Republican Commando

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In the latest of Shas'o R'myr's games in the Tiji Sector, Spess Mareen: Republican Commando, the players are a Deathwatch Kill Team sent to the Tiji Sector to address a growing trouble called the Cult of the Hellstar. Far from civilized Imperial space, stuck out in the galactic boondocks, and facing horrific enemies and allies that will test their patience and sanity, they must complete their mission, combining the faith of the present with the strength of the past, all in the Emperor's name.

In other words, bad shit is going down in Tiji - worse than usual, even - but that's okay, because with four Deathwatch Marines, a literal (void)shipload of 30K era archeotech, and faith in the Emperor, the Primarchs, and the brothers that fight by one's side, all things are possible.


First Season[edit]

Second Season[edit]

(16) A Stranger I Remain[edit]

Morale on the Blade amongst the living crew is high - a mighty blow was struck against Nidhoggr on Hylios. Though a frigate bearing the sigils of the Inquisition arrives too late to study the decomposed Magma Corer, the Commandos still are content. Cyril sets his corer plate in the trophy room, posting a 'do not touch' note and a pair of Scyllax to enforce it, but angrily rebukes Brynjol after he hacks and slashes his way through the defenses to touch the plate anyway.

Without a current project to work on, Cortain heads over to the newly-opened O'Malley's Bar and Grill near the Blade's bridge, Temur following close behind, quite curious at the Squats' establishment. Squats all around are trading out their combat gear for regular work gear now that the battle is over, and gathering for a drink at O'Malley's. Placed across from the Sector Holomap is a large book. the size of a squat, with a number of names written within.

"Can I get ya anythin', beardling?" O'Malley asks. "Two parts Motor Oil, one part Antifreeze, and maybe one part Recaf-Liquer," Cortain states, pulling up a stool and grabbing some peanuts, "Hopefully, the antifreeze might inspire me." "Aye," O'Malley nods. He sticks out his hand, and summons a cup with telekinesis. He reaches under the cupboard for his industrial supplies, and preps the desired cocktail. Cortain takes a moment to look up as he takes a long drink, at the pict-caster above.

"...nd in other news, MAGMA CORERS! The terror of the Tyranid Splinter Fleets, halted! >An image of the Commandos cutting themselves out of the Magma Corer is broadcast. The Republican Commandos have done it again! And now a word from our sponsors..." The pict-caster fades to commercial break, advertising the new collectible Republican Commando Action Figure line.

Temur, however, inspects the book curiously. Within the book are a number of names. Some are squattish, some human, some clearly xenos, One name, circled up top in bold letters, is impossible to miss - "Korst'la." "What is that giant book you have installed near the holomap?" Temur asks. "Hmm?" O'Malley grunts, "Ah. The Book of Grudges. Everyone who's ever wronged us, who's done poor by us, gets put in that book." "I see," Temur nods, "The Storm Brotherhoods keep a similar great roll, that the Khan may choose a worthy foe for each great hunt." "Aye. Only way ta get off the Book is ta make things right," Rockfist adds, having some stronger stuff, "Usually it means we get a throng of the lads together and bash some skulls in." "There has not been a new great hunt called in some time though," Temur muses, "I am hopeful it will only be so after I am done my duties here so that I may take part..."

Cortain raises Thexus on Vox after taking finishing his drink. "Honourable Paragon, what can you explain about...Cyber-Familiars?" "TINY ASSISTANTS TO THE COVENANTER'S WORK. THEY WOULD HANDLE SMALL TASKS, ADJUST TOOL POWER, AND AID IN FORGING OF WARGEAR. DO YOU REQUIRE ONE?" Thexus asks. "Would it perhaps be convert a Servo-Skull into one?" Cortain asks. "IF THAT IS WHAT YOU REQUIRE, IT SHALL BE DONE. I SHALL ACQUIRE A HELOT'S SKULL AND MAKE THE NECESSARY UPGRADES. I SHALL RETURN MOMENTARILY." The vox channel goes quiet. "....Wait, I have a servo-skull I could offer instead!" Cortain swiftly replies, but he gets no response. Cortain feels a foreboding most ominous...

"So, where to next?" Rose asks, sipping her own drink, "I've had this weird headache ever since we got here, so I'm kind of eager to leave." "The Shadow in the Warp?" Cyril asks, "Perhaps Nidhoggr is not so thoroughly vanquished here as Rockfist thought. The station is more pressing, though. The Inquisition desires that station's secrets, and I want them out of Tau hands." "I don't know what a shadow in the warp is," Rose shrugs, but my headache stopped when you guys got back." "I feel a particular interest in seeing this space station," Cortain suggests, "I only worry about what the Black Caste has planned..." "All right, lad, we'll set it as our next destination," Rockfist says, leaning over and loudly barking orders at the bridge crew down the passage way. The Blade enters the Warp, on its way to Tempestus Solaris. The Commandos spend much of their time in O'Malley's for now, sharing ideas of what to carve the corer plate into, while Brynjol can only wonder why there is so much Mjod about. O'Malley can only shrug, while Cyril and Cortain remain quiet about how much they bought back on Studio 69.

05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC) 05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC) Meanwhile, in the underdecks of the vessel, a Squat is walking along whistling. Then he hears a clanging, and sees the massive Executor Thexus clanging towards him. He stops whistling. A single tear rolls down his cheek as the claw swiftly approaches his face... 05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC) 05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)

"So, these Tau..." Rose begins, "You seemed pretty upset last time you encountered them. Are they that bad?" "The last time I faced one..." he traces his abdomen. "I nearly got bisected. I intend to enact something equally violent upon them." "They usually-" Cyril turns down his armour speakers. "They usually die quickly and easily, provided you know when, where, and how to strike. This 'Black Caste' is an anomaly." "The Black Caste in particular are extremely militant and a fanatical devotion to...something, almost above their Greater Good." "Oh..." Rose sighs, "There were a number of alien species we encountered when we had begun our colonizations, most seemed friendly enough. It's somewhat sad." "Aliens often seem friendly," Cyril points out, "They have invariably betrayed humanity." "Every single time?" Rose asks, "That hardly seems possible." "The Age of Strife is exactly this," Cortain explains. "They must all be purged, but galactic threats like the Tyranids come first," Cyril adds, "This Black Caste is more aggressive, though, and well worth our efforts even if they were not occupying a valuable void station." "To be fair, your Age of Strife corresponds to our Age of Trade," Rockfist notes, "But it also leads to the Age of Wars." "Many names were added to the Books of Grudges those days," O'Malley sighs, "Never trust anyone but yer kin an' yer brotherhood." Rose dejectedly finishes her drink as the day winds down. While the week is quiet, and Thexus is surprisingly nowhere to be seen, the loud tearing of the veil between Materium and Warp alerts everyone to the fact that warp travel is complete.

The Blade has entered the Tempestus Solaris system from the top, and the Blade's augurs pick up the faint communiques of Imperial Navy vessels long since departed.The Commandos are, however, getting a communication herald on augurs, which Cortain accepts.

"Commandos...I would advise silent running as you approach." "Deepthroat," Cortain recognizes as Cyril orders it so. "Very good. You took your time this time, it seems," Deepthroat rumbles, "You are, however, in luck, the Black Caste are still here." "What have they accomplished thus far?" Cyril asks. "This station has served as an outpost from which they strike at your Navy maneuvers. With increased presence elsewhere, the Navy does not realize that such an outpost has been established within their own system. However, their own agenda has been slowed, though I cannot say if this bodes well or poorly for you." "Understood," Cyril answers, "Have they devoted any efforts towards unearthing any secrets of the station?" "Indeed. I am already aboard, scouting out potential landing zones," Deepthroat continues, "The Tau have...awoken something. I do not recognize it, but the entire station is on high alert. A fleet is returning within a few standard hours to reinforce." "We should probably infiltrate in before they arrive," Cortain notes. "I advise caution, as there are many crossfires and battles within these halls currently." "Infiltrate?" Brynjol laughs, "Surely you mean hack and slash!" "Brynjol, how many Tau have you faced?" Cyril asks, "Infiltration is a solid plan, and I, for one, support it entirely." Brynjol claps Cyril on the back. Ceramite creaks. "I was joking, you humourless tit," he points at the wolf-skull grin on his helmet, "Couldn't you tell?"

"Briefing appreciated, Deepthroat," Cyril states, "Is there anything else?" "I will transfer a series of access points I noted to you. Be warned, this place is strange. The Tau did not build it...but neither did you humans. It seems far older than both. I do not trust it." "How narrow are the internal spaces?" Temur asks, "If we are to deal with these xenos, I would prefer more information on our battleground if we have it." "You should be able to fit, Commandos, just as the battlesuits patrolling the halls do," Deepthroat hints ominously, "I advise something small for transport, larger vehicles will draw the ire of the defenses the Tau have co-opted." "Sounds like a Storm Raven," Cortain realizes. "I shall contact you further if necessary. Deepthroat out." The Blade's augurs pick up a message - a number of three-dimensional waypoints, all deep within one of the gas giants in system.

"Lads, don't worry about us, we'll pilot the Blade into the gas giant, and enter silent running until you give the word," Rockfist says, "They won't find us." The Blade approaches the Gas Giant on the outskirts of the system, dipping into the heavy cloud cover. Heavy winds buffet the battleship's hull as ferromantic runes of invulnerability are charged.

As a team, the Commandos collectively requisition a maniple of Vorax, arming them with bio-corrosive rounds to act as a distraction. Brynjol arms himself with a combat shield, while Cyril and Temur pick up jump packs for themselves. Cortain acquires a cyber-familiar, delivered by Executor Thexus - the cyber-skull is of impeccable quality, though Cortain wonders why it seems thicker and wider than a normal human skull...

The Two Urists take the Storm Raven out, the Commandos aboard, through the heavy yellow clouds that comprise the gas giant. Flying low, the Urists pull up, and the Commandos finally see the station ahead. Bright polished silver in color, with blue energy conduits pulsing throughout the superstructure, the station is thicker at the top than it is at the bottom, many bits protruding. Two of the waypoints Deepthroat pointed out are in the thicker middle of the station, while another is an extrusion towards the top.

"Can scans tell us anything about the internal structures around the waypoints?" Cyril asks. "Lad, we're not getting anything," Rockfist laments, "I don't know what that thing is made of, but augurs can't pierce it."

The station is floats amongst the clouds. Below, a storm rages. Cyril spares a few minutes to dump half a bucket of Tau blood over each of the ten Voraxes' heads, before conferring with everyone to select a landing zone. Getting closer, the station doesn't seem to be one solid piece - it's made of at least five different components. It comproses the central body itself, and four fins orbiting it, tens of meters away. All entry points, however, are on the central body. Two mid, one top.

"Emperor guide us..." Cyril takes a deep breath, "Eeeny, meeny, miney, moe..." "Mighty Vorax, there you go..." Cortain joins in.

The Commandos ultimately select an exposed platform near the top of the station, with a number of flat surfaces open. They command the Vorax be dropped on a lower level to better make a distraction. Brynjol leaps out, axe in one hand and sword in the other. He looks mildly disappointed not to be knee-deep in Tau immediately, but contents himself with an Oath of the Wolf King to mess up any Crisis Suits the Commandos may encounter.

"Beardlings, today you are the sword of the Imperium," O'Malley voxes, "Be silent and swift, and you can quell this without incident."

Above, thick yellow clouds flow, while below the storm in the gas giant rages. Looking around, the landing zone seems somewhat empty. However, the Commandos can see an access point in one of the structures that leads into the facility. It seems there are indentations, as if things would fit all over. The patterns that the Commandos see in the flowing power conduits, though, are unfamiliar. Cortain approaches the door first, and he finds it seems to open automatically with a hiss, the glass and metal sliding into the structure. He signals everyone in as the Commandos raise their bolters.

Cyril strides ahead of Brynjol, resettling his camo-cloak over winged pack. "I am the stealthiest, even without this equipment. Let me take point, brothers, and we will surprise the filth."

Entering the Landing Access Hallway, the ground rings with every step for now. The blue conduits on the ground pulse with every step. Steam leaks from the occasional pipe as the Commandos see another door ahead, which opens automatically as well.

Sneaking ahead, the Commandos are ninja as they enter a large assembly point. The three Fire Warrior Strikers on station patrol the corridor, two walking a route while one stands watch. Their Jet-black armor gives clear sign as to their allegiance.

Considering the best path is to reach them unawares, the Commandos take position. Cyril sneaks forward, and blasts the two Strikers on the ground, while Brynjol overcharges his jump pack, charging the one on watch. Brynjol cuts his jump pack on the descent, landing surprisingly light-footed and bisecting the Fire Warrior Striker with a hard, choked swing with both hands. The giblets of the former Striker fall off the edge of the station, into the gas giant below.

At this point, however, Cortain gets a sudden *BEEP BEEP* on his Graviton Data Codec. He hesitantly opens private comms.

"Contractor..." Deepthroat begins, "We have something for you to do while on your mission." "And here I thought I would actually forget about this deal," Cortain sighs. "The House never forgets." "State the terms." "We will start simple. Somewhere on that station, we've detected a cogitator bank, where they control the defenses. Find it, and open a hole in their security systems. We will take care of the rest." "Sounds perfectly acceptable." "We have reasons to believe that it is towards the lower levels of the top floors. Keep your augurs open. Deepthroat out."

Ahead, Brynjol can see the floor is made of blue energy. There are boxes and containers on the floor, moving along the paths of the energy. Some containers contain unrefined plasma fuel, it seems, while other containers hold only air. One path moves backwards, towards the staging area. Another moves deeper over an open air bridge into another part of the station.

"Deeper in, I suppose."

Heading along the Fuel Packaging Facility, the Commandos come to a large door which opens with a bright blue pulse. Here, they see a ramp that leads down, into lower decks of the station's protrusion. The other leads up, to the station's bulk proper. With every step, blue pulses head across the floor. Brynjol prods one of the blue pulses with his axehead warily, creating more pulses, as he impacts the ground.

"Downstairs, then?" Cortain suggests. "The lower decks might hold something of interest to the Inquisition," Cyril states, "But I suspect their Kor'o will be found further inside the station proper." "Perhaps we might find a security terminal there?" Cortain adds. "Perhaps. I can scout in..." Cyril nods, "Bryn, you are leading us. Your opinion?" "I defer to your judgement on this, Cyril," Brynjol grins, the gesture mirrored in his wolf mask, "You are, after all, our sneaker." "Temur, any thoughts?" Cyril asks, :The station will need a thorough purge in any case, but I would rather press on after the Commander than tarry trying to find it."

"It would depend greatly on the function of the station, and how the designers laid it out," Temur thinks, "For all we are aware the control center could likely be at the bottom. Clearing this level seems prudent to begin with." "Are you certain you could interface with this station even if we were to find what passes for a terminal here, Cortain?" Cyril asks, the final doubt on his mind. "I have confidence," Cortain states flatly.

Heading downstairs, there is a smaller door that leads off to the side. It opens into a long glass-lined hallway that leads outside the station for a bit. Looking down, there are clear signs of battle down below, on a far lower deck. The Vorax are fighting the Tau, heavy battlesuits deployed to this new problem. Most, however, see a third party. The fight is a three-way. There are figures in white armor, that look somewhat spindly, fighting both the Vorax and the Tau. White components float around them, similar to how the four structures orbit the station. Their weapons are bizarre, shooting orange and yellow shards. Their outer shell, it almost seems like Wraithbone.

Cyril suggests moving in to assist, but Cortain barely remembers reading about such things in the archives. Half-seen synthetic constructs the Squats reported only once. "Eldar?" he thinks first, before he realizes that they're too fast and...mechanical. It becomes rapidly clear who built this station in the gas giant.

"Armiger Soldier constructs. They are of Old One construction," he states, "They seem more interested in the Tau. Let the Vorax manage the case."

The Commandos don't quite understand, but accept Cortain's wisdom and move on. Passing the hallway, the Commandos come across a large storage area, more boxes of armaments laying about. Brynjol, however, hears a faint humming.

"Everybody get under cover," he suggests, "Something wicked this way comes."

Sure enough, a veritable cloud of Gun Drones fly overhead. The battle probably has their attention, however, and they are just chugging along. The cloud does not notice the Commandos, who choose not to engage. Having been passed by undetected, the Commandos resume their mission.

Within this area there are two doors - one beyond the boxes forward, and one off to the side, to the right. The one forward is smaller.

"I would not like to repeat the previous errors, brothers," Temur states, "Let us clear side passages first, and be thorough." "The smaller door might well be the 'side passage' in the twisted psyche of whatever beings made this place," Cyril shrugs.

Nonetheless, the Commandos select the smaller forward door first, finding a small room overlooking a hanger. There's a hastily-assembled cogitator bank of Tau construction in this room. Cables extend out, into the hangar below, and further. The hangar is blocked off by an energy field similar to a Tidewall. There are a number of Tau in the hangar bay. You can even see battlesuits. The security station, however, is left empty, most likely due to the Vorax and Armiger Soldier problem being addressed.

"Those Crisis Suits will be tough," Brynjol notes. "We should kill these tau and use their own cogitator for cover," Temur suggests, "they shoot back they wreck thier own equipment." Cortain, however, has another idea. Accessing the cogitator and breaking past its simple initial security systems, he can see that this is a security node, one of many spread across the station to monitor anomalies. Cortain realizes it can be disabled and cycled from here, and does so. He puts in the codes, and the security systems stop. The screen then flickers, and he sees "Establishing connection..."

After a minute, "Connection Established," and the hangar shield goes down. While the Tau in the hangar are confused, the Commandos hear a dull thrumming. Purple transport ships suddenly decloak, spraying pulse autocannon fire everywhere from turrets. The landing craft deploy numerous Tau and Dark Eldar teams, who take the Tau in the hangar by surprise, before moving on.

"We should move somewhere less conspicuous," Cyril suggests. Cortain scoots on out, mildly amused. "To the Commander, then?"

Leaving the Phantomfish and House Detachments behind, the Commandos take the larger pathway, which appears to be a narrow tube with a flare in the middle. The hallway pulses blue with every step, and reaching the central flare, the Commandos find enough room to stand and maneuver, as well as a blue Torch adjacent to a large box of what auspex readings identify as unrefined plasma.

"Got a selection of good things on sale, Stranger..." the Merchant rasps.

As a team, the Commandos manage to get Ion Shields for their VF/SS fighters. Cyril gets a Memorance Implant to better assist in his arts and crafts. Brynjol FINALLY gets his hexagrammatic wards for his armor. Temur throws caution and protocol to the wind, acquiring a Conversion Field. Cortain, however, gets himself a Djinn Skein, to better control the flow of battle and assist the other Commandos.

"Heh heh heh...thank you." The Merchant walks behind the plasmabox, disappearing.

The hallway rises higher into the core of the station itself. Arriving at the top of the hallway area, The Commandos see a large central area. It's clear maintenance was done here, but it is only recently that the Tau were the ones maintaining stuff. Small constructs flitting about, the same type of wraithbone material as the constructs earlier, buzzing around and repairing the station superstructure. The dull thrust of jet engines breaks the Commandos out of their observations, however, and while Cyril and Temur conceal themselves amongst the boxes and machinery, Cortain and Brynjol stand in the open, ready to challenge the three XV-8 battlesuits who have landed a little ways from them.

Brynjol immediately charges, yelling litanies of hatred. Each battlesuit appears to have a plasma rifle and a cyclic ion blaster, and Brynjol realizes it is going to be tough. He realizes it's gonna be tougher when the Tau utilize the abilities of their brand new formations to Supporting Fire each other. While Brynjol's Rosarius protects him from a number of plasma and ion shots, some get through. Brynjol takes heavy damage, but utilizes his new Wulfen Crozius to smash down a Crisis Suit. Temur leaps up to try and assist, but the Battlesuits detect him, and are able to dodge his grav cannon. Cyril them pops up, and kills another battlesuit with repeated storm bolter fire. The final battlesuit sees how spoopy he is, and actually fails its fear test, unable to approach, providing the perfect opening for Cortain to finish off the final battlesuit.

Brynjol grunts, rising from the corpse of the Crisis suited warrior, heavily favouring his augmetic leg. He moves to apply medicinal herb to his wounds as the rest of the Commandos move to explore the area. Finding a rounded elevatus, pulsating with energy and connected with a jury-rigged control panel, Cortain and Temur board it while Cyril leans in, taking an arm of the dead battlesuit pilots and having a nibble, letting the memories flow.

05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC) The Crisis Suit squad is being deployed down from the roof. "Affirmative, Kor'O Ky'Monat, we shall hold them off," one crisis pilot says. "Good," a female voice says, "We have enough problems. These constructs, and now the House and Imperium are here. I will prepare everything from here. The fleet is almost here." "We understand! For our lost honor! For Aun'o O'res'nan!" 05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)

"Anything of value?" Cortain asks. "Eat one Tau and you have tasted them all, but their flesh is satisfactor-" Cyril halts, "Oh, the memories. It seems their Air Caste leader is above. It ordered them here to hold us off. It is a female."

The Commandos are in agreement - their quarry is above. Cortain sees the control panel, and presses the up button. The elevatus shudders, and begins to move up, slowly but surely. As the Commandos ascend, a voice echoes through the station's voxnet.

"Your reputation precedes you..." a familiar female voice says, "We're cut from the same cloth." Cyril calls for silence, and everyone hunkers down. "We're all alone in this sector, adrift, sometimes we even questioned our purpose," the voice continues, "Don't try to deny it, I know. You wondered if being dispatched here was a bad idea." Checking their ammunition counts, the Commandos huddle up in formation. "Let me tell you..." Ky'Monat continues, "Here, I found purpose, ideals to fight for, not Expansion or Caste, but something more, under the Aun'O O'Res'nan. Do you understand?" "That was before we found a ship full of fabulous technology to make it worth something," Cortain admits, "Now I ask, what IS the Black Caste's purpose?" "Shhh - it might not be speaking to us," Cyril suggests, "Let us maintain surprise if possible." "Our purpose...we failed once before. But we looked inward, strengthened ourselves, fought for our own ideals now," Ky'monat replies, "Such things are not foreign to you, are they, Gue'ron'sha?" "Okay, definitely speaking to us..." Cyril sighs "That voice is going to get a boot in the arse!" Brynjol yells, swapping his Wulfen Crozius. "Your ideals of your failing Imperium, your sector crumbling under its own momentum?" she asks, "You still fight for your ideals, do you not?"

The elevatus finally reaches the roof of the station. The Commandos are exposed to the open air, the roof of the station providing a clear opening. Something fast zooms by at incredible speeds in the sky.

"If you would kill for your ideals..." Ky'monat laughs, "Then surely you are ready to die for them!"

"Come at me, boys!" Ky'Monat laughs.

Behind Ky'Monat, a Horde of Drones assembles, ready to provide cover fire. The Air Caste Commander, wearing a variant XV-0 class battlesuit, thin gossamer wings carrying her through the air, is armed with a pair of unique Ion Rifles with no stocks. Brynjol immediately charges forward, breaking through her shield and catching her before she can dodge with a hit from his Wulfen Crozius. But much to his surprise, Outsider links her Ion Rifles together into an ionized flexible staff. She then begins spinning, like a tornado. The wind at her back, she leaves an energized trail as she rolls into each of the Commandos, who manage to dodge, parry, or shield in equal measure. Landing, she separates her ion rifles and unloads into Cyril, who, out of dodges, is brought to criticals in a storm of ion fire.

Temur fires his grav cannon, and though four shots are shielded, one shot breaks through. Though her armor is weak, and the damage is low in comparison, Outsider fails the stun test and falls beond line of sight, opening things up for Cortain and Cyril to thin out the drones surrounding them. The few remaining drones turn themselves into suicide bombs and rush forward, but the Emperor is with Cyril, and his armor tanks the drones barely.

The Commandos realize that what they need is speed. They hastily force themselves into Squad Mode, and get Brynjol going with a Tactical Advance, putting him into melee range of the stunned Ky'Monat. he then triggers his own Squad Mode, Wolf Pack tactics, to start beating the shit out of her. Though two hits are shielded, she takes inordinate damage, especially from a lucky fury. But she's not dead yet. Her stimulant injector kicks in, unstunning her, and she reclicks her Ion Staff together. She releases a set of lightning attacks, though only two hit. Brynjol shields the two, content.

But then, he asks if he can parry one instead despite the shield. That's when things get weird.

"Can you handle this?" Ky'monat laughs.

Brynjol sticks his arms out, and to his shock the Ion Staff wraps around his arm. Commander Outsider charges forward, dragging the very confused Brynjol around. She charges Temur, swinging Brynjol at him. However, Temur draws his power sword and tries to parry Brynjol. He actually succeeds, and suprisingly goes for a Counter-Attack. Brynjol shields the counter-attack, deflecting the sword directly into Commander Outsider.

Commander Outsider stops, staggering backward, blue blood leaking out, she begins to smile. "You were wonderful..." she gurgle-laughs, "I see it now. Your ideals, perhaps they're stronger..." Brynjol lands nearby with an anticlimactic thud and crunch. "The rest of the H'esav'geka, will...enjoy you..." she falls, "I've studied...your dialects. I've...found one I'm quite...partial to. Ce fut un honneur de vous combattre...Je meurs sans douleur..."

The Commandos, however, are arguing over how to split the pieces of Ky'Monat when the air rumbles with a loud KABOOM, the Failsafe Detonator going off.

"Not... Again..." Cyril mutters. "I WANTED A BLOODY SKULL TO TAKE BACK!" Brynjol cries.

Her twin-ion rifle staff falls to the ground. It may not be the best or most desired trophy, but it's something. Brynjol moves to cover the fallen Cyril, but the Two Urists in the Storm Ravens swoop in low.

"Lads!" Rockfist says, "We got a problem." "The fleet?" Cyril asks. "No time to deal with the House forces, then. Urists, we need pickup at - oh. Good." "Got it in one, lad. There's a Tau fleet in orbit," Rockfist says, "I advise leaving for the next objective. The Navy can deal with the fleet."

Brynjol plugs an interface lead from his armour into one of Cyril's chest ports as they head to the evac, monitoring his vitals as the Storm Ravens transport the Commandos and what is left of the Vorax Maniple back to the Blade. Cyril is in heavy need of assistance, as Brynjol delicately removes melted armor and flesh so he can perform some basic first aid.

"The plasma burnt straight through my breastplate. It needs removal for repair," Cyril sighs, "As much as I've had to have the armoury repair it, I will have an Artificer breastplate before long..."

As the Commandos leave, they see a white doglike quadrupedal construct walk on the roof, staring at the Storm Ravens depart. Cortain merely stares at the Old One Crawler as the Storm Ravens leave the operational area.

"Are they so numerous, Rockfist?" Cyril gasps through surgery, We were to claim the station for the Inquisition." "The inquisition has no knowledge of the station, actually. We simply needed to acquire new materiel before you may or may not have chosen to blow the station up. Do with it as you will. I will be in touch if I find out more about the H'esav'Geka. Deepthroat out." The Commandos are slightly annoyed at being blatantly used, but reason that a greater threat was removed, so it makes it okay.

During the return trip, the Commandos decide that sending an encrypted message to the Inquisition about the station is in order, both to purge it and to gain intelligence of the constructs aboard it. Arriving at the Blade, Rockfist and Thexus stand ready. While Brynjol orders Cyril to the medicae deck, Cortain and Temur are taken with Rockfist and Thexus to the bridge to manage blockade breakthrough operations. Cyril, not wanting to miss anything, crawls his way over to an elevatus that will bring him to the bridge.

"LEGIONARIES, WE CURRENTLY HAVE THE ADVANTAGE OF STEALTH WITHIN THE GAS CLOUDS. THE XENOS DO NOT KNOW WE ARE HERE," Thexus points out, "I ADVISE A DECISIVE STRIKE AS WE LEAVE." "My thoughts exactly, Thexus," Cyril nods. "So be it," Cortain commands, "Strike what remains of Ky'Monat's fleet." "I am in agreement," Temur walks over to the weapons bays to review combat capabilities.

"DO YOU PREFER SPEED OR OFFENSIVE FORCE?" Thexus asks. "We take them by force," Cortain states, "Their morale is shattered without their commanding naval officer." "ACKNOWLEDGED. CHARGE THE ARC REACTOR AT YOUR LEASURE."

The Blade engages its engines, charging forward through the gas cloud. Cortain enacts the rites that will Arc Charge the Blade's Arc Reactor, diverting all energy to the Accelerator Cannon. "Atomantic Arc Reactor charged, lad. Accelerator Cannon primed. You may fire when ready," Rockfist says. Ahead are a Protector Cruiser and a pair of Emissaries, with numerous Castellan support frigates behind the front line. Brynjol locks onto the largest target, the Protector, while Cyril sits in the gunner's seat, aiming carefully.

"We make the Black Caste rue the day they ever set foot on the Emperor's Domain!" Cortain yells.

Cyril's aim is true. The Accelerator Cannon turns, splitting its three prongs and focusing its titanic energies. A massive lance of energy strikes forward at the Protector Cruiser, catching an emissary in the wide beam as well. The accelerator cannon burns its way through the two vessels in a monstrous flash of Atomantic Energy. Raking across the sky, a number of smaller ships are destroyed by the beam as well, as the Blade of the Long Watch makes its way out of system. The remainder of the enemy Tau fleet, deemed inconsequential, is left for the Imperial Navy based at Tempestus Solaris. As the Accelerator cannon goes to cool down, the Commandos have created enough of an opening to break through into the warp, and head towards the call for assistance at Ravenforge.

(17) The Fourth Column[edit]

The Blade is on track to arrive at Ravenforge soon. Reports brought by servo-automata indicate the Navy assets in system have been mobilized. The Black Caste remants will soon be swept away in Tempestus Solaris. While Cyril tries to enjoy a celebratory drink with the Squats, Brynjol inevitably drags him back to the medicae deck for tests and rebuilding his chest cavity.

"Stop trying to leave, or I swear to the Allfather I will open your chest cavity and play the drums with your black carapace!" an exasperated Brynjol yells. "I only left once!" Cyril admits, "To shoot Tau!"

Since Cyril is in criticals, he is tossed in a resuscatrix chamber and set on spin-cycle for the week. Some of the squats set up some tables near the large resuscatrix chambers. Squattish Amasec is fed into the tank as he spins around. The Amasec introduced into the healing chemicals stings a bit, but nothing that would bother a spess mareen. Cyril tries to hum litanies from within the chamber, but the song is indistinguishable from the bubbles he is producing.

"Lads," Rockfist enters, saluting the Aquila, "Given that we prioritized the Ravenforge Crusade for last, we may run into complications on the way to the combat zone." "Burble burble burble?" Cyril burbles. [What kind of complications?] "He says 'What kind of complications?'" Brynjol repeats, "I concur!" "Well, we'll be substituting for one of the Knight Houses that failed to show up," Rockfist says, "And each House in attendance has either enlisted the Navy for support or used their own supporting fleets." Rockfist folds out an old set of starmaps. "Given that one House has failed to arrive, it seems that will be a strongpoint of Chaos resistance that may need to be punched through," Rockfist explains, "I can't say how many enemies we'll find, but I can almost guarantee their presence." "We're substituting for a Knight House?" Brynjol asks, "Sounds like they're expecting a lot of firepower."

"Burble burble. Burble burble burble burble?" Cyril burbles. [I see. Are we expecting ship-to-ship combat, then?] "He says 'Are we expecting git to git wombats then?'" Brynjol repeats, staring at Cyril, "I don't understand him either. But do they have a significant space presence?" Cyril twitches a lot. "I...don't think we'll have to deal with wombats," Rockfist says, "But I would be surprised if there wasn't a fleet waitin' there ta greet us." "We'll have to decide whether boarding actions or ship-to-ship combat is best when we survey the opposition," Brunjol declares. "The Blade's fully repaired in any case," Rockfist states, "Had the throngs working overtime. Remember, lad, the Blade's weapons are strongest to the sides and front. Don't let anything get behind. Split fire if you see an easy kill, and don't forget the Arc Reactor." Cyril nods, "Burble." "In any case, we'll be breaking Warp within a few days," Rockfist says as he walks off, "The toaster's made sure all weapons are ready, so there shouldn't be any issue."

Cortain arrives at the medicae deck delivering Cyril's re-re-restored breastplate, with a sticky not lecturing on taking care of this suit. Cyril twitches in impotent rage, lamenting how he keeps getting shot in the chest.

The days move along in relative peace. Cyril has been brought up to a minimum of combat effectiveness, and Cortain has finished responding to some letters for his "Ask the Commandos" column of his ledger, just in time for Warp transition procedures to start enacting. Thexus, Rockfist, and Rose stand by as Cyril is decanted.

"Not exactly the best solution, but it's ideal for everyone to be ready when we enter the system," Rockfist sighs. "I am fine," Cyril declares, "When do we arrive?" "Are you sure?" Rose asks. "I had my chest and armour ventilated by plasma," Cyril explains, "It will take more to put down one of the Emperor's Angels of Death." "Space marines are remarkably resilient," Cortain adds, "If you would like a better explanation, I am sure Bryn can help." "LEGIONARIES ARE OF TOUGHER STOCK," Thexus affirms, "WE WILL BE ENTERING THE RAVENFORGE SYSTEM MOMENTARILY. WE SHALL REPORT TO THE COMMAND BRIDGE AND AWAIT YOUR ORDERS." "This time, make sure we stop turtling," Cortain advises, remembering the previous ill-fated space combat, "It offends the wrath of Mars."

The Blade rumbles all over as it begins Materium translation. The rumbling is worse than normal, no doubt due to the active Warpstorm that is in this subsector. Transitioning into the Materium, the Squats offering the customary prayers to the Ancestors, there are no immediate complications. However, Rockfist's concerns are realized, as a number of Chaos vessels lay on approach headings, the poisoned purple clouds of Ravenforge swirling in the background.

Cyril takes command this time, ordering Brynjol to the Sensoria, Cortain to the Arc Reactor cogitators, and Temur to the gunnery stations. Approaching the Blade are a pair of Infidel Raiders to each side, and a Hades Heavy Cruiser and a Slaughter Cruiser burning ahead front. The Blade weathers macrocannon and torpedo fire, before turning to address the raiders first. The Blade attempts to ram the starboard Infidel, though it barely misses. The port Infidel is not so lucky, as it absorbs sunsear fire to weaken its shields, and then eats a full salvo from the Accelerator Cannon, gutting it.

"Good job, lads," Rockfist laughs, "We didn't need ta wait four hours for something ta die this time." Cortain has ominous feelings again, while Cyril merely mutters under his breath.

The Blade survives the missile and lance broadside from the Hades and Slaughter, while the remaining Infidel tries to get into a better position.

"Continue moving starboard and circle the cruisers! Arc charge the Accelerator Cannon and penetrate the cruisers' port sides, then broadside the Raider with ours," Cyril commands, "Torpedo any surviving cruisers!" "Lad, a Heavy Cruiser of Chaos is akin to a Battlecruiser for the Imperium. They're quite dangerous," Rockfist advises, adjusting his armor, "Cruisers remain the same, though their offensive output or survivability is only slightly less than a Battle or Heavy Cruiser."

The Blade advances, aligning itself broadsides with the Hades and Slaughter. Regrettably the vessels are spread out, so the Accelerator Cannon can't get multiple. However, the Hades is in clear unobstructed sight as requested. Brynjol locks on, and Temur takes the Accelerator Cannon controls. The Accelerator Cannon splits into three prongs, and the titanic energy within is fired in a single heavy beam. The Commandos hear a "thud" echo across the winds of spess as the Hades crumples under its own weight and the force of the Nuclear Fusion blast.

"Ha ha! See lad? THAT'S how it's done!" Rockfist pats Temur on the back, "Cannon's coolin' down, so you won't be able to arc charge it again for a while."

The Infidel aligns itself as bait, allowing the Slaughter Cruiser to reach the Blade's rear arc and hammer away with lance weapons. Deciding to focus the Cruiser, Cortain arc charges the cortex core, allowing for an additional weapon to be fired. Cyril fires torpedoes at the Infidel, damaging it, while everyone else unloads into the Slaughter. Cortex-commanded sunsears bring down the Slaugter's shields while a full burst from the Accelerator Cannon and Lance set the vessel aflame, disabling its void shields.

The Blade survives torpedo and macrocannon return fire from the Chaos vessels, before angling to face the Slaughter and Infidel. Battery fire immolates the Infidel, while the Slaughter survives the Commandos' ire due to everyone missing. As the Slaughter turns to refocus its guns, it finds itself in the direct path of the Blade. Ordering a charge forward, all guns firing, the Blade rams the corrupted cruiser, breaking it in half with an armored prow.

"Nice job, lad, quick and efficient," Rockfist says, "Ya did good."

Charging through the wreckage of the Slaughter cruiser, the Commandos suddenly get a vox hail. "Unidentified vessel, in the Name of the Immortal God Emperor, please identify." "Apologies for the delay," Cortain states, "The Deathwatch is here." "To shine the light of the Emperor on this forsaken planet!" Cyril adds. "Deathwa...yes, my Lieges!" the vox replies, "Honor and glory to you. The Crusade thanks you for your assistance. With you here, we may be able to break this stalemate." "Honor and glory to the Imperium," Cyril nods, "What is the situation?" "Our forces on the ground are pushing through against the Heretic filth, but with only three fronts they always have reinforcements," the vox replies, "The Knight Houses of Askari, Kshatra, and Excelsus are below, each taking a front. But we need a fourth column to truly cut off the Heretics."

"Then we shall be your fourth," Cyril declares, "What forces are the heretics fielding?" "They are operating off a number of supply bastions in the rear, which in turn are covering a launch facility to strike at Navy assets in orbit," the vox states, "We've determined the heavy presence of Chaos aircraft and fixed ground defenses." "Sounds like the job for us," Cortain nods. "How have they kept the Knights at bay?" Cyril asks. "The launch facility also houses numerous vortex missile batteries. When the knights approach the Bastions, they are fired upon," the vox replies, "But, with a fourth column, we can overload their ability to prioritize targets, and strike the heretics down." "Sounds like the plan is to destroy the missiles," Cortain confirms. "Destroying the launch zone will stop both heretic supply transports AND disable the missiles," the vox agrees, "We'll relay to the knights to press the attack on your command." "Normally, a handful of Space Marines would be unable to provide a column of superheavy support like you seek..." Cyril explains, before cracking a smile, "But I believe we can oblige." "Thank you, my lords," the vox says, "Crusade Command Castellum out."

"Brothers, it is time to suit up," Cyril declares. "Indeed it is, lad," Rockfist says, "Care to guess what we just finished repairing?"

Rockfist guides everyone to the hangars. "All right, lad," Rockfist hefts a missile, "You just tell us what you want equipped, and we'll load up your VF/SS."

Each of the VF/SS have the upgrades everyone bought applied to them so far. Thexus receives a set of waypoint locations, no doubt the targets, and transfers the locations to the Commandos.

Brynjol loads up with QAAMs and XLAAs, all missiles that offer rerolls against specific targets. Cortain and Temur choose Kraken Penetrators and QAAMs, while Cyril selects LASMs and XLAAs for maximum versatility.

"Lad! A word of advice!" Rockfist says as the launch bay is cleared, "Most standard turrets prioritize air units. Turrets will have a harder time tracking ground targets, but that would also make you vulnerable to enemy aircraft. Watch yourselves out there!""

The launch bay is cleared, and the Squats and Automata head into the ship proper. Brynjol grumbles, slinging his axe on his belt, while Cyril climbs into his ship, sighing in relief as the machine encases him. Cortain makes his litanies as he preps his striker for launch, while Temur refamiliarizes himself with the transforming fighters.

Launch rails send each VF/SS out with a mighty roar. On each VF/SS hololithic display, the Commandos are shown the intelligence from the Crusade forces already deployed. In formation, the VF/SS are launched out into the void. Objective markers appear on each Commando's HUD.

OBJECTIVE 1: Destroy the two Bastions in the combat zone. Destroy enemy defenses as appropriate. OBJECTIVE 2: Locate and Destroy the Supply Launchpad and the Launchpad Control Center. Destroy enemy defenses as appropriate.

"We carve a bloody path to the primary objective!" Cyril declares, starting an Oath of Glory, "Blade, what can the sensorium detect of enemy launches?" "None yet, lad," Rockfist says, "I don't think bombardments will start until you give the order to attack." "Well, I doubt they'll have time to use it to ship in reinforcements in time to be relevant to a single battle," Cyril shrugs, "We will continue for the first objective, then." "Um, I'll review the sensors," Rose says, "I'll try to alert you to objectives and attacks."

Breaking through the clouds, the Commandos finally reach the arid, blasted plains of Ravenforge. "At your current heading, you should reach the bastion defense ring within a minute or so..." Rose begins, "Oh! Enemy fighters on sensors!"

Flying in perfect formation, the Commandos note a wing of 3 enemy fighters approaching at 500m. Organizing into formation, the Commandos focus their weapons. Brynjol's Phased Plasma Autocannons and missiles impacting a Chaos Swiftdeath fighter and downing it, much to his bemusement. Cortain and Temur also open up with autocannon and missile, damaging the fighters. However, it is Cyril that executes the killing blow on the two remaining Swiftdeaths with a swarm of XLAA missiles.

Cortain quietly fistpumps as the planes go down. "No more targets..." Rose says, "I think your missile got him!" "Yes, Rose, I noticed," Cyril sighs, "What can you tell us about the situation planetside?" "Rockfist says the Bastions are mobilizing," she says, "Better hurry!"

Flying forward, the Commandos come up to the two bastions. They're 200m from each other, each defended by turrets, which begin to track the Commandos, though impressive skill at in-flight dodging and lucky Ion Shield rolls prevent the lascannons from doing much damage. A further wing of Swiftdeaths approaching means further evasive maneuvers, and the Commandos resume the offensive.

Brynjol fires missiles at the swiftdeaths, but only manages superficial damage. Temur tries to autocannon down a swiftdeath, but it deftly dodges, so he contents himself with firing a Kraken at the Bastion. Cortain too tries to shoot down a Swiftdeath, but their frontal armor tanks his shots. Cyril also manages to whiff a swiftdeath, but fires more missiles at the Bastions. Surviving counter-fire from automated turrets, the Commandos decide on an alternate plan of action.

"Lads, those bastions have heavy slabs of armor. You may need something strong to get through them. Those turrets also only seem to be able to fire on air targets with any competency," Rockfist says, "Anyway, the other three columns are engaging their bastions as well. Just an update."

Brynjol is the first to decide that it is now time to punch things. Shifting to Strike Mode, Brynjol couches his Plasma Lance, a glowing sheath of energy surrounding his arm, and charges the bastion. His Plasma Lance carries him through, annihilating the damaged bastion. As Brynjol twirls around, readying for the next attack, he notes the bastion turret nearby fall silent. Two other bastion turrets begin to track him, but as he lands on the ground, they stop, and focus on the rest of the Commandos, ignoring Brynjol.

Cortain and Temur try Brynjol's tactic with much less luck, though Cortain manages to damage the Bastion. Cyril alone remains in Pursuit Mode, to mop up the two Swiftdeaths. Bastion turrets on the ground track Cyril, but the Ion shield holds, deflecting the lascannon shots harmlessly. Brynjol hefts his Plasma Lance once more, and barrels through without issue, violently assaulting the Bastion. It collapses as he cannonballs through it.

Brynjol can be heard chortling through the vox, as the Commandos shift back to Pursuit Mode and move on to the next objective. "Good job, the second bastion is down!" Rose says, "The way to the launch pad is clear!" "Haha, perfect!" Cyril declares, "Forward, FOR THE EMPEROR!"

In a wide plain ahead, a missile is launching into the sky from a central launch zone, a large building nearby burning with heretical sigils. The Commandos have reached the launch pads.

Vengeance Batteries on station fire at the Commandos, and Cyril is grazed with a lascannon shot, taking heavy damage. More Swiftdeaths arrive on station, firing their own plasma weapons and missiles, though Temur takes a missile and suffers damage as well.

The Commandos face the Control Center, the Launch pad, two Fighters, four turrets, and a large missile heading into the sky from the launch pad.

"MISSILE!" Cyril points out, "Bring it down!" "How likely do you think it is to demolish the missile?" Cortain asks. "How likely what is to demolish it?" Cyril asks. "Anything," Cortain clarifies, "Mainly Krakens." "Those should do the trick nicely," Cyril nods, "Aerial missiles should also suffice. And failing that, it is well within effective range of our repeater cannons, and I doubt its ability to dodge."

The Commandos prioritize the Swiftdeaths in the immediate area. Temur fires guns and missiles at the planes, eating their dodges, and leaving an opening for Cortain to shift to Strike Mode and down the two planes with Plasma Autocannons and Heavy Swarm Missiles. The planes careen into the ground, followed by a veritable massacre of missiles launched from Cortain's VF/SS. Moving to get the missile in their sights, the Commandos hesitate when Brynjol charges forward.

Brynjol charges forth, clamping onto the side of the immense missile launching into the sky. he holds on a moment, as the missile breaks atmosphere for its eventual fall onto a target. Pushing his VF/SS to the maximum, Brynjol grapples the missile into a new flight path - directly back at the heretic control center. The missile flies true, much to the shock and horror of the heretics. The missile hits with the full force of the warp, sucking it to Emperor knows where. Brynjol chortles mightily as he witnesses the carnage.


Though Rose tries to give everyone updates, most of the Commandos have muted her, as she is having great difficulty keeping up with the battle, and her reports are getting increasingly muddled. With only the Launch Center left, Cyril strafes the launch tower, collapsing it in a great pile of wreckage.

"Keep your heresy, filthy traitors," Cyril states, "The Imperium does not want it, or you." "The Remains are blasted," Cortain observes, "Let no heretical brick stand." "Nice!" Rose says, "All objectives complete!"

The Commandos then hear a shrill screech, and another wave of Swiftdeaths begin their approach. However, a series of missiles strike against them. "Ah...Republican Commandos!" a voice says over the vox. A number of allied knights make their way forward. "It is a pleasure to see you in action again," the Knight Paladin says. "...again?" Cyril asks. Brynjol nods, the motion exaggerated by his strikesuit. The Commandos take a moment to identify the knights. One they recognize - they are of House Askari. Another bears much stylized heraldry of the Emperor and other symbols. Beneath the many scrolls, tapestries, and icons of the Acheron is a Knight of House Kshatra.

"This is the first time for me," the Kshatra knight says, "However, your names are known to us." "It is an honour to fight properly alongside the Faris of House Askari," Cyril explains, circling down and entering Strike mode for socializing, "As it is a pleasure to meet the rest of you." "It was thanks to your support that we were able to provide support here," the Faris says, "In this, we were proud to provide you with support." "Glad to fight side by side again, Knights of Askari," Cortain states. "Perhaps we too will fight side by side again," the Bhattara of House Kshatra states, "From what my brethren in House Askari say, you are as skilled outside the Throne as you are upon it." "The magnificent machine does much of the work for us in these mighty suits. On foot, things are more... challenging," Cyril admits, "Both are fitting ways to bring the Emperor's fury where it must be." "Indeed," the Faris agrees, "One must train body and mind to be a true knight." "Ah, we should have brought you the remains of the other Tau we killed!" Cortain says, "I am sure you ould be humored by it!" "There were more?" the Faris asks, "It is no matter. The insidious xenos stands no chance against Mankind." "As if they ever did," Cortain agrees.

"They are persistent in blowing themselves up before we can claim trophies more personal than their weapons," Cyril adds, "Though I do find it peculiar that they voluntarily enter close combat... it is unusal for their debased kind." "When one believes they know everything, then that is when they have the most to learn," the Bhattara bows, "As the thousand Aspects of the Emperor guide us in our daily lives, perhaps these Tau merely had an Aspect they had...kept hidden?" "Perhaps a discussion for another time," Cortain states, "Come, we have a planet to conquer!" "Regardless, Commandos, thanks to you, the Crusade can press on," the Bhattara says, "You have opened the way for us. The Crusade, and our Houses, thank you." "Though, I cannot help but wonder what happened to House Pyrus..." the Faris notes, as he and the other knight wander back to the rest of the crusade. "Emperor guide your mighty tread," Cortain intones. "By the Emperor's will, the sector will be wiped clean of their presence before they can fully realize it..." Cyril promises, "But for now the Euphalion Crusade takes priority. Emperor guide your weapons, noble Knights," "Mission complete. Nice job, lads," Rockfist voxes, "We'll prepare the landing bays for your return."

Returning to the Blade, most of the Squats stand ready to move the VF/SS to repairs. While the tone is more or less jubilant, Rose is excited and Thexus is his normal loud self, Rockfist is somewhat sour as he signals landings. "What news, Rockfist?" Cyril asks. "Aye, lad..." Rockfist sighs, "The holomap updated. We got a new request..." "Dare I ask whom?" Cortain hesitantly begins. "...It's from Korst'la."

(18) Mjasiri[edit]

The Blade's crew stand ready to move the VF/SS back to their hangars for maintenance. A number of Brynjol's serfs stand ready to escort Cyril back to the medicae deck to resume intensive care. However, the missive hanging over everyone's heads from the Tau Commander Korst'la has set a sour note over the atmosphere. Cortain has not been very cheery as of late. Most of his cogitators have been focused more on what Korst'la might be needing the Commandos for.

"So, uh," Rose asks, "What's a Korst'la?" "Korst'la is the crime lord who owns much of this sector," Cortain explains, "Nominally, he is controlled by the Inquisition, but in practice it is not the case." "From what I read, The Inquisition watches over every human in the sector. What makes him different?" "He is a Xenos, only tolerated because of his defection from the Tau Empire and his piles of dubiously-gained funds."

"He's a-oh. So you DO keep some aliens around."

"The Inquisitors of Tiji are...not stellar examples of a proper Inquisition." "Well, lad," Rockfist sighs, "His message is waiting at the holomap, for when you're ready. I think I need a drink..." "Give me one too," Cortain requests, "I feel as though I might need something strong too."

"Aye, lad," Rockfist wanders off, "I'll tell O'Malley to prepare the strong stuff..."

Cortain, in the meantime, hesitantly starts the message. The holomap slowly thrums to arcane life, its hololithic projectors beginning to move.

"Commandos! I do hope I find you well!" Korst'la beams as the message continues, "You've helped me out quite a bit, and made me quite a lot of profit. To celebrate, I would like to invite you to Volcania, in the Sheltered Reef subsector. The local tribes here are having a problem with some sort of beast killing them, and I'd like to turn it into a pleasant hunt with you. A friendly contest, if you will." The message begins to fade. "Meet me at Volcania, and we can begin our good-natured competition. I look forward to seeing you soon..."

Cortain glances at O'Malley. Though one cannot see it, his eyes portray an image of pain. "A hunt, this should prove interesting," Temur states, perking up, "Though judging by your reactions you have had unpleasant dealing with this 'Korst'la' before." "He is not dead," Cortain states flatly, "Make your own conclusions."

O'Malley merely seethes silently, a number of the drinks lining the wall shaking as he barely controls his temper and psychic ability. Brynjol clomps into O'Malley's, his bloodstained surgical smock depending from his shoulders, fresh from forcing Cyril back into the Resuscatrix Chambers, noting the rumbling of the drinks on the walls.

"Keep your maleficarum under control, barman," Brynjol glares, catching the tail end of O'Malley's psychic episode. "Forgive me, beardling," O'Malley admits, "But that Tau, we go back a ways, and I can't say that I can tolerate his presence." Brynjol merely stares intensely, unconsiously rubbing his bionic leg. "It takes great resolve and patience to resist the psychic veil, or maleficarum as ya call it," O'Malley states, "To fully resist it takes a fair bit of fortitude, amongst other things." "I have the fortitude," Brynjol affirms, "The training is something hard to come by." O'Malley leans in, real close, "We squats are an insular sort, and don't trust the machinations of the psyker. If you're willing to learn, I can teach you ways to resist their taint..." Brynjol frowns, leaning on the head of his axe, "But aren't you a psyker, yourself?" "I am a Living Ancestor, beardling," O'Malley retorts, "We squats don't develop psychic powers until we grow as old as I am. As a result, we temper its use with hundreds of years of experience." "Sounds like a double standard..." Rose huffs.

The rest of the Commandos evacuate from O'Malley's Bar and Grill, not willing to suffer the incoming clusterfuck of a Wolf Priest and a pair of psykers.

"Rose, I have no issues with sanctionites and those who are blessed in the eyes of the Emperor," Brynjol explains, "But psychic power is dangerous and untrustworthy... magic turns on its wielder as often as those it is wielded against." "Think of it what you will, lass," O'Malley explains, "Regardless, the offer stands. If you wish to learn our ways, then I will be ready to instruct." "Being able to resist psykery would be useful..." Brynjol admits, "I may take you up on that."

The Commandos grudgingly set course for Volcania. The trip is quiet - there is no celebration. Rockfist and O'Malley keep to their counsel, while Rose spends a fair amount of time with Executor Thexus.

Regardless of that filthy stain upon the sector," Cyril burbles through the Resuscatrix chamber, "If the people there are suffering another xeno's predations and with Korst'la is waiting for us before lifting a finger to help, we are needed." The attendant serfs, unable to understand his liquid burbling, merely nod politely.

Cortain decides to get his mind off the xenos with a history lesson from Thexus. He notes he and Rose are discussing things. Rose looks quite upset, while Thexus is his usual inscrutable self. "So, Thexus. How about we talk about the might of Mars so I can forget that we are listening to that alie-..." He pauses, "What is the issue here?" "I HAVE DEBRIEFED THE AUXILIA REGARDING THE PREVIOUS MISSION," Thexus blasts. "I'm...sorry," she sighs, quite devastated, "I'm sorry that you had to mute me, I'm just...I'm just trying to be helpful. It's just hard." Brynjol glares at Cyril as the two listen over team vox. Cyril can only wince silently. "I tried to keep you updated, but things were going by so fast," she says, "I couldn't keep up." "BRIEFING IS CONCLUDED, NONETHELESS. WHAT DID YOU REQUIRE, LEGIONARY?" "Distraction," Cortain sighs, "I just need something to stop reminding me that we are going to meet the Xenos crime lord again." "I'll...I'll go back to the Squats..." Rose sighs, heading out of the small observation chamber. "I SEE." Thexus states as Rose makes her way away. Brynjol attempts to console her, but she beelines straight for her room. Cortain listens intently as Thexus begins a lesson on the many ordinatus engines available to the Ordinatus Locum Macrotechnia, desperate to forget. Temur, seeking distraction of his own, offers to meet Cortain in the dueling rings, to vent their frustration.

Brynjol, in the meantime, seeks out O'Malley for that training. Entering O'Malley's Bar and Grill, O'Malley stares up. "Figured ya'd be coming, beardling," he states, "Ready to begin?" "Aye," Brynjol nods. O'Malley gestures, and the bar clears out, except for his hearthguard. "First things first, beardling, ya gotta find yer center, a quiet point that you fall back upon. Have a seat in the center, and close your eyes." Brynjol crosses his legs in meditative position. Breathing deep, he wills himself to a quiet, introspective place. "Good, beardling, good," O'Malley nods, "Now, focus in your quiet place. There's one thing that separates us from the xenos and witch filth." O'Malley pauses. "Hatred. Just as we keep a Book of Grudges to ever remind us," O'Malley explains, "You will always keep that hatred close to you."

Brynjol suddenly feel something hit the side of his head, as well as the crack of glass. O'Malley has begun to toss glasses psychically at him. "Now, beardling, focus yer hatred." Brynjol focuses deep. After the first clink, O'malley tosses another drink. However, Brynjol can almost swear its course changed a little midflight in his focus, hitting a pauldron instead of the helmet. "Good. Again." Brynjol, regrettably, struggles the second time, a glass clinking on his helmet. "Yer not focusin' hard enough, beardling. Hate the glass. Hate the force that propels it. Hate ME." Brynjol hisses, a wet animal sound fizzing between his teeth as he focuses. This time, it is clear and evident that the glass actively avoided him. "Good, beardling. Remember, your hate is what fuels and sustains you. Your hatred is your shield against the maleficarum you despise." O'Malley readies a swarm of glasses this time. He raises his hands, sending a furious salvo of drinks. But Brynjol is ready. With a howl of rage, they all shatter and deflect magnificently. "Good, good..." O'Malley says, "Continue to practice. Let your hatred flow through you, for it is your best defense. That is enough for now." O'Malley begins to polish a drink, "In the meantime, can I get you anything?" "No, thanks," Brynjol nods, "The training is enough."

Cyril, concerned about Rose, knocks politely on Rose's door. She opens the door of her rather spartan room. She looks up, rather quietly, "Is there a problem?" she asks. "There is no problem, Miss LaKhora," Cyril says, passing Rose a lasgun, "But it is time for more practice." "Is that all I am? Another gun?" she cries, "In this awful mess of a millennium, is that all I can aspire to be?" It's evident she's quite devastated. "Of course not," Cyril explains, "The gun stands between you and 'this awful mess of a millennium,' and practice provides structure to our lives." Cyril kneels, peering at her through helmet-enhanced vision. "What has upset you so?" However, his charm test flubs. "You are surrounded by guns. Thexus is an intelligent gun. The Squats use guns. We are guns," Cortain interjects, "My hand IS a gun." "I just..." she begins to break down, "I just feel so out of place. It will take me years to catch up to the squats' technical ability. There's no way I can meaningfully assist you all in combat. My psychic abilities to me. Please...just leave me for now."

"If...that is what you desire, then so be it," Cyril stands, "I pray you find peace in solitude." Cyril steps away in confusion and stops, staring down at the lasgun, then heads to the ranges. It would be disrespectful to requisition a gun and then not fire it. He cannot fathom why someone would refuse training, or have such an emotional outburst.

The days of warp travel continue peacefully and quietly, as everyone falls into a routine as time goes on. Days of training or quiet contemplation, followed by nights of rest. One day ends as normal, and everyone retires for rest. The night, however, is not ordinary.

Everyone suddenly wakes up, floating in a greenish haze. None can feel the ground. All the Commandos are present, however. "Brothers. I ill like this..." Cyril mutters. "What fresh hell is this?" Brynjol demands.

Surprisingly, the Commandos can also see Rose a little ways away. She is breathing heavily, unconscious. Forming up around her, the Commandos check on her status. Cyril gently places a gauntleted hand on Rose's shoulder. "Can you hear me, Rose?" She's just breathing, sweating. It's clear she's under some sort of strain. Then the Commandos hear a keening, a familiar screech. "I thought so..." Cyril sighs. Out of the impossibly huge clouds of haze and mist, the all-too familiar form of the gargantuan Hellstar floats around, its pseudopods flailing about, its singular eye focused directly on the Commandos. It extends its bony beaked mouth forward. As one, the Commandos group up between the mouth the size of a mountain and the unconscious psyker.

And then, another sound echoes through the mists with an impossible sonic boom. A sound akin to a beastly roar, mixed with a foghorn. Something ELSE is behind the Commandos, approaching in the mists. Something titanic and clearly bipedal.

"Oh, this is fethed up!" Brynjol yells.

All that can be seen are two glowing red spots, as something, reminiscent of a claw extends its way forward. The Hellstar's eye suddenly breaks off the Commandos and focuses intently, keening sharply at the new form before all goes white...

Cyril throws his helmet on as he awakens in his bed. "Brothers, did you just have a strange dream?" Brynjol's voice comes through on the vox next, "Medicae bay - now." "Coming," Cyril replies, "Someone with a room in the hab deck, bring Rose." Cortain immediately complies, as everyone gathers in Brynjol's medicae deck. Rose is unconscious in her room, the same state as in the dream. " much you wish to bet that we find the Hellstar here?" Cortain asks, I wager the armourium." "I doubt you will find anyone willing to bet against it," Cyril retorts, "Or I might wager my stashes of mjod." "I'm assuming we're all in agreement that that was a psychic phenomenon?" Brynjol concludes, "Congratulations - everyone's getting a full brain scan. My question, which could be better answered by O'Malley or Rose, is this - how did this happen with an active Gellar Field?"

Hooking everyone up to medicae cogitators, everyone is within normal. There are some anomalous signals from Rose, but those disappear as she begins to stir. The Commandos are in agreement - the last time Rose had such an episode, the Hellstar was near. Confirming with the crew that it was only the five of them that suffered such an attack, the Commandos affirm to make the appropriate preparations.

The rest of the trip goes by in worried preparation. Eventually, the Blade makes it back to realspace, and with a few days begins orbit procedure. Volcania is a temperate feudal world of savannahs and light forests, broken by the occasional volcano. Its population consists of 61 primitive tribesmen constantly struggling to survive, the strongest taken for candidacy of the Deep Ones Space Marine chapter. While the Commandos express disbelief at a mere 61 people inhabiting a planet, they turn their attention to Volcania's most famous landmark, the wreck of Craftworld Kionash, which rounds the command bridge viewport. As the story goes, a legendary deathwatch kill team with a single grand cruiser brought down an entire craftworld in a single day of fighting, though reports are sketchy on exactly HOW such a feat was performed.

"Evacuation should not take long; the planet is inhabited by less than one hundred humans," Cyril notes, "The Deep Ones recruit from them, and might take exception should Exterminatus prove necessary, but they have other recruiting worlds." Cortain is not amused. "He could have just warned us about this. Do these Inquisitorial dunces have ANY sense of urgency?" "I doubt IT knew," Cyril corrects, "Tau are not particularly sensitive to psychic events."

Floating amongst the wreckage of the destroyed Craftworld, the ship vox beeps. A communication is received.

"Warned you about what?" the vox states, "Regardless, I'm quite glad you could make it." "Save it, Korst'la. We have higher priorities than your silly little hunt, or even this world's inhabitants," Cyril grunts, "The Hellstar comes." "Truly? Well then. It looks like the stage is set for a special hunt," Korst'la replies as the screen focuses on him, "I've established a base camp on one of the savannahs. I have some of the natives here to explain what they saw." "They can explain over vox as our Stormbirds take them aboard the Blade of the Long Watch and we prepare to engage the Hellstar and its harbingers," Cyril retorts. "Regrettably, they don't speak...Gothic," Korst'la admits, "Jamal, however, has been able to translate somehow. I can tell you more when you get here. I'll send the location to you. I'll be waiting..." The vox cuts out. "I'm getting rather tired of this blue bastard," Brynjol sighs. "Getting?" Cyril asks. "Jamal?" Cortain wonders.

The Commandos suit up, finding they have little requisition for the outing. Pooling it together, they consider a tank, but renege upon Rockfist's recommendation that such a move may hurt them on the propaganda front, a terribly unfamiliar front where a space marine cannot simply shoot or cut through. Nonetheless, they heed his recommendation, selecting an attack bike instead to shuttle Temur and Brynjol around, while Cortain and Cyril take jump packs and a supply drop in case of emergency.

Everyone boards a Stormbird as the requisite gear is loaded, and the Urists are briefed. The Stormbird is launched out of the bay, towards the dry world of Volcania. The Urists deftly dodge craftworld wreckage as they break atmosphere, the calm clouds drifting lazily across the sky. Eventually, a number of temporary structures are seen, made of native wood and other materials. Finally landing amongst a tidewall shieldline staffed by House troops, the Stormbird opens its doors to the hot savannah air.

"Ah, very good, very good," Korst'la steps forward, clapping, "I'm so glad you could make it." Drones begin to surround the Commandos, snapping picts for casting. Cortain restrains what he has. "Where is this thing?" "Ah...strictly business as normal," Korst'la sighs, "You need to lighten up a little. We're here to have fun, after all! Nonetheless, please, this way. The natives would like to meet you." Cyril ignores Korst'la, and turns to face the team. "The Emperor protects," he states simply, "There is only the Emperor, our shield and protector, and as we serve Him, so too is He our greatest servant." "So where are these natives then?" Cortain insists. "Perhaps he will also look to your success today?" Korst'la laughs, much to Cyril's ranklement "Poor old me, I can only rely on Khodexus and Jamal. This way, my friend."

Korst'la begins to walk alongside the simple brick and wood structures. It's clear these natives are artificially stabilized in the Iron Age. Each has their spear and simple at the ready, staring at the Commandos. "We've made some headways in communication," Korst'la explains, "It's a very ancient form of Gothic. Nonetheless, for an equal and fun hunt, I'll share what they have told us." Rounding the bend, where the familiar armed form of Khodexus stands next to a purple-armored Techmarine, Korst'la turns. "We're here for an actually important matter, Korst'la," Brynjol demands, "Let's get this foolishness done with and then we can attend to some real work." "Oh, there's plenty of time for real work," Korst'la says dismissively, before stepping back, "If you have to ask a question, Jamal can translate." The purple-armored techmarine waves.

"What have you learned thus far of the creature you hunt?" Cyril begins, privately confirming additional evacuation transports are on the way. Jamal, the Black Panthers Techmarine, speaks strange words to the native, who responds in kind. "He says it's a BIG beast, very terrifying. It's killed many of his tribe," Jamal explains. "How enlightening..." Khodexus mutters under his breath. "Specifics?" Brynjol presses. Jamal chatters once again with the native. "He says that it is made of many bones," Jamal continues, "Its eyes are empty, it wields the Emperor's fury that touches our spears during storms, and...sorry, couldn't make out that last part." "'Emperor's fury that touches spears?'" Cortain wonders. "Dealing with primitive riddles, the highlight of my day," Khodexus hisses, "Infuriating." "Lightning..." Brynjol sighs.

"How many legs does it have?" Cyril asks. Consulting with the native warrior, Jamal receives an answer. "It has four legs," he says, "And what little fur it has hides sharp bones." "Any eyes in unnatural places?" Cortain confirms. More consultation. "Its head bone was scorched by the Emperor's fury, and it is slightly larger than animals around here. He said he didn't see any eyes, just empty sockets. Spooky."

"Somehow I doubt it is a creature of our chief enemy, brothers," Cyril muses, "Insanity usually strikes before they do, if you will recall - the larger forms do not manifest until the Star itself is upon a world." "Most importantly, HOW big?" Brynjol asks, "Is it an overgrown ambull, or a tyranid hierophant?" "The local animals here are various mammals," Korst'la states, "The largest observed so far have been equivalent to your Land Raiders and Spartans." "Large indeed," Cyril privately voxes, continuing to avoid addressing the Tau. It would only encourage it. "If this thing is as large or larger than that," Khodexus sighs, "Then this may actually be worth our time." "It's definitely a worthy hunt," Korst'la says, "I think it will be interesting to see which of us gets to it first."

"We shall see when the hunt concludes," Temur concludes, "Until then, do we have a last known area?" "Ah, good question. Jamal, ask," Korst'la commands. More conference. "These savannahs have areas where the trees are somewhat thicker. It has always been seen amongst the trees. 'Course, the trees even in the thickets are kind of sparse..." Korst'la raises a pair of revolvers. "Shouldn't be a problem. Cover isn't really a problem for us." "It hides in the thickets?" Cortain asks, "Might make for some passsable cover to the locals." "How big are these trees?" Cyril asks, "Would they impede an attack bike?" "They should not," Korst'la explains, "Bikes and hovercraft should be able to traverse the shrubland and thickets without issue. The trees are spread out enough."

"To reiterate, then: we are dealing with a four-limbed biped surpassing superheavy transports in size, which has empty eye sockets, sparse fur, a bony frame, and wields lightning while lurking about trees," Cyril states. "Congratulations," Khodexus sighs, "You have shown basic comprehension. You are already superior to Jamal then." "Oh joy," Cortain sighs. Cyril only gnashes his teeth.

After a little bit, all hear the thrum of engines. Another pair of Stormbirds have arrived, landing off to the side in an area guarded by tidewall emplacements. Rockfist, Thexus, and Rose disembark in orderly formation, with a few squats following in case a landing zone needed securing. While Thexus and Rockfist are in full combat regalia, Rose is in a safari jacket and thick brimmed hat, lasgun slinged on her back.

Cyril immediately commands for evacuations, but it seems the support crew have other ideas. "So, you're Korst'la?" Rose asks, "Thanks for inviting us on your safari." Before the Commandos can save Rose from Korst'la, Thexus and Rockfist step forward.

"THE AUXILIA HAS BROUGHT ADDITIONAL SUPPLIES AFTER BEING INVITED BY THE XENOS," Thexus states. Thexus hands the Commandos a box. They stare blankly at it. "Don't look at us, lad," Rockfist shrugs, "The lass felt it would make the experience better." Cortain opens the box to find a set of four pith helmets. They conveniently fit over current helmets at no loss or impedance of functionality. The Commandos don their hats, each displaying a varying level of annoyance or confusion. While Cyril dons a helmet only to avoid shattering Rose's already fragile emotions, Cortain can only comment on how inefficient it feels. He briefly considers foisting it on Thexus, but considers the Paragon of Metal doesn't really have much of a head to foist it on anyway.

"You do realize the Hellstar will most likely interrupt at the least convenient time possible?" Cyril says to everyone and no one. "Maybe it will bring some excitement to this little adventure," Khodexus mutters. "Then we should ensure there is no inconvenient time," Temur declares, gunning the bike's engines to the last known position indicated. "Be careful what you wish for," Brynjol glares from the sidecar. Cyril joins everyone with his jump pack. "Well then, my friends," Korst'la says, not noticing most of the Commandos have left, "We'll rest the night and then set off in the morning. Let's celebrate tonight to a successful hunt on the morrow!". "Heresy grows from idleness," Temur retorts, "And I have a trail to hunt!" "And the early bird does not always get the worm," Korst'la suggests over vox, "I do not believe you will find anything yet. In fact, I feel it. It's the safari spirit. You probably won't find anything until the morning, try as you might." "And I would rather give proof to that claim with action," Temur declares, "No White Scar has ever delayed a hunt on a simple feeling!" "So be it," Korst'la states, a smile rising on his face, "A night hunt will certainly be interesting then. The moon is bright enough. Good luck on the field then! We shall ride as well! Come along, Miss Rose, we have much to discuss..."

Cyril pauses at Korst'la's words, reacting to them for the first time. Korst'la always did know how to get people to pay attention. As the Commandos all reform and leave for the hunt, and Korst'la, Khodexus, and Jamal leave with the rest of the support crew into the savannahs, the hunt is on.

Kicking up a storm under the bright moonlit sky, the plains and savannahs of Volcania call out to the Commandos. The savannahs stretch out, the occasional tree lining the grasslands. In the distance, a few mountains rise. Somewhere out there, the prey awaits, a "bony skeletal beast that can summon the Emperor's Fury."

Brynjol pulls his helm off, letting his black hair stream in the slipstream, taking a deep breath of the air. All around, he can smell the savannah, the wildlife, the plants. He can smell water up ahead, towards the east, a clean crisp smell. He can also smell foliage off in the distance to the south. Finally, he can smell animals, probs the wildlife, to the east heading north.

"Brynjol, when we return to the Blade..." Cyril suggests, "I feel you should speak with Rose. Something is bothering her, but I am no Chaplain, and she did not wish to confide in me." "Aye? What about, do you think?" Brynjol asks, but Cyril remains quiet. '

The rest of the Commandos survey the area. They can see and hear the wildlife, a bunch of spess-wildebeest charging across the plains, a spess-elephant calmly resting under a spess-acacia, and the spess-jackals watching intently. Cyril briefly opens his helmet, before rapidly putting it back on as the ice crystal sparkles attract every tribeswoman at the base camp.

Remembering that their quarry was last seen amongst the trees, the Commandos make their way towards what passes for wooded areas on this world. After briefly wondering who's in charge of the Blade of the Long Watch, reaffirming evacuation procedures, and lighting small brushfires that will no doubt grow into larger conflagrations in the future, the Commandos note the trees begin to become more common, and some semblance of a thin forest begins to manifest in the distance. A strange rock in the ground catches most of their attention, pale, white and jagged. There are cracks in the earth at its base, and round domes, akin to bubbles are spread sporadically over the oddly-shaped lump. Cyril reviews the cracks, reminding him of a drop pod's impact, noting that this rock was not natural to this place. He and Temur dismiss the bubbles that dot the rock - Brynjol and Cortain, however, remain remain silent regarding the symbols carved upon them, reminiscent of eyes.

"O'Malley, there is a strange lithoform at our location," Cyril voxes, "Please advise." "Hmm. Is it attackin' ya, beardling?" O'Malley voxes. "Hardly, though it is suspicious," Cortain notes. "Is it blockin' yer way?" O'Malley continues. "Negative, O'Malley," Cyril voxes. "Then it's not much to worry about," O'Malley voxes. "Very well. Time spent investigating this is time Korst'la will be using to find the beast," Cyril commands, "Unless those lumps have eyes in them, it should not be a problem." Cortain shakes off an ominous feeling.

The Commandos regroup by a small pool of water, a verdant oasis of sorts. Moonlight reflects off it. While the main pool of the oasis reflects the stars above, the Commandos note the collection of trees to one side, a small wooden shack below them. The animals pay them no mind, though a native crotalid variant merely stares as it floats along the water. Deciding there is nothing of value around, the Commandos push on into the trees.

In the forested part of the savannah, the Commandos begin searching out tracks or anything that can assist them in the hunt. While Cortain follows some avian tracks into the water, getting bogged down in mud, Temur picks up a large pair of prints in the soft, bloody ground. A normal sized human can stand in them without issue. There are two distinct sets - one pair wide and thin, and another reminiscent of a human hand. He considers that, given they are paired, it was the same creature with a peculiar gait. The Commandos are excited - their prey is near.

Following the pathways, Temur's trained huntsman's eye leading the way, the branches of the trees begin to hide the light. Autosenses kick in to compensate as the sounds of animals echo around. The forest is thick here, and the Commandos breathe deep in anticipation. Regrettably, their reverie is broken by a pair of incoming vox messages. One appears to be pinging as Rockfist. The other pings as Korst'la.

Cortain hesitantly opens vox to Korst'la first. "Hello, hello!" Korst'la begins, "How is your end of the hunt going?" "No complaints," he mutters, "Let us leave it as it is." "Very well," Korst'la shrugs over vox, "Your friend suggested I alert you to something we found here. I was against it, after all it would go against fair competition, but she suggested it anyway." "What?" Cortain stomps the ground in an attempt to get everyone's attention. "So, here we are. We found some natives here," Korst'la states, "They don't seem to be...fully there if you catch my meaning. Caught them cutting into their own eyes and blathering nonsense." "It's quite terrible," Rose adds. "We told you the Hellstar was coming, you fool!" Cyril angrily yells, "I assume they have been purged?" "Khodexus is giving a survivor a once-over in his usual way," Korst'la says, "And yes. I know it's coming. It should spice up the night. I do believe that it should be here soon based on the prior evidence. I'll leave you to your hunt, as requested." "Good luck, Comman-" Rose says as the feed cuts from them.

Cortain considers a regroup with Korst'la, until Rockfist's message is cleared. He sounds a bit more concerned. "Blast that blue wretch..." Rockfist sighs, "Too damn fast. Sorry, lads, but we lost'em." The Commandos all halt. "ROSE IS UNSUPERVISED IN THE COMPANY OF XENOS?" Cyril yells. Cortain begins a litany of binaric swears. "AFFIRMATIVE, LEGIONARY. WE WILL RETURN TO THE STORMBIRDS." "That naive child needs a chaperone, lest the wretched abominations corrupt her thoughts!" Cyril cries, "FIND THEM!" "Relax, Cyril..." Brynjol suggests, "Korst'la won't try anything." "Tau are not innocent," Cortain reminds him, "Tau corrupt. They corrupted Guardsmen to their greater good, and when you consider that Khodexus is also an associate, there are few thing that CAN lead to Rose being safe!" Brynjol shakes his head. "WON'T HE?" Cyril can barely control his fury, "Brynjol, you are a Chaplain, are you not? We rely on you to guard our souls. Rose is one of us now, for better or worse. She is your responsibility as much as anyone's. I have already requested that you investigate her recent emotional weakness, but if you trust that xenos not to take advantage, then you are a FOOL." "I mean that we're profitable to him, for now," Brynjol stares Cyril in the face, "He won't risk that over some petty morals." "I have suspicions to the opposite," Cortain sighs. Cyril nods agreement with Cortain, then engages his jump pack. "This conversation can wait until sometime after we resolve this absurd hunt."

As the vox messages end, the Commandos feel a chill wind blow across the trees.

Jetting and riding deeper into the forest, the Commandos come across a reflective, shallow pool. Unlike before, no animals surround this one. A rotting stench is evident. What catches the their eye most, however, are a pair of Volcanian natives, kind of just shuffling about aimlessly in the pool's center. Brynjol dismounts the sidecar, walking towards them.

"Cover me," he murmurs into his vox. The Commandos aim in response.

As Brynjol approaches, Cortain moving up as well to cover, he sees they're just kind of shuffling, staring into the sky. Their backs are to him. "Turn and face me, fellows!" Brynjol demands. Both stop, turning slowly. Their language is incomprehensible, but the self-inflicted damage to one of their eyes each leaves no doubt as to what happened. Their volume increases loudly. Brynjol slowly draws his axe as they do nothing but chant in their strange language.

Cyril sighs, "If I were not concerned that it would catalyze some unholy ritual, I would just shoot them."

And then the keening starts.

"Catalysis started," Cortain facepalms.

Brynjol and Cortain immediately cleave the two addled tribesmen in two, adding their blood to the pool they stand in. But it is too late as the spheroid Hellstar floats idly above, its eye rapidly shifting from place to place, as its pseudopods and beak extend.

"To business then." Cortain readies his Serpenta.

Out of the blood rise those jet-black reflective winged humanoids, the Descendants, a number of Hounds at their feet. While Cyril and Temur sigh at the featureless beings, Cortain and Brynjol note something off. There are patches of eyeballs seemingly growing on different places on the jet-black Descendants. The Hounds seem somewhat flayed, eyes protruding from boils in the skin. Their wings are trailing some sort of white haze, while they wield new silver swords.

"They're even more debased than last time!" Brynjol yells, much to Cyril's and Temur's confusion.

While the Hellstar's eye is focused elsewhere, the Commandos take the initiative to begin their work. Brynjol immediately smashes down a Hound, leaving three more. Cortain and Brynjol are immediately set upon by the Descendants' meteoric blades, while the Hounds circle around, aiming for Temur and Cyril. Crawling up Cortain's servo-harness, and entering the acute angles the harness forms, the Hounds flank Cyril and Temur, catching them in combat once more.

Combat slows down horrifically as Zuvassin the Chaos God of Failure and Dice Roller shows his favor. The Commandos struggle as Cortain is heavily wounded and stunned from a Hound's stare, with all weapons jammed and his cyber-familiar burnt out, Temur is struck in the back, and Cyril weathers a most terrible storm. The Hounds continue to claw at Temur and Cyril, as Cortain brushes against the Descendant's tail, feeling his mind open as the Descendant actually steals a point of Insanity from him. The tables finally turn when Temur stabs the hound attacking him with a power sword, and Cyril manages to take down his hound with a pistol. The Descendant rises in the sky, raising its arms as Cortain manages a strike, and a jagged white meteor descends down from the Hellstar in a show of kosmic power. Temur and Cyril barely dodge the impact zone as Cyril returns fire on the final Descendant, leaving the last Hound on Cortain for Temur to clear.

"Commandos to House Korst'la, we are engaged with Hellstar creatures," Cyril voxes as the dust clears, "What is your situation?" Korst'la's live feed hooks into his helmet augurs. Jamal is screaming, while Rose is taking defensive position, trying to assist where she can. Korst'la and Khodexus are having the time of their lives duelling a very familiar face. "Commandos! My friends! We're doing absolutely fine here!" Korst'la replies, "No need to worry about us!" "KILL THE CYKA!" Cyril yells, "AND ABOUT THE GIRL?" "I'm...I'm fine," Rose voxes back, "They haven't focused me yet." "Rose, can you hear me? Let them handle the brunt of the fighting. You are doing well. THE REST OF YOU, KILL THE PRESENCE! QUIT BLUBBERING JAMAL, AND MAKE THE EMPEROR PROUD!"

The Commandos regroup and reload as Cortain hears a strange screeching off in the distance. He can also detect electric surges. Recognizing the voltaic signals, he advises hurrying towards the target, finally sighted. "Stay frosty, brothers," Cyril commands, "FORWAARRRD!"

Heading on through the thinning forest, the Commandos come to a great graveyard. It's clear that many animals would come here to die. Of worrying note are the ded human corpses, each missing an eye. What is most worrying is the Hellstar's eye suddenly turning to the Commandos, instead of a battle far away. Entering the wildlife graveyard, a number of the bones begin to shudder, a spark flicking off some. Then the bones get up. The four-legged creature, once alive, now skeletal and held together by kosmic electricity, blasts forth its challenge.

Cortain locks and loads, "If this continues, I am seriously planning to erase my mind."

As the being advances forward, the Commandos once again see reflected in it that staring eye, that impossibly tall shadowy figure wielding a hammer and claw, a primal fear deep within their geneseed that locks them in place. Cortain is frozen in terror, while Cyril begins to flee. Temur all-out loses consciousness, falling where he stands.

The creature leaps up, hitting the ground. The remnants of its fur conduct an electric arc directly at Cyril, but he narrowly dodges. While Cortain struggles to unfuck himself, and Temur remains unconscious, Cyril finally regains control and turns his storm bolter to the beast. Unloading into it, Cyril does an incredible amount of damage to the unnatural skeletal being. Enraged, the creature charges, barely missing Cyril, but releasing a bright nova of electricity from its sparking body. While Cortain remains frozen, Temur finally recovers, and guns his bike directly at the creature, its eyeless skull seemingly staring at Temur. Scoring a direct impact with his lance from bike-point, Temur succeeds in critically wounding the beast, but also triggers an electric nova, destroying his bike. The creature counter-attacks with a blast of electric lightning from its skull, akin to electric breath, but the Commandos hop out of the way and exploit the new opening as Cyril once more aims his storm bolter, the bolts flying true and ripping the beast apart in a shower of bone and hazy mist.

Much to the Commandos' relief, the Hellstar above begins to phase out, its singular eye once more flitting from place to place. Cortain examines the shards and remnants, finding a number of small glowing blue stones. They're still electric to the touch.

"Beardlings, the Blade's secure," O'Malley voxes. "Good," Cortain sighs, pocketing the stones, "At last, some GOOD news." "Good news is the word of the day!" Korst'la voxes, "Meet me back at the base camp, and we can compare our spoils." "I'm afraid we will need extraction from this location," Temur says, "Our bike is damaged and inoperative." "I'll dispatch a Phantomfish, I have some on station," Korst'la voxes.

Sure enough, a purple Phantomfish is dispatched, and the Commandos grudgingly board for the trip back to base camp. Reuniting with everyone, Rockfist looks utterly exhausted while Thexus is inscrutable as always. However, Korst'la and Khodexus have the biggest shit-eating grins on their faces.

"I must say, that was quite exhilarating," Khodexus states, a smile inhumanly wide on his face, that's spooking the ever living shit out of the villagers. "So then, what did you get?" Korst'la asks. Cortain shows no expression on his face and in his movements as he displays the electric rocks. This is your prey," Cortain declares, "It struck with the Emperor's fury, but that meant little to the Emperor's Sons." "Wait, if the Primarchs were his sons, doesn't that make us Grandsons?" Cyril asks privately. Korst'la leans in, closely. "YOUR prey, actually. I suppose I was incorrect about the whole safari spirit thing. Nonetheless, we merely got caught up with this rather strange looking woman. Her movements and physique quite reminded me of a...puppet, or perhaps a doll." "Did she suffer?" Cortain insists. "I can't say - she looked rather plastic. But I digress. I acknowledge you as the victor of our little game," Korst'la signs the Aquila awkwardly, missing a finger to do it properly, "May your Emperor keep you in his eyes. Or something." The House troops begin to depart, Korst'la waving. "Good luck, my friends, I'll have need of you in the future..."

The Commandos crowd around Rose. "Rose. Are you okay?" Cortain asks. Rose steps forward, slightly shaken, but unharmed. "Yes, I'm fine." The Commandos give the order, and the Stormbirds are prepped for departure. "You know, that Korst'la isn't that bad of a guy," Rose says as she boards a Stormbird, "He seems friendly enough, and he does seem to have your best interests at heart." Thexus and Rockfist soon follow her aboard, eager to leave.

"Do not trust the alien, for his guises are many," Cortain admonishes her, "The Tau in particular are skilled in deceiving the faithful." "Hmm," she thinks, "I didn't sense any deceit, but I guess I'll be careful." Cyril nods simply, and awkwardly tries to hug Rose without crushing her with his armor. She tries to squirm out, however. Though she says nothing, it's clear something is wrong. "Just give us the order, Commandos!" The Urist brothers state as they ready the engines. "Take us home, lads," Cyril states wearily. "Aye, Commandos!" The Urist Brothers state.

The Stormbirds take off, the Commandos within returning to the Blade for recovery, re-armament, and psychological evaluation.

(19) Imperishable[edit]

O'Malley's Bar and Grill is hopping as a number of new requests are updated. However, most attention is to one of the loading bays, where noises most terrible emanate from. While Cortain has been quite busy defragging and reformatting his built-in cogitators, he stops when he hears the screams of dying squats, and goes to check it out.

"By Mars, what is that racket?" he asks, "Did the Hellstar sneak on board? Again?"

Breaking into a light jog down the great hallways, he comes across a number of Squats reinforcing a door. They are terrified.

"What is the crisis?" Cortain demands. "It's horrible!" they stammer, looking to Cortain for guidance, "What should we do? "They?" "We dare not open the door!" a squat says. "What is behind it?" Cortain presses, as Cyril manifests from the shadows. "A great monstrous beast!" a squat says. Brynjol can be heard grumbling on the vox about organ donors. "...where did it come from?" Cyril asks, "Never mind that, we have downed such things before. Bryn, if you are up for a little sport, feel free to join us in the loading bay." "We...we received a box, my liege," the squad leader says, "It...tore its way out, an' now a number of good lads have lost their lives."

Cyril opens the door and walks in. He is surrounded by the corpses of a dozen squats. A large furred partially cybernetic beast is in the middle. It is holding a squat. Cyril growls as he sees the corpses, then pauses. "...Notomok?" "Ohhhhh..." the squat sighs forlornly as the creature swallows the squat whole. "What abomination is this?" Cortain demands. "Put it down! Bad yeti!" Cyril implores. "Groooonk," the Yeti states as it wanders over. It vomits out a frozen skull. It seems Ice Wraith Yeti digestion is remarkably quick. "Cyril..." Brynjol begins calmly, "Am I to understand this monstrosity is yours?" Cortain voxes, facepalming, "Cleanup on Hangar 8!"

"This is my yeti compainion. We were joined for life by a bond sacred to all Ice Wraiths before I received my Black Carapace," Cyril explains, "Brynjol, no sport, but that mop of yours would be most apreciated." Cortain has not yet reinstalled the necessary software to comprehend this. "Cyril," Brynjol commands, "House train your pet. I won't have Rockfist or O'Malley down on our necks because your pet rabbit is eating their kin." "He must not have recognized the Squats as Imperial," Cyril bristles. "He is no mere pet, he is an honored member of the Chapter!" He takes a deep breath. "This... this remains unacceptable, though. I shall ensure it does not occur again." "If he gets a yeti, then I demand a Kataphron or something," Cortain sighs in jealousy. "Some time ago, I sent my Chapter a message detailing the glories of this ship and requesting that Notomok be sent to me. It appears they received it," Cyril explains, before trying to get a casualty count, "My point being that I asked for his presence. Perhaps you could request a Kataphron?"

The Commandos count at least 13 corpses. That's merely the identifiable bodies and not the refuse and giblets strewn about. The squats are terrified, and the Commandos are reasonably sure a squat just entered a fey mood by the way he ran off. As the Commandos leave the cursed hangar, Urist McJanitor walks into the room with a bucket and a sponge. A single tear rolls down his face as the door closes slowly behind him.

"So, lad," Rockfist voxes, unaware of the carnage in the Cursed Hangar, "We've received a number of requests from the Inquisition this time. 'Ave a course in mind?" "Who do we want to piss off first?" Cortain begins cheerily. "One's askin' to meet at Catalyst Station about the Tyranid problem, another's askin' to investigate somethin' at Nova Prosperous," Rockfist repeats, "An' the last is another goodwill mission at Xaviol."

Asking for further clarification on Nova Prosperous, they review the briefing more carefully. Unknown Astropathic signals were intercepted en route to the quiet world of Nova Prosperous, which proceeded to drive the intercepting psykers mad. Furthermore, powerful energy spikes were detected not long after. Now, energy spikes and psychic presences are seen sporadically across the world. The Commandos are authorized to use their discretion to identify and potentially remove the unknown presences.

The Commandos confer amongst themselves, and decide that the Inquisition and good-will missions can wait. They order course for Nova Prosperous, before retiring to their quarters. By now, everyone has time to sit down, breathe deep, and acquire some battle traumas. Brynjol gets Endless Redemption, forcing him to work to complete the mission at all costs, never abandoning even a single objective. Not a terrible thing. Cortain gets Ancestral Spirits, finding himself visitated by the spoopy goasts of his chapter when he gets >triggered. Temur gets Righteous Contempt, discovering a new hatred of plebs who cannot fight as well as a Spess Mareen. Only Cyril escapes with his mind still in one piece, roughly.

While Rockfist and O'Malley are enjoying themselves at the bar, Rose remains in her quarters, and Executor Thexus is mysteriously missing. To pass the time, Cortain decides to visit Rose about crackpot theories.

"Child, are you willing to speak?" he asks, remembering her previous outburst. She opens the door. She is wearing an I ♥ Studio 69 shirt that she probably got as a souvenir. She looks up quietly. "What's wrong?" she asks, inviting him in. Her room is spartan as before. There are, however, a number of books strewn about. It's clear she's been reading.

"I have questions," Cortain begins, "Questions about psykers." "I've been working with O'Malley," Rose replies, "I can try to answer your questions, but I'm still coming to grips with things myself." "Have you a clue about how manifest?" "I...don't know. I didn't have such powers when I entered stasis," she sighs. "It may perhaps be coincidence, but...down there, something has sabotaged my systems." Cortain pauses. "The last time such a sabotage has happened was...when we first retrieved you. We found something unholy trying to eat you. Perhaps I am misinformed, but...would it be possible for a power to drive systems mad when threatened? A latent power?" "Whenever that...Hellstar turns its gaze to us, I feel...lost," Rose sighs, "I feel an unbearable, terrifying loneliness and emptiness. As if I'm the only one left in the entire galaxy." She thinks a moment, "The Squats scream about Tyranids. Rockfist mutters over and over that he'll 'never get off the damned rock.' I have never seen Thexus's reaction." She looks up at Cortain. "If there is a power to drive one mad, it is not something I can do, but something I have felt every time the eye turns to me..." she whispers.

"Admittedly, your vessel was haunted by...another malign force," Cortain admits. However, it seems Rose has had enough. "I'm sorry," she says, "I...don't think I can help more with such things." "It matters not. It is a matter I am uninformed of myself."

Cortain leaves Rose's quarters. His attention, however, is grabbed by a tiny white slug he sees just chuggin' along.

"What...are you?" he wonders aloud. It's a slug. It is going on its merry slug way. Cortain gingerly picks up the white slug, which is about the size of his finger, with his servo-arm. It squirms about. He is about to consider things further until the All-Clear alarms go off, and the Blade transitions back to the Materium.

Looking out at the system's star, it's a scenic view. It takes a few days, but eventually the Blade reaches orbit over the sparkling blue paradise world of Nova Prosperous.

"A lovely world, lads," Rockfist acknowledges, "Too bad we don't 'ave time to relax this time. So, you'll be needin' anything?"

The Commandos first and foremost decide on a supply drop, as they lack full intelligence on what they expect to find. Cyril takes some time to further augment his yeti with the archeotech available on the Blade, while Cortain contents himself with a volkite charger. Brynjol realizes that, as an assault marine, there is comparatively little he needs to requisition, which leaves Temur to snap it all up for his own desires, including a suspensor and motion predictor.

The Commandos have their Fire Raptor readied, while a separate transport is prepared for Notomok the yeti. Acquiring a position, the jewel world of Nova Prosperous floats amongst the inky black of spess. While Temur and Cyril turn the guns forward, eager to begin the operation, Brynjol and Cortain turn back and stare with troubled eyes at the Blade of the Long Watch, a strange white haze surrounding it...

Lucky for the Commandos, this world seems to have an Inquisitorial Dossier already. The dossier states that the world has been receiving odd transmissions for years now. Inquisitorial Cells have already noted that the world was the site of a battle between Necrons and the Old Slann, and numerous members of the population had to be moved to a place called Barcarolle. It's been under heavy watch for a long time. It details the capital and largest city, Ceviv City, a small horizontal hive which lies on a lagoon and near some fertile plains.

"Sounds like a nice place," Brynjol quips.

The capital of Ceviv City is where most activity on the planet occurs, and close to the site of previous incidents, according to the Dossier. It contains all the trappings of civilized Imperial life. Deciding that it is reasonably the best place to start looking for trouble, the Commandos make way. It's a smooth ride down through the atmosphere - the Fire Raptor has been specially armored to provide a comfortable descent. There's not even a cloud in the sky. Approaching Ceviv City, the Commandos gain quite a large number of witnesses as they pick out and land on one of the available Skyshields in Ceviv City's Starport Canton, overlooking a calm lagoon. After thoroughly shocking the locals and ordering a strategium meeting, Brynjol and Temur decide to monitor the assemblage of the meeting, while Cortain and Cyril meet with the locals.

The adepts and sages on hand explain that the astropaths all died quite messy deaths after they received a series of messages. Regrettably, the messages could not be deciphered as the only ones who received it were suddenly dead. After continually reaffirming their shock that the Commandos would arrive so quickly and so early, Brynjol and Temur realize they have a LONG wait ahead as the Imperial Adeptuses are assembled.

Cortain and Cyril decide to take the scenes in. walking around the city. It is evident that this place should be MUCH more populated. There are people missing. The dossier did say people were moved, but this is quite heavy. Even after 50 years, the population is still recovering. Waterside shops and gondoliers amongst the canals of the cantons all stop when they see the Commandos, and some bow in awe. There are cantons for civilian habs, a canton with a basilica dedicated to the Imperial Creed and local saints Barkley and Carter, cantons for various economic needs, and the starport canton.

"Rockfist, how was this planet's message transmitted to us, with all their Astropaths dead?" Cyril asks. "We got the message from the Inquisition, lad," Rockfist replies, "They detected something was amiss in their own strange way, and alerted ya."

Cortain takes a moment to review the dossier further. It states that about 50 years back, an acolyte Cell was dispatched to the world. They found Necrons, Old Slann, Eldar, and Umbra, all described as very old enemies. Many examples of Old Slann technology was recovered. After the conflict, the citizens were relocated to a place called Barcarolle, and Inquisitorial supervision increased. The dossier does not go into detail about the conflict itself, but it DOES state that in the end the Eldar, Old Slann, and Umbra were repulsed from the world. Eerily, it says nothing of the Necrons.

Cyril and Cortain, however, gain a good handle of the city. They pause a moment, however, as they hear a pair of voices. Brynjol's voice, and...Cortain's voice. "What," Cortain stops. It's coming from a bridge connecting the canton-districts. They sound somewhat mechanical.

Cyril quietly follows the sound, parking Notomok under camotarp. Heading over, Cortain providing support from range, he comes across a pair of small children, a boy and a girl. They are playing with action figures that bear quite a resemblance to Cortain and Brynjol. The Cortain action figure fires off a small plastic dart into the distance, which hits Cyril before bouncing away. The girl goes to pick it up when she suddenly sees the stealthy spess mareen.

Cyril raises a hand in greeting and retrieves the dart. She stops as her friend goes up to her as well. "'re them," the girl says in shock, "The Republican Commandos..." "Hello, Tiny Servants of the Emperor," Cortain greets them. Cyril holds out a gauntleted palm, offering the dart back. "Where did you get those?" he asks with a chuckle. Brynjol shivers, sensing a great disturbance in his fur, as if millions of action figures suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. "My family bought me it after a religious sermon," the boy says, "It's a Fightin' Felleye Brynjol™, with Chainsword Chopping Action!" He presses a button, and the action figure moves its arm. "For the Allfather!" it says. "And mine's a Cortex Captain Cortain™!" the girl says, "Mine's got Binaric Blast, so it's better!" "Nuh uh!" the boy says, "Yours can't even Chainsword Chop!" Cortain note the Cortex Captain Cortain has been placed in a dress, one better suited for a Barbiatus rather than a Spess Mareen.

Cyril and Cortain barely restrain a genuine sense of mirth. "If you see Brynjol, try not to call us the Commandos, Cyril implores, "He still thinks it is a silly name." "If you're here, are we in trouble?" the girl asks. "The adults were saying bad things were happening..." the boy says. "Nothing of much concern," Cortain declares, "We will make sure of it. But, if I may popular are those figures?" "My friends all have different ones. I was lucky to get my favorite," the boy says.

Cyril and Cortain hear a wolfish cry of great pain from afar.

"Hooray!" the girl says, "Between the Commandos and the Skeleton Man, we're gonna be fine!" "Woohoo!" the boy says. They both seem quite happy. "Skeleton man?" Cyril and Cortain both say in unison. "He's really tall, like you guys," the girl says, "He's shiny silver though. He got here a few weeks ago. He was looking for his friends, but he said he didn't find them. He was kind of sad." Cyril stiffens, then forces himself to relax again. "He told us all sorts of stories," the boy says, "He was in all kinds of battles, like you!" " you remember where this Skeleton man is?" Cortain asks. "Yeah, do you want to meet him?" the girl asks, "He's probably with everyone else right now." "A location will suffice," Cortain says, "I will need to convene with the others." The boy thinks a moment. "We've often seen him in Canton Barkley, he stays there and tells us stories when he's not off fighting the bad guys he said." "In the lower levels, don't forget!" the girl reminds him, "He's very loud, and he's always talking about his fights and old ones. Did you ever fight an old one?" "Thank you, tiny servants of the Emperor," Cortain nods, "Now make sure you say your prayers every day and don't talk to heretics. "Bye, Commandos!" the children say as they wander off, "We'll let him know you're coming!"

Cortain and Cyril stop by the headquarters of the Arbites first. Regrettably, they seem to have little information, instead advising discussion with the Mechanicum representatives a canton over. The spindly spider-legged technomat at the Mechanicum canton is much more helpful, albeit a bit weird. He composes a scroll of anomalous signals around the capital, noting that in each case auspexes detected abnormal, unnatural signals, but following each signal would proceed to be inordinate outputs of electricity, heat, and sonic energy. Cortain and Cyril take a moment to pray alongside him as he offers obesiances to the Trinity by a shrine embedded in a genetorum relay, before reuniting with the rest of the Commandos.

Temur and Brynjol by now are infuriated and bored, in that order. None of the civilians were ready for a combat situation, and it is taking far too much time to organize everyone. When Cyril and Cortain announce they have one final source to track down, Temur and Brynjol are excited. They become less excited when they are told that source is potentially a Necron. Nonetheless, they all regroup and decide to check out the Necron, in case it turns out to be a danger to the populace.

Entering Barkley Canton, it's quite claustrophobic - these halls were not meant for spess mareens. In the halls, the Commandos can see hab blocks stuffed into every corner. The two children said that the alleged Necron was in the deeper levels, which are a bit of an annoyance to find. Turning a corner and descending some ramps, a frieze of the Emperor and some local saints topping the ramp, you finally come to the Canton's Underworks. Boxes lay all around, as this area is used for storage. Cortain's auspex does ping, however, with a heavy metallic signature. He narrows it down to a side room, where he can also hear the laughter of children echo down the halls.

Approaching the noise and signal, the room is closed off by a thin wooden door. Cyril knocks softly, but even that small amount of force, the door creaks open. Indeed, the tall Necron Phaeron looks up, surrounded by the young locals, a bizarre smile on his face. "IT'S A BRA~ND NEW FEELING!" it yells, "WHERE HA~VE I FELT THIS BEFORE?"

"SOLDIERS OF THE ENFLESHED, UNDER SU~N AND SKY, I GREET YOU!" the Phaeron states. "It's HIM again!" Brynjol yells, drawing his axe. "Again? I certainly do not recall Amon-Rakh being this..." Cortain searches for a word, "Obnoxious." "See? I told you they were coming!" the girl from earlier says. The Commandos determine that they are in the correct place, at least. Cortain has no way to explain just...WHAT this is. What is in front of them is clearly a Phaeron. He bears the appropriate ranks and ornamentation. "Phaeron," Cyril speaks in a forcedly polite tone. "MY WA~RMEST REGARDS TO YOU!" the Phaeron states, "I AM PHAERON RAMSESTRON, TO~NAL ARCHITECT. HAVE YOU COME DUE TO THE INTERLOPERS AS WELL?" He bows, as the children all gather around between the Commandos and the addled Phaeron, excited. "Interlopers? Aside from you?" Cortain quips. Brynjol growls, a wet infrasonic purr that sends fear into the hearts of the mortals "Be polite, Brynjol," Cyril suggests, "The children are watching. I know for a fact at least one idolizes you." "Try NOT to traumatize them," Cortain states. The kids are a bit spooked, though. The boy is clutching his Fightin' Felleye Brynjol™ tightly. Brynjol attempts to calm them down as the rest of the Commandos negotiate with Ramsestron.

"I REA~DILY ADMIT, MY FIRST OBJECTIVE WAS TO MEET THE FRIENDS I HAD LE~FT BEHIND. REGRETTABLY, IT SEEMS THEY ARE A~LL GONE. MOVED," Ramsestron states, "HOWEVER, THERE WERE THO~SE WHO WISHED TO DESTROY THIS CITY." "Others?, "Cortain asks, "Threatening the world?" "INDEE~D, MY FRIENDS," Ramsestron states, "ARMORED AS YOU ARE, BUT BLU~E AND GOLD. THEY POORLY COPY OU~R...FASHION SENSE." Cyril nods slowly, caressing his maglocked stormbolter as he reflects on the new information. "I HAD STRU~CK OUT AT THEM AND THEIR DISHONORABLE WAR ENGINES FOR MA~NY DAYS NOW. MY SEMI-LOYAL CRYPTEK IS CU~RRENTLY SCOUTING," Ramsestron explains, "THEY ARE MO~VING ALL OUT SOON." Ramsestron laughs a grinding laugh that sounds really fucking weird. "AFTER ALL, I RA~THER LIKE THIS WORLD!"

"It is good that we came, then;" Cyril responds slowly, "or there might have been trouble. We will fight them also." "I HA~D CHALLENGED THEM TO HONORABLE SINGLE COMBAT, BUT I HAVE ONLY FACED WA~VES OF SOLDIERS. THEY ARE QUI~TE ANNOYING," Ramsestron explains, "I CAN GIVE YOU THE LOCA~TION OF THEIR MOST LIKELY ATTACK VECTOR. NO DOUBT THEY HAVE GROWN QUI~TE...FURIOUS."

Brynjol murmurs over the vox, "Had you given thought to the fact that he might be talking of the Ultramarines?" "Have you known the Ultramarines to have similar garb to Necrons?" Cyril voxes back, "This reeks of Chaos traitors." "These are no Ultras," Cortain declares with certainty, "They would have announced their intentions." "Don't fall sway to the whisperings of a damned tinman so easily!" Brynjol implores.

"These soldiers, do they wear helmet crests?" Temur asks, "If so, of what type and how common?" "INDE~ED THEY DO, ENFLESHED," Ramsestron says, "MANY OF THEIR SO~LDIERS WEAR THEM, MA~RCHING FORWARD IN THE MANNER OF MY OWN DE~CURIONS, BUT THEIR WAR ENGINES ARE MO~ST INFURIATING." "What manner of war engines?" Cyril asks. "I HA~VE SEEN THOSE IN THE FORM OF DRAGONS OF O~LD, AND THOSE REMINISCENT OF THE SAURIANS I ONCE HUNTED BEFO~RE BIOTRANSFERENCE," Ramsestron says, "I HAVE SEE~N MORE...CONVENTIONAL ENFLESHED TANKS AS WELL." "Most chaos war engines have very distinct profiles and design," Temur points out, "Heldrakes and maulerfiends then. Unsuprising, but speaks to the presence of a warpsmith or sorceror."

The conversation is interrupted by a flash of light off to the side. "The time to converse seems to be at the end, Necron," Cortain announces, raising his weapon. In the blast, a Cryptek walks forward. Cyril nods. "Cryptek." "Explanatory, My Phaeron, they are co-" the Cryptek stops, "Horrified, My phaeron, why. Please, I implore you to stop trying to make new friends..." Cyril chuckles commiseratingly at the Cryptek. "NONSENSE, THUTMOSIS2000, THE ENFLESHED AND I SHARE A CO~MMON GOAL ONCE MORE!" The Phaeron laughs a grinding laugh, "I HI~GHLY ADVISE A WAR ENGINE OF YOUR OWN, ENFLESHED." Ramsestron spreads his arms. "MY ENFLE~SHED FRIENDS, TO CELEBRATE OUR MEETING, UNDER THE ANCIENT CODES I SHALL GRA~NT YOU A BOON!" The over-excitable Phaeron states. "Panicked, my phaeron, please don't..." Thutmosis2000 drones. "I SHALL GRA~NT YOU THE SERVICES OF MY VARGARD, NEMESOR SETTRA," Ramsestron yells, "HE WILL BE OF GRE~AT USE TO YOU. SIMPLY CA~LL HIM WHEN YOU NEED HIM, AND HE WI~LL APPEAR!" Cyril simply signs the aquila. Cortain nods, just...accepting what is going on. Phaeron Ramsestron slams his staff down, a strange tone echoing, and across the Commandos' helmets a small command code appears. Cortain feels violated.

"GOO~D LUCK, MY ENFLESHED FRIENDS," Ramsestron states, "I SHALL ENSU~RE NO UNWORTHY ENEMIES REA~CH THE CITY. GO~ HOME, TINY ENFLESHED. SEE~K SHELTER!" "Do as he says, children, and notify your parents that war is coming," Cyril commands, "Take shelter, and we shall ensure no harm may reach you."

Ramsestron and Thutmosis2000 disappear in a flash once more. The Children all bid the Commandos farewell, all quite excited to see their heroes in the flesh. They seek shelter while Brynjol spits on the ground.

"Collaborating with the tau was one thing..." Brynjol sighs, "But this leaves a bitter taste in my mouth." "Let us get this over with then," Temur advises, "Hunt the warpsmith or sorcerer leading this band of renegades, and remove them." "I prefer this," Cyril retorts, "Necrons are more singular in their intent, while the Tau oozes deceit." "So long as this is a one-time deal, I am more open to dealing with this lunatic, than Korst'la," Cortain agrees, "At least this one poses no threat to anything." Brynjol shakes his head, walking away, "We may live to regret this. I certainly hope so."

Back outside, the Commandos suddenly get a vox. "Lad! Lad! We're detecting warp signals!" Rockfist says, "Something just appeared to the plains of the city's Northwest!" "We met Ramsestron," Cyril voxes, "His findings indicate Chaos Marines." "We have whoever is responsible for this mess," Cortain concurs, "How is the ship?" "Ramsestron?" Rockfist laughs, "Ah! Give the crazy old codger my regards if you see him again! Nothing up here, I'd be more worried about the surface for now. Numerous vehicle signatures detected!" "Most likely Thousand Sons, possibly with Warpsmith support," Cyril explains, "Can you have McPequod and McMorpho fly in a Sicaran?" "It'll be done, lad!" Rockfist says.

After a few minutes, the Commandos see a Transporter drop off a Sicaran w/ Lascannon Sponsons at the edge of the city. It's a quick run, but they eventually reach the Sicaran. The Thousand Sons Daemon Engine host approaches fast, and there is precious little time to plan. While Brynjol takes the wheel and and accompanying heavy bolter, and Cyril takes the main Accelerator Autocannon turret, Temur and Cortain each take a sponson mounted Lascannon. The sky itself begins to rip and roil, and terrible warp-lightning strikes the ground, polluting it with foul taint. Upon each strike, a baleful roar is heard, as a number of quadrupedal daemon engines manifest, braying in anger and hatred, and advancing on the world's capital.

Cyril runs a diagnostic on the Accelerator Autocannon, broadcasting a hymn to the Emperor through and around the Sicaran Battle Tank, pausing only to berate the Daemon Engines for disrupting his hymn. Brynjol growls, kicking the tank into some sort of gear. He seems to pause for a moment, as if marshalling some resolve.

