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The Gathering Strom

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Captain's Log



Warp storms are living things. Any voidsman will tell you that, and they’ll even say that a particular one is fury, or rage, or hatred made alive. They’re not wrong. The warp is many things, but a warp storm is pure violence. Violence against us star sailors, yes. But also violence against all nature.

But in nature almost all things that live will die. In the past year, I have fought hard to stay alive. I’ve made deals with wretches I’d rather throw in chains. I’ve sheltered ships owned by more powerful dynasties--as much as they try to hide behind trade guilds and corporations--and took them in, gave them the means to survive so that we too would. I did all of this not knowing how long the storm would last. Praying that it would die as the space hulk finally made itself known.

I had thought the storm would dissipate. That the ribbons of energy that surround the Heathen Stars would fade away. It was a foolish hope.

In the week it took us to hunt the astropathic message down, we finally received word from the Bard of Ulstor. It had lead a small convoy of trade ships to Zayth and then through the channels to the rest of the Expanse. They have been away for months now, and were turning back, the supplies we loaded with the galleon were nearly exhausted. The routes only lead back to themselves.

It was worth more than a try. It was our best hope out of the region. The trade ships belonged to a smattering of dynasties. Chorda and Saul, mostly. Those ships would have better Navigators than most. The so-called free captains were capable, independent, and experienced. For them to admit defeat was a blow that fell heavily on me.

There was a time I would’ve ignored this feeling. Where my discipline would’ve been enough. But that was when I belonged to a galaxy spanning organization. I had superiors that I trusted, some more than others, to make the right calls. Even when out on my own I was never alone. Now, the only one I can appeal to is the Emperor, or His Most Dutiful Servants, the High Lords of Terra. I sincerely doubt they can offer any astrogation insights, and the Emperor does more than enough with the Astronomican.

Even that is dimming, I’m told.


What fell plot have we wandered into?

Edited by Marwynn

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We emerged among the dead. Eight days in the warp, fighting against the tides, listening for a faint call, until  found our way to a point in the deep void. I had ordered us to translate some distance from the source that had quieted as we neared and the Blessed Enterprise emerged into the gulf between suns.


There were dozens, hundreds, of broken hulls below us. We didn’t see them at first, they radiated no more heat, no other signatures for us to see by until our augurs went active. I am reminded of some great, bulbous sea creature with tendrils radiating out from its bloated body. Or a system in its primordial state, orbiting a new sun.


Only there was nothing alive here. There was no star, but there was gravity, pulling and stretching the hulks into long snaking arms that orbited a black nothing. We tried every augur, auspex, scryer, and psyker and found nothing in that abyss.


To the surprise of my crew I ordered ready stations. I gave the word for our combat void patrols to be doubled--**** the promethium--and have our bombers on standby. There would be no contact for days, but I maintained general quarters in all that time. We had taken on plenty of new crewmen and they needed to be inducted into the idle terrors of voidship duties.


I slept little though I felt more in control than I had in perhaps a year. There are always scavengers in graveyards like this. No matter how remote, no matter how unlikely, there was.


We found them on the third day.


The Scintilla Majoris was a Navy frigate on long patrol around the Foundling Worlds. It had been observing the Reavers of Iniquity when the Orks struck Damaris and was one of the first to respond, I’m told. Only, Lord-Commander McKrale obeyed orders to depart, doing so before we even arrived. I never did understand what was so urgent that frigates and light cruisers on long patrols needed to be pulled.


Prow-deep in another vessel, the Sword-class frigate spun lifelessly in the void. Both ships shed plasma fumes and debris in their new orbit.


It had been dead for months.




One of these days, we will learn the folly of away missions. The warp things died to blade and bolter easily enough, but there were too many and not nearly enough blades or bolters. The deep thrum of my Damaran armsmen’s lasguns provided a rhythm to the horrible stretches of bolter fire filling passageways on crumbling decks.


Some of the warp things wore the faces of Imperial men. I killed one with my blade and it died with a smile of thanks. Emperor and my ancestors combined, strike my memory clean.


It was a small mercy for us to find the bridge intact and its officers dead. They had died first, torn apart at their own posts. Sevia and I saw spoke words over them. I would make sure they would be consigned to the void properly later.


Idris returned from the Navigator’s Spire clutching a bloodied necklace and hiding a blank face. Trelany returned from the choir chambers empty handed but heavy hearted. Only Bain returned with a smile, clutching a large Ork head in one hand and a massive bolt pistol in the other.


The Magos confirmed it was an Astartes weapon before promptly taking it from Mr. Iosef’s hands. Weapons of such artifice were not meant for mere mortals. I concurred--the Stromgard’s bolters were full-sized for humans and they had tremendous recoil. A bolt pistol meant for the Emperor’s own Astartes? He’d lose an arm.


Then the ship roared in pain and anger.




It was perhaps an irony that an Ork ram ship had been rammed by a vessel meant to stay at range and fire. If so, the greenskins may not have appreciated it. A fight was a fight after all.


We had coaxed the ship’s main cogitator back to life, to release its charts and logs to us, to increase its output to various systems. Gravity became more even. The air cyclers pumped out the putrid stenches of the decks. And the Gellar Field generators, curiously locked to remain active, hummed to full power. How the arcane systems worked were ill-understood. What they did, however, was not.


The fields extended out from any void ship, more than enough to wrap another vessel--or most of it--with its effects. We had freed the greenskins from battling the warp things.


Idris and Bain leapt at the helm, pushing the dead officers aside. I had no choice but to remove Lord-Commander McKrale’s corpse from the command throne, its defenses disabled by the Magos who leapt across from station to station. Sevia took command of the armsmen, organizing them and pulling them back to more defensible positions.


Trelany set the Ork ship on fire with her mind.


Impressive. Of course, the ship we were on was still very much attached to the thing at the time.



The term “lighting a fire under them” was very much applicable to this situation. The greenskins fled their burning ship in droves. Fortunately, the Scintilla Majoris was almost two kilometres long, giving us some time. Our dear Astropath then confounded the crazed greenskins with illusions of twisting corridors and the like after being told specifically to not set this frigate on fire.


I would not abandon the ship to the greenskins. The ship agreed with that sentiment as its thrusters began to fire on its own, shoving hard against the Ork ship before trying to tear away. Bain and Idris tried to steer while the Magos tried to persuade the ship to stop. I had enough and slammed on the command rune for full power to all systems.


Somehow, it worked. Void shields crackled to life, doing little but slightly frying the greenskins still clambering on the hull. The turrets responded to our commands, surprisingly having been modified with servitor gunners. They were less than accurate but there were many of them.


Binar noted one thing. The Sword-class frigate’s dorsal turrets were locked in the forward firing position. The Sunsear las-batteries would overheat without gun crews running coolant lines to it, but we had full control.


I gave the order and light filled the bridge. The las-bolts dug into the exposed wound of the ram ship’s flanks, incinerating and melting with each salvo. We broke free simply because what held us to the ship was blasted away.


Bain threw the frigate into a roll--I’m not certain it’s supposed to do those with vector thrusters--but it saved us from the now rolling Ork hulk.


We only had to deal with the few hundred greenskins now rampaging towards us.


Then the Magos ran to the Etherics station and activated the main hololith. The Blessed Enterprise was feeding us telemetry; there were wolves around us.




The first prize crews landed near the enginarium. I pushed out with a team of armsmen to close off the main arterial passageways and divert the rushing Orks. They moved quickly, especially those squigs of theirs. With the enginarium secured we could load more armsmen and crewmen as needed.


I ordered Bain and Idris to return to the Blessed Enterprise and see to our offense. Not defense. Trelany and Binar I needed where they were.


The Orks were up to Sevia and I handle. There’s a lot to be said about a Priest of the Emperor swinging a massive chainsword about her. Still, our role was to lead and not to personally slay every single greenskin aboard.


We secured stations along the way, holding them for crewmen debarking cutters until finally we made it to the cargo bay. A fresh contingent of Bala tunnel fighters met us there, my newest armsmen recruits. They had no experience fighting greenskins but they learned quickly to mass their fire.


Sevia and I stopped pushing midway through, it was time for us to return to the Blessed Enterprise. I let the armsmen handle the clean-up; they seemed to be bonding over killing Orks.


The deck shook as we approached our waiting comrades. I thought we had been struck by debris--I know what a macroweapon hit feels like--but the pounding came from within. If I was not there I would call myself a liar: the deckplates broke apart as an Ork Mekboy rose from it, wielding a catapult with one hand and clutching a horned squig in the other.


It loaded the creature and the catapult hurled it towards us. I dove to the side, catching the brunt of the damage but negated mostly by my armour and power field. The Ork was massive even without his armour, and our deadliest attacks seemed to only chip away at its bulk.


Idris had left it burning within as she allowed it to gaze at her third eye. Trelany unleashed the Warp at it, but it seemed mostly angered by the punishment we were meting out.


I ran to Binar and grabbed the Astartes bolt pistol from him. The Magos was disturbed by my actions, of course. Even with my power armoured hands I needed both to grasp the weapon properly.


I fired twice. The massive bolts tore through the space and exploded inside the Ork. It now had two very sizable holes in its chest plate that glowed. Otherwise, it was only angrier. The Magos snatched the Astartes weapon from me and I gave the order for them to run.


Being the obedient senior staff they were, they obeyed.


I stayed behind.


I had one other weapon to use.




Though I’m not as skilled as the pilot crews I routinely send out to kill my enemies, Bain reckons I’m an able enough flyer. In truth, I meant to use our waiting cutter’s multiple lascannon--which I paid a hefty amount to be grafted onto the thing--and cut apart the mechanical greenskin. It chased me and when it couldn’t reach me when I went inside, it simply began pulling out the weapons from their turrets.


It was on the cutter as I lifted off--yes, inside the hangar--hammering away at the craft’s armour plating and doing quite a good job of it.


I slalomed and slewed into the bulkheads, trying to scrape the thing off and punishing it as much as I could. The blunt trauma seemed to be doing the trick, but the cutter was heavily damaged by my ‘piloting’. Somehow, it clawed its way atop the cockpit and ripped the transparisteel away. My plasma pistol was waiting for it, but the streams of energy simply curled over its monstrous form. Wisely, it shielded its face with its left claw. It didn’t see the mag-clamps activating on the cutter’s nose, holding it in place.


It looked at me and roared, but the clamps held it firm. I was already leaving through the rear ramp. Leaving, jumping, falling, it’s all the same. I had set the engines to full power.


The cutter rammed the frigate from the inside at full speed. The explosion hurled me into the open void.



Thankfully, my staff had located another cutter and were well equipped to rescue me within moments. I had never heard so many confusing praises and threats for my insane actions before.


It was a very conscious decision. A deliberately reckless one. I had spent the last year reacting. I had spent the last year conserving.


I needed to take something in my own hands.


We returned to the Blessed Enterprise with no further incident, though I was in need of some medical attention.




Even with a skeleton crew, the Scintilla Majoris leapt ahead eagerly at full speed. Gun crews meant to replace those lost when our starboard broadside was gutted manned the frigate’s guns now. They fired and drew first blood, wounding a three-prowed raider of odd design.


I ordered our port batteries to add their fire to it. The swift, jagged thing took a fair amount of killing, but it died under both our ships’ guns. Another raider on our starboard felt the caress of our single las-battery. I must commend those gunners, they battered down the three-prowed ship’s void shields in a respectable time. The full fury of our lance did the rest.


The Magos had identified several components on board the raiders that resembled STC patterns. They resembled nothing I’ve seen before, and even the better-travelled Idris could not name the design or the species that used them.


We left them burning into the void but our firefight drew a crowd.


A lone Infidel raider drifted too closely to us, well within striking distance of our attack wings. I do not know if it was damaged or simply desperate, but I do know it failed to spot the attack craft until well after the first bombs hit. It withdrew, only to be rammed violently by an Ork ship. I laughed at the raider’s predicament and ordered us back to the jump point.


It might have been safer to remain within the twisting, orbiting tendrils. It offered cover. However, that was terrain that our opponents knew well and the Blessed Enterprise rules the open void.


Torpedoes rose from below us, in pairs or in singles, easy targets for our Fury squadrons to intercept. Lieutenant Cora Brecht, the prize captain I assigned to the Scintilla Majoris, even managed to link our turret defenses together. It overworked the frigate’s skeleton bridge crew, but it protected the prize vessel as much as it protected us, and  I approved of a little hard work.


We had stirred a nest of predators, all more than happy to have a chance at taking out their rivals instead of pursuing a cruiser and her escort.


I admit, it was a good feeling to be the king of even a trash heap. The Magos spent his time pouring over the augurs, marking hulks that were perhaps worthy of salvage. We burned to the jump point, chasing away would-be attackers with our guns, and translated out of the system two days later.


The Warp did not want us. Instantly our Gellar Fields screamed against the abuse and Idris translated us out without my having to say so.


We emerged among the dead.


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Captain's Log

Training wars with experience, protocol with instinct. You'll find this to be true yourself not soon after you've been given your first order and acquired some experience of your own. Accept the conflict. Embrace the why behind them. Then choose, for the moment, what is best. Too many of our predecessors relied on their guts and had it spilled before them. A few kept to their rules, as if trying to radiate order outwards from them, and died in very predictable ways. I favour experience, and experience tells me there is a time and place for everything.


We were vomited out of the Warp at our translation velocity, still tossed about by ethereal winds, spinning and tumbling end over end. Training and protocol demanded I seize control at once, full power to everything, and general quarters until the space we entered was no longer considered hostile. Experience told me that the Blessed Enterprise needed to be guided, though not forcefully; I could already feel its thrusters firing to slow and correct its spin. My instinct told me to sound general quarters, and I did so, but not to power up any of our weapon systems or augurs.


I waited patiently as the bridge bustled quietly around me. I did this, even though only a few glanced at me, to be a symbol of discipline and control. I have never been ejected from the warp like that in all my years as a voidsman. Magos Binar was busy with our various enginseers but from what I could pick up, our ancient warp engine may have had a poor interaction with the warp space around that graveyard. Our Gellar field generators were strained and complaining and the Magos saw to those repairs.  


Bain and I addressed the more mundane repairs by assembling damage teams. Idris gave orders from her Spire to the helm, guiding us along a skein of the Immaterium that should cloud us from hungry eyes. Trelany focused the choir's minds inward, entering a trance to hide themselves. It was for the best. Sevia saw to the crew, dispersing her own disciples to the various decks to calm the ratings. She sat in her alcove, far to my right, and began a calming hymn of thanks to the Emperor for a swift and safe voyage. That much was very true: we had traveled far from where we were and only in a few minutes.


Etherics reported difficulties with aligning the constellations with the vast collection of star charts we had accumulated of the Heathen Stars. There was a nearby Warp Anomaly that interfered with much of their readings. I focused their attention to the system instead, even knowing that it would require hours of observation to get decent returns on passives.


We didn't wait long. The dead hulks before us were plain to see, many still sputtering plasma and other energies from deep within. A once rakish cruiser far to our port side blew its prow apart as the torpedoes within detonated sympathetically. We had left one cold graveyard for a fresh one. The explosions allowed us to see further into the system, tracking the radiation they emitted and watching it interact farther away.


This reminded me so clearly of life on long patrols. Those self-ascribed "Battle Captains" who had never been given such a responsibility, believing themselves to be the Navy's pureblood combatants not needing trickery, would simply falter at this. They'd balk at the needless stealth and hurl torpedoes at anything within range. 


Perhaps, for once, their response would be appropriate. If only I had torpedoes.



Blue and old enough to be rheumy, the system's lone primary barely reached the edges of the system with its wan light. Even then, against the backdrop of the void, we could barely detect the furious battle so close to us. This warp anomaly was interfering with our augurs. 


Once we knew where to look, it was easier to see what was happening. As the hololith settled above us, spears of green light punctured a brutish amalgamation of Imperial and Ork technologies. Lances; I did not need the runes to tell me that. Ancient ones at that, they lost none of their potency despite the great range. The bladed cruiser carved deep into the flanks but the greenskin vessel had bulk to spare. Return fire erupted from nearly every available surface on its broadside, with most looking like they were at least aimed in their attacker's direction. 


Despite the distance, the cruiser's void shields buckled then collapsed. It took hours for the macroshells to reach it, and I watched the grand battle as we tried to gather our bearings.  Chaos Reavers fighting Orks. I enjoyed that very much. The hulks flaming around us were pirate or renegade hulls, many no doubt were Imperial-owned once, but most were not worth the effort to salvage. What a treat to watch three hated enemies slaughter each other.


Still, it was worrisome that our instruments could not attain a fix on our location. Idris had reported that whatever the Warp Anomaly was it was twisting the Astronomican's light; she could see it, sense it, but it was much closer now than just even a few hours ago. 


I write this now, still sat on the command throne, overseeing the repair work and the preparations to get us under way. I have tasked Etherics to begin manually mapping our location; perhaps the threat of manual astrogation will inspire their minds. 


I have seen enough of the battle. I cancelled general quarters and gave orders to bring the systems online as soon as we rounded the pitiful rogue moon at the edge of the system. If we timed it right, we should conceal most of our power spikes from any augurs in the system's outer edges. In any case, they wouldn't have time to---


By the Emperor. It's no moon...



