Voyages of the Iron Duchess, Part IV: The Ambush

In which our heroes make secret deals, learn of the existence of a powerful enemy, reconstruct the scene of a crime, and find run into trouble out in the airless void…

A Meeting of Heretics

While the confrontation with the Avalon siblings and the matter of the spy had been going on, Andromeda had detected a signal from outside of the mansion– one that seemed to be a summons, in hexamathic code, summoning her by her ident-signature. Without informing anyone else, Andromeda slipped out of the mansion and walked through the garden to followthe signal to its source– a ruined portion of the manor’s outer wall. She was met there by a small coterie of Techpriests, including the Techpriestess she had met at the bar only a few days before.

c. Juan Redolat Blasco

One of the Techpriests stepped forward, and introduced himself as Magos Durthan Sorrax, a prime-adjunct of one of the many manufactoria in Novantis. Sorrax revealed that he and his fellows had heard of Andromeda and her unrestrained interest in AI, and revealed that they were part of a larger group called the Kabanites, a sect that believed in locating and utilising artificial intelligences and other pre-Dark Age technology proscribed by the Mechanicus. Sorrax had heard that Andromeda was not only interested in uncovering old artificial intelligences, but had managed to become part of a Rogue Trader crew, and so he made a proposition to her: the Kabanites were in the Kerberus Sector searching for a long-lost device called the Incunabula, believed to be a digitised repository of pre-Dark Age knowledge. If, during her travels, Andromeda discovered any clues to its whereabouts– or indeed, found its actual location, then Sorrax and his brethren would not only be willing to share resources and information with her, but he would also be willing to induct her into their order, and thus give her access to all of the hidden knowledge and secrets that they had uncovered.

Remembering that she had seen a reference to the Incunabula before, Andromeda questioned Sorrax about the message she had seen on Hesperus, and Sorrax admitted that the Magos on Hesperax had been a member of their brotherhood, using his position and influence to secretly extend the search for the Incunabula. Enticed by Sorrax’s offer and hungry for forbidden knowledge, Andromeda readily agreed, and Sorrax gave her a unique datum-ident to signal him with in case she ever found the Incunabula. Before they parted ways, Sorrax, knowing that Andromeda was from Mundus Brunnus, asked her what had happened to the expedition to recover archeotech from that planet. Andromeda lied and said that she did not know– she was not yet content to share the fact that her own recklessness had forced her to flee from an angry mob.

When Andromeda got back, she arrived just after the spy had immolated himself. Taking charge of the situation, Catullus had his people sent out to patrol the grounds while his contacts in Novantis where messaged to find out about this man’s accomplices, if any. A decision was reached that they would try to get in touch with the family archive in Novantis as well, to ensure that everything else of theirs was secure. The local Arbites, however, would not be told– Catullus did not need word of this incident to get out more than necessary.

An Old Enemy Returned

When his siblings were finally out of earshot, Captain Avalon confided privately with the party that he believed this incident to be connected with the psyker whom they had encountered on Hesperus. Ages ago, Tiberius told them, when he had been younger and twice as foolish, he had joined a group on Calyphia called the Golden Briar Society– a club of the planet’s elite who used their membership to carry out secret business deals, acquire black-market goods, and enjoy vices generally frowned upon by the public eye. Tiberius became more and more involved with the Society, making full use of their influence and enjoying more and more of their…entertainments.

One night, however, at one of the Society’s clubhouses, Tiberius had wandered into the basement and discovered the horrifying truth. The Society had in fact been kidnapping villagers from the rural countryside and doing unspeakable things to them, chaining them up like animals and sacrificing them in horrific rituals. The moment he discovered this, the other members of the Society came at him with knives drawn. Fighting them of and barely escaping with his life, Tiberius had gone before the local Arbites and told them everything, even confessing to his own part in the Society’s illegal activities. In the purge that followed, the Golden Briar Society was uprooted and utterly destroyed, and Tiberius played an active role in their eradication…although it was not without cost. Tiberius’ pregnant wife, Julietta, had died shortly after he had approached the Arbites, and Tiberius to this day believed that she had been poisoned in vengeance by the Society.

