Having allowed her sub-ordinates a chance to make headway and a name for themselves (and more importantly, for their loyalty to be observed) the Lady Captain Aurora Black felt it was high time for her to take control of the situation.
Summoning the Navigator Oleg Optimo Vollus, the Master Helmsman Rexx Stormgard and Elorn Von PersenElorn von Persen to the Control Core of Cog, she demanded they report on the events of the last day. While the Captain was told of the Cleansing of Cog, the Magos Bertha attempted to reach a rapport with her colleague Magos Tevla. Their mutual stand-offishness did not help this relationship develop, particularly when Bertha offered to “work on your body” – an offer that is either overtly forward or perverted to Magos Tevla’s particular branch of the Machine Cult. However, Magos Bertha was able to smooth things over such that he understood that the offer was made in good faith rather than to offend.
From Tevla, and his subordinates, Bertha learned that Cog faced several issues – the tracks upon which the factory-vehicle travel may have been sabotaged, the communication arrays from Cog to other moons have ceased to function, and Tevla suspects that gravitic anomalies are striking the system, sending the moons into disarray. Magos Bertha waves away the issue of the tracks “A local matter, I am sure that you will soon have the resources to deal with it” but promises to look into how to restore communications with the moon of Svard.
The Explorers return to the familiar territory of the Harbinger of Glory. Meanwhile, back on Cog, guarded by a remaining force of a few hundred armsmen, the surviving tech-priests begin to compare notes and find that their saviours have some very mixed views on the priorities for production…
In orbit, Roslyn Rager reported that, despite her landers being requisitioned by Oleg, Rexx and Elorn, she has accomplished the task set to her and ensured that the system ships that were faced are purged of life, or at the least that the survivors have no way to harm anyone. Without splitting the crew, and potentially leaving the frigates dangerously undercrewed, Roslyn wasn’t sure how they proposed to get these damaged system ships to the docks around Svard.
“Surely we can just tow them.” the Lady-Captain said, he voice laced with annoyance.
“I might have something for that…” the Magos Bertha said, before heading deep into the Harbinger of Glory’s stowage holds.
A few hours later a rudimentary towing system had been fashioned out of several kilometres of chains, allowing the Black Hand and the Harbinger of Glory to tow a system ship apiece – at the cost of most of their speed and manoeuvrability. Despite knowing it would shave a day off of the journey time, the Lady-Captain instructed that a course be set to Svard that skirted the storm and allowed for best use of sensors in case of any need for emergency action.
The journey was mostly uneventful for thirty hours, with a small amount of excitement when Rexx Stormgard took control of the helm crew and got them to dip slightly into the storm o see if anything new would be detected. Oleg reported to the Lady-Captain that he had the feeling that a ship had entered the system at some point in the last few days, sensing an unmistakable warp residue from within his spire.
As the moon of Svard slowly became visible over the horizon of the storm, which had blocked sight, auspices and vox until now, the Harbinger of Glory received a communication from the moon. After a short moment, the Lady-Captain found herself talking with Speaker Tal of the Crystal Council. The Speaker had mixed news. On the one hand the explorers had escaped an assassination attempt – Whispered Ones had planted explosives and destroyed the hotel that had been opened for the Explorer’s use. Speaker Tal was clear in expressing that while the blast and an ensuing hive quake may have caused several thousand casualties he was glad that the Lady-Captain and her entourage had evaded the attack. He also told them of his happiness – the arrival of the Harbinger of Glory and the Black Hand had clearly been but the first step in a revival of Svard’s fortunes – a trading ship under Free Trader Captain “Shift” McStash had arrived earlier that day and was docked at the Sanctus Terminus at this moment.
Speaker Tal then asked “How goes the search for the Imperial Emissary?”
After an uncomfortable pause the Lady-Captain blurted “Who?! Ah…” as several of her aides leaned in to remind her of Captain Keel’s brother. She related that, shortly after leaving the Crystal Council, the command crews had determined that the best thing to do was to ensure the longer-term stability of the system, and to that end they had gone to Cog. In fact, they had removed the “Whispered Ones” from Cog and now needed a fresh workforce – perhaps Speaker Tal would have a spare few thousand workers?
Speaker Tal seemed delighted at this news, and made it clear that the vox and pict networks and other propaganda networks would be available for he Explorers to use to recruit with. The Lady-Captain set her command staff, led by Elorn, to determine the most effective way to recruit 10,000 men and women to work under terrible conditions.
While this was going on, the Lady-Captain found herself contacted by Captain “Shift” McStash of the Bland Hack, a Vagabond-class merchant trader. Expecting some kind of tedious business offer, the Lady-Captain let out a heavy sigh before instructing Armid Drays to patch it through to the main screen. She was unable to hide her surprise to see her Confessor, Sigmund Severius, standing beside a man she assumed was Captain McStash. Sigmund briefly related the events that had occurred on Footfall, and that he had procured the services of the Bland Hack to convey him in the Lady-Captain’s wake. The month-long uneventful journey had left him eager to get back into the Lady-Captain’s service, particularly as he has heard dark rumours of events in this system.
