Part 1 – Out of Space
With the immediate crises behind them (or at least on hold) the crew of the Corpus Dei began investigating the alien domain they’d escaped into. Acting Captain Vidame Mayorga order Enginseer Stum to divert maximum power to the auger array and began an intensive sensor sweep. Most of what the sensors returned was unintelligible. In all the noise a few things could still be ascertained, though with considerable difficulty.
The most obvious issue was a large region (about 5 times the size of Sol) that was showing some sort of distortion. The strange pattern that revealed this was slowly attenuating; according the the Enginseer’s calculations it would resolve in roughly 5 standard days. Within this distortion was a large planet (roughly 3 times the size of earth but of similar mass) that appeared to return a relatively high energy signature and unusual composition. Beyond this everything else seemed an endless expanse of nothing in every direction.
At the same time Warp Guide “Master Or” attempted to gain some insight on the metaphysics of the area. The warp could barely be seen or felt, and any attempt to channel his navigator abilities was exhausting. Not seeing any other solution Master Or opened his fragmented mind to the disjointed connection he had established with the Magoros Array.
The strain on Master Or’s mind and body were almost overwhelming. Had he not been suspended in the ship’s navigation pod the navigator would have been left prone and reeling on the ground. Despite the pain and disorientation, however, the navigator was able to find a few useful bits of information.
There was some sort of powerful connection on the nearby planet along with a distant flicker of something 5-10 days travel away (at his best estimate, given the circumstances). More importantly there was some powerful disturbance approaching the ship. More unsettling was that there didn’t seem to be a point of origin or direction from this disturbance. It felt as though it would simply appear from nothing around the ship in the next few hours.
The crew assembled their accumulated information and discussed their options. There was a great deal of trepidation about any plans to go into the distortion to investigate the planet, even more so regarding the idea of actually sending a team down to the strange world. Despite their concerns the damage to the ship along with dwindling supplies made the opportunity too valuable to ignore.
The ship moved into orbit around the apparently rogue planet. The ship began an in-depth augury of the world and launched a squadron of chiroptean scout ships with fighter escorts to investigate as well. The strangest discovery was how all the readings looked more like single snapshots of data rather than a proper log; the energy signature of the planet was perfectly static. While that was disturbing and bizarre the rest of the information was much more interesting.
Part 2 – Sleepers Beyond Time
The planet was nothing but a hive of perfectly ordered racks of alien stasis pods. The hive blocks were built around a planetary core that had been modified into the same sort of pseudo-organic energy source discovered in the Magoros system. There were a handful of areas that seemed to house some other equipment, but sensors could not penetrate the walls of those structures. Aside from a static and apparently endless flow of power the planet was silent and motionless.
A test of the teleportarium showed that it was completely inert within the alien space, unable to access the warp as a medium for transit. Kerchan and Vidame gathered the best skitarii soldiers that were still in one piece and organized a team to scout the surface. The troops were loaded into a shuttle and sent down while the crew prayed they didn’t wake anything up.
The troops found the planet instinctually disturbing and nearly lost control. Thankfully the skitarii were disciplined and avoided complications. Their reports indicated that the technology and structures were all of xenos origin. They did not investigate the pods directly but tentatively concluded the inhabitants to be xenos as well. The troops were concerned that the xenos machines built into the stasis hive were watching them, tracking their behavior.
It was clear to Kerchan that her troops were only going to hold it together for so long before they did something potentially disastrous. Recalling the scout troops she and the command staff prepared to head down themselves. Master at Arms Kennok, Enginseer Prime Vinter Stum, and Warp Guide “Master Or” headed down to the surface with Flight Marshal F-Eight on her converted gun-cutter.
The moment the team hit the ground Vinter scanned the area via Warp Auger while Or established bearings for the connection he had felt earlier. Vinter immediately saw why the troops had been so on edge; even asleep the aliens filled the planet’s well with more background psychic energy found anywhere outside the astronomican. If the patterns hadn’t been so calm it’s unlikely any human would have survived landing.
With the navigator leading the way the team found a familiar, if disjointed, sight. The Fortress Array’s main hub had been ripped from its housing and displaced onto this strange planet. Based on the size and connections present it was clear that this had been where the Egarian Device had previously resided.