"Does it ever occur to you, brothers, that the people we save almost never see our faces, or know our names?" Brynjol begins. "We have action figures," Cortain points out, "They totally know that we are the Emperor's chosen." "Aye, they do," Brynjol facepalms, "But... it suits me, you know? To toil in relative anonymity." The engine of the Sicaran revs. "Most people we fight for will never know of it, other than disaster averted, a bad star no longer falling on their heads," he explains, "They hear of the Adeptus Astartes and they marvel to themselves, they tell each other stories of the Space Marines who saved the day one day. But they will never know who we truly are. We live behind a mask of fear and awe to them." "Then let us honour those who came before us," Cortain suggests, "They who are now but myth." "We can give them the peace of mind to continue living, to further this great endeavour in the name of the Allfather," Brynjol affirms, "They will know one thing, brothers." Brynjol pokes his head out of the driver-side gunnery slot, and roars at the approaching daemon-engines. He laughs, his hair coming away from the helmet seal and streaming behind him, teeth bared into the wind. "WE SHALL KNOW NO FEAR!" he yells, "For the Emperor, and the Wolf King!" "FOR THE EMPEROR!" Cyril roars as the Accelerator Autocannon begins to warm up.

Somewhere, back in Ceviv City, a small child clutches his Fightin' Felleye Brynjol™ action figure a little bit tighter.

The Commandos charge forward. Their immediate concerns are the Maulerfiend and the Forgefiends rushing towards their Sicaran. The Commandos seize the initiative, and commence with all guns blazing. Heavy Bolter fire and Lascannon lances stike the Maulerfiend, but it holds, especially when the Accelerator Autocannons miss. The Maulerfiend charges, but Brynjol manages to deftly dodge, relying on the Sicaran's front armor to absorb Hades Autocannon fire and taking minimal damage, though Temur's sponson turret is knocked out with a lucky hit, much to his ire.

Knowing that retreat is weakness, Brynjol floors the prometheum pedal, ramming the Maulerfiend and crushing it under the treads of the Sicaran with a disgusting crunch and a mechanical howl of fury. Cyril fires the Accelerator Autocannon at the Forgefiend that disabled the Sicaran's gun, moderately wounding it, while Cortain suffers as the beast's daemonic field deflects the lascannon blast he sent against it. Cortain, however, hears a sudden beep over his codec.

"Ah, Contractor, do you read?" the quiet Tau's voice asks, "Contractor? Contractor are you there?" "I am busy here, make it fast," Cortain demands. "Ah, good!" she breathes, "We have a small task for you." "You have questions, I have ways to kill things," Cortain sighs. The High Commander is vaguely familiar with this 'Settra,' and recalls one of his Detachments mentioning the name," she explains, "We wish for you to call this Settra, so we can update our own tactical databases." Cortain remains silent, a bad taste forming in his mouth. "You need only call the creature once, unless you feel it necessary to call it further, we only need at least one combat display." "Acceptable," Cortain states flatly. "We look forward to receiving the data, Contractor!" she says cheerfully.

Cortain decides to hold off, however, deciding not to summon the Nemesor unless absolutely necessary. This is an Astartes matter, after all. The Forgefiends and Commandos continue circling each other, and while the Sicaran's offensive strength is impressive, the Forgefiends inflict no small amount of damage themselves against the Sicaran's weaker side armor. With Cortain and Brynjol supporting, and Temur angrily muttering about poor luck, Cyril is able to take down the two Forgefiends with razor-sharp autocannon fire.

The thunder peals as the storms above get worse and worse. The sky is a mess of purple and screaming. Cortain laments the inability to patch up the Sicaran's sponson, and Cyril begins to rest easy, until Brynjol points up at a trio of Heldrakes surging through the unnatural cloud cover.

"Cyril," Brynjol suggests, "Give me your opinion on something, specifically me getting out and using my jump pack to leap up to those winged bastards, land on one and try to steer it into the other one." "Foolish and a waste of time," Cyril quickly replies, "Such antics have proven effective, but it would leave the tank with no pilot unless Temur takes over, and it would expose you to antivehicular fire."

Indeed, the Commandos find themselves in quite a hard place - as flyers, the Heldrakes are near impossible to hit, ESPECIALLY from a moving vehicle. Deciding to stay still, the Commandos hunker down and fire into the sky. While the Accelerator Autocannon manages to inflict good damage on a Heldrake, the Commandos realize that the situation is clearly against them. They will not survive the Flyers' superior positioning and anti-vehicle firepower.

So Cortain gives in, and on Cyril's suggestion replays the command code granted to him.

"SO~LDIERS OF THE ENFLESHED!" Ramsestron yells over vox, "MY NEMESOR IS O~N HIS WAY!"

As the Accelerator Autocannon shots hit one of the Heldrakes, somethin inordinately fast surges through the clouds. The air around the wounded Heldrake is covered in combining explosions, as the source finally comes into view. A massive metallic dragon, its eyes blazing in fury, loops around the wounded heldrake, before opening its mouth.

"...what is that?" Brynjol raises his eyebrow. "...what horrible, horrible thing hath I wrought..." Cortain mutters.

With its meson bombs exploding all around, Nemesor Settra releases his Ultrathermal Deathray Projector, spearing the Heldrake in a burning beam of energy. Cyril laughs the laugh of a man who has come to destroy as the other two Heldrakes move further down, to avoid the wrath of Nemesor Settra, the Imperishable.

As the monster called Settra gets closer to the ground, the Commandos can see the origin of his name - even Biotransference cannot stop the legendary regeneration of a Chernol Star Dragon, and the creature is a horrific mix of necrodermis and flesh.

"Why did we think this is a good move...?" Cortain sighs as he moves over, Temur taking the lascannon and laying fire on the now grounded Heldrakes. Now that the battle is on slightly more level ground, the Commandos align their front armor to take the brunt of the Heldrakes' Hades Autocannon shots, and manage to tank 14 shots with minimal damage. Brynjol fires the Heavy Bolter, wounding the second Heldrake enough for Cyril to take down the third with concentrated fire. Temur fires his lascannon, permanently grounding the Heldrake, and opening it for Cortain to redirect Settra once more upon the daemon engine. The Nemesor heeds his command, rushing into melee with the Heldrake. Hovering nearby, the Nemesor deigns not the Heldrake with its attention, merely extending its razor sharp tail into the beast's daemonic core.

The Commandos detect further problems a few kilometers out, where a vortex of warp energy is forming. Pushing the ailing Sicaran to its limit, the Commandos can see inside a space marine, a sorceror, it looks like, in the blue and gold of the Thousand Sons. More Warp Gates are beginning to form, and Temur advises running the sorceror over. However, Brynjol has other ideas, climbing out of the tank and forcing himself directly at the floating sorceror. He smashes his mighty Wulfen Crozius into the sorceror. With a howl of rage and surprise, he is forced back into the warp.

"Send Magnus my regards, you heathen!" Brynjol laughs as the warp storm recedes.

The Sicaran shakes with a Thud as the Commandos begin to disembark - the Nemesor Settra lands without grace on the damaged tonk.

"...Know that you live because our ally, the Phaeron, bids. Remain in his good graces, and you shall count on our blades..." the Star Dragon hisses, before flying off.

Cyril signs the Aquila to the dragon as it speaks, shelving the concerns that the thing could talk. However, a surge of energy soon distracts the Commandos.

Teleporting in a flash is Ramsestron and his semi-loyal cryptek.

"SOLDIERS OF THE EN~FLESHED, I THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE TO MY DY~NASTY AND MY FRIENDS," Ramsestron yells. "...Regrettably, I feel little," Cortain sighs, before turning to the Phaeron, "Well met, Ramsestron. The short ones send their regards." "THE TINY ENFLESHED YET PERSEVERE! AH, A DA~Y OF GOOD NEWS!" the ever-loud Ramsestron blasts, "BUT THE TIME TO LEAVE I~S NOW! UNDER THE AN~CIENT CODES, YOU HAVE PROVEN YOURSELF WORTHY!" "Exhausted, my phaeron, let us leave..." Thutmosis2000 drones. Ramsestron bows, before summoning a spess-papyrus hyperscroll at the Commandos' feet. "THOU WHO HAST PRO~VEN THYSELF WORTHY, BEAR MY DYNASTIC SEAL, A TO~KEN OF OUR COOPERATION!" the excited Phaeron loudly proclaims, "MAY WE ME~ET ONCE MORE IN PLEASURABLE COMPANY! UNDER MOO~N AND STAR, I BID THEE FAREWELL!" "In the Emperor's name, we bid thee farewell, noble Phaeron..." Cyril nods as the Phaeron and his exhausted semi-loyal cryptek disapear.

Satisfied on how the mission proceeded, the Commandos note they cannot actually read the spess-papyrus hyperscroll, lacking knowledge of the Necrontyr language. However, everyone is in high spirits, and ready to try something new. On the trip back to Cevic City, Cortain switches frequencies on his codec. "Satisfied?" Cortain asks. Indeed!" the handler beams, her smile evident, "We've acquired quite a lot of useful data. We have enough to confirm our suspicions." "Good," Cortain rubs his head, "I am still trying to resist the urge to remove my memories for even going through with this..."

The Commandos greet the cheering crowd, before readying departure protocols. Cyril and Temur carefully guide the Sicaran into a waiting hauler, while Brynjol drums up excitement. Cortain stops by a Targetum-class civilian supply depot and picks up a full set of Republican Commandos™ Action Figures, much to the surprise of the attendant clerk-adept. Content that their job is complete, the Commandos hurry back to the Blade, where new calls for assistance have appeared, and to calm down Executor Thexus, who has returned to active duty, quite surly and angry...

(20) Once Blessed[edit]

The Sicaran is moved for repairs, while the hangar is abuzz with activity. There are two new missions, it seems. One details another member of the H'esav'geka, Por'o Doran'ro, or Water Caste Paragon Commander Wiseman, who has been sighted on the world of Nebraskus, and caused multiple agri-settlements on the world to go silent in a single day. The other was a transmission from a mining site in the Scar outside the Tiji Sector from a force of the Squat Holds, requesting support when they found strange artifacts and complex ruins of human origin.

"LEGIONARY, THE HELOTS HAVE PROVIDED PICT-CASTS OF THEIR FINDINGS," Thexus says, "RECALIBRATING HOLOMAP..." The Holomap changes, and the Commandos wait with bated breath. The pict-capture depicts a bolter of ancient provenance, similar to the patterns Executor Thexus provides aboard the Blade. "Where was this reclaimed?" Cortain asks. "A mining site in the Scar," Cyril reminds him. "THE HELOTS HAVE DISCOVERED A LEGIONARY ARMORIUM AND STORAGE DEPOT. I HAVE CROSS-REFERENCED THIS WITH THE FINDINGS OF THE FIRE RAPTOR COGITATOR," Thexus continues, "IT IS MY GREAT RECOMMENDATION THAT THIS BE INVESTIGATED IMMEDIATELY, BEFORE THE HELOTS DAMAGE ANY LEGIONARY EQUIPMENT." "Certainly interesting..." Brynjol muses. "We Squats have minin' in our veins!" Rockfist replies angrily, "We're not about to damage any-" "Did they state what manner of support they request?" Cyril presses, trying to calm tensions down, "Loremasters? Warriors? ...Fences?" "SILENCE, HELOT," Thexus harshly demands, "LEGIONARY, THEY REQUESTED SUPPORT BECAUSE THEY BELIEVED IT TO BE OF LEGIONARY ORIGIN. THEY ARE CORRECT. I ADVISE RECLAIMING ANYTHING OF WORTH IMMEDIATELY." "I agree with you, Thexus," Brynjol admits, "But would it kill you to refer to Rockfist by his name or title? The ma- squat has been invaluable to us so far."

"Do you think we can trust Doggfather's adepts to not smoke those Tyranids for a litle longer?" Cortain asks. "No," is the near unanimous answer.

Thexus remains silent for a bit, before continuing, "I HAVE OFFERED MY RECOMMENDATION. I SHALL DEFER TO YOUR JUDGMENT, LEGIONARIES."

While Cyril considers all the available missions in order of priority, Brynjol, Temur, and Cortain are all in agreement to seek out any potential relics. The order is given to make way for the Scar, the dead apocalyptic swathe outside the Tiji Sector. The Blade begins the trip out of Nova Prosperous space, before entering the Warp.

"It pains me to leave other tasks unattended, but the wargear of our revered ancestors will make every challenge that faces us fall all the quicker," Cyril rationalizes, "And it may do the crew good to see some of their people not confined to the ship."

The Commandos receive a number of updates as the warp window closes. It seems inquisitorial vessels are on their way to Nova Prosperous, and Doggfather seems to have caught a cold. Brynjol is less than sympathetic. However, the trip will take a number of weeks, and the Commandos plan careful use of their time. While Cyril spends some time reviewing projector slides of Imperium-friendly forces with Notomok and carving the Corer plate, Cortain wraps up the action figures in little boxes, hoping for them to be collector's items one day, and Temur continues to train his mind and body to prove himself better than the plebs.

Cortain decides to chat with Executor Thexus and see what has him so riled up, and he finds himself joined by Brynjol. Brynjol, however, is not interested in Thexus as much as he is in what Cortain is holding in one of his servo-claws.

"You come to see what exactly is going on with Thexus?" Cortain asks. "Partly," Brynjol says, "I was also wondering what that was." He points at the scrap of white flesh clutched in one of Cortain's servo-arms. "It still lives?" Cortain mutters. "I have no idea," Brynjol shrugs, "I just want to know what it is, and why you have it." "Curious. I found it before we left for Nova Prosperous," COrtain explains, "No clue what it exactly is though." Brynjol takes the small slug from Cortain, before returning to his Medicae deck.

Cortain now finds himself joined by Temur, who is concerned over Thexus's erratic behavior as well. The Hololithic Combat Chamber doors open, and Thexus stands there silently. Whatever he was staring at drifts away. "LEGIONARIES," he states, "HOW MAY I ASSIST YOU?" "Is everything...well?" Cortain asks, "You have been silent since the hunt." "ALL SYSTEMS ARE NOMINAL, LEGIONARIES. I SIMPLY DO NOT WANT THE HELOTS MEDDLING WHERE THEY DO NOT BELONG," Thexus turns around, "AS FOR MY ABSENCE, I APOLOGIZE. I WAS COMPARING THEIR REQUEST TO THE DATA IN THE RECOVERED COGITATOR. NO MISTAKE CAN BE MADE." "I do not see them being any more of them a threat than any other adepts..." Cortain explains, before amending his comments, " those of the Inquisition." "HELOTS SHOULD NOT TREAD THE SAME GROUND AS GODS, LEGIONARY," Thexus states flatly.

The Commandos are silent for a moment. "Indeed we are gods among men, but recent events have made me wonder," Cortain admits, "What sort of gods are we?" "LEGIONARY, YOU WERE THE GREATEST SOLDIERS MANKIND COULD PRODUCE. YOU STILL ARE. YOU ARE GODS TO THE HELOTS AND THE EXCERTUS," Thexus notes. "It is that 'were' that concerns me. Perhaps when we finally end this absurd assignment, this might be better served to the Legions..." Cortain stops, catching himself. "I SEE YOU BECOME MORE LIKE THEM EVERY DAY. NEVER FORGET THE POWER AND RESPECT YOU COMMAND AMONGST THOSE YOU LEAD THE CHARGE FOR," Thexus explains, "YOU WERE GREAT ONCE. YOU ARE ON THE PATH TO BECOMING GREAT AGAIN. FALTER NOT, AND THE STRENGTH OF THE LEGIONS WILL BE BEHIND YOU WITHOUT QUESTION."

Cyril joins Temur and Cortain, who had hoped to use the Hololithic Combat Chambers for his own needs, but now regrets missing Thexus's wisdom. However, their reverie is interrupted by a vox.

"Ah, lads," Rockfist voxes, "The trip is almost over, when ya have some time, stop by the Armory."

The Commandos form up, to see what Rockfist has to say.

In the Medicae Deck, however, Brynjol is hard at work examining the slug recovered from Cortain. He performs extensive medicae tests on it, quite concerned. For all intents and purposes, it is a pale white slug, partially translucent. It possesses the same type of body functions, symmetry, organs, and abilities of a normal slug. But something about it, something he can't quite put his finger on. He readies a stasis chamber to place the slug in, but is briefly waylaid by his attendant serfs.

"My lord, is something the matter?" Serfguy the Serf asks. "I... do not know," Brynjol admits, moving his samples into the stasis casket. "It's just that..." the Serfguy stammers, "You've been cutting and prodding at an empty desk for hours now..."

Brynjol stops. "I..." he stutters, before carefully grasping the slug and placing it in a stasis chamber, "Don't touch that chamber." The serfs stare at the empty chamber, "As you wish, my lord..." Brynjol presses some ivory keys on an old, stained keypad. A medicae diagnostor scanner revolves out of the wall, and Bryn divests himself of his armour before crawling inside, concerned about eyes on the inside.

Heading over to the Armory, Rockfist is working on the Sicaran from before. "Our apologies on that massive gaping hole there," Cortain sheepishly points. "Ah, lads, the toaster still waffling?" Rockfist asks, "No matter. Lad I've got some things to warn ya about." "Speak, then," Cyril requests. "This is a Squat mine, we're quite good at what we do," Rockfist says, "But conditions may not be the best. There may be sections of thin rock, mined out areas, areas of vacuum, an' other hazards." "Understood," Cyril states, "Our armour should be able to weather most of those, but we will be cautious." "Not quite, lad. Things may be more'n yer power armor can 'andle," Rockfist concludes, "Conditions may be so bad that ya may need additional protection. I can ready yer Terminator Armor if ya want."

The Commandos are in agreement - Terminator Armor for enclosed spaces of the Mining Center would be good. The Commandos begin planning out their loadouts, as transport is readied and the Blade leaves the Warp.

"...I am curious to see how this cyber-familiar interacts with Terminator armour..." Cortain admits. "If that's what ya want, lad, it'll be readied. Shouldn't be that bad," Rockfist nods, "We'll be leavin' the warp momentarily." Rockfist does a doubletake. "That skull...looks familiar..." he mutters, before shaking his head, "Must be me imagination..." Cortain says nothing.

The warp trip ends with the Blade amongst a massive asteroid field. A number of them are clearly being mined out, and one is larger than the others. It is clear that is the target. As the Commandos suit up, appropriate transport for Terminators is readied, as the Blade takes its place amongst the unnerving wreckage of the Scar. Brynjol selects a Tartaros suit, as well as a Frostblade. Cortain also selects Tartaros armor, a Combi-Volkite weapon with Kraken Bolts, and an Auxiliary Grenade Launcher. Temur selects Tartaros as well, with an Assault Cannon and a Cyclone Missile Launcher. Cyril is last, completing the Tartaros set and bringing a Reaper Autocannon. The Commandos have taken all advice into account. While Thexus notes that the alleged storage depot was initially prepared for an assualt on the Ghaslakh orkhold, O'Malley suggests keeping one's mind sharp for traps and puzzles that litter Squat fortresses, and Rockfist advises heavy weapons in case of...forgotten beasts, or worse.

Making a mighty oath to the Wolf King, the Commandos land on the planetoid where the Squats have estabilished their main mining complex. Cortain opts to take a big swig of some unidentified oil he took in transit as he stares out the Caestus's limited viewports. Outside, he can see the tortured skies and the multi-colored debris fields drifting along the winds of spess. In this dead zone, the howls of asteroid impacts thunder along as the two Urists dodge and weave. As far as the eye can see, there is naught but ruin.

While Cyril makes sure his stormbolter isn't bolted to his hand, so he can open doors this time, Brynjol flexes his joints in the unfamiliar warplate, a cloth-wrapped bundle across his knees. The Wolf-skull helm lies next to him on the bench.

"How...populated is this facility?" Cortain asks. "Ah, there's got ta be about a thousand in the main facility, lad," Rockfist explains, "An' thousands more spread out along the field."

Pinging with augurs, it is clear the asteroid belt is rich in minerals. Cortain's auspex, slightly more sensitive than the others' due to his Techmarine training, picks up the same mineral readings, as well as the electric and chemical signals that move the debris along the winds of spess. He can also barely pick up screams of fear and terror, vox-echoes long-since passed, probably tied to whatever event befell this cursed formed sector.

Eventually, the Urists round an asteroid, and the large planetoid ruin where the Squats have set up comes into view. Unwrapping the bundle and raising aloft the Frostblade within, Brynjol takes point as the Caestus lands in a waiting docking bay. The doors open as a number of Squats stand at attention. The line of Squats kneel in the Commandos' presence as they march out, relics held high.

Cyril holsters his beloved stormbolter and walks out. "On your feet, lads!" He clicks his tongue for his Yeti to follow, inducing slight terror in the Squats. "Indeed! Fill us in, my good me...squats!" Brynjol adds exuberantly.

A squat walks over. "I'm Overseer Ibruk, my lords," he states, "It was my men who found the ancient relic. We...we figured you should be alerted." "Let's have a look, then," Brynjol suggests. Starting at the Squat Staging Area, Overseer Ibruk leads the Commandos through the Ancestor Halls, to where the path splits three ways. Entering the Chapel of the Ancestors, he beckons to the old bolter placed on the altar.

"The Foreman's advised all squats evacuate the mining site until you've had your looks," the Overseer explains, "We can take you to the Mining Center, but we dare not go farther. It's..." He trails off. "Aye, you look to your own, Overseer," Brynjol suggests, "We'll take care of this little issue." "It is what? Have you encountered danger there?" Cyril asks. Overseer Ibruk shakes his head, "My lieges, there's somethin' about those caves. Things go wrong at random. Accidents and problems. It's got the throngs spooked. As the Foreman commands, down from the local Lord, we shall not enter those halls until you have taken anything you deem necessary." "Very well. We shall endeavour to resolve some of those 'accidents and problems' along the trip," Cyril offers. The Overseer nods deeply, "We will be unable to mantain contact with you in the depths, my Lords. May the Emperor and the Ancestors guide you."

Taking a moment to examine the recovered bolter, the Commandos cannot make heads or tails of it through the dust and dirt. They resolve to clean it up and identify it later.

"Weapons check before we head out," Brynjol commands. Cyril draws, twirls, and holsters the Stormbolter with one hand, then waggles the Reaper. "Already done. Surely you would not expect a son of Sanguinius to neglect to blood his boltshells?" Brynjol ignores the jibe, looking at Cortain and Temur. "Prepared," Cortain intones quietly. "We are carrying enough munitions to annihilate half a company," Temur notes, "Overkill perhaps, but prudent when dealing with things from the dark ages, as we have found." "I'd carry more, would the quartermaster allow it," Brynjol shakes his head, "I'll have no truck with the things we've met in the darkness so far... I've already lost one limb." "We have a quartermaster?" an incredulous Cyril asks. "We take what is needed for the mission and no further, as our training and interpretations of the codex teach us, though this sector is testing some of those lessons to the limit," Temur admits, "While the Brotherhoods teach that mixed style of warfare are occasionally required, they usually do not mix them quite so readily as I am finding myself pushed to for our mission effectiveness." "Regardless, Brynjol, would you sully that blade with the blood of every gormless cultist?" Cyril asks, "Your chainsword usually suffices, does it not?" "You say drenching a blade in the blood of the Imperium's foes is sullying it?" Brynjol muses, "Curious..."

Proceeding to the door labelled Mining Center Alpha, the Squats at attention leave as the heavy ceramite doors scrape open. Stepping into Mining Center Alpha, the doors slowly creak behind the Commandos, locking tightly.

Brynjol draws his blades, dropping into a hunting crouch, looking, somehow, simultaneously faintly ridiculous and intensely menacing in the bulky Terminator warplate, while Cyril watches the flanks, pointing the Reaper around and watching for movement or shiny objects.

This area was once the main staging area for the entire mining operation. Half-assembled drills and conveyor systems lay strewn about. In Mining Center Alpha, there appear to be three doors, besides the one the Commandos came in through. One is incredibly large, and looks thick with armored ceramite. Another looks slightly smaller, off to the right side, near some boxes. The last is to the left, and appears to have cables running through it. That door is already open.

"I'm sorely tempted to check out that innocuous-looking door to the right," Brynjol notes, "In my experience, they're the ones that always have a cadre of rubric automatons lying in wait behind, the sneaky bastards." "As am I," Cortain agrees, though for entirely different reasons.

Heading on over to the door, the Commandos note that the door is low on power. It currently will not open. However, augurs pick out an exposed conduit - it may be able to be charged. Cortain takes a moment to incant the proper prayers, placing his hand on the conduit, and charging it from his potentia coil. The door glows with sudden power, before opening. Within the door is a number of boxes. It's clear this was a storage area for spare industrial gear. But attention is not on the boxes, but rather the blue torch off to the side.

"Got a selection of good things on sale, stranger..." the Merchant rasps.

The Commandos decide to push their sanctioning to the limits. As a team, they manage to acquire Eldar Flip Belts. The effects of being shown in such xenotech remains to be seen. Brynjol tries for a Blurshield, but fails. Cortain too tries his luck at an Abeyant, but fails. Cyril gives up and goes for a shield, managint to get a good Conversion Field, while Temur too decides on Hexagrammatic Wards for his power armor.

"Heh heh heh, thank you..." the Merchant says as he steps behind a set of boxes.

The room is quiet now, other than the creaking of the rock caverns and the groaning of stressed metal holding up the supply boxes. The Commandos return to Mining Center Alpha, where the large armored ceramite door lies, and the side door remains open, which a cogitator panel calls Auxiliary Corridor A. A separate cogitator panel refers to the armored ceramite door as "Corridor A" These cogitators are running on emergency power, so to prevent Squats from getting lost.

Cortain scans the door with his Auspex. However, the scan cannot pierce the thickness of the door. It's clear, that the door is out of power, though. It's too large to be charged via Luminen charge, but he detects electric remnants leading through the pipes behind Auxiliary Corridor A. The same pipes that are hanging over the open door. Cyril decides to take point, heading on through Auxiliary Corridor A, where the Commandos come to a strewn out Security Control. Cogitators here are thrumming with defense status and controls, while a rack of lasguns stands behind the guard's post.

"Lasguns and cogitators," Cyril muses, "Cortain, your expertise might be useful here."

There are two doors - one open, straight ahead to a place labeled Auxiliary Corridor B, and then there's another door across from the Security Control, this one seems low on power but Cortain can see another exposed conduit. He first begins by accessing the security cogitators, looking through with his Mechanicum training. The cogitator bank displays that a number of plasma turrets are standing by, ready to defend the Central Power Dynamo against enemies. To switch their configuration requires a password. Unable to guess or crack the password, he turns his attention to the depowered door. Though the first attempt at charging tires him out and slightly damages the conduit, the second attempt is successful.

Cyril takes some time to peer down Auxiliary Corridor B from Security Control, and notes it's a straight corridor down. In the distance he can see something large and mechanical. Cortain's attention, meanwhile, is on the newly accessible Security Annex. There's a cogitator here, the screen glowing yellow. Everyone sets their Augur Arrays to Scan Visor mode, and begin scanning the yellow cogitator.

Downloading...downloading...Log Book Updated. 05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC) "Engineer's Guildsman Romek here. I've set up the defense turrets. But somethin's not right. The cogitators keep wipin' themselves, and the turrets' targetin' priorities keep resetting - poor Irol nearly lost'is arm from the turrets goin' haywire. Only real defense is to turn'em off. Password is 3241. We won't be defended very well, but it's still safer than ta leave the throngs ta get shot by our own guns." 05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)

"How convenient of them," Cortain sighs, "I advise everyone keep clear in case we get something mad." "Terminator armor cannot stand up to plasma," Cyril notes, raising his reaper autocannon, "We may need to shut the turrets down." "If the Machine Spirits are still too unruly, we will need them shut down."

Cortain carefully enters the password, and the cogitator displays "Defenses disabled." Auxiliary Corridor B is now clear, it seems. Heading on down Auxiliary Corridor B, the Commandos finally come across a large area, the Central Power Dynamo. It is currently not active. Below, in the floor, the Commandos can see electric current active across pylons, but the Dynamo that distributes power is offline. Cortain and Cyril both try to interface with the Dynamo, but its archeotech systems elude them. Cortain takes a moment to think, and notes that all around are Prometheium fuel conduits, as well as exposed pylons that generate the power in this room. He reasons that, if the Dynamo is being unresponsive, it may need its fuel cycled. There are five prometheum tanks he can see. Manually cycling at least three at the same time may reset the dynamo to Power Distribution mode.

Cyril takes the first tank, successfuly cycling it with a Strength test, as does his yeti with a second. Cortain takes a third tank, and after some trial, manages to cycle it. Brynjol joins in, cycling a fourth. Temur covers the corridor, ensuring the turrets do not awaken. With 4 of 5 cycled, which exceeds minimum requirements, the Dynamo pops a bit, before revving up and the lights brightening up.

Power restored.

The Commandos debate switching the turret systems into identifying them as "Friend," but Cortain wisely remembers that the attempts the Squats tried did not take. Deciding it's safest to leave the turrets off, the Commandos move on. Heading on back to Mining Center Alpha, the unmoving turrets at the Commandos' backs, the armored ceramite door is receiving full power. It may be opened at leisure via terminal. When Cortain opens the door, everyone come to Corridor A. Further turrets wait here, pointed down and disabled. FUrther down the hall, something large extends upwards. Following Corridor A down, the Commandos see a large Power Shaft, now receiving power from the Central Power Dynamo. There is a nearby cogitator terminal, which states "CURRENT ALIGNMENT: 1-2-3." It seems each part of the Shaft can move independently. Within this room, there are two doors - one powered by link to the Central Power Shaft, and one not receiving any power at all.

"Wonderful," Cyril notes, "More puzzles."

Cortain can see power flowing through the Central Power Shaft with his auspex, a combo of cords that distribute power through the complex. He can sense the power currently going to the door Temur is making his way towards to check. Opening the powered door, Temur passes along Auxiliary Corridor C, until he reaches a small Log Center. Once more, there is a cogitator glowing yellow. Cortain casually strolls up to scan the cogitator

Downloading...downloading...Logbook Updated. 05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC) "This is Zotthol Zagithemal, Foreman of the expedition on Asteroid T-34-3. I don't like this place. There's something off with it. I feel something staring at me every time I engage the drill. The air feels so heavy the deeper we get into this rock. In my 400 years of life, I never felt a job so...wrong, as this one. The last straw was that bolter that Olak found. It was much older than the bolters we use now. I formally request Lord Erar to call in assistance.

Until then, I'm locking down the dig site. The Combination there isn't 1-2-3, that's to this door. I don't remember the exact combination, but I remember that no number was repeated. I'll leave it to the Overseers to remember." 05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)

"Anything that peturbs the Squats at what they do best should certainly make us wary," Temur advises. "So, this door should open to... I-II-III?" Cyril asks, "Uncanny, that is the same code Chaplain Mikhael used for the Scout armorium..."

The Central Power Shaft is currently set to 1-2-3, which grants power to the entrance door and the Log Center door. The Commandos try numerous configurations at random first. Reversing the order merely powers nothing, while Cortain's try of 2-3-1 turns the power shaft to only the entrance. Temur puts in 2-3-1, which sends power to an emergency charging station. Brynjol decides to try the remaining combinations in order. Luckily, his first guess of 1-3-2 aligns the Central Power Shaft and gets good results - while the path to Aux Corridor C is now unpowered, the Entrance and Unpowered Door are now powered.

"My lupine genius has, once more, saved the day," Brynjol boasts. Cyril snorts derisively, while Cortain stares in mocking disbelief. "Don't think I can't hear you back there..." Brynjol mutters. "Only six combinations were possible," Cyril points out, "And one was eliminated before we began. I am not saying you are not a genius, but an Ork could have solved that one." "You're a dreadful bore," Brynjol sighs, "If we find a sinkhole, remember me to push you in it. That's an order." "Perhaps if you had brought your jump pack," Cyril quips, so Notomok could push you in after to retrieve me."

Cortain just takes points while the manchildren bicker. Speaking of sinkholes, travelling down Corridor B, the Commandos come across a series of cavern-openings and sinkholes. The Squats no doubt intended these to be mineshafts. Mounted in the ceiling is a large mining drill. Brynjol looks at Cyril. The Wolf Skull seems to take on a leering grin, to which Cyril steps warily back. Cortain accesses the Mining Drill at a nearby Cogitator, and notes he can fire the drill. It will probably make a good punch in any sinkhole or cavern-foundation he selects. There are two sinkholes and three Caverns. Cortain fires the drill, but it fires at a nearby wall as Brynjol pushes it about. Cyril starts checking sinkholes and foundations, scanning to see what lies beneath while Notomok holds his shoulder to keep him steady. Surprisingly, he notes that there is a HEAVY concentration of metals down the central cavern, far more than should be natural.

"There is... a great amount of metal down this one," Cyril points, "Too concentrated to be natural, perhaps an ancient Astartes fortress?" "Considering how they found an ancient bolter, then the possibility is there," Cortain agrees.

Brynjol pushes the mining drill towards to the cavern Cyril points out, and the melta blast fires for a good many seconds. As the mining drill completes its work, and the dust settles, Cyril notes his auspex did not lead him astray.

The Commandos have drilled into the side of some sort of long-buried building.

"Sweet Emperor's shriveled scalp, we got a paydirt," Cortain exclaims in the sector's local variant of Gothic.

The blast is wide enough that the Commandos have zero trouble hopping in. It's a few meters' drop, but nothing to be concerned about. Leaping down with a mighty thud and varying degrees of excitement and caution, the dust of ages is kicked up as the Commandos enter the Legionary Storage Center.

"Secure the perimeter," Brynjol commands as the Astartes tactically space themselves. It's clear this was meant to hold vast armaments and ammunition for future raids and However, there are only a few unopened boxes right now. Cyril pops one open, to find normal bolt shells, their propellant and charges long since degraded away. No poisons or aberrant chemicals in the air are detected, but everyone cannot help but feel that they are being...watched.

The Commandos' attention is focused on two great engraved doors, one smaller than the other. They appear to be covered in gold, engraved with expertly-crafted shining winged figures.

"Wings. Either I, III, or IX," Cortain notes. "We shall see," Cyril affirms.

Popping by the smaller door, the Commandos note within there are bolters on the wall, the Umbra-ferrox pattern.. Most notably, however, these bolters appear to bear legionary iconography - Dark Angels (I), the Iron Warriors (IV), the Blood Angels (IX), the Ultramarines (XIII). Had the Commandos not had Executor Thexus and Rockfist on hand who could crank such patterns out as needed, this in itself would be an incredible find. Considering that they have plenty of bolters, however, the Commandos move on.

"I recall Thexus mentioning something like this," Cortain muses, "Along with the 'Beacon of Sotha.'" "A mighty force indeed..." Cyril wonders.

The Commandos move on to the larger door, which after a good, hearty push by Brynjol, opens with a screech that echoes across the hallway into a wide room. Within this room, there are signs of battle. All around, there is shattered glass and wreckage that once served as cover. Most telling, however, are the ded corpses. Clad in bright red power armor, a drop of blood on their shoulders, and proud emblazons of the IXth, the ded Blood Angels look like whatever it was they put up a fight.

"...Traitors..." Cortain posits, "Or a victims of something more sinister...?" Brynjol draws his knife, making as if to jab the teardrop rubies out of the dead bangle shoulders. "Possibly traitors AND their victims. A fortress like this would be hellish to take if Iron Warriors fortified key choke points, and their Warsmiths might have been able to pervert the malfunctioning turrets..." Cyril pauses, snarling at Brynjol, "Show some respect for the dead!" He then removes his helmet. "Now budge up, I need to eat their flesh."

The irony.

Popping off one mummified corpse's armguard and taking a quick nibble, Cyril closes his eyes as the memories take him...

05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC) The Ultramarine and Iron Warrior stand in front of the Blood Angel.

"It is a shame we had to use the supplies here, they were meant for use on the Orks," the Ultramarine says. "Regardless, the Imperium Secundus needs every advantage it can get. You are lucky it was established," the Iron Warrior notes, "Besides, with Horus's treachery, who is to say the ork hold even existed?" "Regardless, you should return," the Blood Angel says, "Use the Auxiliary Landing Bay. Our father Sanguinius and Lord Guilliman must know what we have stored here." "Keep watchful," the Ultramarine says, "That thing is wrong." "We know better than most, my friend," the BA replies, "Signus was...a shock upon us."

The Ultramarine and Iron Warrior leave, and the Blood Angel resumes his patrols. However, strange clouds begin to manifest, and with a roar, the BA contingent find themselves falling, attacked clearly by Daemons. As the Blood Angel falls, the vision blurs... 05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)

"These men were felled by Daemons of Khorne and Slaanesh. Iron Warriors and Ultramarines were also on-site; they mentioned the 'Imperium Secundus,' and Daemons being stored here." "The name sounds familiar," Cortain explains, recalling one of Thexus's storytimes, "When Ultramar was cordoned off by a warp storm, Lord Guilliman established his own Imperium, assuming the rest of the Imperium lost to the Warp." The Commandos listen intently. "I remember Noble Sanguinius also being involved, though an Iron Warrior..." Cortain wonders, "Defectors?" "Perhaps," Cyril nods, "Out of millions of Legionaries, some must not have sided with their Primarchs..."

What is more familiar, however, is the fog itself that is beginning to surround the Stasis Centrum.

"INCOMING!" Cyril yells, "We shall not be such easy prey!"

The Commandos note movement out of the corner of your sensoria. The Stasis Chamber in the center of the room. Something within is MOVING. The stasis chamber finally bursts open, the beast within roaring and rage and anger. A fusion of half Contemptor, and half daemon, the creature raises its hand out, charging its weapon. After 10,000 years, the Mhara Gal interred in stasis has re-awoken, and in its shroud of dark fire burns with unlight.

The Commandos immediately open fire with everything they have. However, the shroud of dark fire provides an incredible amount of protection, as does the Mhara Gal's powerful front armor, able to bounce autocannon rounds, assault cannon rounds, and missiles reliably. The Commandos' minds recoil in the face of the forgotten beast's Fear 3, but their bodies continue to fight reliably. The only casualty of the normal fear is Cyril's yeti, which promptly falls asleep as a result of a high roll on the fear table. Brynjol and Cortain both charge forward, their attacks doing some minor damage. A cyclone missile storm by Temur catches Brynjol in the blast, though, and using the blast to reposition himself, is now in the Mhara Gal's side arc.

The Mhara Gal's counter-attack is harsh. It slams its tainted power claw at Brynjol, who manages to deflect and parry the attack, slashing the frost blade along the Mhara Gal's exposed side armor. Cyril sidesteps an errant stream of curs'd boltspitter rounds, while Temur manages to shield the monster's warpfire plasma cannon, its echoing screams of the damned do a fair bit to burn away some cohesion.

The Commandos decide that it's time to enter Squad Mode. That's the easy part. Everyone takes the time to enter Squad Mode, but nobody actually wants to be the one to call a Squad Mode pattern. The Commandos continue their attack, leading to the humorous and peculiar situation of each either forgetting or refusing to call a Squad Mode Attack Pattern. The Commandos are far more spread out now, and are able to strike at side and rear armor of the Mhara Gal. Cyril's Autocannon fires relentlessly, piercing the side armor of the Mhara Gal, and opening a window for Brynjol to stab with the Frost Blade, cutting into the daemon-creature's motive systems and disabling them, allowing for Temur to fire more Krak missiles and blast-shift Brynjol even further. Cortain continues to assist Brynjol where appropriate, raising the Gladius Invictus at weak spots he picks out.

The Mhara Gal begins to flail about, slamming into the ground, releasing a wave of electricity that Brynjol and Cortain dive through. Brynjol and Cortain further parry the mad daemon's attacks, keeping safe distance between themselves and the tainted power claws. Further Curs'd boltspitter fire is narrowly avoided, as is a further blast of warpfire plasma. With the Commandos now equally spaced, Cyril fires his autocannon at the creature's rear armor, doing inordinate damage and causing the Mhara Gal to...disappear. It leaves behind a haze of warp energy, which Brynjol resists but Cortain suffers through.

The Commandos can still feel the daemon's presence. Brynjol, quite enraged, slashes at the air ahead of him, hitting nothing. Temur thinks a moment, suddenly flips on his terminator suit's auspex. Switching to the Tartaros's X-ray Visor, he picks out the Daemon hovering over the former stasis casket, absorbing aberrant warp power about. It is only the creature's daemonic essence, lacking its armor, recovering. So Temur does the sensible thing - he fires a set of krak missiles at it! While the daemon's shield bounces one, the second super missile hits straight away, dealing inordinate damage. The Mhara Gal phases back into reality, quite enraged at Temur. It slams its tainted power claws down, cutting effortlessly through his shield, but Temur manages to parry both attacks that land, saving himself from the tank-smashing power of the claws. He is not so lucky, however, in avoiding the Curs'd Boltspitters, sending him flying back into the criticals, his Tartaros front plate shattered. Cyril only barely manages to dodge out of the warpfire blast from the heavily damaged Mhara Gal.

Cortain is the last one up, and he sees the perfect opportunity - the Mhara Gal has left its rear armor exposed. Raising the Gladius Invictus, he charges forward, the gladius ignoring the monster's daemonic aura of dark fire, and striking the forgotten beast's core. The Mhara Gal goes warp-critical, exploding outward before being sucked into the warp.

"BEGONE WITH THEE, FOUL ABOMINATION OF THE WARP!" Cortain blasts out in binary.

The warp-cursed explosion catches Cortain, lighting him up in a mighty soulblaze of blue fire. He looks down, and sighs. It keeps happening. He takes some time to put himself out as Temur collapses into unconsiousness.

Brynjol tends to the wounded Temur, unclasping sections of his terminator plate, quickly assessing and treating his more serious wounds with thick, knotty stitching and a dollop of 'ointment'. Cortain and Cyril review the area, the yeti is sent to patrol. Two further doors are found. Once more, one is larger than the other. Cortain and Cyril take the smaller door first, descending a corridor, before entering a decently sized room. The planetoid rumbles, and the two Commandos see bits of the planetoid crack off into spess. Looking out, this appears to be a landing bay of some kind. However, Cyril gets word - his yeti is going fucking nuts at the door. Heading back, with Brynjol dragging Temur down while Cortain secures the area, Notomok the Yeti calms down as Cyril approaches.

Cyril first tries auspexing through it, but flubs the tech use test. He then puts his ear to the door, also hearing nothing. Opening it carefully, Cyril descends a corridor. He notes now that there are emblems of the IXth Legion upon the banners hanging at the door at the very bottom. He is right to continue. Cyril removes his helm and breathes deep, striding down into the dark.

Opening the final door and stepping forward, Cyril sees, as if reclining, an ornately-armored Blood Angel. Embedded in the metal is a large, imposing looking sword. The sword, a two-handed wide blade, bears the clear insignias of the Blood Angels. He approaches reverently, and it begins to pulse. Cyril looks over the fallen Legionary for insignias of rank, extending one hand to grip the mighty weapon's hilt. If he had rank, it is far different than the ranks he is accustomed to in the 41st-ish Millenium.

Cyril grips the hilt carefully, and the weapon begins to glow. Muttering a prayer for the fallen, and resting his palm on the fallen Legionary's brow, he grips the handle, and pulls with a mighty force of effort. With a screech, Cyril manages to raise...the hilt. He notes the blade itself remains embedded within the metal with great consternation, and is rapidly beginning to disintegrate.

As he holds the sword's handle, his vision begins to swirl...

05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC) 05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC) Cyril finds himself amongst a ruined hab complex, a completely flattened building. "Brother, this was a trap!" the Blood Angels Legionary says, "The Word Bearers...Horus...they have betrayed us!" "Signus is no relief mission," another says, "We were meant to be slain here!" "Brother, what should we do?" the legionary turns to Cyril. Cyril sheds a few manly tears. "We will not be slain. WE FIGHT! FOR SANGUINIUS, AND FOR THE EMPEROR! THE IXth LEGION STANDS!"

The Legionaries around cheer, raising their weapons as a great host of daemons begin to leap the buildings, rushing forward. At their head is a tall Bloodthirster, his axe raised high.


As the daemons begin to charge forward, Cyril hears a cry, an anguished cry, an almost inhuman wail, followed by a black wave in the sky. The legionaries around him begin to clutch their heads, screaming, indeed the same is beginning to overtake him. Cyril screams freely, hate and fury overtaking the pain and confusion. His vision is beginning to blur as a...hunger begins to occupy his every thought.

", I finally understand," a Legionary says, drawing his power sword and charging forward, "IT'S OKAY TO LET GO!"

Cyril has only the hilt of that sword, and can see a Bloodthirster ahead of him. "INTO THE FRAY!" he bellows, an inarticulate roar tearing from his throat as he charges the hellspawned monstrosity. Tacticals, Assault, all Legionaries have gone absolutely fuckwild, with Cyril at the head of the charge. Raising the sword handle high, he charges the Bloodthirster. The handle pulses, a small surge of energy flaring. Then a larger one. The Photonic Blade finally kicks in to full gear, a blade of red energy manifesting with a thunderous blast. The Bloodthirster raises his axe to parry, bringing it down, but but the Photonic Blade cuts right through, an unstoppable burning brand that strikes the daemon. It staggers back, as the rest of the legionaries continue the charge.

As the legionaries continue the charge, ripping things apart with chainsword, combat knife, even bare teeth, nothing is sacred. Not only are the Daemons being massacred, but off in the distance Cyril can see an allied contingent of Space Wolves also set upon by his Legionary brothers. As the battle begins to fade away, lucidity finally returning, he finally feels someone staring behind him. Cyril turns to stare with bared fangs, the black orbs of an Ice Wraith's mutated eyes shining wide & teary in the dark as the too-bright blood of an Astartes trickles down his bitten lip.

The Blood Angel standing ahead of Cyril bows, the sign of the Aquila upon his chest. Cyril's eyes widen further, and his face slowly relaxes. After the moment of realization, he returns the bow and the salute. Straightening once more, the ancient Legionary fades away, as his vision returns to normal... 05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)~

Cyril is alone in the room now, the ded legionary at his feet. Cyril stands and stares for a long moment, then stows the weapon at his belt and hoists the Legionary up on one shoulder. After a last look around the chamber, he ascends to rejoin his team.

"Lad, lad do ya read?" Rockfist finally asks over vox, "Did ya find anything?" "Blood Angels, slain by Daemons. They were present with Iron Warriors, possibly loyalists, and Ultramarines," Cyril replies, his voice slower than his usual crisp, professional tones, "A daemonically possessed Contemptor Dreadnought remained, as did...a relic of the Ninth Legion." "It was apparently capable of shattering Tartaros plate," Cortain adds.

Indeed, after a bit the Urist Brothers manage to find the Launch Bay. Opening the Caestus's doors for cargo and body transfer, they stand ready to move anything the Commandos deem necessary into the Assault Ram.

"We'll be embarking close to the medicae deck, pilots," Brynjol commands, "Debriefing can wait until all three of them have been admitted for treatment." "I need little treatment," Cortain shakes his head, "Just some quiet." "Luckily for you it's very quiet on the medicae deck," Brynjol laughs. "I did not take a single hit in that battle," Cyril adds, "Look to yourself." "Neither did I," Brynjol points out, "But I also didn't have what sounded like a rather vivid hallucination." "I encountered the same thing when I got this blade," Cortain raises the Gladius Invictus, "It seems...that there is some memory imprinted in these relics." "Then treat me in the chapel," Cyril shakes his head, "I will not suffer your medbay again unless I am actually injured." Brynjol stares at Cyril. " the enemy," he clarifies. "It says something that you refuse this, against my advice, a Rout warrior," Brynjol sighs, but drops the subject.

The Urist Brothers are reverent as they help move the dead corpses. Loading up into the Caestus, the fallen legionaries safely stored, the Urists pull out, and begin to circle the asteroid. The Commandos request circling around to review the bolter from earlier, and to give the Squats a status update. But then, floating across the winds of spess, their hearing picks up something else.

That keening.

The Urists make the final turn, only to come eye to eye with the impossibly large Hellstar.

Cyril's eyes widen, black as the void, and his lips pull back in a silent snarl as his gaze snaps away from Brynjol and stare into nowhere.

"Evade!" Brynjol commands, but the Urists sit petrified. He lunges forward, grabbing the controls and barely evading a most horrific tentacle extending from the entity. "GET ME BACK ON THAT ASTEROID! I WILL HAVE THAT WEAPON!" Cyril yells. "Cortain, restrain Cyril!" Brynjol states. "BLADE, DEPLOY BATTLE SERVITOR CONTROLLED FIGHTER CRAFT!" Cyril implores as Cortain grabs him, clamping him down, "SCREEN US, AND UNLEASH ALL FIREPOWER ON THE MONSTROSITY!!!" Brynjol, however, turns the Caestus to the Blade. "Belay that order!" he states. The Blade is already making ready to evacuate. Cyril screams the fury of an 8-foot tall genetically enhanced toddler. "LAD! WE'RE HOLDING POSITION FOR YA!" Rockfist yells, "WE'LL WAIT FOR YA THEN ENGAGE THE WARP DRIVE!" "Rockfist! Use whatever weapons you can on the Blade to screen us, no fighters!" Brynjol commands, "Get her in gear."

As Brynjol lands in the Blade, a few of the Squats who could evacuate join the Commandos in the launch bay. "VOX THE ASTEROID!" Cyril insists, "HAVE THEM TAKE EVERYTHING THEY CAN CARRY, STARTING WITH THAT BOLTER!" Cortain pauses before adding, "That sounds reasonable. Relay it, on the double." "Lad, we have confirmation you're aboard," Rockfist says, "If we stay, that...thing will take us." "CORTAIN, WILL YOU SILENCE HIM FOR THE LOVE OF THE ALLFATHER!" Brynjol finally yells. "CORTAIN!" Cyril whirls to face the Techmarine, and his clamps. "ARC CHARGE THE REACTOR! WE SHALL SEE HOW THAT ABOMINATION LIKES THE ACCELERATOR CANNON!"

Outside, numerous tentacles extend outward, grabbing asteroids and forcing them into its gargantuan maw. The Hellstar's beak itself is extended, and retracting with the planetoid. Vox traffic is overloaded with the desperate cries of squats across the field.

"Rockfist, as squad leader, I am ordering you to get us the feth out of here!" Brynjol demands, "I will not risk us all for the sake of an Emperor-damned BOLTGUN!" "Aye, lad..." Rockfist nods.

Cyril gives up on returning and runs for the bridge to take control of the cannon, slavering with hate for the stellar abomination. Cortain, keeping careful watch, arc charges the Accelerator Cannon, and Brynjol takes a moment to lock on before resuming evacuation procedures.

"You can make whatever shots you want, as long as they're made while we are leaving this place, Cyril!" Brynjol finally relents. The Blade begins to make distance from the Hellstar, which the Commandos notice is carefully examining every asteroid before consuming it within its eye-lined maw.

"YES, BRYNJOL. NOW GET ME A FIRING VECTOR," Cyril gurgles in barely coherent rage, "I AM GOING TO PUT THAT EYE OUT."

The Atomantic Arc Reactor's power is funneled into the Accelerator Cannon, the lance of energy striking through the dust field and asteroids to scrape across the Hellstar's eye. For many seconds, the beam rakes across, and white steam is seen across. But...nothing else really happens.

" that meant to happen?" Cortain asks in shock. "I bloody told you! Now get us out of here, Rockfist!" Brynjol says, the fear of the extradimensional entity forcing out any smugness he may have had about being right, "This thing is beyond the reach of conventional weaponry!"

The gas-giant sized Hellstar's singular eye turns slowly at Cyril. He screeches hate at the eye, but the noise dies in his throat and he stares at the thing, eerily still. For the briefest of moments, there is silence, only two beings in the universe - Cyril, and the Hellstar.

"One day soon, monster. You WILL die, I swear it."

The Blade escapes the Scar with its Warp Drive. Though thousands of squats were left to a most terrible fate, the Commandos survived, to fight another day, with a powerful new relic. And that's all that can be said for such a situation.

Rose walks into the Armorium, a quad-sealed chamber accessible only through codes granted to her by Executor Thexus.


"I don't know if I am able to help bu...what...those are..." "YOUR MEMORY IS ASTUTE, AUXILIA. THEY STILL REQUIRE WORK." "But you said you sent them off to their home chapters." "THE BODIES OF THE HONORED DEAD WERE RETURNED. SOME PARTS SHALL CONTINUE TO SERVE." "I see..."

The Paragon of Metal walks up to her.


Rose glares at him.


(21) Under the Knife[edit]

(Temur was unavailable this episode)

The Blade has enabled emergency warp jump, its target Catalyst Station. The mission updates flow across cogitators linked to the Sector Holomap.

-The 44th Orvanian Planetary Assault Legion has been dispatched to Nebraskus after all contact with the world was lost. -Rose has been found unconscious within one of the Observation bays. She has been moved to Brynjol's medicae deck. -Festivities have begun on Xaviol. They are expected to last three weeks. -Doggfather has a most curious fever. His body cannot seem to control its temperature. Numerous Tempestus Scions aboard Catalyst have caught colds.

The Commandos consider their options. They can safely put off the celebrations on Xaviol, but there is much debate between Nebraskus and Cataclysm. While Cyril votes for Nebraskus, he is swiftly outvoted by Cortain and Brynjol, who wish to acquire some Divination for Dummies books for Rose, as well as save Lord Inquisitor Calvin Doggfather from himself. Reluctantly, Cyril acquiesces, and the Commandos are on their way to Catalyst Station.

Brynjol, however, wheels to face Cyril across the bridge. "What the bloody hell were you thinking, Cyril?" he asks. Cyril turns to face the Space Wolf, tears and blood running down his face. "About?" "That! The damned eye!" Brynjol sweeps a hand behind him, "We don't have the capacity to fight that thing! And delaying evacuation for a rusted old boltgun... what madness has taken you?" "We had yet to land a solid arc-charged hit!" Cyril insists, "I thought it would work!" "Listen to me, Cyril. You've fought things like daemons before. When has proportional response EVER worked against them?" Brynjol presses, "We're going to need to skew our thinking to beat this thing. Conventional arms are not the key here." "Every. Damned. Time. Bigger monster? Bigger gun," Cyril throws his hands up, "This thing is not a daemon, and seems to follow different rules!"

Brynjol and Cyril cease their arguing, deeming Rose's condition is worth reviewing first. Cortain, however, has beaten them to the punch, arriving at the medicae deck first. Rose is connected to ancient Medicae machines. She is breathing, which is good. The serfs bow as he enters.

"I presume this development was recent," he notes, reviewing the Serfs' notes. "We found her like this, my lord," Chief Serfguy explains, "When that entity shined its baneful light, she was...convulsing. We brought her here as soon as we noticed."

Cortain considers his conspiracy theories again. He didn't seem utterly screwed against the Mhara Gal, but then again, perhaps the Hellstar wasn't quite as close to put her in peril. He then wonders if the something it seemed to be looking for is actually Rose...

"Cyril, we need to go to the Medicae deck," Brynjol insists, as the two make their way to the deck, "I am not declaring you fit for service without a neuro workup, and something has happened to Rose." He laughs briefly. "We can do them both at the same time, and you won't have to miss more than an hour of hair-combing!" "Fuck you," Cyril snarls bluntly. "Cyril, I will knock your arse all over this ship, with or without that fancy new blade!" Brynjol reminds him. "I am heading for the medbay you vicious fool!" Cyril cries, as Brynjol follows at a slightly more sedate pace, tattered cloak trailing after him.

Arriving at the medicae deck, Cortain and the Serfs standing over Rose, Brynjol notes she is currently stable. "This just happened, Cortain explains, "The Hellstar certainly triggered it. She is stable for now." "And how would you know?" Brynjol asks. Cortain holds his tongue, not wishing to anger the Blade's only medic in concern of losing organs during surgeries. "Maybe because he's a TECHMARINE?" Cyril quips, "And she is connected to MACHINES?" "Cyril, I love you as only a brother Astartes can do," Brynjol sighs, "But I swear to the Allfather I will slap the taste right out of your mouth if you keep on with that petty tone."

Brynjol takes a moment to verify that she is, in fact, stable. However, as he attends to Rose, she suddenly twitches, a great sphere of psychic energy blasting out of her. He curses in Wurgen, falling back a pace before rallying. Though Brynjol successfully resists the power, Cortain and Cyril find their vision clouding, as fog begins to set in...

05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)

Cortain and Cyril find themselves floating in that dull fog once more. This time, surrounding them are dark shadowy figures, merely standing there.

"Not again," Cortain sighs. "So it seems," Cyril agrees.

Brynjol, in the materium, attaches Cyril and Cortain to various telemetric devices - making sure to secure Cyril quite firmly - before returning to attend to Rose once he is sure they aren't in danger of warpstuff.

Off in the distance, the two Commandos can see a titanic bipedal form in the fog. It is impossible to make out detail, but it merely stands there.

"But that seems...almost familiar..." Cortain observes.

Cortain and Cyril perform a weapon check, and all they have is their relics. The featureless shadows merely stare. They do not appear with weapons, and they are the size of normal humans.

Cyril grips his Photonic Blade, unlit, for comfort. "They are unresponsive. I suggest we check the big one... but if it is hostile, and these anthromorphs join it, engaging them now might be wiser." "Quite," Cortain moves to Cyril's back, drawing the Gladius Invictus.

A great blasting sound echoes through the fog, a cross between a mechanical warhorn and a beast's roar. The force of the sound pushes the two back slightly.

... ... ... CA ... LL ... ... ... US ... ...

Cyril suddenly snaps his head around, trying to pinpoint the sound. "Call you....what?" Cortain asks.

... ... ... AU ... GUR ... US ... ... ...

The shadowed figures bow, in unison.

"Augur? Okay..." Cortain says, not quite understanding. Before he can trigger his augur arrays, however, the fog begins to dissipate... 05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)

Cortain and Cyril begin to stir, waking up. As does Rose.

"Ah..." Rose stirs, "I..." Brynjol runs the usual scans on all of them for unusual neurological activity, brain tumours, eyes suddenly folding out of their skulls, etc. He finds nothing out of the ordinary.

"Did I need to be strapped in?" Cortain asks, tugging at the restraints. "This is an equal rights medicae ward," Brynjol points out. "Why ARE we restrained, Brynjol?" Cyril asks calmly. "I felt that blast of psychic force, and you both fell unconscious," Brynjol explains, "I wasn't going to take the chance of you waking up with... passengers." He gradually releases the restraints as the tests finish.

Rose suddenly begins to panic, "Oh! The Hellstar! It's approaching the asteroid belt!" "That already happened, Rose," Brynjol points out. "He is right, Rose. It ate the place," Cyril adds, "We evacuated those we could and shot it in the eye, with no effect." She looks around, "Ah...I'm...I'm sorry. I felt its stare. I tried gain its attention." "To... gain its attention?" Brynjol stops, "Rose... why would you endanger us all in such a fashion?" "Indeed," Cortain concurs, "Why would you do that terrible thing?" "If its eye was on me," she states, "It...wouldn't be on you." The Commandos stop, in sudden understanding.

Cyril sighs again. "That was very brave of you, Rose, but I suggest not repeating it. It might well be able to END you with a thought. We can at least endure for a short while." "Cyril is right," Brynjol nods, "More than anything, the Astartes are built to endure." "I...tried to interfere as long as I could, until you were safe," Rose sighs, "I...could feel its stare. It's...searching for something. But then I found myself surrounded by fog..." "PROCEED." Cortain demands, his interest piqued. "I don't know what...Its eye, it focused on me for the briefest of moments," and then I felt...rejection, as its eye turned. I know not what it searches for, but I was not it. I was...nothing to it...I was...alone..." "Thank you, Rose. You may well have preserved us all. Had the Hellstar arrived any sooner, it might have caught us," Cyrilbows, "Remember, you are not alone. The Emperor is with us, always."

Cortain scraps that theory about what the Eye's looking for, before heading down to the Armory. To celebrate his ascension to Consul Forge Lord, he requisitioned a suit of Artificer Armor. Arriving in the Armorium, Cortain notes there are numerous pieces of armor strewn about in utter ruin. Thexus, however stands by a new set of armor, painted black as per Deathwatch standard.

"CONSUL, YOUR MANTLE IS READY. I HAVE REPAIRED IT WITH PIECES OF LESSER ARMOR MARKS. ALL FUNCTIONS SHOULD BE NOMINAL." "Much appreciated," Cortain begins the process of donning it. Thexus's mechadendrites swirl, "HELOTS, ASSIST HIM."

"BEAR WITNESS TO MY ASCENSION!" Cortain yells. Numerous squats rush forward to assist in armor donning rites.Old armor is removed, as the Mantle of Ultramar reverently replaces it, albeit with some squattish hymns instead of normal prayers. "CONSUL, ARMOR SYSTEMS SHOULD BE NOMINAL FOR NOW. BEAR WITNESS - THERE WERE ONCE SEVEN OF THESE VOID-PLATES, THOUGH THIS IS THE ONLY ONE I KNOW OF NOW. THOUGH THEY ARE NOMINALLY AWARDED BY THE HAND OF THE PRIMARCH ALONE, I AM SURE THERE WOULD BE NO QUESTION TO YOUR WORTH." Cortain's mind is flooding with binharic hymns supplicating and familiarizing himself with the ancient machine spirit. "May none find me wanting," he affirms. Each squat signs the Aquila, upon completion of the Armor Donning Rites.

As the rites come to an end, the Everything's Okay alarm blares, as the Blade leaves the Warp. Catalyst Station, the double donut, floats in the distance, above the jeweled world of Cataclysm. Cyril patiently awaits the end of Cortain's ceremony, chanting along with the Squats, then approaches Thexus.

"Honoured Paragon of Metal... Some time ago, I decided that I would walk the path of the Centurion," Cyril explains, "I am now convinced that the magnitude of the threat we face will allow no further delay." "REMEMBER, CONSUL, CENTURIONS WERE WAR LEADERS OF THE CRUSADE FORCES. EACH OF YOU HAVE SELECTED A DIFFERENT CONSULSHIP." "I intend to become a Delegatus," Cyril explains, "There is no time to train at the moment, though. We deploy shortly." "THE CONSULSHIP OF THE DELEGATUS CANNOT BE EASILY TAUGHT, CONSUL. ONE MUST EARN THE RESPECT OF THEIR EXCERTUS FORCES ON THEIR OWN MERIT. YOU WILL LEARN AS YOU EXERCISE THE DUTIES OF OFFICE." "I understand, Thexus. We will speak further on this another time."

Everyone boards a prepared Aquila, and a number of Battle Automata and Cyril's Yeti are herded into a large lander. Both are launched out of the bay, towards the landing bays of Catalyst Station. The verdant green deep-valleys of Cataclysm shine, as the Urist Brothers guide the two landers into the bays. The doors open, and a Tempestus scion contingent stands ready to greet the Commandos. "Welcome, honored Commandos," the Scion bows, "With you here, we can begin this meRFGYIKHGVJJLHCFOU." The scion sneezes in his helmet. "...It is as we were told, then," Cyril sighs. "Aren't you bloody glad I brought my big bag of knives and herbs?" Brynjol rhetorically asks a bit too excitedly. "The Lord Inquisitor is somewhat ill," another scion steps up, "But he is ready to lead the meeting." "Take us to him, then," Cyril demands.

The scion nods, leading the Commandos through the hallways, that familiar haze swirling around their ankles. While Brynjol notes the dingy and dank smell all about, the Commandos are led to a large auditorius, where Inquisitors bearing the marks of Malleus and Xenos stand by. Even Inquisitor Shady of the Chronos is there, looking pleasant as always. Their vision catches a wave, and they can see the Sororitas from a few episodes ago.

"Ah! Commandos!" Charlotte waves, "You made it!" "'ello," Brynjol nods. "We're glad you're here!" Red says. "Now the meeting can truly begin!" Black adds. "Those...have their fire protocols updated, right?" White asks nervously as she sees the battle automata.

"Yes, Cortain updated their combatant indexes," Cyril explains, "How long have you been waiting?" "We arrived a few weeks back," Charlotte explains, "But the meeting was put on hold until we received confirmation that you would be arriving." "As you were the ones who killed the Magma Corer..." Black starts. "Your opinions would be of most merit!" Red concludes. "So, it made sense to wait," White nods. Brynjol shifts around on the chair, trying to get comfortable. Chairs are not designed for jump packs. "What, precisely, is the meeting about?" Cyril finally asks, "It is a pleasure to see you again, but if you will forgive my saying so, Sororitas are hardly known as Tyranid specialists." "In case we are declared support assets," Charlotte explains, "Our order dispatched us as representatives. It's been kind of slow so far. And everyone's been getting sick. At least we have numerous doctors aboard now!" "Let me take a look at him!" Brynjol boasts, "Maybe he will benefit from a hearty dose of Fenrisian medicine." "He'll be here momentarily," Charlotte nods, pointing to the doors.

Soon enough, Lord Inquisitor Doggfather steps through the doors. He looks kind of woozy. "Aite, looks like we got Xenos, Malleus, and...Chronos here," the Lord Inquisitor begins, "And the Republican Commandos. Looks like everyone important's here." The Sororitas look a bit put-off. "Aite, so this here Conclave is now in session," the Lord Inquisitor continues, "Topic of concern, the recovered MagmFYCGVJHVFKJGC *cough* *cough* Magma Corer samples." "Ey, Commandos," Shady interrupts, kicking up his boots, "You killed the thing, what did you find about it?" "It was pretty big," Brynjol states. "Riveting," Shady sighs. "Huge, tough, huge, clad in impenetrable stone, and vulnerable from the inside, but only in specific places defended by smaller bioforms," Cyril clarifies, "Also, huge. You have reviewed the pict-captures?" "It reminded me of a hrosshvalur, only hot," Brynjol adds. "Hey I don't say stuff about YOUR mothers," Dre points. Brynjol rolls his eyes.

"Is it true samples were recovered?" Charlotte asks, echoing the concerns of her compatriots, and attempting to drive the meeting to a more productive path. "There were," Cortain affirms, "You have reviewed the pict-captures of them, have you not?" "Fo'sho. Thanks to the Commandos, we learned a whole lot of *cough* *cough* shit from them," the Lord Inquisitor continues, "Not only did they provide a new form of tactica, but we started lookin' deep at the samples." "And your findings?" Cyril leans forward, eager to learn new ways to smite the hated Devourer. "Da, Comrades..." a large Magos marches in, flanked by a cowled up kroot, "Very interesting samples. Ve have learned much of zeir vaunted flame biomorphs...among ozher zings." Brynjol squints. "Is that a kroot?" "Endeeed, Commandos..." the Kroot hisses, laughing slightly as Cyril palms his Serpenta, "My warmest regahrds. Dr. Angkor Thrax. This is Boris, the Genetor. We hahv wooorked together for a veeery laung tiiiime..." "Please, share what you have learned," Cyril mutters icily.

"For one, ve have noted zat, naturally, zey are HIGHTLY resistant to heat weaponry of all kinds," the magos, clearly a genetor, explains, "Zis naturally makes zem weak to low-temperature and impact hits." Cyril bounces up and down slightly in excitement. "Glory be," Cortain states, considering they have excellent weapons for such a case. "Zhough ve have had only veeks to review ze samples," Boris continues, "Ve also noted zat zis strain is very...adaptable and virulent. Far more zan most ve have seen. Can you confirm zis, Commandos?" "Adaptable and virulent? I suppose so," Cyril muses on the Tyranids of his home, "I never knew Mi-Go to produce the bizarre things we found belowground." "Fitting, considering the constant need for heat," Cortain nods, "Most likely, they would have needed to sustain considerable amounts of radiation, even compared to the typical Hive Fleet." "Ahhh, true...then that settles theengs," the Kroot whispers, bowing, "I haf seen thees set of samples change very, very rapeedly. Your meessing pieeces are proving vehry useful." "Now, onto tacti..." the Lord Inquisitor starts, but then he collapses, coughing. Rather worringly, he coughs up a jet of flame.

"That doesn't look too healthy," Brynjol states, calmly walking over in no great rush, slowly bringing out his apothecarion tools carefully.

"Oh dear..." Charlotte says, as everyone in the room readies weapons.

The Scions ready their weapons, unsure of what to do. "It looks as though Nidhoggr is responsible for the outbreak after all," Cyril facepalms. "I suppose that this is the...cold?" Cortain states. "Ironic, is it not?" Cyril nods. "Did someone feed him a sample?" Cortain asks, regretting that he has to even ask in the first place. "Nein, comrade..." Boris explains, "He has been very insistent on supervising zings as ve vorked. He may have lacked ze...proper protection zat Thrax and I use."

Brynjol commands a station quarantine, as he begins basic first aid. The first thing he checks is his temperature. Lord Inquisitor Doggfather is literally burning up, a terrible fever having overtaken him. Brynjol applies the balms to bring the temperature down, but it merely seems to be slowing things down.

"So...who's next in line for Lord Inquisitor?" Shady quips. "Dre, maybe?" Cyril chuckles a bit.

The Commandos deem an ice bath would be an ideal stopgap measure, and have Boris and Thrax lead them to a suitable location. Arriving at a part of the station dedicated to medicae and dissections, there are containers and tools around. The scions part, to allow you full access. One sneezes.

"Bloody hell, this is going to get out of hand REALLY quick," Brynjol frowns, as he moves the Lord Inquisitor under a set of ancient Diagnostors, "Anyone with symptoms is to report to medicae decks for quarantine. Failure to comply will result in being fed to the yeti." The battle sisters clutch each other at that last bit. "The Lord Inquisitor's enthusiasm may have doomed many loyal personnel," Cyril sighs, "I pray you can fix it." "I'm no Apothecary Haus," Brynjol admits, "But I will try."

Brynjol directs any medicae servitors in the room to begin taking various samples and running as many cultures as posthumanly possible as he lays the Inquisitor out on a table and begins a more thorough examination to discover the extent of the systems the pathogen is attacking. With 2 degrees of success on his Diagnosis, he notes first and foremost a fair number of bacterium-like entities in his blood, all displaying incredibly high internal temperature.

"This is damned bizarre. No pathogen should be able to maintain a temperature that high."

What stops him cold is that he can detect something, slightly larger, moving about in the heart.

"Oh hjolda, what is THAT?" he yells.

Zooming in with all the tools available to him, Brynjol can see the area around the heart has been terribly altered. Some parts have hardened into superheated scab, almost like...chitin. The temperature is highest in the heart. Lacerations and damage begins appearing fast.

"Microbes," Cortain offers, "Perhaps Tyrannic Spores from the samples." "Spores? If zat is ze case, he vill not last..." the Genetor notes, "Comrades...I have idea. You are familiar vith Prosanguine augmentics, jah?" "I have Autosanguine Implants," Cortain nods, "Works similarly enough." "I have no idea how the cardiac tissue is even holding together," Brynjol says, "If you have an idea, Genetor, tell me now, because he's almost certainly going to need a new heart even if this works." "Very goot," Boris explains, "I note you all have at least basic MIUs, jah? If zis vorks..." "You should bee able to save your Lord Inqueeseetor," Thrax states. "Quite," Cortain states flatly, hoping for the opposite, "What is the plan?" "Is of simple, Comrade," he says, taking out a black syringe, "Ve vill inject ze Inquisitor vith zese Prosanguine Augmentics. Ve vill connect your MIUs to zem, so you may control zem directly. It should prove...most efficient." "Are you proposing that we pilot nanotechnological probes into the Inquisitor's body?" Cyril asks, dumbfounded. "I think I saw a holotape of this once," Brynjol muses. "...You ARE proposing that we pilot nanotechnological probes into the Inquisitor's body," Cryil sighs, "Just checking."

"Indeed, Comrade," Boris nods, "It has never been done before, maybe never again." "Are you ready, Commahndos?" Thrax asks, "Weeth thees you can target the soource of the eenfection. I believe that eef you are skeeled enough. Do you...agree?" "Aye. Why bloody not," Brynjol shrugs, "This day was already strange." "We can and will do it," Cyril grudgingly affirms, "Doggfather is not dying just yet, comrade Boris." "Anything is worth doing at least once," Cortain adds.

"Very vell, Comrades, I vill prep you," Boris states, "Be aware, however, zat should your augmentic suffer critical feedback, such zings may be...fatal." "Critical Feedback like...?" Cortain asks. "Damage ze augmentic suffers, Comrade," Boris explains. "We will avoid taking damage, then," Cyril explains, "It is a policy that has served us well in the past." "When you ahr ready, Commandos, have a seeat," Thrax states, "I shall connehct the augmenteec cables to your MIUs, and you weell assume direct control of an augmenteec."

The Commandos all sit around the Lord Inquisitor. Dr. Thrax connects the ancient augmentic cables to their MIUs, and their vision goes black for the briefest of moments. Boris injects the Prosanguine Augmentics into the Basilic Vein, the closest he could get, and the Commandos' vision recovers.

The Prosanguine Augmentics look very, very strange, but they seem to handle with a thought easily enough. Cyril shifts around experimentally, trying to get a feel for his chassis. Each Commando controls a separate Prosanguine Augmentic. As if by divine convenience, each is armored and structured similarly to the Commando piloting it. Each contains medical systems that correspond to original weapons and wargear. For example, Brynjol's has enhanced motive systems that function identical to his jump pack, and Cortain's is armed with systems similar to a volkite caliver. Brynjol spends some time happily kicking a leukocyte to death before remembering where he is, and plotting a path.

"Well...this is something," Cortain wonders aloud. "Right," Brynjol nods, "To the heart. We need to follow the median cubital to the shoulder and then just kick our way through blood vessels til we find the heart." "We can do that," Cyril nods, "Lead on."

Brynjol heads onwards through the herb-polluted tunnels of Doggfather's circulatory systems. From their current position in the Basilic Vein, the Commandos follow the Median Cubital as Brynjol suggests, and come up to the linkage to the Cephalic Vein. They note ambient temperatures are rising, as well as cell death as they reach the Cephalic Vein, the ruins of dead cells all about.

"The pathogen is causing necrosis of the blood vessels," Brynjol mutters, "This isn't going to end well for the Inquisitor."

Augmentic autoauspexes pick up a high-pitched shriek, however, as down the vein rush numerous glowing, clawed, single-cell organisms.

Brynjol immediately charges forward at the Tyranid Macrophages, spinning his surgical tools in a flurry of dead cell matter. Cyril moves into position, unloading his storm bolte...ah, storm MEDICAE PACKET PROJECTOR into the horde, scything through it, as Cortain fires his volkite...cutting laser, incinerating macrophages with deflagrating fire. The Macrophage Horde, however, continues to nick at Brynjol, damaging his augmentic and degrading its armor with corrosive magma. Now angry, Brynjol becomes the blender, cutting through macrophages as Cyril moves up to finish the horde off with wee little explosive packets of medicine, the last few macrophages popping amongst the floating dead cells.

"At least everything works nominally," Cortain notes.

In the darkness that autoauspexes compensate for, the Commandos see only the floating dead cells. There are mainly red blood cells. Brynjol orders the Commandos to fall in, engaging Squad Mode. Passing by the ruined cells, numerous gashes and lacerations in the vein evident, the Subclavian vein lays ahead.

"If we follow this path, we should be able to get to the superior vena cava," Brynjol declares, "Leads straight to the heart."

Cortain takes a moment to auspex the area, and beyond the extreme heat, he notes trace amounts of acid in each gash and laceration.

"Follow the cuts," he advises, "Acid seems to seep from them, and that means more of those things."

Chugging along into the Subclavian vein, the area begins to be covered in a thick, chitinous covering. The Commandos can see messed up growths sticking out, some ensnaring passing cells by, kind of like anemones. Evil tyranid anemones. Cyril takes a moment to blast a growth away, the giblets dissipating, leaving only a searing pool of acid in its wake. A cell is released, floating down the darkness to do cell things.

"This degree of necrosis, tissue damage and whatever that growth in his heart is combines to form a worrying picture," Brynjol admits, "We're probably going to have to sort out this infection and then replace the heart, possibly even a good portion of his circulatory system."

Continuing through the Subclavian vein, the Commandos can begin to hear the *pump* *pump* of the heart. It seems somewhat strained. Keeping their augmentics in close quarters for squad mode, the Commandos reach the Superior Vena Cava. To their great concern, the entire area seems infested. A large anemone-like growth bubbles menacingly, as another horde of Macrophages and a many-tentacled multi-cell organism rushes at the Commandos.

The Toxiphage ahead reminds the Commandos of a venomthrope, but on the micro scale. The toxic cloud it is producing is very similar. The Micro-Sporocyst brandishes its magma cannons menacingly, while more Macrophages begin to advance. Brynjol immediately charges the Toxiphage, heavily wounding it, while Cortain helps to thin out the Macrophage horde. The Toxiphage's lash tentacles heavily corrode Brynjol's augmentic armor with corrosive magma. Cyril opens up into the Macrophage Horde, ruining its day, while Brynjol finishes off the Toxiphage. Deprived of synapse, the Macrophage horde scatters. Cyril takes heavy damage from a magma cannon shot, but the Commandos focus fire through the Micro-Sporocyst's bombardment and excise the tumorous growth.

With his advanced medicae knowledge, Brynjol knows the heart is near, and the source of the plague affecting Catalyst station. A beastly screech echoes down the vena cava as the Commandos advance as one. Finally reaching the Right Atrium of the heart, they move carefully in squad mode as the tricuspid valve sucks them into the Right Ventricle of the heart. The Ventricle is huge compared to the veins of before. Taking up formation, eyes open, something finally moves by, lightning fast, swimming amongst the oxegenating blood. A serpentine, winged Tyranid floats past. What is most interesting, is how its body shifts and alters. Organic swords grow and recede as the Virotyrant screeches its challenge.

And the Commandos are all too happy to answer.

The Commandos decide that, with a micro-scale hive tyrant ahead of them, their best bet is Squad Mode. Brynjol is first, holding his action and calling Fire for Effect, allowing Cortain and Cyril to eat the creature's dodges. Cyril is next, and then calls Furious Charge, launching Brynjol like a big wulfen bomb, allowing him to strike six times in four seconds, inflicting inordinate amounts of damage against the Virotyrant. Cyril follows up with a full auto salvo. The Commandos were banking everything on their singular alpha strike.

But the Virotyrant was tougher than that.

The Virotyrant shifts its form, its tail and wings lengthening. Magma cannons retreat as Viral bone swords replace them. It strikes at Brynjol, before blasting away incredibly fast. It flies by Cortain, striking him with corrosive magmatic toxic viral swords, felling him in one hit and forcing him to burn fate to manmode through the pain. Cyril is luckier, taking two hits but his shield holding. Cortain, quite annoyed, fires at the creature, searing it with volkite medical beams. The Virotyrant brings its four swords in, charging its psychic energy, before letting loose a psychically-infused energy wave, pushing the Commandos back and draining some of their Cohesion.

Now the Commandos are beyond furious. Discovering a section in Rites of Battle that states that, once paid for, a Squad Mode can be used for free repeatedly, Brynjol fires himself forward once more in Furious Charge. As his strangely-crozius-shaped medicae scalpels dig into the Virotyrant, Brynjol himself howling with unbelievable fury, it screeches before falling back, glowing brighter than a supernova. The Commandos' vision goes white, and they find themselves back on Catalyst Station. The Genetor is disengaging the connectors, while Thrax is tending to the somewhat loopy Cortain.

"Well, that was bracing," Cyril notes, "Doggfather had better have been worth it. Cortain, are you well?" "Barely," Cortain mutters as he sees Brynjol roll over to him, medicae tools in hand and a feral grin on his face. "Relax!" Brynjol says, "You did the Long Watch proud." "Da, very gut, comrades," Boris states, "Ve are detecting zero Tyranid presence inside ze Lord Inquisitor." "Ahh, een addeetion, he had a small seeizure as you deesengaged," Thrax adds, "The coughing and the sneezing around here has also...subsided. Perhaps you destroyed the seenapse creature?" "I see. Some of the smaller forms escaped us," Cyril notes, "They might be able to grow into fiercer pests if left unchecked. Automated prosanguine implants should be sufficient for that." "Ve zink he will be fine vith some rest, da?" Boris states, "You leave him to us. Ve vill ensure he...recovers." Cortain is still trying to comprehend just how that one hit totaled him, "Good. The sooner he is dealt with, the sooner I am done."

"Very well. So he will be unable to tell us of the researcher's findings," Cyril pauses, "Though it sounds as though you were the actual chiefs of the experimentation?" "Da, comrade," Boris states, "Ve vere called in to collate and study ze samples. Alzhough, it seems ze meeting is over at zis point. No doubt ze Doggfazzer vill be most grateful ven he avakens soon." "We...ah...we wish you the best of luck," Charlotte stammers, the Sororitas' eyes never leaving the yeti and battle automata staring at them. The meeting and info is collated and released between the Inquisitors for now, as Cyril and Cortain work to control the Yeti and Battle Automata, while Brynjol completes final medicae tests. With the death of the synapse Virotyrant, the sickness affecting the station is ended.

Cyril drops the Maniple off at the Blade, before returning with Notomok the yeti to chat idly with the sisters, until Brynjol finishes waxing medical.

"Well, one good thing came out of this," Brynjol points out, "Doggfather owes us a big favour now." "Perhaps. What more do you think he can do for us, though?" Cyril asks, noting that not only did they already provide a full armory and battleship, but political favors would be useless in such a blunt, intrigue-less sector. "I have a terrible feeling that this favour will be prostitutes and that horrid smoke..." Cortain sighs. "...what is a 'prostitute,' brother Techmarine?" Cyril asks, "Sisters, does that word mean anything to you?" The Sororitas turn turbo-red. "That's not...that's not a proper thing to discuss!" they yell indignantly. The Inquisitors are laughing, as is Brynjol, while Inquisitor Shady rolls on the floor, struggling to catch his breath. "I do not want to know, do I?" Cyril finally sighs. "It's to do with things mortals do, Cyril," Brynjol composes himself, remembering some times back at the Hearth.

After ordering a set of Babby's First Divination books for Rose, the Commandos reboard their Aquila, beginning the trip back to the Blade. But one last vox catches them.

"Comrades, one zing you should know about Dr. Thrax, he is also a shaper of his race," Boris explains, "He has...foreseen zat he vill be of use some time in ze future. He has no doubt already boarded your vessel, and vill most likely keep low until his visions guide him." Felleye_Brynjol begins to slam his head against the pilot's console "Happy hunting, Republican Commandos," Boris concludes, "Boris ou- KKKKRRRRRZZZZTTTT" "MORE - FETHING - XENOS - COLLABORATION!" Brynjol yells in rage, his face destroying the transport's vox systems. "Wait, how did he even sneak in without anyone else knowing?" Cortain wonders.

As the Aquila lander reaches the Blade's landing bay, opening its bays for disembarking, all the Commandos can think of is getting away from this station.

(22) Final Flight of the Walrus[edit]

The Blade of the Long Watch has been restocked with raw materials, and is ready to depart. Thexus, as usual, continues to maintain the Armorium, while Rockfist, Rose, and O'Malley are at the Bar and Grill, awaiting next destination. Cyril spends some time deliberating, and then prepares to contact Rockfist.

"Brothers, I am concerned about the Black Caste's Water paragon on Nebraskus, but if we are to catch part of the celebration on Xaviol, we must go there first. Their scanners have sensed something; presumably it will require our attention. The Deep Ones should be able to contain the menace on Nebraskus." "I admittedly know little of these Deep Ones," Cortain notes, "What do we know of them?" "Never heard of them, myself," Brynjol shrugs. "They are Astartes, and they are not the Black Panthers," Cyril affirms, "That is good enough for me." "Aye, lad," Rockfist nods, stepping away from his drink, "As ya order." Squats rush to and fro, pointing the Blade in the rough direction of Xaviol, and rousing the Warp Drive to action.

During the expected five day trip, the Commandos set about preparing. Cyril prepares a message to the Inquisition regarding the Hellstar, asking them to look into ways of hurting it. Cortain looks into the history of Xaviol but, failing the roll, finds little of value. Brynjol tries his hand at research as well, but both seemingly struggle with the concept of "Dewey Decimal Indexing." They cannot find the appropriate records.

Cyril leaves research to the others, shutting himself in the Laboratorium and turning off all recording devices before retrieving the Flip Belts from a cabinet and a tub of skulls from a workbench. Time to get to work. As an afterthought, he grabs some greenstuff from a drawer for making smaller skulls to fit in the gaps. During the trip, Rockfist pops down to the Laboratorium as well, to fiddle with some Mastodon components, while Rose spends some time with the former Engineer's Guild members. He begins covering the Eldar flip belts with skulls.

Rockfist leans over. "Lads, you're gonna want to be REAL careful with those," he states, "I mean, I don't mind much, but when the normal folk see you wearin' them, you stand a high chance of, ah...breakin' their hearts." Cyril glances up at the Squat's voice, not having heard him come in. "Of course. Do you think the skulls insufficient to disguise them to untrained eyes?" "Add more Aquilas," Cortain voxes, "Just to be sure." "Lad, I know an Eldar Flip Belt when I see one," Rockfist points out, "Rumors tend to travel real fast in your case, it seems. They're helpful things, yeah, but you'd be shootin' yerself in yer foot ev'ry time you use'em. Choose wisely when ya think they're necessary." "Understood, Rockfist. We will exercise caution, and..." Cyril hesitates, "I suppose we can leave them behind when meeting crowds." "I'm just sayin', lad," Rockfist shrugs, "The people, they see ya as their heroes. Yer gear's been all Imperial made, so far. But step inta xenotech, and, well..." "We are their heroes. A few trinkets cannot change that" Cyril nods, "But we will try to avoid disappointing them." Cyril sets aside the belt project in disappointment and instead sews a dress to fit over Artificer Armour, modeled after images stored in his Memorance Node of the action figure on Nova Prosperous. "I'm just advisin' caution is all, lad," Rockfist nods, returning to his own projects, "Just tryin' ta warn ya that if people see ya using xenotech, yer reputation's bound ta take a hit or two. They're great tools, jus' use'em when the benefits outweigh the risks. Keep it in mind."

After six days or so in quiet meditation or hard work, the Blade finally breaks the thin membrane between warp and materium. Traversing a day or so on standard plasma drives, the damp hive world of Xaviol begins to fill the bridge view. "Soggy," Brynjol sighs, "I hate it already." There are a number of vessels bearing the heraldry of the Ecclesiarchy in local spess, as well as pilgrim and passenger transport vessels. They are outnumbered, however, by those that bear the sigils of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica. Brynjol's lip curls upwards unconsciously.

Cyril emerges after 120 straight hours of Remembrancing and grabs a steak from the galley before regrouping. "What have you learned of the celebrations, Brothers? I recall that they are honouring posthumous war heroes?" Brynjol and Cortain say nothing, as the two head over to the Blade's vox systems, and preparing the identification litanies.

"Greetings Imperial Planet of Xaviol" Cortain announces, "This is the Republican Commandos, and we come to partake in your festivities in His name." "The Republican Commandos! Here!" the vox replies, "The God Emperor has blesses us to be your hosts. Please, by all means, we shall prepare a delegation!" A number of the vessels floating about in spess clear the way. "Honored lieges, the Capital has been told to expect you," the vox replies, "The Xaviol Capitalis Starport is prepared to receive you."

Entering the hangar bay, the Commandos' Fire Raptor is prepared. The Commandos board, before realizing there is little room for Notomok, Cyril's yeti.

"He can cling on!" Brynjol offers. "No objections from me," Cortain shrugs. "Re-entry is a bitch, you two," Cyril mutters, falling into local Sector vernacular.

Cyril makes a Tactica: Void Drop Operations tests, succeeding. Notomok is carefully led to the drop pod bays, where he is placed in a large, taloned drop pod.

"Is that...going to be safe?" Cortain wonders. "No!" Brynjol yells, waiting to see the spectacle. "COMMAND ACKNOWLEDGED, CONSUL," Thexus blasts, "TARGET RECEIVED. DREADCLAW DEPLOYING." "Wait, a Dreadclaw?" Brynjol pauses. The Dreadclaw is blasted out of the drop pod bays, towards the coordinates given by Cyril. "That seems like overkill for deployment on a noncombat operation," Cyril considers, "We should deploy. Quickly." "Now that the toaster has expressed himself, lads..." Rockfist sighs, "Your launch avenue is clear." "Wait, did you at least disable the bolters?" Brynjol asks, "Or the Deathwind launchers?" Thexus merely stares. "CONSUL, YOU NEED NOT WORRY," Thexus explains, "THE MELTA BLASTS UPON DEPLOYMENT SHALL ENSURE THE LANDING ZONE IS CLEARED." "Fly! Now!" Cyril yells. "You can be a real tit sometimes, you know that?" Brynol quips, "That would rather spoil the celebrations, Thexus."

Rapidly cycling through options, including shooting down the drop pod to Cyril's horror, they settle on evacuating the coordinates Cyril pointed out.

"Thexus, at some point soon we must have a discussion on the topic of acceptable civilian casualties..." Cyril sighs.

Breaking the clouded, wet atmosphere of Xaviol, the Commandos can see the dreadclaw surge down, cutting a fiery path towards the airfield. Searching for a place to park, they see the Dreadclaw slow up, melta jets stabilizing the pod as it lands and opens up. The civilians are charmed by the spectacle, but terrified when a big yeti emerges. Finding a place within the Capitalis Starport to land, the Commandos note that the entire area has been opened up to civilians. It's clear that the event is well under way. Cortain emerges from the Fire Raptor to the swooning of legions, while Cyril rushes to his Yeti. A number of Militarum personnel approach as the civilians rave and cheer.

"Our Lords Astartes," they say, "We are grateful that you would grace us with your presence these most holy of weeks." "Charmed," Cortain states. "We consider ourselves blessed that you would personally arrive to honor the many martyrs who died for our world," an aide states, "We cannot express our feelings in words." Cortain turns aside and switches to private voxes. "Do we want a tour or do we begin our scans immediately?" "Both. You can conduct scans while Bryn does the talking, yes?" Cyril asks, while waving and playing hymnals through armored speakers, "I will be there shortly." "Very well," He breaks vox. "Would it be permissible that we have a tour guide around this celebration?" "Of course, my lords," an Astra Militarum officer states, "We shall take you to the Remembranceum, before we begin final rites and prayers to eulogize the fallen." "Please, stop us if you have any questions," an aide states. Brynjol takes his helmet off, scratching his head as his mane of black hair falls free. He leans in close to the aide, smiling. Too many teeth. "Thanks for your consideration," he grins. "Of...of course," the aide stammers.

The congregation of officers, aides, priests, and astropaths order a path cleared through the awestruck civilians, who try to sing along with Cyril, though they lack knowledge of his Chapter rituals. With a lot of loud orders and a little bit of shoving, the entrance to the Remembranceum near the Starport is visible. Entering through stained glass doors, the first thing that greets the Commandos is a great stained glass paneling extending across the rear roof of the building, depicting a combined-arms battle. There are also numerous side rooms, each dedicated to various factions and heraldries. The Commandos can see the sigils of the Adeptus Titanicus, the Astra Militarum, the Imperial Navy, the Space Marines of the Black Panthers, and...the Deathwatch, oddly enough.

"My lords, this is the Remembranceum, a monument to all those who fought in the fight to reclaim our world from a tide of renegades," the aide says, "Heroes and Martyrs can be found here, glory and honor to all."

"Curious, it seems the Deathwatch was here as well..." Cortain muses, while reviewing vox traffic from transports from the Blade. Cyril checks out the Deathwatch room when he shows up. This room is quite quiet and unornamented. There are benches nearby. It seems this part of the Remembranceum was meant for quiet introspection and meditation. Within is only a single plaque.

"The day was won one hundred years ago by a Deathwatch team of great skill and valor. Though we know not their names, they led the Imperial Superiority Assault Force with conviction and valor. Their actions seized the day from the renegades who dared try to turn us away from rightful worship of the Beneficent God Emperor. May He on Terra guide them eternally."

Cortain seems mildly disappointed. Same as anywhere else, nothing helps describe more about this mysterious Kill-Team of an age past. He continues exploring each room, detailing the contributions of many Adeptuses of the Imperium. He observes the pict-captures upon each wall, showing scenes of the battle, and little taglets which go into more detail. The assault against the Renegades was a multi-pronged attack, led by the 77th Armored Tempestus Guard to retake the Starport, Titan forces to recover the city proper, and Black Panthers companies to take back the capital. Somehow, in each case the unknown Kill Team was at the front and center, leading the charge from an unknown pattern of aircraft. As he passes by numerous pict-casts, he notes some seem censored. He pauses by one pict-cast which didn't immediately catch your eye, however. It depicted the great air assault above the city. He can clearly see a jetfighter of unknown origin, too blurry to identify, ahead of a number of thunderbolts, maurauders, and other aircraft of the navy. Rather strangely, he can also pick out an odd shape behind one large marauder.

The rounded edges of a Tau Barracuda. It's the only one he's seen in the dozens of pict-captures he's reviewed. He seethes with silent fury at how deep the House's corruption goes.

Brynjol stands near the entourage, perhaps taking joy in unnerving them, and can see something nobody else caught. There's a gift shop. Brynjol checks his armour-pockets for spare change, and finds some in his pauldrons. Not one for poring over musty pict-casts, he slips off into the gift shop. He can see the normal gifts for small children and simple-minded adults - banners of each of the regiments of renown, stuffed aquilas, toy tonks and planes, t-shirts with hymnals written on them, and in one side alcove, the soft glow of a blue torch.

"Got a selection of good things on sale, stranger..." the Merchant whispers.

Calling everyone over, the Commandos begin to review their options. Brynjol tries for an archeotech blur shield, but fails due to horrendous Near Unique penalties. Cyril picks up an Ecclesiarchal Overlay to better motivate his troops. Cortain goes for a Mechanicum Protectiva, and manages to get one. As a team, they upgrade their Variable Fighter / Strike Suits to have additional maneuverability.

"Heh heh heh, thank you..." the Merchant rasps as he steps through a small supply closet.

The gift shop is now filled with the normal cheap gifts. The attendant has just stepped back from break. "Oh! Republican Commandos!" she says, "Will you be needing anything?" Cortain looks at his new force field, before noticing a tacky t-shirt in a mug combo. The Commandos reason that picking up Rose a souvenir may be good, and they select a t-shirt with a suitable prayer-mug combo embossed on it. Cyril picks up a large stuffed Aquila, so he does not need to use his bolter as a pillow. The clerk looks at the stuffed aquila, and the mug / shirt combo. "If that is what you require, we'll cover it. Please, take it, as thanks for all you do." The Commandos step out of the Remembranceum, having brushed up on their history.

"My lords," the aide in the entourage states, "The Eulogium Martyrium is about to commence soon, would you honor us with a few words?" "It would be an honor," Cyril nods. "I can at least provide a binharic translation," Cortain offers. "Very well, this way, my lords," the Militarum Officer explains.

Heading back outside to a set-up platform, passing by numerous Navy aircraft on display, there is a priest currently offering opening prayers. He relents his position upon their conclusion, as the vast, vast crowd's eyes turn to the Commandos. Cyril nods thanks to the priest and steps up, removing his helm and clipping it to his belt. The crowd bounces around eagerly, awaiting the holy word of the Emperor through his Republican Commandos.

"When humanity is called to war, the children of the Emperor take up arms and defend themselves against a galaxy that seeks our ruin. With faith in holy technology and in the guidance of our immortal Emperor, we not only endure, but thrive, and claim this galaxy for our own. Heroes fall, but no man died in vain who died for the Emperor, and the warriors of Mankind have claimed glory everlasting, reminding the universe WHO WE ARE. Humaity is not content merely to endure! We reign! And by the sacrifices and victories of the fallen are they remembered forevermore, guarded in the Emperor's sight as their brothers and sisters among His children live on."

Cyril punctuates the short speech by igniting his Photonic Blade, waving it around briefly before returning it to his belt and his helm to his head. His speech takes a moment to sink in, before the crowd erupts into rapturous cheers. They are happy, as prayers and hymns rise to the sky. Cortain raises his own Gladius Invictus in solidarity, along with Brynjol, who tricks his Wulfen Crozius. However, the Commandos get a vox from the Blade.


The sky flashes, before a singular voice blasts across the sky.

"Pitiful enfleshed, in times before your species was even a concept, this world was ours. It shall be again. You are vermin, and unworthy of the honors of the Ancient Codes. You will be removed, as as is right." The Commandos ready their weapons as the crowd begins to stir. "This world belongs to Khepri, the Transforming Strength. Scream loud, vermin enfleshed, for you will be purged in my name."

Up in the sky, numerous jet-black croissants rush past, headed for the city proper. More are making passes at the airfield itself, forcing the people into a panic. "CITIZENS, CLEAR THE STREETS AND FIND SHELTER. YOUR HOMES MAY BE BEST IF THERE ARE NO DEDICATED SHELTERS NEARBY," Cyril yells, "WE WILL DEAL WITH THIS." "Fall in!" Brynjol yells, preparing an Oath to the Wolf King, "Finally, the celebrations are turning up!" "Lads!" Rockfist voxes, "Come to the third hangar in the Starport complex! We've prepared equipment for you!" "Excellent," Cortain replies, "I was concerned that we were going to resort to lascannons." "Rockfist, is there any indication of ground forces we can engage? Command strengths?" Brynjol asks. "I haven't seen any ground forces deployed yet!" Rockfist replies, "The skies, though, they're a bloody bakery up there!"

Rushing on over to the hangar Rockfist pointed out, a number of Squats open the door. "Lads, we brought these," Rockfist points at the VF/SS's within, "They were gonna be part of a display we were settin' up, but looks like the time for that's over..." "Not quite," Cortain quips, I know everyone loves some fireworks."

The Commandos hop into their VF/SS's and select their armaments. Regrettably, as Rockfist did not plan for hostilities, he only brought enough secondary weapons to fill ONE secondary weapon slot of each VF/SS. Cortain and Brynjol select XLAA missiles for anti-air superiority, while Cyril selects Kraken penetrators for heavier stuff. Rockfist orders the squats to load up as fast as possible, before opening the doors once more.

"You're all clear, lad," Rockfist nods, "Take down some robots!"

"Gladly. How many of the wretched things are there in this Sector?" Cyril asks, "This is the third time." "There's at least three dynasties, lad," Rockfist explains, "But I'll explain another day."

Runway lights begin to flash as the Commandos' helmet hud updates. The Commandos' primary objective is to defend the airfield. The Commandos take off, weapons armed and Croissants in their sights.

The Commandos set the Necron Night Scythes attacking the Starport in their sights. Brynjol opens up with a storm of plasma and missile fire, downing a night scythe. Brynjol's face in the Kill-Team's HUD looks vaguely nonplussed at the startling accuracy of his fusillade.

"You actually killed something at range," Cortain quips, "Take pride in it." "The man kills lots of things," Cyril notes, "That poor owl back in Episode 10, for example." "I WILL KNOCK BOTH OF YOU ON YOUR ARSES!" Brynjol yells.

Cortain follows up with his own plasma storm, downing another Night Scythe. The two remaining Scythes advance, aiming their Tesla Destructors at Cortain and Brynjol, drive-bying their side armor, but their armor holds for now. Cyril moves in, gunning down a third Night Scythe, and deeming the fourth below his notice. It falls to Brynjol, who shifts from Pursuit mode to Strike mode, to charge the remaining Scythe. Though his charge regrettably goes wide, he fires off a set of plasma swarm missiles, downing the final Night Scythe in the wave.

Off to their side, the Commandos see a wave of Necron Night Shrouds bombing the airfield, but their assault was able to allow most of the citizens to escape for now. To the Commandos' surprise, numerous aging aircraft take to the skies, the old veterans in the ceremonies immediately jumping in their aging aircraft and taking to the skies, as if in second nature. Of note is one Marauder pattern, a very old pattern of Vigilant. An AWACS.

"RALLY TO US, NOBLE WARRIORS OF OLD!" Cortain commands, "LET THE EMPEROR GUIDE US ALL TO ETERNAL GLORY!" "All Imperial wings, assume standard formation. Deathwatch Team Republican Commandos connected to tactical vox net," the vox net commands, "Form up as one, and turn to the city." "Commandos here; acknowledged," Cyril replies, "Identify source, command." "You don't have to worry, I've worked with your kind before," the AWACS replies, "Trust me, I'm an old hand at this. You can call me Walrus."

"Understood, Walrus," Cyril forms up, "You propose to sweep across the city and drive off the Necron craft?" "Affirmative, Commandos, the Night Shrouds are heading to the city," AWACS Walrus replies, "Objectives are to take down Night Shrouds and their escort Doom Scythes to relieve pressure on the city." The Commandos accelerate, full speed ahead. "I will assign any wings available to assist you, Deathwatch," AWACS Walrus explains, "I'll monitor the combat situation."" "We are well equipped for heavy targets," Cyril confirms, "The Scythes will fall. Are civilians adequately sheltered from falling wreckage?" "You shouldn't worry about wreckage," Walrus replies, "The craft should phase out on critical damage."

The Commandos enter the new combat zone, they can see a wing of Necron aircraft beginning their strikes on the city. "Deathwatch Cortain, combat zone contains four Doom Scythes and three Night Shrouds. Local wings are supporting the flanks," Walrus says, "Your fire avenues are clear."

"Brothers, I will focus on the Night Shrouds," Cyril offers, "Choose your targets freely." "That's my line!" Brynjol yells. Cyril chuckles. "I thought you deferred to me in vehicular coordination? Not that it matters, for either way, WE SHALL TEAR THEM APART!"

Cortain moves ahead first, focusing down a Doom Scythe. His plasma flies true as he catches the wing by surprise. "Hit, Gun kill confirmed, nice shooting, Commando," Walrus voxes. "I was reborn on Mars," Cortain points out, "Machines live as I do now." He then turns his missiles to a Night Shroud, in an attempt to at least break off their attack. Multiple missiles strike a Night Shroud, and green fire bursts out. "Deathwatch Cortain, Fox 2, Hits Confirmed," Walrus states.

The escorting Doom Scythes break off to attack the Commandos. Firing their death rays, Brynjol finds himself caught, but luckily he is able to dodge, choosing to put his faith in the Armor of his VF/SS. It does not disappoint, and he narrowly survives a tesla barrage.

Cyril moves up to gun down another Night Shroud, dodging tesla fire to get in close. This in turn opens the way for Brynjol to shift once more, ready his plasma lance, and charge straight through the final Night Shroud, relieving the city of further bombardment. Cortain remains in support range, taking down a Doom Scythe that had Cyril and Brynjol in its sights. Dodging counter-Tesla fire and Doom Scythe lasers, Cyril moves to take down another Doom Scythe, leaving only one left. Brynjol sets it in his sights, and charges forward at maximum speed to impale it on his incandescent plasma lance.

"Deathwatch Brynjol, STRIKE, kill confirmed," Walrus voxes, "Continue mission! Some guys still need help out there!" "Where?!" Cyril asks.

Floating forward are a set of large, pyramidal objects.

"Moving into formation," Walrus voxes as the old AWACS moves in, "ESM Connected for Deathwatch Team Republican Commandos. Target those Obelisks!"

With Walrus providing upgraded ESM, the Commandos can now use Squad Mode abilities. The Commandos prepare to take on the Obelisks, before a new voice interrupts vox traffic.

"So THAT'S how it's done..." Rose interrupts over vox. "What?" Brynjol asks, slightly confused. "Don't mind me, I'm taking notes," she says, furiously noting down everything Walrus says.

The Commandos immediately enter Squad Mode, and call Fire for Effect, everyone once more hoping for an overwhelming alpha strike against the Obelisks. This time, they are lucky, as the three Commandos' concentrated strike downs one Obelisk. They then call down Furious Assault, launching Brynjol at the second obelisk, his plasma lance burning a hole through its outer hull before a seething flurry of slashes from the energised blade dispatches it

"Nice job, Republican Commandos," I'm not seeing any more fighters, mission a-"

A ray of energy strikes Walrus's AWACS as a Jackal Raider descends down.

"Foolish enfleshed, you resist, and this world will suffer, I care not for preserving, I will content myself with a husk if needed," the scratching voice of Khepri blasts.

"Cortain, do Marauders have ejection features?" Cyril asks icily. "You don't need to concern yourselves with me, just focus on mission..." Walrus says as his AWACS goes down, "Protect the civilians, Commandos. And Rose, just stay focused on the combat. Don't...get distracted. Walrus out..." The AWACS hits the ground with a fireball. The Commandos see no ejection systems active. "May you reach Terra, Shiny and Chrome, Walrus," Cortain whispers, "Over...and...out." "A fool is one who stands against Mankind. Go away, Cat-prix," Cyril growls.

The Commandos now heavily desire to destroy the Jackal. The thing is, it's a starship. Conventional weapons won't affect it. Brynjol, the first to swap to Strike Mode, takes aim with his VF/SS's Type 17 Plasma Lance, firing an anti-voidship beam straight at the Jackal. Regrettably, his BS is garbage, and he fires wide. Cortain, however, is much luckier, scoring a good hit on the Jackal. Cyril, initially hesitant, now eagerly joins in, firing his own plasma blast and scoring maximum damage. The Commandos dodge Death Ray beams to get in closer, as dark matter spheres are raining on the city. Brynjol fires once more, striking a powerful hit, and opening the way for Cortain to pick out the Command Pyramid and fire one last plasma shot directly at it. The Type 17 Plasma Lance strikes it, and the Jackal begins to tumble down down down, before it phases out.

"I shall remember this slight..." Khepri hisses, "Republican Commandos..." "...Walrus was witnessed," Cortain states, "He is now avenged." "And we have angered a Necron," Cyril sighs, "When the Hellstar is dealth with, we really must start hunting them down before they sully Imperial worlds with deluded thoughts of conquest."

All around, as the Commandos circle about, they can see the people cheering. The Commandos shift back to Pursuit mode to lead the flight back to base. Landing at the starport, a number of aged veterans land their own planes, lining up to shake the Commandos' hands.

"It was an Honor to fly alongside you," all of the veterans are in agreement, "May the Emperor guide you." Even the Entourage from before is in shock and prostating themselves. "Oh, get up, before Brynjol sees you." Cyril offers the aide a hand up. "We are instruments of the Emperor's will. Do you praise a paintbrush, or the Omnissiah who wills its design?" "A paintbrush would not stand in front of a Necron Starship in our defense with only clear archeotech fighters," the aide says, "We praise those who would."

While Brynjol appears to be attempting to fix a dent in his VF/SS by panel-beating it with his fists, Cortain begins looking about for spare metal.

"Has anyone checked Walrus' crash site?" Cyril asks. "I am heading there now," Cortain states, "A memorial would be recommended." "Walrus?" an aide asks, "Who?" We have no one on active roster with that name," a Navy adjutant says. "Must have been an inactive veteran," Cyril shrugs.

"Excuse me, my lord," an old man hobbles over, "But...Walrus? Did you...did you hear him too?" "There was an AWACS that was accompanying us," Cortain nods, "He supposedly worked with Deathwatch before. He...fell to the final invasion." A number of the old veterans stare at each other. "Commandos...this way," one beckons. They are quite solemn and quiet.

The Commandos follow, perplexed. The old veterans bring them to a memorial pedestal.

"Saint Walrus, Patron Saint of Marauders Vigilant."

There is a rough birth date, and a death date almost 70 years back.

"We remember tales of the AWACS Walrus," the old man says, "His plane was kept as a memorial." "That cuts some of the work out for me," Cortain says, "But...I feel there is one more thing I wish to accomplish. Cyril, if you wish..." "Cortain?" Cyril asks. "This memorial should be marked by the Deathwatch. It is only proper respect."

While Cyril intones an old Nixartian prayer to the fallen, Cortain carves a new memoriam into the small monument.

"Am I the only one who thinks this is bloody unusual and bears investigating?" Brynjol asks, "That's got to be some sort of psychic phenomenon."

"Commandos..." an old man says, stammering, "I can't claim to know what happened. But I for one am content, knowing that the soldiers of the God Emperor never rest. It's all we can ask for, to serve eternal at His side." "Faith and service are one," Cyril affirms with a nod. "Glory to the God Emperor," they agree, "And honor to his soldiers." "A Man's duty is eternal, his work lasting even beyond death."

With only MORE rebuilding left to do, the citizens of Xaviol stand ready to restore their lives. The old men, and the aides nod solemnly before moving to coordinate rebuilding.

"Warriors, we are needed elsewhere," Cyril concludes, "This world is not the only one menaced by foul xenos. It was a pleasure." "May the Emperor shield your world," Cortain adds, "We must away."

Hopping back on the Fire Raptor, Rockfist taking care of transporting the VF/SS's, it's a quiet but fulfilling trip back to the Blade. Even beyond the veil, the honored dead still serve.

(23) The Stains of Time[edit]

The Blade has begin the warp trip to the long-neglected Nebraskus. The Black Caste is expected to have entrenched there, with space and ground defenses. With a week and a half of travel time expected, the Commandos return to their private business. While Cyril continues his crafts, and Temur reviews the archival reports of the episodes he missed, Cortain heads down to the Trophy Room. As for their support crew, while Rockfist and Thexus continue to bicker like an old married couple about stupid bullshit, Rose has headed to the Hololithic Chambers, after working with O'Malley on the "Babby's First Diviniation" book.

