Part 1 – Drydock
After the first two weeks docked at the Outer Lathes Orbital Ring the dynasty’s immediate business had been concluded. The crew of the Black Doge was still being filled out, but all that was left to do about that was wait. The crew had months of enforced shore-leave ahead of them and would need to keep busy.
Enginseer Prime Vinter Stum and F-Eight retreated to the laboratorium to continue whatever “secret project” they’d been obsessing over for the past few months. On occasion they would be joined by Warp Guide “Master Or”. Apparently they required his medicae skills and experience with dangerous experimental surgery.
Despite the almost monthly surgical sessions with Vinter he could not discern much about the point of it all. It was apparent that the Enginseer was working on extraordinarily high-grade implants and overhauling his own form in the process. As a result the Tech-Priest was beginning to look more human than machine.
The most questionable thing he saw was that some of the tech-priest’s implants had been replaced with exceptionally engineered biological equivalents. While rather fringe for a Magos, it was not an unheard of practice among the Magi Biologis of the Genetors. Regardless, pushing the limits of heterodoxy and decorum within the Mechanicum was hardly something worth keeping secret, especially amongst the command staff.
Without more to go on, and not really caring beyond the desire to satisfy his own curiosity, Master Or returned his focus to his own research. He’d begun experimenting with a new medium and was pleased with his progress thus far. He found that working with it calmed the noise and spikes of pain in his mind that otherwise seemed ever-present over the past year or two.
Master at Arms Kerchan Bron Kennok had redoubled her training after recovering from her encounter with “Vigil”. She was determined to prevent another such loss from ever happening again. Between her own training regimen, guarding Acting-Captain Vidame Mayorga whenever he left the the dynasty’s compound in the Orbital Ring, and running integration exercises with the new skitarii troops she hammered her life into a tightly scheduled cycle.
Vidame and High Factotum Edmund Swift initiated an extensive campaign of acquisition. Together they worked to ensure the ship would be even better than before once the repairs and refit was complete. The first objective was an upgrade to the Gellar field. This turned out to be a relatively simple matter, and a fifty meter diameter sanctified icon of the Machine God was mounted just below the barrel of the nova cannon to anchor the enhanced wards.
Their second objective was a bit more difficult. After seeing the warp engine in use on the Black Doge Master Or and Vidame consulting with one another. It was determined that a Miloslav Warp Engine would be a worthwhile risk factor if combined with the aforementioned Warpsbane field, just as had been done on the transport. For centuries the Mechanicum has considered the Miloslav designs touched by the profane and just short of outright tech-heresy.
A tempting bargain, the Miloslav designs are more power efficient and tear through the warp at tremendous speeds. The consequence of this is instability and a larger “wake” left in the warp. It is said that some novice navigators trying to use these engines have trapped their vessels in their own wake. This resulted in exponential disruptions that caused catastrophic engine failure and explosion. How anyone would survive to tell such a tale makes this rumor rather suspect, however.
It took two months of careful negotiations and diplomacy before the Master Fabricator gave his assent. Few Miloslav engines are still produced, all of which are only assembled within the Panopticon at the heart of the Lathe world triat. The acting captain and factotum’s efforts paid off, however. Three months into their time in drydock, a Miloslav H-616.b Warp Engine was installed within the heart of the Corpus Dei.
The last piece of their plans for the ship was received much more warmly. With the reduced power draw of the new warp engine and life sustainer the ship could now support an Empyrean Mantle. These devices allow a vessel to become a shadow in the void, nearly invisible to sensors when running silent. Given Mayorga’s preferred tactics such a system would be invaluable.
Such technology was revered and valued by the tech-priests. The only problem was that the parts required to install such a system on a full-sized battlecruiser were extraordinarily hard to gather in sufficient quality. Usually these systems were only installed on raiders and frigates, few naval officers on larger ship were willing to even consider stealth tactics.
