Thursday, November 23, 2023

Vastarian: Battle Report 1 - the Breath of Organthus

Purpose. Divine Purpose. It was finally within his grasp again. He would not lose it this time. These last few years were not some cosmic joke taunting his faith (or increasingly, a lack thereof).

They couldn't be a waste. No. He wouldn't accept that.

The downward spiral began with the rise of Levedescu and her commitment to autoclaves and medicine. His spiritual role in the Church, the ritual bloodletting and sermons, was replaced with trained medicae officers with sterile blades and aseptic conditions. The rumors of the Pilgrym gave him purpose then. Throne above, it had seemed like a blessing when he was selected for that fatal role in the Red Hour. He had imagined it a thousand times, taking his keening axe to the Pilgrym’s neck, his glouring mask flecked with blood. He would mark the beginning of a new age for the Imperium, one where the Golden Throne would fall to ruin and His spirit would be set free. And then maybe his own meager existence could finally end (and if he wasn’t found wanting, perhaps he could join Him in His domain). But it had been a lie, the Pilgrym. He was sure of that now.

Had any of them even seen this “Pilgrym” amidst the madness of that day? He hadn’t. Rumors said that it was some sniveling child. Arnesen was convinced of that and was persuasive enough to turn Levedescu’s ear…

What was certain, however, was that the "Pilgrym" had been whisked away at the height of the Red Hour by that obsidian-clad brute and his mindless drones. Later of course, he learned his name was Lazaros. Damned Inquisition. Emperor's servants his arse. As if they could see into His mind, appreciate His grand design.

The Daylight Wall Anomaly. That is what they called the debacle now. It was an ignominious moment for the Church. But more than anything, it was an ignominious moment for him. He failed as an acirgeon. Then he failed at completing the Red Hour, failed at playing his part of the ritual, of taking the role of the Arch-heretic (forever curse his name, and his traitor legion). His purpose had almost slipped away then. Almost.

He found it again with his excommunication. He couldn’t have stayed there anyway, with all those accusing faces. Those looks of pity from the congregation. And worse, the looks of understanding and acceptance. As though they had anticipated it from the beginning.

Through exile he had found a path and a purpose. Even if it was not pursuing what Levedescu intended. He was tasked with tracking the Pilgrym. Instructed to leave Terra with the headless “missionary” and connect with other cells of the Church of the Red Athenaeum, and anyone else that could serve their purpose.

It was all a fool’s errand. That much was clear now. How could they track the Inquisition? Besides, they hardly knew what they were searching for. And could this “Pilgrym,” a child, really repair that which the adepts of the Mechanicum had failed at for centuries, prolonging this failed Imperium? No. He thought not.

Regardless, not much after they had taken recruits from the moldering ruins of Hive Secundus had the headless Arnesen disappeared. Off to murder some worthless wretches for credits he suspected. He always seemed more a headhunter than a man of the cloth. He never trusted the freak, with that horrid bird always fluttering about. Always watching. But what a tough old bastard Arnesen was! He really saved their skin from those vat-grown Furnace Howlers, after getting to Primus. When he closed his eyes, he could still see his headless body stalking through the pitch black of the underhive sumps, starkly defined by the staccato muzzle flare of his Urdeshi submachine gun. Few were better at breaching a room. Few were better at killing folk, if he was being honest. Throne, he could use that "talent" now…

But Arnesen was gone. No sense dwelling on it. Lingering on it wouldn't help breach the Cagorea Trade Dynasty's docked Gothic class cruiser, the Breath of Organthus. The vessel had been languishing in the Nyx Space Port for over a year, soot black and burnished, as though it was forgotten by the Trade Dynasty. Honestly, it probably was; Tiberius Cagorea, the Dynasty’s leader, was a corpulent old fool, likely more interested in spiced wine and curios from old Terra than conducting meaningful trade negotiations. Yes, the Breath of Organthus would be an easy target.

He didn't need Arnesen’s help at all. He had a good crew. The stoic Marcelo Lythgoe, all corded muscle and adrenalin. Petr Danev and his rictus grin. There wasn’t a better tracker this side of Vastarian. More than anything though, he had the Emperor's protection. He was watching over them. The Tarot said as much.

The haggard crone was long dead, likely still rotting beneath the Serrated Stairs on Terra. He missed her in a fashion. Her psychoactive tarot cards were dead in his hands, he didn't have the psychic gift, but he had been learning the cards, learning their meanings. Learning to read the threads of fate.

The Dishonoured Scion.
The Silver Door, inverted.
The Blind Seer.

He would “liberate” one of the Trade Dynasty’s astropaths or perhaps a navigator, if any were still alive. It had been hell since that malevolent rift opened and consumed the heavens in a fulminating storm of kaleidoscopic color. Vastarian had turned into a warzone of conflicting ideologies, championed by saints. No. False saints.

Ligeia Orr was not false. She was His light, a pure embodiment of His spirit. She would guide them forward, and with His blessing, bring this rotting Imperium to an end.

Yes. He had purpose again. He would not lose it now.

Kirill Blokhin and his hand-picked crew of Church of the Red Athenaeum members breached the hull of the Breath of Organthus, a gothic class cruiser with associations with the Cagorea trade dynasty, in search of a living astropath. Since the encroachment of dreams and psychic upheaval that consumed Vastarian, widespread communication was virtually impossible without a “functioning” astropath.

