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(Play Report) The Frozen Reaches: Tobias Cain turns an Ork Warboss into a chair

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The High Ground

 

It was late afternoon by the time the convoy lifted off again, Dante and his 1st Division retinue lounging comfortably in the guncutter’s plush seats. Caine was across from him, his own Pack soldiers scattered throughout the cutter.

 

There was still one more city to visit today before the flight could return to the Capitol. Caine assumed it was a manufacturing center, keeping the Levy forces supplied during the fighting, but he didn’t have much time for idle thought. Across from Caine, High General and Governor Dante leaned forward with a sharp look in his eye.

 

Caine noticed that they were over barren ground.

 

Dante told Caine that he knew about the Rogue Trader plot to assassinate him after the war was over, and that it had been Caine’s idea in the first place. Suddenly, Caine could see why there were heavily armed, loyal troops in combat gear in his guncutter.

 

From the cockpit, Lucius shouted back that the two thunderbolts trailing the guncutter had activated their weapons and locked onto his engines, and that the Valkyries were shifting over to an attack formation. Dante received a short nod from his lead soldier, one with a long-range Vox comm.

 

The High General explained that Caine wouldn’t be leaving the planet alive. Dante was grateful for the care Tobias had taken with the Capitol, but had decided that Caine was now too much of a threat to accept.

 

Black rifles clicking as the safeties disengaged, the 1st Division soldiers aimed at Caine and the Pack. Still leaning forward, Dante explained that he had the Emissary bracketed too.

 

Out in the Void, the Bulwark’s orbit had brought it into alignment with the Emissary’s flight path. The station was ready and able to fire without hesitation.

 

If Tobias didn’t surrender shortly, the Bulwark would fire and eliminate the Emissary before it could get out of range, or if the station even sniffed that the ship had gotten an alert of some kind. Dante would accept nothing less.

 

Gloating, he explained that Caine’s plot merely reinforced the plan Dante had put together from the beginning. He did not want Damaris to fall under the continued chains of Imperial ownership. The Navy deserting the planet in its hour of direst need proved just how pointless the huge tithes Damaris paid were.

 

Having this assassination plot, orchestrated by such an upstanding and outspoken Imperial-aligned Rogue Trader, had given Dante all the opportunity he needed to tear Damaris away from the Imperium for good. As soon as Dante had Caine’s surrender, his propaganda teams would make sure that the public agreed with him.

 

Dante lamented how it was sad that Caine couldn’t rule the planet with him, but reached into his pocket and began drawing out a device.

 

Caine didn’t wait to see what the device did.

 

Instead, he twitched the finger bearing his ring in the specific way that he’d trained for. Searing light shot out and vaporized Dante’s drawing arm in a spray of mist and superheated air. The stump of his arm didn’t bleed, since the wound was instantly cauterized. Dante shouted out in pain and rage anyways.

 

Dante’s soldiers were stunned, half by the unexplainable light, and half by the imposing presence of Caine in the midst of the sudden action.

 

Caine’s Pack did not hesitate.

 

In moments, the Pack had brought up their ‘ceremonial’ weapons and let loose, with Wolfe leading a sudden and curt charge into the enemy Levy’s midst. The 1st Division, caught in a confined area in complete surprise, lasted mere seconds.

 

Caine slowly lifted himself in the midst of the brief chaos, and strode the two steps over to where Dante was desperately clutching his stump of an arm. Angry, calculating, Tobias Caine declared Dante a heretic and a fool.

 

Waving two Pack soldiers over from the remains of the 1st Division’s bodies, Caine had them restrain Dante and make sure he wouldn’t die from shock. Checking with his guncutter crew to make sure the conversation had been recorded, Caine then informed Dante that he would be handed over to the proper authorities to face Imperial Justice.

 

Frantic calls, in unintelligible cant, called out over the 1st Division’s vox set. Caine remembered his ship in orbit.

 

He called up to the Emissary’s Master at Arms, who’d been left in command of the ship. Caine asked if his vessel could make it out of the Bulwark’s arcs. The Master at Arms didn’t think so.

 

Lord-Captain Tobias Caine, thanking the man for his service, told him to survive: ‘no matter what’.

 

The Master at Arms took it stoically, saluting and then shouting out at his bridge crew to beat to combat quarters. There was the sound of ship-alarms and watch bells in the distant vox line, and then the Emissary signed off.

 

Caine stood at the terminal for a moment more, then asked Lucius for an update on the air wing. Lucius informed him that the air wing was ordering the guncutter to land or be destroyed, and that their full weapons complements were locked onto the ‘cutter.

 

Stepping into the cockpit of his craft, Caine looked at the tactical displays and tried to figure out what the air crews had been ordered to do. He saw an opening he might exploit, and quickly informed Lucius of the plan.

 

Lucius thought it was insane. He also thought it sounded like a better plan than getting shot down.

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Good Idea at the Time

 

High General and Governor Dante sat, restrained, in a couch aboard the guncutter. His hand-picked 1st Division soldiers lay dead, bleeding into Caine’s hand-picked carpet. Wolfe and his Pack were watching Dante for any more tricks.

 

Above, the Emissary had a hammer above it, just waiting to fall.

 

The Guncutter was in the same fate: two Thunderbolt fighters and four Vulture attack craft just waiting to shoot it down.

 

Caine stood in the cockpit of the guncutter, ordering the co-pilot out of the seat and sitting down himself. Levy pilots, senior officers, were shouting into his vox channels to surrender immediately. Lucius was feeding targeting information into the ‘cutter’s gun servitors, and Caine was ordering Wolfe and two other Pack soldiers to the various heavy bolter turrets.

 

The moment the Thunderbolts turned their weapon scanners to firing mode, Lucius slammed his throttle back and hit every aerobrake the giant, lumbering beast had. At the same moment, with his other hand, Lucius triggered the gun servitors.

 

Missile-lock warnings warbled and screamed in the cockpit as the Thunderbolts let loose with Skystrikes. Bright, chugging blasts from the guncutter’s heavy bolter turrets complemented the warnings and tossed explosive rounds out towards the two closest Vultures.

 

Lucius’s fire hit. The Skystrikes did not.

 

Explosions of shorn engines and lit fuel caused the view panel at the front of the cockpit to dim as Caine ordered the next step. The Thunderbolts with their powerful engines could have easily caught the guncutter in a straight climbing battle, but their pilots weren’t expecting Lucius to put the lumbering craft into a stall.

 

Mouse became cat.

 

The two Thunderbolts shot forward and entered the forward arc of the guncutter’s twin-linked lascannon turrets. Wolfe and his soldier on the other side fired the moment he had a good shot.

 

Twin beams of searing light reached out from the guncutter in a flash of pure energy. Both beams cut directly through the center of their respective fighters and ripped into fuel tanks. In puffs of expanding fire and shorn debris, the Thunderbolts tumbled out of the sky.

 

By this point, the Valkyrie pilots - also hand-picked by Dante before the expedition had set off - were beginning to react. They threw themselves into evasive maneuvers and brought their weapons to bear on Caine’s ship.

 

The Valkyries raked fire across the guncutter’s shielded hull and echoed. The Pack, arming themselves with the other heavy bolter turrets, returned fire. Mercilessly pounded by the explosive shells, the lightly armored Valkyries didn’t stand a chance.

 

It took less than a minute before the air formation had disintegrated into a cloud of debris and smoke falling down towards the planet below.

 

Lucius had enough time to check his long-range augers and realize that there were more aircraft inbound from various patrols. Word had apparently gotten out. That didn’t bode well for Caine in the future, but for now he focused on escaping.

 

The Emissary was unreachable, but maintaining a holding signal on the dynastic vox channel. Caine decided that it was the best bet for safety given the situation. He and Lucius pushed the guncutter up and engaged its full engine output, quickly sending the beast up towards the Void.

 

As Caine tried to figure out just how bad the situation was, he received a message from his servants in the Capitol Manse. They were under attack by heavily armed soldiers in Levy gear.

 

Nothing larger than a Chimera, and no weapons more potent than missile launchers, but with depleted defenses and no resupply, they would only be able to hold out for so long.

 

Caine slammed his fist into the command console in frustration.

 

Preternaturally, the Orks had seemed to sense this sudden change in the situation. From out in the Void, the Rogue Trader forces and Levy system defenders were sending back reports on wide-band signals that the Ork warships were beginning to push towards the inner system again. It was an even bigger force than last time.

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Caine’s Guncutter

 

During one of his missions to the Lathe Worlds, an allied Arch Magos agreed to build him a custom guncutter. It was built off of an imported Glathe-pattern hull, then up-engined, up-armored, and up-gunned. Caine fell in love with it instantly.

 

The modified Glathe-pattern Guncutter consisted of two decks: a full-length passenger cabin, and a split level that contained both the flight deck and equipment storage.

 

Running along the center-line of the ‘cutter, the passenger cabin was well appointed, and was elegant enough to easily meet the standards of a Lord-Admiral, Imperial Governor, or other wealthy Noble. One full half of the deck was dedicated to a private suite of rooms for Caine.

 

This suite contained a private armory of weapons, a small lounge, sleeping quarters, and refreshment facilities. Outside the suite was a larger lounge for other passengers and entertaining guests. A bar flanked one side (able to be locked into the wall during combat), with plush seats and couches for guests. Hidden in the walls are recharging equipment and storage racks for Wolfe and his Pack’s hellguns and other weapons.

 

An Imperial Aquilla was embossed over the wall of Caine’s quarters, with a small shrine underneath. Golds, reds, and whites graced the rest of the lounge, complementing the Caine dynasty crests embedded in every surface.

 

Lest anyone think the Arch Magos actually cared more about people’s comfort than combat, the Mechanicus had been sure to weaponize it.

 

Three twin-linked Lascannon turrets (one on the nose, one on either side of the forward hull), and four twin-linked Heavy Bolter turrets (one on each wing, two up top) graced the outside of Caine’s Guncutter. Six blister-mounted Heavy Stubbers stuck out across the hull.

 

The hull itself is larger than a Space Marine Thunderhawk, but despite its large engines Caine’s Guncutter could probably not take one in a direct fight.

 

Given the chance, Caine probably would have tried anyway.

 

A pilot (almost always Lucius), Co-pilot, Senior Gunner (who oversees three hardwired servitors), and Techpriest are required for crew. The ‘Cutter can regularly carry the 30 Pack soldiers in full gear, plus Caine and Wolfe.

 

In a pinch, it can carry up to 60 people and equipment, but would strain to reach orbit.

 

Caine’s personal Guncutter was well known in the Damaris system, as well as many surrounding systems where he’d appeared. It was hard to miss Caine’s entrances if you were anywhere in the system.

 

O8AnL2Z.jpg

 

An unanswered question appeared almost a decade after Caine’s disappearance from the Expanse.

 

Excellent copies of Caine’s customized Glathe-Pattern Guncutter began filtering into the many shipyards of the Expanse. They were as powerful as rumored, as plush as expected, and were completely unexpected.

 

While no one is sure which Adeptus Mechanicus outpost has the knowledge and equipment to build such excellent void vessels on a large scale, those who have acquired copies are incredibly happy with their purchase.

 

Parallel rumors of a new Forge World in the Expanse raise an interesting connection, but few would believe that Sebastian - Caine’s former Explorator Prime - would be connected to both situations.

 

Acquiring a copy of Caine’s Guncutter is not impossible, but will take effort. They are only found in the most reputable shipyards, sold by shipmasters who take great joy in selling things for far more than they are worth. Occasionally, a party can even find one of these fine vessels with quarters for 6-8 nobles, instead of the single large suite.

 

The Guncutter has the armor, speed, and range of an Imperial Bomber (Battlefleet Koronus), but a carrying capacity of 35 typically. A hard (-10)Piloting Test allows it to carry an additional 10 people for each degree of success.

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The One Ring

 

Caine and Lucius flew the Guncutter out over the uninhabited continents of Damaris, skirting the long-range anti-air defenses of the Levy. Above, the Emissary had reached an orbit on the other side of the planet from the Bulwark. Orks above, and Levy below, it was still the safest place in the system.

 

The ship had been badly damaged in the sudden assault: a frigate was no match for a powerful battle-station with both crew and altitude on its side. Huge pieces of armor had been shorn off by macrocannon fire, and pitted craters ringed in carbon scoring were reminders of bright lance fire. Almost half the crew had died in the attack, either killed outright by blasts or slowly fading as vented oxygen deprived them of a livable atmosphere.

 

Inside, the Emissary was little better. Entire corridors had collapsed, and exquisite art had burned away in the fighting. The bridge looked like a brutal wind had swept through, tearing away plating and sending cables dangling into workspaces.

 

Caine’s Master at Arms looked harried and dark, the remnants of dirt and smoke on his fine uniform and face making it appear like he’d led some of the emergency repair crews himself.

 

Crews were beginning temporary patches to the armor, but the ship had been hurt badly.

 

While he wanted to walk through the ship and personally thank every member of his crew, Caine had other issues that required his immediate attention. He picked an office that was still intact on the bridge level, and began contacting every person he could on Damaris to try and figure out just what was going on.

