Voyages of the Iron Duchess, Part VI: Ka’ra’s Bizarre Adventure

Wherein Cygnis makes a shocking discovery in the lower decks, our heroes suffer from Warp-spawned nightmares, the ship finally arrives at the Hex, and Ka’ra uncovers a shocking conspiracy…

The Door Opened

In the aftermath of the adventurers’ excursion into the lower decks, the wheels of change began to turn ever so slightly aboard the Iron Duchess, as, for the first time in millennia, the crew was forced to acknowledge the existence of their mutant shipmates. Dent wrote an angry letter to Captain Avalon, condemning the fact that the mutant population of the ship had been left to live in squalor for generations. In a later meeting, the Captain admitted for the first time that his family had, in fact, been treating the mutants abominably for centuries, and that he had been as much a part of the problem as his predecessors. In light of the fact that the mutants had just helped save the ship from a Chaos-tainted infestation, however, he could ignore their plight no longer. At his order, engineering teams were sent down to, among other things, improve some of the sanitation conditions of the mutants’ environment, and to set up a vox network to improve communications with them. Working with Obadiah’s kindred, teams were also sent out into the rest of the lower decks to establish contact with the other mutant tribes living there and to bring them back into the fold of the ship’s crew.

Finally, as Obadiah was still technically serving as the ship’s twist-catcher, an invitation was sent to him to serve again at the officers’ table– an offer that Obadiah sincerely considered, although he knew as well as anyone that if the mutants were to be integrated with the rest of the human crew, it would have to happen slowly and gradually, as centuries-old prejudices didn’t simply disappear overnight.

It was while the ship was preparing to jump back into the Warp that an extraordinary discovery was made. While meditating, Cygnis was summoned down to the lower decks by Hirom, the ship’s astropath, who, along with members of his choir, had been examining the strange door that had been found. When Cygnis arrived there, Hirom confirmed what she had already learned– that there was something alien in nature behind the door, and that the door itself was psychically warded. Hirom, however, recognized the runic script on the door as an old language once used by the Adeptus Astra Telepathica, and that the symbols were designed to guard something of importance– but not, Hirom was careful to note, something that was dangerous or touched by the Warp: the language denoted it as something that was for the eyes and ears of high-ranking Telepathica members only. Hirom, however, was not going to let that stop him from opening the door: he asked for Cygnis’ help to open the door, reasoning that her psychic proficiency and her knowledge of xenos craft would be of great help. After some considerstion, Cygnis accepted, not wanting to trust such a delicate affair solely to mon-keigh minds.

Together, Cygnis and the astropathic choir exterted their will against the door. The runes on the door blazed white-hot in response, and incredible pain flooded the psykers’ minds. Little by little, however, the defensive runes burned away, before the door finally relented and opened wide to reveal the mystery within.

What lay inside was wide, spherical chamber with smooth, organic-looking surfaces. At the centre of the chamber was an ornate chair, above which an array of strange stones floated in suspenion before a wide crystal lens. Cygnis’ heart leapt when she immediately recognized this chamber as a runecaster, a device used by the Eldar to aid in navigating the Warp and avoiding the worst of its storms. How and why it was in the bowels of the Iron Duchess, sealed by Astra Telepathica runes, was a complete unknown, but Cygnis was quickly able to determine that it was still functional: it didn’t require a power source, merely a psyker who could use it. And luckily for the Iron Duchess, she knew how to use it.

A day later, as preparations were complete for Warp translation, Captain Avalon ordered Cygnis to use the rune-caster to help plot a course– a large task for Cygnis, as she had never used a runecaster unaided before. At first, she struggled to gain control of the caster, the device seeming to recognize that she was not an Eldar. At that moment, however, the runestone she wore at her breast suddenly flickered with power, and the runecaster powered into activation. Gazing into the stones, Cygnis was able to easily aid in plotting a clear course through the warp, cutting the Iron Duchess’ journey down by one week.

And with that, the Iron Duchess translated into the swirling maw of the Empyrean, and the adventurers’ journey resumed.