On hearing this story, Brigitte showed Tiberius the sigil of the Chosen Few: the shocked Captain gave a slow, grave nod as he recognized it as the symbol of the Golden Briar. Whatever name they went by now, this cult– for indeed, a cult was the only thing Tiberius could describe it as– was not only still alive, but was active and had far-reaching influence across the sector. Suddenly, they now knew who had employed the psyker who had influenced Harkin, and who had sent the spy. Suddenly, their quest had just become much more dangerous.

A Theft In the Night

That night, while everyone else slept, Ka’ra and Cygnis maintained a watch in the hallway. The following morning brought chaos and confusion, as Ka’ra woke to the sound of Tiberius shouting angrily that the rest of the crystal was missing. It turned out that, that same night, the family archives in Novantis had been broken into, its archivist knocked out, and the crystal, alone of all of the Avalon Dynasty’s possessions, stolen. Somehow, the thief had not only avoided detection, but had also somehow completely bypassed all of the archive’s fearsome security systems in the process– something that should have been an impossibility.

The party assembled, journeyed to Novantis, and quickly questioned the family archivist, a wizened old scholar named Leandro Skalinsky. Leandro admitted that he had passed out in his apartment (to which the archive was connected by secret passage), but had no memory as to how, and had no idea as to how the security systems had been bypassed: the only entrance was guarded by biometric seal, he said, and only one of the Avalon family could gain entrance. Even if somehow the intruder managed to gain access, the internal sensors would quickly spot the irregular and kill the thief with any one of dozens of lethal failsafes.

Suspicious, Cygnis looked into Skalinsky’s mind (the old man did not resist), and found that the archivist was telling the truth, but also found something else: in his memories of his arrival at his apartment, she saw, through his vision, a faint flicker in the corner of the room, like light diffusing unevenly…before Skalinsky abruptly passed out. There had been an intruder in the room, she surmised, one equipped with some kind of cloaking field, who had a managed to somehow knock Skalinsky out without leaving a mark on him. A forensic analysis by Andromeda, meanwhile, determined that the interior security systems had not activated when the intruder had gone in through the main door: somehow, the entire security system of the archive, despite constantly changing passwords, regular tests and meticulous planning, had been bypassed and fooled in one fell swoop. To accomplish such a feat would required resources and skill far beyond anything she had ever encountered.

Working with this information, the party came up with the following theory: some enemy of the dynasty had managed to get a DNA sample of one of the Avalons (possibly from Tiberius himself), and had used it to gain entrance– Andromeda even postulated that, with the right facilities, the DNA could have been used to clone a finger, or an eye, with which to fool biometric scanners. Even then, however, the internal security systems should have quickly realized by pict-feed that the intruder was unauthorized: to accomplish this, the internal cogitator systems of the archive would have had to have been hacked at the exact same time, which would have been extremely difficult…that was, unless the internal passwords had been psychically extracted from Skalinsky somehow. It was possible, then, that the thief, or someone working with them, was a psyker.

A New Plan

With the crystal gone, so too was the dynasty’s hopes of finding the location of the Pandorax…or at least, so the party thought. At this stage, Captain Avalon revealed that he still had a backup plan: rumour had it that an infamous diviner, the so-called Isabel the Seer, was about to have a telling on the Hex. Isabel had already gained notoriety for making a number of cryptic, yet accurate divinations– in fact, it was she who had first predicted Tethys being swallowed by the Warp. If they could gain an audience with Isabel, then there was a chance that this seer might be able to point them in the direction of the Pandorax. They just needed a way to circumvent Catullus’ order…

It was at this point, though, that Catullus arrived and gave Tiberius a new decision he had made: in order to help strengthen the dynasty’s diminished economic ties, it was important that new trading contacts, offworld holdings, and new trade routes be established. Thus, in a rescinding of his previous order, Catullus was dispatching the Iron Duchess out into the void to carry out these important tasks– in particular, to establish new trade routes and business partners, to restore the good reputation of the Avalon Dynasty, and above all else, to bring much-needed wealth back to Novantis. Tiberius was left speechless by this pronouncement, and declared his eternal gratitude, both to his brother for giving him this chance, and, in secret, to his crew for convincing Catullus to change his mind.

In the last few days on Calyphia, as they prepared for the journey ahead, Brigitte tried to send feelers out into Novantis, trying to determine if either Beauregard du Chasson or Harlan Kortenay were still anywhere in the city or on the planet: all information received back indicated that they were long gone…which meant that the Chosen Few either had the crystal and already had a head start on them, or that they were planning some fiendish ambush elsewhere…

Andromeda, meanwhile, had filled out a request for cybernetic augmentation, and in a quick, ritualized operation, received a bionic heart, allowing her to run for longer hours without getting tired and bolstering her already resilient mechanical frame.

