Happy Victoria Day! Well, okay we had a long weekend and we spent it playing. Hence the really long update. Sorry for the delay for those who await these, it makes fretting about it worthwhile.
If you wonder why there’s always eating, well, there’s always dinner or lunch in our play sessions. As to why here and not in the FanFic area... I'd have to write everything from before Damaris and that'll probably kill me.
We had killed their gods. For days after the betrayal, only the thought of vengeance fuelled the crew. We buried our dead, consigning them to the void, and worked hard rebuilding the ship that had suffered to keep us alive. Deck after deck sang the praises of the Emperor and even I lead them in battle hymns. I did not think I would be robbed of justified bloodshed.
I expected threats, curses, litanies of vile hatred. I did not expect them to sing thanks to their god for us.
Thankfully, there were still people left for us to kill.
Asme met us on Balapito Station, handing it over to us in a grand reception. My assault force quickly became an honour guard--luckily the Stromgard were able to switch mid-stride--and we were feted like conquering heroes. Perhaps we were.
Unfortunately, the party did not consist of over-eating and debauchery. There was a grand retelling of their wondrous history. I paid little attention to it, too intrigued by the erudite young lady to focus on much else.
Thankfully, my senior staff were around to steer our conversation on track. Idris very calmly asked if there had been any people like her captured, and what became of them. Asme knew none with three eyes, though if any were captured they would’ve been kept at Baladal, the second world.
Trelany asked next, about any of her kind, and Asme nodded. The ones without eyes were taken to Balalima, the forge world, and put to sleep in the alcoves there. On that topic, Binar pounced, having digested all he could of the industrial output of the planet below us. There was little that Balalima did not produce, it was their industrial heart, and had a great many manufactoria. Macrocannon were made there, as were other void ship components.
Bain was too busy socializing with other, equally beautiful women as Asme, and the dinner ended with rather sombre abruptness.
Even parties finish on a schedule with the Balas.
BELOW THE WORLD
We descended to the planet below, steering clear of a greyish, black wound on the northern hemisphere. The last loyal servants of the W’Lang Tayan, the rulers that had cloned themselves to lead generation after generation, had seized the planetary capital. It was called the Third Gift and it felt like something I should’ve learned last night.
Our barges followed us in and readily took on the waiting sheets of plasteel and bars of ceramite that we could feed to the Blessed Enterprise’s own manufactorum. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, and with Thraves’ prodding, we shared the last of the dragon-whales we had and our plentiful supply of Nadueshi provender.
Judging by our feast’s fare, fresh fruits and vegetables were rare for these people. The Balas accepted the food with stunned expressions, some falling on their knees in thanks. They had tried to hide their food shortages from us, a shameful state Asme conceded, that they couldn’t even feed themselves.
Balapito’s dimpled frozen surface denuded mountains with high winds and filled valleys with ocean ice. The volcanoes were constantly erupting on the ocean floor, flooding the water with heavy metals, compounds, and all sorts of toxic but industrially useful things. When the heat became too much, fissures broke on the surface and gave birth to new crystalline mountains as steam erupted into the chilly atmosphere. It explained the strange, jagged formations we saw flying in.
Sea creatures, having evolved in the toxic seas, were edible but had become very dangerous creatures to survive in an ocean of predators. They fought for a few minutes of sunlight, for what purpose only a biologis can explain.
All this Asme explained as we took one of the auxiliary elevators down to the mines below.
The city was in squalor. Smoke poured from fires in spires that were still guttering, masses roamed the streets looking for food or shelter, and flying vehicles hovered above them, opening fire seemingly at random.
This was Soomra, the first free city.
It was understandable than an underground city would be dark, but it seemed that there were fixtures high above us in the ceiling to provide warm, indirect lighting. Binar asked about this, and we diverted from our meeting with the city’s new rulers. The Magos does like civic engineering projects, especially ones that made use of void ship components. Even I recognized it, by its squat but compact nature, and its similarities with the Blessed Enterprise’s own plasma heart.
