Deathwatch - A Fragile Alliance

Trippetta's Journal - July 11 2012

We found one of the cultists who wasn’t quite dead and interrogated him. He told us his name was Barsum. Above him was “Uldreg” (apparently not among the dead and dying), and above Uldreg someone whose name he didn’t know.

At that point Barsum died of his wounds, and I continued the interrogation via omophagea. We confirmed that the cult was named “The Reborn”, worshipping one called the Undying. I saw a vision of Uldreg talking to a cloaked figure – tall, and by the look of him not a local – and that was about as much as I got.

We searched the dead and found obsidian trinkets and feeble local weapons. The lightning orbs were of more interest; according to those who know such things, they were somewhere over two thousand years old, although we couldn’t tell how much older.

We took the cultists’ exit route, hoping to catch up with some of the escapees, but they’d had enough time to scatter. We emerged in a tannery. The two boys working there were very cooperative (the sight of five Astartes will do that) and told us that it was owned by Uldreg – apparently an influential figure in the town.

Searching his office, we found some alien-looking items that Guylot diagnosed as some sort of power conduits, and a bookcase. It contained a range of pulp horror fiction (including “Stalked By Tyranids”, “Holiday in Cadia”, “Carry On Up The Catachan”, and a rare pop-up edition of “Savage Lusts of the Ratlings”) and some hand-bound, handwritten volumes with references to Karthia and the islands. It also had letters relating to the Reborn (nothing too useful) and some from one ‘Alexi Drahj’, who appeared to be supplying Uldreg with xenos artifacts.

The shelves of the bookcase were rather thicker than they needed to be, and we broke them open to find some hidden letters inside. These were from one ‘Feynyr Surbryte’ to Uldreg, thanking him for keeping a watch on Inquisitor V. The last of them indicated that Feynyr was coming, in response to a message that V. had entered the cenotaph.

We returned to our shuttle and talked with Thrace. She told us that Drahj was a Rogue Trader, whose ship the ‘Frozen Tear’ was currently in orbit. We considered paying him a visit, but approaching a hostile Rogue Trader’s ship in a shuttle seemed like a poor choice, so we decided to explore other options first.

Since it was getting dark, we decided to investigate the reported lights in the old Taeg mansion. I left my Battle-Brothers in waiting and infiltrated the building, seeing candlelight on the ground floor. Walking quietly, I found an hooded man hunched over candles and documents, and was able to grab him by the scruff of the neck before he noticed my presence. My old Scout trainer would have approved.

As I grabbed him I felt metallic parts, and looking at his face, I realised we’d found Dyne, Vincent’s cogboy. I let him go and called the others in, and we compared notes.

He told us that Vincent took the rest of the cadre to investigate ruins under the sea near the island chain, leaving Dyne to look for the source of the xenos artifacts going offworld. He’d found out that Drahj was coming to Karthia to meet Uldreg at the incomplete Basilicum in two days. He’d also met the “Templars”, who were brusque and ignored him, heading straight from the cenotaph.

He told us some of the artifacts were found locally, some washed up from the sea, and some came from another source. We asked him what had been in the puzzle box, and he told us it was a three-dimensional glyph. (Since removed and replaced with a booby trap, apparently – by whom?)

He was unaware that Vincent had gone into the Cenotaph; if Feynyr did show up, it doesn’t seem to have been noted.

We agreed to ambush Drahj, but since we had two days to kill, we headed back to the cenotaph and investigated the last passageway. It was quite damaged, apparently by the effects of construction above, and half-blocked with debris.

Although there were footprints consistent with Astartes power armour, we found only three locals digging for scraps and filling a wheelbarrow with xenos salvage. We interrogated them (after using a nova grenade to discourage one from fleeing) and they told us Uldreg had sent them to look for xenos tech.

We relieved them of a green orb and some sort of bladed staff, and suggested that they should stay there for a while.

Having completed that business, we set up an ambush at the Basilicum. Although my Battle-Brothers have all the stealth of an Orkish concert troupe, we arrived early enough to take positions without being noticed in the tangle of structural girders.

After nightfall we spotted a small shuttle coming down, around the same time that Uldreg walked in at ground level. The shuttle landed on the top-floor girders (near where I lay in wait) and six men rappelled down to take positions on the mid-floors. They weren’t heavily armed – just lasrifles and monoblades – and apparently not perceptive either, for Drahj soon followed them down. Although we hadn’t seen him, his power armour made it clear who was the leader

As he came down the rope, a firefight broke out. I dropped a nova grenade near Uldreg so we could take him alive, and jumped up into the shuttle to knock out their pilot and so cut off their escape before rejoining the fight.

The guards proved to be little threat; while their shooting and their blades were accurate enough, they weren’t powerful enough to deliver more than pinpricks to an armoured Astarte, and my brothers wiped them out quickly, Guylot incinerating them one by one with his flamer while Ogur took them on hand-to-hand. At some point a mob of the local cultists showed up, but Guylot gestured with his flamer and they thought better of it.

Drahj was another matter. He shot at one of my brothers (Hrolfgar?) with an excessively powerful plasma pistol (determined afterwards to be of Tau manufacture) and it’s a good thing he missed, because it was enough to destroy most of a steel girder. As we closed he followed up with a grenade, probably of Eldar make, which released a cloud of viciously sharp monowire. My brothers dodged that and we came to close quarters. Initially we sought to disarm him, hoping to capture him alive, but it soon became clear that wasn’t an option. He was moving inhumanly fast, difficult to hit or to parry, and in addition to the plasma pistol he had a formidable power sword (Eldar make again?) Realising he wasn’t getting away in the ship, he triggered a remote that detonated it, raining down chunks of metal around us, although nobody was hit (except the pilot, I presume).

Although he wounded me badly with the sword, Hrolfgar and I eventually managed to hit him in both arms, knocking the pistol and sword from his grip. At that point he leapt up and dropped another monowire grenade that cut me up pretty badly, but his move gave Thorhammer a clear shot, and before I’d wiped the blood from my eyes Drahj disintegrated in a burst of bolter fire.

Examining what was left of the body, Ogur found evidence of xenos and chaos taint – at least that explains why he was able to put up so much of a fight. Hrolfgar impounded the sword, pistol, and a third monofilament grenade from his body. In his sack we found more: some sort of staff, a field projector, the broken stock of a xenos rifle, and a Tau pulse rifle, also impounded by Hrolfgar.