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It saw us. Through the great chasm of the void, through the skeins of the Empyrean, through the dulling songs sung by our psykers, the Midnight's Lair saw us. The space hulk raised an alarm, a broadvox message laden with the warp, and began shedding pieces of itself. Horrific, even at this distance, to witness. A rational part of my mind screamed that it was now a void station for a fleet, and I listened to that cold, persistent voice and waited. The hulk was more massive than I realized; a significant portion of that bulk had to be rock and other flotsam, but there was a regularity to its shape that said much of its surface was work done deliberately. 
The raiders and frigates scattered in all directions. It saw us, but didn't know where we were. The vagaries of the Warp were as fickle as ever, and this time worked in our favour. We held true to our course and proceeded on an arc that drew us farther away from the Lair
I stood from the command throne for the first time in hours and made my rounds. I spoke with the various masters and senior officers, congratulated some for their recent work, and dispersed the dread I felt. It was a time for quiet words not fiery ones. The Master Helmsman I didn't bother overmuch, too focused on his work and the orders she received from the Navigator Primaris. 
I ended my tour over the Etherics den, with the Carto-Artifex summoned from the ship's depths and arguing and haranguing the augury officers summoned from the vaults. Magos Binar stood nearby, fiddling with a cogitator, while Idris arrived from the Helm, sweeping her robes around her.
The old man clutching his holoscrolls and paper charts, clouded with servoskulls failing to keep grand tomes hovering, was adamant that he was right despite the wishes of everyone present. I nodded at Thraves who lowered a privacy field over Etherics. Not that it mattered, the rest of the bridge would know soon enough.
We were no longer in the Heathen Stars. 
The roiling Warp Anomaly so close to us was the God-Emperor's Scourge. It was more than just close to us, we were wrapped in it and so far deep that none of our known readings of the storm matched what we were seeing. I doubt anyone other than renegades have viewed this warp storm from the inside out.
I calmed the aging carto-artifex and thanked him for his insight. Idris hated and respected the man in equal measures, but I tasked them both to chart us a course. If we had travelled across the Expanse to the Foundling Worlds then Damaris is only coreward from where we were. 
Through a growing fleet of Reavers. Through a horde of Orks. Through the rumoured Stryxis settlements out on the God-Emperor Scourge's tail. "Only" indeed.
Magos Binar had worked hard to fine-tune our augurs and we finally saw clearly enough around us to distinguish "background" radiation from local ones. His concern was valid; our Gellar field generators had suffered in our journey. They were holding, but only barely. Our duration in the Warp would be seriously hampered if we did not bring them down for repairs now. I was willing to risk a longer journey until our augurs detected a faint bubble. 
Trelany theorized, intuitively, that the void we discovered in the graveyard had a relationship to the Midnight's Lair. Binar blinked at her several times and provided proof of her offhand remark. Our translation event in this system was approximately the same distance from the centre of the void when we departed the graveyard. The Midnight's Lair sat in that massive emptiness. 
That brought up the Scintilla Majoris. We had all assumed we were the only unfortunates in this warp disaster. If the frigate was affected as well, then the bubble was a good candidate for its translation point. It was, however, in the midst of a comet cloud. 
It was dangerous for numerous reasons. One, we would leave the relative safety of the Immaterium stream we were following out of the system. The debris from its tail and general effluence would damage or blind our augurs. The comets themselves were unstable things, surely not ice water comets, and had been irradiated with warp energy for millennia. I would not risk the Blessed Enterprise for this mission. I left her under Sevia's command; she had grown accustomed to swooping in to save us and I did not want to deny her that. 
I focused on my duty to the men and women I sent to the Scintilla Majoris. We departed on a cutter, Bain discouraging me from even observing his pre-flight rituals lest I ram this one into an Ork as well. I insisted on void-capable carapace for all, the bulk and discomfort would be a small price to pay for staying alive.
Thankfully, Binar had found time to attach lascannon to this cutter as well. Surely a few blasts would go unnoticed in the vastness of the void. We forged a path where none existed, and found ourselves deep inside the comets. There was a strange symmetry--no, a pattern--to the orbits. 
I had a chance to remark upon this to the Magos before all power was lost and we fell deeper into the cloud.
There are far worse things than dying encased in your own unresponsive power armour, though at that time nothing came to my mind. With any luck I would survive the impact long enough to die from my injuries. 
Not that my more mobile counterparts had much else they could do. Bain resorted to screaming, earning him a slap from Trelany who moved the larger pieces of debris in our path away. Idris joined her, pointing out which ones appeared to pose the greater risks of collision. Finally, Bain heard my orders to look into the Magos whose vital functions were sputtering.
We passed a barrier, unseen, and I felt a tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders. Not literally, for my power armour was still quite oppressively encasing me. Voices I had tensed against, whispers and scratchings, were now fading from the back of my mind.
I had nearly forgotten the strain of blocking them. Our cutter's power flickered back to life then, and the Magos thanked our flight marshal and without further comment began running diagnostics on himself and the ship. I was only able to move once our cutter landed. 
We moved to gather our equipment and prepared to open the ramp. But the ramp was torn from its mount by orange, furred hands. Sparks and the whining of saws followed and we stood back, scrambling for any weapons on our person. 
A trio of confused orange creatures stared at us as the ramp was flung away.
Jokaero. I had never seen them before, only depictions in our dynasty's own histories. We've had dealings--that is to say confusing encounters--with the orange space apes before. I was insulted that they did not attack; from my understanding, they were supreme survivalists and attacked what they considered to be threats.
The way they looked past us and at our cutter's innards suggested that we did not rate much against them. 
Binar attempted communication, flashing a host of hololiths at the Jokaero who soon grew bored from the images. Bain gestured wildly and was ignored, as was I, though my suit garnered a perfunctory look. Idris was not ignored, but not acknowledged either. They shuffled slightly away from her.
Then their eyes all glanced at Trelany. I knew, by the hairs on my neck and the hoarfrost coating my armour, that she was attempting to communicate with the xenos telepathically, and that she was using a lot of her power to do so. The apes made no movements, not even acknowledging that she was speaking to their minds. The Astropath fell on her knees, caught by Bain, and sat on a nearby chair.
One of the apes left, dragging the ramp back. Tools emerged from its limbs and soon the ceramite slab was repaired and re-attached. Then it took out a small las-scalpel and began deepening the lines on the ramp's surface, for better traction I suppose.
The two then moved away. 
Trelany had recovered enough for her to stand and we followed the pair into the comet, surprised at the climate. The Astropath told us she transmitted our story, in brief, to the xenos--without my permission--and indicated that our Gellar field generator was too weak. How she did this I do not know. 
Our progress was slow as Binar stopped by every twisting support strut to whip out an auspex and take readings. They were all solid bars, bent and twisted, yet generated power, light, heat, and air. As we watched, some of them twisted on their own, embedding themselves into the ice. There was a correlation between their movements and the amount of air that was coming out--were they reacting to our presence, generating more air for us?
We found the pair hanging upside in a central chamber. The Blessed Enterprise dominated the space, the hologram--Binar assured me it was more than that and cautioned us against touching it--was of startling resolution. Idris was able to identify the runic lines flowing around; it was the Empyrean stream she had set the cruiser on to keep it hidden. 
I stepped forward, replacing my helm for a hat, and gestured to my ship. I opened my right palm, indicating the two Jokaero who watched me closely, and beckoned them with us. It was clear they were trapped in the system as we were. Binar, helpfully, provided a holochart and I indicated with open arms that we would take them out of the region. 
Both contemplated my motions, which I vocalized. Still, I'm sure it was Trelany's efforts that communicated my intent. One gestured and the Blessed Enterprise shrunk and two jagged images materialized. Infidels--no, an Infidel and an Apostate--the lance-wielding variant of the heavy raider. Infidels were horrid enough with their four torpedoes, but the Apostate's lance was xenotech or worse and could fire at extreme ranges. Up close, the lance weapon could fire repeatedly. Battlefleet Calixis had lost squadrons to these ships. 
I bowed in thanks and turned back but Trelany laid a hand on my shoulder to stop me. We waited for a while until nearly a dozen more, mostly younger and smaller, orange space apes emerged from other corridors. They carried with them odd scraps and various tools. 
It seems I may have inadvertently entered into an agreement with these Jokaero. 
We raced back to their landing bay only to find the one we left behind had been joined by another two. They were just then finishing work on the craft's void shield generator. Only, our cutter did not have a void shield generator. I don't know if Magos Binar was surprised or furious at it, but we had no time to deliberate the heresy. We all boarded the cutter and raised the ramp--which did so smoothly. 
As we lifted off, I realized my seat had been moved. All our seats were, and there were harnesses available for the xenos. Bain let out a surprised gasp as the cutter twisted in his hands like an interceptor. My stomach did not appreciate his enthusiasm, but we left the comet base swiftly. Our lascannon still had to fire to clear our path, though they did so on their own.
The Magos was definitely not pleased. 
He focused his displeasure at the vox array, sending a tight burst to the Blessed Enterprise. Sevia responded and altered course to pick us up. During the hours-long trip, Binar listed all the modifications, big and small, the Jokaero had made on the craft. Somehow, the new void shield was also functioning as a Gellar field generator--which required large amounts of power. Not to worry, said the Magos, for our plasma generatorium was now operating at three times its known holy limits.
I listened attentively at all the desecrations and vowed that we would make amends with the Machine God. I don't know how, but I was between revulsion and awe at the modifications. 
Trelany, however, felt the need to show off her new digi-weapon. 
The landing area was cleared before we even came close. We moved quickly, in paths cleared by my armsmen, to the upper decks where we could guarantee some privacy for our xenos guests. Binar was adamant that each one would be accompanied by an enginseer and I agreed, though with the provision that they would only interfere if the ship would be in danger of any modifications they would make.
Battle was hours away. The raiders were nearing, their psykers and sorcerours scrying our location. No doubt there would be more incoming.
I had only just sat on the command throne when my armsmen reported that the orange space apes had scattered, their assigned enginseers in tow. I ordered the Master-at-Arms to provide escorts; the less interaction with our crew, the better.
Of course the Jokaero headed to the heavily damaged sections of our ship. 
The central Gellar field generator, located just beneath the bridge's command spire, was the target of two of the xenos. They hauled the most tools and the most scrap, stopping to gather more parts along the way. I asked Sevia to see to delivering spare parts to those sections as I did not want to enrage more tech-priests by making them deliver blessed components to the xenos.
Magos Binar watched attentively from his station on the bridge as our Gellar field strength dipped slowly then began rising. I could feel the returning irritation wash away, and the tenseness on the crew returned to professionally alert levels. 
I could spare no more attention to the orange space apes, I had an ambush to plan.
The decision to leave the Immaterium stream was mine. It clouded hostile augurs but forced us to compensate for the flows of energies, slowing our own abilities. It surrendered initiative.
I waited until it was nearly too late. The Apostate heavy raider reacted first, altering course so quickly that I could almost feel its hull strain at the tremendous stresses its captain was placing on it just to level its unholy lance at us. I had rolled the Blessed Enterprise and presented our port broadsides to match its lance. 
Three light seconds. It took three seconds for our las-bolts to strike the raider and for its lance's vile energies to splatter against our void shields. Ours held, but the Apostate's collapsed after minutes of sustained barrages. By then, our own lance was carving into the bladed ship's hull. The pure white light burrowed clean through, and I was hoping for a killing shot, when the lance's energies sputtered off.
I expected critical failures and ordered the areas sealed--until an out-of-breath armsman explained, through the Master-at-Arms, that a "space ape" pack had made it to the forward Gellar generator but detoured into the lance vault. They had to intercede as the armsmen there were wary of attack, but the apes had clambered onto the weapons, frightening the coolant and power teams, not to mention the gun ratings. 
Binar was furious. As was I. The Starflare Lance was no true battery but had the damaging power of one. It was archeotech of the best kind; a relic from our own dynasty's past. I was powerless to stop its desecration; our own tech-priests could not do what was needed to repair our Gellar field generators.
I gave the order to allow them to continue their work. **** their xenos hides, the Apostate should've died then without their interference. 
The Infidel turned to its stricken brother and moved past it. Was it protecting it with its own bulk? Amongst these Reavers it may have been an insult. It spat four torpedoes at us and I cursed my overconfidence. The missiles were burning in hot, overcharged and overloaded. The Fury squadrons had little time to engage but they brought three down.
Bain shouted something impossible; our cutter had lifted off and launched on its own. Its lascannon, which I now realize were greatly improved, fired at the lone torpedo long before our own turrets could engage and tore it apart. We had been saved from my own miscalculation--the torpedo was not armed with a conventional warhead--by a self-flying craft. It returned on its own, joining the queue of interceptors returning to rearm and refuel.
But our lance was still offline and the Apostate lived. It joined fire with the furious Infidel, the macroshells shreaking even in the void. Our void shields collapsed and our hull was punished under the fusillade. Our bombers were still too far away to kill either raider, and the damned lance fired again. 
I was sitting on the command throne, our vis-screens cleared and showing the proud form of the Blessed Enterprise below us. I saw the green, un-green, light erase our port batteries. The explosions wracked the ship, but the light dragged on, ignoring adamantium as it carved across the ship. Our port launch bays closed their blast doors as the light fell on them.
I heard a cry of pain as two runes on my command throne's controls died. We had lost two ready squadrons and thousands of gunners and crewmen. 
Our lance returned to life as the space apes were finally satisfied with their work. I barely heard the report, so busy was I commanding damage teams that I did not even notice Mr. Iosef had left the bridge. The fires in the launch bay was too dangerous to allow to continue, and I gave the order to vent its atmosphere for all the effect it had on the etheric flames.
I pleaded with Trelany to turn her mind towards suffocating those flames, knowing that she was engaged in a psyker battle of wills. 
Thraves gave the order to fire and the Apostate shuddered as the lance's pure light carved into it. Its Infidel brother had stayed close and felt the full brunt of the plasma drive explosion. It was no comfort watching them both die.
I had a moment to ponder the irony: Chaos ships were hated for their attack craft and the Imperial vessels were feared for its ordnance. Yet I flung my attack craft to shoot down the torpedoes the Infidels were hounding us with. 
Why waste all of this ordnance on us when the Orks were still battling their comrades? Or were they comrades? It mattered not. I was not going to be herded. 
I ordered Binar--not requested--to see to our engines. We needed optimum power now and we needed to translate. Damage teams I could direct with Thraves' aid. Would that those two be my only concerns.
Our port Gellar field vanished with that lance strike. The orange space apes knew what had to be done and somehow erected an emergency field around that area. A few worked to repair critical parts of the ship, saving my crew's lives inadvertently. I owe them for that. Some of their own had died when that lance carved a scar across my beautiful ship. I know this because the armsmen that were reporting in their positions were no longer reporting in. 
With the Gellar field failure, and the abject terror the damage infused aboard, the warp-things returned to plague us all. They were weak, but they feasted on the weaker areas of the ship. Sevia and Trelany lead the counter-attacks, I could do little but redirect armsmen to them. Idris I needed at the helm, guiding us and dancing our ship from the shoals of torpedoes. 
Bain was in agony. He had been rescued, at great cost, from his foolish dash to the launch bays. His right arm had been amputated, molten metal had fallen on him as he tried to pry a pilot free from some debris. He saw that pilot's death, I'm told. I fear his agony is more than just physical. He will need to be disciplined somehow for abandoning his post, but his fury has given him an unnatural focus. 
It has been three days since we had returned with the Jokaero. We waited for the last of our Starhawks to return--we had lost half of all our attack craft--then we made ready to translate.
Full translation rituals. I needed the crew's minds focused and not fearful. 
Then, and only then, did I finally retire from the bridge. 
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There was no way out. I wondered, in the beginning of our escape, why our harassers did not pursue us into the Immaterium. Sorcerous scryings and even warp instrumentation would have shown them our route, despite us sailing in a very literal storm. I realized it as soon as we sought refuge in a pocket of relative calm. A dark, floating nothing dominated the centre, ringed by warp rocks and other detritus, swirling and twirling in the same pattern as the dead ships had.


No refuge could be had there. We left, making way to another seemingly safe looking place and found the same. Only, instead of dead ships or flotsam, it was husks of worlds swimming an eerie dance. Our return to the Warp was more hurried that time. Things had risen from the planets. Massive, in the scale of voidships, and tainted with the Empyrean. They had wings that flapped in the void. We heard them roar.


It was two weeks before we translated to realspace again, if such maddening places could be called thus. On the tail-end of the God-Emperor’s Scourge, damnably close to Damaris, we waited. Days before, we had sensed a shadow in the Immaterium on a reciprocal of our course, as much as that made sense in the Warp. They came from where we were heading. So we sat and waited.


By now, the Jokaero had become a common, but still unsettling, sight for some of the crew. They worked constantly on the Gellar Field generators, the main one being their focus. The tech-priests Magos Binar assigned to follow them did so with a small army of servitors writing down what they could observe. Occasionally, a servitor would catch one of the space ape’s eyes and it would be dismantled and re-purposed.


What unholy thing am I allowing to grow in our flagship? If I order them to stop--if I could--then the Gellar Fields will fail and we all die. Or worse. Bain has attempted to communicate with the space apes numerous times, and had to fight one off who wanted to borrow his new mechanical arm. I wanted Trelany to help, but she and the rest of the choir had entered a trance. The psykers’ minds were especially vulnerable to prolonged stays in the Immaterium. They had survived the Heathen Storm, but this was on a different scale altogether.


Idris and her coterie of Navis fared no better. I fear for their minds--Navigator minds being eccentric enough--and the twisting corridors and spheres of gaping nothings might break their already tenuous grasp on reality. I’ve spoken with the young Navigators that apprentice with Idris and none have her well-balanced personality. But perhaps they are strong enough.


My own junior officers, along with Bain’s, have been running ragged seeing to all of the ship’s wounds. Sevia has lead sermons and sung hymns even while seeing to the mutations rising from the ship’s crew. Yesterday, I executed a Bosun’s mate personally. I owed the man that much, he was the last of a long generation of voidsmen that had served the Stroms. Owil, Garret Owil.


The Magos and I spent our time just at the edges of our ship’s wounds. Men had died just beyond, in gruesome and foul ways. Sometimes there were ghosts.


A gun captain saluted me as he walked past, heading to the port batteries after some time in the observation dome. It was his privilege, I granted that some time back. I told him I was very proud of the work the port crews did, and that we all relied on them. He smiled and saluted again, running through the bulkhead, back to his ruined duty station.


Binar thought I had gone mad until he reverted to his one original eye and saw the ghost for himself. All in all, it was a strange and almost ordinary long warp haul. Of course, we were in realspace at the time and had been for weeks.




The Soulcage-class slaveship that translated into the sphere of nothing might have been a carrack once. It had the lines for it, but it was bloated at the base and its spires were thick and rose almost as high as the command spires. Its macrobatteries were snug in their turrets, facing forward and probably hadn’t moved from its transit setting except to scare defenseless worlds.


It was a ship that knew it was safe. Not that I would risk open void combat.


And so we exploded the Blessed Enterprise.


Massive, plasma explosions vented--safely--into the void from our numerous wounds. It undid some of the hard work my crew had done in patching up our holes, but I felt it served our purposes. There were, of course, unintended explosions that added to the effect.


We spun, we squawked, we behaved like we were on fire. The Soulcage changed course right away.


It took days for it to arrive at its best possible speed. It found a Dictator-class cruiser badly damaged, leaking plasma, and with life sustainers barely holding in some sections; most of that was intentional. I could feel the Blessed Enterprise’s indignation at being used as bait, its power relays were almost growling as the slaveship neared.


Resting just a few hundred metres from our port bow, I realized its guns could still traverse easily and hurl macroshells at us at the slightest provocation. They were fat but were not fools.


So be it.


Our engines rumbled to life, then the ship roared as our abused prow slammed into the side of the Soulcage.




Most of the slaveship was ruined. The first to suffer were the slaves, exposed in jutting holds along the ship’s flanks. Our impact killed tens, perhaps even a hundred thousand slaves. Decks ruptured, plasma generatoria failed, and those living began killing.


I was the first to cross over, my power armour gleaming even in the void, my sword swinging as I leapt off the boarding line! I know this because I had a servoskull with a picter following me.


We slew our way to the top decks, releasing and killing slaves who came at us for help or in anger. They were not all human but I had them freed anyway. We were just behind the leading edge of the mob, breaking through to carve open doors and gates on our way to the bridge. Dozens died in the first seconds of the bridge gate’s falling. Dozens more died, willingly, as they charged in hurling grenades and firing whatever weapons they had.


My staff and I remained on the gate’s sides, in cover, watching the slaughter and picking off the guards. By chance, the xenos slaves had lead the charge. A few Orks demanded the right to fight first, and I was perfectly willing to allow them. When I finally stepped into the bridge, only two greenskins remained and one was beating the last guard to death with his own green arm while the other was beating on the bubble of energy that protected the ship’s captain.


The slaveship master  was a twisted thing, too slender, too small, but it must have been a man once. It bore tattoos of the Imperial Guard on its bare arms, though those had been scratched and defiled with scars and other things.


The last Ork died as our combined firepower exploded against the shield. We didn’t expect it to actually work, and it didn’t. But it allowed Binar to scamper to a power conduit. Our fire didn’t stop and the captain was devoured whole by bolt, plasma, and laser. The command throne was a ruin, but the Magos was already rifling through the logs through other panels.


Idris ran to him, a little too eager to gaze upon dark charts, while my armsmen moved to secure the bridge. Some of the slave leaders lingered, but I made it clear we would be better off here, on the bridge, to coordinate the attacks. They left to secure the rest of the ship and the gate was sealed behind them.


Only we did not close the gate.




I have always wanted to meet a Space Marine. I should have perhaps specified which kind.


The brute fell on my Stromgard with the unmistakable whir of a chainsword and the cloth-tearing sound of bolter fire. In the tightened space of the transport’s bridge it sounded like the wailing of mourning parents. I saw veterans of countless battles cut down, their bolters cratering against its burnished armour, incensing the raging Traitor further.


Sevia ran to meet it in combat, but half a corpse was flung at her as the Traitor charged forward. My plasma pistol spat a thick bulb at it, engulfing the Chaos Marine in white. It was staggered by the tank-killing blast, nothing more.


Bain turned his borrowed meltagun on it, carving a smouldering hole into its armoured shoulder. He received a few lazily fired bolt pistols in response. One exploded into Bain’s new arm, sending him sprawling.


Trelany sank to her knees behind me, I saw blood pooling from her as she curled up. Sevia! I called. She was the best at dealing with our wounds. But our Missionary was on her feet, fighting the monster blade to blade.


I charged in, ordering the Magos to see to our wounded, and thrust my power blade into the thing’s thigh. It sank, hissing, through the blood-caked ceramite and out came foul smoke from the wound. I earned a backhand for my efforts, barely mitigated by my own power armour. My power field sparked as the Traitor’s bolt pistol fired in close range. I was on the defensive, parrying attacks that could fell a half a dozen men--I knew so because he had used the same sweeps to carve through my armsmen just moments ago.


Sevia got behind it and dragged the length of her chainsword across its left knee. Blood and smoke spurted from the wounds, and the giant fell in front of me. I charged in, aiming to spear the monstrous head with my blade and leaving it in there till it died when it roared to its feet and slashed at me. My power field protected me from the worst, but the sheer force hurled me away.


Idris’ voice called out and, thanks to hypno-sleep training, we all looked away from her. The Traitor didn’t. It began to burn from within and raged all the more. In pain, it turned away from Idris and saw Sevia behind him.


She swung high and he grabbed her arms, breaking them with a squeeze. I fell on him from behind, jabbing the entire length of my blade into his neck. Fire blasted his very form.


It took Sevia’s head in its one remaining hand and squeezed.


The traitor had unholy vigour enough to laugh as we finally killed it.




The decks sang with victory even as we departed on our cutters. I spoke to none of the slave leaders--it was the injured Bain that gave them orders to man certain areas of the ship. Not that it mattered.


Once aboard, and with Sevia’s body being seen to, I gave the word for the Blessed Enterprise to move away. We had drifted apart from the Ravishment, as the slaveship was called; our low-velocity ramming action had fortunately not entangled the two ships.


I gave the order for our lance crews to fire on the Ravishment some short time later. At least those slaves died free. If even one of them succumbed, or had been infected, it could doom countless more.


It is hypocritical of me, I know. If anything will trouble me from that night forward it will be thoughts of Sevia.




Our Gellar Fields failed just as we finished translating into the edges of the Forsellis system. It was a sombre post-translation ritual, the first in a long time without Sevia’s reassuring voice over the internal vox. I would see a statue erected in her memory--she would’ve hated that--and I will carry out her plans inasmuch as she shared them with me. This is how a Strom pays his debts, even if they were services freely rendered.


Etherics was slow in reporting. Binar aided with the electromantic rituals, all that interference from so long in the Warp in a Warp Storm should have played havoc with our augurs. The Magos only grew flustered and made his way to our logbooks.


By then, Idris had returned to the bridge from her Spire and Trelany joined us as the Choir readied to end their trance. I almost looked for Sevia to commend her on the end of the ritual--our own little ritual--but it was Bain who had overseen those duties. I thanked him for it, nonetheless.


With the privacy fields lowered, Binar delivered the news. We had arrived at Damaris. Our starcharts and astrologs confirm our location, but our time coordinates were off. That was expected, our time in the God-Emperor’s Scourge, not to mention the so-called Heathen Storm, would have--excuse me--warped realtime just as it did realspace.


I was prepared to lose even a few years, no matter how badly our dynasty’s fortunes would have suffered for it.


I did not expect to gain years instead.




The Ork Warfleet we had destroyed more than two years ago was whole, squatting over the frozen reaches, hard at work building its Roks and refitting its captured warships to greenskin standards. We picked them up even in our passive sweeps because we knew where to look.


Our arrival had not gone unnoticed. A pack of scrap-ships, lead by a former Sword-class frigate, headed towards us, on the most likely course taken from our translation point to Damaris. These were expert pirates, looking to seize a fat merchantman.


I knew, without needing further confirmation, that it was the Aesperanza leading two attack ships and one converted transport.


We went dark and altered course, and for the first time I cursed the Forsellis system’s lack of navigation hazards and obstacles. There was nothing but empty void between us and Damaris, lest I dip into the planetary debris fields of the frozen reaches. The gas planet Skald’s radiation could still disrupt Orkish augurs--we saw that during the war, they never compensated for it.


It was Bain that dug up our old logs. A few hours after our original translation into the system, we detected a translation event off our starboard bow and thought nothing of it. I had written a note that stated after our first successful action against the greenskins, and seizing what a Sword-class frigate, we detected the successful escape of a heavy transport to the Warp. I had wished them Emperor’s Speed.


We knew what we had to do.




Skeins of the Immaterium flowed even in such a calm system, and Idris put us on a course to veil us from greenskin eyes. They could pick up traces of our package, sensed the blood in the water I suppose, and we continued.


I know this is at least seven kinds of blasphemy and heresy, but I assume as a Scion of House Strom this is not your first encounter with either. Read on.


The bridge was sealed and we retired to our meeting chambers, the trophies of our past conquests, victories, and fallen comrades sat in places of respect and honour. I made sure that word got out that we were leading Orks away from Damaris to keep the crew from questioning why we were not performing deceleration rituals.


The question of when had been answered thoroughly as we picked up the Bulwark’s broadvox signal. The time coordinates were confirmed. Now, the question was where we could go.


For some reason, Bain suggested Footfall and our Iniquisitorial contacts there. Only, they were not contacts so much as hirelings and that, of course, we had yet to make contact with them and give them the gift of Stryxis astrologs. Which of course only invited scrutiny into our own endeavours in the first place.


The Breaking Yards were close, relatively speaking. The mauled Blessed Enterprise would be seen to by somewhat capable workers. Port Wander was too public and Footfall was probably worse. Thraves knew of some forge worlds in the Koronus Expanse, at least they would eventually become forge worlds in a few decades. Sebastian’s World had the facilities, but travelling to the capital of Winterscale’s Realm was the opposite of subtle.  

“Svard,” the Eldar woman suggested as she sipped amasec from a glass.


I was too stunned to shoot her in the face.




I had confused her for one of our serving girls--we had to employ those “nobles” from the Boro ship somehow--and paid no mind to her entrance. She had sat down and poured herself a drink without anyone noticing. Only, she sat in Sevia’s customary place and that annoyed me.


A small gem glittered and shone in the middle of the table, and the soon-to-be-dead Farseer Bhaine appeared above.


This was one possible outcome from his death, he intoned. He would still continue on his mission, for there was a chance I wouldn’t refuse his gift, a chance I wouldn’t order a broadside and boarding action and turn over the ruins of his ship and crew to the Mechanicus. We shook our heads at that--there was no chance at all I would cooperate with the Eldar then. Now?


No prophecies were uttered, and for that I was thankful. There was only one solid thing I agreed with in the farseer’s message: the Midnight’s Lair was dangerous. Only, according to the farseer, we had already failed the first time if we were watching his message now. Karrad Vall’s dominion would become impenetrable and would darken the rest of the Expanse.


Obviously, none of us were admirers of that outcome. Even I could see it was already happening.


Thraves voxed us then. The Blessed Enterprise had arrived again in the Forsellis system for the first time. It was engaging the Aesperanza and loosing its attack squadrons, exactly as we did.


We translated out of the system precisely when our logs told us we had left years ago.




I sit here contemplating damnation. I know what waits for us at Svard, what great sins House Strom committed. It is no secret to me. Yet, I am contemplating a worse heresy now, not just involving myself with the Eldar, but of reshaping the past.


Rare it is for a ship to arrive at a destination before they have departed, but in the scale of the Imperium it is not too rare. Some arrive months earlier. Some truly wretched few arrive years before and are whisked away by the Inquisition.


Yet here I am, running towards an Inquisitor’s lackeys. Juna, that Eldar woman, had provided code-phrases and ciphers for me to remember. We would make contact with them, they would be aboard a voidship, and I would render aid.


Svard had not been one of House Strom’s holdings for centuries. Close to the Cauldron, in between Foulstone and Footfall, the system is situated just off several major trade routes. Rich with ores, fresh food and water, and easily harvested gaseous prometheum, it should have flourished had our ancestor not delved too deeply with the forbidden.


Read Antonil Strom’s own words on what and how he did--yes, I’m named after him--and contrast his gibberings with mine. “Ambition knows no bounds” is not an excuse, scion. It is a warning, one that I’m ignoring. My ambition is to defeat this space hulk, and it may very well cost the dynasty everything. If so, then you won’t be alive to be disappointed by it.


Spurred by fear or hope, we arrived at Svard just after three weeks’ transit. We set course for the main settlement, a half-frozen moon in orbit of the gas giant Svard Prime. Time had not been kind to the gas giant; it was bleeding its mass into the void, and massive refineries and scoop ships waited in low orbit to feed themselves. Only, the refineries were abandoned and the scoops were drydocked.


There was no challenge from the system defense fleet, our latest numbers suggested at least three dozen hulls served Svard. Damaris’ Bulwark had constructed four of its newest, yet it took us days to find them. What weren’t broken and left adrift in the “Cloud”, that plasma wake emanating from the planet, were rusting in high orbit over Svard proper.


Our charts were old. Idris and Bain saw to guiding the ship in; their skill was much appreciated. The Cloud interfered with augurs and vox, and violent plasma streamed through almost unexpectedly. Any hit now would be doubly felt by the crew, but we maneuvered without issue. I could feel the Blessed Enterprise itself take pride in its agility.


Warning runes and chimes sounded on the bridge as a ship emerged from behind the moon. It ordered us to heave to and to prepare to be boarded.