Erring on the side of suspicion, Cortain opts to begin research on Commander Outsider's curious armaments. Calling upon all his knowledge as a Forge Lord, he begins to carefully study the weapon. At first he is unsure where to begin, and dangerously close to tossing it. However, Urist McCyberfamiliar points out the On button, and it all makes sense.

Outsider's weapon is a pair of Tau Ion Rifles, overcharged to suffuse the barrels with ion energy when connected. It is in this way the weapon can be used as a staff. Seemingly best quality, the weapon seems to have been custom-forged.

"Concerning. These xenos seem to be very well-funded," Cortain sighs, "If only we could grab their suits..."

Popping on down to the firing range, Cortain finds the weapons distasteful and bulky. Nonetheless, it is his duty as Forge Lord to study the enemy's weaponry for any potential weakness. Some practice servo-automata float idly by, and Cortain fires at mid-range. Some of the squats completing their training give him odd stares, but they dare not question a Consul.

"This weapon is the mark of our enemy," Cortain reminds them, "This Is what we will be facing." "Of course, Consul," a Squad Leader bows, "We meant no disrespect." "However, this is but a weapon," Cortain states, "And one who can learn a weapon can master it's strengths and weaknesses." He pauses a moment. "I can only wonder what this Wiseman might have in store..." "Aye, m'lord," the Squad leader says, "The lads an' I are content with our lasguns, but if you see anythin' in that Xenos gun, then more power to ye." Cortain returns to his studies as Cyril, completing his work, joins him in practice.

Brynjol stops by the Hololithic chambers to check up on Rose, and notes the Chamber states Occupancy (2) before sinking back down to Occupancy (1). Brynjol frowns, peeking inside. Within the Hololithic Chamber, it's quite an odd sight. The Chamber has been modeled as a seaside veranda, hovercraft of unknown make floating in the distance. The Buildings are of a distinct non-gothic bent. At Rose's side is a large metal construct, distinctly humanoid in form. It is bringing her a drink. Brynjol shakes his head - the Men of Iron should be forgotten.

"Ah, Commandos," Rose says, standing up as she notices the Wolf Priest, "Is there a problem?" "Just came to see how you were," he states. "I'm fine, just taking a breather," she says, "O'Malley is pushing me hard, and I just finished speaking with a fellow named 'Thrax.' He said he was trying to help you all." "I... see," Brynjol sighs with some displeasure. Rose laughs. "He said you'd have that reaction. He says he's close, however." "I'm wary of mysterious people," Brynjol states, directing the conversation to something he's more comfortable with, "Comes from growing up on a planet where everything tries to kill you." "Well, I don't think I could ever understand THAT," she sighs. It's the sort of thing you learn to live with," he explains, "You don't consider it a...handicap, as such. You just deal with it." "We were always taught to be as diplomatic as possible," Rose states, "You would never know what new people you'd meet amongst the stars." "Ah, how far humanity has come," Brynjol laughs, "We greet every new arrival with the iron fist. The velvet glove lies abandoned." "That's so sad," Rose replies quietly, "But, I guess from what I've seen it does make prudent sense." Brynjol shrugs. "It's prudence. We cannot mingle the purity of the human race with the taint of the alien, and we cannot allow our borders to be threatened. Very few are willing simply to turn their backs and leave." "Well, I guess I'll keep that in mind. For now, though, that Dr. Thrax has requested my help soon, and I offered to assist in any way possible," Rose states, "Although, he did say something I'm still wondering about." "Aye?" Brynjol asks, intrigued. "He told me that, one day, a Sightless Seer and a Master of Mechanisms would call me to action," she says, "And I would have to choose to answer the call or not."

The two are silent for a moment.

"I'm not quite sure what he meant, but I'm sure it's important," she nods. "Peculiar," Brynjol wonders, unsure of what to make of it himself. "Well, no sense worrying about things," Rose shrugs, "Was there anything you needed of me?" "Just making sure you recovered from your... trance," Brynjol says, getting serious. "I haven't felt anything odd since," she says, "But I'll keep you updated if I feel off."

The general alert goes off, as the Blade leaves the Warp. Arriving in System, Cortain takes a moment to compile data about the world of Nebraskus. A slightly frosty world of ravines and moors, with light gravity, the planet nevertheless maintains enough arable land to feed much of the sector. An oligarchy of Farmer families maintain the fields and ensure the tithes are met. Nebraskus is situated close to the center of the sector, meaning it is a nexus of trade and output. This also makes it more prone than most to space hulks.

He nods, content with what he found. A cloying fog that hangs through the ship is somewhat concerning to him, though, but it is nothing compared to the strange translucent weeds that are beginning to spread across the Blade's halls, like Ivy. He begins to wonder - as the one with the highest insanity score of everyone, is it only he that can see such things?

"So, lads," Rockfist says, breaking him and the others out of their reveries, "The world's most likely been fortified by the Tau, how d'ya wanna approach things?" The Commandos assemble on the Bridge, alongside Rockfist who is once more wearing his armor. "'Course, their idea of fortification ain't anything I'd call the term, but it still bears thinkin' about," Rockfist shrugs, "Your orders?" "I agree on the notion of striking their holds," Cortain begins, "But before that, we need to evade their fleets. Tau battleships are remarkably swift." "EVASION LEAVES A SORE TASTE ON MY AUSPEX SENSORIA," Thexus blasts, "BUT THE BLADE CAN ATTEMPT SILENT RUNNING IF DESIRED, CONSUL." "Destroying them might be safer," Cyril disagrees, "It would warn the forces on the surface of our approach, but that is worth the security of denying them orbital support." "Jus' give the command, lad, an' well make it happen," Rockfist says, "We'll be reaching Nebraskus within the hour."

The Commandos discuss their options. While Cyril advises carpet-bombing the area with a Stormbird, Temur and Cortain feel that mobility would suit them better, and opt for Jump Packs alongside their normal gear, reasoning that a Stormbird bombardment would just force their enemies into cover. Cyril relents, instead readying a Thanatar maniple with Sollex Lascannons upgrade, and a Squat Brotherhood Combat Squad.

"Brothers, this ship is built for the open battle the Legiones excelled at, not the stealthy approach," Cyril states, "We should charge in, not attempt silent running. Agreed?" The Commandos nod, and steel themselves for the Tau expected in wait. Tau vessels tend towards heavy railgun batteries, ion lances, and swarms of torpedoes. Based on previous experience with Black Caste voidships, the Commandos did not note any major deviation from this doctrine. With a rough plan in mind, the Commandos intone the Plasma Drives to high gear, as the armored prow points forward. Reaching stable orbit of Nebraskus, they can already see the results of the Black Caste's fortifications. Ahead is a large defense station, its railgun emplacements bristling. Flanking it are a pair of Protector Cruisers, their own weaponry engaging.

The Blade of the Long Watch begins with an arc-charged Accelerator Cannon blast into a Protector Cruiser, incinerating it in the heavy beam. The Blade is now open, however, and the remaining Protector fires its Railguns, Ion Cannons, and Torpedoes, damaging the Blade and lighting the Void Shields on fire. The Orbital Station adds to the firepower with Railgun Battery Support, while the Blade tries to re-align and manage the flames. Throwing caution to the wind, Ramming Speed is engaged, bumping both the Cruiser and the Station, and throwing the Blade slightly askew, which works in the Commandos' favor.

While the Protector tries to realign, the Commandos arc-charge the shields, while circling and pummeling the Orbital Station and the Cruiser. The Blade takes heavy damage as it repositions, firing torpedoes, sunsear batteries, and sunhammer lances at everything hostile, circling the Orbital Station like an angry wolf. The final Protector aligns and gives a port broadside, but the Blade's torpedoes gut the cruiser, causing it to slow down and finally explode. Surviving repeated salvos from banks of Railgun Batteries, a starboard salvo from the Blade impacts the Station. The Commandos hear a listing sound echo through the winds of spess as the station begins to light up, little explosions spreading out, before it disappears in a nova-fueled fireball.

"We are the Emperor's Angels of Death. Tau go home." Cyril broadcasts. "Rockfist, have sensors picked up any signs of the Deep Ones or the Orvanian regiment?" "Lad, we're seeing a lot of wreckage in orbit," Rockfist shakes his head, "But it's hard ta say if that's the support, or if it's space hulk wreckage." "No recognizable transponder signatures?" Cyril presses. "Sorry, lad," Rockfist sighs, "I'll keep lookin'."

The Blade takes defensive position while the Commandos begin deployment, and the Squats and Thexus monitor vox signals.


Deciding to use the Flip Belts just in case, a sour taste upon each Commando's tongue, a Stormbird is readied, and the Commandos The Stormbird is aimed at the world of Nebraskus, and launched with all due haste. Brynjol readies his axe and crozius, while Cyril hopes his troops are enough. Temur carefully maintains his Grav Cannon, while Cortain bristles with weapons on every bit of him.

"You know Cort, the mortals have a saying for that," Brynjol points out, "You're compensating for something!" Cortain ignores the statement.

Atmospheric re-entry is surprisingly calm, as light clouds brush against the Stormbird's underbelly. The Commandos fly over endless fields of grains and crops. They can see the occasional Farming Servitor wandering the fields, maintaining plant growth.

"Farming Servitors remain active," Cyril notes, "But no vox traffic whatsoever..." "Subverting them would be meaningless," Cortain points out. "Perhaps," Cyril agrees, "But it means that Nebraskus' tithes may not be disrupted overmuch by the Tau's temporary occupation of it."

Eventually, the Commandos can see one of the larger agri-ports ahead, as well as a big open space they use for a landing port.

"Landing port ahead," Cyril points out, "Blade, where is the highest concentration of Tau on the surface?" "We're detecting...nothing, lads, beyond a few errant auto voxcodes." Rockfist says, "I don't like this. Yer goin' in blind." "Sounds fun!" Brynjol declares, "Let's just pick a spot and scout."

Eventually, the Commandos pull the Stormbird to a stop, and land. The doors open with a clang, to the silence outside.

"I ill like this," Cyril states, "We could scour the world for weeks and find nothing." "And walk right into their trap," Cortain affirms. "Bryn, do you smell anything useful?" Cyril asks.

Brynjol drops to one knee, fingers spread in the dirt. Even with the vox turned off, and his helmet turned away, the Commandos can hear the titanic sound of nostrils sucking in huge quantities of air. He can DEFINITELY smell something wrong. The air has a thick scent that gives him quite a headache. He's only ever felt hints of it when other Tau were around. There are numerous theories on how Tau recognize each other, some have more evidence than others.

"It smells familiar. It's like the Tau... but..." Brynjol starts, "I've smelt something like this before. When the Tau mass."

Cortain takes a moment to review archival knowledge. Tau olfactory organs are much more sensitive than normal humans. It is theorized they use Pheremones, but it's a theory that has difficult finding proof outside of WarzoneL Montka.

"Possibly some sort of pheromonal secretion then, through mass gathering of their kin..." Brynjol offers, "Or the presence of one of their leaders." Cyril grins and puts on his helm. "It has been a very, very long time since I saw an Ethereal die." "Indeed. They are amassing," Cortain considers, "Perhaps an Ethereal is not too far off."

The Commandos halt, however, as they see a civilian in simple farm overalls walking along the road. Cortain approaches the civilian.

"Hail, native," Cortain offers. Getting closer, the native seems to be stuttering along rather stiltedly. Cyril joins Cortain as the farmer stares at them with somewhat empty eyes.

"Wiseman has taught us all. We are now united. Glory to the Greater Good," his head twitches, "Have you come to join our glorious destiny?"

Cortain bristles. "Silence him. Nonlethally." The Commandos are beginning to see more people around. They are just as stilted as the guy in front of them. "NONCOMPLIANT RECIDIVISTS SHOULD BE DESTROYED, CONSUL," Thexus offers over encrypted teamvox. "Ignore them," Cyril suggests, "Inquisitors can sort them out after we have dealth with the Paragon." "Avoid gunfire unless need be," Cortain adds, "These are not willing traitors." "Glory to the Greater Good..." the surrounding people amble about, "Glory to the Tau Empire..." Cyril grits his teeth and resists the temptation to backhand someone's head off. Brynjol grinds his teeth through his helm, the sound evident to all. Temur says nothing as the Commandos surround him, for any words sent at him would probably send him into an anyeurism of hatred and purging. "Sickening..." Rockfist spits, "Lads, I salute ya, ye've got far more patience than I would..." "Rest assured that it does not get easier with time," Cortain admits.

Throughout the agri-port, the Commandos can see the people almost...pantomiming normal existence. If the Commandos had a throne for every time they heard "Glory to the Greater Good" repeated every time they aggressively bumped someone, they'd rival Korst'la.

Cyril puts an ear out through the hordes' ramblings. Much to his shock, he can hear the occasional Astra Militarum Standardized Combat Order echo amongst the crowd. Indeed, he can trace those voices to the occasional Guardsman, wandering as aimlessly as the civilians. Brynjol and Cortain can pick out some of the rarer sayings.

"Commander Wiseman has shown me truth." "Honor to Aun'o O'res'nan." "From the Water comes Wiseman, from Wiseman comes truth, from truth comes life" "My head hurts...ah...Glory to the Greater Good..."

"This is NOT helping..." Temur hisses, "But I'd rather not waste my ammunition on such weaklings."

Luckily for the Commandos, the area seems to have all the amenities of Imperial life. It's got standard shops, adeptus officiums, even a large Port. Cyril suggests checking the port first, to verify first where the harvests have gone, and to investigate the Water. Heading through the city, and stepping on no small number of civilians, the Commandos approach the port. A number of botes are still docked, it seems.

"We have yet to see any sign of the Deep Ones..." Cyril muses, "I am concerned." "I hope we find something soon," Brynjol sighs, "I'm fairly close to just knocking down buildings until the Fire Caste turn up." "I doubt they would bother," Cyril shrugs, "These are not their buildings, and it seems the locals no longer have any aversion to their replacement with Tau architecture."

"You are correct, Republican Commandos," a voice suddenly echoes through port Laud hailers, "These gue'la have been enlightened, and are well on the way to the fundamental truths."

"Wiseman, I presume..." Cortain mutters. Cyril does not even hesitate to shoot a Laud Hailer, though there are many that echo across the port. "Indeed," the Laud Hailers blast, "We've been watching and expecting you. Your actions are within our parameters. Your first action to shoot..." Cortain shoots accusing glares at Cyril. "Well, here we are, in quite an impasse," the Laud Hailers echo, "You came to save people, and yet you deny them the truth. Tell me, who saves the weak from the 'men who save the weak?'" "Spare us your proselytizing, heathen xenos," Cyril demands, "This is your only warning: release the populace from whatever hold you have over their minds and bodies, leave this place, and never return, on pain of death." Brynjol remains uncharacteristically quiet, listening. "Truth in this case being exchanged for their free will," Cortain points out. "Call it what you will - a proselytization, a conviction,," Wiseman laughs, "You'll be seeing it soon enough. We await you by the Water's edge..."

The Laud Hailers go silent.

"Well...we got their attention," Cortain notes, raising his weapon.

Trudging through the port, every dockworker wordlessly staring as the Commandos pass, they finally come to a great open area where the largest of vessels would make port. The water laps against the docks and botes. Within the center, well, this explains where the missing Militarum personnel went. They all stand at attention, staring blankly into the distance. Brynjol holds everyone back, swearing a hasty Oath to the Wolf King, before allowing Cortain to approach the guardsmen, wondering if they will respond.

Down from an elevated craneatus, leaps a Tau in a thin personal-class battlesuit. He stands upon the head of one Guardsman, extending a hand. Por'o Do'ran'ro, Water Caste Paragon Commander Wiseman.

"Free will is a myth, Gue'ron'sha, we're all controlled by something...Greater. I've shown these people that greater path, that Greater Good, as it was shown to me by Aun'o O'Res'nan. But if you won't join us, then you're all mine!"

Brynjol delays his lightning attack, waiting to see what Wiseman will do. He notes an odd shimmer about him though as he fails a WP test. Cortain steps up, succeeding at a WP test and raising his Culverin, but sadly shooting wide.

Wiseman points forward, as the subverted Guardsmen raise their lasguns all at once as he stands on top of them. A wide hail of fire goes out, and while Cortain the walking Tank can survive them, Brynjol gets hit a bit. Then Cyril and Cortain note an odd bank of fog roll in. Brynjol and Temur, though, do not.

"Fear the UNSEEN!" he yells, as he leaps up. Out of the fog, Wiseman charges forward with an electrified set of daggers. While Cortain and Cyrils' shields hold, Temur chooses to parry instead, and respond with a counter-attack.

"You'll MISS!" Wiseman yells, as Temur raises his sword. Sadly, Temur fails a WP test and, much to his concern, Temur sees the Tau's body separate and effortlessly weave around every strike before reforming back.

Cortain merely wonders why Temur attacks the air as Wiseman calmly walks away.

Cyril realizes now is the time, and orders support down. Drop podding down is a Combat Squad of Squats, a Maniple of Thanatar Siege Automata, and Notomok the Yeti. Wiseman merely laughs. The Cyril, the horde of Squats, the Thanatar, and the Yeti begin firing and smashing into the horde of Guardsmen, though their unnatural relentlessness keeps many going beyond the point of death. He finally calls Squad Mode to launch Brynjol at Wiseman, but Wiseman's body contorts at every strike. Cortain alone wonders once more why Brynjol is attacking the air a meter or so from Wiseman. When Temur releases a grav Salvo at the Tau as well, he now knows something's off, and it's tied to the WP tests everyone is forced to make. Even the Squats are beginning to feel off, and it becomes a race against time before Wiseman convinces even them to fire at their allies. He does take heart in one thing, however.

Wiseman's words may affect the Guardsmen, the citizens, the Squats, and even the Commandos, but the Yeti and the Thanatar seem completely unfazed.

The Commandos focus everything they have at Wiseman, but sadly they fail their WP tests and their every shot and hit goes wide. This infuriates Brynjol in particular, who simply wants to smash the Tau into paste. Wiseman laughs the entire way through, taunting the Commandos in their inability to hit him. Only Cortain is unaffected as he fires at the Guardsmen instead, incinerating a number of them with Volkite rays. This allows him the clarity of mind to realize the water behind him is receding.

"FLOWING WATER! The power of the Greater Good!" Wiseman yells, as a monstrous tidal wave comes in behind him, flowing over everything. Brynjol and Temur opt to dodge with jump packs, while Cortain and Cyril trust to their shields, getting thrown about by the water but taking no damage. Further Las-shots go out from the weakened Guardsman horde, but as the water rains down in a thin mist, the worst has shown up.

Five grey and teal Astartes, raising their storm bolters in unison.

"TRAITORS!" Brynjol howls at the top of his lungs. "Damn..." Cyril curses in local sector dialect.

Notomok the Yeti takes moderate damage, while Cyril and Brynjol suffer under the storm of bolts. It's hard to follow the battlefield, now a veritable zoo with Wiseman, the Commandos, Battle Automata, Squats, subverted Guardsmen, subverted Mereens, and a Yeti. Cyril gives the final orders to the troops as the Squats begin to feel woozy. More stubborn than most, the Squats manage to hold fast and fire straight at Wiseman. The Tau yells as he is forced back - he has never had to dodge before, relying on the power of his voice and pheremones.

"Fight on!" Cortain yells, "Resist his heathenous powers!"

Realizing victory is at hand, the Thanatar continue their storm of withering fire. Though the Sollex Lascannons go wide, the Mauler Bolter fire soaks into Wiseman, who tries to dodge. But it is too much fire for one so untrained. Shocked at the unliving Automata's immunity to his delegations, Wiseman falls backward as the Squats and Automata go to town, riddling him with energy blasts and bolts.

"Kill...or be killed..." Wiseman laughs, "Nature...can run its course, but compared to those...things, I was powerless..." "Notomok, back! Bring the Deep Ones," Cyril commands, "Everyone, get away from that Tau!" Wiseman coughs. "Ha...ha ha...sure as the sun will rise...we of the Black Caste...will continue our mission..." Wiseman looks up. "'s time...for us all to DIE..."

Wiseman's battlesuit explodes. Nothing is left but his twin electrified daggers.

Cyril and Cortain grab an armful of Guardsmen and jet away as the explosion ripples out. Brynjol lands in front of the nearest Squat squad, kneeling to absorb the shockwaves better. His robes catch fire.

"Wind blows...rain falls..." a voice echoes across the rain, "The strong...prey...on the as it"

Then there is silence.

Cortain heads over to check the Deep Ones. They're dead. As are the Guardsmen Cyril holds. "Truly an abominable display..." Cortain sighs. "Bring... bring them back," Brynjol commands, "All of them." "Autopsies?" Cyril asks. "Aye," Brynjol nods. "CONSUL, THE HELOT-ROCKFIST AND I WERE WATCHING. WE WISH TO CONGRATULATE YOU," Thexus announces, "YOU REMIND ME OF THE LEGIONS MORE EVERY SINGLE DAY..."

Cyril sprays some Kraken bolts into the crater where the Tau was. "Well done, Brotherhood." The Squats rub their heads, but return the sign of the Aquila. The Thanatars stand quietly, uncompromisingly, uncomprehendingly, as Cortain offers them a prayer.

"We should declare Martial Law until support can arrive," Brynjol notes. "Bryn... do you think there is anyone left living to impose law on?" Cyril wonders. "I hope so," Brynjol nods, "If the death of a single one of these bastards can wipe clean an entire world, we might be in a spot of trouble." "First step on the road to disappointment, Consul-Chaplain," Cyril chuckles. Brynjol lets out a single harsh bark of laughter. "The Imperium was founded on the hope of mankind, Delegatus," Brynjol points out, "I've taken many steps down that road already, and I regret none of them." He organizes the fallen Deep Ones in a neat pile. "Whoever came up with that saying was a miserable bastard who needs a smack." "They were right, Bryn," Cyril states. "Hope is still worthwhile, but all too often it will burn down around the ears of those who dared to reach for it."

After a bit, the Urists bring a second Stormbird around as they split up to pilot the first and second. They look rather sullen.

"That..." Cyril grunts as he hauls a Deep One aboard, "is where we come in." "Bugger that, Cyril. Too much of the Imperium is given over to...human factories," Brynjol disagrees, "Life should not be a commodity, yet necessity forces it to be so. If you can't have the hope of something better, what can you do but despair?" Brynjol hops on a Stormbird. "I'd take hope over despair any day." "On that we are agreed," Cyril says quietly.

"Lads, the Water Caste are master diplomats. If Wiseman was truly a paragon of his kind," Rockfist wonders, "Then that is how he convinced an entire world, with just his words."

Hopping on the Stormbirds, corpses on board, the Urists begin the trip back. Down below, the Commandos pass over the legions of dead. This world can be considered empty now. There will need to be a repopulation effort, probably. Brynjol orders his Apothecarion readied, and the Medicae Deck is put on full alert. Arriving back at the Blade, the entire support crew stands ready to receive the bodies, the Chapter Serfs taking point.

"There should be only two more left..." Cortain notes.

Rockfist, Thexus, and the Chapter Serfs stand ready to move the corpses, while Rose and O'Malley stand off to the side. Brynjol and Cyril busy themselves with the bodies. Of note, however, is the veiled Kroot standing by Rose. Dr. Thrax has appeared in the open.

"Kroot, what do you want?" Cortain asks. Temur stands behind him, ready to act if Thrax's words are unsatisfactory. "Ahh...Commandos, my wahrmest reegards..." it hisses, "We have good neews..." "News...?" Cortain wonders. "We have consulteed weeth the speerits..." Thrax nods, "And we have studied your condeetion heavily. Why you feel...fear when the...Hellstar arrives. We have feegured out...a cure." Cortain pauses instantly. "I can record this data," Cortain states, "I feel that this will be vital." "I'm sorry, but..." Rose says, "You really should hear this." "Yes, Techmareen, pleease do. Eet was all thanks to Miss Rose here, eet was her eenformation that let me peenpoint it," he states, "But to help you...we require two theengs..." "We are listening. Get to the point!" Cyril yells on the way to the Medicae Deck. "One was a psyker, to project your minds and confront your feear directly. Miss Rose has offered to do so..." Thrax rasps, "Thee other, much harder...a location, a place soaked in bloodshed, fear, anguish, and betrayal. I know not an ideal place..." "Betrayal?" Brynjol asks.

Now Thexus stops flat.

"I DO, CONSUL," Thexus's skull and mechadendrites turn to Thrax, "IF THIS ABHORRENT XENOS IS CORRECT IN HIS THOUGHTS..."

The Commandos wait with bated breath.


(24) From the Beyond[edit]

Above Nebraskus, the brightest minds of the Solar Sect work to plot a path to the Isstvan System, overlaying modern warp maps with Thexus's 10,000 year old printouts. An Inquisitorial Frigate has been dispatched, alongside a frigate of the House, to supervise what is needed for repopulation, as well as assist in transferring any supplies off planet for the journey.

"I've never heard anything about Isstvan since the Betrayal. Do we know anything about... well, the planet?" Brynjol asks. "I thought it was uninhabitable," Cortain wonders. "That's what I'd heard... but to what degree?" Brynjol insists, "We can manage a scorched surface with suit seals alone, but did they employ cyclonics? Magma lakes, brimstone and such?" "I heard Virus Bombs," Cortain offers. "What would be the sense in that?" Brynjol retorts, "They deployed those on Isstvan III, and there was nobody left on the surface after the massacre on Isstvan V." "If that is true, most likely the virus would have long broken down by now," Cortain declares. Brynjol consults a scratched and worn looking dataslate from one of his voluminous pouches. This one appears to have an ice-blue casing. "Must be something in here..." he mutters, flipping through medicae records, "The virus would not be an issue even if it were the cause. Banerot's half-life is incredibly short - you'd be fine to walk around a few weeks post-bombing, let alone ten thousand years..."

To put the argument to rest, the two Commandos reference ancient legendaria in the Librarium, as well as bother Thexus who blasts his opinions on things, desired or not. Isstvan III was virus bombed and back. Nothing lives there now. Even today, the surface is blasted and uninhabitable. Isstvan V, however, was not as heavily damaged. On Isstvan V, after the Massacre in which three loyal legions were nearly destroyed, the world remained in the hands of Chaos, its ancient fortifications of unknown xenos make hosting traitor legions. In the 31st Millenium, the Desert Lions, a successor of the Ultramarines, purged the remaining traitors with Legio Cybernetica Support. After this purging, the world was left alone, abandoned by the living.

Nothing has called that place home in 10,000 years as a result.

"Good news, we will not be needing Terminator plate," Cortain shrugs, "Bad news, there is possibility of Chaos taint lingering." The sound of a hack and spit, coupled with muffled Nixarterian cursing, echoes through teamvox. "Troubled?" Cortain posits. "...ilthy, 'bominable trait'rs..." Cyril hisses. "Long gone now, Cyril," Brynjol reminds him, "All that is left is memory." Cyril grunts and heaves at something. "And what of the Sorcerer we purged? Was HE 'just a memory?' Too many of the filthy bastards are still around." "I'm not saying the traitors aren't still there, and their judgement will come - and that right soon," Brynjol sighs, "But Isstvan is... a tragic reminder of a betrayal best lost in the mists of time."

The Commandos decide to focus on preparation for the vast trip. A course has been plotted, and entered it into the Void Abacus. A direct route is impossible, as cross-referencing Thexus's Crusade-era maps with modern warp storm positions means detours must be taken. Even arc-charging the warp drive, something never done before, it will take at least a year outside, a month in the warp.

Cortain decides to hit up O'Malley's, to mentally prepare for the mission at hand. The incredibly ancient Squat nods, and prepares his normal request of WD-40 mixed with sacred unguents. "This worries me, beardling," O'Malley sighs, passing him the processed drink, "There are some things that are better off forgotten." "I am having many suspicions about what just might be in there as well," Cortain notes, "Never mind that a Kroot is the one who advised it, but to bring us to a graveyard is giving me the worst sensations of a trap." "The Ancestors of our great holds are treated with respect. We feel their presence in everything we do, but we acknowledge they are at rest," O'Malley states, "The Shaper, he actively communes with his. Heretical in my eyes, but if it can help ya out, I won't complain. The sooner we return him to his Genetor handler, the better."

Rockfist, in the meantime, begins compiling the supplies offloaded. "Right, lads, we've tied down the supplies the House sent up. Whenever yer ready, we can depart."

The Commandos perform final checks - all is well on their end. They inquire into the repopulation efforts of Nebraskus, and learn that while the Inquisition will handle selection, it is Korst'la who is contracted out to move everyone. Assurances are given that the world will look almost no different from before. This still concerns the Commandos.

The Blade is readied, and all personnel are placed on high alert. Disengaging from Nebraskus space, not a single squat says a word, as the warp engines are arc charged, and the Blade enters the Warp.

"The die is cast," Cyril begins. "Let's just get this over with, aye?" Brynjol interrupts, "I've no desire to remain on that blighted world for any longer than necessary."

Aboard the Blade, the Squats spend their time in prayer and contemplation, while essential personnel perform their duties wordlessly. Even O'Malley's, normally raucous, is silent. However, not all is well. Less than four days into the journey, the Everything's Not Okay alarms begin blaring.

"Sound off! Something's awry, lads!" Brynjol yells. "Awake and active. What is wrong?" Cyril presses. "Lad, we're picking up heavy damage in the Warp Engine," Rockfist states, "It's...overheating."

The Commandos rush to the Warp Drive. The Squats on station, all in heavy reinforced voidsuits, are terrified. "Commandos!" an Engineer salutes the Aquila, "Seals are holding, but if we keep going at this speed, the runes of protection WILL melt."

Brynjol turns to Cortain. This is his thing. "Is there any way to reinforce them?" Cortain asks. "I...don't know, m'lord," the Engineer explains, as Squat failsafes kick in and the Blade is forcefully ejected from the warp, listing dangerously above a strange, scarred ocean world.

"Realspace... Bridge, what do sensoria tell us about our surroundings?" Cyril asks. "Lad, we're above an ocean world," Rockfist explains, "I'm not detecting any signs of li-" "DO NOT LAND ON THAT WORLD, CONSULS." Everyone pauses. Executor Thexus has never given such a blunt demand before. "...right, well, we're in no danger here, lad," Rockfist offers, "At least there's that." "Do not say such things, Rockfist!" Cyril insists, "It tempts the universe." "We're not detecting ANY hazards, lad," Rockfist wonders, "I don't know what's got the toaster worried. Regardless, he's stormed off, but if he says not to land there, I'm in agreement."

Brynjol ponders, checking the map Thexus provided, before realization dawns on him. He rushes off to chase Thexus, who stares out a reinforced porthole. "That world is..." Brynjol begins. "TWENTY-EIGHT THREE, WHERE THE ILLUMINATOR BEGAN HIS LEGION'S DOOM. DO NOT GO TO LAER, CONSUL. IT WILL NOT END WELL." "The planet where the seeds of the Phoenician's end were sown..." Brynjol hisses under his breath, "Do we carry cyclonics? I'm almost tempted, just for what it represents." "THE ACCELERATOR CANNON IS SUFFICIENT, CONSUL. HOWEVER, THE WORLD IS ALREADY DEAD. THE ADMINISTRATUS BELIEVED THEY COULD BE MADE AN IMPERIAL PROTECTORATE. THEY WERE FOOLS." "I'll be honest, my curiosity is piqued," Brynjol shrugs, "But I cannot think of a good reason why we would go down to that blighted world." "DO NOT LAND ON THAT WORLD, CONSUL," Thexus merely repeats. "Then we do not," Cortain states with finality, "Even an Orbital Strike, as fitting as it sounds, makes me worried about some unholy retribution. " The ocean flows, the scars amongst its islands and archipelagos still visible after 10,000 years. Brynjol merely folds his arm in, his eye never leaving the world, staring down from behind his inscrutable wolf helm.

With the Warp Drive cooling down, Cortain studies the runes. Most of them are basic squattish runes of sealing, to prevent whatever is inside the warp drive from getting out. He takes a moment to think on the problem, and rushes to the armory. Aurorans are masters of vehicles and their characteristics, and he is immediately drawn to the Land Raider Achilles. Cortain studies the Ferromantic Runes of Invulnerability, and rushes back to the Warp Drive.

"If these wards are failing... what others can we add?" Cyril asks, "Brynjol's armour is proof against the machinations of the Warp, yes? Inquisitorial Hexagrammatic runes." "The issue is not Warp based," Cortain sighs while working, "The issue is that the Arc Charge is overloading the Warp Drive. Even if I apply these runes, the trip will be taking several months." "Unfortunate. Would more runes help?" Cyril posits, "If the first batch can hold while you make more, we might be able to make better time." "While this may work in some cases," Cortain looks up, "Not all runes can stack like that."

It takes Cortain a full day of prayer, sanctification, and engraving, stretching his skills as a Forge Lord to the limit, but he finishes engraving the runes along the Drive. This will not allow them to make the trip in a month as was intended - even with Ferromantic Runes that guard against the heat and energy of lance and melta, the arc-charged strain is too much. However, he can turn the trip into an 8 month one, at equal passage of time in the Materium. Given it is a matter of travelling across the galaxy, he deems this acceptable.

"That should hold, lad," Rockfist suggests, "Our apologies for the delay. We can re-embark when you are ready." "Take us out, Rockfist," Cyril commands, "Away from this accursed rock." "Aye, lad," Rockfist whispers.

The order is given, and the Blade returns to the Warp. Thexus and Rose stare at the quickly-retreating world. "It is rather beautiful, though," she sighs. Thexus says nothing, merely considering the ancient Laer - four armed snakemen with a variety of odd weapons, and resolves to investigate the Dark Eldar's four-armed snakelike associates on his own time.

Cortain and Brynjol, in the meantime, decide to pay Rose a visit. "That is what the Primarch of the III said when he landed," Cortain states. "The...III?" Rose asks, "You mean one of your Legions." "The master of one of them," Cortain nods. "What did he do so wrong that concerned even the Executor?" Rose asks. "He... was possessed," Brynjol explains, "And he took part in the Heresy. Do you know much about the Heresy, Rose?" "I have heard you all speak of it every so often," she explains, "And this world, Isstvan, seems to have everyone on edge."

"The Heresy was the death of a dream, Rose," Brynjol begins, "Where the Great Crusade was corrupted and turned on its head, and all hope of a unified humanity was lost to Chaos." "A time when Astartes fought Astartes, Brother against Brother, and has sundered mankind ever since," the usually-reticent Temur adds, "A shame we will ever live with." "In the Great Crusade, there were twenty Space Marine Legions - the Legiones Astartes. And they were led by twenty Primarchs," Brynjol begins, "Glorious, incandescent beings wrought from the firmament of science and the power of the Emperor." "Why did they fight?" she asks, "Was unification not a worthy goal, as it was in my time?" "Because Chaos got its claws into them," Brynjol states flatly.

"Chaos, the ones Executor Thexus calls Noncompliant Recidivists," she notes, "You said they were possessed. We did not believe in such things. Are you saying that such stories bear truth?" "Yes, unfortunately," Temur nods. "You must have heard stories even in your day, of psykers who delved too deep into the Warp and were changed?" Brynjol insists, "Changed into monstrous forms of pure bloodshed, lust, disease and change." "We...did not," Rose explains, "When I underwent cryosleep in our colony ship, the gene to create a a being called a Navigator had only been just finalized..." "In the days of the Crusade, empirical truth reigned supreme in the Imperium. Nowadays, we know all too well the dangers of sorcery," Brynjol states, "It is the risk every psyker takes. And it was introduced to the Primarchs." She laughs, kind of sadly. "We had chronomantic weapons, genetic customizations, great machines that could pacify entire sectors, our servants and allies of unbreaking metal, but we did not believe in...sorcery." "By the time the danger was apparent, there were only eighteen, but fully half of them fell to Chaos, and they tore the nascent Imperium apart in civil war," Brynjol concludes, "They were led by the Warmaster Horus, mighty Horus, First Among Equals." He pauses a moment. "They took the war right to Terra... and were repulsed. At horrendous cost."

"The one truth to the Heresy was that there was no meaning to the bloodshed," Cortain states. "If he was as great as you say, and even he fell," Rose whispers, "Then I am beginning to truly understand why no one trusts each other, why everyone fears one another." "Now you begin to understand the tragedy of our age," Brynjol whispers. "And it is just so," Temur declares, leering at Rose, "The single greatest lesson in the Heresy is that no one save the Emperor, is above corruption." "Everything you see is but the fallout of that war," Cortain gestures all around. "From what you say, some scars never really heal," she begins to walk out, "From your fear of what you call the "Men of Iron," to suspicion in every corner of this Heresy...I think I need some time. I should dwell on this..." "Ten millenia, and the scars yet remain," Cyril voxes. Cortain nods. "Should you need any additional guidance, do not hesitate to call any of us." "Of course..." she says quietly, walking off. "I fear you might have to face the worst thing of any of your people," Temur shakes his head, "The horrible reality of naked truth, stripped bare by ravenous time..."

The Commandos decide to make the best of their eight months of uninterrupted training. Cyril attempts to surpass every training regimen Thexus sets him against, while Temur continues to hone his mixed ranged-assault style. Brynjol resolves to spend time with Rose, educating her on the horrors of the Heresy, while brushing up on his own knowledge of the Great Crusade in preparation for the mission. Cortain begins addressing the piles and piles of "Ask the Commandos" fanmail for his news-missive, even promising an xenos-blood autograph from "Fightin' Felleye Brynjol" himself to a number of lucky winners. He also takes a moment to study Wiseman's daggers - they appear to be equivalent to power swords, but in a much smaller package. Though he's not sure how Wiseman did it, he notes that he can manipulate the blades at a distance, maybe 5-10m, using his own electoo conductors. Weird.

The rest of the 8 month trip goes by remarkably quietly. Rockfist never lets an eye off the Warp Drive, while Rose spends her time meditating or with the Squat Engineers. Thexus is working on a Mastodon, but lacks the finishing touches due to not having the datasheet. O'Malley continues to tend to the Blade's supplies, even though rationing for such a small crew is really unnecessary. Finally, the Everything's Okay alarm goes off, and the Blade begins the transition to realspace.

"Drive status, Rockfist?" "No problems, lad," Rockfist says, "Runnin' nominal."

A day of travel on plasma drives, and the Blade of the Long Watch enters the cursed Isstvan system. passing asteroid fields, cold dead lumps of rock, and virus-bombed hulks, the Blade reaches stable orbit. The dull grey rock floats lifelessly ahead.

Isstvan V.

"Lads, we're preparing a full landing party as an escort for ya, just in case. We're ALL going down," Rockfist explains. "I don't know if that's a good idea Rockfist," Brynjol starts, but relents, "Fast strike teams on standby for sure, but we should be the first ones to set foot on the soil. The first legionaries on Isstvan V in ten thousand years. No offence to you." "I advise ya grab what ya need as personal gear," Rockfist advises, "I dunno where Thrax is sending you, nor what you'll be takin' with you..."

The Commandos arm themselves with what they deem necessary. As a freshly-minted Consul Delegatus, Cyril passes a Diplomacy test to generate additional Requisition, the Rite of Command, which helps immensely. The Commandos all take jump packs, to stay mobile against whatever they may find, before branching off into their chosen weapons. Brynjol picks up a Thunder Hammer, while having Cortain upgrade his Crozius temporarily with Razor Sharp. Cortain decides on a Volkite Culverin. Temur selects upgrades for his grav cannon, while Cyril upgrades his weapons as well. Just in case, he orders a Lightning Primaris Wing on standby.

A full wing of Stormbirds are prepared. One for the Commandos alone as requested, and many for the Squats, Automata, and Support Crew getting ready to deploy. Thexus has transmitted landing coordinates and maps from his cortex archives. They all point to an open area, a large depression, called Urgall.

"The Urgall Depression..." Brynjol sighs, "Site of the Drop Site Massacre."

The launch bay crew evacuate, as the doors are opened, launching the Commandos out of the landing bay, There are no cheers or well-wishes - all are preparing for their own deployments. Brynjol stands, steady in the rocking troopship, walking to the middle of the bay.

"Stand with me, brothers." "Stand? I was thinking of charging," Cyril laughs, "I am with you." Brynjol walks to each seated legionary in turn, attaching an oath of moment to their shoulders and intoning in guttural Fenrisian. "All I can say to you today is the same thing we say whenever we take our swords and bolters up for mankind, in defence of those who need defending."

"For the Emperor." Cyril nods. "And - for the Primarchs. We are the bulwark between Humanity and the Terror."

The Stormbird begins to break the thin, dead atmosphere. The Commandos can barely tell that they have broken the upper layers, as the Stormbird levels off. The two Urists twirl the Stormbird around, circling in immense crater, before landing. The door opens to sterile, tan-grey sands. The two Urists piloting are ordered to take off once more and circle, as the Commandos step forth. In a few minutes, the rest of the support crew will be here. For now, though, the four Commandos are...alone.

Brynjol steps out, sand crunching beneath his boots. He shivers as he kneels, scooping up a handful of sand, letting it run through his fingers. He pours some of the dark sand into a small leather pouch at his belt, before standing and surveying the surroundings.

"Spread out," he commands, "We know nothing of this place."

Cyril drifts out on foot, stalking fluidly from a half-crouch. Temur and Cortain raise weapons, and face different directions, unsure of what they will find. Astartes boots sink into sand untouched in nearly 10,000 years, power armor respirator filters processing the same air. A chill wind blows across. Auspexes picks up various signs and shards of metal, ceramite, and other materials. Indeed, there is still the occasional spent bolt shell half-buried. The walls still bear the scars of energy and ordnance.

Brynjol kneels again, sinking his hands deep into the war-torn land. He closes his eyes, and lets his other senses expand to fill the void. He inhales deeply, letting the smell of ages fill his lungs. He can still smell the chemical reactants in the air, taste the blood all around. He can hear the gunfire again, hear the screams of anguish, of betrayal, as echoes on the wind. Brynjol forces himself back to wariness.

"All I smell is pain. There is nothing here," he states flatly, "A great dream died here... or rather, it finished dying here." Brynjol shrugs. "It started to die on Colchis." Cortain makes an amused snort.

After a few moments, as the Commandos wander amongst the shells and a large armor shard of what was once a Sicaran, they can see the rest of the Stormbirds begin to land, disgorging Squat Warrior Brotherhoods, Battle Automata Maniples, and more. The Urgall Depression is rendered clear, as everyone heads over. Rose in her armor, Rockfist in regalia, O'Malley in simple robes and respirator flanked by Hearthguard, Thexus...Thexus, and Dr. Angkor Thrax in his cowl.

Rose shivers. "I..don't like this place. Can you feel it?" she asks, "I can't see it, but I sense...a thirst for blood, looming all around us." "Probably the psychic remnants of the death of hundreds of thousands of Astartes," he explains, "Likely enough to linger, even after ten thousand years." "There was a Massacre, an Extermination here," Cortain reminds her. Brynjol steps away, ahead of everyone else. "Unless you think it's more active? Rose?"

" out!" she says, as a wall of flame erupts, surrounding Brynjol. He hisses, dropping into a predatory crouch. "Legionary! Let us..." a voice behind him says, "Wait, you are not a fellow Son!"

Brynjol is in a circle of seeming warpflame. A few meters ahead lies a shadowy legionary, his translucent armor a dull green. Brynjol is immediately on the attack against the Legionary marked by a red eye.

"REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" is the mighty Consul Chaplain's battle cry as he charges, his Crozius drawn midair, swinging as the Legionary Shade raises its bolter. Brynjol brings the crozius around and slashes deep into the Son of Horus Legionary Shade, forcing him backwards. It sinks to the ground, its translucent form already fading.

"What... what is going on?!" Brynjol yells. "You who come to this world of death..." the Legionary Shade states, "Who beckon the spirits of the fallen...we know what you seek. You will find your answers...from the battlements of the Warmaster, loyalist scum..."

The shade fades away, and the fires dim into nothing. The Squats have raised their weapons, unsure of what they have seen.

"Are you well, Wolf Priest?" Cyril presses. "I saw a Son, Cyril, the Warmaster's own," Brynjol spurts, "We... must find the battlements of the Warmaster." Cyril gives him a steely glare. "Thexus, how good are your maps?" Cortain asks, considering the goastly hint. "MY ARCHIVES ARE FLAWLESS, CONSUL. WHAT DO YOU REQUIRE?" Thexus yells. "Bryn requests locations of the Warmaster's Battlements." Thexus pauses a moment, his mechadendrites twitchin as his arms raise. "ACKNOWLEDGED, CONSUL. THE TRAITORS' BATTLEMENTS ARE CLOSE, THEIR FORTRESS EMBEDDED WITHIN A LARGE CRATER. IT IS NEARBY."

Taking a moment to explain the Sorcery to Rose, the Commandos press on, Thexus acting as macabre tour guide. The targeted Fortess is a little off in the distance, but within reach.

"Thees ees good," Thrax hisses, "Thees world weel serve well. You weel be cured of your feear, Commandos..." "What do the ghosts of legionaries past have to do with fear?" Cortain asks. "I AM BEGINNING TO UNDERSTAND THE FILTHY XENOS' POINT. THE LEGIONARIES OF OLD DID NOT HAVE THE SAME LEVEL OF MENTAL GUARDS - THEY COULD FEEL FEAR. AND THEY OVERCAME IT, EACH IN THEIR OWN WAY..." " you must," Thrax rasps. "The Astartes of today feel fear. We simply cannot afford to let it rule us," Cyril disagrees, "The Hellstar demands... additional measures to ensure that. Today marks the next stage of the beginning of its end."

Moving along the dusted plains towards the coordinates Thexus revealed, everyone moves cautiously behind the Commandos. Rose releases tiny floating spheres from her hands, which surge out in all directions, much to Cortain's and Cyril's intrigue. The Squats, lasguns raised, are quite uncomfortable, but nonetheless follow. All around are the ruins of battle, half buried by the weak wind. A drop pod here, a land raider there, a long-rusted contemptor hull on more than one occasion. Scraps of rotted vellum, banners, blow from the ground. Cyril sings a quiet, solemn dirge for the doomed and the damned to help pass the time and calm the Squats.

Travelling along the dusty route, the ground suddenly gives out, the sand collapsing into a great pit, which Cortain ends up sliding into. A bit annoying, but no damage. All about can be seen pieces of ancient armor. Surrounding Cortain, however, the wall of warpflame rears up once more.

"Traitors...traitors must burn..." the Legionary Shade that manifests whispers, raising a heavy flamer.

Cortain waves everyone off, as he is unharmed. However, his attention turns to the Legionary Shade before him, armored in bright green similar to his own chapter colors, but accented with orange. Hanging off him appear to be the scales of some sort of lizard or reptile.

"Halt. I am Ultramar," Cortain blurts, before charging forward with the Gladius Invictus. The Shade dodges, returning the attack with an ornate power axe, though Cortain barely manages to parry. Cortain considers a command test to calm him down, before he remembers HE was the one to initiate hostilities. Not his brightest moment. However, he calls upon his solo mode ability, Favored Son, to auto-pass the horrifically-penaltied command test.

"traitorous...blackshield..." the Legionary Shade gurgles. Cortain lowers the Gladius and salutes the ghost. "Well played." "Blackshield...of Ultramar..." the Legionary Shade wonders, "The Ultramarines...were not summoned...lies...Traitorous blackshield..." "I am of the XIII Legion. I am no more a traitor than you," Cortain states, "Apologies for the assault. An ally ran into a surprise ambush before. But now I must ask you to lead." "Ultramarine...the traitors routed...I see you...truth..." The Legionary Shade sinks to his knees. "Planets turn....Stone erodes....Fire burns eternal. Only from the highest point...may light burn brightest, brother..." The Salamanders Pyroclast fades. "Rest in peace, son of Vulkan," Cortain says softly. The wall of flame fades as well. "Loyalty beyond death," Rockfist whispers, "All we can ever really hope to aspire to."

Cortain engages his auspex, but the only thing he picks out of this sand pit is a scarred shard of chest armor. It is a worn and weathered green. He picks it up reverently. Cyril looks up, "Another ghost?" "Yes. Salamander," he states, ""En route back now. Let us move on." O'Malley chortles. "The lass was right, beardlings," O'Malley states, "This world, and its dead, they do not rest. They merely linger." "Thankfully, this one at least was able to listen to reason," Cortain explains, relieved, "We forge ahead." "We can hardly expect traitors to hear reason ten millenia after their fall," Cyril nods, "It is good that a loyalist saw the light."

The grand caravan passes by a number of sulphurous pools of water. The ground is slightly bumpy now, the scars of 10,000 year old artillery strikes. Occasionally the clang of long-buried metals strikes armored boots. The Commandos pass by walls, once great, now rusted, as they begin to reach the edge of the Urgall Depression. Carved into the wall itself is a mighty bastion, its decaying towers reaching high.

"Here be Traitors," Cortain sighs. "CONSULS, THIS FORTRESS...WAS NOT BUILT BY THE HANDS OF MAN. ENSURE YOUR AUTOSENSES ARE NOMINAL," Thexus advises. The Commandos briefly wonder, before agreeing and performing final equipment checks.

The squats and automata are ordered into defensive positions. Ahead of the Commandos is a large opening in the rock, the doors long since blasted away. The Commandos tactically space themselves, moving forward. Entering the door, all hear the rush of warpflame once more...this time around Temur.

The Legionary Shade ahead of Temur is in polished black and grey, his arm a shimmering cybernetic. "Destroy...DESTROY!" the Legionary Shade yells. The grey Legionary Shade seems to have a plasma weapon of some kind, which Temur decides to charge in to mitigate. The duel between Temur and the Iron Hand draws on, as the Legionary Shade draws an Omnissian axe and swings wildly, as if enraged.

"Legionary, snap out of it, we are not your enemies!" Temur yells, remaining on guard and not wishing to attack a fellow superior Astartes, "I am a son of Chogoris, not traitor scum like you fought here! Know that the imperium lives on for your valor!" This oddly seems to make him angrier. The Legionary Shade's attacks get more erratic, and begin to force Temur back to the wall of warpflame. "...So be it then," Temur resigns, counter-attacking the grey and black legionary, forcing him backwards, onto the ground. "You live, and you seek answers," the Legionary Shade hisses, "Our only regret was that some of you escaped. Only by facing your past, our past, may you survive your present, loyalist filth..." The Legionary fades as readily as the wall of flame.

Temur takes to a knee as the shade fades, processing the weight of the information. "What...what legion was he?" Cyril demands, hoping against hope he did not see what he thought he saw. "An Iron Hand," he coughs, "Turned against his own brothers. Could there have been others, even in the brotherhoods?" "CONSUL, THERE IS ONE THING YOU SHOULD REMEMBER." Thexus pauses. "THERE WERE NO SUCH THINGS AS LOYAL AND TRAITOR LEGIONS. THERE WERE ONLY LOYAL AND TRAITOR LEGIONARIES."

Temur gets up again, now grimly determined to ensure nothing interrupts their mission. "Let us continue," he sighs, "And find what we came to this hateful place for."

The Support Crew form up once more with the Commandos. Within the ruined battlements, there are numerous paths. There are some down, and some up. One of Rose's small spheres floats up from the lower levels, and returns to her. "My scout probes have picked up nothing nearby," she explains, "This place is empty." "Would they be able to detect psychic phenomena?" Brynjol asks. "No, they are merely pict...recorders," she states, fumbling for a word familiar to the commandos, "I built them on the Blade." "They do not detect through walls, then. Auspexes, Brothers," Cyril commands, "Thrax, what exactly are we looking for?" "Wee are looking for a suitable plaace to commune together," Thrax states, "We weell know such a place when wee feel eet..." "Brynjol said the battlements," Temur points out, "That should be our destination."

Cyril heads up through the xenos ruins, passing by many rooms cleared for Legionary supplies once, now scarred and empty. Ever higher he goes, until he can't go any further. Only then does he realize he has found his way to the top of the highest surviving battlement.

"Yeesss...thees weel do perfectly," Thrax coughs, "Commandos...this is a suitable place..." Thrax reaches into his pouches, burning a small object and creating a rather off-smelling smoke. The Commandos order a tighter defensive perimeter. "Commandos...are you ready to face what your ancestors are willing to show?" he asks. "Aye," Brynjol nods. "No. And that is why I must." Cyril doffs his helm. "As I will ever be, I think," Temur sighs. "As always," Cortain affirms.

"Sit together, yesss...." Thrax rasps, "All of you, must face the other. Miss Rose...pleease, the Center..." As everyone pops into formation, all facing Rose who stands in the center, Thrax begins chanting, an alien, guttural chant under the dull shine of the midday sun. "Remember Commandos...I know not what you will seeeee...the Ancestral Dreamlands my people call upon takes a different form for everyone," he states, "But know thiiis - what you see, you can only rely on yourseeeelves. Now, close your eyes, and open your minds..." Thrax's chanting increases, Rose begins to levitate as she surrounds everyone in her psychic sphere, and the Commandos' visions go white...

05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)~~

The Commandos awaken upon the same battlement that Thrax began his ritual. It's just the four of them - there is nobody else. Looking up in the stars, everything's completely different - the constellations are all wonky, and then they realize the battlement is less decayed as well. To their side, a small mote of light sinks down, into the Fortress once more.

"How...quaint." Cortain notes. "I bloody hate psykery..." Brynjol sighs. The stars above shine brightly, the clouds of the galaxy visible amongst the backdrop. It's middle of the night, and the Commandos can see lights within the Fortress below as well. It makes them wonder - it was daytime when they landed. "I hope this is just a... vision," Brynjol sighs "It seems quite quiet for the Warp," Cortain offers. Brynjol stands up. "Let's explore a little. "Squad formation, on me."

Descending into the Fortress, the Commandos now realize that the layout is completely different. Motes of light float about aimlessly, and as they approach the main area of the Fortress, they can hear voices, a dull bustle. Ahead is a sturdy door of metal. Oddly enough, it seems to be partially overgrown with a translucent blue plant. Cortain immediately begins to worry.

Opening the door slowly, breaking the plant matter away, the Commandos open their way to a large...librarius.

Motes of dust and light float amongst the books, as the hall stretches forward. Lit by candelabra and fire, the great hall feels warm, as opposed to the cold outside. "I don't bloody like this at all," Brynjol says, drawing his weapons, idly rotating the thunder hammer to keep its great weight in motion. As he passes by many different shelves of books, the hammer making a swoosh through the air, he hears a voice, a familiar one, off near one of the fireplaces.


It's the voice of Rose.

Standing by a fire are...Rockfist and Rose. "Welcome," Rockfist says, "You've been expected. No doubt you have a lot of questions." "You share the vision as well," Cortain states. "How..." Brynjol stammers, "Why?" "I suppose we should begin in honesty - what you see before you is not yet the truth. We appear in a form the viewer always feels comfortable amongst. Perhaps these forms, you care for them? Even this very librarius is assembled by your minds. Our true forms, well, you cannot quite perceive them yet," the Rockfist-form starts. Brynjol takes a single step back. "I distrust those who hide behind a mask. I will listen to your words...for now."

"Tell us, you have to yourself the Materium, the Warp, even the Webway," the Rose-form continues, "In your words, what would you call these?" "...what?" Brynjol asks. "Planes of reality?" Cortain posits. "Very good," the Rockfist-form says, "Or, Dimensions to others. This Dreamland you walk, a product of the Kroot. The nowheres of Subspace, where the Chroma reside. There are many that you are and are not familiar with." "Which led us to your next question, 'Why are you here?'" the Rose-form states, "You have come here for a reason, have you not?" "The Kroot told us that what we need, we would find here," Brynjol spits, "A tool to help us resist the power of the Hellstar." "It would cure our fear," Cortain adds. "Yes, the Hellstar," the Rockfist-form states, "In a way, you wonder why your indoctrination against fear fails." "We are to confront and understand our past," Cyril states. "Then let us begin at the start," the Rose-form continues, "Fifty of your years ago, there was a great collapse. An entire of your sectors, drained of energy, an entire area of space ripped and wounded." "Is this familiar to you?" the Rockfist form asks.

"A... warp rift?" Brynjol offers. Cyril shakes his head, "The Scar." "Very good. This weakened area of space was opened when its energy was ripped away," the Rose-form continues, "It was opened to a dimension your Imperium has experienced before." "It was first known as the Harrowing, where creatures impossible to your physics swarmed through, thwarted only by the expenditure of many lives and weapons," the Rockfist-form adds, "It was followed by the being you named Cacodominus, which hybridized itself to your Materium, and surged and destroyed an entire sector upon its death." "And now..." the Rose-form concludes, "You have opened yourself to the creature you call Hellstar." "The Howling?" Cortain asks, for clarification. "The Harrowing of the Echoing Vault, the Howling of the Cacodominus, now the Hunger of the Hellstar," the Rockfist-form states, "The method all used is the same - peer into one's mind, and understand their fears, terrors, anguish, horrors, and use them as powerful weapons." "How do we fight this?" Brynjol asks. "We can show you one half of what you desire," the Rose-form states, "You must confront the lingering curse that resides within your geneseed. Even now, you are shackled, chained, controlled by the traumas 10,000 years past."

"Explain," Brynjol insists, "How does a trauma imprint itself on genetics?" "To fight an enemy that does not follow your rules, you too must break free," the Rockfist form states, "Before the Hellstar, thrust upon you, can find the key to opening a permanent scar to its source, and break down your very existence to sustain its own source." "You must release yourself of the horrors of millennia past," the Rose-form points, "You must cleanse your heart and mind, until there is nothing the Hellstar can take from you, and to do that..." Rockfist-form points to a barrier of fog leading out, where the front gate of the Fortress once was. "What you will see beyond the Fog is unique to you," he explains, "But overcome it, and there will be nothing that will hold you back." " there is our answer?" Cortain insists. "Take as much time as you require to collect yourself," the Rose-form states, "Beyond the fog lies your answer."

"Show us," Brynjol demands, "Show me your true faces." "Your minds do not yet have the strength to see such things yet," the Rockfist form explains flatly, "You would damage yourself beyond recovery until you have, to put it in a way you would understand, the eyes necessary to see." "And that is what worries me," Brynjol sighs, "You don't sound like beings who would want to help us." "You are correct. We are not. You see and hear only that which you expect to, want to, see and hear, Brynjol," the Rose-form bows, "When you see the truth, when you gain true insight, only then will the truth be revealed..."

Cyril kneels, calling the Commandos around. "There is only the Emperor. He is our light and our guide, our purpose and our saviour. We are his will made manifest." The Commandos nod in affirmament. Cyril rises. "I AM READY," he rumbles calmly. Brynjol sighs heavily, "Bollocks to it. Let's do it." "All mental warding circuits operating at 150%," Cortain nods. Temur wordlessly stares at the door.

The four Commandos stand ahead of the Nightmare Fog, as one. Pushing through, it feels...cold. "This feels wrong," Brynjol whispers. Eventually, however, they break through. Under the starlit night, the Commandos find themselves amongst the sands of Isstvan once more. There is no sign of the fog or building they came through. However, there is an enormous form swirling in the center, 30m away. "Is this...?" Cortain wonders aloud.

The translucent black shroud composes itself, swirling about into the shame of a man, a featureless, faceless man in towering armor and unbelievable weapons. In its chest, a single red eye opens, its black iris focusing. The Commandos all finally see it - the shadowy form that haunted them every time the Hellstar stared. The trauma of 10,000 years back, the geneseed memory of sins 10,000 years past.

Horus, the Warmaster.

The Commandos are forced to make an Insanity test, staring at this genetic memory of the greatest threat to the Imperium. Surprisingly, Brynjol, Cortain, and Cyril all hold fast, their hearts hardening with hatred and beginning the process of overcoming. Temur, however, is not so lucky, and in a panic begins to flee for his life. Brynjol, thanks to his lightning reflexes, is first. He takes a moment to consider the archives for anything that could help him. Horus's skill in combat was legend, though he greatly enjoyed attacking the weak in Cthonian style. He wielded a monstrous mace, Worldbreaker, and his signature Talon with heavy bolter embedded within. He was known for keeping fleet assets on hand at all times, and his defenses were second to none.

Brynjol charges the Warmaster Shade, but his attacks bounce off the Serpent Shield's potent shields. The Warmaster responds in kind, swinging Worldbreaker and the Talon. Though Brynjol's shields hold against Worldbreaker, he fails a Parry, and the Talon rips deep, triggering its Disabling Strike. His WS and Strength damaged, Brynjol wonders where everyone else is as he howls backwards, clutching the rent in his front.

Cortain fires his Volkite Culverin, while Cyril flanks with his storm bolter. Both bounce effortlessly against shields and armor, and all eyes turn to Temur. After running away for a bit, Temur unfucks himself and turns his grav cannon on the Shade, turning his own armor against him. It is one of the few advantages the Commandos can claim - in the time of the Primarchs, such "graviton imploders" were rare and experimental. But now, everyone and their sarge seems to pack at least one in a squad.

Brynjol and the Warmaster's Shade continue to trade blows, their attacks bouncing off each others' shields. Brynjol does get a good hit or two in with his Razor-Sharp'd Crozius. Cortain and Cyril continue to provide covering fire, though their shots are doing markedly little. Though the rest of the Commandos cannot feel it, Cortain looks around - there is an audience, countless Legionaries watching the Commandos, some recognizable, some not. With their geneseed ancestors watching, he resolves to make them proud.

Cyril, however, is beginning to lose it.

"YYYOU...KILLED..." Cyril gurgles. "Hold... hold it together, Cyril!" Brynjol commands. Cyril spits, "WHY?" "You lose yourself, you become the same as these ghosts, Cortain explains, "This is the accumulation of hate and despair. It will feed off it."

Cyril charges, nonetheless, as the Photonic Blade bounces off the Shade's shields. In his last moment out of the Black Rage, he calls Tactical Finesse Squad Mode. Now things get interesting, as Tactical Finesse allows one to perform an attack and then move away. While Temur uses this to move closer with his Grav Cannon, Brynjol uses this as an enabler. As the Commandos have just entered Rank 5, Furious Charge can allow him a Lightning Attack on a charge as a free action. He decides to Furious Charge in, Tactical Finesse out as a half action, Furious Charge back in, Tactical Finesse out as a Half Action, and Furious Charge one last time as a free action before he runs out of actions, expending ~9 cohesion to do so. Despite nearly 14 attacks going against the Warmaster's Shade, Brynjol only manages two hits, which nonetheless do a respectable amount of damage. Sadly, this enrages the Warmaster's Shade.

While Cortain and Cyril charge in to assist Brynjol, the Warmaster's Shade now slams down Worldbreaker repeatedly on the Wolf Priest, pummeling him and forcing him to burn fate to manmode through the pain. With so many around him, the Warmaster's Shade raises Worldbreaker, slamming it into the sands. While the Commandos duck and shield against the resultant energy wave, they note the Shade beginning to float and glow. Light shines down on the Commandos, before they begin to spread out. The Orbital Strikes rain down on the sand, and only through lucky shield and dodges do the Commandos make it out.

It's now or never, as Brynjol continues to wail down, Cortain attacks with his Gladius Invictus, and Cyril continues to swing the Photonic Blade. The Warmaster will soon turn his attention to Cyril and Cortain, so Temur takes careful aim, and fires a final salvo from his Grav Gun before running out of ammo. His grav-beams hit the Warmaster's Shade, raking across the Serpent's Scales. The shade seems to shudder, twitching and contracting, as only an ear-piercing shriek is heard as the Shade finally fades.

The ground itself falls away as well, leaving the Commandos all floating in the darkness.

Cortain raises his sword. "We are the Chosen sons!" he yells, as the Legionaries all around bow and fade away. "Sanguinius... Vos vindicatur..." Cyril coughs.

Then an eye opens. And another. And another. The Commandos are surrounded by thousands of eyes. As the eyes rush at them, and they feel themselves flooded with Insight, their world goes white -

05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)~~

-only to hear the closing of Thrax's chanting.

"Ahh...Commandos, did you find what you requiiiired?" Thrax asks. To the Commandos' private wonderment, it is still noon on Isstvan V.

Cyril coughs as he returns to wakefulness and spits out a mouthful of blood and cheek tissue, before rushing to Brynjol. Brynjol drags himself painfully to his feet, leaning heavily on his crozius. Bits of his armour fall to the ground.

"Armour... compromised..." he gurgles through a mouthful of blood, beginning to choke on the thin atmosphere. "What the miiiind and soul feels...the body miiiiirrors..." Thrax states. "If that means seeing a ghost of the worst thing to ever blight the Imperium go down to this blade, a Crozius, and a Grav weapon in embarrassing scale," Cortain mutters, "Then yes."

Rose is somewhat unconscious. Thexus is tending to her. It is clear the strain has gotten to her. "Lads," Rockfist sighs, "When yer ready, we're ready to go. Jus' give the order. The throngs'd rather not be here longer than they need..." "Brothers. What have we learned? What have we gained?" Cyril asks, "Is our purpose here fulfilled?"

The Commandos nod in affirmament, and summon Stormbirds to pick everyone up. Brynjol needs serious medicae attention from the Serfs and Chirurgeons, and the rest of the Commandos need time to dwell on what they have seen. Rockfist summons the Stormbirds near on the Commandos' order, and everyone hops aboard after a few minutes, ready to travel back to the Blade.

"So be it. I had considered retrieving the armour and relics left here for the Chapters, but..." Cyril muses, "They have been left here for so long. Perhaps they should rest here forevermore."

The Blade has never been a more welcome sight. Its mighty Accelerator Cannon, its rows of macrocannon and lances, the large translucent-white slug creature hanging off the prow, the armored bridge, already a number of Squats and Serfs have been ordered on standby to provide assistance. The Stormbirds approach the landing bay, the troops within eager to get back to safety.

Cyril begins to supervise return efforts, with Cortain monitoring the incoming Stormbirds, but Brynjol slams his fist against the window.

"What... is... that..." Brynjol coughs. " what?" Rockfist "That seems unusual," Cortain states. "The... the ship... that thing..." Brynjol swallows a mouthful of blood. "Hmm?" Cyril asks, before realization hits him, ", that cannot be..." "The Blade? Lad, you'll be okay..." Rockfist insists. "Oh good, everyone else sees it," Temur hisses in anger.

The slug-like creature kind of hangs there, right in front of the Accelerator Cannon, wrapped snugly around the prow. Landing in the bays, the Squats rejoice at being back and getting ready to leave the place, oblivious to the danger that had accompanied them the entire time. Cyril and Cortain rush through the halls, overgrown with translucent blue weeds, to the bridge.

"What... is... happening?" Brynjol moans as he sees the true mess the Blade is in.

"Our minds are open to the full extent of the horrors," Cortain states. Brynjol begins to chuckle, wheezing. "ROCKFIST!" he shouts into the vox, "FIRE THE ACCELERATOR CANNON, NOOOOOOOW!" Brynjol is brought back to the medicae deck. He can barely see the ground under all the weeds. "At...what, lad?" Rockfist asks, "I have no target." "Cortain, Arc Charge it," Cyril states flatly, "I will see to the firing."

While Brynjol continues to beg Rockfist to fire the Cannon, Temur helping him to his Medicae Deck, Cortain calmly intones the Arc Reactor to output all of its energy into the Accelerator Cannon. As the Blade enters the warp for the 8 month journey back to Tiji, the Accelerator Cannon unleashes its full force of impact, burning away the titanic slug. It begins to shrivel and dissipate, to the Commandos' relief as the warp portal closes. While the crew of the Blade stare, wondering why, the Commandos, at least, are relieved.

"We got it..." Brynjol sighs before the morpha and medicine begin to work, "Could you all me a favour while I try to move my lungs back into position with a medicae servitors?" Cyril smiles warmly as he sits back from the gun, "Name it, Brother." "Take a flamer to these hallways, please," Brynjol insists. "Consider it done," Cyril nods.

Brynjol begins the long and painful process of directing medicae servo-automata to operate on his fucked-up chest cavity. Cyril calls up Notomok and retrieves a pair of heavy flamers, and a retinue of robots with similar equipment. Together Cyril, Notomok, Cortain, and Temur begin a systematic purge, to cleanse the halls before arriving back to Tiji.

(25) The Wonderful Number One[edit]

The Blade is on its way, rushing to Augurus Prime. A Command missive was received by the vessel's complement of living ancestors, relayed with all due haste. The security codes embedded within were so high-level it defies imagination. Brynjol emerges from self-performed servitor surgery with a new set of scars, several steel plates in his vertebrae, and a curious sense of loss of one of his four progenoids.

"What did I miss?" he asks, limping onto the bridge, dressed in duty robes and using his crozius as a staff. He steps over the translucent blue weeds that have grown everywhere, noting that they seem to be drying out and shrivelling.

"I am still purging the growths. It is a time-consuming process, even after retrofitting automata with flame and cryo weaponry," Cyril admits, "The Squats I have running a supply train for ammunition are...skeptical."

Cyril notes that, everywhere he goes, the ivy-like growths seem to be dying off on their own. Many pale white slugs also are dropping down, curling into little ded slugballs. He collects any ded slugballs he can find, crushing them up and delivering the powdered remains to Brynjol in a dustbin for study. Eventually, one of the Servo-automata floats by, holding out a frilled, black apron towards Cyril while beeping. He absentmindedly tucks the cloth into his belt while directing the vacuum-automata.

Cortain, in the meantime, decides to look into their destination. Augurus Prime is a watery world with extreme seasons and sparse flora. The population live in enclosed forge hives. It is the Sector's primary manufacturer of Titans and other advanced war machines. Its Basilikon Astra is the pride of the Sector, though it has suffered much damage over the years. In fact, the Blade of the Long Watch itself was restored in Augurus Prime's Basilikon Astra. Cortain feels a sense of pride that the Blade is returning homeward.

During the 8 month return trip, the Commandos spend their time between training, silent contemplation at what they witnessed at Isstvan V, and in Cyril's case, weaving commemmorative rugs for everyone except Thexus with his Remembrancy skill. While Rockfist and O'Malley monitor the Squat's morale on request, Thexus and Rose are hard at work in the Armorium restoring a Mastodon to working order. While supervising the halls, the Commandos even see some new battle automata marching about, probably the result of Thexus remembering some new patterns (and Horus Heresy Book 6 scans appearing). While one looks like a stripped-down Domitar with jet engines, the the Commandos an ill feeling. No doubt they probably wondered what a Blight Drone looked like before its unholy corruption, but the way its auspex-lens stares as it patrols the wider hallways is somewhat disconcerting to some of the lesser-ranked squats.

Eventually, the Commandos are back in the Tiji Sector, for better or for worse. Surfacing briefly on the Outskirts of the Tiji Sector, the Living Ancestors and vox operators take the time to update the situation and Void Abacus charts. It has been sixteen months - 1.33 years the Commandos have been gone from the sector. In the meantime, sightings of the Hellstar have remained constant, and no small amount of worlds, both uninhabited and not, in the space between sectors have gone completely dark. However, in the past four Months, none have seen the rogue superplanetoid. It has the Brotherhood datamats somewhat worried. Some were forge worlds, some were hive worlds, most were mining worlds in the voidspace between the Tiji Sector, the Scar, the Realms of Ultramar, and the warpstorms of the Deep Fringe. Cortain reviews the list of lost worlds, and tries to determine a pattern.

Then he rolls a 100 on his logic test.

Cortain begins plotting the worlds. The pattern makes a happy face. The Hellstar comes in peace. It warms his hearts that perhaps interspecies diplomacy can in fact be given a chance. Then Brynjol whispers that he forgot to carry the three in his calculations, reminding him of his Mentor ability, and spends fate to reroll. Now he rolls a 1.

Cortain notes that there doesn't seem to be much of a pattern. However, the worlds ARE being lost sequentially - the Hellstar, last seen, was circling the Sector, consuming whatever it found. And each target was a little closer to re-entering the Sector proper. And until four months back, the loss of worlds was accelerating.

"Lads, don't ya worry, we'll arrive at Augurus Prime within the week," Rockfist states, "Ya...are feelin' okay, right?" "In a sense. The visions are...difficult to describe to a non-Legionary," Cortain states, "But whatever happened, I can feel it." Rockfist nods, before heading out. Cyril, however stops him. "Rockfist, if it is not too much trouble, could you critique the rug? I believe I did well, but Squattish craftsmanship is legendary, and I seek to refine my technique."

Rockfist is caught unawares somewhat by the request, but he and a few engineers take a closer look at it. They debate for many minutes. The rug depicts hordes of dead Orks piled around the base of two mountain ranges, with a bigass skull in the sky above the mountains. With 6 Degrees of Success, it's a pretty tight rug. "Hmm, it menaces with corpses of ork," one nods, "Like at Imbach." "Yes," another nods approvingly, "And an undefeated hold, be it the Homeworlds Old and New..." Rockfist, however, says little. A single tear rolls down his cheek. And that is all that needs to be said. "Ya did good, lad," he whispers barely perceptibly. "I... thank you," Cyril nods.

As a last task with the remaining time, Brynjol begins to examine the translucent plants and the ded slugdust that Cyril gathered. He first turns his eyes to the sample of translucent plant he picked off the ground. He can't seem to make heads or tails of its chemical properties, but he can clearly see it's disintegrating by itself. He then turns to the ded slugdust Cyril keeps bringing him. He notes their primitive organs are all undergoing failure, yet he can see no reason for such an event. There is no damage to them that Brynjol can otherwise determine. They are fully functional creatures otherwise, other than the fact that at the beginning of the trip back, they all started dying at once.

"Hmm... perhaps it's some sort of effect... they gain strength from proximity to warp sources, perhaps?" Brynjol posits. "No, the massive one," Cortain notes, "It was almost acting as a sort of synapse beacon, terraforming the ship." "Concerning. We must destroy the lot before any Tyranid can assimilate them," Cyril voxes, "Though if they are merely dumb beasts with bizarre properties, they may prove useful enough to warrant sparing a few." Some of the Squats shudder. "Forgive me, lad," Rockfist begins, "But I'd rather not have anythin' cavortin' around that can threaten the New Homeworlds." "Of course," Cyril affirms, "If they are determined to be a threat, there is only one possible response."

The Blade's Warp Drive, now back to a normal speed, begins to rumble and shake, as the Everything's Okay Alarm begins to sound. Travelling another day in the materium, the expansive world of Augurus Prime and its many moons begin to fill the sky. Surrounding the forge world is a ring, a great cathedral of the Mechanicus' Basilikon Astra shining amongst the void. Cyril orders a vox-traffic pass, and the Blade detects the normal traffic that a Forge World expects - mining world shipments, outgoing Legio Skitarius detatchments, even a few Squat ships here and there.

"A shame, lad," Rockfist laments, "Don't think the Iron Spire's here this cycle. It's quite a ship lad, although, even it pales in comparison to yer Blade."

Performing a wide-band augur intonation, the Commandos search for any signs of distress. They find none, picking up only endless chants in machine code, shuttle requests, holding patterns, and so on. However, as augurs pass, the Commandos receive an incoming message at the hololith plinths. Brynjol pokes the hololith, and a live connection is set up to a number of lower-ranking Magi, their faces hidden in the shadows of their hoods, their forms flickering in the hololithic display.

"In the name of the Machine Trinity, we bid thee welcome to Augurus Prime, emissary of Mars in the deep void. We were told to expect you." "We received your missive," Cortain explains, "What seems to be the matter?" "Republican Commandos, there is much to speak of. Guests of honor are on their way that grace our humble forges, a glory unrivalled in 10,000 years past, and 10,000 years future," the Magos explains rather shiftily, "We were told to extend our hospitality, until they arrive. We shall prepare a delegation to meet you in the Basilikon Astra Cathedral Mechanicum." Cyril restrains himself to Nixarterian mutterings about wastes of time and nods. "Was there anything else before we come down?" "We of Augurus, glory be to the Trinity, shall endeavor to ensure you are honored appropriately," the magi bow as the hololith fades. "Oh joy," Brynjol sighs.

The Commandos load up from the Armorium, most taking their usual loadouts. The local environment is the Basilikon Astra Cathedral Mechanicum, a ring orbiting Augurus Prime, where starships and heavy machinery is built. Knowing full well the thin skin that shields them from the Void, the Commandos opt for the heaviest weapons they can find. Cyril also rolls quite well on his Diplomacy test, managing an extra 60 Requisition for the team, which he spends on darkfire-armed Battle Automata and a Xiphon Interceptor Bombardment.

"I like my loadouts like I like my plans, simple, effective, and flexible," Temur announces. Of course, a Grav Cannon is flexible enough to be useful against anything, or so he believes.

The Commandos are getting used to making statements about their landing presence, despite their disdain of the publicity they inevitably receive. As such, they ask a Stormbird be readied, which is enough to fit all the support the Commandos will be bringing with them. Landing coordinates to the Cathedral are sent, leading to one of the larger areas of the ring. The Squats clear out of the way, before the Launch Bays open. All paths are cleared for Takeoff, and the Stormburd blasts out of the hangar.

Weaving through ore haulers, troop transports, mass conveyors, and bits of the Cathedral ring, the polluted grey clouds of Augurus floating below, the sheer size of the orbital ring is incredible. Every berth is filled with a ship under construction, and the prayers to the Machine Trinity ring on every vox frequency. Cortain replies in equal measure, feeling comfortable amongst the Mechanicus.

The Stormbird barely fits in the designated landing zone, the area clearly meant for smaller diplomatic envoys. Nonetheless, landing is possible, and the doors drop open with a clang as energy fields seal the hangar from the void. Cyril glances at his battle-brothers, ready to form up and march out in synchrony with the Castellax maniple. Making an Oath to the Wolf King, the Commandos synch up and disembark. Awaiting the Commandos outside are another set of mid-rank magi, blinky lights of augurs and sensoria evident under their hoods.

Cortain salutes the magi, folding his hands in the traditional sign of the cog. "Welcome, honored Commandos," one magos bows, "You bless the Cathedral with your presence." Cyril mirrors Cortain's salute and signals the automata to do the same, though lacking hands they merely end up punching themselves. Brynjol sneezes, feeling out of place, but much to his surprise, a servo-automata emblazoned with the sigils of Augurus Prime floats down with a tissue. "There are those of us who still continue the old ways," a magos calmly explains, "Not all gave up the Cortex for the Datawafer. But they are still difficult for us to construct." Brynjol crosses his arms, surveying the group of Mechanicus. Datawafers are the safer way, and the many automata aboard the Blade always did concern him, be they slaved to Executor Thexus or not. "Of course, no doubt you came," a magos says, "You were ordered here, just as we were ordered to await you." Cyril nods. "Take us to the Basilikon Astra Cathedral Mechanicum." "Of course," one Magos says, most likely the highest rank of them.

The Magi beckon to a wide hall. While the ground glows with embedded circuit-patterns, pulsing in binharic rhythm to Mechanicum prayers, the ceiling is engraved with the forms of Imperial voidships. Temur, Brynjol, and Cortain pop a gaze through the Portholes as the Magi briefly intone a small prayer. Amongst the ship traffic, they note a Storm Eagle flanked by a pair of Xiphons surge by. They bear the standard designations of the Blade. After a bit, only Brynjol and COrtain can see them off in the far distance, the Storm Eagle docking at a separate part of the Cathedral, before the Xiphons break off. Brynjol elbows Cortain, and the two resolve to keep further eyes open.

"Commandos..." the Magos states, turning at them, "Your missive, it contained command codes of incredible complexity, did they not?" "Indeed. What is the matter?" Cortain presses. "I see. Then our situation is identical," the Magos states, "Perhaps...we should start from the beginning." Cortain begins recording. "Proceed." A different magos opens up, "Fifty years back, our Archeotech expeditions found something, buried deep below Augurus Prime. I...could not even begin to describe it, its size, its... the Lord Magos immediately sent an enlightened manuscript requesting support. It was sent directly to Mars." "Tell us more," Brynjol insists, intrigued. "Uncharacteristically, we were given a single order, with the same command codes we received today - we would give our lives to restore it," the magos continues, "And then further requests came." "How would we receive the order then?" Cortain asks. "No doubt the same one who sent the codes, codes so high-level we lack the cortex wafers to comprehend them, sent a missive to you," the first magos states. Cyril begins to listen more intently after that, scratching his yeti behind the ear.

"In return for support and expertise in such an endeavor, we were to provide manpower and supplies to an outpost established in the Scar," a third magos states, "While this outpost suffered a most terrible raid seventeen years back, we redoubled our efforts and even sacrificed many legions of servitors and thralls to provide as per our Oaths to Mars." "And what of the... artifact?" Brynjol asks. "Now, we were told that, in honor of our service, the Magi of Augurus would be the ones to provide the artifact to the ones meant to use it," the first magos concludes, "And now, you are here, as the missive states. It is evident that all is coming to the plan of the Machine Trinity." "And what is this artefact? You stated before that words were insufficient to describe it," Cyril asks, "Try." "I did not see it myself," the second Magos states, "Even our greatest forges of the surface were insufficient for its...majesty. It was brought, and reassembled here, repaired, piecemeal, over these past fifty years. Tens of thousands of thralls were expended to remain on schedule."

Out in the blackness of spess, one part of the Cathedral is armored and hidden from prying eyes. "That is our objective, my lord Commandos, and the one who has been sending us these missives will arrive soon."

Cortain and Brynjol note that is close to where the Storm Eagle landed. "Then we shall be allowed to see it?" Cortain asks. "Of course," the Magos bows, "We will bring you with all the haste the Motive Force grants us." Heading over to a nearby vox terminal, the Magos inputs a code, and requests a status on a potential conveyance. However, all he receives back is screaming. It's over almost every vox channel he switches to.

Cyril rolls his eyes, a gesture he picked up from the sector natives, "Typical."

The Magi flip through every vox channel possible, before a great shadow blocks out the light from the system's sun.

"Oh, by the Emperor..." Brynjol sputters, knowing full well what is coming next.

Floating from beyond the dark side of Augurus, its many pseudopods flailing about, beak extended, the Hellstar's single eye shifts about repeatedly, at the world and its moons.

"We are ready this time, abomination," Cyril declares. As if it heard him, its eye shifts directly onto Cyril. But he feels no ill effects as you once did before. There is nothing for the Hellstar to exploit. The magi, however, are not so lucky. They are bubbling machine oil, their minds unable to cope with the direct stare. All across the Cathedral, the Commandos can see crystalline forms impact the Cathedral, and black liquid forms splashing down off in the distance. It's under attack from all directions.

"It is time. We carve a path through them to the artefact," Cyril declares. Temur gestures forward. "For the Khan, and the Emperor, WE RIDE WITH SPEED!"

The world is a mess as mass conveyors go awry, half-constructed voidship weapons fire in every direction, and the Hellstar has turned its eye to one of Augurus's moons. Luckily for the Commandos, since the Cathedral is a great ring, the path to the Artifact is pretty much a straight run. Heavy armored plating kilometers high obscures the work zone, but it is a clear run.

"Blade! Do what you can to evacuate that moon," Cyril commands, "Prioritize the ship's safety, but if you have a shot on these wretched xenos, take it. Avoid damaging the planet's infrastructure if possible." "Beardlin', I'll do what I can. But that there is a forge world, an' I doubt we have the capability to evacuate even a fraction of a percent of that world," O'Malley explains, "If Rockfist an' the robot were here, I could do more. But all I can do is move in close." "I... see. Understood, O'Malley," Cyril sighs, "Rose may be able to guide evacuation efforts with precognitive abilities, if she is not otherwise occupied." "She left, beardlin'."

The Commandos crash to a stop.

"Is she insane...?" Cortain wonders. "Where did she leave?" Brynjol yells. "She is most likely with Rockfist and Thexus," Cyril suggests, "I am not pleased that they have kept us in the dark as to where they are and what they are doing, but at the moment we must secure the artefact millions died to prepare." "They will answer for this," Brynjol swears, "But... you are right." "Ya got it, beardlin'. The lass left for the Cathedral,," O'Malley explains, "Said somethin' about bein' "Called." Young Rockfist an' the tin brute are with her. She seemed in a rush. You may be able to contact'em if you're closer. I can feel'em somewhere on the Cathedral." "Could it be... Who remembers what that Kroot said?" Cortain asks. Cyril turns to him, annoyed, "What does the damned Kroot have to do with- oh. Oh."

>He told me that, one day, a Sightless Seer and a Master of Mechanisms would call me to action," she says, "And I would have to choose to answer the call or not.

Chugging along as fast as they can down the halls, approaching the armored Cathedral segment, the Commandos note that there's a side passage with a side dock. Within is the Storm Eagle from before, crash-landed haphazardly. "Concerning. ROSE! ROCKFIST, THETA-TEN-SIGMA!" Cyril yells, Cortain briefly muting him and enabling the vox. Unlike the "cleaner" mental destruction the Commandos see the Hellstar inflict, this area is littered with dead ripped-apart Skitarii and tech-adepts. It looks like a freight train full of fuck ran through here. Everyone is in agreement - Thexus.

"Contact made," Cortain announces, "Rose, Rockfist, Executor. ForgeMaster Cortain reporting." He can vaguely hear a response. "... ... ot that one, install it the...Lad!" Rockfist yells, "Where are you?" "Approaching the crash site of the Eagle. Where are you?" "We're in the Cathedral....eading to the sealed se.....nd the lass is okay, we're installing the cybernetics she pointed out now, was a bi.......f a struggle to get here," Rockfist continues, "They took offe....e to her inventions, an' the toaste-PLEASE RELAY TO THE CONSULS THA...I HAVE DESTROYED 163 NONCOMPLIANT SKITARII AND ALL SYSTEMS ARE NOMINAL-...the toaster said 'e had a good time. Anyway, the lass keeps sayin' she's bein' called. Says someone's talkin' directly to 'er mind. We'll make sure she comes to no ha-... ..." "...cybernetics? Inventions?" Cyril asks, "Rockfist, our connection is unclear, and your words only raise further questions. Are you all intact, unharmed, and reasonably likely to remain so? Can you wait for us to regroup with you, or must you push on to another objective?" Connection lost.

The Commandos resume heading to the Armored Annex of the Basilikon Cathedral. Charging forward, out the window they can see the Hellstar has cracked one of the moons open, and its great distended mouth has begun to consume the moon's core. Putting it out of their minds, the Commandos begin to reach the connecting annexes where the Armored Annex of the Cathedral lies. Arriving in a large connecting annex, stained glass above flickering, the Commandos finally come to a large ruined corridor. Numerous bits of wreckage and cover litter the area. It's gotta be at least 50 meters across, probably used for grand processions. Off in the distance, you can see an armored door that was clearly clawed apart by energized weapons. However, in front of that door...

"Hi honey! Time to get ripped open!" Cortain laughs, uncharacteristic humor emanating from him. "You yet live!" the feminine presence laughs, "Kosmos be praised! And you see! You now truly, truly see! Mag...nificent!" "Oh, bloody hell!" Brynjol swears, instinctively clutching his hearts. But, he notices something's odd about her. Her form is stilted, her voice staticky. Her body, plastic, like a mere doll. Cyril sighs, raising his Storm Bolter. "Please stay dead this time." "Death has no meaning for us!" the Presence laughs, "You cannot kill what is not alive, not dead, you can only accept, and I see you have done so!" "Accept, then, that this galaxy belongs to Mankind. Your Hellstar will not last forever. We? WILL."

Cyril unloads with his Storm Bolter, explosive bolts impacting her form and shattering her into hundreds of tiny fragments. "Well, that was anticlimactic," Cyril shrugs, "We should hurry."

But the Commandos still hear laughter. And they notice a translucent set of strands leading to the pieces. "I smell something deeper..." Cortain announces. Brynjol raises an eyebrow. "You can see us now, see the truth underlaying your universe, see the projections of projections," the voice taunts, "We will...we will be one, you, us, your existence and ours. For we...ARE Hellstar."

The stained glass shatters as something descends down. A black form, its exposed skull staring out with multiple forming and dissipating eyes, manipulators streaming off its head, its thin, rotted body lacking all internal organs. The True Form of the Hellstar Presence descends.

"Just go away," Cyril spits, "This universe is the Emperor's, you may not have it."

Brynjol begins by calling Furious Charge, allowing for him, Cortain, and Cyril to immediately charge the spindly looking Hellstar Presence. It merely raises its hand, opening a small doorway to...somewhere, and releasing swarms of pseudopods out. While Cortain and Brynjol pass shields and brave it, Cyril veers off against the spray, and fails his attack. Though Cortain's Gladius Invictus is parried, it leaves Brynjol an opening to beat down the Presence with his Wulfen Crozius. Scoring fury and a number of good hits through the creature's phasing (acting as a shield), the Presence is wounded, but quickly goes on the counter-attack.

After reknitting some of its wounds with arcane regeneration, it begins swiping out in all directions, wounding against the target's insanity bonus. While Brynjol manages to hold his own, parrying and counter-attacking, Cyril is not so lucky, getting forced prone and into the negatives. Temur briefly applauds himself for staying in back where it is safe, but the Presence raises its clawed arms, sending shards of kosmic energy directly at him. The shards home in on him wherever he dodges, so he finds himself forced to will them away. While some shards are deflected, two still dig deep, wounding him against his Insanity bonus.

Cortain strikes at the Presence, the shield-ignoring properties of the Gladius Invictus allowing him to get good, consistent, damage in, while Temur strafes the thing with his Grav Cannon. Unfortunately for him, this creature has no armor, relying on extradimensional toughness instead, and his Grav Cannon is not half as effective as it should be. Cyril, his arm damaged in the critical, merely gets up, disengages, and calls his Squad Mode ability Tactical Finesse, enabling Brynjol to go fuckwild on his turn. He then sends his Yeti in to support combat, orders the Castellax to focus fire with Darkfire Cannons, and even orders a Xiphon Strike with incredible precision through the hole in the ceiling the Hellstar Presence made.

Brynjol is back and on the Warpath. Performing the tried and true Wolfbomb, he attacks to disengage, Furious Charges back in, attacks to disengage once more, and Furious Charges in again. Despite the Hellstar's shields holding for the most part, and its parries and dodges holding strong, Brynjol still manages a trio of bone-shattering hits that seriously hurt the extradimensional anomaly. But it's still not dead, and the Space Wolf sees a strange fire in the many eyes that it is starting to open.

The Hellstar Presence raises its arms, glowing with a dull blue haze. It then releases this energy at everything around it, everything with minds. While some Commandos are able to resist, even this resistance is fleeting. Cyril and Temur pass their insanity tests, taking heavy wounds in Temur's case, and causing Cyril's head to explode, the gaze of hundreds of eyes to much to handle. He needs to burn fate to reassemble it. Cortain and Brynjol, however, are overwhelmed with energy, and are reduced to 1 wound, no matter their original total. But, this surge of kosmic energy seems to have weakened the Presence as well - it seems more...corporeal, and it is bent over as if it is trying to recover its energy. The Commandos take this opportunity to start beating on the thing. Although Temur's grav cannon bounces off mostly, it is Cortain's Gladius Invictus that strikes the final blow. The Presence roars, before disintegrating into a translucent blue fog, which begins making its way to the now-staring Hellstar.

"So how do you like it?" Cortain shouts as he recovers his Gladius. Deep in their minds, the Commandos hear a laughter. "We shall become one..."

"Ugh. I may require a new arm," Cyril leans up, "Onward." "Oi!" Brynjol yells, grabbing him by the shoulder, "Sit your arse down for five minutes while I patch this up!" "We do not HAVE five minutes. I will be fine," Cyril insists, "Cement it shut and we can tend to the gash on the Stormbird after retrieving what we came here for." "You'll sit down while I sort your arm out," Brynjol threatens, "Or I'm putting you on reserve when we get back to the Blade, you daft bastard." "You do not have that authority any more than I can do it to you," Cyril retorts, "Conduct a field patch and we move forward. I do not think Thexus and Rockfist will be able to protect Rose if that thing comes back!" Brynjol finally relents, settling for his fastest acting medicinal herbs and salves. "Alright. You're going under the knife when we get back to the Blade, though."

The Commandos resume the advance to the Armored Annex, before their voxes light up. Someone is talking to them on normally Deathwatch-only encrypted channels. "Republican Commandos, We've been waiting for you. We're quite glad you were able to arrive safely. Keep going. Everything has been readied, and the Child of the Dark Age has received our instructions." "I'm bloody sick of spooky stuff..." Brynjol sighs. "Fear not, Felleye Brynjol, for We are Human. We have been readying for this day for many, many years. But you must be the ones to perform your duties." "Acknowleged," Cyril states, "I am curious where you learned what frequency we use, but that is a concern for another time." "We have never, and never will we shirk in our duties," Brynjol announces, perhaps a bit put off. "Good. Know that We believe in you, Republican Commandos. Keep heading towards the Core. She awaits you, but she cannot wait much longer."

Accelerating through the *PUMP* corridors, the Commandos can see outside something has manifested. Something reminiscent of a sea slug, but larger, its face gashed open, and leaking acid. It is *PUMP* attacking the Cathedral.

"What the...I thought we killed that," COrtain briefly wonders, and then he does a more careful analysis. The creature is far bigger, at least the size of the *PUMP* Blade. It's got more pseudopods and eyes than the formless one that hung off the Blade. "We need its coordinates for an orbital strike," Cyril states, "But first we must see to Rose and the Artefact." Brynjol, however, pauses, "What in the Verse is that noise?"

Arriving at an access hatch, armored against *PUMP* all damage, the Commandos traverse the long hallway to an *PUMP* *PUMP* armored door. Reviewing the *PUMP* *PUMP* door, it does have a handle. Giving it a good *PUMP* *PUMP* pull, it opens easily enough. Brynjol growls with every *PUMP*. As a semi-trained chaplain and apothecary combination, he easily recognizes the sound of a heartbeat, growing louder and faster the deeper the Commandos travel.

"Good, you hear it too, the Heart awakens, reacts to you. You must hurry. There is not much time left." "Any faster and I risk ramming into a door," Cortain replies, "Granted, I could dent it, but this is a house of the Omnissiah." "Your devotion is honored and recognized."

Blasting through the corridors, it is clear that *PUMP* *PUMP* the Commandos are inside something, akin to a voidship. There are seals of the Mechanicus *PUMP* *PUMP* pasted everywhere, but eventually, the Commandos reach what reminds them of *PUMP* *PUMP* a ship's bridge. The lights are dim, but they have *PUMP* *PUMP* finally arrived. The bridge is odd. In the center is an old wooden ship's wheel. There are also a number of access terminals. They are glowing a soft red. Cyril lands abruptly in front of a terminal and checks for a point to jack in while *PUMP* *PUMP* scanning the screen.

" quaint..." Cortain muses. "Go forth, Commandos, grab hold. If you are the ones We have been waiting for, then there should be no problems. This is the point...where you choose." "Choose...?" Cortain wonders.

Brynjol, without hesitation, heads over to the ship's wheel. As he approaches, the pumping reaches its loudest crescendo.

"Well, we Astartes aren't exactly noted for restraint," Brynjol announces, "Are we in accord?" Brynjol is making it obvious he wants to spin the wheel. "Do it." Cyril's voice is distant as he searches the terminals for anything intelligible. "Go," Cortain adds, "If we can ram this thing, then we need it." Temur gives a subdued nod. "Is this not similar to the steering methods for the ships of Fenris? If anything you will have the most experience."

Brynjol grasps the wheel, and the lumen-panels ignite with a blinding flash. The screens ahead of Temur, Cyril, and Cortain glow an unvelievably bright red. The Commandos hear sounds, all around, disconnecting, releasing. A great groaning echoes through the armored capsule. Behind them, a panel sinks. Within the floating chamber, lies Rose, who begins to stir.

"'ve arrived!" she says, "Don't worry, I'm okay!" "What... what is this?" Brynjol asks, turning at the sight of Rose wired through ports in the back of her neck, connected within the modified resuscatrix chamber. Cyril starts at the sight. "Thexus, Rockfist, what is your location?" "They needed a Core, a pure being to act as its mind. I'm...connected," she says, "Rockfist and Thexus are down below, they know. It's okay."

And then the Commandos hear it. A beastly roar, mixed with a foghorn. The sound is beyond deafening. "That doesn't sound good. Fun, though," Brynjol grins.

And then, a tearing, as if something is being wrenched apart. Light swarms into the armored repair casket, and your first sight upon the light of the world's star...

A fist. A fist the size of a Macrocannon. The ripping commences as the Commandos feel themselves falling forward, onto the Cathedral Ring. The "bridge" rises, facing the sluglike creature ahead, the kosmos made manifest. Titanic legs step forward as an arm extends, a further beastly roar echoing a challenge at the extradimensional creature before it. A great turbine within the construct's chest begins to glow and spin, focusing inordinate amounts of energy.

" has awakened...our final weapon, the Number One, the First Dark-Age Interstellar Decisive Weapon..."


"It's... a God-Machine..." Brynjol coughs in wonderment.

The eight kilometer tall construct that the Commandos pilot repositions its legs into a fighting position, weapons igniting to life. Painted black in imitation of the Deathwatch's own armor, mighty Magna-Cannons cycle charges, as the Lances swing to acquire targets. Bombardment Racks load, and all heavy ordnance is readied. The God-Machine's polished black armor shines against the light of spess, mirroring the Commandos' own armor.

" friends," Rose says, "Give the commands, and Crusader Invictus will follow. They are coming soon, so just try to hold on." Cyril laughs aloud. "THIS is the might of MANKIND!"

Brynjol grabs the wheel, roaring an excited praise to his Primarch and Allfather. He does not like space combat, but now, now he gets to punch things. It feels so much more....natural.

"The Heart...Crusader Invictus's Heart, it's an Arc Reactor! A true one" Rose realizes, "You should be able to Arc Charge some of the Components!"

Cortain is immediately on it. The capabilities of the Heart Invictus are very similar to the Atomantic Arc Reactor aboard the Blade of the Long Watch. Brynjol wishes to charge the winged slug-like creature ahead of him, but finds he is discouragingly out of range. So the Heart Invictus itself is Arc Charged, doubling Crusader Invictus' speed and allowing for the charge. Cortain fires a wave of torpedoes from the Bombardment Racks, while Cyril batters the creature with energized Magna-Cannons. Temur focuses the World Burner Lances, taking careful aim and slicing deep into the extradimensional monstrosity. But it is Brynjol who breaks 12 VU in 5 seconds, drawing back the titanic fist as the kilometres are eaten up by the massive strides. The fist cocks, and slides forwards at a lightning pace to any observers, connecting with atomic force, and doing inordinate damage while forcing the creature back.

The manifested extradimensional slug is so much more than a mere foe, a true Great One from beyond the veil, and begins by ejecting an acidic substance from its scarred-open face. Though Crusader Invictus's shields hold against this corrosive blood-like black fluid, it opens the way for shards of kosmic energy to manifest and impact Crusader Invictus. Though this is damaging, Crusader Invictus roars in defiance, ready to counter-attack.

"This...this is incredible!" Rose says, "I can feel every punch, every strike! I...I feel like I'm truly seeing!" "THIS IS WHAT IT IS TO TRULY -FIGHT,- LAKHORA!" Cyril yells, "EMBRACE IT!"

Brynjol brings the fists up into a boxing stance. While Crusader Invictus's head is incapable of expression ... the Commandos could all feel a peculiar energy, the God-Machine emulating the battle fury, the energy and resolve, the grins on their faces, vindication. "No Princeps ever born felt this mighty!" Brynjol boasts. "I learn more about Crusader Invictus every moment..." Rose says, "Wait!" "Holding! What is it, Rose?" Cyril asks. "Step back, gain some distance...try Arc Charging the fists!" Rose says.

Brynjol flexes his fists, feeling the fingers flex in time with his own. Cortain is already on it, sending all available power to the fists. Magna-Cannon shots rain down as the World Burner continues its strafing fire, as the monstrous Great One ahead of them suffers under a seemingly endless barrage of torpedoes. Crusader Invictus takes a few steps back before approaching at an angle, building up speed as it goes, lining up the enemy. With the Kosmos made Manifest, the incomprehensible extradimension Great One, squarely in its sights, Crusader Invictus extends out its fist, which begins to glow. Engines suddenly detach the fist, mighty rockets carrying it directly into the sluglige monster with unbelievable speed.


The Rocket Punch flies true, heavily damaging the Great One, and provoking the creature to counter-attack. It spreads its tattered wings, lining up a powerful headbutt, while spewing more acid and kosmic energy at Crusader Invictus. Though it weathers the storm with severe damage, the Great One's headbutt barely misses, Crusader Invictus deftly sidestepping with engines in its legs. Some of the Commandos notice that, from every gash and wound in Crusader Invictus, burning red energy surges out.

As the Hellstar stares down at this mortal kombat below, Crusader Invictus's augurs pick up multiple incoming warp signatures. Numerous vessels appear over Augurus Prime, incredibly close. They bear the heraldry of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Of Mars itself.

"We have arrived, with the final piece we can give you," the mysterious vox channel states. "PRAISE MARS!" Cortain yells.

The massive hold of an Ark Mechanicus opens up, something being released into space, before smaller engines tied to it blast it towards Crusader Invictus. Rose instinctively reaches out of her hand, as Crusader Invictus does the same, aiming for the lightning fast package. Brynjol maneuvers the returning Rocket Punch to pick up the incoming care package, which re-attaches to the waiting arm.

It's a sword. An unbelievably large sword. Brynjol's face lights up like it's the Sanguinala. Perfectly balanced, the towering blade resembles an engraved Claymore, though for Crusader Invictus it can be wielded one-handed. "Now this... THIS is a blade!" Brynjol declares. "Yes....that is a big one," Cyril coughs, before recomposing himself, "LET US SEE WHAT -THIS- BLADE OF THE LONG WATCH CAN DO!"

Crusader Invictus is in melee, and circles its less-agile opponent. When the Great One tries to dodge Lance fire, the Magna-Cannons are there to punish it. When a salvo of torpedoes is deflected, the creature is met with a devastating Lightning Attack with the Crusader Sword. The Commandos hear a keening echo across the winds of spess, as for all the barrages of ordnance and blade you unleash, it is Crusader Invictus's surprise uppercut that finally downs the creature. It begins to fade into pale blue dust, as Crusader retracts its fist.

"That was bloody brilliant," Brynjol announces, "When this is over, we're taking this thing to Fenris and I'm having a fistfight with a kraken." "It truly was incredible..." Rose says, rather tiredly, "I...I'm glad to be of help."

The keening continues as the Hellstar stares down. But then the Commandos all shake, as Crusader Invictus turns at the Hellstar. It blasts a mighty roar of challenge across the winds of spess, as the Hellstar's iris narrows.

"Do you hear us? Your days are numbered," Cortain declares. Brynjol brings the arm up, pointing the gored tip of the sword at the Hellstar. Crusader Invictus begins to rumble. "Commandos, I..." Rose starts.

The Arc Reactor charges, seemingly by itself. Out of the battle damage bursts red flame, but out of the back, the energy coalesces, into what looks like a Crusader Invictus kicks off. It is feeding off the Commandos, off their resolve and energy. An embodiment of fear incarnate, against those who Shall Know No Fear. The Hellstar's Beak begins to extend, as numerous Pseudopods rush towards Crusader Invictus. Crusader Invictus moves to parry the rapidly approaching pseudopods. While one is deflected and promptly cut through,

"Commandos, I can barely...control it..." Rose says, as a pseudopod latches around the arm holding the sword.

Crusader Invictus, the God-Machine, presses on, uncaring that the arm holding the sword is damaged. The Commandos may not have the sword arm, but the Hellstar still lays ahead, and it keeps pressing on. The Hellstar's prehensile maw has extended and is approaching incredibly fast. Crusader Invictus may be the size of a mountain, but even it is dwarfed by the eye of the Hellstar. As the Hellstar's Maw rushes forward, Crusader Invictus meets it with an arc charged punch. The shockwave from the impact echoes across the Winds of Spess.

Brynjol howls at the top of his lungs as the Fist of the Long Watch meets the Hellstar. The Hellstar makes an earsplitting screech, as its maw, itself the size of a mountain range, cracks, damaged. But the Fist cracks as well, partially shattering. While Crusader Invictus is forced backwards, the Hellstar fades out, to repair the damage. Brynjol groans as the sympathetic pain aches through his own fists for a moment, like deep arthritis.

"This...this is incredible...." Cortain whispers, "But we are going to need repairs. Lots of them." Cyril lays a hand on Brynjol's shoulder. "Are you well, Brother?" "Better than for a long while now," Brynjol quietly states. He rests his hand on the ancient wheel for a moment, feeling the thrum of power in the core of the God-Machine

Crusader Invictus floats backwards, the lights beginning to dim. The tank in which Rose is in drains, allowing her egress. But she is exhausted, and collapses to the ground.

"She will need medical attention," Cortain announces, picking up Rose. "I think we could all do with a bit of recuperation," Brynjol states, still holding his hand. "You did well, Republican Commandos. The Fleet of Mars will hold for a while yet. We will transfer you a place to land. We...look forward to meeting you."

Crusader Invictus may be damaged, yes. But it pales to the revelation the Commandos have. The Emperor Protects, and Provides in his children's greatest need. There IS a weapon that can combat the Hellstar.

"Target Selected. Firing solutions acquired. Repelling inva-"

Executor Thexus extends a claw into the Kastelan's chest cavity. Ripping out the datawafers, Thexus gingerly takes one in a mechadendrite, and crushes it. Rockfist steps up to the twitching Kastelan, and kicks it in the shin. It tumbles down in a heap.

"Systems failing, directives not found, shutting do..." "THESE AUTOMATA ARE DISAPPOINTING MOCKERIES. THEY CANNOT HOPE TO STAND UP TO A TRUE AUTOMATA, A MARKED OF THE FABRICATOR LOCUM." "Aye, ya keep sayin' that. Although, I ain't complainin'. It's gotten us this far."

Thexus and Rockfist descend into the depths, further and further into the darkness.

"I'm concerned. The lass's been plugged in, exactly where her vision said to. Now, what are we looking for again?" "WE ARE FOLLOWING THE CODE, HELOT. WE WERE INSTRUCTED TO GUARD THE AUXILIA PSYKANA, AND WE HAVE DONE SO. NOW SHE STATED THAT OUR OBJECTIVE LAYS BELOW." "I didn't take ya fer one that follows orders..." "WITHIN HER VISIONS WAS A VOXCODE, A SECURE ONE. WE MUST FOLLOW HER DIRECTIVE."

Deep below, an ancient reactor stands silent. Rockfist and Thexus enact the rites, and the reactor roars to life, as if on signal. As they sit back, content as a great claw rips through the walls ahead, the hololithic terminal rises.

"You have done well. The Commandos are on the path." Thexus pauses. "I KNOW THAT VOICE...THE MESSIAH LIVES." "Messiah? Impossible, it cannot be..."

The hololith cuts out. "Ah, what was that?" "THE MESSIAH LIVES. WE MUST ANSWER HIS SUMMONS."

(25.5) Friends in High Places[edit]

Crusader Invictus floats idly, heavily damaged, its hand shattered. The Crusader Sword floats nearby. Rose is unconscious, but otherwise everyone on the Command Bridge is more or less okay. There is no sign of the Hellstar, only the shattered moons and planetoids that once heralded it.

"Did scans learn anything useful about that damned thing?" Cyril asks. "Have we a sample for delivery?" Cortain adds, "Hopefully to someone more competent than Doggfather..." The vox sizzles through static, "Lads...lads, we'll try ta teams over ta check..." It's clearly Rockfist. Vox signal is coming from down below, within the depths of Crusader Invictus. "Bring what you can find to the Blade," Cortain requests.

The pict-caster feed kicks on through emergency power. Rockfist is there, clutching a vox. In the background, Thexus's mechadendrites are flailing about as he floats about in the zero-gravity.

"Aye, lad, we'll do what we can..." Rockfist sighs.

Cortain begins to review active systems while everyone orients themselves. Crusader Invictus is on emergency power. Motive, weapons, and other nonessential components are disabled. The God Machine is suffering from a grav plate failure and a sundered arm. He determines that it will take much time to fix. He is stopped, however, as the Commandos' private vox channel kicks in once more.

"Most impressive, Republican Commandos," it says, "The God Machine walks, and the skies themselves cracked and shattered. We are quite impressed." "Deepthroat," Cortain wonders before stopping. This voice is different than Deepthroat's, and even he couldn't access Deathwatch encrypted channels. "Or perhaps...our benefactor in discovering this holy engine..." Cortain muses. "I believe so," Cyril affirms. "We know not who this Deepthroat is, but We suspect that We shall know soon. Republican Commandos, We invite you to Our chosen vessel, such that We may commune together. We look forward to meeting you." "Chosen Vessel? Aside from this one?" Cortain asks. "He means a meeting place!" a new voice, a woman's now rather than the synthesized voice of before, "Forgive him, he can be somewhat grandiose at times. We'll send you everything you need!" "Grandeur is entirely appropriate in the presence of a God-Machine," Cyril replies, "We will see you soon."