 

Lady Orleans was the first to respond, saying that the Levy was already in touch with her. She’d made it clear who had the real power in the relationship, and threatened to leave Damaris to their fate. While she was too heavily invested in the planet to make good on the threat, the Levy wasn’t willing to call her bluff.

 

For the time being, the system was still defended against the Orks. The Surface wasn’t doing as well.

 

Marshall Thrace welcomed Caine’s next call, saying that she’d heard the charges against him (angry mobs were shouting them just outside the Arbites Fortress), but was willing to side with anyone protecting the Imperium. If Caine could get back to the surface, her Arbites would back him.

 

Until then, the Levy seemed uninterested in directing the firepower necessary to crack open the Arbites Fortress. Thrace and her people could hold out for the time being.

 

There was no response from the Adeptus Mechanicus delegation in the Capitol, and no word from Magos Hadron Shard. Caine hoped they stayed neutral in this fight, and noted that power was still flowing from the Forge to the Capitol. It was anyone’s guess who’s side Shard was on.

 

From the damage to the Emissary, and the wide-broadcast Vox announcements from the Bulwark and Commander Reynolds, it was clear to Caine that Reynolds was now in charge of Damaris.

 

For good measure, and to ease his frustration, Caine threw Dante into a holding cell as soon as he stepped on board his frigate. It was mostly a symbolic gesture now considering the government moving against him, but it still felt satisfying.

 

One more communique was unexpected, and a lone bright spot in the darkness.

 

On private astropathic signal, Caine’s most trusted Seneschal was indicating that he’d just entered realspace at the edge of the Damaris system. Seneshal Holt was at the helm of the Imperial Providence, a Pilgrim class transport bearing almost 10,000 mercenaries and their vehicles. He’d also arraigned for the services of the raider True Doctrine.

 

Holt was about a week behind the descending Ork forces, but he would be pushing his engines to get to the planet as soon as possible. He would begin preparing the soldiers to land wherever Caine needed.

 

Caine saw an opening: those mercenaries weren’t enough to secure a planet of 3 billion people, but they could definitely secure the major sites in the Capitol.

 

He decided that he could still go on the offensive.

 

Holding the Emissary on the other side of the planet from the Bulwark, Caine dragged out an old toy that the Strith Dynasty had unknowingly handed him. Captured from the hands of a smuggler, it was a stealth-equipped Arvus Lighter.

 

While not fast, and not pretty, the modified Arvus had solid parts bearing the marks of the Lathe Worlds. It also had enough baffling equipment and smuggling holds to get almost anything past a planetary defense net.

 

All Caine needed it to do was carry an assassin.

 

Rhea was another asset Caine had acquired about the same time. She was capable, and had already proven herself in a theft job before the most recent trip into the Expanse. Caine entrusted his digi-melta to her hands.

 

She set out immediately for the Bulwark, flying as silently as possible. The huge station had enough to worry about from the Orks and the political commotion on the surface, that it wasn’t thoroughly checking the supply convoys moving back and forth in its space.

 

Landing in an open and empty cargo bay near the mid-section of the station, Rhea made herself look as much like a bored cargo pilot as she could. Confirming that she hadn’t been seen, she made her way towards the bridge of the Bulwark.

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Thanks Nameless!  The likes showing up every once in a while reminds me that people are still reading  :D 

 

Also, this sequence was interesting because Caine realized that the Digi-melta was an over-powered manifestation of the God-Emperor's will.  Between it and a Lascannon wielding Arch Militant (Wolfe), there were very few single opponents that could stand up to him.  

 

Thankfully for me, he's starting to realize too that those single opponents could threaten him with more than just martial danger.

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Commander Reynolds, I Presume?

 

The Bulwark was a giant station, with hundreds of thousands of crew, and enough internal space for housing and feeding them, along with the extensive weaponry required to protect it and the planet below. To add to its bulk, cavernous holds inside the rock acted as natural dry-docks, allowing warships and system defense vessels to rearm and repair inside the protective armor of the station.

 

Rhea had only the vaguest notion of where she was headed (up, towards the Command decks). Her saving grace was the confusion of the sudden change in command, and the crew’s focus on protecting Damaris from the Orks. No one questioned a supply pilot wandering around the vast supply decks of the Bulwark.

 

When she reached the constricted hallways leading into the Command decks, she saw her second major hurtle.

 

The Bulwark had been built to protect itself from boarding parties, and part of that protection was the chokepoints between important sections. The narrowing hallways between the Supply and Command decks were easy defense points, and several soldiers were stationed at each one as sentries. They were checking uniforms and purpose of each soldier moving between decks.

 

Retreating briefly, Rhea spent thirty minutes following Levy officers as they moved out on errands through the Supply deck. Finally, she found one woman on a simple courier run. The officer also had the right uniform size.

 

Like shadow and silence, there was no way the officer could have guessed Rhea was following until the last possible moment.

 

On a blind corner, near a boarded up storage unit, Rhea knocked the officer out and stole her uniform. It was just the uniform of a Lieutenant in the Levy, but Rhea had overheard the officer saying that she’d received the signed orders from Commander Reynolds himself.

 

Striding confidently, the guards at the chokepoint never even glanced twice at Rhea’s disguise. She smiled and thanked the guards before pushing up against towards the bridge.

 

It took more time to find a map etched into a wall of the Command deck’s corridors, but then Rhea had her bearings. Once past the initial chokepoints and guard stations, there was no security. The Levy was looking for Orks, not assassins aligned with the Lord-Captain Tobias Caine.

 

Rhea found the bridge and the last security checkpoint. These Levy soldiers looked better trained, and had their guns at the ready in parade formation. She looked them over as she approached. They did the same.

 

On the left, the soldier who’d been looking passively furrowed his brow. He looked up at Rhea’s face again, then back down at her uniform. For a moment, he started to say that she wasn’t the Lieutenant whose name she was wearing, but the words didn’t make it out of his throat.

 

Rhea was already running past him.

 

Behind her, she could hear the guards locking their weapons, preparing to fire. The bridge was suddenly confused, looking at her as her long strides took her towards the brass and steel Command Throne bearing a bored looking Commander Reynolds.

 

The Commander turned to her as he followed his bridge crew’s eyes, mouth beginning to form words. Rhea let out a full blast of the digi-melta at short range.

 

Unarmored, unprepared, and at close range, Commander Reynolds burst into flames and simply disintegrated.

 

Rhea didn’t wait to see how her assassination attempt was being received. Behind, she could feel the back of her hair standing up as the first Las shots went wildly astray. She was aiming now for the personal savior pods of the bridge crew.

 

Another ten meters away, the pods were the emergency escape system for the bridge crew of the Bulwark. Always ready, constantly maintained, and in a secure part of the station, the savior pods were her best escape route.

 

The bridge crew was beginning to recite the incantations to lock down any mode of escape, but Rhea was already to the first pod.

 

Jumping in and girding herself against the approaching force, Rhea hit the savior pods activation rune.

 

She was shot out of the Bulwark to the relative safety of the cold void.

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Return to the Surface

 

Lord Captain Tobias Caine strode back onto the bridge of his ship. He was sliding his digi-melta back onto his finger, smiling at how well Rhea had done. The Levy was now head-less, and already Caine’s vox crews were reporting that the Levy’s organizational structure was disintegrating.

 

Rhea’s savior pod had been easy to retrieve, since not even the Bulwark could quite recover quick enough after losing their Commandant to shoot it down. With the no-longer High General and not-Governor Dante now rotting in a brig cell, and Dante’s second-in-command dead, the Bulwark was descending into anarchy.

 

Pointing at a vox team who was still dragging equipment cables across the bridge, Caine had them rouse the machine spirit of his vessel. The Emissary was slow to respond, but still managed to open a connection to the Arbites Fortress in the Capitol. Marshall Thrace looked happy to talk to him.

 

She quickly commented that the Levy was slowing their attacks, and her Arbites were itching for a fight.

 

Caine related what he’d learned, and how heretical Dante’s actions had turned out to be. The Marshall had fire in her eyes at the information, and agreed instantly to assist Caine in reconquering the Capitol of Damaris.

 

There were three targets Caine knew he had to gain control of immediately: The Governor’s Palace, the seat of government and center of the communications network smearing Caine and the Imperium; the Shrine to Saint Drusus, which was the most prominent symbol of the Imperium and its Cult in the Expanse; and Caine’s Manse, which was still under Levy siege.

 

Marshall Thrace offered to take control of the Palace with the majority of her Arbites. It would be a symbol of Imperial strength right at the outset of the ragged uprising. Caine would relieve his forces at the Manse first, and then use the combined strength to reinforce the Shrine.

 

The Marshall looked happy at the prospect of street fighting.

 

Caine opened a second channel to the Bishop in the Capitol Cathedral. Channel to the Marshall closed, Caine was happy to see that the Bishop looked unconcerned.

 

According to the Bishop, the Levy respected the shrine too much to immediately begin attacking it. Even now, without leadership, they were keeping their distance. The Bishop had 200 Custodian Guards at his disposal, but they were more concerned with looters than the Levy.

 

Worried about Saint Drusus’ relic, still at the shrine cathedral, Caine asked if the Bishop could prepare it for transport off world. The Bishop, knowing that the Levy could turn on them any moment, agreed. It would be a precautionary measure, but would make both of them feel better.

 

The Bishop welcomed Caine’s attempts at bringing order, and wished him the Emperor’s blessing.

 

Caine closed that vox channel too, then ordered his Guncutter prepared for launch.

 

Side note: I’ve completely forgotten to mention Bishop Arint until now. I think it’s because he’s one of the few characters Caine hasn’t immediately wanted to one-up. Caine is an Emperor-fearing, devout Imperial citizen, and the Bishop got along well with the surprisingly upstanding Rogue Trader. The Bishop has confided in Caine before, and asked him to protect the Relic at all costs, even at the fall of Damaris. Caine took his oath to that promise seriously.

 

Half the Pack, in full combat gear, along with Caine and Wolf descended onto the surface of Damaris one more time. The Levy outside the Manse had no idea what hit them.

 

At some point, the soldiers had shifted from attempting to gut the Manse to merely trying to keep everyone in it contained. They were clearly loyal Levy soldiers, but the person they were loyal to had disappeared. Dante’s second-in-command, Reynolds, had disappeared too. It was only their loyalty still keeping them around the Manse at all.

 

Caine’s Guncutter was a severe shock to their system.

 

Lucius flew in low and fast, barking out with every weapon he had on board. His first Lascannon shot tore through an entrenched Chimera, and the gun servitors followed up by striking at the Levy hiding behind the Manse wall.

 

That low, Caine could see their 1st Division uniforms and vehicles. Caine ordered Lucius on a second gun run, then directed the ‘cutter to hold above the Manse roof.

 

The Manse roof was too small to land the heavy void ship, but the Pack was close enough to the ground to quickly rappel in. Caine jumped down too, then sent Lucius back off.

 

It was a dangerous maneuver to leave the Guncutter hovering there, but Caine reasoned that if the Levy had brought enough weaponry to bring down the void ship, they would have already cut their way into the Manse itself. His gamble was correct.  With the Guncutter flying overwatch, and the rest of the Pack with their heavy weapons shooting out past the outer wall, the remaining Levy soldiers didn’t stand a chance. Silently, expertly, they withdrew under covering fire.

 

Looking around at his battered staff and bloody soldiers, Caine knew he had to get the situation under control quickly, or Damaris would be lost.

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A Jaunt Across the Capitol

 

Lucius broke across the sky of the Damaris Capitol with a mighty sonic boom from the Guncutter’s overpowered engines. Loaded with the platoon of Pack soldiers, Wolfe, Caine, and the thirty retainers Caine had kept at the Manse, the Guncutter was racing for the relative sanctuary of the Shrine to Saint Drusus.

 

Caine had seen it before from the air, visited it three times now before and during the war, but it was still a sight.

 

A massive dome and spire reached up almost a thousand feet, the top of the spire crested by four statues of the Saint in his aspects: War, Peace, Worship, and Exploration. The eyes of the statues blinked with lights, warning away air traffic from the spire. It was remarkably untouched, the gilt roof and arcing buttresses of its tall transepts standing like an immovable symbol of Imperial power.

 

Around it, a few fires burned with the outlines of loitering tanks and armored personnel carriers. Levy soldiers, told to contain the Bishop and his retinues inside the grounds of the Shrine-Cathedral, were doing their duty in word rather than spirit. Few wanted to betray such a central tenet of Damaris history.

 

Caine used that to his advantage, having Lucius swoop down and land in the field between the glittering reflecting pool and tree-lined courtyards of the outer Shrine grounds.

 

Coming to a rest next to the crouched form of Caine’s Arvus lighter - left there as a last ditch escape route for the Bishop and his relic - the Guncutter sat heavily on its landing claws. The Bishop, armed Custodians, and various support staff rushed out of the complex as the Pack began helping Caine’s staff disembark.

 

Medicae in service to the Ministorum began looking over wounds and exhausted staff, and the Custodians made a quick sweep to see if any Levy forces followed Caine inside the Shrine grounds.

 

Caine went straight to the Bishop.