This was much larger.
Binar’s quick survey revealed many, many problems. It was a miracle--of the Omnissiah--that the Balas had been able to get it up and running and maintain operations for all of these years. Still, I saw evidence of radiation burns across the city and hints of glazed bedrock when the generatoria lost containment.
The Magos did what he could, adjusting some magneto-locks, and depressing several runes that I couldn’t read. Mostly, I inquired about the robed individuals who looked upon Binar with fear and awe. They were the city’s engineers--just engineers--and they oversaw all technological concerns of the city, separate wholly from the mining engineers, a different guild altogether, who looked after mining technologies.
Binar returned and asked for several enginseers to be brought down to take over the generatoria. I tensed, knowing how prickly these technological-types were, but the city engineers merely knelt down on one knee and began praising their god. The Magos ignored them, utterly uncomfortable with the whole thing.
I nodded and Bain made it happen.
As we boarded our hoversled, the suns of Soomra began to shine again.
The meeting with the rulers was full of pompousness and the circumstantial. They were useless to me and I looked around throughout the ceremony to see who the people were deferring to. They were the younger ones, in the crowds, in the entourages, that were in power.
I mouthed off something about being sent here by the God-Emperor--a title I only use to impress the impressionable, Emperor save me from his true believers--and that their cooperation with me would see them join the Imperial fold. I left it to Idris to explain what the Imperium was, and how it was joined together. Trelany followed, explaining the role of her kind, then Binar, as a separate ally of the Imperium delivered a brief summary of the Adeptus Mechanicus’ role.
The young Mr. Iosef shuffled his feet when the attention turned to him. Finally, he found his voice and spoke about the dynasty. He may have overlooked some details, but in general what he said was true.
After the mouthpieces and figureheads were sufficiently awed, by the Imperium and the Strom dynasty, I began to talk specifics.
The very same people that I had marked earlier perked up at that and leaned in. I made eye contact with each one.
The God-Emperor does not fight everyone’s battles for them. But he does give you the strength to do so. We can help, with arms, armour, vehicles and supplies. Though it would be up to every single Bala to rise up and defeat the W’Lang Tayan forever.
Several figures conferred even as the elders spouted their thanks. They were handed sheafs of paper, their requests which were easily filled. Food and medical help were first and foremost, a good sign, in my books. The second was continued technical aid, which was up to the Magos to negotiate. Finally, was a show of the God-Emperor’s strength.
Or rather, proof of his favour. The Third Gift had to be returned to them.
Asme knew I had no idea what they were talking about. I thought it was just a city. It was more.
Their god had delivered three gifts to the Bala, a sign that their ancient home had not forgotten them. The first gift was the head, full of wisdom and knowledge, it allowed them to leave the second planet in the system within a few generations. The sword was the second gift that gave weapons, armour, and other things that granted them the ability to defend against thieves. Wings was the third gift, fiery and massive, it would take them through the void between planets and then the stars.
It was their holiest relic.
Asme had seen it herself. It dwarfed the Blessed Enterprise, she claimed. And the city that had been built around it did not lack for power like Soomra did. They had shared their gift with those on Balalima and while they were not given macrocannon they had a thick array of smaller weapons.
Bain was pushing for an orbital bombardment to crack open the Third Gift’s frozen shell. I was inclined to agree until Idris pointed out that the Bala may not forgive us for maybe damaging their sacred artifact. Trelany and Binar had wandered off earlier and returned just then.
Our young astropath had lead the Magos on a search to find out more about the tunnels. They discovered numerous ones that had been abandoned in and out of Soomra. The Third Gift was the same.
Asme was privy to all of these conversations and I chose to trust her a bit further. I asked for a meeting with the true council. She nodded and returned later.