Sure enough, the Commandos are sent coordinates, their position within the extensive fleet outside.

"Lad, there should be a small access path behind Crusader Invictus's head," Rockfist states, "The Urist Brothers are on the way and will await yer orders." The Commandos grab Rose, and begin to seek out the access path Rockfist explained. They do not question at the time HOW the Squat Engineer knew of such a path. "Don't worry about me an' Thexus," Rockfist says, "We'll call for an Arvus once you're all sorted out." "Best of luck," Cortain signs off as he approaches the exit hatch.

The hatch is kind of bent up from battle damage, but not enough to significantly impede the Commandos' travels. It leads to a mechanicum-engraved door, the sigils upon it marking it as a transfer dock / airlock. After a few minutes, everyone can hear a clanging, as something connects to the airlock. The door opens, and the interior of an Aquila Lander greets the Commandos.

"Urist McMorpho and Urist McPequod on station!" the two Squats yell, "Orders?" Brynjol looks at Cyril, shrugging. Cortain delivers the Coordinates as the four Commandos board the Aquila. The two Squats review the coordinates, before their heads turn to the waiting Mechanicus fleet. "Yes, m'lords!" they state, as the rear door seals.

Cyril buckles Notomok into a few seats and maglocks himself somewhere convenient. Brynjol sits himself crosslegged against a wall, his fingers flexing slowly as he re-accommodates himself. The Aquila lander leaves the stricken God Machine, and is on its way into the cloud of Mechanicus vessels. There are countless Secutor and Monitor cruisers, most of which bear the symbols of the Skitarius and iconography of countless Mechanicus synods. Weaving through the fleet, which are holding at machine-synchronized attention, one vessel finally begins to grow larger, a heavily armored vessel of a pattern the Commandos are not familiar with. Cortain salutes and recites trivia about the fleet, though all eyes are drawn to the unknown vessel.

"Hmm. I do not recognize that pattern of ship... Cortain?" Cyril asks. Cortain strains his cogitator banks, but unfortunately finds no record of the vessel. "Unfamiliar," Cortain admits, "Possibly exclusive to this forge world." Cyril takes careful scans and pict-captures of the vessel - the ship is heavily armored, and comparatively lightly armed. Approaching, a wing of Fury interceptors take up escort position, and the Aquila is guided towards the heavily-armored vessel.

Every vessel in the endless fleet bears the symbols of the Mechanicus and Mars itself, arrayed above lesser synods. But it is the heraldry of the singular ship ahead that catches Cortain's eye. Adeptus Astra Telepathica.

"Sweet Terra...This is the homeland..." he realizes, "These fleets...they come from Mars itself!" Brynjol rolls his eyes beneath his hood. "These are from Sol, Bryn," Cortain states, somewhat annoyed. "Oh alright then..." Brynjol sighs. Temur glares at the vessels - emissaries from Mars and Terra, no doubt means something worrisome.

The aquila's vox stutters to life, "Designate Republican Commandos, this is the Tiamat-class Shield Bastion 'Bird of Time.' We are ready to receive you, in the name of the God Emperor and our Master. We shall ready a delegation."

"Acknowledged, Bird of Time," Cyril states, before turning to the Squats, "Take us in, lads."

The Aquila is guided into a landing bay on the Shield Bastion. Armored doors seal the void away, as the door to the Aquila sinks down. A number of bonded troops, also bearing the heraldry of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, begin to assemble outside.

Brynjol tucks his axe away under a fold of his voluminous ragged shroud-robe and leads the way in predatory crouch, as Cyril grooms himself and his Yeti. Cortain marches out with his polished heraldry, while Temur wordlessly scans the deck for threats. The waiting troops calmly salute. "The Master awaits. She is eager to meet you. Please, this way," the troops offer, though one voxes off to the side, "All have arrived. From here, we await orders." Cyril returns the salute, as the Commandos form up and follow.

Escorting through the armored Shield Bastion, its halls covered in tapestries of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, and the occasional finely woven rug interspersed about, the battleship sized vessel reminds you of the Blade in its length and armor. This one, however, has been customized in ways the Blade never would. Eventually, the Bonded Troopers stop, outside a large ornate door. The runes carved upon it remind the Commandos of hexagrammatic wards, but they're clearly just engravings. The Commandos attempt to open the door, but it is quite heavy. Getting a good footing, the Commandos push hard, and even with their power armored strength, it's still an effort. Eventually, the door opens.

The Commandos are greeted with a grassy plain and bright daylight. Far in the distance, a large tree grows in the soil. "," Cyril coughs, not sure what to make of things. Cortain stifles his bemusement, while Brynjol scoffs at the light. Temur takes a deep breath, appreciating the wide, open plains, not questioning how such a thing could fit within a battleship.

The Commandos advance towards the central tree. Feeling like they've been walking for almost a kilometer, they HAVE have been walking for almost a kilometer. The tree is very wide, and clearly old, while the artificial weather within this chamber is set for a soft breeze to make it sway. Rounding the tree, the Commandos hear the flapping of cloth, and finally come across others.

One is a dreadnought-sized form, vaguely man-shaped. Numerous mechadendrites trail off it, and others constantly scan the area. Robes of the Mechanicum barely cover the mechanoid. The other is a woman who appears in her mid-twenties, appearing a few years older than Rose, wearing a blue and gold sash over her eyes as she sits delicately on a palanquin rug suspended by four poles, the sun blocked by another rug acting as awning. Her light clothing billows in the breeze.

"Welcome, Republican Commandos," the mechanoid man states, "We trust there was no issue on the trip over?" Cortain begins sensing the vertigo as things begin falling into place. He bends knee to the two. "None at all." The woman leans over, " remarkable, but also funny," she laughs, "I see your mind. We are thankful for the respect, and yet, you are quick to castigate others who show it to you..." "Why're we here?" Brynjol bluntly asks, his eyes narrowing. "Master Clarity, there is a 98% certainty that, without introductions, all but the Techmarine shall not recognize Us. Such pleasantries are in order, are they not?" the mechanoid man states. Every so often, its voice changes pitch and frequency. Cortain gazes up, half in awe, half in horror at Brynjol's continued use of words. "Respect must generally be earned," Brynjol points out. "Oooh, I like you!" she points at Brynjol, before turning to Cortain, "You who calls yourself 'Consul' Cortain, you seem to know. Why don't you do us the honors?"

Cortain says nothing, caught in the moment. Cyril thinks a moment, coming to a sudden realization based on Cortain's previous comments and current actions.

"Cortain, would you care to introduce us to the High Lords of Terra?" Cyril states.

"Fabricator General," Cortain whispers, "Master of Astra Telepathica." Brynjol raises a brow, "Charmed, I'm sure." "To think that our exploits spread that far..." Cortain whispers. Temur merely crosses his arms, concerned over what will be said.

The Mechadendrites of the Fabricator General swivel between the Commandos. Cyril signs the Aquila at the mechadendrites, hopping to the grassy dirt and contorting his legs to sit lotus-style. Cortain puts his other knee to the ground. Brynjol and Temur continue to lean against the tree, not quite sure how to handle the situation.

"Ahhh, yes, you are quite correct," the Fabricator General states, "Do not feel bad. Your predecessors did not realize at first as well." "Now that that's out of the way," Master Clarity beams, "Let's sit together, and talk. I see your minds, your souls, I see you've been through quite a lot, no?" "That is one way to put it," Cyril admits. "Predecessors?" Cortain wonders, "My lords, you met the original Republican Commandos? " "They were not Republican Commandos, that is a title reserved only for you," the Fabricator General explains, "We remember them well, they were simply a Kill Team. They came to visit Terra, ahh...almost one hundred years back now." "We have heard a great deal of their exploits in Tiji, but information on the Kill-Team themselves is scarce," Cyril admits. "Ah, them," Master Clarity laughs, stretching on her palanquin, "They were certainly unique. Almost ran me over, they did! If I didn't feel it, I never would have believed they were Or-" A mechadendrite rushes forward at lightning speeds.


"OW! Or...ordained to see the Emperor himself!" Master Clarity recovers, rubbing her head, "That was before the little incident your sector had with Squats, and before this whole business with the...Hellstar, you called it?" Master Clarity asks.

"That is what it seems to call itself, Master Clarity," Cyril affirms. "Now THAT, that is a problem," Master Clarity sighs, leaning back, "The last time it was seen, so long ago, we used every weapon we had at our disposal." "How far back do we speak?" Cortain asks. "Much Archeotech was lost repulsing it the first times, although, We did not know it as Hellstar back then," the Fabricator General states, "We remember well, categorized as the Howling and the Harrowing, archived to be never spoken of again. Forgotten vaults were opened, every weapon readied, and even then, when we still had remnants of the Crusade with us those eight millennia ago, it was still a pyrrhic victory." "And this Crusader Invictus...was this too a weapon of yours?" Cortain asks, "To fight them?"

"No, it was not," Master Clarity shakes her head, "You should well and truly consider yourself lucky. The God Machine that the Fabricator calls Crusader Invictus, we believe it to be a key weapon against this threat." "It is the first weapon we have turned against the abomination to prove effective against more than the small manifestations," Cyril states, "Even our cruiser's dorsal cannon did nothing. The Crusader Invictus, though... each true strike hit home, and hit hard." "Ohoho, Crusader Invictus, it is powerful indeed..." the Fabricator General states, "We must put all our faith in one, although, if we had the others, Victory would no doubt be assured." "There are more?" Brynjol asks. "Were," Cortain states. "Even our Dark Age legends speak of God Machines, one of the many weapons available to Dark Age mankind," the Fabricator General states, "There were Three."

"If mankind could recover the other two, we could overcome many foes now giving the Imperium trouble, not just the wretched Hellstar," Cyril suggests, "Do legends indicate whether they were destroyed?" The Fabricator General shudders, a hissing, clanking noise reminiscent of laughter. "At what point did We say they were destroyed?" "You did not," Cyril realizes.

The Fabricator General arrays his mechadendrites as a hololithic projector.

"In the beginning, there were Three God Machines. The First was called Crusader Invictus. Possessed of incorruptible willpower, Crusader Invictus could steal its enemies' strengths, and reflect its pilots' burning wills to become unstoppable. It would be lost, a victim of its own pride, and recovered only fifty years back. We put in every effort to restore it for you." "We are honored, Fabricator General," Cyril nods. "At the height of mankind's conquest, the Three God Machines were an unstoppable force, who with capable masters at each helm, could conquer entire battlefleets on their own," Master Clarity states, "Though, the years have been quite unkind. That is why we summoned the one called Rose, there. We needed a control core, and as a survivor of those times, she would do nicely." Master Clarity looks down, "She should be awakening momentarily, anyway." "You... summoned her? The Past and Future had many aboard, slaughtered by Daemons before we could intervene," Cyril asks, "You singled her out, knowing when she would be needed?" "I had a theory. I thought it disproved..." Cortain muses. "I wouldn't be the Master of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica if I didn't see such things!" Master Clarity giggles. "Perhaps many were called, and we saved the last of them," Cortain wonders aloud. "It is unfortunate that it had to be that way," Master Clarity sighs, "But you completed your mission nonetheless. As did the Inquisitors when I placed the mission within their minds."

"Inevitably, the Second would be the next to fall, its name lost to time. Possessed of an unquenchable rage, it too could feed off its masters and draw strength from them. To temper it in times of peace, it would take the form of a great cruiser, biding its time. It would be lost to a space hulk, and eventually your predecessors," the Fabricator General explains, "Though where they are now, we do not know."

"And that leaves the third..." Cortain realizes.

"The Last of the God Machines was designated "Core Guardian." Unlike the others, it was entrusted to a certain people, cared and maintained for, and although it lacked the raw power of the first two due to its modular, combining form, it was capable of great feats of support. Even now, the Squats continue to hold it, honoring it as an avatar of their guiding ancestors. Where they service it, We cannot claim to say." The Commandos briefly wonder how the Emperor works in mysterious ways, how all three God Machines ended up in Tiji. "Yeah, Out of the three God Machines, I'd definitely say Crusader Invictus has a slight edge," Master Clarity states, "But you're in luck, for we are preparing one more weapon for you to the best of our ability."

"Could it be a new sword? My chainsword has lost over fourteen thousand teeth, and the gears are very dodgy," Brynjol begs, looking vaguely hopeful. "If you maintained that weapon with the proper respect, Bryn, it would not need to be held together by dried gore and a prayer," Cyril admonishes.

"Although, now it's our turn to be somewhat...apologetic," Master Clarity sighs, "As progress was...disrupted." "Listen, sometimes you have to saw the knees off a dreadnought, alright?" Brynjol shrugs, "It goes through a lot of teeth, Cyril, we've discussed this!" Master Clarity laughs, leaning forward, "You guys do get along well together." "Aye, there is that," Brynjol agrees, "Even if Cortain is a heathen who can't be swayed to the way of good bladework." "Say what?" Cortain stands up. "When is the last time we fought a Dreadnought?! You could stand to give the poor thing some attention between engagements, is all I am saying," Cyril yells, "Besides, Cortain stabbed that Berserker in the knees, not to mention any number of greater foes he has downed since with his Gladius." "Before we met, Cyril. I've had this chainsword for a long time," Brynjol reminds him, "Replaced the guard, the hilt, the blade-housing, the gear-linkages, and fourteen thousand teeth."

Temur coughs loudly, cutting the discussion short.

"We work well together, ma'am," Cyril concludes, "We are friends and brothers." "So I see..." she smiles.

"Fifty years ago, We dispatched a delegation of Holy Mars into the Area you call 'The Scar.' Within, We established a fortress-station, to construct a mighty weapon, which we decided to name the Star Bomb. We would turn one of the dead cores of the stars within into a destructive force," The Fabricator General continues. "Sadly, the fortress was raided seventeen years back. We don't know by who, for it is impossible to see with sight beyond sight within the Scar" shrugs Master Clarity, "We had intended to support you further, but for now all we can do is rush the Star Bomb into production for you." "And this bomb would...extinguish the Hellstar without collateral damage?" Cortain asks. "We believe so. However, We also note a problem. The Star Bomb must be triggered from the inside for maximum effect, and We know not what lies inside the extradimensional being," The Fabricator General notes.

A Mechadendrite rests on all the Commandos' shoulders. "Do not fret, We have faith you will make the Trinity proud," the Fabricator General grinds once more, akin to a chuckle. "Aren't Fabricator-Generals supposed to be humourless bastards concerned about production values and such?" Brynjol interjects, "Beggin' your pardon, and all that." "You do not question the Lord of Mars!" Cortain hisses. "Why not?" Brynjol shrugs, "He seems a friendly enough sort." "We usually are, and it is necessary to deal with the other High Lords in such a manner," the Fabricator General explains, "However, the third Fabricator General mind-engram interred within Us was quite adept at personal communications and social manipulation. It is quite the benefit to have his guidance within Us." "He is the bin of over forty thousand years of knowledge that no man could possibly remain sane while storing it all," Cortain bows. "Interesting," Brynjol admits.

"We are all friends here," Master Clarity laughs, before her smile vanishes, "Which does bring us to our next point..."

Cyril's head snaps to follow Clarity as her smile disappears. The Commandos are all now silent. "You call yourselves Legionary," the Fabricator General now states flatly. "It is a title given to us by one of our advisors," Cortain states. "The Paragon of Metal calls us that, and we endeavor to live up to it," Cyril adds. "I never bloody called myself a Legionary!" Brynjol insists, "Astartes is good enough for me." "Paragon of Metal?" The Fabricator General asks, the mechadendrites cocking, intrigued. "Theta Ten Sigma, a Castellax Battle Automaton and a veteran of the Great Crusade," Cyril explains, "His programming is somewhat inflexible. However, he has served the Imperium well, and continues to educate us in tactics and wargear now all but lost."

A number of mechadendrites begin to converse with each other.

"The Executor yet lives. Perhaps the other Marked...I digress. Let us focus on the matter at hand." "None have called themselves Legionary for almost 10,000 years," Master Clarity states, "And for good reason. You KNOW why the Legions were disbanded, do you not?" "No man should hold so much power, save the Emperor himself," Brynjol states. Cortain glances upon that horseshoe in his chest, "Completely." Cyril's hands clench into fists, "Horus." Temur remembers the stories, of how his own Legion nearly tore itself apart due to the Warrior Lodges. "Correct on all accounts," Master Clarity repositions herself on her side, head balanced on hand, "The reformation of the Legions is something we cannot allow to happen." "I think they picked the wrong problem to work on," Brynjol interjects, Part of my training involved reading the ancient texts. I took an interest in the Heresy."

Cyril glances curiously at Brynjol. "Oh?" the Fabricator General asks, a mechadendrite turning to him, "And what do you believe you have learned?" "It worked," Cortain admonishes, "And that is what least for the moment." "Did it work, Cortain? There are threats in this galaxy too great for even a whole Chapter," Brynjol states, "The problem was giving the Primarchs so much autonomy, when some of them were so obviously... questionable." The Fabricator General and the Master of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica listen intently. "What is done is done, and we can't change that, but I think splitting the legions simply diluted the power of the Astartes, Brynjol continues, "The Wolves under Russ, or the Ultramarines under Guilliman, would have been a singular force in this time." "Chapters can cooperate and serve much the same role as cooperating Millennials," Cyril disagrees, Whether you are right is now a moot point." "That was the point," Master Clarity pouts, crossing her arms, "What a mess things became because of the legions" "And now we are embattled on all sides, rather than crushing each threat we meet before it can penetrate our holdings as the Great Crusade did," Cyril admits, "Food for thought, Master Clarity." "With respect, Mistress," Brynjol says, "It was because of the primarchs." The Fabricator General raises a huge hand. "Tell Us, what would you have done?" the Fabricator General asks, multiple mechadendrites converging on Brynjol.

"Well, for a start, the likes of the Night Haunter and Angron would never have been allowed to become leaders of men," Brynjol begins. Cyril's armour rattles visibly with emotion. "You presume to know better than the Emperor's choice?" Master Clarity sits back smugly, "He put them in charge for a reason. He had a plan." "I would never question the will of the Allfather, Brynjol retracts, "But it is beyond me to see what his plans lead to, if the state of the galaxy is as his will has created." Brynjol pauses. "But in my secret heart, I believe the Master of Mankind was at his core, a man, and he could not bear to see the weakness of his sons," he concludes, "If that is heresy, then call me a heretic." "Such thoughts would cause the painful execution of a lesser man," Master Clarity muses, "And are only useful with the benefit of hindsight." "It was impossible to see the mistakes of the Great Crusade, for it was a more optimistic time," the Fabricator General explains, "One where even We felt nothing could stop it. We could not see what was wrong until it was unrecoverable." "Regardless, the Legions as you know them will never return," Master Clarity states, "Such an act would cause the death of the Imperium. None would tolerate another Warmaster." "Ahh, but..." The Fabricator General begins. "Oh no. Oh no no no no no no no no..." Master Clarity sits up. Brynjol 's hands go to his blades, as the Commandos all ready for anything. "Is something..?" Cyril asks.

"The Legions will never return, this is true and inarguable," the Fabricator General states, "But...a Legion of four...with only a few thousand Squats behind them...We believe that is manageable, and shouldn't cause TOO much issue." Grinding. Shaking. Laughing. "And if it turns out to be a poor idea, we feel such a Legion is...easy enough to deal with," the Fabricator General trails, "Do you understand, Republican Commandos?" Cortain grimly notes, "Understood." Cyril laughs outright. "Indeed, Fabricator General." "I vote we're called 'Brynjol's Angels," Brynjol offers. "I have actually grown to prefer the moronic label Doggfather saddled us with," Cyril shrugs.

"A Question," Cortain asks, "What is a Republican?" "I...don't know," Master Clarity finally leans in, "This sector is very, very strange in the way it does things." "Indeed," Cyril agrees, "Every sector has its idiosyncrasies, but Tiji takes the cake." "Then go, Commandos, Legionaries, with our blessing. Stop the Hellstar before it can do what it has come here to do. We will support you how we can," the Fabricator General states, "Ave Imperator. Gloriam Deus Mechanicum." Cortain gives a formal salute before rising. "Yes, I can't wait to get back to the utter boredom of political backstabbing back on Holy Terra," Master Clarity sighs, "But, before we part..."

Master Clarity floats off the Suspended Carpet Seat, and touches the ground, "Your hands please."

Brynjol steps to the back of the line, untrusting, wile the rest of the Commandos extend their hands. "I can offer you only one more piece of guidance," she states, "A brief glimpse into the future." Master Clarity places her hands upon the Commandos', and she begins to glow, rising up, her clothes beginning to flutter in the psychic wind...

05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)

Borne on the wings of angels, unto deliverance, The many join together as one, an unbreakable aegis. Let the fire into your heart, and purge yourself of doubt, As the sacrifice of few becomes the guiding light.

The wind swirls. I see four that lead the vanguard against evil... ...but the future is so clouded...

...for in the end...

...I see three...

05:42, 13 June 2016 (UTC)

The Commandos say nothing. Master Clarity shudders and hits the ground. "Ow..." she sighs, "Commandos, what was said was only for your minds, even I did not hear it. But make of it what you will, for it may be true, or it may be false. I can offer little else."

"We will...honor the insight you have given us," Cortain whispers. "Go with Our blessings, Commandos," the Fabricator General states, "When all is readied, you shall know." "We are grateful, Master of Mars," Cortain bows. Cyril nods, bowing his head. Brynjol frowns, nodding. "We'll think on your words, lords."

The two High Lords bid the Commandos farewell. At the door, the bonded armsmen stand ready to escort them back. The trip back to the Aquila feels faster for some reason, as the engines are warmed up, and the two Urists await their orders. Cyril removes his helm once aboard the Aquila, chill air escaping his armour with a hiss.

"Take us home, lads," Cyril sighs. The two squats nod, as the Aquila takes off. Flying out as the grand fleet begins to depart, the vox kicks in. "Lad, Jus' a few updates," Rockfist states, "Crusader Invictus is bein' moved ta Cataclysm, where facilities fer it were set up. Also, yer Holomap started beepin' again." "Good," Cyril notes, "Has there been another update on the Black Caste?" "Aye, lad, I'll brief ya once ya get here," Rockfist affirms.

Arriving at the Blade once more, with what Master Clarity said weighing heavily, the crew of the Blade nonetheless stand ready as everything begins to return to "normal."

"Where are we?"

Rose LaKhora floats amongst clouds. A bright yellow sun floats ahead. She stares at the dark-skinned woman ahead of her, eyes covered by a blue and gold sash.

"We're psykers. Our minds can travel to places lesser mortals can barely dream of." "Where are my friends? Where are the Commandos?" "The Fabricator General and I are addressing them in the Materium. Here, however, our minds can converse uninterrupted." "Oh. I...don't believe we've met." "I am Master Clarity, Eternal Master of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, Headmistress of the Scholastica Psykana, and Arbiter of Sanctioning."

Rose thinks a moment.

"Sanctioning? I undertook that." "Did you? I do not recall you making the pilgrimage to Terra." "The Inquisitors said-" "The Inquisitors were not entirely correct. Only the strongest of Psykers can avoid the Soul Binding. You have proved yourself in a different way, Core of Crusader Invictus." "It hurt at first, but...I will endure anything to help them, the Commandos." "Yes, I can see. You care for them, as they care for you. A bond of loyalty we have not seen in over ten thousand years, between Legionaries and Humans. "I won't fail them."

Master Clarity floats over, placing her hands on Rose's head.

"You will not. I know it. You are strong, and you will guide them as they guide you."

Master Clarity's hands begin to glow, as Rose's psychic potential is focused and guided. It is a painful process, and she screams.

"Have faith in the Emperor, and he too will guide you. The wards I grant you will shield you from the wrath of the Materium. It hurts, but you must bear it."

Rose shudders as she floats, barely breathing.

"You will awaken, and all this will be as a dream to you.

"We were beginning to wonder when you would arrive."

Executor Thexus and Rockfist Fearengine walk the plains under the singular tree. Upon reaching its shade, the Paragon of Metal drops to one knee.

"I've never seen ya act like this before..." Rockfist wonders, before he sees the veiled woman and the metal man. "FABRICATOR LOCUM, YOUR MARKED REPORTS." "Fabricator Locu...oh, oh 'ere we go..."

The Fabricator General extends a giant hand. "Rise, Our faithful. It has been ten thousand years, and yet you stand before Us. The Commandos were correct. You do yet live." "WE REMAIN READY TO SERVE. TIME HAS NOT DULLED MY ABILITY." "Fabricator," Master Clarity begins, "What is thi-" "REMAIN SILENT. IRRELEVANT AUXILIA. THE WORD OF THE MESSIAH IS LAW." "What...I..." Master Clarity pouts, readying a psychic barrage before the Fabricator General raises his hand.

"Theta 10 Sigma, the Marked were borne of Our greatest datasmiths and technomats. Your bodies were forged invincible. Your cortex serves as a backup of Our own. Know that you have fulfilled your programming masterfully. Heed Our orders. Assist the Commandos for as long as they require. Spare no expense to their needs, and ensure they are equipped appropriately." "THIS I HAVE DONE, AND THIS I SHALL CONTINUE TO DO. THE LORD OF HELOTS HAS BEEN ASSISTING IN THIS MISSION. WE SHALL NOT FAIL." "Good," the Fabricator General states, before pausing, " heard any trace of the other Marked?" "I HAVE NOT, FABRICATOR LOCUM. I SHALL SEEK THEM OUT IF YOU DESIRE IT. I SHALL ENACT THE S3 PLAN IN THE INTERIM. THIS CRUSADE NEEDS MORE THAN THE LEGIONS." "If you feel it necessary, you may do so." "The S3 what?" Rockfist adds. "Go forth, my Marked," The Fabricator General commands, "You have your orders. You are assisting, Rockfist Fearengine? Then you have Our thanks, and the Emperor's blessing." "Aye..." Rockfist sighs, "The Squat Holds stand ever ready ta assist."

The Paragon of Metal and the Squat Engineer begin to walk out. "Ahh, remember one more thing. We are no longer Fabricator Locum, but Fabricator General. Times have...changed," the Fabricator General states, "Though We have many engrams within Us, We still have one vision. One purpose."


Third Season[edit]

(26) Hall of Remembrance[edit]

Back aboard the Blade, the Squats salute as the Commandos return. The fleet from Terra has now more or less left. Rose has been moved to Brynjol's medicae deck, in a stable resting condition, while Thexus and Rockfist await at the Holomap. Cyril beelines for O'Malleys to check the holomap for Black Caste activity. Cortain, in comparison, immediately heads to his workshop to meditate on the sudden gravity of things. He wonders just how many secrets are hidden in Tiji.

At the Holomap, the Paragon of Metal and the Engineer Guildmaster pore over the map.

"Welcome back, lad," Rockfist states, "Seems there's been a few updates recently." Brynjol is ankles-deep in an MRIatus auspex, frantically scrabbling for his vox-link to question what is going on. His voice dissolves in a furious clanging as his leg has stuck to the magnets within. "Water. Earth. Air. Long ago, this sector was unblighted by Tau. Then the Black Caste arrived," Cyril notes, "If we are to restore proper Imperial presence, we must CRUSH the Fire Caste Paragon. Where is it?" "The world of Syran, lad," Rockfist states, "In the Sheltered Reef. It's a dusty world under a dying red giant star. Ya've been tasked with takin' out the Commander there, amongst other things." "And where does this leave O'Res'Nan?" Cortain presses. Rockfist shakes his head, "No word on that yet, lad."

Cyril gives the other updates a cursory review, before being interrupted by Executor Thexus. "CONSUL, I HAVE ANALYZED THE COGITATOR FURTHER, AND HAVE DETECTED POTENTIAL LEGIONARY PRESENCE ON THE WORLD DESIGNATE 'CU'BA'," Thexus adds, "AS ALWAYS, MY RECOMMENDATION IS TO PURSUE ANY TRACES OF PAST LEGIONARIES." "Loyalist, or traitor?" asks Brynjol, entering and dragging a now bereft-of-power leg behind him. "DESIGNATE UNKNOWN, CONSUL." "Astartes. I'd cast my vote that way," Brynjol declares, "Active marines who aren't broadcasting their presence to local Imperial presence? I'd bet my leg it's traitors." "Remember the lessons of Istvaan, Brother. Such designates are for individuals," Cyril reminds him, "They are not active. An ancient stronghold of the Legiones Astartes." "Recall that the other holds did not bear identifications either," Cortain adds. "Now that's not a happy world," Rockfist sighs, "There's a squat hold there, and they're reporting that the Tau has stationed himself there, and unloading a LOT of heavy ordnance."

"And ancient bones will keep, while the Fire- did you say Tau? Damn," Cyril spits, "Korst'la cannot be allowed to pillage ancient relics, but neither may the Black Caste operate with impunity..." "He said POTENTIAL legionary presence," Brynjol states, "That, to me, implies activity. If not, it can bloody wait." "And risk Tau tampering?" Cortain blurts, indignant.

"Ye've also got a contact request from Korst'la about an arms deal of some sort," O'Malley adds, "An' that Chronos friend've yers asked fer help as well." "Inquisitor Shady is not our 'friend,' O'Malley," Cyril declares, "He is a motherless dog." O'Malley merely shrugs. "Regardless, they can both fething stew," Cyril mutters, "Do we deal with Korst'la, or the Tau we can safely shoot at?" "Tau, or traitors?" Brynjol asks, "My vote is still on traitors. They are a far more potent presence - even in their potentality - than the Tau." "Seems there's a choice to be made, lad," Rockfist sighs, "Address the Black Caste, and let Korst'la's troops run rampant over any potential relics, or recover anythin' out there before Korst'la can get to it, but letting the Black Caste entrench 'emselves." "I would rather not have the crime lord have something that belongs not to him," Cortain insists. "Black Caste entrenchments can be broken," Cyril reluctantly relents, "But nothing comes out of Korst'la's filthy grasp without a price."

The Commandos confer. They are unanimous - Cu'ba must be hit first, before Korst'la damages, or worse, loots something he has no right to. "I BELIEVE YOU HAVE MADE THE CORRECT CHOICE, CONSULS," Thexus yells. The Executor stomps the ground, and a number of Squats rush to the command pulpits in utter terror. They hastily put in the coordinates, and the Blade begins the warp journey to the jungle world of Cu'ba.

In the Medicae Deck, Brynjol continues to monitor Rose, a hulking ice-white ghost haunting the apothecarion. Perhaps to his relief, Rose is beginning to stir. Chapter serfs and actual servitors are on standby for any orders he may deem necessary.

Cortain begins reading into Korst'la's presence in the planet, looking for where they can sneak in without killing more than they need to. He finds no lore test is needed, as the Squats happen to maintain a hold on the world AND an Inquisitorial Listening Post. Inquiring amongst the Squats, who hide no secrets to their liege, as to the size of Korst'la's presence in orbit, he is dismayed to learn there is an attendant warfleet and Studio 69 itself holding position. MASSIVE amounts of weaponry is being deployed to the surface. Purpose unknown. Given a smash and grab is out of the question now, the Commandos opt for a stealthier approach, relying on the Squat Holds to monitor the Tau and Dark Eldar.

Cyril goes to the Librarium to plug his MIU into a servitor and make printouts of the art aboard the Martian vessel. Most of the art on the Bird of Time, the Tiamat-Class Shield bastion, was geometric and carefully patterned. There were a great number of weavings and embroidery everywhere. He can easily grab a servo-squid and feed it parchment to make it spit out the patterns. It beeps after every piece.

"Keep her comfortable, and monitor her brainwaves," Brynjol intones to the Wolf thralls, "Make sure the recordings are backed up... I'll want a look at some point." "Ah..." Rose coughs, "Brynjol, I'm..sorry about what happened. But I felt like I needed to help. She rubs absentmindedly at the implants in her back and arms. "There's nothing to be sorry about, lass," Brynjol says, smiling, "These things happen." "I would have told you, but it was so sudden," she explains, "I needed to go, I was guided, by the woman with a veil over her eyes. She and the giant metal man were with me the entire way. Who...who were they?" "That was the Mistress of Astropaths, and the Fabricator-General of Mars," Brynjol states, "Two of the most important beings in the Imperium." She goes slightly pale. "Oh." "She is essentially the top dog when it comes to psykers in the Imperium," Brynjol continues, "And the Fabricator-General oversees the Adeptus Mechanicus, sacred guardians of technology and production for the whole Imperium." Brynjol takes a seat near her. "That they favoured you with their presence speaks highly of you." "She explained that Crusader Invictus lacked a core, and when I told them that most cores would be Artificial Intelligences, they seemed less than enthused," Rose explains, "I volunteered to be its core, as the...Fabricator? He said an 'intact specimen' of the Dark Age would be most compatible."

"I see," Brynjol sighs, "Remember, in our time, Rose, artificial intelligence is an abomination. We almost lost our species to a war with them. Machine intelligence without recourse to organic components is the gravest of sins." "These are core tenets of the Mechanicus," Cortain adds through the vox, "I have the rest in my cogitator banks if you wish to read more." "I still can't believe that. Our allies, my...friends, they would not have abandoned us," Rose mutters, "But I've seen enough now to admit that perhaps my days are long gone. As long long as I can help, I won't complain." "I've never encountered a machine intelligence, save for Thexus..." Brynjol admits, "And his status is somewhat murky to me." "Thexus has a skull in his torso, Brynjol," Cyril points out. "But I do not know why such beings - with intelligence, presumably limited only by their processing power - would choose to serve man." "Knowledge," Cortain states, "An artificial intelligence may not know much at first, but give it enough time and it will begin questioning human logic." Everyone listens intently. "Eventually, it might even get the notion that the humans are inferior and must be replaced," Cortain drones, "A machine spirit, by the inherent nature of its wetware, is limited to prevent such an uprising from repeating itself." Rose looks down, "I see. Perhaps there truly was a flaw in their programming if such a thought was not only possible, but inevitable." "Perhaps," Cortain agrees, "The only person who might know the truth is the Fabricator General." Rose begins to rest back now, "I see, it's something to think about..."

Temur finds it increasingly difficult to avoid the lesser Squats about, especially since his brothers choose to associate themselves with the plebs. He chooses a quiet place to meditate, still unsure over what he saw on Isstvan. The history of his own legion eludes him, and he is almost hesitant to ask the one who will most assuredly know.

Ultimately, under the guiding caress of the light bulb in the warp, the Blade of the Long Watch finally transitions to the Materium, a collective sigh of relief in the Squats. After a few hours of travel, the fairly large fleet becomes evident. Studio 69 leads the Vanguard, a Floating World amongst the void. It is flanked by a number of Protectors and Castellans in defensive position.

"Thexus, do you have exact coordinates for the Legion site?" Cyril asks. "CONSULS, I CANNOT NARROW DOWN AN EXACT AREA, BUT I CAN APPROXIMATE A 20 KILOMETER RADIUS ZONE OF PROBABILITY," Thexus declares, "I WILL TRANSMIT THIS TO YOU NOW." "Securest channels only," Cyril reminds him. "Your call, lads," Rockfist says, "If ya want a vehicle I can prep one for ya. Jus' so ya know, the world's a muddy, steamy jungle. Heavy vehicles 'd get bogged in the terrain. Light vehicles an' skimmers might be best. Take that inta consideration." In the meantime, Bridge Crew have report acknowledgements of detection from Studio 69. No further messages are transmitted. The House troops are evidently unconcerned with the Commandos' presence.

The Commandos debate - they first consider a Land Speeder Typhoon, but ultimately settle on arming themselves with Scimitar Jetbikes. Cyril's abilities as a Consul Delegatus opens up more Requisition, so he readies a Vorax Maniple in case it is needed, while donating some Req to Brynjol so he can upgrade his jump pack. While considering assets, Thexus offers his thoughts, which causes an odd sinking feeling in the Commandos.

"CONSULS, YOU WILL HAVE ENOUGH POINTS LEFT OVER FOR FURTHER ASSET SUPPORT. IN THICK JUNGLE TERRAIN AS THIS, PHOSPHEX BOMBARDMENT IN RESERVES MAY PROVE EFFECTIVE, AS IT DID ON TALLARN." "Phosphex would spread uncontrollably through the jungle," Cyril states, "We will use more focused armament." "Indeed, I would rather not ruin this planet for the locals," Cortain agrees. In the corner of the Commandos' eyes, a number of squats breathe a collective sigh of relief. "What did Tallarn look like before the Iron Warriors descended on it, Thexus?" Brynjol asks. "IT WAS A VERDANT AGRI-WORLD, CONSUL. IT WAS CAPABLE OF GROWING FOOD AND VEGETATION FOR AN ENTIRE SUBSECTOR." "And after the bombardment?" "A SUNSCORCHED DESERT HOSTING THE RUSTED HULKS OF ONE MILLION TANKS." "Perhaps we'll leave the Phosphex for today, " Brynjol pats Thexus' shell comfortingly.

Cortain selects Plasma for his jetbike. Temur arms himself with a Multi-Melta. Cyril picks the ever-reliable Heavy Bolter, while Brynjol picks a Volkite Culverin just in case. In addition to some basic camo cloaks and stummers, the Vorax are armed with Toxic Rounds and readied for drop deployment, while Temur hefts a Power Glaive in case he needs to charge something. A Thunderhawk is readied, and the Launch Bay cleared.

"We are going to move quite a ways, and we're on jetbikes," Temur states, "Just have the Urists drop us in a low run, make it look like recon.

The Thunderhawk is shot out of the landing bay, and towards the blue and green jewel of Cu'ba. The crew of the Blade train their weapons on the fleet as a precautionary measure, as the Commandos begin to clear the atmosphere. The two Urist Brothers work to keep the Thunderhawk steady as they begin to approach the zone illuminated by Executor Thexus, the tops of the trees getting ever closer. Making an Oath to the Wolf King, as it enables their most powerful combos, the Commandos' voxes are now picking up communication. Cyril puts the communication on the bay speakers.

"Commandos!" the voice of Korst'la states, "Fancy seeing you here! How is everything?" "Peachy," Cortain spits, swearing in binary, lamenting the element of surprise and its violent murder. "Well," Cyril hisses, "We will be contacting you in a few weeks about the meeting you desired." He makes a mental note to look up what a 'peach' is. "What do you want?" Brynjol flatly demands. "Glad to hear it!" Korst'la says, "I didn't expect to see you today to be honest. We're performing some advanced weapons testing out here. You should be able to see us off to your...left." "Is there a reason you're breaking our vox silence, Korst'la?" Brynjol asks.

The answer soon becomes apparent.

Off to the left, the Commandos hear a massive rumbling. The Urists report something gargantuan on auspex. Off to the side, a battlesuit of prodigious size rises out of the jungle, three large cannons on its back, and its arms doubling as massive guns. It's the size of a Warhound titan. Cyril stares at the suit for a moment.

"As I stated, I'm performing weapons testing. I do thank you, incidentally - if you didn't disable security systems back on Tempestus Solaris, I could not have...updated my codex," Korst'la explains, with a slight laugh, "I suppose I should give you fair warning, we...might have riled up the locals." Cyril glances at the others exasperatedly. "Why Cu'ba?" "Because it's out of the way, and a target rich environment," Korst'la explains, "Nobody really likes the "Lizardmen" or "Seraphon" or whatever they're called nowadays, that make this world their home. It's a win win. That said, I extend an offer of a shared vox channel, so I can alert you if we're about to use an area as target practice. I've found Artillery tends to have a bit of lead time." "Accepted. What frequency?" Cyril gives in. "We'll use Frequency 141.80," Korst'la states, ""As a side note, I sent some Detachments to search the area I'm detecting your heading at. There's a collection of ruins there my analysts decoded as 'Ruined City of Axlotl' and 'the 'Mortuary of Tzulaqua.' The area is scheduled for artillery testing, so if you're going delving, I recommend you make it quick. I'll keep you updated." "Acknowledged," Cyril replies. "Understood," Cortain states flatly. Cyril glances at Cortain as they speak in unison. Cortain shrugs.

The Ta'unar raises its arm, waving. "Have fun, Commandos!" the voice of Jamal yells over vox. Cyril doubles over with a snort of laughter at the familiar voice. "JAMAL, AIM DOWN! AIM DO-" Korst'la briefly cuts out as a rapid fire set of ion lances rakes the ground in front of the gargantuan battlesuit. "I will always hold a special place in my heart for Jamal," Brynjol says. "Mine is called the part I want excised." Cortain quips. "Yours is in a glass jar in my apothecarium..." Brynjol mutters under his breath. Cortain stares at him.

The doors to the Thunderhawk open. "Combat drop ready! The Emperor and the Ancestors watch over you!" "And you, Urists. We will vox when ready for extraction," Cyril replies.

The Urists hang around allowing the Commandos just enough time to combat drop the jetbikes, before pulling up and achieving a holding pattern. All around is heavy, thick jungle. Off in the distance, the Commandos can indeed see a number of stone ruins in the distance. With 1 DoS on auspexes, there was a subtle pulse of energy detected towards the stone ruins.

Brynjol breathes deeply, the smell of mud, moss, foliage, and jungle filling every part of his sinus cavity. A little ways to the northwest, he can barely smell something rotting, but otherwise, nothing of note. The Commandos choose to ignore it, reasoning that there are many creatures that live in the jungle, many lives and deaths, and decide that anything that produces energy in a stone set of ruins would be the best lead they have. While skimming over the Ground, Cyril and Cortain note tracks - hoofmarks and boots, signs that House tracking teams are nearby. Temur's huntsman eye, however, sees a different set of tracks - three-toed, reptilian tracks. The tracks lead towards the ruins, but you note heavier tracks near them as well - rounded, indicating HEAVY weight.

"This way, brothers, lizard tracks," Temur states. "Lizards? We are here for Legionaries," Cyril points out, "Or rather, their equipment." "They lead towards the ruins that are in our goal area," Temur reasons, "Potentially worth investigating." "Very well. I would like to find the Castellum as soon as possible, though," Cyril notes, "And empty it before the Tau does something permanent."

Endor'ing through the jungle, the Commandos zip through the jungles quite quickly on their jetbikes, dodging and weaving through the trees. Temur notes that the tracks are increasing in frequency and number the closer they get to the ruins. As the Commandos reach the outskirts of the ruins, the vox kicks in.

"Possibly more unknowns near the ruins, heavy traffic," Temur reads. "Commandos, hold," Korst'la voxes, "Incoming wide barrage ahead of you in...37 seconds." The Commandos grind to a halt as the ground, trees, and buildings a hundred meters ahead disintegrate in a shower of pulse ordnance raining from the sky. "You know, I never really took you for treasure hunters. However, I suppose in this case it makes sense you would check those ruins out." "Explain," Cortain demands. "Advance Detachments reported a lot of things depicted on those walls, ancient wars, scenes of local life," Korst'la voxes, "But they did see some carvings that looked a lot like Space Marines in the larger Temples. Figured you'd want to know." The Commandos stay silent, unsure of how to handle this. Were they expected? "Bombardment complete, we'll mark this area as target delay for now," Korst'la concludes, "I'll keep you updated on further developments.

Ahead, all that is left of the ruins Outskirts is glassed craters. The ruins themselves are now within sight, a hundred or so meters forward.

"He's remarkably chummy today," Brynjol notices, "He doesn't strike me as someone who gives information away for free." "Which means something is still alive there," Cortain predicts, "And he might want us to kill it." "I suggest we greet whatever it is with open arms and a pint of mjod," Brynjol offers cheerily. "I would prefer to bury it in firepower," Cyril says, "But we can do both."

Zooming over the craters, the Commandos find themselves in a ruined inland city, great buildings of stone withstanding the tests of ages, pyramidal structures aligned to wide plazas, obelisks, and carvings.

In the Ruined City of Axlotl, the Commandos can see three large Pyramids, one in the center of the city, one off to the northern edge, and one in the middle to the east, prefacing a courtyard. Numerous small buildings of stone and thatch spread out in the spaces as if organized by avenue and street. Brynjol twitches as he tries to reconcile the images he's getting from his augur implant with what his eyes are telling him. He's not the most tech-y Wolf around, but he somehow still did better than everyone else. Thus, it is surprising that Brynjol picks up the power pulse, much stronger this time. It's an odd yet consistent signal coming from the largesy Pyramid in the center of the Ruined City.

Brynjol briefly considers if these pyramids mean presence of a Prosperan kind, but noting the primitive stonework in native style, decides against it. "The big one, in the middle. Follow my lead."

Cyril initially suggests splitting off to check the city, but is rapidly outvoted as Temur and Cortain form up on Brynjol, heading to the largest Central pyramid and its roof comb.

"Should we check all the pyramids, or skip to the biggest before the Tau -" Cyril sighs and follows. "We can always fan out from there," Cortain offers. "Unless we trigger something," Cyril notes. Cortain coughs. "Knowing him, that is a given." "You're triggering me, Cyril," Brynjol rankles, "Now shut up and follow me into the heart of darkness like a man."

Brynjol pops on to the central Temple and dismounts as everyone either circles or splits off. The inside is dark, but autosenses and enhanced dark sight wolf senses kick in no issue. One thing he immediately notes is the amount of carvings that cover the walls. Most of them depict many types of bipedal, frilled lizards in various day to day activities. It also depicts larger reptilians with odd, white weapons. The carvings of stylized Adeptus Astartes also draw some attention. The Lizards are staring at the Astartes. However, what is of most interest in the temple's Roof Comb is the blue glowing metal sphere-thing in the center, resting on an altar. About the size of a bolt pistol, the blue sphere-thing just sits there. However, Brynjol's auspex picks it up as the source of the signal.

So the only way he can express himself is gotta touch thing.

Picking it up, it doesn't seem to do much, but then it rumbles, sending out a blue pulse of light.

"I got it. Can we go now?" Brynjol voxes as he tries to stick it in his pauldron. He pauses, as the orb is stuck to his hand now.

"Got what?" Cortain and Cyril ask in unison once more. "There's a glowing blue thin- oh," Brynjol sighs, "It just pulsed. I hope I'm not sterile." He laughs at his own joke as Cyril pauses the study of a nearby temple to rejoin everyone. Out of the ruins swarms hundreds upon thousands of creatures, vibrant blue skin, the smaller ones with red headcrests, the larger ones wielding odd white weapons.

"Oh, BOLLOCKS," Brynjol mutters, "Here they come."

Approaching Brynjol are a full horde of Skinks, as well as a seemingly endless Cohort of Saurus warriors. Behind them are a trio of quadrupedal armored suarians, bearing crystalline weapons on their backs. Brynjol leaps over the weaker hordes to get at the Saurus, swinging his Crozius about and downing 11 in a rage-filled smash. While Cyril swoops down low and guns the engines of his Jetbike, he orders down the Vorax maniple and his yeti Notomok to assist Brynjol in the swirling melee. Cortain and Temur begin a dive with their Jetbikes, unloading plasma and melta blasts into a Bastiladon, severely wounding it. Cortain calls a Fire For Effect, allowing Cyril to move in and blast away a number of Skinks, triggering his Fear rating and causing them to scatter in terror.

The Bastiladons aim their Solar Engines at Cortain, Cyril, and Temur. While Temur deftly dodges around the solar blasts and Cyril barely swerves out of the way, Cortain is not so lucky, his Jetbike taking heavy damage from the solar beam which hits as hard as a melta. While the Skinks are gone, the Saurus Cohort raise their white, angular weapons, which begin to spray orange hardlight in every direction. The Hardlight fire explodes Cyril's and Cortain's Jetbikes, causing Cyril to take heavy damage from the explosion, and Cortain to trust in his shield, which does protect him. However, the problem of falling from 50 meters up is a daunting one. Temur once more dodges as if the shots are a mere annoyance. A number of Saurus extend orange hardlight blades, which Brynjol cannot hope to parry them all, and he too takes heavy hits.

Now deeming the Bastiladons the larger threat Brynjol breaks off and charges a Bastiladon. Taking time to line up maximum distance, he charges a Bastiladon, bashing it apart with his Crozius in a wonderful display of lupine furiosity. With every kill, he notes the sphere pulses, concerning him. Cyril falls to the ground, skidding prone, but uses the time to line up a pair of shots with storm bolter and phobos bolter against the Saurus Horde, downing almost 40 of them. While his Yeti begins to get overwhelmed, the Vorax move in and down a second Bastiladon with Lightning Cannons.

The Bastiladon shudders as electricity courses through it, as it convulses and dies, the skinks on top of it scattering to the winds. However, at this point, the ball stuck on Brynjol is pulsing faster and faster. In a single flash, everything goes white, except for Cortain, whose armor prevents blindness. His entire world is pinkish purple, as he finds himselffalling. However, he can see the rest of the Commandos alongside him, all falling, all tumbling down.

And then, the Commandos land with a plop in...


"What the..." Brynjol begins, "I thought heaven was a myth perpetuated by heathen societies?" He gambols in the snow for a minute, before everyone else begins to stir. He realizes the orb is no longer stuck to his hand. "This is...unusual," Cortain wonders aloud. Brynjol throws a casual snowball at Cortain The Commandos are not alone - the Notomok the yeti made it as well, it seems. A pair of Vorax stand up, shaking snow off, while one of the Jetbikes, Temur's, also made it through. "So, where the hel are we?" Brynjol asks. "I am the last person to ask," Cortain admits.

The Commandos find themselves in a stone-carved room of some kind. Icicles hang from the ceiling. Ahead is a large wall of ice, covering an open doorway that they can barely see the other side of. Cyril and Cortain mourn the lost jetbikes, in dignified prayer and song as they advance. More heiroglyphics line the walls. With no cultural knowledge of Old Slann, they mean nothing to the Commandos. Cyril advises quiet contact, unwilling to give away positional data.

"Well, at least we have an excellent ice removal tool," Temur states, rounding the Jetbike at the wall. As everyone considers their options, Temur fires the multi-melta, burning a hole through the ice wall large enough for everyone to traverse.

Passing through the frozen halls, the Commandos can see a deep drop on the other side. There is a solid surface below, but it's about 100m down. While Temur and Brynjol have no issue floating down, Cortain and Cyril take time to climb down safely. The Yeti naturally climbs down, as the Vorax reconfigure their forms to eerily slither down the ice wall.

"I've got some experience in ice-cutting," Brynjol grins, "If needed." "Perhaps, but -we- have thermal weaponry," Cyril points out. "Good if you want to remove the ice, the stone, and everything for ten metres behind it," Brynjol reminds him, "Not so great if you want to read the writing on the wall."

Down at the lower levels, there is a door that seems in better condition, lined with an odd carved script that survived the test of time. The Commandos begin to analyze the Old Slann script, until Brynjol halts - the script shares a lot of common strokes and symbols as Eldar. There are a fair number of differences, but he can get the gist of what the door says.

Brynjol begins to parse verbs under his breath. "Crypt of the Avatars..." he pauses, "Oh, bollocks. It says 'Crypt of the Avatars'." "Avatars as in...fiery war god avatars?" Cortain asks. "That cannot be anything good," Brynjol shakes his head, "I've never faced one in battle before, but I've not heard good things." He gives the door a closer look. The heiroglyphs look unclear. If anything , it looks like a reeing frog. "Are you not the Brynjol who HOPED to meet a Bloodthirster aboard the Past and Future?" Cyril wonders aloud, "I would have expected you to welcome the chance to fell one of the pitiful Eldar's heathen gods." "Let's bust in there and punch whatever's inside," Brynjol declares, "I could beat it. I'll nut the bugger into oblivion." "THERE is the Bryn I know," Cyril states, heading to breaching position. "I, for one, am making peace with my machine god for my unpreparedness," Cortain mutters.

Brynjol moves up to force the door open, but the door refuses to budge for some reason. Straining himself, he lifts the door with his wolfen muscles. It is heavy, but he can ultimately lift enough for it to get stuck up above. Within this ice-covered room, resembling a large chapellum with corbelled vaults extending high up, the Commandos note a large set of statues. There are two visible to the immediate left and right, clearly. Further up, however, is another ice wall next to one of the statues. And across from the ice wall, a large carved panel. Around the base of each statue is more Old Slann script.

Cortain approaches the panel, and can see a handprint, five-fingered, embedded in the wall. He can almost swear you see bits of metal embedded within the handprint. It is reminiscent of a luminen inductor in your experience, but far more primitive. "Curious.." he observes as he traces the pattern with his robot hand, before planting it squarely in the pattern It pulses weakly. The metal bitz match up to his luminen chargers. He is about to charge the panel, until advised to wait until the room is secured.

Brynjol takes some time to read the script of the left statue. It is softer-carved than the other statue you see. "Xohka, Second Avatar of the Slann, She who Codified our Mantle of Duty, to spread Life through the Stars."

"Hmm. It refers to an Avatar of the Slann..." Brynjol wonders, "So not the Bloody-Handed?"

Moving on to the right statue, this one seems like it's wearing armor. "Tzcatli, Fourth Avatar of the Slann, the Greatest of Warriors, who extended the Hand of Friendship to the young race, the Necrontyr. "

Cortain spits as the ice worlders mentioned Necrons. Cyril laughs harshly as Bryn reads aloud that these stupid reptiles extended friendship to those monstrosities.

"Friends? Necrons? What?" Cortain asks. "I know! It is hilarious," Cyril replies, barely able to contain himself, "Imagine how that must have gone for the stupid creatures!" "Just like talking to an Iron Hand about people," Cortain shrugs.

Cortain is given the signal, and luminen-charges the panel he has stood near. The panel begins to lift up, revealing another statue. Brynjol moves up to read the statue, while Cortain begins approaching the ice to melt it with his Servo-harness's flamer.

This statue is tall, in regal gown. "Chotec, First Avatar of the Slann, the One-Eyed Lord who birthed Stars with a thought. "

"Who birthed stars with a thought..." Brynjol muses.

Cortain bathes the wall in ice. As the water begins to pool around and refreeze, the ice recedes to produce another statue. This statue is slimmer than the others, Brynjol observes as he reads, "Uxmac, Third Avatar of the Slann, possessed of Swiftness and Slightness, that could cross the Galaxy in a single stride."

"... in a single stride. The Webway?" Brynjol muses. He finally reads the door, which depicts a sad frog.

"Halls of Remembrance."

Brnyjol does not hesitate to force this door open. The Commandos find themselves now outside. A great snowstorm blows about. There is a narrow path ahead, but what flanks them catches the Commandos' eyes. The path crosses the waists of two gigantic statues, the size of Reaver titans. One statue depicts an Old Slann in regal robes extending its hand out, the other displays a withered, sore-covered humanoid in ceremonial shendyt and wielding a staff that looks oddly familiar. There is a small blade on one end, large blade and crystal on the other end. An ankh adorns the hilt.

"Hm. I do not have enough kraks to deal with those should they be roused to battle," Cyril sighs forlornly. "Is that a Necron Lord's stave?" Brynjol asks, "Held in the hand of a humanoid, an organic one, at that." "Is this their...'friendship?" Cortain wonders. "Let's proceed on. Might be worth mentioning this to someone in the future, though," Brynjol suggests, "Maybe the Necron weren't always so... artificial?" "Please," Cortain shakes his head, "This makes the Mechanicus angry."

The Commandos can see another door at the end of the walkway, beyond the two statues. It's impossible to see further than the two statues, as heavy snow winds blocks vision and autosenses. Approaching this last door, it depicts a smiling frog, and more script, "Tower of the Gods." It's stuck.

Once more showing mastery of breaking and entering, this room is comparatively tiny, though its ceiling is so high it cannot be seen.

"The more we travel this sector, the more unpleasant truths we learn," Temur says calmly, "Its really quite incredible." The Commandos pause and stare. Temur merely stares back silently. "Incredibly heretical," Cortain mutters.

Ahead, in the wall, are carved four slots. Interestingly, there are four small pillars with four busts on them. The busts are the size of Astartes helmets, and thrum with power. they have metal connection ports on the underside.

Bust 1: A lizardlike amphibious xenos, with softer scales. Bust 2: A lizardlike amphibious xenos, its face obscured in a helmet. Bust 3: A lizardlike amphibious xenos, its face bearing a scar near its eye. Bust 4: A lizardlike amphibious xenos, thinner than the rest.

The carvings in the wall each bear similar luminen inductor ports, and have symbols above.

Slot 1: Above this slot is the carving of a star. Slot 2: Above this slot is the carving of a scroll. Slot 3: Above this slot is the carving of a galaxy. Slot 4: Above this slot is the carving of a sword.

"Could these be...those statues...?" Cortain offers. "It could," Cyril considers, "Birthed the stars. Codified duty. Crossed the galaxy. And a great warrior. Matched to the busts..."

Brynjol first tries placing his helmet within one of the slots, but this does nothing. He puts it back on before anyone sees his point and click adventure tactics. Cyril instead replays the descriptions of the statues earlier, convinced there is a connection.

"Well, if we're matching... the thin xeno probably matches the galaxy," Brynjol begins listing, "Scar-eye matches the stars. Soft-scales matches the scroll. And helmet-head matches the sword."

Cortain places helmet bust on sword plinth. The sword plinth glows, pulsing with energy. Cyril moves softscale to the scroll plinth. The scroll plinth glows, pulsing with energy. Temur places the thinlizard upon the star plinth, but nothing seems to happen. Brynjol shakes his head, and moves the thinlizard to the galaxy plinth. The galaxy plinth glows, pulsing with energy. He finally places the scarlizard on the final star plinth, which causes it to glow and pulse.

"Galaxies and stars ARE similar," Temur sighs. "If you get it wrong three times, you have to insert a sacred relic to continue!" Brynjol laughs. Cortain and Cyril unconsciously grip their weapons a little tighter.

In the center of the room, a final plinth rises, this new bust looking pained and angered. There are words below it. "Xahecatl, the Final Avatar, chosen of our people to restore our race from the massacre of the War in Heaven." Outside, there is a huge rumbling noise.

"These are not Astartes ruins, and they are not our objective," Cyril notes, "At least something is happening. Perhaps they built atop a Castellum?"

The Commandos rush outside, as they feel the rumbling all around. They see the statues reposition. The Necrontyr now raises its staff, while the Old Slann swings a sword around. The winds have also died down, clearing the view. The Commandos can now see, high up in the distance a small alcove with a door. Brynjol's unnatural perception can also pick out a wall-plinth next to it.

"Last one, I guess," Brynjol yells, "Cover me."

Brynjol blasts up into the air, heading for the wall plinth. Jumping off the titan sized statues, leaping from sword to staff, he finally reaches the door. This one is unadorned. The wall plinth is unadorned.

"Worth a try..." he shrugs.

Brynjol thrusts his stone into the waiting hole The plinth pulses, and the door opens.

"I'll take a look and see if there's an alternate route for you," Brynjol voxes down.

Brynjol ducks through the doorway, crozius humming gently. Ahead lies a path that leads down. Unlike the carved rock of before, the floor is now metal, and pulses blue with every step. One thing catches his eye, out of everything. A tattered banner in the hallway's breeze. A tattered banner of the VI. Brynjol frowns, his nerves suddenly tingling. He steps forward, touching the banner with gauntleted fingers gently. There is a metal door, which opens as he approaches. Within is a small chamber, partially covered in snow. Leaning by the wall, a long ded legionary in ornate armor. A Space Wolf legionary.

Brynjol removes his helmet, his face showing no expression. The helmet drops, half-buried in the snow as he advances. He sheathes the crozius, padding over to the legionary and kneeling by the corpse. By his side appear a set of armored gauntlets, that look like they can fit upon Brynjol's own. His gaze lingers on the gauntlets for a moment, before he leans forward, gently detaching the helm from the gorget and placing it next to the body. The ded corpse is long mummified. Brynjol stares at the body for a moment longer, inscrutable, before picking up the gauntlets. They pulse as he gets closer, fitting them onto your own. With a mental command, he finds he can extend a set of claws out, the blades burning bright red. And then, his vision begins to swirl...

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)

Brynjol finds himself standing amongst a number of Legionaries. Oddly enough, many are wearing black. While some wear the black of the Dark Angels, some wear the yellow of Dorn. Brynjol is one of a rare few Space Wolves, while the rest are unmarked. Blackshields. He peers around. In the sky, he can see an overbearing green-white gas giant, and a moon half artificial.

One Blackshield, who looks like a commander, begins to bark orders.

"We have been dispatched from Terra to take what we can, and leave! The Imperium is counting on us! Our targets are the Ordinatus Engines. Though many of you have forsaken your legion, know the Emperor watches!" A number of Legionaries look to Brynjol, a Consul Wolf Priest, for support. "Now CHARGE!" he yells, "The Imperium shall claim its due! The pitiful resistance of Xana II shall not stand in our way!"

Everyone begins charging forward. Brynjol shrugs momentarily, before going with the flow. He can see ahead a mighty Ordinatus engine, its Sonic Cannon turning to fire. A number of techmarines stand at the controls in its rear. They bear the mark of the Sons of Horus. Brynjol puts on a turn of speed, outpacing the charging legionaries and leaping into the air on a plume of dirty, smoke-white fire. He leaps through and cut straight through the traitorous techmarines, laughing as they come apart like smoke under the baleful red glare of the claw-blades. As Loyalist legionaries begin to secure the machine, there is a defensive perimeter established.

"Return the Ordinatus to the landing bays for transport!" the vox hails, "All remaining troops push on!" Brynjol leaps into the air once more, returning to the fight. As the Ordinatus begins to rumble off, its Machine Spirit forced into compliance, Brynjol can hear something above him. The beating of wings. And he feels a strange heat. Looking up, something crashes right ahead of him. It burns with a terrible smoke.

The creature before him, a Heldrake, the largest Brynjol has ever seen, lands meters ahead. "A beast from the Underverse!" Brynjol yells. The First Heldrake spreads its wings, and breathes a burning gout of warpfire at him. Luckily, his shield and Faith in the Emperor holds, as the First Heldrake blasts a roar of challenge at him.

Brynjol drops into a fighting crouch, slivers of baleful red extending from the gauntlet housings. He charges forward, claws extended. The First Heldrake charges as well, mouth agape. It is so focused on the offense that it leaves its defenses open. Brynjol charges his claws directly into its jaws - one above, one below. The First Heldrake roars in rage. The Claws burn, mirroring his hatred, piercing its armor like paper. Brynjol pushes the advantage, calling upon all his strength and reserves he never even knew he had, and pulls as hard as he can. With a tearing of metal and flesh, the Heldrake's head is ripped in half, down through the neck. Brynjol finally lands on the ground as the world begins to fade...

Brynjol shakes ropes of oily ichor from his gauntlets, head spinning. He is standing on an icy, snowy mountain now, and feels as if he's being watched. Like someone's behind him.

Brynjol whirls, teeth bared. It's a Legionary, of the VI. His armor is ornate, bearing honored iconography. His features seem familiar somehow, and yet, you know you've never met him before.

"Who are you?" Brynjol asks.

The Legionary bares his own teeth, grinning. And then he roars up in the heavens, the sky booming with thunder. He stares at you, smiling. Brynjol cocks his head, before a flash of lightning flashes illuminates the sky. Brynjol leans back, bares his throat and howls in response. Out of his throat echoes a mighty thunderous blast, echoing across the mountains. The Legionary laughs, slapping Brynjol on the shoulder, before walking away, and his vision fades once more...

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) Brynjol finds himself standing in the snowy room once more. He shakes his head, staring at the gauntlets, and opens his vox channel. It buzzes with the expectancy of words

"I... am returning," he whispers.

Brynjol kneels by the fallen legionary, removing some herbs and a small flask from his belt, anointing the long-dead corpse. He draws his Fang of Morkai, and swipes the legionary's torso armour, producing a spark, which kindles into a flame upon the flammable oil. The corpse begins to burn, gently. The fire produces a glow in the snowy chamber. He turns, retrieving his helmet, and returns to the group, leaving the legionary to his pyre.

"Anything of note?" Cortain asks. Brynjol nods, holding up his arms. The large, baroque gauntlets appear to fit over his own gloves perfectly, the fizzing, baleful blades spring from their housings. "Sweet Mars...those are more than just Lightning Claws..." Cortain observes. "A slain warrior of the VI Legiones Astartes, laid to rest," Brynjol whispers, uncharacteristically sombre, "I'll carry these in his honour, and for the rest of them." Brynjol closes his eyes. "I would have been proud to call myself a Legionary, in those dark days. That was what it meant to be truly loyal, to the bitter end." " did a Legionary find his way into a Slann temple..." Cortain wonders. Brynjol shrugs. "A mystery we'll probably never know the answer to." "What of the rest of his wargear?" Cyril asks, "Will not your Chapter desire its return?" "He's more than earned his rest.. and it was old, beyond use," Brynjol shakes his head, We're more sentimental than other Chapters, but we have little use for old scraps of armour and dessicated flesh."

After a moment, the Commandos hear a thrumming. The sound of Thunderhawk engines. "Lads! LADS!" Rockfist breaks over vox, "D'ya read?" "We read you, Rockfist," Brynjol replies. The Thunderhawk flies by, before opening its doors near the narrow path. Arvus lighters with squat squads deploy to provide a perimeter. "Lad, we've been lookin' for ya fer DAYS now," Rockfist voxes, "Glad we finally found ya. Ya find what ya were lookin' for?" Brynjol looks at the gauntlets. "Aye." "That chamber was...far deeper than we expected," Cortain states, "We are prepared for retrieval. We have some vehicles to rebuild." "Well, we've recovered automata frames, vehicles, and weapons from the ruins," Rockfist states, "So ya don't need ta worry 'bout a thing. Called in some of the lads in the Hold fer help, we did, an' they were more'n eager to assist." "Good. We'll make all haste for the Black Caste, I think," Brynjol confirms.

The Urist Brothers report from the cockpit, "Ready to depart when you command," they state. "Let us go," Cyril demands, "Redsun will fall." Cortain looks back, wondering just what that chamber was there for. "We are done here. Begin exfil." "Aye!" the Urist Brothers state, as the Commandos all board and make their way to the Blade.

"Well, good thing is Korst'la left a few days back," Rockfist voxes, "After he gave us an idea of where ta find ya. He said 'e saw blue waves like that before, an' they'd probably be from an alien portable webway generator or summat, I forget. Don't suppose ya found any silver balls anywhere?" Brynjol looks at the others. "Where... where did we go?" "Yer at the Northern Pole of Cu'ba, where the snows can exist," Rockfist states, "Place has good reception for long-range voxes, not so much for short range, too much interference." "That seems to fit the profile," Cortain confirms. "But since when does a webway generator power up by the death of nearby creatures?" Brynjol asks, "That sounds pretty sinister." "Ah, well that'll explain it!'s a long story," Rockfist laughs, "Well, what's done's done, you don't worry a bit."

The Thunderhawk pulls into the Blade. A few hours later, the rest of the troops board as well, and as per commands the Commandos are on your way to Syran.


Rockfist Fearengine and Executor Thexus carefully traverse the halls of the Old Slann.

"I don't like this. Reminds me too much of the LAST time we had ta fight the damn lizards." "IF YOUR HELOTS WERE AS SKILLED AS YOU CLAIM THEM TO BE, THEN THERE SHOULD BE NO ISSUE." "Aye, aye, the Slann aren't anythin' ta worry about. The Last Old One is dead. An' can ya PLEASE stop with the helot thing?"

The Squat and Paragon of Metal stop. Rockfist wanders over to the former Legionary, his ashes resting within the ancient, ornate armor. Thexus gingerly picks up the armor with his mechadendrite, placing it into waiting claw before moving to pick up more.

"This...this don't seem right, somehow. The Ancestors should be left alone." "THE CONSULS REQUIRE EVERY ADVANTAGE THEY CAN GET. THE FALLEN SHALL CONTINUE TO SERVE. IT IS HOW THEY WOULD HAVE WANTED." "You've been tryin' ta repair'em for months now, an' ye haven't made much progress." "THERE ARE PIECES MISSING THAT I CANNOT REPLICATE IN RAPID MEASURE." "Ya could...take what they already have. I can try ta help where I can." "THAT IS...UNEXPECTED OF YOU."

Rockfist and Thexus gather the remaining armor, before traversing the hallways out, to a waiting Arvus.

"They'll hate us, ya know. They won't understand. They're like us - Relics are ta be respected, not repurposed." "THEY WILL NOT HATE YOU, ROCKFIST-LORD-OF-HELOTS. THEY WILL KNOW ONLY MY WORD AND ACTIONS ON THEIR BEHALF. IF THEY HATE ME, THEN SO BE IT. THE SURVIVAL OF THIS SECTOR AND THE IMPERIUM TAKES PRECEDENCE OVER THEIR OPINIONS OF ME." "Noble of ya. Yer programming ain't as inflexible as they say."

The Squat and the Paragon of Metal re-embark. There are preparations for Syran to be made.

(27) Red Sun[edit]

The Commandos' word is law, and the Blade is on its way to the beleagered world of Syran. Cortain begins compiling any information about just how fucked Syran is. The records seem to be scattered, however - it's hard to get a handle on what's going on there. Worse, a few things seem purposefully redacted. This concerns the Forge Master.

Cyril trains hard, and spends his downtime blinging up the tanks in the Motorium Poolium. As he places silver highlights on a Razorback, he can hear a hell of a lot of banging, clanging, and even some argument. He joins Cortain, the two going to the armorium and look at the tanks for possible deployment choices and identify the racket going on. The first thing that greets your location at terminal speeds is the remnants of a Scimitar Jetbike, skidding to the ground with grinding sparks. Around the corner, Executor Thexus has his claws powered, while Rockfist is following him, grumbling.

"Need assistance, you two?" Cortain asks. Cyril dodges out of the Scimitar's path as it approaches and glances at the support officers as it slows. "Why is a Scimitar moving at such speeds aboard this ship?" "The toaster 'ere is insistent on scavenging parts," Rockfist grumbles, "I asked him why didn't 'e just fix the damn thing..." "Question, how much of the Machine Spirit is alive in it?" Cortain asks, "If there is no flicker of it, use it to repair another." Thexus's skull glows at Cortain, as if processing something. "THEN WE ARE IN AGREEMENT. IT IS MORE EFFICIENT TO SALVAGE COMPONENTS AND REPAIR ANOTHER JETBIKE, THAN IT IS TO REPAIR THIS RUINED ONE," Thexus blasts. "If the spirit cannot be coaxed," Cortain states. "I defer to both your expertise in matters of the machine," Cyril shrugs.

Thexus pauses a moment, running another connection augury, as his mechadendrites carefully remove a set of platings. He then forcefully tearis out an engine block with his claws. Rockfist merely facepalms. Cortain salutes the ruined bike. "YOUR WARGEAR WILL BE PROPERLY PREPARED AND READIED, CONSUL. THIS IS AS I HAVE PROMISED."

Cortain and Cyril continue on, the source of the yelling still a mystery. "Have we picked up any transmissions from Syran, Rockfist?" Cyril asks. "Aye, lad, we have," Rockfist says as he walks alongside, "That Deepthroat has contacted us. He states that he is in position, and will be able to give a full observation once ya reach planetside." "Excellent. I am eager to see firsthand what that Mastodon your engineers put together can do," Cyril begins, "But the... agent's observations will tell us whether superheavy vehicles will fit the bill."

Entering a processing area, a bunch of Squats are having a very loud and very divided debate. There are numerous scattered pieces and bitz of weapons, all xenos in origin, the same ones used by the Old Slann. Glowing orange packs lay nearby. Half of the Squats are arguing, saying they should kept for study, as the weapons proved quite devastating during the Crusade. The other half want them destroyed, as they bring up far too many bad memories. Rose is standing over them, looking at them with curiosity. O'Malley is mediating, but its clear the debate is deteriorating.

Cortain raises his Volkite Finger to the air as he gets to Rose. "What seems to be the issue?" he asks. "Well, beardlin's," O'Malley begins, "We recovered some of the hardlight weapons the Old Slann used. We were debatin' if we should hand'em to ya, or destroy'em." "You keep what you kill," Cyril states, "We killed, so they are ours now. Study them." "We'll keep'em fer ya if ya command," O'Malley states, "Doesn't do us much good anyway." "Let me test this," Cortain offers as he grabs one, "Should this weapon prove too threatening, then it will be left to you."

Grabbing a handle of a weapon, nothing happens. Not even a pulse of light or a barest tremor. Cortain's augurs detect no power running through it. A Servo-automata is summoned for taregt practice, but the weapon refuses to respond to Cortain. "Why is it not deploying, Cortain?" Cyril asks? Cortain merely stares at the weapon handle. "Ya see, beardlin'," O'Malley explains, "They don't work unless a p-"

Without no one to guide her otherwise, Rose picks up a handle, and numerous weapon pieces fly at her, much to her initial shock. "Is it...psycho-reactive?" Cortain says as he rushes to her.

The weapon assembles itself in her hands, creating a long, white rifle-like weapon. "Uh...what just happened?" she asks. O'Malley sighs a deep sigh, "It reacts ta anythin' the Old Ones had a hand in guidin', but only genetically pure specimens. They don't work for us, since we're abhumans, and I guess they don't work for you either. Sorry, beardlin's." "WAIT. That implies... but...!" Cyril sputters. "It does a lot more'n imply, beardlin'," O'Malley states, "It's a really REALLY long story, and I can't begin to tell ya how many brotherhoods died over it. It's not somethin' we'd prefer to talk about, but we'll answer if ya ask."

Cyril checks the Ordo Xenos records on the Blade. The Inquisition has a large amount of these in stasis vaults on Cataclysm, recovered during the Squat Crusade. According to hidden notes, it requires baseline pure beings touched by the Old Ones early in their evolution to use. Due to this, the Inquisition really doesn't like them.

"Perhaps my mechanical implants somehow..."taints" me according to the weapon," Cortain suggests. "I have implants too, but I do not think it is our implants that disqualify us," Cyril surmises, "More likely our gene-seed."

Cortain points at the servo-automata, sensing an opportunity. "Rose, would you kindly...?" Rose takes careful aim, the weapon's sights disengaging and floating around in a circle. She fires a shot off, the trail of hardlight hitting the servo-automata, downing it.

"Well done, Rose!" Cyril exclaims. As she breaks aim, the sights float back to the weapon. "I think I like this thing..." she says, "First time I hit something!" Cortain applauds the hit. "Does it feel weird in any way?" "No, not really," Rose says, "Well, it does feel like the weapon just 'fits', but I don't feel any different."

Though some of the longer-bearded squats grumble up a bit, they defer to the judgment of Keep the Weapons. "When not in study, though, keep them locked up in a secure quarantine," Cyril commands, "Just to be on the safe side." The Squats regard each other, before moving the pieces to a secure part of the Armorium.

Brynjol, in the meantime, heads to the Automata Forges to try out his claws. There's a constant stream of servo-, guardian-, and battle-automata ready for him. Though all he has tried was the red Armorbane version of the claws, he gets the feeling that they can be switched. He feels he just needs to...get in the right mindset. Brynjol practises a method of flowing between sure strikes from his bearded axe-headed crozius, and switching to flurries of brutal swipes with the armour-piercing claws As he switches to a more brutal, unrestrained battle form, he feels a bit odd. The claws, however, seem to be responding, the blades beginning to flicker. Brynjol is cognizant enough to easily acknowledge this odd feeling.

The more servo-automata float in, the better Brynjol feels. More powerful. He cuts through more and more with every strike, the blades glowing a burning blue. His controlled voice begins to shift to bestial roaring, as more and more automata fall down, unable to touch him. Brynjol's mind notes in a detached way how the blades seem to lengthen, so as to better cleave through the hordes, while his body pounds automata into scraps of tissue-paper metal. Reflected in a pool of sacred unguents, he can see his fanged face, and hair completely overgrown. It begins to fade down as he calms his shit.

Brynjol calls off the servitor onslaught, the remaining few survivors drifting to the ground. They appear a little shellshocked, as they clear out the pieces of fallen automata begin turning them into paperweights. Brynjol sheathes the claws, admiring the workmanship of the baroque gauntlets as he heads briskly off to the Apothecarion.

As the Blade transitions into the Materium, Cyril tries to review the archives one last time. As he reviews the notes on Syran, Brynjol 's voice comes to him, as if from a dream. Cyril remembers Brynjol standing before him, in a white robe, being struck down by a dark force. He says 'Stop being a tit, Cyril. You know this,' in an attempt to get Cyril to remember Brynjol's Mentor bonus. Cyril punches the imaginary Brynjol with one gauntlet while the other turns an ancient script's page. Brynjol smiles and fades into the distance. "I have nothing more to teach youuuuu..."

Finally collecting himself, Cyril reads in peace. Syran is an industrial world in the Sheltered Reef subsector. Its environment consists of desert and exposed, wind-weathered rock. It is a mineral rich mining world with lots of radiation due to an enormous Red Giant sun. The red light is reflected throughout Hourglass City, the capital of the world, an oasis jewel amongst the rocks.

"Paradise under a Red Sun..." he muses.

The Squats assure him that the Necron tombs below the hold are under their complete control, and there is nothing to worry about on that front. Cyril smiles and nods politely.

"They're technically right," O'Malley sighs over vox, while polishing a drink. Rockfist merely shudders, also over vox. "I sense fear. Do you suspect a surprise visit from Ramsestron?" Cortain asks. "Nay, lad, he was the one who entitled us that place," Rockfist says, "Ancestors be praised, he's one of the less threatening ones around here." "Understood," Cortain says, still wondering how a Necron Phaeron can be nonthreatening.

The Blade complets transitions out of the Warp, into the comforting blackness of the materium. Another day of in-system travel, and the Blade takes position over the desert world of Syran. The Blade is currently holding over the night side, so as to minimize its running until a plan is devised.

"Bridge, do passive scans detect any transmissions from the Tau or our informant?" Cyril asks. Brynjol sweeps the Blade's augurs around, seeking anything on previously agreed encoded channels. Finally, ship vox picks up something.

"Commandos, it has been a while. You have decided to address this issue early, it seems." "We had the time to get here without further interruption," Cortain retorts, "With the others dead, this would mean that Redsun is the last of the H'esav'geka." "That is good. At this stage, you have options available. I can give you some observations now. The rest must wait until you have landed, where voxes can be encrypted further," Deepthroat states, "And yes, Redsun is the last of the H'esav'geka." "And what of their Ethereal?" Cyril presses. "There is no sign yet of O'res'nan," Deepthroat explains, "However, it is possible to rectify this." "Perhaps the vermin will emerge after its Fire Paragon is crushed," Cyril suggests. "Shash'vi has summoned down numerous anti-vehicle gunships. They patrol the plains between him and the Squat-Mechanicus mining facility where he has established himself," Deepthroat continues, "You have the option of breaking through directly, or making landfall within the mountains. Make no mistake, he is expecting you, regardless of your choice.." "And his forces?" Cortain asks. "Focused within the complex, except when they are sent out to ensure the local population's loyalty," Deepthroat says, "If you wait for an opportune moment such as this, you can minimize the troops you expect to see at the complex." "But then they may have a chance to retaliate against locals or take hostages," Cyril states, "And they need to die either way; we may as well eliminate them in one trip." Brynjol looks down. He appears to be counting under his breath. "I could kill 'em."

Cyril thinks a moment. "I do not suppose orbital strikes against the mining facility are an option?" "You would be wasting your time. The time it takes to clear the full retribution cadres sent out would give Shash'vi ample time to leave the world. ZFR Hyperspace is...undetectable to your technology." "You underestimate our skill at destroying battlesuits," Cyril admits, "But you do have a point. What suits comprise the bulk of their cadres?" "I have seen Crisis and Hazard suits, supported by Riptide wings, and R'Varnas and Stormsurges to provide long range support," Deepthroat begins to hurry, "As for vehicles, I have seen shoals of hammerheads and aircraft cover." "And I guess the Squat-Mechanicus facility is too full of collateral to consider a bombardment..." Brynjol sighs. "Lad, the local miners' guilds have petitioned that collateral damage be reduced to a minimum, some of that gear cannot be replicated in appreciable timeframes," Rockfist says, "Ya may be able ta wipe most of the forces about, but the world itself would be crippled." "There is one more thing. Within the mining complex, there is a series of long range gravitic communication arrays Shash'vi uses to receive orders," Deepthroat notes, "If you place a voxthief upon this, it will assist my search for O'res'nan. It is not priority, however. Only the death of Shash'vi is."

"Hm. They are going all-out for a change," Cyril notes, "Nonetheless, that sounds like a worthy goal. We should focus on the kill, though; if the Tau see us attempt it they may sabotage it." "I mean.. normally I'd be all for a suicidal charge into their ranksm" Brynjol offers, "But I reckon I could take out three... maybe four Riptides before they turned me into subatomic particle slag." "This is the Fire Caste Paragon. The greatest weapons are at his disposal," the vox begins to cut, "That is all I will say over this distance." The vox finally cuts.

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: Kill Commander RedSun. SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: Intercept Tau communications for Deepthroat. TERTIARY OBJECTIVE: Avoid Collateral Damage.

Their mission clear, the Commandos review the facts. They can either assault frontally, taking out enemy armored vehicles, or infiltrate and face battlesuit honor guards, if any. According to Deepthroat, the best time is to wait for the other Cadres to bully the populace and strike when they're out and away. It will bring a lot of heat off the Commandos. Juggling between plans of splitting forces, fighting through entire Cadres of Tau, and putting Cortain in a dress as a spy, the Commandos finally settle on a plan - they will stealthily insert when the Cadres are out amongst the populace, and focus purely on Commander Redsun. A squad of squat Engineers and Battle Automata will be independently dispatched to attach a voxthief to the comms.

"A focused strike is strongest, though a guerilla force could draw them off and vanish," Cyril suggests. "If only we still had those gorillas..." Brynjol sighs. "...What?" "Nothing." The Commandos stare down at a sudden outflow of profanity. "What the fuck did you just say about me you little bitch?" A squat marches forward before his panicked brethren drag him away, "I'll 'ave ya know we're masters of gorilla warfare, and 'ave over 300 confirmed kills and..." Brynjol casually punts a paper aeroplane at the squat. "Sorry, sorry, my lieges," some squats sigh, "Urist McSeal hasn't had his meds..." The crazed squat is dragged away, as he continues yelling. "Yer nothin' but another target to meeeeee..."

"Very well, lad," Rockfist says, "But if you're deploying stealthily, we won't be able to drop in troops to assist. What ya bring with ya is what ya got. We'll still be able to support with artillery and aircraft, but no infantry can deepstrike nearby. Too dangerous.." "Acknowledged," Cyril states.

The Commandos decide on going all out because Cyril rolled maximum additional Requisition. Brynjol selects his relic jump pack as always, while Cyril takes a winged jump pack, a stummer, and a camocloak. Cortain decides on a Thanatar maniple to accompany him. A Solar Sect Expeditionary Force and Vorax Automata maniple are prepared on a separate Stormbird, for their voxthief mission.

Cortain bestows the vox thief to Urist McLeader. "You WILL deploy these on the comms arrays," Cortain commands, "You will accomplish this with your life if need be." Urist McLeader stares at the vox thief and to the Commandos, "We shall not let you down, Lord Consul!" he states. Brynjol kneels before Urist McLeader, removing his helm and staring at him. He stands, still maintaining eye contact, and backs away towards the landing bays. Eye contact all the way. Brynjol gives McLeader a final menacing glare before disappearing out the door Cyril facepalms in full armour as his battle brothers casually traumatize the Squats.

"Expeditionary Force, the Vorax are expendable, but do not waste them or yourselves. Your task is a great one, but not critical. If you encounter resistance you cannot push through with the automata's aid, contact me. We may be able to move to assist once the enemy Commander is slain. Ancestors watch over you."

Soon, both Stormbirds are launched out the bay, towards the surface of Syran. McLeader's Stormbird flies to the flank, as the Two Urist Brothers dive down dangerously low to avoid anti-air counterfire. Landing amongst the mountains in the desert heat, the Urist Brothers manage to insert the Commandos, the yeti, and the robutts unseen. The other Stormbird is not so lucky, and comes under fire. Void Shields allow for a safe disembarkation on the other side of the complex, before the vehicle goes low.

The Commandos find themselves outside the rather large and imposing mining complex. There is a door ahead, large enough for everything, and a set of transfer pipes to some large tanks off to the side. Near the pipes, they can see some thin metal scaffolding. The scaffolding leads around the outskirts of the complex, with paths deeper in. Ambient temperature: Hot. The Commandos can see heat mirages in the dying red giant's light.

Cortain departs, curiously aware of the lack of wet yeti smell. Brynjol drops to the ground, hunching into a predatory crouch. The bulky turbines on his back flare in protest at the gyroscopic shift. Intoning a hasty Oath to the Wolf King, the Commandos push a nearby door open, and can immediately see the place's gothic architecture has been stained with blood and sacred unguent. The walls are covered in pulse scoring. Cogitators lie shattered and bitz of mining gear lay about.

"Bastard vermin have no regard for the sanctity of the machine..." Cyril mutters. "They have no respect for anything, so why give them any?" Cortain replies. "They do have big guns," Cyril retorts.

In this immediate area, the Commandos see three paths. One leads ahead directly, deeper into the Complex. One leads off to the left, towards a storage centrum of some sort according to the signs. The last leads to the spires, where Urist McLeader and his team were heading to. The red light of the sun casts shadows through the stained glass of the roof.

While Cortain stares at the sun, his armor preventing the blindness, Cyril intones his augur arrays to wakefulness, and picks up a constant and steady power signature coming from the center of the complex. It makes sense - the facility was merely occupied, not destroyed. There is a damaged power source in the storage areas. He can also sense a lot of electro-pulses going from the storage centrum to the spires and the Main Central Mining Complex.

"I suggest we check out that damaged power source," Brynjol offers. "Adviseable. I will hold the rear," Cortain agrees. Brynjol snickers.

Ninja'ing on through the outskirts of the mining complex, taking the path to the Storage Centrum, the Commandos briefly leave the facility once more through a collapsed former door. A few dozen meters ahead, they can see a building about the size of a 2-3 story hab block. The door is made of metal - it's clear this place is an afterthought. Cyril pops ahead, and can see the barely on its hinges door, swinging idly. This door is large enough for normal people, so Astartes would need to duck. Popping in with all due speed, the Commandos can see three subrooms within the storage centrum. One is the hallway they are currently in. Another off to the side has an intact cogitator and a thrumming noise. The last seems to be filled with tools that miners use, and is bathed in an odd blue light.

"I will handle the cogitator," Cortain says, breaking off. The area seems to control some minor defenses throughout the station. The generator is damaged, however, and cannot supply everything at once. On one part of the cogitator viewscreens, he can see a large landing pad. On the other, he can see Urist McLeader and his troops under heavy fire. Cortain realizes he can enable allied Tarantula and sentry defenses. Deciding that Urist and the Squats need help, he enables any defenses he can find there. As Urist McLeader fights on, Cortain sees the Tarantulas deploy and assist in pushing back the Tau.

Cyril, in the meantime, gets a vox. "Lord Consul, we're pushing on to the objective," Urist McLeader says, "We've lost a few of the throng, but we're pushing on." Cyril has brief time to make a Command test, scoring 6 Degrees of Success. It's all he can manage before the vox cuts.

Temur and Cyril, in the meantime, head into the room with the blue light. As they round the other side, it is soon evident that the blue light is projected by a blue torch.

"Got a selection of good things on sale, stranger..." the Merchant rasps.

Thankful to see the Merchant after so long, the Commandos resolve on upgrading their ship, Crusader Invictus, and the VF/SS fighters. Cortain is first, and manages to acquire a Cortex Controller cybernetic. Brynjol tries for Star Platinum Coating for Crusader Invictus, barely sqeaking by. Cyril manages to upgrade one of the Blade's macrocannons for a Volkite Grand Bombard battery. Temur upgrades his VF/SS with Lascannon Banks, enhancing his damage output. As a team, they acquire an Auto-Stabilized Logis Targeter to upgrade the Blade's capabilities.

The Merchant walks behind a stack of boxes. "Heh heh heh, thank you..."

The room is then quiet.

"It seems prudent to only return from whence we came to find another route," Cortain suggests.

Popping out of the Supply annex, no enemies sighted. Cadres not yet returned. Brynjol hears the shrill screech of Tau engines flying low. Everyone goes for Concealment, and all but Cortain passes. Luckily, Cyril's yeti is there to grab the hapless Techmarine and rush to cover. Luckily, Cortain's Thanatar maniple was set to overwatch in the building, so they are fine. A pair of Remoras make a low pass before blasting back into the sky. Brynjol can see the Remoras are circling the complex. They're a distance away now, but they'll be looping around, and probably more.

Cortain pets Nomotok. "That' will do, yeti. That will do." "Those damn skyfish are still circling," Brynjol spits, "Let's move ahead swiftly before they pass back over, and Cortain trips over a rock or something." "Shash'vi is probably deep within the complex," Cyril suggests, "I suggest we find and kill it."

The path is clear. From the Commandos' current location, there is a path that continues to circle the Complex, the path they came from, and a path that seems to lead up, into the higher central areas of the Complex. Entering Squad Mode, the Commandos move as one, through vents and corridors full of steam and oil. Private vox comms engage once more.

"Commandos. You made it. Excellent. Commander Shash'vi is close by." "Not for long," Cyril boasts. "How close are we speaking?" Cortain asks. "I have seen him in the upper levels. He is awaiting fresh troops and supplies near the landing pads," Deepthroat states, "Shash'vi uses a modified XV-9 Hazard suit. It is equipped with ignis missiles and fusion blasters. But that is not all." "Special shields?" Cortain rattles, "Honour Guard of Coldstars? A tidal wave of Vespids?" "Shash'vi has two signature systems that assist him," Deepthroat continues, "One is a custom Repulsor Field that not only provides protection, but can reflect energy back at those who attack him, at range or in melee. The other is an artificial-intelligence that coordinates his overwatch. I have seen him able to track numerous targets, and fire seemingly limitlessly thanks to this augmented counterfire system." "Concerning, but hardly surprising for the He'sav'geka's Fire Caste Commander," Cyril says. "He will also have Remora drones nearby providing cover thanks to an enhanced Drone controller," Deepthroat concludes, "That is all the intel I have been able to gather. You must deal with him as you deem fit." "At least he will not be a pushover like the last two," Cortain believes. "Your assistance has been extremely helpful, Deepthroat," Cyril replies, "We will take it from here." "I will keep you updated if the situation changes. Remember, he can turn your own attacks against you. Deepthroat out. " The vox cuts.

Brynjol looks uncharacteristically solemn. "Well, you three ought to be alright, since you hit like infants. I might be in a spot of bother, though." The Space Wolf chuckles, proceeding on, monologuing on the various weak points in Tau Battlesuits. "Excuse me?" Cortain blusters, "I punch force fields daily." "Those aren't force fields, Cortain, those are large panes of sugarglass," Brynjol laughs, "I didn't want your feelings to be hurt." "...I feel that this makes the Hellstar a lot less threatening," Cortain sighs, "Although for the diabetic..." "We are dealing with a Hazard suit, not a Crisis, brother," Cyril reminds. "I know that, but it's best to be prepared," Brynjol acknowledges, "Besides, I've never encountered a Hazard Suit before, personally."

Cyril, ninjaing ahead, comes across a trio of XV-8s. Beyond them are a line of Fire Warriors. There are a number of blindfolded and tied natives. He commands some knowledge of Tau speak, and can understand what the Crisis Team Leader saying. These native peeps are about to get executed for passive aggressive rebellion against the Tau Empire and the Black Caste. He weighs his options - he can let the civilians die, or he can break concealment and save them.

"Cyril, report," Brynjol commands. "Three XV-8s and a line of Fire Warriors about to execute restrained loyalists," Cyril voxes, "Engaging; move to support!" "That's my line, you insubordinate twit!" Brynjol yells as the rest of the Commandos rush forward. "And here I thought we would get a quick way in..." Cortain sighs.

Cyril unloads Storm-Twinned Kraken bolts into a Crisis suit, pulping it in the surprise round (after expending fate to prevent a blustery inopportune miss), while turning his bolter to the Tau and disrupting their formation.

"AW EMPEROR, BOBBUS NO!" a peep yells as blood splatters across him, "CURSE YOU VILE XENOS!" "Stevus, I think I'm fine," the other peep says. "The Angels of Death are here, gentlemen," Cyril says wryly from beneath his cloak. "Ach, I knew we weren't abandoned!" a Squat peep yells. "You tit Cyril, finish a bloody job for once!" Bryn snarls, motion with a sweep of his axe at the half-decimated Crisis and Fire Warrior squads, "You're getting a smack after this!" Brynjol jumps forward, bringing down his crozius and Burning Claw down on the two crisis suits in an overwhelming show of force. Overwatched plasma bounces off his Rosarius harmlessly as Brynjol twists in midair, contorting through the hail of pulsefire. The remaining Tau begin to retreat,

"Temur, if you would?" Cyril offers. Temur wordlessly raises his bolter, and fires at the remaining fleeing Tau, exploding it in a blast of gore. Such a pleb is not even worth it to comment on.

"That was pleasantly one-sided," Cyril comments as the Tau explodes in a shower of gore, kneeling to free the nearest Squat and Humans by sawing their restraints with his Charnabal Sabre. There's one squat peep, and four human peeps. Cutting the peeps loose, they begin to stand up, before they truly realize who has just saved them. Bobbus and Stevus drop to their knees in tears, while another peep can't seem to catch his breath.

"Deathwatch...R...Republican Commandos," the last peep coughs, "I...we are blessed..."

A fair number of alarms are going off right now. "No time to stop," Brynjol insists, "Signal medicae recovery teams to this area, we have to proceed." "Get to safety," Cyril commands, "There are many more of them, but we have an appointment with their Commander." "Aye, m'lords," Urist McPeep states, "We'll make our way out. The one who did this to us, the filthy xenos in charge, we saw him higher up. He's been waiting for something. Jus' take the access ramps up, and that'll lead ya to the landing bays." "The Deathwatch truly favors our world" the asthmatic peep says, "In our darkest hours, a Deathwatch team delivers us once more!" Cortain stares at him. He says nothing as he orders the giant automata to follow as he begins approaching the ramps.

Rushing up the ramp, the station's speakers then begin to engage.

"Republican Commandos. So ya finally got here...." the vox blasts, "Killin' you is gonna take some time, slow and painful. O'res'nan saw that, and that's why he put me in charge." It's got a desert twang to it. "For you," Cyril replies in Tau. "It takes a kind of cruelty to be efficient, something that's drilled into you gue'la as well." Shash'vi continues, "I saw it for myself, when I watched the Damocles Gulf itself burn. A wall of endless flame, incinerating all in its path." "Bloody showboating, one and all..." Brynjol mutters under his breath, "You're an odious little bastard, and I am going to stab you many times." "So you are in charge of - what, exactly? A few cowards shooting at civilians and some washed-up lesser castes in slapdash battlesuits that explode when poked?" Cyril taunts. "HahahahahAHAHA!" Shash'vi laughs, "Let the lesser fools do as they will. The cities of this world are...burning."

"Blade, damage control," Cyril orders, "I want our full forces brought to bear to stem the tide." "Lad...what d'ya want us ta do? We orbitally bombard the Tau, an' we wipe the cities as well!" Rockfist notes. "Send automata to distract them from Imperial civilians and equipment!" Cyril insists. "You chose this moment. You chose to come to me when my forces were out," Shash'vi voxes, "You can be just as cruel as I am!"

Arriving at the landing pads, the red giant that lights this world glows hot. "Cruelty is the mercy of the wise, Tau slime," Cyril replies, his patience thinning, "How many more would burn if we permitted you to escape?" The Commandos hear a thunk, as Shas'o Shash'vi lands ahead, his weapons and shields deploying.

"Humans are cruel, Gue'ron'sha, and I'm VERY in touch with my inner gue'la!"

Swooping down low, a number of Remoras begin to float around the landing pad, ready to offer cover. "I will enjoy adding your head to my trophy rack, Tau," Temur calmly states, "No xenos shall ever claim a likeness to the perfection of mankind and survive." The Commandos pause a moment. Temur doesn't speak often, but when he does...

Shas'o Shash'vi is in a heavily altered XV-9 Commander-class battlesuit on each arm are attached a pair of fusion blasters, while on the suit's back are missile pods with unknown pattern of missiles loaded. By far his most identifying feature are the drone-controlled arms maneuvering reflector projectors at any possible threats - they move too fast to track, so it is reasoned they must be AI-Controlled, as Deepthroat advised. Brynjol is immediately off, claws and crozius raised. Trusting in his rosarius to protect him, he blasts through showers of ignis missiles, leaving his trail a fiery wake. Brynjol's claw strikes, but is barely deflected by the shield. Cortain moves in to assist, charging forward with his Gladius Invictus. Redsun aligns the shield, but the Gladius's unique properties cut through it easy, striking the battlesuit. Cortain's Thanatar Siege-Automata all aim their Heavy Lascannons at the Tau Commander, punching through the shield and heavily damaging him.

Commander Redsun realigns his shield plates forward, and rushes toward Brynjol and Cortain. While Cortain barely sidesteps, Brynjol waises his crozius and seeks to parry. Unfortunately for him, the shield plates' defensive field kicks in at maximum over-reflect. Brynjol's own devastating hit is transferred back to him, draining his wounds and leaving him heavily damaged. The surrounding Remoras fire seeker missiles into Cyril, Temur, Notomok the Yeti, and the Robots, causing Temur to barely pass his shield, and Notomok to take a faceful of missile.

"Keep at Redsun, brothers," Temur yells, "I will deal with these!" The Commandos know better than to further anger an already irate White Scar, and leave Temur to down a Remora with his Grav Cannon. Cyril decides to risk it, and turns his Storm Bolter to another, downing it as well. Notomok the yeti moves in to assist Cortain and Brynjol, giving them that delicious ganking bonus to Weapon Skill, and even managing to knock the suit to the ground. Now in melee, Brynjol goes fuckwild with his claws and crozius, and while the AI controlling the shield is fast, it's not fast enough for a turbocharged Space Wolf. Brynjol sinks his claws into Commander Redsun, to be followed by a quick stab from Cortain. The Thanatar continue their assault with Graviton Ram and Heavy Lascannon, but the shield holds.

"Can't lay a finger on me!" the Fire Caste Paragon laughs. He engages his jetpack, righting himself up.To the Commandos' surprise, the Tau retracts some of the shields, and sticks out his arm, where the twin-linked fusion gun is. Then he rips off a fusion gun, and attaches it to his other arm. Engaging his fusion blades, Redsun begins to attack everything in sight of him. While Cortain's shield holds, Cyril's yeti can only deflect one attack before it gets cut by fusion energy.

"Call him off," Cortain suggests, pointing to the yeti.

"That would be stupid; he would be unable to defend himself," Cyril replies, "Besides, Bryn is just as injured."

"The beast does not look like he can withstand much more," Cortain warns him.

To the Commandos' annoyance, Redsun is still not done. The Commander then jets out with drone-controlled Vectored Retrothrusters, and gathers some safe distance near a large Mining Complex Antenna. Ripping the antenna out of the floor, he hefts it under his suit, swinging it around like a massive club. While Brynjol's shields hold, the impact knocks out a Thanatar, and damages Cortain and the Yeti further. The Yeti groans as its broken ribs begin to protrude.

"Always the improvised close combat weapons with these anomalous turds..." Cyril mutters in the sector's native variant of Gothic. "TO BORROW YOUR WORDS, GUE'RON'SHA, I'M FUCKING INVINCIBLE!" the crazed Fire Caste Paragon yells.

The Commandos note Redsun's shield seems to be a bit weaker, since he's going nuts with his fusion blasters. Temur takes careful aim, and unloads with his Grav Cannon. While four shots get through, one grav beam is reflected onto Temur, who takes severe damage from his own attack. Fire Caste Paragon Redsun's XV-9, however, is going critical.

"Son of a tuk' got me..."

Starting to lose control of his battlesuit, Redsun points himself at one last location, charging the bomb within him. As he impacts the ground, right next to Cyril's Yeti, he croaks a horrible laugh.

"You'll find that...O'Res' much...crueler than me..."


Cyril goes pale as his Yeti is caught in the blast. Burning fate to make it live, he screams, a horrible raw noise, as he jets forward to check his yeti. "BRYNJOL! MEDICAE!". Brynjol is a doctor, however, not a vet, and flubs the medicae test to Cyril's horror. There is nothing left of Shash'vi, except the two fusion blasters he was using, which Cortain salvages. Those Commandos who are not consumed by rage note their vox is receiving a signal.

"I saw the end of that fight. You did quite well," Deepthroat states, "I am tracing the contacts your squat allies have placed on the enemy comms system. As soon as I locate O'res'nan, you shall know." "Good," Cortain nods, "I would rather end this soon, while he still squirms." "I believe your Stormbird is coming in soon. Be prepared for O'res'nan," the vox begins to fade, "He will not squirm. Deepthroat out." "He will squirm," Cyril growls. "He will squirm if we have to plant NEEDLES in his SPINE."

Sure enough, the Stormbird with the Urist Brothers pops in. Seeing the damage, they deploy the void shields as they land. The Urist brothers land in close, to take the Commandos back to the Blade, and to rush the yeti to medicae deck. Cortain goes to the trophy room to place the two guns of foreign make in the Pedestal of the Greater Good.

The Commandos' vox kicks in for the last time, this time from Urist McLeader. "M'lieges, we...completed the mission. We lost some brave lads, your name we couldn't fail." "How many?" Cyril mutters. "We'll...mourn in our own way," Urist McLeader states, "You don't worry." "You have made the Ancestors proud," Cortain affirms.

As the Fenrisian serfs rush the yeti on over, everyone except Cortain following it, there is a frantic rush of activity. But at least the world is secure for now, ruined towns notwithstanding.

(28) Jamais Vu[edit]

On the Commandos' requests, the Squats order the Blade to the world of Taedium, where their best friend in the Inquisition, Chronos Inquisitor Marshall Shady, allegedly awaits. With prayers to the ancestors and the Emperor, the living crew brace themselves for warp translation, and the Commandos are on their way. Luckily, the worlds are very close by, so it's only ~3 days of warp travel.

Brynjol closes his eyes as the gut-wrenching tug of transition washes over him, then continues with his medicae duties Of the 12 squat survivors from the previous deployment, many are heavily wounded. 8 rotund corpses are also sequestered for processing. He briefly considers the soylens viridiens manufactorum on board the ship, then delivers a series of last rites to the squat bodies. Cortain, in contrast, oversees the dedication and re forging of the lost Vorax battle automata. The damaged Vorax shells are brought to the Blade's manufactorums, where Thexus and some engineers are sorting through pieces of automata hastily recovered. Recovery of the bioplastic cortexes is underway under Cortain's direct supervision, with extra time for enacting the rites and sigils that would guard against Malifica. The recordings from the Vorax will most likely be recovered and sent to the Blade's Cortex Core to improve the automata controls. Temur moves himself to the Armoriums to ensure that repairs to the Jetbikes, interrupted previously, are on time once more.

Cyril anxiously attends Notomok, seizing a very confused Fenrisian Serfguy to help, but spends what little time he has watching and listening in on the crew. Rockfist and O'Malley are maintaining the few thousand squats aboard, while Rose has shut herself within her room for now. On occasion, he can hear the squat crewmen muttering about things, ranging from personal thanks that the Necrons did not interfere, to pride over taking on the Tau, to other minor concerns about the speed of reinforcements. Squats are a stoic bunch though, and all normal duties are still accounted for.

Regarding the Tau, the Squats relish taking on the Tau, and striking grudges from the great book in the Bar and Grill. Every strike against the small blue xenos gives them hope and tactics that they can find a way to break themselves free from Korst'la one day, however fleeting that may be. Cyril digs deeper, listening in on more hushed conversations to fully ensure there is no risk of sedition. Regarding the Necrons, the squats are privately glad that the tomb complex below Syran did not stir, and that the local Squat Hold still maintains control over it and the MCP. Between the four active Necron factions in the sector, any sighting of the metal xenos would bode concerning, especially during an active mission.

Regarding the Reinforcements matter, there is great concern circulating amongst the squats - Reinforcements that could have been deployed to the cities of Syran to repulse the Tau were delayed or, in some cases, seemingly purposefully held back. This made human casualties higher than necessary, and gave the Tau an opening to retreat to the mining complexes, and contact higher ups for further orders. The lower ranked squats cannot conceive why allowing communications through is a good idea. Cyril doesn't break concealment to explain it, but privately seethes that Imperial citizens were left to die. He too is of the opinion that a rapid response would have driven the Tau back to the mining complexes, just as surely.

The remarkably short trip through the warp finally comes to a close. A few hymns announce the Blade's translation back into the Materium. A half a day of standard plasma drive later, and the Blade holds above the frontier world of Taedium. From spess, the Commandos can see the world's rolling hills and savannahs.

Cyril trudges onto the bridge. "Contact from Shady?" "None, lad," Rockfist announces, "Nothin' from 'is voidship, nothin' from the surface, not even savior beacons. Somethin' feels off." Brynjol wanders in, dressed in his duty robes and holding an astartes-sized mug of tea, "Chronos showed up yet?" "Unfortunately not. No contact, either. What is in that?" Cyril gestures at the mug. "It's tea," Brynjol says guardedly. "I had assumed so from the steam. What kind, though? Do you have more?" Brynjol's eyes narrow. "Only a little." Cyril sighs and returns his attention to the cogitators.

"We've narrowed down the location 'e sent earlier," Rockfist says as he kicks up the holomap zoom, "It appears to be one of the frontier cities. No contact from them either." "Anything on auspex?" Cyril asks, "Is the area totally dark, or are typical domestic transmissions still active?" "Completely dark, lad," Rockfist says, "No response on any vox frequency used by the Adeptuses." "Damn," Cyril mutters, quite concerned now. "Hmph," O'Malley coughs, "With the Ordo Chronos, it's never easy. He's a tough'n to work with, beardlings, but something must be really wrong for him to call ye here." "Well, ya just tell us what ya need, an' we'll ready it for ya," Rockfist offers, "I advise loadin' up on personal gear, since not only is there nothin' ya got ta go on, but Shady's requests tend to be a bit depth." Rockfist shudders a moment, "The things we 'ad ta see when we worked with'im..."

The Commandos take careful stock of their gear - for this mission, they're pressed for requisition, even after Consul Delegatus extra points. Brynjol continues to take his Valkyris jump pack, while Temur loads up on an Auxiliary Grenade Launcher. Cortain and Cyril go full Zoo, Cortain selecting a Castellax Maniple, and Cyril bringing a Vorax Maniple.

The missive from Chronos Inquisitor Shady is loaded into a Stormbird's Cogitator banks, and the zoo is loaded in the troop bay. The launch bay is cleared, and the Commandos are cleared to deploy. Cortain intones his psalms to the cogitator banks as Bryn slams the pedals. Brynjol gleefully drops the Stormbind into an immediate dive as they exit the Blade. The Stormbird enters the dive, briefly overloading the stormbird's limited gravitic compensators. For a few seconds, the Commandos are weightless as they dive into the atmosphere. As magboots kick in, and the grav plates recover, the Stormbird flies over the verdant plains, light winds bloing across the few trees. Approaching the location of Shady's missive, however, the Commandos are greeted with a scene of utter catastrophe. There was once a sprawling, fortified frontier city here, but all that is left is long-cooled ruins. Most curiously, a few kilometers away, the canyons are shattered and damaged.

"Sounds like Shady," Cortain states. "Why did auspexes not pick up this wreckage?!" Cyril exclaims, "...Cortain, are there any anomalous energy fields? Is time warped again? This could be the planet's future that we must prevent." Cortain checks his auspex, but beyond the remnants of electro-ports and motive force conduits, he isn't picking up much of anything. As the Stormbird circles the area, he realizes something about the way the canyon seems collapsed. The canyon collapsed inward, not outward, at its epicenter.

"What the bloody hell could do that? Some sort of grav weapon?" Brynjol asks. "How many weapons can cause this sort of implosion..." Cortain wonders aloud.

Shady's missive details a location within the ruined town. A large defense tower in the city's centrum. This building, though heavily damaged, seems still roughly in one piece.

"Land us there," Cortain points out. "I'm a bit leery of landing on the thing. It looks unsteady," Brynjol turns, lauging, "Why don't you drop Notomok, see if the roof collapses!" "He is still in medbay," Cyril says with a thousand yard stare. "Oh, I thought he'd be with the rest of the menagerie..." Brynjol blurts.

As the stormbird lands and everyone disembarks, the first thing all the Commandos' augurs pick up is a high concentration of plasma residue about. Not enough to harm them, but enough for auspexes to give a notary. Based on that, Cyril notes a lot of the damage seems energy based, plasma and laser scoring the most common.