We interrogated Uldreg (I didn’t fancy eating Drahj, even if we’d been able to scrape up enough of his remains) and he told us Vincent had last been seen going to the island chain. We managed to resolve one point of confusion: his report of the Inquisitor entering the cenotaph had been a mistake, referring instead to the “Templars”.

He told us he was trading with Drahj, but Drahj was “not a believer”. At this stage I’m still unsure whether Drahj had a major role in events here, or was just an opportunist who picked a bad time to get mixed up with the locals.

Having done about all that could be done locally, we sent him back for imprisonment in the capital, and headed for the Kardane Archipelago. According to our briefing there were four islands of note:

[name?] – a small Imperial bulwark with fancy augur arrays (maybe useful for picking up xenos power sources?)

Kaldir – another bulwark, currently under assault by rebels (suspected xenos cultists?)

Kalvex – a larger bulwark

Kaltran – watercraft docks, including submersibles.

We agreed to go to Kaldir first and deal with the insurrection, in the hopes of getting on with our investigation without leaving a threat at our backs.

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Trippetta's Journal - June 13 2012

The Prince took us to the formation grounds to review the First Karlack Regiment on their way to ship out, and filled us in on their previous history. The original founding had been lost 20 years ago (along with General Achillus) when their ship vanished with all hands. The second muster had been annihilated by Tyranids, and the third had been all but wiped out on a deathworld of some description. I’m not sure whether the new recruits are fully educated on the First’s brief but glorious history; possibly better to skim over some of these episodes.

We’d only just stepped out into the muster square when things got interesting. A shuttle landed nearby, and three hooded men leapt out yelling “Death to the turncoat Prince!” and “Taeg is the true ruler of Karlack and his sons will avenge him!” or some such, running towards the aforementioned. I attempted to grab his Royal Highness and evacuate him via jet-pack, but he resisted (possibly for the best, he was rather elderly and I’m not sure his body would have survived the acceleration) so we interposed our body to shield him as best we could. They were firing guns, nothing powerful enough to breach our armour, but when Hrolfgar shot one he exploded and we realised they were wearing explosive vests that presented a greater threat.

I charged the second and connected with the augur, which made for an impressively gruesome mess. He’d been holding a deadman switch but his fingers spasmed in death and he didn’t trigger it (yet…)

Several more attackers emerged from among the Guard. Lamentably the loyalist Guardsmen were doing nothing to stop them (we learned afterwards that their weapons were only for display – possibly just as well, considering the mess that would’ve ensued with several hundred panicked Guardsmen shooting at one another) so we had to accept a certain degree of collateral damage among the bystanders. To be fair, if the First Karlack (v. 4) is as successful as the previous three foundings, the casualties didn’t lose much by it all. I threw a cryo grenade at one, hoping the cold might disable his detonators, but apparently not; the others engaged nearby, with similar results.

Since the headless one near me was still clutching his detonator, I thought it might be wise to disarm him (literally) but he exploded, driving shrapnel into my hand (nothing serious) and knocking me over. As I rolled over I saw their shuttle coming towards us, flying on three out of four engines after several well-aimed bursts of fire from my comrades. I was glad of the shotgun I’d requisitioned; I thumbed the selector to solid and put five slugs into a second engine, disabling it and bringing it to the ground without further incident.

The most competent Guardsman present appeared to be one Minka Thrace, a small and ferocious-looking woman who was in charge of their combat drills, and she took charge of the mop-up and filled us in. When the Imperium came to Karlack, the Prince was ruler of the northern continent but Taeg commanded Karthia in the south. The Imperium selected the Prince and appointed him “ruler” of the entire planet, and Taeg was executed. His supporters took this badly and have been resisting the Emperor’s will.

She also told us that the presumed Black Templars had arrived a week ago, poked around a bit, and then commandeered a shuttle to Karthia. Not clear why they didn’t use the Thunderhawk that brought them to the planet, but perhaps it had returned to the parent ship (of which, no sign, but it’s hardly surprising that they didn’t bother announcing themselves).

I applied my omophagea towards interrogating our dead attackers. This was a little difficult because they’d all exploded, but I managed to lick enough grey matter off my augur to get some information. Nothing too exciting; the lad had been brought up in a rural environment, trained in a cell and indoctrinated with loyalty to Taeg. Apparently the attack was one of opportunity; they’d been aiming to infiltrate the Prince’s tower later on, but when he unexpectedly came to review the troops they saw an opportunity and took it. No sign of xenos or Chaos influence, but we should keep the possibility in mind; there could have been somebody further back pulling the strings.

Hrolfgar checked in with Nihl’zie and confirmed that things were all right at his end (well, other than the Inquisitor being in a coma, but what can you do?)

Since all the evidence was pointing to Karthia we likewise commandeered a shuttle. Thrace volunteered to command the shuttle herself, which was a bit of a relief; while the servitor on Aurum was quite good as servitors go, I’d prefer a pilot with a little more mind. En route she mentioned that cult activity in Karthia was on the rise, led by a tech-cult calling themselves “The Reborn”.

Hrolfgar led us in a prayer to the Emperor and we vowed to ferret out the despicable secrets of the xenos and shine the light of the Emperor’s truth on them. Or something. Gather information as well as kill was the gist of it.

Hrolfgar seems to have appointed himself as leader, and nobody objected. After our previous mission I’m beginning to think it would be unduly harsh to require anybody but a Space Wolf to lead a team comprising Space Wolves – might as well attempt to herd cats.

…I am reminded of a conversation with the Techmarine who issued me with this armour prior to my posting to the Deathwatch. It seems the machine-spirits that power its auto-senses have a penchant for cutting off the audio when somebody attempts to issue orders of which they disapprove. I wouldn’t be surprised; it’s certainly temperamental enough.

We reached Karthia without incident. It is much less developed than the northern continent, and early attempts to establish an Imperial settlement seem to have petered out; the Administratum building is unfinished, and all in all it seems a dispirited sort of place. By far the most impressive structure is a huge obsidian monument to Lord-Militant Achillus. Perhaps a little too impressive for my liking. While elected by Imperial hands, both the style and the materials remind me unpleasantly of some old picts of xenos architecture. We were informed that the obsidian had been scavenged from an earlier Imperial cathedral – but might it have come from some other source before that?

Nearby was a large feudal manor, apparently the Taeg’s ancestral home.

