Hrolfgar and Krak’atoa were both injured in our victory over the Diablodon, so we left them at the Aspirance while we returned to the Caele.
He told us the story: about 150km north of Haistand, there’s a village called Greensvale, which used to be a breadbasket for the area with a population of several thousand. Some years back, however, the food caravans ceased, and visitors began to report strange noises, lights on the horizon, and disappearances. He took a large force there, but they were driven back by six-legged creatures they called Malisectors.
No prizes for guessing. To cut the story short, Genestealer infestation: at that stage mostly hybrids, with only a few Purestrains. Possibly started by spaceship crash in the area, but that’s not confirmed.
Greensvale lay in a canyon, so the Caele had both entrances collapsed and used promethium to set up a flaming barrier to contain the denizens. I doubt the efficacy of this approach – it must use a vast quantity of promethium, and Genestealers are expert at bypassing obstacles, especially on a world riddled with caverns – but given the technological limitations of Aurum, they probably had little alternative.
There have been “isolated outbreaks” outside; he believes them to have been contained, but I’m not so sure. Genestealers are insidious, and some of the recent murders in Haistand seem deeply suspicious.
We briefed the Caele on Tyranids – explaining that the ones that had defeated his force were the small ones – and he agreed to accept the Imperium’s protection. Then he told us of the more recent history. At one stage, a particularly large creature (brood patriarch?) had appeared and hypnotised one of the firewall guards, although his companions managed to pull him away before any harm was done.
Note to self: patriarch = primary target. Review combat briefs on Genestealer capabilities. Can we identify the brood?
The plan was to maintain the siege until they starved, but after some years, Zayr convinced the Caele to launch another assault. The result was another bloody defeat, with many of their best warriors killed – I had assumed the shortage of fighting men was due to their extremely hazardous manhood rituals, but apparently not.
After subsequent events (more on that in a moment) I am deeply suspicious of Zayr’s role in this. Perhaps he was simply naive, but it certainly played to the enemy’s advantage: in addition to depleting the Aurans’ fighting strength (and providing an opportunity for the Genestealers to break out) there is also the risk that some of the soldiers might have been suborned during the defeat. I questioned the Caele on this matter and he told me that those who escaped at all escaped together – but it’s hard to be entirely sure.
We agreed to deal with the situation, and took a shuttle out (leaving Hrolfgar to recover from his wounds), accompanied by Alkedra in case we needed somebody to handle the locals. But on our way, we noticed a plume of smoke to the north-east, about 70km from Haistand, and we detoured to investigate.
It turned out to be a large promethium mine, and Alkedra told us she and the Caele were completely unaware of its existence. As we drew near, we saw Karthas (one of Zayr’s minions) giving directions to underlings, looking panicked. As we watched, one group set out on a lizard-drawn cart, travelling at speed. It might have been just the sight of an approaching shuttle, but it seemed suspicious to us, so we decided to pay a surprise visit.
I jumped out of the shuttle, intending to drop in front of the fleeing cart. As it turned out, that was about the point at which a large flock of Skyreavers (flying lizard-things) decided to attack us, but they did no real harm; their fangs were too weak to pierce our armour, and the main threat they posed was that they might foul the shuttle engines. My battle-brothers on the shuttle killed most of the flock, with a heavy bolter and other weapons, and I slaughtered one with my chainsword as I dropped in front of the cart.
It made a suitably intimidating impression, and the two Aurans on the cart surrendered in terror. They told me Karthas had sent them to alert Zaire to our presence… which strongly suggests he was up to no good.
Meanwhile, the shuttle had landed near Karthas. He and some companions were riding on a lizard-drawn cart – this one loaded high with promethium – and although the Astartes tried to intimidate them, they turned the cart and charged towards the shuttle. I decided that at this point, assisting my battle-brothers was a higher priority – the two I’d stopped seemed to be low in the food chain – so I jetted over at top speed.
Karthas and his men had turned the cart towards the shuttle and then jumped from it, excepting one who stood on top trying to light the promethium. Thorhammer killed him and the lizards drawing it, but it still had enough momentum to carry it into the shuttle, until Sarlock caught it and flipped it up with his servo-arm. Unfortunately the promethium exploded at that point, causing some problems for my squadmates. But due to their actions, it was far enough from the shuttle to prevent it from completely destroying our transport; the shuttle was knocked over and set on fire, but Krak’atoa was able to extinguish it and the damage was reparable.
While they were dealing with the cart, I caught Karthas from behind with the garrotte I’d made earlier. He tried to resist, but not effectively, and we were able to interrogate him. Ogur had captured one of his assistants, and the rest were dead.
On interrogating him, we confirmed that Zayr was his master, providing manpower (criminals etc) for the mine. While the siege of Greensvale certainly makes it necessary to produce promethium, I am deeply suspicious here. A spectacular fiery siege might be a very good way to distract attention from a wider-spread and more insidious problem, as well as giving Zayr an excuse to build his power-base. The fact that he hadn’t told the Caele about this makes it deeply suspicious. Perhaps it’s just a local power-play – Karthas made it clear that Zayr intended to challenge the Caele for his position – but even so, it would not be in the Emperor’s interests for that to happen.
Karthas told us that Sister R. had been killed because she came here and discovered the mine. Not clear how her body came to be returned to Haistand, 70km distant, but it wouldn’t be too hard for somebody with a cart and some talent in infiltration to arrange this.
Although he denied it, we strongly suspect there may be Genestealers in the caves near this mine. Some of the slaves told us of a dangerous presence in the deeper caves.
We had some discussion about what to do next; scout the local caves, report back to Haistand, or continue to our original destination? In the end we agreed to report back first – if Zayr became aware of our discovery, he might do something to destabilise the situation.
So we flew back with our prisoners and confronted Zayr in from of the Caele. He denied our accusations, and challenged Karthas to a duel for ‘lying’. But before this could happen, Thorhammer – seeking justice for Sister R’s death – challenged him for the right to fight Karthas first.
They fought a duel, armed with local weapons; Zayr chose two gyrblades, Hrolfgar took a bone sword.
It was a long fight, both participants more impressive in the defense than the offense. Zayr landed several powerful blows on Thorhammer, and a lesser man would not have survived. Eventually Zayr knocked Thorhammer down and stood, proclaiming victory – but despite his serious wounds, Thorhammer got up again, and after a few more minutes of slugging at one another, Thorhammer got past Zayr’s guard and chopped his leg off.
I have no doubt the Space Wolves will celebrate this as an epic battle, and it certainly meets the usual criteria: near-disaster averted only by their ability to withstand heavy punishment. If Zayr had managed to slay Thorhammer – a very real possibility – it would not only have deprived us of a Battle-Brother; it would also have greatly reduced the Aurans’ respect for us.
Still, it worked out in the end. Thorhammer should recover, although he’ll probably need to rest before he takes on Karthas – unless he’s willing to pass that to somebody else. I’d be quite happy to finish the job, but if the Wolves are determined to handle it themselves, so be it. Just as long as it gets done.
Looking at the bigger picture, it’s clear that we must assume there is a significant Genestealer presence here and that it extends beyond the “contained” village. Clearly this will require a long-term Ordo Xenos operation to make sure that the infestation has been thoroughly rooted out; we should focus on mission objectives rather than expecting to hunt down every last purestrain and hybrid on our own. Decapitating the infestation by killing the Patriarch seems advisable.