McStash let out a meaningful cough at this point. “Ah yes, you also will need to arrange payment to the good Captain. The trading opportunities of Svard were not quite enough to entice him to make the journey, so I promised that you would be able to cover his expenses.”
With Sigmund returned to the Harbinger of Glory, and the basics of a recruitment scheme sketched out (advertising a signing bonus, free chocolate, and a work-place that currently has no-one trying to kill you), the Explorers discussed the problems facing the system.
- Cog needed to be staffed and for communication to be restored.
- The system ship fleet at anchor at Sanctus Terminus needed to be brought to working order, using equipment from Cog and supplies of fuel.
- They were no closer to locating Kaal Keel, the Imperial Envoy, apart from narrowing down that he had not been seen by the Tech-Priests of Cog – though they were limited on their experiences over the last few months.
- The Magos was able to, with the help of Elorn, Oleg and Rexx, confirm that the location of planets in the system had shifted, though they did not know why. They were able to determine the location of several moons and asteroids around Svard Prime.
Eventually, a plan was agreed upon.
The recruitment campaign to become an Adeptus Mechanicus serf-worker was blasted out across all local media – and was a huge success. Previously, becoming an AdMech serf had been seen akin to a death sentence (and, indeed, Cog had been primarily staffed by the recidivists from Svard’s prisons) but the campaign turned around those views, guaranteeing a minimum quality of life and an escape from the unending paranoia of living on Svard in these dangerous times. Many thousands expressed their interest at temporary recruiting stations the government had set up.
The Explorers also made the decision to take Speaker Tal up on his earlier offer of 500 troops, collecting the Crystal Guard, members of the Planetary Defence Forces.
Once the passengers were loaded, some in unusual luxury within the Black Hand’s Luxury Passenger Quarters, while others were in makeshift bunks in the lighter and shuttle bays. Once fully loaded with the required complement, the Black Hand set off, taking a route that would take it around outside the Storm and give it time to flee in case of interception.
The Lady-Captain contacted Captain McStash, and asked about the possibility of returning to Svard with a cargo-hold of fuels for the system ships, and potentially other items besides. He vacillated, bringing up the loss he would incur over the 2 month round trip, and how, with the level of unrest he had heard about, the system did’t seem wealthy enough to take the risk of showing up with a starship full of fuel. Bringing her Navigator, Oleg, into the negotiation, the Lady-Captain was able to offer warp-charts that would allow the Bland Hack to make the trip in half the time. After some additional back and forth, a bargain was struck. Oleg handed off the warp charts he had made, following the guidance of the Hollow Atlas, trying to embed Navigational ciphers to prevent too much copying.
The Harbinger of Glory then set a course through the heart of the storm – aiming to swing round the gas giant and use the storm to rapidly boost away. Boosting their sensors during this trip, the Harbinger of Glory approached close enough to the purported location of Installation 23 to detect that there were a large number of ships near it – at least a dozen, though they could not detect the ship configurations. Some moved, at unusual speed, to shadow the Harbinger of Glory but did not attack.
During this time, Navigator Oleg had retired to his Spire. Within the confines of this multi-story luxury quarters he made his way to one of his observation rooms. There, having sent away his servants, he gritted his needle-like teeth and opened his third eye.
In his mind he was now standing upon the scorch-fields of Belacane, his homeworld. The ash of the plain was calm beneath his feet, and as he looked up he could see several asteroids lazily tumbling towards the ground. Belacane’s “season of iron”, a rain of asteroids, was the way that Oleg saw and interpreted the warp (as well as being the primary way that Belacane supplied itself with raw materials). The warp was calm – usually he was prepared to see a vast cracked landscape spewing forth lava, daemons, rocks and debris. Still, he was looking for something particular – before, he had seen in the Whispered Ones a connection to something Other. His natural warp attunement had allowed him to sense it several times, but now he sought it. He saw, in the dusty ash-choked air, dozens of small flying beetle-creatures, descending to the ground and burrowing into the earth. Beneath his feet, crawling in the ash he then saw it – the beetle had cast off its shell and transformed into a creature like a worm. As he looked he could see the creature stretch and grow, reaching up and into the sky stretching out and towards the tumbling asteroids. This was how his warp eye was seeing the connection, or warp strands, he felt he could detect on previous occasions. He realised he was seeing the strand being formed in realtime, a Whispered One being created, likely somewhere on the ship – but where was the source? By straining his powers he tried to see the real world and the world of the warp at once – this was a difficult task, and would leave him feeling exhausted. However, as the Harbinger of Glory passed Svard Prime on the opposite side to the purported location of Installation 23 he could see the worm-strands, at least several dozen around him now, stretch up towards the gas giant. Oleg brought himself out of his trance, and, exhausted and somewhat shaken, readied himself for the trials to come.