A Realm of Nightmares

During this journey, the adventurers were plagued by a series of Warp-induced nightmares:

-Dent dreamed he was battling Orks back on the forge world of Starrix, back when he was still a Guardsman. In particular, he remembered a retreat from an Ork breakthrough, explosions blossoming around him and shredding his squad as he ran. One explosion threw him forwards several feet, and as he looked up, he saw the silhouettes of Ork Gargants massing on the horizon, and thousands of Ork throats roaring in unison as the ground shook from an incoming stampede…

-Brigitte dreamed that she was still in her mansion back on Tethys, hearing the latest reports from her chief of finance over a midday supper. In the midst of this, however, the screaming of thousands of voices could be heard outside. At that moment, the roof of the mansion was ripped off by terrible winds: looking up, Brigitte could see a terrible warp storm in the sky, blotting out the stars and engulfing Tethys…all the while, her staff and servants continued their daily routines, oblivious to the peril even as they were swallowed up by it…

-Andromeda dreamed she was back on her homeworld of Mundus Brunnus, trudging through swamps and finding a mountain of archaotech in the distance, enough that it would take several lifetimes to study. Eagerly, she ran for the mountain…and got caught in a bottomless mire. She very quickly found herself sinking, just out of reach of her goal, her bionics shutting down and fizzing into uselessness as she drowned in the mire…

-Ka’ra dreamed that she was on a wasteland of red ash, one that reminded her simultaneously of Arkunasha and Arthas Moloch. She was unarmed, save for the bonding knife sheathed at her hip. As she wandered the wastes, however, she saw a huge figure looming in the distance. At first she thought that figure was an Ork warboss, or one of the huge daemon-things she had seen on Arthas Moloch. As it approached, however, she recognized it for what it was: a familar T’au battlesuit, painted red and dripping with blood, wielding a blade of pure fire. As the thing that had once been a T’au charged, Ka’ra tried to run, but the thing overtook her, slashed with its blade, and everything went white…

-Cygnis, dreamed, at first, that she was back on Calyphia, in the passenger seat of a car being driven by the that they had encountered at the Avalon residence– the same spy that Cygnis had been telepathically probing when he had died, and whose death she had felt at a psychic level. The spy taunted her as he drove, asking her if she still felt any guilt over his death and noting that she still didn’t know who he was or why he had killed himself. Cygnis however, would have none of it: she demanded that he begone, and stated quite calmly that whatever it was that he was trying to do would fail. At that moment, however, the scene changed, and Cygnis was greeted by the horrible sight of the bridge of her old Corsair ship, the Black Star, gutted with flames and smoke, and the bodies of all of her old friends and mentors lying dead at their stations. Most horrifying of all, her foster parent, the Pirate Prince Celetara, lay dead upon her command throne, sightless eyes gazing in lingering horror at the viewscreen, which showed a vast warp storm engulfing all of reality in an embrace of madness…

None of the adventurers spoke about their nightmares, though all of them were profoundly disturbed by them. (All players took points of Insanity), and none of them could shake the feeling that the nightmares were a sign that something terrible loomed for them on the horizon…

Welcome To The Hex

After a week of travel (during which Ka’ra made some progress on creating a new drone body for Ex and Vee, her annoying AI companions), the Iron Duchess finally arrived at the Hex. Resembling a spaceborne molecular structure of steel, rock and adamantium, the Hex was a vast, free-floating space colony, with dozens of space habitats, monitoring stations and even fused-together starships all interconnected by a crisscrossing web of steel supports, arterial walkways and mooring cables, all centred around a massive, hollowed out asteroid at the center of the web. Hundreds of ships were already docked at various points of the web, and the adventurers on the bridge were even able to spot a number of Rogue Trader vessels from other dynasties…including the Avalons’ immediate rivals, the wealthy Valkens and the larcenous Destraads.

After the ship docked with the megalithic structure, Ka’ra, alas, had found herself so immersed in fixing the life support systems in the lower decks that she missed joining up with the landing party.(Translation: the player missed a session, and had to do a side session to compensate) The Captain, however, had a very special task for her: along with the Remington brothers, she was to venture onto the Hex with their erstwhile prisoner, Elias Harkin, and find the stash of xenotech and illegal weapons that he had promised them. Along the way, Ka’ra also hoped to investigate the lead on a possible T’au rail rifle that the Remingtons had learned about back on Calyphia: it was a dangerous universe, after all, and Ka’ra reasoned that few problems couldn’t be solved with a bigger gun.