The Imperial Navy’s Hand of Redemption was once a Lunar-class cruiser as well. I knew of it. Its last captain as a Lunar had entertained some recidivist thoughts and had to be brought to heel, damaging the proud ship and sending it to drydock for decades.

I did not know it had been converted into an Armageddon.


Battlecruisers were not sent on patrols. They did not make the rounds, checking in on Imperial colonies and fighting away pirates. They were the core of a flotilla, dispatched to take care of the problems encountered by escorts and lesser vessels. What was it doing here?


The order rankled, but I had our course adjusted and we slowed to zero-acceleration relative to the moon. We were also prow-to-prow with the advancing ship; showing a pure warship our flanks could be taken as an insult or provocation. Navy vessels met prow-on.


Ensign Dyla was most apologetic about the brusqueness of the command, she had come over in a cutter with a handful of marines to escort us back. The order had been given by the watch officer, not the captain, and without any checks as to the vessel’s history. I could imagine that a Dictator-class cruiser was not what the lieutenant expected when they picked up a ship on their augurs, and I was most courteous to the young ensign regarding that.


We were dressed in our finest uniforms, sidearms only. Even Magos Binar scrounged up a formal-looking red robe and white cape for the occasion: it hid a bevy of auspexes to glean what information he could of the battlecruiser.


It was too much to hope for that Captain Keel would have an Inquisitor at his side as he greeted us. We all kept our eyes open for any blue roses that would reveal an agent to us, but found none. The man on the command throne was born into privilege--it was like looking in a mirror. Captain Ormant Keel, of the Scintillan Keels, was the latest in the proud and brute line of Naval officers.


The distinct lack of “Lord” in his rank suggested that he was on a specific mission. To Svard, of all places. He knew of me as well. It was hard not to, his grandfather had only managed to reach the rank of rear admiral with my own grandfather’s intercession. If he owed me any consideration for that, I saw none of it in his blunt demands.


Our excuses were reasonable enough. Binar outlined just why the forge moon of Cog was the most logical place to drydock following our run-in with Chaos raiders--I saw no reason to lie on that regard. Keel questioned me, captain to lord-captain, about the raiders. I confirmed pretty much what was known, especially about the Apostate-class raider. He surprised me by sympathizing, but continued with his interrogation.


Trelany and Idris responded out of courtesy, but they merely gazed at him bemusedly when he pressed for more information. He was captain of his ship, but he had no more authority over a Navis Nobilite or an Astropath than I did.


When he was finally satisfied, we were invited into the Captain’s Mess to talk more privately. I could sense the bridge’s relaxation at our departure--it seems the captain was not well liked, even by his own bridge crew.


I had his senior officers pressing forward for more old Navy stories before long. It freed my staff to converse with their counterparts, though I’m certain Binar would rather not speak with the female tech-priest who questioned, openly, why he had so many auspexes active in such sensitive parts of the ship.


Commander Adzia was quite taken with young Mr. Iosef, who spoke solemnly about the loss of his limb. I don’t know if he had moved on from that pilot already, or if this was part of the process. From his body language, she was discussing specifics she shouldn’t have about the mission dear Captain Keel so obviously wanted us to undertake.


When the revelry died down the captain made his offer. He wanted our help in finding a missing Imperial envoy. The captain smiled understandingly.


The envoy’s name was Lyza Strom.


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Svard should have been our dynasty’s foothold in the Koronus Expanse. The system is only a week’s transit from Footfall, close enough that respectable captains would bypass that cesspool entirely. Even the minor navigation hazard offered by the Cloud could be circumvented with buoys. Docking in a system with fresh water, fresh food, refined prometheum, and a forge world’s sundry goods would be worth the longer trip and the slight risks.


Our ancestor, Antonil Strom, did not explain why he gambled and lost the Writs to Svard. That is what his chronicle claims to have happened anyway. I took the further step of reading our seneschals’ more reliable reports, and although they are neutral, they paint a different image of Antonil. Certainly, his insanity was evident, but so was his mismanagement of our dynasty’s resources. It seems the so-called Crystal Council of Svard may have engineered their own independence to be freed from Antonil’s incompetence.


Poor judgement often mixes with acts of great heroism.


My cousin, Lyza Strom, should be writing a very interesting chronicle of her own. I know why she is here; the same, thin promise Captain Keel repeated to me about returning Svard to our ownership. In its current state, no less.


The captain was doing his level best to be diplomatic. It astounds me how a high-born officer can lack the instinct to swim in political waters. An overly developed sense of confidence in his martial prowess, I assume. Keel acts as if we should be intimidated in his presence, yet I’ve only heard of his ship and never of him.


I declined all attempts to communicate with the planetary government while aboard the Hand of Redemption. We accepted Keel’s offer, had it sanctified in triplicate--twice--with many major stipulations and modifications. An acknowledgement was sent via astropath, though local conditions made that a mere gesture; we were cut off from the rest of the Expanse, astropathically at least.


By the time I returned there were several messages from the moon below. Svard’s leaders had reached out multiple times, growing all the more insistent and unsure with each one. The wealthy and noble were outright bribing us to take them on board. These I reviewed first as many were desperate enough to offer their entire wealth just for a chance to leave.


When I had rested, and wore my glinting suit of power armour, I broadvoxed Svard. I was polite and even warm, I greeted them in terms of ancient friendship. Then I demanded the return of one of House Strom’s scions who had responded to their pleas for help--I assumed. I would await their response to that.



There was, of course, a panic. It was not outright rioting, but people filled the streets in protests before being chased away by over-worked civilian constables and PDF troopers. Great sums of gelt were being offered to us, even deeds and titles to vast tracts of Svard itself, which they now considered useless. In one day before our official welcome, I had accepted several passengers on board that controlled 7.6% of the system’s remaining wealth.


We arrived in full, regal, force. Our modified guncutter was at the head of a formation of Fury Interceptors escorting two massive halo barges carrying my most effective ground troops. Speaker Tal had expressed concerns about the lack of manpower to guarantee our safety--a threat in other terms--which I bypassed by bringing several hundred veteran armsmen with us.


Two Sentinels, the last warmachines we had, took up the lead and the rear, scanning the cheering, chanting, and cursing crowd menacingly as we stomped through the city’s main thoroughfare. It wasn’t a long walk to the Council Chambers, but it was an impressive one.


Each of my senior staff lead a delegation. Navis followed Idris on her grav-palanquin, looking austere and otherworldy. Binar somehow summoned a “float” after utterly misunderstanding our purpose, and so the Mechanicus delegation wafted into the capital city on a parade platform, the dour looking red priests offset by the cheery cherubim that swung about banners that no one could read. Trelany walked with the missionaries dear Sevia had been fostering. It was a significant message to bind the two together.


Bain and Thraves were at my side at the head of the House Strom delegation. We wore our martial finest. I smiled and waved like a returning hero--we were robbed of such a welcome on Damaris after all.


Speaker Tal and the rest of the Crystal Council waited for us on the steps of the Council Chambers; a beautifully carved formation of perma-ice. They bowed and were respectful enough, then turned to proceed within.


I turned as well, back to the gaping crowd. Not all the faces I greeted were happy to see us. The news that the wealthiest had purchased a berth on our ship, selling out swathes of the system’s industries to do so, had spread just before we arrived.


I gave the best speech I have ever given. I spoke of history and our future, and that we were better off with those unwilling to fight for both. I had accepted their offers to take control of various industries to restart them again, employ the vast multitudes, receiving city shaking applause.


Then the Whisperers began killing.




Keel had provided threat assessments on them. I was no fool to march a small army into a city without first conducting reconnaissance; those lighters and haulers I sent to pick up our new passengers offloaded several Damarans who melded with the local population easily enough. I was impressed with the scale and precision of it all, and armed with the Navy’s more-or-less accurate assessment the team managed to secure enough information to disseminate to the rest of their comrades.


My men held their fire, having been instructed to, and focused on crowd control and ordering the civilians to get down. Marksmen, of which there were plenty, were authorized to return fire. The first wave of ground-level attackers died. The holo-picters saw it all as Strom armsmen equipped with combat shields moved to protect the civilians who panicked or obeyed.


I had forgotten Sevia ordered thousands of those damned things. They were meant for the next wave of near-suicidal fanatics she would arm, train, and send off to kill and die in the name of the God-Emperor.


Those inside buildings and on rooftops were harder to get to, but easier to kill and isolate. Guncutters, part of the second wave of craft, carried the heavy Stromgard and were armed with anti-personnel weapons. Roofs, floors, even entire stretches of hab-blocks were doused in quick armed responses.


I oversaw it all, gave superfluous orders for the picters to capture when I felt the sizzle-pings of lasbolts on my shoulder. One of the robbed politicians was being grappled by his fellows to the ground, his laspistol firing into the air. Speaker Tal, robed and swathed with a great many furs, crushed the attacker’s wrist with his staff--I’m assuming it was a symbol of office--before reaching down and drilling a lasbolt into on the man’s head.


I didn’t even have to draw my own sword.



Svard City’s core was cleansed inside of two days. It was gruesome work, and I landed Navy armsmen and marines as well to rotate with my own forces. The planetary defense force had enacted an “island” defense, essentially dispersing company strong formations to hold hab-blocks and so on. It isolated the PDF, allowed for local defense, and if one company were to turn, it would be difficult to lay siege to another company.


It was brilliant. General Vansa Brigen thought so herself. She provided us with the keys to each section, each company, and we had local superiority with any action.


Bain and Trelany focused on those, clearing out sections with known Whisperers with abandon. The Magos lead our two Sentinel walkers on various impressive actions meant to showcase its all-terrain capabilities as they were constantly going off-road and walking on rubbled buildings.


I will admit it, Sevia’s stern, disapproving presence was missed. In her place, the xenos Juna stood, in full Stromgard attire--helm closed, to provide her own whisperings. Her insight was useful, but her presence was unnerving. How she even acquired a full uniform is beyond me.



Astropath Trelany and a not inconsiderable number of Stromgard were sent to the asteroid known as the Citadel of Psykers. Speaker Tal tells me it was all part of the plan to make Svard itself a Navy Station, an official port for ships of Passage Watch 27-Est to rest, rearm, and relax in between patrols. It was ideal, even the plasma storm would add the layer of mystique Navy station commanders always seem to look for.


The Citadel was silent. This was official Adeptus Astropathica business. Trelany was convinced that the astropaths there were conscious and not infested with the Whispers--her words--and she implored me for a rescue mission. I wanted to lance the asteroid from a safe distance, Trelany knew that.


However, even with the Speaker and the entire Council’s promises, it would be beneficial for an official member of the Adeptus Terra to owe the dynasty.



Exactly one week since we made planetfall we have finally encountered one of the so-called Void Wasps that linger elsewhere in the Cloud. Carved, almost delicate, the thing was as aggressive as any warship I had ever seen. We returned to the wounded Blessed Enterprise to do battle with the xenos vessel.


It confounded Etherics--the enemy ship lacked components that we could detect, save for what seemed to be protrusions on its hull.


Bain had done well to restore the spirits of our attack craft crews in such a short time. We took--freely--from what the Svardi had in their stores, refilling only a small portion of the munitions the fighters and bombers carried. But it would do for now.


I ordered the Starhawks, escorted by Furies, to begin their bombing runs while the Blessed Enterprise began to move off, our reactivation rituals rushed by completed. The attack craft were ignored and I feared some xenos treachery at first, but the plasma bombs and melta strikes were taking their toll on the gossamer vessel.


It came apart long before the second bomber squadron finished deploying its munitions. We moved to recover our craft and I cheered, inside, at the easy victory. Our ship greatly needed it.


When I returned to the surface, I began a campaign to retool several manufactoria to produce the munitions and spares our attack craft greatly needed. Still, the issue of liquid promethium remained.


DAY 12

The Citadel has been retaken. We lost contact with Trelany and the Stromgard as soon as they had landed. I wanted to send help, but unrest on Svard grew. It seems my promises of jobs being made available again needed to be fulfilled rather quickly. I devoted my attentions into the finer economics of manufactoria and commerce, with Thraves’ guidance of course.


Juna has been instrumental in putting down false anti-Whisperer actions. It has become quite fashionable to call a rival clan, tribe, or whatever term the Svardi wish to use, Whisperers and murder them in the streets. She identified them wherever it took place, leading many strikes against a few holdouts herself.


I’ve made very public examples of such actions three days ago. The ruling family of a craftsmen’s clan were turned into servitors whose first duty is to repair the damage they caused to one of the city’s thermal regulators when they assassinated an upstart family.


I have been tested twice more since then. Same results. Only now, I’ve “nationalized” the private holdings of the families and liquidated them. The money has been used to jumpstart other minor industries, employing more people.


The populism seems popular, but I dare not repeat it again.


DAY 13

Bain brought Trelany back from the Citadel of Psykers himself. The astropath did not bear good news. While they themselves seemed able to hold off the Whispers, which they see as a living Warp entity that nests and festers inside a human mind, they could not do so for the system, or even a small portion of it.


Only one of the Citadel’s administrators survived. He has written a formal letter of thanks to House Strom for our part. Trelany also carried with her various logs and journals of Lyza’s actions since she arrived months ago. It ends with her journeying to Cog.


DAY 16

The last of the Whisperers amongst the PDF have been annihilated. The cost has been ghastly for the Svardi. I rotated my own armsmen away from the frontlines, using Keel’s armsmen and rescued PDF troopers as often as possible.


The Whisperers are more than just crazed fanatics. In combat, they are unyielding and coordinated, but there is no outward sign of their allegiance. Many that surrendered, posing as loyal troopers, turned on our forces as soon as they were sent to combat known Whisperer forces.


A bloody third of the PDF in the capital city have been killed, and I can only safely measure a tenth of the total number as enemies. That means the survivors--tens of thousands strong--have all been bloodied. They are no Imperial Guard, but they have been tested in combat. Sevia’s missionaries have begun a good work in the survivors, restoring their faith in the Imperium and mostly to each other.


I pray it will hold. Two more Councillors have fallen; one was killed by a Whisperer among her own retinue, the other was a Whisperer who was brought down by his own guards.


Thraves reports that the Jokaero aboard the Blessed Enterprise have made further enhancements to the Gellar Field generators. No known Whisperer instance aboard the ship yet.


The Master of Etherics reports unknown contacts at the edges of our passive augur range. They do not conform to any known hostile silhouette.


DAY 18

We have begun a temporary, rotating leave for the crew of the Blessed Enterprise. I have detailed the most overworked sections for rest and relaxation in a remote town near the equator: Galva.


Galva was once a restort town, though the wealthy middle-class can no longer afford to vacation here. My ratings are apparently well behaved, considering the situation, and the town’s citizens are grateful for the influx of gelt. Whisperers, if any, in this region are rare.


In truth, I own the town and the surrounding area outright, part and parcel of the exorbitant fees we charged the landholders. They have been transferred to the Hand of Redemption as Captain Keel is eager to make a return trip to Footfall and receive any further instructions.


Thraves is sending a delegation aboard the Hand to make immediate investments in several smaller ventures which we know to have had ended well. Their main goal, however, is to drum up trade to Svard. Idris has volunteered to head the delegation, representing both our Houses, to secure shipments of much needed supplies.


While the forge moon of Cog remains out of our grasp for now, Svard itself produces a host of goods that is remarkably similar to many Imperial worlds’ exports. It would not be difficult to find a market for Svard’s output at all.


DAY 21

I have located the chartrist transport Vivat’s hulk trapped in an orbit of one of Svard’s own moons. The merchantman had been ambushed by unknown crystalline voidships nearly two years ago, signalling the beginning of the end of the trade to Svard. The other vessels in its convoy panicked--as is apparently universal amongst chartrists in this part of the Imperium--and two crashed into each other in the confusion.


Their hulks were more easily salvaged and were berthed in the void defense stations over Svard. A second convoy was later ambushed by system defense ships, forcing Svard to drydock all of its ships lest a void war erupt in their own system.


Vivat was holed in many places, and atmosphere no longer leaked from the wounds. We boarded it quickly and found the crew entirely dead. Magos Binar was able to coax the main cogitator back to life and a prize crew was brought over.


The attack came as soon as we berthed in Beta Station. The voidsmen crew that had been beached nursed resentments that boiled over as the holed, but intact, voidship was docked. They were not Whispers; they were worse.


I called up my armsmen to aid in the fighting.


DAY 27

The Hand of Redemption translated two days ago and I regret agreeing to their departure. We have secured Alpha and Beta Stations, once again at great cost. The beached voidsmen of the defense fleet were seasoned fighters, even after years stuck in a voidstation. We lifted other voidsmen from the surface who aided in the fighting.


I did not mean to start this phase of the operation so early, but orbital superiority is ours if there ever was a doubt. Unfortunately, the drydocked monitors will require months of labour before they’re voidworthy again.


I have ordered repairs to the Vivat to take precedence with what little of the fleet’s spares remain. The transport will act as a secondary base for our own fleet of craft ensuring that our forces on the moon below are able to call upon reinforcements quickly. I have left Bain in charge of the vessel and the operations for it, he seems to relish the privateer captain role.


Binar has implanted himself as the fleet’s quartermaster. I had to expressly forbid him to use the defense fleet’s spare parts to repair the Blessed Enterprise. With him and the rest of the tech-priests coordinating the repairs, two defense monitors are slated to return to active service in less than a month’s time.


DAY 31

The brushfire wars have been stamped out on Svard. Trelany has maintained command over the moon’s defenses since her return from the Citadel. Her newfound confidence is both welcome and unsettling; she wields tremendous power as a psyker, but now she has military influence. Her coterie of astropaths are able to locate Whisperers with a delving. It’s slow but it’s effective.


With a core of trustworthy PDF and SDF officers we can finally take the war to the rest of the system. Bain has overseen the transfer, and filtering, of new recruits. The most capable are taken to the Blessed Enterprise as ratings or crewmen, but the rest are fit for naught else but trooper duties.


I have spent the last few weeks visiting nobles and merchants, assembling an alliance out of the disparate kingdoms they had carved out in the centuries. I was surprised to find an off-shoot of the Strom line here: the Stromels controlled the less populous but more prosperous southern regions where most of the fresh water is filtered and brought to waiting voidships.


I made it quite clear that they all could back me or be turned upon by their enemies. I secured less than two-thirds of their support, but those that joined us are expending our wealth in jumpstarting the economy.


It has opened up new demands that cannot be met by Svard alone.


DAY 34

Idris has returned aboard the Hand of Redemption escorting a fat-bodied former frigate. The Luccenzo had an equally rotund free captain, Bento Benner, who offloaded megatons--a mere fraction--of the goods Svard so desperately needed.


I gave him a fair price for all that he was taking on board, including a fresh wave of wealthy Svardi, that somehow felt no longer welcome in their home system.


Our Navigator had used her contacts and influence well, though that still meant only one tradeship had followed her back. It was a start. More, it was symbol that House Strom was able to fulfill its promises.


Still, it spoke volumes how the Luccenzo had brought only common-grade goods and received a hero’s welcome in return. I would need to send the Blessed Enterprise away on survey missions to the nearby systems. Kolos, Dripwater, Yeal, these were all settlements that had something to offer and were only a few days away. Yet, if we ventured out it would only increase the sighting of the Strom Dynasty flagship.


I would need to press the Vivat. Or commandeer the Luccenzo for these trade missions.



DAY 36

We set out for the nearest of these mined-out moons and asteroids today. Hopp was considered a prime candidate for the main settlement before it was--wisely--decided that Svard’s fresh water reserves were far more useful than easy access to ores. Great chunks of it had been hacked off and dragged to faraway Cog where it was melted down and refined. A small portion would be diverted to Svard for its metalworking industries.


A mining cartel had thought to move its employees and their families there at the start of the troubles. No intra-system ship has made any deliveries in months--the last transport had fallen to the Void Wasps some time ago--and their vox had gone silent.


I left the Blessed Enterprise and her belly full of attack craft over Svard, taking a small contingent of troops aboard halo barges and gun cutters. If the Void Wasps were to return, the ship could bring one or two down before the Hand of Redemption would step in. The Vivat would perform adequately as an escort, now occupied by Navy prize crews, it would at least respond to orders. Unfortunately, those would come from Captain Keel.


Binar found Hopp long before the Cloud parted to let us augur it. Radiation bloomed from the moon, easily the size of a small planet.


I was prepared to lose face and call for additional help.


Then a Rak’Gol warship launched its swarm of attack craft and we burned hard to the moon’s surface.


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I was the last to jump out. I could feel our cutter tremble through my suit as I tried, and failed to latch the grav-chute securely across my back. It had been easier to set them on my senior staff than it was to put this on over my power armour. Hah, it had been easier hauling Bain away from the cutter’s cockpit.

Out of options, I gave up the notion of attaching the chute properly and leapt out, the two straps grasped with my hands as I plummeted to Hopp’s hardened surface. The grav-chute fired on its own, just as Magos Binar said it would, and I felt a tremendous pull as the weight of the suit fought with its strength to hang on the device. Our cutter’s explosion buffeted me as it died in the distance, but I held on tight and focused on the vox.

I heard my staff below fighting the ravening xenos, and, in a feat of sheer foolishness, I let go of the chute with my right and drew my plasma pistol. It fit snugly into my gloved hand and I fired a volley of plasma bolts. One of the Rak’Gol, wielding what appeared to be two massive chainblades in its four arms, was struck twice--by the Emperor’s guidance only, not by skill--and reeled.

It screeched and swung the blades at me and I roared my own laughter in response. Then its minions opened fire.

I remember looking up to see the grave chute shatter in thousands of pieces then falling and falling.


Wails of agony filled my ears. My first thought was how badly mauled was I that my throat could make such sounds. Instinct, training, or provenance then bade me to roll and push to my feet, and so I did. I avoided a streak of dull thuds that struck where I was--atop a broken Rak’Gol screaming in pain, my power sword impaling it just below its collared neck.

I drew my pistols and fired, not caring that the plasma one was set to Maximal mode. The explosion staggered the creature as the bolt dissolved one of its arms in fire. My laspistol spat pure light at it, but it didn’t seem to notice at all.

The beast was not down yet, it rushed me and I barely dove out of the way to avoid its brutal claws. I rolled, scrambling for my blade and turned just in time to parry a decapitating blow away. My conversion field flared half a dozen times around me, seemingly enraging the creature further and further.

I could not cut it, and I dropped my pistols in my rush. It had speed, strength, and skill with its weapons. It fought using the entirety of its body like a living weapon should.

Of course, I was no pampered noble. I kicked out, staggering the wounded beast and feinted to its dissolved limb and then cut upwards while kneeing its left hip. It was an ingrained motion, taught to me to “encourage” my foes to fall into my blade’s point.

It worked. My power sword’s field sliced through the thick plates it wore as armour and up to its neck. The powered edge cut through the collar and I remember smiling at the creature’s impending death.

Then fire and blackness took me.


I heard Trelany’s voice first but when I opened my eyes it was Binar’s familiar, augmented, face looking at me. I was looking at him with my bare eyes, my helmet was gone. That was the second concern, but I looked around to see we were inside something. I nodded, answering Trelany’s questions over Binar’s, and struggled to my feet.

A Stromgard’s gloved hands pushed me down, and I had enough awareness to be affronted by the act. I do not encourage such familiarity amongst my armsmen--not even among the vaunted Stromgard.

I looked up to reprimand the armsman then I realized it was our Eldar accomplice. I was too shocked to be annoyed then.

Trelany left my mind, then bowed before turning away. The Magos, sufficiently satisfied, turned to repairing my power armour’s numerous gaping holes. He was halfway done before my hearing fully returned.

Bain and Idris joined us then, barking status updates as if I could understand them. I ordered Bain to see to it and they left without further word. They did, however, nod almost respectfully, at Juna. The Eldar warrior returned the nods, then stepped back, into the ring of true Stromgard who kept watch.

I had enough sense even then to relax my abrupt manner, and enough manners to abruptly thank her. It seemed appropriate. I would learn later that she lead a squad to my location. They did not return with just the ruins of their master, they hauled back the two Rak’Gol with them.

One man, robed in white, stood over the charred remains of the one I fought. I say “remains” when I mean “pieces”. Not much was left. Just beyond the gruesome table was another one occupied by the still living landing pad I had used. It had broke by breaking my fall and I was glad for it. A tech-priest stood over it, prodding it with needles and chattering into its auto-quill.

It was some time before I was allowed to stand and leave.

As I was about to leave Binar whispered two pieces of bad news: the power source on my backpack was broken; and it didn’t matter. The Jokaero had found their way into my armory vaults, blast the space apes! Binar set the backpack on its mount, effecting cosmetic repairs on it, but he himself was worried.