After a few days of preparation, the party departed from Calyphia to set off on their quest. Captain Avalon shared a fond farewell with his siblings, and Ophidia, in particular, shared a teasing goodbye kiss with Brigitte. As they left, Leondro Skalinsky, eager to make amends for the loss of the crystal, joined the crew of the Duchess, as did Mortimer Crane, the household butler, who insisted that he be allowed to tend to Captain Avalon’s well-being. Before the party left, Catullus reminded Ka’ra of her promise to watch over his brother– a promise that she assured him that she intended to keep.

A Confrontation with the Magos

Meanwhile, back on the Iron Duchess, Dent arrived back from his mission below the waterline and brought Adept Noxx straight to Mother Mari, the bosun, to tell her of what they had found. A few minutes later, a hasty conference of the Duchess’ officers was called, and the assembled officers in turn were told about Noxx’s findings below the waterline, and what they had learned from Obadiah. Amazed and shocked in equal measure (especially by the news that Obadiah the Unseen was very much alive and not a myth), the assembled officers deliberated on their next course of action. Ultimately, they agreed that, as curious as they were about the dormant ship systems, and as unsightly as the mutants were, Magos Gogol’s policies of harvesting the ship’s mutant population for servitors had to stop before it sparked a riot.

Artist unknown

At this point, Gogol stormed into the meeting room and demanded to know why he had not been informed of Adept Noxx’s rescue. When accosted by the assembled officers over his practice of abducting the mutants, however, Gogol was unfazed, declaring that he had remit to acquire any resources he needed for the running of the enginarium, including living ones, and that everyone living below the waterline was deemed to be expendable. Interrogating Noxx in binaric, Gogol quickly learned of the technological marvels hidden below the waterline, and declared that he needed to assemble an expedition immediately– only for Dent to bar his exit and declare that he would be doing no such thing without the permission of the inhabitants there– that they were loyal crew members of the ship and servants of the Imperium, and would be treated as such.

The entire meeting chamber was surprised, and a little impressed, at Dent’s willingness to stand up to the Magos, and although Gogol reacted with indignation at this upstart of a bosun’s mate telling him what he could and could not do, the other officers quickly backed Dent up, agreeing that Gogol’s actions would lead to a mutiny. Incensed at being so surrounded, Gogol angrily declared that he was not going to allow a bunch of organic bleeding hearts to interfere with the running of his enginarium, and that he would accept only the Captain’s authority at this table…and, as if on cue, Captain Avalon strode into the room, along with the rest of the party, having just returned from the surface.

Upon being informed of what was going on, Captain Avalon at first expressed surprise, just as everyone else had, that Obadiah the Unseen in fact existed. Upon hearing what Gogol had been doing without his knowledge, however, Avalon rounded upon the enginseer in fury, denouncing his practices and prohibiting him or his servants from venturing below the waterline until he decreed otherwise. If anyone was going to venture down there to investigate Adept Noxx’s findings, he declared, then it would be Adept Noxx and, thanks to her expertise in archaotech, Magos Andromeda. Gogol protested loudly that Andromeda was a heretic and a renegade, but Captain Avalon would not hear it, and dismissed the Enginseer. Gogol bitterly obeyed, and left the room, snarling curses in binaric all the while.

From there, Captain Avalon dismissed his officers and conversed with the party. It was decided that, at some point on their journey, they would need to send an expedition below the waterline to meet again with Obadiah and his mutants, and hopefully figure out what those dormant systems actually did. Dent expressed his caution, however: something about how sickly Obadiah had looked didn’t sit well with him, and he warned that the lower decks might be more exposed to the Warp than the rest of the ship. That, and he did not think Gogol would soon forget the insult that he had suffered today…

The Voyage Begins

Within days, the Iron Duchess had translated into the Warp and was en route to the Hex. As per their deal, the Remington Brothers and their ship, the Knave of Aces, joined them on their journey, as it was believed that their various black market contacts would come in handy once they reached the Hex.