We made enquiries at the market, gathering information through a mix of threats and money. Many of the merchants were selling “eternity charms”, black rocks patterned with gold.

Some of these were crude fakes made with gold paint, but others were beyond the skill of the locals to make: something that only superficially resembled obsidian, laced with gold circuitry laid out in regular patterns. Undoubtedly xenos work.

One fellow who may have had too much alcohol – or perhaps not – was ranting about the manor, telling us that Baron Taeg’s spirit still wandered it seeking vengeance. We made a note to investigate it later, but our first priority was the cenotaph, where the Templars had gone.

The doors had been broken open by something like a krak grenade (Templars are rarely subtle) and we made our way inside. It was very dark; the stone appeared to absorb the light very effectively. The main decoration in the cenotaph was a large statue that I assume to be of Lord-General Achillus; nearby was a hole blasted through the floor.

Tomb

Looking down, we could see the remains of the Imperial cathedral over which the memorial had been built. We dropped down to find typical old Imperial construction, made of more of the same black ‘rock’. It held statues that looked to be Marines in Heresy-era armour, with Ultramarines chapter markings (or perhaps Legion markings?)

Tomb 2

Besides our entrance there were three exits: small niches on either side of the pews, and a large hole blasted in the back wall. We chose to investigate the small ones first.

One side led to a small chapel. In the middle of the floor was a circular panel ringed with what looked like Necrontyr glyphs – we avoided standing on it. Around the sides, sarcophagi, weird geometric structures, and skeletal figures.

The other side led to a much larger space, with a big dark chamber dropping away below – although as we got closer, a faint light became visible and we heard voices. Down below we saw a group of humans gathered around a large metal statue, human in appearance, with a stark white human skull. Their leader was talking about something called “The Undying”, and rather than allow their heresies to continue we attacked with bolts, shot, and flame.

Most of them broke almost instantly, with a few managing to flee through exits below. Bolts of something like lightning arced at us from two alcoves to the side; I avoided it but Ogur took a painful hit. I rocketed up to the nearer of the alcoves, spotting a metallic sphere that appeared to be the source of the lightning. I demolished it with the augur, then flew over to take care of the other in a harmless burst of energy.

By that stage Hrolfgar and Guayuta were closing on the last remaining cultist, hiding behind the statue and apparently controlling the lightning-spheres. Hrolfgar called to take him alive, and Guayuta tried to render him harmless by slicing off his arm with a large set of bulkhead shears, but our tame scion of Mars had apparently forgotten the limitations of human flesh, and the cultist bled out in short order.

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Trippetta's Journal - May 30 2012 (part 2)

Before we left, Krak’atoa informed us that he’d consulted the Erioch Forgemaster about the machinery we found in the mines. Apparently it relates to some sorcery called the Thaumatagram Diomadus (sp?), a form of warp-magic that alters energy flows and needs a potent power source – i.e. the crystals.

Then we boarded the transport to Karlack. The Inquisitor has an “assistant” Nihlzie, who carries himself with the tell-tales of a trained fighter; I wonder if he might not be an Assassin or something like it.

The journey was uneventful until we reached Karlack. It’s a populous planet, only recently reclaimed by the Imperium, and heavily defended if the planetary defense guns we saw are anything to go by.

Karlack

On our arrival, the local Guard commander handed Quist a package her predecessor (the vanished Inquisitor Vincent) had left for her. It seemed to be some sort of puzzle box – I haven’t encountered the type, but I’d guess it’s designed to deliver lethal surprises to anybody who doesn’t know how to open it.

Although Quist did know how to open it, it delivered a lethal surprise anyway: as she opened the last catch, she froze, and there was an unpleasant smell (or so the others tell me; I had my helmet on). She passed out, and Hrolfgar very nearly shot the Guard commander. Ogur tells us there was some sort of exceptionally nasty contact poison in the puzzle box, and although he managed to keep her alive, she remains comatose.

The box itself was empty (aside from the poison) and we satisfied ourselves that the commander had not been involved. He told us the box had been given to him by Lazel Dyne, Vincent’s face-man, who disappeared about the same time he did. (Speculation: seems highly likely that Vincent and/or Dyne have been turned, or perhaps impersonated? Perhaps they realised the Inquisition would send in a second team when Vincent vanished, and decided to set a trap?)

We asked about the business that had started the investigation – the trade of xenos relics from Karthia – and the commander made mention of the “other Marines” who had come by asking the same questions last week.

This was a bit of a surprise to us. Understandably, he hadn’t asked many questions, but through questioning and examining security footage we identified them as a squad of Black Templars in Mark Seven armour, apparently investigating the same business as ourselves.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Visiting Vincent’s quarters, we found the place had been thoroughly searched. We did find a manifest of artefacts, including some unpleasantly familiar symbols: Necrons.

Vincent had left several journals. The more recent material was gone, but we found some older notes titled “Beneath the Cenotaph”. Most of the pages had been torn out (at this point I would have suspected Black Templars even if we hadn’t had the video footage) but there were a few clues: mention that the city had been built on xenos ruins, and a cryptic comment: “No door that we would understand will afford entry to the city – this key will give you entry.”

That was about all we managed to find in Vincent’s quarters. We received a message inviting us to the summit of the Prince-Prefect’s castle (his name is Allewis LXXXIII, a rather elderly member of the hereditary aristocracy) and attended.

Evidently Allewis knew how to cater for Marines; he had sturdy Astartes-sized goblets of wine and whole animals on spits (something like otters perhaps?). He told us a little more about the Templars: they’d arrived in a Black Templar Thunderhawk, which implies that this is more than a single rogue squad.

He invited us to view the Karlack First Regiment, formed up ready to embark for other worlds in the Emperor’s service – when I say the “First”, I understand it’s the fourth or fifth of that name, the previous incarnations having been annihilated to the last man. Such is life.

And then, as we walked out onto the formation grounds, we were attacked…

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Trippetta's Journal - May 30 2012 (part 1)

We took our souvenirs and said our goodbyes to Aurum, then lifted off. Destination: Watch-Fortress Erioch.

None of us had seen Erioch before, and I must admit, it’s an impressive sight. The system itself is something of an enigma, as if it had been made for the Deathwatch’s purposes; I wonder whether the Librarians or the Mechanicus know more about it than they’re letting on?

