Outside the Aspirance, we met a rather elderly Ecclesiarch being harassed by three young Aurans. Not quite sure what the Ecclesiarchy were doing sending an old man to a planet that selects its leaders by battles to the death, but the Aurans were duly pacified when Krak’atoa treated them to the Salamander stare.
We talked a little to him. He described the Caele as a man of honour (something not yet contradicted by events) and told us a little about the mysterious deaths. Between these, duels with the natives, and desertion, there are only two squads of Guard left.
(Query: desertion? Should confirm that these are genuine cases of wilful desertion; there are other reasons for a man to go missing.)
Besides the Aspirance is one of the local churches, a very old building that reminded us of Imperial architecture, strengthening our suspicion that this planet was once an Imperial bastion. (Unless some filthy xenos has gone to a LOT of trouble to give that impression.)
We proceeded to the Great Hall. Along the way we passed through the markets. The locals were impressed by our wargear, and one attempted to touch Thorhammer’s armour, but the Space Wolf was in an affectionate mood and merely threw him across the market.
At the Great Hall we met one Alkedre Firestalker, an impressive woman with a large sword, who is the Caele’s 2IC. She was friendly to us and enthusiastic about joining the Imperium – more so than the Caele – and it occurs to me that the Callidus Temple could have found a very simple solution to the problem of obtaining local cooperation. After all, even the mightiest of warriors have been known to die by accident.
But since they called the Deathwatch instead, we’ll give them a Deathwatch solution. Which will probably be more honourable and will definitely be messier.
She introduced us to the Caele, and we tried various conversational ambits to persuade him. After Krak’atoa and I tried our best, Hrolfgar chimed in with “join or die”. The Caele was quite pleased by this; it seems violence is the language they prefer, which makes us the six most eloquent men on the planet.
However, he noted that (as I had suspected) even if we challenged and defeated him, nobody would recognise our legitimacy, since we’re not yet considered men. To earn the right to challenge, we would first have to prove ourselves in the ‘Divested Hunt’.
The terms of this challenge: head out into the wilds, using only the locals’ weapons and no armour, and bring back the head of a Diablodon, the most powerful predator on the planet – a lizard-thing about twice the height of an Astartes.
We accepted, and then got embroiled in an INTERMINABLE debate about where to leave our armour. I was quite willing to accept the Caele’s assurances that our gear would be safe in his keeping (perhaps with a booby-trapped grenade or two) but the Space Wolves were adamant in their refusal. I can’t even remember how we settled it, but I think it involved getting the Space Wolves very very drunk.
There followed an argument about Sarlock – did his cybernetic arm fit within the rules of the challenge – but Hrolfgar started cutting off his own arm and apparently this is a very persuasive debating tactic on Aurum. (I have used a very similar approach myself, but not with my own arm.) Alkedre agreed to respect our traditions as we had respected theirs, and we equipped ourselves with an assortment of bone daggers, swords, spears, and bows. I took a pair of ‘gyrblades’ (a local weapon) and turned a couple of bowstrings into a garrotte; I had no occasion (yet) to use the latter, but you never know when you’re going to want something like that.
Then we headed into the deep caverns that ran towards the deadlands. In one of the early caverns we encountered a group of man-sized lizards protecting a clutch of eggs; we thought we might be able to creep past them unharmed, but they saw us as a threat and attacked Krak’atoa. This clustered them into a small group, making them a good target for Hrolfgar’s psychic frost-fire; must check with Krak’atoa whether he did that intentionally. As they started to burn, we carved them up with our weapons; Krak’atoa was somewhat injured but healed soon enough with Ogur’s aid. Thorhammer was not very impressed with the local bows, which are accurate enough but lack stopping power.
I ate one of the lizards, in order to absorb some local knowledge. It appears these are some of the least deadly of the local fauna, living in these canyons to evade danger.
Walking on, we found marks on one of the canyon walls: the painted shape of a Diablodon footprint, and an arrow pointing upwards. Not difficult to decipher. We climbed without serious mishap, and were once again standing out in the open, with some impressively large flying lizards nearby. Although we were ready for trouble, they left us alone.
We took another canyon towards the deadlands. The floor was unsound but we all made it out unharmed, and at the other end we found ourselves in a volcanic landscape. Krak’atoa took the lead, being the most familiar with such terrain; the air was unpleasant but none of us were seriously bothered by it.
The Diablodon’s lair was easy enough to find: a huge cave surrounded by bones, crushed and whole, some human, some lizard, a few otherwise.
(Note: why would lesser lizards bother coming here just to be eaten? Cannot help wondering if Auran youths form the main part of a Diablodon’s diet?)
At this point a Raven Guard squad would have scouted the place, set an ambush, and lured the creature into a deathtrap. Needless to say, this didn’t happen; my companions charged headlong into the lair, and Hrolfgar yelled at it. Naturally, it attacked us; a couple of my companions were badly injured by its huge jaws and talons (it could probably have put up a decent fight against a Carnifex) but I was able to sidestep its attacks. Our concentrated assault brought it to the ground, and before it could recover I took its head off with my gyrblades. Perhaps not quite a substitute for a good chainsword, but quite serviceable all the same.
We returned with the head (and a few of the mysterious bones – Ogur was unable to identify these). The Aurans were quite impressed, and the Caele agreed to tell us about the mysterious burning we’d noticed to the north.