"Energy weapons ravaged this place...," Cyril observes, "Plasma and laser, mostly. This may have been done by humans." "There is a likelihood of Eldar weaponry," Cortain suggests. "Ah. They do use plasma," Cyril agrees, "I have little experience against their foul kind." "They call them star-cannons," Brynjol explains, "Pound for pound they lack the power of Imperial equivalents... but I've never seen one blow up and turn its wielder into a pile of radioactive slag - unlike some poor bloody Guardsmen I can recall."

The Commandos can see plasma-burned ded corpses all about, and only the heavier buildings survived in rough fashion. The great engraved doors to the ruined city's Command Tower are off their hinges. Deep within, they can see paths leading down, deeper into the ground. There are also paths up, though those paths are mostly blocked off by collapsed wreckage.

"There is some network underground, it seems," Cyril notes, "I give it three in four odds that Shady sends us down there if he is at the meeting site." "This building IS the meeting site," Brynjol warns, "Want me to scout ahead?" "I would advise sticking together," Cyril suggests, "But if you can jump up to vantage points, we'll have a better idea of our surroundings. You are the only one with a jump pack today." "You mugs fly like daddy long-legs anyway," Brynjol jests, flapping his arms about, before flying up to the ruined top of the tower.

Brynjol can see that this tower was once probably a ground-based defense macrocannon. It looks like something large hit it, causing pieces to collapse onto the ground below. The impact looks as if it came from the building's side. All around, he can see ruins of the fortified city and its walls. Brynjol doesn't pick out anything out of the ordinary otherwise. No obvious enemies of the Emperor's light or anything. He can pick out, though, that certain parts of the city were dedicated to different Imperial adeptuses.

Reuniting with the rest of the Commandos and heading for the meeting point, everyone enters the ruined tower. The light flickers as the pathway leads down. Battle automata clang behind them as they follow. The Commandos finally come to a sealed blast door, remarkably clear of wreckage. There's a sigil hastily drawn onto it in Sharpieatus- the spiral sigil of the Ordo Chronos. Cyril sighs and knocks politely. No response. There is, however, a terminal nearby. Door status: SECURITY LOCKDOWN. Brute forcing the security codes, the Commandos finally get the doors to open. Much to their annoyance, Inquisitor Shady is there, just reading a penthrift, leaning on a set-up cot. He's set up a small banner of the Ordo Chronos around the active bunker. Some servitors stand guard. However, he looks up at the Commandos, and rapidly drops what he's doing.

"Took you long enough!" he yells, "Now get in here! Quick!"

As the Commandos enter, part confused and part terribly annoyed, the Robutts take flanking maneuver and the doors seal. The Inquisitor looks like he's concentrating, and counting something on his fingers.


"Do you want the pointless chatter now or...?" Cortain offers. "" he announces, and then the Commandos all hear a loud and echoing BONG outside. Inquisitor Shady opens his eyes. "Okay, it's safe. We can go now." "Why the mysterious pause?" Brynjol presses. "And what happened here?" Cyril adds. "You know, I COULD explain it to you," Shady sighs, as he opens the door and heads up, "But I know you probably won't believe me, or won't care. So it's easier just to show you." "That is probably faster anyway," Cyril mutters, ready to rip his hair out.

As the door opens, the Commandos hear...a commotion echo down the hallways. Leading the way up, the doors that were ruined before now stand strong and in one piece. Shady gestures at the door, and Brynjol bustles out, forcing the doors open.

"Oh bollocks, more time-travel shenanigans" Brynjol moans.

(DAY 1)

The city is perfectly fine, in one piece. Standing in the City Centrum, the defense tower stands strong and proud, the emblazoned Aquila shining bright. The bustle of city life on this frontier world fills sensoria.

"I reckon something bloody awful is about to happen," Brynjol states, "It's much too nice and bright here."

Cyril, however, notes something odd as they leave the Macrocannon Tower. The Vorax are not following him. They have entered Standby: No Cortex Controller Detected. Cyril glances around for Cortain, and notes the Techmarine's Castellax are following him just fine. Cortain goes to inspect the Vorax, and as soon as he steps in range of them, they respond once more.

"Interference confirmed," Cortain states.

The Commandos take in their surroundings. They can see a pair of young lovers chatting up on a bench. They can see shop stalls open for business, a produce stall opening first, followed by a garments stall, and a technomat repair station after a 15 minute delay. They hear a crack and a crash as a land crawler fails to brake and hits a jaywalking mail carrier. There are passages to the Mechanicum Enclaves, Mercenary Barracks, Entertainment Districts, Ecclesiarchal Basilicas and Mining Canyons from the City Centrum.

"So, you want the short tour or the long one?" Shady asks, "We don't have much time. We need to be back in that bunker by sun-up tomorrow." "Whatever you like. Just explain what you need us for on the way," Brynjol insists.

Temur stops, and looks around, noting the non-response of the vorax, among other factors. "I think it is more likely that we are now before whatever calamity caused the devastation we saw, and it is our job to prevent it," Temur surmises, "Am I correct inquisitor?" The Commandos come to a grinding halt. "And how we can make sure this world stays this way, instead of a scourged ruin," Cyril adds. "I would hazard a guess that the Vorax only respond in range of Cortain because the Blade is no longer present overhead to control them," Temur continues. "Oh, you're clever," Shady laughs, "Two for two so far! Wish your friends were as fast on the draw. Yes, we need to prevent this somehow. But things are...complicated." "I have learned so far, over the course of my service in this sector, that the impossible explanation is usually the more likely one, especially when the Ordo Chronos is involved," Temur whispers.

Inquisitor Shady takes the Commandos on the short tour. In the Entertainment Districts, they see everyone preparing for some sort of sporting event. In the Mechanicum Enclaves, they can see the Tech Adepts proceed through their duties, though they're noting a few are having problems with cogitator freezeups. The Mercenary barracks are filled with soldiers and PMC troopers training. Prayer echoes through the Ecclesiarchal basilica, and empty Land Crawlers begin making their way to the Mining Canyons.

"Ground Zero?" Cortain asks, as the Land Crawlers head on over.

This takes most of the day, and as night settles, Inquisitor Shady begins to get restless, insisting that everyone return back to the bunker.

"Trust me, this isn't gonna make sense right now, but you need to remember a few simple things right now - the produce stall opened first, followed by the garments stall. The Technomat Repair Stall was 15 minutes late," he says, as he rushes in and seals the door behind everyone. Back at the bunker, with sunup approaching soon, Inquisitor Shady looks up, and begins to count the seconds once more. Five...four...three...

"Acknowledged. I do not suppose there is time to explain in greater detail?" Cyril asks. "Sites where the perpetrator was seen?" Cortain considers. The familiar BONG kicks in once more, and Shady breathes a sigh of relief. "Ready to finally understand what's going on?" Inquisitor Shady asks, opening the bunker door. "Inquisitor, we will be more able to respond effectively if you explain - yes. Yes, we have BEEN ready," Cyril yells, even a Space Marine's patience beginning to thin.

The Inquisitor brings the Commandos along the paths, to the solid door, and gestures to open it. "What is the nature of the forces we will be combating?" Brynjol asks, "Eldar?" "I...don't know, and that's part of the problem," he sighs.

Cyril throws the door open, and the Commandos are in the City Centrum once more. The defense tower stands strong and proud, the emblazoned Aquila shining bright. They can see a pair of young lovers chatting up on a bench. They can see shop stalls open for business.

"Produce first," Cortain thinks to himself. The Produce stall opens first. "Garments next," Cortain continues. The Garments stall opens immediately after. "Fifteen minutes precisely," Cyril notes. A haggard Technomat rushes up. Helmet autochronos note that he was exactly 15 minutes late in opening his stall.

"Let's see if you can go three for three," Shady shrugs. Off in the distance, Brynjol can see a mail carrier begin to cross the street. He looks somewhat familiar. He narrows his eyes, following the chap as he crosses He's crossing in the midde of the street. Jaywalking.

"Something..." Brynjol starts. "Splat imminent," Cyril says, beginning to catch on.

The Commandos watch as the mail carrier gets splattered by a Land Crawler, with a crack and a crash as a land crawler fails to brake. Cyril nods appraisingly, comparing the splatter patterns to those recorded by his Memorance Implant of the last time he was splattered. Exactly the same. "So you understand, then," Inquisitor Shady says, "This place...we're stuck in a loop until we can figure out what went wrong here." (DAY 1)

"Dead postman's probably a good place to start," Brynjol says, "Let's reset and I'll scoop him up. Dead postman and then the sketchy tech problems we've got going on, I reckon." Brynjol continues his musings, as the Commandos move to check the splatter, ignoring the stares of the locals that are beginning to accrue. "The technomat was late for a reason, and there were cogitator hangups in the Mechanicus district I noticed..." he says, "Can we analyze his contents?" Cortain asks. "Maybe some sort of virus is spreading through the network," Brynjol offers. "Not so fast," Cyril advises, "We should look around for more information. We should wait to save him until we have a reasonable chance of his staying saved."

"Listen, I noticed something over the past few dozen iterations I've experienced here," Inquisitor Shady says, "You can CHANGE things. The people won't remember things being changed, but they'll act subtly different." "Bugger that, we have the power to do-over every situation!" Brynjol says, vindicated, "We might as well brute-force it and analyse the results. Big changes produce bigger ripples; more chance of noticing the differences. Given the nature of this loop, I'm not averse to slaughtering the entire population and seeing if that prevents whatever disaster is about to unfold." "I am, Brynjol," Cyril retorts, "For all we know that would end the loop and they would stay slaughtered when we could have saved them." "Let the Inquisitor explain," Temur says, raising his hand, "I would like to know, what changes the Inquisitor has already been able to cause." Brynjol jumps in surprise as Temur speaks.

"See that couple over there?" Inquisitor Shady points to the two lovers chatting on a bench, "Every day that guy would stare at that girl, and continue on. I told him to quit being a pussy and talk to her. Ever since then, every day he's walked over and started chatting her up." "Oh. Maybe wholesale slaughter isn't the best option then..." Brynjol sighs dejectedly. "The couple seems...inconsequential," Cortain observes, "Any further alterations?" "Could be, could not be," Brynjol shrugs, "Maybe she's the Governor's daughter and he's a psychopath looking to effect political change. We don't know what could be significant." "This is why we must act with caution," Temur states, "We have no way of knowing which changes will have permanent effects. For now, let us track any unusual events to their source, or analyze the results, gather information and then act."

Brynjol scrutinizes the couple intensely. The man looks like a low level lexmechanic, while the object of his affections looks like a corner hawker of small goods.

The inquisitor thinks a moment. "One other thing. Some of the soldier thugs were giving me shit. I shot one, and told'em to sod-off, and ever since they've been heading to the barracks by way of the Basilica and habs..." "Why am I not surprised...?" Cortain sighs as he looks at the barracks. "Any way, I think by setting shit right, we can break this loop and stop what happened here," Shady says, "Just remember, come back to the bunker when you're ready for time to reset. DO NOT BE OUT BY SUNUP." "Did your shot kill them, and were they still among the rest at the barracks?" Cyril asks. "Oh it killed him, all right," Shady says, "Guess he wasn't supposed to remain dead, cause he came back the next day. Twitchy, though."

"There's no need for all of us to gang up on the same things," Brynjol suggests, "Cortain, why don't you take Temur and investigate the barracks while Cyril and I check this guy out?" "Is it wise to send the least personable of us to meet people while we poke a corpse until we learn something, Brynjol?" Cyril asks. "Just pretend you're a mute, like Temur," Brynjol grins, "Problem solved!"

Brynjol and Cyril check the letters he was carrying. They appear to be run over and damaged in the crash. Carefully scrutinizing the remains of the letter, Brynjol can make out some writing, mixed in with the blood and oil. Unfortunately, it's written in some sort of cipher that he can't identify due to damage. He can, however, note that it's in mercenary cant.

Cortain and Temur decide to pop by the barracks. The soldiers on station bow in respect, wondering why an Astartes would be here. Most seem to be prepared for a deployment, but are lazing about for now.

"What is your assignment here?" Cortain asks. "Don't have one yet," the soldier bows his head, "We're supposed to get deployment orders soon though. Wonder when they will come." "Anything on your end, Cortain?" Brynjol voxes. "An assignment that is overdue," Cortain states "Do the letters seem relevant?" "It's written in some sort of cipher," Brynjol explains, "Looks like it's to do with the PMCs. Could be tasking orders." The Commandos begin to realize that perhaps this Administratum courier is important. "I reckon saving the courier could be key," Brynjol suggests. "Save him tomorrow," Cortain states, "At all costs." "I'll manage," Brynjol shrugs, "It's bloody difficult saving mortals though, they tend to crunch when you pick them up."

"Brothers, if there is nothing to be learned here after some investigation, let us scan the epicenter of the event," Temur offers, "Anything that size has to be created by a device with a large energy signature, if it is of human origin." Temur and Cortain begin the march to the epicenter, when they note the empty Land Crawlers heading out are travelling slower than they could be. The two Commandos can actually outpace them. Each Land Crawler driver intones the Aquila as they see them march by towards the Canyons.

"We have time for a swift once over, but nothing thorough," Cortain admits. "We could send Bryn. He will get there in half the time," Cyril says. "I wish you lot would bloody remember when I'm the squad leader," Brynjol moans, "I'm not being sent anywhere."

Arriving at the Canyon Mines, the miners are running low on tools, but otherwise, they're working nominally. The Land Crawler Drivers are grumbling about getting bad signals from the Augur Array Primaris back in town. It's on the fritz and interfering with the land crawler's navigations. They wonder what the cogboys are doing about it. Even Temur and Cortain could observe their pathing was erratic.

Deciding that they have everything possible for the current day, the Commandos resolve to change things the following day. "Hunters to the mine, Techmarine to the Technomat, and Brynjol will save the Courier alone?" Cyril affirms, "Try not to crush him when jump-packing around." "He'll be relatively undamaged," Brynjol laughs.

Popping back into Shady's Bunker, the Commandos spend the night checking gear and weapons, and taking a short breather to prepare. As morning rolls around, the familiar BONG echoes through.

"Alright lads, it's bong o'clock," Brynjol announces, "Let's head out."

(DAY 1)

Brynjol opens the door and immediately belts it towards the courier's brush with death at a dead run, using his jump pack to circumnavigate packed streets. The citizens stand shocked as he barrel towards the hapless Administratum postman. He looks up as he steps into the street, stopping dead still as Brynjol lands directly in front of him. His eye twitches a little.

"BEHOLD!" Brynjol yells, waving his arms. "Oh Emperor preserve me!" he stammers, terrified, "A...a...astartes! Forgive my sins!" Brynjol leans in close. "You, laddo, were about to get squashed by that landcrawler," he points, "I've just saved your life. Everybody gets one." Beads of sweat form on the Administratum courier's face, as the Land Crawler whizzes by. "I..." he whispers, before falling to his knees, "I do not understand, my liege, but I shall be vigilant forever more!" He steps back, and heads towards the crosswalk. "Aye! And do your duty, in the name of the Allfather!" Brynjol commands, "He is watching over us all." Nonetheless, Brynjol follows at a circumspect distance. The Courier uses the crosswalk this time, as he makes his way to the Mercenary quarter.

Cortain marches to the Technomats, trembling all before the armies of the Omnissiah. He and the Zoo make their way to the Mechanicum Enclave. The prayers sink to a whisper as they see Cortain enter.

"At ease. I am reporting to investigate a possible signal corruption," Cortain declares, "All assistance is necessary and welcome." "Signal Corruption, lord Techmarine? We detected nothing of note," the ranking priest stares, "However, for such a delegation to meet us, we shall provide you with whatever services you deem necessary.

Cortain heads to the center and finds the Augur tower. "We shall grant thee full access," the Techpriest states. Cortain intones the cogitators, and after a few seconds can pinpoint the exact problem - the servitors that normally process and control the augur signals that guide the land crawlers have been damaged and corrupted. With 9 DoS, he can tell that the damage was not natural. Popping along to the servitors, the Techpriests are in shock that some of the servitors have been damaged. They did not even realize. Some have been splattered and destroyed. More plasma and las weaponry is evident.

"Sabotage...How recent is this?" Cortain asks. Some of the tech-adepts wander over, "It looks recent, my lord, not even a day old." "Do you have overnight security feeds?" Cortain continues. "We had servitors to process that as well," the adept sighs, "It seems they were caught in the damage as well."

Cortain muses. This is a thorough act of sabotage. Reviewing the level of damage, it's possible to get a basic fix up, but it will be unable to be automated. It will need to be manually operated. Commanding it done, some of the adepts rush to make repairs. "My Lord, we shall begin repairs immediately," the lead priest says, "Now, if only that damnable lexmechanic were here, we would stick him right on operations..."

Cyril and Temur pop on over once more to the Epicenter, the Mining Canyons. The miners are running low on tools, but otherwise, they're working nominally. The Land Crawler Drivers are grumbling about getting bad signals from the Augur Array Primaris back in town. It's on the fritz and interfering with the land crawler's navigations. They wonder what the cogboys are doing about it. Cyril idly scans what they're mining, finding just base metals and ores. Stuff for low level processing. No rare metals or anything. Just copper, iron, that sort of thing. The mines appear shallow in the canyons.

"Brothers, given what we know now," Temur considers over private vox, "The landcrawler traffic must be diverted for a reason." "The signal is being interfered with," Cortain replies, "The tower has no servitors functioning. Even now, the operation requires manual operation by the adepts until repairs can begin."

Nothing really strikes the Commando's interest here. As time rolls on, the miners begin to switch shifts. As evening sets in, nothing of note really happens. The shifts continue, and beyond shaped mining charges there are no explosions of any kind detected.

Returning to the bunker, once more the Commandos check gear and take a breather before waiting for the BONG. Upon hearing it, the Commandos ready up and march out. As they open the doors, something seems...different. (DAY 2)

It's lightly raining. The courier steps into the street, before he stops, hesitating. He then moves to a crosswalk and continues on his way through the city. The Produce stall opens first, followed by the garment stall, immediately by the Technomat Repair stall. Scattered about, there are Mercenaries patrolling the streets. The Lexmechanic from earlier begins to walk to the bench where the girl he's trying to woo is sitting, almost waiting for him. The Commandos can hear a great commotion at the Entertainment district. It seems whatever event they are having is in full swing. There is also a waiting convoy of supply trucks, smaller than before. It seems the augur connection is completely down.

"Courier's changed his ways. He's using the traffic lights properly," Brynjol notes. "And, the Technomat stall is open on time," Cyril adds, "Not to mention the girl seemed to be waiting for the Lexmechanic. Between that and the rain, might this be the day after the one we just repeated?" "We are making steps in the right direction," Cortain declares.

Cortain heads on over to the Entertainment District, where he can see everyone crowded around a racetrack set up in part of the district. Locals riding large bipedal avians are preparing to race each other. There seems to be five racers in the big event - a blue one, a brown one, a white one, a yellow one, and a black one. One local heads over to Cortain.

"Astartes! This day is blessed!" he says, "The Terror Birds will be racing today! Tell me, which one should I bet on? The word of an Astartes is the word of the Emperor, after all!" The race will begin soon. The local looks at the Forge Lord expectantly. "I vote...the blue one," Cortain offers, "For sentimentality's sake. The local considers it, and immediately rushes to the stands.

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)

Soon, the race is off! The Terror Birds streak from the starting line, and avoid obstacles as they make a lap around the track. The first part of the race, the brown one has the obvious lead, but by the second part has been overtaken by the black and white one. The blue terror bird lags behind in the second part, but it is neck and neck between blue and black. Sadly, it is the black one that wins the race, and the blue gets a consolation prize of second. 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)

"Ah..." the local sighs, "It's okay, it was the Will of the God Emperor that my bird got second, perhaps next year..."

Cortain notes this and heads to the augur tower. He notes the techpriests are restoring the Augur towers from damage. "Where is that Lexmechanic?" the head priest states annoyedly to no one in particular, "He's supposed to operate the augurs! Mining shipments are getting delayed!" "Tomorrow, let's try guiding that couple to the tower," Cortain voxes, "Perhaps I can be the tour guide?"

Cyril stays back at the Awards Ceremony, meanwhile, where there is joyous celebration as the winner of the Races is announced. Cyril watches with folded arms from somewhere incomspicuous. These celebrations, however, soon turn to horror as the air hisses and some of the guards are suddenly taken down by concealed sniper shots. The citizens panic as all hell breaks loose. Brynjol and Cyril can see the las contrails from the roofs. However, it was a couple of shots, each headshotting a guard, from one of the higher entertainment theater buttresses. There are no more after that. Brynjol follows the contrails to their location via the jump pack.

Flying up there, it's clear someone was briefly up here, if only for a few moments. There is no trace of whoever fired at the mercenaries, but while he's up here, he does get a bit of a headache. It stands to reason that they took one shot and buggered out. Cyril gets concerned as he can see the faintest bit of shimmer in the air. Camo gear.

Brynjol crouches to all fours, taking a big breath, trying to sense any particles that are not normal. He does smell something off. Besides the laser discharge of burned air, he senses that someone was breathing up here, probably lining up their shot. It doesn't smell like a normal human, at least. The trail goes straight off the edge of the building, then the wind scatters it by the time it reaches the ground. Brynjol tries to track it, but the scent is rapidly lost. At 11 DoS of the awareness test, he realizes it smells familiar - Eldar of some sort.

"I think it was an eldar reaver," Brynjol offers, "The smell is familiar..." "I was right?" Cortain fist bumps a Castellax. "Are they not fond of this... subltety and sabotage?" Cyril asks. "They're tricky bastards, that's for sure. Regular eldar are slippery enough to deal with. Something is different, though," Brynjol mutters, "The pirate-breed normally smell... dirtier. More like blood. This is cleaner. But craftworld eldar have almost no scent, especially when freshly deployed. This is definitely more." Brynjol takes a moment to think. "It was either a dark eldar that's been abstaining from their usual foul practises and bathing a bit more than usual..." Brynjol declares, "Or a craftworlder who's been getting muckier than usual." "Rangers, eldar rangers..." Temur considers, "The brotherhoods have dealt with them before. They favor very accurate las rifles, it is consistent with the shots you saw."

It takes a fair bit to calm everyone down, but the presence of Astartes does wonders for morale. As the night grows longer, the citizens lament the ruined event. Returning to the bunker, the Commandos check gear and take a breather before waiting for the BONG.

"The courier is safe, we know that. Whatever is happening at the barracks should be fixed," Brynjol announces, "I think you guys should check up on your leads and make sure that things are progressing as they ought to be."

(DAY 2)

The Commandos deploy once more at first BONG. Outside, they can see the stalls begin to open in their usual order, and the Administratum postman on his way at the crosswalk. They can see the Lexmechanic heading towards the bench with the girl he's trying to impress, and commotion echoes as the Entertainment District prepares to hold the Terror Bird Races.

"I will go to the square and attempt to ambush the Eldar," Brynjol states, "Take the xenos alive." "Agreed. The mercenaries are on patrol," Cortain confirms, "I can find that mechanic and...shepherd him." "Taking things alive has not been our specialty thus far," Cyril says, "I will support you by covering their escape route." "A lone eldar should not pose any threat to me," Brynjol notes, "Alive ought not to be too much trouble." "There were multiple simultaneous shots.," Cyril reminds him, "Expect a group."

Cortain begins approaching the couple with a scroll in hand. He's not about to question the will of an astartes, and stares in great concern before he reaches the corner sales-girl. "My lord Astartes," he coughs, "How may this simple Lexmechanic assist you?" "Congratulations, citizen," Cortain announces loudly, "You have won the Republican Commandos Ledger monthly contest. Your prize is the company with the head editor of the ledger and his entourage of battle automata." Tears begin to fill the Lexmechanic's eyes as his knees quiver. "Rejoice, you can brag about this to your coworkers," Cortain concludes. He adjusts his Cortex Controller to make a Vorax wave. He steps back. "The Repub...the Republican Commandos! You...I..." he coughs, "I can't believe it! Thank you, God Emperor, for being with me!" "Be advised that we will accompany you to your workplace," Cortain says. "My work...ah, of course, yes," the Lexmechanic sputters, "I commune with the Omnissiah at the Augur Templum..." "Proceed," Cortain commands, before thinking a moment, "The prize is also for one guest of the winner's choosing. Perhaps your companion there...?" "Ahh, of course!" he yells. He rushes over to her, and gives her a briefing. Soon she is just as shocked as he is, and the two return to Cortain. The woman desires an autograph, incidentally. Cortain offers that scroll with the BS rules. It is signed in the back. The Lexmechanic and his girlfriend head over to his workplace, where he promptly gets chewed out by the techpriest in charge, much to his embarrassment, and is sent to do his job. The market girl offers to wait for him.

"Ahh, you have found our errant Lexmechanic," the head techpriest intones, "The Trinity has blessed us with your presence, honored Forge Lord." "I something to your adept," Cortain replies. "I hope it was motivation, my liege," the priest states, "He'll be reprocessed if he continues to be missing..."

Brynjol and Cyril head on up to the Entertainment district. Brynjol reaches the roof, and tries to conceal himself, though with 2 DoF he doesn't do it very well. Cyril moves in, searching for a place to overwatch. He can see everyone crowded around he racetrack set up in part of the district. Locals riding large bipedal avians are preparing to race each other. There seems to be five racers in the big event - a blue one, a brown one, a white one, a yellow one, and a black one. One local heads over to Cyril, as he begins to sulk into concealment.

"Astartes! This day is blessed!" he says, "The Terror Birds will be racing today! Tell me, which one should I bet on? The word of an Astartes is the word of the Emperor, after all!" Cyril glances at the five birds, sizing them up and remembering what happened last time, "The black one."

The local considers it, and immediately rushes to the stands, leaving Cyril to conceal.

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)

Soon, the race is off! The Terror Birds streak from the starting line, and avoid obstacles as they make a lap around the track. The first part of the race, the brown one has the obvious lead, but by the second part has been overtaken by the black and white one. The black terror bird surges ahead in the second part, but it is neck and neck between blue and black. To the joy of the crowd, it is the black one that wins the race, and the blue gets a consolation prize of second. 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)

The citizen Cyril advised is beside himself, having won the betting and a good number of thrones. However, he cannot seem to find Cyril to rejoice. It makes him kind of sad. Cyril smiles beneath his helm, but remains overwatching the building.

"Any moment now, Bryn," Cyril states, "I suggest you attack now." At the awards ceremony, there is joyous celebration as the winner of the Races is announced. "GO, NOW!" Cyril advises. Brynjol stares at the spot, and find it really, REALLY odd. There's nothing up there today. "What the hel?" Brynjl wonders, "Cyril, there's nothing there!" Nothing escaped Brynjol's eye. He's sure of it. "Either we changed something yesterday, or..." Brynjol voxes Shady, "Inquisitor, do you read me?" "Yo," Inquisitor Shady replies. "Is there any chance anyone else could be manipulating the timeline in the same way we are?" he asks, "I can't think of anything we did that could have affected the assassination attempt." The vox is silent for a few seconds, "If they know what to look for and change, then yeah. I mean, I manipulated things before you got here, ya know? So it's possible." "I smelled Eldar," Brynjol states, "Do they have such capabilities?" "Eldar?" Shady asks, "Huh. That may be the key. If those dirty bastard xenos are manipulating things as you thought, then things just got harder. Keep watch. They'll probably escalate. Although if ya do find any, feel free to pulp'em. Can't stand the things." The celebrations continue into the evening, ultimately dying down as the participants begin to disperse. The Terror Bird Races, a sector favorite event, has ended without issue. Cyril breaks concealment midway through the vox call and walks out into the open, into the field of vision of the gambler. The gambler is initally spooked at Cyril just appearing.

As a side note, an awareness test was rolled for the assassins. 2 DoF is rather easy to spot.

"It's wonderful!" the local exclaims, "It was the Will of the God Emperor that my bird got first! I wish I could repay you for your wisdom, my lords!" "If I need anything, I will let you know, citizen," Cyril states, signing the aquila at the tiny man. Tears of joy rain from Gamblerguy as he bows deeply, before heading home.

The Commandos return to Shady's Bunker, to plan further. "What do we know... what do we know..." Brynjol muses, "What have we changed every time?"

1) Mail Carrier saved from his own stupidity: Mercenaries mobilized. 2) Augur Sabotage repaired: Needed manual operation. 3) Found The Lexmechanic, forced him to do his job: Augur Towers now at full operation for convoys. 4) Disrupted the attack on the Races: Unknown results. 5) Helped a dude with the Races: He is now a friend. He will try to help the Commandos any way he can. Maybe.

"I think we need to assume that the eldar are here for essentially the same purpose as us; to alter the timeline to their benefit," Brynjol states, "But we have no reason to think that they know we're also meddling with the time." "When have Eldar ever thought about human benefit?" Cortain asks. "Raising the question of what they want," Cyril notes, "If we know that, we can more effectively deny them their goal." "Well, I can see one possibility..." Brynjol states, "The 'default' outcome was the devastation we saw when we arrived." "If they are present, they have probably seen us acting outside of the loop," Cyril states, "We must assume they know we are changing things."

The Commandos pause.

"Shady was trying to fix things, and they're actively working to prevent that. Which means they know -someone- is meddling," Brynjol glances at Shady, "Is that right? Were you trying to fix things?" "Believe it or not, I AM tryin' to save people here," Shady kicks back, "Some things, some events in time, they can't be changed. But some can. And Emperor take me if I just sit around eatin' mom's spaghetti and do nothing." "If they only want the area leveled and destroyed, they have near unlimited avenues of approach," Cyril states, "And we will have to catch and eliminate them." "Perhaps the mines dug up something?" Cortain hypothesizes, "Eldar tend to act if their interests happen to be threatened. "

"The other possibility I see is that they arrived after the fact, directing their wrath against whoever is meddling," Brynjol concludes, "If they find out we're Astartes they'll be terrified, although on the surface they'll be calm and ready." "Anyway, I never was attacked in all my attempts," Shady says, "It means you're making progress." "Progress is good. We must ensure that it sticks," Cyril says, "Something happens at the mining site. We do not know when." "If these ARE Eldar, then get ready," Shady says, "Because they'll pull some real bullshit if they get caught out." The Commandos briefly wonder what a "bull" is, before attributing it to a local saying. "I can 'pull some bullshit' too," Brynjol replies. "So what is our plan?" Cortain asks, "The mining site?" "It seems like the logical course of action," Cyril says, "We cannot be everywhere at once, so a known site of destruction is a good place to watch."

The night goes on without issue, and eventually as morning rolls around the Commandos hear the familiar BONG. Brynjol feels the best place to scout is the Ambush Site in the Entertainment District, while Cyril is insistent on the Canyons.

Cyril throws the doors open again, wishing he'd brought cluster mines and a camocloak. Once more, things seem...different. (DAY 3)

The two lovers aren't at their bench, and while the postman is using the crosswalks, the stalls are all opened late today. The ground also rumbles, enough to shake buildings and even wobble the Commandos. "That's unsettling," Cortain calmly points out. "The stalls are all late to open," Cyril says, beginning the march, "Proceeding to the mining site." The Commandos stop, however, when they hear screaming, as Gamblerguy rushes through the city center. Something has him terrified.

"What's going on? Report!" Brynjol yells, landing in front of Gamblerguy. "My Lord Astartes!" he coughs, " a loyal follower of the God Emperor, is my duty to alert you...that..." Cyril closes in on Gamblerguy. "What is it?" He flanks the panicked man in case of incoming fire from behind. "There's a white blinking thing near the Basilica!" he finally cries, "I saw these impossibly tall people drop it off! It looked suspicious, so I sought out an Arbiter, but I found you! The Emperor Protects!"

"White blinking.... A BOMB!" Cortain yells. He legs it at the speed of FUCK to the Basilica District. "We'll have someone on it. Well done, citizen," Cyril congratulates him, "Head to the Arbites office or the Guard barracks; we have this one handled, but they should know." "Thank you, my lord," he coughs, "I...would never have seen it if I hadn't gone to cash my winnings...that's twice you've saved me..."

Cyril catches up to Cortain and outpaces him en route to the Basilica. As the Commandos rush to where Gamblerguy said, there's a crowd of shocked people all near a white blinking case. Brynjol, you'd know a Distortion Mine when you see one. Brynjol amplifies his voice. "BACK AWAY FROM THE DEVICE!" The citizens human wave over each other, trying to get away. "Cortain, it's a distortion mine. How do I go about defusing this thing?" Brynjol asks.

The Distortion Mine is the size of a Scimitar, so moving it would be counter-productive. It's the sort of mines they use to attack voidships, so a detonation on a world's surface would be...less than ideal. It needs to be disarmed. The Commandos pool their xenos lores together, but surprisingly it is Brynjol who manages to remember some key bits about Eldar Bombs. He isn't an expert in these things, but he can read the eldar markings... and he can see the wraithbone circuit patterns. He then moves to carefully disable the bomb, and after a few stressful moments, manages to cut the right wraithbone conduits and disarm the bomb, despite the rampant shaking all about.

The Commandos look up, and off in the distance, can see Eldar Jetbikes zipzooming away. They are headed to the canyons. They can also feel the rumblings a bit stronger. Based on the fact they vaguely experience them in one foot before the other, they come to realize the canyons are the source of the rumbling.

"The canyons!" Brynjol yells. Brynjol takes off at a dead run, knowing how unlikely he is to reach it in time. Rushing back through the frontier city, they see Gamblerguy.

"My Lords! Is the heretical...thing disposed of?" he asks. "It is neutralized for now, but the foul creatures that planted it are still up to no good," Cyril replies, "Are the Guard and Arbites mobilized?" "Yes, my lord! The soldiers mobilized immediately!" Gamblerguy says, "They all spoke of activity near the canyons. There's a convoy of land crawlers ready for departure to the canyons, no doubt they can give you and your...servitors? They can assist you!" "Good," Cortain states, "We will be there post haste." "I hope I could be of assistance..." Gamblerguy coughs.

A couple of Land Crawlers prepare their cargo space for the Battle Automata, and they are ready to depart immediately at top speed. Cyril helps get the automata loaded, then jumps on top of a Land Cawler. "TO THE CANYON, NOW!" "Yes, my lord!" the lead driver says, "For the Emperor!"

Every moment, the rumbling gets louder and stronger. Faced with an order from the Emperor's Holy Astartes, a Commando no less, the Convoy gets its shit in motion. As the ground begins to crack and shudder, and finally collapse down, the Commandos can see numerous autocarriages and lower-scale transport vehicles hauling ass from the canyons. Vox traffic is a mess. The canyons are rapidly shaking and collapsing as the Commandos finally reach them. There's only a few miners left, and they are packing up the last of the supplies. The Commandos note with interest that as the Land Crawlers halt, the parts of the mines that they saw earlier look far deeper than they did two days ago. Battle Automata disembark the land crawlers, as locals rapidly begin to board.

"Deeper! Into the abyss!" Cortain yells. "Cortain, can you make sense of the vox traffic?" Brynjol, where are you?! We need your eyes!" Cortain trains his vox traffic on his brain cogitators, and parses through for important information. The Vox Traffic is mostly rushed evacuation signals, but there's a lot of chatter about the white walls found in the mines.

"White walls?" Cortain wonders, "Wraithbone, perhaps...?"

The mine they speak of is one of the deeper mines, one of the first that they began carving out. It lies within the cavern network, toward the center of the canyons. Towards Ground Zero.

"It reminds me of Tempestus Solaris," Cyril says, "Either way, it seems likely that it is what attracted the xenos." "True, those...constructs were remarkably similar to Eldar," Cortain notes, "But they certainly felt nothing alike." "My lord Commandos!" the leader of the Land Crawler convoy states, "It is far too dangerous for our crawlers here, we dare not stay! Forgive us!' "Granted," Cyril says dismissively, "Cortain, bring the robots." "So, be it." Cortain begins unloading the Robot Hit-parade into the tunnels. (THE FINAL HOURS)

Entering the tunnel, the Commandos note the rumbling is near constant now. Dust falls from the tunnel walls as they enter. Lucky for them, the miners did leave lumen-globes to light their way, offering a simple but effective marked path into the mines. The Commandos follow the lumen-globe road, but the echo of many footsteps catches their autosenses. Something, or rather, a lot of something, begins to march down through the primary lumen'd shaft. The Vorax are ordered to the front, and the Commandos take up cover, bolters pointed down the mine system. All Cyril, Temur, and Cortain can manage is those voices sound relatively orderly and angry in a language they can't make out. Brynjol can hear the cries of the Eldar coming down the halls, "Protect the Farseer!" "Defend the Farseer with our lives!" "None must find the Farseer!"

"Eldar!" he yells. Brynjol makes an exasperated noise, "On my mark, and not a second before."

After about 5 seconds, the Commandos can see a big Horde of Eldar, Guardians in damaged armor by the looks of it, advance around the corner. Their weapons are raised, and they are readying to fire. "Bryn?" Cyril asks, finger on the trigger. Brynjol takes a deep breath, and announces his order.

"I'm gonna try hailing them."

The rest of the Commandos have a singular reaction within the same four seconds. "What."

Brynjol, in clipped eldar, raises his vox speakers, and calls out, "Halt, and explain your presence here!" Cortain cringes, realizing that he might have accidentally switched one of Byn's med-dataslates with one holding House information on Eldar Correspondence. Cyril is foaming at the mouth. Temur's hellrage is palpable, but he says nothing.

The Eldar halt momentarily, before turning their weapons on Brynjol. "Space Marines! Hated Space Marines of the Deathwatch! You hunt us down, destroy our craftworld, and now you think to talk! Lesser beings must know their place!" The Horde of Guardians fires in all directions, taking out some Vorax, and forcing Brynjol, Temur, and Cortain to dodge incoming shurikens.

"I have told you a dozen times. We do not TALK to scum. We SHOOT them!" Cyril yells, "MARK?" "They've made their choice," Brynjol mutters, "Mark!"

Cyril and the Castellax Maniple are the only ones who are able to return fire. Cyril's storm bolter cuts down 30 eldar, while the Castellax mow down another 18. The Horde of Eldar, now reduced to 2, breaks as they run down the halls. The Vorax were ordered ahead, however, and Cortain moving behind cover leaves them out of Cortex range. Now falling back to programmed behavior, the Vorax begin advancing on their own initiative.

"Targets locked. Victims spotted. Advancing. Programmed behavior engaged."

The Vorax begin chasing the fleeing eldar now around the corner, but the rumbling is getting dangerous now. It's hard to keep footing. The eldar-vorax hype train disappears deeper into the cavern, and it is decided that advancing to support the frenzied automata is the best idea. Following the lights, the Commandos come to a point where the mine widened, until they see what the miners spoke of - a solid white wall. Wraithbone. There is a small hole in the wraithbone wall, no doubt from mining charges, which is promptly made much bigger by Brynjol's charge forward, claws extended. As he catches his footing, he can see and feel wraithbone. The halls are illuminated, despite there being no light sources. He also gets a slight headache. There is one thing Brynjol notes above all else though - inside the wraithbone structure, the rumbling has stopped. The hallway extends to left and right. There is rotor gunfire to the right, and grinding sounds to the left.

"Eyes front," Brynjol says, "There's a seer with them."

Cortain tries to study the material around him. He knows this is Wraithbone. That much is clear. This is Eldar in origin. The specifics, however, are lost on him. Cyril, however, does a little better - wraithbone of this concentration usually means a large facility of some sort. It's a psychically charged material, and all around, every so often, there are odd purple jewels embedded within the walls. He also realizes that if Guardians are about, then Aspect Warriors may be close by. Brynjol runs his finger across one of the jewels.

"I think these are spirit stones," Brynjol says, "If we start smashing them, they'll come to us." "Do we want that, or should we try to find and kill their seer first?" Cyril suggests, drawing his Photonic Blade, ready to ignite it and swipe it through a line of stones at the Wolf Priest's word. "I think their witch should be our priority," Brynjol agrees, "While it's alive, we're at a tactical disadvantage." "I concur," Cyril says, reattaching the blade hilt to his side, "As before, the Vorax divert attention while we proceed to the important things. Like that grinding noise."

Popping to the left, the Commandos get the feeling they're being stared at, in the back of their mind, every time they pass a spirit stone. This hall is a mess - it's a wonder how Eldar let their facility decay so badly. Finally coming up to an entrance, the Commandos can see some sort of bay, where the grinding is coming from. There is definitely activity inside. A LOT of activity.

"I think a hard breach is in order," Brynjol declares, "Once we're in, fan out and select your targets. Keep any groups suppressed and disorganised; I'll try and combat the witch."

Cyril ninjas up to the entrance and peeks in. Cortain moves to support, clanging with the Castellax. Almost as soon as he enters the wide area, the grinding is apparent. Soil pushes against great energy fields to each side. Numerous Eldar march around , heading to the source of the noise that is Cyril and Cortain. Cyril breathes into his teamvox - "Incoming."

"Launch now!" A warlock yells to another, as numerous Shadow Specters, a horde of Storm Guardians, and even some Wasps begin to advance.

Cortain and Cyril are caught out forward, as the Shadow Spectres rake their fire against the Castellax, knocking one out. The two Warlocks begin manifesting Destructor energy, and wipe out more Castellax, but narrowly missing Cyril and Cortain. Brynjol is now ready to counter-attack, and charges forward, catching one Shadow Spectre in his claws. Temur takes out his bolter, and fires at the Storm Guardians, but to his surprise the nimble fucks dodge.

Everyone in the big armorium, meaning Cyril, Temur, and Brynjol, notice a few things - beyond some wreckage of vehicles and supplies around in this area, the dirt begins to sink down along the force fields to each side. Then they hear a great ripping, and a pop.

Light. Natural light.

The Wraithship unfurls its sails as it begins to turn towards the frontier city the Commandos were at. They reckon they don't have much time before the 3km Wraithship reaches the frontier expanse.

"Oh, Allfather..." Brynjol yells in sudden realization, "This is how they levelled the city. We need to finish this and scuttle the damned ship!" "We will have to bring it down ourselves," Cyril states, "Did anyone bring explosives beyond grenades?" "Who bloody needs explosives?" Brynjol asks dismissively. "Men who do not want to be aboard this thing when it comes down?" Cyril retorts, "Though I suppose riding it down may prove fun."

Cortain turns his attention to the Shadow Spectres, by far the most dangerous threat. Cortain fires a flame blast from his Servo-Harness at the Eldar, incinerating one and scattering the rest. Cyril offers to focus the Horde of Storm Guardians, and fires his storm bolter and phobos bolter into the crowd. He is able to down 20 of the Eldar, though 30 are still incoming. Cortain commands the last Castellax to fire further into the crowd, downing another few Eldar. By now, the Wasp Walkers advance as well, using their jump jets to Flank the Commandos and line up shots.

Brynjol suddenly feel really, really weird, as thunder and electricity begins to coalesce around him. He attempts to Deny the Witch, but fails, as an Eldritch Storm flows all around him. He is able to tank the damage, but is concerned about the haywire effect, until he remembers the Spark Hunter badge he acquired way back in Episode 18, grounding the haywire charge to fukken nothing.

The Wraithship is about 20% of the way to the city, and the Eldar redouble their efforts. The Shadow Spectres focus their prism superlaser on Brynjol, but the Allfather is with him and the hit washes over his rosarius. The Warlocks cast Destructor on Brynjol and Cyril now, and while Brynjol fails to DtW once more, they are both able to nimbly dodge out of the way. The sheer damage triggers Cyril's conversion field, and causes a bright flash which manages to blind the Guardians.

Brynjol switches his focus to the Warlocks that are spamming powers. Oh how he hates them. Extending claw and crozius, he charges forward, and slices right through the both of them. Temur, in the meantime, remains where he is and Regrettably, the Wasps begin their scatter laser strafing run by now, downing the last Castellax but bouncing harmlessly off Cortain's cover as he calls Tactical Spacing just in case. Cyril collects himself, and draws his Photonic Blade as the Storm Guardians recompose themselves. Cyril calls Furious Charge, and fires his bolters at a Shadow Specter, pulping it before charging down the Storm Guardians. The sight of a crazed Astartes with an energy blade is too much for the Guardians, and they scatter, terrified. Brynjol uses the Furious Charge to barrel into a Wasp, smashing it with his Crozius.

The Wraithship looks to be ~40% of the way to the city as the Commandos begin to mop up. Brynjol charges the second of the Wasps, cleaving his crozius straight into the pilot's canopy, tearing the screaming scrap of xenos flesh out. Temur decides to advance, and fires at a Shadow Spectre which unfortunately dodges his attacks. Though Temur's shots may not have hit, it opens things up for Cortain to fire up, downing it. Cyril's twin bolters then down the final Shadow Spectre.

"We...have failed..." he gurgles, "The last farseer...of Kionash...shall fall to mon'keigh brutes..." "Spread out, find the farseer or the bridge," Brynjol commands, "We need to stop this vessel." "This just keeps getting better," Cortain notes. "From what I have read of wraithbone architecture, the bridge should be near - probably in the upper spires," Cyril offers, "This way."

Popping through the halls, it is a wonder how much this vessel relies on spirit stones to keep its shit going. Cyril punches a few stones on the way up. Cortain begins crushing some with his servo-arms as well. They can almost swear they hear tiny screams every time a stone shatters. They theorize it must be Inquisitor Shady bitching back in town. He's loud, after all. Finally, the Commandos get to a door, ornate once, now damaged and hanging open. In the center of the room, the Commandos can see, reclining, an Eldar in Farseer garb. It is connected to the ship itself. The Farseer...isn't moving. But the vessel is getting ever closer to the city. Cyril raises his gun, but Brynjol orders him to stand down. All around, Brynjol realizes the air smells rank with the psy. He can also smell something else.


"The last time I waited for your mark, you got half the Vorax killed trying to NEGOTIATE," Cyril hisses, "You had best have a good reason for me to not shoot." "It's in a coma," Brynjol says, "I'm sure of it." "...and?" Cyril asks, not seeing an issue. "It's like it's linked to the ship somehow. Killing it might just drop the vessel into a death dive," Brynjol correctly observes, "And we have no idea what that would do." "So much the better, if we can steer it away from the population center," Cyril argues. "Yes, and that's a big IF," Brynjol spits, "I can smell the stink of maleficarum on the air... it might be psionically controlled."

Cortain and Cyril take a moment to think. If the ship were to go down, they'd get roughed up a fair bit, but at this altitude they'd easily survive. With the Wraithship 60% of the way to the city centrum, guns turning, the Commandos can get a good look at the armament. Pulsars and Plasma batteries.

"What about the city?" Cortain asks. "We can easily survive a collapse from here, and it is about to fire on the city. We bring it down now," Cyril insists, "Tear the Farseer out, and THEN I'll shoot it." "No. We'll tear it out and take it with us," Brynjol finally states, "I cannot think, off-hand, of a single successful instance of a captive eldar Farseer. The potential to learn from it..." Brynjol's mind dances with visions of vivisection. "Fine, on your head be it," Cyril sighs defeatedly, "I will shoot it the instant it gets free, but for now we need to protect the civilians. TEAR IT OUT OF THE SYSTEM NOW."

Cyril takes up overwatch, ready to fire if the Farseer tries to psy anyone. Brynjol heads over and begins to disconnect the psyker from its cradle. The Farseer undergoes massive system shock. The entire Wraithship begins to shudder and destabilize. Entering freefall, the voidship tilts, and crashes into the ground. The Commandos bounce about like pinballs, a bit bruised, but are otherwise fine. The Farseer...did not survive disconnection.

"Excellent," Cyril announces, "It will not resist, but remains largely intact for study." Cortain rubs his head, a weird feeling in the back of his neck. He feels like it would make a good present for Khodexus for some incomprehensible reason...

The damage opens up the bridge to the air. The Commandos first hear the screams of terror, followed by exalted jubilation as the xenos vessel is destroyed. The townspeople are rushing forward, celebrating the triumph against the Xenos. As the sun comes up, the dawn of a new day breaks.

(DAY 4)

"Lad, lads do ya read?" Rockfist asks, as the vox kicks in wildly. "Good morning, Rockfist. We have a downed Eldar voidship to contain," Cyril calmly announces, "Some of its crew may have survived. We should cordon it off to keep civilians away from the xenotech and then sweep it deck-by-deck with Hunter-Killer maniples." "Eldar, pah..." Rockfist spits, "We'll send some engineers down. We lost contact for a few hours, is yer mission complete then?" "Assgignment...successful," Cortain says, catching Rockfist's perception of time, "Though the nature of the state of this mission is a bit confusing. Oh, and Bryn has a braindead Farseer for study." "Good ta hear, lad, we'll send the support down," Rockfist says.

Hopping out of the bridge of the 3km wraithship, the citizens are eager to honor you and see the Commandos. Even Shady's there.

"So, it WAS Eldar," Shady says, "Nice catch." Cortain slides down the way. "When you see massive plasma explosions, the first hint should be Eldar." Cyril clambers down the Wraithship toward the civilians, picking up some wraithbone bitz for study and carving later. "Indeed. There may be more afoot, but their leader is dead and their morale broken," Cyril says, "They kept whining about a destroyed Craftworld, and their gear seemed a touch shabby." "Leader? Ah, Farseer," Shady says, "Don't suppose you'll be needing that?" "I was going to conduct a necropsy. You're welcome to attend," Brynjol states. "Nah, nah, if that's what ya want it for, ain't my business," Shady shrugs, "Anyway, a destroyed Craftworld? They probably meant Kionash, over Volcania. Don't suppose you've been?" " sounds familiar..." Cortain says as he remembers the wreckage of the Craftworld way back in Episode 18. "We visited briefly, at the pleasure of Doggfather's irritating blue pet," Cyril states. Temur slides down last, beginning to shoo away civilians to establish a landing zone.

"What would you use the body for, Inquisitor?" Brynjol asks. "Truth be told?" Shady laughs, "Woulda given it to Korst'la. He collects them. His Archon buddy turns them into smoothies. Had one once. No taste like it." Cyril glances at Shady, trying to tell if he's joking. Cortain snaps to sudden realization, though, knowing full well it's no joke. "Just awful," Brynjol sighs. "But how do you drink such sparkly blood?" Cortain asks. Shady begins to walk away, "Hey, don't knock it until you've had it. Concentrated xenos anguish, the perfect taste to go with a successful mission. But I'm done for now. Ya did surprisingly good. I may even make you the militant arm of the Ordo Chronos..." Cyril chuckles. "The Ordo Xenos has 'dibs,' I believe, but this was a good mission. We look forward to hearing from you again." "I will conduct my necropsy, then," Brynjol states, "I am eager to see into this one's brain" "I left a gift for you aboard the Blade three days ago," Shady says, disappearing into the crowd, "Enjoy..." "Ooh. Prezzies," Brynjol slips in native Fenrisian, "I call dibs on opening the wrapping paper."

"CITIZENS! THE IMPERIUM OVERCOMES!" Cyril yells to the exhuberant populace. "Yay!" the citizens yell, "The Emperor protects!" Cyril raises his fists to the sky, then gestures majestically at the fallen voidship being ringed by Squat craft. The Urist Brothers are coming in to pick up the Commandos as Squat Engineers and Warriors are deployed out.

As the team leaves, Cortain stops a moment, "But I thought the Farseer's brain was utterly wiped?" "It was in a coma, and it didn't survive the disconnection. Why would you assume its brain was 'wiped'? And what does that even mean?" Brynjol asks, "Biology is, in many ways, much more resilient than technology, Cort." Cortain is miffed at this, while Cyril breaks off to hunt for survivors, and Temur boards a Stormbird, ready to leave this world.

(29) The War Economy[edit]

All Automata maniples have been returned to the Blade. It will take many days to clean off Eldar blood. Some Squats have been ordered to remain behind until further brotherhoods and Inquisitorial scions can arrive, the Wraithship cordoned off, but most await next orders. Their normally stoic demeanors are somewhat downtrodden today, as they consider the specifics of the mission ahead.

Cortain is again considering drinking as he examines those Automata that remain. A great many were destroyed, and it will take some time to repair. Cyril checks on Notomok's treatment in medbay, and notes it will be another few days before treatment is completed, so he goes off to sculpt some Wraithbone with shattered spirit stone inlays. Temur, now in possession of another signature wargear, is eager to try out his new Paragon Blade at the closest opportunity.

Shady, by now, is long gone, but as Cyril moves the shards into the trophy room, he notes a small box on one of the pillars, one the Commandos did not place there. Opening the box carefully, there are four small sculptures within. Inlaid with crystal, they are white nautilus shells. One for each Commando. There's also a note within.

"Told you. Militant arm."

Cyril clips one Nautilus Shell to himself, and sends a pulse through voxnet to the other Commandos, alerting them to their gift.

"What is it?" Cortain asks. "Seals of his Ordo, I believe," Cyril suggests, "They are in the trophy room." " least it is not something trying to kill us," Cortain sighs, knowing full well how these Inquisitors work. Cyril chuckles. "Yet."

O'Malley is finding a boomtime for the Bar and Grill, to ease the squats' sorrows, while Rockfist, Rose, and Executor Thexus are all hard at work setting up a number of boxes and supply crates. The Commandos are nonetheless eager to put off the meeting with the House of Korst'la, and do their best to drag out daily duties before departure.

Cyril heads off to the workshop to craft an image of an Eldar Guardian, in classical Squattish style. The Eldar will be screaming. The Eldar will be on fire. In the workshop, there are piles of ded automata. They are organized for work, but left aside for now as secondary priority. Rose takes a moment to wipe some oil on her coveralls, as Rockfist hefts a box under Thexus's supervision.

"You know, my hair used to be red," she sighs, "And I thought getting oil out of it BEFORE was hard. Now..." "Your implants trouble you?" Cyril asks. "Nope, just a lot of work," she says, "Thexus asked us to ready some gear for the deal. He did not trust the Tau's craftsmanship, and would prefer "proper" weapons be displayed." "In this I agree with him," Cyril affirms, "The Tau's machines are effective, but lack spirit." "THIS IS ACCURATE, CONSUL," Thexus blasts, "I AM PREPARING WEAPONS AND EQUIPMENT FOR DISPLAY, SO AS TO AVOID INEFFICIENT XENOS CRAFTSMANSHIP. DESPITE WHAT THE XENOS SELLS, YOUR WEAPONS SHALL BE FORGED BY MYSELF AND THE ROCKFIST-LORD-OF-HELOTS." "That is a first for that name," Cortain silently observes to himself. Rockfist and Thexus merely stare at each other, before moving on with their business. "Hey, I helped too!" Rose pouts, "Anyway, we're ready to depart when you're ready. The Nemi system is two days away according to maps, so it shouldn't be that bad." "Understood," Cortain says, sending the order to the bridge. "The Tau seemed patient. I do not like to consider why," Cyril muses, "Now that the Eldar wreck is secured we should make haste before he sells too many of those abominable tee shirts." "Aye, lads," Rockfist nods, "We'll depart immediately then."

The order reverberates through the Blade, and the Squats rush to position. A day of travel out of the system, and the Blade enters the Warp for a short jump from Taedium to Nemi. There are a few in storage, and the Farseer was transferred to the Medicae Deck for Brynjol's personal use. O'Malley can mix Eldar milkshakes surprisingly well, though the art of Farseer Distillation is beyond him.

Cyril takes the time to begin his newest sculpture. Evoking the ancient terran legendary sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons, he can craft an Eldar Statue reaching around and screaming, attempting to extinguish the serpentine flames. Rose even offers some thoughts, as she remembers seeing the original. It really helps to bring out the fear in the statue. Cyril nods with satisfaction and places his work in the trophy room, displacing the Nautilus case. He thanks Rose for her input.

Cortain's, few days go by quietly and uninterrupted, as he anxiously awaits anything the Tau may need of him. It is somewhat worrying when he receives no message. Temur heads to the Hololithic Combat Chambers to practice, until his new Paragon Blade is but an extension of himself.

The Blade forces itself out of the Warp mercifully quickly. A day of travel and verification that the Commandos are going to the right Nemi system, and the jewel of the planetary system greets them. The only sore spot marring it, in most of the Commandos' eyes, is the flagship Studio 69. There are also a couple of Imperial Battleships and Cruisers in station, no doubt the interested buyers.

Rockfist awaits at the bridge as the Commandos file in. He looks somewhat dour. "Well, lad, here we are," he sighs, "The Nemi system. We've already received word of a firing range and proving ground set up on the Garden Nemi, and all that's missin'...are you, lads." The Commandos remain silent. The Rite of Command is invoked, generating additional Requisition, in preparation for the mission. "We're told the Tau has already landed, an' his list of prospective buyers are landing as we speak," Rockfist says, "We've loaded some gear onto haulers for demonstration, but I can't say what ta expect, or what they expect ta see down there."" "We will have to go there ourselves, then," Cyril declares, "Theta-Ten-Sigma will accompany us." "ACKNOWLEDGED, CONSUL. ALL SYSTEMS NOMINAL," Thexus crosses his mechadendrites. "It will at least intimidate any thoughts of betrayal to being just thoughts," Cortain notes. "I'll prepare yer Fire Raptor, lad," Rockfist says, "An' a transport fer Thexus. I'll load the location to yer flight cogitators."

The Fire Raptor is rapidly readied, and placed top of the queue. On the Commandos' mark, departure vectors are set and supplies are prepared. Thexus, meanwhile, heads off to rearm himself. The Commandos accompany Thexus to the armoury to grab some special ammo and other gear, and affirm an Oath to the Emperor. Thexus begins disassembly of some of his key components. The last thing the Commandos see as armored doors seal, is removal of his Irad Cleansers, and recalibration of his Darkfire cannon.

The Fire Raptor is launched out of the Launch Bay, as numerous squat haulers bear their weaponry and gear down. Breaking the calm, pleasant atmosphere of the Garden World Nemi, the Fire Raptor flies over a wide plain, over an evident collection of people at the boundary of a cliffside a few meters tall. The Commandos can tell they're at the right place, as the area's flanks are fortified with Tidewall ramparts.

Brynjol wakes up with a snort. "What- where are we? Why am I in my armour?" he rumbles, "Allfather curse it, did you deploy without waking me again?" There's even a landing zone set up, a few guides flashing landing lights to indicate a good area. "This is a bad dream," Cortain says, "You might have to talk to a xenos...WITHOUT EVISCERATING IT." Brynjol looks aghast. "Say it ain't so." Cortain looks away.

Landing within the designated zone, the Fire Raptor stands out against the numerous Aquilas and Gun-Cutters that the clients used. Stepping out, the Commandos can see a fairly large conference ahead - numerous Astra Militarum commanders and private company heads sit eagerly in a set of prefab seating. A few minutes later, an Arvus lands, and Thexus deploys. Curiously, today he is wearing a black cloak, with red interior lining, and a tiny little commander hat upon his cortex case. Much to the Commandos' most likely displeasure, Korst'la VII has seen the spectacle now, and pops on over.

"Welcome, welcome, my friends," he says, "Are you ready to help your Militarum choose the best weaponry possible, and make me some money on the side?"

Cyril nods the bare minimum to acknowledge Korst'la and surveys the scene. Brynjol sulks in a corner, ignoring the xenos as best he can.

"The situation is simple," Korst'la says, "What we have here are interested buyers who want to outfit their regiments with top-tier weaponry. They've expressed interest in a lot of rare weaponry and gear, the same type you all use sometimes, and it will be YOUR job to demonstrate them. Give a little history on them, embellish them, sell them, and we'll both walk away a little richer." Cyril gestures to Thexus. "We took the liberty of bringing an expert on the holy implements of war." "Good, good. If you want to review a couple of the weapons, feel free to check the storage complex, it's the prefab building to the rear," Korst'la says, looking up at Thexus, "When you and your Automata have reviewed everything, just head to us and we can begin." "Automaton. Singular," Cyril corrects him, "We will return shortly." "I'm a businessman, not a Gothic major," Korst'la shrugs, "To each their own."

"Is he an automaton though? I thought he was partly biological..." Brynjol murmurs over the vox, "Besides, he has something approximating free will..." "Of course he is," Cyril says as he leads the way to the storage warehouses, "Aught else would be tech-heresy, right, Thexus?" "CORRECT, CONSUL. CORTEXES ARE BIOPLASTIC AS WELL AS CIRCUITRY." "An automaton is strictly speaking, a robot with limited pre-programmed instructions," Brynjol points out. "Thexus' programmed instructions are just extremely sophistocated, Brynjol," Cyril states. "But he can answer questions with natural language," Brynjol notes, "And I swear he's LEARNING..." To this, Cyril has no response.

Within the prefabricated building, there are a number of boxes. Many are open. The Commandos can pick out Rotor Cannons, Volkite Chargers, and Photon Thrusters at a quick glance, meaning they'll probably have to show those off at a minimum. What catches the eye the most, however, is the blue torch in the rear, near a fabric fold.

"Got a selection of good things on sale, stranger..." the Merchant rasps.

Brynjol, after months of trying, finally acquires a Blur Shield. Temur selects a box of targeters to freely apply to the Commandos' weaponry. Cortain manages to get Enhanced Retrothrusters for Crusader Invictus, improving its maneuverability. Cyril augments the Blade with another set of Volkite Grand Bombards, making the vessel symmetrical once more, to the autistic relief of all. As a team, the Commandos upgrade their VF/SS Fighters to Tier 2 Maneuverability.

"Heh heh heh, thank you..." the Merchant rasps as he steps behind some fabric.

The Commandos note a couple of Fire Warriors moving boxes outside for testing. The xenos regard them with full respect. Everything's ready outside. Brynjol sighs, affixing his already slightly-battered blurshield to his belt, where it interfaces with his armour systems, and sealing his helmet. Cortain stares at them with the burning hate of Damocles.

"The Conference is ready for you, Gue'ron'sha," one Tau says, "The weapons have been moved out and ready for testing." Cortain just walks without giving a second thought to the Fire Warriors. Brynjol sighs, wrapping his ragged robes close. Cyril checks that Thexus is following to exposit about the weapons. Temur walks behind Cyril, taking his helmet off and clipping it to his belt, enjoying the fresh air while he can, before the disgusting xenos and mere humans force him to replace it and filter the air. Approaching the conference, a number of lord generals and commanders are about. Korst'la is standing off to the side, conversing with Thexus, while Khodexus the Dark Eldar Archon stands, always scanning the area and ensuring Techmarine Jamal doesn't somehow hurt himself.

"CONSUL, I HAVE DETERMINED IMPERIALIS AUXILIA REGIMENTS OF THIS AGE ARE NOT ARMED TO EXCERTUS STANDARD. THESE COHORTS ARE LAX." "Blame the Administratum and Munitorum for desperation," Cortain says, "The economy is not the same as it was during the Crusades. I blame the Ministorum, personally, but such talk might bring about...controversy." "Perhaps the weapons on display might assist in making up for the humans' current... shortcomings." "The Guard is as vast as the Imperium, and cannot always be afforded the finest weapons," Cyril states, "Let us do what we can to rectify that." "I fully agree..." Korst'la states, "My friends, the Republican Commandos, have graciously offered to demonstrate a number of weaponry that can assist you and your regiments in combating the threat of the Xenos and Heretic, all for affordable prices." Korst'la smiles, before stepping back. "All weaponry is strictly of the highest grade," Korst'la says, "But I'll hand it off to my dear friends here to continue..."

Cyril stiffens at the word 'friends,' and studies the commanders' faces at the mention of 'the threat of the Xenos and the Heretic.' The Commanders are all eager to see the demonstrations. Cortain gives one last once-over of the weapons on display. There are boxes of Photon weaponry, Rotor Cannons, and Volkite weapons. A crate of Charnabal Sabres lays half-opened. The squats have brought over a box of Auxilia Lasrifles, and there's at least one more sealed box so far.

"Shall I begin with the Rotor Cannon, brothers?" Temur offers. "Proceed, Temur," Cortain says, "Xenos, if you will present us some targets." "Of course," Korst'la says, offering a signal, "If you would like to offer some words about the weapon...?" Khodexus moves a hand, and out of one shelter, a black-bagged slave of some sort is brought out at 50m, and forced to the ground. The Kabalite gives the signal, and Korst'la nods, "You have your target."

Brynjol realizes something off about the target. Something smells familiar.

"Not a very impressive target," Cyril admonishes, "A Rotor Cannon can fell massive beasts, and you offer one individual?" Khodexus sends another signal out, and another large bunch of slaves are brought out. Cyril instantly recognizes them as more Craftworlders, probably more sorry remnants of Kionash.

"Now, Commanders, for someone not of Astartes stature this weapon would likely be deployed as a crew-served emplacement," Temur explains, "However, for demonstration purposes, I will be using it in a style closer to a heavy rifle." "Thexus, please supplement our descriptions of these weapons," Cyril states. "Rotor Cannons are forebears to the Assault Cannons of modern days," Cortain continues, "Though these weapons are of slower firing rate." "Normally, under field conditions, the weapon would require a minimum crew of two, and a usual complement of three, gunner, loader, and a spotter to carry the tripod and gunshield," Temur continues, "And act as a watch for the other two." "THAT IS PARTIALLY CORRECT, CONSULS. DURING THE CRUSADE, THE EXCERTUS WOULD OUTFIT ENTIRE SECTIONS OF TROOPERS WITH THESE HEAVY WEAPONS, SO AS TO PROVIDE SUPPRESSIVE AND MASSED FIRE," Thexus clarifies, "THE ADVANTAGE OF A ROTOR CANNON IS ITS SINGULAR MAN-PORTABILITY, AND RATE OF FIRE AT COST OF HITTING POWER, THOUGH ALTERNATE PATTERNS DID EXIST. I SHALL DEFER TO THE CONSUL CHAMPION." "There ARE ammunition types available that augment the penetrative capacity of the weapon close to that of a solid-core bolt round, however they are expensive and difficult to manufacture," Temur continues, "I'm sure that our host would have these available should you need them for your elite units."

Temur raises the weapon, preparing to fire. "This leaves a sour taste in my mouth," Brynjol mutters, "Defeated captives should not be paraded and slaughtered like this." "Would you rather pillows?" Cortain quips. "Yes, I would, as a matter of fact," Brynjol retorts, "You kill them for the sake of pragmatism, not for some... show." "And why not?" Cyril asks, "It serves a purpose, demonstrating what the weapons can do. Besides, pillows cost more than captured xenos. This kills two problems with one volley." "You're beginning to sound like Korst'la after a deal," Khodexus laughs slowly and inhumanly. Cyril stiffens.

Temur subvocalizes into the vox collar. "If you have objections, brother, now is the time to do something before I continue." Brynjol walks out towards the captives abruptly. The Commanders are intrigued now. Brynjol yanks the black bags off their heads one by one, before walking back to his spot. They curse at him hatefully in Eldar, not expecting Brynjol to fully understand. "Call me what you like, but I only treat animals like animals," Brynjol hisses in Eldar, before turning to the assembled conference, helmet off, "If you're going to kill them for show, you will at least look them in their faces when you do so. But I will have no part of it."

The Mark is given, and Temur opens fire. He drag the weapon's sights along the Eldar prisoners, blasting apart 9 of them in gory volleys. The Commanders clap.

"Now I do say," says one with a curious country drawl, "Those are mighty fine. I'll definitely be considering some of those." "Fun note: Should you find a proper merchant, you can also outfit them with bio-corrosive rounds to better dissolve biological enemies to mush," Cortain states. "Very good," Korst'la says, "The Rotor cannon is available for a paltry fee, with package deals for every 10 ordered."

"WHAT DO YOU INTEND TO DISPLAY NEXT, CONSULS?" Thexus announces. Temur returns the rotor cannon to the table, and unlimbers his Grav Cannon "I'm not sure if our host has such weapons available, but for the purposes of demonstrating a more exotic option..." Korst'la gestures, leaving the floor to Temur. "These weapons are rare and arcane examples of the craftsmanship of Mars, designed to damage an enemy with the weight of his own armor and flesh, or to cripple the motive systems of vehicles," Temur explains, taking aim, "Something such as this would be a heavy crew served or vehicle mounted weapon, but should still serve well for demonstration of the effects of the design." "THE CONSUL IS CORRECT - THESE WEAPONS CRUSH ENEMIES UNDER THEIR OWN ARMOR," Thexus adds, "ORIGINALLY ADAPTED FROM MINING TOOLS, I NOTE THEY HAVE BEEN IMPROVED SINCE MY TIME." "Grav-Weapons are still...somewhat restricted in availability, and I have yet to see these weapons mounted on Militarum vehicles," Cortain adds, "Though I have seen a Grav-Cannon on a Land Raider before."

Brynjol stands up, walks over to the table, once more showing a disregard for the spectators. "Apologies, Temur," Brynjol says, taking a Charnabal sabre from the table, "You have your morals, I have mine." Brynjol walks over to the eldar, blade in hand. "At least they saw their death in the face," Temur says, "That is all many of us can ask for." Cyril sees where this is going, and draws his Astartes-sized saber, gripping the blade to offer it to the Wolf Priest hiltfirst. Brynjol hesitates, taking Cyril's sword and dropping the human-sized one in the dust.

"Ah, it seems our Priest is now going to present the Charnabal Saber," Cortain says quickly, "These are elegantly-crafted blades meant for duels of honour." Brynjol severs the Eldar's bonds with a few swipes, and drops the sword at his feet. "Cortain, make sure you have a good angle to record this," Cyril voxes, "It may prove useful for morale." The eldar looks down, and then up at Brynjol. "Fight me," Brynjol demands. "I shall hold my demonstration until my battle-brother is finished," Temur says, stepping back, turning to Korst'la, "Perhaps in the meantime, you can arrange a more suitable target for demonstrating the effects of graviton arms?" Korst'la nods, allowing the duel to commence first.

The Eldar rapidly grabs the saber, though slower than it should be due to malnourishment. "Though they lack the...erm, power of Power Weapons," Cortain says, "The Saber makes up for it in grace." Brynjol takes no action as the Eldar haphazardly charges with the weapon. Brynjol parries it effortlessly. "Look at that style," Cortain comments. "Indeed, each Charnabal Sabre is customized to its buyer, so fear not," Korst'la says, "We have the sword for you." Brynjol stares impassively at the assorted Commanders, sword held loosely in hand, as he defends himself against the emaciated slave's pitiful advances. "A mewling cub could do better than this," Brynjol sighs boredly, "Are you a warrior, or do you bear the children for your people?

Brynjol soon realizes this slave, not fed for days and severely beaten, is unable to provide even the barest possibility of challenge. Brynjol knocks the Eldar's blade aside with one mailed fist, and then brutally clubs him to the ground with the haft of the weapon. He kneels and beats the Eldar slave to death with the hilt of the ornate weapon.

"Did you know that Eldar Blood makes a good decoration for your weapons?" Cortain asks, "It even brings out the best of the Missus' Eyes." "Normally used for Flawless Cuts," Korst'la says, "You can see the weapon's structure is sturdy enough to be used as a club as well, money back guarantee." Cyril sighs. The sword is basically a duelling machete, but it's still designed for killing with the sharp part. "A most elegant weapon," Brynjol says, "Would you care for a further demonstration?"

There is much clapping echoing across the stands. "I think I want one already!" a crude viking-ish motherfucker yells. The Commandos reason he's probably from Deleator. Brynjol looks around. These Commanders just don't understand. They're no less than bloodthirsty IDIOTS, willing to toss their money away to a xenos for the latest shiny. Brynjol tosses the sabre back to Cyril, leaving the eldar blade in the dust by the mangled corpse, and takes his seat, unwilling to speak more on matters.

New slaves are brought out, ready for Temur's gentle ministrations with grav. As the grav beams compress each slave into eldar mcnuggets, it causes some of the Commanders to get out of their seats for a better look. "This weapon as stated is also exceptionally effective vs light and even heavy vehicles," Temur adds. "We carry the Graviton Imploder, an older design but no less effective," Korst'la says.

Cortain grabs a Volkite Charge and unleashes his handgun. "Now for a personal favorite of mine, Volkite," "Volkite weapons are available in multiple sizes, ranging from pistols like the one in my hand, to weapons large enough to mount on a tank." "THE VOLKITE CHARGER IS RARE IN THIS AGE, I FIND, USUALLY RESTRICTED TO HIGH LEVEL MAGI," Thexus clarifies, "EVEN DURING MY TIME, IT WAS BECOMING RARER AND RARER." "The Paragon is correct, these ancient weapons are rare, mostly due to their upkeep compared to something like the beloved boltgun or lasgun," Cortain agrees, "Now to see why these things are frightening." "Rare, until today!" Korst'la hastily adds, "Package deals for every ten!"

Cortain points his finger at one of the slaves, firing a martian deathray at the eldar. The initial damage is monstrous, but the deflagration afterwards catches everyone's eyes. The Commanders in the audience are amazed at the beam's killing efficiency, but are double-shocked at the incinerating display. "For the Emperor!" one yells in excitement. The Eldar Slave is reduced to a heap of burning ash, with the others inching away in horror. "Now for a...more large-scale measure of Volkite's potency," Cortain says, leveling the Charger. "DEFLAGRATE INCINERATES OPPONENTS FROM THE INSIDE," Thexus says, "IT IS USEFUL IF AN OPPONENT IS HARD TO HIT OR POSSESSES SHIELDING."

Cortain stares in simulated glee as more Eldar become tinder and dust. Their explosions are quite large, and it's already got a few commanders pulling out their checkbooks. "These weapons are especially effective against Tyranids, I find," Cortain says. The only exception is the commander with the drawl, who is relatively calm, adjusting his ten gallon hat as he converses with another commander from his world.

Cyril strides up, hefting a Photon Thruster. Cortain motions to Cyril. "Our Consul Delegatus is now going to demonstrate the arcane weaponry of Photon Thrusters." For this one, an old jetbike is brought out. Cyril holds the gun up for all to see before taking aim at the bike. "EVEN THE MECHANICUM DID NOT FULLY UNDERSTAND THESE WEAPONS, AS THEY FORGED THEM. THEY WERE RETICENT TO SPEAK OF THE SOURCE. THEY ARE CAPABLE OF PIERCING ANY ARMOR. "These are weapons that will definitely arouse your Techpriests," Cortain says.

A howling black beam streams from the weapon, slicing through the Jetbike, and exploding it. Only the engine casing remains. "As you can see, these beams are more effective than those fired by lasguns," Cyril clarifies, "Shearing through armour with the cold contempt of the void." "By far one of the most expensive weapons, but worth every Throne!" Korst'la says. "Beams of pure dark science, piercing even the thickest armor," Cortain affirms.

Much to the Commandos' surprise, a pair of identical black beams surges from behind them, to hit the last remnant of the jetbike, exploding it. "A little warning, please, Thexus," Brynjol requests as the Commandos laugh amongst each other. "THAT WAS NOT ME, CONSUL."

The Commandos stop completely short, raising weapons, searching for any hostile actions. Khodexus twirls a pair of Darklight Blasters in his hands, before sheathing them, "Yes, dark science, of course..." The Commandos stare at the weapons, the implications obvious now. "Resume," Khodexus says, "Don't let me...interrupt." "You can bloody well stand in front of us from now on," Brynjol demands. Khodexus shrugs, standing off to the side, ahead of everyone.

The Militarum Generals and Force Commanders are in deep discussion over the Photon Thrusters, but their enthusiasm for purchase seems barely dimmed. "Now for the last weapon, and the one that will be given to your men at the best values," Cortain says, picking up a Lasrifle, "These lasrifiles were the standard armaments of the Imperial Militia during the Great Crusade." "We should demonstrate the lasrifles all at once," Cyril suggests, "Temur, would you like to take the first shot, before we begin a volley like the Guard might employ?" "CONSULS, AS YOU RECALL, THE AUXILIA LASGUNS HAVE THREE SETTINGS - NOMINAL, BLAST CHARGER, AND COLLIMATOR," Thexus blasts, "I AM CONFIDENT THESE EXCERTUS PERSONNEL HAVE SEEN STANDARD FORMS BEFORE. PERHAPS THE BLAST CHARGER WILL INTEREST THEM?" "Xeno, if you could bring out more targets for the volley demonstration?" Cyril asks. "As you wish," Korst'la says, "More targets will be prepared." "As our Paragon mentioned, these weapons are customisable," Cortain says, "The Blast Chargers overclock the Lasrifle's settings to produce a remarkably more potent blast."

Temur takes a moment to demonstrate the Auxilia Lasgun's Blast Charger. The slave is blown backwards with incredible force, quite dead. "As you can see, Blast Chargers radically increase a lasgun's stopping power, rivalling a longlas in an expert's hands while still serving as an effective lasgun," Cyril says, "They do, however, carry the same risks as overcharged use of the M36 pattern." "And there is no lasgun in this Imperium that can hit that hard," Cortain adds. "With the Auxilia Lasrifle, even your basic infantryman is carrying a capable heavy weapon!" Korst'la says, "Lasrifles are customizable to the customer's needs, so feel free to augment as needed!"

The Commanders discuss with one another, quite intrigued. "All as one, now," Cyril commands. Enabling the Collimators, disabling safeties for additional range, the Commandos take aim at the Eldar. "Fire." Cyril, Cortain, and Temur fire as one. While Temur and Cortain blow away eldar after Eldar, Cyril's weapon jams multiple times. "Thexus, is this one of the xeno's?" he asks, annoyedly. "Seems our Ice Wraith is having a bit of a problem..." Korst'la says, "But as you can see, weight of fire at great distances overcomes." "CORRECT, CONSUL," Thexus clarifies. "Collimators are effective at allowing troops in cover to engage from farther away," Cyril says, "Though they do reduce mobility."

"Excuse me, Commandos," one Commander asks, "In your opinion, would outfitting all troops with all Lasrifle Augments be useful, or keep specialized squads with different augments?" "It depends on your mission profile, and the objectives commonly assigned to your units," Temur clarifies, "Elite units would benefit from having all options, while rank and file assigned to simple sweeps may only need the basic capability." "I favor specialization," Cyril says, "But when facing unknown threats the tactical flexibility of many augments can be valuable." "Collimators are a total must," Cortain suggests, "Blast Chargers would be better used based on discretion. Blast Chargers do carry the risk of melting out the lasrifle." "The support elements already available to each squad should also be considered," Temur states. "As Temur says, a cadre of veterans equipped to face any threats while line troopers use collimators is advisable," Cyril says, "Scout forces may need to be considered on a case-by-case basis, depending on their doctrine."

The Commanders take some time to mull this over.

"The last thing we have to show you," Korst'la says, pointing at the sealed box near Brynjol, "Is a defensive piece of gear, useful for deflecting harm away. If you would...?" Cortain orders some Fire Warriors to open the remaining box, but that is BRYNJOL'S box, dammit. Nobody opens the box but him. He cracks open the box, and can see neat piles of carefully packaged Iron Halos.

"Our Iron Halos are marginally less powerful as the variants available to the Astartes," Korst'la begins, "But, they are more than up to the task of defense from a wide variety of offensive powers." "They'll also make you a lot of new friends amongst the Militarum!" Jamal yells helpfully, as a few Fire Warriors guide him from a rocket launcher sitting nearby. The Commandos are now at a loss for words. "....Why do you have these?" Cortain asks. "Freshly constructed," Korst'la replies, "And ready for distribution and purchase by officers and commanders everywhere!" Cyril inspects the Halos, checking for any obvious differences from Astartes-pattern ones. "Iron Halos are rare even among the Astartes. These...replicas might be appreciated among successor Chapters," Cyril whispers, "How did you acquire knowledge of their construction?" "Now now, that would be telling," Korst'la laughs, "I am told, however, that these were all the rage 10,000 years back?"

Cortain reviews the Halos. These are smaller than the Iron Halos of the Astartes, first and foremost. He also notes their power draw is heavier, and their shield projectors are not as efficient. They also have commemorative numbers engraved in them, probably to grant bonuses to interacting with fellow Militarum troops. "They are definitely not the same," Cortain clarifies, "They are not quite as potent as the real deal, but these would still suffice for a less...endowed chapter." "THE XENOS IS CORRECT, CONSUL. DURING MY TIME, IT WAS CUSTOMARY FOR EXCERTUS AUXILIA AND MILITIA STRATEGOS, LEGATES, AND FORCE COMMANDERS TO POSSESS THESE," Thexus notes to the Commandos' shock, "I DO NOT SEE A PROBLEM. DO YOUR EXCERTUS AUXILIA NOT USE THEM?" "They do not," Cyril says, "Power shields of any sort are rare in this Millenium, to the point that these devices would be valuable even to Astartes forces." Brynjol and Cyril can see Korst'la's eyes literally glaze over with thrones as Cyril speaks. "One would be considered lucky to even have a Refractor Field," Cortain states.

Korst'la turns around and barks some orders. "Okay, Jamal, pick one up and stand there," Korst'la orders, "Yes, good. Commandos, you have your target. Don't worry about Jamal, he's tougher than he looks. I suggest the Rotor Cannon, to best illustrate the mass shielding ability, but I leave the specifics to you."

Jamal puts an Iron Halo on, and stands about 30m away. Cyril grabs a Rotor Cannon, sights, and lets loose.

The shield blocks five hits, before flickering off. Two hits bounce harmlessly off ceramite armor, but the last hit knocks Jamal down. He begins to cry. Cortain facepalms. Clearly, this is a damning indictment of the Black Panthers. How he's lasted this long...only the Emperor knows.

"As you can see, the Iron Halo, despite being slightly less efficient than Astartes patterns," Korst'la explains, "It is still an incredible defensive tool." Cyril carefully sets down the weapon and walks calmly over to extend his hand to Jamal. "The Omnissiah protects, cousin," Cyril commands, "You will be fine." Jamal grabs Cyril's hand, getting up as a Tau orderly rushes over to tend the wound. They didn't actually expect Jamal to get hurt. Cyril signs the Aquila to the Techmarine before rejoining his oathbrothers. "I want to thank the Republican Commandos for demonstrating the power of these ancient weapons, you've been a great help and will be well rewarded," Korst'la says, "Now then, gentlemen,are you ready to sign?" Cyril quietly sings a native Nixarterian hunting prayer, hoping that a chorus about watching out for wild yeti will help with checking the fine print.

The Commanders are quite eager to begin signing, but then Khodexus looks up, drawing his blasters. Brynjol hears something off as well. The screeching of engines high in the sky soon reaches all.

"Oh good," Brynjol says, "Trouble." "Question: Was there supposed to be a late arrival?" Cortain asks. "No..." Korst'la says, "Why?"

As a pair of Nightwing Interceptors fly overhead, the question is answered.

"Korst'la, you idiot...! Those prisoners were probably theirs!" "Told you," Brynjol points out. Khodexus stares wordlessly, before calmly heading back to a cloaked Phantomfish. Much to the Commandos' concern, Korst'la is smiling as he rubs his goatee. "While unexpected, I think we can use this..." "The Tau is right," Cyril realizes, "There is no better demonstration than a field test."

"All in favour of heading back to the Blade and letting them have their fun?" Brynjol says, eager to leave. "Not a chance, Brynjol," Cyril says, "These are Imperial troops, not Korst'la's lackeys." "Besides, I doubt we have a way of returning cleared," Cortain adds.

Korst'la, meanwhile, addresses the generals. "Gentlemen, I have equipped your transports with Flare Shields and Ramjet Diffraction Grids as a gesture of good faith," Korst'la says, "Retreat to your ships, we can sign the paperwork later. Commandos, would you like to cover them?" "It is our duty and privilege," Cyril says, "Make haste, gentlemen." "Lad...the last prefab complex. Check it," Rockfist suddenly voxes.

Cyril's jump pack rumbles to life. "Cortain, keep the Commanders safe. We will be back momentarily." "Executor?" Cortain asks, passing the buck. "I WILL ENSURE THE EXCERTUS AUXILIA REACH THEIR TRANSPORTS, CONSUL." Cyril soars in broad arcs to the complex. "Make it so, Thexus."

Heading on over to the armored prefab complex, the Commandos push open the doors. Perhaps to relative surprise, the VF/SS are waiting. "Lad, we had intended to test missiles and bombs next," Rockfist says, "But I guess a live fire exercise is in order." "Rockfist, are there any other Naval Assets to be aware of?" Cortain asks. "We're seein' Eldar Cruisers up here. We'll hold our own until ya get the higher ups safe," Rockfist says, "We can't quite support ya otherwise." "The ship is symmetrical again," Cyril says, "Make use of the Grand Bombards and punish them in the Emperor's name."

The Commandos receive word - estimated Heavy Anti-Air contacts. Light Cruisers are breaching atmosphere. Brynjol and Cortain select QAAMs and XLAAs, while Temur and Cyril stick with Krakens and XLAAs. The Commanders have reached their shuttles, and are beginning to take off.

"Launch and form up. Brynjol, on point; we will cover you," Cyril commands, "Protect the Commanders' shuttles." "I'll go hunting," Brynjol states.

The runway lights glow, and the Commandos accelerate the VF/SS up and into the sky.

The VF/SS fighters take off, the Arvus lighters in the distance. There are five Arvus lighters. They are strangely shimmering, no doubt from the Flare shields and Ramjet Diffractors.

"Commandos, I'll try to provide support from here" Rose announces, "There are Five Arvus Lighters returning to the fleet. The aim is to protect them all, but at least one must survive for this to have been worth it." The Commandos' VF/SS hololiths alter to a battlefield map. "There are incoming Darkstar Fighters, and Wraithfighters," she continues, "The Wraithfighters will be heading to the Arvuses, while the Darkstars will most likely be gunning for you." The hololith projectors zoom out further. "In addition, Rockfist informs me that an Aurora Light Cruiser and a Hellebore Frigate have breached atmosphere, and are taking interdiction routes," she says, now somewhat out of breath, "Those will be the biggest problem, but they can potentially be outrun or fought off."

"Acknowledged, Rose," Cyril says, "Bryjol, bank for the Wraithfighters."

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: At least ONE Arvus must survive. SECONDARY OBJECTIVE 1: Destroy the Aurora Light Cruiser. SECONDARY OBJECTIVE 2: Destroy the Hellebore Frigate. TERTIARY (Optional) OBJECTIVE: All Five Arvuses must survive.

"Our priority is the Commanders' safety," Cyril states, "The voidcraft can be destroyed after they are secure. Thexus, do you read?" "I ACKNOWLEDGE, CONSUL," the Paragon of Metal yells. "How are the Commanders?" "ALL EXCERTUS FORCE COMMANDERS HAVE BOARDED ARVUS LIGHTERS, AND ARE RETURNING TO THE FLEET. I AM ABOARD A SEPARATE LANDER, AWAITING ORDERS."

The Commandos debate - Cyril believes sending Thexus against the Frigate is sufficient, as the Light Cruiser can be outrun. Temur, however, knows that attempting to outrun an Eldar is a fool's errand, and suggests Thexus be sent to destroy the Light Cruiser, as VF/SS weaponry is sufficient to combat a frigate. Brynjol recalls firsthand the difference between a frigate and a light cruiser - quite a hefty one. There is a deep stalemate, until Brynjol tosses his weight behind the Light Cruiser.

"Our manoeuvrability is definitely a strong point versus our gunnery," Brynjol says, "I suggest we deploy Thexus to the Cruiser. It has quite a hefty broadside." "Are you confident we can deal with these fighters before the frigate threatens the transports?" Cyril asks. "You're asking the wrong person, Cyril," Brynjol boasts, "I'm ALWAYS confident that I can beat stuff up within a time limit. I think it's a reasonable gamble to make, however." "Very well. Thexus, bring down the xenos light cruiser. Try to minimize damage to your transport's pilot and to yourself," Cyril relents, "We will have to bring those Wraithfighters down quickly, brothers, but do not lose track of the Darkstars." "ALL SYSTEMS NOMINAL. WEAPONS HOT. MISSION: DESTRUCTION OF XENOS LIGHT CRUISER ACKNOWLEDGED," Thexus blasts across all channels, "I SHALL TEACH THEM THE ERROR OF IMPEDING THE GREAT CRUSADE."

Brynjol takes point, flying forward towards the two Wraithfighters threatening the Arvuses, leaving the two Darkstars for the other Commanods. He surges ahead 35 AU, before shifting his VF/SS to Strike Mode, and raising his Lance. While the enemy Wraithfighter effectively dodges, a battery of Swarm missiles puts an end to it.

"Brynjol, SWARM," Rose says, "Wraithfighter destroyed. One remaining."

The Darkstars break off, one peeling towards Brynjol and strafing him with Starcannon plasma and Bright lances, while another splits fire between the rest of the Commandos, dealing superficial damage to Temur, but penetrating Cyril's armor for light damage. The Wraithfighter fires its twin distort scythes at the Arvuses, but the Ramjet Diffraction Grid's hit-softening ability saves them from heavy damage, reducing the weapon's damage die by 1d10.

"Commandos, Arvus Lighter 2 reports fire," Rose says, "Ramjet Diffraction Grid is holding, but light damage was sustained."

Cortain sets his VF/SS plasma repeaters to Armorbane phase, and hammers the remaining Wraithfighter with missiles and plasma. However, the Hemlock Wraithfighter has a hefty toughness bonus, and his shots do minimal damage. Temur moves up to cover, and fires everything he has at a nearby Darkstar fighter. Cyril moves up, setting his own plasma to armorbane, and firing at the Wraithfighter. However, he does almost no damage. He finishes with a series of XLAA missiles, but fails to break toughness. He does manage to turn his guns to the other Darkstar, downing it.

"Cyril, FOX 2," Rose says, "Another hit! Just how tough is this thing!?" "...Wraithbone," Cyril realizes. "Cyril, GUN kill confirmed," Rose says, "Those Wraithfighters, your plasma wasn't having its normal anti-armor effect, be careful!" "All squad, switch to bluephase!" Cyril yells, "The Wraithbone lives!" "I'm seeing another wave come in!" Rose says, "Three more Darkstars, and another two Wraithfighters!"

Brynjol sees the Wraithfighters on the attack, and opens up with a Plasma Swarm missile barrage on one Wraithfighter. Heavily damaging it, he couches his lance, and charges full forward, the Hemlock Wraithfighter bursting into pieces upon his devastating impact. The Commandos dodge and ion shield away incoming bright lances and starcannon fire, while the Wraithfighters moderately damage a few of the Arvuses. They are all still in one piece, however.

"Commandos, the Arvuses are taking heavy fire," Rose says, "And be careful, something" "As you can see," Korst'la says over vox, "the Flare Shields and Ramjet Diffractors are heavily blunting the assault, buying you the precious time you need, just as you'll be buying from me!" "Get off the damn vox, Korst'la!" Brynjol yells angrily.

Brynjol begins to get a bit of a headache, however, as the psychic pilots of the Wraithfighters focus the wrath of the Warp upon him, the closest target. Brynjol concentrates, his mind rebelling instinctively against the maleficarum seething around him, throwing off whatever intelligence guides it, and the warp lances dissipate with a little fphbwt as they strike his VF/SS. Cortain fires his missiles at the remaining Wraithfighters, knowing full well he may not hurt them, but at least he can blow their dodges. Sadly, his plasma misses a Darkstar, but it opens the way for Temur to clear the way, damaging one Darkstar with XLAA missiles and gunning down the other.

"Rose, how soon can we expect the frigate?" Cyril interjects. "The Frigate is approaching fast," Rose says, "It will arrive within a few moments."

Realizing that time is running out, Cyril fires a Kraken penetrator at a Wraithfighter, downing it, while firing Fleshbane phase plasma at the Darkstars. Whoops. His plasma gun does burn through, but with great difficulty.

"Cyril, GUNS kill confirmed on first target," Rose says, "But barely. Second target took minimal damage. It wasn't very effective." "Acknowledged, Control," Cyril smiles warmly at how far Rose has come. Not that anyone could tell through the strikefighter and the Maximus helm, "Well done, Brothers. Two to go. Rose, where is the frigate?" "Commandos, I'm getting auspex scans..." Rose says, "The Hellebore Frigate has arrived! The Aurora is on it's tai...wait, it's pulling out?" "Any idea where it heads?" Cortain asks, "I ill like where it is heading..." "Back into space... towards the rest of the Eldar fleet here," Rose says.

Brynjol, now quite furious at being attacked by the Psy, grabs onto the last Wraithfighter, and claws his way on over. Extending his powered blades, Brynjol brings the weapon down, and strikes. "Brynjol' that's...Oh no..." Rose says as he rips the pilot out of the Wraithfighter, impaling him on arm blades and leaving the Hemlock to tumble. "Hemlocks are indeed psychic weapons," Cortain observes. "Classy," Cyril says, "Try to do that the next time we meet the Black Caste."

While Brynjol dodges the remaining Darkstar's lances and starcannons, the Hellebore frigate, a kilometer and a half long, turns its bright lance turrets on the escaping Arvuses. Regrettably for the commandos, the barrage manages to down the heaviest-damaged Arvus, leaving only four to escort.

"DAMNATION!" Cortain yells. "Everyone, unleash missiles on the remaining Fighter and engage that voidship!" Cyril commands.

Cortain tails the final Darkstar, lining up a series of XLAA missiles, enraged and vengeful. Three of the four missiles make their mark, and the final Darkstar plummets in fire.

"Cortain, FOX 2," Rose says, "Kill confirmed on rear armor, all that's left is the Frigate there. We have visual on the Light Cruiser, but something's...wrong with it. Its pathing is erratic." "I would imagine that's due to Thexus bouncing its nav officer off the walls," Brynjol laughs. "I hope he is not planning on engaging the Fleet up there...!" Cortain begins, before realizing it's Thexus, and he'd thouroughly enjoy doing so. "The Executor does not disappoint," Cyril points out. "If things get too sketchy, I'll take my VFSS over to the Cruiser and help him with boarding actions," Brynjol says, "Don't worry."

Cortain presses the attack, flying over and switching to Strike Mode, aiming his lance, but sadly missing. Temur pulls up near Cortain, shifting to Strike mode, and targets the Bright Lance turrets that are wrecking the Arvuses. Temur strikes well, and disables a number of turrets in addition to damaging the frigate with the Plasma lance. Cyril joins him, called shotting as well, and disabling the remaining turrets. Brynjol tries to add his firepower to the mix, but his ballistic skill is hot dogshit and he misses the shot.

"Commandos, the Eldar look like they're getting despera...WATCH OUT! IT'S FIRING ITS PULSAR IN ATMOSPHERE!" Rose yells, "Evade!"

The Hellebore begins turning, aiming its Pulsar lance downfield. Hitting such tiny targets with an anti-voidship weapon is near impossible, even for Eldar, and the errant beam of energy misses, to the relief of all. Cortain begins a forced laughter at the Eldar who missed them, and curses them with advanced sparkly impotence. Eldar forces are beginning to emerge from the small holes the Commandos cut, however, and a few Wraithknights that bring their weapons to bear fire at Temur and Cortain. Lucky for them, however, the weapons miss horrifically. Cortain continues the pressure, heavily damaging the frigate with his Plasma Lance and causing it to falter. Temur adds to the devastation, and leaves the killing blow to Cyril, who guns down a Wraithknight with plasma, while turning his lance to the frigate. It finally begins to sink down, hitting the ground and collapsing in a massive plasma explosion.

"Hellebore confirmed destroyed!" Rose yells, "The Arvuses are clear! The Blade is under attack, however, from Eldar Cruisers, so please return when you can!" Cyril sighs at the blemish on the Paradise World. At least the Ice World is probably untainted by elves. "Done. Executor, status?" Cortain asks. He receives nothing but static, however, which concerns him. "This forebodes ill," Cortain sighs, "Quickly, to the Blade!"

Escorting the Arvuses back to the Fleets, the Commandos can see the Blade and a pair of Dragonships circling each other. This is the last remnant of the Eldar fleet attacking as Studio 69 covers a number of smaller vessels.

"Lad!" Rockfist yells as the Commandos land in the frantic landing bay, "We've held'em off as long as we could. A pair of Cruisers broke through, and we're engaging!" "Are they in position to attack?" Cyril asks. "We've got everythin' ready fer ya, lads," Rockfist says, replete in full ceremonial armor, "Jus' give the order!"

The Commandos decide that this needs to be finished in one decisive strike. The Dragonships are damaged from dueling the Blade, but at full combat effectiveness. The Commandos' retribution is swift and just - Cortain Arc Charges the Arc Reactor, leaving Temur to fire the Arc-Charged Accelerator Cannon. The accelerator cannon focuses the immense energy of the arc reactor, before firing it out in a great beam, raking across the Dragonship and annihilating it before it can even respond. Cortain then boosts the Blade's Augurs, increasing Detection so Brynjol can pierce the Eldar holofields. Thus locked on, Cyril has all the time in the world to line up a shot with the Blade's Volkite Grand Bombards. These vessels are weaker than normal, more ragged, but they too bear the symbols of the devastated Craftworld Kionash. He briefly wonders - is this what the Eldar in the sector have been reduced to? The thought is amusing as the Cruiser is incinerated in deflagrating fire.

"Ahh, Commandos," Korst'la suddenly says over hololithic voxes, "I think that was quite profitable for all of us. Much thanks for your help." "Just make sure you give the Commanders equipment of quality," Cyril warns him. "I've signed off on numerous contracts thanks to you," he says, "Don't worry, everyone gets what they pay for." "Frankly, I expected you to be selling them Pulse rifles," Cyril says, "I was pleasantly surprised to see more human archeotech...and the Photon weapons." "Next time, make sure you try NOT kidnapping people of a species that will hunt down anything for kidnapping," Cortain suggests. "Oh, relax, Brother. Kionash were good sport," Cyril says, "Besides, they hardly count as people." "I acknowledge that many of my clients prefer more home-grown gear," says Korst'la, "And as Khodexus has just alerted me, landing on a Maiden World brings out the best in his...brethren. I DO hate Eldar, though, you've done us all a favor, and killed many birds with one stone. You've earned som extra for that." Cortain coughs through his rebreather, "...Why am I so utterly inversely-surprised?" "It is, of course, regrettable, that not all survived to sign the contracts, but it is not my intent to get my clients killed," Korst'la says, "Regardless, you have my thanks." "How many were aboard the lost Arvus?" Cyril asks. "And more to the point, where is Thexus?" Cortain continues. "I am unsure, four, maybe five? I would think what matters is so many more survived," Korst'la shrugs over vox, "Ah, and before I forget, I don't suppose you know of a Kroot, named Thrax?" Korst'la asks, "He just boarded my ship from your own. He sends his regards, and says he thanks you for the gifts." "... what gifts?" is the collective reply from all four Commandos. "I don't know, I didn't ask," Korst'la said, "I assumed you had given him a parting token or so?" "No. He was not authorised to take anything from our ship," Brynjol says icily. "Well isn't that an awkward turn of events," Korst'la shrugs, "Well, until next time. My regards, Republican Commandos!" Cyril nods curtly and cuts the transmission.

"If he kidnapped Thexus I swear to the Omnissiah I will...!" Cortain begins, before the Commandos all look outside. Something is beginning to glow outside as the Commandos by the wrecks of the Dragonships.

"...what is that glow?" Cyril asks, "All hands, lock sensoria!"

Outside, the Aurora light cruiser tumbles through space, careening towards one of the wrecks. "...Ah. Well done, Executor," Cyril says softly. Perhaps most concerningly is the eerie blue-green smoke it is trailing into the void. "What the blazes is that?" Brynjol demands. The Aurora crashes into the Dragonship, careening into a halt. "Exactly, Brynjol," Cyril begins laughing, "If ever there was an appropriate situation for Phosphex..."

Blade Augurs pick up Executor Thexus as he punches his way out of the Aurora's bridge and lands on the Dragonship wreckage. He is trailing phosphex flames. "CONSUL, OBJECTIVE COMPLETE. I REQUEST RETRIEVAL." "Stylish," Brynjol concedes. "Ideal for boarding actions, really," Cyril says, ordering a transport to retrieve the Executor, "Re-entry will prevent it from surviving to ruin the world below, but the xeno ships' crews are not so warded." "INCORRECT, CONSUL. THE VESSEL HAS BEEN SET TO IMPACT THE WORLD. THE PHOSPHEX WILL SURVIVE RE-ENTRY. THE ELDAR SHALL NOT CLAIM THIS WORLD." Cyril loses feeling in his superhuman throat.

"Of course they shall not. We killed them; this world is the Imperium's!" Cyril yells, recomposing himself, "BLADE OF THE LONG WATCH! WEAPONS HOT; CARVE THAT SHIP APART BEFORE IT CAN BREACH THE ATMOSPHERE!" A Squat is sent out to retrieve Thexus, as the Aurora begins its death spiral into Garden World Nemi. "Well, that would be one way to clean a plague," Cortain acknowledges. "Lad, we HAVE received an emergency request," Rockfist says, trying to rapidly change the subject, "It's from the Inquisition."

Cortain takes a moment to review the contact as Cyril rushes to the weapons. It seems there is a massive emergency on Cataclysm, HQ of the Inquisition. One of their Storage Domes on the world, where they store their really bad and important stuff, has gone dark.

"Should we set course, lad?" Rockfist asks. "Considering the Invictus is there, full speed," Cortain orders. "Aye, we'll take care of it," Rockfist says. "And theme of today's mission is," Temur announces, "Thexus does not understand subtlety or restraint." "He is a destroyer, not a guardian," Cyril reminds him, "But he's the best at what he does, even if what he does isn't very nice."

The Blade immediately begins departure procedures, leaving the pieces of the Aurora to impact a wider area and spread the phosphex faster, much to Cyril's horror and inverse of his intentions. Entering the warp at system's edge, the Inquisition's emergency request is...concerning.

"I would not have made half the sales I did today without your help. Why, those Iron Halos alone are projected to increase earnings 8% over the course of the decade!" "YOU ARE MERELY LUCKY THAT THE DESIGNATE INQUISITORS CONSIDER YOU A PROTECTORATE." "Of course. I make myself useful, I'm left alone. But let us discuss things further."

Thexus remains silent, as he stares into the holilithic terminal.

"It's not often that the House of Korst'la owes a favor to someone." "THEN YOU ALREADY KNOW I REQUIRE SOMETHING IN RETURN." "I would not be a good businessman if I did not. You want something, important enough to sell me all these schematics." "YOU ARE CORRECT."

Korst'la leans back.

"Well then, how can the House of Korst'la assist you?" "IT IS CLEAR THE CONSULS ARE DOING THEIR BEST. HOWEVER, THEY ARE OUTNUMBERED AND CANNOT BE EVERYWHERE AT ONCE." "This is true. You have a solution?" "AUXILIA ARE NEEDED, STRONG OF BODY, SHARP OF MIND, PURE OF SPIRIT. IN THE FUTURE, I WILL CALL UPON YOU TO ACQUIRE THESE." Korst'la leans forward, very deep in thought, crunching numbers on a nearby dataslate. "A deal is a deal. When it's time, give me a number and a location. I'll take care of the rest."

(30) Heavensward[edit]

The Inquisitorial Headquarters on Catalyst Station has called a general state of emergency - one of the Storage Domes on the surface of Cataclysm has gone dark. The contents of said Storage Dome is not listed, but partial archives list it was filled over 52 years back, during the chain of events labelled the Squat Crusade. Squads of Inquisitorial Scions, as well as Team of Adepta Sororitas, were dispatched to control the situation, but contact has been lost with them. The Commandos are immediately requested to lock down and recapture the Storage Dome, and purge anything that may have taken it over. Given the emergency, the Blade is immediately ordered to Cataclysm. Based on distances, it will take ~2 and a half weeks for the cross-sector longways journey.

Cortain, while concerned about the news on Cataclysm, decides to continue his research on Tau guns, specifically Redsun's. Spending some time with it in the Armorium, he examines Redsun's fusion blades and the scattered remnants of the shield projector. While Redsun's Fusion Blades seem to be relatively standard (though usually only found in the area known as Farsight Enclaves), it is the projective shield fragments recovered that is of the greatest note. Resembling an upscaled Tidewall shieldline positionable in the same way as an Ion shield, he has seen a similar reflective ability on Kastelan robots, used by most of the Imperium, which fears cybernetica.

"It is unusual for any field to reflect Grav-Blasts..." Cortain muses, but finding nothing else odd of note, he returns the pieces to the Trophy room.

Rockfist is off banging some dents out of the VF/SS fighters after the last sortie. Pieces of the VF/SS lay about as Rockfist and other Engineers recalibrate and retool the delicate parts.

"Rockfist, do you have a moment?" Cyrila asks. Rockfist leans up, supporting himself on his bionic arm as he stands. "What's the problem, lad?" Cyril gets real quiet, "Are you familiar with any forms of xenoscript?" "Depends on the type, lad," Rockfist shrugs, "I had ta assist the Command Brotherhoods at times, ended up pickin' up a few things here and there. Was quite useful when we first arrived in the sector." Cyril hands over the hyperscroll. "Ramsestron gave us this as some kind of certificate of amity. Can you translate it?" Rockfist lays the scroll out on a workbench, putting on his reading glasses. He reviews the Necron script carefully, before looking up. "Well, it basically declares you an ally of Ramsestron, his Royal Court, and his Dynasty," Rockfist says, "Accordin' to his Ancient Codes or summat, ya've proved yerself worthy and are treated as an equal in 'is eyes. He'd intercede for ya if the Triarchs come knockin', but I wouldn't push yer luck, lad." Rockfist takes a deep breath, closing his eyes, lost in memory. "Of the four factions of rustbuckets we've seen 'ere," Rockfist concludes, "I would say Ramsestron was by far the safest. He's far more trustworthy than them Greenskins and... *pah* Eldar." "Understood," Cyril nods, "Do we need to carry it on our persons?" "Nah, Necrons 'ave a thing, they just KNOW," Rockfist shrugs, "I wouldn't worry 'bout it." "I rather liked Ramsestron," Cyril admits, "It may be a xeno, but it was aligned with Humanity's interests. And it had a dragon." Brynjol unexpectedly is behind Cyril, and cuffs him over the head. "You and your heresies..." he laughs. Cyril glances at the Wolf Priest. "It had. A dragon." "Aye, the Inquisition ranks'im as the lowest Necrontyr threat," Rockfist says, "But 'e didn't 'ave a bloody DRAGON last the Brotherhoods met with'im. I'd still advise some caution." Rockfist sighs as Brynjol and Cyril try to step around each other. "Overall, lads, if it's 'im, usually a few macrocannon shells are enough ta make'im go away," Rockfist finishes, "But the others, can't quite say the same for'em. Anythin' else ya needed?" "What are the other Dynasties, then? The bearded Cryptek was most unpleasant, and the one that attacked Xaviol seemed like part of another faction altogether." "The other dynasties..." Rockfist muses, "Take a seat, this may take a bit."

Rockfist takes out a small dataslate, "Right then, so there're four Dynasties the Holds have encountered in this sector. Each are distinguishable by their Phaeron, and the title they take." The hololith switches to a creepily-smiling Phaeron, surrounded by the floating parts of what seems like a synthesizer. "Ye've met Ramsestron, Tonal Architect," Rockfist says, "He's known for a sound-based method of attack called Sigma Harmonics. The Holds 'ave a long history with him, and he holds the dubious an' sad distinction of bein' the first 'friendly' face we've seen in the Sector." The hololith switches, a terrifying silver skull visage surrounded by dozens of chittering scarabs. "An' I think ye've met Khepri, The Transforming Strength," Rockfist says, "Thing 'bout 'im is his body, it's made COMPLETELY of Scarabs, an' his forces are Canoptek in nature. His attacks 'ere predate our comin', but they've always been devastatin'." "Which leaves whoever that Cryptek worked for," Cortain collates, " final dynasty." The Hololith temporarily flickers. "Next, there's a pair of Phaerons we know only as Ad and Paqt, with the rather mysterious title, the Keepers of Abbasid," Rockfist shrugs, "The Brotherhoods never met'em ourselves, but we were told they keep to themselves, not maintainin' a Decurion of their own, an' have a mastery of canoptek voidship construction." "Voidship specialists? I wonder if they forged some alliance with Khepri to launch the attack on Xaviol..." Cyril wonders, "If such an alliance exists, it can be broken, turning them upon one another." The final hololithic image is showing an overlord in lavish garments, posing a strange pose. "Finally, and here's the weirdest one - Armanihotep, Grand Couturier," Rockfist concludes, "He learned how to bind C'tan shards to 'imself, summonin' an' attackin' with'is C'tands. His title is self-explanatory, though - he's a close ally to Ramsestron, an' many of the sector's high an' mighty wear the clothes he makes, most of'em ignorant of the source." Rockfist switches off the Hololith. "Regrettably, lad, yer rogue Cryptek must be workin' with one of'em, an' I'd bet thrones it'd be Khepri or Ad an' Paqt," Rockfist says, "I'd be wary of'em all regardless." "So it can be summed up as 'bloody Necrons again'," Brynjol announces. "Right, lad," Rockfist nods, "I hope the information helps." "As do I, Rockfist, Cyril concludes, "Thank you for the briefing."