We transferred to Erioch in a small shuttle, and disembarked to be met by a squad of Deathwatch marines. I noticed one was from my own Chapter, and was about to greet him – I have missed my gene-brothers more than I expected – when their captain (Black Templars markings) headbutted Hrolfgar and yelled “ATTACK!”

From there, things got chaotic. My opposite number went for me with a chainsword, and I fought back; elsewhere, Ogur was being menaced by one with a power fist, and Hrolfgar and Thorhammer were holding back. The Raven Guard (Castellan, his name is) landed a few light taps on me, and I hit him somewhat harder, but we were reluctant to fight back with deadly force without knowing the situation. Perhaps some malefactor had falsely informed them we were traitors? Perhaps some hostile power had overtaken their very minds? I had no desire to kill a brother Marine without being sure of myself. So I dropped a blind grenade, which was very effective in the confined space, and was pleased to hear the captain calling off his men. Apparently it had all been a friendly greeting to test our skills.

I was rather less pleased when Brother Castellan continued to attack me – despite his commander’s repeated orders to stand down – and I got the impression he wasn’t going to pull his blows. I switched off my chainsword and side-stepped, easy to do in the blackness; he was easy to locate by the noise, and he flailed wildly until I flicked the weapon from his hand with my own, and his comrades pulled him back.

When the chaos settled, Castellan and a Dark Angels Marine had left, and the Captain continued with a more friendly greeting. He assigned servo-skulls to act as guides – the constant movement of the place makes navigation difficult for novices – and asked to debrief us individually.

I was rather surprised to hear that he’d been accessing my personal journal, but if he wants my unvarnished opinions, he is very welcome to them. He interrogated me as to the reasons for my posting to the Deathwatch; I told him that I believed it to be because of my reputation as a jinx in the Raven Guard. (From later events, I suspect he had probably heard as much from Brother Castellan already.)

He also questioned me on my behaviour – in particular, on my retreat in the Grensvayl engagement. He seemed to think this was somehow dishonourable behaviour. I might have been gravely offended by this, perhaps inclined to suggest a duel, but I remembered the advice Brother-Chaplain Umbrator gave me when he told me of my assignment to the Deathwatch:

“Remember, Brother Trippetta, that other Chapters have some very curious notions of honour. There are those who believe the Emperor’s will is better served by a Marine who makes a hopeless stand – dying with the loss of his gene-seed and his holy wargear, to no tactical purpose – than by one who withdraws to strike again on another front. Were that our way, the entirety of the Raven Guard would have perished on Isstvan V, before these newcomer Chapters were even dreamt of. Be always proud of your ancient Chapter and its superior tactics, and do not throw your life away cheaply – but understand that in the Deathwatch, you will fight alongside other Astartes who did not have the good fortune to spring from a Primarch as shrewd as Corax. If they cannot appreciate our wisdom, let that be a cause for your pity, not wrath.”

I understand Rune-Priest Hrolfgar had a particularly vigorous debriefing; I cannot imagine a Black Templar captain taking well to the presence of a psyker.

After my own debriefing, I had my servo-skull escort me to my quarters. When I got there, I found a bird skull over the door – I assume it was a message of some sort from Castellan, but I was unable to decipher it (probably for the best).

From my quarters I went to the armory, to have my armour and weapons seen to – they had taken quite a battering on Aurum. While there I felt a scowling presence behind me and turned to welcome Castellan.

But he did not return my greeting. He was angry with me, and I doubt I’ll be able to change his mind easily. Seems his Brother (or perhaps an actual flesh-and-blood brother?) was lost while fighting alongside me; I’m not sure which one he’s talking about, but I have no doubt he’s telling the truth. I am sorry for it; I would have given my own life for any of the others, but no such opportunity arose. I will have to watch him (or perhaps pass word to one of the Chaplains?) lest his anger at me impair his judgement.

After that rather awkward conversation, Castellan made his exit. We were shown around the fortress, including the vaults and the Omega Gate – I wonder when THOSE will open? – and then at last we were sworn into the Deathwatch.

Our stay on Erioch was fated to be a short one: Watch-Captain Remiel sent us to assist Inquisitor Quist, one of those attached to the Deathwatch. She’d received a message a few hours earlier from another Ordo Xenos Inquisitor on a planet named Karlack, relating to old xenos structures under the sea there and to xenos cultists on the planet.

Brother Hrolfgar was quite intransigent about this; he declared it to be a mission unsuited to Marines, and point-blank refused to go until Remiel showed up to “clarify” our orders, i.e. to accompany and support Quist. (Me, I’m glad to put some distance between myself and Brother Castellan, lest things turn uglier than they already are.)

Before departing we stopped by the armoury again. On Aurum I noticed that several of our more hazardous moments came when we needed to breach and clear buildings – since this forced us to come up close with genestealers – and our standard-issue frag grenades seem less than ideal for tackling such creatures, so I requisitioned some heavy concussion grenades, as well as nova and my usual blind grenades for maintaining the initiative. I also selected a power augur (it looks as if it would be useful for getting through obstacles both stationary and living) and a seismic escalation detonator, but the quartermaster knocked me back on the latter – seems it requires special expertise.. Since I hadn’t yet exhausted the quartermaster’s patience I threw in a camo-cloak and stummer for recon work, an automatic shotgun for crowd control, and some cryo-grenades… let’s see what those do.

[TBC]

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Trippetta's Journal - May 16 2012
victory heroism win hooray

We left Grensvayl triumphant, but our celebration was tempered by the knowledge that the job was unfinished: the Patriarch was still out there somewhere, as were the forces that had brought him in the first place. Based on the symbol we found – and on the servitors’ attack on us in transit – we suspected the latter to be a heretical Mechanicus cult, using the decavane for some unknown purpose.

The locals, who thought their troubles were over, held a victory parade and a feast in our honour with many effusive speeches. For myself, I would’ve enjoyed it more if I wasn’t expecting a genestealer attack every moment – but then, it’s always good to be alert.

The Kaele was grateful for our deeds, but he understood better than the rest that Aurum’s peace was at an end. He asked if the genestealer infestation could be used as an excuse to maintain his planet’s isolation; we felt no need to explain the concept of Exterminatus to him, and so we said only that isolation was no longer an option. Life will change on Aurum, but I do not think their heritage will be altogether lost; I am sure the Guard will be able to raise at least one regiment here, carrying their warrior traditions to the stars. And a planet that can produce men like the Kaele may even contribute to the Astartes one day.