This redesign of the Corpus Dei would not have been possible if not for Mayorga’s deep ties to the Adeptus Mechanicus and his dynasty’s considerable successes on their behalf in the past. In light of the Mechanicum’s reverence for the ship and their respect for the dynasty they agreed to pull the required materials together from multiple Calixian forge-world systems on Mayorga’s behalf. It would be the final rite before the ship was released from drydock.
Part 2 – Flicker of the Last Light
While everyone else attended to their own projects Choir Master Telepathica “Lux” remained in retreat. Lux had arranged for Vinter to transfer the Lord Captain and his life support equipment up to his own quarters. Since that time the Astropath had taken on the task of caring for Lord Captain Mayorga comatose body. Lux had not felt the need to inform the others that only his body remained. The blind seer alone could see that Mayorga’s mind and soul were far from his shell, connected by the thinnest of strands.
In the months since leaving the Egarian Watch Fortress Lux had been carefully reaching out along that thread in hope of calling the captain back. Thus far the Choir Master had only been able to strengthen the soul’s remaining connection by the faintest of margins. More time was being bought, but the ultimate conclusion remained unchanged.
Divination had provided nothing but doom, every time the cards fell in the exact same pattern: The Arch-Magos crossed by The Enemy, under the influence of The Mutant The Psyker had led to The Pilot and was doomed to become The Lost. The path ahead looked no better: their Conflict would lead to Exterminatus, which only made way for The Wych to take the lot of them into The Galaxy Inverted… oblivion.
No matter what Lux did the captain was doomed. Mayorga’s death would bring discord and confusion within, leaving the dynasty vulnerable. Their enemies would pounce on the opportunity, once again reducing house Mayorga to ashes along with many of its crew. Without direction or means the survivors would face a hollow, bleak twilight.
It didn’t make sense, too many other paths doomed by this telling remained as bright to the Astropath’s sight. Lux was missing something. “There’s a way out, what is it?” Again the same answer: The Harlequin. “A new idea… as though I didn’t already know that.”
Frustrated and feeling powerless, Lux drifted out to the promenade. The psychic noise of the throng of common crewmen’s thoughts would drown out the tension building in the Astropath’s mind. Lux drew a hood down over blind eyes, no longer looking quite so out of place. A last check of the support system was nothing more than ritual now, his body was not at risk.
Walking amongst laborers, drunks, thugs, and the rest in the lower promenade was a painful relief. A sharp pain dispelling an old, dull ache. It was almost cleansing. Lux relaxed and slipped into a half-meditative state, drifting through the whorls and eddies of the crowd’s current. Then young Anna Casmirre stepped into Lux’s awareness; it was like getting shot in the face with a las-cannon.
The child was looking right at Lux. No, not a child. She stopped being a child before she could walk. She had probably been watching the astropath drift around the lower promenade for some time.
It had been nearly three years since she last saw Lux. Even that had been singular and comparably brief. Yet somehow the young girl recognized the seer through the obscurement of Lux’s robes.
Everything about the girl carried the suggestion of a powerful latent psyker: her past, the omens surrounding her birth, her ability to slip from your awareness even while looking at her. Still, just as three years ago on the blasted plains of Grace, the girl’s soul burned with a purity untouched by the warp.
The girl’s fate was inexorably tied to that of the Lord Captain and the Dynasty. Despite their connection Anna showed no sign of the grim portents that dogged his future. Lux approached Anna. Standing a foot taller than the girl Lux fell into the habit of “looking” down at her face.
Anna looked up at the strange robed psyker with neither the curiosity of a child or the fear of an imperial citizen, only perplexing certainty. Most who looked into the girl’s eyes were disturbed by the certitude and directed will in one so young. Aside from Kerchan, Lux was one of the only people on board that understood Anna’s nature.
Born on brutal worlds, all of them had faced horrors that would kill your average hiver before they were 10. Kerchan killed almost a dozen grown men before she was of age. Lux survived the Lightbearer’s torturous trials of purity. Denied even a name of her own, Anna had learned to evade, counter-stalk, and kill the feral cannibals that populated the wastelands of Grace.