Master Or approached the hub. He could feel that it had been disrupted by the transition and its disconnection from the rest of the Egarian Watch Fortress, but that it still held enormous power. Unconcerned with the risks, the Navigator opened his warp eye and began attempting to attune to the damaged array.
Part 3 – Alien Insight
Meanwhile the Enginseer Prime attempted to open a dialogue with the Xenos machine spirits. An initially hesitant exchange of basic mathematic principals unfolded into a complex language of tech that bridged both species and era. The details of the conversation were known only to Vinter and the xenos machine, but the ultimate result was material assistance from the Egarian machines followed by a request that the “People of the Emperor” conclude their business, take “The agreed upon device”, and leave.
Shortly thereafter Master Or stumbled away from the broken array with a maniacal grin, his eyes wild with xenos knowledge. Their business on the stasis-crypt planet complete, the crew returned to their battered ship. Before further action could be taken, however, the Guardian of the Egarian Gates unfolded into the space around the ship.
The Corpus Dei was practically cradled within the tendrils of the otherworldly monstrosity. With only moments to act before it tore the vessel apart, Master Or attempted to replicate the communion he had seen Lord Captain Mayorga perform with the beast almost a year before.
The first wave of impressions of the almost godlike alien mind nearly knocked the Navigator unconscious. Reeling from the crushing presence of the Guardian’s mind his initial attempts to placate the thing faltered. Feeling the creature’s tendrils running along the ship’s hull Master Or switched to a new approach. Mustering every ounce of will he could gather, Or invoked his authority as a gatekeeper and rebuked the creature for failing in its duties.
The logic was straightforward enough to translate cross even the most alien perspectives. Believing that it faced a legitimate authority, the creature acquiesced and returned to its post deep within the heart of the network.
Part 4 – The Common Man’s Vigil
The ship was again spared the Guardian’s wrath but the strain had not been kind to the Navigator. Blood ran from his eyes, nose, and mouth as Master Or lay dazed on the floor. With some ministration from Vinter he was able to recover enough to point the way to the Magoros gate before retiring to the med-bay for the next few days.
The ship drifted towards the gate at low power. This allowed the Chief Enginseer to direct extensive repairs in preparation for the return to the materium. Before the ship left the gate network the Enginseer had used the materials acquired from the Egarian AI to temporarily reconstruct the Void Shield Array, greatly increasing the vessel’s chances for survival.
Once the ship transitioned into the Magoros system, it would be a small matter to set a course for the Jericho Gate. By the time the ship reached the gate Master Or would be fully recovered and could complete the voyage back to Erioch with little trouble. Then the ship could finally get more thorough repairs and divest themselves of the Egarian Device.
Before any of that could happen, there was a more immediate concern to address. While a complex weave of disinformation, bribes, and careful management had kept morale up thus far the crew’s conviction had become fragile. One major disruption could bring the entire web of propaganda and misdirection crashing down on the officer’s heads.
With so many crewman already dead and the people of the Corpus Dei already destabilized, news that an apparent serial killer had continued to confound the ship’s constabulary and only grown bolder with each kill was the last thing anyone wanted to hear. The command crew could no longer leave this issue for the ship’s lower peacekeepers to resolve, and would have to investigate the problem themselves.
In fact, Acting Captain Vidame Mayorga made it quite clear he wanted the killer’s head on a platter in his office and in short order. High Factotum Edmund Swift leveraged his informants and agents within the habs while Master at Arms Kerchan Bron Kennok physically investigated his leads.
The pattern that emerged revealed a few details about the killer:
- The killer was hunting down people that had foul reputations. Some were just generally described as “assholes”, while others had reputations for abuse or exploitative criminal behavior.
- The hiller had no problems taking down dangerous prey, a number of his victims were skilled fighters
- The killer gave more leeway to women, and their deaths were far more merciful. The women that had been killed were all exceptionally vile: abusive madames, women who horrifically exploited their own children, etc.
- The profiles of the male vs. the female victims along with the manner of their murders indicated that the killer was almost certainly male.
- The killer was careful about the location of his kills. He was obscuring his own location.
- The killer knew technology exceptionally well. He never showed up as even a shadow on the ship’s security or surveillance systems. Some security devices had even inexplicably “slept” while the killer took a victim nearby.