We sat in the great hall, along with the leaders of Aurum and the Imperial representatives. With so much of the leadership all gathered in one place, it was an obvious target for one last desperate strike – but when the genestealers did attack, it was so sudden that we were still surprised.

In through the doors and the roof burst perhaps a dozen purestrains, and at their head a monstrosity that could only be the Patriarch. They were coated in crude promethium; I suppose they’d been hiding deep in the promethium caves, or perhaps transported here in barrels by human servants.

Behind them, a swarm of obvious hybrids – and some of the local warriors showed their true colours, turning on their friends and us. This is particularly problematic; we’d suspected an infiltration here, and had done our best to uncover it, but neither our enquiries nor a screening program had turned up any hint of it.

The Patriarch and two of his company went straight for the Kaele, while others spread through the room keeping us tied up defending ourselves. Hrolfgar laid several low with a massive psychic blast that brought a rain of blood from the ceiling – I hope never to experience its like again. Although it wiped out the Patriarch’s escort, the Kaele’s two bodyguards fled, leaving him along against it. I was desperate to go to his aid – for all his skill, his primitive weapons were unable to pierce its touch hide – but I was occupied fighting off a wave of purestrains that went for us.

Adding to the confusion, the Patriarch was using its foul powers on my battle-brothers. From the corner of my eye I saw Ogur strike Sarlock before its hold on him was broken. Thorhammer and Hrolfgar had managed to kill the ones near them, leaving Krak’atoa unengaged, and he took the opportunity to spray the Patriarch with his flamer and ignite the promethium on its hide. I’m not sure it did the creature much harm, but it certainly made for an obvious target, and he followed up with rapid fire from his bolt gun.

The Patriarch must have seen him as a threat, and it took control of him, shooting at Thorhammer and Hrolfgar – but evidently his will was strong enough to put up some resistance, and all his shots went wide. I had thought to throw off his aim, perhaps by smearing food across his visor,

The Kaele was still standing against the Patriarch, and Thorhammer threw him a chainsword so that he’d have something more effective to use. By that stage we’d thinned out the horde considerably – Ogur, Sarlock, and myself in the thick of the hand-to-hand fighting – and my brothers were able to turn their attention to their master. Sarlock hosed down the Patriarch, and as it flinched, the Kaele tagged it with Thorhammer’s chainsword. That got its attention, and as it reared up to strike him down, it exposed itself. Thorhammer saw a clear shot and emptied most of a clip of Kraken rounds into its belly, and the Patriarch dropped like a stone.

With their master gone, the rest were easy pickings. There had been many casualties, but most of the Auran and Imperial leadership had survived, including Brigadier Heth and Alkedra.

The Kaele – unfamiliar with Astartes heavy weapons – believes he killed the Patriarch himself with the chainsword, and we saw no reason to disabuse him of this notion; for surviving so long against a Patriarch, he deserves his moment of triumph. (Not so his bodyguards, who I doubt will continue in that position.) Thorhammer has given him the chainsword as a token of respect, and I think it a fitting gesture.

With the Tyranid threat broken, our mission was at an end. There is work to be done here by both the Ordo Xenos and Ordo Hereticus, hunting out any remnants of the infection and of the cultists who brought it here, but that’s no job for the Astartes. And wherever the cultists have gone with the decavane, I suspect they’re no longer on Aurum.

All in all – not a complete success, but almost so. It’s been fascinating learning how the other Chapters fight (although in some cases I’m still trying to figure out WHY they fight that way) and we’ve brought a new planet into the Imperial fold.

I am the Emperor’s fury and his vengeance. I am the sword in the night. I am silent death to his foes.

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Trippetta's Journal - May 9 2012
rare display of competence

We shipped our wounded back to the Aspirance and took stock of our situation. The medical staff at the Aspirance were adequate to tend to Sarlock, and in a few days’ time he was up and working on repairs for his badly-damaged armour. For more reasons than one we thought it best that Hrolfgar be attended by one of our own.

Hrolfgar had very nearly died, but the genestealers – no doubt recognising their taint – didn’t quite kill him. He was very fitful in his sleep, no doubt wrestling with the Hive-Mind’s assault on his mind. But I am glad to say that he held strong against it, and I assisted Ogur in finding and removing the source of the infection, a bundle of corrupt matter implanted in his neck. Hrolfgar will probably have some nasty scars from the experience, but no doubt that will please him.

On his recovery, he announced in his loudest Space Wolf voice that he’d had a vision – perhaps induced by his close shave with the Hive-Mind? He confirmed that we’d killed about half of the presence at Grynsval – but, confirming my fears, he’d also glimpsed a Genestealer presence elsewhere.

While Hrolfgar and Sarlock healed, we spent much of the next week investigating, attempting to root out any trace of a ‘stealer cult in Highstand or the surrounds, but with no success. We also took the time to make several fly-overs in Grynsval. On the first, we dropped a large argrax into the village to see if the presence of a large food animal would draw genestealers out; Thorhammer killed one, but the rest took cover, and we decided it would be futile to try again. They’re not stupid.

We’d agreed that it’d be useful to find the ship we believed to have brought the infestation, and so Sarlock tuned his auspex to hunt for metals, rare on this world. We found a concentration near Grynsval, which made some sense

Finally, once Hrolfgar and Sarlock were recovered, we returned to Grynsval in force. This time we started by adopting a suggestion of Hrolfgar’s, and firebombing the village by dropping buckets of promethium from the air. The result was quite gratifying; although we couldn’t kill them all, especially the ones embedded in heavy cover, we reduced their numbers considerably before we landed. Ogur had taken samples from our earlier victims, and had synthesised a toxin for our blades, quite effective if a little short-lived.

We began at the warrior lodge. The wooden top floor was burnt out, but the ground floor was solid stone construction, and Sarlock detected three ‘stealers lurking inside. Krak’atoa took the lead by punching through a window and saturating the inside with his flamer, flushing out one of the vermin for me to kill. The other two refused to come out, so I ventured closer and baited them into charging, whereupon Thorhammer and Hrolfgar blew them away before they could reach my waiting blade.