None of them had been given the luxury of a “civilized” childhood, Anna least of all. They had fought tooth and nail for survival from the moment they could walk. Each, in their own way, a dangerous predator in the camouflage of society.
Perhaps that’s why the girl had sought Lux out of the crowd, another predator’s scent within the herd. The two considered one another for a moment before Anna finally spoke. “What brings the Astropathica to the coarse halls of the lower promenade? Gifted with the Imperator’s own light to guide you, and yet still you wander as though lost.”
Lux was genuinely surprised by Anna’s words. Three years ago she barely spoke and only had rudimentary command of Low Gothic. Now Anna spoke with the elocution and cadence of an Ecclesiarch, drifting into fragments of high gothic as though she’d been raised among the savants of the Adeptus Administratum.
The girl’s mind gave nothing away. Anna was a tightly sealed fortress within the warp, not letting even the most banal stray thought escape. It occurred to Lux that a new idea might now be at hand. “I came looking for a new question, the answers I have can not stand.”
Anna grasped the underlying meaning. Her face revealed lines of distress as her hand unconsciously touched the locket worn under her shirt. “You mean… him, don’t you? He’s not getting better is he?”
Anna’s careful cadence and imperious tone were gone. She was clearly being well educated, but the real girl was now visible under the mask. Her voice trailed off and she spoke more to herself than to Lux, “It’s like there’s a light flickering in the distance and it could go out at any moment.”
The missing piece fell into place. The answer had been staring Lux in the face from the start, but the seer had obsessed over the paradoxes instead of seeing the connections. If Lux wanted to see a future for Lord-Captain Mayorga then the key would be to look through threads where that future was strong.
“Actually you are what I needed to find, Anna. Come with me.” Anna followed Lux to the astropathic choir chambers without further question or comment. She took in every detail of the route and the room, and would have little trouble slipping through security to return if she ever had the need.
Lux gestured to a seat at the table used for the more important divinations. Anna sat while analyzing the complex wards that directed the flow of the immaterium through the chambers. She could see what Lux was planning though not why.
Lux wasted little time. A strong pulse from the Astropath cleared the lingering echoes of the work undertaken a few hours before. Then the cards began to flow with the energies of the warp as Lux looked to the Mayorga of Anna’s future.
As Lux shuffled the crystal-woven cards a new pattern emerged as words formed unbidden within the seer’s mind. The Navigator, crossed by The Martyr and influenced by the The Governor, faced The Arch-Magos. Having endured Exterminatus he now approached Judgement. Guided by The Harlequin they would invert The Changer of Ways together to stand beside The Traitor to return the light of The Astronomicon.
As Lux felt the last card fall everything came together effortlessly. Return to where your light was first lost and face that which you have fled. Only when you find the last pure bearer of the light’s final flames will the lost reawaken.
The first part was clear; it was time to return to Shathar and face old enemies, or possibly old sins. The second part was less certain. Had some of Lux’s old order survived under the purges of the Red Horde and the witch-hunts of the Inquisition? Or did they seek something older still? The cards also suggested more than just the Lord-Captain would be restored, which held broader implications.
“Thank you Anna. You may go now.” Lux was introspective, barely considering the surrounding world.
Anna looked at the distracted psyker with vague annoyance. “Anything I should know Lux?”
“I don’t know.”
Something in Lux’s distant tone revealed to Anna what had happened. Without another word she was gone, nothing but a shadow slipping away and into the Librarium. It was time to review the message in Lux’s cards.
Part 3 – A Night to Die For
The presence of Rogue Traders in the Lathes is not unusual, though it is rare for there to be more than two or three present at any given time. An extended stay on the orbital ring station ensures a never ending flow of invitations and petitions to the Rogue Trader and his or her immediate subordinates. Thus it was not terribly unusual when the Pendleton dynasty invited the command staff to an event celebrating the success of their recent endeavor in the Heretic Stars.