After collecting Harkin from the brig and unchaining him, Ka’ra and the Remingtons set off into the Hex– though not before Captain Avalon assured Harkin that if they ever met again, he would personally chain him to the outside of his ship and leave him to the mercy of the void. Taking a shuttle over, they landed in one of the Hex’s many docking bays, where they were quickly accosted by a gang of dock-workers who tried to shake them down, claiming that all new arrivals had to pay them a toll. Ka’ra was not perturbed at all, however, and stared them down as she stood her ground, daring them to try something. Between this and the mean-looking inertial hammer that Zach Remington was carrying, the thugs suffered an outbreak of common sense and backed off. (Note: Ka’ra passed an Intimidation roll by a high margin)

c. Joachim Epper

Beyond the dockyards, Ka’ra got her first look at the Hex– a mini-hive city that had been carved out of a conglomeration of hollowed-out asteroids and repurposed starships. The four of them quickly found themselves in the Starlit Commercia, a neon-lit marketplace so named because of the massive armourglass dome that hung over the entire district, shrouding the entire district in perpetual, starlit night and giving it a wonderful view of space. As Ka’ra took in the sights, sounds and smells, Harkin led them to where he had his stash hidden, grumbling that as soon as he gave them his well-stolen wares, the sooner they could part ways.

The Silver Coin

Harkin eventually led them through a residential district outside of the Commercia to a storage depot. Unveiling a cunningly-hidden basement level and disabling all of the traps, Harkin led them onto a room where his treasures were kept. Inside, there was a rack full of rare-quality weapons, and plenty of antiquities and devices of xenos manufacture- an Egarian shard-glaive, a Stryxis crystal gun, and an Aeldari firepike were among the items that Ka’ra were able to identify, along with a few that she could not. The thing that drew Ka’ra’s attention, however, was the metallic pod that dominated the centre of the room, embossed with the Imperial aquila. A quick scan by Ka’ra’s implants revealed a faint life sign in cryo-stasis within the pod. Ka’ra asked Harkin about the pod, to which he hurriedly responded thst the pod wasn’t part of a deal– that it and its occupant had already been promised to another buyer. Ka’ra, remembering vividly how she herself had been trapped in cryo-stasis for years after escaping from the Enclaves, persisted, demanding to know who the pod’s occupant was and why they were being sold like some commodity. Harkin, however, became more agitated, and told her that the pod, and it’s passenger, would bring nothing but grief and ruin on Ka’ra and her rogue trader friends if they tried to take possession of it.

Declaring that their deal was done, Harkin then tried to leave…but found his way barred as two armed newcomers suddenly came down the ladder, training their guns on everyone present as they did so. The newcomers wore face-concealing bodygloves, and were followed down the ladder by a greatcoat-wearing gentleman with an immaculately curled moustache. The gentleman presented himself as Solon Tiburos, a representative of the Silver Coin, the major black market organization on the Hex and one of the main financial movers and shakers in the sector. Tiburos apologized for the intrusion and informed Ka’ra that everything in Harkin’s stash (including the life pod) had originally been retrieved by Harkin at their behest for the Silver Coin’s clients, and that he was violating his contract by trying to give it to the Iron Duchess. At that moment, Ka’ra realized that Harkin had been trying to double cross them all along, hoping that the Silver Coin would kill off Ka’ra and her friends for unknowingly trying to abscond with their property!

As they got talking, however, Tiburos and Ka’ra soon came to an understanding: the Silver Coin would forgive this transgression, and indeed, would even allow the Iron Duchess’ crew to keep the items in question (except for the life pod), if in turn they carried out a certain favour for the Silver Coin, to be revealed at a later time and date. Tiburos concluded their agreement by offering to have Harkin shot, but Ka’ra declined, stating that a life on a penal colony was the best that Harkin deserved. And with that, Ka’ra and the Remington brothers left the safe house while Harkin was cuffed by Tiburos’ henchman and dragged off, futilely swearing vengeance.