 

Bishop Arint explained that the situation was riotous, with soldiers unsure of who was in command or even whether to trust the Imperium or not. Propaganda teams were filling the public feeds with anti-Imperial heresey, but there was no word from any authorities whom he could rely on.

 

The Shrine was safe for now, but there was no telling when the mood would turn for the worst. His Custodians, only 200 strong, could protect the inner sanctums of the Shrine, but do little else for the city of 20 million.

 

Caine reiterated his offer to get the Bishop off planet, but Arint wanted to stay with his people, and refused to abandon them in their time of need. Refugees were slowly trickling in, and they would have no one else if he left.

 

Seeing the look in the Bishop’s face, Caine swore that he would do what he could to protect Damaris.

 

Stepping back on board his Guncutter, with Wolfe and the Pack beside him, Caine told the Bishop to be vigilant. He asked too if there was anything the Bishop could do to combat the propaganda teams.

 

Arint said that he had full broadcasting equipment inside the Shrine, with over-rides to take over every display on the planet for use during Imperial holidays, feasts, and announcements; but that all his lines ran through the Governor’s Palace.

 

With the propaganda teams blocking his access to that equipment, there was nothing he could do. Caine thanked him, and decided that it was enough information to work with. Turning to his Pack, Caine ordered his Guncutter towards the Governor’s Palace.

 

The hop between the Shrine to Saint Drusus and the Governor’s Palace was short, merely the crossing between the two beating hearts at the center of the city. Two large parks sat between the buildings, as well as a river and a sprawling monument to the founders of the planet.

 

Despite that short distance, it was like a completely different Capitol.

 

The Governor’s Palace had been hit in multiple places by grenade launchers and heavy multi-lasers from the Arbites vehicles. While the Palace armor was more than enough to hold out against their weapons, they had brutally scarred the surface of the building. Statues and windows had broken and been tossed down into the false moat.

 

Rubble, broken field stones, and the remains of heavy barricades littered the landing field behind the Arbites lines. Several hundred loyal Imperial servants, in their black armor and faceless masks, were besieging the remaining 1st Division Levy guarding the Palace.

 

Caine’s Guncutter added to their fire as it swooped in, dropping the Pack off as quickly as possible before lifting back into the air: the defenders at the Palace had enough anti-air weapons to make Lucius’ life miserable.

 

Despite the powerful weapons, the Levy forces were having trouble with them. Either old, out of repair, or simply under trained in their use, the Levy was having trouble keeping their sky clear.

 

They still made Lucius work to keep the Guncutter flying.

 

Below, Caine strode forward under the drifting smoke and blind chaff of the siege, looking for the Arbites strong point he’d sighted in the air. Three figures were striding out to meet him. Their armor was dark, matte, with large shoulder pauldrons and thick carapace plates. All three had their masks down and riot weapons drawn.

 

Every one of them had been fighting, and two bore the scars of close hits with small-arms fire. The soldier in the center was clearly the leader, a glistening Imperial Eagle still undamaged on their chest carapace.

 

The Arbites soldier took her helmet off and revealed the friendly face of Marshall Thrace. She looked almost happy, besieging heretical forces in the center of a Capitol at war. It was the kind of work she’d signed up for.

 

Caine met her with a firm handshake, thanking her for responding so quickly to his request.

 

She’d sallied forth from the Arbites fortress almost immediately after talking with Caine, taking every working vehicle she had and pushing aside the resistance keeping her in. The Levy was disorganized, and wasn’t able to stop her from making it to the Palace.

 

Either because of fear, lack of orders, or loyalty to the Emperor, once Thrace and her Arbites had started attacking the Palace, none of the Levy in the city had attempted to uproot her.

 

If they were going to attempt to break into the Palace, there was little better time than the present.

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Breaking and Entering

 

It was a simple goal, compared to some of the things Caine had dealt with so far: just break into the Governor’s Palace, find the planetary broadcast ‘net controls, and disable them. His problem was the 1st Division Levy forces inside the palace, and his lack of army with which to storm the palace.

 

On his side he had a Guncutter, Wolfe, 25 Pack soldiers, and himself. Alongside were the Marshal Thrace, a few hundred Arbites riot suppressors, and several Rhino armored vehicles armed with grenade launchers.

 

The towering Palace walls were sturdy, armed to the teeth, and had already stopped the first push from the Arbites. A Rhino was wedged into the main door of the Palace, its armored ram having forced it open. In return, several Lascannon shots had destroyed the Rhino’s treads and burned out its engine. The crew inside was dead, but had at least shown how far a dedicated assault could get.

 

Caine had Lucius pepper the Palace with a strafing run. It was a long shot, but he was trying to gauge where and how to best hit the defenders.

 

Bunkered down behind the barricades along with Thrace, his soldiers, and about twenty of her Arbites, Caine was cursing the original architects of the building. It was solid, and with the false moat running around it there was no other way in besides the front door.

 

Caine had the Marshal bring up a couple of the Rhinos that had been keeping their distance from the defender’s lascannons and explained his plan. He would go in first. Thrace couldn’t come up with anything better, and agreed to it.

 

The Rhinos fired first, launching their smoke defenses and chain-firing their grenade launchers using every blind grenade they had. Smoke billowed out along the bridge in front of the main doors, obscuring everything. Caine nodded to Wolfe when he was convinced that the smoke was heavy enough and led the Pack in a headlong charge down the bridge. The Arbites, keeping as silent as they could, followed.

 

Arbites at the barricade and Lucius up above started shooting immediately, hoping to draw the Levy’s attention away from the bridge.

 

Heavy fire still rained down around them, and bolter rounds tore chunks of the road surface out from around their feet, but it was clear that the Levy couldn’t see anything and was firing out reactively.

 

Between the smoke, suppression from the Arbites still around the barricade, and Lucius above in the Guncutter, the Levy couldn’t focus well enough to even hit a single member of the vanguard force. At the door, alongside the smoking Rhino, Caine peeked his head into the Palace.

 

Smoke was pouring in there from the rents in the door, and made it impossible to see anything.

 

Knowing from his visits that it was a large entry hall, Caine decided that there would at least be enough smoke cover to get his whole force into the Palace safely. He signaled them in, and led the stealthy group in.

 

It was an ambush.

 

The Levy had been waiting, listening for Caine’s group to pick their way in the doorway, and started firing before even half the group had made it in. Lasguns, grenades, and at least a couple hellguns cracked through the smoke screen and into the formation. Little swirls of smoke parted around Caine long enough for him to glimpse where the fire was coming from.

 

He shouted out for his soldiers to follow him off to the right, and for the Arbites to go left.

 

The entry hall was tall, echoing, and smelled of the smoke and ozone-laced las fire pricking through the room. It was a room that had been intended to greet visitors grandly and welcome them into the upper tiers of Damaris society. That feeling was now completely absent. Gone were the welcoming smells of well-polished marble, well tended frescoes, and incense that had gripped the hall when he’d first been here.

 

Large columns reached up on either side of the entry way, guiding a plush red carpet down towards the public chambers of the palace. Smoke from the fighting outside pulled out in tendrils as Caine charged out. He chanted encouragement to his assault team as he found himself in the open floor of the hall.

 

Wolfe and his Pack followed closely behind.

 

In front of Caine, behind the right-hand line of thick columns, Levy forces had entrenched themselves in fire teams. They were using the columns as cover as they fired at Caine, trying to pick at his glittering armor.

 

Levy lasguns were met with the heavy bark of Pack hellguns, and the whuff of grenade launchers fought for attention with Caine’s gleaming power sword. The power sword cut through Caine’s first opponent just as more Levy soldiers danced and collapsed under the ministrations of Pack hellguns. Wolfe was right alongside Caine, cutting through members of the 1st Division who hoped to take Caine out personally.

 

Frag grenades bounced back and forth, exploding and sending shrapnel out indiscriminately. Shouts, cries, and the screams of wounded soldiers filled the hall along with the fighting.

 

Suddenly, there was silence, and Caine found himself over the fallen Levy soldiers.

 

His Pack was working their way through the fallen Levy, figuring out if any of them were still a threat. Several of his soldiers were bleeding, or had cracked armor from the fighting, but none had fallen.

 

The Arbites hadn’t been so lucky. Their armor was strong, but had met its match against the 1st Division defenders. About a quarter of the Arbites force was down or dead, and a quarter more had been wounded. Marshall Thrace had been hit, but looked ready to go on.

 

Caine suggested that they keep moving, the sounds of continued fighting outside punctuating his point. The Marshal agreed, and said that she knew where the equipment would be. With Marshall Thrace leading the way, Caine started to wonder if the planet could even still be saved.

 

Orks, a civil war, and the beheading of the entire government was not exactly the prime way to profit.

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The Red Guard

 

Once inside the Palace, there was surprisingly little resistance. The sounds of combat continued outside as the grouped picked their way carefully down the darkened hallways. None of the staff usually present at the Palace was anywhere to be seen, making the vacuum of people between Caine and his destination even stranger.

 

Marshall Thrace had one of her senior sergeants leading the group, his knowledge of the Palace better than anyone else present. The communications bunker was in the Western side of the Palace, buried a level down under a cocoon of adamantium and rockrete.

 

The decoration changed as they went down the final stairway, the Imperial Eagles and sigils of Damaris making way for Mechanicum crests and skulls. The reinforcements on the walls started getting thicker and heavy bolts held thick supports under the outer wall of the fortress-like Palace.

 

Caine halted the group as they approached the open door of the Comm bunker. It was silent inside, with only the minute clicks and wheezes of arcane machinery.

 

It sounded undefended, but Caine had the group carefully line up behind the door.

 

He was checking his soldiers and the Arbites to see if they were ready when something caught his eye. There was a rush of air from the doorway, and the brief sound of footsteps. In a blink, Caine saw red cloth and the swirl of a large weapon.

 

The thing was gone as quickly as it appeared. A rush of air followed it out. On the other side of the door from where Caine was standing, the Arbites soldier had been cut in half.

 

Watching blood dripping down onto the thick carpet at his feet, Caine didn’t hesitate. He shouted, ordering his force into the room. Arbites flash-bombs went off inside the room, and then several dozen carapace-armored soldiers rushed the strong-hold.

 

They found the squat forms of cogitator arrays clicking away. Several stele rose up against the walls, bearing thousands of status runes indicating unknowable functions. The lights blinked through various colors in step with the chattering cogitators, the smell of unguents and machine oil wafting up to meet them.

 

Caine slowed his charge, then started carefully picking his way into the array of cogitator banks.

 

The rows of machines stretched into the distance of the room, obscuring sight lines and providing almost unlimited cover for whatever had killed the Arbites soldier.

 

The Imperial force advanced slowly, checking every row as they went. Bursts of machine code tracked their movement. For a moment, Caine thought he had imagined everything. Then he knew he hadn’t.

 

Robed figures popped up from further rows of cogitators, aiming searing las-weapons at the semi-exposed Arbites and Pack. Heavier energy weapons spat death alongside the las shots, melting at least one Pack soldier where they stood. True to their training, the Pack and Arbites returned fire instantly.

 

Caine was about to add weight to their fire when he saw something large in the corner of his eye. He dodged, leaping back just as a massive glaive blade buried itself in the floor where he’d been standing.

 

Power field energy crackled off the blade as Caine looked up its handle. The figure holding it was at least eight feet tall, and clad in a robe as red as blood.

 

Gold etching and black cog wheels stitched up the hems, outlining the massive augmetics built into the things arms and legs. A baleful eye peered out from inside the hood.

 

Caine knew enough to recognize a Tribune of the Skitarii, and had just enough sense left to not freeze in place as it pulled its glaive out of the ground.

 

Caine did the first thing that came to his mind in that moment, and drew his power sword in a movement so swift that even the Tribune had difficulty following the movement. The Tribune did not have trouble deflecting Caine’s first attack, nor sidestepping the one after that.

 

Wicked sweeps of the Tribune’s glaive forced Caine to parry heavy blows in return. The massive Skitarii soldier was more machine that man, but fought as gracefully as any of Wolfe’s swordmasters. Power sword in hand, Caine retaliated fiercely, using every technique and skill Wolfe had taught him over the last year.

 

The Tribune sidestepped all of it, using his glaive to roundly block every thrust that looked like it would get through. Caine found himself sidestepping through a rolling gunbattle, in close combat with a Mechanicus beast.

 

In a flash, Caine saw his only opening.

 

He stepped forward as the Tribune shifted around an Arbites corpse, thrusting his power sword forward at the Tribune’s midsection. The Tribune shifted his glaive’s handle, pushing the swipe wide.

 

Caine took another step in, getting dangerously close to the Tribune’s huge form. As he stepped, Caine wrapped his sword in close, and used the Tribune’s parry as a lever.

 

The Tribune hadn’t expected such an absurdly aggressive move. Moving too late, the Tribune stepped right into Caine’s upward hack.

 

Massive and heavy, Caine used the Tribune’s own weight against it as he sliced upwards. His sword’s power field crackled as it split armor and implants apart and pushed deep into the Tribune’s still-human guts.

 

In a flourish of steel and power field, the power sword rent through the back of the Tribune’s armor. Caine lifted his sword out, finishing the motion on his leading leg and watching side-long as the Tribune collapsed.

