corpse fire. Wretched smoke rises to the rafters.

When all is done, only ash and whispers remain.

View
Shadows Over Praxos - Part 6
K. Durano and the two faces of Dalsius Brenner.

Besides the body on the floor, Calidus sees no further signs of struggle – the attack was brutally rapid. Although Calidus is unable to discern exactly what weapon caused the fatal wound, the victim’s congealed blood informs him that the attack took place some time ago.

Returning to Krieger’s, the acolytes pass another restless night.

Without answers, the acolytes decide that Krieger should use his access to High Haven to find Brenner in order to set up a meeting – hopefully he can provide some kind of additional insight or clues into the events aboard Praxos.

In the meantime, the acolytes return to the vox relay station in Foundation. Finding no new communiqués, they copy all the data they can. Scanning through the merchant’s records and sent messages, Caradoc finds the names of two other missing prospectors.

Ishamael splits from the group, looking into these new leads. Finding their habs, the story is familiar – low level prospectors had obtained survey contracts for the Understone. Like Desun, they have vanished without a trace.

The group returns to the docks, searching out the local Adeptus Administratum Officio. The small edifice is poorly lit. The meager candlelight and ancient glow-globes barely light the dust hanging in the air. Two ancient scribes and a handful of servitors wander the stacks of tomes and spools of parchment, moving records back and forth, correlating data, and logging mountains of new entries.

The acolytes manage to get their help, beginning a search for any records of K. Durano and Severus Onan – the first disappearance from Tertia-12.

Severus Onan yields no information, as no such records exists.

Ishamael reaches into the scribe’s aged mind, attempting to discern whether or not he is withholding the truth. After so many exhausting days and sleepless nights of travel and investigation, the unfocused Ishamael loses his grip on reality. For only a moment, the barrier between reality and the Warp weakens. The stacks of records and books shake violently as realspace begins to peel slowly away. Many inside the officio are knocked off their feet. Ishamael regains focus.

Knowing now that the scribes are telling the truth, the acolytes assume that Severus Onan must be one of a few forged identities used to spread the genestealer taint.

Although unsettled by the bizarre station-quake, the scribes continue their work, pulling all records for K. Durano. Thankfully, they find only one – a woman, now thirty-seven years of age, born in Foundation. The acolytes find her last known address of habitation as well as the report of her disappearance three weeks ago.

Deep in Foundation, the acolytes manage to locate Durano’s address. The hab is occupied – a faint flickering glow spills from the dirty viewports and out into the desolate street. The acolytes knock on the door, meeting Durano’s brother Cheg. He welcomes the acolytes inside, hoping that they may be able to help him determine his sister’s whereabouts.

Cheg explains that Killian was a welder down in the mines. After being laid off, she had joined the Brotherhood of Praxos. Although she had reservations – noting their odd behavior – she believed that they were her only way of making a living or getting a hot meal. Shortly after, she went missing, having simply failed to come home after one work cycle.

With the night cycle settling in around Foundation, the acolytes return to their borrowed homestead.

During the night, Krieger returns, explaining that Brenner was absent from his post today. Although Krieger searched for him, he had no luck in locating the missing adept. Inquiring with Brenner’s superiors, Krieger learned that Brenner’s behavior over the last few days had been erratic.

Now, with Brenner’s disappearance, the acolytes worry that he too has been kidnapped. They believe that perhaps, like Tellic, Brenner may have come too close to the corruption within the Combine and the truth behind the Praxos’ hidden heresies.

With a convincing story, the acolytes gain access to the private High Haven lifts and journey up to the top of Praxos. As they exit the lift, it’s immediately obvious just how remarkably wealthy High Haven is.

Great ceilings arch hundreds of metres overhead with large viewports looking out into the void beyond. The rest of High Haven’s ceiling is covered with sophisticated photo panels, displaying beautiful renderings of a serene sky. Massive glow globes high above create the illusion of numerous small suns beaming down onto the various esplanades and streets sprawling out from the lift exit.