- The killer’s favored weapon was a primitive blade, though there were signs of more advanced technology, such as shock weapons, used to subdue the victims first.
Looking at the data they had gathered, Kerchan1 was able to deduce the hab-block of the killer. With his continual success there had been a few slips. A few victims had been taken from one area only to be killed much farther away, and the scrambled security devices from other incidents revealed a trajectory of the killer’s approach.
With an area to focus their efforts on the factotum and master-at-arms came up with a characteristically bold plan. Edmund would spread foul rumors of a slaver matching Kerchan’s general description kidnapping children from the neighboring habs. Edmund finished priming the bait by throwing in a few planted leads to make tracking the “slaver” down manageable.
Kerchan was fitted with hidden trackers and transmitters (in case the killer somehow got the drop on her) and began “stalking” the neighboring habs. The rumors had apparently struck a nerve. The killer took the bait almost immediately, far faster than anyone had anticipated.
1 At least I think it was Kerchan that made the critical logic test success, it may have been Vinter.
Part 5 – First Blood
Only the reflexes honed over years of near-constant warfare and a youth spent stalking the monstrous wildlife on the death-world of Shathar saved Kerchan from being ambushed and taken down without a fight. She didn’t even have time to unsheathe her blades. Only feeling a prickle of electricity from behind Kerchan barely had time to shift her weapons within their harness to stop the shock-sword from shattering her fifth vertebrae and electrocuting her into unconsciousness.
With the ambush deflected Kerchan slipped around to free her swords of their ruined harness and face her attacker. The man wore fine clothes and an ornate clockwork mask. He was unexpectedly of medium build despite his considerable strength. A quick read of his fighting style suggested conflicting conclusions; his opening strikes carried the ruthless aggression of a street thug, his defensive tactics were idiosyncratic to the dueling styles of Malfi Nobility, and his closing strikes were specifically those of an imperial bounty hunter.
The killer remained silent as he pressed his advantage. Kerchan deflected the worst of the assault before the shock-weapon slipped through her defenses and left her bleeding and winded. The injury was minor, even considering the electricity backing up the strike, but first blood had gone to her opponent for the first time in years. Furious at this insult Kerchan swung a wide, wild arc in front of her. Drawing the killer in for what appeared to be an easy disarm she reversed the arc at the last moment and sent the shock weapon flying into a gutter a dozen meters below.
Still reclaiming her breath the master-at-arms called for backup over her comm-bead. Unknown to her the signal was completely suppressed, no one could here her call for help. Though disarmed of his primary weapon the killer was still far from unarmed. With a casual flick of the wrist he fired a fusillade of darts from his sleeve. Kerchan barely dodged the unquestionably toxic payload, twisting around to bring her blades down in a powerful downward chop-and-draw attack that would have opened the killer’s torso in four different directions.
The flourish and aggression of Kerchan’s assault cost her. With what appeared to be his bare hands, the killer brushed the blades away in a half-circle and snatched one of the swords from Kerchan’s hands. This limited victory did not come without a price of its own, however. As the killer adjusted his grip on the newly acquired chainsword his opponent drew her remaining blade back and across, opening his bicep up with a spray of blood and forcing him to use both hands to maintain control of his weapon.
Now insulted twice-over, Kerchan was in a fury. Continuing to hammer away at the wounded killer’s defenses she screamed for him to return her clan’s ancestral weapon between threats of escalating physical improbability. Growing uncertain about both the situation and his chances if the fight continued, the killer spoke for the first time.
“Fine.” was all that preceded the return of Kerchan’s blade via her ribcage and right lung, effectively sheathing the chainsword in its owner’s torso. The pain was only momentary as shock set in almost immediately. Kerchan choked as blood poured up from her chest and out from her mouth. The last clear image in Kerchan’s vision was the twirl of the killer’s coat as he fled, followed by the sight of a lake of blood at her feet flying towards her face before everything drifted into darkness.
Though already alerted by the screams moments before, with the killer gone Edmund and the security team could hear the wet choking over Kerchan’s vox connection and see her plummeting vital signs. The team rushed to her aid, getting their commanding officer to the med-bay with all possible haste.
Master at Arms Kerchan Bron Kennok should not have survived. Instead she punched Death in the face, stomped its head into the curb, spat in its face, and told death not to return until he’s grown a pair. Covered in bandages and with a wet rasp to her voice, Kerchan was back in action the next morning.