 

Lord-Captain Tobias Caine could feel the Tribune’s oil seeping down his sword, the rustle of heavy Mechanicus robes billowing out on the ground, and smell the stench of las-fire tearing the room apart around him. He could feel the brute’s last breath rattle out of his failing, augmented lungs.

 

Silently and efficently, Wolfe and the Pack was finishing off the last of the Skitarii defenders. Marshall Thrace hadn’t been expecting this kind of opposition, and her Arbites had suffered heavy casualties. The Pack was bleeding too.

 

Caine stepped over to them, looking at the fallen Mechanicus bodies. Despite his efforts, he couldn’t figure out why they were here. His sense of dread got worse when the Marshall looked at them and confirmed their identity. They were the personal guard of Hadron Shard.

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Mark VII Glihe-Pattern Pinnace

 

Glihe is a small Forgeworld (more of a moon, really, though the High Fabricators of Glihe refuse to admit it) that specializes in aero industry and low-orbit equipment. Their offerings go from small ground-flitters, best used for quick in-city travel, to huge Grav-Zepplins capable of lifting skyscraper-sized manufacturing blocks from surface forges to the extreme edge of the atmosphere.

 

The Mark VII Pinnace is a high-end craft for minor nobles and ship captains, and one of their most well-known exports.

 

Intended to carry one or two high status figures in luxury, it is often equipped to seat up to eight retainers or bodyguards as well, along with the staff required to pilot the pinnace and provide refreshments for the nobles on board. The Mark VIIs are fast enough by most standards, although not nearly a match for a Lightning attack craft, and intended for surface-to-orbit transfers or intra-orbit shuttle.

 

The Tech Adepts of Glihe never fully understood the desire for a twelve-foot-wide swath of personal space for just a single well-heeled noble, and make two other common patterns as well that cater more towards their personal tastes (along with the dozens or hundreds of minor modifications available to specialty clients).

 

One is a luxury multi-passenger layout, where the obscene personal space is dialed back somewhat. This can fit up to eight figures in good comfort, along with staff and piloting crew. The seats are plush, crafted with the finest suede grox-hide from the neighboring agriworld of Havelheim, and all face personal pict-panels showing outside views.

 

The second is a blunt model for the Imperial Navy. Stripped of fashion and comfort, it can hold two dozen soldiers in full combat gear for intra-orbit transfers and security checks. Its engines are just powerful enough to lift a dozen of those same soldiers from the surface to orbit. This being the Imperial Navy, that has never been an issue.

 

The Luxury-equipped Glihe Pattern Pinnace is Very Rare, while the other two versions are merely Rare. They are unarmed, and have the same movement as an Imperial Void Fighter (but are able to land on a planetary surface). Having one or two of these aboard a Rogue Trader vessel is to be expected.

 

 

Lathe-Pattern Cavalcade Transport

 

Four centuries ago, during the first explorations of the Koronus Expanse, newly minted Rogue Traders found a need for modified vessels for their ships headed into the halo stars. The masters of the Lathe worlds were initially resistant, unwilling to shift any production lines to provide for the demand of these upstarts.

 

Eventually, an enterprising trader brought a delegation of Mechanicus from the Cadian Sector bearing STC plans for heavy transports used in the defense of the Cadia Gate. No one is quite sure what the trader promised the Cadia Mechanicus in return, or how he acquired the output of a Lathe manufactorum line, but it was likely more than he could actually give.

 

A year later, the trader was dead in suspicious circumstances, but the Cavalcade Transports were already rolling off the lines.

 

After initial decades of success, the Lathe worlds continued expanding output, and soon found markets in the vast trade cartels and multitude of corporations within the Calixis Sector. While still technically managed by the Cadia Mechanicus, the Cavalcade line is known in the Calixis sector as a Lathe world product.

 

Large, with engines powerful enough to lift it even off of the highest-gravity worlds, the Cavalcade transport is an inelegant bird more suited to cargo hauling than fine chauffeuring. At that hauling though, it excels.

 

Rugged, easily repaired, and with a crew of four pilots and two dedicated enginseers, the transport can operate away from decent facilities for as long as needed.

 

35 meters long, the Cavalcade can lift a hundred tons into orbit. It can be converted to carry soldiers or staff in hard leather and steel rail seats, though the ride will be bumpy and extremely unpleasant. A full Company of soldiers can be stuffed into its hold if needed, along with weapons; or a single Leman Russ battletank with its supplies and ammo. It could also carry three chimera transports, or four land speeders, or four rhinos, or a dozen bikes, or whatever other scattered equipment a Rogue Trader might have need for.

 

The Cavalcade is Rare in the Koronus Expanse, and has the same movement as an Imperial Bomber. It has light armor, and only a couple gun-servitor crewed Heavy Stubber turrets for defense. Having these as standard equipment aboard a vessel is fairly typical.

 

 

Voss-Pattern Mark XX Lighter

 

In many ways, the Voss Mark XX isn’t actually a lighter at all, and looks strange next to its more common cousin the Arvus.

 

Three times as large as the Arvus, much heavier, and with engines that look like angry buzz-toothed sand wyrms, the Mark XX is one of the many advanced constructs regularly exported from the Voss forges.

 

While not found natively in the Calixis Sector or the Expanse, the Voss Mark XX is a regular export good on Mass Conveyors delivering equipment to every part of the Imperium. They are highly prized by ship captains for their powerful engines and capable holds, as well as the universal docking equipment that makes it easy to integrate them into almost any landing bay in any Imperial ship plying the Void.

 

Much like the more well known starships of Voss, the Mark XX has been crafted with the most advanced STC designs the Voss Fabricators could assemble. It has been tested and refined until it represents the pinnacle of Imperial construction techniques.

 

The Mark XX is capable of long-range Interplanetary travel, but is far better suited to lifting delicate or extra-heavy cargo off of planetary surfaces to void ships in orbit. New crews are often surprised at the power available to them, and the good handling of the vessel, despite its delicate looks.

 

Expensive, rare in the Calixis Sector, and capable, the Voss-Pattern Mark XX is a ship that has found its home in some of the most exclusive trading fleets in the Koronus Expanse.

 

The Voss-Pattern Mark XX Lighter is considered Near Unique in the Koronus Expanse, but can do the job of 3 Arvus Lighters in a compact frame that is easy to repair. Treat its carrying capacity as 20 soldiers, or 3 tons of cargo. It is 1 VU faster than an Arvus, and has a chin-mounted twin-linked Heavy Bolter turret.

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A Turning Tide

 

Tobias Caine had a penchant for thinking after blunt action, considering his future options given a current situation. He now stood in the communications bunker, staring at the dead bodies of Skitarii guards and their Tribune. Those Skitarii had damaged his forces, but not destroyed them.

 

The larger issue, the unsolvable issue, was why they were here in the first place.

 

To answer that question, he was having his Explorator Prime Sebastian hurry to the comm bunker to make sense of the arcane equipment and the bodies on the floor. Wolfe and Arbites medicae soldiers were moving among the wounded, doing what they could in the time being.

 

Under Caine’s feet, deep in the bedrock of the Damaris Capitol, he felt the dark rumblings of earthquake-scale impacts. He could not see the Ork Roks, but he also didn’t need to.

 

Time was running out to take back control of the Capitol quickly enough to defend against the greenskin menace.

 

Above, Imperial-friendly channels were still reporting damage and events in the city. The huge curtain shield of the walls was being tested in preparation for the Ork assaults, despite the desertions of soldiers from the walls and Levy. Shard’s Forge was still pumping energy into the capitol, despite what looked to be insurrection here on the ground.

 

Propaganda teams loyal to the Levy’s former head were getting creative with their broadcasts, blaming the Imperials for both the Ork attack and the widespread desertion. Reports of blue on blue combat across the capitol mirrored demands from the propaganda teams to root out Imperial loyalists from the Levy.

 

The Governor’s Palace itself was still under siege, but was quickly buckling under the pressure of Arbites and Lucius in the Guncutter. Instead of a solid defense, there was now just pockets of 1st Division resisting in isolated parts of the structure.

 

When Sebastian finally arrived, Caine was beginning to get restless. He directed his Explorator to tease out which controls worked the Communications trunk lines.

 

A veteran of internal politics of the Mechanicus Cult before going out to the Expanse, Sebastian had some experience with Skitarii and their methods. He could tell that these soldiers were the lowest grade of intelligence: brutal in efficency but solidly tied to their master.

 

Given the situation on Damaris, the highest ranking Mechanicus figure would be Hadron Shard. The Skitarii here would have required distinct instructions directly from Shard to defend this point so effectively.

 

Caine wondered if that meant that Shard was working with Dante. Sebastian couldn’t come up with a better explanation. Caine nodded, then asked Sebastian to figure the vox-net controls out.

 

Sebastian went to work, and Caine opened a hard-line vox link to Bishop Arint.

 

The Bishop looked harried and worn now, barely six hours since Caine had seen him last. Reports from the city weren’t good, and the Bishop saw little chance of Caine personally uniting the disparate forces into a cohesive whole.

 

Even if he tried, the Orks might arrive before all of the inter-Levy fighting died down. The Propaganda being spouted by Dante’s crews was simply too overpowering for everyone in the Capitol to trust Imperial agents. Wounded soldiers and civilians at the Shrine were talking of door to door fighting with partisans. Levy forces fighting Levy forces over whether Damaris could trust Rogue Traders to lead them, and demands by some generals to take the defense of Damaris into their own hands.

 

Caine saw total dominion of Damaris slipping through his fingers, but also a second path that could save his investment.

 

He asked Bishop Arint to take control of the Damaris government.

 

Laying out his plan, Caine said that they would soon have the communication lines of the planet under control. Instead of using it himself, Caine suggested the Bishop take to his broadcasting equipment immediately, laying out a middle ground for the fighting groups.

 

Damaris might not accept Imperial rule, but the cult to Saint Drusus was powerful here, and the Bishop had many followers. The safe zone around the Shrine was evidence enough of that.

 

The Bishop was initially hesitant, his career focused on guiding his flock to worship and not in governance. But Caine was persistent, and the Bishop finally relented. Arint had many friends in the upper echelons of the Ministorum here in the Expanse, and could call on them to provide advisers and propaganda teams of their own. It wouldn’t be immediate, but it could turn the tide after the Orks were defeated.

 

Caine was already turning his plans around in his head, trying to figure out how he would influence Damaris after the war, when he switched off the channel and turned to Sebastian.

 

His Explorator had found the controls he needed. They were a series of powerful levers on a back wall of the bunker, linking hard-lines to every major city on the planet. Smaller controls dictated major lines running back and forth inside the Capitol. While communing with the cogitators, Sebastian had located the lines connecting the vital government communications that the propaganda teams were using.

 

Under Sebastian’s direction, Caine switched off the controls.

 

It blinded the government and main Levy lines, but it mercifully cut off the constant chatter of propaganda. The Shrine to St. Drusus was on another line, and Caine immediately signaled Bishop Arint to begin broadcasting. Tobias was already hiking back up towards the surface as Arint began to claim control of the planet.

 

Bishop Arint did not claim defacto jurisdiction, and did not order people to put down arms, but instead began with a call to remember the true threat to the system: Orks. There would be time to decide Damaris’ fate later, but first they would have to survive. Their Saint had decided judge them with that threat, and remind Damaris of the dangers in the Expanse.

 

A masterful public speaker, Arint chose concise points in the short time he’d had to prepare. It sounded like a powerful call to Caine, and even his reports indicated a swift drop in fighting. But it wasn’t a complete drop.

 

As he reached the surface again, Caine was already hearing that desertions continued at the walls. He also knew he would have to deal with the propaganda teams quickly. On top of it all, there was still the question of what exactly Hadron Shard was planning on his little island up North.

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Thanks!  This has turned a bit more narrative than I'd originally planned on, but it's definitely more fun to write than a straight-up report.

 

 

The Machine Code

 

Tobias Caine spent the next six hours in his Guncutter. Through his connections on the surface and thanks to the now-controlled links in the Palace, he got in touch with every person he could find who was still loyal to his cause. Marshall Thrace added her political weight to the cause, as did Bishop Arint from his Shrine on the other side of the city center.

 

His first order of business was revenge.

 

With help from the Marshall, Caine located the three hab towers where the Dante-loyalist propaganda teams had been operating. He attached fifteen of his Pack soldiers to Thrace’s Arbites.

 

The Marshall quickly loaded her Arbites into what Rhinos remained and sent them out towards the propaganda team locations. She went to direct the team assaulting the largest tower personally, leaving a letter of introduction with Caine to help with politics. With luck, the Arbites would get there before the propaganda teams could escape.

 

Caine’s next order of business was his Void ships.

 

The Rogue Trader fleet was in tatters, and the Levy system ships were barely floating. What had been the linchpin of the Damaris High Orbit: The Bulwark, was essentially offline. No official communications channels to the station still worked, and it hadn’t fired a single coherent shot at the Orks entering the atmosphere.

 

In a sign of how bad the situation was the Ordained Destiny, Jeremiah Blitz’s ship, was reported lost with all hands to three Ork Kroozas. Several Roks had broken past the rest of the defense line and landed on the planet’s surface.