Using Krieger’s intel, the acolytes manage to locate Brenner’s residence – the small villa appears to be untouched. The acolytes make their way down a rear alleyway and silently force their way inside. Scanning the finely furnished chambers, the acolytes notice that many garments and pieces of luggage are missing.

Now suspicious and confused, Caradoc attempts to access Brenner’s holo-table and cogitator. Communing with the encrypted machine spirits contained within, Caradoc gains access to all of the adept’s files. Among them, Caradoc finds copies of personnel logs, including Tellic and other members of the Combine’s anti-corruption bureau. Additionally, Brenner has been monitoring Combine enforcement vox channels and other encrypted communications sent from the terminal match those intercepted at the vox relay.

Lastly, scanning Brenner’s credit accounts, the acolytes discover that he has withdrawn large amounts of funds to purchase currencies for many of Port Aquila’s neighboring worlds.

Not only is Brenner the Combine mole, but he’s now also on the run.

Using the terminal’s built in vox, the acolytes warn Krieger that Brenner is attempting to escape Praxos Station – if he hasn’t already. Krieger and Murco scramble to intercept him at the docks.

Before departing, the acolytes syphon Brenner’s remaining funds, laundering the credit through Arkady’s various familial holdings. They also take numerous works of art and tapestries to use later in battering efforts.

Heading back down to the docks, the acolytes set out to find the local Adeptus Arbites precinct. The armoured edifice towers over the surrounding warehouses and landing grounds. Covered in arrays and spotlights, it looms over those coming and going from Praxos’ ports. Inside, the precinct is a whirlwind of activity as numerous adepts scramble to process incoming logs and data.

The Chief Judge welcomes the acolytes and explains that Krieger and Murco have already enlisted his aid. The half-dozen Arbitrators under his command have already been deployed to the docks with the two senior acolytes – hoping that they still have a chance to catch Brenner.

The acolytes give over their electronic and physical evidence in hopes that it may speed the Arbites’ efforts. With curious glances, the Chief Judge’s senior staff take possession of the remnants of the slain hybrids’ bodies.

The acolytes radio Krieger, hoping to get an update. Krieger tells them to get down to the docks to aid in the search and to strengthen their cordon.

The acolytes get as close as possible to the piers, but the thick crowds force them to dismount their vehicles and proceed on foot. Fully armed, they begin making their way through the clutter of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Suddenly, numerous gunshots ring out from deep within the district. Mass panic errupts. Straining against the crushing wave of bodies attempting to flee, the acolytes push deeper into the crowd.

The acolytes’ microbeads crackle to life with the sound of Krieger’s labored breathing.

“I think we’ve got him cornered.”

View
Shadows Over Praxos - Part 5
Covering tracks. Empty ambushes. The relay.

The acolytes quickly make a plan to cover their tracks. At first, they debate the possibility of damaging the exterior hatch, creating an explosive decompression and sending evidence of the hybrids into the void. Although potentially effective, the acolytes determine that it would risk damaging a large part of Foundation – drawing unwanted attention to their activities.

Instead, they choose to cleanse the area with flames, hoping to make their fight look like an underworld struggle gone wrong.

Before setting fire to the building, the acolytes harvest the most incriminating pieces from the hybrids’ bodies. If needed, they now have physical evidence of the horrors transpiring deep within Praxos.

Furthermore, Calidus retrieves a transponder from their rented cutter and stashes himself in an abandoned hab across the abandoned street. This way, the acolytes will be able to find their way back from within Praxos and Calidus can keep a vigilant eye in case more of the xenos abominations return to their slaughtered kin.

Once ready, Caradoc shoots open the building’s lock from the outside and Ishamael starts the inferno. Quickly retreating down the rocky tunnel, the acolytes don their void suits and make their way back to their vessel.

After a short voyage, they return to the dock district. Still believing their hab to be compromised, the acolytes mount up aboard their vehicles and head to Krieger’s domicile. This evening, however, Krieger is joined by Murco – an aged Valhallan acolyte that the party had encountered previously aboard the Reliant Dawn.