During the voyage, Andromeda was tasked in aiding the ship’s chirurgeon, Maxim Fyodorovich, with examining the ashen remains of the spy. Upon conducting a microbiological analysis of the remains, Andromeda discovered trace elements of metals in there that confirmed that the man had had special implants inserted into him. Both the rarity of the metallic traces and the possible nature of the implants suggested that the man had been working for someone with a high amount of resources and training. The fact that the metal elements had been broken down instead of melted, meanwhile, suggested to Andromeda that this hadn’t been a promethium-based incendiary device: she quickly theorized that the suicide device had rather harnessed a bio-electric current from within the man’s body and vaporized him from within.

Cygnis, meanwhile, tried once again to awaken the soul inside of the spirit stone she had taken off of Kobold. Once again, she tried to clear her thoughts, going over the mantras and prayers taught to her by the Void Dreamer back on the Corsair fleet, before reaching her mind into the stone. This time, she felt something– core of life within, slumbering, confused. Cygnis tried to reach in deeper, to communicate with it, but the soul within retracted and retreated deeper, almost as if on instinct. Disappointed, Cygnis was nonetheless satisfied that she had made some progress.

Ka’ra, meanwhile, had requisitioned a good number of raw materials from Calyphia, and made further progress in creating a new drone body for Ex and Vee. The two drone AIs, of course, decided to be “helpful” by giving her several thousand suggestions for add-ons and modifications…all of which, naturally, served to aggravate her to the point of a headache (at which point they gave her dozens of tips on how to deal with a migraine).

A Distress Call

Halfway through their journey, the Iron Duchess stopped at the Battleground, an ancient debris field that was a site of relative calm amid the roiling currents of the warp, and thus a popular stopping point for voyagers. The Battleground was so named because, millennia ago, it had been the site of a massive battle– though the details of exactly who had fought here, and why, were impossible to tell as most of the drifting hulks had been stripped bare by scavengers ages ago.

No sooner had the Iron Duchess translated out of the Warp, however, their long-range vox array picked up a repeating signal being propelled by a comms-buoy. It was a cry for help, from a pilgrim vessel called the Faith’s Reward, stating that their ship had sustained damage and that they needed assistance. Not much else could be discerned from the message, as the recording abruptly cut out before looping again. The ship’s augurs had determined that the origin point of the message was several hundred void units starboard, well beyond the range of their sensors, but they nonetheless determined that the message itself was only a few days old.

Deciding that the situation looked too much like a trap, the party volunteered to venture ahead of the Iron Duchess in a gun cutter, hoping to scout ahead of the Duchess’ augur arrays to see if there was indeed a ship in need of rescuing, or if this was indeed a trap. Dent was put in charge of the mission, and he recruited ten Voidsmen for the job (plus the party), including his right-hand man Kinnette, as well as Brigitte, in case her negotiating skills might come in handy. Naturally, Kathima came along as well to protect her mistress (even though Brigitte was horrified to imagine the filthy living conditions they might find on a pilgrim ship).

Within minutes, the party and their accompanying Voidsmen took off in one of the ship’s gun cutters and flew off ahead of the Iron Duchess. Within half an hour, they approached the site of the message, and saw the Faith’s Reward, the vast pilgrim ship listing in space, venting plasma from numerous weapon hits. Aiding in the cutter’s navigation, Cygnis cast Soul Scry, and felt the huddled, terrified souls of the Faith’s Reward at the edge of her sense. But that was not all she felt: just as proximity alarms started to go off in the cockpit of the gun cutter, she sensed more souls coming in at extreme ranges to starboard and port– souls that were tense with greed, excitement and bloodlust.

And then, from out of the debris of the Battleground, two Hazeroth-class privateers suddenly drifted into view as the ambush was sprung.

Void Combat

It seemed at first that the two privateers were going right for them– that is, until they both turned in their advance slightly, instead powering towards the approaching form of the Iron Duchess. Knowing that taking on two privateers in a gun cutter would be suicide, Dent hit upon a bold plan: they would fly behind the Faith’s Reward, making it look like they were going to go rescue the pilgrims, but instead they would use the leaking plasma and radiation from the pilgrim ship to mask their flight as they came around to come at the privateers from behind. From there, they would try to catch the pirates by surprise and try to board and capture one of their ship’s turrets, to hopefully use it against the other pirate ship. The rest of the party agreed to this plan (except for Brigitte, who had no choice but to hang on for dear life).