There was a cheer as I stepped out into the hangar. Leading the chanting were the Svardi PDF troopers who saw my plasma “bombardment” as a rescue attempt for one of their squads. Then my heroic, personal slaying of two Rak’Gol seemed to have won them over.

Not that my staff didn’t get their share of the credit. Both halo barges made it down thanks to Bain’s guidance on the ground, their landing zones cleared by Trelany and Idris’ terrible powers. Magos Binar was a celebrity as well, having brought to live three abandoned land crawlers on the surface to ferry troops and supplies.

I had been unconscious for the better part of three hours. The landing battle was won and we had found safety.

I hid the shame I felt for sleeping through most of it.



DAY 37

I embrace the irony of being rescued by the people we came to help. Only, I was not certain who they were. The Crystal Council had up-to-date plans for the entirety of the massive Hopp mining operation and the facilities we were in were not in those files. Idris and Bain had interesting things to add, namely that this extensive facility could hide its small craft traffic easily enough by launching during the moon’s “storm cycle” when plasma struck the surface in punishing, and auspex scrambling, blows.

Binar had his own observations about the age of the facility, the numerous pieces of heavy equipment to excavate and drill but not to mine or harvest. Juna, the Eldar woman had snaked her way into our conversation, observed that the workers were worse-off than what she typically observed in human mines and hives. I had to agree there, though I had questions about how well travelled she was.

I, however, pointed at the leader. Well dressed, well spoken, and guarded almost as heavily as I was meant he clearly didn’t work for a mining corporation. Or at least, not a legitimate one.

Overseer Oberto was genteel and cordial. I sensed a Calixian noble upbringing in him, at least distantly, and he and I got along quite well. He was mannered enough to talk about Calixian gossip, catch Idris and myself up--the only ones who cared about such things--and we spoke lightly of our time at Port Wander, something all Calixians had an opinion on.

By the end of it, I had the measure of the man. He hated this place, though had forbearance enough to hide it, and his guards were here as much as to protect him as to keep him here. I could not make up my mind if he was some Cold Trader princeling or a disgraced noble like myself--but I did decide I liked him enough.

The rest of the staff came alive again when talk swung to the current situation. The beasts had all but forgotten about us soon after our landing. Hopp’s thin atmosphere was still thick enough for Lightnings and Thunderbolts, and the local PDF had scrambled squadrons in response. We were safe by virtue of being ignored for bigger and louder things.

I was alright with that.

Magos Binar quite politely asked what it was they were doing with all of the equipment. It was a very loaded and purposefully vague question, made menacing by its simplicity. There was not a single tech-priest that we had seen that didn’t arrive with us. The second, truer, question was what interested me.

Bain interceded, asking about the lack of ready craft or any cargo to carry. Trelany wondered aloud about the thousands more workers nearby, which Idris punctuated by highlighting known ore deposits and the workers’ approximate locations well away from the minerals.

Oberto blanched and we had him.


It helped that some of the Stroms were known as Cold Traders, decades ago before the Quintet. it helped that we arrived almost precisely on their hidden site, and certainly the hundreds strong army with us added to that. But it was mostly Bain and his rather explicit knowledge of the modern Cold Trade that convinced the overseer.

The man had confessed to me weeks ago on the Blessed Enterprise. He had held on to several xenos weapons and artifacts that we had come across and discarded or gave to the Mechanicus. Eldar, Stryxis, and Ork items were in his vaults.

I was disgusted and impressed.

House Strom was edged out of the Cold Trade years ago but in the later years, when things became desperate, there was a need to gain wealth quickly. Bain would have grown up in that generation. Of course he was a Cold Trader, I should have known.

Thraves knew. And kept it from me. Wise, yes, but unsettling.

It was Mr. Iosef who brought Hopp to our attention. He knew Yu’Vath, or perhaps Egarian, xeno-artifacts were being smuggled out of Svard. House Strom was looking at returning to Svard in a big way--it was the same reason I chose to ignore it upon traversing the Maw.

In a way, Overseer Oberto was working for the dynasty.

Now, we only had to survive the xenos horde that left no survivors.


Hopp’s tortured surface had a disruptive effect on vox traffic. Specialized vox-beacons were built to send out messages through the interference. A xenos digsite would of course not have one. They relied on routine and scheduling.

But there was one nearby. Messages could be embedded in the regular broadvoxes and deciphered by those on Svard or on other moons. There was no need for us to hide the message, only to live long enough to send it. Astropathic messages were still being distorted--if Trelany’s calls for help had been heard one of the cruisers would already be in orbit.

We had no need to risk the surface and its dangers. One of the carved tunnels would take us almost all the way.

I chose only my armsmen to accompany us, the majority being Damarans who were well-versed in tunnel fighting. I had them mine the tunnel to cave in at various points. I left most of my Stromgard behind, save for Juna who insisted on behaving like one. The Eldar are truly strange.

The Svardi troopers I gave the responsibility to fortify the tunnels. They were useless in mobile fights, but they did bring plenty of autocannon and shells with them. Those that weren’t manning the barricades I gave the duty to distribute food, water, and medical aid to the workers.

Overseer Oberto lent us several of his mercenaries under “Captain” Thaar, a grizzled, scarred soldier. I won him over quickly enough, exchanging war stories and fighting tips. If he fought well, I said, there might be a place for his men aboard my ship.

Of course, I didn’t say how long they’d remain aboard. He and his crew have committed crimes ranging from **** and murder to sedition. I’ll kill him and every last one of his men for those acts. He didn’t see that through the smiles and promise of gelt.

The vox-beacon was cunningly built into a plinth of crystallized rock. Binar pointed out the entrances to me--my helm had been repaired but not all of its auto-senses were functional. The Magos had focused on my power armour’s repair instead of the site’s operations. He could do nothing for my power sword, a cherished relic from my time in the Imperial Navy. That I replaced it with an unknown weapon was all the more galling for the Magos--but needs must.

He agreed, though I know that would not be the end of it.

In truth, I had spent the last weeks training with the twinblade. These, at least, were probably of human-make, being from Naduesh. I was, in fact, quite enamoured with the weapon. It seemed made to fit my power suited hands and I practiced with it as often as I could, in and out of the armour. Magos Binar reluctantly volunteered information that ancient chainblades did in fact possess power fields to allow the weapon to bite through armour before digging into flesh or machine.

He would not elaborate on the last point.

I was fortunate enough that my armsmen recovered our stash from our crashed cutter. Trelany without her own Nadueshi sword did not seem like herself, though it was far from her deadliest weapon. Bain wore the Eldar pistols he had so craved and Idris accepted a small gem to replace her damaged protective field. Despite the xenos origin of most of these weapons, I was oddly at peace.

The Rak’Gol needed a lot of killing, after all.

DAY 38

Juna confiscated a blade and pistol for herself, both of Eldar make. She had some very choice words for our flight marshal, ones that I did not hear but saw the effects of. Then, Bain offered the Eldar reloads for her pistol and I had no choice but to laugh.

Our assault began as soon as the day cycle ended. The xenologist, Albrecht Barmer, said that the creatures might have some issues with their vision in twilight. I based my plan of attack on that--after Binar corroborated it as best he could, of course.

There were no guards, no sentries, no hunters on patrol. The xenos were all inside, eating. I ordered my armsmen to fall back, set up defensive positions, and to open fire on my mark.

The xenos rushed out in a clacking, blood-and-gore caked wave. Many still had pieces of men in their mouths as their limbs drew weapons. When they had gone some distance, my staff and I barged into the beacon and found it wholly emptied. There had been no thought other than to kill and eat and the viscera and excrement that layered the walls were proof of this, even the main vox vault had been defiled.

Bain and Binar went to work to bring the vox-beacon online. The rest of us took up positions to defend them.

My armsmen obeyed orders to seal the tunnel before the Rak’Gol were upon them. I had calculated several minutes for the entire distraction, not less than one minute. The beasts were already back, fighting amongst themselves for the tatters of people and servitors they had left behind.

Then one, larger than the rest, barrelled through. It bore discoloured scars all over its body, its limbs were no longer all flesh, and radiated a sickly glow. It had one of the mercenaries in its grasp, thankfully dead, and cracked the woman’s armour and tore into her insides.

I raised my plasma pistol and unleashed a small sun at it and those cowering nearby. Damned fool thing, but the other three beside me joined in the attack.

They clambered up the walls, swung down from ceilings, even leapt straight up at us. We focused fire to bring them down quickly, only their numbers and general frenzy saved us from being overwhelmed. I tossed more grenades then than I had in the last two years, but the tide had pushed us back all the way to the central vault.

A charred, mangled, half-robotic thing lead them still.

The vault’s opening was wide enough for three; in my armour I counted for two and Sevia should have been the third. Juna stepped into her place at my left and I accepted her there. Trelany and Idris slew what they could but the pack leader was on us quickly.

I drew my twinblade at the last moment and parried its thrusted claws. Its eyes recognized the weapon. I know it.

The blade tore through the implanted blades and into the flesh underneath and it wailed at its ruined claws. I pressed my attack, firing again with my pistol, then severing one of its lower limbs completely. Juna, swift as the wind, stepped in and cut off the leader’s tail, then returned to her position to shoot a Rak’Gol in the face.

She needn’t have. The Rak’Gol had stopped their attack.

A part of me believed then that we had humiliated or defeated their leader and much like the Orks they were now in need of a new one. But they stood as if listening to something far away.

They left just as Bain and Binar returned, flush with their success. The Hand of Redemption was responding. We would be saved in a few hours’ time.

But in front of me, the dying pack leader bared its teeth in a grotesque and horrific smile. I pushed Juna into the vault and prepared to take the death blast full on.

None were more surprised than I that the explosion did not come, except perhaps for the xenos itself.

Lacking any non-lethal means to subdue it, I kicked it in the head and laughed as it crumpled.


Captain Thaar was more than willing to take credit for the holding action’s success. His men had paid the price for it, after all, and I gave them a place of honour in front of our formation. After all, if any Rak’Gol had wandered in, it would simply attack them first.

Sadly, no xenos materialized to rend the miscreants apart.

Overseer Oberto was most gracious and thankful. Now was the hard part--collecting on our agreed payment. I wanted a cut, a place in the operation. Yes, I do intend to profit from all of this. The Strom Warrant is remarkably free to engage in trade and traffic of xenos artifacts--as long as they are delivered to the proper authorities.

We will be legal Cold Traders, in a sense, with all of the dangers and none of the mysterious glamour.

Of course Oberto was not going to comply. Captain Thaar and his men then killed his bodyguards, slitting their throats quietly, and the good overseer began drafting an agreement. I had no Savants or Adepts to see to the details--I do not handle details usually--but I made an exception. Oddly, Oberto seemed genuinely happy that his protectors were dead. A Stromgard escort would need to be assigned to this man.

The Mechanicus would take over operations as soon as possible. Any artifacts recovered would be taken into their custody, for study or disposal, I care not which as long as we were compensated.

Our contract was written and signed just as the Hand of Redemption arrived in orbit.

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[several of our players are away on vacay, and I was sick. This was a compromised Skype session. I'll be going on vacation as well soon, but I'll keep writing before then. It's just background stuff before we all come back in August and fight the second-last battle.]



I sat in a comfortable chair of the Captain's Mess aboard the Hand of Redemption sniffing a fine amasec with one hand as the other was bandaged by a medicae, staring at the master of the ship and his master in turn. I call her 'Rose' for simple expediency, though she had different names and ranks. She wore the same ensign's uniform that I saw her in the first time, but I'm not so certain it was the last time. 
When the medicae finished I tested her bandaging by taking another cup with that hand. I was thirsty, and it was very good amasec. The ploy drew a sneer from Captain Keel, but Rose was not easily fooled. She stood at attention behind the captain, doing a poor approximation of a subservient officer. 

I remarked upon this when the doors closed and the privacy fields fell around the table. Ensigns are never this comfortable around their captain, especially in a private setting. She took the criticism evenly, and I could feel the weight of her experience then as her true eyes found mine.

Oh she terrified me like any good and loyal servant of the Inquisition should frighten an honest Imperial. What is their saying? 'Innocence proves nothing'? If that doesn't frighten you, I don't know what could.
I am not a lush, I drink quite infrequently compared to some. The medicae had injected me with totrisone and somehow that always took away the more fun aspects of amasec away; I was as clear headed as I needed to be. 
Still I laughed like a drunken fool when they told me what they wanted. 
The Rak'Gol mothership had fled with its clutch of barbed craft as soon as the Hand appeared, but it had left behind hundreds, perhaps thousands, on the moon below us. They had nested above the main settlement, oblivious to the plasma strikes that Hopp suffered, and continued to dig into the besieged city. A besieged city full of Whisperers.
I didn't need that to be proven to me. As soon as the xenos vessel left the Lightnings and Thunderbolts reappeared. In that musty office, filled with the scent of dead bodyguards, I breathed a prayer of thanks for the sturdy-looking craft strafing the Rak'Gol packs swarming nearby. Then they came for us. It was hours of maddening fighting, holding the tunnels that linked to smaller mining camps and the hangars filling with zealots. 

At least, I thought it was hours. A day had passed before rescue would come as the Blessed Enterprise itself abandoned its position when no word from myself or anyone else reached Thraves. The Lightnings and Thunderbolts fell to our Fury squadrons and we lifted off with half of the men we came here with. 

That was when I was graciously asked by the returning battlecruiser to visit with its captain. The fool, and I know him to be one, chased the mothership to an ambush and still did not manage to slay even a single vessel. What use are battleship-grade lances if you are not willing to use them? The Hand was marred with radiation scars and close calls with boarding torpedoes. A part of me almost believed he had wanted to be boarded. 
Now, he wanted me to lead an assault to the main settlement, through the rampaging xenos, past the city full of slaves, to recover an item that had been plaguing all the astropaths' dreams? And he wanted it done today, if at all possible, as he dangled Hopp's common mineral wealth in front of me as a reward. 
My contempt leaked into my laughter. 
I emptied one cup with a gulp and emptied the other on his face.
I woke up in the brig.


On a scale of treasonous things, rescuing me from an Imperial Navy brig was probably a seven. That we knew it to be infested by the Inquisition, perhaps a black ship in all but name, made it only more treasonous and doubly impossible.
Yet, my senior staff had found a way. I do not know what it cost Magos Binar to secure passage aboard a Mechanicus shuttle, or what favours Navigator Idris would have to pay to secure my untimely release, but they came and subdued my guards quickly and efficiently. Trelany may have used more force than necessary, but I didn't begrudge her that. 
The men that were watching me, they were Schola trained, I could tell. Stormtroopers as cell guards? What a preposterous waste of capabilities. Why would Keel need me when he had a ship full of such soldiers?
Rose was waiting for us in the ship's Teleportarium. I did not even know it had one--when it was a Lunar it certainly didn't or else the records would have mentioned it. She looked bored by the entire rescue attempt and came with us without being asked.

We already were on the Blessed Enterprise's when the Hand of Redemption opened fire.

Battlecruisers are great warships, there is no doubt. But its weapons needed line of sight. My bombers didn't. The lance batteries on the starboard and dorsal mounts were swinging as the Blessed Enterprise accelerated behind Hopp. The Starhawks we had remaining, plus those we acquired from Svard's armouries, launched quickly and plunged downward. They angled up just below the battlecruiser's engines--a crippling shot if they had actually fired.
It was then that Captain Keel graciously answered my hail.
Moments later, Hopp's main settlement felt the touch of the Hand of Redemption's lances. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Rak'Gol died microseconds before a city of millions did. A pulse, not of any colour, washed out from the moon as we moved out. Trelany sank to her knees and looked up with tears of relief. A weight pressing down on my soul lifted and I breathed the cool, stale air of the bridge as if it was the freshest mountain air of our distant home.
Even Keel felt relief. I could tell by the change in his voice. The man apologized, to my surprise. I did so as well, not wanting to be petty. 
I proposed more of these actions. A captain, strangely under-ranked for a battlecruiser, did not have the authority to lance human populations from orbit. Not when it wasn't deployed to the area. A lord-captain might. A rogue trader with a Warrant like ours certainly did. The bluntness of it appealed to Keel, and we divided up the remaining moons where more of these artifacts might be found. 
No more of my men were going to die recovering xenos trash. Not when we could destroy it from orbit.

Rose was not happy and she made it known. Juna, however, was thoughtful. Recovery and study of those items was Rose's mission here. All I agreed to was the cleansing of the system of the xenos taint. A point of legalism would not trouble the Inquisition, but I asked how comfortable she was in allowing an entire system to be affected--for her to be affected--by these Yu'Vath relics.
It was a guess. A guess informed by Mr. Iosef's expertise, Magos Binar's careful study of our logs, and my own beating heart. It was a rumour that the Rak'Gol chased after Yu'Vath relics, ranging even as far as the decrepit Egarian Dominion to claw at whatever they could. Rose's pause said so much more than a thousand voidsmen could on the subject.
Unwilling to risk more fighting men, and to satisfy Rose's need for at least one artifact to return to her master, we took the Blessed Enterprise to our next target. 
Silence, the so-called 'Sculptor's Moon', was infested with whatever malevolent artifact was embedded deep within its twisting mazes and statue gardens. Our port las-battery, the only other macroweapon the Blessed Enterprise had, was given free rein to bombard the outer edges while cutters flew in to observe. 
Crystal things came to life, some embedding themselves in the masterworks of stone, marble, and other rare minerals. Works of art became horrifyingly beautiful, some even spat lightning at the cutters before Bain ordered them back. 
I admit, the reason I didn't lance the whole place from orbit was for its beauty. It was haunting. Perhaps it can be salvaged. The galaxy has few truly beautiful things in it that not even a moon devoted to its pursuit was enough. I could see cold disdain on the Eldar's face at some of the works, but many caught her eye. She agreed with me, to a point. Not for the first time I gave thought to the Eldar and I asked Juna if their warmachines were stylized or practical. She shook her head at me and said they were long past the point of having to compromise. 
The barges flew closely to the main spire, a many-carved thing of white stone and drew out an army of living statues and blinking crystals. They drew them far away, giving time for our las-battery and our Fury interceptors to strafe and bombard them from afar. We followed the last barge in aboard a cutter. Each one that went before us had been escorted as well, and this would be no different, except that our cutter was going to land at the top of the spire.
Bain accelerated without warning the rest of us, dodging lightning and rays of light with no colours. One engulfed a cutter flying close support and simply flowed apart, making it a criminal to the universe's laws. I set the cutter's heavy bolters on the gargoyles and angels spewing at us and defaced them whole in wide bursts. Idris and Trelany both lent fire with the wing autocannon as we pierced the veil that both said hung over the spire. 
The ivory beauty was replaced with a sickening nightmare. I will not describe it to you except to say it is both alien and familiar. We saw the artifact then, a gem floating high above the spire. It was a sun that gave no warmth, with a light I could not name. 

A vast, crystalline entity rose from the spire as our cutter's ramp lowered. Binar and Juna both shoved against the massive plasma bomb we had borrowed from the Starhawks and Bain flew us out.

The ramp closed just in time as the creature's scream of frustration, maybe disappointment, echoed in our minds. It roared as the voidship-killing weapon exploded, plasma broiling the top of the spire with a fire I could feel and see. We served to face the immolated horror and unloaded our cutter's weapons into the molten, shattered form trying to claw its way up above us.
It melded with the fire, pooling it around itself and rose like an avatar of flame, until at last it fell to the onslaught from our Navigator and Astropath. The horror turned to ashes in front of us. 
Our bombardment and strafing ended hours later. Most of the works of art were spared our fire.
It was quiet again on Silence.


We returned to Svard as damned heroes. Even Rose was moderately impressed, though her focus was on the artifact we recovered. I gave her a lighter to recover it from the spire and to  take it back to the Hand of Redemption. She can keep the damned lighter. 
Whatever those artifacts were they had a psychic presence that had affected even us. I realize now that even I was hearing the Whispers. Only my mind had rallied and railed against it, and it had drained my reserves of patience and calm over the last few months. 

It has been two months size we arrived, almost three since we left Damaris. The days are moving quickly. They were celebrating there too, us too, as we crushed the Ork invasion. In a month's time they'd journey to Footfall and back, setting those astropathic relays and encountering the Stryxis for the first time. Those xenos killed the first of my men since we had set foot in the Expanse, how I wish to lay an ambush for them now.

My staff have journeyed to more of the Hollow Worlds since our return to Svard while I nursed my injuries. We discovered that Whisperers are lost forever, with no hope of redemption for them or their souls. No new recruits are joining their ranks, from what we could observe in the outer and middle moons, but those that had listened to the malevolent promises could not stop hearing them.
I pity them.
We scoured more moons from orbit but three more we couldn't easily disregard. Bain, Idris, and Trelany each took a portion of the Svard PDF and launched an invasion of these remaining Hollow Worlds. Two were agri-moons feeding Whisperers throughout the system, the third was a private dockyard and we would need its facilities for the next phase.
In all this time, the forge moon Cog was cut off from us. Even single craft scout missions managed to run into a void wasp. The furthest our own pilots were able to approach Cog itself was 20 VU, and through the Cloud that might as well have been 20,000. We saw signs of hope, flashes of battle between Cog's defense ships and void wasps, but there were too many. 

Not even Keel was foolish enough to risk his ship in that mire. 

Still, it was odd that they could not answer our broadvoxes nor our astropathic messages. 
The Luccenzo returned, with another freighter in tow five weeks after our return to Svard. Its captain had profited greatly from Svard's wares and had brought a partner, the Tredace that carried much of what Svard needed in the short-term.
It was but a trickle of what the system truly needed. General Brigen was freeing more and more of the outer moons every few days, opening up the cries of desperate people. The adulation we received was vanishing as Svard wracked in pain. An economic depression was only one facet of it, and starvation was a growing problem, but there was a great spiritual thirst that none of the itinerant preachers or our stately priests could satisfy.
Sevia could have. 
My Svard-wide broadvoxes gave hope, I have heard it often enough from the common folk themselves. But I was no priest and any calls I made to the Emperor rung hollowly in my own ears. 
I made my choice. I set Goddard Thraves in charge of the government till I returned, foisting him over the Crystal Council's ineptitude with PDF support. General Brigen was most eager to assist. To my staff I gave various duties to see to the running of the system properly while I conferred with Bain and Binar in Geijer.
The private dockyard rose from the moon like a fungal infection. It was barely structurally stable, but it helped Cold Trader ships to load and offload their cargo and make their repairs. Geijer, if I recall my Strom family history, was a vassal to Antonil Strom. The moon had been one of the first to be hollowed out, its minerals fed to Cog's furnaces. The station bloomed outwards into the void, jutting from beneath the moon's surface in a lattice of adamantium. 

The Vivat, the Whisperer's first casualty, was undergoing a refit of sorts. I could not take the Blessed Enterprise to where I needed to go and I sure as hell wasn't going to try and board the Hand of Redemption again any time soon.

To this end, I've convinced the Geijer dockyard owners to install an Empyrean Mantle, free of charge, to the Vivat. One of its three cargo bays will be ripped out as well and rudimentary barracks equipment bolted in. It would take weeks, but we spent it well. It did not at all surprise me that the black market had thrived while the open markets crashed, though the smugglers did not have the capacity to feed Svard at all and I was not about to encourage black market food prices any further. 
I was forthright with the ships there. I mean to feed my people and if that was going to cut in to anyone's profits, then they could consider this a friendly warning that the local economy would be stabilizing. This suited most of them well enough, save for two free captains who had made untidy riches selling rations to the starving Svardi.
We invited them to dinner to discuss the situation. One, Free Captain Kyun, was convinced to take up a legitimate trade route instead, after displaying what the Luccenzo and its companion the Tredace would earn after its latest run. There were more free captains that pulled into Geijer who could be convinced to carry more legal cargoes. Especially now that the Crystal Council would not guarantee their safe passage. The second free captain was an exporter of rare and proscribed goods.
I let the Hand of Redemption seize it on its outbound course.
Unsurprisingly, there were a great many volunteers as the Vivat's refit neared completion. I was able to have all my crew delved, the last thing I needed was to spread Whisperers across the Expanse. Still the quality of these voidsmen astounded me. If I could man a frigate or even a destroyer with such as these I could freely take on those Void Wasps buzzing around Cog. But alas all I have is a freighter. Still, I may try it. But Svard itself will die with or without Cog.
We weighed anchor four months after our arrival. For once I am alone--Damnit all! That Eldar witch has snuck aboard!