The acolytes brief the two senior agents on what they have discovered, presenting the evidence of xenos-human hybrids and of an organized human-trafficking operation.

During these conversations, the acolytes realize that out of all of those having disappeared, the Combine adept Seran Tellic is an outlier. They ask Krieger to investigate the nature of Tellic’s work in High Haven, hoping that it will lend some insight into her kidnapping. Furthermore, the acolytes turn over Seran Tellic’s access cognomen for the High Haven lifts – understanding that Krieger has a resource that can adapt the gene-coded device to one of their own signatures.

The acolytes spend the night on Krieger’s floor. Murco keeps an uneasy watch over the door.

During the evening, Caradoc convenes with a stubborn machine spirit, decrypting part of the dataslate recovered from the now-deceased owner of the Praxos-Urquain Geological Services. He finds that the coded one-way messages are being sent to a small relay station in Foundation.

Hoping to draw out other hybrids or perhaps even a more sinister foe, Arkady crafts a fake message, posing as the merchant and asking for an emergency meeting the next night.

To help in the success of their planned ambush, the acolytes also decide to recruit an impoverished worker – using him to tip off Praxos’ Combine enforcers that a major illegal weapons deal will be occurring at the same time and place as that just sent by Arkady.

After a brief morning meal, Arkady heads out and beings spreading a network of misinformation and lies throughout Foundation – obfuscating any details regarding the previous evening’s firefight and tenement fire.

The rest of the party heads to markets to refresh their supplies – purchasing a bulk order of microbeads – greatly increasing the group’s short range communication capabilities.

Before the evening cycle returns, the acolytes recover Calidus and brief him of their plan. Hoping that the hybrids have taken the fake meeting as bait, they will use the ensuing chaos of the Combine enforcers’ raid to capture one of their enemies for interrogation. With Murco, they prepare the meeting place – an abandoned building – and rig it with numerous explosive charges in case the plan goes south.

The acolytes wait in hiding until the prescribed time. Although any hybrids fail to show up, a large patrol of Combine enforcers ends up storming the building. Reading their lips, Calidus determines that the enforcers have found nothing and have determined that the situation is a false alarm.

The party is dismayed by the failure of their plan, wondering if their forged message was convincing enough.

Uncertain about their next steps, the acolytes decide to split up.

Arkady and Calidus head to the relay station in Foundation to determine the ultimate destination or recipient of their dataslate’s previously sent messages. Taeric, Ishamael, and Caradoc head back to House Terryn to inform them of the results of their investigation into the missing prospector Desun. Felpox returns to Krieger’s to study the hybrid’s harvested corrosive bile and glands.

Tracing the coordinates that Caradoc provided, Arkady and Calidus eventually locate the small vox relay. Inside the cramped and cluttered officio, they attempt to convince the clerk to give them access to the relay’s encrypted repositories. With the right amount of currency smoothing over his conscience, the clerk is ultimately assuaged, providing the two acolytes with the information they desire.

Navigating through numerous records, Arkady sees that the merchant’s message are deleted a few days after each one has been marked as read by the intended recipient. Arkady locates the acolytes’ own false message, seeing that it was accepted, processed, and received.

Among the messages in the relay repository are a few with a high-level Combine cypher. Breaking the code, Arkady discovers that a source inside High Haven provided the recipients with an advanced warning of the Combine raid. Additionally, the source informs the recipients that an Imperial investigation may be responsible for the safe house fire in Foundation.

Yet again, the conspiracy grows.

Meanwhile, the acolytes at House Terryn inform the guild officers that although Desun has fled, they have recovered most of the funds he had been given. House Terryn’s representative is grateful, promising that should it ever be required, he is more than happy to return the favour.

Meeting up, the acolytes again return to Krieger’s for a briefing. Informing him of a Combine connection, Krieger is remarkably unsurprised. He informs the group of his own findings – Tellic was working in an anti-corruption department of the Combine. The acolytes realize that it is likely that Tellic got too close to whatever or whoever has been involved.