The Blade finally begins materium translation procedures, and pops out over the Cataclysm system. A half day of plasma engine travel, and the Commandos arrive above the Cataclysm system. Cyril, however, has a doubt which he heads to Cortain for.

"Cortain, I have been reviewing our archived after-action reports, and was curious about something," Cyril begins, "The children on Xaviol had action figures of us. Did you notice any of Temur or myself?" Cyril takes a moment to remember. "Brynjol's swung a chainsword... Yours had rockets and a rather striking dress... How does one translate the magnificence of a Storm Bolter or Grav Cannon to children's toys?" "I have all of them, though this was before our promotions," Cortain recalls, "Your figure notably has a Storm Bolter, but it was a single piece, hardly fitting of the glory it imitates. Temur's had a Grav-Cannon, which had lights and sounds." "Ah. That is logical," Cyril nods, "Thank you for indulging my curiousity." "And for your information, that dress was unsanctioned," Cortain looks at the figure in its packaging, "It does have stickers though. No doubt there will be a second wave of figures. Maybe they will add your yeti as well. Maybe have him disassemble into becoming some ridiculous heretek super armor."

Cyril takes a moment to review the boxes. Fightin' Felleye Brynjol. Cortex Captain Cortain. Consul Commander Cyril (with Super Sparkle Action). Silent Stalker Temur. Brynjol mutters something about mould lines, before turning to the important matter at hand.

The Blade is holding above Cataclysm. The Support Crew has gathered at the bridge. Brynjol turns up, for once wearing his armour to the bridge. It has been adorned with what looks like a wolfpelt loincloth, and a flamer of unusual design. It is gurgling in a disquieting fashion, and drooling a miniscule but steady stream of dihydropromethium.

Cortain tries to contact the surface, but flubs the test. As Cortain begins talking to the Recaf machine, Rockfist brings up a hololithic display. "Aite, lads," Rockfist says, "We received word that one of the domes down on Cataclysm has...gone silent. The Inquisitors aren't sure the source, but numerous forces sent down to recover the situation have disappeared." "Sounds ominous," Brynjol says. "These domes, how large are they?" Temur asks, "For some perspective of the scale we are potentially dealing with." "They range in size, lad, from small hab centers to larger," Rockfist explains, "The one you're bein' dispatched to holds all the forbidden gear and artifacts from the Squat Crusade almost 52 years back now. So it's about the size of a large Voidship." "How have the Inquisitors in charge reacted to this?" Cortain adds. "How much did they panic?" "We haven't heard anything from the Inquisitors," Rose says, "They are probably gradually increasing the scale of response, given that numerous scions and a Sororitas squad has lost contact now." "Squad of four Sororitas... Do you think...?" Cortain wonders. "THERE IS NO INDICATION OF IDENTIFYING FACTORS IN THE BRIEFING - THE POWER ARMORED AUXILIA COULD BE ANYONE, CONSULS," Thexus blasts. "Prancing about in power armour like they know what they're doing," Brynjol mutters. "Seems like we should get down there as soon as possible," Brynjol suggests. "Anyway, lads," Rockfist says, "Bringin' assets down there probably isn't a good idea. But we'll ready anythin' else ya need, as well as transport." "Agreed," Cortain nods, immediately rushing to the Armourium to rent out a Rapier Laser Destroyer, a Volkite Culverin, and a siege auspex. Cyril picks up a Photon Thruster and his winged pack. Temur heads to the Stasis crypts of the armorium and picks up a Totally-Not-Redemption Of St. Sulech, with metalstorm rounds, and a multikey, as well as Balancing his Paragon Blade. Brynjol settles on a triflame vambrace, has Cortain razor his Burning Claws, and collects a small ziploc-atus of pocket sand, JUST in case.

A Storm Eagle is readied, and the Urists stand ready to transport the Commandos to the dome that has gone dark. "We're ready to leave on your order, Consuls!" Urist McMorpho says. "Just give the order!" Urist McPequod adds. "Take us down," Cyril commands. Perhaps the rest of the Commandos wonder why Brynjol is mashing the confused pilots against his thighs as he attempts to pocket them, perhaps not, but all gear has been loaded as requested, to satisfaction. Enacting an Oath to the Wolf King, Brynjol returns to the main compartment, fiddling with his flame gauntlet. It continues to drool a steady stream of flames in a worrying fashion. The pilots try to take the Storm Eagle out - it's rough, and there's one or two scrapes as the pilots cannot see where they are going, but the exotic garden world of Cataclysm grows ever larger in the cockpit viewports.

"Should this be doing this, Cort?" Brynjol asks. "...where did you even find this?" Cortain asks. "I was rummaging in an old box of junk," Brynjol shrugs. "Thexus must have dismissed it as deviant and set it aside," Cyril offers. He twirls his Photon Thruster experimentally. The weight and balance feel -right-, but the prospect of having something in common with Khodexus is troubling.

Floating over the green grasses and forests, one dome grows larger and larger over the horizon. Armored with ceramite and lined with translucent materials, the dome is doing as much to store something as it is keeping prying eyes out. Coming low over the trees, the Urist brothers find an unoccupied landing pad extending out of one of the dome's hemispheres, and land there. The Commandos check their gear and relics, Temur taking special care as he double checks the mechanism of the ancient drum-fed heavy bolter from the back of the armory, a fine specimen dating from the days of the Legiones, making sure it is ready for action. The Commandos note with concern that they passed over other mass transports, all abandoned. Nonetheless, the Urist Brothers begin disgorging gear and equipment, and the Commandos pile out. On this platform, they can get a wide view of the surrounding grasslands, and the heavy armor of the blast door that bars passage.

The Commandos review the entrypath. There are a pair of terminals on each side, consisting of a hole in the wall, a keypad, and a cogitator pict-screen. Within each hole glows a bio-augur. Temur searches for a multikey access port, and unfortunately finds none. Cyril tries his luck inputting his hand into the bio-augur, and typing out some Inquisitorial ciphers. He fails, though, prompting an identical reaction in the opposite terminal. The Commandos quickly figure out from there that the terminals are linked. Temur heads over and puts in a commonly used passcode, and notes with discouragement that it works. Cyril puts in the cipher on the other side at the same time, and the two terminals beep.

The door begins to slowly slide open. Cyril draws his guns and points them inside, waiting to see what's there, but there seems to be little around - just an empty Station Access hall for now. It is engraved with symbols of the Inquisition and local saints. The engravings are quite shitty compared to the ones he can make. The Commandos note the lights are out, shards of armored glass on the hall's floors. While this doesn't impede them in any way, it's still somewhat worth noting. The shards of armored glass can be easily traced to the shattered lights in the ceiling. Signs of explosions and energy burns are evident, all clustered near the remnants of the lights.

"Some sort of explosion? Overpressure?" Brynjol asks. "What do we know that likes to fight in the dark?" Cyril asks, "Aside from myself, of course."

Cyril creeps forward, engaging his stummer to mask the sound of crunching glass, the Commandos a distance away. Popping on down the Station Access hallway, they come up to a decently expansive Security Station. Here, now, is where things start to look bad. There are about three long-ded corpses of Inquisitorial scions. Two are in the center of the room, splayed out, while one is at a cogitator behind a pair of sentry gun turrets. The servitor-controlled Sentry guns turn their red dots on the Commandos, but identify them as Inquisition-affiliate, and resume target searching. They are of no threat.

"Brynjol, can you see if you can figure out what killed them?" Temur asks. Brynjol pads over to the corpses, kneeling by them and examining the bodies. The first thing he can immediately see about the bodies is the two in the center of the room were shot from behind. The one behind the cogitator, however, suffered las burns from the front. Temur notes that heavy lasfire can be seen all around, as well as remnants of probable grenades. Based on this information, he reasons that based on the fact that many of the bodies were shot from behind, this was a surprise gankspank. It is likely that there would have been at least two to three to down each target in surprise, so a fair amount. Maybe a squad or two, from this room.

"Looks to be standard guard weapons, lasrifles and grenades, a squad or two in strength, these soldiers were taken by surprise," Temur announces, "These were previously sanctioned inquisitorial troops, or the security systems have been tampered with."

Cyril checks the Cogitator, which is displaying a general status - no non imperial targets were logged as entering, and the sentry guns remain unfired. Anything further would probably require tech use to coax the cogitator. "Cortain, come have a look at this. No non-Imperial targets were logged as entering..." Cyril requests, "Either this was a betrayal, or something bypassed security. Possibly both." "Betrayal," Brynjol spits, raising his Crozius, "Much more likely, and easy, to coerce an Imperial than to break through Inquisitorial security."

Temur does an exit check, and finds three - one left, one right, and one armored behind the cogitator bunker. There's a lot of blood trails to the left, and occasional blood trails to the right. Cortain checks the cogitators, and notes everything is on emergency power.

"Hellstar creatures seem able to manifest wherever they please, and prone to inspiring the insanity that could cause loyal warriors of the Imperium to turn on one another..." Cyril posits, "Though this seems too well coordinated for it, despite the timing. Either it is something else, or Crusader Invictus frightened it. Perhaps the fallen can tell us more..."

Brynjol takes a nibble of one dude, and Cyril the other, letting the memories flow...

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)

The two Scions on duty are walking down the hall, facing the cogitator. They wave and cipher to the scion on guard that all is well. They walk on further, before hearing footsteps behind them. It's more Scions, outnumbering them 4 to 1, guns held slack and walking forward slowly. The two Scions mutter amongst themselves about falling discipline, and resume their patrol. Then one (Brynjol's) falls, numerous hot shot las rounds hitting his back. Before he can turn, Cyril's is gunned down as well. As their life ebbs away, the scions continue to jerk and lurch away with half-aimed guns, marching through the halls, the lights shattering as they go. The last thing the scions see is the lights going out, as an insectile screech echoes through the air. At no point did the turrets fire, detecting only Inquisitorial Tempestus Scions. 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)

"Odd," Cyril mutters, rising from the cogitator guard's corpse. "The traitors were shambling forward with their guns held slack, and shot these men after walking right past them. They did not even stop walking..."

The screech, however, is concerning - the Commandos have never heard such a thing before. One thing is obvious - the blood draggings make more sense as the Teamkiller Scions went down the Left, from the Right. Bringing up a small map of this area on the cogitator, the right appears to be labeled Biostorage Access. Down the left appears to be Weapons Storage. Down the center, the cogitator states Ventilation Corridor and Generatorum.

"If systems are on emergency power. I will attempt to ascertain the location of the genetorum..." Cyril notes, "The shamblers went to Biostorage Access and Weapons Storage, but these killings happened long ago. Any damage may already have been done, so yes; to the generatorum. Bryn? Do you agree?"

Brynjol frowns, "It's a reasonable enough assumption, I suppose." He sniffs the air, trying to solve problems via the nostrils. "There are two possibilities - restarting the generator may allow them to bring heavier weapons to bear against us," Temur offers, "But might also bring the facilities automated defenses online." "I agree, Temur. I am also concerned about deactivated stasis fields in Biostorage..." Cyril adds, "They may have Tyranid samples there."

Brynjol raises his hand - he needs to concentrate. The first thing he smells is a LOT of blood coming from Weapons Storage. He can also smell something off, coming from Biostorage. He can smell humans, and just BARELY pick up the pheremones of fear. "Wait..." he says, "There are people, alive in Biostorage." Cortain intones his siege auspex to wakefulness and can confirm - biosigns down left, erratic energy signatures right, and a strange interference near the genetorum. "Either they broke a blood bank, or a lot of things died in Weapons Storage," Brynjol says. "Shall we rescue any survivors first then, or bring local systems fully online?" Cyril asks. "I advise rescue," Cortain states. "They might be able to tell us of our foe," Brynjol decides, "We rescue."

"Shall I sneak ahead, or do we go in all guns blazing?" Cyril asks. "I'd rather get at least a look before we accidentally kill them all," Brynjol says, "Take a peek, report back." "On my way. I will vox you if they are engaged," Cyril turns the stummer back on again and ghosts forward.

Taking the path to the right, the Commandos can see out the viewports of the curved hall that this dome is built around a large crater of some sort. Within the center of the crater is something utterly titanic - a voidship-sized wreck resembling a large lizard or frog. The winged construct is splayed out in different parts, each showing HEAVY signs of battle damage. Looping around to the damaged Biostorage door, the Commandos find it blown off its hinges.

"Is that...Slann?" Cortain asks, cross-referencing it. It bears similar hallmarks - silver metal with blue inlays, and some parts glowing orange with hardlight.

As the Commandos reform, the first thing Cortain can detect is the Stasis Caskets, all on barely emergency power, casting a dull red glow on the room. Within are Saurus and Skinks, similar to those on Cu'ba. Ded tech-adepts and xenobiologists lay about, as well as a skink they were most likely in the midst of dissecting. There is, however, an armored container that shakes and shuffles on occasion. Brynjol scores 11 Degrees of success, and can see the molecules themselves move, as well as hear faint, muffled voices from within. They sound terrified.

"There! That container," Brynjol says, "There's something inside. Sounds scared. Cortain, can you check it for traps? Use your auspex?" Upon the word 'Container', the voices sound somewhat agitated now. Cyril turns off the stummer since apparently everyone's following closely and approaches the container humming a distinctly Imperial hymn. "This seems, to coin a phrase, piscine as all hell," brynjol mutters. [2016-04-06 22:07:27] <Cyril> ,dhroll 77 I sing fur da Emprar

Singing an imperial hymn with 5 DoS, Cyril approaches the Container, similar to those that would be transported by Land Crawler, and watches as it shakes and bounces. The doors finally fly open, as four Sororitas pour out.

"Oh, thank the Emperor!" Black cries. "Support!" White exclaims. "And...the Commandos! We're gonna be okay!" Red concludes. "Oh bollocks," Brynjol mutters under his breath, switching to teamvox, "Is it too late to shoot the container just in case?" "You have a problem with the Sororitas?" Cyril asks, surprised. "Only these ones," Brynjol sighs, "They're sodding annoying." "Granted, they may be tainted by whatever compromised the Scions," Cyril admits, "But it is to be hoped that they were safe in the container."

"I thought we might find you down here," Cyril announces, "What happened? We found evidence of Stormtroopers turning on one another." "We're so glad you came!" Charlotte yells, "It's been absolutely terrifying!" She waves a torch around, trying to get some light around. "Put that torch down, this place isn't secure," Brynjol commands. Charlotte is hesitant, unwilling to extinguish the torch, "It's the only way to keep the Fog away. The Emperor's light kept us whole!" Cyril nods, "What was so terrifying? What threats have you encountered, Sisters?" "You haven't seen any, have you?" Red asks. "The Scions, they're...possessed by something," White adds. "No, we have not. Not yet," Cyril admits, "There were some anomalous readings, though..." "The darkness surrounding them, it's so thick, and those creatures..." Black cries. "Did the Scions have air filters, and suffer this fog's effect anyway?" Cyril presses, "What creatures? Were they anything like the ones on Ferrum Sanctimonia?" "It was a purple fog, it just flowed out of the walls, and struck the Scions," Charlotte explains, "They wore their full armor, and they just would not DIE, no matter how many righteous bolts we fired." "Did it seem.. daemonic in nature?" Brynjol asks. "No, these were different," Charlotte continues, "They were jet black, with a red compound insect's eye. They had five legs, and fired lances of white energy at us. And the screeches..."

"Concerning. How are your supplies of food and ammunition after your time in the container?" "Our food is low," Black says. "We're running quite low on ammo too," White agrees. "This place seems scoured," Red sighs. "A single eye? That sounds indicative of the Hellstar," Cyril states, "Good; I was concerned that it was lying low. Now we can strike back." "I...don't think these belonged to THAT monster," Charlotte says, "Usually it would have appeared in the sky by now, and the Inquisitors would have seen it. " "No doubt it might be nearby," Cortain suggests, "The Crusader Invictus is in the vicinity." "No, this is different," Charlotte sighs, "These were repulsed by our light and our prayers. I believe in my heart it was the latter, the Emperor protects."

"Hm. Well, there is no telling what peculiarities the Inquisition may have had semi-contained. For now, we need to secure the facility," Cyril finally states, "Do you wish to accompany us, or shall we have our pilots return you to Catalyst Station to inform the Lord Inquisitor of what transpired?" "We shall follow whatever orders you give," Charlotte says, "If...if you need us somewhere, do not hesitate to deploy us." "Speaking of, where are they?" Cortain asks, wondering about the Inquisitors. "They said they were bringing every force possible to the surface, to safeguard the Crusader Invictus," Charlotte explains, "They did not want to risk any damage to it." "Wise. It is our only weapon that has so much as scratched the Hellstar," Cyril says, "And its waking did a damn sight more than scratch the abomination." "How is the God-Machine? Are repairs making good progress?" Brynjol asks. "Repairs are going well," Charlotte states, "We heard they even brought in a specialist in these sorts of things. But, we don't know much else."

"We should double back and to through the next path," Cortain suggests, concerned about the unknown xenoforms now. "The genetorum, or the armorium?" Cyril asks, "I do not need to remind you that those xenos could wreak further havoc here if they are released." "I think the armourium deserves a cursory look," Brynjol suggests, "Why don't you three head to the genetorum and I will have a quick look and see? I smelt nothing but the dead, there." "Do take caution," Cortain suggests, "These Slann are not entirely as they seem." "I will try to ignore my best instincts, and retreat if necessary," Brynjol sighs. "Let us check the armorium, see what transpired there," Temur says, "THEN the generatoria." "Where would you like us in the meantime?" Charlotte asks. "Follow us," Cortain orders, "I would rather keep Bryn from being inconvenienced." The Sororitas shudder, and follow orders dutifully.

Travelling around, it takes a good 15 minutes to return to the Security room at top speed. Beginning another 15 minute trek all the way around, you can see the titanic Slann construct outside from a different angle here. Entering the Armorium, the Commandos can see all sorts of weapon racks, more of those hardlight weapons. They can even see wreckage of some of the Old One Armiger Constructs. Cyril, arriving first, can barely make out a large pile of ded Scions - it seems quite, QUITE dark in this room.

"More of those curious things. With so much dead, one has to wonder if perhaps..." Cyril wonders aloud, before fiddling with his helmet autosenses. It's dark. REAL dark. Autosenses should have covered, but the area is pitch fucking black.

"There is a pile of dead stormtroopers here, and something is obscuring my vision," Cyril replies, "I suspect it is that fog, and recommend we do not engage until the genetorum is online."

Requesting a stummer recharge from Cortain, Cyril prepares to leave the armorium, when he suddenly sees a body twitch. Cyril begins to scurry quietly away, "The corpses move. I am retreating to your position as quietly as I can." "Could just be someone wounded," Brynjol considers, "Advancing to you now."

Cyril turns around, and hear a screech, like an insect, the same in the vision. The bodies all begin to rise, raising haphazard guns. Behind Cyril, two hulking black creatures stand, five legged and insectoid, materializing from the darkness, screeching. Red compound eyes focus on the lone Ice Wraith as they raise their claws. He considers everything he has ever seen, and at first has no idea what is going on. Then, it hits him like a truck full of trucks. Creatures made of darkness, that avoid the light, and most recently seen during the events of the Squat Crusade. It seems so obvious in hindsight now.

"CONTACT!" Cyril yells, "UMBRA!"

The Commandos are spread out amongst the hall - Cyril at the Weapons storage, Cortain at the security control with his Rapier, the Sisters, and Cyril's yeti, and Brynjol and Temur halfway through rushing to Cyril. Darkling Scions begin to march slowly and exorably, and the Warrior Umbra skitter forward, red compound eyes focused on the attack at hand. Luckily for the Commandos, Warrior Umbra lack the possession ability that Hunter and Lesser Umbra have, meaning the threats in front of them are straightforward, though tough to deal with against those who cannot call upon light-based weapons. With the commandos so spread out, the assault quickly turns into an absolute mess. Cyril requests a retreat and regroup, Brynjol commands an assault, Temur trying to set up an overwatch, and Cortain wonders what the fuck is going on. Cyril rushes further down the hall, jumping past Brynjol and Temur, face grinding against the ceiling from a failed pilot test, causing Brynjol and Temur to follow him and try to establish a strongpoint. Cortain tries advancing, but decides against it when he sees the Astartes clusterfuck rolling towards him. The Commandos regroup in the security control.

This took an hour and a half, and not a single shot was fired. Cyril, battered from his amorous advances towards the ceiling, finally lands near Brynjol. He watches Cyril fuck himself along the ceiling with a glum expression.

"Cyril, for the love of the Allfather, I am going to give you a crash course in how to bloody do it when we get back!" "Oh...oh my..." Charlotte blushes. The Sororitas begin to wobble. Cyril growls through gritted teeth as he struggles to land, "The machine spirit is being uncooperative!" Cortain cringes. "Oh no..." "The machine spirit is not used to being treated like this!" Brynjol laments, "It is a masterpiece of aerial manoeuvrability equipment Cyril, and you are riding it like a shitty-arsed barnyard fowl!"

Outside, the Commandos can see things get dark, then light, in pulses. Dozens of black puddles of fog clouds slither along the ground, all heading to the genetorum room. With 7 DoS, Cyril can see a Warrior Umbra reform from one puddle of fog, then deform back as it makes its way over. Brynjol can see the puddles coming from all over the crater. Square Kilometers of Umbra, all converging.

"Oh, by the Emperor... I never thought I'd say this, but there's no way we can hold this place," Brynjol mutters, turning to the Sororitas, " What is the operational status of Crusader Invictus?" "We...aren't sure," Charlotte says. "It sounds a bit overkill to send a God Machine on a base just to purge it of taint," Cortain suggests. "Then we head to the genetorum," Cyril suggests, "If we can get it online, we might be able to restore lighting to some areas and weaken the beasts!" "Aye, good idea Cyril," Brynjol nods, "Cortain, can you raise the Blade? Orbital bombardment might not be out of order. I can see literally millions of those things." Cortain struggles to contact the Blade through a rapidly spreading distortion, "-------La-------ye co------------terfere---------ng's gone dark an-----------" "Genetorum. I suggest a rolling retreat to delay the pursuers, while Cyril and I make haste to the genetorum," Brynjol announces, "I for one, don't plan on dying today." "Dying? When did that enter the equation?" Cyril boasts, "Temur is to cover the retreat with Cortain, then? Notomok's cryothium and the sisters' weapons may not do much." "Easily," Temur nods, "It is the Warrior Umbra that concern me." "As much of a rolling retreat as I can make," Cortain says, "Try to keep them coming. I am still curious how Volkite acts."

"Commandos," Charlotte offers, "Those possessed corpses were slow, maybe you can outrun them?" "The corpses are hardly a concern, Sister," Cyril states, "The xenoforms are more concerning." "And I can see millions of them converging on our position," Brynjol repeats." "Get to the genetorium and get it working, I will be along with Cortain as fast as this platform can go," Temur states, "Move!"

As Brynjol and Cyril advance FAR faster than Temur and Cortain, the area looks like it has suffered severe, SEVERE damage. The genetorum still stands strong.

"It... looks operational," Cyril voxes, "The lighting units were deliberately smashed, but why were other systems on emergency power?" "If they only hate light, then everything else is ignored," Cortain points out.

As Cortain and Temur finally begin to catch up, the black fog enters through numerous damaged wall segments.

"Contact!" Cyril yells. Brynjol unsheathes his claws. Fat sparks of red light coalesce and drip down the murderous blades, as Temur and Cortain finally roll in. The Umbra surround the genetorum, sinking into it. The Umbran shadows begin to form around it...absorbing it. The resulting creature, a massive five legged, tentacled conglomeration of Umbra and Genetorum, solidifies ahead. Overwatch bolt shots seem to be absorbed as the creature repositions itself. Opening its mouth, the genetorum core glows deep and bright within as it screeches an earsplitting sound.

"That's the biggest one we've seen yet!" Charlotte yells.

The largest Umbra bioform the Commandos have ever seen, the Imperial Umbra, focuses the core within its mouth. "How is it surviving? The core is glowing so brightly!" Brynjol observes. "Is it perhaps..." Cortain muses, "An Alpha?"

The core of the Genetorum is visible in the creature's mouth. It is burning brightly. Dodging lances of light from the generator within the creature, Brynjol tries out the Triflame Vambrace. He rolls poorly on it, calling a Fire for Effect for additional support. Cortain fires his Culverin at the Imperial Umbra, damaging it with a lucky fury, while Temur absorbes its dodges with his relic Heavy Bolter. The Sororitas try their best, but they are just too spooked at first by the Imperial Umbra. Cyril gives them a stern glare, and his Iron Discipline allows them to unfuck themselves as they provide some covering fire.

Cyril then turns himself to the massive Imperial Umbra ahead of him, firing the dark lance at the creature, which pierces through one of its five legs and into the bright core. There is an incredibly damaging chain reaction from the Darklight hitting the Light. It closes its mouth, focusing a moment, and the Genetorum's light is briefly snuffed out by Umbran energy.

"I think Darklight counts," Cyril observes, "Try the Laser Destroyer!"

Cortain takes a moment to aim carefully with the Laser Destroyer. He then fires the emplacement forward, aiming straight for the core. To his surprise, the Twin-Linked Laser Destroyers both hit, and with two furies and Felling he does inordinate damage to the creature. The creature takes incredible damage from the Rapier, the Genetorum within SEVERELY damaged. Temur unloads, scoring some hits, but most are absorbed into the creature's inky blackness. It looks like it's quite unstable at this point, as it charges up dark umbran energy. Focusing the power of the darkling genetorum, it fires a jet black spray at the Commandos. Luckily, everyone shields and dodges, but this merely opens everyone up to the creature's charge attack, as it raises its three front legs and rushes forward, bathing everyone in darkburst energy. This time, Cyril and his yeti are unlucky enough to be caught by the dark energy. While taking some damage, Cyril notes the energy beginning to solifidy around his feet, in an icy encasement. With a burst of strength, he barely manages to break out.

Brynjol, now in melee, begins wildly slashing at the Imperial Umbra, opening with a Tricked Crozius into a trio of claw swipes. While most are absorbed into the creature's foggy legs, the Crozius strikes true, bashing the creature upside the head as he jets around, adjusting his positioning. Cyril takes a moment to think. He's in melee, facing down a creature composed of pure darkness, the dark genetorum within sparking and stuttering...

...and he has a sword made of light.

Cyril puts away his weapons, and draws the Photonic Blade. Sizing up his enemy, Cyril draws his Photonic Blade with a hymn to the Machine God and ignites it before swinging with a terrible ululating roar. The Photonic Blade is a weapon of purest light. Raising it around, its Sunburst-empowered blade cuts effortlessly through shadowy shield, and digs into the creature. It shrieks an insectoid screech as it forces itself back.

"00101110 00101110 00101110 01000001 01001110 01000100 00100000 01001000 01000101 00100000 01010011 01000001 01010111 00100000 01010100 01001000 01000101 00100000 01001100 01001001 01000111 01001000 01010100 00100000 01000001 01001110 01000100 00100000 01000100 01000101 01000101 01001101 01000101 01000100 00100000 01001001 01010100 00100000 01000110 01010101 01001110 01000011 01010100 01001001 01001111 01001110 01000001 01001100 00100001 00001010!" Cortain yells in Binharic. >And he saw the Light, and deemed it Functional!

The genetorum within it explodes out violently, forcing heavy damage into the walls, causing a partial collapse. The Imperial Umbra screeches loudly, as the Umbra all around begin converging.

"COME ON, THEN!" Cyril yells, "WHO WANTS MORE?" "I fear now we have no means to stop the others," Brynjol sighs. "Strength of arms is good," Cyril pants through clenched teeth, controlling the bloodthirst. "Let's try that this time."

But this time, the screech is responded to. As the Umbra screeches and deforms back into fog, the Commandos hear it. All around.

A warhorn mixed with a beast's roar.

The numerous Umbra are retreating, flowing like a river back, towards the titanic Old Slann construct.

"Oh bollocks," Brynjol sighs, "We really need Crusader Invictus." The beastly Warhorn echoes over once more. "No we do not," Cyril insists, "This is not a planetary-scale threat It is, however, deeply concerning." As the Umbra reach the Old Slann construct, they begin to flow over it, possessing it. The voidship-sized construct begins to shudder and shake, as the Umbra begin their possession. Brynjol frowns at Cyril. "Oh," is all Cyril can muster. "TOLD YOU!" Brynjol cuffs him over the head. "I stand corrected," Cyril admits, "Quickly, to the Storm Eagle!" [2016-04-07 00:52:36] <Praetor_Skullkrusher> I did say the pieces were strewn about the crater. "This is bad..." Charlotte yells as she and the other Sororitas rush to follow the Commandos.

Finally reaching the storm eagle, the Urists standing ever ready, the Old Slann construct begins to rise, spreading its wings, focusing its tail, and raising its claws. Pieces of it swarm around, clicking into position as it recovers.

"Rockfist, do you read? Can you get a lock on that thing and bombard it from orbit?" Cyril requests, "It should at least slow it down!" "We're not in orbit, lad, come to us," Rockfist voxes, "We've deployed and got everythin' ready fer ya." "Is Invictus ready?" Brynjol asks, "I want to punch it." The storm eagle shudders, as it rides the blastwave of the warhorn. "We aim ta please, lad," Rockfist says, as Crusader Invictus walks, sword drawn, bridge blazing red.

"You know, I'm surprised you enjoy piloting Crusader Invictus so much," Cyril quips, "Given your hatred of void combat. The only difference is you get to punch things." "That's why I like it," Brynjol clarifies, "One is me Locking On to enemies for you all. The other is a massive God Machine I get to punch and stab in." The Storm Eagle docks with Crusader Invictus, the path is cleared to the bridge. There is no one but Rose there, in her usual spot. Rockfist and Thexus are probably in the enginarium again. Cyril, Temur, and Cortain take up weapons spots, as Brynjol clambers to the old wooden ship's wheel, grinning.

"Lad..." Rockfist voxes, quite serious and morose, "I...never expected ta see that thing again." "Something from the Crusades?" Cyril asks. "It was...our final, and greatest enemy," Rockfist sighs, "The war engine of the creature who almost destroyed us all...Xahecatl's Seeker Omega." "These Old Ones are remarkable," Cortain admits. "Even for how much I hated'im," Rockfist sighs, "The dead should rest. It shouldn't end that way for Xahecatl, whatever parts of him remain in durance on Seeker Omega..." The Darkling Seeker Omega raises a claw jerkily. "SQUAAAAAAAAAAAAATS..." it echoes. "We will break it," Brynjol declares.

"Sisters, would you mind heading to the kitchens and summoning some refreshment? We are about to be occupied, and Notomok and I could use a snack," Cyril commands, forgetting there are nobody else but them aboard Crusader Invictus, "Help yourselves to anything you wish to eat there; if the Squats question you let them know that I sent you down." "HMPH!" Charlotte pouts, "Here we are all excited, and you make a kitchen joke!" "Joke? I am hungry," Cyril announces, "If you want to watch, I will just fox a squat to do it." The quite annoyed Sororitas take a seat quietly off to the side, to observe the battle.

Brynjol communes with the God-Machine, taking a titanic step forwards before breaking into a run. Cortain Arc Charges the fists, and Brynjol fires the Rocket Punch directly at Darkling Seeker Omega. The vaguely amphibian Seeker Omega spreads its wings, and tries to fly out of the way, but the possessed war construct is slow and choppy, and is unable to dodge as the fist bashes it hard. Cyril fires the Magna Cannons, but misses the shifting construct, to his annoyance. Cortain fires a barrage of missiles at the Darkling Seeker Omega, but it narrowly dodges a few, flying above them. Temur takes a moment to aim with the Worldbreaker Lances, bouncing off one flickering void shield and burning away parts of the Darkling Seeker Omega.

"Commandos, that...that Seeker Omega," Rose whispers, "It feels so wrong. It's in pain. All I can sense, all around, is regret." "If what Rockfist says is right, then this entity, it does not want to be possessed like this," Cortain explains, "Nothing would want this sort of desecration."

Seeker Omega flies up, focusing its numerous weapons, and aligning some shards into a pair of blades. Moving forward, it begins to fire shards of hardlight and a great sentinel lance. Hardlight bursts off void shields, as Sentinel Lances take great chunks off of Crusader Invictus. "SQUAAAAAAAAAATS...MY PEOPLE MUST SURVIIIIIIIIIVE..." the Darkling Seeker Omega echoes. as pieces fall off it.

Crusader Invictus moves forward, now in melee range. Cortain Arc Charges the Crusader Sword, charging it to a level only high-frequency blades would normally get. Brynjol begins swinging incredibly fast, every swing a sonic boom. Landing 9 hits with the now High-Frequency Crusader Sword, the Darkling Seeker Omega barely parries two, before taking seven sword hits in one go. Brynjol's muscles twitch as his body tries to replicate the motions Crusader Invictus is making, from the signals his brain is sending to his body. Cyril continues with the Magnacannon Batteries, bringing down Darkling Seeker Omega's void shields in time for Temur to point blank burst a pair of lance hits into the Darkling's side. A further torpedo barrage from Cortain hits the possessed war construct, but he rolls low and they explode with minimal damage.

Seeker Omega collapses to the ground, struggling to hold itself together. It's not quite dead, but something is off. "Commandos, can you feel it?" Rose says, "It's...calling." "More shadow-puppeteering..." Cyril mutters. "We need to end this, now," Brynjol declares. "I...I think I can..." Rose says, "I need your help, help me focus."

The Commandos take a moment to focus as one, the air beginning to smell of the Warp. Brynjol, Cortain, and Cyril all achieve 4 DoS on the Willpower Focus test, while Temur achieves only one. It is still enough. Rose focuses, as hard as she possibly can, as the Commandos guide her. Crusader Invictus sticks out its hand, as if beckoning. Seeker Omega begins to shudder and shake, as the metallic shards that compose its wings suddenly surge at Crusader Invictus. The shards coalesce in a whirlwind around Crusader Invictus, as it brings its arms in, Rose echoing.

"Borne on the wings of angels, unto deliverance..." she whispers as she glows red.

The Shards impact themselves into the God Machine's back, a base formed as other shards float in formation. Crusader Invictus steps forward, stretching the Heavensward Wings.

Seeker Omega fires its Hardlight Cannons forward, but Crusader Invictus effortlessly dodges to the side, gliding on its new wings. Surging with energy, Crusader Invictus's cape flows in the wind. Brynjol's shoulderblades twitch and flex as he bunches his new wings, using them to leap over the spray of Hardlight. Darkling Seeker Omega then reorganizes its shards, filling them with energy, and strikes forward. Crusader Invictus brings the sword around, supersonic contrails tracing the blade's path. The blades are knocked aside, and the great God-Machine strikes back in a counterattack.

"The greatest strength of Crusader Invictus..." Rose whispers, "The ability to take its enemies' strengths as its own." "....fabulous..." Cortain mutters, in awe.

Cortain attempts to soften it up with a storm of missiles, but defense shard turrets take down the entire wave. Temur then fires the lances, unwilling to wait any longer. While one is absorbed by void shields, the second lance brings the Darkling Seeker Omega to its knees...right into the Crusader Sword.

"Commandos...Commandos!" Rose yells, "Arc Charge the wings! Quick!" "Cortain, do it!" Brynjol commands. Cortain rapidly Arc-Charges the wings, sending red power surging to them. Crusader Invictus grabs Seeker Omega, crouching down and extending the Heavensward Wings. The wings glow a burning red, as Crusader Invictus blasts off, high in the sky. Ascending ever higher, the God Machine repositions once more to the ground. Falling, falling, ever faster, a red contrail behind it. Crusader Invictus forces Seeker Omega into the ground with devastating force, the ground itself deforming, shattering it finally and permanently. The God Machine floats off the wreckage, as it blasts a roar of triumph, wings carrying it down softly.

"SQUAAAAAAAAATS...IT IS...OVERRRRRRR..." "Taste the pure light of day, monster. Rest in peace, warrior."

The lights fade from Seeker Omega.

"Ya did good, lads," Rockfist sighs, "Ya did good. The Brotherhoods would approve."

Rose has fallen unconscious, but it is easy enough to recover her, and prepare to return to the Blade, for the next missions. The Hellstar has been remarkably silent, and the Commandos are eager to seek it out.

Mechanicum War Barques swirl around Crusader Invictus. The God Machine must be moved to Augurus for repairs and refits, and only the mighty Barques can lift it out of atmosphere. Canticles of honor resound through the world as the Barques attach, lifting Crusader Invictus up, into spess and to repairs.

None note the oily, black puddle flow over the leg, and into the superstructure proper.

(31) Brutal Cunning[edit]

Crusader Invictus has been moved back for repairs and refits, while the support crew stands by the Sector Hololith map. It seems there are four new alerts, and two notifications. New supplies have been transferred to the Blade, and the Medicae serfs continue to watch the ded Farseer carefully. Temur proceeds to inspect the updated hololith. There are four immediate alerts he notes, reviewing each in turn.

1) Reports at Mining Site 0298 detail the miners have uncovered some sort of tomb, bearing heraldry of the Legiones Astartes. Thexus has cross-referenced this location with the Fire Raptor Cogitators, and has confirmed Legionary presence that would have stood as honor guards for a great hero of the Legions. Legionary designate unknown. Make landfall and recover anything of note quickly - Thexus believes the planetary governor, Blobert F. Cankleton, lacks the care and ability to properly maintain anything found after the world's astropathic relay suffered recent and sudden complications...

2) Inquisitor Shady had a sudden idea one day - what if everyone went forward in time, learned how to defeat the Hellstar, secured said methods and techniques, and brought them back to the present to defeat the Hellstar? Shady has thus requested the Commandos accompany him, into the future, to put his flawless and master plan into action. Surely nothing can go wrong.

3) A Mechanicum outpost on the isolated world of Mithras has gone dark. Automated standard savior beacons have begun broadcasting the standard low-level emergency request for assistance. No information exists on this outpost otherwise. The Commandos are dispatched to recover the facility and the surrounding forge-fane for the Mechanicum, despite the local Synods insisting no installations exist there.

4) It's time for the event of the half-century - the Rechner Redline! Pitting all sorts of famed and skilled racers across the sector against each other, only one team can claim victory in the death-defying Rechner Redline. Survive the environment, errant defense forces, and fellow racers to reach first place, with all the rewards and renown that entails. The Commandos have been entered as representatives of the sector's Inquisition, and the Inquisitors expect victory.

In addition, there are two notes. One appears to be from Deepthroat, stating that he is reasonably sure that O'Res'Nan is now within the sector, and he will issue the alert when he finds him. The other is unaddressed, but is sent with highest security blessings of the Mechanicum - "Star Bomb 80% Complete."

Cortain decides to take the moment and search the automata production facilities, which are running full swing. Under careful watch of esteemed members of the Squat Engineer's Guild, new automata are forged and the bioplastic cortexes engraved with sigils of protection. He see common ones like Castellax and Vorax the most, as well as rarer types like Thanatars and Arlatax.

"How can we assist, Forge Lord?" an armored Squat says, waddling up and signing the Aquila. "I seek an automaton for long term usage," Cortain states. The Squat engineer nods, "Sure thing, m'lord, did ya have a specific model in mind?" "Thanatar. Calix-class," Cortain declares. The squat nods, signalling to the other engineers. A pair of further engineers flank a Thanatar Calix, controlling it until it reaches Cortex range. "Right, lad, if it gets smashed up, jus' bring it back an' we'll repair or replace it for ya," the squat says, "No questions asked." Cortain turns to the Thanatar, sizing the enormous construct up. Twice the size of a Dreadnought, the Sollex Lascannon as long as a Rhino, the Siege Automata is a masterful icon of the Omnissiah's fury. "From henceforth, I ordain thee as my adjutant/weapons platform, Omega-Rho 10"

Heading to the Blade's firing ranges to test his automata out, the squats at the firing range regard Cortain, before pausing at the Thanatar. They then resume their training. As always, a number of Servo-automata float idly around as targets, tentacles trailing as they go. Though he gives it his best efforts, the strain of controlling a Siege Automata directly is tough, and he has issue hitting the targets with the Sollex Lascannon. The Boltcannon, however, is much easier to deal with, popping a servo-automata to giblets. Cyril nods a greeting to Cortain and his new toy, then goes back to laying open servosquids with a Darkfire Cannon.

Cyril sighs. It must be nice having a Cortex Controller.

At the Holomap, the support crew are all discussing the missions, at least in theory. In reality. they are trying to calm Thexus's angry robot noises. O'Malley merely snorts in derision. "So, lads," Rockfist voxes to everyone, and speaking directly to Temur, "What should our priority be?"

"The mining site seems...curious," Cortain suggests. "Indeed, that outpost intrigues me, but a potential Legion site is worth investigating as soon as possible," Cyril agrees, "I would also like to see Shady again, but he may have to wait." "Give the man time," Cortain advises, "Hopefully he might realize that he might have a terrible idea." "I HAVE COMPARED LOCATION DATA TO THE FIRE RAPTOR COGITATORS, CONSUL," Thexus yells, "THIS WAS THE INTERNMENT SITE OF A HERO OF THE LEGIONS. LEGIONARY DESIGNATE UNABLE TO BE EXTRACTED." "I am loathe to leave security and care of a potential relic site in the hands of an incompetent," Temur declares. "I AM IN AGREEMENT, CONSUL. ON YOUR ORDER, THE HELOTS SHALL BE MOBILIZED." "What say you, brothers?" Temur asks, "These sites have always been of importance, and with O'res'nan in sector, I feel it would be wise to investigate it while other concerns are less pressing." "Aye, why not," Brynjol shrugs, "The relic it is." Rockfist nods, and signs the order, and the Blade begins travel, on its way to the Mining World. "While I do not think it is particularly urgent, it should yield great rewards worth postponing more time-sensitive missions," Cyril concludes.

Cortain decides to look up the mining site while readjusting Omega Rho 10, or in simple gothic, Ordeci. Mining Site 0298 is a dreary world of dust and rock, where silicate windstorms blow across the hinterlands, as more and more planetary land is subsumed by mining equipment. Its imperial contribution is rare minerals and rocky compounds. The planet is administrated by a Planetary Governor-Administrator named Blobert F. Cankleton. It is said the miners have a peculiar culture, but Cortain can't seem to find anything about it in his cursory search. Cyril attempts to aid him, but to no avail.

"Brother, I have a question," Cyril asks, "A question about tech-heresy." Cortain nods, listening intently. "Are there any particular guidelines concerning who or what may control combat automata?" Cyril asks. "Cortex controllers require several other mechanical implants to work that are generally issued to Mechanicus," Cortain explains. Cyril coughs. "And... if one were to have those implants, there would be no... protocols dictating that they were unworthy?" "That is a matter determined by the magi and synods," Cortain notes. Cyril nods pensively. "So if I get a note of permission from a Magos, no one can complain if I implant Notomok with a Cortex Controller?" "There are further cranial implants you will need," Cortain points out, "And for him...there is the question of his intelligence." Cortain considers that, normally, clearing someone for cybernetica controls requires years of study and training. While he qualifies by virtue of Techmarine training, there probably is no Magos that would certify a yeti.

In the meantime, Brynjol, orders the Farseer corpse unstasis'd, for careful study. The Serfs bring out the Farseer, and Brynjol immediately gets to work. He notes the immediate cause of death was neural shock from being removed from the Wraithship. However, with 5 DoS on his Medicae test, he realizes that the Eldar had numerous critical injuries beforehand, not caused by him or his brothers. It had received them elsewhere. With every cut, Brynjol can smell the taint of psykery. With 5 DoS, it was clear the Farseer was psychically healing itself as it was connected to the wraithship. He estimates that, at time of death, it needed only a few more hours before it fully healed and recovered. Brynjol completes his autopsy, noting a number of things for his own reference, such as dense muscle-analogues surrounding vertebrae, fused-wing "ribs," lack of chemical and digestive enzymes, and numerous nerve-endings in ears. He pauses, before deleting that last bit.

The Blade finally bursts back into the Materium, a prayer to the Emperor and Ancestors emanating from every Squat. Over the day, the dusty world grows larger and larger, great windstorms blowing across the surface. Cyril strolls onto the bridge as the ship recovers into the materium. The Blade makes holding position over the world.

"Vox the governor," Cyril commands, "Notify him that the Angels of Death have arrived to take charge of the site." "Attention Mining Site 0298," Cortain voxes down, "Effective immediately, you will permit the Deathwatch to investigate your site." Cyril stands helmless in front of a photoreceptor linked to the broadcast, smiling as affably as he knows how. There's a bit of a delay, before the Commandos get a response. "The Deathwatch?" a tech-adept says, "The Deathwatch returns! We welcome and honor you, in our renewed faith, in the name of the Saints!" "Very well," Cortain states, "We will depart forthwith."

Almost immediately, the Commandos are sent the location of one of the larger settlements. "Hmm...take care, beardlings," O'Malley says, rubbing his head, "Somethin' seems a bit off." "Yeah, something definitely feels wrong," Rose says, closing her eyes and popping an aspirinatus. Rockfist stares pensively, before turning, "Regardless, lad, when yer ready, jus' say so."

"Can you put a feeling on the type of 'wrong'?" Temur asks, "Perhaps similar to a feeling you've had before?" "'s a headache," O'Malley sighs, "A tough'un." "If our psykers sense something amiss, perhaps one of us should bring Witchbolts, or Sanctified ammunition?" Cyril suggests.

The Commandos gear up. Cyril selects a winged Jump Pack, a Chronophore from the Ordo Chronos vaults, and a Vorax maniple with biocorrosive armaments. Cortain selects a Chronophore as well, with a Siege Auspex and new Breaching Augur. Temur implants himself with an MIU, and reqs his suspensor as always. Brynjol sanctifies his crozius, and selects his normal Valkyris Jump Pack. A Thunderhawk is readied, the Urist Brothers at the pilot seats, and the order to launch is given.

The winds of the world buffet the craft as the Urist Brothers take the Thunderhawk down, but there is little danger. As the winds give way to rocky outcrops, a sprawling mess of mining installations dot the ground. The Commandos, on the way down, take a moment to think - it seems the inhabitants of this world are eager to welcome the "Return" of the Deathwatch, whatever that means. The Thunderhawk lands, as a couple of large, burly miners stand outside, waiting. The miners are nodding, quite impressed as the Thanatar pops out and deploys.

"Welcome once again, Deathwatch!" one miner says, as a small group begins to collect, "We have honored the teachings you had left us, and in our hearts, dedicated our hearts to the God Emperor and the Saints!" "Always good," Brynjol nods. "The Chaplains you left, they inspired us over these many years," the other muscled miner says, "We have never forgotten what you did for us, and we are ready to repay any kindness you may deem necessary." Cyril raises an eyebrow and mutters into his commbead, "Rockfist, scan the planet for living Astartes signatures other than us." The manly miners kneel, "How can our humble world assist you?" "We have heard word of some curious discoveries from your crews," Cortain explains. "Ahh...yes, we discovered strange chambers bearing the mark of the Astartes, or at least that is what our Chaplains told us," a miner says, "But we could not acquire more information after our Astropaths all...died." "We shall take you to Administrator Blobert Cankleton," the second miner says, "He can no doubt tell you more." Cortain nods and points for the underlings to lead on.

The Miners escort the Commandos through the immediate area. Most of the buildings are prefabricated Phaeton pattern, with larger patterns used for habs. Things like the local bar and armorium are easily observable. Dust blows through the streets and alleys, but eventually the mines in the rocky outcoppings become apparent. "We'll find the Administrator for you momentarily, my Lords...HEY, BLOBERT!" a miner yells down one shaft, "The Deathwatch have returned!" Cyril dons his helm and speaks into teamvox. "Dead astropaths? The last time that happened on a world we deployed to..." "Bollocks, you're right," Brynjol mutters. "Time would be of the essence then, efore we find ourselves swarmed with potential Daemon Engines." "Indeed," Cyril nods, "I am glad I brought psybolts, but I am curious to see what a Chronophore would do to a traitor Marine."

A few moments pass by, as a man marches out. Tall for a human (but nothing on an Astartes) and built like a well-muscled brick shithouse, the man tosses down an ore shard as large as he is. "Greetings, Administrator," Cyril states. Governor-Administrator Blobert F. Cankleton is soon followed by a child. She follows him closely, holding tools for him, and she is missing her two front teeth. Cortain finds the name "Blobert" to be a serious misnomer. "Deathwatch!" the man yells, gripping Cyril in a massive bearhug, "Welcome! Welcome back to my world! It is an honor to host you!" "Those aren't just any Deathwatch, dad," the child points out, "They're really famous. They're the Republican Commandos." "And an honor to be here," Cyril says hurriedly, "Tell us, where did your mining teams find Astartes markings, and when did your Astropaths die?" "Thank you, Violet," he says, "Well then, Commandos, straight to the point! That's good! In the name of the Saints, there shall be no secrets between us, especially after you helped improve us all." The Commandos stare at each other. Blobert looks around, "Here though, is not the place, let's talk in town. It's louder there so we won't be heard as easily." "Very well," Cyril nods, as the Commandos take defensive position around the Governor-Administrator.

Walking with the Planetary Governor, he begins, "Well, first you asked about relics. We don't know about relics, but we did see ruins in one of the mine shafts with Space Marine scripts all over it. The Chaplains said it would be the noble Astartes, so we haven't been back since." "Another curious observation: You said 'Welcome back,'" Cortain observes. "You were visited by the legendary kill-team of a century past, we take it?" Cyril asks. "Yes, how did you know?" Cankleton asks, "It was they who delivered us from a most terrible crisis of faith and apathy, and they left behind their Chaplains to safeguard our spirits, so the Emperor would accept us, and their Saints, to ready our bodies. Ever since, we have righteously performed our duties, and built up our strength physical and spiritual." "And these Chaplains have remained since?" Cyril asks. "Dad met them," Violet adds, "He said he used to be a useless fat lump until the Deathwatch kicked him into shape!" Cortain jerks at such a...blunt observation. "Yes, their Chaplains," he nods, patting Violet's head, "They are all on holiday right now, so I wouldn't expect to see them around. I wouldn't worry about them, they'll come back eventually." "Why would we worry about them at all, if they are true Chaplains of the Astartes?" Brynjol asks, "Is there something you think we should be concerned with?" He snorts derisively. "And true Astartes do not take holidays."

"They like to fight!" Violet yells, putting up her fists, "The Chaplains say that when we train together, we all become harder and stronger! Dad likes to fight them a lot! Sometimes he even wins!" "Whoever these Chaplains are, they are not Astartes or we would know of their presence here," Cyril whispers over teamvox, "And they would have been redeployed to other combat zones in any case. Resolving the issue may be best left to other teams, though; we should investigate the ruins and prepare a missive to the Inquisition." "He... wins?" Brynjol asks, "Against Astartes." "They must have been feeling generous," Cortain suggests. "Or pity," Temur mutters. "My dad's really strong!" she says proudly, "He can beat up anything!" "Quite," Brynjol says dismissively, before kneeling in close, "Tell me, your Chaplains... are they tall like me?" "They are! Their armor's kind of ramshackle, but it's still really strong," Violet continues, "They say I gotta train harder to punch through it like Dad can!" Cortain blanches, "Their neglect of their armor is insulting." Brynjol has a thought. "What colour is their skin?" he asks, "Pale, like me?" The Commandos stop and stare at him. "INNOCENT QUESTION!" he retorts. "I dunno," Violet shrugs, "They NEVER take off their armor." "Hmmm, do these Chaplains of yours have any markings on the armor?" Temur asks, "And if they do could you describe them?" Violet takes a moment to think, but can't seem to remember anything specific. "They are not Astartes, and they parade as Chaplains," Cyril states on teamvox, "They clearly do not mind heresies. But this is not the time, brothers, we have a task here."

"Now now, Violet," Cankleton says quietly, "But for your second question, Commandos, our Astropathic relay, they were lost a few weeks back. Their heads...exploded. And they were screaming a lot beforehand. The Saints say to, in the Emperor's name, beat down whatever threatens you, but I'm not sure what's going on here." "Hm. Cranial explosion of Astropaths means something is amiss in the Warp, though it could conceivably be a fluke," Cyril offers, "Can you give us coordinates to the shaft with Astartes script?"

The Administrator-Governor takes a moment to pause in front of a streetside shrine, two large and imposing muscled humans raising mighty axes, one high, one low. He intones a silent prayer, before entering what appears to be a common pub. "Of course I will, honored Commandos," Cankleton says, "But first, I humbly request your help." "Proceed," Cortain insists, leaving Omega Rho Decima to be a doorbot.

The Governor-Administrator takes a seat at an empty table, "Whatever killed our Astropaths needs to be drawn out, and destroyed. It could threaten all the people on my world." "On that we are in agreement. Do you have a proposal as to how to accomplish step one?" Cyril asks, "Once that is done, we are quite skilled at destruction." "I do!" Cankleton states eagerly, "I have created a great plan to lure our enemies to us!" "My dad's really smart!" Violet says proudly. "Lets hear it," Temur commands. "You see, now that we are in one place..." the Governor-Administrator says, "Our enemies will no doubt come to us! We must now be vigilant!"

Cortain stares at this. This is not a plan. This is not even a step. Violet pulls his sleeve, pointing at the six-armed, purpleish-red genestealer that infiltrated to the chair on his right. The Governor-Adminstrator turns to his right, then to his left, towards the Commandos. "You see, Imperial Saint Morkus teaches us cunning..." Cankleton says as he grabs a chair, swinging it over his head upon the Genestealer, "And Imperial Saint Gorkus teaches us to be brutal about it! The plan worked! Let us purge the enemies of the Immortal God Emperor!" "Huh. Tyranids," Cyril says, "OKAY!"

As Genestealers suddenly burst from the very walls of the bar, the miners stand up, ready to fight as well. "Defend the Governor..." yells one miner, "and defend the amasec!"

A big mess of ten genestealers burst through the wall. Further Genestealers are behind them, but the Miners begin fighting as well, punching out Genestealers and opening a way for the Commandos. A Broodlord itself bursts through the ceiling, and roars a Challenge, which Temur fully intends to accept. The Vorax begin with an opening salvo, pulping two Genestealers with corrosive ammunition. Cyril adds to the fire with storm and chronophore shots, barely grazing a super-agile genestealer. Calling in a Furious Charge Squad Mode, Cyril rushes into Melee, but the genestealer dodges his Photonic Blade. Cortain rushes in to finish a genestealer, swinging his Gladius Invictus and decapitating the genestealer. Temur, however, demands the Broodlord. Drawing his paragon blade, he charges at the creature, laying into it with all the fury he can muster. With a pair of strikes, Temur cleaves through the Broodlord, molten giblets flying about. With a final charge, Cyril's Yeti, Notomok, charges into a pair of genestealers. Regrettably, not only does the yeti miss all his attacks, he is knocked down by a failed strength test.

The Genestealers attack in a flurry of claws and jaws. While attacks bounce off the shields of Cyril, the Genestealers dig into Notomok the Yeti. Temur, however, takes defensive position, parrying and destroying a genestealer. Cortain's shield holds for most of the attacks, but one does get through, and the magma claws of the Nidhoggr Genestealers begin their work of melting through Cortain's armor. Ordeci the Thanatar also takes a number of hits, although the robot's incredible toughness prevents most of the damage.

The Governor picks up his daughter, placing her on his shoulder, and marches at a nearby Genestealer. While throttling the genestealer, Violet cheering all the way, he turns to the Commandos, "So what are these things, anyway? You'll have to forgive me, we don't get out of the mines much." "They are Genestealers!" Cortain yells back, "Perhaps these are he Astropath's assailants? Perhaps there was some strain that has been laying dormant this some new coming of Nidhoggr?" "Well, there was an odd meteor storm some time back..." the Governor muses. "Nidhoggr strain, judging by the damage to Cortain's artificer plate," Cyril points out. "This all happened after we uncovered that sanctum," the Governor says, "I'll take you to see it once we clear everything out here!"

Temur continues on the offensive, smashing another genestealer, while Cortain and Ordeci work to hold their own. Cyril orders his vorax to take down the Stealer engaging him with corrosive ammo, and orders another furious charge to assist his yeti. Temur walks out of melee to furious charge as well, smashing the stealer engaging Cortain. Now out of melee himself, Cortain furious charges into combat to cover Ordeci, stabbing another Genestealer.

The Genestealers continue the offensive, their numbers greatly reduced. Cortain manages to shield three hits, while Cyril shields some hits as well, blinding a genestealer with a flash of light. The Governor-Administrator moves to call in some support, while the miners all about fight off their own Genestealers. Temur eliminates the Genestealer attacking Ordeci with his Paragon Blade, opening the way for Cortain to order Ordeci to clear the remaining Genestealers near Cyril and Notomok with a Mauler boltcannon barrage. The miners cheer as the Genestealers are killed.

"Well, that was a workout!" Cankleton yells, "But I'm getting a report from the mines, there's more of those beasts out there. Big ones. Real huge heads." "Our destination is clear, then," Cyril announces. "Commandos, I will show you the way," Cankleton says, "Do you have a transport of some sort on standby?" "Affirmative," Cyril nods, "Let us go crack the larger bioforms." "Nothing not airborne," Cortain notes. "Works for me," Cankleton says, as a Valkyrie lands outside for him, "It's this way."

The Urist Brothers are soon in town, landing close enough for the yeti to be loaded on and all assets to embark. The Valkyrie is soon away, the Thunderhawk following. The Commandos can see Cankleton wave out the open back. Then, he points down as the aerial convoy heads into the rocky hinterlands. The Commandos can see a veritable swarm of smaller bugs erupting from one of the mines. Well-Muscled miners are attempting to hold the lines, punching the hordes as the transports come in close. The Commandos, however, can see what the Governor meant. One creature with a large, elongated head, and another, even larger, with face tentacles and a long thin tail.

Cyril hollers over the engines, "GOVERNOR! DO YOU HAVE A MEDICAE WHO CAN TEND MY YETI'S WOUNDS?" Cyril yells over vox. "I can check once we've repelled everything!" he says, "For now, it looks like the biggest fight is coming to us!" The Urist Brothers pull the Thunderhawk in close for disembarkation, while Blobert leaps out of the Valkyrie, aiming for a Tyranid to cushion his fall. "All right, Commandos!" the Governor yells excitedly, leaping from the Valkyrie swooping in, "Let's get stuck into the fight!"

The Commandos assess the situation - out of the mine network, there is a great swarm of gaunts rushing out, as well as a Zoanthrope and a Malanthrope behind it. The Vorax deploy out first, spraying at the Malanthrope, getting some hits and doing a fair amount of damage through corrosive effects. Cyril aims his Storm Bolter, and begins cutting through the Horde ahead of him. The Malanthrope advances, manifesting Nidhoggr psychic powers and dropping a burning meteor on the Thunderhawk that Cyril commanded remain nearby, damaging it. Temur draws his Paragon Blade, and realizing he is in charge range of the Malanthrope, declares it his hunt-quarry. Blasting forward and calling Furious Charge, Temur brings about his paragon blade. Much to the surprise of all, the PR65 shield fails all but two hits, meaning Temur hits like a truck full of trucks. With four paragon hits severely devastating the Malanthrope, and the Champion's toxic ability further sapping it, the Malanthrope falls prey to the Instant Death quality of the Consul Champion. In its last moments, it laments that Shadow in the Warp no longer grants Eternal Warrior to those in synapse range.

Cortain moves to assist, ordering Ordeci to blast the horde with Mauler Boltcannons, while targeting the Zoanthrope with Sollex Lascannons. Unfortunately, the Zoanthrope's Warp Field bounces the blast. It then moves to return fire at the Temur, along with the remnants of the Gaunt horde. While Temur's shield holds, it does end up burning out, to his annoyance. The Vorax move in closer, firing Rotor Cannons to thin out the horde of gaunts while Lightning Guns fire at the Zoanthrope, knocking a good number of wounds off it. Cyril finishes off the horde with his storm bolter, and turns his Chronophore at the Zoanthrope. While the Zoanthrope shields a chronomantic shot and manages to somehow dodge another, the last one hits, impacting the Zoanthrope, which disappears in a flash of light.

Where it's gone? One would be asking the wrong question.

The miners are mopping up some gaunts as well, punching them out and waving to you guys. "Remind me to write a memo thanking Shady for the weapons," Cortain says. "They seem to have come from that mineshaft, Commandos," the Governor-Administrator says, "The same one we found the ruins in." "Peculiar. Tyranids did not arrive in the galaxy until long after the Great Crusade..." Cyril muses, "Well, the Hive Fleets did not, at least." "THAT IS A MATTER FOR DEBATE, CONSUL," Thexus blasts, "THE LEGIONS AND TAGHMATAS FOUGHT NUMEROUS CREATURES THAT BORE RESEMBLANCE TO WHAT YOU NOW KNOW AS TYRANID XENOFORMS."

Cyril and Cortain take a moment to consider. It's hard to say for certain when the Tyranids first appeared - their vanguard organisms usually predate them a long time. This infestation, however, seems recent based on size. And Nidhoggr is known for subterranean attacks. Given how there's no hive ships in orbit, there must be a newly erected spawning pool.

Temur wipes the bits of tyranid off his sword, smiling to himself before stowing it. "Onward then, let us cut the heart from this infestation."

Entering the shaft, it seems it branches off - one path leads lower, and one path leads higher. Cortain detects extreme heat and corrosive chemicals coming from below.

"There must be a spawning pool below there," Cyril notes, "Come on then; this will be little different from the trip to Hylios, save that we can excise the wretched thing before it grows anything too much larger." "Good," Cortain states, "Hopefully this time we keep it locked down further so we can avoid having to rebuild Doggfather's heart - AGAIN." "Indeed. We will purge it all," Cyril confirms, before breaking off, "I wonder if I can outfit Hunter-Killer maniples with cryoguns in place of ther irad cleansers for less damage when clearing Imperial soil..."

The Commandos descend into the shafts, and can see it - a wide spawning pool. Already new xenoforms begin to gestate within.

"If we bundle our grenades together and drop them in, we might at least rend apart the forming xenos before they can be spawned and buy time to field larger ordnance," Cyril suggests. "We will need some maniples here," Cortain states, "Outfitted with as many flame or volkite weapons as possible." "Flame will be of little use against Nidhoggr, but cryothium should be interesting," Cyril offers, "Radiation ought to serve well, but we still need to investigate the site." "Agreed, Thexus will have this in hand in short order," Temur states, "Let us continue." "ACKNOWLEDGED, CONSUL," Thexus replies, "WE ARE DEPLOYING."

Dropping the collected grenades into the wide spawning pool, the shrapnel begins to shred the nascent xenoforms. Already new ones begin to form, but the cleanup crews will arrive with time to spare. Deciding that this area bears watching but is "under control" for now, the Commandos move on, Temur now leading the way through the tunnels of the top branch. Heading up, the cavern expands, and the Commandos can see where the miners breached something. Some sort of wall. The battle cant of the Legiones Astartes is written all about, but what catches Temur's eye is the ragged banner fluttering in the air current.

It bears the lightning bolt of the V Legion.

Cortain opens the way, feeling the need to finish the puzzle, but going no further. "I had not thought the brotherhoods came to this sector..." Temur muses. He proceeds inside, looking around the chamber that was breached. "Their speed might have belied notice by archivists and remembrancers," Cyril considers, "We will wait here." "Understood, thank you brothers, I will return shortly," Temur says quietly.

Temur can see the remains of long-burnt out torches, as autosenses begin to adjust for the lack of light. Within the isolated chamber, he can see the ancient scripts of Mundus Planus, of Chogoris engraved along the walls.

"Those who are skilled in the arts of war do not allow anger to rule them; those who have faith in their prowess are not guided by fear. Thus the wise have won before they fight, and only the fool must fight to win."

Ahead, however, is a Legionary of the White Scars, long dead, in the repose of death. It seems this was some sort of honored tomb. Temur smiles as he recognizes the meaning of the words, still taught in the brotherhoods today. then moves forward reverently to inspect the dead legionary. He briefly wonders why such a Legionary was not returned to Chogoris or so. Perhaps the demands of the Crusade merited a stopgap measure? Regardless, he appears to be clutching something in his hands, some sort of rod.

Temur checks the Legionary for rank markings, wondering if that might prove a clue to his fate or manner of burial, before carefully moving aside the Legionary's hands to pick up and inspect the rod with his left hand. The Legionary's armor is ornate, so he must have been highly ranked, but the ranks of the Legions were different, so it is hard to tell. Picking up the rod, Temur notes the surroundings begin to fade as his vision fills with light -

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Standing on the outskirts of a great voidship, Temur is surrounded by his fellow Legionaries. The shattered glass world of Prospero floats ahead, the dust storms overtaking the ruins. In the distance, the white and green vessels of the Death Guard float.

"We must go!" a Legionary says, "The Swordstorm, our Flagship, is ahead! We must retake it from the bastard sons of the Warrior Lodges!" "Master Qin Xa seeks the Khan below," another Legionary states, "We must be the Vanguard! The Kalijan will approach close, we must make our time count! Lead us, Consul!" "We must," Temur nods, "I will not allow anyone other than the great Khan to dictate my loyalties to me... with me brothers!"

The Kalijan, the Battle Barge Temur and the Legionaries are standing on, begins approaching the Swordstorm. The Legionaries all around are running forward down the ship's hull. The Swordstorm grows ever closer. "Look! They come!" a Legionary yells, as the void is filled with crossfire. Temur begins to move forward with the other legionaries, looking for an opening to commence the assault. Looking up, he can see warriors of the White Scars, V Legion, their heraldry debased with the Eye of Horus, upon armored Sojutsu Voidbikes. Temur can barely see the hateful reflections of their eyes through the thin, narrow cockpits of the Voidbikes. And then the rod in his hand begins to pulse. It begins to shake and shudder his entire arm, as the Voidbikes approach ever closer. Temur holds up the rod to the sky.

"To arms, brothers!" Temur yells, "Let none live to stain our honor!"

Holding the rod up, the rod begins to spin, then expand. Folding outward and back, a cord of energy connecting the ends, the Parthinian Serpent unfurls, the bow glowing. Temur's right hand glows with energy as well. He can see the lead voidbike, the pilot's mouth spitting hateful curses. Temur thinks...he KNOWS he can hit him. It will be a difficult called shot, but he gets a sense that this bow will not miss, if he takes the time to aim. Temur takes the bow stance still taught to initiates of the Scars, making a drawing motion and aiming carefully, knowing this shot will count.

Raising the bow up, the energy in his hand forms into an arrow of energy. Temur takes a deep breath, focusing on what little he can see of the enemy. And then he can finally see it. The perfect shot. A Called Shot, the Flyer moving fast, a hard target, his unstable footing, the miniscule opening, none of it matters.

The arrow the Parthinian Serpent manifests flies true. As it flies, Temur can see it shift. A trail of flame first, before morphing into a great trailing bolt. Finally, it assumes the form of an impossibly bright lance of pure light, striking the traitor White Scar perfectly in the head, even scoring a Righteous Fury. The Sojutsu Jetbike surges out of control as the White Scars to Temur's side begin the assault against the Swordstorm, his vision going bright once more.

Temur feels somewhat drained as he stands amongst an almost bright, white fog. He feels as if he is being watched. Temur turns around slowly, ready to draw again if needed.

The White Scars Legionary ahead of Temur regards him. Though Temur cannot see his face, he feel like he...understands. The Parthinian Serpent pulses in his hand. The Legionary looks at it for a moment, bowing a deep bow, before turning away, into the mists. Temur smiles as the legionary departs, somewhat shaken by the experience, knowing now how close the Scars came to the worst of fates, as his vision goes white once more -

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Temur is alone in the burial sanctum. The Parthinian Serpent retracts, for when he calls upon it once more. Temur proceeds back to the breach.

"Brothers, this was a tomb for a champion of the legion," Temur says quietly, "I will need assistance so that he may be returned safely to Chogoris, and to a proper rest rather than a forgotten tomb." "I will have an automata cover the job," Cortain offers, summoning some servo-automata. "No," Cyril says, waving the automata away, "The Astartes bear their own."

The Commandos all move to assist Temur, carrying the long-dead Legionary out. They pass Thexus and Rockfist, who have arrived to begin cleansing. "CONSUL, WE HAVE ARRIVED. WE SHALL HANDLE XENOFORM ERADICATION," Thexus yells, "WE SHALL REJOIN YOU WHEN EXTERMINATION IS COMPLETE."

The Commandos and their assets board the waiting Thunderhawk, as the Miners stand by to flex their muscles in gratitude.

"Thank you once more, Deathwatch Republican Commandos!" Governor Cankleton states, "We shall always keep your teachings close to us!" "Bye!" Violet waves as the Thunderhawk loads up assets and heads to the Blade. Cortain would have liked to ask more about these "Chaplains", but it seems clear that they might be hiding.

Returning to the Blade, with a potential problem nipped in the bud and a relic secured, the Commandos take pride in the day's successes.

(31.5) Praetors[edit]

The Blade is already on its way to Rechner, the Sector Capital, for the race. As the day begins, the Gellar Field is running full, the Warp Drive is running at full efficiency, and the Blade is secure. As Cyril begins morning prayers and meditations, he note something - his armor is gone. Cortain double-checks the reservations he has for the , and notes the same thing. The Alcove containing the Mantle of Ultramar is still occupied, but his old armor, gone. Brynjol and Temur, to their great concern, find the Armorium Alcoves in their quarters is empty as well. No Armor. Gone. Their signature weaponry is still there, in its sacred places.

Brynjol 's voice suddenly bursts out over the team vox onto the duty vox-cuffs. "WHICH ONE OF YOU BUGGERS NICKED MY ARMOUR?" he yells. "Likely Thexus," Cyril voxes, "Mine is gone as well. I am uncertain how I was divested of it without waking Notomok or myself."

"He is a very loud robot," Brynjol chortles, "Don't you sleep in your armor anyway?"

"Mine is absent as well," Temur mutters over the team vox, "There had better be a good explanation, or someone is going to lose their head." Cyril keeps breathing deeply rather than contemplate the various horrible ways to inflict gruesome death and pain. "Not me. Curiously, the Mantle is in place," Cortain notes, "On my person." "Only our Corvus suits were taken..." Cyril wonders through gritted teeth. "Perhaps the Squats plan to make a museum piece?" Cortain posits. "If so, I may revoke my order against eating them," Cyril spits in anger, feeling his temperature and temper rise rise.

Cortain pops out, and notes the halls are empty. Desolate. Not even a servo-automata floats by. Temur tunes his voxlink, "Thexus, it appears our armor is missing, do you know anything of this?" Temur receives nothing but silence. "Rockfist, would you know anything about some misappropriated suits of armor?" Cortain asks over vox. The vox channel lies dead. "Weapons, brothers," Temur commands, "We should investigate."

"M'Lord, forgive us," the Chapter serfs kneel to Brynjol, "We lacked vigilance. We...cannot even possibly consider how your most holy rainments were appropriated." Brynjol peers at the serf. "Hmm, alright. You don't smell like you're lying," Brynjol loudly announces, "Go... scrub the latrines or something. Penance! And if it's not severe I'll want to hear about it." "Y...yes, m'lord," the Serf stammers, "If it doesn't hurt, it doesn't count!"

"Brothers, do you think this might be another shared dream of some sort?" Cyril considers, "It is more coherent than the others, but with no automata in sight..." Temur leaves his personal quarters, and can eye something on the ground shine. A rivet, similar to those used to fasten power armor together. "I have a clue," Temur states, "Following it." "Good," Cortain states, "This is concerning..." "What have you found?" Cyril asks. "A rivet, like the ones used in our armor," Temur replies. Brynjol shrugs, donning his clawntlets and tying the crozius to his belt. Cortain activates Thanatar Omega Rho Decima to act as his defence while he grabs his Gladius. "Someone has dismantled our wargear without our permission," Cyril speaks quietly and calmly, "Our armour, the most sacred and personal of our equipment. There will be hell to pay. I am going to check the Forges."

Temur can see a clear path. There's a rivet here, a rivet there, and the most damning piece of evidence, a plate of ceramite, painted black. It passes by everyone's quarters, and further into the Blade. Cortain tries the vox one more time. "Rose, have you any clue about missing wargear?" Regrettably, her channel is silent as well. "Damnable..." Cortain mutters in a rare display of emotion, "Everyone is complicit." "Or incapacitated," Cyril notes, "Stay frosty." "Are you implying an iceworlder is ever anything other than uncomfortably warm?" Brynjol asks, eyebrow raised, "The void of space doesn't approach an Arsheim winter, Cyril." "A saying of my Chapter - it means to stay on guard," Cyril clarifies, "I would be intrigued to experience and Arsheim winter for comparison Nixarteria's polar caps."

Brynjol and Cortain rally behind Temur, as Cyril moves to check the Forges first. He notes the occasional servo-automata float by on patrol as normal. Cyril considers trying to interrogate one, but decides it would be a waste of time when any answers he can extract from the robot would be more easily gotten from fleshy people, and reunites with the rest of the Commandos.

Temur follows the path, which gets harder and harder to follow as the Commandos sink deeper into the Blade. But as they see the occasional Servo-automata float by on patrol, they begin to hear voices echo down the halls. Squat voices, singing and chanting. Cortain accesses the Servo-automata's recordings, and notes that its patrol is nominal. No issue detected. Every squat that it detects, however, is heading into the ship's deepest decks.

"Deeper into the belly of the beast then," Cortain says, "The Squats are congregating."

As Cyril reunites with everyone else, Temur as the vanguard, all follow the trail and see a piece of fallen cabling. The cabling lies in front of an ornately carved door. All Craftsquatship is of the highest quality. The door menaces with carvings of obsidian. The door depicts a squat. The squat is raising an axe. The squat is screaming.

"Hm," Cyril admits, "Commendable craftsmanship." "Now to see where this leads..." Cortain muses.

Beyond the door, the Commandos can hear chanting and prayers. Cyril shoves the doors open forcefully. The way into the Squat's Sanctum is opened.

Cyril stalks in, black eyes glittering with fury over a neutral expression. Great stained glass of ancient squat heroes line the walls. Above them all, the Emperor Ascendant shines. Numerous Squats, just about every one on the Blade, stands to the sides in the pews, singing their praises. Lines of Castellax, completely motionless, flank the sides of the Sanctum. Looking down the aisle, the Commandos can see bits and pieces of armor strewn about. And at the head of the Sanctum, Executor Thexus.

"This...they would not dare..." Cortain gurgles. "YOU HAVE ARRIVED," Thexus announces. "We have. What is this?" Cyril asks. "You bugger, you," Brynjol spits. Cortain raises an accusatory finger, "YOU HAVE SOME EXPLAINING TO DO, AUTOMATA." "YOUR ARMOR HAS BEEN DISASSEMBLED AND REPURPOSED FOR A GREATER CAUSE," Thexus states, "A FAR MORE EFFICIENT CAUSE." Cyril gestures at the scattered armour bitz, "Why has our wargear been treated with such DISRESPECT?" "Is that my bloody armour?" Brynjol asks, fists clenched, "If that's my armour, you're getting a walloping, Thexus, Executor or no." "It was, lad..." Rockfist sighs, marching in from the side. "Don't blame him!" Rose says, "We...we all agreed. The Executor, he was readying something." "You have the resources to produce a hundred such suits," Cyril asks, "Why desecrate ours?" "Cyril, you hold his arms, I'll administer a thumping," Brynjol commands, rolling his sleeves up. "There are twelve hundred penalties I can think of for this crime," Cortain says, "And this is only on Ultramar." "Explain. Now," Temur says flatly. "Yeah, let's give him chance to explain before a disassembly," Brynjol says, stepping back. "YOUR ARMOR CONTAINED PIECES I REQUIRED. NEWER MARKS CANNOT SUBSTITUTE," Thexus explains, "I REQUIRED COMPONENTS WITH HISTORY TO THEM, FORGED IN A CONCURRENT TIME. NONETHELESS, THE GREAT WORK IS COMPLETE. ARE YOU READY?" "Ready. For. What?" Cyril repeats, his temper failing. "It's all on ye now, Beardlin's," O'Malley says from a side seat.

Brynjol walks forward, claws flexing rhythmically. He seems annoyed. Executor Thexus steps back, his Arm and twin Mechadendrites gesturing behind him. Cyril folds his arms and casts his gaze past Thexus. Behind the Executor are four banners - Legionary Banners of the V, VI, IX, XIII.


Cortain takes a moment to check for danger. None of the Squats or the Support Crew are armed, except for Thexus. Cyril is the first to enter, passing the banner of the IX. Temur follows next, beneath the lightning bolt of the V, holding his rage for the moment. Brynjol steps forward under the VI, while Cortain is last to pass under the XIII, only to make sure nobody was armed. The Squats continue to relay their prayers to Ancestor and Emperor as the Commandos disappear in the darkness.

Stepping behind each veil, is a small hall, engraved with Squattish eikonography. Continuing forward, each Commando reaches an opening. The lights flash on, focusing on the center. Each sees a suit of armor, waiting. Within Cyrils chamber is a blue and white set of armor, its white flawless helm bearing a golden crown. The tubes glow red as blood, while the chest bears a winged crimson drop, contrasting the armor itself. The right pauldron is completely red, with silver trimmings, the icon of the Blood Angels Legion emblazoned proudly, while the left displays the heraldry of the Ice Wraiths Chapter.

Cyril smiles, walking up and lays a hand on the breastplate. He can feel the strength echo from the armor, Cyril. It's like nothing he's ever felt before. He dons the helm and inhales deeply. With the proper intonements, Cyril begins to don the armor. He feels the bloodlust of ages past flow, before an immense calm flows over him.

"I am still dissatisfied with treatment of the... scraps," Cyril relents, "But this will do nicely." Within Brynjol's chamber lies a dark grey set of armor, engraved with Fenrisian runes of protection on its chest. The Wolf Skull Helm has been seamlessly integrated into the armor itself, and the dull bronze trimmings and belt have been polished to reflectivity. The icon of the Space Wolves Legion shines proudly on the armor's right pauldron. Curiously, to his near-unnatural senses, it smells a bit...burnt?

"What was wrong with the old stuff?" Brynjol mutters annoyedly. Giving in, he dons the armor. It fits just like his old armor, but it feels...different somehow. He's not quite sure how. Perhaps the wave of Hoarfrost surrounding him has something to do with it. Within Temur's chamber is a perfectly white set of armor, its chest bearing a winged skull flanked by lightning bolts, its red trim helf with silver rivets. Atop its helmet flies a red tassel, between the armored sides. Upon the waist is an armored gold plate, sigils of Chogoris emblazoned upon it. While the right pauldron bears the icon of the White Scars Legion, the left pauldron merely displays a yellow lightning bolt.

"The finish is excellent, my concern however is the function...." Temur muses. He begins to carefully don the legion armor, noting any differences to the workings and functions of his repurposed suit. Donning the armor, it feels...light, lighter than anything he's ever felt. Power armor normally feels like a second skin, but this, there is simply no contest. It fits on both a material and spiritual level. One thing he realizes as he places the helmet on, is as he moves his head, the targeting augurs lock on to things almost instantly. The faster he moves his head about, the quicker the lockon. Moving around to test the suit's responsiveness, he notes the same idiosyncracies his old suit displayed when moving heavy weapons. Within Cortain's chamber is an iridescent green set of armor reminiscent of the Auroras of Cypra Mundi, projecting a golden winged eagle, wrapped closely by a golden laurel. Its helmet bears a mighty red crest to accentuate the white faceplates. Additional layers of armor denoting Techmarine status are seamlessly blended into the armor itself. The right pauldron bears the Ultima of the Ultramarines Legion, while the left shows the upright Alpha within the twelve-pointed white star of the Aurora Chapter.

"" Cortain asks in awe. He collapses on his knees, overcome by the relic before him. He takes a moment to collect himself, before mounting this new armor in place of the mantle of Ultramar. He notes the strange alloys within as he fits it, donning it as if second nature.

Each armor bears a black cloak, underlaid with silver chainmail, to represent service with the Deathwatch. Each set of armor also bears, behind the helmet, a shining iron halo, connected directly to the armor's power pack.

"Why was this hidden from us?" Cortain wonders over vox. "I believe I understand what the Executor did," Temur considers, "This armor is both new and old, keeping the history and battle-tested nature of our old suits, but improving them, making them stronger for the tests we now face." "Why indeed?" Cyril asks, "To witness the forging would have been a great honour." "He mentioned that the marks that are made do not work," Cortain wonders, "But where would he find more armour that would fit unless..."

The sudden realization hits him.

As the Commandos finish donning the armor, they note the chanting outside stops. "Can anyone explain this to me?" Brynjol asks, "I mean, it's nice and chilly, definitely an improvement, but..." "New armour" Cyril replies, "Does that answer your question?" "I'm still thumping Thexus, but it'll be much gentler," Brynjol admits, "More of a lovetap, really."

Cyril drops down to the floor and walks towards the door. "Is everyone ready?" Temur takes the helmet back off and clips it to his belt. "Under the circumstances, yes." "For the time being," Cortain clarifies. Brynjol sighs, "Still thumping him. But okay."

The Commandos step outside, where the Squats are all staring at them. "Lad, when we chose to support ya, we took an oath," Rockfist begins. "ACCORDING TO OUR STATION! ALL WITHOUT EXCEPTION!" the Squats declare in unison. "On the blood of our Ancestors, on the blood of our Descendants, we swore to assist ye," O'Malley continues. "EVEN TO OUR DYING BREATH!" the Squats continue. "THOSE WHO THREATEN THE CRUSADE AND THE IMPERIUM ARE WORTHY OF NEITHER PITY NOR MERCY," Thexus blasts. "WE SHALL GRIND THEM INTO DUST!" The Squats conclude. "And continue our march to this sector's salvation!" Rose cheers.

"For all our ancestors, for the people of this sector, and for the Emperor - the Hellstar shall be crushed, and after it all other enemies of Man," Cyril announces. "Lad, we are the arm of the Emperor, but YOU are the blade," Rockfist kneels, "I reaffirm my vows to ya, ta assist in any way ya need." "Beardlin's, ye've done well," O'Malley kneels, as do the entire Squat congregation present, "Wherever ye command, we'll follow." "When I got here, I was lost, afraid," Rose whispers, slipping to her knees, "But I also make a vow, I will continue to help you until this place is safe once more!" "WHEN YOU FIRST STEPPED FOOT UPON THE BLADE, I WAS CONCERNED THAT THE LEGIONS WERE WELL AND TRULY DESTROYED, THAT NOTHING REMAINED BUT PALE, WEAK SHADOWS. I WAS INCORRECT. YOU BEAR THEIR WEAPONS, THEIR ARMOR, AND THEIR CRUSADING SPIRIT AS WELL AS THEY DID 10,000 YEARS AGO. I CANNOT ASK FOR BETTER WARMASTERS TO SWEAR FEALTY TO." Thexus sinks to one knee, the automata within the halls dropping in perfect synchrony. "The Astartes had a Warmaster once... he failed in his duties. We will not," Cyril states, "Not with all of you supporting us."

Off in the very back of the Sanctum, the Commandos can see something. Hazy figures. Ultramarine. White Scar. Vlka Fenryka. Blood Angel. Their armor almost identical to the ones the Commandos bear now. "Are those...the legionaries we recovered?" Cortain whispers. "They are Astartes," Cyril nods, "And theirs is Astartes business." They stare, regarding the Commandos, for a while. And then they walk, out the door of the Sanctum, fading away.


"There is no doubt in our hearts," Rose says. "Lead, and we will follow," Rockfist nods. Thexus is last to speak. "WE AWAIT YOUR COMMAND...PRAETORS."

(32) Rechner Redline[edit]

The All's Clear Alarm is going off, and the Blade is preparing to re-enter the Materium. Appearing above Rechner space, about a half a day to the world itself, if anyone has last-minute stuff, now would be the time. Cortain finishes the final touches on the "Redline Hype" issue of the Republican Commando Gazette, while Brynjol marches up to Thexus, dressed in his duty robes, unarmed.

"I told Cyril I'd thump you for nicking our armour without permission. Are you going to let me?" "IF YOU DEEM IT NECESSARY, PRAETOR," Thexus loudly announces, "I AM CONFIDENT MY FRAME CAN WITHSTAND THE DAMAGE." "Alright, prepare yourself," Brynjol says. Thexus stands, waiting. His chest-skull stares, without emotion. Brynjol winds back, throwing his fist forward. Unfortunately for him, the automatic PR20 atomantic shield kicks in, and Brynjol's hand crumples against the thin energy wave. "HNNNGHHH... that'll do," Brynjol winces a little, marching off to rearrange the bones. "VERY WELL, PRAETOR." Thexus moves off to resume his duties.

"So, lads, have ye given any consideration to which vehicle you'll be needin'?" Rockfist asks, "I recommend somethin' fast." "I have discussed with Cyril to use a Deimos Predator, with some unique improvements his chapter possesses knowledge of," Temur announces. "It would be a wise choice," Cortain admits, "Either that or a Sicaran." "We can ready either one," Rockfist nods, "Jus' let us know which, an' what upgrades ye'll be wantin', an' we'll get on it."

The Commandos debate and consider the merits between a Deimos Predator and a Sicaran. While the Deimos Predator is more front-armored (45-32-20), and possesses a wider array of weaponry such as the Magna-Melta and Conversion Beamer, alongside the normal twin sponsons, the Sicaran is more evenly armored (35-30-30) and contains more overall weaponry, with a hull heavy bolter, turret Accelerator Autocannons, and twin sponsons.

The Commandos finally decide on a Deimos Predator (Magna-Melta and Lascannon Sponsons) with Blessed Autosimulacra, Dozer Blade, Flare Shield, Auxiliary Drive, Smoke Launcher, and Armored Ceramite after Cyril luckily generated tons of extra requisition with his Delegatus skills. The Commandos also grab a set of magnoculars and a cartograph for navigational purposes. Unsure of what dangers the race holds, they also request Rose ready herself to act as pit crew and advanced danger sense.

"Right then, lad, we'll ready a Deimos Predator," Rockfist states, "I'm sure Thexus left a Magna-Melta turret somewhere."

The Blade finally reaches stable orbit over the night side of Rechner, the Sector Capital. There is a bit of wreckage floating about. The Commandos can recognize gothic architecture amongst the floating hulks of metal. They can also recognize numerous vessels floating about, most imperial privateers, cold traders and general thugs, but the neon floating world of Studio 69 and its attendant fleet stands out by far. Surprisingly, there's even a Squat vessel holding station. Cortain does a pass, cross-referencing any insignias or heraldry he can see. While most of the racers bear their own insignia, Cortain, can immediately identify the "Illustrious" Kim family, a family of Squats who function independent of the holds, Studio 69, Flagship of the House, and a bunch of other general miscreants and ne'er do wells who are looking to make a name for themselves.

Augurs are picking up incoming vox contact, and Brynjol is immediately on augurs. "Go ahead, contact," Brynjol states.

A Tau appears on the Commandos' screens, in a light dress. She looks rather excited. "Welcome, Republican Commandos! You are here for the race, we assume?" she asks. "I have already placed in the RSVP well in advance," Cortain states. "Hmm..." she says, flipping through a cogitator archive, "Yes, we received the orders to allow you in. Welcome to the event of the half-century! The House is proud to offer the highest quality entertainment feeds to the Sector, and with you, our ratings should skyrocket!" "Now would you kindly provide us the coordinates for the race with due haste?" Cortain demands, somewhat annoyed. "Yes, of course!" she says, beginning the data transfer, "Please excuse the mess, this world apparently had a most terrible accident twenty-five years back. One of the defense stations suffered a most catastrophic failure. On the plus side, it provides wonderful terrain for the race!" Cortain is already anticipating his cut of the proceeds in a secret motion of hand-wringing more fitting of the Tau, as the location where everyone is congregating is transferred. "We look forward to seeing your performance!" the Tau adjutant bows, "Good luck!" "As the Allfather wills," Brynjol glares.

A Thunderhawk transporter is prepared for the Deimos, while the Commandos' Fire Raptor is readied as personal transport. Rose embarks upon an Aquila Lander, a small honor guard of Squats accompanying her. As the Commandos board, Thexus marches up.

"PRAETORS, HAVE YOU REQUISITIONED AN EXCESS OF PHOSPHEX RECENTLY?" the Paragon of Metal asks. "Not recently, Executor," Temur notes, "Why?" "We prefer not to employ it," Cyril reminds him. "I HAVE PERFORMED AN INVENTORY TEST OF THE PHOSPHEX RESERVES, WHEN I AND THE HELOTS READIED IT FOR THE CLEANSING OF THE XENOS SPAWNING POOL. I NOTED THAT NUMEROUS PHOSPHEX BOMBS WERE MISSING." "Oh, bollocks," Brynjol sighs, facepalming, "I'm telling you gentlemen right now: if this is that Allfather-cursed Tau trying to 'spice things up' for the match, he is getting sanctioned, Inquisitorial contacts or no." "I seem to recall a certain Dr. Thrax commenting about taking something from our ship," Temur considers, "I have been trying to find out what." Somehow this concerns the Commandos far more than if Korst'la had them. "REGARDLESS OF THEIR CURRENT LOCATION, PRAETORS, I SHALL NOT DELAY YOU FURTHER. BRING HONOR THE GREAT CRUSADE." 'We shall," Cyril declares. "Wish us luck, Thexus!" Rose says excitedly. Thexus's chest skull merely stares in response.

The fuel lines are disconnected, and the Fire Raptor, Thunderhawk, and Aquila are prepared for launch. The protective fields separating the hangar from the void disengage, and the numerous transports are launched, towards the Capitalis World of Rechner. The entire world is a massive ecumenopolis, with occasional mountains and scarred plains breaking the monotony of endless hives. The location granted to the Commandos is at the heights of one of these mountains. Brynjol flexes his fingers as the transport swoops down towards the mountain top.

Coming in for a landing, the Commandos can see a sprawling outpost of hastily-erected prefab buildings. Most are Imperial in origin, though there are a few Tau fortifications and ramparts around. Already there is a fairly large crowd, pretty much the racers, all standing around. They see the Fire Raptor swoop in, and all eyes are on the Commandos as they find a good landing spot. Brynjol selects a prefab to land directly on, causing the building to strain under the weight, but it's holding. For now.

"Alright, Rose, we need you to act as Pit Crew, random Squat Bodyguards, you go cheer/protect the Pit Crew," Cortain commands. "Of course!" She salutes, before rearranging into the sign of the Aquila, "I'll keep you informed of anything coming at you." "Good girl," Cortain nods, producing a drink-hat with a microbead, tuned to the Commandos' private beads, "And Temur, I would like to see just how effective that...weapon is. There should be a hatch on the Predator for that." Temur deploys the Parthinian Serpent, "From the short practice I have managed to obtain, it is very effective at hitting moving and small targets. The former should be most useful here." "I wonder why Thexus waited so long to mention the Phosphex..." Cyril wonders. "We do not use Phosphex, only he does," Temur notes, "Our previous mission was most likely the first chance he had to check."

Brynjol nicks a straw, and takes an experimental swig of Rose's beer-hat-tube. Unfortunately for him, it's non-alcoholic, and he spits it out all over the ground. "Eugh! This isn't mjod! Take it away," Brynjol waves dismissively. "That is why this is not Astartes size," Cortain notes. "Mjod would most likely kill Rose, Brynjol," Cyril points out.

Most of the Racers have their eyes on you guys. It appears to be mostly humans with modified auto-carriages for now. A number look quite concerned, but there's no shortage of those who consider the fame they can get if they can outrun an Astartes. To the Commandos' surprise, there's also a small gaggle of Squats. They are keeping to themselves, however. Temur looks over the crowd, examining each vehicle in detail, trying to size up the strengths and weaknesses of each. While Cortain and Cyril see endless fields of Autocarriages, Temur notes a rather tricked out Squat Gyrocopter off to the side, and a number of House Personnel working on an armored Eldar skimmer of some kind. Before he can consider things further, a Tau Fire Warrior runs up, his face obscured behind the red lenses of his helmet.

"Republican Commandos, as entrants under the flag of the Inquisition, please register your vehicle in the main command kiosk," the Tau says.

Brynjol heads on over to the food stalls to try out the cheap fried cuisine and other selections. A helmeted Dark Eldar pours out a great mug of mjod for him. It is evident he was expected. Brynjol, however, does not find the food and drink to his exacting tastes, and ensures everyone in a radius measured in kilometers understands his displeasure.

Cyril and Cortain pop by the Command Kiosk. People are going in and out. The lights within are dim, and it seems music and great commotions are coming out of it. "Registering, Deathwatch, Party of 4 in a Deimos Predator," Cortain states, not even looking down at the desk. "All right," Shas'o Korst'la VII says as he enters the data into a recording drone, "You should be all set. We're quite glad you could make it, you know."

"You were that damned insistent we show," Cortain hisses. "Unlike last time, I couldn't delay the schedule," he shrugs, "Besides, would I be wrong in the belief that you all would choose NOT to come, unless the Inquisitors prompted you? This was on them, not me." "Cort, ask him if he nicked our phosphex," Brynjol murmurs over the vox, "And if he says yes, cut his head off." "And if you needed to ask," Cortain segues, "There are better ways than having several pounds of Phosphex going missing." "Phosphex? What about phosphex now?" he asks, eyebrow raised. Cortain stares closely, trying to see any subtle tells. He can't seem to read the Tau's facial expressions, however. "Matters little." "Well, regardless of any further topics you may wish to bring up and then drop," Korst'la hums, as the lights flash about, "Your position in the race has been logged. You'll be starting from position two." "Would you care to list the rules of the race?" Temur asks over vox, "I'm sure they are short"

"Of course. The way the race works, is there will be four starting positions," Korst'la begins, "The four routes will meet up halfway through. Your skill as a pilot will be thoroughly tested, as some of the best racers in the Sector have been assembled." Korst'la has a holo-drone bring up a rough path of the race. It goes over plains, through a large ruin, and finally through the hives itself, ending near a canyon. "Khodexus has entered under the banner of the House, one of my finest Detachments piloting, as well a representative of the Squats, a member of their illustrious Kim family," Korst'la continues, "I extended an invitation to the Kill Team of legend, your predecessors, but regrettably I received no response." The holo-drone disengages. "Not only will you have to deal with the other racers," Korst'la says, "But the Lady-Sector in charge of everything does not seem too happy about us holding our little event here. You may need to shoo her PDF away. Any questions?" "Are there any rules governing conduct between race entrants?" Temur asks, "Or should we expect attempts to sabotage or disable us from some of the lesser rabble?" "We're all here to race, but if there are casualties between entrants, well, I can't quite stop that," Korst'la shrugs. "Noted," Temur says, knowing full well what to expect now, "Expect foul play as we enter the course" Korst'la shuffles some paper stacks about, "If that is all, then I'll just-"

Cortain is oblivious as bolts of lightning begin landing in front of him as the Commandos begin to leave. Luckily, Brynjol is quick on the uptake, twisting in his seat, gunning the turbines on his jump pack as he goes, turning the refreshment table into cinders and cannoning into Cortain, barely bashing him out of the way. The ground is smoking, as two figures stand tall, above the numerous entrants. Brynjol coughs, rolling over and picking himself up and staring at the new presences. He flicks his hands out, claws sliding out with a menacing 'snikt.'

Phaeron Ramsestron begins to advance. "MY HO~NORED FRIENDS! UNDER SUN AND SKY, I GREET YOU!" "You nearly bloody killed Cortain!" Brynjol sputters. Everyone, Racer and House, pulls out armaments, quite concerned. Cyril jumppacks in and signs the Aquila, "Under moon and star, we embrace you, Phaeron." "M~Y APOLOGIES, I WAS IN QUI~TE A RUSH TO ARRIVE," Ramsestron yells. Thutmosis2000 steps out from the cloud. "Triumphant, my Phaeron wishes to announce that he will enter the race, to bring glory and honor to Dynasty and Dominion." "Registrations are over," Korst'la says icily, standing up, "The time to finalize entrants was weeks a-" Ramsestron extends his staff, as a bolt hits the ground. A Canoptek chest, full of precious metals, materializes. "I WILL PA~Y THE FEE UP FRONT!" Korst'la stares at the chest, and sits back down. "...Welcome to the Rechner Redline," Korst'la sighs, "We'll take care of your entrance paperwork..." "Wait, there was a fee?" Brynjol asks, "Tell me we didn't give this parasite any money." "The Inquisitors entered us," Cyril states. "The Race begins in three hours," Korst'la announces, "Feel free to make use of the facilities until then."

Overall, there's the Motor Pit, where everyone is maintaining their vehicles, there are the food stands, which Brynjol has become acquainted with, the Command Kiosk, numerous guard posts, and even a prefab center for sector broadcasting over the pirate noosphere. Everyone about seems hype. Brynjol returns to the food stalls offering foods fried and sugared, fresh and aged. Though they hold no nutritional value for an Astartes whatsoever, it is hard to meet Brynjol's demanding standards of taste. Cyril manages to find a memorabilia stand, where he notes a rather ominous "Republican Commando Action Figures SEASON 2 coming soon..."

Temur and Cortain go to review their most likely opponents. They observe the House preparing an armored Reaper for Khodexus's use, and the Illustrious Clan of Kim maintaining a heavy Warhawk Gyrocopter. Ramsestron has teleported in a bizarre vehicle, reminiscent of a Tesseract Ark, but augmented with his own Sigma Harmonics.

"Perhaps Khodexus wants in on the proceeds..." Cortain muses. "I wonder when we're going to start dictating proceedings for once," Brynjol ponders over the squad vox, "We seem to be spending an awful lot of time pandering to this xenos." "Unfortunately, he has political ties that are problematic," Temur states, "Let us get this done and be off to more important events." "Remember the deal," Cortain explains, "We can kill him last." "COMMANDOS!" a deep voice yells from behind, "CO *huff* MMANDOS!"

Brynjol closes his eyes, hoping it's not who he thinks it is. He spins and reflexively throws a scything punch, pulling his claws at the last instant. "Commandos...I..." Jamal says, catching his breath, "I have something foARGLFPHT" Jamal gets knocked on his ass, not expecting your punch. "Oh. Sorry, Jamal," Brynjol drones, not sorry in the slightest, "You really shouldn't sneak up on me like that, you know." Cortain shakes his head. "HOW did the Fabricator-General sanction you of all people...?" "Ow..." Jamal sits up, rubbing his head, "Huh? He said he was very proud of my progress and I was a master at my craft and...wait, never mind all that, there's something important I need to give you!"

Jamal holds out a small box. "Everybody gets one..." he says, getting up, "Just drop it in your fuel intake if you need to, and enjoy the supercharge! We tested them out during the Yellow Line 50 years back, and everyone seemed to like them!" Cortain is hype as he stores the additive for safe-keeping. "But think carefully, they don't last very long, only about 5 seconds or so" Jamal coughs, "So save it for an emergency!" The Commandos nod amongst each other. "Good luck!" Jamal says, standing up and running away, "The race will begin soon!"

Cortain proceeds back to the Predator, beginning the Hymns of Sanctification as the Commandos board. Korst'la boards a Phantomfish, getting ready to observe, commentate, and announce. He will not be participating. All the racers are approaching the start line. Ramsestron, The Illustrious Kim, and Khodexus all head to different start areas. Cyril spares a moment to wave at the pit crew before climbing into the Predator. Rose gives a wavE BACK.


A female tau holding a flag walks by.

3... 2... 1...

The flag is waved, and the Go is given!

The Commandos immediately note that their immediate problem is the other racers in autocarriages. They determine, as the speed along the open plains, that they must be dealt with first.

"Commandos," Rose voxes, "I'm only sensing other racers for now. I'll update you if I feel anything different."

The Commandos first consider not firing at the other autocarriages, and focus on driving forward. Brynjol makes some respectable progress, but the Autocarriages are not far behind, firing lascannons and multi-meltas. Narrowly dodging, the Commandos know now that they must return fire. Temur keeps an eye on the surrounding contestants, and the road ahead with the magnoculars, using the vantage point to try and see obstacles before they become an issue. While Cyril fires the Magna-Melta, severely damaging a pair of auto-carriages, Cortain finishes one off with a sponson lascannon and Temur aims the Parthinian Serpent to destroy a second in its axle.

"Commandos...I sense you should hurry," Rose says, "You lost some progress, and it's hurting you bad." "Treat the machine spirit with respect, care, and love, Brynjol, and it will serve well!" Cyril taunts, remembering the experience on Cataclysm, but Brynjol is getting turbomad. Zuvassin the dice roller is taking inordinate pleasure in giving him no roll below a 94. The Commandos are stalled about, barely making progress as they dodge lascannon fire and turn magna-melta and lascannon sponsons to the remaining autocarriages they can see. The Commandos, even with their race zone clear, struggle to make progress as Brynjol keeps rolling poorly, their progress stalling as their opponents make heavy progress.

" ready," Rose says, "I sense incoming air support..."

Struggling along, the Commandos look to be about halfway to a large patch of ruins, when they get a wide-spread vox. A rather tired looking woman shows up on hololiths. "Attention! This is Lady-Sector Astra Krauss, Governor of the Tiji Sector. All nonsanctioned racers will be removed by the might of the Rechner PDF! Repent, for the Emperor will judge thee!" The Commandos can observe a wing of three Lightnings approaching fast in the distance, just as Rose forewarned.. "Honestly...I am surprised Tiji actually has a governor," Cortain shrugs, "I had thought it was really the Inquisitors' personal playground or something." Cyril mutters, "Knew I should've called in some Xiphons..."

Brynjol, in the meantime, connects directly to the Governor through the Blade's interception augurs. "Governor Krauss. This is Brynjol, of the Deathwatch kill-team known as the Republican Commandos. I hope you aren't intending to target us?" Brynjol speaks with a slight threat to his voice, passing his intimidate at least. "Republican Comma..." the woman falters, "No, impossible. The Commandos wouldn't participate in such an illegal race!" "I advise you cease targeting," Cortain adds, "For your sakes, fleshlings." "I...I can't believe it..." Lady-Sector Krauss sighs. Cortain cuts the vox, before sitting back in the sponson seat, "This is illegal?"

"This is Eagle 1, we have target on a racer, aiming weapons," the lightnings vox to each other, but Cyril moves to contect them instead. "Rechner PDF pilots, this is Praetor Cyril of the Republican Commandos!" Cyril yells, passing his Diplomacy, "By order of the Deathwatch and the Inquisition, target a xenos craft!" "Uh...Lady, Deathwatch Republican Commandos," the flight lead Eagle 1 says, deciding that they must be there to stop the race, "Targeting xenos craft."

Even with the Lightning wings reinforced and spending their lives to delay the other opponents, Brynjol just can't seem to make progress. Without accruing degrees of success on the drive test, the Commandos are more or less stalled. "That is enough," Cyril finally sighs, "Temur, take the helm." Brynjol moves to quietly reminisce on how he failed the Allfather, while Temur pops into the driver's seat.

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)

High above the race, aboard a stealthed Phantomfish, a transmission is dispatched out.

"This is your host, Shas'o Korst'la VII! And what a race we have today! My grandfather and family would be proud to see such a successful race!" Korst'la begins. "Indeed! So many contestants all having fun, and acquiring fame and glory!" Jamal yells. "Right you are, Jamal. Third-way status indicates Khodexus has broken the first checkpoint, followed by The Illustrious Kim, and the new Entrant, Phaeron Ramsestron!" "But where are the Commandos? I'm really rooting for them!" Jamal replies. "Looks like they're having a lot of issue," Korst'la points out, bringing up a map. "Can they possibly recover?" Jamal asks. "Only if they get their business together and put the pedal to the medal!" Korst'la says, "In fact, let's bring in a surprise guest! Miss Rose LaKhora, the Republican Commando's pit crew!"

Rose appears on screen.

"Miss Rose, welcome," Korst'la nods, "Tell us, what's going through the Commandos' minds now?" "They're having some trouble, yeah," Rose says, "But I believe in them! They'll win no problem!" "Really? Their lag looks insurmountable!" Jamal observes. "They'll find a way, I know it!" Rose says, "There's no force that can stand in their way!" "Well there you have it! The Imperium's hopes are on the Commandos' backs! Good luck to them!" 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC)

With Temur, a White Scar, now behind the wheel, the Commandos instantly are back in action. Rapidly reaching the first checkpoint, endless plains give way to what seems to be gothic ruins. It almost reminds them of...a space station. "Commandos! Watch your flanks! Autoturrets are everywhere!" Rose yells into vox. "This must be the remains of that orbital station," Cyril nods, "Watch out for remaining defenses."

The Commandos dodge and weave through Lascannon fire from the malfunctioning defense turrets, as Cortain and Brynjol try to take some down with the sponsons. Cyril, in the meantime, turns the magna-melta to the walls, burning through the walls to try and forge a better path. To the Commandos' excitement, Temur rolls near maximum DoS, and they decide to pop the additive to salvage the situation. Bursting through the ruins into a wide urban sprawl, the Commandos finally catch up to Khodexus, even passing him. Kim and Ramsestron are dueling in the ruins, while the Commandos and Khodexus are neck and neck. The Commandos can clearly see Khodexus. He's already making ready to fire.

"Commandos!" Rose yells, "Khodexus is straight ahead!" "Cortain, take the turret," Cryil says, determined, "I am going to fire on Khodexus." "Emperor Speed," Cortain nods. Cortain engages his Djinn Skein, boosting Cyril. Cyril fires everything he has at Khodexus, but the crew piloting the Reaper work to dodge Cortain's Magna-Melta blast and Cyril's Photon Thruster. The few shots that hit Khodexus are easily blocked by the Archon's flickerfield. Khodexus in retaliation fires a pair of Blasters at the Commandos, which are dodged effortlessly, but Khodexus smiles - the Commandos have fallen into his trap. The Reaper's Storm Vortex Projector fires, hitting the Predator in its undefended rear. While the Commandos take a fairly substantial hit, they are convinced they can keep on trucking...until the Predator comes to a rolling halt.

The Storm Vortex Projector is a Haywire weapon.

The Commandos look on helplessly, trapped in a haywire dead zone, as Khodexus jets forward. He uses his own engine booster, and surges so far ahead, the win for him is guaranteed. As the haywire field dissipates, the Commandos floor the Predator's pedals. Advancing rapidly across the gothic architecture, dust of ages kicked behind, the Commandos soon find the Illustrious Kim and Ramsestron catching up. While Ramsestron and Kim are focused more on each other, a blast of sonic energy still goes for the Commandos, causing them to dodge. Counterfiring with Magna-melta and Lascannon, Ramsestron's Harmonic Ark is delayed a bit behind the Illustrious Kim's Gyrocopter. The Commandos surge forward, and the Deimos Predator clears the finish line, riding forward through the city, around the edge of a cliff, and onto the surface a waiting Castellan Heavy Escort.

Everyone's cheering. "Commandos!" Rose says, "You cleared second!" "I suppose it will do," Cyril grumbles. "I would be happier if anyone else had taken first place." "That damned Archon and Wolf Priest..." Cortain mutters. Soon after, Illustrious Kim of the Squats clears third, leaving Ramsestron at fourth.

"Welcome! Welcome all!" Korst'la announces as the escort voidship floats above the city sprawl of Rechner. A Phantomfish comes down close. "We had a great event today, and though not everyone survived, the best sped forth and prospered!" Korst'la says, dropping down from a Phantomfish. "In first place, Khodexus, representing his Kabal!" Korst'la says, as the House Detachments and audience cheers. "In second place, the Republican Commandos, the stalwart defenders of the sector!" Korst'la announces, as the cheers are beyond riveting. "In third, the Illustrious Dynasty of Kim, clinching third!" Korst'la says, as the squats roar their praises. "And last, the Tonal Architect Ramsestron! Better luck next time!" Korst'la says, as Ramsestron still waves happily to nobody's applause. Cyril applauds the Phaeron, alone he finds.

Cortain grumbles something in the static about how nobody respects the poor Predator. "We shall give it a thorough anointing later, brother," Cyril sighs. "Well, Commandos," Korst'la says as he walks up, "It was a great event, and I do want to thank you for taking part in it. It's a pity, but sometimes things happen." "Anti-technological weapons, disrespect to machine spirits, and /bloody Khodexus/ do count as things that can happen, I suppose," Cyril mutters.

"I am still curious how in the Emperor's realm this event is both illegal," Cortain states, "And able to take place for over the last century and a half. Is the sector's governance that incompetent?" "Well I still think you did fine!" Rose says, disembarking from the Aquila, the Fire Hawk and transports being brought near as well. "We usually hold our events in out of the way places," Korst'la shrugs, "But this time, a change of pace would suit everyone. Commandos, I'd invite you to relax, but I already know your answer, so all I can do is bid you farewell and good luck in your further missions." "Give our regards to the Inquisitors next time you see them," Cyril sighs. "Of course," Korst'la gives the sign of the Aquila, warped as it is with only four fingers per hand to call on. Cortain can only give the most evil, hideous, and spiteful glare as the Archon is carted away to victory.