In any case, the decision to travel mostly alone was mine. I trust my staff to take care of the Blessed Enterprise and Svard in my absence though I would be more comfortable with Idris in the Navigator's Spire and Trelany in the choir chambers of the Vivat, I know their presence here will do the most good. 
Kolos, Dripwater, Yeal, and Crynth these colonies should have grown along with Svard. They were nearby, just hours or a day away by Warp, and Svard depended on them. The system was no longer self-sufficient, the few agri-moons it did have were abandoned or scorched in the Whisperer uprisings. 
Kolos would be first. I had heard little of that agri-world since our entering the Expanse except in passing. The omens are good and we are making ready to translate now. 


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I expected a dead system infested with pirates, xenos, or worse. I expected and prepared for everything except a thriving commercial hub. We slipped into the system, just one ship out of dozens flowing in and out, and heard the news from the rest of the Expanse.
Damaris was free of the Orks, funny that. Svard was still to be avoided and I did my best to counter that, pretending to have come from Footfall and stopped over at the embattled system to take on some goods. The fact that the Luccenzo and Tredace had also journeyed there seemed to convince a few free captains to head out that way, laden with foodstuffs as they were. 
Lucin's Breath was heating up again. One heavy transport bore scars from a privateer attack it had defeated single-handedly. Even independent haulers were being targeted now, and the Nephium trade would spark into a war soon. That much I knew. In fact, Winterscale ships would begin emptying the Heathen Stars a few months from now, just as the Blessed Enterprise would be thrown off course to Vaporious. War was profitable for most who didn't do any of the fighting, but a Chorda and Winterscale war would scatter trade in the Footfall region and none wanted that.
Grace was one again accessible, the warp storm that engulfed it receding again. The risky work was being contemplated by a few fellow rogue traders operating transports like I was. There was no bragging amongst us, no comparing of dynasties and warrants; they accepted me as one of their own and I was willing to blend in, for once.
These, unlike the free captains, I did not encourage to visit Svard. Consider me the jealous type. 
I had the unfortunate honour of meeting with a factor of the Wessen Clan. Merchants, upstarts, granted mining rights to a system surveyed to have little useful minerals managed to wheedle their way into ownership of the Kolos system's only void station. Somehow, it gave the Wessens the idea they were the system's nobility. Since the original rogue trader dynasty had in fact been lost en route to the system, its ownership and legality as an Imperial Colony hung in the balance. In this grey area, the Wessens festered.
I could not proceed anonymously, and with the Eldar Juna at my side, it was almost impossible to do so. The factor introduced me to one rotund fellow named Jorge Wessen, the current heir presumptive. 
It should have been simple. One of the tattered transports being repaired over Svard would haul goods the system could still produce, even some ores from Hopp if need be, journey to Kolos and exchange it for full hold of fresh food. I calculated a fifteen day cycle, enough to begin feeding the outlying moons in Svard. But the Wessens had diversified. The agri-world below cultivated crops with medical applications, very useful, and I entered into negotiations to fold that in with the shipment.
Perhaps I embarrassed the fool. He, nor his factor, did not have a trader's acumen. I had wrung the best contract I could, which was still quite fair if I was speaking objectively, but Jorge Wessen chose to take offense.
He insulted Juna who, of course, spoke back. I would not ask her to withstand abuse from a petulant upstart. So I chose to take offense. She was in my company, part of my retinue, and her honour was my honour. This should have been enough. If I had taken the Blessed Enterprise, toothless as it was, it might have been enough. 
Instead we dueled. 
He donned his own power armour, modified for his girth no less, and wielded a wicked looking power axe. I had thought it to be a simple duel to first blood to satisfy Calixian honour or the counterfeit version this Wessen had. 
It was to the death, apparently. Needless to say I survived, unscathed, and managed to humiliate the Wessens completely. 
We were ushered out of the station as quickly as we could lest Jaime Wessen, the head of this criminal family, order us killed. 
Kolos itself is pastoral. Prairies and rolling hills with snaking irrigation ditches fed water across the land. The system's three suns took turns bathing the world in their glow, and the farmers were adept in rotating their crops. Such mundane but meaningful work. How many worlds did Kolos feed and will feed in the future? 
I chose to deal with the farmers directly following our eviction from "Wessen" station. More easily said than done. They live in distributed communes, gathering together only to haul in their harvests. They were easily manipulated to owing the Wessens for farm equipment and luxuries, often being forced to spend time in the moon mines to pay back their loans. 
When I step foot on the planet I uttered the words. You should know them by now, and you should also know it is a mere technicality. The Administratum cares not one whit who claims a world for the Imperium, so long as tithes are paid in full when it eventually matures enough to be worth collecting tithes from. 
I wondered then why none of my fellow rogue traders have seized this world as their own. The dynasty that claimed it was long since dead. Was it the Wessens? 
Regardless, my mumbling of some words did not change reality. The Wessens were content to seek power as an interface, dynasties have started with less. Like all petty warlords they could do nothing but abuse the power once they had acquired it. The Kolos PDF quota had been weakened, and those that were recruited were treated like the Wessens' hired guns and protected a few key sites on the planet.
Kolos may be peaceful, but it did not lack for predators. Life thrived here, and from my meetings with the commune leaders I could see it was a common threat. The agri-world didn't simply cultivate crops, they herded grox and even small groups of mukaali and other animals. I knew both creatures to be formidable in their own way--there was a stubborn mukaali aboard the Blessed Enterprise that helps with the unloading of barges--so to hear about eviscerated herds drew my suspicions.
A small mukaali pack was slaughtered the day before we arrived. Its owners were still cleaning up, from what I was told. 
The beasts had been killed by animals alright. The kind that walked on two legs and rode grav-sleds. No firearms were used, but I knew the aftermath of a chainblade well enough. The grav-sled was Juna's observation. Crop stalks were broken at a certain height, and it formed a pattern. I could barely see it, but the slaloming and wide turns was evidence enough for her. 
Of course it was the Wessens.
One of Thraves' savants mapped out the pattern of attacks. It wasn't random, nor was it geographic. It was targeted, specifically those who had yet to borrow money from the Wessens and who lacked manpower to pay back their debts. They would be identured, or worse. I saw the pleasure dens aboard the station. 
It occurs to me that I lack the capability to bring down ranged foes in a non-lethal way. Thankfully, Juna had taken some flash grenades with her. The attackers swooped down, their hollering audible above the grav-sled's fans and the whir of their chainblades. The first grenade exploded at the driver's face and the grav-sled flipped over and tossed the riders to the ground--their chainblades still whirring.
It was perhaps not the most non-lethal way to stop them after all.
One survived, the driver, and he proved amenable to conversation after his sight returned and he saw his companions. He testified on picter, beamed to all of the communes we had visited. The leaders, and the farmers, saw the confession in real time.
Still, I sensed that despite the anger it aroused the farmers were willing to weather the abuse. It was not in their nature to fight. I did not need them to, I just needed them on my side.
So I lied. I asked about Wessen's plans to subjugate the farmers' sons and daughters. To replace them with servitors and automated harvesters and force them to mine forever. The driver denied it all, and in his ramblings he mentioned that Jaime Wessen had no mines left, that they had been hollowed out years ago. The farmers there, those that never returned, had been sold.
Even I was stunned by the confession.
I executed him on the spot--I promised nothing to him. I don't even know his name.
When I returned, the commune leaders were all begging me to help. 
The Vivat carried four halo barges, not enough to fill its cavernous holds in one trip but enough to unload a specific cargo on the planet. My armsmen, the ragged bunch of soldiers, landed at night though it seemed unnecessary. The barges lifted off when they were full, loading what spare crops the farmers could sell--and I paid for them in full.
Juna had borrowed the grav-sled and scouted the Wessen's loading operations. The men were bored and inattentive, secure in their position as servants of the miscreant. The bulk of the work was done by the farmers themselves, and loading took hours at each point.
Security was lax enough that massive land crawlers hauling freshly harvested crops backed into the barges' open mouths. I had planned an elaborate ruse, under the cover of the passing nights to sneak my armsmen aboard in those containers. 
Instead, I asked to borrow the land crawlers for the next few delivery sites and loaded my armsmen in them. There were four barges down and we took them all quickly and quietly. Not much a handful of barge crew can do with over two hundred armed men already inside.
We docked at Wessen station more or less at the same time. Juna and I had each taken a different barge and our assault was swift and unimpeded. 
I finished cutting through Wessen's personal guard only to see Juna punch Jaime Wessen and put a pistol to his bleeding head. 
We re-negotiated for the ownership of the station then. His life, his family's and his servants', in exchange for the controlling share of the station. It was a blatant act of piracy, the elder Wessen was correct in that. The difference was I had the Warrant that made it legal.
Perhaps I should have let them board the next transport willing to take them. Instead, I had them herded into the lower decks of the Vivat. After all, press-ganging is an old and fine tradition, utterly in keeping with the Wessen heritage. 
It didn't take long for the Wessens' creditors to come knocking. I left one of Thraves' underlings in charge of overseeing the station, I would not spend my time administrating an agri-world station, and gave leave for her to pay off debtors should they provide adequate proof. I'm afraid whatever profits the dynasty would glean from Port Kolos would not be realized until decades from now.
Between that and the discounts I offered to win back the tradeships, the whole endeavour might be considered a loss were it not for the full hold of provender the Vivat sported. It was perhaps anti-climactic to return to Svard a month after setting out, but the food needed to be delivered and the trade sealed. Several of the free captains I had encouraged to visit Svard were there, somewhat miffed that I had misrepresented the threat to the system, but a few were amenable to conducting the rather short haul. They loaded up on ice carved from Svard itself to refresh Kolos' aquifers and would return with enough food to prevent starvation.
I alerted Magos Binar of the new resources the Wessens had cultivated and a biologis team will be sent to harvest and refine the medical crops. We had retrieved one more grav-sled from the Wessens' vaults and I gave this to Bain who promptly found a reason to take it to Svard's surface. 
The Vivat will set out for Dripwater in a fortnight once we have emptied and restocked our holds. For now, I will enjoy the Svardi's relief at our return.
Edited by Marwynn

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I need it to be understood that there were no daemons, no warp phenomena, no xenos influence found on Dripwater. Despite the miasma that now hangs around the planet, that pollutes every breath and every rock, it was not the Ruinous Powers at fault here. What a grand claim, perhaps I'm wrong. But we've seen no evidence of it, found no trace of sorcery.

Too often, in a galaxy filled with horror, we Imperials forget just what we're capable of.
The people of Dripwater ate each other. There, it is written. They starved as the herdbeasts, dozens of varieties and millions strong, died of starvation.
The nobles of the world had steered it well enough. The Adarak Dynasty, long since reduced to trusts and holdings, had taken Dripwater centuries ago and began exporting the herdbeasts that seemed to be the most dominant lifeforms on the planet. There were local xenos too, first convinced to trade the beasts away, then enslaved, then wiped out as the first colony ships came. Those first colonists found empty caves and curious structures in the lowlands and moved in; they were better at keeping the raging sun out than the prefabs they had brought along.
I do not know when the first rendering plants were created. The beasts were gathered, butchered, and torn apart to be shipped off-world. What little water the planet had came from underground rivers, and the nobles saw fit to build their homes away from the commoners in the lowlands, carving a city into a mountain range. I flew past the city many times; whatever grandeur it may have had was lost. It looked as if a giant worm had gnawed its way through a rotten, hardened fruit. The rendering plants still burned, still choked the air with their poison, carried away by the high winds to the grazing lands.

Water flowed from ancient glacier seas, and the city, Corral, had tapped into it. Svard's fresh water was a luxury, one Corralians could afford by the voidship, and relegated the fresh water to industrial use. Like on many of humanity's worlds, Dripwater was despoiled all too soon.

The water became toxic. An algal bloom, a biologis said, brought about by the chemical run-off from the processing and rendering plants, infested the delicate network of natural cisterns and aqueducts.
The first to die were the commoners. I read the Administratum's own logs, forward from some distaff runoff of an Adarak heir that acted as the Imperial Commander. Somehow, the planet had earned the right to be called an Imperial Colony and with that the nobles learned impunity.
More colonists were brought in as the original ones were dying. When none could be attracted, they had brought in prisoners to work the fields only see the first violent uprisings against their rule. The Arbites had detailed records of the aftermath of those riots.
Still, they carried on, poisoning their own water and their own livelihoods in an effort to maintain their lifestyle. It would have worked too, the situation was stabilizing, another victory through Imperial brutality, were it not for Svard. The water shipments stopped. Rumours of plagues chased the other ships away. The exports ceased. In a month's time the nobles were forced to drink heavily treated water and began raiding each other for it.
Nothing living remains on the planet anymore. The grasslands, a greenish yellow in the paintings I saw, were mottled grey where they weren't already dead. The algae was persistent. I have taken samples aboard if only to study it further; perhaps the entire planet can be allowed to purify itself.
The first and last words I spoke on Dripwater established the Strom Dynasty's claim on it. The Adaraks have lost all claim to it, and I doubt that dynasty's remnants has the wherewithal to challenge us.
Not that I can send the Writ any time soon.

In a way, I was thankful for the pirates in the system. I needed to vent my frustrations and clearing out a threat seemed like an efficient way. Thank the Emperor for small mercies.
Yeals' only worth lay in the human population living on the fourth planet. Halfway between feral and feudal, the settlement shows many signs of it being a Knight World yet no Mechanicus presence had been found. Bipedal walking machines mounting crude las-weapons and brutal looking blades kept the Yealsons safe enough. If pirates or raiders broke through the walkers, the people would be sealed in a safehold--dark, crystalline structures that could withstand orbital bombardment.
It allowed them to withstand rogue traders and the Imperium well enough.
Three pirates, two in raiders and the third in a heavy frigate, prowled the system. With our empyrean mantle raised, our augury was limited to passive pickups only, but I could recognize their patrol sweep. It was a loose blockade, a Navy pattern that did not bode well with me. I like my pirates stupid.
Whoever ordered the patrol knew what they were doing, even if his subordinates didn't know its finer points. Too lax, too loose with tightvox protocols, breaking off to check behind a moon or a planet at whim. Then I realized it wasn't at whim; they knew which planetary bodies would make the best hiding places.
That made them predictable. That made them prey.
The first one died so quickly that even I was taken by surprise. The raider's voidshields were kept at minimal levels, and our days of laying in wait allowed my gunners to plot and plan to their hearts content. Three cycles, that was how much I was going to fire before I would demand their surrender. Our second salvo punctured into the crew quarters, as we had planned. We all knew that these ships were not at full readiness on such a patrol--pirate discipline being what it was.
I had not counted on two full watches of crew in their bunks or the messes, gambling and lollygagging or whatever it is pirates do when they're not attacking. They might have stood a chance if we used standard macroshells, but my gun captains all wanted to make use of the gorged macroshells filled with tens of Ogryn-sized melta charges which the cannon were meant to fire, and I wanted to see them in action.
What flimsiness the raider considered armour didn't stop our first volley that had cracked through the ship's thin void shield shell. The first volley struck the dorsal guns' feeds, detonating deep within. The second volley killed most of the ship's crew and left the survivors with two hellish fires to combat.
It broadvoxed a surrender just as the power failed, and it tumbled off, smouldering into the void.
Our second target lasted longer. Our one combined shot rendered its macrocannon into useless slag, forcing the crews to fight to stay alive. It tried to get away, but cutters full of my armsmen had launched. Of course, I was among them and first to debark to lay proper claim on the ship. We seized the enginarium and cut power without too much trouble.
The captain, one Dredarch Smythe, wore a Battlefleet Calixis uniform. I had hoped it was an ill-gotten prize from a defeated lieutenant, but alas no. He confirmed my suspicions with his last breath. Mutineer.
Once the fires were out the survivors joined the Wessens deep in the Vivat's hold. More and more I realize how suited, even eager, the ship was in these kinds of actions. Perhaps it truly is a Q-Ship like my warrant officers believe.
I gave Lieutenant Gilbert Tuch command of the prize. The former and thoroughly defanged Hidden Fang is now the Strom Dynasty destroyer Arrowhead. I have spent long hours inculcating my officers with Strom Dynasty history; they knew well the honour of being given that name. It'll return to Svard immediately, where the lieutenant will have his promotion to lieutenant commander confirmed and awarded command of the ship.
All Arrowheads in fleet history were captured raiders, destroyers, or frigates. I am certain Lieutenant Commander Tuch will live up to that proud tradition. Tuch has served well these last three years, even if most of it was under Lyza Strom's command. He deserved the bit of pomp a confirmation required, and I knew Thraves would not disappoint. 
Its departure was carefully planned, timed so that the third--still hidden--pirate ship could see it just disappear behind a moon, well off course and showing battle damage. It would hail, then pursue, but it wouldn't have the speed to catch up.
The late Dredarch Smythe kept detailed journals, perhaps an eccentricity, perhaps instilled in him so deeply by the Navy that even treason couldn't dislodge it. He catalogued his devolution to a pirate, and named his current pirate lord. 
I must admit, it was both a surprise and a confirmation. I knew my opponent's tactics well; we were trained with the same traditions, of course, but we shared the same experiences.

Commander Bodaker, squadron commander of Tempestor Squadron, urged Tempestor One forward. The familiar frigate lacked the scars I had grown familiar with. Those few that recognized her remained silent; on the journey to Svard as I had personally explained to each one of them what had happened and what will need to happen.
To everyone else on the bridge we were simply avoiding the corrupt Navy Patrol ship, like any wise armed merchantman would.
I watched as the frigate trailed after the Arrowhead and follow it into the Warp. I will trust Tuch to know not to head to Svard straight away, and the Navigator aboard confirmed their course was for Damaris. Tempestor One did not follow and turned towards the Maw.
Curious. Tuch will turn back in a day's time, he was a smart officer. He bought us enough time to creep upon untouched Yeals.
We spent a day in orbit and three days on the surface, visiting each of the seamless obsidian cylinders that hid the Yealsons. They could see me, hear me, but they chose not to speak. Each one I visited I offloaded goods and provided details for further trade.
It took another week for us to find our first kill again. We towed it back to Svard and found more ships in the system than I had expected.
I was wondering when other rogue traders would smell the blood, the smell of opportunity.
Edited by Marwynn
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[Vacation's over! At least, for me. This was actually a greatly shortened session. The rest is fluff the GM had sent to us and I rewrote.]



I recognize now that I’ve been indulged. It’s a comfortable trap, to be cared for and looked after to a point where you’re dull to the dangers. I have seen too much, done things in the name of dynasty and empire, that I failed to see how brittle I had become. How thin my mind was. The last two months I had spent uselessly gallivanting, on some foolish quest to stave off starvation and death, would have been better spent assaulting the foes while strength remained.


I knew that. I had seen more bloody conflicts than anyone else at Svard. I knew it and I turned away. The madness of the Stroms lurks within me too; I was fracturing like the others before me. It is my hope that by admitting it I have taken the first step to mend my own mind and spirit, for if I am lost to madness then the dynasty goes with me, and you, my dear scion, will never be.


Mostly, I’m afraid. I have always taken charge, relied on discipline that I’ve spent decades cultivating, and it is all crumbling. Writing helps. It sets my mind clear and focuses it. The Eldar, Juna, has spoken to me--quietly--since my return. She sees the wound and has begun teaching me exercises to cleanse my mind and spirit. In my desperation I agreed to it, and the trembling has stopped and the nightmares have lost their bite.


I write this as a warning, scion. You too will face these pressures. I pray you are honest enough to see the cracks within and wise enough to seek to mend them.


As for me, I’m writing this on the command throne of a ship that I’ve just claimed, trying very hard not to stain the pages with the blood I’ve just spilled.





The messengers were waiting for me as soon as the Vivat docked. Alpha Station, in geosynchronous orbit around Svard, barely had the room for us to berth. A gaggle of transports crowded the station’s docks, shifting cargo with the frenetic care of lifelong voidsmen, and I was gladdened by the sight even if the merchantmen bore sigils or flew colours I’d rather not see.


Svard was already at war, it did not need to become a battlefield for a larger one. That seemed out of my hands; the Winterscale ship Praexitium had arrived almost as soon as I had left for Dripwater. With the grand cruiser came a flotilla of lighter escorts and freighters eager to sample Svard’s war materiel.


Captain Sandre Vaunt--dreadfully under-ranked for such a force--was most gracious and contrite for the disturbance. His ship, Before Destruction I assume it’s meant to be called, was an ancient one, a hero ship of the Angevin Crusade. Somehow, the Blessed Enterprise sensed this about the Praexitium, and the two were somehow more alive when their orbits drew them close to each other.


The Chorda ships preceded my return and the Blessed Enterprise coiled with wariness every time we neared one of those deadly and sleek vessels. While Captain Vaunt had taken Alpha Station, the nearby Beta Station became the Chorda’s base. I had effectively lost control of either, and Commodore Fera Blake had all of the charm of a bird of prey.


Not that it didn’t benefit us. Thraves had taken it upon himself to negotiate for trade and resupply privileges, wrangling with the Winterscale or Chorda traders just enough to remain respectful. It was in the dynasty’s best interests that both Winterscale and Chorda had access to Svard just as it was in everyone’s best interests that neither had too much control over it.


I would have been thankful if only those two dynasties were present.





In fact, I had another more pressing concern. Aoife Armengarde had arrived soon after my return, confused at the armada now gathering around Svard. To call us old acquaintances would be too much of an exaggeration; we had drifted in the same circles as nobles of the Calixis Sector. I knew of her resistance against the formal upbringing that her dynasty insisted on. Yet she was always fated to be her dynasty’s Warrant Holder while I was a scion of a then-massive and capable House.


I envied her much, the least of which was her functioning dynasty.


I say all of this to contrast how she greeted me: like a long-lost old friend and lover. I was thankful for her keen intervention, and it forced the other dynasties to take us Stroms a bit more seriously. If I have my way, scion, you will find the concept to be belittled and ignored alien and ridiculous in your time. One impudent twit asked me how to spell my last name. No, I didn’t kill him.


We spoke for hours, as old friends did, in public so as not to tongues flapping unnecessarily. She had renewed interest in the Cauldron and simply needed a base of operations. Footfall was too public, too rife with competitors, but Svard could provide some discretion. It was a thin excuse, but I couldn't do much to push it.


I agreed, of course, but before we went into the details I asked if she could request the presence of her Chief Navigator to speak with mine. Idris escorted the veiled individual a short while later, and she bore charts and maps.


Commander Bodaker will, in the very near future, be dispatched to circumnavigate the Cauldron. Tempestor Three, the frigate we will recover, participated in this and had full astrogation logs stored in her main cogitator. I offered this. Even concealed, her Navigator was clearly excited by the data we were showing.


The dynasty has no capacity to explore everything Tempestor Squadron scouted, much less exploit them. A share in the profits was more than enough for us, as did an understand that Svard would soon require raw resources.


Lady Aoife had the good grace to ignore the missing time coordinates that had been scrubbed from the logs.







She was my guest for that evening’s gala; Lt. Commander Tuch’s confirmation ceremony had ballooned into a fleet-wide then a system-wide event. All the dynasties represented had to be invited, as did a few merchant factors operating aboard free traders. The heavy traffic to Svard was visible in the Empyrean and curious opportunists wanted to know what was what.


We occupied Fort Shard, a military complex carved by some of the same sculptors whose works we found (and looted) on Silence. A cathedral of ice, with Earthshaker cannon and Hydra turrets ensconced in fluted spires and gargoyled towers, it was so Imperial Gothic and yet so frontier chic, I was told repeatedly throughout the night.


I ordered it broadcast to the rest of the system. Those that had power to receive the signal had food aplenty thanks to the dynasty’s efforts, and I wanted them to see how we Stroms operated.


That we were blindsided was my fault entirely.


The ceremonies went well enough. I had everyone in the chain of command who would be promoted along with Tuch on the mustering stage. Never has a Bosun’s Mate been feted like this before, I will tell you that!


Lady Aoife, uncomfortable enough in formal wear, did speak of our newfound joint ventures. Exploratory in nature, they would rely greatly on Svard for its supplies. I could hear the gelt flowing already and I’m told that several factories on the capital moon re-opened the very next morning with just that declaration to go by.


Then it was time to introduce our other honoured guests. Captain Vaunt and Commodore Blake were already well-known and not very well-liked. The growing hostilities between the Winterscale and Chorda dynasties had unsettled everyone. I had but one advantage: I was a rogue trader, a Peer of the Imperium, and owner of the system. They belonged to more powerful dynasties, sure, but they had to smile at the picters as I lead a toast to each of their Warrant Holders.