The hold of the Breath of Organthus stretched out before the operatives, dingy and damp illuminated sporadically by crimson glow globes and flickering terminals. There were no signs of life; the only sounds were their feet ringing off the pitted gantries and walkways, and the wheezing hum of air-circulation systems.

Kirill and Marcelo Lythgoe, his heavy stubber clutched lightly in his grip, spirited through the halls, descending deeper into the bowels of the ship, in search of an astropath rumored to be on board. Despite their iron-clad resolve, they were on edge. Things were not as they expected. Where was the posh luxury that Cagorea espoused? The ship was alien and dead, with a palpable sense of unease and malice. Something lingered in the air, a caustic tinge of antiseptics and pyrolytic carbon.

Unbeknownst to the invading cultists, the intrusion did not go unrecognized. Deeper within the bowels of the ship, custodial servitors activated and began to prowl the tenebrous darkness.

Lythgoe continued to stalk through the echoing hull of the ship, covering Kirill as he scanned the lower decks, bathed in a crimson glow.

Finally, after many long and tense minutes since entering the Breath of Organthus, they spied another living being deep within the ship. They were immobile, bound into an iron throne with numerous intradermal cables. Behind them, suspended in the stale air, was a monolithic eye-socketless skull that seemed to radiate a sense of doom. Thumbing his microbead, Kirill spoke in a low whisper, letting the rest of his crew know they might have found their target. As the link went dead, the corridors around them began ringing with the sound of leaden feet. They were not alone.

The link clicked to a close and Petr Danev, a grin perpetually on his scarred face, knew all hell was about to break loose. Some perverse form of the ubiquitous servo skull silently floated into view, a vertebral tail snaking from a porcelain mask. A targeting array pulsed an angry red, as Danev readied his shotgun. Time dilated. Violence was at hand.

Once a glorious beacon of the Grenaki technological zeitgeist, the Harvester was now a screaming creature of pitted oxidized metals and unthinking motion. It, with its custodial servitors, would cleanse the ship of these biological contaminants.

A frisson of equal parts terror and excitement shivered through Lythgoe’s body as two corroding automatons appeared at his back, devolutions of some nameless pattern of Mechanicum thrall. One, taller than the other, floated ominously as it crackled and fulminated with crimson skeins of electricity. As adrenaline coursed through his veins, he raised his heavy stubber. This was what he lived for.

Kirill reached the enthroned individual, the leering skull to his back. They were unresponsive, but still had a faint pulse. He noticed a fold of skin on their forehead, a third eye. Navigator. Astropath or not, they needed to get out of this place. This was not the mercantile vessel the naval dockets had advertised; something sinister was at work here. With increasingly frantic taps at the terminal, Kirill tried to release the pneumatic locks that held the prisoner in place. Finally his persistence prevailed and with a hiss, the locks disengage and the throne lifted free on anti-gravitational runners.

A massive corroded custodial servitor burst onto the gantry way, and with a whirl of servos sent Danev flying, limp with unconsciousness or worse.

More custodial servitors were called to the breach, intent on eradicating the intruders. One with a burnished blowtorch set their targeting engrams on Kirill.

Danev was nowhere to be seen, his assailant began to chatter towards Lucien Conticello. The longlas in his hands was cumbersome in these tight corridors. He squeezed the trigger, sending a las bolt, white hot and searing, down the hallway. It glanced off the skeletal automaton in a shower of sparks. It did not slow its pace. Death was close Conticello thought, as his hands began to shake.

Lythgoe sprinted after Kirill and their floating captive, turning at frantic intervals to send a hail of heavy stubber rounds at the monstrous robotic constructs at his back, each cascading with malignant red arcs of electricity. Lythgoe felt as though from the marrow of his bones that they had awoken something in this rusting hulk. One of the custodial servitors at his heels released a gout of burning promethium that nearly reached him, singeing the hairs on the back of his neck. In the harsh orange backlight, to his horror, he noticed for the first time that the wall was lined with what looked like status pods. From each stared a sallow-faced human trapped within. Marcelo Lythgoe always prided himself for being unshakeable, but deep within this abhorrent vessel that confidence was ebbing. Terror began to pulse down his spine. He picked up his pace.

With the unresponsive navigator floating at his side, Kirill Blokhin rushed into the airlock and shouted for any of his crew to retreat and get out of this stygian vessel. They had a navigator now, something that would help in the coming conflict. He hoped this was the last they would see of the Cagorea Trade Dynasty and the Breath of Organthus. But clawing at the back of his mind was a certainty that things had just been set in motion that could not be stopped.

We hope you enjoyed the first battle report for Vastarian! It was played during the Rich Grimmond Inq28 event earlier this summer! It was played with Jonny Lashley (Witchhammerstudio) on his stunning “The Breath of Organthus” board. The Church of the Red Athenæum may have won this game, but they do not know the Cagorea Trade Dynasty has been dealing with the YOD Death Cults, and they are not a forgiving sort…

- Eric Wier

1 comment:

  1. Great story, and those action shots look so good. Great work! Cannot wait to see more of this.