The Pendletons were a brother and sister that alternated possession of the warrant each year, one becoming subordinate and the other rising to Rogue Trader of the dynasty with each cycle. This event was to be such a ceremony as well. As the Pendletons were a fellow ally of the Chorda dynasty, and Aspyce was attending in person, Mayorga was politically obligated to present a strong showing.
Ultimately the entire command staff opted to attend. Lux foresaw a locus of important upheaval and a chance at great gains for the dynasty at the Pendleton event. The event began normally enough, at first it just seemed like a harmless opportunity to build the dynasty’s relationships within Calixis.
Then Aspyce Chorda began speaking with Vidame Mayorga. A combination of built-up stress and a frustration with one of the other attendees had led Vidame to overindulge… significantly. In mere minutes Vidame managed to deride Chorda’s ruthless practices in the Expanse, express contempt for her inability to keep control of Grace, question the validity of her Warrant, and then hit on her so crudely that his own bodyguard nearly hit him.
Kerchan extracted the wayward Mayorga from the situation before more damage could be done. Fortunately his behavior was heavily mitigated by his inebriation; he was so drunk and his speech so slurred that Aspyce was not certain he’d actually said all that he had. His sloppy, groping advances required no interpretation, however.
The entire staff went into damage control before a Dynastic War was begun. First High Factotum Edmund Swift diplomatically engaged with Chorda’s people in order to distance the dynasty from “The Dynast’s drunken cousin”. Lux left a few key impressions on the other witnesses that would cast events in the best possible light. Kerchan simply found a room, some chems, and a “companion” to lock Vidame down where he couldn’t cause any more trouble. Or provided an intriguing distraction by loudly debating disturbing details of the navigator eye’s uses in combat.
Enginseer Prime Vinter Stum saw only mitigation that would blunt a very severe blow to the dynasty’s connections and reputation. Not satisfied with merely limiting the damage a means to repair the root of the problem came to him. Vinter’s action would have been tremendously dangerous for a normal human, for a Tech Priest it was nothing short of abject insanity.
Vinter Stum attempted to seduce Aspyce Chorda. While he certainly looked more human than any other Tech Priest in the Lathes (or Calixis, for that matter) his suggestion would have horrified any remotely normal person. Banking on the legendary ennui, decadence, and desperation for novel stimulation among the highest levels of Imperial society Vinter walked right up to Chorda and made an offer that actually caused a merchant eavesdropping nearby to faint.
It worked. A combination of unexpected charm, audacity, and clever duplicity led to one of the weirdest nights the Lathes have ever seen. Once Vinter had access to Chorda he was able to apply a range of chems to manipulate her further. Once her guard was truly lowered it was a small matter to break through the security on her implants and plunder a number of valuable secrets for future leverage against Chorda. The next morning she didn’t even remember the near-disaster with Vidame anymore.
Once Vinter left the event to deal with Chorda, the four remaining officers returned their attention to the Pendletons. As the hosts made their rounds Kerchan found herself chatting with, Victor Mordh, a charming aristocrat who seemed to have enough wit and combat experience to stay interesting.
Then he said something strange. “Does no one know that the Pendletons are slavers for the Red Schola, or does no one simply care?” Seeing the “What the hell am I supposed to say to that?” look on Kerchan’s face Victor smiled and shrugged. “I guess it doesn’t matter, they’re not going to survive the night anyway.”
The offhand comment, the way he stood, the tone in his voice, even the fluid motion of his shoulders all came together for Kerchan in that moment to unmask “Vigil”. Checking her emotions, Kerchan just gave the killer a non-committal noise in response. The next few hours were spent keeping Victor engaged in conversation, giving her time to study him in detail and confirm her conclusions.
This also foiled the original plan, allowing the party to end without incident and the Pendletons to leave still very much alive. That night a game of cat and mouse played out between Victor and Kerchan through the entertainment and hab sections of the station. Finally Kerchan became disgusted with the games and retired to a nearby bar, only to find Victor ahead of her with drinks ready for the both of them.