I’m not sure if anyone bought the lie that I was selling, that the two wouldn’t rend each other apart if given the chance. But the Svardi commoners and nobles alike saw that they bowed to my pressure. That was enough.


Finally, the other rogue traders were to be introduced. Lord-Colonel Haught, Founder of his own dynasty, had entered the gala with the maximum number of armsmen allowed. I saw his eyes twitch at the sight of my Stromgard, hefting bolters and more than a few sporting power weapons. He rose as I introduced him, a gregarious smile on his face, and bowed to a corner of the terraces.


Lord-Captain Bel Dasser, another Founder, marched into the gala with an army of courtesans. If the man knew what excess meant he disbelieved its existence. Conway Tor, another rogue trader but with fewer airs, followed Dasser and seemed the more competent and dangerous. Of course, I was not willing to write either off. Their cruisers and frigates were dangerous combatants.


Lord-Captain Alsbeth Tay, of the Lurio Dynasty, was next and she was gorgeous and proper. In my experience, only one of those tended to be true upon closer inspection. The Lurio were from Calixis as well, their dynasty rarely stepping through the Maw to fatten their fortunes further. Apart from her warships she had brought along two heavy transports as well and played merry hell with the system’s markets for the last few weeks.


The last was Madam Charlabelle, of the Armelan Dynasty, newcome to the Expanse. I knew of the Armelans of course, our dynasty had dealings with them. But the Stroms’ fall began long before the Armelans’ sudden crash, and they had distanced themselves from us. Madam Charlabelle had been cordial and polite, perhaps wary of any bitterness I might feel for her dynasty’s abandonment of ours. Mostly, I was curious as to what she would do with one transport.


All five had been gracious and all five had bowed to a distant corner of the terraces that ringed the mustering field. When the introductions were over, Speaker Tal rose to take centre stage. I should’ve stopped him, perhaps ordered the monstrously large musical band play over him, yet I allowed him the chance to speak.


That twisted old man! He prattled on about needless expenses--yet the Council had wasted Svard’s funds for their personal luxuries--and went on and on about the war. Then, he thanked the Svardi for their loyalty to him and the Council, which was met with barely restrained ridicule, and then thanked the distant corner as well.


Finally, light shone on those mysterious worthies. The board members of the prometheum corporations rose and bowed in turn.






I should explain that my conquest of Svard was pretty much complete: the Strom dynasty owned every moon listed originally in the Writ filed by Antonil Strom (the Deranged) and the amendments added by the various Crystal Council over the years. The outlying moons, the ones General Brigen had spent the last few months liberating under Bain and Trelany’s guidance, were not listed.


Even though the system belonged to us, they had independent charters. Neither Thraves or myself were above using gratitude and the threat of starvation to force these settlements to sign over their moons, just to cover all aspects.


The one sector we couldn’t make a dent into were the prometheum stations. Owned by merchants that had all the wealth of nobles and none of the responsibilities, they privately owned the void stations that refined prometheum for mass use on the forge moon and for export. The Crystal Council’s members received a portion of the revenues--for the system’s infrastructure and development--yet most of the funds found their way into the Councillors’ coffers.


We had managed to buy three void stations, out of the three dozen in operation, before the corporations met together and stifled any further acquisitions.


Trelany believes the first Whisperers came from those stations, and that the corporations silenced it and maintained operations for profit. Those Whisperers then boarded tankers meant for Cog--Binar insists I call it “Vail” and so I shall from this moment onwards--and began to infiltrate the forge moon’s workers. General Brigen had found crystal artefacts in many of the strongholds of the Whisperers on Svard, seemingly amplifying the incessant whisperings of the xenos.


Vail’s siege could be laid entirely on their feet.


Once the Whisperers began attacking openly, on Svard and the rest of the moons, they had withdrawn their tankers from the stations and retreated to other moons, much like the mining concerns did on Hopp. They abandoned hundreds of thousands of workers; the core of the Whisperer army.


They had not been invited yet the PDF allowed them entrance.


Their puppets then spent the evening speaking about our dynasty’s failures and the need to retake the refineries to fuel the eventual war for Cog--Vail.


To my shame, my guests agreed.






The next day, under Speaker Tal’s authority, a grand planning session was announced. The forces of the three puppet dynasties would retake the stations in brazen open assaults meant to spread out the xenos ships.


I stood there, given a perfunctory seat, as the fools ridiculed our claims of the crystalline ships being Yu’Vath vessels. The Blessed Enterprise took part in the Angevin Crusade, did you know that? Not on the frontlines, but the Strom’s foundations were laid by the ship as it mapped routes and surveyed systems. It had faced Yu’Vath ships.


Captain Vaunt had excused himself after his own warnings went unheeded. Commodore Blake didn’t even make an appearance.


Before the meeting Juna had made a very simple proposal:  I would politely attend, point out the basic lack of reconnaissance and other finer points of a professional military operation, decline to approve it, and publicly make my way from the meeting to the nearest cathedral to pray for the operation’s success regardless.


Such understated cynicism.


I do not mean just the Eldar woman, I meant us all. Bain had taken several deep scouting runs into the Cloud and had identified a large and mobile force of Yu’Vath ships quite by accident. There were many moons closer to the gas giant and we had not seen nor heard from any there since. Mr. Iosef found the moons xenoformed into crystal, with craters and entire chunks of the landscape missing.


The monstrosity deep within the gas giant had been seeding these moons for centuries, creating its own fleet from the raw materials it had access to. That was Binar’s guess, though he backed it up with convincing charts.


Regardless of when the assault took place, the Yu’Vath patrol would quickly respond.


My estimates are that there are over half a million voidsmen, armsmen, and soldiers in the attacking force. I would condemn them all to death to weaken the prometheum corporations and take over, use the outrage to justifiably remove the Crystal Council from power.


I could not do it.


I asked for a private meeting, just between us rogue traders and my staff. They all attended, and we all presented the information. Only Madam Charlabelle listened. She had been given command of the reserve forces; I then realized that she had shaped the planning session specifically for that force’s creation and securing her command of it.


A delay, a miscommunication, that was all we needed to justify saving the bulk of the assault force. We would only send two dynasties and their flagships to their deaths.


I am still uncertain if it was my idea or Belle’s.




I toured the Blessed Enterprise extensively, absorbing all the minor and major changes. Magos Binar had not been idle these last months. Unsaid to anyone else were the Mr. Iosef’s and the Magos’ trips to the forge moon. They had made contact and run several cargoes full of that besieged moon’s needs, even transferring PDF troopers to aid in its defense.


I was humbled by their efforts, especially that of Trelany and Idris who ensured the space around Vail was kept safe and clear. It seems our time in the Heathen Storm had not entirely left the two, and they cooperated to guide the ships using the Psyker’s Citadel as a lightpost and navigational guide.


Most of the forge moon’s manufactoria were offline, but its storehouses had been crammed with its output. The Geijer captains seemed well-versed in blockade running and had made out like the bandits they were, and Binar had bargained well for our sake. Along with mundane voidship spare parts,. plasma conduits, generatoria, even turrets and a few batteries were smuggled off the forge moon. 


It’s the paradox of modern plasma artifice, I’m told, that in order to craft a rare piece of plasma technology it must already exist in some form or another to help bring it into existence. There are ways around this, of course, a gradual upgrading of capabilities to produce ever more refined examples, but it is fraught with danger and one mistake along the path often means generations of work can be undone.


A simple, brute-force way is possible. Only that required an enormous amount of gaseous prometheum.


Vail was perfectly situated for such research and manufacture. The dynasty would be granted access, in perpetuity, to these plasma technologies if we could bring about its salvation. Trelany had established contact with some of the astropaths left on the forge moon--at least those that were still sane--and she had just received urgent requests for help.


It seems we would be launching our own attack.






The five kilometre long cruiser yawed in the void, rolling and twisting under inertia and thrusters, as the main engines fired. A retro-burn maneuver was routine; for frigates and destroyers. To attempt it with the Blessed Enterprise was a damnably foolish thing to do--we could have easily split apart under the strain, broken in two, if one of the thrusters misfired.


I could not help but swell with pride as the ship eased into the waiting dock-arms of the orbital spire, though I did have to correct the helmsman’s planned burst: gravity is something all helmsmen must figure into their calculations, but rarely do they need to account for atmospheric drag. It was substantial, enough for me to feel through the soles of my power armour boots, but we made seal smoothly and laid anchor with nonchalant efficiency.


My staff, apart from Idris and Bain, were less appreciative of the voidsmanship at display.


It would have made all the sense in the galaxy for us to dock at one of the few orbital spires the Adeptus Mechanicus controlled still. Even one that was still in contention would have been a sane choice.


Instead, we had docked in the middle of five orbital spires the Whisperers controlled, the first one to fall. Massive on a scale that must be seen to be appreciated, the spires were like teeth on a cog, which is where I suppose the forge moon acquired its name from. The spires ringed the equator, separating the moon into two hemispheres with specific, and arcane, purposes.


Our assault was swift. It had been preceded by waves of cutters filled with armsmen striking the lower parts of the orbital spire. A diversion, of course, because what madman would assault from the docks?


The Whisperers we encountered were fighting bravely and spiritedly, even if they showed obvious signs of malnutrition, void burns, and injuries. I am struck yet again of their fierce devotion, a level of fanaticism that most priests only dream of, and by the horror of it. No crystalline monsters barred our way, merely hungry men and women that fell quickly.


We seized control under the guidance of Magos Tevla who dispatched trusted minions to control the spire. Though we had just been reunited, my senior staff and I split up to lead teams to assault the nearby two spires on either side. These were still the “rear” but the Whisperers here were better supplied and had xenos reinforcements. The crystal monsters took a lot of killing, brought down only by combining the firepower from several squads.


I had my own mission. My dear cousin Lyza was somewhere in this mess and I owed her--or will owe her--my life and that of my crew. I descended deeper into middle spire, fighting through ghoulish Whisperers now with glowing cankers on their bodies, as if they too were turning into crystal.


Juna did not leave my side, taking the place of a great many sergeants before her to lead my armsmen. I do not know where she acquired that Eldar rifle, only that she seemed well versed with its use. Trelany guided me deeper in, even as she herself lead a daring assault on a nearby spire through “combat drops” inspired by my own misadventure on Hopp. It was the fastest way to insert troops at key locations, or so she claimed.


It was there that I encountered the Avatar.


I know not what the Inquisitorial lackeys will name it. I only know that the grating voice at the back of my mind and the man-shaped, but much larger, crystal in front of me spoke with the same voice. Its first attack tore half my Stromgard apart, shivered into broken glass and burnt meat. My own attacks were nothing but annoyances to it, the power field of my twinblade kept its own energies away from the whirring teeth that cracked and splintered the thing’s skin.


I called out for help as the Avatar struck me. Juna’s attacks forced the creature away while I rallied, wheezing from the furious onslaught against my defense. I could not parry all its blows, my protective field could not absorb all the attacks that slipped by, and my armour barely kept the attacks from killing me, but I staggered away alive.


Idris was the first to respond to my call. She arrived and set the immolated thing aflame. Binar arrived next, attacking from behind and taking down the constructs the Avatar had shaped from its own detritus. Bain had flown Trelany over and had fought through waves of Whisperers before they could reach us.


There was no mistake: I was near death. My plasma pistol was cooling, discarded at my feet, while my ancient laspistol spat useless light at the thing as it came for me.


My helmet was ripped free and I looked at the thing with my naked eyes for the first time and I wept at it the horror before me.


And then it became very, very still.


Trelany, on her knees, begged us to hurry but screamed out as well all drew our heaviest weapons. The light within the Avatar pulsed, and I saw the faintest outline of someone in there.


I hacked away at the flameless limbs and Binar wade in, cracking chunks whole as we dug Lyza Strom out from inside the Avatar. It was only after we pulled her out that the Avatar succumbed to the terrible wounds we inflicted on its form. It disintegrated into powder and ash and Lyza woke.


She ripped the laspistol out from my holster and fired at me point blank--the power field absorbing the blasts quickly enough.


Later she would claim she was still under the influence of the Whisperer. But I knew the truth. She saw an opportunity and took it.


Let that be a lesson to you, scion, should you ever think to rescue one of our family.




It seems that despite our victory the tremendous amount of firepower we brought to bear against the Avatar was not acceptable. Magos Tevla made this point again and again until I, still being seen to by Stromgard medicae, silenced the tech-priest by offering to ship in more Whisperers and leave them in peace.


I was lying, of course. I was more willing to kill the tech-priests and their dwindled servants at that point.


Madam Charlabelle sent one message to us. She was retreating to protect Svard after the failure to retake the refineries. A wise move, one that will allow her to influence the now masterless ships in her flotilla. Perhaps one or three could be convinced to join the Armelan Fleet.


Captain Keel, feeling it his duty to observe and lend support, dealt with the splinter force that broke away from the Yu’Vath flotilla. He expected to be re-supplied, and I had to factor that with my negotiations with Magos Tevla. Torpedoes do not come cheap.


So how did I come to sit on the command throne of another rogue trader’s ship?





Conway Tor, son of Jeremiah Blitz, came for me.


I did not know Blitz had children. Nor that he had long ago smuggled his Warrant out to his son. Dasser had been nothing but a screen, one that I appreciated in its callousness.


He had received word just a month ago of his father’s death in Damaris. It didn’t take much for him to conclude I was behind that. Fortune must have smiled on him when word of our activity near Footfall reached his ears. More and more I’ve begun to regret that assassination, but Tor, or rather Blitz, would make me do so.


The Blessed Enterprise was struck several times with its void shields down. The Ordained Destiny was a flamboyant flagship for an equally flamboyant rogue trader. His son’s flagship was a brutal killer; the Murder-class heavy cruiser was equipped with the best plasma batteries that Mars had ever produced and discontinued because of the class’ treason. My flagship was wreathed in plasma flames.


Our attack craft, standing ready in case of a Void Wasp strike, launched immediately and tore gashes on the heavy cruiser’s hull. I broke off from negotiations even as the tech-priests swore they could bring the ship down with their own defenses. Lances flicked out and batteries fired at the heavy cruiser, but it only brought its own lance to bear and tore out the Blessed Enterprise’s spine.


I loaded troops I had no command over into cutters that weren’t mine and launched at the killer. Its stray shots had set numerous fires aboard the middle orbital spire, already weakened from war and our assault.


I lost one entire Fury squadron as they escorted us through the heavy cruiser’s defensive fire. We clanged onto the True Fate’s and I was the first aboard, slaying even the crewmen that were surrendering to our rampage up to the bridge. My behaviour was abhorrent, and it lead my staff to commit their own atrocities.


Our dear Idris had always been so restrained with her abilities, using them only against our toughest foes. She seared alive many armsmen and crewmen, consigning the vestiges of their souls to the Warp, simply for not moving out of her way quickly enough.


Binar ordered his servitors to begin harvesting, taking unlucky survivors away to be repurposed even as we fought. Trelany corrupted officers and footsoldiers alike, causing them to kill their own comrades. Bain was at my side, at the forefront, cutting and hewing through the human tide with blade and bolter.


Only the Eldar, that massacrer of humans, showed restraint. She killed quickly and without emotion. In the end, Conway Blitz died at her hands as we tore apart the rest of the bridge crew in our madness.


The weapons have stopped firing. I am covered in the blood of both the father and the son, and I write this to make sense of it all.


This is not over.





The gratitude of a forge moon is no small thing.


Work on the Blessed Enterprise has begun in full just one day after the assault. While we worked to cleanse the forge moon of the Whisperers and the constructs that support them, enginseers and other tech-priests have swarmed over the ship.


Its spine was missing--again. We had devoted considerable resources in repairing that section--knowing that we’d need a true shipyard to finalize it--but it had been torn apart by plasma strikes. The gunners aboard the True Fate wasted many shots firing into the empty caverns of the Blessed Enterprise’s broadsides. We had spare equipment there, some supplies, and nothing else.


Not that the damage was insubstantial. Thankfully, most of my crew had debarked, leaving only half to suffer under a withering barrage until the spire’s void shields could be raised.


The Mechanicus delegation aboard the ship, greatly denuded from their original numbers, engaged in a conference with Vail’s senior Magi. I was not invited, of course, though I reminded the tech-priests of their various promises that were never originally realized.


Magos Binar later told me that the delegation told Tevla of our time travel escapades and what they knew of our involvement with the Inquisition. It didn’t seem to matter much to them. What did make an impression was our apparent successes in securing archeotech, and xenotech for that matter. Samples of Nadueshi technology were still secreted away in the deep vaults, and these were highly cherished by Magos Tevla.



That, and the turning over of the xenocana excavation on Hopp seemed to entice these Vail tech-priests.


Some other mundane business was attended to, but in the end there was the granting of my requests.


In my time in the Navy, I had served with several ships from the Lathes. Sometimes they fielded ships that were unique and most likely experimental, but when it came to defend a forge world or face a dire threat they would field common hulls. Lunars made up most of the fighting strength of “Battlefleet Lathe” as we had called it, though the Secutors were a close second.


Those Lunars, however, had a modified dorsal spine. One that often housed a dorsal lance system. Magos Tevla had agreed to rebuild the Blessed Enterprise’s spine to the same specifications and move the prow-mounted lance there.


He also agreed with the second refit. I had always wanted a nova cannon to call my own. One would have to be shipped from the Lathes, but the hull could be prepared in the meantime. It would mean removing the laser cores and redundant power relays for the Sunsears I had spent so long acquiring years before, but the siege weapon would be necessary in the years to come. I know it.


My third request, by comparison, seemed to me to be the most reasonable. Yet it encountered the fiercest resistance. I wanted the Mars-pattern plasma batteries from the True Fate to be installed in the gaping holes where my las-batteries used to be. Magos Binar had agreed on a compromise: half would be given to us, half to the forge world, in exchange for the services of several artificers and plasma-wrights to maintain the batteries.



Could Vail truly produce these plasma cannon in the future? That surely was the intent.



Finally, there was the matter of the Mechanicus' gratitude. Our bridge had suffered heavy damage in the last few years, and the recent battering the Blessed Enterprise received did not help matters. Older cogitators, circa M36, would be installed and the bridge's other systems would be upgraded as well. I agreed on the condition that Magos Binar oversaw it all. 


Our damaged void shields and augury vanes would be replaced with more efficient Navy-grade models. Along with the refits to our damaged landing bays, our flagship would be in drydock for months even without the other modifications.


But there was one last gift. In my morosity I had shared with Magos Tevla of the Blessed Enterprise's history, how it was originally rebuilt on Mars, then much later the Jovian yards. I lamented, somewhat drunkenly, of the ship's lost grace.


A year, Magos Tevla said. If I were to give the Blessed Enterprise to their care for a year, they would rework the thrusters, refurbish the engines, and reinforce our hull. It would take that long anyway to work on my requests, and this could be folded in. 


I may have promised a permanent Vail delegation presence aboard the ship in gratitude. For now, however, I needed the Blessed Enterprise repaired and re-armed with the ancient plasma batteries, and the Magos agreed. We spent a few hours in silence, walking the ancient vessel's passageways.


Afterwards, a great many things were negotiated. Priority access, preferred trader status, and a close working relationship with the forge world’s acquisitions legion. It was everything we had hoped for.


Yet the threat to Svard remained.






We returned to the capital aboard the Vivat. General Brigen had quelled the rioting quickly enough, but not fast enough to save Speaker Tal. A shame, truly.


The other Councillors had been moved for their own safety. In light of the crisis, and Brigen’s own measured response, I decided to make it official and grant her the planet’s governorship. Imperial Commander Brigen decided to postpone the ceremony until after the crisis had passed; wise, as it would be seen as frivolous at the moment and her ascension would be tied with the end of the war.


Of course, the Administratum had to be convinced to accept this. A registered Imperial Colony, while not a full Imperial World, had hoops to jump through.


In our absence, the Winterscale and Chorda ships saw fit to engage in their own actions. Both were licking their wounds and I imposed heavy fines on both for their behaviour. It was steep, but neither were willing to give Svard up to the other.


But I did not come for them. Nor for the Crystal Council. I came for the prometheum corporations. They had returned to Svard from their private holdfasts among the Hollow Worlds a month ago, and already they were hated again. They had promised considerable wealth to the now-dead or dying dynasties.


Their survivors were in an uproar. When we showed them hololiths of Tor’s flagship, with a delegation of Adeptus Mechanicus aboard as well as the Imperial Envoy, all testifying at the brazen and destructive attack by the corporations’ hirelings--especially that of Conway Tor--the executives panicked. They gave Brigen all the excuse she needed to seize their assets when they began arming their security forces with heavy weaponry.


Those refinery stations, those Whisperer nests, now belong to the dynasty as did a great deal of other physical assets. The security forces were quickly drafted into the PDF, and those that couldn’t stomach it signed on with Captain Thaar who I had left behind on Geijer to “see to things”.


It was time to end this. 



Edited by Marwynn

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I did not wish to push the Blessed Enterprise so soon into battle, not with untested weapons and with newly sealed wounds. The decision was taken out of my hands as the Yu’Vath patrol swept out from the refineries in close orbit to the gas giant. The Vivat strained its engines to meet with our ship amidst the Cloud, and I left her in Lt. Cmdr. Tuch’s care with orders to return to Svard.


The gun crews Thraves had spent months training to fire las-batteries had spent less than three days familiarizing themselves with the near-archeotech plasma batteries. I admit, even I was impressed at how quickly the Vail tech-priests were able to pluck out the weapons from the True Fate and implant them in the Blessed Enterprise. Binar tells me that the forge moon had an excess of artificers and ship-wrights--most of whom were too specialized in their work to participate in the fighting.


I was not complaining, though I knew my insistence on having red priests in Binar’s service to oversee the repairs stressed more than a few of the Omnissiah’s followers who did raise complaints. I was unrepentant--I trusted Binar’s coterie of tech-priests more than I did any other of their kind.


Perhaps I was vindicated, even rewarded for that mistrust. Binar reports that his apprentices saw nothing but the finest quality of equipment being used and the highest skill and knowledge practiced. They were near euphoria, it seemed.


I kept that in mind every time the plasma batteries cycled and loosed streams of charged particles at the living, crystalline ships. Maybe it would be enough, I prayed every time.


We were five hours into battle when the Yu’Vath retreated. They reached as far as Geijer but focused most of their attention on Vail.


The Blessed Enterprise had performed superbly, though differently from what I had come to expect. The Mars-pattern plasma batteries were stronger, individually, than the Sunsears they were replacing. But the las-batteries were highly accurate and unleashed a storm of light.


Our new plasma batteries were more akin to heavy macrocannon found on battleships. Even with the forge moon lending us masters of ordnance to oversee the servitors and gun crews, I had to husband our shots into volleys, creating tempo and rhythm by sacrificing endurance for shorter cycles.


Though a stimulating intellectual challenge, I remarked to Thraves that we shall need need an officer to take over these duties. My lord seneschal was able to delegate the firing of the las-batteries, and he agreed.


Quietly, almost respectfully, Juna approached my command throne and bowed. She said not a single word but I understood her intent, and I nodded and Thraves stood aside from the gunnery stations. Eldar plasma weaponry were wicked things, and I had little experienced with their ship-borne variety, but Juna understood the method that took me an hour to intuit.


She took over fire control and I’m chagrined to say did a far better job than I. Even our ancient lance carved apart the larger Yu’Vath vessels far more efficiently than before, and my fears that she would alienate the gunners with her xenos ways were put aside as she adopted the manner of an Imperial Navy officer.


Once, I would’ve been angered at the mummery on my bridge--humming with the newly installed cogitators--but I was thankful now. She had freed me to oversee the battle as a whole.


Two Svard system defense ships limped alongside the Blessed Enterprise, protected by our fighter screens from the deadly missiles the larger Yu’Vath ships were hurling, and in turn protecting us from the lighter ships we couldn’t fully cover.


I’d hesitate to call our formation a flying company, yet the three vessels cut apart reinforcements.


Still, it’s strange to hear Mr. Iosef report on our attack squadrons and Vail’s own squadrons berthed in our landing bays. Plunging through the moon’s thin atmosphere was inefficient when a mobile carrier was available. These cool killers had requested permission to board and deigned to be commanded by Bain. Their precision was unnatural, though I welcomed their results.


It became apparent, early on, that our attack craft could only safely engage the escort-sized Void Wasps. The light cruiser-sized Void Bats and the larger Void Sharks lacked defensive turrets as well, but each repelled attack craft with gravitic pulses and flashed black lightning at those that came too close.