Next we tackled the storehouses. Inside the first we found a group of filthy hybrids huddled together – the first hybrids we’d seen – and I threw two grenades in to flush them out. When they rushed us, Krak’atoa flamed them. Once again, Sarlock’s auspex detected several ‘stealers hiding inside; Krak’atoa went through the doorway and immediately five of them dropped on him from above. (In hindsight, probably should have mentioned that they like to do that, but I just assumed that all chapters would cover this sort of thing in initiation. My mistake!)

In any case, we reacted quickly and slaughtered the lot before they could cause any serious trouble. While our attention was on that storehouse another group of five burst out from the next one, but Thorhammer had been watching our backs, and by the time I turned around there were only twitching corpses.

From there, we swept the village but found no more life of any kind, so we moved on to the caves. And here we found the metal Sarlock had detected: a metal hatch, clearly not local workmanship, that had once sealed off the mine but now stood open, smashed.

We headed into the cave and found glowing decavane crystals on the wall, along with signs of what seemed to be a mining operation – very odd, given Tyranids’ usual lack of interest in such things. Our auspex picked life-forms and we followed it into a large chamber guarded by several more hybrids, among them four who had adapted two heavy mining lasers to use as weapons.

One of them shot at me and I narrowly dodged, then triggered my jump packs and flew across the room through a wave of hybrids to take off his head. His companion glanced Krak’atoa before I finished him, but no serious harm was done. Meanwhile Sarlock killed the other crew with a well-aimed burst of autofire, and our comrades killed the mob that had rushed them.

The chamber had clearly been used for a mining operation, extracting decavane crystals – some of them were powering the lasers that had just shot at us – which added to our suspicions that this wasn’t a straightforward ‘stealer infestation, if any such thing exists. We also found the same symbol we’d seen before in another cave: two concentric circles, linked by horizontal and vertical lines, with an upwards-pointing arrow at the top.

Radial

Near the back of the room was a large downshaft, which I approached with some caution. Inevitably there was a genestealer lurking down there (isn’t there always?) and it latched onto me, but I triggered my packs again and popped out of the shaft, ramming it into the ceiling and scraping it off before it could do too much damage. My battle-brothers killed it with concentrated fire, and I returned to the downshaft. It looks as if a large amount of decavane had been extracted, and it no longer seemed to be in evidence – apparently moved out of Grynsval. (Do genestealers eat such things? I doubt it, but who knows?)

Exploring another fork, we found a room with eight hybrids sleeping in cots. Having learned from experience, Hrolfgar looked up to see several purestrains lurking on the ceiling in ambush, and he blasted them with psi-lightning; by the time they hit the floor they were charred and broken. The hybrids offered little resistance, and when we searched the room we found two bodies, long-dead, in amongst a mess of mechanical parts and black ichor that reminded us of the treacherous servitors who’d tried to kill us at the start of the mission.

The bodies themselves had not been eaten – unlike every other scrap of organic material in Grynsval – which suggests that they must have been very badly tainted indeed. What is so noxious even a Genestealer cult won’t eat it?

Exploring the last branch of the cave, we found no more opposition, but we did come to a large cryo-cylinder with six shackles inside a plasteel tube. The conclusion is clear: somebody deliberately shipped a captured genestealer here. Looking around we found a crate holding sinister-looking scrolls, runes, and circuits. While Sarlock couldn’t identify them, we suspect the hand of the Ruinous Powers behind this. Our best guess is that a heretical cult among the Tech-Priests brought the genestealer here to cause distraction (and provide security?) while they mined decavane.

But we found no other Tech-Priests, no patriarch, and no magus. We’ve cleared Grynsval, but there must be another pocket somewhere on this planet – and perhaps a Chaos traitor pulling their strings – and we must root it out.

And what do they want with all that decavane? Nothing good, I’m certain.

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Trippetta's Journal - April 11 2012

Alkedra informs us that there are native life-forms known to swim in promethium, so the presence Thorhammer detected is probably not a Genestealer. Would be good to confirm this, but lower priority than before.

In the meantime, we decided to launch a patrol into Grynsval, in order to scout out the area and thin out the Genestealers. Launching a full assault seems undesirable at this stage; while we have access to Guard and local forces, their effectiveness and morale are doubtful.

We noticed last time that one large building had no Genestealers – or at least, none emerged, even though all the others seemed to be in use as hiding places. This building turned out to be the warrior lodge, which seemed like a possible place for a Broodlord, so we agreed to make that our first priority.

Before entering on foot we took a fly-over in the shuttle. Thorhammer exterminated one Genestealer from the air, and the rest hid. We could see movement all around, but not enough to aim at. Hrolfgar tried to detect the xenos in the Warp and succeeded all too well; from the look on his face, his experience was similar to mine. I don’t think either of us will be trying that in a hurry.

The purpose of the fly-over was not to kill the Genestealers in any great number, but to discourage them from patrolling in the open, in order to make the following reconnaissance safer. To assist in stealth, we ordered the servitor to circle overhead as we went in on foot – the idea was to attract their attention and intimidate them into staying in hiding. As it turned out, it was a very good thing we had the shuttle nearby.

The guards made an opening for us in part of their barricade, and I led the way in, using my stummer to muffle my footsteps. The barricade was quite near the lodge, so we made that our first port of call.

The lodge was a big and sturdy building; there were no ground-floor windows and the upper windows appeared to be barricaded. Sarlock detected four life-forms on the second floor, so we took positions and prepared for entry.

I jumped up, punched a hole through the roof, and dropped in a frag grenade. There were several screams – not Genestealers – and we discovered three apparent humans, along with one killed by the grenade.

According to their story, two of them (an old man and a young warrior) had been part of the last failed assault on Grynsval, six months ago, and had barricaded themselves into the lodge; the other, an old woman incapable of speech, had been there already.

We were highly suspicious of this story. Where did they find food and water to survive so long? Why did the Genestealers not break in and take them long ago? Although Ogur could not confirm taint, it seemed almost certain, and Hrolfgar very rightly executed them rather than risk allowing their escape.

Having cleared the house without further incident, we moved out to check the next one. At this point, things started to come apart: while I was moving forwards to scout the house, Sarlock detected a group of Genestealers hiding in rubble to the side of the path. Just as I was nearing the house, Krak’atoa flamed the other group, and we were attacked by two packs at once, six xenos in total.

Ordinarily this might not have been a problem – we were competent to take on six Genestealers between us. But several of my brothers opened fire, causing enough noise to awaken more. As we despatched the first wave, more and more appeared.