Kerchan was having no more of it. She turned and left, her mood thoroughly fouled. A few hours later news that the Pendletons had been murdered spread throughout the station.
Part 4 – Kingmaker
Upon hearing news of the murder Vidame and Edmund investigated the fate of the Pendleton Warrant and discovered an opportunity. None of the potential Pendleton claimants had been prepared for this turn of events. The siblings were only in the same region once a year at most and always under heavy security; no one thought it possible for them to die together.
There were a half-dozen potential claimants in the Pendleton Dynasty, though half of them would never be able to gather the resources or support to challenge the two most likely candidates. Malthus was the most aggressive of the three and had more resources to put into his bid for the Warrant. Iris was more cautious and didn’t have the resources of Malthus, but would have the easiest time gathering support for her claim among the rest of the family.
If Malthus and Iris got into an extended deadlock over the warrant, they could have become weakened enough to be overtaken by Thaddeus. Thaddeus was clever, wealthy, and resourceful enough to make a claim if his more powerful relatives dragged each other down. He was unlikely to even attempt a claim unless the opportunity presented itself.
Edmund checked into Iris and Malthus to assess their personalities and potential as allies. The Pendleton dynasty was both smaller and divided, thus both had much to gain from Mayorga’s assistance. With vocal support from the Mayorga Dynasty and access to its connections Malthus would be able to overcome Iris’ influence and secure his claim. With the resources of a larger dynasty behind her, Iris would overshadow Malthus’ resources and render him irrelevant.
Further investigation showed that Malthus was well suited as an ally to Chorda. He was sure to continue or even expand the Pendleton’s (almost certainly illegal) slaver operations. Accordingly he was also more likely to thrive as a Rogue Trader, bringing Mayorga greater wealth and influence for their investment.
Conversely Iris was the more cautious of the two and lacked the stomach for the slave trade. She would most likely reduce the Pendleton holdings and its overall power upon taking control by disbanding any excessively criminal endeavors. If she could survive the first 3-10 years without catastrophe or assassination Iris would be able to rebuild the Pendleton Dynasty as a much more stable and legitimate power with strong diplomatic ties.
Thaddeus was too uncertain and would have required a much larger investment for a smaller payoff. His candidacy was discarded out of hand. Ultimately it was decided that backing Iris was a safer, more reliable play. Agents were dispatched to establish a compact with a very surprised and grateful Iris Pendleton.
Iris agreed to generous terms for Mayorga and to turn over the less abominable slaver operations (such as raiding feral worlds to sell powerful conscripts to the Imperial Army) to Chorda, increasing Chorda’s favor of both Pendleton and Mayorga. In return Mayorga poured extensive funds into Iris’ accounts. The dynasty’s liquid assets temporarily doubled overnight and most of that money was now Iris’. It was then a small matter to flex her diplomatic strength and crush any rival claims to the warrant.
With a few whispers, a little investigation, and a sizable investment the Mayorga dynasty had raised their own ally to Rogue Trader, permanently damaged the slave trade in Calixis, and made a respectable profit. All this without even leaving the orbital ring or getting their hands dirty.
Part 5 – Shadows of the Past
The Corpus Dei had been docked at the Outer Lathe Orbital Ring for over six months. Repair and overhaul were complete and the new equipment had been installed. Just connecting to the navigator pod was enough for Warp Guide “Master Or” to feel the difference. The seething power of the new warp drive was simply begging to be used while the new warding on the Gellar field made the process far smoother, the controls more responsive.
A quick shakedown exercise in tandem with the Black Doge allowed Vidame and Kerchan to assess the effectiveness of the new Empyrean Mantle. The results were better than they’d dared to hope; the Corpus Dei was a shadow in the void. The only issue was a lack of sensors, and there was some discussion of switching to a W-240 Passive Array system.
The design issue would have to be resolved later, they had already spent too much time in dock while their Dynast languished on life support. Lux had a lead. It was a strange, vague, and dangerous lead but it was all they had. It was time for Kerchan and Lux to return home…