 

Huge warbands were moving towards the Capitol, and there was no chance of the forces in space fending off another strike force. Thanks to the grace of the Emperor, or in an ominous trend, the Orks were pulling back after this wave. They were either husbanding their forces or they’d put their entire weight into this assault force.

 

Riding in behind the wave of Orks, but still at least two days out from Damaris orbit, Holt - Caine’s Senior Seneschal - was burning his ships engines as hard as he could.

 

Finally, Caine knew he had to deal with Shard’s Forge. It was like a parade of bad news, but he refused to shirk from his duty. Caine was able to contact a Levy aeronautica squadron that was still loyal to the Imperium, and convince them to send recon fighters over the Forge.

 

The scouting equipped Lightnings were quickly on scene and sending back aerial pict-captures. The Forge was an overgrown labyrinth of Mechanicus constructions and equipment, but looked surprisingly calm. Power was still flowing from the giant plasma reactors of the Forge to the Capitol defenses, and the recon team couldn’t detect any aggressive formations of Mechanicus soldiers in any spectrum they were equipped to look in.

 

It was good enough news that Caine opened a direct channel to Shard’s personal workshop. The initial hail went unanswered. While the line was tested as working, and a return signal was confirmed, no one was answering.

 

Caine asked Sebastian if the Explorator could broadcast a broad-spectrum message on all open frequencies in the area around the workshop. Sebastian figured that it would be easy. In moments, Sebastian had chanted the correct commands to make it work.

 

In an open threat and ultimatum, Caine shouted that Hadron Shard’s soldiers had shot at him, and unless Shard picked up the hail immediately, Caine would bombard the Forge from orbit.

 

On the next hailing attempt, Hadron Shard’s face appeared immediately on Caine’s panel.

 

Hadron Shard was a frozen image of metal and gleaming lights, most of his body completely given over to implants and reconstructions. His voice was monotone, but his words clearly conveyed how annoyed the Mechanicus Adept was at being disturbed. He asked Caine what was so important as to require bothering him in the middle of an experiment.

 

Caine quickly and bluntly explained the situation, and how being shot by Shard’s Skitarii had pissed him off. He wanted an explanation from Shard, and a promise to continue helping the Imperium fend off the Ork assault.

 

Shard was dismissive and immediately distracted. He said that he didn’t care much about the Greenskins. Caine and Dante had effectively held off the Orks so far, and as long as he could continue his research everything was going well. The power requirements for the Capitol’s shields had been a surprise for him, but it hadn’t impacted his current experiment.

 

Caine then informed Shard that Dante was no longer in command, and that Caine needed every backer he could to continue his defense against the Orks.

 

For a moment, Hadron Shard sounded confused at that, mentioning that Dante had personally informed him of how well the defense was going. All Dante wanted was a little protection for the primary governmental systems in return. Caine’s problem sounded to Shard like Imperial politics, and Imperial politics was incredibly boring.

 

Shard was sure that Caine could keep up the solid defense of the Capitol since Dante had trusted him.

 

Caine was just standing there with his mouth open a bit. He was having trouble processing what Shard was saying, and whether the Adept was telling the truth. To Caine’s ear, it sounded like Shard genuinely didn’t care about what was happening.

 

He decided to run with that hunch.

 

After a brief negotiation, he confirmed that Shard would continue sending power to the capitol for defense. Caine was wary, and made sure that the recon Lightings would continue watching the Forge for any sign of duplicity. There were other things Caine had to deal with though, and he hoped that this would be enough to keep the Mechanicus support flowing.

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A Sudden Speech

 

Arbites had begun their assaults on the three propaganda teams loyal to Dante and the Governor’s Palace was firmly under Imperial control. The Shrine to Saint Drusus was still safe, and the Levy that had been watching it were withdrawing as more refugees streamed in. Tobias Caine was worried about the Mechanicus, but as long as Shard was sending power, he would be happy.

 

He realized suddenly what one of his other growing issues was.

 

As Caine stepped out of his Guncutter, he noticed Levy soldiers milling at the edges of the city center. They were wearing uniforms, but lacked weapons and most of their kit. The civilians were still hiding in their homes.

 

He connected the milling soldiers to the reports of desertion at the walls, the withdrawl of soldiers from the Shrine, and the complete collapse of the Bulwark’s defensive abilities: Caine was watching the Levy disintegrate just as the Orks were preparing a massive push to take the city.

 

Leaping out of his ship and shouting at the nearest Arbites to get him a Rhino transport immediately, Caine called Wolfe and what Pack soldiers were still available to assemble. The Rhino pulled forward from a defensive post, and Caine assumed control of its crew.

 

He ordered them to drive towards the Western Wall at best speed, and tried to figure out how bad the situation was.

 

Levy soldiers were wandering around the city, weapons slung loosely over their backs or discarded casually on the sides of the roads. Small groups stuck together, or left individuals slumped over in alleyways. Many of those slumped figures had been drinking, while others looked like they had been mugged by the Pro-Dante or Pro-Imperial contingents.

 

Finally, the Rhino ended up in a large plaza near the Western Wall’s staging grounds. Soldiers had started camping out in the square, leaving vehicles to rumble idly on the outskirts for power and warmth. There was no order to the milling, and the soldiers looked thoroughly discouraged.

 

While Caine’s battledress was fantastic, it had been through several days of fighting and running. He didn’t stand out much in the Rhino, and even the Arbites vehicle itself was met with bored glances by soldiers that didn’t care any more about the threat of Imperial justice.

 

He looked around quickly and located a tall pulpit box near a corner of the square used for public announcements. The natural acoustics of the buildings behind the pulpit amplified his voice and created echoes across the open plaza.

 

Some of the soldiers perked up as Caine greeted them.

 

I actually can’t reproduce the speech here, since I honestly don’t remember it. My brother went full Tobias Caine on the situation, and actually put out a speech that relayed both Caine’s desperation at the Orks and pride in the Imperium.

 

He called his Levy to action, and instilled in them the need to protect their own lives and the lives of their fellow Damaris citizens, no matter the cost. The Orks didn’t care if the Levy wanted Dante in power, or if they believed wholeheartedly in the Imperium. Only by protecting each other in that moment would any of them survive.

 

I gave him +30 to the roll for that and then after the speech he added a fate point to bump it up that little bit further.

 

Oh, right, the story…

 

Levy sergeants picked themselves up during the speech, rising up from their positions on the ground or lounging across silent vehicles. They started shouting to their soldiers and prodding them into paying attention. Officers saw this and began moving too, focusing in on Caine’s words as the motivation they’d been lacking.

 

Slowly, as Caine’s speech crescendoed and sunk into the psyche of the lounging soldiers, the enlisted Levy infantry began responding too. Soldiers began shouting chants to Damaris and the Emperor, and loading packs back onto their shoulders.

 

Caine called the Levy to protect their capitol and they responded. It was begrudging at first but as more soldiers answered the call it became more enthusiastic.

 

Suddenly, the plaza was alive with activity and moving vehicles. Soldiers were hitching rides on whatever they could find and pointing themselves back towards the great Wall. Tobias Caine was content with himself in that moment and used the responding Levy to boost his own spirits.

 

As he stepped down from the pulpit onto the solid ground of the plaza, he caught a glimpse of Wolfe’s face.

 

Even Wolfe looked impressed.

 

With a flourish, Caine returned to his borrowed Rhino transport and watched his Levy move back towards their defensive positions. Giving orders to the Rhino driver, Caine directed the vehicle towards the North. If this was the sight at the Western Wall, it was likely that other positions around the entire city had seen their soldiers desert.

 

Caine was right, and it took two more days of speeches to fire the Levy back up. At each major position, Caine left a Pack soldier to act as liaison with the other defenses. Each soldier was trained in the Tactica Imperialis, and knew the Caine dynasty Cant. If Caine wanted to make sure that everyone could talk to each other, it was the best way he could think of to make sure it happened.

 

By the end of the second solid day of speeches, Caine found himself back in the city center. Levy scouts were already reporting Ork dustclouds on the horizon. From his strategic table, it was clear that the Orks were going to be here soon. Thankfully, there was just enough time to rest before that happened.

 

Fitfully, and only under the direct orders and reassurance of Wolfe, Caine slept. The Orks would be waiting for him when he woke up.

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Important Research

 

The Ork assault began not with a massive bang, but with a growing WAAAGH that sounded like a broiling storm pushing over the horizon. There was no one locus of sound, just a ring of greenskin voices around the entire city.

 

Levy forces activated the huge curtain shields of the city with a crackling groan of void energy. Across the entire city the huge guns of the walls sat in anticipation. Waiting soldiers looked out at the growing enemy force.

 

With the lack of loyal command structure available to him, Caine had chosen a simple and blunt method of defense.

 

The Western Wall had sustained the heaviest action so far, and Caine had decided to leave most of his force there. Several divisions of soldiers, two divisions of tanks, and a division of artillery guarded its cracked edifice. Most of the Western fortresses were still intact, and their massive guns sat ready to attack the Orks as soon as they came into range. To the West of the city were vast plains and perfect kill zones.

 

To the South, Caine had placed two divisions of infantry and a division of artillery. The Southern Walls had felt the spillover from the Western attacks, but had remained solid so far. The soldiers in the South were still fresh and eager, but had to protect the outer industrial infrastructure that spread out across the southern reaches of the city unprotected and outside the walls.

 

The Eastern Walls had been stalwart through the war so far. Their soldiers had taken casualties, but had successfully repulsed every major Ork raid directed at them. To the East was the out-habs and the majority of the population centers that weren’t protected by the huge walls of the city. Four divisions of Levy infantry protected the East, using wide rings of entrenchments, bunkers, and outposts to quickly shuttle to where the fighting was heaviest. Underground tunnels made it easy for them to get to the fighting, and the Orks had been staying away from the mighty teeth of the Levy bunkers in the East.

 

Up North was the least defended so far. Only two divisions of Infantry protected the Walls overlooking the Northern Bay and Shard’s Forge. The little island of the forge was its own defensive position, and the Skitarii defending the bay had been efficient in their protection of the Mechanicus facilities. The bay had also provided some defense in that the Orks had trouble crossing the water without dedicated water transport. Caine had decided to let Shard take care of himself.

 

Overflying it all was a division of aeronautica units, able to be directed where needed as necessary. Caine was using the Governor’s Palace as his strategic command center, and expected his Pack soldiers around the Walls to tell him if they needed air support.

 

Holt was still finishing his entry into Damaris orbit, with the division of mercenary heavy infantry onboard. While it was a small force in relation to the rest of Caine’s current command, he desperately wished they could teleport down to his location.

 

The Orks seemed to sense this desperation.

 

Through the walls of his Palace, Caine heard the huge rumbles of the fortress guns ringing the city. Observation posts across the ring wall were reporting contacts with forward Ork units.

 

On his table, Caine could see the force estimations begin to grow as enemy units were tagged and directed to him. There were a lot of Orks.

 

They were everywhere.

 

Over the course of the next hour the Orks attacked everywhere. The curtain shield proved to be the most powerful ally the Levy had, keeping the massive guns of the Ork artillery from adding their strength to the fighting.

 

Reports from the Western Wall were the best. The heavy mixed units defending the Western reaches of the city were holding solidly, and quickly killing Orks as they attempted to stream under the curtain shield.

 

The East, however, was surprised. A larger contingent of Orks than had attacked during earlier waves was sweeping over their defenses. Most of the outer bunkers and outposts were overrun, and Orks were burning the out-habs as they went. East thought they could hold when the Orks made it to the shield line, but the out-habs were lost.

 

The South was struggling too, though not as badly as the East. Orks had taken control of the factory complexes and infrastructure outside the walls, but were being held back at the shield. Southern Command was asking for reinforcements to hold their position against the Orks.

 

Eastern Command began asking for reinforcements as well. Ork numbers were increasing and the enemy vehicle count was much higher than anticipated. Caine’s Pack soldiers in those centers agreed with the requests.

 

A quick check with Western Command showed that they felt confident enough in their soldiers to transfer reinforcements to other commands.

 

Caine quickly pulled a division of tanks to move East, and a division of infantry to reinforce the South. The mixed Leman Russ variants would be able to quickly move across the city, while the soldiers could easily shift positions to the south of the city using Levy infrastructure. Air squadrons were kept to the South and East as precautionary measures.

 

For a moment Caine thought that this battle would go as easily as the others. He’d been suffering casualties but all the critical points were holding. That was when he started getting hurried reports from the North.

 

The Orks had acquired boats.

 

Pict returns showed crude hulls built from whatever random scrap the Orks could find. They were ramshackle, and being blasted apart by Skitarii positions around the Forge island. But what the Orks lacked in strength they were making up for in numbers.

 

The Ork Warboss had figured out that the curtain shield was protecting the city from his ‘Choppa, and decided to cut it down at its heart. Shard’s Forge was the primary power generator for the capitol. The Orks wanted it silenced.

 

In waves, just outside the range of the Northern Fortress guns, the Orks were overwhelming the Skitarii defenders. If Shard wanted to keep his research going, he would need to either redouble his defenses or ask for assistance from the Levy.