Those ones we had to kill with our own ships’ guns.


Despite it all, we won the day.




I claimed the victory. Neither Captain Vaunt, Commodore Blake, or Madam Charlabelle could deny it.


It’s not an egotistical claim.


The Citadel of Psykers Trelany had freed had bided their strength until this moment and the wave of psychic interference, and even fear, that heralded the Yu’Vath ships had been countered and then dispersed.


Idris’ work in rebuilding and expanding the navigation beacons allowed the remaining ships to have a shared point of reference once again. Binar had spent copious amounts of time convincing Magos Tevla to devote resources in drowning the vox transmissions that we now believe are coming from the refineries.


And so I was given the ability to command. One cruiser-carrier, two system monitors in a flotilla with a grand cruiser, a handful of other cruisers, and more escorts than necessary, and I took command by simply giving orders.


I knew not to press my luck and broke apart the Winterscale and Chorda forces, sandwiching them between Charlabelle’s task force. How quickly she had wormed her influence into those dynasty ships! Even the malcontents at Geijer listened to me and survived because of it.


We were awash with praise in victory.


But I knew the worst was to come. Yes, a battle against a foe we thought long dead was not the difficult thing--shared danger makes for swift allies. Now, we needed to convince them to attack.




To emphasize our supremacy, I decided to hold the planning session aboard the Blessed Enterprise. Presumptuous of me to call it that, when I had no agreement yet.


Thankfully, our support staff were well versed in preparing for large and sudden gatherings. Our officers mingled with the staffs they brought with them, but the key players were all locked into our planning room. Which just so happens to be our trophy room as well, at least it was for this occasion.


The Blessed Enterprise was in orbit over Vail. The forge moon was heavily scarred from the years of battle, operating at limited capacity, and was more than able to simultaneously effect repairs on all our ships. Everywhere my guests looked aboard the ship was evidence of the Mechanicus and their loving work on repairs and refits.


It was easy then for me to bridge the close relationship we had with Vail to that of speaking as a broker for the forge moon. I had requested Magos Tevla’s presence, knowing he’d be far too busy to attend a simple planning session, and sent a messenger to reiterate his continued confidence in my abilities and judgement.


That caught my guests’ attention. Adeptus Mechanicus worlds were sovereign unto themselves, beholden to no one. Not even my claims to the system would have allowed me to force myself upon Vail.




Bain made several comments throughout the morning about how stressed Vail’s tech-priests were. But throughout the previous day, we broadvoxed our thanks to the various orbital spires for accommodating the various ships. We left unsaid the lie that we were responsible for these pragmatic repairs, but our guests believed it anyway.


Madam Charlabelle was the first to approach me. She asked me quite directly why I didn’t brandish that fact in. I shrugged and said it was unseemly for people like us to force others to see courtesy. She was the easiest to convince, perhaps because she saw through the lie and hoped another victory would convince any survivors of joining her dynasty.


Dasser’s ships were the ones Belle had any real grasp over. The Dasser Dynasty was effectively dead, his flagship’s warp engines ruptured briefly, taking his Warrant with him. Tor’s escorts had all been destroyed, forcing House Haught and House Lurio to commit their reserves.


I still could not believe all those rogue traders were now simply dead. But their subordinates did. The late Lady Tay’s galleons had made a run for it, but her lighter vessels remained. Commander Drussels of House Lurio was amenable to securing his late liege’s lesser objectives, namely trade with Svard and Vail. I agreed, provided he continued to work under Belle.


I gave those up for the remnants of Haught’s fleet. The lord-colonel’s flagship had been burned down as it tried to break free from the station it was assaulting. But the rest of his fleet, a pair of cruisers and a handful of frigates and transports, were leaderless. They chafed under Madam Charlabelle, made more evident by Captain Vers’ distancing herself from Belle at any opportunity.


Haught’s Warrant was lost as well, and so did any claims he held to the cruisers he had pressed from Battlefleet Calixis reserves. The escorts were a mixed sort, half were fully owned by the dynasty, the others pressed as well. I had struggled to maintain even a single cruiser and here was I plotting to complete a cruiser squadron.


Captain Eryn Vers was more than willing to second herself to me. It only took a few comments about the oddness I found aboard the Hand of Redemption to make it clear that it was a black ship in all but name. She tolerated Belle’s presence long enough to formally dismiss the former-Haught ships from her command.




Binar surprised me with his subtlety. He masqueraded his goals with an abrupt direct manner he once had, convincing our guests one by one of the tremendous material costs. Still, the Magos was caught unprepared with promises of donations, that is until Idris came to his support. Tech-priests did not lack for money, and would look down on spare parts. Trade, commerce, gifts of metal by the voidship, these were the only true ways to show gratitude.


What better way than through House Strom?


Surprisingly, it was Trelany who was free with the war stories. She put many at ease with her open attitude and free smile, something many were not used to seeing being displayed by an astropath.


She told more stories about the recent rescues than anything else. Many ships were quickly overwhelmed, hulked, and she and the other astropaths aboard the Blessed Enterprise guided Vail’s system ships towards the dead ships. That earned her much gratitude, which is why we decided she should speak first of the necessity of an attack.


It was short and eloquent, saying more by not saying it at all. She then handed it over to me to discuss the attack plan.


Captain Keel, who had spent the morning admiring the full pink crystal skeleton Bain had acquired on Vaporious along with our other trophies, nodded in appreciation. He was grateful for the replenishment of his torpedo vaults, being reduced to just two full launches was not a situation he liked.


The plan was blunt: gather the cruisers into a staggered column, interspersed with escorts, and hammer the Yu’Vath ships as they retreated to the inner moons.


We showed them pict-captures and augurs of these moons. They were crystalline now, the farthest ones seemingly undergoing an ice age as the crystals crept over the surface. This was how new Yu’Vath ships were being born, from the stuff of the moons themselves. They fed on those crystals and the remaining prometheum.


In short, the vessels were seeing to their wounds like we were. And they were scattered. We would have local superiority, and our formation would allow us to rotate cruisers to the frontlines.


They agreed.


How could they know I intended something else entirely?




Battlefleet Calixis is methodical, orthodox, and very traditional. It was no wonder they’d dismiss the Voss-made light cruisers to the hells of the reserve fleet.


Two unproven Endeavour-class light cruisers were a blessing, and Captain Eryn Vers and Commander Nile Ivran were an embarrassment of riches. The two were aggressive, competent, and well-connected and integrated quickly with the smattering of ships I was able to co-opt, in addition to their escorts.


It seems whoever Zandr Haught was in life he warranted protection of this calibre. My conscience is clear: I warned him of the folly of a frontal attack.


Though they were not full cruisers, the Endeavours had torpedoes and a lance battery on their prows, supplementing their broadsides full of macrobatteries. It was a deadly mix, one that I witnessed in the previous battle.


I opted to give each light cruiser back their own escorts. The Blessed Enterprise, the Lady Zhar, and the Bocephus would form the command squadron of the entire flotilla. We each had two escorts, though our flagship made do with system ships.


Bain was second in command of the squadron--he needed the authority over Captain Vers, though I don’t believe there was any friction there that wasn’t welcome by either. The entire flotilla I had no choice but to second to Madam Charlabelle. Either of the Winterscale or Chorda commanders were better suited, and also entire inappropriate.


The Rising became Madam Charlabelle’s new flagship. The remnants of House Dasser’s ships were only too eager to sign on with Belle, and somehow a Turbulent-class heavy frigate suited her more than the Grace of Sopha. The monstrous Praexitium took to the fore while the pair of frigates Bleeding and Edge brought up the rear, just behind our squadron.


Our first engagement was over before it truly began. Captain Vaunt, along with half of Belle’s forces, carved apart the Yu’Vath ships quite precisely. The grand cruiser didn’t even have time to fire.


We moved on to our second and third refineries, each time met by an aware force that nonetheless succumbed in just an hour’s work. The Praexitium, an Exorcist that also fought during the Angevin Crusade, seemed quite eager. It infected Captain Vaunt who almost ignored my order to rotate. It was time we took the lead with the Chorda ships on our flanks.


I made certain that the grand cruiser’s heavy weapons were on display to discourage any raking passes by the Chordas. Their largest ship, a Dauntless light cruiser, mounted the same lance battery as the Praexitium did. Only, on the light cruiser it ran the whole length of the ship and had barrels extending from its wings while on the grand cruiser two of those batteries sat comfortably in its broadsides.


“Deterrence and prevention cost less than repairs and remuneration.” One of our ancestors said that, and the **** thing has always stuck with me. Must be why I’m so responsible and thoughtful!


We took apart our fourth and fifth formations easily, using the Chordas’ greater maneuverability to drag them into kill-zones where two or more of the cruisers could combine our fire. On my orders, none of the torpedoes were fired by either Lady Zhar or Bocephus.


Our flotilla had cleared a great swathe of the refineries without closing to their guns. It would take long months of campaigning to take them back one by one, and I wasn’t going to waste lives on retaking them now. The plan called for us to wait for word from our scouts to report which of the moons’ forces had mobilized, and strike at the ones that were the slowest to respond.


At least, that was the plan I shared.


The refineries we had cleared were the closest to the disturbance on the gas giant’s atmosphere. It was a small storm, in comparison to the others raging around it, but it was bright and more violent.


I needed it to see. It needed to see the Blessed Enterprise. I felt that was the only way it would show itself.


The Yu’Vath battleship would remember her jailer.


What broke from the atmosphere wasn’t the ship itself, but shards the size of hive spires hurtling towards us. Our defense turrets fired in rapid succession as the Fury and Furion of the Mechanicus launched.


These missiles were similar to the Yu’Vath torpedoes preserved in horror stories. Four were rising towards us and the blanket of fire would not stop them all. The first one to succumb shuddered into slivers that continued on, piercing a Sword-class frigate and drawing flames. The second exploded, tearing a brief gash into the Immaterium as it went.


The third and fourth spat lightning at our interceptors, sweeping past them almost intelligently. One exploded to our turret fire but the last pierced the oft-damaged dorsal spine.


I gave a great many orders in the seventeen minutes it took for the missiles to reach us. Those damned torpedoes came from the prow of a Yu’Vath battleship, and I ordered a full orbital bombardment at range. We all feared igniting the plasma of the Cloud, or the gas giant itself, no matter how many times Binar claimed that was impossible.


I ordered the command squadron deploy in a thick formation to overlap our turret fire. I even gave explicit orders for the two light cruisers not to screen us with their hulls or with their escorts.


Foolish. Allow me my small gallantry in not having others die for our sins.


I even gave the order to brace for impact as the last missile came for us. Would we be torn, screaming into the Warp? Or would hellish energies simply flood the decks and kill us?


There was no great explosion, though the tremendous clang and ripping resounded through the whole ship. There were convulsions, I could see from the vista-panels, which I ordered filtered immediately. Then I asked Navigator Idris to see to raising the Gellar Fields.


Finally, I gave the order to repel boarders.




My armsmen responded quickly, knowing in advance where the torpedo was likely to impact. They mobilized to save crew and save the ship if necessary, carrying very little of their primary weapons. They gave their lives against the ravening tide, protecting the Mechanicus and gun crews from the warp things that came from above decks.


They had obeyed my orders to brace for impact, shuttering our plasma batteries and lances, raising protective fields and lowering bunkers. It would take half an hour or more for everyone to return to their stations. It took us out of the fight.


I handed command to Belle and ordered her to continue bombardment as the ship we had designated the Whisperer began to claw its way from the gas giant’s gravitic grasp.


We had little time.


Juna joined me at the front, wading in with the gnashing, clawing, and biting things as Binar rendered fire support. Who gave the Magos an assault cannon, I’ll never know, but for that moment I was thankful for it, his aim, and the protectors in my rebuilt helm.


Idris and Trelany both lent their assistance, carving apart the things at range with their minds. Bain was missing out, but I needed him overseeing squadron and our attack craft. He kept me updated on our bombing runs against the Whisperer, noting just how vulnerable the thing was to such an attack every time.


Then the Whisperer gaped the many mouths in its prow. It spat darts of flickering lightning and soon our bomber squadrons were being torn apart. I gave him leave to transfer command to Captain Vers and take a Fury out himself as we prepared to push into the damaged compartments.


I prayed to the Emperor constantly then. Mostly thanking him that the warp things were crystalline, Yu’Vath creations and not daemons. It was easier to claim these things as xenos, and that gave fire to my crewmen’s bellies rather than draw the strength from their legs.


It was harder to explain the bodies of our comrades rising up, pierced in many places with crystal shards and screaming incoherently.


We found the torpedo reduced to a mere spar embedded in the dorsal spine, in a compartment that was torn open into the void. Most of its mass had been reshaped into the monsters we had fought, and its energies had given it life. But not all of it. As I moved to clamber up and cut the thing awaywith a borrowed melta-cutter, a sphere of lightning did the work for me.


I was not thankful, however, as the lightning ball crushed the spar and allowed the shards to orbit it. The larger spikes it kept as limbs, half-soaked in its foul energies.


Was this the warhead? A living, or at least thinking, weapon?


Binar’s assault cannon clanged empty way too soon into the fight, though I realized I was already running low on my plasma ammunition as well. It used the spikes as legs, gouging the decks as it tried to leap up at Juna and Idris on the deck above us.


We had one chance that I saw, and I spat orders even as I moved through the wreckage, spitting the last of my plasma bolts at the monstrosity. Shards flung at me drilled into the ceramite bulkheads, puncturing my own field and armour at times, as I sought cover. Once I reached it the rest mounted an attack, shattering one of the crystal spikes protruding from the energy shell.


Juna joined me as the thing swept its attention back to my comrades, now running further and further forward.


It had pushed us back deep into the ship, and we were bringing it back towards the gaping wound it had created. Trelany had to push it as it finally closed to its entry point.


Bain was waiting there and fired five lascannon right into it.


That should have been the triumphant kill, but it roared in our minds and spat shards that had us scrambling back to cover, our fields flaring all around us and fired lightning at the fighter. The Magos arrived at the solution faster than I did, but we both moved to the nearest auxiliary controls. Shutting off grav-plating was a tricky thing, often causing power surges and minor damage at the best of times.


We were fortunate the wound simply convulsed, hurling debris as the grav-plates malfunctioned and repelled us briefly before shutting down.


The others were warned to secure themselves and managed to do so, but the construct had dug in its spikes into the deck. It had projected most of its energy to defend itself from Bain who had flown the Fury into the ship and blasted at the thing from above, with little effect except drawing louder and louder screams.


Everything we had was unloaded into those spikes, shattering only two of them. My ancient laspistol could not drill into the crystals without the swirling gems and shards intercepting the shots.


I leapt down to the lower deck and ran towards it, using a piece of sheeting as a shield and my twinblade burning in my other hand. Juna’s blade struck first before mine cut through the crystal then began shredding it. Above us the cyclone of crystal and aetheric energies rose in a gnashing crescendo and finally one of the lascannon found its mark into the sphere at the centre of it all.


The warhead paused as if fatally hit, but neither Juna nor I stopped hewing away at the spikes. A shouted warning came too late and the spikes flung us off. I was battered as it pierced through my power fields but not through my armour and rolled quickly to begin my assault anew.


Instead I found Juna, this damnably quiet and superior Eldar woman, being drawn up by the spikes. It pierced her in many places, but the warhead was too focused on protecting itself from lascannon fire to kill her, but its protection was wavering too.


I had but a heartbeat to decide; seek cover and save myself or foolishly try to rescue a xenos witch. My blade was carving apart the crystal needles before I realized what I had done. I had one hand grasping the blade and swing it about and the other around the last remaining spike.


The crystals could not resist the chattering of my twinblade’s teeth and I saw Juna fall then roll away, limping to recover her own weapons.


Then I saw blackness. Only it was a bright blackness. My comrades say that I was pulled into the sphere that had seemed translucent to me. Idris said she saw me in the Warp, though shallowly.


What I saw was a great, throbbing thing in the middle. Naturally, I stuck my sword into it and I was hurled away, slamming against a jutting spar of adamantium.


My consciousness only allowed itself to fade after watching five beams of light cut the still-living thing apart. I could hear Trelany screaming as the thing was lifted off whole and then in pieces into the void.


I still do not know which one of us actually killed the thing.




I woke to medicae tending me again, though no longer in the airless and open caverns of the dorsal sections. Juna was being tended to, the splinters of crystal were almost eager to leave her body and I ordered all of it voided.


We made our way back to the bridge just in time to witness the Whisperer in all of its dark glory.


The Praexitium had leapt ahead, as planned, and was battering its aft sections, hoping to carve apart the wings or sails that protruded from the Yu’Vath ship. It wasn’t unprotected, and several ships were aflame or adrift.


Less than an hour had passed and Captain Vaunt was begging, in a dignified manner, to pull away. It made sense, but I ignored it and gave word to the Chorda ships to begin their raking passes. The weapon mounts tearing the Winterscales apart needed other targets, swift moving ones.


I was prepared to call out Commodore Blake for her treachery and cowardice, but she surprised me. She flung her ships against the xenos battleship and did so with flair and skill.


She would commend me in her official communique. Vaunt would tell of my heroic stoicism against withering fire. But in truth the two forces from two dynasties about to go to war saved each other.


Melodramatic, isn’t it?


I’d like to think they’d develop a romance as well.


Regardless, the maneuver was timed with our own attack and we plunged in. I feared the Lady Zhar would be hulked as lightning blasted through its void shields and tore through its prow, but Commander Ivran kept true and kept firing.


Magos Binar poured through all the augury logs from the entire flotilla, nothing told us where its shields were being generated at all. There was no semblance of order or even separation from the crystalline ship. He isolated one power source, somehow, and I gave word to target this.


The Mars-pattern plasma cannon were said to be the Mechanicus’ finest work since the dawn of the Imperium. I could not disagree, and both broadsides were given ample opportunity to fire as we danced at the edge of its range.


It wanted us, and I was willing to let it try.


The hull screamed again as the warp munitions blinked past our own void shields, and as lightning coursing through the ship finally found our heart. The plasma drive gave out, the enginarium struck and aflame, and we were at last shown the folly of engaging a battleship.


Not that I let it show, ordering the auxiliary generatoria to exceed their safe outputs and power the guns and lances.


Peace found me. The ruin of my dynasty was mine, fitting for someone who had hated it all this while.


Then six torpedoes slammed into the Whisperer from above and detonated within.




Captain Keel was quite the hero, though in truth it was the Vivat that delivered the killing blow. The Hand of Truth’s final salvo, a dangerous one considering we were far too close with the Yu’Vath ship for comfort, had crippled the battleship’s back. But all agreed that Lt. Cmdr. Tuch’s first and only barrage ruptured whatever provided power to the thing.


The Vivat had maintained silent running even in the midst of all the fighting. I had not included it in the lists, wanting it to remain independent.


I promoted Tuch to full Commander. He would replace Commander Irvan on the Bocephus who died sat on his command throne.


The credit for it all was given us, and not unwarranted I will tell you that. When the Yu’Vath battleship shivered into smaller shards all the others came apart as well.


One less thing to worry about.


It was the same for the Whisperers--the human kind. They died as the thing that invaded their minds fled and took their souls with it. I’d pray if it would make a difference.


Juna has fallen into a coma. We are sure all the crystal pieces have been excised from her body yet we know little of her people’s biology--save that it’s remarkably hardy and fragile, just like ours. I will need to seek out the Eldar and beg for help, it will be twice I’ve saved her life now, though that brings us to parity. That she has saved mine at all, however, means I will owe her a debt for the rest of mine--of course I don’t have to tell her that, and yes I am a stickler for ancient traditions.


Once again we are in orbit of Vail, seeing to our wounds, and already we’ve noted changes in the Cloud. No longer is it escaping, defying natural law, but it is returning to the gas giant as the plasma falls down the gravity well. Prometheum will be somewhat harder to acquire, but with so many refineries it will not matter. Even the sun is beginning to behave normally again, though it may take years before its fire is steady.


Captain Vaunt and Commodore Blake have sent messengers to their superiors. Their fallen ships were recovered though it will take months for even Vail to bring them back to life--a promise that has saved our dynasty. I cannot tell you what pain either Winterscale or Chorda can bring to us at this moment.


Captain Keel, the autonomous vox-piece, was more than happy to sign off on recommendations for us to keep the Lady Zhar and Bocephus, along with their attendant frigates as escorts. All in some vaguely phrased “maintaining the watch” and so on.


I have not seen Rose again since the battle has ended. I hope her rosette-bearing master is happy.


What did the Inquisition know of us? What did the Eldar conspire with them? I do not know yet. I only know that we have, by the Emperor’s grace, a mostly self-sufficient and well armed base of operations. Already Footfall is abuzz with the Strom Dynasty’s resurgence and new transports arrive every day.


Of the Heathen Stars I hear that a space hulk is drifting towards it, that astropathic messages are getting lost, even rumours that a storm is coming.


Two years begins now.


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Most of what I’ve written in the last few years have been lost. I fear I do not have it in me to recompile such a record, so I will provide a summary. I am making available numerous logs and journals from other sources appended to this, but I will write down what has happened and will happen as I see it.

            The last complete entry in this journal was written four years, three months, twelve days, and one hour ago, by standard Imperial reckoning. We had just triumphed over the Yu’Vath battleship called the Whisperer in the Svard system. For the third and final time, I had begun to hope that the Strom Dynasty could find a home within the Expanse. Trade with Damaris, the first outpost, the first hope, started soon after. We journeyed to Footfall, that bastion of scummery, to begin trade talks with other dynasties and factors.

            Common reports of this time will tell you that this is when the Expanse turned against House Strom. Not so. I had plotted, with Lady Charlabelle of the Armelan Dynasty, to rid our Houses of the taint of Svard. We had, in our greed, absorbed forces and ships that the other Rogue Traders that fought in Svard had used. That they had fallen after ignoring my wise counsel, or that our seizures were all good and legal, did nothing to diminish the ire of the four dynasties we had, apparently, wronged.

            It required the sacrifice of several vessels. In my foolishness, I did not take into account how desperately angry some of those dynasties were. In my blindness, I did not see the hand organizing them. A hand that mentored and guided me; Novan Dercius Strom. In times past, he was a Scion of House Strom, and was even rumoured to be in the running for the title of Inheritor. But “Stromfall”--I still hate that name--had well and truly begun by his rise, and he fell quicker and faster than most. I will not recount the tale of our dynasty’s downfall, for it is too long and rambling and frankly, I’m still trying to halt our fall.

            We wrestled with tech heresy on our journey through the Maw and were prevented access to Port Wander. Uncle Dercius’ schemes had reached far, but our arrival coincided with a Reaver attack. Worshippers of the Ruinous Powers, these were no mere pirates who sought plunder and slaves. Reavers sought to advance their debased religions through atrocity.

            The Blessed Enterprise and its escorts were quickly forgotten by the Navy. I offered my aid and was rebuffed. We fought anyway, in the process rescuing several Navy escorts from total destruction. It was then we bid farewell to the Lady Zhar and the Bocephus, two Endeavour light cruisers that Battlefleet Calixis had lent to the now dead Haught dynasty. For this, we were granted a modicum of respect and allowed to dock.

            I, of course, made sure that each of the surviving senior officers knew they had the dynasty to thank for their survival.

            Uncle Dercius was most forthcoming with his contacts. So was Goddard Thraves, my Lord-Seneschal, his partner in crime. They all met their grisly ends in Port Wander, though that is none of my doing. Promises only go so far with desperate allies.

            After seeing to our repairs and replenishment, we made way for the Maflian Sub-sector, with a course for the main Lathe Worlds. But soon after our departure, we emerged into deep space and plotted another course.

            The Heart of Majesty, a proud battlecruiser, once belonged to a much-hated but well-respected rogue trader. It was lost decades ago. Of course many assumed that the ship was adrift somewhere, whether whole or in pieces, in the Koronus Expanse. One salvage ship, the Alter Locus, and her late free captain discovered otherwise.

            Horrors awaited us aboard the derelict. I shall not recount them, except to say that a quick death is often the most merciful thing to be found among the stars.

            We had loaded all the necessary supplies and parts to make the battlecruiser void worthy again, though it took months of hard work of both ships. When we finally made ready to sail, news reached us through astropathic messages of the battles being fought on the other side of the Maw. We reached the Lathe Worlds nearly a month later, battlecruiser in tow behind the Alter Locus.