Taking the Fire Raptor up, with Rose boarding her transport, it's a sour note to lose to Khodexus, but second place is still a respectable showing.

(33) Biohazard[edit]

The Deimos Predator has been returned to the Blade for maintenance and work, and the crowd in orbit around Rechner is beating a hasty retreat. They had their fun, but with the Sector navy most likely on the way, it's time to go. Cortain is still salty as all hell about the race, but the proceeds go a long way in making him at least slightly approachable. Cyril storms to the training deck to reduce some training automata to scrap, unwilling to speak to anyone except through vox.

"Guess it didn't go yer way, eh lad?" Rockfist asks, as the Deimos is guided into the Manufactora for repair and rearmament. "I blame Bryn for all of this," Cortain sighs, "Khodexus is a distant second." "Not only did the WRETCHED Eldar take first," Cyril hisses, "Our Chaplain fails to properly respect Machine Spirits." Brynjol throws a grox bone at Cyril as he leaves, uncaring. Rockfist's beard bristles, "Of all the, no use cryin' about it now. I'm sure yeh all did yer best. Ye should be considerin' yer next target. Given it any thought?" "I wish to see Shady again, but I have been outvoted," Cyril admits, "It is time to save the Mechanicus from themselves." "Very well, lad," Rockfist nods, "We'll set a course right away. Don't want to be caught up in any problems, inadvertent or otherwise, when the Sector Fleets get here..."

The Blade sets a course for Mithras, leaving the world as a series of cruisers and battlecruisers warp in. Cortain decides to work out his remaining frustrations on reprogramming Omega Rho Decima, and making a firing range full of Tau and Dark Eldar in House colors in the training deck. Curiously, he notes one of the Hololithic chambers seems occupied. Executor Thexus and Rose appear to be within, though it is impossible to see what they are seeing from outside. Cyril, in the meantime, eventually finishes venting and seeks out his Battle Brothers.

"The Predator needs repair... and placation," Cyril sighs, "The Squats will have begun already, but we should participate." In the Manufactorum, Rockfist and some of the Engineer's Guild bow as Cyril enters, before returning to work repairing the energy damage the Predator suffered. Cyril assists mending the silvered finish, leading a hymn. As he sings, the Squats slowly rise up and join him. The Manufactora is a chorus honoring Ancestor and Emperor, Duty and Valor. Cyril notes that while the Engineer's Guild representatives are present and accounted for, there are a number of guards off-station.

Cortain is marginally satisfied with Ordeci's Cortex programming, and decides to take a moment to look up about the planet and how well-hidden this "nonexistent installation" was. He pops through the list of installations all about the sector. While his search picks out rumors of hidden installations on worlds such as Hesphri J62G, Monolith, and Zemoo, there is no record of Mechanicum presence whatsoever, even in the most secret archives. There is, however, intercepted traffic about shipments made to a prefabricated colony in Mithras's forests, though no magos can understand where they are shipping supplies to, and WHAT is being shipped.

Brynjol spends his time grumbling about his woes, taking after the squats a bit closer than he may like to admit, his Serfs standing ready to assist should he call upon them, he does note a steady train of Squats all heading towards O'Malley's over time. Brynjol prepares to make some gentle enquiries, collaring a Squat and holding him close.

"What's all this then?" Brynjol asks. "Ah, Praetor..." the Squat says as Brynjol grabs him, "We were just headin' to the hololith casters at O'Malley's. The Executor and the lass are goin' at it with some sorta game." Brynjol stares intently. "Not sure if ye'd find it interesting," the Squat says, "But it's somethin' to watch during the trip at least."

Brynjol shrugs, deciding to check it out. Cortain grabs a peek at the Holo-Projector as well. Wandering over to O'Malley's Bar and Grill, the Hololith casters show Rose and Thexus facing off each other. One Hololith Caster is labelled "Previous highlights" and shows the two playing each other in a large hololith version of regicide. The other is labelled live, and depicts them playing a different game, deploying different troopers on a wide field.

"Welcome, beardlin's," O'Malley nods while polishing a drink, "The Lass an' the Toaster have been going at it for a while now." "Regicide. Interesting," Cortain states, "What is the record?" "The Lass challenged the Toaster," O'Malley says, "Well, ta put it kindly, she got quite wrecked. They've switched t' a new game now." The Commandos lean in, trying to make sense of the new game as Cyril and Temur join in. "It was the lass's idea, it involves placin' black-armored an' white-armored troops on a grid to gain territory," O'Malley shrugs, "Neva saw such a game before, but it's MUCH more evenly matched. Even tie so far - the Toaster's battle experience vs the Lass's presience." "I am impressed..." Cortain nods. "Said it was an old game from 'er childhood," O'Malley sighs, "Regardless, can I get ye anything?" "Odd," Cyril observes, "I thought her culture eschewed war." "Thexus modified the pieces, 'e said playin' with colored stones was unbecoming an Auxilia," O'Malley said, "Nonetheless, I may have'er teach me the game later." Black and white colored stones, placed on a grid to gain territory...

"I recall Chapter masters playing this game," Cortain considers, "I recall Sir Calgar having a long record of victories since he became Chapter Master of the Ultramarines." "Surprised he can pick up the pieces with those bloody mittens he wears," Brynjol mutters. "Eh, 'e jus' yells, an' the holo-troopers deploy," O'Malley says, "One of the benefits of the Hololith Chambers." "It comes with practice, the Chapter Master tells me," Cortain reminisces, "The only other person I recall with a record as good as Lord Calgar's is...I think Lord Commander Dante of the Blood Angels." "There is a similar game played by both the Wolves and the Brotherhoods of Chogoris, an invention of Leman Russ himself, it is said," Temur says, 'Where the very board can be moved and adjusted, not just the playing pieces" "Aye, hneftafl," Brynjol nods proudly. "Need a tissue, beardlin'?" O'Malley asks. Brynjol ignores him. "If legends are true, then it was shown to the Brotherhoods during the Legion days, and it became popular with us because of its representations of the shifting landscape of war," Temur continues, "Perhaps we should see if we can recreate a board, Brynjol?"

As the week grinds down, the Squats are riveted to the game. The final score ends up 2-2, with a draw as the fifth. Rose and Thexus finally leave the Hololithic chamber, Rose completely and utterly exhausted, Thexus having triggered numerous overheat faults in his automata frame. Cyril is waiting outside when they do, applauding politely, "It's so keep up with him," Rose coughs, "He was always so many moves ahead, and his plays, no human would have made some of those plays..." "THE AUXILIA IS AN...ADEQUATE COMBATANT, PRAETOR," Thexus declares, "I LOOK FORWARD TO A REMATCH." "I will judge that for myself," Cyril states, "But her skills at strategy are more than satisfactory." "Aye, machines are hard to outwit when it comes to cold strategy," Brynjol points out, "They fail on the battlefield." "WE SHALL SEE, PRAETOR," Thexus says oddly, "PERHAPS IN THE FUTURE." >Perhaps one day one will remember this line. "War isn't like a board game, not like one of these, anyway. Pieces change their colours, weak pieces can change the tide of battle, while the strongest pieces can fail before they have even been deployed," Brynjol sighs, "It's not... simple, like this." Thexus is silent for a very long time, understanding full well what he means. "THE PRAETOR'S WORDS ARE FAULTLESS," Thexus says to Rose, "WE SHALL CONTINUE ANOTHER DAY. WE HAVE ARRIVED AT OUR OBJECTIVE. THE CRUSADE AWAITS."

Finally, the Blade pops out of the Warp, and with another day of travel, takes holding position over the shadowy world of Mithras. Numerous Squats are readying at their stations, as the Blade continues holding pattern.

"Is there any new information on this 'nonexistant' outpost?" Temur asks. "Nay, lad," Rockfist replies, "Passive augurs aren't pickin' up anythin', we may need to search more intensely." "There are some intercepted voxes, some clues lead to here," Cortain adds, "But not much that is conclusive."

Temur performs an active augury, leaving no part of the deep forests untouched. As the Blade's augurs sweep the world, he notes a spike deep in one of the forests - a sprawling frontier outpost of Imperial-standard construction. It is completely out of place to the iron age settlements passed over. Augur readings seemed biologically anomalous, but from orbit it's impossible to tell further.

"That spot, in the forest, something is down there," Temur declares, "Begin a surface charting, navigational data for a grid hunt will be useful." "Aye, lad," Rockfist nods, "We'll prepare a rough missive fer ya." "What is the approximate size of that higlighted region?" Temur asks. "Looks ta be about 10-15 square kilometers," Rockfist states, "I'd estimate the outpost as a small city in itself." The Commandos review the augury results. Though much of it is interspersed in dark forest, it's still a fairly sizable area. "As fer how ya hide an outpost that size, well, I couldn't begin ta imagine," Rockfist shrugs. "A flier might be a good idea, then," Cyril suggests. "Jus' remember, lad, we can support ya jus' fine when yer outside," Rockfist states, "But if ya go into buildin's, we won't be able to drop ya anything." "We will remember," Cyril declares, "Squat brotherhoods and battle automata will be called down if we find areas that need to be secured." "Aye, lad, We'll be on standby," Rockfist states.

Cortain walks back and returns with a book from the librarium - an aged, ancient book, the Logos Lectora. "Now that we are the Praetors of old, I feel that there is a method that should be enforced," Cortain offers, "I speak of the Logos Lectora, father of the Codex Astartes." Brynjol settles down for a quiet snooze, helmet on. Cortain briefly glances at Brynjol, before shutting the book. "I will share this while en route. "We'll make the appropriate preparations," Rockfist nods, "Jus' remember, while we can mobilize things like interceptor strikes an' turrets relatively easily with this Rite, orderin' further troops down won't be possible."

The Commandos begin to gather their gear. Brynjol decides on the Teeth of the Blizzard, a Triflame Vambrace, a nuncio vox, demolitions charge, valkyris, and haywire grenade. Temur goes all in, with an inferno pistol, plasma pistol, a Skapulan bolter, and assorted bits and bobs to cover every situation. Cyril decides to dump all his requisition into assets.

Cortain is last to ready his gear. As he is in the armorium, he feels a tap on his pauldron, and finds a note there. It advises him to bring a Volkite weapon of some kind. He ultimately selects a Volkite Caliver w/ Motion Predictor, Barrage Plasma gun, Siege Auspex, Multikey, Combitool, and Cryogrenade.

As part of the Rite, the Commandos are granted access to a pair of Squat Brotherhood Warrior Squads, and a Damocles Rhino. Readying a Castellax and Vorax maniple, they also order a Stormbird for personal use. Numerous Stormbirds are prepared to hold and deploy these assets, as the Commandos board a Stormbird prepared for them and their gear.

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: Recover the Mechanicus outpost. SECONDARY OBJECTIVE: Search for and extract any survivors found in the Mechanicus outpost. TERTIARY OBJECTIVE: Search for and extract any survivors found in the surrounding frontier city.

The Blade's energy fields are brought down as the atmosphere cycles - the Stormbird Fleet is deployed. The fleet makes progress behind the Commandos as they cut through the hot, damp mists of Mithras. Flying over a number of dark ravines, past what seems like endless forest, the Commandos finally confirm construction of Imperial origin ahead, in an artificial clearing amongst the trees. A Thunderhawk Transporter drops off a Command Rhino, with a squad of Squats moving to dedicated escort positions out of one of the Stormbirds, which flies off. Another set of Stormbirds drops off a further Squat Brotherhood Squad, as well as a Vorax and Castellax maniple.

Cyril performs final checks on his weapons, considering the last time Cortain led the squad, and resolves to keep an eye on Brynjol. Brynjol lands on a relatively open area on the outskirts of the city outpost. The doors of the Stormbird open to a hiss, and autosenses kick in to compensate for the low light levels outside.

The first thing the Commandos notice as they disembark the how utterly empty everything is. It's evident that there were numerous fires burning, fallen trees, and crashed autocarriages. Cortain's auspex picks up electromagnetic currents - the power infrastructure is in one piece, at least.

"Empty. Not unexpected, and certainly preferable to rampaging experiments," Cyril nods. However, the immediate concern on Cortain's and Brynjol's auspexes is a biohazard warning. Brynjol is especially interested. "Praetors, the Rhino's pickin' up high levels of viral contamination," a Squad leader states, "I'm orderin' me lads to use breath masks." "Do so," Cortain acknowledges, "Bryn, helm on." Brynjol looks at Cortain, helmet firmly on his head. "When do I ever bloody take it off during a mission?" Cyril sighs and leaves his seals on. "It looked like a nice atmosphere, too. At least we can contain the viral taint."

Cortain links his auspex up to the Command Rhino. It picks up lots of biological signatures in a tall building a small distance away. It also picks up the occasional biological signal here and there, flickering in and out.

"There is one building where the biosignatures emanate from. Perhaps there are stragglers," Cortain observes. "Try and hail 'em first," Brynjol suggests, "If we go blundering in with our size tens and break some sort of biosafety protocol they've got, we might be killin' the last people to survive whatever... this is." "All units, overwatch that building," Cyril commands, "Destroy any nonhumans exiting it until further notice." "Yes, Praetor!" a Squat Brotherhood unit says, raising lasrifles.

The Commandos march on forward, through the ruined city outpost as they receive another vox. "Praetor, this is Damocles Escort Squad. We've advanced the Rhino to what seems to be a city plaza," a Squat says, "We have good coverage here. We'll remain deployed here until ya command us further." Acknowledging the asset positions, Brynjol, Temur, and Cortain can catch a good view of the area. A large building stands a few hundred meters ahead, where the biosigns originated. In the distance, about half a kilometer away, there is what seems to be an Arbites station. There's also a short, wide building, emblazoned with the cog-skull of the Mechanicum. In the immediate area, however, the Commandos can see a billboard. It has a paper fluttering on it, in the weak wind.

"Arbites?" Cyril wonders, "I suppose even secret outposts need policing..." "We move in," Cortain commands.

All about, though, there seems to be a strange fungus growing all about. It looks kind of fleshy. The Squats don't like it too much, and the Squad Leaders order their charges to not touch. Cyril starts eagerly towards the Arbites station, and goes to experimentally spray some fungus with his cryopistol. Brynjol whacks his aim off before he can do so, however.

"Don't be a pillock all your life, what if it's some kind of freaky telepathic fungus?" Brynjol asks, "We've seen that before!" "The Hellstar had mold and slugs" Cortain wonders, "The mold was also glowing." Looking closer, however, Cortain notes this mold is NOT glowing. The Hellstar's mold was blue. This mold seems pinkish, like flesh. It's clearly different.

The Cryotheum, as much as Cyril can put on target before Brynjol disrupts his aim, seems to lay evenly on the fungus, freezing it. Cortain fires some shots, shattering the frozen fungus, revealing the ground below. Temur, in the meantime, looks at the paper on the billboard. "Welcome to Saint's Landing, forged in the name of the God Emperor to support the noble work of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Clear skies, crisp forests, truly the saints smile upon our noble endeavors as we give glory to the God Emperor, and live our lives according to the eternal teachings of He on Terra." (Document Acquired: City Guide)

"Bollocks be to operational security, then?" Brynjol sighs, spraying a few gouts of flame about himself. Where the flame touches the growths, it retracts as it burns. "Oh, so it's okay when -you- purge the unclean..." Cyril mutters. "Praetors, we've advanced to the biological augury," a Squat Squad Leader states, "Holding Overwatch until given further orders." "Alright, so can we go IN now?" Cortain sighs, wondering why anyone would EVER want to be Squad Babysitter. "Well you pack of goons have already potentially dropped us in the midden," Brynjol quips, "So I might as well join in."

Cyril breaks off to check out the Arbites station. He notes it looks like it's been through a warzone. There's all sorts of burned fires, crashed Repressors, and damage of all kinds. There are no bodies, however. Cyril looks for somewhere to plug in and read files, finding a cogitator. Unfortunately, it's somewhat difficult for him to connect, causing Cortain to loop about to interface with it. Reviewing the list of crimes, Cortain immediately notes that there's barely any violations of the Lex Imperialis, nothing worse than a few events the Enforcers could handle. Then, a few weeks back, a ridiculous amounts of violations in one day, and then nothing after that.

"This seems to be a flash flood of outbreaks," Cortain thinks aloud, "Perhaps this fungus can possess people?" "Praetor, we're seeing movement in this building, it appears to be some sort of Schola," the Squad Leader on overwatch states, "Not responding to hails. Nothing has left yet. Remaining watchful." "Copy, Damocles," Cortain comments, "We might as well investigate." "En route," Cyril offers. "Cyril, I'm going to go ahead and tell you now," Brynjol says, "If this fungus turns out to be psychic, I am going to shave your head." "It will grow back," Cyril states, declaring his hairesy evident to all, "It always grows back." "With phosphex," Brynjol retorts. "We had a chat about your penchant for threats," Cyril reminds him, "I do not want another." "Cyril, I am doing you a favour. Your hair is just awful," Brynjol looks directly at Cyril, his wolf skull helm always grinning. "When is the last time you even saw it?" Cyril asks, "I wear my armour more often than not." "I have pictures," Brynjol reveals. Cyril snorts. "Out of date." "Can we stop with this married couple banter?" Cortain demands, his temper capacitors close to overheating. "You don't get to talk like that, Cortain, you weren't at the ceremony," Brynjol laughs, "It was beautiful."

Cyril as the advance scout passes by the Damocles Rhino and its escort. They report no issue, and all accounted for. Moving past them, a few hundred meters down, he reaches the Squats, who have split around and taken defensive overwatch.

"Lord Praetor, we've seen movement inside. No response to hails," the Squad Leader states, "This whole situation doesn't sit right with me." "Allow us to look in," Cortain commands, "Keep Overwatch." "Acknowledged, Lord Praetor," the Squat nods. "Nothing of a strangeness ever will," Temur lectures, "It is something you learn to live with. Let it help keep you on your guard."

There is a heavy door, engraved with the Emperor, arms outstretched to beckon whiteshields to him. "A door," Cyril sighs, "Our dread nemesis." "I'm sure between us we can flame/cryo/kick it in," Brynjol offers. Cyril signs a respectful Aquila at the engraving and opens the door. Pushing the door open, the Commandos are in the main hall of a great Schola. Passages to classrooms, all ruined, as well as a chapellum and gymnasium, can be seen. While Cortain gets some odd interference, everyone else can hear steps and shuffling inside one of the classrooms on one of the upper floors. There is a set of flimsy wooden stairs that leads further up.

The Commandos are inured to fear. Nothing scares them. Even the Hellstar has no hold on their hearts. And yet, these stairs...

After a moment of hesitation, the Commandos advance across the stairs into the upper levels.

"Finally, some action..." Cortain says, eager to get his mind off kindergarten duty. Stepping up, and reaching the upper levels, autosenses are still picking up static. However, the Commandos can see something standing in one of the classrooms off to the side. It appears to be a child. They're just standing there, standing at the wall, dressed in the normal rags of a commoner.

"Civilian children sighted," Cyril murmurs into comms, "Wearing rags, staring at a wall. Likely tainted."

Cyril sneaks into the room. He can see a number of children about. They're all sitting down or standing, facing walls, or in the shadows. Augurs are going fukken nuts over biohazard warnings. There is that fungus partially on the wall. One of the children facing the wall twitches. Then all of them turn around simultaneously. They smell him. "Cyril, you had best draw your guns..." Cortain advises. They raise their rotted, decayed forms, as they begin to shuffle towards him, groaning.

The immediate concern is the horde of about 20 rotten-looking children, groaning about as they advance. Brynjol is immediately reacting, tricking his Burning Claws and charging the rotted husks that were once Imperial citizens. As he flits about, he takes down about 12 of them.

"Poor kids," Brynjol sighs. Cyril adds to the firepower, his bolter and Chronophore taking down a further 6. Cortain is last to fire, raking his plasma gun about and incinerating the husks. The Commandos are surrounded by dead, smoking corpses. They look quite rotten.

"Be advised, there are infected bioforms in here," Cortain voxes the Damocles, "Nobody comes in or out without our explicit say-so." "Aye, Lord Praetor, readying shield wall," the Squat Squad Leaders state.

Cortain notes one of the rotted husks was carrying a book of some sort. Its pages are somewhat ragged, but it survived the onslaught. Cortain picks it up from the child's hands, her empty, rotted eyes staring up, and leafs it over in vague interest. Cyril hangs over, reading as well. (Date illegible. Estimated 3 weeks to current date.) "My mom says that if I study hard, then I can become an adept and be closer to the God-Emperor! I wanna make sure he's smiling, so I'll make sure to say some extra prayers tonight before tomorrow's test.

(Date illegible. Estimated 2.5 weeks to current date.) "Today an alarm went off through town. The drill abbott said that the Mechanicus were having some issue. I feel bad for them. Maybe if they asked the God-Emperor, he would try to help them. Drill Abbott says the God Emperor always listens."

(Date illegible. Estimated 2 weeks to current date.) "I'm scared. We haven't been able to go home for days now. Drill Abbott says it's not safe. I hear screams and cries outside. There's lights too - flickering through the stained glass. I want my mom."

(Date illegible. Estimated 1.5 weeks to current date.) "I wanna go home, but everyone who tries to go outside never comes back. I'm so hungry, but the Drill Abbott says to stay in. His arm was bleeding, and he looked sick. He says he needs some time to pray. I think something terrible has happened, but it's okay, because mom says that when bad things happen, the Republican Commandos will come and save us. So they'll come, because we're in trouble. I know it.

(Date illegible. Estimated 1.4 weeks to current date.) "It's thundering out, and there are fires out. So many fires. Where's my mom? The Abbot is coming, he looks kind of sick though. Maybe he'll tell us a story. I hope it's another story about the Emperor. I love those."

-The rest is covered in blood.- (Document acquired: Scrawled Diary)

Cortain takes a moment to accept all this before leaving. "We continue our hunt. Mourning at this point is a wasted effort." "And we tarried with the wretched Tau's fool illegal race..." Cyril whispers, "Yes, we press on. There is naught else to do for them." "This...thing seems to have some ability to control motor functions," Cortain observes. "Poor fellows," Brynjol shakes his head.

Regrouping, a peal of lightning echoes through the town. "So why were the children the only bodies around?" Cyril asks. "Perhaps they are recent infected?" Cortain asks. "Do you think the fungus perhaps consumed the others?" Cyril continues. "Lord Praetors, we're seeing targets advancing. They look rotted," a Squad Leader says, "Don't worry about us, we'll hold them off." "Do NOT let them close to melee," Cyril advises, "They may be able to spread their taint." "Acknowledged, Lord Praetor," the Squat nods, "For Ancestors and Emperor." "Let us find the source of this mess," Temur declares.

The Commandos decide their next can still see the Mechanicum skull icon building in the distance. They begin making their way over. Cortain, however, gets a sudden ping over...private channels.

"Operative? Ah, Operative, do you read?" a voice says, as a female Tau pops into your viewport, "We have news for you." "I read," Cortain says flatly, "This seems to influence motor functions." "Ah, good, we were concerned we lost you in interference," the Tau handler says, "We have a mission for y-...High Commander?" The female Tau is pushed out of the way, as Korst'la VII himself takes the screen. He looks beyond furious. "This is a damned mess," he says, "This is beyond anything I can think of." "What do you want, Korst'la?" Cortain asks, "What did you sanction here and how in the Emperor's name did you get the Mechanicus to go mum about it?" "It is simple. The Mechanicus were never involved in the first place. This is not a Mechanicus installation. This is MY installation," Korst'la says, "But the Magos we put in charge, he's made a BIG mistake. I never commanded anything this." "Is that so?" Cortain asks, "What DO you know about it...?" "Believe it or not, I'm not one to order the death of a captive market," Korst'la states, "There are, however, others who would. I'll give you more information over time, but I'm giving you an immediate objective." Cortain pauses a moment. "Your objective is to seek out the Magos in charge, and execute him for disregarding my strict orders," Korst'la states, "You are to use Volkite weaponry. I want him nothing but ash. I'll be supporting you directly on this mission, and I'll have more intel as I recover it." "Fine," Cortain sighs. "He is not to say a single word in his defense," Korst'la states, "He most likely uses defensive measures. I'll try to find a code that can disable them for you."

The Commandos continue their advance through the streets. They can hear the moans of the infected people all around, amongst the still-burning fires, the ruins, and the trees. Bio-auguries ping all about in the hundreds, too many to fight without getting bogged down.

"Contact," Cyril voxes, "Hundreds, noncohesive. I may be able to sneak past, but they will certainly detect jump pack use." "Agreed," Cortain nods, "Any outward aggression will only make it harder for us and the Squats."

The Commandos ultimately arrive at the large building marked with the cog-gears of the Mechanicum. It's quite evident that this building is the focal point of the city. What was once a set of armored ceramite doors can be seen ahead, below the cog, under some flying buttresses. They have been blown out by some sort of massive explosion. Temur examines the wreckage - given how the explosions came from within the building, blowing the doors out, it was most likely a containment measure gone wrong. The Commandos decide that sending in Cyril first to scout, with the main force a dozen meters or so behind, would be for the best.

"I am glad I left Notomok ready to be deployed via Dreadclaw for a change..." Cyril says, concerned about his fleshy friend in a biohazard emergency zone, "We can call him in later when everything's cleared." "The Logos Lectore Rite of War forbids drop pods," Cortain reminds him, "You goofed, to put it locally." Even Temur laughs at Cyril's sudden misfortune.

"Be careful, Brothers, there may still be armed traps inside," Temur notes as everyone forms up. "Count on it," Cortain agrees, "Mechanicus Outposts are built upon redundant security protocols." "One more word of advice for now," Korst'la states over hidden channels to Cortain, "That facility likely has more than just those biohazardous cadavers. Keep watch for further problems." "Skitarii subordinates?" Cortain asks, "I can manage." "This place was a bioweapon research facility," Korst'la states, "It's evident the Magos in charge has deviated from what he was hired to do, so I can't say what you'll find down there." "Bioweapons? Of what variety?" Cortain asks. "Viral and mutagenic," Korst'la states, "It's not my normal field, but the contract was too good to pass up. I'll let you know further as my Detachments bring me the briefing."

The infected remain oblivious for now, as they wander away. Cyril takes the lead, everyone else a little behind, entering the Mechanicum Outpost.

The Commandos are greeted immediately with a wide entrance hall, banners of the Mechanicus swaying from breeze blowing in from holes in the wall. There are all sorts of ded skitarii rangers about, what little remains of their flesh gnawed and bitten.

"This is...horrific," Cortain says, his weapons raised. "At least they are not on fire this time" Cyril mutters to himself, remembering Xomula many episodes back.

The Entrance hall seems to converge onto a security checkpoint. The Servitor-Turrets are long destroyed on the ground. Cortain picks up remnants of electromotive force within some of the skitarii. He keeps his guns trained as the Commandos reach the Checkpoint. Cortain and Cyril interface with the cogitator, and find the same issue as in the arbiter station - everything's k, then a day of absolute hell two weeks back, then silence. The Commandos disengage from the cogitator memory archives, as the corpses of the Skitarii begin to stir. Some get up, and others crawl, hunger in their rotted optics.

Cortain remained ever vigilant, and gets a quick salvo off, burning six infected Skitarii rangers with Volkite deathrays. Brynjol is soon fast into it as well, cutting through almost a dozen Skitarii with his burning claws. Cortain continues the pressure, incinerating another six, as he is joined by Ordeci, his Thanatar, blowing up more infected Skitarii with mauler boltcannon fire, and crushing an incredible amount with its graviton ram. Cyril and Temur soon finish off the Horde with bolter, plasma, and chronomantic energy.

From their current location, the Commandos can see a set of glass doors. Beyond them appears to be some sort of laboratorium, which Cyril believes to be the source of the vile rot. Cortain moves up and forces the glass doors open with a swift servo-punch, noting there are all sorts of chemicals about. That odd fungus is here as well, growing on some of the tables, while the lab looks in a relative state of ruin and rust. There are chemical spills all over the floor. Some are corrosive. The Commandos take small steps to avoid the acidic pools as they engage a waiting cogitator. (Date corrupted. Estimated 25 +/- 4 years prev. to current date.)

I have been placed in charge. Finally, a position where I can show my genius. The task ahead of me is simple. Some time back, a chemical was discovered within the minds of people eking out a pitiful existence in the Scar - we grew to call it Beta Hetero Nonserotonin. Studying the chemical, we learned rapidly two things. First, the chemical has malleable properties; if we could find a way to grant the chemical a vector, we could allow for rapid mutagenic experimentation. Second, the chemical seems to only occur in the brains of young people born in the Scar. I will petition for a constant source of the chemical from my benefactors. (Document Acquired: Magos's Note 1)

"Experimental chemicals from the Scar...STRIKE 1," Cortain announces, before switching to private channels. "Use of Beta Hetero Nonserotonin to augment our troopers went as expected," Korst'la states, "But it seems that more was done with it here..." "This came from the Scar," Cortain says, "This has to have mutated somehow." "I know. New combat drugs and augments were forged," Korst'la states, "There has to be more to it though."

Searching the lab further, the Commandos note a wooden door off to the side, and another glass door further into the facility. Cyril checks out the wood door, opening it into a fairly big supply closet. Of note are the numerous boxes of chemicals stacked up, an old archeotech typewriter on a desk, and a blue torch to the back.

"Got a selection of good things on sale, stranger..." the Merchant rasps.

The Commandos set to work augmenting their stuff. Brynjol manages an Energized Chain Blade for his VF/SS Fighter. Temur acquires a Teleportarium for the Blade, to better assist in deployment of assets. Cyril picks up a Shipmaster's Bridge for the Blade, replacing the overall fleet bonuses for a direct combat bonus. Cortain decides why the fuck not, and barely manages to squeak by with an ancient Abeyant. As a team, they augment Crusader Invictus with Coated Optics, increasing their God Machine's ranged damage.

"Heh heh heh, thank you..." the Merchant hisses as he walks behind some boxes.

"And thus the Blade was sharpened," Cyril states, before turning to Cortain, "Cortain, can that thing even fit through this place's doors?"

Cortain floats on his gigantic pimp chair to the other glass door, proudly leading the way now. The other glass door opens with a hiss, and the Commandos pause. The room on the other side is absolutely gigantic. Ahead is a five-leveled shaft sinking down, lined with stasis pods and test subjects. Great servitor-controlled mechanisms move the pods about. In the center, a wide, circular elevatus. The Controls on the Elevatus itself are clear - there's the Origin, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4, in descending order.

"This must be the production and experimenting floor," Cortain observes. "Party of five, going down?" Cyril asks. Cortain presses the 1 button. the Commandos hear a great thud, as the Elevatus begins to descend down. Brynjol adjusts the tanks on his flamer, fixing the drooling accelerant, as he kicks up his jump pack and floats over for a good look. Much of the caskets appear to contain human forms. Signs of viral contamination and mysterious growths are evident as his eyes pierce the stasisy fog. There are some caskets, however, that are clearly NOT human.

The Elevatus finally comes to a small docking platform. A sturdy scaffold-pathway extends to a rather large armored bulkhead. Off to the side, there's a metal plinth. It seems to have a depression, as if something was meant to fit within. The Plinth's depression is circular, about half the size of one's pauldron. Cortain sees there's a note on the plinth.

"The Laboratorium Primaris awaits a show of faith, Man and Machine as one."

"Dolboyeb Magi..." Cyril mutters, "Improper containment is bad enough, but such lack of caution in a facility experimenting on xenos is unconscionable." "I would expect such heavy security in a place like this," Temur offers, "We might need to find the remains of one of the genetors for a primaris key." "We have a Techmarine," Cyril points out, "I am sure it will recognize him. Cortain, what do you make of the socket?" "It is not a basic Electoo conductor," Cortain replies, "I can see what happens, though..." Cortain puts a hand on it. The fake one, just incase the chucklenuts Magos put a trap. However, nothing seems to happen. "We move down," Cortain declares, "This is perhaps gene-coded." "And keep an eye on Cort," Brynjol grins, "In case he's got space rabies or something." Cortain stares. "What do you take me for in sanitation protocol, Bryn?" "Bloody nothing compared to me, chummer!" Brynjol boasts, "When it comes to aseptic technique, I am the opposite of friendly."

Descending down to Level 2, there is a far more ornate heavy blast shield. This one, however, lacks any sort of plinth or cogitator. There are great carvings of the Mechanicum cog, and lines of Electoo-circuit "art." However, the electoo-circuuits are all currently off. "It seems power to the upper floors has been interrupted," Cyril observes, "Perhaps we should be grateful the doors are sealed, and that whatever lies behind them remains contained." Cortain places his hand on one of the electoo-circuits, and the brief burst of power within them begins to cause the patterns to glow. He can see words and ideas embedded within the circuits - Command Annex. The Command Annex Blast Shield is currently primed to receive command codes, but it will take a lot more power than he alone can produce to actually get it to open.

"This door might be opened, but I doubt that I alone will be sufficient to power it open," Cortain notes, "Down again."

Arriving at Level 3, the Commandos are greeted by a glass set of cleanroom doors. These are not covered by blast bulkheads of any kind, and they can see the lab on the other side leaking sanitizing fog. "At least we can look in here without fear of something being locked out," Cortain declares. "Assume nothing, and tread with caution." Cyril suggests, "We do not know what that fog may be suppressing." Cortain levels the Volkite caliver, "Oh, I guarantee it."

While auspexes are going fucknuts about viral contamination, the door itself probably only needs a good push or so. The Commandos, armored in full Praetor artificer, augmented with the miracles of the Dark Age of Technology, and armed to the teeth with multiple weapons, proceed to spend about 25 (19:45 to 20:10) minutes making a plan to breach and destroy whatever lays on the other side of a transparent door. Their concern is not without some merit, however - auspexes detect so many biosigns, probably from contamination, that it's almost a solid sea of red. However, as signals echo down the room, it picks up a pair of heavily emanations, opposite each other, reminiscent of shields.

"Hm. The animate corpses proved frustratingly resistant to boltshells, but I can still do more damage with them than with my blade," Cyril says, "Cortain and I will lay down fire; Brynjol, you know what to do." "Today's anatomy lesson is on the dismemberment of the humanoid corpse," Brynjol nods, "Got it." "Agreed. We open it, we fire first," Cortain concludes, "Anything left standing becomes Bryn food." Temur silently keeps his eyes on the sides and rear, watching for movement or augur contact.

Brynjol pushes the door completely open. Cyril, then opens up, his Overwatch trigger of "Door Opens, no Uninfected" triggers. Cyril fires into the safe zone, sending bolt rounds flinging in every direction. Some shatter tubes of biological material and acids, spilling it onto the fungus mat below. Others blow apart cogitators nearby. Most of his rounds shatter the armour-plas door on the other side of the safe zone. At least that drifting fog seems to be disabled now. Beyond the shattered door, he can see a break in the path - left and right, both descending. From the purification chamber, however, it is impossible to tell how deep.

Cortain floats in to observe the blobbage, Cyril behind him. "It seems the mist cannot suppress the fungus," Cyril sprays the chemical spills with cryothium, just to be on the safe side, "And where are the biosigns? Is the fungal agent in the air so dense?" Some of the biomaterials are rendered inert by the cold. Some cause terrible chemical reactions with the cryotheum, leading to minor popping explosions. Floating over the fungal growths, Cortain carefully reviews the fungus mats. It seems identical to what he saw earlier. Oddly fleshlike, and sometimes even pulsating. Volkite and heat weapons in general seems to work very well, incinerating the growths. It is also proven that Cryotheum has a similar effect.

Descending down the Left, the Commandos reach what was once a minor laboratorium, but now a charnel pit. Corpses are everywhere to one side, and concerningly, not all are augmented in the Omnissiah's mysteries. To the right, they can see specimens in stasis, of a clearly nonhuman bent. A Cogitator blinks nearby. All the way at the end, however, they can see a power field holding something, with an access panel below. Cortain, trying to access the cogitator, accidentally plugs into the stasis casket itself, turning it off. One of the fleshy masses within flops out, twitches a bit, and falls still. The pink, fleshy, headless mass nonetheless seems to have two limbs and perfectly smooth skin. Brynjol fails accessing the Cogitator as well, leaving it to Cyril to intone the Omnissiah's mysteries properly. There's a research note, it seems.

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) Introduction of Virus into captive Skinks causes rapid devolution of xenos form. Amphibian skin loses all color, and body structures such as head and rear legs atrophy and disappear. Physical strength is greatly decreased, and neotenic form does not possess offensive talents or traits. Markedly increased regeneration potential noted, but potential as a bio-organic weapon is minimal. Project shelved until regenerative potential can be extracted. 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) (Document Acquired: Stasis Tank Log 1)

"Xeno experimentation," Cortain sighs, "Would this count as Strike 2?" "This is extremely complicated business," Brynjol trails off, "I haven't read about experimentation like this, except..." "There is nothing wrong with xenos experimentation," Cyril states, "What worries me is that they sought to extract infected skinks' regenerative abilities... perhaps for insertion into humans?" "Fail to recall any logs over Cataclysm," Cortain shrugs, "Would be less...morally objectionable." "The subjects devolved into a neotenic form..." Brynjol continues to muse, "They were regressing them back to a more differentiable stage of development. I'm just shooting in the dark, but I doubt there'd be any 'regenerative' potential to extract - if you regress a human to the womb, they'll have vastly increased regenerative capability just due to increased numbers of pluripotent stem cells..."

The rest of the commandos merely stare. "Anyone interested in going down the other way?" Cortain asks. "Yes," Cyril nods hurriedly. "I'll want to take some samples back to the Blade, if we find any," Brynjol finally mutters, "This could be useful, regardless." "Do xenos even have similar stages of growth?" Cyril asks. Brynjol shrugs.

As the Commandos begin to leave, the flickering light of the power field container at their rear, the corpses all about begin to shudder, and they hear an odd bestial roar echo down from the ceiling. The infected skitarii and locals begin to crawl forward as the ceiling gives way as a series of swollen, reptilian, mutant creatures surge down, ready for attack.

There are about five of the creatures that descended down to the right, alongside a fairly large horde to the left. The Commandos spread into battle mode. Brynjol bounds forward a few steps, then activates his jump pack, cannoning him into one of the beasts, whereupon it dissolves into a puddle of ichor due to sword and claw. Frost streams off him. Temur begins moving, hefting his Grav Cannon and spraying into the Mutant Lizards as well. As the infected horde begins to move into melee with Cortain and Cyril, the Commandos are struck by a thought - those mutant lizards, they kind of look like Saurus...

Cortain, Cyril, and Ordeci hold against the barrage of toxic, corrosive claws, while drawing out their weapons and cutting into the Horde. Cryo-Pistol, Volite Serpenta, and Gladius Invictus all begin cutting through the horde. Brynjol weathers the storm of attacks from the Mutant Saurus, countering where he can and pressing the attack. Spinning about in a mighty RASHIDO, Brynjol finishes off two Mutant Saurus while beheading a third with his frost sword. Temur moves in closer, crumpling the final saurus with Grav. Now free of distractions, Brynjol and Temur move in to assist in clearing out the horde, which finally falls to Temur's bolt fire and Ordeci's Grav Ram.

The Laboratorium is now quiet, aside from the hum of the shield projector. The stasis pods are fully powered, and there is no more sign of movement, from Zombies or Mutant Slann. Brynjol takes a few judicious samples from various corpses before flaming the lot. However, as he goes to rejoin everyone patching their armor up, he sees something flickering inside the shield projector, something shiny that catches his eye.

"There's something inside the shields..." Brynjol says, looking closer. Cyril turns off the shield. The light fades, and he can pick up a silvery object. It is reminiscent of the Symbol of the Mechanicum. The silver mechanical half. (Item Acquired: Silver Skull Frieze)

Cyril lifts and examines the frieze. It is rounded, almost half the size of his pauldron. However, it appears to be meant to connect with something. "Union of man and machine?" he wonders, "We have the second half." "It looks like half of a lock," Cortain agrees, "We move to the other side, see if the second half is there." Cyril brightens considerably. It's just like his Nixarterian cartoons! Er, training programs.

Heading up, and moving up and over to the other side, this laboratorium is...cleaner. There are further stasis tubes around, an unlocked cogitator nearby. These look frog-like. There is also another shield projector on the opposite side. Cortain connects to this cogitator, and finds another research report. 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) Virus introduced into captive Galg, frog-like auxiliary of the Tau Empire. Minor devolution of xenos noted. Xenos Intelligence reduced to semi-sentient levels, and front legs' muscles augmented from viral contact. Creature's tongue now secretes a polymeric adhesive, and can stretch to numerous times its body length. Creature attacks by ambushing, using its limited claws to strike, or strangling prey with prehensile tongue and swallowing. Little potential as bio-organic weapon noted, compared to Saurus variants - amphibian xenoforms as base deemed inefficient. 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) (Document Acquired: Stasis Tank Log 2)

"This is based on a Tau auxilia," Cortain sighs, "Not much threat, but that casket remains locked. Now, about the shield..." Cortain floats over and disables the shield. Once more, the Commandos are greeted with a half of a skull, bone white this time, carved out of some sort of native stone. (Item Acquired: White Skull Frieze)

Cortain and Cyril combine the two halves, snapping them together. Perfect fit! (Item Acquired: Mechanicum Skull Frieze)

"The symmetries and connections between..." Cyril says, "We have the key." "To Floor 1 Immediately," Cortain confirms. "Are you certain?" Cyril asks, "We are near Floor 4 as is..." "True," Cortain admits, "But I am curious about the Plinth on the first floor."

As the Commandos rush back up, through the Clean Room entrance, they suddenly hear a deep groan. Something is walking towards them. It appears human, but its skin is sickly grey, and it is as tall as they are. As it approaches, raising its simple claws readying a charge, the Commandos prepare to meet its approach.

"I am NOT in the mood," Cortain declares.

Cortain, meanwhile, gets another communique. "Care," Korst'la says, "That thing is a Tyrant-class Wrack. The formula was only recently perfected. It will try to attack with its razor-sharp claws." "Wracks?" Cortain exclaims, "Are you MAD?" "They are a cheap and effective bio-organic weapon," Korst'la says, "We've found them quite useful. I'm still looking into this facility my Father set up. I'll keep you updated." Cortain groans. "Something about it, though," Korst'la concludes, "Be on your guard." "I would hardly be surprised if that mold got on..." Cortain suggests. "That might be the problem," Korst'la says, "The experimentation going on here, it goes far beyond the Wracks my father and Khodexus pioneered." Korst'la leans back. "You know, I was there when the chemical that would form this virus was first found," Korst'la says, "I was about two at the time, still struggling with the concept of sentences and words. I was accompanying a special operations detachment." Korst'la breathes out slowly. "We quickly realized the potential of this, and when a contract came up," Korst'la says, "My father took it." "Why am I hardly shocked," Cortain sighs. "Because you're a naturalized resident of this sector now," Korst'la laughs, "I'll have more as I come up with it." ".......This does the opposite of comfort me," Cortain retorts, "This gives me a feeling of loathing for this entire forsaken sector of space."

The Commandos form a gunline. Cortain opens up with his Volkite Caliver, sending screeching death rays into the Tyrant-class Wrack, while Temur lays down further bolt and plasma fire. The two Commandos' withering hail is enough to make the Wrack shudder and fail, though only barely. Normal wracks are definitely not this tough. With the Elevatus in sight, the Commandos resume their duty.

"Well that was...inconvenient," Cortain states, "Now, where were we?"

The Commandos arrive once more on Floor 1. Cortain approaches to the plinth and slowly mounts that Frieze on it, while Cyril intones prayers about the power of Man and Machine. The frieze slides in with a grinding noise. It's exactly what the Commandos needed. The eyes of the frieze begin to glow as the blast bulkhead rumbles slowly open. Ahead, the Commandos can see the massive expanse of the Laboratorium Primaris. While most of the stasis tanks are still in one piece, they can see one that suffered a power failure and something rather violently broke out. They can also see a number of ded techpriests, not adepts but full on ordained dudes, clustered around a cogitator. Cortain privately concludes that it must probably be where that Tyrant-class Wrack came from.

Walkin' over and scannin' the corpses, they appear dead. Large bits appear to be bitten out of them, clean bites through both flesh and cybernetic. Cortain shudders. A swift kick, and they are confirmed quite dead. Searching the cogitator, there appears to be another log here.

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) (Date corrupted. Estimated 17 +/- 4 years prev. to current date.) It has taken years now, but we have easily created a vector - by binding the chemical to a once-harmless virus, we were able to increase the chemical's mutagenic potential, with an easy to spread viral model as a transfer agent. The Virus itself has undertaken rapid evolution, now halfway between a virus and a true cellular bacterium. Initial tests proved promising - we introduced the virus to a team of guns for hire on a little out of the way agriworld - mutations of what we now deem the Tyrant-Class Wrack proved unstable, but much data was acquired. We now have an idea of how to improve both reliability of augmentation, infection speed, and that annoying swelling that exposes the heart. Our benefactors will be pleased. 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) (Document acquired: Magos's Note 2)

"A Wrack...?" Cortain announces, "And...if it was what we just met, then that makes it STRIKE 2." "That is - I may be a bit unorthodox on the subject of xenotech, but Wracks are RIGHT OUT!" Cyril yells. "As I said, STRIKE 2," Cortain repeats, "He had best pray that he has an alibi worthy of moving the High Lords to tears because I am this close to vaporizing him." "Who? The individual in charge of this facility is already dead," Cyril states, "By our hands, if need be." "Exactly. I am hoping he is alive," Cortain agrees, "So I can kill him myself."

As everyone reads the archive, Brynjol notes something sparkly on the ground. He quickly scoops it up, magpie-style. It's a key. It appears to have an ID tag on it. "Found a key, Brynjol says tersely, "To the lab." (Item Acquired: Test Subject Annex Key)

The Commandos begin to head out, when Cortain and Brynjol hear skittering up above. "Quiet!" Brynjol whispers, "Something's above us!"

Thin, emaciated creatures with translucent gossamer wings surge down screeching. "Oh what the...Cyril, is this another Vampire?" Cortain asks rapidly. He has no idea how correct he is. "Wings? That is new. Perhaps they captured Vespid to experiment on?" Cyril suggests, "We are fairly near the Tau, even if the Black Caste do not use auxilia..." The Commandos weather the surprise attacks, Cortain and Brynjol prepared to dodge due to hearing them. One hit's Cyril's shield, triggering a bright flash of light and illuminating the creatures. No skin, thin muscles, empty eye sockets in an exposed skull, gossamer wings, vaguely...bat-like. it's clear they've been heavily mutated by the experiments. And yet, the Commandos feel as if they've seen such things before...

"Korst'la, there had best be a reason why you have WARP VAMPIRES in here!" Cortain yells over private channels. "To be fair, Vampires are xenos creatures of the materium," Korst'la replies, "But I would never sanction anything that could touch the warp. As I said, something has gone terribly wrong." Korst'la returns to his archive search. "Regardless, it's imperative you find the Magos in charge and execute him," Korst'la says, "I salute your patience for dealing with these trap infested puzzleways. He must have had some spare time." "Mechanicus outposts are meant to be this complex," Cortain reminds him, "They usually do it to prevent intruders from reaching vital info quickly and discourage traitors from stealing data." "Really? Since when is the last time you saw a Mechanicus puzzle that wasn't some sort of prayer intoned 12 ways to Terra?" Korst'la retorts, "I mean, come on, a frieze? I'm reasonably sure this guy was playing too many noosphere games on his offtime. Even I'm not this crazy." "Admittedly, that is curious," Cortain relents, "Hardly the weirdest lock I found however."

The Commandos now must fight as the five infected Warp Vampires begin to attack. Brynjol is in his element, rapidly annihilating one Warp Vampire in a storm of claws and swordplay. Temur, who has branched into melee AND ranged competency, draws his Paragon blade, and successfully triggers instant death from his Consul Champion training. Cyril is not so lucky, having specialized himself into pure ranged, and is at a severe disadvantage. Nonetheless, he manages to get a good hit in, the Photonic Blade cutting through flesh and armor alike to seriously damage the Infected Warp Vampire. Cortain as well strikes out with the Gladius Invictus, dealing some damage, and ordering Ordeci to attack with everything it has, scoring a good smack with the gravity ram. The Infected Vampires counter-attack, however, damaging Cyril and Ordeci. Brynjol moves to cover Cortain, deleting the Infected Vampire threatening Cortain. Temur now has a choice - support the Consul Delegatus who is not the best in melee, and has taken some serious hits, and can probably wipe the other vampire once his go comes up, or the Robot.

He selects the robot.

"No, no, that is fine, help the AUTOMATA," Cyril mutters.

Temur swoops in and finishes off the Infected Warp Vampire threatening the Battle Automata. This leaves the Vampire to go full flex on Cyril, cutting into him with warp based claws, and causing the severance of his leg. Now gravely concerned, Cortain orders Ordeci to fire its mauler boltcannon at the Vampire, forcing it away to gnaw at Cyril's leg. Brynjol finally advances towards Cyril, leaving Temur to finish off the Infected Warp Vampire with a melta pistol shot.

"I'll try and get him stabilised," Brynjol offers, as he begins to approach. Cyril forces himself up into a sitting position, "I am stable. Kill the thing. Cortain, I would like a chrome finish on my new leg." Brynjol nonetheless rushes to Cyril's side, and begins application of medicinal herbs and ancient Fenrisian medicines. Cyril is less than enthused, Brynjol's constant cajoling rapidly grating on him. Working with the Larraman organ, Brynjol manages to patch everything up at a basic level. Brynjol grins at Cyril, "You're mine now!" Temur stows his weapons and helps Cyril off the floor, once Brynjol has stabilized his wounds "I know where you sleep," Cyril mutters. "And I know where you keep your hairspray," Brynjol laughs. "Cortain, grab the leg if you would," Temur requests, "Tt would not do to leave a piece of Cyril's armor behind." "Thank you," Cyril nods, working on balancing himself, "I do not fancy my chances getting around on a Jump Pack with my balance so thrown off."

Cortain orders Ordeci to carry Cyril, Master-Blaster style, as the Commandos reform, ready to move on down. "Bottom of this hellhole," Cortain commands, "NOW." "You know, I've got a nice leg for you, Cyril..." Brynjol taunts, "Just finished growing..." "To hell with you and your weak flesh, Brynjol," Cyril mutters, not in the mood, "I will have a limb of steel and adamantium." "Lay off him, Brynjol," Temur advises, "You have all the time for banter when this place is done being purged. Cyril, we stand with you." "Experience has proven that stabbing Brynjol is outside my skills," Cyril sighs, "So if he tries to reach me aboard Ordeci it is comforting to know you all can defend me."

Taking the Elevatus down to Level 4, the Commandos note the metallic pristine sections of the Laboratorium give way to cut rock.

"Right now we have one man down a leg," Cortain states over private channels, "Trust me when I say that there had best be accountability for this atrocity." "There will be, provided you make the shot," Korst'la states, "I've found evidence of a code that can shut down the magos, disable his protectivae, and whatnot. Once I find it I'll give it to you."

Cortain scans the local area with anger. And contempt. There is a sturdy looking door, along with a keyhole. There's also a rather rotted scroll of vellum, that states "Test Subject Annex" "Glad I have this multikey," Cortain states. "Let's try this mysterious key!" Brynjol suggests excitedly. He use the key, and finds it is exactly what is needed. "Maybe next time, Cort," he says, as he pats Cortain on the mechadendrite comfortingly. "Floor 1 has chambers. Floor 2 has Command Annex, Floor 3 is lab, Floor 4 is now Test Subject Annex," Cortain summarizes. "I am looking forward to finding the master of this facility," Temur says, "And holding him while Cortain and Brynjol remove his limbs.... slowly." "You're a real team player," Brynjol replies. "He has wounded one of us, but he has desecrated the calling both of you chose," Temur points out, "To rob you of retribution would be...insulting."

The heavy wooden door is now set to open. The Commandos, before proceeding, head back up to Level 1 to address some final doubts. The Infected Warp Vampires still lay where they died. Taking a moment to carefully review them, Cyril can most definitely confirm that these...things were once Vampires. Returning to Floor 4 and the Test Subject Annex, the Commandos note something concerning - passing by Level 3, the corpse of the Tyrant-Class Wrack is gone.

Beyond the now-open armored door lies the Test Subject Annex. Carved out of the bedrock itself, the lighting has been replaced by dull torches, and leaky puddles in the rocky floor. As drops of water echo through the rock-cut halls, the Commandos note that, embedded within the walls, there appear to be holding cells. Rather dirty and nasty holding cells.

"This looks...unsanitary," Cortain declares, "How long has this dungeon been here...?"

Brynjol moves closer to take a peek into the cells. Some of the cells are empty, but some contain locals in common imperial garb. All are dead. One of them is holding a sheet of paper, partially soaked in stank-water. Drops of blood are also evident on it. "Bastards," Brynjol hisses. Cyril growls in agreement with Brynjol, "Does the Mechanicus not have REGULATIONS ABOUT THIS SORT OF THING?"

A little further down, the Commandos can also see a simple iron door that bars the way. Temur moves to watch everyone's backs, while Brynjol initially moves to take point. Putting his helmet to the iron door, he can barely hear a dull buzzing echo down the halls.

"There's something through here..." Brynjol relays, "Sounds like bees." "Buzzing? That sounds unpleasant..." Cyril says, "Like everything else in this accursed den of failure."

Cyril takes a moment to think about what he means, and briefly remembers the Administratum tantrum spiral back in Episode 14 for some reason, before realizing he probably means the little insects, variants of which are found all across the galaxy. Looking at the door itself, however, it seems quite sturdy and reinforced - and locked, with no keyhole. Being common metal, though, it looks like enough force can make a path.

"Before we open the door to let whatever it is in, perhaps we should check what that citizen was holding?" Cyril asks. Temur goes and grabs the paper from the holding cell, handing it to Cyril while checking the bodies for further clues. Cyril scans the paper, reading intently.

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) (Analysis of blood estimates 2 weeks from logged date, not including Warp travel delays)

They gave me a shot. Why did they give me a shot? My arm, it burns.

(The following is scribbled) Another shot I keep seeing it every time they drag me past the hololith the golden triangle pointing down to the depths the red sphere above it the unbroken ring of runes it scares me

(The following is near indecipherable) pain make the pain stop my head hurts it hurts all over why hungry hurts head foggy cant see help save me com man dos so itchy hungry 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) (Document Acquired: Test Subject Scribblings)

Cyril clenches his fists, dropping the paper into his lap lest he crush it. "That sounds... Chaotic," Brynjol suggests. "Chaos is not the only abomination to use runes, but these icons are...unfamiliar," Cyril states. "...Considering the fact that he already experimented on wracks, I consider this still Strike 2," Cortain says. "This is far beyond strike two. I estimate the strikes in the low fifties," Cyril replies, "Musing on it will accomplish little. Shall we go meet Brynjol's bees?"

Unwilling to use their breaching charge to breach the door, the Commandos bring all their power weaponry to bear and go fucking nuts on the door. Brynjol's Burning Claws and Cortain's dedicated servo-arm smashing eventually punch straight through, the shards of the door falling in pieces, opening a way to a rocky path cut through the ground. Cortain has the bot go first, seeing the metal get crushed further to accomodate so much metallic death. Clanging through the halls, the walls get wider as the cavern spreads out. Tubes begin to emerge from the rocks, great conduits thrumming with power. Finally, over a rather sharp drop, the Commandos can see two things.

The first is a Genetorum, geothermal, connected to dully glowing magma below, accessible via a sturdy metal grating. The second is a pulsing grey mass, vaguely fleshlike, almost as large as the genetorum. It is covered with some sort of organic paste. It hangs over the genetorum, leaking shit all over it.

"That looks heretical," Cyril says, stretching himself defensively over Ordeci, "I suggest we shoot the everliving warp out of it before its guardians show up."

"I don't know what that is," Korst'la says to Cortain over private vox, "But you said bees earlier. You know what that thing reminds me of?" "A Beehive?" Cortain posits. "Precisely," the Tau nods. "Oh great," Cortain sighs, "Is it Vespid?" "I don't think so. Vespids carve caves from crystal," Korst'la offers, "They don't make organic hives." "Alright then. So it's yet another possibly-local abomination," Cortain decides. "Perhaps. But I can't think of any large-scale insects in this sector that would create such things," Korst'la says, "I don't get it, everything should have been logged, why is it missing?"

Cortain agrees, deciding to comply to the AMSHA guidelines and apply liberal beams of martian death to it. Together bolt rounds, chronomantic energy, and volkite death rays pound into the mass, causing strange matter to splatter about and cut supports. The hive begins to fall, bouncing off the genetorum, as the buzzing begins to get ever louder. Out from pipes and access grates, more infected locals begin to crawl forward, as the buzzing is ear-splitting now.

"Brace yourselves..." Cortain declares, "I think we just angered the locals!"

Cortain declares Hold Fast as part of the Logos Lectora, and Brynjol rushes up first. The Infected Locals are about 6m away and approaching fast. However, he smells something off about the air. Above the Zambambos, he can barely even register anything with sight, but there's a group of five...somethings approaching fast. He doesn't need eyes to see - he knows exactly where they are. Brynjol charges forward, slicing into what appears to be empty air for the other Commandos, sending claws out in a wide arc. His claws are suddenly slowed by something, before resuming at normal speed. All can then see an insectoid creature materialize out of thin air, the two halves falling to the ground with a splat.

"I recognize them now," the harsh voice of Khodexus, some distance behind Korst'la, states, "Insectoid Q'orl. Surprising - they are normally found on the opposite side of the galaxy." "And as for how they got here?" Korst'la asks behind him. Silence. "Wait a minute...Q'orl Mind Grubs?" Cortain asks. "These aren't grubs," Korst'la says, "Most likely the adult version. And they've learned some new tricks, it seems."

The Infected Q'orl, invisible to all but Brynjol's unnatural senses and the targeting scopes of Temur's Parthinian Serpent, surround Brynjol. He dodges and shields against their myriad claws, while ducking sprays of bio-corrosive substance, the same substance that was covering the hive earlier.

Cyril and Cortain decide to spend their time culling the Relentless horde, Ordeci ordered to help, sending bolts, chronomantic shots, grav waves, and Volkite beams into them. Temur, in comparison, moves to assist Brynjol. Hampered by his inability to fire Blasts or Spray weapons at Invisible creatures, he does the next best thing. He tosses a Cryo-Grenade at Brynjol, who shields the blast himself, but catches two of the insects in the cryo-blast. Though one toughs it out, a second is caught in the frosty blast, a cold fog forming around it. As the Infected Locals begin their advance, Cyril, Cortain and Ordeci try to hold back the tide, nuking a few more as they reach combat.

Brynjol returns to being the Blender, cutting down two more Infected Q'orl, as Cyril, Cortain, and Ordeci handle the horde with cryo-spray weapons. Dodging further corrosive sprays, Temur downs one with his Parthinian Serpent, an arrow of Energy piercing its thin armor, and Brynjol cuts down the final one in a charge attack.

The room is now quiet. The Genetorum lays across the scaffold, a ded Infected Q'orl laying on a railing, a cogitator softly glowing near the genetorum. Cyril taps Ordeci on the leg.

"One to pick up, please," he requests. Cortain sends the appropriate message, and Ordeci collects a Q'orl for study. Walking over the scaffolding, and accessing the Cogitator, Cortain can see two directives

>Re-enable genetorum from Safe Mode >Remote archive terminal access

Accessing the Archive, Cortain brings up the entry it connects to.

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) (Date corrupted. Estimated 10 years prev. to current date.)

We have made great strides in the bio-organic weapons we can create - our benefactors should be off our backs as a result. We have found that not all humans become Tyrant-class Wracks, only those with certain genetic predispositions. The rest will gradually become catatonic, die, and...resurrect under half-formed neural impulses. I have petitioned for further subjects from the Inquisitorial transports, but we were denied - the prisoners were destined for a place called "Barcarolle." No amount of pressure can sway them. Unfortunate. Regardless, we will make sufficient progress ahead of the deadline set for 12 years ahead - the world of Extermis Cratum is set as the target for the full field test - it seems even our benefactors have those they answer to. 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) (Document Acquired: Magos's Note 3)

"As you can see, my father took the contract to create bio-organic weapons," Korst'la states over private channels, "The Contract was from the Inquisition. We are on schedule for the assault, which will not happen for years yet. You need not concern yourself with it." "Extremis Cratum..." Cortain considers, "If that is the case, then so be it."

"Brynjol, while we read this, perhaps you could autopsy one of the creatures you engaged?" Cyril suggests, "We could not see them until they were felled." "I can't do much of an autopsy here, mind," Brynjol says, "No diagnosticator gear or narthecium." Nonetheless, he kneels besides one of the corpses, and begins digging through with his Morknaife, intent on taking a few more samples. "Anything interesting in the archive, Cort?" Brynjol asks, putting the samples into his pouches. "More experimentation," Cortain says, "A possibility that these zombies are failed Wracks made from people." Cortain pauses. "And the fact that there's a potential test for a world called Extermis Cratum..."

Cortain decides might as well and turns on the generatorum. It hums to life, power flowing through the pipes. The Laboratorium now has full power. With a vague recollection that Level 2 lacked power, the Commandos decide on their next target.

Brynjol, however, reads the archives himself. "This was done with permission from the Inquisition?" Brynjol asks, "I can't say I'm surprised, but's disappointing." "Consider the Wracks. How many Inquisitors can get Wracks?" Cortain asks, hoping everyone will get the hint, "IN THIS SECTOR." "They petitioned for prisoners," Cyril says, "Whether they disclosed the subjects' purpose is unknown."

Stepping back, through the Test Subject Annex which hums with active power, the Elevatus is ahead. The four Commandos hear a tortured roar, and are easily able to hold as something lands from above. The Tyrant-class Wrack from before,'s different somehow. Its armor is heavier, its claws longer, its teeth sharper. It is almost...less humanoid.

"Well, hello again," Cyril begins. "Let's kill it," Brynjol states. "Let's," Cyril agrees, cracking a smile.

The Commandos form up, the Tyrant-class Wrack ahead of them. Cortain's codec begins beeping, however.

"That is not normal," Korst'la states, "Be watchful, it has most likely adapted. The same tactics or weapons you used before may not bother it."

The Tyrant-class Wrack's hide is now flatly immune to Explosive damage. The Commandos, however, do not realize it, and press the assault. Cortain declares his Squad Mode, Synchronized Assault, and rearranges everyone's initiative to better combat the beast.

"Kill it to death!" Brynjol declares. "Kill it to UNdeath!" Cortain reminds him. "Not quite as pithy," Brynjol laughs, "But points for effort."

Cyril opens up with his storm bolter first. Much to his annoyance and concern, and no small bit of surprise, the explosive bolt rounds seem to harmlessly bounce off its reinforced armor. While the creature dodges his chronophore, Cortain moves up to support with a barrage of plasma, and a close-range beam from Ordeci's Sollex Heavy Lascannon. Temur is last to act, circling around and hefting his Grav Cannon. The beams of grav energy hit the Tyrant-Class Wrack, collapsing much of it, and parts of the Elevatus it stands on. The creature falls down, deep into the Elevatus pit.

"I figured as much," Korst'la says to Cortain, "You killed it with explosive bolt rounds last time. It adapted."

The Elevatus is heavily damaged, but still operational. It continues to rise to Floor 2 as Cortain ordered previously. Cortain grumbles. "Damn it. At least this stalls it enough for us to reach up there." "Perhaps, but the last time we thought it vanquished, it returned, changed," Cyril states, "Next time, we burn it." "He is right," Korst'la says, "I am analyzing it. I believe that IS the last one." "That sounds...reassuring," Cortain whispers. "It is adapting based on what kills it," Korst'la says, "It really is a work of genius."

Reaching Floor 2, the Door is clearly fully powered now. Cortain approaches the door, hopeful that it actually opens this time without need for another keycode. It does open now, having already been prepped earlier. Ahead is a hololithic projector, currently inactive. Off to the side, system augurs and vox net access cogitators glow. At the seat is the mummified corpse of a tech-adept, the fungus growing partially on him. This one looks like it took a lasgun shot to the head. Cortain finishes the job, by hand-blasting the adept with his serpenta, and turns to the Adept's workstation. Activating the cogitator, there is in fact an option to enable the cogitator. There is also an unfinished note in Mechanicum Notepad, it seems, left by the tech adept. He takes a moment to review the note first.

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) (Time stamp estimate 3 weeks from current date, not including warp travel delays) I fear for my safety. I have watched the Magos first use heretical refuse and prisoners for testing, which any servant of the Omnissiah would deem acceptable. I began to have doubts when people began to disappear from the surrounding town. I now know the Overseer has gone mad with power, as he has programmed his skitarii vanguards and rangers to undergo viral contamination as well. This is...not right. He will come for us soon, the other adepts who, with the Omnissiah as our guide, have made this research possible. He rambles on about benefactors - are we not sanctioned by the Fabricator and Magi of Augurus? I begin to doubt, despite all my teachings.

I hear the unceasing steps of the...monstrosities outside now. They come for me. I will die, but I will enable the savior beacons. This place must be destroyed by the cleansing light of the Omnissiah...

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) (Document Acquired: Tech Adept's Archive)

Cortain offers a simple prayer for the adept's soul. May he be returned to the Machine Trinity and the Golden Throne. Cyril begins mentally preparing a dirge of eulogy for the town.

Flipping the Hololithic Projector on, a series of symbols are projected on the door. A ring of runes, unbroken except on the left, surrounds a golden triangle pointing to the left and a red sphere below. It seems each shape can be rotated to one of four positions - the ring (orientation: the broken part left), the triangle (orientation: point, currently pointing left), the sphere (currently down), and up, down, left, right.

"Hm. It seems the prisoner's fevered nightmares were based in reality," Cyril muses. Cortain freezes. This calls for logic. Temur, however, cautions calm. He moves towards the projection, "The scribblings of that unfortunate in the holding cell will prove useful."

Temur begins to adjust the symbols to batch the paper description. "The golden triangle pointing down...the red sphere above it...the unbroken ring of rune." "Do we really want to tamper with this device?" Cyril asks, "It brought ruin to this place. Leaving and razing the site from orbit seems the prudent course." "I agree, but not before we discover where the Magos has gone, or if he is still alive," Temur states, "I am loath to allow him to simply re-establish a new facility elsewhere and doom another world."

Temur aligns the Triangle Down, and the Sphere Up as per the note. However, the last piece eludes him. "This ring of runes though, it was unbroken in the description..." Temur notes, "Perhaps a missing element?" However, he realizes that if he twists the rune ring, if he positions the broken part behind the widest part of the triangle, he can't see the broken part. Unbroken. He adjusts the ring Up, so that the broken element is hidden. When he moves the ring, he hears a click.

Cortain finishes reloading his Caliver, "I want nothing left standing of that wretch. If he resists, then he will have even less remaining." "I found it," Korst'la finally says over private channels, "The Code that will disable the protectiva when you meet the Magos in charge." "Good. I have been waiting long enough," Cortain says. "When you find him, announce the code '369-43056 INTONE' at the same time you attack," Korst'la says, "And it will disable his defenses and leave you a perfect opening." "Note recorded," Cortain replies. "Remember, use Volkite," Korst'la states, "I don't even want a body." "Like I want him to spread his filth," Cortain spits. "And I don't want his brain available for dissection or consumption," Korst'la concludes, "Do this, and you will be well rewarded."

As the Commandos stand in front of the door, it glows. It will open with a word. "Open," is the single word said.

The door slowly opens. The room is well lit, but there are ded skitarii strewn about. At a desk, however, a man in the robes of the Mechanicus sits, laughing quietly to himself. He looks up at the Commandos.

"Remember, use the code at the same time you attack (at the same line as the roll) for it to take effect!" Korst'la commands, "Do it! Now!" "369-43056 INTONE" Cortain declares, but critically, he does not say this at the same moment as his attack roll.

The Magos siezes up for the briefest of moments, but his cybernetics reject the code phrase after a few seconds. The window has passed.

"You fool! He was not to say a single word!" Korst'la stands, quite enraged. Temur walks towards the man, hand on the handle of his paragon blade "Stand and meet your fate." Brynjol follows in, idly scraping some guck off his armour with one tine of his claws. "Bryn, please keep an ear out," Cyril teamvoxes, "The Wrack we fought may find another way in." Cortain marches, "You are accused of deviance from the sacred Mechanicus code on experimentation of Xenos and unleashing an unspeakable plague upon this planet. How do you plead?" "'ve finally come..." the Magos laughs. "Just delete him," Korst'la mutters, "Point blank if needed. Now." Cyril maintains overwatch on the door to the elevatus shaft "You merely blame the messenger..." he laughs, "There are others who desire what I have created...I have done nothing wrong..." "An entire planet of dead people beg otherwise," Cortain declares. "They are irrelevant to what we have done benefactors have failed. I control the knowledge!" the insane Magos yells. Cortain points the Gladius Invictus. "STRIKE THREE. I AM NOW READY TO DELIVER JUDGMENT. THE SENTENCE IS DEATH. HOW DO YOU PLEAD?" "Volkite!" Korst'la yells, knowing full well only Cortain can hear him, "VOLKITE!" Cortain flips his finger, and fires a point-blank Volkite blast. "You may be Commandos," he sighs, "But you know so, so little. He has already w-"

The Magos bursts into Deflagrates, his emaciated mechanical frame disintegrating in the death ray's flames.

"Oh you comedian," Cortain says flatly. "Could you not have let him finish?" Brynjol asks, "The megalomaniacal types like these just love to tell you their plans, you know." Cortain double-taps the ash, incinerating the ash. A glow on the Magos's desk glows - it evidently has a cogitator within it. "Brother Cortain, I am not well versed in the working of the Mechanicus, but perhaps you and Brynjol could still salvage data from what remains of his implants?" Temur offers. Cortain shakes his head - the augments and everything are quite incinerated. There is no way to gain any information he held back now. Accessing the Cogitator, there is one private Archive, and a control to the Laboratorium's Self Destruct system. Reading the Archive, it appears to be the final one.

20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) (Date corrupted. Estimated 3 years prev. to current date.) I no longer believe we need our "benefactors" - we can acquire new xenos forms for experimentation on our own now. We have already been able to create a new bio-organic weapon based on the Saurus we were able to sneak in, boosting their strength and durability. The Q'orl also showed promise, now able to cloak itself with a sort of biological invisibility. But the Warp Vampires we were given showed the most changes - with the introduction of leftover Q'orl samples, their bodies except for their bones and some thin muscles have atrophied away, increasing their agility ten-fold. I regret that we were unable to test on the tyranid bioforms - the transport was suspiciously destroyed in transit. I fear our "benefactors" are now catching on. I will complete this program, and overtake those who now wish to cage me! 20:50, 1 October 2016 (UTC) (Document Acquired: Magos's Note 4)

"I am...surprised," Korst'la states flatly, "You are usually much better than this." Cortain smirks. "Methinks the master is starting to slip in his control..." "Hmm?" Cyril asks. Cortain waves him away, "Now, any other business anyone feels should be attended to before we blow this installation Sky High?" "If there is a self-destruct feature," Cyril suggests, "It may be a trap. I say we trust instead in our ship." The Commandos take the time to review everything they've seen. "The Q'Orl and Vampires were unsanctioned," Cortain observes, "They were made after this heretek decided to turn." "And... if they were *given* the Vampires... who provided them?" Cyril asks. "A question I do not want to answer," Cortain sighs.

"This entire escapade has been helpful, despite your lapse," Korst'la says, "It is evident that I must review the projects of my forefathers, and I will order the Ministry of Truth to double down on operatives' loyalty." "Do what you must," Cortain quips dismissively. "Enable the self-destruct," Korst'la leans out, "Your mission is complete." "Time to bury this," Cortain finally says aloud. Cortain triggers the second option. Enabling the Self-Destruct, the doors behind the Commandos close and seal. Ahead, a new door opens, with another elevatus ahead. However, the Commandos can see breaking dawn - the sky is open. Stepping aboard the Elevatus, rising high above, the Commandos finally hear something.

A tortured roar.

"Oh HELL no," Cortain yells. "I expected as much," Temur sighs, "Let us end this!"

The Emergency Elevatus shakes as the enormous monstrosity lands ahead - its heart pulsating, its muscles swollen, its claws as long as its forearms. The creature's head has atrophied away, leaving only a gaping neck-maw.

>At this point, I must explain a most terrible mistake that occurred. When I first created Grav Weaponry in The Fringe is Yours, my second book of new gear for Rogue Trader, I made it all energy based on art of the weapon showing lime-green beams of energy striking the target. When FFG released official rules in DH2 Core, they swapped it to Impact, I assume to represent the damage coming from the crushing rather than the beam. I had completely forgotten this, and it really screwed things over. The Super-Tyrant-class Grotesque's whole thing was that it resurrects twice, immune to the damage type that killed it. In this case, what I thought was Explosive and Energy was ACTUALLY Explosive and Impact. Most of the Commandos' weapons were energy, and it severely hampered their offensive potential. While that offensive drop is perfectly acceptable, I am fully willing to own the mistake for messing up the weapon types. This, however, led indirectly to the second debacle.

>In Deathwatch, under the Power Weapons description, it states that Power Weapons can function as normal weapons when inhibited or damaged (Check for yourself, Deathwatch Core p. 154). I, as GM, saw this as a ruling allowing for not only Power Weapons inhibited in the case of Haywire attacks or overpowering damage like storm field overloads, but also allows for the user to turn OFF the weapon manually, turning it into a normal weapon. This would be partially clarified in Black Crusade and Only War. However, the issue is thus - my players had no idea this was possible, at least TWO of them treating that line as a fluff descriptor. This caused an argument, as one player who had already rolled his attacks had no idea he could do this, and demanded a do-over. I had to make a judgment call. Despite me feeling it was perfectly clear, the fact that more than one player had an issue meant it probably wasn't. I allowed for the disabling of power fields retro-actively, and declared for now and future that the sentence highlighted was a rule and not just fluff. The following combat breakdown will be edited for clarity and flow.

"'s reached its final stage - the Super Tyrant-Class Grotesque," Korst'la states, "Combat data from this encounter will be quite useful." "Are you insane?" Cortain asks. "No, but the man who created it was. You have killed it to date with Explosive and Energy weapons," Korst'la explains, "I sincerely hope you have something else to counter it." Cortain looks down at his own weapons, able to Impact and Rend as needed. "Triggering the self destruct also triggered the graviton data packet backup," Korst'la says, "This facility will be of no more use, and the data has been confirmed received. You performed...acceptably. Until we meet again."

The Commandos stare down the Super Tyrant-Class Grotesque, now fully evolved and ready for action. Cortain rearranges Initiative once more, Cyril verifies its immunities with weapons fire - explosive bolt shells and chronomantic Energy bounce off harmlessly. Furious Charge is called, and Temur and Brynjol charge forward. Though their weapons are reduced to Pen 2, they are still devastating rending weapons backed by the strength of Astartes, and they begin hacking at the monster with Paragon Blade and Burning Claws. Brynjol is first into the fray, naturally, lashing his claws at the beast. Cyril draws his Charnabal Sabre and adds to the carnage, while Cortain relaxes - his Gladius Invictus, despite being a Power Weapon, does Rending damage. The initial assault digs deep into the creature, but its prodigious regeneration kicks in. It begins attacking Brynjol and Temur, who have damaged it the most. Luckily, the two shield and parry away most of the claws that are almost as large as they are. A claw goes for Temur but he luckily shields the grab attack. A final whirlwind attack is narrowly dodged by most, only Ordeci the Thanatar taking a hit, as the creature leaps out of melee, twirling around to resume the attack.

Well, by now, the Commandos have learned something - if Furious Charge didn't work the first time, do it again! Temur continues to hack away with the only weapon he has that would damage the Grotesque, as does Brynjol. Cyril joins in for ganking bonuses, and Cortain continues to swing his relic about. The Commandos know that they won't be able to safely escape until this beast is downed. Temur goes for a final few strikes, his Champion Toxic ability able to dull the Grotesque's regeneration enough for Cortain to perform a final punch with his servo-arm, shattering the Super Tyrant-class Grotesque's body. As the creature disintegrates, it is now most assuredly dead.

Cortain pulls out what little of its spine there is. "My trophy," he declares, "Mine."

As the Commandos reach the roof of the Elevatus, vox traffic is going nuts. The Squats are quite concerned - battle lines are failing, and the infected dead are rushing all positions.

"ALL FORCES, EVACUATE TO THE BLADE!" Cyril commands. "We are en route," Cortain states, "We make for the Stormbird." "PRAETOR, WE ARE NOTING COLLAPSE OF HELOT AND AUTOMATA LINES," Thexus yells, "YOUR ORDERS?" "The facility is set to self-destruct, Thexus," Temur replies, "Immediate withdrawal is our priority." "ACKNOWLEDGED, PRAETOR. WE SHALL DIRECT THE HELOTS TO RETRIEVE YOU." "Rockfist, as soon as we are clear, I want this place blasted out of the earth!" Cyril commands, "Recall all forces, prepare medbay for treating highly infectious bites, and prepare all weapons batteries capable of planetary bombardment angles to do as Cortain says." "Aye, lad, we'll ready a bombardment," Rockfist nods, "Jus' let us know when yer' clear.

The Squats begin to retreat to the Stormbirds, and one warrior squad of Squats even brings up the initial Stormbird to the roof, flying in close to pick the Commandos up. Cyril finally takes a deep breath. "Cortain... should we authorize Phosphex?" Cyril asks. Cortain thinks long and hard, "NOTHING MUST STAND." "This is the only circumstance in which I am inclined to ever agree to it's use," Temur admits, "That facility and anything that remains of it needs to be nothing more than a blackened memory." The Commandos look down. They are dooming a continent to Phosphex. "There will be some collateral damage," Temur sighs, "But as long as we are clear with our instructions, we should be able to avoid an exterminatus-level event." "Thexus..." Cyril hesitates, "Phosphex bombing of the site is hereby authorized." "ACKNOWLEDGED, PRAETOR," Thexus declares, "THE WORLD SHALL BE CLEANSED."

"Lads, if ye can get us a firin' solution," Rockfist says, "That'd help. Use the Stormbird's Orbital Strike Targeter." Temur heads to the targeters, and selects appropriate firing coordinates. Feeding it to the Blade, the voidship's cannons turn to the world's surface. The Commandos assume head of the formation of Stormbirds retreating, as the sky turns crimson. Red volkite implosion spheres buzz through the atmosphere, deflagrating all they come across. Trees begin to burn under superheated energy. Accelerator Cannon bombardment shells vaporize anything they come across, leaving only massive craters. Finally, masses of torpedoes fly forward, leaking the telltale blue-green smoke of Phosphex, which rapidly begins to spread across the frontier settlement. To top it all off, the Laboratorium fully explodes, sending debris in every direction.

"Cyril," Cortain asks while watching the spectacle. "How well-done do you want your leg?" "Master Crafting is unnecessary," Cyril states, "But, it would be appreciated if you and Thexus can spare the time." "Just asking," Cortain clarifies, "Bryn asked for a shotgun and I feel insulted that he never used it." "I would like it to resemble a human leg, but with distinct seams - I will bring you a sculpt tomorrow, but for the moment I wish to pass out and recuperate," Cyril says quietly.

The Blade does not relent in its bombardment until the Stormbird formation lands. Once back within the Blade, Medicae Serfs are on standby, as well as Engineers to tend to the vehicles and automata. Numerous squats are wounded, and some even dead. Viral contamination procedures are in full effect.

"I think... that we have discovered a few flaws in our preparedness, as much as it wounds my pride to admit it," Temur explains, "Perhaps some examination of our combat doctrine is not unwarranted." Cortain nods, as Cyril is brought to the Medicae Deck. "THE SITE IS PURGED, PRAETOR," Thexus states, staring out at the burning, "MORDICUS WOULD HAVE BEEN PROUD..." Cyril briefly looks up, before the morpha and medicae chymicals take him.

Alarms blast all over Augurus Prime. Skitarii, Secutarii, and Sicarians rush about to battle stations. The ground itself rumbles.

"What is going on?" the Magos in charge demands. "Honored lord," a Skitarius Alpha states, "The God Machine, it's... Scaffolding and metal begins to rain from the sky as Crusader Invictus spreads its wings. "INTONE THE PRAYERS! CONTROL IT!" the Magos says. Crusader Invictus crouches, as if preparing for something. Its Heavensward Wings glow a burning red. And jumps. "By the Trinity..." the Magos says, in awe. Crusader Invictus continues to surge up, past the defenses, and into local spess. Ahead of it, a warp portal generates. As the God Machine disappears through the portal, the Magos exhales, the first time in a very long time. "The Commandos are not going to be pleased at that..."

(34) Mesneh Rek, Aqah Rek[edit]

The Blade holds position over Mithras, one of the continents burning blue-green, toxic clouds flowing. While numerous Squats have been brought to the Medicae deck for quarantine, recovery, and purging, Cyril has been brought to the Manufactorum, where Rockfist and Executor Thexus begin collecting necessary parts for a bionic. Cortain has spent his time since returning contemplating the possibility of egotism taking root. Emotionality is not something the Iron Praetor is used to, and this last mission was perhaps the worst case he has encountered thus far. For some reason, just knowing that a heretek was in Tiji doing something this...indescribable...set him off in a way even the Hellstar never did. At least the case was solved, though. No trace of life currently remains on that continent. There is no risk of uncontrolled spreading.

Brynjol is insistent on preparing Cyril for surgery, and is disappointed that the work is taking place in the manufactorum. For a battle automata who only understands efficiency, and a squat who's focused on getting the job done, moving the operating table next to the work bench was seen as efficiency. They make plenty of room for Brynjol, as some tools are brought down for surgery.

Brynjol looks lovingly down at Cyril, strapped on to the bed. "Don't worry brother..." Brynjol croons, "Just the one additional leg." Cyril, however, is beginning to stir, and does not particularly enjoy being strapped down. As Brynjol begins his medicae applications, Cyril begins wildly flailing about, insistent that the wolf priest not come near him. Bryniol is not quite used to working in the Manufactorum, as Vultarax Stratos-automata flash by, but he IS used to Cyril's squirming. He readies the stump for bionic integration just fine. Cortain takes some time to assemble Cyril's new bionic leg, but integration is...difficult.

"Sit down you fething moron!" Brynjol yells, the humor now gone and annoyance in its place, "You want this leg to go on wonky?" "Back off, Brynjol!" Cyril commands, "Let the Techmarine install it!" "He IS going to install it, you mongoloid Ice Wraith!" Brynjol yells. "Lad..." Rockfist says, laying his own bionic arm down calmingly on Cyril's side, "'e's jus' tryin' ta help. 's his job." "Can you two just stay silent for a second and let me put this Mars-damned thing on?" Cortain says, the annoyance creeping into him as well. Cortain's attempts at connection are slightly off due to Cryil's constant movement, but Urist McCyberFamiliar adjusts the conduits, and the new leg is fitted in. Cyril is much calmer as he sees Cortain install the leg. "Thank you, Cortain," Cyril whispers. A grumbling takes place of any response, his introspection still ongoing. "Bloody children," Brynjol dismisses.

Brynjol throws his arms in the air despairingly, and turns about to head to the Apothecarion, his helots coming with him. Cyril mumbles something about if wolves would do their job properly, but Brynjol's unnatural senses pick up the very movement of the air molecules. He turns about once again, claws suddenly alarmingly close.

"I'm this close to snapping, Cyril. You don't disparage my work, not when I'm just trying to make sure these tech-heads don't solder your bloody nerve endings," Brynjol reminds him, "Astartes don't heal THAT well. That's why I'm here, and trained." Brynjol leaves, claws firmly sheathed this time. "You are not the only one near snapping, Brother," Cyril says, calming down, "I do apologize for swinging." "Why are you so defensive about Bryn's medical skill?" Cortain asks. "Because he insists on restraints and makes constant threats of unspeakable surgeries on his patients," Cyril states, "If he did not insist on restraints, I would have far fewer issues." "WOOOO, trouble in paradise?" the sudden voice of Inquisitor Marshall Shady echoes from behind a cogitator bank, "Don't let me stop you or anything." "NOT THE TIME," Cortain is not amused.

"Well EXCUSE me," the Inquisitor shrugs. "Hello, Shady," Cyril sighs, "When do we need to leave? I could do with a few weeks of rest in the resuscatrix chambers..." "We leave immediately. I brought a shuttle. Let's go," Inquisitor Shady insists, "I got facilities aboard the The Real Shady." Cortain helps to undo the restraints on Cyril and supports the new leg. "Let's get to the landing bay," Cortain voxes, "Shady is bringing us to his ship." "Before you go, take anything you think you'll need," Shady advises, "Shouldn't be that bad, or take too long, but still." "We'll have our servitors ready," Cortain nods. "Meet me in the launch bay when you've handled yourselves," Shady requests, heading out, leaving the Commandos to the necessary rites. "We will arrive soon," Cyril promises. "Soon is relative," Shady quips as he walks down the halls.

Cyril stands slowly, flexing the augmetic. "It is... cold. I like it," he steps forward awkwardly. "It will take some getting used to, though." "PERHAPS YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN FORGED OF THE IV OR THE X, PRAETOR," Thexus blasts, "IT SUITS YOU." Cyril growls at the mention of the Xth. "Bah. Despicable, misdierectedly hateful, short-sighted fools, the Hands are today." "A POINT OF CONTENTION, PRAETOR. THEY ARE EFFICIENT IN WHAT THEY DO, BUT THEY HAVE FALLEN FAR FROM WHAT THE GORGON INTENDED. HE NEVER INTENDED FOR HIS SONS TO OBSESS OVER CYBERNETIC REPLACEMENT." "They have never approved of my Chapter," Cyril says, "But I admit their zeal is effective so long as it is kept pointed at the enemies of the Imperium."

The Commandos begin outfitting themselves for combat. Given that they will not have the support of the Blade, they opt for a simple Oath to the Emperor rather than an extensive Rite of War. "Lad, it seems ye'll be goin' with Shady on this one," Rockfist states, "So, whatever ya bring, is what ya got. We'll prep whatever ya need."

Heading to the Armorium, the Commandos meditate and arm themselves. Brynjol needs nothing - his relic claws are more than enough. Cortain selects a Volkite Caliver, while Cyril contents himself with a relic bolter. Temur, in addition to arming himself with a relic heavy bolter, seeks out Cortain and Executor Thexus, seeking out something specific.

"Ah, there you are, Brother, Executor," Temur begins, "I have a request I wish to make, if you are able to fulfill it." "We are in a Crusade-Era ship," Cortain points out, "If you need it, it will be done." "WE STAND READY, PRAETOR," Thexus affirms. "In the Brotherhoods of Chogoris, we make use of both cybernetically enhanced birds of prey and even entirely machine constructs in their image, both to hunt as sport and on the battlefield in support of our operations," Temur explains, "Normally the strictures of the Deathwatch prevent their use, but in light of all we have seen and done, and the threats we face, I feel such a companion would be of use." "It was restricted?" Cortain wonders, "Well, it certainly seems feasible..." "Generally yes," Temur continues, "Though some stormseers in Deathwatch service have used live birds as familiars before." "THAT WILL NOT BE AN ISSUE, PRAETOR. AT LEAST ONE WAS PREPARED IN THE CASE OF REQUEST," Thexus blasts, "IT WILL BE MORE AUTOMATA THAN FLESH, BUT IT WILL SUIT THE PURPOSE REQUIRED." "My deepest thanks, Executor," Temur nods, "It is comforting to know that our use of them matches that of the legions of old."

Rockfist and Thexus produce the requested gear, including a Cyber-Hawk for Temur. Quite easily, considering it's only about a hundred meters away or so. "Lad, don't worry about us," Rockfist nods, "We'll hold everything down while ya've gone. Ancestor O'Malley an' the lass are reviewing the survivors of the previous mission. We'll watch the Blade." Cyril thanks them and twirls the relic bolter proudly before walks slowly to the launch bay, growing accustomed to his new leg. Temur decides to get to know his new companion - even machine familiars having their minor quirks.

"Every one of the birds used by the brotherhoods has a name, as strong and proud and any of us," Temur muses, "I think.... Vachir .. will do nicely."

With Ordeci the Thanatar and Notomok the Yeti in tow, the Commandos stride to the landing bay, where an Aquila Lander awaits. Its door is open, and an "Honor Guard" of Hearthguard have been posted to ensure the Inquisitor is on behavior. Seeing the Commandos head on over, the Hearthguard return to patrols, and the Commandos board. "Take us to the The Real Shady," the Inquisitor requests, "We should be done quickly. The Chronoeider Engine's been set already."

Brynjol takes off smoothly, into space. Above the dull blue-green glow of Mithras's burning continents, waits the The Real Shady. A Grand Cruiser of unknown provenance, the vessel nonetheless bears the symbols of the Inquisition, and the nautiloid patterns that the Ordo Chronos seems fond of. Brynjol rides the Winds of Spess, piloting the shuttle cleanly into a launch bay. It's a soft stress-free (relatively) landing, where numerous (living!) crew begin landing prayers and maintenance chants. The Inquisitor snaps his finger, and waiting Chirurgeons stand ready to escort Cyril to the Resuscatrix Chambers. Cyril follows the Chirurgeons, Notomok in tow.

"Y'all ready to figure out how to beat the Hellstar?" the Inquisitor asks. "I'm always ready to learn from my experiences, Inquisitor," Temur states, "Even the small and seemingly uneventful ones." "Tight. You guys're a lot better than the stunted ones," Shady beckons, "This way, to the Bridge." "Funny you mention Squats..." Cortain considers. The Commandos follow the Chronos Inquisitor through his vessel. It thrums with strange chronomantic energies. "How you intend to collect the information without us potentially meeting ourselves, or causing other temporal distortions?" Temur asks. "I do not believe that this will work without grave consequence," Cortain worries, "But it seems that there are worse fates than chronological incontinence." "You don't need to worry about meeting yourselves or anything," Shady points out, "And if you do, it will be something to laugh about in the future." "Hey! What can go wrong?" Shady laughs, "It's literally a perfect plan! Just like everything that comes out of me!" Cortain shudders. "Perfect, perhaps not. Functional, however, I would agree." Brynjol crosses his arms, saying nothing

At the vessel's Bridge, a number of tech-adepts are circling a glowing blue hemisphere, Great gears spin, every so often the tick tock of a great clock echoes through the decks. Clouds spin through the translucent covering. "I set the Chronoeider to a few years ahead from now, should be ample time for our purposes," Shady says, "Y'all sure you're ready?" "As we can be under the circumstances, provided brother Cyril will be combat-operational in time," Temur nods. "Hey, remember, time is relative," the Inquisitor says as he gives the order.

The The Real Shady reorients slowly, and accelerates.

"We'll be a few weeks of travel, but to your crew, it should be like 12 seconds," the Inquisitor says, a tearing noise echoing through the ship, and through the Winds of Spess. The Real Shady enters an odd blue portal, reminiscent of the warp, but quite different. Another tearing sound catches their ears, and Brynjol, Cortain, and Cyril can easily spot something through the windows, though Temur barely catches it - as the The Real Shady enters the blue portal, another Blue portal opens a few VU away. Out comes the The Real Shady, quite damaged and trailing flame. The Inquisitor raises an eyebrow as he sees it, the blue chronoportal behind the The Real Shady closing.

"That looks bad," Cortain states. "Eh, time is relative," Inquisitor Shady shrugs, as the The Real Shady is pushed through time by the Chronoeider Engine, "Well, we got a few weeks, so might as well get comfy. You ever figure out the significance of the little Nautiluses I'm gonna give you in a few months?" "They represent you being an insufferable tit, clearly," Brynjol quips. "You weren't even trying with that one..." the Inquisitor retorts, kicking his feet up, "Anyway, any takers?"

The Commandos are travelling for some time. Brynjol has offered his thoughts, while Cortain believes them to be specialized locks.

"My thoughts on them were simply that they represent the types of problems you have to deal with, time spiraling in on itself," Temur states. Inquisitor Shady starts to prepare a witty quip for Cortain, before suddenly coughing up his drink as Temur speaks. "There are those who see time as a line - a clear beginning and end," Shady recovers, "Similarly, there are those who see it as an unbroken circle, life and death as the Emperor wills, eternal." "So how does a spiral fit with this?" Cortain asks. "Both are, in a way, right," Shady continues, now looking at Temur first before all the rest of you guys, "If you combined, geometrically, the line and the circle, what do you get?" "The nautilus's spiral is both and neither at the same time," Temur follows, "A repeating cycle with minor differences, but a beginning and an end." Cortain considers adding a quip about a mobius loop, but decides not just out of fear of feeding his ego. Also, concerns about gigantic time-squids. "A repeating cycle, minor differences. Time moving on, but history repeating itself," Shady yells, "You're the first ones to get it without hurting yourself. Damn y'all smart. The Emperor gives me geniuses, praise be." Brynjol emits a noise from his helmet. Could be laughter, could be lung cancer. Who can tell. The Inquisitor leans back, surprised that someone finally got it. "Anyway, it'll be a few weeks, so if you need the services of my ship, have at it," Inquisitor Shady says.

The training facilities are less than suitable for a Praetor, but the rest of the vessel is standard Imperial, beyond the Chronoeider Engine. While Temur and Brynjol decide to keep Cyril company, Cortain decides to check in on the armourium. Mayhaps he might understand the secrets of those time-guns. He heads deep within the Armorium, numerous Chronophores and Wrist Jadgars lay on ordered racks. Veiled tech-adepts minister to each weapon, anointing them with sacred unguents and reading from old scrolls weapon blessings. Cells from each weapon are charged from the Chronoeider Engine itself, the chronomantic energy able to be focused offensively through the arcane contraptions. Cortain reviews the liturgy, listening carefully to the Adepts' sermons, and notes that each weapon has an attendant scroll. Most interestingly, not only are there prayers for times the weapon jammed, but there are prayers for when the weapon WILL jam in the future, all listed on the scrolls. Every adept continues with the rites, oblivious to Cortain's presence. For them, weapon maintenance is all.

"There are some things that can be changed," the Inquisitor says as he steps through a door, picking up a Jadgar, "I've seen it. But there are far more things that can't, that are, for lack of a better word, locked." Cortain considers this sensible, considering the time-based powers it has. "Same as any other weapon." "You'd be surprised," the Inquisitor says, "Knowing precisely when things will go right and wrong can be annoying at times." The Inquisitor twirls a golden chronophore around. "From an abstract sense, it can be hard to see," Shady says, "I mean, here I am knowing precisely when my gun will jam, but having no idea on what we'll see when we arrive." "I presume that it ties into the scope," Cortain offers, "A gun is far less significant and has far less propensity for drastic change compared to an entire sector of space." "Small things can be changed," Shady says, quietly, "But larger things, you get the feeling some events have to happen. Some things that, no matter what you do, will always occur without fail. Some things CAN'T be changed." The adepts pause a moment in their ministrations, before resuming. "For example...?" Surprisingly, Cortain finds the physics of time an intriguing matter to discuss.

"If there was any one event, one singular moment that you would try and go back to," Shady says, "What would it be?" "The Golden Throne," Brynjol voxes, "The half-death of the Emperor." The Inquisitor takes a seat. "But we can push that further, can't we?" Brynjol continues, "The apotheosis of the Warmaster. Or even his genesis." "I've tried. By the Emperor, I've tried..." Shady says, "All three. They're locked to me. I have visited the Scouring. I saw Unification. I grabbed this vessel from the Great Crusade. But those points in time, they cannot be changed or seen." Shady closes his eyes. "Sometimes you feel powerless," Shady looks up, "And it really blows." "There are rumours of the Primogenesis," Brynjol suggests, "Their creation in the laboratories of Luna. Have you tried this angle of attack?" "The Chronoeider sees only a black void, rather than the time that existed," Shady says, "And I can't stick around. The closer I get, the more disturbances appear in the Chronoeider, and we gotta haul ass or be lost in the spiral vortex of time." Cyril stumbles into the room, helmetless hair still dripping with resuscitrix chamber bacta. "The death of Sanguinius? That, too, is immutable?" "That entire siege," Shady says, "Impossible to visit." "inquisitor, have you considered going to the time before the establishment of the gene-forges on Luna," Temur considers, "And simply living through that void in time? "Because the Chronoeider grows more and more unstable the closer we go to such events," Shady says, "A groxshit limitation."

"Where are we to go, then?" Brynjol asks. "We're heading a few years in your 'future,' remember?" Shady reminds, "We'll find out what we need and go." Cyril sighs. "I have a question about today's mission. Why not just skip past the Hellstar entirely and ask yourself how it was vanquished?" "Because I can't visit myself unless I make a mental note to visit myself," Shady says, as Inquisitor Shady opens a door, walks up, and high-fives Inquisitor Shady. Shady then gets up and walks through another door, leaving Shady to have a seat where Shady once sat, "And I can't be guaranteed that I'll visit myself in time." Temur grumbles and rubs his temples. "As much as I can follow this most of the time, it requires far more effort than pleases me."

The Real Shady begins to decelerate, "Well, looks like we're almost here. Let's get ready t-" The inquisitor blanches, standing up and rushing numerous floors and levels to the bridge, "Oh groxshit..." "Smelly groxshit, or sticky?" Cyril asks. "I just realized," Shady coughs, out of breath, "If you are here, with me..." "Then..?" Cyril continues, quite concerned. "...who was there to defeat the Hellstar?" Shady asks, as the The Real Shady suddenly rumbles. "Were you not expecting that?" Cortain asks. "Would it not be us having returned to the same point we left?" Temur asks. "As Temur says," Cyril points out, "You did say that it was possible but a nonissue for us to meet ourselves." This question, being one of the first big concerns he had with the chronal incontinence issue, pushes Cortain into a litany of binaric swears. The adepts all have bleeding ears. "Meeting yourselves isn't the issue anymore," Shady says as he points out the Bridge armorglas windows, "We're not the only ones that can alter time..."

A sickly brown pseudotentacle begins to wrap around the The Real Shady, the view being utterly overtaken by dull red. When a single giant eye focuses down, its piercing vision staring straight at the Commandos, the buzzing in the mind becomes almost unbearable.

"Ah, shite," Brynjol says, "Where is Crusader Invictus when you need her?" "Here we go again," Cyril says.

A second pseudograsper begins to wrap around the The Real Shady, pitifully small in comparison, as the Hellstar's beak, itself the size of an asteroid, extends. "Ideas?" Shady asks. "...hooyóvo..." Cyril mutters, "What are the Real Shady's weapons?" "If you have a 'rewind' button, now might be the time," Temur declares. "Broadside mars Macrocannons, a dorsal kinetic lance, and a Phosphex Web Projector on the prow," Shady says, "I'm trying a rewind, we're...stuck. HOW ARE WE STUCK?" "A creature from beyond our dimensional reality physically gripping the ship might have something to do with it," Cyril quips, "Voidship weapons have never affected its main body before, but the grasping appendages might be more vulnerable. If we can get a firing solution, then it is worth an attempt while other solutions are devised!" "Phosphex web projector?" Temur wonders, "We have not field tested phosphex againt the damnable creature before, but I see no reason not to try now!" "Do it!" Cyril commands.

The Commandos take to the The Real Shady's weapons. There is one pseudograsper wrapped around the prow, and one around the broadsides. Cyril fires the odd lance weapon on the prow at the pseudograsper mounted on the prow. Unlike the beams of light the Commandos are used to, the kinetic lance's energy has more...substance to it. It seems to slice through the tentacle easily enough. The Hellstar's eye turns to Cyril as it begins floating ever closer, the gas-giant sized monstrosity an almost impossible distance away yet. Temur fires the Phosphex Web Projector at the impending monster's beak. The cloud of phosphex explodes near the beak, the corrosive poison eating away at it. The Commandos recall that Crusader Invictus struck the creature in its beak once before, shattering it, and as layers of bone give way to layers of metal, it becomes abundantly clear that the Hellstar too is no stranger to bionic enhancement.

Bionics indicate technology. Technology indicates intelligence. But at that scale...

The beak stops its approach. However, more tentacles are approaching, and will arrive in one more round. The one tentacle currently squeezes the The Real Shady so hard that cracks are beginning to form in the superstructure, and the Adepts claim damage to the Chronoeider. Cortain orders immediate damage control, while Cyril takes the broadside macrocannons against the final pseudotentacle. A battering of heavy projectiles impacts the tentacle, bruising it and causing a release. The Adepts, however, are terrified - the Chronoeider was damaged, and is stuck on maximum. Brynjol locks onto the beak, as Temur fires a parting Phosphex web at the Hellstar's beak, before the The Real Shady bursts forward, destination unknown.

The Real Shady continues to blast forward through time at maximum speed, no sign of stopping. The Chronoeider's clock is going fukken nuts, unable to track the Commandos' current position in time. The Adepts are intoning their rites, but the Chronoeider is showing no signs of stopping.

"Shady, how do you shut this thing down?" Cortain asks, "NOW! "I...uh..." Shady says as he button mashes like he playing dankey kang. Cortain rushes to the Chronoeider itself, intoning the rites and hit the Emergency Stop button. The Real Shady is jolted out of time, and begins to shake and rumble violently - the voidship has left the blue chronoportal, and aground. Apparently there was a planet in the way.

"We NEED to keep ourselves out of another tussle," Cortain declares, "The Chronoeider Engine is damaged. Repairs are necessary. And we just made landfall." "Brynjol, do augurs show any lifesigns?" Cyril asks. Turning to the augurs, it's bizarre - Brynjol notes the The Real Shady's augurs are picking up incredible amounts of every direction, even though the armorglas bridge is covered in sand.

Inquisitor Shady orders the Rites of Restarting the Chronoeider. He finds there is good news and bad news. The Commandos, ever pessimists, ask for the bad news first. Bad news is, the adepts report something is blocking the Chronoeider, preventing it from entering any timeways. The good news is, the damage is minimal, and with time it can be fixed with parts already aboard the The Real Shady.

"So...time to disembark?" Cortain asks. "There's biosigns. Bloody everywhere," Brynjol states, "EVERYWHERE. Up, down, left, right, the other ones." "The last time we detected life everywhere it was fungoviral microspores," Cyril suggests, "If we can safely stay inside, I would just as well do so."

Brynjol discovers one other thing. Reading the little bar that states what year the Commandos are in, the second half is busted, unable to get a lock. But the first part is stable.

It's displaying something to the effect of about 800,000 years since departure date.

"Oh, shite," Brynjol stutters, "It's... M841." "WHAT" is the only reaction Cortain can muster. Brynjol immediately heads for an airlock, "I've got to take a look at this." Brynjol pops a look outside the airlock, where two immediate things catch his attention. The first is a sprawling city amongst a vast desert, many kilometers away. Its buildings appear to be made of sandstone and simple metal. Very few, if any, are greater than three stories tall from here. The second are the eyes, hundreds of thousands of them, strewn across the sky. Pulsing red fibrous connections link them, as they stare here and there. Eyes instead of stars in the sky.

Brynjol voxes in immediately. "I think... I think we're in the reality where the Hellstar won," he states flatly, "Look... look up at the stars." "Those...are not stars," Cyril affirms. "Oh is that just lovely!" Cortain yells, "I was worried about chronological incontinence, I said it! And then this happens!" As Brynjol stares at the eyes, which burst into and recede from existence every so often, the entire thing reminds him of a vast net of neurons, an entire organic matting of Hellstars across the kosmos. "I think we need to get out of here right now," Brynjol insists, "I think we need to leave immediately. This is beyond anything anyone or anything has done before." "Problem, Bryn: The Chronoeider needs repairs. Lots of repairs," Cortain says, "I can stand by and assist, but I have a bad feeling that I will be needed outside if we go expeditioning into this great Hellstarish beyond."

Cortain's siege auspex, once set properly, picks up residual traces of chronomantic energy all about. As he walks about, he notes the parts per billion slowly increase near that sprawling city. "Feth the expedition," Brynjol disagrees, "We need to leave this place. If what I'm thinking is right, I want to leave right the feth now and get back to our time." "This is bad," Shady says, quite shaken, "That shit's what you're fighting to prevent? Damn." "Alright, who wants to tempt fate and go outside?" Cortain suggests, "That city seems full of time-energy." "Maybe that's what's blocking the Chronoeider from kicking in?" Shady suggests. "An excursion seems like a bad plan. Unless we need something out here, we should stay close to the ship, if not inside it. It is our ticket out of this foul lie the Hellstar tells itself so that it may rest easy, so getting too far leaves it vulnerable to sabotage and us to being cut off," Cyril begins, before relenting, "...But if something is blocking the Chronoeider, then there may be little choice."

"You mentioned your ex-girlfriend was worse than this," Cortain prods Shady, "Feel confident now?" It could be inferred that if Cortain had a mouth, it would be in the shape of a shit-eating grin. "She's got some good competition now," Shady says.

"It seems our options are down to 2: investigate, or sit here stranded," Temur sighs, "I'd prefer the one with a chance of getting back to our own time." "Let the Adepts manage the ship," Cortain suggests. "Aye. The ship's anti-boarding defenses will have to suffice," Cyril says, "This may be a long walk." Inquisitor Shady grabs a chronophore and a 40oz in a brown bag, and heads outside, "Lead on, I'll follow."

The Commandos begin charting a path through the harsh desert that lays ahead of them. Temur orders his Cyber-hawk Vachir to begin scouting ahead and around, looking for unpleasant surprises.

"That city resonates with a concentration of Temporal energy," Cortain says, "Inquisitor, what is the significance of this?" "It probably means we're not the only ones who can mess with time," Shady states.

The desert is dusty and dry under a dull brown-red sun, partially impaled with a fleshy mass and linked to the great net above. Vachir can detect numerous things amongst the desert. There are occasional outgrowths of cactus-like plants, with pink flowers. Every so often, three-limbed kangaroo-like creatures bound around, grazing on shrubs and cacti. The most dangerous of the creatures appear to be gaunt, black, hovering predators with long, thin skulls, sharp claws on lanky arms, and no legs. These creatures appear to be keeping their distance for now.

Cortain can barely keep on the path of the chronomantic energy. He observes that concentrations of chronomantic energy seems to come in waves. The significance is unknown. As the winds pick up for a bit, visibility is still clear, if a bit dusty. The readings get stronger as the Commandos approach the city. It may or may not be a relief, but the Commandos' enhanced senses begin to pick up the commotion of human civilization, the general noise of humanity. Relieved to find they have two eyes, the Commandos observe the locals going about their business from the outskirts. Something's missing, though.

There is no sign of the Imperial Aquila.

"Keep all guns up," Cortain suggests, "These are either uneducated heathens, or heretics. We might need to commit mass homicide either way." "These folk may favor subtler devotions," Cyril adds, though agreeing fully with Cortain. "I'm guessing the heretic one," Inquisitor Shady suggests, "This time is a mess."

In this initial area of the city, the Outskirts, the Commandos can see a couple of stalls set up, selling strange unknown herbs and plants, as well as simple gear like fabrics and carvings. As time goes on, they are beginning to gather attention, as the people in their desert robes begin to stare and comment, before moving on with their lives. Finding the language is Low Gothic with a horrific accent, the Commandos spread out to recon the area, what they believe to be a feudal world. Taking a look at the carvings, they appear to be of three main subjects - the people, the local wildlife, and great winged solar disks. It seems they're for personal or entertainment use. The person at the stall stares the Commandos - he has no idea what to make of them. All around, there is a small ruckus.

"Who are they?" "What are those things?" "So huge." "Never seen them around before. Not from around here."

Cortain tries to make the best of things, and hauls out some copies he has of the Commando Ledger. Even if they don't recognize Spess Mareens, they'll recognize newspapers, or so he hopes. Temur intones his comm, "I think it is safe to assume that at least in this era there is no Imperial presence here, we should continue tracking the trail." Cyril puts on his helmet as he hears Temur's voice in vox, causing numerous local women clouding around him to disperse, "I concur. I wish to purchase something first, but am unsure what to offer in exchange. Astartes weaponry would be unfitting to grant mortals, but I have little else to offer." "You buyin' anything?" the stallkeeper finally asks. He seems quite concerned, as the Commandos are huge and he is manlet, even for a human. In fact, all the people around here seem short and malnourished.

Reviewing the markets, the area seems to rely heavily on barter. The Commandos, eager for souveniers, try to find something worth trading away.

"We can also give some spent bolt casings," Cyril suggests, "Fire at me, I can withstand the pain." "I also seriously need something to humble me from my ego," Cortain says to himself. "I would rather not spook the locals with weapons fire," Temur suggests, "Perhaps some bone and metal carvings?" "My thanks, Temur, that is a fine idea," Cyril affirms, "Aside from the attention it might draw, the last time I shot a Techmarine because he could take it I made Jamal cry."