ATTACK THE CLONES
We met with the men and women who were the power behind the thrones, as it were. They did not like each other much, products of caste systems, conjoined only by a violent coup, I’d seen it before and they played easily against each other.
I would lead the assault to retake the Third Gift, but I would not do it alone. In fact, I would not use my own soldiers--I had kept the fact that I still had several thousand perfectly capable armsmen aboard. Some assumed I was weaker for not having soldiers, others assumed I was holding back.
It did not matter. They were too divided and desperate to turn away my offer. After all, I could simply leave.
They scoffed at that. Why would I leave when I was practically worshipped here? I made the biggest bluff I’ve ever made in my life up until that point: I simply said this wasn’t the only place in the galaxy. They took it to mean other worlds were just as thankful as theirs until their own mistrust played against them. There were other worlds in this very system who may be just as grateful.
In the end, I had all of their soldiers under my command.
Trelany lead the scouting runs on the ground, her senses making her keenly aware of ambushes and blindspots. Over the weeks she began to earn a fierce reputation, no doubt helped by letting some W’Lang Tayan slave soldiers return home with stories of her wrath. I did not enquire as to how liberally she used her talents.
Our Navigator seemed enamoured with the twisting ice tunnels that ran through the planet’s surface. Some bore through rock and precious minerals, others through the frozen oceans, with the glint of the volcanoes underneath. She charted the tunnels and soon came to own them, knowing them better than the very men who had carved some of the tunnels. She left no survivors and the slave patrols ceased altogether.
Bain did what he did best, and that was destroy things in the controls of a fighter craft. We had precious few reasons to ever take his Thunderbolt out of deep stasis, and this seemed a good time as any. It had remarkably more agility than our void interceptors, and the man was willing to chart the network of turrets that surrounded the Third Gift--by flying close enough to have them fire at him. He killed several command posts in turn.
Binar and I focused on Soomra. He was cautiously prodding the various engineering guilds’ knowledge. I made several requests of the other Mechanicus priests who had joined him, installing air filters and diverting some of their output to producing much needed medicines. The sheer adulation they received from the Balas seemed to offset their annoyance.
I prepared for war. With several Damarand and Stromgard armsmen with me, I began training the best fighters of Soomra in tunnel fighting. At first they scoffed, until the Damarans wiped out every single one of them in a training run. They were capable and quick learners. Once they were trained, they taught their own units and the process began again.
The puppeteers had given me bands of rebels, each fighting only with the people they knew. I had no time to break and remake them, so I merged and whittled as needed. They came together, and Thraves had already begun recruiting several to join as armsmen when this was all over.
The true attack began yesterday.
Idris had mapped enough of the tunnels for us to proceed with our plans. Each tunnel company proceeded with servoskulls and auspexes under their control, easily spotting traps and ambushes and laying their own. Above, the air campaign began and Fury Interceptors systematically brought down the defense rings for the Starhawk bombers. Central command stations were obliterated, sometimes dozens at a time by a single Starhawk.
Then our few combat-servitors advanced above ground. This, the loyal slaves were willing to charge en masse and die just the same.
Throughout all of this, no one noticed one single cutter landing north of the Third Gift. There were no patrols, no remote-auspexes nearby. Melta drills were brought down and soon we were in the tunnel.
We emerged into the heart of the enemy city just an hour later and we saw the holy relic with our own eyes.
The battleship’s engines were still hot.
So much for the Emperor’s gifts. When Asme claimed the Third Gift was larger than the Blessed Enterprise I did not believe her. She was wrong, of course. In the void, you lack reasonable points of reference.
The aft section of a battleship, a third of its bulk, was probably half of the Blessed Enterprise side-by-side. The city itself, which Asme could have meant, certainly was larger than our cruiser.
I tore my eyes to study the sprawling shrine city only to find it very familiar. These W’Lang Tayan had studied Imperial void ship design, internal architecture, and used it to plan their cities. Impressive. Binar certainly appreciated it, though was puzzled by its seeming illogical patterns.