Part 6 – Professional Courtesy
With a genetic sample and more insight into the killer’s tactics added to their previous information it only took an analysis of water, power, and waste usage to track the killer to his safehouse. The perimeter was secured and a raid sent into the building. Numerous witnesses to the killer’s day-to-day activities were taken into custody, but of the killer himself only a letter addressed “To Ship’s Officer Kennok” remained.
“My Lady Kennok,
I must apologize for the insult of the wound I left with you at our last encounter. Had I possessed an inkling as to your true identity that night I would never have sought to harm you; I have nothing but respect for the leadership of this vessel. Indeed, the very fabric of this ship’s society and well-being of all its people hinges on the strength and integrity of you and your fellow officers.
Unfortunately my task here is not yet complete, there is still so much filth corrupting the otherwise pure society within this herald of the Omnissiah’s truth. However, your recent involvement in my work suggests that I may have overstepped and allowed my zeal to undermine my purpose. Accordingly I will retire from my work until I have regained a proper perspective and the ship’s community has regained some stability. You won’t see my hand at work again any time soon, I promise you.
Given the nature of your work and place on the ship I know you can not always intervene in every matter that you would like to see resolved. Should you need some problem element on this vessel resolved, be it by a pool of blood or in chains, I would be happy to assist when your attention is needed elsewhere. I have arranged a blind dead-drop for any messages you might wish to leave, the details of which are attached.
I leave you with my sincerest apologies along with my wishes for your swift and comfortable recovery. I dearly hope this incident will not leave you with any personal animosity towards me. I humbly ask you to consider that I only assaulted your esteemed personage because I had been led to believe you were actually the slaver Grishka, whom I now thankful to realize never actually existed.
Intentionally or not the letter revealed yet more insight into the identity and nature of its author:
- Obviously, the man considers himself a vigilante rather than a serial killer
- His word choice and sentence construction falter in numerous places, revealing an awkward attempt to mimic the correspondance of actual imperial nobility.
- He appears to be an imperial convert to the Cult of the Omnissiah, or at the very least making a serious attempt to act as one.
- His respect for legitimate authority is genuine and could be used to manipulate him
- He may very well be terrified of Kerchan, or at least the consequences of his fight with her.
- He has a much stronger will to live than most killers (profesional, murderous, or otherwise).
- His “dead-drop” is for electronic messages, and the complexity of its design indicates that he’s either an ordained lay-practitioner of the Omnissiac faith or is on the verge of being a Heretek.
Testing the waters a handful of messages through this “dead-drop” led to a tentative back-and-forth in the last few days before arriving at the Deathwatch Fortress of Erioch. Nothing of substance was communicated, but a means of two-way communication without revealing a location (yet anyway) was set up for future use (or exploitation).
Interrogations/interviews of “Vigil’s” neighbors uncovered little of use. Descriptions were highly varied and frequently conflicted. One witness even insisted that the only person living in the killer’s safehouse was a woman. The only details of any interest were in his generally benign day-to-day activities.
- He frequently played music that, according to Master Or’s surprising knowledge of the arts, is generally regarded as a technically brilliant composition rooted in the study of mechanically powered instruments, but that was otherwise regarded as awkward and too reliant on the tropes of its time.
- He was not terribly social, but was quite handy at fixing up various maintenance issues within the hab complex that cropped up over the past few weeks.
- Study of his work within the hab revealed a talent for mechanics and proper observation of the requisite rituals, but only basic skill with more complex infrastructure
The only interesting discovery came from a 12 year old boy living on the floor above the killer. The boy admitted that he’d received a gift from “Vigil” after his father was beaten nearly to death in a street or bar fight of some sort.
- The gift was a masterfully handcrafted personal chronometer2, easily worth more than 6 months of the family’s wages.
- A quick check with Vinter revealed that the child’s father was still recuperating at a nearby “free clinic” rather than the ship’s official medical facilities.
- Further questioning revealed that the boy’s father had grown considerably more violent over the past few months (coinciding with the ship’s approach to the Eye of Terror).
- With some coaxing and negotiation the boy finally admitted that on the night before his father was nearly killed he had severely beaten the child in a drunken rage.