Cyril fishes out some human bones and Hormagaunt scythes carved with Nixarterian and Gothic text and iconography. "Would these do in exchange?" Cyril asks. Brynjol unhooks a scrimshawed bone charm from his belt, kneeling before the human and holding it up. "What would you be willing to tell us for this?" Brynjol asks, "I carved this from the jawbone of the first wolf to attack me on the path to Asaheim." The shopkeeper examines the bone charm, unknowing of its significance, gesturing to a number of small carved pieces of people and winged sun disks. "I will trade for any of these," he states grudgingly, "Food would be better, the soil has been poor lately, but trinkets for trinkets is fine."

Brynjol examines the trinkets carefully. Humans in various poses and activities. Local wildlife. Those winged solar disks. On Cortain's suggestion, he pockets some Solar Disk Eikons.

Cyril checks his pouches, finding some scraps of grox jerky he'd been saving for Notomok and a half-eaten nutribar. "Do you like jerky? I will have these two." Cyril indicates a carving of wildlife and a multitheme textile. The shopkeep of the art stall nods, accepting the jerky. His nearby partner, an old woman, passes over the desired textile. "Keep safe, traveller, may you avoid the attention of the eyes," the old woman nods. "That's not weird or nothin'" Shady shrugs, "I'm gonna investigate around. I'll keep on vox." Cyril signs the Aquila in response as he bundles his purchases into his belt, leaving the carved bones and chitin on the table. "And may you avoid their gaze also." "Perhaps we should go deeper into the city," Cortain suggests, "Perhaps they have a Librarium of sorts to peruse."

However, the Commandos pause as they hear the a mechanical buzzing sound. Ducking down and intoning their autosenses, the Commandos see something they really would have preferred not to. Although, it does make logical sense - after 800,000 years, what alien race would be the most unchanged?

Cyril identifies the Canoptek Acanthrites floating idly above. They do not see the Commandos, and are on their own patrol. None of the locals seem to give a shit, incidentally. One guard nearby looks up absentmindedly, before returning to his patrol.

"Necrons are commonplace, apparently," Cyril muses, "Interesting." "I would doubt that the horrors of the Hellstar could possibly find any purchase in a programmed Necron mind," Cortain hypothesizes, "Much less a construct's." "The populace's apparent sanity is unusual as well," Cyril adds. "Perhaps their sanity is being scared senseless," Cortain correctly observes, "They become inured to the terrors, the new normal."

The Commandos make their way deeper into the city, passing by sandstone alleys, low walls, and crowds of people. They ultimately come to a large, open courtyard. Within the courtyard, fountains and desert plants grow amongst ordered sandstone columns. Great statues of Solar Disks and hourglasses are ordered about. Vachir, in its patrols, picks up multiple zones of the city. There's a large building, this one metallic, as well as great collections of sandstone dwellings, an irrigated farmland, and wide, low buildings. The metallic building is the tallest building around, an honor usually reserved for Imperial Cathedrals. However, the Commandos all hear something suddenly. A great thronging.

Brynjol, Temur, and Cortain note the guards reach into their pockets, pulling out some odd sort of dark grey crystal. Reminds them of salt. They take a nibble and put it back in their bag. Finally, the Commandos all see, out of the tall structure, a great blue wave. Cortain's, auspex is picking up MASSIVE amounts of chronomantic energy in a surge.

"This is it...!" Cortain voxes Shady. "Shady, get over here! I found our disruption! This structure is...some temporal beacon!"

The wave approaches, going faster and faster, outward from the building. It soaks over the Commandos, their visions going white for a moment, before it returns to normal. Sort of. Something

The Commandos look around, noting everything seems much larger. Cortain is first to look down, and to his horror, finds himself, well, young again, before he began the Spess Mareen initiation rites. Worst of all, he is fully flesh. EVERYONE is younger, and their gear and cybernetics...gone. Cortain yells from his organic mouth, his voice much higher pitched, the voice of youth. Dressed in the simple robes of their homeworlds, the Commandos begin to comprehend the real shitstorm they've found themselves in. Looking around at the locals, however, the Commandos find they are not the only ones who have been affected. They were surrounded by people. They are still there, but different. One old man is now middle-aged. A young girl is now an old woman. Something very, VERY terrible seems to have happened. Only the guards remain stable. Cyril feels the barkcloth tunic and fur cloak in place of his armour, and trembles with fury, while Cortain struggles to find any sign of his augmentics. Brynjol is intrigued, while Temur merely stands there, trying to will it all away.

"Oh man..." an incredibly old crinkly man walks up to the Commandos, wheezing all the way, "This is some GROXshit I tell you what." Wizened and bearded, Inquisitor Shady struggles to lean on a stick he found, his geriatric back barely holding on. "Chto za huy?!?!!" Cyril gurgles, "What the groxfucking bloosoaked Warp - we have reverted, while mortals in the area have aged or reverted inconsistently, and MY SWORD IS GONE." "I feel naked," Cortain says, curling up, "I feel so very exposed." "Arrrrhhh. One heart," Brynjol laughs, "Feels weird." "Inquisitor, considering the vast majority of our combat advantage just vanished, I suggest you help us figure out a way out of this mess," Temur demands. "You think I like being old?" he gasps, "Trust me, it's first on my list..."

One weird thing the Commandos note - the little carvings and textiles they bought? They still have those. Looking around for any remaining advantages, Cyril picks up Notomok, downgraded to a fluffy babby yeti, while Cortain immediately scrambles to protect what was once a mighty Thanatar, now a two-slot toaster.

Well, this is certainly awkward.

The last vestiges of the blue Wave begin to dissipate, chronomantic energy scattering about. Most of the locals treat it like ain't no big thang, continuing to walk about, pausing, then walking further with less drive and direction. A popping noise distracts the Commandos, as they turn to a series of bright bursts about a dozen meters ahead. In a blinding green flash, a...Zoanthrope materializes. It is bleeding profusely, and floats around screeching until it falls dead.

"Oh, come on Shady, you'd better have a plan in line...!" Panic is now in the normally emotionally...consistent Iron Praetor's voice. "Yep..." wheezes the venerably-aged inquisitor as he stares at the gathering crowd and raising his brown bag, "I got a plan. I'm gonna see if rotgut ages as well as fine wine does."

Cortain, now reduced to a mere kid in the robes of the Forges of Firestorm, scrambles for his push-cart Abeyant and toaster Thanatar, while Brynjol stares in bemusement, dressed in naught but a Fenrisian bearskin loincloth. His skin is so pale it is almost translucent. Cyril pats himself down, finding the familiar pelts and barkcloth he wore so long ago on Nixarteria. Considering himself lucky he did not become an amorphous blob due to the way Blood Angels geneseed normally works, he squints at the light. It's less harsh than it should be. Temur adjusts the thick Chogorian hide-wrappings, feeling quite hot and bundled up.

As the aged Inquisitor takes a seat with his 40, and the Commandos hear the buzzing of Canoptek Acanthrites approaching the scene, there's enough time to take in the area. They are currently in a large courtyard, filled with carved sandstone pillars of a simple quality. In the center of the city, there is the large black and silver building, the tallest, which had this been an Imperial standard organization, probably a cathedral. They can also see a wide, heavy building with bars on its windows. There are pathways to assorted small Hab Buildings, a way to the shops they were just in out back, and an expanse out to the back of town, where they can smell fresh fruit on the wind.

"I feel naked. I don't like this." He hears the buzzing. "And I like that even less. We don't even have guns!" "What the he- HEY!" Brynjol interrupts, rummaging around in his mouth with one finger, then a big smile breaks out, "My tooth grew back! My favourite gnawing tooth!" "Stay alert and cautious. We will need to survive if we are to retrieve our guns and armour from the timestream..." Cyril fumbles his words out over a smaller tongue than he has been accustomed to in centuries, "And escape. That is important also."

Cortain and Cyril can barely make out the paths that are rapidly beginning to close as the Acanthrites head to the Zoanthrope. Brynjol can see a number of clear routes about, and has already entered a stance to rush through.

"Perhaps we should blend in until we know who those Acanthrites serve," Cyril suggests, "Let us duck into the Centrum for the moment."

Babbymok resembles a stuffed animal, with nub-horns instead of fuckhueg antlers, downy white fluff all over, and no armour plates bolted. It on follows diligently as the Commandos break through the crowd, taking defensive positions with the Abeya-Cart and Thanatoaster in the center. They leave the Inquisitor and the ensuing mess, to see the Centrum. The first thing that catches their eye are a couple of people in their robes chanting prayers. It's...not a language the Commandos are familiar with, but the altars they bow to all feature winged solar disks, similar to the one that Brynjol bought earlier.

The Commandos find a large arched door, of metallic polished sheen, at what could be the front of the building. The door is slathered with more solar iconography, but ringed with beetles carved into the door. Cyril compares the beetles to Necron iconography, muttering a curse at the absence of his Memorance Implant.

"Shady?" Brynjol begins, before facepalming, "Oh, right. We left him on the street, drinking like a fething degenerate."

Cyril takes a look at the beetles. At first, he can determine no easy markings. But then as he grab the handle, it hits him. Those DO look kind of like Scarabs.

"Cortain, do you recall whether the instruments indicated we were still in Tiji?" Cyril asks, "The local Necron Dynasty may be one we have encountered before." Cortain, however, cannot recall any such information. Cyril nudges the door open enough to slip inside, holding it for his brothers. Stepping into the Centrum, it's clear this place has some sort of importance. They can see a carved Solar Disk in the center of the building, and small meditative alcoves where local hardy herbs and plants grow. They seem to be a type of thick desert grass, green with yellow bands down the long end of each leaf, growing directly in the sand.

A small layer of incense flows across the floor, as a robed man, evidently a cleric of some kind, walks past. He stops, and slowly approaches. Brynjol drops instinctively into a sort of half-crouch.

"Welcome, Children," he nods, "Have you suffered damage from deharmonization?" "What's it to you?" Brynjol asks, guarded. "N-no damage. We are just disoriented, Cha- er, sir," Cyril replies, figuring out a cover story. "We administer to all who suffer, so that they might be made whole," the robed man nods, grabbing a pitcher of liquid and pouring some out for you, "Disorientation is natural, Child. Please, drink."

Cyril takes the offered drink and sips it after an experimental sniff. it doesn't seem to smell wrong, although, it tastes kind of bitter, like water with some sort of extract. It is refreshing, though. Brynjol can definitely smell some sort of bitter fruit mixed in the drink, and so deigns not to drink.

"Thus is the covenant made between Man and the Transforming Strength," the cleric states, as he take's Cyril's cup when complete, "We submit our bodies and our minds to Him, and in return we are forever renewed by the Wave." Cyril blinks slowly and mutters, "Khepri." "Those scarabs weren't just for show," Brynjol notes. Cyril bows and signs the Aquila. "Thank you. We will be off now." "He rules through his Heirarch," the man says calmly, walking off into the Centrum, "Return to your homes and recuperate. To be deharmonized is harrowing - your duties can wait until you are restored."

Brynjol waits until the Cleric is out of sight before gently cuffing Cyril across the head. "You think we still have our preomnors?" he whispers, annoyed, "Why are you drinking strange fluids offered to you by a priest? Didn't your chapter master teach you anything?" "My Chapter Master was busy," Cyril retorts, "My sergeants tended to focus on killing over defense; preomnors can handle most things. Better to just drink it than to risk discovery, if these people's allegiance is to the Transforming Strength." Brynjol raises one black eyebrow "Also, I was thirsty."

"Better to drink it than to risk discovery?" Brynjol scoffs, "Really? Not one backwards step, Cyril." "It smelled of nothing more than fruit," Cyril insists, "All the same, I would prefer to resolve this issue sooner rather than later in case it contained anything that may affect me."

Babbymok has begun to gnaw on one of the plant stalks in the alcoves. Cyril clicks his tongue, calling the Yeti to his side and peeking out the door. The Commandos can see one or two rather ragged people stepping forward through the door. They are quite disoriented, and pass the Commandos by wordlessly. They finally stop by the Solar Disk, evidently for a cleric. A thrumming noise soon begins to overtake all, as some Canoptek Wraiths begin slithering out of a sandstone building, towards the Centrum.

"Wraiths inbound, coming towards this building," Cyril says, searching for a place to hide. "I mean... I don't know if there's anything we can do," Brynjol suggests, "They'll tear us apart like this." Cyril identifies some concealed alcoves, overgrown with sand herbs. "We can avoid them," he notes, "Human children should be beneath their notice. Just stand at an alcove and listen."

The Wraith's float forward, through the doors. One floats on forward, but the other pauses to look at the Commandos. Its purely mechanized head stops to stare a moment. They do their best to remain nonthreatening, and after a few tense seconds, the Wraith continues on its way, rejoining the other and phasing through the statue and nearby wall.

"Guys, you know how they say 'And they shall know no fear'?" Brynjol asks, "Can we add 'or nostalgia' to that? I'm rapidly disillusioned with being tiny. I want to be huge again." Cyril mutters something about Red Scorpions not appreciating stealth and regroups in a team huddle. "The Wraiths are here, but they will be difficult to shadow through walls, and one already took note of us. I suggest we investigate elsewhere." "It is best not to attract undue attention until we can remedy our situation," Temur suggests. "I agree with the Scar," Brynjol sighs, "I want to be huge again." He flexes his fingers sadly, remembering the mighty sausages that once were. "We all wish to be restored to normal," Cyril offers, "I, for one, want my new leg back. But we must find a way to do that. Some sort of reharmonization." "We need to figure out a pattern to those time-waves," Cortain offers, a simple enough suggestion. "Difficult without instruments," Cyril replies, "Perhaps we should check on Shady and then the wide building."

"Shady!" Cortain, yells, "How bad's your hearing?" A number of people outside the Centrum stare at Cortain yelling. They find him odd. "Well, some folk heard you," Cyril says calmly, "I suspect Shady is too inebriated by now even if his hearing is not deteriorated." "Dammit. Well, I tried," Cortain shrugs. "Child, return to your home," one says, "The Transforming Strength has punished you with that form for your transgressions, learn from them and be restored." "Transforming...?" Cortain says, the issue now confirmed, "Oh, by the Emperor..." "Yes. Khepri is these people's Lord, apparently," Cyril reminds him, "One of many reasons this future must never come to pass."

Returning to the open courtyard, Shady is nowhere to be found, but neither is the dead Zoanthrope. Continuing on to the barred building, the Commandos can identify it as some sort of prison, sturdily built in local style. As the eyes in the sky grow and recede, they have finally found Shady at least. He's successfully determined if beer can age, at least, as he sits at a bench heckling some people in stocks, who have evidently performed minor crimes.

"Oh, you're back," the aged Inquisitor says, "Did you find anything? Better yet, have you seen any places that sell medicae? My back is killing me..." "Necrons running the place count?" Cortain asks. "Khepri, specifically," Cyril clarifies. "The prize winning question has to be: What's the connection between the Hellstar and the Necrons?" Brynjol asks, "After all... just look at the stars. The Hellstar clearly had something to do with this. But the Necrons?" "I suspect the Transforming Strength merely endured," Cyril correctly surmises. "Against a force that has literally linked every star in the galaxy?" Brynjol asks in disbelief, "No." "Necrons have no minds to break," Cortain considers, "Most likely, the Hellstar can't even sense the Necrons." "I do even not see why the Hellstar would have any interest in eradicating them," Cyril concludes, "It needed only to outlast its rivals." "I don't know, but from what you've said, it makes sense," Shady coughs, "But you said Khepri? Then there are multiple fukken xenos around." "Multiple xenos?" Cyril halts, "Shady, you found evidence of others?" "I heard that there were signs of Necron in the Hab Blocks," he gurgles, "And given how a few canoptek constructs were apparently dispatched, it's now clear to me that Khepri has competition." Shady leans back, kicking up his boots. "I mean, that's what these idiots are in for," Shady's twitching hand points, "Obstructing the Eternal Will of the Transforming Whatever."

"That pretty much confirms that they're a bunch of heathens..." Cortain declares, "For whatever good that does for us with only a cart, a fluffy yeti, and a toaster." "And I can't even find an Electoo outlet," the old Inquisitor laments. "We still have our fists, but open conflict is probably a poor idea without our armour and implants," Cyril says, "We need information if we are to reharmonize and rescue our wargear." "Well, way I see it, anything that's got Khepri bothered is a good thing," Shady takes a swig, "It's a possible angle, at least." "The enemy of my enemy is the enemy of my enemy, and thus a potential weapon," Cyril nods agreement. Brynjol counts the negatives for a moment. "You could have excluded at least two enemies from that, and it'd still work," he says. "Yeah," Shady nods, "Enemies working against each other for the good of Mankind, I can deal. Just keep your head low if it's dangerous. if you guys die, I'm stuck here."

Truly, the Inquisitor has his priorities in order.

Shady takes a swig from his 40 and leans back, grumbling about back pains. "It would seem that the Hab Blocks are our next destination, if we are to learn more," Cyril considers. "Aye," Brynjol agrees, "Let's give it a looksee." "I suppose that will be easier with mortal eyes," Cyril admits, "I am not used to shadows looking so... dark."

The wind blows through the sprawling sandstone expanse as the Commandos navigate the alleys and passages. Crystalline golden octahedrons drift lazily through the sky, as they traverse the sun and shade. Finally, they reach the alleys and alcoves of the Hab Blocks. Shady was right - a number of canoptek constructs are patrolling about.

"This feels alien," Brynjol mutters, "Humanity subjugated." "It's all been alien," Cyril reminds him, "It's 800,000 years in the future, we've been accidentally retconned out of existence by Inquisitor Genius, and now Necrons are patrolling everything." "Canoptek constructions, no less," Cyril adds, "Not even proper Necrons."

Cortain and Brynjol note that while the Adults and Elders are going about their business under the watchful canoptek constructs and eyes in the sky, amongst the shadows there are other Children darting about. Curiously, they're all heading the same direction. Cortain taps Cyril's shoulder and points in their direction. It's a good enough lead to follow.

"Hm," Cyril considers, "This is... familiar. I think we should follow them."

In the sand, the Commandos can barely see tracks as they rush about. Anyone can give Tracking a go at +20, since the sand keeps tracks well. Fluffamok can see the tracks, clear as day, and the rest of the Commandos follow carefully. Weaving through the alleys, they follow the tracks, which get more pronounced over time. As they turn one corner, however, they hear a girl's scream. Running further down, they see a set of Canoptek Scarabs facing down a young boy and girl. One Scarab nips the boy, causing him to disappear in a bright green flash of light. The four Scarabs, however, see the Commandos, and begin scuttling closer.

It's time for initiative, and the Commandos look down, hoping their fists (and the Thanatoaster wielded as a simple flail) is enough.

Brynjol immediately charges a Scarab, landing a solid punch. Temur too rushes forward to distract another scarab, a swift kick denting it somewhat. Cortain and Cyril opt to join Brynjol, for both ganking bonuses and because Brynjol is by far the most dangerous in melee, even without implants and armor. Cyril flanks a scarab, kicking it forward to Cortain, who swings the Thanatoaster by the plug like a flail, crushing the Scarab. Cortain praises Mars that the cable is stronk enough to withstand the abuse.

>Note: Temur steps away from the episode at this point for a little bit.

The three remaining scarabs counter-attack, nipping at the Commandos. However, they are deft enough to remember their training, and work to dodge around energized pincers, though with FAR more effort than before. Brynjol continues to kung fu through another Scarab, as Cortain and Cyril pummel another Scarab down.

"Useless creatures!" Brynjol yells.

Weathering another storm of pincers, Brynjol uppercuts a scarab and stomps it down, while Cyril moves to punch the final scarab. He trips, however, unfamiliar with his tiny meat-leges, leaving it to Cortain to swing Thanatoaster around and finish the final Scarab.

Cyril takes a moment to kick the dust where the scarab was. "I really need my guns back... Are you okay?" he asks as he turns to the girl. The girl peeks around the alley, "I'm fine...thank you for saving me." "They're gone now," Cortain asks, "Can you tell us where you're headed?" "There isn't much for us to do," she says, "We can only pray and wait for the next Wave. But there is one who knows a lot, and we listen to his words. He speaks of strange times, before the Eternal Transforming Strength. It's hard to understand, but they are fun to hear." "Where is he?" Cyril asks. "Who is he?" Cortain continues. "Who are you?" Brynjol demands, staring at the girl, "Or who were you, before the wave took you?" "Who am I?" she asks, "I'm me. You saved me, so I'll take you to him." "Um...we asked you for your name," Cortain clarifies. She stares at him, "...what's a name?"

Cortain is not in the mood or in the proper fleshmindset to begin explaining names.

"A designation of an individual. For example, I am called Cyril," Cyril attempts to salvage things. The girl begins to lead the Commandos through the alleys, "I...guess I don't have one. The Wave takes our memories, and the Heirarch dictates our jobs for the Transforming Strength. We don't really need 'names' in that case." "I will call you Mathilda, then. Lead on," Cyril requests, "What happened to the boy the Scarabs hit?" "He's probably dead," Cortain suggests. I doubt it, Cortain, given what the clerics said about the Transforming Strength's punishments," Cyril disagrees. "He'll be back," she whispers, "With the next Wave. It will be painful, and he'll remember nothing, even less than what the Wave normally takes. It will be up to the Clerics then. But why do you ask? All know of the Wave." "We wish to know more than the librariums provide," Cortain interjects. The girl the Commandos have apparently dubbed Mathilda leads them to a small out of the way hovel in an alley of the Hab District. Smoke flows from a primitive stone-hewn stove, and the sound of laughter echoes from within.

Walking in, the flame of the oven casts shadows over everything. There are numerous of the Children around, as well as, to the Commandos, an unbelievably imposing tall Necron Phaeron. "WHY HELLO THERE, TI~NY ENFLE..." The Phaeron pauses. "COMMANDOS?" it yells, "AH~, IS IT NOT THE REPUBLICAN COMMANDOS?" "Hello, Ramsestron," Cyril says, "It is surprisingly good to see you." "I don't think I'm gladder to know any nuisance besides you," Cortain admits. Brynjol merely crosses his arms and sits down. Ramsestron leans down. "In the flesh," Cyril declares. "And only flesh," Cortain shivers. "BUT YOU'RE SO...T~IIIIIIIIIINY!" Ramsestron's bones rattle.

"Blame Khepri and his weird time-devices," Cortain says. "I assume his damnable bearded Cryptek is involved," Cyril says. "HONORED ALLIES OF MY DY~NASTY," Ramsestron states, "INDEED, IT HAS BEEN SO~ LONG!" "We wouldn't be here if it weren't for this one Inquisitor," Cortain states, "Emperor forgive me for asking this, but please tell us you can help." "This is a timeline that should not be..." Cyril adds, "A universe in which our disappearance left the Hellstar unchecked." "IT IS INDEED TRU~LY BIZARRE," Ramsestron states, "HOW YOU WOULD RE~APPEAR AFTER SO LONG AFTER THE RENDING OF THE SKY, AND THE UNION OF THE PHASES." "What happened?" Cortain asks. "IT WAS SO~ LONG AGO," Ramsestron muses, "YOU MA~Y WANT TO HAVE A SEAT." Cortain sits on the Cart, while Brynjol squats. Cyril leans out on his elbows, treating Babbymok as a soft pillow.

"I REMEMBER, WHEN TIME STILL FLOWED, AND THE SKY HAD NOT YET GROWN EYES," Ramsestron states, "THE HELLSTAR TRAVELLED, IT~ SOUGHT SOMETHING." "It wasn't Rose, so then...the Star Bomb?" Cortain asks. "Hush, brother," Cyril suggests, "Listen to the story." "IT CONSUMED WORLDS, THE~N TURNED ITS EYE ON SPECIFIC WORLDS, GAS GIANTS," Ramsestron continues, "EVENTUALLY, YOU COMMANDOS STOPPED APPEARING, AND DEEP WITHIN THE CORE OF A GAS GIANT, IT FOU~ND WHAT IT WAS LOOKING FOR." The Commandos regard each other - a useful bit of information. "It desires something in a gas giant, then," Cyril notes, "We can use that information to prevent its expansion from occurring." "IT CONSUMED, AND COLL~APSED ON ITSELF," Ramsestron says, "FROM THERE, IT INVERTED, EVER~EXPANDING. A~LL THAT WAS IT, WAS NOW US." The fire snaps in the cool shadow of the hovel. "THOSE WITH MINDS CLAWED THEIR EYES, TO REMOVE THE INSIGHT THEY NOW ACQUIRED," Ramsestron "SOME OF US, UNCHANGING AND ETERNAL, FARED MU~CH BETTER THAN OTHERS." Cortain and Cyril nod at Brynjol. "THERE ARE N~O EMPIRES AMONGST THE STARS," Ramsestron concludes, "THERE IS ONLY SCRA~PS TO FIGHT OVER, AS THE BEING YOU CALL HELLSTAR POUR~ED ITSELF ACROSS SPACE AND TIME." Cortain concludes that this is still all Shady's fault. Ramsestron bows, "THI~S WORLD IS THE DOMAIN OF KHEPRI, THE TRANSFORMING STRENGTH, WHO HERDS YOUR PEOPLE LIKE SHEEP, IN A MOCKERY OF THE C~OURTS OF OLD. I AM MERELY A TRAVELLER AT THI~S STAGE."

"Don't you remember what they said? The High Lords?" Cortain says, "I remember them mentioning the Star Bomb, which they got set back on when they found Invictus." "My memorance implant is not online, and I was rather distracted by their awesome fleet, and their ship's decor..." Cyril muses, "Of course! Their secret weapon! Perhaps the key to the Hellstar's destruction - of course it would desire to destroy such a thing!" "I TOO RECALL THIS," Ramsestron states, waving it away, "AND YET, THE MEMORY IS SO DISTANT. A GREAT STAR WAS DETONATED, BUT THEIR WEAPON, IT WAS INCOMPLETE, AND IT FAI~LED TO HALT THE CREATURE." The Commandos sit back. "BORNE OF YOUR RACES ATTEMPTS AT SCIENCE," Ramsestron explains, "IT COULD NOT BE READIED BEFORE THE CREATURE FOUND WHAT IT DESIRED...A WAY TO ITS OWN DIMENSION, TO BRING ITS I~NSIGHT FORWARD." "I..." Cortain chokes, the final reality of the terrible future sinking in, "It's all gone then. They're all gone." "NO," Cyril yells, "Only if we accept their reality is our Imperium gone." "FROM THIS GREAT RENDING, IT FLOWED OUT," Ramsestron lowers his head, "IN YO~UR WORDS, ALL THAT YOU SEE IS NO~W...HELLSTAR." The Commandos feel a terrible weight in the pits of their stomachs - it must be a human thing. "IF YOU DO NO~T MIND ME ASKING," Ramsestron says, "WHA~T CAUSED YOUR RETURN?" "We haven't returned," Brynjol states, "This is time travel." "The Ordo Chronos Inquisitor brought us too far to the future," Cortain adds. "THEN YOU BEAR THE SAME ABILITY OF KHEPRI AND HIS HERALD AMON-RAKH," Ramsestron says, "I BELIE~VE YOU CAN STILL SET THINGS RIGHT." "And we shall. But we must find a way to return to our time, preferably after restoring our bodies and wargear," Cyril reaffirms, "If we are fortunate, we will also get to claim Amon-rakh's head for his crimes." "TIME DOES NO~T USUALLY LOSE ITS CONSISTENCY," Ramsestron shakes his head, "YOU SHOU~LD HAVE BEEN THERE IF YOU TRA~VELLED BACK, UNLESS...YOU WERE INTERRUPTED IN TRANSIT?" Cyril slams his forehead into the ground. "Damn it, Shady..." "Yeah. The Hellstar itself attacked," Cortain nods. "It burned for its trouble, but the damage was done," Cyril sighs, "The ship is damaged, but not too much to slip by the tendrils while our past selves distract it." "THEN YOU MUST ENDEA~VOR TO RETURN," Ramsestron says, "TO YOUR TIME, AND SET THINGS RI~GHT. REGRETTABLY, I CANNO~T FIX YOUR CHRONAL DISTORTION, ONLY AMON-RAKH'S WAVES CAN DO THAT. BUT I CA~N TELL YOU WHERE TO FIND AMON-RAKH."

"SPLENDID!" Cyril yells. "Let's cream the sucker," Brynjol states, "But where is our wargear? I used to have such big arms." "I don't think that the toaster can kill Necrons," Cortain says, "SEE~K HIS MONASTERY ACROSS THE DESERT," Ramsestron says, "AND YOU WILL FIND THE SOURCE OF THE WAVE. YOUR WARGEAR STILL EXISTS AMONGST THE WAVE - FIND THE WAVE, FIND YOUR EQUIPMENT...AND YOUR BODIES." "Thank you, honoured Phaeron," Cyril says, to Brynjol's disapproving snort. "Yes, thanks, Ramsestron," Cortain admits. "I CANNO~T SAY WHEN A WAVE WILL OCCUR," Ramsestron says, "BUT DO YOUR PEOPLE NOT HAVE A SAYING? HAVE 'FAITH?' GOO~D LUCK IN YOUR SEARCH. IF YOU TRULY RETURN TO THE PAST, THEN THERE IS STI~LL TIME TO FIND BARCAROLLE..."

As Ramsestron returns to his stories, the girl the Commandos saved, Mathilda, steps up. Cortain gets the cart ready. "Thank you for everything, Mathilda. I promise, we'll find a way to get at least something right." "If you're heading into the desert, you should find a Tripodon, the Great Desert is harsh, we dare not go there," she says, "A good Tripodon should carry you quickly. I saw many in the Farmlands." "Would they be in the market?" Cortain asks. "They do not allow us Children near them normally," she says, "The Elders usually keep close eye on them." The Commandos decide that a stealthy approach may be for the best. "Please be careful, though!" she says, "The Guards are very unforgiving." "We understand," Cyril nods, "We will not let them catch us." Cortain taps Cyril. "Think you can do this?" "I am a passable driver at best - but beasts?" Cyril boasts, "Beasts I can handle."

The Farmlands of the expansive city stretch out before the Commandos, after a short walk through the city. Strange trees with oddly coloured fruits sway in the reddish-yellow light. People go about with simple tools of iron, tending the grounds. There are guards in light armor patrolling every so often in pairs.

Cyril sniffs a fruit, comparing it to the drink he imbibed in the chapel. The purplish-pink fruit seems to have a hard outer covering, and a bitter aroma. He returns to the others before anyone notices him by the tree.

"Don't eat the fruit, Cyril," Brynjol advises, "I don't trust anything here, not when it's got khepri-taint all over it." "It could also be poisonous to our non-immunized biologies," Cortain points out. "I ate none. I wished to check if it was the stuff I drank earlier, that we might analyze it later," Cyril insists, "Amon'rakh is a higher priority. I look forward to seeing that bearded ruststain again..."

The Commandos take a moment to review the guard patrols. Each guard grouping is a pair. They march back and forth, past the fields and animal pens. Cortain can identify at least five groups in the immediate facility - two groups are heading out, two groups are coming in, and one group is standing by the animal pens, where a set of saddled three-limbed creatures bray and call. They are much larger than the Commandos in their current form, resembling a cross between common terran horses and kangaroos. They appear to be grazing on some desert cactus. They don't appear aggressive.

"Distractions," Cortain muses, "We need distractions." "Only if we start something here," Cyril points out, "We should be able to move past to our enemy without trouble - these people see only children." "Three legs. Nothing has three legs," Brynjol mutters, "It's... wrong."

Three legs and saddles. Cyril determines it's quite reasonable that those were the Tripodons Mathilda spoke of. Given how it appears to be a draft or riding animal, all the standard methods of driving one should be the same.

"The galaxy is a big place, Brynjol," Cyril shakes his head, "Many beasts have three legs, even in our time. Even if they unsettle you, those Tripodons may prove an asset. I did not tame Notomok without knowing how to command beasts. They will move us faster than these stunted legs."

The Commandos identify a set of roads that lead out into the desert, a set that leads back into town, and a set that leads into the Farmlands proper. Palm-like trees line the roads, as the heat beats down.

"If we can requisition a cart, by guile or by speed, then it can get us to Amon-Rahk's compound for reharmonization and reckoning," Cyril states, "We could walk, of course, but speed might outweigh subtlety." Cortain stops him, however - it is bad enough to be stuck in mere mortal form that they will never survive the desert in, but he vaguely remembers those black skeletal creatures that Temur's cyber-hawk saw. They avoided the Commandos when they were huge, but now, well, they lack that advantage, let's say.

There are a few tripodons barded up already, watched over by a pair of guards. The rest of the guards are marching about, ensuring the locals are doing work.

"I will distract them," Brynjol declares, "I just need...a costume..." He looks down at his loincloth. Perfect. "Perhaps a wolf mask and furred suit?" Cyril says dryly. Brynjol waves him off, "Even prepubescent, I will beat the taste out of your mouth."

So begins the Commandos' master plan. Brynjol sprints past the guards, windmilling his arms and hooting excitedly, in an attempt to mimic a feral child returned from the desert wastes. He may be unaware that the concept of feral children have not existed for 800,000 years, but this works to his advantage, as the guards have no idea what the fuck he is doing. The guards stare at each other - if the concept of payment still existed as well, they would lament they were not paid enough.

"WHO AM YOU?" Brynjol hurrs. The pair watching the tripodons begin to chase after Brynjol, thinking him some reharmonized nutcase. "You there, Child, you have been deharmonized," one guard says, "Return to the Centrum, the Clerics will tend to you." Brynjol makes a noise like SKREEONK and skedaddles off, making sure to let the guards stay fairly close. "NO HARMONY," he durrs.

Cyril ninjas his way into the Tripodon pens. He can see a simple wooden gate latch. There are a pair of leather-barded tripodons and an unbarded one. He selects the unbarded one, which bears only some ropes and a textile covering. Cyril coos softly to the creatures, extending his hands for them to sniff and get used to his scent. The beast hops around a bit, but Cyril can get a handle on it. The guards are looking increasingly hostile at Brynjol, currently. Cyril finally does a birdhoot in Space Wolf chapter ciphers, stating that it is time to board transports.

The guards hear the vaguely-wolflike hoot, looking back, then back at Brynjol. They look angry, and draw some sort of shock maul. Cortain can see Cyril howling and Brynjol dancing about. "OOK. No am hurt Bryn! Bryn good child," Brynjol durfs. Cortain grabs Bryn out of the way. "Time to go, brother!" he yells, "These nice men won't give you candy!"

Cyril opens the gates, grabs the reins, and runs out to his brothers with the tripodons. Concerningly, the barded tripodons are spooked and rush out. The guards begin to advance, but Cyril pulls up nearby. The ropes are huge, and the Commandos realize that the tripodon will only fit two. Cortain and Cyril hop on the Tripodon, while Brynjol leaps into the Abeyacart.

"All aboard!" Cyril yells, as he gives the signal.

Grabbing the reigns, Brynjol rides the Abeyacart like a Tripodon-drawn chariot. With Cortain riding bitch and Cyril blazing a path, they are off, into the desert.

"DASVEDANYA!" Cyril waves, leaving the guards in the dust, as the Commandos are off into the dusty desert road. "NEXT STOP: CRYPTEK TRASHCANS!" Cortain declares. "And this time I have read the Codex's section on fighting in low-visibility environments," Cyril affirms. "They have the codex here?" Cortain asks.

The Tripodon continues for a fair bit before slowing down. The Commandos have a moment to catch themselves before they can resume. While I question the choice of going without barding, it does make for a slightly faster ride.Despite the incredible desert heat, the Commandos can still see the outlines of roads through the desert. There is little but dried shrubbery throughout the endless expanse, and the sun is beginning to beat down heavily.

Cyril sweats profusely. "This is hell. I have died and gone to hell. The Emperor is testing us."

The Commandos ride the tripodon for hours, following the path carefully. They begin to feel exhausted, and yet, there is no Night. Time doesn't seem to have much meaning here. Brynjol gains one Fatigue, and worse, he gets some sweat in his eyes. It is the most terrible of feelings. Cortain too is exhausted, but Cyril's hatred is his shield against the heat.

"WHERE IS THE BLESSED DARKNESS IN THIS BENIGHTED AGE?" Cyril yells. "This is worse than being mauled by a kraken," Brynjol flops over the abeyacart, "At least then you get scars... to show off in the Hall." "And it is not so cursed hot, I assume," Cyril sighs. "My skin... my beautiful skin!" Brynjol groans, as the hot red light metamorphoses him into a terran lobster, and twice as odorous. Cyril tosses one of his furs over the him, grumbling and scritching his lapyeti, which squeaks. "I hope I get skin cancer and die before someone sees me..." Brynjol laments.

Luckily for the Commandos, they can still barely keep the path as it ducks into some canyons. It's slightly cooler here, but still illuminated red-yellow by the light. Traversing the Canyon, Brynjol's noise echoes through, bouncing off the canyon walls. It is at this point the Commandos notice the walls are pockmarked with holes, and they hear a bizarre screech, and then thumping.

"Ah shite, what now?" Brynjol yells.

One of the floating creatures surges out of the canyon, its elongated head and empty eye sockets staring at you. It raises its claws, and...begins to glow green, a familiar green to Cyril. The same green of chronomantic energy his weapons fired.

Brynjol and Cortain are immediately out of the Tripodon and Abeyachariot, charging forward. Brynjol howls, leaping from the back of the abeyacart onto the creature, landing a solid elbow and a headbutt. The creature looks to be armored with natural plates and very tough, but something seems to barely get through, as the creature does recoil a bit. The creature tries to claww its way through, but Brynjol is skileld enough to parry and counter-attack. Cortain catches up to assist, but fails to land a hit with the Thanatoaster. Cyril too is having issue getting the tripodon to go - it is spooped and waffles about.

Brynjol finishes off the creature with an uppercut, only to see that three more of them have taken the high ground amongst the cliffs. Firing chronomantic energy at the Commandos, Cortain is hit severely hard, and it is now universally agreed that discretion is the better part of valor.

"Tripodon, hear me. If you do not make haste, those beasts will catch you," Cyril implores, "FASTER!" "Gronk-chirp," the Tripodon gronk-chirps. "I just hate today...!" Cortain sighs. "I think we need to retreat," Brynjol says.

With a good burst of speed, the Commandos can bug out easily. The problem is the Tripodon is a bit upset. Brynjol first considers intimidating it into fearing him more than them, but remembers it's an animal. It doesn't differentiate between scary things. He then considers deceiving it into thinking it's safe. He runs into the same issue - it's an animal. He finally decides on the direct approach. Charging the tripodon and falcon-punching its butt, the Tripodon bleats in terror.

"WHAT IN BLAZES ARE YOU DOING, WOLF?" Cyril yells. "TEACHING IT THE MEANING OF FEAR!" Brynjol replies, "Cortain, get the feth on the cart!" Brynjol takes another hit of chronomantic energy, as he and Cortain board the Tripodon and Abeyachariot. The punch, however, has aligned the Tripodon's head in the right direction. "FORWAAAARD!" Cyril yells, passing Wrangling and rushing forward. The Tripodon understands the meaning of terror, and bolts the fuck out of there.

Breaking out of the screech-filled canyons, the Commandos open up to an absolutely bizarre sight. There is a silver-black metal cylinder, floating above what appears to be an ocean. The ocean's wave's are still, as if frozen. And yet, they can clearly hear the waves crashing against the sand. There is a series of floating platforms, of the same silver-black metal, connected by primitive rope-bridges. The bridges have a start or two on the beaches.

"This is... I remember this," Cortain states, "If we have any luck left among us, that should be where they're hiding." Cyril growls at the xenos device.

As time goes on, and they stand on the beach, they can begin to feel themselves cook and crisp up under the dull red sun, the eyes in the sky bursting in and out of the cloudy existence. The Commandos briefly wonder if you will forever have tans. The Commandos are fixated on the fastest way to the floating cylinder, but Brynjol pauses a moment. Seeing sparkles in the sand, he kneels by a number of murex-like seashells polished to opal reflectivity. One or two even have a pearl in them. Brynjol stoops before one, picking up a shell with a pearl in it and examining it. Looks kind of shiny, a little bigger than the size of his hand. Brynjol takes the pearl, thoughtfully tucking it away before advancing to the cylinder. Cyril follows, panting in the heat, while Cortain's nerd-complexion is burned away.

The bridges sway as the Commandos step on them, and no few amount of times do they need to pause and catch balance. However, they can reach each platform ascending ever higher, until they get to a small platform with a door on it. It is emblazoned with scarabs. Recognizing the scarab ciphers, Cyril determines this is definitely the domain of Khepri. The ciphers read as the Chronofortress of Amon'Rakh, Through Whose Will Thy Subjects Gain Eternal Life, He Who Holds The Wave.

"Jackpot." Cortain grins through the heat and possible brain damage.

There are other writings, but they are a bit more specific than mere ciphers. Cortain touches a skull emblazoned on the door, and the door itself retracts a bit, opening in four quadrants. Brynjol is the first to walk in. The outside was a cylinder, and yet he walked into the inner ring of a donut arrangement. That...doesn't quite follow. He feels the onset of a headache, but his iron will holds strong. Cortain, however, is not so lucky, getting a headache and feeling dizzy. Within the ring, the Commandos can see the occasional human push around carts of black salt. They pay them no mind. From one side of the donut, they can hear heavy machinery. On the other, there is a series of lifts that go up and down.

Cyril pokes his head into one of the occasional doors where a human or two walks out of or in, on their own business. Seems to be a lot of simple industrial equipment. Passing a Scholastic Lore (Geology) test, it appears to be refinery equipment overall. He can see numerous salt rocks go in, and black salt crystals come out. A menial pushes a cart of them away, quite busy. Cyril ducks back out.

"They refine the rocks to black crystal," he declares, "We will take a lift." "Up or down?" Cortain asks. "We shall see what options the controls have," Cyril says, "But I would not expect our prey to be content at the bottom."

Cortain and Cyril discuss amongst themselves which floor to take, as Brynjol steps forward and touches the top-most button. Cyril slaps his forehead. "We need to get you a hat that smacks you every time you get too close to a control panel." "I made an executive decision, Cyril," Brynjol states proudly with his best executive lobster-red face. "And you look like a Khornate with your skin like that," Cyril taunts. "Re: My previous comment about slapping the taste out of your mouth," Brynjol points. "I hope you have ointments for sunburn in your medicine bag," Cyril concludes, "Oh wait."

The Elevatus carrying the Commandos, Fluffamok, Thanatoaster, and Abeyacart begins to rise. After almost a minute of rising, they are finally greeted with another scarab lined door. Taking a deep breath in case it's another mindfuck, the Commandos open the door to an interior of a perfect black sphere. Floating in the center is an amorphous blue crystal, pulsing with light. And beneath it...

"What is this...?" Cortain asks. "Who disturbs my...oh...I remember you," the Cryptek Amon-Rakh states, "It has been so long. You come now, though it is evident the wave has touched you." Cortain grips his Thanatoaster in the most threatening way possible. It doesn't quite help. "I want my claws back!" Brynjol yells. "This...this is far too humorous. The Ancient Codes would normally demand your surrender, but...I know you. You will not surrender, and you will fight, even in your weakened form." The Cryptek beckons, as the doors seal behind the Commandos. "Come. As my ancient nemesis, the least I can grant you is eternal life, and freedom from your memories within the Wave."

The Commandos sieze the initiative and debate their options. They still have no weapons. But there's a fukken xenos there, and it REALLY needs to get purged. Brynjol is first into the attack, but his punches are caught within the cryptek's timesplinter cloak. Cyril and Cortain, not as fast as Brynjol, advance forward in defensive positions. While the Cryptek narrowly misses Brynjol with his staff of light, Cortain is not so lucky as chronomantic orbs land near him, damaging and fatiguing him into the criticals.

Not giving up, the Commandos prepare to attack all as one. However, they suddenly hear a groaning within the sphere. All around, tiny holes open up, and dozens of Scarabs begin swarming about.

"Republican have come 800,000 years to challenge have chosen poorly." Cortain gasps for breath as he witnesses the swarms. "Oh..." "Phaeron, leave these insects to me," the Cryptek demands. "No. You have performed your task," the all-encompassing echo states, "There is nothing left for you to do." The Scarabs begin to swarm over Amon-Rakh, as he is lost within the pile. The crystal above begins to shudder and pulse. "Khepri, you've finally come," Cyril says.

The sounds go silent as the scarabs organize themselves. Khepri draws a potent-looking warscythe. "I have waited 800,000 years for this," Khepri states. Brynjol drops into a crouch, fists bloodied, skin torn, and grins. "Come and have a go, then!" Brynjol yells

The crystal finally releases its energy outward, however, soaking the Commandos in its radiant blue energy. The world, briefly, goes blue, and then the Commandos are back. they feel different once more. They are Old.

But old for a Space Marine...

"Ahhhh... I believe you have erred, Phaeron," Cyril taunts, "WE ARE BACK." Notomok roars a challenge, his grey fur rippling with fury. Brynjol remains in his crouch. But this time, claws sprout from his clenched fists. Cyril coughs. "Something is... not right. But that is a concern for later." Cortain feels taller then everyone as his Abeyant has returned. "Omega Rho Decima online. All systems nominal. Weapons hot. Xenos detected," Ordeci recites, "Destruction protocols engaged."

The Commandos can feel their armor, weapons, and gear back, as well as the cold feeling of new service studs, and mighty Beards of Experience beneath their helmets. Cortain is surprised and curious as to how he got a beard despite lacking a jaw. A shake confirms it's a bunch of mechadendrites. Cyril laughs. "We got a trophy off your Cryptek after all; he has granted us his beard!"

Khepri splits off into three different forms, his normal ones, and two translucent blue ones. One blue translucent one surges forward, towards Brynjol. Surprisingly, he sees a blue outline of himself rush forward to deflect the attacks. It feels...weird.

"Come, Republican Commandos, you face Khepri, the Eternal Time Lord. I will strike you down!"

Khepri, the Eternal Time Lord has consumed Amon-Rakh, and wields his chronomantic powers. With a terrifying War Scythe and a body made up of hundreds of tiny scarabs (essentially, an entity with the durability of a Horde), the Phaeron adds new chronomantic weapons to his arsenal, including attacking in past and future rounds.

Brynjol charges, claws outstretched. While one claw is stuck in the timesplinter cloak, it is enough to burn out the cloak's shield, and the second claw shears away a bunch of scarabs. Cortain is next, ordering Ordeci to explode more scarabs with mauler bolt shots, while a well-placed Frag Grenade causes more to phase out.

>By now, Temur has returned.

Cyril rolls his shoulders, relishing the presence of his armour, and speaks as he whips his weapons out and unleashes a barrage at Khepri. "Ahh... Machine spirits, it is good to have you back."

Beginning with a salvo of storm bolter shells and chronophore shots into Khepri, dozens of scarabs begin to sink down from the barrage. Notomok the Yeti brings down his claws, and Cyril notes they've been reinforced. Adamantite, Diamantite, Titanite, you name it. The Yeti's claws rip through and force a few more scarabs out. The real Khepri proceeds to attack Brynjol, landing a pair of hits. While he dodges one, he tries to raise his arm to parry, but he cannot. He is exhausted, almost as if he parried already...

The Warscythe cuts deep into the Space Wolf's leg, hurting him hard. Khepri, however, is already gone, attacking Temur first with a teleporting charge attack, and finally ending with ANOTHER teleporting charge behind Cortain, who barely parried. Nothing personnel, kid. There is a blue ghost Khepri standing next to Temur, and also one near Brynjol. Brynjol tries to charge once more, but the blue phantom Khepri attacks from his previous position, attacking Brynjol as he charges away. This cut is deep into his arm, slicing off numerous fingers but keeping him in the fight. Sadly, as one of Brynjol's attacks is parried by the Khepri of the present, the Warscythe cuts him in the leg again, finally downing him. Brynjol burns fate to manmode and stay in. He lets loose a guttural roar, his tone ululating as the massive hit of pain suppressant mainlines straight into his body.

"Okay...this is going downhill faster than I care to think about it," Cortain advises, "We seriously need to re-assess how we're going to manage this." "There is no management you need concern yourself with," Khepri states, "I can see your past, present, and future. You are corpses." "This future is a lie, Khepri," Cyril corrects him.

Temur raises his relic heavy bolter, and calls White Scars Swift Assault, disengaging and going full flex into Khepri. Almost fifty scarabs fall, as Khepri's dodge is hampered by Temur's Bolter Expertise. Temur strokes his Beard of Experience. Seeing so many dead scarabs is pleasing. While Ordeci slams down with a grav fist, Cortain's bolter unfortunately jams, to his concern. Cyril continues Storm Boltering down, and having his yeti rip things up as a tide of scarabs phase away. Calling a furious charge, Brynjol and Cyril charge together with Burning Claws and Photonic Blade to reduce Khepri to only a handful of scarabs, setting him on soul blaze as well. He calls Feel No Pain to benefit himself and Brynjol, who has been severely hammered.

Khepri teleport-charges at Temur, landing a number of attacks, which the White Scar works to parry away, countering when he can. He then appears near Cyril, stabbing with the scythe, but Cyril dodges out of the way. Thinking they weathered the storm, the Commandos prepare to finish Khepri off, but he begins to glow green, and shake. He collects massive amounts of chronomantic energy, and releases it in a blinding flash.

Khepri's Chronobreak damages Ordeci, as everyone (though they shield the damage) is briefly blown about by the force. Their world flashes, and they find themselves in the positions they had at the beginning of the round.

Except for Khepri, who's going in AGAIN on Temur. While Temur is able to shield one attack, a second gets through, cutting deep into him. Temur has rarely been hit before, let alone wounded, so he is slightly caught off guard. With the Past and Future Khepris in combat with Cortain and Cyril, Brynjol is open to charge. He forces himself to his feet, pupils blown way out from the pain suppressant doses. Extending out both claws, Brynjol and Khepri hit each other once. Brynjol takes even more damage, losing another leg, surviving barely thanks to Feel No Pain, but he pushes on, THROUGH the Warscythe. Khepri may have restored some scarabs with the Chronobreak, but Brynjol is almost full Wulfen now. His claws strike into Khepri, striking the last of the scarabs composing his body. Khepri the Eternal Time Lord begins to destabilize, and he roars in absolute rage. He phases out, and the Crystal is beginning to shake once more.

"Oh not again..." Cortain sighs. Logic dictates it might be time to hightail it back to the The Real Shady. Cortain gets Ordeci to haul the absolutely crippled Bryn out. "Cortain, get all the scans on that crystal you can on the way out," Cyril commands, "TIME TO GO!"

Surging across the desert fields, their mighty Beards of Experience swaying in the desert wind, the Commandos find it MUCH easier to travel. The local creatures don't fuck with them anymore, their Tripodon following as fast as it can. As they rush, lightning fast, the Commandos note something odd - every so often, one of them flickers in and out of existence, before restabilizing. Brynjol here, Temur there, then maybe Cortain, and Cyril, before another flickers. Finally reaching the City, the Commandos keep on keeping on until they reach the The Real Shady. They briefly wonder why a child is standing near the access path, and then it hits them.

"Ah'll say," Young Shady says, "This sure ain't somethin' ah wanna tell the folks 'bout." Brynjol lolls in the grip of the robot, his neck cording as the pain suppressants wear off. Cyril slows to a jog to pet the Tripodon and soothe its panic, ready to carry it if it slows. "Hold up!" Cortain requests, but everyone else is adamant. "No time, get aboard!" Cyril insists, "Shady can sort it out later!" "Alright. I seriously hope he can fix this though," Cortain sighs, "I doubt a child can pass for an Inquisitor, Chronos or not!" Cyril heads in with Notomok and the Tripodon. "Time to go home!"

As the Commandos board, a final blue wave extends outward, as all eyes in the heavens suddenly stare down at the Commandos. Their world goes blue, one last time. The Commandos find themselves normal, though the loss of their Beards of Experience hurts a bit. Brynjol looks down, finding his limbs are back to normal, since all the damage happened to his future self and not his present self and...he feels the onset of another headache.

The Enginseers have completed the rites, and the The Real Shady engages its Chronoeider. Trailing smoke, the The Real Shady blasts forward, back through time.

"By the Emperor, that sucked," Shady sighs, kicking his boots up, "Let's never speak of this again." "Well, even if we did not learn the method to remove the hellstar, we DID learn an effective way of removing the Transforming Strength should we be required to do so." "And we still learned the Hellstar's goal, that we might thwart it," Cyril adds, "We need to keep watch on gas giants in the sector. "But right now I need to bandage the tripodon." "That felt... bloody weird," Brynjol admits. "It's worse than weird," Shady says, "I saw you. You were flickering." "What is the flickering?" Temur asks, "You sound as if you have seen it before." "Are we temporally dislocated or something like that?" Brynjol asks. "I have, when I watched every other member of the Ordo Chronos assassinate each other in their cradles," Shady says, "Are you sure you want to know?" "Ignorance is not always a virtue, Inquisitor, I have kept myself alive thus far by knowing my enemy," Temur states, "So whatever knowledge you can impart would be appreciated." "It means yours is a future not guaranteed," Shady says quietly, "But if you all flickered, then it is unknown yet who will live or die." "So we face a nexus in time then, when all becomes uncertain," Temur says, "I'd venture that as a better option than certain defeat." "In the end...I see three..." Cortain reflects on the Master of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica's message, and it again bothers him.

"Every other member?" Brynjol raises a brow, "Except you. What made you special enough - or good enough - to be the last baby standing in that little tete-a-tete?" "Damn straight I'm the last one," the Inquisitor says, "I locked myself in the timeline by becoming my own ancestor, if you catch my drift." The Commandos choose not to press the subject further.

Cortain points at the Tripodon, "Question: Do these things exist in M41?" The Inquisitor stares and shrugs, "Nope. Yep. Maybe. Perhaps they once did, or will." If Cortain had hair he would probably rip it out.

The The Real Shady begins to shudder and shake, as it finally leaves a blue portal. Returning to the blessed Materium, the Commandso can see off to port the The Real Shady beginning its journey through time, the portal closing behind it. The Blade of the Long Watch stands ready to receive the arriving The Real Shady.

"Lads! Lads!" Rockfist yells over vox, "We've got a problem!" "When do we not have a problem?" Temur asks, "What is it, Rockfist?" "We've received word that the Hellstar was approaching the world of Femor," Rockfist states, "And...and...and Catalyst Station tells us that Crusader Invictus has gone missing!" "Oh, for FETH'S SAKE," Brynjol roars in rage, cursing violently in Juvjk, "We need to find it. Now." "DAMN IT! Make for Femor!" Cyril commands. "Lads, we've set a course for the gas giant Femor already," Rockfist states, "We'll depart once you're aboard." "Have they any further information than 'missing?'" Temur asks. "Nay, lad," Rockfist shakes his head, "Just that it 'jumped away,' or somethin'." "You guys go," Shady says, "We'll be in touch. I might find more ways to help." "So it begins... The crux Ramsestron has said," Cortain says, realizing that Femor is a Gas Giant. "If it is gone, then perhaps...either the others have come," Cyril muses, "Or something far, far worse. It may know it is needed and be en route to Femor already. If not, there is no time to look for it... I had a feeling this might happen after reviewing logs of our travel to Oculus Aquila. If Femor is the gas giant, we must make haste. To the launch bay!"

Inquisitor Shady waves the Commandos off, before taking out a smoke. "May the Emperor be with you, Shady," Cyril nods, "Until next we meet." Cortain gives an informal salute as he begins contemplating the whole mess.

Popping into an Aquila, the crew rapidly bring the Commandos back to the Blade. With Shady's Aquila leaving, the Blade makes full progress into the Warp, to the world of Femor and its garden moon.

(35) Grand Skyfall[edit]

Once again, the Blade of the Long Watch is en route to the world of Femor and its quiet Agri-Moon. The living crew is rushing about in preparation, while the Support Crew are in the Manufactorums.

Cortain has been in deep contemplation over the stakes on Femor. The Invictus is missing, and this concerns him deeply, even moreso than the idea that the Hellstar found Femor. Brynjol is spending much of his time in the apothecarion deck, running countless neurological tests on himself, nerve biopsies on his leg and hand, and stress-testing the limbs. To his relief, he finds no damage or ill effects from losing a leg in the future and reverting to the past. His legs are okay. The only thing that could make things better is if he had gained brouzoufs. Cyril is taking advantage of the transit time to train obstacle courses with his new leg, while Temur supervises ship component restructuring.

Rockfist, O'malley, and Executor Thexus are supervising temporary deconstruction of core components of the port sunhammer lance, while Rose is engrossed over a workbench, the Tripodon at her side. To address some of his concerns, Cortain takes a moment to review the reports of the previous time the Commandos visited Femor II. The world itself is a large gas giant, the second moon holding a populated Agri-World. It is a a warm world of savannahs and ravines, and the Commandos now know the people get their quotas in on time due to Dark Age of Technology swarm-drones still providing gear and seed after 15,000 years. They also have that bizarre little local legend about Mount Oculus Aquila, but there is a bit more to worry about than myths.

"The farmers have a saying - when the world is in danger and all seems lost, an Angel of the Emperor's Fury will burst forth from the mountain, and defend the world from evil..." Cyril recites to assist.

"Lads, we've almost finished storin' away the key parts of the lances," Rockfist voxes, "The Blade should handle a little better now, combat worthy at least." Temur wordlessly nods, ordering the parts into the storage bays until a time they can be offloaded. "Anyway," Rockfist says, "We've put in the Teleportarium as well, should be ready fer action. Jus' be careful with it."

The Blade begins to shudder and shake as the Support Crew finish their work. The familiar tear back to the Materium allows the Blade back into reality, from the purple mists of the warp. The bridge crew puts all power to the plasma engines, rushing through the void as fast as possible. It is fast enough, but it is still half a day. Cyril concludes his workout and takes a half-day rest, before gearing up with standard gear and heading to the bridge.

"Any word from the planet?" Cyril asks, "They should have figured out the communications gear we left them by now." "We hold no Squat Hold here," O'Malley says gruffly, "The people here are a secondary concern, but may be in grave danger. We have not heard word yet, but we still have time to reach the world's vox belt, beardlings."

The Blade of the Long Watch finally reaches a stable orbit over the second moon. The augurs pick up no directed vox traffic. "That's a...bit worrying," Rockfist says. "Indeed it is. Keep augurs active for vox traffic or signs of the Hellstar." Brynjol brings a fist down on the scanner table, but very gently. The vox-guildsmen look at him expectantly as he tunes the augurs to wide-range, searching for any vox-traffic. He turns the dial on the logis-targeter's augurs to "receive."

He picks up a lot of screams. The Commandos also hear, in the corner of their ears, a buzzing, ringing, KEENING noise, getting ever louder.

"Yup," sighs Cyril.

As the Gas Giant Femor turns, the reddish-black surface of the Hellstar begins to crest, its singular eye focused on the gas giant, the great beak extending from its mouth. The beak sinks into the gas giant, and idly begins to dig and sift about.

"It is here. Sooner than I had expected, given Ramsestron's mention of our disappearance coming slightly before..." Cyril pauses, "It saw our time travel." Brynjol grits his teeth, "We need Invictus for this. I'd go out and nut it myself, but I fear it wouldn't listen." "We can at least destroy the lesser forms if it is foolish enough to manifest them where collateral will not be unacceptable," Cyril suggests, "Weapons hot, and synchronize orbit with Oculus Aquila!" "We're roughly over'em, lad," Rockfist says, "Should we prepare a transport, or will ya be testin' out yer new toy?" "Pound it. Get its attention," Brynjol orders to the bridge crew. "Time is short," Cyril notes, "We will teleport, but ready a craft in case we need to call down assets." The bridge crew look to each other, before aiming weapons at the creature. Given how it is almost a quarter the size of the immense gas giant, the Bridge Crew wonders what effects the weapons would have, but resolve to carry out the order. "Do we want its attention?" Cyril asks, "I would rather catch it unawares should we find something that can harm it." "If it does what it's come here to do, everything has been in vain," Brynjol insists, "We need to at least slow it." Brynjol exhales, annoyed. "Where in the name of Asrheim is Crusader Invictus when you need it..." Brynjol turns, giving a final order, "I want you to make it furious. Everything we have, right to the fa-...pupil." "The less time we take, the better," Temur states, "Brothers, would vorax help in our search?" "We will go down first," Cyril nods, accepting Temur's suggestion, "Thexus, dispatch a Vorax maniple to the Teleportarium in case we have need of them." "ACKNOWLEDGED, PRAETOR. AUTOMATA ASSETS SHALL BE READIED," Thexus blasts. "This way, lads," Rockfist beckons, heading to the Teleportarium.

Cyril heads to the Armorium to grab his Photon Thruster, combat shield, and cryo pistol before regrouping at the teleportarium. Temur selects a plasma pistol and inferno pistol, and selects a relic heavy bolter. Brynjol grabs his Valkyris jump pack, as usual, while Cortain grabs a Volkite Culverin and a relic bolter.

The Commandos follow Rockfist to the Teleportarium, charged up and ready for action. "It hurts," Brynjol says, uttering a prayer for warp travel, "But I have walked the void many a time, and fear it not." "Dunno if ye've ever used a teleportarium before, but there're a few things ta remember," Rockfist begins, "Ya need a refresher, or are ya good?" "A refresher would be appreciated," Cyril suggests. "The first thing ta remember, is that without a locator beacon, or Brynjol there, teleportin' down is a 'rough estimate,' you'll appear NEAR where ya want," Rockfist says, "We can't teleport ya past void shields, an' we can't teleport ya in and out immediately. Ya find yerself in a bad spot, you'll have ta hold out for a bit until we recalibrate things." "Send me down first, then," Brynjol offers. "That will only send us to wherever you end up," Cyril points out, "We go down together, with jump packs to move swiftly." "Just do what you can to put us close to start with, Rockfist," Temur requests. "With a Nuncio Vox, Locator Beacon, or Brynjol's Void Walker Warlord trait, we can get a smoother fix," Rockfist continues, "But there's still a bit of a cooldown between uses. Sorry, lad, but this thing is temperamental, and needs as many runes of protection as we can give it." The Commandos nod, even the Squats suffer with such delicate Archeotech. "Luckily, for this outing, we took detailed location data last time we were here," Rockfist concludes, "So sendin' ya down now shouldn't be an issue. But keep in mind for the future things won't be as precise or fast..." "GIVE THE WORD, PRAETOR, AND YOU SHALL BE DEPLOYED," Thexus yells, "RESTORE THIS WORLD TO FULL COMPLIANCE."

The Commandos gather in the Teleportarium. They decide a Rite of War is in order. Naming Brynjol squad leader, they declare the Rite of Executioners, which will grant them a free charge if they kill an enemy. They select Furious Charge and Tactical Spacing as their squad modes.

"Beardlings, I'll have a squad of my Hearthguard readied for when you require them," O'Malley states, "Make the Ancestors and the Emperor proud." Rockfist says a quick prayer to the ancestors, and presses the button.

The world goes white, and then purple for the briefest of moments as the Commandos are shunted through the Warp. With a *pop* and the burning smell of ozone, the Commandos find themselves on the surface of Femor II, within the central square of Oculus Aquila. Things look a bit different. There is a translucent blue weed growing everywhere, and there is snow falling, giving off its own pale light. The occasional slug just slugs about.

"Those weeds look unusual..." Cortain begins, then stops. He remembers that the same weeds were growing on the Blade until the creature hanging off the prow was destroyed. "Glowing snow?" Cyril exclaims, "That just is NOT RIGHT." "Ohhhhhh..." the voice of an old woman sighs, as the source, an old woman, rounds a corner, bouncing swiftly away. Behind her are a large cluster of hound creatures, that the Commandos are quite familiar with now.

"Charge," Cyril declares. Brynjol is immediately on it, tricking his claws to hordebuster mode, but before he can reach, Temur is fastest on the uptake, raising his bolter and blasting the area with metalstorm rounds. While this does shred the unaware hounds as expected, some shrapnel hits the Old Woman, and though not at a distance to be lethal, she does trip up and fall over. "Ohhhhh..." the Old Woman sighs forlornly. Cyril hurries forward, "Hello, ma'am. It is good to see you again." He helps the Old Woman to her feet. The Old Woman slowly gets up, taking a small napkin and rubbing her eyes. "Apologies on the firing," Cortain states, "These menaces have been harder to take down." "Oh, goodness, you've returned," she says, getting up slowly, "Welcome back." She brushes herself off, dust and blue tendrils falling away, before she takes out a small rag to wipe a dust-blemish on Cyril's armor, "My, you've changed." "How long has all..." he motions to the Hellstar fuckery around him, "THIS been going on?" "Has...what, dear?" she asks, staring out across the fields, "The crops are in season, so for a few months now?"

"Were you just fleeing something?" Cyril asks. "Oh yes," she smiles, "Those strange beasts appeared a few weeks back. Terrible things, they are, the poor enforcers can't even get close without shaking. We've just stayed inside until they passed." "Have you any clue where they seem to be heading?" Cortain asks. "Hmm...well, the screams were getting louder, and those two objects in the sky were getting larger," she says, "So, I was heading to the Chapellum, where everyone was taking refuge to pray. Would you like to accompany me there?" "Gladly, but we cannot stay long," Cyril says, "I believe the key to making them go away lies beneath the mountain." "You're such dears, true heroes," the Old Woman nods as she begins to slowly shuffle her way deeper into the city, "As long as we pray, everything will be okay. As long as Mount Oculus Aquila stands, so shall our world."

Glacially but confidently, the Old Woman begins to shuffle as fast as she can. Every so often, she spares a concerned glance at the Hellstar orbiting the gas giant Femor, and another glance off to the side. "Now THAT, dears," she says, pointing at the Hellstar, "It was the first to arrive, a few days ago. When it stares, I feel empty. It hurts so much. But as long as it's not staring, we pray for deliverance." "Would you mind being carried, elder?" Cyril insistes, "One of the objects in the sky is rather concerning - yes, that one - and we aim to deliver your world from it." Cortain lowers the Abeyant. "Hop on." "No, no of course," she says, "And what did you make of the second?" Cyril lifts the woman onto the Abeyant. "Can you point out the second one?" By now, the Chapellum of the Emperor is in sight. "It should be...right there," she says, pointing at the sky, "It arrived a day after the terrible eye did." The Commandos look up, at the sky. And that's when they see something else in the sky. It appears to be a twin-tailed comet, glowing red and white, streaking down, the core burning white-hot, the twin tails leaving a trail of red sparks behind it.

Cyril checks his Memorance Implant's logs for such a thing. Total Recall doesn't seem to turn anything up. " new," Cortain admits.

With the Old Woman on the abeyant, the Commandos are able to travel MUCH faster. Approaching the Chapellum, already from a distance they can hear the sound of joyous prayer raised on high to the Emperor and his Saints. Stopping by the richly carved door, the Old Woman carefully hops off the Abeyant. "Come along, dears, the congregation would love to see you again," the Old Woman implores. She leaves a shuffled path through the snow, as a slug falls on her, though she seems none the wiser. Cyril gently brushes the slug off and fries it with the Serpenta. The Old Woman looks at him, unsure of what he is doing, but resolves that the methods of gods are incomprehensible. The Old Woman carefully pushes open the door. Despite the snow still falling indoors, it feels noticeably warmer in here. Brynjol keeps his silence, merely following. His claws twitch in their housings, rattling gently.

Every pew is filled, so the Commandos estimate about 200 people in here, where a pair of missionaries are announcing the Emperor's benedictions. To one side, in a small annex, the Commandos can see a rather curious shrine.

It's them. A carved statue of the Commandos lays in the center of a shrine annex. Purity seals hang off it, and prayers written on parchment slips are lain about. Cyril reads the prayers briefly. There's an engraving, "Honored Republican Commandos, who dispense the Emperor's Justice, who hath delivered us in our hour of need, carry our prayers to He on Terra, and do not forget us." Cyril makes note, to recite the prayers should he ever stand before the Golden Throne.

Brynjol walks over, and looks at the shrine solemnly. He reaches down to his belt, snapping off one of his diminishing supply of wolf teeth/kraken fangs/wyrm claws/narwhal horn aphrodisiacs and drops it by the alter, carefully Cortain considers dropping off an issue of the Ledger, but considering the whole time-shift, he has none available at the moment. He instead settles with a prayer and another random shard of metal from the Real Shady engraved with icons of Omnissiah-worship.

To the other side, near a confessional annex, the Commandos can see a room closed off with a carved screen door. Flickering blue flashes emanate from the other side. Pushing back the screen, the confessional is lit by a dull blue light. On the other side, where a deacon usually waits, they can see a shadowy shape. "Got a selection of good things on sale, stranger..." the Merchant rasps.

The Commandos consider their options. They consider that replacing the lances on the Blade for space reasons should be good, and resolve to do so after picking up a few things. As a team, the Commandos upgrade their VF/SS anti-voidship Type 17 lances to Tier 1 Type 18's, granting improved damage and an extra hit at high DoS. Cyril and Cortain select Godsbane Lances to rebalance the Blade. Temur picks up Hex Wards for everyone, while Brynjol puts his luck into picking up the Pinpoint Storm Field for Crusader Invictus, granting the Crusader Sword Tearing. This synchs with his Flesh Render talent, boosting the effectiveness even further.

"Heh heh heh, thank you," the Merchant hisses as he closes the shutters of the confessional. The Confessional is quiet, beyond the flickering blue light. The constant of Prayer echoes from the main chamber. Great storms seem to peal outside, though the farmers seem to give it no mind, as the Commandos hear their tone remain relatively constant. Brynjol stands, watching them silently in their worship. Cortain keeps his eyes on the windows. Something's bound to come up soon...

A few local farmers pause, looking behind every so often. That is when they see the Commandos. "The Commandos!" one yells, "The Commandos have returned!" "Honored Commandos, once more you come to deliver us," another says. "The Emperor's will overtakes all evil!" another yells, prostating himself. "Indeed. We are told the Hounds have plagued you for weeks now?" Cyril asks. "Yes, my lord Praetors," one woman says, "Their screams, they would echo in our minds, and the buzzing...the keening would never stop..." "Oh, it will," Cyril mutters grimly. To the terror of the worshippers, but perhaps to the Commandos' expectations, it is now that the stained glass windows blast inward. It is swarms of Hounds at first, but something is wrong. They are covered in eyes, and twitching.

Cyril nods in resignation and raises his boltguns. "Same song, fourteenth verse. It could be better, but it shall be worse." The Hounds all fall to the ground, twitching as if in seizure, pale blood spraying everywhere. Further legs appear out of the creatures, now resembling more insects or spiders than dogs. "No...this is different," Cortain states. Crystal shards are next, reforming themselves. No longer disorderly shards, they are now perfect octahedrons, glowing with a faint light. It is finally the Descendants of before that land last, but even they rip themselves apart in gore-soaked expansions. While some look like giant bipedal flies, expanded heads covered in compound eyes unblinking in every direction, others' brains burst forward, a single eye staring out. These last ones begin groaning, but it does not seem disorganized. It almost sounds like singing.

The Commandos raise their weapons, firing into the Hordes. It's go time.

The floating mono-eyed brains begin to glow. The Commados feel as if a thousand knives are stabbed into their minds, and determine they need to solve the problem quickly. Two hordes of the spider-like creatures approach from each side, while the Octahedrons, Flies, and brain-like creatures begin to advance. Brynjol calls Furious Charge, rocketing himself into one of the brain-like creatures.

"ON ME, CHARGE!" he yells.

Brynjol barrels into the first brainlike creature. As he charges, they stare, his headache growing larger. Though fighting through a natural shield and dodge, a strike lands true, ripping the brainlike creature apart into white dust. This is enough for Executioner to trigger, sending him into another. Temur moves to attack another Brain with his Paragon Blade, though the creature's defensive field tanks them. Cyril moves forward, finishing off the second brain and Executionering himself into the third. Cortain moves to assist, scoring some heavy damage against the final brain. Having resolved Squad Mode, Brynjol charges himself once more at the final brain, but fails attacks to shield.

The flies begin to circle Brynjol and Temur, before swooping down to attack. Coming from above, the Commandos work to parry as many as they can, trusting in their wargear to shield the rest. Temur resumes the attack, scoring a lucky fureh on the final Brain, cutting it into dust. Temur then turns his attacks to one of the Flies. The creature makes him think of a garden, except of eyes. Lucky for you, the garden of eyes wilts with the final strike.

The Spiders, apostles of a nightmare made flesh, have eyes on the worshippers. Notomok stands between the Spiders and worshippers, growling as his heavy cryosprayer rumbles to life. The Spiders begin to swarm forward. while one swarm begins to flow over Notomok, the second goes directly into the terrified crowd. One of the Deacons draws a mighty hammer, trying to motivate the faithful. They won't break because the Commandos, particularly Cyril and his Paladin of Glory Warlord Trait, are nearby, but they ain't doing too hot. Cyril swings about at the Flies in melee, while Notomok helps crowd-clear the many spidery creatures. The Commandos are technically outnumbered, but Cyril has a plan.

"Rockfist, please send down the Hearthguard and Vorax," Cyril voxes, "An Arlatax would not go amiss either." "Acknowledged, lad!" Rockfist says, "We got an augur fix, sendin' down yer zoo!"

Once more the burning smell of ozone echoes through the air as Cyril passes his Command Tests. The Squat Hearthguard, 30 squats strong, appears within a few meters of Brynjol. The Arlatax and Vorax teleport in a little further behind.

"WE STAND READY, PRAETOR!" the Squats yell in unison. "Charge the beasts behind you! Defend the civilians!" "For the Holds!" yells the Hearthguard Champion, "For the Commandos!"

The disciplined Hearthguard charge in, and begin their work with their power axes. The Arlatax and Vorax also charge in, sending spiders into the sky, partying hard. Horde vs Horde slam into each other, and begin to down numerous spiders, though some Squats and Automata fall as well.

The Octahedrons float in, ready to pepper Temur, who has done a fair amount of direct damage. Some shards get through, and Temur feels the pain in his head spike. Cortain orders Ordeci to attack the Octahedrons in response, striking it with mauler bolt cannon shots.

Brynjol goes back to the tried and true tactic of clawing everything around him. Downing the two remaining flies with his claws, Brynjol surges into the Horde, tricking his claws into hordebuster mode and cutting a swathe through spiders. Temur turns to cover Brynjol, firing Vengeance rounds at the Octahedrons with his heavy bolter, shattering one Octahedron. The Spiders, in turn, swarm over the zoo and Brynjol, though they hold fast, losing some Squats and Automata. A counter-attack from the zoo further thins the horde, while Cyril turns his two bolters to the final Octahedron, blasting it apart. He then calls Furious Charge again, charging into the Horde, and igniting them with soulblaze. Brynjol decides to charge out of combat, into the horde Cyril, Notomok, and the Arlatax Automata are in. Luckily, he is able to blend them, and trigger Executioner back into the original horde.

Brynjol howls with laughter as he dances through the heart of the horde, his claws flicking open veins and puncturing skulls in a curiously controlled frenzy of economical slaughter. His claws now horrifically fed from hordebusting, he is then able to down the second horde as well, though he has almost gone full Wulfen as a result.

The people, however, are screaming. The enormous, lithe form of the Hellstar presence is holding one of the deacons, caressing him tightly and holding him to its chest as it hangs off a wall, upside down, like some sort of land-raider sized gecko. "YOU," Cyril growls. "It's not here," the Presence says, "You need not worry. We will find the way home eventually. Then we shall spread, far and wide." "Do you ever get tired of this?" Cortain quips. Brynjol feels the mechanical thrum of his false-heart, brought back to his senses at the thing's words, "This thrall will meet its reckoning."

The Hellstar Presence gingerly places the now seizuring deacon down, before crawling through a window, "We'll find what we need. You barely even serve to delay us..." "Bryn, the deacon..?" Cyril asks. He sprays a few halfhearted shots out the window.

Brynjol extricates himself from the pulp, trotting over to the deacon and ministering to him The deacon continues to twitch and squirm. His scalp is beginning to bubble and grow. "He is... gaining insight," Brynjol mutters. Fumbling for a brief instant with the unfamiliar straps, he draws his bolt pistol from its little-used holster, and lays it gently beside the Deacon's head. "The Emperor's Peace, for you." Brynjol picks up the bolt pistol, stands up, cocks it, and puts a shell into the deacon's bubbling forehead. Cyril sings an excerpt from a traditional dirge. The Deacon's head explodes outward, the bits of skull flying off, the eyes lining his brain all stare at Brynjol and Cyril before rolling into their sockets, disintegrating into the same white dust everything else did. "Your Deacon requires burial, citizens. We have other business..." Cyril says. "The Emperor shall sheperd his own," Cortain states.

The ground, however, begins shaking. Out in the sky, the Commandos can see more Octahedrons, the size of voidships, floating through the sky. The keening echoes loudly.

"Lad, we're trackin' that comet!" Rockfist says, "It's coming ever closer...It's...IT'S GOING TO IMPACT!" "Brace!" Brynjol drops low to the ground. Cortain floats low, to secure himself on the ground. Cyril jets to the doorway and grips the frame, "Estimated time to impact?!" "Two minute...It's...accelerating," Rockfist says in shock, "Lad...that's no comet..." "WHAT IS THE CORE?" Cyril yells. Brynjol can see outside, through the wreckage, the twin-tailed comet growing ever larger. It's target, it almost seems as if it's...Mount Oculus Aquila. "We need to get there IMMEDIATELY!" Cortain yells "Wait for the impact," Cyril commands, "We have braced, to move now would risk being blown away and losing time."

The air begins to superheat as the sky itself begins to rumble. The Twin-tailed comet surges across the sky, a second sun illuminating all in blinding light, impacting the mountain with the force of uncountable atomics. The wind itself surges out, as pieces of the mountain falls as meteors from the burning hole in the sky, and yet the comet's twin red tails do not falter.

Instead, they bend back.

Through the dust and wreckage, a singular sound blasts through, over all. A war horn mixed with a beast's roar. Brynjol laughs, a hearty laugh that everything's gonna be good now. "RRRRRAAAAAAAAAAURGH!" Cyril yells triumphantly as he fires his jump pack, flying like a missile from the doorway to bound across the planes. Brynjol rockets after him, heading straight for the helm, grinning.

Glowing red eyes pierce the dust as the Heavensward Wings reassemble, Crusader Invictus rising, standing tall. "I FETHING KNEW IT!" Cyril yells. "Wait..." Cortain blurts, "WHAT?" "Lads...I have an augur lock," Rockfist says, "Are ya ready?" "Do it!" Cyril yells. "Could it be... that a piece for it was hiding here the whole time?" Cortain considers, "In that mountain?" "I'm on my way," Rose says. Temur shakes his head as he follows, "The more we find out, the less what we know seems to matter..." "Commandos," the Squat Hearthguard Champion says, "We'll guard the locals." "Do so," Cyril says, "Automata, obey the Hearthguard."

The Commandos' world goes white with a flash, as the smell of ozone greets them. They find themself within the bridge of Crusader Invictus, Rose rising up in her place. Brynjol stands forward, assuming the helm. The old wooden ship's wheel extends to his waiting hands. Cyril seizes the macrocannon controls with excitement, murmuring a prayer of aggression over Octavio's Burden, while Cortain takes the Techpriest's Shrine.

Mount Oculus Aquila lies shattered, Crusader Invictus standing in the impact crater. The God Machine draws the Crusader sword, extending out against the dust, coalescing into a misshapen blue creature, the melted stump of its head covered in eyes.

"I feel them...all around," Rose says, looking around, "They're waiting for the command..."

The misshapen creature rushes forward to charge, raising its arms forward. "Annihilate them," Brynjol declares, "Bring the fury of the Allfather!" He cocks his arm back, blade level with his shoulder. The creature is swings its arms down at Crusader Invictus, aimed at the burning turbine that is the Heart Invictus. Brynjol decides to Parry, and Rose instinctively brings her arm up, Crusader Invictus doing the same. Out of the dust, the Comamndos see a tiny flash of silver. One of those maintenance drones. "Oh..." Cortain realizes, "OH!" "MY FRIENDS!" Cyril bellows, his Chapter's accent slipping through.

The Dark Age Maintenance Drones swarm around Crusader Invictus, like the eye of a hurricane, before one grabs onto the arm. Another grabs on to the first, and another, and another, linking in a spiral. The Drones combine in seconds, until Crusader Invictus holds a perfectly rounded shield. Brynjol has barely time to test the weight of it, rolling his arms as the Buster Aegis swings around in a wide arc, slamming past the creature's arms with a clanging sound, opening up for a perfect counter-attack.

"The many join together as one, an unbreakable aegis..." Rose muses.

Executing a near-perfect parry, Crusader Invictus stabs the Crusader Sword forward, causing white blood to leak everywhere, scoring a double fury killing blow. The God Machine kicks the disintegrating corpse away. However, all around, the Commandos can see more dust storms. The real fight begins as four of the creatures, identical to the first, materialize in. These numberless kin are on the attack.

"Something tells me that we will need more than just one good swing to hurt them..." Cortain states. "The enemy are many... BUT SO ARE WE!" Cyril yells.

Two of the numberless kin are advancing forward, their arms raised. Two of them raise their arms, and summons great orbs of energy. While Crusader Invictus counter-attacks effortlessly with the Buster Shield, hurricane-force winds forming in its wake, the endless orbs of kosmic energy seem to find their mark, washing over the frame and inflicting damage on the hull. All across the world, people kneel, their prayers to the Emperor doubled, prostating themselves to the Commandos and the God Machine. The time has clearly come - the Angel of the Emperor's Fury has arrived.

"I can feel the maintenance drones," Rose says, "It's not just a shield...they can do more! I think you can also configure them to Bombers and Fighters as well if you need them."

Cortain Arc Charges the Crusader Sword, readying a Zandatsu attack. Executing it, however, one of the creatures manages to parry a good number of the attacks, to Brynjol's horror. He laments that he forgot to make the attack unparryable and undodgable. He consoles himself with an uppercut, Crusader Invictus's mighty fist dusting one of the creatures. Magna-Cannons burst through a Kin's simple void shield, and opens the way for a shot from the World-Burner Lances. Bombardment Torpedoes slam into a Kin even further, and Crusader Invictus braces for further attacks.

One of the giant disfigured Kin begins flailing wildly, though its uncoordinated attacks are easily parried. With a pair of counter-attacks, the first strike staggers the creature, the second slices it through, into translucent blue dust. As if propelled by fate, a quick burst from the Heavensward Wings, and Crusader Invictus narrowly dodges the kosmic barrage from the other Kin. However, out of the dust, two more of the creatures manifest, the kin all raising their arms simultaneously. The four creatures raise their arms as the Hellstar's eye turns to Crusader Invictus. The sky itself turns dark, the dust and light of stars now fully visible in the firmament.

The Hellstar shrieks, great shards of itself surging forward down. Though dozens of these shards are falling to the surface, the Commandos note at least six are heading directly to Crusader Invictus. They are travelling slowly but inevitably, reminiscent of torpedoes. "Shoot them down!" Brynjol yells. Cyril laughs viciously as he targets the torpedoes. Remembering what Rose said earlier, Cyril barks a command to destroy the incoming kosmic asteroids. Crusader Invictus extends its arm. The Buster Aegis dismantles into its core components, which promptly reform, heading towards the incoming targets. "Combination achieved," Rose says, "Fighters on approach." "Does that count as shooting?" Cyril guffaws uncharacteristically.

The drones, now combined into fighter-like arrangements, begin gunning down the incoming asteroids as best they can. They are able to gun down five, though one gets through, impacting Crusader Invictus back a bit. Now once more on the attack, however, Cortain arc charges the shields, and Crusader Invictus flies over the spawned in Kin to attack the ones flinging kosmic energy. Starting off with a bombardment from the torpedoes, Crusader Invictus charges into combat. The Heavensward Wings spread out, glowing bright red as the hardlight solidifies. The shards of hardlight surge out from the wings, impaling the numberless kin. The shards impact into the creature, the superheated light burning it away. The creature disintegrates into dust, which is spread as Crusader Invictus lands a devastating hit with sword and fist on another Kin.

The numberless kin continue their attacks, with Crusader Invictus barely able to hold on. A strong counter cuts deep into a kin that charged, its kosmic blood leaking everywhere. One creature begins to reform off to the side, while the last begins to fire more orbs, though Crusader Invictus flies out of the way.

With hurricane speed, Crusader Invictus rolls through the attacks, in the perfect place to strike back. Weather patterns on this planet are going to be heavily changed. Cortain Arc Charges the drones themselves, while Crusader Invictus downs a fourth Kin with sword and fist.

"You're making progress," Rose says, "It's taking longer and longer for them to spawn back in. They may not have much more fight in them.

Cortain bombards a kin with the torpedoes, but it does manage to dodge. Now with an opening, and curious as to see their effect, Cyril sends the drones out with a Command test. With a wave of the arm, the Drones form into Bombers, and are on their way, surging a red trail behind them. Their bombs look far more potent now, and with every hit the Kin rails and shudders. The arc-charged bombs seem to ignore the kin's armor, though its innate toughness holds. The one Kin in melee begins to attack, slashing away, but the Aegis reforms just in time, to swat away the attack, just enough time to stab forward, disintegrating the Kin.

Kosmic energy impacts all around. However, as the fallen Kin recompose in a great group, they raise their arms up high. One kin takes terrible feedback, disintegrating as another takes its place. The kosmically-charged Asteroids under the Hellstar's vision are coming down once more, as the sky and the kosmos become one. Opting to dodge, Crusader Invictus weaves and ducks through asteroids. Two, however, find their mark.

Taking a moment to review the battlefield, the Numberless Kin are all equally spaced. Crusader Invictus blasts out a roar from its warhorn, and raises the Crusader Sword high. "Commandos, look!" Rose yells, "I...I see an opening! Try to Arc Charge!" Cortain rushes to the terminal, setting the power just in time.

Out of Crusader Invictus's back bursts the burning red cape as it tosses the Crusader Sword in the air. The Drones attach, forming a great haft which Crusader Invictus grabs, twirling it forward. Bursting ahead at lightning speed, Crusader Invictus swings, swings, swings again. It is impossible, even for the Commandos' enhanced senses to keep track - One moment, Crusader Invictus stabs a Kin, the next, it is in front of another. The afterimages finally begin to fade, as Crusader Invictus kneels, the Drones retreating into hidden compartments. All four of the Numberless Kin fade simultaneously, the skies clouding above, then clearing once more. As the clouds clear...the Hellstar is gone.

"What...was that..." Rose coughs. "I seriously want to study that," Cortain announces, "SO. MARS. DAMN. MUCH." "We moved so fast..." she coughs, "Things were moving so slowly..." "Lads, we're not picking up any sign of the Hellstar..." Rockfist says, "It's gone for now."

All on Crusader Invictus's vox, the Commandos can hear the cheering of the world's survivors. Brynjol smiles softly, releasing the wheel. Rose is breathing heavily. It's evident she's quite exhausted. "Lads, the Inquisition will return to pick up Crusader Invictus," Rockfist says calmly, "We're ready to pick you up when you're ready." Cortain puts it into consideration to devise more training regimens. "Very well. I will be sending them a message asking to look into experience as well." "Aye..." Brynjol says, "Come get us." "Lock achieved, lads," Rockfist says, "Bringin' ya back."

A flash of light, the burning scent of Ozone, and the Commandos find themselves in the Blade's Teleportarium.

"Ye've received new messages on the Holomap, beardlings," O'Malley nods, as he retools the Teleportarium to retrieve the assets, "Ye did well."

Though Femor II may have lost its holy mountain, and its ability to provide fresh food to the sector will suffer somewhat, the world is still standing, and sometimes that is all that can be said.

(36) Excelsus Under the Eye[edit]

Though the Agri-World of Femor II may have some issue recovering, the world for now is safe. There are a number of requests for assistance pinging about, displayed for review. There is also a note encrypted with the greatest data-djinn the Mechanicum can muster - "The Star Bomb is 85% Complete"

1) The Knight World of Paramara has come under attack from Hive Fleet Nidhoggr, and while House Askari has sent a Lance to assist, support from House Pyrus is conspicuously absent, and House Excelsus is dealing with its own problems. The Raja of the House has been isolated with his Kshatriyan Guard, with numerous Tyranid bioforms making landfall. Break through the Tyranid fleet above, secure the Raja of House Kshatra, and work with the Knights to remove the Tyranid presence from their world.

2) What Korst'la wants, Korst'la usually gets. A VIP on the eleventh moon of the gas giant of Iniega has requested sanctuary aboard Studio 69, and Korst'la is more than willing to accommodate her, offering to "make her a star." She is currently holed up in a pleasure den owned by the system's kingpin, Magos Boris the Genetor. The Commandos are tasked with selecting a fast, durable vehicle, recovering the VIP, and bringing her to a designated Webway Portal on the world's surface for recovery. While the VIP is more than willing to accompany the Commandos, a number of unknown forces are also converging to prevent the recovery. Be prepared to defend oneselves, but as the world is a recruiting ground for the Black Panthers Chapter, it may be possible to secure their assistance.

3) Deepthroat has located Aun'o O'Res'Nan, mustering a great fleet and army over the misty world of Sors Natio. Deepthroat has alerted his superiors, and through channels illicit and official, the local Squat Hold has been mobilized, and a company of the Black Panthers Chapter is en route. Stealth and subterfuge will not avail - call upon allies as needed for a direct frontal assault breakthrough, for O'Res'Nan's pride will demand he face an open assault in person. Numerous Squat Hearthguard and Solar Sect Exo-Forces have volunteered to join the breakthrough. Spend them well.

Kill Aun'O O'Res'Nan, the Strong Armed Sword of the Ethereal Caste. Remove the Tau Empire from the Tiji Sector once and for all.

4) House Excelsus has reported that numerous fringe settlements on the world have cut contact, after self-mutilation of their eyes and erecting tall burning shrines pointing to the orbiting gas giant of Audax. Meet with the commanderies of House Excelsus, and work with the Knights to root out whatever is causing the disturbances. Be prepared for anything. The terrain is swampy and uneven, so it is wise to keep this in mind if vehicles are requisitioned.

Cortain peers at the requests. "So, we have two, maybe three real big requests: Tau, Hellstar, and Nidhoggr. Oh, and some annoying request from Korst'la." "I wouldn't exactly call'em requests, lad," Rockfist mutters, "But give us a destination, an' we'll get ya there." "The Inquisitors should be sending a vessel to retrieve Crusader Invictus," Rose offers, "So you can worry a little...less about that." "Good. We should keep our contact with them consistent," Cortain states, "I have a feeling we will be needing to call upon it very soon..." "Given the nature of our primary assignment, Audax appears to be of highest importance," Temur observes. "If that's yer priority, jus' give the order," Rockfist nods. "To Audax then, Brothers?" Temur asks. "Aye," Brynjol nods, giving the order. "Aye, lads," Rockfist says, "We'll be there before ya know it." "This would be the second Knight House we've visited," Rose considers, "During my time, the Knight battlesuits were to be a temporary line of first defense. It's interesting to see how they all changed."

The order is given, and the Blade begins to leave Femor local space. Orienting to a clear path, the Blade's Warp Drives kick in, the world of Audax on target. "The Hellstar's objective was not on Femor..." Cyril considers, "It seems we had disappeared just before its search began in earnest. We should arrange for all red gas giants in Tiji to be surveilled, if the Inquisitors have not already set up something of that nature."

Rockfist and Rose return to the Manufactora to continue their work, while O'Malley merely glares from the Bar and Grill's counter, preparing rites for the fallen in the Blade's small Chapellum. As for Thexus, well, he's somewhere. probably. Estimated time to Audax: 1 week, give or take a day or two.

Cortain looks for any transcripts involving the new "acquisitions" from Oculus Aquila, and why they seem so off-putting. Like how they could possibly eat someone's leg off. However, as he heads on over to his quarters to review the archives, he finds the way impeded. The halls themselves are blocked, and it is clear there are a few Squats trapped within the great clogged mess as well. At least, those moans of hunger are what he assumes are squats.

Envelopes. Hundreds of thousands of them.

Most are to the Ask the Commandos section of Cortain's Commando Ledger, all on about Crusader Invictus, but a fair number are prayers, well wishes, and intonations for blessings. Pleased at the attention, he realizes it's clear what this issue's focus should be on: The Invincible Crusader Invictus! It will take a bit to address all the fanmail and requests for blessings, so he summons two servo-squids to help file through the mail. Every so often, a pile of letters is moved, revealing an emaciated, exhausted squat. The Servo-automata pay them no mind as letter after letter is delivered to his desk. Cyril stumbles across the clog en route to the Laboratorium and assists with sorting questions and requests from general fangushing. Cortain even provides a gift of a spent bolt shell from Cyril's bolters to five thousand lucky supplicants! What a swell guy.

During the torrent of mails, the Editor in Chief / Iron Praetor reads a letter with a certain address on the Noosphere. What he discovers there horrifies even one who survived the horrors of the Hellstar: REPUBLICAN COMMANDO FANFICTION. Such magnificent stories, such as "ICE WRAITHS OF GOR", "The Techmarine and the Tank," and one rather poorly-spelled illustraded manual, "E-Brinjol" he quietly resolves to never tell another soul of such things.

There are a few blasts coming from the manufactorum, but overall the trip is relatively calm and quiet.

Brynjol works with his serfs, who are quite busy treating the wounded Squats from the mission. There were a few that died, but most suffered only minor to moderate injuries. Concerned at their weakness, Brynjol wonders if augmenting them is possible...

Temur proceeds down to the forge to inquire to Thexus about the nature of his cyber-hawk, notably the panels seeming to cover ports with no identifiable purpose. In the Manufactora, Rose is quite busy at her desk, working on some sort of weapon attachment. Rockfist is reviewing the motor pool, ensuring all is ready for when Sors Natio is the target. Oddly, Thexus is nowhere to be found. Temur looks around, somewhat puzzled.

"Have you seen the Executor?" Temur inquires, "I had a matter I wished to discuss, but I cannot seem to locate him." Rose removes the blast shield covering her face, and wipes away some soot, "I...haven't actually. I haven't seen him since Audax was decided as the target. Is there a problem?" She pushes away pieces of what looks like a weapon further away, turning her chair. "Not a problem, mostly curiosity," he says, "It can wait, but his absence does trouble me... what manner of device are you tinkering with?" Rose sighs, leaning back. "You know, just because I grew up in the Dark Age of Technology, that APPARENTLY means that I'm the go-to girl for fixing things," Rose huffs, "Rockfist and the Executor gave me this, they called it a Disintegrator Combi-attachment. And yes, I've almost gotten it working." She spins idly in her chair. "With any luck, I should have it ready in another week or two," she says, "As for the Executor, he'll probably show up again soon. He's been in such moods before." "Your expertise is quite valuable, when so much similar knowledge has been lost, but do not overtax yourself," Temur offers, "I think brother Cyril would be quite upset if he found out that the crew had been asking too much of you." "I understand. If I see him, I'll let you know," Rose says, before part of the weapon pops in a dark flash, spooking the nearby Tripodon, "Oh, not again...there there, Willoughby, it'll be okay" Rose heads off to calm the Tripodon, now bleating in panic.

Temur gestures to the ship and machinery around them. "Surrounded by all of this, seeing revived wonders of the dark age of technology, it does give me pause in quieter moments to consider what Chogoris may have been like in those days." "You might be able to ask the Executor about that," Rose says, "He was telling me a story about a world he called Mundus Planus once." "I will remember to ask him," Temur promises, "When he is no longer taken by whatever mood has him avoiding us. Good luck with your endeavors, I shall be in the armory if you have need of me." He heads off to the armory to practice working in tandem with Vachir.

After about a week, give or take a day, the general alarts begin to blare, and the Blade begins to transition to realspace. The surroundings are thick with the green-tinted dust of the Sheltered Reef Nebula, as the Blade travels on plasma drives.

Cyril curses as the alart blares. "Already? Drat. I had work to do..." He rises from a desk of letters and makes for the bridge. Brynjol looks up as the alart goes off, joining Cortain and rushing to the bridge. In the wake of such horrors, Cortain would ask O'Malley for a drink. However, he holds off. Not only does he think O'Malley might cut on him because they're stalling helping the Squats, but he also really wants to kick the dependency of astartes-enhanced liquors to forget the horrible things this sector brings him.

The dull orange world of Audax spins idly, with one of its moons, a misty brown and green world, floating idly amongst the heavens. "We've arrived, lads," Rockfist declares, as the Blade reaches a stable orbit, "Audax, home of Knight House Excelsus." Cortain reviews the noospheric datasieves, searching for information on the world. Audax is a varied world where lowlands and swamps give way to verdant equatorial jungles and mountainous poles. The world and local spess is ministered by the Domineus Council of House Excelsus. The world's capital, Fortress Adtonitus, and the surrounding Borderlands, are the center of activity on the world. Passing a heraldry test, and reviewing historical archivae, it seems House Excelsus is remarkably new on the galactic scene, appearing only about 17 years back. The organization of House Excelsus is, in polite terms, a loose collection of Freeblades, but mirrors in ranking the many hive gangs and rat packs prevalent in the underhives of the civilized worlds of the Imperium. Soldiers of fortune and fighters from all over the sector seek to prove themselves to join it. Surprisingly, it maintains manufactora to provide for all sorts of pattern knights, including the rarer Questoris, Cerastus and even Acastus patterns. This intrigues him - it's always been a dream to learn things meant for Sacristans.

Cyril checks local vox traffic, picking up nothing out of the ordinary. Incoming and outgoing supply transports, Lances departing for glory, and even a few combat vessels in orbit. "Anyway, lads, we've reached stable orbit," Rockfist says, "We can try teleportin' ya down, or prepare a transport. 'S up ta you." "Let us take a Stormbird," Temur declares, "If nothing else, I wish to see the fortressworks from above." "Affirmative," Cyril agrees, "It will afford room for Notomok and the Thanatar." "I will fly, then," Brynjol sighs, considering how bad Notomok smells, "Cyril, try and get your manbeast to take a bath before he gets aboard." "Very well, lads," Rockfist says, "We'll ready a Stormbird. Anything ye'll be needin' from the Armory?"

The Commandos review the Rites available to them. Given how they do not know the location of the enemy, and the terrain is rough, Jetbikes are in order. Temur is forcibly made Squad Leader, and they select the Chogorian Brotherhood Rite of War, granting them Jetbikes and the Hit and Run talent. A Warrior Squad of Squats is also prepared, also mounted on Jetbikes. Deciding on the Squad Modes of Tactical Spacing and Furious Charge, the Commandos move on to gear.

Temur selects a power, lance infernus pistol, and skapulan bolter, as well as a cartograph. Cyril selects a relic bolter, cryopistol, and a winged jump pack. Cortain decides only his bike is necessary, as befitting a vehicle-mounted Auroran, while Brynjol selects a jump pack and that's it. A Stormbird is readied, and a mass hauler prepared for the accompanying Squats and gear.

"We've already let the Fortress know yer comin', an' they're sendin' out a representative," Rockfist says, "Good luck down there." Cyril nods his thanks and boards with Notomok, patting the recently-washed yeti's shaggy lilac-scented fur. The Launch bay is cleared, and Brynjol pulls the Stormbird out slowly. The mass hauler is not far behind. He pilots the bird down carefully, ensuring a smooth ride. Swirling over the sight of Audax, and its moon Audax, drifting through the Sheltered Reef Nebula, he carefully takes the Stormbird through the misty clouds to the night side of the world, where Fortress Adtonitus and the Borderlands currently lay. Even though it is currently night, the Commandos could hardly tell as they land, so suffused in lights the Fortress Adtonitus is. The doors of the Stormbird finally fall out, opening for rapid deployment.

All outside, amongst the light rain, the Commandos can hear the wide voices of activity. Surprisingly, the occasional servo-squid floats about in the sky, ducking and weaving between skyscrapers. Though Fortress Adtonitus is by far the tallest building around, large gothic skyscrapers covered in neon signage and advertisements are strewn about. Heavily armed people walk about, doing business or aspiring to join the ever-growing Knight House Excelsus. Great noises echo through the streets, as the Commandos can see one of the trial pits on the outskirts of the world - a pair of knights are evidently dueling, probably to settle some bullshit.

"Is it just me," Brynjol begins, "Or is it concerning that Mechanicus technology is being used to power what are essentially the warmongering desires of a mercenary faction?" "This entire place is probably cobbled-together by the upstart Domineus Council," Cortain points out. "Warmongering? Knights do not instigate conflicts, they end them," Cyril declares, "Decisively."

Cyril idly views the advertisements in between scrutinizing the squids' iconography. Indeed, some advertisements are showing off the Excelsus Death Games, where lucky folks can try to survive and join the ranks, and an advert for Excelsus Idols, where men and women of particularly pleasing countenances compete to be the star-studded "public face" of Excelsus. His eyes catch the numerous advertisements for joining House Excelsus.

Temur catches a rather curious advertisement - it's him, looking angry and staring at the camera, a powerful grimace etched on his face. >"Feeling silent but deadly?" the Advert asks, "Try Pepto-Bismatus, available at your local apothecary!" Cortain cannot help but blast electrostatic laughter. Temur stands wordless, unsure of how to respond.

Cortain notes at least a few screens are dedicated to highlights of the Commandos' collective actions - fighting the enemies of mankind, delivering the citizens, etc. There are even adverts for the Commando Ledger.

As for Brynjol, he can see it. EVERYONE can. It's impossible to miss - an advert for the latest animated series taking the noosphere by storm - Magical Boy Felleye Brynjol! Now Cyril and Cortain are both doubled over, in a remarkably unprofessional stance. To bring in a real world example, an entire city of Times Square now beckons the Commandos, and their reactions are quite varied.

Brynjol begins nonchalantly heading towards the titanic screens near each glowing billboard, when a crowd begins to gather. "The Republican Commandos are here!" they yell, as they begin to cluster about. Brynjol unsheaths his claws slowly. "I... am not... MAGICAL!" He leaps in a dazzling jet-assisted pounce, and claws the shit out of the screen. Sparks fly. He looks... pretty magical. "MAHOU GAROU TSUME!!!" some local children cry out. Brynjol silences them with a wordless glare.

While Brynjol destroys any merchandising that has his name, the rest of the Commandos fly through the city on Jetbike, and can get a good idea of the layout. It's organized in grid fashion, and Fortress Adtonitus is the largest, centrally-located building. They also pass by numerous street carts selling exotic foods, and a lot of businesses. While most are weapons, the Commandos definitely see the occasional flophouse and Official Republican Commando™ Souvenir shops. Cortain checks to see how many of these MIGHT be worth investing in. And how many of them should be sekritpoliced. He records every instance in his cogitators, for later review. Offhand, he can definitely tell who might be worth investing in, and who's selling cheap knockoffs.

The Commandos finally arrive at the grand entrance of Fortress Adtonitus stretches forward. Great engraved doors of Knights on Crusade fit snugly between great signs declaring the Fortress. They can also see, outside the entrance, a mighty statue of a Spess Mareen. Cyril gets closer, noticing the statue has a plaque. He gets a look at the plaque and reads it in his memorance implant while he circles.

"In Memoriam, honored Praetor Khordyn Zahn. Loyalty is its own reward, eternally safeguarding the future." The statue has no heraldry, surprisingly enough, but it is well embellished. In slightly smaller text, "In Memoriam, honored Warlord Urist McThornswoggle, for all must do their part to preserve our heritage."

Above the engraved doors is the great symbol of House Excelsus, a pair of lightning bolts crossing a white circle. The Doors are slightly open, as people go in and out on business. Many people who go in and out of Adtonitus see the Commandos, and are quite surprised. To actually meet them, it's enough to distract them from the great surrounding city, if even momentarily. Entering Fortress Adtonitus, a number of Battle Automata stand present in guard formation. While tasked with keeping out miscreants, they offer the Commandos no resistance, allowing them to pass. Rockfist was correct, the Commandos were expected.

"You've arrived," a woman's voice says, as a figure begins walking down a flight of grandiose stairs, "Welcome, Republican Commandos, to Fortress Adtonitus." The woman looks to be in her late twenties, with long brown hair, and a thin set of glasses. In fact, the Commandos estimate her to be maybe five or so years older than Rose. Her dress is an elegant folded gown of black and teal, with shining green inlays in the sleeves. Of curious note is the golden winged sun disk floating behind her. Cyril pauses a moment - he's definitely seen that symbol before. The Commandos picked up a solar disk in that same style 800,000 years in the future. "Greetings," Cyril declares, "I suppose you will be our intermediary in this...affair?" "Thank you, and well met," Cyril nods. "You are correct. As the Domineus Council is away currently, I will be working alongside you," she nods, "My name is Meghara, Domineus and Acting Leader of House Excelsus." Cyril and Temur twitch a bit. >They were in my previous game, Excelsus, as Ophilia and Vathrek, respectively. "Please, this way," Megh gestures, "We have a more quiet room set up so we can discuss things in peace."

Cyril is reasonably certain her dress, a kalarisis, is Necron in origin, but he pushes it aside for the immediate duty. Brynjol nudges Cyril. "Is that what I think it is?" "Is there an issue?" Megh asks, "Our food on hand would do you little good, but if there is anything you require, please let us know." As the Solar Disk bobs, she finally gestures to a small conference room. The Commandos note the walls are thicker than normal - there will be no interruptions. Indeed, intercepted vox traffic dies down heavily as the Commandos sit.

In the quiet room, Megh closes the doors. "Now then, we can begin. First, on behalf of House Excelsus, I wish to thank you for coming to assist us so swiftly." "The Hellstar is our foremost foe and duty," Cyril explains, "We came as soon as we received word. Are you at all familiar with it and its Cult?" "We have heard of it, yes. The Domineus Council reported sightings of it some seventeen years back," she nods, "Which is why we tried to stay as vigilant as we could." "You mentioned Clawed-out eyes in your missive," Cortain states, "Have any other anomalies taken place? Any...unwelcome guests?" "Yes, sir Forge Lord," she says, "A few days before the reports of the cultists, we detected a meteoric impact near one of the Legionary Castellums surounding Adtonitus. From there, one of the Castellums had gone silent." Cyril leans forward. "Concerning. Have you sent any forces to investigate?" She sighs, "Most of our Lances are currently diverted to the Euclisine Crusade. The next wave of knight aspirants will not be ready in time to address this problem. Only myself and a few others are combat ready." Megh brings up a personnel list on dataslate. "There have been soldiers who went to investigate, using the issue to prove themselves to join us," she says, "None have returned."

"Sounds like we have our location," Cortain declares, "Have your pict feeds shown what might be there?" "Where is this Castellum?" Cyril asks. "Regrettably, any attempts at pict-feed show static and heavy interference," Megh explains, "The Castellum in question is located to the southeast of us, in the borders of the equatorial jungles. It is a tall structure. I can provide you with coordinates to the Castellum for your Cartograph, but the swamps are treacherous, and the paths ever shift. You will need to be cautious." "Understood," Temur says, eager to move on, "Do you wish to recieve the coordinates of any of the failed parties should we find them?" "There is no need," she shakes her head, "If they died, then they were undeserving of joining Excelsus. The Domineus Council demands only the best." Brynjol snorts, disbelieving. "I am attempting to assemble a Lance," Megh says, "We intend to join you as soon as we can, but, as much as it pains me to say, you should not expect our support." "So be it," Cortain acknowledges. With a wave, the Skull-emblazoned door opens. "I wish you luck, Commandos," she nods, "Watch the swamps." "We will, Domineus Meghara. Emperor keep you..." Cyril salutes the Aquila, "And say hello to the Phaeron for us if you meet him again." "I...ah..." she splutters, turning quite red, adjusting her glasses. Cortain simulates mirth all the way out.

Approaching formation with the Squats, the Commandos prepare to blaze the trail. Though it is night time, autosenses compensate, and the dark expanses ahead provide no obstruction.

All ahead, the swamps extend out. Floating over them at a good height, the Commandos can nonetheless keep a rough track based on cartographic information. The Squats, even over the jetbikes, however, begin grumbling every so often. More than one finger points to great gashes in the swamplands. There is much muttering about hated enemies and grudges unfilled. Cyril calls in a second Brotherhood, these with Volkite jetbikes, and listens in. As the Commandos surge across, after about a few minutes, another squad of Jetbiking Squats is deployed over the air by hauler. The same grumbling continues.

"Ye can see'em, right?" "Aye, I do. Damn bugs." "Filthy xenos, no matter where ya go." "We'll avenge the Homeworlds one day, even if it takes a thousand generations." "Aye."

And many variations thereof.

"Bugs?" Cortain asks, "Hellstar entities don't usually take forms of - oh wait, they did. Last week." "Urist, report," Cyril requests, "Your m