 

A second alert from the North quickly revealed the answer: Skitarii teams were climbing onto the huge conduit-bridges that fed energy across the bay to the Capitol with melta-lances.

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Shard's Important Research

 

Within seconds of seeing the pict feed, Tobias Caine was running out of the strategic center and calling Wolfe to follow him. Caine’s Archmilitant was behind him within moments. The Pack was dispersed around the Walls of the city, but there were Levy bodyguard units stationed around the Palace. Wolfe was already collecting a handful of them to guard Caine.

 

Caine, meanwhile, was calling ahead to Lucius in the Guncutter. He’d kept the ship’s engines idling just in case, and that was proving prescient now. Caine ran up the rear ramp of the ‘cutter. He barely waited for Caine and the collecting Levy soldiers to climb up too before ordering Lucius into the air.

 

With a burst of thrust, the Guncutter headed North along the backbone cable lines towards Shard’s Forge.

 

Levy soldiers quickly manned the various weapons around the ship, and Wolfe took personal control of the heavy lascannon up front. Caine was calling Shard’s personal workshop line.

 

Hadron Shard answered, wondering what the sudden fuss was about. Caine asked if Shard knew of the Skitarii about to cut the power bridge between the Forge and the Capitol. Shard did, and asked why it was such a problem. Caine shouted out that it would cut power to his defensive fortifications and open the city up for attack.

 

Shard, somewhat offhandedly, said that he didn’t have the power in his plasma reactors to keep the Damaris City shield active, run his own Forge’s defenses, and also continue his research.

 

Caine told him to halt his research.

 

Shard tilted his head a bit, as if misunderstanding the statement. He said that his research was too important to halt. There was a breakthrough about to happen. Shard could feel it in his servos.

 

While Caine tried to explain that there would be plenty of time to complete the Research after the Orks had been repulsed, it quickly became obvious that Shard wasn’t listening. Halfway through a rant about the Mechanicus treaties with the Imperium and their obligation to help, Shard turned as if distracted and wandered away from the communications panel.

 

Caine was stunned, but not into inaction.

 

The Guncutter was closing on the Northern Bay, and Lucius was already calling out targeting information on the power bridge.

 

Orks infested the bay and the shore around it. They tried to shoot at the Guncutter, but it was moving faster than the speed of sound, and pushed past too quickly for any of the crude AA weapons of the greenskins to hit. In a burst of thrust vectoring and reverse engine power, Lucius brought the Guncutter to a reasonable speed and looped over the Forge wall where the power conduit connected.

 

The Skitarii on the conduit were armed with laser weapons and melta lances, but at least one of them was also carrying a heavy missile launcher. Wolfe shot that Mechanicus soldier first.

 

Levy soldiers on the other weapons opened up too as Lucius shouted out that the conduit could withstand a brief barrage from the Guncutter’s weapons. Skitarii on the ground tried to shoot back, but their weapons had been intended to protect them against Orks on foot, not Imperial gunships hovering in the sky.

 

Tracking warnings inside the Forge walls sounded out inside the cockpit. While the Skitarii hadn’t been armed to take down the Guncutter, clearly Shard had access to other weapons that could. Caine ordered Lucius to get them out of there.

 

With the Skitarii trying to cut the conduit dead, there was little more immediate danger to the city. Caine wasn’t about to risk himself trying to out-gun a Mechanicus Forge.

 

Lucius powered back towards the walls of the Capitol, the images of Orks climbing over the walls of the Forge in his rear-view.

 

A small flight of Thunderbolts formed up on Lucius’ wing on the flight back in. Levy command had seen Caine’s quick departure and scrambled support fighters to get him back in safely. The Orks on the Northern Coast were less surprised this time than on the flight out, and the Thunderbolts kept the Guncutter from experiencing the worst of the AA fire.

 

Despite his little flotilla, Caine declined to engage the Orks at the North and continued back towards the Palace. He still had a war to command, and this little jaunt had merely won him a bit more time.

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The Sound of One Cog Turning

 

Back at the strategic table, it was clear that the Ork threat was only getting worse. As a whole, the warbands of Orks at each part of the wall were not so much growing larger, but growing bolder. Heavy artillery was being wheeled under the shield as tanks and Stormboyz suppressed fortified hardpoints. Caine even had a several reports of Ork Fightas recklessly swooping under the edge of the curtain shield.

 

Many Ork fliers were destroyed by the shield itself, but a worrying number of them were making it through. Levy Thunderbolts were being directed South and East to intercept.

 

Overall, the South was faring the worst. Fortified defenses at the Wall were doing what they could, but Orks were still pushing under the wall to engage Levy soldiers in near hand-to-hand combat. Caine ordered another division of Levy infantry from the West to begin reinforcing the South, and hoped it would be enough.

 

On the Eastern front, Orks were pounding the defenses from the edge of the shield wall, making stabbing attacks with heavy vehicles at fortresses and bunkers where they saw an advantage. The Levy was struggling, but holding.

 

Up North, Levy at the walls watched as Orks streamed over the Forge’s defenses, and rising pillars of flame marked the greenskin advance across the Mechanicus facility. Caine was worried enough about this to place a call in to Hadron Shard. Shard didn’t answer, and Caine ordered Sebastian to do whatever it took to open a line.

 

Sebastian looked over the Levy equipment briefly, then located the command overrides that would connect any circuit the planet’s leaders needed. On Caine’s panel, an image of Hadron Shard’s workshop appeared in an almost serene state.

 

Shard looked busy working on something in the background.

 

Tobias shouted into the vox set, physically projecting himself through the connection. Shard didn’t look disturbed. For a followup, Caine shouted that his threat from earlier in the day was still in force. That turned Shard’s head.

 

Hadron Shard walked over to the camera long enough to mutter something about how time consuming this conversation was, and how much work he still had to do. Caine asked him if his defenses were holding, even without the extra power being pushed to the shields. Shard shrugged.

 

He said that Caine was in charge of the city’s defense, and that Caine seemed to know what he was doing. He wanted to get back to work.

 

Caine asked him if his Forge would hold against the current Ork assault. Caine didn’t get any response. Instead, Shard just looked at him with a mechanical face that betrayed no emotion. Shard muttered that he needed to get back to his research, then turned off the connection.

 

From the conversation, Caine decided that Shard was single-minded but unconcerned about the attack. Levy spotters indicated that Orks were still pushing towards the heart of the Forge, but Caine declined to send in reinforcements.

 

It was a decision he would regret.

 

For the next hour, the Orks continued to advance on most fronts. Only the Western Wall was successfully holding the Orks at arm’s length and providing a morale boost to the rest of the Levy.

 

A young general there was beginning to make a name for himself. He was the only Levy general of the Western force to remain at his post after the uprising, and had quickly pulled his forces back together to face the Ork threat. While there had been significant infighting during the uprising, after General Davros took over it had quickly stopped. Rumors of payouts and bribes milled around the situation, but Caine didn’t let it worry him one bit.

 

The rest of the city was faring more poorly, and the South and East were hanging on only because of the curtain shields protecting their positions from long-range bombardment and air strikes.

 

In a moment, that protection was gone.

 

Across the bay to the North, at the heart of Shard’s Forge, Caine’s strategic table noted a huge explosion. In a line of damage, the Levy command staff quickly identified the site as the location of the Forge’s Plasma reactors. Across the board, power output from the Forge dropped to zero and crashed the defense system’s main power grid. Sebastian and the Levy inside the command center brought the secondary grids online instantly, failing over to backups as quickly as the primaries went down.

 

It was clear, though, that there was not enough power being brought in from the outlying cities to make up for the loss of the Forge.

 

Even inside the Governor’s Palace, Caine felt the *pop* of air pressure being released over the city, and the pervading wash of ozone from the failing shields descending from the sky. The command staff started shouting as the many void shield emitters reported the errors. Chatter from the field command stations followed, asking what happened to their defenses.

 

Caine shouted at his Explorator to get Shard back on the line for a damage assessment, but the vox connection to Shard’s workshop was thoroughly dead. Standing there, Caine hoped Shard had died in the explosion and saved him the trouble of hunting Shard down.

 

The sound of greenskin voices rose up across the city as they realized that the Capitol’s main defense was gone.

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Yes, Shard is dead. Very Dead. All because Frozen Reaches never told me just what he was researching or why it was important, or really anything else about Hadron Shard besides that basic note. It was kinda fun really, but made Caine’s life a lot more difficult…

 

Pride, then the Fall

 

The Orks didn’t need strategic commanders, good communication lines, or expert intelligence to know that it was time to attack.

 

With the shield down, the greenskins pushed forward on all fronts like a tidal wave. Generals and Pack advisers started shouting immediately across the Levy defense ‘net about the sudden deterioration in all their positions.

 

The Southern line collapsed almost immediately. Without the shield, the Levy soldiers didn’t have the firepower and the fortresses couldn’t provide enough heavy support to keep back the Ork assault. Killzones were becoming saturated, and giant cannons from the rear of the Ork lines were beginning to punish the massive Fortress Guns of the Levy wall.

 

Up North, the wall was in shock. They had suffered little fighting in the war so far, and the Orks didn’t seem content to wait inside the defeated Forge. Instead, Orks were leaping over the wall and re-capturing boats to push across the bay. With a limited garrison and even less practical experience in the war so far, the North’s morale was crumbling quickly.

 

The Eastern Wall was under attack from their own guns. Ork Mekboyz, unable to use their fanciest weapons thanks to the curtain shield, had started tearing out the weapons from the outlying Levy bunkers and ‘improving’ them. Earthshaker guns, Bombard mortars, and freshly orkified lascannon had been set up and pointed towards the walls. With the shield down, the Mekboyz had gleefully begun testing their new hardware in support of their greenskin brethren on the front.

 

Out West, the Fortresses took the sudden assault like a well trained boxer. Levy soldiers across the Western front braced and then returned fire, wiping out entire warbands as the Orks rushed into close-in killzones. Giant Fortress guns smoked as they fired at full capacity. Even the sudden in-rush of Ork aeronautica units were quickly tagged and suppressed by Levy AA emplacements. General Davros was making the rest of the Capitol’s defenses look like rank amateurs.

 

Caine’s Pack soldiers, embedded as advisers across the city walls, were saying that they just didn’t have enough soldiers to stop the green tide.

 

Inside the capitol, Caine quickly set up a connection to Marshall Thrace. She was still in the field, and had located herself outside the largest of the three propaganda towers. Not knowing what was happening outside the walls, she’d focused her attention instead on crushing the last remaining overt loyalists of Dante. Two of the propaganda teams were gone, Thrace’s Arbites were now cleaning out the buildings after thoroughly crushing any resistance.

 

The third tower, the largest of the structures and filled with an entire organization intended to spout the wonders of the Damaris regime, was still putting up a fight. It would take a few more hours to cleanse and secure the building.

 

Tobias told her that he didn’t have that kind of time. Quickly outlining his deteriorating position - Thrace had noticed the shield going out too, and quickly understood the magnitude of the issue - he told her that he needed more forces. He would commit everything he had to the Walls, but he had reinforcements entering orbit now, and needed to secure the Starport if he wanted to get them down successfully.

 

He also needed the Shrine intact as a symbol of Imperial authority on the planet. Without the mighty dome and the statues to St. Drusus, the populace might think that the Imperium really couldn’t protect them after all.

 

Thrace said that she could divert her Arbites teams from the final cleanup of the city blocks around the propaganda towers to defend those points. Other teams could be drawn from the positions defending the Palace and other major infrastructure sites, but it would severely weaken their positions if the Orks broke through the walls.

 

Caine didn’t think he had any other options.

 

The Marshall agreed, and began sending out orders to her Arbites to move. Next, Caine connected himself to Bishop Arint. The Bishop was still holding steady at the Shrine, and had been focused on treating wounded and refugees on his grounds. Arint was not excited to hear about the Ork advances.

 

Inside the Shrine, the Relic of Saint Drusus was still the most important symbol on the planet. Caine’s Arvus was ready to fly at a moments notice, but the Custodians had to be ready to move it if the Orks broke through.

 

Arint took this as a poor omen, but said that he would protect the relic at all costs, as long as Caine was willing to do whatever it took to defend Damaris. Lord-Captain Tobias Caine simply nodded grimly in acknowledgment of his duty.

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A Desperate Defense

 

The Southern Wall fell first.

 

Orks used a combinations of destroyed buildings, burned out vehicles, and dead bodies to advance past the outer defensive lines and up to the very base of the Southern Wall. There, they broke open the wall at its firing ports, making doors out of the exterior shell of Levy bunkers. More Orks started climbing the wall using crude ladders and grapple-hooks.

 

Fortress Commanders desperately shouted for reinforcements as the fighting turned hand-to-hand in the confined supply tunnels of the wall. One by one bunkers, supply caches, and barracks halls fell to Ork marauders. Not even the valiant effort of Levy soldiers and well-planned defenses could stop the unending horde of Orks.

 

Soon, the Orks had overwhelmed the Northern wall too, and were at the very foundations of the Eastern Wall. Reports from the walls fractured as the Orks entered their interiors. What had been surveys of killing fields and strike targets for heavy artillery, turned into hand-written notes and force assessments taped over the schematics of the wall fortresses. Orks were smashing their way into rooms still shooting at greenskins on the outside of the city.