Realising that our position was untenable – and that Hrolfgar was about to do something dangerous – I dropped a frag grenade and leapt back to Thorhammer’s vantage point on higher ground. Hrolfgar unleashed a powerful blast of warp-lightning that staggered the Genestealers but didn’t kill them, and he went down under a mob of them.

Thorhammer had the presence of mind to call in the Servitor, who brought the shuttle down safely on our position, but our brothers were pinned out in the open. Even if they’d been able to flee to the shuttle, they would most likely have been accompanied by Genestealers, and there were more than enough to bring down the shuttle.

Since there didn’t seem to be any remaining options, I threw a blind grenade into the middle of the fray. Krak’atoa, Ogur, and Sarlock were able to retreat to the shuttle. I jumped into a smoke cloud full of angry Genestealers to look for Hrolfgar.

The darkness was impenetrable, which is probably for the best, but it made it very difficult to find him. In the end I got my bearings by finding a ditch near his position, and then I managed to locate him by touch. By this time the smoke was thinning, and I was uncomfortably aware of the number of Genestealers moving nearby – knowing how good their hearing is, I’m glad I requisitioned a stummer.

I had my doubts about whether I’d be able to fly with him, but the machine-spirit in my jump pack must have sensed the urgency of the situation, and we lifted off the ground. As I’d thought might happen, the noise of the pack drew our foes’ attention, and one of them slashed at me out of the murk, but its aim was off.

By that time the shuttle was airborne, and I carried Hrolfgar over the barrier to safety.

I was unscathed; several of my companions were badly hurt. Worst of all, before Hrolfgar went down I think I saw one of the Genestealers get its ovipositor inside his helmet. My understanding is that the implant can be removed with prompt attention, and I hope Ogur is up to the task. If not, Hrolfgar cannot be allowed to live; a traitorous Rune-Priest is a dreadful prospect.

In the meantime, we need to reassess our tactics. Lessons learned:

- Stay focussed and be careful not to engage more than one pocket of Genestealers at a time.

- Avoid noisy weapons; this puts some of us at a disadvantage, but if we can avoid facing large numbers at once, I’m sure we can prevail.

- Never underestimate the value of blind grenades and stummers. On the other hand, frag grenades seem to be near-useless against Genestealers, except for getting attention.

- Next time we do something like this, it may be worth our requisitioning some Stalker pattern bolters, or silenced ammunition. I was very glad to see Thorhammer had brought some of the latter.

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Trippetta's Journal - April 4 2012

After Thorhammer’s dramatic (if narrow) defeat of Zayr, it was clear that he would need some rest before returning to combat duties, so I volunteered to stand in for him against Karthas and he accepted.

The second fight was much shorter; while that has much to do with the superiority of Raven Guard hand-to-hand training, it has to be acknowledged that Karthas wasn’t the warrior that Zayr had been.

The complication to this fight was that Brother Krak’atoa – who had taken a nasty blow to the head during our fight with the Diablodon – has become increasingly erratic. He manifested an eagerness to show ‘strong leadership’, unfortunately combined with some confusion about the nature of our mission and some of the events that had already transpired.

My understanding of the Salamanders is that they’re protective of ordinary humans, which is admirable in itself – but when it comes to ordering me not to kill a man who’d already confessed to involvement in the murder of one of the Ecclesiarchy? He even threatened to shoot me if I disobeyed this peculiar order.

I considered the possibility that his peculiar behaviour might be due to involvement by the Ruinous Powers – and I will keep an eye on him, just in case – but it seems more likely to be the effecs of concussion. I had no desire to come to blows with a brother Marine if it could be honourably avoided, so I agreed to his request for the time being and subdued Karthas with a choke-hold.

We then took our unconscious prisoner, along with Zayr’s body, to the Aspirance.

Ogur conducted an autopsy on Zayr and confirmed that there were signs of abnormality – Genestealer corruption. With that in mind, I was almost certain that Karthas would turn out to be likewise corrupted, although Ogur’s medical investigation was inconclusive.

At Krak’atoa’s behest we attempted to interrogate Karthas. I could have told him it was a waste of time; in the unlikely event that he was innocent, he wouldn’t have anything to tell us (nor would we believe him) and if he was indeed a Genestealer puppet, he was extremely unlikely to disclose anything important. Indeed, given the psychic link that exists within the brood, I was concerned that the enemy might learn more from us during the interrogation than vice-versa.

Therefore, I requested permission to “handle this my way”. Krak’atoa agreed, and before he could ask awkward questions I executed Karthas with my chainsword. Krak’atoa was angry with me – “I wouldn’t have agreed if I’d known that’s what you intended!” – which is precisely why I didn’t tell him. I then sliced open Karthas’ skull and started to sample his brain.

The experience was… memorable. Through flashbacks of memory, I learned that Zayr had betrayed him some years earlier, during one of the abortive raids on Grensvayl – he had been taken aside and infected out of sight of the others. Although the other memories were fragmentary, I recalled visions of a dark place with a prisoner – Sister R – manacled to a pillar, and a powerful beast present in the darkness. This much I relayed to my Battle-Brothers afterwards.

Then I felt an unholy presence staring back at me. Even though the memories absorbed through the omophagea are fleeting and fragmented, it was overwhelming – something vast and hungry beyond imagining – and it was all I could do to break the connection, vomiting up what I’d consumed. I don’t know whether I actually made a weak contact with the Hive-Mind, or simply absorbed Karthas’ memories of his own contact; either way, it will take a long time to forget the encounter, and it’s not one I care to repeat. I did not consider it necessary to share this part of the story with my comrades; when I return to my Chapter, I think I will speak to a Brother-Chaplain, or perhaps one of the Librarians.

But as unpleasant as it was, it provided us with much of the information we needed, and it confirmed beyond a doubt that I had been right to execute him.

We decided to hit the promethium mines as quickly as possible, taking Alkedra along to handle the locals if need be. (Another sign of Krak’atoa’s confusion: although he had previously been showing an interest in her that verged on the excessive, he now seemed arrogant towards her, mistakenly describing her as a ‘civilian’.)

In case there were any collaborators left, we put the word around that we were headed for Grensvayl (which turned out to be truer than we knew) and flew in that direction, diverting to the mines only after we were out of sight of the capital.

The mines themselves posed something of a challenge: the walkways across the pit of promethium were too weak to bear a Marine’s weight. In the end we landed the shuttle on the clifftop above the cave mouth, and lowered a cable to the platform nearest the cave. My brothers climbed down one by one; I had an easier time of it courtesy of my jump packs.