Reaching Cog, the Harbinger of Glory rendezvoused with the Black Hand and oversaw the shuttling down of a new work crew for Cog. Magos Bertha met with the Magos Tevla and confirmed to him that his theory was correct – there had been some kind of movement of the moons. With this information shared between Cog and Svard’s Crystal Hive the laser communication link was able to be re-established, and there was much to discuss.
The short-term guests now removed, the Harbinger of Glory and the Black Hand travelled together towards the moon Silence. The Explorers had not asked for information on the moon, so weren’t sure what to expect. From orbit they could detect a single settlement – a hab dome holding some kind of atmosphere, capping a large tower. There appeared to be some signs of light, but no-one contacted them. The Explorers prepared a small expedition, packing the Guncutter and an Aquila Lander with soldiers, evenly between Svard’s Crystal Guard and the Harbinger of Glory’s armsmen, as well as several bodyguards brought by the Lady-Captain, Oleg and Elorn.
The ships were able to get down to the moon with little trouble, though they found that the shuttle-bay-airlock was a tight fit for both ships. Finding the atmosphere breathable, the Explorers decided to head to the Tower. In between was a large garden of statues, in a huge variety of quality or states of completion. Before them were the broken remains of statues stretching out for hundreds of metres all around the base of the tower. Through the garden was a broad pathway leading from the shuttle entrances to tower entrance.
The Explorers made a slow path through the statue garden, Elorn and Sigmund noting several high quality statues of notable Saints, both local Calixis sector saints and ones that are famous across the Imperium. As they advanced, Talon called for a halt, seeing movement up ahead. His warning came too late for one of the Crystal Guard, who found a large stone hand slowly closing over his helmet – a loud crack was followed by a squelch as the mans body went limp.
What followed was a frantic battle, as several statues within the garden seemed to spring to life to oppose the explorers. Lasguns were unable to do much against their stone forms, but Talon’s Hellgun, Bertha’s Poweraxe, the Lady-Captains Bolt-Pistols and Sigmund’s psychically charged promethium (a holy relic, put to effective use against such foes). Inspired by their leaders, the soldiery didn’t flee and instead kept firing, eventually returning the statue garden to a relative calm and quiet – but not before Rexx took a stone fist to the chest, cracking ribs.
Somewhat disturbed, the crew reached the base of the tower and found it silent and still, littered with broken bodies and shattered furniture – the bottom levels of the tower appeared littered with the detritus of battle—desiccated corpses, spent casings, and scorch marks. The Explorers begin to make their way up the tower, stopping to have their squads search each floor. For the first two dozen floors they mostly found more of the same, as well as rooms full of supplies for the inhabitants.
The reached a large lobby level, with a huge stained glass window depicting St. Asceline. As the soldiers assembled, the window suddenly shattered. Rexx leapt over to the window, looking for a source of trouble. He looked out over the statue garden, now two dozen floors below. He thought he might have seen some movement among the statues, but their shuttles seemed fine, with no reports. He couldn’t see what had caused the window to break and so leaned back inside. Again, slightly spooked, they made their way up, this time into some library levels. The explorers quickly began looking about some for clues to the strange things happening – perhaps some kind of book of witch-craft had caused these possessed statues to attack? Mostly they found hagiographies, book after book on the lives of Saints. Using his knowledge of Imperial bureaucracy, Oleg was able to locate a library index desk from which he was able to inform the explorers that the next 20 levels would be more books of saints. A wider variety of volumes would then begin to appear, including some records from the founding of the system and some possibly proscribed books of lore kept under lock and key near the top of the tower. The next destination was to be the top of the tower – however their climb was interrupted several times – books would fly off of shelves, doors would swing suddenly open and close with a slam. It was too much for one of the Crystal Guard. He broke and ran down the stairs; reacting swiftly Talon followed, screaming obscenities and threats. Worried by the heavily armed man now pursuing him, the trooper ducked into a library room.
“I don’t want to die in this cursed tower!” he shouted. As his voice echoed across the walls the bookcase beside him, stacked with hundreds of heavy tomes, suddenly fell away from the wall and crushed the trooper. Talon could only watch as the door between them suddenly slammed shut.
Talon reclimbed the stairs, coolly reporting the the discipline issues had been dealt with. Both the armsmen and the Crystal Guard stood in horror, until the Lady-Captain ordered them to continue the ascent.
The Explorers finally reached the Sculptor’s Nave, one of the final floors of the tower. a giant vaulted chamber crafted to the glory of the Emperor. This was where the sculptors performed their holy work, and also where they made their final stand against the Whisperers. The large circular room is about 60 metres across and filled with a forest of pillars—each covered from floor to ceiling with the faces of saints. It is also littered with the desiccated remains of sculptors and Whisperers alike, heaped around the grand altar to the Emperor, behind which stands a massive 7 metre tall statue of the Emperor wielding a sword.
Following their experience in the statue garden below it didn’t take long for the explorers to notice dark energy crackling around the Emperor’s eyes.