 

The situation deteriorated from there, dropping past tenuous and into untenable.

 

Two things saved Caine from the immediate collapse of Levy defenses across the entire city: First, General Davros called in. His advisers had been watching, but had assumed the other Levy positions were holding. He could divert some of his forces to reinforce other fronts, while maintaining his own position. In all, General Davros could offer Cain four divisions of infantry and a division of Leman Russ tanks.

 

Caine immediately had his central command divert every transport, Chimera, and train to the Western wall to pick up the troops. The Russ tanks would be diverted immediately to the East. With any luck, they at least would get there before Orks started pouring out of the wall into the city, and could hold the position.

 

Second, Caine’s Seneschal, Holt, was now entering low orbit above the city. He had a full division of soldiers of his own onboard. While the ship didn’t have the heavy vehicles to land them into combat, he could at least start shuttling them down to the surface.

 

A call to the Sphinx Starport cleared all traffic from their flight manifests, and directed every cargo shuttle they had into orbit. Half the division in orbit would be landed immediately at the Starport and directed North to reinforce the wall. The other half would be dropped in the Southern parts of the city as the terrain allowed.

 

The North and South would get another division and a half each of infantry from the West. The Eastern Wall would get a division. Caine didn’t know if it would be enough, but it looked like he had few other options.

 

With a single motion, he called Wolfe up to his side and had Lucius prepare for takeoff again. He would take personal command down in the South.

 

It was a short hop from the command bunker in the Governor’s Palace to the Southern wall, but it was like traveling to another planet. Smoke hung in the air above the wall, and the crack of weapon-fire could be heard inside the wall perimeter.

 

Orks were hiding amid the broken buildings along the interior exclusion line of the defensive wall. Huge fortress doors worked with the artistry of the planet’s finest warsmiths had been broken and left hanging, while sally lines and wide resupply avenues meant to be safe from attack now had Orks crawling everywhere.

 

Levy forces still fought from inside the wall, clinging to every room they could, but Caine hadn’t heard any reports from the main strategic facilities in the Southern Fortresses since he’d taken to the air. More Levy in the city were trying to keep the Orks from pushing any further in.

 

Wolfe immediately started shouting orders, and Caine grabbed the nearest command squad to begin coordinating the Southern line’s vox net. Disparate reinforcements from the West were beginning to trickle in, or reporting attempts to fight through the connecting tunnels between the West and Southern Fortresses.

 

Above, the heavy sight of the troop landing shuttles began to descend. They were forced to pick large plazas and open squares to drop into, which limited how close they could get to the Southern wall. Caine did what he could to organize the forces as they landed.

 

Wolfe took a more personal command of the nearby platoons holding the exits to the main Southern Fortress. Within twenty minutes, he had a containment zone set up and holding. Orks would pour out of the Fortress in droves - giving a clear indication that there were no Levy left - but they couldn’t penetrate the make-shift kill zone outside.

 

As thousands of soldiers moved south to reinforce the tens of thousands already fighting, Caine and Wolfe’s efforts began making a difference. Even Levy fleeing the slaughter inside the walls quickly found their morale restored by the effective firing lines in the city.

 

The Orks had stormed and gutted the Southern Wall, but were being held from entering the city proper.

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The Eldar Giveth

 

Despite Caine’ best efforts, the reinforcements didn’t make it to the West in time to save the wall. By the time soldiers made it to positions where they could help, Orks had already entered the Western Fortresses and begun their destructive rampages. Leman Russ tanks set up positions behind the wall and used their heavy cannons to keep the Orks pinned inside.

 

Over the next several hours, Levy soldiers pushed in room by room to begin taking back their walls and rescue what fellows they could still trapped inside. It was a brutal effort and met the Orks where they were the strongest. Tobias would have given a solid chunk of his fortune for a few Astates to lead the cleansing.

 

Instead, he had a slow slog on his hands. Levy fighting hand to hand with flamers, grenades, trusty lasguns, and brute force of will.

 

It took hours more to secure the ruined Wall Fortresses, and almost a day to finish smashing the Ork warbands roving outside the city. Several tank squadrons from the Western Wall started sallying out under Caine’s orders, pushing the Ork hardpoints to either move closer to the wall (where they could be crushed by what few guns remained), or uprooted and sent back towards the wide plains of the central continent.

 

By the end of the second day, the Orks had been destroyed. The campaign had torn Tobias’ Levy forces to shreds. More than a tenth of his force had fled, deserted, or died during the insurrection after the Bulwark’s gutting; and almost a quarter of what Levy were left had died or been wounded fighting the Orks for the Capitol’s Walls. Only the Western Fortresses still stood.

 

Everything else was blasted or broken. With only piles of rubble and smoking craters left for defenses, Caine knew he couldn’t withstand another assault by the Orks.

 

He didn’t realize his day was about to get worse.

 

On tour up in the North of the city, doing what he could to quell the mercenaries’ post-victory celebrations (according to Wolfe: “Riots”), Caine was told that the Void Defense ‘Net had discovered an odd signal. The signal had been sent around to the other Rogue Traders, including the Emissary, for identification.

 

It had appeared suddenly, from behind an outer moon that the ‘Net didn’t cover, and was pushing hard towards Damaris orbit. In less than a day it would be at low anchor over the planet. Only the Emissary could identify the signal. It was an exact match for the Eldar vessel Caine had encountered above the wreck of the Righteous Path.

 

Lord-Captain Tobias Caine instantly disliked the situation.

 

Aboard the Righteous Path, the Eldar host had strung him along while they set a plan in motion in the heart of the ship. The Eldar vessel had simply sat there and watched as Caine was toured around the ship. When Caine finally pressed them, the Eldar had left the ship and returned to their own vessel.

 

They’d planted a bomb aboard the Righteous Path. It was likely meant to carve out the asteroid the Path was embedded in to get at the ancient Eldar vessel buried even deeper in. Instead, Caine had thwarted their attempt at destroying his prize. It had nearly cost Caine his life.

 

The ship reappearing now meant the Eldar had designs on Caine again. This time, like the last, he had no idea what they were.

 

As he packed up and headed back towards the Command Center as quickly as possible, Caine received a report of a message from the Eldar ship. It was in High Gothic, and directed Caine to a meeting place on one of the abandoned continents East of the Capitol. He was to go alone, or at least with as small a retinue as possible.  The Eldar ship could give Caine a way to win the war.

 

Caine wasn’t about to blindly follow their suggestion again.

 

Instead, he placed Holt in charge of securing the city as best as possible, and directed small craft to be sent down from the Emissary. He needed his stealth equipped gunship, the second gunship that was built to a more common pattern, and a team of snipers that had been waiting for a mission. The Pack was coming along too.

 

The Eldar clearly wanted to unnerve Caine, since it was a several hour flight to the meeting place. His small air armada went in quietly and low, the stealth gunship breaking off an hour before the meeting to set the sharpshooters up.

 

Caine and his Pack were much more obvious. He landed the guncutter in the open field specified, and arrayed his soldiers out in defensive positions. The second gunship circled at a combat height, while the stealth gunship circled a little further out to maintain its ability to quickly respond wherever it was needed.

 

Standing there, waiting for what he assumed was a trap, Caine was going to at least make the Eldar work to hurt him.

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Just a note here, but Tobias Caine nearly lost the fight for Damaris. The Orks overwhelmed the defenders at every wall except the West, and tore down the defenses listed. Only quick intervention from the Levy in the West, and the lucky coincidence of Caine having successfully purchased a division of Mercenaries at the start of the war (he was planning to use them to secure the Governor’s Palace and major Government buildings after the war was over) saved the city. The rules for having General Dante die/removed from office were the main killer here, and he would have lost 1/3 of his force if I hadn’t intervened on the dice roll.

 

I wonder here if playing with more people (and, hence, having more PCs of varying skills to assist in the defense) might be incredibly valuable.

 

In case it wasn’t clear though, the Levy is gutted at this point in the war, and the walls can barely be considered effective defenses. Although it’s the third week (hence the Eldar intervention), one more Ork assault would have destroyed the Capitol.

 

Also, I have a minor correction: Tobias informs me that he doesn’t actually regret not sending Shard any reinforcements. He actually said that “What happened to Shard was the single most satisfying encounter I’ve ever had with the AdMech.” Considering the number of times I had the AdMech mess with him, steal his stuff, and simply be aloof bastards I guess that makes sense.

 

The Eldar Taketh Away

 

The meeting with the Eldar began with screams.

 

Around Caine, in the wide circle of sharpshooters meant to protect him, shouts and cries of pain echoed through the forest. Above him, a heavy wash of engine connected to a hazy shape in the sky. The hazy shape shot a searing beam of energy, washing the craft in light distortions that revealed the angry shape of an Eldar Cobra.

 

That first shot took down Caine’s stealth gunship. The pilot never saw the Eldar attack coming. A second shot from the Cobra caught Caine’s second gunship in a swooping turn meant to bring it into engagement range. The second gunship plummeted from the sky as quickly as the first.

 

Only then, with most of Caine’s protection detail destroyed, did the Eldar captain make herself known.

 

She appeared from behind a tree, with a wide cloak swirling around her feet. It was green, with a dark hood drawn over her head, and golden runes embroidered into its surface. Caine recognized the Aspect of the Ranger path, as well as the runes of Craftworld Kaelor. More Rangers started filtering out of the forest around the clearing, moving to support their captain.

 

A moment later, there was a distinct pop and the materialization of another Eldar presence beside the captain. He was large, with the wide shoulder pauldrons of an Eldar Warp Spider Exarch. He didn’t have a helmet on. Caine recognized him immediately: it was the Eldar who had lured him into the trap aboard the Righteous Path.

 

The Captain, as soon as the Warp Spider was there, pulled back her own hood and revealed a striking face of high cheekbones and piercing blue eyes. Her face was an exact twin of the Warp Spider’s.

 

Caine said that she now owed him for two disasters.

 

She did not laugh, and instead stopped where she stood and studied him. Caine could feel latent Psy energy around him, emanating from the Eldar captain, but couldn’t pinpoint its purpose.

 

Her name was Jahanna, and she told him that the Eldar were here to offer Caine a gift that could save the planet. If his pitiful human mind could wrap itself around the concept, her information could save Damaris from the rampaging Orks.

 

After their last meeting, and the subterfuge of the Warp Spider Exarch, Caine was immediately suspicious. He wondered out loud about their motives, and why they were deciding to help him now. Looking around dramatically, he said that it was awfully convenient for them to appear now for support, instead of earlier when it might have protected the lives of more Damaris Citizens.

 

His eye started looking harder at the clearing as he prodded the Eldar, and he started noticing more details. There was a bone-like material under the grassy covering of the field, and some of the trees looked perfectly curved or formed into delicate arches. It had the distinct bearing of an Eldar ruin. It told him that this used to belong to the Eldar.

 

With an overdramatic eyebrow dance, and bellicose drawl, Caine practically said as much. The Eldar didn’t respond, which he took to mean it was true.

 

He asked how he could be of service now that he was useful to their motives.

 

Jahanna brushed off the comments, though her eyes betrayed an inhuman expression, and the Warp Spider Exarch practically fumed behind her. Instead, she stepped forward and revealed a small crystalline device. It floated lightly in the air over her hand.

 

With little effort, Jahanna let the crystal waft over to Caine in a display of psychic levitation.

 

She said that it contained the current location of the Ork Warboss in the Damaris system. It also contained the location of a star system deeper in the Expanse that had more of a reward for his past grievances. If Caine was interested in protecting Damaris, he would follow the crystal’s direction.

 

Caine snatched the crystal out of the air, and gave Jahanna a look of sly cunning that was a match for the Eldar’s own obscure motives.

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1,000 Views!  I'm sure that took longer than most threads here that reach that point, but it sure feels good to see it.  Seems appropriate too, since Caine is about to face the final challenge between him and the safety of Damaris...

 

Green is Best!

 

In The Capitol of Damaris people were valiantly rebuilding. Confessors roamed the streets preaching the teachings of the God-Emperor, and roving Arbites patrols punished anyone foolish enough to attempt looting or riots. Cycling broadcasts from Bishop Arint played on hastily erected Vox-Broadcasters in every square.

 

The Orks had attempted a body-blow to Damaris, and instead exhausted themselves against its walls.

 

Above, in the void, the Orks were hanging back at the edges of the system. Either their ships were resupplying, their warbands were trying to consolidate what power they had left, or their Warboss was trying to force the greenskins to attack one more time.

 

Whatever the reason, Caine wasn’t about to give them time to recover. He left the capitol in the hands of Bishop Arint and the growing Ecclessarchy presence.

 

The Emissary was badly wounded, with a crippled crew and only basic repairs to her armor and components. With no Bulwark - it was still riven with internal fighting and failed authority structure - there was no way to get the frigate up to full fighting strength. Caine was going to use it as his flagship anyway.

 

In the void above Damaris, Caine also brought together what remained of his Rogue Trader fleet. The Starweaver was the most potent vessel he had left, with three other frigates, about a dozen raider-class vessels of varying combat readiness, and another dozen system ships. It would be Caine’s battlefleet.