            Immediately, we were challenged despite sending messages weeks ahead of time, despite the vast traffic at the edges of the system. We would weeks more in virtual isolation until our prize was ready to be accepted. I paid the Alter Locus handsomely for their part in the effort, and granted them an ongoing prize commission which they could collect at any Navy-friendly port. Suffice it to say that those collections may be few and far between.

            Magos Binar guided us through the labyrinthine halls of power within the Cult Mechanicus. It was precise, exacting work, and I deferred to him.

            In my naivete, I had thought we merely had to proclaim our successful retrieval of a Standard Template Construct fragment. Even if it was nothing more than a slightly more readable--to a Tech-Priest--copy of another fragment. Worlds had been given for far less.

            On my word, I agreed to not recount the processes or the rituals I was allowed to witness. Though I am allowed, and proud, to say that I and the rest of my senior officers were blessed with the sacred oils of somesuch that were reserved for those non-believers who still manage to aid in the Omnissiah’s work. I am simply extrapolating here, most of the chanting was in high gothic--in binaric.

            The Magos had insisted in being wholly open and honest with certain members of the Mechanicus, and with that transparency as a foundation, I was able to secure their support in the coming war. The Lathe Worlds were operating on a scale of industry that I could barely comprehend, supporting several Crusades I had not even heard of, not to mention a significant portion of the Calixis Sector’s industries. That they had forces to spare, resources to donate, was staggering.

            We pressed our contacts at Port Wander and finally made headway with some officers who had rotated through Passage Watch 27-Est, better known colloquially as Battlefleet Koronus. It helped that we were at the head of several Adeptus Mechanicus warships. I should also mention the generosity of the Tech-Priests who lathered devotional work to our flagship in our months spent there. I do not know which ongoing works were postponed, only that the Blessed Enterprise had regained much of its spirit.

            I cannot explain it well, only to say that it now understands and is more of a partner in our operations than before. The gun decks, recently refitted with salvaged Mars-pattern plasma cannon seemed to make the cruiser, well, happy. It felt like the whole ship was archeotech, instead of the oft-repaired battle-hauler she was.

            Our force made for Fleet Base Metis, only to see it under siege. The siege was quickly broken by our Mechanicus allies and their multiple nova cannon. We personally boarded the enemy flagship and fought its captain and one of Karrad Vall’s lieutenants. The sorceror was not so difficult to kill compared to his bodyguard: Orks, dominated or convinced to fight for the Reaver.

            Fleet Base Metis was more than glad to resupply us, though far less helpful with our Writs of Claim. The Mechanicus promised the dynasty fleets of ships, but I could always find use for more.

            Though it took days to convince the senior officers there, we threaded the Koronus Passage with two more cruiser squadrons, with their own escort squadrons. I had wanted to remain aboard the Blessed Enterprise during this time, but the Loci Veritas Lux was better suited to lead a task force. The Exorcist-class grand cruiser’s ancient flag bridge rivalled the Blessed Enterprise’s restored systems, but it was able to conduct the whole force efficiently. I gave command of the dynasty flagship to Lord-Commander Bain Iosef.

            We returned to Footfall just in time to watch it die.

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Revisionists will claim the Last Battle for Footfall was a glorious but futile battle. They’re already painting it as a romantic last stand for the various dynasties that ran away and abandoned Footfall, only to be found months later otherwise whole, forcing the revisionists to revise again.

            There was no battle. Just the continuous bombardment of a stationary target with unending waves of barbed torpedoes until Footfall itself was overrun with the xenos. I have heard the rumours about why the Rak’Gol amassed in such numbers, and I can tell you they are all wrong. The Rak’Gol want two things: blood and Yu’Vath relics. Footfall was too tempting a target for both.

            Svard was unmolested, and I thank the Emperor for that. I had almost believed the Rak’Gol horde had smashed through the system on its way to Footfall. Even as we arrived, ships were bypassing the Furibundus system thanks to our astropathic warnings and heading straight for Svard.

            Damaran merchantmen had arrived, their holds filled with food and raw resources to feed Svard’s people and industries. They brought word of Reaver attacks around Damaris, which itself was nothing new; Iniquity was only a few days away from it.

            Other rogue traders brought word of fighting in Winterscale’s Realm. Most agreed it was Aspyce and Calligos fighting it out instead of any Chaos force. I cared not, hoping to hear word of Battlefleet Koronus. Fleet Captain Nathaniel Horne had roused the bulk of the battlefleet’s strength and journeyed through the Maw months before us. He did not lay anchor at Footfall, nor at Svard.

            A coded message had gone out and patrolling Navy ships abandoned their routes and their duties as they heard it. It repeated on its own, forcing astropaths to strengthen it as they heard it.

            Citrine-level communiques. A call to war.

            Only none of our astropaths had the ciphers, and the Battlefleet Koronus ships among us lacked them as well. That was unusual.

            I would like to write that we spent the months fighting rampaging warbands, gloriously putting to death the foulest enemies of Man. We did that, though only when they came too close to Svard. I had patrols from the growing war flotilla search nearby systems, but Svard was now the port to and from Calixis. The ships were only coming because of the warships rotating in and out of the system.

            A prior commitment forced me to take the Blessed Enterprise, her escorts, and five empty personnel transports away. The Eldar were waiting for us, just as they promised.

            I will not recount how I was thoroughly and utterly manipulated and played. I sacrificed vessels and men, albeit untrustworthy ones, just so they could achieve whatever outcome they desired in their long game.

            We emptied the world of its human ‘infestation’ in record time. Most came willingly, if unenthusiastically. In my time on the surface I understood why. But back aboard the Blessed Enterprise, always the illusion of perfection and contentment faded away. Somehow, Commander Iosef managed to smuggle a warrior statue back aboard. It adorns our trophy room in a stasis podium.

            Our ships departed just as the Witnesses approached the Eldar world. I was pleased to see the Gerrits survive, as well as Lady Sun Lee. That Lord-Admiral Bastille survived was not welcome news. He fired on us instantly, despite the range. The scions of the Arcadius listened to me, as did House Ma’Kao. Bastille I left to the mercies of the Eldar, though I admit at being cheered at the sight of the Colossus’s broadsides tearing apart a red-and-gold xenos ship.

            I do not know if he escaped the warp storm that engulfed the world again.



My new Svardi colonists were less than impressed with their new moon homes. They had lived in idyllic tropical islands, and while the outer moons had their charms, they were unused to hardship. Most had to be taught basic hygiene and healthcare, surprisingly.

            Missionary Arandi ministered to these wayward humans. They had surprisingly complex, and utterly self-serving, beliefs about their roles and lives. The fire of Emperor worship was soon sparked, however, and they took to their tasks and recolonized the empty moons quickly.

            Captain Horne arrived while I was away. Only, it was Victoria horne. She did not appreciate my gift of a stolen Eldar blade as congratulations for her promotion, last I had heard she was still a lord-commander. She had taken command of the Imperial Navy forces in Svard, but she too had no insight as to where her brother was.

More ships arrived day by day, departing in large convoys through the Maw. They brought word of Reaver attacks, which we were always too late to counter. Though we engaged the Chaos ships far too rarely for my tastes, word spread that we were actively resisting.

            It was on one patrol, while I was aboard the Blessed Enterprise, that we finally ran into a main Reaver formation. A handful of freighters were making the passage through the Trisken Nebula several lightyears rimward of Svard when they came under attack by a Reaver squadron.

            Several other patrols were nearby and they responded quickly to our astropathic call, but the closest were still a few days out. Outmassed and outnumbered, we triumphed over the Chaos forces, though at considerable cost. Most of the wounds the Blessed Enterprise suffered in that battle remain till now.

            The victory also allowed us to, carefully, examine their logs and insane scribblings. Our lexmechanics were able to ascertain Fleet Captain Horne’s location and disposition. It was no wonder we couldn’t find him.

            He had found a way through a Warp storm, into the God Emperor’s Scourge.

Edited by Marwynn

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I hesitated. For a million reasons and more I could not simply risk the fleet to chase after another, and perhaps lose both. I wasn’t even certain most would follow--the rogue traders might, out of sheer bravado. Even Victoria Horne was reluctant to charge in after her brother, and the bulk of Battlefleet Koronus.

            Instead, I drew up a half-hearted plan to assault Iniquity. No Warp storms plagued that region of space, and I needed to see to Damaris. Captain Horne left behind orders for the stragglers of Battlefleet Koronus to hold at Svard and continue our patrols. I don’t believe she had the seniority for this, but her orders were given full support by all the Navy captains with us.

            The Hand of Redemption arrived just as we were at the edges of the system and joined us. Lord-Captain Keel had invited me on board and we actually shared a laugh at that, to the confusion of the rest of the fleet. Nevertheless, another battlecruiser in our ranks was most welcome, even if it was a black ship in all but name.

            Damaris was holding out well. In the years since our departure, its industries have rebounded and expanded under our dynasty’s investments and guidance. The Bulwark, a station built into a moon, had greatly expanded its operations and could almost berth every ship in our fleet. Its voidship infrastructure had also kept pace, allowing us to refit quickly after the weeks-long transit.

            A score of system defense ships kept the system safe. The Damarans had learned well from their war with the Orks, and the ships were more robust and packing even more firepower and engines than before. The transient freighter population had also created a voidfarer community that we eagerly pressed into service.

            Now that we had arrived I had looked for any reason at all to cancel the attack on Iniquity. Patrols in force were organized which quickly ran across vastly outnumbered Reaver forces. The victories came swiftly and continuously, and the fact that the defeated vessels were ships declared lost to pirates or the warp in recent years hindered any celebration. To them, each ship defeated was one redeemed or recovered.

            To me, it spoke of a greater plan. Iniquity would be empty save for a handful of ships offloading slaves and taking on supplies. The true threat lay elsewhere, I felt, and my senior officers worked hard to prove me (right or wrong). My days were spent approving patrol routes and wrestling with the senior commanders, sometimes almost literally.

            This has been called my greatest, individual, contribution to the greater war. How odd. I forbade the Blessed Enterprise and my own adopted flagship from venturing on these patrols. By all accounts, I swilled amasec and scribbled on dataslates given to me by servitors or ensigns. Yet they credit me with this, when all I did was send people to look for fights.

It could not have gone unnoticed. The Reavers attacked Damaris two months later.



Orks are wild, cantankerous, and unlikely. They are united in their need to attack, fight, smash, and fight once again. They had cunning. I always appreciated combat with an Ork for their refreshing vitality, even if it is oftentimes terrifying.

The slaves to the Ruinous Powers fight differently. They fight to the death, like greenskins, but corrupt and pollute even when they fall. We cleansed their ships at the cost of lives, in the hope that the recovered hulls would prove useful again. But the Reavers are another matter entirely.

            They came at us from all sides, a calculated jab to sow havoc. We had not spent the last few months idly, no matter how glibly I recount the time. Half of the first wave died to the system ships and hidden macro emplacements, kept hidden by their crews until they could bring their firepower to bear. The other half we swiftly intercepted with our escorts.

            On my order, no ships were boarded or even closed with, and each chunk would be blasted or lanced.

            The true attack was stopped by the attack craft. I know this will be a footnote among Battlefleet Koronus’ records, but the Blessed Enterprise, the Hawk, and the Loci Veritas Lux kept the fleet and the planet safe with their interceptors. Torpedoes, filled with all manner of vileness I’m sure, had skimmed along the Warp.

            Navigator Idris and Astropath Trelany communicated with all of their comrades and formed an alert network that allowed the fleet to coordinate its defensive fire and interception missions.

            The massive force, equal to our own numbers in the system, swimming near the frozen reaches of the system. They burned towards us soon after, and we had three days to prepare. Of course, by the time they had reached us, a third of their number had fallen to the minefields and automated emplacements along their paths. The Reavers splintered, reformed, and splintered again.

            I was not fooled. We intercepted even more attempts to sneak past our vigil. Cowardly attacks, inventive but definitely treacherous.

            When the Reavers slowed enough to battle speeds they came swiftly under fire. We had slowly repositioned several of the system monitors in their path of advance. I had kept the main fleet mostly static, giving each squadron commander enough leeway to move to keep the system and fleet safe.

            I can be treacherous as well.

            The system monitors I used were of the Enterprise-pattern, inspired by our own flagship. A lance battery sat on their dorsal turrets with kilometres-long flanks filled with macrocannon. Their prows gaped open and spat out bomber squadrons.

            Within twenty seven minutes of the Reavers approaching the battlespace around Damaris, a further third of their original number were dead, dying, or aflame.

            Then the nova cannon spat their void-shattering shells and the nameless Reavers died.

            We endured a further three weeks of attacks. Sometimes just individual craft. Other times a poisoned meteor shower or some other twisted phenomena. I regret not sailing out to engage the Reaver force quickly as they had arrived, but I know that it would have left Damaris vulnerable.

            Chaos can taint even victory.

Edited by Marwynn

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We spent the remainder of the year putting down fires, patrolling back and forth between Svard and Damaris to escort convoys and destroy pirate cells. Our strength grew, despite our losses, and though the Maw threatened to close it remained tenuously open.

            Battlefleet Calixis thundered out of the Maw and into Svard while the Blessed Enterprise was heading out to escort another convoy back to Damaris. Various Navy officers were none too happy about ships detailed to Passage Watch 27-Est seconding themselves to the Strom dynasty flagship, though several of my former comrades tempered their fellows’ ire. Calixian navy men do not particularly like Rogue Traders, and there’s no doubt that my own House’s fall would have coloured that outlook for the worse.

            Fleet Captain Nathaniel Horne had emerged from the God-Emperor’s Scourge, albeit not where we expected. Agusia lay at the edges of the Heathen Storm that engulfed most of the Heathen Stars region. We had heard that Battlefleet Koronus had established a station over that dead world.

            The vagaries of Warp communication made it so that we at Damaris heard the Fleet Captain’s call but it had been too weak and garbled when it reached the Calixian task force.

            Our fleet’s officers had begun to call me Lord-Admiral, though many true officers outranked me. That they deferred to my decisions and orders is more of a testament to my senior officers’ politicking and maneuvering than any great and terrible insight or skill on my part. I knew this, and knew that I lacked task group and fleet wide experience, and so relied on those with proper experience, regardless of rank or title.

            This naturally upset the noble senior officers of the Battlefleet Calixis task group.

            Lord-Captain Victoria Horne volunteered several escorts to remain at Damaris, to keep out the remaining survivors from Iniquity, and the “Strom Fleet” set out for distant Agusia. The Calixians followed a day later.



Once more I will make mention of the incredible devotion and sacrifice of the Damaran people. Though they suffered greatly against the Orks and the Reavers, they tore apart their own industries to outfit our ships with fittings, supplies, and everything a massive fleet would need. Shipments from Svard, namely the forge moon Vail, matched the output of just one planet.

            I made sure every one with us, even the Calixians, knew of it and showed proper gratitude.

            If only Damaris had survived. We arrived at the so-called Breaking Yards located midway through the known Expanse when we received word. Our patrols had reported a tide of pirate and raider attacks and were forced to return to Damaris only to see the half-frozen world aflame. It will be repopulated, but I fear the spirit of the Damaran people has been lost.

            Agusia was still several months away, and SR-651’s vast voidship component stockpiles had been depleted in the years of fighting in the region. We took on several more Rogue Trader dynasties either through guile, shameless diplomacy, and threats.

            We arrived almost five weeks later to find the shambles of Battlefleet Koronus in orbit around a dying world.

            Fleet Captain Nathaniel Horne had set his flag on Agusia Station, directing the remaining ships against an uncertain trickle of Reaver ships and worse coming from the Heathen Storm. Immediately, I lost all my Imperial Navy ships and of course the Calixians who had orders to submit to the fleet captain’s authority, who not only outranked them but was far above their social stations.

            I fear Nathaniel Horne will soon be gifted with a Warrant.

            I handed the Loci Veritas Lux over to Fleet Captain Horne only to see the proud grand cruiser languish in its berth for weeks.



Our battles were gruelling, made more so by the supply situation. We had brought enough to wage a fleet action or three. But not enough for a sustained war of attrition.

            Navigator Idris had quite enough of the seething Heathen Storm and wanted to kill the remaining forces of Karrad Vall at the warp storm’s heart. She lead several expeditions to find a way through, but always returned in failure. There were points that allowed an exit but would never allow entrance. Armed as she was with her own charts from inside the warp storm as it fell, she was best suited for the task.

            Grudgingly, she shared her findings with the remaining Strom Fleet composed of individual Rogue Trader fleets and free captains. Each rogue trader felt as I, that the Navy’s holding action was fruitless, especially since we could barely resupply even from salvage. The Reavers used patterns of ships that were unknown to us and each had to be scuttled if they were not outright destroyed in the fighting.

            We did not succeed in finding passage into the Heathen Storm. No, that honour goes to the Arcadius. Abel Gerrit’s Gambit threaded a path that lead to Zayth from Agusia. To his credit, he quickly disseminated the route, naming it the Arcadius-Strom Passage.

            Even this did not stir the fleet captain from his base. I feared then that his harrowing experiences had weakened the man. If only.

            The rogue traders quickly dispersed as we arrived over Zayth. Many went to see to their own holdings and nothing I could say would convince them otherwise. Instead, I requested they send envoys to the Zayth system so that we could have a centralized communications source. They agreed.

            Those few with no holdings in the former Heathen Stars region journeyed with us to Salvator, to Stromport.



It was as if we never left. Our pickets were just as we left them, our ships engaging in a circuit from Salvator to Bala then to Naduesh and back. We had only answered the distress call days ago, not years by our reckoning.

            The Salvator system was flourishing, despite the warp storm, completely oblivious to the greater battles being waged in and around it. I dreaded arriving here only to find it a haven for pirates and recidivists under the helm of my cousin.

            I shot Lyza Strom as soon as I saw her. My gift of a protective field saved her from death, but not from the manacles and restraints as my armsmen seized her and her officers. She joined my uncle and my former seneschal in the depths of the Blessed Enterprise.

            Stromport provided a respite, and our dwindling supplies were replenished and the Mechanicus ships with us quickly went to work repairing the station and helping our impromptu terra-forming of Salvator itself. The planet’s storms were quieted and its surface cooled within weeks. Mining operations quickly began and our various acquisitions from Bala aided our refining of adamantium.

            The Priests of Mars and Priests of Terra were once again co-operating as rivals. The missionaries who laid claim to the planet as the centre of their evangelical mission allowed the mining and refining operations that kept the ships running. The missionaries provided manpower from feral worlds recently converted to the Creed. The tech-priests provided armour and weapons.

            And the Stroms provided the food and water. Albeit, with the use of both manpower and tools.

            In our second month of operations inside the Heathen Storm, our Zayth relay ships sent word of a massive incursion. The survivors of the battlefleet assembled over Agusia begged for aid. Fleet Captain Nathaniel Horne had been killed, some say by the fleet commissar, as a massive Reaver attack threatened to overrun the system.

            By the reports it appeared to us that most of the space hulk had been emptied for that massive attack. The Midnight’s Lair seemed vulnerable, and its location had already been passed to us by the remaining merchantmen that moored at Stromport regularly.

            It was time to strike back.

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I will not recount the battle against Midnight’s Lair here. It was horrific. Even now, the Blessed Enterprise wails with its injuries as it sits in drydock above Lathe-Het. Repairs are proceeding, but the keel itself has been mangled.

            Should it be straightened once again, a resource-intensive and time-consuming process, it may no longer bear the ancient words of our Warrant etched into the adamantium. If you know anything about voidships you should know that damage to the keel should be rare and only occur as a result of catastrophe. I’ve seen many hulks with their keel still intact, though escorts can often be split in two.

            I ramble.

            We lost many people. We were correct; the space hulk was mostly abandoned. We were also wrong; the space hulk was far from defenseless. Nearly every single one of our attack craft squadrons were rent apart by massive forces, massed fire, or simply mass insanity. Daemon things flew out of wounds in realspace---did I just not say I would not recount the battle?

            Forgive me, scion. I have written quite extensively on this subject and that in itself was not lost. Read “In the Lair of Midnight” when you can.

            In the aftermath, the Stromport emerged as a bastion against the madness of the region. I had significant influence amongst the various survivors that I harnessed into a continuing campaign to purge the region from pirates. We lost a few more, but our combined ardour unsettled the largest pirate clans in the region.

            But most of the ships with us fled, even as some found their way in through the weakening Heathen Storm. In a few years there is hope that the Warp storm will dissipate altogether, all that entropic energy fleeing back to the Rifts or Hecator or wherever else they came from. For now, the Arcadius-Strom Passage and the Stromport are rebuilding the dynasty’s wealth.

            We have managed to keep Bala a secret, and ships are respecting our tenuous hold over Naduesh. I feel that I may soon need to establish a presence in the Zayth system itself, as the increased traffic and uncertainty of communication will require a more permanent fixture.

            My senior officers had opened up a trade route with Zayth. An export of their fine weaponry in exchange for food and medicine (from nearby Bala) was easily agreed upon. Soon, we leveraged small amounts of adamantium tools and processed metals in exchange for fine quality macrocannon.

            The debts we incurred by pressing so many chartrists and free captains at Salvator have been repaid in full. Stromport remains strongly ours, despite the Ecclesiarchy’s growing meddling. It seems the Mechanicus are willing to side with us so long as it stifles the Ecclesiarchy.

            In exchange, we took a small Explorator fleet into Raakata. There, we found the hulk of the Boro flagship as the chained-hulls of a Stryxis caravan ship wrapped around it. I made no claims to any of the vessels, though the tech-priests operated under the assumption that we wanted to recover the Boro grand cruiser.

            When we returned to Damaris, then Svard, our victory had been reported ahead of us. We were heroes, legends of the Expanse!

            I still think we should have remained within Koronus. The Eldar had double-crossed me yet again, and I hoped to strike at the Crow Spirits’ nest with my newfound influence. Alas, I answered a summons by Passage Watch 27-Est to report to Fleet Base Metis.

            There, they stripped me of my reserve rank. It’s a small technicality, a point of honour given to long-serving Navy captains, to be considered on the reserve rolls instead of being retired from service. That was taken from me. The  Loci Veritas Lux was taken back as well, and with the Blessed Enterprise in tow, I was ordered to report to Lord Sector Hax to account for my actions.

            That was my mistake. Since my Warrant was not authorized or in any way approved by the Lord Sector and by the Emperor himself, I utilized my right to appeal directly to the Emperor--or his earthly representatives.

            So I depart for Terra and perhaps wait years for the High Lords to hear my case.

            Knowing my error in appealing, Lord Sector Hax offered a compromise. Calixis had suffered greatly thanks to my ‘shenanigans’ and required the dynasty to serve its interests for a decade.

            In one arrogant misstep, all that we had worked and bled for was ripped away from us. Yes, our holdings will continue to operate, but under ‘Imperial’ control. That is to say, Hax’s cronies will profit from it rather than us. I have managed to wring enough to keep the dynasty afloat while I, as well as the surviving senior officers, will make way for the Spinward Front. This ghastly war in the Periphery was chosen to humiliate the dynasty; it echoes too much of Stromfall.

            I believe I have outsmarted them all, though only time will prove me wrong or right.

            I have raised three new Scions of House Strom. The two youngest I will take with me so that they may learn, but the oldest I have arranged to journey into the Jericho Reach. Our Warrant still allows us to establish new holdings, open new routes, claim colonies, and make deals with the xenos anywhere in the galaxy. Or so we claim, at least.

            As I understand it, few rogue traders have journeyed into the Reach. Not many have the connections to even know of the place, much less the nearly heretical means to travel there. I am owed favours aplenty by the captains of those Navy ships, and was provided this dangerous opportunity. The Warp Gate was also claimed by a scion of the Arcadius, and Abel Gerrit and I are allies if not friends.

            The tech-priests of the Lathes have, under Magos Binar’s direction, delivered a star galleon pried from the Midnight’s Lair itself and hastily repaired. We have manipulated and lied to lead a convoy of supply ships to Fleet Base Metis and then escort other ships through this Warp Gate.

            Though our Warrant allows us to journey anywhere, within the Imperium we must respect its laws. As this Achilus Crusade seems to be faltering, Imperial grip on these worlds are weakening. I am certain Aleksander Torr, now known as Sander Strom, will find opportunity in the Reach.

            We may spend the next ten years in penance, fighting a war no one is interested in winning, but aboard the New Hope with a new lord-captain and crew, I believe the Strom Dynasty may yet rise again.

Cogniczar and Egyptoid like this

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Jealous. I wish my players gave this much of a **** about our games.


also, how do you pronounce Aoife ? one website says its like Irish for Eva.

Edited by Egyptoid

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