Needing time to collect their thoughts and plan a new course of action, Calidus departs, deciding to check on their hab and to determine what has happened to the address that they passed on to the now-deceased merchant. Making the short journey on his veloxic cycle, Calidus checks the perimeter of the building for any suspicious activity. Reasonably confident that he isn’t being surveilled, Calidus stalks his way inside and up the few flights of stairs to their hab level.

Predictably, he finds that the address the acolytes provided has been broken into. Calidus quietly and carefully enters the abode, finding a single body in the middle of the room – torn open by some kind of razor sharp weapon.

View
Shadows Over Praxos - Part 4
Entries and exits. Monsters and men.

Exiting the station’s mighty void gates, the acolytes’ rented cutter pitches downwards, beginning a slow and careful circumnavigation of the lifeless, jagged exterior of Praxos’ asteroid home. After a short journey, the acolytes reach the Understone – the bottom of the Praxos hidden away from the harsh blue light cast by the neighbouring star – Diomedea Stella.

Approaching the missing prospector’s survey coordinates, Caradoc awakens the cutter’s geological augurs and sensorium arrays. On the porous, craggy surface below, the ship’s machine spirits register an abnormal reading – an extremely small and dense pocket of some sort of ferric-magnesium alloy – a composition impossible to find in any natural formations.

As the pilot maneuvers the craft closer, the cutter’s forward facing lights reflect off something metallic jutting out into the void. With a closer inspection, the acolytes discover a small metallic hatch dug crudely into the asteroid’s jagged brown-grey surface.

The acolytes quickly don their borrowed void suits and vent the cutter’s internal atmosphere. Positioning the vessel’s rear to line up with the surface, they lower the ramp, gaining a good view of the hatch and its surroundings.

Calidus fires a high-strength grapnel to tether them to their objective. The projectile drifts out from the craft, making contact with a small rock outcropping beside the hatch. Small bursts in the airless void mark the silent explosions of the grapnel’s anchor bolts firing into place.

Slowly, the acolytes cross the short, weightless distance through the void. They discover that the hatch itself is mounted on plasteel plating, riveted directly against the rock. The gaps around the crude construction have been filled with ferocrete. The entryway is secured from the outside by a keypad and Caradoc notices that it also appears to be fitted with a crude docking seal for an unknown make of shuttle.

Caradoc sets to work, dismantling the crude electronic locks in order to gain entry into whatever lays beyond. After a moment of negotiating around the control panel’s ornery and restless machine spirit, the hatch vibrates slightly before popping unlocked. A slight puff of gas escapes around the seal and the hatch swings open freely.

Calidus’ stablight and lumenstrip illuminate the small chamber. On the left wall is mounted a series of crude switches, gauges, and some sort of compressed storage tanks. At the far end of the room is yet another entryway featuring a simple wheel locking mechanism.

The acolytes enter the cramped chamber and close the exterior hatch behind them.

Figuring the wall-mounted mechanism to be some sort of airlock, Caradoc attempts to restore an atmosphere and pressure. As he works, power slowly returns to the chamber, providing energy to the ramshackle grav plating below. Eventually, the soundless vacuum becomes a roar as the correct mixture of breathable gasses fills the small space.

Having equalized pressure, the acolytes open the inner doorway. A long, narrow corridor stretches out before them, dug directly through the rock, slowly angling upwards. Small glow globes hang off of a thick cable bolted to the wall at regular intervals.

The acolytes progress slowly down the corridor, inspecting their surroundings. Ishamael locates a series of gouges dug along the walls. Made not from mining or digging equipment, the crevices seem to have been created by repeated rubbing or scratching over an extended period of time. Along one of them, he finds a few drops of blood dried as well as a series of torn fingernails.

Felpox examines the nails, matching them to those recovered from Tellic’s bedchamber.

The acolytes speculate that this tunnel might be serving as a method to take Praxos’ disappeared workers and citizens off-station. For what purpose, the acolytes remain unsure.

Now believing that adversaries may be close by, Calidus activates his stummer, creating a blanketing wall of silence. He proceeds further up the tunnel, finding another door – a simple construction of metal with a sturdy frame jammed into the surrounding rock walls. Listening for any signs of activity, he manages to hear muffled voices and murmurs – indicating some kind of conversation is taking place on the other side. Calidus relays this information back to the others.