Of Kroot and T’au, and a conspiracy unveiled

Afterwards, Ka’ra and the Remingtons managed to catch lunch in one of the Commercia’s many cafes, with Ka’ra discovering the human delicacy that was groxburgers and fried tuber wedges. Deciding to follow up on the Remingtons’ lead on a railgun, the three of them headed to the place where the weapons sale was supposedly happening…at which point Ka’ra bumped right into a group of tall, gangly, quilled creatures. Ka’ra instantly recognized them as Kroot, and the Kroot (who even now were surrounding the Remingtons with a hungry look) recognized Ka’ra as a T’au past her disguise after a few sniffs.

The Kroot, as it turned out, were the kindred of a mercenary shaper named Kirik Tchak, who was more than happy to see one of his race’s allies here on the Hex. Invoking the ancient pact between the Kroot and T’au, Kirik offered his and his kindred’s services to Ka’ra and her Rogue Trader friends. Ka’ra stated that she would consider Kirik’s offer and bring it to Captain Avalon, before continuing on her path with the Remingtons: while Ka’ra had no reason to mistrust Kirik or his kindred, all the same she was wary that he might be acting in the service of the T’au Empire, or worse, the Enclaves.

As the “day” (a loose term on a space station of perpetual twilight) slowly came to an end, Ka’ra and the Remingtons found the place where the arms deal for the railgun was to take place: an abandoned warehouse in the northeast residential district. After getting clearance from the door guards, Ka’ra and the Remingtons were led into a basement safehouse loaded with some fairly impressive security systems. After determining that Ka’ra and her friends were here to buy very specific xeno-weapons, the head of the gun-runners, a woman named Tylia (whom Aub Remington seemed to have a history with) activated a back wall panel, revealing several racks full of T’au pulse rifles and pulse carbines, as well as a few cashes of EMP grenades and, lying in full display on a table, a rail rifle.

As Ka’ra began to examine the rail rifle a little more closely, however, she noticed a few unusual things. While the rail rifle and the other T’au weapons, did not bear any insignia on them, they nonetheless had a fresh, state of the art look to them that made them seem more like they had come off of an assembly line rather than being second-hand human copies or battlefield salvage. Upon closer inspection, Ka’ra’s drone-interface implant scanned the rail rifle, and Ex and Vee quickly identified the rail rifle as only having been produced a few months ago on Bork’an, back in the T’au Empire. Somehow, these gun runners had gotten access to recently-made T’au weaponry!

Immediately, Ka’ra accosted Tylia, demanding to know how she had acquired this weaponry. Tylia at first didn’t take kindly to these questions, and she and her fellow runners drew their weapons on Ka’ra and the Remingtons, suspecting them of being with the Inquisition. A shootout was averted, however, when Ka’ra unmasked herself, revealing herself as a T’au to the surprised gun-runners. Tylia was speechless at first, but when Ka’ra repeated her demand, Tylia admitted that she had acquired the weapons from a Demiurg named Lokragab in the Xenosium– the part of the Hex that had been set aside as a residence for alien visitors. Remembering that the Demiurg were members of the T’au Empire, Ka’ra suddenly realized what was going on: as preparation for an invasion, the Water Caste of the T’au Empire would often try to sow seeds of rebellion and dissent on a target planet, to weaken its infrastructure and defenses ahead of a Fire Caste invasion. The same thing was clearly happening here: the Empire was using the Hex as a staging point from which to supply weapons to would-be rebel groups in the Kerberus Sector, loosening Imperial control before their invasion forces swept in.

Without any further words, Ka’ra put the rail rifle back in its case, masked herself again, tossed down a bag of throne gelt and left with her prize. For the second time, Aub and Tylia were forced to part ways, but given the number of guns being pointed in the room, this was a very bittersweet parting. As they voxed the rest of the adventuring party to set up a meeting in the Hex, troubled thoughts brewed in Ka’ra’s mind. If agents of the T’au Empire were here on the Hex, then that meant that war was definitely coming to the Kerberus Sector. Worse, it meant that her chances of being captured and taken back to the Empire as a prisoner had just increased…

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