Stealth was necessary and I had to leave Lyza’s gift behind, though I still festooned myself with all my pistols. The enginarium would be our primary target, but I wanted the core cogitator as well. Even a transcript of its passage would prove useful.
Our diversions proved exceptionally effective. We watched as the city guard emptied their posts to rush at the front lines and then shrine guards emerged from within the relic. This went on for hours until even the last contingents were sent, save for a few protecting the entrances.
Trelany sent the signal and the first bombs fell directly on top of the city. Massive chunks of ice fell to the streets below, setting off fires and explosions. Our weapons fire was lost in the commotion: none of were particularly stealthy anyway.
The fighting inside the hulk was cramped and confusing. Much of the decks had been refurbished, embellished, and simply redecorated as its original purpose was long lost. Why would the Balas and their slave masters continue to revere this machine even after capturing their own void ships? I never thought to ask Asme that, it seemed rude.
Of course the W’Lang Tayan would make the enginarium their throne room. The bridge and command spires had been ripped off, I’m assuming forming the head that was the First Gift. There was some talking with the clones until we all had enough of their rambling and opened fire.
They unleashed large beast-things, perhaps they had been men before but they seemed like pets to the clones. I met one blade to claw and its strength nearly knocked me down. Its claw disintegrated and all it did was take a swipe at me with its other arm. Binar dashed in, his mechandrites poking and slashing at the poor creature.
It’s eyes. By the Emperor, they were human eyes. My plasma pistol ended that creature’s life and Binar hissed at me. I had forgotten where we were and holstered the volatile weapon.
Bain lobotomized one with a shot from his own archeotech pistol, but Trelany and Idris unleashed their full powers at the beasts.
When they were dead, the W’Lang Tayand lost their minds. They drew daggers and plunged it all into their hearts. Fearing some vile Warp ritual, we didn’t allow most of them to complete it and slew them hand to hand. It was, perhaps, thin justification for the visceral need to hurt those that had hurt us.
Binar needed help removing the ornamentation that had been fused onto the enginarium’s controls. How could they revere it so and still modify and embellish so much? Power flowing from the Third Gift stopped. So too did the guidance its remaining augury spines provided, even deep below the surface. The vox was the last to go out, though by then the slaves were in a full panic.
We collected the core cogitator’s logs in peace.
I knew there would be no peace with the W’Lang Tayan’s slaves. It was a call neither council could make. I left the tunnel companies to finish the work, I did not need to see them butcher home after home.
Asme had joined the companies. She died hours before, and I never did get to take her to Stromport as I had promised.
The elder council threw us a parade. Unnecessary, the celebrations had not ceased since victory was declared. The other cities came to Soomra, offering their own thanks and portions of their output. Tithes for their god.
As the representative of the God-Emperor of Mankind, I took stewardship over the Third Gift and the void station in orbit. It was open to all, as a place of faith and commerce, and would be the Strom dynasty’s foothold on Balapito and in Bala as a whole, respectively.
The Swift Sunrise arrived exactly when it promised it would, a rarity with Warp travel. She came laden with food from Naduesh and various other goods the Bala needed. She also brought more precious cargo.
Sevia joined us again. The missionary was altogether not too enraged at our meddling with Ecclesiarchy matters, and she quickly positioned herself as a teacher from the God-Emperor. She brought with her two rather annoying officials from the Missionaria Galaxia, one of whom we left behind on the station to begin his own broadvox sermons to the rest of the system.
Here, unlooked for, was the first true world of the Strom Dynasty. Not just in the Heathen Stars, not just the Koronus Expanse, but in the galaxy. Damaris was not ours. Vaporious was gone. Naduesh is just a trade post and Salvator would never be tamed again.
This will be one of the cornerstones of the Strom dynasty. Just as soon as we finish killing the rest of the clones.
Edited by Marwynn, 21 May 2014 - 07:38 PM.