The other acolytes ready their weapons and join him at the doorway.

Caradoc uses Calidus’ multi-key in an attempt to circumvent the door’s locking mechanism. Fumbling the device, Caradoc wedges the lock into place, trapping the multi-key and rendering the device useless.

With a nod, the two acolytes step back and Caradoc readies his Hellgun. A razor beam cracks from the end of his rifle, punching through the metal door and shearing apart the mechanism with a spray of molten metal and shrapnel.

Taeric, with shield and sword in hand, gives the door a firm kick, throwing it open with sufficient force to bend the hinges.

Calidus ducks inside, past the feudal warrior, weapon ready. Attempting to find a target, he is instead forced to dive for cover as a shotgun blast rips through the air beside him. The report of another shotgun blast lends itself to the deafening echoes trapped inside the room.

Now, across from Calidus, stares five large, armed targets – humanoid, but oddly proportioned. Pale, elongated faces snarl and hiss at the intruder. Clad in dark tattered clothing and robes, they’re armed with an assortment of shotguns and pistols. Dark eyes set into bulbous heads glance back and forth, waiting for additional targets to enter the room.

Beside them, trickles of light filter in through large, boarded up windows and through the slanted frame of another door leading outwards. The other side of the room is home to rickety metal shelving piled high with garments and a few worn shipping crates.

Immediately, one of the bizarre figures charges Calidus. From beneath the man-thing’s robes, a third arm extends outwards and lashes out, tipped with razor sharp talons. The humanoid-creature misses just high, shearing through the metal shelving above the sprawled acolyte.

Sensing his comrade in danger, Felpox charges in. Seeing the multitude of targets, he hurls his axe, sending it careening across the dusty room. It strikes just wide of his foes, hammering the wall and tumbling to the floor.

With the chaotic gunfight already overwhelming his otherworldly senses, Ishamael retreats into his mind and into the Warp. Flashes of possible futures collide with the psyker’s own present. Forcing these visions out, he propels them across the Seal of Souls and into the flashing essences of his allies. Directing their fates, his prescience provides a fleeting advantaging in the deadly combat erupting in the chamber beyond.

Meanwhile, one of the blasphemous man-creatures charges Felpox. Two arms tipped with powerful talons emerge from the figure’s bulky garments and rend and rip at the shaman, spilling his blood across the room. Taeric charges into the room, smashing into the four-armed man-beast.

Caradoc also enters, positioning himself among the swirling melees to gain clear shots at the shotgun-wielding figures at the far end of the room. His Hellgun volley manages to graze one of them, with the additional rounds punching high into the ramshackle walls. Unfazed, the creatures fire back, hammering pulverizing rounds into Caradoc’s armoured face. The skitarii stumbles back, humbled by the amount of fire power being directed his way.

Calidus fires his naval shotpistol up toward the figure towering over him, missing high and wide over the beast’s shoulder. He quickly leaps up, hoping to gain a better chance of dodging the thing’s next blows. It lashes out fiercely, managing to rip a shred from the young operative.

Felpox draws his spear and attacks the creature in front of him and Taeric. He manages to plunge his spear point deep into the creature’s shoulder, spilling a wash of purple-ichor blood across himself and his comrade.

Seeing the thing assailing Calidus, Ishamael directs a superheated burst across reality, immolating the creature with wychfire. The thing’s dirty garments catch fire, quickly filling the room with choking smoke and ash.

The four armed-creature engaging Felpox and Taeric wrenches the witch-doctor’s spear from its flesh and lashes out at Felpox again. Its deadly talons shear the acolyte’s left arm and shoulder apart, spraying the adjacent wall with a mist of Felpox’s arterial blood and tattered muscles. With its humanoid set of arms, the creature fruitlessly smashes the butt end of its shotgun into Taeric’s shield. With an overhead swing, Taeric cleaves the beast in half from gullet to groin. The thing’s organs spill out, washing the floor with a torrent of gore.