Getting into the caves themselves proved something of a challenge: there was still a gap of about ten metres between the last platform and the solid rock inside the cave. Thorhammer suggested sealing up our suits and walking through the promethium pit to the cave.

I didn’t much like this idea – the crude promethium would block all visibility, and leave my brothers coated in flammable sludge – but none of us could come up with an alternative. To make things easier, I flew across – I had a bit of work to avoid the stalactites along the way – and carried a guide line to ensure my brothers didn’t get lost under the crude.

Thorhammer destroyed the walkways around the platform – a sensible idea, since they were useless to us and might be useful to ambushing enemies – and followed the line. The sludge went well over his head, and I was concerned for his safety, but eventually he re-emerged inside the cave and the others followed. Several of them felt something large moving in the depths nearby, but whatever it was, it didn’t attack. More likely to be some local creature, but perhaps a Genestealer might choose to bide its time for reasons unknown.

Unpleasant thought: might it have been the Broodlord itself? Being less expendable than its progeny, that could explain why it chose not to attack. Once Grensvayl has been purged, we ought to come back here.

We set out into the caves, which proved to be large and deep. Krak’atoa was waving his flamer around enthusiastically, which concerned me – it would have been very easy to ignite the promethium, which would have flashed back to the pit. Destroying such a resource seems inadvisable in itself, and it would have made it much harder to access the caves and clear them. We managed to persuade him to switch to his bolter.

Not far into the caves, we came across a pillar that was all too familiar to me, complete with manacles. There was an odd-looking xenos sign above the manacles, which none of us recognised. We looked around but there was nothing else to be seen at that point, so we proceeded deeper into the caves.

The caves turned out to be very deep indeed; since we already knew that there were caves in Grensvayl, I was not completely surprised to find that the tunnels continued in that direction for many kilometres. Although we were all expecting ambush, the length of the journey meant that we were not as alert as we could’ve been when we were attacked.

Krak’atoa had insisted on leading the party, and two Genestealers appeared out of niches in the walls; they were on him before anybody could yell alert, and he was badly injured. Thorhammer destroyed one with a burst from his heavy bolter, and I killed the other with my chainsword and some assistance from others.

Thorhammer was attacked by a third Genestealer that had crept up behind him – I never cease to marvel at their stealth – but the rest of us closed with it, and Sarlock crushed it with his servo-arm. Ogur was attempting to render first-aid to Krak’atoa, but unfortunately the Salamander wouldn’t keep still long enough.

After the fracas was over, we continued through the caverns, and eventually we saw daylight up ahead: we had come all the way to Grensvayl!

We emerged from the cavern mouth into a ruined and deceptively quiet village. We had no doubt that there were many Genestealers around – something confirmed by Sarlock’s auspex – and most of us were in favour of retreating through the caves to come at the problem from another angle. But Krak’atoa insisted on scouting the village; I could see this going horribly wrong, so I volunteered to scout, since I was the only one with an option for a quick exit should we be attacked by overwhelming numbers.

Near us was a bridge over what had once been a small creek-bed. I headed towards the bridge, but as I stepped on it, two Genestealers emerged from under it. I dodged one, but the other one hit me and knocked me down, cracking a few of my ribs – I love the Corvus armour but sometimes I could wish it offered better protection.

Krak’atoa leapt to my aid – I appreciate the gesture, even if it was a little suicidal – and the others opened fire. There was a risk of my being hit – and indeed one or two rounds glanced off the armour – but I would have been dead otherwise, and I was very glad of the marksmanship of my brothers.

Unfortunately, the gunfire had drawn attention, and the Genestealers in hiding around the village were beginning to respond. It was clear that we couldn’t hope to fight them all, so I told my brothers to fall back into the cave – sealing the entrance behind them – while I made a stand to buy them time.

Since they seemed to respond to noise, I stood on the bridge and emptied a pistol clip into the ground. I was gratified by the response: at least a dozen Genestealers started slinking towards me from all quarters (except, curiously, from one of the few remaining houses – either it’s empty, or there’s something in there that they want to guard).

The Genestealers were moving slowly, but I knew that was deceptive; I’ve seen just how fast they can run when they want to. So I was prepared when they started to charge. I popped a blind grenade, enveloping the area in thick smoke, and fired up my jetpack to catapult me out of the village and over the fire barrier. Meanwhile the Genestealers were hunting for me in the smoke, but the only thing I’d left behind was a melta-bomb on a short timer. I’d guess I killed about nine of them, but it’s impossible to be sure.

After speaking with the local guards – and warning them to remain vigilant – I headed back overland to the mine. I arrived there well before my brothers did, and was able to assist them in exiting. Then we returned to the capital to make plans and recuperate.

Considerations:

- The brood does not seem to be fully alert: my experience with Genestealers is that the whole brood is capable of responding to threats in a coordinated fashion, but that didn’t seem to be the case today. Perhaps it takes time for them to develop such a link – or perhaps the Broodlord is too far away for clear communication? (Perhaps we should return to the mines and find out just what it is that’s hiding under the promethium – even if it means torching the place, now that we’ve cleared the tunnels?)

- Alternately, they may have been in a dormant state? Food supply in Grensvayl has been heavily restricted; I know Genestealers will enter hibernation in a hulk, presumably to reduce requirements for sustenance, and the Caele’s strategy of starvation may have been more effective than we’d realised, especially if the xenos have been trying to build their numbers.

- Taking that in mind, there may be scope for surgical operations in Grensvayl; perhaps we can whittle them down one by one. If so, we may be better off taking a small force, rather than assaulting en masse and drawing attention – we do have the option of Guard and local forces, but they might be more of a liability than an asset

- Possible mixed strategy: check whether the Guard have any good marksmen, and see what we can do about picking off Genestealers long-range, to encourage them to keep their heads down; this may make it easier for us to infiltrate afterwards without being noticed.

- By selectively disabling the barrier (necessary for infiltration anyway) we might be able to lure a few into attempting to break out, helping to whittle down numbers further.

- Whatever strategy we choose, be careful not to stick to it for too long; Genestealers are not stupid and if we become predictable, we can expect them to take advantage of that.

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Trippetta's Journal - March 14 2012

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.

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Trippetta's Journal - March 7 2012

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.

Diablo

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