 

Caine set out with the Eldar crystal in hand, watching its hypnotic images and dancing runes dictate where the fleet had to head. The ice giant Skadi was out there somewhere, hidden by the Frozen Reaches, the gravity riptides, and the cloaking presence of the outer system’s infernal oddities. The fleet pushed the Ork raiders away as it powered into the outer system. They were too weak to mount the kind of opposed strike that would be required to hurt Caine’s formation.

 

Instead, they were withdrawing towards the Eldar-located Skadi and whatever hardpoint Snogritz had built amid the ice.

 

At the edge of the Frozen Reaches, Caine split his battlefleet into combat formations of three to four ships. He kept the Starweaver and two system ships beside the Emissary, and sent the other formations to occupy what Ork defenders he could.

 

Caine was not going in quietly.

 

For the next several hours, the scattered battlefleet skirmished with the Ork raiders in the ice fields of the Frozen Reaches. There were few losses, but damage kept building as captains fell into boulders the size of mountains, and Ork weaponry found chinks in the hurt Imperial vessels’ armor.

 

Without wavering, Caine continued pushing towards Skadi. It was a growing presence in his forward view, visible now that he knew where it was, almost like the Eldar stone was tearing away the veils that kept the giant planet hidden from Imperial augers.

 

When the Emissary finally broke free of the sheath of comets and scattered ice, Caine knew that Eldar had not steered him wrong.

 

One of Skadi’s moons had been given over entirely to Ork industry. Huge ice balls and asteroid chunks hung off the moon’s surface under the influence of bizzare Ork machinery and chains the size of Leman Russ tanks. Ork vessels milled around the moon in high orbit, either assembling or hiding.

 

In a surprise, Caine’s sensorium crew detected an Imperial-class drive around the moon too. It wasn’t connected to any known Imperial signal. Instead, the ship was broadcasting the identity of a known Chaos Marauder. Caine smirked at the audacity.

 

There was one other ship around the moon that caught Caine’s attention. It was larger than the other Ork raiders, easily the size of a Gothic-class cruiser, and had three raider ships milling around it. Pict captures of the ship showed gigantic teeth across its maw, and angry snout-guns pointed into the void. Caine knew that was Snogritz’s vessel.

 

It would have been obvious even without the constant broadcast from its crude vox system shouting “SNOGRITZ! SNOGRITZ!” on every open channel.

 

One of the few working systems on the Emissary was her broadcast towers. Caine immediately directed his crews to start an even more powerful broadcast, directed straight at the Ork cruiser. In prose simple enough even for an Ork to understand, Caine said that he was the mastermind behind the defense of Damaris, and the human responsible for pushing back wave after wave of Snogritz’s ‘pitiful’ warbands. Caine then challenged Snogritz to a one-on-one duel for the right to the system.

 

On a second coded frequency, he had Elizabeth Orleans and the two system ships hold back. She thought he was crazy, but he refused to budge.

 

In a display of bellicose intimidation and insane pride, Snogritz didn’t even respond. The chants of “SNOGRITZ!” continued on every channel, but the Ork cruiser began moving.

 

With engines spitting vile green plasma into the void, Snogritz’s ship began angling simply and obviously towards Caine’s battered frigate. While there was no obvious signal that the Warboss had agreed to Caine’s one-on-one terms, one of the Ork raider escorts began pushing out to protect the flagship.

 

Snogritz, clearly irked by both Damaris’ defiance and Caine’s intimidation, opened fire on his own escort. The cruiser’s fire broke the escort in two under the first salvo: the raider not expecting to be attacked by their own leader. Without pausing to mourn their loss, Snogritz pushed his ship even harder, pointing the snout-guns at the still-motionless Emissary.

 

Caine, in that moment, realized Snogritz planned to ram.

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Officer on the Deck!

 

The Emissary was hurt, slow, and under-crewed. It had managed to reach the gas giant Skadi out of sheer willpower, and the stern command of Tobias Caine.

 

Across the void, the Ork Krooza was suffering from none of those ill effects. Its green maw had teeth the size of macrocannons, and its mighty engines were pushing it far faster than anything the Emissary could manage. In the space of thirty minutes, it crossed from its anchor above the industrialized moon to the very door of the Emissary.

 

Outside of Caine’s bridge, the Ork maw loomed large.

 

Snout-Gunz flashed in the void, their lack of sound punctuated by the brief hesitation before the massive rounds crashed into the Emissary’s armor. Stations across Caine’s bridge flickered as power wavered in the ship, but all of her systems held. That lasted until Snogritz finished his maneuver.

 

With its giant teeth and hungry maw leading, the Ork Krooza slammed into the side of the Emissary. Despite the best piloting efforts of her crew, there was no way the crippled Imperial frigate could dodge the incensed Orks across the void.

 

Caine was thrown off his feet by the impact, and huge blast shields crashed into place across the bridge as mighty arma-plas panels broke and exposed the bridge briefly to the void. The sapping cold mirrored the whine and protests of cogitator arrays in the rear of the bridge, and the sudden increase in shouts and orders for damage reports told Caine that his ship was now immobile.

 

Jovian drives failed for the first time in the ship’s history as one of her mighty cores was forced into emergency procedures, and the macrocannons across the Emissary’s dorsal ridge fell silent. Warning runes lit up across cogitator arrays as their attendant AdMech minders hurriedly silenced klaxon warnings. The damage was focused across the central ribs of the ship.

 

While his voidsmen crews knew how to handle damage control, Tobias needed another crew to do his work. He picked himself up off the floor and strode over to his security officers. Dusting off his elegant cloak, Caine told his armsmen that he needed to know where Snogritz was.

 

Orks were pouring in across the rents in the Emissary’s hull, but the armsmen teams quickly narrowed down the assault to its major and minor boarding actions. The greatest threat, and the tenebrow hardpoints falling the quickest, were just starboard of the ship’s primary Cathedral.

 

Caine took that as the answer he needed, and turned on his heel to sally forth from his bridge. At the main door, Wolfe and all twenty of his remaining Pack soldiers stood ready in full combat gear. Caine checked his own equipment: Artificier-crafted Carapace Armor, Dynasty-blessed Power Sword, Plasma pistol, and ancient digi-melta, then moved towards the nearest servitor lift.

 

He would take Snogritz out personally.

 

The Servitor lift dropped Caine and his strike team off on an upper balcony platform looking out over a vast macrocannon gun deck and the pitched battle below. In its ramming attempt, the Ork Krooza had smashed the gundeck in from the outside until it was half as long as it had been originally. The Macrocannon loading mechanism that fed the giant turret above was smashed and crumpled, shorn from its moorings and tossed into the fore-wall by a huge Ork Tooth.

 

Orks had poured from hatches in the tooth and were engaging armsmen teams on the gundeck below in open combat. Caine’s voidsmen were struggling against the Ork boarders: the Orks were larger, better armed, and hadn’t been suffering under weeks of constant attacks.

 

Caine saw Snogritz at the head of the entire Greenskin wave.

 

The Ork Warboss was huge: at least twice as tall as the boyz around him, and more than a head taller than the Nobz at his side. Thick armor plating looked bolted to his skeleton, and he swung two huge choppas that were each the size of a person. Snogritz started a bellowing Waaagh that quickly filled the chamber as his fellow Orks took up the shout.

 

It was a warcry and a fearless admonition that the Orks knew they were winning this fight and that it was only a matter of time before they smashed through this pitiful human resistance and into the heart of the Imperial vessel.

 

With his eyes locked on Snogritz, Caine held out a hand for his rappelling gear. The Pack soldiers around him quickly set their own equipment to the railings at the edge of the balcony and handed Caine a quick descent wire.

 

Wolfe stood next to Caine, and pulled his power sword from its sheath.

 

There was an unwavering look of courage in Wolfe’s eye that mirrored the stance of the Pack around him. They’d gone through a planetary invasion at Caine’s side and survived. They’d found a fabled ship thought lost forever in the Expanse, and now they were staring down a mighty Ork Warboss in single combat on the gundeck of a dying ship.

 

Wolfe and his Pack would have followed Caine into the Eye of Terror if he’d asked.

 

Handing Caine his sword, Wolfe told Caine that he would need it more than Wolfe would. Caine took the second power sword from his subordinate’s hand, even as one of the Pack soldiers handed Wolfe his Lascannon.

 

There was a tear of pride in Caine’s eye as he took the sword.

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Snogritz!

 

In hardened cover near a collapsed pile of wreckage and twisted actuators the size of Rhino tanks, a squad of Orks saw Caine and his team on top of the catwalks. They opened fire with Heavy Shootas, trying to pin the storm troopers down. At their center, a giant Nob waved a large saw-toothed piece of deck-plating around like a Commissar’s maul.

 

Well aimed hellgun fire from the Pack soldiers tore into the Orks seconds later. Wolfe, setting his lascannon hastily against the railing, added his own fire to the torrent of bright whip-crack las rounds. The heavy, searing beam took the upper torso off the Ork leader, and the Pack’s supporting fire tore at least three more Orks apart.

 

Caine took that as his cue to descend.

 

Hopping over the railing with five Pack soldiers beside him, Tobias kept his eyes on Snogritz. Smoothly, he and the five stormtroopers landed behind the line of armsmen still resisting the Ork assault and took stock of the situation.

 

Without a quick reversal, there was little chance that Caine’s ship crew could hold the Orks to this room. There were too many greenskins, and too few armsmen. Caine ordered his Pack soldiers to spread out and get the Orks’ attention. Between the stormtroopers here on the ground, and the fire support teams up on the balcony, Caine would have enough cover to get close to Snogritz.

 

From what he’d seen in the war so far, if he could kill Snogritz, the Orks wouldn’t hold.

 

The stormtroopers nodded their agreement to the plan, and started shooting wildly into the melee to draw attention. Above, Wolfe was making effective use of his lascannon, taking apart at least two of the more threatening Orks.

 

Caine spotted Snogritz in the melee as soon as his Pack spread out. The Ork Warboss crested the brutal hand-to-hand fighting like a shark leaping from an ocean to grab a vulnerable piece of prey. The bodies of at least two armsmen flew out of the impact as he dropped back down, little more effective than water at resisting the huge Ork.

 

With a shout that echoed through the chamber and above the din of combat, Caine challenged Snogritz again. The Warboss heard him, and bellowed out something incomprehensible and foul. Orks parted before him to let Snogritz through.

 

Armsmen from the Emissary, more scared than in awe, shifted back too.

 

A bubble formed in the heated battle that both Caine and Snogritz strode into. It was an immovable object meeting an unstoppable force.

 

Caine attacked first, hoping to use his size and speed to an advantage against the huge Ork. Snogritz wasn’t as slow as he looked, and easily parried the first blade. Caine missed with his second blade-stroke, not expecting the Ork to be able to dodge the first blow. But it was not completely unsuccessful.

 

With a look of surprise, Snogritz noticed that he now only held one and a half Choppas, instead of the imposing two that he’d been using up until now. Caine’s blessed power-sword had shorn one of the massive weapons apart as Snogritz had used it to parry. The haft, now useless, was quickly tossed aside by the warboss.

 

He bellowed a roar that rattled armor and shook dust from the cieling. Several Armsmen, and a few Orks, took steps back in abject fear. Caine stood rock steady, his eyes narrowing at the challenge. Despite his size disadvantage, and the massive speed and muscles on Snogritz, Caine refused to give into fear.

 

Tobias was rewarded with a searing light of the Emperor’s judgement: Wolfe’s Lascannon.

 

The Lascannon shot tore into Snogritz’s right shoulder, ripping apart armor and muscle, and singing the green flesh around the wound. But, despite the perfect hit, Wolfe’s shot merely enraged Snogritz more.

 

Snogritz seemed to have two emotions: Angry, and violent. The Ork had clearly been angry for a while now. He’d been thwarted from an easy victory on Damaris, then challenged by a pitiful human in a broken ship. Anyone in his position would be angry.

 

But now, the Warboss was violent.

 

Using his left arm, the one that still held a huge axe, Snogritz smashed down with the might of a voidship landing from orbit. Caine tried to parry the blow, but his strength was not nearly great enough to stop or even deflect such a swing.

 

Caine’s power sword locked into Snogritz’s axe, and both weapons hit him across the chest. It knocked him to the floor, and nearly sent Wolfe’s sword sliding out from his other hand. The blow cracked Caine’s carapace armor, and left him without breath for a moment.

 

With a look in his eye for a finishing blow, Caine let loose with a hammer blow of his own. Using his ring, Caine fired the digi-melta that had saved him in so many battles before. The light and heat tore up from the floor like a visage of the Emperor himself, casting the whole battle into sharp relief and deep shadow.

 

It lit Snogritz on fire and forced the Warboss to stumble back a step, leaving Caine with breathing room.

 

On fire, Snogritz bellowed in a new shade of emotion: Pain. Paint peeled off his layered and crudely welded armor, and leather straps of unidentifiable origin snapped or melted. But Snogritz didn’t die.

 

Quickly, the shouts of Pain switched back to Anger and Violence. Caine had the feeling that this fight wasn’t going to be as easy as he had first hoped.

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