The moment the gun cutter (which Andromeda promptly christened the Void Discoverer) flew towards the pilgrim ship, however, Ka’ra suddenly spotted a small object, perhaps the size of a small shuttle, flying past them towards the Iron Duchess. She and Cygnis both realized it must be a void mine of some sort planted by the pirates, and they quickly voxed a warning to the ship. Despite the interference being thrown up by the Battlefield’s debris and the stretched range of the vox, the message was received in time. Doing a stately turn, the Iron Duchess brought her macro-cannons to bear on the area of the approaching object, Captain Avalon no doubt wanting to destroy it at range rather than risk it exploding too close to the ship. A thunderous broadside was unleashed, and shot after shot missed the hurtling object– until, that was, one shell struck it dead on. A wide area of space was lit up by a widening sphere of crackling green luminescence, before the light abruptly vanished. Whatever that mine had been, it was not standard Imperial technology, but it had nonetheless been detonated short of its intended target.

Even as the Duchess dealt with the incoming mine, the two Hazeroths darted into weapons range, firing as they did so, and battle was joined, macrocannon blasts flying back and forth and void shields flaring. With the pirates occupied, the Void Discoverer flew in behind the Faith’s Reward, briefly hiding itself from the auguries of the pirates, before swinging around the other side of the stricken pilgrim ship. Setting his sights on the closest of the two privateers, pilot Calan Mkrae gunned the engines, the nimble gun cutter speeding towards the Hazeroth from behind while its attention was diverted, even as a stray macrocannon shell from the Iron Duchess flew past and narrowly missed them.

With mere minutes until contact with the enemy, Dent pulled out his travel-worn copy of the Imperial Infantryman’s Uplifting Primer and began to recite a pre-battle prayer. His reading bolstered the resolve of his squad of Voidsmen– Cygnis could practically feel their souls of the glow with confidence, (although from Kinnette, curiously, she felt only remorse and a twinge of despair). Not one to be left out, Andromeda began to recite one of the many prayers of the Mechanicus– though she did not believe in the Machine God or in machine spirits, she recognized that her prayer would do a lot to help the Voidsmen’s morale. And so she uttered a prayer as well, asking the Omnissiah to bless the humble machine they rode upon and to fill it with the Motive Force. She was quite surprised when, with no explanation, the Void Discoverer’s speed suddenly increased for five seconds before dropping back down to its maximum speed.

As the Void Discoverer caught up with the Hazeroth it was chasing, the Iron Duchess ceased firing on that particular ship for fear of hitting the party. In an audacious move, the gun cutter flew up right beside the bridge of the privateer so that Dent could wave at them. The ship’s captain must have noticed this, as a few seconds later, the flak towers on the ship’s upper hull lit up the starscape around them. Calan took the gun cutter into evasive maneuvers while the ship’s defensive heavy bolters fired back in reply; manning one of the small gun ports, Ka’ra overcame her unfamiliarity with Gue’la weapons and managed to riddle one of the flak towers with explosive bolts, momentarily disabling it. Banking and weaving to avoid the flak fire, Calan flew the ship around in front of one of the Hazeroth’s macrocannon turrets, and landed on the privateer’s hull, below the maximum depression of the flak batteries and thus out of their line of sight. 

Moving forward with their plan, Dent, Cygnis, Ka’ra and the Voidsmen all got into void suits to make a space-walk towards the gun tower, while Andromeda, Brigitte and Kathima stayed on the gun cutter to aid in logistical support. Andromeda nonetheless dispatched her servo-skull (whom she had nicknamed Scully) to aid the boarding party. As they walked towards the tower, the Iron Duchess briefly drifted close to the pirate ship, holding its fire for fear of hitting the boarding party. For a few seconds, the party was given a rare glimpse of the sheer, red-metalled cliff that was the ship’s port side drifting past them at close range: Dent was so impressed by the view that he snapped a pict his his travel-worn camera, knowing that he would never see something so majestic. Proceeding on to the gun tower, Ka’ra took out a plasma torch and began to cut an opening into the doorway– that is, until Andromeda, working through Scully, managed to figure out an override for the door control.

She found the override not a moment too soon, as Cygnis’ Soul Scrying ability picked up fourteen souls converging on their location. A team of void-suited pirates had been dispatched to deal with the gun cutter latched to their hull like a steel lamprey. The boarding party quickly filed into the tower and closed the door behind them, though Brigitte, Andromeda, Kathima and Calan would soon have to deal with the pirate threat themselves.