Caradoc unleashes another volley from his Hellgun, striking one of the monstrous shooters and punching out a sizable hole from the creature’s chest. Additional rounds reduce the thing’s arm and shoulder into a cloud of crimson ash and send the figure crumbling to the ground. The two remaining shooters continue hammering shotgun rounds at the skitarii, failing to incur much damage.

Calidus leaps past the shrieking, immolating creature in front of him and heads back toward the tunnel entrance. He readies his autopistol and prepares to renter the fray. The beast-thing trapped in the inferno falls to the ground screaming and hissing horrific sounds. The creature’s flesh pops and bursts while the intense psychic heat turns its unholy body to ash.

The heavily wounded Felpox drags himself past Calidus and free from the combat. In the dirty rock tunnel, he staples together his shoulder and manages to staunch his rapid blood loss.

Ishamael leaps past him, back into the room, attempting to immolate another one of the creatures. The thing’s thigh is engulfed in brief psychic flames, but the creature fails to fully catch alight.

Having now dispatched his first foe, Taeric charges another one of the creatures at the far end of the room. He plows into the beast with his outstretched shield and plunges his sword deep into the thing’s hip. Blood washes down the blade, covering his hand in the abomination’s dark, slick blood.

Caradoc exchanges deadly fire with the creature in front of him. A flurry of shots ripple back and forth across the room. Eventually, the skitarii brings down another of his prey.

Calidus charges the lone remaining beast engaged with Taeric. With an underarm sweep, he plunges his chainsword deep into the thing’s pinned leg. The adamantine teeth of Calidus’ weapon dig deep, chewing through flesh and bone, becoming bogged down in the thing’s innards. The creature kicks and flails, separating itself from the hungry blade. Calidus catches the thing’s foot with the tip of his weapon, ripping off the appendage and pulling it into the ravenous mechanism roaring in his hand.

Pinned by sword and shield, the flailing man-thing unhinges its jaw, presenting razor sharp mandibles and an elongated, dagger-point tongue. With a heaving motion, a jet of bile bursts from the tip. Thankfully, Taeric uses his shield to push the creature’s face aside. The liquid attack strikes the ground beside him and the corrosive payload begins eating through the dirt and rockcrete floor. With a final blow, Taeric finishes the creature, rending it apart and spreading yet another wash of purple ichor and gore.

The acolytes gather themselves, attempting to mentally process the last minute’s ferocious events.

Magazines are reloaded, power cells are checked, and blades are wiped clean.

Felpox administers his bizarre medicae to his comrades and the acolytes slowly begin their first real examination of the surrounding chamber.

The metal shelving of the room is stacked high with piles of torn garments and footwear, much of it bloody. Furthermore, the crates in the room are filled with other personal effects including jewelry and other trinkets. Among the bloody items is only one piece that provides any useable information. Upon a discarded miner’s garb is embroidered a name – “K. Durano”.

Felpox examines the blood and bodies of the acolytes’ slain assailants. Although humanoid, the figures have been clearly twisted or mutated by some kind of unseen force. Felpox samples their blood and flesh, finding that these figures are some kind of crude hybrid of xenos and man. Additionally, he discovers that these samples are similar to that recovered from Tertia-12. Although not directly related, the slain hybrids share some kind of genetic lineage with the genestealer previously encountered.

Before exiting the door at the far end of the room, the acolytes prepare a small barricade while Ishamael attempts to gather information from the Warp. Through an extended gaze into the flows of the empyrean, Ishamael manages to see various shadow wakes – more malevolent entities flowing in and out of this chamber in both past and future. Across time, he sees repeated innocents brought to this room, stripped of their possessions, and dragged down the tunnel leading back to the void.

With the information and evidence gathered, the acolytes have a decent idea of the fate befalling Praxos’ disappearances as well as the nature of those committing the crimes.

They make ready to open the next door.

Carefully and quietly opening the exit, they find that it leads to nothing more than another forgotten and desolate corner of Foundation’s slums.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.