- The chronometer was clearly crafted by “Vigil”, many of the same tools used in the maintenance repairs were used in the construction of the chrono.
- Any suggestion that the child might not be allowed to keep “Vigil’s” gift was met with exceptional resistance (whether he was allowed to keep the gift or if it was taken for further study needs to be determined)
With all of this information compiled, assurance that the matter was at least temporarily resolved along with the fact that the ship had reached the Deathwatch fortress the issue was put on hold to be addressed at a later time.
2 Better known in the real world as a pocketwatch
Part 7 – Bloody Plans
During the return from the depths of the warp there had been considerable discussion and concern over the Egarian Device. If the technology of the device was in any way tied to the Golden Throne then it was a potential threat to the Imperium itself. The simple fact that it was of xenos construction made this risk even more disturbing. Warp Guide “Master Or” even theorized that such a device might be an attempt to supplant the Emperor himself.
Given the Deathwatch’s particular purpose and specialization, however, it was determined that it would be better to let them study the device and determine its fate. The distance of the Jericho Reach from Holy Terra was an additional comfort.
Once the Corpus Dei docked at the Erioch Watch Fortress problems started the moment the cargo pods were plugged into the docking tubes. A confusion in communications and conflict between the dock workers nearly allowed Inquisitor of the Chamber Hezika Carmillus to take possession of the Egarian Device before the Deathwatch could claim it.
Unfortunately for the Inquisitor, the disruption of the mission within the Watch Fortress’ very walls sent Apothecary and Sanguinary Priest Cassius into a fury. Dressed only in a white robe the Deathwatch Blood Angel stormed into the loading dock with fangs barred as the whites of his eyes began to redden.
The terrifying sight of a furious space marine on the verge of the Red Thirst put the fear of the Emperor himself into every servant and laborer in the fortress, regardless of their particular loyalties. While efforts were made to appease the Apothecary the device was delivered without further complication.
Part 8 – The Black Doge
Watch Commander Mordigael was disturbed by the news that followed along with the Egarian Device. The Warden of the Gates was in a coma, the daemon-world fortress, and escalating internal conflict were only outweighed by the relief that the device had been recovered intact and (presumably) uncorrupted.
Negotiations over the details of compensation took over a week. This was less a matter of hardball-tactics than the fact that the ship needed time to rest and some of the Deathwatch’s equipment needed to be removed from the vessel anyway. With little to distract the crew, it made sense to work out all the details as completely as possible.
Some unconventional offers from the Deathwatch did complicate the process, however. While they were happy to pay in any number of forms, the Ordo Xenos had recently seized an Orion Class Star Clipper, the Black Doge from cold-trade smugglers which was on offer as a portion of the payment.
After some deliberation the offer was accepted and the clipper transport added to the fleet. Thanks to shrewd negotiations by High Factotum Edmund Swift an archeotech upgrade to the Corpus Dei’s life support systems was rolled into the same agreement. Some small personal additions were made to the remainder of the payment and the agreement was finalized. A few more days were spent installing the new equipment and transitioning command of the Black Doge.
One unsettling detail was uncovered regarding the new addition to the fleet. A death cult had taken root amongst the lower crew, most likely led by members of the Astral Knives. This resulted in a fanatical but perpetually smaller crew (murder and sacrifices eventually lead to a fairly consistent equilibrium). The situation would require constant monitoring, but was potentially quite useful, especially given the dynasty’s fairly positive relationship with the Astral Knives.
Part 9 – Homebound
With all business concluded, the Corpus Dei and the Black Doge set course through the Jericho Gate back to the Lathes. Even the repairs done at Erioch were limited to key systems and points of integrity, extensive care and ministration was needed.
The most immediate concern was the dangerously thin crew both ships were now operating with. Erioch could not supply additional crew to fill out the ranks of the Black Doge and thus a temporary detachment had to be sent over from the already thinned crew of the Corpus Dei. Only the Lathes could supply the repairs, equipment, and skilled crew in sufficient supply for the Mayorga Dynasty’s fleet.
The crew would spend months in the Lathe orbital docks while the Corpus Dei was repaired and reconsecrated. While during the later months of this period the Black Doge would be able to provide support to the dynasty’s burgeoning trade network, the command staff would have more pressing concerns of their own…