Raiding the Raiders

After getting through the airlock of the tower, the boarding party found themselves in a narrow, rusted corridor, inhabited only by one ragged, emaciated man scrubbing the floors. At first, the man screamed in terror at the sight of the void-suited newcomers, but Dent and Cygnis were quick to reassure him that they meant no harm, with Dent taking off his void-helm to reveal his Mordian cap with the Imperial eagle emblazoned on it in gold. Relieved to see that the strangers were in fact rescuers from the Imperium, the man revealed that he, like so many others on the ship, was a lowly deck-serf, a captive taken by the pirates in one of their many raids, who had been forced to perform labour for them. When asked about the pirates, the serf revealed that they called themselves the Stygian Reavers, and that at this moment there were about a dozen of them operating the macrocannon several floors above, along with twice that number of slaves.

There were two ways to get up to the gun deck: the first was the main elevator, which could only fit seven men at a time. There was also a crawlspace containing a ladder leading up to a hatch in the gunnery floor, but the crawlspace was so small that only someone of a slight build could get through. Ka’ra and Cygnis volunteered to go up the crawlspace, accompanied by Scully: meanwhile, Dent, Kinnette and five Voidsmen would take the direct route up.

As Ka’ra and Cygnis moved up the ladder, they eventually reached the hatch under the floor of the gun-deck. Peeking through the hatch, Ka’ra saw a large number of deck-serfs struggling to reload the titanic macrocannon, as well as nine Pirates whipping at them or barking orders and curses. In front of the cannon she saw one pirate arguing with a taller one in a tattered uniform– one she quickly inferred was the First Mate of this ship, arguing with the Gun-Master of this turret. Overhearing the conversation, she heard the First Mate growl that the Captain suspected they were being boarded, and that they were to be on the lookout for any troublemakers that might pop up.

As if on cue, the elevator door opened, and Dent and his party stormed through, guns, blazing.

Seizing the initiative, Ka’ra burst out from under the floor hatch and fired a called shot at the First Mate’s ammunition belt– a called shot that, incredibly, hit. The bolt pistol shells for the First Mate’s pistol went off, severely wounding his leg and sending exploding shrapnel scything out at the Gun-Master as well. At the same moment, Dent and his boarding party made use of their surprise attack and came flooding onto the gun deck, firing as they went. One pirate was injured by the flying lasbolts, another fell as he was riddled with las-holes, and three others dove for cover, pinned by the suppressing fire. Even as the Pirates were recovering from the shock of the sudden attack, Kinnette broke ranks from the advancing shield-wall of the boarding party and slashed at one of the pirates, managing to disembowel him with a single, furious swing of his chainsword.

Panic seized the gun crew as gun serfs began to run and flee in all directions, causing even further chaos. The pirates who had not gone to ground returned fire, autogun rounds pinging off the suppression shields of the advancing Voidsmen at the fore. Kinnette, however, was fired on at almost point blank range by two Pirates close to him, and swayed as he took several autogun rounds to the chest. Cygnis took advantage of the chaos to try to use her telepathy to seed doubt and surrender into the First Mate’s mind, but his willpower, reinforced as it was by agony and anger, was too strong. Deciding to settle this in a less subtle fashion, she broke cover and fired her shuriken pistol at the Gun Master, managing to nick a few superficial wounds off of him. In the midst of the swirling firefight, Scully hovered unnoticed over towards the controls of the macrocannon and began to slowly hack into them…

Meanwhile, back out in space, the members of the party still on the gun cutter saw had a large group of void-suited pirates advancing on them. The Void Discoverer lifted off slightly, hovering only a few metres over the hull of the pirate ship so as to remain below the arcs of the enemy flak cannons, and turned to bring its guns to bear on the surprised Pirates. Andromeda and Brigitte both rushed to the heavy bolter turrets and opened fire: although Brigitte had extremely poor aim, her wild shots were enough to make many of the pirates dive for whatever cover they could. Calan was a little more accurate, firing the ship’s fore autocannons and blowing one Pirate off of the deck plating, rupturing his suit and sending him tumbling out into space. Andromeda chose not to fire, instead linking with the ship’s systems to bolster the accuracy of its guns.

In response, the pirates who still kept their wits returned fire on the Void Discoverer. Las rounds flashed harmlessly against the adamantine hull of the craft, but one of the pirates had brought a missile launcher and fired a krak missile that struck the gun cutter. The entire ship shook violently from the impact, and Calan worriedly informed Brigitte and Andromeda that they could not take another hit like that.

Back on on the pirate ship, the battle for the macrocannon intensified. At a growled order from the now-limping First Mate, the Pirates intensified their firepower. One Voidsman took several autogun hits despite his shield, and went dropping down to the deck. In response, Kinnette charged one of the Pirates who had so grievously injured him, and managed to carve a deep gash across his chest, wounding but not killing him, while accurate lasfire from the Voidsmen managed to blast down another Pirate.

Seizing the initiative, Ka’ra charged at the Gun Master and tackled him to the floor, pressing her pulse pistol to his forehead. Calling on all of her not-inconsiderable skill at intimidation, Ka’ra growled at him to call for his men to surrender. Thanks in part to Cygnis’ mental intrusion, the terrified Gun Master did just that, shrieking for his men to stand down. Unfortunately, the Pirates were more afraid of the First Mate than they were obedient to the Gun Master, and kept fighting. Irritated, Ka’ra pulled the trigger and vaporized the Gun Master’s head.

Meanwhile, Dent drew his captured Ork choppa and charged across the deck, leaping over the macrocannon controls to confront the First Mate. Raising his weapon, Dent challenged the enemy officer to a duel in the proper Mordian fashion. The First Mate responded with a mouthful of obscenities, and the two battled, Dent’s choppa clashing against the Pirate’s chainsword. Although the First Mate was a skilled and cunning opponent, he was hampered by his injured leg. Swinging to disembowel Dent, the Pirate’s leg gave out at the last second, and his swing went wide. Darting inside the First Mate’s guard, Dent swung his choppa in a wide, circular arc, before burying it sideways into the First Mate’s skull. The First Mate went wide eyed for a few seconds, made a few indiscernible noises as his speech failed him, before toppling to the deck. With the death of the First Mate, the remaining Pirates in the gun room dropped their weapons and surrendered.

With the macro-cannon on the Pirate ship now taken, Brigitte sent a vox message to the bridge of the pirate ship, declared that they now had possession of the Pirates’ own weapons and stated, matter of factly, that the Pirates would either surrender or they would die. As if to emphasize the point, Andromeda finally managed to override the controls of the macrocannon tower: traversing the massive turret, Andromeda turned it around to face the bridge of the privateer and fire a warning shot just shy of it. Almost immediately, the Pirate ship stopped moving, its remaining gun falling into silence.

The other Pirate ship, already heavily damaged from its fight against the Iron Duchess, turned and tried to flee the battle. Captain Avalon was not content to let the Pirates escape, however: turning to face the fleeing privateer, the Iron Duchess fired its prow lance into the smaller vessel. The Pirate ship was struck in its aft, the bright blue beam of the lance coring it like an apple. Within seconds, the Pirate ship was wracked by internal explosions, before coming apart in a tremendous fireball. And with that, the battle was over.

At least, or so it was thought at first. No sooner had the Pirates been defeated, however, when a tear opened in the fabric of space, and two frigates translated out of the Warp. Unlike the rusted hulls of the pirates or the gilded finery of the Iron Duchess, these ships were gothic and businesslike, their hulls proudly displaying the Imperial aquila on their hulls. No sooner had they arrived when a wide-band vox message was heard on all frequencies:

“This is Lancer Squadron of Battlefleet Kerberus. All vessels in the area, power down your weapons, and prepare to be boarded…”

ACQUISITIONS (from back on Calyphia):

Andromeda: Bionic Heart
Dent: Good-quality Ballistic cloth surcoat

NOTABLE QUOTES:

“In the name of the Emperor, this is the pilgrim ship Faith’s Reward. To any ship in range, we need assistance. We have–“
-Long-range distress call.

“The hell there’s an emergency! Ye just came down ‘ere to throw your weight around!”
“Careful, whelp…or d’you forget what happened to the last man who crossed me?”
“Alright, alright, but what’s your plan, then, eh? D’ye just intend to keep us here on high alert, and wait fer a bunch o’ traders to come by for tea?”
*THE DOORS OPEN*
“Make mine an earl grey!”
-Dent, interrupting a lively conversation between the Pirate First Mate and Gun-Master

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